Scientific News (June 2018)

Fourth man on the moon dies aged 86

Alan Bean, Former US Astronaut, known as the fourth man to step foot on the moon has passed away at the age of 86 in a hospital in Houston, Texas after a short illness. Bean was known in later life as an accomplished artist, who used the theme of space as the inspiration for his artwork. Bean has been described by fellow Astronaut, Mike Massimio as “the most extraordinary person” he had ever met with his contributions and combinations of technical accomplishments within astronautics and his artistic flair.

Bean was selected as a NASA trainee during 1963 following his original occupation as an US Navy test pilot. He is remembered for being a member of the Apollo 12 crew, walking upon the surface of the moon in late 1969 and commanding a second Skylab crew in 1973, America’s first space station. Following his retirement in 1981 from the space agency, he channelled his memories of his astronaut days through art.

In a previous interview, Bean was asked about what is was like to walk upon the surface of the moon. He described the difficulties and complexities that the team faced. “We knew how difficult it was. We knew how many things had to go right. This is like going half way across the Sahara Desert and stopping your car and getting out and camping out for a couple of days and then hoping when you start it up the battery works because if doesn’t you’re up **** creek.”

Bean followed in the steps of Neil Armstrong, Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin and Pete Conrad – out of the 4 first men to step on the moon, it is now only Aldrin that survives at the ripe old age of 88. A total of 24 people have actually flown the full distance to the moon, and of those only 12 of them have felt the surface of the moon under their feet.

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Major water shortages by 2050?

The Environment Agency has warned that the United Kingdom could see major water shortages by 2050 if changes are not made to control the way that water is used and wasted. The Agency have reported that currently it is estimated that the water wasted at present is enough to provide for 20 million people across the nation.

With the population continuing to grow, and taking climate change into account, additional pressure on water supplies will be inevitable. The Environmental Agency are urging consumers to use less water within their homes and to become more conscientious about the amount they use and then waste.

It was reported that during 2016, freshwater amounting to over 9,500 billion litres was used from rivers, lakes, reservoirs and from underground wells. Approximately 55% of this water was used by public owned water companies, with another 27% being used for the electricity industry. In addition to this, it has emerged that over 3 billion litres of water were wasted, either caused by leakages or from other problems within the supply systems involved.

Full investigations will be undertaken with further questions to water supply companies by OFWAT.  London has been recognised as one of the 11 cities from across the globe that could eventually run dry of drinking water should steps not be taken to protect the supply system.

Water extracted from beneath the Earth’s surface has been reported as being at unsustainable levels. In 2016, it was reported that 28% of groundwater failed to meet sustainable levels, with 18% of surface waters in the same situation. Many bodies of water were recorded as not achieving “a good ecological status or potential”. Chalk streams also were amongst those with failed recordings.

The Environmental Agency wants to see attitudes changing surrounding water use. Emma Howard-Boyd, chairperson at the Environment Agency, described water as the most “fundamental thing needed to ensure a healthy environment”, and wants to see water companies, the Agency and consumers working closely together to secure the future of water supplies across the United Kingdom.

Improvements over the last ten decades have been seen when it comes to domestic consumption, and less water leaks have been reported that there were 30 years ago. However, there is a lot of work still to be done to protect the supplies. It is estimated that people use 140 litres daily around the UK; the Environment Agency would like to see the government and water industries working towards a “personal consumption target”, which would have to be cost-effective with clear outlines needing to be outlined in order to produce such targets. Government agencies have made suggestions to reduce an individual’s water use to 100 litres a day in a published 25 year plan earlier this year.

Households are said to use three quarters of their water usage around the home, such as washing, flushing the toilet, running taps, using the washing machines and dishwasher. The government, water industries and the Environment Agency want to see a “greater awareness” surrounding household water supplies.

In no way are the Environment Agency threatening to switch off supplies – their work solely lies upon highlighting the issues and making householders aware of their usage, and what they can do to reduce water consumption within their homes. By encouraging householders to make simple changes such as updating toilet flushing systems, reducing the use of their washing machines and dishwashers. Over a period  of time, water supplies will start to improve if each household were to make these small changes.

The blame isn’t entirely on UK householders though. The Environment Agency are also looking into climate change and the growing population. We cannot get away from the fact that temperatures are rising, and the seasons are changing which affects the amount of rainfall that hydrates our rivers and underground supplies. The Agency states that no predictions have been made that take into account the reduction of summer rainfall, however, we are more inclined to see larger and heavier downpours that could increase droughts and flash flooding. A reduction of rain during the summer months and temperatures increasing as the years pass, could cause further evaporation and damage to the UK’s wetlands.

By 2026, we are expecting to see an increase in the UK’s population. This increase has currently been estimated to be 58.5 million with growth in areas where the water supply is already under pressure. Current predictions show that if no action is taken to protect water supplies, the UK’s supplies will not be able to meet the demands of the consumer. It is believed that currently, the South East of England will be the hardest hit by the 2050’s.

The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) who provides the government with impartial, expert advice on major long-term infrastructure challenges has made suggestions to move water from the North of England to the South as part of their future development plans. This would ensure that consumers with a greater need would have access to fresh water supplies. A report from the NIC stated that “there must be a concerted effort by industry to encourage consumers to use water more efficiently – and with a fifth of our mains water lost to leakages, they must also take steps to halve the amount lost this way by 2050.”

