| |1. How to fool infrared vision gear into thinking you are not thereЧт., 05 июля[−]
ANIMALS have made use of camouflage to hide from one another for almost as long as eyes have been around to spot them. Humans, being copycats, have made extensive use of camouflage tricks they have seen in nature by applying concealing colouration to everything from clothing to tanks. A way to thwart camouflage, though, is to employ infrared-viewing technology to look for the heat emitted by an otherwise-camouflaged object. Designing something that can prevent this, and can thus carry camouflage into the infrared, has proved tricky. But Coskun Kocabas of the University of Manchester, in England, thinks he can do it.
Giving thermal invisibility to an object whose own temperature and that of its surroundings are constant is not too hard. But maintaining that cloaking as either the object or its surroundings heats up or cools down is tricky. Dr Kocabas thought he might be able to do this using graphene, a material composed of a single layer of carbon atoms.
Pure graphene is... Continue reading
|↑|2. Tomorrow’s squadron leaders will be accompanied by dronesЧт., 05 июля[−]
JULY 16th sees the opening of the Farnborough air show. Plane spotters attending the show, which by entente cordiale alternates annually with that in Paris, will be hoping for an appearance by one of the F-35 Lightning fighters delivered recently to Britain’s air force and navy. The F-35 represents the best that the present has to offer in aerial military technology. The minds of visitors from the aerospace industry and the armed forces, though, will mostly be on the future—and in particular what sort of aircraft will follow the F-35. All around the show will be drones of almost every shape and size. This raises the question: will future combat aircraft need pilots?
At least part of the answer can be found 400km north of Farnborough, near Preston, Lancashire. Warton Aerodrome is the site of Britain’s nearest equivalent to Lockheed Martin’s celebrated Skunk Works—a research and development facility run by BAE Systems, the country’s largest aerospace and defence... Continue reading
|↑|3. IVF may bring northern white rhinos back from the brink of extinctionСр., 04 июля[−]
SUDAN, the last male northern white rhinoceros on Earth, died in March. He is survived by two females, Najin and her daughter Fatu, who live in a conservancy in Kenya. This pair (pictured) are thus the only remaining members of the world’s most endangered subspecies of mammal. But all might not yet be lost. Thomas Hildebrandt of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, in Berlin, in collaboration with Avantea, a biotechnology company in Cremona, Italy, is proposing heroic measures to keep the subspecies alive. In a paper just published in Nature, he and his colleagues say that they have created, by in vitro fertilisation (IVF), apparently viable hybrid embryos of northern white rhinos and their cousins from the south. This, they hope, will pave the way for the creation of pure northern-white embryos.
IVF seems the last hope for the northern white rhino. Though stored sperm from Sudan and several other males are available, both Najin and Fatu now seem unable to conceive. This means, if the subspecies is to be preserved, that one or both of them will have to have some eggs removed from their ovaries and combined with stored sperm in a Petri dish.
Extracting rhinoceros eggs is hard. The animals’ ovaries are over a... Continue reading
|↑|4. Mixed surgical teams lead to less medical errorПн., 02 июля[−]
Calm down. I’m the boss
SURGEONS are people, and people are animals, and animals often fight. Which is why Frans de Waal, an expert on animal behaviour, has turned his attention to the operating theatre to see if the methods he honed studying chimpanzees might be used to improve surgical practice.
Dr de Waal—and, more particularly Laura Jones, his colleague at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, who did the actual field work—used those methods to construct ethograms of surgical teams. An ethogram is a list of all the types of behaviour that occur within a group of animals. To draw up these lists Dr Jones observed interactions between 400 doctors, nurses and technicians during 200 operations. She logged all the non-technical communications she spotted, and classified them as “co-operative” (likely to lead to better surgical outcomes), “conflictive” (potentially jeopardising patient safety) or neutral.
As she describes in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, after analysing each of more than 6,000 exchanged insults and pleasantries, she found that surgical communication does indeed mimic wild-animal behaviour, both collaborative and hostile. In particular, as happens among wild animals, individuals jostle for dominance with others of their own... Continue reading
|↑|5. At any given time in their lives, people have two dozen regular hauntsЧт., 28 июня[−]
I’m sure that one’s not on our list
WHEN it comes to habitat, human beings are creatures of habit. It has been known for a long time that, whether his habitat is a village, a city or, for real globe-trotters, the planet itself, an individual person generally visits the same places regularly. The details, though, have been surprisingly obscure. Now, thanks to an analysis of data collected from 40,000 smartphone users around the world, a new property of humanity’s locomotive habits has been revealed.
It turns out that someone’s “location capacity”, the number of places which he or she visits regularly, remains constant over periods of months and years. What constitutes a “place” depends on what distance between two places makes them separate. But analysing movement patterns helps illuminate the distinction and the researchers found that the average location capacity was 25. If a new location does make its way into the set of places an individual... Continue reading
|↑|6. A big collaboration is trying to understand diseases of the psycheЧт., 28 июня[−]
DISEASES of the psyche have always been slippery things. Schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression and a host of others have no visible markers in the brain. Their symptoms overlap sufficiently that diagnoses may differ between medical practitioners, or even vary over time when given by a single practitioner. In this they are unlike neurological diseases. These either leave organic traces in the brain that, though not always accessible before a patient’s death, are characteristic of the condition in question, or cause recognisable perturbations of things such as electroencephalograms.
