sábado, 31 de enero de 2015

DNA nanoswitches reveal how life's molecules connect

A complex interplay of molecular components governs almost all aspects of biological sciences - healthy organism development, disease progression, and drug efficacy are all dependent on the way life's molecules interact in the body. Understanding these bio-molecular interactions is critical for the discovery of new, more effective therapeutics and diagnostics to treat cancer and other diseases, but currently requires scientists to have access to expensive and elaborate laboratory equipment.

Now, a new approach developed by researchers at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School promises a much faster and more affordable way to examine bio-molecular behavior, opening the door for scientists in virtually any laboratory world-wide to join the quest for creating better drugs. The findings are published in February's issue of Nature Methods.

"Bio-molecular interaction analysis, a cornerstone of biomedical research, is traditionally accomplished using equipment that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars," said Wyss Associate Faculty member Wesley P. Wong, Ph.D., senior author of study. "Rather than develop a new instrument, we've created a nanoscale tool made from strands of DNA that can detect and report how molecules behave, enabling biological measurements to be made by almost anyone, using only common and inexpensive laboratory reagents."

Wong, who is also Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School in the Departments of Biological Chemistry & Molecular Pharmacology and Pediatrics and Investigator at the Program in Cellular and Molecular Medicine at Boston Children's Hospital, calls the new tools DNA "nanoswitches".

Nanoswitches comprise strands of DNA onto which molecules of interest can be strategically attached at various locations along the strand. Interactions between these molecules, like the successful binding of a drug compound with its intended target, such as a protein receptor on a cancer cell, cause the shape of the DNA strand to change from an open and linear shape to a closed loop. Wong and his team can easily separate and measure the ratio of open DNA nanoswitches vs. their closed counterparts through gel electrophoresis, a simple lab procedure already in use in most laboratories, that uses electrical currents to push DNA strands through small pores in a gel, sorting them based on their shape

"Our DNA nanoswitches dramatically lower barriers to making traditionally complex measurements," said co-first author Ken Halvorsen, formerly of the Wyss Institute and currently a scientist at the RNA Institute at University of Albany. "All of these supplies are commonly available and the experiments can be performed for pennies per sample, which is a staggering comparison to the cost of conventional equipment used to test bio-molecular interactions."

To encourage adoption of this method, Wong and his team are offering free materials to colleagues who would like to try using their DNA nanoswitches.

"We've not only created starter kits but have outlined a step-by-step protocol to allow others to immediately implement this method for research in their own labs, or classrooms" said co-first author Mounir Koussa, a Ph.D. candidate in neurobiology at Harvard Medical School.

"Wesley and his team are committed to making an impact on the way bio-molecular research is done at a fundamental level, as is evidenced by their efforts to make this technology accessible to labs everywhere," said Wyss Institute Founding Director Donald Ingber, M.D., Ph.D., who is also the Judah Folkman Professor of Vascular Biology at Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School and a Professor of Bioengineering at Harvard SEAS. "Biomedical researchers all over the world can start using this new method right away to investigate how biological compounds interact with their targets, using commonly-available supplies at very low cost."

ORIGINAL: Physorg.com
Jan 30, 2015

Luke Muehlhauser on Singularity 1on1: Superhuman AI is Coming This Century

Last week I interviewed Luke Muehlhauser for Singularity 1 on 1.

Luke Muehlhauser is the Executive Director of the Singularity Institute, the author of many articles on AI safety and the cognitive science of rationality, and the host of the popular podcast “Conversations from the Pale Blue Dot.” His work is collected at lukeprog.com.

I have to say that despite his young age and lack of a University Degree – a criticism which we discuss during our interview, Luke was one of the best and clearest spoken guests on my show and I really enjoyed talking to to him. During our 56 min-long conversation we discuss a large variety of topics such as:
  • Luke’s Christian-Evangelico personal background as the first-born son of a pastor in northern Minnesota; 
  • his fascinating transition transition from religion and theology to atheism and science; 
  • his personal motivation and desire to overcome our very human cognitive biases and help address existential risks to humanity; 
  • the Singularity Institute – its mission, members and fields of interest; 
  • the “religion for geeks” (or “rapture of the nerds”) and other popular criticisms and misconceptions; 
  • our chances of surviving the technological singularity.

My favorite quote from the interview:

Superhuman AI is coming this century. By default it will be disastrous for humanity. If you want to make AI a really good thing for humanity please donate to organizations already working on that or – if you are a researcher – help us solve particular problems in mathematics, decision theory or cognitive science.”

ORIGINAL: Singularity 1 on 1
from Nikola Danaylov

jueves, 29 de enero de 2015

New type of chemical bond discovered

Image: Vibrational bonding of the lightest isotopomer BrMuBr. Credit: Flemming et. al.

Move over, covalent and ionic bonds, there’s a new chemical bond in town, and it loves to shake things up.

It’s taken decades to nail down, but researchers in Canada have finally identified a new chemical bond, which they’re calling a ‘vibrational bond’.

This vibrational bond seems to break the law of chemistry that states if you increase the temperature, the rate of reaction will speed up. Back in 1989, a team from the University of British Columbia investigated the reactions of various elements to muonium (Mu) - a strange, hydrogen isotope made up of an antimuon and an electron. They tried chlorine and fluorine with muonium, and as they increased the heat, the reaction time sped up, but when they tried bromine (br), a brownish-red toxic and corrosive liquid, the reaction time sped up as the temperature decreased. The researchers, Amy Nordrum writes for Scientific American, "were flummoxed”.

Perhaps, thought one of the team, chemist Donald Flemming, when the bromine and muonium made contact, they formed a transitional structure made up of a lightweight atom flanked by two heavier atoms. And the structure was joined not by van der Waal’s forces - as would usually be expected - but by some kind of temporary ‘vibrational’ bond that had been proposed several years earlier. 
Nordrum explains:

"In this scenario, the lightweight muonium atom would move rapidly between two heavy bromine atoms, 'like a Ping Pong ball bouncing between two bowling balls,' Fleming says. The oscillating atom would briefly hold the two bromine atoms together and reduce the overall energy, and therefore speed, of the reaction.

