Weekly Science News (2/10/17)


By Jaclyn Cascio (@jaclynator)
Another week has come and gone and most of the news you’ve probably seen has related to politics. But we can’t forget that there’s a lot of really great science studies going on and plenty of new discoveries to behold! So ICYMI, here’s some of the science news from this last week!

Oh, to be a fly on the wall…

Ant-Man riding on the back of ants for stealth missions is starting to look more and more possible. Draper, a biomedical solutions company, is working on project DragonflEye, which aims to turn dragonflies (and potentially other similarly-sized insects) into controllable drones. 
The goal is to mount a device on dragonflies which will operate using solar power and will allow humans to direct the insect. With luck, this will be accomplished using a system that will utilize pulses of light in the nerve cord of the insect to activate neurons in charge of the dragonfly’s direction. 
There are no remote-controlled insects just yet, as the project has just completed its first year of work. However, in the coming year they will continue development by mounting “backpacks” on the dragonflies and collect navigation data from the device (and compare it to precise flight information from the study’s motion capture room).

M-O-O-N. That spells eclipse.

Moon and star gazers will have the quite the night this Friday (2/10/17). The moon will be a full “snow” moon on Friday and passing through the edge of the Earth’s shadow will also bring about a penumbral lunar eclipse visible in Europe, western Asia, and eastern North and South America. A few hours after the eclipse, Comet 45P will be at its closest point to Earth, visible with a telescope or binoculars. So get a nap and stay up late for a good time with astronomy!

So, when do we get Wonka Vision?

A team of researchers have created a new liquid crystal that would allow televisions and computers screens to have three times as many pixels in the same sized screen while using even less power than current models. If an Apple Retina display currently has 500 pixels per inch, you could soon be looking at displays with 1500 pixels per inch, all while enjoying a reduced electricity bill!
The developers are still working on the project, to ensure that the new liquid can function in the screens. They hope to work have a prototype available sometime in the next year. If it works, it could bode well for the technology market, and especially for the future of virtual reality tech. 
Now, we just have to wait for the day we won’t see virtual candy bars, but can actually reach through the screen and grab the real deal.

Are you gellin’?

A male contraceptive gel has been successfully trialed with rhesus monkeys, found to be 100% effective. The product, named Vasalgel, is a gel injected into the vas deferens, acting as a barrier against the travel of sperm from the testes to the penis. This alternative to the vasectomy has been shown in previous trials with rabbits to be easily reversible, and because it does not interfere with sperm production or hormone levels, there are no known negative side effects (unlike female contraceptives or other male contraceptives being experimented with currently.) The company is currently seeking further funding to start human trials.

Look, Ma! No hands!

At Las Vegas CES 2017, Honda revealed a self-balancing motorcycle that is designed to remain upright even at low speeds. While it is not clear if or when the motorcycle would go into production, it’s a step forward for the gravity-impaired individuals to try alternative modes of transportation (and look cool while doing it!)

If Saint Peter guards the gates of heaven, then who is watching the gateway to hell?

The “Gateway to Hell” is developing new cracks. I’m pretty sure this is when strange creatures come bursting forth onto the Earth and one of many future dystopian stories becomes a reality.
So far, only lava (no beastly creatures from Hell) is leaking from the “Gateway to Hell,” a volcano, named Erta Ale, in Ethiopia. There are only five volcanoes currently in the world with a lava lake, and Erta Ale is the only one with two! Over the past few weeks, the lava lake levels have been reported to be rising, leading to overflow and active “spattering” in some places, in addition to the leakage from the new cracks. This is the first time lava has been observed moving beyond the borders of the volcano’s crater in approximately a decade.
The new cracks are apparently attributed to recent tectonic activity, and it is unclear how continued tectonic activity will affect Erta Ale.

Jeff Goldblum warned us that, “Life, uh, life finds a way.”

Everyone saw what happened in Jurassic Park. Some dinosaur DNA with a dash of frog DNA and voila! You have the best amusement park ever! (Totally worth the potential disaster, right?)
Researchers believe they may have found soft tissue in the fossilized bone of a dinosaur (conveniently one which lived during the Jurassic period). 
While we aren’t cloning dinosaurs just yet, the possibility of studying dinosaur soft tissue may open up opportunities for scientists to create more accurate evolutionary trees based not just on fossil records, but molecular make-up.

Darn you, Siri! Get out of my head!

