|SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY|
Human body as data transmitter
Foxes bred to look and behave like dogs
Can you quit smoking with a pill?
Lighting is a boon
Secret of whale songs Prof Yash
Prof Yash Pal
Human body as data transmitter
Human society is entering into an era of an "always on" society. Internet has reduced the whole world to a global village by connecting the remote servers and terminals. Ethernet, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi have been successfully used to configure the LANs and have tried to solve the "last mile" connectivity problem. Each of these technologies has limitations in finding solutions to the network congestion. "Human area networks" make use of the human body as a high-speed network, which establishes a communications link between people and electronic devices.
Researchers at Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation (NTT) are developing a Human Area Network called "REDT acton". This uses the surface of the human body, as a data transmission path, at speeds upto 10 Mbps, between two consecutive human bodies.
The name "Tacton" has originated, as the technology involves touch and action. the world "red" indicates warm and cordial communications. Red Tacton does not rely on electromagnetic or light waves to transmit data.
It makes use of weak electric fields on the surface of the body. The weak electric fields travel through the body to a Red Tacton receiver. Red Tacton transceivers use an optical sensor to detect fluctuations in the electric field of the human body. These transceivers also include a mini laser and a crystal. There are certain objects like plastics, glass, ceramics, liquids and metals, which possess a weak electric field around them and are a source for such communication.
Two people possessing Red Tacton devices can exchange data by simply shaking hands. Communication is not limited to the surface of the body. It can travel through clothing, to a potential Red Tacton device in the pocket.
In contrast to other wireless transmission methods, the transmission speed in human networks does not fade in the congested environments. This is attributed to the fact that the body surface is the transmission medium and the number of communication channels automatically increases with the presence of more people.
In addition to Human Area Networks, Red Tacton plans to make communication possible among all the materials, which are conductive and dielectric. Red Tacton transceivers do emit weak electromagnetic fields, but are under permitted levels. The electrodes are covered with an insulating film. This prevents the current from Red Tacton to flow into the human body.
Research is ongoing to embed these transceivers in mobile phones and memory sticks. These Human Area Networks will enable the personalised information stored on the device worn on the body to be transmitted to the computers present in the neighbourhood. The communication process will be initiated, totally through human action. Metals, plastics, ceramics, glass, liquids, tables, walls, floors, chairs and any architectural medium having conductivity and dielectric behaviour are a potential communication medium.
The day is not far when the laptop placed on a table will have an instant access to the Internet. The emergence of Human Area Networks on the networking scene will further strengthen the human vision of an always on society.
Foxes bred to look and behave like dogs
They stare you in the face, wag their tails and whine with joy when anyone approaches. No, these are not dogs but a domesticated breed of fox that looks and behaves just like man’s best friend.
After 45 years of selective breeding, and almost as many fox generations, scientists have produced what nature could not — a completely tame fox which eagerly follows his master’s gaze.
Foxes bred on a farm in Russian Siberia since 1959 not only look like dogs, they act like them too in their ability to read someone’s face for visual cues on what they are expected to do.
Dogs, which were domesticated from wolves more than 10,000 years ago, are one of the few animals with enough "social intelligence" to follow the visual instructions shown in the expression of a human face or movements of a hand.
Now a study with the Russian foxes has shown that they, too, are just as adept at being able to read the same pointing directions that domesticated dogs can read when they look searchingly into the eyes of their master.
A team of scientists from Russia, Germany and America report on the results of intelligence tests on the Siberian foxes that clearly put them on a par with dogs, and even above chimpanzees in terms of being able to read gestures of human communication — such as pointing to hidden parcels of food with eyes or hands.
In a study published in the journal Current Biology, Brian Hare of Harvard University and Lyudmilla Trut of the Russian Academy of Sciences suggest that the domesticated foxes may be more pliable human companions than many other pets such as cats.
"We show here that fox kits [cubs] from an experimental population selectively bred over 45 years to approach human fearlessly and non aggressively (i.e. experimentally domesticated) are not only as skilful as dog puppies in using human gestures but are also more skilled than fox kits from a second, control population not bred for tame behaviour," they say.
The foxes in the study are the descendants of about 100 vixens and 30 male foxes which in 1959 were brought together as part of a breeding colony on a Siberian research station in Novosibirsk.
Can you quit smoking with a pill?
Researchers are racing to develop a potentially lucrative drug that would make smoking as treatable as erectile dysfunction, high cholesterol and acid reflux disease.
Major pharmaceutical companies and small startups see the potential for billions of dollars in sales for a vaccine or a nicotine-free pill that could end addiction at the chemical level for America’s 50 million smokers.
"It’s the biggest addiction market there is," said Dr Herbert D. Kleber, a psychiatry professor and addiction researcher at Columbia University. "Is it realistic to be able to help addicts stop smoking and remain off with a pill? I think the answer is yes and we’re working on a number of them."
While nicotine patches, gums, lozenges and sprays help wean smokers off cigarettes by slowly reducing their dependence on nicotine, researchers are tailoring drugs to mimic or block nicotine’s chemical reactions with the body.
In Connecticut, researchers at Pfizer Inc. identified a brain receptor that nicotine binds to and designed a drug, varenicline, that latches to the same site. Varenicline is in Phase III testing, normally the last step before a company applies for approval from the Food and Drug Administration.