The impulse to categorise, though, is enormous—as witness the ever greater number of conditions identified in successive editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association. That is because diagnosis and treatment go hand in hand. But if diagnostic categories are misconceived then treatment may be misapplied. In this context a paper... Continue reading
|↑|7. A paradox at the heart of gift-givingЧт., 28 июня[−]
Ooo! Lovely! Honest...
A FORMER editor of this newspaper once said that “a gift is a sale at a price of zero”. In strict monetary terms this is true. But most people do expect to be paid for gifts, albeit in the non-monetary currency known as “gratitude”. This has many denominations: words of appreciation, hugs and kisses and, particularly, smiles. The wider point our ex-editor was making, though, is pertinent. A gift will cause a misallocation of resources if the recipient would have preferred something else that would have been no more expensive for the donor to acquire.
In this context, a study just published in Psychological Science, by Adelle Yang at the National University of Singapore and Oleg Urminsky at the University of Chicago, looks illuminating. Dr Yang and Dr Urminsky have studied the currency of gratitude and think it may be creating poor incentives. Their hypothesis is that the reason gift-givers sometimes appear to make bad... Continue reading
|↑|8. The eye's structure holds information about the health of the mindЧт., 28 июня[−]
BECAUSE it is locked away inside the skull, the brain is hard to study. Looking at it requires finicky machines which use magnetism or electricity or both to bypass the bone. There is just one tendril of brain tissue that can be seen from outside the body without any mucking about of this sort. That is the retina. Look into someone’s eyes and you are, in some small way, looking at their brain.
This being so, a group of researchers at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, working with others around the world, decided to study the structure of the eye for signs of cognitive decline. Changes in the brain, they reasoned, might lead to changes in the nervous tissue connected to it. They focused on a part of the eye called the retinal nerve-fibre layer (RNFL). This is the lowest layer of the retina and serves to link the light-sensitive tissue above to the synapses which lead to the brain. The team’s results, published in JAMA Neurology this week,... Continue reading
|↑|9. Making medical clothing that kills bugsЧт., 28 июня[−]
AROUND the beginning of the 20th century the medical profession underwent an image makeover. Doctors swapped their traditional black coats for white ones, similar to those worn by scientists in laboratories. This was meant to bolster a physician’s scientific credibility at a time when many practising healers were quacks, charlatans and frauds. As the importance of antiseptics became more widely understood, white was also thought to have the advantage of showing any soiling.
Nowadays many doctors are likely to wear everyday clothes, or blue or green “scrubs”, which are said to reduce eye strain in brightly-lit operating theatres. White coats are reckoned to be capable of spreading diseases as easily as clothing of any other colour, especially when long sleeves brush against multiple surfaces. Many clinics and hospitals now have a “bare below the elbows” policy for staff, whether in uniform or their own clothes. This is also supposed to encourage more thorough handwashing.
What,... Continue reading
|↑|10. Polio has been reported in Papua New GuineaЧт., 28 июня[−]
ON JUNE 8th reports of a suspected case of polio came from Venezuela. Fortunately, it turned out to be a false alarm. The report that came from Papua New Guinea on June 22nd, though, is no fiction. It was issued by the World Health Organisation and concerns not one, but three children who have tested positive for a threatening polio virus.
Around the world, polio is in full retreat. A mere three countries are still known to harbour wild polio viruses. These are Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan. In 2017 only 22 cases of polio caused by such wild viruses came to the attention of the authorities. Unfortunately, the reason for this success, which is the extensive vaccination against polio of children throughout the world, can occasionally backfire and itself cause polio outbreaks.
In many countries polio vaccine includes live, attenuated viruses which breed in the recipient’s intestines and then enter the bloodstream, thereby triggering a protective immune response. An... Continue reading
|↑|11. Some science journals that claim to peer review papers do not do soЧт., 21 июня[−]
WHETHER to get a promotion or merely a foot in the door, academics have long known that they must publish papers, typically the more the better. Tallying scholarly publications to evaluate their authors has been common since the invention of scientific journals in the 17th century. So, too, has the practice of journal editors asking independent, usually anonymous, experts to scrutinise manuscripts and reject those deemed flawed—a quality-control process now known as peer review. Of late, however, this habit of according importance to papers labelled as “peer reviewed” has become something of a gamble. A rising number of journals that claim to review submissions in this way do not bother to do so. Not coincidentally, this seems to be leading some academics to inflate their publication lists with papers that might not pass such scrutiny.
Experts debate how many journals falsely claim to engage in peer review. Cabells, an analytics firm in Texas, has compiled a blacklist of those which... Continue reading
|↑|12. A new species of gibbon is found in a 2,200-year-old tombЧт., 21 июня[−]
ROYAL burials are just not what they used to be. While still a child, Qin Shihuang, who founded the Qin dynasty and unified China in 221BC, ordered a mausoleum built for himself that would measure 6.3km across at its widest point and include over 8,000 terracotta figures. His grandmother, Lady Xia, was also buried with several companions. When her tomb near Xi’an was excavated in 2004, archaeologists found in it the remains of a leopard, a lynx, a crane and a gibbon—a type of small ape.
Gibbons were treasured in ancient China. They served as pets for the elite in Lady Xia’s time and as models for fine art a few hundred years later. But the bones from the tomb are particularly extraordinary. In a paper published this week in Science, Samuel Turvey of the Institute of Zoology, in London, and his colleagues, show that they match those of no gibbon alive, so must come from a species that has become extinct since Lady Xia’s day.
The gibbon received a burial fit... Continue reading