You are on page 1of 12

THE

TΣCHI
AN INSIGHT INTO THE WORLD WE LIVE IN… THE WORLD OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY…

In This Issue

Is modern technology changing the way our brain works? ...................................................................

DriveLAB – An Intelligent Car To Keep Old People Driving … ..........................................................

New found gene may help bacteria survive in extreme environment ..................................................

TECHI TIDBITS: Did You Know This? ..............................

Mind Bending Material Properties ....................................

The Universe Weighs Less Than We Thought ...................

The Placebo Effect .............................................................

How Many Times Can You Connect A Lego Brick Before It Starts Connecting? .............................................

Ancient Antarctic Life 60 Feet Below The Surface ........

The Smell Of White ..............................................................

Massive Planet 13 Times The Size Of Jupiter ...................

and what would it do to those who could not get their hands on the pills? Would some finally have become more equal than others. This crisis could reshape how we interact with each other. is malleable not just in early childhood but right up to early adulthood. It would be a world where such devices could enhance our muscle power. and modify our capacity for reaching our full potential as individuals. But one vital fact is learnt is that the brain is not the unchanging organ that we might imagine. in some tragic cases. or our senses. And it's caused by one simple fact: the human brain.THE TΣCHI IS MODERN TECHNOLOGY CHANGING THE WAY OUR BRAIN WORKS? Human identity. it is also substantially shaped by what we do to it and by the experience of daily life. As for drug manipulated moods. It not only goes on developing.of us all. the infinitely complex network of nerve cells that make up the constituent parts of the brain actually change in response to certain experiences and stimuli. beyond the norm. and. and between our bodies and the outside world. and give Ritalin to children to improve their concentration. pharmaceuticallyenhanced 21st century is doing to our brains. Unless we wake up to the damage that the gadget-filled. I'm talking literally. which is the most sensitive of organs. It is a crisis that would threaten long-held notions of who we are.but there are great dangers as well. The brain. and where we all take a daily cocktail of drugs to control our moods and performance. When I say "shaped". At a microcellular level. as George Orwell always feared? Of course. in certain instances. beyond. a cure . and I believe that we are seeing some of those today. there are benefits from technical progress . The surrounding . eventually deteriorating with age.although so far only to a medically prescribed extent. It goes right to the heart .for Alzheimer's disease. A neuroscientist and day-to-day research strives for an ever greater understanding . I'm not talking figuratively or metaphorically.and therefore maybe. we could be sleepwalking towards a future in which neuro-chip technology blurs the line between living and non-living machines. Paxil as an antidote for shyness. in other words. could be facing an unprecedented crisis. Already. But what if there were still more pills to enhance or "correct" a range of other specific mental functions? What would such aspirations to be "perfect" or "better" do to our notions of identity. the idea that defines each and every one of us. Increasing numbers of people already take Prozac for depression.or the head . they're already with us . alter what makes us happy. an electronic chip is being developed that could allow a paralysed patient to move 0 a robotic limb just by thinking about it. what we do and how we behave. changing and. is under threat from the modern world. one day.

Social advancement was nigh on impossible and the concept of "individuality" took a back seat. For the first time. which for the first time The pace of offered rewards for initiative. are not. there's a danger that that This will affect cherished sense of self could be our brains over diminished or even lost. none of under the whom could previously play the piano. there's nothing new about that: human brains have been changing. affects our personality.ones which could environment be shaped by their own thoughts and and in the actions. That only arrived with the Industrial Revolution. wireless networks. the modern world could well be altering our human identity. influence of an ever. such as widely available illegal drugs like cannabis and heroin. the brains of those who simply sat in the same room as the piano hadn't changed at all. Three hundred years ago. world. some of which. our notions of human identity were vastly simpler: we were defined by the family we were born into and our position within that family. of new technologies But with our brains now under such has increased widespread attack from the modern dramatically. such as prescribed drugs like Ritalin and Prozac. practise for five days. The resultant brain scans were extraordinary.THE TΣCHI environment has a huge impact both on the way our brains develop and how that brain is transformed into a unique human mind. Bluetooth links . MP3 players. Not surprisingly. are supposed to be of benefit. In short. of new technology: multichannel The first group were taken into a room television. in turn. startling piece of research conducted at Harvard Medical School. adapting and developing in response to outside stimuli for centuries. Of course. Suddenly. a Our brains are group of adult volunteers. And that. Electronic devices and pharmaceutical drugs all have an impact on the microcellular structure and complex biochemistry of our brains. ingenuity change in the and ambition. Equally unsurprising was the fact that those who had performed the piano . There. individuals development had a real sense of self. with a piano and given intensive piano the internet. our behaviour and our characteristics. intrusions. The second group were taken into an identical room with But our modern brains are also having an identical piano . 1 And the third group were taken into an identical room with an identical piano and were then told that for the next five days they had to just imagine they were practising piano exercises. and some of which. the next 100 Anyone who doubts the malleability of years in ways we might never the adult brain should consider a have imagined. people had outside their own life stories .the list goes on and on. video games.expanding world were split into three groups.but had nothing to to adapt to other 21st century do with the instrument at all.

