DAILY DOSE: India’s Chandrayaan-3 moon rover begins its search for water; AI is helping paralyzed people regain the ability to speak.

INDIA MAKIN’ MOVES.

India’s Chandrayaan-3 moon rover began its exploration of the lunar surface on Thursday, marking a significant achievement after its soft landing on the moon’s unexplored south pole. This success comes especially after Russia’s Luna-25 mission failed, making India the first country to successfully land there. The historic moment was celebrated across India, especially following a previous unsuccessful landing attempt in 2019 with Chandrayaan-2. The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) confirmed that the “Pragyan” rover, part of the Chandrayaan-3 mission, will carry out element and chemical composition experiments and assist in planning for future explorations. Achieved with a $75 million budget, this is India’s second attempt to land on the moon. The south pole of the moon is particularly intriguing due to its water ice, which has potential utility for future missions. The landing has elevated India’s reputation in space exploration and brought about immense national pride. Prime Minister Narendra Modi highlighted the accomplishment at the BRICS summit, and Indian media celebrated with headlines emphasizing the country’s monumental achievement. The Times of India deemed the landing “the most significant Indian scientific achievement.” (Reuters)


CONTAMINATED SEAFOOD?

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant began releasing treated radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean, leading to widespread protests within and outside Japan. The release has caused concerns for Japanese fisheries due to potential reputational harm to their seafood. China promptly banned Japanese seafood imports in response to the release, raising diplomatic tensions. Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings (TEPCO) stated they are prepared to compensate Japanese businesses affected by the ban. The Japanese government and TEPCO assert the release is necessary for plant decommissioning and the water’s impact will be negligible after treatment. Some experts vouch for the water’s safety, but others are concerned about the long-term impact of low-dose radioactivity. This release comes over a decade after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami-induced nuclear meltdowns at Fukushima. The procedure, expected to span decades, has raised concerns for Fukushima’s economy and fisheries, which were already recovering from the 2011 disaster. (Associated Press)


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WILDFIRES IN GREECE CONTINUE.

Firefighters in northeastern Greece and the outskirts of Athens are battling multiple wildfires, which have resulted in the death of 20 people in the past week. Eighteen victims are believed to be migrants, including two young boys, who crossed from Turkey. Sixty firefighters have been injured while combating the flames. Some of these fires near Athens have been attributed to arson, as stated by Greece’s Climate Crisis and Civil Protection Minister Vassilis Kikilias. Firefighting efforts have been intense, with 99 separate blazes tackled in a single day. The Alexandroupolis fire has burned over 723 square kilometers, one of the largest in Europe in recent years. Greece has sought help from other European countries, receiving aircraft and ground assistance. Concurrently, wildfires in Spain, Turkey, Portugal, and Italy are gradually being contained. The increased frequency and intensity of these wildfires in Europe have been linked to climate change by EU officials. (Associated Press)


HOPES FOR UNDERGROUND CHINESE LAB.

The Jiangmen Underground Neutrino Observatory (JUNO) in Guangdong province is set to explore one of cosmology’s most intriguing questions: determining which of the three “flavors” of neutrinos has the highest mass. This endeavor holds implications for understanding physics, astrophysics, and cosmology. JUNO boasts unmatched sensitivity, positioning it ahead of similar experiments in the U.S. and Japan. The heart of JUNO is a massive acrylic sphere, the largest and most sensitive scintillation detector, filled with a special liquid that emits light upon neutrino interaction. Neutrinos are enigmatic particles that switch between three types: electron, muon, and tau. By examining electron antineutrinos from reactors, JUNO aims to clarify the “mass ordering” of these neutrino flavors. Establishing this order can answer fundamental questions in physics, such as how neutrinos acquire mass. Despite delays, JUNO is predicted to lead in this research. Additionally, it will study solar neutrinos, supernova neutrino background, and geoneutrinos, offering insights into the sun and Earth’s composition. Future projects may further explore the nature of neutrinos. (Science)


AI HELPS BRING BACK SPEECH.

Ann Johnson, a vibrant speaker at her wedding, suffered a debilitating stroke two years later, paralyzing her and taking away her ability to speak. Recently, scientists have made a groundbreaking advancement to restore her voice. By implanting electrodes, they decoded Mrs. Johnsonā€™s brain signals as she attempted silent speech. This technology then translated these signals into written and vocalized language, allowing an avatar on a computer, resembling her, to articulate the words and display facial expressions. Published in the journal “Nature,” this research marks the first time spoken words and facial expressions were directly synthesized from brain signals. Dr. Edward Chang, leading the team at the University of California, San Francisco, aims to restore people’s identity. Mrs. Johnson communicated her regained sense of wholeness. The ultimate goal is to aid those unable to speak due to conditions like strokes or cerebral palsy. The technology is progressing rapidly, with wireless versions and improved predictive models on the horizon, but it isn’t without challenges, as occasional inaccuracies in word decoding remain. Mrs. Johnson’s experience represents hope and a leap towards restoring the ability to communicate. (New York Times)


MORE ABOUT AI BRINGING BACK SPEECH.

Two women, one with ALS and another who had a brain stem stroke, regained the ability to communicate using brain implants. These devices decoded their brain activity related to speech, enabling them to “speak” via a computer at rates of 62 and 78 words per minute. This development was highlighted in papers published in the “Nature” journal. Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) translate brain signals into commands for devices. Stanford’s study utilized the Utah array, translating an ALS patient’s neural activity into screen-displayed words. In contrast, a UCSF study used a surface array, converting a stroke patient’s intended speech into computer-generated sound. Both techniques have challenges, such as electrode stability. Current BCIs need improvements in accuracy, durability, and wireless functionality. Companies like Neuralink are exploring these advancements. (Wired)

Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.

WORDS: The Biology Guy.

IMAGE CREDIT: ISRO.


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