How to Detect a Liar.

Parents teach their children to lie. The teaching process is subtle but just as effective as if they had sent their children to formal classes in deception. How many times have parents told their kids “Look me in the eye and then tell me what you did?” I don’t know about the other kids, but it didn’t take me long to figure out that when I wanted to lie to my parents I looked them square in the eyes. This is a lesson most kids take into their adult lives.

It comes as no surprise that most people think gaze aversion signals deception. Intuitively, this makes sense. People who feel embarrassed avoid eye contact. People who feel ashamed avoid eye contact. People who are under a heavy cognitive load tend to avoid direct eye contact. However, it does come as a surprise that research shows there is no connection between lying and the amount of eye contact between the liar and the target of the lie. In fact, research demonstrates that liars maintain more deliberate eye contact than do truthful people.

People tend to look at people or things that they like and avoid eye contact with people and things they don’t like. Liars must overcome the natural urge to avoid eye contact with their lie target to make themselves believable. Consequently, liars tend to overcompensate by maintaining longer eye contact. This behavior stems from the generally held belief that liars avoid eye contact, a lesson most people learned from their parents.

Commonly held beliefs about eye contact and deception convolute our ability to detect deception. Research shows that eye aversion is not a reliable indicator of deception, yet people rely on the commonly held but erroneous belief that liars avoid eye contact. In order to be believed, liars must make deliberate eye contact, which, ironically, is not a dependable cue to detect deception.

The next time someone looks you in the eyes and tells you something that is too good to be true, look at other, more reliable, verbal and nonverbal cues to determine if what they are saying is actually too good to be true.

Top banana facts, you probably don’t know .

Humans share 50% DNA with bananas: The fascinating facts about the scientific world around us

This is interesting. Bananas contain three natural sugars – sucrose, fructose and glucose combined with fiber. A banana gives an instant, sustained and substantial boost of energy.

Research has proven that just two bananas provide enough energy for a strenuous 90-minute workout. No wonder the banana is the number one fruit with the world’s leading athletes.

But energy isn’t the only way a banana can help us keep fit. It can also help overcome or prevent a substantial number of illnesses and conditions, making it a must to add to our daily diet.


According to a recent survey undertaken by MIND amongst people suffering from depression, many felt much better after eating a banana. This is because bananas contain tryptophan, a type of protein that the body converts into serotonin, known to make you relax, improve your mood and generally make you feel happier.


Forget the pills – eat a banana. The vitamin B6 it contains regulates blood glucose levels, which can affect your mood.


High in iron, bananas can stimulate the production of hemoglobin in the blood and so helps in cases of anemia.


This unique tropical fruit is extremely high in potassium yet low in salt, making it perfect to beat blood pressure So much so, the US Food and Drug Administration has just allowed the banana industry to make official claims for the fruit’s ability to reduce the risk of blood pressure and stroke.


200 students at a Twickenham school ( England ) were helped through their exams this year by eating bananas at breakfast, break, and lunch in a bid to boost their brain power. Research has shown that the potassium-packed fruit can assist learning by making pupils more alert.


High in fiber, including bananas in the diet can help restore normal bowel action, helping to overcome the problem without resorting to laxatives.


One of the quickest ways of curing a hangover is to make a banana milkshake, sweetened with honey. The banana calms the stomach and, with the help of the honey, builds up depleted blood sugar levels, while the milk soothes and re-hydrates your system.


Bananas have a natural antacid effect in the body, so if you suffer from heartburn, try eating a banana for soothing relief.


Snacking on bananas between meals helps to keep blood sugar levels up and avoid morning sickness.


Before reaching for the insect bite cream, try rubbing the affected area with the inside of a banana skin. Many people find it amazingly successful at reducing swelling and irritation.


Bananas are high in B vitamins that help calm the nervous system..

Overweight and at work? Studies at the Institute of Psychology in Austria found pressure at work leads to gorging on comfort food like chocolate and chips. Looking at 5,000 hospital patients, researchers found the most obese were more likely to be in high-pressure jobs. The report concluded that, to avoid panic-induced food cravings, we need to control our blood sugar levels by snacking on high carbohydrate foods every two hours to keep levels steady.


The banana is used as the dietary food against intestinal disorders because of its soft texture and smoothness. It is the only raw fruit that can be eaten without distress in over-chroniclercases. It also neutralizes over-acidity and reduces irritation by coating the lining of the stomach.


Many other cultures see bananas as a ‘cooling’ fruit that can lower both the physical and emotional temperature of expectant mothers. In Thailand , for example, pregnant women eat bananas to ensure their baby is born with a cool temperature.

