Thursday, July 2, 2015

THE ISLAMIC STATE IN NORTHERN SINAI




The strategy of Occident to have various Islamic groups kill each other works perfectly!  This way, Israel is safer and Occident suffers fewer attacks.   Divide and conquer is an old reliable British strategy. But the impressive fighting abilities demonstrated by the Islamic State in northern Sinai pose a new challenge to IDF. The use of simultaneous suicide bombings, imported from Syria and Iraq, could one day be directed at Israel. 

The terror offensive launched Wednesday by the ISIS in the Sinai Peninsula was aimed at undermining Sisi's military-secular rule in Egypt. But it seems that Sisi is not the only one who should be concerned, so should Israel.

In the short run, Israel has to prepare for the possibility that the attack on 15 posts and centers of the Egyptian security forces in northern Sinai, which claimed the lives of dozens of Egyptian soldiers, will develop into an offensive towards the Israeli border. 

In recent years, global jihad activists in Sinai have already attacked posts of the Egyptian army and of the multinational force in northern Sinai, gained control of armored vehicles, flattened the border fence with them and infiltrated Israeli territory. They were stopped by an armored force with the Air Force's help. 

The Islamic ideology is based on war and hatred. It calls on people to be violent. It calls on people to be terrorists. The Koran leaves no doubt about it. To all those who say that Islam is peace I say: listen to what the Koran has to say.

It is full of verses such as Sura 4:89: Seize them and kill them wherever ye find them.

Or Sura 47:4: When ye meet the unbelievers, smite at their necks and cause a bloodbath among them.

There are over 150 verses in the Koran calling for jihad or holy war.

Islam cannot be reformed. For the simple reason that we cannot separate Islam from the Koran and neither can we take Muhammad out of Islam. So, there can never be a moderate Islam.

For the sake of our own safety, for the sake of our own children’s future, we must stop all immigration from Islamic countries. And we have to do it now!

During the past four decades, we Europeans have foolishly allowed Islamic mass immigration into Western Europe. This is one of the biggest mistakes we have ever made in our entire history.


Muslims: The media portray us badly.

Media: Are you fucking kidding us? We kiss your asses day and night and still your reputation is in the toilet! Blame yourselves!

ISIS fighters gaining control of armored requires special preparations and alert. The jihadists could drive them towards the border terminals with Israel and the border fence in order to break through them with the heavy weight of the tanks and armored personnel carriers.

IDF quickly shut off the crossings and alerted all the communities along the border with Egypt, especially in its northwestern part. The instruction to the residents is to stay alert, and IDF has also reinforced the presence of armored vehicles on the ground and unmanned aircraft monitoring what is happening near the border. IDF is on the alert with helicopters and fighter jets, which Israel will not hesitate to use in case of an attempt to infiltrate its territory. 

Polls reveal that most Muslims of Occident prefer Shariah over the law of the land, and they would support the use of violence to impose Shariah over the constitution! These facts run contrary to the narrative propagated by the media and our political leaders, who hoodwink that such radical views are only held by a tiny minority of extremists.

ISIS declares: We will conquer your Rome, break your crosses, and enslave your women, by the permission of Allah, the Exalted. This is His promise to us; He is glorified and He does not fail in His promise. If we do not reach that time, then our children and grandchildren will reach it, and they will sell your sons as slaves at the slave market.

The battles taking place between the Egyptian army and ISIS fighters could also develop into rocket and mortar fire towards Israel, and the Central Command is preparing for that too. In the meantime, it seems that ISIS men are busy battling the Egyptian army, which is attacking them from the air and from the ground, but the heightened state of alert on the Israeli side will likely continue for a few more days, as experience shows that ISIS will try to create provocations on the border with Israel in a bid to cause a friction between IDF and the Egyptian army and affect the relationship between Egypt and Israel.

There are good relations between the two countries today and excellent coordination between IDF and Egyptian army, but there have already been incidents on the border in which the Egyptians expressed their discontent with the fact that IDF opened fire at global jihad activists in Sinai who attacked, or tried to attack, communities and IDF patrols on the border fence with Egypt.

