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The sound of your voice influences your emotional state, says researchers

© Garry Knight/Flickr
Researchers have created a digital audio platform that can modify the emotional tone of people's voices while they are talking, to make them sound happier, sadder or more fearful. New results show that while listening to their altered voices, participants' emotional states change in accordance with the new emotion.

Says lead author Jean-Julien Aucouturier from the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS):
"Very little is known about the mechanisms behind the production of vocal emotion.

Previous research has suggested that people try to manage and control their emotions, for example hold back an expression or reappraise feelings. We wanted to investigate what kind of awareness people have of their own emotional expressions."


Breath sensor that can detect cancer could be available by 2022

© David McNew / Reuters
Dr. Antoni Ribas speaks with cancer patient during a promising cancer treatment clinical trial
The Japanese have developed a sensor which can detect cancer from a person's breath and send all the data to a smartphone, making self-checks possible. The invention could cause a revolution in cancer treatment, where early detection is crucial.

The high precision sensor has recently been developed by scientists from the National Institute for Materials Science (NIMS), who have been working with Kyocera Corp., NEC Corp., Sumitomo Seika Chemicals Co., Osaka University and a Swiss equipment maker, according to the Yomiuri Shimbun.

A tiny chip installed in the small device will be able to detect whether substances associated with cancer are present in a person's breath. The device will even likely be able to warn the person about which type of cancer the patient has, according to NIMS.

The result will be displayed on a smartphone via an app or on the screen of other device with which the sensor is paired.


Singing in the brain: Songbirds and humans sing similarly

A songbirds' vocal muscles work like human speakers, singers

© Stock image
Research on Bengalese finches showed that each of their vocal muscles can change its function to help produce different parameters of sounds, in a manner similar to that of a trained opera singer.
A songbirds' vocal muscles work like those of human speakers and singers, finds a study recently published in the Journal of Neuroscience. The research on Bengalese finches showed that each of their vocal muscles can change its function to help produce different parameters of sounds, in a manner similar to that of a trained opera singer.

"Our research suggests that producing really complex song relies on the ability of the songbirds' brains to direct complicated changes in combinations of muscles," says Samuel Sober, a biologist at Emory University and lead author of the study. "In terms of vocal control, the bird brain appears as complicated and wonderful as the human brain."

Comment: Bird Brains Suggest How Vocal Learning Evolved
Songbirds Yield Insight Into Speech Production


Scientists reportedly discover Einstein's gravity waves

Rumors are circulating that scientists have finally discovered gravitational waves - one of the most important variables in Albert Einstein's understanding of how the universe works. If confirmed, the observations could become the biggest leap in physics in a hundred years.

When Einstein published his general theory of relativity in 1915, he propelled physics years forward and changed our understanding of how the universe works. He envisioned spacetime (a system containing three spatial dimensions and one time dimension) and gravity in a fresh way, showing us that spacetime was dynamic - not static - and that gravity warps spacetime in the presence of a massive object.

Einstein further predicted that gravity travels in waves. These ripples are like a net that reacts to space events - star explosions, galaxy collisions, anything on a massive scale. The events create ripples that warp the fabric of spacetime. The bigger the objects, the greater the ripples.

But the hunt for proof of the ripples has been on for decades. Einstein himself thought it would never amount to anything.


Comets the cause of the famous Wow! signal, not aliens

© The Ohio State University Radio Observatory and the North American Astrophysical Observatory (NAAPO)
On 15 August 1977, radio astronomers using the Big Ear radio telescope at Ohio State University picked up a powerful signal from space. Some believe it was our first interception of an alien broadcast. Now it seems something closer to home may have been the source: a pair of passing comets.

The signal - known as the "Wow! signal" after a note scribbled by astronomer Jerry Ehman, who detected it - came through at 1420 megahertz, corresponding to a wavelength of 21 centimetres. Searchers for extraterrestrial transmissions have long considered it an auspicious place to look, as it is one of the main frequencies at which atoms of hydrogen, the most common element in the universe, absorb and emit energy. What's more, this frequency easily penetrates the atmosphere.

But in the 40 years since, we've never heard anything like it again. Analysis of the signal ruled out a satellite, and a reflected signal from the Earth's surface is unlikely because regulations forbid transmission in that frequency range.

The signal's intensity rose and fell over the course of 72 seconds, which is the length of time that the Big Ear could keep an object in its field of view due to the rotation of the Earth. That meant it was clearly coming from space. So what was it?

Antonio Paris, a professor of astronomy at St Petersburg College in Florida, thinks the signal might have come from one or more passing comets. He points the finger at two suspects, called 266P/Christensen and P/2008 Y2 (Gibbs). "I came across the idea when I was in my car driving and wondered if a planetary body, moving fast enough, could be the source," he says.


New Jersey quarry may hold clues to mass extinction of dinosaurs

© Juan Medina / Reuters
A pit behind a shopping center in New Jersey may hold a rare collection of fossils from a mass extinction that wiped out many dinosaurs. As a university nears purchase of the land, researchers and members of the public continue to unearth new findings.

Long a source of marl, a sandy substance used for water treatment plants, the quarry in southern New Jersey's Mantua Township also contains a concentrated layer of sediment containing a "mass death assemblage," according to Kenneth J. Lacovara, a professor of paleontology and geology at Rowan University.

