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R2-D2

'Bionic eye' gives blind man sight after 33 years

© Image from dukemedicine.org
A previously blind man from North Carolina has been granted the ability to digitally see once again through a new "bionic eye" which can transform light into images.

Larry Hester, 66, was blind for 33 years before scientists at Duke University, in North Carolina, switched on the device.

As the "eye" was switched on, Hester jumped from the shock initially, before his face broke into a persistent smile and his wife, Jerry, rushed over to him to share his joy. "Can you really see?" she said, adding: "Can I give him a kiss?"

Hester became only the seventh person in the US to have the eye - and he expressed his good fortune to his doctors.

"I just wonder how I have been so lucky," he said. "Why me? But if I can use what I learn from this to help others with RP, it will not just be for my benefit."

Both Larry and Jerry Hester had lost hope of any improvements in Larry's eyesight until Jerry found an article in a magazine last year.
Sherlock

Snowden says, 'Get rid of DropBox' and avoid Facebook

© Christopher Lane/AP Images for The New Yorker
Edward Snowden talks with Jane Mayer via satellite at the 15th Annual New Yorker Festival on Saturday, Oct. 11, 2014 in New York.
Edward Snowden has hit out at Dropbox and other services he says are "hostile to privacy," urging web users to abandon unencrypted communication and adjust privacy settings to prevent governments from spying on them in increasingly intrusive ways.

"We are no longer citizens, we no longer have leaders. We're subjects, and we have rulers," Snowden told The New Yorker magazine in a comprehensive hour-long interview.

There isn't enough investment into security research, into understanding how metadata could better be protected and why that is more necessary today than yesterday, he said.

The whistleblower believes one fallacy in how authorities view individual rights has to do with making the individual forsake those rights by default. Snowden's point is that the moment you are compelled to reveal that you have nothing to hide is when the right to privacy stops being a right - because you are effectively waiving that right.

"When you say, 'I have nothing to hide,' you're saying, 'I don't care about this right.' You're saying, 'I don't have this right, because I've got to the point where I have to justify it.' The way rights work is, the government has to justify its intrusion into your rights - you don't have to justify why you need freedom of speech."

In that situation, it becomes OK to live in a world where one is no longer interested in privacy as such - a world where Facebook, Google and Dropbox have become ubiquitous, and where there are virtually no safeguards against the wrongful use of the information one puts there.

Magic Wand

Scientists identify the signature of aging in the brain


Immunofluorescence microscope image of the choroid plexus. Epithelial cells are in green and chemokine proteins (CXCL10) are in red
How the brain ages is still largely an open question - in part because this organ is mostly insulated from direct contact with other systems in the body, including the blood and immune systems. In research that was recently published in Science, Weizmann Institute researchers Prof. Michal Schwartz of the Neurobiology Department and Dr. Ido Amit of Immunology Department found evidence of a unique "signature" that may be the "missing link" between cognitive decline and aging. The scientists believe that this discovery may lead, in the future, to treatments that can slow or reverse cognitive decline in older people.

Until a decade ago, scientific dogma held that the blood-brain barrier prevents the blood-borne immune cells from attacking and destroying brain tissue. Yet in a long series of studies, Schwartz's group had shown that the immune system actually plays an important role both in healing the brain after injury and in maintaining the brain's normal functioning. They have found that this brain-immune interaction occurs across a barrier that is actually a unique interface within the brain's territory.
Health

Ultraviolet light robot kills Ebola in two minutes on surfaces

While vaccine makers and drug companies are rushing to bring medical interventions to the market that might address the Ebola pandemic, there's already a technology available right now that can kill Ebola in just two minutes in hospitals, quarantine centers, commercial offices and even public schools.

It's called the Xenex Germ-Zapping Robot, and it was invented by a team of Texas doctors whose company is based on San Antonio. (And no, I didn't get paid to write this. I'm covering this because this technology appears to be a viable lifesaving invention.)

The Xenex Germ-Zapping Robot uses pulsed xenon-generated UV light to achieve what the company calls "the advanced environmental cleaning of healthcare facilities." Because ultraviolet light destroys the integrity of the RNA that viruses are made of, it renders viruses "dead." (Viruses aren't really alive in the first place, technically speaking, so the correct term is "nonviable.")

Ebola, just like most other viruses, are quickly destroyed by UV light. That's why Ebola likes to spread in dark places where sunlight doesn't reach. (Think of Ebola as a "vampire" virus that feeds off human blood but shuns sunlight...) The Xenex robot destroys Ebola on surfaces in just two minutes, zapping them with a specific wavelength of UV light at concentrations that are 25,000 times higher than natural sunlight.
Syringe

Cure for Type 1 diabetes imminent after Harvard stem-cell breakthrough

Insulin Injection
© Alamy
Harvard University has, for the first time, managed to manufacture the millions of beta cells required for transplantation.
A cure for diabetes could be imminent after scientists discovered how to make huge quantities of insulin-producing cells, in a breakthrough hailed as significant as antibiotics.

Harvard University has, for the first time, managed to manufacture the millions of beta cells required for transplantation.

It could mean the end of daily insulin injections for the 400,000 people in Britain living with Type 1 diabetes.

And it marks the culmination of 23-years of research for Harvard professor Doug Melton who has been trying to find a cure for the disease since his son Sam was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes as a baby.

"We are now just one pre-clinical step away from the finish line," said Prof Melton.

Asked about his children's reaction he said: "I think like all kids, they always assumed that if I said I'd do this, I'd do it,

"It was gratifying to know that we can do something that we always thought was possible."

