February 23, 2017

Brain-computer interface allows fast, accurate typing by people with paralysis

In a Stanford-led research report, three participants with movement impairment controlled an onscreen cursor simply by imagining their own hand movements.

The report involved three study participants with severe limb weakness — two from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also called Lou Gehrig’s disease, and one from a spinal cord injury. They each had one or two baby-aspirin-sized electrode arrays placed in their brains to record signals from the motor cortex, a region controlling muscle movement. These signals were transmitted to a computer via a cable and translated by algorithms into point-and-click commands guiding a cursor to characters on an onscreen keyboard.



High performance communication by people with paralysis using an intracortical brain-computer interface

High-performance, low-energy artificial synapse for neural network computing

A new organic artificial synapse made by Stanford researchers could support computers that better recreate the way the human brain processes information. It could also lead to improvements in brain-machine technologies.

“It works like a real synapse but it’s an organic electronic device that can be engineered,” said Alberto Salleo, associate professor of materials science and engineering at Stanford and senior author of the paper. “It’s an entirely new family of devices because this type of architecture has not been shown before. For many key metrics, it also performs better than anything that’s been done before with inorganics.”

It mimics the way synapses in the brain learn through the signals that cross them. This is a significant energy savings over traditional computing, which involves separately processing information and then storing it into memory. Here, the processing creates the memory.

This synapse may one day be part of a more brain-like computer, which could be especially beneficial for computing that works with visual and auditory signals. Examples of this are seen in voice-controlled interfaces and driverless cars. Past efforts in this field have produced high-performance neural networks supported by artificially intelligent algorithms but these are still distant imitators of the brain that depend on energy-consuming traditional computer hardware.


Structure and electronic states of an organic neuromorphic device.

Nature Materials - A non-volatile organic electrochemical device as a low-voltage artificial synapse for neuromorphic computing

February 22, 2017

Proposed planet definition - round objects in space that are smaller than stars

A proposed planet definition - a planet is a sub-stellar mass body that has never undergone nuclear fusion and that has sufficient self-gravitation to assume a spheroidal shape adequately described by a triaxial ellipsoid regardless of its orbital parameters.

A simple paraphrase of our planet definition— especially suitable for elementary school students— could be, “round objects in space that are smaller than stars”. The definition clearly excludes stars or stellar objects such as white dwarfs, neutron stars, and black holes. We leave for the future the issue of brown dwarfs’ stellar versus planetary status so as to not force a premature definition on the larger end of planetary scales. In keeping with emphasizing intrinsic properties, our geophysical definition is directly based on the physics of the world itself rather than the physics of its interactions with external objects.

The planet definition adopted by the IAU in 2006 is technically flawed, for several reasons. First, it recognizes as planets only those objects orbiting our Sun, not those orbiting other stars or orbiting freely in the galaxy as “rogue planets.” Second, it requires zone clearing, which no planet in our solar system can satisfy since new small bodies are constantly injected into planet-crossing orbits, like NEOs near Earth. Finally, and most severely, by requiring zone clearing the mathematics of the definition are distance-dependent, requiring progressively larger objects in each successive zone. For example, even an Earth sized object in the Kuiper Belt would not clear its zone.


Do not judge them by their size

The eight planets recognized by the IAU are often modified by the adjectives “terrestrial,” “giant,” and “ice giant,” yet no one would state that a giant planet is not a planet. Yet, the IAU does not consider dwarf planets to be planets. We eschew this inconsistency. Thus, dwarf planets and moon planets such as Ceres, Pluto, Charon, and Earth’s Moon are “fullfledged” planets. This seems especially true in light of these planets’ complex geology and geophysics

Vasimr plasma rocket targeting 100 hours of continuous operation at 100 kW power level early in 2018

NASA NEXTSTep program awarded Ad Astra Vasimr plasma propulsion a three-year, $9 million contract in 2015. Ad Astra must fire its plasma rocket for 100 hours, at a power level of 100 kilowatts in 2018.

