2012-10-31

IBM's Nanotube Chip Breakthrough


I.B.M. research reports Nanotube Chip Breakthrough (IBM Innovation Center Silicon Valley)

John Markoff writes in the New York Times:

I.B.M.scientists are reporting progress in a chip-making technology that is
likely to ensure that the basic digital switch at the heart of modern
microchips will continue to shrink for more than a decade.

The advance, first described in the journal Nature Nanotechnology on
Sunday, is based on carbon nanotubes — exotic molecules that have long
held out promise as an alternative to silicon from which to create the
tiny logic gates now used by the billions to create microprocessors and
memory chips.

Ready for nanotech brains? IBM’s nanotube breakthrough gets us closer | VentureBeat

Carbon nanotubes are tiny wires that can conduct digital computer signals at five or 10 times the speed of traditional silicon chips. They have been around since the 1990s, but researchers have had a tough time getting them to behave. When they try to line these wires together in a useful grid as part of a computer design, the wires have a tendency to behave like wet spaghetti noodles.




Ready for nanotech brains? IBM’s nanotube breakthrough gets us closer | VentureBeat


[...] For the first time since research began on these carbon nanotubes, IBM has succeeded in placing them with near-perfect accuracy on the surface of a silicon chip in order to make electronic circuits.

Guha said the accomplishment is big one, though there are several obstacles that still stand in the way of mass production.

If those challenges are met, then we will see a huge leap in computing performance, as microprocessors for everything from PCs to smartphones will be able to take advantage of the technological advance. They could have applications in integrated circuits, energy storage and conversion, biomedical sensing, and DNA sequencing.

2012-10-28

Evidence of Presentiment Without External Clues

Listen to Your Intuition, Because Your Body Can Predict Future Events Without Conscious Clues | Popular Science


Humans can predict the future when we have some evidence--like clouds and the smell of rain hinting at a storm. But can we anticipate future events without sensory clues?

Can your body sense future events without any external clue?

ScienceDaily (Oct. 22, 2012) — Wouldn't it be amazing if our bodies prepared us for future events that could be very important to us, even if there's no clue about what those events will be?
Presentiment without any external clues may, in fact, exist, according to new Northwestern University research that analyzes the results of 26 studies published between 1978 and 2010.
A business person playing a video game during working hours. Wouldn't it be amazing if our bodies prepared us for future events that could be very important to us, even if there's no clue about what those events will be? (Credit: © Vitaly Raduntsev / Fotolia)

Can Your Body Sense Future Events Without Any External Clue?: Northwestern University News

This phenomenon is sometimes called “presentiment,” as in “sensing the future,” but Mossbridge said she and other researchers are not sure whether people are really sensing the future.

“I like to call the phenomenon ‘anomalous anticipatory activity,’” she said. “The phenomenon is anomalous, some scientists argue, because we can’t explain it using present-day understanding about how biology works; though explanations related to recent quantum biological findings could potentially make sense. It’s anticipatory because it seems to predict future physiological changes in response to an important event without any known clues, and it’s an activity because it consists of changes in the cardiopulmonary, skin and nervous systems.”

The study, “Predictive Physiological Anticipation Preceding Seemingly Unpredictable Stimuli: A Meta-Analysis,” is in the current edition of Frontiers in Perception Science. In addition to Mossbridge, co-authors of the study include Patrizio Tressoldi of the UniversitĂ  di Padova, Padova, Italy, and Jessica Utts of the University of California, Irvine.

Visual Perception, Neuroscience, and Cognition Lab Northwestern University

Some more specific research questions our lab focuses on:
  • How do we perceive scenes, space, faces, objects, form, motion and time?
  • How do awareness, intention, and short/long-term experience influence perception and attention? 
  • How does auditory, tactile, and visual information integrate to generate coherent perceptual experience? 
  • What are the neural (EEG) correlates of dynamic perceptual and attentional states? 
  • What mechanisms keep our mind in a balanced (metastable) state, enabling us to generate different perceptual interpretations? 
  • How do people differ in their abilities to control attention?


