SciTech Briefs

Discovery points to new species of human ancestor

A team of paleoanthropologists recently discovered foot bones in Burtele, Ethiopia that are 3.4 million years old and may point to a new species of hominids or human ancestors. The only other hominid bones found from that period belong to the specimen “Lucy,” a collection of bones believed to be a close relative to modern humans. Lucy’s discovery has provided insight into how humans may have evolved to have larger brain sizes and walk on two feet.

The newly found bones belong to a hominid from the same time period as Lucy, but their shape is significantly different. These bones suggest that the hominid was bipedal, but also had the ability to climb trees.

Source: The Christian Science Monitor

Scientists from ‘faster than light’ experiment resign

Two scientists at the CERN Laboratory who reported the discovery of particles traveling faster than the speed of light resigned this past week. Spokesperson of the group Antonio Ereditato and scientist Dario Autiero resigned, claiming that increasing tension within the research group was the reason for their departures.

In early September, the research group revealed results showing neutrinos (neutrally charged subatomic particles) to be moving faster than the speed of light. Their results shocked physicists around the world by disproving one of the fundamental ideas of modern physics. Recently, the group had reported that their earlier result may have been due to a malfunctioning clock that measured the time of the neutrino’s journey.

Source: New Scientist

Team designs tiny robots that will inspect health

A research team based at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom is currently designing a tiny in-body robot that will travel through a patient’s bloodstream to look for signs of illness. Scientists are modeling the robot after the sea lamprey, a parasitic fish common to the Atlantic ocean that senses its environment extremely well.

The robot will be less than a centimeter in length and will be coated with mammalian cells that naturally have sensors that respond to light and smell. Using the data from the sensors, scientists will be able to “see” the inside of the human body. The team is currently building the individual components of the robot, but hopes that the robot will be used on people within five years.

Source: LiveScience

Google tests self-driving car on blind man

Google has taken the next step in testing their self-driving car by placing a civilian behind the wheel. Steve Mahan, a man who is 95 percent blind, sat behind the driver’s seat while the self-driving car drove him around to pick up his laundry and go through a Taco Bell drive-though. The car used information in its computer’s database to obey speed limits. Mahan said that it “was some of the best driving that he has ever done.”

Since announcing the self-driving car project in 2012, Google has registered over 200,000 miles of computer-led driving. The car relies on laser range finders, radar sensors, video cameras, and detailed software to successfully make automated driving safe and practical.

Source: Discovery News

Branson to rival Cameron’s trip to the deep trench

After movie director James Cameron recently made his trip to the bottom of the Mariana Trench to film the environment, Sir Richard Branson, billionare tycoon and adventurer, announced plans to make his own deep sea trip to the floor of the Puerto Rico Trench.

Unlike the Mariana Trench, which has been explored extensively, the Puerto Rico Trench has a depth greater than the height of Mount Everest and is relatively unexplored. In addition to satisfying his thirst for adventure, Branson hopes to uncover British and Spanish galleons that are suspected to have settled on the sea bed. As the founder of Virgin Group, Branson will use a newly built Virgin Oceanic craft to conduct his voyage in four months.

Source: The Telegraph

Bees display self-medication when infected

Researchers at North Carolina State University have found that when bee colonies are infected with fungus, the bees produce 45 percent more resin to fight off the pathogen. Normally, bees use a resin called propolis to fill cracks in their hives to protect it from fungus.

Due to the increasing fear of bees becoming extinct, scientists are trying to understand more about the insects. This new knowledge helps beekeepers understand that the resin is the bees’ natural defense — the bees use their anti-fungal characteristics to ensure survival.

Source: Science Daily