Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Microbial Life Deep within Mines

Researchers have discovered micro-organisms in a 3 km deep copper/zinc mine (Kidd Creek Mine) in Ontario, Canada according to July 18, 2019 article in Geomicrobiology Journal. The find confirms previous thinking that ancient, sulfate-rich water in the region could support “deep microbial life.” 

Using a full complement of geochemical tests to compare the ancient fracture water with surface water made it possible for contamination between the sources to be eliminated.

This and other evidence suggests that a unique global biosphere thrives in the Earth’s crust with little or no surface interaction. The world’s oldest groundwaters (mean residence times of millions to billions of years) are located in fractures in Precambrian host rock at this depth.

Further genetic studies on deep well water microorganisms will shed light on all the diversity of previously unknown life deep within the Earth's crust. Go Science!

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Meet George Jetson's - Flying Car

I have to admit, my favorite cartoon series on kid's TV is The Jetsons - family, space, advanced technology, flying car, lively robots, and a big goofy dog. What's not to love?

Its super interesting then that an new environmental sustainability study on the impacts of flying cars, (i.e., electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft or VTOLs), combine helicopter pluses like vertical takeoff/landing with the efficient aerodynamic flight of an airplane. In fact, flying cars might have a strong role in longer trips, according to work done at the University of Michigan

Apparently, a key efficiency component involves distributed electric propulsion (DEP), which uses small, electrically driven propulsors (i.e., propeller-like and makes it fly).

When researchers looked at energy use and greenhouse gas emissions during takeoff hover, climb, cruise, descent and landing hover, they found that VTOLS  use lots of energy during takeoff/climb but are fairly efficient when cruising at 150 mph. 

VTOLs can finish a 100 kilometers trip much faster than ground-based vehicles. Just as a point-to-point flight "as the crow flies" path is shorter, VTOL flights and higher speeds, offer an 80% time savings compared to ground-based vehicles.

Companies such as Airbus, Boeing, Joby Aviation and Lilium are currently  developing flying car prototypes. I can hear The Jetson's music in my head now... Go Science!

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Curiosity and The First Day of School

Most of the time, people are resistant to change. We like the comfortable, "I have this down" feeling that comes with time and repeated experiences. 

I was thinking about this aversion to change while sitting in the slowed traffic that comes with the start back to school. I drive past 2 schools on my way to work, so I get to see eager students in their new clothes saying good-bye to caring, committed, and/or harried parents trying to get to work on time.

Well, okay maybe the older students are not so eager. But mostly, the young ones are excited to see friends they missed over the summer months. 

Why aren't they all equally excited?

I believe young children are still mostly information sponges. They ask why a million times a day (or so it seems). Change is their watchword, their motto, their way of life. It isn't until much later - after a few failures or someone older said an idea was impossible - that curiosity dims and change becomes something to be avoided. 

So the next time you talk with friends, parents, and colleagues, think about that. Curiosity is important! We need to nurture and celebrate it not just on the first day of school, but every day. Curiosity and asking why are the foundation of the scientific method. Go Science!

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Nose - The Tip of the Smelling Story

Researchers at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) and Harvard have found that smell is based on more than the neuronal networks that receive various stimuli. Different from vision (that pays attention to edges, shading, brightness, and color), smell is affected by odor molecules and a lot of other intriguing unknowns. 

Odors, good or bad, enter the nose as the front door of the smelling (olfactory) mechanism. Some smells like your breath and sweat are identified as "self" and mostly ignored. (Unless you have been on the tennis court or football field for a heavy workout. Then the usual monitoring gets kicked up a notch and even YOU notice you stink.) 

Other smells set off different neural activity patterns across the brain. 

In mammals, the olfactory bulb has neuronal circuits that process information via receptors. It sends information to higher processing brain areas, including the cerebral cortex. There, smell messages are analyzed thoroughly and sent across the brain (i.e. chocolate=yum or skunk spray=yuck) before they return to the bulb in a feedback loop.

The latest research shows that signaling is linear and is further analyzed in the brain with respect to intensity, known characteristics, and past experience (i.e., banana or mountain lion). Go Science!

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Nanoparticles and Near Infrared Vision

Last month an article was published in Cell describing how researchers had injected the retinas of mice with nanoparticles that attached to retinal photoreceptor cells and changed near-infrared light (IR) to green light the animals could see in the dark. Like a mouse version of night vision goggles without the goggles.

To see if the treated mice could actually see in the IR range (700 nanometers to 1 millimeter), they checked the pupils of the injected mice and noted that the test animals' eyes constricted when shown 900 nm light, while the controls (not treated) mice did not.  

Then, researchers gave the mice a choice of two boxes: one that was completely dark and one illuminated by near-infrared light. Control mice spent time in both boxes, but mice with nanoparticle treated retinas chose the dark box, suggesting that they could see the near-IR light and preferred the dark. 

This research has tons of applications. All of which are fascinating. I plan to keep an eye on developments in mammalian night vision. Who knows? Maybe someday everyone will have excellent night vision and no one will stub a toe in the dark. Go science!