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Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

#1,263 – Super Wood

Move over Graphene.  There may be a new wonder material on the way that could soon “steel” everyone’s heart.

As Inhabitat puts it, “It’s a twig, it’s a branch, it’s… Super Wood! Researchers at the University of Maryland have created a so-called ‘super wood’ that is stronger than many titanium alloys. The research team used a two-step process to drastically increase the density of the wood, thus reinforcing its strength to 10 times that of traditional wood. ‘It is as strong as steel, but six times lighter,’ research team co-leader TengLi told ScienceDaily.”

The wood also takes 10 times more energy to fracture meaning that it could, for instance, withstand the impact of a bullet without breaking.

But that’s not all.

According to Fast Company, “Li also added that the manufacturing process is easy and inexpensive, allowing you to treat any type wood–even soft balsa wood–in bulk on the cheap. Before the process begins, you can even mold or bend the material to adopt any shape you want.”

A cheap material that’s easy to manufacture that’s as strong as steel but significantly lighter and harder to break?  That right there is a total game-changer.  But don’t worry Graphene.  I hereby reaffirm my love for you.  You will always be my #1 super material.  This new Super Wood though is now a close second.

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Is Super Wood the Greatest Idea Ever?

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We have no idea how the brain works.  Sure, we know vastly more today than we did five years ago thanks to MRIs and other brain mapping techniques that allow us to see how the brain responds to various stimuli.  For example, according to Wired, “Researchers have learned how to restore memories lost to brain damage, plant false memories, control the motions of animals through human thought, control appetite and aggression, induce sensations of pleasure and pain, [and] even how to beam brain signals from one animal to another animal thousands of miles away.”

Impressive no doubt.  But we still have no idea how consciousness forms or why we dream.  We still can’t cure Alzheimer’s or other age related cognitive diseases.  And we’re still no closer to connecting our brains to the Internet, enhancing our cognition, or even modeling AI after how the brain works.  After all, you can’t model something that you don’t understand, and the brain with its billions of inter-connected neurons operating in multi-dimensional space via quantum mechanics is quite hard to understand.  But that’s not going to stop Bryan Johnson and Kernel from trying.

As their mission statement declares:

“In the last century, we greatly expanded the notion of what it means to be human. Remarkable innovations in both science and technology brought us to the moon, laid the foundation of the Internet, and cured many of the most pressing diseases that plagued us for eons.

What’s next?

To further explore our own human boundaries, a wave of new technologies needs to emerge that can access, read, and write from the most powerful tool we have—the human brain.

At Kernel, our primary aim is to develop technologies to understand and treat neurological diseases in new and exciting ways. We will then interpret the brain’s complex workings in order to create applications towards cognitive enhancement.”

In other words, we all may be wearing implantable neuro-prosthetics in the near future.  For all the hype and attention that AI, Artificial Intelligence, gets, and rightfully so, in the end it may be IA, Intelligence Augmentation, that steals the show.

As far-fetched as all this sounds Johnson isn’t alone.  Elon Musk started a company known as Neuralink to bring the fictional Neural Lace to life, DARPA is working on a way to download new skills Matrix style, and Mark Zuckerberg is working on technology that would enable us to “type” up to 100 words per minute just by thinking.

Will any of these initiatives bear fruit in 2018?  Probably not.  These are paradigm shifting technologies that will take years to pay off.  But 2018 will be the year that these initiatives start to gain momentum.  The year in which the battle lines for the future of the brain are drawn and the stakes raised.  The year that we’ll look back at and fondly recall as the year that started us on our path towards the next great age in human history.  Whether it’s Kernel or Neuralink or Facebook or DARPA that is helping us do the reminiscing remains to be seen.

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Is Kernel the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,223 – Shine Forward

The history of innovation and the history of artificial lighting are often considered one in the same.  After all, it was electricity that powered the Industrial Evolution, allowed people to move to the suburbs, gave rise to the middle class, and ultimately ushered in the Computer Age.  In fact, their histories are so intertwined that the universal symbol for innovation and idea creation is the light bulb itself.  Not to mention the fact that the most famous inventor of all-time, the man synonymous with both great success and great failure, is none other than Thomas Edison, the man who invented said light bulb.

