Neuroscientists have identified a brain circuit that stops mice from mating with others that appear to be sick

by Sarah McDonnell, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Credit: Unsplash/CC0 Public Domain

When someone is sick, it’s natural to want to stay as far from them as possible. It turns out this is also true for mice, according to an MIT study that also identified the brain circuit responsible for this distancing behavior.

In a study that explores how otherwise powerful instincts can be overridden in some situations, researchers from MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory found that when male mice encountered a female mouse showing signs of illness, the males interacted very little with the females and made no attempts to mate with them as they normally would. The researchers also showed that this behavior is controlled by a circuit in the amygdala, which detects distinctive odors from sick animals and triggers a warning signal to stay away.

“As a community, it’s very important for animals to be able to socially distance themselves from sick individuals,” says Gloria Choi, an associate professor of brain and cognitive sciences at MIT and a member of the Picower Institute. “Especially in species like mice, where mating is instinctively driven, it’s imperative to be able to have a mechanism that can shut it down when the risk is high.”

Choi’s lab has previously studied how illness influences behavior and neurological development in mice, including the development of autism-like behaviors following maternal illness during pregnancy. The new study, which appears today in Nature, is her first to reveal how illness can affect healthy individuals’ interactions with those who are sick.

The paper’s lead author is MIT postdoc Jeong-Tae Kwon. Other authors of the paper include Myriam Heiman, the Latham Family Career Development Associate Professor of Neuroscience and a member of the Picower Institute, and Hyeseung Lee, a postdoc in Heiman’s lab.

Keeping a distance

For mice and many other animals, certain behaviors such as mating and fighting are innately programmed, meaning that the animals automatically engage in them when certain stimuli are present. However, there is evidence that under certain circumstances, these behaviors can be overridden, Choi says.

“We wanted to see whether there’s a brain mechanism that would be engaged when an animal encounters a sick member of the same species that would modulate these innate, automatic social behaviors,” she says.×280&!1&btvi=1&fsb=1&xpc=KvznY2oOA1&p=https%3A//

Previous studies have shown that mice can distinguish between healthy mice and mice that have been injected with a bacterial component called LPS, which induces mild inflammation when given at a low dose. These studies suggested that mice use odor, processed by their vomeronasal organ, to identify sick individuals.

To explore whether mice would change their innate behavior when exposed to sick animals, the researchers placed male mice in the same cage with either a healthy female or a female that was showing LPS-induced signs of illness. They found that the males engaged much less with the sick females and made no effort to mount them.

The researchers then tried to identify the brain circuit underlying this behavior. The vomeronasal organ, which processes pheromones, feeds into a part of the amygdala called the COApm, and the MIT team found that this region is activated by the presence of LPS-injected animals.

Further experiments revealed that activity in the COApm is necessary to suppress the males’ mating behavior in the presence of sick females. When COApm activity was turned off, males would try to mate with sick females. Additionally, artificially stimulating the COApm suppressed mating behavior in males even when they were around healthy females.

Sickness behavior

The researchers also showed that the COApm communicates with another part of the amygdala called the medial amygdala, and this communication, carried by a hormone called thyrotropin releasing hormone (TRH), is necessary to suppress mating behavior. The link to TRH is intriguing, Choi says, because thyroid dysfunction has been implicated in depression and social withdrawal in humans. She now plans to explore the possibility that internal factors (such as mental state) can alter TRH levels in the COApm circuits to modulate social behavior.

“This is something we are trying to probe in the future: whether there’s a link between thyroid dysfunction and modulation of this amygdala circuit that controls social behavior,” she says.

This study is part of a larger effort in Choi’s lab to study the role of neuro-immune interactions in coordinating “sickness behaviors.” One area they are investigating, for example, is whether pathogens might attempt to exert control over the animals’ behavior and stimulate them to socialize more, allowing viruses or bacteria to spread further.

“Pathogens may also have the ability to utilize immune systems, including cytokines and other molecules, to engage the same circuits in the opposite way, to promote more engagement,” Choi says. “This is a sort of far-flung, but very interesting and exciting idea. We want to examine host-pathogen interactions at a network level to understand how the same neuro-immune mechanisms can be differently employed by the host versus pathogen to either contain or spread the infection, respectively, within a community. For example, we want to follow sick animals through their interactions within the community while controlling their immune status and manipulating their neural circuits.”

Explore furtherBrain state behind social interaction uncovered

More information: An amygdala circuit that suppresses social engagement, Nature (2021). DOI: 10.1038/s41586-021-03413-6Journal information:NatureProvided by Massachusetts Institute of Technology

NASA’s Mars helicopter is slowly unfolding beneath the Perseverance rover

By Elizabeth Howell a day ago

Click here for more videos… 0% PLAY SOUND

NASA’s Perseverance rover is slowly getting ready to deploy the first helicopter on Mars even as it takes a look back at the litter it’s dropping on the Red Planet.

The rover, which was carefully sterilized on Earth to avoid contaminating Mars with microbes, dropped a protective debris shield onto the planet’s surface on March 21. The shield is no longer needed as it was designed to protect Ingenuity during the “seven minutes of terror” landing in February.

An image from the WATSON (Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and engineering) camera on the rover’s robotic arm shows the debris shield safely on the surface of Jezero Crater, between the rover’s six wheels. It’s the second thing Perseverance dropped in recent weeks, after an unneeded belly pan relating to its sampling system.

Video: Perseverance rover’s latest tracks & Mars ‘litter’ (with Sol 16 audio)

NASA's Mars helicopter Ingenuity is seen half unfolded beneath the Perseverance rover during deployment operations on March 29, 2021. It is the first helicopter on Mars.
NASA’s Mars helicopter Ingenuity is seen half unfolded beneath the Perseverance rover during deployment operations on March 29, 2021. It is the first helicopter on Mars. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

“Away goes the debris shield, and here’s our first look at the helicopter,” the Perseverance Twitter account tweeted March 21. 