2012-10-25

Methane on Mars

Mars rover working on methane mystery - Technology & science - Space - Space.com | NBC News

There’s growing buzz about data gleaned by NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars, specifically over the issue of methane detection on the Red Planet.
On one hand, methane can be geological in origin. But then there’s the prospect that the gas is biotic, or caused by living organisms — meaning it could be the gaseous residue of long-extinct microbes or even the output of Martian organisms alive and well today.

Curiosity Mars Rover Will Hunt for Life's Building Blocks | Space.com

The main instrument for the rover’s astrobiology research is the gold-plated Sample Analysis on Mars (SAM), which includes three complex lab tools and is the largest and heaviest (at 88 pounds, or 40 kilograms) on Curiosity. Many of its capabilities are brand-new or significant improvements on the Viking instruments. [5 Bold Claims of Alien Life]
[...]
The principal investigator for SAM is Paul Mahaffy of the Goddard Spaceflight Center, who has worked to put together the instrument for more than eight years.  He and other NASA scientists are quick to explain that finding organics on Mars will be very hard to do, and that it’s difficult to find organic carbon in rock samples even on Earth. But he sees some real opportunities.

Curiosity Rover Finds Clues to the Mystery of Mars’ Methane | The Bunsen Burner

Recent evidence, however, emphasizes that the methane really is there. The Thermal Emission Spectrometer on the Mars Global Surveyor, an orbiting satellite that collected data from 1996 until 2006, detected relatively high levels of methane in Mars’ atmosphere. MGS revealed that Mars’ methane levels vary by location and season: they are highest in summer and autumn, in regions with volcanoes or other geothermal activity. Chris McKay, a Mars specialist at NASA, told SPACE.com, ”Methane on Mars should have a lifetime of 300 years and should not be variable. If it is variable, this is very hard to explain with present theory. It requires unexpected sources and unexpected sinks.”

This makes it sound like the methane is produced by geology, not biology, but scientists are skeptical that geological processes can account for the quantity and variability of methane found. “Methane is really quite a rare gas in hydrothermal/volcanic exhalations,” Dirk Schulze-Makuch, an astrobiologist at Washington State University, said in an interview with SPACE.com.


The Mars' "Methane Mystery" --A Sign of Life or an Earth-Based Illusion? We'll Know Soon

“Based on evidence, what we do have is, unequivocally, the conditions for the emergence of life were present on Mars — period, end of story,” said Michael J. Mumma, a senior scientist for NASA at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., who led one of three teams that have made still-controversial claims of detecting methane in Mars’s atmosphere. “So life certainly could have arisen there.”

2012-10-22

Nano-Material with Color and Texture of Butterfly Wings

Penn Researchers Find New Way to Mimic the Color and Texture of Butterfly Wings | Penn News


PHILADELPHIA — The colors of a butterfly’s wings are unusually bright and beautiful and are the result of an unusual trait; the way they reflect light is fundamentally different from how color works most of the time.

A team of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania has found a way to generate this kind of “structural color” that has the added benefit of another trait of butterfly wings: super-hydrophobicity, or the ability to strongly repel water.

The research was led by Shu Yang, associate professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Penn’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, and included other members of her group: Jie Li, Guanquan Liang and Xuelian Zhu.


Butterfly wings biomimicry for dirt free coated surfaces | RobAid


[...] the team exploited microphase separation of crosslinked polymer chains from nonsolvents to generate nanoroughness (≤120 nm) on holographically patterned diamond photonic crystals.

The process of formation of these nanoroughened patterns consists out of spin-coating, pre-exposure bake, exposure, post-exposure bake (PEB), development, solvent rinsing and critical-point drying (CPD). The pattern is etched with the use of a laser which etches a 3D cross-linked pattern in a kind of material called photoresist. A solvent then washes away all the photoresist untouched by the laser, creating the 3D structure that affects light to create the color effects.

SHU YANG GROUP :: RESEARCH

Bio-organisms often exhibit an exquisite array of hierarchical organization with multiscale structures as exemplified by the iridescence in blue Morpho rhetenor butterflies, the waveguiding properties in diatom exoskeletons, the self-cleaning ability of lotus leaves, and the dry adhesion of Gecko foot hairs. These examples provide inspiration for the development of new functional hybrid materials. To mimic hierarchical organization in Nature, one of the emerging strategies is the convergence of top-down microfabrication and bottom-up nanoassembly.




