Monday, May 16, 2016

Paracetamol Switches Off Your Empathy

Paracetamol is the most common painkiller which we all rely on to treat our aches and pains, but it turns out that you might also be decreasing your empathy for both the physical and social pains that other people experience, a new study conducted at Ohio State University suggests. 

It turns out that paracetamol may not only be a painkiller but also an emotion-killer. Researchers found that, for example, when participants in the study took paracetamol and were informed of the misfortunes of others they thought these individuals experienced less pain and suffering,when compared to those who took no painkiller.

"These findings suggest other people's pain doesn't seem as big of a deal to you when you've taken acetaminophen," said Dominik Mischkowski, co-author of the study and a former Ph.D. student at Ohio State, now at the National Institutes of Health.
"Acetaminophen can reduce empathy as well as serve as a painkiller."
This research was conducted at Ohio State University, USA and results were published online in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. 
"We don't know why acetaminophen is having these effects, but it is concerning," said Baldwin Way, the senior author of the study.

How the research was conducted...

The researchers conducted two experiments, the first involving 80 college students. In the start of the experiment, half of the students drank a liquid containing 1,000 mg of paracetamol while the other half drank a placebo solution that contained no drug- the students did not know which solution they were drinking. After waiting for one hour for the drug to take effect, the participants read eight short scenarios in which someone suffered some sort of pain. For example, one scenario was about a person who suffered a knife cut that went down to the bone and another was about a person experiencing the death of his father. Participants rated the pain each person in the scenarios experienced from 1 (no pain at all) to 5 (worst possible pain). They also rated how much the protagonists in the scenarios felt hurt, wounded and pained.
The participants which took 1000mg of paracetamol rated the pain of the people in the scenarios to be less severe than did those who took the placebo solution. 

The second experiment... 

Conducted with 114 college students. As in the first experiment, half took acetaminophen and half took the placebo. In one part of the experiment, the participants received four two-second blasts of white noise that ranged from 75 to 105 decibels. They then rated the noise blasts on a scale of 1 (not unpleasant at all) to 10 (extremely unpleasant). They were then asked to imagine how much pain the same noise blasts would cause in another anonymous study participant. 
The participants in this experiment rated the noise blasts to be less distressing for themselves and they also rated the level of distress lower for others being subjected to the same noise blasts. Not only did paracetamol reduce the pain for themselves, but also reduced their empathy for others experiencing the same pain.

Previous research... putting the pieces of the puzzle together 

In 2004, a study was conducted which scanned the brains of people as they were experiencing pain and while they were imagining other people feeling the same pain. Those results showed that the same part of the brain was activated in both cases. Since the part of the brain that experiences pain is the same as the part of the brain that experiences empathy, this could explain why paracetamol blocks physical and emotional pain together. 
The researchers are now going to study ibuprofen to see, if, like paracetamol, it has a similar effect on physical and emotional pain. 

[1] [2]

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Friday, April 08, 2016

Are common painkillers more dangerous than we think?

