Monthly Archives: June 2006

The Future Of Cell Simulations In Science

‘Prettier world’ of computer modeling provides key details, says Sandia researcher.

Taking issue with the perception that computer models lack realism, a Sandia National Laboratories researcher told his audience that simulations of the nanoscale provide researchers more detailed results — not less — than experiments alone.

Fang derided the pejorative “garbage in, garbage out” description of computer modeling — the belief that inputs for computer simulations are so generic that outcomes fail to generate the unexpected details found only by actual experiment.

Fang not only denied this truism but reversed it. “There’s another, prettier world beyond what the SEM [scanning electron microscope] shows, and it’s called simulation,” he told his audience. “When you look through a microscope, you don’t see some things that modeling and simulation show.”

“We need to sit back and put our mindset in a different mode,” he told his audience. “We’re all too busy doing [laboratory] research [instead of considering] how we can leverage resources to push our science to the next level.”

I’ve said it before elsewhere on this blog and I’ll say it again: simulations are the future of science.

Soon, all computers worldwide will be linked up to form one giant virtual supercomputer. Computational power will be readily available to run very sophisticated simulations of multi-cellular systems or even organs.

Sidenote for all animal lovers out there: this means laboratory testing animals will be part of the past.

These simulations will be a boon to science. I suspect that we may expect an enormous boost in health and longevity to come forth from science, once it has shifted into next gear.

I’ve also said that the virtual world is better than the physical world in every aspect. If you care to read about it, take a look at The Future Of Virtual Environments.

Regrowing Livers

Research at UW may hold promise for liver damage.

University of Washington scientists have made significant progress toward learning how to repair severely damaged human livers with stem cells.

A team of UW researchers for the first time isolated liver stem cells from human fetuses, grew them in the laboratory for months and infused them in laboratory mice, where they replaced thousands of dead liver cells.

If the experimental work continues successfully in the years to come, the technique could one day repair livers badly damaged by drug overdoses, hepatitis and alcoholism.

From the current research, “we gained tremendous understanding of human embryology, cell origins and how the liver is put together,” Fausto said. “That kind of knowledge is absolutely crucial for future research.”

The New Fuel That Will Shape the Future

The New Fuel That Will Shape the Future.

If, hypothetically, all U.S. cars ran on 100 percent corn-based ethanol, and if one Ivy League professor’s analysis is correct, then 97 percent of the entire country’s land area — including real estate now occupied by cities — would be needed to grow corn.

Until recently, Brazil was better known for soccer and carnival than for leading the world into the future of energy consumption. But now Brazil is also famous for what might be called its “sweet gold.” “Sweet” as in sugarcane, “gold” as in a fuel to replace “black gold” — oil.

About three decades ago, Brazil decided to use its overabundance of sugarcane to decrease its overdependence on foreign oil. It created an industry of sugarcane-based ethanol, a grain alcohol fuel. That effort kicked into high gear a few years ago, when “flex-fuel” vehicles that can run on up to 100 percent sugarcane ethanol reached a critical mass in Brazil. The alternative to gasoline took off.

Now, the fifth largest country in the world is producing enough home-grown sugarcane-based ethanol to equal 300,000 barrels of oil per day. Ethanol currently supplies half of the fuel needs of Brazilian vehicles, and the government is expected to announce energy self-sufficiency within a year.

Can a similar approach lead to an energy-independent future in the U.S. and elsewhere?

Peak oil doomsday my hiney.

Bird Flu Vaccine Protects Ferrets, Maybe People

Bird flu vaccine protects ferrets, maybe people.

A lab-engineered bird flu vaccine protected ferrets against several strains of H5N1 avian influenza, offering the possibility of making a vaccine ahead of any pandemic, U.S.-based scientists said on Wednesday.

But it may be tricky to test it in humans, reported Elena Govorkova and colleagues at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.

The animals were protected even though they did not show the usual antibody response — a measure of immune system reaction often used to gauge vaccine effectiveness.

The findings suggest it may be possible to stockpile a vaccine ahead of a pandemic of H5N1 influenza, the researchers report in this week’s issue of The Journal of Infectious Diseases, something that experts believed was not possible.

Robots Performing Search Tasks, Climbing Walls And Playing Soccer

Independent robots team up for search task.

