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Category Archives: science

Losing the ability to walk, talk, or even move a finger no longer precludes your ability to make music.  Planet Harmony's Amanda Legros explains the Brain Computer Music Interface or BCMI, a tool that translates pure thought into pure sound.

Amanda Legros: [PIANO MUSIC] You are listening to a patient who is bound to a wheelchair and paralyzed from the neck down produce sound… through pure thought.

This unlikely musician can’t move his fingers across a keyboard but he can think those notes. His thoughts are then processed through a skullcap spiked with sensors that gauge mental activity.

A new technology developed by Brazilian composer and computer-music specialist Eduardo Miranda allows patients with neuromuscular disabilities the chance to play and compose music with thought alone.

Miranda and computer scientists at the University of Essex have collaborated to develop a brain-computer musical interface or BCMI. They used a cheap and inexpensive form of brain scan called electroencephalography, also known as EEG. The EEG cap picks up faint neural signals from the brain. It then translates these neural impulses into musical notes.

But just like people who use electrically implanted prosthetic limbs, this technology takes practice.

This is a virtuoso of BCMI. A man sits motionless- a skull cap on his head with wires flowing out, that go through a set of computers, which are finally connected to an old wooden piano.

Miranda directs the man to change the tempo: “If he wants change it, he can change it.” And without moving a finger.  [PIANO MUSIC]

Miranda and his team hope to continue improving the ability for people with disabilities to make their mind play melodies. He has been trying to develop a way to create music using brain waves for a decade. His research to hone BCMI is motivated by the limitations of patients suffering from paralysis. The challenges of neuromuscular disabilities go far beyond not being able to move. There is a loss of control and independence. And trials with patients suffering from neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson's have shown that music therapy can actually delay the progression of those illnesses.

This technology gives form to the old saying having a song stuck in your head.

Amanda Legros BCMI.mp3 1.9 MB

President Obama will appear tonight on the Discovery Channel's science-y program, Mythbusters.  This President has made his rounds on the TV circuit, from daytime talkshows to prime-time news interviews to late-night comedy; nearly all of those appearances have been to communicate some policy change or to signal a new push from his administration. And tonight's no different. 

Earlier this week, international standardized test scores, from the Program for International Student Assessment, placed America squarely in the middle (#19) of 33 participating nations.  Shanghai topped all categories, while Mexico brought up the rear.  Though the United States advanced 6 slots from its last assesment in 2006, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan says, “We have to see this as a wake-up call.” 

So what better way to sound the educational alarm than have the Commander in Chief do it himself on basic cable's favorite pop science program?  For the uninitiated, Mythbusters is hosted by 2 goateed special effects artists who for the past 8 years, have tested the important questions, like, "can a falling penny kill you?" and "what would really happen if you put a bull in a china shop" and as the President puts it, they "blow things up, which is always cool." The hosts, Adam and Jamie bring the Jackass ethos to the scientific method.  Still, there is a vestige of science, where Newton's laws of physics will at least appear on a whiteboard in one shot.

The episode (clip below) will start with the Mythbusters in the oval office receiving an executive order to bust an age-old-myth: could Archimedes' really have used an array of bronze shields or mirrors to reflect and concentrate sunlight to incinerate approaching ships during the Siege of Syracuse? 

The hosts have tested this before, but the Presidential challenge calls for a reconstruction that will bring together 500 schoolchildren from the Bay Area in a parabolic line, standing shoulder to shoulder for nearly a mile.

Over half a century ago American students were the leader in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).  The impetus for increased investment in STEM education learning came from a blinking Soviet satellite flying over our heads.  Will Obama's Discovery challenge be the new Sputnik?

Will solar be the force behind our national defense?

At the risk of offending any and everyone I will keep this brief.

You should watch this video. I am very interested in your thoughts and comments.

Representative John Shimkus from Illinois speaks during a hearing for the U.S. House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment last year.

Image Courtesy of Joris Osterhaus (www.joriso.nl/)
 

America's finest news source, The Onion, raises an important question: Where are today's black nerd role models? The fake newspaper headline reads: "African-American Community Calls For New Black Nerd Archetype: Hollywood Blasted For Failure To Portray Modern Dorks Of Color."

Here's an excerpt from the article: According to the Dweeb Diversity Coalition, nerds in the African-American community continue, like their predecessors, to be socially awkward, hilariously unstylish, and a source of embarrassment for their cooler black friends. But a recent survey of pop-cultural archetypes found that in the current TV lineup, almost all nerd characters are white.

The Onion goes on to say that it's been over a decade since the likes of Steve Urkel, in his hiked pants, walked into our lives.  Who do today's science-loving, journal-reading, microscope-staring minorities have to look up to?  Where Hollywood fails, Planet Harmony has got your back! Just check out the growing list of real life, too-smart role models on our research page.

However, according to one of our favorite nerd role models, no one should depend on role models at all.  Niel deGrasse Tyson told pH, "if I had required a dark skinned role model to become an astrophysicist, I simply would not have become an astrophysicist."

What do you think?  Are role models useful?  Are there any bookish minorities on TV right now?

Also, if you have a suggestion for a researcher we should add to our list, let us know below.

There have been many competing theories about why we eat spicy food.  Some have posited that hot peppers force sweat, a welcomed cooling reflex desirable in hot places.  Another theory, also in equatorial regions, argues that spice extends the shelf-life of food that sours quickly under the sun.  Still others suggest that eating packets of hot sauce in the cafeteria was a sure-fire way to get attention and win friends… what, just me?

Today the NY Times proposes a novel theory for why we seek the heat: because we can.  We eat peppers like we seek any other dangerous thrill, with our rational brain reassuring our visceral self that the flames are temporary.  And we are unique in that ability.  Dr. Bloom, a Yale psychologist, tells the Times "Philosophers have often looked for the defining feature of humans — language, rationality, culture and so on. I’d stick with this: Man is the only animal that likes Tabasco sauce.”

If this whet your appetite check out our story about American slaves that went on strike until their master delivered them pepper.

Flickr/ Marshall Astor