April 2014
Contents / home
FameLabSA 2014
Science Lens winners
Young, innovative and gifted
Intern receives Fellowship in Paris
Transformation in marine science
Looking for the brainiacs of yesteryear
Skies alive with space activities
Training the trainers
On your marks ... Get SET Go!
Schools debates advisory committee
Science community volunteers
The science of giving back
New science communication resource
Bringing nanotech to the disabled
Meet media guru Daryl Ilbury
Water World @ Scifest Africa 2014
Exploring marine science
Sharks, vegetables and alien fish
SAIAB cares
In the news
Upcoming events
It's a fact!

In the news

  Picture: Willem Law
SOUTH AFRICA - Scientists optimistic about new multidrug-resistant TB antibiotic Delamanid

Local tuberculosis experts are optimistic that a novel TB antibiotic, which is being tested on multidrug-resistant TB sufferers in a Cape Town hospital, could revolutionise treatment of the killer disease.

Delamanid, which was tested on about 70 patients in the Brooklyn Chest Hospital, showed impressive results within the first two months of treatment. It was provisionally approved for marketing by the European Medicines Agency following its positive results in more than 500 MDR TB patients on which it was tested around the world.

Dr Florian von Groote-Bidlingmaier, director of the Stellenbosch University Task Applied Science, tested the new drug on patients at the Brooklyn hospital. Early results were so promising that it could potentially be part of the new regimen for MDR patients.

South Africa has one of the highest burdens of tuberculosis in the world. New drug regimens are urgently needed to treat patients, especially patients with drug resistant tuberculosis.

Source: Cape Argus

  Picture: Susumu Takahashi / Reuters
LONDON - How the Samurai were toppled ... by make-up

The fierce samurai warriors of Japan feared no-one and lived in the hope of dying as heroes in battle. But in the end they were done for by make-up.

Researchers have found that children of the samurai class suffered severe lead poisoning because of the cosmetics used by their mothers and grew up deformed, disabled and backward. These handicaps left them unable to cope with political crises, leading to instability that led to the eventual downfall of their feudal system, the study claims.

Dr Tamiji Nakashima of Japan's University of Occupational and Environmental Health studied the bones of children and adults who lived as far back as 400 years ago during Japan's Edo period, when the country was ruled by a series of shoguns who presided over a feudal system upheld by the samurai caste to discover their cause of death. Based on chemical and X-ray analysis, the bones of the children in the study contained levels of lead dozens of times higher than both the male and female adults.

White facial powder used by the women was the cause. "During the Edo period, cosmetics became popular and the vogue was usually introduced by actors, courtesans and geisha, through prints and popular literature, and by beauticians who helped establish fashions," the researchers said.

"The white face powders used in those days were made from mercury chloride and white lead. Lead levels in the bones of adult women were roughly double those of men in the study and their breast milk was likely highly-contaminated, leading to the very severe lead levels in the youngest children."

According to the World Health Organisation, lead causes a variety of ill effects and is particularly harmful to children. Too much lead damages the nervous and reproductive systems, causes high blood pressure and anaemia and accumulates in the bones. It is especially harmful to the developing brains of foetuses and young children, with it interfering with the metabolism of calcium and Vitamin D and causing irreversible effects including learning disabilities, behavioural problems and mental retardation. At very high levels lead poisoning causes convulsions, coma and, eventually, death.

Source: Daily Mail

UNITED STATES - Aircraft inspired by jellyfish

The jellyfish has long been admired by engineers for a simple yet efficient motion that requires just a simple muscle and no brain power, just a primitive nervous system. It has a bell-like translucent skirt that first billows out and then closes tightly, squirting water out from the small opening to provide itself with movement.

Inspired by nature and by the aviation pioneers of the early 20th century, scientists in the US have built the world's first jellyfish aircraft. The tiny, ultra-light lab machine, weighing just 2.1 grammes (0.07 ounces), is the first man-made flying object to hover and move with a motion like that of the jellyfish in water, the inventors believe.

"We were interested first of all in making a robotic insect that would be an alternative to the helicopter," said Leif Ristroph of New York University's Applied Math Lab. "Our interest ended up being a little bit weird - it was the jellyfish."

The aircraft uses four petal-shaped wings, each eight centimetres (four inches) long, that when folded together form a downward-facing "cone". A tiny motor, attached to a crankshaft, causes the wings to push outwards and then downwards, 20 times a second, forcing out air through the bottom of the cone. The result is an "ornithopter", or flying machine that hovers with great stability, without the need for constant, energy-draining correction.

The craft can change direction by making one of the four wings work harder than the others. The materials to make the machine are all over-the-counter components - light carbon-fibre ribs to hold the motor and provide the frames of the wings, which are covered by transparent Mylar film - bought at ordinary modelling stores.

In its present state, the jellyfish aircraft is a "proof-of-concept" device aimed at testing that the idea works. New York University has already filed a patent, said Ristroph. The next step will be to add a battery - the prototype is powered by a fine electrical wire - and remote control.

The invention is reported in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, published by the Royal Society. The feather-weight craft still needs an official name.

Source: AFP

  A still from the PBS Nature documentary Crash (PBS)
This is one of those facts you'll wish you didn't know.

A chemical found in the (pale blue!) blood of the Horseshoe crab can detect mere trace elements of bacterial presence and trap them in sticky clots. Good for the crab, yes, but also good for us - turns out that this biological party trick is the most efficient test yet for the presence of contamination.

Crab blood has proved so popular that every single drug approved by the FDA, as well as any surgical implants like pacemakers, will have undergone testing using it. The good news for the horseshoe crab? Scientists are close to developing a chemical substitute for the useful enzymes. In the meantime, let's spare a thought for the critters that spare our lives every year.

Source: Daily Maverick