Category Archives: Science News

Damaged nerves are repairable with polymers and proteins

Damaged nerves may in the future be repairable with special guides made of artificial polymers as described by researchers at the School of Medicine of the University of Pittsburgh. The researchers have created a biodegradable nerve guide, practically a small tube, made of a particular polymer. The tube is filled with proteins that in turn promote the growth of the damaged nerve section.

This means that, with a biodegradable “bridge” like this, there would be no need for any stem cell or donor nerve transplant. In the study, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, is described this “nerve guide” made without cells that can “bridge a large 2-inch gap between the nerve stump and its target muscle,” as explained by Kacey Marra, Professor of Plastic Surgery at the aforementioned university and one of the authors of the study.

The problem with damaged nerves lies in the fact that, although they can grow back naturally, they cannot grow back up to a certain length. If the damaged nerve section is too long, the nerve can no longer grow back to its “target.” At this point, the nerve begins to knot and becomes a ball that can also cause pain, a condition called neuroma.

The researchers tested the new nerve guide in the legs of four monkeys and obtained excellent results.

A new Jovian exoplanet (KELT-9b) has been analysed by astronomers: here are its strange features

The so-called warm Jovian planets are among the strangest of all. They are gas giants that revolve around the star much closer than, for example, Jupiter, and because of this, they have a much higher surface temperature. Now researchers have looked more closely at the atmosphere of the planet KELT-9b, one of the warm Jovians with the hottest atmosphere ever.

The new observations confirm the strangeness of this type of planet. The planet has a mass of almost three times that of Jupiter and orbits around its star, about 670 light-years away from us, so close that it takes only a day and a half to make a complete revolution, the one that the Earth makes in a year around the Sun. For this reason, the planet is “stuck”: it always has only one face facing the star while on the opposite side there is eternal night.

Using data from the Spitzer Space Telescope, the researchers realized that the heat of the atmosphere on the “diurnal” side of this planet is so high that even the molecules can’t remain intact. For example, hydrogen gas molecules are torn apart and are unable to reform until the atoms that make them up are on the “night” side. On this side, the slightly lower temperature allows these atoms to reform the molecules.

The dayside has such an extreme temperature that these planets are the only ones with such characteristics, as the researchers explain in their study published in Astrophysical Journal Letters. KELT-9b was discovered in 2017 thanks to Kilodegree Extremely Little Telescope (KELT), a program that used two robotic telescopes, one from Arizona and another from South Africa.

An interesting characteristic of this planet is that the temperature on its nightside was barely lower than the temperature on its dayside. This represented a characteristic that surprised the researchers themselves because usually such planets, which always have the same side facing the star, present considerable differences in temperature between one side and the other, something that does not appear in this case. Probably there is a continuous flow of heat that, thanks to strong winds, is constantly facing the dayside towards the night side.

Backpack that generates electricity from walking can also power a smartphone

A backpack that creates electricity from the movement of the body, specifically that of walking, was created by a group of researchers at Queen’s University. Unlike other devices that generate electricity from body movement, this should produce enough electricity to be really useful.

The device, made up of various parts that can be set in a sort of frame which can then be transported just like a backpack by means of two buckles, produces electricity from the sway that the body does when walking. At the top, there is a weight attached to a sort of pendulum that swings back and forth when the person walks.

The lower end of the pendulum is then connected to an electrical module designed to collect the energy of the movement transforming it into electricity. The bigger the weight of the upper part, the more energy the device collects and the more electricity is generated. This means that the backpack can be heavier or less heavy depending on the electricity you want to collect or even on the needs of the carrier.

With a weight of about 9 pounds, the device can generate enough electricity to power an emergency beacon or a GPS receiver. Adding more than 35 liters, the device is then able to generate a sufficient quantity to power a smartphone.

The device could be used for all those people who work in remote areas or who have to explore an area where there is no electricity supply. The same researchers note that there is no need to move any crank or to perform any special gesture to raise electricity: just walking (and of course bear the weight on the shoulders).

The study was published in the Royal Society Open Science.

Pollution of oil and gas production sites in the USA also visible from space

As evidence that oil and gas extraction has increased in several areas of the United States, a new study published in Geophysical Research Letters also uses satellite imagery to understand the impact levels of such a trend.

The researchers, as Barbara Dix of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado Boulder explains, were able to understand the growing impact of fossil fuel extraction in the United States even from satellites: “We are really at the point where we can use satellite data to provide feedback to companies and regulators and see if they are successful in regulating emissions.”

Together with her team, helped by another team of Dutch researchers, Dix used satellite tools to understand nitrogen oxide pollution, including nitrogen dioxide, from engines in large US oil and gas field factories. It is combustion engines that produce nitrogen oxides, gases that are irritating to the human respiratory system and also harmful in other respects.

We are talking about engines for drilling the ground, for the compression of gases, for the separation of liquids and gases and for moving the gas and oil themselves through pipes and storage containers, as explained by Joost de Gouw, professor of chemistry who participated in the study.

The results showed that between 2007 and 2019, in the United States, while the level of nitrogen dioxide pollution caused by vehicles and different types of power plants, many of which became electric, was decreasing, the same cannot be said for specific areas that are then those of oil and gas extraction, especially in New Mexico, Texas and North Dakota.

Solar panels modified to distill water with wasted heat

A group of researchers has discovered that it is possible to capture and use the heat wasted in solar panels for a water distillation process to become clean.

In the study, researchers from King Abdullah University for Science and Technology have in fact made changes to classic solar panels to allow and facilitate a salt water purification process so that it can be drunk safely.

The researchers added several layers under the solar panels that included a three-stage distillation unit. The heat that is not intercepted by the solar panel comes out from the back of the panel where it is used to heat saltwater. Once the latter has evaporated, it passes through a membrane and then condenses and eventually becomes drinking water.

In addition to removing the salt, this distillation process also removes dirt and other particles, particularly dangerous heavy metals. Furthermore, the solar panels modified in this way can produce more efficiently the distilled water than the so-called “solar stills,” water desalinators usually used in emergency situations.

Furthermore, the same solar panels do not see their efficiency reduced: they simply use the heat that would otherwise be lost. Such systems could, of course, be used in all places where drinking water is not easily found but saltwater is present, for example near the sea.

The study was published in Nature Communications.