Every week there are many new discoveries and advancements in science, technology, engineering and math. Let's take a look back at some of the most interesting ones from the past couple of weeks!

5. Mathematician proves elusive property of prime numbers

In most scientific disciplines, scientists can only ever have theories, regardless of how much evidence supports them. But mathematics is an exception, because it has certainty of proofs! A particularly interesting one was published last week regarding prime numbers. Prime numbers are numbers that can only be divided by themselves and 1. Because of their unique properties, these numbers are considered the building blocks of arithmetic and have fascinated thinkers for thousands of years. When prime numbers are low, the distance between them is small. For example, in the sequence 1, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 29, 31…, the distance between prime numbers alternates between 2 and 4. But as numbers become greater, so does the average distance between. Since there is an infinite number of prime numbers, mathematicians have long wondered how far apart they actually get. This problem was long thought to be unsolvable, but a recent study by mathematician Yitang Zhang at the University of New Hampshire has proved that there is a number less than 70 million (let’s call it “N”) that represents the maximum distance between prime numbers, no matter how large they become. While we still don’t know exactly what N is, at least we now know it exists!

4. Scientists build record-setting metamaterial flat lens

Scientists working at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in the United States have built a futuristic flat lens out of metamaterial. The lens can produce a floating 3D image, whereas traditional microscopes can only produce 2D images. In addition to being just plain cool, this new lens can help researchers working at the nanoscale in fields like photolithography, 3D imaging, and who knows what else!

3. Scientists find 1.5 billion year-old pockets of water in Canadian mine

Researchers from the University of Toronto, Manchester University and the University of Lancaster have found ancient pockets of water in a Canadian mine. The water contains familiar gases like hydrogen and methane, as well as some rare noble gases such as helium, xenon, argon and neon. These gases are thought to have been formed through interactions with nearby radioactive rocks. Since radioactive materials decay at a known rate, it is relatively easy to determine their age. The scientists who analyzed these particular isotopes believe that the water they were found in is somewhere between 1.1 billion and 2.5 billion years old! Researchers are now analyzing the water to see if it contains any living microbes. Scientists have previously found living things in the earth’s crust, but never in water this old. Other planets such as Mars may also have deposits of ancient water in their crusts. If there is life in the deposits found on Earth, could there also be life deep below the surface of Mars?

2. Scientists clone human embryos for stem cells.

Researchers at the Oregon Health and Science University have just cloned human embryos for the purpose of obtaining stem cells. Stem cells are of special interest to medical researchers because they are omnipotent. This means they are able to differentiate (transform) into any kind of cell, from kidney cells to skin cells to muscles cells. And because embryos have not yet developed into specific human tissues, they are a good source of stem cells.

The researchers were able clone human embryos using a method similar to the one used to create Dolly the sheep. They obtained cells from one person and an egg from another. Then, they removed the existing DNA from the egg and inserted the DNA from the cell donor to create an embryo. These embryos produced stem cells that were a genetic match to the first individual. While some consider this a great advancement in science, others are concerned about the moral implications of both harvesting stem cells from embryos and cloning humans.

Because of their ability to become any type of cell, stem cells could potentially lead to treatments and cures for many medical conditions and diseases. For example, in the case of type I diabetes, where the pancreas malfunctions and stops properly producing insulin, stem cells could be used to create new, fully functioning pancreatic cells or even a whole new pancreas. Stem cell research also has the potential to change the lives of individuals with spinal cord injuries. By regenerating damaged spinal tissue using stem cells, people with spinal cord injuries could regain feeling and movement in parts of their body where it was previously lost. There are also benefits to growing tissue for new organs using your own DNA, as opposed to transplanting another person’s organ: it can be done at any time, not just when an organ becomes available after someone dies, and it reduces the risk that your body will reject the transplanted organ, since the tissue will be genetically identical to yours. However, stem cell research often generates controversy because of the associated bioethical issues. Opponents to stem cell research argue that it is morally wrong to create a human embryo with the intention of destroying it. This new research is likely to stir up even more controversy, since it takes one step closer to cloning humans. What’s your point of view?

1. 3D Printing revolution in medicine

3D printing creates an object by building it layer by layer, eliminating the need to cut and assemble individual pieces. The printer is told what to do by computers that read CAD drawings and blueprints, breaking the object up into thousands of layers. The printer then uses the information to build the object. While the technology has been around for well over 20 years, it was traditionally only used to build product prototypes. Not anymore.

Over the past year, increased attention has been paid to 3D printing and what it can do. In the field of medicine, 3D printing is useful for creating implants and specialized prosthetics, among other things. As a result, 3D printing technology has improved the quality of life for some and saved the lives of others.

The most recent use of 3D printing in medicine to hit the news involves an airway splint printed by a 3D printer that saved a baby’s life.

3D printing allows for the rapid production of customized products, such as the splint that was used in the baby’s airway. Images taken during a CT scan were the basis for the blueprint of the splint. The details were fed into a computer and the implant was printed. Medical implants are not the only things that can be produced using a 3D printer—organs can be printed as well. Recently, researchers were able to print a tiny human liver. In the future, do you think this technology, along with the ability to grow new tissue using your own DNA, could lead to the production of customized organs?

Heather Auld


Hi!

My name is Heather, and I am a PhD student in the Biology Department at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada where I study how an individual's environment influences their behaviour. Most of my research is done in Trinidad, The West Indies, but I love to travel to all different kinds of ecosystems.

I also work on CurioCity as a Science Editor and to help bring you the most interesting stories and breakthroughs happening in science! I volunteer with Let's Talk Science as an outreach volunteer in Ottawa and rural Ontario. 

I love to observe and photograph the amazing animals and landscapes from around the world. 


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