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Sat, 19 Jan 2019
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WAND: New 'brain pacemaker' offers help for epilepsy, Parkinsons

© Thinkstock
The neurostimulator, named the WAND, works like a "pacemaker for the brain," monitoring the brain's electrical activity and delivering electrical stimulation if it detects something amiss.

Scientists have developed a wireless device that can stimulate the brain with electric current, potentially delivering fine-tuned treatments to patients with diseases like epilepsy and Parkinson's. The neurostimulator, named the WAND, works like a "pacemaker for the brain," monitoring the brain's electrical activity and delivering electrical stimulation if it detects something amiss, said researchers at the University of California, Berkeley in the US.

These devices can be extremely effective at preventing debilitating tremors or seizures in patients with a variety of neurological conditions, according to the study published in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering.

Comment: See also: 'Pacemaker for the brain' being studied


Why is Earth missing a huge part of its crust?

Antarctic Peninsula
© Mario Tama, Getty
Ice meets rock in the Antarctic Peninsula, in a picture taken by NASA's Operation IceBridge in October 2017. Millions of years ago, the entire planet may have resembled this polar scene during a phase called Snowball Earth.
The Grand Canyon is a gigantic geological library, with rocky layers that tell much of the story of Earth's history. Curiously though, a sizeable layer representing anywhere from 250 million years to 1.2 billion years is missing.

Known as the Great Unconformity, this massive temporal gap can be found not just in this famous crevasse, but in places all over the world. In one layer, you have the Cambrian period, which started roughly 540 million years ago and left behind sedimentary rocks packed with the fossils of complex, multicellular life. Directly below, you have fossil-free crystalline basement rock, which formed about a billion or more years ago.

So where did all the rock that belongs in between these time periods go? Using multiple lines of evidence, an international team of geoscientists reckons that the thief was Snowball Earth, a hypothesized time when much, if not all, of the planet, was covered in ice.

Comment: See also: Also check out SOTT radio's: Behind the Headlines: Earth changes in an electric universe: Is climate change really man-made?


The mysterious expanse of the "unobservable Universe"

At the outer reaches of the known Universe, entire galaxies - and all of the stars, planets, and alien species they may contain - are disappearing.

Of course, these objects aren't simply evaporating. They are being thrust out of the known Universe, forced into a mysterious expanse known as the "unobservable Universe."

However, in order to truly understand this fascinating sector of the cosmos, it's necessary to first understand two of the most startling scientific discoveries ever made.

An age-old question

Comment: Considering science still doesn't understand many aspects within the universe, such as how planets form or what gravity is, it would be too early to think we truly understand how the universe itself operates:


Low-dose radiation maybe good for you says new study

Hiroshima Nuclear Blast
© Stanley Troutman/Pool Photo via AP
In August 1945, the United States dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The unprecedented explosions and resulting radioactive fallout resulted in the tragic deaths of roughly 200,000 people.

High levels of ionizing radiation spawned by the detonations sentenced individuals who survived the initial blasts to various cancers. Strangely, however, survivors subjected to lower doses of radiation may actually have had elongated lifespans and reduced cancer mortality. Such is the finding of an article recently published to the journal Genes and Environment.

Researcher Shizuyo Sutou of Shujitsu Women's University is the author of the paper. Sutou examined data from the Life Span Study, which has followed 120,000 survivors of the atomic bomb blasts since 1950. His analysis showed that survivors exposed to between 0.005 and 0.5 Grays of radiation had lower relative mortality than control subjects not exposed to atomic bomb radiation.

Wine n Glass

Pathway to alcohol addiction discovered

Oktoberfest beer festival
© Christof Stache, AFP
A waitress serves beer mugs during the opening of the Oktoberfest beer festival at the Theresienwiese in Munich, southern Germany, on September 21, 2013
Researchers have been looking at the biochemical processes involved with alcohol addiction and they have succeeded in identifying the pathway involved. This could assist with the treatment of alcohol related addiction.

The new study, from Brown University (U.S.), has been conducted on the brains of fruit flies (which serve as the deal model for studying many processes in all organisms, including humans). The research reveals the pathway affected by alcohol. This pathway is the one that establishes rewarding memories and cravings.

Rewarding memories

The basis of the research was to help to understand how certain drugs, be that narcotics or alcohol, create rewarding memories in people, notwithstanding their neurotoxic effects. It was also helped that the research would help to provide an insight into addiction and treating the effects of alcohol abuse. A big challenge in treating addiction is the possibility of relapse. This can occur even after a period of abstinence. This is due to the 'reward memory' that is retained.


Hybrid qubits solve key hurdle to quantum computing

Qubit quantum device

Schematic of the device
Spin-based quantum computers have the potential to tackle difficult mathematical problems that cannot be solved using ordinary computers, but many problems remain in making these machines scalable. Now, an international group of researchers led by the RIKEN Center for Emergent Matter Science have crafted a new architecture for quantum computing. By constructing a hybrid device made from two different types of qubit-the fundamental computing element of quantum computers-they have created a device that can be quickly initialized and read out, and that simultaneously maintains high control fidelity.

