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5 Coolest Things On Earth This Week

This week we learned about an A.I. potentially smarter that three-quarters of American adults, read about a soft robot that can keep a weak heart beating and watched Venus do The Wave. Raise your arms and say yeah!


This Computer May Be Smarter Than Most of Us

Software developer coding on his laptop at night

The A.I. model “performs in the 75th percentile for American adults,” says Northwestern’s Forbus. Illustration credit: Getty Images

Scientists at Northwestern University have built an artificial intelligence system that “performs at human levels on a standard intelligence test.” The team, led by engineering professor Ken Forbus, built the model on an A.I. platform capable of solving visual problems and understanding sketches. But they enhanced it with a computational model of analogy based on a theory developed by Northwestern psychology professor Dedre Gentner. “The model performs in the 75th percentile for American adults, making it better than average,” Forbus says. The research was published in the journal Psychological Review.


Bone Machine


Periosteum is a tissue fabric layer on the outside of bone, as seen in the upper diagonal segment of the tissue image volume. The natural weave of elastin (green) and collagen (yellow) are evident when viewed under the microscope. Elastin gives periosteum its stretchy properties and collagen imparts toughness. Muscle is organized into fiber bundles, observed as round structures in the lower diagonal segment of the tissue image volume. The volume is approximately 200 x 200 microns (width x height) x 25 microns deep. Photo: Melissa Knothe Tate.

Biomedical engineers at the University of New South Wales in Sydney have created for the first time a smart fabric that mimics periosteum — the membrane that covers the outer surface of bones. The team first scanned and modeled the layer in high-resolution 3D on a computer. It then scaled the structure and reproduced it on a computer-controlled jacquard loom. Nature makes periosteum from collagen, elastin and other proteins. The membrane protects bones from impact and give them extra strength. The artificial version — made from a combination of an elastic material that mimics elastin and silk that mimics collagen — could lead to “protective suits that stiffen under high impact for skiers, racing-car drivers and astronauts, through to ‘intelligent’ compression bandages for deep-vein thrombosis that respond to the wearer’s movement and safer steel-belt radial tires,” the university wrote in a news release.


A Soft Robot For A Feeble Heart


Top: In vitro demonstration of the pumping of the soft robotic sleeve. Video courtesy of Ellen Roche/Harvard University. Above: In vivo demonstration of cardiac assist in a porcine model of acute heart failure. Video courtesy of Ellen Roche/Harvard SEAS.

Researchers at Harvard University and Boston Children’s Hospital have developed a soft robot that fits around a heart and helps it beat. They say the machine could open “new treatment options for people suffering from heart failure.” The robot listens to the body and “twists and compresses in synch with a beating heart, augmenting cardiovascular functions weakened by heart failure.” It does not directly channel the blood, though. “This research demonstrates that the growing field of soft robotics can be applied to clinical needs and potentially reduce the burden of heart disease and improve the quality of life for patients,” said Ellen T. Roche, the first author of the paper, which was published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.


Two Words: Superconductive Graphene

The structure of the graphene tube of nanotechnology 3d illustration

Graphene could lead to “new types of superconducting quantum devices for high-speed computing.” Illustration credit: Getty Images

Scientists at the University of Cambridge in England have succeeded in tricking graphene to behave like a superconductor and carry electricity with no resistance. Graphene, a two-dimensional sheet of carbon atoms, has been hailed as a superstrong wonder material ever since its discovery at the University of Manchester more than a decade ago. Researchers believed that it could also turn into a superconductor but could not prove it without doping it with other chemical elements. The new discovery could lead to better batteries, MRI scanners, power lines and “new types of superconducting quantum devices for high-speed computing.”


Watch Venus Do The Wave


Venus was doing the wave in December. Image credit: JAXA/Taguchi et. al., 2017

Japanese astronomers operating the Akatsuki space probe have spotted a strange, planet-wide atmospheric bulge spanning Venus nearly from pole to pole like a stadium wave. “Over several days of observation, the bow-shaped structure remained relatively fixed in position above the highland on the slowly rotating surface, despite the background atmospheric super rotation,” the team wrote in the journal Nature Geoscience about the 6,200-mile long hump. “We suggest that the bow-shaped structure is the result of an atmospheric gravity wave generated in the lower atmosphere by mountain topography that then propagated upwards.”

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