Science & Technology


Paralyzed patients move again with electrical stimulation of spinal cord

Electrical Stimulation to Spinal Cord
© University of Louisville
With the help of electrical stimulation to his spine, paralyzed patient Kent Stephenson voluntarily raises his leg.
For people who become paralyzed after a spinal cord injury, the condition is usually permanent, but a new study suggests that zapping the spine with electricity during physical training could help paralyzed patients regain movement.

Researchers applied electrical stimulation to the spines of four people who had been paralyzed for more than two years. All four patients were able to flex their toes, ankles and knees again, and their movements improved further with physical rehabilitation, the research showed.

If proven effective in more people, the stimulation therapy could ultimately change the prognosis for people living with paralysis, researchers say.

"Spinal cord injury may no longer mean a lifelong sentence of complete paralysis," said Dr. Roderic Pettigrew, a director at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Md., which funded the research.

"To my personal knowledge, I think this is the first report of four such individuals that have gained such substantial improvement, more two years after injury," Pettigrew told Live Science.

Legendary Stradivarius loses to new violins in blind tests

Violin Test
© Stefan Avalos
Soloist Ilya Kaler tests a violin. Kaler wears modified welder’s goggles to prevent him from seeing which instrument he is playing.
Among violinists, the instruments built in the 1600s and 1700s by the Stradivari and Guarneri families are legendary. But a new study suggests the reputation of these old violins owes more to myth than truth.

In actuality, expert soloists pick new violins over antiques in blind tests, the research finds. What's more, the soloists performed no better than chance at guessing whether a given violin is newly manufactured or more than a century old.

"This implies that whatever it is they are looking for in an instrument, it's not related to age, or for that matter, country of origin," said study researcher Joseph Curtin, who makes violins in Ann Arbor, Mich. "That is a very surprising conclusion."

Employers can identify turncoats through subtle changes in language

office workers
© Nosnibor137
Something fishy going on in the next cubicle? Check your inbox for clues
Most office workers send dozens of electronic communications to colleagues in any given working day, through email, instant messaging and intranet systems. So many in fact that you might not notice subtle changes in the language your fellow employees use.

Instead of ending their email with "see ya!", they might suddenly offer you "kind regards". Instead of talking about "us", they might refer to themselves more. Would you pick up on it if they did?

These changes are important and could hint at a disgruntled employee about to go rogue. Our findings demonstrate how language may provide an indirect way of identifying employees who are undertaking an insider attack.

My team has tested whether it's possible to detect insider threats within a company just by looking at how employees communicate with each other. If a person is planning to act maliciously to damage their employer or sneak out commercially sensitive material, the way they interact with their co-workers changes.

Scientists invent injectable oxygen that keeps you alive without breathing

lab worker
© Ocean Networks Canada
Oxygen is great, you guys - it's pretty important to sustaining organic life and does particularly great things for us humans. The small caveat, though, is that we need to be able to breathe in order to make use of our atmospheric oxygen; if you can't - a collapsed lung or blocked windpipe, say - you'd typically be out of luck. Until now.

Scientists have developed a new microparticle filled with oxygen that can be injected into the blood stream, keeping you alive even if you can't intake air into your lungs. The microparticles are actually tiny capsules (2-4 micrometers tiny) made of a single layer of lipids surrounding a small bubble of oxygen gas. The capsule is suspended in a liquid so that the bubbles don't get any bigger (which would make them deadly, FYI).

Bio-luminescent deep sea creatures may shed light on next generation of medical imaging

© Wim Van Egmond/Corbis
Sea Sparkle (Noctiluca scintillans) is a large, non-photosynthetic marine Dinoflagellate that is bioluminescent and causes the sea to glow.
Bioluminescent organisms may help doctors design better ways to scan human organs and make better diagnoses

In July, a team of scientists organised by the American Museum of Natural History will dive 300 metres below the Atlantic Ocean's surface about 160km off the coast of New England. Among their goals: to find bioluminescent creatures - such as the dinoflagellates that make their own light, causing the ocean to glow - that they hope will offer clues for creating the next generation of medical imaging.

The right combination of molecules - a protein that can make light and another compound to serve as the light's fuel - may allow us to map brain activity to a new level of detail. This advance may some day give quadriplegics new ways to interact with the world.

Though it seems futuristic, the back story for this line of research began 50 years ago. In the early 1960s, a Japanese marine biologist named Osamu Shimomura isolated a protein from the crystal jellyfish. When blue light is shined on the creature, this protein absorbs it, changes its wavelength and emits a green light. It is called green fluorescent protein, or GFP.

"That single protein literally changed the course of biology," says Vincent Pieribone, a neurobiologist at Yale. It also won Shimomura a share of the 2008 Nobel prize in biochemistry.

It may work: Modern day Noah makes tsunami proof boat

From his backyard in Palo Alto, Calif., Chris Robinson is building a tsunami-proof capsule out of epoxy and plywood that he hopes will be strong enough to survive a tsunami and save the lives of those inside it.

