Physicists Have Created the Brightest Light Ever Recorded

Jason Koebler writes: A group of physicists at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Extreme Light Laboratory announced Monday that they have created the brightest light ever produced on Earth using Diocles, one of the most powerful lasers in the United States. When this high intensity laser pulse, which is one billion times brighter than the surface of the sun, strikes the electron, it causes it to behave differently. By firing this laser at individual electrons, the researchers found that past a certain threshold, the brightness of light will actually change an object’s appearance rather than simply making it brighter. The x-rays that are produced in this fashion have an extremely high amount of energy, and Umstadter and his colleagues think this could end up being applied in a number of ways. For starters, it could allow doctors to produce x-ray medical images on the nanoscale, which would allow them to detect tumors and other anomalies that regular x-rays might have missed. Moreover, it could also be used for more sophisticated x-ray scanning at airports and other security checkpoints.

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Scientists Decipher the Neural Code For Faces

New submitter akakaak writes: In a new paper published in Cell, researchers Le Chang and Doris Tsao claim to have uncovered “The Code for Facial Identity in the Primate Brain.” They develop a model representing each face as a vector in a 50-dimensional “face-space,” and show that the firing rate for each face-sensitive neuron represents the location along a single axis through this space. This allows them to accurately predict the appearance of a viewed face from the collective recorded activity of the neurons. This work is a major advance in the decoding of complex neural representations, and refutes exemplar-based models of face recognition. Further reading: Scientific American

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Human Sense of Smell Rivals That of Dogs, Says Study

One scientific analysis is arguing that the human sense of smell has not only been underestimated over the years, but that it may rival that of dogs and rodents. John McGann, a neuroscientist at Rutgers University in New Jersey and the paper’s author, said: “For so long people failed to stop and question this claim, even people who study the sense of smell for a living. The fact is the sense of smell is just as good in humans as in other mammals, like rodents and dogs.” McGann has reached this unexpected conclusion after spending 14 years studying the olfactory system. The Guardian reports: McGann identifies a 19th century brain surgeon, Paul Broca, as the primary culprit for introducing the notion of inferior human olfaction into the scientific literature. Broca noted that the olfactory bulb — the brain region that processes odor detection — is smaller, relative to total brain volume, in people compared with dogs or rats. The discovery inspired Freud’s belief that human sexual repression may be linked to our “usually atrophied” sense of smell. In the latest paper, published in Science, McGann points out that in absolute terms the human olfactory bulb is bigger than in many mammals and a literature search revealed that the absolute number olfactory neurons is remarkably consistent across mammals. McGann goes on to deconstruct other metrics that have been used to support the idea that human smelling abilities are limited. Humans have approximately 1,000 odor receptor genes, for instance, compared to 1,100 in mice, which some had taken as confirmation of mouse superiority. However, other work suggests there is not a tight relationship between the number of olfactory genes and smelling ability. One study found that cows have 2,000 such genes – far more than dogs.

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How the Six-Hour Workday Actually Saves Money

An anonymous reader shares a report: In February, after almost two years worth of six-hour workdays, nurses at the Svartedalens elderly care facility in Gothenburg, Sweden went back to eight hour shifts — despite recently published research showing the benefits of the shortened workdays. The City of Gothenburg didn’t extend the experiment in part because funding ran out. It cost about 12 million krona ($1.3 million) to hire the 17 extra staff members needed to fill the gaps created by shorter work hours. The city had only budgeted for two years, and legislators said it would be too expensive to implement the project across the entire municipality. So, for now, the project has come to an end. Yet, there are longer term savings the study didn’t take into account. Working shorter hours resulted in healthier workers, researcher Bengt Lorentzon found in a new paper. “They were less tired, less sick, had more energy coming home and more time to do activities,” said Lorentzon. Specifically, the nurses took fewer sick days than they did when working longer, eight hour days. They also took fewer sick days than nurses in the control group. In fact, they took fewer sick days than nurses across the entire city of Gothenburg.

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Supercomputers Help Researchers Find Two New Kinds Of Magnets

“Predicting magnets is a heck of a job, and their discovery is very rare,” said a mechanical engineering professor at Duke University. But after years of work synthesizing various predictions, material scientists “predicted and built two new magnetic materials, atom-by-atom, using high-throughput computational models.” An anonymous reader quotes Phys.org:
The success marks a new era for the large-scale design of new magnetic materials at unprecedented speed. Although magnets abound in everyday life, they are actually rarities — only about 5% of known inorganic compounds show even a hint of magnetism. And of those, just a few dozen are useful in real-world applications because of variability in properties such as effective temperature range and magnetic permanence…
In a new study, materials scientists from Duke University provide a shortcut in this process. They show the capability to predict magnetism in new materials through computer models that can screen hundreds of thousands of candidates in short order. And, to prove it works, they’ve created two magnetic materials that have never been seen before.

