Arthritis & Hawking’s Voice | SciByte 80

Arthritis & Hawking’s Voice | SciByte 80

We take a look at measuring arthritis, Stephen Hawking’s voice, building moons with a game, an update on subglacial lakes, viewer feedback, spacecraft updates, Curiosity news, and as always take a peek back into history and up in the sky this week.

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Show Notes:


  • What if your doctor could actually listen to your body, monitoring the way your knees sound as they bend and flex
  • A new, noninvasive, and low-cost method for the early detection and monitoring of osteoarthritis (arthritis caused by wear and tear) may be on its way
  • It suggests that detecting this friction, may points to new research directions for getting to the root cause of arthritis
  • Osteoarthritis
  • The degeneration of cartilage is the most common cause of osteoarthritis: The pads wear away, leaving bone grinding against bone
  • Researchers have found that it isn\’t just any kind of friction that leads to the irreversible wear and tear on the material
  • It is currently believed that a high-friction force, or \’coefficient of friction,\’ is the primary factor in surface wear and damage, new research has found is that this is not the case
  • The critical feature is not a high-friction force, but what is known as \”stick-slip\” friction, or, sometimes, \”stiction.\”
  • Both are characterized by surfaces that initially stick together, and then accelerate away quickly once the static friction force is overcome
  • Stick-Slip Friction
  • Stick-slip is a common phenomenon, that is responsible for everything from computer hard drive crashes and automobile failures, to squeaking doors and music
  • The same thing happens with a violin string, even if you\’re pulling the bow steadily, it\’s moving in hundreds or thousands of little jerks per second, which determine the sound you hear
  • Each little jerk, no matter how submicroscopic, is an impact, and over time the accumulation of these impacts can deform surfaces, causing irreparable damage-first microscopically, then growing to macroscopic
  • It\’s not easy to tell the difference between types of friction at the microscopic level
    Smooth-sliding joints might feel the same as those undergoing stiction, or the even more harmful stick-slip, especially in the early stages of arthritis
  • Measuring the Types of Friction
  • An instrument called a Surface Forces Apparatus (SFA), measures the adhesion and friction forces between surfaces-in this case cartilage, the pad of tissue that covers the ends of bones at a joint.
  • By studying patterns of friction between cartilage pads, researchers have discovered a different type of friction that is more likely to cause wear and damage
  • When measured with an ultra-sensitive and high-resolution instrument like the Surface Forces Apparatus (SFA), each type of friction revealed its own characteristic profile
  • Smooth-sliding joints yielded an almost smooth constant line, friction force or friction trace
  • Stiction shows up as a peak, as the \”sticking\” was being overcome, followed by a relatively smooth line
  • Stick-slip shows the jagged sawtooth profile of two surfaces repeatedly pulling apart, sticking, and pulling apart again
  • These measurements could be recorded by placing an acoustic or electric sensing device around joints, giving a signal similar to an EKG
  • These reading could be a good way to measure and diagnose damage to the cartilage, to measure the progression, or even the early detection of symptoms related to arthritis which has been a priority for many years
  • The Future
  • Scientists will continue their work by studying synovial fluid, the lubricating fluid between two cartilage surfaces in joints
  • Synovial fluid plays a major role in whether or not the surfaces wear and tear, and the synergistic roles of the different molecules (proteins, lipids, and polymers) all involved in lubricating and preventing damage to our joints.
  • There are a number of directions to take, both fundamental and practical and currently it looks as if there is need to focus research on finding ways to prevent stick-slip motion, rather than lowering the friction force
  • Multimedia
  • Image Steady-state sliding profiles illustrate the different types of friction | UCSB
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Study of friction reveals clues about arthritis |


