Tag Archives: infrared

Nanaoparticles (white) bind to rods and cones in the retina of mice, allowing the rodents to sense infrared. Credit: Current Biology.

Scientists give mice infrared vision (and humans could be next)

Credit: Public Domain.

In something that seems out of a Philip K. Dick novel, researchers injected a nanoparticle solution into the eyes of mice, granting them the ability to see in infrared. Normally, the eyes of rodents, or humans for that matter, cannot perceive infrared electromagnetic radiation, although they can sense it in the form of heat.

Super vision

Most mammals, including people, can only see in a narrow range of the electromagnetic spectrum, called visible light. The visible spectrum extends from 380 nanometers to 740 nanometers, which is outside the infrared spectrum whose wavelengths extend from 800 nanometers all the way one millimeter.

“When light enters the eye and hits the retina, the rods and cones–or photoreceptor cells–absorb the photons with visible light wavelengths and send corresponding electric signals to the brain,” Gang Han at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, said in a statement. “Because infrared wavelengths are too long to be absorbed by photoreceptors, we are not able to perceive them.”

Infrared or thermal cameras are equipped with detectors that can translate infrared radiation by assigning each temperature a shade of a color. Colder temperatures are often given a shade of blue, purple, or green, while warmer temperatures can be assigned a shade of red, orange, or yellow.

We don’t know how exactly the mice in this experiment perceived infrared through their vision, but what seems likely is that they could.

Researchers at the University of Science and Technology in China and the University of Massachusetts Medical School developed nanoparticles that bind to the eye’s existing structures. Once the nanoparticles anchor to photoreceptor cells, they act as tiny infrared light transducers. When infrared light hits the retina, the longer infrared wavelengths are re-emitted into shorter wavelengths within the visible light range. So, technically, the mice don’t really see infrared — they see infrared information in a perceptible form, which is exactly how a thermal vision camera works.

“In our experiment, nanoparticles absorbed infrared light around 980 nm in wavelength and converted it into light peaked at 535 nm, which made the infrared light appear as the color green,” said Jin Bao at the University of Science and Technology of China.

Nanaoparticles (white) bind to rods and cones in the retina of mice, allowing the rodents to sense infrared. Credit: Current Biology.

Nanoparticles (white) bind to rods and cones in the retina of mice, allowing the rodents to sense infrared. Credit: Current Biology.

Mice injected with the nanoparticles showed various signs that they were able to detect infrared, such as their pupils constricting. In an experiment, the mice were able to navigate a series of maze tasks — which their normal-vision peers could not — showing that they could simultaneously sense both infrared and visible light.

A single injection of nanoparticles in the mice’s eyes bestowed infrared vision for up to 10 weeks. Although there was a minor side effect (a cloudy cornea), it disappeared within less than a week. Tests found no damage to the retina’s structure, suggesting that the procedure is safe.

Illustration of the infrared-to-visible-light conversion process. Credit: Cell.

Illustration of the infrared-to-visible-light conversion process. Credit: Cell.

“In our study, we have shown that both rods and cones bind these nanoparticles and were activated by the near infrared light,” says Xue. “So we believe this technology will also work in human eyes, not only for generating super vision but also for therapeutic solutions in human red color vision deficits.”

“In the future, we think there may be room to improve the technology with a new version of organic-based nanoparticles, made of FDA-approved compounds, that appear to result in even brighter infrared vision,” says Han.

In the future, the researchers plan to tweak their nanoparticles to better suit human eyes, which have more cones and rods than mice.

“This is an exciting subject because the technology we made possible here could eventually enable human beings to see beyond our natural capabilities,” says Xue.

The findings appeared in the journal Cell.

Heat-rhinos.

Scientists use astronomy software to protect endangered creatures from poachers

What do star-hunting and poacher-catching have in common? I’m a big fan of both — also, the technology employed.

Heat-rhinos.

Infrared image of rhinos in South Africa.
Image credits Endangered Wildlife Trust / LJMU.

Researchers at the Royal Astronomical Society and Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) plan to turn star-hunting algorithms to more Earthly pursuits — well, to poacher pursuit, to be exact. They hope this will help conservationists better defend the planet’s most endangered species.

I spy with my little astronomical eye…

The technical details are a bit stuffy and not completely clear, but essentially, the software in question uses on heat emission readings to pick out galaxies or stars invisible to the naked eye. It relies on instruments such as the Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) camera on NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter to gather the raw data, and an algorithm trained to trawl through it and recognize the shape of far-off stars or galaxies.

