German Scientists Claim They Can Improve Covid Vaccines To Further Prevent Blood Clots 

A team of scientists in Germany believe that they have figured out why an increased number of individuals have experienced blood clots after receiving the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccines. 

The scientists also believe that they can tell the manufacturers how to improve the vaccine itself to avoid clots. Rolf Marschalek, a professor at Goethe university in Frankfurt, and colleagues spoke with the media recently about their discovery. 

Embed from Getty Images

“The key is in the adenovirus – the common cold virus that is used to deliver the spike protein of the coronavirus into the body. The mRNA vaccines developed by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna do not use this delivery system and there have been no blood clotting cases linked to them.”

The blood clots have been very rare, as with any vaccine, however, many parents are concerned about the younger age groups receiving their vaccines as there’s already less of a chance that they’ll develop severe Covid illness, but an increased risk that they would experience a blood clot. 

Currently the UK is offering vaccines to anyone under the age of 40 wherever vaccines are available. There have been 309 blood clotting cases in the UK out of 33 million people given the AstraZeneca vaccine. The scientists in a preprint analysis claim that they believe the “problem lies in the entry of the adenovirus into the nucleus of the cell rather than just the cellular fluid, where the virus normally makes proteins.” 

“The adenovirus life cycle includes the infection of cells entry of the adenoviral DNA into the nucleus, and subsequently gene transcription by the host transcription machinery. Here lies the problem: the viral piece of DNA is not optimised to be transcribed inside of the nucleus.”

Embed from Getty Images

Inside of the cell’s nucleus, parts of the spike protein splice, or split apart. These sliced pieces can then become mutant protein pieces that free float throughout your body, and lead to an increased risk of blood clots; although it’s extremely rare that that will occur. 

Professor Marschalek claims that Johnson & Johnson are already in discussions with him, as he’s only continued to emphasize that “the vaccines can be redesigned to avoid the problem.” 

“Johnson & Johnson is trying to optimize its vaccine now. With the data we have in our hands we can tell the companies how to mutate these sequences, coding for the spike protein in a way that prevents unintended splice reactions.”

No word on whether or not AstraZeneca has been contacted or not, and the research presented still needs to go through a peer review in order for it to gain more national credibility throughout the United Kingdom.

Clean Environment Concept

America’s National Science Academy Proposes $100 Million Geoengineering Research Program 

The nation’s national science academy recently claimed that the US should establish a multi-million-dollar research program specifically for looking into solar geoengineering. The group recently released a report that recommends the country put between $100-200 million into a five year program that would work to understand the “feasibility of interventions to dim the sun, the risk of harmful unintended consequences, and how such technology could be governed in an ethical way.”

The National Academies of Science (NAS) said that cutting fossil fuels emissions should be the nation’s number one priority when it comes to tackling climate change. However, the lack of action from our world leaders within the past decade has created an even more damaged environment to improve. 

The report claims that there are three types of solar geoengineering that would help heat escape the Earth’s atmosphere and thus cool the planet overall: “injecting tiny reflective particles into the stratosphere to block sunlight; using the particles to make low-lying clouds over the oceans more reflective; and thinning high-altitude cirrus clouds. Major volcanic eruptions are already known to cool the climate by pumping particles high into the atmosphere.

Embed from Getty Images

Geoengineers are already arguing that the impact of climate change is already so large that every option must be explored if the Earth wants any chance at surviving the next century. Professor Marcia McNutt is the president of the Academy who recently spoke to the media about the importance of this overdue research. 

“Given the urgency of the climate crisis, solar geoengineering needs to be studied further. But just as with advances in fields such as artificial intelligence or gene editing, science needs to engage the public to ask not just can we, but should we? Questions of governance – who will decide to deploy this intervention and for how long – were as important as the scientific questions.”

Professor Chris Field of Stanford University was the chair of the committee that wrote the report, who claimed that “the US solar geoengineering program should be all about helping society make more informed decisions regarding the planet.”

“Based on all of the evidence from social science, natural science, and technology, this research program could either indicate that solar geoengineering should not be considered further, or conclude that it warrants additional effort.”

Embed from Getty Images

The report claimed that “a reasonable initial investment for this solar geoengineering research program is within a range of $100-200 million total over five years. The program would be a small fraction of the US budget for climate change research and should not shift the focus from other projects.”

