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Thu, 29 Sep 2016
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Science & Technology


Nanofish invention could allow for drug delivery to specific areas of the body

© Bazuki Muhammad / Reuters
A Sapphire Golden Arowana
Engineers in San Francisco have come up with an amazing invention: a fish 1/100 the size of a grain of sand that could carry drugs to specific areas of the body, be used for invasive surgeries, and even single cell manipulation.

The nanofish is made of gold and nickel parts linked by silver hinges. The "head" and "tail" are made of gold, while the"body" is made of nickel. Each segment is about 800 nanometers long (a nanometer is one billionth of a meter), The New Scientist media outlet reported.

How does it work?

An oscillating magnetic field is applied to make the nickel parts move from side to side, in turn swinging the head and tail and creating movement - essentially, swimming. The magnetic field can also be used to set a specific direction for the nanofish.


China's scientists propose the human 'quantum brain' more complex than a galaxy"

Chinese scientists have proposed a new theory that explains why humans are so much more intelligent than animals even though our brains are often much smaller than those of other species. Researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Neuroscience and Neuro-engineering have previously carried out studies backing the theory that the brain not only processes and passes on information not only through electrical and chemical signals, but also with photons of light.

Now, their latest study, the Wuhan researchers, led by professor Dai Jiapei suggested two years ago that neurons, the nerve cells in the brain that transmit information, emit extremely "lights," photons, stimulated by a chemical called glutamate and detectable only with the most sensitive equipment, but capable of transmission along brain fibers and circuits. The key finding is that human brains are able to create information-relaying photons using much less energy, enabling homo sapiens to operate more speedily and efficiently than brains of other species


Two dolphins recorded having a conversation 'just like two people' for the first time

© Rex
Dolphins use pulsed clicks in the same way that humans use words, scientists have found. (This one prefers not to talk with its mouth full...)
Two dolphins have been recorded having a conversation for the first time after scientists developed an underwater microphone which could distinguish the animals' different "voices".

Researchers have known for decades that the mammals had an advanced form of communication, using distinctive clicks and whistles to show they are excited, happy, stressed or separated from the group.

But scientists have now shown that dolphins alter the volume and frequency of pulsed clicks to form individual "words" which they string together into sentences in much the same way that humans speak.

Researchers at the Karadag Nature Reserve, in Feodosia, Russia, recorded two Black Sea bottlenose dolphins, called Yasha and Yana, talking to each other in a pool. They found that each dolphin would listen to a sentence of pulses without interruption, before replying.

Comment: Listen before you speak, and networking is important when solving difficult tasks. Scientists haven't even cracked the language code of dolphins, and we're already learning how to have more meaningful and effective communication from them.


NASA launches bold asteroid-sampling mission

An artist's concept of NASA's OSIRIS-REx asteroid sampling spacecraft at the asteroid Bennu. The probe is due to arrive at Bennu in 2018 and return samples to Earth in 2023.
NASA's bold mission to bring pieces of an asteroid down to Earth has taken flight.

The agency's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station here today (Sept. 8) at 7:05 p.m. EDT (2305 GMT), riding a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket into an evening sky suffused with golden light.

"Liftoff for OSIRIS-Rex, its seven-year mission to boldly go to the asteroid Bennu and back," NASA spokesman Mike Curie said during a live launch broadcast in an apparent nod to "Star Trek," which celebrated its 50th anniversary on Thursday.

If everything goes according to plan, OSIRIS-REx will rendezvous with a 1,640-foot-wide (500 meters) asteroid named Bennu in August 2018, snag some dirt and pebbles off the space rock two years later, and deliver this cosmic sample to Earth in September 2023.

"Sample return is really at the forefront of planetary exploration," OSIRIS-REx principal investigator Dante Lauretta said during a prelaunch news conference Tuesday (Sept. 6). "Not only are we going to get this material into our laboratories for precise chemical analyses that can't be duplicated by spacecraft instruments, but this is [also] going to be a treasure trove of information and material for scientists yet to come."


Electric winds discovered around Venus

© The Daily Galaxy
"It's amazing, shocking," said Glyn Collinson, a scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center on June 20th. "We never dreamt an electric wind could be so powerful that it can suck oxygen right out of an atmosphere into space. This is something that has to be on the checklist when we go looking for habitable planets around other stars."

Venus has an "electric wind" strong enough to remove the components of water from its upper atmosphere, which may have played a significant role in stripping Earth's twin planet of its oceans, according to new results from ESA's (European Space Agency) Venus Express mission by NASA-funded researchers.

Taking the electric wind into account will also help astronomers improve estimates of the size and location of habitable zones around other stars. These are areas where the temperature could allow liquid water to exist on the surface of alien worlds, making them places where life might be found. Some stars emit more ultraviolet light than the sun, so if this creates stronger electric winds in any planets orbiting them, the habitable zone around such stars may be farther away and narrower than thought.

Venus is in many ways the most like Earth in terms of its size and gravity, and there's evidence that it once had oceans worth of water in its distant past. However, with surface temperatures around 860 F (460 C), any oceans would have long since boiled away to steam and Venus is uninhabitable today.

Yet Venus' thick atmosphere, about 100 times the pressure of Earth's, has 10,000 to 100,000 times less water than Earth's atmosphere. Something had to remove all that steam, and the current thinking is that much of the early steam dissociated to hydrogen and oxygen: the light hydrogen escaped, while the oxygen oxidized rocks over billions of years.

Also the solar wind -- a million-mile-per-hour stream of electrically conducting gas blowing from the sun -- could have slowly but surely eroded the remainder of an ocean's worth of oxygen and water from Venus' upper atmosphere.

