Military Develop New and Targetted Eye in the Sky

Military Develop New and Targetted Eye in the Sky

A new motion tracking system could improve the efficiency of security and military surveillance.

The system, a collaboration between the Naval Research Laboratory and Space Dynamics Laboratory, has been shown in testing to accurately recognise, geographically pin point and take high quality images of moving objects, without any human input.

In the tests, carried out in March of this year, the system was able to track vehicles and also showed the possibility of being able to identify humans. “The demonstration was a complete success,” said Dr. Michael Duncan, Office of Naval Research program manager.

In these tests the researchers used a camera known as the Eyepod, developed by the Space Dynamics Laboratory. This camera, when operated from a height of 5000 feet, can identify objects on the ground from 17-80 cm across, depending on the set up. The camera was able to accurately track objects on the ground and relay high quality images and information to  a communications centre, via a high-speed data-link.

A representation of the new system (Click to Enlarge)

“These tests display how a single imaging sensor can be used to provide imagery of multiple tracked objects,” said Dr. Brian Daniel, a research physicist who worked on the project, “A job typically requiring multiple sensors.”

There are many different potential applications for this research, ranging from the more obvious military uses to high-end private security. With the UK containing more CCTV cameras per person than any other country interest in this technology is likely to be high.

Both military and security surveillance generates a huge quantity of footage, which is time and money consuming for humans to observe in entirety.  It is believed that this new technology could help make surveillance more efficient and to improve the speed with which intelligence reports can be produced.

Autotune the Abstract: Singing in the Brain

Autotune the Abstract: Singing in the Brain

Autotuned sensation Rebecca Black is very excited about this new concept...

As a science communication student I find myself constantly coming across new and different ways people try and get across scientific data and knowledge. It can range from typical things such as news articles and blog posts to knitted representations of science. Whilst some of the crazy ways people try and get out their research may seem misguided, I think this blatant eccentricity should be applauded and encouraged.

It is with this sentiment in mind that I decided for this post to create my own oddball way of presenting research. After much deliberation I decided to autotune the abstract of a science paper. The first step in my attempt to revolutionise science publishing was to pick a lucky research paper to become the launch song. After much scouring of Google Scholar I found the following:

“Singing in the brain: Professional singers, occasional singers, and out-of-tune singers: Gottfried Schlaug; Acoustical Society of America (2009)”

Which, given its subject matter, felt like the perfect research to autotune. Now, unfortunately not every research scientist is a professional sound technician. However, this is something that can be overcome as there are plenty of apps for Iphone and Android that will do all the complicated technical stuff for you! For this first attempt I selected one called “Songify” which is an app produced by the Gregory Brothers, the band who produce the popular online series ‘Autotune the News’.

So without further ado here is the first Autotune the Abstract:

I hope that this practice will become as established in scientific publishing as peer review. I also expect to see the awesomeness of the produced songs incorporated into the impact factors of journals.

Science Hoax of the Week: Human Flavoured Tofu

Science Hoax of the Week: Human Flavoured Tofu

Hmmm fake human...

There are a lot of weird food-stuffs out there, this makes it particularly difficult to tell if an outlandish food is real or a hoax. One product in particular that sought to play with this boundary was HUFU, aka Human flavoured Tofu.

“[Hufu is] a great convenience food for cannibals. No more Friday night hunting raids! Stay home and enjoy the good healthy taste of hufu,” said the Hufu website (which ran from 2005 to 2006), which also offered a range in baby seal tofu.  The product was aimed at cannibals who want to quit their antisocial practice and anthropology students studying cannibalism.

Of course no such product exists or has existed, is was a spoof product created by Mark Nuckols, who at that point was a student at the Tuck School of Business. He claimed that the idea came to him when he was eating a tofurkey (a tofu based faux turkey) sandwich whilst reading a book on cannibalism.