We can buy common painkillers over-the-counter at  a pharmacy or even be prescribed them in copious amounts for the treatment  of difficult conditions such as colds, flu, pain, inflammation, and fever. However, all drugs come with side effects, such as increased blood pressure or an increased risk of ulcers. A new study has gathered all the information on each side effect of each common painkiller and its effect on patients with different health conditions (such as diabetes or heart-related diseases).
What you need to know about NSAIDs:
  • NSAIDs is an abbreviation for Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs and is used to treat a wide range of diseases, in particular, disorders in the muscular and bone system, where the drug counteracts swelling, pain and limitations in movement associated with inflammation.
  • NSAIDs are not antibiotics and therefore do not help to fight infections caused by bacteria.
  • NSAIDs are in Denmark sold both in low doses (Ibuprofen 200 mg/tablet) without a prescription and in higher doses and other types with a prescription.
"It's been well-known for a number of years that newer types of NSAIDs -- what are known as COX-2 inhibitors, increase the risk of heart attacks. For this reason, a number of these newer types of NSAIDs have been taken off the market again. We can now see that some of the older NSAID types, particularly Diclofenac, are also associated with an increased risk of heart attack and apparently to the same extent as several of the types that were taken off the market," says Morten Schmidt, MD and PhD from Aarhus University, who is in charge of the research project. He adds:
"This is worrying because these older types of medicine are frequently used throughout the western world and in many countries available without prescription."
Every year, more than 15 percent of western populations are prescribed painkillers (NSAIDs) and this figure increases with patient age.
The study, which was carried out in collaboration between 14 European universities and hospitals, including a number of leading European heart specialists, was published in the European Heart Journal.
New Guidelines:
This study was conducted with the intention to find out the use of NSAIDs in patients with heart disease. Results from the survey that they gathered has now been used to compile a list of recommendations about what doctors should consider before prescribing painkillers to their patients.
"When doctors issue prescriptions for NSAIDs, they must in each individual case carry out a thorough assessment of the risk of heart complications and bleeding. NSAIDs should only be sold over the counter when it comes with an adequate warning about the associated cardiovascular risks. In general, NSAIDs are not be used in patients who have or are at high-risk of cardiovascular diseases," says another of the authors, Professor in cardiology Christian Torp-Pedersen, Aalborg University, Denmark.
We need to reduce the amount of painkillers being taken:

After seeing the results of this study, the researchers in Denmark have recommended that it would be better for patient safety that the amounts of painkillers prescribed and/or taken should be reduced, not just in Denmark but for all countries who consume more of these drugs. The Danish researchers have already been successful in reducing the consumption of Diclofenac in Denmark. Hopefully, this research will open the door for more research on NSAIDs and their effect on patients with other health conditions so that there will be more efficient guidelines on the prescription of painkillers. 
Image: [1] Quotes: [1] Story: [1] 

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Sunday, April 03, 2016

Possibility for Future AIDS Vaccine

HIV is a virus that attacks the immune system and weakens your ability to fight incoming infections and diseases. The Human Immunodeficiency Virus currently has no cure but there are currently treatments which are able to help people with the virus to live a prolonged, healthy life. Since there is no cure for HIV, the best way to approach preventing the spread of the virus is by vaccination; enabling the body to fight off the virus before it attacks the immune system. 

Researchers in the USA have been working on developing a vaccine capable of inducing "broadly neutralizing" antibodies that can prevent HIV infections. This new vaccine technique aims to immunize people with a series of different engineered HIV proteins as immunogens to "teach" the immune system to produce broadly neutralizing antibodies against HIV. This in turn, will prepare the immune system to fight off an incoming virus which carries similar proteins to the HIV proteins.

The group of researchers have found that the right precursor ("germline") cells for one kind of HIV broadly neutralizing antibody which is  present in most people, and have described the design of an HIV vaccine germline-targeting immunogen capable of binding those B cells. 

"We found that almost everybody has these broadly neutralizing antibody precursors, and that a precisely engineered protein can bind to these cells that have potential to develop into HIV broadly neutralizing antibody-producing cells, even in the presence of competition from other immune cells," said the study's lead author, William Schief, TSRI professor and director, Vaccine Design of the IAVI Neutralizing Antibody Center at TSRI, in whose lab the engineered HIV vaccine protein was developed.

The human immune system  consists of a large variety of variating precursor B cells so that it is able to respond to a large variety of pathogens (viruses and bacteria). However, this also means that the precursor B cells able to recognize a specific feature on a virus surface are exceedingly rare within the total pool of B cells.  

Our immune system is able to track and hunt down pathogens which carry markers (the proteins on the surface of the virus) for the HIV virus. This advance in research has lead to a phase 1 trial being initiated to clinical trial to test a nanoparticle version of the engineered HIV vaccine protein, the "eOD-GT8 60mer."

"The goal of the clinical study will be to test the safety and the ability of this engineered protein to elicit the desired immune response in humans that would look like the start of broadly neutralizing antibody development," Schief said. "Data from this new study was also important for designing the clinical trial, including the size and the methods of analysis."

