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SciTech #ScienceSunday Digest - Week 15 of 2012
A Top 10 selection of the scientific and technological advances that I discovered this week.

1. Light-Powered Molecular Motors
A rotary molecular motor has been designed out of Boron atoms that is powered by circularly polarised infrared light http://www.technologyreview.com/blog/arxiv/27743/. You could almost consider this is a “minimal” motor that is capable of performing work, but the main questions of course is: what application would you use it in?

2. Mobile Positioning with Ultra-Precise Location Chip
Broadcom has developed and released a smartphone chip that can determine centimeter accurate location both inside and outside of buildings http://www.broadcom.com/press/release.php?id=s658603. This ties in closely with some of the recent developments concerning augmented reality displays, which will need to accurately know your position in order to offer the full range of augmented services and experiences. Consider this a significant enabling technology and another nail in the coffin for privacy.

3. Neuronal Modelling and Cognitive Imaging
Henry Markram announces a recent advance with their neuronal modelling algorithms, which were discovered and developed with the aid of data-mining efforts http://www.kurzweilai.net/data-mining-opens-the-door-to-predictive-neuroscience - this basically makes it easier to predict broad neuronal properties from a limited set of neuronal data and makes the Human Brain Project that much easier. Meanwhile, this review article discusses how functional magnetic resonance imaging is becoming a powerhouse for brain imagining and function determination http://www.nature.com/news/brain-imaging-fmri-2-0-1.10365

4. Spatial Organisation of the Genome
The topological domains and 3-Dimensional DNA folding patterns of the genome have been elucidated http://www.licr.org/index.php//powerful_sequencing_technology_decodes_dna_folding_pattern/ and opens a new research field that should pave the way to a more nuanced understanding of gene regulation withint the nucleus.

5. Increasing Sophistication of Cellular Reprogramming
Improved methods have been developed with small molecules to reprogram cells and, in this case, turn skin cells into neuron cells http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-04/uob-rfb041112.php. Meanwhile this review article discusses the exponential increase in research and capabilities towards combatting cancer stem cells (whose self induced reprogramming has gone awry) and progress towards clinical applications http://the-scientist.com/2012/04/01/are-cancer-stem-cells-ready-for-prime-time/

6. Advanced Data-Routing for Multi-Core Chips
Applying data-routing techniques that power the Internet to multi-core chips should simultaneously increase their efficiency and lower power consumption http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2012/chips-as-mini-internets-0410.html, and will probably be critical to enabling the useful performance of chips with more than 10s of cores; chips with 100s or 1000s of cores are projected.

7. Farming with Thin Films
A new film material enables large-scale film farming that requires no soil and 90% less water than is normally needed to grow crops http://www.springwise.com/eco_sustainability/film-farming-soil-one-tenth-water/.

8. Microfluidic Chips for High-Throughput Animal Studies
A new microfluidic system dubbed “Fish and Chips” has been developed that enables cheaper, faster, and more efficient drug discovery applications http://www.a-star.edu.sg/Media/News/PressReleases/tabid/828/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/1625/Default.aspx. This involves localising zebrafish embryos on-chip in embryo-sized wells.

9. Super Turing Machine - A Computer that Learns and Evolves
Work is to commence on building the first “Super Turing” Machine, which in theory involves a modified Turing-type computation that enables an adaptable computational system that can learn and evolve, using input from the environment in a way much more like our brains do than classic Turing-type computers http://www.kurzweilai.net/super-turing-machine-learns-and-evolves. Interesting research avenue, but watch this space to see if this is real or hoax.

10. Custom-Built Protein Nanofactories
Custom-built lipid vesicles have been made containing the full complement of protein synthesis equipment, including DNA, ribosomes, enzymes, and amino acids http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2012/protein-factories-nanoparticles-0409.html. The DNA is bound by a molecule that is sensitive to UV light and the vesicles themselves can be adorned with targeting molecules. When the vesicles get to where the researchers want them they can turn on the UV light, which releases the DNA - encoding a gene for a protein of interest - and the nanofactory is then activated. The protein - possibly a drug of interest - is produced on-site and doesn’t suffer the delivery problems that currently plague protein-based drugs. This is, in my opinion, a groundbreaking platform technology that provides a foundational tool-set for developing an incredibly wide-range of applications.

Bonus: Robotic Updates
A cool robotic octopus has been developed http://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/robotics-hardware/robotic-octopus-takes-first-betentacled-steps? and DARPA selects Boson Dynamics’ PETMAN as a default model robot form for its new robot challenge http://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/humanoids/darpa-selects-boston-dynamics-humanoid-for-robotics-challenge?
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6 comments
 
I missed many of these and I'm looking forward to catching up. Especially the light driven rotary motor. I used to work on the proton driven rotary motor in mitochondria, the ATP synthase. Thanks for an amazing compilation of the week's best news!
 
Many thanks +Rajini Rao :)
For me #10 stimulates my imagination the most. And I'm jealous that you got to work on that marvel of molecular engineering, ATP Synthase!
 
Everything on the list is mind boggling, as usual. =p
But especially #2, Broadcom's new chip is getting me real excited! This is great for smartphones but the internet of things will find many uses for this as well. Not tomorrow but today! At last, no more lost remotes! ^^

Like you said, the darker side is of course its implications for privacy but imo the potential far outweighs the danger and we will find ways to implement it safely. (prolly after a few fuck ups :/)
 
While I, like most people, do love a "perfectly" executed implementation of a particular thing, I can't help but have greater admiration for an implementation that is somewhat messy.To me it seems more robust and resilient, and any mistakes or fuck ups on the fringe I get the feeling only improves the implementation over the long term . . . at least that is my current thinking +Koen De Paus, and good point about #2 being real, today, a product launched by a large and well-resourced company and able to be integrated by manufacturers in the next line of products!
 
I see this as promise. All in all we are just trying to copy the ability of the human brain to require less energy and more information in a smaller space. This would be very promising seeing as Light is the fastest and most fluid particle we know aside from our brain synapses.
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