Alert Sign Dear reader, online ads enable us to deliver the journalism you value. Please support us by taking a moment to turn off Adblock on

Alert Sign Dear reader, please upgrade to the latest version of IE to have a better reading experience


Sci-tech: The wondrous world of science

February 18, 2012

Playing back brain images The ability to record brain activity while seeing an image, and then play it back to reconstruct the image has been a matter of pure science fiction—until now. Scientists working at the University of California, Berkeley, have succeeded in reconstructing visual images after recording the brain activity of human subjects watching movie trailers—they were able to see what the people’s brains were seeing!

They used a functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) scanner to record the flow of blood in certain parts of the brain. Using powerful computing techniques, it was possible to correlate the visual images with the corresponding brain activities. This allowed the images to be reconstructed. The researchers hope to eventually “read the thoughts” of patients in a coma or suffering from paralysis after a stroke. Researchers have now also succeeded in reconstructing words spoken to persons by detecting the corresponding brain activity.

Medicines release over months Slow sustained release of active principles from pills, tablets or capsules can be achieved by coating the active drug with a substance that does not dissolve immediately after intake, a process known as microencapsulation. This can also be done by embedding the drug in a matrix of an insoluble material (acrylics, chitin, etc). The drug is then released slowly as it finds its way through the small holes in the matrix.

This is in contrast to most tablets and capsules that lead to immediate release of drugs in the body. The slow release capsules can be very beneficial in controlling chronic pain or in cases of cancer where sustained release of drugs can prevent the re-growth of cancerous tissues. Usually such sustained release materials can have their effect last for a few days or even a week.

Now Professor Mark Grinstaff, Dr Yolanda Colson and colleagues at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in USA have succeeded in developing an exciting new material implant that will release the active drug over months and not days. The water-resistant material has a fibrous 3D structure with air trapped within it. However, some water can gradually penetrate through its pores, allowing the air in it along with the drug, to be slowly displaced and released. Medications trapped in this material can be released over months. When an anti-cancer drug was embedded in the material, the implant was found to be effective in fighting cancer cells for months.

Flying mini-robots—tomorrow’s warfare Remote controlled robots that can fly in swarms to enemy areas and gather information or release nerve gases—this horrifying scenario is becoming a reality. The General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception (GRASP) laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania in USA is one of many labs in USA and Europe that are aggressively developing tomorrow’s warfare machines. Millions of small flying “birds”, controlled remotely by enemies from thousands of miles away, will be able to decimate entire armies without sacrificing a single soldier.

The “Nano Quadrotors” developed at the lab in Pennsylvania are small bird-sized machines with four rotors that can fly in swarms in complex formations, interact with one another and perform astounding maneuvers. They can avoid obstacles and perform “complex autonomous swarm behavior”. A European team recently demonstrated how such robotic swarms could build a tower by acting together at the FRAC Centre in Orléans, France.

Our armed forces should be massively funding research programmes at our various engineering universities to examine defenses against such attacks of tomorrow and developing our own weaponry of the future, before we become slaves and surrender our nation in the face of advanced technologies of foreign lands.

Galactic winds studied Galactic winds comprise high-speed charged particles that blow out of galaxies at speeds of up to 3,000km/sec. They are produced by starbursts or by super massive black holes that lurk in the centre of most galaxies. The material is shot across the stars and some of it reaches our solar system. It is being studied by NASA’s Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) that was launched in October 2008.

There are four types of atoms detected reaching our solar system from other parts of our galaxy. These are hydrogen, helium, oxygen and neon. IBEX has been systematically counting the different neutral atoms that are being carried into our solar system with the galactic wind. An interesting discovery has been that this composition of atoms differs from that already present in the solar system in that it has a lower concentration of oxygen atoms. This indicates that there is more oxygen in any slide of space within our solar system than in the interstellar space outside it.