World First: Ultrasound Used to “Jump-Start” Patient’s Brain out of a Coma


IN BRIEF

A 25-year old man has made incredible progress after doctors “jump-started” his brain out of a coma using ultrasound. The team asserts that further study is needed to determine how effective this ultrasound technique really is, but they have high hopes.

WAKING UP “ASLEEP”

Unfortunately, waking up from a coma doesn’t mean you’re A-OK. Rather, it just marks the start of the battle.

Individuals who are recovering face the possibility of waking up with a disorder of consciousness (DOC), such as the vegetative state (VS) or the minimally conscious state (MCS). Both of these conditions could result in severe brain injury, and even if this is avoided, fully recovering from a coma could take a very, very long time.

However, a 25-year old man has made “incredible” progress after being the first person to receive a new UCLA treatment…one that “jump-started” his brain out of a coma.

The findings were published in the journal Brain Stimulation.

JUMP-STARTING HIS BRAIN, NOW HIS LIFE

The treatment, called low-intensity focused ultrasound pulsation, was led by Martin Monti, a UCLA associate professor of psychology and neurosurgery.

The researchers targeted the thalamus with low-intensity focused ultrasound pulsation. - UCLA Newsroom
The researchers targeted the thalamus with low-intensity focused ultrasound pulsation. – UCLA Newsroom

As its name suggests, the treatment made use of sonic stimulation to stir up the neurons in the thalamus—the brain’s focal center for processing information. This was done because, as previous assertions likely made clear, doctors hoped that this would help “jump-start” his brain back to functionality. And notably, according to the UCLA Newsroom’s release, the patient has regained full consciousness and full language comprehension just after three days.

Heck, he even fist-bumped one of his doctors to say “goodbye!”

“The changes were remarkable,” says Martin Monti, UCLA associate professor of psychology and neurosurgery. “It’s almost as if we were jump-starting the neurons back into function.”

FURTHERING THE TECHNIQUE

At this point, the reliability of Monti’s treatment requires further study—which means that he needs to have additional patients in order to determine whether it could be used consistently as a treatment for people who are in a coma.

“It is possible that we were just very lucky and happened to have stimulated the patient just as he was spontaneously recovering,” Monti said.

But if the study pans out, the treatment could eventually be used to build a low-cost, portable device to help “wake up” patients completely from their comas.

Physicists have managed to ‘dissolve’ water in an emerald.


For the first time, Russian physicists have managed to effectively ‘dissolve’ water in an emerald, by overriding the hydrogen bonds that usually hold water molecules together.

Without the influence of these hydrogen bonds, the water molecules aligned themselves according to the interaction of their positively and negatively charged poles – or dipoles – which is something researchers have been trying to do for years, but have never managed to achieve.

It’s a little weird to wrap your head around, but just like a sugar cube dissolves in water because its molecules are becoming incorporated into the liquid, in this experiment, the water itself has become incorporated into the tiny cages of the emerald, rather than pooling together.

The reason this is so cool is because this particular property of water – known as ferroelectricity – had been predicted by numerous computer models, but had never been experimentally demonstrated before.

Now that researchers from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology have achieved this in the lab, they can use the ‘dissolved’ water to better understand other mysterious phenomena observed in nature, and the find also lead to more efficient materials.

It’s even thought that this elusive behaviour of water molecules, and the tiny electric fields it generates, could be crucial within our own cells.

“The ferroelectricity of water molecules may play a key role in the functioning of biological systems and find applications in fuel and memory cells, light emitters and other nanoscale electronic devices,” the researchers write in Nature Communications.

Let’s step back a second here though, because to understand why the discovery is so exciting, you need to know a bit about the nature of water.

H2O, as most of us are aware, is made up of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom, and looks (in theory, at least) a little like this:

water-molecule

The two hydrogen atoms are slightly positively charged, and the oxygen atom is slightly negatively charged, and this makes water molecules dipoles.

Because water molecules have such strong pull from the negatively charged pole – known as its electric dipole moment – in solid-state physics, you’d expect them to display something called ferroelectricity, which basically means that when a material cools down, all the dipoles will align themselves in an ordered pattern. (It’s like ferromagnetism, but with electrical charge.)

