‘Smart Mirror’ Could Scan Your Face to Detect Health Risks

By Carl Engelking | July 28, 2015 3:10 pm

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Besides just throwing back your handsome reflection, in the near future your mirror might tell you a lot about what lies beneath the surface.

That’s the goal of researchers who are developing a high-tech mirror that can deliver a health assessment just by analyzing your facial features. It’s a new twist on preventative health care that could help nip chronic diseases, such as heart disease and stroke, in the bud. Read More

Scientists Turn Fat Cells Into Tiny Lasers

Inserting an optical fiber into a piece of pig’s skin to cause fat cells to light up. Credit: Matjaž Humar and Seok Hyun Yun

Inserting an optical fiber into a piece of pig’s skin causes fat cells to light up. Credit: Matjaž Humar and Seok Hyun Yun

In the last few decades, lasers have become an important part of our lives, with applications ranging from laser pointers and CD players to medical and research uses. Lasers typically have a very well-defined direction of propagation and very narrow and well-defined emission color. We usually imagine a laser as an electrical device we can hold in our hands or as a big box in the middle of a research laboratory.

Fluorescent dyes have also become commonplace, routinely used in research and diagnostics to identify specific cell and tissue types. Illuminating a fluorescent dye makes it emit light with a distinctive color. The color and intensity are used as a measure, for example, of concentrations of various chemical substances such as DNA and proteins, or to tag cells. The intrinsic disadvantage of fluorescent dyes is that only a few tens of different colors can be distinguished.

In a combination of the two technologies, researchers know that if a dye is placed in an optical cavity – a device that confines light, such as two mirrors, for example – they can create a laser.

Taking it all a step even further, our research, described in the journal Nature Photonics, shows we can create a miniature laser that can emit light inside a single live cell.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, Technology, top posts
MORE ABOUT: biotechnology

Pee-Proof Walls Thwart Public Urinators in San Francisco

By Carl Engelking | July 27, 2015 1:52 pm

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Instant karma awaits those who choose to empty their bladders on the streets of San Francisco.

The San Francisco Public Works Department (SFPW) is coating select city walls with water-repelling paint that makes urine splash back onto the source of the illegal fount. It’s a technique borrowed from a city in Germany, where the specialized paint has caused enough messes that fewer people are choosing to conduct their personal business in public.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, top posts
MORE ABOUT: materials science

Four-Legged Snake Ancestor Dug Burrows With Tiny Limbs

By Carl Engelking | July 24, 2015 2:00 pm
Tetrapodophis uses its arms and legs to grasp a meal. (Credit: Julius S. Cstony)

Tetrapodophis uses its arms and legs to grasp a meal. (Credit: Julius S. Cstony)

Snakes’ earliest ancestors liked to hug it out.

Scientists announced this week the discovery of a 113-million-year-old four-legged reptile fossil found in Brazil. That makes it the most primitive ancestor of modern-day snakes ever found. While scientists have previously identified ancient snake fossils rocking a pair of hind limbs, this is also the first four-legged snake scientists have ever seen.

And the way this snake used its delicate arms helps clarify a longstanding debate about the snake family tree. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts

Your Musical Tastes Reflect Your Thinking Style

By Andy Berger | July 24, 2015 11:37 am

listening music

Are you good at putting yourself in someone else’s shoes? Then there’s a good chance that you enjoy R&B. If, instead, you are drawn to take things apart to understand how they work, you likely prefer punk music.

That’s the conclusion of a new study on how musical tastes relate to cognition. “We wanted to address this longstanding question, Why do people like the music that they do?” says study author David Greenberg. “Because you could have one person, for example, who loves Metallica or Rage Against the Machine and then another who would rather listen to Joni Mitchell or Bob Dylan.”

The study, published this week in the online journal PLOS ONE, shows that the way someone thinks – his or her cognitive style – is a better predictor of the songs they’ll like than is their personality type.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, top posts
MORE ABOUT: psychology

Drifting ‘Windbots’ Could Explore Jupiter’s Atmosphere

By Carl Engelking | July 23, 2015 3:15 pm
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An artist’s rendering of a theoretical windbot. The potential new class of robots could someday explore gas giants like Jupiter and Saturn. (Credit: NASA)

Cosmic landers are the go-to technology to get an intimate, on-the-ground look at foreign worlds. But is it possible to similarly explore gassy planets with nowhere to land, such as Jupiter and Saturn?

Engineers at NASA believe the answer to that question is yes, but it’ll likely require an entirely new class of spacecraft to get the job done. That’s why the space agency has begun studying the feasibility of creating windbots: theoretical robotic probes designed to float in a planet’s atmosphere without the need for wings or balloons. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
MORE ABOUT: space exploration

Microwaves Could Power Tomorrow’s Space Shuttles

By Carl Engelking | July 22, 2015 4:20 pm
A rendering of Escape Dynamics' microwave-powered space-plane. (Screengrab from YouTube/Escape Dynamics)

A rendering of Escape Dynamics’ microwave-powered space-plane. (Screen grab from YouTube/Escape Dynamics)

The same electromagnetic radiation used to heat up a Hot Pocket could propel a shuttle into space.

A Colorado-based technology company, Escape Dynamics, says initial testing indicates it’s possible to launch single-stage shuttles into orbit using microwaves beamed from the ground. If researchers can make the concept work, it could drastically reduce costs and make it safer to send satellites and humans into space. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics

Welcome to Mcity, the Place Driverless Vehicles Call Home

By Carl Engelking | July 21, 2015 1:03 pm
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Credit: University of Michigan

Sorry, Detroit, but there’s a new “Motor City” in Michigan.

