The Cadillac of First Aid Kits Could Turn Civilians into Life-Savers | WIRED

The Cadillac of First Aid Kits Could Turn Civilians into Life-Savers | WIRED

EARLIER THIS YEAR, Collin Smith came into possession of an “intelligent” first aid kit. When he did, the first thing he did was try to outsmart it.

The kit in question was the Comprehensive Rescue System, a sturdy, gray, 17-pound case of supplies custom-built by emergency management startup Mobilize Rescue Systems. It contains gauzes, bandages, and ointments like any first-aid kit, but also carries tourniquets, chest seals, and QuikClot—the kind of stuff you hope you’ll never have to use, but that can keep someone with severe injuries alive while they’re waiting on an ambulance.

But a first aid kit is only as effective as the person using it, which is why Smith wasn’t interested in the supplies so much as he was in the iPad embedded in its lid, which came installed with an interactive app that distills some 1,600 pages of triage and emergency-response decision-trees drawn up by Mobilize Rescue’s team of SWAT- and military medics, emergency medicine physicians, EMS providers.

Smith, who oversees the Colorado School of Mines’ Energy, Mining, and Construction Industry Safety Program, has worked as a mine rescue trainer or team member for close to a decade. Having dealt firsthand with everything from heart attacks to crushed limbs, he immediately recognized the kit’s potential when he saw it at an industry conference in February. (The kit launched in December 2016.) The information in the app is presented in a series of simple, on-screen prompts designed to identify and treat the most serious injuries first. The goal: Make it as easy as possible for bystanders to provide lifesaving care to trauma victims.

“On remote job sites, a paramedic is almost always more than 20 minutes away,” Smith says. “And depending on the injury, you may not have 20 minutes.” Sure, you can train employees in first aid for severe trauma. But training wears off, and emergencies are stressful. “In a high-pressure scenario, you might not remember what you were taught six months ago, so it helps to be guided through it.”

Traumatic injuries have killed more than 2 million US civilians since 2001 and are the leading cause of death among Americans below the age of 47. Roughly half those deaths occur at the place of injury or on the way to a hospital. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine estimates that, of the 147,790 deaths from trauma in 2014, as many as 30,000 of them could have been prevented with better, faster medical care. Mobile Rescue designed the Comprehensive Rescue System with these statistics in mind.

To see if the kit functioned as advertised, Smith and his three-person team of emergency medical specialists quizzed it with scenarios involving severe breaks, burns, bleeds, and traumas that are difficult to diagnose, or whose treatment protocols had recently changed. Injuries like a severe lower-leg break with an arterial bleed. Smith says the protocol used to be to apply direct pressure to the wound, then to a major artery in the groin. “But even experts have a hard time finding that pressure point. You’re sitting there digging into the victim’s groin while they lie there screaming and bleeding out,” Smith says. “The new protocol says: If direct pressure doesn’t work, move straight to a tourniquet.” Which is exactly what the kit prescribed.

Smith and his team spent three weeks conducting this initial round of tests. They ran hypothetical, pen-and-paper scenarios with firefighters, and brought in a training dummy with moulage to test laypersons with zero medical experience. “The kit handled everything we threw at it,” Smith says.

Smith was so impressed, he’s incorporated the kit into his program’s Mine Safety and Health Administration training courses, and advocates for its adoption throughout the mining industry. “Something like this, especially for remote locations, could be as valuable as fire extinguishers of sprinkler systems, when it comes to increasing your probability of survival,” he says. “It’s a big deal. I would not be surprised if you saw something like this become standard at job sites in the future.”

What sets Mobilize Rescue’s kit apart from other heavy-duty kits is the relationship between its contents and the interactive app. The screen displays color-coded illustrations, animations, and planograms to help users locate supplies in the kit’s bottom half and provide step-by-step instructions for their use. (With the exception of a metronome that plays during the instructions for CPR, the kit provides no audio cues.) Those supplies are arranged according to whatever will kill you fastest, in an inverted-horseshoe shape.

“You can bleed to death in three minutes—that’s way faster than you’ll choke to death, so tourniquets, labeled red, go in the bottom left,” says Chris Strattner, Mobilize Rescue’s head of product development. Above those, marked in yellow, are pressure dressings and packets of QuikClot. Chest seals, labeled green, go above that. Moving across the top of the kit, you’ll find things like glucose, a CPR mouth-shield, and burn dressings, labelled pink, blue, and grey, respectively. Matching the kit’s contents to the on-screen instructions is like the easiest game of Apples-to-Apples you’ve ever played—only, you know, with higher stakes.