He's a user experience designer by trade and looks at everything as a challenge. "What could you do that you could just climb into in your backyard," Chris asked himself, "instead of climbing in your car and being chased by a wave?"

The earthquake and tsunami that devastated Fukushima, Japan, had a profound impact on him. Chris lived in Japan after college and taught English in Fukushima for a year. He met his wife there; many of the places that were destroyed by the tsunami were places he and his wife frequented when they were dating.

"The idea that tsunamis happen and have that destructive force and there really wasn't, at that time, any kind of viable plan to survive it other than just get to high ground," bothered Chris and was the challenge that lead him to build the capsule.

Yellowstone Volcano Observatory scientists dismiss claims that volcano about to erupt

© American Dream
Yellowstone National Park assured guests and the public on Thursday that a super-volcano under the park was not expected to erupt anytime soon, despite an alarmist video that claimed bison had been seen fleeing to avoid such a calamity.

Yellowstone officials, who fielded dozens of calls and emails since the video went viral this week following an earthquake in the park, said the video actually shows bison galloping down a paved road that leads deeper into the park.

"It was a spring-like day and they were frisky. Contrary to online reports, it's a natural occurrence and not the end of the world," park spokeswoman Amy Bartlett said.

Space station dodges 'space junk' again

The International Space Station had to dodge space junk again - the second time in less than three weeks.

NASA said the station fired its thrusters Thursday afternoon, moving up about half a mile, to avoid some parts from an old Ariane (a-ree-AN') 5 rocket. The European Space Agency launches Ariane rockets out of South America.

The junk would have come within 1,040 feet of the outpost. NASA said the six man crew was never in danger.

NASA spokesman Kelly Humphries said the space agency has had to consider sidestepping space junk dozens of times since the outpost was launched in 1998, sometimes canceling the orbital dodge at the last moment.

Weird magnetic anomaly reveals ancient tectonic crash

Magnetic Anomaly
Magnetic anomaly map of North America.
The east coast of North America was once as wild as the West, with massive mountains rising between colliding tectonic plates, volcanoes belching lava and giant faults slicing the crust.

That's because millions of years ago, eastern North America was part of Gondwana and Pangaea, the supercontinents that formed as Earth's tectonic plates collided, split apart, and then crashed together again before rifting and drifting toward the spots where they're located today. Though North America's east coast is relatively quiet now, clues to these ancient tectonic mash-ups remain buried deep underground.

A new look at one of these clues reveals that a weird magnetic signal near Florida shows the peninsula stuck to North America's heel like a piece of old tape about 300 million years ago, when the central and southern Appalachian mountains were built.

The rocks beneath Florida suggest the peninsula originally wasn't part of North America. Rather, it's a fragment of either Africa or South America, sutured onto the southeastern United States near an unusual feature called the Brunswick Magnetic Anomaly, researchers say.

The Brunswick Magnetic Anomaly is a geological feature that snakes from Alabama across Georgia, and offshore to North Carolina's Outer Banks. Anomalies in Earth's magnetic field are caused by structures such as faults, and by the varying magnetic intensities of different rock types. These slight differences in rock magnetism can be measured and mapped to find hidden geologic structures.

Electric Universe: Andromeda's mother

Cassiopeia A
© Credit X-ray: NASA/CXC/UNAM/Ioffe/D. Page, P. Shternin et al; Optical: NASA/STScI; Illustration: NASA/CXC/M. Weiss
The remains of an exploding double layer known as Cassiopeia A with an artist’s impression of a theoretical entity called a neutron star.
Rather than searching for exotic explanations, this celestial object can best be described using plasma physics.

According to astronomers from the Chandra X-ray Observatory, the so-called "supernova remnant" Cassiopeia A (or "Cas A") harbors a strange passenger within the neutron star that is supposed to inhabit its interior, a form of superconductor known as a superfluid.

As theory suggests, neutron stars form when large stars exhaust their fuel supplies as they age. Once a star with about five times the mass of our Sun accumulates enough thermonuclear "ash" composed of non-fusible elements like iron in its core, it undergoes a catastrophic implosion. Since nuclear reactions can no longer be sustained, the star becomes the victim of its own gravity field. The star's outer surface collapses inward at tremendous speed, rebounding off the dense core material. The star then erupts outward in a supernova explosion, blasting its outer layers into space, releasing X-rays, gamma rays, and extreme ultraviolet.

Depending on the mass of the star, the remaining stellar core material might remain as a hot, white dwarf star, or if it is large enough, the gravity field will pull all the electrons out of their atomic orbits and squeeze them into the nucleus, forming neutrons. The star will become what astrophysicists call a "neutron star" with unbelievable density and gravitational attraction. It is commonly said that a teaspoon of neutron star stuff would posses an inertial mass in the billions of tons. A neutron star is thought to exist at the center of the Cas A nebular cloud.