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Oct 23

Reported by Imperial College London News and Events, 18 Oct. 2011.

Scientists have successfully demonstrated that they can build some of the basic components for digital devices out of bacteria and DNA, which could pave the way for a new generation of biological computing devices, in research published today in the journal Nature Communications.

The researchers, from Imperial College London, have demonstrated that they can build logic gates, which are used for processing information in devices such as computers and microprocessors, out of harmless gut bacteria and DNA. These are the most advanced biological logic gates ever created by scientists.

Professor Richard Kitney, co-author of the paper from the Centre for Synthetic Biology and Innovation and the Department of Bioengineering at Imperial College London, says:

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Oct 22

Reported by Olivia Solon Wired UK, Wired Science, 19 Oct. 2011.

The accelerometers in many smartphones could be used to decipher what you type into your PC keyboard — including passwords and e-mail content — according to computer scientists at Georgia Tech.

The technique depends on the person typing at their computer with their mobile phone on the desk nearby. The vibrations created by typing onto the computer keyboard can be detected by the accelerometer of the phone and translated by a program into readable sentences with as much as 80 percent accuracy.

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Oct 13

Reported by The Lay Scientist, Martin Robbins, hosted by Guardian, 11 Sep. 2011

Like Nostradamus the Nautilus supercomputer is brilliant at predicting events, as long as they have already happened!

The best predictions are always made in hindsight. Nostradamus achieved fame by writing down a lot of vague bollocks about the future, and relying on the human brain’s incredible ability to spot links and patterns – even where none exist – to do the rest. His legacy is a pile of prophecies that are absolutely brilliant at predicting events, as long as they have already happened.

Now Nostradamus has a silicon rival, but while the French seer generated only 900 or so of his quatrains, the University of Tennessee’s “Nautilus” supercomputer is capable of spewing out countless millions of predictions – enough to keep an army of cherry-pickers beavering away from now until eternity.

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Oct 10

Reported by Science Daily, 9 Oct. 2011.

The world’s thinnest, strongest and most conductive material, discovered in 2004 at the University of Manchester by Professor Andre Geim and Professor Kostya Novoselov, has the potential to revolutionize material science.

Demonstrating the remarkable properties of graphene won the two scientists the Nobel Prize for Physics last year and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne has just announced plans for a £50m graphene research hub to be set up.

Now, writing in the journal Nature Physics, the University of Manchester team have for the first time demonstrated how graphene inside electronic circuits will probably look like in the future. Continue reading »

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Sep 24

Reported by Hamish Pritchard Science Reporter, BBC News, 13 Sep. 2011.

A sophisticated new camera system can detect lies just by watching our faces as we talk, experts say. The computerised system uses a simple video camera, a high-resolution thermal imaging sensor and a suite of algorithms.

Researchers say the system could be a powerful aid to security services. It successfully discriminates between truth and lies in about two-thirds of cases, said lead researcher Professor Hassan Ugail from Bradford University.

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Sep 11

Reported by Jamie Condliffe, in New Scientist, Sep. 2011.

It is another escalation in the computer security arms race. Software that can uncover all of a person’s online activity could, in the hands of the police, put more sex offenders behind bars – but it may also be exploited to develop new ways of avoiding being caught.

Researchers from Stanford University in California have managed to bypass the encryption on a PC’s hard drive to find out what websites a user has visited and whether they have any data stored in the cloud.

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Sep 10

Reported by Ed Yong, Discover Magazine, 01 Sep. 2011.

DNA computers

It is easy enough to make software do what you want it to. You could tell your email client to recognise and immediately delete any unwanted messages – say, any from your mother-in-law that contain the word “visit”, but not the word “cake”. Now, Zhen Xie from Harvard University and MIT has found a way of filtering undesirable human cells – in this case, a specific type of cancer cell – with similar ease.

Xie has developed a genetic “logic circuit” that prompts cells to kill themselves if the levels of five molecules match those of a cancer cell. Yaakov Benenson, who led the study, says, “In the long term, the circuits’ role is to act like miniature surgeons that can identify and destroy cancer cells.” That is a very long way off, but the study is a promising step in the right direction.

Xie worked with HeLa cells, a common line of cervical cancer cells taken from a tobacco farmer called Henrietta Lacks in 1951. Since then, they have become one of the most important tools in modern medicine. Xie identified five small molecules called microRNAs that act as a signature for HeLa cells, separating them from healthy ones. Two of the microRNAs are unusually common  in HeLa; three are unusually rare.

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Sep 03

Reported by office of Public Affairs, University of Santa Barbara, 1 Sep. 2011.

UCSB Physicists Demonstrate the Quantum von Neumann Architecture, a Quantum Processor, and a Quantum Memory on a Chip.

The quantum von Neumann machine: Two qubits are coupled to a quantum bus, realizing a quCPU. Each qubit is accompanied by a quantum memory as well as a zeroing register. The quantum memories together with the zeroing register realize the quRAM. Credit: Peter Allen, UCSB

(Santa Barbara, Calif.) –– A new paradigm in quantum information processing has been demonstrated by physicists at UC Santa Barbara. Their results are published in this week’s issue of Science Express online.

UCSB physicists have demonstrated a quantum integrated circuit that implements the quantum von Neumann architecture. In this architecture, a long-lived quantum random access memory can be programmed using a quantum central processing unit, all constructed on a single chip, providing the key components for a quantum version of a classical computer.

