Scientists Create the Blob
It sounds like a monster straight out of a Hollywood horror movie and, inevitably, it was made in Tokyo. But scientists at the applied physics lab at Waseda University see many peaceful, scientific uses for their self-propelled chemical gel, including those for which engineers would normally use electronics.
Shingo Maeda and his colleagues composed the gel from polymers that change in size depending on their chemical environment. The right environment makes the gel oscillate, which in turns causes it to wiggle along a surface rather like an inchworm, without any electricity coming into play. When engineers try to build devices that can move mechanically, it usually involves complex fabricated circuits or external control devices, Maeda notes. A chemical system, such as this gel, may be able to generate its own control signals from within.
Strangely enough, the oscillating reaction that makes the gel move has also been used to perform calculations, with the substances involved acting like a chemical brain. The scientists hope to improve the substance's ability to move independently (though it will still only be able to do so on a lab bench, since it requires specific chemical conditions). Eventually, Maeda believes the gel may be used to make some of the components for a future robot. There is no word as to whether the scientists have accepted any funding from Time Warner for their project.
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Saving Geocities for Posterity
Those who have been on the web long enough remember Geocities, Yahoo's old web hosting service. A collection of personal web sites that existed before the term blog, Geocities offered an early outlet for online creative expression to perhaps millions of users. Yahoo's announcement that they will be shutting down the community later this year (perhaps in response to many moving on to other places on the web) means all of that data will be lost...or will it?
A group calling themselves the Archive Team hopes to limit the damage. They can't prevent Yahoo from closing Geocities, but they can preserve it. Team leader Jason Scott reported on his blog that his group has been downloading files at an enormous rate, and believe they've saved more than 200,000 web sites so far. Unfortunately, much of this raw, young Internet is already lost, since it appears that Yahoo quietly purged a number of neighborhoods before the project started.
Still, the team thinks they've saved nearly every remaining web site on Geocities from 1999 and before. The first step, according to Scott, is to archive the data. While his team doesn't plan to release the data, they do hope to make sure people can get it, somehow. Possibilities include putting the Geocities archive online as a sort of curated collection.
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Bring on the Mind Control Lasers
What if you could treat diseases such as Parkinson's, epilepsy, schizophrenia and others with targeted viruses and blue lasers? That's the vision guiding researchers at the MIT Media Lab, who recently succeeded in activating a specific set of neurons in a monkey's brain. While such techniques have already been used in fish, flies, and rodents, this was the first time the technology has been used on a primate brain.
Researchers, led by neuroscientist Ed Boyden, created viruses that infect neurons with a type of channel that is sensitive to blue light. A blue laser shining on those neurons makes the channel snap open. Ions enter the cell, and the neuron fires. The engineered virus is injected into a specific, very small portion of the brain, and only one class of neurons actually turns the channel on. The blue laser targets a very specific part of the brain. This specificity minimizes potential side effects.
Compare that to current treatments for Parkinson's, epilepsy, and certain other diseases of the brain and psychiatric disorders. They often involve medicines with a broader reach and a wide range of side effects. Boyden's team, in contrast, showed that their technology worked on their subjects multiple times over the course of eight or nine months without causing damage to the neurons or activating the brain's immune system. The technique could offer an improved way to administer deep brain stimulation, which has shown promise in treating Parkinson's, epilepsy and depression, but also causes side effects.
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