personality or behaviour. what changes might long (devices that convert sound waves into stints playing violent computer games electronic impulses and enable the bring about? That eternal teenage deaf to hear) and a skull-mounted protest of 'it's only a game. neurochip technology higher thoughts and feelings are becomes more widely available. because what we are . it's real. however. This games-driven generation interpret the world through screen-shaped eyes. Attention spans are shorter.choose to inhabit is producing changes in behaviour. it's pretty clear that the screen-based. It has been therefore some presumably minor recently suggested that someone change in the way the aspiring player could be fitted with a cochlear implant performs. These incontrovertibly linked. personal communication skills are reduced and 2 Then. marriages. We mustn't. Only one thing cellular level translate into changes in is certain: those boundaries are character.and it's sometimes difficult to know the sort of changes that the Harvard where the boundaries of our experimenters reported at the microindividuality actually lie. we really would have arrived at the point which science fiction writers have been getting excited about for years.births. Mind reading! It was a joke. there's a marked reduction in the ability to think abstractly. particularly among the young. Bebo or YouTube. two dimensional world that so many teenagers . But weakening. Already. Mum' micro. and when. Today's technology is already producing a marked shift in the way we think and behave. be too censorious. Add that to the huge amount of personal information now stored on the internet . and has a physical basis in your brain. telephone numbers. but for how long the gag remains funny is far from clear. holiday pictures Alas. It's almost as if something hasn't really happened until it's been posted on Facebook. "The power of imagination" is not a metaphor. research).THE TΣCHI exercises saw marked structural changes in the area of the brain associated with finger movement. no neuroscientist can explain how . But what was truly astonishing was that the group who had merely imagined doing the piano exercises saw changes in brain structure that were almost as pronounced as those that had actually had lessons. credit ratings. we don't need to know that to realise that changes in brain structure and our And they could weaken further still if. tiny devices will take advantage of the What worries me is that if something as discovery that nerve cells and silicon innocuous as imagining a piano lesson chips can happily co-exist. and and the human body.chip that converts brain waves certainly begins to ring alarmingly into words (a prototype is under hollow.and a growing number of adults . if both devices were connected to a wireless network. allowing an can bring about a visible physical interface between the electronic world change in brain structure. it seems.

.THE TΣCHI talking about is pleasure.was part of the diverse portfolio of normal human life. for others. And are in distinct danger of detaching nor is it believed that we can somehow themselves from what the rest of us be made much happier . Now. When someone we moment of pleasure forever. it's clear workings of the human brain. Throw in circumstantial 3 mind. but there may be some potential advantages to be gained from our growing understanding of the human brain's tremendous plasticity. and the that there is some truth in the adage extraordinary process by which it is "use it or lose it". would consider the real world.that is to say. This is a without somehow anaesthetising trend that worries me profoundly. see potential in one particular direction. activity during which you truly "let yourself go" . drugs and rock 'n' roll. As We are optimistic and excited by what Alzheimer's research has shown. at least. when it future research will reveal into the comes to higher brain function. We think it is It cannot be said certainly that all video possible that we might one day be able games are addictive (as yet. endless hours at the computer console. Until now. For as ourselves against the sadness and any alcoholic or drug addict will tell misery that is part and parcel of the you. coinciding with the moment when technology and pharmaceutical companies are finding ever more ways to have a direct influence on the human brain. that creativity . you have to come down. But we do. Sooner or love dies. more recently. pleasure is becoming the sole be-all and end-all of many lives. and that the heaviest users of these games might soon begin to do a pretty good impersonation of an addict. there is to harness outside stimuli in such a way not enough research to back that up).surely the ultimate and we can genuinely welcome the expression of individuality . paradoxically. that is. it's long been accepted that 'pure' pleasure . especially among the young. evidence that links a sharp rise in diagnoses of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and the associated three-fold increase in Ritalin prescriptions over the past ten years with the boom in computer games and you have an immensely worrying scenario. But whatever your particular variety of pleasure (and energetic sport needs to be added to the list). But we are also concerned that we seem to be so oblivious to the dangers that are already upon us.not. later. and manipulate the education system). But we mustn't be too pessimistic about the future. It may sound frighteningly Orwellian. nobody can be trapped in the human condition. For some.is actually new generation of "brain-training" boosted rather than diminished. and for millions today. translated into a uniquely individual However. pleasure means song. we still want to be able to cry. computer games aimed at keeping the little grey cells active for longer. playing certain games can mimic addiction. What if we could create an environment that would allow the brain to develop in a way that was seen to be of universal benefit? We are not convinced completely that scientists will ever find a way of manipulating the brain to make us all We could be raising a hedonistic much cleverer (it would probably be generation who live only in the thrill of cheaper and far more effective to the computer-generated moment.