In a series of images from Perseverance, the Mars helicopter can be seen slowly unfolding from its initial position on the rover’s belly.

“It [the helicopter] is stowed sideways, folded up and locked in place, so there’s some reverse origami to do before I can set it down. First though, I’ll be off to the designated ‘helipad,’ a couple days’ drive from here,” Perseverance team members wrote on Twitter as the rover.

The Ingenuity helicopter is expected to attempt its first flight as soon as April 8, according to NASA, and it will be the first time an aircraft will attempt to fly through another world’s atmosphere. “A couple more drives should get me there,” the tweet added.Click here for more videos…See Perseverance’s latest rover tracks & Mars ‘litter’ pics (with Sol 16 audio) 0% PLAY SOUND

The rover is on a larger quest to seek signs of habitability in Jezero Crater, which appears to have been rich in water earlier in its history. Perseverance will cache the most promising samples it finds for a future sample-return mission to ferry back to Earth. As for Ingenuity, if it can fly it will hail a potential new generation of Martian explorers that can scout ahead of rovers and even humans, in the decades to come, to make surface exploration easier.Click here for more videos…Perseverance watches Ingenuity helicopter begin to unfold on Mars 0% PLAY SOUND

NASA plans to start the Ingenuity flight campaign no earlier than April 8, assuming that Perseverance will be able to deploy the helicopter safely on the surface — a complicated six-sol or Martian day process. (A sol is roughly 24 hours, 40 minutes of Earth time.) Perseverance and Ingenuity are also working mostly on their own, as radio communications must send preprogrammed instructions to Mars, which is several minutes’ light speed away from us. 

Perseverance teams are working on Mars time for a few months to make the most of the mission start, and hope to get Ingenuity off the ground within 30 sols or 31 Earth days of the drone’s deployment.

Could microdosing be as good as yoga for your mood? It’s not that big a stretch

March 30, 2021 2.54pm EDT


  1. Stephen BrightSenior Lecturer of Addiction, Edith Cowan University
  2. Vince PolitoSenior Research Fellow in Cognitive Science, Macquarie University

Disclosure statement

Stephen Bright is a Director of the DGR-1 charity, Psychedelic Research in Science & Medicine Ltd (PRISM). Stephen Bright has had no formal association with Mind Medicine Australia, except through its allocated funding of PRISM’s support of clinical research at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne.

Vince Polito consults to Mydecine Innovations Group.


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Macquarie University

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Microdosing has become something of a wellness trend in recent years, gathering traction in Australia and overseas.

The practice involves taking a low dose of a psychedelic drug to enhance performance, or reduce stress and anxiety.

While the anecdotal accounts are compelling, significant questions remain around how microdosing works, and how much of the reported benefits are due to pharmacological effects, rather than participants’ beliefs and expectations.

We’ve just published a new study following on from two earlier studies on microdosing. Our body of research tells us some benefits of microdosing may be comparable to other wellness activities such as yoga.

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Existing evidence

It’s not clear how many Australians microdose, but the proportion of Australian adults who have used psychedelics in their lifetime increased from 8% in 2001 to 10.9% in 2019.

After a slow start, Australian research on psychedelics is now progressing rapidly. One area of particular interest is the science of microdosing.

In an earlier study by one of us (Vince Polito), levels of depression and stress decreased after a six-week period of microdosing. Further, participants reported less “mind wandering”, which might suggest microdosing leads to improved cognitive performance.

However, this study also found an increase in neuroticism. People who score highly on this dimension of personality experience unpleasant emotions more frequently, and tend to be more susceptible to depression and anxiety. This was a puzzling finding and didn’t seem to fit with the rest of the results.

Read more: Does microdosing improve your mood and performance? Here’s what the research says

Microdosing vs yoga

In a recent study, Stephen Bright’s research team recruited 339 participants who had engaged in either microdosing, yoga, both or neither.

Yoga practitioners reported higher levels of stress and anxiety than those in the microdosing or control groups (participants who did neither yoga nor microdosing). Meanwhile, people who had practised microdosing reported higher levels of depression.

We can’t say for sure why we saw these results, although it’s possible people experiencing stress and anxiety were attracted to yoga, whereas people experiencing depression tended more towards microdosing. This was a cross-sectional study, so participants were observed in their chosen activity, rather than assigned to a particular group.

Small or microdoses of LSD cut from a tab sit on a person's finger.
Microdosing involves taking a low dose of a psychedelic drug, such as LSD. Shutterstock

But importantly, the yoga group and the microdosing group recorded similarly higher overall psychological well-being scores compared with the control group.

And interestingly, people who engaged in both yoga and microdosing reported lower levels of depression, anxiety and stress. This suggests microdosing and yoga could have synergistic effects.

Our new research

Through a collaboration between Edith Cowan University, Macquarie University and the University of Göttingen in Germany, our most recent study aimed to extend these findings, and in particular try to get to the bottom of the possible effects of microdosing on neuroticism.

We recruited 76 experienced microdosers who completed a survey before undertaking a period of microdosing. Some 24 of these participants agreed to complete a follow-up survey four weeks later.

The results were published in the Journal of Psychedelic Studies this month. We found that like our earlier work, the 24 participants experienced personality changes after a period of microdosing. But the changes were not entirely what we anticipated.

This time, we found a decrease in neuroticism and an increase in conscientiousness (people who are highly conscientious tend to be diligent, for example). Interestingly, a greater amount of experience with microdosing was associated with lower levels of neuroticism among the 76 participants.

These results are more consistent with other research on the reported effects of microdosing and high-dose psychedelics.

Read more: It’s not all in your mind: how meditation affects the brain to help you stress less

So what does it all mean?

