Turn Anything into a Touchscreen With ‘Electrick’

By Nathaniel Scharping | May 9, 2017 3:20 pm

giphy (6)

Buttons, who needs ’em?

A new proof-of-concept technology from Carnegie Mellon University turns everyday objects into touch interfaces with an array of electrodes. Walls, guitars, toys and steering wheels come alive with touch sensitivity in their video, and it seems that the possibilities are pretty much endless. What could be next? Grocery store aisles? Whole buildings? Other people? Cell phones? Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology

New Chamber Reveals Most Complete Homo Naledi To Date

By Nathaniel Scharping | May 9, 2017 3:00 am
The skull of a Homo Naledi specimen named "Neo." (Credit: Wits University/John Hawks)

The skull of a Homo naledi specimen named “Neo.” (Credit: Wits University/John Hawks)

With a series of papers out today, Homo naledi gets both a birthdate and more complete.

Discovered in a South African cave, H. naledi first came to light in 2015, in a paper by University of the Witwatersrand anthropologist Lee Berger. Though the remains were undated at the time, estimates put them at anywhere from 100,000 to several million years old. This was based on a physical analysis of the bones, which contained a curious mixture of modern and archaic traits. Now, after putting the remains through a rigorous series of tests, Berger and his coauthors have shown that these individuals lived between 236,000 and 335,000 years ago, co-existing, at least for a time, with modern humans. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts

Scientists Race to Understand Why Ice Shelves Collapse

By Eric Betz | May 5, 2017 2:02 pm
Scientists are tracking a large crack in the Larsen C Ice Shelf that will soon calve a Delaware-sized iceberg. Other floating ice shelves in the region have collapsed after similar events in recent decades.

Scientists are tracking a large crack in the Larsen C Ice Shelf that will soon calve a Delaware-sized iceberg. Other floating ice shelves in the region have collapsed after similar events in recent decades.(Credit: NASA/John Sonntag)

An 80-mile crack is spreading across the Antarctic Peninsula’s Larsen C ice shelf. And once that crack reaches the ocean, it will calve an iceberg the size of Delaware. The chunk looked like it could break off a few months ago, but it’s still clinging on by a roughly 10-mile thread. Earlier this week, scientists from the MIDAS project, which monitors Larsen C, reported a new branch on that crack. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, top posts
MORE ABOUT: arctic & antarctic

The Liver Grows by Day, Shrinks by Night

By Nathaniel Scharping | May 4, 2017 3:21 pm
Mouse liver cells at the end of the day (left) and the end of the night (right) after they have grown. (Credit: Ueli Schibler/University of Geneva)

Mouse liver cells at the end of the day (left) and the end of the night (right) after they have grown. (Credit: Ueli Schibler/University of Geneva)

Among all the organs in the human body, the liver is something of a superhero. Not only does it defend our bodies against the liquid toxins we regularly ingest, it has the ability to regenerate itself, and, as new research shows, it increases its size by nearly half over the course of a day.

Working in mice, researchers in Switzerland documented this process of regular stretching and shrinking, watching as liver cells swelled in size and contracted up to 40 percent along with the mice’s daily activities. There’s a catch though, a kind of hepatological kryptonite. Their livers only exhibited this ability when the mice followed their normal cycles of eating and resting. They’re nocturnal creatures, and if they began eating during the day when they usually rest, their livers stubbornly refused to grow.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, top posts
MORE ABOUT: personal health

A Brief History of the Hand-standing Skunk

By Nathaniel Scharping | May 4, 2017 10:09 am
A western spotted skunk stands on its hands to deliver a smelly attack. (Credit: Jerry W. Dragoo)

A western spotted skunk stands on its hands to deliver a smelly attack. (Credit: Jerry W. Dragoo)

As the climate changes, many species are finding that areas they once called home are becoming less and less hospitable.

These kinds of ecological shifts are natural, but they usually happen over much longer time scales, giving animals time to adapt. Today, their surroundings could shift so fast that they become premature relics in their own environments. To avert, or perhaps ease, this transition, researchers are looking backward in time to see how various species have coped with change in the past, in the hopes of learning lessons to apply to tomorrow. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World, top posts

Why Our Brains Are Split Into Right And Left

By Nathaniel Scharping | May 3, 2017 1:11 pm
shutterstock_621891812

(Credit: Champ-Ritthikrai/Shutterstock)

Your right brain is creative and your left brain is logical. This widely accepted dichotomy cleaves the brain neatly in two, but research has shown the actual division of labor in the brain is not nearly so straightforward.