“The program should be designed to move forward in a socially responsible manner with researchers following a code of conduct, research catalogued in a public registry, and public engagement undertaken. Outdoor experiments should be subject to appropriate governance including impact assessments,” according to the report. 

The academy claims that the program should also include scientific research regarding the possible climate outcomes that geoengineering could have on society and its many ecosystems. “Social dimensions cited for research included domestic and international conflict and cooperation, and justice, ethics, and equity.”

Professor Gernot Wagner of New York University said: “The report’s focus on research and research governance is important for one simple reason: the current discussion is – and should be – all about research into solar geoengineering, certainly not about deploying the technology, where, if anything, a firm moratorium would be appropriate.”

Protective Face Mask

Scientists Offer Advice On What To Look For In A Face Mask

Face masks have become a mandatory addition to everyone’s wardrobe as the world continues to battle the Covid-19 pandemic. Currently, the overall scientific consensus is that face masks are the simplest way to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, and both the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend wearing cloth face covering to protect yourself when in public. However, as the pandemic continues to grow and new information is released in terms of health and safety procedures, some are confused as to the best means of wearing a mask in public. So what do you need to know?

Unless you’re under the age of 2, have a medical condition, or are able to stand at least 6 feet away from other people, you should be wearing a mask at all times according to the guidelines released by the CDC and WHO. Respiratory droplets – tiny bits of spit and other materials that are expelled from your mouth – have been confirmed as the main means of transmitting Covid-19 from person-to-person.

Embed from Getty Images

If you’re carrying the virus, it can attach itself easily to these droplets and thus easily spread throughout the air once expelled. A mask literally physically blocks those droplets from leaving the vicinity of your mouth. Obviously, one could still contract the virus through touch as well, but by covering your mouth, you’re reducing your risk substantially.

In the argument over disposable or reusable masks, you really can’t go wrong, but if you go the reusable route, make sure the material is thick enough to actually block any droplets from spreading. Disposable masks should only be worn once, which isn’t the best for the environment, however, many agree that the disposable surgical masks are much easier to breathe in when compared to a cloth mask; it’s really a matter of preference.

According to scientists who performed a study testing the best materials to make reusable masks out of, they found that it was less about the type of fabric, and more about the quality of it. Higher quality fabrics have a tighter weave and thicker thread, so they do a much better job at containing any droplets or germs. However, as mentioned cloth masks can tend to be less breathable when compared to the disposable ones.

Embed from Getty Images

“A rule of thumb, hold the material up to a bright light. Look at the light coming through the fabric. If it outlines individual fibers and you can see the light through fabric, it’s probably not as effective. The less of that you can see, the better the filter,” said Dr. Scott Segal.

Researchers also found that two layers of masks are better than one, and three does a better job than two, in fact, in their specific guidelines the WHO recommends a minimum of three layers, so many mask manufacturers have begun implementing that rule into their production. Again, breath-ability is a factor so if you’re making the mask yourself, don’t go overboard with the layering to the point that you can barely breathe, and follow Segal’s rule of thumb in terms of light.

There are many types of masks as well on the market. The most effective ones must cover both your nose and mouth, and form a rather snug fit along the edges. Professional grade masks like the N95 respirator are the only guaranteed means of getting a mask with a proper seal along the edge, however, a perfect fit is not a requirement as long as your mouth and nose remain covered.
Regardless of what type of mask you own, the most important thing to remember is to always wear it when out in public. Continue to listen to the nation’s healthcare professionals and guidelines brought on by the CDC and WHO.


Scientists Happy To Relocate – Especially to North America

A recent survey from ResearchGate suggests that not only are scientists prepared to relocate for the best positions and research opportunities, they are more than likely to head to North America.

Thanks to the vital role that universities have when looking at scientific development, there are many leading scientists, as well as empower researchers, who are happy to move location in order to fulfill their career and research goals.

Any scientific research needs teams with the best academics around, making sure they continue to look further than what we already know, looking for new discoveries as well as more details well known. However to do this research teams not only require the best talent around, but they also need to retain it.

Scientific funding is often cut, especially in the current political climate around the world, and with uncertainties surrounding immigration policies it is easy to understand why there is so much negative commentary.

With this in mind, the ResearchGate survey looks at what is really required when researchers are looking at the academic job market. What do they require to maintain their institution’s strong teams while maintaining their journey of scientific discoveries?