Our most recent findings suggest the positive effects of microdosing on psychological well-being could be due to a reduction in neuroticism. And the self-reported improvements in performance, which we’ve also observed in our past research, could be due to increased conscientiousness.

When considered together, the findings of our research suggest contemplative practices such as yoga might be particularly helpful for less experienced microdosers in managing negative side effects such as anxiety.

However, we cannot know for certain if the changes we’ve observed are due to microdosers holding positive expectations because of glowing anecdotal reports they’ve seen in the media. This represents a key limitation of our research.

As psychedelic drugs are illegal, it’s ethically complex to provide them to research participants — we generally have to observe them taking their own drugs. So another key challenge of this research is the fact we can’t know for sure precisely what drugs people are using, as they don’t always know themselves (especially for LSD).

A young man sits at his computer. He looks stressed.
Some people turn to microdosing to improve their performance at work. Shutterstock

Microdosing carries risks

Given the illegal drug market is unregulated, there’s a danger people could inadvertently consume a potentially dangerous new psychoactive substance, such as 25-I-NBOMe, which has been passed off as LSD.

People also can’t be sure of the size of the dose they’re taking. This could lead to unwanted effects, such as “tripping balls” at work.

Potential harms like these can be mitigated by checking your drugs (you can buy at-home test kits) and always starting off with a much lower dose than you think you need when using a batch for the first time.

Where to from here?

Despite the hype around microdosing, the scientific results so far are mixed. We’ve found microdosers report significant benefits. But it’s unclear how much of this is driven by placebo effects and expectations.

For people who choose to microdose, also engaging in contemplative practices such as yoga might mitigate some of the unwanted effects and lead to better outcomes overall. Some people might find they get the same benefit from the contemplative practices alone, which is less risky than microdosing.

As a next step, one of us (Vince Polito) and colleagues are using neuroimaging to investigate the effect of microdosing on the brain.

If you practise microdosing, are based in Sydney, and are interested in taking part in this research, please email

Read more: ‘Microdosers’ of psychedelics report improved mood, focus and creativity

Scientists built a perfectly self-replicating synthetic cell

By Nicoletta Lanese – Staff Writer a day ago

Series of micrograph images shows synthetic cells dividing

A new synthetic organism, called JCVI-syn3A, contains seven key genes that help it to divide as normal cells do. (Image credit: Micrographs provided by James Pelletier (MIT Center for Bits and Atoms and Department of Physics) and Elizabeth Strychalski (National Institute of Standards and Technology))

Scientists have crafted a single-celled synthetic organism that divides and multiplies just like the real thing. The advancement could someday help researchers to build miniscule computers and tiny drug-producing factories, all out of synthesized cells. 

Of course, that future likely won’t be realized for many years to come.

“There’s just so many ways in which this coming century of biology could potentially change our daily lives for the better,” said senior author Elizabeth Strychalski, leader of the Cellular Engineering Group at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). For example, Strychalski and her colleagues plan to engineer living sensors that can take measurements from their surrounding environments, monitoring the acidity, temperature and oxygen levels nearby. 

Related: 11 body parts grown in the lab CLOSE 0% PLAY SOUNDThis video file cannot be played.(Error Code: 232001)

These sensor cells could also be manufactured to produce specific products — namely medicines — and could potentially be placed inside the human body itself. “One vision is that when the cell senses a disease state, then it can make that therapeutic, and when a disease state is longer there, they could stop making that therapeutic,” Strychalski said. Other cells could be cultured in the lab and used to efficiently produce food and fuel products, while still others could be made to perform computational functions at a molecular scale, she added.

But again, these are all visions for the future. To get there, scientists need to unpack the mysteries of the cell at a fundamental level before they can manipulate it in their synthetic organisms. 

In the new study, Strychalski and her colleagues took a step toward that goal and published their results March 29 in the journal Cell. They began with an existing synthetic cell called JCVI-syn3.0, which was created in 2016 and contains only 473 genes, Scientific American reported. (For comparison, the bacterium Escherichia coli has about 4,000 genes, according to a statement.)

This bare-bones cell was crafted from the bacterium Mycoplasma genitalium, a sexually transmitted microbe, which scientists stripped of its natural DNA and replaced with their own engineered DNA. In creating JCVI-syn3.0, the scientists wanted to learn which genes are absolutely essential for a cell to survive and function normally, and which are superfluous. 

But while JCVI-syn3.0 could build proteins and replicate its DNA without issue, the minimalist cell could not divide into uniform spheres. Instead, it split haphazardly, producing daughter cells of many different shapes and sizes. Strychalski and her team set out to fix this problem by adding back genes to the stripped-down cell.

Grey micrograph of minimal cells; daughter cells are many different sizes and shapes
A previous version of a minimal cell, called JCVI-syn3.0, did not divide normally. This micrograph depicts how the cell would split into daughter cells of many different sizes.  (Image credit: Micrographs provided by Lijie Sun (J. Craig Venter Institute))

After years of work, the scientists produced JCVI-syn3A, which contains a total of 492 genes. Seven of these genes are critical for normal cell division, they discovered.

“A number of the genes in the minimal cell did not have a known function,” said co-first author James Pelletier, who at the time of the work was a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Center for Bits and Atoms. Similarly, “it turned out that some of the genes that the cell needs to divide previously did not have a known function,” he said. Reintroducing these genes allowed the minimal cell to split into perfectly uniform orbs.

Some of these important genes likely interact with the cell membrane, based on their genetic sequences, Pelletier said. This could mean that they alter the physical properties of the membrane, making it malleable enough to divide properly, or that they generate forces within the membrane that encourage the split, he said. But for now, the team doesn’t know what specific mechanisms the genes use to help cells split, he noted.RELATED CONTENT

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“Our study was not designed to figure out the mechanisms inside of the cell associated with each of these genes of unknown function,” Strychalski said. “That’s going to have to be a future study.”

