Its deep and frequent cosmic vistas will help answer critical questions about the nature of dark energy and dark matter and aid studies of near-Earth asteroids, Kuiper belt objects, the structure of our galaxy and many other areas of astronomy and fundamental physics.
This thing should make some really cool desktop backgrounds.
The iconic image of high school education, forged for most of us through personal experience and viewings of Dead Poets Society, is this: a teacher, standing in front of his or her class, lecturing. There are exceptions, definitely: the class discussion, the interactive lab experiment, the game, the field trip. For the most part, though, despite years of education reform, we tend of think of education as a highly vertical experience, one of active teachers and passive students, one in which knowledge radiates out from a single speaker to a roomful of silent listeners.
That model is changing, though, and quickly. Increasingly, education -- in college, definitely, but in high school and elementary school, too -- is becoming more horizontally integrated, guided by conversation and interaction and the productive chaos of student curiosity. The latest evidence of that comes courtesy of TED, the group of conference and web video fame. Back in March, TED, after realizing that teachers had begun using its iconic videos as instructional aides, launched a YouTube channel dedicated to educational videos.
Today, it's going a step further: TED-Ed is launching a suite of tools that allow teachers to design their own web-assisted curricula, complete with videos, comprehension-testing questions, and conversational tools. TED-Ed provides a template -- think Power Point slides, with populate-able fields -- that teachers can fill in with customized content: lesson titles, lesson links, student names, embedded video, test questions, and the like. Once saved, a lesson generates a unique URL, which allows teachers to track which students have watched assigned videos, how they've responded to follow-up questions, and, in general, how they've interacted with the lesson itself.
Over the years marine archaeologist Robert Marx has excavated Spanish galleons, sailed a replica of a Viking ship from Ireland to Gibraltar, and crossed the Atlantic in a clone of Columbus' ship the Niña. But it wasn't until last October that Marx, 46, plunged into what may prove to be his most intriguing adventure: In an area of the Rio de Janeiro harbor where fishermen's nets had been dragging up odd clay fragments, Marx discovered a graveyard of what look suspiciously like ancient Roman amphorae. Such jars—the packing containers of the ancient world—often signal the site of a Roman shipwreck. And that, in turn, could mean that the Romans reached Brazil as much as 1,700 years earlier than Pedro Alvares Cabral, the Portuguese explorer who is credited with discovering it in 1500. "Nothing has been done in Brazil to prove or disprove the find," says Marx. "If authentic, it would be one of the most important discoveries in the field of marine archaeology."
The situation is tantalizing but full of uncertainties. Why didn't the Brazilians themselves investigate when a local diver brought up two of the jars in 1976? Marx has speculated that Brazil, which has strong cultural ties with Portugal, didn't want the traditional history challenged. What proof is there that the jars are Roman? "All the experts agree that the jars are Roman—they are second century B.C.," says Marx. Yet the American sources he cites, while encouraging, actually don't go quite that far. "They look Roman to me," says Elizabeth Will, associate professor of classics at the University of Massachussetts, who, like other U.S. experts, has seen only photos. "But without seeing actual examples and fragments of the clay, it is hard to be certain."
As for how the amphorae got there, Marx admits that the jars could have come from a derelict ship, abandoned and blown across the Atlantic unmanned. But he discounts such a theory because the wreck site is far up at the head of a natural bay, implying that the vessel that carried the amphorae was guided by more than wind.
Marx himself seems guided by a rare, if sometimes quirky, sense of adventure. A largely self-taught marine archaeologist who obviously is not averse to publicity, he says he learned hard-hat diving as an 11-year-old in New Jersey and later taught scuba technique in Puerto Rico while serving in the Marines. During the '60s he made news with a series of remarkable ventures, including overseeing the excavation of the old harbor area of Port Royal, Jamaica (submerged after a 1692 earthquake) and his copycat voyage of the Niña. "We wanted to know how boring it was being crowded on a stinking ship for so long with bad chow," he explained at the time. Since then he has continued to dive around the world, from Lebanon to the Bahamas, financed, he says, by wealthy "Walter Mitty types" who want to share vicariously in his experiences. His scientific grounding, according to one source, is sound. "Bob's an active man, very thorough and enthusiastic," says Harold Edgerton, an MIT professor emeritus of electrical engineering who will be joining Marx on the Brazil research. "He manages to come up with things that others don't."
