Imagine the Final Moments of the "Sleeping Dragon" Dinosaur 

The spiky dinosaur — a nodosaur, an armored relative of the ankylosaur — was discovered at the Suncor Millennium Mine in Alberta in 2011.

Researchers were amazed to see that the fossil wasn't flattened by the millions of years of rock and sediment pressing down on it.

Instead, a combination of factors led to the exceptional 3D fossilization of the newly identified species, known as B. markmitchelli.

Soon after its death, the 18-foot-long (5.5 meters) was swept out into an ancient, inland seaway that stretched from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic Ocean.

Once there, the dinosaur drifted away from any predators on land, such as carnivorous dinosaurs, and from marine scavengers, such as freshwater crocodilians.

"It sank out in deep water, where there was not much in the way of animal life [because it was] too cold and dark, so not much in the way of scavengers."

The 3,000-lb. (1,360 kilograms) nodosaur landed on its back on the seabed with a gigantic thump, leaving an impact crater where the remains sank into deep ooze on the seabed.

Source: Sleeping Dragon: How This Dinosaur Got Preserved in 3D

This AI Butler Wants to Roam Your Home - MIT Technology Review


Wired reports that this sleek, 3-foot robot with a tablet for a face is essentially an AI butler for your home—a Siri or Alexa, only on wheels.

It will come rolling when you holler. It can use facial recognition to follow people around, so they can watch TV or Skype as they stroll. (?) And it taps Google’s artificial intelligence to help answer your questions.

1,000 robots will be made available November by its maker, Roboteam, and it’s planned to cost under $1,500 when it launches widely next year.

But, as MIT Tech review has argued in the past, current domestic robots are more a source of entertainment than much practical use, and are certainly not the kinds of practical machines that may one day be able to take over some of your household chores.

For now, you might be better off carrying your phone around the the home—especially if you have stairs.

Source: This AI Butler Wants to Roam Your Home - MIT Technology Review

"Imagine someone remotely controlling your brain, forcing your body’s central processing organ to send messages to your muscles that you didn’t authorize.

It’s an incredibly scary thought, but scientists have managed to accomplish this science fiction nightmare for real, albeit on a much small scale, and they were even able to prompt their test subject to run, freeze in place, or even completely lose control over their limbs. Thankfully, the research will be used for good rather than evil… for now."

Source: Scientists remotely hacked a brain, controlling body movements – BGR

Mars has snowstorms at night

A Martian meteorology study reveals rapidly falling snow above the planet’s surface.

Although Mars has very little water vapor in its atmosphere, ice clouds can still form above the red planet. Now, new research finds that these clouds unleash rapidly falling snow at night.

ResearchGate: What are the snowstorms like?

Montmessin: Most of the time, Martian cloud particles evaporate before they reach the surface, like virgas on Earth. Water-ice cloud particles form during the cold Martian night. Because they are able to cool the surrounding atmosphere—by losing heat through the emission of infrared radiation—they can lead to cold air over warmer air within the cloud.

This unstable condition triggers a descending plume of snow.

These turbulent storms, which can only form at night, act to vigorously mix the atmosphere, and in some places, deposit snow on the Martian surface.

We propose that Martian snowstorms are analogous to small localized storms on Earth called microbursts, in which cold dense air carrying snow or rain is rapidly transported downwards from a cloud.

Source: Mars has snowstorms at night

Creating Virtual Reality World to Experiment on Real Subjects

A new VR system allows scientists to perform precise experiments that investigate how such sensory cues are integrated into the brain.

Animals are placed in carefully calibrated 3-D VR space.

To maintain the relevant viewpoint as the animal moved around in the space, the team carefully calibrated the 3-D shape of the walls and how each patch of wall was illuminated by each projector pixel.

The team tested the virtual worlds on freely moving fruit flies, zebrafish, and mice. The virtual worlds allowed the team to study mice’s aversion to heights and how zebrafish respond to being swarmed by invaders. The results also show that restrained fly preparations are not suitable for studying the role of head movements in flight control.

“FreemoVR clearly gives the experimenter the power to put virtual objects in a fly’s environment, such as a post, which the animal will react to as if they are real.”

Card says that with systems like FreemoVR, researchers could change the visual stimuli a fly experiences in real time according to the animal’s behavior.  This could help dissect how the fly uses visual information to make behavioral choices.

The new system “does a very nice job of implementing freely moving VR,” agrees Albert Lee, also of Janelia, by email. He studies spatial learning in rats and says that the team’s experiment on mice shows the system can effectively simulate 3-D environmental structure from the animal’s point of view.

