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  • Europa Mission Heralds Sea Change in Search for Alien Life

    It’s not something NASA likes to advertise, but ever since its creation in 1958, the space agency has only conducted one direct, focused hunt for extraterrestrial life—and that was more than 40 years ago. It happened in 1976, when the twin Viking landers touched down at separate sites on Mars to look for any signs of life lurking on the planet’s desolate, freeze-dried surface. Now, after decades of wandering in Martian deserts, NASA’s astrobiologists are at last preparing to rekindle a direct search for a “second genesis” of life in our solar system—but not where one might think. This time, they will look well beyond Mars, the most Earthlike of our planetary neighbors, to the dark reaches of the outer solar system. A new study co-authored by Britney Schmidt, a planetary scientist in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, is helping NASA target Jupiter's moon Europa and its icy seas. 

    Scientific American, Feb 17, 2017

  • How Brain-Machine Interfaces Engage Neural Plasticity

    Over the past year, scientists have made great strides in the development of brain-machine interfaces (BMIs), wired external devices that are controlled solely by brain activity [see Roadmapping the Adoption of Brain-Machine Interfaces”]. Last October, Nathan Copeland, a man who had been paralyzed from the chest down for more than 10 years, made headlines when he fist-bumped President Obama with a BMI-controlled robotic arm using only his thoughts. As BMI-related technologies and neuroprosthetics become more sophisticated, researchers are learning that these tools can make some fascinating changes to the brain, engaging its natural plasticity in sometimes unanticipated ways. Understanding those changes to underlying plasticity, some say, could offer clues to how to rewire and rehabilitate the damaged brain—perhaps even without the need of external hardware. Prosthetics, even without the addition of a BMI component, can alter the brain’s connections, says Lewis Wheaton, director of the Cognitive Motor Control Lab at the Georgia Institute of Technology says.

    The Dana Foundation News, Feb 15, 2017

  • Coral Reef Protection: Marine Sanctuaries Can Be Counterproductive If They Are Small In Size

    That corals around the world are dying under an onslaught of various human activities is nothing new, and a number of conservation efforts have been underway for decades now. But small marine protected areas (MPAs) that have been established to allow coral reefs and associated fish species to recover from the ravages of overfishing could actually be, unwittingly, making things worse, a study found. Using the example of an MPA in Fiji Islands, Mark Hay, one of the two authors of the study and a professor at Georgia Institute of technology, said in a statement Monday: “The marine protected areas that are enforced in the Fiji Islands are having a remarkable effect. The corals and fishes are recovering. But once these marine protected areas are successful, they attract the sea stars which can make the small marine protected areas victims of their own success.” 

    International Business Times, Feb 7, 2017

  • Of a Frog’s Slap Shot and Saliva

    You never know when a frog playing an electronic game will lead to an experiment on the physics of saliva....Alexis C. Noel, a Ph.D. student in mechanical engineering at Georgia Tech, and her supervisor, David L. Hu, were watching a viral YouTube video in which a frog is attacking the screen of a smartphone running an ant-smashing game. It appears to be winning. They started wondering how — in reality — frog tongues stick to insects so quickly when they shoot out to grab them, and decided it was a phenomenon worth studying. David Hu is an associate professor of mechanical engineering and of biology, as well as an adjunct associate professor of physics, at Georgia Tech. 

    The New York Times, Feb 6, 2017

  • Marc Merlin Makes Magic at the Atlanta Science Tavern

    Marc Merlin describes himself as a curator, but doesn’t run a museum or library—he hosts a gathering at a local pub. The organization, called the Atlanta Science Tavern (AST), serves up presentations and learning opportunities in a unique, open environment. Georgia Tech's College of Sciences contributes to many of these lectures and presentations, including by School of Mathematics Professor Matt Baker and School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Ph.D student Luju Ojha.

    SouthEast Makers, Feb 3, 2017