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Talk nerdy to me

This week we look at a centuries-old technique to create ice that’s been revitalized to fight climate change, why playing games decrease stress, how the tardigrade might just be the first long-term resident of the moon, and so much more.

Microrobots to the rescue

If you were lucky enough to watch The Magic School Bus as a child, you may have fond memories of Ms. Frizzle and the gang driving through a student’s body to learn about his sore throat. Although we’re still pretty far from bus-shrinking technology, scientists are now working on the means of healing patients with microrobots.

Laser-activated microrobots may provide a new way of treating cancers in the digestive tract. Courtesy Caltech.

Researchers from the California Institute of Technology are currently developing tiny robots able to deliver drugs directly to an area of the body that needs healing. At the moment, the scientists are looking into treating tumors in the digestive tract.

In order to move, the microrobots use spheres of magnesium coated with gold and parylene, which don’t dissolve in the body. A small, uncoated hole in the magnesium reacts with digestive fluids and creates small bubbles that propel the microrobot forward.

At the moment, these particular microrobots can carry medicine but can’t yet be directed where they need to go. However, the researchers behind this project are confident they can take this next important step.

First tardigrade on the moon

Mistakes are a part of science. When researchers try out new things and investigate the unknowable, failure is bound to happen. That said, even missteps can have interesting outcomes.

<strong>A cargo of tardigrades</strong> that recently crash-landed on the moon may be able to survive on the lunar surface long-term. Courtesy Goldstein Lab. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en">(CC BY-SA 2.0)</a>Take the case of the Israeli Beresheet moon probe. Originally meant for a controlled landing, the spacecraft crashed on the lunar surface. Much of its cargo was ruined, but one part of it may well have survived.

Tardigrades are micro-animals with some amazing properties. They can adapt to intense heat, well-below-freezing conditions, and even the vacuum of space. This has allowed them to survive all five mass extinctions on Earth.

The thousands of tardigrades on the probe have so few requirements that they could potentially survive on the moon for years. But because they survive extreme conditions by expelling all of their water and hibernating, without water to revive them, they won’t be able to reproduce.

Sticker solution

<strong>Intelligent feedback.</strong> A multifunctional ultra-thin wearable interface that is imperceptible to the wearer could be used to collect and store important health information. Courtesy University of Houston.One of the obstacles to widespread adoption of wearable technology is comfort. Test users often complain that the added tech gets in the way of normal activities. To solve this, researchers from the University of Houston have designed a wearable gadget only a few microns thick.

This wearable human-machine interface looks like a thin sticker placed directly on the subject’s skin. It allows the user to transmit actions to a machine, such as opening and closing a robotic hand. The study’s authors hope this technology will enable breakthroughs in areas such as chemical spill cleanup or medical diagnosis.

Staying cool without electricity

Centuries before electric freezers were available, people in Iran and India made ice through a process called radiative cooling. This involved a very shallow pool of water and some hay for insulation. Even at temperatures higher than freezing, heat would radiate from the water into the cool environment of outer space, and the liquid left in the pool would turn to ice if conditions were right.

Physicist Aaswath Raman talks about how we might use the coldness of outer space to cool buildings on earth. Courtesy TED.

This technique is at the heart of an invention from SkyCool, a company focused on reducing the reliance on electricity for air conditioning and refrigeration—something we’re definitely going to need as the global climate gets hotter.

This innovation is able to bounce back the heat of sunlight. A sheet of metal is covered in a thin film of reflective material that is able to keep temperatures 5 to 10 degrees Celsius cooler than the surrounding air. This lower temperature is transferred to fluid in a pipe system that is then moved to areas that need cooling.

Of course, one of the obstacles to this would be retrofitting the many existing air conditioning setups. That said, SkyCool is confident that its solution can simultaneously keep both temperatures and electrical demand down.

A game a day keeps the stress away

Chronic stress is linked to heart disease, decreased bone density, and even increased blood pressure. Many people turn to mindfulness apps to alleviate tensions, but recent research found that they may be better off simply playing a game.

<strong>Play your stress away.</strong> A recent study suggests that playing an enjoyable game may be more effective at stress-relief than meditation.A new study out of the University of Bath and University College London asked participants to finish a 15-minute math test and then destress with either a shape-fitting game or a mindfulness app. In a second part of the study, subjects were asked to either play the shape-fitting game or use mindfulness apps after coming home from work over a five-day period.

In both cases, those who played the shape-fitting games were more energized and less stressed than those who relied on the mindfulness apps. Lead author Emily Collins says that digital games are an effective means to quickly “unwind and recuperate after work.” Looks like it’s time to visit the app store.

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