Artificial Cockroach Heart for Humans? Cockroach Style at Least

indian heartIf you need a heart transplant, or will need one in the next few decades, you’ll probably be in better shape in the near future, assuming you can wait a while. That’s because Sujoy Guha, an Indian biomedical engineer has conjured up a new artificial heart at a cost of about $3,000. That’s about $47,000 cheaper than the going rate for an artificial heart these days, one that is nevertheless dangerous and leads to strokes and blood clots.

Guha believes that the reason that there are so many problems with these machines is that we are trying too hard to replicate the actual thing. Meaning, the human heart works by building up pressure in one of its four chambers – the left ventricle. That one part of the heart is responsible for most of the work. That’s how it works in mother nature, but to try to mimic that artificially puts unnecessary stress on one part of the machine, which leads to problems, because it damages blood cells which leads to clotting.

CockroachDr. Guha likens the process to trying to scale a four-foot rise in just one bound. “Do it too often and your knees will give way,” he said. “Much better to use a series of small steps.”

So he thought up a machine that slowly builds up pressure using all of its chambers. And he was inspired by the cockroach, whose heart has 13 chambers that each slowly build up pressure to move blood around. If one of them fails, the cockroach still survives. (They’ll need all those backup chambers for when you step on them.)

Dr. Guha has actually been working on this model since the 60’s. He’s now testing the heart on goats. Hopefully, the goats will do well. Humans hopefully come up on about a year and a half.

Man on the Moon? No! Water on the Moon

There is now “unambiguous evidence” of water on the moon. Can the moon support life now? Heh, not really. I mean, try breathing on the thing. It doesn’t work too well.

But never mind that. The details of the findings, which will be published in tomorrow’s issue of Science, follow on the heels of evidence of lunar ice at the poles. There’s another experiment being planned (and it’s pretty cool) where a satellite will intentionally smash into one of the moon’s permanently shadowed craters and hopefully break through to some water in the debris.

Chandrayaan-1When we landed on the moon 40 years ago, evidence of water was inconclusive because the containers that held the moon rocks leaked, and there is no way to tell the difference between water from Earth and water from the moon.

The strongest evidence for water actually came from an Indian spacecraft, Chandrayaan-1, India’s first-ever moon probe, shown here. It detected wavelengths of light off the surface that indicated the chemical bond between hydrogen and oxygen. Water has that. Other things, too, but water is the most basic. Three separate projects, including Cassini, Deep Impact, and the Indian one previously mentioned all detected strong oxygen-hydrogen bond signals at the moon’s poles.

The findings of all three spacecraft “provide unambiguous evidence for the presence of hydroxyl or water,” said Paul Lacey of the University of Hawaii. He wasn’t involved in the missions, but he probably knows his stuff anyway.
How did the water get there? Scientists theorize that solar wind, which is basically a stream of protons from the sun (AKA hydrogen without an electron) hit oxygen-containing minerals on the moon’s surface, combined, and formed water. Two hydrogens and on oxygen make water.
Since the solar wind keeps hitting, though, it could also break the water apart. This might be why the most water is found at the poles, where it can accumulate without the sun constantly breaking it apart.

Water Purifier Uses Less Power than a Hairdryer

dean kamen slingshot
Dean Kamen, the inventor of the admittedly dorky, yet somehow cool Segway, is at it again. This time, he has invented the Slingshot. “We believe the world needs a slingshot to take care of its Goliath of a problem in water. So we decided to build a small machine and give it to the little Davids.” How Biblical and quaint.

SegwayKamen has been working on the Slingshot for over a decade. He has now perfected it to be able to turn raw sewage into drinkable water. Sounds tasty. Basically, it can turn anything wet into water by simply removing everything else.
What makes it work is a “vapor compression distiller”, which, by the sound of it, smushes water vapor back into water after it boils. How this takes less electricity that a hair dryer I have yet to understand. That’s why he’s an inventor, whereas I just write about it.

The only problem is that producing one of these machines costs Kamen’s company several hundred thousand dollars. He needs to first engineer it in a way that lowers costs, and find partner to help him do this. Partners, perhaps, that would have a vested interest in investing in clean water technology. His goal is to get the cost down to about $2,000 per unit, and then to distribute it to the developing world.

Each machine can produce about 250 gallons a day. I think I speak for all of us when I say…that could make a lot of lemonade. 

