It starts with a mosquito bite and can end in severe sickness and even death. Malaria claims the lives of more than one million people worldwide each year.
Spotting the disease is the first step toward treating it, but the current way to detect malaria is costly, time consuming and not very accurate.
“The people [who] were examining samples for malaria were having such a hard time getting the right answer. They were only right about half the time,” said Brian Grimberg, a biologist at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.
The standard advice authorities offer when lightning starts crackling across the sky is for people to take shelter inside buildings. Substantial structures offer protection through lightning rods affixed to the roof, electrical wiring and plumbing that can direct the electricity away from occupants and into the ground.
But what is there to protect the buildings themselves from more than 5 billion Joules of energy in a typical lightning strike, which is enough juice to toast 100,000 bread slices? The problem is no small one—the Empire State Building (above) in New York City gets hit by lightning an average of 25 times a year. And Underwriters Laboratories reports that lightning accounts for more than $1 billion in building damage in the U.S. every year.
Many buildings install lightning protection systems to direct lightning’s energy into the ground, which the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety says are highly effective at preventing fires and destructive electrical surges after a strike.
Now researchers say there might be a next-generation protective system that prevents lightning from hitting a building at all. Their secret weapon? High-intensity lasers.
Engraving microscopic cracks in glass sheets can make it 200 times tougher than normal, McGill University mechanical engineers say. The insight could lead to improvements in regular glass objects like wine glasses or jars that don’t shatter when dropped, instead only deforming on impact.
Researchers took a clue from nature to uncover the fact that etching wavy lines in test glass slides prevented stress-induced cracks from spreading into the material’s failure. Their muse was the seemingly simple mother-of-pearl coating inside the shells of some mollusks.
This material is called nacre, and it is mostly composed of chalk, a brittle substance that normally disintegrates under the slightest pressure. But the organism constructs a biomaterial that is 3,000 times tougher than the weak chalk from which it is composed, writes François Barthelat, who runs McGill’s biomimetic materials lab and led the research. The secret is in how the creature builds nacre out of tiny tablets of chalk that are laid down in offset rows. This architecture, which is also seen in teeth and bones, counters a propagating crack by deflecting it and diffusing energy to surrounding tiles.