But why limit a good tool to only one job? Working alongside staff members from the Chester Zoo and Knowsley Safari Park, the researchers reprogrammed the star-gazing algorithm to recognize a variety of different animals and environments. Like a biodiversity Batman, it will use this knowledge to keep endangered species safe from poachers, warding off extinction at the hands of greedy men.

The project is based on machine-learning algorithms and astronomical detection tools developed through open source software, Astropy. An initial pilot project conducted in mid-2017 at a farm in the Wirral in northwest England tested the concept using infrared drone footage of humans and cows. The LJMU team then teamed up with Knowsley Safari and Chester Zoo to capture the unique thermal profiles of various animals, including rhinos and baboons, and build up a library of different animal thermal signatures. The team has now moved onto field tests to detect endangered animals in their native habitats.

Using thermal cameras to see animals in the dark isn’t a new idea. It’s particularly effective at keeping tabs on them in darkness or when they try to camouflage themselves. What’s new here is the automated recognition software that can decide whether it’s looking at ‘an animal’ or ‘a human’.

“We have been able to combine the technical expertise of astronomers with the conservation knowledge of ecologists to develop a system to find the animals or poachers automatically,” said Dr Claire Burke who works at the Liverpool John Moores University.

The system is particularly exciting since poachers like to ply their bloody trade under the cover of darkness — on account of it being ‘illegal’ and all that. By automatically keeping tabs on the animals and warning gatekeepers whenever a poacher tries to come close, the system should help keep the animals safe.

“Our aim is to make a system that is easy for conservationists and game wardens to use anywhere in the world, which will allow endangered animals to be tracked, found and monitored easily and poaching to be stopped before it happens,” added Burke.

The team has already conducted trial runs of the software using flying drones equipped with infrared cameras that keep tabs on animals at night via their thermal signature. This initial field trial was carried out in South Africa, on an indigenous, fluffy, endangered species: the Riverine rabbit (Bunolagus monticularis). Further trials are planned, starting with endangered Orangutans in Malaysia, river dolphins in Brazil, and lastly spider monkeys in Mexico.

Drones were used instead of fixed cameras as they’re better suited to monitoring huge swaths of terrain, and they have virtually no impact on the workings of the habitats or animals they fly over. Right now, the team is working on getting the drones flying safely even in bad weather. The software itself is also being refined and upgraded to compensate for atmospheric effects, weather, and other environmental factors that could interfere with the thermal readings.

The project was presented by Claire Burke at the European Week of Astronomy and Space Science (EWASS) in Liverpool on Tuesday, 3rd April.

Birds can detect approaching storm from 900km away

Some animals have extraordinary sensorial abilities; there have been scientific works documenting dogs which react to an earthquake 5 minutes before the waves reached the surface, but this is perhaps even more spectacular – some birds can sense an earthquake from 900 km away (560 miles).

A tornado in Brisco County, Texas. The birds didn’t appear to have used changes in pressure, wind speed or precipitation to warn them of the approaching storm. Photograph: Reed Timmer/Jim Reed Photography/Corbis

It seems that have avoided a devastating storm by fleeing their US breeding grounds after detecting infrasound waves from 900 km away. Researchers observed this behavior as they were studying the birds’ migration patterns. They believe it is the first documented case of birds detecting weather events based on infrared – let alone from such a big distance.

“We looked at barometric pressure, wind speeds on the ground and at low elevations, and the precipitation, but none of these things that typically trigger birds to move had changed,” said David Andersen at the University of Minnesota, explaining why they think the birds detected infrared. “What we’re left with is something that allows them to detect a storm from a long distance, and the one thing that seems to be the most obvious is infrasound from tornadoes, which travels through the ground.”

Golden Winged Warbler. Image via ABC Birds.

Golden-winged warblers breed in southeastern and south-central Canada and the Appalachian Mountains northeastern to north-central USA. The majority (~70%) of the global population breeds in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Manitoba. The birds had just returned to their breeding grounds in the mountains of Tennessee in 2013 when a massive storm was edging closer. Although the birds had just completed a migration of more than 2,500km, they still had the energy to avoid the storm.

The storm was still 900 km away when the birds, apparently out of nowhere, decided to flee 1,500 km to Cuba, only to return after the storm has passed.

