Posts Tagged ‘computer’

Modelling catastrophic dam collapse and natural disasters

// June 24th, 2011 // Comments Off on Modelling catastrophic dam collapse and natural disasters // Recent Research, Science Communication

One of the biggest dams in the world, Geheyan Dam in China holds more water than five Sydney Harbour’s, a massive 3.12 billion cubic metres worth.

What would happen if it failed?

Models of Geheyan town before and after dam collapse

Australian CSIRO scientists collaborated with China’s Satellite Surveying & Mapping Application Centre (SASMAC) to model the region and apply six different dam failure scenarios.

“Our simulations show where the water would go, how fast it would reach important infrastructure such as power stations and the extent of inundation in major townships downstream,” said Dr Mahesh Prakash from CSIRO in the press release.

Dam failure is a real possibility, as many parts of China are prone to earthquakes. We’ve seen plenty of natural disasters over the past year, highlighting the need to prepare for such events.

Modelling and data visualisation can inform emergency procedure development and ensure new infrastructure is built protected areas.

“The modelling technique we developed for this work is really powerful,” Dr Prakash said. “It gives us very realistic water simulations including difficult-to-model behaviours such as wave motion, fragmentation and splashing.”

This video shows a dam failure simulation, and explains how the model was created. I enjoyed the delicious hundreds and thousands demonstration to show how water acts as a group of particles. Yummy!

The same software has been used to model other catastrophic events, including tsunamis and volcanoes. They also modeled the 1928 St Francis dam break in California. The simulation was very similar to the real event, suggesting the technique is accurate.

Thought controlled computers? Recent research says yes.

// October 29th, 2010 // 6 Comments » // Recent Research

computer thinking

Image by Amarand Agasi

Imagine being able to control a computer with your mind!

No longer would we be tied down to keyboards, mice and touchscreens!

We need NEVER put down our coffee to work!

It’s not fantasy, that just happened.

Twelve subjects sat in front of a computer and looked at two superimposed images on a screen, focusing their mind on one of the pictures. The computer responded by making the image stronger while fading the other image away until only one was visible. They picked the image they wanted to look at, and made it so!

All the subjects had epilepsy, and had fine wires inside their brains to monitor seizures. These wires were attached to neurons and connected to the computer. Now not everyone has wires in their brain… YET. But to be honest I would consider it.

The images were picked during a screening process earlier that morning, which selected pairs that activated very different neurons. Marilyn Monroe and Michael Jackson were two famous faces used as pictures in the experiment. The Marilyn Monroe image might make some neurons fire faster, while the Michael Jackson image would make others fire. The pairs were used several times during the tests, half the time one picture was the target (ie. Marilyn) and the rest of the time, the other (Jackson.)

To quote the letter, published in Nature “The subject was instructed to enhance the target image from the hybrid image on the screen by ‘continuously thinking of the concept represented by that image.'” The concept? Like Marilyn Monroe and sex? Maybe. All the images were ones that would be familiar to the subjects, though I would like to know if you can choose between two completely new pictures.

Success rate (making the target picture take up the whole screen) was about 70%. Not bad… not great, but not bad.

This new research could shed light on how information is used in the brain, and how interactions between single brain cells let us make decisions. I personally hope this is the one of many steps towards real mind-control in the computer realm. Come on science, I’m sick of typing! Give me my mind mouse!

Here is the research paper. FYI, it was a bitch to read! Very confusing.

ResearchBlogging.orgCerf, M., Thiruvengadam, N., Mormann, F., Kraskov, A., Quiroga, R., Koch, C., & Fried, I. (2010). On-line, voluntary control of human temporal lobe neurons Nature, 467 (7319), 1104-1108 DOI: 10.1038/nature09510

What is the synthetic cell?

// May 22nd, 2010 // 1 Comment » // How Things Work, Recent Research

Two days ago scientists at J. Craig Venter announced the creation of the first self-replicating synthetic cell, a bacteria with DNA made in a lab. How did they do it, and what does it mean for us in the future?

First up, the scientists didn’t make life out of nothing, and they didn’t make a new species. They recreated a bacteria that already existed, and developed the techniques to do it.

The bacteria is Mycoplasma mycoides. It’s a parasite which lives in cows, and some subspecies cause cow lung disease. It has a circular chromosome made of just under 600,000 base pairs, making it a small genome.

The scientists had the genome sequence of M. mycoides and split it into bite-size portions and then synthesised. Synthesising DNA is nothing new, scientists have been able to write DNA code for quite a while, and can write whatever code they want to.

These little chunks were put into yeast, which can be forced to absorb little bits of DNA. Inside the yeast, the chunks can be sewn together. It’s called recombination. The resulting medium chunks were taken out and put into more yeast to be sewn together making large chunks. There were 11 large chunks were put into more yeast, and sewn together into one complete genome.

Along the way and at the end they checked the code was right by doing PCR tests, genetic fingerprinting made famous by CSI.

Result: A synthetic genome, written by a computer and put together in yeast sweatshops.

Now they had to get it into a bacterial cell. At first they tried to put the DNA into bacterial cells of a similar species, M. capricolum. They ran into trouble at first, because the DNA they had was unmethylated (lacking methyl groups) and the bacteria destroys DNA which is unmethylated. It’s a clever defense mechanism, and they got around it by methylating the DNA before putting it in.

Finally success. The synthetic genome was put into an M. capricolum bacteria where it replaced the normal genome. The bacteria were controlled by the new, synthetic chromosome and were able to replicate billions of times.

What does it mean for us in the future? The technology these guys have developed could be used to alter the DNA of bacteria and make them do new things. From medicine to clean water, the benefits could be huge. We already have this ability to some extent, but it opens up some new doors.

Some organisations have raised concerns about the work. Could a new bacteria be unleashed and take over the world? Probably not. It’s hard to predict how new genes will work in cells, and everything is linked together in a way we don’t understand now. Too much tinkering to the genome will probably not be tolerated by the cell. And if it did get outside, it would probably be extinct pretty quickly because it doesn’t have thousands of years of evolution to prepare it for the world.

If it did get out, we could track it back to the company in charge. These guys watermarked their genome by adding some quotes into the DNA/protein code. Now that’s just epically geeky!

ResearchBlogging.orgGibson, D., & et al (2010). Creation of a Bacterial Cell Controlled by a Chemically Synthesized Genome Science DOI: 10.1126/science.1190719






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