Organic Plastic Conducting Electricity

Only a few weeks ago, we reported on the new technology of organic computers. Here’s something similar: organic plastic that conducts electricity. Why plastic? Because it’s cheaper, thinner, lighter, and faster than silicon. This technology is already available in some gadgets. One is the new Sony Walkman.

organic circuitWord to the wise: “Organic” here does not mean that it was farmed using sustainable methods. It means, simply, that it is carbon based, which is the actual scientific definition of the term organic, since way back when in the 18th century, people thought organic material could only be extracted from organs. Well, it can, but it can also be synthesized. Hence, “organ”ic. We’ve since kept the term.

What’s going on now, though, is that the material is being refitted with something that allows both positive and negative charges to run through it. For some reason I do not pretend to understand since I am not an electrical engineer, until now it could only carry negative charges. But we all know that without positivity, the world isn’t such a happily charged place.

“The organic semiconductors developed over the past 20 years have one important drawback. It’s very difficult to get electrons to move through,” said Samson Jenekhe, a professor of chemical engineering. “By now having polymer semiconductors that can transmit both positive and negative charges, it broadens the available approaches. This would certainly change the way we do things.” Uhh…good. Whatever that means. Just keep the good news coming.

One kind of plastic can transmit protons, and another, electrons. Making a material that can transport both requires carefully layering two complicated patterns on top of one another, but now they’ve figured out how to do it with just one material.

The material would allow organic transistors and other information-processing devices to be built more simply, in a way that is more similar to how inorganic (usually meaning silicon based) circuits are now made. The group used the new material to build a transistor and the results show that both electrons and protons move through the device quickly.

The results represent the best performance ever seen in a single-component organic polymer semiconductor
This means much faster, lighter, cheaper computers. And then of course maybe Judgment Day and Nuclear War a la the Terminator series, but whatever. That’s a long way off.

Printer Runs on Used Coffee Grinds, No Electricity

I can’t wait until this bad boy comes out. I’m getting my hands on one of these immediately. The thought of using old coffee and tea grinds to print my next paper gives a whole new meaning to the idea of coffee stains on your homework.

RITI PrinterThe RITI printer was invented by Korean Joen Hwan Ju, and has not yet made it to market, but word is now exploding about it. Here’s what you do: Drink a cup of coffee (not instant) and put the grinds into the ink cartridge on the top. (Drinking the coffee not required for printing.) Add some water. Move the cartridge back and forth with your hand, and watch as your document gets burned in very precisely-patterned coffee stains into a readable document with words on it. Take the cartridge out and wash it. You’re done.

You can also use tea schmutz. After an English breakfast, take your teabag, rip it open, pour the contents into the ink cartridge and do the same thing.

Advantages: Leftover coffee and tea is generally a bit cheaper than a $50 ink cartridge. No electricity means you get some forearm workout and save power. Finally, you paper smells like coffee and/or tea. Just make sure that whatever color fluid you’re using doesn’t smell too bad.

Disadvantages: It’s slow, so if you have to print up thousands of flyers, don’t use this unless you’ve got forearms of steel and about 3 weeks of free time to do nothing but move tea dregs back and forth.

Organic Nanocomputers Soon to Hit the Scene

When we speak of organic, we’re usually talking about health, sustainable farming methods, food, a way of life. Now, let’s talk about computers.

Our computers today are based on silicon transistors. Now, I’m not an electrical engineer so I don’t pretend to understand exactly how they work, but here’s the central point: Silicon chips have tiny, tiny grooves in them that serve as on/off switches for electronic signals. Each on/off pathway is a transistor. The more transistors you can fit on a chip, the more calculations it can make.

Since Intel developed the first silicon-based computer chip in the late 60’s, technology has advanced in making these chips chock full of many more transistors, jacking up computer speed as we get better at cramming more into the chip.

silicon chipThe problem with this approach is, on the scale that we are currently functioning in, we can only fit in so much on the chip until there is simply no space left and we hit a limit.

Enter organic nanoscale electric circuits. A nanoscale is scale that is molecular in size, using the actual organic molecules to convey the electric signals instead of having them travel through a small, but still not nearly molecular, sized groove in the pathways of a silicon chip.

Researchers of this new technology say that they have succeeded in coupling together several contacts in an electric circuit, and doing so has enabled them to produce prototype computer electronics on the nanoscale.

“We have succeeded in placing several transistors consisting of nano-wires together on a nano device. It is a first step towards realization of future electronic circuitry based on organic materials – a possible substitute for today’s silicon-based technologies. This offers the possibility of making computers in different ways in the future,” said Thomas Bjørnholm, Director of the Nano-Science Center, Department of Chemistry at University of Copenhagen.