The stem cell-derived beta cells are presently undergoing trials in animal models, including non-human primates, where they are still producing insulin after several months, Prof Melton said.
Blue Planet

Ultra-rare white lion cubs born in Crimean zoo

© Ruptly Video Screenshot
Two-week-old white lion cubs have been showing their toothless grins to zoo visitors and workers at the Taigan Safari Park in Crimea. Check out the touching footage of the adorable little cubs taken by RT.

The video shows three cubs lying in the grass together and hugged by the park's director, and then taken to their father and mother - the latter a gorgeous white lioness.

The director of the safari park noted how unique the cubs are.

"We are happy about all baby animals born in the Taigan Safari Park, but we're happiest about rare animal births, like white lions. There is a really small number of them all over the world. But in Taigan Safari Park they are always being born to our adult lioness," Oleg Zubkov told RT.
Rocket

Astronauts may hibernate for Mars journey

Stasis
© 20th Century Fox
A Nasa-backed study is exploring the feasibility of lowering the cost of a human expedition to Mars by putting the astronauts in deep sleep. The deep sleep, called torpor, would reduce astronauts' metabolic functions with existing medical procedures.

"Therapeutic torpor has been around in theory since the 1980s and really since 2003 has been a staple for critical care trauma patients in hospitals," said aerospace engineer Mark Schaffer, with SpaceWorks Enterprises in Atlanta, earlier this week at the International Astronomical Congress here. So far, the duration of a patient's time in torpor state has been limited to about one week.

Coupled with intravenous feeding, a crew could be put in hibernation for the transit time to Mars, which under the best-case scenario would take 180 days one-way. "We haven't had the need to keep someone in (therapeutic torpor) for longer than seven days. For human Mars missions, we need to push that to 90 days, 180 days," Schaffer said.

Comment: Torpor is a condition that can happen naturally from hypothermia. It shuts down most non-vital body processes and dramatically slows down the metabolism. The torpor state would be achieved by lowering body temperatures to somewhere between 89 and 93 degrees Fahrenheit. For every single degree the body temperature drops, its metabolic rate drops 5 to 7 percent. Researchers hope to get a 10 degree drop which would mean a 50 to 70 percent reduction in metabolic rate. The coma would be induced by letting the spaceship cool down in the freezing cold of space bringing the astronauts' body temperatures down, too. During interplanetary transit, the crew would receive low-level electrical impulses to key muscle groups to prevent muscles wasting away while in hibernation.

Blue Planet

Not so settled science: Gravity rivals join forces to nail down Big G

cavendish experiment 1798
© DK/UIG/SPL
A mock-up of a torsion balance used by British natural philosopher Henry Cavendish to measure G in 1798.
Metrologists meet to design the ultimate gravitational-constant experiment.

It is one of nature's most fundamental numbers, but humanity still doesn't have an accurate value for the gravitational constant. And, bafflingly, scientists' ability to pinpoint G seems to be getting worse. This week, the world's leading gravity metrologists are meeting to devise a set of experiments that will try to set the record straight. This will call for precision measurements that are notoriously difficult to make - but it will also require former rivals to work together.

Comment: Dr. Rupert Sheldrake on constants of nature



Comet

Comet Siding Spring: Close call for Mars, wake up call for Earth?

Comet Siding Spring
© NASA,ESA, ISRO
Five orbiters from India, the European Union and the United States will nestle behind Mars as comet Siding Springs passes at a speed of 200,000 km/hr (125,000 mph). At right, Shoemaker-Levy 9 impacts on Jupiter, the Chelyabinsk Asteroid over Russia.
It was 20 years ago this past July when images of Jupiter being pummeled by a comet caught the world's attention. Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 had flown too close to Jupiter. It was captured by the giant planet's gravity and torn into a string of beads. One by one the comet fragments impacted Jupiter - leaving blemishes on its atmosphere, each several times larger than Earth in size.

Until that event, no one had seen a comet impact a planet. Now, Mars will see a very close passage of the comet Siding Spring on October 19th. When the comet was first discovered, astronomers quickly realized that it was heading straight at Mars. In fact, it appeared it was going to be a bulls-eye hit - except for the margin of error in calculating a comet's trajectory from 1 billion kilometers (620 million miles, 7 AU) away.

It took several months of analysis for a cataclysmic impact on Mars to be ruled out. So now today, Mars faces a just a cosmic close shave. But this comet packs enough energy that an impact would have globally altered Mars surface and atmosphere.
Solar Flares

Scientists observing the Birkeland currents


Plots of AMPERE magnetic perturbations and radial current density from the northern hemisphere for 24 February 2014 with start times from 1530 UT through 1700 UT.
When the supersonic solar wind hits the Earth's magnetic field, a powerful electrical connection occurs with Earth's field, generating millions of amperes of current that drive the dazzling auroras. These so-called Birkeland currents connect the ionosphere to the magnetosphere and channel solar wind energy to Earth's uppermost atmosphere. Solar storms release torrential blasts of solar wind that cause much stronger currents and can overload power grids and disrupt communications and navigation.

Now for the first time, scientists are making continuous, global measurements of the Birkeland currents, opening a new window on our understanding of our home planet's response to solar storms. Using the Active Magnetosphere and Planetary Electrodynamics Response Experiment, based on the 66 Iridium satellites orbiting the Earth, authors of a Geophysical Research Letters study have discovered that Earth's response to onsets in forcing from the solar wind occurs in two distinct stages.

Currents first appear near noon in the polar regions and remain steady for about half an hour. Then the second stage begins, when strong currents appear near midnight and eventually join the initial currents near noon. Most of the solar wind energy is deposited in the polar atmosphere by processes initiated in the second stage. The authors note that scientists are working to understand how the delay between the first and second stages could give near-term warning of impending space weather disruptions.
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