If you want a good laugh and to know a bit more about Hufu then I would recommend checking out The Daily Show’s segment, featuring an interview with Mark Nuckols, below:

And the Oscar goes to…Science!?

And the Oscar goes to…Science!?

"I'd just like to thank my project supervisor..."

Hollywood has never had a particularly good reputation for scientific accuracy. However, recently its science acumen has received a boost. It is currently the first time that the ‘reigning’ best actor and actress have been both been scientifically published.

Colin Firth, has taken time out from swimming in country lakes and stuttering to co-author a paper in Current Biology. The research looked into whether there are any structural differences in the brains of young adults with different political affiliations.

His co-Oscar winner Natalie Portman has been published twice. Credited as Natalie Hershlag, her family name, she published a paper on sugar chemistry whilst in high school and another entitled “Frontal Lobe Activation during Object Permanence: Data from Near-Infrared Spectroscopy” whilst completing her psychology degree at Harvard.

Figure 1. Individual Differences in Political Attitudes and Brain Structure

Both also seem to have made valuable contributions to scientific knowledge with their research. Firth’s paper showed that “Liberalism was associated with the gray matter volume of anterior cingulate cortex” and that “Conservatism was associated with increased right amygdala size” as can been seen in Figure 1.

The question of whether or not it is psychological or environmental factors that influence political stance has been debated for many years. The findings of the paper side with recent studies in twins which claims that “a substantial amount” of political opinion is influenced by genetics.

The neuroscience paper published by Natalie Portman looked into the progress of ‘object permanence’ in child development. Object permanence is the understanding that objects continue to exist even when they cannot be seen, heard, or touched. Her research used near-infrared spectroscopy to monitor the levels of oxy and deoxyhaemoglobin. The research revealed that the rise in object permanence occurs simultaneously to a rise in the levels of haemoglobin concentration in the frontal cortex.

Whilst, these two members of the Hollywood A-list have dabbled in a bit of science it seems that they aren’t going to give up on their day jobs. Portman most recently graced our screens in the decidedly unscientific Thor, whilst Colin Firth was most recently seen in the tense spy film “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”.

Back to the Science Future

Back to the Science Future

Where is my jet pack? Why can’t I live forever yet? And where is my Technological apocalypse?

Friday saw the launch of the new issue of I’Science magazine. It has been entitled the “Great Expectations” issue. It looked at what science has promised us in the past and how close we are to full filling those predictions. You can check it out here.

 To celebrate the release of the issue I am going to share an art project which I happened across a few weeks ago.  It is a set of prophetic illustrations by the French artist Villemard. He produced them in 1910, intending to show what life would be like in the year 2000. Some of his predictions are remarkably accurate and others are just plain odd.

 

1)

Prediction: Appears to be a primitive version of video calling

Exists in the 21st Century: Yes, and has been around in various forms for decades.

2)

Prediction: Flying cars and flight suits

Exists in the 21st Century: No, although not from lack of trying 

3)

Prediction: Computer aided design

Exists in the 21st Century: Yes, and with the rise of the 3D printer only likely to become more prevalent and publicly available.

4)

Prediction: A Matrix-esque method of learning

Exists in the 21st Century: No, still only in science fiction. Although it could be argued that this is image is an allegory for Wikipedia.

5)

Prediction: A sort of boat, airship crossbreed

Exists in the 21st Century: No, I’m pretty sure these don’t exist! 

6)

Prediction: An automated hairdressers

Exists in the 21st Century: No, the closest we have come to this prediction is the electric razor.

7)

Prediction: Automatic Make-up

Exists in the 21st Century: No, although versions of this can be seen in the Fifth Element and The Simpsons.

8 )

Prediction: Electric roller skates

Exists in the 21st Century: These do exist

Reiki is practiced in an NHS breast cancer ward

Reiki is practiced in an NHS breast cancer ward

 

Reiki treatment involves no physical contact

In the foothills of Mount Kurama a man meditates. He has been there for 21 days. Suddenly, he has a revelation.