The greater concern, however, is over the impressive fighting abilities gained by the Ansar Bait al-Maqdis organization, which pledged allegiance to ISIS in November 2014, and its official name today is the Caliphate in the Sinai District. The strategic and complicated attacks, from a military perspective, executed by the organization in January and this Wednesday in northern Sinai show that it is no longer a gang which only knows how to carry out sporadic fire of short-range and inaccurate rockets, or to ambush a civilian bus or an IDF patrol on the Egypt-Israel border. 

Creating a State of Palestine will be a great victory for Islam, as it will inevitably be a new jihad base for renewed attacks against Israel. Events will unfold just as they did when the Israelis withdrew from Gaza: while the international media hailed a new era of peace, the Palestinians gutted installations and prepared for jihad.

We stand with Israel. Israel is in Jihad's frontline. By helping Israel to survive, we help ourselves.  EU humanitarian aid to Palestinians enables them to save more money to buy guns and rockets.  This way, EU inadvertently finances terrorism! Israel creates Nobel laureates, whereas Islam creates terrorists.

Bibi Netanyahu lectures the international community over its criticism of settlement expansion on occupied territory. Netanyahu brings a resonance in Israel, where the song "The whole world is against us" is a hit. Netanyahu vows to continue building settlements in Jerusalem, defying stupid international criticism. Netanyahu declares the Western Wall is not occupied territory, and he does not care what the Universal Nudnik (UN) has to say about it. Netanyahu points out all Israeli citizens live in the Jewish state, and the capital of the Jewish state, for three millennia, has been Jerusalem.

Israel is a bastion of freedom and Graecoroman culture, an economic miracle, and a leader in science and technology with many Nobel prizes. Israel is the only free country in a region dominated by Arab monarchies, theocracies and dictatorships. It is only the citizens of Israel, Arabs and Jews alike, who enjoy the right to express their views, to criticize their government, to form political parties, to publish private newspapers, to hold free elections.

Israel uses its weapons to defend its people, whereas Hamas uses its people to defend its weapons. When Islamists deny the most basic freedoms to their own people, it is obscene for them to start claiming that Israel is violating the Palestinians' rights. All Muslims who are genuinely concerned with human rights should, as their very first action, seek to oust their own despotic rulers and adopt the type of free society that characterizes Israel.

Land-for-peace is a repugnant formula for Israel's self-immolation. The right of a civilized nation to self-defense against its barbarous enemies is a moral absolute. It should not be surrendered in a vain attempt to appease the initiators of war. It is a moral perversion to demand that Israel give back the very land it captured in the process of defending itself against wars launched by the Arab aggressors.

Netanyahu notes the days when bulldozers uprooted Jews are behind us, not in front of us.  A million Jews live in more than 100 settlements built in Samaria, Judea, and East Jerusalem since Israel occupied the area in 1967.  Netanyahu has long championed settlements, but has also said he would be prepared to make painful concessions to non-settled parts of West Bank.

Netanyahu has not uprooted any settlements, he has expanded them. Nobody can lecture Netanyahu about love for the Land of Israel or commitment to Zionism and the settlements. Tenders and approvals for construction in East Jerusalem have reached record levels under Netanyahu's government.  Isolated settlements accounted for nearly 40% of all new constructions, nearly double that of previous years.

When Israel ended its occupation of Gaza, it did not impose a blockade. Indeed it left behind agricultural facilities in the hope that the newly liberated Gaza Strip would become a peaceful and productive area. Instead, Hamas seized control over Gaza and engaged in acts of warfare against Israel. These acts of warfare featured 10,000 rockets directed at Israeli civilians. This was not only an act of warfare, it was a war crime.

Israel responded to the rockets by declaring a blockade, the purpose of which was to assure that no rockets, or other material that could be used for making war against Israeli civilians, was permitted into Gaza. Israel allowed humanitarian aid through its checkpoints. There was never a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, merely a shortage of certain goods that would end if the rocket attacks ended.

Palestinian behavior was captured so well by Abba Eban's phrase that the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.  There is a tendency by the international community to encourage the very behavior that has caused the Palestinians such heartache.

