Snooze (this week in Science news): November 6th

    Science and technology news had an up-and-down week. On the bright side, male birth control was found to a have a 96 percent effectiveness rate – and on the not so bright side, scientists have found out that the Arctic might be ice-free in September in just 29 years. Researchers at UC San Diego (UCSD) and at Northwestern also make headlines this week. Take a look!

    Northwestern scientists confirm correlation between air pollution and heart disease

    Courtesy of Small scholar / Flickr

    Doesn’t this seem a little obvious?

    Yes, but now it's been proven. And it's very definitive. In fact, 6,795 participants aged 45 to 84 years old in six different U.S. metropolitan areas were involved. The ten-year-long study was published in the Lancet, one of the world's oldest and most respected medical journals, by Martha Daviglus, MD, PhD, an adjunct professor of Medicine and Preventive Medicine at the Feinberg School of Medicine. Seriously though – Go ‘Cats.

    What exactly did they find out?

    Well basically, there is now ample evidence to confirm the relationship between cardiovascular disease and increased concentration of air pollution. Specifically, air pollution leads to coronary calcification and carotid artery thickness, big science words that mean air pollution leads to less effective blood circulation by your body’s most important muscle – the heart. This research was clearly very important, as it was funded by the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Institutes of Health.

    Male Birth Control

    Does it work?

    Yep. Recently announced results from a clinical trial indicated that the birth control method, which is administered as a shot, is about 96 percent effective in preventing pregnancy. However, the study was discontinued after four years due to side effects reported by subjects. The side effects in question include acne, increased libido, pain at the injection site, muscle pain and depression and other mood disorders. Despite these side effects, about 75 percent of men in the study reported that they were willing to use the contraceptive.

    Tell me more about those side effects…

    Many of the side effects reported by the men are things already experienced by millions of women due to female birth control. Moreover, in many cases, the side effects from existing female birth control are worse than what is reported by the men. According to Julie Beck of the Atlantic, “Minastrin 24 FE, a low-hormone birth control pill, [may cause] headaches, nausea, menstrual cramps, yeast infections, breast tenderness, acne, mood swings, and weight gain. NuvaRing, a hormonal vaginal ring [may cause] vaginal-tissue irritation, headaches, mood changes, nausea and vomiting, weight gain, breast pain, painful menstruation, abdominal pain, acne, and decreased libido.” The fact that a review board axed the study prematurely due to the side effects experienced by the male participants has provoked criticism, because many of the same side effects deemed too intense for the men have been suffered by women for decades. Indeed, about 99 percent of sexually active women have used some form of birth control, and no one seems particularly concerned about their side effects.

    Researchers at UC San Deigo create Magnetic Ink

    Wait, what?

    Yeah. Researchers at UCSD this week announced a new form of “self-healing” magnetic ink. The ink, which incorporates microscopic neodymium particles, can heal itself from cuts up to 3 mm long in just a fraction of a second. “Just like the human skin is stretchable and self-healing, we wanted to impart a self-healing ability to printed electronics,” says Amay Bandodkar, one of the researchers on the team.

    This sounds cool, but why does this matter?

    The ink matters because it has promising applications in so-called “connected clothing,” which is clothing that has sensors embedded in it, allowing the wearer to track their biometrics. In order create the lightest and most comfortable apparel possible, manufacturers have been experimenting with printing circuits and sensors directly onto the fabric. However, when the circuitry is embedded right in the fabric, a tiny rip or hole in your clothes could take them offline. The ink proposed by the researchers offers a cheap and simple way to combat that problem, and could ensure that your connected clothes stay functional despite getting damaged. Finally, the ink is substantially cheaper than other proposed self-healing materials, and unlike similar projects that have relied on polymers, this ink heals itself without external inputs such as heat. Although clothing is the most obvious application of this new technology, the researchers speculate that it could have broader applications across the electronics industry, from solar panels to medical devices.

    Climate Change is alarmingly bad

    Courtesy of Jereon Noot / Flickr

    Do I want to know how bad?

    Even if you don’t, you should. Climate change is so critical to the loss of Arctic ice that driving a car 90 miles, the distance from San Diego to Los Angeles, melts a square foot of ice during the warm month of September. That is very, very concerning. In fact, the average American is responsible for melting 50 square meters of September sea ice according to U.S. News.

    O.K., what does this mean for the future?

    Well as you could probably tell, nothing good. The Arctic loses 33,670 square miles of ice every September. From 1979 to 2000, the lowest volume of Arctic sea ice was 2.6 million square miles. This year, it went down to 1.6 million, a loss equivalent to the size of the U.S. east of the Mississippi River. Unless we start taking things very seriously, the Arctic will be ice-free in the month of September in just 29 years.


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