A team of autonomous flying and ground-based robots have successfully cooperated to search for and locate targets in the streets of an urban warfare training ground in the US. The system could help in search and rescue efforts and military operations – and even has the potential to include humans in the team.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, US, tested their system of team-working bots at a realistic urban warfare training ground at the US Army’s Fort Benning base.

They hid bright orange boxes in the streets between buildings. An autonomous robot aircraft with a wingspan of 2.5 metres, and four autonomous ground vehicles in the form of modified model monster trucks, called Clodbusters, then set out to pinpoint the boxes’ locations.

Both types of bot carried GPS sensors and looked for the targets using colour video cameras. The Clodbusters used stereo cameras to judge distance, while the plane used a single camera. The robo-team members stay in touch via radio or Wi-Fi.

New Robot Has Powerful Cling.

A novel, walling-climbing robot could cut thousands of dollars off building inspection fees and one day work to survey urban war zones, where corners, rooftops and building materials thwart otherwise capable robots.

The City Climber rover, being developed by Jizhong Xiao and his team at the City College of New York, uses a vacuum chamber to get vertical. The robot is part of a project that aims to automate mandatory building inspections.

Robot soccer World Cup kicks off.

A football tournament played by teams of robots has kicked off in Germany.

The 10th annual RoboCup, being held in Bremen, will see more than 400 teams of robots dribbling, tackling and shooting in an effort to become world champions.

Machines compete in 11 leagues including those designed for humanoid and four-legged robots.

The organisers of the tournament hope that in 2050 the winners of the RoboCup will be able to beat the human World Cup champions.

“RoboCup 2006 is the first step towards a vision,” said Minoru Asada, president of the RoboCup Federation.

“This vision includes the development of a humanoid robot team of eleven players, which can win against a human soccer world champion team.”

Also see Robotic Nation.

More Powerful Fuel Cells Get Closer To Market

More Powerful Fuel Cells Get Closer To Market.

Sulfur causes costly problems for high-temperature fuel cells. Tufts U. researchers may have found an answer.

High-temperature fuel cells promise clean, efficient energy in quantities large enough to power cities. But, so far, they’ve been too expensive for widespread use. One major problem is the sulfur in fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, and natural gas, which contaminates the hydrogen gas that runs the cells. The sulfur attacks and degrades a part of the fuel cell called the anode, reducing power production — and eventually shutting down the cell.

Now chemical engineers at Tufts University in Medford MA, led by Maria Flytzani-Stephanopoulos, have found a way to continuously remove sulfur from incoming hydrogen before it feeds these cells. The work, published in the June 9 issue of Science (abstract), could be a significant step in making high-temperature fuel cells practical.

Lanny Schmidt, professor of chemical engineering and materials science at the University of Minnesota, says many operational issues have kept more powerful fuel cells off the market, including long startup times and parts wearing out under high heat. But, he says, sulfur is “one of the major problems.” Schmidt predicts that researchers will overcome these obstacles in the next few years, and, if successful, SOFCs “may become the fuel cell of choice.” He says that Flytzani-Stephanopoulos has “an innovative, clever new way to remove sulfur.”

Welsh Scientists Creating Portable Lung

Welsh scientists creating portable lung.

SCIENTISTS at a Welsh university are working on a “next generation” artificial lung using futuristic nanotechnology.

The “portable lung” being developed at Swansea University has the potential to save millions of lives across the world.

It also promises to save the NHS hundreds of millions of pounds.

The device, a blood/air mass exchanger, integrates with the body’s respiratory system and is designed to breathe for conscious, mobile patients whose lungs are damaged or diseased.

As a portable device, it will allow patients to recover outside intensive care units, offering them a better quality of life and saving the NHS money.

The unit could also be taken to patients in emergency situations allowing their damaged lungs to “rest” as the artificial unit takes over. It could be used by military medical units to keep alive soldiers affected by chemical weapons which often target the lungs.

Heaven Or Hell – How Technology Will Shape Our Future

Heaven or hell?

Humanity is the verge of an incredible future. Technologies that seem like science fiction are already becoming science fact as researchers develop innovations that will transform the very essence of what it is to be human.

“The pace of change is exponential, not linear,” says inventor, entrepreneur, author, and futurist Ray Kurzveil. “So things fifty years from now will be very different. That’s pretty phenomenal. It took us fifteen years to sequence HIV, we sequenced SARS in 31 days.”

