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Science

Water strider robot bug leaps effortlessly from the water [Video]

It’s hard for a human to imagine successfully walking on water, but it’s actually pretty common within the animal kingdom. Creatures that weigh a tiny fraction of our weight can manipulate the surface tension on a body of water to move around.

According to a report from Phys.org, an international team of scientists has drawn inspiration from the water strider, and created a robot that can leap from the surface of the water.

Researchers from Seoul National University, Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, and the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences have offered new insights into the mechanics of the “magic bugs” that seemingly decline to distinguish between water and solid ground.

The water strider has evolved to press the surface of the water at the right speed for just the right amount of time to a specific depth, allowing it to jump and step. Its legs have slightly curved tips and move rotationally to help them take off.

Using inspiration from the bug’s design, the researchers got to work. The prototype robot glider can exert up to 16 times its own weight against the surface water without sinking, with relatively simple controls. It was built using a “torque reversal catapult mechanism,” which drew inspiration from the way fleas jump.

You can check out a video of the water-striding robot here:

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Science

How droughts affect the forest, and what this means for the climate

Forests are an essential part of the system that regulates the climate on Earth. In addition to providing the atmosphere with oxygen, they absorb massive amounts of carbon dioxide. There may be something that’s keeping trees from absorbing as much CO2 as we thought, however. According to Newsweek, a new study has shown that increasing droughts have caused forests to absorb significantly less carbon dioxide.

“Forests are more sensitive to drought than previously thought,” said lead author William R.L. Anderegg, a University of Utah biology professor. The study, which analyzed 1,300 forests in the northern hemisphere, also found that the effects of a drought hang around with the forest for years to come.

To make matters worse, climate scientists nearly universally agree that droughts will become more frequent and intense as the average global temperature continues to rise. This creates a dangerous feedback loop, as CO2 becomes less effectively absorbed and continues to contribute to atmospheric warming.

The study reveals a glitch in many current climate models, which assumed forests could recover from a drought instantly. In reality, a single drought poses a long-term threat to the survival of a forest. The effects are especially pronounced in tropical latitudes, where many of the trees rely on constant rains.

The study did not reveal that the forests of the northern hemisphere had reached any dangerous tipping points, but the threat posed by droughts is much worse than previously thought.

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HEALTH

Should adults receive a mandatory depression screening?

A panel of doctors on the US Preventive Services Task Force has issued a controversial proposal. According to a report from Medical News Today, the agency recommended that all us adults receive a screen for depression when they visit their doctors.

The agency estimated that roughly 1 in 10 Americans experience symptoms of depression at some point throughout their lives. Major depressive episodes affect nearly 7 percent of the population, and women are more likely to develop symptoms than me are.

Depression can bring about feelings of sadness, guilt, loss of interest in hobbies and activities, lack of energy, insomnia, and the feeling of hopelessness. Doctors typically use a tool called the Patient Health Questionnaire to gauge the level of depression symptoms a patient exhibits.

In 2009, the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommended that all adults should be screened when doctors’ offices have the necessary resources, but their recent recommendation suggests that the screening survey should be administered to all patients over the age of 18.

The USPSTF believes that routine screening would show real benefits, based on a number of trials assessing the risks and benefits of such screens. Individuals who were identified as depressed were able to get the treatment they needed to cope with their condition, and more often than not, the treatment is beneficial.

The USPSTF will be accepting open comments until August 24th. The expert panel will review every comment before issuing their final recommendation.

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Science

Scientists identify golden jackal as a new wolf species

Wolves are known for being sly, but this one managed to sneak all the way past the scientific community. According to a report from the Guardian, scientists in Africa have identified a new wolf species, the golden jackal.

According to a DNA analysis, the authors of the recent study published in Current Biology were shocked to discover that the African golden jackal, which split from a population in Eurasia about a million years ago, is actually more closely related to the grey wolf. There are no grey wolves in Africa, and the two bear little physical similarities.

