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Science around the world this week

Jordan Ross reports on key science stories from around the globe this week

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Skin-tech breakthrough: New medical device displays heart rate on your arm

In a collaborative study published in Nature, Japanese scientists have created a novel electronic, wearable sensor. The thin skin-like device can comfortably attach to a patient’s own skin and detect vital medical information, such as heart activity in the form of a wave structure, also known as an echo-cardiogram or ECG.

This medical data can be viewed live on the patient, sent to a smartphone or even saved in the virtual cloud. The nanomesh device can be worn for a week and is highly flexible, stretchy, and safe. This futuristic medical aid could revolutionise patient care and be crucial in managing the ageing population.

 

Cyclone Gita pummels parts of Oceania

This week, Cyclone Gita, a category four tropical wind storm, has caused widespread disruption and damage to parts of the South Pacific. In severely affected Tonga, winds of up to 200 km/h, heavy rainfall and flooding have left two dead, 41 injured.

The cyclone has also destroyed the island’s parliament building and damaged over 1000 homes, leaving many without electricity or water.

After being downgraded by meteorologists to a storm, Gita has caused extreme weather in New Zealand. Seven metre high waves have left 100 people stranded in the south island, resulting in closed roads, schools and dismantled buildings. The clear up is underway with severe long-term consequences expected.

 

NASA’s Kepler collaboration discovers 95 new exoplanets which may harbour life

In a paper from 14th February, an international team of researchers from mainly American and Danish institutions announced the discovery of 95 new planets outside our solar system. These exoplanets were found using observations from NASA’s Kepler (K2) mission.

Astronomers analysed the telescope’s data for sudden drops in light caused by the shadow cast as the exoplanet passes by its star. There were 275 candidates and 95 confirmed as real exoplanets. They vary from rocky and earth-like structures to gaseous Jupiter-like formations. This study observed the brightest star that has ever been orbited by a Kepler planet. These observations increase Kepler’s exoplanet discovery to a total of over 5100, many may even be capable of harbouring life.

 

Nigeria’s New Year crisis: Over 40 die as WHO responds to 2018 Lassa outbreak

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has confirmed at least 43 people have died, and 450 have become infected, with Lassa fever in a recent breakout in Nigeria. The virus, endemic to West Africa and transmitted by multimammate mice or contact with infected bodily fluids, can occur without symptoms presenting. However, it is also known to cause bleeding from the nose, gums or eyes.

Experts have argued the outbreak is a result of Nigeria’s increased population density, ineffective hygiene practices and under-prepared healthcare system. The WHO is providing advice and equipment, and is sending medical experts to curb the outbreak throughout the region.

 

Micro-plastic substances present in ‘every three out of four’ North-West Atlantic Fish

In an Irish study, marine biologists found that out of the deep-sea fish living at 200-1000 meters sampled, 73 per cent contained micro-plastic material in their gut. This figure is “one of the highest frequencies … globally,” according to researcher Alina Wieczorek.

The fish sampled were from distant seas and differing depths and included species such as Tuna fish. Their micro-plastic level was measured and care taken to exclude air plastic contamination. The plastic toxins not only harm the fish themselves, but also spread pollutants when fish travel or journey to the surface.

The news of this research adds to a current ongoing debate surrounding the growing issue of plastic pollution in oceans.