From this quiet beginning in 1922 the practice of reiki was born. Since then, it has evolved and found itself keeping company with treatments such as homeopathy and acupuncture in modern complementary medicine. The practice of reiki involves the practitioner transferring healing energy, or ‘ki’, to the subject through their palms. Those who support the treatments claim that this can help a wide range of conditions, including depression and anxiety as well as improving immunity. Contrary to these claims, reiki and other complementary medicines have been widely studied and the scientific consensus is that they have minimal, if any, clinical benefits. Despite this, reiki and its allied medicines are, shockingly, still afforded a place in the medical treatment establishment.

This acceptance of alternative medicine can be seen specifically at The Princess Alexandra Hospital NHS Trust, Essex, where they employ a “Reiki Therapist/Spiritual Healer”  in a breast cancer ward. The position is funded by an alternative medicine charity, but its location within an NHS hospital has drawn criticism. Professor Edzard Ernst, the world’s first, and only, professor of complementary medicine said, “We have published a systematic review of reiki…the evidence is simply not there. There are a number of studies, they are flimsy and the ones that are rigorous don’t generate a positive result. In my book the evidence is even negative,” he added.

The way in which this post has been advertised raises some serious questions about the medical validity of the job. The criteria state that the practitioner must “demonstrate the benefit and activity of the post”. Philippa Dooher, Lead Breast Care Specialist Nurse and supervisor of the position, outlined how this is judged: “Before and after treatment the practitioner engages in a core evaluation of how the patient is feeling. There is also the option for patient feedback.”   Considering the analysis of medical benefits of the treatment, she admitted that the success of the post is “not based on the effect on prognosis”. This stance is problematic according to Professor Ernst who described the attempts to justify the job as “ridiculously funny”.

Thankfully, it appears that this practice is not common in the NHS. Professor Ernst commented that the post seemed “exceptional”. But, he went on to add that outside of the National Health Service “…the use of alternative medicine in Britain is fairly widespread. About 20% of the general population use these treatments; with cancer patients the percentage is much higher.”   Dooher agreed with this, saying that the only alternative practitioners in the hospital were the reiki therapist, and a reflexologist on the same breast cancer ward.

The role in the hospital has been occupied for a year. The way through which patients are recruited to the scheme is another interesting addition to this tale. As well as being given forms to apply for treatment, the patients are approached in the waiting room and offered reiki by the practitioner themselves.

It seems highly illogical that an institution that should make decisions based on evidence and critical observation offers this therapy on an oncology ward. This is a view also expressed by Professor Ernst, who said that it is “Truly, truly embarrassing that an NHS trust should advertise for a reiki healer … [the position] discloses a total lack of critical regard to what they are doing, and I think it’s ridiculous, dangerous, and undermines everything that evidence based medicine and rationality stands for.”

Whilst the creation of reiki in the mountainous regions of Japan may be a nice story, it is disconcerting that almost one hundred years later “spiritual healing energy” can still be found within the NHS. 

Update

This article was inspired by a job advertisement posted by the PAH Trust, upon discussion it was revealed that the post had been filled for a year and since my conversation with the hospital the advertisement has been removed from their website.

ResearchBlogging.org

Lee MS, Pittler MH, & Ernst E (2008). Effects of reiki in clinical practice: a systematic review of randomised clinical trials. International journal of clinical practice, 62 (6), 947-54 PMID: 18410352

A new science writing adventure begins…

A new science writing adventure begins…

In a recent post I spoke about the new online collaborative science magasine, Guru. Well I’m happy to say that I am their new ‘Technology Guru’. You can check out the article about me joining the team here. I am currently working on my first article for them and whilst I will not reveal what it is about this photo from a fancy dress party a few years ago will give a little clue:

Also another bit of update info is that this site is currently undergoing a complete re-design and will soon emerge from its cocoon looking a lot prettier with more frequent posting