Brain-computer interface technology. A fancy way of saying computers that read human minds. And it works.
Researchers have been working tirelessly to create the perfect brain-computer interface technology that will allow people to communicate using only their minds. This is especially impactful for those who suffer from “locked-in syndrome,” a condition in which the brain remains alert and active but the body will not respond or move in any way. Current technology allows limited communication, and is believed to respond to the electrical signals associated with eye movement. But for some, even eye movement is gone, and thus their method of communication is also lost.
However, in a recent study with four participants suffering from “locked-in syndrome,” a new method has been found to allow communication even when eye movement is gone. This new technology measures changes in the amount of oxygen in the brain (and the locations of those changes), allowing for participants to give yes/no responses to questions with 70% accuracy. While further development is needed, and there is a desire for more extensive methods of communication using this “mind-reading” technology, the four people in the study have been given the opportunity to communicate with their loved ones once again. And that’s a heck of a start!

I’m going to save that napkin Leonard Nemoy wiped his mouth with. You know, for science…

Sheldon Cooper (of “The Big Bang Theory”) wanted to make his own Leonard Nemoy from the leftover DNA on a napkin. But researchers studying the mysterious Koma Land people’s culture are using DNA from terracotta figurines to learn more about the secrets of people who once lived in the area of modern day Ghana, in West Africa.
The results have led the researchers to believe that the Koma Land people may have had extraordinary trade links not only in their local area, but across the Sahara between 600 and 1300 CE. The DNA has also revealed that the figurines whose purpose was once unknown were likely for ritual activities.

Next on America’s Got Talent: Quick Change Geckos!

“Fish-scale geckos” have scales loosely attached to their skin, designed to be quickly shed to distract and evade predators. For the first time in 75 years, another member of said gecko family has been discovered, the Geckolepis megalepis. This particular species has larger scales than its familial counterparts and is able to shed (and later regrow) those scales at a much faster rate. So while it may end up looking like a raw piece of chicken meat, it is able to escape alive!

Aw, you guys made me ink!

Everyone has suffered through the troubles of ink cartridges in all their office printing products. But scientists have discovered a new method of printing on paper using light. A special nanoparticle coating applied to paper is designed to change color when exposed to UV light. The coating is quickly and easily applied to normal paper and therefore has great potential for commercial use.
The color change is designed to fade in approximately five days, or even sooner when exposed to heat at or above 120 degrees Celsius. Such a coating would allow paper to be rewritten on 80 times. This development could save money on several fronts as well as aid environmental movements by reducing paper waste. Save the trees!

Is that a meteorite or a sun bathing penguin?

Two-thirds of the world’s discovered meteorites have come from Antarctica. However, while 5.5% of the meteorites found around the rest of the world are iron-based, only 0.7% of the ones found in Antarctica have the same iron-base. Scientists are intrigued by the “missing” meteorites, and have been approved for an expedition to Antarctica to look for them. 
The scientists plan to use new technology to find the meteorites, and they are set to test it on Svalbard, an Artic island, next year. A preliminary expedition to Antarctica is currently planned for 2019, followed by the main mission expedition in 2020.

I’ll huff, and I’ll puff, and I’ll blow your house down!

In 2015, Denmark produced more power than the nation could use, becoming a true leader in the renewable energy field. Recently, one wind turbine has set a world record for wind power (produced by a commercially available off-shore wind turbine), producing 216,000 kWh of energy in a 24 hour period. That’s approximately the amount of power the American family uses over the course of 20 years!

Bill Nye the Science Guy! Bill! Bill! Bill!

Netflix has just released a trailer for the show “Bill Nye Saves the World,” which is set to premiere on April 21. The show is designed to utilize discussions, panels, experiments, and reports to explore topics from a scientific point of view. This may also include refuting myths and anti-scientific claims. Take a trip back to your childhood with Bill Nye the Science Guy in a new venue this year!

The nerd is strong in this one.

With recent changes in U.S. policy, there has been an overwhelming response from the science community. If you want to be part of the uprising (I mean rebellion. Er, revolt. Oops! I keep misspelling movement!), you can participate in the March for Science in Washington, D.C. on April 22 of this year. (That’s Earth Day too, guys!)
You can follow the movement on Twitter (@ScienceMarchDC), Facebook, and Instagram. You can also visit the website (www.marchforscience.com) to sign up to show interest, be a volunteer, or help organize a satellite event in your own area.
Get involved and stand together with your fellow science nerds. “Science, not silence!”

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