Lacovara believes the fossils found in the quarry may come from animals that died out all at once and settled to the bottom of a shallow sea situated where the quarry is today, the New York Times reported. Many of the skeletons of larger animals are still intact, suggesting to researchers their simultaneous demise.


Disappearing quasar has scientists baffled

© Dana Berry/SkyWorks Digital, Inc.
This is an artist's conception of the "changing-look quasar" as is appeared in early 2015. The glowing blue region shows the last of the gas being swallowed by central black hole as it shuts off. The spectrum is the previous one obtained by the SDSS in 2003.
Astronomers with the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) announced that a distant quasar ran out of gas.

Their conclusions, reported Jan. 8 at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Kissimmee, Florida, clarify why quasar SDSS J1011+5442 changed so dramatically in the handful of years between observations.

"We are used to thinking of the sky as unchanging," said University of Washington astronomy professor Scott Anderson, who is principal investigator of the SDSS's Time-Domain Spectroscopic Survey. "The SDSS gives us a great opportunity to see that change as it happens."

Quasars are the compact area at the center of large galaxies, usually surrounding a massive black hole. The black hole at the center of J1011+5442, for example, is some 50 million times more massive than our sun. As the black hole gobbles up superheated gas, it emits vast amounts of light and radio waves. When SDSS astronomers made their first observations of J1011+5442 in 2003, they measured the spectrum of the quasar, which let them understand the properties of the gas being swallowed by the black hole. In particular, the prominent "hydrogen-alpha" line in the spectrum revealed how much gas was falling into the central black hole.

The SDSS measured another spectrum for this quasar in early 2015, and noticed a huge decrease between 2003 and 2015. The team made use of additional observations by other telescopes over those 12 years to narrow down the period of change.


Unusual bump in LHC signal puzzles physicists

© Jewish Business News
Physicists around the world were puzzled recently when an unusual bump appeared in the signal of the Large Hadron Collider, the world's largest and most powerful particle accelerator, causing them to wonder if it was a new particle previously unknown, or perhaps even two new particles. The collision cannot be explained by the Standard Model, the theoretical foundation of particle physics.

Adam Martin, assistant professor of physics at the University of Notre Dame, said he and other theoretical physicists had heard about the results before they were released on Dec. 15, and groups began brainstorming, via Skype and other ways, about what the bump could mean if confirmed — a long shot, but an intriguing one. He and some collaborators from Cincinnati and New York submitted a pre-peer-review paper that appeared on arXiv.org on Dec. 23.

This graph (see image below) illustrates black dots that show events in experiment records compared along a red line that depicts the number expected through Standard Model processes. Two black dots don't fall in with the red line. Adam Martin says the bump at 750 is "the most exciting."


Material could harvest sunlight by day, release heat on demand hours or days later

The layer-by-layer solar thermal fuel polymer film comprises three distinct layers (4 to 5 microns in thickness for each). Cross-linking after each layer enables building up films of tunable thickness.
Imagine if your clothing could, on demand, release just enough heat to keep you warm and cozy, allowing you to dial back on your thermostat settings and stay comfortable in a cooler room. Or, picture a car windshield that stores the sun's energy and then releases it as a burst of heat to melt away a layer of ice.

According to a team of researchers at MIT, both scenarios may be possible before long, thanks to a new material that can store solar energy during the day and release it later as heat, whenever it's needed. This transparent polymer film could be applied to many different surfaces, such as window glass or clothing.

Although the sun is a virtually inexhaustible source of energy, it's only available about half the time we need it—during daylight. For the sun to become a major power provider for human needs, there has to be an efficient way to save it up for use during nighttime and stormy days. Most such efforts have focused on storing and recovering solar energy in the form of electricity, but the new finding could provide a highly efficient method for storing the sun's energy through a chemical reaction and releasing it later as heat.

The finding, by MIT professor Jeffrey Grossman, postdoc David Zhitomirsky, and graduate student Eugene Cho, is described in a paper in the journal Advanced Energy Materials. The key to enabling long-term, stable storage of solar heat, the team says, is to store it in the form of a chemical change rather than storing the heat itself. Whereas heat inevitably dissipates over time no matter how good the insulation around it, a chemical storage system can retain the energy indefinitely in a stable molecular configuration, until its release is triggered by a small jolt of heat (or light or electricity).

Cell Phone

Pocket-sized device uses water to charge electronic devices

© myFC
The JAQ fuel cell charger would allow you to charge your smartphone without an electrical outlet, say at the beach.
A sleek new device could help you charge your phone without an electric outlet.

Swedish startup MyFC unveiled its cool technology, dubbed JAQ, here at CES on Jan. 6. The device, which is small enough to slip into your back pocket, is a fuel cell charger. It uses saltwater and oxygen to convert chemical energy into electricity. Then it uses that electricity to charge your phone's battery.

The charger consists of a credit card-shaped "power card" and a hollowed out port that's roughly the size of a smartphone. The card contains saltwater, which fuels electricity-producing chemical reactions when you slip the card into the port. To get that electricity to your phone's battery, you simply plug your phone into the port with a standard cable.