Latest Developments in Science and Technology

Researchers Have Performed Largest Gene Sequence of Human Diseases Ever

Researchers at the University of London in England have conducted the largest human disease sequencing study to date, according to reports published May 23, 2013. In their study, the scientists investigated the genetic basis of six autoimmune diseases. While the exact cause of these diseases, such as autoimmune thyroid diseases, Celia disease, Cohn’s disease, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, and type 1 diabetes, is unknown, it is believed to be a complex combination of genetic and environmental factors.

The scientists, who published their findings in the journal Nature, estimate that rare variants of risk genes account for only 3 percent of the heritability of these conditions, which can be explained by common variants. They say the genetic risk of these diseases involves a complex combination of hundreds of weakly acting variants, each common in humans.

Bioengineers Produce Sweat-Resistant Fabric

Bioengineers at the University of California, USA, said on May 21, 2013 that they had invented a waterproof fabric that can wick away sweat using microfluidic technology. The new fabric works like human skin. It turns excess sweat into self-flowing droplets. In their research, they developed a new microfluidic platform using water-attracting (hydrophilic) threads sewn into a highly water-repellent fabric. They were able to create thread patterns that absorbed water droplets from one side of the fabric, propelled them along the threads, and eventually expelled them from the other side.

It is not just that the threads transmit water through capillary action. The water-repellent properties of the surrounding fabric also help draw water down the channels. Unlike conventional fabrics, the water-pumping effect continues to work even when the water-conducting fibers are completely saturated, thanks to the pressure created by the surface tension of the droplets. The rest of the fabric remains completely dry. By adjusting the pattern of the water-conducting fibers and how they are sewn on both sides of the fabric, the researchers can control where sweat collects and where it drains outside.

Human Skin Cells Transformed into Embryonic Stem Cells

In a major medical breakthrough, scientists have for the first time transformed human skin cells into embryonic stem cells, according to a report published May 16, 2013. These newly made stem cells have the ability to transform into any other cell type in the human body. Created by scientists at the Oregon National Primate Health Center in the US, cloned embryos can make new heart muscle and new bone, as well as brain tissue or any type of cell in the body. Using the same cloning technique that created Dolly the sheep (the first cloned mammal) in 1996, scientists have overcome technical problems that have frustrated them for more than a decade in how to create the body’s supercells from donated skin.

The new technique developed by the scientists is a variation of a widely used method called somatic cell nuclear transfer. It involves transplanting the nucleus of a cell containing an individual’s DNA into an egg cell whose genetic material has been removed. The fertilized egg cell then develops and eventually produces stem cells. The process is relatively efficient, requiring relatively few human eggs to produce each cell line, making it practical and viable.

A Mask That Gives the User “Superhuman” Powers

The Royal College of Art in London announced on May 9, 2013 that its researchers have developed two 3D-printed masks that can give the wearer “superhuman” vision and hearing. One of the masks covers the wearer’s ears, mouth and nose and uses a directional microphone to give the ability to hear an isolated sound in a noisy environment. With the mask on, the user can select a person from the crowd and hear their words without any surrounding noise.

The other prototype will be attached to the person’s eyes. A camera takes video and sends it to a computer, which can apply a range of effects in real time and send it back to the user. The user can use the mask to see patterns of movement, similar to the effects of long exposure photography.

According to the developers, the technology has many possible applications. The user can use the visual mask to analyze the movement and technique in sports. Concert goers can use the hearing mask to concentrate on a particular artist.

Scientists Have Found an Eco-Friendly Way to Forge Steel

According to a report published on May 8, 2013, scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the USA developed a technique to reduce smoke emissions during the steel forging process. This could go a long way in changing the image of steelmaking as one of the most polluting industries. Additionally, there may be other side benefits, as the resulting steel may be of higher purity, according to the scientists. It may also turn out that the process is cheaper than existing ones.

The researchers found that a process known as molten oxide electrolysis can use iron oxide from lunar soil to create oxygen without special chemistry. They tested the process using moon-like soil from a meteor crater in Arizona, USA, where there were enough traces of iron oxide, and found that it produced steel as a byproduct. The researchers’ method used an iridium anode that is expensive and limited in supply, so it is not suitable for cast steel production. However, after further investigation, they identified an inexpensive metal alloy that could replace the iridium anode in molten oxide electrolysis.

An Insect-Inspired Camera with 180-Degree Vision

According to reports published on May 2, 2013, scientists at the University of Illinois and North-western University in the USA have developed a new insect-inspired camera that can take pictures across 180 degrees and delivers exceptionally sharp images. The camera has 180 miniature lenses and an exceptionally wide-angle field of view. While we humans take pictures using the two lenses of our relatively flat eyes, a high-end SLR camera has only one flat lens. The new camera has 180 micro-lenses mounted on a round half-bubble resembling a fly’s bulging eye, allowing it to take pictures along approximately 180 degrees. This is only possible for a camera in the form of an insect eye.

With its wide-angle field of view, the new technology could be used for imaging in future surveillance devices or medical (such as endoscopic) procedures. Its developers say it would be simple enough to combine the two hemispheres they showed to get a 360-degree view. This is mainly because the procedure involves mounting many small eyes into one large eye. Each small eye, consisting of a micro lens and a micro-scale photo detector, is a separate imaging system. When all these eyes are put together, they will be able to take a clear picture for almost 360 degrees in a single shot.

Aerial Robot inspired by the new Fly

Researchers at Harvard University in the USA have successfully designed, built and flew a small fly-inspired robot. The demonstration of the first controlled flight of an insect-sized robot marks the culmination of more than a decade of work. It was co-created by the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the Wyss Biology-Inspired Engineering Institute at Harvard.

The name of the project is Robbie. It was inspired by the biology of a fly, which has a sub-millimeter anatomy and two wafer-thin wings that flap their wings almost invisibly (about 120 times per second). The tiny device represents the absolute superiority of micromanufacturing and control systems.

Scientists Develop Technology That Can Turn Any Surface into a Touchscreen

Scientists at Carnegie Mellon University in the USA have developed a new technology that can turn any surface into a touchscreen with just a swipe of the hand. It showed that the based interface can be created almost anywhere at any time. This is a significant improvement over previous technologies that required some depth camera systems to be combined with a projector to turn any surface into a touchscreen.

The new system is known as the Earth Kit. It allows a person to “paint” a remote control for the TV by rubbing the arm of a sofa, or swipe a hand through the office door to broadcast a calendar where subsequent users can “pull” an extended version. These temporary interfaces can be moved, modified or deleted with similar gestures, making them extremely personal.

The researchers used a ceiling-mounted camera and projector to record room geometries, detect hand movements, and project images onto desired surfaces. Users can invoke switches, message boards, indicator lights, and various other interface designs from a menu. The developers say that users will eventually be able to make custom design interfaces with gestures.

A Robot That Can Accurately Predict Human Movements

Scientists at the Personal Robotics Laboratory at Cornell University, USA, said on May 4, 2013 that they had developed a new “intelligent” robot capable of predicting human actions with astonishing accuracy. The robot can refill its owner’s empty coffee mug and also keep the door open for him. In addition, it can perform several other tasks. The robot basically learns to anticipate human actions and then adjust accordingly.

The robot was trained to identify human activities by tracking body movements from a database of 120 3D videos performing common household activities. Observing a new scene with its 3D camera, the robot identifies the activities it sees, thinks about what uses are possible with the objects in the scene and how these uses fit into the activities.

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