Posts Tagged ‘university college london’

Researchers Turn Home Wi-Fi Router Into Spy Device

August 4th, 2012 08:14 admin View Comments


hypnosec writes “Researchers at University College of London have applied principles of radar used in defense and designed a detector using home based Wi-Fi routers to spy on people across walls. Using the principles behind the Doppler effect … Karl Woodbridge and Kevin Chetty, at University College London, have built a prototype unit that uses Wi-Fi signals and recognizes frequency changes to detect moving objects. The size of the prototype unit is more or less the size of a suitcase. The unit contains a radio receiver comprising of two antennas and a signal-processing unit. The duo carried out test runs and … they managed to determine a person’s location, speed, and direction (even through a one foot thick brick wall). The device could be used to spot intruders, monitor children or the elderly, and could even be used in military applications.”

Source: Researchers Turn Home Wi-Fi Router Into Spy Device

The Artificial Life of the App Store

April 22nd, 2012 04:41 admin View Comments


mikejuk writes “How does the Apple App Store actually work? What is the best strategy to employ if you want to get some users and make some money? There are some pointers on how it all works from an unusual source — artificial life. A pair of researchers Soo Ling Lim and Peter Bentley from University College London, set up an artificial life simulation of the app store’s ecosystem. They created app developers with strategies such as — innovate, copy other apps, create useless variations on a basic app or try and optimize the app you have. What they found, among other things, was that the CopyCat strategy was on average the best. When they allow the strategies to compete and developer agents to swap then the use of the CopyCat fell to only 10%. The reason — more than 10% CopyCats resulted in nothing new to copy!”

Source: The Artificial Life of the App Store

Muslim Medical Students Boycott Darwin Lectures

November 27th, 2011 11:53 admin View Comments


First time accepted submitter Readycharged writes “The Daily Mail reports on a piece from The Sunday Times revealing that University College London have seen an increasing number of Muslim students boycotting lectures on Evolution due to clashes with the Koran. Steve Jones, Emeritus Professor of Human Genetics, says, ‘I’ve had one or two slightly frisky discussions with kids who belonged to fundamentalist Christian churches, now it’s Islamic overwhelmingly.’ He adds, ‘What they object to — and I don’t really understand it, I am not religious — they object to the idea that there is a random process out there which is not directed by God.’ The article also reveals that Evolutionary Biologist and former Oxford Professor Richard Dawkins also experienced Muslims walking out of such lectures.”

Source: Muslim Medical Students Boycott Darwin Lectures

Easily Distracted People May Have ‘Too Much Brain’

May 8th, 2011 05:42 admin View Comments

United Kingdom

fysdt writes with this excerpt from New Scientist: “Those who are easily distracted from the task in hand may have ‘too much brain.’ So says Ryota Kanai and his colleagues at University College London, who found larger than average volumes of grey matter in certain brain regions in those whose attention is readily diverted. To investigate distractibility, the team compared the brains of easy and difficult-to-distract individuals. [Abstract] They assessed each person’s distractibility by quizzing them about how often they fail to notice road signs, or go into a supermarket and become sidetracked to the point that they forget what they came in to buy. The most distractible individuals received the highest score.”

Source: Easily Distracted People May Have ‘Too Much Brain’

Scientists Grow World’s First Engineered Urethra, Created From Patients’ Cells

March 8th, 2011 03:42 admin View Comments

In a society where pill-popping is the answer to many a medical malady, severely dysfunctional or damaged organs are especially frustrating—they’re usually beyond the reach of any known drugs. Cell-based therapy, though, is no drug: Using patients’ own cells, medical experts have successfully grafted the first engineered-from-scratch urethras.

The story starts with five Mexican boys, aged 10 to 14, whose urethras were damaged beyond repair because of accidents.

“When they first came in, they had a leg bag that drains urine, and they have to carry this bag everywhere they go,” says Dr. Anthony Atala of Wake Forest University in North Carolina. “It’s uncomfortable and painful. So these children were mostly sitting or bed-bound.” [NPR]

Currently the usual treatment calls for an artificial graft, which has a failure chance as high as 50% (and failure here means a lifetime of infections and incontinence). “When an organ or tissue is irreparably damaged or traumatically destroyed, no amount of drugs or mechanical devices will restore the patient back to normal,” regenerative medicine expert Chris Mason, from University College London, told the BBC.As outlined in their Lancet study, Atala and his colleagues at Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine didn’t use conventional methods to repair these five urethras: They enlisted the help of the patients’ own cells to heal them by first harvesting, as Atala told NPR, a patch of cells “less than half the size of a postage stamp” from the boys’ bladders. Specifically, they took muscle cells and endothelial cells, which compose the lining of our body’s many tubes, including urethras.