What is particularly ironic about this, whether it manifested itself in diplomatic resolutions at the UN, media coverage, or boycotts, is that all of this has taken place under the rubric of helping the Palestinians. If the Palestinian leadership has been the worst enemy of the Palestinian people, the international community and international media, in the name of helping the Palestinians, are not far behind.

Persecution has driven the Jews nearly to extinction. So many murdered, so many forcibly converted to Christianity and Islam, so many choosing the dubious path of assimilation as a defense against hatred and isolation. The Jews of today are a remnant of a remnant. It wasn’t merely the German Holocaust, but a history of holocausts, that brought the Jewish people to such an infinitesimal position.

The Spanish Inquisition was not motivated by religious feeling, but by racial hatred. Conversion wasn’t enough to save the Jews. The Spaniards hated the idea of Jewish blood mixing with their own. The Inquisition presaged the Holocaust. Physical acts of antisemitism are always preceded by years of hate-filled rhetoric meant to desensitize the world to the coming slaughter.

Benjamin Netanyahu is the only Israeli politician today who could deliver the majority of Israel’s Jewish population to a painful compromise with the Palestinians. He is also one of the few whose endorsement of a deal between Tehran and Washington would allay the concerns of even more hawkish Israelis. The average Israeli trusts that Netanyahu would not sell out their interests for a Nobel Peace Prize.

I will never forget the disgusting pictures of Palestinians celebrating on 9/11.  That was enough to enhance my support for Israel. Israel is a beacon of freedom in an unfree region, a beacon of life in a place of darkness. If Israel falls, the West falls. Mothers in the West can sleep safely because Israeli mothers at night worry about their sons in the army. Their fight is our fight. We should support it. Israel is, indeed, a vital outpost of Graecoroman civilization. That is why Islam conditions the faithful to hate the Jewish state and to view its destruction as an imperative. It is our duty to stand with Israel.


PHASE-CHANGE MATERIALS



DVDs and Blu-ray disks contain so-called phase-change materials that morph from one atomic state to another after being struck with pulses of laser light, with data "recorded" in those two atomic states. Using ultrafast laser pulses that speed up the data recording process, Caltech researchers adopted a novel technique, ultrafast electron crystallography (UEC), to visualize directly in four dimensions the changing atomic configurations of the materials undergoing the phase changes. In doing so, they discovered a previously unknown intermediate atomic state—one that may represent an unavoidable limit to data recording speeds.

By shedding light on the fundamental physical processes involved in data storage, the work may lead to better, faster computer memory systems with larger storage capacity. The research, done in the laboratory of Ahmed Zewail, Linus Pauling Professor of Chemistry and professor of physics, will be published in the July 28 print issue of the journal ACS Nano.

When the laser light interacts with a phase-change material, its atomic structure changes from an ordered crystalline arrangement to a more disordered, or amorphous, configuration. These two states represent 0s and 1s of digital data.

"Today, nanosecond lasers—lasers that pulse light at one-billionth of a second—are used to record information on DVDs and Blu-ray disks, by driving the material from one state to another," explains Giovanni Vanacore, a postdoctoral scholar and an author on the study. The speed with which data can be recorded is determined both by the speed of the laser—that is, by the duration of each "pulse" of light—and by how fast the material itself can shift from one state to the other.

Thus, with a nanosecond laser, "the fastest you can record information is one information unit, one 0 or 1, every nanosecond," says Jianbo Hu, a postdoctoral scholar and the first author of the paper. "To go even faster, people have started to use femtosecond lasers, which can potentially record one unit every one millionth of a billionth of a second. We wanted to know what actually happens to the material at this speed and if there is a limit to how fast you can go from one structural phase to another."

To study this, the researchers used their technique, ultrafast electron crystallography. The technique, a new development—different from Zewail's Nobel Prize–winning work in femtochemistry, the visual study of chemical processes occurring at femtosecond scales—allowed researchers to observe directly the transitioning atomic configuration of a prototypical phase-change material, germanium telluride (GeTe), when it is hit by a femtosecond laser pulse.

In UEC, a sample of crystalline GeTe is bombarded with a femtosecond laser pulse, followed by a pulse of electrons. The laser pulse causes the atomic structure to change from the crystalline to other structures, and then ultimately to the amorphous state. Then, when the electron pulse hits the sample, its electrons scatter in a pattern that provides a picture of the sample's atomic configuration as a function of the time.

