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Matter of science

By the Gazette Editorial Board

AROUND the same time last month, a respected scientific periodical, the Journal of Investigational Allergology and Clinical Immunology, reported (https://v.gd/ucabaj) the death of a 55-year-old Spanish woman following receiving apitherapy to improve her muscular contractures and stress.  

Defining the case as the first of death by bee venom, the journal described how the woman with a disease-free clinical record developed wheezing, dyspnoea and sudden loss of consciousness immediately after a live bee sting – a popular alternative medicine procedure in Asia and has also gained publicity in Hollywood with film star Gwyneth Paltrow commending it.

An ambulance rushed her to a hospital where she received immediate treatment and intensive care but later died of multi-organ failure.

The story dramatises the until-now seemingly endless controversy over the exact healing powers and also the limitations of alternative medicine especially if juxtaposed with conventional, scientific medicine.  

Simply putting, alternative medicine, as a term, refers mainly to homeopathy, herbalism, naturopathy, acupuncture, accupressure and chiropractic – the wide set of treatment practices that are largely kept outside university medical education. Reasons are mostly comprehensible.

Medical education is, and should always remain, a scientific pursuit in the sense of depending on verifiable data and observations in describing, diagnosing and treating whichever irregularities that may adversely affect the functioning of any of the parts of the human body.

Since the extent of the wellness and fitness of the human body is a substantial determinant of an individual’s survival and survivability, it is quite sensible to assume, if not to assert, that it is both wiser and safer not to leave human health indefensibly exposed to the uncertainties of unascertained therapies.

This is not to suggest that the science of medicine is one of unalterable findings and conclusions; for, like all other disciplines, it has had its shortcomings and failures.
Basically the produce of the extent of the advances, or regression, of scientific knowledge at any given stage, such shortcomings and failures have more often than not been bridgeable and repairable with the arrival of every new finding in medical research and associated disciplines, especially including pharmacology, chemistry, physics and biology, and, most recently, space exploration-based knowledge.

The growing appeal for alternative medicine worldwide is widely attributed to its relatively low cost if compared to that of traditional medical treatment and care, especially when the use of such advanced medical techniques as minute multiple surgeries, stenting, chemotherapy and magnetic resonance imaging are required.

Also contributing to the noticeable appeal for alternative medicine has been the tendency of the global media to frame stories of people getting extraordinarily cured of almost terminal illnesses by means of alternative medicine.

A third factor is the alternative medicine’s observable emphasis on its claimed preventive capacities.

On TV screens, in radio broadcasts, in print media and with almost each and every click online, viewers, listeners, readers and browsers across the globe are being bombarded by institials and aggressively self-imposing ads and even overt content that claim to unravel a secret for the prevention of undesirable health conditions.

Preempt boldness and hair fall, reduce weight in days, boost your attractiveness, enhance your stimulating powers, get rid of headaches and colon spasms, abort the onslaughts of free radicals, prevent tumours, guarantee reproductive fertility, restore ensure thyroid health and put off the most disturbing symptoms of ageing are just a few examples of the many messages that the media is circulating on alternative medicine worldwide.

Until alternative medicine in all its forms and manifestations transforms into verifiable data and conclusions, it will be almost unthinkable to concede its capacity to replace scientific medicine.

A graphene roll-out

by Jennifer Chu, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

MIT engineers have developed a continuous manufacturing process that produces long strips of high-quality graphene.

The team’s results are the first demonstration of an industrial, scalable method for manufacturing high-quality graphene that is tailored for use in membranes that filter a variety of molecules, including salts, larger ions, proteins, or nanoparticles. Such membranes should be useful for desalination, biological separation, and other applications.

“For several years, researchers have thought of graphene as a potential route to ultrathin membranes,” says John Hart, associate professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Laboratory for Manufacturing and Productivity at MIT. “We believe this is the first study that has tailored the manufacturing of graphene toward membrane applications, which require the graphene to be seamless, cover the substrate fully, and be of high quality.”

Hart is the senior author on the paper, which appears online in the journal Applied Materials and Interfaces. The study includes first author Piran Kidambi, a former MIT postdoc who is now an assistant professor at Vanderbilt University; MIT graduate students Dhanushkodi Mariappan and Nicholas Dee; Sui Zhang of the National University of Singapore; Andrey Vyatskikh, a former student at the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology who is now at Caltech; and Rohit Karnik, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT.

Growing graphene

For many researchers, graphene is ideal for use in filtration membranes. A single sheet of graphene resembles atomically thin chicken wire and is composed of carbon atoms joined in a pattern that makes the material extremely tough and impervious to even the smallest atom, helium.