So, a banana really is a natural remedy for many ills. When you compare it to an apple, it hasFOUR TIMES the protein, TWICE the carbohydrate, THREE TIMES the phosphorus, five times the vitamin A and iron, and twice the other vitamins and minerals.. It is also rich in potassium and is one of the best value foods around. So maybe its time to change that well-known phrase so that we say, ‘A BANANA a day keeps the doctor away.

Teen Invents Flashlight That Could Change The World.

16-Year-Old girl invents flashlight powered by body heat

Many scientists are saying Ann Makosinski’s invention could change the world. Makosinski, a Filipino-Canadian from Victoria, Canada, invented a flashlight powered by nothing more than body heat.

Ann, 16, found her love for gizmos and gadgets because of her parents, who are both HAM radio operators.

Makosinski became motivated to invent a light source that didn’t need electricity after visiting her mother’s home country of the Phillipines.

Two years ago, Makosinski was inspired by a friend in the Philippines who didn’t have electricity – the girl told Ann she couldn’t complete her homework and was failing in school.

So Ann began experimenting with Peltier tiles, which produce an electrical current when opposite sides are heated and cooled at the same time. She said she’d heard people described as “walking 100-watt light bulbs,” and became inspired to use body heat as an energy source.

“We have so much energy just radiating out of us, and it’s totally being wasted,”

After a few prototypes, she unveiled her “hollow flashlight,” so named because it has a hollow aluminum tube at its core that cools the sides of the peltier tiles attached to the flashlight’s cylinder. The other side is warmed by heat from a hand gripping the flashlight.


Ann spent months working on the project; her patent-pending design uses a transformer of her own creation. Incredibly, the project only took second place at her local science fair.

Many people have asked where she wants to attend university, expecting to her to name the likes of Stanford or MIT. Ann said she’s not thinking that far ahead; she needs to get through the eleventh grade first.

And then there’s the business of securing her flashlight’s patent and tweaking the prototype for market. At roughly 24 lumens, Ann’s flashlight’s brightness falls shy of commercial flashlights, which output dozens if not hundreds of lumens.

Of her efforts to increase her flashlight’s voltage efficiency, she said,

“I want to make sure my flashlight is available to those who really need it.”

The video will explain the story, but the end result is a Thermoelectric flashlight that simply works from the heat of your hand–you simply have to hold it.

Gene causing rare disease found in south Indian woman.

Doctors and scientists at a hospital Chennai have reported the very first occurrence of a rare disease, Haim-Munk Syndrome (HMS) — found only among specific Jewish populations — in a woman of Dravidian descent. Genetic analysis has identified the same gene mutation as the causative factor.

The finding was reported in the recent issue of the European Journal of Dentistry. Aswath N. Swamikannu B., Ramakrishnan S.N., Shamnugam R., Thomas J., and Arvind Ramanathan, present the case in a paper.

One of the authors, Arvind Ramanathan, who is also Principal Investigator, Human Genetics Laboratory, Sree Balaji Medical and Dental College and Hospital, explains: “Also known as Cochin Jewish disorder, the HMS was first reported among members of a small Jewish community where consanguinity was prevalent, from Cochin in Kerala. Beyond that, there is no record of the HMS being reported in any other ethnicity or population. This is the first time that we have found the condition in the South Indian Dravidian population, and it is interesting to note that it is the same genetic mutation (in Cathepsin C gene) that has caused it.”

The patient, a 23 year-old South Indian woman, showed some symptoms of HMS, though not all, but they were fairly well developed to arrive at a conclusive diagnosis, he adds. She had recurrent skin infections,periodontitis (inflammation that damages the gum and soft bone that support teeth), loss of teeth, and nails resembling claws.

“She had not been diagnosed earlier. When we read the premature loss of teeth with some of her other symptoms, the diagnosis became clear: HMS. A genetic test further confirmed it.”

Genetic tests are available to test for HMS, and the advantage of detecting it early is to be able to alleviate the symptoms and strengthen the bone and jaws, he adds. A task force has been set up at the college that includes members from other colleges and hospitals to record the incidence in Tamil Nadu and to move on to genetic diagnosis.

World’s oldest example of metastatic cancer discovered on a human skeleton in Sudan

One of the world’s oldest examples of a human cancer has been found in Sudan by British-based researchers.

Because cancers are mainly a consequence of pollution, obesity, smoking and longevity (all major features of our modern world), evidence of them is only very rarely found on the skeletons of ancient populations.

From a medical research perspective, the new discovery, dating from 1200 BC, is therefore of considerable scientific significance. It is the oldest proven case of metastatic (“organ-originating”) cancer ever found.

