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Highest-resolution map of the entire human brain created

September 16, 2016

Allen Human Brain Reference Atlas image (credit: Allen Institute for Brain Science)

The Allen Institute for Brain Science has published the highest-resolution atlas of the human brain to date in a stand-alone issue of the Journal of Comparative Neurology. This digital human brain atlas allows researchers to investigate the structural basis of human brain function and is freely available as part of the suite of Allen Brain Atlas tools at

“To understand the human brain, we need to have a detailed… read more

Engineering ‘backup’ mitochondrial genes to restore power to cells

Re-engineered mutated mitochondrial genes could prevent incurable disorders and slow down aging
September 16, 2016

Mitochondrion structure (credit: Kelvinsong; modified by Sowlos/CC)

A new study by SENS Research Foundation, published in an open-access paper in the journal Nucleic Acids Research, explores the possibility of re-engineering mutated mitochondrial genes, which can otherwise lead to incurable disorders* and contribute to aging.

Mitochondria have their own DNA, allowing them to create proteins to supply nutrients and energy to cells. But sometimes, the DNA becomes mutated by “reactive oxygen species” generated by the… read more

‘Perfect’ low-cost, defect-free graphene directly from graphite

May make it possible for the semiconductor industry to scale up use of graphene
September 15, 2016

Atomic force microscope (AFM) image (scale bar 5 μm) with height profile indicating the single-layer nature of the obtained graphene with lateral dimensions of ~10 micrometers a height of ~1.5 nanometers. (credit: Philipp Vecera et al./Nature Communications)

Chemists at the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) in Germany and the University of Vienna have succeeded in producing “perfect” defect-free, high-quality graphene directly from graphite (“pencil lead”) for the first time. This new low-cost method may make it possible for the semiconductor industry to scale up use of graphene in pioneering technologies such as transparent electrodes for flexible displays.

The chemists say their method enables the graphene… read more

Paralyzed man regains use of arms and hands after experimental stem cell therapy

Initial results offer hope for patients to reclaim independence after suffering severe spinal injury
September 12, 2016

Kris Boesen (credit: USC)

Doctors at the USC Neurorestoration Center and Keck Medicine of USC injected an experimental treatment* made from stem cells and other cells into the damaged cervical spine of a recently paralyzed 21-year-old man as part of a multi-center clinical trial.

Two weeks after surgery, Kristopher (Kris) Boesen began to show signs of improvement. Three months later, he’s able to feed himself, use his cell phone, write his name,… read more

How AI may affect urban life in 2030

September 2, 2016

(credit: AI100)

Specialized robots that clean and provide security, robot-assisted surgery, natural language processing-augmented instruction, and helping people adapt as old jobs are lost and new ones are created: these are some of the profound challenges explored by a panel of academic and industrial thinkers that has looked ahead to 2030 to forecast how advances in artificial intelligence (AI) might affect life in a typical North American city.

Titled “Artificialread more

Google’s secret plan for quantum computer supremacy

September 2, 2016

UCSB Martinis Group's superconducting five-qubit array (credit: Erik Lucero)

Google* is developing a quantum computer that it believes will outperform the world’s top supercomputers, according to an August 31 New Scientist article and sourced to researchers contacted by the magazine.

Google’s ambitious goal is to achieve “quantum supremacy”— which would be achieved when “quantum devices without error correction can perform a well-defined computational task beyond the capabilities of state-of-the-art classical computers,” as the authors of an… read more

A cheap, long-lasting, sustainable battery for grid energy storage

Oh, and they don't explode
September 2, 2016

Zinc-ion battery (credit: Dipan Kundu et al./Nature Energy

University of Waterloo chemists have developed a long-lasting, safe, zinc-ion battery that costs half the price of current lithium-ion batteries. It could help communities shift from traditional power plants to renewable solar and wind energy production, where electricity storage overnight is needed.

The battery is water-based and uses cheap but safe, non-flammable, non-toxic materials, compared to expensive, flammable, organic electrolytes in lithium-ion batteries, which are used in the… read more

‘Star in a jar’ could lead to limitless fusion energy

New compact spherical tokamak design may overcome physics challenges
August 30, 2016

Spherical torus/tokamak design for fusion nuclear science facility showing magnets and other systems and structures (credit: J.E. Menard et al./Nucl. Fusion)

Physicists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL)* are building a “star in a jar” — a miniature version of the how our Sun creates energy through fusion. It could provide humankind with near limitless energy, ending dependence on fossil fuels for generating electricity — without contributing greenhouse gases that warm the Earth, and with no long-term radioactive waste.

