Archive for the ‘Stanford’ Category

You don’t have to be a superhero like Spider-Man to climb on walls. Researchers have developed “Gecko Gloves” that can help humans climb on glass walls.

The Gecko Gloves have been created by Elliot Hawkes, a mechanical engineering student at the Stanford University. The gloves have very similar scientific principles as found in the sticky toes of geckos.

Hawkes reveals that he is working with a group of engineers who are developing reusable and controllable adhesive materials that can bond with smooth surfaces such as glass, but also release with the use of minimal effort. With the help of the synthetic adhesive, Hawkes and his team created a device that can enable a person to climb on glass walls.

“It’s a lot of fun, but also a little weird, because it doesn’t feel like you should be gripping glass,” says Hawkes. “You keep expecting to slip off, and when you don’t, it surprises you. It’s pretty exhilarating.”

Hawkes explains that each gecko handheld pad is coated with 24 adhesive tiles. Each tile is covered with sawtooth-shape polymer structures, which measures about 100 micrometers long, or about the width of a normal human hair.

The handheld pads are also connected to degressive springs that become less stiff when the pad is stretched, which means that when the springs are pulled they apply similar force to the adhesive tiles and causes the sawtooth-like structure to flatten. When the load tension is released it reduces grip.

Some experts suggest that the Gecko Gloves can be applied in many fields. It can be used to manufacture robots, which carries glass panels. Mark Cutkosky, who is the senior author of the paper, suggests that they are also working on a project with the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), which will involve applying the Gecko Gloves to robotic arms of a spacecraft. With the help of the Gecko Gloves, the robotic arm will be able to catch hold of space debris like solar panels and fuel tanks and move it accordingly.

Researchers of the latest study suggest that previous work of gecko or synthetic adhesives showed that adhesive strength is reduced when size increases. However, in the Gecko Gloves, the springs make it possible to sustain the same adhesive power at all sizes ranging from a square millimeter to the size of a human hand.

The latest version of the Gecko Gloves can support around 200 pounds, or about 90 kilograms (kg). However, if the size is increased by 10 times it can support about 2,000 pounds, or 900 kg.

The research has been published in the journal Royal Society Interface.

http://www.techtimes.com/articles/22769/20141224/gecko-gloves-by-stanford-students-will-let-you-scale-glass-walls-want-to-be-spider-man.htm

Scientists investigating the silence of the crickets in Hawaii have uncovered a bizarre evolutionary story that is part horror movie, part Cyrano de Bergerac.

In the most recent edition of the journal Current Biology, researchers from Scotland’s University of St. Andrews report on the separate but nearly simultaneous quieting of chirping crickets on Kauai and Oahu.

As lead researcher Nathan Bailey explained, Hawaii crickets appear to have abandoned their chirplike mating songs to avoid parasitoid flies. The flies, which are attracted to male cricket song, would lay larvae that would then burrow into the host crickets, killing them within a week.

Adaptive crickets survived and reproduced by silencing their own songs but positioning themselves — like Christian to Cyrano — next to crickets who continued to use their chirps to woo female crickets.

The silent flatwing crickets are present on both Oahu and Kauai. At first, Bailey and his team believed that a single population of silent crickets evolved on one island and spread to the other. However, further investigation made it clear that the crickets came from separate populations but adopted the same trait around the same time.

“This is an exciting opportunity to detect genomic evolution in real time in a wild system, which has usually been quite an challenge owing to the long timescales over which evolution acts,” Bailey said in a release. “With the crickets, we can act as relatively unobtrusive observers while the drama unfolds in the wild.”

http://www.staradvertiser.com/news/breaking/20140531_Evolution_silences_some_isle_cricket_populations.html?mobile=true

Thanks to Da Brayn for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

Doctors in the US have induced feelings of intense determination in two men by stimulating a part of their brains with gentle electric currents.

The men were having a routine procedure to locate regions in their brains that caused epileptic seizures when they felt their heart rates rise, a sense of foreboding, and an overwhelming desire to persevere against a looming hardship.