"We found that the electric wind, which people thought was just one small cog in a big machine, is in fact this big monster that's capable of sucking the water from Venus by itself," said Collinson.

Just as every planet has a gravity field, it is believed that every planet with an atmosphere is also surrounded by a weak electric field. While the force of gravity is trying to hold the atmosphere on the planet, the electric force (the same force that sticks laundry together in a drier and pushes electricity through wires) can help to push the upper layers of the atmosphere off into space. At Venus, the much faster hydrogen escapes easily, but this electric field is so strong that it can accelerate even the heavier electrically charged component of water -- oxygen ions -- to speeds fast enough to escape the planet's gravity. When water molecules rise into the upper atmosphere, sunlight breaks the water into hydrogen and oxygen ions, which are then carried away by the electric field.

Ice Cream Bar

Don't eat that! Researchers explore the 5 second rule

© Christin Lola / Fotolia
Turns out bacteria may transfer to candy that has fallen on the floor no matter how fast you pick it up.

Rutgers researchers have disproven the widely accepted notion that it's OK to scoop up food and eat it within a "safe" five-second window. Donald Schaffner, professor and extension specialist in food science, found that moisture, type of surface and contact time all contribute to cross-contamination. In some instances, the transfer begins in less than one second. Their findings appear online in the American Society for Microbiology's journal, Applied and Environmental Microbiology.

"The popular notion of the 'five-second rule' is that food dropped on the floor, but picked up quickly, is safe to eat because bacteria need time to transfer," Schaffner said, adding that while the pop culture "rule" has been featured by at least two TV programs, research in peer-reviewed journals is limited.


Move over Terminator: Russia rolls out Vikhr combat robot

© Sputnik/ Vasiliy Raksha
As self-sufficient combat systems gradually become more common and transition from the realm of sci-fi movies, Russia has unveiled the Vikhr robotic system which to a certain extent looks like the T1-8 from the film Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.

There is, however, a tangible difference: the Russian Vikhr already exists, unlike its fictional analogue, and was exhibited during the Army-2016 forum near Moscow. It was terrifying to see the robot's turret moving and aiming automatically - no tech-noir movie can hold a candle to it.

The 14.7-ton Vikhr is a scout-attack unit tasked with engaging ground and aerial targets, reinforcing operations, protecting strategic facilities and decreasing human losses. "This is a robotic system. It means, it can be either controlled by an operator or accomplish certain tasks autonomously. For example, it can reach a set destination without any human control and avoid obstacles on its own," Dmitry Bogdanov, deputy CEO at the Sevastopol-based Impulse-2 Scientific and Technical Center, told Sputnik.

Evil Rays

Scientist Henry Lai makes waves in the cell phone industry

A greeting card on bioengineering professor Henry Lai's office wall at the University of Washington contains this quotation from Ralph Waldo Emerson: "Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."

This philosophy could well sum up Lai's work on the effects of low-level radiation on DNA, as well as what he believes should be the guiding principle of science: independent investigation and research leading to discovery for the public good. Yet the soft-spoken scientist's steadfast belief in that principle has placed his research at the center of a persistent global controversy and created powerful enemies that tried to get him fired and essentially succeeded in drying up the source of funding for the type of research he was doing.

Lai admits that he was naive. He came to the UW in 1972 and earned a doctorate in psychology. Two decades later, as a bioengineering researcher, he studied esoteric scientific topics in relative obscurity. He and a fellow researcher, Narendra "N.P." Singh, were looking at the effects of nonionizing microwave radiation—the same type of radiation emitted by cell phones—on the DNA of rats. They used a level of radiation considered safe by government standards and found that the DNA in the brain cells of the rats was damaged—or broken—by exposure to the radiation. Ironically, cell phones weren't even on Lai's mind when he performed the initial studies. Funded initially by the Office of Naval Research, Lai was investigating how radar, which emits radio-frequency radiation, affects the health of operators. "We did not really pay attention to the importance of this thing," he recalls. But during his research, cell phone giant Motorola Inc. indicated that someone had told the company about Lai's unpublished results. Motorola asked to meet with him in his lab and at a meeting in Copenhagen.


Toxic magnetic nanoparticles from air pollution have been found in human brains

Toxic nanoparticles from air pollution have been found embedded in people's brain tissue for the first time, and research has tentatively linked these particles to a higher risk of Alzheimer's disease.

The particles were already known to be present in our brains, but researchers had assumed our bodies naturally produced them. Now a small study by UK researchers has found that they're the direct result of polluted air.

"This is a discovery finding, and now what should start is a whole new examination of this as a potentially very important environmental risk factor for Alzheimer's disease," one of the team, Barbara Maher from Lancaster University, told Damian Carrington at The Guardian.

"Now there is a reason to go on and do the epidemiology and the toxicity testing, because these particles are so prolific and people are exposed to them."

Maher and her team examined brain tissue from 37 people in Manchester, England, and Mexico City, aged between 3 years old and 92. Each of them contained particles of a type of iron oxide called magnetite, and not just traces of them - they were abundant.

"You are talking about millions of magnetite particles per gram of freeze-dried brain tissue - it is extraordinary," says Maher.

Comment: Research has shown that air pollution kills more people every year than Aids and malaria combined, and is associated with increased risk of heart attack, stroke and other cardiovascular disease; respiratory illnesses, and cancer, among numerous other health issues:


Synesthesia: When Tuesday is the color red

© Vassily Kandinsky
There’s growing evidence that synesthesia could be more common than we think, and it’s my theory that everyone has some small form of synesthesia. For example, when most people hear nails on a chalkboard they involuntarily cringe.
When I told my doctor that the sight of a starfish tastes like copper she sat across from me in silence, waiting for the punchline.

"I'm dead serious." I laughed. "It tastes like a penny in my mouth."