While researchers continue to probe the mysteries of the minimal cell, other synthetic biologists are working with even more simplistic systems. Synthetic biology exists on a spectrum, from “a soup of inanimate chemicals to the full glory of a mammalian cell or a bacterial cell,” Strychalski said. The future of the field could lead us to innovative wonders like cell-sized computers, but for now, the work is largely driven by a curiosity about how the basic building blocks of life come together, and what that can tell us about ourselves, she said.

“How do we understand the most basic unit of life, the cell? … There’s something very compelling about that,” Strychalski said. “Later on, we can imagine all the things we can do with … this minimal platform.”

Originally published on Live Science.

MolMapNet: An out-of-the-box deep learning model to predict pharmaceutical properties

by Ingrid Fadelli , Tech Xplore

MolMapNet: An out-of-the-box deep learning model to predict pharmaceutical properties
The researchers’ innovative out-of-the-box MolMapNet AI tool for deep learning prediction of pharmaceutical properties. Starting from a molecule (top right), its molecular properties (such as molecular components below the molecule) are projected onto a 2D plate (top plate of the multi-plate structure) as an image, an image-recognizing AI (the multi-plate structure) reads the image pixels for recognizing the indicators of pharmaceutical properties, then predict (two layers of inter-connected beeds below the multi-plate structure) pharmaceutical properties (drug and bottle at lower left). The opened box (lower right) indicates that the AI tool can be used by non-experts out of the box. Credit: Shen et al.

Over the past few decades, computer scientists have developed deep learning tools for a broad variety of applications, including for the analysis of pharmaceutical drugs. Most recently, deep learning models that predict the properties of pharmaceuticals have been trained to analyze and learn molecular representations.

Researchers at Tsinghua University, the National University of Singapore, Fudan University’s School of Pharmacy, and Zheijang University have recently developed MolMapNet, a new artificial intelligence (AI) tool that can predict the pharmaceutical properties of drugs by analyzing human-knowledge-based molecular representations. This tool, presented in a paper published in Nature Machine Intelligence, can also be used by people with little or no knowledge of computer science, biology or other sciences.

“We were aware that pharmaceutical investigations require the learning of many molecular characters, particularly the rich collection of molecular properties (like volume) derived from human knowledge, but these molecular properties are tough to learn by AI (artificial intelligence),” Yu Zong Chen, one of the researchers who carried out the study, told TechXplore.

While AI tools are generally good at recognizing images that are spatially ordered (e.g., images of objects), they do not perform as well on unordered data such as molecular properties. This characteristic significantly impairs their performance on the analysis of pharmaceuticals. Chen and his colleagues wanted to overcome this limitation in order to improve the performance of deep-learning models for predicting pharmaceutical properties.

“With limited pharmaceutical data, it is hard to improve AI architectures,” Chen said. “We asked whether we could improve the way AI reads molecular properties. Our solution is to map unordered molecular properties into ordered images for AI to more efficiently recognize molecular properties.”

This innovative out-of-the-box AI tool does not require parameter fine tuning, which means that it is also accessible to non-expert users. Remarkably, the researchers found that it outperformed state-of-the-art AI tools on most of the 26 pharmaceutical benchmark datasets.

“Our approach follows three steps for improved deep learning prediction of pharmaceutical properties,” Chen said. “The first step is to broadly learn the intrinsic relationships of molecular properties from over 8 million molecules. These relationships may be linked to and thus indicators of various pharmaceutical properties.”

The second step of the approach entails the use of a newly developed data transformation technique to map the molecular properties of pharmaceuticals into 2D images, where the pixel layouts reflect the intrinsic relationships between these properties. These pixel layouts contain crucial indicators of pharmaceutical properties that can be captured by adequately trained deep learning models.

As a third step, the researchers trained an image-recognition tool to learn the 2D images and use them to predict pharmaceutical properties. The AI tool can capture specific pixel layout patterns that characterize specific pharmaceutical properties, similarly to how AI techniques might discern between males and females in a picture by looking at hair length or other gender-related features.

“There are two notable achievements of our study,” Chen said. “The first is the introduction of a new method for mapping unordered molecular properties into ordered images that present the intrinsic relationships of molecular properties. The second is the development of an innovative out-of-the-box AI tool for deep-learning prediction of pharmaceutical properties by non-experts with state-of-the-art performance.”

In the future, the out-of-the-box deep learning model could significantly speed up pharmaceutical research, helping scientists to predict the properties of different drugs faster and more efficiently. In their next studies, Chen and his colleagues plan to develop their model further, so that it can also be applied to biomedical studies.

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More information: Out-of-the-box deep learning prediction of pharmaceutical properties by broadly learned knowledge-based molecular representations. Nature Machine Intelligence(2021). DOI: 10.1038/s42256-021-00301-6Journal information:Nature Machine Intelligence

The Radioactive Diamond Battery That Will Run For 28,000 Years

It’s powered by nuclear waste, but still safe for humans.


  • The startup NDB is making a 28,000-year battery.
  • The battery is powered by nuclear waste, with energy extracted by diamonds.
  • The battery is costly and fussy, but it could power devices for (many) years at a time.

In two years, one startup says you’ll be able to buy its diamond nuclear-powered battery. Even cooler: The battery will last for up to 28,000 years.

➡ You think science is badass. So do we. Let’s nerd out over it together.

We know—that sounds wild. The potential game-changer comes from the U.S. startup NDB, which stands for Nano Diamond Battery, a “high-power diamond-based alpha, beta, and neutron voltaic battery” its research scientist founders say can give devices “life-long and green energy.”

Could NDB’s bold claim actually become a reality?