The remarkable findings could help researchers develop treatments for depression and other disorders where people are debilitated by a lack of motivation.

One patient said the feeling was like driving a car into a raging storm. When his brain was stimulated, he sensed a shaking in his chest and a surge in his pulse. In six trials, he felt the same sensations time and again.

Comparing the feelings to a frantic drive towards a storm, the patient said: “You’re only halfway there and you have no other way to turn around and go back, you have to keep going forward.”

When asked by doctors to elaborate on whether the feeling was good or bad, he said: “It was more of a positive thing, like push harder, push harder, push harder to try and get through this.”

A second patient had similar feelings when his brain was stimulated in the same region, called the anterior midcingulate cortex (aMCC). He felt worried that something terrible was about to happen, but knew he had to fight and not give up, according to a case study in the journal Neuron.

Both men were having an exploratory procedure to find the focal point in their brains that caused them to suffer epileptic fits. In the procedure, doctors sink fine electrodes deep into different parts of the brain and stimulate them with tiny electrical currents until the patient senses the “aura” that precedes a seizure. Often, seizures can be treated by removing tissue from this part of the brain.

“In the very first patient this was something very unexpected, and we didn’t report it,” said Josef Parvizi at Stanford University in California. But then I was doing functional mapping on the second patient and he suddenly experienced a very similar thing.”

“Its extraordinary that two individuals with very different past experiences respond in a similar way to one or two seconds of very low intensity electricity delivered to the same area of their brain. These patients are normal individuals, they have their IQ, they have their jobs. We are not reporting these findings in sick brains,” Parvizi said.

The men were stimulated with between two and eight milliamps of electrical current, but in tests the doctors administered sham stimulation too. In the sham tests, they told the patients they were about to stimulate the brain, but had switched off the electical supply. In these cases, the men reported no changes to their feelings. The sensation was only induced in a small area of the brain, and vanished when doctors implanted electrodes just five millimetres away.

Parvizi said a crucial follow-up experiment will be to test whether stimulation of the brain region really makes people more determined, or simply creates the sensation of perseverance. If future studies replicate the findings, stimulation of the brain region – perhaps without the need for brain-penetrating electrodes – could be used to help people with severe depression.

The anterior midcingulate cortex seems to be important in helping us select responses and make decisions in light of the feedback we get. Brent Vogt, a neurobiologist at Boston University, said patients with chronic pain and obsessive-compulsive disorder have already been treated by destroying part of the aMCC. “Why not stimulate it? If this would enhance relieving depression, for example, let’s go,” he said.

http://www.theguardian.com/science/2013/dec/05/determination-electrical-brain-stimulation

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

Rothman

STOCKHOLM (AP) — Two Americans and a German-American won the Nobel Prize in medicine on Monday for discovering how key substances are transported within cells, a process involved in such important activities as brain cell communication and the release of insulin.

James Rothman, 62, of Yale University, Randy Schekman, 64, of the University of California, Berkeley, and Dr. Thomas Sudhof, 57, of Stanford University shared the $1.2 million prize for their research on how tiny bubbles called vesicles act as cargo carriers inside cells.

This traffic control system ensures that the cargo is delivered to the right place at the right time and keeps activities inside cells from descending into chaos, the committee said. Defects can be harmful, leading to neurological diseases, diabetes and disorders affecting the immune system.

“Imagine hundreds of thousands of people who are traveling around hundreds of miles of streets; how are they going to find the right way? Where will the bus stop and open its doors so that people can get out?” Nobel committee secretary Goran Hansson said. “There are similar problems in the cell.”

The winners’ discoveries in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s have helped doctors diagnose a severe form of epilepsy and immune deficiency diseases in children, Hansson said. In the future, scientists hope the research could lead to medicines against more common types of epilepsy, diabetes and other metabolism deficiencies, he added.

Schekman said he was awakened at 1 a.m. at his home in California by the chairman of the prize committee, just as he was suffering from jetlag after returning from a trip to Germany the night before.

