Armchair Scientist Digest #2

Welcome to The Armchair Scientist.

We live in a time where new research regularly breathes life into the dreams of last year’s sci-fi authors. We just don’t hear about it on the news that often. So I’m here to bring you the most exciting of this month’s science crop culled lovingly from a variety of publications.

Cyborg Tissue

Bioengineers at Harvard have grown cyborg tissue consisting of natural, living cells grown upon a lattice of transistors and nanowires, which act as sensors. This means that a user could potentially directly interface with the organic tissue through means of a computer. At this point, the technology can be used to measure contractions (as with heart rate) or signal (as nerve cells transmit). Researchers are mostly working on growing rat tissue, but the idea of the ability to read and write directly to our cells is exciting to say the least.

Beyond the obvious medical applications like an interface that might sense heart issues or cancerous tumors long before they could be caught by a test, down the line such technology could be used to trigger a shot of dopamine to relieve symptoms of depression, a pinch of adrenaline for a faster run, or lower blood pressure to battle stress. Learn more in the August issue of New Scientist.

Mind Reading Technology

A small but growing sect of the gaming industry is utilizing technology that allows a user to interact with a device solely through concentration and a number of sensors worn upon the user’s head. These controllers read the user’s brain waves, but a paper presented at a security conference in Seattle this August began illustrating how these signals could be used by criminals to skim the user’s data.

An experiment discussed in the paper involved a group of subjects shown a series map locations, one of which contained their home. By watching the spikes in their EEG (electroencephography or brainwave) the researchers could determine with a 60% accuracy the correct location of the subjects’ home. The same general setup was done with a four-digit randomized number (like a PIN), first memorized and then shown to the subject mixed in with a selection of other numbers. Again, the researchers were able to guess correctly on their first try with a higher-than-average probability of 30%.

The technology will need to become more accurate before its use becomes widespread; This will be a double edged sword, as better signal means easier user interface as well as an easier read for those looking to cull sensitive information from the user. And just imagine what an interrogator could do with that kind of technology. Read the full paper at

Stem Cells Cure Deaf Gerbils

Researchers at the University of Sheffield have used human stem cells to regenerate the lost hearing capabilities of deaf gerbils. The gerbils suffered from auditory neuropathy, a specific type of deafness contracted through damage inflicted upon the nerves which allow hearing.

Stem cells are undifferentiated cells which, when treated chemically, can be grown into certain types of auditory neurons. These grown cells were then implanted in the gerbils. Ten weeks later, the neurons had grown to the animals’ brains. Results were mixed, though. About a third of the subjects regained a significant amount of auditory sensitivity, while another third barely responded to the treatment at all, meaning there is still a long road to travel before consistent benefits can be obtained through these methods.

Roughly 15% of the human deaf population suffers from auditory neuropathy, and while it’s too early to say if clinical trials will show similar results, it’s hard not to get excited about the possibility. The study was published in the September issue of Nature.

One Response to Armchair Scientist Digest #2

  1. Great information. Lucky me I came across your site by accident (stumbleupon). I have saved it for later!

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