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Sat, 21 Jan 2017
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Science & Technology


This three-mile-high skyscraper design is coated in self-cleaning material that eats smog

© Arconic
A rendering for Arconic's three-mile-high skyscraper coated in EcoClean.
2017 only just arrived, but one manufacturing company is already looking 45 years into the future.

Arconic, a materials science company, has envisioned a three-mile-high skyscraper built from materials that are either in-development or have already been brought to market, including smog-eating surfaces and retractable balconies.

The tower was concocted as part of the company's larger campaign known as "The Jetsons," an homage to the 1962 cartoon set in 2062. Arconic's engineers worked alongside futurists to imagine the technologies that will be most useful several decades from now.


Saturn's spooky 'Death Star' moon captured in closest-ever NASA image

© NASA / JPL-Caltech / Space Science Institute
On its closest-ever flyby of Saturn's moon Mimas, NASA's Cassini spacecraft has captured what may be the most detailed image to date of the celestial body.

In a picture released on NASA's website, it's not hard to see how Mimas got its nickname - the enormous Herschel Crater dominates both its surface and the image, making the icy moon look like the Death Star, a fictional mobile space station / galactic super-weapon created by the Star Wars movie franchise.

The image was originally taken on October 22, 2016 at a distance of 185,000 kilometers (115,000 miles), yet NASA only released it this week.


Hubble Spies Exocomets Diving into Young Star

© NASA, ESA, and A. Feild and G. Bacon (STScI)
Exocomets plunging toward a young star in the Beta Pictoris Moving Group located 95 light-years from Earth. A Jupiter-size planet is shown in the star's protoplanetary disk of dust and gas.
NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has detected several comets diving toward a young star about 95 light-years from Earth.

The star, known as HD 172555, is approximately 23 million years old and represents the third extrasolar system where astronomers have detected such comets, according to a statement from NASA. They are known as "exocomets" because they're outside Earth's solar system.

The presence of comets falling toward HD 172555 was determined based on observations of nearby gases, which astronomers say are the vaporized remnants of disintegrated comets after they have ricocheted off unseen Jupiter-size planets. The massive planet's gravity catapults the comets into the star in a process known as "gravitational stirring." Similar processes can be seen in our own solar system when sungrazing comets plunge into the sun.

Comment: Such cometary bombardment is not only the feature of an early star system, but can become a cyclical event. Check our 'Fire in the Sky' section for regular reports, and for the historical implications, check out Laura Kinght-Jaczyk's book Comets and the Horns of Moses and Comets and Catastrophes series.

Eye 1

Stem Cells Could Restore Vision After Eye Disease

© air009/Shutterstock.com
A new technique using stem cells can restore vision in mice that have end-stage eye disease, a condition that is thought to bring irreversible vision loss.

Researchers used stem cells to grow new retina tissue in a lab, and then transplanted that tissue into mice that had end-stage retinal degeneration. More than 40 percent of the mice gained the ability to see light as the result of the procedure, the researchers said.

This is the first time researchers have successfully transplanted the cells that sense light, the retina's light receptors, so that these cells connect to the host's nervous system and send signals to the host's brain, the researchers said.

"We were at first very excited to see that the transplants do robustly respond to light," Dr. Michiko Mandai, the first author of the paper and a deputy project leader at the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology in Japan, told Live Science.

Comment: Related articles:


Baby Farms of the Future? Docs Warn of Ethical Issues from New Tech

In the not-too-distant future, scientists may be able to create human sperm and egg cells in a lab dish. That possibility brings hope for treating infertility, but also poses significant ethical dilemmas — from "embryo farming" to designer babies, some researchers argue.

In a new paper, researchers at Harvard and Brown universities discuss the theoretical implications of creating sperm and egg cells in a lab dish, referred to as "in vitro gametogenesis," or IVG. It's currently feasible to perform IVG in mice, as has been shown in several remarkable experiments that were published in recent years, said the paper's authors, Dr. Eli Adashi, a professor of medical science at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island; I. Glenn Cohen, a professor at Harvard Law School in Boston; and Dr. George Daley, dean of Harvard Medical School also in Boston.

IVG is not yet possible in humans — just from a scientific standpoint, many technical barriers remain before human gametes could be made from other human cells, the authors said. Even so, the technology could arrive sooner than we think, and so it may be wise to ponder some of the regulatory and ethical questions raised by IVG now, they said.

Comment: Related articles:


Ancient Toy Inspires Low-Cost Medical Diagnostic Tool

© Manu Prakash et. al., 2017
Modern medicine often feels like magic: A technician pricks your skin, draws a drop of blood and whisks it away into another room. Oftentimes, this gives the doctor enough information to make a diagnosis and prescribe a treatment. But for people in developing countries, these kinds of diagnostics can be more science fiction than reality.

Modern medicine relies heavily on technology, like centrifuges, that are costly, bulky and require electricity. In many places around the world, this kind of equipment can be hard to come by. But in a new study published online today (Jan. 10) in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering, researchers described an inexpensive, hand-powered centrifuge that's based on an ancient toy and could help doctors working in developing countries.