But in liquid water, that ferroelectric alignment doesn’t occur, because the molecules are located so closely together that they’re dominated by short-range hydrogen bonds.

Those hydrogen bonds form because the negatively charged oxygen atom of one molecule wants to bond with the positively charged hydrogen of another molecule – and this keeps water molecules constantly disorganised and fluid, and overrides the long-range dipole-dipole forces.

To overcome this, the Russian team decided to try to separate the water molecules just enough so hydrogen bonding no longer kicked in. They did this by taking an emerald, and trapping the water molecules within nanoscale cavities in its crystal structure.

This kept the molecules far enough apart that it diminished the hydrogen bonding, but still close enough together for dipole-dipole forces to have effect.

When they did this, the researchers were able to detect for the first time ever that liquid water was displaying ferroelectricity – and all its dipole moments were arranging in an ordered pattern.

“Our team has succeeded in placing water molecules under conditions allowing us to obtain the first-ever reliable observations of the alignment of molecular dipoles of water,” said lead researcher, Boris Gorshunov.

You can see that represented in the diagram below, where the red arrows represent the dipole moments, or the ‘pull’ of electrons from the positively to the negatively charged pole. The green structures are the nanocages within the emerald:

124043 web

Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology

“As for possible practical applications, their scope could be fairly wide,” explained Gorshunov.

“It should be noted that the researchers now have the opportunity to study this phenomenon under the influence of various external factors … and thus advance our understanding of this phenomenon and its role in various systems, including living organisms.”

This is some pretty intense physics, but it’s also a really big moment for our understanding of how water – one of the building blocks of life – functions, and the strange properties it has under certain circumstances.

We can’t wait to see what the team discovers from this experiment.

Google just announced a new WiFi router that’s made to blanket your home with internet.


http://www.businessinsider.in/Google-just-announced-a-new-WiFi-router-thats-made-to-blanket-your-home-with-internet/articleshow/54682682.cms

A ‘New Physics’? Scientists May Have Glimpsed a World Beyond the Standard Model


Physicists are using the LHC to probe for elementary particles that may exist beyond the Standard Model. By doing so, they may discover (and may have already discovered) a “new physics” that has a real chance to resolve some of the greatest mysteries in science.
MESON, FERMIONS, LEPTONS, AND BOSONS

The Standard Model, which emerged in the 1970s, is a theoretical foundation that explains the world and matter at the very smallest levels of reality: elementary particles so minute they boggle the imagination and defy easy understanding.  It has been a pretty successful description so far, but like most old foundations, it’s beginning to show signs of cracks and disrepair.

Of course, it’s not so much that the standard model is wrong; rather, there may be a deeper kind of physics, a dark sector that we haven’t been able to reach yet.

In other words, there are hints of something greater and even more fundamental shining through those cracks like glinting rays of sunshine.  And a team of physicists from the Institute of Nuclear Physics of the Polish Academy of Sciences (IFJ PAN), working with the LHC particle accelerator at CERN, think they may be on the track of what that “something” is.

Briefly, the Standard Model divides matter and the forces of the universe into several categories of elementary particles.  Pay attention now, reader, because this will go quickly.  Bosons transmit force; photons (light) emerge from electromagnetic activity; eight species of gluon are involved in the strong nuclear force (holding atoms together); and the W+, W- and Z0 bosons oversee the weak nuclear force (responsible for radioactive decay).  Matter comprises fermions, which are formed by quarks and leptons; there are six species of quarks, and six of leptons (which include electrons and neutrinos), together with 12 antiparticles for each.  The Higgs boson provides mass for all, save the gluons and photons.

Got that?  Good.

But here’s the problem—the Standard Model, in common with other theories explaining the universe (such as Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity), is not quite as comprehensive as we’d like it to be.  It fails to explain some of the most interesting and pressing questions confronting physics.

For instance, it doesn’t account for the division of fermions into different families, or why matter achieved the upper hand over antimatter in the early universe.  And if dark matter is indeed an actual form of “matter,” it is not explained by our current understanding of elementary particles.  Perhaps most importantly, gravity (that most mysterious and fundamental of forces) is utterly unaccounted for by the Standard Model.

