Welcome Home, Scott Kelly!

Red-AuroraAfter roughly a year in space, American astronaut Scott Kelly has returned to earth. Respected, revered, loved, or whatever other adjective you want to grant him, Kelly is regarded positively by many for many things. Some activities he did while in space which contribute to his positive image:

NASA scientists are now studying the effects of space on astronauts by comparing Kelly to his twin, Mark. Hopefully this will help identify ways to better survive space for extended trips such as a trip to Mars.

The Zika Virus

Scientists have known about the Zika Virus for over half a century:

The virus was first identified in rhesus monkeys in Uganda in 1947, and in humans in 1952 in Uganda and Tanzania. In 2015, Zika outbreaks were confirmed in Brazil and Colombia.

Normally spread by mosquito bite, the virus can also be sexually transmitted. While the virus is most known for flu-like symptoms and conjunctivitis, we now know it can also lead to increased incidence of microcephaly (a smaller than expected head) in fetuses:

Ultrasonographic examination that was performed at 29 weeks of gestation showed the first signs of fetal anomalies, and she was referred to the Department of Perinatology. At that time, she also noticed reduced fetal movements. Ultrasonography that was performed at 32 weeks of gestation confirmed intrauterine growth retardation (estimated third percentile of fetal weight) with normal amniotic fluid, a placenta measuring 3.5 cm in thickness (normal size) with numerous calcifications, a head circumference below the second percentile for gestation (microcephaly), moderate ventriculomegaly, and a transcerebellar diameter below the second percentile.

Because of this increased risk of birth defects, Zika has been declared an international health emergency by the World Health Organization. Pregnant women are being warned against travel to areas where the virus is more common.

Following Robots

A recent study to find out if people would follow a robot or take an exit they can see offered a surprising result. In an emergency, it appears likely people would follow a robot over taking an obvious exit, even if the robot seems to malfunction.

In the emergency study, Robinette’s team used a modified Pioneer P3-AT, a robot that looks like a small bin with wheels and has lit-up foam arms to point. Each participant would individually follow the robot along a hallway until it pointed to the room they were to enter. They would then fill in a survey to rate the robot’s navigation skills and read a magazine article. The emergency was simulated with artificial smoke and a First Alert smoke detector.

A total of 26 of the 30 participants chose to follow the robot during the emergency. Of the remaining four, two were thrown out of the study for unrelated reasons, and the other two never left the room.

Science Robotics Journal

Coming soon from Science Magazine, the journal Science Robotics.

Science Robotics will be available for subscription beginning with the 2017 rate year. The journal will be available to individuals and institutions through a free trial from launch until the end of the year. For information about free trials please contact scienceonline@aaas.org.

I believe I’ll be getting this one for me and my older son to peruse.

On Blowing Bubbles

Surprisingly, how bubbles form is poorly understood. It’s not an area that has received a lot of study. In fact, until recently, there wasn’t an established understanding of the physics of blowing bubbles.

The phenomenon, the researchers found, can be explained as a contest between the pressure the gas jet exerts on the film and the surface tension of the film, which resists any increase in curvature. Bubbles form when the jet’s pressure is large enough to deform the film into a hemispheric dimple of the same width as the jet. At that point, the film has reached its maximum curvature, and the bubble can fill with gas and float away.

More information is available at Physical Review Letters, although it is unfortunately hidden behind a paywall.

Bubbles photo
Photo by Dykam

Sexy Zombie Frogs

frog photo
Photo by cluczkow

From Science magazine comes news of a fungus which turns frogs into sexy zombies. And what, exactly, does it mean for a frog to be a sexy zombie? Well, “A fungal disease that has killed amphibians worldwide may be spreading by making the mating calls of infected males more attractive to females.”

The fungus, known as Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), causes disruptions of the immune system, destroys skin, and causes heart failure. And while there is evidence of some frog species adapting to the 40,000 year old fungus, others are being killed off due to lack of defenses. For more details on the fungus and its impact on amphibians, see the full article at Science magazine’s web site.