The kit’s got supplies for less critical situations, too. Splints, cold compresses, that kind of stuff. “And then, on the bottom right, there’s a little pouch in there with a bunch of bandaids. Because if you don’t have enough bandaids in your workplace, the OSHA guys will come and put you in OSHA jail,” says Strattner.

The fact that the Comprehensive Rescue System is approved by OSHA and the American National Standards Institute means that Mobilize Rescue can sell these kits not just to industry types, but schools, offices, airports, stadiums, and malls—which are also some of the only places that will be able to pay for them. The kit’s biggest drawback is its price: $2,250 for the hard-case model, $1,750 for the more portable soft-case. (The company does offer a smaller, sparser, $180 kit, the app for which runs on the user’s cell phone—but it’s a less impressive product, holistically.)

“It’s the Cadillac of first aid kits, but not everybody can afford a Cadillac, and affordability is everything when it comes to consumer-level first aid kits” says Dave Hammond, who has been designing color-coded, audio-guidance first aid kits for more than 20 years. “It’s an exceptional product, just very expensive. I mean, it’s comparable in price to an automated external defibrillator.”

Which might actually be a fitting comparison. The automated external defibrillator’s AED’s design made it possible for someone with no prior training to shock and resuscitate a heart attack victim. “It was the single greatest intervention for decreasing out-of-hospital deaths from cardiac arrest,” says Eric Goralnick, the medical director of emergency preparedness at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “Today, we need to find the equivalent to the AED for hemorrhage control.”

On this front, Goralnick says Mobilize Rescue’s kit looks very promising. So promising, he’s currently designing a study to test the kits under tightly controlled conditions—similar to what Smith did, only more rigorous. “When you first pop this thing open and see the way it’s designed, the way the iPad walks you through all these steps—it’s impressive. It’s simple, clean, with clear descriptions. Comprehensive, too. It can do more than just hemorrhage control. It looks wonderful, very innovative, and I think solutions like this are certainly the future of first aid.”

“It’s exciting,” he says. “But now we’ve got to do our due diligence and test it.”


Galactic Map of Every Human Radio Broadcast – How Far Have Our Signals Traveled Into Space?

Galactic Map of Every Human Radio Broadcast – How Far Have Our Signals Traveled Into Space?

Carl Sagan’s famous line from his 1990 speech about the Pale Blue Dot image—”Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark”—is an understatement. We might consider our Milky Way, with its estimated 100 to 400 billion stars, a significant fixture in the cosmos. But there are some 100 billion galaxies just like it in the observable universe. It’s a daunting reality to consider when we’re thinking about the possibility of making contact with any intelligence that might be out there.

This map designed by Adam Grossman of The Dark Sky Company puts into perspective the enormity of these scales. The Milky Way stretches between 100,000 and 180,000 light-years across, depending on where you measure, which means a signal broadcast from one side of the galaxy would take 100,000 years or more to reach the other side. Now consider that our species started broadcasting radio signals into space only about a century ago. That’s represented by a small blue bubble measuring 200 light-years in diameter surrounding the position of the Earth. For any alien civilizations to have heard us, they must be within the bubble.

The very first experimentation with electromagnetic radiation was conducted some 200 years ago, when Danish physicist and chemist Hans Christian Ørsted discovered that electric currents create magnetic fields. This research was expanded by scientists including Michael Faraday, and it eventually resulted in James Clerk Maxwell’s theory of electromagnetism outlined in 1865 and demonstrated by German physicist Heinrich Hertz’s experiments more than two decades later. Even then, it wasn’t until Italian inventor and electrical engineer Guglielmo Marconi developed long-range radio transmission technologies around the turn of the 20th century that our species really started broadcasting its existence out into the void.

If we are optimistic, and we assume an advanced extraterrestrial species has the technological capabilities to detect humanity’s very first radio waves (and distinguish them from the general background noise of the universe), we can estimate our farthest signals are a little more that 100 light-years away. If you threw a dart at the map of the Milky Way, and wherever that dart landed is where an advanced alien species resides, there would be a cosmically small probability that they live close enough to be aware of our existence. Even if you threw 100 darts, it’s a near certainty that none would land in the little blue bubble of our radio waves.

