Wastewater and Beer Make a Fine Pairing

By Nathaniel Scharping | March 22, 2017 2:35 pm
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(Credit: Shutterstock)

In the water cycle, what comes out of us eventually goes back in. Along the way, we can make it something better.

That’s the idea behind a new beer from San Diego’s Stone Brewery made from the city’s recycled wastewater. Their aptly named Full Circle Pale Ale uses water from Pure Water San Diego, a water treatment company that aims to supply one-third of the city’s water within the next two decades. They’ve partnered with the brewery to give the much-maligned concept of “toilet to tap” a tastier image. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, top posts
MORE ABOUT: sustainability, water

Dubai Officials Enlist RoboCops for Street Patrols

By Amy Klinkhammer | March 21, 2017 2:10 pm
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Dubai’s robot officer is here to protect and serve. (Credit: Dubai Media Office)

Some of the world’s first robotic police officers will reportedly hit the streets of Dubai in May.

Brigadier Abdullah Bin Sultan, director of the Future Shaping Centre of Dubai Police, made the announcement Monday during a police forum held in the city. By 2030, Dubai officials hope that up to 25 percent of their police force will be artificially intelligent. This, from the same crime-fighting organization that has Lamborghini, Ferrari and Bentley patrol cars parked in its garage.  Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, top posts
MORE ABOUT: robots

You Can Become a Memory Champion, Too

By Ian Graber-Stiehl | March 20, 2017 3:23 pm
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(Credit: Shutterstock)

Need to memorize a series of numbers? Try this: Imagine yourself walking through a house while locking visualizations of a “12” or “78” into different rooms and cabinets located throughout the house.

You’ve just used the “method of loci,” which is a fundamental memorization technique that dates back to ancient Greece and is employed by champion memory athletes. Radboud University Medical Center neuroscientist Martin Dresler, lead author of a study recently published in the journal Neuron, explored how this ancient strategy affects brain activity, and whether its an effective training tool for the average memorization weekend warrior.

“Our brains and memory mechanisms did not evolve to encode abstract information like numbers of language, but rather concrete visuospatial information…where to find food sources, how to find home, where to meet,” says Dresler.

Dresler’s findings are encouraging for even the most forgetful: Memory athletes don’t have some secret, biological advantage; instead, memory, like so many things in life, can be significantly improved with patience and practice. After training, memory novices went from remembering 26 words from a list, to 62, and their performance remained elevated months after training ended.

Old Brains Learn Athletes’ Tricks

They divided 51 participants into three groups: a control, method of loci students, and a group that trained using the N-back task—remembering sequences in an activity akin to the game Concentration. Over 40 days, participants were challenged to recall a list of 72 words after 30-minute training sessions.

Before training, individuals could remember 26 to 30 words from the list. After training sessions, method of loci groups remembered 35 more words, while the control group and N-back test recalled just 7 and 11 more words, respectively.

Four months later, the method of loci group could still recall 22 more words than before training, indicating the effects tend to stick. The control group’s performance, meanwhile, declined, and the active memorization group showed virtually no improvement, which was somewhat surprising according to Howard Nusbaum, a University of Chicago researcher unaffiliated with the study.

“There is currently a controversy about whether improving working memory this way [with active, Concentration-style memory games] would affect other abilities like long-term memory.  This study shows it does not,” says Nusbaum.

Scientists also monitored participants’ brain activity using a functional MRI scanner, and keyed in on 25 connections that most differentiated memory athletes from novices, and identified two major hubs of brain connectivity: the medial prefrontal cortex, which facilitates our ability to relate new information to pre-existing knowledge, and the right dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex, which aids in mentally encoded information a structured way.

The training sessions altered patterns of activity in novice brains, and they started making connections similarly to memory athletes.

We know little about how this pattern of brain activity promotes memorization, or what long-term effect using the mnemonic trick could have, but as Nusbaum notes, the study shows how old dogs can learn new tricks.

“Many people despair that they are stuck with a set of habits or approaches or limitations—they are stuck with the brain they have. This study demonstrates that we can change our brains and our behavior by focused practice,” he says.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, top posts
MORE ABOUT: memory & learning

Weapons Physicist Posts Declassified Nuclear Test Videos to YouTube

By Nathaniel Scharping | March 16, 2017 2:44 pm

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A trove of footage from early U.S. nuclear weapons tests has just been declassified and uploaded to YouTube.

