Magnetic fields make the excitons go ’round: New way to improve efficiency of solar cells

A representation of one-way exciton currents (shown as light-colored trails) in the designed two-dimensional porphyrin lattice. Credit: Lauren Aleza Kaye
A representation of one-way exciton currents (shown as light-colored trails) in the designed two-dimensional porphyrin lattice.
Credit: Lauren Aleza Kaye

[dropcap]A[/dropcap] major limitation in the performance of solar cells happens within the photovoltaic material itself: When photons strike the molecules of a solar cell, they transfer their energy, producing quasi-particles called excitons — an energized state of molecules. That energized state can hop from one molecule to the next until it’s transferred to electrons in a wire, which can light up a bulb or turn a motor.

But as the excitons hop through the material, they are prone to getting stuck in minuscule defects, or traps — causing them to release their energy as wasted light.

Now a team of researchers at MIT and Harvard University has found a way of rendering excitons immune to these traps, possibly improving photovoltaic devices’ efficiency. The work is described in a paper in the journal Nature Materials.

Their approach is based on recent research on exotic electronic states known as topological insulators, in which the bulk of a material is an electrical insulator — that is, it does not allow electrons to move freely — while its surface is a good conductor.

The MIT-Harvard team used this underlying principle, called topological protection, but applied it to excitons instead of electrons, explains lead author Joel Yuen, a postdoc in MIT’s Center for Excitonics, part of the Research Laboratory of Electronics. Topological protection, he says, “has been a very popular idea in the physics and materials communities in the last few years,” and has been successfully applied to both electronic and photonic materials.

Moving on the surface

Topological excitons would move only at the surface of a material, Yuen explains, with the direction of their motion determined by the direction of an applied magnetic field. In that respect, their behavior is similar to that of topological electrons or photons.

In its theoretical analysis, the team studied the behavior of excitons in an organic material, a porphyrin thin film, and determined that their motion through the material would be immune to the kind of defects that tend to trap excitons in conventional solar cells.

The choice of porphyrin for this analysis was based on the fact that it is a well-known and widely studied family of materials, says co-author Semion Saikin, a postdoc at Harvard and an affiliate of the Center for Excitonics. The next step, he says, will be to extend the analysis to other kinds of materials.

While the work so far has been theoretical, experimentalists are eager to pursue the concept. Ultimately, this approach could lead to novel circuits that are similar to electronic devices but based on controlling the flow of excitons rather that electrons, Yuen says. “If there are ever excitonic circuits,” he says, “this could be the mechanism” that governs their functioning. But the likely first application of the work would be in creating solar cells that are less vulnerable to the trapping of excitons.

Eric Bittner, a professor of chemistry at the University of Houston who was not associated with this work, says, “The work is interesting on both the fundamental and practical levels. On the fundamental side, it is intriguing that one may be able to create excitonic materials with topological properties. This opens a new avenue for both theoretical and experimental work. … On the practical side, the interesting properties of these materials and the fact that we’re talking about pretty simple starting components — porphyrin thin films — makes them novel materials for new devices.”

The work received support from the U.S. Department of Energy and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. Norman Yao, a graduate student at Harvard, was also a co-author.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The original article was written by David L. Chandler. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Scientists twist radio beams to send data: Transmissions reach speeds of 32 gigibits per second

Graphic showing the intensity of the radio beams after twisting. Credit: Courtesy of Alan Willner / USC Viterbi
Graphic showing the intensity of the radio beams after twisting.
Credit: Courtesy of Alan Willner / USC Viterbi

[dropcap]B[/dropcap]uilding on previous research that twisted light to send data at unheard-of speeds, scientists at USC have developed a similar technique with radiowaves, reaching high speeds without some of the hassles that can go with optical systems.

The researchers, led by electrical engineering professor Alan Willner of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, reached data transmission rates of 32 gigabits per second across 2.5 meters of free space in a basement lab at USC.

For reference, 32 gigabits per second is fast enough to transmit more than 10 hour-and-a-half-long HD movies in one second and is 30 times faster than LTE wireless.

“Not only is this a way to transmit multiple spatially collocated radio data streams through a single aperture, it is also one of the fastest data transmission via radio waves that has been demonstrated,” Willner said.

Faster data transmission rates have been achieved — Willner himself led a team two years ago that twisted light beams to transmit data at a blistering 2.56 terabits per second — but methods to do so rely on light to carry the data.

“The advantage of radio is that it uses wider, more robust beams. Wider beams are better able to cope with obstacles between the transmitter and the receiver, and radio is not as affected by atmospheric turbulence as optics,” Willner said.

Willner is the corresponding author of an article about the research that will be published in Nature Communications on Sept. 16. The study’s co-lead authors Yan Yan and Guodong Xie are both graduate students at USC Viterbi, and other contributors came from USC, the University of Glasgow, and Tel Aviv University.

To achieve the high transmission rates, the team took a page from Willner’s previous work and twisted radio beams together. They passed each beam — which carried its own independent stream of data — through a “spiral phase plate” that twisted each radio beam into a unique and orthogonal DNA-like helical shape. A receiver at the other end of the room then untwisted and recovered the different data streams.

“This technology could have very important applications in ultra-high-speed links for the wireless ‘backhaul’ that connects base stations of next-generation cellular systems,” said Andy Molisch of USC Viterbi. Molisch, whose research focuses on wireless systems, co-designed and co-supervised the study with Willner.

Future research will focus on attempting to extend the transmission’s range and capabilities.

The work was supported by Intel Labs University Research Office and the DARPA InPho (Information in a Photon) Program.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Southern California. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Yan Yan, Guodong Xie, Martin P. J. Lavery, Hao Huang, Nisar Ahmed, Changjing Bao, Yongxiong Ren, Yinwen Cao, Long Li, Zhe Zhao, Andreas F. Molisch, Moshe Tur, Miles J. Padgett, Alan E. Willner. High-capacity millimetre-wave communications with orbital angular momentum multiplexing. Nature Communications, 2014; 5: 4876 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms5876


No sedative necessary: Scientists discover new ‘sleep node’ in the brain

Artist's concept (stock illustration). A sleep-promoting circuit located deep in the primitive brainstem has revealed how we fall into deep sleep. Credit: © James Steidl / Fotolia
Artist’s concept (stock illustration). A sleep-promoting circuit located deep in the primitive brainstem has revealed how we fall into deep sleep.
Credit: © James Steidl / Fotolia

[dropcap]A[/dropcap] sleep-promoting circuit located deep in the primitive brainstem has revealed how we fall into deep sleep. Discovered by researchers at Harvard School of Medicine and the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, this is only the second “sleep node” identified in the mammalian brain whose activity appears to be both necessary and sufficient to produce deep sleep.

