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Mini-brains show recognizable brain waves

Scientists have been growing tiny organs in a dish for years now, including the brain. But for the first time, such lab-grown mini-brains have shown electrical patterns (you know them as brain waves) similar to those seen in babies born prematurely. The breakthrough may enable scientists to better study the development of a human's most important organ, but it also raises some ethical questions -- like when does a brain in a dish, no matter how small, achieve consciousness? And how would we know?

TED Talk: What we'll learn about the brain in the next century

Image: Yana Eglit

Meet the hemimastigotes -- a new kind of life on earth

Sometimes you find an entirely new kind of life when you scoop up a bit of dirt on a hike. At least if you're Yana Eglit, who sampled the dirt found on a hike in Nova Scotia and found a new form of life covered in microscopic hairs that help it eat and move. The new life form is entirely different from plants, animals, fungi, microbes or any other kingdom of life. In other words, it's a new branch on the tree of life.

TED Talk: Meet the microscopic life in your home -- and on your face

Image: Flickr / Tjflex2 (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Flying on the ionic wind eliminates the need for engines

In the first proof of principle for a new form of powered flight that requires no moving parts, researchers have flown a model aircraft using ionic wind -- using electricity to accelerate charged particles and provide thrust. The model aircraft boasted a five-meter wingspan and only flew about 60 meters indoors, so it's not quite ready for flying passengers or anything else, but it represents the first new form of propulsion for aircraft -- and one that emits no pollution -- since jets replaced propellers.

Watch: TED Talks about flying

Recently discovered

NASA's latest Martian probe will attempt to land on the Red Planet on Monday
NASA's InSight Mars Lander has been steadily approaching Mars since its launch in May 2018. The three million mile haul finishes Monday, November 26, when InSight is scheduled to land on the flat plains of Elysium Planitia near the planet's equator. The landing is expected to occur around 3 p.m. EST -- tune in here to follow the action. (

Huge, previously unknown impact crater found beneath Greenland's ice
This week, researchers announced the discovery of a 19-mile-wide crater beneath Hiawatha Glacier in northwestern Greenland. Discovered using high-resolution data collected by researchers monitoring the shrinking of the Greenland Ice Sheet, the crater is thought to have been created by a mile-wide meteor whose impact set off an intensely violent event. Now researchers are trying to find out how old the crater is. (Ars Technica)

A metropolis of 200 million termite mounds, hidden in plain sight
In a new paper in Current Biology, scientists describe a vast array of 200 million soil mounds constructed by termites that are up to 4,000 years old and cover an estimated 230,000 square kilometers in northeastern Brazil. The scientists estimate that in order to build the mounds, the termites excavated 2.4 cubic miles of dirt -- a volume equal to about 4,000 great pyramids of Giza. "This the greatest known example of ecosystem engineering by a single insect species," the scientists write. (New York Times)

Neuroscientists use ultrasound to treat Alzheimer's
Experts at West Virginia University’s Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute are celebrating a historic breakthrough: a phase II trial using focused ultrasound to treat a patient with early-stage Alzheimer's. The procedure involved the use of ultrasound waves focused through a specialized helmet with more than 1,000 probes targeting a precise spot in the brain, creating a reaction that opens up the brain-blood barrier -- a nearly impenetrable shield between the brain’s blood vessels and cells that make up brain tissue. In this case, the West Virginia team targeted the hippocampus and the memory and cognitive centers of the brain that are impacted by plaques found in patients with Alzheimer’s. (WVNews)

Scientists unravel secret of cube-shaped wombat feces
Of all the many mysteries that surround the common wombat, it's hard to find one as baffling as its ability -- broadly acknowledged as unique in the natural world -- to produce feces shaped like cubes. Now scientists think they have an answer: it's a trick of the intestines. (The Guardian)

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