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Gamze DOGAN
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"I've spent a total of 55 days in space, over the course of five missions for NASA, and I've learned...Space travel -- at least the way we do it today -- isn't glamorous."
Dan Winters There’s no way to anticipate the emotional impact of leaving your home planet. You look down at Earth and realize: You’re not on it. It’s breathtaking. It’s surreal. It’s a “we’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto” kind of feeling. But I’ve spent a total of 55 days in space, over the course of…
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Might it be that we already have all of the ingredients we need to solve the problem?

I've been a Max Tegmark fan pretty much since the first talk I saw him give. I especially enjoyed this very recent, short, succinct exposition on the hard problem of consciousness - the mechanism of subjective awareness - that Max gave as part of a TEDx event. Consciousness is what it feels like for information to be processed in a certain way, and Consciousness is another state of matter, and There is nothing particularly special about consciousness are all statements that - individually - may be swiftly dismissed by some. But if you allow Max to add some meat to these concepts and weave a descriptive narrative to link them together you might very well find his thesis compelling. I certainly do, and have been pursuing similar lines of thought for some years now. 

I originally came across this talk on Google+ but can't remember who originally shared it to my stream, having saved it to "Watch Later" a week or two ago. Whoever it was: thank you :)

For anyone interested in adding to their "Watch Later" list, I've dug up another of Max's talks from a couple of years ago that I also found particularly interesting: Max Tegmark on "The Future of Life: a Cosmic Perspective" at Singularity Summit 2011 

#consciousness   #hardproblem   #perceptronium  
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The Enduring Conundrum of Consciousness
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Black hole set to 'eat a gas cloud'
A gas cloud is being sucked towards the "supermassive" black hole at the heart of our galaxy, and astronomers are anxious to see what will happen.If the black hole devours the cloud, called G2, X-rays will flare out - giving scientists a rare glimpse of the mysterious, dark core of the Milky Way.
The first moment of collision is predicted in spring this year. Scientists say it could be the black hole's "biggest meal in hundreds of years".
Beautiful spaghettification 
Astronomers have been able to track the cloud's movements in near-infrared images. A series of snapshots taken by the Very Large Telescope in Chile have revealed that G2 is getting stretched like a lump of taffy by the black hole's powerful gravity as it creeps closer to its doom."It is showing tidal shear and beautiful spaghettification," says Stefan Gillessen at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Munich, Germany
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-25663620
http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn24839-gas-blob-comes-late-to-black-hole-supper.html#.UtK-W2QW3ZU
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Glass Microbiology
The world's most deadly viruses recreated as glass sculptures by Luke Jerram 
http://vrge.co/1a4T2QC
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Annie Jump Cannon
Accomplishment: Classifying the stars
Cannon was an American astronomer hired by Edward Pickering, along with other women (collectively referred to as “Pickering’s Harem”), to work at the Harvard Observatory mapping and classifying every star in the sky. Without these women, whom he called “computers,” Pickering could not have catalogued all those stars.

http://www.worldsciencefestival.com/2014/10/5-great-scientists-never-won-nobel-prize/
The Nobel Prizes can be as controversial as they are prestigious. It’s very uncommon for a scientist to make a discovery entirely on his or her own: Researchers collaborate, compete, and construct new theories based on the work of others. Inevitably, choosing just up to three living scientists to take credit... [read more]
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SciTech #ScienceSunday Digest, 19/14.
Rejuventing aged tissues, retinal motion wiring, 6-base DNA, neuroprosthetics, smarter nanoparticles, human glycome, evolved metamaterials, humanised pig organs.

1. Rejuvenating Aged Brains and Muscles.
Big news this week was the rejuvenation of brains and muscles in aged mice by use of blood factors from young mice http://hsci.harvard.edu/news/functioning-aged-brains-and-muscles-mice-made-younger. These appear to be follow-up experiments to what I’ve reported on a year or two ago, but in this case were repeated in duplicate via (i) parabiotic surgery joining the circulatory systems of an old and a young animal, and (ii) straight injections of the protein GDF11, thought to be the main factor active in the parabiotic results, straight into older mice. Both approaches resulted in the rejuvenation of older mice; their hearts appear younger and stronger, circulation and blood flow improves, exercise capability improves, cognitive decline is reversed, and aged olfaction reverts to similar capabilities to that of young mice. Pretty exciting stuff but still needs to be replicated in humans. Subsequent scenarios might include transfusions from young to old, protein injections, drugs to boost aged production, gene therapy interventions, and synthetic biology applications. Turns out that another factor, klotho, was also found to protect against cognitive decline with aging by forming stronger synapses https://www.fightaging.org/archives/2014/05/klotho-influences-cognition-as-well-as-aging.php