When not in Rio lobbying to get his diving project under way, Marx lives in Satellite Beach, Fla. with his second wife, Jenifer, 42, also a diver. He hopes to get Brazilian government approval for his team to start working the Rio site by September. Already, he says, a sonar survey of the area detected what might be pieces of wood, a promising sign. But Marx knows that in order to prove conclusively that a Roman wreck lies on the bottom of Guanabara Bay, he will need to find other Roman artifacts—hull fragments, coins, weapons—and that may require months of tedious attention in a muddy, inhospitable setting. "Working shipwrecks," he says, "is not like in Hollywood movies."
Q. With all of the new technology available today, we should be able to know precisely when the first European ships reached the New World. What is the latest news? It was a group of Vikings who made landfall around 900 A.D., right?
A. Wrong! It is now confirmed that a Roman ship reached Brazil around the year 19 B.C.! Here is the whole story …
Two thousand years ago, the most valuable commodity “known to man” was salt. This is because most fresh meats and fish were preserved by packing in salt. In fact, salt was so valuable, it was used in place of coinage. This is where the word “salary” emerged (as well as the expression “he’s not worth his salt”). The Romans had a large salt production facility on Ilha do Sal (Salt Island) in the Cape Verde Islands, which are 350 miles off the coast of West Africa. This location is directly in the path of the hot, dry winds of the Sahara Desert, which can easily blow 60 knots from the east.
It is believed that this Roman merchant vessel was heading for Salt Island to pick up a load of salt and to provision the local army garrison when a fierce Sahara storm started. Roman ships were clumsy by modem standards and would have no choice but to lower their sails and to run with the winds to avoid capsizing. The Sahara winds can blow for many days and the Salt Ship was carried to Guanabara Bay (near Rio de Janeiro) in Brazil.
In the middle of the - Bay is a large submerged rock lying 3’ below the surface called Xareu Rock (named after a local fish that congregates here). The ship appears to have been travelling at a high rate of speed when she struck the rock. She broke into two pieces and settled in 75’ of water near the base of the rock.
In the late 1970’s, a local fisherman using nets around Xareu Rock kept “catching” some large (3’ tall), heavy earthen jars which tore his nets. He mistakenly thought these were “macumba”jars, which are used in local voodoo ceremonies and then thrown into the sea. So, as the jars were hauled up, he smashed them with a hammer and threw the small pieces back into the water in an attempt to prevent tearing his nets in the future.
If he had only known what treasures he was destroying! In recent years, a scuba diver was spear fishing around Xareu Rock and found eight similar jars that he took home.
He sold six jars to tourists before the Brazilian police arrested him with the two remaining jars for illegally selling ancient artifacts. Archaeologists immediately identified these as Roman amphorae of the 1st century B.C These containers were originally used to carry water, grain, salted fish, meat, olives, olive oil and other foods necessary to feed the ship’s crew and to provision Roman outposts.
One of the world’s foremost authorities on Roman shipwrecks, Robert Marx, found more artifacts and confirmed this as an authentic Roman shipwreck. The world’s foremost authority on Roman amphorae analyzed the clay in the jars and confirmed that these were manufactured at Kouass which was a Roman seaport, 2000 years ago, on the coast of modem-day Morocco. The Institute of Archaeology of the University of London performed thermo luminescence testing (which is a more accurate dating process than Carbon 14 dating) and the date of the manufacture was determined to be around 19 B.C. Many more amphorae and some marble objects were recovered, as well as a Roman bronze fibula (a clasp device used to fasten a coat or shirt).
So, why haven't we heard more about this fantastic find? One would think this news would make headlines around the world… The short answer is “politics”. At the time the amphorae were confirmed to be "Roman", the large Italian faction in Brazil were extremely excited about this news.
The Italian ambassador to Brazil notified the Brazilian government that, since the Romans were the first to "discover" Brazil, then all Italian immigrants should be granted immediate citizenship. There are a large number of Italian immigrants in Brazil and the government has created a tedious and costly citizenship application procedure for Italians that does not apply to Portuguese immigrants. The Brazilian government would not give in and the Italians in Brazil staged demonstrations. In response, the Brazilian government ordered all civilians off the recovery project and censored further news about the wreck hoping to diffuse the civil unrest. The Brazilian Navy continues to excavate the wreck in secret.
We only know about it because of what Robert Marx learned before he was dismissed and what the University of London has leaked. This shipwreck may help explain some other intriguing Brazilian finds: - Several hundred ancient Roman silver and bronze coins were unearthed near Recife, Brazil. Did these once belong to the castaways of the Salt Ship?
