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Thu, 20 Sep 2018
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Science & Technology


Canadian hospital first to treat patients with virtual reality

Virtual reality
© Kim Kyung-Hoon / Reuters
A Calgary hospital has become the first in Canada to treat patients with virtual reality technology. It has seen patients experience a 75-percent reduction in discomfort by escaping their surroundings during painful procedures.

Graydon Cuthbertson, a patient at Rockyview General Hospital, nearly lost his legs from compartment syndrome. Following multiple surgeries on his calf muscle, the 47-year old experienced pain ranging from discomfort to excruciating during wound-dressing changes.

Cuthbertson found that utilizing the VR technology helped him to escape his grim hospital surroundings and take in a calming virtual lakeside campground, a prehistoric landscape with dinosaurs, or a tranquil ocean to swim with dolphins.

"It's a godsend," he said. "Even with painkillers, the first time I had wound care after my surgery, the pain was excruciating. But with virtual reality, I got through the next treatment with flying colors. I was focused on what I was seeing and hearing, and not thinking at all about how painful it might be. All of the sudden, one-and-a-half hours go by and it's all over. It was awesome."


Putting the blue in blue diamonds

blue diamond
© Reuters/Denis Balibouse/File Photo
A Christie's employee poses with the 14.62 carats Oppenheimer Blue diamond during a preview in Geneva, Switzerland May 12, 2016.
The Hope Diamond, a rare blue diamond that is one of the world's most famous jewels, has had a complicated history, passing through the hands of monarchs and bankers and heiresses and thieves before landing for all to see at a Washington museum.

The geological history of blue diamonds is even more complex, according to research published on August 1 examining these exceptionally scarce and valuable gems.

Scientists analyzed 46 blue diamonds, including one from South Africa that sold for $25 million in 2016, and determined that they can form at depths of at least 410 miles, reaching into a part of the Earth's interior called the lower mantle. Tiny mineral fragments trapped inside them provided clues about the birthplace of the diamonds.


NASA gives Opportunity rover deadline to wake up, or be lost forever

Mar's rover Opportunity
A global dust storm on Mars is threatening the planet's longest-living robot, NASA's Opportunity rover. The machine has been in hibernation since June to wait out the storm and now NASA have given it a deadline to wake up.

The US space agency has given the rover a 45-day deadline before giving up on the robot, which has been exploring the Red Planet for 14 years. Skies are finally starting to clear over Mars following an epic sandstorm, and mission managers are hopeful that the rover will attempt to make contact soon.

"The sun is breaking through the haze over Perseverance Valley, and soon there will be enough sunlight present that Opportunity should be able to recharge its batteries," said John Callas, Opportunity project manager at JPL, in NASA's latest update on the rover.


Hidden brain rhythms: Study finds your brain tries to change focus four times per second

brain scan
© Pexels
Your brain scans your surroundings about four times per second, even while you focus on something else like reading a book.
By the time you're finished reading this sentence, your brain will have rapidly assessed your surroundings 14 times to see if you should focus on something else. At least, that's what new research suggests.

This is a departure from the way we typically think our brains hold attention-neuroscientists have suggested that neurons fire in a consistent stream when you're focusing on one thing (like reading this Gizmodo blog, for instance). The new research suggests it instead has a kind of rhythm, where neurons become less active four times per second. During those little blips, the researchers suggest your brain visually checks your surroundings for something more important to pay attention to-like maybe something exceptionally threatening (a clumsy coworker about to douse you in hot coffee) or interesting (a dog in the office).

"Your brain's checking in on the rest of environment to see if it should focus on something else," Ian Fiebelkorn, a study author and cognitive neuroscientist at Princeton University, told Gizmodo. "Not that it unfocuses, but to see if something else beats out your current focus."

Microscope 1

3D printed 'bionic eye' looks likely following breakthrough

bionic eye
© College of Science and Engineering, University of Minnesota / YouTube
For the first time, researchers have successfully 3D printed a hemispherical surface of light receptors in what has been dubbed a "significant step" towards the creation of a bionic eye.

The groundbreaking development could pave the way for artificial eyes that could help blind people see and improve human vision in general.

Researchers from the University of Minnesota revealed the pioneering step in the academic journal Advanced Materials. The team was able to print the light receptors on a hemispherical glass dome. While 3D printing on flat surfaces is common, printing delicate light receptors on a curved surface is more challenging.

