Scientific discoveries this week: 9/9/13

Brain-to-Brain Interface – University of Washington
Sharing thoughts through the connecting of two brain may not be too far off. Recently, University of Washington researchers Rajesh Rao and Andrea Stocco successfully performed what is believed to be the first noninvasive human-to-human brain interface in history. Rao sent a brain signal to Stocco, who was sitting at the opposite side of the University of Washington campus, which caused Stocco to involuntarily hit the spacebar of a computer stationed in front of him. Both were hooked up to a form of magnetic stimulation, and the experiment used electrical brain recordings. Rao and Stocco plan to continue research. Stocco believes this technology could be used to help people who do not speak the same language communicate or even allow a person with disabilities to communicate his or her needs.

Gravity Variations up to 40 percent larger than expected – Sydney Australia
Free-fall gravity may not be as constant as expected. Recently, a joint Australian and German research team collectively discovered an anomaly of free fall gravity amidst an effort to portray, with enhanced detail, the gravity field across the globe. “Our research team calculated free-fall gravity at three billion points—that’s one every 200 meters—to create these highest-resolution gravity maps,” Dr. Christian Hirt, lead researcher on the project, told Curtin University. These calculations led the research team to discover variations of free-fall gravity are up to 40 percent larger than previously believed. High-resolution gravity maps generated by advanced supercomputing with the research team’s data will benefit civil engineers and the mining industry among others. The research team determined that Earth’s gravitational pull is strongest near the North Pole and weakest on the top of Husacaran mountain in the South American Andes.

John Hopkins – Baltimore, Maryland
Johns Hopkins researchers recently took a step toward potentially developing a clinical drug that could assuage down-syndrome symptoms. According to Roger Reeves, Ph.D, professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, most people with Down syndrome have a cerebellum that is about 60 percent of the normal size. Using a single-dose of a compound known as a sonic hedgehog pathway agonist, researchers were able to normalize cerebellum growth in down-syndrome-like mice. The compound also positively impacted learning and memory in the mice. However, Reeves cautioned that even if this drug were to be developed into a human drug, it would have unintended effects and would not constitute a “cure” for the learning and memory aspects of Down syndrome.

Japan takes steps to reduce radioactive leaks – Japan
Two years after the Japanese Coast was ravaged by enormous tsunamis, revelations are being made regarding nuclear power plants, namely the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, impacted by the storms. Last week, the Japanese government announced its plan to contribute 47 billion yen, the equivalent of $470 million, to the construction of an underground “ice wall” around the Fukushima plant. The ice wall will reduce the amount of contaminated water released into the Pacific. In addition to the wall, plans are in place to develop an advanced water treatment system that will purify water before it is released into the ocean.

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