Interview With Professor Shu Yang Of The University of Pennsylvania - Science News - redOrbit

[...]

RO:
Can you give us an idea of what this material would actually look like when applied to a large surface like, say, an office building or a house? Would it really have that same intense, shimmering quality that we associate with peacock feathers and butterfly wings?
Yang: Yes. Since the structural color is a reflective color that is dependent on the structure, it does not suffer photobleaching like pigmentation. As long as the structure maintains its integrity, we will always see the intense shiny color from these materials. However, to fabricate the 3D photonic structures reported in our paper, we used a state-of-art non-conventional 3D lithography technique. So it is not intended for low-cost, large area fabrication. We believe that the concept we demonstrated here is applicable to other fabrication methods.
RO: Aside from its potential use in beautifying the outsides of buildings, have you imagined any other potential uses for such this material, or is that something you plan on leaving to the marketing experts?
Yang: It could be used as a traffic sign, which needs to be shiny and clean in the rainy or snowy days. It could be used as a bulletin board on the highway or on the building. It could be used as a fancy, protective cover of the iPhone or iPad. It could also be used as camouflage or something that could be worn by the soldiers, for example, as blast injury dosimeters.
We are currently looking into new methods that will allow us to mass-produce these materials for potential commercialization. Of course, we welcome any suggestion from experts about market needs.



2012-10-16

Water on the Moon

Moon Water Made by the Sun?


Long thought to be bone dry, the moon has recently been confirmed as relatively water rich. But a big question remains: Where did the wetor more accurately, icystuff come from?

A new study might have the answer: The moon's water may have, in a sense, sailed in on the solar wind. The discovery hints at a previously unknown method of delivering water to the inner solar systemand a new way to produce water and rocket fuel for future space missions.

Blowin' in the (solar) wind: how the moon got its water

Looking for the source

So where does the water come from? Two main theories have been suggested.
Water could be delivered to the moon by the impacts of meteorites and comets, which can contain large amounts of ice.

Another theory is based on the fact hydrogen atoms reach the moon as a result of the solar wind – the continuous stream of particles ejected from the sun. The theory goes that hydrogen atoms then react with oxygen in the surface minerals to form water and hydroxyl

The new study, published by Yang Liu from the University of Tennessee and colleagues, seeks to distinguish between these two theories by looking at the isotopic composition of the hydrogen.

Moon Made Water From Solar Wind : Discovery News

Analysis of the Apollo moon samples, which began in the 1970s, previously had uncovered the presence of hydrogen inside volcanically produced glass beads in the soil. In 2008, scientists found hydrogen in a phosphate mineral in lunar rocks, and last year found it again inside another mineral, olivine.

Three robotic probes, including NASA's LCROSS experiment, also have found evidence for water ice on the moon. But where the water came from has been a mystery.

Using two new techniques to dig down into chemistry of hydrogen inside lunar soil grains, Liu and colleagues determined that most of it came from the solar wind, a steady stream of charged particles from the sun that permeates and defines the boundaries of the solar system.


The Solar Wind


The solar wind streams off of the Sun in all directions at speeds of about 400 km/s (about 1 million miles per hour). The source of the solar wind is the Sun's hot corona. The temperature of the corona is so high that the Sun's gravity cannot hold on to it. Although we understand why this happens we do not understand the details about how and where the coronal gases are accelerated to these high velocities. This question is related to the question of coronal heating.


2012-10-13

Honeybee Democracy

Nature's Secret: Why Honey Bees Are Better Politicians Than Humans : Krulwich Wonders... : NPR


In the spring, bee hives get so rich with honey, so crowded with baby bees, they often burst in two. Some bees stay in the original nest with a new queen, but a second group, led by the old queen, heads off to establish a new home. If there's a cloud of bees hanging by a tree branch in your back yard, that's them — the house hunters.
How do they choose a new home?

Ah, says Cornell professor Thomas Seeley, this is the beautiful part: The queen doesn't say, "Here's where we're going!" She's not in charge. The decision is made collectively, bottom-up, and it's done by "voting."

Bees are natural democrats. They've been shaped that way by evolution, plus they've got this spectacular, secret extra ingredient [...]

