Artificial leather can be used as a new input system for mobile devices to transmit emotions

A new device that “takes touch technology to a higher level” was developed by a group of researchers from the University of Bristol. The interface, called Skin-On, imitates human skin in all senses in the sense that it can receive different types of touches and can “feel” the user’s grip. It can feel, for example, changes in the pressure of the touch, the position of the touch and can detect various interactions such as a caress, tickling or even a pinch or twist.

This is the first time that skin is actually added to a computer or interactive device, as explained by Anne Roudaut, professor of human-computer interaction at the University of Bristol who participated in the study who states the following: “The idea is perhaps a bit surprising, but the skin is an interface with which we are very familiar, so why not use it and not use its richness with the devices we use every day?”

It is one of the first studies, in fact, which tend to exploit artificial leather not as an output device, such as to receive signals from the outside (the typical artificial leather that is built for robots), but as an input device to increase the variability related to the interaction that we can have with a computer or any technological IT device. For example, this artificial skin could be grafted onto a smartphone and could allow much more natural tactile gestures to transmit an expressive message to another person, such as a caress.

In fact, the same researchers have also implemented a messaging application with which users can express a wider range of emotions than that expressed, for example, with text or images. As Marc Teyssier, another researcher involved in the project, explains in this system, “the intensity of the touch controls the size of the emojis. A strong grip conveys anger while tickling the skin shows a smiling emoji and touching creates a surprised emoji.”

The same press release that presents the project, created by scientists from the University of Bristol in collaboration with Telecomm ParisTech and the University of Sorbonne, suggests that this new system could soon be integrated and become a standard in all mobile devices.


Water vapor discovered in the atmosphere of the planet K2-18b 110 light years away

A planet that orbits its star inside the habitable belt and that presents water vapor in the atmosphere has been analyzed by two teams of astronomers, a team from the Center for Space Exochemistry Data of University College London who used the telescope data space Hubble collected from 2016 to 2017, and another team led by Björn Benneke of the Institute for Research on Exoplanets at the Université de Montréal.

It is a super-earth: its dimensions, mass and consequently gravity are larger than terrestrial ones (the mass of at least eight times). However, there is the probability, as astronomers themselves point out, that the radiation it receives from its star may prove hostile to life.

K2-18b, orbiting a red dwarf located about 110 light-years away from us, has captured the interest of scientists and astronomers since its discovery. The reason is easy to say: it is a planet located in the habitable belt of its star. Now that researchers have discovered chemical signatures of water vapor in the atmosphere of this planet, interest is growing exponentially.

The water vapor in the atmosphere can in fact mean that the planet could potentially present expanses of liquid water on its surface, also formed by rain, which, combined with the fact that it is located in the habitable zone, makes it a prominent candidate for the first analyzes that will be carried out with the next James Webb space telescope.

This information suggests that on this planet there could be a water cycle similar to that of Earth, a cycle that allows water itself to condense, to form clouds and to make rain of liquid water fall.

K2-18b is the only planet, naturally among those discovered so far, to present water in the atmosphere and temperatures that can allow water to exist in liquid form on the surface. It was discovered thanks to data from NASA’s Kepler space telescope in 2015. The same data suggests that helium and hydrogen may also be present in the atmosphere.

The planet should receive roughly the same total amount of energy from its star as that which Earth receives from the Sun (the star is a small red dwarf but the planet is closer).

To date, there are hundreds of “Super-Earths” identified thanks to NASA’s two space telescopes, Kepler and TESS, and hundreds more will probably be discovered in the coming years also with the help of the James Webb space telescope which could be used in particular to analyze atmospheres of exoplanets.

The atmosphere of this planet has been the subject of two separate studies, one by a team from the University College of London published in Nature Astronomy, another by a team from the Institute for Research on Exoplanets of the University of Montreal published in the Astronomical Journal.


An avocado a day takes bad cholesterol away, at least according to a new study

According to a new study by the State University of Pennsylvania, an avocado a day can be of great help in countering the so-called “bad cholesterol” intended both as oxidized low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and as small and dense LDL particles, particularly in obese or overweight adults.