In June 2015, researchers from TSRI, IAVI and The Rockefeller University reported that the eOD-GT8 60mer produced antibody responses in mice that showed some of the traits necessary to recognize and inhibit HIV. If the eOD-GT8 60mer performs similarly in humans, additional boost immunogens are thought to be needed to ultimately induce broadly neutralizing antibodies that can block HIV.

This new research has provided a new technique for researchers to determine if other new vaccine proteins can bind their intended precursor B cells. This technique is essential in manufacturing targeted and effective vaccines against HIV and AIDs. 

This research was published in the March 25, 2016 issue of Science, published by AAAS. The paper, by J.G. Jardine at Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, CA, and colleagues was titled, "HIV-1 broadly neutralizing antibody precursor B cells revealed by germline-targeting immunogen."
The Scripps Research Institute. "New findings in humans provide encouraging foundation for upcoming AIDS vaccine clinical trial." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 March 2016.

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Saturday, March 19, 2016

Where have I been?

First of all sorry that I have been M.I.A recently. It's been just over a month since I've last posted a science blog on here.

Click here to see my latest blog post- :)

Within the last month, I came down with the cold, gotten better then suddenly relapsing into another cold, which was 10 times worse than the previous one (imagine coughing continuously - ALL DAY!). Thankfully, I am feeling better now and I am trying to get back into my usual routine. So starting this week expect more regular posting from me!

The funny thing is I have a post on how to prevent cold and flu - and I couldn't prevent it from myself! #NeedMoreImmunity #VitaminC

The science of a "relapsing cold"

Actually, a cold cannot relapse, you've most likely caught another cold virus (unlucky, I know).
F.Y.I  a cold/flu is a virus, not a bacteria, so you won't and cannot be prescribed antibiotics for it. 

This awesome video by ASAP science goes through the different types of cold remedies and which ones work the best and are scientifically proven and even explains a little bit about our immune responses to colds.

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Friday, February 12, 2016

Candy Floss Machines May Be The Future For Making Artificial Organs

For any medical reason, sometimes artificial organs are required to take place instead of the real organ in the human body. But making artificial organs, which have complicated and  intricate structures, aren't easy to make and there have been many methods which have been devised but don't work as efficiently.  Leon Bellan is an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Vanderbilt University, who has been working with candy floss machines, getting them to spin out networks of tiny threads similar in size, density and complexity to the patterns formed by capillaries - the minuscule, thin-walled vessels that deliver oxygen and nutrients to cells and carry away waste. His main aim has been to make fibre networks that can be used as templates to produce the capillary systems required to create full-scale artificial organs. This research has been published in the Advanced Healthcare Materials journal.

Bellan and his colleagues have been successful in using their new and really unusual technique to produce a 3D artificial capillary system that can keep living cells viable and functional for more than a week, which is a dramatic improvement over current methods. "Some people in the field think this approach is a little crazy," said Bellan, "But now we've shown we can use this simple technique to make microfluidic networks that mimic the three-dimensional capillary system in the human body in a cell-friendly fashion. Generally, it's not that difficult to make two-dimensional networks, but adding the third dimension is much harder; with this approach, we can make our system as three-dimensional as we like."

Researchers, like Bellan and his team,  research a class of materials called hydrogels- water based gels- which should act as a scaffold to support cells within 3D artificial organs. Hydrogels are the top choice for material because their properties can be manipulated to closely mimic those of the natural extracellular matrix that surrounds cells in the body. 

Contradictory to solid polymer scaffolds, hydrogels support diffusion of necessary soluble compounds; however, oxygen, nutrients and wastes can only diffuse a limited distance through the gel. Consequently, cells must be very close (within the width of human hair) to a source of nutrients and oxygen and a sink for the wastes they produce, or else they can starve or suffocate.

Therefore, to produce tissues that have the thickness of real organs and keep cells alive throughout the entire scaffold, the researchers had to create a network of channels that allow fluids to flow through the system, mimicking the natural capillary system. 