With this technique, the researchers could see directly, for the first time, the structural shift in GeTe caused by the laser pulses. However, they also saw something more: a previously unknown intermediate phase that appears during the transition from the crystalline to the amorphous configuration. Because moving through the intermediate phase takes additional time, the researchers believe that it represents a physical limit to how quickly the overall transition can occur—and to how fast data can be recorded, regardless of the laser speeds used.

"Even if there is a laser faster than a femtosecond laser, there will be a limit as to how fast this transition can occur and information can be recorded, just because of the physics of these phase-change materials," Vanacore says. "It's something that cannot be solved technologically—it's fundamental."

Despite revealing such limits, the research could one day aid the development of better data storage for computers, the researchers say. Right now, computers generally store information in several ways, among them the well-known random-access memory (RAM) and read-only memory (ROM). RAM, which is used to run the programs on your computer, can record and rewrite information very quickly via an electrical current. However, the information is lost whenever the computer is powered down. ROM storage, including CDs and DVDs, uses phase-change materials and lasers to store information. Although ROM records and reads data more slowly, the information can be stored for decades.

Finding ways to speed up the recording process of phase-change materials and understanding the limits to this speed could lead to a new type of memory that harnesses the best of both worlds.

The researchers say that their next step will be to use UEC to study the transition of the amorphous atomic structure of GeTe back into the crystalline phase—comparable to the phenomenon that occurs when you erase and then rewrite a DVD.

Although these applications could mean exciting changes for future computer technologies, this work is also very important from a fundamental point of view, Zewail says.

"Understanding the fundamental behavior of materials transformation is what we are after, and these new techniques developed at Caltech have made it possible to visualize such behavior in both space and time," Zewail says.

SOLAR’S LOGISTICAL HEADACHES




Samuel Adeyemo and Christopher Hopper learned firsthand the challenges of installing solar power when, as first-year Stanford MBA students, they teamed up to build a system atop a school in Kenya in 2011.

The two (both MBA ’13) had bonded over entrepreneurial inclinations and an interest in sustainable energy, and were exploring ways to expand on Hopper’s background in electrifying off-grid communities in developing countries. They contacted the school in Adeyemo’s native Kenya and devised a photovoltaic project, from design to installation.

The project was a success — the school stopped experiencing power outages, ditched its diesel generator, and started saving money on its electricity bill — but Adeyemo and Hopper also found a curious imbalance. While the 50 kilowatt system itself took only a couple weeks to install, the design and preparation side ate up well over six months. In addition to negotiating a loan for the project, finding manufacturers who would ship to Kenya, and training local electricians and engineers on solar-specific skills, the two had to juggle an interlocking set of design decisions. What components should they use, and how should they be arranged and connected? What’s the optimal size of the battery bank? How much do all those differences change the cost structure and projections for how much energy the system would offset? “It was tricky,” Hopper says. “There are a lot of knobs to twist, and one thing here has implications elsewhere.”

Requests from other people interested in solar projects started to pour in. Adeyemo and Hopper sensed a business opportunity, but balked at each prospect’s time-consuming upfront design and preparation work. Surely, they thought, there was a streamlined process available to help duplicate a project like theirs in other locations.

“That’s when the big insight came,” Hopper says. “We looked around and found that there’s no really good solution that assists photovoltaic designers and installers throughout this whole lifecycle of a PV installation, taking it all the way from A, which is talking to customers for the first time with only the address and maybe some rough information, to Z, which is a fully spec’d-out system with engineering drawings, financials, and so forth.”

Adeyemo and Hopper switched their focus from installing to creating what they call the “digital infrastructure” of the solar industry, and software startup Aurora Solar launched.


Aurora Solar’s Software in Action

After two years of development and validation tests with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the U.S. Department of Energy, Aurora is humming. Their software designs new solar installations from the ground up — generating everything from initial investment costs, optimal designs and potential permitting issues.

