Top 10 Latest Science News: November 2017

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The top 10 latest Science News picks for November 2017 are here! The best thing about the world of Science is that it doesn’t cease to amaze, and it just, simply doesn’t cease. November was quite eventful and in case you missed something, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered! *wink wink*

Top 10 Latest Science News for November 2017

1. New Motion Sensors Pave Way For Low-Cost Wearable Tech

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Credit: FSU Photography Services

All thanks to researchers from the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering, a new class of motion sensors has been brought into existence that could help the field of wearable technology evolve and become more affordable yet high-performance.

The research was published in the journal Materials and Design (ScienceDirect), in which the engineers from FSU and scientists from Institut National des Sciences Appliquées in Lyon, France, have detailed the properties and the economic manufacturing process of the motion sensors in context.

These motion sensors are made using buckypaper, which refers to extremely flexible, thin sheets of pure and durable carbon nanotubes. The buckypaper sensors mark a significant and sophisticated improvement as compared to their current counterparts which are, quoting FSU’s article, ‘too crude or too inflexible to reliably monitor complex structures like the human body.’

Richard Liang, director (High-Performance Materials Institute) and professor at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering, is of the opinion that sensor technology needs to be flexible, affordable, and scalable. He claims that this new technology is ‘versatile’ and opens doors for numerous possibilities.

The potential applications range from bedsheets that monitor the quality of sleep to shoes that keep track of step-count, to even soft robotics where this tech can help produce self-correcting, responsive artificial muscles.

Full Release: ScienceDaily, Florida State University, ScienceDirect

Also ReadWearable Tech: What’s New and What You Need to Know

2. The First Interstellar Asteroid’s Shape – Totally Unexpected

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Artist’s impression of the interstellar asteroid `Oumuamua. Credit: ESO

It is for the very first time that astronomers have observed and studied an asteroid that has arrived from interstellar space into our solar system. The study reveals that the object had been traveling in space for millions of years before it’s eventual visit to our solar system.

For an asteroid, what sets it apart is its shape and form. On being observed by the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope, as well as by observatories all around the world, it appeared to be reddish, dark, elongated and thin (as is visible in the image from ESO). It is estimated to be dense, rocky, or perhaps with high metal content.

When observed, it was originally classified as a comet, but on close study, since no cometary activity was observed, the object was reclassified as an asteroid and named 1I/2017 U1 – `Oumuamua, which is Hawaiian for ‘a messenger from afar arriving first’ – considering that it has traveled for millions of years before entering our solar system and also that it is the first interstellar object to have been observed up-close within our solar system.

As per astronomers, interstellar objects such as `Oumuamua pass through our inner solar system once every year but since they are hard to spot and faint, they have been missed until now.

Full Release: ScienceDaily, The Verge, European Southern Observatory

3. Lightning Strikes Create Antimatter!

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Credit: Pexels

If you think you know well about thunderstorms, I’m going to ask you to think again. The thrill of a nice, loud thunderstorm has just gotten better!

In a recent study published in the journal, Nature, researchers from the Kyoto University of Japan have described how lightning strikes cause photonuclear reactions in the atmosphere, creating antimatter. Gamma rays from lightning react with the atmospheric gases,  producing radioisotopes and even positrons — the antimatter equivalent of electrons.

Teruaki Enoto from Kyoto University and his team started with their research in 2015 by building gamma ray detectors and placing them in suitable places on coastal regions where thunderstorms are ideal to observe.

They faced funding problems due to which the research suffered for a while. They soon set up a crowdfunding campaign for their cause, which received a lot of support, and the work was back on track.

It was on February 6, 2017, that the team’s hypothesis proved to be the reality.

Full Release: ScienceDaily, Kyoto University, Nature

4. The Key Component For Quantum Computing Has Been Invented!

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Lead author of the study, PhD candidate Alice Mahoney, in the quantum science laboratories at the Sydney Nanoscience Hub.
Image Courtesy: University of Sydney

A team of physicists at the University of Sydney, Microsoft, and the Stanford University (USA) has engineered (miniaturized, in particular) a component which is vital for the scale-up of quantum computing. The research was published in the journal Nature Communications. The component is based on the first practical application of a new phase of matter, the topological insulator, the discovery of which was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2016.

Unlike solid, liquid and gas, topological insulators are materials that operate as conductors on the surface, but in the bulk of their structures, they act as insulators. It is through the manipulation of these materials that the circuitry required for the interaction between quantum and classical systems is constructed, which is inevitable for the building of a practical quantum computer.

The component, dubbed the microwave circulator, ensures that electrical signals propagate in one direction only, either clockwise or anticlockwise, as per the requirement. The microwave circulator is 1000x smaller than the common circulator device. This miniaturization is significant because it has made way for a number of circulators to be integrated onto a chip, which will be required for building quantum computers.

Full Release: ScienceDaily, University of Sydney, Nature

5. Origami-inspired, Fluid-driven Artificial Muscles For Soft Robots

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Credit: Shuguang Li/Wyss Institute at Harvard University

In the previous month’s Top 10, we learned about TWISTER, the origami-inspired bot, and this time, we have come across something equally interesting:

A team of researchers at the Wyss Institute at Harvard University along with MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) have created programmable artificial muscles (inspired by origami) in order to provide strength to soft robots such that they can lift weights up to 1000 times their own, by utilizing only air or water pressure. To add to that, these can be made in less than $1 a piece. Talk about being ingenious and efficient!