To overcome the issues of previous artificial organ-producing techniques, Bellan used a top-down approach. In his report, Bellan says that his cotton-candy spinning method is successful in producing channels ranging from three to 55 microns, with a mean diameter of 35 microns. "The analogies everyone uses to describe electrospun fibers are that they look like silly string, or Cheese Whiz, or cotton candy," said Bellan. "So I decided to give the cotton candy machine a try. I went to Target and bought a cotton candy machine for about $40. It turned out that it formed threads that were about one-tenth the diameter of a human hair -- roughly the same size as capillaries -- so they could be used to make channel structures in other materials." But, getting from that point to creating artificial capillaries that work was not a simple matter. If you create a network of fibres using sugar, when you pour a hydrogel on it, the sugar dissolves away because the hydrogel is mostly water.

This demonstrates what Bellan describes as the "Catch-22" in creating such sacrificial structures. "First, the material has to be insoluble in water when you make the mold so it doesn't dissolve when you pour the gel. Then it must dissolve in water to create the microchannels because cells will only grow in aqueous environments," he explained. The researchers experimented with a range of different materials before they found one that worked. The essential material used is PNIPAM, Poly(N-isopropyl acrylamide), a polymer with the unusual property of being insoluble at temperatures above 32 degrees Celsius and soluble below that temperature. This material has also been used previously in various medical applications and has proven to be “cell-friendly”.

Initially, the researchers spun out a network of PNIPAM threads using a machine closely resembling a candy floss machine. Secondly, they prepared a solution of gelatine in water (a liquid at 37 degrees) and add human cells. Thirdly, they added an enzyme commonly used in the food industry (transglutaminase, a.k.a "meat glue") which caused the gelatine to irreversibly gel. This warm mixture was then poured over the PNIPAM structure and allowed to gel in an incubator at 37 degrees. Finally, the gel containing cells and fibres was removed from the incubator and allowed to cool to room temperature, at which point the embedded fibres dissolve, leaving behind an intricate network of microscale channels. Lastly, the researchers attached pumps to the network and then perfused them with cell culture media containing necessary chemicals and oxygen.

Since this technique has been proven through research by Bellan and his team, they will be perfect it to match the characteristics of the small vessel networks in different types of tissues, and exploring a variety of cell types in the near future.


1. Jung Bok Lee, Xintong Wang, Shannon Faley, Bradly Baer, Daniel A. Balikov, Hak-Joon Sung, Leon M. Bellan. Development of 3D Microvascular Networks Within Gelatin Hydrogels Using Thermoresponsive Sacrificial MicrofibersAdvanced Healthcare Materials, 2016; DOI: 10.1002/adhm.201500792
2. Vanderbilt University. "Cotton candy machines may hold key for making artificial organs." ScienceDaily. (accessed February 12, 2016).
3. Image By Joseolgon (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

One Paragraph on Diabetes and Psychiatric Disorders

A new report featuring in the February 2016 issue of The FASEB Journal, scientists show that a gene called "DISC1," is believed to play a role in mental health disorders, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder (and other forms of depression); influence the function of pancreatic beta cells which produce insulin to maintain normal blood glucose levels. Understanding how the different mechanisms  of diseases in the body is essential to be able to pick efficient therapies for patients. Bortell and colleagues decided to study the function of DISC1 by comparing 2 groups of mice. The first group was genetically manipulated to disrupt the DISC1 gene only in the mouse's pancreatic beta cells. The second group of mice was normal. The mice with disrupted DISC1 gene showed increased beta cell death, less insulin secretion and impaired glucose regulation while control mice were normal. The researchers found that DISC1 works by controlling the activity of a specific protein (GSK3β) already known to be critical for beta cell function and survival. Inhibition of GSK3β resulted in improved beta cell survival and restored normal glucose tolerance in mice with disrupted DISC1. "The connections between these disorders may be surprising, but we have known for a long time that a single protein or gene can play multiple roles in the body," said Thoru Pederson, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal.



