science + technology news

Robot folds itself up, walks away

Sophisticated machines that build themselves, inspired by a child's toy and origami
August 10, 2014

robots arise

Engineers at Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), Wyss Institute, and MIT have developed a robot that assembles itself into a complex shape in four minutes flat, then folds itself up and crawls away — all without human intervention.

The design was based on the principle of Shrinky Dinks (the classic children’s toy that shrinks a plastic-paper composite in a rigid form when… read more

Using Bayesian statistics to rank Wikipedia entries

Algorithm outperforms a human user by up to 23 percent in correctly classifying quality rank of articles, say researchers
August 8, 2014

(Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Computer scientists in China have devised a software algorithm based on Bayesian statistics that can automatically check a Wikipedia entry and rank it by its quality.

Bayesian analysis is commonly used to assess the content of emails and determine the probability that the content is spam or junk mail, and if so, filter it from the user’s inbox if the probability is high.

Writing in the… read more

Small epigenetic DNA modifications predict brain’s threat response

Stress may be passed down through generations, studies suggest
August 8, 2014

Threat-related amygdala reactivity associated with serotonin transporter epigenetic modification (credit: Yuliya S Nikolova/Nature Neuroscience)

The tiny addition of a chemical mark called called a methyl group atop a gene that is well known for its involvement in clinical depression and posttraumatic stress disorder can affect the way a person’s brain responds to threats, according to a new study by Duke University researchers.

The study results, published August 3 in Nature Neuroscience, go beyond genetics to help explain why some… read more

An ultralight but tough new foam made from graphene

Could find use in supercapacitor and battery electrodes and for hydrogen or other gas absorption
August 8, 2014

An electron microscope image of foam created at Rice University shows layers of graphene oxide stacked to form a three-dimensional structure with the help of hexagonal boron nitride linkers. (Credit: Ajayan Group/Rice University)

Rice University researchers have developed a new ultralight but tough nanofoam called “GO-0.5BN” from atom-thick sheets.

The finding is an update to a previous computer-simulation study of “pillared boron nitride (PBN)” reported in July by KurzweilAI.

The Rice team has now actually produced and tested the material. The nanostructure’s floors and walls are made of graphene oxide that self-assembles with the assistance of hexagonal boron… read more

IBM launches functioning brain-inspired chip

Operates at 46 billion “synaptic operations” per second per watt; 100 trillion "synapses" planned, matching the approximate number in the human brain
August 7, 2014

IBM neurosynaptic chip (credit: IBM)

IBM announced today, August 7, the first computer chip to achieve one million programmable “neurons,” 256 million programmable “synapses,” and 46 billion “synaptic operations” per second per watt — simulating the function of neurons and synapses in the brain.*

Neurosynaptic. At 5.4 billion transistors, this low-power, production-scale “neurosynaptic” (brain-inspired) chip (the size of a postage stamp), is one of the largest CMOS chips ever built, IBM says.… read more

Declining intelligence in old age linked to visual processing speed

August 7, 2014

The inspection time task. Participants focus on a cue, and are then shown one of the two<br />
possible stimuli, which is backward-masked after a brief exposure duration. The participant then indicates whether the longer line was on the right or left side of the stimulus (L/R; correct responses marked with an asterisk). Responses are not timed; only their correctness is measured. (Credit: Stuart J. Ritchie et al./Current Biology)

Age-related declines in intelligence are strongly related to declines on a very simple task of visual perception speed, researchers report in Cell Press journal Current Biology (open access) on August 4.

The evidence comes from experiments in which researchers showed 600 healthy older people very brief flashes of one of two shapes on a screen and measured the time it took each of them to reliably tell… read more

New drug reverses effects of Alzheimer’s disease in mice

August 7, 2014

TC-2153, a novel inhibitor of the STEP protein (credit: Jian Xu et al./PLoS Biology)

Researchers at Yale School of Medicine have discovered a new drug compound that reverses the brain deficits of Alzheimer’s disease in mice. Their findings are published in the Aug. 5 issue of the journal PLoS Biology (open access).

The compound, TC-2153, inhibits the negative effects of a protein called STtriatal-Enriched tyrosine Phosphatase (STEP) on learning and memory. These cognitive functions are impaired in Alzheimer’s.

“Decreasing STEP levels reversed… read more

New protein structure could help diagnose and treat Alzheimer’s, many related diseases

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, but researchers are one step closer to finding a treatment
August 7, 2014

An abnormal protein, left, is intercepted by the UW’s compound that can bind to the toxic protein and neutralize it, as shown at right (credit: University of Washington)

University of Washington (UW) bioengineers have designed a peptide structure that they say could stop the harmful changes of the body’s proteins linked to widespread diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and Lou Gehrig’s disease.

