SciTech Briefs

Planet or no planet? That is the question

Fomalhaut b, one of the first planets outside the solar system to be discovered through direct imaging, is under debate; scientists are beginning to question whether or not it is actually a planet.

The so-called planet does not exhibit light in the infrared range, even though a planet visible through a telescope should be hot enough to emit infrared light. Second, Fomalhaut b’s brightness decreased by half within two years, interpreted as having lost half of its mass.

Paul Kalas, the planet’s discoverer, argued that it may have a large dust ring in orbit that reflects light while still having a mass too low to emit enough detectable infrared light. Markus Janson, who conducted the follow-up experiments, argued that the detected object may be the result of asteroid collisions producing an expanding cloud of light-reflecting dust instead of condensing into a planet.

Source: Science

Cheaper catalyst developed for cheaper goods

Researchers at Princeton University developed an iron-based catalyst for the silylation of organic compounds. Silylation is a widely used procedure for the production of complex compounds, such as adhesives and pharmaceuticals. Industrial catalysts in past decades have been restricted to high-cost precious metals like platinum instead of cheap metals like iron.

While catalysts are not destroyed during chemical reactions, they can still be lost in chemical production on industrial scales. For example, an estimated 5.6 metric tons of platinum was used by the silicone industry and could not be recovered for future use. In addition to its low cost, the new iron catalyst may also increase the purity of products.

Source: Science

Genetic damage in chemotherapy patients’ children

It is not uncommon for cancer survivors to have children, especially with ongoing improvements in chemotherapy. However, cancer patients’ medications may lead to damaged DNA and increased rates of cancer in their children.

Researchers at the University of Leicester in England measured the mutation rates of mice exposed to common chemotherapy agents at an equivalent dosage used for human therapy. They measured for mutations in the sperm of males who were treated and untreated with chemotherapy, as well as in their offspring. Extensive genome-wide damage was found and, for one drug, as many as three times the normal number of mutations were found in the offspring.

Source: Proceedings from the National Academy of Sciences

Female leadership impacts gender gap and women’s roles

The Indian government set aside leadership positions for women in a number of rural villages in 1993. Collaborating researchers in several top universities have found that these leadership positions have had tremendous impacts on the gender gap and the roles of women in these societies.
Aspirations were measured with questions pertaining to desire for early marriage, future education, and high-skill jobs. Parents’ aspirations increased 20 percent and children of both genders had a 32 percent increase in aspirations. These changes occurred in addition to an increase in favorability of female leaders. Since increases in favorability occurred alongside the increases in aspirations, researchers suggest that the increase in aspirations reflects the power of role models in society.


Facebook to sell stock publicly, $10 billion expected

Last Wednesday, Facebook filed for an IPO that would allow the company to sell stock publicly. The company is expected to face a flood of prospective buyers and raise almost $10 billion. The announcement was followed by expectations that Facebook users will also benefit in some way from the company going public.

Many expect Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO and co-founder, to uphold honorable business practices while engaging with Wall Street. Facebook makes its revenue in part from the advertisement opportunities it offers businesses, but it also makes more by developing new technologies. The company spent $388 million last year in research and development, and will likely continue to devote itself to new technologies in the future.

Source: Associated Press, The Los Angeles Times

Texas town must have water delivered

The ongoing Texas drought has forced the central Texas community of Spicewood Beach to have its drinking water delivered from out of town. Since last Monday, the water has been delivered several times a day by a 4,000-gallon- capacity truck.

State climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon explained that the drought started over one year ago, and the state received just 15 inches of rain last year, far below the average of 28 inches. The Spicewood Beach community water well is just one of 13 public water systems in the state that are expected to completely run out of water in the next six months.

Source: The New York Times