It's been an interesting week for science and technology headlines and here are five I would like to share with you:
- Implanted Brain Chips Create Brain-to-Brain Interface;
- New App for Smartphones Lets You Check Your Urine;
- Chinese Invent New Water-Saving Irrigation Technology;
- Space-Based Solar Power Starting to Heat Up;
- Tagged Elephant Seals Solve Missing Piece in Global Climate Puzzle.
Rats Communicate Brain-to-Brain Using Installed Chips
Neuroscientists at Duke University have installed brain chips in rats and tested to see if the actions of one isolated rat can be transmitted to another one without visual cues. The brain-to-brain interface (BTBI) in the study allowed for a real-time transfer of meaningful action from one rat to another resulting in similar action from the rat receiving the signal. Watch the video of the experiment posted on YouTube.
The Duke study follows earlier experiments linking animal brains to machines through an implanted brain chip. The BTBI works in both directions. Researchers were able to show that the rats exhibited behavioral collaboration over time even though they were never together. BTBI also worked over long distance with researchers getting rats to collaborate, one located in Brazil and the other in Durham, North Carolina. The neuroscientists see the potential to develop collaborative networks of animal and machine brains to provide solutions that individual brains cannot solve.
Urinalysis App Comes to Your Smartphone
Biosense Technologies, a company from India, has created a smartphone app for Apple's iPhone called uChek which anyone can use to do their own urinalysis. The app, soon to be downloadable from Apple's App Store for $99 will also require the user to purchase chemical test strips for another $20.
How does the app work? Just like the standard urinalysis done at your doctor's office or at a medical laboratory. Collect your urine in a cup. Dip the test strip in the urine for a couple of seconds. Then place the test strip on a color-coded mat that comes with the uChek application. The test strip changes color to reflect chemicals concentrated in the urine. Using the app take a picture with the iPhone camera. The app then analyzes what it sees and produces easily understood information in graphical format.
A cautionary note. Don't do this test over an open toilet bowl. You don't want to have to fish out your iPhone should you drop it.
Chinese Scientists Improve Irrigation Technology to Use 50% Less Water
In arid farming areas drip irrigation is commonly used. But as the world witnesses growing droughts and freshwater scarcity, any improvement that reduces the amount of water needed to sustain growing crops can mean the difference between feast and famine.
Researchers at Huazhong University of Science and Technology, in Wuhan, have developed trace quantity irrigation. The technology deploys control taps buried close to plant roots. The taps sense the rise and fall of moisture levels in the soil and then deliver water where needed. Films within the tap prevent reverse osmosis and clogging.
The team who invented and perfected the technology were able to successfully grow field and greenhouse crops in a variety of regions across China. Considered at least 50% more effective than Israeli-developed drip technology, trace quantity irrigation should allow China to expand the amount of land it has under cultivation into marginal areas previously prone to drought and considered unreliable for crop production.
Is Space-Based Solar Power Going to be Part of our Renewable Energy Mix in the Near Future?
If projects like SPS-Alpha get from the drawing board to production then the answer will be yes but the timelines remain 10 to 15 years in the future.
Delivering solar power from space is not a new idea. It has been envisioned for decades but always has been seen as expensive to build and maintain in the harsh vacuum and extreme heat and cold of space.
SPS-ALPHA, proposed by John Mankins, a 25-year NASA veteran, involves launching into space thousands of lightweight, inflatable mirror-surfaced modules which then would be assembled into a bell-shaped funnel (see picture below). The mirrors would concentrate sunlight onto targeted solar panels. The energy generated would then be converted to microwaves and transmitted to ground stations on Earth providing a renewable power source.
Cost of the project - between $15 and $20 billion.
Mankins hopes to find a wealthy benefactor or consortium of eco-billionaires who collectively could fund the venture. Sir Richard Branson, Elon Musk, Michael Bloomberg, Jeff Skoll and Peter Thiel, are you listening?
Elephant Seals in Antarctica Help Discover Oceanic Heat-Sink
Researchers who fitted satellite-tracking tags on elephant seals have uncovered a source of deep-ocean cold water streams that plays an important role in regulating global climate. Water off Antarctica is highly saline and more dense than other seawater so it naturally sinks to the bottom of the ocean and then circulates slowly in a northerly direction away from the continent.
The tagged elephant seals forage in areas of the ocean off Antarctica's Cape Darnley where few humans ever venture. In tracking their activities the researchers were able to get wintertime measurements of the continental slope as far down as 1,800 meters (over 5,900 feet). That's when they discovered a densely saline waterfall descending to the deep ocean. The discovery fills a gap in climatologists' understanding of the role Antarctica's ice sheets and the surrounding Southern Ocean play in global climate.
Toronto got a renewed taste of winter this week with two days of wet snow covering the city to a depth of 25-30 centimeters (over a foot). I normally wouldn't mention the weather but I can tell you these last few weeks with multiple snow dumps has made me want to hop back on a plane to Jamaica.
Thanks for continuing to visit this site to read my postings. If you have a subject we have yet to cover in science and technology that you feel has merit, or if the muse strikes you to write something yourself, please contact me. Your contributions, questions and comments are always welcome.
- Len Rosen
Essays and comments posted in World Future Society and THE FUTURIST magazine blog portion of this site are the intellectual property of the authors, who retain full responsibility for and rights to their content. For permission to publish, distribute copies, use excerpts, etc., please contact the author. The opinions expressed are those of the author. The World Future Society takes no stand on what the future will or should be like.
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This is my last posting for the next few days. I will be taking my office apart so that we can move to our new apartment downtown next Tuesday. I will be unplugged and disconnected except by tablet. Expect me to be back in the saddle before the end of next week probably in time to provide you with some more headlines. In the interim these are the stories I share with you this week:
Today, literally thousands of alternative transportation vehicles are coming out of the woodwork and they nearly all have the same problem – no place to drive them. Most are banned from biking and hiking trails, and they are neither licensed, nor licensable, for use on the streets. I’d like to discuss some new possible solutions and why Colorado is poised to take the lead in the alternative transportation marketplace.
In a recent conference promoting not only their latest gizmos but their company's animating vision as well, Google executives declared they were working toward a future in which technology "disappears," "fades into the background," becomes more "intuitive and anticipatory." Commenting on this apparently "bizarre mission for a tech company," Bianca Bosker warns that their genial and enthusiastic promotional language masks Google's aspiration to omnipresence via invisibility, an effort to render us dependent and uncritical of their prevalence through its marketing as easy, intuitive, companionable.
Occasionally during meetings one of my staff – an avid birder – will elbow me and I’ll look up and glimpse a bald eagle. Each time, I am in awe. I live in Washington State, which is home to a plethora of eagles, where pods of Orca ply the waters near the San Juan Islands, and where roads are sometimes blocked by herds of elk.
In this month's Report on Business Magazine, a supplement that comes with The Globe and Mail, one of Canada's national newspapers, Stanford University's Mark Jacobson provides a best case scenario
According to The Hollywood Reporter, celebrity tech CEO Peter Thiel is upset that movies like The Matrix and Avatar make technological innovation seem "destructive and dysfunctional."
A team of researchers are asking the public to help them locate and count all the sources of CO2 coming from power plants on the planet.
Initial results from a selective breeding program at the National Institute of Agricultural Botany based in Cambridge in the UK, indicate the successful creation of a new super wheat.