Science Sunday 05-21-17

Ovarian Bioprosthetics

Many young girls, some prepubescent, undergo cancer treatments that lead to sterility. The tragedy is that while their lives are saved, they cannot themselves have children later in life.

Some of these cancer victims have their eggs harvested before the onset of the inevitable chemo, but that doesn’t help them to carry offspring to term, as their reproductive organs are destroyed, a devastating consequence of their necessary medical interventions.

Now it seems that scientists at Northwestern University, in conjunction with Lurie Children’s Hospital, are working to reverse this outcome.

Dr. Monica Laronda — working with Drs. Teresa Woodruff and Ramille Shah, and using “3-D printing of an extracellular matrix” — has successfully implanted an “ovarian bioprosthesis” in infertile female mice, allowing those mice to have (and to nurse) their own offspring.

You can read more about this exciting medical development here.

Light

It’s always “fun” to tackle the subject of light, also known as electromagnetic radiation.  For an aspect of nature so close to our totality of experience, it is surprisingly mysterious in nature.

Is light a wave phenomenon or a stream of particles, or both?  Various light phenomena support one model over the other, and vice-versa, but clearly the two models seem incompatible.  Nevertheless, this split nature of light is our current best understanding of it.

I was surprised to find from the above Kurgesagt video that the wavelengths of light we see (400 to 700 nanometers) probably were “naturally selected” for us, because those wavelengths are the only ones that travel more or less unimpeded in water (or sea water).

 

Flammable Ice

Remember back in the 1970s when every few years there was talk that the world was running out of oil reserves and soon there would be a massive economic dislocation resulting from severe shortages of gasoline?

The fallback was that there would always be coal for home heating and the like, with coal by comparison having seemingly unlimited reserves.  There was also natural gas, which was then (and continues to be) comparatively abundant.

The question in those days was how were we going to keep driving our eight cylinder low mileage “car boats” without cheap gas?

[There was no serious talk at that time about global warming and renewable energy sources.]

It turns out that in the 1960s, a new source of natural gas (methane hydrates) was discovered in Russia.  Colloquially known as “flammable ice”, crystals of methane trapped in water ice form under high pressure and low temperature over a long period of time.  Under the right conditions, these crystals release their highly flammable gas contents.

Found under the permafrost over land, and under the sea floor in the oceans, scientists are now struggling to see if that trapped methane can be released in a safe, profitable and environmentally acceptable way.  It seems China may recently have made significant progress in determining such an extraction process.

To put all this in perspective, one cubic meter of flammable ice contains about 160 cubic meters of methane.  For countries without oil reserves (like Japan and India), exploiting this source of natural gas is highly desirable.

You can read more about flammable ice here.

The Kama Sutra of Dragon Flies

If you ever been told by your significant other “not tonight, I have a headache”, be thankful.  At least you’re not being told “I’m dead to you” as some female dragonflies do when they don’t want to mate with an aggressive male.

Boredom Is Not Boring

Michael from VSauce investigates why we get bored and whether we should be concerned about it.

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Author: Bob Mahoney

Physics teacher

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