- A tribe of white, mostly blonde haired, blue-eyed "Indians" has been found in a remote region of the Amazon jungle. Could these be the descendants of the shipwrecked sailors of the Xareu wreck? DNA analysis of these “Indians” will surely bring some interesting facts to light!
The Quietest Place on Earth Will Drive You Insane Within 45 Minutes
There's a small room in Minnesota that blocks out 99% of all external sound. That's an impressive number! Also impressive: nobody can take more than 45 minutes alone in the room before they go nuts.
The Daily Mail describes Orfield Labs' anechoic chamber—perfect for making extremely sensitive audio measurements. But also perfect for sending you into a hallucinatory hell so hellacious you'll need a chair:
‘When it's quiet, ears will adapt. The quieter the room, the more things you hear. You'll hear your heart beating, sometimes you can hear your lungs, hear your stomach gurgling loudly. ‘In the anechoic chamber, you become the sound.' And this is a very disorientating experience. Mr Orfield explained that it's so disconcerting that sitting down is a must. He said: ‘How you orient yourself is through sounds you hear when you walk. In the anechnoic chamber, you don't have any cues. You take away the perceptual cues that allow you to balance and manoeuvre. If you're in there for half an hour, you have to be in a chair.'
That sounds swell. Just the serene quiet of you, your thoughts, and the unceasing pounding of the human heart. Your brain can't take it, apparently, and begins to fabricate sounds that aren't really there—completely delusional noises meant to block out the churning of your own horrid biomass. One ticket to Minneapolis, please!
Scientists turn skin cells into beating heart muscle
LONDON, May 23 (Reuters) - Scientists have for the first time succeeded in taking skin cells from patients with heart failure and transforming them into healthy, beating heart tissue that could one day be used to treat the condition.
The researchers, based in Haifa, Israel, said there were still many years of testing and refining ahead. But the results meant they might eventually be able to reprogram patients' cells to repair their own damaged hearts.
"We have shown that it's possible to take skin cells from an elderly patient with advanced heart failure and end up with his own beating cells in a laboratory dish that are healthy and young - the equivalent to the stage of his heart cells when he was just born," said Lior Gepstein from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, who led the work.
The researchers, whose study was published in the European Heart Journal on Wednesday, said clinical trials of the technique could begin within 10 years.
Heart failure is a debilitating condition in which the heart is unable to pump enough blood around the body. It has become more prevalent in recent decades as advances medical science mean many more people survive heart attacks.
At the moment, people with severe heart failure have to rely on mechanical devices or hope for a transplant.
Researchers have been studying stem cells from various sources for more than a decade, hoping to capitalise on their ability to transform into a wide variety of other kinds of cell to treat a range of health conditions.
There are two main forms of stem cells - embryonic stem cells, which are harvested from embryos, and reprogrammed "human induced pluripotent stem cells" (hiPSCs), often originally from skin or blood.
TISSUES BEATING TOGETHER
Gepstein's team took skin cells from two men with heart failure - aged 51 and 61 - and transformed them by adding three genes and then a small molecule called valproic acid to the cell nucleus.
They found that the resulting hiPSCs were able to differentiate to become heart muscle cells, or cardiomyocytes, just as effectively as hiPSCs that had been developed from healthy, young volunteers who acted as controls for the study.
The team was then able to make the cardiomyocytes develop into heart muscle tissue, which they grew in a laboratory dish together with existing cardiac tissue.
Within 24 to 48 hours the two types of tissue were beating together, they said.
In a final step of the study, the new tissue was transplanted into healthy rat hearts and the researchers found it began to establish connections with cells in the host tissue.
"We hope that hiPSCs derived cardiomyocytes will not be rejected following transplantation into the same patients from which they were derived," Gepstein said. "Whether this will be the case or not is the focus of active investigation."
Experts in stem cell and cardiac medicine who were not involved in Gepstein's work praised it but also said there was a lot to do before it had a chance of becoming an effective treatment.
"This is an interesting paper, but very early and it's really important for patients that the promise of such a technique is not over-sold," said John Martin a professor of cardiovascular medicine at University College London.
"The chances of translation are slim and if it does work it would take around 15 years to come to clinic."
Nicholas Mills, a consultant cardiologist at Edinburgh University said the technology needs to be refined before it could be used for patients with heart failure, but added: "These findings are encouraging and take us a step closer to ... identifying an effective means of repairing the heart." (Editing by Andrew Heavens)
Scientists Create First Memory Expansion for Brain
Imagine you can insert a memory card in your brain and go all Keanu Wow, I know Jiu-Jitsu! Reeves. It's actually not that far away: Scientists have created a chip that allows rats to instantly know things. It's amazing.