“In five to six days, they all made this big move around the storm,” Andersen said. “They all went south east in front of the storm, and then let it go by, or moved behind it. It was individual behaviour, they were several hundred kilometres away from each other most of the time.” Details are reported in the journal Current Biology.

Scientists are not really sure that the birds’ brains can pick up infrared but previous work in pigeons has suggested that birds might use infrasound to help them navigate. Infrasound waves range from about 0.5Hz to 18Hz, way below the audible range of humans. This is good news for the birds, and suggests that they may actually be more adaptable than previously though.

“With climate change increasing the frequency and severity of storms, this suggests that birds may have some ability to cope that we hadn’t previously realised. These birds seemed to be capable of making really dramatic movements at short notice, even just after returning on their northwards migration,” he said.

The human eye can detect only those light frequencies that fall in the so-called visible spectrum. Anything outside of it, like the ultraviolet or infrared range, can't be detected, hence seen. In some special conditions, however, scientists have demonstrated that its possible to notice infrared light.

Infrared light can be detected by the human eye after all

The human retina can only detect incident light that falls in waves 400 to 720 nanometers long, so we can’t see microwave or ultraviolet wavelengths. This also applies to infrared lights which has wavelengths longer than visible and shorter than microwaves, thus being invisible to the human eye. Apparently, this isn’t entirely true. In some special conditions, the human eye can indeed detect infrared light according to scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

Not that invisible after all

The human eye can detect only those light frequencies that fall in the so-called visible spectrum. Anything outside of it, like the ultraviolet or infrared range, can't be detected, hence seen. In some special conditions, however, scientists have demonstrated that its possible to notice infrared light.

The human eye can detect only those light frequencies that fall in the so-called visible spectrum. Anything outside of it, like the ultraviolet or infrared range, can’t be detected, hence seen. In some special conditions, however, scientists have demonstrated that its possible to notice infrared light. Image: Sara Dickherber

It all started when researchers started seeing brief flashes of green light from time to time while working with an infrared laser. These light waves are thought to be invisible to the naked eye, so everybody was very intrigued by this episode. If it didn’t happen to more than one person in the lab, most likely the whole event would’ve been put on fatigue or a sudden lapse of insanity.

Being scientists, the US researchers sought to investigate the matter. They soon came across scientific literature that reported how some people were able to detect infrared light when exposed to infrared lasers. They soon geared some experiments where various lasers where used, operating under different parameters. They found the shorter the pulse, the likelier was for a person to notice the infrared light.

“We experimented with laser pulses of different durations that delivered the same total number of photons, and we found that the shorter the pulse, the more likely it was a person could see it,” Vinberg explained. “Although the length of time between pulses was so short that it couldn’t be noticed by the naked eye, the existence of those pulses was very important in allowing people to see this invisible light.”

Past the visual spectrum

A thermal image visually represents the difference in temperature across various surfaces on a body. Image: Wikimedia

A thermal image visually represents the difference in temperature across various surfaces on a body. Image: Wikimedia

The primary source of infrared radiation is heat or thermal radiation. This is the radiation produced by the motion of atoms and molecules in an object. The higher the temperature, the more the atoms and molecules move and the more infrared radiation they produce. Humans, at normal body temperature, radiate most strongly in the infrared, at a wavelength of about 10 microns (a micron is one millionth of a meter). Using a thermographic camera you can see infrared radiation, but that’s a bit of an overstatement. Simply put, information about the radiation is being represented visually for humans, who can’t see in infrared. Some animals can “see” in the infrared. For example, snakes in the pit viper family (e.g. rattlesnakes) have sensory “pits,” which are used to detect infrared light. This allows the snake to find warm-blooded animals (even in dark burrows), by detecting the infrared heat that they radiate. S

At the back of the eyeball is a layer of light-sensitive cells, called the retina. Photons (packets of energy) in lightwaves stimulate the cells of the retina and send messages to the brain, enabling us to see. The retina’s rod-shaped cells work best in dim light, and its cone-shaped cells, which detect colour, in bright light. The photons aren’t absorbed directly, though. In an intermediate step, photons absorbed by the retina stimulate the creation  a molecule called a photopigment, which begins the process of converting light into vision. Typically, each photopigment corresponds to one photon.

If we pack a lot of photons in a short pulse, like with an infrared laser, then its possible for one two photons to be absorbed at one time by a single photopigment, and the combined energy of the two light particles is enough to activate the pigment and allow the eye to see what normally is invisible.

