Author: Stefan Fincken

Society of Simulations

Virtual Nose for Video Game Players

Fervent gamers and those who tried virtual reality headsets might have experienced a sensation of nausea induced by playing video games. It is a common feeling while interacting many hours with electronic games.

Bradley Ziegler, student at Purdue University, suggested to add a virtual nose to VR experiences. His game design teacher, David Whittinghill, describes the addition of a virtual nasal organ as a “stroke of genius”.

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The First Recorded Attack on a Cyborg

By his own account Steve Mann, also known as “the father of wearable computing” and “the first cyborg,” was attacked by McDonald’s employees for wearing his “EyeTap” digital eye glass last July in Paris. Still far away from the intelligence gathering “gargoyles” described in Neal Stephenson’s cyberpunk novel “Snow Crash” the EyeTap allows Mann to improve sight and film his surroundings while projecting the captured image with an added layer of augmented reality to his eye.

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Bionic Protein

Researcher Create Fully Artificial Proteins

Though not yet as functional as biological proteins, these artificial proteins created by physicists at the University of Vienna are the first versatile and modular examples of a fully artificial protein. Their method involves the self-assembly of simple particles into polymer chains. By controlling the interaction between the beginning and end of the polymer chain they are able to “lock” the folded end result.

Proteins are the molecular machines that form the building blocks of all living organisms, and underlie complex bio-molecular processes within our bodies. From muscle contraction to DNA replication, proteins are involved in uncountable biological activities. This research presents a foundation on which novel applications can be built, from material sciences to new forms of drug delivery. One day, these bionic proteins might very well be integrated into our own biology.

Via Medienportal


Nanoscale Bouquet of Flowers

About 25 micrometers wide and 100 micrometers tall these “flowers,” created by scientists at Harvard, are made from barium carbonate and silica. Through a complex chemical process, the researchers can induce these tiny flower-like structures to self-assemble. By controlling the environmental temperature different shapes and sizes can be coaxed to spontaneously form.

This method of manufacturing nano-scale structures has implications for the nano-industry in the long run. But for now, I would really love to order a custom made nano-bouquet for my girlfriend, accompanied by a false color image, as the bouquet would be next to invisible to the naked eye.

Story via



Book as Human-Computer Interface

In combining the classic feeling of handling a book with the interactivity of the computer, Waldek W?grzyn of the Academy of Fine Arts in Katowice, Poland, has created a new human-computer interface. His Electrolibraryproject connects the custom made book to a PC. Providing additional information, relevant to the page being viewed, on-screen. Turn a page in the book, and you “turn a page” on the website as well.

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Food Technology

Tiny Amounts of Alcohol Might Extend Life

A new study on the effects of cholesterol on the life span of Caenorhabditiselegans, a tiny worm often used in experimentation, resulted in some surprising finds. The life span of the critters was doubled. Now it turned out it wasn’t the cholesterol after all. The cause of the effect was set in motion by the solvent used to deliver the cholesterol. The solvent used? Alcohol.

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Effortless Learning

Matrix-style learning sounds like an impossibility, yet new research suggests it might become reality.

Boston University and ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories in Kyoto have conducted experiments in which they demonstrated that they could induce brain activity patterns through a person’s visual cortex, thereby improving a subject’s performance on a visual task. The researchers used decoded functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and neurofeedback to make the subject’s brain activity match that of another person who had previously learned the task.

The result, say researchers, is a novel approach to learning sufficient to cause long-lasting improvement in tasks that require visual performance. This research might some day lead to applications that could enable you to learn to shred a guitar like Hendrix while not even thinking about what you want to learn. According to lead author and BU neuroscientist Takeo Watanabe, “We found that subjects were not aware of what was to be learned while behavioral data obtained before and after the neurofeedback training showed that subjects’ visual performance improved specifically for the target orientation, which was used in the neurofeedback training.”

Video explanation here: Researchers explain Decoded Neurofeedback

Synthetic Cricket Hair

Crickets Inspire New Sensitive Sensor

Inspired by crickets, researchers of the MESA+ Institute for Nanotechnology of the University of Twente in the Netherlands have build a biomimetic sensor that can measure changes in airflow and pressure. It resembles the same sensory system of ‘filiform hairs’ that crickets use to perceive their predators.

