Science & Technology


Wireless mind control?: New technique allows direct stimulation of neurons

Researchers at MIT have developed a method to stimulate brain tissue using external magnetic fields and injected magnetic nanoparticles — a technique allowing direct stimulation of neurons, which could be an effective treatment for a variety of neurological diseases, without the need for implants or external connections.

The research, conducted by Polina Anikeeva, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering, graduate student Ritchie Chen, and three others, has been published in the journal Science.

Comment: These experiments seem eerily similar to José Manuel Rodriguez Delgado's work. It only takes a slight nudge of the imagination to conceive of other, more insidious, motives that could arise from experiments such as these.


NASA Lunar Reconnaissance orbiter records new crater

© NASA / Goddard Space Flight Center / Arizona State University
This image pairing shows a lunar impact crater created on March 17, 2013. The two images are from the LROC instrument aboard NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. The left image is from Feb. 12, 2012, and the right image is from July 28, 2013.
NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has revealed images of the lunar surface before and after the largest recorded explosion detected on the surface. The luminous flash was recorded by researchers at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.

An object the size of a small boulder hit the surface in Mare Imbrium two years ago, and exploded in a flash of light "nearly 10 times as bright as anything ever recorded before," NASA said. Since 2005 the Marshall group recorded over 300 flashes, assumed to be meteoroid impacts. The brightest recorded flash occurred on March 17, 2013.

The Lunar Reconnaissance Camera (LROC) scientists managed to obtain observations before and after the impact. The US space agency explained in a statement that comparing the actual size of the crater to the brightness of the flash helps to validate impact models.

Comment: Expect more meteors coming to a planet near you.


NASA detects two coronal holes, one is "largest in decades"

This image from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory on March 16, 2015, shows two dark spots, called coronal holes. The lower coronal hole was one of the biggest observed in decades.
NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, captured this solar image on March 16, 2015, which clearly shows two dark patches, known as coronal holes. The larger coronal hole of the two, near the southern pole, covers an estimated 6- to 8-percent of the total solar surface. While that may not sound significant, it is one of the largest polar holes scientists have observed in decades. The smaller coronal hole, towards the opposite pole, is long and narrow. It covers about 3.8 billion square miles on the sun - only about 0.16-percent of the solar surface.

Ice Cube

Never slip on ice again with glass shard shoes

© Alamy
A new type of shoe could stop ice slips.
Slipping on ice need never happen again after scientists invented a new type of rubber sole for shoes which allows the wearer to walk easily, even up treacherous slopes.

Canadian researchers have developed a new material which contains microscopic glass fibres which act as tiny spikes, gripping the ground in even the most nerve-jangling icy weather.

Thousands of people are left injured in Britain each year after slipping on pavements and steps during the winter and the team believe the invention could prevent many accidents, particularly among the elderly.

"I think anyone who has slipped or fallen on ice can testify that it is a painful or nerve-raking experience," said Dr Reza Rizvi, a postdoctoral fellow at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute who works on developing materials that can provide better traction on ice.

"Now imagine being frail or disabled - a slippery sidewalk or a driveway is all that it takes to trigger a life-changing fall.

"A serious fall on ice resulting in a hip fracture can be a death sentence for an older adult."

Ice is so dangerous because when the temperature get close to freezing a thin lubricating layer of water forms at the surface.


Three rare celestial events in one day: Solar eclipse, Supermoon and Spring equinox

© Independent
As the eclipse plunges the UK and other places into darkness this Friday, two other rare if less spectacular celestial events will be taking place, too: a Supermoon and the Spring equinox.

A Supermoon, or perigee moon, happens when the full or new moon does its closest fly-by of the Earth, making it look bigger than it normally does. And the spring equinox refers to the time of the year when the day and night are of equal duration, mid-way between the longest and shortest days.

The solar eclipse refers to a phenomenon where the sun and moon line up, so that the latter obscures the former. And while it won't be affected by the two other events, it is rare that the three events happen even individually.


Most of the time, there are between three and six Supermoons a year. There is set to be six in 2015, two of which have already happened. The next will take place on March 20, the day of the eclipse, and the others will come in August, September and October.

Eclipses can only happen at new moon, when the moon appears is entirely in shadow. And the spectacular Supermoon images that are often spotted can only happen when the moon is full, since it can only be seen then.

As a result, only the last three Supermoons of this year will be visible — because the moon is new rather than full on March 20, it won't be seen. But it will be gliding past us closer than ever, and its shadow will be visible as it blocks out the sun on Friday morning.

Green Light

Artificial night time lighting has wide ranging affects on plants and insects

Artificial night time light from sources such as street lamps affects the growth and flowering of plants and even the number of insects that depend on those plants for food, a study published today confirms.

The research shows that light pollution can impact the natural environment in complex ways that may be hard to predict. Due to the global extent of artificial light at night, there are concerns that these ecological impacts may be widespread.