Published online in August in Nature Neuroscience, the study demonstrates that fully half of all of the brain’s sleep-promoting activity originates from the parafacial zone (PZ) in the brainstem. The brainstem is a primordial part of the brain that regulates basic functions necessary for survival, such as breathing, blood pressure, heart rate and body temperature.

“The close association of a sleep center with other regions that are critical for life highlights the evolutionary importance of sleep in the brain,” says Caroline E. Bass, assistant professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology in the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and a co-author on the paper.

The researchers found that a specific type of neuron in the PZ that makes the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is responsible for deep sleep. They used a set of innovative tools to precisely control these neurons remotely, in essence giving them the ability to turn the neurons on and off at will.

“These new molecular approaches allow unprecedented control over brain function at the cellular level,” says Christelle Ancelet, postdoctoral fellow at Harvard School of Medicine. “Before these tools were developed, we often used ‘electrical stimulation’ to activate a region, but the problem is that doing so stimulates everything the electrode touches and even surrounding areas it didn’t. It was a sledgehammer approach, when what we needed was a scalpel.”

“To get the precision required for these experiments, we introduced a virus into the PZ that expressed a ‘designer’ receptor on GABA neurons only but didn’t otherwise alter brain function,” explains Patrick Fuller, assistant professor at Harvard and senior author on the paper. “When we turned on the GABA neurons in the PZ, the animals quickly fell into a deep sleep without the use of sedatives or sleep aids.”

How these neurons interact in the brain with other sleep and wake-promoting brain regions still need to be studied, the researchers say, but eventually these findings may translate into new medications for treating sleep disorders, including insomnia, and the development of better and safer anesthetics.

“We are at a truly transformative point in neuroscience,” says Bass, “where the use of designer genes gives us unprecedented ability to control the brain. We can now answer fundamental questions of brain function, which have traditionally been beyond our reach, including the ‘why’ of sleep, one of the more enduring mysteries in the neurosciences.”

The work was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University at Buffalo. The original article was written by Ellen Goldbaum. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Christelle Anaclet, Loris Ferrari, Elda Arrigoni, Caroline E Bass, Clifford B Saper, Jun Lu, Patrick M Fuller. The GABAergic parafacial zone is a medullary slow wave sleep–promoting center. Nature Neuroscience, 2014; 17 (9): 1217 DOI:10.1038/nn.3789


If You Do These 20 Things Every Day, You’ll Become Smarter

If You Do These 20 Things Every Day, You’ll Become Smarter

Although many people believe intelligence is limited to those with high I.Q.s, there are a number of potential methods to boost one’s cognitive abilities and become more effective at various professional and personal pursuits.

With enough motivation and determination, anyone can expand their mental capabilities and become smarter. Integrating new habits into your regular routine and providing proper stimulation can sharpen your intellect quickly and leave you inspired to take on new challenges each day. Brain health is an important key in complete physical health. The list below includes the best brain-engaging activities in daily life.

Inviting Novelty

To create new neural pathways and strengthen the brain, it’s critical for people to continually incorporate new experiences and information into their lives. At first, these moments might feel useless, but eventually, you will find yourself looking forward to quiet moments alone.

Visit New Places

Whether this means studying in a new coffee shop, taking a different route to work, or traveling to a different country, displacement is good for the brain. This might be difficult to recognize in the moment since it usually feels rather awkward – at least initially. At the coffee shop, you can’t order the “usual.” You have to study a new menu, pick something you have never tried before, and make a decision.

While this seems simple, people enjoy the comfort of habit. We like to know what to expect at all times. When you travel to a new country, the language is strange, the customs are unfamiliar, and the culture presents a strange new rhythm of life. Adjusting to these new elements forces the brain to tackle new, unexpected challenges. Learning how to communicate through a language barrier forces the brain to develop creative ways to express needs and emotions. Listening to new music, trying new foods, and navigating foreign streets all work to challenge your brain’s capacity to adapt to new situations.

Continue Your Education

Adult education is one of the best investments of time, money, and energy you can make. While education is valuable throughout childhood and adolescence, adults often underestimate their ability to learn new concepts and skills. Challenge yourself to take a class, academic or creative. Voluntarily choosing to continue education provides a perfect opportunity for your brain to create new connections and build higher intelligence.

Read and Watch the News

This is one activity that maintains the appearance of habit while nurturing healthy brain waves. Setting aside half an hour every morning or evening to read a newspaper or watch the news will help your brain stay active. Digesting new information is a good daily habit. The news introduces interesting topics to consider, and will leave your brain churning with new information.

Read Books

Reading is the most basic way to facilitate brain activity, but it often presents some of the most diverse opportunities for stretching brain capacity. Reading provides practical assistance by introducing new vocabulary, presenting examples of proper grammar usage, and showing the elegance of a well-written sentence. However, this is only half of the magic of reading.

Whether you choose fiction, non-fiction, historical literature, or poetry, reading offers an opportunity for the reader to make big-picture connections between the literature and real life. In this way, reading is an alternative way to make your brain travel to a new place. As your imagination works to create tangible people, places, and experiences from the words on the page, your brain is rewiring to understand all the new information.

Approach Work in New Ways

The workplace is a canvas for new experiences. Regardless of what type of job you might hold, everyone is at one time or another presented with opportunities to think outside the box, problem solve in a creative way, and contribute fresh ideas to the team. Instead of stressing over each new problem, it’s important to relax and starting imagining alternatives for reaching an end goal.

Challenging Yourself

Like a weightlifter who develops muscles, one must exercise the brain on a daily basis, pushing it just beyond its current capabilities. As Albert Einstein once said, “One should not pursue goals that are easily achieved. One must develop an instinct for what one can just barely achieve through one’s greatest efforts.”

This quote encapsulates what I believe about the brain. With enough focus and stretching, the brain can truly surprise people. Underestimating yourself holds you back from success. When people begin believing in their abilities, they often go beyond what they thought was possible.

Brain Train

Organizations like Lumosity offer fantastic daily brain training. With puzzles and games designed to increase neuroplasticity, Lumosity was created to challenge the brain to make new connections. A group of neuroscientists at University of California Berkeley developed this program to provide stimuli for the brain to push it to adapt and re-train itself in uncharted territory. Success stories abound concerning the results of this public experiment.