“This find is of critical importance, as it allows us to explore possible underlying causes of cancer in ancient populations, before the onset of modernity, and it could provide important new insights into the evolution of cancer in the past,” said the lead researcher, bioarchaeologist Michaela Binder of Durham University.

The ancient cancer discovery and other disease-related finds from the site – Amara West, on the left bank of the Nile in the far north of Sudan – are also revealing the poor general health of the population there at that period, a time of climatic change and environmental stress.

This photo depicts the sternum of the skeleton, the arrows pointing to lytic lesions in the bone


This photo depicts the sternum of the skeleton, the arrows pointing to lytic lesions in the bone .

Of the 180 skeletons examined by the British team, a quarter had chronic lung disease, all had often severe dental disease, at least half had various unidentifiable infectious diseases – and 75  per cent died before the age of 35. What’s more, half the individuals had sustained fractures, often multiple ones, to their bones – and some 20 per cent of the children probably had scurvy.

The individual who died of cancer was a young man aged between 25 and 35. As well as suffering cancerous damage to his pelvis, ribs, spine, shoulder blades, breast bone and collar bones, he also had severe tooth decay and chronic sinusitis.

Buried in a painted wooden coffin, he was accompanied to the next world by a model scarab beetle made of blue faience – and supplies of food (placed in several still surviving pottery vessels). His cancer may have been caused by an infection, potentially something like the predominantly African parasitic water-borne worm disease bilharzia, or by wood smoke from hearths in small poorly ventilated houses.

The research into the 180 skeletons from Amara West has been carried out by Michaela Binder of Durham University, as part of a detailed archaeological research project on the ancient settlement and landscape of Amara West, led by Dr. Neal Spencer, Keeper of the British Museum’s Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan.

Marijuana study in war veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder wins US backing

traumatic stress disorder wins US backing


The federal government on Monday approved research into the use of marijuana as a treatment for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Department of Health and Human Services’ decision was hailed as a major victory by marijuana researchers, who have struggled for decades to secure approval for research into marijuana’s medical uses.

The proposal from the University of Arizona was long ago cleared by the Food and Drug Administration, but its researchers had been unable to purchase marijuana from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The agency’s Mississippi research farm is the drug’s only federally-sanctioned source.

In a letter last week, HHS cleared the purchase of medical marijuana by the studies’ chief financial backer, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, which supports legalization of marijuana and other drugs.

What are gravitational waves?

What does the apparent discovery of gravitational waves by the Bicep telescope say about inflation and the big bang?
Albert Einstein

Gravitational waves are ripples in the space-time continuum, which was envisaged by Albert Einstein in his general theory of relativity. Photograph: Keystone/Getty Images

What are gravitational waves?

Gravitational waves are ripples that carry energy across the universe. They were predicted to exist by Albert Einstein in 1916 as a consequence of his General Theory of Relativity. Although there is strong circumstantial evidence for their existence, gravitational waves have not been directly detected before. This is because they are minuscule – a million times smaller than an atom. They are like tiny waves on a lake – from far away, the lake’s surface looks glassy smooth; only up very close can the details of the surface be seen.

Particularly exciting are “primordial” gravitational waves, which were generated in the first moments of the universe’s birth. These carry vital information about how the universe began.

What is general relativity?

In 1916, Albert Einstein discovered a mathematical way to explain gravity. He called it his general theory of relativity. It relied on a set of coordinates that described space and time together, known as the space-time continuum.

Matter and energy warp the space-time continuum like heavy weight on a mattress. The warping creates the force of gravity. Gravitational waves are ripples in the space-time continuum (instead of an ordinary mattress, think of a waterbed).

It isn’t all esoteric mathematics. General relativity tells us how gravity affects time, which must be taken into account by your satnav to tell you accurately where you are.

What is the significance of this discovery?

If scientists at Harvard University have detected gravitational waves, it is significant for two reasons. First, this opens up a whole new way of studying the Universe, allowing scientists to infer the processes at work that produced the waves. Second, it proves a hypothesis called inflation. This can be used to give us information about the origin of the universe, known as the big bang.

How can gravitational waves be detected?

A telescope at the south pole, called Bicep (Background Imaging of cosmic Extragalactic Polarisation), has been searching for evidence of gravitational waves by detecting a subtle property of the cosmic microwave background radiation. This radiation was produced in the big bang. It was originally discovered by American scientists in 1964 using a radio telescope and has been called the “echo” of the big bang. Bicep has measured the large-scale polarisation of this microwave radiation. Only primordial gravitational waves can imprint such a pattern, and only then if they have been amplified by inflation.