The revolutionary capabilities of this type of technology could be enormous, as well as dangerous. You can get much smaller than the molecular level, except if you go quantum, which we’re really far from figuring out how to do. Never mind that though. Just know that, with organic nanocomputers, computing speed could go up by a factor of thousands.

Using Bacteria to Purify Water & Produce Electricity

While we’re all freaking out about swine flu and other bacterial microbes that have the potential to make us seriously ill or worse, the scientific community has figuring out how to use bacteria to purify salt water into drinkable fresh water. Sounds crazy? It is. The world is crazy, and don’t expect it to slow down.

bacteria electricityThe idea is based on the concept of a microbial fuel cell. “The idea of a microbial fuel cell is based on taking organic waste and turning it into a source of energy,” said Bruce Logan, a scientist at Penn State and co-author of a paper in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.
“In this newest discovery, we figured we would desalinate water by modifying the electricity generated by the bacteria.”

Here’s how it works. You start with a cup of water from any natural source. That water has bacteria. Some of the bacteria in that water, and scientists know exactly which ones, will naturally produce electrons and protons inside their cells and transport them outside themselves. Electrons and protons are charged particles. Other bacteria scavenge those free electrons and protons and use them to create hydrogen, methane, or other energetic chemicals.

So it’s as simple as this: Instead of letting other bacteria suck up the electrons these bacteria spit out, put two thin pieces of plastic that harness the electrons and gases produced, and draw them to a cathode and an anode to create an electric current.

It’s so simple it’s beautiful. The electricity produced heats up the water, which gets filtered and purified. But here’s the REALLY exciting part: Using the apparatus requires almost ZERO energy. The energy is already present in the water you’re trying to purify! Energy could even be PRODUCED in the process. That means free purified water.
Humanity is advancing people.

Let’s cheer it on!

Doggy Cloning Now Going Commercial

cloned dogsWant to get an unconventional gift for your South Korean dog-owner friend? This holiday season, swipe a DNA sample of his dog, and then get it cloned for him! You can do this now, because a South Korean biotech firm is going into the (not quite) booming dog-cloning business, looking to clone 1,000 dogs a year. In response, neighboring North Korea threatened to nuke the planet again because Kim Jong Ill had a bad hangover last weekend. That’s a joke, but it’s probably true anyway, sadly.

Well, this cloning gets a bit more useful when it’s about cloning endangered species, which the firm also plans on doing. But something still tells me this is all wrong. Comedian Paul Virzi came out all roses on the subject, saying, “When you get a dog, you know what they say, you have to be responsible. If you clone, you don’t have to be responsible. You leave the door open, he gets wacked by a van, you go to the factory, you get another one. That’s the beauty of it, so clone the dogs and keep getting them.”

We’re not at all coming out in support of leaving the door open so your dog gets run over by a van only to be cloned again. As a matter of fact, we’re against that sort of behavior. Back when Dolly the Sheep was cloned in 1996 (above), everybody freaked out just a bit, and for good reason. That was just an experiment. This is step number two: cloning for commercial gain.

If this develops too far, then the government eventually gets involved, usually for the purposes of improving warfare strategies, such as cloning a genetically engineered elephant invasion force that feeds off live flying small arms ammunition or something. And then humans get into the picture, and then things get real messy.

Evidence that this cloning idea isn’t so grand: The original South Korean team to clone a dog only obtained three pregnancies from more than 1,000 embryo transfers into 123 recipients. One of the three miscarried, one died soon after birth, and only one survived. (He’s the small dog on the right.) Much less successful than simple happy puppy mating rituals.

But here’s some good news. Say you have a dog that’s a really good narc. I mean he can sniff out drugs better than a Colombian drug lord. Instead of mixing his genes with some other dog, you can maintain his amazing genes by cloning and having a cloned army of doggy narcs.

Short of that, let’s close this with a nice quote illustrating understatement. “Canine cloning runs contrary to the Kennel Club’s objectives.” Phil Buckley, Kennel Club Spokesman.

Well said, Phil.

So, on second thought, maybe this isn’t such a great gift idea.

Will We Get Hit in 2017 ?

It’s been talked about and studied by astronomers and physicists for years. A number of Hollywood films have been made on the subject and the potential destruction that would happen should a mega-sized chunk of space rock, otherwise known as an asteroid, should ever collide with the earth. And theories are still coming out as to why the age of the dinosaurs appeared to have come to a sudden, almost abrupt end about 65 million years ago.

