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Gizmorama - March 5, 2018

Good Morning,

European scientists have shown the fastest optical distance measurement on record. This can allow us to literally measure a speeding bullet as fast as a speeding bullet. That's fast!

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

Until Next Time,

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*-- New technology powers record-fast optical distance measurement --*

Scientists in Europe have demonstrated the fastest optical distance measurement on record. The researchers used their new and improved LIDAR technology to measure a speeding bullet.

"We managed to sample the surface structure of the projectile on-the-fly, achieving micrometer accuracy," Christian Koos, a professor at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany, said in a news release. "To this end, we recorded 100 million distance values per second, corresponding to the fastest distance measurement so far demonstrated."

The new LIDAR system's 3D cameras are comprised of chip-based optical microresonators. The resonators are made from silicon nitride and produce a soliton frequency comb.

Frequency combs produce a spectrum of sharp, equally spaced frequency lines. The lines work like a ruler. The technology is used in a variety of fields, but is most often employed as a sensor capable of measuring the spectral properties of tiny targets.

The generation of frequency combs is typically an energy-intensive process, and the technology often takes up a lot of space. But scientists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, EPFL, have developed a chip-scale light source capable of producing frequency combs.

The technology converts laser light into optical light pulses called dissipative Kerr solitons. The succession of pulses produces a full broadband optical spectrum. The chip-scale conversion process is made possible by silicon nitride microresonsators.

"We have developed low-loss optical resonators, in which extremely high optical intensities can be generated -- a prerequisite for soliton frequency combs," said EPFL professor Tobias Kippenberg. "These so-called Kerr frequency combs have rapidly found their way into new applications over the previous years."

Scientists have previously used chip-scale frequency comb technology to create smaller, more versatile chemical sensors, as well as high-speed communications systems. Now, researchers have translated the technology for optical distance measurements.

The light source -- detailed in the journal Science -- could be used to improve satellite technology or the navigational abilities of autonomous drones.

*- Cyberslug: Virtual model thinks and acts like a real predator -*

Scientists have created a virtual slug model that thinks and acts just like a real sea slug.

Cyberslug is modeled after the sea slug species Pleurobranchaea californica, a small marine predator with a simple nervous system. Scientists were able to recreate this slug's neural wiring in a virtual environment.

On its own, the virtual predator learns which of the other virtual sea slugs are tasty and nutritious and which are toxic. Cyberslug can also recognize potential predators, as well as potential mates.

In a primitive sense, the sea slug is self-aware.

"That is, it relates its motivation and memories to its perception of the external world, and it reacts to information on the basis of how that information makes it feel," Rhanor Gillette, a professor of molecular and integrative physiology at the University of Illinois, said in a news release.

For the virtual sea slug, life is pretty simple.

Gillette says the slug asks itself three questions each time it encounters a new organism: "Do I eat it? Do I mate with it? Or do I flee?"

To answer these yes-no questions, Cyberslug does have to do a bit of processing. The virtual predator must consider his internal state, as well as the surrounding environmental cues.

The sea slug's default response is to avoid anything and everything. But if it's hungry, the sea slug must consider whether it has encountered a meal.

"When P. californica is super hungry, it will even attack a painful stimulus," Gillette said. "And when the animal is not hungry, it usually will avoid even an appetitive stimulus. This is a cost-benefit decision."

Gillete and his research partners have been studying and replicating the sea slug's neural circuitry for several simulations, becoming more precise with each iteration. The researchers described their latest programming effort this week in the journal eNeuro.

Cyberslug is also available online for the public to experiment with.

Like the scientists responsible for its creation, Cyberslug gains experience over time, gaining a better understanding for what tastes good and what doesn't with each meal.

"I think the sea slug is a good model of the core ancient circuitry that is still there in our brains that is supporting all the higher cognitive qualities," Gillette said. "Now we have a model that's probably very much like the primitive ancestral brain. The next step is to add more circuitry to get enhanced sociality and cognition."

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