Sparkonit delivers information on latest discoveries and hottest trailblazing researches together with short, entertaining and inspiring science videos. Its mission is to spread scientific knowledge in an easy and extensive way that does not bore its readers and inspire them with what science can do.
Researchers at University of Colorado Boulder have developed an electronic skin that can heal itself – and is also fully recyclable. According to the paper published in the journal Science Advances, the e-skin is a thin, translucent material with sensors embedded to mimic function and mechanical properties of human skin such as sensing pressure temperature, humidity and air flow.
The uniqueness about this piece of technology is that it’s made of a polymer called polyimine (made of three commercially available compounds – terephthalaldehyde, diethylenetriamine, and tris(2-aminoethyl)amine – mixed together in ethanol) laced with silver nanoparticles to withstand stress, conduct electricity and provide chemical stability. And what’s more? When the skin is cut in two, polyimine can recreate chemical bonds between two sides – allowing the e-skin to heal itself completely.
“What is unique here is that the chemical bonding of polyimine we use allows the e-skin to be both self-healing and fully recyclable at room temperature,” said Jianliang Xiao, an assistant professor in CU Boulder’s Department of Mechanical Engineering in a news release. “Given the millions of tons of electronic waste generated worldwide every year, the recyclability of our e-skin makes good economic and environmental sense.”
Another cool feature about this e-skin is that you can make it wrap around curve surfaces like human arms and robotic hands by using a modest amount of heat and pressure.
“Let’s say you wanted a robot to take care of a baby,” said Zhang. “In that case you would integrate e-skin on the robot fingers that can feel the pressure of the baby. The idea is to try and mimic biological skin with e-skin that has desired functions.”
“This particular device … won’t produce any waste,” Xiao told the Verge. “We want to make electronics to be environmentally friendly.”
So if the e-skin is damaged beyond repair, it is soaked into ‘recycling solution’. This solution degrades polymers into smaller molecules that are soluble in ethanol, allowing the silver nanoparticles fall to the bottom of the solution. The left-over materials is then re-used to make another fully functioning e-skin.
Researchers say e-skin could have potential applications in making of prosthetics, robots, or smart textiles – all without having to worry about producing more e-waste. However, Xiao says the e-skin is yet to be perfected, because it’s not as stretchy as human skin. Right now, he and his team are working to improve the device’s scalability.
Neuroscientists at University of California have identified ‘anxiety cells’ in the brain’s hippocampus. The finding, so far demonstrated with mice, could lead to better treatments for anxiety disorders in humans because the cells probably exist in humans, too, researchers say.
“Now that we’ve found these cells in the hippocampus, it opens up new areas for exploring treatment ideas that we didn’t know existed before,” said the study’s lead author, Jessica Jimenez, in a news release.
For the study, researchers inserted miniature microscope into the brains of the mice to record the activity of hundreds of cells in the hippocampus as the mice moved through their surroundings. They found that whenever the mice were exposed to anxiety-provoking environments, cells in the ventral part of the hippocampus were active. And when the researchers traced the output of those cells, it pointed to the hypothalamus – a part of the brain known to control behaviour associated with anxiety in humans.
Researchers were able to control the activity of anxiety cells, too, using a technique called optogenetics, which uses beams of light to turn the cells off and on.
The study, entitled “Anxiety Cells in a Hippocampal-Hypothalamic Circuit” has been published in the journal Neuron.
Researchers at Virginia Tech have found that mosquitoes can rapidly learn and remember the smells of hosts. Individuals deemed delicious-smelling might find themselves under siege from the mosquitoes, but if that individuals swat at them or perform other defensive behaviours – their preference can shift.
“Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing exactly what attracts a mosquito to a particular human — individuals are made up of unique molecular cocktails that include combinations of more than 400 chemicals,” Chloé Lahondère, a research assistant professor in the Department of Biochemistry said in a news release. “However, we now know that mosquitoes are able to learn odors emitted by their host and avoid those that were more defensive.”
In the study, the team demonstrated that mosquitoes exhibit a trait known as aversive learning by training female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes to associate odors (including human body odors) with unpleasant shocks and vibrations.
When the team assessed the same mosquitoes 24 hour later in a Y-maze olfactometer where they had to fly upwind and choose between the once-preferred human body odor and a control odor, the bugs avoided the human body odour – suggesting that they had been successfully trained to identify human by odors and associate those smells with an unpleasant sensation. The team also found that dopamine is critical for aversive learning in mosquitoes. Manipulating the dopamine receptor prevents mosquitoes from learning the smells of hosts.