After isolating the cells they’d need to create the necessary tissues, they then multiplied the cells in culture for several weeks until they had roughly 100 million of them—just enough to get the job done. And using the same material used for dissolvable stitches, they created a tiny drinking-straw-shaped mesh, and carefully added muscle cells to the outside part of the tube and lining cells to the inside part.

Dr Anthony Atala … described the process as “very much like baking a layer cake”. [The Guardian]

The cells were allowed to incubate for another week to ensure they were secured to the mesh, before the experts grafted the tissue-engineered urethra into gaps in their urinary tracks.

Six years on the grafts are still doing well, looking and functioning exactly like a normal urethra in the five boys who are now entering their teens. “It’s like they now just have their own urethras,” Atala told The Guardian. [The Guardian]

But how can the scientists be so sure of the successful after a mere six years? Part of the answer lies in the fact that the grafts have actually grown as the boys—who are now teenagers—have grown, indicating that their bodies have recognized the grafts (minus the mesh scaffolding, which has since disintegrated) as their own.

“Typically, if you’re going to see these structures fail, they can fail early or they can fail late,” Atala says. “But if you have them with this long of a follow-up, then you know they’re going to do well over time.” [NPR]

This urethra engineering is the latest success in cell-based therapies. In 2009, the same team grafted tissue-engineered bladders into nine patients, and other groups have made windpipes from a patient’s stem cells, and even a replacement jaw. Even though nobody has grown whole solid organs yet, like livers or kidneys, Atala’s team hopes to use this treatment on other tubular structures in the body, like blood vessels, and to start work on over 30 other tissue and organ replacements. In Australia, researchers at Bond University are currently working to grow a functional eye, tissue engineering expert Patrick Warnke told The Guardian.

At the moment, though, Atala and his colleagues are celebrating the success of the world’s first tissue-engineered urethra. With one out of 150 male babies suffering from urinary birth defects, this procedure could be a valuable new tool in modern medicine. But since this success is only based on a handful of patients, it’s going to take quite a few more replications before this becomes commonplace.

Image: Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine

Source: Scientists Grow World’s First Engineered Urethra, Created From Patients’ Cells

“Life Ascending” Wins the Royal Society’s Science Book Prize

October 22nd, 2010 10:00 admin View Comments

Ascending_webNick Lane’s book Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution has just won the Royal Society’s science book prize. The book chronicles the history of life on Earth through ten of evolution’s greatest achievements, from the origins of life itself to sex, eyes, and DNA.

The judges said that the ease with which Lane communicates these complex scientific ideas is what makes the book shine.

“Life Ascending is a beautifully written and elegantly structured book that was a favourite with all of the judges. Nick Lane hasn’t been afraid to challenge us with some tough science, explaining it in such a way that we feel like scientists ourselves, unfolding the mysteries of life,” said Maggie Philbin, chair of the judges. [The Guardian]

Instead of dumbing down the science, Lane’s words build the reader up to an understanding of evolution’s work.

Lane is a superb communicator. He knows exactly how much technical detail is required to provide satisfying explanations for the evolution of the genetic code, photosynthesis, complex cells, muscles and eyes, and his enthusiasm is catching. [The Guardian's book review]

Lane, a biochemist himself at University College London, believes in what he writes about. He studies and formulates hypotheses about the evolution of life for his job, and loves to communicate these ideas.

“Writing is my way to understand the world. I tried to get across the boundary between what we know and what we don’t know,” Lane explained. “It’s a thrilling tapestry that writing can take you across – you can ask any question you want, but there’s responsibility that goes with that.” [Nature]

Alas, this may be the last year of the prestigious book prize. It lots its sponsor, pharmaceutical company Aventis, in 1997, and has run out of funds.

Image: W. W. Norton & Company

Source: “Life Ascending” Wins the Royal Society’s Science Book Prize

Found: A Part of the Brain That Knows When the Brain Is Wrong

September 20th, 2010 09:44 admin View Comments

brainsThe size of a small part of the brain, right behind the eyes, is connected with a person’s ability to gauge how likely they are to be right about factual questions, according to a study published in Science last week. This faculty is important in many real-world decisions; it can make the difference between relying on our mistaken judgment and asking for help if we realize we might be wrong.

The study’s lead author uses the game show Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? as an prime example of this kind of “metacognition,” or thinking about our own thinking:

“You might have the opportunity to ask the audience or phone a friend,” says Steve Fleming, a neuroscientist at University College London. But, he adds, “You need to know how sure you are about your own answer before you opt to use those lifelines.” [NPR]

To study how this happens, Flemming asked study participants to identify a bright patch on a computer screen, then asked them how confident they were in their choice. The testing program adjusted to every participant’s ability so that each person was getting about 71 percent of the answers correct. After the testing, Flemming’s team scanned the brains of each of the participants, and compared their brain structure to their answers on the test and their levels of confidence in those answers.

