Q&A: It’s time to rethink the Milky Way

How stars and planets form, and how special is the Milky Way, are among the as-yet unanswered questions about our galaxy. Image credit - Oliver Griebl/Wikimedia, licenced under CC BY 3.0

by Kelly Oakes The Milky Way might be right on our cosmic doorstep, but a group of astronomers suspect that the way we currently study it is stunting our understanding. Professor Ralf Klessen at Heidelberg University in Germany is one of four researchers who have recently begun a six-year project, ECOGAL, to try something new: imagine … Read more

Brain-controlled computers are becoming a reality, but major hurdles remain

A robotic companion called PEANUT provides brain-computer interface users with social feedback, such as encouragement, while they use the system. Image credit - Inria/C. Morel

by Tom Cassauwers Imagine controlling your computer just by thinking. It sounds far-out, but real advances are happening on these so-called brain-computer interfaces. More researchers and companies are moving into the area. Yet major challenges remain, from user training to the reality of invasive brain implant procedures. Sensors in pig brains – that’s what Elon Musk … Read more

Categories ICT

Opening the ‘black box’ of artificial intelligence

When decisions are made by artificial intelligence, it can be difficult for the end user to understand the reasoning behind them. Image credit - phylevn/Flickr, licenced under CC BY 2.0

Artificial intelligence is growing ever more powerful and entering people’s daily lives, yet often we don’t know what goes on inside these systems. Their non-transparency could fuel practical problems, or even racism, which is why researchers increasingly want to open this ‘black box’ and make AI explainable. In February of 2013, Eric Loomis was driving … Read more

Categories ICT

Black carbon and other pollution seeds clouds. We’re just starting to understand the climate implications

Clouds that form in a polluted area will have different properties from those that form around natural particles such as desert dust. Image credit: Pixabay/Pixabay Licence

Particles swirling around our atmosphere add to climate change, yet much about how they interact with sunlight and influence the seeding of clouds remains puzzling. Studies are lifting the lid on how these tiny particles influence something as big as climate by analysing them from jet aircraft, satellites and ground measurements.  The leading cause of climate change is rising levels of carbon dioxide in the … Read more

The genetics of side-effects

Henk-Jan Guchelaar knows all too well the serious problems that the side–effects of medication can cause. As a professor of clinical pharmacy at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, he has spent the last two decades trying to get the link between medicine and our genes recognised more widely.  The stories he hears from patients and their families bring home … Read more

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