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Talk nerdy to me

This week, we discuss a new neuron that’s unique to the human brain, how to turn your skin into music speakers, and exactly what would happen if the world turned into a ball of blueberries.

The skin you’re in

And the skin played on. New smart skin can be used as both a speaker and a microphone. The researchers hope the tech may some day help the hearing impaired. Courtesy Science Magazine.

As a general rule, technology gets smaller as it gets more advanced. However, one team of researchers has taken this to the extreme by creating a paper-thin membrane that can turn your skin into a pair of speakers.

Published in Science Advances, the engineers in this study created an ultra-thin material that can either conduct and amplify sound or capture it in a microphone. Although the sound quality is pretty bad right now, the microphone was able to recognize the correct voice of the text subject more than 98 percent of the time.

Blueberry apocalypse

<strong>An ocean of jam on top of warm blueberry granita.</strong> University of Oxford physicist Anders Sandberg has finally answered the age-old question: What if the Earth were suddenly replaced by billions of blueberries?What would happen if every speck of matter on Earth turned into blueberries? Chaos, of course, but Anders Sandberg of the University of Oxford has thought about it in-depth.

First, the Earth would implode, plunging humans on a 700 kilometer free fall. Due to the tremendous loss of mass – rocks weigh more than blueberries, after all – there won’t be enough gravity to keep the moon in Earth’s orbit and our lunar friend will rocket away from us.

That said, there will be enough gravity to pull all the blueberries into the center of what was once our planet, thereby squishing the fruit into a jam-like paste. In terms of the apocalypse, we could do a lot worse than jam world.

Symbiotic shrimp

<strong>It's complicated.</strong> This cute crustacean offers a green alternative to chemicals by cleaning (i.e. eating) parasites off fish in commercial farms and reducing infections. The only downside is that the ungrateful fish sometimes return the favor by eating the shrimp. Courtesy James Cook University.Life isn’t easy for fish, even if they live in a farm designed to support them. Parasites are common even in the best circumstances within captivity, which is why shrimp play such a vital role in fish health. 

Scientists at James Cook University in Australia found that up to 50 percent of fish that are farmed in Southeast Asia die due to complications from parasites. But ‘cleaner’ shrimp reduce the chance of infection of parasitic wounds without actively harming the fish in the process.

New kind of human brain cell discovered

Science would be well behind where it is today if it weren’t for animal testing. Experiments on mice, in particular, have contributed to vaccines and many other advances. But it’s important to remember that mice aren’t perfect stand-ins for humans. One such difference is what’s called the rosehip neuron.

<strong>A rosehip neuron</strong> (top) is unique to the human brain, and can choose to amplify or suppress messages from other parts of the brain. Courtesy Tamás Lab, University of Szeged.This neuron has so far only been discovered in humans, found in the outermost layer of the neocortex. The human neocortex is much thicker than in any other species, and it’s believed that this area of the brain plays an integral part in human consciousness.

Scientists discovered that the rosehip neuron can monitor the electrical impulses that come from other parts of the brain. The researchers explain the neuron like a volume control, being able to specifically choose which impulses to amplify. 

Preserving the past with future tech

<strong>Nanotech powers activate.</strong> After 400 years underwater, the Tudor warship Mary Rose is still in pretty good shape. But iron sulfides are attacking its timbers, and scientists have turned to nanoparticles to magnetically remove iron ions. Courtesy Mary Rose Trust. <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en’>(CC BY-SA 3.0)</a>Time is often the biggest enemy of historical artifacts. Henry VIII’s prize warship the Mary Rose sank in 1545 and was rediscovered by divers in 1982. Buried in silt, it remained remarkably well-preserved after 400 years underwater.

But now, aboveground, its wooden structures are starting to decay. The marine bacteria that settled into the ship’s timbers produced hydrogen sulfide which reacted with iron ions to form iron sulfides. Exposed to oxygen, those sulfides are now producing destructive acids.

However, all is not lost. Scientists have applied nanoparticles the width of a human hair to magnetically remove these iron ions. These nanoparticles, applied as a gel, take the iron ions out of the ship’s wood and pull them to the surface, restoring some of the Mary Rose’s former glory.

The origins of a Spiderman villain?

Need a hand? Remote-controlled robot arms can be strapped on a person’s back—giving them, literally, an extra pair of hands. Courtesy Yamen Saraji.

Dr. Octopus, one of Spiderman’s greatest enemies, may not seem so far-fetched now that a scientist in Japan has created a wearable backpack containing real robotic arms.

The special twist is that the robot arms – which look more like human appendages than Doc Ock’s tentacles – are actually controlled by another person. This allows a second person to help the backpack’s wearer with an assortment of tasks, literally giving them an extra pair of hands.

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