“Understanding these mechanisms of mosquito learning and preferences may provide new tools for mosquito control,” said Clément Vinauger, an assistant professor of biochemistry in Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “For example, we could target mosquitoes’ ability to learn and either impair it or exploit it to our advantage.”
The study, entitled “Modulation of Host Learning in Aedes aegypti Mosquitoes” has been published in the journal Current Biology
A study on Mercury’s orbit reveals the Sun is losing mass as it’s getting older. As a result, its gravitational pull is weakening and the orbits of all the planets in our solar system are expanding, like the “waistband of a couch potato in midlife,” according to NASA. Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity, states that “massive objects, such as the sun, have the effect of warping the space-time continuum around them.” Researchers say this effect can clearly be seen on Mercury as its orbit is closest to the Sun.
“Mercury is the perfect test object for these experiments because it is so sensitive to the gravitational effect and activity of the Sun,” explained Antonio Genova, the lead author of the study and a MIT researcher working at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
Researchers were able to make these calculations from the data gathered by NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft which made three ‘flybys’ of Mercury in 2008 and 2009 and orbited Mercury between March 2011 and April 2015 before it crashed into Mercury in 2015, Mail noted. The Messenger team was still able to harness the data to determine how the sun’s gravity has changed over time – based on how much mass it has lost and how it has caused planets orbits to widen. Upon studying how the sun has been using up its hydrogen fuel, combined with seven years worth of data, researchers were able to come to conclusion that the sun is slowly, loosening its grasp on Mercury and other planets in the solar system.
“We’re addressing long-standing and very important questions both in fundamental physics and solar science by using a planetary-science approach,” said Erwan Mazarico, a geophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in a statement. “By coming at these problems from a different perspective, we can gain more confidence in the numbers, and we can learn more about the interplay between the Sun and the planets.”
To earthlings, the effect of broadening of Earth’s orbit will likely remain minuscule as it’s expanding at the rate of less than an inch a year. “This kind of information is not a matter of concern,” Genova told Gizmodo. “But it could be very useful to monitor the sun itself. Perhaps it could give researchers another way to measure the behavior of the sun’s interior.”
The study, entitled “Solar system expansion and strong equivalence principle as seen by the NASA MESSENGER mission” has been published in the journal Nature Communications.
Neuroscientists at the University of California, Berkeley have claimed to track a thought racing across the brain. The finding confirms how the prefrontal cortex coordinates complex interactions between different regions in the brain – to help us act in response to what we perceive (or, say things before we think).
In the study, the team recorded the electrical activity of neurons directly from the surface of the brain of 16 epilepsy patients who were undergoing open brain surgery, and they did so using a technique called electrocorticograhy (ECoG). The technique required hundreds of electrodes to be placed on the brain surface, and it could provide better time resolution than fMRI and better spatial resolution than EEG.
“This is the first step in looking at how people think and how people come up with different decisions; how people basically behave,” said Dr Avgusta Shestyuk, lead author of the study. “We are trying to look at that little window of time between when things happen in the environment and us behaving in response to it.”
Once the researchers were done placing the electrodes on the brains of each patient, they conducted a series of eight tasks that included visual and auditory stimuli. The tasks ranged from simple action, where the participants had to repeat a word or identify the gender of a face or a voice, to a more complex version, where they had to determine a facial emotion, utter the antonym of a word or assess whether an adjective describes the patient’s personality. As the researchers continued to monitor and track the participants’ brain throughout the tasks, they observed four different types of neural activity.
They found that sensory areas of the auditory and visual cortex activate to process audible or visual cues, while areas in the sensory and prefrontal cortices activate to extract the meaning of the stimulus. The prefrontal cortex was found to remain active throughout the processes, coordinating input from different areas of the brain. And finally the prefrontal cortex stands down as the motor cortex sets in to generate a spoken response or an action, such as pushing a button.
“This persistent activity, primarily seen in the prefrontal cortex, is a multitasking activity,” Shestyuk said. “fMRI studies often find that when a task gets progressively harder, we see more activity in the brain, and the prefrontal cortex in particular. Here, we are able to see that this is not because the neurons are working really, really hard and firing all the time, but rather, more areas of the cortex are getting recruited.”
The study, entitled “Persistent neuronal activity in human prefrontal cortex links perception and action” has been published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour.
If you push something, it will move in the direction of force applied. But if you push an object with negative mass, it will move against the direction of applied force. Creating a particle with negative mass seems practically impossible and most has only been demonstrated in theoretical analyses. Now, physicists at University of Rochester say they have developed a device that can create particles with negative mass.