“We found the volunteers differed quite markedly in their ability to introspect about their decision, so some volunteers were better at knowing how they had performed, and some were less good at knowing,” said Rimona Weil, one of the authors, at a press conference. []

The part of the brain that differed between these two sets of participants is called the anterior prefrontal cortex. The area had more gray matter in people who felt more confident in their decisions, and the researchers also found differences in the integrity of the white matter–the connection between this gray matter and the rest of the brain.

This discovery fits with previous work that showed people with damage to this brain region had trouble assessing their own decision-making, even though their performances on a task were unimpaired. “In terms of looking at variation across a population of healthy individuals, our study is the first to say how [introspection] might link to structure,” said study researcher Stephen Fleming…. []

Knowing how the brain carries out this meta-cognition develops and deteriorates could help doctors treat people suffering from schizophrenia or Alzheimer’s.

“Take the example of two patients with mental illness, one who is aware of their illness, and one who is not. The first person is likely to take their medication, the second less likely,” he said. “If we understand self-awareness at the neurological level, then perhaps we can adapt treatments and develop training strategies for these patients.” [The Independent]

The study also hinted that this ability may be able to be improved through training, but more research needs to be done:

Fleming said that an unanswered question is whether people are born with these brain differences that allow them to be more introspective, or whether their specific thoughts and behaviors cause them to become better at it. “What we need to do is assess whether we can train people to be more introspective, and if so, does that lead to changes in these structures of the brain,” he said. [Businessweek]

Image: Science/AAAS

Source: Found: A Part of the Brain That Knows When the Brain Is Wrong

Underappreciated Star-Shaped Brain Cells May Help Us Breathe

July 20th, 2010 07:28 admin View Comments

AstrocytreAstrocytes, it was long believed, were little more than the scaffolding of the brain—they provided a support structure for the stars of the show, the neurons. But a study out in this week’s Science is the latest to suggest that this is far from the whole story. The study says that astrocytes (whose “astro” name come from their star-shape) may in fact play a critical role in the process of breathing.

Astrocytes are a type of glial cell — the most common type of brain cell, and far more abundant than neurons. “Historically, glial cells were only thought to ‘glue’ the brain together, providing neuronal structure and nutritional support but not more,” explains physiologist Alexander Gourine of University College London, one of the authors of the study. “This old dogma is now changing dramatically; a few recent studies have shown that astrocytes can actually help neurons to process information” [Nature].

Gourine’s team peeked into the brains of rats to figure out the connection between astrocytes and breathing. In humans and in rodents, the level of carbon dioxide in the blood rises after physical activity. The brain has to adjust to this, setting the lungs breathing harder to expel that CO2.

Astrocytes, the scientists found, are key players in this process. When the cells sensed a decrease in blood pH (because the carbon dioxide made it more acidic), they immediately released calcium ions, which the researchers could detect because they’d given the rats a gene encoding a protein that shone fluorescent in the presence of calcium. The astrocytes also released the chemical messenger ATP. That ATP appeared to trigger the nearby neurons responsible for respiration, kicking them into gear.

The astrocytes are no one-trick ponies, though. They could be important not only for breathing, but also for brain circulation, memory formation, and other activities.

The next step is to find a way to inhibit astrocytes in vivo, said Gourine. Then, researchers will be able to test the numerous hypotheses for the functions of astrocytes in the brain. It is likely astrocytes in various regions of the brain serve different functions, said [Cendra] Agulhon, just as many different types of neurons do many different jobs. “Depending on where they are and what kind of neurons they are surrounded by, they will function differently,” she added. “We are just starting to understand how important astrocytes can be” [The Scientist].

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Underappreciated Star-Shaped Brain Cells May Help Us Breathe

AI Astronomer Aids Effort To Analyze Galaxies

June 9th, 2010 06:59 admin View Comments

kkleiner writes “Scientists are teaching an artificial intelligence how to classify galaxies imaged by telescopes like the Hubble. Manda Banerji at the University of Cambridge, along with researchers at University College London, Johns Hopkins, and elsewhere, has succeeded in getting the program to agree with human analysis at an impressive rate of more than 90%. Banerji used data from Galaxy Zoo, a massive online project that has used more than 250,000 volunteers to analyze more than 60 million galaxies. The new automated astronomer will help with even larger analytical projects on the horizon, taking care of trivial classifications and leaving the tough cases to humans.”

Source: AI Astronomer Aids Effort To Analyze Galaxies

University Networks Block Student Project

June 6th, 2010 06:00 admin View Comments

An anonymous reader writes “A computer science student at University College London put together FitFinder as a bit of a joke — it’s been described as a cross between Twitter and personal ads, and it rapidly became very popular. The university took exception to this and started by blocking the site from being accessed on campus. Not content with this, a few weeks later they fined the student £300 and had him take the site down completely. Currently, the site is still offline, although there is a petition with several thousand signatures requesting its return. In the meantime, a site called PhitFinder has appeared, claiming to have no link to the original.”

Source: University Networks Block Student Project