We’ve got a pulse
What’s hot and what’s not in world science and technology.
‘ Frozen’ heart still beats
PLUTO’s heart, previously thought by scientists to be broken and frozen, might still be “beating”. Scientists at Washington University have found that the heart- shaped region, discovered in 2015 and called Sputnik Planum, replenishes itself with new ice continuously.
Each “beat” occurs when nitrogen ice rises upwards from the planet’s subsurface and spreads sideways, clearing craters in the area and keeping the surface smooth. The repaving is estimated to occur every 500,000 to one million years, which scientists consider rapid in a small and freezing planet far away from the Sun. See: http:// bit. ly/ 1OekoKr
turning over a super leaf
A new “bionic leaf ” can convert sunshine into energy more efficiently than natural leaves do. Developed by Harvard University, the leaf – a set- up of bacteria- filled liquid with wires around the jar – is a combination of solar panels, genetically modified bacteria as well as a catalyst.
The modified bacteria were found to perform 10 times better than the fastest- growing plants in turning carbon, oxygen and hydrogen into energy. They could also produce biofuels as well as molecules that are used to make biode- gradable plastic. See: http:// bit. ly/ 22Dd79s
Ants that grow up alone or in small groups have stunted brains as well as behaviour, the University of Scranton reveals. After raising one- or two- dayold ants in test tubes, the team found that the brain parts linked to learning and memory were half the size of those of non- isolated ants.
The secluded ants were also socially inept, as they were less aggressive than the “normal” ones. The findings show the importance of socialising in learning and memory, they say. “If you want a big brain, grow up with friends.” See: http:// wapo. st/ 1TEtjBC
An underwater area that contains bizarre structures similar to cobblestones and stone cylinders is not a lost city, scientists at Britain’s University of East Anglia have confirmed. Once thought to be of human origin, these “pillars” and “streets” located below the island of Zakynthos, Greece, were found to have been formed by bacteria.
The cement structures were developed when the bacteria fed on and reacted with methane that seeped from the Earth’s subsurface million of years ago. The cylinders, for example, were a result of bacteria gathering around a hole that leaked the gas. See: http:// bit. ly/ 25HXpMa
Pink hot seats
Pregnant women could soon encourage passengers to give up seats on public transport using just a wireless device. Developed in South Korea, the “pink light” system equips the metal bars next to priority seats with lights, which are activated by wireless sensors.
The sensors are placed on the clothes or bags of pregnant women, and have six months of battery life. Having been tested by 500 women in the country’s second largest city, Busan, the system will allow pregnant ladies to obtain priority seats without having to ask for them. See: http:// apne. ws/ 1ZAtUZ0
Mandy thoo loves to write about science and lives in Kuala Lumpur. tweet her at @ techhead_
A close- up of Pluto’s Sputnik Planum showing the slowly overturning cells of nitrogen ice. Boulders of water ice and methane debris ( in red) that have broken off hills surrounding the heart have collected at the boundaries of the cells. - nasa