Stephen Hawking\’s Voice

  • Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking has long relied on technology to help him connect with the outside world despite the degenerative motor neuron disease he has battled for the past 50 years
  • A computer scientist indicated at this year\’s International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) that he and his team may be close to a breakthrough that could boost the rate at which the physicist communicates, which has fallen to a mere one word per minute in recent years.
  • Current SetUp
  • Hawking\’s current setup includes a tablet PC with a forward-facing Webcam that he can use to place Skype calls
  • A black box beneath his wheelchair contains an audio amplifier, voltage regulators and a USB hardware key that receives the input from an infrared sensor on Hawking’s eyeglasses, which detects changes in light as he twitches his cheek
  • A hardware voice synthesizer sits in another black box on the back of the chair and receives commands from the computer via a USB-based serial port
  • Intel\’s Interface Technology
  • Intel has since the late 1990s supplied Hawking with technology to help the scientist express himself
  • For the past decade Hawking has used a voluntary twitch of his cheek muscle to compose words and sentences one letter at a time that are expressed through a speech-generating device connected to his computer.
  • Each tweak stops a cursor that continuously scans text on a screen facing the scientist.
  • In late 2011 Hawking reached out to inform the Intel cofounder that the physicist’s ability to compose text was slowing and inquiring whether Intel could help.
  • Possibly Improving Hawkings Interface Technology
  • They met with Hawking early last year around the time of the latter’s 70th birthday celebration in Cambridge, where the Intel CTO was one of the speakers
  • Intel chief technology officer noted that Hawking can actually make a number of other facial expressions as well that might also be used to restore the scientist’s ability to communicate at five words per minute, or even increase that rate to 10
  • Intel is now working on a system that can use Hawking’s cheek twitch as well as mouth and eyebrow movements to provide signals to his computer they have built a new, a character-driven interface in modern terms that includes a better word predictor
  • The company is also exploring the use of facial-recognition software to create a new user interface for Hawking that would be quicker than selecting individual letters or words
  • Even providing Hawking with two inputs would give him the ability to communicate using Morse code
  • Other Plans for This Technology
  • Intel’s work with Hawking is part of the company’s broader research into smart gadgets as well as assistive technologies for the elderly
  • The key to advancing smart devices-which have been at a plateau over the past five or six years-is context awareness
  • Devices will really get to know us the way a friend would, understanding how our facial expressions reflect our mood
  • Intel’s plan for identifying personal context requires a combination of hardware sensors-camera, accelerometer, microphone, thermometer and others with software that can check one’s personal calendar, social networks and Internet browsing habits, to name a few.
  • One approach to “pervasive assistance” is the Magic Carpet, a rug that Intel and GE developed with embedded sensors and accelerometers that can record a person’s normal routine and even their gait, sounding an alert when deviations are detected.
  • Such assistance will anticipate our needs, letting us know when we are supposed to be at an appointment and even reminding us to carry enough cash when running certain errands
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Chipmaker Races to Save Stephen Hawking’s Speech as His Condition Deteriorates |


Moon Games

  • \”Selene: A Lunar Construction GaME\”
  • Is an online game that allows players to build their own moon and sculpt its features has won big praise in science art competition and received an honorable mention in the 2012 International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge
  • The game measures how and when players learn as they discover more about how the Earth\’s moon formed and by extension, the solar system.
  • Playing the Game
  • In the first round, players aim asteroids of varying sizes, densities, and radiations so that they collide with one another
  • Too much force, and the rocks ricochet off one another and even if you overshoot your target, the gravity of the growing moon may tug just enough to pull the new piece into the pack
  • After all of the small asteroids have melted together to form a smooth new moon, it\’s time to scratch up the surface
  • Players can then aim asteroids of varying sizes at the body, and select areas where lava breaks through the crust
  • The players moon is constantly compared to the real-life one, and players strive to make as close a match as possible
  • When they look at the moon, players are seeing what actually created those features and makes moon observations more meaningful
  • Because the accretion and surface-sculpting processes for the moon echo that of the rest of the planets, players also develop an understanding of how the early solar system formed
  • Primary Goal
  • One of the primary goals of Selene is to allow the team to analyze the learning process, which means the game requires a login, and for minors, parental permission must be given.
  • Analyzation of the data takes time, but it is able to provide a quick overview of a persons game play so you can tell from looking at your data what your experiences were
  • That under-the-hood ability to study learning is why the project was so attractive in terms of funding to NASA and the National Science Foundation
  • History and Future
  • A prototype of the game was developed by CyGaMEs in May of 2007, and the first version was released in 2010. bit the game is constantly being improved as the understanding of the learning process grows
  • The team is also looking at expanding it to mobile platforms in the near future.
  • The team says that the recognition is of course a great honor and encouragement – but more importantly it may drive more players to the website so that we can collect more data about how participants learn
  • At the same time, more people can learn about how the moon formed, growing their understanding of the nearest celestial body.
  • Multimedia
  • YouTube Mountain State Science – Lunar Games | WVPublicBroadcasting
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Online Game on How Earth\’s Moon Formed Nabs Honors |


