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Talk nerdy to me

This week, we take a look at newly discovered space structures, an attempt to cure the common cold, a new candidate for Earth 2.0, and more!

An end to the sniffles

Runny nose and sore throat? Chances are you have a cold. The average adult suffers this malady two or three times every year. While this group of viruses generally isn’t deadly, they are inconvenient, and frequent mutation makes colds particularly hard to avoid or fight.

<strong>A cure for the common cold?</strong> Scientists may have found a new way to keep cold germs from spreading, by disabling an important protein. Courtesy US Air Force.Researchers from Stanford University and University of California San Francisco may have just taken the first steps to change that. The scientists completed a study involving enteroviruses, which includes the rhinoviruses that cause the common cold. By disabling a protein that enteroviruses require for replication, they found they could keep the virus from spreading.

The current study focused on mice and human cell cultures. But further research could help make that week you spend flat on your back clutching a box of tissues a thing of the past.

A bubble in space

We humans have been staring at the same sky for millennia, but we’re still encountering new features of our universe every day. One reason is that modern technology and increased international collaboration is helping push along big discoveries.

<strong>Radio bubbles</strong> discovered by the MeerKAT telescope extend vertically above and below the plane of the Milky Way. Courtesy Oxford, SARAO.Take the finding of a huge, hourglass-shaped bubble in the middle of the Milky Way that is emitting radio waves. Found as part of an international project using the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory’s MeerKAT telescope, this bubble structure probably resulted from a black hole belching out gas and other materials while devouring some other celestial object. 

Reaching hundreds of lightyears in length, this giant bubble is one of the most recent significant discoveries in the galaxy we call home. Examining it more closely could help us understand the volatile nature of our own Milky Way, as well as other galaxies that are farther away.

Earth 2.0?

As we continue to scour the universe for knowledge, one question in particular looms large: Is there another planet out there just like our own Earth?

Alternate earth? With data from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, water vapor has been detected in the atmosphere of a super-Earth with habitable temperatures. Courtesy HubbleESA.

For now, the answer is a resounding “no.” However, some scientists from University College London have found an interesting candidate that deserves more study. The planet, called K2-18b, has water and temperatures that would allow for life as we know it to thrive. What’s more, the planet’s position in its star’s “habitable zone” means the water could potentially be liquid like it is on Earth.

Although K2-18b is the only known planet to have both water and the right temperature outside of our own solar system, don’t get your hopes up for a mass migration. The planet is still 110 light years away, so you won’t be visiting anytime soon.

What’s blacker than black?

It may sound like a joke about goths, but a blacker black is real science news. When light hits an object, some of the light is absorbed, and the wavelengths that are reflected back determine the color that we see. Black objects absorb all the light and don’t reflect back any color.

Now, engineers from MIT have created a new color that captures 99.995 percent of the light that hits it, thereby rendering it ten times blacker than any other previous material. The scientists then teamed up with an artist to coat a $2 million diamond in the color, which rendered it nearly invisible over a black background.

Made by growing a “forest” of carbon nanotubes on chlorine-etched foil, this new material isn’t just for art world stunts. It could also help astronomers get a better look at orbiting exoplanets by reducing the glare that affects space telescopes.

Pearl armor

<strong>Tough stuff.</strong> The outer coating on pearls has inspired a new material that could be used for light and flexible body armor. Pearls make for beautiful jewelry, but a team of scientists from University at Buffalo are more interested in their practical uses. By replicating the outer coating, or nacre, on pearls, the researchers were able to create a thin, lightweight plastic that is strong enough to repel bullets

When creating a pearl, mollusks lock calcium carbonate into a structure reminiscent of interlocking bricks. The new material follows this same construction, substituting a strong version of polyethylyne for the nacre. The end result is rigid on the outside, but with a more flexible inside that can absorb the impact of projectiles that could find use in body armor, or as a protective coating for ships and helicopters. 


When you think of a robot, do you imagine a clanking, soulless automaton made of steel? While such machines do exist and will likely continue to do so, many scientists are becoming interested in biobots. These soft, programmable robots will be made either entirely or partially of biological materials.

<strong>Biobots</strong> are soft robotic devices powered by skeletal muscle tissue stimulated by on-board motor neurons. Courtesy Michael Vincent.This area of study has a long way to go, but a recent development was the creation of self-propelled biobots that can swim and walk. These robots are powered by skeletal muscle tissue that is overseen by on-board motor neurons. When they receive light stimuli, the neurons fire to move the muscles.

In the future, these mini bio-machines could work together as multicellular engineered living systems with the ability to respond intelligently to environmental cues, with uses in the fields of bioengineering, medicine delivery, and self-healing technologies.

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