Dancing Honeybee Using Vector Calculus to Communicate - YouTube


How honeybees communicate with each other. Waggle dance of bees

Dancing honeybees use democratic process when selecting a new home

When honeybees seek a new home, they choose the best site through a democratic process that humans would do well to emulate, according to a Cornell biologist. (Credit: iStockphoto/Irina Tischenko)
The bee's decision-making process is similar to how neurons work to make decisions in primate brains, Seeley says. In both swarms and brains, no individual bee or neuron has an overview, but with many independent individuals providing different pieces of information the group achieves optimal decision-making. Ants similarly organize themselves to make collective decisions, Seeley said.

"Consistencies like these suggest that there are general principles of organization for building groups far smarter than the smartest individuals in them," Seeley writes.
Humans can learn much about democratic decision-making by looking at bees, Seeley says. If the members of a group have common interests, such as the bees in a swarm, then the keys to good collective decision-making are to ensure the group contains diverse members and an impartial leader -- and conducts open debates.


Thomas D Seeley

My analyses of collective decision-making by honey bee colonies indicate that a group will possess a high level of SI if among the group’s members there is: 

1) diversity of knowledge about the available options,
2) open and honest sharing of information about the options,
3) independence in the members’ evaluations of the options,
4) unbiased aggregation of the members’ opinions on the options, and
5) leadership that fosters but does not dominate the discussion.

Future explorations will examine when a group benefits from using the organizational mechanisms of SI (distributed data collection, collective information processing, and democratic choice) or when a group is better off being led by high-performing individuals.

Further reading:
Seeley, T.D. 1995.  The Wisdom of the Hive.  Harvard University Press.
Seeley, T.D. 2010.  Honeybee Democracy.  Princeton University Press.


2012-10-12

Mice can sing and learn new tunes

Singing mice show signs of learning

"We are claiming that mice have limited versions of the brain and behavior traits for vocal learning that are found in humans for learning speech and in birds for learning song," said Duke neurobiologist Erich Jarvis, who oversaw the study. The results appear Oct. 10 in PLOS ONE and are further described in a review article in Brain and Language.

The discovery contradicts scientists' 60-year-old assumption that mice do not have vocal learning traits at all. "If we're not wrong, these findings will be a big boost to scientists studying diseases like autism and anxiety disorders," said Jarvis, who is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. "The researchers who use mouse models of the vocal communication effects of these diseases will finally know the brain system that controls the mice's vocalizations."

Jarvis acknowledged that the findings are controversial because they contradict scientists' long-held assumption about mice vocalizations. His research suggests the vocal communication pathways in mice brains are more similar to those in human brains than to sound-making circuits in the brains of chimpanzees and other non-human primates. The results also contradict two recent studies suggesting mice do not match pitch or have deafness-induced vocalization changes.

Singing Mice Show Signs of Learning | Duke Today

Male mice may learn to match other males' ultrasonic squeaks to get the girls. Credit: iStock.

In the study, funded by HHMI, NSF and NIH, Arriaga first used gene expression markers, which lit up neurons in the motor cortex of the mice's brain as they sang. Arriaga then damaged these song-specific neurons in the motor cortex and observed that the mice couldn’t keep their songs on pitch or repeat them as consistently, which also happened when the mice became deaf.

This image shows the motor cortex neurons that directly project to the brainstem and ultimately control the larynx of male mice. Credit: Gustavo Arriaga and Erich Jarvis, Duke.

PLOS ONE: Of Mice, Birds, and Men: The Mouse Ultrasonic Song System Has Some Features Similar to Humans and Song-Learning Birds

Figure 1. Brain systems for vocalization in birds and mammals.

A, Typical ultrasonic song segment (sonogram) of a male B6D2F1/J (BxD) mouse produced in response to presentation of female urine. Multiple distinct syllables (letters) are produced in long sequences (sometimes over 30 sec), but only 1 second is shown so that the frequency contours and nonlinearities of individual units can be resolved. The sonogram was generated from Audio S1.
Audio S1.
Example of a normal adult BxD mouse song (audio corresponds to sonogram of USVs in Figure 1A ).
(WAV)

Duke Institute for Brain Sciences - Jarvis, Erich - Ph.D. | Duke Institute for Brain Sciences | Brain Research

Erich Jarvis, Ph.D.

