Another Week in Science has flown by, but what have we got to show for it? Well, we've discovered that parrots could make master thieves, that your sense of taste and male fertility are linked, and we've created a real-life telescopic contact lens with an up to 2.8 times zoom.
If that wasn't enough, curiously we've discovered that the glass that sits atop your phone's screen is actually physically shrinking, getting smaller and smaller as you read this. Crazy stuff.
The glass on your phone is shrinking in on itself
Scientists have discovered that the glass slapped across the front of your phone is actually shrinking, even now. Unlike most other glass, Corning's Gorilla Glass has impurities in the form of potassium and sodium ions added into the mix to boost its durability.
At the point of manufacture, the ions embedded in the glass exist in energetically unfavourable positions within the random array of silicon atoms in the glass.
This results in their slow shift into less energetic, more stable positions, which reduces the energy held within the atomic structure of the glass.
This reduction in energy manifests itself in a physical shrinkage, with a 1-metre square of the stuff actually reducing by 5 micrometres in both width and height within the first 10 days, and then shrinking a further 5 micrometres during the next 18 months.
Given the tiny amount the glass actually shrinks, it's not an issue for your smartphone right now, but some day, when tolerances get that small, it could be. [PRL]
Your sense of taste and healthy sperm production are linked
Here's something you don't read every day. The same receptors involved in your taste of both sweetness and umami are also crucial in the production of healthy sperm.
Scientists looking into taste discovered that mice genetically modified to posses the human TAS1R3 receptor gene, that were then given receptor blockers, lost their taste of sweetness and umami as desired, but were also rendered infertile.
Given that some drugs for the control of metabolic diseases and certain herbicides specifically target the Tas1r3 receptor, it could have large implications on the progressive decline of male fertility. Thankfully, the mice returned to normal with two weeks of cessation of the therapy, which is good news for us. [PNAS]
HIV eradicated by ordinary bone marrow replacement
Two men have seemingly been completely cleared of HIV thanks to bone marrow transplants from ordinary adults.
Treated in Boston, both men saw rapidly declining levels of the retrovirus, reducing it to undetectable levels post bone marrow infusion, resulting in neither of them requiring any further antiretroviral therapy.
The remarkable thing about these particular two cases is that the donor marrow came from normal, non-HIV genetically resistant people, which brings new hope of a permanent and abundant cure for the future. [Guardian]
Lasers could test your blood without ever puncturing the skin
Using the photoacoustic effect, as discovered way back in 1880 by Alexander Graham Bell, lasers can detect the shape of red blood cells from outside the body.
The photoacoustic effect dictates that when a material absorbs light from a pulsing source it heats up, expands a little and emits sound waves as a result. Using lasers pulses lasting less than one nanosecond, researchers can induce red blood cells to emit sound waves in the 100MHz range, revealing the tiniest details in their shape and formation in a similar manner to ultrasound.
This allows scientists to detect parasites like malaria or genetic diseases like sickle cell anemia using just 21 cells in a single sample, or even possibly through the skin.
The researchers are also looking at detecting cancer cells within the blood using a different frequency of laser closer to UV. While still in the preliminary research stages, lasers could revolutionise rapid blood testing. [Biophysics]
Request denied, Mr. Spock
The hope of millions of Trekkies everywhere to have a real celestial body named Vulcan has been dashed by the International Astronomical Union.
Despite even Captain Kirk, a one William Shatner, getting in on the lobbying action, the IAU has named Pluto's two new moons, Kerberos and Styx, sticking firmly with Greek mythology. Sadly it seems Vulcan will have to remain fictional, until Star Trek-loving privateers venture out in to deep space at least. [IAU]
A contact lens that gives you an optical zoom right on your eyeball
DARPA-funded scientists have managed to create a contact lens that's just over 1mm thick, but can give the wearer a 2.8 times magnified view. Not only that but the user can switch between zoomed and normal 1x magnification.
A ring of magnifying optics surrounds a central unmagnified view, with liquid crystal shutters that block off either the central lens or the ring around the outside, switching from normal to zoomed view for the wearer.
Right now the shutter mechanism is built into a modified pair of active-shutter 3D glasses placed over the eyeball, but the researchers are confident they can embed the equipment directly in the lens.
The only issue they've got is precisely how to switch on or off the LCD shutters when mounted in the contact lens, as getting power to your eyeball is something optical engineers like this have been fighting with for some time now. [New Scientist]
Parrots can crack locks
When you think of parrots you might think of pirates, not master thieves, but it seems parrots are pretty good at picking locks.
The birds, in a test of intelligence, understanding, goal-directed behaviour and learning from consequences, were able to pick a lock by removing a pin, a screw and by turning a wheel to release a latch.
Most of the parrots in the test completed the task with a little bit of instruction, but one particular feathered friend was able to pick the lock to get at a visible nut within two hours without any human interference at all. Impressive stuff given the level of manipulation and learning required to crack the lock. [New Scientist]