Ask 5 Whys When Encountering Problems

One of the most standard problem solving solutions, the 5 whys still provide a solid start to uncovering the root of a problem. Asking a question gets the brain working to find an answer. Instead of worrying about the problem, always start by asking why.

Eschew Technology to Keep the Brain in Shape

Technology does wonders for the modern world, but in some ways, technological dependence stunts the brain’s capacity for problem solving, adapting to new environments, and being a reliable resource for practical things like simple mathematics and navigation. Try going on a trip without a GPS. Work a few algebra problems without a calculator. Make your brain work for you; you’ll see the results.

Fostering Creativity

Finger-painting in preschool was not only a fun activity; it helped open up the mind to new possibilities and ways of solving problems. An artistic mindset creates new opportunities to find new solutions, fresh inspiration, and peaceful confidence.

The blend of these elements in both personal and professional environments allows ordinary people to shine by becoming an innovative thinker and inventive leader. Find ways to incorporate creativity into the dull grind of daily tasks.


You don’t have to be an artist to appreciate the benefits of drawing, which cultivates brain activity in a unique way. In addition to nurturing basic hand-eye coordination, it sends synapses to neurotransmitters to help more permanently and vividly store your memories. From doodles on a piece of scrap paper to charcoal portraits, drawing is a healthy brain activity for everyone.


Painting is an extension of drawing. It feeds the same areas of the brain, but unlike drawing, painting often introduces new and unfamiliar textures and colors to stimulate the brain. Painters often have a keen sense of awareness towards their surroundings. Engaging in painting encourages people to notice minute details of the world around them. Focusing the brain in this manner brings a heightened state of alertness.

Play an Instrument

Learning to play an instrument also has outstanding benefits for the brain. Hand-eye coordination, memory, concentration, and mathematic skills all improve through playing an instrument. While some are more challenging to learn than others, any instrument facilitates increased and improved cognitive functioning.

From training your fingers to master complex musical passages on the piano to counting the beats in a musical measure, instruments force various regions of the brain to work together to create music.


Like reading, writing encourages vocabulary growth, grammar skills, and use of proper syntax. Writing helps the brain store information more effectively and fosters better memory skills. Studies show that students who regularly take handwritten notes during college classes consistently score better on tests. Writing forces a person to pay attention to their memories, experiences, and internal dialogues – a combination that increases brain function altogether.


Put yourself in someone else’s shoes, and your brain starts to rewire to help you think like a different person. For those struggling to form creative ideas, role-playing can help the wheels start turning in the brain to help develop unique solutions for difficult problems.

Working with Others

Although logical intelligence is important, emotional intelligence plays an equally vital part in overall success. Interacting with others helps people expand beyond their own limited thinking, gain new ideas, and see things from a different perspective.

People are challenging. Smart people often enjoy isolation because it protects them from being critical of others. However, this discomfort is necessary for truly smart people because it pushes them outside their bubble. When you start to believe you have all the right answers, start collaborating with others to expand perspective.

Teach and Share Information with Others

Whether this is achieved virtually or face-to-face, pursue colleagues and peers to share experience and wisdom. Fresh faces and new ideas spur inspiration and create an amplified learning environment for the brain. By creating a network for sharing ideas, your brain starts developing a new network for formulating and executing innovative concepts.

Talk to Interesting People

No two people share the same life experiences. Everyone interprets information uniquely, stores memories differently, and digests daily life with their own intellectual flare. This makes collaboration a necessity for brain health. Although we are all inclined to think our method is the best approach, gaining perspective from another person helps our brain consider new solutions and new techniques for both personal and professional issues.

Whether the conversation is centered on religion, finances, politics, or diet trends, people should practice being a good listener. Silencing your own thoughts while the other person speaks is often challenging, but the brain needs discipline to stay sharp.

Work in a Team Environment

Collaborative environments are essential for enhancing brain activity. Some people who enjoy working independently dread the moment when they are forced to participate in a team-focused workplace. However, these independent individuals are highly intelligent and can benefit the most from a little teamwork.

Author Steve Johnson’s book, Where Good Ideas Come From, focuses on the benefits of collaborating with peers and coworkers to develop original ideas and effective strategies for their execution. The modern workplace continues to shift towards this team-oriented approach.

Cultivating Physical Health

The body feeds the brain, and keeping oneself in top physical condition is crucial to adequate fueling and operation of the brain. Lack of motivation, mental fatigue, and absence of inspiration are typically connected to poor exercise, diet, and focus.


Studies constantly show people who exercise regularly have higher I.Q. scores. In addition to maintaining a strong body, people who exercise regularly actually stimulate brain cell growth. A process called neurogenesis occurs during rigorous exercise, which increases the production of neurotransmitters. With side effects like increased dopamine, active people enjoy less stress, better concentration, and more energy.

Dr. Michael Nilsson of Sahlgrenska Academy and Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Sweden conducted extensive research on the topic. “Being fit means that you also have a good heart and lung capacity and that your brain gets plenty of oxygen,” the doctor said. His research focused on over a million Swedish military men, and Dr. Nilsson found a direct correlation between physical fitness and high scores on I.Q. tests.

Pursue Athletics

Multiple studies have shown active children typically do better in school and have a better chance of continuing their education after high school graduation. Although athletic pursuits can feel grueling at the time, the overall benefits of intense physical activity are wise for your future.

Whether it’s finding one thing you are good at, like basketball, running, or lifting weights, or trying something new every day, maintaining an athletic routine is important for optimal brain health.


Controlling and calming the brain is as powerful as enhancing activity through instruments and puzzles. Doctors have been studying the effects of mediation on the brain for several years, and the results are impressive. In one famous study, Dr. Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsincollaborated with the Dalai Lama to study what happens to the brain during meditation.

Transcendental Meditation yields impressive results for the brain. People who struggle with fear, anxiety, depression, and other mental ailments should experiment with meditation to calm themselves and develop a stronger sense of focus.

Maintain a Nutritious Diet

Children and adults interested in boosting brain activity should begin by transforming their diet. Research from the University of Bristol in England points to a strong connection between unhealthy diet and low I.Q. scores in children. To begin reversing unhealthy tendencies, try cutting out excess fat, sugar, and fast foods, and start adding more vegetables, fruit, and lean meats.

There are also a number of unusual drinks proven to help brain function. Matcha Green Tea, Raw Cacao hot chocolate, and Gingko Biloba tea all show benefits for the brain. Some scientist claim Gingko Biloba helps pump more blood to the brain, improving circulation.

