Posts Tagged ‘Bryan Nelson’


No ink required to print on this paper — yet look how readable the type is. (Photo: University of California, Riverside/YouTube)

by BRYAN NELSON

As much as 40 percent of our landfills consist of paper and cardboard, and a major source of that material comes from office supplies. Just think of all the paper that gets used and discarded on a daily basis through the printer in your office alone. Even if that paper gets recycled, it still presents a different sort of problem due to pollution associated with the ink removal process.

Then there’s the concern about deforestation. In the United States, about one-third of all harvested trees are used for paper and cardboard production.

Paper and printing is a problem, to be sure. But now, thanks to a breakthrough from a team of scientists at Shandong University in China, the University of California, Riverside, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, it might be a problem with a solution.

The researchers have invented a new type of rewritable paper that can be printed with light — no ink required. The paper feels like normal paper to the touch, but it’s coated in color-changing nanoparticles that react to UV light. The technology works simply enough: a UV light printer zaps the paper everywhere except where the text is meant to be. The text then boldly stands out against the clear, light-zapped background.

“The greatest significance of our work is the development of a new class of solid-state photoreversible color-switching system to produce an ink-free light-printable rewritable paper that has the same feel and appearance as conventional paper, but can be printed and erased repeatedly without the need for additional ink,” explained Yadong Yin, chemistry professor at the University of California, Riverside. “Our work is believed to have enormous economic and environmental merits to modern society.”

The researchers published a paper on their work in the journal Nano Letters.

The nanoparticles return to their original background state if left untreated for five days, so the text will disappear naturally. (It certainly beats a paper shredder.) But if you wanted to erase and rewrite onto the same paper sooner than that, it will also revert back if heated for only about 10 minutes at 250 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s kind of like a hardcopy version of Snapchat, assuming you’ve got the proper equipment on hand to erase a message after it’s been read.

“We believe the rewritable paper has many practical applications involving temporary information recording and reading, such as newspapers, magazines, posters, notepads, writing easels, product life indicators, oxygen sensors, and rewritable labels for various applications,” said Yin.

Aside from producing little waste, the technology is also inexpensive. The coating materials are so cheap that they add almost nothing to the cost of a sheet of paper. Meanwhile, the printing technology ought to be cheaper than traditional inkjet printers simply because no ink is required. (Imagine never having to change out your ink cartridge again!)

And of course, because the paper can be re-used more than 80 times before the effect is dulled, the technology saves on the cost of paper as well.

“Our immediate next step is to construct a laser printer to work with this rewritable paper to enable fast printing,” said Yin. “We will also look into effective methods for realizing full-color printing.”

http://www.mnn.com/green-tech/research-innovations/stories/scientists-invent-paper-can-be-printed-light-instead-ink

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by Bryan Nelson

Quantum physics has some spooky, anti-intuitive effects, but it could also be essential to how actual intuition works, at least in regards to artificial intelligence.

In a new study, researcher Vedran Dunjko and co-authors applied a quantum analysis to a field within artificial intelligence called reinforcement learning, which deals with how to program a machine to make appropriate choices to maximize a cumulative reward. The field is surprisingly complex and must take into account everything from game theory to information theory.

Dunjko and his team found that quantum effects, when applied to reinforcement learning in artificial intelligence systems, could provide quadratic improvements in learning efficiency, reports Phys.org. Exponential improvements might even be possible over short-term performance tasks. The study was published in the journal Physical Review Letters.

“This is, to our knowledge, the first work which shows that quantum improvements are possible in more general, interactive learning tasks,” explained Dunjko. “Thus, it opens up a new frontier of research in quantum machine learning.”

One of the key quantum effects in regards to learning is quantum superposition, which potentially allows a machine to perform many steps simultaneously. Such a system has vastly improved processing power, which allows it to compute more variables when making decisions.

The research is tantalizing, in part because it mirrors some theories about how biological brains might produce higher cognitive states, possibly even being related to consciousness. For instance, some scientists have proposed the idea that our brains pull off their complex calculations by making use of quantum computation.

Could quantum effects unlock consciousness in our machines? Quantum physics isn’t likely to produce HAL from “2001: A Space Odyssey” right away; the most immediate improvements in artificial intelligence will likely come in complex fields such as climate modeling or automated cars. But eventually, who knows?

You probably won’t want to be taking a joyride in an automated vehicle the moment it becomes conscious, if HAL is an example of what to expect.