But back then, the team didn’t have the technology needed to actually see this reaction take place, because it lasts for just a few milliseconds. But now they do, and the team took their investigation to the nuclear accelerator at Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in England.

With the help of theoretical chemists from the Free University of Berlin and Saitama University in Japan, Flemming’s team watched as heavy muonium and lightweight bromine formed a temporary bond. “The lightest isotopomer, BrMuBr, with Mu the muonium atom, alone exhibits vibrational bonding in accord with its possible observation in a recent experiment on the Mu + Br2 reaction,” the team reports in the journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition. "Accordingly, BrMuBr is stabilised at the saddle point of the potential energy surface due to a net decrease in vibrational zero point energy that overcompensates the increase in potential energy.

In other words, the vibration in the bond decreased the total energy of the BrMuBr structure, which means that even when the temperature was increased, there was not enough energy to see an increase in the reaction time.

While the team only witnessed the vibrational bond occurring in a bromine and muonium reaction, they suspect it can also be found in interactions between lightweight and heavy atoms, where van der Waal’s forces are assumed to be at play.

"The work confirms that vibrational bonds - fleeting though they may be - should be added to the list of known chemical bonds,says Nordrum at Scientific American.

Sorry, future high school chemistry students, here's another thing you'll probably have to rote learn.

Source: Scientific American

ORIGINAL: Science Alert
 29 JAN 2015

Watch a human musician and his robots improvise together

This performance by Shimon and the Shimi Robots showcases the PhD research of Georgia Tech doctoral student Mason Bretan on machine improvisation, path planning and embodied cognition. (Mason Bretan/YouTube)
This is a performance showcasing part of my PhD research in robotic musicianship at Georgia Tech including 
  • machine improvisation, 
  • path planning, and 
  • embodied cognition. 
The smaller Shimi robots figure out how to move based on an analysis of the music and Shimon generates an improvisation given a precomposed chord progression using a generative algorithm that jointly optimizes for higher level musical parameters and its physical constraints.

The piece is called “What You Say” and is inspired by the high energy funk piece, “What I Say”, from Miles Davis’ Live-Evil album. The incredible brilliance of the musicians on that album (as well as the numerous other great musicians around the world) are not only an inspiration to me and my own musical and instrumental aspirations, but also set the standard for the level of musicianship that I hope machines will one day achieve. And through the power of artificial intelligence, signal processing, and engineering I firmly believe it is possible for machines to be artistic, creative, and inspirational.

I hope you enjoy!

To use this video in a commercial player or in broadcasts, please email licensing@storyful.com

Rest assured that when our future robotic overlords come on the scene, they'll have a sweet sense of rhythm.

The Robotic Musicianship Group at Georgia Tech has been working on Shimon, a musical robot that can improvise melodic accompaniment, for about six years now. And for three years, they've added Shimi — a small, smartphone-connected bot that can respond to music with dance and sound — to the mix.

Shimi shimmies.
Shimi shimmies. (Mason Bretan via The Washington Post)
Shimon and the Shimis (which is a great band name, by the way) are showcased in the above video, in which they jam along with one of their creators, PhD student Mason Bretan. He gave them an arrangement of what he'd be playing and recorded some tracks and cues for them, but in between (when you hear funky electronic noises) they're doing their own thing based on his chord progressions. And the mallet solo in the middle is completely robot-improvised.
(Mason Bretan via The Washington Post)
When Bretan joined the lab five years ago, Shimon was being taught how to compose jazz music on the fly based on music theory. "I jumped right in," Bretan said. "And with Shimi — which don't just generate music, we call them 'robotic musical companions' because you can talk to them and use them to interact with your playlist — with Shimi I've been there from the start."

"I'm always trying something new with the robots, and sometimes they surprise me with something that's sort of out there or pretty cool," he added.

His dissertation, which he hopes to turn in by the end of 2015, centers around teaching the robots to understand their physical constraints and abilities.
"So the goal is that if you gave the same input to a robot with 20 arms, it would perform differently than an eight-armed robot because it would be optimizing its performance," he said."Combined with the new algorithm we have for jazz music improvisation, these skills really allow them to more optimally achieve musical goals."

And while he certainly doesn't want to replace human musicians like himself with robots, he's excited about the mechanical abilities they have that we don't.
"I mean, Shimon already has four arms and can hold eight mallets," he said, "So it can already do something a person can't."

ORIGINAL: Washington Post
By Rachel Feltman
Jan 14, 2015

martes, 20 de enero de 2015

A Brain-Computer Interface That Works Wirelessly

A wireless transmitter could give paralyzed people a practical way to control TVs, computers, or wheelchairs with their thoughts.

Why It Matters
Electronic brain interfaces may give paralyzed people control over their environments. 
A wireless brain interface uses the head-worn transmitter, shown.

A few paralyzed patients could soon be using a wireless brain-computer interface able to stream their thought commands as quickly as a home Internet connection.

After more than a decade of engineering work, researchers at Brown University and a Utah company, Blackrock Microsystems, have commercialized a wireless device that can be attached to a person’s skull and transmit via radio thought commands collected from a brain implant. Blackrock says it will seek clearance for the system from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, so that the mental remote control can be tested in volunteers, possibly as soon as this year.

The device was developed by a consortium, called BrainGate, which is based at Brown and was among the first to place implants in the brains of paralyzed people and show that electrical signals emitted by neurons inside the cortex could be recorded, then used to steer a wheelchair or direct a robotic arm (see “Implanting Hope”).