In the experiment, the team tested how mice respond to seeing different floor depths by having the animals walk on a circular track elevated above a checkerboard surface. Mice can sense height by using the relative movement of objects to determine their distance, so checks of the same size move differently if they are farther away.

The team then created a VR set-up by changing the projection of the squares so that they moved to give the perspective of being at different heights. While in the static set-up, the animals spent equal amounts of time above different areas of the floor, in both the real world and VR system, the mice spent more time above the flooring that wasn’t as far away.

“The animal reacts by showing a real-world-like ‘fear of heights,’” Lee says. Mice have an aversion to heights and spend most of their time over shallow depths in both real-world and virtual-reality conditions, a new study shows.

The application of the VR system in future mouse neurobiology work, particularly within the pharmaceutical industry.

Source: Virtual Reality for Freely Moving Animals | The Scientist Magazine®

Custom-Made Molecules

Imagine a deadly virus emerging in a part of the world without the resources for vaccine development. Now imagine if researchers on the other side of the world could send local medics an effective vaccine by email.

Dan Gibson and Craig Venter of Synthetic Genomics in La Jolla, California, started to imagine such a scenario shortly after an avian flu outbreak in China in 2013. The company had just developed a prototype DNA synthesizer (the BioXp 3200, now commercially available) that could produce DNA molecules from just a digital sequence.

“The authors paint this future where one might be able to, in a completely digital and automated fashion, go from DNA sequence to functional output,” says Michael Jewett, a chemical and biological engineer at Northwestern University who was not involved in the research. “Granted the prototype is a little bulky . . . but the idea that you could connect all these pieces together without human intervention is exciting.”

Source: Custom-Made Molecules | The Scientist Magazine®

Tech Titans Call to Stamp Out Killer Robots - MIT Technology Review

An open letter published today from 116 technologists, including DeepMind founder Mustafa Suleyman and (predictably) Elon Musk, calls on the United Nations to ban the development and use of autonomous weapons.

The note warns that killer robots "threaten to become the third revolution in warfare."It continues: "Once developed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought

The note warns that killer robots "threaten to become the third revolution in warfare."It continues: "Once developed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend ... We do not have long to act. Once this Pandora’s box is opened, it will be hard to close."

The Download from MIT Technology Review notes:

"It is by no means the first time that such concerns have been raised—a very similar letter was signed two years ago. But calls for an outright ban aren't necessarily the best way to police this threat. As we've explained in the past, the advances required to create truly autonomous weapons are still a little way off. And other experts believe that a call to halt research and development may overlook ethical arguments that would be better thrashed out: robot soldiers could, after all, mean fewer deaths on the battlefield."

Or maybe the protesting technologists just want to keep the robots for themselves.

Source: Tech Titans Call to Stamp Out Killer Robots - MIT Technology Review


Can Microbes Influence Their DNA to Speed Up Evolution?

In 1944 Evelyn Witkin made a fortuitous mistake. During her first experiment in a laboratory at Cold Spring Harbor, in New York, she accidentally irradiated millions of E. coli with a lethal dose of ultraviolet light.

When she returned the following day to check on the samples, they were all dead—except for one, in which four bacterial cells had survived and continued to grow.

Somehow, those cells were resistant to UV radiation. To Witkin, it seemed like a remarkably lucky coincidence that any cells in the culture had emerged with precisely the mutation they needed to survive—so much so that she questioned whether it was a coincidence at all.

For the next two decades, Witkin sought to understand how and why these mutants had emerged. Her research led her to what is now known as the SOS response, a DNA repair mechanism that bacteria employ when their genomes are damaged, during which dozens of genes become active and the rate of mutation goes up.

Those extra mutations are more often detrimental than beneficial, but they enable adaptations, such as the development of resistance to UV or antibiotics.

The question that has tormented some evolutionary biologists ever since is whether nature favored this arrangement. Is the upsurge in mutations merely a secondary consequence of a repair process inherently prone to error? Or, as some researchers claim, is the increase in the mutation rate itself an evolved adaptation, one that helps bacteria evolve advantageous traits more quickly in stressful environments?

Read the rest on

Dark Matter May Be Trapped in All the Black Holes via @NautilusMag

"This isn’t the first time scientists have suggested black holes might be dark matter, but we thought the possibility had been decisively ruled out."

The resurrection of the idea is but one example of the fertile creativity that follows a new discovery. Ideas that have been out of favor can come back into fashion, looked at in new light, and pursued with enthusiasm—superseding, in some cases, accepted views. These revisionary discoveries also bring together what seem like very disparate fields of research—in this case dark matter and gravitational waves—and lead to fruitful connections."

Source: Dark Matter May Be Trapped in All the Black Holes