Kepler back on track

  • Last time on SciByte
  • SciByte 78 | Dyscalculia & the Flu- SPACECRAFT UPDATE – Kepler | January 22, 2013
  • What happened
  • Kepler went into a protective \”safe mode\” on Jan. 17 after engineers detected elevated friction levels in one of its reaction wheels
  • Engineers spun the wheels down to zero speed, hoping the break would redistribute lubricant and bring the friction back down to normal
  • The update
  • NASA\’s Kepler space telescope mission officials announced on Jan. 29 that it has resumed its search for alien planets after resting for 10 days to work out kinks in its attitude control system,
  • Though it will take time to determine if the problem is solved daily health and status checks with the spacecraft were normal during the safe mode
  • Over the next month, the engineering team will review the performance of reaction wheel #4 before, during and after the safe mode to determine the efficacy of the rest operation
  • The wheel has acted up before without causing serious problems with a variety of friction signatures, none of which look like reaction wheel #2, failed in July 2012, and all of which disappeared on their own after a time
  • Social Media
  • NASA Kepler @NASAKepler
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • NASA\’s Planet-Hunting Kepler Spacecraft Recovering from Glitch |

— Updates —

Antarctic Subglacial lake

  • Last time on SciByte
  • SciByte 33 | Sub Glacial Lakes & Updates | February 14, 2012
  • The search continues for life in subglacial Lake Whillans, 2,600 feet below the surface of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet-but a thrilling preliminary result has detected signs of life
  • **Sampling the Water
  • At 6:20am on January 28, four people in sterile white Tyvek suits tended to a winch winding cable onto the drill platform
  • One person knocked frost off the cable as it emerged from the ice borehole a few feet below
  • A gray plastic vessel, as long as a baseball bat, filled with water from Lake Whillans, half a mile below.
  • The bottle was hurried into a 40-foot cargo container outfitted as a laboratory on skis
  • Some of the lake water was squirted into bottles of media in order to grow whatever microbes might inhabit the lake
  • What Has Been Seen
  • When lake water was viewed under a microscope, cells were seen: their tiny bodies glowed green in response to DNA-sensitive dye.
  • Although this was the first evidence of life in an Antarctic subglacial lake, cultures could require weeks to produce results
  • Minerals in the Water
  • The half mile of glacial ice sitting atop Lake Whillans is quite pure-derived from snow that fell onto Antarctica thousands of years ago.
  • It contains only one-hundredth the level of dissolved minerals that are seen in a clear mountain creek, or in tap water from a typical city
  • However a sensor lowered down the borehole showed that dissolved minerals were far more abundant in the lake itself
  • The fact that we see high concentrations is suggestive that there’s some interesting water-rock-microbe interaction that’s going on
  • Microbes, in other words, might well be munching on minerals under the ice sheet
  • Munching on Minerals?
  • Lake bacteria could live on commonly occurring pyrite minerals that contain iron and sulfur
  • They would obtain energy by using oxygen to essentially “burn” that iron and sulfur, similar to the way that animals use oxygen to slowly burn sugars and fats
  • The team will perform experiments to see whether microbes taken from the lake metabolize iron, sulfur, or other components of minerals
  • Where Does the Oxygen Come From?
  • Oxygen comes from water melting off the base of the ice sheet-maybe a few penny thicknesses of ice per year
  • When you melt ice, you’re liberating the air bubbles trapped in that ice that’s 20 percent oxygen
  • The Future
  • In order to conclusively demonstrate that Lake Whillans harbors life, the researchers will need to complete more time-consuming experiments showing that the cells actually grow
  • Dead cells can sometimes show up under a microscope with DNA-sensitive but weeks or months will pass before it is known whether these cells represent known types of microbes, or something never seen before
  • The team will also analyze the DNA of those microbes to see whether they’re related to rock-chewing bacteria that are already known to science.
  • Taking What We Learn
  • Antarctica isn’t the only place in the solar system where water sits concealed in the dark beneath thick ice.
  • Europa and Enceladus (moons of Jupiter and Saturn, respectively) are also thought to harbor oceans of liquid water.
  • What is learned at Lake Whillans could shed light on how best to look for life in these other places
  • Multimedia
  • Image Gallery U.S. Team Penetrates Subglacial Lake Whillans |
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • First Evidence of Life in Antarctic Subglacial Lake : The Crux |

World’s largest prime number

  • The number, 2 multiplied by itself 57,885,161 times, written mathematically as 257,885,161-1
  • It is the first prime discovered in four years and has 17,425,170 digits