The search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) institute is constantly listening with our most capable radio telescopes, and they are broadcasting messages from us as well. But given the sheer size of the galaxy, SETI will likely have to listen and transmit for tens of thousands of years at least to have a chance of making contact with another intelligent species—and even that might not be long enough. Perhaps, in the meantime, we should contemplate Carl Sagan’s next line in his Pale Blue Dot speech:

“In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.”

[Given what we have been broadcasting this is a good thing.]

99 percent of microbes in your body are completely unknown to science

99 percent of microbes in your body are completely unknown to science

Whenever you feel lonely, just remember: you’re always carrying several hundred trillion friends with you. A dizzying number of microbes call the human body home, and it turns out that science knows very little about most of them. In fact, a new Stanford survey of the foreign DNA fragments circulating in the human body has found that 99 percent of microbes inside us are completely unknown to science.

The discovery was initially made by accident, as a team investigated less invasive ways to predict whether a patient’s body would reject a transplanted organ. Rather than the wholly unpleasant experience of having a tissue biopsy taken, the researchers were studying whether a simple blood sample would suffice. Essentially, the idea was that if they found fragments of the organ donor’s DNA circulating in a patient’s blood, it was a good indication that the body was rejecting the transplant.

Along with the patient’s DNA and potentially that of the organ donor, the technique gives an insight into that person’s microbiome – the trillions of bacteria, viruses and other microbes that live throughout the body. Of all the non-human DNA floating around in there, the team found that a staggering 99 percent didn’t match anything in existing genetic databases.

“We found the gamut,” says Stephen Quake, senior author of the study. “We found things that are related to things people have seen before, we found things that are divergent, and we found things that are completely novel. I’d say it’s not that baffling in some respects because the lens that people examined the microbial universe was one that was very biased.”

The team then set about categorizing that pile of unknown DNA, and found that most of it belonged to a general group known as proteobacteria, which counts E. coli and Salmonella among its ranks, along with many, many others. On the virus side of things, the team found a huge amount of previously unknown members of the torque teno family, including an entirely new group that doesn’t quite fit current descriptions.

“We’ve doubled the number of known viruses in that family through this work,” says Quake. “We’ve now found a whole new class of human-infecting ones that are closer to the animal class than to the previously known human ones, so quite divergent on the evolutionary scale.”

With so many microbes living in the human body, it’s hardly surprising that science hasn’t gotten around to identifying them all, and the researchers say that attention is largely focused on a few particularly interesting species. The next step, the team says, is to apply the technique to the microbiomes of other animals in order to identify viruses that could potentially jump to humans and trigger pandemics, like avian and swine flu.

The Upside of Neuroticism – Pacific Standard

The Upside of Neuroticism – Pacific Standard

Neurotic people, by definition, spend much of their lives in a dark mood. Given the positive emotions are associated with good health, it’s reasonable to assume that all that guilt, anger, and anxiety will eventually lead to an early grave.

Well, surprise: A sizable new study from Great Britain reports that, for many neurotics, the opposite is true.

Among two large subsets of participants, “higher neuroticism was associated with reduced mortality from all causes,” writes a research team led by Catharine Gale of the University of Edinburgh.

This welcome effect apparently depends upon how one’s neuroticism manifests, and what actions it propels you to take.

The study, published in the journal Psychological Science, featured 321,456 people who were registered in the U.K. Biobank, a health-related resource designed to determine the causes of disease in middle-aged and older people. All were between the ages of 37 and 73 when they enrolled between the years 2006 and 2010.

Participants filled out a standard questionnaire identifying neuroticism. They also rated their health on a scale from “excellent” to “poor,” and reported whether they engaged in various health-related behaviors, including smoking, drinking, and exercise.

By the end of the study period, in June of 2015, 4,497 of them had died. Using official death certificates, the researchers noted the cause of their demise.

They report that “higher neuroticism was associated with lower mortality,” both in general and due to cancer, cardiovascular disease, and respiratory disease. But this was true “only in those people with fair or poor self-rated health.”

In other words, if you have pre-existing health issues—or at least think of yourself as an unhealthy person—neurotic tendencies seem to have a protective effect against premature death.

This was “not explained by the health behaviors we assessed (smoking, exercise, fruit and vegetable intake, and alcohol consumption,” Gale and her colleagues write. So what does explain it?

