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saturn

New Study Reveals Saturn’s Rings Are Much Younger Than The Planet Itself 

A new study from the University of Colorado at Boulder has found that Saturn’s rings are likely around 400 million years old, which is much younger than the planet of Saturn itself, which is thought to be around 4.5 billion years old. 

The research was published this month in the journal Science Advances, where it states that Saturn’s rings are likely no more than 400 million years old, making the rings significantly younger than Saturn itself, which is around 4.5 billion years old. 

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The study itself was led by physicist Sascha Kempf from the University of Colorado at Boulder. “In a way, we’ve gotten closure on a question that started with James Clerk Maxwell,” said Kempf.

Kempf broke down that the conclusion of their research came after analyzing dust, and tiny grains of rock material which are constantly moving through the entirety of our Earth’s solar system. When there’s influxes of this tiny grain rock material’s presence, it can leave behind a thin layer of dust on the planets, including on the ice that makes up Saturn’s rings. 

“Think about the rings like the carpet in your house. If you have a clean carpet laid out, you just have to wait. Dust will settle on your carpet. The same is true for the rings.”

Kempf and his team of researchers used an instrument known as the Cosmic Dust Analyzer on NASA’s Cassini spacecraft from the years of 2004 to 2017, analyzing the specks of dust around Saturn. Throughout that time, the team collected around 163 grains that originated from beyond the planet’s immediate proximity. 

With this information, they were able to initially hypothesize that Saturn’s rings have only been gathering dust for a few hundred million years; much younger than the age of the planets in our solar system. 

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“We know approximately how old the rings are, but it doesn’t solve any of our other problems. We still don’t know how these rings formed in the first place.”

Scientists do know that Saturn has seven rings that are made up of chunks of ice that are mostly the size of the average boulder here on Earth. For most of the 20th century, it was assumed that the rings formed at the same time that Saturn did. However, as time went on researchers became skeptical about their origin, as the rings are much cleaner when compared to the actual planet of Saturn. 

“It’s almost impossible to end up with something so clean,” Kempf said.

The other interesting aspect of Saturn’s rings and their development is that they also might be vanishing. NASA scientists have reported in the past that the ice chunks that make up the rings are slowly melting and raining down on the planet itself. They’ve reported that the rings could even fully disappear within the next 100 million years. 

While we still know little about how these rings initially formed, and why they formed so much later than the planet itself, this new research gives an intriguing new insight into the history of Saturn, and our solar system overall.

parrot

Parrots Taught to Video Call Other Parrots Formed Lasting Friendships, Researchers Say

Researchers from Northeastern University, the University of Glasgow, and MIT designed a video calling system for parrots to “chat” with other parrots. Over time, the birds developed a preference for certain parrot “friends,” forming strong bonds and repeatedly calling the same birds.

The United States is home to 20 million pet birds, and scientists are trying to find a way to help them connect from afar. The 15 volunteers who completed the experiment were recruited from Parrot Kindergarten—a training platform that helps owners deepen their relationship with their birds and “better meet their needs for mental enrichment and challenge.”

Parrots are highly sociable creatures and flock together in their natural habitats. However, these birds are typically kept as solo pets in households or other forms of captivity. Due to their high intelligence, parrots can become distressed and even pluck their feathers if they are not provided with adequate attention and mental stimulation.

Parrot owners spent the first two weeks of the study training their birds to ring a bell and touch the image of another parrot—displayed on a tablet screen—to initiate a video call. There were a total of 212 video calls placed by parrots. The owners then turned off the calls after five minutes or if their parrots lost interest.

Phase two of the experiment involved an “open call” period during which the participating parrots could call any other parrot in the study at any time. In total, the parrots made 147 calls to other birds, providing over 1,000 hours of footage for researchers to analyze.

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The study’s authors, Rébecca Kleinberger, an assistant professor at Northeastern; Jennifer Cunha, a parrot behaviorist and Northeastern researcher; and Ilyena Hirskyj-Douglas, an assistant professor at the University of Glasgow, reported that the parrots usually stayed on their calls for the maximum time allowed. The birds also appeared to understand that there was a real “fellow bird” on the other side of the screen.

