October just ended and the scientific world is buzzing with new discoveries! Be it transparent solar panels or a wearable thermoelectricity generator, we have summed up all that happened in the past month in one brief article. In case you missed it, you’ll find everything here!
Top 10 Science News for October 2017
1. Discovery of a ‘Monster Planet’ Orbiting a Tiny Star
The Royal Astronomical Society published a paper declaring the existence of a ‘monster planet’, dubbed the ‘NGTS-1b’, orbiting a cool, red star, located at a distance of 600 light years from our solar system. What’s astonishing is not the planet itself, but rather the fact that this enormous planet orbits a tiny star, hence challenging the present planet formation theories.
The host star is an M-dwarf, around half the mass and radius of our sun, while NGTS-1b is a hot Jupiter: a class of giant planets that are physically similar to Jupiter but have quite short orbital periods. NGTS-1b has an orbital period equivalent to 2.6 Earth days.
Professor Peter Wheatley (University of Warwick) was quoted saying that even though NGTS-1b is a monster of a planet, it was hard to find because of its host star being so faint and small. He also indicated toward the discovery of more of such giant planets since stars such as the M-dwarf are the most commonly found in the Universe.
2. Highly Transparent Solar Technology
Normally, when we think of a photovoltaic cell or a solar cell, we imagine a black-gray array. Well, people, times have changed. Let’s shift to a new wave of solar tech; one which is quite see-through.
This new, transparent solar concentrator is developed under Richard Lunt and his colleagues at the Michigan State University. It is a thin, plastic-like material which can be used, or perhaps, stuck on, any clear surface like buildings, car windows, or electronic gadget displays, without distorting the view. This system harvests the sunlight’s invisible wavelengths with the help of organic molecules (developed by Lunt and his team) to produce solar energy.
When it comes to being efficient, the opaque solar cells are much more efficient at converting solar energy into electricity (15 to 18%) than these newly-developed transparent counterparts (5% and above). However, the quality of transparency is a win-win for our present scenario. We need to replace fossil fuels with solar power as soon as possible, and the transparent solar concentrator might just fulfill our present needs. Lunt is quite hopeful regarding his research as he points out that the harvesting system has only acquired a third of its real potential as of yet. Hence, there is more to come, and soon.
3. Daydreaming is GOOD!
A few months back when I’d read that forgetfulness is good, I was more than elated. Now, a new study straight out of Georgia Institute of Technology says that daydreaming is good. The world is getting better if you ask me.
One of the co-authors of this study, Georgia Tech’s associate psychology professor, Eric Schumacher points out that people who have efficient brains may have too much brain capacity to stop their minds from wandering. He says that the brain’s higher efficiency basically implies that there is more capacity to think, due to which the mind may run adrift while doing or focusing on easy tasks.
You can read the full release here.
4. Electrical Brain Stimulation to Improve Human Memory
Bad memory, anyone? This might be just the thing for you.
This study’s base is a UCLA research that was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2012. This particular research demonstrated that human memory can be improved by electrical stimulation.
Now, in the latest study research at the David Geffen School of Medicine, UCLA, a team of neuroscience researchers studied a total of 13 epilepsy patients and found out how to stimulate the brain in order to improve the recollection of memories. To locate the origin of their seizures, ultrafine wires were implanted in these individuals’ brains. These wires were utilized to stimulate the targeted area in the right side of entorhinal cortex (which is critical to learning and memory) using Theta Burst Stimulation.
8 out of 9 of the individuals involved in the experiment demonstrated improvement in their ability to recognizing faces on receiving low current bursts to the right side of the entorhinal cortex. The other four individuals had the left side of their entorhinal cortex stimulated, and showed no improved recollection.
5. ‘Digital’ Self-Harm on the Rise
In the past few months, with all the ongoing news and media coverage about the ‘Blue Whale Challenge’, all of us have learned one thing in particular: self-harm is blatantly existent among the adolescents today, or perhaps millennials in general. It is sad that we are accustomed to seeing and hearing news about suicides, bullying, and cyberbullying. What we aren’t particularly aware of is that a new epidemic is on the rise: Cyber self-harm.
Do not confuse this term with what you might think as adolescents going online and harming themselves on perhaps, video. No, that’s not it.
By self-cyberbullying, the implication is: children posting mean things online about themselves; mostly anonymously. The Florida Atlantic University is the first to have investigated this largely ignored matter.
To delve into the matter, researchers communicated with 5,593 middle and high school students aged 12 to 17 years, living in the United States. The objective was to find out a number that had anything to do with digital self-harm, as well as their motivations for such behavior.
