Brain-zapping implants that change mood and lift depression

Teams of researchers are developing sesame seed-size neuro-implants that detect brain activity that signals depression and then deliver targeted electrical zaps to elevate your mood. It's very early days in the science and technology but recent studies suggest that we're on the path. Links to scientific papers below. Fortunately, the goal is to develop tools and a methodology more precise than the horrifically blunt "shock therapy" of last century. From Science News:

DARPA, a Department of Defense research agency, is funding (Massachusetts General Hospital's research on new brain stimulation methods) plus work at UCLA on targeted brain stimulation. Now in its fifth and final year, the (DARPA) project, called SUBNETS, aims to help veterans with major depression, post-traumatic stress, anxiety and other psychiatric problems. “It is extremely frustrating for patients to not know why they feel the way they do and to not be able to correct it,” Justin Sanchez, the director of DARPA’s Biological Technologies Office, said in a Nov. 30 statement. “We owe them and their families better options.”

These next-generation systems, primarily being developed at UCSF and Massachusetts General Hospital, might ultimately deliver. After detecting altered brain activity that signals a looming problem, these devices, called closed-loop stimulators, would intervene electrically with what their inventors hope is surgical precision.

In contrast to the UCSF group, Widge, who is at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, and his collaborators don’t focus explicitly on mood. The researchers want to avoid categorical diagnoses such as depression, which they argue can be imprecise.

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A teenage science geek's quest to collect every element on the periodic table

In the 1960s, when Scientific American copy editor Michael J. Battaglia was 15, he had a chemical romance with the periodic table. In fact, Battaglia was so fascinated by the basic substances of our universe that he tried to collect 'em all (at least the 104 elements that science knew about at the time.) From Scientific American:

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'Ghost Apples' of ice form after freezing rain in Michigan [PHOTOS]

Aren't they beautiful? Here's how 'ghost apples' formed on this apple tree in West Michigan. Read the rest

WATCH: single-celled zygote becomes a newt

In Jan van IJken's "Becoming", a single cell becomes a complete organism in "six pulsing minutes of timelapse." (More of IJken's work is featured at Aeon) Read the rest

NOAA says 2018 was 4th warmest year on record, in an undeniable global warming trend

2018 was the fourth warmest year ever recorded on planet Earth, NOAA reported today. Read the rest

HOW TO: Randall "XKCD" Munroe's forthcoming book of "absurd scientific advice"

Randall "XKCD" Munroe's next book has been announced: How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems, a sequel of sorts to his 2014 book What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions, spun out of his wonderful XKCD spinout site. It's out on Sept 3, and the publisher's description makes it (as Kottke says) an instant pre-order: "For any task you might want to do, there's a right way, a wrong way, and a way so monumentally bad that no one would ever try it. How To is a guide to the third kind of approach. It's full of highly impractical advice for everything from landing a plane to digging a hole." Read the rest

Manhattan-sized hole opens up under Antarctic glacier

A massive cavity so large you could fit New York City inside of it has opened up under Thwaites glacier in Antarctica. Scientists say if it collapses, as it's likely to do within the next 50 to 100 years, it could cause a catastrophic rise in sea levels capable of flood coastal cities around the world. Read the rest

This toilet seat checks your heart health

Smart toilets that analyze urine and poop in the bowl have been demonstrated for years, but now Rochester Institute of Technology engineers have integrated multiple kinds of biosensors into the toilet's seat. The WiFi-enable systems tracks EEG, blood oxygen levels, and the heart's pumping force. From IEEE Spectrum:

If the monitoring system works as expected, the device could help catch early signs of heart decline and decrease the number of hospitalizations for heart patients.

To test their seat, the team gathered blood pressure and blood oxygenation measurements from 18 volunteers in a laboratory who were instructed to sit on the seat but not urinate, defecate, or talk. Urination and defecation can shift readings since they put minor stress on the body, says Conn. While the system currently operates with algorithms that analyze signal quality, in the future Conn also plans to incorporate algorithms to identify and reject those inevitable bathroom moments from the data set. But even if a person is fidgety on the toilet and the system fails to record a clean signal, there is always the next time. “If you’re not going to pick it up in the morning, you might pick it up at night. People are going to continuously use this seat,” says (researcher Nicholas) Conn.

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Fantastic gig posters for scientists' lectures

Bob Goldstein, a professor of cell biology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is also a talented graphic designer who creates fantastic "Gig Posters for Scientists" who lecture at the university. These days, Bob and his son do their own screenprinting too! Above:

12.5x19 inch hand screenprinted gig poster for distinguished scientist visiting UNC Chapel Hill. This one's got lights... LED lights are powered by 3V lithium-ion button cell batteries that were taped to the back of each poster. Image is based on results reported in this cool paper that showed that doublet microtubules are 2-lane highways. Locomotive image modified from this photo by priceman141, caboose modified from this photo by Roy Winkelman via ClipPix.