Some parrots even taught their companions new skills, such as flying, foraging and making different vocalizations. “She came alive during the calls,” one pet parent said about their bird.

Hirskyj-Douglas told the Guardian, “I was quite surprised at the range of different behaviors.”

“Some would sing, some would play around and go upside down, others would want to show another bird their toys.”

They also formed clear preferences. For instance, Cunha’s Goffin’s cockatoo named Ellie became friends with an African Grey parrot named Cookie. “It’s been over a year, and they still talk,” Cunha told Northeastern Global News. They seemed to be making vocalizations that mirror “Hello, I’m here” in parrot-speak.

Ultimately, the birds formed lasting bonds, measured by how frequently a bird chose to call the same bird. The most socially active parrots, who initiated the most calls, also received the most calls, pointing to a “reciprocal dynamic similar to human socialization.”

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Some parrots were even reported to have developed attachments to the human caretakers of their virtual friends.

While it is true that captive parrots will not get the same social stimulation they would in the wild, regular video chats with other birds can help enrich their lives.

Despite the promising results, the authors caution parrot owners against launching impromptu Facetime chats on their birds’ behalf. In the study, experts monitored the parrots they were working with, ending calls at the first sign of stress, aggression, disinterest, or discomfort.

The authors noted that “unmediated interactions could lead to fear [or] even violence and property damage.”

“We were really careful about training the birds’ caregivers thoroughly to ensure that they could offer an appropriate level of support to empower their parrots but also help them avoid any negative experiences. As soon as the birds showed any signs of distraction or discomfort, the calls were stopped.”

Kleinberger noted how parrots were only recently domesticated for a generation or two, unlike dogs, cats, and horses. “We’re not saying you can make them as happy as they would be in the wild,” she says. “We’re trying to serve those who are already [in captivity].”

Speaking about Cookie and Ellie, Hirskyj-Douglas says she found their connection particularly moving.

“It really speaks to how cognitively complex these birds are and how much ability they have to express themselves. It was really beautiful, those two birds, for me.”

voyager

NASA To Give The Voyager 2 Backup Power So It Lasts Until 2026

NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft has been probing around the solar system for over 45 years. Now, the spacecraft is running out of power, but the Agency has a new plan to keep Voyager 2 running for at least three more years. 

The Voyager 2 initially launched in 1977, and has been helping scientists view and investigate planets far from Earth, as well as learn about how the heliosphere protects the Earth from its volatile interstellar environment. The heliosphere is the sun’s outermost layer that traps particles and magnetic fields within it. 

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NASA engineers and scientists have begun turning off heaters and nonessential parts to preserve power in the Voyager 2, and now have a plan to use reserved power from a safety mechanism within the spacecraft’s voltage, according to reports from NPR

“The move will enable the mission to postpone shutting down a science instrument until 2026, rather than this year,” NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said

Both Voyager 2 and Voyager 1, which was launched the same year as its twin Voyager 2, are the only spacecraft to have explored past the heliosphere. 

Ed Stone was the chief scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, who retired last year, has spent decades working on the Voyager program. He was able to see firsthand new data and discoveries from planets such as Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. 

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“What it revealed was how complex and dynamic the solar system really is. Before Voyager, the only known active volcanoes were here on Earth. Then we flew by Jupiter’s moon, Io, and it has 10 times the volcanic activity of earth. Before Voyager, the only known oceans in the solar system were here on Earth.

Then we flew by another moon of Jupiter, Europa, which it turns out has a liquid water ocean beneath its icy crust,” Stone told NPR

Voyager 2 is currently 12.3 billion miles away from Earth, and getting further, Voyager 1 is also expected to lose power in the coming years, and is currently 14.7 billion miles away. 

“The science data that the Voyagers are returning gets more valuable the farther away from the Sun they go, so we are definitely interested in keeping as many science instruments operating as long as possible,” Linda Spilker, the Voyager program’s project scientist at the Jet Propulsion Lab, said in a statement.

tiger

India’s Endangered Tiger Population Is Steadily Increasing Thanks To Conservation Efforts 

In the beginning of the 20th century, there were around 100,000 tigers roaming around Asia before human intervention caused that number to plummet. In 2006, it was reported that only around 1,411 tigers remained in India; the nation with the most of the world’s remaining tiger population. 