What is inflation?

The big bang was originally hypothesised by Belgian priest and physicist Georges Lemaître. He called it “the day without yesterday” because it was the moment when time and space began.

But the big bang does not fit all astronomers’ observations. The distribution of matter across space is too uniform to have come from the big bang as originally conceived. So in the 1970s, cosmologists postulated a sudden enlargement of the universe, called inflation, that occurred in the first minuscule fraction of a second after the big bang. But confirming the idea has proved difficult. Only inflation can amplify the primordial gravitational wave signal enough to make it detectable. If primordial gravitational waves have been seen, it means that inflation must have taken place.

What next? Do cosmologists just pack up and go home?

No way. Now the work really begins. Einstein knew that general relativity did not mesh with another theory of physics called quantum mechanics. Whereas general relativity talks about gravity and the universe as a whole, quantum mechanics talks about the small scale of particles and the other forces of nature, the strong and weak nuclear forces, and electromagnetism. Despite almost a century of effort, the world’s physicists have not been able to show how these theories work together. The primordial gravitational waves were generated when gravity and the universe were working on the same scale as particles and the other forces of nature. This detection and the subsequent analysis will hopefully tell us how. If it does, this could lead to what physics wistfully call “the theory of everything”.

Bionic ears: let’s hear it for cochlear implants…

Cochlear implants have transformed the lives of children born without hearing. But at around £40,000 each, it’s a different story for adults trying to get them on the NHS
Oliver Campbell, who has bilateral cochlear implants.

Oliver Campbell, who has bilateral cochlear implants. Photograph: Suki Dhanda for the Observer

Sitting at the kitchen table rolling a ball of Play-Doh, Oliver Campbell is a picture of childhood contentment. At just under two years old he is experimenting with words and is happily peppering his creative endeavours with them. But inside Oliver’s head something extraordinary is happening. Currents from tiny electrodes, curled inside the snail-shaped cochlea of his inner ear, are stimulating his auditory nerve, allowing him to hear the thud of the Play-Doh and the creak of the chair and to assimilate the words of encouragement from his grandmother next to him.

Take them away and Oliver’s world would be thrown into confusion.

Diagnosed with auditory neuropathy spectrum disorder (ANSD) at barely 24 hours old, Oliver was born unable to make sense of the sounds around him. For his parents, Chris and Claire Campbell, it was devastating.

Lightning, they realised, had struck twice. Five years earlier Oliver’s sister, Alice, was also born with ANSD – although it took nearly 18 months for the diagnosis to be given. “It was a massive shock,” Claire says. “There’s no history of deafness at all in either side of the family.” Indeed the couple’s first child, Joseph, has no hearing difficulties at all. But when Alice didn’t seem to be learning to speak as her older brother had, the Campbells knew something was wrong.

The diagnosis was a bombshell. “Every hope and dream that you’ve ever had for this little child sitting in front you gets blown out of the water,” says Claire.

For Alice and her younger brother, something in their ears had gone badly awry. And it was going to take surgery, training and some seriously hi-tech kit before the clattering, chattering, bustling world would come alive.

Hearing is a sense most of us take for granted, but in reality it resembles a convoluted, anatomical version of the board game Mousetrap, played out within the fiendishly intricate architecture of the ear.

The ball is set rolling when sound waves arrive at the outer ear and are funnelled down the ear canal where they end up banging into the eardrum. The vibrations from the eardrum move a tiny connected bone called the hammer, which is hooked up to further biological ironmongery in the form of the anvil which is linked to the stirrup. The latter rests against part of the inner ear which leads on to the spiral-shaped cochlea.

Alice Campbell.

Alice Campbell, who like her brother Oliver was born with auditory neuropathy spectrum disorder (ANSD).
And it is within the cochlea that things get technical. As the stirrup vibrates, it causes fluid within the inner ear to move back and forth – motion that is picked up by a membrane and passed on to tiny hair cells inside the cochlea. When the hair cells waggle, they release chemicals known as neurotransmitters that trigger electrical impulses in auditory nerve fibres close by. These signals whiz along the auditory nerve to the brain where they are deciphered. Perhaps surprisingly the hair cells, and hence auditory nerve fibres, are laid out like a piano keyboard – those in the outer part of the cochlea’s spiral respond to high frequency sound, while those near the tight curl at the centre react to low frequencies.