Every artificial muscle consists of an inner “skeleton”, which can be made of a metal coil, or a sheet of plastic folded into a particular pattern, surrounded by fluid and sealed inside a plastic or textile bag that functions as the “skin.” When a vacuum is applied to the inside of the bag, it initiates the muscle’s movement by causing the skin to collapse onto the skeleton, creating tension which drives the motion. No other power source or human input is required to direct the muscle’s movement; it is determined entirely by the shape and composition of the skeleton.

Incredible, right?

Full Release: ScienceDaily, Wyss Institute at Harvard

6. Amputees Can Now Control Robotic Arms With Their Minds

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Nicholas Hatsopoulos, PhD, professor in the department of Organismal Biology and Anatomy, in his Culver Hall lab Thursday, Feb. 12, 2015, on the University of Chicago campus.
Photo Credit: Jean Lachat

In a recent study published in the journal, Nature Communications, neuroscientists at the Medical Center at the University of Chicago have shown how amputees can control a robotic arm with the help of electrodes implanted in their brains.

The research explains the changes that take place in both parts of the brain that are used to control the amputated limb and the other limb. The results show that in both cases, that is, cases where the amputation was recent, as well as in cases where the amputation had taken place several years ago, both areas of the brain form new connections in order to learn how to control the device.

Previously, experiments have shown that paralyzed human patients can move robotic limbs through a brain-machine interface. This new study, in particular, is one of the first to test the feasibility of these devices in amputees.

Full Release: ScienceDaily, University of Chicago (Medical Center), Nature

Also ReadWhat To Do With A Revolutionary Artificial Intelligence? The Community Answers!

7. Smartphone & Internet Addiction Causing Brain Imbalance

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Credit: Pexels

According to a study presented by researchers at the annual meeting of the RSNA – Radiological Society of North America, on November 30, 2017, young people that have an addiction to their smartphones and the internet share an imbalance in their brain chemistry.

The fact that adolescents spend too much time on their phones instead of making any social progress in the real world is nothing new. The knowledge that this behavior could have harmful implications is also nothing new. However, as of late, researchers have started questioning both the immediate and the long-term effects of the adolescent behavior regarding their involvement in the virtual world through smartphones and internet.

Professor of Neuroradiology, Hyung Suk Seo, M.D., at the Korea University in Seoul, South Korea, along with a team of colleagues used MRS (Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy: a type of MRI which measures the brain’s chemical composition) to gather insight into the brains of teenagers addicted to their smartphones and the internet.

Dr. Seo reported that the addicted children had high scores in depression, anxiety, insomnia severity and impulsivity. As a result of this finding, the addicted youth has received cognitive behavioral therapy.

Full Release: ScienceDaily

Also ReadMobile Phones Hinder Cognitive Capability And Process

8. WASP-18b – The Hostile Exoplanet

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Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

WASP-18b; just accept it. It sounds deadly already.

When an exoplanet is observed up close, it is normal for astronomers and scientists to delve into discussions such as ‘how pro-life is this one?’, but not when it comes to WASP-18b. The planet comes under a class of planets referred to as Hot Jupiters, implying that it is, above other things, hot and absolutely enormous. WASP-18b, in particular, is estimated to be 10 times the size of our dear old Jupiter – gigantic, monster of a planet hence.

The WASP-18b is surrounded by a thick layer of atmosphere. A NASA-led team has found evidence, thanks to a number of observations made by the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes, that the stratosphere is packed with (extremely poisonous to life) carbon monoxide, and is also devoid of water. This is not just rare, but practically unheard of.

Kyle Sheppard, the lead author of this study, was quoted saying, “The composition of WASP-18b defies all expectations. We don’t know of any other extrasolar planet where carbon monoxide so completely dominates the upper atmosphere.”

Well, good thing we’re not en route to a planet that’ll try to kill us.

Full Release: BGR, ScienceDaily, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center 

9. Our Deepest Ancestors? Sponges.

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Image courtesy of Cayman Island Twilight Zone 2007 Exploration, NOAA-OE and the University of Bristol.

Surprised? Well, don’t be.

The long-lasting, incredibly heated debate regarding our most ancient lineage, seems to have finally arrived at a conclusion. It was a competition between simple sponges and complex comb jellies. And, in the name of evolution, the winner is – sponge.

Full Release: ScienceDaily, University of Bristol

10. FingerSound: Wearable Ring Allows Users to Write With the Whirl of a Thumb

Researchers from Georgia Tech have devised a new piece of tech that allows you to trace letters and numbers with your thumb, on your fingers to have them appear on a nearby computer screen as a result.

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Credit: Georgia Tech

The system is triggered by the thumb ring which is outfitted with a microphone and a gyroscope. The hardware detects the movement of the thumb across the fingers and produces results that are visible on a nearby screen.

The researchers say that the future uses of this tech could be sending phone calls straight to voicemail or answer text messages without even reaching for your phone or even looking at it.

Thad Starner, the professor from the Georgia Tech School of Interactive Computing who is leading the project, even suggests a possible application for FingerSound in VR, which would erase the need to dismount headsets to input commands via keyboard or mouse.

Full Release: ScienceDaily, Georgia Institute of Technology

Also ReadTop 10 Science News of the Month: October 2017