“It may be that individuals with higher neuroticism are more vigilant about their health if they perceive it to be less than excellent,” they write.

The researchers also delineated between two types of neuroticism. People who gave strongly affirmative answers to such questions as “Would you call yourself a nervous person?” and “Would you call yourself tense or highly strung?” were labeled “anxious-tense.”

Those with high scores on another group of questions, including “Are your feelings easily hurt?” and “Are you ever troubled by feelings of guilt?” were classified as “worried-vulnerable.”

No matter their self-reported health, “Higher scores on the worried-vulnerable facet were associated with a reduced risk of death from all causes,” they write. However, this was not true among those in the “anxious-tense” category; their form of neuroticism was not related to mortality either way.

If you assume that worried people make more visits to the doctor, this finding adds weight to the aforementioned heightened-vigilance thesis. “The propensity to seek medical help in response to worries about health could plausibly result in earlier identification of cancer, and greater likelihood of survival,” the researchers note.

So if you’re fretting about that darkened patch of skin on your arm, it might drive you crazy—but it could also propel you to the dermatologist, who can remove it if your worst fears turn out to be true.

Of course, that depends on whether you have access to health care, which is a different worry altogether.

Squirrels remember problem-solving techniques two years on

​​Squirrels remember problem-solving techniques two years on

Squirrels, with their nut-burying habits and uncanny knack of finding them later, are known for their ability to recall important details. But scientists have discovered a new squirrel trait they see as a different kind of memory skill, an ability to remember problem-solving techniques from almost two years earlier.

“This is not just remembering where things have been left, it shows they can recall techniques which they have not used for a long time,” said Dr. Théo Robert from the University of Exeter, co-author of the new study. “It’s also different from what we see in the wild because they’re remembering things for longer than the few months of memory needed to find hidden food.”

The new discovery came by way of an experiment conducted by Robert and his colleagues at the University of Exeter. Working with five grey squirrels, the team tasked the animals with pressing levers in order to get their mitts on some tasty hazelnuts. The first time around, the squirrels took an average of eight seconds to complete the task. With practice, they eventually reduced their hazelnut retrieval time to just two seconds.

Then, 22 months later, the team presented the same squirrels with a modified version of this same task. The puzzle appeared differently, but actually required the same technique to obtain the hazelnuts and at first this threw the squirrels off. They hesitated for an average of 20 seconds before even beginning the task, something the researchers attribute to a neophobic response, or a fear of new things.

But once the squirrels got going, they were able to retrieve the hazelnuts in just three seconds on their first try, and then finally in an average of two seconds. This, the researchers say, is evidence of the squirrels’ long-term memory skills as they recalled and applied the same technique used in the earlier challenge.

“This might be why grey squirrels can survive very well in towns and cities,” says Dr. Pizza Ka Yee Chow, of Exeter’s Centre for Research in Animal Behaviour. “For example, they’re very good at getting food from bird feeders. People may try different types of bird feeders to keep the squirrels away, but this research shows grey squirrels can not only remember tricks for getting food but can apply those skills in new situations.”

[Squirrels don’t remember where they put the nuts.  They know the types of places they use for nut storage.  They are just as likely to hit some other squirrel’s nuts as their own. As long as there are enough stored nuts in aggregate then it works.

The real test is how to apply this work to human primary and secondary students to minimize the knowledge loss over the summer months.]

Redefining the kilogram in terms of Planck’s constant

Redefining the kilogram in terms of Planck’s constant

The kilogram has the dubious distinction of being the only SI unit still based on a physical object; specifically, a metal cylinder kept in a vault in France. Plans are well underway to redefine the kilogram in mathematical terms instead, and to that end a team at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has submitted a precise new calculation of a key formula.

Since 1879, the kilogram has been defined as the exact mass of the International Prototype of the Kilogram (IPK), a small cylinder made of platinum and iridium. But there are a few problems with defining a base unit in terms of a physical artefact: the IPK gathers contaminants that make it slightly heavier over time, so it needs to be regularly treated. To complicate matters, there are 40 copies around the world and they’re all getting “dirty” at different rates, meaning their masses are slowly drifting out of sync.

That’s obviously not something you want in a base unit that’s supposed to be universal. And the discrepancies don’t just affect the kilogram itself: other units such as the pound, ton or milligram are defined in terms of their relationship to the kilo, as are non-mass units like the ampere (for electric current) or the candela (luminous intensity).