Highly complicated, graphical analysis of the decay of a "beauty" meson into a kaon and two muons. Credit: CERN
Highly complicated, graphical analysis of the decay of a “beauty” meson into a kaon and two muons. 
THE BEAUTY MESON

The Large Hadron Collider has turned its considerable particle-smashing heft to the task of seeking out new elementary particles beyond the Standard Model; but it’s possible they exist just outside the energy limit of the LHC.  If this is the case, then the only way to discover their presence will be to discern their “shadow,” as it were—the influence they exert upon other particles at lower energies.

And one way this might work is if they cause “mesons”—unstable, short-lived combinations of a quark and antiquark—to decay in unusual and unexpected ways.

This is what the team believes it may have found. A few years back, the LHCb experiment, which probes the mysteries of matter and antimatter, detected anomalous readings in the decay of a B meson or “beauty” meson—a meson consisting of a light quark and a heavy beauty antiquark.  It was necessary to rig up a more accurate method of determining the parameters by which the beauty quark decayed in order to test its deviation from the Standard Model; the Polish team devised a means to determine the parameters independently.

According to Dr. Marcin Chrzaszcz of IFJ PAN, one of the authors of the new research, “[m]y approach can be likened to determining the year when a family portrait was taken. Rather than looking at the whole picture, it is better to analyze each person individually and from that perspective try to work out the year the portrait was taken.”

By more accurately determining the degree of deviation from the Standard Model, scientists will be able to ascertain whether the anomaly really represents the influence of unknown elementary particles beyond the Model, or whether it is merely some hitherto undiscovered property which the Model does account for.

For now, physicists hypothesize that there is something called a “Z-prime” (Z’) boson, which mediates the decay of B mesons.  The LHC is gearing up now for new, higher-energy collisions. Perhaps, at last, they’ll discover the new particles, and the new physics, they’ve been searching for.

 The mystery of why left-handers are so much rarer


Relatively few people are lefties, and it’s a puzzle why. Still, the science of handedness is revealing fascinating insights about you – from how it could change the way you think, to the fact that you might be ‘left-eared’.

From the time we pick up a chunky crayon and start scribbling as children, it begins to become clear whether we’re right- or left-handed. But what makes one hand dominate? And why are left-handers in the minority?

To find out more, Adam Rutherford and I decided to investigate the science and history behind human handedness for the BBC Radio 4 series The Curious Cases of Rutherford & Fry.

It soon became clear that there was more to the question than we thought: for example, I had never realised that our body is lopsided in other ways too. Take your eyes, for instance. You can tell whether you are right or left-eyed by trying the following test:

Hold a thumb out at arm’s length in front of you. First, look at it with both eyes, then try covering each eye in turn. Your strongest eye is the one which gives the nearest picture to stereo vision.

Similarly, you can test your ears: which ear would you naturally use on the telephone? Or to listen, clandestinely, against a wall?

Overall 40% of us are left-eared and 30% are left-eyed

It’s funny to spot these strange asymmetries in action – I often find myself holding the phone with my left hand and pressing it, rather awkwardly, against my right ear, whilst scribbling down notes with my right hand. If ease was the biggest consideration, this odd arrangement certainly doesn’t deliver. It’s all about playing to our natural strengths.

Overall 40% of us are left-eared, 30% are left-eyed and 20% are left-footed.

But when it comes to handedness, only 10% of people are lefties.

Why could this be? Why are left-handers in the minority?

You can be 'right-eyed' as well as right-handed (Credit: iStock)

You can be ‘right-eyed’ as well as right-handed

In times gone by, left-handedness was drummed out of errant schoolchildren, and oddly negative connotations still linger in our language. The word ‘left’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘lyft’, meaning ‘weak’. And the opposite in Latin is ‘dexter’ which is associated with skill and righteousness.

The word ‘left’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘lyft’, meaning ‘weak’

So what determines whether we are right- or left-handed? From an evolutionary standpoint, specialising with one hand makes sense. Chimpanzees tend to choose a favourite hand for different tasks.