Because the physical structures of both hemispheres appear identical, it wasn’t until the 19th century that scientists started hashing out the differences between brain hemispheres. That crucial insight came thanks to a physician by the name of Pierre Paul Broca who was studying the brains of people who had speech difficulties. He found that they all showed signs of damage to a region of their left brains, which came to be called Broca’s area. Those with lesions to the same region on the right side of their brains, however, possessed no speech impairments. Clearly, the left side was doing something the right wasn’t.

Researchers have been attempting to answer the question of why our brains are split, and more importantly, why that matters, ever since. In the more than 150 years since Broca made his discovery, scientists have discovered a great deal about how each half of the brain exerts control over our decisions, as well as how they interact with each other. Less clear, however, as a recent review from researchers at Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany published in the journal Neuron makes clear, is how it happens.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, top posts

With An Injection, Mice Nearly Double Their Endurance

By Nathaniel Scharping | May 2, 2017 11:00 am
(Credit: EJ Hersom/Department of Defense)

(Credit: EJ Hersom/Department of Defense)

It’s a familiar scene that played out most recently at the London marathon: An exhausted runner staggers and falls in the home stretch, unable to will their legs forward another step. It’s an extreme example of a phenomenon endurance athletes come to know intimately, often called “hitting the wall,” or sometimes by the more offbeat term “bonking.”

The proverbial wall appears when our bodies have run out of stores of glucose, a sugar molecule that is our main source of energy during strenuous exercise. Without energy, our muscles can’t function and we run smack into what feels like a physical barrier. With training, athletes can push the wall back by conditioning their muscles to get better at burning fat as well, which gives them access to a second energy source. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, top posts
MORE ABOUT: personal health

Tea Trees Have Giant Genomes, and That’s Good

By Nathaniel Scharping | May 2, 2017 8:00 am
A Camellia sinensis shrub. (Credit: LiZhi Gao Lab)

A Camellia sinensis shrub. (Credit: LiZhi Gao Lab)

The first draft tea tree genome is revealing how the world’s most popular beverage developed its unique flavors and soothing properties.

Despite the wide variety of teas that adorn store shelves today, there is just one species of plant that produces tea leaves. Two varieties of Camellia sinensis, a type of evergreen shrub, are responsible for everything from Masala chai to oolong teas, with small variations in the way the leaves are picked and prepared accounting for the vast diversity of teas in existence today.

As new research from China suggests, the robustness of the tea tree’s genome plays a significant role in this adaptability. Scientists there spent about five years piecing together the genome, which includes more than 3 billion base pairs. Much of it consists of repeated sequences that likely serve to bring out compounds like caffeine and flavor-granting flavonoids. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: plants

Psychedelics Show Promise in Treating Depression

By Liza Gross | May 1, 2017 10:59 am
psychedelic

(Credit: Future Vectors/Shutterstock)

Depression is challenging to manage, especially since many antidepressants can take weeks to work and simply fail for nearly one-third of sufferers. New research presented in April at the Psychedelic Science 2017 conference in Oakland, California, suggests psychedelic drugs can help people battling depression and other psychiatric disorders that defy conventional therapies. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, top posts

How Bioluminescent Fungi Glow In the Dark

By Nathaniel Scharping | April 28, 2017 10:51 am
PanellusStipticusAug12_2009

(Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Take a moonlit walk through the woods, and you may notice small, glowing green mushrooms brightening your path near the bases of trees and in the underbrush.

There are roughly 80 species of bioluminescent fungi scattered throughout the world, and 2015 study indicated they likely glow in the dark to attract spore-spreading bugs. But how they do it has been unclear, and a new study published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances indicates that, when it comes to lighting up the night, glowing mushrooms resort to the same tricks as fireflies and anglerfish—animals that inhabit an entirely different taxonomic domain.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World
MORE ABOUT: fungi
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