“The visible spectrum includes waves of light that are 400-720 nanometers long,” explained Kefalov, an associate professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences. “But if a pigment molecule in the retina is hit in rapid succession by a pair of photons that are 1,000 nanometers long, those light particles will deliver the same amount of energy as a single hit from a 500-nanometer photon, which is well within the . That’s how we are able to see it.”

There’s some practical applications to the findings (PNAS), too. Doctors might want to shine infrared pulses into a patient’s retina to see if it responds correctly to the stimulus.

 

Graphene Technology Could Give Us Predator Vision Contact Lenses

As a kid, looking at the Predator movies gave me goosebumps; it wasn’t the physical superiority of the Predator, but the technological advantages. I mean, he has all that shooting stuff, and teleportation and camouflage, and the vision… it was all too much! But the way science is crazily developing, we’re already starting to experiment with all that… and I’m still in my youth ! Don’t even get me starting on the projectiles the army is experimenting with these days, and scientists have already proven different concepts of invisibility cloaks (ie here and here), researchers are working on teleportation and they’ve already successfully teleported photons, and now, thanks to graphene, guess what – we might get predator vision lenses as well.

Researchers at the University of Michigan have developed the first room-temperature light detector that can see the entire infrared spectrum of colors; and because graphene is so incredibly thin (just one atom thick), the entire device can be mounted on a smartphone, or perhaps even a contact lens.

“We can make the entire design super-thin,” said Zhaohui Zhong, assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science told ZME Science. “It can be stacked on a contact lens or integrated with a cell phone.”

It’s all about detecting the infrared light. Infrared (IR) light is electromagnetic radiation with longer wavelengths than those of visible light, starting from wavelengths just longer than those of visible red light and stretching up to a millimeter long. Infrared vision has a lot of uses, from spotting people and animals in the dark and heat leaks in houses to monitoring blood flow and identifying some chemicals in the environment. More recently, it’s also been used in more artistic purposes, as scientists investigated the sketches behind some Gauguin paintings.

The visible spectrum can be captured with a relatively simple chip, but infrared vision requires a combination of technologies to see near-, mid- and far-infrared radiation all at once. To make things more interesting, the mid-infrared and far-infrared sensors typically need to be at very cold temperatures.

However, graphene has the capacity to detect the entire infrared spectrum – as a matter of fact, it can also detect both the visible and ultraviolet light. But until now, it hasn’t been viable for infrared detection because it can’t capture enough light to generate a detectable electrical signal. In other words, the fact that it’s so incredibly slim is both its blessing and its curse, only allowing it to capture 2.3 percent of the light that hits it. If the light that hits the graphene layer isn’t enough to generate an electric signal, then it simply can’t be used as a sensor. The researchers explain:

“The challenge for the current generation of graphene-based detectors is that their sensitivity is typically very poor,” Zhong said. “It’s a hundred to a thousand times lower than what a commercial device would require.”

In order to work this problem out, they had to think a little outside the box. Zhong and Ted Norris, the Gerard A. Mourou Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, worked with graduate students to design a new way of generating the electrical signal.

They put an insulating barrier layer between two graphene sheets. Here’s how it works (it’s a little hard to understand, but I’ll try to keep it as simple as possible): the bottom layer has a current running through it. When light hits the other layer (the top one), it frees electrons, creating positively charged holes. Then, the electrons used a quantum mechanical trick to slip through the barrier and into the bottom layer of graphene. Meanwhile, the positively charged holes, left behind in the top layer, produced an electric field that affected the flow of electricity through the bottom layer. This new approach allows a room-temperature sensor to work just as fine as the cooled mid-infrared detectors. It is also very small, which makes it even more useful.

“If we integrate it with a contact lens or other wearable electronics, it expands your vision,” Zhong said. “It provides you another way of interacting with your environment.”

Scientific Information: Graphene photodetectors with ultra-broadband and high responsivity at room temperature, Nature Nanotechnology, 2014, DOI: 10.1038/nnano.2014.31

(C) Youtube screenshot

Squids-protein modified bacteria used to develop camouflage coating

(C) Youtube screenshot

(C) Youtube screenshot

Loliginidae, also known as pencil squids, are formidable animals that can change their colour matching their surroundings really fast and effortlessly. For centuries the only thing man has learned from them is how tasty they are. Now, researchers at University of California, Irvine, found there’s much more to them then a simple calamari dish. The scientists used the protein that offers the squids’ ability to hide from both enemy and pray to adapt their own bio-coating  that mimic’s the squid’s skin.

