Changed Blog URL to Caffeinated Cranium!
A British company has produced a “strange, alien” material so black that it absorbs all but 0.035 per cent of visual light, setting a new world record. To stare at the “super black” coating made of carbon nanotubes – each 10,000 times thinner than a human hair – is an odd experience. It is so dark that the human eye cannot understand what it is seeing. Shapes and contours are lost, leaving nothing but an apparent abyss.
If it was used to make one of Chanel’s little black dresses, the wearer’s head and limbs might appear to float incorporeally around a dress-shaped hole.
Actual applications are more serious, enabling astronomical cameras, telescopes and infrared scanning systems to function more effectively. Then there are the military uses that the material’s maker, Surrey NanoSystems, is not allowed to discuss.
The nanotube material, named Vantablack, has been grown on sheets of aluminium foil by the Newhaven-based company. While the sheets may be crumpled into miniature hills and valleys, this landscape disappears on areas covered by it.
"You expect to see the hills and all you can see … it’s like black, like a hole, like there’s nothing there. It just looks so strange," said Ben Jensen, the firm’s chief technical officer.
Asked about the prospect of a little black dress, he said it would be “very expensive” – the cost of the material is one of the things he was unable to reveal.
"You would lose all features of the dress. It would just be something black passing through," he said.
Vantablack, which was described in the journal Optics Express and will be launched at the Farnborough International Airshow this week, works by packing together a field of nanotubes, like incredibly thin drinking straws. These are so tiny that light particles cannot get into them, although they can pass into the gaps between. Once there, however, all but a tiny remnant of the light bounces around until it is absorbed.
Vantablack’s practical uses include calibrating cameras used to take photographs of the oldest objects in the universe. This has to be done by pointing the camera at something as black as possible.
It also has “virtually undetectable levels of outgassing and particle fallout”, which can contaminate the most sensitive imaging systems. The material conducts heat seven and a half times more effectively than copper and has 10 times the tensile strength of steel.
Stephen Westland, professor of colour science and technology at Leeds University, said traditional black was actually a colour of light and scientists were now pushing it to something out of this world.
"Many people think black is the absence of light. I totally disagree with that. Unless you are looking at a black hole, nobody has actually seen something which has no light," he said. "These new materials, they are pretty much as black as we can get, almost as close to a black hole as we could imagine."
New research is showing that the brain does have an on/off switch that triggers unconsciousness!
As Virginia Hughes noted in a recent piece for National Geographic’s Phenomena blog, the most common depiction of a synapse (that communicating junction between two neurons) is pretty simple:
Signal molecules leave one neuron from that bulby thing, float across a gap, and are picked up by receptors on the other neuron. In this way, information is transmitted from cell to cell … and thinking is possible.
But thanks to a bunch of German scientists - we now have a much more complete and accurate picture. They’ve created the first scientifically accurate 3D model of a synaptic bouton (that bulby bit) complete with every protein and cytoskeletal element.
This effort has been made possible only by a collaboration of specialists in electron microscopy, super-resolution light microscopy (STED), mass spectrometry, and quantitative biochemistry.
says the press release. The model reveals a whole world of neuroscience waiting to be explored. Exciting stuff!
Credit: Benjamin G. Wilhelm, Sunit Mandad, Sven Truckenbrodt, Katharina Kröhnert, Christina Schäfer, Burkhard Rammner, Seong Joo Koo, Gala A. Claßen, Michael Krauss, Volker Haucke, Henning Urlaub, Silvio O. Rizzoli
MSU’s Behrad Noudoost was a co-author with Marc Zirnsak and other neuroscientists from the Tirin Moore Lab at Stanford University in publishing a recent paper on the research in Nature, an international weekly journal for natural sciences.
Noudoost and the team studied saccadic eye movements—those movements where the eye jumps from one point of focus to another—in an effort to determine exactly how this happens without us being overcome by our brains processing too much visual information.
To introduce the study, Noudoost first gets his audience to think about eye movements at the most basic level. “Look in the mirror and stare at one eye,” Noudoost said. “Then look at the other eye. We are essentially blind during eye movement as we cannot see our eyes move, even though we know they did.”
According to Noudoost, scientists have been trying to learn exactly how the brain processes these visual stimuli during saccadic eye movement and this research offers new evidence that the prefrontal cortex of the brain is responsible for visual stability.
"Visual stability is what keeps our vision stable in spite of changing input. It is similar to the stabilizer button on a video camera," Noudoost said.
"We wanted to know what causes the brain to filter out un-necessary information when we shift our vision from one focal target to another," Noudoost said. "Without that filter the visual information would overwhelm us."
According to the scientists, the study offers evidence neurons in the prefrontal cortex of the brain start processing information in anticipation of where we are going to look before we ever do it, suggesting that selective processing might be the mechanism for visual stability.
Noudoost said this new information can help scientists better understand the underlying causes of problems such as dyslexia and attention deficit disorders.
According to Frances Lefcort, the head of the Department of Cell Biology and Neuroscience, the team’s basic research may have implications for understanding a myriad of mental health issues.