Finding an observatory


  • **Drilling Prep – “Pre-Load” test*
  • Curiosity drove about 3.5 meters to reach the John Klein outcrop that the team chose as the 1st drilling site, a shallow depression known as ‘Yellowknife Bay’
  • There is widespread evidence for repeated episodes of the ancient flow of liquid water near her landing site inside Gale Crater on Mars.
  • The Curiosity team placed its drill onto a series of four locations on a Martian rock and pressed down on it with the rover\’s arm, in preparation for using the drill, a \”Pre-load\” test
  • The next step was an overnight pre-load test, to gain assurance that the large temperature change from day to night at the rover\’s location does not add excessively to stress on the arm while it is pressing on the drill
  • Air temperature plunges from about 32 degrees Fahrenheit (zero degrees Celsius) in the afternoon to minus 85 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 65 degrees Celsius) overnight
  • The temperature swing, this large rover\’s arm, chassis and mobility system grow and shrink by about a tenth of an inch (about 2.4 millimeters), a little more than the thickness of a U.S. quarter-dollar coin
  • Drilling Prep – “Drill-on-Rock”
  • A \”drill-on-rock checkout\” will use the hammering action of Curiosity\’s drill briefly, without rotation of the drill bit, for assurance that the back-and-forth percussion mechanism and associated control system are properly tuned for hitting a rock
  • The bit in the rotary-percussion drill of NASA\’s Mars rover Curiosity left its mark in a target patch of rock on Feb. 2, 2013, the test only used the hammering or percussive action of the drill, not rotary action.
  • The length of the gray divot cut by the drill bit is about two-thirds of an inch (1.7 centimeters)
  • Drilling Prep – upcoming “Mini Drill” test
  • Another preparatory test, called \”mini drill,\” will precede the full drilling
  • The mini drill test will use both the rotary and percussive actions of the drill to generate a ring of rock powder around a hole
  • This will allow for evaluation of the material to see if it behaves as a dry powder suitable for processing by the rover\’s sample handling mechanisms
  • The \”mini-drill\” is designed to produce a small ring of tailings, powder resulting from drilling the surface of the rock while penetrating less than eight-tenths of an inch (2 centimeters)
  • Other notes
  • The Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) was also placed in contact with the ground to determine the chemical composition of the rock drill test site and possible calcium sulfate vein and investigate its hydration state.
  • This will be the first time any robot has drilled into a rock to collect a sample on Mars and Curiosity can drill to a depth of about 2 inches (5 cm) into rocks
  • Ultimately a powdered and sieved sample about half an aspirin tablet in size will be delivered to the SAM and CheMin analytical labs on the rover deck.
  • Multimedia
  • Preparatory Test for First Rock Drilling by Mars Rover Curiosity | Mars Science Laboratory: Images
  • Drill Bit Tip on Mars Rover Curiosity, Head-on View | Mars Science Laboratory: Images
  • Drill Bit Tip on Mars Rover Curiosity, Side View | Mars Science Laboratory: Images
  • Image Galleries at JPL and Curiosity Mulimedia
  • Social Media
  • Curiosity Rover @MarsCuriosity
  • Further Reading / In the News
  • Curiosity Hammers into Mars Rock in Historic Feat |
  • Mars Science Laboratory: Weekend Test on Mars Was Preparation to Drill a Rock |
  • Historic First Use of Drill on Mars Set for Jan. 31 – Curiosity’s Sol 174 |
  • Mars Science Laboratory: Curiosity Maneuver Prepares for Drilling |
  • NASA\’s Curiosity Rover Poised to Drill Into Mars | |


Looking back

  • Feb 06, 1971 : 42 years ago : Golf on the Moon : Apollo 14 astronaut Alan Shepard takes a few shots at some golf balls while on the moon. Near the end of the second moonwalk, and just before entering the lunar module for the last time, Shepard (an avid golfer) attached a 6-iron golf club to the end of a sample collecting tool. Despite thick gloves and a stiff suit that forced him to swing the club with one hand only, he hit two golf balls. The first landed in a nearby crater. The second was hit squarely, and in the one-sixth gravity of the moon, Shepard said it traveled \”miles and miles and miles.\” Then the U.S. Apollo IV astronauts prepared to head back to Earth after a 33-hour stay on the moon. The golf club is on display at the U.S. Golf Association headquarters in Far Hills, N.J.
  • YouTube APOLLO 14 Golf Shot On The Moon | MoonInGoogleEarth

Looking up this week

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