Researchers hope that the drug will attach to nicotine receptors in the brain, preventing overpowering cravings from setting in when someone stops smoking.
Lighting is a boon
Lightning plays an unexpected, key role in clearing Earth’s radiation and making space travel safe for both human and orbiters, NASA has announced.
"Lightning is the responsible wave, interacts with particles and ... literally rains into our atmosphere and gets washed out," said Jim Green, NASA research and scientist at Goddard Space Flight Centre outside Washington.
In 1958, US space probes mapped two radiation belts encircling Earth, Green says. Ever since, scientists have been trying to figure out why there are two belts instead of just one and what forms a so-called slot between them.
"Lightning is the culprit," Green said. "It’s clearing out the slot region or creating this safe zone and that enables NASA ... to use this region for a variety of spacecraft to orbit and then not suffer the high doses of radiation that occurs in the other belts."
NASA wanted to know how Earth’s twin
radiation belts are formed, so they can apply that knowledge to interplanetary
travel, because Green said, the radiation in those belts could hit an astronaut
with a dose of radiation like that of US atomic weapons dropped over Hiroshima
and Nagasaki, Japan, in 1945. — AFP
New products & discoveries
Smallest Black Hole
A group led by astronomers from Ohio State University and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology have measured the mass of a unique black hole, and determined that it is the smallest found so far.
Early results indicate that the black hole weighs in at less than a million times the mass of our sun — which would make it as much as 100 times smaller than others of its type.
To get their measurement, astronomers used NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and a technique similar to Doppler radar — the method that meteorologists use to track weather systems.
The black hole lies 14 million light-years away, in the centre of the galaxy NGC 4395. One light-year is the distance light travels in one year — approximately six trillion miles.
Astronomers consider NGC 4395 to be an "active galaxy," one with a very bright centre, or nucleus. Current theory holds that black holes may literally be consuming active galactic nuclei (AGNs). Black holes in AGNs are supposed to be very massive.
Secret of whale songs
Why do whales in the North Atlantic Ocean seem to be moving together and coherently? What is impelling them forward. How do they communicate with each other, seemingly over thousands of miles of ocean? And how can this acoustical habitat be protected?
For nearly nine years Cornell University researcher Christopher Clark — together with former U.S. Navy acoustics experts Chuck Gagnon and Paula Loveday — has been trying to answer these questions by listening to whale songs and calls in the North Atlantic using the navy’s antisubmarine listening system. Instead of being used to track Soviet subs as they move through the Atlantic, the underwater microphones of the Sound Surveillance System (SOSUS) can track singing blue, fin, humpback and minke whales.
From the acoustical maps he and his colleagues have obtained, Clark has come to realise that he has been thinking about whales at the wrong time scale. "There is a time delay in the water, and the response times for their communication are not the same as ours.
Q We see only one face of the moon because the period of its rotation and that of its orbit around the earth are the same. But why should it be so?
A You are right in wondering about this coincidence. In fact, it is an exact match. Both these periods are 27 days, 7 hours and 43 minutes or, to put it in more compact language, 27.32 days! Science does not like such accidents. There must be a reason. They had to be the same. Let us explore why.
You all know about tides. They are caused by the fact that the moon-ward side of the earth experiences significantly greater gravitational attraction than the opposite side. This produces an oval shaped bulge in the oceans with the longer axis of the oval always pointing towards the moon. (For simplicity we overlook, in this discussion, the smaller effect of the sun). We usually think of tides affecting only the oceans. That is not quite true. Even the landmasses are affected. They are also a little plastic. In addition, we never think of the poor moon. It must also be affected by tides, in the sense that, to the extent possible, it must also have a bulge pointing towards the earth.
A few billion years ago when the moon was formed, perhaps in a collision between the earth and another planet size object, it must have been spinning much faster than it is now. Also, since the moon was much closer to the earth, the tidal force must have been much stronger. Huge bulges would have been forming and dissipating. In relevance to the present discussion, as the moon spun around, its bulge would have lasted a while beyond the moon-earth line. The attraction of the earth on this persisting bulge would have exerted a restraining torque on the moon, as if a brake was being applied on its rotation. Such a torque, working over a long time, finally succeeded in assuring that the bulge came permanently in line with the earth-moon direction. The restraining torque then disappeared and the rotation of the moon was synchronised with its orbital period around the earth. It is easy to see that such a synchronising effect would have occurred even if, in the beginning, the moon had been spinning very slowly.
It has been found that spin and orbital period synchrony is a general feature of any two large companions. For example, like the earth and the moon, Pluto and its moon Charon also show the same, one, face to each other.
It is said that every star has a solar system. Doesn’t it follow that it would have orbiting planets as well?
We do not know whether every star has planets around it. But it is likely that a large fraction of them do. In some sense, you might say that it is difficult to make a star without making any planets around it. This does not mean that those planets would be like the earth. They might be too close to the star or too far. They might be very massive, like the Jupiter or Saturn, and evolve very differently. At a certain point in its history, a large population of asteroids might even dominate the stellar family. It is unreasonable to assume that the primary concern of every star should be to gather, or help generate, planets that would support life like that on the earth.
And yet there might be a very large number where conditions like those on the earth are not improbable. Incidentally, when you use the phrase “solar system”, it usually implies that the star has planets around it.