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Optogenetics captures synaptic transmission in live mammalian brain for the first time

Could significantly expand our knowledge of connectivity between various types of neurons as a more realistic alternative to in vitro studies
December 26, 2014

A reconstruction of a pair of synaptically connected neurons (credit: Aurélie Pala/EPFL)

EPFL scientists Aurélie Pala and Carl Petersen have observed and measured synaptic transmission in a live animal for the first time, using optogenetics* to stimulate single neurons in the mouse barrel cortex (which processes sensory information from the mouse’s whiskers).

They shined blue light on the neurons containing a gene-based light-sensitive protein, activating the neurons to fire. Then using microelectrodes, they measured resulting electrical signals in neighboring interneuron cells.… read more

Crafting color coatings from nanometer-thick layers of gold and germanium

New technique works on rough or flexible materials from wearable fabrics to stretchable electronics
December 24, 2014

In 2012, Capasso's research team demonstrated interference effects in layers of gold and germanium deposited on silicon, pictured here. Their latest work takes it much further, demonstrating that the same effects can be achieved on rough surfaces. (Credit: Mikhail Kats, Romain Blanchard, and Patrice Genevet.)

Harvard scientists who developed a technique in 2012 that coats a gray metallic object with a semiconductor layer just a few nanometers thick to achieve a variety of vibrant hues have now applied the technique to almost any rough or flexible material, from wearable fabrics to stretchable electronics.

The coating exploits optical interference effects in the thin films. Researcher Mikhail Kats compares it to the iridescent rainbows that are visible… read more

Piezoelectricity in a 2D semiconductor

Could allow for extremely small force generation/sensing, low-power logic switches, and biological sensors sensitive to molecular mass limits
December 24, 2014

To measure in-plane piezoelectric stress, an MoS2 film was suspended on HSQ posts and clamped by two Au electrodes. When the film was indented with a scanning AFM probe, the induced stress changed the load on the cantilever, which was observed by the deflection of a laser beam. (Credit: Berkeley Lab)

Berkeley Lab scientists have discovered a way to use piezoelectricity — the conversion of mechanical force to electricity and vice versa — with a single layer of molybdenum disulfide (MoS2) semiconductor molecules, which could lead to nanotechnology devices, such as a scanning atomic force microscope (AFM), for extremely small force generation/sensing and other uses.

“Piezoelectricity is a well-known effect in bulk crystals, but this is the first… read more

Existing drug riluzole may prevent foggy ‘old age’ brain

December 24, 2014

When researchers looked at certain neurons (similar to the one shown on top) in rats treated with riluzole, they found an important change in one brain region, the hippocampus: more clusters of so-called spines, receiving connections that extend from the branches of a neuron (bottom). (Credit: Dr. John H. Morrison's lab, The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai)

New experiments suggest that riluzole, a drug already on the market as a treatment for ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), may help prevent the fading memory and clouding judgment that comes with advancing age.

Researchers at The Rockefeller University and The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai found they could stop normal, age-related memory loss in rats by treating them with riluzole. The treatment prompted changes known to improve… read more

Quantum physics just got less complicated

Is "wave-particle duality" simply the quantum "uncertainty principle" in disguise?
December 23, 2014

Quantum physics says that particles can behave like waves, and vice versa. Researchers have now shown that this 'wave-particle duality' is simply the quantum uncertainty principle in disguise. (Credit:<br />
Timothy Yeo / CQT, National University of Singapore)

An international team of researchers has proved that two peculiar features of the quantum world previously considered distinct are different manifestations of the same thing. They found that “wave-particle duality” is simply the quantum “uncertainty principle” in disguise, reducing two mysteries to one.

The result was published December 19 in Nature Communications and in arXiv (open access).

Patrick Coles, Jedrzej Kaniewski, and Stephanie Wehner made the breakthrough while at… read more

Hidden molecular structures in proteins revealed

Improved X-ray diffraction software uses statistical methods
December 23, 2014

This is a membrane protein called cysZ, imaged in 3 dimensions with Phenix software using data that could not previously be analyzed. (Credit: Los Alamos National Laboratory)

Los Alamos National Lab scientists have developed statistical methods that allow for creating three-dimensional pictures of previously hidden molecular structures in proteins.

To view the proteins, researchers produce billions of copies, dissolve them in water, and grow crystals of the protein, then shine a beam of X-rays and measure the brightness of each of the thousands of diffracted X-ray spots that are produced.

