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1st Color X-Rays of Human Body Are Bloody Amazing

Stunning new color X-ray images, from a company called Mars Bioimaging, in New Zealand, seem to make flesh and bone translucent and hyperreal.

A scan of an ankle rotates in this GIF.
Credit: Mars Bioimaging

The gif above shows one of the company’s strange and fascinating images: a slice of human ankle, with off-white, rugged bones, bloody-looking muscle tissue and a pad of fat smeared protectively under the heel with a whipped-cream texture.

This image shows a wrist with more muscle, less visible bone, almost no fat and a clearly-articulated watch:

It’s important to note that these aren’t “true-color” X-ray scans as most people would commonly understand the term. As the inventors of the sensor that was used to make these images described in a 2015 paper in the journal IEEE Transactions on Medical Imaging and on the company’s website, the colors in these images are applied based on the computer’s detection of different wavelengths of X-rays passing through different substances.

There are, however, no “true” red X-rays or “true” white X-rays; the device’s programmers assign different colors to different detected body parts. (What human brains interpret as color comes from different wavelengths of light in the visual spectrum bouncing off objects. Visible light is also a form of electromagnetic radiation but is lower-energy than X-ray light.)

The real and X-rayed versions of Phil Butler’s hand.

To successfully distinguish muscle, fat and bone, Mars Bioimaging developed sensors that could fit inside computed tomography (CT) scanners (circular X-ray devices that produce three-dimensional X-ray images) and produce very detailed information about the wavelengths of individual X-ray photons that pass through and bounce off human tissue.

By sensing the wavelengths that disappear after passing through a particular bit of tissue, the device makes a judgement about what chemicals make up that tissue and uses that information to figure out what sort of tissue it was. The photon-counting technology, the company says in its marketing materials, was originally developed as part of its founders’ work with CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, which operates the world’s largest atom smasher.

By matching those scans with details about how different chemical compounds interact with X-ray light, they were able to distinguish different compounds in X-ray scans, the researchers wrote in the 2015 study. To produce these new grody, gorgeous color images of living tissue, they simply tasked the computer with painting the different compounds of fat, bone and muscle different colors.

The benefit for researchers, the company claims in its marketing materials, isn’t so much the fascinating visuals (though that’s a plus) as it is the wealth of precise chemical data on objects in the scanner. The careful, multilayered tissue scans, they write, will enable new precision in medical research.

Phil Butler’s ankle.
GIF: MARS Bioimaging Ltd.

Originally published on Live Science.

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Science & Technology

My 400 Days Without Candy & What I Learned About Sugar Addiction

At the end of 2017 I decided to temporarily say goodbye to my dietary Achilles heel.

While I’m certainly not suggesting that I am some beacon of ideal healthy eating, I have always been someone who, for the most part, makes what I’ve found to be healthy choices. Except for my one glaring weakness… candy.

In particular, the really sour and heavily sugar coated kind, but you’d be hard pressed to find me turning down even those better classified as sweet, with all of their sugar fused within the confines of the chew. Cherry Blasters, Sour Patch Kids, Fuzzy Peaches, Sour Punch Straws, you name it, I ate it, and usually with a big smile on my face.

But no matter how much my tastebuds loved this stuff, I’ve always known that it’s not good for me (I can’t imagine that there is anyone out there who actually thinks it is), so I decided to listen to my body, just as I had already done with a number of my other dietary changes. I opted to no longer ignore the stomach and headaches that would often come shortly after my sugary indulgences and give it up.

What started as a one month challenge quickly evolved into a three month challenge, followed by a one year challenge, and then a 400 day challenge simply because I liked the sound of the number. Here’s some of what I learned from this journey:

The First Days Are Undeniably The Hardest

The old adage that it takes approximately 21 days to break a bad habit or make a new one in this case certainly held true. It was right around the 3 week point that I started to find myself far less tempted and far less frequently on the search for something to satisfy my sweet tooth. And believe it or not, the longer I went on, the less appealing the idea of eating candy became. It almost felt as if the memory in my tastebuds that had controlled so many of my past decisions had gradually faded away.

