SciTech Briefs

Pictured is a blackened coral in the Gulf of Mexico, with an orange brittle starfish coiled around its branches. (credit: Courtesy of NOAA) Pictured is a blackened coral in the Gulf of Mexico, with an orange brittle starfish coiled around its branches. (credit: Courtesy of NOAA)

Retinal implant helps blind people with degenerative diseases see

Retina Implant AG, a company from Germany, has tested chips that can be implanted behind a blind person’s retina, the part of the eye that detects light. These chips allow people to pick out bright objects. The tested subjects have certain congenital diseases that cause blindness, such as retinitis pigmentosa, which causes degeneration of cells in the retina. As light enters the eye, the chip converts the light into electrical signals that are sent to optic nerves.

Eberhart Zrenner, a professor from the University of Tuebingen in Germany, and his colleagues have tested this chip on many subjects, who have reported mixed results. One patient, Miikka Terho, was able to read a plaque with his intentionally misspelled name, as well as determine how his name was misspelled. Other subjects, however, showed no improvement, and it was determined that as progression of the disease increased, the effectiveness of the chip decreased.

Source: BBC

Icelandic volcano poses a new threat, authorities worried it may erupt

Only two months after Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull erupted, halting air traffic throughout Europe, geophysicists are monitoring another volcano in Iceland, Grímsvötn, which is showing signs of activity. Grímsvötn had its last eruption in November 2004, which briefly halted local air travel. However, a recent flood at a nearby glacier was the indication for new activity of the volcano. The magma chamber of Grímsvötn is buried beneath 650 feet of ice, and movement of this magma caused glacial ice to melt. The pressure of the melted water pushed against the surface of the ice, until it was forced upward, causing the flooding.

Gunnar Gundmundson, from the Icelandic Meteorological Office, has reported that no underground tremors have been recorded. Tremors are good indications that a volcano may erupt. However, authorities are worried that an eruption may halt air traffic to the same degree as the Eyjafjallajökull eruption caused.

Source: Der Spiegel

Dead and dying coral in Gulf of Mexico linked to recent BP oil spill

Scientists surveying the sea floor on a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) research vessel have found dead and dying coral reefs. The location of the reefs, which are near the site of the Apr. 20 BP oil spill, and the presence of large, drifting plumes of oil, indicated that death was likely a result of the oil spill. While oil is naturally released from the seafloor, it is general not released in quantities that kill organisms.

The darkened appearance of the coral indicated they were dying from exposure to toxic substances. Scientists also found that a brownish substance that covered the coral was dead tissue and sediment. Future tests must be performed on the coral skeletons to confirm if the oil spill was responsible for the coral reef death. In addition, the scientists hope to return to the same location as well as different regions to investigate further to look for long-term effects of the oil spill.

Source: The New York Times