A major limit to these provocative experiments has been that patients can only use the prosthetic with the help of a crew of laboratory assistants. The brain signals are collected through a cable screwed into a port on their skull, then fed along wires to a bulky rack of signal processors. “Using this in the home setting is inconceivable or impractical when you are tethered to a bunch of electronics,” says Arto Nurmikko, the Brown professor of engineering who led the design and fabrication of the wireless system.

The new interface does away with much of that wiring by processing brain data inside a device about the size of an automobile gas cap. It is attached to the skull and wired to electrodes inside the brain. Inside the device is 
  • a processor to amplify the faint electrical spikes emitted by neurons
  • circuits to digitize the information, and 
  • a radio to beam it a distance of a few meters to a receiver. 
There, the information is available as a control signal; say to move a cursor across a computer screen.
The device transmits data out of the brain at rate of 48 megabits per second, about as fast as a residential Internet connection, says Nurmikko. It uses about 30 milliwatts of power—a fraction of what a smartphone uses—and is powered by a battery.

Scientists have prototyped wireless brain-computer interfaces before, and some simpler transmitters have been sold for animal research. “But there’s just no such thing as a device that has this many inputs and spits out megabits and megabits of data. It’s fundamentally a new kind of device,” says Cindy Shestek, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Michigan.

Although the implant can transmit the equivalent of about 200 DVDs’ worth of data a day, that’s not much information compared to what the brain generates in executing even the simplest movement. Of the billions of neurons in the human cortex, scientists have never directly measured more than 200 or so simultaneously. “You and I are using our brains as petabyte machines,” says Nurmikko. “By that standard, 100 megabits per second is going to look very modest.

Blackrock has begun selling the wireless processor, which it calls “Cereplex-W” and costs about $15,000, to research labs that study primates. Tests in humans could happen quickly, says Florian Solzbacher, a University of Utah professor who is the owner and president of Blackrock. The Brown scientists have plans to try it on paralyzed patients, but haven’t yet done so.

Currently, a half dozen or so paralyzed people, including some in the late stages of ALS, are taking part in BrainGate trials using the older technology. In those studies, underway in Boston and California, the implant that makes contact with the brain is a small array of needle-like electrodes carved from silicon. Also sold by Blackrock, it is commonly called the Utah array. To establish a brain-machine interface, that array is pushed into the tissue of the cerebral motor cortex, where its tips record the firing patterns from 100 neurons or more at once.

Those tiny blasts of electricity, scientists have found, can be decoded into a fairly precise readout of what movement an animal, or a person, is intending. Decoding those signals has permitted hundreds of monkeys, as well as a growing number of paralyzed volunteers, to control a computer mouse, or manipulate objects with a robotic arm, sometimes with surprising dexterity (see “The Thought Experiment”).

But the BrainGate technology will never turn into actual medicine until it’s greatly simplified and made more reliable. The head-mounted wireless module is a step toward that goal. Eventually, scientists say, all the electronics will have to be implanted completely inside the body, with no wires reaching through the skin, since that can lead to infections. Last year, the Brown researchers reported testing a prototype of a fully implanted interface, with the electronics housed inside a titanium can that can be sealed under the scalp. That device is not yet commercialized.

If they could put it in under the skin, then everything you see in the videos could be done at home,” says Shestek, referring to films of patients using mental control to move robotic arms. “That wire going through the skin is the most dangerous part of the system.

Tech Review
January 14, 2015

lunes, 19 de enero de 2015

A Bendable Implant Taps the Nervous System without Damaging It

Swiss researchers allow rats to walk again with a rubbery electronic implant.

Why It Matters

Neuroscientists need new materials to restore movement to paralyzed people.

An implant made of silicone and gold wires is as stretchy as human tissue.

Medicine these days entertains all kinds of ambitious plans for reading off brain signals to control wheelchairs, or using electronics to bypass spinal injuries.
But most of these ideas for implants that can interface with the nervous system run up against a basic materials problem: wires are stiff and bodies are soft.

That motivated some researchers at the École Polytechnique Fédérale, in Lausanne, Switzerland, to design a soft, flexible electronic implant, which they say has the same ability to bend and stretch as dura mater, the membrane that surrounds the brain and spinal cord.

The scientists, including Gregoire Courtine, have previously showed that implants can allow mice with spinal injuries to walk again. They did this by sending patterns of electrical shocks to the spinal cord via electrodes placed inside the spine (see “Paralyzed Rats Take 1,000 Steps, Orchestrated by Computer”). But the rigid wires ended up damaging the mice’s nervous systems.

So Courtine joined electrical engineer Stéphanie Lacour (see “Innovators Under 35, 2006: Stéphanie Lacour”) to come up with a new implant they call “e-dura.” It’s made from 
  • soft silicone, 
  • stretchy gold wires, and 
  • rubbery electrodes flecked with platinum, 
  • as well as a microchannel through which the researchers were able to pump drugs.
The work builds on ongoing advances in flexible electronics. Other scientists have built patches that match the properties of the skin and include circuits, sensors, or even radios (see “Stick-On Electronic Tattoos”).

What’s new is how stretchable electronics are merging with a widening effort to invent new ways to send and receive signals from nerves (see “Neuroscience’s New Toolbox”). “People are pushing the limits because everyone wants to precisely interact with the brain and nervous system,” says Polina Anikeeva, a materials scientist at MIT who develops ultrathin fiber-optic threads as a different way of interfacing with neural tissue.

The reason metal or plastic electrodes eventually cause damage, or stop working, is that they cause compression and tissue damage. A stiff implant, even if it’s very thin, will still not stretch as the spinal cord does. “It slides against the tissue and causes a lot of inflammation,” says Lacour. “When you bend over to tie your shoelaces, the spinal cord stretches by several percent.

The implant mimics a property of human tissue called viscoelasticity—somewhere between rubber and a very thick fluid. Pinch the skin on your hand with force and it will deform, but then flow back into place.