Then researchers use the powerful… read more

Color-coding brain cells

December 23, 2014

This image shows multicolour tracing of newborn neurons. (Credit:<br />
University of Southampton)

University of Southampton neuroscientists have developed a method called “multicolor RGB tracking” to improve our understanding of how the brain works by color-marking individual brain cells in mice allows them to be tracked over space and time.*

To mark a brain cell, they inject a solution that contains three viral vectors (delivery of genes by a virus) to create a fluorescent protein in each cell. Each cell… read more

It might be possible to restore lost memories

Memories not stored in synapses, neurobiologist finds
December 22, 2014

Synapse (credit: Curtis Neveu/Wikimedia Commons)

New UCLA research indicates that lost memories can be restored, offering hope for patients in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

For decades, most neuroscientists have believed that memories are stored at the synapses — the connections between brain cells, or neurons — which are destroyed by Alzheimer’s disease. The new study provides evidence contradicting the idea that long-term memory is stored at synapses.

“Long-term memory is not… read more

An affordable holodeck for civil engineers

December 21, 2014


Brigham Young University (BYU) student civil engineers have constructed an affordable 3D immersive visualization system from commercial off-the-shelf components and open-source software.

The “VuePod” system uses 12 high-definition, 55-inch 3D televisions all connected to a computer capable of supporting high-end, graphics-intensive visualization.  Images are controlled by a Wii remote that interacts with a Kinect-like  3D tracking device called SMARTTRACK. 3D glasses worn by the user create the… read more

Could ibuprofen be an anti-aging medicine?

December 19, 2014

Ibuprofen extends the lifespan of C. elegans worms: survival curves treated with ibuprofen at 0.1 mM (red) compared to experiment-matched untreated (credit: Chong He et al./PLOS Genetics)

Ibuprofen, a common over-the-counter drug used to relieve pain and fever, could hold the keys to a longer healthier life, according to a study by researchers at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging.  Publishing in PLoS Genetics (open access) December 18, scientists showed that regular doses of ibuprofen extended the lifespan of yeast, worms and fruit flies.

Brian Kennedy, PhD, CEO of the Buck Institute, said treatments, given… read more

New magnetoelectric memory promises low-power, instant-on computing devices

December 19, 2014


A team led by postdoctoral associate John Heron of Cornell University has developed a room-temperature magnetoelectric memory design that replaces power-hungry electric currents with an electric field. It could lead to low-power, instant-on computing devices.

“The advantage here is low energy consumption,” Heron said. “It requires a low voltage, without current, to switch it. Devices that use currents consume more energy and dissipate a significant amount of that energy… read more

Deep neural network rivals primate brain in object recognition

December 19, 2014

object category recognition ft

A new study from MIT neuroscientists has found that for the first time, one of the latest generation of “deep neural networks” matches the ability of the primate brain to recognize objects during a brief glance.

Because these neural networks were designed based on neuroscientists’ current understanding of how the brain performs object recognition, the success of the latest networks suggests that neuroscientists have a fairly accurate grasp of… read more

Organic matter detected on Mars

December 18, 2014


The team responsible for the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument suite on NASA’s Curiosity rover has made the first definitive detection of organic molecules at Mars, but there’s not enough evidence to tell if the matter came from ancient Martian life or from a non-biological process, such as interplanetary dust or fragments of asteroids and comets.

The surface of Mars is currently inhospitable to life as we know it,… read more

Quadriplegic shapes robot hand with her thoughts

Demonstrates ability of brain-computer interface
December 18, 2014

Using mind control, a woman with quadriplegia moves robot arm and hand in. (Credit: Journal of Neural Engineering/IOP Publishing)

In an experiment, a woman with quadriplegia shaped the almost-human hand of a robot arm with just her thoughts, directing it to pick up big and small boxes, a ball, an oddly shaped rock, and fat and skinny tubes and showing that brain-computer interface technology has the potential to improve the function and quality of life of those unable to use their own arms.

The findings by researchers at… read more

Spider webs, leaves inspire touch-screen, solar-cell designs

December 18, 2014

Refined by natural selection, spider webs and leaves serve as models for new and highly effective optoelectronic networks and displays (credit: Boston College)

Natural scaffoldings perfected by evolution such as spider webs and leaf veins can lead to near-optimal performance when copied to create flexible and durable networks for optoelectronic applications such as photovoltaic devices and display screens, researchers at Boston College, South China Normal, and University of Houston reported in the journal Nature Communications.

A network design inspired by the quasi-fractal vein-laced structure of a leaf served as an effective electrode for solar… read more

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