Super Brain Network

Although it may seem directly taken from a science fiction movie, scientists at Duke University have actually managed to connect the brains of several organisms so that without any real communication they have been able to work together to carry out tasks.

In a series of experiments, researchers opened the skull of both monkeys and rats and using electrodes and wires, linked members of the same species together so that, even if they could not share complex thoughts or emotions, they could synchronise their neural activity.

When doing some experiments on rats, the connection was investigated by having one of the animals undergo an electrical stimulus, so its brain activity increased. The other rats, despite not being stimulated directly, automatically changed their neural activity to match that of the first rat, so it looked like they too had received the stimulus, and felt its effects.

But not only does this connection make them more ‘empathic’, it also makes them more intelligent. When scientists sent temperature and atmospheric pressure information into their brains, coded by electrical impulses, the rats could put all the information they had received together and solve problems regarding the chance of rainfall. They could do this by themselves, without any linking, but the brain network helped them obtain better scores.


Linking brains is no longer a science fiction movie plot

With monkeys, three of them were connected through the motor region of their brains, after being trained individually to control a virtual arm with thoughts alone. Once they were connected, each was able to control only certain aspects of the arm’s movement, like only being able to move the arm horizontally and vertically, and even those abilities it had to share with another monkey, so that each had an equal contribution to the movement in that direction. However, as messy as this sounds, they synchronised and managed to work with each together, combining their skills to control the arm and grab an imaginary ball displayed on the computer.

The applications for this are not to make a huge human population brain network, where we can share our thoughts and emotions, as not only are they too complex for it to be possible to share them this way, but it would also be unethical and have privacy issues. However, it can be used in people who have had some damage to their brain. For example, someone who has suffered from a stroke and can no longer talk normally can be connected to a healthy person, so said area synchronises with the healthy area and accelerates the healing process.

2013 Review Part 1

It’s the end of the year, a time to look back at the past 365 days and think of what we’ve done that’s worth remembering. But don’t worry; you don’t have to do any work: I’ve already done it for you!

Here’s a list of what are, in my opinion, the most important events this 2013, in no particular order:

1. A Massive Nobel Prize

higgs and englert

Peter Higgs and François Englert

The most important scientific breakthrough last year was undoubtedly the discovery of a Higgs-like particle at CERN. But this year, a definite Higgs Boson was found, therefore confirming Peter Higgs and his colleagues François Englert and Robert Brout’s prediction. Two latter scientists managed to describe how the Higgs field would work, but the namesake of the particle was the one that actually predicted it’s existence.

Due to their success, the Nobel committee decided to award them the prestigious Nobel Prize for Physics, almost 50 years after their theory was created.

The CERN was also mentioned, since its hard work was essential for the theory to be proven right, and more specifically the ATLAS and CMS experiments which carried out all the necessary work.

Unfortunately, Robert Brout was not awarded the Nobel Prize, since it cannot be given posthumously.

2. The Chelyabinsk Meteor

Chelyabinsk Meteor

Trace left behind by the Chelyabinsk meteor

The year started with the collision of this meteor with our planet, on a Russian city. The incident was recorded by many, and was instantly everywhere in the news, causing a frenzy of curiosity and fear. It caused damage to hundreds of buildings, but human lives were spared. But a question remained: Whether more meteors will follow, and if so, what could be don to protect ourselves. Fortunately, it stopped there, and although this was a very interesting year in terms of astronomy, this was the closest it got to us.

3. The Most Expensive Burger Is Fake

fake meat

Meat made in the lab

Sponsored by Google co-founder, a group of scientists extracted stem cells from some cows and after growing them in a medium, processed them so they became biologically identical to a normal burger. Then, in a crowded event in London, a chef cooked the burger and served it, and was tasted by several people. Many said it tasted just like a real burger, though a bit stringy.

This method could be very useful for several reasons. Apart from being more ethical, it could reduce the cost of providing meat to an ever-growing society, with an insatiable appetite for this product. At the current rate, it would become very hard to feed all humanity, and would produce a lot of greenhouse gases. With this method, meat producing would be much more eco-friendlier and even healthier.

4. How To Talk With Rats

human rat telepathy

Humans can communicate with rats

Everyone has seen a science fiction movie where someone is able to communicate with someone else only using their minds, and although the concept was brilliant, dismissed it, thinking it was impossible. Well, no offense, but you are wrong. This April, scientists in Harvard Medical School were able to make a human move a rat’s tail with their brains.

The way it works is a human and a rat are connected together through a computer. The human is made to wear an electrode cap, which measures their brain activity, whilst the rat was connected to a device that made the neurons transmit a signal through the motor’s cortex when another signal, coming from the computer, was detected. When all of this was ready, the rat was anaesthetized (to reduce interfering), and the human was told to look at a strobe light that blinked periodically, so the scientists could look for a pattern in their brain waves. But when the test subject was asked to look at the rat, the disruption in the brain waves caused an electric signal that travelled all the way through the computer, to the rat, where it reached the motor cortex and made it’s tail move. Although there are a few limitations to the way in which it could apply to the common telepathy, it’s a great way to start!

5. Print a Gun

This year has seen a lot of improvements in the 3D printing industry, one of them being the printing of a gun that could fire up to 50 shots without breaking. This achievement was accomplished by the company Solid Concepts in USA, whose gun is also capable of being very precise at long distances.

print gun

This is not really how you print a gun

There has been a debate over the last few months in this country on the availability of gun blueprints on the Internet, where everyone could access them and therefore be able to print a gun using only their desktop printers. But this model can only be printed on a specialised, industrial printer, and has a very high cost, so not many people will be able to make themselves this weapon.

Stay tuned for next week’s second part of this recap for the year’s most interesting scientific discoveries.