Active Learning

Start children young with interactive video games, jump roping, juggling, and other activities to feed brain stimulation. Assign a musical instrument, a physical activity, or a Sudoku puzzle to get their brains moving. Parents, remember to join in the fun!

Creating daily routines to promote healthy brain activity doesn’t require the advice of a neuroscientist. While plenty of studies provide convincing evidence, increasing brain activity can be accomplished with a few basic steps. Be intentional about your time and energy to start working towards a smarter and more fulfilling life.

Does English still borrow words from other languages?


English language has “borrowed” words for centuries. But is it now lending more than it’s taking, asks Philip Durkin, deputy chief editor of the Oxford English Dictionary.

English speakers may not be famous for being au fait with foreign languages, but all of us use words taken from other languages every day.

In that last sentence au fait is an obvious example, but famous, foreign,languages, use, and taken are also borrowed words. Knowledge of what is being borrowed, and from where, provides an invaluable insight into the international relations of the English language.

Today English borrows words from other languages with a truly global reach. Some examples that the Oxford English Dictionary suggests entered English during the past 30 years include tarka dal, a creamy Indian lentil dish (1984, from Hindi), quinzhee, a type of snow shelter (1984, from Slave or another language of the Pacific Coast of North America), popiah, a type of Singaporean or Malaysian spring roll (1986, from Malay), izakaya, a type of Japanese bar serving food (1987),affogato, an Italian dessert made of ice cream and coffee (1992).

A spot of pibroch for the Sassenachs
A spot of pibroch for the Sassenachs

One obvious thing that these words have in common is that not all English speakers will know them. Probably affogato and tarka dal are likeliest to be familiar to British readers, but they do not yet belong to the vocabulary that you would expect just about every British person to know, and experiences will differ greatly in different parts of the world.

The number of new borrowed words finding their way into the shared international vocabulary is on a long downward trend”

Some words slowly build up in frequency. For instance, the word sushi is first recorded in English in the 1890s, but the earliest examples in print all feel the need to explain what sushi is, and it is only in recent decades that it has become ubiquitous, as sushi has spread along the high street and into supermarket chiller cabinets in most corners of the English-speaking world. But, commonplace though sushi may be today, it hasn’t made its way into the inner core of English in the same way as words like peace,war, just, or very (from French) or leg, sky, take, or they (from Scandinavian languages). This isn’t just because they were borrowed longer ago. It owes a great deal to the different influences that foreign languages have had on the word-stock of English over the centuries.

It’s very hard to be precise about the boundaries of the vocabulary of any language, especially a global one like modern English. Every speaker of a language has a slightly different vocabulary. English speakers living in New Zealand are likely to be familiar with a wider range of words of Maori origin, like Pakeha, a New Zealander of European descent, aroha(sympathy, understanding), kia ora – a greeting or farewell. English speakers in Scotland may know more words of Scottish Gaelic origin, likecranachan, a type of dessert, pibroch, bagpipe music, Sassenach, Englishman. Dictionaries, even very big ones like the OED, monitor those words that have some traction in English across the world. This sort of monitoring reveals some surprising trends. Although English is now borrowing from other languages with a worldwide range, the number of new borrowed words finding their way into the shared international vocabulary is on a long downward trend.

One big reason for this is the success of English as an international language of science, scholarship, business, and many other fields. If we think about words coming into English from foreign languages in the 18th and 19th Centuries, we may think first of the impact of colonialism and expanding trade. Words like jungle (1776), bangle (1787), yoga (1818),khaki (1863) came into English from languages of South Asia. But in many other cases new words slipped into English as a result of scientific coinages in other European languages. For example, oxygen reflects the French name oxygène that the scientists Lavoisier and Guyton de Morveau gave to the recently discovered element in the 1780s. The word is formed from elements that ultimately come from Greek, but it was coined in French and then borrowed into English.

Yoga made its first English appearance in 1818
Yoga made its first English appearance in 1818

A similar story applies to paraffin, formed in German in 1830 (from Latin elements), and then borrowed into English in 1835. Other borrowings likesemester (1826) or seminar (1889) reflect German innovations in higher education. Such borrowings are still sometimes found today, but have become much less common, as English has become the lingua franca of the world of learning (and of so many other fields). Today, the balance is tipping much more towards English as a donor of new words (eg internet,computer, cell phone, meeting, business) rather than a borrower. By contrast, new borrowings into English today tend to cluster much more closely in a few subject areas, especially names of food and drink.

If we look back further, it was in the Middle Ages that the everyday vocabulary of English was affected most deeply by borrowing from other languages. In the wake of the Norman Conquest, French and Latin put English in the shade for centuries as the language of learning. The church, law, and officialdom. Even everyday business records were typically written in Latin or French down to the late 1300s. This has left an indelible mark on the English language today. Words like age, air, cause, city,idea, join, material, poor, suffer, tax have become part of the fabric of modern English. Not far short of half of the 1,000 most frequently occurring words in modern written English have come into the language from French or Latin, mostly in the period from 1066 to 1500.

Fewer in number, but even more striking in their impact on the language of everyday life, are those words that came into English from Scandinavian languages. When communities of Scandinavian settlers in late Anglo-Saxon England began to switch to using English, they brought with them some words that have become part of the most basic layer of the vocabulary of English, such as give, take, hit,leg, skin, sky, and even the pronoun they. This was greatly helped by the close similarities between the early Scandinavian languages and medieval English.

Close contact does not inevitably lead to borrowing. For example, although English has been rubbing shoulders with Welsh and other Celtic languages in the British Isles for many centuries, relatively few words have come into everyday English from this source. There are some examples, like trousers, gull, clan, or (maybe) baby, but they are tiny in number compared with the vast numbers borrowed from French and Latin, and they have had less impact on the everyday language than words from Scandinavian sources.

Ultimately, patterns of borrowed words reflect complex patterns of cultural contacts across the centuries. Names of foods, plants, animals, and other features of the natural world are borrowed as part of the basic traffic between peoples in different parts of the world. Borrowings affecting other areas of the vocabulary typically follow the pathways of power and prestige between languages. English today may, for once, be more of a lender than a borrower. If we try to look decades or centuries into the future, who knows?

How does your computer know how much ink is left in the cartridge?

If you bought your ink by the gallon instead of tiny amounts, you might perish from sticker shock.
If you bought your ink by the gallon instead of tiny amounts, you might perish from sticker shock.