To build its nano diamond battery, NDB combines radioactive isotopes from nuclear waste with layers of paneled nano diamonds. Diamonds are a rare thing to begin with, but their extremely good heat conductance makes them even more unusual in the realm of construction of devices. Micro-sized single crystal diamonds move heat away from the radioactive isotope materials so quickly that the transaction generates electricity.ADVERTISEMENT – CONTINUE READING BELOW content is imported from {embed-name}. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.

Scientists presented the first known diamond nuclear voltaic (DNV) battery concept using waste graphite from a graphite-cooled nuclear reactor. The radioactively contaminated graphite could last thousands of years, with the heat-conducting diamonds pulling that energy away into electricity alongside it the whole time. NDB’s concept is the same, but with layers and layers of the diamond and radioactive waste panels to equal higher total amounts of energy.

power of the battery


You’re probably wondering what the catch is. The diamond battery uses nuclear waste, lasts thousands of years, and involves layers of only the tiniest possible diamonds? That all sounds fantastic. But the truth is more complicated. Each battery cell will produce only a minuscule amount of energy, so the cells must be combined in huge numbers in order to power regular and larger devices.RELATED STORIESPhone Need a Jump? Turn to These Battery PacksA Breakthrough in Massless Energy StorageIs the World Ready for the EV Battery Boom?

There are also some simple questions about logistics. How can a battery made from radioactive waste be safe for human use? There’s a reason it’s so complex and expensive to “dispose of” nuclear waste. It’s also costly to produce the nano diamonds because, well, diamonds are just expensive. That’s before any manufacturing takes place.

NDB addresses these questions on its corporate site:

“The DNV stacks along with the source are coated with a layer of poly-crystalline diamond, which is known for being the most thermally conductive material also has the ability to contain the radiation within the device and is the hardest material, [12] times tougher than stainless steel. This makes our product extremely tough and tamperproof.”

The present day and the future are both littered with applications for a small, almost indestructible battery cell. You could own one watch with a single battery and pass it down for generations without a change. Even nuclear microreactors designed to last decades without any maintenance are made into battery cells.ADVERTISEMENT – CONTINUE READING BELOW

Diamond batteries could also power certain kinds of spacecraft like satellites. The 28,000-year claims are based on low-power space applications like this, where, say, a Voyager-like space probe could function on a tiny amount of energy over an extremely long time.

And if enough of these battery cells are combined, they still could power regular stuff, keeping our small LED displays lit up, for example, while providing thrust for human spacecraft or electric cars.

After working on its battery since 2012, NDB says it will finally have a working product in 2023. The world will be waiting.

Eye tracking can reveal an unbelievable amount of information about you

By Loz BlainMarch 29, 2021

The windows of your soul can reveal an extraordinary amount about you, especially when a machine learning algorithm is watching

The windows of your soul can reveal an extraordinary amount about you, especially when a machine learning algorithm is watchinghquality/DepositphotosVIEW 2 IMAGES

Eye tracking technology is starting to pop up more and more, keeping track of where you’re looking and how your pupils and irises are reacting for a variety of different purposes. It doesn’t require particularly complex technology; a HD video camera that can watch your face is enough to collect the data.

But according to a 2020 research review, this data can divulge an extraordinary amount of information about you when it’s crunched through advanced data analysis systems. “Our analysis of the literature,” reads the paper’s abstract, “shows that eye tracking data may implicitly contain information about a user’s biometric identity, gender, age, ethnicity, body weight, personality traits, drug consumption habits, emotional state, skills and abilities, fears, interests, and sexual preferences.”


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That’s not all; “Certain eye tracking measures,” says the review, “may even reveal specific cognitive processes and can be used to diagnose various physical and mental health conditions.” According to Grandview Research, “the analyzed data is used to study a myriad of psychiatric and neurological conditions, such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), Parkinson‘s, Alzheimer‘s, and Schizophrenia, among others.”

What exactly are they looking at? Yes, eye tracking systems can see which way your eyes are pointing to infer what you’re looking at, but that’s far from the end of the story. They can also track the length of fixations, rapid eye motions between fixations, smooth pursuit movements and things like the acceleration and maximum speed of your eye movements.

They can analyze your eyelids, watching how far open your eyes are, how often you’re blinking and how long your eyes are staying shut when you do. They can take note of redness and see how watery or dry your eyes are through reflections. They can measure the dilation of your pupils – famously an indication of sexual interest or arousal, but also linked to drug use, fear and certain types of brain damage. They can note your eye color and iris texture.

Eye tracking devices can see much more than just what you're choosing to look at, and infer a huge amount of sensitive information
Eye tracking devices can see much more than just what you’re choosing to look at, and infer a huge amount of sensitive information

They can also note your facial expressions, eyebrow movements, number and depth of wrinkles around your eyes, your eye shape and skin color. There’s a reason why the eyes are spoken of as “the windows of the soul” – they can tell us a ton about the person we’re interacting with, and through evolution and pattern recognition, we each learn to glean a huge amount of information about people through their eyes.

Biometric identity can be established using a combination of things. The colors and patterns in your irises, for starters, can be used almost like a fingerprint. But so can your pupil reactivity, your gaze velocity and the trajectories your eyes take when following a moving object; mechanical and brain function differences make these things unique to you.

Then there’s mental workload – an area in which eye tracking sometimes performs better than an EEG. Pupil dilation can be used as a measure of task difficulty and mental effort. Your blink rate correlates with dopamine levels, signifying learning and goal-directed behavior.

Some of this stuff might be apparent to a human viewer; we can tell when somebody’s thinking, or accessing memories, or getting imaginative by watching the eye movements of others. But a lot of it involves the strangely opaque world of AI and deep learning.

The way our eyes move in everyday life turns out to be a surprisingly strong predictor of our personalities when crunched through these pattern-finding machine learning algorithms. One fascinating study found it could reliably predict what range a subject would score in on four out of the “big five” personality traits (neuroticism, extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness), as well as curiosity. Others have been able to identify your phobias, specific mating preferences, interests and areas of expertise.

