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Fri, 24 Feb 2017
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Introducing the Robobee, science's answer to bee decline

© Dr. Eijiro Miyako
As the bee population in the United States continues to decline, some scientists are working on a backup option which many people are calling the Robobee.

A recent announcement coming out of the journal Chem, in an article by Eijiro Miyako, a chemist that the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Japan, involves the combination of a drone and a gel to create a robot version of the endangered pollinators.

Miyako and his team used a four-propeller drone to which they attached horse hairs in order to mimic the fuzzy body of a bee. They coated the horse hairs with the gel so that pollen would stick to the horse hairs which would then be carried from one plant to another.

Miyako said he doesn't believe that the drones would replace bees but that it could help bees with their pollinating duties. He said that the drones will need to become smarter, more energy efficient and have better maneuverability as well as better GPS and artificial intelligence before they can be realistically used.

Eye 1

Sony patents contact lenses that take pictures and record video when you blink

We can probably all agree on one thing: that technological gadgets are becoming smaller and smaller by the day. Now, contact lenses are getting smarter - well soon - and all thanks to nanotechnology.

The tech giant Sony has ramped up their technology from something that we've only seen in James Bond movies, to now being our reality. The company has filed for a patent that reveals how their smart contact lenses will take pictures and record videos just with a simple blink, storing them in a small memory space on the lens - or on the user's eyeballs.

Not only is Sony striving for this, but other tech giants such as Samsung and Google have made plans for their smart contact lenses, going public with their ideas of taking pictures, making videos and monitoring sugar intake; gamers will also experience enhanced gaming, and other possibilities are endless.

However, Sony's patent doesn't mean we'll be seeing them anytime soon. Nevertheless, Sony's release of the lens will contain a picture-taking unit, a central controlling unit, the main unit along with an antenna, a storage area and a piezoelectric sensor.

Telescope

Mapping the family tree of stars

© Institute of Astronomy
A family of trees in our solar system, including the Sun
Astronomers are borrowing principles applied in biology and archaeology to build a family tree of the stars in the galaxy. By studying chemical signatures found in the stars, they are piecing together these evolutionary trees looking at how the stars formed and how they are connected to each other. The signatures act as a proxy for DNA sequences. It's akin to chemical tagging of stars and forms the basis of a discipline astronomers refer to as Galactic archaeology.

It was Charles Darwin who in 1859 published his revolutionary theory that all life forms are descended from one common ancestor. This theory has informed evolutionary biology ever since but it was a chance encounter between an astronomer and a biologist over dinner at King's College in Cambridge that got the astronomer thinking about how it could be applied to stars in the Milky Way.

Writing in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Dr Paula Jofré, of the University of Cambridge's Institute of Astronomy, describes how she set about creating a phylogenetic "tree of life" that connects a number of stars in the galaxy. "The use of algorithms to identify families of stars is a science that is constantly under development. Phylogenetic trees add an extra dimension to our endeavours which is why this approach is so special. The branches of the tree serve to inform us about the stars' shared history," she says.

Eye 1

EU data protection authorities concerned over Windows 10 collection of user data

© Pixabay
European Union data protection authorities have expressed fresh concerns about the privacy of Microsoft's Windows 10 operating system, despite tweaks being made to the OS after questions were raised about its treatment of personal data last year.

In a letter, the Article 29 Working Group said it still has "significant concerns" about how Microsoft collects and processes users' personal data, and whether it obtains fully informed consent from users to do so.

"There is an apparent lack of control for users to prevent collection or further processing of such data. As a result, the Working Party specifically requests further explanatory information from Microsoft, as to how the opt-outs, default settings and other available control mechanisms presented during the installation of Windows 10 operating system provide a valid legal basis for the processing of personal data under the Data Protection Directive 95/46/EC. This is especially of concern where Microsoft would rely on consent as a legal basis for the processing of personal data," the statement said.

Windows 10 launched in July 2015, and almost immediately garnered criticism for the use of default settings to harvest voluminous amounts of user data, such as web browsing history, WIFI network names and passwords, in order to display personalized adverts as users browse the web or play games. User data is also fed in to train Microsoft's Cortana digital assistant.

People 2

New research finds that dopamine is involved in human bonding

The neurotransmitter dopamine is involved in human bonding, a new study has found for the first time. The finding, from Northeastern University psychology professor Lisa Feldman Barrett, brings the brain's reward system into our understanding of how we form human attachments.

The study, of 19 mother-infant pairs, has important implications for therapies addressing postpartum depression as well as disorders of the dopamine system such as Parkinson's disease, addiction, and social dysfunction.

Barrett, University Distinguished Professor of Psychology and author of the forthcoming book How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain, says:
"The infant brain is very different from the mature adult brain; it is not fully formed. Infants are completely dependent on their caregivers. Whether they get enough to eat, the right kind of nutrients, whether they're kept warm or cool enough, whether they're hugged enough and get enough social attention, all these things are important to normal brain development.

Our study shows clearly that a biological process in one person's brain, the mother's, is linked to behavior that gives the child the social input that will help wire his or her brain normally. That means parents' ability to keep their infants cared for leads to optimal brain development, which over the years results in better adult health and greater productivity."

Brain

Scientists have discovered a way to erase traumatic memories

© Denis Balibouse / Reuters
Scientists in Canada have taken the idea of positive thinking to a whole new level - by discovering a way to target and erase bad memories from our brains.

