Jun 14, 2017


The Weird Little Industry Behind a Mesmerizing Instrument

Josiah Collett, a 10-year-old autistic boy from Broxbourne, England, had always struggled with social interactions. But things were getting worse. In school, his peers told him that he shouldn’t be alive. He spent nights crying, unable to explain to his parents what had happened.

“He was retreating into his own world,” his mother Georgia told me. “We couldn’t get through to him, and he couldn’t get through to us.”

During a family vacation to Belgium, the Collett family heard a “gorgeous, hypnotic sound” coming from the distance. They followed it down the street and found a busker playing something that looked like a cross between a caveman tool and a flying saucer. The busker tapped the instrument, called a “handpan,” which emitted both drum-like rhythms and delicate harmonies.

The mix of percussion and melody intrigued Georgia, Josiah’s mother. Josiah was always preternaturally talented when it came to music—he taught himself to play drums when he was two years old—and Georgia wondered if this new instrument, which so resembled a drum but was more expressive, might be good for Josiah.

Brain Architecture: Scientists Discover 11 Dimensional Structures That Could Help Us Understand How The Brain Works

Scientists studying the brain have discovered that the organ operates on up to 11 different dimensions, creating multiverse-like structures that are “a world we had never imagined.”

By using an advanced mathematical system, researchers were able to uncover architectural structures that appears when the brain has to process information, before they disintegrate into nothing.

Their findings, published in the journal Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience, reveals the hugely complicated processes involved in the creation of neural structures, potentially helping explain why the brain is so difficult to understand and tying together its structure with its function.

The team, led by scientists at the EPFL, Switzerland, were carrying out research as part of the Blue Brain Project—an initiative to create a biologically detailed reconstruction of the human brain. Working initially on rodent brains, the team used supercomputer simulations to study the complex interactions within different regions.

Brain images display the beauty and complexity of consciousness

THIS is what consciousness looks like – but these aren’t brain scans. Neuroscientist-turned-artist Greg Dunn created the art, aided by artist and physicist Brian Edwards, largely by hand, and using a special etching technique. “The piece was designed to be an unprecedented image of the brain,” says Dunn of his project, titled Self Reflected.

. . .

To create the artworks, Dunn first collected reams of information on the human brain, including scans and detailed depictions of neurons, and how they connect to each other. He used these as inspiration for hand drawings on transparent sheets.

Working with Edwards, Dunn fed these drawings through a computer model that mimics how neurons communicate with each other, simulating the movement of signals throughout the brain. The pair then printed the resulting patterns using a technique that etches layers of gold leaf.

As a result, the images appear to come to life as light moves across them, highlighting different layers of neurons and the flow of information between them. “We’re demonstrating the depth and breadth of neural activity that allows us to go about our existence,” says Dunn.

The Science Behind the Discovery of the Oldest Homo Sapien

According to the textbooks, all humans living today descended from a population that lived in east Africa around 200,000 years ago. This is based on reliable evidence, including genetic analyses of people from around the globe and fossil finds from Ethiopia of human-like skeletal remains from 195,000–165,000 years ago.

Now a large scientific team that I was part of has discovered new fossil bones and stone tools that challenge this view. The new studies, published in Nature, push back the origins of our species by 100,000 years and suggest that early humans likely spanned across most of the African continent at the time.

Across the globe and throughout history, humans have been interested in understanding their origins—both biological and cultural. Archaeological excavations and the artefacts they recover shed light on complex behaviours—such as tool making, symbolically burying the dead or making art. When it comes to understanding our biological origins, there are two primary sources of evidence: fossil bones and teeth. More recently, ancient genetic material such as DNA is also offering important insights.

This Vatican adviser is moving Catholics toward LGBT inclusion

In 1992, the Vatican under Pope John Paul II published the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which stated, among many other things, that “homosexual tendencies” are “objectively disordered.” One of the principal theologians who shaped the document was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who would succeed John Paul II as Pope Benedict XVI. He too would take a hard-line stance against homosexuality.

Two decades later, Pope Francis has signaled what many believe to be a softening on the matter.

In 2013, when asked about gay priests, he famously replied, “Who am I to judge?” He has continued to call for the Catholic Church to treat LGBT people with dignity and respect, and to fight discrimination against sexual minorities.

But the church may be on the cusp of another baby step in this ongoing discussion with the publication of a new book by a popular Jesuit priest, James Martin: “Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter Into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity.