But that requires a… read more

Mystery radio signal may be from distant star system — or a military transmitter

August 29, 2016

RATAN-600 radio telescope (credit:

A star system 94 light-years away known as HD 164595 is a possible candidate for intelligent life, based on an announcement by an international team of researchers.

On May 15, 2015, Russian astronomers picked up a radio signal on the RATAN-600 radio telescope in Russia “in the direction of HD164595,” an international group of astronomers stated in a document* now being circulated through contact person Alexander Panov,… read more

3-D-printed structures that ‘remember’ their shapes

Heat-responsive shape-memory materials may aid in controlled drug delivery and solar panel tracking, for example
August 29, 2016

In this series, a 3-D printed multimaterial shape-memory minigripper, consisting of shape-memory hinges and adaptive touching tips, grasps a cap screw. (credit: Photo courtesy of Qi (Kevin) Ge)

Engineers from MIT and Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) are 3D-printing structures based on shape-memory polymers that “remember” and spring back to their original shapes when heated to a certain temperature “sweet spot” — even after being stretched, twisted, and bent at extreme angles.

That makes them useful for applications ranging from soft actuators that turn solar panels toward the sun to tiny drug capsules… read more

Designing new ultrasound imaging tools with Lego-like proteins

Imaging specific cells and molecules deeper in the body
August 26, 2016

Protein-shelled structures called gas vesicles, illustrated here, can be engineered with Lego-like proteins to improve ultrasound methods. The gas vesicles can help detect specific cell types and create multicolor images. (credit: Barth van Rossum for Caltech)

The next step in ultrasound imaging will let doctors view specific cells and molecules deeper in the body, such as those associated with tumors or bacteria in our gut.

A new study from Caltech outlines how protein engineering techniques might help achieve this milestone. The researchers engineered protein-shelled nanostructures called gas vesicles (which reflect sound waves) to exhibit new properties useful for ultrasound technologies. In the future,… read more

Ultrasound jump-starts brain of man in coma

New non-invasive technique may lead to low-cost therapy for patients with severe brain injury --- possibly for those in a vegetative or minimally conscious state
August 26, 2016

The technique uses ultrasound to target the thalamus. (credit: Martin Monti/UCLA)

UCLA neurosurgeons used ultrasound to “jump-start” the brain of a 25-year-old man from a coma, and he has made remarkable progress following the treatment.

The technique, called “low-intensity focused ultrasound pulsation” (LIFUP), works non-invasively and without affecting intervening tissues. It excites neurons in the thalamus, an egg-shaped structure that serves as the brain’s central hub for processing information.

“It’s almost as if we were jump-starting the… read more

Implantable cell-size ‘neural pixel’ device senses and blocks epileptic seizures

August 26, 2016

A biochemical pathway for reducing chemically induced epileptic activity by delivering the natural neurotransmitter GABA via PEDOT:PSS electrodes, which also sensed the epileptic attack and recorded the subsequent electrophysiological activity to confirm effecctiveness (credit: Amanda Jonsson et al./PNAS)

Researchers at Linköping University in Sweden and in France have developed a “neural pixel” device that when implanted in a mouse hippocampus brain slice detects the initial signal of an epileptic attack and also locally administers the exact dose of the natural neurotransmitter GABA needed to stop the attack.

The researchers used a conducting polymer called poly(3,4-ethylenedioxythiophene) doped with poly(styrenesulfonate) (PEDOT:PSS) for electrodes. It has ten times… read more

‘We are probably one of the last generations of Homo sapiens’ — Yuval Noah Harari

August 25, 2016

(credit: Cognitive)

Historian and author of the international bestseller Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Yuval Noah Harari predicts the future of humanity.

“We are probably one of the last generations of Homo sapiens,” he tells BBC Radio 4′s Today programme.

Animation by Cognitive.

The first autonomous soft robot powered only by a chemical reaction

The 3D-printed "octobot" is powered by oxygen released from hydrogen peroxide and controlled by microfluidics --- no electronics
August 24, 2016

The octobot is powered by a chemical reaction and controlled with a soft logic board. A reaction inside the bot transforms a small amount of liquid fuel (hydrogen peroxide) into a large amount of oxygen gas, which flows into the octobot's arms and inflates them like a balloon. The team used a microfluidic logic circuit, a soft analog of a simple electronic oscillator, to control when hydrogen peroxide decomposes to gas in the octobot. SD card shown for scale only. (credit: Lori Sanders)

The first autonomous, untethered, entirely soft 3-D-printed robot (powered only by a chemical reaction) has been demonstrated by a team of Harvard University researchers and described in the journal Nature.

Nicknamed “octobot,” the bot combines soft lithography, molding, and 3-D printing.

“One longstanding vision for the field of soft robotics has been to create robots that are entirely soft, but the struggle has always been in replacing… read more

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