Now, conservation efforts have helped that number grow, and nearly double, to around 3,167, according to reports from last year from a tiger census study. 

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Currently, that number accounts for around 70% of the world’s tiger population, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke on this increase in an address on Sunday.

“We have thousands of years of history related to tigers … The tiger is considered our brother in many tribes. A better future for humanity is only possible when our environments are protected and our biodiversity continues to expand.”

The tiger population in Asia began steeply declining in the 1940s due to an increase in the human population. Human’s efforts with agricultural expansion, deforestation, and natural infrastructure has impacted the natural environments in which tiger’s live. 

The WWF stated that these human interventions have caused tigers to no longer have a solitary environment, and drastically removed the large territories they use for hunting. They also reported that as of today, tigers exist on only 7% of the land they used to occupy. 

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In 1971, India had a population of around 547 million, and today they’re at 1.4 billion and set to become the world’s most populated country this year. 

In the 1980s, unregulated poaching also caused the tiger population to decline drastically. Tigers have been hunted for sport, social status, and consumption. Although India banned tiger hunting in 1972, it still remains a major issue; in 2005 India cited poaching as the reasoning for the complete extinction of tigers living in an Indian reserve. 

In the past years, conservation efforts have developed 53 new tiger reserves that stretch across 75,800 square kilometers; initially these efforts only had 9 reservations. Authorities have even paid and relocated entire villages as a means of making more space for the tigers. 

Government funded technology has embraced the use of drones, camera traps, and advanced software systems to track tiger populations and ideally keep them safe from illegal poachers. 

While poaching and the ongoing threat of climate change still poses a major threat to the tiger population, the conservation efforts have given many a lot of hope, so much so that India has begun sharing their techniques and strategies with other countries to help them ideally increase declining tiger populations.

earth

NASA Aiming To Clean Up Space Junk With New Project Initiatives

There are currently multiple satellites and pieces of man-made debris floating in orbit around Earth, making it difficult to get a clear picture of our galaxy without distraction. NASA recently released a new report on “orbital debris remediation” with plans to improve the current space junk situation.

lab

Scientists Produce Mice With Two Fathers By Using Male Cells To Make Eggs 

Scientists from Japan have found a way to create mice with two biological fathers by generating eggs using cells from the males. This recent accomplishment could create revolutionary new possibilities for reproduction in humans. 

The hope is that these advances can eventually aid scientists in creating new treatments for individuals suffering from infertility issues, and potentially lead to a new way for same-sex couples to have a biological child together. 

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Katsuhiko Hayashi led the research from Kyushu University in Japan, and is also internationally known as a pioneer in the field of reproduction; specifically growing eggs and sperm in a lab. He recently spoke to The Guardian regarding this recent discovery. 

“This is the first case of making robust mammal oocytes from male cells.”

Hayashi presented these recent findings at the Third International Summit on Human Genome Editing at the Francis Crick Institute in London. Hayashi predicts “that it will be technically possible to create a viable human egg from a male skin cell within a decade.” 

“Purely in terms of technology, it will be possible [in humans] even in 10 years, [personally I] would be in favor of the technology being used clinically to allow two men to have a baby if it were shown to be safe. I don’t know whether they’ll be available for reproduction. That is not a question just for the scientific program, but also for [society].”

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He went on to explain how this new technique could also be utilized to treat severe forms of infertility, citing the example of women who have Turner’s syndrome, which was one of the biggest initial motivations to pursue this particular study. 

Other scientists are skeptical at Hayashi’s optimism regarding when this treatment will be viable in human subjects, as human cells require a longer cultivation period to produce an egg, which could lead to drastic genetic changes within a potential embryo. 

“The work is fascinating,  but other research has indicated that creating lab-grown gametes from human cells was more challenging than for mouse cells. We still don’t understand enough of the unique biology of human gametogenesis to reproduce Hayashi’s provocative work in mice,” Professor George Daley, the dean of Harvard Medical School, described.