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]nkjet printer ink is crazy expensive. Depending on the make and model of your printer, you could easily drop $100 or more for a new round of cartridges – all so that you can continue using a printer that may have only cost you $89. So when you want to maximize the number of printouts you make with that pricey ink, you may find yourself wondering exactly how the printer knows each cartridge is about to run dry.

Before we delve into specifics, it’s worth knowing that manufacturers purposely program their printers to stop using cartridges that are getting low on ink. That’s because if cartridges were to run totally dry, the plastic cartridge may become too hot and eventually damage or destroy your printer’s printhead. In other words, you’d be out a printer instead of just ink.

That said, considering the price of ink, you have a vested interest in squeezing every last drop of the stuff out of each cartridge. Ink may cost anywhere from $13 to $75 for a single ounce. That’s — cough — nearly $10,000 per gallon [source: Consumer Reports].

Ink is exorbitantly priced in part because printer manufacturers are giving away their sophisticated printers at a really low price in the short term, knowing that they’ll make their real profits on ink in the long term.

All of which leads us to this: If ink is such a fabulous cash cow for printer developers, they’d clearly have a reason to fudge on low-ink reminders. After all, if you unknowingly replace cartridges when they still have a usable level of ink inside them, the companies that sell the ink will wind up with significantly higher revenues.

But these companies aren’t necessarily out to get you. On the next page you’ll read more about low-ink reminders and how you can monitor whether you’re getting your money’s worth.

Low-Ink Tech

If your cartridges are clear or translucent, you can get a visual on your ink situation.
If your cartridges are clear or translucent, you can get a visual on your ink situation.

So how exactly does your printer know that a cartridge is getting low on ink? Different manufacturers use different technologies for this process.

Epson’s cartridges are equipped with an integrated circuit chip. This chip tells the printer whether the correct cartridge is installed and also helps the printer keep a record of how much ink each specific cartridge has spewed. Once a cartridge approaches the low-ink threshold, the chip sends an alert to your computer and you see a message on your screen.

Canon takes a different approach. Each printer uses an optical sensor in which shines a light through a prism at the bottom of the ink well. Once ink levels fall to a predetermined level, a beam of light bounces towards a low-ink sensor, which again triggers an on-screen message that tells you to replace the cartridge.

Some other printer makers build the printhead directly onto the cartridge, so there’s no risk of permanently damaging the printer once ink runs low. These use a chip that’s similar to the Epson models. But as part of the system, some of these printers obstinately refuse to print more pages even if ink remains inside, meaning you’ve no choice but to toss perfectly good ink.

Of course, the big questions is just how accurate are these systems, really? Journalists and industry insiders offer varying accounts on ink yield, but the consensus seems to be that manufacturers err heavily on the side of cushioning low-ink alerts. That is, they’d much rather have you toss out a cartridge with ink left than print for weeks or months longer before spending more cash on new ones. One study indicated that nearly 60 percent of ink goes unused and is thrown away [source: Haworth].

If ink costs concern you, your best bet is to do a bit of research before you buy a printer. In general, the cheaper the printer, the more expensive the ink. Spend a bit more on the printer itself and your ink costs will likely decrease [source: Wood(computer world)].

Also consider leaving your printer’s power on. Each time you cycle the power on an inkjet, it goes through a maintenance routine that can use a huge percentage of each cartridge’s ink [source: Consumer Reports].

Print only when you need to and leave the printer on, and you’ll get the most mileage out of each cartridge. Hopefully, you’ll save a bit of cash, as well.

With all this hand-wringing over the ridiculous cost of inkjet printing, you’re probably thinking that there just has to be a better way. There are some workarounds to ink sticker shock. If you only print in black and white, a low-cost laser printer provides a lot more pages for a much lower cost – and the print quality is crisper, too. If you’re stuck with an inkjet, you can consider refilled cartridges that are a fraction of the cost of OEM products, but beware…for print jobs that require the highest quality, manufacturer inks are your safest and most reliable bet.

Stop Facebook From Going Through Your Browsing History in 3 Easy Steps


We all know that Mark Zuckerberg and his Facebook buddies are prying into our personal data a bit more than they should. Even when there was no concrete proof, most were aware that there was something funky going on with the biggest social media website in history.

It would seem, however, that those in control of Facebook finally decided to come out and say, point blank, that they will use your browsing history to provide advertisers with the information they need to target you with more specialized ads.

How does this work? Well, basically speaking, when you visit certain websites they load these things called “cookies” onto your computer, which are used to help your browser remember which sites you like visiting for future reference. What Facebook is doing is using this data so that advertisers know what kinds of products you’re interested in. This means if you look for shoes or computers a lot, you’ll see more ads related to those items on Facebook.

The only way to opt out of this is to manually change some settings. That’s right; they aren’t giving you any real options, you either find out on your own how to remove yourself from their new “service” or you’re stuck handing over your personal data to them. Infuriating? Yeah, just a little bit. Below you’ll find a step-by-step process by which you can release yourself from Zuckerberg’s grasp, at least by a tiny amount.

1. Go to the Digital Advertising Alliance’s website.

Here’s a link to it. Note that in order for this site to work properly, you’ll need to turn off AdBlocker Plus (or anything else that prevents cookies from being loaded onto your computer). Which is ironic in itself actually…a website that allows you to opt out of targeted ads…but disallows the use of AdBlocker. Huh.


2. Find Facebook.

Once you’re there, you’ll see the screen shown above. Click on “Companies Customizing Ads For Your Browser.” There you’ll see a list, and you’ll want to go down until you find “Facebook Inc.”



3. Tell Zuckerberg to spy on someone else!

Once you’ve located Facebook, check the box next to its name (on the right hand side). While you’re at it, feel free to opt out of other website’s ad programs by checking them on this list as well.

When you feel comfortable with your selections, click submit. It’ll take a moment to process, and then, you’re in the clear! Well, sort of. There are still a million other things out there on the internet stealing your data, but at least you’ll be protected from the almighty Facebook (well, mostly)!

Of course, the only way to ensure your safety would be to stop using Facebook…

Bonus section: Dealing with the Facebook app.

The above steps will protect you from the browser-based Facebook…but what about that app you use all of the time on your smartphone or tablet?


iOS users

If you’re an iPhone or iPad user, go to Settings, General, and then Restrictions. Scroll down to the section labeled Privacy, and tap on Advertising. Switch “Limit Ad Tracking” to on and you’ll be good.


