Mental health, public health, global health. New and interesting developments in technology and the arts. Meditation research. And occasionally cute animals.


Scientists Find Networks Can Get Schizophrenic

Computer networks may have more human characteristics than we know. Researchers at the university of Texas found that computer networks can show a kind of virtual schizophrenia, if they can’t forget fast enough.

The project was based on a virtual computer model designed to simulate the excessive release of dopamine in the human brain. The network was able to learn a natural language was used to investigate what happens to language as the result of eight different types of neurological dysfunction. The results of the simulations were compared by Ralph Hoffman, professor of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine, to what he saw when studying human schizophrenics.

Talk with a dolphin via underwater translation machine

A DIVER carrying a computer that tries to recognise dolphin sounds and generate responses in real time will soon attempt to communicate with wild dolphins off the coast of Florida. If the bid is successful, it will be a big step towards two-way communication between humans and dolphins.

Back to the Wild to Build Better, Climate-Resilient Wheat

A genetic archaeologist of sorts, Cary Fowler works to save the wild species threatened by crop domestication.

Bananas Could Make Cars Leaner, Greener

Brazilian scientists have developed a way of using fibers from bananas, pineapples and other plants to create plastic that is stronger and lighter than the petroleum-based stuff. So-called nanocellulose fibers rival Kevlar in strength but are renewable, and the researchers believe they could be widely used within a couple of years.


BBC UK has a story on this, but its headline misses the main point here.  People have made 3D images of cells for many years now.  The thing that really is a breakthrough here is that the cells are ALIVE, and the resolution is very good.

What you’re seeing in this video is a live, moving, HeLa cell, with all of its cell-surface projections.

Images and more videos are available on the Nature Methods site for the paper.


Via Ben Templesmith on Twitter: footage by Russian filmmaker Vladimir Shevchenko from Chernobyl, taken days after the 1986 disaster. Shevchenko died shortly thereafter as a result of the massive radiation poisoning he incurred while filming on the site, wearing nothing for protection but a surgical mask.

I’d make a “in Soviet Russia” joke, but even my sense of gallows humour can’t quite get there. I grew up on military bases in the 1980s and I’m old enough to remember being completely, totally convinced that we were going to all blow ourselves into nuclear winter any day now. Watching this film brings back the memories of that conviction, and just how spooked we all were when the Chernobyl incident happened.

Man, 1986 was one hell of a year, wasn’t it?

The worry is we’re raising a generation of kids in front of screens whose brains are going to be wired differently.

Michael Rich, professor at Harvard Medical School and executive director of the Center on Media and Child Health in Boston

From Growing Up Digital

High-speed filter uses electrified nanostructures to purify water at low cost

By dipping plain cotton cloth in a high-tech broth full of silver nanowires and carbon nanotubes, Stanford researchers have developed a new high-speed, low-cost filter that could easily be implemented to purify water in the developing world.


MIT’s Seaswarm Robots Could Clean Up Gulf-Sized Spill in a Month | Inhabitat

Dubbed the Seaswarm, this autonomous 16-foot long, 7- foot wide robot  features an oil-absorbing conveyor belt covered with a nanowire mesh, carefully designed to absorb up to 20 times its weight in oil all while repelling water… Affixed with two square meters of solar panels, unlike traditional oil  skimmers which require frequent maintenance, the Seaswarm can run at full power continuously for weeks on end.

Interesting.  I wonder how much it costs to build and maintain and how it would perform under bad weather.  I’m also wondering how it would affect marine life - e.g. sucking up plankton, or being noisy and frightening away/disturbing migration patterns, etc.

Sniff-Controlled Keyboards, Wheelchairs Invented


From National Geographic:

People who are paralyzed from the neck down might soon be leading themselves around by the nose—literally. A new electric wheelchair allows the severely disabled to guide their movements by sniffing into tubes.

Sniffing depends on highly coordinated motions of the back of the roof of the mouth, aka the soft palate. This region receives signals from several nerves that are often unaffected by paralytic injuries and disorders.

That means some patients with disabilities ranging from quadriplegia to “locked-in syndrome”—where a person is completely paralyzed, save for eyeblinks—retain the ability to sniff with precision.

Based on this idea, scientists with the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, devised a new sniff controller, which uses tubes placed up the nose to measure sniff-triggered changes in nasal air pressure.

Related: Brain-controlled wheelchair

Earplug provides steer-by-tongue control (by detecting changes in ear pressure)

Steering a wheelchair with tongue movements (and a magnet on the tongue)

"Malaria-proof" mosquito

The researchers used information that has been learned by studying longevity and immunity in other model organisms, particularly fruit flies and nematodes, to target a gene in the mosquito suspected to control mosquito lifespan and regulate its resistance to infection. The team engineered the mosquitoes to express high levels of the active form of a protein known as Akt, and found that the transgenic mosquitoes not only had a shorter lifespan—approximately 20 percent shorter than controls—parasite infection was completely blocked.

Compassionate Coding: Students Compete in Microsoft Competition to Write Humanitarian Apps [Slide Show]

As society’s reliance on information technology surges, software has become an indispensable component of any disaster response effort. This includes programs for maneuvering robotic subs (as with the efforts to contain BP’s Deepwater oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico) or sophisticated mapping tools for emergency-response crews using mobile devices to assess earthquake damage (as in Haiti). With the understanding that emergency, health care and other services’ reliance on software will only grow over time, Microsoft has for the past eight years hosted a global competition that challenges high school and college students to develop applications that address some of the planet’s most urgent needs.

Scientists to present car for blind drivers next year


From the BBC:

US Scientists and the National Federation of the Blind are developing a car for the blind and will present a prototype next year.

The vehicle will be fitted with technology that allows a blind person to drive independently, the NFB and Virginia Tech University said.

Non-visual aids include sensors indicating turns in the road via vibrating gloves.

Puffs of compressed air on the face will alert the driver to obstacles.

Other aids to be fitted include a vibrating vest to give feedback on speed and a steering wheel with audio cues and spoken commands indicating the car’s direction.


Last year Virginia Tech turned a beach buggy into an experimental vehicle for blind drivers.

They used sensor lasers and cameras to act as the eyes of the buggy.

The model to be presented next year will be a modified Ford Escape sport utility vehicle, the NFB announced.

via roshanpatel