Time for another Good News Friday installment.
We start this week with a successful tour by the band Depeche Mode:
“Oh, Tel Aviv!” Depeche Mode lead singer Dave Gahan groaned Tuesday night as HaYarkon Park was transformed into a bubble insulated from whatever turmoil existed outside of its gates.
In fact, the show opened with the image of a purple ball flashing the words “Welcome to My World,” the opening track on the album and the first song they played.
With threats of war and reports of alleged rocket attacks into Syria, Israelis soothed their torment with the perfect salve — the founders of electronic doom pop. Known for their angst-ridden anthems about love, lust and loneliness, Depeche kicked off their “Delta Machine” tour in a near two-and-a-half hour show that felt like a giant party. Despite a new album, which true to its title, is blues laced and chock a block with weighty songs about mortality, pain and spirituality, there was nothing black about this celebration.
Well done to Depeche Mode for their great concert and for dealing a blow to the BDS brigade.
My next item for this week comes from the wonderful world of Israeli bio-technology. Google Glass has been the talk of the media in the last few weeks, and now Israeli scientists are working on a kind of Google Glass for the blind, enabling them to see once more:
About one in 4,000 people in the United States suffers from retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a genetic disease of the retina that causes light-sensing cells to degenerate and eventually leads to vision impairment. Symptoms might start as night blindness.
Recent advances in optogenetics have opened the possibility of restoring light sensitivity to vision cells using a simple injection and gene-based therapy. But how can these newly programmed cells reconnect with the brain to process images? This is the million-dollar question.
Israeli researchers from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa have found a futuristic and bionic way to bypass neural circuitry and directly stimulate restored vision cells with a computer-driven technique called holography.
The researchers have developed a tool to photo-stimulate retinal cells with precision and high resolution, suggesting that one day in the not-so-distant future, people blinded by RP may see beyond shadows once again.
“It’s something like Google Glass for the blind,” Prof. Shy Shoham from the Technion tells ISRAEL21c, referring to Google’s wearable computer with a head-mounted display, set to be released later this year.
“We did not develop optogenetics and it’s a young technology, but it is firmly established and the potential is recognized. What is missing, and what we are offering, is a powerful solution driving the neural networks of these optogenetically restored cells.”
Shoham explains, “What our system will do is activate these cells with patterns. It’s a system that drives the projection of ‘movies’ powerful enough to stimulate retinal cells artificially.”
Like any responsible scientist, Shoham, an engineer and lead scientist of this new research presented in Nature Communications, is not offering false hope to people who are already blind. Unfortunately, he cannot help them.
But if a significant financial investment were to be made in the project, “clear” results could be seen in the future.
The researchers plan to develop a prosthetic headset that looks like the new Google Glass, or create an eyepiece that would translate visual scenes into light, which would stimulate the genetically altered cells.
The Israeli scientists used computer-generated holography to stimulate repaired retinas in mice. The light stimulus was intense, precise and capable of stimulating many cells at one time, which are all necessary for proper vision.
They previously tried lasers and digital displays used in projectors, but both approaches had their drawbacks.
“Lasers give intensity, but they can’t give the parallel projection” that would simultaneously stimulate all the cells needed to see a complete picture, says Shoham. “Holography is a way of getting the best of both worlds.”
This is amazing news for those blind people who could be enabled to see again. Kol hakavod to Prof. Shoham and the whole team who are working tirelessly to improve the lot of millions of blind people worldwide.
My last item for today moves out of this world altogether, up and out beyond the solar system, where a Tel Aviv University professor and his students have discovered a new planet using Einstein’s theory of relativity:
A Tel Aviv University professor and his students have discovered a new planet outside the solar system. Tsevi Mazeh and his team were able to identify the planet using a light-measuring method, based on Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity.
The planet, later reaffirmed by a Harvard research team, will be called Kepler-76b, after a NASA spacecraft which supplied much of the data used for the discovery. Kepler is an observation craft, launched in 2009, with the mission of finding earth-like planets.
“This is the first time this aspect of Einstein’s theory of relativity was used in discovering a planet,” Israeli radio Galatz quoted Mazeh, who is also a member of NASA’s Kepler program. “We’ve been looking for this illusive effect for over two years, and now we’ve indeed found a planet with it.”
The team had been searching for planets by measuring the light of tens of thousands of distant suns to find reoccurring changes caused by invisible orbiting planets. As the planets move around their sun, they cause slight changes in movement and light emitted by the sun. So even if the planet is too far away to be seen, the way its movement affects its sun gives an indication of its existence.
Kol hakavod to Prof. Mazeh and his students for their brilliant use of Einstein’s famous theory and putting it to practical use. Of course this discovery may have some downsides, chief among them an upcoming UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel for colonising distant planets… Well, don’t say it didn’t occur to you!
Wishing everyone down here on planet earth a Shabbat shalom!