“I wasn’t thinking too straight. I didn’t have anything elegant to say,” he told The Associated Press. “All I could say was ‘Oh my God,’ and that was that.”

He called the prize a wonderful acknowledgment of the work he and his students had done and said he knew it would change his life.

“I called my lab manager and I told him to go buy a couple bottles of Champagne and expect to have a celebration with my lab,” he said.

In the 1970s, Schekman discovered a set of genes that were required for vesicle transport, while Rothman revealed in the 1980s and 1990s how vesicles delivered their cargo to the right places. Also in the ’90s, Sudhof identified the machinery that controls when vesicles release chemical messengers from one brain cell that let it communicate with another.

“This is not an overnight thing. Most of it has been accomplished and developed over many years, if not decades,” Rothman told the AP.

Rothman said he lost grant money for the work recognized by the Nobel committee, but he will now reapply, hoping the Nobel prize will make a difference in receiving funding.

Sudhof, who was born in Germany but moved to the U.S. in 1983 and also has U.S. citizenship, told the AP he received the call from the committee while driving toward the city of Baeza, in southern Spain, where he was due to give a talk.

“I got the call while I was driving and like a good citizen I pulled over and picked up the phone,” he said. “To be honest, I thought at first it was a joke. I have a lot of friends who might play these kinds of tricks.”

The medicine prize kicked off this year’s Nobel announcements. The awards in physics, chemistry, literature, peace and economics will be announced by other prize juries this week and next. Each prize is worth 8 million Swedish kronor ($1.2 million).

Rothman and Schekman won the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award for their research in 2002 — an award often seen as a precursor of a Nobel Prize. Sudhof won the Lasker award this year.

“I might have been just as happy to have been a practicing primary-care doctor,” Sudhof said after winning that prize. “But as a medical student I had interacted with patients suffering from neurodegeneration or acute clinical schizophrenia. It left an indelible mark on my memory.”

Jeremy Berg, former director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland, said Monday’s announcement was “long overdue” and widely expected because the research was “so fundamental, and has driven so much other research.”

Berg, who now directs the Institute for Personalized Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, said the work provided the intellectual framework that scientists use to study how brain cells communicate and how other cells release hormones. In both cases, vesicles play a key role by delivering their cargo to the cell surface and releasing it to the outside, he told the AP.

So the work has indirectly affected research into virtually all neurological disease as well as other diseases, he said.

Established by Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, the Nobel Prizes have been handed out by award committees in Stockholm and Oslo since 1901. The winners always receive their awards on Dec. 10, the anniversary of Nobel’s death in 1896.

Last year’s Nobel medicine award went to Britain’s John Gurdon and Japan’s Shinya Yamanaka for their contributions to stem cell science.

http://news.yahoo.com/americans-german-american-win-medicine-nobel-132221489.html

conform and be funded

 

John Ioannidis, a researcher at Stanford University has, along with graduate student Joshua Nicholson, published a commentary piece in the journal Nature, taking the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to task for maintaining a system that they say rewards conformity while ignoring innovation.

NIH is an agency within the US Department of Health and Human Services, and is the primary federal vehicle involved in offering money in the form of grants to researchers working to make in the biosciences. The agency reportedly has a budget of approximately $30 billion a year.

In their commentary piece, Ioannidis and Nicholson suggest that the process used by those in charge at NIH favors those who wish to work on incremental increases in current fields rather than rewarding those seeking funds for innovative, but more risky ventures. To back up their claims, they ran a search on research papers published in major journals over the past decade and found 700 papers that had been cited by authors in other papers at least 1,000 times. Of those papers, they say, just 40 percent of those listed as primary authors were working under an NIH grant.

To determine who to give grants to, NIH uses what are known as Study Sections. Their job is to read proposals sent to them by prospective researchers and then to decide whether to offer a grant to carry out the things discussed in the proposal. The Study Sections are in reality a group of people – a panel made up of scientists in the . And that’s part of a big problem at NIH, Ioannidis and Nicholson write, because people that serve on the panels tend to get more of the grant money. They note that just 0.8 percent of the 700 oft cited papers listed NIH panel members as a primary author. They contend that being highly cited is a credible measure of the degree of innovation of work.

