science tech medicine health epilepsy robots surgery neuro brain needles
Robotic Brain Surgeon Takes First Steps


by Txchnologist staff

Mechanical engineers working to improve brain surgery for treating epilepsy have unveiled a machine that sounds like it came from a sci-fi movie.  At a recent conference, Vanderbilt University researchers presented a pneumatic robot that is designed to drill through a patient’s cheek, guide a steerable needle to the base of the brain, and then destroy malfunctioning tissue causing the disorder.

Their device, made of 3-D printed plastic pieces and a shape-memory alloy steerable needle, can operate inside a working MRI machine to let doctors monitor progress millimeter by millimeter. Their needle is composed of a mixture of nickel and titanium, which isn’t affected by the MRI’s powerful magnetic fields.

The problem the team is trying to address is that a majority of epileptic seizures occur in the hippocampus, an area near the base of the brain. While surgeons now probe for the source of epileptic seizures through the cheek of a patient, current treatments to fix the problem involve going in through the top of the skull with straight needles. This means that doctors must traverse other delicate structures of the brain and travel farther than if they could enter the skull through the cheek.

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Core Sample Of Universe Illuminates Cosmic Web Almost 11 Billion Light Years Away

by Michael Keller

Astrophysicists have developed a new sensing technique to map a section of the universe 10.8 billion light years from Earth, the first time such detail has been seen over this immense distance. Peering through that much space has opened a portal to get a clearer view of what our adolescent universe looked like 3 billion years after the Big Bang.

Using extremely faint light from 24 densely packed galaxies almost 11 billion light years away from our planet, the team was able to discern lower and higher densities of hydrogen gas in between the distant celestial bodies and us. Their work has illuminated the physical structure of the cosmic web, the tangled network upon which all matter is arranged, in one large region of the sky. 

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The Martian atmosphere presents a slew of problems to engineers trying to safely land heavy cargo on the planet’s surface. Its atmosphere is much less dense than that of Earth’s, so parachutes that would slow a spacecraft’s descent would need to be prohibitively large.

That’s why aerospace researchers are investigating the best ways to fire a descending vehicle’s engines to slow it down, a technique called retropropulsion. Figuring it out would let cargo ships touchdown without destroying the tons of equipment and habitats that human astronauts need to create a base on Mars.

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Txch This Week: Dynamic Chairs And Compact Fusion Reactors


by Jared Kershner

This week on Txchnologist, we watched researchers make strides in robotic technology by mimicking sidewinder rattlesnakes’ movements. Carnegie Mellon’s modular snake robots have already demonstrated proficiency at climbing trees and are now on their way to traversing difficult terrain like soft sand. With the sidewinder’s unique J-shaped form of locomotion, robots capable of these movements could have an advantage over others in exploring extraterrestrial worlds or tight spaces like those found in the aftermath of a mine collapse.

NASA researchers will be testing out a robotic aircraft for the coming year to see if it can aid in catching forest and brush fires before they grow out of control. The drones are equipped with a camera to track rising smoke plumes as well as an infrared camera to scan for hidden hot spots. The program will proceed once the Federal Aviation Administration approves UAV overflights, and could mean cost and time reductions for detecting nascent wildlands fires.

Researchers have developed a new technology that tracks the positions of nanoparticles as they move within the body or a single cell. The nanoparticles can also be manipulated by applying a magnetic field to pull them along and control where they move. This discovery means scientists can better probe biological functions within cells and improve our understanding and treatment of cancer.

Now we’re bringing you the news and trends we’ve been following this week in the world of science, technology and innovation.

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