SciTech Briefs

West Nile outbreak one of the largest for this time of year

Federal health officials announced this week that the current U.S. outbreak of West Nile virus is one of the largest seen in the country. As of last Thursday, 1,118 cases were reported, over half of them in Texas. The number of reports by this time of year is typically fewer than 300. Scientists believe that the combination of a mild winter, an early spring, and a very hot summer is a contributing factor to the outbreak.

The virus is transmitted by mosquitoes, which pick the virus up from birds they bite. Only one in five infected people gets sick, and the symptoms can include headache, body aches, and fever. One in 150 people may develop severe symptoms, which can result in coma and paralysis.

Source: Associated Press

After 352 million miles, NASA cheers for 23 feet

This week, NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity completed a successful test drive. The 16-minute trip consisted of moving forward 15 feet, turning 120 degrees, and backing up eight feet. After completing its 352-million-mile trip to the surface of Mars earlier this month, the team is thrilled about the recent 23-foot journey.

“It couldn’t be more important,” Peter Theisinger, the mission’s project manager, said at a news conference after the drive. “I mean, we built a rover. So unless the rover roves, we really haven’t accomplished anything.”

Curiosity is to spend a few years exploring the surface of Mars in attempt to figure out whether the planet was ever habitable for microbial life.

Source: The New York Times

Scientists recognize conciousness of some animals

An international group of scientists signed The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness, which supports the idea that animals have a similar degree of consciousness and awareness as humans. The list of animals includes all mammals, all birds, and the octopus. The scientists claim more evidence shows that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological makeup that generates consciousness.

The declaration, which was signed in the presence of physicist Stephen Hawking, states that “the field of Consciousness research is rapidly evolving. ... more data is becoming readily available, and this calls for a periodic reevaluation of previously held preconceptions in this field.”

Source: io9

Insect wings much stronger than previously thought

Researchers at Trinity College in Dublin have recently found that the wings of insects are not as fragile as they look. To measure insect wings’ strength, the scientists produced tiny cracks in locust wings and measured the amount of force required to make the crack grow and permeate through the wing. After examining video of the forced cracks, they found that once the crack had reached a wing vein, crack growth stopped.

Insects such as grasshoppers travel long distances with wings 10 times thinnner than a human hair. The researchers believe that the vein pattern found in insect wings could inspire the design of more durable and lightweight artificial “venous” wings for aircraft.


Doctors finding help through Facebook

Doctors at the Mayo Clinic recently used Facebook to investigate the stroke of a 56-year-old woman. The stroke happened as a result of a clogged artery in her neck, and doctors needed to determine whether the blockage was a result of trauma or of risk factors such as diabetes or heart disease.

One doctor noticed that the patient’s right eyelid was more droopy than the left, which is commonly associated with trauma. The doctors examined the patient’s Facebook profile pictures and found that the droopy eyelid symptom was a recent development, so the artery blockage was likely caused by trauma. Knowing the cause of blockage can help doctors prevent future strokes.

Source: CNN

Apple victorious, Samsung loses patent trial

A federal grand jury in San Jose, Calif., found that Samsung had violated many of Apple’s patents. Apple was awarded $1 billion in damages. The jury found that Samsung violated utility patents as well as design patents, and found some of the comany’s infringements “willful.” The jury did not award Samsung any damages on any of its counter-claims.

The verdict “could lead to an outright ban on sales of key Samsung products and will likely solidify Apple’s dominance of the exploding mobile computing market,” Reuters reported.

Source: NPR, Reuters