What We’re Reading: Brain Walls, Critter Vision and Microfossil Wars

BY Jenny Marder  August 22, 2011 at 3:48 PM EST

NASA To Share Telescope Cost

Nature News.jpgThe threatened James Webb Space Telescope, which is “perilously overbudget”, may get a financial lifeline from other parts of NASA’s budget, Nature News reports. As of now, the telescope is funded through the agency’s science division. Administrator Charles Bolden, who requested the change, said the telescope is a priority not only for the science program, but for the entire agency. (Eric Hand, Nature News)

Team Claims it Has Found Oldest Fossils

New York Times.jpgA team of geologists has found what they say are the oldest known fossils, fueling a debate over who can lay claim to that discovery. The new finding involves some 3.4 billion-year-old, fossilized, single-cell organisms — microfossils — unearthed from the base of the Strelley Pool rock formation in Western Australia, according to a study published in the Sunday issue of Nature Geoscience. This article has some good background and explanation on microfossils and the debate behind which qualifies as the very oldest. (Nicholas Wade, New York Times)

New IBM Computer Chip Mimics the Human Brain

CNN.jpgIBM announced last week that it has created a computer chip designed to mimic the human brain. According to this CNN Tech article, that means it aims to “understand its surroundings, act on things that happen around it and makes sense of complex data.” It’s part of a new trend in computers that, like Jeopardy’s Watson, learn through their experience, “reason,” and evolve accordingly. IBM’s so-called “brain wall” has the equivalent of 1 million neurons and 10 billion synapses, CNN reports. (Doug Gross, CNN)

Crittervision: See Like a Bee

New Scientist.jpgHere’s an interesting look at how bees see things — through UV receptors and pixilated patterns of polarized light in the sky. The article also looks at how a human condition called aphakia can help us understand the vision of these critters. There are links to more of the series, which includes details on how dogs smell, bats hear and how turtles and other animals navigate by sensing the Earth’s geomagnetic field. (Caroline Williams, New Scientist)