Xenophilia (True Strange Stuff)

Blog of the real Xenophilius Lovegood, a slightly mad scientist

Archive for January 27th, 2010

Are there aliens in your nose?

Posted by Anonymous on January 27, 2010

microbes.jpgThis week the Royal Society in London is holding a two day meet-up for scientists to talk about the state of our search for extraterrestrial life.

At a lecture today, astrobiologist Paul Davies of Arizona State University told the crowd that he thinks aliens already walk among us. Well, maybe not walk—more like float, or wiggle, or however else bacteria may locomote.

According to the Associated Press, Davies thinks that life from elsewhere in the galaxy has made its way to Earth at several points in human history. It’s possible, he says, that alien life is “right under our noses—or even in our noses.”

And why not? So many science-fiction writers seem convinced that if aliens of any shape or size were to come to Earth, they’ll be bad for humans and hence immediately noticable. Giant robots! Predatory stalkers!! Killer pathogens!!! Yes, Michael Crichton, I’m looking at you.

But that certainly doesn’t have to be the case.

For starters, consider the odds of an intelligent race of beings existing elsewhere in the universe.

via Breaking Orbit.

Posted in Aliens, Biology, Space | Leave a Comment »

First Detailed Pictures: Antarctica’s “Ghost Mountains”

Posted by Anonymous on January 27, 2010

http://s.ngeo.com/wpf/media-live/photologue/photos/2010/01/20/cache/025673_600x450.jpgHidden miles beneath the surface of an ice sheet (shown in blue), the so-called ghost peaks in the middle of Antarctica are finally coming into view, researchers announced last month.

Ground-penetrating radar results from 2008 and 2009 have made possible the most detailed images yet (such as the one above) of the Gamburtsev Mountains—and it’s a surprisingly serrated range, the experts say.

The radar-based images reveal a slightly exaggerated view of the jagged, roughly 8,500-foot-tall (2,600-meter-tall) peaks. The range likely formed millions of years before becoming covered in Antarctic ice, said geophysicist Robin Bell of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, who led America’s Gamburtsev Province Project as part of the International Polar Year (2007-08) science program.

In size and shape, Bell said, the Gamburtsevs resemble the United States’ Cascade Range, home of Mount Rainier …

via First Detailed Pictures: Antarctica’s “Ghost Mountains”.

Posted in Earth | Leave a Comment »

Energy-harvesting rubber sheets could power pacemakers, mobile phones

Posted by Anonymous on January 27, 2010

Power-generating rubber films developed by Princeton University engineers could harness natural body movements such as breathing and walking to power pacemakers, mobile phones and other electronic devices.

The material, composed of ceramic nanoribbons embedded onto silicone rubber sheets, generates electricity when flexed and is highly efficient at converting mechanical energy to electrical energy. Shoes made of the material may one day harvest the pounding of walking and running to power mobile electrical devices. Placed against the lungs, sheets of the material could use breathing motions to power pacemakers, obviating the current need for surgical replacement of the batteries which power the devices.

A paper on the new material, titled “Piezoelectric Ribbons Printed onto Rubber for Flexible Energy Conversion,” was published online Jan. 26, in Nano Letters, a journal of the American Chemical Society. The research was funded by the United States Intelligence Community, a cooperative of federal intelligence and national security agencies.

The Princeton team is the first to successfully combine silicone and nanoribbons of lead zirconate titanate (PZT), a ceramic material that is piezoelectric, meaning it generates an electrical voltage when pressure is applied to it. Of all piezoelectric materials, PZT is the most efficient, able to convert 80% of the mechanical energy applied to it into electrical energy.

“PZT is 100 times more efficient than quartz, another piezoelectric material,” said Michael McAlpine, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, at Princeton, who led the project. “You don’t generate that much power from walking or breathing, so you want to harness it as efficiently as possible.”

The researchers first fabricated PZT nanoribbons – strips so narrow that 100 fit side-by-side in a space of a millimeter. In a separate process, they embedded these ribbons into clear sheets of silicone rubber, creating what they call “piezo-rubber chips.” Because the silicone is biocompatible, it is already used for cosmetic implants and medical devices. “The new electricity-harvesting devices could be implanted in the body to perpetually power medical devices, and the body wouldn’t reject them,” McAlpine said.

In addition to generating electricity when it is flexed, the opposite is true: the material flexes when electrical current is applied to it. This opens the door to other kinds of applications, such as use for microsurgical devices, McAlpine said.

“The beauty of this is that it’s scalable,” said Yi Qi, a postdoctoral researcher who works with McAlpine. “As we get better at making these chips, we’ll be able to make larger and larger sheets of them that will harvest more energy.”

via Energy-harvesting rubber sheets could power pacemakers, mobile phones.

