SciTech Briefs

Regular marijuana use shown to negatively affect teenage brains

According to a discussion at the 122nd annual convention of the American Psychological Association, frequent marijuana use can have negative effects on the adolescent brain and result in addiction. Brain imaging studies of teenagers 16–19 years old who increased their marijuana use in the past year showed abnormalities in the brain’s gray matter, which is associated with intelligence. These conclusions were reached even after controlling for major medical conditions, prenatal drug exposure, developmental delays, and learning disabilities. Furthermore, a 2012 longitudinal study which followed 1,037 participants from birth to age 38 showed that adolescents who become addicted to marijuana may lose up to six IQ points by age 38. According to Krista Lisdahl, director of the brain imaging and neuropsychology lab at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the recent legalization of marijuana has made the drug seem less risky to teenagers and young adults. Lisdahl believes policymakers should take steps to prevent easy access to young adults and fund intervention for current users.

Source: Science Daily

Researchers at University of Montreal design 3-D sketching system

On Aug. 10, researchers from the University of Montreal presented Hyve-3D, a 3-D sketching system, at the SIGGRAPH (Special Interest Group on Graphics and Inter- active Techniques) 2014 conference in Vancouver. The system is run by a Macbook Pro laptop, two iPad Mini tablets, a tracking system with two 3-D sensors, and a specially designed high-resolution projector. Users create drawings on iPad mini tablets, and the projector displays the drawing as a 3-D image within the system’s space. Users manipulate the 3-D image by changing their drawing on the iPads which are connected to the 3-D sensors. According to leading research professor Tomás Dorta of the University of Montreal’s School of Design, the system is the first simple, non-intrusive 3-D sketching system and has applications in many fields, including engineering, industrial and architectural design, medical 3-D applications, game design animation, and movie production.

Source: Science Daily

Facebook purchases cybersecurity startup

Facebook announced last week that it purchased PrivateCore, a startup that produces software to protect data on servers. According to Joe Sullivan, Facebook’s chief security officer, PrivateCore’s software “protects servers from persistent malware, unauthorized physical access, and malicious hardware devices.” The startup was formed in Palo Alto, Calif. by former VMware and Google employees in 2012. Sullivan announced on his Facebook page that “PrivateCore’s technology and expertise will help support Facebook’s mission to help make the world more open and connected, in a se- cure and trusted way.”

Source: CNN Money

Ebola may not be widespread epidemic

The recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa has caused alarm worldwide, particularly since the virus’s arrival in the U.S. However, the virus may not be the serious pandemic that hysteria has made it out to be. People acquire the disease when they come into close contact with animals that carry the virus, a rare event in a developed country. Ebola has caused less damage than the SARS outbreak of 2003, and has caused even fewer deaths than diseases that are considered mundane, such as influenza and measles. Experts believe that the root of panic over Ebola is the widespread expectation of a deadly pandemic. Additionally, Ebola may cause more panic than SARS or influenza because of its gruesome symptoms. While it has not caused as many deaths as other major epidemics, the virus kills 60 to 90 percent of the people it does infect. Priscilla Wald, author of a number of pandemic-related books and an English professor at Duke University, said, “A terrifying disease, easily transmitted, spreads from a developing country and threatens to become apocalyptic.... That story has been told so many times, even when people hear one piece of that story, that one element may invoke the entire narrative.”

Source: CNN

IBM develops chip that emulates brain function

Researchers at IBM have designed a new low-power chip based on the brain’s architecture. The chip, named TrueNorth, attempts to recognize patterns by relying on interconnected networks of transistors, structured similarly to the neural networks in the brain. It uses no more power than that of a hearing aid, which is 500–2,000 times less powerful than today’s personal computers. The notion that neural networks could help in processing information has been prevalent since the 1940s, but is still in its infancy in terms of practicality. Recently, companies such as Apple and Google have used pattern recognition to speed up the networks used in computing. Despite claims that the chip has the potential to do calculations that today’s supercomputers are incapable of, there is skepticism as to whether it will ever be able to outperform today’s fastest supercomputers, and whether it has been adequately tested as to how well it can perform functions such as movement detection. In the immediate future, the primary goals of the chip are to automate the surveillance done by military drones and to quickly test neuro-scientific theories about how brains function.

Source: The New York Times

Immense vortex on Saturn

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, which has been orbiting Saturn for 10 years, recently sighted a six-sided vortex on the planet’s north pole. The atmospheric phenomenon was first discovered by NASA’s Voyager in 1980, and was identified as a hexagonal storm four times the size of Earth. However, after the Voyager left, Saturn’s north pole descended into winter. Since the planet takes 30 Earth years to orbit the sun, the storm was engulfed in darkness until Cassini just recently spotted it again. The storm is bordered by a jet stream blowing 220 miles per hour. Ana Aguiar-Ricardo, professor of chemical and biochemical engineering at the New University of Lisbon, attributes the storm’s strange shape to friction with slower-moving atmosphere on either side of the jet stream.

Source: The New York Times