The researchers analyzed the effects of one avocado per day on 45 overweight or obese adult participants. The two-week experiment saw a first phase during which participants carried out an average American diet. Following this first phase, in a second phase, each participant completed three different therapeutic diets in random order lasting five weeks and one of these included an avocado per day while another was supplemented with extra healthy fats to counterbalance the amount of monounsaturated fatty acids obtained through an avocado per day.

After five weeks the researchers noticed that participants who consumed an avocado per day showed much lower levels of oxidized LDL cholesterol than at the start of the second phase of the study and compared to the other two groups. These participants also showed higher levels of lutein, an antioxidant.

“When you think of bad cholesterol, you think of LDL particles, which vary in size,” reports Penny Kris-Etherton, the study’s author. “All LDLs are bad, but small and dense LDLs are particularly bad. A key finding is that people on an avocado diet had fewer oxidized LDL particles. They also had more lutein, which could be the bioactive that protects LDL from oxidation.”

Furthermore, the diet based on moderate fats without avocado but which included the same monounsaturated fatty acids as this fruit show that the avocado itself must have additional positive bioactive elements.

According to Kris-Etherton, this research shows that, as regards the “avocado” topic, we still know only the tip of the iceberg and that there are many things that can be known with further research regarding this fruit rich in healthy fats, carotenoids and numerous other nutrients.


Laser printer creates 3D holograms with “unprecedented level of detail”

A new 3D laser printer that “produces digital 3D holograms with unprecedented level of detail and realistic colors,” which offers a wider field of view, higher resolution and better color rendering than previous systems, as reported in the press release which presents the research which appeared in Applied Optics, was created by a research group of the Optical Society (OSA).

This new “printer” can create holograms with very wide fields of view and complete parallax using a particular photographic material that the same researchers behind this study have designed.
Thanks to the holograms with complete parallaxes it is possible to reconstruct an object that can be viewed from the direction with a field of view up to 120 ° degrees. The same models can first be generated on the computer, also by means of scans acquired with particular scanners.

According to the researchers, this new printer, called CHIMERA, can be useful for creating copies of objects in color and at high resolution, naturally in 3D, to be exhibited, for example, in museum or art galleries so that you can look at the same object in every detail even if it is not really present on site. And all without the user having to use particular devices or equipment, such as glasses.

“Our 15-year research project aimed to build a hologram printer with all the benefits of previous technologies by eliminating the disadvantages known as expensive lasers, low print speeds, limited field of view and unsaturated colors,” said Yves Gentet in the statement (one of the leaders of the research team). “We achieved this by creating the CHIMERA printer, which uses low cost commercial lasers and high speed printing to produce holograms with high quality colors that cover a wide dynamic range.”

At the time, researchers used this printer to create holograms with dimensions up to 60 by 80 cm.


Children who drink more water are more efficient in multitasking and cognitive functions

Drinking water is fundamental for human beings and it is even more important for children especially when they move and “forget” to drink. Now a new study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, underlines this aspect and shows that drinking more water, or in any case drinking the quantity that can be considered sufficient, allows children to be more efficient in multitasking, that is, in the ability to manage or do more things simultaneously, and in general in cognitive abilities.

Researchers from the University of Illinois have indeed studied the effects of drinking water on 75 children from central Illinois. By analyzing children’s urinary hydration and cognitive performance through specific task-switching tests, the researchers realized that children aged 9 to 11 who drank more water not only were more hydrated but showed more reaction times fast in tests and better results in activities designed to measure cognitive flexibility.

Specifically, the researchers made the children drink only half a liter of water a day for four days or 2.5 liters of water a day for four days.

Naiman Khan, professor of kinesiology and community health and lead author of the study, underlines how children are characterized by a higher risk of involuntary dehydration; they often depend on adults to recognize their need for hydration and their daily water supply.

According to Khan himself, this was the first study to measure changes in children’s cognitive performance related to taking different amounts of water over several days.


The smallest black hole ever found has been identified: it is only 12 miles wide but has a mass three times the Sun

A very small black hole, at least when compared with those of supermassive black holes that we are used to discussing, was discovered by a research team that analyzed a catalog of 100,000 stars called Apache Point Observatory Galactic Evolution Experiment (APOGEE). The black hole is characterized by a mass that appears to be only 3.3 times that of the Sun. The study was published in Science.

About 10,000 light-years away from us, this black hole is located in an external region of the main disk of the Milky Way and, if the dimensions were confirmed, it would be the smallest black hole ever identified, so small that it would fall into a new class. The black hole should have a diameter of only 12 miles but further observations will be necessary to confirm this data.