The study involved numerous intricate steps to turn a male skin cell, which carries the XY chromosome, into an egg with the female XX chromosome. They did this by reprogramming the skin cells into a stem-cell like form, making it possible to replace the Y chromosome from the male subject into an X chromosome to become an egg. 

“The trick of this, the biggest trick, is the duplication of the X chromosome,” said Hayashi.

spray

Scientists Name Fungus-Killing Compound After Keanu Reeves

Researchers from Germany’s Leibniz Institute have found a naturally occurring compound so effective at busting human and plant pathogenic fungi that they named it after actor Keanu Reeves.

The three nonribosomal lipopeptides scientists isolated—Keanumycins A, B, and C—are byproducts of Pseudomonas bacteria typically found in soil and water. Scientists observed the compounds while studying Pseudomonas for their effectiveness against predatory amoebas.

“We have been working with pseudomonads for some time and know that many of these bacterial species are very toxic to amoebae, which feed on bacteria,” said study leader and head of the department of Paleobiotechnology at Leibniz-HKI Pierre Stallforth.

The researchers wanted to know if the same bacteria would be effective against fungi, which have a cell structure similar to amoebas. Testing showed that the bacteria’s byproducts were lethal to a fungus infecting a hydrangea.

The scientists’ findings were published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society in January. The study’s first author, Sebastian Götze, said in a press release that they named the lipopeptides after Keanu Reeves because of his iconic roles in action films.

“The lipopeptides kill so efficiently that we named them after Keanu Reeves because he, too, is extremely deadly in his roles.”

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Notably, the Keanumycins were effective against Botrytis cinerea—the fungus responsible for gray mold rot that destroys various crops, such as strawberries and wine grapes, and causes significant harvest losses. Farmers frequently use chemical fungicides to combat its aggressive spread.

Having seen the potential of the Keanumycins, the study’s authors are conducting experiments to determine whether or not a fungicide containing Keanumycins can effectively eradicate crop-damaging fungi without leaving any harmful residues behind in soil or on produce.

If the results are promising, the compounds could provide a biodegradable alternative to chemical pesticides.

Götze said that the compounds may also help treat human fungal infections that are becoming resistant to conventional antifungals. For instance, Keanumycins are non-toxic to humans and were found to “strongly inhibit” the pathogenic fungus Candida albicans, which is responsible for yeast infections.

“We have a crisis in anti-infectives. Many human-pathogenic fungi are now resistant to antimycotics — partly because they are used in large quantities in agricultural fields.”

Dr. Matt Nelsen, a researcher from Chicago’s Field Museum, told CNN in an email that the study “documents another exciting means by which microbes have evolved to compete with and fight other organisms.”

“Previous efforts have sought to exploit such natural products for human use to combat animal and plant pathogens. However, over time, many pathogenic organisms — including fungi — have evolved resistance to the chemicals we use to battle them. Consequently, we need to find a new way to ‘outsmart’ or ‘one-up’ them.”

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This is not the first time a scientific discovery has been named after a famous face. In February, researchers Juan C. Sánchez-Nivicela, José M. Falcón-Reibán and Diego F. Cisneros-Heredia discovered a mystical steam frog in Ecuador and named it after fantasy author J.R.R. Tolkien.

The frog, Hyloscirtus tolkieni, was found in a habitat that reminded Sánchez-Nivicela of the Fangorn Forest from Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” series.

The paper on their findings started with an homage to the opening lines of Tolkien’s “The Hobbit.”

“In a stream in the forest, there lived a Hyloscirtus. Not a nasty, dirty stream, with spoor of contamination and a muddy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy stream with nothing in it to perch on or to eat: it was a Hyloscirtus-stream, and that means environmental quality.”

There are also several beetles named after celebrities, including the Agaporomorphus colberti named after late-night talk show host Stephen Colbert, Agra catbellae named after actress Catherine Bell, Agra katewinsletae named after actress Kate Winslet, and Agra liv, named after actress Liv Tyler. 