This alone is “interesting and exciting from a physics perspective,” explained Nick Vamivakas, an associate professor of quantum optics and quantum physics at Rochester’s Institute of Optics. “But it also turns out the device we’ve created presents a way to generate laser light with an incrementally small amount of power.”
For the study, the team used a device that consisted of two mirrors facing each other. Apparently, this arrangement allowed researchers to create an optical microcavity, which confines light at different colors of the spectrum depending on how much space is maintained between mirrors. In the device’s optical microcavity, the team embedded atomically-thin molybdenum diselenide semiconductor and it was placed in such a way it could interact with the confined light.
They found that interaction between the semiconductor and the confined light resulted in small particles from the semiconductor—called excitons, which later combined with photons from the confined laser light to form polaritons, which have negative mass.
“By causing an exciton to give up some of its identity to a photon to create a polariton, we end up with an object that has a negative mass associated with it,” Vamivakas explained. “That’s kind of a mind-bending thing to think about, because if you try to push or pull it, it will go in the opposite direction from what your intuition would tell you.”
Although practical applications for the device are still down the road, Vamivakas said his team would continue to explore how the device might help create lasers that doesn’t require much energy, and the physical implications of creating negative mass in the device.
“With the polaritons we’ve created with this device, the prescription for getting a laser to operate is completely different,” said Vamivakas. “The system starts lasing at a much lower energy input than traditional lasers now in use.”
“We’re dreaming up ways to apply pushes and pulls—maybe by applying an electrical field across the device—and then studying how these polaritons move around in the device under application of external force.”
The study, entitled “Anomalous dispersion of microcavity trion-polaritons” has been published in the journal Nature Optics.
Through direct satellite observation, scientists have for the first time shown that levels of ozone-destroying chlorine are declining, resulting in less ozone depletion. According to paper published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, decline in chlorine following an international ban on chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) has resulted in 20 percent less ozone depletion since 2005.
“We see very clearly that chlorine from CFCs is going down in the ozone hole, and that less ozone depletion is occurring because of it,” said Susan Strahan, an atmospheric scientist from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
To find out if CFC ban is actually contributing to the recovery of the ozone layer, researchers studied data gathered by a JPL’S Microwave Limb Sounder (MLS) aboard the Aura satellite. Using the data collected by MLS every winter – from early July to mid-September (between 2005 to 2016), the team was able to determine changes in ozone levels year to year. And sure enough, there was 20 percent decrease in ozone depletion.
“This is very close to what our model predicts we should see for this amount of chlorine decline,” explained Strahan. “This gives us confidence that the decrease in ozone depletion through mid-September shown by MLS data is due to declining levels of chlorine coming from CFCs. But we’re not yet seeing a clear decrease in the size of the ozone hole because that’s controlled mainly by temperature after mid-September, which varies a lot from year to year.”
NASA Sees Definitive Evidence of the Montreal Protocol's Success - YouTube
Ever felt tired and sluggish after eating sugar or a startling number of ginormous meals? That’s the effects of a sugar crash (aka reactive hypoglycemia), which researchers at New Zealand have shown can impair cognitive performance – in a double-blind, placebo-controlled study.
“I am fascinated by how our senses influence our behaviour and affect our everyday lives,” said study author Mei Peng, a lecturer in sensory science at the University of Otago in a statement at Psypost. “In particular, how sugar consumption might change the way our brains work. In the case of sweetness perception, we have evolved to favour this taste.”
Glucose ingestion has been shown to improve memory performance, but studies examining the effect of glucose on other cognitive processes, such as attention, problem solving, learning, decision-making and face recognition, have led to mixed results.
For the study, the researchers recruited 49 individuals, each of whom was given drinks containing either glucose, sucrose (table sugar), fructose (fruit sugar), or sucralose (an artificial sweetener). The researchers then had them take part in three cognitive tests – a simple response time task, a measure of arithmetic processing, and the Stroop task. They also measured the participants’ blood glucose levels during the tests.
They found that participants who consumed glucose or sucrose performed worse on cognitive tests – that is, they demonstrated a delay in completing cognitive tasks as in reduced attention and response times – compared those who consumed fructose or sucralose. There were also participants who researchers had instructed to fast for 10 hours prior to the test – and they performed even worse.
Our body breaks down sucrose into glucose and fructose. But unlike glucose, fructose does not cross the blood-brain barrier.
“Our study suggests that the ‘sugar coma’ – with regards to glucose – is indeed a real phenomenon, where levels of attention seem to decline after consumption of glucose-containing sugar,” Peng told PsyPost.
“While the sample size is relatively small, the effect we observe is substantial,” Peng told. “Future research should further quantify how different brain regions change after sugar consumption – by using neuroimaging techniques. This will help us better understand how attention deficits arise after glucose consumption.”