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Sunday, January 31, 2016

One paragraph on the Zika Virus | One Paragraph Science

We haven't quite forgotten the ebola virus and a new virus has appeared under the spotlight; the Zika virus. The Zika virus is spread by mosquitos, similar in a way to malaria. However, unlike other mosquito-borne diseases, it is relatively unknown and little studied. The virus is currently showing an alarming rise in cases in Latin America and the Caribbean.  The virus has also been associated with an alarming rise in babies born in Brazil with abnormally small heads and brain defects -- a condition called microcephaly. Zika is spread by the same mosquito as the dengue virus: Aedes aegypti. Dengue is a serious disease but it doesn't usually kill people, whereas, Zika, is much more serious in that it is able to pass through a woman's placenta and impact the unborn child. Since the Zika outbreak began in northeastern Brazil last spring, an estimated 500,000 to 1.5 million people have been infected. The resulting illness only lasts a few days. The symptoms consist of rash, joint pains, inflammation of the eyes and fever and tend to be less debilitating than those of dengue. As many as 80% of infected people may be asymptomatic. Since there is little laboratory research on this virus, it is not known what other effects this virus has on unborn children other than microcephaly. Currently, there is no vaccination to prevent Zika virus but it can be prevented by preventing getting bitten by mosquitoes. Mosquitoes that spread the virus usually bite during the day. It is recommended that if you are in an area where Zika virus is prevalent, to wear long sleeved shirts and other tips listed here (Centres for Disease Control and Prevention). The Daily Mail has just reported that a pharma company in brazil could be held responsible for the appearance of this virus. Didcot-based biotechnology company, Oxitec were working on the same type of mosquito 3 years ago to produce genetically modified "sterile" mosquitoes to tackle the spread of dengue fever and malaria. There have been claims that the genetically modified insects were released in Brazil 3 years ago. Oxitec has since denied the fact that the GM insects were the cause of Zika and are currently still continuing their research in Brazil. 

[1]: Science daily: Zika Virus

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Sunday, January 17, 2016

Females are less prone to influenza than males, thanks to Estrogen.

Estrogen and its derivatives have been found to protect against respiratory infections such as influenza, in females more than males. This new study was published in the American Journal of Physiology-- Lung Cellular and Physiology.

A virus usually works/makes you ill by invading a cell in your body and making and replicating itself within the host cell. After being released from the host cell, the virus can go on to infect other cells in the body and also other people.   The less a virus replicates, the less severe the infection and the lower the risk it will be spread onto other people.

The researchers used human nasal epithelial cells (hNECs) from male and female donors- which are the main cells which the flu virus targets - and exposed the nasal cells to 17β-estradiol (i.e estrogen) or select estrogen modulators (SERMs) (these include natural and synthetic compounds which act like estrogen in the body and are used for hormone therapy). The cells were then infected with a seasonal influenza virus (IAV), with each test group of cells being tested against each SERM individually.

Within the group of SERMs is a compound called BPA (bisphenol A), which you may have heard of before. It is derived from a group of compounds called xenoestrogens. Xenoestrogens are a type of xenohormone - they are compounds that imitate estrogen and they can be either synthetic or natural chemical compounds. Bisphenol A is a chemical that is used in a wide variety of consumer products and exhibits hormone-like properties. BPA is a chemical that is used in a wide variety of consumer products, such as resins used to line metal food and beverage containers, thermal paper store receipts, and dental composites. BPA has been in the news recently because of its hormonal abilities and the negative effects that can be a result of high concentrations of BPA in the body. (There will be more blog posts on this in the future.)

The results showed that estrogen, raloxifene, and bisphenol A decreased the IAV titers in hNECs from female but not male donors. 

Definition: Titers 
The concentration of a solution a determined by titration. 

Which means that the estrogen and SERMs were able to reduce the replication of the flu virus in the nasal cells of the female donors but not in the male donors nasal cells.

