Science Museum News posts – 2014 (part 2)

  • Researchers used MRI to look at the part of the brain responsible for dishing out rewards
  • Doctors stress that with radiation therapy timing is everything
  • Genetic researchers find tobacco plants (Nicotiana tabacum) easy to experiment on
  • Mangalyaan probe cost $74 million, around $600 million less than NASA’s Maven Mars orbiter
  • At 2500 km wide an unnamed feature covers 17% of the Moon
  • The Wellcome Trust spends £4 million studying how neuroscience can improve education
  • People whose symptoms could be linked to Ebola will be asked questions about their travel history
  • 4.5 gigawatts of wind power provided energy to millions of British homes daily
  • Comet lander Philae didn’t fire harpoons, so it’s only held down by the comet’s weak gravity
  • About 500 camera feeds from the UK are leaked, from homes, businesses and even a gym
  • Volunteers received a large or small test dose of an Ebola vaccine to test its safety
  • EU court judgement suggests employers unfairly required to cater for the needs of obese people

Food on the brain
2nd September 2014

1409652463602459I sometimes can’t resist the lure of takeaway pizza.
study suggests we’re not born craving unhealthy food, but it’s a learned trait that can be changed. Researchers studied how 13 overweight adults reacted to pictures of healthy and unhealthy meals. Some were given a special high-fibre and protein diet that stopped hunger and food cravings. Brain scans showed the dieting adults had an increased reaction in the brain’s ‘reward centre’ when they looked at pictures of healthy food, suggesting they had learned to like it.
But the study was so small I wonder if it really reflects most people’s appetites.

Image: Flickr/sweetonveg


Proton beams offer hope
11th September 2014

1410427816958628I find it tragic when I read about children with cancer in the news. One way of treating some cases is to use radiation, beams of protons, which attack tumours but not healthy tissue. This treatment is not new, so I find it surprising that the UK is only just ready to catch up with the rest of Europe and bring it into NHS hospitals.

Doctors are pleased, as we currently have to send children with brain cancer abroad. I hope this move eases suffering and saves the NHS time and money.

Image: Flickr/moonlightbulb



Hacking away at plants
18th September 2014

1411033462601400I’m amazed that plants take water, air and sunlight, and turn them into more plants and ultimately our food. But this growth takes time. Wouldn’t it be great if the process were quicker?

Researchers hack plants to get them to grow faster by tweaking their RuBisCO enzymes, which convert carbon dioxide to sugar. They take RuBisCO from faster-growing blue-green algae, and carefully transplant it into test plants.

Results show that modified plants convert carbon dioxide to sugar faster than normal plants. I hope one day this feat helps food growers everywhere.

Image: Flickr/davidcjones


Nice view of Mars
25th September 2014

1412092710428371I like it when space missions succeed and don’t end up exploding or flying off course. The latest one to get excited about is India’s Mangalyaan Mars orbiter, which arrived at the Red Planet yesterday and is now sending back some great holiday snaps.

Mangalyaan is making observations and sampling the air to look for evidence of life – past or present – on Mars.

What I find really amazing is that this is India’s first attempt to orbit Mars. Other space agencies regularly lose spacecraft trying to achieve that feat.

Image: ISRO


Giant square on the Moon
1st October 2014

1412243740682506As much as I like gazing at the Moon, it seems pretty cold and dead. But apparently it had an exciting past. NASAs GRAIL spacecraft have seen evidence of a giant square-shaped volcano under the surface. Researchers think it’s 3.5 billion years old.

What’s interesting is that NASA found this site not by looking at photos but by mapping the Moon’s gravity. The GRAIL probes sense the pull in different areas and noticed this square tugged harder than surrounding regions. The mission is soon coming to an end, so this was quite a lucky find.

Image: NASA


Better sleep for better grades
9th October 2014

1412847008298256It looks like teenagers might benefit from getting an extra hour of sleep. As someone who is always a bit tired I heartily sympathise! The idea that teenagers need more sleep because of the developmental changes they undergo has been around a while, but a large study to prove it is finally under way.

In the trial 16,000 pupils will start lessons at their normal time and another 16,000 will start an hour later. Their performance at school will be compared to see if the extra sleep really helps. I really hope it does…

Image: Pink Sherbet Photography


Ebola screening in the UK
13th October 2014

1413196214374795I think the UK is too worried about Ebola, but it’s interesting to see how the government is preparing the NHS to handle it. Over the weekend the health service tested how good its response to Ebola is by using actors pretending to be ill.

It never hurts to be cautious, but I imagine preventative measures could become annoying. Health officials suggest we screen people coming into the UK, which sounds like a great idea – but the methods aren’t very effective and take up people’s time.

Image: Flickr/pasukaru76


Wind over nuclear
23rd October 2014

1414053772287737In typical British fashion I complain about the weather too much. But when I read that recent high winds gave wind power the edge over nuclear I jumped for joy.

On Tuesday, stormy weather set our wind turbines spinning so much that 14.2% of all UK energy was generated from them. In the same period nuclear power only generated 13.2% of our power – although that’s partly because several reactors are off line for maintenance.

Still, I hope this shows those who doubt wind power that it can be a great alternative.

Image: Flickr/hughgallagher


Historic comet landing
13th November 2014

1415875055227348At 16.00 yesterday I watched a control room of scientists jump for joy. They had just received a signal from the Philae lander telling them it had safely landed on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

Philae has already started sending back pictures like this one. Pretty soon it will be examining the surface of the comet in different ways. Scientists hope to find out what role comets played in the birth of the Solar System.

I can’t wait to see the exciting things Philae will discover.

Image: ESA


Hundreds of webcams hacked
20th November 2014

1416479780356221I take my privacy very seriously – not that I have anything to hide! But I’m shocked by this latest hack. A Russian website is leaking hundreds of live feeds from UK-based webcams, CCTV cameras and even baby monitors.

The problem is mainly down to people not changing their passwords from the default one that devices come with. What worries me though is how hackers found these feeds in the first place.

As more ‘smart’ devices join the ‘internet of things’ stories like this seem to be on the increase.

Image: Flickr/squengesphotos


Hope for Ebola vaccine
27th November 2014

1417088373607452I’m sure we’re safe from Ebola here in the UK, but life is very different for the millions at risk in west Africa.

Scientists worldwide are hard at work on vaccines against the virus. A recent US trial of a new vaccine looks positive, with volunteers showing a strong immune response. The vaccine is made from a genetically engineered chimpanzee cold virus.

Though this ‘phase 1’ trial was small, it showed the vaccine is safe – and the next step is to move ahead with a larger trial in west Africa.

Image: Flickr/niaid

EU weighs in on obesity
18th December 2014

1418899651747514We all worry about our weight at times, especially around Christmas. But overweight people may have a new issue on their plates. The European Court of Justice has ruled that in certain circumstances obesity can be considered a disability.

The move comes to protect employees suffering from joint problems, depression or diabetes, which can all be caused by excessive weight. With obesity considered a disability, employers could not dismiss people for being too fat – their weight problem would be treated like many other medical conditions.

Image: Flickr/Da Sal

These stories and more were originally published on the Science Museum website and interactive news gallery ‘Antenna‘.

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