Could you make roads of this material?

Posted in Alt Energy, Technology | Leave a Comment »

Brain responses during anesthesia mimic those during natural deep sleep

Posted by Anonymous on January 27, 2010

http://www.dailygalaxy.com/photos/uncategorized/2007/05/23/blue_brain_5.jpgThe brains of people under anesthesia respond to stimuli as they do in the deepest part of sleep – lending credence to a developing theory of consciousness and suggesting a new method to assess loss of consciousness in conditions such as coma.

Scientists at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, led by brain researcher Fabio Ferrarelli, reported their findings in this week’s edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

The group gave the anesthetic midazolam, commonly used at lower doses in “conscious sedation” procedures such as colonoscopies, to volunteers.

Then they used transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), a noninvasive technique to stimulate the brain cortical neurons from the scalp, in combination with electroencephalography (EEG), which recorded the TMS-evoked brain responses. What they found is a pattern that looks much as it does when the brain is in deep, non-rapid eye movement (non-REM) sleep, another condition when consciousness fades.

Co-author and consciousness expert Giulio Tononi says that when the brain is unconscious it appears to lose the connectivity that underlies the coordinated, yet differentiated responses to electrical stimuli observed when the brain is awake or in REM sleep. The group’s earlier studies demonstrated the differences between the sleeping and awake brain.

“Based on a theory about how consciousness is generated, we expect to see a response that is both integrated and differentiated when the brain is conscious,” says Tononi, professor of psychiatry. “When there is a loss of consciousness, either due to sleep or anesthesia, the response is radically different. We see a stereotyped burst of activity that remains localized and fades quickly.”

The team believes that the response patterns observed in the awake brain, characterized by long-lasting activations moving over time to different cortical areas, reflect the connectivity of the cortical areas activated by TMS. This could be because when we are awake, the cortex is involved in many activities which require a constant communication between different cortical areas. But in the unconscious brain, this connectivity is temporarily lost, and therefore the TMS-evoked brain responses remain localized.

Ferrarelli says the results lend weight to the idea that a breakdown of cortical connectivity is a key aspect of loss of consciousness, and are consistent with the “integrated information theory of consciousness.”

Co-author Dr. Robert Pearce, chair and professor of anesthesiology at UW SMPH, said it is interesting that the cortical responses under anesthesia were so similar to changes seen during natural sleep.

“The idea that some anesthetics “hijack” the natural sleep-promoting centers was proposed recently by others,” says Pearce. “While our present findings do not directly confirm this hypothesis, they are consistent with a set of shared mechanisms. That is, that the loss of functional connectivity between brain regions is a characteristic that sleep and anesthesia share, and that we think might be causal in the loss of consciousness in both cases.” …

via Brain responses during anesthesia mimic those during natural deep sleep.

What is IIT?

Since the early days of computers, scholars have argued that the subjective, phenomenal states that make up the life of the mind are intimately linked to the information expressed at that time by the brain. Yet they have lacked the tools to turn this hunch into a concrete and predictive theory. Enter psychiatrist and neuroscientist Giulio Tononi of the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Tononi has developed and refined what he calls the integrated information theory (IIT) of consciousness.

An Integrated Theory
IIT is based on two axiomatic pillars.

First, conscious states are highly differentiated; they are informationally very rich. You can be conscious of an uncountable number of things: you can watch your son’s piano recital, for instance; you can see the flowers in the garden outside or the Gauguin painting on the wall. Think of all the frames from all the movies you have ever seen or that have ever been filmed or that will be filmed! Each frame, each view, is a specific conscious percept.

Second, this information is highly integrated. No matter how hard you try, you cannot force yourself to see the world in black-and-white, nor can you see only the left half of your field of view and not the right. When you’re looking at your friend’s face, you can’t fail to also notice if she is crying. Whatever information you are conscious of is wholly and completely presented to your mind; it cannot be subdivided. Underlying this unity of consciousness is a multitude of causal interactions among the relevant parts of your brain. If areas of the brain start to disconnect or become fragmented and balkanized, as occurs in deep sleep or in anesthesia, consciousness fades and might cease altogether. Consider split-brain patients, whose corpus callosum—the 200 million wires linking the two cortical hemispheres—has been cut to alleviate severe epileptic seizures. The surgery literally splits the person’s consciousness in two, with one conscious mind associated with the left hemisphere and seeing the right half of the visual field and the other mind arising from the right hemisphere and seeing the left half of the visual field. – ref

Posted in Biology, Mind | Leave a Comment »

Paleontology news: Lost Roman law code discovered in London

Posted by Anonymous on January 27, 2010

Part of an ancient Roman law code previously thought to have been lost forever has been discovered by researchers at UCL’s Department of History. Simon Corcoran and Benet Salway made the breakthrough after piecing together 17 fragments of previously incomprehensible parchment. The fragments were being studied at UCL as part of the Arts & Humanities Research Council-funded “Projet Volterra” – a ten year study of Roman law in its full social, legal and political context. Corcoran and Salway found that the text belonged to the Codex Gregorianus, or Gregorian Code, a collection of laws by emperors from Hadrian (AD 117-138) to Diocletian (AD 284-305), which was published circa AD 300. Little was known about the codex’s original form and there were, until now, no known copies in existence.