On Monday, the University of Michigan announced the founding of Mcity, a 32-acre stretch of land on the Ann Arbor campus that no person will ever call home. Instead, driverless cars milling about Mcity’s urban and suburban environs will represent the “city’s” population. Mcity serves as the first urban environment specifically designed to test and perfect autonomous vehicle technologies before they are mass-marketed.

King of the Hill

More than 100 years ago, Henry Ford’s automobile assembly line helped Michigan firmly plant itself as the heart of the automotive industry. A century later, Silicon Valley has started to lead the way in terms of advancing automotive technology — Google’s self-driving vehicles are already cruising the streets of California, for example. For the “founders” of Mcity, the test facility is a bold move to reassert Michigan’s top-dog status in the future of automobile technology.

“We’re not going to let Silicon Valley take this technology away. This is the center of the universe for automotive technology,” U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., said during Mcity’s grand opening Monday.

By all appearances, Mcity is a real city complete with traffic lights, roundabouts, construction obstacles, sidewalks, streetlights and even a quaint downtown district. With a plethora of real-world props, researchers and engineers can design myriad traffic scenarios to test self-driving vehicles’ skills. Researchers can even deploy mechanized pedestrians to see how autonomous vehicles react.

The $10 million Mcity was planned as a safe place to test the limits of vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication technologies, which will play a key role in preventing collisions. Ford is already testing technology in Mcity, and Honda, GM, Toyota, Nissan and other tech companies have also invested in the facility. Mcity organizers say one of the primary goals of the project is to have autonomous vehicles testing on Ann Arbor streets by 2021.

Push the Accelerator

Just two days before the unveiling of Mcity, LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman penned a lengthy editorial saying an “asphalt utopia is on the horizon” and it’s time to “accelerate toward a world where self-driving cars are not just allowed but mandatory in the vast majority of spaces.” Before that happens, self-driving vehicles will have to prove they can handle the unpredictable nature of roadways shared by imperfect human drivers and pedestrians.

The controlled chaos at Mcity should certainly pose plenty of challenges for driverless vehicles to overcome.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, top posts

Pluto’s Icy Plains, Pits and Mountains Take Shape in Tombaugh Regio

By Eric Betz | July 17, 2015 4:12 pm
SputnikPlanum

In the center left of Pluto’s vast heart-shaped feature — informally named “Tombaugh Regio” — lies a vast craterless plain that appears to be no more than 100 million years old and is possibly still being shaped by geologic processes. This frozen region is north of Pluto’s icy mountains and has been informally named Sputnik Planum, after Earth’s first artificial satellite. The surface appears to be divided into irregularly shaped segments that are ringed by narrow troughs. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

NASA’s New Horizons team released the latest set of Pluto imagery Friday afternoon. And among the most fascinating finds are the dwarf planet’s smooth, craterless plains — informally dubbed Sputnik Planum — which push up against mountains of ice as tall as Colorado’s Rocky Mountains.

“I think the solar system saved the best for last,” Principal Investigator Alan Stern said in a press conference at NASA Headquarters.

New Horizons co-investigator Jeff Moore said the newly unveiled vast, craterless plain that can’t be easily explained, but surely has a strange story to tell.

“I’m still having to remind myself to take deep breaths,” he said. “The landscape geology is just astoundingly amazing.”

While larger-scale images of Pluto show ancient craters that are perhaps billions of years old, Tombaugh Regio is very young with signs of ongoing erosion and fractures that imply some form of tectonics.

“Pluto is every bit as geologically active as any place we’ve seen in the solar system,” Moore said.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts

Pluto’s Bright Heart and Charon’s Dark Spot Revealed in HD

By Eric Betz | July 15, 2015 4:33 pm

pluto detail

NASA has released the latest batch of images of Pluto and its complex system of moons, revealing the dwarf planet’s heart in stunning detail.

The white heart shape was Pluto’s most prominent feature as the New Horizons spacecraft was still millions of miles away, and for that reason astronomers have named it after the planet’s discoverer, Clyde Tombaugh.

What’s more, the region has incredible and complex geology.

“There are mountains in the Kuiper Belt,” New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern said at a 3 p.m. EDT press conference today. Astronomers expect these mountains are as much as 11,000 feet (3,300 meters) high. And those towering features are very likely made of water ice — a substance known to occupy Pluto’s interior but yet to be conclusively detected on the surface. And yet water is the only way to get these mountains, the team thinks.

Stern said he submitted a paper to The Astrophysical Journal in May predicting such features, which was accepted earlier in the day. The journal’s editor only learned about the ice mountains from the press conference.

Because nitrogen sits on the surface, some sort of ice volcanism must be present, even though it has yet to be detected. New Horizons’ images will be picked apart meticulously looking for signs of such activity.

The first high-resolution image from the flyby released today shows an area just off the southern edge of the informally named Tombaugh Regio.

“The most striking thing geologically is we have not yet found a single impact feature on this image,” says New Horizons science team member John Spencer. “Just eyeballing it we think it has to be less than 100 million years old, which is a small fraction of the age of the solar system — it could be active right now.”

And the high-resolution image is only one of many that are still to come.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
MORE ABOUT: new horizons
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