Researchers, including Karnik’s group, have developed techniques to fabricate graphene membranes and precisely riddle them with tiny holes, or nanopores, the size of which can be tailored to filter out specific molecules. For the most part, scientists synthesize graphene through a process called chemical vapor deposition, in which they first heat a sample of copper foil and then deposit onto it a combination of carbon and other gases.

Graphene-based membranes have mostly been made in small batches in the laboratory, where researchers can carefully control the material’s growth conditions. However, Hart and his colleagues believe that if graphene membranes are ever to be used commercially they will have to be produced in large quantities, at high rates, and with reliable performance.

“We know that for industrialization, it would need to be a continuous process,” Hart says. “You would never be able to make enough by making just pieces. And membranes that are used commercially need to be fairly big ­— some so big that you would have to send a poster-wide sheet of foil into a furnace to make a membrane.”

A factory roll-out

The researchers set out to build an end-to-end, start-to-finish manufacturing process to make membrane-quality graphene.

The team’s setup combines a roll-to-roll approach — a common industrial approach for continuous processing of thin foils — with the common graphene-fabrication technique of chemical vapor deposition, to manufacture high-quality graphene in large quantities and at a high rate. The system consists of two spools, connected by a conveyor belt that runs through a small furnace. The first spool unfurls a long strip of copper foil, less than 1 centimeter wide. When it enters the furnace, the foil is fed through first one tube and then another, in a “split-zone” design.

While the foil rolls through the first tube, it heats up to a certain ideal temperature, at which point it is ready to roll through the second tube, where the scientists pump in a specified ratio of methane and hydrogen gas, which are deposited onto the heated foil to produce graphene. 

Graphene starts forming in little islands, and then those islands grow together to form a continuous sheet,” Hart says. “By the time it’s out of the oven, the graphene should be fully covering the foil in one layer, kind of like a continuous bed of pizza.”

As the graphene exits the furnace, it’s rolled onto the second spool. The researchers found that they were able to feed the foil continuously through the system, producing high-quality graphene at a rate of 5 centimers per minute. Their longest run lasted almost four hours, during which they produced about 10 meters of continuous graphene.

“If this were in a factory, it would be running 24-7,” Hart says. “You would have big spools of foil feeding through, like a printing press.”

Flexible design

Once the researchers produced graphene using their roll-to-roll method, they unwound the foil from the second spool and cut small samples out. They cast the samples with a polymer mesh, or support, using a method developed by scientists at Harvard University, and subsequently etched away the underlying copper.

“If you don’t support graphene adequately, it will just curl up on itself,” Kidambi says. “So you etch copper out from underneath and have graphene directly supported by a porous polymer — which is basically a membrane.”

The polymer covering contains holes that are larger than graphene’s pores, which Hart says act as microscopic “drumheads,” keeping the graphene sturdy and its tiny pores open. 

The researchers performed diffusion tests with the graphene membranes, flowing a solution of water, salts, and other molecules across each membrane. They found that overall, the membranes were able to withstand the flow while filtering out molecules. Their performance was comparable to graphene membranes made using conventional, small-batch approaches.

The team also ran the process at different speeds, with different ratios of methane and hydrogen gas, and characterized the quality of the resulting graphene after each run. They drew up plots to show the relationship between graphene’s quality and the speed and gas ratios of the manufacturing process. Kidambi says that if other designers can build similar setups, they can use the team’s plots to identify the settings they would need to produce a certain quality of graphene.

“The system gives you a great degree of flexibility in terms of what you’d like to tune graphene for, all the way from electronic to membrane applications,” Kidambi says.

Looking forward, Hart says he would like to find ways to include polymer casting and other steps that currently are performed by hand, in the roll-to-roll system.

“In the end-to-end process, we would need to integrate more operations into the manufacturing line,” Hart says. “For now, we’ve demonstrated that this process can be scaled up, and we hope this increases confidence and interest in graphene-based membrane technologies, and provides a pathway to commercialization.”