Take termite fishing. After selecting the perfect stick, the chimp pokes it into the termite mound, their sense of touch providing a host of information about how deep, wide and full of tasty termites their house may be. Then they’ll gently pull the stick out to reveal their prey, the termites’ jaws clamping down hard on the foreign invader. Unbeknown to them, they are about to get chomped by a hungry chimp. By specialising with one hand, chimps become more dexterous, and more termites bite the dust.

But when primatologists study chimpanzees in the wild, their patterns of handedness look very different to ours. For each task around 50% are right-handed, and 50% left. So where in our evolutionary tree does this 1 in 10 ratio emerge?

An important clue comes from Neanderthals’ teeth. Neanderthals, it turns out, were clever, but clumsy. Our ancestors used their teeth to anchor slabs of meat, whilst they held a knife in their dominant hand to carve it up. Now and again, they would scratch their teeth. The distinctive pattern of grooves in their front incisors reveals which hand must have been holding the food, and which was grasping the knife. Incredibly, when you compare the number of left- and right-handed Neanderthals, this same ratio of 1 in 10 left-handers that we see today pops out.

We know that left- and right-handedness has a genetic origin. However, geneticists are still trying to pinpoint which bits of DNA are involved, and there may well be up to 40 different genes at play. As things stand, the answer to what determines left or right handedness and why lefties are in the minority remains a resounding “don’t know”.

But does being left-handed have any impact on people’s lives, beyond finding right-handed scissors, zips and fountain pens a little bit annoying?

Left-handers are much more variable in the way that their brains are organised

There’s been a long running debate about how being left-handed affects your brain. The right side of the brain controls the left hand, and vice versa. And so being left-handed can have knock-on effects on the way the brain is arranged.

“Left-handers are much more variable in the way that their brains are organised,” explains psychologist Chris McManus, from University College London, author of the book Right Hand, Left Hand.

“My personal hunch is that left-handers are both more talented, and suffer deficits. If you are left-handed you might find yourself with a slightly unusual way your brain is organised and suddenly that gives you skills that other people don’t have.”

However, not everyone agrees. Dorothy Bishop is Professor of Developmental Neuropsychology at the University of Oxford and she has a personal interest. “I myself am left-handed and I always wondered why I was different from other people.

“There’s been all sorts of claims over the years linking left-handedness with disabilities like dyslexia and autism. On the other hand, there have been positive attributes – it’s claimed that architects and musicians are more likely to be left-handed.”

A lot of associations between disabilities and handedness are the result of selective reporting bias

But after looking into the data, Bishop is not convinced. A lot of these associations, she says, are the result of what’s called selective reporting bias. Scientists add a question about handedness into their study on, for example, creativity, and become excited if they find a positive association, but don’t report the instances when no connections are found.

It’s true, she says, that when you look at rare conditions, like Down Syndrome, epilepsy and cerebral palsy, the ratio of left- to right-handers is more like 50:50 rather than 1:10.

Children very quickly show a preference for which hand they use (Credit: iStock)

Children very quickly show a preference for which hand they use .

But, Bishop says, left-handedness may be symptomatic, rather than causal.

“It’s not the left-handedness itself that’s creating problems,” she explains, “it’s more that it can be a symptom of some underlying condition. But in most people it doesn’t have any significance at all for intellectual cognitive development.”

The debate rages on, and there is still so much we need to discover about the left-handed brain. Part of the problem is that when neuroscientists look at various aspects of behaviour, MRI studies are only done on right-handed people, in order to try and minimise the variation between different participants. Only specific studies on left-handedness will invite lefties to take part.

Since I’m currently seven months pregnant, it’s fascinating to think that my baby has already determined whether she is right- or left-handed. We know this because Peter Hepper, from Queen’s University in Belfast, has done some wonderful ultrasound studies looking at babies’ movements inside the womb.

He found that nine out of 10 foetuses preferred sucking their right thumb, mirroring the familiar pattern we see in the general population. And when he followed those children up many years later, the babies who were sucking their right thumb in the womb became right-handed, and the ones who preferred their left, stuck with that.

