Scientists are about to solve one of the greatest mysteries in cosmology. Until now, dark matter, which makes up 95% of our universe, has been undetectable by conventional scientific technology. But this week, results from the £1.3 billion Space Project coordinated by CERN have been published. They suggest that dark matter consists of huge numbers of sub-atomic particles called neutralinos, which do not interact with ordinary matter. This would explain why they cannot be directly seen or detected. Over the next few months the findings from the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer should become conclusive, expanding our understanding of the fundamental principles of physics.
Mind over matter
Scientists in Boston have linked a human brain with a rat’s through a brain-computer interface that allows the human to move the rat’s tail simply using the power of the mind. It’s the first step in a series of ‘human telepathy’ experiments. It has already shown to be possible between rats whose brains are linked by electrode but until now the procedure Hs been too intrusive to use on humans. The work aims to allow therapists to use their own patients overcome paralysis with telepathic aid. While there is debate to how much information, such as intent and thoughts, can be transferred, it is an exciting indication into how quickly neural technology is leaping forward.
Language migrates backwards
With the recent rise of digital media, linguists have finally accepted that language can and does ‘migrate backwards’. Originally language has always been seen to move from speech to the written page. Now ‘digital natives’ (those born in the dot com era) have been instrumental in the movement of words from page to speech. Typing itself is becoming a force in the evolution of language and with it has arisen a new set of semantic rules. One example is that of the new ‘eye dialect’ – a linguistic effect aimed at the eye, not the ear. Another is the transference to speech of acronyms such as OMG and LOL, both of which were added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2011.
188 nations that signed the Chemical Weapons Convention meet this week at Le Hague to review the treaty. In the last five years 78% of the declared chemical weapons stockpile has been destroyed. This is due to rise to 99% by 2017. But Professor Sydnes, chair of the international task group that has assessed the impact of the convention, has pointed out that are still serious dangers. New chemical processing techniques can be used to make small but deadly quantities of chemical compounds. In the wrong hands these become weapons, and ones that fall outside the remit of the convention. Syndes calls for a code of conduct to be drawn up and signed by chemists, and the sooner the better.
Health legacy of the economic crisis
It has long been acknowledged that stress is a killer. Psychological stress not only leads to an increase of mental illness but also impacts physical health. Now, recent research in the field of epigenetics has revealed exactly how. Environmental stress triggers the production of a steroid hormone called cortisol. This floods the cells in the body and actively switches on genes which increase inflammation and can lead to related diseases such as heart attacks and cancer. The repercussions can not only last for several years but also affect gene expression in subsequent generations. The results suggest that the recent economic crisis could have detrimental health effects on populations for decades to come.
In jWC's regular series, Katherine Templar Lewis outlines the latest developments in the world of science – from the unimaginably weird to the potentially world-changing.