“The fragments bear the text of a Latin work in a clear calligraphic script, perhaps dating as far back as AD 400,” said Dr Salway. “It uses a number of abbreviations characteristic of legal texts and the presence of writing on both sides of the fragments indicates that they belong to a page or pages from a late antique codex book – rather than a scroll or a lawyer’s loose-leaf notes.

“The fragments contain a collection of responses by a series of Roman emperors to questions on legal matters submitted by members of the public,” continued Dr Salway. “The responses are arranged chronologically and grouped into thematic chapters under highlighted headings, with corrections and readers’ annotations between the lines. The notes show that this particular copy received intensive use.”

via Paleontology news: Lost Roman law code discovered in London.

Posted in Archaeology | Leave a Comment »

The Chimpcam Project: Chimpanzees make their own film

Posted by Anonymous on January 27, 2010

A chimpanzee at Edinburgh Zoo uses a special chimp-proof camera A chimpanzee holds a video camera in a protective case With the fashion for shaky cameras amongst TV crews you could be forgiven for thinking they are being operated by monkeys.

That is exactly what is happening with the BBC to show the first ever film shot by chimpanzees.

Around 11 of the animals at Edinburgh Zoo spent the last 18 months filming each other as they carry around a special ‘chimpcam’ device.

…Producer John Capener said he came up with the idea for the experiment after he watched a TV show a couple of years ago which thought was so bad that the chimps could make a better go of it.

He said: ‘The idea stuck in my head and I wondered if chimps really could film. They’re very strong and aggressive, but I thought if we could find a way for the camera to survive it would make for some interesting footage.

‘We were dealing with an average group of chimps, but they worked with us very well and gave it their best. I’m pretty sure they understood the filming.’

Miss Herrelko added that the programme tested the extent to which chimps were aware of the link between seeing and filming.

She said: ‘They never got bored of filming unless the monitor died.’

Four hours of footage was filmed and now Mr Capener said he is looking a further projects like this with different animals.

via The Chimpcam Project: Chimpanzees given special video camera to make their own film | Mail Online.

After 18 months of filming, I wonder if this was really the best 1 minute.

Posted in Art, Humor, Technology | Leave a Comment »

UFO sighting puzzles N.L. residents

Posted by Anonymous on January 27, 2010

Residents of Harbour Mille, on Newfoundland's south coast, reported seeing this object fly over their community Monday night.Residents of Harbour Mille, on Newfoundland’s south coast, reported seeing this object fly over their community Monday night. (Courtesy: Darlene Stewart)

Residents in Harbour Mille, a tiny community on Newfoundland’s south coast, want to know what they saw in the sky Monday night.

Darlene Stewart said she was outside taking pictures of the sunset when she saw something fly overhead.

She snapped a picture of the object in an attempt to zoom in on it to see what it was.

“Even with the camera, I couldn’t make it out until I put it on the computer,” she told CBC News. “I knew then it wasn’t an airplane. It was something different.”

Stewart’s picture shows a blurry image of what appears to be some kind of missile-like object emitting either flames or heavy smoke.

Emmy Pardy also saw the object.

“It appeared to come out of the ocean,” she told CBC News. “It was like it was in the middle of the bay.”

An RCMP officer was in the community Tuesday to investigate the reports.

Pardy said she’d like to know what the object was.

“It’s kind of scary because you don’t know if something is being set off out in the bay, [or] if someone is doing experiments,” she said.

The residents plan to be outdoors again Tuesday evening to see if there is a similar sight in the sky.

via CBC News – Nfld. & Labrador – UFO sighting puzzles N.L. residents.

Posted in UFOs | Leave a Comment »

Losing sleep, losing brain?

Posted by Anonymous on January 27, 2010

Chronic and severely stressful situations, like those connected to depression and posttraumatic stress disorder, have been associated with smaller volumes in “stress sensitive” brain regions, such as the cingulate region of the cerebral cortex and the hippocampus, a brain region involved in memory formation. A new study, published by Elsevier in Biological Psychiatry, suggests that chronic insomnia may be another condition associated with reduced cortical volume.

