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The Vanguard

The 5 Coolest Things On Earth This Week

Tomas Kellner
February 23, 2018
"Scientists in Canada found a way to decode what people see by monitoring their brain waves, their colleagues in Japan created a ghostly LED light the size of a lentil that floats through the air on ultrasound, and a team in the U.S. is learning from squids and octopuses how to build the perfect camouflage. But there's no place to hide from progress.


I See What You Are Thinking

What is it? Scientists at the University of Toronto Scarborough found a way to decipher the images of what people see by monitoring their brain waves. ""When we see something, our brain creates a mental percept, which is essentially a mental impression of that thing,” said Dan Nemrodov, a postdoctoral fellow at the university. “We were able to capture this percept using EEG [electroencephalography] to get a direct illustration of what's happening in the brain during this process.""

Why does it matter? The concept of rebuilding images the brain “sees” has long seemed far-fetched. Adrian Nestor, an assistant professor at the university, says that the approach “could provide a means of communication for people who are unable to verbally communicate. Not only could it produce a neural-based reconstruction of what a person is perceiving, but also of what they remember and imagine, of what they want to express. It could also have forensic uses for law enforcement in gathering eyewitness information on potential suspects rather than relying on verbal descriptions provided to a sketch artist,” he said.

How does it work?  Nestor had previously reconstructed facial images with a functional magnetic resonance machine (fMRI). But in this instance, he and his team showed the test subjects images of faces and used electrodes attached to their heads to monitor their brain activity with EEG equipment. They captured the signals and then used machine learning algorithms to reconstruct the images. ""fMRI captures activity at the time scale of seconds, but EEG captures activity at the millisecond scale,” he said. “So we can see with very fine detail how the percept of a face develops in our brain using EEG."" The research was published in the journal eNeuro.

Top image: Dan Nemrodov (left) and Professor Adrian Nestor (middle) have developed a technique that can harness brain waves gathered by data to show how our brains perceive images of faces . Caption credit: University of Toronto Scarborough. Image credit: Ken Jones.


Traveling Light

The researchers named the tiny device Luciola, the Latin name for a genus of Japanese fireflies. Image credit: University of Tokyo.

What is it? Researchers at the University of Tokyo have developed a ghostly levitating LED particle that floats through the air on just ultrasound waves. They named the tiny device Luciola, the Latin name for a genus of Japanese fireflies.

Why does it matter? The technology could lead to floating displays. “Equipped with movement or temperature sensors, Luciola could fly to such objects to deliver a message or help to make moving displays with multiple lights that can detect the presence of humans, or participate in futuristic projection mapping events,” according to Reuters.

How does it work? Luciola looks like a tiny flying saucer with a red LED light source located in the center. The device, which measures 3.5 millimeters in diameter — about the size of a small lentil — weighs 16.2 milligrams and can hover over an area of about 100 square centimeters (15.5 square inches). Luciola floats on ultrasound waves generated by a nearby coil and uses a wireless connection to power the LED and also an integrated chip inside the device that monitors and controls voltage.


Hide And Seek

What is it? The internet is full of amazing videos of squid and octopuses changing the color of their skin in a flash and blending perfectly with their environment. Leila Deravi, an assistant professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Northeastern University, and her colleagues are now trying to replicate the trick and develop the perfect camouflage material.

How does it work? Working with a U.S. Army research lab, Deravi’s team looked closely at chromatophores, the red, yellow, brown and orange clumps of cells located on the skin of cephalopods such as octopuses. Chromatophores work in concert with iridiphores, another sets of cells located underneath them that reflect light like a mirror. Together, they allow the animals to perform their disappearing trick. Deravi’s team was able to isolate the pigments from the chromatophores and use them to make “thin films and fibers that could be incorporated into textiles, flexible displays, and future color-changing devices.”

Why does it matter: The university reported that the fibers were “so visually interesting that it's not difficult to imagine weaving them into fabric for clothing or other art forms. But perhaps the most exciting possible application is wearable, flexible screens and textiles that are capable of adaptive coloration.”


Strike One Against Stroke

What is it? Wearable medical devices can already count calories and measure dehydration and stress. But now researchers at Northwestern University and the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab developed a wireless, Band-Aid-like patch that can monitor stroke victims at home during recovery.

Why does it matter? Stroke kills 140,000 people and affects nearly 800,000 in the U.S. The annual medical bill reaches $34 billion, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Stroke can involve surgery and other invasive procedures followed by often long rehabilitation. “One of the biggest problems we face with stroke patients is that their gains tend to drop off when they leave the hospital,” said Arun Jayaraman, research scientist at the AbilityLab and a wearable technology expert. “With the home monitoring enabled by these sensors, we can intervene at the right time, which could lead to better, faster recoveries for patients.”

How does it work? The patch, which patients attach directly onto their throats, measures speech patterns and swallowing ability. “The sensors aid in the diagnosis and treatment of aphasia, a communication disorder associated with stroke,” according to the university. Unlike microphones, which can be unwieldy and pick up ambient noise, the patch measures vibrations of the vocal cords. “We developed novel materials for this sensor that bend and stretch with the body, minimizing discomfort to patients,” said John Rogers, an engineering professor at Northwestern. The sensors stream data to smartphones and computers in real time and do not require batteries.


Stroke: Strike Two

Using MRI imaging to measure the results, the team found “an approximately 35 percent decrease in the size of injury and 50 percent reduction in brain tissue loss—something not observed acutely in previous studies of exosome treatment for stroke.” Image credit: Shutterstock.

What is it? Scientists at the University of Georgia’s Regenerative Bioscience Center and a startup affiliated with the school used stem cells to repair brain damage caused by stroke. The university said in a news release that the new stroke treatment “reduces brain damage and accelerates the brain’s natural healing tendencies in animal models.”

Why does it matter? In addition to the sobering stats mentioned in the previous item, the team reported in the journal Translational Stroke Research that more than 700 drugs have failed in stroke clinical trials.

How does it work? The team focused on exosomes, tiny tubular, fluid-filled structures produced by human neural stem cells. They cross barriers that the larger cells cannot, slip into the brain and deliver “multiple doses of regenerative therapeutics to where they're most needed,” according to the university. ""This is truly exciting evidence, because exosomes provide a stealth-like characteristic, invisible even to the body's own defenses,"" says UGA professor Steven Stice. ""When packaged with therapeutics, these treatments can actually change cell progression and improve functional recovery."" Using MRI imaging to measure the results, the team found “an approximately 35 percent decrease in the size of injury and 50 percent reduction in brain tissue loss—something not observed acutely in previous studies of exosome treatment for stroke.”"