What’s the News: Researchers at the Scripps Research Institute have now created a vaccine that prevents a heroin high in rats. The vaccine, detailed in a recent study in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, stimulates antibodies that can stop not only heroin but also its derivative psychoactive compounds from reaching the brain.
Whip out that red pen and make just a few…little…tweaks…
The physical world should feel a little more comfy now: Gravity is a little bit less than it was last Thursday. And the electromagnetic force? A smidge stronger.
Every four years, the National Institute of Standards and Technology posts internationally determined adjustments to the official values of such natural constants to reflect more accurate measurements made possible by advancing technology. This week, in the latest update, the radius of a proton, the speed of light, the Planck constant, and many, many others have received facelifts that will decrease uncertainty in physics measurements. But this update will also affect units much closer to home: In October, the General Conference on Weights and Measures will vote on a measure to base the definition of a kilogram on the values of such natural constants, instead of the 130-year-old slug of platinum and iridium that currently holds the title.
For the time being, the current upgrade will likely trickle down to we armchair physicists once Google Calculator, the search giant’s handy-dandy constant provider, starts using the new numbers. Judging from its current value for the Planck constant, it’s still working from the 2006 data.
Image credit: Mohr,Talbott/NIST
Michael Zasloff, a researcher at the Georgetown University Medical Center, has discovered that bottlenose dolphins have “miraculous” healing powers: within several weeks they can heal from basketball-sized injuries, without any lasting disfigurements. Moreover, the injuries, presumably from clashes with sharks, don’t seem to cause the animals any apparent pain and don’t become visibly infected. Several abilities seem to be working together to promote healing; for example, Zasloff hypothesizes that bottlenose dolphins prevent bleeding to death by restricting blood flow to certain areas of their bodies, giving large gashes time to clot.
[Read more (and see pictures) at LiveScience.]
A few years ago, scientists observed that some bottle-nosed dolphins held sponges in their beaks as they poked around the ocean floor, flushing out fish they promptly gobbled up—and that mothers taught this trick to their daughters. In a follow-up study published yesterday, the scientists shed some light on why dolphins go to all this trouble: They’re after fatty, energy-rich fish on the seafloor, and the sponges let them scare up a snack without scraping their beaks on sharp rocks or coral.
What’s the News: What if the egg is fine and the sperm is dandy, but you still can’t seem to have a baby? Couples who are having trouble conceiving can testify to the frustration of learning that there’s no clear reason for their infertility. Now, however, scientists have found a genetic mutation that makes outwardly normal sperm much less fertile, potentially explaining many such cases and suggesting new routes to conception.
Atoms sometimes release alpha particles during radioactive decay.
What’s the News: An international team of researchers has completed the most precise measurement of the Earth’s radioactivity to date. By analyzing subatomic particles streaming out of the interior of the planet, the geologists and physicists discovered that the radioactive decay of several elements generates roughly half of the Earth’s total heat output. Their results were published recently in the journal Nature Geoscience.
What’s the News: By knocking out a single gene, scientists at the University of Pennsylvania have significantly increased the physical endurance of lab mice, as explained in their recent paper in the Journal of Clinical Investigation. The researchers also found that certain variants of the same gene may be linked to greater endurance in humans.
Modern microchip designers have numerous digital backup copies of their work. But in the early days of home computers, chip designs were drawn out by hand on sheaves of paper, many of which have since gone missing. In the last 30 years, we have already forgotten how the first chips that brought computers into our homes worked.
A team of enthusiasts calling themselves “digital archaeologists” have reconstructed the design of several key early chips, including the MOS 6502. The name might not be familiar, but if you’re of a certain age, you used it in such early computing gems at the Atari, the Commodore, the Apple I and II, and, of course, the Nintendo Entertainment System. (It also appears to have powered the Terminator—Nikhil Swaminathan at Archaeology Magazine, who has written a delightful feature on the project, notes that when the 1984 film switches to the killing machine’s point of view, 6502 code is running up the side of the screen.) By dissecting the chip with acid and photographing each layer of its workings, they’ve developed a map of its circuits that can be plugged into a programmable chip and used to play Atari games, as well as serve as a resource for understanding how early chips were designed.
Image credit: Visual 6502 project
What’s the News: Bacteria are known for sprouting spindly limbs and pulling themselves along surfaces like miniature octopi. But a new study shows that by tacking down one limb, pulling it till it’s taut, and then letting go, bacteria can also use the limbs to slingshot themselves around.
What’s the News: Biochemists at the University of Arizona have found a promising new way to fight disease-carrying mosquitoes. In their research project, published in the journal PNAS, the scientists blocked mosquitoes’ ability to digest blood, making blood-sucking deadly to the winged pests. This technique could someday be used alongside other strategies to battle mosquitoes, like repellents and traps.