Here are four good news stories about how science is making our lives better.
- Scientists have discovered a way to create nanodiamonds from PET plastics.
- A universal and reliable vaccine against COVID-19 is about to be tested on humans.
- There are new discoveries about the power of performing random acts of kindness.
- A woman with a keen sense of smell helped create a simple test to diagnose Parkinson’s disease.
Watch the video above to get the full recap and find out more about the following:
1. Scientists have discovered a way to create nanodiamonds from PET plastics.
Turning plastic into diamonds sounds like something out of a modern-day fairy tale, but an experiment that was originally designed to better understand the planets known as ice giants – like Uranus and Neptune – has led to an unexpected discovery.
The scientists studied a phenomenon called “diamond rain,” which is believed to form due to the unique combination of elements in these planets.
They conducted the experiments using PET plastic, the polymer found in packaging such as water bottles, which consists of a mixture of hydrogen and carbon. The team was able to mimic the process that occurs in the ice giants by creating high-pressure shock waves with an optical laser on the plastic.
If you imagine between a million and two million elephants jumping on an object at once, that’s the kind of pressure we’re talking about.
Researchers were excited when this created tiny synthetic diamonds.
What’s really amazing is the clarity of the results they saw in the results, says Prof. Dr. Dominik Kraus of the University of Rostock, who participated in the experiments. “A large fraction of the carbon atoms turn into diamonds, very quickly within a few nanoseconds,”
“Also, when the pressure is released, the diamonds remain. And that means there are ways to recover them and make them applicable and use them maybe for other things,” he told Euronews.
Artificial diamonds share many of the most important properties of natural diamonds, so – in addition to being very beautiful – these nanodiamonds have potential applications in quantum technology and medicine.
The experiments were organized to better understand the planets in our solar system. “This could again be one of many examples in the history of science where such a curiosity and something that seems very far-fetched can lead to some real-world applications,” says Prof. Krauss.
If this is, as it appears, a new and efficient way to produce nanodiamonds using the same plastic that goes to landfill every year, it could be great news for our planet.
2. A universal and reliable vaccine against COVID-19 is yet to be tested on humans.
For years, public health figures and scientists have lamented the lack of funding to develop vaccines to protect us from current and future viruses. But COVID-19 changed everything.
Since the start of the pandemic, tens of millions of dollars have been awarded to research groups seeking universal coronavirus vaccines, which we now urgently need if we are ever to be assured of a COVID-free future.
A universal vaccine against COVID-19 will defeat all variants that may emerge in the future, as well as all future diseases caused by entirely new types of coronaviruses.
The good news is that people had already started working on this long before we had heard of alpha, delta, omicron and the rest.
One of those scientists was Alexander Cohen, a postdoctoral fellow at Caltech, and researchers in Cohen’s lab are getting very close to their goal.
The initial results look really promising, as the antibodies produced in the lab’s vaccine identified not only all eight coronaviruses included in the vaccine, but also four additional coronaviruses that were not included. In March of this year, the group reported that the vaccine appeared to protect mice and monkeys that had been exposed to a number of coronaviruses. In July, they published the results in Science.
The next step is to test the vaccine in humans, and the funding for this is already in place. If successful, it could save us from having to put up with another COVID-related lockdown again.
3. There are new discoveries about the power of performing random acts of kindness.
Performing small acts of kindness makes everyone happy – those who give and those who receive. But the strange thing is that good Samaritans around the world tend not to realize how happy they make people, according to a new study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology.
Researchers believe this may deter many of us from doing good things for others more often, meaning people miss out on opportunities to feel good and make others feel good.
They conducted experiments with hundreds of people who performed and received random acts of kindness, such as buying a stranger a coffee or a cup of hot chocolate, and in all of them, those who performed the acts of kindness consistently underestimated how positively it would make other people feel .
The idea that kindness can increase well-being is not really new. Many studies have already shown how volunteering to help others generates positive emotions for both parties.
But experts say each new discovery strengthens the idea, making it a stronger scientific argument rather than just something that seems logical.
4. A Scottish woman with a keen sense of smell helped create a simple test to diagnose Parkinson’s disease.
72-year-old Joy Milne accidentally made a major breakthrough in the discovery of Parkinson’s disease.
She had noticed that her husband’s smell had changed 12 years before he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, noting that he had developed a musky scent that was different from his normal scent.
“It’s weird when I wake up in the morning, I don’t open my eyes, I can smell it all around me,” she said.
Joy Milne has hereditary hyperosmia; people with this condition are known as “super smellers”.
A team from the University of Manchester harnessed its power and discovered that Parkinson’s disease does indeed have a specific smell.
With Ms Milne’s help, they have developed a test that can tell in just three minutes whether someone has Parkinson’s.
“We take swabs from people’s backs just like that and then we take them to the mass spectrometer, where we analyze the compounds on the skin and from them we can tell if someone has Parkinson’s or not,” Professor Perdita Baran, who led the study, told Euronews.
“Our focus is to do what’s called a confirmatory diagnosis for the specialist to help them get the right treatment.”
Until now, there was no specific test for Parkinson’s disease, and diagnosis was based on the patient’s symptoms and medical history. All that is about to change with a simple cotton swab.
Remember, it can be hard to find among the headlines, but some news can be good news.