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5 Coolest Things On Earth This Week

Tomas Kellner
January 27, 2017
Scientists successfully grew human stem cells inside a pig for the first time, built an AI that rivals dermatologists in spotting skin cancer and created a metal out of hydrogen — a material so unique it could act as a superconductor at room temperature. Science is so hot!

This AI Can Rival Doctors In Spotting Skin Cancer 

Angioma on a woman back. Angioma, a form of benign tumor, on a woman back. Image credit: Getty Images

Computer scientists at the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory have developed a “deep learning algorithm that does as well as dermatologists in identifying skin cancer.” The team first uploaded almost 130,000 images of skin disease into a database and then unleashed their “very powerful machine learning algorithm” on the trove. Instead of telling the software what to look for, “you let the algorithm figure it out” visually, according to Andre Esteva, co-author of the team’s paper, which appears in the journal Nature. “We realized it was feasible, not just to do something well, but as well as a human dermatologist,” said Sebastian Thrun, an adjunct professor at the lab.


Scientist Grow Human Stem Cells In Pig Embryos

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Top image: Cells derived from rat pluripotent stem cells (PSCs) were enriched in the developing heart of a genetically modified mouse embryo. Image credit: Salk Institute

Scientists at the Salk Institute in San Diego say they generated several types of human-induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS) and inserted the most promising types into pig embryos that were then implanted into sows. They reported that four weeks later, “some embryos showed that the human cells within were beginning to specialize and turn into tissue precursors.” IPS cells can theoretically turn into any type of cell once they start specializing in the body. This is the first time researchers have succeeded in “integrating human iPS cells into a large-animal species,” according to Salk. The Salk team had previously tried growing rat pancreases, gallbladders and other organs in mice. Salk staff scientists Jun Wu said that the experiment illustrated the possibility of growing human organs for transplants in animals. “Each mouse was healthy and had a normal lifespan, which indicated that the development proceeded properly,” he said.


That's So Metal!

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Harvard University scientists says they squeezed hydrogen atoms to a crushing 71.7 million pounds per square inch — more than the pressure at the center of the Earth — and turned the most abundant element in the visible universe into metallic hydrogen, the rarest material on our planet. The team says that among other applications, metallic hydrogen could lead to room-temperature superconductors — materials that carry electricity without any resistance. “This is the Holy Grail of high-pressure physics,” said Harvard natural sciences professor Isaac Silvera. “It’s the first-ever sample of metallic hydrogen on Earth, so when you’re looking at it, you’re looking at something that’s never existed before.” He added: “One prediction that’s very important is metallic hydrogen is predicted to be meta-stable,” Silvera said. “That means if you take the pressure off, it will stay metallic, similar to the way diamonds form from graphite under intense heat and pressure, but remain diamonds when that pressure and heat are removed.”


This Is So Cool

forthismetal Vanadium dioxide (VO2) nanobeams synthesized by Berkeley researchers show exotic electrical and thermal properties. In this false-color scanning electron microscopy image, thermal conductivity was measured by transporting heat from the suspended heat source pad (red) to the sensing pad (blue). The pads are bridged by a VO2 nanobeam. Credit: Junqiao Wu/Berkeley Lab

Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California, Berkeley, have synthesized “nanobeams” of vanadium dioxide that carry electricity but not heat. "This was a totally unexpected finding," said study principal investigator Junqiao Wu, a physicist at Berkeley Lab's Materials Sciences Division and a UC Berkeley professor of materials science and engineering. "It shows a drastic breakdown of a textbook law that has been known to be robust for conventional conductors. This discovery is of fundamental importance for understanding the basic electronic behavior of novel conductors."


Astronauts’ New Clothes

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NASA unveiled new spacesuits for astronauts traveling into orbit aboard Boeing’s new Starliner — a next-generation space capsule that will shuttle humans between the launch pad and low orbit. The suit clocks in at 20 pounds, 10 pounds lighter than the launch-and-entry outfits that space shuttle crew wear. It comes as one piece including the shoes, the helmet and visor. It also has touch-sensitive gloves. "The most important part is that the suit will keep you alive," said astronaut Eric Boe. "It is a lot lighter, more form-fitting and it's simpler, which is always a good thing. Complicated systems have more ways they can break, so simple is better on something like this."