Monthly Archives: February 2020

Cyborg locusts could be used to sniff out bombs, scientists say

Could cyborg locusts be the bomb-sniffing dogs of the future?

Scientists who received funding from the U.S. Navy revealed last week that they were able to program the bugs to sense various different smells, including from explosives.

The team’s preprint research paper, published in BioRxiv, states that the insects have been used to detect gases released by substances such as ammonium nitrate – often used by terrorist groups for bomb-making – as well as military explosives TNT and RDX.

The robot-bound locusts were exposed to five different explosives, and it only took 500 milliseconds of exposure for a distinct pattern of activity to appear in the locusts’ brains. The scientists chose locusts because their tiny antennae are filled with about 50,000 olfactory neurons.

 

Scientists put sensors on the insects to monitor neural activity and decode the odors presents in the environment. (Baranidharan Raman)

Scientists put sensors on the insects to monitor neural activity and decode the odors presents in the environment. (Baranidharan Raman) (Baranidharan Raman)

Researchers chose locusts because they are sturdy and can carry heavy payloads, according to the preprint paper. They implanted electrodes into the insects’ brains to analyze their neural activity when they were around different substances.

The U.S. Office of Naval Research had allocated $750,000 for the project back in 2016.

Although the team has not commented about its new work, lead scientist Baranidharan Raman, associate professor of biomedical engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Science at Washington University at St. Louis, expressed optimism when he received the grant.

“We expect this work to develop and demonstrate a proof-of-concept, hybrid locust-based, chemical-sensing approach for explosive detection,” Raman told The Source.

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‘Curse tablets’ found in 2,500-year-old Greek well

Archaeologists have unearthed 30 tablets, each engraved with curses, at the bottom of an ancient well in Greece, according to a report.

The small “curse tablets” discovered in the Kerameikos cemetery in Athens invoke the gods of the underworld in order to cause harm, or curse, others.

Jutta Stroszeck, director of the excavation on behalf of the German Archaeological Institute in Athens, told Greek City Times last week that it’s unclear who ordered the curses because they are never mentioned by name — unlike the recipient.

Curses on tablets were fairly typical practices in ancient Rome and Greece, according to historians. The tablets date back to the fourth century BCE.

Thirty curse tablets have been found in an ancient well in the Athenian cemetery Kerameikos (seen here).

Thirty curse tablets have been found in an ancient well in the Athenian cemetery Kerameikos (seen here). (Chris Hellier/Corbis/Getty)

Christopher Faraone, a professor of classics at the University of Illinois, said that in ancient Athens, most curses were not about killing a person.

“Most of the curses are what we call binding spells: they aim at binding or inhibiting the performance of a rival. A lot of them have to do with legal cases. They say things like, ‘Bind the tongue and the thoughts of so-and-so, who is about to testify against me on Monday,'” Faraone said in a question-and-answer. “We have some that are aimed at rival musicians or actors, and a couple that seem to be connected with athletics. We have some that run something like this, ‘Bind Helen, so that she is unsuccessful when she flirts or makes love with Demetrius.’ But the great majority of them seem to be connected with lawsuits.”

Kerameikos is named after a community of potters that once lived there, according to the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports.

Besides tablets, the team also found pottery for drinking, some wooden products, cooking pots, clay lamps and bronze coins.

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