Android users

For those of you with an Android device, go to your Google settings, find “Ads,” and check the box that says “opt out of interest-based ads.” Nowyou’ll be safe from creepy advertisements as well.

Will these protect you from all of Facebook’s data collection practices? Probably not, since it’s likely they do a ton of stuff in the background that they never tell us about. At the very least though, you can opt out of one of the creepier ways in which they track your browsing history, and for that we should be thankful.

For more information on Facebook’s complete privacy policy, head here, and read through it to your heart’s content. You’ll probably find a lot of moderately disturbing stuff there.

If you have any more privacy related tips or suggestions, feel free to comment below!

BlackBerry Z3 Review: Sticking to What It Does Best

There’s no denying the fact that BlackBerry (the company formerly known as Research In Motion) has serious problems. Five years ago, everyone from students to housewives to businessmen was willing to pay a lot of money to own a BlackBerry. Three years ago, Android and the iPhone began to make QWERTY phones feel seriously clunky and old-fashioned. Two years ago, we were hoping that the new BlackBerry 10 platform and devices based on it would reinvigorate the company, but ridiculous pricing and questionable decisions at every level destroyed any chance of that happening.

Ever since the launch of the Z10 a year and a half ago, we’ve been waiting for lower-priced models that might offer better value for money and wouldn’t be completely overshadowed by Android. As it stands, there are very few BlackBerry loyalists left, and the majority of those who have moved on to Android or iOS are not going to give the company another chance without a lot of very good reasons. Let’s find out if the new BlackBerry Z3 delivers. (Check out the BlackBerry CLASSIC review here)

Look and feel
BlackBerry really does know how to build beautiful phones. The Z3 is ridiculously good looking and its construction quality is impeccable. As of now, it’s only available in black but we wouldn’t be surprised to see a white edition in the future. The front is all smooth glass, and there really isn’t much bezel space around the screen itself. The rear is made of a texturised soft-touch plastic with the classic BB logo in the centre. For better or worse, the battery is non-removable.

The camera and flash are in the top-left corner of the rear, much like they are on the older Z10. A plastic flap on the phone’s right edge covers the SIM and microSD card slots, while the power button is placed towards the top of the left edge with the volume controls and voice command shortcut button below it. The Micro-USB port is on the bottom and 3.5mm headset port is on the top. The Z3 doesn’t have a mini-HDMI port, which sets it apart from its higher-end siblings.

The Z3 feels good in the hand even if it is just a bit too heavy. It’s slim, slick, and very well put-together. In fact it could put several high-end phones to shame in this regard.



Features, specifications and software
There’s good news and bad news – while the Z3 is brand new and undoubtedly good-looking, it’s built with mostly utilitarian components. The processor is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 with integrated Adreno 305 graphics, but there’s a generous 1.5GB of RAM to keep things humming along. The screen is a bit of a letdown at 540×960 pixels despite its large size. There’s Wi-Fi b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.0 along with A-GPS, FM radio, an accelerometer and a proximity sensor. There’s only 8GB of internal storage space, but microSD cards of up to 32GB are supported (and 64GB cards might work unofficially).

The main attraction is of course the BlackBerry 10 OS. The Z3 comes with version 10.2.1 which is considerably improved over the version that originally shipped with the Z10. The phone might be physically similar to pretty much every other touchscreen smartphone out there, but the BlackBerry OS takes quite a bit of time and effort to get used to, even for users of older non-touch BlackBerrys.

For starters, there are no buttons of any sort to help you move through the OS; you have to remember to use gestures instead. This is problematic because things aren’t always laid out as you might expect them to be, making navigation unpredictable at times. For example, there’s no universal “back” or “home” gesture, and getting in or out of the Hub (described later on) isn’t the same as launching and quitting apps. Moreover, you have to move your thumb quite a lot over the large screen which takes longer and requires more effort than a simple button press would have.


The Z3’s lock screen is pretty plain. There is of course a large clock, plus assorted status indicators. You’ll see a list of notification icons down the left, and tapping on any of them will bring up details of your missed calls, messages, emails or social network alerts – you can choose not to display these details in the security settings. There’s also a pull-down shade which takes you into bedside mode. This dims the screen and displays a large illuminated clock on which you can easily drag dots indicating the times each of your alarms will ring.


On unlocking the screen, you’ll see four large thumbnails representing your most recently used apps. A swipe to the right will bring up the BlackBerry Hub, and swipes to the left will take you through as many pages of app icons as you have. The thumbnail page isn’t like conventional app switchers – it shows only four apps – and so its utility is rather limited. You can never be sure that an app you want is going to be there – in fact it gets in the way when you need to get to the app shortcuts.

This is also when we really miss having a home screen or at least a tray that frequently used apps can be pinned to. Of course you can rearrange app icons in the grid any way you like, but the grid itself is always at least one level away from whatever you’re doing. You have to go through the recent apps screen to reach it. Android lets you pin shortcuts and widgets to home screens and even iOS has at least a dock that stays constant on all menu pages.


Exiting any app (with a swipe upwards from below the edge of the screen to above its middle point) brings you back to the page of recent apps. While performing the gesture, you’ll notice a column of notification icons just like the ones on the lock screen. It’s a great way to constantly be aware of things you might have missed. Incidentally, swiping down from the top of the screen brings up a set of quick shortcuts, but there are no notifications here. This is something every other platform has standardised on, so not finding them here is a little disorienting at first. The settings aren’t consistent – sometimes you’ll see the system-wide panel, sometimes you’ll see app-specific controls, and sometimes you’ll get nothing at all – which means you can’t always quickly get to things like the screen brightness or Bluetooth.

You can get to the BlackBerry Hub by swiping to the right from the screen of thumbnails or by swiping up and then right from within any app (except if you’re in landscape mode, in which the swipe-up motion is awkward and the swipe-up-and-right gesture doesn’t work at all). The Hub is truly unique amongst all smartphone platforms, but like everything else, it takes a while to get used to.


This is where all your email, messages, app notifications and even missed call alerts can be found. You can add your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Evernote and calendar accounts as well. There is no separate email app; the hub is baked into the foundations of the phone’s OS itself. For some reason, though, there’s still a shortcut icon for Text Messaging in the launcher which leads you to the Hub. You just have to remember that you can’t exit the Hub like it’s a regular app; you can only swipe to the left.