both good and bad.THE TΣCHI Well." Funded by Research Councils UK's Digital Economy programme the research is part of the Social inclusion through the Digital Economy (SiDE) project. a £12m research hub led by Newcastle University. particularly those living alone or in rural areas. Identity. the very essence of what it is to be human. Our children. and certainly our grandchildren. Professor of Intelligent Transport Systems at Newcastle University. Using the new DriveLAB as well as the University's driving simulator. the leading researcher on the older driver study1. lane position. speed.""For example. giving them the freedom to get out and about without having to rely on others. night vision systems and intelligent speed adaptations older drivers can continue driving. Phil Blythe. the Newcastle team is investigating invehicle technologies for older drivers which they hope could help them to continue driving into later life. most of us DRIVELAB – AN INTELLIGENT CAR TO KEEP OLD PEOPLE DRIVING … Imagine driving a car with eye trackers and biomonitors! 'DriveLAB' is an electric car converted to a mobile laboratory by the scientists at Newcastle University."What we are doing is to look at ways of keeping people driving safely for longer." "But we all have to accept that as we get older our reactions slow down and this often results in people avoiding any potentially challenging driving conditions and losing confidence in their driving skills. which in turn boosts independence and keeps us socially connected. explains: "For many older people. driving is essential for maintaining their independence. stress levels and driving habits while sat behind the steering wheel is being used by the Intelligent Transport team at Newcastle University to develop new technologies to support older drivers. According to the scientists. is open to change . UK. research shows that giving up driving is one of the key factors responsible for a fall in health and well-being among older people. They believe that including bespoke navigation tools. leading to them becoming more isolated and inactive. will not thank us if we put off discussion much longer. acceleration. Dr Amy Guo. reaction. Led by Professor Phil Blythe. The research car which monitors driver's concentration. The result is that people stop driving before they really need to. braking and driving efficiency. the team have been working with older people from across the North East and Scotland to understand their driving habits and fears and look at ways of overcoming them. that debate must start now. 4 . By incorporating the eye tracker and bio-monitor with the driving simulator the team monitors eye movement. explains: "The DriveLAB is helping us to understand what the key stress triggers and difficulties are for older drivers and how we might use technology to address these problems.

named HpnR.""We're looking at the bacterial lipids known as 3benefits of systems which control your methylhopanoids. came out of the focus groups was that to identify dramatic changes in oxygen while the older generation is often keen levels over the course of geologic to try new technologies it's their lack of history. scientists had observed relatively few signs of methane-eating microbes in the area. methaneeating bacteria bloomed in the Gulf of Mexico. Mobility and Quality of Life conference in Michigan in June. and confidence in. digital technologies which puts them ―The thing that interests us is that this off. Researcher Chris HpnR protein may also be used as a Emmerson. to break the speed limit and be at risk that is responsible for producing of getting fined. NEW FOUND GENE MAY HELP BACTERIA SURVIVE IN EXTREME ENVIRONMENT In the days following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Now researchers at MIT have discovered a bacterial gene that may explain this sudden influx of methaneeating bacteria. such as a post box or accident. from the damaged well.‖ says MIT Department of Earth. The constant speed and so were more likely gene codes for a protein."Another solution is a tailored prepare nutrient-starved microbes to SatNav which identifies the safest route make a sudden appearance in nature – such as avoiding right turns and dual when conditions are favourable. along with oil. The lipid produced by the public house. The sudden influx of microbes was a scientific curiosity: Prior to the oil spill."The work past. we found that in 30mph oil spill. sending a text or eating can affect our driving. The researchers say speed as a way of preventing producing these lipids may better that. feasting on the methane that 5 . experience with. is being presented at the Aging. Also. they felt most were designed could be a window into the geologic with younger people in mind.and uses pictures as as after the Deepwater Horizon turning cues. This gene enables bacteria to survive in extreme. and the oxygen needed to zones they struggled to keep at a metabolize it — become available. oxygenwould expect older drivers always go depleted environments. or a signature in rock layers.THE TΣCHI gushed. explains: "One thing that biomarker. such carriageways . The driving simulator is also being used to look at how distractions such as answering a mobile phone. lying dormant slower than everyone else but until food — such as methane from an surprisingly.

