Monthly Archives: May 2008

Head Games: Video Controller Taps into Brain Waves

Head Games: Video Controller Taps into Brain Waves: Scientific American

No matter how hard you try, your mind can’t bend a spoon or channel the powers of a Jedi knight. Thanks to a new headset under development by neuroengineering company Emotiv Systems, however, you may soon be able to do this and more via the magic of video games.

By the end of this year, San Francisco–based Emotiv’s sensor-laden EPOC headset will enable gamers to use their own brain activity to interact with the virtual worlds where they play. The $299 headset’s 14 strategically placed head sensors are at the ends of what look like stretched, plastic fingers that detect patterns produced by the brain’s electrical activity. These neural signals are then narrowed down and interpreted in 30 possible ways as real-time intentions, emotions or facial expressions that are reflected in virtual world characters and actions in a way that a joystick or other type of controller could not hope to match.

Biotech Breakthroughs: 15 Developments That Will Eventually Affect YOUR Life

1. Self-assembling Nanofibers Heal Spinal Cord – No more quadriplegics in the future.

2. Gene Sequencing for the Masses – A personal genome scan for everybody. This will make you aware of what’s going on in your body. It will probably motivate people to live healthier lives.

3. Scientists discover “master gene” for blood vessel growth in tumors – Another great step towards a cure for cancer.

4. Genetic Future: The human genome is old news. Next stop: the human proteome – After mapping our genome, we’d also like to map the proteome. This will tell us everything about all the proteines we have in our bodies.

5. Human Protein May Offer Novel Target For Blocking HIV Infection: Successful In Lab – A step towards curing HIV and Aids.

6. Human trials to begin on ‘diabetes cure’ after terminally ill mice are returned to health – Progress towards the noble goal of curing diabetes.

7. Mad Science: Rejuvenate Your Brain with Umbilical Cord Blood – Rejuvenation. Need I say more? Death to aging!

8. Whole genome sequencing costs continue to fall: $300 million in 2003, $1 million 2007, $60,000 now, $5000 by year end – Personal genomes are about to get cheap! It’s close… just like solar power, now that I think of it.

9. Regeneration Initiative enables nerve cells on a computer chip to heal and regrow damaged nerves – Nerve regeneration. Useful if you want to cure paralysis.

10. Researchers create heart and blood cells from reprogrammed skin cells – New cells? Sign me up, buddy! When my body starts wearing out, I want new cells so I can live on for decades longer!

11. Science 2.0 — Is Open Access Science the Future? – Will science go open source? Why not… some software is open source, and look at what it has produced: Linux, one of the most stable OS’es ever to grace the planet. Imagine the results that a worldwide science project could possibly yield.

12. Scientists successfully awaken sleeping stem cells – Good, more regeneration for me!

13. Mini Stem-Cell Labs – More stem cells… (I never get enough of’em!)

14. Gene therapy experiments improve vision in nearly blind – Curing blindness with gene therapy. And keep in mind that this is just the beginning. Don’t believe me? Check back here in 10 years to see if I was right.

15. Troops’ body parts may be regrown – Great, now I won’t have to fear losing a precious, currently irreplaceable body part anymore. I’ll sleep better knowing that my arms and legs are no longer scarce commodities.

Solar Power Will Be Affordable In Only A Few Years

Start-up: Affordable solar power possible in a year

A Silicon Valley start-up says it has developed technology that can deliver solar power in about a year at prices competitive with coal-fired electricity, a milestone that would leapfrog other more established players and turbocharge the fast-growing industry.

SUNRGI’s “concentrated photovoltaic” system relies on lenses to magnify sunlight 2,000 times, letting it produce as much electricity as standard panels with a far smaller system. Craig Goodman, head of the National Energy Marketers Association, is expected to announce the breakthrough Tuesday.

Under its plans, which experts call promising but highly ambitious, SUNRGI would initially target utilities and large industrial and commercial customers. The company — founded by veterans of computer, digital design, aerospace and solar industries — would market to homes within three years.

Executives of the year-old company say they’ll start producing solar panels by mid-2009 that will generate electricity for about 7 cents a kilowatt hour, including installation. That’s roughly the price of cheap coal-fired electricity. “We’re bringing the cost of solar electricity down to be competitive with” fossil fuels, says Bob Block, a co-founder of SUNRGI.

Only 7 cents.

That’s absolutely nothing.

Conventional energy costs about 12, 13, 14 cents per kilowatt hour, depending on who your electricity supplier is.

The future of energy looks bright, folks.

Whenever you see an optimist predicting that we’ll have 20% renewable energy by 2020, do him a favor… burst out in uncontrollable laughter for about 5 minutes or so.

Also see Google-Backed Solar Startup Picks Up Steam, $130 Million.

MIT, Chesonis Foundation announce solar revolution

MIT, Chesonis Foundation announce solar revolution

Promising to transform solar power from a “boutique” option to an affordable, dependable, mainstream energy solution, MIT and the Chesonis Family Foundation today launched a “solar revolution” with the ultimate aim of making solar energy America’s primary carbon-free fuel.

The Solar Revolution Project (SRP), funded by a $10 million gift from the Foundation, will explore new materials and systems that could dramatically accelerate the availability of solar energy. The SRP will complement and interact closely with other large solar projects at MIT, creating one of the largest solar energy clusters at any research university.

The Chesonis gift will allow MIT to explore bold approaches that are essential for transforming the solar industry. Specifically, it will focus on three elements –capture, conversion and storage — that will ultimately make solar power a viable, near-term energy source.

