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Deck the halls with boughs of…eels?

The Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga is celebrating the Christmas season with the help of an electric eel named Miguel Wattson. Electric eels emit high-voltage shocks in response to danger or to stun an animal they plan to eat. In the aquarium, Miguel produces electricity at feeding time.

Electric eel Miguel Wattson coordinates the light show on this Christmas tree at the Tennessee Aquarium with the strength of his electrical discharges. Courtesy Tennessee Aquarium.

A sensor attached to Miguel’s exhibit detects his electrical emissions and sends signals to the lights on a Christmas tree near the tank. The tree’s lights respond to the signal with small flickers or brighter bursts that correspond with the type of shock the eel releases. Miguel doesn’t power the lights, but he does direct the presentation.

Winning the rat race

The Republic of Estonia is a country of 1.3 million people on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea in northern Europe. After breaking away from the Soviet Union in 1991, Estonia began the process of moving into the digital age.

<strong>The rat with the golden gun.</strong> When Estonia’s online government portal—that supports banking, voting, and education—crashed, Russia was the obvious suspect. But the real culprits turned out to be hungry rats. Today, Estonia’s social system (e-Estonia), is one of the world’s most digitally advanced. Citizens can conduct most of their business online with services such as e-voting, e-banking, and e-school.

But when the country’s digital services portal malfunctioned recently, the State Information System Agency (RIA) found that rats had damaged a 300-meter stretch of cable. Fortunately, technicians were able to restore the service overnight.

The outage was a reminder of the 2007 cyberattack that followed a diplomatic incident with Russia. That attack prompted Estonia to become a world leader in cybersecurity, but they are still vulnerable to hungry rodents. 

It’s not all bad

Climate scientists are predicting a difficult future for the planet. The related increase in catastrophic storms and vanishing coastlines will make life difficult for everyone. The World Economic Forum warns that the world must be prepared to adapt to climate change and build resilience to its effects.

Pioneering experiments using heated field plots to test the response of crops to temperature have revealed an unexpected plus side of climate change for farmers in the UK. Courtesy CropTec Show.

In the United Kingdom, growers of oilseed rape (aka canola oil) may benefit from warmer October temperatures. Researchers from the John Innes Centre used heated field plots to test the responses of crops to simulated climate changes.

The team used soil warming cables to raise the temperatures of the plots between 4 and 8 degrees Celsius (as much as 14 degrees Fahrenheit). Tests on dissected plants showed that warmer conditions delayed a critical phase of growth in the plants that could result in a higher yield at harvest time in early summer.

Climate change will have a significant effect on crop use, and this type of testing can help farmers decide the best type and variety of crops to plant in the warmer years to come.

Transcending heart disease

Cardiovascular diseases are the number one cause of death worldwide. Recommendations for recovering from or preventing a heart attack or stroke include healthy eating and exercise, but recent research suggests we can do more.

<strong>Want to recover from a heart attack?</strong> New research shows that patients who add Transcendental Meditation to their cardiac rehabilitation have significantly increased blood flow.Scientists from Columbia University Irving Medical Center and the Institute for Prevention Research studied recovering patients in four groups: cardiac rehabilitation, Transcendental Meditation  (TM), cardiac rehab plus TM, and usual care.

PET scans showed that blood flow to the heart increased by 20.7% for the TM plus cardiac rehab group. Blood flow for TM only patients increased by 12.8%. For those who had cardiac rehab only, blood flow increased 5.8%. For the group that received usual care, blood flow actually decreased by 10.3%. 

The researchers suspect that the reduction of stress hormones and possibly of inflammation through Transcendental Meditation may have improved function of the endothelial cells that line the coronary arteries. But clinical trials with larger sample sizes are needed to confirm the study’s results. In the meantime, it can’t hurt to take a few deep breaths.

Finely tuned printing

Can a musical instrument produced by a 3D printer match the quality of one crafted by a more traditional method?

<strong>The traditional wooden ukulele</strong> on the right produces louder sounds and  more high-frequency vibrations than the 3D printed one on the left. Courtesy Xiaoyu Niu.Xiaou Niu from the University of Chinese Academy Sciences wanted to know. Niu’s group compared the sound quality of a 3D-printed ukulele to that of a standard wooden instrument. The ukulele was printed using polylactic acid (PLA). This plastic is popular for producing 3D-printed objects because it works at low temperatures.

Niu found that the wooden ukulele was louder than the 3D-printed one when plucked with the same force. The investigators also found that the wooden instrument exhibited more high-frequency vibrations than the printed uke.

To explain the differences, the researcher used COMSOL software to calculate a mathematically modeled ukulele shape. They used formulas for sound resonance and acoustics to explain the differences between the two instruments. By this mathematical model, they hope to arrive at better methods for improving the sound of future printed instruments.

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