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Talk nerdy to me

This week we explore the nature of sleeplessness, the possibility of hearts made from liquid metal, an app dedicated to killing fake news, and more.

Robot rock

Cyber collaborator. Taryn Southern co-wrote "Break Free" with the artificially-intelligent Amper music composer. Other AI tools focus on classical or folk music. Courtesy Taryn Southern.

Although automation is making its way into just about every industry, many folks remain confident that creative careers will be immune to the disruption. But human artists are now taking a helping hand from computers by enlisting artificial intelligence in composing their songs.  

First up is YouTube artist Taryn Southern and her use of Amper to match genre, beats, and instrumentation to her melody. If that isn’t your speed, check out the AI-written “Daddy’s Car,” which is meant to sound like The Beatles. Say all you want about the importance of human composers, but it’s hard to argue that artificial intelligence isn’t starting to know it’s way around a G-clef.   

Steeling your heart

Liquid robotics. Scientists at the University of Wollongong were inspired by biological systems in science fiction when they electro-chemically stimulated a drop of liquid gallium and caused it to oscillate in a predictable manner. Courtesy University of Wollongong.

If you thought music created by a machine was outlandish, then you’ll be interested in new research which could someday create a heart-like device for robots. In an experiment that could change soft robotics, researchers out of the University of Wollongong have used electricity to create a "heartbeat"in liquid gallium.

By electrochemically stimulating the gallium, the scientists were able to create a rhythmic pulse. Professor Xiaolin Wang, a lead researcher on the project, believes this breakthrough could allow robots to pump liquids through their bodies.

Why won’t you just go to bed?

<strong>Sleep thief.</strong> When you stay up too late, it may not be your willpower that’s to blame, but your body’s internal clock. Science says so. Courtesy leocampasso/Giphy. Between responding to texts, keeping up with Twitter, and binge-watching Netflix, it can be all too easy to forget that you have to get up in the morning. For a long time, scientists blamed sleeplessness and late bedtimes on poor self-control. But new research suggests that your body’s internal clock may play a significant role.

The argument for self-control is pretty easy to understand, but other experts believe your body has a preference for the time of day that it likes to wake and go to sleep. A new study from psychologist Jana Kühnel at Ulm University in Germany found that people were actually less likely to put off sleep when they reported low willpower—meaning that people didn’t delay going to bed because they had run out of self-control.

Particle accelerator Photoshop

<strong>Recovering history.</strong> A particle accelerator was used to map the chemical composition of the tarnished photographic plate on the left, allowing researchers to restore the original image, right. Courtesy National Gallery of Canada (l) and Kozachuk, et al (r). <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/‘>(CC BY 4.0)</a>Snapshots of the past offer insights into bygone eras, but older photographs rarely stand the test of time. Thankfully, one team has figured out how to restore silver photographic plates that are around 150 years old. Using a particle accelerator called a synchrotron, the team beamed X-rays into two tarnished portraits and mapped their chemical composition. The trace amount of mercury in the plates let the researchers reveal the original images and recreate them in a digital format.

Fake news no more

<strong>Test your fake news IQ </strong> with Fakey, an app that gamifies spotting false information and conspiracy theories in your newsfeed. Courtesy Fakey.With the amount of misinformation on the internet, it makes sense that someone would get fed up enough to create a solution. Indiana University graduate Mihai Avram’s mobile app Fakey presents a fake newsfeed as a game, displaying both reputable news stories alongside undocumented conspiracy theories and false information. Users win points for sharing stories that are reliable, teaching good information gathering techniques in an age that doesn’t seem to care about the truth.

Fundamental fungus

Biocycling combines demolition waste with fungi and microbes to create strong but lightweight mushroom bricks that can be used to construct new buildings and reduce strain on landfills. Courtesy Keith Hayes and redhouse studio.

The city of Cleveland, Ohio, is going through a rough patch. Economic disparities and population loss have led to a housing crisis, leaving thousands of abandoned homes lining the city’s streets. But architect Christopher Maurer, believes that fungus might be the key to revitalizing the city.

“Biocycling” uses fungal mycelium to turn construction waste into biomaterials that can be used to rebuild. The resulting mushroom brick is light enough to float on water but strong, durable, and a great insulator. In Maurer’s eyes, Cleveland’s ruined buildings are an exciting opportunity to showcase a cheaper and more environmentally sustainable way to build the cities of the future—even NASA has shown interest.  

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