This week, our extraterrestrial hearing improved with a giant new radio telescope and we also learned of a visionary plan to build a city on Mars. Scientists found a new type of filling that can heal tooth decay, while a ride on a roller coaster could be just what the doctor ordered for your kidney stones. Proceed with courage.
Billionaire tech guru Elon Musk this week announced his vision for building a self-sustaining human settlement on Mars. The head of rocketmaker SpaceX said that in 2024 he wants to start flying 100 passengers at a time to the red planet atop a gigantic 400-foot-long reusable rocket-and-capsule combination that delivers nearly 29 million pounds of thrust at liftoff. Musk plans to push the cost of the trip from a current estimated $10 billion per person down to $200,000. Calling his plan ambitious might be the understatement of the week, but is it possible? “There’s no technical obstacle to the plan being executable,” space policy expert John Logsdon told Space.com. “SpaceX has good engineers. They don’t have to really invent much.”
If you’re thinking about upgrading your home’s doors with locks you can securely open from a smartphone, then this piece of news is just for you. University of Washington computer scientists have figured out how to transmit passwords from a phone to the lock through the body, potentially making the system more secure. The design uses fingerprint sensors and touchpads on the phone. They transmit low-frequency, 2- to 10-megahertz signals, which can travel through the body but not the air. When a person touches the sensor with one hand and the doorknob with the other, the password moves through the body directly to the lock. Scientists say this concept could also be used to securely transmit a password to wearable medical devices like glucose monitors and insulin pumps.
Kidney stones have been known to cause excruciating pain often compared unfavorably to childbirth. Now, a Michigan State University urologist has discovered an unexpected and, dare we say, fun way to pass the stones — they are acually hardened mineral masses — without the pain. The answer is a roller coaster ride. Specifically, Dr. David Wartinger and his colleagues found in two studies that sitting in the rear cars of Walt Disney World’s Big Thunder Mountain allowed kidney stones of differing sizes to pass 70 percent of the time. Even more interesting, the results occurred only on that one ride — researchers couldn’t replicate them on Space Mountain or Aerosmith’s Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. Wartinger and his colleagues attribute the difference to higher speed on the latter two, saying the increased g-forces pinned the stones inside the kidney. The findings could point the way toward a much cheaper first option for people facing a procedure to remove stones that can cost up to $10,000.
Chinese scientists flipped the switch this week on the world’s largest and most sensitive single-dish radio telescope. The instrument, called the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST), is located in mountainous southwestern Guizhou province. Scientists started working on it in 2011. Among the telescope’s duties will be studying hydrogen in space, observing pulsars, listening for extraterrestrial communications, and spacecraft tracking and communications. Its reflector is constructed out of 4,450 triangular, movable panels that will let researchers focus it while they work. A researcher said the telescope, which cost $180 million to build, is already paying off, having received a set of electromagnetic waves that came from a pulsar about 1,351 light-years away. Builders relocated 8,000 residents to establish a three-mile ring of radio silence around the sensitive instrument.
A new bioactive glass composite has been shown to actively repair tooth decay when used as a filling, according to research from Queen Mary University of London. The material, which is being marketed by a company called BioMin Technologies, releases fluoride, calcium and phosphate, the key components the body needs to rebuild teeth. Research dentists “replaced the inert tooth filling materials with our new bioactive glass,” said Robert Hill, company co-founder and the chair of physical sciences at the university’s Institute of Dentistry. BioMin says its composite can help reduce or eliminate the use of mercury-based amalgam fillings. “Not only did this bioactive glass composite remineralize the partially decayed teeth, but it also creates an alkaline environment that discourages the bacteria that caused the initial decay,” Hill said.
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