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Jodrell Bank banking on Brexit

Teresa May has made her strongest commitment yet with a proposal for a £68 billion “Special Research Relationship” with the European Union after Brexit at Jodrell Bank. The Prime Minister has outlined within the proposal that the UK is prepared to contribute fully in return for a “suitable level of influence”.

Although Non-EU members have been eligible to receive research funding from the EU, non-EU members do not have privileged rights in developments and research projects. Since the decision to leave the EU, researchers based within the UK have been concerned that Brexit could damage the future of UK research, so scientists have welcomed the Prime Ministers announcement.

Between 2007-2013 it is believed that the UK received approximately £8 billion from the EU for research. But being a member of the Framework programme also meant that British Scientists had a say and were able to participate and influence European research projects. May has proposed that UK scientists are to continue with their influence surrounding EU research and projects.

May’s statement said, “Of course, such an association would involve an “appropriate” UK financial contribution, which we would willingly make. In return for that contribution, we would look to maintain a suitable level of influence in line with our financial contribution and the benefits we bring.”

It is understood that the Prime Ministers statement is saying that under her new proposed terms, the United Kingdom will not be expected to pay any more than what the UK already puts into the EU for science and research. Although negotiations are still in their infancy, the UK Research Community have urged the government to actively pursue these arrangements, in the belief that the sooner the government can come to an agreement with the EU, the sooner teams of researchers and scientists can concentrate on their projects.

The Prime Minister is also aware of the restrictions and concerns in place with immigration, causing additional pressures with the UK research sphere. She pointed out that the immigration system is fully supportive of “international collaboration”, and no cap will be added to universities and the number of students coming from abroad when the UK leaves the European Union. The Prime Minister wants to welcome bright, talented and fresh researchers into the country and our universities where their contributions will be valuable.splitpage-sci

Scientists find what makes Malarial Mosquitos tick

Genetic studies and a group of researchers from the Wellcome Sanger Institute based in Cambridge have revealed how Malaria became a deadly disease to humans.  The team of researchers used seven strains of malaria and compared their findings, each time tracing the parasites’ origins. The revolutionary findings published in the journal, Nature Microbiology, revealed that approximately 50,000 years ago, the malaria parasite separated from its parent strain, and evolved into what has been described as the most “deadly human-infecting species”.

The study revealed that one of the sections that was diverted was a genetic aspect that allowed malaria to infect the red blood cells within humans – described as a “Chunk of deadly DNA”.  Dr Matt Berriman based at the Institute explained that the study has revealed and pieced together sequences in a series of events that saw the parasites enter humans, divide and the transferred by mosquitoes.

More than 200 million people each year are infected with the malaria parasite. The deadly disease caused nearly half a million deaths across the world in 2016, with most of those deaths being children under the age of 5 years old, according to figures from the World Health Organisation.

‘Plasmodium Falciparum’ is renowned to be the deadliest species of the parasite, often killing its victim, infeected by a bite from a female Anopheles mosquito. The parasite’s victims also include our human cousins, the apes, chimpanzees and gorillas. The Gabon Sanctuary in Central Africa provides aid to rescued primates. Researchers have joined forces with a group of carers that look after injured and orphaned apes, and as part of their care and health checks, blood samples were taken. The results showed a series of malarial genetic codes that researchers and scientists were able to use to trace some of its genetic markers.

Out of the seven variations of malaria that were examined throughout the research, there were three that infected chimpanzees, three that infected gorillas, the last of which causes death amongst humans. Using the comparisons within the genetics of the species, investigations showed how the genetic codes had managed to become shuffled whilst the parasite evolved, it was during this shuffling that the “recipe” for the deadly Plasmodium Falciparum emerged.

The research teams discovered that the ancestry that lead to the Plasmodium Falciparum parasite developed 50,000 years ago, but indications are that it did not become a human-specific parasite until 3,000 to 4,000 years ago. It was the modern human that created an ideal environment in which the parasites could thrive and evolve furthermore into ‘human-specific form’. Professor Janet Hemingway, the Director of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine has welcomed the important research as it is able to answer many questions, and builds a picture of how the disease has been able to cross species. Malaria is often thought of as a human disease, and it is often forgotten that it started as a zoonotic disease, in other words a disease that can be transmitted from animals to people or, more specifically, a disease that normally exists in animals but that can infect humans.

Hemingway said of the findings, “It does perhaps underline why it is so important that we react to current movement of animal parasites and viruses into humans and do not give them chance to become permanently transmitted from human to human.”

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Lab Bits to close down

The Starjammer Group have announced that Lab Bits, its laboratory and scientific equipment auction site, is to close down at midnight on Friday 8th June 2018.  “The decision to close the site was based purely on the buying behaviours of those in the scientific and educational communities that we dealt with”, according to Steven Parham, the Managing Director of the Starjammer Group, that owns the brand and concept. “It’s a real shame, as we have met and dealt with some amazing, friendly and helpful companies that were all very keen on working with us, but in the end the academic community is geared towards the antiquated method of buying equipment, which is from a catalogue, not online”.

While the website had many early adopters and subscribers, and was popular online in social media and with the academic community, the overall sales and turnover of the operation showed a different picture.  The Starjammer Group has absorbed the running costs over the past four years of the project as a whole, and while everyone involved in the group gave the concept their all, the end profit margin wasn’t anywhere sufficient enough to warrant its long term survival.

Hopes of selling on the site to several interested parties were also quashed after consultation with industry experts, suppliers and the target customers. Starjammer Scientific, the research and development side of the group, will continue to operate as normal with several other projects in the pipeline.

 

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Scientific News (May 2018)

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