The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) has resumed operations after a $205m upgrade. LIGO first detected gravitational waves in 2015, but the sensitivity of the system has now been improved, allowing it to detect signals from colliding black holes every few days. Scientists hope to use the system to detect gravitational waves produced by a pulsar, and the gravitational signal of a collapsing star before it explodes. Meanwhile, a spinal implant has allowed a paralysed man to walk using his thoughts. The implant detects brain activity and transmits the signal to a backpack computer which decodes the information and activates the spinal pulse generator.
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The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) has resumed its operations after a three-year hiatus and a multimillion-dollar upgrade. LIGO made history by detecting gravitational waves, which are ripples in space–time from colliding black holes and other cosmic events, for the first time in 2015. The recent improvements to the detectors’ sensitivity mean that LIGO could now pick up signals of colliding black holes every few days, compared with once a week during its previous run. Scientists are hoping to detect the gravitational signal of a collapsing star before it manifests as a supernova explosion, as well as the continuous gravitational waves produced by a pulsar. You can read more about the recent upgrades and the implications of the new discoveries in Nature’s article.
In other groundbreaking news, a wireless connection between the brain and the spinal cord has enabled a paralysed man to walk using his thoughts. Gert-Jan Oskam, who had lost the use of his legs after a cycling accident, received a spinal implant in 2018 that generated robotic movement through pre-programmed electrical stimulation. Recently, he received head implants that detect his brain activity and transmit the signal to a backpack computer, which decodes the information and activates the spinal pulse generator. This brain–spine interface gives Oskam full control over the stimulation, allowing him to walk and climb stairs. “The stimulation before was controlling me, and now I am controlling stimulation by my thought,” he says. You can read more about this fascinating breakthrough in
Additionally, researchers have discovered that a component in their mother’s milk triggers a diet switch in baby mice’s heart cells. Mouse embryos’ heart-muscle cells burn sugar and lactic acid, but within 24 hours of birth, they shift to fatty acids as their fuel. After seven years of experiments, some of which involved milking mice by hand, researchers have identified ɣ-linolenic acid as a key compound that drives the switch, and they have also identified the receptor and genes involved. Human breast milk also contains ɣ-linolenic acid, and a precursor is found in baby formula, although it’s unclear whether it has the same role in humans. You can read more about this study in
Finally, China’s new data restrictions have strengthened privacy but are concerning researchers. The new regulations require researchers to obtain consent from the government before sharing sensitive data, which may hinder international collaborations. Although the regulations are aimed at protecting privacy, researchers fear that they may also limit scientific progress. You can read more about the implications of these data restrictions in
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