Friday, January 14, 2011

Geeky/cool- electronic clothes, jet lagged mosquitos and why blogging helps

One of my favourite things about my current job is that I'm expected to read scientific journals. There are a lot of tedious technical articles (and more than enough crappy ones) but there are a few diamonds in the rough, which I enjoy finding. More often than not, they're unrelated to my field, so reading them is a bit of an indulgence, but I tell myself that I'm expected to have a broad general knowledge. (Too bad blogging isn't part of my job description...)

This week's crop of interesting stories was especially bountiful, and worthy of sharing. (I think!) They're all from, or mentioned in, the highly competitive- and thus high-powered and very reputable- journals Science and Nature, which unfortunately require a paid subscription for the full-text for most articles. (And no, it wasn't me who paid. It's called a fringe benefit, 'kay?)

This week's cool stories
1. Jet-lag protects mice from malaria (free text): researchers in Edinburgh had two groups of mice, one living a "day shift"- with lights on during the day- and the others living a "night shift", with lights on during the night, and off during the day (so opposite to the day shift mice). The mice on either shift were infected with the malaria parasite Plasmodium, and their infected blood was transferred to other mice to transmit the malaria parasite to them (sort-of like a mosquito usually does). Parasites transferred out of one mouse into another of the opposite shift (so day-shift to night-shift or vice versa) didn't grow as quickly as those that stayed on the same shift. For a parasite that lives inside a mouse and can't see, it's pretty nifty! Whatever that means for humans- and whether people working night-shifts in malaria-affected countries are protected from malaria- is a whole new question.

2. Could electronic clothes be a reality? This story is way out of my league, but the outcome is way cool- scientists in Texas have used teeny-weeny pipes of carbon- "nanotubes"- to make teeny-weeny flexible threads or yarns that can carry electrically conductive materials. They can tie them in a knot, plait them, sew with them or weave them- and show how they can make a teeny-weeny thread-like battery. It's tempting to imagine a whole industry of electronics built into clothes- neon lights, body odour sensors and alarmed toilet-training undies, but to be fair I suspect the developers have they eyes firmly set on the bright lights of highly-technical applications that we'll never see. I'll hedge my optimistic bets on a foldable fabric iPad. But not too soon...

3. Why writing (hence blogging) helps us: something to store in my memory bank for about 14 years from now- that there is research showing that if students who are about to take a high-pressure exam are told to write about their anxieties before they sit the exam, they do better than students who didn't do the pre-exam debrief. "Simply writing about one's worries before a high-stakes exam can boost test scores". Expect more steam to be let off by this blogger.

Am I just a geek, or are any of those ideas cool?


ANB said...

Why is that most of the time when I read your science-y posts my first thought is "that reminds me of a novel I read...?" (!) This time it was Nick Earls in Bachelor Kisses, rambling about melatonin and jet lag. No idea about whether it works in mice but his description of melatonin as "the hormone of darkness" had me intrigued! A clever and very funny read if you get the time to read anything of the non-picture variety.

Katherine said...

Did you know that Aunty Liz is a great proponent of melatonin? must be scientific?

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