The tiny artificial hairs, made of polymer SU8, are broader at the base and thinner near the top. The base of each hair rests on a flexible surface that, when moved, changes its electrical capacity, thus providing a means to meassure movement. By alternating the voltage, the hairs can be made more or less stiff, changing the sensitivity to movement. If the hairs are limper, they can measure smaller movements in airflow and pressure, up to ten times as much compared to a stiff hair.

Via University of Twente.


Robot Guide Dog

Possibly the answer for blind people with cynophobia, the fear of dogs. This robot guide dog is stil a bit slow compared to the old nature version, but as technology advances it will surely compete with the old, trusted, yet expensive guide dogs.



Bugged Bugs

Some of you might remember the Next Nature article by Rolf Coppens called Withus Oragainstus. Since then there have been occasional newsreports on cyborg insects. For instance this article from 2009 describing partly succesful attampts to wirelesly control the flight of beetles by connecting electrodes, a small battery and antenna’s to their nervous system.

Now professor Khalil Najafi, the chair of electrical and computer engineering, and doctoral student Erkan Aktakka at the University of Michigan have incorporated thin-film solar cells, piezoelectric and thermoelectric energy harvesters to extend the batterylife that could be used to supply sensors and even a small camera with the needed juice. Imagine a swarm of these as first responders at hazardous sites like Fukushima, gathering information on radiation and other dangerous substances.

Sentient Spaces

Trading Humans for Trading Algorithms

The economic system and profit motive has been a driving force that steers and even dictates social change. Investors and stockbrokers have been a major influence to these social changes, as they decide where money is allocated to serve a specific function. The reason why money is invested in some rather than other businesses isn’t always related to evidence that any given company will do better than the other. Rumors and trading floor gossip sometimes fuel speculations that reap major profits for some and painful losses for others. Losses that could mean the termination of jobs. Of course investment and successive financial gains can also lead to job losses, mostly due to automation where machines replace human workers.

Now in a strange yet somewhat satisfactory twist of irony, the people who have been making money out of money, have a growing chance of being replaced by faster and cheaper algorithms that can do their jobs better.

“The Foresight Project” by the “Government Office for Science” of the United Kingdom produced a report called “The Future of Computer Trading in Financial Markets” which investigates the trends of computer trading and its effects on financial markets. One of these effects is the replacement of human speculators by algorithms. Thus far about a third of UK trading is done by computers compared to three quarters in the United States.

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Drugs are Nuts

Thinking about Next Nature can sometimes result in a feeling of vertigo. Normal standards are eroded and slowly replaced by next natural ones. A bewildering example can be found in a letter the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sent to a manufacturer of walnuts.

Based on claims made on your firm’s website, we have determined that your walnut products are promoted for conditions that cause them to be drugs because these products are intended for use in the prevention, mitigation, and treatment of disease. The following are examples of the claaims made on your firm’s website under the heading of a web page stating “OMEGA-3s … Every time you munch a few walnuts, you’re doing your body a big favor.”

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Spidergoats & Superskin

While some of us might have heard of the humorous but fictional ‘spider pig,’ spidergoats are the real deal. Although you might expect to see them lounging in giant webs or dangling from the ceiling, spidergoats actually look and behave like normal, everyday goats.

Randy Lewis, professor of molecular biology at the University of Wyoming, has geneticly modified goats so they produce the same protein in their milk that spiders use to spin their webs. As you might have guessed, milking spiders is a difficult job. Milking goats, on the other hand, has been done for centuries. Not only are goats easy to handle, they don’t tend to eat each other like spiders do. They also produce much more of the spider silk-protein than a single or even a hundred spiders can.

The silk spiders produce is a very thin yet strong material. The tensile strength of a silk strand varies from species to species.  Some spiders, like Darwin’s Bark Spider, produced silk that is up to 10 times stronger than kevlar.

Bio-artist Jalila Essaïdi uses the spider silk produced by Randy Lewis’ goats to create superhuman skin that is partially bulletproof. “The work did stop some partially slowed bullets but not the one at full speed. But even with the skin pierced by the bullet the experiment is still a success. It leads to the conversation about how which form of safety would benefit society.”