2. Sensing Motion via Retinal Wiring.
Brain mapping efforts in conjunction with citizen-science game EyeWire applied to high-resolution scans of slices of mouses retina have resulted in maps of retinal neurons and their wiring that provide insight into how motion is detected so quickly http://www.nature.com/news/wiring-of-retina-reveals-how-eyes-sense-motion-1.15147. Because individual photoreceptors are indifferent to the movement of an object, it turns out that bipolar cells play a key role, with some links to the next layer of cells able to signal immediately while others signal with a slight delay, with the exact wiring and signal timing able to communicate when one photoreceptor cell fires shortly after another, i.e. when an object causes movement of light across the retina. Expect these insights to be co-opted in the near term by designers of neuromorphic imaging chips to produce better machine vision systems. 

3. Genetic Codes with Six Instead of Four Base Pairs.
The engineering possibilities with genetic codes have been significantly expanded with the demonstration of an additional pair of bases that integrate well with DNA, taking the number of bases from four to six http://www.wired.com/2014/05/synthetic-dna-cells/. The new base-pairs, dubbed X and Y for now, were incorporated into plasmid vectors and it was shown that bacterial cells could replicate the new additions to DNA, provided the X and Y molecules were added to the nutrient media for the cells to absorb. The group is trying to engineer the cell to be able to synthesise its own X and Y molecules without the need for their presence in the environment, and future work will demonstrate transcription into RNA and subsequent translation into protein. Using standard three-base codons means that the new system could encode 6*6*6 = 216 different amino acids, massively expanding the design space for both synthetic biology and DNA Origami applications. 

4. Extended Capabilities Come to 3D Printing.
A couple of interesting new capabilities for 3D printers this week. First, a new 3D printing head and materials allow a 3D printer to simultaneously print both structural plastics and metallic conductors in the same print job http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9247934/This_3D_printer_technology_can_print_a_game_controller_electronics_and_all. The group demonstrated the new capability by printing a games controller with embedded conductive wires and simply connected an arduino board to the exposed ends of the conductors to encode button presses and control a computer game; be sure to watch the video - the more materials the more of that board could be printed. Second, plans for a new 3D printer that produces custom tinted / pigmented makeup (powders, pastes, creams) was launched and opens up a range of interesting possibilities https://plus.google.com/u/0/+MarkBruce/posts/i3mvQaG6VJ7

5. The Latest on Neuroprosthetics.
The on-going development of implantable neuroprosthetic chips that repair or enhance brain function and neural communications continues apace. Some chips have reached a level of sophistication that they are now being surgically implanted into human brains to restore function in those paralysed http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/ohio-surgeons-hope-chip-in-mans-brain-lets-him-control-paralyzed-hand-with-thoughts/2014/04/29/c45515e2-ccaf-11e3-a75e-463587891b57_story.html, measuring the correct brain signals and sending these to the correct muscles. Other chips under development seek to interface with the hippocampus, restoring or improving the ability to form new and recall old memories or repairing other cognitive functions and are currently being pushed by DARPA http://nextbigfuture.com/2014/05/darpa-researchinr-brain-implants-to.html, building on work like this http://iopscience.iop.org/1741-2552/10/6/066013/ that demonstrated memory encoding via a similar device and hippocampus in primates. 

