Science & Technology


Surgeons replace 3-year-old girl's skull with 3-D printed titanium skull implant

© David Gray / Reuters
Chinese surgeons have successfully replaced a 3-year-old girl's skull with a 3D-printed titanium alloy substitute in a 17-hour-long operation. The girl had suffered from hydrocephalus, which had swelled her head up to 4 times the normal size.

The surgery was performed at the Second People's Hospital in Hunan province. The doctors used 3D data and a computed tomography scanner to print three pieces of titanium mesh to replace the entire top portion of the child's skull.

The first stage of the surgery was to detach the girl's scalp from her head. Then the surgeons inserted drainage tubes and pumped out the brain fluid before putting in the transplants.

The girl, named Han Han, suffered from hydrocephalus, also known as "water on the brain." People with this illness have cerebrospinal fluid accumulating in their brain cavities.

2 + 2 = 4

Research shows how networks can influence the spread of disease and gossip

A new approach to exploring the spread of contagious diseases or the latest celebrity gossip has been tested using London's street and underground networks.

Results from the new approach could help to predict when a contagion will spread through space as a simple wave (as in the Black Death) and when long-range connections, such as air travel, enable it to seemingly jump over long distances and emerge in locations far from an initial outbreak.

A team of mathematicians from Oxford University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Rutgers University used a set of mathematical rules to encode how a contagion spreads, and then studied the outcomes of these rules.

Comet 2

Platinum-rich asteroid passes earth 30 times closer than nearest planet of solar system

Asteroid 436724 (2011 UW158) was discovered on 25 October 2011 by Pan-STARRS
An asteroid believed to be carrying up to 90 million tons of platinum in its core, as well as other rare and precious materials, is about to swoosh past our planet. The news has left developers of asteroid-mining technologies intrigued.

The platinum-rich asteroid officially named 2011 UW158, is 452 meters by 1,011 meters in size and will pass Earth at a distance of an estimated 2.4 million kilometers, according to the Goldstone Radar Observatory. It will be 30 times closer to Earth than the closest planet of the Solar system.

However, when the asteroid does pass, it will still be six times further away than the moon's orbit, so it will be impossible to see 2011 UW158 with the naked eye.


Genetic research finds women are stronger than men due to DNA

© Reuters/Shamil Zhumatov / Reuters
Women often live longer than men. However, this is not down to males working or drinking too much, rather it's due to DNA inherited from their mothers. Genetic experts call this the "mother's curse" as the defective genes can cause health problems in men.

Scientists say this shows that men are in fact the weaker sex and this could explain why women often outlive men. Statistically, the researchers may have a point, as statistics from Eurostat, which is the statistical office of the European Union, found that women outlive men in the bloc by 5.5 years on average.

The research was undertaken by the University of Otago in New Zealand. They conducted studies of fruit flies and fish for over a decade, with the research showing that mutations in DNA only were harmful when passed from mothers to their sons.


Project ATHENA: a surrogate human organ system

I Surrogate
Surrogate human organs could revolutionize the way biologists and medical personnel screen new drugs or toxic agents. The development of miniature surrogate human organs, coupled with highly sensitive mass spectrometry technologies, could one day revolutionize the way new drugs and toxic agents are studied.

"By developing this 'homo minutus,' we are stepping beyond the need for animal or Petri dish testing: There are huge benefits in developing drug and toxicity analysis systems that can mimic the response of actual human organs," said Rashi Iyer, a senior scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

ATHENA, the Advanced Tissue-engineered Human Ectypal Network Analyzer project team, is nearing the full integration of four human organ constructs — liver, heart, lung and kidney — each organ component is about the size of a smartphone screen, and the whole ATHENA "body" of interconnected organs will fit neatly on a desk.

ATHENA project as it begins to integrate the various organ systems into a single system:

Comment: Los Alamos National Laboratory is the lead laboratory on this five-year, $19 million multi-institutional effort. The ATHENA project is supported by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA). What is this???

As a combat support agency, DTRA is responsible to the Assistant to the Secretary of Defense (Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Defense Programs), who in turn is responsible to the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics.
"From ground-breaking research and development programs, to cutting edge medical research, from protecting our troops from future threats, to providing our military with the counter WMD weapons systems, we have a long history of overcoming what others believe impossible, challenging the status quo, and using the latest scientific discoveries to provide our troops with cutting edge technologies." "Our success is determined by what didn't happen - what we prevented, what we helped to interdict, what we eliminated, what we mitigated, and how prepared we are to respond. That is the basis of the shield that we can provide across the full threat spectrum -- chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and high yield explosives. At DTRA/SCC-WMD, our values allow personnel to achieve their commitment to total customer satisfaction by meeting and anticipating customer needs."
In this context, it is clear to whom the ATHENA project is intended to benefit.


85-year search finds massless particle with promise for next-generation electronics

Weyl fermions can behave like monopole and antimonopole particles when inside a crystal, meaning that they have opposite magnetic-like charges can nonetheless move independently of one another, which also allows for a high degree of mobility.
An international team led by Princeton University scientists has discovered Weyl fermions, an elusive massless particle theorized 85 years ago. The particle could give rise to faster and more efficient electronics because of its unusual ability to behave as matter and antimatter inside a crystal, according to new research.

The researchers report in the journal Science July 16 the first observation of Weyl fermions, which, if applied to next-generation electronics, could allow for a nearly free and efficient flow of electricity in electronics, and thus greater power, especially for computers, the researchers suggest.