A better option is to develop a new definition based on a mathematical foundation that can be calculated anywhere, and the Planck constant fits the bill. This formula allows researchers to find mass in relation to electromagnetic energy, so by finding as precise a value for it as possible, the kilogram can be redefined in terms of the official definition of the meter and the second.

NIST’s new value for the Planck constant is 6.626069934 x 10-34 kg∙m2/s, with an uncertainty of 13 parts per billion. If that number makes your eyes glaze over, the important part is the end: 13 parts per billion is incredibly precise.

To measure the Planck constant, the researchers used a Kibble balance, a device that suspends a 1-kg weight with electromagnetic forces. They can calculate the constant according to the amount of electromagnetic energy it takes to balance the mass.

The team says the more precise figure comes courtesy of having 16 months’ worth of measurements to draw from, as well as adjustments they’d made in how the electromagnetic field was created and measured.

These experiments join several other projects that were attempting to find the most precise value of the Planck constant, and while everyone’s answers were different, they have low enough levels of uncertainty to make a case for redefining the kilogram in terms of the Planck constant.

“There needed to be three experiments with uncertainties below 50 parts per billion, and one below 20 parts per billion,” says Stephan Schlamminger, lead researcher on the project. “But we have three below 20 parts per billion.”

All of these measurements have been submitted for consideration by an international body, which will review them to determine the official value of Planck’s constant. The official definition of a kilogram – along with the other units that depend on it – is set to be changed in November next year.

Why Do We See More Species in Tropical Forests? The Mystery May Finally Be Solved | Science | Smithsonian

Why Do We See More Species in Tropical Forests? The Mystery May Finally Be Solved | Science | Smithsonian

When Charles Darwin first sailed into the tropics aboard the HMS Beagle in 1835, he was stunned. The 26-year-old naturalist had expected to find the same level of diversity of plants and animals as he had left behind in the higher latitudes of Plymouth, England. Instead, on the balmy Galapagos Islands, he found a multitude of strange and diverse creatures thriving together.

Rowing ashore to explore, Darwin jotted in his notes that the number of different “vegetable and animal” inhabitants on tiny tropical islands was strikingly higher than at other sites along his voyage. He wondered: How was it possible that the tropics seemed to hold so much more diversity than the more northerly forests of Europe? Shouldn’t these tightly packed creatures have battled it out to extinction long ago?

Darwin never found out the answer to that particular mystery (after all, he had a lot on his mind), and so the question persisted for another century. Finally, in the early 1970s, two ecologists independently came up with the same hypothesis to explain the mysterious phenomenon—at least with trees.

Daniel Janzen and Joseph Connell put forth a seemingly counterintuitive explanation. Perhaps, they posited, the astonishing plant diversity we find in tropical forests is enabled by two factors: the presence of “natural enemies” that target specific species and keep population size in check, and the tendency of youngsters of one species to settle far away from their parents, beyond those predators’ reach.

Until recently, researchers have only been able to prove that the Janzen-Connell hypothesis holds true in localized studies. The problem was, they lacked access to the kind of global datasets necessary to explain the broader planetary pattern of decreasing diversity from equator to poles. Now, in a new study published last week in the journal Science, researchers show that this hypothesized mechanism is indeed responsible for global trends in forest biodiversity.

Last year, forest ecologists Jonathan Myers and Joe LaManna traveled to a workshop in Hainan, China focused on analysis of data generated by the Smithsonian’s Forest Global Earth Observatory (ForestGEO), a network of 60 forests across the planet that are exhaustively monitored. Myers and LaManna, both of Washington University in Saint Louis, Missouri, knew that ForestGEO could provide the global dataset they needed to answer the question that has been vexing them and other ecologists since Darwin’s voyage.

“One of the striking differences between temperate and tropics is that all of those ‘extra’ species are very rare,” says LaManna, a post-doctoral researcher and first author of the new study. Consider that temperate forests can be packed wall to wall with redwood trees, whereas the tropics are dotted with a bevy of unique trees that often exist in isolation from others in their species. “How can those rare species persist in the face of extinction?” asks Myers, a professor of biology and co-author on the study.

