Posted in physics, technology

Is ET phoning home? Researchers investigate bizarre ‘fast radio bursts’

Have you ever wondered whether we’re alone out here? Well, if you haven’t, maybe it’s time to start. Recently, scientists in the US and the Netherlands have observed a new, mysterious and distant object that seems to be emitting intermittent bursts of fast radio waves – brief but spectacular pulses of radio emission that are so bright that they can be seen across the universe.

As of yet, no one knows what is generating the pulses, but the researchers have managed to locate the most frequently pulsing source to a dwarf galaxy around three billion light years from Earth. Named FRB 121102 (catchy, I know), this source has generated over 200 high energy bursts to date.

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Posted in social, technology

What is ‘Uncanny Valley’, and why is it so creepy?

‘Uncanny Valley’ is the name of the phenomenon whereby a humanoid object bearing a near-identical resemblance to a human being arouses a deep sense of unease or revulsion in the viewer. Coined by the robotics professor Masahiro Mori in 1970, the original hypothesis states that as the appearance of a robot is made more human, the emotional response to the robot increasingly positive right up until it reaches a threshold where the response swiftly shifts to strong feelings of revulsion and eeriness. It’s safe to say that the majority of us have experienced this phenomenon – examples can be found in almost all genres of entertainment, including films, games, toys and animations. So, why do we experience this response?

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Posted in technology

You and Improved – 3D selfies make their debut

Thanks to computer scientists at both the University of Nottingham and Kingston University, our selfie game is about to reach the next level.

Using their new web app (see link at the bottom of the page) it is now possible to generate a 3D model of your face from a single 2D image. Aside from improving your Instagram, this technology has a myriad of potential uses.

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Posted in biology, chemistry, technology

From pee to plastic: how yeast could revolutionise space travel

Scientists at Clemson University have found a way to use biological systems in order to recycle human waste into both nutrients and plastics. Their findings were presented at the National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

In order to achieve long-distance space flight, there are a number of critical obstacles must be surmounted. One of these obstacles is how astronauts will transport enough food to sustain themselves over several months or years. Due to size and weight constraints, it is not possible to simply send the astronauts with a large stockpile of nutrients to ration. Anyway, even if it were possible to deploy them with enough food to survive the mission, many essential nutrients have a limited shelf-life and would degrade before the end of the mission.

“If astronauts are going to make journeys that span several years, we’ll need to find a way to reuse and recycle everything they bring with them,”

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Posted in social, technology

Digital doctor: the computer will see you now

Just as people display their emotions through body language and behaviour, your emotional state can now be detected using your Instagram account.

Researchers at the University of Vermont and Harvard University have shown that machine learning algorithms can successfully detect depression from Instagram photos. Currently, the computerised method has a success rate of 70%, a vast improvement on the 42% achieved by general practice doctors diagnosing in-person.

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Posted in biology, physics, technology

Humans vs Neanderthals – the mammoth competition that ended in extinction

After thousands of years, the reason for the Neanderthal’s extinction has finally come to light. Using isotopic analysis, it was found that both ancient humans and the Neanderthals were in direct competition for their main food source – woolly mammoths.

The first anatomically modern humans are thought to have colonised Europe around 43,000 years ago, forcing the Neanderthals into extinction approximately 3,000 years later. So, why did Homo sapiens succeed where the Neanderthals could not? There are many hypotheses, but by far the most common is that the diet of anatomically modern humans was more varied and flexible, allowing them to consume fish. However, a new study by the Senckenberg Research Institute and the Natural History Museum has blown this out of the water.

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Posted in general, science, technology

Not feeling your selfie?

In a rather Black Mirror turn of events, researchers at the University of Waterloo have developed an app that will tell you how to take ‘the perfect selfie’.

To help you capture your best angle, the app uses an algorithm to direct the way you position the camera.

In order to decide on the ‘best’ angle, the researchers used 3D digital scans of a collection of computer generated people. Then, after taking hundreds of virtual selfies – each with different composition and lighting, an online crowdsourcing service was used to get thousands of people to rate the selfies as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’. These voting patterns were then mathematically modelled in order to develop the algorithm.

To check that the app worked as it should, the researchers had real people take selfies with and without the computerised aid. Based on the subsequent online ratings, a 26% improvement was seen in selfies taken with the app compared to a normal phone camera.

‘We can expand the potential to include variable aspects such as hairstyle, types of smile or even the outfit you wear,’ says Dan Vogel, one of the scientists involved in the development of the app.

Tabitha Watson

To see the app in action, click here.

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