Sir David Attenborough, famous broadcaster, biologist and natural historian, has over 40 species named after him, including a prehistoric marine reptile and a native British flower.

On Saturday, Keanu Reeves participated in a reddit AMA (ask me anything) where he was asked about his thoughts on having the killer compounds named after him.

“Hi, thank you…they should’ve called it John Wick…but that’s pretty cool…and surreal for me. But thanks, scientist people! Good luck, and thank you for helping us.”

earth

Scientists Discover New Layer Under Earth’s Crust

Researchers from Australian National University have found evidence of a hidden layer inside Earth’s inner core. The scientists found the layer, an iron-nickel alloy ball around 800 miles (1350 km) wide, by studying the reverberations of seismic waves from large earthquakes through the Earth.

When seismic waves travel through the Earth, they change shape and provide insight into Earth’s internal structure. Previous studies had only looked at single bounces of seismic waves (from one side of the Earth to the other and back).

In this new study, scientists accessed data from waves of 200 earthquakes with magnitudes above 6.0, traveling up to five times across the Earth’s diameter.

“In this study, for the first time, we report observations of seismic waves originating from powerful earthquakes traveling back and forth from one side of the globe to the other up to five times like a ricochet,” study co-author Dr. Thanh-Son Phạm, a seismologist and postdoctoral fellow at the Research School of Earth Sciences at the Australian National University told CNN in an email.

The earthquake waves penetrated different depths and angles near the center, suggesting a different crystalline structure was nestled beneath the surface. The findings were published in the journal Nature Communications.

Earth’s internal structure has four known layers—an outer crust, a rocky mantle, an outer core made of molten-liquid magma and a solid inner metal core. In the 1930s, scientists used the same seismic wave analysis method to discover the Earth’s metallic inner core.

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In 2002, researchers hypothesized that the Earth’s inner core concealed another unknown layer. Thanks to the improved accuracy of seismic monitoring, scientists can now verify this hypothesis.

Lead author of the study and observational seismologist Thanh-Son Pham of ANU, told Reuters, “We may know more about the surface of other distant celestial bodies than the deep interior of our planet.”

“We analyzed digital records of ground motion, known as seismograms, from large earthquakes in the last decade. Our study becomes possible thanks to the unprecedented expansion of the global seismic networks, particularly the dense networks in the contiguous U.S., the Alaskan peninsula and over the European Alps.”

Both the inner core’s outer shell and the sphere within it are hot enough to be molten. However, the high pressures found at the Earth’s center render them solid.

Australian National University geophysicist and study co-author Hrvoje Tkalčić told Reuters, “I like to think about the inner core as a planet within the planet. Indeed, it is a solid ball, approximately the size of Pluto and a bit smaller than the moon.”

“If we were somehow able to dismantle the Earth by removing its mantle and the liquid outer core, the inner core would appear shining like a star. Its temperature is estimated to be about 5,500-6,000 degrees (Celsius/9,930-10,830 Fahrenheit), similar to the sun’s surface temperature.”

According to Pham, there does not seem to be a clear line that distinguishes the outer region of the inner core from the sphere nestled within. Instead, the transition is gradual. Scientists could tell the two regions apart because seismic waves behaved differently between them.

“It could be caused by different arrangements of iron atoms at high temperatures and pressures or the preferred alignment of growing crystals.”

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As the Earth slowly cools, its inner core grows, while its outer core contracts as molten materials solidify.

The researchers told The Washington Post that the innermost core might hold clues to a “significant global event that occurred in the planet’s past,” allowing scientists to understand the evolution of Earth’s magnetic field by providing something akin to a fossilized record.

“The latent heat released from solidifying the Earth’s inner core drives the convection in the liquid outer core, generating Earth’s geomagnetic field. Life on Earth is protected from harmful cosmic rays and would not be possible without such a magnetic field.”

The discovery may also give “us a glimpse of what might have happened with other planets,” Pham said. “Take Mars as an example. We don’t understand yet why (Mars’ magnetic field) ceased to exist in the past.”

