Some 200,000 people live with partial or nearly total permanent paralysis in the United States, with spinal cord injuries adding 11,000 new cases each year. Most research aimed at recovering motor function has focused on repairing damaged nerve fibers, which has succeeded in restoring limited movement in animal experiments. But regenerating nerves and restoring complex motor behavior in humans are far more difficult, prompting researchers to explore alternatives to spinal cord rehabilitation.
One promising approach involves circumventing neuronal damage by establishing connections between healthy areas of the brain and virtual devices, called brain–machine interfaces (BMIs), programmed to transform neural impulses into signals that can control a robotic device. While experiments have shown that animals using these artificial actuators can learn to adjust their brain activity to move robot arms, many issues remain unresolved, including what type of brain signal would provide the most appropriate inputs to program these machines.
As they report in this paper, Miguel Nicolelis and colleagues have helped clarify some of the fundamental issues surrounding the programming and use of BMIs. Presenting results from a series of long-term studies in monkeys, they demonstrate that the same set of brain cells can control two distinct movements, the reaching and grasping of a robotic arm. This finding has important practical implications for spinal-cord patients--if different cells can perform the same functions, then surgeons have far more flexibility in how and where they can introduce electrodes or other functional enhancements into the brain. The researchers also show how monkeys learn to manipulate a robotic arm using a BMI. And they suggest how to compensate for delays and other limitations inherent in robotic devices to improve performance.
Barbara Cohen | EurekAlert!
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Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.
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Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.
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A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...
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