Using the flexible implant, the Swiss scientists reported today in the journal Science that they could overcome spinal injury in rats by wrapping it around the spinal cord and sending electrical signals to make the rodent’s hind legs move. They also pumped in chemicals to enhance the process. After two months, they saw few signs of tissue damage compared to conventional electrodes, which ended up causing an immune reaction and impairing the animal’s ability to move.

The ultimate aim of this kind of research is an implant that could restore a paralyzed person’s ability to walk. Lacour says that is still far off, but believes it will probably involve soft electronics. “If you want a therapy for patients, you want to ensure it can last in the body,” she says. “If we can match the properties of the neural tissue we should have a better interface.”

Tech Review
By Antonio Regalado 
January 8, 2015

domingo, 18 de enero de 2015

EDGE 2015 Question: "2015 : What Do You Think About Machines That Think? "

"Dahlia" by Katinka Matson | www.katinkamatson.com

"Deliciously creative, the variety astonishes. Intellectual skyrockets of stunning brilliance. Nobody in the world is doing what Edge is doing...the greatest virtual research university in the world. —Denis Dutton, Founding Editor, Arts & Letters Daily

Dedicated to the memory of Frank Schirrmacher (1959-2014).
In recent years, the 1980s-era philosophical discussions about artificial intelligence (AI)—whether computers can "really" think, refer, be conscious, and so on—have led to new conversations about how we should deal with the forms that many argue actually are implemented. These "AIs", if they achieve "Superintelligence" (Nick Bostrom), could pose "existential risks" that lead to "Our Final Hour" (Martin Rees). And Stephen Hawking recently made international headlines when he noted "The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race."


But wait! Should we also ask what machines that think, or, "AIs", might be thinking about? Do they want, do they expect civil rights? Do they have feelings? What kind of government (for us) would an AI choose? What kind of society would they want to structure for themselves? Or is "their" society "our" society? Will we, and the AIs, include each other within our respective circles of empathy?

Numerous Edgies have been at the forefront of the science behind the various flavors of AI, either in their research or writings. AI was front and center in conversations between charter members Pamela McCorduck (Machines Who Think) and Isaac Asimov (Machines That Think) at our initial meetings in 1980. And the conversation has continued unabated, as is evident in the recent Edge feature "The Myth of AI", a conversation with Jaron Lanier, that evoked rich and provocative commentaries.

Is AI becoming increasingly real? Are we now in a new era of the "AIs"? To consider this issue, it's time to grow up. Enough already with the science fiction and the movies, Star Maker, Blade Runner, 2001, Her, The Matrix, "The Borg". Also, 80 years after Turing's invention of his Universal Machine, it's time to honor Turing, and other AI pioneers, by giving them a well-deserved rest. We know the history. (See George Dyson's 2004 Edge feature "Turing's Cathedral".) So, once again, this time with rigor, the Edge Question—2105:



viernes, 16 de enero de 2015

Welcome to Plant-e

Do you want to use your lawn to charge your electric car? Use your green roof to power your house? Would you like to see each wetland and rice paddy field in the world turned into a power plant without harvesting the plants? Plant-e is a company that develops and produces products in which living plants generate electricity.

The company was founded on September 14, 2009 as a spin-off from the sub-department of Environmental Technology of Wageningen University by David Strik and Marjolein Helder. Since her PhD-graduation in November 2012 Marjolein is working full-time as CEO of Plant-e. David works as an assistant professor at Wageningen University, while supporting Plant-e’s R&D one day a week.


Plant-e develops products in which living plants generate electricity. These products are based on technology that was developed at Wageningen University, which was patented in 2007. The patent is now held by Plant-e. The technology enables us to produce electricity from living plants at practically every site where plants can grow. The technology is based on natural processes and is safe for both the plant, and its environment.

Via photosynthesis a plant produces organic matter. Part of this organic matter is used for plant-growth, but a large part can’t be used by the plant and is excreted into the soil via the roots. Around the roots naturally occurring micro-organisms break down the organic compounds to gain energy from. In this process, electrons are released as a waste product. By providing an electrode for the micro-organisms to donate their electrons to, the electrons can be harvested as electricity. Research has shown that plant-growth isn’t compromised by harvesting electricity, so plants keep on growing while electricity is concurrently produced.

Living plants in microbial fuel cells might be integrated in wetlands to create large-scale green powerplants.

How does that work?
Plants photosynthesize organic matter using solar energy. A significant part of this organic matter is released into the soil. There electrochemically active micro-organisms break down the organic matter producing electrons which are transported to the anode of the fuel cell. The energy rich electrons flow through a load to the cathode to generate 24 hours per day electricity.

The idea for this technology came from Dr. ir. Bert Hamelers. In 2008 the proof-of-principle of the technology was published (Strik et al. 2008; De Schamphelaire et al. 2008). From 2009 to 2012 an European consortium explored new areas of science to develop the plant-microbial fuel cell. This project resulted in spin-off company Plant-e that develops and produces products in which living plants generate electricity. Currently world-wide research groups investigate the technology.

For more information on the technology and recent publications see



domingo, 11 de enero de 2015

Amazing ERO Concrete-Recycling Robot Can Erase Entire Buildings

Demolition is a messy business—not only does the process require heavy machinery and produce clouds of dust, but it also results in giant piles of rubble that often head straight for the landfill. Omer Haciomeroglu, a student at Sweden’s Umeå Institute of Design has designed Ero – a robot that recycles concrete in an energy-efficient manner and separates it from rebar and other debris on the spot. The project won the 2013 International Design Excellence Award (IDEA) in the Student Designs category.

Heavy machines used in demolition consume large amounts of energy in order to crush concrete walls into small pieces, not to mention that demolition processes have to be accompanied by large amounts of water sprayed onto the structures to prevent the spread of dust. Once the work is done, the rubble is transported to recycle stations where waste is separated manually. Power crushers are used to pulverize the concrete and the metal is melted for reuse.