The squid can change its color within a fraction of a second through a a structural protein called reflectin, which basically works by dynamically changing the squid’s skin light reflection. The team of researchers at UCI developed a method to produce reflectin, which they then introduced in a common bacteria population. The modified bacterial population were then used to make thin, optically active films that mimic the skin of a squid.

The real kicker and innovation of this work is that the resulting camouflage material not only keeps things hidden from sight, but also from infra-red readings – the de facto standard in military identification.

“The novelty of this coating lies in its functionality within the near-infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum, roughly 700 to 1,200 nanometers, which matches the standard imaging range of most infrared visualization equipment,” said research leader Alon Gorodetsky . “This region is not usually accessible to biologically derived reflective materials.”

With the appropriate chemical stimuli, the films’ coloration and reflectance can shift back and forth, giving them a dynamic configurability that allows the films to disappear and reappear when visualized with an infrared camera. Using such a biofilm, one could potentially coat just about any surface,  potentially allowing many simple objects to acquire camouflage capabilities.

“We’re trying to develop something that you could essentially use as reconfigurable infrared reflective paint so that you’d be able to disguise yourself,” research leader Alon Gorodetsky said, according to a report from Chemistry World. “There’s really not much out there in terms of inexpensive, biodegradable non-toxic materials that can be changed on the fly.”

What about shape-shifting suits? That’s a real possibility, according to the researchers. If you ever read P.K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly, you might be stunned by the prospect.

“Our long-term goal is to create fabrics that can dynamically alter their texture and color to adapt to their environments,” Gorodetsky said. “Basically, we’re seeking to make shape-shifting clothing – the stuff of science fiction – a reality.”


It’s worth noting that a Harvard team devised a robot that mimics squid camouflage capabilities back in 2012. Read about it here.

Findings appeared in the journal Advanced Materials. 

This FLAMINGOS-2 near-infrared image details part of the magnificent Swan Nebula (M17), where ultraviolet radiation streaming from young hot stars sculpts a dense region of dust and gas into myriad fanciful forms. M17 lies some 5,200 light-years distant in the constellation Sagittarius and is one of the most massive and luminous star-forming region's in our Galaxy. It is also one of the most studied. Field of view: 5.5 x 4.0 arcmin. Credit: Gemini Observatory/AURA

Gemini observatory shows off new instrument with some staggering astro-imaging [PHOTO GALLERY]

After years of planning and hard work, the Gemini Observatory team recently unveiled some of the work they performed using one of their newly installed instruments. Called the FLAMINGOS-2, the instrument provides astronomers with a powerful mix of capabilities, including high-resolution wide-field imaging (infrared) as well as spectroscopy. The newly mounted piece is already on high demand at the observatory, since it’s capable of observations spanning from the exploration of our Solar System, to the most distant and energetic explosions in our universe.

“The Gemini team has done a remarkable job in optimizing this instrument for Gemini and it will soon be everything, and more, that we had envisioned years ago when the project began,” says Steve Eikenberry, who led the team who built FLAMINGOS-2 at the University of Florida. “Like a lot of scientists, I’m anxious to use FLAMINGOS-2 to collect data – specifically, I want to look toward the center of our Galaxy and study binary black holes as well as the mass evolution of the super-massive black hole that lurks at the heart of our Galaxy.”

To demonstrate the capabilities of the FLAMINGOS-2, Gemini released a couple of simply mind-blowing images captured using the newly mounted instrument.  These photos cover a wide range of targets which are representative of the types of science in which FLAMINGOS-2 is expected to excel. All images and captions courtesy of the Gemini Observatory.

This FLAMINGOS-2 near-infrared image details part of the magnificent Swan Nebula (M17), where ultraviolet radiation streaming from young hot stars sculpts a dense region of dust and gas into myriad fanciful forms. M17 lies some 5,200 light-years distant in the constellation Sagittarius and is one of the most massive and luminous star-forming region's in our Galaxy. It is also one of the most studied. Field of view: 5.5 x 4.0 arcmin. Credit: Gemini Observatory/AURA

This FLAMINGOS-2 near-infrared image details part of the magnificent Swan Nebula (M17), where ultraviolet radiation streaming from young hot stars sculpts a dense region of dust and gas into myriad fanciful forms. M17 lies some 5,200 light-years distant in the constellation Sagittarius and is one of the most massive and luminous star-forming region’s in our Galaxy. It is also one of the most studied. Field of view: 5.5 x 4.0 arcmin. Credit: Gemini Observatory/AURA

NGC 6300 is an intriguing barred spiral galaxy in the constellation of Ara. This near-infrared image with FLAMINGOS-2 shows the galaxy’s complex arm structure forming a spectacular ring of star formation. The galaxy’s bar also has a strong vein of dust that almost obscures its bright active nucleus –– whose prodigious energy is the result of matter accreting onto a black hole with an estimated mass of 280,000 Suns. Field of view: 3.1 x 2.9 arcmin. Credit: Gemini Observatory/AURA

NGC 6300 is an intriguing barred spiral galaxy in the constellation of Ara. This near-infrared image with FLAMINGOS-2 shows the galaxy’s complex arm structure forming a spectacular ring of star formation. The galaxy’s bar also has a strong vein of dust that almost obscures its bright active nucleus –– whose prodigious energy is the result of matter accreting onto a black hole with an estimated mass of 280,000 Suns. Field of view: 3.1 x 2.9 arcmin. Credit: Gemini Observatory/AURA

In this near-infrared image, FLAMINGOS-2 peered deep into the heart of spiral galaxy NGC 253, which lies about 11.5 million light-years nearby in the constellation of Sculptor. The new instrument captured an intricate whirlpool of dust spiraling in to a diffuse nuclear region, where violent star formation may be occurring around a supermassive black hole. The instrument also imaged a dusting of star forming sites in its spiral arms. Field of view: 4.8 x 4.1 arcmin. Credit: Gemini Observatory/AURA

In this near-infrared image, FLAMINGOS-2 peered deep into the heart of spiral galaxy NGC 253, which lies about 11.5 million light-years nearby in the constellation of Sculptor. The new instrument captured an intricate whirlpool of dust spiraling in to a diffuse nuclear region, where violent star formation may be occurring around a supermassive black hole. The instrument also imaged a dusting of star forming sites in its spiral arms. Field of view: 4.8 x 4.1 arcmin. Credit: Gemini Observatory/AURA

Spiral galaxy NGC 7582 is the brightest member of the Grus Quartet of galaxies, some 60 million light-years distant traveling together through space. In this near-infrared image, FLAMINGOS-2 resolved its high quantity of dust that line NGC 7582’s arms as well as regions rich in star formation. Field of view: 2.5 x 1.7 arcmin. Credit: Gemini Observatory/AURA

Spiral galaxy NGC 7582 is the brightest member of the Grus Quartet of galaxies, some 60 million light-years distant traveling together through space. In this near-infrared image, FLAMINGOS-2 resolved its high quantity of dust that line NGC 7582’s arms as well as regions rich in star formation. Field of view: 2.5 x 1.7 arcmin. Credit: Gemini Observatory/AURA

infrared

Rats given ‘sixth sense’ after they recognize infrared light

infraredMost brain-machine prosthetic research today is focused on supplementing a missing sense, like medical devices that restore hearing or sight. In a novel research, however, scientists at  Duke University Medical Center have literally granted rodents a sixth sense after they implanted them with an experimental prototype that allows rats to “touch” invisible infrared light.

At first, six rats were trained to stick their snouts in one of the three holes in the side of a chamber from which light was emitted. Whenever the rat went to the correct  hole from which the light was emitted, it was rewarded with a sip of water.

Then  the researchers fitted the rats with an infrared detector connected to microscopic electrodes that were implanted in the part of their brains that processes tactile information. Then the same experiment was repeated, only this time light was replaced by infrared, which rats, like humans, can not sense inherently. It’s worth noting that this doesn’t necessary work with infrared only. According to the researchers a new degree of sensing could be achieved with other signals as well.

“We could create devices sensitive to any physical energy,” said Prof Nicolelis, from the Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina. “It could be magnetic fields, radio waves, or ultrasound. We chose infrared initially because it didn’t interfere with our electrophysiological recordings.”

In the first tries, the rats would seemingly hit holes at random, failing to sense the correct hole, since he part of their brains that normally process touch was interpreting the electrical signals for visual cues. This theory is backed by the fact that the rats scratched their faces when infrared was switched on, indicating the animals were interpreting the lights as touch.

However, after a while the rats’ behavior gradually changed, until all rants would sense the correct hole every time – remember, the sequence was always random.

“This is a very nice paper that clearly demonstrates the great potential of even the primary sensory cortex, even in a rat, to use completely new information when delivered to the cortex in electrical pulses,” says Jon Kaas, a professor of cell and developmental biology at Vanderbilt University and an expert on sensory and motor system organization. “The authors correctly see that this method of delivery can be used to replace lost sensory inputs and to provide new sensory abilities.”

If the same effects could be transferable to humans with a similar set-up, the possible prospects would be extremely interesting. Imagine being able to sense some forms of energy just as well as you fell temperature for instance, how would you interpret this new feeling?

Check out the video below that shows the rats sensing infrared.

The findings were reported in the journal Nature Communications. 

Scientists with NASA's Cassini mission have spotted two features shaped like the 1980s video game icon "Pac-Man" on moons of Saturn. One was observed on the moon Mimas in 2010 and the latest was observed on the moon Tethys. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSFC/SWRI

Pacman spotted in Saturn system for the second time

Scientists with NASA's Cassini mission have spotted two features shaped like the 1980s video game icon "Pac-Man" on moons of Saturn. One was observed on the moon Mimas in 2010 and the latest was observed on the moon Tethys. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSFC/SWRI

Scientists with NASA’s Cassini mission have spotted two features shaped like the 1980s video game icon “Pac-Man” on moons of Saturn. One was observed on the moon Mimas in 2010 and the latest was observed on the moon Tethys. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSFC/SWRI

Seems like Saturn and its moons make up for a veritable gamer’s paradise after infrared imaging of the moon’s Tethys surface revealed a pattern that bears an uncanny resemblance to the 1980s video arcade emblem. Actually, this is the second time the Pacman feature has been spotted in the Saturn system, which suggests Saturn and its moons had evolved differently.

NASA serves a scientific explanation:

“Scientists theorize that the Pac-Man thermal shape on the Saturnian moons occurs because of the way high-energy electrons bombard low latitudes on the side of the moon that faces forward as it orbits around Saturn. The bombardment turns that part of the fluffy surface into hard-packed ice. As a result, the altered surface does not heat as rapidly in the sunshine or cool down as quickly at night as the rest of the surface, similar to how a boardwalk at the beach feels cooler during the day but warmer at night than the nearby sand. Finding another Pac-Man on Tethys confirms that high-energy electrons can dramatically alter the surface of an icy moon. Also, because the altered region on Tethys, unlike on Mimas, is also bombarded by icy particles from Enceladus’ plumes, it implies the surface alteration is occurring more quickly than its recoating by plume particles.”

The first time the Pacman feature was seen was in 2010 when an infrared wavelength survey of Mimas was made.

Nanostructures off a butterfly wings' surface inspire scientists to design the next generation of accurate and sensitive thermal imaging sensors, which could detect inflamed areas in people, or points of friction in machines. (c) Patrick Landmann/Science Photo Librar

Butterfly wings inspire ultra-sensitive infrared thermal imaging

Butterflies are one of the most enchanting beings in the animal kingdom, a symbol of grace and beauty encountered in every art form. From a crawling larva to a majestic winged creature, it’s difficult not to take notice of the similarities between the butterfly’s metamorphosis process and the ups and downs life serves before one may truly find himself. Before we deviate too far into the metaphysical, however, let’s take a look at what makes a butterfly truly special, namely its wings, and how science has learned to capitalize from them.

Nanostructures off a butterfly wings' surface inspire scientists to design the next generation of accurate and sensitive thermal imaging sensors, which could detect inflamed areas in people, or points of friction in machines. (c) Patrick Landmann/Science Photo Librar

Nanostructures off a butterfly wings' surface inspire scientists to design the next generation of accurate and sensitive thermal imaging sensors, which could detect inflamed areas in people, or points of friction in machines. (c) Patrick Landmann/Science Photo Librar

Butterfly wings, along with a peacock’s feathers, are a perfect example of structural colour display. Typically, butterfly wings contain nanostructured chitin which refracts and reflects light in such manner that it confers them the iridescent colour butterflies are known and treasured for. General Electric chemists, based at the company’s Global Research Center in Niskayuna, New York, seized this opportunity and turned these nanostructures into an infrared (IR) detector, which doesn’t require neither cooling or a heat sink.

The team of researchers lead by Radislav Potyrailo, coated the rows of tiny tree-like structures on scales, taken from a butterfly’s wings, with single walled carbon nanotubes (SWNTs) to absorb more infrared radiation. These allowed the butterfly to absorb even more heat, which caused the nano-structures to expand and in the process, altered the reflected light wavelength.

