We’re not supposed to look at the sun, but no one said anything about listening. If you, like amateur astronomer Thomas Ashcraft, had your radio tuned to the right frequency last Saturday evening, you would have heard the garbled effects of a solar flare drowning out radio waves here on Earth after it erupted on the surface of the sun. For those of you who still want to listen after the fact, you’re in luck:
Thomas Ashcraft is an independent, self-taught radio astronomer who operates his own Heliotown Observatory in north central New Mexico. Using optical telescopes and radio instruments, Ashcraft keeps an eye (and an ear) on the Sun, Jupiter, meteoric fireballs and transient luminous events called red sprites. He recorded the sound of the solar flare this weekend and shared his methodology and thoughts with DISCOVER writer Breanna Draxler via e-mail.
With some clever genetic engineering but without ever touching a cell or an animal, scientist can remotely control cells using ultrasound, light, and, now, also radio waves. The electromagnetic waves can be used to selectively heat up parts of cells and activate a gene to make insulin in mice, according to a recent study published in Science.
But why care about radio waves if we have light and ultrasound? Radio waves have a couple distinct advantages over existing techniques.
In the current study, the radio waves didn’t heat up a whole patch of tissue or even a whole cell—it only affected specific pores in the cell, called TRPV1, that open in response to heat. To get this specificity, the scientists made special iron oxide nanoparticles attached to an antibody that only sticks to TRPV1. When they turned on the radio waves, the iron oxide particles warmed up and opened the TRPV1 channel, minimally affecting the rest of the cell or surrounding cells. Ultrasound, on the other hand, heats up a whole patch of tissue to 42° Celsius, which could have damaging or confounding effects on the cells.
What’s the News: A group of physicists say they’ve found a way to account for the mysterious radio signals that may be emanating from colonies of E. coli—and it’s not because they’re trying to get our attention.
Could a blast of radio waves keep the hypertension away? For patients whose high blood pressure doesn’t respond to regular medication, a treatment reported in The Lancet aims to do just that.
The minimally invasive procedure is similar to angioplasty for heart disease but involves deactivating nerves in the kidney which play a key role in regulating blood pressure. A catheter is inserted into the femoral vein in the thigh and threaded through to the kidney. Then a burst of radio-frequency energy is used to disable the nerves [The Independent].
Normal systolic blood pressure is considered 120; hypertension is defined as being over 140. In this trial, the team led by Murray Esler studied the effect of the radio treatment on more than 100 people who had very high levels—an average of 178—despite taking high blood pressure medication.
After six months, the systolic blood pressure had fallen by at least 10 mmHg in 84 per cent of those who received the treatment. This is expected to reduce their risk of stroke by more than 30 per cent. Esler is unsure why it was not effective for all patients. He speculates that some were not “zapped enough”. [New Scientist]