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Ancient civilizations' fascination with AI, robots, and synthetic life

Stanford folklorist and science historian Adrienne Mayor has a fascinating-sounding new book out, titled "Gods and Robots: Myths, Machines, and Ancient Dreams of Technology." It's a survey of how ancient Greeks, Romans, Indian, and Chinese myths imagined and grappled with visions of synthetic life, artificial intelligence, and autonomous robots. From Mayor's interview at Princeton University Press:

Who first imagined the concept of robots?

Most historians of science trace the first automatons to the Middle Ages. But I wondered, was it possible that ideas about creating artificial life were thinkable long before technology made such enterprises possible? Remarkably, as early as the time of Homer, ancient Greek myths were envisioning how to imitate, augment, and surpass nature, by means of biotechne, “life through craft”—what we now call biotechnology. Beings described as fabricated, “made, not born,” appeared in myths about Jason and the Argonauts, the sorceress Medea, the bronze robot Talos, the ingenious craftsman Daedalus, the fire-bringer Prometheus, and Pandora, the female android created by Hephaestus, god of invention. These vivid stories were ancient thought experiments set in an alternate world where technology was marvelously advanced.

Modern sci-fi movies pop up in several chapters. How do they relate to ancient myths?

Some 2,500 years before movies were invented, ancient Greek vase painters illustrated popular stories of the bronze robot warrior Talos, the techno-wizard Medea, and the fembot Pandora dispatched to earth on an evil mission, in ways that seem very “cinematic...” Movies and myths about imagined technology are cultural dreams. Like contemporary science fiction tales, the myths show how the power of imagination allows humans to ponder how artificial life might be created—if only one possessed sublime technology and genius.

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Profile of Peter Thiel's "junk science" journal from someone asked to write for it

Adam Becker was invited to write for Inference, a "quarterly review of the sciences" backed by billionaire Peter Thiel. Inference covers all sorts of interesting subjects, but has an alarming tendency to make no distinction between pseudoscience and the real thing: think Omni but with the dry imprimatur of academic style instead of cool paintings. So Becker went down the rabbithole (instead of getting paid by it) and wrote up a profile of the publication for Undark.

A declaration in italics on their masthead gave me pause: “We have no ideological, political, or religious agendas whatsoever.” This struck me as unusual over-emphasis, so I did a little digging and came across a 2014 blog post by the computer scientist Jeffrey Shallit, where he muses on the first issue of this new “science” publication, adding: “the weirdness is strong — very strong — with this one.”

It sounds like the kind of thing I'd love—indulgent longreads about weird science—but the reality of such things in 2019 is climate denial and creationism and Noam Chomsky not responding to press inquiries about why he's on its board.

(Pictured above is, in the lack of Inference having any screenshottable visual character whatsoever, my own devising of what a Boing Boing Journal of Junk Science might look like -- perhaps it is time!) Read the rest

Scientific study shows that adults sleep better when rocked as they snooze

Here's another fine development in sleep science today! A new study shows that young adults, like babies, sleep better when rocked. University of Geneva neuroscientist Laurence Bayer and colleagues built a gently rocking bed and used EEG to monitor adults' brain activity as they slept. From Science News:

Study participants fell asleep faster while being rocked, the researchers found. In a stationary bed, people took an average of 16.7 minutes to reach a light stage of non-REM sleep called N2. But when rocked, the young adults hit this sleep stage after an average of 10 minutes. Rocked people also spent more time in a deep non-REM stage of sleep called N3, and had fewer wake-ups. And rocking boosted the number of sleep spindles — fast bursts of brain activity that mark good sleep.

Before people fell asleep, they learned pairs of words, and then were given a memory test the next morning. After a night of rocking, people were better at remembering the words, an improvement that suggested higher quality sleep.

"Whole-Night Continuous Rocking Entrains Spontaneous Neural Oscillations with Benefits for Sleep and Memory" (Current Biology) Read the rest

Pacific Northwest measles outbreak: "like taking a pail of gasoline and throwing a lighted match into it"

Failure to vaccinate can cause death. Maybe not killing your own child, tho it is not unlikely, the awful decision to not vaccinate puts at risk all the people who for good reasons can not get the shot.

Snohomish County rocks.

MyNorthWest:

“It’s like taking a pail of gasoline and throwing a lighted match into it. I have some concerns that this is going to get worse before it gets better,” said Clark County Public Health Director Alan Melnick.

Melnick said there are now 25 confirmed measles cases and 12 suspected cases in Clark County. The majority are kids younger than 10.

At least 21 people with the disease never got the MMR vaccine. The other four cases are unverified.

