SciTech Briefs

New software simulates physical sensations

The Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) Lab at the Hasso Plattner Institute in Germany recently created a prototype a boxing game called Impacto, which is designed to simulate real-life physical sensations associated with boxing. The technology includes an armband that uses haptic feedback, which provides responses based on the sense of touch, as well as electrodes attached to the user’s bicep to simulate muscle contraction. In order for Impacto to work, the user must wear a special headset that connects to the armband the user wears.

During the game, when the computer opponent lands a punch, the software in the game sends an electrical impulse to the armband and electrodes. The impulse in the armband delivers a physical tap to the user’s arm, while the impulse in the electrodes simultaneously causes the bicep muscles to contract and swing back.

The result simulates the action-reaction forces that occur when a boxer is actually hit in the arm. While this technology is limited in its application now, Patrick Baudisch, the head of the HCI Lab at the Hasso Plattner Institute, believes Impacto has laid the groundwork for “a vision for post-wearable technology.”

Source: MIT Technology Review

Laptop designed to search for life in outer space

NASA is currently developing a prototype for a chemical laptop that can be sent into space to analyze samples found by researchers in search of life. Some of the predominant building blocks for life are amino acids and fatty acids, both of which make other molecules in the body such as proteins and cell membranes. Astronauts hope to use this laptop to find potential building blocks of life on planets such as Mars.

The laptop works by first heating a solid sample into a liquid and then mixing it with a fluorescent dye chemically designed to stick to amino or fatty acids. The sample then flows through a separation channel in which amino and fatty acids can be separated from one another. The sample finally passes through a detection laser that analyzes the sample composition to determine if it contains any fatty or amino acids.
The goal of the project is to make a portable instrument that can be practically used in space exploration. The convenience of the device could lead to better space exploration in search of life.

The laptop was tested at the JPL’s Mars Yard last year and will now be tested in the Atacama Desert in Chile.

Source: NASA

NASA makes plan to put astronauts on Mars

NASA seeks to put astronauts on Mars by 2030, and it recently developed a plan of action. While the physical distance between Earth and Mars is a challenge in itself, there are many other complications that arise, such as “budgetary changes, political priorities, new scientific discoveries, [and] technological breakthroughs,” according to William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations at NASA.

To address these issues, NASA has had astronauts continuously cycle through six-month intervals living aboard the International Space Station since 2000. This project is helping astronauts and technical staff understand what kind of architecture and instrumentation they need aboard spacecraft, as well as the health issues associated with prolonged time in space.

By the early 2020s, NASA hopes to start moving into deep-space habitation by sending astronauts into orbit around the moon. By doing so, scientists can test the theories they believe will make prolonged space exploration possible, while also keeping the astronauts relatively close to Earth in the event a serious issue arises.

Source: Fox News

Researchers find gene patterns in genetic diseases

Every person’s brain is unique, yet researchers at the Allen Institute claim they have identified a small set of molecular patterns in the brain that dominate gene expression. Researchers studied six different brains, focusing on hundreds of distinct brain regions in each. They determined what genes in each brain had the most consistent expression patterns across all six, and then compared the genes to each other and brain functionality to find underlying relationships and similarities.

Researchers found that while the genome contains over 20,000 genes, most of their expression can be characterized in only 32 patterns. They additionally found that the genes that were most consistent across the brains included genes that are linked to genetic diseases such as autism and Alzheimer’s. Understanding the underlying molecular patterns make up these disease genes can lead to developing better therapeutic treatment for attacking them.

The research, which could help develop target therapeutics for various diseases, was published this month in Nature Neuroscience.

Source: Allen Institute for Brain Science

Supernova millions of light-years away affects our galaxy

New Scientist recently published an article discussing the explosion of a star into a supernova that occurred millions of light-years away. A supernova is particular kind of aftermath of a star after it collapses into itself due to a disproportionate mass to volume ratio. A supernova causes radiation and mass to be emitted from the star at very high energies. The energy associated with these byproducts allow them to traverse great distances across space, and in the case of this particular supernova one of these products, a nucleus of iron, is reaching our atmosphere.

The ability for these byproducts to travel such great distances at such high speed relies on the energy released from the explosion of a star. Cosmic explosions can occur at temperatures up to 100 million Kelvin, which provides an exorbitant amount of energy to the atomic nuclei propelled from them.

Additionally, at such high temperatures, atoms within the star collide and fuse together, adding heat and energy to the explosion. It is this total energy input that allows the atomic nuclei ejected from the explosion to reach near-light velocities and enter into our atmosphere.

Source: New Scientist

App designed to help rehabilitate stroke patients

Several months ago, faculty at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, including John Krakauer,a professor of neurology and neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, released a game called Bandit’s Shark Showdown, which is designed to help rebuild muscle coordination for stroke victims. The game uses an electronic sling that syncs the user’s movements with that of a dolphin in the game, who must fend away the attacks of sharks.

Every creature in the game, though, contains an intricate skeleton system visible to the user whose movements in the game correlate to real musculoskeletal motions. The game teaches those who use it how to make controlled body movements, which can be difficult for someone who has suffered from a stroke. Additionally, the game can track rehabilitation of stroke victims by gauging how they improve in the game over time.

The developers hope that the game will help stroke victims through rehabilitation while simultaneously making it more interactive. The lab will continue this project and hopes to expand into the 3-D printing of assistive rehabilitation devices.

Source: The New Yorker