Red Hair…Believe It or NOT…Comes From Neanderthal’s Genetic Mutation

Ancient DNA studied by researchers has found that a mutation resulted in red hair and light skin among Neanderthals, according to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. In the study two Neanderthals, one from Spain and one from Italy, had a mutation in the gene that controls hair and skin color.  “The mutation changes an amino acid, making the resulting protein less efficient. Modern humans have other MCR1 variants that are also less active, resulting in red hair and pale skin. The less active Neanderthal mutation probably also resulted in red hair and pale skin, as in modern humans,” according to researcher Antonio Rosas. They have also concluded that Neanderthals also likely had the same distribution of hair color as modern Eurasian populations, including a spectrum of red hair from auburn to brilliant red to strawberry blond.

Between 2% and 6% of modern northwestern Europeans have red hair, compared with an average of around 0.6% of the world’s population as a whole.  In the British Isles the numbers are much higher. In Scotland around 13% of the population have red hair, but over 30% are unknowing carriers of the redhead gene.  In Ireland about 10% have red hair, but as many as 46% are carriers.  Genetic red hair is rarer In Asia, but can be found in the Near and Middle East.

And that is just one of the many surprises, because Rosas also said, “The study of Neanderthals has provided numerous discoveries in recent years. We have moved from thinking of them as little evolved beings, to know that they took care of the sick persons, buried their deceased, ate seafood, and even had different physical features than expected: there were redhead individuals, and with light skin and eyes. So far, we thought that the sexual division of labor was typical of sapiens societies, but apparently that’s not true.”

The 400-Year-Old Mystery of These Bullet-Shattering Glass Drops May Finally Be Solved

Since the 17th century, Prince Rupert’s drops have puzzled scientists. The drops are made by dipping a bead of molten soda-lime or flint glass in cold water, which forms a tadpole-shaped piece of glass. While the head of the drop is incredibly strong and resist everything from a hammer blow to speeding bullets, just flicking the tail of the crystal can cause the whole thing to burst into powder. Now, as David Szondy at New Atlas reports, researchers have finally figured out the secrets behind these drops.

In 1994, researchers used high-speed photography to record and analyze the way the drops shatter, Lisa Zyga reports for Phys.org. They concluded that the surface of the drop has high compressive stress while the interior of the drops is under high tension. While that combo makes the head very strong, it’s not in equilibrium, which means even a slight disruption at the tail causes the whole thing to destabilizing and fall apart. In fact, the cracks move at 4,000 miles per hour, which pulverizes the glass.

But it wasn’t until recent technological advances, however, that could researchers examine the stress distribution in detail. They used a transmission polariscope, a type of microscope to study the tensions within the glass. By sending red LED light through the drop while it was submerged in a clear liquid, they could measure how stresses in the drop slowed down the light, giving them a rainbow-colored optical map of the forces within the drop. Using mathematical models they then calculated the various interior and exterior forces. The researchers published their results last year in the journal Applied Physics Letters.

Bacteria Are Evolving To Eat The Plastic We Dump Into The Oceans

The ocean is full of plastic, a grim marker of the Anthropocene. There are floating, continent-size patches of it in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, and there are newly formed ones in the Arctic. There are some uninhabited islands that are drowning in the stuff.

Weirdly, though, scientists have come to the conclusion that, based on the amount of plastic we make every year, there is only about one-hundredth as much of the plastic floating around as the numbers would suggest. Although there are many possible explanations for this, a new study available on the pre-print server bioRxiv has concluded that microbes are breaking the plastic down.

This may sound utterly bizarre, but just last year, researchers discovered that a newly discovered species of bacteria was able to shatter the molecular bonds of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), one of the most common forms of plastic. They’re literally using it as a food source.

Normally, PET takes 450 years to completely degrade in the environment. These bacteria make short work of it in just six weeks. It’s this information that has led to a team of researchers from the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona to suspect that the lack of plastic in the oceans is largely down to these microscopic critters.

This 'tree' has the environmental benefits of a forest

Each CityTree is just under 4 meters tall, nearly 3 meters wide and 2.19 meters deep, available in two versions: with or without a bench. A display is included for information or advertising.

Berlin-based Green City Solutions claims its invention has the environmental benefit of up to 275 actual trees.

But the CityTree isn't, in fact, a tree at all -- it's a moss culture.

"Moss cultures have a much larger leaf surface area than any other plant. That means we can capture more pollutants," said Zhengliang Wu, co-founder of Green City Solutions.

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