The centrifuge is the workhorse of modern medical laboratories. The device spins samples at high speeds to separate particles or cells based on size and density, effectively concentrating specific components. Most diagnostics "are like looking for a needle in a haystack," said Manu Prakash, lead researcher on the new study and an assistant professor of bioengineering at Stanford University. A centrifuge, Prakash said, puts all the needles in one place, making them easier to find.

Comment: Related articles:


Researchers found interesting link from our ancestors why most are right handed

© It's Okay To Be Smart/Youtube
We've got two perfectly good hands attached to two perfectly good arms, so why do most people prefer to use one over the other for common tasks?
It is thought that handedness have an important role in human growth, with an early study on the earliest indication of right-handedness in the fossil record coming off light on when and why this trait ascended. Fascinatingly, the clues were originating not in our ancient hands, but in our prehistoric teeth.

It is less well known that brain lateralisation, or the dominance of some cognitive processes in one side of the brain, is a distinctive feature of humans, and one associated with improved cognitive ability. Could handedness have played a role in brain lateralisation? Ancient stone tools made and used by our earliest ancestors reveal some clues.

Use of tools

The most primitive stone tools date to 3.3 million years ago, and were found in recent day Kenya, Africa. Early stone tool creation would have required a high level of skill. We know from experimentations have replicated tool-making procedures that the brain's left hemisphere, which is in charge for planning and performance, is active during this process.

While this bond is not straightforward in most cases, handedness and brain lateralization go hand in hand. So, why use teeth to explore handedness? The answer lies in the deficiency of matching left and right arm bones in the fossil data, particularly those belongs to our earliest ancestors. Teeth, on the other hand, tend to survive well in the fossil collections and can preserve scrapes, or "striations", that establish handedness.

Comet 2

New Comet: C/2017 A3 (Elenin)

MPEC nr. 2017-A75, issued on 2017, January 11, announces the discovery of a comet (magnitude ~18.2) by L. Elenin on CCD images obtained with 0.4-m f/2.4 reflector + CCD at the ISON-SSO Observatory, Siding Spring on Jan. 5.4 UT. The new comet has been designated C/2017 A3 (Elenin).

I performed follow-up measurements of this object, while it was still on the neocp. Stacking of 20 unfiltered exposures, 120 seconds each, obtained remotely on 2017, Jan 06.5 from Q62 (iTelescope network) through a 0.50-m f/6.8 astrograph + CCD + f/4.5 focal reducer, shows that this object is a comet with a compact coma nearly 10 arcsec in diameter elongated toward PA 40.

My confirmation image (click on it for a bigger version)
© Remanzacco Blogspot
M.P.E.C. 2017-A75 assigns the following preliminary parabolic orbital elements to comet C/2017 A3: T 2017 Jan. 20.6; e= 1.0; Peri. = 301.87; q = 3.91; Incl.= 99.12


Toddler pre-crime study: Researchers use brain tests to identify future criminality in children


Many people debate whether criminality is a product of nurture or nature, but a new study published in Nature Human Behavior gives support to the latter argument, claiming that brain tests can predict a child's inclination for criminal activity later in life.

Researchers led by neuroscientists at Duke University looked at data from a New Zealand study involving a thousand people in the early '70s until they turned 38 years old. In that study, children as young as three years old completed a series of tests that measured their reflexes, language comprehension, motor skills, and social skills. According to the Duke researchers, the three year old subjects with the lowest 20 percent brain health grew up to commit over 80 percent of crimes as adults.

The researchers emphasize that brain health isn't the only indicator for future criminality, noting that factors such as socio-economic status and child maltreatment can significantly impact adulthood behavior. To account for this, they did not include subjects living below the poverty line in their conclusions.

They also noted that the same 20 percent of subjects demanded the most from the state, accounting for "57% of nights in hospitals, 66% of welfare benefits, and 77% of fatherless child-rearing," Quartz reports. "There aren't so many children in middle class and wealthy homes who have poor brain health, but, where they are, they've also grown up to be very high cost users of public services," says Terrie Moffitt, a professor of psychology and neuroscience from Duke University.

Comment: Proper nutrition (for brain health) and socialization can prevent children from turning to a life of crime as adults. However, some people are just born bad.

Can a Kid Be a Psychopath?


People who learn a second language later in life are more likely to develop synesthesia

People with synesthesia experience the sensory world in a unique way — for example, they "taste" words or "hear" colors. Now, new research suggests that people who learn a second language but aren't exposed to that second language very early in life are more likely to have this sensory-switching ability than those who are natively bilingual.

"Groups of people with different linguistic backgrounds have different rates of synesthesia — and quite different rates," said study co-author Marcus Watson, an experimental psychologist at York University in Toronto. "It ranges from 0 percent to about 5 percent depending on what their language background is."

The findings bolster a theory that synesthesia — the bizarre brain phenomenon in which one sensory or cognitive experience is automatically triggered by another — may develop to improve learning in complicated, ruled-based tasks such as mastering reading, music theory and time telling.

Comment: More on the mysteries of synesthesia: