June 2015

AWARDS
Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction
Scottish-born author Ali Smith won the Prize for her gender-bending novel “How to Be Both” that explores issues of sexual identity from Renaissance times to the present. The prize, awarded to a work of fiction written in English by a woman anywhere in the world, carries a 30,000 pound ($46,000) cash prize.

RESEARCH
New computer system that spots emotional sentiments
Eden Saig, a computer science student at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Israel, has developed the computerised learning system which spots emotional sentiments, such as sarcasm and irony, in text messages and emails and it could even detect content that suggests suicidal ideations. It works by recognising repeated word patterns.

According to Saig, voice tone and inflections play an important role in conveying one’s meaning in verbally communicated message.

In text and email messages, those nuances are lost and writers who want to signify sarcasm, sympathy or doubt have taken to using images, or “emoticons,” such as the smiley face, to compensate.

The system was initially constructed to identify key words and grammatical habits that were characteristic of sentence structure implied by the content’s sentiments.

SPACE RESEARCH
Human centrifuge to help astronauts feel gravity’s reinforcing effects in space
One of the major problems for long-term space travel as envisaged by scientists is the lack of gravity and constant feeling of weightlessness due to which astronauts may end up suffering from bone loss, muscle atrophy, and issues with balance and their cardiovascular systems.

To ward off these effects, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have devised a compact human centrifuge with an exercise component – a cycle ergometer that an astronaut can pedal as the centrifuge spins.

The centrifuge is sized to just fit inside a module of the ISS. After testing the setup on healthy participants, the team found the combination of exercise and artificial gravity could significantly lessen the effects of extended weightlessness in space — more so than exercise alone.

A human centrifuge aboard a Mars-bound spacecraft would help keep an astronaut in shape over the many months it would take to get to the Red Planet.

The team’s compact centrifuge resembles a rotating metal cage with three main elements: a chair; a cycle ergometer, or the mechanical portion of a stationary bicycle; and a suite of sensors to measure cardiovascular variables such as blood pressure, heart rate, respiration rate, muscle activity, and foot forces.

The researchers conducted experiments to test human responses and exercise performance at varying levels of artificial gravity. The experiments involved 12 healthy subjects, who participated in three sessions, each consisting of a bicycling workout under one of three artificial gravity levels: zero G, in which the centrifuge did not rotate; 1 G, measured at the feet, in which the centrifuge spun at 28 revolutions per minute (rpm); and 1.4 G, also measured at the feet, at 32 rpm.

During each session, participants were asked to pedal for 15 minutes at three workout intensities, or levels of resistance, set by the cycle ergometer. The remaining 10 minutes involved spinning up and slowing down the centrifuge.

After each session, participants filled out a survey to gauge symptoms such as motion sickness and light-headedness. Overall, Diaz found that participants tolerated the experiments well, suffering little motion sickness even while spinning at relatively high velocities. Participants only reported feelings of discomfort while initially speeding up and slowing down.

As the researchers increased the centrifuge’s spin, raising its artificial gravity, participants used correspondingly more force to pedal — an unsurprising but encouraging result.

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