 ‘The chitin-based material of the Morpho tree nanostructures does absorb over the 3-8µm spectral range [the IR spectrum runs from 0.7-300µm],’ explains Potyrailo

Thermal infrared imaging currently has a myriad of applications, ranging from seeing in the dark (thermal night vision goggles) to sensors that check for insulation, however this kind of equipment is extremely complicated to build and expensive.  The General Electric research infrared detector, just less then a micrometer in size, currently has a resolution 20 times sharper than existing detectors, and because of the chitin’s physical properties and its extremely small scale, it can go from cool to hot extremely fast, making it perfect for applications where fleeting changes in temperature, albeit very small (temperature drops no greater than 0.018 °C may be recorded), need to be constantly monitored.

This doesn’t mean though that we’re going to see any butterfly farms that harvest tons of butterfly wings in the near future, though. What a desolate sight that would’ve been. The GE scientists suggest other materials, such as fluoropolymers and silicones, would be far more suited for manufacturing IR imaging gear, actually outperforming the nanostructures based on the butterfly.

 

“We plan that the infrared light will come from one side of the bio-inspired thin film and will heat up the film,’ he says. ‘The other side of the film will be iridescent and iridescence will locally change its colours upon local heating.’

 

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RCW 120 is just one of many such ringed nebulas found in the Milky Way. (c) NASA

Stunning image of “O-ring” shapped nebula

RCW 120 is just one of many such ringed nebulas found in the Milky Way. (c) NASA

RCW 120 is just one of many such ringed nebulas found in the Milky Way. (c) NASA

The brilliant image from above was captured by Spitzer space telescope and depicts a ring shaped region formed by hot gas and glowing dust.

Dubbed RCW 120, the nebula lies about 4,300 light-years away from Earth, and is located in the constellation Scorpius, just above the plane of the galaxy. The wavelength emited by the nebula is far within the infrared spectrum, which makes it totally invisible to a human observer, but perfectly bright for Spitzer’s infrared detectors.

It’s interesting “O-ring” shape, scientists believe, comes from the heat of a cluster of giant “O” type stars at the center of galaxy. These star are the most massive and bright stars so far known to man, which emit an intense ultraviolet light. But the captioned image example is only one of the slew of similar nebulas the Spitzer telescopes finds everyday.

So many, in fact, that the scientific team leading the Spitzer project are calling out “citizen scientists” to help identify and classify. As such, anyone interested in helping catalog findings such as these are invited to visit the Milky Way Project website.

Tomorrow’s camera is flash free, regardless of light conditions

As any amateur photographer can tell you, in order to take a clear picture, you require a good light source; so in poor light conditions, the solution was the intense flash. However, there are some obvious disadvantages.

Still, computer scientist Rob Fergus started thinking if we actually need such an intense light source, or if we could actually develop some sort of invisible flash that would solve the inconvenient that come with the traditional camera flash.

F is a multi spectral flash, A is using ambiental lighting, which is way lower than it should be, R is a combined version of the two, and L is a reference long exposure shot

So one year later, the end result was a camera that emits and records light outside the visible spectrum. Practically, the prototype emits a flash, but you just don’t see it, and the photographs are as good as old-school flash ones. How does it work ? Well, usually, cameras have a filter that prevents any type of light from the infrared spectrum.  For this innovative camera, Fergus replaced the filter; the UV however, was a little trickier. His camera could already detect UV, but sending it out, that was a real challenge. So he employed the help of some hobbyists that use UV photography to reveal hidden patterns on flowers: landing strips for insects, polinators, etc.

So the camera is done, but is it any good ? Well, it most definitely is. as you can see for yourself.

“Most pictures you take with a flash look quite crappy,” says Ankit Mohan, an expert in camera technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says. “They look kind of flat, you get the red-eye effect, and one part of the scene is always much brighter than another part. But the problem of capturing a picture with no flash is that you don’t get detail. By combining the two you get the best of both worlds.”

Despite the comfort advantages it provides, this development is also quite useful in some fields.

Cramer Gallimore, a professional photographer based in North Carolina, believes dark-flash photography has great potential. “You might be able to take high-quality photographs of wildlife without disturbing them,” Gallimore says, “and for forensic photography, it would be very useful to have technology like this that could switch between infrared technology and visible light photography to record certain traces of human activity at a crime scene.”

Source: Popular Mechanics