The film release was part of a project headed by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) weapons physicist Greg Spriggs which aimed to digitize and preserve thousands of films documenting the nation’s nuclear history. The endeavor required an all-hands-on deck approach from archivists, film experts and software engineers, but the team says that this digitized database is already yielding new insights from the decades-old tests. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, Technology, top posts

We Deserve At Least Half the Blame for Declining Arctic Sea Ice

By Nathaniel Scharping | March 16, 2017 7:00 am
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(Credit: CatchaSnap/Shutterstock)

Natural variability in atmospheric conditions could account for as much as half of the recent decline in Arctic sea ice, according to a new study.

While the masses of ice that float atop the planet have been in steady decline over the past few decades, scientists haven’t been able to say how much of the losses are attributable to human-driven climate change and how much is simply the result of periodic swings in climate conditions. While the scientific consensus is that human activities have had a significant impact, the unpredictable nature of weather patterns has made determining the extent of our culpability problematic.  Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, top posts

A Glimpse of a Microchip’s Delicate Architecture

By Nathaniel Scharping | March 15, 2017 3:49 pm
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A 3-D rendering of the internal structure of a microchip. The material in yellow is copper — showing the processor’s circuit connections which link the individual transistors. The smallest lines shown are individually around 45 nanometers wide. (Credit: Mirko Holler)

Computer chips continue to shrink ever smaller, but we still wring more processing power out of them.

One of the problems that comes with taking our technology to the nanoscale, however, is that we can no longer see what’s going on with them. Computer chips, with their arrays of transistors laid out like cities, have components that measure as little as 14 nanometers across, or about 5,000 times smaller than a red blood cell. Checking out these wonders of engineering without using expensive and destructive imaging techniques is a challenge, to say the least.  Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, top posts

This Is Where Stardust Comes From

By Alison Klesman | March 10, 2017 2:36 pm
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ALMA observations have uncovered an extremely young, dusty galaxy already polluted with the products of supernovae, as pictured in this artist’s impression. (Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser)

The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in the Chilean Andes has made several groundbreaking discoveries since it was brought online in 2011. Able to image the sky in millimeter and submillimeter wavelengths, ALMA can spot emission associated with molecular gas and dust, which are cold and can be difficult or impossible to see at other wavelengths. Using this ability, ALMA has identified dust and gas in a galaxy that formed when our universe was only about 4 percent of its current age. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
MORE ABOUT: cosmology

This Drone Dive-bombs Plants to Pollinate Them

By Nathaniel Scharping | March 9, 2017 1:56 pm

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The hum of insects pollinating plants could one day be joined by a decidedly different buzz.

Researchers from the Nanomaterials Research Institute in Japan have developed a system for transferring pollen between plants using a tiny commercial drone armed with an adhesive gel. They say that their sticky drone solution could one day help ailing pollinator populations ensure crops keep having sex. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, Technology, top posts
MORE ABOUT: drones, ecology, robots

An Entirely Synthetic Yeast Genome Is Nearly Complete

By Carl Engelking | March 9, 2017 1:00 pm
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Yeast cells up close. (Courtesy Jef Boeke, NYU Langone)

Scientists are five steps closer to synthesizing the entire genome of baker’s yeast, a feat that, once accomplished, will push the field of synthetic biology into a new frontier.

An international team of researchers led by NYU Langone geneticist Jef Boeke on Thursday announced it constructed and integrated five “designer” chromosomes into Saccharomyces cerevisiae. This collaboration, known as the Synthetic Yeast 2.0 project (Sc2.0), unveiled the first-ever “designer chromosome” back in 2014, which brings the official total of made-from-scratch chromosomes to 6 of baker’s yeast 16. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: top posts, Uncategorized
MORE ABOUT: genetics

Good News! It Looks Like We Can Grow Potatoes on Mars

By Nathaniel Scharping | March 8, 2017 2:35 pm

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A project attempting to grow potatoes in Mars-like conditions has reported positive preliminary results.

Based in Lima, Peru, the International Potato Center (CIP) is dedicated to collecting and altering potato varieties found around the world. The CIP began as an effort to alleviate global hunger by introducing special strains of the hardy vegetable to places with arid soils and harsh environments. As researchers have begun experimenting with earthly technologies in a bid to extend our reach beyond the planet, CIP has added experiments testing hardy types of potato in near-Martian conditions. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
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