To give it a test, I asked Adeyemo and Hopper to design an installation for my childhood home in Indiana. I gave them the address and an estimate of my electric bill. In about 15 minutes, with a few button clicks, the two offered me a 3-D rendering of the house with rooftop panels arrayed to maximize the energy potential based on climate and sun cycles of that location, and took into account the shade cast by the three towering walnut trees in the front yard. The proposal also included complete up-front system costs, graphs pitting energy production against consumption for each month in a calendar year, and projected savings 25 years down the line.

That’s the power of the software being built by Aurora Solar, which won an innovation grant from Stanford’s TomKat Center for Sustainable Energy in 2013 and a $400,000 award from the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative in 2014. The young company’s goal is simple, but wide-reaching, Adeyemo says: “To be able to design the optimal solar installation from anywhere in the world, for anywhere in the world, all without traveling to the site.”


Targeting the Industry’s Soft Costs

Of the nearly $14 billion spent in 2013 on the solar industry in the United States, half the money went toward what are called “soft costs.” Those include all the things outside of the actual equipment, such as lead generation, system design, marketing, installation, permitting, and travel to prospective locations to get accurate estimations of sunlight and shading. And while the costs of solar PV panels and other hardware equipment are enjoying a happy downward plunge, the soft costs of that $14 billion aren’t budging.

What’s more, say an installer only closes one deal for every 20 proposals. Each requires as much manual overhead as the last, which can take hours and requires different programs that often don’t play nicely together. And each proposal needs to get amortized into the pricing of the signed deals, dragging down affordability. It’s a huge inefficiency. And it’s one that, like so many others before it, makes a pretty bull’s-eye for software.

“We want to reduce those soft costs and make solar more efficient and therefore more accessible to a broader audience,” Hopper says. Such cross-efficiency should help boost the already simmering solar industry.

“At some point we’re going to reach that tipping point where the whole cycle’s just going to perpetuate,” he says. “Increased scale makes it more attractive for the people implementing the processes. Financing’s going to be more accepted because there’s more historical performance. So costs come down, making it more attractive for more people, and volumes go up. With every step that the cost of solar comes down, it becomes more competitive in more areas. We just want to push down that cost basis as much as we can.”


Sweet Timing

With the demand for solar rising and the costs for equipment falling, Aurora Solar might be entering the market at just the right moment. The industry as a whole is growing fast, especially in the residential and commercial segments. But in some ways it is struggling to adapt to the speed of that growth, Hopper says. “Solar’s going to be a good chunk of the energy mix. But the current tools and processes are not adequate for a lot of companies to get there.”

The latest figures from the Solar Energy Industries Association estimate that nearly 700,000 homes and businesses have solar installations. At the same time, studies have suggested that roughly 40 million households stand to save money by going solar.

While Aurora Solar is still in invitation-only mode, the early traction is promising. Their software is being used to process over 1,000 residential and commercial projects per week by a steadily growing base of installers, including several of the largest in this country and others across the globe, from Canada and Brazil to Dubai and India.

The team has grown to 10 members (nine from Stanford), including PhDs in computational mathematics and electrical engineering, and Hopper credits a change in mindset around solar for the company’s ability to attract talent. What once might have been an idealistic technology that didn’t necessarily make sense on the bottom line is becoming a practical solution. This tipping point trickles down into the young company’s culture, too.

“We don’t have to compromise with people,” Hopper says. “We don’t have to say, ‘This is an interesting problem, but you’re not really helping the world.’ Or, ‘This is a feel-good thing, but it’s not a business.’ This is both. The market is there, and the market is growing. At the same time, we’re doing something that has an impact, and that moves the world a tiny bit in the right direction. That feels good.”

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KEEPING YOUNG BUSINESSES ON TRACK




Yossi Feinberg of Stanford says that while there is obviously no such thing as a blueprint for success, there are a number of key points that entrepreneurs should take into consideration, which can help their young businesses stay on track:

1. First, never neglect your target market.

Immersing yourself in your user-base from the very beginning will pay dividends. Time spent learning to empathize with the customer and really figuring out what makes them tick will help you target with a laser-like focus.

Innovative companies are often guilty of trying to execute on a big vision that is too all-encompassing for the user to fully engage with.


2. Don’t try and reinvent the wheel if you don’t need to.

The Internet has democratized access to all kinds of information, and if a successful process or structure exists for a non-core element of your business, use it.