Using a specialized technique called voxel-based morphometry, Ellemarije Altena and Ysbrand van der Werf from the research group of Eus van Someren evaluated the brain volumes of persons with chronic insomnia who were otherwise psychiatrically healthy, and compared them to healthy persons without sleep problems. They found that insomnia patients had a smaller volume of gray matter in the left orbitofrontal cortex, which was strongly correlated with their subjective severity of insomnia.

“We show, for the first time, that insomnia patients have lower grey matter density in brain regions involved in the evaluation of the pleasantness of stimuli, as well as in regions related to the brain’s ‘resting state’. The more severe the sleeping problems of insomniacs, the less grey matter density they have in the region involved in pleasantness evaluation, which may also be important for the recognition of optimal comfort to fall asleep,” explained Altena. She added, “Our group previously showed that insomniacs have difficulties with recognizing optimal comfort. These findings urge further investigation into the definition of subtypes of insomnia and their causal factors, for which we have now initiated the Netherlands Sleep Registry.”

Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry, commented, that “insomnia is a common feature of nearly every psychiatric condition associated with reduced cortical volume; in fact, it is a common symptom of psychiatric disorders or high levels of life stress, generally. The study by Altena and colleagues suggests that there are additional risks of not treating insomnia, such as detrimental effects on the microstructure of the brain.”

via Losing sleep, losing brain?.

Posted in Biology, Health | 1 Comment »

Fat Tissue May Be a Source of Valuable Blood Stem Cells, Study Says

Posted by Anonymous on January 27, 2010

http://247wallst.files.wordpress.com/2009/12/stem-cell.jpg?w=482&h=305Bone marrow is a leading source of adult stem cells, which are increasingly used for research and therapeutic interventions, but extracting the cells is an arduous and often painful process. Now, researchers have found evidence that fat tissue, known as adipose tissue, may be a promising new source of valuable and easy-to-obtain regenerative cells called hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells (HSPCs), according to a study prepublished online in Blood, the official journal of the American Society of Hematology.

“It’s not outside the realm of possibility that a donor graft of adipose tissue-derived HSPCs might be able to partially replace the need for bone marrow transplantation within 10 years,” said lead study author Gou Young Koh, MD, PhD, of the Department of Biological Sciences, Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) in Daedeok Science Town, Daejeon, South Korea.

HSPCs are powerful cells that have the ability to regenerate and develop into many different kinds of cells. With advances in technologies and understanding of cell functions, HSPCs are now used to repair damaged tissue and are being studied for their potential to treat a vast array of chronic and degenerative conditions. HSPCs are found in high quantities in the bone marrow, but a certain portion known as extramedullary tissue, found outside of bone marrow, circulate between the marrow and the peripheral blood.

Previous research has found that adipose tissue contains many different types of adult stem cells. In this study, researchers hypothesized that the adipose tissue might be a valuable alternative source of HSPCs as an extramedullary tissue but questioned whether the tissue could provide a sufficient quantity of cells to be used for research and therapeutic purposes….

via Fat Tissue May Be a Source of Valuable Blood Stem Cells, Study Says.

Posted in Biology | Leave a Comment »

British crocodiles ‘taught to recognise their names’

Posted by Anonymous on January 27, 2010

British crocodiles 'taught to recognise their names' : A crocodile at the Blue Planet Aquarium in CheshireThe reptiles, Paleo and Suchus, have been taught to listen for their names being called, it was claimed.

Keepers at the centre in Ellesmere Port, Merseyside, they are even learning when to open their mouths for food.

They ssaid the type of training had worked with mammals before but hardly ever with reptiles.

“They are very intelligent and started responding to their names in just a few days,” said Tom Cornwall, the aquarium’s manager.

In a bid to train them, the crocodiles, which are called Cuvier’s dwarf caiman, are given food as a prize if they react in the right way.

The training takes its idea from a similar scheme run at the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust in India.

Once fully trained, the aquarium’s zoological team will set up “enrichment activities” for the pair.

Mr Cornwall, Blue Planet Aquarium’s ranger and exhibits manager, added: “As well as enabling us to approach them and inspect and treat any potential health issues it will also allow us to set up tasks and foraging exercises for them to mimic the types of behaviour they would have to use in the wild.”

Found throughout South America, the Cuvier’s dwarf caiman usually live in freshwater habitats like rivers, including the Amazon, flooded forests and larger lakes.

via British crocodiles ‘taught to recognise their names’ – Telegraph.

Crocodiles are very intelligent. That’s why I stopped eating them years ago.  I used to have a few crocodiles with my eggs and toast each morning, but I’ve turned over a new leaf.

Posted in Biology | Leave a Comment »

 
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