ERO Concrete Recycling Robot can efficiently disassemble concrete structures without any waste, dust or additional separation. It is strategically placed in a building in order to scan the environment and determine the optimal way in which the operation should be executed. This smart robot has the option of switching between pulverizing and smart deconstruction modes, taking buildings down step by step. It enables reclaimed building materials to be reused as prefab concrete elements by utilizing a water jet to crack the concrete surface, separate the waste and package the dust-free material.

After deconstructing the structure with high-pressure water and sucking and separating the aggregate, cement and water, the ERO robot recycles the water back into the system. Clean aggregate is packed and labeled to be sent to concrete precast stations for reuse, while rebar is cleaned and cut, ready to be reused.

+ Omer Haciomeroglu

+ 2013 IDEA

Via Core77

ORIGINAL: Inhabitat

The Algorithm That Unscrambles Fractured Images

The ongoing revolution in image processing has produced yet another way to extract images from a complex environment.

Take a hammer to a mirror and you will fracture the image it produces as well as the glass. Keep smashing and the image becomes more broken. When the pieces of glass are the size of glitter, the reflections will be random and the image unrecognisable.

It’s easy to imagine that reconstructing this image would be close to impossible. Not so, say Zhengdong Zhang and pals at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. Today, these guys unveil SparkleVision, an image processing algorithm that reassembles the smashed imaged.

The problem that Zhang and co attack is to work out the contents of a picture reflected off a screen covered in glitter. The approach is to photograph the glitter and then process the resulting image in a way that unscrambles the picture.

It turns out that there is a straightforward way to approach this. Zhang and co consider each piece of glitter to be a randomly oriented micromirror. So light from the picture hits a micromirror and is reflected to a sensor inside the camera.

That means there is a simple mapping from each pixel in the original picture to a sensor in the camera. The task is to determine that mapping for every pixel. “There exists a forward scrambling matrix, and in principle we can find its inverse and unscramble the image,” they say.

To find this unscrambling matrix, Zhang and co shine a set of test images at the glitter screen and record where the pixels in the original image end up in the camera.

From this, they can create an algorithm that unscrambles any other image placed in exactly the same spot as the test images. They call this algorithm SparkleVision.

That’s a handy piece of software that could have interesting applications in retrieving images reflected off glitter-like surfaces such as certain types of foliage, wet surfaces, metals and so on.

And Zhang and co hope to make the software more useful. In its current incarnation, the software can only unscramble images placed in the exact location of the test images. But in theory, the test images should provide enough data to unscramble images from any part of the light field. “Thus, our system could be naturally extended to work as a lightfield camera,” they say.

The work is part of a growing body that is currently revolutionising photography and image processing, Other researchers have worked out how to unscramble images from all kinds of distorted reflections and surfaces, sometimes even without using lenses.

These so-called “random cameras” are dramatically widening the capability of optics specialists. And SparkleVision looks set to take its place among them.

Ref: http://arxiv.org/abs/1412.7884 : SparkleVision: Seeing the World through Random Specular Microfacets

ORIGINAL: Technology Review

martes, 6 de enero de 2015

A Bioluminescent Forest Created with Digital Projection Mapping

The projection mapping "bioluminescent forest" is made by artists Friedrich van Schoor and Tarek Mawad.
The artists spent six weeks in the forest fascinated by the silence and natural occurrences in nature, especially the phenomenon "bioluminescence". They personified the forest to accentuate the natural beauty by creating luring luminescent plants and glowing magical mushrooms that speaks volumes to any visitor that enters the minds of the artists through viewing "bioluminescent forest".

More information on the project: bioluminescent-forest.com
Friedrich van Schoor: vanscore.com
Tarek Mawad
: tarekmawad.com

Many thanks to Achim Treu, Composer and Sounddesigner.
private homepage: ufohawaii.com
commercial homepage: treumedia.de

While we’ve seen many examples of projection mapping on the sides of buildings or other relatively flat surfaces in an attempt to add depth or dimension, it seems photographers and digital artists are getting progressively more innovative as the technology continues to evolve. Last week we saw a commendable dance performance making use of projection mapping, and now photographer Tarek Mawad and animator Friedrich van Schoor just spent six weeks embedded in nature to create Bioluminescent Forest. The 4-minute short film imagines what various plants, insects, spiderwebs, and mushrooms might look like if they possessed the ability to emit bioluminescent light, creating a strange wonderland of blinking and twinkling organisms. The filmmakers state that everything you see was created live, without any effects added in post-production. You can watch a behind-the-scenes clip here. (via PetaPixel, The Kid Should See This)

ORIGINAL: Colossal
January 5, 2015

En La Romera, a 20 minutos del parque de Sabaneta, viven pumas

Los pumas permanecieron varios minutos ante las cámaras automáticas de Rastreo Colombia, lo que permitió imágenes nítidas. FOTOS Cortesía de Rastreo Colombia

El registro de Rastreo Colombia se destaca porque fueron grabados tres ejemplares y de día.

Panorámica que se contempla desde el alto La Romera, área protegida de Sabaneta.

 José F. Navarro con Negra, la perra que lo apoya en el rastreo.

Los pumas permanecieron varios minutos ante las cámaras automáticas de Rastreo Colombia, lo que permitió imágenes nítidas. FOTOS Cortesía de Rastreo Colombia

95 a 160 centímetros es la longitud de un puma. La de un perro pastor alemán ronda los 100 centímetros.

en definitiva
Ya son varios los registros de pumas en las laderas del Aburrá, lo que demuestra la gran biodiversidad que hay en estas montañas y la necesidad de conservar los bosques para protegerla.

Parece increíble que en el mismo territorio que viven tres millones y medio de personas, en el valle donde está Medellín, la segunda urbe de Colombia, habiten pumas (puma concolor) y estén por ahí, moviéndose, con pasos sigilosos ante la inmensa ciudad.

Y no se han visto una sino varias veces. La última la registró Rastreo Colombia, un grupo de biólogos y ecólogos de la Universidad de Antioquia que, con cámaras trampa, logró captar a una hembra y dos ejemplares juveniles en el alto La Romera, a solo 20 minutos del parque de Sabaneta, en el sur del Aburrá.