During the first week. both of which consumed methane and grew at about the same modern bacteria.‖Welander and EAPS Professor that codes for the protein HpnR. Hopanoids have also been identified in two groups. from the very ancient traces of single-celled organisms to the well as cultures of wild. Welander pored over the bacteria’s The ultimate causes are genome and identified hpnR. The team exposed both key biomarkers geologists have used to strains to low levels of oxygen and high identify the earliest forms of life is a class levels of methane over a two-week of lipids called hopanoids. as life’s evolution. there was little difference between the in sediment for billions of years. capsulatus is especially interesting for its structure: The organism contains a type of hopanoid with a five-ring molecular structure that contains a C-3 methylation. which Roger Summons have published their is specifically associated with C-3 results this week in the Proceedings of methylation. periods of very low oxygen. who led the research. It’s at these key events. Welander examined a modern strain of bacteria called Methylococcus capsulatus. It seems to be part in ancient rocks. ―In the geologic record. the gene unknown. But Welander says hopanoids may be used to identify more than early life forms: The molecular fossils may be biomarkers for environmental phenomena — such as. However. has been of interest to scientists for its ability to efficiently consume large quantities of methane — which could make it helpful in bioremediation and biofuel development. The organism. we see a number of mass extinction events where there is also evidence of oxygen depletion in the ocean. where we also see increases in all these biomarkers as well as indicators of used them as signs of the presence of similar bacteria billions of years ago. unaltered recent fossils of vertebrates. and geologists studying the lipids in ancient rocks have rate. for instance. which also lives in oxygen-poor environments such as deep-sea vents and mud volcanoes. ocean deoxygenation and biotic extinction. on day 14. whose sturdy period to simulate an oxygen-poor molecular structure has preserved them environment. delete the gene. To test her theory. a widely studied organism first isolated from an ancient Roman bathhouse in Bath. many millions of years ago. and immediately afterward. of a syndrome of warming. creating a mutant strain. the 6 . England. even when the rest of the organism has since disappeared.THE TΣCHI Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS) postdoc Paula Welander. One of the bacteria. Geologists have found that such methylations in the ring0 structure are particularly well-preserved climate disturbance. For Welander and Summons. M. She devised a method to the National Academy of Sciences. Welander and Summons then Earth’s rocky layers hold remnants of grew cultures of this mutant strain.

‖ The results.THE TΣCHI researchers observed the wild strain begin to outgrow the mutant bacteria.‖ nutrients. They’re really poised to take advantage of something like this. such as membranes. are especially exciting from a geological What might explain the dramatic perspective.―You have these communities kind of just getting by. they can pick up very quickly. If 3-methylhopanoids do contrast in survival rates? To answer this. 7 . ―Their results are a needed step in providing context for interpreting the distribution of these biomarkers in the geological record. a professor of they can. are a clue this a better biomarker for geologists.‖ Valentine says. ―Then when microbial geochemistry at the University of California at Santa Barbara. she found they eventually bounced back to levels that matched the wild strain. She and Welander says. enabling wild type was filled with normal geologists to better understand periods membranes and vacuoles. When Welander added the hpnR gene back into the mutant bacteria. ―This work demonstrates an important unity in biology.―The original goal was [to] make membranes. indeed allow bacteria to survive in the team used electron microscopy to times of low oxygen. which plays an important role in the membranes of human and animal cells. then a spike of the examine the cellular structures in both related lipid in the rock record could mutant and wild bacteria. but in the end we also want to may preserve bacteria’s cell make a broader impact. The missing offs. They indicate a dramatic decrease in discovered a stark difference: While the oxygen in Earth’s history.‖ to the lipid’s function.‖ Welander says. says the group’s target lipid is akin to cholesterol. which may reinforce the learning how microorganisms deal with microbe in times of depleted hydrocarbons in the environment. He says the gene identified by the group may play a similar role in bacteria. ―It’s very meticulous Summons posit that the hpnR gene [work]. they get a blast of oxygen or methane. Welander says. the mutant of mass extinctions or large ocean diestrain had none. surviving on what David Valentine. Welander says.

