A startup company in Hunstville, Ala. has revealed an invention that can reconfigure the charges of magnets in never-before-seen patterns, a breakthrough that may lead to new varieties of contact-free attachments and friction-free gears. The company, Correlated Magnetics Research (CMR), creates magnets that, instead of carrying a positive charge on one end and a negative on the other, have complex field patterns that can be used to attract corresponding magnetic fields. When the correlated patterns on two magnets match, they attract and clasp. With a simple turn, the correlation is lost and the two sides can be easily separated. ... Programmable magnets could be used for spaceship hatches, prosthetics ball joints, sports-equipment clasps and maglev-train hardware, according to the company. CMR is asking manufacturing companies to buy licenses to use the new technology in their products, so these magnets could conceivably turn up almost anywhere, especially in niche markets such as NASA hardware and military gear. In truly foolproof assembly directions, unlike those that plagued Fullerton, these smart magnets would ensure that every part links only where it belongs.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Monday, November 23, 2009
"I will never forget the day they discovered me," Mr Houben was quoted as saying. "It was like a second birth."
Mr Laureys said that in about 40% of cases in which people are classified as being in a vegetative state, closer inspection reveals signs of consciousness.
Monday, November 16, 2009
Their idea worked. The mice walked. In their paper, published in April 2009, they wrote that the “effects were not subtle; indeed, in nearly every case these severely parkinsonian animals were restored to behavior indistinguishable from normal.”
Over at MIT, Boyden was asking the obvious question: Would this work on people? But imagine saying to a patient, “We’re going to genetically alter your brain by injecting it with viruses that carry genes taken from pond scum, and then we’re going to insert light sources into your skull.” He was going to need some persuasive safety data first.
That same summer, Boyden and his assistants began working with rhesus monkeys, whose brains are relatively similar to humans’. He was looking to see whether the primates were harmed by the technique. They triggered the neurons of one particular monkey for several minutes every few weeks for nine months. In the end, the animal was just fine.
The next step was creating a device that didn’t require threading cables through the skull. One of Deisseroth’s colleagues designed a paddle about one-third the length of a popsicle stick. It has four LEDs: two blue ones to make neurons fire and two yellow ones to stop them. Attached to the paddle is a little box that provides power and instructions. The paddle is implanted on the surface of the brain, on top of the motor control area. The lights are bright enough to illuminate a fairly large volume of tissue, so the placement doesn’t have to be exact. The light-sensitizing genes are injected into the affected tissue beforehand. It’s a far easier surgery than deep brain electrical stimulation, and, if it works, a far more precise treatment. Researchers at Stanford are currently testing the device on primates. If all goes well, they will seek FDA approval for experiments in humans.
Treating Parkinson’s and other brain diseases could be just the beginning. Optogenetics has amazing potential, not just for sending information into the brain but also for extracting it. And it turns out that Tsien’s Nobel-winning work — the research he took up when he abandoned the hunt for channelrhodopsin — is the key to doing this. By injecting mice neurons with yet another gene, one that makes cells glow green when they fire, researchers are monitoring neural activity through the same fiber-optic cable that delivers the light. The cable becomes a lens. It makes it possible to “write” to an area of the brain and “read” from it at the same time: two-way traffic.
Why is two-way traffic a big deal? Existing neural technologies are strictly one-way. Motor implants let paralyzed people operate computers and physical objects but are incapable of giving feedback to the brain. They are output-only devices. Conversely, cochlear implants for the deaf are input-only. They send data to the auditory nerve but have no way of picking up the brain’s response to the ear to modulate sound.
No matter how good they get, one-way prostheses can’t close the loop. In theory, two-way optogenetic traffic could lead to human-machine fusions in which the brain truly interacts with the machine, rather than only giving or only accepting orders. It could be used, for instance, to let the brain send movement commands to a prosthetic arm; in return, the arm’s sensors would gather information and send it back. Blue and yellow LEDs would flash on and off inside genetically altered somatosensory regions of the cortex to give the user sensations of weight, temperature, and texture. The limb would feel like a real arm. Of course, this kind of cyborg technology is not exactly around the corner. But it has suddenly leapt from the realm of wild fantasy to concrete possibility.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
This year, one inquiry bore fruit, although of a somewhat ambiguous nature, when biologists in Leipzig, Germany, genetically engineered a mouse with the human version of FOXP2 substituted for its own. The upgraded mice squeaked somewhat differently from plain mice and were born with subtle alterations in brain structure. But mice and people are rather distant cousins — their last common ancestor lived some 70 million years ago — and the human version of FOXP2 evidently was not able to exert a transformative effect on the mouse.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
A group of engineers working on a novel manufacturing technique at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., have come up with a new twist on the popular old saying about dreaming and doing: 'If you can slice it, we can build it.
"You start with a drawing of the part you want to build, you push a button, and out comes the part," said Karen Taminger, the technology lead for the Virginia-based research project that is part of NASA's Fundamental Aeronautics Program.
In reality, EBF3 works in a vacuum chamber, where an electron beam is focused on a constantly feeding source of metal, which is melted and then applied as called for by a drawing -- one layer at a time -- on top of a rotating surface until the part is complete.