Even though the African golden jackals look more like their Eurasian cousins, they are actually their own distinct species. The scientists want to name the wolf the African golden wolf, or Canis anthus.

Science hasn’t paid very close attention to jackals, and taxonomists traditionally recognize just three species: the black-backed jackal, the side-striped jackal, and golden jackals. All three species are endemic to Africa, but the golden jackals also live well into Eurasia.

The three species were long considered closely related based on observations about their physical characteristics. Upon further genetic analysis, however, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

The African golden jackal split from the grey wolf about 1.3 million years ago. The Eurasian population split about a half a million years before. There is still much to learn about the different populations of jackals, and researchers are just getting started sorting out the genetic data that has recently become available.

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HEALTH

Surprise – study shows that coffee helps prevent dementia

It can be difficult to understand the onslaught of research surrounding coffee’s effects on the brain, as there is a pronounced split between scientists touting the benefits and those warning of the risks of long-term use. According to a Forbes report, the newest study makes a strong case for the former.

Using data from the Italian Longitudinal Study on Aging, a 1,445-person survey of citizens between the ages of 65 and 84, scientists asked people a range of questions about their health, including how much coffee they drank.

The study found that people who maintained a steady intake were the most mentally sound, whereas people with more erratic coffee habits scored lower. People who gradually increased their coffee intake had twice the rate of Mild Cognitive Impairment, or MCI. The rate of MCI in people who gradually increased their intake was 1.5 times higher than people who drank one cup a day.

Here’s the weird part. The study also found that people who drank one to two cups a day regularly had a lower rate of MCI than people who had barely or never drank coffee at all. This suggests that while relying on coffee for too long can lead to mental risks, but a consistent, moderate amount of coffee can actually ward off mild cognitive impairment to a degree.

The study, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, supports the conclusion that coffee has certain neuroprotective properties. Just remember to keep it to a cup or so a day.

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HEALTH

Chronic back pain soothed by high-frequency spinal stimulation

A new study has shown that an innovative high-frequency spinal cord stimulation therapy can have nearly twice the effectiveness of modern low-frequency treatments. According to UPI, researchers found that spinal cord stimulation, or SCS, can provide significant relief to people suffering from chronic leg and back pain.

SCS works by placing a small device under the skin that treats chronic pain in the legs and body. At high frequencies, administered by a system called HF10, 10,000 Hz pulse through the device and into the nerve cells. Traditional SCS instruments only give off 40 to 60 Hz in low-frequency SCS.

One of the best things about high-frequency SCS is that it shows no signs of causing paresthesia, or a tingling sensation that device users often report. The buzzing from lower frequency therapies is infamous for causing discomfort in patients, limiting its ability to provide relief.

According to Dr. Leonardo Kapural, anesthesiology professor from Wake Forest University’s School of Medicine, this is the first body of research that compares the risks with the benefits of high frequency SCS therapy. There have been a number of studies on low-frequency SCS treatments, but nobody has upped the frequency by this much.

The current best fix for leg and back pain is opioid painkillers, which can cause addiction and a number of adverse side effects.

The study examined 171 patients suffering from chronic leg or back pain that already had an SCS device placed in their skin, and found that more than 80 percent of both leg and back pain patients noticed a sharp decline in symptoms after three months of high-frequency treatment.

The study was published in the journal Anesthesiology, and could turn traditional treatments for chronic pain on their heads.

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Science

How much longer until Washington, DC sinks?

Political arguments aside, the state of Washington, DC, the county’s capital, is not looking good. According to an MSNBC report, the usual suspects for water encroaching on land are not to blame in this case. Instead of climate change or an act of karma, Washington’s problem is caused by something called “forebulge collapse.”

The term describes the geological history of the region since the last ice age. Up until about 20,000 years ago, there was a massive ice sheet that rose a mile into the sky. The ice was so heavy that it caused the areas south of the glacier, including Washington, DC, to bulge and rise up in elevation. The hilly topography made the city seem like a great place to begin building a capital.