"Schizophrenia and attention deficit disorders have been linked to visual stability, so the work Behrad is doing offers valuable knowledge to other scientists working in cognitive neuroscience," Lefcort said.
"Understanding how a healthy brain works is important in terms of knowing its impact on cognitive functions such as memory, learning and in this case attention," Noudoost said. "By exploring normal brain function, we can better understand what happens in someone with a mental illness."
According to Lefcort, Noudoost and neuroscience professor Charles Gray are strengthening MSU’s contribution to the field of cognitive neuroscience.
"Behrad is an exquisitely trained neuroscientist. He offers students a viewpoint as both scientist and a physician," Lefcort said. "We are thrilled to have him and he has already brought new energy and is bolstering our impact on the growing field of brain research."
Noudoost joined MSU’s Department of Cell Biology and Neuroscience last summer from Stanford University and has already been awarded a $225,000 Whitehall Foundation grant for neuroscience. Whitehall Foundation grants are awarded to established scientists working in neurobiology.
"I am colorblind and I wanted to see the world as others could see it," Noudoost said explaining why he was first drawn into this type of research. "Although I still don’t see the world in the same colors as everyone else, I am more amazed everyday by the brain."
The Human Brain
The first time I held a human brain in Anatomy Lab I was completely speechless. I looked at my classmates expecting a similar reaction and they looked back at me confused like…”dude let’s start identifying the structures.” I had to take a step back and let it process…in my hands was someone’s entire life. From start to finish, every memory, every emotion, every bodily control…was right there in my hands.
A QUT scientist is hoping to unlock the potential of stem cells as a way of repairing neural damage to the brain.
Rachel Okolicsanyi, from the Genomics Research Centre at QUT’s Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, said unlike other cells in the body which were able to divide and replicate, once most types of brain cells died, the damage was deemed irreversible.
Ms Okolicsanyi is manipulating adult stem cells from bone marrow to produce a population of cells that can be used to treat brain damage.
"My research is a step in proving that stem cells taken from the bone marrow can be manipulated into neural cells, or precursor cells that have the potential to replace, repair or treat brain damage," she said.
Ms Okolicsanyi’s research has been published in Developmental Biology journal, and outlines the potential stem cells have for brain damage repair.
"What I am looking at is whether or not stem cells from the bone marrow have the potential to differentiate or mature into neural cells," she said.
"Neural cells are those cells from the brain that make everything from the structure of the brain itself, to all the connections that make movement, voice, hearing and sight possible."
Ms Okolicsanyi’s research is looking at heparin sulfate proteoglycans - a family of proteins found on the surface of all cells.
"What we are hoping is that by manipulating this particular family of proteins we can encourage the stem cells to show a higher percentage of neural markers indicating that they could mature into neural cells rather than what they would normally do, which is form into bone, cartilage and fat," she said.
"We will manipulate these cells by modifying the surrounding environment. For example we will add chemicals such as complex salts and other commonly found biological chemicals to feed these cells and this will either inhibit or encourage cellular processes."
Ms Okolicsanyi said by doing this, it would be possible to see the different reactions stem cells had to particular chemicals and find out whether these chemicals could increase or decrease the neural markers in the cells.
"The proteins that we are interested in are almost like a tree," she said.
"They have a core protein that is attached to the cell surface and they have these heparin sulfate chains that branch off.
"So when the chemicals we add influence the stem cell in different ways, it will help us understand the interactions between proteins and the resulting changes in the cell.
"In the short-term it is proof that simple manipulations can influence the stem cell and in the long-term it is about the possibility of increasing the neural potential of these stem cells."
Ms Okolicsanyi said the big picture plan was to be able to introduce stem cells into the brain that would be able to be manipulated to repair damaged brain cells.
"The idea, for example, is that in stroke patients where the patient loses movement, speech or control of one side of their face because the brain’s electrical current is impaired, that these stem cells will be able to be introduced and help the electrical current reconnect by bypassing the damaged cells."
UAB News - New test measuring cell bioenergetic health could become key tool in personalized medicine
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What does a nerve synapse, the point where a signal is passed to the next neuron, really look like? Your biology textbook probably had a picture like this:
The reality, reported by German scientists this week in the journal Science, is much, much more complex. They pieced together the blobby jumble through microscopy and advanced protein science, giving us the best picture yet of what a nerve synapse really looks like.
We’ve already talked about how cells are not bags of water filled with a few organelles, and the synapse is no exception, as it has to shuttle packages of chemicals in and out of the cell sometimes dozens of times per second. The 100+ trillion synapses in your brain all depend on this seemingly chaotic (but really it’s highly regulated) architecture to function.
Looking at this, it’s a wonder that our nerves work at all. But they do, and despite what looks like chaos, they work quite well. I mean, think about it (there they go working again) … they’re what let us figure all this out in the first place.
A 3D model of synaptic architecture. ”We used an integrative approach, combining quantitative immunoblotting and mass spectrometry to determine protein numbers; electron microscopy to measure organelle numbers, sizes, and positions; and super-resolution fluorescence microscopy to localize the proteins. Using these data, we generated a three-dimensional model of an “average” synapse, displaying 300,000 proteins in atomic detail.” Via.