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Discovery of Homo naledi adds a new branch to the human family tree

September 11, 2015

Skeletal fossil of the hand of Homo naledi (photo credit: John Hawks, UW–Madison)

An international research team has discovered a new species of a human relative, Homo naledi, uncovered in a cave outside of Johannesburg, South Africa. The discovery in late 2013 may shed light on the diversity of our genus and possibly its origin.

The team’s findings, which are published in two papers in the open-access journal eLife, were announced by South Africa’s University of the Witwatersrand, the National… read more

The CRISPR controversy: faster, cheaper gene editing vs. bioethicists

September 10, 2015

Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPRs) technology employs a guide RNA to direct the Cas9 enzyme (light blue) to a target DNA sequence. Once there, Cas9 will bind when it finds a protospacer-adjacent motif sequence (red) in the DNA and cut both strands, priming the gene sequence for editing. (credit: Adapted from OriGene Technologies)

Within the past few years, a new technology has made altering genes in plants and animals much easier than before. The tool, called CRISPR/Cas9 or just CRISPR, has spurred a flurry of research that could one day lead to hardier crops and livestock, as well as innovative biomedicines.

But along with potential benefits, it raises red flags, according to an open-access article in Chemical & Engineeringread more

Magnetic solitons may lead to more energy-efficient computing

September 10, 2015

Schematic of the x-ray microscopy measurements. The x-ray spot size at the sample was 35 nm and the transmitted x rays were detected by an avalanche photo diode. Images were recorded by raster scanning of the sample. (credit: R. Kukreja et al./Physics Review Letters)

A team of physicists has taken pictures of a theorized but previously undetected “magnetic soliton” that they believe could be an energy-efficient means to transfer data in future electronic devices.

The research, which appears in the journal Physical Review Letters, was conducted by scientists at New York University, Stanford University, and the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

Harnessing solitons to transmit dataread more

Why human genome editing research is essential

“Restricting research ... is premature and dangerous"
September 10, 2015

Genome with mutation (credit: NIH)

Research involving editing the human genome, including research with human embryos, is essential to gain basic understanding of biology and germ cells and should be permitted, according to one of the first global meetings to debate the controversial new techniques.

The bold statement was published today (Thursday, Sept. 10) by the Hinxton Group, a global network of stem cell researchers, bioethicists, and experts on policy and scientific… read more

New video series ‘Beyond the Desktop’ explores potential of 3-D printing

How additive manufacturing could transform medicine, aerospace and space travel
September 10, 2015

additive manufacturing

A five-episode video series called Beyond the Desktop that explores how additive manufacturing could affect the fields of medicine, aerospace, space technology and more has been released by the Wilson Center’s Science and Technology Innovation Program (STIP). The first episode was posted yesterday (Sept. 9); a new episode will be released each Wednesday through early October.

“Desktop 3-D printing has received significant media… read more

First superconducting graphene created

Promises to usher in a new era of graphene electronics and nanoscale quantum devices
September 9, 2015

University of British Columbia physicists have been able to create the first superconducting graphene sample by coating it with lithium atoms. (credit: University of British Columbia)

University of British Columbia (UBC) physicists have created the first single-layer superconducting graphene sample by coating it with lithium atoms.

Although superconductivity has already been observed in layered bulk graphite, inducing superconductivity in single-layer graphene has until now eluded scientists.

“This first experimental realization of superconductivity in graphene promises to usher us in a new era of graphene electronics and nanoscale quantum… read more

Functional carbon nanotube integrated circuits: a breakthrough

Dealing with environmental degradation
September 9, 2015

Complementary SWCNT TFT structures. Atomic force micrograph of the random network SWCNT morphology in the TFT channel with a linear density of ~10 SWCNTs/μm (Height color bar: 0 to 15 nm). (credit: Michael L. Geier et al./Nature Nanotechnology)

Northwestern University engineers say that have finally found the key to practical use of carbon nanotubes (CNTs) in integrated circuits. Individual transistors made from CNTs are faster and more energy-efficient and reliable than those made from other materials.

The problem. But making the leap to wafer-scale integrated circuits (a microprocessor typically has a billion transistors) is a challenge. The process is incredibly expensive, often requiring billion-dollar cleanrooms to… read more

An experimental ultrafast optical transistor based on a silicon nanoparticle

September 9, 2015

An illustration of a silicon nanoparticle switching between modes depending on the intensity of incoming laser pulse. (credit: Nano Letters)

Russian physicists have invented an optical version of a transistor, based on a silicon nanoparticle. The research could lead to optical computers in the future.