Embed from Getty Images

Ten thousand researchers, all at varying levels in their careers, were surveyed about what they believed their academic job market needs were. And by surveying researchers from across the world, this could well be the biggest survey of researchers in this area.

As with many industries, literal geographical boundaries are being removed. By interacting with other researchers around the world on a daily basis, it is becoming increasingly easier to solve scientific issues. With this knowledge, it is clear why so many scientists are happy to relocate if they were given a research opportunity that they felt was the right move for them. In fact, an amazing 70 percent surveyed would look at the options of working in a different country.

And with the world experiencing an era of political insecurity, it is surprising to see that this is not affecting scientists’ goals when looking at their research work.

Among the areas that scientists were happy to move to North America came out at the number one spot. This is a clear indication that the continent is a world leader in scientific research, regardless of the lack of understanding of the different governments’ attitudes to not only scientific funding, but also the confusing immigration policies. However, with many of the U.S. Nobel Prize winners being represented by immigrants, it is clear that whatever else is happening in the world, scientific research is not tied down by race issues.

Currently the visa application process to gain access to the U.S. can be quite intricate, with many employees finding it an obstacle when choosing where to relocate in the world. However, scientists have gone against this trend with the level of difficulty in applying for visas – along with relocation support – being voted as one of the least worrying aspects of relocation.

Embed from Getty Images

Most researchers have an area of expertise that they hone in on, ensuring they continue to grow in their quest for further discoveries. This factor indicates the need to look for an “opportunity to work in an area of particular interest” when looking for a new position.

However it is not just discoveries that researchers are working towards. The need for their work to have some significance to the world, for their studies to lead to a discovery are also extremely important on the work wish list.

The study shows that researchers require the chance to “develop or contribute to new methods and techniques” as well as working towards their work making “an impact on the real world.”

It is also important to remember that although what a scientist will be doing is the main concern when looking for future posts, the work/home life balance – as well as a decent remuneration package – is also vastly important. Over half of all academics surveyed were in either a long-term relationship or married while 32 percent had children to consider.

Other factors that were taken into consideration were the actual location – 18% – as well as the salary – 21%, yet there were many other factors that would need to be considered, such as the benefits that were on offer to the employee. For example, those with children considered the family-oriented benefits such as whether childcare facilities were included or the level of parental leave.

The outcome of this survey appears to be that while researchers are looking to make a positive change to the world, to work together on an international scale and to bring their levels of expertise to the areas that would benefit from them the most, they are also requiring the right level of remuneration, seeking a relocation package that not only offers all of the aforementioned, but provides them with the right balance on keeping both work and home life happy.


11,000 Scientists Unite In Declaration Of Climate Emergency

Over 11,000 scientists have come together from across the globe in a united effort to declare a climate emergency, and have warned of the potential for ‘untold suffering’ that may come if we continue to ignore the state of our planet.

The warning was issued by scientists from the University of Sydney, Australia, Oregon State University and Tufts University in the US and the University of Cape Town in South Africa, backed up by over 11,000 signatories from 153 countries.

With thousands of scientists agreeing on the fact that planet Earth is facing destruction, it is vital that the problem is addressed. 2019 has been the year of climate change awareness with Extinction Rebellion protests sweeping the country and a climate emergency being declared. As more and more people are galvanised by climate action, questions are being asked concerning what can be done. Who is responsible and what can we do ourselves to prevent climate change becoming irreversible?

Embed from Getty Images

By now we all know how damaging plastic can be for the environment. In fact, it is the number one cause of beach and ocean pollution, killing marine life, plants and ecosystems. Plastic is an epidemic which must be defeated in order to tackle climate change head on in order to save thousands of species and habitats. The biggest culprit is microplastics which are pieces of plastics less than five millimeters in length commonly found in drinking supplies, bottled water, oceans, lakes and rivers. Whilst also found in the human body, they are less harmful to us than they are to oceans and other water sources as they damage the marine ecosystems. The problem is intensifying as fishing and shipping industries spread.

Poorly regulated incineration of plastic waste not only negatively impacts marine ecosystems, but also human health. In 2019 alone, scientists have estimated that the production and incineration of plastic will release more than 850 million tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere; by 2050 it is estimated this could rise to 2.8 billion tonnes. It has been suggested that a system should be implemented to fine polluters for their impact of their produce on the environment, forcing corporations to be responsible for their impact on climate change.

