Sunday, February 20, 2011

New Scientist: Dead but a brain wave lingers on

The human brain. The most intricate and complex structure known to the man. It has been studied for many decades in an attempt to satisfy our inner curiosity. Why do we, humans, have the ability to rationalize thought? Why not other species around this globe? That is only of the hundreds of secrets that our mind contains. A wise man once said: Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. That man was none other than the great Albert Einstein. It seems he had a way with words as well as equations. 

It seems that decapitation is not a instantaneous way to die. It does cause the lowest amount of suffering in rats though I still think that being guillotined still hurt quite a bit. Apparently after a decapitation is performed the brain is still active for up to 30 seconds. And the victim is still conscious at the time. If that isn't scary or painful then I don't know what is. After these thirty seconds the brain experiences a 'wave of death' as the scientist demonstrate on an electroencephalogram (EEG). The same is true for rats and for humans being cut from life support.  

EEG reading from a human brain
What is the most amazing thing during this wave of death is that the brain actually transmits an electrical impulse in order to restart the heart. Although it ultimately fails this is proof that there is some small correlation between the pumping of heart and the brain. Normally as the heart is myogenic no action should be undertaken by the brain. Another incredulous thing is that we know now that the heart can be restarted after more than 4 minutes without any brain damage. Its quite astounding how many of these discoveries can be made in such a short time. Couldn't find the appropriate article in the New Scientist site. 

Sunday, February 13, 2011

New Scientist: Breath Sensor Predicts Asthma Attack

Due to my lack of time and constant studying the post this week will be quite short but still full of interesting facts as always. An asthma attack is an acute shortness of breath, wheezing, and chest tightness that results in severe damage to the respiratory system. Most of the times such an attack can be avoided however at other times no quick response time is adequate enough to prevent damage.

The new breath sensor developed by Siemens of all companies, measures the levels of nitrogen monoxide in our breath. Higher levels may indicate bronchial trauma as well as an impeding asthma attack. The sensor is very precise and can detect NO in very small amounts. The air passes over potassium permanganate catalyst which catalyses NO into NO2 which binds to photographic film creating a current that is detected by a transistor. An asthma attack can be detected up to 24 hours before hand.

Probably the people who will benefit the most from this device will be the ones with the sporadic and sudden asthma attacks since others can be prevented much more easily. Another fine development by medical science that may indeed save many lives in the future. However small the invention is it always has an application in science.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Economist: The Power of The Press

The Economist is not my usual choice of magazine. Although I took an IGCSE in Economics and got an A* I did not feel it was the right path for me. However that did not stop me from picking it up and judging it by its front cover. And I found something that was quite astounding. A section entirely dedicated to the analysis of the inventions made in economics with special relations to science and technology. Of course it got be interested and I decided to give one of the articles a chance.

Rechargeable batteries made out of paper. Or something rather close to paper. Probably any type of plastic or metal would do the trick. Who would have thought such a thing was possible? Looks like the scientists in the Planar Energy of Orlando, Florida thought it could be a reality. Thin-film printing that uses liquid precursor chemicals to act as the normal liquid electrolyte used in lithium batteries. This trick has already been employed in solar cells but nobody could quite manage to transfer this capability to lithium batteries. Lithium has been the most popular to date due to its lightness and for its effective storage of energy per kilogram.

Vacuum deposition
An earlier process of achieving a solid electrolyte was vacuum deposition. I decided to investigate this process in more detail. In a nutshell it involves creating a layer of material less than one micrometer thick by laying atoms one by one. In this way a solid electrolyte can be created although it is quite expensive to do so. The Planar thin film however works as a sort of gel similar to the process of classical press printing. The cathode employed is lithium manganese dioxide while the anode is doped tin oxides and lithium alloys. The most important component of this process is the thio-LISICONS (lithium superionic conductors) which when observed to the nanoscale are actually not a solid at all.

Of course the theory does not end here but in reality some of it was quite complicated for my taste so I will just leave. However I make a vow that one day I will research this topic once again and discover its true nature. All in all, I hope that this idea will somehow pan out in the future although there are many errors that need to be worked out before it will become a reality.