This February, the company has worked about halfway through that contract, and Ars has been keeping tabs on progress in the lab. So far, the immigrant from Costa Rica seems to be holding up his end of the bargain. NASA gave the company a sterling review after the first year of the agreement. Still, there is a ways to go. During a visit this month, the VASIMR engine fired at 100kW for 10 seconds and 50kW for one minute.

The goal of this work is to demonstrate a VASIMR® engine in thermal steady-state by operating it continuously for 100 hours at a power level of 100 kW

Objectives
◦ Achieve the goal over the course of 3 years in 3 phases
◦ Phase a: Shake-out basic systems, pulses of minutes, uncooled booster section, accumulate 1 hour, inspect
◦ Phase b: Add cooling to booster section, accumulate 100 hours, inspect
◦ Phase c: Upgrade rocket core cooling for heat rejection at ≈ 200 °C, shake out high temperature cooling systems, install PPUs in vacuum, execute a 100 hour continuous test, inspect

They are successfully hitting plan milestones

Rocket core integration with magnet (Aug 2016)
◦ Field line mapping and rocket core alignment
◦ Instrumentation and electrical testing
* Integration of VX-200SSa test article in chamber (Sept 2016)
◦ Cooling line hookups and leak checking
◦ RF matching circuit connections and tuning
◦ Command, control and data acquisition verification
* Initial high-power firing with plasma in Phase-a (Oct 2016)
◦ Phase-a will have pulse lengths on the order of minutes
◦ Measure rocket performance
◦ Evaluate aspects of the chamber and plasma dump
* Install final components for VX-200SSb (May 2017)
◦ Fully cooled with operation times on the order of hours
* Hot steady-state operation with VX-200SS (Feb 2018)
◦ Ready for 100 hours of continuous operation at 100 kW
◦ New PPUs installed inside the vacuum chamber









Tesla Gigafactory 1 has 35% battery cost reduction to about $124/kWh and Tesla planing for 3 more Gigafactories

Tesla was aiming for at least a 30% reduction from its battery cost for Gigafactory and it now claims a “35% cost reduction” in a new promotional video.

Starting from the “less than $190/kWh” cost and applying a 35% reduction leads to “less than $124/kWh”. If we assume a 55 kWh battery pack, the battery in the base Model 3 would cost “less than” $6,875. While it would still likely be the most costly component in the car, it’s starting to become reasonable in a $35,000 vehicle.

The “holy grail” of battery cost, meaning when most battery-powered vehicles will be cost competitive with gas-powered ones even before accounting for gas saving, is believed to be $100/kWh. In the past, Musk said that he would be “disappointed” if Tesla doesn’t hit the milestone before 2020, but that was before they accelerated the Gigafactory production plan by two years in order to meet the new Model 3 production plan.


Tesla’s current Gigafactory 1 will be the largest factory building in the world by footprint. Tesla is looking to finalize the locations of future plants by the end of this year.

Installation of Model 3 manufacturing equipment is underway in Fremont and at Gigafactory 1, where in January, we began production of battery cells for energy storage products, which have the same form-factor as the cells that will be used in Model 3. Later this year, we expect to finalize locations for Gigafactories 3, 4 and possibly 5 (Gigafactory 2 is the Tesla solar plant in New York).



• 201 MW of solar energy generation deployed in Q4
• 98 MWh of energy storage deployed in Q4

Tesla expects to deliver 47,000 to 50,000 Model S and Model X vehicles combined in the first half of 2017, representing vehicle delivery growth of 61% to 71% compared with the same period last year. In addition, both GAAP and non-GAAP automotive gross margin should recover in Q1 to Q3 2016 levels and then continue to expand in Q2 2017.

They expect to invest between $2 billion and $2.5 billion in capital expenditures ahead of the start of Model 3 production. They continue to focus on capital efficiency while also investing in battery cell, pack and energy storage production at Gigafactory 1.