So, even though my baby is already favouring one hand over the other, I won’t be in on the secret until she decides to pick up those chunky crayons and start scribbling.

Boeing Patents Weird Aircraft That Could Stay Aloft for Years


IN BRIEF

Boeing patented a plane, but not for transportation purposes. It acts like a satellite, but costs far less, and it employs solar panels as a power source.

IS THAT A PLANE?

Boeing recently patented a strange-looking plane. It can fly at a high altitude and is solar-powered. It looks weird because this design is a must, if we want sunlight to hit the solar panels at all times (which we do, lest the plane crash).

Patent Yogi
Boeing

Solar panels are attached not only to the wings but also to the “winglets,” those things sticking right up at the tips of the wings.  Well, that is the price Boeing has to pay for this aircraft to stay aloft for years! Honestly, it doesn’t even remotely resemble the airplanes we usually see.

But according to Boeing, a 747 equipped with highly efficient solar cells on the upper parts of its wings can only receive 600 kilowatts (800 horsepower) or about 0.8% of what the aircraft requires for it to maintain cruising speed and altitude, even if the cells have 100% efficiency and directly under the sun.

Actual solar cells can only provide around 0.3% of needed power.

SO IT’S NOT FOR TRANSPORTATION

Thus, Boeing suggests that this plane should be used for different applications, ones where it has to stay in a fixed position over a certain location. One  option is for imaging systems, such as cameras and radars. Another is as for a communication systems for cellphone signals, television broadcasts, etc. It may also be used for measuring wind speed, temperature, humidity, and for other atmospheric sensing purposes. In short, it functions like a satellite, but costs far less.

This means that the power requirement for air transportation is very large as compared to what can be harnessed from solar energy. For now, travelling via solar-powered airplane is far from reality.

Nevermind Moore’s Law: Transistors Just Got A Whole Lot Smaller


IN BRIEF
  • Researchers have successfully created a transistor 50,000 times smaller than a strand of hair.
  • Surging past Moore’s Law, these transistors could be an exponential leap forward in computing capabilities.

THE SMALLER, THE BETTER

Transistors are semiconductors that work as the building blocks of modern computer hardware. Already very small, smaller transistors are an important part of improving computer technology. That’s what a team from the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory managed to do, according to a study published in the journal Science.

Current transistors in use are in 14nm scale technology, with 10nm semiconductors expected in 2017 or 2018, supposedly in Intel’s Cannonlake line — a trend following Intel co-founder Gordon Moore’s prediction that transistor density on integrated circuits would double every two years, improving computer electronics.

Berkeley Lab’s team seems to have beaten them into it, developing a functional 1nm transistor gate.

KEEPING UP WITH MOORE’S LAW

“We made the smallest transistor reported to date,” says lead scientist Ali Javey.“The gate length is considered a defining dimension of the transistor. We demonstrated a 1-nanometer-gate transistor, showing that with the choice of proper materials, there is a lot more room to shrink our electronics.”

Silicon-based transistors function optimally at 7nm but fail below 5nm, where electrons start experiencing a severe short channel effect called quantum tunneling. Supposedly, silicon allows for lighter electrons, moving with less resistance. This, however, makes 5nm gates too thin to control electron flow and keep them in the intended logic state. “This means we can’t turn off the transistors,” said researcher Sujay Desai. “The electrons are out of control.”

Credit: Sujay Desai/UC Berkeley

The Berkeley Labs team found a better material in molybdenum disulfide (MoS2). Electrons flowing through MoS2 are heavier, making them easier to control even at smaller gate sizes. MoS2 is also more capable of storing energy in an electric field. Combined with carbon nanotubes with diameters as small as 1nm, this allowed for the shortest transistors ever.

“However, it’s a proof of concept. We have not yet packed these transistors onto a chip, and we haven’t done this billions of times over. We also have not developed self-aligned fabrication schemes for reducing parasitic resistances in the device,” Javey admits.

Still, its foundational work that keeps alive Moore’s Law a little longer.

