It is with a heavy heart that I must say, this is my final set of Weekly Science Picks here on Australian Science. In fact, it’s to be the final set of Weekly Science Picks. Unfortunately, running a site like this one is a costly affair, and it’s been an honour to be a writer here over the past year and a half. Scientific progress will, of course, always carry on and I hope there will always be places to discuss new findings, implications, and effects of it on human culture and society.
So, proudly then, here are the final set of news stories which caught my eye this week. Make no mistake – there’s been some pretty cool news recently!
Firstly, and in my opinion most excitingly, is a medical breakthrough which could actually revolutionise surgery in the future. And anyone who knows me will know that I don’t use words like “revolutionise” lightly. Quite simply, the device is a small pen, developed by the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES), which will be able to deposit stem cells and growth factors directly into injuries. This means that this pen could help injured tissue – bones, muscle, and even nerves – to regrow. Oh, and did I mention it works using 3D printing technology?
The BioPen prototype was designed and built using the 3D printing equipment in the labs at the University of Wollongong and was this week handed over to clinical partners at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, led by Professor Peter Choong, who will work on optimising the cell material for use in clinical trials.
For a long time humans were considered unique in that we use tools where other animal species don’t. But since that old idea, more and more animals – from birds to octopodes – have been shown to use tools in their daily lives. The most recent addition to this collection of smart creatures is the crocodile which has been found to use lures while hunting. Perhaps this might help show that reptiles are smarter than we give them credit for!
Relatively less is known about crocodiles and alligators than many animals, because, as large predators, they are difficult to raise in the lab and study up close in the wild. Their cold-bloodedness also makes them slow. “They operate on a different time scale; they do things more slowly,” Burghardt said. “Sometimes we don’t have the patience to let them strut their stuff, as it were … so this kind of study is important.”
A huge plume of water has been spotted, gushing from the surface of Enceladus, Saturn’s tiny snowball moon. While the exact source of Enceladus’ warmth is still something of a mystery, this sighting means that its activity is quite clear – this water plume is reaching an altitude of around 201 km above the surface of the tiny world. That’s nearly ten times as high as Olympus Mons, the solar system’s largest mountain (which itself dwarfs Everest, the heighest mountain on Earth).
“By far the simplest explanation for this water vapor is that it erupted from plumes on the surface of Europa,” said lead author Lorenz Roth of Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “If those plumes are connected with the subsurface water ocean we are confident exists under Europa’s crust, then this means that future investigations can directly investigate the chemical makeup of Europa’s potentially habitable environment without drilling through layers of ice. And that is tremendously exciting.”
Finally, China’s Chang-e 3 moon rover is poised to land on the lunar surface. Remarkably, this would be the first time in almost 40 years that anyone’s landed anything on the surface of the Moon. It’s also China’s first lunar lander, showing that Chinese space travel technology is advancing in leaps and bounds. To date, the only two nations to have developed the ability to do this have been the USA and the former Soviet Union. It’s due to touchdown in the Bay of Rainbows even as I write this. By the time you read this, it may already have landed!
The first pictures taken from the alien lunar surface in some 37 years are expected to be transmitted within days or hours of touchdown planned as early as Saturday, Dec. 14, at 9:40 p.m. Beijing local time, 8:40 a.m. EST. CCTV, China’s state run network, carried the launch live. It remains to be seen whether they will have live coverage of the landing since there have been no programming announcements.
And with that, I must bid you adieu. My thanks to all of our readers. I hope you’ve enjoyed our website as much as we all have. I hope I’ll see you elsewhere on the internet. In the meantime, you wonderful bundles of stardust, stay curious and don’t forget to be awesome.