Mount Everest is often the site of impressive physical feats, as climbers brave brutal conditions to scale the tallest peak in the world. But the extreme altitude takes quite a toll on the body, causing hypoxia, muscle loss, sleep apnea, and other ill effects. Many of the same symptoms are more commonly found in elderly patients suffering from heart conditions or other chronic ailments—meaning Everest provides a natural laboratory for researchers to gain a better understanding of these diseases.
What’s the News: Keeping track of what’s happening inside the body often requires a great deal of equipment outside it: Just think of the tangle of sensors in any hospital room. Now, though, engineers have developed an ultra-thin electrical circuit that can be pasted onto the skin just like a temporary tattoo. Once it’s served its purpose, you can simply peel it off. These patches could be provide a simpler, less restrictive way to monitor a patient’s vital signs, or even let wearers command a computer with speech or other slight movements.
The silicon from which most electronics are built is a useful, durable material up to about 350 degrees Fahrenheit (but don’t go sticking your iPhone in the oven). Three hundred fifty isn’t bad, says engineer Alton Horsfall of Newcastle University in the U.K., but not nearly good enough for his mission: monitoring volcanoes. Horsfall and colleague Nick Wright say their research into a different material, silicon carbide (SiC), shows that it could work at temperatures in excess of 1,000 degrees F, and might be just what they need to keep watch on inhospitable places like the blazing-hot mouth of a volcano.
The silicon and carbon in silicon carbide bond very strongly, permitting them to survive extreme temperatures. But the material’s pricey and hard to work with for the same reason. So while organizations like NASA have done silicon carbide research, the material hasn’t spread to a multitude of applications.