Science News (May 2018)

Hawking’s Final Research

Prof Stephen Hawking is still making waves amongst scientists with the release of his final research paper that suggests that the universe that we know may be one of many mirroring our own. This comes from Hawking’s own Cosmic Paradox Theory, paving a way forward for future researchers and scientists to explore and find their own evidence of parallel universes.

Hawking’s, theories were released and submitted to the Journal of High-Energy Physics just 10 days prior to his death in March this year. Hawking’s proposed his new theories in a paper jointly written with fellow Professor Thomas Hertog from KU Leuven based in Belgium, and funded by the European Research Council. Assessments made by both Hawking and Hertog have indicated that other universes can have the same laws of physics that mirror ours, estimating that our Universe is a typical example, and by using this information, it was theoretically possible to investigate how new and other universes could be developed.

The work undertaken by Hawking and Hertog will be no doubt leaving physicists with further questions, and a thirst to complete Hawking’s work and theories about the birth of the universe. Hertog, commenting on Hawking’s work said that, “The laws of physics that we test in our labs did not exist forever. They crystallised after the Big Bang when the universe expanded and cooled. The kind of laws that emerge depends very much on the physical conditions at the Big Bang. By studying these we aim to get a deeper understanding of where our physical theories come from, how they arise, and whether they are unique.”

Hertog believes that the findings could help researchers to detect other universes using studies of microwave radiation,  remnants of the echo from the Big Bang – although space hopping between one universe to another will not be possible.

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Can brains survive alive without a body?

Scientists have used pigs brains to investigate if brains can survive without a body by keeping them alive for up to 36 hours with a body.

The unconscious brains are being kept alive using an oxygen rich fluid which is passed through the organ. Scientists from Yale University, led by Neuroscientist Nenad Sestan, have reassured sceptics that the brains are not conscious, adding that if the research is successful, then it will allow further research into how the brain works. It will also help to discover treatments for brain related diseases such as cancer and dementia.

Their findings have been published in the MIT Technology Review, and followed up with a seminar by Sestan held at a meeting of the US National Institute of Health in March. His comments have received a mixed reaction from other scientists. Anna Devor, a neuroscientist from the University of California, San Diego commented that the developments could help to develop a ‘brain atlas’. Other scientists have also been quick to comment about the developments, reinforcing the fact that people should not expect to cheat death anytime soon, and that this particular development did not mean that it would be possible to move a brain from one body to another.

Sestan assured his audience that the animal brain is not aware of anything, explaining that it is the beginning of this development, and that the future of brain research will be undertaken using these early steps with a view to restoring brain function and activity. Following his early research, Sestan added that should a brain be restored and the person have memory then it would be a complete surprise to him.

Professor of Neurodegeneration, at the University College, London, Frances Edwards believes the research could be useful in the study of cells and the workings of the brain’s large network of complex systems, whilst providing an opportunity for the development of imaging techniques. Edwards was also quick to back up the fact that there was no hope of brain transplants being performed.

“It would be a major, pretty much impossible step even to get this far with a human brain,” she said. “Both in the pig and in a human, the whole brain is only available at death, but in the pig, you are taking a healthy animal and able to control exactly when and how it dies and immediately take out the brain. It would need to be cooled within a few minutes and then only rewarmed when oxygenated.”

This is not possible for humans, even those who have been declared brain dead; by the time the brain would be physically accessible, it would have already been compromised. Edwards also commented that she sees the benefits of performing the experiments, however she also has the belief that the results will not be useful for humans at this present time.

The experiments completed by Sestan and his team have used more than 100 pigs brains recovered from slaughterhouses. The cells were kept alive using a complex system called ‘BrainEx’, a system that has been designed to circulate the oxygenated rich fluid around the brain. This is not a scientific first – animal brains have been kept alive outside of a host body on previous occasions. Guinea pig brains were the first ones to be used for such experiments, and Edwards has also acknowledged that the brain stems and hearts of rodents including mice have been used in other investigations to see how long they can survive outside the body.

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World’s oldest spider dies

Australian scientists recently announced that the world’s oldest known spider has died at the age of 43. Born in the wild in 1974, the female known as ‘number 16’, called Giaus Villosus or “trapdoor spider” has been regularly observed. The reason behind its survival has been credited to the fact that it has stuck to one protected burrow, therefore using the minimum amount of energy. The eldest spider previously was a tarantula from Mexico and died at the age of 28.

“Number 16’ has been the pet project of scientist Barbara York Main, now nearly ninety herself, who has been custodian of the spider since it’s birth in 1974. York Main’s work was published in the Pacific Conservation Biology Journal.  Leanda Mason, who is both a student of Professor York Main’s and the study’s lead author said that this is currently the eldest spider on record. Her lifespan has allowed scientists to explore the life of the Trapdoor Spider , including their behaviour and dynamics.

“Through Barbara’s detailed research, we were able to determine that the extensive life span of the Trapdoor Spider is due to their life-history traits, including how they live in uncleared, native bushland, their sedentary nature and low metabolisms.”

Trapdoor Spiders are poisonous. The males of the species leave the burrow to find a mate, and it is usually at this point that they are usually encountered by humans. In Australia, the main danger for humans is thinking that the spider is dead in their pool. It is when they are disturbed that they then attack. It typically takes between five and seven years for the Trapdoor Spider to mature. They then invest their energies in a single burrow. It is rare for the female to venture more than a few metres away from their place of birth.

Mason and the research team were disappointed following the death of Number 16, as they had hoped that she could have made half a century.

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Journey to the centre of the Red Planet

NASA have launched their latest mission to Mars. Mission ‘Insight’ will go down in history as the first probe to investigate the interior of the Red Planet, launched from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California last Saturday.

Insight is due to land on Mars in November, and will position seismometers upon the surface to measure and search for  Martian tremors. The results of the investigations should give us an insight of how the rock under Mars’ surface is structured, as well as allowing comparisons to the formations found here on Earth.

Seismic waves will travel through the surface while collecting data when moving through different underground terrain maps. This data will then be sent back to Earth, where scientists will eventually use the information and data to create a three-dimensional internal view of the Red Planet.

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Scientific News (April 2018)

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