NASA’s Podcast Boasts Real Space Stories

Do you want to hear astronauts themselves talk about the possibility of life on Saturn’s moon, the adventures of planet protection officers against alien microbes, and other real stories that could have come from science fiction books but definitely didn’t? You might want to check out NASA’s official website for their fantastic podcast.

The podcast features plenty of astronauts reliving their greatest accomplishments and talking about their rigorous training. Recent episodes bring you audio from inside the Orion, the capsule that NASA is developing to carry a crew of four astronauts into deep space, and along Scott Tingle’s path from test pilot to astronaut.

NASA’s Johnson Space Center launched “Houston, We Have a Podcast” last July 2017 and has since released more than 40 episodes on its official site. The cleverly-titled podcast is revitalized every week, which means you only have to wait that long to get your new fill of amazing space-related content.

The show overflows with the voices of the engineers, researchers and mission control flight directors who develop and test NASA’s most complex technology and protect astronauts during their flights. There’s historical information on pioneering missions and space explorers, too.

While on the way home from work, shopping at the grocery, or making dinner, you might want to relive your childhood dreams of becoming an astronaut. Thanks to the podcast form, it has never been this contemporary and accessible.

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Late Menopause May Benefit Women’s Memory

The past few years have seen an increase in various research studies about women’s health that have truly been a long time coming. One example is New Delhi’s move to proliferate biodegradable sanitary pads which not only addresses women’s reproductive needs but also the needs of our environment.

Recently, a new study led by Diana Kuh from University College London in the United Kingdom looked at how the late onset of menopause may benefit the memory of women later in their lives. By using data from 1,315 women, they found out that women whose menopause occurred naturally and later in life scored higher on the memory assessment tests that they conducted.

Kuh comments on the findings, saying, “The difference in verbal memory scores for a 10-year difference in the start of menopause was small — recalling only one additional word, but it’s possible that this benefit could translate to a reduced risk of dementia years later.”

However, she adds, “More research and follow-up are needed to determine whether that is the case.”

The study’s scope also included other aspects about the women’s health like whether they were taking hormone replacement therapy, whether they had a hysterectomy, their cognitive ability since childhood, as well as social factors like their education and line of work.

Kuh and her colleagues conclude: “Our findings suggest lifelong hormonal processes, not just short-term fluctuations during the menopause transition, may be associated with verbal memory, consistent with evidence from a variety of neurobiological studies.”

Of course, I agree with Dr. Kuh’s statement. Further research is definitely necessary. I also think, as seen in the recently-won fight for equal pay like in Nordic countries such as Iceland, that perhaps more and more institutions and organizations would see the importance of studying and addressing women’s concerns, as more and more women around the world push further for their rights.

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11 New Deep-Sea Creatures Found in Indian Ocean

More than half of it has not yet passed, but 2018 already seems to be a great year for zoological findings. There is the sudden resurfacing of a previously extinct insectivore in Australia, there is the identification of a new type of exploding ant in Borneo, and now the first scientific expedition to the Indian Ocean yields at least 11 previously undiscovered species of deep-sea creatures.

The expedition is a collaboration between the National University of Singapore (NUS) and the Indonesian Institute of Sciences. The team collected over 12,000 specimens from 63 sites in the two weeks that they stayed in the coasts of West Java.

“This is a part of the Indian Ocean that has never been sampled for deep-sea animals so we really didn’t know what to find,” Peter Ng, head of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum at NUS and chief scientist for the Singapore team, told AFP. “We were very surprised by the findings.”

From the specimens, they were able to identify 800 species from families of jellyfish, molluscs, crabs, fish, worms, and others. The 11 newfound deep-sea creatures include a crab nicknamed “big ears” for the ear-shaped plate that covers its eyes, a hermit crab with green eyes, a zebra-striped orange lobster, and many others.

The team has yet to sort, analyse and catalogue the entire collection, but fully expect more new species to emerge — the reason the crustaceans were so quickly picked up is because the expedition included experts in crabs and shrimps.

The scientists from both Singapore and Indonesia are expected to categorize and study further the samples they collected until they are ready to release their results, targeting a 2020 publishing date. Come to think of it, two years is a very short time, relative to the hundreds and hundreds when these deep-sea creatures were previously unknown to science.

