Science: Snippets

Science: Snippets

Long-lasting impressions

Inflammation trains the skin to heal faster

Scars may fade, but the skin remembers. New research reveals that wounds or other harmful, inflammation-provoking experiences impart long-lasting memories to stem cells residing in the skin, teaching them to heal subsequent injuries faster.

These stem cells, which replenish the skin’s outer layer take their cue from inflammation, the body’s own response to injury or infection. The first bout of inflammation sensitises these cells: the next time they sense it coming on, they respond more rapidly.

This research, published in the journal Nature, provides the first evidence that the skin can form memories of an inflammatory response — a discovery that Elaine Fuchs of The Rockefeller University, USA, says could have major implications for better understanding and treating a range of medical conditions.


Dip in brightness

The mysterious dimming star

Astronomers are working to understand the mysterious dimming of Tabby's Star. The researchers report that space dust orbiting the star is the likely cause of the star's long-term dimming. A scientific paper recently published in The Astrophysical Journal points to space dust circling the star as the source of the long-term dimming. The paper's findings are based on space observations from NASA's Spitzer and Swift missions, plus ground observations from amateur astronomers at Belgium's AstroLAB IRIS public observatory. All the observations were from October 2015 through December 2016, and from ultraviolet to mid-infrared wavelengths, including visible light.


Documentary

The Greedy Brain

The human brain is often referred to as the ultimate supercomputer. Medical science has much to learn about the cerebral capacity of our species, but they’ve begun to make profound strides in one particular area of research. Can the power of the brain transcend its human host? The Greedy Brain explores this intriguing concept. The filmmakers also examine the advancements that have already been adopted around the world based on this concept.

Our brains are constantly attempting to exhibit a level of control over the outside world, and are thereby absorbing the outside world in the process. By understanding and manipulating this process, scientists might usher the human race into thrilling new directions. The documentary can be viewed at www.bit.ly/2yBZaAg.


Better quality

For low cost biodiesel

With increasing demand for transportation fuels coupled with declining reserves of crude oil, scientific communities are forced to focus on renewable fuels. Although biofuels obtained from energy crops such as food and non-food energy crops act as renewable fuels, various issues like  biodiversity loss and their effect on the land has shifted the idea of energy production towards other alternative biofuel producers like waste materials and microorganisms.

Using these alternative energy resources are also debatable due to their inability to satisfy the demand for petroleum-based fuels and the relatively high production cost and slower rate of production of the biodiesel. In order to overcome the cost related to biodiesel production, researchers from Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee have investigated the use of crude glycerol for heterotrophic cultivation of a microalgae in a photo bioreactor (PBR) to enhance biodiesel production.

The study found that the quantity of biodiesel obtained was nearly two times more than that produced from other methods. On evaluation, the quality of biodiesel produced was found to be of automotive quality which would ensure smooth running of an engine, improve cold start behaviour, reduce white smoke and ensure a longer shelf life.


Texture morphing

Concealing material

Engineers have invented stretchable surfaces with programmable 3D texture morphing, a synthetic ‘camouflaging skin’, inspired by studying and modelling the real thing in octopus and cuttlefish. For the octopus and cuttlefish, instantaneously changing their skin colour and pattern to disappear into the environment is just a part of their camouflage prowess.

These animals can also swiftly and reversibly morph their skin into a textured, 3D surface, giving the animal a ragged outline that mimics seaweed, coral, or other objects it detects and uses for camouflage.

Engineers at Cornell University, USA, report on their invention of stretchable surfaces with programmable 3D texture morphing, a synthetic ‘camouflaging skin’ in the journal Science.

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