“What people don’t realize about measles is how contagious it is,” said Lawrence Neville, PeaceHealth Southwest Chief Medical Officer. “It’s spread by airborne droplets and that’s why the very air can be infectious for up to two hours later after someone infected with measles is in that vicinity.”

Miranda Smith said she’s frustrated by the outbreak. She has three young kids.

“It’s their lives on the line, honestly. If they’re not vaccinated and something like this happens, then what am I going to do to save them?” she said.

Washington State Department of Health statistics show Clark County has the sixth lowest immunization rate in the state.

“I’d hardly be surprised if we see more cases that are outside of Clark County,” Melnick

said.

The CDC’s immunization recommendation is 90 percent.

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Lasers can beam audible messages directly to people's ears

Researchers at MIT's Lincoln Laboratory, a United States Department of Defense research facility, developed laser systems that can "transmit various tones, music and recorded speech at a conversational volume" to specific people without the recipient wearing any special equipment. Basically, the operator points a laser at someone from a distance and that individual hears the transmitted audio even though others in the area don't. Conspiracy theorists, start your engines. From the Optical Society of America:

"Our system can be used from some distance away to beam information directly to someone's ear," said research team leader Charles M. Wynn. "It is the first system that uses lasers that are fully safe for the eyes and skin to localize an audible signal to a particular person in any setting..."

The new approaches are based on the photoacoustic effect, which occurs when a material forms sound waves after absorbing light. In this case, the researchers used water vapor in the air to absorb light and create sound...

One unique aspect of this laser sweeping technique is that the signal can only be heard at a certain distance from the transmitter. This means that a message could be sent to an individual, rather than everyone who crosses the beam of light. It also opens the possibility of targeting a message to multiple individuals.

"New technology uses lasers to transmit audible messages to specific people" (Phys.org via The Daily Grail)

"Photoacoustic communications: delivering audible signals via absorption of light by atmospheric H2O" (Optics Letter) Read the rest

WATCH: Two New Adam Savage #MythbustersJr episodes, 'Demolition Dominoes' and 'Gravity Defying Carl'

I've really been enjoying the new 'MythBusters Jr', Adam Savage's new science exploration show featuring... kids. Really smart awesome talented kids.

Adam Savage will be Tweeting live during tonight's two premiere episodes, and they start airing an hour early (at 8 pm ET) for parents with wee ones. Read the rest

Chinese scientist who edited babies' genes has been fired and may face criminal charges

An investigation by the health ministry in Guangdong, China determined that scientist He Jiankui broke national laws when he used the CRISPR gene-editing technique to engineer human embryos with resistance to HIV and then implanted the embryos into women who then birthed the babies. Based on the probe, the Southern University of Science and Technology has fired He from his position as a researcher and teacher there. According to an article in the Chinese state media outlet Xinhua, police may also explore charges against He and his colleagues. From Nature:

The Xinhua article confirms many details of the case for the first time: starting in June 2016, it says, He put together a team that, from March 2017, recruited eight couples consisting of an HIV-positive father and an HIV-negative mother. He’s team edited the genes of embryos from at least two couples. (The Xinhua article does not specify what type of gene editing was done, although He claims that the embryos were edited to remove a gene that enables HIV to enter cells.) In addition to the woman who already gave birth, one other woman involved in the experiment is currently pregnant with a gene-edited embryo. Five other couples are not pregnant, the article reports, and one couple dropped out of the experiment.

The article says that He’s gene-editing activities were “clearly prohibited by the state”, but it doesn’t mention which specific laws or regulations the researcher broke.

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A surprise meteorite hit the moon during Monday's total lunar eclipse

During Monday's super wolf blood moon lunar eclipse, some observers noticed a tiny flash on the surface. Turns out that was a football-sized meteorite smashing into the western surface of the moon. This was the first time a meteorite impact was spotted during a total lunar eclipse. Now, scientists will study images from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) to hopefully find the new crater, perhaps as large as 33 feet across. From National Geographic:

An eagle-eyed viewer on Reddit spotted the potential impact during the eclipse and reached out to the r/space community to see if others could weigh in. The news spread quickly on social media, as people from across the path of totality posted their images and video of this tiny flicker of light...

“The Earth and the moon are in such close proximity that observing the impacts on the moon can help us learn a lot more about the frequency of impacts on Earth,” explains (University of Toronto planetary scientist Sara) Mazrouei, who recently authored a study detailing an ancient spike in large meteor bombardment on the moon, and thus on our planet.

...Seeing the aftermath of smaller impacts on airless worlds like the moon can help scientists learn about the effects of larger strikes on all kinds of worlds—including our own, Madiedo says.

“By knowing what happens with smaller impacts, you could know what could happen with larger impacts without really studying a large impact on Earth.”

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