Archive for October, 2011

How long can you live in space?

Life for an astronaut is tough. The person needs to be in perfect physical condition to withstand the rigors of space life. Science experiments have so far not required them to be in outer space for too long as it is not possible for life to be sustained indefinitely in space.

In case we ever develop scientific technology that allows a spaceship to be self sustaining, there will be the possibility of a Star Trek type long distant vessel exploring outer space. But how will an interstellar journey would be spent in weightlessness affect the human body is the essential question.

Living without gravity can over time decrease the blood volume, atrophy muscles, diminish bone mineral content and impair the vision of the astronaut. A journey of many decades will also see possible conception and birth of children in outer space. It is as yet unclear what the effect of the mother being in space will have on the fetus development.

Since gravity help in giving birth, it will be more difficult to have a child in zero gravity. Maybe cesarean sections will be required. How will the mother react to surgery in space is also yet to be studied. As is evident, the human race is far from developing the technologies needed to survive in space for long durations. Thus it is a time for pursuing more science projects in this field.

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Weaning off Rare Earth Elements

The old proverb goes, necessity is the mother of invention, and is still true today. Rare Earth Elements or REEs are a group of 17 elements that have properties that are extremely useful in the high tech industry. Many science fair projects will use small amounts of these minerals to enhance the capabilities of their working models.

They have uses in solar panels, wind turbines, electric car motors, lithium-ion batteries and missile guiding systems to name a few vital industries. The trouble is that these elements, as the name suggests, are rare. The primary source of supply of these elements was China. They controlled 95% of the global supply for the REEs.

Recently they have decided to reduce the export of the REEs as they need them for domestic projects. This has resulted in a major price hike for all 17 REEs. Nations and industrial firms are scrambling to find alternative sources for them. There is also a lot of science experimentation in progress to try and do without the REEs.

Some science projects in major companies like Toyota and General Electric are dealing with hunting down suitable substitute materials for REES. In the US the Department of Energy has begun 15 research projects that will focus on what the organization calls Rare Earth Alternatives in Critical Technologies for Energy or REACT. As said before, necessity is truly the mother of invention.

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Can drinking Alcohol cause Cancer?

Drinking and driving has long been considered a health hazard. There are any number of examples where lives have been lost just because someone was driving under influence of alcohol. It is tragic, but is that the only danger from alcohol? Apparently not, as a science project recently pointed out.

Cancer Research UK published a study wherein the connection between alcohol consumption with cancer was documented. The study said that for a person who drank more than three drinks a day there was considerable damage to the liver and the heart. While liver cirrhosis has been previously documented, the ill effects of alcohol on the heart have not been studied in such detail.

Drinking heavily add more fat to the bloodstream. This can lead to clogged blood vessels. The study found that high alcohol intake over a long period of time, can lead to high blood pressure, alcoholic cardiomyopathy, congestive heart failure and stroke. A study which was published this year estimated that alcohol consumption caused at least 13,000 cancer cases in the UK annual. Of these about 9,000 cases were detected in men and 4,000 in women.

The two most prominent types of cancer detected were bowel cancer and breast cancer. Heavy drinking in men also caused the sperm quality and quantity to drop. So it would be best as per this science study if alcohol consumption was limited to moderate if you wish to keep your health.

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The Arctic Ozone Hole

So far we have hear about the ozone depletion at the South Pole and over the Antarctic region, but this year the scientists have recorded enough of ozone depletion in the skies above the Arctic to declare that an Arctic Ozone Hole is now a reality. The science experiments that recorded the data over the Arctic say that things are as bad at the North Pole as they are at the South Pole.

The formation of the ozone hole in the Antarctic region has been an annual feature for some decades now, but things are surely getting worse if the same problem is now cropping up in the Arctic region as well. The ozone hole is caused by the combination of cold temperatures and lingering ozone-depleting pollutants in the atmosphere.

The ozone layer is vital to the well being of the denizens of earth as it filters out unwanted radiation entering the atmosphere. The constant depletion of ozone by reaction with polluting chemicals has been playing havoc with this protective layer in the atmosphere.

Despite the ban on aerosols that were seen as the primary culprits, the damage that has already been done is considerable. It is now a vital science project which seeks to save what is left of the ozone layer and to somehow refill the ozone holes that crop up annually at the poles.

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How well do we understand outer space?

There is no doubt that outer space has held human beings fascinated all through history. In the very first science projects man sought to map out the stars in their constellations. This ancient map has been added to by each passing civilization as technology improved. Today we have a much better picture of the night sky than the ancient tribes did and still we continue to learn.

Each year new data is added by scientists who painstakingly study separate sections of the sky. They use powerful telescopes and photograph the view so that they can analyze and study it better. One such science project has been undertaken by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE.

The WISE shows that there are significantly lesser near-Earth asteroids in the mid-size range than previously thought. This was sought out by a survey project, called NEOWISE. In this the scientists explored the entire celestial sky twice in infrared light between January 2010 and February 2011.

As the data from these continuously taken photographs of the celestial sky were studied it was found in this science project that the danger to earth from asteroid collisions was not quite as high as previously thought.  As per the NASA website – “WISE captured a more accurate sample of the asteroid population than previous visible-light surveys because its infrared detectors could see both dark and light objects.”

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