Nanotechnology, genetics and cybernetics will mean that we will become faster, stronger and more beautiful; we will live longer and banish disease; we will be more intelligent and quicker-witted with photographic memories and the ability to go days without sleep.

“We’re doubling the power of computers every year for the same cost,” says Kurzveil. “In 25 years, they’ll be a billion times more powerful than they are today. At the same time we’re shrinking the size of all technology, electronic and mechanical, by a factor of a hundred per decade, that’s a hundred thousand in 25 years.”

Kurzveil argues that the growth of computing power, miniaturization and increased technical prowess will turn the world into an incredible place — free from the conflicts over resources and wealth that have plagued it and in the last century and almost led to our obliteration in the fires of global thermonuclear war.

That is, if you believe one particular school of thought.

Ofcourse, everybody has his own take on the future. There are plenty of people in disagreement with Ray Kurzweil. I’m just not one of them, so anybody who is interested in the other points of view… just click to the source article.

Nano Membranes To Provide Cheap Clean Water

Cheap Drinking Water from the Ocean.

A water desalination system using carbon nanotube-based membranes could significantly reduce the cost of purifying water from the ocean. The technology could potentially provide a solution to water shortages both in the United States, where populations are expected to soar in areas with few freshwater sources, and worldwide, where a lack of clean water is a major cause of disease.

The new membranes, developed by researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), could reduce the cost of desalination by 75 percent, compared to reverse osmosis methods used today, the researchers say. The membranes, which sort molecules by size and with electrostatic forces, could also separate various gases, perhaps leading to economical ways to capture carbon dioxide emitted from power plants, to prevent it from entering the atmosphere.

The carbon nanotubes used by the researchers are sheets of carbon atoms rolled so tightly that only seven water molecules can fit across their diameter. Their small size makes them good candidates for separating molecules. And, despite their diminutive dimensions, these nanopores allow water to flow at the same rate as pores considerably larger, reducing the amount of pressure needed to force water through, and potentially saving energy and costs compared to reverse osmosis using conventional membranes.

Intelligence Amplification Becoming More Popular

KurzweilAI.net posted two interesting articles today. They are both related to intelligence amplification.

A Dose Of Genius:

Studying with diligent friends is fine, says Heidi Lessing, a University of Delaware sophomore.

But after a couple of hours, it’s time for a break, a little gossip: “I want to talk about somebody walking by in the library.”

One of those friends, however, is working too hard for dish — way too hard.

Instead of joining in the gossip, “She says, ‘Be quiet,’ ” Lessing says, astonishment still registering in her voice.

Her friend’s attention is laserlike, totally focused on her texts, even after an evening of study. “We were so bored,” Lessing says. But the friend was still “really into it. It’s annoying.”

The reason for the difference: Her pal is fueled with “smart pills” that increase her concentration, focus, wakefulness and short-term memory.

As university students all over the country emerge from final exam hell this month, the number of healthy people using bootleg pharmaceuticals of this sort seems to be soaring.

Rare counting ability induced by temporarily switching off brain region:

A minority of people with autism have one or more extraordinary intellectual talents, such as the rapid ability to calculate the day of the week for a given date, or to count large numbers of discrete objects almost instantaneously – they’re often called ‘autistic savants’ or ‘idiot savants’. Now Allan Snyder and colleagues have shown that by placing a pulsing magnet over a specific area of the brain, these kind of abilities can, to some extent, be induced in people who aren’t autistic.

For example, before the TMS, one participant had 20 goes at estimating the number of blobs onscreen, and each time she was more than 5 away from the true figure. Yet immediately after receiving the TMS, she made 6 out of 20 guesses that were within 5 blobs of the true figure. Before TMS, another participant scored 3 estimates out of 20 that were within 5 of the true figure, compared with 10 out of 20 immediately after the TMS.

The researchers think that by temporarily inhibiting activity in the left anterior temporal cortex, the TMS allowed the brain’s number estimator to act on raw sensory data, without it having already been automatically grouped together into patterns or shapes. In other words, they believe it caused the ‘normal’ brain to function more like an autistic ‘savant’ brain. “We argue that it removes our unconscious tendency to group discrete elements into meaningful patterns, like grouping stars into constellations, which would normally interfere with accurate estimation”, the researchers said. “By inhibiting networks involved in concepts, we may facilitate conscious access to literal details, leading to savant-like skills”.

I wouldn’t mind having my own intelligence amplified a little…