Ben DeJong, the lead author of a new study on the city published in Science Daily, likens the phenomenon to standing on a waterbed filled with viscous honey. The other side of the bed rises when you apply downward pressure, but when you relieve that pressure, the other side goes down again.

Geologists believe that Washington, DC may sink as low as six inches over the next 100 years. While that may not seem like much, it puts a number of military installations, government buildings, homes, and national monuments at risk.

Given the low elevation of the surrounding areas, a six-inch drop could spell havoc for the Washington, DC area. Hopefully, citizens will take heed and stray away from “forebulge-collapse-denial.”

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NONE

French expert found debris from Malaysia Airlines flight 370

A French aviation expert investigator believes he might have discovered the debris from MH370, the Malaysia Airlines flight that vanished over the Indian Ocean in March of 2014. According to a Telegraph report, former military pilot Xavier Tytelman was contacted by a man on Reunion Island who showed him photos of the wreckage of a plane that looked similar to MH370.

Mr. Tytelman has been studying hundreds of snapshots and conferring with colleagues, and he believes that the wreckage includes the wing of a Boeing 777, the same type of plane as MH370. Officials on Reunion say that the wreckage appears to have been in the water for at least a year.

The flight disappeared with 239 passengers on board, and investigators still are unclear as to what caused the crash. Many people theorized that the plane made an off-the-radar landing at an unknown location, but the more likely explanation is that something caused the aircraft to crash over the Indian Ocean.

Both French and Australian authorities have been investigating the debris, and there is no estimate on how long it will take to get a confirmation that the debris is actually connected to the missing flight.

Tytelman hopes that authorities will be able to make a determination within a few days.

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NONE

Exploding stars reveal how lithium is formed

Scientists may have finally solved the mystery of the origins of the basic element, lithium. According to a report from Discovery News, the element was detected in stardust blasting away from exploding sun in deep space, solving a puzzle that was decades old.

Lithium was detected in the aftermath of a nova that occurred in the southern skies in the winter of 2013. The nova, which happened close to the star Beta Centauri, occurred when a white dwarf star starts pulling hydrogen gas from its binary counterpart. Once the dwarf star has absorbed enough hydrogen, a massive fusion reaction causes the white dwarf to burst.

Novae can produce a wide range of chemical elements that serve as the basic building blocks for subsequent generations of stars. Although scientists believed that lithium might have been created in nova explosions, they were never able to confirm their hypothesis with evidence. Until now.

Lithium was probably formed during the Big Bang almost 14 billion years ago. Increasingly, researchers are discovering traces of lithium in younger stars, which suggests that there is another way the element can form.

Scientists began focusing on novae in the 70’s, which they soon learned were rare and difficult to spot. Nova Centauri 2013, also known as V1369 Centauri, dazzled skywatchers and overjoyed scientists, who could now confirm the presence of lithium in a stellar explosion.

The study’s findings were published today in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, and they add a crucial piece to the puzzle of the universe.

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Science

39% of U.S. population at risk of coastal flooding

A recent study has asserted that the ocean could wash away nearly two-fifths of all American homes. According to a report from Wired, climate scientists think that rising sea levels could put a large portion of the population at serious risk.

Coastal cities know how to deal with high tides and the occasional storm surge, but scientists’ models are predicting that the sea will only continue to seem more unpredictable.

A new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change has shown that heavy flooding and storm surge events, which can occur due to a combination of tidal, climatic, and the interactions between the ocean and existing infrastructure on the coasts, have increased over the last half century.

Sea level rise is influenced by thermal expansion, where heat energy absorbed into the water causes the molecules to become more active and take up a larger area. This phenomenon, paired with the accelerated melting at both of the world’s poles, contributes significantly to the sea level rise recorded over the past 50 years.

The study measured the frequency of extreme high tide events and precipitation records for 30 different cities. They compared this data with records dating back to the early 20th century, and found that heavy rains and high tides are becoming increasingly synchronized.

The study stops short of blaming climate change as the cause of immediate danger, but the data recorded shows a clear risk for nearly 40 percent of Americans.