Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Human Touch

Think science isn't very "touchy feely?" Think again. 

Researchers, engineers and students in the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Biomechatronics Lab are building artificial limbs to be more tactile or sensitive to touch.

With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the team led by mechanical engineer, Veronica J. Santos, Ph.D. is creating a touch language translatable by computers and humans. The researchers test robotic touch with mechanical pressure sensors that interact with objects of various shapes, sizes and textures. With cutting edge instrumentation, Santos' team is able to translate touch interaction into computer data.

Santos' results will be used to for a formula or algorithm that allows the computer to identify patterns among the items in its library of tested experiences and things it has never felt before. This work will help researchers further develop artificial haptic (sense of touch) skills and provide robots and human prostheses with the "human touch."
Go Science!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Slime Mold Maps Roman Roads

Okay. I have officially heard it all. Microbiology and archaeology combine to retrace lost Roman roads. 


I know. I was skeptical too. Well, here's basically how it works/tracks back to Roman times. Molds want to find food via the shortest path between points A and B. So, they meander (slime along) until they get to the food (a flake of oatmeal). The odd thing is that when food was placed in roughly the places (on agar in a petri dish) as 17 towns and major cities of the ancient Roman empire, the slime mold traveled the same route as the Roman roads. Researchers found this to be true of known (and still used) roads as well as military roads only described in ancient travel texts. Interesting! So next time I need directions, I might try a trusty slime mold. It would take days, but all for the advancement of science, I say! 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Brain Awareness Week

When I did something particularly dumb as a child, my father used to tell me to use my head for "something other than a hat rack"  I loved hats, so it always made me grin. Now that he is gone, I remind myself of his advice on occasion. :)

But lots of people have been using their heads for important educational activities about the brain for many years. In fact, March 2015 marks the 20th year of Brain Awareness Week. And in Little Rock, the Arkansas chapter of the Society for Neuroscience will celebrate this milestone with kid- and teen-friendly activities at the Reynolds Museum of Discovery.

“On Saturday, March 21, the Arkansas Chapter of the Societyfor Neuroscience will celebrate Brain Awareness Week at the Museum of Discovery. From 10 am-3 pm, neuroscience research groups from around the state will host educational activities for children of all ages. Activities including sculpting brains out of Play-Doh, learning neuroanatomy from brain specimens, demonstrations of perceptual illusions, and teaching about operant conditioning.”

So take advantage of this chance to use your head and find out what goes on inside it too! Go science!

Friday, February 27, 2015

Flying Dinosaurs

Have you ever wondered when dinosaurs started flying? And weren't a lot of species happy that T. rex was too massive to take to the skies? 

Just published by Yale University researchers Teresa Feo, Daniel Field, and Richard Prum is a study on a key component of a winged dinosaur's anatomy – asymmetrical feathers. Why? Because, shape is important in creating lift.

Actually, the Yale team has been analyzing the question of the first dino flyers using feather and barb angle. 

Apparently, barbs on the leading edge of feathers are positioned at small angles from the shaft they branch from. This may have served to keep the feather's leading edge fairly rigid which in turn, facilitates pitch control in flight.

So, if you're a devotee of all things aviation. Or just curious about bird history and development, check out the Yale results. Go science!