Archive for May, 2014

Developing a Super Computer like the Human Brain

Did you know that you are actually a super computer? That inside your head is the most complex piece of equipment that has ever been studied by scientists? Yes, your brain is yet to be replicated by anyone anywhere in the world. There are three major projects around the world that are looking to replicate the functioning of the human brain.

The first is the European Union’s Human Brain Project, which aims to simulate a human brain on a supercomputer. The second one is the  U.S. BRAIN Project. Here BRAIN is an acronym for Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies. This project is using a tool-building approach like the scientists at Stanford who have some up with the Neurogrid.

The third comes from IBM and is called the SyNAPSE Project, which is short for Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics. As its name suggests this project hopes to redesign chips to emulate the ability of neurons to make a great many synaptic connections. It is this feature of the brain that allows it to work quickly and solve any problem it faces.

As you can see each team of scientists has picked up a different focus to conduct its research. However each one essentially is a science project based on the functioning of something every human being has, a brain.

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How Neurogrid was Born

Neurogrid is the name of the super fast and energy efficient circuit board constructed by the computer scientists at Stanford. It combines 16 customized ‘Neurocore’ chips on a single circuit the size of an iPad. This contraption aims at using silicon and software to build electronic systems that mimic neurons and synapses that occur in the human brain. The human brain is considered a superlative model and it is very difficult to mimic it and reproduce its actions.

The device was constructed with the support of the National Institutes of Health. It can simulate orders of magnitude more neurons and synapses than other brain mimics on the power it takes to run a tablet computer as per Kwabena Boahen. Boahen is an associate professor of bioengineering at Stanford and was closely involved with the actual construction of the device.

It cost $40,000 to build the Neurogrid prototype board. Boahen says that they are now working on creating a neurocompiler where you do not have to have any knowledge of synapses and neurons  and how the brain works, but can still work the device. The team of scientists he is working with hope to build prosthetic limbs for paralyzed people that can be controlled by a similar chip. That would be a really useful science project.


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The Brain of the Computer

Even the most complex computer does not compare with the sheer magnificence of the human brain. Understanding how it works has been one of the most challenging scientific projects of the century. Replicating the actions of the brain is what most researchers feel will lead to the biggest advance in robotics.

The scientists at Stanford University have come up with faster and more energy efficient microchips based on the design of the human brain. These new computer brains are nearly 9,000 times faster than the chips currently powering computers in the market today. They also run on 40,ooo times less power than a traditional personal computer.

These improvements bode well for the field of robotics where this newly developed circuit board can be put to experimental use in improving the speed and complexity of movement of robots. It may be possible to have robots move almost as quickly and naturally as humans do when they use this new microchip for processing their actions.

There is still much experimentation to do, but the microchip with its speed and energy efficiency has opened up new frontiers in the worlds of both robotics and computers. New science experiments will only improve on what the scientists at Stanford have managed to achieve.

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Wheels on Mars

Do you hate it when your car wheels hit a bumpy patch? That’s nothing compared to what driving on Mars does to your tyres!

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California was recently sent a set of wheels like the ones currently on the Mars Curiosity Rover for study. Scientists are trying to understand just how the wheels are bearing up to damage and how their performance is likely to be affected.

This scientific study was initiated by the Mars Science Laboratory Program (MSL) to understand why the pace of holes appearing in Curiosity’s aluminum wheels increased suddenly last year. The main culprit could be the terrain it was going over that was covered with sharp rocks.

Since 2014 the wheel damage has been brought under control by planning the route taken by the rover better. The science experiments being conducted on the wheels in JPL are hoping to understand how the damage occurs. The researchers will then develop means to reduce the pace of damage.

If they are able to anticipate the level of damage to the wheels, they will also be able to foretell just how the performance of Curiosity will be affected on Mars. This is one scientific study whose results will be applicable right away in the field.

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How the Nano Device Was Cloaked

The scientists at the  Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard were looking for a way to place smart DNA nanorobots in the blood stream. So far the body’s immune system would find and erase these DNA nanorobots. In an inspiration from nature the scientists decided to use a virus cloaking strategy for these nanorobots.

They decided to mimic a type of virus that protects its genome by enclosing it in a solid protein case, then layering on an oily coating identical to that in membranes that surround living cells. This contains a bilayer of phospholipid that helps the viruses evade the immune system and delivers them to the cell interior.

So the scientists first folded DNA into a virus-sized octahedron. Using DNA nanotechnology they built in handles to hang lipids, which in turn directed the assembly of a single bilayer membrane surrounding the octahedron. To see if they would survive inside the body they were injected with fluorescent dye and injected into mice.

In the past only the bladder of the mice would glow as they were broken down and processed to send out of the body. however the coated DNA nanorobots were successful. The whole body of the mouse glowed for hours after receiving this coated DNA nanorobot showing that they remained in the blood stream. What an interesting science project.

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