The Cutting Edge: Week 3

August 13, 2014
by Anthony Tempest

Reprogramming the brain

When countries join forces, great things are achieved. Researchers from both the University of Western Australia and the Université Pierre et Marie Curie in France have shown that magnetic pulses can shift abnormal neural connections to their more normal states. The method uses “weak sequential electromagnetic pulses (repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation – or rTMS)”, and has been shown to work on mice. This treatment can supposedly help with many nervous system disorders caused by abnormal brain organisation such as depression, epilepsy or tinnitus. To find out more about how this treatment works, read the article here.

IBMs brain chip

Ever wondered how close a computer chip comes to being brain-like? Well IBM have just launched a “brain-inspired” computer chip, which is the first chip to achieve one million programmable “neurons”, 256 million programmable “synapses”, and 46 billion “synaptic operations” per second per watt. Effectively, this chip is designed to simulate the structure of the brain. The chip, containing 5.4 billion transistors, is one of the largest CMOS chips ever built, yet consumes a tiny amount of power. This is due to the event-driven design of the chip, meaning it’s only ever used when it’s needed, reducing energy use and heat. To read more about the new non Von Neumann chip and its potential uses, click here.

Anti-gravity water

It sounds completely impossible, but researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have found a way to defy gravity’s effect on water and change the flow of light. This is done using “cilia”, microscopic hairlike structures, which are found throughout nature. The researchers have created synthetic cilia (pillars of nickel grafted on to transparent silicone), which can be manipulated using magnets to direct the flow of liquid and filter light. The magnets cause the microhairs to tilt, forming a path for fluid to flow through. This can direct water upwards, against gravity. The laws of physics have never seemed so fragile… Watch the video of it in action here!

Battery-free WiFi technology

If you’ve seen any other of our blog posts then you might have stumbled upon the Internet of Things (IoT). According to a computer science and engineering team at the University of Washington, the IoT revolution may not run on batteries, but instead on a technology called WiFi backscatter. This technology is a new communication system using existing radio frequency signals as a power source. WiFi backscatter devices could even harvest ambient RF signals from your TV, cellular devices and other WiFi transmissions. This is done by using antennas to pick up RF signals and convert them into electricity. Read more about the technology here.