Kilograms gaining weight around the world.
Kilograms are defined by the mass of the International Prototype of the Kilogram (IPK), which is stored in Paris, with 40 replicas around the world also used when precise weight measurements are required.
These replicas are taken out and handled more frequently than the IPK, which has led to concern that they may have gained weight by as much as 50 micrograms each.
To combat this problem, scientists at Newcastle University have published a method for cleaning the replicas, by exposing them to ultraviolet light and ozone about once a decade. The replicas are then given a pure water rinse to remove dust particles.
The IPK is also used when defining the mass of one pound, and Live Science notes that if “each country that has one of these standard masses has a slightly different definition of the kilogram, [that] could throw off science experiments that require very precise weight measurements or international trade in highly restricted items that are restricted by weight, such as radioactive materials.”
Stopping cold: USC scientists turn off the ability to feel cold
USC neuroscientists have isolated chills at a cellular level, identifying the sensory network of neurons in the skin that relays the sensation of cold.
David McKemy, associate professor of neurobiology in the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, and his team managed to selectively shut off the ability to sense cold in mice while still leaving them able to sense heat and touch.
In prior work, McKemy discovered a link between the experience of cold and a protein known as TRPM8 (pronounced trip-em-ate), which a sensor of cold temperatures in neurons in the skin, as well as a receptor for menthol, the cooling component of mint. Now, in a paper appearing in the Journal of Neuroscience on February 13, McKemy and his co-investigators have isolated and ablated the neurons that express TRPM8, giving them the ability to test the function of these cells specifically.
Using mouse-tracking software program developed by one of McKemy’s students, the researchers tested control mice and mice without TRPM8 neurons on a multi-temperature surface. The surface temperature ranged from 0 degrees to 50 degrees Celsius (32 to 122 degrees Farenheit), and mice were allowed to move freely among the regions.
The researchers found that mice depleted of TRPM8 neurons could not feel cold, but still responded to heat. Control mice tended to stick to an area around 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) and avoided both colder and hotter areas. But mice without TRPM8 neurons avoided only hotter plates and not cold — even when the cold should have been painful or was potentially dangerous.
In tests of grip strength, responses to touch, or coordinated movements, such as balancing onto a rod while it rotated, there was no difference between the control mice and the mice without TRPM8-expressing neurons.
By better understanding the specific ways in which we feel sensations, scientists hope to one day develop better pain treatments without knocking out all ability to feel for suffering patients.
"The problem with pain drugs now is that they typically just reduce inflammation, which is just one potential cause of pain, or they knock out all sensation, which often is not desirable," McKemy said. "One of our goals is to pave the way for medications that address the pain directly, in a way that does not leave patients completely numb."
5 Amazing Scientific Discoveries We Don’t Know What to Do With
Every day, scientists make discoveries that change the way we live. But sometimes, just sometimes, they achieve results that are so extraordinary or unexpected that they literally don’t know what to do with them. Here are five of the most puzzling.
Mind-bending material properties
In January, a team of physicists from Rutgers and MIT published a paper in Nature describing a new property of matter. While fiddling around with a super-cooled Uranium compound, URu2Si2, they found that it breaks something called double time-reversal symmetry. Normal time-reversal symmetry states that the motion of particles looks the same running back and forth in time: magnets break that, though, because if you reverse time, the magnetic field they produce reverses direction. You have to reverse time twice to get them back to their original state.
This new material, though, breaks double time-reversal symmetry. That means you need to reverse time four times for the behaviour to get back to its original state. It’s something the scientists have dubbed hastatic order - and if you’re struggling to get your head round it, well, that’s the appropriate reaction. The scientists who discovered the phenomenon can’t explain a good physical example of what it is, how it works, or what it means.
The universe weighs less than we thought
When the world’s best scientists decided to team up and measure the mass of the universe all the way back in the 1970s, they set themselves a pretty tall challenge. Applying their best understanding of gravity and the dynamics of galaxies, though, they came up with an answer - an answer which sadly predicts our universe should be falling apart. We know that the Universe’s matter orbits a single central point and that must mean its own motion generates enough centripetal force to make that happen.
But calculations suggest that there’s not actually enough mass in the galaxies to produce the forces required to keep it moving in the way we’ve observed. So physicists scratched their heads, worried a little, then proudly stated that there must be more stuff out there than we can see. That’s the theory behind what everyone now refers to as Dark Matter. The only problem? In the past 40 years, nobody has confirmed whether it really exists or not - so, effectively, the problem thrown up by those initial calculations remains.
The placebo effect
Feed a sick man a dummy pill that he thinks will cure him and, often, his health will improve in a similar way to someone taking real drugs. In other words, a bunch of nothing can improve your health. In theory, it could be a poweful treatment technique.
But experiments have shown that the kind of nothing you deliver matters: when palcebos are laced with a drug that blocks the effects of morphine, for instance, the effect vanishes. While that proves that the placebo effect is somehow biochemical (and not just a psychological effect) we know practically nothing else about the power of placebo.
It’s real, sure. It can help people get better, agreed. But if we’re ever to make anything of the much-studied but little-understood effect, we’re going to have to unpick how the mind can affect the body’s biochemistry - and, right now, nobody knows.
Temperatures below absolute zero
It used to be that scientists all agreed that it was impossible to achieve temperatures below absolute zero. It was literally the coldest anything could ever get. Late last year, though, a team of scientists from the Max-Planck-Institute in Germany blew that out of the water: finally, they’d cooled a cloud of gas atoms to below −273.15°C. In fact, the result was as much a quirk of the definition of temperature as anything else, and the way it relies on both energy and entropy (the measure of disorder of particles). New Scientist explains:
In principle [it’s] possible to keep heating the particles up, while driving their entropy down. Because this breaks the energy-entropy correlation, it marks the start of the negative temperature scale, where the distribution of energies is reversed – instead of most particles having a low energy and a few having a high, most have a high energy and just a few have a low energy.
It’s this curious logic that allowed the Max-Planck-Institute researchers to cool a variety of atoms in a vacuum, for the the first time ever, to below absolute zero. So far, though, they haven’t managed to work out what to do with the chilled particles.
Back in 1989, a pair of scientists -Fleischmann and Pons- claimed that they’d achieved a remarkable feat: they’d successfully observed nuclear fusion at room temperatures. Momentarily, the finding was heralded as a revolutinary discovery that could transform energy production around the globe. Sadly their experiments weren’t reproducible, but they did inspire scientists to study cold fusion in more depth.
Turns out, the process is in fact theoretically possible. For two atoms to fuse together, they need to come close enough to each other to overcome their mutual electric repulsion, which is caused by the cloud of electrons that orbit them. Usually that’s made possible by super-high temperatures -like at the center of the sun- but quantum physics suggests that there is at least the possibility that atoms can fuse without the need for energy injection via high tempeatures.
And it’s that hope that means a small band of scientists still work in the shadows, trying to get cold fusion to work. Of course, while occasional results come and go, they tend to be rather dubious. Fundamentally that’s because, even though quantum theory tells us it should be possible, nobody knows how to use that understanding to actually get a fusion reaction going.
The Higgs Boson
Just kiddin’. We’ve known what to do with Higgs since forever.