Thursday, 31 October 2013

I've heard that one before...

It has often been said that babies in the womb have the ability to listen and even respond to their mother's voice and other external noises. However scientists from the cognitive brain research unit at Helsinki University, have transposed this idea to another level.

A study using 24 pregnant women in their last trimester was carried out. 12 expectant mothers were asked to play the melody of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star to their foetus' for 5 days each week, whilst the other 12 did not (so they could act as a control). Once the babies were born the scientists played the same version of the nursery rhyme to all 24 children and measured their brain activity via electroencephalography.

The results showed that the babies who were exposed to the melody as foetus' had a stronger electrical response to the music than those who did not hear the ditty before birth. This indicates, that babies are extremely able to learn information at an early age and also have the ability to retain information for a long period of time; suggesting that time in the womb can act as a valuable opportunity to help babies develop.

Explorer Fact: According to this study the babies still respond to music played to them in the womb up to the age of 4 months!

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Skinny Love.

Skin is a weird one. It stretches as we grow, it is self healing, it's waterproof and it keeps us from falling apart (which is the main reason why I love it!).

But in all seriousness, our skin is something short of a masterpiece!

Skin is the largest organ of all mammals. It is not made of just singular layer; there are several different layers all with distinct properties and functions to carry out. As we are humans, I am going to focus on the human skin.

The main functions of human skin are to provide protection from the external environment; to aid in the control of our core body temperature; to allow us to feel our environment and gain information from touch receptors; and finally for the storage and synthesis of vital vitamins (like the synthesis of vitamin D from UV light).

The layers which make up the human skin are the Epidermis, Dermis and the Subcutis. The main role of the Epidermis is to form a basic protection to outside microbes and pathogens and to give a waterproof layer to our bodies. The layer below the Epidermis, is the Dermis. The Dermis, is made mainly from connective tissues such as collagen, elastic and reticular fibres. It bears the strain placed upon the body and acts as a sort of cushion layer. The subsequent layer, the Subcutis' main function is to act as a linker from the skin to the the bone and muscle below.

Skin also comes in a wide range of colours and this is thanks to a little pigment called Melanin. The main role of Melanin is to absorb UV light emitted from the sun. Melanin can be traced back to the Amino Acid Tyrosine. So what does Melanin actually look like? Well from under a microscope it looks like a very small brown freckle with a diameter of less than 800nm. As Melanin's main role is to protect from the sun, it is obvious that those with a darker skin tone are more protected from the sun than those with fairer skin. However as an amazing adaptation, with the exposure to sun, the amount of Melanin, increases in the skin (giving the appearance of a tan).

So the next time someone pokes you, remember that it is your marvellous skin which is acting as a barrier from such an external force, and marvel in the wonder of skin, and think SKINNY LOVE!

Explorer Fact: The Epidermis is made of 5 different layers: Stratum corneum, stratum lucidum, stratum granulosum, stratum spinosum and the stratum basale.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Print me 3D

The average household printer which the majority of us own can only handle the two dimensional world; which for our normal printing needs is sufficient enough. However for others living in a 3D world with a 2D printer just really isn't enough and so they have taken printing to a whole other dimension.

The concept of 3D printers, is not really revolutionary as they have been around for a few years but these printers were more used for printing materials such as plastics. However, the Amaze project has completely rehauled this method and seeks to develop new printable metal compounds which are stronger, lighter and cheaper than their traditional counterparts. 28 institutions, comprising of companies, universities and businesses have teamed up to achieve their goal of printing metallic rocket and plane pieces, in a bid to try and reduce waste, carbon emissions and save money. 

The main metal they are excited about is an alloy of tungsten and they unveiled a prototype of this on Tuesday at London's Science Museum. This alloy has the incredible property of being able to withstand temperatures of up to 3,000C.

As you read this blog, factories are being set up in 6 countries including the UK, to help and develop the industrial supply chain.  So far the only part to be printed has been a 2m section of an aeroplane wing. 

Who knows, maybe this development in technology will lead us to eventually being able to print, complete customised planes, trains and cars.  But is this a good development for the industry? An industry rife with job losses and deficits? It is a possibility. 

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Oh how Noble!

I'm not really one to write about Physics, but I feel that this accolade deserves to be written about.

Peter Higgs and Francois Englert will both share this year's Physics Noble prize for the discovery of the Boson particle. This particle was first referred to in the 1960s where they tried to explain why even the most basic points of the Universe will still carry mass, but it was not until 2012 when the Large Hadron Collider was used and the particle (The Higgs Boson) was finally discovered at CERN.

A fantastic quote taken from the secretary of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, really sums up the importance of the recognition of the work done, by these 2 physicists "This year's prize is about something small that makes all the difference". Not only does phrase sum up the importance of the Boson particle but it also recognises many other scientific breakthroughs.

Generally now, everything developed or discovered is microscopic yet the possibilities they hold can be breathtaking and could potentially make the world of difference.

Explorer Fact: Both Physicists are over the age of 80. Francois is 80 and Peter is 84! Which means they first touched about the Particle when they were merely in their early 30s.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Awake the sleeping babies.

The prospect of having children, is something which most women yearn for. You could say this has been developed from a young age with the playing of 'families' and 'babies', however for some women the future of having a baby is unattainable. This could be due to a number of reasons, the main, due to early menopause.

Doctors in the the US and Japan have developed a technique to 'reawaken' eggs in women who have undergone early menopause. A small group of 27 women were used in this study. The selection criteria was that the women had to have become infertile at the age of 30 due to having insufficient eggs, causing them to run out of eggs, before they have started a family and leading to infertility.

The US and Japanese teams attempted to reactivate any remaining follicles in the ovaries. They removed the ovaries and sliced them into fragments, they then proceeded to add a chemical which inhibits egg development. The ovary fragments were then inserted back into the fallopian tube, and the women were administered with a hormone therapy treatment. The follicles began to develop in around 8 of the women and so the eggs were removed and taken through the stages of normal IVF treatment.

The eggs then gave rise to an actual baby and another baby is also expected shortly. This study, is ground-breaking and could help with other forms of infertility, once the technique has been developed further.

This technique could help to expand the population of the world and continue the baby boom, we here in the UK have experienced year on year!