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Talk nerdy to me

Let’s talk nerdy about wooden windows, organic electronics, social media authenticity, and more.

A window to sustainability

<strong>A substitute for glass.</strong> A new transparent wood material is lighter and more durable than glass, is five times more thermally efficient, and doesn’t shatter. Courtesy USDA Forest Service. Since the Late Middle Ages, we’ve been using glass in window construction, but the material has its drawbacks. Glass breaks, and it isn’t energy efficient. It lets in cold air in the winter and heats up your home on hot summer days. Thankfully, scientists at the US Forest Service have developed a new, greener material. They call it transparent wood.

Researchers from the federal Forest Products Laboratory (FPL), the University of Maryland, and the University of Colorado have created an advanced transparent wood material that outperforms glass.

The scientists first treat wood from the balsa tree with an oxidizing bath that bleaches out most of its color. Next, they applied polyvinyl alcohol (PVA), which penetrates the wood’s fibrous structure. The result is a transparent material that is lighter and more durable than glass. Five times more thermally efficient than regular glass, the new material could reduce carbon emissions associated with traditional glass production.

Printing the future

You are probably reading this article on a smartphone or computer screen, a display technology composed of thin-film transistors. These transistors operate at high speeds and require very little power. But, even this technology has its limits. That’s why researchers at the University of Tokyo have been working on a way to print organic thin-film transistors. Printing organic transistors could allow the production of low-power, curved, flexible and wearable devices.

<strong>Flexible organic transistors.</strong> Optical microscopy image of organic thin film transistors etched in gold. Courtesy Kitahara, et al. Organic thin-film transistors already exist, but being able to print them is a manufacturing breakthrough. The solution was to print the organic semiconductor films on a surface that would normally repel the materials. But this solution-repellant, or lyophobic, surface enables the creation of transistor structures that are finely tuned for high performance.

The films are formed and grown via the formation of thin liquid layers during the printing process. After much trial and error, the team found they could use a U-shaped metal-film pattern to grow the film uniformly. Other researchers can now build on this work to find ways to scale up the process. The team thinks the findings will one day allow a coming together of the real world and virtual worlds.

A remote control for blood sugar

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), one in ten Americans have diabetes. Treatment of the disease can be a burden for some patients, but something better could be on the horizon. Researchers from the University of Iowa may have found a new, non-invasive way to manage blood sugar.

<strong>Diabetes can be a burden</strong> to manage but a surprising new discovery suggests that blood sugar levels can be modulated by electromagnetic fields. One day, patients may be able to treat their condition while they sleep.  And it all happened by accident. A research student needed to practice drawing blood from mice and measuring blood sugar levels. So she borrowed some mice who were already enrolled in a study of the effect of electromagnetic fields (EMFs) on the brain and behavior. Because these mice had been genetically modified to be diabetic, the researchers were surprised when all of the EMF-exposed rodents’ blood sugar levels were normal.

After examining three different mouse models, the team found that wireless application of static magnetic and electric fields modulated blood sugar. They also discovered that exposure to EMFs during sleep reversed insulin resistance within three days of treatment. 

The findings suggest that EMFs alter the signaling of superoxide molecules in the liver. This leads to prolonged activation of an antioxidant response. Now the team is working on a larger animal model to see if the effect will occur in animals more similar to humans.

A rare bird indeed

Researchers at Powdermill Nature Reserve in Rector, PA, recently happened upon a rose-breasted grosbeak with a pink breast spot and a pink “wing pit,” and black feathers on its right wing. This coloring indicates that the bird is male. But wait—the songbird’s left side had yellow and brown plumage like a female. Turns out, the bird was a half-male, half-female creature known as a gynandromorph.

<strong>Gynandromorphic birds</strong> exhibit the plumage of both sexes in a single bird, but they don’t have the genitals of both, so scientists are unsure if they are able to reproduce. Gynandromorphism occurs in birds, insects, and crustaceans. The grosbeak’s condition is probably the result of two sperm fertilizing an egg that had two nuclei instead of one. When this happens, the egg can develop male sex chromosomes on one side and female on the other. The bird is born with male characteristics such as a testis on one side, and female traits, like an ovary, on the other.

Gyandromorphs are not the same as hermaphrodites because they do not have genitals of both sexes. Scientists don’t know if these birds can reproduce or if they behave more like females than males. Lindsay and her team measured the bird’s wingspan and plucked out four feathers to sample DNA. After taking photos and TikTok videos, they released the bird into the wild. 

Be yourself

The grass can seem greener on the other side of the screen when you compare yourself to the people you follow on social media. The reality is that most of those influencers with seemingly perfect lives are putting on an act. Researchers at Columbia Business School in New York and Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management in Chicago found that Facebook users who present themselves authentically enjoy improved mental health.

<strong>Want to improve your mental health?</strong> Be honest about what you’re posting on social media, say researchers. The researchers examined the data of 10,560 Facebook users who had completed a personality and life satisfaction assessment between 2007 and 2012. They then looked at the participants’ Facebook posts and likes to see if predictions of users’ personalities matched with their Facebook personas. The researchers discovered that those who presented themselves authentically also reported higher levels of life satisfaction.

In another part of the study, 90 students posted in an authentic way on Facebook for a week. They then spent another week posting in a “self-idealized” way. The users reported higher levels of well-being during the week of authentic posting. The research didn’t examine why people chose to portray themselves inauthentically on social media. They suggest it could be intentional, or it might reveal a lack of self-awareness.

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