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Talk nerdy to me

Welcome to yet another Talk Nerdy to Me. This time around, we’re talking about how video games correlate with career aspirations in women, a glove that can touch virtual objects, the death of antibiotics, and much more.

Gamer girls

<strong>Does girl gamer = scientist?</strong> A new study by the University of Surrey suggests that teen girls who play video games are three times more likely to choose STEM fields of study. Courtesy (l) BagoGames <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/'>(CC BY 2.0)</a> and (r) US Air Force.It’s no secret that women are less likely to choose a degree in the sciences. This is a problem that Science Node tries to highlight, but a study from the University of Surrey has revealed a new angle to this issue.

The university found that 13-14-year-old girls who play video games more than nine hours a week are three times more likely to go into the sciences. What’s more, 100 percent of girls already pursuing a degree in physical science, technology, engineering or math (PSTEM) identified as gamers. This stands in contrast to boys, who had similar gaming experiences across degree types.

This is something of a “chicken and egg” situation, as it’s hard to tell if interest in gaming spurs a career in the sciences or vice versa. Regardless, we’re always thrilled to see more women choosing STEM fields.

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Touching the virtual world

Feeling what isn't there. These ultra-light gloves developed by Swiss scientists allow users to feel and manipulate virtual objects. They provide extremely realistic haptic feedback and are so energy-efficient, they could run on a battery. Courtesy École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL).

Virtual reality headsets are quickly becoming more realistic. However, these devices only simulate the visual aspects of a digital world. For a more tactile experience, we’ll need gloves that let us touch virtual objects. 

Until now, many of these solutions have been bulky exoskeletons that weren’t practical. That changed when researchers at EPFL and ETH Zurich created a glove weighing less than eight grams that allows the user to physically interact with a virtual world. Energy-efficient enough to run on a battery, the glove is able to create around 40 Newtons of holding force for each finger

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After antibiotics

Evolution of a superbug. This time-lapse film shows how bacteria rapidly develop resistance to antibiotics. If society doesn't find a solution, the effectiveness of ALL antibiotics could be exhausted by 2050. Courtesy Science News.

Since the discovery of antibiotics in the early 20th century, humans have enjoyed unprecedented defense against disease. But sadly, that era is ending as these wonder drugs are beginning to fail. Over-prescription and the use of antibiotics in livestock feed have given rise to bacterial resistance and made this miracle medicine less effective.

To make things worse, finding new antibiotics simply isn’t cost-effective for companies anymore. Decades of research can often leave organizations without any sort of profitability, and bacteria are quick to build a resistance. Some scientists think antibiotic effectiveness will run out by 2050.

If we want to continue to rely on these life-saving drugs, we’ll have to reimagine how we develop and pay for them. Kevin Outterson, a law professor at Boston University says we have to think of them not as products but infrastructure. That they are, in fact, a component of national security. 

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Mind-controlled robots

Which brings us to super soldiers.

Friend or foe? The US goverment is developing neurotechnology that will allow humans to connect their brains to a machine. This advance could be used to revolutionize prosthetic limbs—or warfare. Courtesy TEDx Talks.

The morality of warfare is muddy at best. Chemical weapons are considered inhumane and have been effectively banned, but it’s legal for an airman in Las Vegas to operate a drone and attack people thousands of miles away.

If that second example disturbs you, then you probably won’t like what the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is up to now. This research arm of the US Pentagon is developing neurotechnology that would allow a human to connect their brain to a machine.

Although this work is supposed to help connect prosthetics to people who have lost limbs, the implications may be much darker. The Atlantic dives into the topic and discusses the possibility of super soldiers utilizing neurotechnology for less constructive purposes.

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A rose by any other color

<strong> Roses are red—except when they’re blue.</strong> Researchers in China injected enzymes into a white rose to transform naturally occuring L-glutamine into indigoidine, which displays a blue hue. With such bleak stories, it’s good to remember that science has a softer side. For instance, take the researchers who created a blue rose.

Although nature produces roses in a variety of colors in nature, blue isn’t one of them. To create one, researchers from Tianjin University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences injected specific bacterial enzymes into the petal of a white rose. These two enzymes are able to alter the L-glutamine found in rose petals into indigoidine, which gives off a blue hue.

As of right now, this blue color only affects the injected part of the petal, which technically makes this the first white-and-blue rose. However, the researchers believe they can create a rose that produces the enzymes itself, thereby making a more stable and widespread color.

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The morality of self-driving cars

<strong>Tough decisions.</strong> Self-driving cars are going to be involved in accidents. Which is why researchers are surveying public opinion about how to prioritize decision-making in crash scenarios. Courtesy Boston Metropolitan Area Planning Council <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/'>(CC BY 2.0)</a>It’s fairly certain that autonomous vehicles (AV) will play a big role in the future of transportation. That said, questions linger concerning the morality of a self-driving car crash. In some situations, it will be impossible for a vehicle to avoid an accident. What should happen then?

A study from the Society for Risk Analysis asked people how they felt about several crash scenarios. In one example, an AV encounters a pedestrian in the road. The respondents could choose to either stop in the lane – potentially hitting the pedestrian – or swerve onto the sidewalk and potentially hit an innocent bystander.

More than 85 percent chose to stop in the lane, which the study’s authors believe to be an expression of self-preservation. Swerving puts the AV’s passengers at risk, and if there’s a chance someone outside the car is going to get hurt anyway, it seems that people prefer to prioritize their own safety.

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