ICYMI: This Week’s Science News (3/24/17)


By Jaclyn Cascio (@jaclynator)
Spiders. Space. And more. ICYMI, here’s some of the science news from the last week!

Spider venom isn’t just for superhero origin stories anymore!

Peter Parker was bitten by a special spider and gained some incredible abilities. But outside the fictional world, most of us shiver at the sight of the creepy-crawley archnids. However, venom researchers at the University of Queensland in Australia have found that a particular protein in the venom of the deadly Australian funnel-web spider might dramatically reduce brain damage sustained after a stroke.
Long story short, the protein Hi1a in the venom of these particular spiders has reduced extent of brain damage by up to 80% in rats, if administered within 2 hours of the induced strokes. The same protein given 8 hours later still showed a significant 65% reduction of brain damage in comparison to the control rats.
While the tests are currently only being done on rats, the team hopes to run clinical trials with stroke patients within the next 2 years! If all goes well, we might have future treatments to reduce brain damage in stroke victims! Way to go, Spidey!

Chevelle likes Vitamin R. Scientists like Vitamin D.

The first autistic puppet/character on Sesame Street has just been introduced. Meanwhile, scientists at the University of Queensland (the same university playing with spiders) are in the early stages of a study in which pregnant female rats are treated with an active Vitamin D during their first trimester to measure the effect on the rates of autism in the rodents. Thus far, the study seems to support the hypothesis that the treatment helped offspring develop without autistic defects.
While there are many factors being studied in relation to autism (genetics, environment, pre-natal care, etc.), the study comes on the heels of other research, such as the 2016 paper that published results showing that those who had lower than average vitamin D levels at 20 weeks were more likely to have children with autistic traits.
The team in Australia hopes to continue studying this phenomenon to better establish the effect of vitamin D during pregnancy in relation to autism. So hey, if you’re growing a human, go outside and get some natural vitamin D while you wait to learn more!

I don’t think you understand the gravity of the situation.

Gravity seems pretty basic, even to the non-physics folks. The apple falls. Planets orbit. And so on. But a ring of around 54 galaxies is drifting away from our own Milky Way so fast, that the current theory of gravity by Einstein simply can’t explain it. 
So what’s the deal? Is it the mysterious hypothesized dark matter playing a part? Is there some yet undiscovered factor at play? Or do we not understand gravity as well as we think? More information about the behavior of this ring of galaxies might help the world of physics evolve and change in the decades to come. Keep looking out for the physics revolution!

Stephen Hawking is too cool for Earth.

Stephen Hawking is going to space. Need I say more? Okay, just a little bit more. Set to fly in the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo, Hawking will reach for the stars and maybe offer researchers insight into the effects of space flight and zero gravity in an ALS affected individual. While he wouldn’t be the oldest to go to space, (that honor goes to John Glenn at 77 years old) Hawking will be the first with ALS to make his way to infinity and beyond. Countdown for the day Stephen Hawking blasts off from Earth on a commercial space flight, showing us that anything is possible if we can dream big enough!

What’s your li-fi password?

Wi-fi is incredible. You can now be mobile while receiving and transmitting data. And these days, it’s running pretty fast. (Especially for those of us who remember those early dial-up days!) But li-fi (light based wi-fi) is currently in development.
The first li-fi system used LED lights. It’s not exactly practical for home use, but the speeds achieved were impressive. Joanne Oh, a doctoral student in the Netherlands decided to try the same idea using harmless infrared lights. Initial tests with the new technology this last week have shown download speeds as fast as 42.8 gigabytes per second (gbps). A comparison provided shows that the average connection speed for users in the Netherlands is approximately 17.6 mbps, which is about 2,000 times slower than the li-fi test. Even the best wi-fi only reaches about 300mps. The difference in speed is incredible.
Still in development, the technology is far from being available in the home. But one day information will be instantly available and you’ll never wait for another YouTube video to buffer, ever again.

Fruit Roll-Up or phone?

The thing most likely to break on a dropped phone of any brand is the screen. It happens. But what if the screen was flexible? What if you could fold it or roll it up? What if it was soft and malleable?
Researchers in Canada have developed a soft touch-sensitive material composed of a conductive gel trapped between layers of silicone that can do just that! Not only is it touch-sensitive (like an iPhone), it even has the ability to detect a hovering finger (like an AirView from Samsung), all while deformed by folding, stretching, bending, etc.
Apparently cost-effective and easy to produce, the team hopes that the material could be used in our modern technology as well as in other capacities such as wearable/disposable health monitors or even in large venues to measure numbers or activities of people. They could even serve as skin for future robots, allowing them to “sense” the presence of living beings.
(So yeah, this is basically how the Terminator gets skin.)

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