Science is an ever-expanding field with discoveries being made more frequently than any of us may realize. While some may work as simple watercooler conversation in labs, other findings, like the 10 compiled in this installment, are astounding and, at a risk of sounding over-dramatic, completely mind-blowing.
The human body can break down and entire limbs can be removed, but as tenacious and innovative as people are, none of those detriments need to be permanent. The advent of highly advanced artificial limbs offer the possibility for amputees to be able to use their new prosthetics to their fullest extent. That means being able to control the movement of the limbs using nothing more than the brain. Patients provided with this advanced prosthetics could grab hold of objects with issue, but researchers at Johns Hopkins University aim to take things further by perfecting a prosthetic hand with fingers that can be moved individually and independent of one another.
As science progresses, the concepts of Westworld and Terminator start to seem a lot less fantastical and veer away from being little more than creations of science fiction. Adding to this future of synthetics is an artificial flesh made from a mix of living cells and several mechanical enhancements. Starting with a 3D base around which cells grow, engineers then weave nanowires and transistors into the living tissue, creating nanoelectric scaffolds. From this, a cyborg tissue is born that has the physical properties of real flesh, just with a few added perks. The flesh is complete with a sensory network, though all it’s capable of currently is reading data. The lead researcher on the Harvard team behind the project, Charles Lieber, aims to design the tissue to talk with other biological systems, just like real skin.
There may come a time when people are more robotic than anything else and Professor Kevin Warwick, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Coventry University, and his team have developed the latest and greatest enhancement implant. Through the use of magnetics, which were implanted in Warwick and members of his team of students, the professor has created a means to benefit from additional senses. One of Warwick’s students linked his magnetic implant with an ultrasonic detector installed on a baseball cap. The two work together to give the student a perception of how close or far an object may be to him through vibrations from the implanted device. Another student augmented his implant to be able to remotely sense heat from objects by connecting an infrared sensor.
Artificial Photonic Molecules
In 2013, a joint effort between MIT and Harvard was working with a natural form of matter and discovered something that could brighten the attitude of any lover of Sci-Fi. Comparing their finding to lightsabers from Star Wars, the researchers were able to artificially reproduce photonic molecules, which are typically found in sunlight. The significance of photonic molecules is that, when they interact with each other, they essentially create a source of light that also has a mass. Though you shouldn’t expect to be dueling with photonic light swords in the near future, it’s believed that these molecules may be able to form 3D structures and may even reduce the headache of classical computing, as they’re easier to employ than electrons.
Creation of Vocal Cords
Being made of organic material, the human body is susceptible to breaking down under certain conditions and circumstances, but advancements in science have made our genetic deterioration a worry of the past. One of the latest scientific finds is a step in the direction of removing the permanency of the loss of speech. In 2015, researchers were successful in growing viable vocal cord tissue that, when transplanted into animals, produced noise. While the research still has quite a way to go before being used in human subjects, the find was an incredible step in the right direction. The biggest challenge so far has been cultivating the perfect tissue to create the cord, as it needs to be flexible but still durable, so transplants are still a thing of the future. The vocal cord tissue was the product of cadaver and living vocal cord cells that took weeks to turn into the workable product.
Long-Term Memory Cells
Ever worry about what would happen when your brain finally lets go, making it impossible for you to remember anything? Researchers at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia started laying the stepping stones for treatments of neurological disorders when they developed a long-term memory cell that mimics the human brain’s ability to process information. The cell, developed in 2015 at the MicroNano Research Facility, is the very first electronic multi-state memory cell with the capability of processing and storing numerous strands of information, just like the human brain. The finding is just the first step of mirroring our sophisticated neural network, but it’s a vital one in the direction of perfecting the bionic brain.
Speaking of early timelines, the Entelognathus, which was unsurfaced in 2013 in the Xiaxiang reservoir in China, became a significant evolutionary find. Entelognathus primordialis was an armor-plated fish believed to have lived 419 million years ago as a member of the placoderm class of fish. Where most placoderms have beak-like jaws structured out of bone, the Entelognathus was found to have what looks like a jaw, something not seen until later species of sharks and bony fish. When placed within the current family tree, E. Primordialis becomes the earliest known species showing signs of a modern jaw.
Discovered in South Africa’s Gauteng province in 2013, the mysterious fossil uncovered by recreational cavers Rick Hunter and Steven Tucker wasn’t officially verified until 2015. Characterized by similarities in stature and body mass to small-bodied humans, the fossil was deemed to be an as-of-yet unknown extinct species of hominin and was labeled as the genus Homo. By September 10th, 2015, over 1,550 fossils from 15 different individuals were excavated from the cave the original specimen was pulled from. Though popular opinion pinpoints Naledi as a new species of Homo, some researchers contest the classification, claiming further analyses of the specimen is needed to better date the fossils and connect Naledi to the human evolutionary timeline.
The Illustris Project
In early 2014, a large-scale collaboration of scientists across the globe launched the Illustris website, providing the internet with a virtual simulation of the universe. Aiming to better understand the evolution of the universe, Illustris’ simulation starts after the Big Bang and creation of the universe and spans to present day. The near 14-billion-year span is modeled on previously determined calculations and findings of the observable universe to better understand what lies beyond what we can view. Illustris is designed to provide details on dark matter, galaxy formation, and dark energy. By April of 2015, data pooled from Illustris was released publicly.
Trees Have a Period of Reset
We’ve known for a while that trees are living things that, much like humans, deal with their own cycles of life. One aspect of our towering natural neighbor’s daily routine that we may have been overlooking for quite some time is a period of sleep come night fall. No, you won’t hear a tree snoring outside of your window, but scientists believe that, at the end of the day, when branches droop at night, the tree is entering a period of rest. Using infrared light to illuminate parts of two different trees, one in Finland and one in Austria, researchers came to find that during the night, leaves and branches changed position, dropping about 4 inches or 10 centimeters on a 16-foot or 5-meter tree. Even more intriguing is that some of the branches returned to their original position before the sun even rose, indicating a possible internal clock.