The new synthetic molecule blocks these proteins as they shift from their normal state into an abnormally folded form, by targeting a toxic intermediate phase.

The discovery… read more

Using lasers and carbon nanotubes to look inside living brains

August 7, 2014

A fluorescent image of the mouse brain taken in the 1300-1400 nm NIR-IIa region, which clearly shows the brain vasculature of a live mouse through the intact scalp and skull (credit: Dai lab)

Stanford chemists have developed an non-invasive technique using lasers and carbon nanotubes to capture an unprecedented look at blood flowing through a living brain.

The new technique was developed for mice but could one day be applied to humans, potentially providing vital information in the study of stroke and migraines, and perhaps even Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, the researchers say.

The work is described in the… read more

Recovering audio from videos

August 6, 2014

Recovering sound -ft

Researchers at MIT, Microsoft, and Adobe have developed an algorithm that can reconstruct an audio signal by analyzing minute vibrations of objects depicted in video.

In one set of experiments, they were able to recover intelligible speech from the vibrations of a potato-chip bag photographed from 15 feet away through soundproof glass.

In other experiments, they extracted useful audio signals from videos… read more

How to enable the Internet of Things without batteries

August 6, 2014

Wi-Fi Backscatter system includes a Wi-Fi reader, a Wi-Fi helper, and a RF-powered device (Wi-Fi Backscatter tag) (credit: University of Washington)

University of Washington engineers have designed a clever new communication system called Wi-Fi backscatter that uses ambient radio frequency signals as a power source for battery-free devices (such as temperature sensors or wearable technology) and also reuses the existing Wi-Fi infrastructure to provide Internet connectivity for these devices.

“If Internet of Things devices are going to take off, we must provide connectivity to the potentially… read more

Virtual acoustic ‘bottle’ bends path of sound waves better than metamaterials

Applications include super-high-resolution medical imaging, acoustic levitation, and acoustic cloaking and trapping
August 6, 2014

After being emitted from a planar-phased source, sound energy forms a 3D acoustic bottle of high-pressure walls and a null region in the middle. Pressure field at bottom shows self-bending ability of the bottle beam to circumvent 3D obstacles. Dashed arrows indicate wave front direction. (Credit: Xiang Zhang group)

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) researchers have developed a technique to generate an acoustic bottle-like “object” in open air from sound. The virtual object can bend the paths of sound waves along prescribed convex trajectories.

The new technique could allow for super-high-resolution imaging, acoustic cloaking (without requiring engineered metamaterials), and other exotic applications.

As shown in the illustration above, the acoustic “bottle” is in the… read more

Atomically precise self-assembling nanoscale fibers mimic living cells

Reversible fibrous self-assembly has been long sought for tissue engineering, drug delivery, nanoreactors, and imaging
August 5, 2014

Carnegie Mellon chemists have created a self-assembling nano fiber using green fluorescent protein (credit: Carnegie Mellon University)

Carnegie Mellon University researchers have developed a novel method for creating self-assembled protein/polymer nanostructures that resemble fibers found in living cells.

The work offers a promising new way to fabricate materials for drug delivery and tissue engineering applications.

The findings were published in the July 28 issue of Angewandte Chemie International Edition.

“We have demonstrated that, by adding flexible linkers to protein molecules, we can form… read more

‘Rewired’ mice show signs of longer lives with fewer age-related illnesses

Gene deletion boosts energy production while slowing cell proliferation
August 5, 2014

Mitochondrion (credit: BruceBlaus/Creative Commons)

Mice lacking a specific protein (TRAP-1) live longer lives with fewer age-related illnesses, such as tissue degeneration, obesity, and spontaneous tumor formation, when compared with normal mice, researchers at The Wistar Institute have discovered.

In healthy cells, TRAP-1 is an important regulator of metabolism and has been shown to regulate energy production in mitochondria, which are organelles that generate chemically useful energy for the cell.

In the… read more

‘Active’ surfaces that control fluids or particles

Self-cleaning solar cells in the desert is one application
August 5, 2014

Photo shows a water droplet sitting on a ferrofluid-impregnated surface, which has cloaked the droplet with a very thin layer.

Imagine a treated surface that that can actively control how fluids or particles move across it.

That’s what researchers at MIT and in Saudi Arabia have developed, using a simple microtextured surface, with bumps or ridges just a few micrometers across.

They impregnated the surface with a fluid that can be manipulated — for example, an oil infused with tiny magnetic particles, or ferrofluid, which can… read more

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