BBM is still a major part of the BlackBerry ecosystem and there are more features for BlackBerry 10 users than there are for iPhone and Android users. It’s also integrated into the Hub as a first-class citizen, whereas some other app alerts are just lumped under Notifications. BBM has several strong features compared to today’s dominant messaging apps, especially in allowing you to control who can message you. Even so, none of this is enough to drive anyone to choose a BlackBerry phone over the competition. BBM just isn’t the powerful draw it once was.


BlackBerry is also very proud of the keyboard it has developed for all-touch BlackBerry 10 devices. We found that in regular usage it was just a bit too large for comfortable typing. Either the company hasn’t scaled it appropriately for this screen and resolution, or it’s just too spaced out. Each row is separated by a thick bar reminiscent of the ones on the old BlackBerry Bold phones, which is just unnecessary. One very nice touch is that special characters are arranged exactly as they would be on a desktop keyboard.

The two major keyboard features are the Hinglish dictionary and the swipe-to-autocomplete gesture. Hinglish is pretty neat, since it mixes in transliterated Hindi words and suggests them in context as you type. You can scatter Hindi words into English sentences or just type as usual. If you’ve ever felt that your natural style was hampered by English autocorrect, you’ll love this. Swiping to complete becomes natural fairly quickly.


The Z3 comes with a number of useful apps: FourSquare, Evernote, DocsToGo, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Adobe Reader, YouTube and DropBox. Most of the built-in apps are quite polished – the Calculator, for instance, has a built-in unit convertor and even a tip calculator.

The BlackBerry World app is a bit of a pain to nagivate, and searching for anything will throw up app, music and game titles as results. Many common apps can be found natively for BB 10, but the appeal is that a huge number of Android apps will work as well. You can use third-party app stores such as Amazon or SildeMe, or find installable APK files anywhere on the Internet (if you’re sure the source is safe). Installing is as simple as tapping the file name in the browser’s Downloads list or in the File Manager app.


The voice search and command feature isn’t as capable of deciphering plainly spoken instructions as Siri or Google are, and will often search for exactly what you say. It’s possible to tell the Z3 to compose a message, set alarms, get directions, and read your email out to you. The Z3 didn’t do very well at filtering out noise to decipher commands (and of course had trouble with Indian names), but it’s pretty versatile overall.

Annoyingly, you can’t plug the Z3 into a PC and access its internal storage space. A microSD card will show up as a removable drive if you’re using one, but the only way to get media onto or off the phone itself is to use BlackBerry’s included desktop software (or use the File Manager app to manually copy files to the microSD card or share them via email, BBM, etc).

The Z3 is a budget phone and it shouldn’t be surprising that its camera isn’t anything to get excited about. Still, shots are decent enough when the lighting is good, and you can post them to social networks without any problem. At full size, it’s obvious that the camera struggles with details and that there’s a lot of compression going on. We noticed that the camera had trouble focusing in low light, but the flash is surprisingly powerful. Video is again not spectacular, and the front camera is entirely forgettable.


Click to view Original Image

The camera app is a bit too simplistic. You can’t really compose shots or do anything but wait and hope that the camera focuses on what you want it to, since tapping anywhere on the screen takes a photo – presumably, the decision not to have a tappable button on screen was made more for aesthetics than usability. You can choose between a normal shooting mode, image stabilisation mode, burst, and HDR. There are also hardly any options – you can turn the flash on and off, choose between three image aspect ratios (but not sizes), and use one of only four scene modes (action, whiteboard, night and beach/snow). There is no manual control whatsoever, not even exposure, ISO or white balance.

Day-to-day usage was marked by occasional jitters, and there were sometimes momentary pauses on black screens while transitioning from one task to another. Despite looking and feeling like a high-end phone, the Z3 definitely does not deliver a premium experience. The gestures also frankly add a delay to getting things done, especially since they don’t always work. Gestures might give BB 10 devices a clean look, but there’s nothing as quick and simple as hitting a Home button.

Not all our Android benchmarks are available for the BlackBerry 10 platform. The browser-based tests, SunSpider and Mozilla Kraken, indicated performance on par with that of entry-level smartphones such as the Nokia Lumia 630. Quadrant scores were equally disappointing, although it should be noted that we ran the Android APK in the absence of a native BB 10 version.


The built-in speaker is pretty loud and works well for voice, but music is just too thin and tinny. Predictably, 1080p videos were jittery but 720p versions of the same clips seemed to play much better. We did notice that the phone got a bit warm when playing HD content. This is also when the low screen resolution really becomes apparent.

The battery test result was massively disappointing – the Z3 lasted only 4 hours and 55 minutes in our video loop test. For a phone that claims over 15 hours of talktime, this is not a good sign. With ordinary usage, consisting of sporadic calls, messages, Web browsing and a bit of gaming, we noticed that the Z3 lasted comfortably through a full day and night.

The BlackBerry Z3 is priced just slightly lower than the now-ancient Z10 , but thanks to rapid improvements in both hardware and design it’s quite a bit better than its predecessor in some ways. Awkwardly for the company, it’s also very competitive with the more recent Z30  which costs around twice as much. In terms of value for money, this is the best all-touch BlackBerry available right now.

But it’s unclear who exactly would be interested in buying this phone – surely not the legions of former BB fans who have defected to Android and iOS over the past year or two, and surely not those still sticking with older BlackBerrys because of their keyboards.

It’s too expensive to be most people’s first smartphone, so that rules out another potential audience – BlackBerry has missed out on a potentially crucial market there, at least till the inevitable price cuts hit.

Could it be anyone’s second phone? One dedicated to work, alongside an iPhone or Samsung Galaxy for personal use and entertainment? Perhaps. The Z3 is fantastic for hardcore email and messaging – as long as you don’t demand a physical keyboard. Notifications are top-notch and there are loads of useful shortcuts everywhere. The ability to prioritise, stay aware of and respond to communications is quite unmatched on other platforms. Those who have switched and miss having that kind of power might be tempted to give the Z3 a try.

There’s an even bigger question: will this be the device that finally saves BlackBerry? Of the few phones launched in the past two years, this one stands the best chance. All the company has to do is actually launch it outside of core developing markets, which for some reason is currently not the plan.

We wish BlackBerry had hit this price point right from the beginnings of the all-touch BB 10 platform. It will be really interesting to see how the upcoming Classic and Passport devices with keyboards turn out, in terms of pricing and usability.

In that context, the BlackBerry Z3 is a solid phone. Comparing specifications and capabilities, it doesn’t look good next to Android-based phones in its price range. On the other hand, if you value build quality, deal with hundreds of emails per day and don’t have any use for multimedia features, it comes out on top. This phone delivers on the classic BlackBerry promise, finally updated for our century, for those few who still want that.

