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First-Time Internet Users Find Boost in Brain Function After Just One Week

Image
© UCLA
"Naives" with minimal prior Internet search experience (top), and "Savvies" with a lot of Web search experience (bottom). Images show patterns of activity for first brain scans (left) and second brain scans (right). Note during the second brain scans, which is after Internet training, both Naives and Savvies have similar brain patterns.
You can teach an old dog new tricks, say UCLA scientists who found that middle-aged and older adults with little Internet experience were able to trigger key centers in the brain that control decision-making and complex reasoning after just one week of surfing the Web.

The findings, presented Oct. 19 at the 2009 meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, suggest that Internet training can stimulate neural activation patterns and could potentially enhance brain function and cognition in older adults.

As the brain ages, a number of structural and functional changes occur, including atrophy, reductions in cell activity and increases in deposits of amyloid plaques and tau tangles, which can impact cognitive function.

Eye 1

Caltech scientists create robot surrogate for blind persons in testing visual prostheses

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© Caltech/Wolfgang Fink, Mark Tarbell
The CYCLOPS mobile robotic platform is designed to be used as a surrogate for blind persons in the testing of visual prostheses.
Scientists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have created a remote-controlled robot that is able to simulate the "visual" experience of a blind person who has been implanted with a visual prosthesis, such as an artificial retina. An artificial retina consists of a silicon chip studded with a varying number of electrodes that directly stimulate retinal nerve cells. It is hoped that this approach may one day give blind persons the freedom of independent mobility.

Sherlock

Ancient Cult of the Viking Kings

Could a large mud building unearthed in Lejre have been a cult place or beer hall of the ancient Viking kings?

The hall, 48 metres long and seven metres across, overlooks the site of a Viking palace unearthed in 1986 in what is an historic area of Denmark.

'We are sure we have found a royal building of some sort,' said Tom Christensen, curator of Roskilde Museum at the time. 'The odd thing about the site is that it is littered with bits and pieces of exquisite golden jewellery, glass and bronze broaches, high quality artifacts, such as drinking glasses and ceramics, which all seem to have been deliberately smashed in some ritual.'

'There is also a huge pile of cooking stones from primitive ovens. This was obviously a place frequented by the upper classes of the Iron Age. Maybe it was some sort of beer hall or a sacred site where cult or religious activities were carried out. The building's post holes are over a metre deep, so it must have been an impressive construction,' said Christensen.

A large part of the rolling countryside around the hamlet of Lejre, near the cathedral town of Roskilde, an area which abounds in ancient burial mounds and Viking stone tombs, has been designated as an archaeological site.

Telescope

Towards Other Earths: 32 New Exoplanets Found

ExoPlanet
© ESO/L. Calçada
One of the 32 new exoplanets recently discovered using the HARPS spectrograph is surrounding the star Gliese 667 C, which belongs to a triple system.
Today, at an international ESO/CAUP exoplanet conference in Porto, the team who built the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher, better known as HARPS, the spectrograph for ESO's 3.6-metre telescope, reports on the incredible discovery of some 32 new exoplanets, cementing HARPS's position as the world's foremost exoplanet hunter. This result also increases the number of known low-mass planets by an impressive 30%. Over the past five years HARPS has spotted more than 75 of the roughly 400 or so exoplanets now known.

"HARPS is a unique, extremely high precision instrument that is ideal for discovering alien worlds," says Stéphane Udry, who made the announcement. "We have now completed our initial five-year programme, which has succeeded well beyond our expectations."

The latest batch of exoplanets announced today comprises no less than 32 new discoveries. Including these new results, data from HARPS have led to the discovery of more than 75 exoplanets in 30 different planetary systems. In particular, thanks to its amazing precision, the search for small planets, those with a mass of a few times that of the Earth - known as super-Earths and Neptune-like planets - has been given a dramatic boost. HARPS has facilitated the discovery of 24 of the 28 planets known with masses below 20 Earth masses. As with the previously detected super-Earths, most of the new low-mass candidates reside in multi-planet systems, with up to five planets per system.

Palette

Thomas Edison's 'failed' concrete piano sings

concrete piano
© Judy Wearing
Encasing the piano in concrete made it sound cleaner and clearer, said Judy Wearing, shown here with son Jacob, 13, and husband Tom Riddolls.
Beautiful arpeggios and even entire sweet sonatas can indeed emerge from a piano made of concrete, as famed inventor Thomas Edison envisioned.

That's what an Ontario family discovered that when they encased their own 1912 Webber piano in cement as an experiment.