But whether you are a Bruce Willis fan, or just have an occasional uneasy feeling every time you see a “shooting star” or read an obscure article in either your favorite news site, or see something about it on TV, more and more attention is being drawn to the possibility that an asteroid of a size ranging from 300 meters across to as much as 6 miles across, may be right no on a collision path with planet earth. Much attention was given to this possibility after the movie “Armageddon ” came out in 1998 in which the US. Space agency NASA discovers that a massive asteroid the size of the state of Texas is due to strike earth in less than three weeks, destroying all life on our planet. This thriller movie, starring Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck, followed an earlier movie called Deep Impact, starring Morgan Freeman – which ended on a much more somber note than Armageddon did, in which Willis manages to use his last bit of strength to set off a nuclear bomb that had been planted deep inside the asteroid, causing it to blow up and thus miss hitting the earth.

Temple 1Coincidentally, some new articles came out about the same time as Armageddon that a much smaller asteroid, one about 1.4 miles in diameter (2.5 km) had been discovered way out in space, and it could possibly reach the earth in the year 2017. This caused a minor stir, possibly due to its being divulged at around the same time the Bruce Willis flick had hit the box offices. This must have prompted scientists to look into this possibility, as a couple of weeks later, another news story came out in which the US government agency assured everyone that the asteroid in question would not hit the earth after all.

Could this have been a cover-up by the government in order to get people not to be concerned? It’s often said that we humans (and other life forms) live on an “Island we cannot leave”. Another asteroid, which has been named Apophis, is now said to be possibly arriving here around 2029; and even though it is expected to pass us, could wind up in an elliptical orbit with the earth (due to the earth’s gravitational pull) and eventually strike our plant around 2036. Of course, this is still scientific speculation; but, some scientists are not disregarding this possibility. In fact, one well known American astronomer, Dan Geraci of the Pasadena based Planetary Society, was quoted as saying: “This asteroid, Apophis, isn’t science fiction; it isn’t a blockbuster Hollywood movie – it’s very real!”

Giant meteors and asteroids have struck in different parts of the world, including Russia, where an asteroid supposed crashed into a forested region in Siberia on the Tungusta River near the town of Kerensk in 1908. The asteroid literally exploded in midair, according to eyewitness accounts, but left no crater. Forest land at “ground zero” was devastated for a radius of up to ten kilometers, however. There is a large meteor crater in Arizona in the USA, and several in Africa. But many of these may actually be attributed to the effects of water and soil erosion, including a section of Israel’s Arava Valley, outside the city of Mitzpe Ramon. A number of large space rocks have also landed in various oceans or seas, and may have been responsible for some large tsunami tidal waves that may have been attributed to undersea earthquakes.

A few years following the Willis movie, in January 2005 to be exact, NASA created some new publicity when it launched a rocket from earth for the purpose of intercepting a comet in deep space, Temple 1. The mission proved to be successful when the rocket’s projectile did indeed strike the surface of the comet on July 5, 2005. Could this launching have been a “dress rehearsal” for a possible future launch to hit and destroy an asteroid such as Apophis? Though definitely not the “size of the State of Texas” it is still large enough (about 1.3 miles across) to cause considerable damage, wherever it might strike.

It’s definitely something to think about, and Washington (NASA in particular) is not saying much more about it. Like the saying goes – we all do live on an island we cannot leave.

Sputnik Obesrvatory

The Sputnik Obesravtory was launched today and its another masterpiece by Jonathan Harris. I have been following his work for several years and this looks like a great video project. I like this video and path about Bacteria computing…

It’s the result of a two-year collaboration with New York-based Sputnik, Inc., an organization that documents contemporary culture through intimate video interviews with hundreds of leading thinkers in the arts, sciences and technology, covering a wide range of topics.

The central premise of the Sputnik project is that everything is connected to everything else, and that topics and ideas that may seem fringe and even heretical to the mainstream world are in fact being investigated by leading thinkers working in fields as diverse as quantum physics, mathematics, neuroscience, biology, economics, architecture, digital art, video games, computer science and music. Sputnik is dedicated to bringing these crucial ideas from the fringes of thought out into the limelight, so that the world can begin to understand them.

Conducted over more than ten years and previously unavailable to the public, the interviews within the site chronicle some of the most provocative human ideas to have emerged in the last few decades. The site itself aims to highlight the interconnections between seemingly disparate thinkers and ideas, using a simple navigational system with no dead ends, where every thought leads to another thought, akin to swimming the stream of consciousness.

There are about 200 videos on the site today, and there will be thousands more added over the coming weeks, months, and years.