Engineer Notes: Solar Eclipse, Another Fountain of Youth, and What’s All the Hype?

This week we take a look at some helpful tips on how to safely enjoy the solar eclipse, new hope for immortality, and much more!

How to Safely Enjoy the Solar Eclipse

With the very rare solar eclipse right around the corner, scientists are warning people to take proper precautions so that they can enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime occasion without damaging their eyesight. The first tip: get a pair of solar eclipse glasses. Many companies, including Celestron and Eclipser HD, have created glasses that enable you to look directly at the sun without damaging your eyes. If you think you can just throw on a pair of sunglasses to view the eclipse, you're wrong (and could seriously damage your eyesight)! Properly certified glasses are 100,000 times darker than normal sunglasses.

Another tip from scientists: contrary to what you may think, do not look through binoculars or a telescope with your solar eclipse glasses on. The rays are so strong that they could burn through the filter of the glasses, causing permanent damage to your eyes. All of this talk about eye damage may make you weary of going outside when this spectacular is taking place in your area, but don’t let it! You may never get to see another solar eclipse again. And the fact that we can predict it shows just how far science and technology have come! When you’re outside on August 21st, don’t forget to listen to the sounds of the world changing around you as it goes dim and snap pictures so you can contribute to the Eclipse MegaMovie.

3D Printed Vertebrae

The medical world is once again thanking the powers of 3D printing. After a grueling 13 hours in surgery to remove a cancerous tumor in her vertebra, Xiao Wen is now living with a 3D printed bone replica in place of six out of seven bones of her cervical vertebra. When doctors at the Shanghai Changzheng Hospital realized just how extensive Wen’s chondrosarcoma tumor was and how much damage it caused on her vertebra, they worried that there was no viable solution to replace the vertebra once the tumor and bones were removed. That’s when they decided they would try something no one had done before: replace the cancerous bones with 3D printed replicas. It took about three weeks for the 5.5 inch titanium alloy print to be made. But making it was not the hard part. Doctors worried about implementing a 3D printed structure of this size and how it could potentially affect Wen. Thankfully, Wen was in the hands of surgeon Xiao Jianru who successfully carried out the surgery. This is a very rare form of cancer, but this procedure shows how 3D printing can be a feasible solution for even the trickiest of problems.

Cardiac Cell Fountain of Youth

In last week’s Engineer Notes, I discussed a so-called “Fountain of Youth” that scientists had discovered. This consisted of scientists targeting the telemores on a person's cells, which are directly correlated with aging. The study showed promising results for reverse aging in people who suffered from progeria. Scientists have now discovered an even newer “Fountain of Youth” that has shown promising results on mice and will hopefully translate well to humans. Scientists took cells from young mouse hearts and injected them into the heart of an older mouse.

Even though they took cells from the heart, effects were shown throughout the whole mouse. Hair grew back faster and they were able to exercise further compared to the older mice that got the placebo implementation. Dr. Eduardo Marban, the primary investigator on this research project, predicts that the reason this worked so well was because the cells secreted exosomes, which are vesicles that contain nucleic acids that change the way tissues respond to injury and the way genes are expressed. The next step for Dr. Marban and his team is to see whether these cells would work as efficiently if they were injected into the body as opposed to the heart. If so, the procedure would be much less complex and be practical for humans.

Robotic Harness

Learning to walk again after a traumatic accident or stroke can be one of the most labor-intensive, strenuous activities that a person can go through. It typically involves one or two therapists assisting the patient while they gradually make their way down a makeshift aisle or walkway. The process can be frustrating for the patient and tiresome for the therapist. Fortunately, scientists in Switzerland have created a robotic harness that, using a deep neural network algorithm, can understand where the patient needs the most assistance.

An illustration of the harness courtesy of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.

Because it is attached to the ceiling and provides a sturdy support, patients can roam freely without assistance. This robotic device helps with everything from limb coordination to foot placement to balance. Harnesses like this one are not new. But what makes this one different is that it does not pull the patient's body weight backwards. Instead, it can predict the right configuration of forces for each individual and apply that force to the patient's trunk to help mimic normal walking. It may be true that at-home physical therapy is the most effective form of rehabilitation for people recovering from a stroke, and potentially other body-harming tragedies, but the researchers of this harness hope that their device will play an important role in spinal cord injury therapy in the future.

All the Hype

Elon Musk is a name that seems to appear in the news everyday. Whether it’s a new theory about AI’s or a new plan for space travel, he is a name known worldwide. Some of his ideas and theories seem quite improbable, while others like PayPal, SpaceX, and now the Hyperloop are turning out to be successful. Although it’s been a long four years since he first published his proposal for his Hyperloop idea, it has come much farther than imagined. But is it turning out to be all it has been hyped up to be? There are a few problems that are arising and a few impediments that have got people questioning just how practical this hyperloop will be. The three main problems are that it is slower, bigger, and less of a loop than originally proposed. Clocking in during one test run at just about 200 mph is not that impressive when compared to trains such as the one in Japan that go 200 mph every day. To actually achieve the goal of being able to get from Los Angeles to San Francisco in just a half hour, the train would have to go about 500 mph faster than it can currently go. As for size, the initial three-person bobsled sized carrier became impractical and inefficient when realizing the goal of the Hyperloop was to get many people from point A to point B, not just three. And lastly, the initial plan for looping tunnels and multiple branching loops is looking less and less likely. The powering of the hyperloop depending on this looping pattern was due to the fact that Musk envisioned a closed system that would create a self-sustaining current in one direction.

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