January 09, 2019
The power of light can me used to control the brain, well neurons in the brains to be more precise. This might help to learn more about how the brain operates.
Learn about this and more interesting stories from the scientific community in today's issue.
Until Next Time,
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*-- New device allows scientists to precisely control neurons with light --*
Scientists in the field of optogenetics can now wield more precise control over the brain using the power of light.
Optogenetic researchers tag neurons with opsins, proteins that turn light into electric signals. When light is shone on the target region of the brain, the opsin excites the target neurons.
"We're making these tools to understand how different parts of the brain work," Philipp Gutruf, a biomedical engineering professor at the University of Arizona, said in a news release. "The advantage with optogenetics is that you have cell specificity: You can target specific groups of neurons and investigate their function and relation in the context of the whole brain."
The earliest optogenetic techniques used optic fibers. The next generation of technology involved battery-free, wireless electronic devices.
Now, Gutruf and his research partners have managed to shrink the technology and make it more precise.
"With this research, we went two to three steps further," Gutruf said. "We were able to implement digital control over intensity and frequency of the light being emitted, and the devices are very miniaturized, so they can be implanted under the scalp. We can also independently stimulate multiple places in the brain of the same subject, which also wasn't possible before."
One of the device's key attributes is its ability to control the light's intensity. Stronger emissions can allow the light to reach deeper parts of the brain, while weaker emissions can ensure excess light and heat don't activate the wrong neurons.
The small, implantable device is powered by external oscillating magnetic fields, and a new antenna system allows for improved communication with the controlling mechanism.
"This system has two antennas in one enclosure, which we switch the signal back and forth very rapidly so we can power the implant at any orientation," Gutruf said. "In the future, this technique could provide battery-free implants that provide uninterrupted stimulation without the need to remove or replace the device, resulting in less invasive procedures than current pacemaker or stimulation techniques."
Researchers described their new optogenetic technology in the journal Nature Electronics.
*-- Physicists find new long-lived new state of matter in superconductor --*
Scientists have identified new competing state of matter.
Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory and theoretical physicists at University of Alabama Birmingham located the novel, long-lasting matter state while investigating the behavior of an iron pnictide superconductor.
The team of scientists described their discovery in the journal Physical Review Letters.
"Superconductivity is a strange state of matter, in which the pairing of electrons makes them move faster," Jigang Wang, an Ames researcher and professor of physics at Iowa State University, said in a news release. "One of the big problems we are trying to solve is how different states in a material compete for those electrons, and how to balance competition and cooperation to increase temperature at which a superconducting state emerges."
To study the superconductor, scientists used terahertz spectroscopy, a flash photography-like technique that utilizes super laser pulses, each pulse lasting less than a trillionth of a second. When fired rapidly, the long wavelength far-infrared light reveals the subtle movements of electron pairings within the material.
According to researchers, their photographs revealed a unique mode of electron behavior, constituting a new state of matter -- or as described in their paper, a "long-lived, many-quasiparticle excitonic state."
When excited by the laser light, the collective behaviors of the electron pairs compete with a material's superconductivity properties.
The team of physicists plan to continue probing the superconductor materials for new details into the nature of the novel state.
"The ability to see these real time dynamics and fluctuations is a way to understanding them better, so that we can create better superconducting electronics and energy-efficient devices," said Wang.
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