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Australian scientists invent 'tractor beam' that can manipulate floating objects

© AFP Photo
The oil slick from the grounded container ship 'Rena' stains Papamoa Beach near Tauranga
Australian scientists have created a water-based "tractor beam" - a wave generator that is able to manipulate floating objects. However, researchers say no mathematical model exists so far to explain this complex phenomenon.

Researchers at the Australian National University in Canberra have demonstrated the ability of simple wave generators to control things adrift in the water - and even move them against the direction of the waves.

In the research, published in Nature magazine, scientists claim that their discovery "would find a broad range of applications," from new solutions to oil spills or ways to rescue malfunctioning ships to a better understanding of dangerous rip tides that drag swimmers into the water even when waves are heading towards the shore.

The tractor beam barrows its name from science fiction, where it is successfully used to manipulate any object from a distance and move it towards an alien or future-human spacecraft.

To illustrate the principle of the technique, the team generated three-dimensional waves in a water tank, and found the very frequency and size of the waves necessary to keep a ping-pong ball floating in the tank, then moved the ball in whatever direction they wanted.
Stop

Keeping viruses at bay: How our organism definitively detects RNA viruses

© Claudia Siebenhener/UKB
This image depicts Marion Goldeck, Dr. Martin Schlee (sitting), Dr. Winfried Barchet, Thomas Zillinger and Prof. Dr. med. Gunther Hartmann, Director of the Institute of Clinical Chemistry and Clinical Pharmacology of the University of Bonn Hospital.
Researchers at the University of Bonn Hospital discover how our organism definitively detects RNA viruses.

Our immunosensory system detects virus such as influenza via specific characteristics of viral ribonucleic acid. Previously, it was unclear how the immune system prevents viruses from simply donning molecular camouflage in order to escape detection. An international team of researchers from the University of Bonn Hospital and the London Research Institute have now discovered that our immunosensory system attacks viruses on a molecular level. In this way, a healthy organism can keep rotaviruses, a common cause of diarrheal epidemics, at bay. The results have been published in the renowned journal Nature.

Every day our bodies are confronted with a variety of viruses and other pathogens. Our immune systems must constantly decide what is "foreign" and what is part of the body itself so that the body's own cells are not inadvertently attacked by its own defense troops. Viruses imitate the body's own structures and thus represent a special challenge for the immune system. In this way, the immune system works like a sensory organ which continuously detects dangers and initiates the appropriate defense mechanisms. This immunosensory system searches for viruses by surveilling the body's own ribonucleic acid (RNA) for RNA with characteristics typical of viruses. In RNA viruses, RNA is the carrier of the virus's genetic information. To reproduce, viruses must multiply their RNA, and this multiplication leads to the development of molecular patterns which are in turn used to detect the viruses themselves.
Arrow Down

Italian doc: I've found the key to head transplants

Head Transplant
© The Local, Italy
Science fiction? Or soon to be science fact?
An Italian scientist has claimed that head transplants could be possible, after what he says is a major breakthrough in the technique. But another expert told The Local said the whole idea was potentially unethical.

Neuroscientist Sergio Canavero, from the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group, was hit with a barrage of criticism after publishing his initial research last year, in which he said head transplants could be carried out by severing the heads of two patients at the same time, then cooling and flushing out the 'recipient' head before attaching it to its new body with polymer glue.

Some critics at the time said head transplants were "Frankenstein science," while others asked how Canavero proposed to connect the donors' and recipients' spinal chords.

But Canavero now says it is possible to merge bone marrow, surgically cut with an ultra-sharp knife, when fusing one person's head onto another person's spine.

He wrote in the Frontier of Neurology journal this month that the operation would be made possible using special membrane-fusion substances called fusogens, which would be injected between the two stumps cut in the spinal chord.

He backed up his claims by pointing to experiments on rats at the University of Dusseldorf, adding that the animals had fully recovered use of their limbs after the procedure.
Map

HealthMap algorithm predicted Ebola outbreak nine days before it was announced

ebola worker
The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is focusing a spotlight on a unique online tool run by experts in Boston that flagged a "mystery hemorrhagic fever" in forested areas of southeastern Guinea nine days before the World Health Organization formally announced the epidemic.

HealthMap is an innovative tool that uses algorithms to scour tens of thousands of social media sites, local news, government websites, infectious-disease physicians' social networks, and other sources to detect and track disease outbreaks. Sophisticated software filters irrelevant data, classifies the relevant information, identifies diseases and maps their locations with the help of experts.

The site is run by a group of 45 researchers, epidemiologists, and software developers at BCH (Boston Children's Hospital). HealthMap was first introduced in 2006 with a core audience of public health specialists, but that changed as the system evolved and the public became increasingly hungry for information during the swine flu pandemic.

While public health workers still make up a large proportion of users, HealthMap has been adapted to be more user-friendly for the general public. It locates the outbreaks on a world map and creates a color-coding system that indicates the severity of an outbreak on the basis of news reportage about it. Users of the site can then analyze and visualize the data, gaining unprecedented views of disease outbreaks. Here's what the output looks like:
Comet 2

New Comet: P/2014 O3 (PanSTARRS)

Discovery Date: July 30, 2014

Magnitude: 20.3 mag

Discoverer: Pan-STARRS 1 telescope (Haleakala)
P/2014 O3
© Aerith Net
Magnitudes Chart
The orbital elements are published on M.P.E.C. 2014-P41.
Laptop

New IBM-developed processor functions like the human brain

Supercomputer
© Thinkstock
The project, which was funded by DARPA, could allow a chip to perform supercomputer-level calculations without needing to connect to the Internet to do so.
IBM researchers have announced the development of a new computer chip that is inspired by the brain, mimicking the way that the mind can recognize patterns utilizing a web of interconnected transistors to simulate neural networks.