 

By Youssra el-Sharkawy

Growing up, Iman Awaad fell in love with science fiction TV shows and movies like Transformers. Her love stayed with her into adulthood, and she decided to study robotic technology, a field which is described by some people as hard for women.
Awaad is an Egyptian who is currently a research associate at the Hochschule Bonn-Rhein-Sieg University, in Germany where she lectures and advises MA students.  
“When I was growing up, I was immersed in shows and films about robots that flew in space or were transformed. As a child, I wanted to be a scientist,” Awaad told The Egyptian Gazette.
She received her bachelor’s degree in computer science at the age of 19 in Egypt, then her husband’s career took the family to Bonn, Germany in 1997. There, she completed her studies in the field of robotic science.
After completing her Master’s (MA) degree, Awaad took up a part-time post at the Hochschule Bonn-Rhein-Sieg University, where she is the assistant director and study adviser of the robotic science programme. She also teaches and supervises MA students; and she is now working on her PhD, whose subject is how to enable robots intelligently and autonomously to replace missing or unavailable devices, and to carry out tasks in a domestic environment.
“I never considered that I would be able to work with robots, simply because they only seemed to appear in fiction – even during my Bachelor’s studies in the early 90s. There was no “robotics” course at the time,” she explained.
Being a woman in a male-dominated field like the robotics field was a challenge for Awaad.“It is a challenge that many women, and especially those in male-dominated disciplines such as the Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths disciplines, (STEM), have to deal with all over the world. There was the difficulty of the topic itself,” she told The Gazette.
Being a mother, was another challenge for her.“The challenge was pursuing my degree while at the same time taking care of my family, as I had been doing when I was a stay-at-home mother,” she said.
However, Awaad believes that Egyptian women can achieve anything they want.“I believe that it is no more challenging for Egyptian women than any other person, man or woman,” she said.
Leaving her country was not an easy choice, but Awaad holds it close, in her heart. “It is of course always difficult to be away from family and loved ones, and to be away from one’s country and compatriots. My husband and I both grew up moving around so we knew how it would be, as did our families. That said, we all feel very excited and extremely happy when we spend holiday time in Egypt,” she said.
Being an Egyptian woman living in Germany, Awaad said that she has not faced any discrimination, what she found was a welcoming atmosphere.
“I did not face any discrimination. It helped that we have always had amazingly helpful neighbours who went out of their way to make us feel welcome. I think there is a difference between integration and acculturation. We have integrated into the society, to the extent of living and working in Germany happily and well. We have maintained our own Egyptian values, beliefs and culture, though. For example, when we are unable to celebrate a birthday on the designated date, we have no problem celebrating it earlier, which is totally unacceptable in German culture due to superstition,” she explained.
Awaad, who moved to Bonn in 1997, has the aim of enabling the developing countries to benefit from her knowledge of robotic technology, to achieve more scientific progress.
“I would like not only to put all my knowledge at the disposal of Egypt’s scientific progress, but also to mobilise my networks to make a difference to the broader community of developing countries, in ways that can help them to achieve their development goals,” she said
“I would like to see robotic technology being used for the good of humankind, and becoming accessible and affordable enough to be used by every society, without discrimination. I want to assess which of the challenges facing our country could potentially be addressed via robotics technology,” she told The Gazette.
She added: “The great thing is that the field is highly diverse and interdisciplinary. Whether it is deploying low-cost drones or large-scale sensor networks, to survey fields under cultivation, in order to make better-informed decisions, or to provide health services to people living in remote areas; the possibilities really are endless.”
“There have been incredible advances in recent times in Artificial Intelligence (AI), on which researchers rely for the intelligence necessary to enable autonomy in robots. The possibility to offer services which use AI approaches are also endless, especially in a well-connected population such as ours, in which the use of mobile phones is all-pervasive, as is the skill of using all their features!” she said.