“Solar is thought of as an ultimate energy technology off in the distant future. The goal of SRP is to move this timeframe nearer to the present. The SRP will make solar a practical alternative, by committing a 10-year timeframe for establishing the new base of scientific knowledge it will take to draw a market-competitive energy supply from the sun,” said Daniel Nocera, the Henry Dreyfus Professor of Energy and Professor of Chemistry at MIT, who will direct the SRP. “With SRP, think ‘solar’ and think ‘now.’ This is the revolution that is implied in the project name.”

Professor Ernest Moniz, director of the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI), said, “Climate change makes the search for more environmentally benign sources of energy urgent and hugely important. Many experts have concluded that solar energy is a key, if not the key answer to our global energy challenges in the long term.

DNA Mapping Mainstream By 2015?

Mapping the individual – cheaply

Had one of his parents been slightly less fortunate in their choice of a mate, James Watson might not have helped discover the structure of DNA in 1953. Instead, he would have been born deaf, and then lost his sight as he became a teenager. Equally, as he is, had he been less fortunate in the genetic lottery when he chose his wife, either of their sons might have had the same fate.

This is because Watson’s complete DNA – his genome – contains a single gene for Usher’s syndrome, an inherited disorder which affects hearing and sight. Watson’s must have come from one of his parents. Usher’s is a “recessive” disease – you need two copies of the gene to be affected. About five people per 100,000 carry the gene, so Watson’s chances of being disabled weren’t large. But they were real.

The rapidly falling cost and time needed to map your DNA

YearCostTime
2003$437,000,00013 years to map
2007$10,000,0004 years
2008$100,0004 weeks
2012$100*2 days

*Forecast

eSolar Announces Breakthrough Pre-Fabricated Solar Power Plants

eSolar Announces Breakthrough Pre-Fabricated Solar Power Plants

Today, eSolar, a producer of scalable solar thermal power plants, announced that it has closed $130 million in funding from Idealab, Google.org, Oak Investment Partners, and other investors for the construction and deployment of pre-fabricated power plants. Designed to address the complex issues surrounding large or utility-scale power projects, eSolar’s distributed solar thermal plants achieve economies of scale at 33 MW, and are modularly scaled to fit the needs of large and small utilities.

“The eSolar™ power plant is based on mass manufactured components, and designed for rapid construction, uniform modularity, and unlimited scalability,” said Asif Ansari, CEO of eSolar. “Rather than over-engineering the solution, eSolar’s smart scalable solar architecture targets what we see as the four key business obstacles facing the sector: price, scalability, rapid deployment, and grid impact.”

In order to deliver on the promise of Big Solar, the typical utility-scale installation faces huge construction costs and requires large tracts of real estate, combined with expensive transmission line improvements to bring the power out of the deserts and into the cities. eSolar’s modular approach stands in direct contrast to this ‘bigger is better’ strategy. eSolar has replaced expensive steel, concrete, and brute force with inexpensive computing power and elegant algorithms. This new method of installing a solar power plant minimizes costly civil construction and the use of heavy equipment, dramatically reducing project cost and deployment time.

Centering on eSolar’s 33 MW pre-fab form-factor, the company’s modular design translates to minimal land requirements. The company’s solar power plant solutions are tailored to fit local resources and produce a low environmental footprint, favoring a straightforward siting and permitting process. Myriad locations combined with a multitude of interconnection options mean that eSolar can deliver more clean, carbon free power where it is needed: near the cities and towns where it is consumed.

“eSolar’s primary business goal is nothing short of making solar electricity for less than the price of coal, without subsidies,” said Bill Gross, eSolar Chairman and Founder of Idealab. “This is not only attainable, but will truly change the world.”

World’s smallest transistor is the size of a molecule

World’s smallest transistor is the size of a molecule

Scientists have created the world’s smallest transistor, one little bigger than a single molecule.

A team in Manchester last year announced that it had created transistors that measured 50 atoms across. Now they have slashed the size of the transistors to just 10 atoms, marking the first true electronic nanocomponent, where a nanometre is one billionth of a metre, and a single human hair is 100,000 nanometres across.

The University of Manchester team led by Prof Andre Geim has been fashioning the transistors from the world’s thinnest material, called graphene, consisting of carbon atoms a single layer thick, arranged in a hexagonal pattern like that seen in chicken wire.

Working with Dr Kostya Novoselov, he believes that the world’s smallest transistor, described in the journal Science, could spark the development of super-fast computer chips.

Discovery of the decade? Injection ‘could cure Alzheimer’s in minutes’

Discovery of the decade? Injection ‘could cure Alzheimer’s in minutes’

An injection that dramatically relieved the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease within minutes would qualify as the discovery of the decade. That is exactly what was claimed yesterday for an experimental treatment being tested in America.

Scientists at the Institute for Neurological Research at the University of California have treated around 50 patients at a private clinic by injecting an anti-arthritic drug, etanercept, into the spinal column in the neck and then tilting the patients to encourage the drug to flow to the brain.

They claim 90 per cent respond to the treatment, usually within minutes, and have released videos of patients to prove it.

In one, a nurse sits down with an 82-year-old patient, Marvin Millar, who frowns and mumbles incoherently as she asks him identify everyday objects such as a bracelet and a pencil, which he is unable to do.

But five minutes after being injected with etanercept – according to the film which was supplied and edited by the clinic – he greets his wife. Visibly shocked, she says he has not recognised her for years. Mr Miller then hugs her.

Double Your Lifespan with a Drug that Mutates Your Ribosomes

Double Your Lifespan with a Drug that Mutates Your Ribosomes

It’s been known for a while that restricting your diet will increase your lifespan, but now researchers have shown one reason why: Eating less causes your ribosomes (your cells’ protein factories) to mutate. And it’s looking like mutated ribosomes (pictured here) could be one key to life extension. The good news is that you may not have to starve yourself to mutate your ribosomes anymore. Biologists at the University of Washington have managed to induce the life-extending mutation in ribosomes with a drug that doubles the lifespan of yeast cells.