Top ten breakthrough technologies for 2017 according to MIT Technology Review

Here is the list of top ten breakthrough technologies for 2017

Reversing Paralysis

Scientists are making remarkable progress at using brain implants to restore the freedom of movement that spinal cord injuries take away.

The French neuroscientist was watching a macaque monkey as it hunched aggressively at one end of a treadmill. His team had used a blade to slice halfway through the animal’s spinal cord, paralyzing its right leg. Now Courtine wanted to prove he could get the monkey walking again. To do it, he and colleagues had installed a recording device beneath its skull, touching its motor cortex, and sutured a pad of flexible electrodes around the animal’s spinal cord, below the injury. A wireless connection joined the two electronic devices. They were able to make the monkey walk again.

Availability: 10 to 15 years



NASA Telescope Reveals Largest Batch of Earth-Size, Habitable-Zone Planets Around Single Star

Seven Earth-sized planets have been observed by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope around a tiny, nearby, ultra-cool dwarf star called TRAPPIST-1. Three of these planets are firmly in the habitable zone. Over 21 days, NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope measured the drop in light as each planet passed in front of the star. Spitzer was able to identify a total of seven rocky worlds, including three in the habitable zone, where liquid water might be found. The video features interviews with Sean Carey, manager of the Spitzer Science Center, Caltech/IPAC; Nikole Lewis, James Webb Space Telescope project scientist, Space Telescope Science Institute; and Michaël Gillon, principal investigator, TRAPPIST, University of Liege, Belgium. The system has been revealed through observations from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and the ground-based TRAPPIST (TRAnsiting Planets and PlanetesImals Small Telescope) telescope, as well as other ground-based observatories. The system was named for the TRAPPIST telescope. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate.

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has revealed the first known system of seven Earth-size planets around a single star. Three of these planets are firmly located in the habitable zone, the area around the parent star where a rocky planet is most likely to have liquid water.

The discovery sets a new record for greatest number of habitable-zone planets found around a single star outside our solar system. All of these seven planets could have liquid water – key to life as we know it – under the right atmospheric conditions, but the chances are highest with the three in the habitable zone.

“This discovery could be a significant piece in the puzzle of finding habitable environments, places that are conducive to life,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “Answering the question ‘are we alone’ is a top science priority and finding so many planets like these for the first time in the habitable zone is a remarkable step forward toward that goal.”


This illustration shows the possible surface of TRAPPIST-1f, one of the newly discovered planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system. Scientists using the Spitzer Space Telescope and ground-based telescopes have discovered that there are seven Earth-size planets in the system.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech



This artist's concept shows what each of the TRAPPIST-1 planets may look like, based on available data about their sizes, masses and orbital distances.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech




Pentagon studies ways to counter hypersonic missile threat from China, Russia

The Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency has launched a study of innovative ways to counter advanced missile threats such as ultra-high-speed maneuvering hypersonic missiles.

The agency recently released a request for information that will seek to identify weapon concepts for defense against future advanced threats such as hypersonics, he said. The responses are due Friday and will be used to develop an “analysis of alternatives” planned for 2017.

Hypersonic missiles are under rapid development in China and Russia as a way to penetrate advanced air and missile defenses such as those developed by the Army and Navy. A major problem for current U.S. missile defenses is that all were designed from the ground up to target missiles with predictable and unchanging trajectories.

China’s DF-ZF hypersonic glide vehicle has been tested at least seven times, and Russia’s Yu-71 hypersonic strike weapon also has been tested several times. The gliders are launched atop ballistic missiles and travel along the edge of the atmosphere at speeds from Mach 5 to Mach 10 — 3,800 to 7,600 miles per hour.

The maneuvering strike vehicles can defeat all current U.S. missile defenses, including ground-based interceptors in California and Alaska, sea-based Aegis anti-missile systems and the land-based Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD.



A healthy lifestyle and a moderate amount of genetic and other luck means life expectancy of 95+ is possible now

The University of Pennsylvania has a life expectancy calculator based upon on a statistical regression of more than 400,000 data samples. The data was collected by the National Institute of Health and AARP.