“While the initial results are very encouraging, we have only begun to investigate the potential of quantum machine learning,” said Dunjko. “We plan on furthering our understanding of how quantum effects can aid in aspects of machine learning in an increasingly more general learning setting. One of the open questions we are interested in is whether quantum effects can play an instrumental role in the design of true artificial intelligence.”

http://www.mnn.com/green-tech/research-innovations/stories/quantum-artificial-intelligence-could-lead-super-smart-machines

by Bryan Nelson

Mice are known for their squeaks, but scientists have just discovered how these diminutive rodents are also capable of making ultrasonic vocalizations far beyond the human capacity to hear. And the secret songs they sing usually take the form of love ballads for their mates.

Though researchers have known for a while that a fair amount of mouse communication happens at ultrasonic frequencies, they’ve only just figured out how the rodents do it. Using ultra-high-speed video recording at a whopping 100,000 frames per second, the team was able to see that a mouse is capable of pointing a small air jet, which comes from the windpipe, to blow against the inner wall of the larynx. This causes a resonance and produces an ultrasonic whistle.

“Mice make ultrasound in a way never found before in any animal,” said study lead author Elena Mahrt, from Washington State University, in a press release.

The mechanism is so bizarre that its closest analogue might be in human technology. Namely, what’s happening in the throats of mice is akin to a jet engine.

“This mechanism is known only to produce sound in supersonic flow applications, such as vertical takeoff and landing with jet engines, or high-speed subsonic flows, such as jets for rapid cooling of electrical components and turbines,” said study co-author Dr. Anurag Agarwal. “Mice seem to be doing something very complicated and clever to make ultrasound.”

Humans can’t hear these sounds, and maybe that’s the point. Singing in ultrasound allows mice to communicate at frequencies that many other animals can’t hear. That’s a boon when you’re often on the menu for most other larger predators.

Scientists think that the ultrasound whistles are actually mating calls, often sung by males to attract females; a mouse version of a “cat call,” perhaps. The sounds are also likely used for signaling territorial boundaries to rivals, though the full extent and use of the songs is still being studied. It’s even possible that this ultrasound mechanism was a prerequisite for the echolocation abilities seen in bats.

“Even though mice have been studied so intensely, they still have some cool tricks up their sleeves,” said senior author Dr. Coen Elemans.

http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/animals/stories/mice-sing-secret-ultrasonic-frequencies-their-mates


The spells are written in a mysterious language, but a few names of demons could be deciphered.

By Bryan Nelson

Archaeologists excavating a site associated with the ancient Roman city of Viminacium in modern day Serbia have stumbled upon something very unusual: tiny sheets of gold and silver, rolled up like scrolls and placed inside diminutive lead amulets, with mysterious writing etched on them. Scholars now believe the etchings are ancient magic spells, reports The Guardian.

The amulets were discovered inside the graves of skeletons that were buried 2,000 years ago. The scrolls, made of incredibly thin precious metals, likely would have taken expert craftsmanship to be so elegantly etched upon.

“The alphabet is Greek, that much we know. The language is Aramaic – it’s a Middle Eastern mystery to us,” said Miomir Korać, chief archaeologist at the site.

So far the only thing that can be deciphered from the writing is the names of a few demons that are connected to the territory of modern-day Syria, adding to the interest of the find. Archaeologists guess that the inscriptions must be magic spells… but for what purpose?

Since the amulets are similar to those found at sites in other countries, which have been known to contain “binding magic” and which were also buried in graves, researchers assume these gold and silver scrolls have a similar purpose.

“They were often love charms, ordering someone to fall in love, but there were also dark, malignant curses, to the tune of ‘May your body turn dead, as cold and heavy as this lead,’” explained archaeologist Ilija Danković.

If a similar spell was inscribed on these scrolls, it certainly adds some ominous intrigue to the cause of death of these ancient humans!

Actually, magic charms were especially common in the graves of individuals who had suffered a violent death, because of a belief that “souls of such people took longer to find rest and had a better chance of finding demons and deities and pass the wishes to them so they could do their magic,” added Danković.

The fact that these skeletons received their charms on precious sheets of gold and silver might indicate that they had an elevated social status.

As for the prospects of ever fully deciphering the scrolls, researchers are doubtful; the language they were written in has been lost.

http://www.mnn.com/lifestyle/arts-culture/stories/tiny-golden-scrolls-found-2000-year-old-skeleton-contain-ancient-magic-spells


When scientists add code to bacterial DNA, it’s passed on to the next generation.