In an era where conventional computers appear to be reaching a limit, quantum computers-which do calculations using quantum phenomena-have been touted as potential replacements, and they can tackle problems in a very different and potentially much more rapid way. However, it has proven difficult to scale them up to the size required for performing real-world calculations.

In 1998, Daniel Loss, one of the authors of the current study, came up with a proposal, along with David DiVincenzo of IBM, to build a quantum computer by using the spins of electrons embedded in a quantum dot-a small particle that behaves like an atom, but that can be manipulated, so that they are sometimes called "artificial atoms." In the time since then, Loss and his team have endeavored to build practical devices.

Comment: See also:

Bizarro Earth

Mysterious anomaly under Africa is weakening Earth's magnetic field

south atlantic anomaly
© NASA Hubble Space Telescope/Flickr
Above our heads, something is not right. Earth's magnetic field is in a state of dramatic weakening - and according to mind-boggling research from earlier this year, this phenomenal disruption is part of a pattern lasting for over 1,000 years.

Earth's magnetic field doesn't just give us our north and south poles; it's also what protects us from solar winds and cosmic radiation - but this invisible force field is rapidly weakening, to the point scientists think it could actually flip, with our magnetic poles reversing.

As crazy as that sounds, this actually does happen over vast stretches of time. The last time it occurred was about 780,000 years ago, although it got close again around 40,000 years back.

When it takes place, it's not quick, with the polarity reversal slowly occurring over thousands of years.

Nobody knows for sure if another such flip is imminent, and one of the reasons for that is a lack of hard data.

The region that concerns scientists the most at the moment is called the South Atlantic Anomaly - a huge expanse of the field stretching from Chile to Zimbabwe. The field is so weak within the anomaly that it's hazardous for Earth's satellites to enter it, because the additional radiation it's letting through could disrupt their electronics.

"We've known for quite some time that the magnetic field has been changing, but we didn't really know if this was unusual for this region on a longer timescale, or whether it was normal," physicist Vincent Hare from the University of Rochester in New York said in February this year.

Comment: For related articles see also:


Gastrograph: The AI that knows exactly what you want to eat

© Tomasz Bobrzynski
Can an app lead to better-tasting food by digitally measuring flavor?

Flavor, the conjunction of taste and smell, is not a sensation that yields easily to analysis. Unlike sights and sounds, which can be captured by cameras and microphones, there is no widespread way to measure flavor. What people experience when they eat has heretofore been largely ineffable and uncomputable.

"If I go to a farmers' market, I can take a picture of a really lovely mushroom, but I cannot take an exact 'flavor image' and show it to someone and have them understand," says Tarini Naravane, a doctoral student at the University of California at Davis who studies flavors. This goes right to an age-old philosophical question. "How do I know what I call red is what you call red? This happens far more in flavor than it does in the visual world," Naravane says. Flavor "is far more complicated."

But an artificial-intelligence app called Gastrograph aims to introduce a way to reliably measure flavor. If it succeeds, it will give the company that makes it a digital handle on food. And as with everything else, once flavor is digitized, it will be that much easier to understand-and control.

Cow Skull

Gene-edited farm animals are coming...will you eat them?

© Christie Hemm Klok
Veterinarians at the University of California at Davis evaluate cows in November to see whether they are ready for genetically edited embryos to be implanted.
Cutting-edge lab techniques could improve animal breeding, but society may not be ready

Three cows clomped, single-file, through a chute to line up for sonograms - ultrasound "preg checks" - to reveal if they were expecting calves next summer.

"Right now. This is exciting, right this minute," animal geneticist Alison Van Eenennaam said as she waited for a tiny blob of a fetus to materialize on a laptop screen on a recent afternoon at the Beef Barn, part of the University of California at Davis's sprawling agricultural facilities for teaching and research.

The cows had been implanted a month and a half earlier with embryos genetically edited to grow and look like males, regardless of their biological gender.


Ice cores could solve cosmic ray mystery

An ice core from Greenland
© Eden, Janine and Jim, Flickr
An ice core from Greenland.
New evidence confirms that an influx of cosmic rays struck the entire planet around 994 CE-and it might solve the mystery of the event's origin.

Ice cores and tree rings around the world show mysterious increases in the concentrations of certain elements around 994 CE. The newest evidence originates in Antarctic ice, validating the prior observations and suggesting that the cosmic rays came from the Sun.

The Japanese scientists behind the new research analysed ice cores from Greenland as well as from two locations in Antarctica. They looked specifically at the concentration of beryllium-10, a radioactive but long-lived form of beryllium with one more neutron than the most common beryllium atoms. This element is typically produced when high-energy particles from space called cosmic rays strike certain atmospheric atoms, like oxygen. Ice cores can store a record of these atoms and their concentrations over time in layers, kind of like tree rings.

The researchers found a 50 per cent increase in the concentration of beryllium-10 in the Antarctic ice cores around 992 CE, according to the paper published recently in Geophysical Research Letters. They point out that there isn't much data elsewhere on the beryllium-10 concentrations, likely because the signal is so small that it could be hard to pick out of background noise or other terrestrial processes that could form beryllium-10.