Recent Interesting Science Articles (November 2017)

Lots of stuff this month. Some bits are of more science value than others but all are worth including I believe.

  • First off, I should help debunk the widely circulated announcement about a human head transplant. Pretty much all the respectable science sites have condemned it. Here’s one example. The procedure involved transplanting a head from one corpse to another which proves nothing. Most people in the field consider the surgeon in question Sergio Canavero to be a fraud as he prefers to make big announcements to the popular press instead of publishing papers in the usual scientific publications.
  • An announcement that is just as exciting but is actually real is the discovery that bottom quarks can theoretically fuse together in a powerful flash. The explosive energy this releases has been calculated to be something on the order of eight times that of the usual nuclear fusion. This was so alarming to the researchers that they considered keeping the discovery a secret until they realized that there is no way to create a chain reaction of such bottom quarks and so there probably aren’t any military applications.
  • The next article isn’t about a discovery but about the construction of the Giant Magellan Telescope which when complete will be the world’s largest optical observatory. Lots of impressive details about how they manufacture the seven mirrors that are used in the design, each of which weighs 17 tons, and how they are machined and polished to an absurd degree of precision, removing all irregularities larger than 20 nanometers.
  • Another bit of cool technology is how feeding spiders with graphene and carbon nanotubes resulting in them producing super strong spider silk. This was done by adding the materials to their drinking water and the resulting silk is five times stronger than normal. Of course, the silk went back to normal once they stopped adding the special ingredients to their water but they are now thinking of trying it with other animals to see if it strengthens skin, bones and exoskeletons.
  • A cool paper I read recently is this one about Armillaria, a type of forest fungi. They are a parasite that preys on many types of plant hosts and incredibly individuals of the species can grow to encompass up to 965 hectares and weigh 600 tons. Apparently a whole network of rhizomorphs can be just one individual. Most of the paper is an analysis of its genome which is beyond my comprehension but simply learning about the existence of this species is fascinating.
  • Finally a pleasant article is this one about how getting a dog seems to increase your lifespan, especially if you are single. The result isn’t terribly surprising and perhaps part of it is because owning a dog is correlated with a more physically active lifestyle which is good for general health anyway. But part of it appears to be another affirmation of the importance of having some companionship.

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