And yet in spite of all that the light bulb itself hasn’t changed that much over the past hundred years.  It might last longer, burn brighter or be more environmentally friendly nowadays but it is, for the most part, still the same old light bulb.  Until now that is.  For the light bulb of the future might not be a bulb at all.  It might not even be a physical object.  That’s right.  In the near future our lighting may be delivered to us via remarkable bioluminescent plants.  Avatar style.

As Inverse puts it:

“During the nearly three-hour ride that is Avatar, James Cameron builds a strange world filled with mountain banshees, sex tails, and forests pulsating with bioluminescence. If you’re a regular Jake Sully yearning for the world of Pandora, you don’t need to wait much longer for your life to become more Avatar-like: On Wednesday, scientists reported that they’re already working on creating real plants that glow like the fauna of the film, which could one day fill up your home, making you one with the Na’vi.”

So, how does this neat parlor trick work?!

According to the article, “The plants are able to glow because they are infused with luciferase, the enzyme responsible for making fireflies glow. In the reaction, luciferase interacts with a molecule called luciferin to create light, and another molecule called co-enzyme A allows the process to happen by removing the reaction byproduct that can inhibit glow. So, the researchers packaged these three molecules into nanoparticles and poured them into a chemical solution.  Putting the plants into this solution and hitting them with high pressure allows the particles to enter the tiny pores of the plants, and once they go there, biological magic happens: luciferin is released and interacts with luciferase, and suddenly the chemical reaction causes the plants to glow.”

To be a fair a lot more work has to be done before our living rooms and places of business start to look like Pandora.  But at this rate it’s not far-fetched to imagine such a world existing.  James Cameron would be proud.  Edison too.

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Are bio-luminescent plants the Greatest Idea Ever?

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To be honest I’m not a big fan of tattoos.  I can appreciate the artistic aesthetic they provide but I have no interest in dating someone who has them and no desire to get one myself.  I don’t even like Henna, face painting, or getting my hand stamped at a bar.  However, all that may be about to change thanks to Everence, better known as DNA tattoos.

As the New York Times puts it, “It is about as biologically intimate as one can get. Everence is a powdery substance synthesized from a sample of DNA, something as simple as a few thousand cells from a swab of a person’s inner cheek, or from cremated ashes. A small vial of Everence can be brought to a tattoo artist and added to any type of inks.  The result: A tattoo imbued with the DNA of another human being — or, if you prefer, a dog, cat or other furry friend.”

Some people may find this concept a little bit creepy and there’s really no denying the weirdness that surrounds it, but at the same time, the idea has a lot of merit.  For instance, just look at the mental health benefits for those mourning the loss of a loved one.  Every time they look at the tattoo they’ll be reminded of the person they loved and they’ll be comforted by the fact that they’ll always have a piece of their dearly departed with them.  It would also make for a powerful gesture for those in active relationships.  Instead of just getting standard run of the mill matching tattoos, couples could now get tattoos imbued with each other’s DNA.

But that’s not the only tattoo related breakthrough making headlines.  In fact, there’s one even crazier.  The idea of using tattoos as living computers.

According to Inverse, “In a research paper published in Advanced Materials, Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have figured out a way to 3D-print specially designed cells into flat designs, like the tattoo above, and into 3D structures. It’s a technique they believe could possibly be used to create a ‘living computer,’ or a structure made up of living cells that can do the stuff your laptop can.”

How exactly would this process work though?!?

“Instead of the plastics or nylon usually used for 3D printing, the team used modified bacteria that are able to withstand the process of being squeezed out of a nozzle. Some of the cells were programmed with the ability to send signals to other cells, so that the entire 3D-printed design can respond as one when it comes into contact with certain chemicals.”

These biological tattoo computers might then be used to produce drugs and deliver them to a targeted part of the body.  Or perhaps one they could enable us to communicate with one another or give us access to secure areas just like how our modern devices do.  Just in a much cooler way.