The result the two say, is a system that systemically encourages incremental studies while discouraging those that are looking for big breakthroughs. And that they say, has led to both conformity and mediocrity. This they add goes against NIH’s mandate, which is to “fund the best science.” They recommend that NIH change its grant review process to encourage more innovation even if it means taking more risks.

More information: Research grants: Conform and be funded, Nature, 492, 34–36 (06 December 2012) doi:10.1038/492034a

 

 

 

Stanford researchers have designed the fastest, most accurate mathematical algorithm yet for brain-implantable prosthetic systems that can help disabled people maneuver computer cursors with their thoughts. The algorithm’s speed, accuracy and natural movement approach those of a real arm.

 

 

On each side of the screen, a monkey moves a cursor with its thoughts, using the cursor to make contact with the colored ball. On the left, the monkey’s thoughts are decoded with the use of a mathematical algorithm known as Velocity. On the right, the monkey’s thoughts are decoded with a new algorithm known as ReFITT, with better results. The ReFIT system helps the monkey to click on 21 targets in 21 seconds, as opposed to just 10 clicks with the older system.

 

 

When a paralyzed person imagines moving a limb, cells in the part of the brain that controls movement activate, as if trying to make the immobile limb work again.

Despite a neurological injury or disease that has severed the pathway between brain and muscle, the region where the signals originate remains intact and functional.

In recent years, neuroscientists and neuroengineers working in prosthetics have begun to develop brain-implantable sensors that can measure signals from individual neurons.

After those signals have been decoded through a mathematical algorithm, they can be used to control the movement of a cursor on a computer screen – in essence, the cursor is controlled by thoughts.

The work is part of a field known as neural prosthetics.

A team of Stanford researchers have now developed a new algorithm, known as ReFIT, that vastly improves the speed and accuracy of neural prosthetics that control computer cursors. The results were published Nov. 18 in the journal Nature Neuroscience in a paper by Krishna Shenoy, a professor of electrical engineering, bioengineering and neurobiology at Stanford, and a team led by research associate Dr. Vikash Gilja and bioengineering doctoral candidate Paul Nuyujukian.

In side-by-side demonstrations with rhesus monkeys, cursors controlled by the new algorithm doubled the performance of existing systems and approached performance of the monkey’s actual arm in controlling the cursor. Better yet, more than four years after implantation, the new system is still going strong, while previous systems have seen a steady decline in performance over time.

“These findings could lead to greatly improved prosthetic system performance and robustness in paralyzed people, which we are actively pursuing as part of the FDA Phase-I BrainGate2 clinical trial here at Stanford,” said Shenoy.

The system relies on a sensor implanted into the brain, which records “action potentials” in neural activity from an array of electrode sensors and sends data to a computer. The frequency with which action potentials are generated provides the computer important information about the direction and speed of the user’s intended movement.

The ReFIT algorithm that decodes these signals represents a departure from earlier models. In most neural prosthetics research, scientists have recorded brain activity while the subject moves or imagines moving an arm, analyzing the data after the fact. “Quite a bit of the work in neural prosthetics has focused on this sort of offline reconstruction,” said Gilja, the first author of the paper.

The Stanford team wanted to understand how the system worked “online,” under closed-loop control conditions in which the computer analyzes and implements visual feedback gathered in real time as the monkey neurally controls the cursor toward an onscreen target.

The system is able to make adjustments on the fly when guiding the cursor to a target, just as a hand and eye would work in tandem to move a mouse-cursor onto an icon on a computer desktop.

If the cursor were straying too far to the left, for instance, the user likely adjusts the imagined movements to redirect the cursor to the right. The team designed the system to learn from the user’s corrective movements, allowing the cursor to move more precisely than it could in earlier prosthetics.

To test the new system, the team gave monkeys the task of mentally directing a cursor to a target – an onscreen dot – and holding the cursor there for half a second. ReFIT performed vastly better than previous technology in terms of both speed and accuracy.

