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5 Coolest Things On Earth This Week

This week we learned about an ingenious English bar owner who built a Faraday cage around his watering hole to disconnect customers’ cellphones, plus a tool developed at Brown University that can study the impact of brain trauma down to the level of individual neurons. We also learned about new genetic clues to body-part regeneration. We can’t help you generate new brain cells, but read on and hopefully grow a few new synapses.


Cheers Mate! British Bar Owner Builds A Bespoke Faraday Cage To Silence Patrons’ Smartphones


We’ll drink to that! A bespoke Faraday cage is keeping smartphones at bay in an English bar. Image credit: Shutterstock

Steve Tyler, who owns the Gin Tub bar in Hove, England, has deployed physics to break his patrons’ smartphone addiction and make them focus on drinks and old-fashioned human-to-human conversation. Tyler lined the walls with silver foil and copper mesh and turned the bar into a giant Faraday cage that blocks most incoming electromagnetic radiation, including cell signals, according to the BBC. English physicist Michael Faraday invented the cage in 1836. It’s typically made from a conductive material that shelters the inside from external electrical fields, ranging from microwaves to lightning. In fact, the microwave oven is an inverted Faraday cage, trapping radiation inside and preventing it from escaping into the kitchen.


New Tool Helps Scientists Study Head Trauma Down To Individual Brain Cells

Brain researchers at Brown University in Rhode Island have designed a special device to study brain cells and then used it to watch what happens when they hit them with blunt force. “This is the first study that applied this kind strain to brain cells and followed them over time,” said Christian Franck, an assistant professor in Brown’s School of Engineering. “We’re excited because we can finally get some concrete information about when cells start to degenerate, when they die and what the process looks like.” The team wrote that the machine “can compress neurons inside 3-D cell cultures while using a powerful microscope to continuously monitor changes in cell structure.” The team said in a news release that “among the study’s key findings was that after a compression event with forces similar to those involved in traumatic brain injury (TBI), it takes approximately six hours for neurons to develop irreparable structural damage. That suggests that there may be a window for therapeutic intervention aimed at minimizing further damage.” The research was published in the journal Scientific Reports.


Take Your Vitamin Pills Before You Put Your Space Helmet On


Top image and above: Prolonged space flight can compromise astronauts’ immune systems and open the door to dormant infections. Images credit: Shutterstock

Space crews spending months in orbit are exposed to a number of external risks. It turns out potentials hazards are also lurking inside their bodies. A team of scientists at the University of Miami studied 16 astronauts who orbited Earth for a median duration of 184 days. They reported that prolonged space flight compromised the crewmembers’ immune systems and opened the door to dormant infections caused by the herpes virus and other germs. Specifically, space flight affected thymopoiesis, the process used by the immune system to train T-cells and make them recognize different infections. “While preflight assessments of thymopoiesis remained quite stable in individual astronauts, we detected significant suppression of thymopoiesis in all subjects upon return from space flight,” the team wrote in the Journal of Clinical Investigation. A trip to Mars is projected take around seven months. Make sure you pack extra vitamins.


Regeneration May Not Be Just The Stuff Of Salamanders And Superheroes

Axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum) in front of a white background

Axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum), a salamander found in Mexican lakes, shares genes that allow the species to regenerate its body parts. Image credit: Getty Images

Scientists at the MDI Biological Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine, have identified a group of genes that allow several species to regrow body parts. “The discovery of genetic mechanisms common to all three of these species, which diverged on the evolutionary tree about 420 million years ago, suggests that these mechanisms aren’t specific to individual species, but have been conserved by nature through evolution,” they wrote in a news release. The team studied a zebra fish from India, a ray-finned fish from Africa, and a salamander from Mexico. The researchers’ goal is to find out whether a similar regeneration mechanism can be turned on in humans. “We didn’t expect the patterns of genetic expression to be vastly different in the three species, but it was amazing to see that they were consistently the same,” said one of the scientists, Benjamin L. King. His co-author, Voot P. Yin, added that “limb regeneration in humans may sound like science fiction, but it’s within the realm of possibility.” The research was published in the journal PLoS One.


Scientists Want To Shed New Light On Quantum Physics, Literally


An illustration of light trapped on the surface of a nanoparticle topological insulator. Image credit: Vincenzo Giannini

Physicists at the Imperial College London have created “a new form of light” by binding the light particle photon to a single electron and combining their properties. The results could shed light on quantum processes that were previously difficult or impossible to study. It could also lead to new circuits that work with photons instead of electrons. “Currently, quantum phenomena can only be seen when looking at very small objects or objects that have been super-cooled, but this could allow scientists to study these kinds of behavior at room temperature,” the team wrote.

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