science + technology news

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Metalens with artificial muscle simulates (and goes way beyond) human-eye and camera optical functions

Thin, flat structure promises to revolutionize eyeglasses, cameras, microscopes, and augmented and virtual-reality optics
March 2, 2018

A metalens (made of silicon) mounted on a transparent, stretchy polymer film, without any electrodes. The colorful iridescence is produced by the large number of nanostructures within the metalens. (credit:Harvard SEAS)

Researchers at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) have developed a breakthrough electronically controlled artificial eye. The thin, flat, adaptive silicon nanostructure (“metalens”) can simultaneously control focus, astigmatism, and image shift (three of the major contributors to blurry images) in real time, which the human eye (and eyeglasses) cannot do.

The 30-micrometers-thick metalens makes changes laterally to achieve optical zoom, autofocus, and… read more

Measuring deep-brain neurons’ electrical signals at high speed with light instead of electrodes

“We will be able to watch a neural computation happen ... a step toward understanding what a thought or a feeling actually is.” --- Prof. Edward Boyden
February 28, 2018

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Researchers at MIT have developed a new approach to measure electrical activity deep in the brain: using light — an easier, faster, and more informative method than inserting electrodes.

They’ve developed a new light-sensitive protein that can be embedded into neuron membranes, where it emits a fluorescent signal that indicates how much voltage a particular cell is experiencing. This could allow scientists to study how neurons behave, millisecond… read more

Low-cost EEG can now be used to reconstruct images of what you see

Has promising uses for locked-in patients and forensics --- no expensive fMRI machine needed
February 27, 2018

(left) Test image. (right) Brain's image captured by EEG and decoded. (credit: Dan Nemrodov et al./eNeuro

A new technique developed by University of Toronto Scarborough neuroscientists has, for the first time, used EEG detection of brain activity in reconstructing images of what people perceive.

The new technique “could provide a means of communication for people who are unable to verbally communicate,” said Dan Nemrodov, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in Assistant Professor Adrian Nestor’s lab at U of T Scarborough. “It could also have… read more

Do our brains use the same kind of deep-learning algorithms used in AI?

Bridging the gap between neuroscience and AI
February 23, 2018

This is an illustration of a multi-compartment neural network model for deep learning. Left: Reconstruction of pyramidal neurons from mouse primary visual cortex. Right: Illustration of simplified pyramidal neuron models. (credit: CIFAR)

Deep-learning researchers have found that certain neurons in the brain have shape and electrical properties that appear to be well-suited for “deep learning” — the kind of machine-intelligence used in beating humans at Go and Chess.

Canadian Institute For Advanced Research (CIFAR) Fellow Blake Richards and his colleagues — Jordan Guerguiev at the University of Toronto, Scarborough, and Timothy Lillicrap at Google DeepMind —… read more

round-up | Two new wearable sensors may replace traditional medical diagnostic devices

Breakthrough technologies presented at AAAS annual meeting Feb. 17, 2018
February 21, 2018

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Throat-motion sensor monitors stroke effects more effectively

A radical new type of stretchable, wearable sensor that measures vocal-cord movements could be a “game changer” for stroke rehabilitation, according to Northwestern University scientists. The sensors can also measure swallowing ability (which may be affected by stroke), heart function, muscle activity, and sleep quality. Developed in the lab of engineering professor John A.

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Neuroscientists reverse Alzheimer’s disease in mice

February 19, 2018

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Researchers from the Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute have completely reversed the formation of amyloid plaques in the brains of mice with Alzheimer’s disease by gradually depleting an enzyme called BACE1. The procedure also improved the animals’ cognitive function.

The study, published February 14 in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, raises hopes that drugs targeting this enzyme will be able to successfully treat Alzheimer’s disease in… read more

How to train a robot to do complex abstract thinking

February 16, 2018

Robot inspects cooler, ponders next step (credit: Intelligent Robot Lab / Brown University)

Robots are great at following programmed steps. But asking a robot to “move the green bottle from the cooler to the cupboard” would require it to have abstract representations of these things and actions, plus knowledge of its surroundings.

(“Hmm, which of those millions of pixels is a ‘cooler,’ whatever than means? How do I get inside it and also the ‘cupboard’? …”)

To help robots answer these… read more

Are you a cyborg?