6. Increasing Sophistication of Nanoparticles VS Cancer.
An engineered adeno-associated virus has two custom molecular locks that are only opened by two specific proteases that are present in high levels near cancer cells, which subsequently allows the virus to enter and deliver its payload to the cell of interest http://phys.org/news/2014-05-two-lock-cancer-therapy.html; the idea is that (i) adding two, three, or more “locks” increases specificity and minimises off-target side effects, and (ii) the “locks” can be engineered as needed to target different cells. Another nanoparticle platform combines two drugs and a targeting molecule to reach cancer cells and deliver the different drugs hours apart from each other with particularly potent results http://phys.org/news/2014-05-nanoparticles-stagger-delivery-drugs-aggressive.html. Both could be useful for facilitating therapies for stopping the growth of pancreatic cancers https://www.fightaging.org/archives/2014/05/halting-pancreatic-cancer-development.php

7. Changing Graphene’s Crystal Structure, Heat Conduction, and Photonics Properties.
This week’s advancements with the wonder material brought us news of (i) how an electric field can be used to accurately control the crystal structure of trilayer graphene to induce formation of metallic and semiconducting regions and allow construction of transistors http://uanews.org/story/playing-pool-with-carbon-atoms, (ii) experimental confirmation of computer simulations demonstrating that graphene has more powerful heat conduction properties than previously thought http://www.mpip-mainz.mpg.de/news/thermal_conductivity, and (iii) the creation of high-quality patterned graphene thin films for ultrafast optical communications http://www.swinburne.edu.au/media-centre/news/2014/05/graphene-photonics-breakthrough-promises-fast-speed-low-cost-communications.html

8. Progress on The Human Glycome.
The human glycome is the set of all the different types of sugar molecules that our body uses and produces, currently estimated at around 7,000 different sugars. Recent work suggests that the membranes of different cells are adorned with different sugars and this reflects a distinct and informative “sugar code” http://phys.org/news/2014-05-team-uncovered-sugar-ability-state.html. The pattern and type of sugars adorning a cell wall appear to indicate tissue-type, phenotype or status, mobility, health, injury, and other markers - cancer cells have different sugars to normal cells for example. The work generated a glycome-microRNA map and future work should expand the sensing arrays to selectivity against more sugars to generate better sugar signatures and profiles of cell types - potentially improving our ability to quickly identify and target different cells. 

9. Evolving Broadband Metamaterials.
Genetic algorithms are increasingly being used to evolve and design better metamaterial structures, with the latest work producing a metamaterial able to absorb infrared light over a wide range of wavelengths http://news.psu.edu/story/314511/2014/05/05/research/genetic-approach-helps-design-broadband-metamaterial. Made of patterned layers of polymer and metal on a silicon base the material absorbs about 90% of infrared light and might find uses in shielding / obscuring infrared heat signatures or improving the efficiency of thermophotovoltaics to extract additional energy from sunlight. Better fabrication methods are needed for such materials to be adopted commercially however. 

10. Scaling Up Production of Humanised Pig Organs.
Synthetic Genomics and United Therapeutics are teaming up to better develop humanised pig lungs and potentially supply the 400,000 human lungs that may be needed each year http://www.syntheticgenomics.com/media/press/050614.html. The focus appears to be large-scale genomic engineering to produce pig cells capable of developing into embryos with humanised lungs that can later, when mature, be harvested and transplanted into patients that need them. Of course, the same techniques could be applied to other organs too. Earlier this year I covered other methods to grow human organs in pigs http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-25550419, and cloning factories that could mass-produce them http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-25576718.

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SciTech #ScienceSunday Digest, 03/14.
$1K genomes, smart contact lens, 3D semimetals, BCI vs paralysis, detuning molecules, industrial cloning, quantum weirdness, artificial organelles.

1. Illumina Announces the $1,000 Human Genome.
Illumina announced the launch of its new HiSeq X Ten Sequencing System, an ultra-high throughput DNA sequencing system claimed to finally break the $1,000 per human genome milestone http://investor.illumina.com/phoenix.zhtml?c=121127&p=irol-newsArticle&ID=1890696. While this system is an expensive piece of capital equipment, it will enable a single laboratory to to sequence tens of thousands of human genomes per year. Each system can generate up to 600 billion bases of DNA sequencing data per day, and has been primarily aimed at applications involving discovery of genotypic variations on population-level sequencing studies. 