A New Molecular Structure Could Help Us Deal With Nuclear Waste


IN BRIEF
  • Researchers have developed a “supramolecule” born of two negatively charged molecules, defying the 250-year-old Coulomb’s law.
  • The technique used to create the “supramolecule” could strip sulfate molecules from nuclear waste to help protect water from contamination.

TWO NEGATIVES MAKE A…?

Scientists have broken a 250-year-old rule of chemistry with the discovery of a new molecular structure. The study, which appears in the German scientific journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition, says researchers created a “supramolecule” born of a bond between two negatively charged molecules of bisulfate.

Credit: Indiana University

Until very recently, scientists argued how it’s impossible for negatively-charged molecules with hydrogen atoms attached — like bisulfate — to form viable chemical bonds.

“An anion-anion dimerization of bisulfate goes against simple expectations of Coulomb’s law,” said Indiana University professor Amar Flood, who is the senior author on the study, in a statement. “We believe the long-range repulsions between these anions are offset by short-range attractions.”

NUCLEAR POTENTIAL

The discovery of the “supramolecule” was made by binding bisulfates to cyanostar molecules: large, star-shaped molecules developed in Flood’s lab. These cyanostars can “grab” large, negatively-charged ions.

The molecule that defied a 250-year-old law now presents new possibilities that were previously unattainable, particularly in the search for chemical solutions to nuclear waste.

In nuclear waste treatment and conditioning, harmful compounds need to be converted to solids resistant to leaching in order to avoid water contamination. When these chemicals get into the water supply, they can trigger massive algae blooms that poisons water and kills fish in high numbers.

But the “supramolecule” is capable of removing sulfate ions from the nuclear waste. And it can also remove environmentally damaging phosphates from fertilizers.

“This paper is inspirational because it may launch a new approach to supramolecular ion recognition,” said Jonathan Sessler, chemistry professor at the University of Texas at Austin, in a statement. “I expect this will be the start of something new and important in the field.”

Google’s CIA-Backed D-Wave Quantum Computer Will Change Your View of Reality Forever


d-wave

Meanwhile as everyone was busy arguing over the bread and circus elections, the CIA was busy funding a computer so powerful that it is described as “tapping into the fundamental fabric of reality” and the man who owns the company says being near one is like “standing at the altar of an alien God.”

What exactly do you suppose they are doing with it?

You have to take a few minutes and watch this. It will change the way you look at “reality” forever.

 

Food-poisoning bacteria may be behind Crohn’s disease.


People who retain a particular bacterium in their gut after a bout of food poisoning may be at an increased risk of developing Crohn’s disease later in life, according to a new study.

Crohn’s disease is a debilitating bowel disease characterized by the inflammation of the intestines.

People who retain a particular bacterium in their gut after a bout of food poisoning may be at an increased risk of developing Crohn’s disease later in life, according to a new study led by researchers at McMaster University.

Using a mouse model of Crohn’s disease, the researchers discovered that acute infectious gastroenteritis caused by common food-poisoning bacteria accelerates the growth of adherent-invasive E. coli (AIEC) — a bacterium that has been linked to the development of Crohn’s.

Even after the mice had eliminated the food-poisoning bacteria, researchers still observed increased levels of AIEC in the gut, which led to worsened symptoms over a long period of time.

The study, published in the journal PLOS Pathogens, was funded by grants from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and Crohn’s and Colitis Canada.

Crohn’s disease is a debilitating bowel disease characterized by the inflammation of the intestines. Today, one in every 150 Canadians is living with Crohn’s or colitis, a rate that ranks among the highest worldwide.

“This is a lifelong disease that often strikes people in their early years, leading to decades of suffering, an increased risk of colorectal cancer, and an increased risk of premature death,” said Brian Coombes, senior author of the study. At McMaster University he is a professor of biochemistry and biomedical sciences and a researcher at the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research.

The study’s results, said Coombes, means that new diagnostic tools should be developed to identify AIEC-colonized individuals who may be at greater risk for Crohn’s disease following an episode of acute infectious gastroenteritis.

“We need to understand the root origins of this disease — and to use this information to invigorate a new pipeline of treatments and preventions. It has never been more pressing.”