There is no doubt it’s a complex set-up, and one of evolution’s finest achievements. But when something goes wrong, the consequences can be devastating. For Oliver, Alice, and many other patients, the problem was located in the cochlea. While ANSD is a broad term encompassing a range of causes, and symptoms that can vary in severity daily, the upshot is that sound waves reach the hair cells, but are then scrambled into an incoherent signal or fail to be turned into electrical signals at all. But cochlear implants can make a world of difference. “For us it boiled down to a black and white decision,” Claire says. “It was, if you want your child to have hearing this is your only hope.”

Boasting an array of highly sophisticated technology, these implants have unsurprisingly been called “bionic ears”. Their staggering ability to create a sense of sound is down to a flexible electrode array that is gently nestled inside the cochlea during surgery. Finer than fishing twine, these wires allow the conventional auditory pathway to be sidestepped, changing the lives not only of those with ANSD, but also those with the missing or damaged hair cells or a damaged auditory nerve typical of “sensorineural” hearing loss.

Let’s reset the Mousetrap. Now sounds are picked up by an external microphone, hooked over the ear, and turned into a digital “score” of electronic stimulation patterns by a processor. This information is then transmitted wirelessly across the scalp, together with a dose of energy, where it is picked up by a coil under the skin and passed to the implant where the digital score is converted into electrical pulses. These are sent to the electrodes within the cochlea, where they artificially trigger electrical impulses in the auditory nerve fibres, bypassing the role of the hair cells. But while each hair cell stimulates only a few of these fibres, the electrical pulses of a cochlear implant trigger much larger areas. It’s a bit like playing a piano with giant hands – big bunches of keys get hit all at once. Yet, wonderfully, the mechanism works. It’s elegant, it’s sophisticated, and it changes lives.

“You can see it first thing in the morning when Ollie first puts his ears on,” Claire explains over the sound of her son happily playing. “The noise starts coming and he sort of brightens up and lightens up and you know his world is much more open.” The technology has also enabled Alice to attend a mainstream hearing school, learn to play the drums and enjoy listening to music – her favourite tunes being a combination of Queen and hits from Annie. It’s been a long journey for the Campbells, and one that has been intimately shared through their blog Alice’s Ears. But their hopes and dreams have returned. “Alice is flying now at school,” says Claire. “I am so proud of her and I’m so amazed by the technology and what it has given her.”

Yet it is technology that, nearly 40 years ago, barely seemed possible. “In the very beginning there was a lot of scepticism, mostly by neurophysiologists,” reveals Professor Ingeborg Hochmair when we meet in the swish surroundings of the Med-El innovation centre in Innsbruck, Austria. “They couldn’t believe it could work to stimulate just a few locations in the cochlea, and by stimulating around eight to 20 or so locations replace the function of 25,000 nerve fibres which there are in a normal auditory nerve, ” she says. “But it works.” As CEO of Med-El, one of the biggest cochlear implant companies worldwide, Hochmair is recognised as a pioneer of the technology – an accolade that last year saw her share the Lasker prize, an international award in the field of medical research.

The new innovation centre, a futuristic-looking construction opened just last year, is a testimony to the success of her vision and hard work. But the process of constructing a cochlear implant is also impressive. Peeking through into the clean rooms, I see a host of figures in gowns and masks busily peering down microscopes, carefully inspecting the laser welding of individual implants or checking a silicone seal is perfect. Few parts of the process are automated, and it is claimed that if a user tells the company the number of their implant, Med-El can pinpoint the people who built it. It’s a handmade device for a very personal application.

Anita Grover.

Anita Grover: ‘I wouldn’t want to be in a social situation for fear of missing part of the conversation.’
And it is a cause to which Ingeborg Hochmair has devoted her life. Having decided at just 13 years old that she wanted to pursue a career in biomedical technology she went on to study electrical engineering in Vienna. It was there that she and her future husband, Erwin Hochmair, became involved in the nascent field of cochlear implantation. Working with researchers, surgeons and, crucially, patients, they soon notched up an impressive list of successes, and in 1990 began employing staff at Med-El. “As inventors we wanted to see this become available for potential users,” she says. At the time both were employed in academia, which Ingeborg later left to head the growing company. She believes their mutual passion for the technology has contributed to her success. “This is a very lucky constellation,” she says of the partnership.

But while the technology has developed in leaps and bounds, Hochmair believes there is more to do. “There are still so many children that still have no access to the technology in various countries.” And financial outlay is not the only reason. “It’s awareness: many families just don’t know about that possibility. It’s infrastructure in some countries,” she says.