“As food is becoming increasingly diverse, accessible and delicious, it is important to conduct more research in this area to understand food choices and eating behaviours,” she added.
We don’t know for sure where science will take us in 2018, but wherever it takes us – it will be even more exciting than 2017 for scientists and science enthusiasts alike. Here’s SciShow’s look back at the toughest, biggest and hottest science of 2017. [Scroll down for video]
The Toughest Animal On the Planet: Wax Worms (Galleria mellonella)
In April, 2017 researchers discovered that wax worms (Galleria mellonella), a type of caterpillar that usually feeds on honeycombs, has the ability to degrade plastic.
Patagotitan mayorum belonged to a group of sauropods – large herbivorous dinosaurs of the Jurassic and Cretaceous with long necks and tails, thick legs and small heads – called titanosaurs. The femur alone is 2.4 meters (8 feet) long – the longest of any vertebrate yet. Paleontologists estimate P. mayorum to be about 37 meters long and weighed around 62 metric tons, or as much as about 12 African elephants. Researchers say the dino was too big and it sort of goes against physiological physics.
The Hottest (non-El Niño) Year Ever Recorded: 2017
El Niño is a widespread weather disruption that happens when ocean currents shift in the equatorial Pacific regions, pushing huge mass of warm water eastwards towards the southern USA. El Niño tends to make the regions it affects warmer on average, which is why most of the hottest years ever recorded were during El Niño years.
But scientists say 2017, although a non-El Niño year, will likely rank as either the second or third hottest year ever.
The Toughest, Biggest, and Hottest Science of 2017 - YouTube
Water behaves strangely in comparison to other compounds with the same molecular structure. It also possesses many unusual properties that defy what we currently know about chemistry and physics. If you look at how its density, specific heat, viscosity and compressibility respond to changes in pressure and temperature, what you will get is not what you’d expect on other liquids – it will be the complete opposite.
Most substances shrink when they are cooled resulting in an increase in the density. But if you freeze water, its density decreases and it expands. For example, if you look at a glass of ice water, you’d expect that water at zero degree Celsius being surrounded by ice would sink to the bottom of the glass, but instead the ice cubes float. Thanks to this unique property, or else the oceans, rivers, lakes would have frozen solid long, long time ago.
Water has the highest density at 4 degrees C. If you cool it further down below that, the expansion starts again. And, it even speeds when it gets colder. Its compressibility, heat capacity, viscosity and many other properties become increasingly strange as well. But now, researchers at Stockholm University – using ultra-short x-ray pulses at x-ray lasers in Japan and South Korea – have established that at -44 degrees C, water ceases to exhibit its strange behavior.
“What was special was that we were able to X-ray unimaginably fast before the ice froze and could observe how it fluctuated between the two states,” explains Anders Nilsson, Professor of Chemical Physics at Stockholm University in a news release. “For decades there has been speculations and different theories to explain these remarkable properties and why they got stronger when water becomes colder. Now we have found such a maximum, which means that there should also be a critical point at higher pressures.”
Water can exist in two liquid states. Both states have different ways of bonding the water molecules together, and this is what makes it unique. Fluctuations occur between these two states, but they reach their peak at -44 degrees C. In other words, the water will stop behaving strangely when it’s cooled to -44 degrees C. So the answer to why water has many unusual properties boils down to its ability to shift from one liquid state into another and its ability to increase its fluctuation and strangeness upon cooling.
Interestingly, normal water, heavy water all exhibit different unusual properties, and even more so by the lighter one.
“The differences between the two isotopes, H2O and D2O, given here shows the importance of nuclear quantum effects,” says Kyung Hwan Kim, postdoc in Chemical Physics at Stockholm University. “The possibility to make new discoveries in a much studied topic such as water is totally fascinating and a great inspiration for my further studies,” says Alexander Späh, PhD student in Chemical Physics at Stockholm University.
“It was a dream come true to be able to measure water under such low temperature condition without freezing” says Harshad Pathak, postdoc in Chemical Physics at Stockholm University. “Many attempts over the world have been made to look for this maximum.”
“There has been an intense debate about the origin of the strange properties of water for over a century since the early work of Wolfgang Röntgen,” Anders Nilsson explains. “Researchers studying the physics of water can now settle on the model that water has a critical point in the supercooled regime. The next stage is to find the location of the critical in terms of pressure and temperature. A big challenge in the next few years.”
The study, entitled “Maxima in the thermodynamic response and correlation functions of deeply supercooled water” has been published in the journal Science.