Scientific discoveries this week: 4-11-11

Evanston, Illinois – Rats may offer a great deal of insight into how tactile feedback works in the human hand.  In a study at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, researchers studied how rats use their whiskers to detect the shape of objects in their environment. This allows the rats to make their way through dark environments with no optical input whatsoever. The possible applications of this knowledge are extensive; scientists are discussing building sophisticated robots with whiskers that will allow the robots to navigate tight spaces and detect the shapes and sizes of things in three dimensions.

Greenbelt, Maryland – Intense bursts of energy from a galaxy roughly 3.8 Billion light-years from Earth have caught the attention of astronomers the world over. Astronomers at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, noticed that it appeared that another star was going supernova. After the massive bursts of energy continued long after the nova should have ended, they began to speculate as to what could be causing this extended release. The explosions appear to originate at the center of a galaxy, and astronomers know that many galaxies hold black holes at their center. Currently, it is supposed that a massive start has been caught in the gravitational pull of a black hole, and that the gasses from the star are being drawn into the black hole, causing the release of massive amounts of highly charged particles.

Osaka, Japan – Holograms have been a reality for years, but until now they have all been false-color images. The problem with generating true-color holograms has been that they were produced using one color of light, and when reproduced with white light they never looked right. Researchers at Osaka University in Japan have developed a method that produces true-color holograms using true white light. The technique involves illuminating the object with red, blue, and green light, and storing the image on a photosensitive material embedded on a film of gold or silver metal. The image can be reproduced with white light, and be fully true-color. As of this writing, the technology can only be used on small, static objects, but in the future may be expanded to include live-action displays.

Kobe, Japan – Fully developed organs grown in a laboratory may not be a thing of science fiction for long. Scientists in Japan have successfully grown retinal cells from the stem cells in mice. These cells can then be transplanted into adult mice to restore vision lost by retinal damage. The current challenge is trying to grow the “optic cup” the part of the eye that forms the backbone of the retina. Scientists are working on making this technique work with human cells, it could help babies born with retinal damage, as well as those who have lost their sight due to aging.

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