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Contact Lenses that Adjust to the Sun

The medical industry does not lack developments specific to addressing eye conditions. Some particularly interesting examples are the world’s first synthetic retinas and a teen-made AI system that diagnoses eye diseases. Today, I bring good news to my fellow four-eyed people: you can now wear FDA-approved contact lenses that adjust to the sunlight.

“This contact lens is the first of its kind to incorporate the same technology that is used in eyeglasses that automatically darken in the sun,” Malvina Eydelman said in a statement. Eydelman is the director of the Division of Ophthalmic, and Ear, Nose and Throat Devices at the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health.

The light-reactive lenses, which Johnson & Johnson calls Acuvue Oasys Contact Lenses with Transitions Light Intelligent Technology, are for everyday use and lasts up to 14 days. While it might not yet be available for purchase, it could hit the stores soon enough, as it has already been approved by Food and Drug Administration last week.

The contact lenses contain a photochromic coating that adapts to UV light exposure. Johnson & Johnson says the lenses will automatically return to a regular tint when exposed to normal or dark lighting conditions.

The company also reassures future buyers that wearing darkening lenses does not mean having to look like a demon or an alien; a gray tint just appears, which is nearly imperceptible in brown eyes and just the slightest bit noticeable in lighter eyes. So no worries there, pal.

Now I can barely wait for summer to try this one out.

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A Camera to See the Sea like a Mantis Shrimp

Humans never stop trying to improve the world for fellow creatures. We turn empty lots into homes for bees, we make highways so that hedgehogs may survive our cities, we teach orcas human speech. But we don’t know everything, and there’s a lot to learn about the world through these animals’ eyes as well. In this instance, through the eyes of a shrimp:

For a small glimpse of the mantis shrimp’s view of the ocean, humans can now look through a mantis-shrimp-inspired camera from a team led by Viktor Gruev, an engineer at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Mantis shrimp have the ability to detect up to six types of polarization in the ocean, a property of light that is impossible for humans to see. To imitate this, Gruev’s team made miniature polarized lenses, popped them inside a video camera, and collaborated with marine biologists to study how different underwater creatures use polarization.

[T]he ability to see detect polarization is widespread among cuttlefish, octopus, squid, crabs, and even some fish. Perhaps marine animals use polarization to communicate with each other, or perhaps it enhances contrast underwater for them to detect predators.

Through their findings, the team was also able to raise another important factor in the survival of marine animals: navigation. Do the mantis shrimp and other animals actually use polarization as their very own GPS? Scientists are not yet certain as to exactly how. But the idea already sounds awesome.

And with this camera, the world just might get a whole lot bigger in the future.

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We Can Soon Grow Replacement Organs

It never fails to impress me how we are always one step closer to figuring out the human body. We’ve learned how to handle it with robotic surgeries and now, with even more efficiency. Scientists at Monash University may have figured out how to grow replacement organs.

The team has discovered that a protein called Meox1 is pivotal in promoting the growth of muscles. They came across the protein while studying zebrafish, which are ideal candidates for the research due to their rapid rate of growth and biological similarities with humans.

Meox1 directs muscle growth by selecting the relevant stem cells for producing the specific tissue.

Apparently, we’ve got some fish to thank this this groundbreaking discovery. For years we have understood the functions of stem cells–but never how they function. Grasping its mechanisms mean researchers will ultimately have more control.

Stem cells are also increasingly being recognized as an integral tool for treating — and even curing — a number debilitating diseases. Everything from blindness to paralysis to neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s disease and Huntington’s disease have already seen breakthroughs with the help of stem cells.

With new knowledge always comes the opportunity to manipulate nature to our benefit. If it saves lives, then why not?

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Water Fabric Is Now In Fashion

A number of big brands have found ways to turn trash into fashion. Researchers at the University of Cambridge have gone back to basics. In an attempt to mimic spider silk, they produced hydrogel, an eco-friendly water fiber with the potential to revolutionize fabrics.

Hydrogel consists of about 2% cellulose and silica… suspended in water with some molecules that are shaped like tiny bracelets, called Cucurbiturils. These chemicals… hold the cellulose and silica together, allowing long, extremely thin fibers to be pulled from the gel.

