By: Aaron Rising, PhD
Do You Want to Be a Superhero? Your Electronics Might Be Able to Get You a Little Closer to Being ‘Wolverine’!
In a recent communication in the journal Advanced Material, and summarized in The Christian Science Monitor, researchers have designed a conductive material that has quite a number of uncanny attributes. It consists of polarized, stretchable, polymer chains that are connected via ion-dipole interactions. This material stretches well, tolerating “extreme strains exceeding 5000%”, has high electrical conductivity, and is practically invisible.
What makes this material even more Incredible and Amazing is its ability to completely heal in 24 hours at room temperature. If cut with scissors, the ends will reconnect like new when placed in close proximity to one another. In talking with the Monitor, a co-author, Christopher Keplinger, described how we could go from metal robots like in Transformers to ones that look more like Data from Star Trek. “What you usually imagine is a metallic, clumsy piece of hardware that you would not want to have near yourself for any sort of collaboration or interaction – the mismatch in mechanics with the robot being hard and the human body being soft makes direct contact dangerous. Now imagine a new class of robots that are based on soft, elastic materials, being powered by stretchable electronic circuits and thus much more closely resemble the elegant design of biology.”
While these materials won’t make you invincible or heal like Wolverine they may make your cellphone or computer a little better at fighting crime or perhaps surviving being dropped. For a more global importance, this new material would allow for more suitable robotic human aids and caretakers. The use of robotic caretakers and companions has a rather large implication in both the health and the manufacturing sectors of our economy. (Joseph Dussault, The Christian Science Monitor)
A New Human Organ
We all know the major organs in our body, the heart, brain, lungs, stomach, etc. In fact, for well over 100 years medicine has stated we have 78 organs in total. These organs have been discussed and described in modern textbooks such as the 40th edition of “Gray’s Anatomy” published in 2008. The editors of the prestigious textbook have revised the most recent version as a new organ called the mesentery has been found. It is located in and around the abdomen.
While discussed as early as 1885 by Dr. Frederick Treves and described as far back as 1508 by Leonardo da Vinci, the mesentery is a lining of the abdominal cavity that attaches to the intestine. This lining is what keeps the intestines in place in our gut. Treves described the mesentery ‘existed only sporadically, in disjointed ribbons, dispersed among the intestines and therefore did not meet the definition of an organ’. And as such was not and has not been classified as one of the 78 organs.
Two Irish scientists, however, disagreed and have claimed that the mesentery was not correctly categorized. According to Dr. J Calvin Coffey and Dr. D Peter O’Leary in The Lancet Gastroenterology & Hepatology, the mesentery can really be described as a single and continuous tissue and thus can be classified as an organ. First summarized in the Independent and subsequently in Discovery Magazine and The Washington Post, the new organ’s function isn’t entirely understood. Talking to the Independent Dr. Coffey said, “Now we have established anatomy and the structure. The next step is the function. If you understand the function you can identify abnormal function, and then you have disease. Put them all together and you have the field of mesenteric science.”
This new discovery opens up the possibility that some gastrointestinal ailments that have previously been associated with one organ, such as the stomach, may in fact be more aligned with the mesentery. Because the function of the mesentery is largely unknown, drug companies have a new target to test drugs and academic and government research groups have a complete new system to study. How to appropriately tackle the funding and attention this new organ and the emerging ‘mesenteric science’ will receive is just now being examined. (Tom Embury-Dennis, Independent)
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