Whilst it is important that corporations cut down on their plastic use, there are simple ways you can help from home to decrease the global demand for plastic. In England, 35 million water bottles are used every day with over half ending up in landfills, putting more microplastics in the environment. If everyone cut down their use of single use plastic water bottles by investing in a good reusable bottle, the demand for single use plastics will decrease. Other ways to help easily at home include using reusable shopping bags, ditching face wipes and opting for a wooden toothbrush.

Embed from Getty Images

Greenhouses gases are also a major culprit, trapping heat in the atmosphere and causing drastic habitat changes to those in colder climates. Greenhouses gases are caused by burning fossil fuels; emitting coal, natural gas and oil; decaying waste in landfills and the process of agricultural and industrial activities. Gases remain in the atmosphere from a few years to thousands of years, causing lasting damage to ecosystems and human health. Greenhouse gases essentially thicken the Earth’s blanket, trapping heat inside.

Since the Industrial Revolution, the average temperature globally has risen by around 1°C, a rapid change as previous temperature changes are thought of have happened over much longer periods of time. The ten hottest years in the UK since 1884 have all happened in the last 17 years whilst globally the 20 warmest years on record have all occurred in the past 22 years.

In order to avoid further dramatic increases to the average surface temperature of planet Earth, it is vital that greenhouse gas emissions are cut and renewable energy sources are implemented. Greenhouse gasses can also be reduced by better land practices, cutting carbon dioxide levels in the air. An easy way to do this would be to reduce beef farming which has a significantly high impact on greenhouse gas emissions globally.

It is estimated that if we continue to burn fossil fuels at the same rate, we could see the average global temperature rise by more than 4°C by 2100. The drastic consequences arising from this would change planet Earth forever. For example, the extinction risk of global warming is formidable with thousands of species thought to be at risk as a result.

Making simple changes at home, while helpful, is unlikely to help stop climate change becoming irreversible. Massive changes are required on the part of global corporations and governments to address the situation that threatens to destroy our only home.

Doctor with Patient

Researchers Argue Sex and Gender Analysis Improves Science

It has long been understood in scientific circles that unconscious biases, particularly those relating to sex and gender, can have a negative impact on the objectivity of scientific findings. While the goal of science is to discover the truth in as objective a manner as possible, scientists are prone to the same unintentional, biased assumptions as anyone else, and the quality of scientific work can be affected. For instance, the appropriate dosage for a medicine may be devised with the assumption that the patient is male, leading to suboptimal dosage recommendations for women. As another example, safety equipment too can be designed with the physical concerns of men in mind, negatively affecting women who use the equipment. And as machine learning technologies advance, engineers are realizing that machine learning programs are capable of picking up on human beings’ unconscious biases and replicating them, perpetuating the problem.

In light of these realizations, much conversation has taken place regarding how best to correct for sex and gender bias in science. This concept is explored in an article posted in Nature entitled “Sex and gender analysis improves science and engineering.” The article’s authors argue that taking sex and gender into consideration while conducting science not only benefits less-advantaged individuals by recognizing the institutional challenges they face, but also improves the quality of science itself, as unconscious biases are identified and corrected. This approach, the authors claim, benefits multiple scientific fields, including medicine, artificial intelligence, and even climatology. 

Embed from Getty Images

While many consider the terms synonyms, the researchers explain the difference between sex and gender, defining the former as including mainly biological attributes, whereas they define the latter as “psychological, social and cultural factors that shape attitudes, behaviours, stereotypes, technologies, and knowledge.” This distinction is important because sex and gender interact in complex ways; for instance, there exist physiological differences relating to the experience of pain between the sexes, and gender impacts how patients communicate pain with doctors and researchers. The researchers point out several improvements which have been made in this area over the past several decades; for instance, crash test dummies were originally based on a male physique, but now represent more diverse body shapes, allowing engineers to design vehicles that are safe for a larger number of people. However, they also point out areas for future improvement. 

As advanced technology continues to influence society, ensuring that it doesn’t perpetuate harmful stereotypes takes on additional importance.

In their paper, the scientists focus on the surprising and complicated ways sex and gender manifest across a variety of disciplines, with the most focus placed on marine science, biomedicine, robotics, and artificial intelligence. The authors discuss how sex impacts science even in non-humans, as male and female marine life react differently to the effects of changing ocean temperatures, an observation which has generated insights about more accurately modelling the effects of climate change. In human beings, sex differences account for disparities in responses to various medicines, such as vasopressin and cancer immunotherapy, for biological reasons including differences in amounts of testosterone and estrogen and overall body composition.