2. Google’s Smart Contact Lens.
Google X revealed the smart contact lens that they have been working on http://googleblog.blogspot.hu/2014/01/introducing-our-smart-contact-lens.html. The smart contact lens includes a tiny antenna, wireless chip, and glucose sensor that can generate and transmit a glucose reading once per second. In order to more quickly turn this into an early warning for a diabetic patient future prototypes will include tiny LED lights whose hue will indicate glucose levels. The team has completed clinical research studies and held discussions with the FDA. I’m curious to learn how the device is powered but think this could be a great platform for developing a huge range of applications; the functional components are so tiny they could be easily implanted, the LEDs could be co-opted to notify the status of almost anything, higher-density LEDs beg the question of a display, there are numerous other chemical sensors you could add, etc. 

3. Topological Dirac Semimetals Mimic 3D Graphene.
For the first time a theoretical material known as a three-dimensional topological Dirac semimetal has been produced and measured in the laboratory, which is interesting because graphene is itself a (2D) Dirac semimetal http://spectrum.ieee.org/nanoclast/semiconductors/materials/semimetal-compound-offers-3d-version-of-graphenes-electronic-properties. The creation of a material that can mimic graphene’s properties - like relativistic electron conduction - in three dimensions would appear to ameliorate some of the difficulties of working with a two-dimensional material. Stability is an issue however, and this advance serves more as a signpost towards other materials than use in any applications.

4. Neuroprosthesis to Reverse Paralysis.
New surgical work will build on previous studies allowing patients to control robot arms with their minds, by allowing a paralysed patient to regain control over their own arm http://www.technologyreview.com/news/523436/experimental-surgery-aims-to-revive-a-paralyzed-limb/. The surgery will be the first time a brain computer interface has been hooked up to a functional electrical stimulation device to restore movement. The BCI, measuring 4mm on a side and containing 96 electrodes that are implanted into a specific region of the motor cortex, has previously been shown to to enable control of a virtual representation of the correct arm muscles - 18 separate muscles in this case. Further work is underway to co-opt a similar system able to convey a sense of touch to the patient. In related news another cyborg implant cures sleep apnea http://gizmodo.com/this-electronic-sleep-apnea-cure-is-like-auto-pilot-for-1499423881

5. Detuning A Molecule’s Atomic Bonds.
New work demonstrates how to soften the bonds between atoms in a molecule by applying a voltage and running a current through the molecule http://phys.org/news/2014-01-detune-molecule-soften-atomic-bonds.html. The team used a molecule of buckminsterfullerene (a buckyball) wedged between a gold surface and a custom nanoantenna capable of measuring certain vibrational modes of the molecule and its bonds. Current flowing through the molecule changes the distribution of charge and results in the bonds becoming “looser”. While interesting from a purely conceptual view, the work does suggest other avenues to explore tuning particular molecular bonds in order to precisely control the chemistry that can occur there, which is a holy grail of sorts for the field. 

6. Industrial-Scale Cloning.
Chinese-based company BGI is not only the world’s largest centre for DNA sequencing, it is also the world’s largest cloning centre, at least for pigs http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-25576718. BGI has taken cloning to an industrial scale, currently producing about 500 cloned pigs per year with a success rate of 70-80%, most of which are genetically modified to help study human diseases and treatments. BGI currently clones / sequences anything that tastes good, is cute, or has industrial use. To top it off the BGI cafeteria in this cloning factory is used as a testbed for products from some of the labs such as fish, pigs, and yoghurt for staff to consume. This links to the story from last week about growing genetically matched human organs in pigs - what about a line of pigs with human uteruses used as surrogates for growing human babies?

7. Massive Refinements in NMR Analysis.
A newly-developed single broadband mini-antenna improves Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectroscopy by a factor of 20,000 and enables the measurement of all factors of a substance using just nanoliters of material http://phys.org/news/2014-01-team-refines-nmr-analysis-apparatus.html. The resulting device is much cheaper and still allows a user to conclusively establish the identity of any molecules present in the sample. This will be a boon for research but with just a little more miniaturisation we could see cheap consumer-level devices with the same capability too.

