Science & Technology
Map


Fireball

Are governments ready to respond to a real asteroid threat?

© ESA/P. Carril
Asteroids have pounded Earth in the past and will continue to do so in the future. If a big one lines the planet up in its crosshairs, civilization itself could be imperiled.

Now, the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space has taken a step toward combating the asteroid threat. A special U.N. action team on near-Earth objects (NEOs) has recommended the creation of an International Asteroid Warning Network (IAWN), which is designed to gather and analyze NEO data and provide timely warnings to national authorities if a potentially hazardous NEO were to threaten Earth.

A number of components of an IAWN already exist and are working together. Now, the objective is to pool together the expertise of the world's many relevant scientific organizations, to discover and track objects and generate early warnings of potential impacts.
Bulb

Brain notes: Neurons in the brain tune into different frequencies for different spatial memory tasks

© Laura Colgin/University of Texas at Austin
Researchers recorded gamma waves in the brains of rats navigating through a simple environment to understand how current and past locations are represented in the brain.
Your brain transmits information about your current location and memories of past locations over the same neural pathways using different frequencies of a rhythmic electrical activity called gamma waves, report neuroscientists at The University of Texas at Austin.

The research, published in the journal Neuron on April 17, may provide insight into the cognitive and memory disruptions seen in diseases such as schizophrenia and Alzheimer's, in which gamma waves are disturbed.

Previous research has shown that the same brain region is activated whether we're storing memories of a new place or recalling past places we've been.

"Many of us leave our cars in a parking garage on a daily basis. Every morning, we create a memory of where we parked our car, which we retrieve in the evening when we pick it up," said Laura Colgin, assistant professor of neuroscience and member of the Center for Learning and Memory in The University of Texas at Austin's College of Natural Sciences. "How then do our brains distinguish between current location and the memory of a location? Our new findings suggest a mechanism for distinguishing these different representations."
Airplane

Get panoramic views from this windowless jet

IXION Windowless Jet
© Technicon Design
You don't need a window for these views. Paris-based design company Technicon Design recently won an award for their IXION Windowless Jet Concept. The idea is to provide a 360-degree view using cameras mounted on the plane's exterior to capture the scenery and then project that on high-res screen on the interior cabin walls and ceiling.

And actually any scene could be displayed on the interior. Let's say the view is mostly clouds or ocean. How about displaying a rainforest? A flight through the Grand Canyon? A trip to the Moon?

Solar panels on the exterior would help power the displays.

Removing windows has its advantages, too. It reduces the materials and cost needed as well as reducing the weight of the plane. Not having windows allows for a greater flexibility of the interior design of the aircraft, too.
Robot

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.''
Top