Emotional data from the eyes is very detailed, moving far beyond just positive, neutral and negative into specifics like happiness, enthusiasm, stress, worry, humorous moods, disgust, curiosity, distress, nervousness, hostility, fear, anger, sadness and surprise. Emotional intensity can be measured, and interestingly, researchers have demonstrated that they can distinguish between instinctive emotional reactions and rational ones.

The list goes on and on, but you get the picture: under the right set of circumstances, any device that can watch your eyes carefully can learn a disconcerting amount of information about you – and while you can deliberately choose where you look, to an extent, there’s other things you can’t help giving away.

To mitigate these concerns, the researchers point out that many ocular cues can have confusing or contradictory meanings, and lot of the public research to date has been done in a lab, where it’s cheap and well controlled, rather than in the chaos of the real world.

On the other hand, this review covers only the publicly available research; “it may reasonably be assumed,” write the study’s authors, “that some of the companies with access to eye tracking data from consumer devices (e.g., device manufacturers, ecosystem providers) possess larger sets of training data, more technical expertise, and more financial resources than the researchers cited in this paper. Facebook, for example, a pioneer in virtual reality and eye tracking technology, is also one of the wealthiest and most profitable companies in the world with a multi-billion dollar budget for research and development and a user base of over 2.3 billion people.”

The benefits of this kind of technology are clear, particularly when paired with virtual reality or augmented reality technology; devices and apps can become extremely personalized and responsive to your current state and interests. The tech offers extraordinary opportunities for marketers to target you, not only with the right products, but with the right approaches, messengers and timing to make you optimally receptive.

Since it is unlikely that companies will voluntarily refrain from using or selling personal information that can be extracted from already collected data, there should be strong regulatory incentives and controls

And of course, with so much real-time feedback coming in, the chances to surveil, manipulate and coerce you will be higher than ever. The privacy implications will be significantly worse than the world (or a prospective employer, or a prospective insurer) seeing your internet history.

In order to preserve the benefits while minimizing the risks, the researchers suggest measures like keeping raw data only for temporary use on the device itself, and only passing it on to app and device manufacturers in aggregated, pre-crunched forms or with random statistical noise added to “fuzz” the data.

But since this stuff fits into a broader picture, where we can be compromised by advanced analysis on all manner of data streams being collected on us 24/7, governments will need to get ahead of the curve on privacy. “Since it is unlikely,” say the authors, “that companies will voluntarily refrain from using or selling personal information that can be extracted from already collected data, there should be strong regulatory incentives and controls.”

It’s certainly food for thought, particularly as we move toward the magical convenience of nerve-tracking augmented reality and Facebook pushes forward in developing hyper-realistic VR avatars that allow people to express themselves with ever-fuller ranges of facial and body language cues.

The full study – What Does Your Gaze Reveal About You? On the Privacy Implications of Eye Tracking – is available for free at Springer Link.

We recommend

  1. Fashion Meets Health in New Data Tracking TattoosTelemedicine Magazine, 2017
  2. New Eye Tracking Technology Adds Insight to Brain InjuriesEPMonthly, 2015
  3. Digital Technology and Genomics Hold Promise for Personalized MedicineGenomeWeb, 2010
  1. Bluestar Genomics Eyes Pan-Cancer Early Detection With Epigenetic Assay TechnologyJohn Gilmore, GenomeWeb, 2020
  2. The Heart of the Matter: An In-Depth Look at the Latest Evidence With CLL Therapies and How to Optimize Treatment SafetyAn independent learning activity funded by Janssen Inc. 15minutes
  3. Ibrutinib–Rituximab or Chemoimmunotherapy for Chronic Lymphocytic LeukemiaTait D. Shanafelt et al., NEJM, 2019

Fiber Optics Could Be the Key to Million-Qubit Quantum Computers

By Edd Gent -Mar 29, 202162

Bridging the gap between the cryogenically-cooled inner workings of quantum computers and the conventional electronics that control them is an outstanding challenge. Current approaches look unlikely to scale, but new research suggests optical fiber could be the key to creating devices big enough to revolutionize computing.

The past decade has seen significant breakthroughs in quantum computing, and a host of well-heeled technology companies joining the race to build the first commercially useful machines. But despite the progress, today’s leading quantum processors still only feature a few tens of qubits, the quantum equivalents of bits and the fundamental building blocks of the technology.

That’s orders of magnitude away from the number most experts think we’ll need to build a universal quantum computer powerful enough to tackle useful problems beyond conventional computers. While estimates vary, it’s likely to require millions of qubits, which could be hard to reach with current approaches.

Today’s leading processors use superconducting qubits, which are incredibly sensitive and have to be stored at temperatures close to absolute zero to prevent background thermal energy from disturbing them. They are both controlled and measured using microwave pulses, which are transmitted via dedicated electrical cables to each qubit individually.

The problem is that sending signals down these cables produces a tiny yet unavoidable amount of heat. At current qubit numbers this is manageable, but beyond a few thousand qubits the heat generated by thousands of these cables is likely to interfere with the operation of the processors.

Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology think they might have found a workaround. They have devised a way of sending the microwave pulses down optical fiber cables, which generate far less heat and could make it possible to pack millions of qubits together safely.

“I think this advance will have high impact because it combines two totally different technologies, photonics and superconducting qubits, to solve a very important problem,” NIST physicist John Teufel said in a press release. “Optical fiber can also carry far more data in a much smaller volume than conventional cable.”

Sending the microwave pulses over optical fiber was more complicated than simply switching out the cables. In a paper in Nature, the researchers describe how the long-wavelength microwave pulses first had to be converted into much shorter-wavelength infrared light signals using a device called an electro-optic modulator.

These were then transmitted down the optical fiber to a photodetector that can operate at the same cryogenic temperatures as the qubits. As the light hits the photodetectors, it produces an oscillating current, which in turn generates microwave pulses that can be used to either alter or measure the state of the qubit.