8. Quantum Weirdness.
We had a few items this week concerning unusual or unexpected quantum effects. Firstly, we had a theoretical advance in how to transfer energy over almost any distance via quantum teleportation, and which can be experimentally verified / falsified http://www.technologyreview.com/view/523716/energy-teleportation-overcomes-distance-limit/. Secondly, we had the discovery of quantum vibrations in microtubules inside brain neurons http://www.kurzweilai.net/discovery-of-quantum-vibrations-in-microtubules-inside-brain-neurons-corroborates-controversial-20-year-old-theory-of-consciousness. Thirdly, we had the discovery that quantum vibrations in chromophore molecules accounting for the efficiency of photosynthesis http://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/news-articles/0114/090114-Quantum-mechanics-explains-efficiency-of-photosynthesis - and in related chromophore news, chromophores linked to coated nanoparticles were demonstrated to efficiently use sunlight to split water and create storeable hydrogen fuel http://uncnews.unc.edu/2014/01/14/unc-researchers-harness-energy-day-use-night/

9. Smart Object Recognition Algorithm.
A new genetic algorithm that learns on its own to recognise real world objects in images has out-performed existing efforts http://news.byu.edu/archive14-jan-objectrecognition.aspx. The system learns on its own after being fed a series of images of the thing(s) it needs to recognise, and achieved 100% accuracy when analysing standard datasets that other top performers achieved no more than 98% accuracy. An important differentiating factor is that no humans are involved in specifying important features; all that needs to be done is feed the system images. Applications include surveillance, robotics, food spoilage assessment, health image analysis, etc. 

10. Artificial Organelles in Artificial Plastic Cells.
New work successfully created artificial cells with internal artificial organelles that carried out the various steps of a chemical reaction http://phys.org/news/2014-01-plastic-cell-organelle.html, and outlined in the paper Cascade Reactions in Multicompartmentalized Polymersomes. Evidence for the successful reaction came in the form of the predicted fluorescent molecule appearing inside the cells, which could only have been synthesised by a successful chemical reaction cascade. The thing I like about this work is the growing control, and growing complexity evident in artificial cell systems over the last couple of years. Inherently modular in nature, I can’t help but wonder when things like respirocytes and medical cells based on this will become a reality. 

If you'd like notifications of these weekly Digests then just grab the SciTech Digest page here: https://plus.google.com/u/0/b/105994073381308284341/+ScitechdigestNet/posts

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Architects of the Mind: A Blueprint for the Human Brain
From the time of the earliest electronic computers, man has dreamed of replicating the human mind in silicon. Are there unbridgeable physical problems that make such a machine impossible, or does each advance in artificial intelligence bring us closer to realizing the dream?
http://worldsciencefestival.com/videos/full_program_architects_of_the_mind_a_blueprint_for_the_human_brain
Full Program: Architects of Mind: A Blueprint for the Human Brain
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Isolation Room For Satellites 
More than 1,000 working satellites orbit Earth. As space becomes increasingly crowded, there’s a greater chance that the satellites’ radio signals could overlap. To avoid that problem, which disrupts communications, satellite antennas must transmit only within a narrow frequency band. The radio frequency anechoic chamber at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) is one of the best places in the world to accurately calibrate antennas.  A steel Faraday cage surrounding the chamber blocks interference from external sources, such as Wi-Fi and broadband networks. Inside, foam pyramids stop a satellite’s own radio waves from bouncing around, to ensure that a receiver in the chamber measures only the signals coming directly from the antenna and not reflections.
http://www.popsci.com/article/technology/silent-isolation-room-satellites?src=SOC&dom=fb
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Kevin Kelly: The Improbable is the New Normal. What happens when the extraordinary becomes ordinary?

"The internet is like a lens which focuses the extraordinary into a beam, and that beam has become our illumination. It compresses the unlikely into a small viewable band of everyday-ness. As long as we are online - which is almost all day many days — we are illuminated by this compressed extraordinariness. It is the new normal.

That light of super-ness changes us. (...) We are also exposed to the greatest range of human experience, the heaviest person, shortest midgets, longest mustache — the entire universe of superlatives! Superlatives were once rare — by definition — but now we see multiple videos of superlatives all day long, and they seem normal. (...) When the improbable dominates the archive to the point that it seems as if the library contains ONLY the impossible, then these improbabilities don’t feel as improbable. (…) To the uninformed, the increased prevalence of improbable events will make it easier to believe in impossible things. (...) What happens when the extraordinary becomes ordinary?"
Kevin Kelly: The Improbable is the New Normal "The improbable consists of more than just accidents. The internets are also brimming with improbable feats of performance — someone who can run up a side...
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