By Salwa Samir

One of the many inventions on display at the National Conference for Scientific Research, which was organised recently by the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, was the “Know Your Body” application, launched by Mohamed Nada in 2017.
Inaugurated by President Abdel Fattah El Sisi, the conference reviewed the priorities of scientific research in the country within the framework of the unified national strategies for science, technology, innovation and Egypt’s sustainable development vision 2030.
“I feel honoured to be showcasing my science-related application at this remarkable event,” said Nada, a PhD student at the Faculty of Education, Damietta University, 200km north of Cairo.
He came up with the idea of launching the mobile app after he noticed that the science curricula in the government-run schools were theoretical rather than practical, especially the lessons covering the inside of the human body.
He thought the solution would be to launch this app, which provides lessons on the human body and its organs, in an interesting way.  
“Pupils at the elementary and preparatory stage, for whom the app has been developed, find it difficult to visualise various parts of the science curricula, especially those covering the systems of the human body, and so they depend on theoretical information,” he said.   
“The app offers an interactive educational environment to the students so as to let them discover the organs by themselves. Through the app, they can see clearly the internal parts of the human body and how they function,” Nada told the Egyptian Mail.
To spread the idea of the app so many people can benefit from it, the researcher held seminars, at many of Damietta’s schools, on the importance of the content carried by the app for schoolchildren. His efforts had a positive impact and now the teachers at these schools use the app when taking science classes. Nada has also been invited to many TV shows, to talk about his app, which is free.
The colourful app consists of five sections. All the sections are provided with a commentary read over a musical background. The hero in the app is an anime smiling child.
The first section is called “Explore Your Body” and contains information about the main human systems; the digestive, respiratory, skeletal, nervous, urinary and circulatory.
The second section is about “Human Body Processes” and how they work, including the digestive and sensory processes.
The third section focuses on “How to Protect Your Body”. The platform highlights in detail, how children can protect their systems from disease. It shows in a simple way what children can do to protect their digestive system for example. It advises them to eat fresh vegetables and to drink a moderate amount of water to facilitate the digestive process. It warns them not to eat fast food and to eat more fruit instead.  
To protect the respiratory system, the third section advises pupils to stay away from smokers and polluted air, to take walks in gardens, parks and other places full of greenery, so as to breathe in oxygen to clean their lungs.
Through the app, young people can see the skeletal system and they can learn how to protect it by eating food rich in Vitamin D, drinking milk and exposing their body to sunlight in the morning and before sunset. They also learn that it is important to swim and to run in order to keep their bones strong.
The fourth section is called “Form your body”. It is like a puzzle of every human system and the children are asked to put the pieces of each system together correctly. This firmly imprints the various systems in their minds.
The fifth educational section is called “Learn and Play”. It shows a human system and its organs with no labels and the children are asked to name every organ.
Last November, “Know Your Body” was named the best Arab mobile application in the field of Science in a competition organised by the Arab League Education, Culture and Science Organisation (ALECSO).
The ALECSO is an institution based in Tunisia. It is affiliated to the Arab League, and is concerned with promoting education, culture and science at the regional and national level.
ALECSO has been organising competitions to encourage Arab youth to produce more applications in the fields of science, culture and education.
While attending the National Conference for Scientific Research, Nada said: “I hope that my app’s being on display at the conference will encourage businessmen to sponsor it and my next app on Earth Sciences.”

BATH, UK, March 15 (Reuters) — Pterosaurs — huge flying reptiles — were long thought to be in decline at the time the dinosaurs went extinct, but were actually diversifying and thriving, according to new fossil evidence.

Nick Longrich, senior lecturer at the Milner Centre For Evolution and the department of biology and biochemistry at the University of Bath said: “What we found here is really pretty extraordinary, it’s a remarkable fauna of pterosaur — giant winged cousins of dinosaurs, from the end of the age of dinosaurs.

“And for a long time there’s been a mystery about what happened to the pterosaurs. We don’t have a lot of fossils from the end of the Cretaceous period when these things lived, and so it looks like these things might have been in decline, declining diversity and there’s just a few species left when the asteroid hits and wipes out the dinosaurs and takes out the last of the pterosaurs with it.

“The other possibility though is that pterosaurs might have been very diverse and we simply weren’t seeing their fossils because they’re extraordinarily rare. And so we stumbled across this amazing trove of fossils in Morocco, and we describe these fossils as representing half a dozen new species of pterosaur.

“And we were also able to show that diversity is increasing; there is a wider range of sizes and shapes and ecologies of these things at the very end of the Cretaceous period when the asteroid hit. So they weren’t going into a decline, they were actually staging a radiation and basically cut down in their prime.

“Nothing has ever evolved to replace them, it’s kind of remarkable that in 66 million years no bird has evolved that’s as large as a pterosaur.

And likewise if the asteroid hadn’t hit, the birds wouldn’t have been able to diversify because it’s the extinction of the pterosaurs and archaic birds that live alongside them that lets moderns bird take off and diversify.”

 

 

ALEXANDRIA, March 12, 2018 - Minister of Youth and Sports, Khaled Abdel Aziz, inaugurated on Monday  the two-day Alexandria Youth Forum  held under the auspices of Prime Minister Sherif Ismail at Bibliotheca Alexandrina. Under the theme "Participate...Innovate... Go ahead", the forum aims to enhance young people's engagement in development process.

Meanwhile, Minister Abdel Aziz and Alexandria Governor Mohamed Sultan toured an exhibition of scientific innovations held on the sidelines of the forum, highlighting some scientific projects carried out by young people. The projects included establishing bioenergy and seaports research centres besides innovations in machinery field.

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