SciTech Briefs

Facebook testing alternative to Like button

Facebook’s hope to evolve the 1-D like button has garnered much interest in the past, but this week, Facebook released “Reactions,” a set of six emoji’s that will join the traditional like button. They hope that this new feature will make it easier for users to better express their feelings towards a post by choosing from love, laughter, happiness, shock, sadness and anger. Prior to a universal release, Facebook will test the experience in only Spain and Ireland. They hope to use the tests and user feedback to better fine-tune the service. Adam Mosseri, Facebook’s director of product, stated in an interview that these countries both have largely national user bases without extensive international friend networks, and it would be easier to analyze data on how the emoji-based system would benefit users.

Source: TechCrunch

Microsoft receives praise for additions to product line

This past week, Microsoft held a media event and introduced the Surface Pro 4, the Surface Book, and new Lumina smartphones. Their release garnered much media attention and many positive reviews from tech insiders and users alike. The Surface Pro 4 is a strong follow-up to the Surface 3, and showcased a kickstand, stylus, improved keyboard cover, and powerful Windows 10 experience. The newer model is thinner, faster, has a fingerprint sensor, and allows users to interact with their device in a myriad of ways. Microsoft also showed their first ever in-house designed laptop, the Surface Book, which is a larger version of the Surface that can dock into an attached keyboard and provides a more powerful machine with stronger battery life.

Source: CNET

Supercomputer simulates small part of rat’s brain

Scientists participating in the Blue Brain Project shared a supercomputer that is a digital imitation of an extremely small part of a mouse’s brain. The simulation models roughly 31,000 virtual brain cells and 37 million synapses. The project was based out of Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) and led by neurobiologist Henry Markram as part of an attempt to eventually simulate the human brain. The simulation uses experimental data to construct a relatively accurate model of neurons’ 3-D shapes, their electrical properties, and the ion channels and other proteins that different cell types produce. Their work thus far was featured in the Oct. 8 edition of the journal Cell detailing the collaboration between 80 researchers from 12 countries.

Source: Scientific American

No new cases of Ebola documented in the past week

The African countries of Liberia, Guiena, and Sierra Leone have been plagued by an Ebola outbreak that has taken 11,000 lives over the past year, but there has been no new case of the disease reported within the past week. The most recent outbreak has been the worst in Ebola history due to the disease’s ease of transmission, poor cultural and medical practices, and infrastructural inadequacies. While the recent statistic is promising, officials at the World Health Organization (WHO) encouraged everyone to continue to be cautious, because it only requires one poorly handled case to cause another outbreak. While there is yet much to learn and the battle is far from over, the recent suppression of new cases provides optimism for an Ebola-free world.

Source: IFLScience

Farmer unearths woolly mammoth in Michigan farm field

Michigan farmer James Bristle found buried bone eight feet underground while digging to install a drainage pipe in his wheat field last week. A team of paleontologists and students from the University of Michigan Museum of Paleontology uncovered the remains of a woolly mammoth. They collected about 20 percent of the bones, including a massive skull with tusks. Researchers estimated that the mammoth lived between 11,700 and 15,000 years ago and was in its forties when it died. In addition to the remains, the paleontologists found evidence of human activity, revealing that the animal may have been intentionally buried. The specimen has been donated to the University of Michigan for further analysis, and the bones will likely be displayed in the university’s museum of natural history.


SpaceIL leads in Google Lunar X Prize challenge

The Google Lunar X Prize challenge is a competition that calls for teams to land on the moon, roam at least 500 meters, and return hi-res video and images to Earth. The Israeli Team SpaceIL established themselves as the clear front-runnner by being the first of the remaining groups to finalize a verified launch contract with the competition’s organizers. The winner of the project aims to be the first-ever privately funded lunar mission. The contract with SpaceX covers multiple missions and extends the deadline for the competition through 2017. The other teams remaining in the competition have stated that they have plans to launch their own probes, but have failed to produce a formal contract proving their plans.

Source: BBC