Technology Tuesday: February 14

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Welcome to Technology Tuesday! Every week The Job Shop Blog will bring you our 5 top science and technology news stories from around the web.

This week: A brain implant could give sight to the blind, a new reversible form of male birth control takes a step closer to the market by passing a major test, the Earth might be on the verge of a magnetic pole reversal, new software makes the development of fusion stellarator devices more feasible, and a new remarkable weapon in the fight against cancer.


A New Brain Implant Could Restore Sight To The Blind

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Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) are the future of brain implant technologies and prosthetics. Hacking the brain, however, hasn’t been easy. For one, electrodes that are implanted in the brain become less effective over time, as the scar tissue that forms around them degrades their connections to brain cells.

That, it would seem, is about to change as researchers from Harvard Medical School have been working with a new kind of implant that isn’t affected by scar tissue. Instead of penetrating the organ, these new electrodes are placed beneath the skull to rest on the surface of an animal’s brain, and they use powerful magnetic fields instead of electrodes like their predecessors to induce brain activity.

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New Method of Reversible Male Birth Control Passes Major Test

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Right now, birth control options for men are limited to physical prophylactics (condoms) or surgery (a vasectomy), and there hasn’t been a major update in male contraception in more than 100 years. Last year, trials for a hormonal option began, but they had to be stopped early due to some unforeseen adverse side effects. Now, a new option is making its way through the required steps toward approval for widespread use, and it is reported to be completely reversible and much less invasive than a vasectomy.

Vasalgel is a one-time injection that has been shown to control sperm counts in monkeys. In fact, several of the treated monkeys were unable to get female monkeys pregnant for up to two years after the injection. The injection places a polymer gel in the tube through which sperm travels, the vas deferens, blocking sperm from joining the other bodily fluids that make up a man’s ejaculate. No adverse reactions were reported in either the testing done on rabbits or the monkeys.

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Magnetic Pole Reversal May Be Imminent

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The Earth is blanketed by a magnetic field. It’s what makes compasses point north, and protects our atmosphere from continual bombardment from space by charged particles such as protons. Without a magnetic field, our atmosphere would slowly be stripped away by harmful radiation, and life would almost certainly not exist as it does today.

You might imagine the magnetic field is a timeless, constant aspect of life on Earth, and to some extent you would be right. But Earth’s magnetic field actually does change. Every so often – on the order of several hundred thousand years or so – the magnetic field has flipped. North has pointed south, and vice versa. And when the field flips it also tends to become very weak.

 

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Fusion Just Took One Step Closer to Reality

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“Measure twice, cut once” is an old carpenter’s proverb—a reminder that careful planning can save time and materials in the long run.

The concept also applies to the design of stellarators, which are complex nuclear fusion experiments meant to explore fusion’s potential as an energy source. Stellarators work by confining a ring of blazing-hot plasma inside a precisely shaped magnetic field generated by external electromagnetic coils. When the plasma gets to several million degrees—as hot as the interior of the sun—atomic nuclei begin to fuse together, releasing massive amounts of energy.

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Man Given 18 Months to Live is Cancer Free Thanks to New Drug

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Three years after first being diagnosed with lung cancer, Bob Berry from Manchester, UK, is now cancer-free, all thanks to his participation in a clinical trial for a mysterious new drug. The drug does not have a name, but it is reportedly used in combination with immunotherapy to help the body fight off the cancer itself.

The trial took place at The Cristie, a cancer research center that’s part of the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) and one of only six centers worldwide participating in the trial. Berry was one of the very first people to be treated with the drug a mere 12 months ago.

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Know any interesting stories we missed? Let us know in the comments!
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