The path of the cursor from the starting point to the target was straighter and it reached the target twice as quickly as earlier systems, achieving 75 to 85 percent of the speed of the monkey’s arm.

“This paper reports very exciting innovations in closed-loop decoding for brain-machine interfaces. These innovations should lead to a significant boost in the control of neuroprosthetic devices and increase the clinical viability of this technology,” said Jose Carmena, an associate professor of electrical engineering and neuroscience at the University of California-Berkeley.

Critical to ReFIT’s time-to-target improvement was its superior ability to stop the cursor. While the old model’s cursor reached the target almost as fast as ReFIT, it often overshot the destination, requiring additional time and multiple passes to hold the target.

The key to this efficiency was in the step-by-step calculation that transforms electrical signals from the brain into movements of the cursor onscreen. The team had a unique way of “training” the algorithm about movement. When the monkey used his arm to move the cursor, the computer used signals from the implant to match the arm movements with neural activity.

Next, the monkey simply thought about moving the cursor, and the computer translated that neural activity into onscreen movement of the cursor. The team then used the monkey’s brain activity to refine their algorithm, increasing its accuracy.

The team introduced a second innovation in the way ReFIT encodes information about the position and velocity of the cursor. Gilja said that previous algorithms could interpret neural signals about either the cursor’s position or its velocity, but not both at once. ReFIT can do both, resulting in faster, cleaner movements of the cursor.

Early research in neural prosthetics had the goal of understanding the brain and its systems more thoroughly, Gilja said, but he and his team wanted to build on this approach by taking a more pragmatic engineering perspective. “The core engineering goal is to achieve highest possible performance and robustness for a potential clinical device,” he said.

To create such a responsive system, the team decided to abandon one of the traditional methods in neural prosthetics.

Much of the existing research in this field has focused on differentiating among individual neurons in the brain. Importantly, such a detailed approach has allowed neuroscientists to create a detailed understanding of the individual neurons that control arm movement.

But the individual neuron approach has its drawbacks, Gilja said. “From an engineering perspective, the process of isolating single neurons is difficult, due to minute physical movements between the electrode and nearby neurons, making it error prone,” he said. ReFIT focuses on small groups of neurons instead of single neurons.

By abandoning the single-neuron approach, the team also reaped a surprising benefit: performance longevity. Neural implant systems that are fine-tuned to specific neurons degrade over time. It is a common belief in the field that after six months to a year they can no longer accurately interpret the brain’s intended movement. Gilja said the Stanford system is working very well more than four years later.

“Despite great progress in brain-computer interfaces to control the movement of devices such as prosthetic limbs, we’ve been left so far with halting, jerky, Etch-a-Sketch-like movements. Dr. Shenoy’s study is a big step toward clinically useful brain-machine technology that has faster, smoother, more natural movements,” said James Gnadt, a program director in Systems and Cognitive Neuroscience at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, part of the National Institutes of Health.

For the time being, the team has been focused on improving cursor movement rather than the creation of robotic limbs, but that is not out of the question, Gilja said. Near term, precise, accurate control of a cursor is a simplified task with enormous value for people with paralysis.

“We think we have a good chance of giving them something very useful,” he said. The team is now translating these innovations to people with paralysis as part of a clinical trial.

This research was funded by the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Foundation, the National Science Foundation, National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowships, Stanford Graduate Fellowships, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (“Revolutionizing Prosthetics” and “REPAIR”) and the National Institutes of Health (NINDS-CRCNS and Director’s Pioneer Award).

Other contributing researchers include Cynthia Chestek, John Cunningham, Byron Yu, Joline Fan, Mark Churchland, Matthew Kaufman, Jonathan Kao and Stephen Ryu.

http://news.stanford.edu/news/2012/november/thought-control-cursor-111812.html

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community

 

The Northern Hemisphere’s largest expanses of ice have thawed faster and more extensively this year than scientists have previously recorded. And the summer isn’t over.

Studies suggest that more of the massive Greenland ice cap has melted than at any time since satellite monitoring began 33 years ago, while the Arctic sea’s ice is shrinking to its smallest size in modern times.