Crew Wraps Up Mock Mars Mission With Reddit AMA

If you took a six-month or two-year (or maybe even a one-way) trip to Mars, what would your life really be like once you land? How would you exercise? What would you eat? And, laundry? Pssh. How would you even have water in the first place?

Scientists participating in the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) mission here on Earth have spent the past four months studying these questions in a Martian-like environment in Hawaii. They opened up their communication systems to answer questions on Sunday in Reddit’s Ask Me Anything, and by the looks of it, they may have gone a little cooky.

(Story continues below.)

The HI-SEAS program, which is funded by NASA and organized by the University of Hawaii, simulates the living conditions and challenges future astronauts may face on Mars. It was designed to study how a crew adjusts to a Mars-like habitat both mentally and physically.

The “Mars” mission crew, made up of six researchers, is stationed in a 1,000 square-foot domed habitat a mile up a rocky road on Hawaii Island’s Mauna Loa volcano — a landscape similar to the Tharsis region on Mars. The mission began March 28 and ends this Friday, July 25.

In the AMA Q&A, conversation ranged from how to deal if somebody dies, to the perils of boredom, to whether a Mars resident would be 100 percent vegetarian.

Below, we’ve listed some of our favorite insights from the AMA.

What do you people do for fun?

Ross Lockwood (crew member): Movie nights, boardgames, exercise all top the list of things we do for fun. We don’t have a lot of spare time, but I count work as part of the fun as well. Planning EVAs, preparing food, even chores – these are all enjoyable activities.


Let’s face it — space can be dangerous, no matter the precautions and training, so I’m wondering: has there been any training/discussion on how to cope with severe medical crises, or — heaven forbid — death, while far from Earth or even on the Martian surface?

Jack Cope (mission support): Good point, it certainly is dangerous and we do need to prepare for everything! During this mission we have not studied medical crises per say but we did have a simulation where the crew were asked to prepare an emergency shelter outside the habitat in a lava tube for rapid evac during increased solar partial activity. I am sure that we will expand on this during our subsequent (and longer) missions as it is hugely important.


How efficient is your water recovery/resupply process? I also wonder about laundry. Laundry uses water, and needs a lot of space to hang clothes. Even tumble dryers aren’t an answer to everything. And laundry generates humidity, which generates other issues.

Joseph Gruber (mission support): Great point and this is one of the areas being researched in the HI-SEAS missions through the NASA Johnson Space Center Advanced Clothing Study. One of the goals is long-duration wear so that laundry is less of a concern than here on Earth. Even on the International Space Station clothing is worn for a long duration then thrown away as opposed to doing laundry.


Have you considered transportation on the surface [of Mars], for a long stay? If you are there for three years, you could travel say, 1,000 km over the surface, and back again, if you have a motorized Mars buggy or a rocket powered hopper of some sort.

Ross Lockwood (crew member): The HI-SEAS mission does geological work while out on EVA to explore and identify possible natural structures for human habitation and materials storage. However, we are very limited to what we can actually do in the field, mostly out of respect for the natural environment around the habitat. The lava fields themselves are almost impossible to traverse on foot, and would be impossible and perilous to traverse in any type of vehicle (4-wheel drives included). So as far as the HI-SEAS mission is concerned, we’ve all but eliminated the possibility of vehicular travel in this study. With that being said, there are a lot of groups exploring the idea of small buggies (think MDRS) and robotic vehicles (think PICSES).


How would you suggest spacecraft habitat designers improve the experience of going to or staying on Mars?

Gary Strawn (mission support): How can we improve the experience of staying on Mars? Well, I can think of a lot of really important things like bringing air, water, food and a radiation shelter. What I worry about is the potential to forget little things like zippers that can be operated while wearing large space suit gloves, water jugs with special lids and handles and some kind of spacesuit backpack or fanny pack. Hopefully, when we send humans to Mars, we will have done enough missions like HI-SEAS that we’ll remember to bring the really important stuff like extra toilet paper.


When do you think we’ll actually be doing this on Mars? What is the biggest accomplishment you see us achieving in our very near future?

Jack Cope (mission support): In the near future, I’m again looking to perhaps someone sending a man to the Moon and actually staying there for a good amount of time (we only scratched the surface with Apollo). I think we need something like this to bring back the excitement we had during the 60s; probes and rovers may bring you a lot of science but there is nothing like looking up into the sky and knowing ‘someone like me is up there.’

Four-winged dinosaur is ‘biggest ever’

Changyuraptor used its remarkably long tail feathers to smooth its landing
Changyuraptor used its remarkably long tail feathers to smooth its landing

A new four-winged dinosaur has been discovered, with exceptionally long feathers on its tail and “hindwings”.

Changyuraptor yangi was a gliding predator which lived in the Cretaceous period in what is now Liaoning, China.

Its remarkable tail feathers – measuring up to 30cm – are the longest in any non-avian dinosaur.

This unusual plumage helped the creature to slow down during flight and land safely, say scientists writing in Nature Communications.

The tail would have acted as a pitch control structure reducing descent speed… which could be critical to a safe landing or precise attack on prey” – Lizhuo HanBohai University, China

C. yangi is a new species of microraptorine, a group related to early avians.

These ancient creatures offer clues to the origin of flight – and the transition from feathered dinosaurs to birds.

Palaeontologists once thought that four-winged gliders were a stepping stone in the path to two-winged flight.

But recent fossil discoveries suggest that microraptorines were an evolutionary side-branch.

Flight probably evolved many times in different feathered species – not only the lineage which ultimately became birds.

Microraptor gui - another ancient four-winged species
Microraptor gui – another ancient four-winged species

The skeleton of C. yangi was discovered by a team from Bohai University, China, and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, US.

Measuring 132cm from its snout to the tip of its tail feathers, it is the largest four-winged dinosaur ever discovered – longer than an eagle or an albatross today.

The feathers on its hind limbs are unusually prominent – suggesting they were actually “hindwings” and played a role in flight, the researchers write.

By calculating the lift and drag generated by the feathers, they concluded that C. yangi used its long tail to compensate for its large size and maintain control while airborne.

“The low-aspect-ratio tail of the new fossil would have acted as a pitch control structure reducing descent speed… which could be critical to a safe landing or precise attack on prey,” the authors write.

“Such pitch stabilisation could be particularly important for larger microraptorines (since they would tend to fly and/or descend more rapidly than small individuals), and this effect explains why the tail fan is exceptionally long.”