The processor is named TrueNorth, and according to John Markoff of the New York Times, it contains more than 5.4 billion transistors, yet requires no more power to function than a hearing aid (just 70 milliwatts of power versus the minimum of 35 watts required by current Intel processors, with have 1.4 billion transistors).

TrueNorth contains electronic "neurons" capable of signaling others when a specific type of data reaches a predetermined threshold, allowing them to work in unison to organize data into patterns, Markoff said. Using this infrastructure, the chip could ultimately be capable of calculations beyond the modern supercomputer, recognize when a person is performing a specific action, or controlling the activities of a robot.

Despite being no larger than a postage stamp, this neurosynaptic processor could also be used in self-driving vehicles and artificial intelligence systems installed on mobile devices, the AFP news agency explained. It is part of the company's new approach to computer architecture design known as "cognitive computing."
Robot

Computer passes 'Turing Test' for the first time after convincing users it is human

Alan Turing
© Agence France-Presse
Alan Turing.

A ''super computer'' has duped humans into thinking it is a 13-year-old boy to become the first machine to pass the ''iconic'' Turing Test, experts have said.

Five machines were tested at the Royal Society in central London to see if they could fool people into thinking they were humans during text-based conversations.

The test was devised in 1950 by computer science pioneer and Second World War codebreaker Alan Turing, who said that if a machine was indistinguishable from a human, then it was ''thinking''.

No computer had ever previously passed the Turing Test, which requires 30 per cent of human interrogators to be duped during a series of five-minute keyboard conversations, organisers from the University of Reading said.

But ''Eugene Goostman'', a computer programme developed to simulate a 13-year-old boy, managed to convince 33 per cent of the judges that it was human, the university said.

Professor Kevin Warwick, from the University of Reading, said: ''In the field of artificial intelligence there is no more iconic and controversial milestone than the Turing Test.

''It is fitting that such an important landmark has been reached at the Royal Society in London, the home of British science and the scene of many great advances in human understanding over the centuries. This milestone will go down in history as one of the most exciting.''
Info

Violent solar system history uncovered by Western Australia meteorite

Meteorite
© NASA
Curtin University planetary scientists have shed some light on the bombardment history of our solar system by studying a unique volcanic meteorite recovered in Western Australia.

Captured on camera seven years ago falling on the WA side of the Nullarbor Plain, the Bunburra Rockhole Meterorite has unique characteristics that suggest it came from a large asteroid that has never before been identified.

Associate Professor Fred Jourdan, along with colleagues Professor Phil Bland and Dr Gretchen Benedix from Curtin's Department of Applied Geology, believe the meteorite is evidence that a series of collisions of asteroids occurred more than 3.4 billion years ago.

"This meteorite is definitely one-of-a-kind," Dr Jourdan said.

"Nearly all meteorites we locate come from Vesta, the second largest asteroid in the solar system. But after studying the meteorite's composition and orbit, it appears it derived from a large, unidentified asteroid that was split apart during the collisions."

The research team dated the meteorite with the argon-argon technique, a well-known method for dating impact crater events, to offer a glimpse of the asteroid's impact history.
Calculator

Google search results will favor encrypted web sites

© Reuters / Mal Langsdon
Websites that are not encrypted will receive a lower ranking on Google's search engine, in a move designed to push site owners towards adopting technology that protects users' data against hackers.

The step is the latest in a series that Google has made to improve the security of the web - something it has focused on since Edward Snowden's National Security Agency (NSA) spying allegations broke last year, which detailed information about mass government surveillance by the US and some of its allies, including the UK.

All major websites use encryption when a person submits their login details, but some sites then downgrade to an unencrypted connection.

"We hope to see more websites using HTTPS in the future," Google said in a blog post.
Chalkboard

Mystery of brain cell growth unraveled by scientists

In the developing brain, special proteins that act like molecular tugboats push or pull on growing nerve cells, or neurons, helping them navigate to their assigned places amidst the brain's wiring.

How a single protein can exert both a push and a pull force to nudge a neuron in the desired direction is a longstanding mystery that has now been solved by scientists from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and collaborators in Europe and China.

Jia-huai Wang, PhD, who led the work at Dana-Farber and Peking University in Beijing, is a corresponding author of a report published in the August 7 online edition of Neuron that explains how one guidance protein, netrin-1, can either attract or repel a brain cell to steer it along its course. Wang and co-authors at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Hamburg, Germany, used X-ray crystallography to reveal the three-dimensional atomic structure of netrin-1 as it bound to a docking molecule, called DCC, on the axon of a neuron. The axon is the long, thin extension of a neuron that connects to other neurons or to muscle cells.

As connections between neurons are established -- in the developing brain and throughout life -- axons grow out from a neuron and extend through the brain until they reach the neuron they are connecting to. To choose its path, a growing axon senses and reacts to different molecules it encounters along the way. One of these molecules, netrin-1, posed an interesting puzzle: an axon can be both attracted to and repelled from this cue. The axon's behavior is determined by two types of receptors on its tip: DCC drives attraction, while UNC5 in combination with DCC drives repulsion.
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