With children, it is a race against time. For those born unable to hear, it is crucial to implant the devices at a young age, preferably before two years old and ideally nearer nine months, to maximise the child’s ability to develop speech, language and listening skills. Without the input of auditory signals, the brain does not fully develop the ability to decipher sound, and as time ticks by this capacity for change – known as plasticity – decreases. What’s more it has been suggested that, if unused, these areas of the brain gradually become reassigned to tackling other tasks.

Even with a cochlear implant, there are further hurdles to face in harnessing the technology. “Somebody told me once that [having] a cochlear implant is a bit like being handed a key to a Porsche and not knowing how to drive,” says Anita Grover. “The brain has access to all this sound but it has to really learn to make sense of it.”

As chief executive of Auditory Verbal UK , a charity that provides therapy to youngsters getting to grips with their bionic ears, Grover is passionate about helping others to make the most of the technology. “I would like all children whose family wants them to be able to listen, speak and achieve to have access to auditory verbal therapy to help them maximise the potential of their cochlear implants,” she says. “There is a very small window where there is plasticity in a young brain, which means there is a real opportunity to maximise the development of listening and spoken language. If you get the early intervention right with the right technology and habilitation then you get the opportunity for deaf children to realise their potential. And that potential should be the same as a hearing child.”

Grover is well acquainted with the technology. Having experienced progressive hearing loss, by her late 20s hearing aids were no longer helping. As a civil servant she had relied heavily on lip-reading, but it was far from ideal. “I would be in a meeting [with] 15 to 20 people around the table and it was like Wimbledon,” she says. “It’s so incredibly tiring – you’ve got no backup.” In the end, a cochlear implant became necessary. “Without a cochlear implant I hear nothing at all, absolutely nothing,” she says. “It changed my life. I had gone through that process of my hearing deteriorating whereby I was becoming more and more withdrawn. I wouldn’t want to be in a social situation for fear of missing part of the conversation or something having been said, or perhaps getting the pitch wrong – shouting in a quiet place or being quiet in a noisy place.” And there are sounds you would never want to miss. “When the first of my twins was born he came out screaming,” says Grover. “I would not have heard that if I didn’t have a cochlear implant.”

But adults are in danger of being overlooked. Recent figures from the charity Action on Hearing Loss reveal that one sixth of the UK’s adult population have some form of hearing difficulties while a 2013 studysuggests only 5% of adults whose life could be improved by cochlear implants actually receive one. “For adults, I would like to see improved access to at least one implant and ideally two,” says Grover.

It’s the dark side of the success story. Policy introduced in 2009 by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) dictates that while children deaf in both ears should receive two implants as a matter of routine, adults are allowed only one – unless they have a seconddisability, such as blindness, that makes them more reliant on hearing. It’s an issue that Labour MP Lilian Greenwood put squarely to the House of Commons in November. “A growing body of evidence indicates that bilateral implants provide added improvements in speech perception in noisy environments over unilateral implantation, and better sound localisation, leading to improved quality of life,” she said.

Azhar Shaida, consultant otologist and cochlear implant surgeon at the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear hospital agrees but says: “The problem is down to money versus benefit.” With the assessment, implant, surgery and a year’s therapy costing £38,000-£45,000 for a single implant it’s an expensive business, although with discounts available on a second device and only one hospital procedure necessary if implanted simultaneously, the cost of bilateral implantation is not double the price. Even then Nice doesn’t believe the advantages boost quality of life enough, compared with the life-changing effect of the first implant, for adults to merit the cost.

Stuart McNaughton.

Stuart McNaughton: ‘I pushed for two years [for] the NHS to give me the second one.’
Users such as Stuart McNaughton, a lecturer at Westminster Business School who also works for cochlear implant firm Advanced Bionics, say adults deserve better. “I pushed for two years [for] theNHS to give me the second one,” he tells me over coffee amid the bustle of Waterloo station. “Because I teach, part of my livelihood is very dependent on my ear working and, you know, sometimes things go wrong and if the one ear that you’ve got goes wrong you lose your livelihood.” Fundamentally, he says, it is about experiencing the world those of us who can hear take for granted. “It makes me the way I should have been, the way you are.”

But McNaughton is one of a small group of adults with bilateral cochlear implants. And like Greenwood, he believes it is high time attitudes towards adults changed. “I understand that children need more input because they are developing language and they are developing skills, but what about all the people over the age of 18, 19, 20, 21? They should be allowed bilateral implants as well. Society puts pressures on adults too – relationships, jobs – it’s a rat race out there.”