How to generate electricity from your body, bioprint a brain, and “resleeve your stack.”
February 14, 2018

Vertebral chip (credit: Netflix)

Bioprinting a brain

A new bioprinting technique combines cryogenics (freezing) and 3D printing to create geometrical structures that are as soft (and complex) as the most delicate body tissues — mimicking the mechanical properties of organs such as the brain and lungs.

The idea: “Seed” porous scaffolds that can act as a template for tissue regeneration (from neuronal cells, for example), where damaged tissues are encouraged… read more

How to shine light deeper into the brain

Less-invasive way to stimulate the brain with light may lead to new treatments for neurological disorders
February 12, 2018

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An international team of researchers has developed a way to shine light at new depths in the brain. It may lead to development of new, non-invasive clinical treatments for neurological disorders and new research tools.

The new method extends the depth that optogenetics — a method for stimulating neurons with light — can reach. With optogenetics, blue-green light is used to turn on “light-gated ion channels” in neurons to stimulate… read more

AI algorithm with ‘social skills’ teaches humans how to collaborate

And a human-machine collaborative chatbot system
February 9, 2018

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An international team has developed an AI algorithm with social skills that has outperformed humans in the ability to cooperate with people and machines in playing a variety of two-player games.

The researchers, led by Iyad Rahwan, PhD, an MIT Associate Professor of Media Arts and Sciences, tested humans and the algorithm, called S# (“S sharp”), in three types of interactions: machine-machine, human-machine, and human-human. In most instances, machines programmed with… read more

Superconducting ‘synapse’ could enable powerful future neuromorphic supercomputers

Fires 200 million times faster than human brain, uses one ten-thousandth as much energy
February 7, 2018

NIST's artificial synapse ,designed for neuromorphic computing, mimics the operation of a switch between two neurons. One artificial synapse is located at the center of each X. The thick black vertical lines are electrical probes for testing. This chip is 1 square centimeter in size. (credit: NIST)

A superconducting “synapse” that “learns” like a biological system, operating like the human brain, has been built by researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

The NIST switch, described in an open-access paper in Science Advances, provides a missing link for neuromorphic (brain-like) computers, according to the researchers. Such “non-von Neumann architecture” future computers could significantly speed up analysis and decision-making… read more

Cancer ‘vaccine’ eliminates all traces of cancer in mice

Bodywide immune stimulation without adverse side effects
February 5, 2018

Effects of in situ vaccination with CpG and anti-OX40. Left: Mice genetically engineered to spontaneously develop breast cancers in all 10 of their mammary pads were injected into the first arising tumor (black arrow) with either a vehicle (inactive fluid) (Left) or with CpG and anti-OX40 (right). Pictures were taken on day 80. (credit: Idit Sagiv-Barfi et al./ Sci. Transl. Med.)

Injecting minute amounts of two immune-stimulating agents directly into solid tumors in mice was able to eliminate all traces of cancer in the animals — including distant, untreated metastases (spreading cancer locations), according to a study by Stanford University School of Medicine researchers.

The researchers believe this new “in situ vaccination” method could serve as a rapid and relatively inexpensive cancer therapy — one that is unlikely… read more

Penn researchers create first optical transistor comparable to an electronic transistor

February 2, 2018

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In an open-access paper published in Nature Communications, Ritesh Agarwal, a professor the University of Pennsylvania School of Engineering and Applied Science, and his colleagues say that they have made significant progress in photonic (optical) computing by creating a prototype of a working optical transistor with properties similar to those of a conventional electronic transistor.*

Optical transistors, using… read more

The Princess Leia project: ‘volumetric’ 3D images that float in ‘thin air’

Making the 3D displays of science fiction real
January 31, 2018

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Inspired by the iconic Stars Wars scene with Princess Leia in distress, Brigham Young University engineers and physicists have created the “Princess Leia project” — a new technology for creating 3D “volumetric images” that float in the air and that you can walk all around and see from almost any angle.*

“Our group has a mission to take the 3D displays of science fiction and make them real,” said electrical… read more

MIT nanosystem delivers precise amounts of drugs directly to a tiny spot in the brain

... without interfering with the normal functions of the rest of the brain
January 28, 2018


MIT researchers have developed a miniaturized system that can deliver tiny quantities of medicine to targeted brain regions as small as 1 cubic millimeter, with precise control over how much drug is given. The goal is to treat diseases that affect specific brain circuits without interfering with the normal functions of the rest of the brain.*

“We believe this tiny microfabricated device could have tremendous impact in understanding brain… read more

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