Progress Towards Making Invisibility Cloaks Real; A Deadly Omen in DNA

David Wagner
Progress Towards Making Invisibility Cloaks Real; A Deadly Omen in DNA

Discovered: Wizard-like scientists make objects invisible; death is close when chromosome tips are worn down; pregnant women who contract flus are more likely to have autistic babies; prosthetic skin that heals itself.

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Well done, science! Do scientists belong to Gryffindor or Hufflepuff? Whatever house they're at, 100 points to them for finally perfecting a real-life invisibility cloak. OK, a couple caveats: it only works for centimeter scale cylinders, is only made invisible from one angle, and only applies to microwave visibility. But still, this Imperial College London's John Pendry and Duke University's Nathan Landy have taken a huge step forward in demonstrating the principle of invisibility. Previous efforts always had some incident light reflection, but this latest effort adjusted how the edges of a microwave cloak line up, making it diamond-shaped. This ensured that the invisibility was complete. Smith says, ""This to our knowledge is the first cloak that really addresses getting the transformation exactly right to get you that perfect invisibility." [BBC News]

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Telomere length can be an omen of death. Telomeres play a crucial role in protecting chromosomes. Without these end-caps, DNA would be eaten away. As we age, these telomeres get shorter and shorter, and now researchers at UC San Francisco and Kaiser Permanente have found that shortened telomeres are strongly linked with encroaching death. The researchers studied telomere length in 110,266 people in northern California, finding that the 10 percent of people with the shortest telomere length had a 20 percent higher chance of dying soon. This was true regardless of the patients' unhealthy habits such as drinking and smoking. "It seems as though once your telomeres get critically short, your risk of dying goes up," says Kaiser epidemiologist Catherine Schaefer. "It’s a modest increase, but it’s not nothing." [ScienceNews]

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Mothers of autistic children more likely to have had flus during pregnancy. A study of 96,000 children in Denmark has shown that mothers who caught a flu during pregnancy were more likely to give birth to an autistic baby than mothers who stayed fever-free until delivery. Hjördis Ósk Atladóttir of the University of Aarhus and Diana Schendel at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control led the research, looking for links between mothers' health histories and autism. Of the 976 children who were later diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, more were likely to have had mothers that fell ill during pregnancy than their non-autistic peers. It's too soon to say that flus "cause" fetuses to develop autism, but researchers will surely be looking into this connection going forward. The latest CDC estimates place autism occurrence at one in every 88 children (and one in every 54 boys). [NBC News]

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Prosthetic skin that can heal itself. Prosthetics have come a long way in recent years, but replicating human skin's ability to repair itself has been a particularly hard problem for engineers to tackle. That's why Stanford University's Zhenan Bao and colleagues have caught attention for their new development that marries epidermal electronics and self-healing polymers to create prosthetic skin that can repair itself in much the same way as human skin. "I think it's kind of a breakthrough," comments Trinity College Dublin's John J. Boland. "It's the first time that we've seen this combination of both mechanical and electrical self-healing." [ScienceNow]