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How robots can learn from babies

Are babies smarter than AI programmers?
December 7, 2015

baby & bot

Babies learn about the world by exploring how their bodies move in space, grabbing toys, pushing things off tables and by watching and imitating what adults are doing. So instead of laboriously writing code (or moving a robot’s arm or body to show it how to perform an action), why not just let them learn like babies?

That’s exactly what University of Washington (UW) developmental psychologists and computer scientists… read more

‘Nanobombs’ that blow up cancer cells

These nanoparticles contain a chemical used in baking bread that makes cancer cells swell and burst when exposed to near-infrared laser light
December 7, 2015

nanobomb ft

Researchers at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center have developed nanoparticles that swell and burst when exposed to near-infrared laser light.

These “nanobombs” may be able to kill cancer cells outright, or at least stall their growth — overcoming a biological barrier that has blocked development of drug agents that attempt to alter cancer-cell gene expression (conversion of genes to proteins). These kinds of drug agents… read more

Hybrid solid-state chips and biological cells integrated at molecular level

Biological ion channels combine with solid-state transistors to create a new kind of hybrid bioelectronics. Imagine chips with dog-like capability to taste and smell, or even recognize specific molecules.
December 7, 2015

Illustration depicting biocell attached to CMOS integrated circuit with membrane containing sodium-potassium pumps in pore (credit: Trevor Finney and Jared Roseman/Columbia Engineering)

Columbia Engineering researchers have combined biological and solid-state components for the first time, opening the door to creating entirely new artificial biosystems.

In this experiment, they used a biological cell to power a conventional solid-state complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) integrated circuit. An artificial lipid bilayer membrane containing adenosine triphosphate (ATP)-powered ion pumps (which provide energy for cells) was used as a source of ions (which were converted to… read more

Possible biochemical mechanism underlying long-term memories identified

Why is a prion-like molecular state necessary for persistence of memory? Could a transient memory be made permanent with a "Limitless" NZT-type neurotropic drug --- or permanently forgotten?
December 4, 2015

Neuronal synapse-ft

It’s a nagging question: why do some of our memories fade away, while others last forever? Now scientists at the Stowers Institute for Medical Research have identified a possible biochemical mechanism: a specific synaptic protein called Orb2 can either block or maintain neural synapses (connections between neurons), which create and maintain long-term memories.

So for a memory to persist, the synaptic connections must be kept strong. But how? The… read more

First direct evidence for synaptic plasticity in fruit fly brain

December 4, 2015

A singe dopamine neuron (yellow) in the mushroom body of the fruit fly Drosophila. Glenn Turner and colleagues trained flies to avoid certain odors by pairing them with stimulations of dopamine neurons signaling punishment. They found that this form of associative learning is driven by changes in synaptic strength between mushroom body neurons that process odors and downstream neurons that generate behavioral responses. (credit: Turner Lab, CSHL)

Scientists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory  (CSHL) have resolved a decades-long debate about how the brain is modified when an animal learns.

Using newly developed tools for manipulating specific populations of neurons, the researchers have for the first time observed direct evidence of synaptic plasticity — changes in the strength of synapse connections between neurons — in the fruit fly brain while flies are learning.

Due… read more

Recyclable, sustainable petroleum-free bioplastics

December 4, 2015

A graphical illustration of the researchers’ polymer synthesis process. The single molecules, or monomers, are cooled in order to polymerize; to cycle back, heat is applied. (credit: Jing Tang/Chen lab)

The textbooks and journals (and especially the oil companies) said making a completely recyclable, biodegradable, petroleum-free polymer couldn’t be done.

But Colorado State University chemists have done it — paving a potential new road to truly sustainable, petroleum-free plastics. Just reheat is for an hour and it converts back to its original molecular state, ready for reuse.

Their starting feedstock: a biorenewable monomer that textbooks and journal… read more

These are the thinnest, strongest plates that can be picked up by hand

Could be used in flying insect-inspired robots, solar-powered drones, and other structural applications where low weight and high material strength are essential
December 4, 2015

Even though they are less than 100 nanometers thick, the researchers' plates are strong enough to be picked up by hand and retain their shape after being bent and squeezed. (credit: University of Pennsylvania)

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have created the thinnest plates that can be picked up and manipulated by hand, using corrugated plates of aluminum oxide. They are thousands of times thinner than a sheet of paper and hundreds of times thinner than household cling wrap, but they spring back to their original shape after being bent and twisted.

