ICYMI: Weekly Science News (11/6/17)


By: Jaclyn Cascio (@jaclynator)

Maybe you haven’t been paying attention or maybe you’ve just been busy. But if you haven’t been keeping up with the science news that happened last week, you’ve come to the right place. In case you missed it, here’s some of science awesomeness that happened last week!

Into the Void

Subatomic space particles strike atoms in our atmosphere creating by-products known as muons. Able to fly easily through open air, they can be stopped or redirected by substances such as rock. By placing detectors in an area and measuring the number of muons that hit the detectors from various directions, an area can be mapped out. This process was conducted on the Great Pyramid of Giza, the last of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World still standing – and the results are in! It was discovered that previously unknown empty space exists inside the pyramid. There’s much to be learned about whether the void is a singular cavern or made of multiple rooms as well as its possible purpose, but it’s an exciting new discovery for Egyptologists and archaeologists.

Yes, I would rather stay home with my dog.

A new study has shown that many humans really might prefer their fur babies over their human friends. Participants of the study were presented with a fictional case of a victim being beaten and severely injured by an attacker with a bat. The fictional victims ranged from a 30-year-old adult, a 1-year-old baby, a 6-year-old dog, and a puppy. A series of questions showed the participants felt more empathy for the four-legged victims and the baby than the adult. So when your friend says they’d rather stay home with their dog, they probably really mean it.

Dark Thoughts

Suicide claims almost 800,000 lives each year. Some of them give no warning to their loved ones, and without obvious indications of suicidal ideation, the ability to prevent such loss of life becomes even more difficult. A team of scientists from Carnegie Mellon University used a sample pool of 34 young adults and their fMRI scan results in response to various words and phrases to teach a machine-learning algorithm how to identify individuals with suicidal thoughts. The algorithm was eventually able to correctly identify those with suicidal thoughts and those without with 91% accuracy. It was able to identify, with 94% accuracy, those who had attempted suicide in the past. The study was small, and if proven helpful in larger populations will still have overcome the barriers of cost, patient test willingness, etc. But if neurological differences are noted, it may open up some interesting avenues of study for future treatments.

Not gone. Not forgotten.

The nonprofit organization Global Wildlife Conservation has instituted a list of the 25 “most wanted species” as part of its Search for Lost Species initiative. The initiative has paid off, with a sighting of a Jackson’s Climbing Salamander in Guatamala, which had not been seen since 1975. Even more incredible, the photo of the rediscovered salamander was captured by a guard at the Finca San Isidro Amphibian Reserve. The guard’s discovery came before an expedition in January to search for the salamander. The photo proof of the once-lost salamander gives hope for the future of the preserve and the conservation of similar species.

Wii might go to the doctor…

If you’ve ever seen an ultrasound picture, you’ve seen the black and white two-dimensional blurs that are sometimes almost impossible to decipher. To get a three-dimensional image, there is significant cost and time involved, using CT scans and fMRI machines. Joshua Broder, an ER doctor at Duke University, thought there should be a better way, and found that the cost-effective motion-sensing technology in a Nintendo Wii might hold the answers. Through a few years of development, Broder combined the technology of the Wii and ultrasound, creating a handheld technology that saved time, money, and could provide doctors with a three-dimensional image. While not as accurate as its stationary counterparts, the handheld device may be especially useful for populations who would struggle with the other options… after a long FDA approval process, of course.

Is Deadpool part gecko?

While comic book characters like Deadpool and Wolverine have been able to regenerate for decades, real life isn’t that easy. Many lizards can separate from their tails as a defense mechanism against predators, but researchers haven’t been able to figure out exactly what cells make the new tails grow, especially when the animal’s spinal cords extend through their entire tail. Scientists may have finally solved part of the mystery: identifying radial glia stem cells that seem to be playing a role in the regrowth. The cells typically activate to send new neurons to their correct final destinations, but are otherwise fairly passive. But for lizards to regrow their tails, the cells make different proteins and become active until the tail is regrown. This new information about the process behind the regrowth may lead to further research to help humans repair spinal cord injuries eventually…or turn into The Hulk is a questionable comic book movie.

Invasion of the Octopods!

Like an old school science fiction horror flick, octopi made their way to the beaches of Wales, invading the land in an exhibition of strange and unexpected behavior. Many scientists believe the odd behavior of the animals might be due to the recent weather systems that have recently passed through the area, perhaps injuring the animals or confusing them with atmospheric changes. However, the behavior over the course of several days was unfortunate, as many of the octopi stranded themselves on the shore. The octopus is usually a much more sly and private creature, so we can only hope the invasion ends soon and the octopi return to their more natural water habitat.

The One with the Ross Ice Shelf

An expeditionary team is ready to dive beneath the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica, set to chill out for science. The team’s goal is to evaluate the effects of global warming on the ecosystem below the ice. They will also be recording 360-degree video for the entire 6 week expedition to later build a virtual reality experience for release sometime in 2018 after editing in Finland. While weather conditions initially delayed their departure, the team is now at their first camp site on the ice shelf, where they will spend approximately 20 days before moving onward to a second camp for more exploration and measurements. The team has been out to the sites several times since 2001, and hope to compare the results of each of their visits. Sounds like a chilly job!

Ground Control to Major Tom: How’s your head?

The muscles, bones, and hearts of astronauts have been focused on by researchers fairly extensively. But a closer look at the brains of the men and women who have gone to space has just begun. A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed changes in the tops of astronaut brains where cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) fill, as well as other CSF filled ventricles inside the brain. Those changes include an upward shift of the brain and even a narrowing of the brain’s sulcus (a gap between the frontal and parietal lobes of the brain). Such issues with CSF have manifested in vision problems in many of the astronauts that have spent a significant amount of time in space. Further research will be conducted to look deeper into the issue and the brain health of those traveling in space. Keeping the best of the best at their best!

Right or Left-Handed…Just bee yourself!

Scientists at the University of Queensland in Australia have been studying bees, and found that some prefer to fly right, others prefer to fly left, and another group shows no preference whatsoever. By testing bees in tubes with obstacles in the middle, the researchers were able to observe the bias of each bee to fly one direction or the other. The “handedness” of the bees might be a useful tendency as a swarming animal. With different bees preferring different directions, the swarm as a whole is likely more able to fly without collisions with one another. Could this new discovery in bees help drone developers as they delve into the study of drone swarms?

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