Researchers usually detect black holes thanks to the interception of the accretion disc, mostly composed of gas and dust, which swirls around the object. If there is not this disk of gas and dust, which by swirling it heats up and emits X-rays, the black hole cannot be identified unless it is part of an interacting binary system, i.e. a system consisting of a black hole and another object, for example a star, in which the first sucks material from the second.

In this case, however, there was no disc of gas and dust and, although the black hole was part of a binary system, this seemed to be non-interacting. However, the researchers still managed to locate the black hole thanks to another feature related to the fact that this black hole is in a binary system.

Analyzing the data of the aforementioned catalog, the researchers focused on a particular binary star system, called J05215658, and they realized that one of the two stars is actually a black hole that orbits a giant star every 83 days. In this case, the researchers noticed the presence of the black hole by analyzing the light of the star, a giant star whose light seems to be “shifted.” The brightness of the star, in fact, continues to change, increases and decreases, a sign of the fact that there is something in orbit around it.

Precisely these variations indicate the presence of a binary companion which, since it does not emit any light, must be a black hole. The latter does not seem to swallow any material and has been identified only thanks to this special distorting feature of the starlight.


African swine fever could kill a quarter of all pigs in the world

A quarter of all pigs raised in the world could die of African swine fever according to a press release issued by the Associated Press which incorporates a statement by the president of the world animal health organization, Mark Schipp. The statement makes it clear how seriously this viral disease that is affecting pig populations on farms around the world is taken seriously by institutions.

In addition to possible food shortages that would raise the prices of all food deriving from pigs, a greater spread of this disease could also lead to shortages of other products, first of all heparin, an anticoagulant drug that is obtained from the mucous membrane of the intestine or from the lung of pigs. This drug is on the list of essential drugs for the World Health Organization and is considered to be a key drug.

What is most worrying is the spread of this disease that is occurring among pig populations in China, a nation that has the largest pig farms in the world in which the price of pork has already been over the past year has doubled.

This is the biggest threat among any cattle ever raised by man, says Schipp bluntly. Schipp himself reminds us that this disease will not lead to direct consequences for humans, in the sense that the virus itself is not transmissible from pig to human.

As for any vaccines, Schipp himself admits that several steps forward have been made but a complete product has not yet been reached, also because the virus is very complex.


Engineered beta cells produce insulin in the body of diabetic mice when exposed to light

Interesting experiments have been carried out by researchers at Tufts University regarding the possibility of designing cells that produce insulin in the body to be activated “on command.” The researchers performed experiments on diabetic mice by transplanting engineered pancreatic beta cells into their bodies.

These cells were capable of producing insulin, two to three times higher than the typical level, with exposure to light. These engineered cells could be of great use, even for humans if the method also worked on them, to compensate for the inadequate production of insulin that is normally found in diabetics. In the study, published in ACS Synthetic Biology, the researchers were able to control glucose levels in diabetic mice substantially without pharmacological interventions.

In type 2 diabetes, which is the most common form, the cells within the body are no longer able to produce an adequate level of insulin, an important hormone for the body, which leads to a high glucose level (hyperglycemia). In type 1 diabetes, however, beta cells, i.e. the cells that produce insulin, are destroyed by the immune system and this leads to an almost complete lack of the hormone. Currently, the only treatments are performed with the administration of drugs or direct injections of insulin.

With this new method, so far only tested on mice, the production of insulin itself is kept constant by specially engineered cells and by a new technique, optogenetics. This technique allows the proteins in the cells to change their type of activity according to the light beam that hits them. For this reason, researchers have developed particular beta cells of the pancreas designed so that a gene inside them can be activated when exposed to blue light. When “activated” this gene, in turn, activates an increase in insulin production in beta cells.

With a technique like these, it may be possible to help a diabetic person “better control and maintain adequate glucose levels without pharmacological intervention. The cells naturally do the work of insulin production and the regulatory circuits within them work the same way; we simply increase the amount of cAMP (cyclic adenosine monophosphate molecule) temporarily in beta cells to induce them to produce more insulin only when needed, “as explained by Emmanuel Tzanakakis, professor of chemical and biological engineering at Tufts and corresponding author of the study.