This can be anything from administrative office functions to technical elements on the periphery of your central business proposition. If an effective solution exists, then the chances are it will not add value to your business to develop it from scratch.


3. Have a solid business model from the very beginning.

Have a clear idea of the value you are creating, how you are going to capture it, and how you will be able to protect it. Having clarity from the outset will provide a marker of ongoing success — or not — and allow you to make strategic business decisions accordingly.

Many Silicon Valley businesses do not take this into account until a lot of resource has been expended, taking themselves in the wrong direction and forcing an otherwise unneeded late-stage pivot.


4. Don’t be afraid to learn from your predecessors, competitors, and similar businesses in general.

You do not need to fail to gain a learning experience. I highly recommend learning from others’ failures rather than your own.

But be careful: Learn, don’t mimic; success comes from applying judgment, which is drawn from experience — yours and others’.


5. As hard as it may be, try to separate your natural emotion from your business concept.

You should be passionate about your venture and committed to it. But it is easy to fall in love with your idea and ignore the signals from the market and the views of others.

Your decision on how (and whether) to take it to market needs to be founded on research and data. Too many times in Silicon Valley we have seen businesses launch that should have been altered or even killed in the planning phases, purely because a besotted and charismatic founder pushes them through. This is a recipe for failure.

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PORTABLE LIGHT ANALYSIS



Instruments that measure the properties of light, known as spectrometers, are widely used in physical, chemical, and biological research. These devices are usually too large to be portable, but MIT scientists have now shown they can create spectrometers small enough to fit inside a smartphone camera, using tiny semiconductor nanoparticles called quantum dots.

Such devices could be used to diagnose diseases, especially skin conditions, or to detect environmental pollutants and food conditions, says Jie Bao, a former MIT postdoc and the lead author of a paper describing the quantum dot spectrometers in the July 2 issue of Nature.

This work also represents a new application for quantum dots, which have been used primarily for labeling cells and biological molecules, as well as in computer and television screens.

“Using quantum dots for spectrometers is such a straightforward application compared to everything else that we’ve tried to do, and I think that’s very appealing,” says Moungi Bawendi, the Lester Wolfe Professor of Chemistry at MIT and the paper’s senior author.


Shrinking spectrometers

The earliest spectrometers consisted of prisms that separate light into its constituent wavelengths, while current models use optical equipment such as diffraction gratings to achieve the same effect. Spectrometers are used in a wide variety of applications, such as studying atomic processes and energy levels in physics, or analyzing tissue samples for biomedical research and diagnostics.

Replacing that bulky optical equipment with quantum dots allowed the MIT team to shrink spectrometers to about the size of a U.S. quarter, and to take advantage of some of the inherent useful properties of quantum dots.

Quantum dots, a type of nanocrystals discovered in the early 1980s, are made by combining metals such as lead or cadmium with other elements including sulfur, selenium, or arsenic. By controlling the ratio of these starting materials, the temperature, and the reaction time, scientists can generate a nearly unlimited number of dots with differences in an electronic property known as bandgap, which determines the wavelengths of light that each dot will absorb.

However, most of the existing applications for quantum dots don’t take advantage of this huge range of light absorbance. Instead, most applications, such as labeling cells or new types of TV screens, exploit quantum dots’ fluorescence — a property that is much more difficult to control, Bawendi says. “It’s very hard to make something that fluoresces very brightly,” he says. “You’ve got to protect the dots, you’ve got to do all this engineering.”

Scientists are also working on solar cells based on quantum dots, which rely on the dots’ ability to convert light into electrons. However, this phenomenon is not well understood, and is difficult to manipulate. 

On the other hand, quantum dots’ absorption properties are well known and very stable. “If we can rely on these properties, it is possible to create applications that will have a greater impact in the relative short term,” Bao says.


Broad spectrum

The new quantum dot spectrometer deploys hundreds of quantum dot materials that each filter a specific set of wavelengths of light. The quantum dot filters are printed into a thin film and placed on top of a photodetector such as the charge-coupled devices (CCDs) found in cellphone cameras.

