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Talk nerdy to me

On this installment, we discuss the genetics behind your cup of Joe, a new vaccine that works on multiple coronaviruses, recycling printed electronics, and more!

Printable, recyclable, and usable

Silicon is unique. Making up 27.7 percent of Earth’s crust — and only surpassed in abundance by oxygen — this element most likely plays a vital role in the function of every electronic device you own. Silicon only conducts electricity under specific conditions — acting as an insulator in others — and this makes it a valuable tool in the proliferation of electronic technologies.

Sadly, silicon is generally not a viable target for recycling.<strong>From toasters to supercomputers</strong>, silicon has found its way into every electronic technology we have.

To solve this issue, or to at least get people thinking about it, scientists at Duke University have created fully recyclable printed electronics. Using three carbon-based inks printed onto paper or other flexible material, the engineers made a fully functioning transistor. Carbon nanotubes were used for the semiconductors and graphene inks were used for the conductors.

Although using these materials is not a novel idea, the truly unique aspect of this research is the focus on recycling. Wood-derived insulating dielectric ink — also called nanocellulose — is biodegradable and was a key part of this research.

Coffee in your genes

Most coffee drinkers know their favorite order by heart. Once you find something that works for you, it can be hard — and completely unnecessary — to search for something as satisfying. And while many factors may play into your choice of wake-up juice, a recent study from the University of South Australia points to your genetics as a main driver in your decision.<strong>Everyone has their favorite coffee drink,</strong> and recent research indicates this may partly have to do with a person’s genetics.

The researchers found that heart health plays a key role in determining your coffee decisions. In a study containing 390,435 subjects, people with high blood pressure, angina, and arrythmia tended to either drink less coffee, find decaffeinated coffee products, or simply avoid the beverage altogether.

Although each person is different, this study indicates that there are certain people who react uniquely to coffee based on their genetics. The lead researcher on the project, Professor Elina Hyppönen, recommends listening to your body and doing what feels right.

Versatile vaccine

Although we’re still fighting this pandemic, the creation and subsequent distribution of the vaccines for the SARS-CoV-2 virus is one of the greatest achievements of modern medical history. The people involved in this work deserve all the recognition and congratulations we can give them, and it still won’t be enough.

One of the interesting aspects of this pandemic is that it caused us to think deeply about a lot of scientific topics — especially vaccines.

In fact, a group at the Duke Human Vaccine Institute has discovered a new vaccine for the virus behind COVID-19, and it seems to be quite effective in monkeys and mice. However, what’s truly unique about this vaccine is that it is also effective against a variety of other viruses, including the original SARS-CoV-1 virus that was something of a precursor to our current pandemic.<strong>Let’s just all take a second and recognize</strong> how truly amazing our medical professionals are. From research to patient care, this world is a better place because of you!

Currently called a pan-coronavirus vaccine, this new concoction uses a nanoparticle composed of a specific portion of the coronavirus’ spike protein. This triggers neutralizing antibodies, which helps the body create an immunity to the disease.

The fact that this technique works well against a plethora of the different SARS-CoV-2 variants is amazing in itself, but the potential for this drug in terms of other coronaviruses is quite large.

Writing in your head

People with certain disabilities often struggle with communication. Paralysis, for instance, can both affect a patient’s ability to speak and their ability to write their thoughts down. Thankfully, a group of researchers may have just had a breakthrough with that latter issue.

<strong>Disease and disability</strong> can take away a person’s ability to communicate, even via handwriting. Helping these people get out of their heads is valuable and important work.

These scientists were able to discover the kinds of brain activity that are associated with handwriting. By implanting a sensor onto the brain of a person with paralysis, the researchers observed as the man attempted to write something by hand.

But that isn’t all. After the patient’s attempt at writing, the team then used an algorithm that would display on a screen the text the person was trying to get out. Happening in real time, it would appear this is a very realistic solution to helping certain patients with disabilities communicate their needs.

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