Either way it’s becoming increasingly clear that I just might need to rethink my stance on tattoos.  Between Everence, biological tattoo computers, health monitoring tattoos, and hidden underskin tattoos, there may be no escaping them.  And that could be a good thing.

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Is Everence the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Here’s a quick look at everything that tickled my fancy this past week:

Breakthrough Prizes Announced
 
My favorite awards gala of the year (sorry Oscars) returned to honor the top scientists in the world and their incredible breakthroughs.
 
The big winners as detailed on Axios:

“Joanne Chory from The Salk Institute for Biological Studies and Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Over the past 30 years, she has studied the genetic and molecular mechanisms underpinning a plant’s response to light. Chory is now trying to apply those findings to breed plants that can remove 20 times more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than they usually do.

Kazutoshi Mori from Kyoto University and Peter Walter from the University of California, San Francisco and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, who discovered a ‘quality-control syste’” in cells that allows them to detect misfolded or unfolded proteins that can cause diseases and then signal the cell to correct them.

Kim Nasmyth from the University of Oxford, ‘for elucidating the sophisticated mechanism that mediates the perilous separation of duplicated chromosomes during cell division and thereby prevents genetic diseases such as cancer.’

Don Cleveland from the University of California, San Diego for his work on the molecular mechanisms of Lou Gehrig’s disease and discoveries about the role of the brain’s glia cells in neurodegeneration.

The 27-member team of astrophysicists behind the WMAP space telescope used to map the radiant heat leftover from the Big Bang. The team’s five leaders were recognized: Charles Bennett from Johns Hopkins University, Gary Hinshaw from the University of British Columbia, and Norman JarosikLyman Page and David Spergel, all from Princeton University.

Mathematicians Christopher Hacon from the University of Utah and James McKernan from the University of California, San Diego for contributions to birational algebraic geometry. As Kerry Dolan puts it in Forbes, ‘While it’s almost impossible to visualize beyond even 3 dimensions, Hacon and McKernan use algebra to establish the rules for projecting objects from 1000+ dimensions onto lower-dimensional surfaces.’”

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New Uses for Uranium
 
When you think of Uranium you think of nuclear energy and weapons.  But the element may have a few more tricks up its sleeve thanks to its unique position on the Periodic Table of Elements.  In fact, it could become a building block of the future.

According to Futurism the, “discovery could lead to the development of new medicines and plastics that are truly biodegradable. Plastic continues to be one of today’s major polluters, with more than 297.5 million tons of plastic used globally. Alongside efforts to reuse and recycle plastic, turning to the element for developing eco-friendly bottles would definitely help.

Aside from these, it could also lead to a number of other equally interesting possibilities in developing a host of other materials. ‘Uranium has very interesting magnetism so could find novel applications in magnetic devices,’ [lead researcher Steve] Liddle said. ‘We’re also interested in whether elements like uranium can produce molecules like ammonia. We’d never supplant current industrial processes but what we’d gain from such studies might help us understand industrial reactions better to make them less wasteful and energy intensive.’”

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Cure For Paralysis

A new procedure instantaneously restored movement in the legs of a primate.

Futurism explains how the procedure was carried out:

“The spinal cord of the subject monkey was partially cut, so the legs had no way of communicating with the brain. To mend the brain-spine interface, electrodes were placed on key parts of the monkey’s body. Implants were placed inside the monkey’s brain at the part that controls leg movement, together with a wireless transmitter sitting outside the skull. Electrodes were also placed along the spinal cord, below the injury.

A computer program decoded brain signals indicative of leg movement and transmitted the signals to the electrodes in the spine. Within just a few seconds, the monkey was moving its leg. In a few days, it was walking on a treadmill.”

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Metallic Glass Breakthrough
 
I love materials science.  Creating new wonder materials not found in nature.  Materials that can do some pretty remarkable things.  And when it comes to a new type of material known as Metallic Glass, we’re just scratching the surface of what can be done.

