SciTech Briefs

Prosthetics model limb movement

Researchers at Vanderbilt University have made it possible to develop lower limb prosthetics that can duplicate the natural movement of human legs. The leg is made of lightweight materials, such as lithium ion batteries, low-power computer chips, miniaturized sensors, and electric motors with rare-earth magnets. The motors function as muscles and the sensors function as nerves. At present, researchers are focusing on developing some way of connecting the device to the user’s central nervous system, so the device can identify the user’s intent to change movements. Methods being examined include implanting electrodes into a patient’s peripheral nerves or brain. These devices will enable users to exert less hip effort, decreasing the risk of falling.

Source: The New York Times

IBM's Watson available on web

Two years ago, Watson, one of IBM’s most powerful supercomputers, showcased its ability to beat any human on the game show Jeopardy!. This week, IBM announced that Watson will be available through the Internet in a twice-as-powerful form. Companies, academic institutions, and individual software developers will be able to use the system at a fraction of the cost, and draw on its specialties to develop artificial intelligence machines. IBM's move is part of a rising trend of large corporations moving to make powerful, million-dollar systems as accessible as any common application. Experts agree that this trend marks a technological milestone, both in the way humans and machines interact and in the level of technology available to the people.

Source: The New York Times

NASA releases photographs of Spacecraft

On Tuesday, NASA released a photograph of Saturn and the entire inner solar system taken by the Cassini Spacecraft. The photo was taken on July 19, and shows Saturn and the 405,000 miles surrounding it. It was assembled from 141 wide-angled images captured over the course of four hours. Perhaps one of the most striking features of the photograph was Enceladus, Saturn’s sixth largest moon. This moon was seen emitting sprays of mist, which astronomers believe may contain the best evidence, in our solar system, of life beyond our planet.

Source: The New York Times

Music lessons may improve cognition

According to a study conducted at Northwestern University, music lessons can lead to better cognitive processing, with effects that can last long after the musical training ends. The study examined 44 adults aged 55–76. Researchers monitored electrical activity in the part of the brain that processes sound and found that participants with 4–14 years of musical training had relatively faster responses to speech. None of the participants with musical training had played an instrument for more than 14 years. According to the researchers, these results highlight the necessity of music education for today’s youth.

Source: The New York Times