Sabra Klein, Ph.D., of Johns Hopkins University and lead investigator of the study commented, "Other studies have shown that estrogens have antiviral properties against HIV, Ebola, and hepatitis viruses. What makes our study unique is two-fold. First, we conducted our study using primary cells directly isolated from patients, allowing us to directly identify the sex-specific effect of estrogens. Second, this is the first study to identify the estrogen receptor responsible for the antiviral effects of estrogens, bringing us closer to understanding the mechanisms mediating this conserved antiviral effect of estrogens."


Journal Reference:
  1. Jackye Peretz, Andrew Pekosz, Andrew P. Lane, Sabra L. Klein.Estrogenic compounds reduce influenza A virus replication in primary human nasal epithelial cells derived from female, but not male, donorsAmerican Journal of Physiology - Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology, 2015; ajplung.00398.2015 DOI:10.1152/ajplung.00398.2015
  2. Quotes from American Physiological Society (APS). "Not the weaker sex: Estrogen protects women against the flu, study finds: Study in human cells supports why the flu may hit men harder than women." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 January 2016. <>.

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Sunday, January 10, 2016

Healthy, Roasted Coffee Beans, Thanks to Science

Dan Perlman, a biophysicist, and K.C Hayes, a nutritionist,  have previously developed the "healthy fats" blend in the Smart Balance buttery spread over twenty years ago; have now invented the parbaked coffee bean.

This new method of roasting green coffee beans is meant to enhance the health benefits of coffee. Perlman developed the flour milled from parbaked beans to act as both a food ingredient and a nutritional supplement. 

Many studies have proven that drinking coffee is good for you and I've written several posts on coffee in the past here, here, here and here :)

Perlman wanted to study a way to roast coffee beans but at the same time not loose its health benefits. When coffee beans are roasted at over 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 to 15 minutes -- the CGA content drops dramatically. One study found the decrease ranged from 50 to nearly 100 percent.
Chlorogenic acid (CGA)is an antioxidant. CGA is thought to be beneficial in controlling sugar metabolism, controlling blood pressure and possibly treating heart disease and cancer.

After several trials at a range of temperatures, Perlman finally found that parbaking the beans at 300 degrees at approximately ten minutes (a shorter time) worked best. The concentration of CGA in the bean, around 10 percent of the bean's weight, barely dropped.

However this parbaked bean cannot be used to brew a cup of coffee since it isnt roasted enough to have flavour. So instead, Perlman cryogenically milled the parbaked beans in an ultra-cold and chemically inert liquid nitrogen atmosphere to protect the bean's beneficial constituents from oxidation. And at the end of the process, the result is a wheat-colored flour which tastes nutty, pleasant and mild. 

This coffee flour is aimed to be blended with regular flours for baking, used in breakfast cereals and snack bars and added to soups, juices and nutritional drinks. 

They also recommend to compensate for CGA lost during regular roasting of coffee beans, people could potentially blend par-baked beans with regularly roasted ones. Perlman also claims that their parbaking technique is also cheaper than the extraction methods used to produce the green coffee bean extract supplements currently on the market.

Brandeis has patented Perlman's coffee bean par-baking and milling method.
The roasting and milling of the beans during Perlman's experimentation process was done with the support of New England Coffee located in Malden, Massachusetts.


Brandeis University. "Coffee flour offers a potentially healthier way of enjoying java." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 January 2016. .

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Wednesday, January 06, 2016

New Elements Discovered - Completing the Periodic Table

The elements 113, 115, 117 and 118 have finally been discovered.  Laboratories in Russia, the United States and Japan have made many claims over the years that they have discovered them. But it was only at the end of 2015 when the elements were finally given their permanent place in the periodic table. A group of scientific experts at The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), headquartered in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, announced the group’s conclusions on 30 December 2015.

The four elements were made in the lab, by colliding lighter atomic nuclei together. The unstable agglomerations of protons and neutrons lasted mere fractions of a second before they fell apart into smaller, more stable fragments.