By Bryan Nelson

The way DNA stores genetic information is similar to the way a computer stores data. Now scientists have found a way to turn this from a metaphorical comparison into a literal one, by transforming living bacteria into hard drives, reports Popular Mechanics.

A team of Harvard scientists led by geneticists Seth Shipman and Jeff Nivala have devised a way to trick bacteria into copying computer code into the fabric of their DNA without interrupting normal cellular function. The bacteria even pass the information on to their progeny, thus ensuring that the information gets “backed up,” even when individual bacteria perish.

So far the technique can only upload about 100 bytes of data to the bacteria, but that’s enough to store a short script or perhaps a short poem — say, a haiku — into the genetics of a cell. For instance, here’s a haiku that would work:

Bacteria on
your thumb
might someday become
a real thumb drive

As the method becomes more precise, it will be possible to encode longer strings of text into the fabric of life. Perhaps some day, the bacteria living all around us will also double as a sort of library that we can download.

The technique is based on manipulation of an immune response that exists in many bacteria known as the CRISPR/Cas system. How the system works is actually fairly simple: when bacteria encounter a threatening virus, they physically cut out a segment of the attacking virus’s DNA and paste it into a specific region of their own genome. The bacteria can then use this section of viral DNA to identify future virus encounters and rapidly mount a defense. Copying this immunity into their own genetic code allows the bacteria to pass it on to future generations.

To get the bacteria to copy strings of computer code instead, researchers just book-ended the information with segments that look like viral DNA. The bacteria then got to work, conveniently cutting and pasting the relevant section into their genes.

The method does have a few bugs. For instance, not all of the bacteria snip the full section, so only part of the code gets copied. But if you introduce the code into a large enough population of bacteria, it becomes easy to deduce the full message from a sufficient percentage of the colony.

The amount of information that can be stored also depends on the bacteria doing the storing. For this experiment, researchers used E. coli, which was only efficient at storing around 100 bytes. But some bacteria, such as Sulfolobus tokodaii, are capable of storing thousands of bytes. With synthetic engineering, these numbers can be increased exponentially.

http://www.mnn.com/green-tech/research-innovations/stories/bacteria-can-now-be-turned-living-hard-drives

by Bryan Nelson

Coral reefs are sometimes called the rain forests of the sea due to their immense biodiversity. Like rain forests, they’re typically found in the tropics, and because they usually thrive in clear, turquoise waters, they make for accessible attractions for divers, snorkelers, and researchers alike.

Reefs don’t usually like to form in muddy waters, such as at mouths of rivers — or so we used to think. But a remarkable new discovery in the Amazon could rewrite the book on coral reef biology. There, in the murky waters at the mouth of the Amazon River, scientists have found a massive, thriving coral reef that stretches from the French Guiana border to Brazil’s Maranhão State, an area covering about 3,600 square miles, reports The Smithsonian. That’s larger than the state of Delaware.

How did such a natural spectacle remain hidden from science until now? Well, as noted, scientists don’t usually think to look for coral reefs in muddy waters. Also, the Amazon has the largest discharge of any river in the world, so the waters at its mouth are more than murky — they’re downright thick and soupy.

Still, it’s incredible to discover such a massive new ecosystem like this in modern times. Scientists are giddy at the thought of the number of new creatures — animals that have evolved to thrive uniquely in this unexpected environment — that might soon be discovered here.

“This is something totally new and different from what is present in any other part of the globe,” said oceanographer Fabiano Thompson. “But until now, it’s been almost completely overlooked.”

“You wouldn’t expect to have gigantic reefs there, because the water is full of sediment and there’s nearly no light or oxygen,” added Thompson.

Researchers have already found at least 29 specimens of sponges that likely constitute new species. Strange microbes that seem to base their metabolism not on light but on minerals and chemicals such as ammonia, nitrogen and sulfur are also plentiful in early samples. This unconventional form of life could help explain how the creatures that live among this reef manage to survive.

So far, only a small fraction of the new habitat has been mapped, and it may have been discovered in the nick of time, seeing as oil and gas companies are rapidly expanding into the region for potential drilling. Discovering this unique reef system here will hopefully lead to protections that will help preserve it before it can be irreparably damaged.

http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/wilderness-resources/stories/coral-reef-larger-delaware-discovered-muddy-amazon-waters