Major longevity factors that are under your control are

* Education level (college educated live longer)
* Marital Status (married live longer)
* Having more than $80K per year annual income
* Exercise 5 or more times per week (450+ minutes of exercise per week is optimal)
* 2 drinks per week is optimal
* not smoking
* not have diabetes


Various diets that can work

Drink enough water (Err on the side of more than you probably think)

Portion control

Meal replacement plans (need to have transition program for long term maintenance)




Mostly not high quality hospitals but more exercise, less stress, less obesity and less smoking for longer life for wealthy

If you have to depend upon heroic healthcare to extend your life you are in trouble and it will not help most people.

Yes, Wealth buys higher-quality medical care, which allows [some] people to live into old age.

The affluent seem to live in healthier ways. They exercise more, smoke less, feel less stress and are less likely to be obese.

It’s not even certain that the cause and effect flows from higher income to greater health; to some degree, it may go the other direction as well, because people who are healthy are better able to hold down a demanding job, and so have higher incomes.

Economic measures like the unemployment rate and income inequality also showed little relationship to low-income people’s life spans. There was a much stronger relationship between longevity and obesity and smoking rates, which is unsurprising. Places where poor citizens had long life spans also tended to have a high concentration of college graduates and high local government spending.

Life expectancy for the poor is lowest in a large swath that cuts through the middle of the country, and it appears in pockets in the rest of the country, in places like Nevada. David M. Cutler, a Harvard economist and an author of the paper, calls it the “drug overdose belt,” because the area matches in part a map of where the nation’s opioid epidemic is concentrated.

Once you have household income above $150K then you are pretty close to being able to afford whatever lifestyle and medical care is needed for nearly maximal life based on the current situation in the USA.



Methuselah Foundation making progress to make 90 the new 50 by 2030

The Methuselah Foundation wants to extend healthy life - By advancing tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, they want to create a world where 90-year olds can be as healthy as 50-year olds—by 2030.

Donate to the Methuselah Foundation here at this link

Methuselah Foundation reviewed the progress they made over the past year. Much of what you'll read in this year in review letter is very late-breaking, and leads us to believe that 2017 will be a very important year in medical developments. 2016 took us a broad step closer to fulfilling our mission statement to "Make 90 the New 50, by 2030". Why can we say that? For starters, let's look at several achievements to date that made this year so successful:





Future life expectancy will break 90 year barrier for women in South Korea by 2030 but Asian American Women already past this in several US states

Average life expectancy is set to increase in many countries by 2030 – and will exceed 90 years in South Korea, according to new research. The gains will be mainly from improved life expectancy for those over 65. There are no longer many improvements possible from the prevention of early deaths in the developed world.

The study, led by scientists from Imperial College London in collaboration with the World Health Organization, analysed long-term data on mortality and longevity trends to predict how life expectancy will change in 35 industrialised countries by 2030.

Nations in the study included both high-income countries, such as the USA, Canada, UK, Germany, Australia, and emerging economies such as Poland, Mexico and the Czech Republic.

The study, published in The Lancet and funded by the UK Medical Research Council, revealed all nations in the study can expect to see an increase in life expectancy by 2030.

The results also found that South Koreans may have the highest life expectancy in the world in 2030.

The team calculated life expectancy at birth, and predicted a baby girl born in South Korea in 2030 will expect to live 90.8 years. Life expectancy at birth for South Korean men will be 84.1 years.

The researchers also calculated how long a 65-year-old person may expect to live in 2030. The results revealed that the average 65-year-old woman in South Korea in 2030 may live an additional 27.5 years.


The Lancet -Future life expectancy in 35 industrialized countries: projections with a Bayesian model ensemble




Asian american women in several US states already have life expectancy beyond 90

Life Expectancy varies greatly in the USA by race, gender, wealth and state

In 2009, the average life expectancy of black men and women in the United States was just 75. That's roughly the same as the average life expectancy of white men and women in 1979 — 30 years earlier. The average life expectancy of black men in 2009 was just 71 (compared to 76 for white men).