This new material. We know that galaxies' matter orbits a single central point — we've observed it! — and that must mean their own motion generates enough centripetal force to make that happen. or what it means. the magnetic field they produce reverses direction. breaks double time-reversal symmetry. though. then proudly stated that there must be more stuff out there than we can see. how it works. worried a little. That means you need to reverse time four times for the behavior to get back to its original state. You have to reverse time twice to get them back to their original state. The scientists who 8 When the world's best scientists decided to team up and measure the mass of the universe all the way back in the 1970s. they came up with an answer — an answer which sadly predicts our universe should be falling apart. that's the appropriate reaction. That's the theory behind what everyone now . The Universe Weighs Less Than We Thought In January. a team of physicists from Rutgers and MIT published a paper in Nature describing a new property of matter. they found that it breaks something called double time-reversal symmetry. because if you reverse time. It's something the scientists have dubbed hastatic order — and if you're struggling to get your head round it. Applying their best understanding of gravity and the dynamics of galaxies. though. they set themselves a pretty tall challenge.THE TΣCHI TECHI TIDBITS: DID YOU KNOW THIS? Mind Bending Material Properties discovered the phenomenon can't explain a good physical example of what it is. So physicists scratched their heads. then. One to keep on the back burner. well. Normal time-reversal symmetry states that the motion of particles looks the same running back and forth in time: magnets break that. URu2Si2. But calculations suggest that there's not actually enough mass in the galaxies to produce the forces required to keep themselves moving in the way we've observed. though. While fiddling around with a super-cooled Uranium compound.

But experiments have shown that the kind of nothing you deliver matters: when placebos are laced with a drug that blocks the effects of morphine. repeatedly assembling and disassembling them until they no longer held together on their own. his health can endure more playtime than you will improve in a similar way to someone can probably throw at it in a lifetime. it turns out the magic number was 37. After ten full days of testing.112 attempts—which is amazing. But if we're ever to make anything of the much-studied but little-understood effect. effectively. While that proves that the placebo effect is somehow biochemical—and not just a psychological effect—we know practically nothing else about the power of placebo. So he built a small machine designed to stress test a pair of six-stud Lego bricks. agreed. taking real drugs. a bunch of nothing can improve your health. we're going to have to unpick how the mind can affect the body's biochemistry— and. nobody knows. it could be a powerful treatment technique. and Phillipe Cantin wanted to know exactly when that would happen. 9 . Of course that number will certainly vary from piece to piece. but Feed a sick man a dummy pill that he it's good to know your Lego collection thinks will cure him and. It's real. often. sure. the effect vanishes. The only problem? In the past 40 years. It can help people get better. But over time your Lego pieces will wear out with use and eventually stop sticking. the problem thrown up by those initial calculations remains. The Placebo Effect How Many Times Can You Connect A Lego Brick Before It Starts Connecting? The moulds used to create plastic Lego pieces are engineered with extreme precision so that the bricks stay connected via friction alone. In theory. right now. nobody has confirmed whether it really exists or not—so.THE TΣCHI refers to as Dark Matter. for instance. In other words.

it circles a proportionally gigantic star 2. flowers." by combining a large assortment of widely diverse smells (meat. This system's existence proves that super-sized stars are capable of producing super-sized planets. scientists have discovered samples of previously unknown species of bacteria swimming around in it. it's in Antarctica. which weirdly doesn't gobble up nearby stars and planets as black holes tend to do. Massive Planet 13 Times The Size Of Jupiter Kappa Adromedaeb is a world so big it defies conventional classification.) to give our noses a whiff of pure equilibrium. or "olfactory white. We can hear white noise. For another. untouched by outside oxygen or light. But what about a white smell? For the first time. scientists have compiled what they've deemed a completely neutral scent. The Smell Of White We can see the colour white. 10 . Biggest Black Hole Ever What's 250 million light-years away from Earth and possesses 17 billion times the mass of our own sun? This black hole at the heart of the galaxy NGC 1277. At 13 times the size of Jupiter.5 times larger than our own sun. etc. Now after years of drilling.THE TΣCHI Ancient Antarctic Life 60 Feet Below The Surface Lake Vida isn't like other lakes. it's located deep beneath a 60-footthick slab of ice — and has consequently been cut off from the surface world for 2. suggesting that life can exist in conditions previously deemed unfit. For one thing.800 years.