It’s a call to arms that resonates across the medical profession. As Shaida explains: “Two ears are better than one. Two cochlear implants are better than one.” The situation is particularly desperate for patients who have suffered from meningitis. “With meningitis you often get obliteration of the cochlea,” he says. “Normally for the meningitis patients we fast track them so that we can get the implant in as fast as possible before the cochlea becomes completely blocked and it’s impossible to do an operation.” For such patients simultaneous bilateral implantation could be crucial. “If we came back later on to implant the other side because the first side had failed, it [may not] be possible because of the blockage.”

But the 2009 Nice guidelines make it clear: even in such situations simultaneous bilateral implantation is simply not an option.

The introduction of the guidelines has also fuelled fears of deepening inequalities. “What we are seeing is a number of patients are opting to have one done on the NHS and having the second one done privately. Which is great – if you can afford it,” says Shaida.

David Selvadurai, consultant otolaryngologist surgeon at St George’s hospital, London, also believes it is time for change. “As a community of professionals we are keen to push this forward and we would like to see bilateral implants in adults become more acceptable,” he says.

But with the guidelines only reviewed every few years, he believes timing is everything. “What we don’t have at the moment is good cost benefit data to show that there’s enough benefit to the individual to demonstrate cost effectiveness for the NHS,” he says. “The danger that we have to be wary of is that the guidelines are reviewed before the necessary evidence is available.”

It’s a situation Shakeel Saeed, professor at UCL and the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear hospital is determined to change. Working with colleagues at the Ear Institute, he is currently scoping a national, multi-centre prospective study on bilateral cochlear implantation in adults. “This is to create high quality evidence that Nice can then use to make a considered decision.” Gathering the evidence, he says, will take four to five years – and it won’t be cheap. But it’s a chance they can’t afford to miss.

“If we complete that study then we will be able to answer a very simple question: does the benefit of having two implants in adults justify the cost?” says Saeed. “We might find it doesn’t – but I suspect that we will find that it does.”

Bionic ears are a technological triumph. It’s time adults, like children, were permitted to experience the full measure of their metamorphic potential.

Primordial gravitational wave discovery heralds ‘whole new era’ in physics

Gravitational waves could help unite general relativity and quantum mechanics to reveal a ‘theory of everythin
Gravitational waves: Bicep2 at the South Pole

Scientists detected telltale signs of gravitational waves using the Bicep2 telescope (far left) at the south pole. Photograph: Lindsey Bleem/South Pole Telescope blog

Scientists have heralded a “whole new era” in physics with the detection of “primordial gravitational waves” – the first tremors of the big bang.

The minuscule ripples in space-time are the last prediction of Albert Einstein‘s 1916 general theory of relativity to be verified. Until now, there has only been circumstantial evidence of their existence. The discovery also provides a deep connection between general relativity and quantum mechanics, another central pillar of physics.

“This is a genuine breakthrough,” says Andrew Pontzen, a cosmologist from University College London who was not involved in the work. “It represents a whole new era in cosmology and physics as well.” If the discovery is confirmed, it will almost certainly lead to a Nobel Prize.

The detection, which has yet to be published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, was announced on Monday at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and comes from the Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization 2 (Bicep2) experiment – a telescope at the South Pole.

Galaxy expansion

The detection also provides the first direct evidence for a long-held hypothesis called inflation. This states that a fraction of a second after the big bang, the universe was driven to expand hugely. Without this sudden growth spurt, the gravitational waves would not have been amplified enough to be visible.

“Detecting this signal is one of the most important goals in cosmology today. A lot of work by a lot of people has led up to this point,” said John Kovac of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, who leads the BICEP2 collaboration.

The primordial gravitational waves were visible because they created a twisting pattern called polarisation in light from the big bang. Polarisation is the direction in which a light wave oscillates. It is invisible to human eyes, which only register brightness and colour. Sunglasses made from polaroid sheets work by blocking out all light waves except those with a specific polarisation.

Light from the big bang has been turned into microwaves by its passage across space. These microwaves were discovered in 1964 and are known as the cosmic microwave background radiation. Bicep2 was designed to measure their polarisation.

Rumours began on Friday that the detection of primordial gravitational waves would be announced. It had been thought that a gravitational wave signal would have to be surprisingly strong to be detected by the current technology used in ground-based detectors.

The Bicep2 team have spent three years analysing the signal in order to be certain. “This has been like looking for a needle in a haystack, but instead we found a crowbar,” said co-leader Clem Pryke of the University of Minnesota.

Nevertheless, the signal will have to be confirmed. “I think a lot of people will be looking very critically at this,” says Pontzen.

Confirmation could come as early as August. The European Space Agency’s Planck satellite has been looking for this same signal and is due to announce its findings.

Whereas Bicep2 has only looked at part of the sky visible from the south pole, Planck has mapped the whole sky.