While such a significant gap is troubling, the 2009 black/white life expectancy gap was actually at an all-time low of 4 years. In 1950, that gap was almost twice as large.

Black Americans may be worse off than white Americans, but Black Americans who have not completed high school lag even further behind.

The researchers found that white men with 16 or more years of schooling can expect to live an average of 14 years longer than black men with fewer than 12 years of education.(For white and black women with the same educational differences, that gap was 10 years.)

"Higher death rates due to heart disease, cancer, homicide, diabetes, and perinatal conditions" accounted for 60 percent of the gap, the report noted. The report goes on to say that the gap would have been even larger "if not for the lower death rates for the black population for suicide, unintentional injuries, and chronic lower respiratory diseases."

Pinpointing the Sources of the Asian Mortality Advantage in the United States

Asian-Americans outlive whites by an average of nearly 8 years. By determining the sources of the Asian mortality advantage, we can pinpoint where there is the greatest potential for raising the life expectancy of whites and other groups in the United States.

Nearly 90% of the Asian-white life expectancy gap is attributable to the fact that Asians tend to outlive whites regardless of the cause of death. The causes that contribute the most to the gap are heart disease (24%) and cancers (18%). Men contribute somewhat more to the gap than women do (55% versus 45%), primarily because Asian-white differences in mortality are greater among men than among women with respect to suicide, traffic accidents, and accidental poisoning.

Several explanations have been given for the surprisingly high life expectancy of Asians in the United States. One is the “healthy migrant” hypothesis that Asians constitute a non-randomly selected population of unusually healthy individuals as over two-thirds of Asian-Americans were foreign born, compared to less than 4% of non-Hispanic whites. According to the healthy migrant hypothesis, Asian migrants should be healthier and experience longer longevity than their U.S.-born counterparts.

The life expectancy of Asians in the United States is higher than in any Asian country, which suggests that some health selection is likely at play.

A second possibility is based on the “salmon-bias effect” which occurs when foreign-born individuals go back to their home country when their health deteriorates, to spend the last years of their lives. This process would cause an underestimation of the deaths among the Asians, as deaths occurring abroad would not be accounted for. However, studies find little support for a significant salmon bias effect for Asians.

Other explanations focus on the health behaviors and environments of Asian Americans. Cultural factors such as healthier traditional cooking may work as protective factors for Asians to buffer some negative health behaviors found in the United States. Asians also have the lowest BMI, fasting plasma glucose, and smoking rate of all major racial or ethnic group in the United States. Furthermore, the relatively high socioeconomic status of Asians may provide greater access to favorable health environments. In addition to a longer life expectancy, Asian Americans also experience more favorable health outcomes, such as lower rates of heart disease, asthma, cancer – especially among the foreign born. On the other hand, self-rated health is on average lower among Asians than for whites after adjusting for a series of control variables, but this might be due to lack of measurement invariance of the self-rated health scale across racial groups





February 21, 2017

Casimir forces measured between silicon nanostructures

Casimir forces are of fundamental interest because they originate from quantum fluctuations of the electromagnetic field. Apart from controlling this force via the optical properties of materials a number of novel geometries have been proposed to generate repulsive and/or non-monotonic Casimir forces between bodies separated by vacuum gaps. Experimental realization of these geometries, however, is hindered by the difficulties in alignment when the bodies are brought into close proximity. Here, using an on-chip platform with integrated force sensors and actuators15, we circumvent the alignment problem and measure the Casimir force between two surfaces with nanoscale protrusions. We demonstrate that the force depends non-monotonically on the displacement. At some displacements, the Casimir force leads to an effective stiffening of the nanomechanical spring. Our findings pave the way for exploiting the Casimir force in nanomechanical systems using structures of complex and non-conventional shapes.


Detection and actuation scheme.

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