SciTech Briefs

Energy-saving exoskeleton makes walking easier

Engineers at Carnegie Mellon University have recently developed a mechanical exoskeleton boot that, in comparison to normal footwear, reduces the energy expenditure of walking by 7 percent. The device is the first of its kind to not rely on an outside power source.

In the exoskeleton boot, a mechanical clutch is used to hold a spring that expands and contracts during ankle movements. When a person swings their leg forward to walk, the clutch locks into place and the spring expands, allowing the spring to store elastic energy. Once the leg pushes down on the ground, propelling the body forward, the clutch loosens and the elastic energy is released as the spring slackens. In turn, this process can reduce the energy needed from the wearer’s calf muscle.

The team hopes their product will be commercially available to consumers who want to improve walking efficiency, particularly those with walking difficulties. A report was published in the journal Nature.

Source: Discovery News

Scientists plan to send man to planet Mars by 2033

According to space experts, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) may be able to fund a project that could send humans into Mars’ orbit by 2033, and allow the first human to walk on the surface of Mars by 2039.

A discussion about the cost of the project occurred during a workshop hosted by the Planetary Society. The event took place in Washington, D.C. According to Bill Nye, who is the CEO of the Planetary Society, the Mars program would be affordable once NASA leaves its lead role in the International Space Station. During the estimated 30 months of the Mars orbital mission, crew members would be able to study the moons of Mars, as well as possibly remotely operate rovers on the Martian surface.

However, the experts believe that the biggest hurdle in starting the project lies within politics. It was announced that the mission architecture, which has until now been closed to the public and press, will be released later this year.

Source: NBC News

New biosensing platform may help diagnose disease

Researchers at Florida Atlantic University, along with other collaborators, have created a novel biosensing platform that may be able to remotely diagnose and identify treatment options for HIV and bacterial infections, such as Staphylococcus aureus. According to their article in Nature, the researchers developed biosensors with low-cost paper and flexible materials that contain electrical and optical sensing modalities, which are reported to be easy to make and use.

The researchers have also developed a complementary phone app that can use photos to diagnose bacterial diseases in the patient’s blood. The researchers believe that their methods may help to create affordable tools in diagnostics and health monitoring, particularly in poorer countries with limited access to resources and laboratory infrastructure.

This new platform could also be altered in order to diagnose diseases and pathogens other than HIV and bacterial infections.

Source: ScienceDaily

New test could improve detection of prostate cancer

Researchers at the University of Central Florida have discovered a simple test that uses gold nanoparticles to detect early-stage prostate cancer.

The test involves mixing only a couple drops of blood with gold nanoparticles. If the patient has prostate cancer, biomarkers present in his or her blood from his or her immune response will attach to the nanoparticles and cause them to clump together. The size of the nanoparticles is then measured through a technique called nanoparticle-enabled dynamic light scattering assay. Larger nanoparticles indicate cancer growth.

This new test offers a variety of benefits over traditional methods, as it costs less than $1 and can provide results within minutes. Initial studies of the test have also shown it to be more sensitive and more accurate than standard prostate specific antigen (PSA) screenings. The transition from PSA screenings to this new technology could also decrease the number of patients required to receive invasive biopsies.

Source: ScienceDaily

3.67 million-year-old fossil found in central South Africa

A rare Australopithecus skeleton discovered in a cave in central South Africa about twenty years ago has been estimated to be 3.67 million years old, making it one of oldest hominid skeletons ever dated. The skeleton was previously believed to be about 3 million years old.

Known as Little Foot, this ancestor was determined to predate Lucy, the famed 3.2 million-year-old Australopithecus skeleton that was found in Ethiopia in 1974. With Little Foot, scientists were able to conclude that the earliest australopithecines existed in South Africa.

However, the species that australopithecine Little Foot belongs to remains unknown among scientists. Additionally, based on the findings, scientists have concluded that there was a great diversity of human ancestors in various locations in Africa. Furthermore, evidence from Little Foot may disclose the particular region and species that led to the emergence of the modern human race.

Source: Discovery News

Dinosaur couple found buried together in Mongolia

Researchers at the University of Alberta have identified a dinosaur couple that had been buried together for more than 75 million years. The remains were uncovered in the Gobi desert in Mongolia.

According to the report in the journal Scientific Reports, the dinosaurs, a pair of oviraptors, had possessed different physical characteristics, enough to indicate that they were male and female. Since the oviraptor couple was bird-like, the researchers compared the remains to the anatomy of modern birds. The researchers were then able to identify physical traits that could have allowed for courtship to take place between the two dinosaurs.

It is believed that the oviraptors were killed when a sand dune collapsed and buried them alive. Hence, researchers nicknamed the dinosaur couple “Romeo and Juliet.”

Source: Live Science