We’ve got a pulse

What’s hot and what’s not in world sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - TECH SCIENCE - By MANDY tHOO

‘ 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

Slug­gard ants

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

Bac­te­rial city

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

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