Mars is thought to be devoid of life because it lost its magnetic field some 4 billion years ago, leaving it vulnerable to the solar winds and dust storms that swept away the planet’s atmosphere and oceans.

pt

New Technology Helps Two Patients With Stroke Paralysis Regain Movement in Their Hands

According to a report in Nature Medicine, two stroke patients were able to regain the use of a paralyzed arm and hand after receiving electrical pulses to a specific area of their spinal cords.

One of the patients, Heather Rendulic, previously could not carry out routine tasks involving her left hand, such as holding a fork or making a fist.

Rendulic had a series of five strokes over a period of 11 months when she was 22 years old due to a rare brain disease called cavernous angioma, which left her paralyzed on her left side.

After volunteering for and undergoing a clinical study in 2021 to improve the lives of people like her, Rendulic opened her hand for the first time in nine years.

“I live one-handed in a two-handed world, and you don’t realize how many things you need two hands for until you only have one good one.”

During the clinical trial, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University implanted a pair of thin metal electrodes along the surface of Rendulic’s spinal cord. The electrodes sent tiny electrical pulses to stimulate specific regions and activate nerve cells.

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Study co-author and assistant professor of neurological surgery at the University of Pittsburgh, Dr. Marco Capogrosso, shared how everyone in the room was stunned when Rendulic could “move her hand and arm after nine years from day one.”

“The whole lab was crying because…we didn’t really expect that this could work as fast.”

Rendulic described the stimulation as “kind of like a tickle.” The process did not hurt her, but it initially felt a bit uncomfortable.

“When the stimulation is on, I feel like I now have control of my arm and my hand again that I haven’t had.”

Rendulic can now carry out several mobility tasks, including drawing a spiral, opening a lock, and gripping and lifting a soup can while the device is still on. At the end of the four-week trial, she was even able to cut her own steak. The other patient in the trial saw the same newfound range of motion.

Researchers hope this new technology, paired with targeted physical training, can improve outcomes even further.

Spinal cord stimulation has long been used to treat chronic pain. Prior research has shown that the same technology could restore leg movement after a spinal cord injury. However, upper limb paralysis has always been more challenging to restore since multiple nerves are involved in the movement of shoulders, wrists and arms.

Dr. Capogrosso says that while people still retain some of these neural connections, “They’re just not enough to enable movement.” The messages are weaker than normal.

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Dr. Douglas Weber, another of the study’s co-authors and professor of mechanical engineering at the Neuroscience Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, described how electrical pulses could strengthen those connections.

“The sensory nerves from the arm and hand send signals to motor neurons in the spinal cord that control the muscles of the limb. By stimulating these sensory nerves, we can amplify the activity of muscles that have been weakened by stroke. Importantly, the patient retains full control of their movements: The stimulation is assistive and strengthens muscle activation only when patients are trying to move.”

Dr. Capogrosso looks forward to what these results mean for future stroke treatment.

“We found that after a few weeks of use, some of these improvements endure when the stimulation is switched off, indicating exciting avenues for the future of stroke therapies.”

As of right now, the chronic stage of paralysis, which occurs six months or later after a stroke, cannot be treated effectively. However, this new simulation technology has promising potential, given that the benefits of the simulation persisted for up to four weeks after the end of the procedure with no serious side effects.

Study co-author Dr. Elvira Pirondini, an assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Pittsburgh, states, “Creating effective neurorehabilitation solutions for people affected by movement impairment after stroke is becoming ever more urgent.”

“Even mild deficits resulting from a stroke can isolate people from social and professional lives and become very debilitating, with motor impairments in the arm and hand being especially taxing and impeding simple daily activities, such as writing, eating and getting dressed.”

In the meantime, Rendulic has hope for the future. “I really hope and pray that this becomes widely available,” she says, “because I know it’s going to change so many lives.”

glacier

Doomsday Glacier In Antarctica Melting Rapidly, Global Sea Levels Likely To Rise

The Doomsday Glacier in Antarctica, specifically known as the Thwaites Glacier, is currently melting in ways that scientists were not expecting, which could potentially lead to its rapid collapse, and an acceleration of global sea levels rising.