Answering that question required a massive undertaking. The dataset tallied 2.4 million trees from 3,000 species in an exacting fashion to ensure comparability across each forest. More than 50 co-authors from 41 institutions including the Smithsonian then analyzed the data, which spanned 24 ForestGEO plots around the planet. “It was a lot,” says LaManna. “Every stem down to one centimeter in diameter is mapped, measured, tagged and identified.”

The herculean effort paid off. After analyzing the data, they found a surprising trend: In areas with higher numbers of adult trees, there were fewer young saplings of the same species. This pattern was strikingly more pronounced in the tropics than in the temperate regions they sampled.

This means that, unlike in higher latitude ecosystems, near the equator trees are less likely to coexist around neighbors in the same family. It’s as if, at some point, the tree parents and their sapling kids unanimously agreed that was time to move out of the basement. Except in a forest, living farther apart doesn’t just allow the parent trees to luxuriate in their empty nest. It’s a matter life and death for the species.

“With trees it’s less a direct effect of the parent tree on the offspring,” Myers says. “It’s an indirect effect where the natural enemies that attack the adults also attack the offspring.” These enemies could be pathogens, seed predators or herbivores that target one species. Just as dense human populations in cities enable the rapid spread of communicable diseases, these enemies can rapidly devastate a dense forest of the same species.

If your saplings settle down farther away, however, it’s less likely that any one enemy will wipe them all out. “You think of enemies as being bad influences on trees, especially ones of low abundance,” LaManna says. “But they can be a strong stabilizing force—[enemies] can actually buffer them and keep them from going extinct.” You might say: With enemies like this, who needs friends?

“It’s changed the way I think about ecology,” Myers says. “The enemy can actually have a beneficial effect in maintaining the rare species in these communities, especially in the tropics.”

The data provides compelling explanation for why we see the global biodiversity patterns we do, says Gary Mittelbach, a forest ecologist and professor of integrative biology at Michigan State University who was not involved in the study. “The fact that they were able to show it on a worldwide basis with standardized methods helps solidify the idea,” says Mittelbach.

One weakness of the study is that, while it implies a global trend, there are no samples from north of Central Europe or south of Papua New Guinea. “I kind of wish they had more [forests] in Asia and Europe so not all the high latitude ones are in North America,” says Mittelbach. Even with the dearth of samples from high latitudes, however, “I’m still pretty convinced of the pattern,” he says.

Though the researchers succesfully showed that the trend put forth by Janzen and Connell holds true, the question of what exactly is causing the tropics to be so diverse still remains.

Myers speculates that the stability of the tropical climate may contribute to its rich biodiversity, compared to the drastic changes that have taken place over geologic time in the higher latitudes. “There’s been a lot more disturbance in the temperate zone” over the past thousands of years, he says. By “disturbance,” Myers means ice sheets that repeatedly bulldozed across North America in Earth’s past.

The tropics have not endured such disturbances. Researchers attribute the high reproduction and low extinction rates in tropical species of plants and animals to the relatively comfy climate. That’s worked out well for them until now, but forests around the world are changing as a result of more volatile climate patterns. For instance, as higher latitudes become warmer, temperate trees are migrating slowly north.

“There might be a direct or indirect influence of climate in mediating the strength of the biotic interactions between enemies and trees,” Myers says. “Where it’s warmer or wetter you might expect pathogens to have a stronger influence.”

The global trend these researchers have uncovered illustrates just how much the diversity of biological life on Earth can hinge on small-scale interactions. “This mechanism is a global scale process, and we’re talking about interactions between adults, young and their specialized enemies at the scale of 10 meters,” LaManna says. “That very local-scale interaction is contributing to a pattern of biodiversity across the entire globe.”

Laser as bright as a billion Suns alters fundamental physics of light and matter

Laser as bright as a billion Suns alters fundamental physics of light and matter

Physicists from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln have created the brightest light ever produced on Earth, and it could be the first step towards more powerful X-ray technology. The researchers focused their Diocles Laser to a brightness a billion times that of the surface of the Sun, and found that at that extreme level, the fundamental physics of how light enables vision begin to change.

Normally, when light from the Sun, a lightbulb or any other source strikes the surface of an object, the electrons in the object cause the photons in the light to scatter. Our eyes pick that up to allow us to see the object, but brighter light won’t change the object’s appearance beyond making it look brighter. When the Diocles Laser is cranked up, however, things start to get a little weird.