Microscope 1

Scientists discover channels in the skull that may provide a shortcut for immune cells

skull brain immune cells tunnels
© Nahrendorf Lab
Bone marrow, the spongy tissue inside most of our bones, produces red blood cells as well as immune cells that help fight off infections and heal injuries. According to a new study of mice and humans, tiny tunnels run from skull bone marrow to the lining of the brain and may provide a direct route for immune cells responding to injuries caused by stroke and other brain disorders. The study was funded in part by the National Institutes of Health and published in Nature Neuroscience.

"We always thought that immune cells from our arms and legs traveled via blood to damaged brain tissue. These findings suggest that immune cells may instead be taking a shortcut to rapidly arrive at areas of inflammation," said Francesca Bosetti, Ph.D., program director at the NIH's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), which provided funding for the study. "Inflammation plays a critical role in many brain disorders and it is possible that the newly described channels may be important in a number of conditions. The discovery of these channels opens up many new avenues of research."

Comment: Along with the rapid advance of technology are discoveries of our biology, and stories like these serve as a fascinating reminder of how much more we still have to learn:


Meteorite suspected of hitting ISS, causes oxygen-leaking crack

Soyuz spacecraft
© NASA TV/Reuters
Soyuz spacecraft docks with the ISS
A meteorite hitting a space station and causing depressurization seems like the beginning of a Hollywood space survival flick. But it's likely this is what happened to the International Space Station (ISS).

The leak was found in the Soyuz craft, which is docked with the ISS, reported Russian space chief Dmitry Rogozin. The official said air was being sucked out through a 1.5mm fracture, which may have been caused by a micrometeorite impact. "The crew safety is not in danger," he said. "The spaceship will be kept, a repair kit will be used."

Rogozin said the malfunction will require a sealant to be applied from the inside of the ship, so no emergency spacewalk will be required.

The leak was slow and posed no danger to people on board, according to NASA, with mission control deciding that crew members could sleep before locating it. After waking at the regular time, the six crew members started search procedures and finally localized the leak to the Russian side of the station.

The ISS regularly requires small repairs of various systems, although a hull breach, even a small one, is a rare occurrence. Crew members usually have to deal with leaks from internal tubing, electrical problems or failures of life support devices, including the space toilet, which experienced a series of malfunctions in 2008.

Cloud Precipitation

Petrichor: Why you can 'smell rain'

smell of rain

Although rain itself has no scent, moments before a rain event, an “earthy” smell known as petrichor permeates the air. People call it musky, fresh – generally pleasant.
When those first fat drops of summer rain fall to the hot, dry ground, have you ever noticed a distinctive odor? I have childhood memories of family members who were farmers describing how they could always "smell rain" right before a storm.

Of course rain itself has no scent. But moments before a rain event, an "earthy" smell known as petrichor does permeate the air. People call it musky, fresh - generally pleasant.

This smell actually comes from the moistening of the ground. Australian scientists first documented the process of petrichor formation in 1964 and scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology further studied the mechanics of the process in the 2010s.

Black Magic

The connection between glyphosate, red tide and marine losses

toxic algae blooms glyphosate

Dr. Stephanie Seneff, MIT scientist and glyphosate expert answers questions from Zen Honeycutt...

Honeycutt: Dr. Seneff, millions of Americans are distraught by the marine life disaster in Florida. This is not the first time that toxic blue-green algae have plagued our waters. Two years ago EcoWatch published an article about glyphosate herbicides (sprayed around reservoirs and on nearby farms) being linked to toxic green algae in Lake Erie. You have been studying glyphosate for years now, how could glyphosate be connected to toxic blue-green algae? What is happening?

Seneff: It's very straightforward. The so-called blue-green "algae" are actually not algae but rather a type of primitive bacteria called "cyanobacteria." They have a special skill that is rare among all species to be able to fully metabolize glyphosate and use its phosphorus atom as a source of phosphorus. So they obtain a competitive advantage against other species in the presence of chronic glyphosate exposure.

There are a lot of sugar cane fields surrounding Lake Okeechobee in Central Florida, and they are being sprayed with glyphosate before harvest as a desiccant. There's also lots of glyphosate being used on those well-manicured lawns of multi-million dollar homes.

Comment: Read more from Dr. Seneff on glyphosate:


Satellite tracking helping to preserve the mysterious giant basking shark

basking shark
© iStock
A basking shark is seen off the west coast of Scotland.
A basking shark's enormous silhouette, rarely seen in oceans worldwide, is a major draw for scientists who are mapping its often mysterious migrations.

The world's second largest fish, growing to more than 35 feet, the basking shark or Cetorhinus maximus, is hunted voraciously for its massive fin.

Global populations of basking shark dropped during the 20th century and the species has struggled to recover because of slow reproduction rates.