Los expertos vienen trabajando en la zona desde hace un año, monitoreando fauna con estas cámaras que se activan con calor y con el movimiento de los animales.

De ahí su alegría cuando el pasado 13 de diciembre, tras revisar los videos, el biólogo José Fernando Navarro Peláez, integrante del colectivo, vio los pumas en la grabación que se logró el 24 de noviembre pasadas las cinco de la tarde.

El felino más grande del país, después del jaguar, ya había sido registrado en las montañas de este valle en un amanecer de agosto de 2012 y a principios de abril de 2013; ambas, en cámaras automáticas del grupo Aburrá Natural.

La sorpresa fue gigante; no esperábamos que hubiera pumas tan cerca”, expresó en 2013 el biólogo Juan David Sánchez, miembro de ese equipo.


El de 2012 fue de los hallazgos más importantes de fauna silvestre del área metropolitana de los últimos tiempos. Y el de ahora sí que lo es, porque se dio en un sector mucho más cercano a la zona urbana y en las imágenes se observa cómo los ejemplares estuvieron varios minutos ante la cámara en la claridad del día.

Por eso Corantioquia, autoridad ambiental en el Aburrá rural, destacó el hecho. Luisa Fernanda Jaramillo, subdirectora de Ecosistemas de la entidad, indicó que es muy importante, porque muestra ecosistemas bien conservados en un territorio tan cercano al área metropolitana.

Se logra la presencia de estos grandes felinos porque existen varias áreas muy bien conservadas en los alrededores, como el alto de San Miguel y las áreas boscosas entre Envigado y El Retiro”, explicó la funcionaria y les hizo un llamado a la comunidad y a los propietarios de predios para que conserven los bosques.

José Fernando Navarro contó que haciendo un trabajo en La Romera identificó excrementos de puma en marzo de 2013. “A partir de ese hallazgo puse más cámaras, desde 2.300 a 2.600 metros sobre el nivel del mar. El trabajo fue desde diciembre de 2013. Es algo de muchas horas. No se creía de estas especies de mamíferos allí; a 200 metros hay casas con perros grandes”, expresó.

Para Navarro, los pumas están dentro de “la fauna invisible del valle”, pero, sostuvo, “toda la vida han estado”.

En su criterio, la importancia del hallazgo radica en detectar que se trata de una población de pumas establecida que come lo que encuentra en el bosque. “Muy pocas ciudades del mundo tienen pumas tan cerca”, aseguró y mencionó, como ejemplo, a Los Ángeles, Estados Unidos.

En su lista roja de especies amenazadas, la Unión Internacional para la Conservación de la Naturaleza sitúa al puma en la categoría de preocupación menor. En Antioquia están los seis felinos que habitan en Colombia: jaguar, puma, tres especies de tigrillos y el yaguarundi.

El grupo Rastreo Colombia también lo integran el biólogo zoólogo Andrés Arias Alzate y los ecólogos Juan Pablo Quintero y Paula Andrea Hurtado Parra. Ah, y muy importante, Negra, una perra con cruce de pastor belga, recogida en la calle, que les ayuda en las labores de rastreo.

Solo usamos esta perra, la idea es entrenar más. Trabajó en rescate de fauna de Porce III, no ladra para no ahuyentar la fauna - un cazador sí lo hace - y no es agresiva. La idea es mirar quién nos financia y entrenar perros para otros proyectos”, indicó Navarro.

Según explicó, un proyecto para rastrear jaguares con personas podría costar 500 millones de pesos, pero “en Brasil entrenaron perros para encontrar excretas de jaguar y, con dos perros, en 10 días hallaron más de 300 excretas. Con ellas se pueden ver ADN, ácidos biliares, feromonas, presas de las que se alimentan, y no costó nada”.

Evitan a la gente

Tras conocer el registro de Rastreo Colombia, Juan David Sánchez, de Aburrá Natural, afirmó que varios de los pumas que se han registrado son residentes e incluso dijo que algunos han nacido en estas laderas. “Ellos establecen un territorio y los territorios son decenas de kilómetros cuadrados”, apuntó.

Explicó que los pumas se distribuyen en América, desde el nivel del mar hasta los 4.000 metros de altitud, y en el norte del continente se han documentado ataques de estos animales, pero en Colombia no se tiene conocimiento de alguno.

Ellos tratan de evitar al máximo a la gente, las luces, el ruido y a los animales domésticos”, comentó Sánchez e invitó a quienes habitan en fincas de estos sectores del Aburrá a que caminen con perros con correa y, en caso de encontrarse con uno de estos felinos, no salir corriendo sino retroceder lentamente sin perderlo de vista, pues este tiende a hacer lo mismo y a escapar. También sugirió no dejar animales domésticos sueltos para evitar depredación.

Este biólogo estimó que cada vez estaremos más en contacto con estos animales, debido al aumento de construcciones en laderas y en zonas como el Oriente cercano. Indicó que el registro de Rastreo Colombia debe motivar la gestión de entidades ambientales para prevenir conflictos como ataques, atropellamientos y la caza por considerar al puma una amenaza per se.

La Alcaldía de Sabaneta reportó que estaba enterada del trabajo con cámaras trampa, pero no del hallazgo de estos pumas. Sergio Montoya Montoya, funcionario de la Secretaría de Medio Ambiente, confesó que no imaginaban que en el municipio hubiera de estos felinos.

Informó que en el Plan de Ordenamiento Territorial (POT) de la localidad, La Romera figura como parque ecológico y recreativo. “Allá no se puede construir; de la cota 1.800 hacia arriba es área de protección”, añadió y especificó que el parque está entre las cotas 1.900 y 2.650.