When the researchers used their system to measure the qubits’ state, they achieved an accuracy of 98 percent, exactly the same as when they carried out the measurement using a conventional electrical cable.

The authors acknowledge that work is already underway to try and reduce the heat produced by current approaches, including the development of thinner wires, proposals to replace wires with superconducting cables, or a process called multiplexing that makes it possible to send many signals over the same cable simultaneously.

But optical fiber is a well-established technology, and is already replacing electrical wires in many areas of computing thanks to its ability to carry far more data. The authors also point out that components used in this experiment were designed to work at room temperature, so optimizing them for cryogenic temperatures could provide significant performance gains.

Solving the wiring problem is still only a small part of the much broader challenge of building large-scale quantum computers. But the research suggests a tried and tested technology could remove at least one of the hurdles in the way.

MARCH 29, 2021 9:00AM ET

How Do These CBD Products Help With Sleep?

From tinctures and capsules, to calming bath bombs, here’s why more and more people are adding CBD to their list of all-natural sleep aids


Tim Chan

best cbd for sleep

Products featured are independently selected by our editorial team and we may earn a commission from purchases made from our links; the retailer may also receive certain auditable data for accounting purposes.

Everyone is trying to get better sleep today and there are no shortage of products that promise to help ease you into deeper slumber, from weighted blankets to fancy sound machines. But more and more people are adding CBD to their sleep checklist as well.

Related: From (CBD) Pillows to White Noise Machines, 13 Ways to Get Better Sleep

When Travis Barker had trouble falling asleep on tour, after a grueling schedule had him in a different city and different bed each night, the drummer started to look for more “natural ways to wind down.” That’s when he discovered CBD.

“I used to have trouble with sleep,” Barker tells Rolling Stone, “and I would take a ton of melatonin, valerian tea, Tylenol PM, or Nyquil,” he admits, “but CBD was like the best kind of result that I got.”


From (CBD) Pillows to White Noise Machines, Here Are 13 Ways to Get Better SleepThe Best Pillows for Your Sleeping Style

The immediate benefits that Barker found with CBD led him to create Barker Wellness, a new line of cannabinoid-infused products that includes a unique CBD tincture for sleep. While CBD is not a medically-approved solution for sleep, experts say a little CBD could go a long towards promoting more soothing, stress-free slumber.

How Does CBD Work for Sleep?

“CBD is a compound that supports a powerful, yet widespread network of receptors in the body called the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which is known to help regulate energy, mood, sleep, and more,” explains Dr. Jason Wersland, Founder and Chief Wellness Officer of Therabody, the newly-rebranded company that now includes the popular Theragun percussion devices as well as a line of lotions and tinctures for recovery and relief. “Researchers have found that CBD, found naturally in the hemp plant, interacts with ECS receptors throughout the body much like molecules the body naturally produces.”

Experts say the best CBD products for sleep also help you wind down by addressing some of the root causes of restlessness and stress.

“Most people don’t realize the quality of sleep is closely related to stress and maintaining a strong immune system, and you need both systems properly in check if you want an optimal immune response to anything,” adds Jay Hartenbach, CEO of CBD brand Medterra. “If your cortisol levels are elevated, it can keep you awake. CBD is thought to decrease this and keep your body in a homeostasis state.”

If you’re just easing into CBD, Hartenbach suggests finding CBD products that also contain other ingredients that work together to help you feel more restful and relaxed. “CBD, amino acids, L-theanine and 5-HTP, and relaxing herbs like passion flower, chamomile, and lemon balm have each individually been shown to help with providing a full restful night and have been expertly formulated to work together for desired results to address the most common issues,” Hartenbach says. “Proper sleep and circadian control are absolutely essential to an optimally functioning immune system. If your body lacks restful sleep, so does your immunity.”

Will CBD for Sleep Make You Drowsy or High?

The best CBD for sleep is designed to help you ease into slumber — not knock you out. And unlike THC, which may have some psychoactive effects, Wersland says “CBD is non-intoxicating and will not make you feel high.”

If you’re new to CBD, trying a CBD gummy for sleep is an easy way to test out its effects in an easy-to-take format (basically like a gummy bear or gummy vitamin). Many brands also have flavorless CBD oils (or “CBD tinctures”), which come out of a dropper, letting you control exactly how much you want to take. Wersland’s suggestion: start small and then see how the tincture affects you. “If you’d like to take one full dropper that’s 33mg of full-spectrum CBD you can,” he says, “or you can take a ¼ of a dropper which is about 8mg of CBD.”

Of course CBD is primarily meant for therapeutic benefits and is not meant to replace any doctor-recommended prescriptions if you suffer from serious insomnia. You should also see a doctor if you have a severe sleep disorder, restlessness or anxiety, as CBD is not meant to treat those issues.

What is the Best CBD for Sleep?

If you’re looking to try out CBD products for sleep, we’re rounded up some of our favorite options below. These have all been tested by our editors for ease of use and efficacy, though CBD will affect everyone differently. All the products on our list have also been tested by independent third-party labs for quality assurance and safety but you should read the ingredient list and labels before using to find the right products for your needs.

1. Cornbread Hemp AM/PM CBD Oil Bundle

One of the easiest ways to get into CBD is with this AM/PM CBD oil bundle from Cornbread Hemp. Take a drop or two of the Distilled CBD Oil in the morning to start your day, and chill out at night with the Whole Flower CBD Oil. To use: place a few drops under your tongue and hold for 30 seconds before swallowing, or mix a few drops into a glass of water or your bedtime tea (it’s virtually tasteless and it dissolves easily).