After studying the chemical interactions that allow short-term learning and memorization in rats, a group of scientists lead by Dr. Theodore Berger—from the University of South California's Viterbi School of Engineering—have built a prosthetic chip that uses electrodes to enhance and expand their memory abilities. The chip is capable of storing neural signals, basically functioning as an electronic memory, allowing rats to learn more and keep it in the devices.
Dr. Berger's description is almost frightening:
"Flip the switch on, and the rats remember. Flip it off, and the rats forget [...] These integrated experimental modeling studies show for the first time that with sufficient information about the neural coding of memories, a neural prosthesis capable of real-time identification and manipulation of the encoding process can restore and even enhance cognitive mnemonic processes.
The team's experiments—which have been in a paper called "A Cortical Neural Prosthesis for Restoring and Enhancing Memory"—could lead to the development of devices that may help people affected by Alzheimer's disease, stroke or other brain injuries. In fact, they are already working on the next step: Reproduce the same result in monkeys.
As someone who has had family affected by Alzheimer and other diseases, I really hope they succeed. As someone who would like to have the entire IMDB in his brain, I really hope they succeed too.
Asexual flatworms may hold key to immortality-- for humans
Wednesday, February 29, 2012
A certain kind of worm may carry keys to immortality, scientists have found, even though they’d spend eternity squirming — but without having sex.
For humans, the study of these asexual worms won’t necessarily mean a ticket to the fountain of youth, but may yield insights into how to slow down the ravages of aging, Reuters reports.
In a study published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, British scientists found that planarian worms, also known as flatworms, have the ability to preserve key parts of their DNA when regenerating that offer the potential for immortality, Reuters reports.
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"Our data satisfy one of the predictions about what it would take for an animal to be potentially immortal," said Aziz Aboobaker, who led the research, according to Reuters.
Scientists at Britain's University of Nottingham were able to generate more than 20,000 flatworms from a single one that they had cut up into several pieces. Each piece they cut grew into its own new independent living worm, the Telegraph reports.
British scientists studied sexual and asexual flatworms, and both were able to reproduce muscles, skin, and brains indefinitely when they were cut into pieces, but the asexual worms proved to have the potential to be immortal, Aboobaker said, according to Reuters.
The reason they may hang around forever is that the asexual adult flatworm stem cells appear to maintain lengths of telomere, a key DNA component associated with protecting cells from aging.
This ingredient allows the invertebrates to replace damaged cells, and theoretically continue life without end, according to the study.
Scientists hope to use the findings to build “strong foundations for improving health and potentially longevity in other organisms, including humans," Aboobaker said in a statement, according to Reuters.
"The next goals for us are to understand the mechanisms in more detail and to understand more about how you evolve an immortal animal."
What does a robot feel when it touches something? Little or nothing until now. But with the right sensors, actuators and software, robots can be given the sense of feel - or at least the ability to identify materials by touch.
Researchers at the University of Southern California’s Viterbi School of Engineering published a study today in Frontiers in Neurobiotics showing that a specially designed robot can outperform humans in identifying a wide range of natural materials according to their textures, paving the way for advancements in prostheses, personal assistive robots and consumer product testing.
The robot was equipped with a new type of tactile sensor built to mimic the human fingertip. It also used a newly designed algorithm to make decisions about how to explore the outside world by imitating human strategies. Capable of other human sensations, the sensor can also tell where and in which direction forces are applied to the fingertip and even the thermal properties of an object being touched.
Like the human finger, the group’s BioTac® sensor has a soft, flexible skin over a liquid filling. The skin even has fingerprints on its surface, greatly enhancing its sensitivity to vibration. As the finger slides over a textured surface, the skin vibrates in characteristic ways. These vibrations are detected by a hydrophone inside the bone-like core of the finger. The human finger uses similar vibrations to identify textures, but the BioTac is even more sensitive.
Built by Fishel, the specialized robot was trained on 117 common materials gathered from fabric, stationery and hardware stores. When confronted with one material at random, the robot could correctly identify the material 95% of the time, after intelligently selecting and making an average of five exploratory movements. It was only rarely confused by a pair of similar textures that human subjects making their own exploratory movements could not distinguish at all.
So, is touch another task that humans will outsource to robots? Fishel and Loeb point out that while their robot is very good at identifying which textures are similar to each other, it has no way to tell what textures people will prefer. Instead, they say this robot touch technology could be used in human prostheses or to assist companies who employ experts to judge the feel of consumer products and even human skin.