As New Atlas puts it, “Normally, solid metals have a rigid, crystalline atomic structure, but as their name suggests, metallic glasses are more like glass, with a random arrangement of atoms. Composed of complex alloys, they get their unusual structure when molten metal is cooled down extremely quickly, which prevents crystals from forming. The end result is a material that’s as pliable as plastic during production but strong as steel afterwards, making them useful for objects like golf clubs and gears for robots.”

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Neuroscience Breakthrough

It soon may be possible to inject information directly into the brain.  This doesn’t mean that we’ll be ditching the library anytime soon.  But it may mean that we could get better at treating traumatic brain injuries.

According to the IB Times, “As part of a new study, a team of neuroscientists has demonstrated that tiny electrical currents delivered to an area of the brain that initiates movement can help provide certain instructions to the brain that guide the subject’s movements.  The study, published in the journal Neuron on Thursday, showed that very low level of electrical stimulation delivered directly to the premotor cortex can instruct an appropriate response or action. According to researchers, this essentially replaces the signals we would normally receive from the parts of the brain that process what we hear, see and feel.”

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Are any of these ideas the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,213 – Hair Loss Cure

Great hair isn’t in the cards for most people.  We can’t all be like Steve Harrington or Uncle Jesse.  And that’s fine.  Looking like Screech or Dustin is fine too.  But on the extreme end of the spectrum lies male pattern baldness and that’s no fun for anyone.  Just ask LeBron.  Thankfully, help might soon be on the way in the form of a cure for baldness.

As Futurism explains, “While studying hair loss and hair follicles, Choi Kang-yeol from Yonsei University in Seoul and his team discovered that those suffering from the condition had a significant amount of the CXXC5 protein in their scalp. The researchers learned that when that protein combines with the Dishevelled protein, they prevent the regeneration of hair follicles.

To prevent that binding, the team created PTD-DMB.

‘We have found a protein that controls the hair growth and developed a new substance that promotes hair regeneration by controlling the function of the protein,’ Choi told Business Korea. ‘We expect that the newly developed substance will contribute to the development of a drug that not only treats hair loss but also regenerate damaged skin tissues.'”

Considering that I have a receding hair line and have started to go bald myself this is great news indeed!  Hopefully, it won’t be too long before this drug is on the market.

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Is a hair loss cure the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,211 – Graphene Update

Graphene, everyone’s favorite wonder material, is at it again.  The one atom thick sheet of pure carbon, 1,000 times thinner than a piece of paper, yet 100 times stronger than steel, might now be capable of producing limitless clean energy thanks to a clever new hack that takes advantage of its subatomic properties.

Graphene is a two dimensional material that acts like a three dimensional material because it’s atoms are constantly jiggling instead of staying in one place.  Thanks to that vibrating Graphene has the ability to act as a power source.

According to Science Alert:

“So long as the graphene’s temperature allowed the atoms to shift around uncomfortably, it would continue to ripple and bend. Place electrodes to either side of sections of this buckling graphene, and you’d have a tiny shifting voltage.  By [Physicist Paul] Thibado’s calculations, a single ten micron by ten micron piece of graphene could produce ten microwatts of power.

It mightn’t sound impressive, but given you could fit more than 20,000 of these squares on the head of a pin, a small amount of graphene at room temperature could feasibly power something small like a wrist watch indefinitely.  Better yet, it could power bioimplants that won’t need cumbersome batteries.”

Eventually it may be even be possible to use this hack to power larger scale devices.  Maybe even one day get to the point where it’s providing all the energy that we need.  Proving once again just how amazing Graphene truly is.

But, wait!  There’s more!

Thanks to Graphene the amount of time it takes to recharge your phone may soon be drastically reduced.

According to The Next Web, “a battery made with this material will be able to hold 45 percent capacity than a lithium one, recharge fully in just 12 minutes – making it ideal for phones; it’s also able to maintain a stable temperature of 60 degrees Celsius, which is crucial for its application in electric vehicles.”

Is there anything that this wonder material can’t do?!

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Is there anything that Graphene can’t do?

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