Like cling wrap, comparably thin materials immediately curl… read more

White graphene + graphene –> super-thin, cooler, more flexible electronics

December 2, 2015

Growth and transfer of 2-D material such as hexagonal boron nitride and graphene was performed by a team that included Yijing Stehle of Oak Ridge National Laboratory. (credit: ORNL)

A new era of electronics and even quantum devices could be ushered in with the fabrication of a virtually perfect single layer of “white graphene,” according to researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

The material is technically known as hexagonal boron nitride (see “New inventions track greenhouse gas, remediate oil spills“). It is an insulator (instead of a conductor of electricity as with… read more

Evidence that our Sun could release ‘superflares’ 1000x greater than previously recorded

Could release energy equivalent to a billion megaton bombs, potentially disastrous for life on Earth
December 2, 2015

SUN_B & BORDER: What the Sun might look like if it were to produce a superflare. A large flaring coronal loop structure is shown towering over a solar active region (credit: University of Warwick/Ronald Warmington)

Astrophysicists have discovered a stellar “superflare” on a star observed by NASA’s Kepler space telescope with wave patterns similar to those that have been observed in the Sun’s solar flares. (Superflares are flares that are thousands of times more powerful than those ever recorded on the Sun, and are frequently observed on some stars.)

The scientists found the evidence in the star KIC9655129 in the Milky Way. They suggest… read more

How to make diamond objects with a laser at room temperature

December 1, 2015

This is a scanning electron microscopy image of microdiamonds made using the new technique (credit: Jagdish Narayan, Anagh Bhaumik/APL Materials)

Researchers from North Carolina State University have discovered a new phase of solid carbon, called Q-carbon, that is distinct from the known phases of graphite and diamond. They have also developed a technique for using Q-carbon to make diamond-related structures at room temperature and at ambient atmospheric pressure in air.*

Phases are distinct forms of the same material. Graphite is one of the solid phases of carbon;… read more

Supermassive black-hole-eating star ejects high-speed flare

December 1, 2015

Artist’s conception of a star being drawn toward a black hole and destroyed (left), and the black hole later emitting a “jet” of plasma composed of the debris left from the star’s destruction. (credit: modified from an original image by Amadeo Bachar.)

An international team of astrophysicists has for the first time witnessed a black hole swallowing a star and ejecting a flare of matter moving at nearly the speed of light.

The finding, reported in the journal Science, tracks the star — about the size of our sun — as it shifts from its customary path, slips into the gravitational pull of a supermassive black hole and is sucked in,… read more

Do fish have emotions and consciousness?

Or are chilled fish just thermotropic?
December 1, 2015

Zebrafish (credit: Azul/CC)

Researchers in Spain and the U.K. have made the first observations infish of an increase in body temperature of 2–4 ºC when zebrafish were subjected to a stressful situation (they were confined in a net inside the tank at an uncomforable 27ºC for 15 minutes).*

This phenomenon is called “emotional fever” because it’s related to the emotions that animals feel in the face of an external stimulus, which been… read more

New inventions track greenhouse gas, remediate oil spills

December 1, 2015

Camera test at Foljesjon, a lake in a research area west of Vanersborg, Sweden. (credit: Linkoping University)

A new camera that can image methane in the air, allowing for precision monitoring of a greenhouse gas, has been developed by a team of researchers from Linköping and Stockholm Universities.

The new camera should help us better understand the rapid but irregular increase of methane in the atmosphere (which has puzzled researchers) and identify the sources and sinks of methane in the landscape. It may also suggest ways… read more

‘Invisible wires’ could improve solar-cell efficiency

November 30, 2015

Silicon pillars emerge from nanosize holes in a thin gold film. The pillars funnel 97 percent of incoming light to a silicon substrate, a technology that could significantly boost the performance of conventional solar cells. (credit: Vijay Narasimhan, Stanford University)

Stanford scientists have discovered how to make the electrical wiring on top of solar cells nearly invisible to incoming light, using nanosize silicon pillars to hide the wires. The new design could dramatically boost solar-cell efficiency, the researchers suggest.

A solar cell is basically a semiconductor that converts sunlight into electricity, sandwiched between metal contacts that carry the electrical current generated by the cell. But with current… read more

Capturing a single photon

Devices based on the research findings may be essential for future quantum communications systems
November 30, 2015

Capturing a single photon from a pulse of light: Devices based on the Weizmann Institute model may be the backbone of future quantum communications systems (credit: Weizmann Institute of Science)

Weizmann Institute of Science researchers have managed to isolate a single photon out of a pulse of light. Single photons may be the backbone of future quantum communication systems, the researchers say.

The mechanism relies on a physical effect that they call “single-photon Raman interaction” (SPRINT). “The advantage of SPRINT is that it is completely passive; it does not require any control fields — just the interaction… read more

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