Current computers are limited by the time needed to trigger a transistor — usually around 0.1 to 1 nanosecond (10−9 of a second). An optical transistor could work up to 1000 times faster — at picoseconds (10−12 of a second),… read more

‘I’ve seen the future, and it’s …. paper’

How a new origami “zippered tube” design may transform structures from pop-up furniture to buildings
September 8, 2015

Origami 'zipper tubes' interlocking zigzag paper tubes, can be configured to build a variety of structures that have stiffness and function, but can fold compactly for storage or shipping. (credit: Rob Felt)

A new origami “zippered tube” design that makes paper-based (or other thin materials) structures stiff enough to hold weight, yet can fold flat for easy shipping and storage could transform structures ranging from microscopic robots to furniture and even buildings.

That’s what researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the Georgia Institute of Technology, and the University of Tokyo suggest in a Proceedings of the National Academy ofread more

Lipid DNA origami may lead to advanced future nanomachines

September 8, 2015

Scientists have developed a method, using a double layer of lipids, which facilitates the assembly of DNA origami units, bringing us one-step closer to DNA nanomachines. (credit: Kyoto University's Institute for Integrated Cell-Material Sciences)

Kyoto University scientists in Japan have developed a method for creating larger 2-D self-assembling DNA origami* nanostructures.

Current DNA origami methods can create extremely small two- and three-dimensional shapes that could be used as construction material to build nanodevices, such as nanomotors, in the future for targeted drug delivery inside the body, for example. KurzweilAI recently covered advanced methods developed by Brookhaven National Laboratory and  … read more

First known magnetic wormhole created

Could make MRIs more comfortable for patients and improve magnetic imaging
September 7, 2015

magnetic-wormhole ft

A wormhole* that can connect two regions of space magnetically has been created in the laboratory and experimentally demonstrated by physicists at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona in Spain.

This is not a wormhole in space, as in the movie Interstellar. It’s a special design that transfers a magnetic field from one location in space to another in such a way that the process is magnetically… read more

New laser design could dramatically shrink autonomous-vehicle 3-D laser-ranging systems

September 4, 2015

This self-sweeping laser couples an optical field with the mechanical motion of a high-contrast grating (HCG) mirror. The HCG mirror is supported by mechanical springs connected to layers of semiconductor material. The red layer represents the laser’s gain (for light amplification), and the blue layers form the system’s second mirror. The force of the light causes the top mirror to vibrate at high speed. The vibration allows the laser to automatically change color as it scans. (credit: Weijian Yang)

UC Berkeley engineers have invented a new laser-ranging system that can reduce the power consumption, size, weight and cost of LIDAR (light detection and ranging, aka “light radar”), which is used in self-driving vehicles* to determine the distance to an object, and in real-time image capture for 3D videos.

“The advance could shrink components that now take up the space of a shoebox down to… read more

Toyota invests $50 million in intelligent vehicle technology at Stanford, MIT AI research centers

September 4, 2015

MIT's Stata Center, which houses the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (credit: MIT)

Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC) announced today (Fri. Sept. 4) that it will be investing approximately $50 million over the next five years to establish joint research centers at the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab (SAIL) and MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL).

Toyota also said Dr. Gill Pratt, former Program Manager at DARPA and leader of its recent Robotics Challenge, has joined Toyota to… read more

A user-friendly 3-D printing interface for customizing designs

Design tool lets novices do in minutes what would take experts in computer-aided design hours
September 4, 2015

A new Web-based interface for design novices allows a wide range of modifications to a basic design — such as a toy car or a black-and-white "yin-yang" cup — that are guaranteed to be both structurally stable and printable on a 3-D printer. (credit: Courtesy of the researchers (edited by MIT News))

Researchers at MIT and the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel have developed a system that automatically turns CAD files into visual models that users can modify in real time, simply by moving virtual sliders on a Web page. Once the design meets their specifications, they can hit the print button to send it to a 3-D printer.

Currently, 3-D printing an object from any but the simplest designs requires… read more

The Holy Grail: Machine Learning + Extreme Robotics

September 3, 2015


Two experts on robotics and machine learning will reveal breakthrough developments in humanlike robots and machine learning at the annual SXSW conference in Austin next March, in a proposed* panel called “The Holy Grail: Machine Learning + Extreme Robotics.”

Participants will interact with Hanson Robotics’ forthcoming state-of-the-art female Sophia robot as a participant on the panel as she spontaneously tracks human faces, listens to… read more

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