The stuff of science fiction

Written by Sharad Raghavan | Updated: Nov 18 2011, 09:05am hrs
Cleaning water with plasma

Sterilising water for medical treatment is essential, since bacteria like E Coli can wreak havoc on a body already weakened by whatever illness the patient is getting treated for. In developed countries, hospitals have ample resources to properly purify water, using heat, ultraviolet rays and various other devices. But such elaborate methods become a problem on the battlefield, or in emergency situations, where such facilities are unavailable. The recent discovery that ionised plasmasthe kind used in neon lights and plasma TVscan sterilise water quickly will go a long way in addressing this problem. In fact, scientists from the University of California found that not only did iodised plasmas sterilise water, but they also rendered it anitimicrobialable to kill bacteriafor as long as a week after treatment. The way it works is that the plasma diffuses into nearby liquids, where it can kill microbes in much the same way some drugs and immune cells do the deed. Given that devices that make plasma are cheap, this has huge import for developing countries. David Graves, one of the scientists who made the discovery, said that it is estimated that infections in these (developing) countries are a factor of three-to-five times more widespread than in the developed world.

The tigers cry and babys roar

Ever wondered what it is that makes a tigers roar so terrifying, or a babys crying so annoying, for that matter In both cases, it has more to do with their vocal chords than it does with the tigers ability to eat you or the incessant nature of the babys cries. This is according to a new study that shows that lions and tigers loud, low-frequency roars are predetermined by the physical attributes of their vocal chordsin specific, their ability to stretch and shear. Although the original study didnt have the comparison with babies, Titze says it works. Roaring is similar to what a baby sounds like when it cries, says speech scientist Ingo Titze, executive director of the National Center for

Voice and Speech, administered by the University of Utah. In some ways, the lion is a large replica of a crying baby, loud and noisy, but at very low pitch. Lions and tigers, like babies, have vocal chords that are very loose and gel-like, which allows them to stretch and vibrate irregularly making the distinctive sound of a roar or cry. While babies do it to get attention, the big cats

use it in much the same way, except they use the attention to warn

other animals to keep away. So,

the next time you hear a baby crying, thank your stars that its not a tiger roaring.

Artificial intelligence,

here we come!

The ultimate quest of computer scientists worldwide is to create artificial intelligence, that is, a computer that can think and learn on its own, without the new information having to be programmed in. And the strides theyve taken towards their goal are considerable; all you have to do is use the latest iPhone 4S and its Siri voice command system to see the progress. But now, MIT researchers have taken this research to new boundaries by designing a computer chip that mimics how the brains neurons adapt in response to new information. This property, called plasticity, is understood to underlie many brain functions, including learning and memory. But nevertheless, the complexity of the brain is stunning. Consider this, the silicon chip the MIT researchers developed has 400 transistors on it, and it still only can simulate the activity of a single brain synapse. There are around 100 billion neurons in the average brain, and each neuron forms synapses with many other neurons. The number of silicon chips needed to mimic this is still beyond our capabilities. But the future applications of such a chip are tremendous. For one, they could be instrumental in the interface between the brain and prosthetic limbs and, as mentioned before, could lay the groundwork for a real artificial brain.