The water evaporates shortly after the fibers are drawn out of the hydrogel, leaving behind a silken strand that is stronger than [most materials]. The strings also work like bungee cords, in some cases having a property of energy absorption called “damping capacity” that exceeds natural silks.

In friendlier terms, hydrogel produces fabrics that are pretty darn strong. The process uses non-hazardous solvents and demands minimal energy. Unique properties from its molecules also detect toxins and treat waste waters.

For anyone into sustainable fashion, this could shake up the textile industry. That’s what I call super science!

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Can Pig Brain Cells Treat Parkinson’s?

If you’ve ever seen “Splice” you can probably assume that the incorporation of animal DNA into human bodies is slowly becoming a reality. Zebrafish compounds have been used to manage metabolism. Squalamine in sharks have cured infectious diseases. Now, brain cells from pigs are being implanted into humans in the hopes of treating Parkinson’s Disease.

New Zealand biotech company Living Cell Technologies has developed a treatment for Parkinson’s disease using choroid plexus cells from pigs.

“It’s putting in a little neurochemical factory to promote new nerve cell growth and repair,”

While Living Cell Technologies have yet to see how this new technique stacks up to already existing treatments, they are hopeful for its success.

Assuming this treatment is effective, it may be extended to treat other neurological disorders such as Huntington’s and Alzheimer’s.

Successful treatments for Parkinson’s disease could help millions of people — up to one million in the U.S., and an estimated seven to 10 million around the world. About 60,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with Parkinson’s annually.

Parkinson’s Disease sees the gradual loss of dopamine-making brain cells. Many cases of Parkinson’s remain mostly undetected.

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How Will Artificial Intelligences Shape The Future?

Day by day, doing work is made easier by various technologies such as household machines, virtual assistants, and the Internet. With people relying heavier on technology each year, we must ask ourselves how artificial intelligences will shape the future. Michael Hanuschick, Janet Baker, and James Kuffner provide their input.

Baker is skeptical about the developing AI, but concludes that proper use of technology is all about awareness:

“Powerful technologies will be used and abused… We must be aware and take active roles in advancing our capabilities and protecting ourselves from harm––including the harm from escalating prejudices we foster by isolating ourselves from differing ideas (e.g., with polarized news feeds) and productive discourse about them.”

Kuffner believes that AI exists for the better:

“AI will enhance and augment the human experience. Historically, humans have formed strong bonds — even relationships — with their automobiles (machines).”

Hanuschick thinks AIs can effectively handle small tasks, while the bigger ones must be dealt with by us:

“Jobs based on fairly simple and repetitive tasks will probably continue to disappear, but anything more complex is likely to be around for quite some time. I haven’t seen evidence that a true AI, with the ability to understand and reason, will be seen in our lifetimes.”

Many fear that AIs will eventually replace the human workforce, but others are optimistic that they will complement our vision for the future. And while AI’s customizable looks may be the least of our worries, who wouldn’t want a robot version of Brad Pitt?

Do you think AIs will benefit our community?

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Color-Changing Tattoos Can Save Your Life

Most tattoo enthusiasts spend months to years contemplating the perfect design. I, on the other hand, take hours to decide whether to do Chinese take-out or cold pizza for dinner. And while body art is aesthetic and meaningful–can it be practical? MIT certainly thinks so. New color-changing ink technology can indicate changes in the body’s blood sugar and sodium levels.

Using a liquid with biosensors instead of traditional ink, scientists want to turn the surface of the human skin into an “interactive display.”

So far, the team has developed three different inks that shift color in response to changes in interstitial fluid.

The three inks measure glucose, pH, and sodium, which is a breakthrough for diabetics. For those on a strict diet (or simply nerds in the health data department), monitoring intakes and bodily adjustments has never been easier.

Unfortunately, the bio-sensing tattoos are still being tested and no human trials have been announced.

So far, DermalAbyss is only in the proof-of-concept stage, and there’s no indication of when it might become a real product.

Pigs, on the other hand, are seeing some luck.

The researchers have tested the inks on patches of pig skin, using injections to change the levels of the fluids to be detected.

Would you get a color-changing tattoo?

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