Brain Scans Probe the Limits of Consciousness

By Nathaniel Scharping | May 27, 2016 4:03 pm
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(Credit: sfam_photo/Shutterstock)

New research from scientists at the University of Copenhagen and Yale University may offer a simple, yet powerful way to pull back the curtain on the true status of patients in a coma.

Using a type of Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scanning, the researchers say they were able to predict with 94 percent accuracy whether a coma patient would wake up. Typically, determining who will emerge from a coma is based on a doctor’s bedside exam, and they often make mistakes. They measured the level of brain activity in a coma patient by injecting glucose mixed with a fluorescent dye into their brains. Glucose is what the brain gets its energy from — literally brain food — and by observing how much of the glucose was metabolized in the brain, the researchers were able to see how active the brain actually was.
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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, top posts

Maybe We Trust Robots Too Much

By Nathaniel Scharping | May 26, 2016 2:16 pm
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The robot, named Gaia, outside of a dorm on Harvard’s campus. (Credit: Serena Booth)

Would you let a stranger into your apartment building?

Granting an unknown person access to a building was a humorous premise for a Seinfeld episode, but the decision to trust a stranger reveals insights into human psychology and touches on broader issues of trust in society. But what if, instead of a human, a robot knocked at your door?

It’s a question that Harvard University senior Serena Booth set out to answer with the help of a small, wheeled robot — well, more like a roving nightstand — that she stationed at the entrances to several dorms on campus. And as it turns out, we tend to place more trust in a robot if it looks like it has a job to do.  Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, top posts
MORE ABOUT: robots

Surprising Smarts: Neanderthals Were Builders, Cave Explorers

By Nathaniel Scharping | May 26, 2016 12:31 pm
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The structures found inside Bruniquel cave in France. (Credit: Etienne FABRE/SSAC)

Circular structures discovered in a French cave continue to build the case that Neanderthals were more intelligent than we give them credit for.

Deep inside the Bruniquel Cave, researchers discovered two rings of stalactites and stalagmites that appeared to have been deliberately stacked and arranged to form a structure. The site also contained charred animal bones, which may have served as torches to illuminate the dark depths of the cave or keep bears at bay. The thing is, a new dating analysis suggests these structures were built more than 170,000 years ago, long before Homo sapiens arrived in the area. That means Neanderthals were the likely architects, and we didn’t expect them to be such adept builders and cave explorers.  Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts

Grieving Monkey Mourns His Mate

By Nathaniel Scharping | May 25, 2016 2:48 pm
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Mourning a fallen group member. (Credit: Bin Yang, James R. Anderson, and Bao-Guo Li/ Current Biology 26)

For animal researchers, one of the most essential questions is that of consciousness. How do they view themselves and those around them? Even in humans, consciousness remains a perplexing problem for scientists — made all the more vexing because the answer is locked in our own brains.

One way for researchers to gain insight into how other animals view their lives is by observing their behavior when confronted with death. There is a good deal of evidence that various species of animals recognize and react to the deaths of one of their group members. Elephants, gorillas, dolphins and even magpies seem to mourn the loss of those close to them. Getting to view one of these somber rituals is rare, however, as most animals don’t grieve for very long, and in the wild, bodies are soon claimed by predators. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts

Lost and Found: Brazil’s Blue-eyed ‘Ghost Species’

By Andrew Jenner | May 25, 2016 11:47 am
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The blue-eyed ground dove hadn’t been documented in the wild for 75 years. (Credit: Rafael Bessa)

Last June, driving through a rural part of Minas Gerais state, ornithologist Rafael Bessa came across an unusually beautiful stretch of cerrado, the vast, diverse savanna that sprawls across much of central Brazil. So appealing was this landscape that Bessa, an ornithologist working on an environmental assessment in the area, decided to get out and have a look around.

Though he saw nothing of particular note, he heard a song he didn’t recognize. Perplexed, Bessa returned to the same scenic stretch of road the next morning, better equipped. When he heard the song again, he recorded it; as he played back the recording, the bird came into view. It looked like a dove of some sort. Bessa took a few pictures, and then, zooming in on the camera display, began to grasp the magnitude of what was happening. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts

WATCH: X-Ray Lasers Vaporize Water Droplets in Slow-Motion

By Nathaniel Scharping | May 24, 2016 1:39 pm

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Physics doesn’t always look exciting. Smashing particles and detecting gravitational waves happen at scales too minuscule for us to observe, and even if we could, even earth-shattering discoveries often appear as just a spike in a graph, or an aberration in the data.

Every so often, however, a physics experiment comes along that we actually can see, and sometimes those experiments are pretty darn cool. Take these videos from the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, where an X-ray laser blasts apart water droplets like the Death Star obliterates planets. Read More

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

To Fight Disease Outbreaks, Scientists Turn to Cell Phones

By Kiona Smith-Strickland | May 24, 2016 1:15 pm
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(Credit: AstroStar/Shutterstock)

Cell phones ride in our pockets or purses everywhere we go, which makes them a powerful tool for monitoring explosive epidemics.

Epidemiologists rely on computer models to simulate the spread of disease and determine how best to intervene, and tracking human movement is key to accomplishing this two-headed task. Now, a team of researchers says mobile phone records can provide better data about population movements, which in turn helps produce more accurate epidemic models.

To prove this approach can work, researchers compiled cell phone records, from 2013, generated by 150,000 users in Senegal to track population movements and model a cholera epidemic that ravaged the country in 2005. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, top posts

One of the World’s Oldest Beer Recipes Unearthed in China

By Nathaniel Scharping | May 23, 2016 2:07 pm
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(Credit: shyshak roman/Shutterstock)

Two pits recently unearthed in China contained archaeological evidence of what could be one of the world’s oldest microbreweries.

Located at the Mijiaya archaeological site in northern China, the pits contained a number of vessels of varying shapes as well as small stoves. The archaeologists studying the site say the ancient inhabitants had all of the tools necessary to produce a favorite fermented beverage from millet, barley and other grains. They also analyzed the yellowish coating found on the inside of the vessels and found evidence of steeping, mashing and fermentation — all steps in the beer-making process. Using carbon dating, the researchers estimate that the pits are anywhere from 4,900 to 5,400 years old. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts

India Marks Success in First Reusable Spacecraft Test

By Carl Engelking | May 23, 2016 12:16 pm
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ISRO’s RLV-TD notched its first successful test launch Monday. (Credit: ISRO)

The Indian Space Research Organisation is entering the next generation of space travel.

The ISRO on Monday successfully launched its pint-sized Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV-TD) prototype from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, according to an announcement from the space organization. The first test flight marks a milestone for ISRO, which started developing its concept for a reusable launch vehicle  nearly a decade ago. Read More

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

If There’s Life on Mars, We Might Not Recognize It

By Nathaniel Scharping | May 20, 2016 3:09 pm
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Image of Mars from the Viking 2 lander. (Credit: NASA)

The search for extraterrestrial life has expanded far beyond the bounds of the solar system and to the hordes of exoplanets circling foreign stars, but the search is far from over on the planet next door to us.

Mars beckons as a potential source of life not only because it is nearby and easy to study, but also because of evidence that water once, and perhaps still, flowed across its surface. In addition, organic compounds, although likely not of biological origin, have been discovered in the soil on Mars, which means the building blocks for life could already be there. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
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