Embed from Getty Images

Perhaps more surprisingly, artificial intelligence is a field in which unconscious biases can make their way into technologies, unintentionally perpetuating cultural biases and stereotypes. For instance, advertising algorithms are more likely to automatically serve ads for high-paying jobs to men than to women, and automatic image captioning algorithms tend to misidentify pictures of men in kitchens as women. As advanced technology continues to influence society, ensuring that artificial intelligence doesn’t perpetuate harmful stereotypes takes on additional importance.

The authors conclude by proposing solutions to many of the problems with sex and gender biases in science they identify. One suggestion is to foster greater interactions between the scientific community and the humanities, including social scientists. Allowing for interdepartmental conversations in this way helps scientists to learn about how biases emerge and affect human reasoning, and can incorporate this knowledge into their work. Additionally, the researchers advocate for greater transparency in scientists’ reporting by including variables relating to sex and gender in their data analyses. 


Scientists Make Progress in Developing Lithium-Metal Batteries

As time progresses, nearly all of the components in the personal electronic devices available for purchase rapidly transform, as advancements in display, camera, and processor technology enable an ongoing improvement in the user experience. One exception to this rule, however, is their batteries lithium-ion battery technology has remained basically unchanged for several years, as the technology seems to approach the limits of the density of energy storage. Batteries composed of different materials, including graphene and lithium-metal, offer promising developments in the size and capacity of batteries for mobile devices, but technology involving these materials has not yet progressed to the point of safety and commercial viability. However, scientists around the world are dedicated to discovering breakthroughs in the field of battery technology, and one such breakthrough may have begun recently at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Washington.

In this laboratory, scientists have pinpointed the cause of one of the greatest impediments to the development of lithium-metal batteries, which is the growth of microscopic needle-like structures within the material of the batteries, leading to short circuits, battery failure, and even fires. Though these structures can form in both lithium-ion and lithium-metal batteries, they are much more prevalent in the latter type of battery, halting the widespread adoption of lithium-metal in battery-powered devices. While it’s too soon to assert that this research shows the commercial and practical viability of lithium-metal battery technology, the research represents a significant advancement in the field, as it provides scientists around the world with information that could help them refine and perfect the technology. 

Embed from Getty Images

The scientists discovered the cause of the needle formation by taking advantage of two high-resolution microscopes, an atomic force microscope and an environmental transmission electron microscope, which they used together to observe the chemical reactions that produced the needles, also known as dendrites. With this technique, they found that dendrites begin when lithium ions started to gather, or “nucleate,” on the surface of the anode. (An anode is the positively charged electrode by which electrons leave a device.) The team compared the development of these dendrites to the growth of a stalagmite on the floor of a cave.

Instead of simply suppressing the growth of dendrites, the team wanted to find the root cause of their growth and eliminate it. As such, the scientists experimented with the mix of electrolytes in the batteries to determine which ingredients led to the development of dendrites. They found that one ingredient in particular, ethylene carbonate, directly correlates with dendrite and whisker growth, and found that adding some ingredients, like cyclohexanone, prevented their growth. While ethylene carbonate enhances battery performance and is currently considered an indispensable ingredient in lithium batteries, it also leaves the battery vulnerable to damage. As such, more research is necessary to determine what ingredients, if any, can replace ethylene carbonate in potential lithium-metal batteries of the future. That being said, these initial findings may very well clear the path for the development of lithium-metal batteries and their implementation in battery-operated devices generally.

Embed from Getty Images

Although this research breathes life into the possibility of higher-capacity batteries in our devices, for the foreseeable future we will continue to rely on rechargeable lithium-ion batteries for the vast majority of applications. However, lithium-ion technology has proven to be a tremendous advancement in energy-storage technology, so much so that the researchers responsible for pioneering these devices recently won a Nobel Prize. Though the products have been on the market since 1991, they have since “laid the foundation of a wireless, fossil-fuel-free society, and are of the greatest benefit to humankind,” according to the Nobel committee. 


Microplastics Are Saturating Our Environment, Here’s How You Can Help At Home

Microplastics are defined as pieces of plastic that are less than five millimeters in length, most commonly found in plastic drinking supplies, bottled water, as well as lakes, rivers, oceans, and even us.