The team blasted the laser at electrons suspended in helium, and then measured how single electrons scattered the photons of light that hit them. Electrons are known to scatter just one photon at a time under normal circumstances, but in this experiment almost 1,000 were scattered simultaneously.

“When we have this unimaginably bright light, it turns out that the scattering – this fundamental thing that makes everything visible – fundamentally changes in nature,” says Donald Umstadter, lead researcher on the study. “It’s as if things appear differently as you turn up the brightness of the light, which is not something you normally would experience. (An object) normally becomes brighter, but otherwise, it looks just like it did with a lower light level. But here, the light is changing (the object’s) appearance. The light’s coming off at different angles, with different colors, depending on how bright it is.”

This diagram shows how the motion of an electron (bottom) affects the color signature of the scattered light (top) (Credit: Donald Umstadter and Wenchao Yan)

The difference is that the brightness of the Diocles Laser seems to have surpassed a previously-unknown threshold. Changing the brightness of a light source doesn’t usually change the angle or energy of a photon after it’s scattered, but in this case, the light bounces back at a different angle, shape and wavelength, which affects how the object would look to the human eye.

The effect seems to be caused by the fact that the laser light changes the motion of the electrons in the object’s atoms: instead of their usual up-and-down motion, the affected electrons zip around in a figure-eight path. Electrons ejecting photons in response to being struck by incoming photons is standard practice, but in this case, the ejected photon absorbs extra energy and becomes an X-ray.

The researchers say this development could improve current X-ray technology. The energized photons could help create high-resolution, 3D images of objects and people at a lower dose, spotting tiny details that current techniques may miss. On a more theoretical level, the powerful laser can help scientists solve some long-standing problems in the lab.

Indecisive water can exist as two different liquids

Indecisive water can exist as two different liquids

Water is way weirder than you might think. We know it can exist as a solid, liquid and gas, but put it under extreme pressure and it converts into a freaky fourth state called tunneling, and it may even freeze at temperatures it would normally boil. But now, researchers have found that water actually has two different liquid forms, and its weirdness may come from the relationship between those forms.

The finding started with the understanding that ice exists in different forms. When we freeze water at home, its molecules line up in a crystalline structure that’s fairly ordered and symmetrical. But out in space, ice tends to take on a less structured, amorphous form, and even then, there are two different types with low and high densities. It’s long been thought that this could apply to its liquid form, but it’s never been directly observed – until now.

Using two X-ray methods to watch how the molecules move around, researchers at Stockholm University observed high-density amorphous ice as it relaxed into the low-density form. One X-ray technique gave the team a window into the atomic structure of the transition, while another let researchers study its dynamics and motion. Showing clear signs of liquid behavior, the team realized both phases were technically liquids.

“I have studied amorphous ices for a long time with the goal to determine whether they can be considered a glassy state representing a frozen liquid,” says Katrin Amann-Winkel, co-author of the study. “It is a dream come true to follow in such detail how a glassy state of water transforms into a viscous liquid which almost immediately transforms to a different, even more viscous, liquid of much lower density.”

The conclusion the researchers reached is that water gets its weirdness mostly from the interplay between these different liquid forms. Understanding them could help paint a wider picture of how water is affected by changes in temperature, pressure, and the addition of other chemicals.

“The new results give very strong support to a picture where water at room temperature can’t decide in which of the two forms it should be, high or low density, which results in local fluctuations between the two,” says Lars G.M. Pettersson, co-author of the study. “In a nutshell: Water is not a complicated liquid, but two simple liquids with a complicated relationship.”

Explaining the “Mountain or Valley?” Illusion


Explaining the “Mountain or Valley?” Illusion

Our brains are wired to believe that light generally comes from above. This makes sense–here on Earth, light from the sun pretty much always is coming from either directly above us, or above us at an angle. This is such a persistent phenomenon that we use it to determine the shape of objects. If an object has a shadow beneath it, we assume it is convex, whereas if it has a shadow above it, we assume it is concave. This, as explained in this MinutePhysics video, is why we struggle to discern whether a formation is a mountain or a valley when a photo is taken from far away, like space. Cartographers who make relief maps even orient their drawing’s light in a place it would never naturally occur, just so we can understand what’s sticking up and what’s hollowed out. It’s pretty nuts to consider how much of our perception is based on our very specific experiences living on this particular rock in space, and how different our experience would be otherwise.