“The first alloy is particularly interesting,” reports the International Business Times, “because it contains no rare-earth materials, which are both expensive and difficult to acquire.” But a Duke mechanical engineering professor points out that “It doesn’t really matter if either of these new magnets proves useful in the future. The ability to rapidly predict their existence is a major coup and will be invaluable to materials scientists moving forward.”

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The Story of the First Human Head Transplant Won't Die

Stories about the first human head transplant operation, supposedly coming in December 2017, are circulating again. From a report on the Outline: But despite what you might have read or seen, humanity is not much closer to transplanting a human head to a new body than we were last year. Sorry to disappoint anyone looking to get their head transplanted. The story is based on the work of one man: Italian neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero. Canavero started making headlines in 2013 with ambitious claims about the process he designed for a transplant of a human head — as in, moving a healthy human head from a subject with an unhealthy body to an otherwise-healthy, brain-dead donor body. Canavero’s claims have been alternately regarded as sensationalist, spurious, and ethically murky. Since then, the doctor has periodically resurfaced in the news. Once, when he found a willing patient in Valery Spiridonov, a Russian man with spinal muscular atrophy in the form of Werdnig-Hoffmann disease; other times when he published papers, including two proof-of-principle studies last year as well as articles reviewing preliminary work on animals relating to his proposed procedure. Though published in the internet-only journal Surgical Neurology International, an important distinction here is that none of these actually involve a successful full transplant of any kind despite his claim to have successfully transplanted a monkey’s head. The papers addressing work with animals are, broadly speaking, about treating spinal cord injuries and issues.

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Elon Musk Launches Neuralink To Connect Brains With Computers

At Recode’s conference last year, Elon Musk said he would love to see someone do something about linking human brains with computers. With no other human being volunteering, Mr. Musk — who founded PayPal and OpenAI, thought of Hyperloop, is working on a boring company, and runs SpaceX, TeslaX, SolarCity — is now working on it. From a report on WSJ: Internal sources tell the WSJ that the company, called Neuralink, is developing “neural lace” technology that would allow people to communicate directly with machines without going through a physical interface. Neural lace involves implanting electrodes in the brain so people could upload or download their thoughts to or from a computer, according to the WSJ report. The product could allow humans to achieve higher levels of cognitive function. From WSJ’s report (paywalled): The founder and chief executive of Tesla and Space Exploration Technologies Corp.has launched another company called Neuralink Corp., according to people familiar with the matter. Neuralink is pursuing what Mr. Musk calls “neural lace” technology, implanting tiny brain electrodes that may one day upload and download thoughts. Mr. Musk didn’t respond to a request for comment. Max Hodak, who said he is a “member of the founding team,” confirmed the company’s existence and Mr. Musk’s involvement.

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1.6 Billion-Year-Old Plant Fossil Found In India

Complex multicellular life began 400 million years earlier than we thought, according to a Phys.org article shared by Slashdot reader William Robinson:

Scientists found two kinds of fossils resembling red algae in uniquely well-preserved sedimentary rocks at Chitrakoot in central India. One type is thread-like, the other one consists of fleshy colonies. The scientists were able to see distinct inner cell structures and so-called cell fountains, the bundles of packed and splaying filaments that form the body of the fleshy forms and are characteristic of red algae… The oldest known red algae before the present discovery are 1.2 billion years old. The Indian fossils, 400 million years older and by far the oldest plant-like fossils ever found, suggest that the early branches of the tree of life need to be recalibrated.

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Pollution Responsible For a Quarter of Deaths of Young Children, Says WHO

More than 1 in 4 deaths of children under 5 years of age are attributable to unhealthy environments. Every year, environmental risks — such as indoor and outdoor air pollution, second-hand smoke, unsafe water, lack of sanitation, and inadequate hygiene — take the lives of 1.7 million children under 5 years, say two new WHO reports. The Guardian adds: “A polluted environment is a deadly one — particularly for young children,” says Dr Margaret Chan, director-general of the WHO. “Their developing organs and immune systems — and smaller bodies and airways — make them especially vulnerable to dirty air and water.” The harm from air pollution can begin in the womb and increase the risk of premature birth. After birth, air pollution raises the risk of pneumonia, a major cause of death for under fives, and of lifelong lung conditions such as asthma. It may also increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer in later life.

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Most Scientists 'Can't Replicate Studies By Their Peers'

Science is facing a “reproducibility crisis” where more than two-thirds of researchers have tried and failed to reproduce another scientist’s experiments, research suggests. From a report: This is frustrating clinicians and drug developers who want solid foundations of pre-clinical research to build upon. From his lab at the University of Virginia’s Centre for Open Science, immunologist Dr Tim Errington runs The Reproducibility Project, which attempted to repeat the findings reported in five landmark cancer studies. “The idea here is to take a bunch of experiments and to try and do the exact same thing to see if we can get the same results.” You could be forgiven for thinking that should be easy. Experiments are supposed to be replicable. The authors should have done it themselves before publication, and all you have to do is read the methods section in the paper and follow the instructions. Sadly nothing, it seems, could be further from the truth.

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