The researchers created an algorithm that analyzes the percentage of photons absorbed by each filter, then recombines the information from each one to calculate the intensity and wavelength of the original rays of light.

The more quantum dot materials there are, the more wavelengths can be covered and the higher resolution can be obtained. In this case, the researchers used about 200 types of quantum dots spread over a range of about 300 nanometers. With more dots, such spectrometers could be designed to cover an even wider range of light frequencies.

“Bawendi and Bao showed a beautiful way to exploit the controlled optical absorption of semiconductor quantum dots for miniature spectrometers. They demonstrate a spectrometer that is not only small, but also with high throughput and high spectral resolution, which has never been achieved before,” says Feng Wang, an associate professor of physics at the University of California at Berkeley who was not involved in the research.

If incorporated into small handheld devices, this type of spectrometer could be used to diagnose skin conditions or analyze urine samples, Bao says. They could also be used to track vital signs such as pulse and oxygen level, or to measure exposure to different frequencies of ultraviolet light, which vary greatly in their ability to damage skin.

“The central component of such spectrometers — the quantum dot filter array — is fabricated with solution-based processing and printing, thus enabling significant potential cost reduction,” Bao adds.

ARTIFICIAL GRAVITY



Astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) have a number of exercise options, including a mechanical bicycle bolted to the floor, a weightlifting machine strapped to the wall, and a strap-down treadmill. They spend a significant portion of each day working out to ward off the long-term effects of weightlessness, but many still suffer bone loss, muscle atrophy, and issues with balance and their cardiovascular systems. 

To counteract such debilitating effects, research groups around the world are investigating artificial gravity — the notion that astronauts, exposed to strong centrifugal forces, may experience the effects of gravity, even in space. Engineers have been building and testing human centrifuges — spinning platforms that, at high speeds, generate G-forces strong enough to mimic gravity. An astronaut, riding in a centrifuge, would presumably feel gravity’s reinforcing effects.

Now engineers at MIT have built a compact human centrifuge with an exercise component: a cycle ergometer that a person can pedal as the centrifuge spins. The centrifuge was sized to just fit inside a module of the ISS. After testing the setup on healthy participants, the team found the combination of exercise and artificial gravity could significantly lessen the effects of extended weightlessness in space — more so than exercise alone.

Laurence Young, the Apollo Program Professor in MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, says artificial gravity would be a huge benefit for astronauts, particularly those embarking on long-duration space missions, such as a journey to Mars. The risks, he says, are uncertain, but potentially significant.

“With exploration-class missions, like Mars, where you’re gone for three years, you could run the risk of having astronauts not sufficiently conditioned to perform effectively, and also to not be in good health when they finally get to the surface of Mars,” says Young, a former NASA payload specialist. “You really don’t want to send a jellyfish to represent us on another planet.” Young says a human centrifuge aboard a Mars-bound spacecraft would help keep an astronaut in shape over the many months it would take to get to the Red Planet. 


Spinning up artificial gravity

The team’s compact centrifuge resembles a rotating metal cage with three main elements: a chair; a cycle ergometer, or the mechanical portion of a stationary bicycle; and a suite of sensors to measure cardiovascular variables such as blood pressure, heart rate, respiration rate, muscle activity, and foot forces.

The researchers conducted experiments to test human responses and exercise performance at varying levels of artificial gravity. The experiments involved 12 healthy subjects, who participated in three sessions, each consisting of a bicycling workout under one of three artificial gravity levels: zero G, in which the centrifuge did not rotate; 1 G, measured at the feet, in which the centrifuge spun at 28 revolutions per minute (rpm); and 1.4 G, also measured at the feet, at 32 rpm.

“When it spins around, we create centrifugal force, which depends on the angular velocity, or how fast we are rotating — the higher the angular velocity, the greater the artificial gravity,” Diaz says.

During each session, participants were asked to pedal for 15 minutes at three workout intensities, or levels of resistance, set by the cycle ergometer. The remaining 10 minutes involved spinning up and slowing down the centrifuge.


Beyond a “universal solution”

After each session, participants filled out a survey to gauge symptoms such as motion sickness and light-headedness. Overall, Diaz found that participants tolerated the experiments well, suffering little motion sickness even while spinning at relatively high velocities. Participants only reported feelings of discomfort while initially speeding up and slowing down.

