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Khalil’s Picks (20 July 2012)

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Good, diverse bunch of articles from young and early-career science writers in this week’s selection: a giant zebrafish tank, paint that absorbs chemical weapons, science of pancakes and so much more.

Yep, perfect.

Kathleen Raven writes for Nature Medicine’s blog, Spoonful of Medicine, about the European Zebrafish Resource Center which just got renovated and can now maintain 400,000 live zebrafish (the title gave that away).

One fish, two fish and 400,000 zebrafish

Hundreds of translucent creatures that biomedical researchers rely on for genetic insights settled into new digs today as researchers opened a newly refurbished and expanded animal repository called the European Zebrafish Resource Center. Housed at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) in southwest Germany, the center can maintain 400,000 live fish at maximum capacity in more than 3,000 tanks, and will include lab space for on-site zebrafish in vitro fertilization. Uwe Strähle, a geneticist at KIT, told Nature Medicine by phone after the ribbon-cutting ceremony that European zebrafish researchers eager to preserve their hard-won transgenic and mutant lines may begin submitting eggs to the center. Currently the center houses 300 transgenic lines but Strähle expected the collection to expand to hold thousands of lines in the next five years.

On The Economist, Akshat Rathi writes about one cool piece of technology the military is developing: paints that can absorb chemical weapons.

Gas-guzzling paint

Although there has been no large-scale use of chemical weapons since the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, armies need to be prepared for the threat. Part of that preparation means being able to decontaminate people and equipment that have been subject to attack. The suits and masks worn by soldiers can, if necessary, be thrown away once used, but heavier and more expensive equipment, such as vehicles, cannot be treated in such a cavalier fashion. It needs to be cleaned. At the moment, that is usually done by sloshing it with a solution of hydrogen peroxide. This works, but lugging the stuff around is a nuisance—and so is disposing of it once it has been used. Instead, Britain’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, working in collaboration with AkzoNobel, a paints company, proposes to do the job with special paint.

Pluto may no longer be a planet but this has not discouraged astronomers from continuing to observe it. They’ve just discovered a fifth moon orbiting it, as writes Amy Shira Teitel for Discovery News.

How Pluto got its moons

With the announcement last week that astronomers have found a fifth moon orbiting around Pluto, the dwarf planet’s system got a little more crowded. Of course, Pluto hasn’t gained a new moon; we’re just getting better at finding the satellites already out there. Finding moons of a planet that far away isn’t easy. It’s taken astronomers a long time to find Pluto’s moons, and there’s likely more to find.

Geoengineering comes with the premise that large-scale engineering of the Earth’s environment can keep our planet fit for humans to live on. But Joel Winston, in Wired UK, writes that geoengineering may actually do the opposite.

Geoengineering Could Backfire, Make Climate Change Worse

Deploying giant space mirrors and spraying particles from stadium-sized balloons may sound like an engineer’s wild fantasy, but climate models suggest that the potential of geoengineering to offset rising atmospheric carbon dioxide may be significantly overstated. Through a variety of computer simulations used for reporting to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the team investigated a scenario where an increase in the world’s atmospheric carbon dioxide levels was balanced by a “dimming” of the sun.

Rachel Nuwer writes about SMART materials in her latest for Txchnologist. SMART materials are very cool—and smart, obviously—as they can adjust to their environments. For instance, Rachel tells us that SMARTs can be embedded in water pipes to maintain a stable pH for drinking water.

New SMART Materials Regulate, Respond to Their Environment

Our bodies are amazing. As living beings, we regulate our own temperature, pH, glucose levels and pressure. In effect, we automate our own little meaty microcosm. But what if inanimate materials could self-regulate their environment, too? The potential applications of such self-monitoring substances could extend to all facets of society, from green energy to biomedical aids to robots. Now, researchers at Harvard have taken the first step towards achieving that vision.

Great weekend reading to conclude: the science of pancakes by Aatish Bhatia.

Pancakes, served with a side of science

There are few pleasures in life that exceed the simple joy of devouring home-cooked pancakes on a Sunday afternoon. I’m not much of a cook, but brunch is by far my favorite meal. So I decided that it’s time to take matters into my own hands, and improve my pancake making skills. Oddly enough, the first job I ever had as a college freshman was as a breakfast chef in my dorm. Back then, I’d make pancakes from a box, using Aunt Jemima’s pancake mix. I’ve since realized that it’s not much harder to make pancakes from scratch, and it’s a whole lot more gratifying. The quest for the perfect pancake is something of a lifelong journey. But unlike other boring journeys, this one is delicious, and served with syrup. Mmmm.

More links are always welcome in the comments. Have a smashing weekend.

Khalil A. Cassimally About the Author: Khalil A. Cassimally is the Community Coordinator of The Conversation UK. He's also a science blogger. He hails from a tropical island and is a happy geek. Subscribe to his updates on Facebook and Google+. Follow on Twitter @notscientific.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.



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