Mindset Is Everything

While I will fully admit that my quest to 400 was helped by it naturally feeding into another one of my “addictions” (a great joy in setting records and tracking analytics), I found that so much of the temptation to consume these sugary, salty and greasy foods really was incredibly temporary. Challenge yourself to at least not let it win once and you’ll likely see just how quickly its strength can fade.

It Paid Dividends

While I didn’t completely cut sugar out of my diet, as many people have so admirably done and documented about, I can say that cutting back even as much as I did felt really good for me. Some may be quick to chalk it up to the placebo effect, and understandably so, but I can honestly say that the above mentioned stomach and head aches occurred far less often over the 400 day span.

Real-Time Analysis: After The First Bite

Having now officially consumed my first piece of candy since 2017, believe it or not, it tastes different. Is it still tasty and did it satisfy me at some level? Absolutely. But it also tastes way more sugary and foreign to my body than it once did. It’s as if my body really wanted to make it clear by saying, “are you sure you want to bring this stuff back into the picture?”

Side Note: For those that are curious, since it’s the most common question I’ve been asked since embarking on this journey, the candy I chose to eat as my first piece was a Vegan Wild Cherry Belt by Squish Candies. (And no I’m not getting paid to brand-drop, and no I don’t make any commission should you choose to buy any at that link… unfortunately LOL).

Where I Go From Here

While I don’t see myself going completely cold turkey on candy again, I also cannot see myself consuming it nearly as much as I once did. And I do so happily, not out of punishment. While I’m also certainly not qualified to be giving out dietary advice, I am comfortable challenging all of you to give up something you know to not be good for you. See how your body feels both without it and after you re-introduce it.

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Machine Learning Is Causing A “Crisis in Science”

Crisis In Science

Rice University statistician Genevera Allen issued a grave warning at a prominent scientific conference this week: that scientists are leaning on machine learning algorithms to find patterns in data even when the algorithms are just fixating on noise that won’t be reproduced by another experiment.

“There is general recognition of a reproducibility crisis in science right now,” she told the BBC. “I would venture to argue that a huge part of that does come from the use of machine learning techniques in science.”

Reproducibility

The problem, according to Allen, can arise when scientists collect a large amount of genome data and then use poorly-understood machine learning algorithms to find clusters of similar genomic profiles.

“Often these studies are not found out to be inaccurate until there’s another real big dataset that someone applies these techniques to and says ‘oh my goodness, the results of these two studies don’t overlap,’” she told the BBC.

Noise Project

The problem with machine learning, according to Allen, is that it’s trained to look for patterns even where none exist. The solution, she suspects, will be in next-generation algorithms that are better able to evaluate how reliable the predictions they make are.

“The question is, ‘Can we really trust the discoveries that are currently being made using machine-learning techniques applied to large data sets?’” Allen said in a press release. “The answer in many situations is probably, ‘Not without checking,’ but work is underway on next-generation machine-learning systems that will assess the uncertainty and reproducibility of their predictions.”

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Ride out Climate Change in This $5.5 Million Self-Sustaining Yacht

Luxury Living

In 2017 we wrote about Arkup, a company designing “hurricane-proof” livable yachts powered by solar energy and capable of operating completely off the grid.

Now, the company has finally debuted a real-life version of one of its designs, and it could to let you ride out the worst that climate change might throw at the Earth in the near future — assuming you have $5.5 million to spend on it.

Cost of Climate Change

Visitors to the Miami Yacht Show, which runs through Feb. 18, can catch a glimpse of the Arkup #1, a 75-foot livable yacht its creators claim is entirely self-sustaining.

The yacht has a rainwater-harvesting system, a 2,300-square-foot roof covered in solar panels, and would be as “stable as a home on land” if pummeled with Category 4 winds, according to an Arkup press release.

Based on the tweeted photos of the yacht, it’s incredibly luxurious. But given that most of us don’t have $5.5 million to spend on a floating home, we might want to consider cheaper ways to prepare for climate change, like urging our legislators to back climate-friendly legislation.

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