Monthly Archives: May 2009

Morphing programmable matter gadgets could soon be a reality

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Imagine a bracelet or a watch that morphs into something else when you take it off. Perhaps it becomes a phone, or perhaps a small computer screen and keyboard.

Researchers are just a few years away from bringing to life revolutionary morphing devices known as programmable matter which can change size, shape and function.

Programmable matter, or “claytronics”, involves creating devices made of millions of microscopic robots that are to 3D objects what pixels are to a screen.

These devices sound like pure science fiction, but they might be closer than anyone would have dreamed. And that includes Jason Campbell, one of the key members of the research team developing the technology at the Intel Research Centre.

“It’s a really challenging research vision, but we are making steady progress and we’re now more convinced that we are actually going to do it,” says Mr Campbell.

“My estimates of how long it is going to take have gone from 50 years down to just a couple more years. That has changed over the four years I’ve been working on the project.”

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Breaking the age barrier

antiagingpills

Wonder pills for the middle-aged and other medical advances are extending healthy life as never before. Even people in their nineties can benefit. Sarah-Kate Templeton reports

When Dorothy Newcombe fell ill with heart disease at the age of 92, her family thought she had reached the end of her natural lifespan. One of her seven grandchildren and one of her seven great-grandchildren travelled from New Zealand to say goodbye.

After a new treatment particularly targeted at the elderly, Dorothy is still going strong. She goes shopping with her 94-year-old husband, George, does the housework and is back playing bingo at the local church hall. Dorothy, from Liver-pool, has even managed to dance a few steps of a waltz again.

For any nonagenarian to have a new heart valve is remarkable; what makes Dorothy’s case even more special is that she received one in a procedure that allowed her to walk out of hospital just three days after surgery last October.

Last week she said: “Before the operation I wasn’t at all well. I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t bend down. This operation has given me a new lease of life. It has given me a new chance. We can still put on records and have a dance in the house.”

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The Pentagon’s Bionic Arm

When Americans are wounded in Afghanistan or Iraq, no expense is spared to save their lives. But once they’re home, if they have suffered an amputation of their arm, they usually end up wearing an artificial limb that hasn’t changed much since World War II.

In all the wonders of modern medicine, building a robotic arm with a fully functioning hand has not been remotely possible.

But as 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley reports, that is starting to change. One remarkable leap in technology is called the DEKA arm and it’s just one of the breakthroughs in a $100 million Pentagon program called “Revolutionizing Prosthetics.”

Fred Downs has been wearing the standard prosthetic arm since 1968, after he stepped on a landmine in Vietnam.

“It’s a basic hook. And I can rotate the hook like this and lock it,” Downs told Pelley, demonstrating the limited movement ability of his prosthetic arm. “In those days they didn’t have a lot of sophistication about it. They fit you and say, ‘This is your arm, this is your leg.’ And it was the best technology in those days and you just had to make yourself learn how to use it and I did.”

Today, Downs is the head of prosthetics for the Veterans Health Administration. He told Pelley the technology used for his arm was developed during the World War II era.

“There’s a hook, something out of Peter Pan. And that’s just unacceptable,” Dr. Geoffrey Ling, an Army colonel and neurologist who’s leading the Revolutionizing Prosthetics program, told Pelley

Col. Ling is a physician with big dreams and little patience, especially when touring Walter Reed Army Medical Center and meeting the troops he’s working for. “We have a saying in the military, ‘Leave no one behind.’ And we are very serious about that. And that doesn’t mean just on the battlefield, but also back at home,” he said.

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How To Power The Entire Country With Renewable Energy: Fun With Maps Edition

us-biomass

So with Al Gore calling for 100% renewable energy in 10 years a lot of people might wonder where the heck we are going to get all that energy from (if we are not using coal/oil/gas). Well my friends take a gander. What you see below is where we are going to get all that energy.

As you can see America has some amazing wind resources. Most of the east coast, the great lakes, and the entire middle of the country are EXCELLENT wind resources. Many places in the west and even some places in the south west are commercially feasible sources. The upper mid-west has been called the Saudi Arabia of wind. There is enough wind going through there on a daily basis to power much of this country (if not all of it on some days). The real problem however is not space (anyone who has been there knows there is space), and it is not NIMBY land owners (the ranchers and farmers would love to get extra revenue from their lands) the problem is transmission.

There are few major cities in that area, and even fewer heavy duty low loss transmission lines. To tap this excellent resource the government would have to invest in transmission lines, or make it easy for private companies to do so. We have the technology, we have the turbines, we even have the market forces to make it happen. What we don’t have is a policy that encourages it. American could certainly use the jobs however…

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Scientists Discover Drugs That Can Block Memories & Radically Alter Human Personalities

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Scientists have discovered drugs which can block out memories and have the potential to radically alter human personalities. No, this isn’t the “nerd discovers beer” scene from every college movie ever – chemicals like propranolol and ZIP have already been shown to remix recollections. But if memories make the man, what happens when you mess with them?

We simply don’t know. Neuroscience Lesson #1 is “The human brain is a terrifyingly complex device, even ones which watch American Idol.” Any alteration could cause serious side-effects, with the additional problem that such symptoms are difficult to diagnose. If your kidney stops working, we have all kinds of ways of measuring that. How you eventually fall over, for one thing. But outside of the Care Bears cartoon there’s nothing to quantify imagination or confidence.

A major part of this problem is that human beings are simply crap at collecting data. Any number of reasons from forgetfulness to embarrassment can prevent patients from reporting regular symptoms for things like broken feet, never mind the nature of their own thoughts – they’re patients, not Zen philosophers. This is why some scientists think online logging might be the answer – a medical version of twitter, for example, where out-patients can report any and every odd feeling as they happen and have the data logged in real time. It’ll certainly be no worse than much of the content already up there – though putting somebody online and telling them to share personal information after erasing their memories may cause new problems. And boost the Nigerian economy.

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Iranian scientists claim they have cloned a goat

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Iranian scientists have cloned a goat and plan future experiments they hope will lead to a treatment for stroke patients, the leader of the research said Wednesday. The female goat, named Hana, was born early Wednesday in the city of Isfahan in central Iran, said Dr. Mohammed Hossein Nasr e Isfahani, head of the Royan Research Institute.

“With the birth of Hana, Iran is among five countries in the world cloning a baby goat,” said Isfahani, an embryologist.

In 2006 Iran became the first country in the Middle East to announce it had cloned a sheep. Two and a half years later, that animal is healthy, the institute said.

The effort is part of Iran’s quest to become a regional powerhouse in advanced science and technology by 2025. In particular, Iran is striving for achievements in medicine and in aerospace and nuclear technology.

Iran’s nuclear work has led to an international showdown over Western claims that it wants to develop atomic weapons. Iran says its nuclear activity is aimed at generating electricity, not the bomb.

The cloning of sheep and other animals could lead to advances in medical research, including using cloned animals to produce human antibodies against diseases, Isfahani said.

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