The UCSB hardware is based on superconducting quantum circuits, and must be cooled to very low temperatures to display quantum behavior. The architecture represents a new paradigm in quantum information processing, and shows that quantum large-scale-integration is within reach.

Matteo Mariantoni Credit: George Foulsham, Office of Public Affairs, UCSB

The quantum integrated circuit includes two quantum bits (qubits), a quantum communication bus, two bits of quantum memory, and a resetting register comprising a simple quantum computer. “Computational steps take a few billionths of a second, comparable to a classical computer, but the great power is that a quantum computer can perform a large number of calculations simultaneously,” said Matteo Mariantoni, postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Physics. “In our new UCSB architecture we have explored the possibility of writing quantum information to memory, while simultaneously performing other quantum calculations.

“On the quantum von Neumann architecture, we were able to run the quantum Fourier transform and a three-qubit Toffoli gate –– key quantum logic circuits for the further development of quantum computing,” said Mariantoni.

The UCSB experiment was pursued primarily by Mariantoni, under the direction of Andrew N. Cleland and John M. Martinis, both professors of physics. Mariantoni was supported in this work by an Elings Prize Fellowship in Experimental Science from UCSB’s California NanoSystems Institute.

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Aug 23

Reported by ScienceDaily, 16 Aug. 2011.

By combining two frontier technologies, spintronics and straintronics, a team of researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University has devised perhaps the world’s most miserly integrated circuit. Their proposed design runs on so little energy that batteries are not even necessary; it could run merely by tapping the ambient energy from the environment. Rather than the traditional charge-based electronic switches that encode the basic 0s and 1s of computer lingo, spintronics harnesses the natural spin — either up or down — of electrons to store bits of data.

Spin one way and you get a 0; switch the spin the other way — typically by applying a magnetic field or by a spin-polarized current pulse — and you get a 1. During switching, spintronics uses considerably less energy than charge-based electronics. However, when ramped up to usable processing speeds, much of that energy savings is lost in the mechanism through which the energy from the outside world is transferred to the magnet.

The solution, as proposed in the AIP’s journal Applied Physics Letters, is to use a special class of composite structure called multiferroics. These composite structures consist of a layer of piezoelectric material with intimate contact to a magnetostrictive nanomagnet (one that changes shape in response to strain). When a tiny voltage is applied across the structure, it generates strain in the piezoelectric layer, which is then transferred to the magnetostrictive layer. This strain rotates the direction of magnetism, achieving the flip. With the proper choice of materials, the energy dissipated can be as low as 0.4 attojoules, or about a billionth of a billionth of a joule. This proposed design would create an extremely low-power, yet high-density, non-volatile magnetic logic and memory system.

The processors would be well suited for implantable medical devices and could run on energy harvested from the patient’s body motion. They also could be incorporated into buoy-mounted computers that would harvest energy from sea waves, among other intriguing possibilities.

Reference: Kuntal Roy, Supriyo Bandyopadhyay, Jayasimha Atulasimha. Hybrid spintronics and straintronics: A magnetic technology for ultra low energy computing and signal processing. Applied Physics Letters, 2011; 99 (6): 063108 DOI: 10.1063/1.3624900

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Aug 21

Reported by Veronique Greenwood in Discover Magazine, 18th August2011.

Pills... by psyberartist / flickr

What’s the News: For all the testing we do, drugs are still mysterious things—they can activate pathways we never connected with them or twiddle the dials in some far-off part of the body. To see if drugs already FDA-approved for certain diseases could be used to treat other conditions, scientists lined up two online databases and discovered two drugs that, when tested in mice, worked against diseases they’d never been meant for, suggesting that mining of such information could be a fertile strategy for finding new treatments.

How the Heck:

What’s the Context:

  • Searching FDA-approved drug databases for effects that can be brought to bear on other illnesses isn’t that unusual in chemistry. Many scientists begin studies this way.
  • But what’s nice about this study is that one of the databases, the Omnibus, is crowdsourced: researchers have been adding information to it, bit by bit, for decades, and it’s available for free. Generally, free databases that have accreted over time aren’t considered the most reliable datasets, but as this study shows, they can get the job done.
  • Having the two databases pull from each other is a nice touch as well—most studies are just looking to work on a single, specific disease, but here, any combination of drug and disease is up for investigation.

Not So Fast: These particular drugs would need quite a bit more testing to see if they could be useful for these illnesses in humans. As one computational chemical biologist said to ScienceNOW, “Topiramate hits quite a lot of targets and has complex side effects, while the doses needed for functional effects for cimetidine seemed high,” though he still praised the study’s goals: “This is a really important concept; it is almost like they are looking for an antidote to a disease.”

The Future Holds: Unfortunately, through a quirk of the incentive system in pharmaceuticals, it’s unlikely that companies that first developed these drugs will invest the time and money required to test them for new uses: their patents have expired, so the companies don’t stand to profit from it. But perhaps drugs still under patent, or drugs just beginning to be tested, could be explored this way. With new drugs few and far between these days, re-purposing old ones could be a way for drug companies to fund further research.

Reference: Dudley et al. Computational Repositioning of the Anticonvulsant Topiramate for Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Science Translational Medicine. 17 August 2011: Vol. 3, Issue 96, p. 96ra76 DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3002648

Sirota et al. Discovery and Preclinical Validation of Drug Indications Using Compendia of Public Gene Expression Data. Science Translational Medicine. 17 August 2011: Vol. 3, Issue 96, p. 96ra77. DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3001318

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