Radio Verulam Science Feature 27-11-2017
A round-up of the Science that Sam discussed with Danny on Monday 27th November.
Endometriosis can affect the brain
Endometriosis is a common (1 in 10 people with female reproductive organs) but little understood condition where endometrial cells, those that line the uterus, are found elsewhere in the body. This includes the bladder, bowel, lungs, spine and the brain.
The cells react in the same way each month as those in the uterus – building up a lining, breaking down and bleeding. However, if these cells are elsewhere in the body, the blood has no way to escape.
The symptoms include chronic pain, heavy periods, tiredness, depression and can affect anyone of child bearing age regardless of racial heritage.
Getting a diagnosis can take a while (on average 7.5 years from first raising symptoms with doctors to firm diagnosis) as the symptoms are similar to many other common conditions, so if you experience these symptoms, make a diary that you can bring to your doctor. Information is power and can help with managing symptoms too.
Currently the only way to diagnose this condition is with a laparoscopy, where a camera is inserted into the pelvic cavity via a small cut near the navel to look for endometrial cells on the organs.
A recent study showed that a group of mice who had their endometrial cells surgically moved into their abdomens (they don’t menstruate like humans) were more likely to display symptoms of depression and anxiety compared to a control group who had sham surgery.
These results are showing that there are changes to the central nervous system, but a lot more research is required to understand this debilitating and painful condition.
For more information go to www.endometriosis-uk.org.
New Scientist Magazine, 25 November 2017
Flies in the wine ruin the taste
There is an anecdote that a fly landing in your wine will ruin the flavour. Researchers from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala set out to prove this one way or another. Female fruit flies produce a pheromone to attract males and this appears to be the root of the wine-lover’s problem.
A group of wine tasters were given either: a glass that previously had a female fly in for 5 minutes, a male or no fly. Those who had the female fly in their glass reported that the taste was somewhat unpleasant, with a more intense smell, even if only one nanogram of the pheromone had been present – so no matter how quick you are to remove the fly, your drink is likely already tainted.
Unfortunately, it is also hard to wash away this compound, so best to keep an eye on your glass and keep the flies out if you want the best flavour from your wine.
Sources: https://www.newscientist.com/article/2153660-why-a-female-fly-will-ruin-your-drink-but-a-male-is-fine/; New Scientist Magazine, 25 November 2017; doi.org/10.1101/206375
Scientist of the Month
Vera Rubin, astronomer, 1928 - 2016
An American astronomer who worked on galaxy rotation rates. She was turned down from the astronomy program at Princeton because they didn’t allow women, she went on to earn her PhD at Georgetown. Rubin was the first to make the observation that stars on the edges of galaxies had an orbiting speed matching the stars in the centre of the galaxies. An unusual observation because it was thought that if the strongest gravitational forces existed where the more of the mass was at the centre, the gravitational force should decrease farther out, causing the orbits to slow. (We see this in our own Solar System, the planets further out move more slowly around the Sun.)
“Her observations had confirmed a hypothesis by Fritz Zwicky in 1930 that said some sort of invisible dark matter must be scattered throughout the universe keeping their orbitals up to speed. Rubin was able to prove that 10 times more dark matter existed in the universe than previously thought, with up to 90 percent of the universe being filled with it. For years, Rubin’s observation failed to receive support, as many of her male colleagues discredited it. They felt her discoveries were impossible under Newtonian Laws and that she must have made a miscalculation. Both her doctoral and master’s thesis were criticized and basically ignored, though the evidence was irrefutable. Fortunately, the scientific community has since recognized her work, but only because her male colleagues later validated it.”
Night Sky this Month
13/14 Dec: Geminids meteor shower, best viewed after midnight but meteors can be seen any time of night between 7th to 17th Dec. This meteor shower produces colourful meteors up to 120 per hour at the peak because of debris left by the asteroid 3200 Phaethon on it’s orbital path. The meteors appear to radiate from the constellation Gemini but can appear anywhere in the sky.
21 Dec: Winter Solstice, the shortest number of daylight hours, marking the beginning of winter, but days will get longer again afterwards.
Planets are currently not well placed for astronomy, so study the Moon and its features, and maybe try a Messier marathon – how many of these objects can you see in one outing. Try drawing them.
Next Science Feature will be Monday 22nd January 2018, see you then!