Detector image signals the existence of Weyl fermions.
Proposed by the mathematician and physicist Hermann Weyl in 1929, Weyl fermions have been long sought by scientists because they have been regarded as possible building blocks of other subatomic particles, and are even more basic than the ubiquitous, negative-charge carrying electron (when electrons are moving inside a crystal). Their basic nature means that Weyl fermions could provide a much more stable and efficient transport of particles than electrons, which are the principle particle behind modern electronics. Unlike electrons, Weyl fermions are massless and possess a high degree of mobility; the particle's spin is both in the same direction as its motion -- which is known as being right-handed -- and in the opposite direction in which it moves, or left-handed.

Comment: Another "particular matter" solved, as a "matter of fact!" Quasi that!


Neutrons find the "missing" magnetism of plutonium

Doug Abernathy, left, ARCS instrument scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Marc Janoschek, Los Alamos National Laboratory, prepare their sample for experiments at the Spallation Neutron Source.
Groundbreaking work at two Department of Energy national laboratories has confirmed plutonium's magnetism, which scientists have long theorized but have never been able to experimentally observe. The advances that enabled the discovery hold great promise for materials, energy and computing applications.

Plutonium was first produced in 1940 and its unstable nucleus allows it to undergo fission, making it useful for nuclear fuels as well as for nuclear weapons. Much less known, however, is that the electronic cloud surrounding the plutonium nucleus is equally unstable and makes plutonium the most electronically complex element in the periodic table, with intriguingly intricate properties for a simple elemental metal.

While conventional theories have successfully explained plutonium's complex structural properties, they also predict that plutonium should order magnetically. This is in stark contrast with experiments, which had found no evidence for magnetic order in plutonium.

Finally, after seven decades, this scientific mystery on plutonium's "missing" magnetism has been resolved. Using neutron scattering, researchers from the Department of Energy's Los Alamos and Oak Ridge (ORNL) national laboratories have made the first direct measurements of a unique characteristic of plutonium's fluctuating magnetism. In a recent paper in the journal Science Advances, Marc Janoschek from Los Alamos, the paper's lead scientist, explains that plutonium is not devoid of magnetism, but in fact its magnetism is just in a constant state of flux, making it nearly impossible to detect.

Comment: Finding the "missing" properties of plutonium is one thing...what they do with it may be something else. Pardon the skepticism, but didn't we "invent" this fueler of nuclear disasters?

Plutonium was first made in December 1940 at Berkeley, California, by Glenn Seaborg, Arthur Wahl, Joseph Kennedy, and Edwin McMillan. They produced it by bombarding uranium-238 with deuterium nuclei (alpha particles). This first produced neptunium-238 with a half-life of two days, and this decayed by beta emission to form element 94 (plutonium). Within a couple of months element 94 had been conclusively identified and its basic chemistry shown to be like that of uranium.To begin with, the amounts of plutonium produced were invisible to the eye, but by August 1942 there was enough to see and weigh, albeit only 3 millionths of a gram. However, by 1945 the Americans had several kilograms, and enough plutonium to make three atomic bombs, one of which exploded over Nagasaki in August 1945.

Yup, looks like we did.


A robot has passed a self-awareness test

© The Independent, UK
Next stop world domination.
A robot in New York has passed the classic King's Wise Men puzzle which serves as a test of the awareness of the self.

The induction puzzle goes as follows:
'The King called the three wisest men in the country to his court to decide who would become his new advisor. He placed a hat on each of their heads, such that each wise man could see all of the other hats, but none of them could see their own. Each hat was either white or blue. The king gave his word to the wise men that at least one of them was wearing a blue hat - in other words, there could be one, two, or three blue hats, but not zero. The king also announced that the contest would be fair to all three men. The wise men were also forbidden to speak to each other. The king declared that whichever man stood up first and announced the color of his own hat would become his new advisor.'
Roboticists at the Ransselaer Polytechnic Institute adapted it for a trio of robots, two of which were told they had been given a "dumbing pill" which prevented them from talking before all three were asked which one was still able to speak.

All three initially couldn't solve the problem and said "I don't know", but when only one of them made the noise, the robot in question heard its own voice and then followed up: "Sorry, I know now!"


Meteor impact? Photo of Pluto's moon Charon reveals 'intriguing' geological feature

Charon, Pluto's largest moon and its newly discovered anomaly.
The first closeup image of Charon's surface has revealed a strange mountain that appears to be encircled in a (dry) moat.

In the image, which focuses on an area approximately 240 miles from top to bottom, few craters are seen, suggesting that recent geological activity may have reshaped Charon's surface.

The mountain in a moat, seen in the top left hand corner of the image, was described as "intriguing" by Jeff Moore, from
Nasa's Ames Research Centre. Moore, who is leads New Horizons' geology and geophysics imaging team, said the feature had left his colleagues "stunned and stumped".

A rectangle superimposed on the surface of Charon shows the approximate position of the closeup, with the mountain still clearly visible.

New Horizons captured the image from a distance of around 49,000 miles, an hour and a half before its closest approach to Pluto on Tuesday.


NASA project: A robot-built moon colony

Moon base to be built by robotic construction crew.
It may not be quite Earth-like enough to be habitable, but the Moon is our closest planetary body, and that proximity would make it ideal for an extraplanetary base of operations. NASA is now seriously considering that option, and may send robots to terraform a crater on the lunar South Pole.

In a crowded presidential field during the 2012 US elections, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich came up with a bold plan to make himself stand out among the crowd. While his competitors debated the economy, foreign policy, and Rick Santorum's fear of pornography, Gingrich stepped forward to promise the American people his own childhood dream: moon bases. "By the end of my second term, we will have the first permanent base on the moon, and it will be American," he said.

Comment: The snippy comment would be something like: "The USA isn't satisfied taking control of Planet Earth, it also has its sights on our lunar companion..." The practical comment is more along the lines of encouraging thinking outside the box and creating the means and technology to make the project achievable. The philosophical is always a question..."Why?" Followed by "Why not?"