Parque de borde

Sergio Montoya agregó que La Romera se convertirá en parque de borde, como una de las estrategias del Cinturón Verde Metropolitano. La primera etapa de este proyecto del Municipio, el Área Metropolitana y Corantioquia consiste en el mejoramiento de la vía de acceso con obras de cunetas y recolección de aguas lluvias, lo que cuesta cerca de 1.300 millones de pesos.

La intervención empezó el pasado 10 de noviembre y va hasta finales de marzo del presente año. Etapas posteriores estiman adecuación de senderos y aulas ambientales. Esto se haría en unas cuatro hectáreas que serían el área de acceso para el público en general.

Contexto de la Noticia

Inversiones para proteger la riqueza ambiental de La Romera
  • Según información de Rastreo Colombia, en las 184 hectáreas de La Romera “encontramos más de 150 especies de aves, ocho de anfibios y reptiles y en sus quebradas han sido reportadas cinco especies de peces. El área cuenta además con 28 especies de mamíferos (entre murciélagos, roedores, perezosos, zorros, armadillos y tigrillos)”. Para este grupo, el Valle de Aburrá debe ser considerado territorio felino.
  • Corantioquia reportó que La Romera es área protegida local. La entidad tiene un convenio con el Área Metropolitana para reforestar predios públicos. Detalló que en 2014 se reforestaron 8,5 hectáreas con especies nativas y se aisló con 4.500 metros de cercos para una inversión de 79’312.541 pesos.
  • Para 2015 se tiene proyectado enriquecer 12 hectáreas con especies nativas y aislar 5.000 metros lineales de bosques con una inversión estimada de $96’833.714. “Lo anterior se realiza con la unión de esfuerzos técnicos, administrativos y financieros entre Corantioquia y el Área Metropolitana del Valle de Aburrá”, puntualizó Corantioquia.
ORIGINAL: El Colombiano
Por Juan Carlos Valencia Gil
04 de enero de 2015

viernes, 2 de enero de 2015

H2PRO - Portable Photocatalytic Electricity Generation and Water Purification Unit

Electricity and clean water -things that we easily have access to are unfortunately luxuries for those in underdeveloped countries.

In fact, not only is there a lack of resources in third-world countries, but also the whole world is facing energy crisis and water pollution. My objective is to find an eco-friendly and economical approach to solve both issues.

My device H2PRO relies on photocatalytic reactions to purify and sterilize wastewater and to generate electricity using hydrogen produced. This sustainable process only requires titania and light. What’s more is that organic pollutant doesn’t only get decomposed but will also enhance the reaction rate.

It is composed of 2 parts –the upper unit for photocatalytic water-purification and hydrogen-generation, which is connected to a fuel cell and the bottom unit for further water filtration.

H2PRO’s feasibility in the removal of organic pollutant was examined to be excellent-almost 90% of organic compound was decomposed after 2hours. However, its performance in electricity generation was quite unstable although theoretically and experimentally the photocatalytic hydrogen yield is proved to be satisfactory and even better in the presence of organic pollutant. I will keep improving this device until stable electricity generation is achieved.

In conclusion, I have successfully introduced a design for a portable electricity-generation and water-purification unit. Generally speaking, H2PRO has demonstrated its potential to feasibly provide clean water and sustainable energy to the needy ones. I will keep "practicalizing" the electricity-generation unit so that people can really benefit from my design one day.

Hello! My name is Cynthia Lam. I go to Balwyn High School in Melbourne, Australia. Besides Science, I love travelling, music and making crafts.

I am always fascinated by the how scientists put imaginations into practice to change the world. Rita Levi-Montalcini's perseverance in science is truly an inspiration to me. Yet, although there was always a spark of passion for science in my heart, I always thought that I was too young for researches and inventions - until last year.

In April 2013, out of curiosity and my love for Chemistry, I started my first research on Titania's Photocatalysis. I investigated the optimum conditions for photocatalytic hydrogen generation and it won the Major Bursary in Victoria's Science Talent Search. It was a very rewarding and exciting experience to complete a research, I was hence motivated to challenge myself and to create a helpful device that puts what I investigated into practice.

I would like to study Medicine or Environmental Science in the future because I want to be able to help those in need. By creating H2PRO, I introduced an eco-friendly alternative for providing people in underdeveloped countries clean water and electricity. There is still a long way to go, but I am glad I took my first step to make a difference. Winning would mean a motivation for me to keep improving my device and to bravely follow my dreams. Hopefully it would also raise the awareness of the importance of clean water and electricity in underdeveloped countries.

Is it possible to create a portable device that purifies wastewater while generating electricity sustainably and affordably?

This question is raised not only because of the lack of clean water and electricity in third-world countries, but also because we are all facing energy crisis and water pollution. My objective is to find an eco-friendly and economical approach to solve both issues.

Based on what I developed from investigating photocatalysis, I aim to create a device that can put the mechanisms into practice. In photocatalysis, not only water is purified and sterilized, but hydrogen is also produced through water-splitting, which can be used to generate electricity.

The entire sustainable process only needs titania and light-no additional power source is required. However, hydrogen production is generally low since photoexcited electrons tend to fall back to the hole(i.e.photoinduced electron-hole combination). Fortunately, it can be overcome by adding reductants, while some organic pollutants serve such purpose. Hence, I propose to combine the two mechanisms together to enhance the yield and lower the cost of hydrogen generation, meanwhile efficient water purification can also be achieved.

There are similar designs existing, but they require either an excessively complex use of technology or an external energy source, which means they are not sustainable, affordable and manageable for users in underdeveloped countries. Nonetheless, I hypothesize that photocatalysis can be applied in a manageable scale that allows water purification and electricity production to be economically and sustainably performed in a portable device as well as at a household level.


There is an existing design for mobile hydrogen energy and water supply, although feasible, that design needs an external solar power source to purify water and produce hydrogen through electrolyzer, which makes it costlier and less efficient. This inspires me to create a self-sustainable portable device that can purify wastewater and produce electricity through only photocatalysis (without any additional electricity source).