“This year’s melting season is a Goliath,” said geophysicist Marco Tedesco, director of the Cryospheric Processes Laboratory at City University of New York. “The ice is being lost at a very strong pace.”

Scientists monitor the annual thaw closely because changes in the ice of the far North can raise sea levels and affect weather throughout the hemisphere by altering wind currents, heat distribution and precipitation.

Shrinkage of the Arctic sea ice since 2006, for instance, helped lead to seasons of severe snow across Europe, China and North America, researchers at Columbia University, the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Chinese Academy of Sciences reported earlier this year.

As the seasonal ice abates more each year, new polar shipping lanes also open up, as do opportunities for mineral exploration. By some estimates, as much as 25% of the world’s oil and natural-gas reserves are under the Arctic seafloor. Russia, Denmark, Norway and Canada are vying to control these assets.

The giant ice cap at the top of the world partly melts every summer and refreezes every winter. In recent years, the thaw has become progressively more extensive, NASA and European satellite observations suggest. At the same, the refreeze has been smaller—adding up to long-term shrinkage in the ice cover.

This year’s unusual summer thaw was spurred partly by natural variations in weather, but also reflected rising levels of heat-trapping carbon dioxide and methane in the air, amplified by carbon soot from widespread wildfires and the burning of fuels, said scientists at Stanford University and the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Carried north across the Arctic by winds, soot not only darkens snow and ice, making it absorb more heat from sunlight, but also interferes with the formation of clouds that might otherwise providing cooling shade.

“They all cause enhanced warming in the Arctic,” said Stanford University atmospheric scientist Mark Jacobson, who advocates for renewable energy. “Soot can double the warming.”

In many ways, the Arctic ice pack and Greenland ice cap are mirror opposites. The ice pack is a vast layer of frozen salt water, a few yards thick at most, floating atop an open sea, like ice cubes in a highball. Changes in the size of the Arctic ice can alter weather patterns globally, though the melting doesn’t raise sea levels since the ice displaces the same amount of ocean water when frozen as when liquid.

The Greenland ice sheet is a land-based formation of frozen fresh water up to two miles thick. The water runoff from Greenland ice dilutes the salinity of ocean water, changing its density and altering currents. The runoff that doesn’t refreeze adds to rising ocean levels.

Despite their differences, their fates are linked. “There is little doubt that in terms of warming, things are coming together in the Arctic,” said glaciologist Paul Mayewski, director of the Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine. “Without a doubt, warming in the Arctic is very, very strong,”

In fact, more melting occurred across the Greenland ice cap—the world’s second-largest ice sheet after Antarctica—in June and July than in any year since at least 1979, when satellite monitoring of the island’s ice began, Dr. Tedesco and his colleagues reported earlier this month. The Greenland thaw began in May, a month earlier than usual.

On average, about half of the surface of Greenland’s ice sheet naturally melts during the summer, and then mostly refreezes with the approach of winter. This year, nearly the entire ice cover, from its thin, low-lying coastal edges to its two-mile-thick center, experienced some melting at its surface, according to measurements from three independent satellites analyzed by NASA and university scientists.

“This summer, we have seen melting at the very highest elevations of the Greenland ice sheet, which we have not seen before in the satellite record,” said climatologist Thomas Mote of the University of Georgia, who studies snow cover. Researchers expect much of it to refreeze.

By Wednesday, the Arctic sea ice had shrunk to 1.54 million square miles, about 70,000 square miles smaller than the previous modern low set in September 2007, according to the satellite readings compiled by NASA and the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo. By that measure, the six lowest Arctic sea ice levels on record all occurred in the past six years.

Even when the Arctic ice refreezes, the new ice is often thinner, making it more vulnerable to storms and seasonal temperature variations, said climate scientist Julienne Stroeve at the Snow and Ice Data Center.

About a week remains in the melt season. Researchers won’t know the full extent of this year’s melting until the end of September.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390444772804577621470127844642.html?mod=googlenews_wsj#articleTabs%3Darticle