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The Ocean Cleanup
The Ocean Cleanup

This 20-Year-Old Invented a New Way to Clean Up the Oceans

The Ocean Cleanup
The Ocean Cleanup

In summer 2011, Dutch student Boyan Slat was a 16-year-old on a scuba diving vacation in Greece. He was appalled by the amount of plastic garbage he encountered out in the water, and he based his next year's high school science project on trying to understand why the masses of floating plastic are so hard to clean up. By 2013, Slat had dropped out of his aerospace engineering program and founded The Ocean Cleanup, a nonprofit aiming to clear the oceans of plastic debris, powered by 100 volunteer scientists and engineers.

An aerial overview of the trash-collecting boom // The Ocean Cleanup

And now, after a feasibility study has determined that Slat's invention—a 2000-meter boom called the Coastal Pilot that shepherds debris into a central receptacle—is viable, Slat announced at the Seoul Digital Forum on May 20 that his company would deploy their cleanup system in 2016 off the coast of Tsushima, an island located between Japan and South Korea. Within five years, they plan to launch other systems, including one aiming to clean up roughly 70,000 tons of netting, plastic bags, bottle caps, and Styrofoam snarled in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

How does it work? Slat's device uses the ocean's natural currents to power the cleanup. Trash collects in gyres, enormous circular currents where massive garbage islands cluster. It's in one of these that Coastal Pilot will be put to the test. The boom is a platform with floating barriers that is anchored to the ocean floor with relatively thin cables. The ocean does the rest of the work. Wind and surface currents push the debris toward the boom, and the trash ebbs and flows its way toward the center collection platform. The main ocean currents pass beneath. Fish and mammals can swim underneath the floating boom (which only extends 2 to 3 meters below the surface), so marine life is unlikely to become entangled as by-catch—a huge problem for any ocean device that uses nets.

Boyan Slat and some of the garbage his invention has collected from the ocean // The Ocean Cleanup

Slat's immense ocean cleanup system, which is more than four times the length of the Empire State Building, won't launch until next spring, but the implications could be huge if his plan works. His company has crowdsourced more than $2 million to help fund their efforts. Slat, now 20, knows that he's tackling a nearly impossible situation. "It's in my nature that when people say something is impossible, I like to prove them wrong," Slat has said. But, as he concedes, "it is probable that we will encounter several uncertainties—what we want to do has never been done." 

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New Patient Test Could Suggest Whether Therapy or Meds Will Work Better for Anxiety
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Like many psychological disorders, there's no one-size-fits-all treatment for patients with anxiety. Some might benefit from taking antidepressants, which boost mood-affecting brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Others might respond better to therapy, and particularly a form called cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT.

Figuring out which form of treatment works best often requires months of trial and error. But experts may have developed a quick clinical test to expedite this process, suggests a new study published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have noted that patients with higher levels of anxiety exhibit more electrical activity in their brains when they make a mistake. They call this phenomenon error-related negativity, or ERN, and measure it using electroencephalography (EEG), a test that records the brain's electric signals.

“People with anxiety disorders tend to show an exaggerated neural response to their own mistakes,” the paper’s lead author, UIC psychiatrist Stephanie Gorka, said in a news release. “This is a biological internal alarm that tells you that you've made a mistake and that you should modify your behavior to prevent making the same mistake again. It is useful in helping people adapt, but for those with anxiety, this alarm is much, much louder.”

Gorka and her colleagues wanted to know whether individual differences in ERN could predict treatment outcomes, so they recruited 60 adult volunteers with various types of anxiety disorders. Also involved was a control group of 26 participants with no history of psychological disorders.

Psychiatrists gauged subjects’ baseline ERN levels by having them wear an EEG cap while performing tricky computer tasks. Ultimately, they all made mistakes thanks to the game's challenging nature. Then, randomized subjects with anxiety disorders were instructed to take an SSRI antidepressant every day for three months, or receive weekly cognitive behavioral therapy for the same duration. (Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of evidence-based talk therapy that forces patients to challenge maladaptive thoughts and develop coping mechanisms to modify their emotions and behavior.)

After three months, the study's patients took the same computer test while wearing EEG caps. Researchers found that those who'd exhibited higher ERN levels at the study's beginning had reduced anxiety levels if they'd been treated with CBT compared to those treated with medication. This might be because the structured form of therapy is all about changing behavior: Those with enhanced ERN might be more receptive to CBT than other patients, as they're already preoccupied with the way they act.

EEG equipment sounds high-tech, but it's relatively cheap and easy to access. Thanks to its availability, UIC psychiatrists think their anxiety test could easily be used in doctors’ offices to measure ERN before determining a course of treatment.

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Newly Discovered 350-Year-Old Graffiti Shows Sir Isaac Newton's Obsession With Motion Started Early
Hulton Archive//Getty Images
Hulton Archive//Getty Images

Long before he gained fame as a mathematician and scientist, Sir Isaac Newton was a young artist who lacked a proper canvas. Now, a 350-year-old sketch on a wall, discovered at Newton’s childhood home in England, is shedding new light on the budding genius and his early fascination with motion, according to Live Science.

While surveying Woolsthorpe Manor, the Lincolnshire home where Newton was born and conducted many of his most famous experiments, conservators discovered a tiny etching of a windmill next to a fireplace in the downstairs hall. It’s believed that Newton made the drawing as a boy, and may have been inspired by the building of a nearby mill.

A windmill sketch, believed to have been made by a young Sir Isaac Newton at his childhood home in Lincolnshire, England.
A windmill sketch, believed to have been made by a young Sir Isaac Newton at his childhood home in Lincolnshire, England.
National Trust

Newton was born at Woolsthorpe Manor in 1642, and he returned for two years after a bubonic plague outbreak forced Cambridge University, where he was studying mechanical philosophy, to close temporarily in 1665. It was in this rural setting that Newton conducted his prism experiments with white light, worked on his theory of “fluxions,” or calculus, and famously watched an apple fall from a tree, a singular moment that’s said to have led to his theory of gravity.

Paper was a scarce commodity in 17th century England, so Newton often sketched and scrawled notes on the manor’s walls and ceilings. While removing old wallpaper in the 1920s and '30s, tenants discovered several sketches that may have been made by the scientist. But the windmill sketch remained undetected for centuries, until conservators used a light imaging technique called Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) to survey the manor’s walls.

Conservators using light technology to survey the walls of Woolsthorpe Manor,  the childhood home of Sir Isaac Newton.
A conservator uses light technology to survey the walls of Woolsthorpe Manor, the childhood home of Sir Isaac Newton.
National Trust

RTI uses various light conditions to highlight shapes and colors that aren’t immediately visible to the naked eye. “It’s amazing to be using light, which Newton understood better than anyone before him, to discover more about his time at Woolsthorpe,” conservator Chris Pickup said in a press release.

The windmill sketch suggests that young Newton “was fascinated by mechanical objects and the forces that made them work,” added Jim Grevatte, a program manager at Woolsthorpe Manor. “Paper was expensive, and the walls of the house would have been repainted regularly, so using them as a sketchpad as he explored the world around him would have made sense," he said.

The newly discovered graffiti might be one of many hidden sketches drawn by Newton, so conservators plan to use thermal imaging to detect miniscule variations in the thickness of wall plaster and paint. This technique could reveal even more mini-drawings.

[h/t Live Science]

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