I. Photocatalytic Redox Reactions
When titania absorbs ultraviolet energy, which is comparable to its band gap, photoexcitation of electron takes place and an electron-hole pair is produced.

Reduced by the excited electron, oxygen forms super oxide anion (•O2-). The hole reacts with water producing hydroxyl radicals (•OH).

The radicals yielded in the process oxidize organic compound, resulting in water purification. Furthermore, organic compounds may also be oxidized by the hole. In either case, the organic compound decomposed to yield harmless CO2 and H2O.

I. Photocatalytic Water Splitting
The effect of water splitting using titania was first discovered by Akira Fujishima. The photoinduced electrons and holes cause redox reactions similarly to electrolysis, causing water molecules to be reduced by the electrons to form hydrogen and oxidized by the holes to form oxygen (most oxygen is consumed in side reactions so hydrogen is the major product).

III. Recombination of the photoinduced electron-hole pairs
Electrons tend to move to lower energies. When this transfer occurs from band to band, it is called recombination.
In this process, an electron (e–), which has been excited from the valence band to the conduction band of titania, falls back into an empty state in the valence band, which is the hole (h+).
This phenomenon hinders photocatalytic redox and water-splitting reactions. Hence, preventing the recombination reaction had long been the centerpiece of the field.

Different attempts to hinder the recombination of electron-hole pairs have been proposed; doping titania with noble metals for example. The addition of a sacrificial agent – a reducing agent or an oxidizing agent – is known as an excellent approach to overcome such limitation. When photocatalysis takes place in an aqueous solution including a reductant, a.k.a. electron donors/ hole scavengers, photoinduced holes irreversibly oxidize the reductant instead of water. Therefore, hydrogen production is enhanced.

Lots of common organic pollutants such as methanol, glycerol and EDTA can act as excellent reductants. As hole scavengers, they minimize the chance of recombination of the photoinduced electron-hole pairs, hence enhancing the rate of hydrogen generation. At the same time, they can be effectively decomposed.
III. Hydrogen Fuel Cell
There are various fuel cells, but generally they work similarly. Hydrogen fuel cell has an anode and a cathode separated by a membrane. Oxygen passes over cathode and hydrogen over anode.
H2 reacts to a catalyst on the anode that converts H2 into electrons and hydrogen ion.
The mobile electrons travel through a wire creating the electric current. The hydrogen ions move through the electrolyte membrane to the cathode where they react with oxygen and electrons to form water.

This mushroom devours your plastic waste - and once it’s finished, you can eat it too.

Image: Paris Tsitsos, Livin Studio
WATCH: This new device turns plastic into edible mushrooms

Microbiologists in the Netherlands have teamed up with Austrian industrial designers to come up with an amazing solution to our plastic problem - now we can simply eat it, via an edible fungi.
It's been a good year for promising plastic breakthroughs, with scientists in November developing a plastic that breaks down fully in just three hours. Now the European team has developed a device called the Fungi Mutarium, which uses fungi to safely break down plastic, in turn growing an edible food source.
Fungi Mutarium - Julia Kaisinger and Katherina Unger

The prototype machine works on small bits of thin plastic - like the kind used in shopping bags - and first uses UV light to sterilise and kickstart their decomposition.

This UV-treated plastic is then placed in a small pod made from agar, which is an edible, algae-based type of gelatin.

These pods are then placed in the dome-like “growth sphere” and liquified fungi sprouts are poured over them.

In just a few weeks, fungi begins to grow out of the pods, using the plastic to feed its development. After several months, the plastic will be completely decomposed and you’re left with nothing but an agar cup filled with edible fluffy white mycelium - the soft, vegetative part of a fungus.

We were both really inspired about the idea that something digests plastic but then still creates edible biomass,” Katharina Unger, one of the two industrial designers from the studio Livin, who worked on the project, told Kaleigh Rogers from Motherboard. They also wanted to find some new and innovative solutions to food shortages around the world.

Farmers are increasingly dealing with extreme environmental conditions to produce food," Unger explained to Adele Peters from Co.Exist. "Fungi Mutarium is a projection of how new biotechnologies might be applied to grow edible material on so far harmful or even toxic waste material."

Amazingly, these mushrooms are, in theory, safe to eat, because although they can fully digest plastic, they do this without accumulating the toxic compounds - although the designers admit that more testing would need to be done on their safety before the mutarium could be commercialised

While it all sounds very cool, we know what you’re thinking - what do the mushrooms taste like? The microbiologists have so far used oyster mushroom and split gill mushrooms in the system, which are two of the most popular mushrooms in the world.

According to Unger, they’re pretty tasty, and can be eaten whole.

It starts off being very neutral, but it can also get a bit nutty and spicy in taste. It really depends on the strain, actually,Unger told Rogers.

The team also developed some recipes to flavour the agar cups that the mushroom is inside, which range from savoury to a sweet one with peaches and yoghurt.

As you can see in the video below, the whole set-up looks pretty futuristic.

Unfortunately however, there’s still a long way to go before this device can be used more widely.

Right now the fact that it takes months to break down tiny bits of plastic means that it’s not super appealing to the market. But the team are now looking into how they can improve the process and also scale it up for mass use.

We know that there’s potential to speed up this process simply by optimising the processes around it: temperature, humidity, the perfect microclimate for this fungi to colonise the plastic material,Unger told Rogers.

Also, though it’s more controversial, there is genetic modification. What happens if you modify the organism so that it can process the materials more quickly?

They also hope the prototype will make people think a little differently about plastic waste and the potential ways we can grow food.

While it’s still got a long way to go, the fact that scientists have now estimated there are 5.25 trillion bits of plastic polluting our oceans shows just how badly we need some new solutions to dealing with plastic waste. 

And if we can find a way to do that while also helping to feed the population sustainably, then that’s pretty awesome.

ORIGINAL: Science Alert

 20 DEC 2014