Cornbread uses only USDA-certified organic ingredients, with no preservatives, flavors or sweeteners. Choose from an original strength or extra strength pack. What we like: the included dropper has four size markings (0.25, 0.50, 0.75 and 1ml) so you can easily control your dosage and work your way up (for reference, one serving is 1ml).

cornbread hemp cbd oil

Cornbread Hemp

Buy: Cornbread Hemp AM/PM CBD Bundle at $139.99

2. Medterra Sleep Tight Gummies

We’re big fans of these strawberry-flavored CBD gummies from Medterra, which has helped us ease into sleep with less tossing and turning (or anxious thoughts). Each gummy contains 25mg of CBD, along with other natural sleep aids like melatonin and chamomile. We’ve found that these work fast, so take them just before bed (like 15-20 minutes before you hit the sack).

Each pack contains 30 servings. Not sure how your body will react? We started by taking half a gummy, before slowly graduating to taking the full piece.

medterra sleep tight gummies

Yellow Images

Buy: Medterra Sleep Tight Gummies at $39.99

3. Good Night Liposomal CBD+ Capsules

If you prefer the ease of a capsule, we like Medterra’s Sleep Well Liposomal Capsules. These easy-to-swallow capsules include a broad spectrum hemp extract that combines CBD with CBG, CBN, CBC, CBDV and other naturally-occurring terpenes. It does not contain THC, so it’s safe and legal to use in all states.

In addition to the hemp extracts, these capsules contain natural herbs like lion’s mane (for stress), GABA (for calming), melatonin (to help regulate the sleep cycle) and chamomile (which helps you get deeper sleep). Because this comes in a capsule format (rather than say, an edible or tincture), Medterra says it allows for 10x faster absorption to the bloodstream.

Each order gets you 30 capsules. Take one at night about 20-30 minutes before bed. Medterra says you can increase dosage to two capsules per day if you need something stronger.

medterra sleep cbd capsules


Buy: Medterra Good Night CBD+ Capsules at $54.99

4. Barker Wellness Sleep Tincture

Travis Barker’s new CBD line includes this easy-to-take sleep tincture. The unique formula combines CBD and CBN (another naturally occurring cannabinol said to help with insomnia), along with melatonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), an amino acid believed to have stress-relieving properties. Take half a dropper to start and put it under your tongue or dissolve the drops into water. In our experience, we’ve found that a full drop under the tongue works best, though it takes an hour or so before you start feeling sleepy, so time it accordingly.

barker wellness sleep tincture

Barker Wellness

Buy: Barker Wellness Sleep Tincture at $65

5. TheraOne Sleep CBD Tincture

Another easy-to-take CBD product that actually helps with sleep, from our experience, is the TheraOne Sleep CBD Tincture. Along with USDA-certified organic CBD, the TheraOne tincture also contains organic lavender, organic
lemon balm oil and organic chamomile, which the company says is “designed to help encourage deeper, more restorative sleep.”

TheraOne also touts its unique “Biosorb technology,” which it says can help increase the effectiveness of the CBD, so you can fall asleep faster — and stay sleeping more soundly.

To use: take one full dropper under the tongue, which delivers 33mg of CBD. You can also start with half a dropper to see how the formula affects you. Each bottle contains about 30 full servings.

Theragun sleep cbd tincture


Buy: TheraOne Sleep CBD Tincture at $80

Want the full-body experience? Get Therabody’s exclusive “Better Sleep Set,” which includes the Theragun Elite Smart Percussive Therapy device (a.k.a. a massage gun), soothing CBD Massage Oil, and a bottle of the TheraOne Sleep CBD Tincture. This all-in-one set is available for $574 at It makes a great gift idea too.

theragun better sleep set


Buy: Therabody Better Sleep Set at $574

6. CBDFX CBD Gummies with Melatonin for Sleep

These CBD gummies are the easiest options on our list to take, and the least-intimidating way to get into CBD for sleep. Take two of these gummies 30 minutes before bed for best effects. The lemon-flavored chews combine CBD with melatonin, which is a natural sleep aid. The company says the addition of magnesium helps to promote calmness.

Each serving of two gummies contains 50mg of broad spectrum CBD. Everything is certified vegan, all-natural and gluten-free, so it’s easy on the stomach too.

cbdfx gummies for sleep

Buy: CBDFX CBD Gummes for Sleep at $49.99

7. CBD MD Bath Bombs

A relaxing bath is always a good way to destress before bed, and many companies are now making CBD bath bombs for sleep. This one, from CBD MD, is made from a mix of USA-sourced hemp CBD and calming essential oils like frankincense, lavender, eucalyptus. The addition of epsom salts adds further restorative benefits.

This multi-pack contains six bath bombs in different colors and scents. Get 100mg of CBD per bath bomb. The effects of this are mild, so you’ll want to throw the entire CBD bomb in the water and let it slowly dissolve.

cbd bath bomb


Buy: CBD Bath Bombs (Six-Pack) at $44.99

8. Terravita Sleep Better Bundle

Get the benefits of a bath and an ingestible with this Sleep Better Bundle from Terravita. The premium CBD company is known for their unique and potent formulas, which combine full-spectrum CBD with plant-based ingredients (think coconut oil, lavender oil and aloe vera in the bath soak, and hempseed oil and grapefruit in the tincture).

This set gets you a CBD bath soak to help with relaxation and recovery after a long day; a sleep CBD tincture to help you wind down; and a bottle of sleep CBD capsules that the company says promotes better sleep.

Use each item separately or as part of your nightly wellness routine. You’ll want to start with 3-4 scoops of the CBD bath soak and let it dissolve in warm water before getting in the bath. We like using it after a workout or travel, to help detox the body. For the tincture, take one full dropper and hold under your tongue for 30-60 seconds. The recommended dosage for the capsules, meantime, is one capsule, about 30-45 minutes before bed.

terravita sleep better bundle


Buy: Terravita Sleep Better Bundle at $206.97

In This Article: CBDRS RecommendsSleep