4 Scientific Breakthroughs Happening Right Now

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I'm a writer because I'm bad at math and science (not to perpetuate 'boy subject' stereotypes). OK, there are more reasons than that, but suffice it to say that sixth period chemistry was not my favorite class in high school (sorry, Mr. Rathe). It's not that I don't find it interesting; I just don't quite grasp it. Thankfully, Cassandra Galante, a junior at Colgate, knows her stuff. Read on as she runs through four recent scientific breakthroughs in terms even I can understand. "“ Stacy Conradt

4 Scientific Breakthroughs Happening Right Now
by Cassandra Galante

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1. When hypothermia is a good thing

EverettThe scenario: Kick-off returns are a coach's nightmare "“ they are the most dangerous play in football, with both teams running head-on at full speed. It's rare if these plays don't end in some seriously painful tackles. Usually the players get up and keep hitting each other, but just a few months ago, Buffalo Bill Kevin Everett's tackle drove his helmet straight into another player's shoulder, crushing his spine and paralyzing him from the neck down. Football injuries can be nasty, so team doctors and trainers are ready on the sidelines, prepared to perform some serious medicine at any given moment. It was the Buffalo Bills' orthopedic surgeon who had Everett in the ambulance within 15 minutes and injected cold saline into Everett's femoral artery to induce "moderate hypothermia" and reduce swelling.

The breakthrough: Everett's diagnosis went from life-threatening to miracle when he started walking again just two months later, possibly due to his spine being chilled. It prevented the damage from spreading from the injured area. This has sparked a lot of interest and discussion in the medical community "“ if induced hypothermia can help minimize spinal cord injuries, a serious medical breakthrough may be in reach.

2. Medical breakthrough or musical breakthrough?

arm
The scenario: Roadside bombs in war-torn areas are unfortunately pretty commonplace. Military-issue body armor can protect the torso, but bulky arm and leg guards can bog a soldier down and be just as deadly. The trade-off is when a humvee rolls over one of these hidden mines, this new protection allows soldiers to survive, but they still lose entire arms or legs.

The breakthrough: Science has developed increasingly high-tech prosthetics. Those made of silicone and PVC are incredibly lifelike. Researchers are also working on a process called targeted muscle re-innervation, which reroutes the nerves previously connected to the missing limb to a different muscle on the body (i.e. the chest) and then uses that motion as a trigger for moving the prosthetic a certain way. Pretty impressive "“ but there's also a $55 million dollar project to develop a prosthetic arm with goals so ambitious that they claim a person could play the piano with their "mind-controlled" arm. Which gives new meaning to the old joke:

"Doctor, doctor, will I be able to play the violin after the operation?"
"Yes, of course..."
"Funny! I never could before!"

3. ...How about this global warming?

treeThe scenario: The climate controversy has spawned the "hockey stick" graph, the glitterati's new obsession with living green, and the tendency for every socially awkward person to joke "how about this global warming?" whenever it's unseasonably hot outside. It's why you're constantly seeing the words "carbon offset" in advertisements lately, and why people can't stop talking about hybrids. Environmentalism has always been a common political concern, but it didn't become the epitome of cool to be green until the release of Al Gore's documentary An Inconvenient Truth.

The breakthrough: One scientist has invented a synthetic "tree" that looks nothing like a tree but does its most valuable job—that of cleaning the air of carbon dioxide. The creator claims that it could even be improved to do the job of 1,000 trees, which would go a long way towards getting rid of the 22 billion tons of carbon dioxide humans produce every year.

4. Outsmarting Mother Nature

tsunamiThe scenario: Humans may be damaging the earth, but she returns the punch every now and then. The 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami (AKA the Asian Tsunami, AKA the Great Sumatra-Andaman Tsunami) hit land early in the morning on December 26, reaching up to 100 feet high and killing 225,000 people, making it the deadliest tsunami ever recorded. There was quite a bit of outcry at the lack of any sort of tsunami warning system. Only those who recognized the receding bubbly water as a sign of an approaching tsunami would know to run immediately. Other methods exist, but none effective enough to give enough warning time for an evacuation.

The breakthrough: At a U.N. conference months later, an Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning System was created, with intentions of expansion into an International system in the future. But until then, those who live where tsunamis hit will have to live in constant worry, unless they pick up on some other way to detect the killer waves.

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February 9, 2008 - 9:45am
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