"There's that perception that a concrete piano has to sound bad," said Judy Wearing of Napanee, Ont., adding Friday that she and her family were surprised to find the concrete actually improved the sound. "It sounded clearer. The notes were cleaner."

She spoke to an acoustic physicist who said the concrete dampens the resonance within the piano, but whether that improves or worsens the sound is a matter of personal taste.

Fish

Barnacles' sticky secret revealed

cross section of a barnacle
© Richard K. Everett
Inside out, a cross section of a barnacle
Barnacles are able to attach themselves to almost anything.

They are found clinging to the hulls of ships, the sides of rock pools and even to the skin of whales.

Just how they stick so steadfastly whilst underwater has remained a biochemical puzzle for scientists for many years.

Now researchers have solved this mystery, showing that barnacle glue binds together exactly the same way as human blood does when it clots.

Barnacles are crustaceans that live in shallow ocean environments.

As larvae they affix to hard substrates, then remain stationary for the rest of their lives.
To attach themselves to a surface, the barnacles secrete an adhesive substance.

Scientist knew the chemical properties of this glue, but not how these chemicals interact to create a sticky effect.

Telescope

Lunar Impact Plume?

Image
© NASA
There was a plume after all. Observers on Earth had their doubts after LCROSS and its Centaur booster rocket hit the Moon on Friday, Oct. 9th. The twin lunar impacts failed to produce visible plumes of debris, prompting speculation that something had gone wrong. On the contrary, members of the LCROSS science team are now calling the experiment "a smashing success."

Fifteen seconds after the Centaur hit the shadowy floor of crater Cabeus, the LCROSS spacecraft flying 600 km overhead took the following picture of a plume measuring 6 to 8 km wide.

"There is a clear indication of a plume of vapor and fine debris," says LCROSS principal investigator Tony Colaprete of NASA/Ames. "The ejecta brightness appears to be at the low end of our predictions and this may be a clue to the properties of the material the Centaur hit."

Nine cameras and spectrometers on LCROSS captured every phase of the Centaur's impact: the intial flash, the debris plume, and the creation of the Centaur's crater. "We are blown away by the data returned," says Colaprete. "The team is working hard on the analysis and the data appear to be of very high quality."

HAL9000

First Black Hole for Light Created on Earth

Light
© Qiang Cheng and Tie Jun Cui
The full-wave simulation result when light is incident to the black hole.
An electromagnetic "black hole" that sucks in surrounding light has been built for the first time.

The device, which works at microwave frequencies, may soon be extended to trap visible light, leading to an entirely new way of harvesting solar energy to generate electricity.

A theoretical design for a table-top black hole to trap light was proposed in a paper published earlier this year by Evgenii Narimanov and Alexander Kildishev of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. Their idea was to mimic the properties of a cosmological black hole, whose intense gravity bends the surrounding space-time, causing any nearby matter or radiation to follow the warped space-time and spiral inwards.

Magnify

Scientists Scan the Brains of Mice Playing "Quake"

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© David Tank
By putting sensors in the brains of mice as they ran through a Quake-derived virtual reality, scientists have found a way to study neurological activity in moving animals.

The setup allows for real-time, almost-real-motion tracking of single neurons. That feat has eluded researchers who have a fuzzy, general understanding of brain systems, but little knowledge of how individual cells actually work. They hope that cell-level details will make sense of motion, cognition and other complex mental functions.

"One of the major research areas of neuroscience is the development of techniques to study the brain at cellular resolution," said Princeton University neuroscientist David Tank, co-author of the study published Wednesday in Nature. "The information of the nervous system is contained in the activity of individual neurons."

Tank's team studied hippocampal place neurons, which are activated when an animal is in a particular location in its environment. Ever since hippocampal place neurons were identified 40 years go, scientists have wondered exactly what mechanisms make them fire.

Magnify

Study Finds Unique Wasp Brain Abilities

U.S. scientists studying the tiny brain of tropical paper wasps have found how the brain architecture changes as the wasps engage in specialized tasks.

Researchers at the Universities of Washington and Texas say previous studies had determined parts of the brains of the wasp species (Polybia aequatorialis) enlarged as the animal engaged in more complex tasks.

The new research describes how that occurs as dendrites, or extensions from individual neurons, reach out to receive information from other brain cells and form a dense network of connections. The networks help the wasps integrate information from visual, olfactory and touch sensory systems, the scientists said.

"I was astounded when we found that some of the individual neurons had dendrites that were seven to eight millimeters long in a brain that is roughly the size of two grains of sand," said study co-author Sean O'Donnell, a University of Washington associate professor of psychology.