The findings could be used to treat post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and addiction, but researchers have warned of "huge ethical implications."

Researchers at the University of Toronto found a way to target and erase fear-based memories in mice, after discovering the neurons which are used to form these types of memories in the brain.

"Although there are millions of neurons in the brain, only a few of them are necessary to form a fear or threat memory," Dr Sheena Josselyn, an associate professor in the Department of Physiology, explained.

Researchers were able to 'flag up' the neurons creating the bad memories by overproducing a certain brain protein in mice, and then targeted and genetically removed those neurons to erase the bad memories, while keeping others.

Beaker

Your ancestors' experiences leave a mark on your genes

© Alison Mackey/Discover
Your ancestors' lousy childhoods or excellent adventures might change your personality, bequeathing anxiety or resilience by altering the epigenetic expressions of genes in the brain.

Darwin and Freud walk into a bar. Two alcoholic mice — a mother and her son — sit on two bar stools, lapping gin from two thimbles.

The mother mouse looks up and says, "Hey, geniuses, tell me how my son got into this sorry state."

"Bad inheritance," says Darwin.

"Bad mothering," says Freud.

For over a hundred years, those two views — nature or nurture, biology or psychology — offered opposing explanations for how behaviors develop and persist, not only within a single individual but across generations.

And then, in 1992, two young scientists following in Freud's and Darwin's footsteps actually did walk into a bar. And by the time they walked out, a few beers later, they had begun to forge a revolutionary new synthesis of how life experiences could directly affect your genes — and not only your own life experiences, but those of your mother's, grandmother's and beyond.

Comment: Further reading:


Info

Spinal cord not the brain determines right or left-handedness

© RUB, Marquard
Judith Schmitz and Sebastian Ocklenburg are interested in right-left differences.
Unlike hitherto assumed, the cause is not to be found in the brain.

It is not the brain that determines if people are right or left-handed, but the spinal cord. This has been inferred from the research results compiled by a team headed by private lecturer Dr Sebastian Ocklenburg, Judith Schmitz, and Prof Dr H. C. Onur Güntürkün.

Together with colleagues from the Netherlands and from South Africa, the biopsychologists at Ruhr-Universität Bochum have demonstrated that gene activity in the spinal cord is asymmetrical already in the womb. A preference for the left or the right hand might be traced back to that asymmetry.

"These results fundamentally change our understanding of the cause of hemispheric asymmetries," conclude the authors. The team report about their study in the journal eLife.

Preference in the womb

To date, it had been assumed that differences in gene activity of the right and left hemisphere might be responsible for a person's handedness. A preference for moving the left or right hand develops in the womb from the eighth week of pregnancy, according to ultrasound scans carried out in the 1980s. From the 13th week of pregnancy, unborn children prefer to suck either their right or their left thumb.

Arm and hand movements are initiated via the motor cortex in the brain. It sends a corresponding signal to the spinal cord, which in turn translates the command into a motion. The motor cortex, however, is not connected to the spinal cord from the beginning. Even before the connection forms, precursors of handedness become apparent. This is why the researchers have assumed that the cause of right respective left preference must be rooted in the spinal cord rather than in the brain.

Info

5 of the biggest mysteries in physics 'SMASH'ed

© APS

It's five theories for the price of one.
One of the most ambitious physics theories in recent times claims to have solved five of the biggest head-scratchers in particle physics - each of them likely worthy of a Nobel prize in their own right.

Crazy as the idea sounds, the paper describing it has managed to get past peer-review at Physical Review Letters - a prestigious journal that has catalogued many of the most groundbreaking moments in physics history, such as the discovery of gravitational waves last year.

The new theory adds six new particles to the standard model's current 17, and so ties up the mysteries of:
  • What is dark matter?
  • What caused inflation?
  • Why is the neutrino so light?
  • Why is there more matter than antimatter in the universe.
  • AND they threw in a solution to problem with asymmetry in the strong force to boot.
It's because of these problems that we know the standard model of particle physics can't be complete. Still, it is rare for theorists to try to tackle more than one or two of its shortfalls at once. Now, four European physicists led by Guillermo Ballesteros at the National Centre for Scientific Research in France, have taken ideas from several previous theories and stitched them together to form a coherent framework.

They dub the resulting model SMASH (short for Standard Model Axion See-saw Higgs portal inflation)—though the name also works as a nod to how they "smashed" several existing theories together.

Gear

Gene drives: The scientific case for a complete & perpetual ban

One of the central issues of our day is how to safely manage the outputs of industrial innovation. Novel products incorporating nanotechnology, biotechnology, rare metals, microwaves, novel chemicals, and more, enter the market on a daily basis. Yet none of these products come with an adequate data set of scientific information. Nor do they come with a clear intellectual framework within which their risks can be placed, as disputes over the precautionary principle show. The majority of products receive no regulatory supervision at all. How will the product be disposed of? What populations and which ecosystems will be exposed in the course of its advertised uses? What will be the consequences of accidental, off-label or illegal uses? Typically, none of these kinds of questions are adequately asked by government regulatory agencies unless citizens actively prod them to do so.

In consequence of these defects, we expose our world to unique hazards with every product launch. In comparison with its tremendous importance, this is surely one of the least discussed issues of our day.

Comment: The militarized mind: Biodiversity, GMOs, & gene drives