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Monday, September 27, 2021

This Week in Science

*Editor’s note: This is a new section of the science page. Every week, we will publish the top seven (according to us) most fascinating science breakthroughs that we don’t have space to write articles about.

Health:
Sorry guys, size does matter (but not a lot). A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that women judge men’s attractiveness based partly on penis size. The best line from the study was, “The penis is not an island.” This means that male physical attractiveness is based on many other factors as well, including body-size, hip-to-shoulder ratio, muscle tone, hair and voice level. I just feel sorry for the 105 women who had to look at slideshows of 343 naked men.

Solar System:
We might find some form of life on Io, one of Jupiter’s moons. Astronomers recently discovered that the surface of Io is rich in hydrogen peroxide. So, who cares? All life (as we know it) requires water and certain elements like carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and sulfur, but it also needs some form of energy, either light or chemical. Io has the liquid water, and it has the elements. The recently found hydrogen peroxide could provide the chemical energy needed to jump-start life. The theory is based on the fact that peroxides were critical to the formation of life on Earth.

Biology:
If you enjoy cooking with vinegar or drinking kombucha, your tastebuds owe their pleasure to a genus of bacteria called Acetobacter. This same group of bacteria has recently been engineered to produce a material called nanocellulose, which could revolutionize the industry of industrial biofuels. The resilient nature of nanocellulose also has applications in making stronger, lighter body armor, wound dressings and the cellular scaffolds for building new organs for transplantation.

Green Energy:
Engineers have nearly completed construction of a completely solar-powered airplane. In early May of this year, the plane is set to make the first-ever crossing of the United States without any fuel. Should the flight prove successful, the team will begin preparations for the first-ever round-the-world flight powered by solar energy.

Technology:
A new camera system has been developed that can create detailed, 3D images from over 1 km away. The camera bounces photons off of an object and measures how long it takes for the photon to return to the camera. The system can measure the “flight time” of individual photons, and is accurate down to a single millimeter. The new camera system accurately produced a 3D model of an entire mannequin, including the facial features, from almost half a mile away. This new system will be highly useful in autonomous robots, self-driving cars, military drones and other instances of machine vision.

Spacetime:
A group of physicists have recently proposed a new model of the universe that directly competes with the “accelerating expansion” theory. Current theories hypothesize that the universe is continuously expanding, and that the expansion is getting faster and faster due to the forces exerted by dark energy or dark matter. This new theory instead states that instead of the expansion speeding up, it is actually time that is slowing down. The astronomical observations such as redshift that we associate with an expanding universe continue to hold true for this new theory, and the slowing-time theory does not rely on an immeasurable “dark energy” for it to be true.

Medicine:
A group of doctors at Washington University at St. Louis have recently discovered that they can cause individual cells in the body to move towards a tiny beam of light. Human eyes contain opsin, a light-sensitive protein that translates light into vision. The researchers genetically modified human immune cells to contain opsin, which made the immune cells sensitive to light and gave them the ability to be guided by a laser. This holds great potential for being able to reverse immune system diseases such as diabetes, and even some hereditary heart diseases.

HUDSON LOFCHIE can be reached at science@theaggie.org.

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