Researchers from the University of Exeter simulated the effects of street lighting on artificial grassland plots containing a community of invertebrates at night, exposing them to two different types of light treatment -- a 'white' light similar to newer commercial LED street lighting systems and an 'amber' light simulating the type of sodium street lamp still found in much of the UK.

The experiments investigated both top-down (driven by predators) and bottom-up (food or resource limited) effects of the lights on the population density of a species of pea aphid, and in the presence and absence of predators including ladybirds.

Comment: Now that we have the ability to keep lights burning around the clock, not only are humans becoming sleep deprived, but it appears this is having dire effects on our ecosystem in ways that science is only beginning to understand.


Bright nova in Sagittarius

Following the posting on the Central Bureau's Transient Object Confirmation Page about a possible bright Nova in Sgr (TOCP Designation: PNV J18365700-2855420) we performed some follow-up of this object remotely through a 0.61-m f/6.5 astrograph + CCD) of iTelescope network (MPC Code U69 - Auberry, California - USA).

On our images taken on March 16.5, 2015 we can confirm the presence of an optical counterpart with R-CCD magnitude 5.9 at coordinates:

R.A. = 18 36 56.85, Decl.= -28 55 40.0 (equinox 2000.0; UCAC-4 catalogue reference stars).

Our annotated confirmation image. Click on it for a bigger version.
© Remanzacco Observatory
An animation showing a comparison between our confirmation image and the archive POSS2/UKSTU plate (R Filter - 1996). Our image was obtained when the object was only about +15 degree on the horizon.

According to the Atel #7230 "an optical spectrum of PNV J18365700-2855420 (see CBAT TOCP) was obtained using the FRODOspec spectrograph on the Liverpool Telescope at 2015 March 16.27 UT. The spectrum shows strong Balmer series emission exhibiting P Cygni profiles with velocities of ~2800 km/s. Numerous Fe II emission lines (also with P Cygni profiles) are also seen, along with O I, Si II and Mg II features. This confirms that PNV J18365700-2855420 is a bright classical nova of the Fe II spectral type"


'Star Wars' like flying cars to hit skies by 2017

Slovak company AeroMobil has been developing a futuristic vision of real flying cars. Now, for the first time, its CEO put a proper timeline on the idea: the expensive toys are to hit the super-rich market by 2017, but quickly improve on specs and price.

The company itself has been around for five years, and past prototypes have existed, all getting ever closer to the technological requirements. This time around, at the Austin, Texas, annual South by Southwest (SXSW) conference on music, film and all things interactive, CEO Juraj Vaculik said he hopes to have a working model for "wealthy supercar buyers" in just two years, according to CBC News.

And that's not all. Next up, the flying cars will be auto-piloting you through city traffic - which is probably a lesser stretch of the imagination than the first news, given how self-driving technology has taken off recently.

Comment: Hopefully we will all be around to see this technology take off.
Here are some othe flying cars:


Chameleons' color-change secret revealed

The chameleon's uncanny ability to change color has long mystified people, but now the lizard's secret is out: Chameleons can rapidly change color by adjusting a layer of special cells nestled within their skin, a new study finds.

Unlike other animals that change color, such as the squid and octopus, chameleons do not modify their hues by accumulating or dispersing pigments within their skin cells, the researchers found. Instead, the lizards rely onstructural changes that affect how light reflects off their skin, the researchers said.

To investigate how the reptiles change color, researchers studied five adult male, four adult female and four juvenile panther chameleons (Furcifer pardalis), a type of lizard that lives in Madagascar. The scientists found that the chameleons had two superposed thick layers of iridophore cells — iridescent cells that have pigment and reflect light.

Comment: There are reportedly 180 species of chameleons, noted for stereoscopic vision, that live in a range of habitats from the rain forest to the desert.


Shape-shifting robot a step closer with development of unique gallium alloy

A metal alloy that powers its own movement and deforms to get through tight spots could let us to build a Terminator 2 style robot (minus homicidal tendencies)

Hasta la vista, baby. A real-life T-1000, the shape-shifting liquid-metal robot from Terminator 2, is a step closer, thanks to a self-powered liquid metal motor.

The device is surprisingly simple: just a drop of metal alloy made mostly of gallium - which is liquid at just under 30 °C - with some indium and tin mixed in. When placed in a solution of sodium hydroxide, or even brine, and kept in contact with a flake of aluminium for "fuel", it moves around for about an hour. It can travel in a straight line, run around the outside of a circular dish, or squeeze through complex shapes.

"The soft machine looks rather intelligent and [can] deform itself according to the space it voyages in, just like [the] Terminator does from the science-fiction film," says Jing Liu from Tsinghua University in Beijing, China. "These unusual behaviours perfectly resemble the living organisms in nature," he says, adding that they raise questions about the definition of life.

When they first saw the drop move, Liu and colleagues weren't sure how it was able to do so. Experiments revealed two mechanisms at play. Some of the thrust stems from a charge imbalance across the drop, which in turn creates a pressure differential between the front and the back that pushes it forward. The aluminium also reacts with the sodium hydroxide, releasing hydrogen bubbles which drive the drop even faster.