Each of the teams have been given recognition for their great findings which means that now, they can put forward proposals  to name the new elements and assign them their two-letter symbols. A new element can be named after a range of things including; their chemical or physical properties, a mythological concept, a mineral, a place or country, or a scientist. 

Click here to read more about who gets to name the new elements!

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Thursday, December 24, 2015


Today's final post in the series will be on the science behind Santa's sleigh. Scientists at the North Carolina State University have analyzed and researched how Santa is using the latest scientific resources and technologies on his sleigh (that aren't scientifically available to us yet) to deliver everyone's Christmas presents.

To deliver all the presents on time Santa's sleigh has to be a million times more advanced than any modern form of air transportation. The truss of the sleigh, including the runners, are made of a honeycombed titanium alloy that is very lightweight and 10 to 20 times stronger than anything that exists or that's being worked on in labs today. But it doesn't just stop there.... 

The truss can also morph, changing its shape slightly to improve its aerodynamics – allowing it to cut through the air more efficiently. The runners on the sleigh, for example, are a little bit flexible; this allows the runners to be tucked in to be more aerodynamic during flight, and then spread out to provide stability for landing on different surfaces – including various roofs around the world - no matter how step they are.

The sleigh also has the most advanced electronics which includes  laser sensors that can detect upcoming thermals and wind conditions to find the optimal path. This makes the flight smoother and more energy efficient and, as all aerospace engineers know, efficiency is essential.

Since the ride has to be smooth and effcient, the sleigh has been developed with a a nanostructured “skin” for the sleigh that is porous and contains its own low-pressure system, which holds the air flowing around the airborne sled onto the body, reducing drag by as much as 90 percent.
This post was written by the scientists at NC State University (original post below) who have been trying to get their head around these impossible aerodynamic features of Santa's sleigh.

- Merry Christmas!!

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Wednesday, December 23, 2015


It's the day before Christmas eve, so Christmas preparations are well under way. Who will be making homemade eggnog this holiday season? And will you be "spiking" it? If you will, beware of the risk of salmonella in raw eggs. 

With a statistic of 1/20000 eggs is contaminated with salmonella bacteria drinking homemade eggnog can be a bit of a hefty risk. Scientists at Rockefeller University conducted an experiment on eggnog and spiked eggnog (with alcohol added to it = 20 percent rum and bourbon) to compare the bacteria found in homemade alcoholic eggnog with those found in store-bought nonalcoholic eggnog. After culturing samples of both solutions and incubating them for 24 hours at 37 degrees Celsius (body temperature), The researchers found that while the store-bought product was brimming with a variety of bacteria, the homemade version was completely sterile.

“The bacteria we observed in the grocery-store product are likely harmless normal bacteria that are found in all dairy products,” says Fischetti, who is head of the Laboratory of Bacterial Pathogenesis and Immunology. “In fact, they were probably in the cream and other products we used when we made our eggnog but were killed by the alcohol.”
When the scientists repeated the same experiment, but with a large dose of Salmonella bacteria, the results were indecisive. “In our 24-hour time frame, the alcohol in the eggnog did not kill all the bacteria, but we used 1,000 times more Salmonella than what you might encounter in a contaminated egg,” Fischetti says. 
To have definite results,the scientists would have needed to repeat the same experiment but with more realistic conditions.  


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Tuesday, December 22, 2015


Today's post is based around candy canes - but not candy canes exactly, more like Christmas sweets including licorice. Scientists have found that a novel molecule extracted from licorice root has the ability to stop some cancers immediately, according to a collaborative research study conducted at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. 

Mohamed Rafi, assistant professor in the department of food science at Rutgers' Cook College, discovered the new molecule, ß-hydroxy-DHP (BHP), in common dietary supplements made from licorice root, a natural remedy with curative powers which have gone down in history. Rafi tested the compound in the laboratory on tissues taken from prostate and breast cancer tumors.

The small and very specific molecule BHP belongs to a class of organic chemicals known as polyphenols that include potential anticancer compounds found in green tea and wine; its main target is cancer cells. It works by deactivating a protein associated with tumor cells known to encourage cell growth and multiplication- a characteristic of cancer. 

