By Robert Wheatley – Health and Innovation Editor
Insect populations are declining, but representation of women in NASA could be improving: a lot’s been happening, both politically and technologically! From AI predicting heart attacks to teenagers redefining neurological treatments, here’s a short summary of what’s new in science.
Now in its 75th year, the Regeneron Science Talent Search, a research-based science competition for US high school seniors, has selected its finalists for its 2017 awards. The scientists involved in the competition face a highly selective process, it made harder for those that lack access to private laboratories or research teams at universities, but winners will be awarded a valuable cash prize of up to $250,000.
Much like this year’s overall winner, Indrani Das, did. Over three-years Das studied brain injuries, eventually identifying a potential major mechanism that causes brain cell death, as well as a possible way of treating it.
Scientists have already been tracking an alarming decline in certain species of insects like honey bees, monarch butterflies, beetles and even moths and certain types of flies. But recent long-term data reveals a concerning drop of insects in places like Europe, with the Krefeld Entomological Society finding recent insect catches reflecting an almost 80% decline in their custom-traps.
While humans may be indifferent about the change in insect populations, and may even be pleased to know of their disappearance, it’s a concern for the species that rely on these insects, and, in turn, “… we can cause massive damage to biodiversity – damage that harms us.”
We’ve come a long way with AI (artificial intelligence), from machines that simply follow very specific commands up to cars that are now driving by themselves. But we’re not just producing machines that benefit capitalism, or ending our frustration with parking cars: engineers and programmers have been building machines that benefit health care in many ways, some of which providing solutions to medical ethical questions like MedEthEx.
Very recently, however, Stephen Weng, an epidemiologist at the University of Nottingham, along with his colleagues have started testing AI algorithms that train themselves to predict cases of cardiovascular disease; using data from over 290,000 recorded cases. So far, in comparison to doctors utilizing ACC/AHA guidelines to detect symptoms of heart disease, one of the four algorithms predicted 7.6% better than humans.
Over the past 15 years, women made up only 15% of planetary mission science teams, despite representing a quarter of planetary scientists by gender. Even worse is the disparity for ethnic minorities who, at most, make up a shocking 1% for each ethnic group’s representation in planetary science. In December 2016, NASA decided to use its New Frontiers competition as a way of recognizing this disparity, ruling that it “fully expects that such values” of diversity and representation “will be reflected in the composition of its proposal teams”.
While it’s not establishing quotas on diversity, Maria Zuber, vice president for research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says she hopes the inclusive language “will at least make people think” about awareness of unconscious biases; something that plagues most scientific disciplines.
A team of researchers from the Technical University of Denmark, Kongens Lyngby, have developed a new printing technique that carves nanostructures with a laser to form prints; not only preventing color fading, but allowing prints to be as small as 50 by 50 micrometres.
By using plastic as a foundation, edited to form nanoscopic pillars across it, and melting the wonderfully reflective element germanium atop them, the combination ends up reflecting a specific color. This is then used to form a print, which can form image resolutions of an incredible 127,000 dots per inch; 6.35 times more than a traditional laser printer can print!