Associate Professor; Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator
Neurobiology, School of Medicine
DIBS Faculty

Research Description

Our goal is to understanding the molecular mechanisms that construct, modify, and maintain neural circuits for vocal learning. Vocal learning is the ability to modify or imitate the acoustic structure and sequence of vocalizations and is a critical behavioral substrate for spoken language. Studying these mechanisms requires that we compare the genes, vocal behavior, and associated brain pathways of the few rare groups that have vocal learning with the vast majority of species that do not. [...]


2012-10-06

Comet ISON Celestial Show in November 2013


BIG SUN-DIVING COMET DISCOVERED: Astronomy forums are buzzing with speculation about newly-discovered Comet C/2012 S1 (ISON). Currently located beyond the orbit of Jupiter, Comet ISON is heading for a very close encounter with the sun next year. In Nov. 2013, it will pass less than 0.012 AU (1.8 million km) from the solar surface. The fierce heating it experiences then could turn the comet into a bright naked-eye object.


THE GREAT COMET OF 1680

The orbital elements of ISON are so surprisingly similar to that of the Comet of 1680 that it has caused speculation in the astronomy community that the two bodies may have once been one comet. [...] This could develop into a “once in a lifetime” opportunity for spectators in the Northern Hemisphere to witness and photograph a truly great comet.



According to a number of articles that appeared at about the same time, the comet's orbit is taking it nearly directly at the Sun, and will get within 1.4 million kilometers of the Sun's surface in November of next year, which should provide a lot of heat to melt the surface and expel gas from the comet. By January, it will be about 60 million kilometers from Earth.

New comet might blaze brighter than the full Moon

Comet brightness predictions sometimes exceed their performance. Amateur astronomers of a certain age may remember the Comet Kohoutek hype of 1973 – not quite the 'damp squib' it has been portrayed, since it reached naked eye visibility! Even if C/2012 S1 takes on the same light curve as Kohoutek it is certain to be spectacular, quite possibly a once-in-a-civilisation's-lifetime event.


2012-10-03

Telenoid, a "minimalistic human" Jazz-singing robot

Telenoid R1 bot meant to be 'minimalistic human' | Crave - CNET


Telenoid is a child-sized telepresence robot through which users can interact with others from a distance. Created in collaboration with Osaka University and Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International (ATR), Telenoid is a tool for investigating "the essential elements for representing and transferring humanlike presence," according to Ishiguro and his team.

Telenoid

Features of Telenoid R1 include:
  • A novel minimalistic design that can effectively represent human presence
  • Soft and pleasant body
  • Low cost due to decreased numbers of actuators
    (Telenoid R1:9、Geminoid™ HI-1:50、Geminoid™ F:12)
  • Small-size body and simple internal structure by use of electric (DC) motors
  • Easy teleoperation based on the teleoperation technology developed by ATR
Source: Telenoid


Consciousness and All That Jazz

Could a robot that sings jazz be the key to understanding and harnessing robot intelligence?
That is the hopes of researcher Antonio Chella at the University of Palermo, Italy.

Jazz-singing robot could shed light on consciousness - tech - 27 September 2012 - New Scientist

Antonio Chella at the University of Palermo, Italy, is working with a Telenoid robot, developed by the Hiroshi Ishiguro Laboratory in Japan (pictured). To start with, the Telenoid will be trained to mimic the movements and simple sounds made by a human singer, as well as associate parts of music with different emotional states. Chella then plans to see if the robot can use these associations to improvise - choosing movements and vocalisations that complement its human duet partner.

Intelligence is often defined as the ability to find connections between existing entities - understanding that a key goes in a lock, for instance. But Chella suggests that a conscious organism should be able to go a step further and introduce novel connections - between, say, musical phrases - that result in the creation of something new. That, in essence, is the idea behind improvisation.

Jazz musicians interviewed by Chella talked of having a mental library of musical phrases that they were able to combine in new ways when prompted by other musicians. Importantly, however, this combination happens in a state that is "similar in a sense to dreaming", he says. "Not really conscious, but not unconscious." Chella wants to replicate these states in a machine. "Consciousness could be linked to these moments of combination," he says.