The results were astonishing. 6% of the teens had reportedly posted something mean about themselves online. However, the motives of their actions were varied: for fun; seeking attention; depressed; self-hate; being suicidal.
Sameer Hinduja (Ph.D.), a professor in FAU’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice was quoted saying, “We knew we had to study this empirically, and I was stunned to discover that about 1 in 20 middle- and high-school-age students have bullied themselves online. This finding was totally unexpected, even though I’ve been studying cyberbullying for almost 15 years.”
6. Wearable Thermoelectric Generators
Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have demonstrated proof-of-concept wearable thermoelectric generators using thousands of dots made of alternating p-type and n-type polymers in closely-packed layers with a new circuit design. These generators are quite literally capable of converting our body’s thermal energy directly to electric energy to power simple sensors, such as heart-rate sensors.
Kiarash Gordiz, a co-author of the project stated, “Instead of connecting the polymer dots with a traditional serpentine wiring pattern, we are using wiring patterns based on space-filling curves, such as the Hilbert pattern – a continuous space-filling curve.” The Hilbert curve allows for self-localization and surface conformation, providing a comparatively more uniform temperature across the device.
Supported by the PepsiCo, Inc. and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, this research project was reported in the Journal of Applied Physics.
7. TWISTER: The Origami-inspired Robot
Talk about merging one’s hobby and work to create something unique.
Kiju Lee, a researcher from the Case Western Reserve University, took it a whole other level when she turned her love of origami to first create paper robots, and then eventually 3D printed models that can bend, twist, extend and contract.
The mechanism has been named ‘TWISTER’: TWISted TowEr Robot.
You can see TWISTER in action here.
The mechanism is yet to be patented but there are already plenty of hopes and expectations considering its applications. It is perfect for handling and even manipulating fragile objects. It is safe to go out on a limb and say that TWISTER is safe for direct human-robot interaction, since it is soft and not built like other robots.
In Lee’s words, “TWISTER is very different from rigid body robots. TWISTER is made from multiple layers of regular polygons – triangles, hexagons or octagons, forming a tube-like shape of a tower.”
Lee is particularly hopeful for TWISTER in space robotic applications, especially as a space arm. Because of its light-weightedness, compactness, and full collapsibility, TWISTER is efficient in terms of occupying space, volume and weight.
8. Flexible & Eco-Friendly Phone Screens
While we’re out here being blissfully ignorant being wooed by the iPhone X’s almost bezel-less (but breakable) screen, physicists at the University of Sussex might have attained a breakthrough on the brittleness of our phone screens.
The team has developed a new hybrid material which is not only cheaper, less brittle, and eco-friendly but is also more responsive, uses less energy and does not tarnish due to atmospheric exposure.
The researchers have engineered a new, two-dimensional carbon material by combining silver nanowires and graphene. Logically, the silver should get tarnished in the air, but the layer of graphene protects the silver from any exposure reactions. The new hybrid material exceeds the performance of existing technologies and is comparatively much more economic.
9. Your Clothes Can Now Store Information, Without Electronics
Man! We’re on a spree, aren’t we? A journey from smartphones to smart fabric!
Computer scientists at the University of Washington have developed fabrics that can store data without the presence of any electronics or sensors. These fabrics can store security tags or identification tags; sooner than later, you could be opening the lock to your apartment door with these. Being electronic-free, you can wash them, and put them in the dryer without being afraid of damaging them.
Before the researchers at the University of Washington got creative, the conductive thread was solely being used to create outfits and toys that can light up or communicate. The team realized that the thread has magnetic properties which can be manipulated to store visual information or digital data, that can further be read by a magnetometer. Read the full release here.
This research was funded by Google, the National Science Foundation, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
10. Engineered Proteins that Lower Body Weight in Mice and Primates
Obesity is becoming a widespread problem all across the globe. As of now, surgery is the most effective measure for severe obesity but it brings along quite a lot of collateral damage and poses risks.
To find a solution, a team of researchers set to observing obese mice, rats, and humans. The one thing that was common in all three was the presence of elevated serum concentrations of a protein called GDF15. Derived from this protein molecule, scientists developed two different fusion proteins that were stable and led to higher yields. When tested, both of these fusion proteins decreased the weights in obese mice and cynomolgus monkeys. Read the full release on Science Translational Medicine.
So, this was all for October. We’ll be keeping an eye on the coming month’s interesting science news and will be back with another one! What was your favorite invention, discovery or theory from October? Let us know in the comments.