This Electric Dipstick Zaps the Pollutants Out of Water

Felice Frankel
Felice Frankel

There’s no such thing as too many good ideas when it comes to making more clean water for our thirsty planet. The latest: a customizable electric filtration device that zaps contaminants clear out of the water. The device’s creators describe it in the journal Energy and Environmental Science.

There are currently three basic types of water filtration processes: membrane filtration, like the type in your water pitcher; electrodialysis; and capacitive deionization. All three methods work quite well, but the first option is expensive and can’t catch small amounts of contamination, and the latter two require lots of electricity to run—all significant obstacles in impoverished regions where resources are already scarce.

So a group of chemical engineers from the U.S. and Germany teamed up to make something better. Their solution is surprisingly simple: a set of electrically charged dipsticks that can target pesticides, chemical waste, and even prescription drugs.

Each dipstick is an electrode coated with what are called Faradaic materials. The coatings can be treated to make them either positively or negatively charged, and to resonate with—and thus zap—specific molecules.


Melanie Gonick/MIT

To test the dipsticks, the researchers immersed them in water contaminated with very low doses of ibuprofen and different types of pesticide. The setup worked beautifully, targeting and eliminating pollutant molecules even at levels as low as a few parts per million.

The new technology is also incredibly energy efficient, requiring so little energy that it could easily be powered by solar panels in remote areas with no other access to electricity.

Matthew Suss of the Technion Institute of Technology was not part of the development team but calls it “highly significant.” Speaking in a statement, he said the technology “…extends the capabilities of electrochemical systems from basically nonselective toward highly selective removal of key pollutants.”

The next challenge will be scaling the device up to treat higher quantities of water outside the lab. “As with many emerging water purification techniques,” Suss added, “it must still be tested under real-world conditions and for long periods to check durability."

A Simple Skin Swab Could Soon Identify People at Risk for Parkinson's

iStock.com/stevanovicigor
iStock.com/stevanovicigor

More than 200 years have passed since physician James Parkinson first identified the degenerative neurological disorder that bears his name. Over five million people worldwide suffer from Parkinson’s disease, a neurological condition characterized by muscle tremors and other symptoms. Diagnosis is based on those symptoms rather than blood tests, brain imaging, or any other laboratory evidence.

Now, science may be close to a simple and non-invasive method for diagnosing the disease based on a waxy substance called sebum, which people secrete through their skin. And it’s thanks to a woman with the unique ability to sniff out differences in the sebum of those with Parkinson's—years before a diagnosis can be made.

The Guardian describes how researchers at the University of Manchester partnered with a nurse named Joy Milne, a "super smeller" who can detect a unique odor emanating from Parkinson's patients that is unnoticeable to most people. Working with Tilo Kunath, a neurobiologist at Edinburgh University, Milne and the researchers pinpointed the strongest odor coming from the patients' upper backs, where sebum-emitting pores are concentrated.

For a new study in the journal ACS Central Science, the researchers analyzed skin swabs from 64 Parkinson's and non-Parkinson's subjects and found that three substances—eicosane, hippuric acid, and octadecanal—were present in higher concentrations in the Parkinson’s patients. One substance, perillic aldehyde, was lower. Milne confirmed that these swabs bore the distinct, musky odor associated with Parkinson’s patients.

Researchers also found no difference between patients who took drugs to control symptoms and those who did not, meaning that drug metabolites had no influence on the odor or compounds.

The next step will be to swab a a much larger cohort of Parkinson’s patients and healthy volunteers to see if the results are consistent and reliable. If these compounds are able to accurately identify Parkinson’s, researchers are optimistic that it could lead to earlier diagnosis and more effective interventions.

[h/t The Guardian]

World’s Oldest Stored Sperm Has Produced Some Healthy Baby Sheep

A stock photo of a lamb
A stock photo of a lamb
iStock.com/ananaline

It’s not every day that you stumble across a 50-year-old batch of frozen sheep sperm. So when Australian researchers rediscovered a wriggly little time capsule that had been left behind by an earlier researcher, they did the obvious: they tried to create some lambs. As Smithsonian reports, they pulled it off, too.

The semen, which came from several prize rams, had been frozen in 1968 by Dr. Steve Salamon, a sheep researcher from the University of Sydney. After bringing the sample out of storage, researchers thawed it out and conducted a few lab tests. They determined that its viability and DNA integrity were still intact, so they decided to put it to the ultimate test: Would it get a sheep pregnant? The sperm was artificially inseminated into 56 Merino ewes, and lo and behold, 34 of them became pregnant and gave birth to healthy lambs.

Of course, this experiment wasn’t just for fun. They wanted to test whether decades-old sperm—frozen in liquid nitrogen at -320°F—would still be viable for breeding purposes. Remarkably, the older sperm had a slightly higher pregnancy rate (61 percent) than sheep sperm that had been frozen for 12 months and used to impregnate ewes in a different experiment (in that case, the success rate was 59 percent).

“We believe this is the oldest viable stored semen of any species in the world and definitely the oldest sperm used to produce offspring,” researcher Dr. Jessica Rickard said in a statement.

Researchers say this experiment also lets them assess the genetic progress of selective breeding over the last five decades. “In that time, we’ve been trying to make better, more productive sheep [for the wool industry],” associate professor Simon de Graaf said. “This gives us a resource to benchmark and compare.”

[h/t Smithsonian]

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