Jamie Morton is the NZ Herald's science reporter.

The tattoo that can tell how you feel

A nanotech "tattoo" has been developed by Tel Aviv University. Photo / American Friends of Tel Aviv University
A nanotech "tattoo" has been developed by Tel Aviv University. Photo / American Friends of Tel Aviv University

A new temporary "electronic tattoo" developed by Tel Aviv University researchers, which can measure the activity of muscle and nerve cells, is poised to revolutionise medicine, rehabilitation, and even business and marketing research.

The tattoo consists of a carbon electrode, an adhesive surface that attaches to the skin, and a nanotechnology-based conductive polymer coating that enhances the electrode's performance.

It records a strong, steady signal for hours on end without irritating the skin. The electrode may improve the therapeutic restoration of damaged nerves and tissue, and may even lead to new insights into our emotional life.

One major application of the new electrode was the mapping of emotion by monitoring facial expressions through electric signals received from facial muscles - something that could be handy for advertisers, pollsters or media professionals wanting to test people's reactions to various products and situations.

Ducklings are smarter than you think

They need help crossing the road and sometimes get stuck down storm drains, but ducklings might not be the cute-but-dim balls of fluff we make them out to be.

UK scientists have just shown that newly hatched ducklings can readily acquire the concepts of "same" and "different" - an ability previously known only in highly intelligent animals such as apes, crows and parrots.

Ducklings and other young animals normally learn to identify and follow their mother through a powerful type of learning called imprinting, which can occur in as little as 15 minutes after hatching.

In a new study, ducklings were first presented with a pair of objects either the same as or different from each other in shape or in colour, which moved in a circular path.

The ducklings therefore "imprinted" on these pairs of moving objects before being tested for their preferences between different sets of objects, and then being shown new pairs of objects composed of shapes or colours they hadn't yet seen.

The researchers were amazed to find the birds could distinguish differences and similarities between the objects.

Can you control drones with your brain?

A US researcher has discovered how to control multiple robotic drones using the human brain.

The controller wears a skull cap outfitted with 128 electrodes wired to a computer, which records electrical brain activity.

If the controller moves a hand or thinks of something, certain areas light up - and Dr Panagiotis Artemiadis of Arizona State University is now trying to decode the activity to control variables for robots. A wireless system sends the thought to up to four small robots.

To make them move, the controller watches on a monitor and pictures the drones performing various tasks.

Artemiadis' next goal is to have multiple people controlling multiple robots, and he plans to move to a much larger experimental space to refine the proof of concept.

In the future, he envisages drone swarms carrying out complex operations such as search-and-rescue missions.

Life, but not as we know it

If the origin of life is common on other worlds, the universe should be a cosmic zoo full of complex multicellular organisms.

That's the belief of a US astrobiologist, who uses the evolution of Earth life as a model to predict what humans might find living on distant planets and moons in a new paper published in the journal Life.

Dr Dirk Schulze-Makuch, of Washington State University, found that once life originates, the evolution of organisms functionally similar to plants or animals on Earth will naturally follow, given enough time and a suitable environment.

"If the origin of life can occur rather easily, a percentage of organisms on other worlds will reach higher levels of animal- or plant-like complexity," he said.

"On the other hand, if the origin of life is a rare event, then chances are we live in a rather empty universe."

Why we tap our feet to the beat

The "motor theory of perception" could be what gives us happy feet.
The "motor theory of perception" could be what gives us happy feet.

What makes us tap our feet when we hear a song we like?

Previous studies have shown that people tend to perceive affinities between sound and body motion when experiencing music. The so-called "motor theory of perception" claims these similarity relationships are deeply rooted in human cognition.

According to the theory, to perceive something we must actively simulate the motion associated with the sensory impressions we are trying to process. So, when we hear music, we tend to mentally simulate the body movements we believe have gone into producing the sound, thus, our experience of a sound entails a mental image of a body motion.

"Music-related motion, both sound-producing and sound-accompanying, leaves a trace in our minds and could be thought of as a kind of shape representation, one intimately linked to our experience of the salient features of musical sound," explained Professor Rolf Inge Godoy, who has published a new paper on the effect.

"The basic notion here is that images of sound-producing and other sound-related motion are actively recreated in listening and in musical imagery, hence the idea that motor theory could be the basis for the similarities between sound and body movement when we experience music."

- NZ Herald

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