“During the spinning process, participants were pushed against the chair due to the centrifugal force, making them sit comfortably, and facilitating their leg biomechanics for biking,” Diaz says.

As the researchers increased the centrifuge’s spin, raising its artificial gravity, participants used correspondingly more force to pedal — an unsurprising but encouraging result.

“That tells us that if we use artificial gravity, we’re able to get higher foot forces, and we know higher foot forces are good for bones, and help you generate more bone,” Diaz says. “Even if we expected this, we were able to quantify it and find a relationship between foot forces and artificial gravity.”

Similarly, as artificial gravity intensified, so did participants’ overall cardiovascular activity, a response that Diaz says may be beneficial over the long term.

Young says the study may begin to bridge two seemingly opposing camps: those who believe exercise alone will prevent bone loss, muscle atrophy, and other effects of extended weightlessness, and those who believe in artificial gravity as the solution.

“I think the principal finding here is supporting the conclusion that exercise alone is not a sufficient countermeasure,” Young says. “For the first time, we’re showing there’s a symbiosis when one combines the best aspects of exercise, and the best aspects of artificial gravity. So I feel this is an important demonstration.”

HOW BRAINS MAKE SENSE OF THE VISUAL WORLD



If your eyes deceive you, blame your brain. Many optical illusions work because what we see clashes with what we expect to see.

That 3D movie? Give credit to filmmakers who exploit binocular vision, or the way the brain merges the slightly different images from the two eyes to create depth.

These are examples of the brain making sense of the information coming from the eyes in order to produce what we “see.” The brain combines signals that reach your retina with the models your brain has learned to predict what to expect when you move through the world. Your brain solves problems by inferring what is the most likely cause of any given image on your retina, based on knowledge or experience.
Individual tuning

Scientists have explored the complex puzzle of visual perception with increasing precision, discovering that individual neurons are tuned to detect very specific motions: up, but not down; right, but not left; and in all directions. These same neurons, which live in the brain’s middle temporal visual area, are also sensitive to relative depth.

Now a Harvard Medical School team led by Richard Born has uncovered key principles about the way those neurons work, explaining how the brain uses sensory information to guide the decisions that underlie behaviors. Their findings, reported in Neuron, illuminate the nature and origin of the neural signals used to solve perceptual tasks.

Based on their previous work, the researchers knew that they could selectively interfere with signals concerning depth, while leaving the signals for direction of motion intact. They wanted to learn what happened next, after the visual information was received and used to make a judgment about the visual stimulus.

Was the next step based on “bottom-up” information coming from the retina as sensory evidence? Or, as in optical illusions, did top-down information originating in the brain’s decision centers influence what happened in response to a visual stimulus?

“We were able to show that there’s a direct bottom-up contribution to these signals,” said Born, HMS professor of neurobiology and senior author of the paper.  “It’s told us some very interesting things about how the brain makes calculations and combines information from different sources, and how that information influences behaviors.”
Selective blocking

In their experiments with nonhuman primates, the researchers cooled specific neurons to temporarily block their signals, in the same way that ice makes a sprained ankle feel better because it prevents pain neurons from firing.  

The team selectively blocked pathways that provide information about visual depth—how far something is from the viewer—but not the direction of motion. The animals were trained to watch flickering dots on a screen, something like “snow” on an old television, and detect when the dots suddenly lined up and moved in one direction or changed in depth.

If the animal detected motion or a change in depth, making an eye movement to look at the changed stimulus would result in delivery of a reward.

When the neurons were inactivated, the animals were less likely to detect depth, but their ability to detect motion was not affected. This told the scientists that feed-forward information, not feedback, was being used by the animal to make its decision. Their findings help explain how relative motion and depth work together.
Two pathways

“Combining two pathways that compute two different things in the same neurons is essential for vision, we think,” Born said. “But for these two particular calculations, first you have to compute them separately before you can put them together.” 

Born believes there are other implications of their work.

“We think that the same operations that are happening in the visual system are happening at higher levels of the brain, so that by understanding these circuits that are easier to study we think we will gain traction on those higher level questions,” Born said. 

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