Alt-week 5.25.13: regenerating limbs, robo-politans and science's playground

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James Trew
May 25, 2013 6:00 PM
In this article: alt week, alt-week, AltWeek, video
Alt-week 5.25.13: regenerating limbs, robo-politans and science's playground

Alt-week takes a look at the best science and alternative tech stories from the last seven days.

We think it's fair to say that, we all aspire to a future where robots do the hard work, lost limbs self-regenerate, and kids love science. That's not too much to ask now is it? This is alt-week.

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Is it reassuring to know that before our own robot creations turn bad, they might lure us into a false sense of security while they hone their dexterity skills? If so, how might they do this? Well, the answer could be by making us delicious cocktails. Researchers at MIT's Senseable City Lab created a mixology system that could knock up a Tom Collins -- as well as other crowd sourced drinks -- in the blink of an eye. Revellers at Google I/O, where the three-bot "Makr Shakr" system recently made an appearance, were able to invent cocktails of their choice from a smartphone app, and have it made -- shaken, or stirred -- without having to get the bar keep's attention. The boozy experiment is said to be designed to explore the potential future of digital manufacturing -- a thin excuse if ever we heard one. Tipping in batteries optional.

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Science and education. That's nothing new. But the inner working of particle physics and tweens? That's a tougher nut to crack. Fermilab thinks it's got the answer though -- a playground that allows kids to run around, following the path of a proton, complete with collisions. Panic not, there's no actual smashing of anything, rather "high-fives" are used to represent the meeting of particles on the above-ground representation of Fermilab's accelerator complex. The playground is, of course, designed to give young minds a sense of what is going on in a particle collider before being subjected to the somewhat less intuitive theory when visiting the facility. The proton-path is the first of many such planned installations at the Lederman Science center. Look forward to spending your boson-bucks in the gift shop in the not too distant future.

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In the great biological lottery of life, humans, or more specifically mammals, won in some areas, but lost in others. One such duff ticket was the one that offered regenerating body parts. If you lose a limb, generally the best you can hope for is for the wounded area to heal without problems. Other species, such as salamanders, however, got all six numbers in this department, and can regenerate complete body structures in adulthood. A team at the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute has been observing our amphibious friends to see if they might reveal the secret. The work studies macrophages, a cell that -- among other roles -- rids the body of dead cells, and triggers an immune response. These cells were found to play a crucial role in the salamander's regeneration. When depleted, an amputated limb would only heal over. Once the cell were restored, however, and the scar re-amputated, regeneration returned. Humans posses these cells too, which play a similar role in muscle repair and growth, and the hope is that a better understanding of them might reveal even more regenerative potential that lays dormant. While full regeneration of limbs in humans is still deemed unlikely, more research could lead to better healing processes in the future.

Seen any other far-out articles that you'd like considered for Alt-week? Working on a project or research that's too cool to keep to yourself? Drop us a line at alt [at] engadget [dot] com.

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