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Gizmorama - December 26, 2016

Good Morning,

Test subjects are moving robotic arms with only their minds. Wow! That just sounds cool. And, most importantly, it's a huge breakthrough for the biomedical community. Well done!

Learn about this and more interesting stories from the scientific community in today's issue.

Until Next Time,

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*-- Test subjects move robotic arm with only their minds --*

MINNEAPOLIS - In recent experiments, study participants used brain-computer interface technology to manipulate a robotic arm using only their minds.

"This is the first time in the world that people can operate a robotic arm to reach and grasp objects in a complex 3D environment using only their thoughts without a brain implant," lead researcher Bin He, a biomedical engineering professor at the University of Minnesota, said in a news release. "Just by imagining moving their arms, they were able to move the robotic arm."

The technology relies on a high-tech EEG, or electroencephalography, cap. The cap uses 64 electrodes to pick up brain signals and translate them into action. Machine learning helps the cap field the relevant signals and correctly interpret them.

The technology doesn't do all the work on its own. Users must practice to forge a strong connection between mind and arm. First, participants practiced controlling a virtual cursor on a computer screen. Next, users made the robotic arm pick up objects in a single, fixed location on a table. Finally, participants learned to grab objects from random locations and place them on a neighboring shelf -- using only their mind.

All eight study participants successfully completed arm manipulation tasks with an 80 percent success rate. Researchers described the breakthrough in the journal Scientific Reports.

"This is exciting as all subjects accomplished the tasks using a completely noninvasive technique," He said. "We see a big potential for this research to help people who are paralyzed or have neurodegenerative diseases to become more independent without a need for surgical implants."

In 2013, He and his colleagues successfully trained study participants to fly a remote control helicopter using an EEG cap.

"Three years ago, we weren't sure moving a more complex robotic arm to grasp and move objects using this brain-computer interface technology could even be achieved," He said. "We're happily surprised that it worked with a high success rate and in a group of people."

*-- Study explains brightest flash of light ever recorded --*

REHOVOT, Israel - In 2015, observatories picked up the brightest flash recorded in the history of the cosmos. Normally, intense flashes of light indicate the explosive death of a star, a supernova. But no supernova could explain the intensity of the flash.

The mystery didn't last long. A new study, published this week in the journal Nature Astronomy, has offered an explanation for the record burst of luminosity. The flash was caused by the destruction of a star consumed by a black hole at the center of a distant galaxy.

The event occurred in an old galaxy featuring an exceptionally massive, rapidly rotating black hole at its center. An analysis of the shifting light spectrum at the center of galaxy, before, during and after the event, suggested a star drifted too close to the gravitational tide of the black hole.

The star crossed the black hole's "event horizon" -- a rarity. Though the star was unable to escape destruction, the light generated by its consumption did escape, which is the reason the flash was witnessed by astronomers on Earth.

Astronomers believe the light's escape can be explained by the black hole's tremendous rotational speed, a relativistic speed approaching the speed of light.

The mystery of the bright flash was solved by an international team of researchers, led by astrophysicists from Weizmann Institute of Science.


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