If it confirms the signal and its strength then cosmologists will be presented with an extraordinarily rich seam of data about the conditions immediately after the big bang. “We are going to be able to measure all sorts of subtle details to start pinning down how physics operates in those utterly extreme conditions,” says Pontzen.

This could reveal the interface between the two great theories of physics: general relativity and quantum mechanics. Despite almost a century of effort, the world’s physicists have not been able to show how these theories work together. The primordial gravitational waves that produced the signal seen by Bicep2 were produced in interactions that took place at a trillion times the energies that can be produced in the Large Hadron Collider at Cern.

“This is like turning the whole universe into a particle physics experiment,” said Hiranya Peiris, a cosmologist from University College London.

It could even show them the way to join the two theories together, producing what is sometimes called “the theory of everything”.

“Gravitational waves emitted at the time of the big bang can tell us how the universe came to exist,” said Dr Ed Daw, an astronomer at the University of Sheffield. “If these results prove correct, we will have new key information on the very early universe, information that is hard to get from any other source.

“Gravitational waves are a new frontier in astrophysics and cosmology. If today’s findings are accurate then it will further strengthen our understanding of how the universe formed.”

The signal detected by Bicep2 is not easy to see because it is masked by distortions caused by the light’s passage through clusters of galaxies, and through dust clouds in the Milky Way. These distortions must be carefully stripped away before the primordial signal can be revealed.

“They have thought very carefully about how to remove the experimental and other contaminating effects. They are a very experienced team and this is the real deal but it doesn’t mean that they are necessarily right,” said Daw.

Some subtle contamination may yet be affecting their data. The only way to know for sure is to have other telescopes and spacecraft see the signal too.

There is already a minor disagreement. Last year the European Space Agency published preliminary results from its Planck satellite. They were based on data that measured temperature rather than polarisation, but close examination reveals that they are not a smooth fit with the results announced by Bicep2.

“It’s not completely incompatible but it does raise questions. It needs thinking about in a calm way,” said Pontzen.

Taken at face value, however, these new results mean that cosmologists can now begin to tease out the details of the big bang. The term inflation is used to represent a class of models that each have different attributes and effects on the universe. The strength and the pattern of the gravitational wave signal will be used to tell cosmologists about which inflationary models are the correct ones.

Although no cosmologist truly doubts the existence of gravitational waves nothing like today’s announcement has ever been seen before. “This is a different kettle of fish entirely. We are talking about the fingerprint of the big bang in gravitational waves on the whole universe,” said Daw.

Bicep2 will allow us to work out how hot the big bang was.

The latest big thing in science will also permit analysis of how much dark energy drove the inflation of the universe
Bicep2 telescope

Bicep2 is a telescope whose name is short for Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarisation.

It seemed that no sooner had everyone calmed down after the confirmation of the Higgs boson than another huge scientific discovery was announced.

News of Bicep2 broke when the Guardian published an online article last Friday, and since then cosmologists and physicists have taken to the internet to try to explain, with varying degrees of success, what the fuss is about. My turn.

Bicep2, which stands for Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarisation, is the second phase of an experiment being done at the South Pole, where the air is clear and dry, aimed at detecting weak microwave radiation from space using highly sensitive telescopes.

Their work began with the cosmic microwave background, or CMB, a form of electromagnetic radiation that pervades space.

It was first detected half a century ago and is a cornerstone of cosmology, supporting evidence for a cataclysmic event known as the hot big bang that happened 14bn years ago. CMB is the afterglow of that event and has been washing through the universe since.

In recent years, tiny temperature differences in the CMB have confirmed that the universe is a little bit lumpy, with the matter in some regions of the early universe denser than in others, which allowed galaxies and stars to be formed.

But after the press conference on Monday at the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics, the Bicep2 result also tells us something more profound.

It tells us that CMB is slightly polarised in some directions, and therefore carries within it the imprint of the ripples in space-time predicted by Einstein almost a century ago: what is known as primordial gravitational waves. These are the tremors of creation itself, arriving indirectly in the Bicep2 telescopes.

Of even more interest to cosmologists is what the results tell us about an idea that has been around since the 1980s, known as inflation.

The theory goes that a tiny fraction of a second after the universe came into being it underwent a period of expansion, driven by a mysterious dark energy, which then initiated the hot big bang and provided all the stuff of the universe, including the stars, the planets and us.

The Bicep2 results provide strong support for inflation theory and will allow us to work out how much of that dark energy was driving the inflation of the universe, hence how rapidly it happened – as well as just how hot the big bang was.