The paper which reported this discovery was first published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry by Rafi and his colleagues. This research was published officially in 2003.  

The natural medicinal qualities of licorice were known and used throughout the years and have gone down in history, from the Ancient Greeks, Egyptians, Chinese and Hindus recognized the natural medicinal qualities of licorice. Tutankhamen was even buried with licorice root. Chinese medicine, today, even uses licorice to manage some cancers. However, the cancer-preventing qualities of licorice root have remained a mystery until Rafi's discovery in 2003.


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Monday, December 21, 2015


Today's post will be on walnuts. Walnuts also constitute a part of the Christmas platter and they're also good for you. Most of the health benefits of walnuts are known already but scientists have found one more to add to the list: lowering of diabetes and heart disease risk in "at-risk" patients. 

The research was published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, the Official Publication of the American College of Nutrition, and a publication from Routledge.

For the study, a sample of 46 adults aged 30-75 were selected. Participants had a Body Mass Index larger than 25, and a waist circumference exceeding 40 inches for men and 35 inches for women. They were also required to be non-smokers, and all exhibited one or more additional risk factors for metabolic syndrome, a precursor of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The group was randomly assigned to two 8-week sequences of either a walnut-enriched ad libitum diet or an ad libitum diet without walnuts. Those chosen for the walnut diet were instructed to consume 56g of shelled, unroasted English walnuts per day as a snack or with a meal. 

The study results found that a daily intake of 56g of walnuts improves endothelial function in overweight adults with visceral adiposity. The addition of walnuts to the diet did not lead to weight gain. Although there still needs to be more research on this topic in the future.

Walnuts don't have as many calories as you thought... 

Walnuts, even thought they're good for you carry a lot of calories and could be fattening, but it turns out, thanks to a new study, that walnuts actually have 21% less calories than previously thought! 

The researchers  with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service found that a typical 28-gram serving actually contains 146 calories, 21 percent fewer than the 185 calories currently assigned by the USDA.  The study, published in The Journal of Nutrition, was partially funded by the California Walnut Commission.


  1. Taylor & Francis. "Walnuts in diet can improve endothelial functions for overweight adults." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 September 2013. <>

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Sunday, December 20, 2015


Every year baubles get more innovative from your typical gold and sliver baubles to solar system themed baubles and finally gold and silver nano-baubles.

The nano-baubles produced by researchers, in Mexico and the US, are about 100 million times smaller than the typical baubles which are used to decorate Christmas trees.

The research was published December 2010 issue of the International Journal of Nanoparticles, where the scientists reported the formation of various sliver, gold and bimetallic nanoparticles which are only 25 nanometres in diameter. 

They utilized vitamin C (a.k.a ascorbic acid) and a soap like antiseptic which is usually used in high-end cosmetics. The reaction of silver nitrate and the gold compound chloroauric acid under these conditions led to successive reduction of the metals and the formation of different silver, gold and bimetallic nanoparticles. The precise structures of the nanoparticles were revealed using a high-resolution elemental mapping technique. The analysis shows the nanoparticles to have multiple layers, shells of gold within silver within gold, in the case of the bimetallic particles and some blending, or alloying, of the metals occurred.

Nanoparticles shape a larger part of researchers interests because nanoparticles can be used for a variety of things:

  1. Act as catalysts to speed up the rates of chemical reactions
  2. Act as novel drug-deliver agents in the body
  3. Act as quantum dots for analytical applications
  4. May be used in the fabrication of the components of future electronics devices beyond the silicon chip
Bimetallic nanoparticles are also really intriguing because of their structure, composition and very very very small size. This means they are able to have even more intriguing chemical, electronic and optical properties than single-metal nanoparticles. 

Gold and silver nanoparticles are particularly useful as their optical effects occur at visible wavelengths of light. The researchers added that if it were possible to fine-tune the combination of gold and silver in the same nanoparticles then it might also be possible to tune the optical properties of such particles.



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