Category Archives: New Scientist

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Ocean exploration, from empire to empirical

Creatures in chloroform, musty maps, and navigation by brass instruments. That was ocean exploration 18th-century style. Nowadays it’s satellite links, mandatory life vests on deck, and flow cytometers measuring minute lifeforms from the murk below – a very different kettle of fish.

The España Explora. Malaspina 2010 exhibition juxtaposes two Spanish expeditions launched over 200 years apart: between 1789 and 1794, commander Alessandro Malaspina led Spain’s imperial survey of its global holdings. In 2010, the Spanish government launched the high-tech Malaspina expedition, an oceanographic venture far removed from anything the commander would be able to recognise.
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Sounding out cancer cells

A device that filters cancer cells from human blood using sound could help to identify tumour cells that have spread.

Finding tumour cells in the blood indicates a cancer has metastasised – but the molecular markers that are used to identify the cells can modify them and make them unsuitable for studying how treatment is proceeding and for performing basic cancer research.

So Itziar González at the Institute for Acoustics in Madrid, Spain, and colleagues developed an alternative: a tiny vibrating plastic chamber through which a blood sample flows. The vibrations create a standing wave that deflects cells in the blood to a different degree depending on their size. Tumour cells are often larger than blood cells and so collect in a different region of the device. The process does not alter the cells.

Read the rest of this story on New Scientist’s website [html] or here [pdf] or see the brief version which appeared in print: [pdf]

Update: I should note that the version which appeared in print has an error. It says that the method makes tumor cells “unsuitable for study to confirm metastasis.” but should probably just read “unsuitable for study” since you don’t need intact cells to confirm that a cancer is metastasizing. Counting them will do for that. But to study them in the lab, as biomedical engineer David Beebe said at the meeting, researchers prefer unmodified cells.

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Avatar’s gaze illuminates social brain

gazingThey may seem a little unsettling but the staring eyes of this female avatar were designed to grab your gaze and hold it, and also to obligingly follow where you look. By performing these actions with people placed inside a brain scanner, she has helped to demonstrate that guiding the gazes of others activates different brain areas than following.

This could help unravel the brain activity underlying the process of “joint attention”, thought to be key to complex, human social interactions. It could also offer insights into why social interactions can break down for people with autism.

See the entire story and accompanying video on NewScientist.com [html] [video]