Archive: Nov 2012

Futuristic knitting could help arthritis

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This may look like a close up of a knitted sweater, but the fabric pictured here is much more useful. It is a woven scaffold of artificial fibres, created by scientists at Duke University, which cartilage cells can latch on to and grow in large numbers. The scaffold has been designed to be used within the human body, where it gradually dissolves away, leaving the cartilage cells to replace those that have been worn by disease or age. Preparing cartilage in this way has the advantage that it can be grown in large quantities and performs just like normal cells would. “If further experiments are successful, the scaffold could be used in clinical trials within three or four years,” said Franklin Moutos, a graduate student in the Orthopedic Bioengineering Laboratory who designed and built the weaving machine. “The first joints to be treated this way would likely be hips and shoulders, though the approach should work for cartilage damage in …

Unpopular Science’s famous science quiz

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Welcome to Unpopular Science’s first quiz. Each week we will put up a new quiz on a different area of science. After 5 weeks, whoever has the highest cumulative score will win a copy of Tiger Wars by Steve Backshall. * You can still take part in the competition. Make sure to do every week’s quiz though, for the best best chance of winning. Quiz 2 can be taken here. This week, to start with, there’s no real theme. 10 questions with most areas of science covered very briefly. They start easy, and get progressively more tricky. Some answers you might know straight away, some might take some googling and some might involve searching through our archives to solve.       More posts from Unpopular Science Did penicillin change our view of sex? Penicillin is arguably one of the greatest achievements of modern times. Discovering that infections were not just something we must live with and potentially die from, but something that could …

Did penicillin change our view of sex?

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Penicillin is arguably one of the greatest achievements of modern times. Discovering that infections were not just something we must live with and potentially die from, but something that could be actively fought, revolutionised the field of medicine. Since its discovery, countless lives have been saved in the operating theatre, the maternity ward and on the battlefield. Penicillin has the power to sustain life, but we haven’t stopped to think what such a powerful force is having on the lives that are being saved. Specifically, did penicillin pave the way for the sexual revolution of the 1960’s and the modern view of sex? It took 13 years from the discovery of penicillin by Alexander Fleming in a sample of mould in 1928 before the first clinical trials took place showing penicillin was an effective cure for syphilis. Prior to this, syphilis had a number of nasty symptoms making sex quite a dangerous option for many people. Syphilis usually starts with open …

New Dinosaur identified in Canada

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A team of Palaeontologists have named a new four-horned dinosaur, Xenoceratops, from an assortment of fossilised bone fragments first collected in Canada in the 1950’s. Upon re-examination of the previously undescribed fossils, the palaeontologists realised the bones belonged to at least three individuals of a new type of plant-eating dinosaur. Once the fossils had been analysed more closely, it became apparent the dinosaurs (relatives of the famous Triceratops) would each have weighed an impressive two tonnes and grown to a colossal 20ft in length. The palaeontologists named the new dinosaur Xenoceratops which means ‘alien horned-face’ – a reference to the odd pattern of horns on the dinosaurs head, as well as the relative scarcity of horned dinosaur specimens from this period of the fossil record. Xenoceratops is believed it to have lived in the Late Cretaceous period (100-65 million years ago) at the same time as other dinosaurs such as Tyrannosaurus-Rex and Stegosaurus. The four horned giant is the latest in a series of new discoveries being made as part …

Star trails in the southern skies

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The movements of the heavens above are sometimes hard to notice. This photo, however, shows clearly the stars rotating around the Earth’s rotational axis. The telescope in the foreground is the Yepun telescope (UT4) in the Very Large Telescope (VLT) complex at Paranal Observatory, Chile. The picture was taken by Farid Char, an astrophotographer from Chile. I asked him a few questions about his magnificent picture: How long does it take to create the picture? The photo is an artistic composition. I took several captures, then stacked them, but I superimposed a single frame to see the telescope quiet, otherwise it would appear distorted because of its continuous movement during the night. The basics of the picture are shown on its web section, but I can tell you is a composition of 867 single captures over a tripod (15” each), and the overall exposition was 4 hours 12 mins (from 23:50 h to 04:02 h local time). What does it mean to …

Flooding in the UK

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Over the past week, heavy rain has lead to flooding across many parts of the UK causing millions of pounds worth of damage to homes and businesses, even taking a couple of lives. The most significantly affected area has been south-west England, closely followed by the Midlands, north-east England and Wales. With this in mind, we asked Sally Webb, our resident meteorologist, to walk us through exactly why this is happening? WHY IS IT SO BAD? The recent flooding is due to a succession of deep pressure systems moving across the UK. Each one has had a large frontal system associated with it and often a wrap-around occlusion (where a cold front catches up with a warm front) that becomes slow-moving. The depth of the system leads to the strong winds that have also battered many areas, knocking down trees and causing damage to buildings. Although the weather is not so unusual for autumn, it is unfortunate than the systems all seem …

Bookworms mimic their heroes

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It has recently come to light that bookworms may actually absorb personality traits from their favourite characters. That’s not to say that, after a few chapters of Harry Potter, readers have inexplicably found themselves donning a mighty beard and waving a pink umbrella around (although I’m sure there’s a fair bit of that going on at most Halloween parties these days), the results seem to be lot more subtle than that. Researchers at Ohio State University examined a process known as ‘experience-taking’, a phenomenon that sees readers experiencing the emotions, thoughts and values of fictional characters in the books they’re reading. The researchers found that, after participants (all students of the university) had read a story in which a central character overcame obstacles in order to vote, said participants were much more likely to vote in a real world election several days later. Interestingly, experience-taking only seems to work when readers are able to forget about and forgo their own self-identity whilst reading. …

Aerosol map of the world

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Greenhouse gases are not the only thing in the atmosphere to causes changes to our climate. This computer simulation from NASA (officially known as Goddard Earth Observing System Model, Version 5) shows aerosols spiralling through the atmosphere. While greenhouses gases tend to have a warming effect, aerosols cool the planet by reflecting more solar radiation back into space. Dominating the picture is an orange streak of sand, blown off the Saharan and Arabian deserts. Light blues in the northern and southern oceans are sea salt particles swirling around cyclones. In the north, gray smoke from fires, and white sulphates from industry emissions and volcanoes complete the picture. Over the years, a number of calls have been made to use aerosols to fight the increasing threat of global warming. It might seem sensible to release agents that causes cooling to balance the greenhouse gases that are causing warming. But as the picture above demonstrates, the atmosphere is an incredibly complex thing. Hundreds of factors determine what our climate …

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