The Gist of Science Reporter: December 2016

The Gist of Science Reporter: December 2016

In Vitro Living Bone Developed

Facial bones are one of the most geometrically complex bones. Their reconstruction requires use of bone grafts from the same patient which has some serious limitations, including pain and additional disorders associated with surgery.

A newly developed technique, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine [8 (343), 2016], repairs bone defects in the face and head by using living bone grown in lab, grafted to the patient so that the defect is treated. The development of such anatomically correct and large-scale bone constructs could improve regenerative medicine options for the patients.

Sarindr Bhumiratana and his team have reported the first time ever living bone that precisely grows into an original anatomical structure, using stem cells derived from a small sample of the recipient's own body (autologous).

Next Gen Biofuel from Human Waste

Researchers from Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST), South Korea, have discovered a new way to convert human waste into a renewable source of energy. This project is in collaboration with YATOO, Art Center Nabi, Paju Typography Institute (PaTI), and Hankuk Engineering Consultants (H.E.C.), South Korea.

The project aims to reduce negative footprint on the ecosystem by converting human waste into viable renewable energy and monetary values. The major features of the project include "Waterless Toilet System" and "Microbial Energy Production Unit."

The toilet system treats human excretion without using water by using" a natural biological process to break down human waste into an odorless and dehydrated compost material. Then this compost-like material is converted into biodiesel or heat energy in the microbial energy production system which is also called the digestion tank, containing thousands of different microbes. The microbes present inside the tank degrade the compost material to produce carbon dioxide and methane. Carbon dioxide is then extracted to culture green algae for biofuel using high pressure and membrane, while methane is utilized for later use as a heating fuel.
The team plans to expand its use of the waterless toilet system and microbial energy production unit real life after the success of the project.

Juno: Unraveling Jupiter’s Mysteries

The fifth planet in our solar system, Jupiter, has always fascinated astronomers and space agencies. And rightly so - with its massive size (almost twice as much as all the other planets put together), its light and dark bands, the auroras at the poles, its four distinct moons and the enigmatic gaseous state all make it worth the watch.

NASA’s mission to explore the planet in depth has been massive too. While Pioneer and Voyager, on their interstellar missions, skimmed the planet and sent back spectacular images, the spacecraft Calileo was exclusively commissioned in 1989 to reach Jupiter and study its moons. A probe was released to the surface in 1995 from Calileo. Flying by close to Io and Europa, two of the four moons of Jupiter, it sent amazing information about them and the existence of sub-surface oceans on them. Its mission completed, the spacecraft disintegrated in Jupiter’s atmosphere’.

On 5 August 2011, another spacecraft as launched from NASA's base in Florida, USA. Called Juno, the Jupiter-bound spacecraft was carried aboard the Atlas-V 551 rocket. The Juno mission is part of the New Frontiers Program managed at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Centre in Huntsville, Alabama. Its mission was to reach the bright, big planet and study it in much more detail. The target distance: around 588 million kilometres (588,000,000 km at its closest to earth).

A Special Mission

Jupiter has been studied earlier too. In the previous eight missions, only Calileo was an exclusive spacecraft sent to the planet, while all others were flyby operations - that is, flying past and returning or, gravity assists that is, taking Jupiter's gravity to propel further to the target planets. Calileo was designed to study the moons in detail. Moreover, it could not approach the planet nearer to record the studies;

In what way is the Juno probe different from the earlier ones? Why is this mission so special and significant? Well, Juno scores brownie points on several accounts.

Firstly, most space crafts are designed to be powered by radioactive energy to accommodate the continuity of power supply in the absence of sunlight. However, Juno deviates from this in that it is a completely solar-powered spacecraft.

Secondly, Juno's aim is to study Jupiter's core, presence of water in its atmosphere and the formation of the magnetosphere. These studies will throw light on various theories. Juno will study in detail the evolution of the planet and other mysteries hidden in its core.

Thirdly, Juno will take a deep look at the fascinating auroras of Jupiter. This is a highly risky endeavour as it involves intense magnetic fields and currents. Juno's technology has to withstand this extreme environment for around 20 exposures before degrading.

'Fourthly, Juno is fitted with a special ca'h1era called JunoCam, made as an interactive module and available to the public. NASA has provided the means to track JunoCam's positioning in such a way that any enthusiast can vote and decide which parts of the surface can be photographed - just by using the Internet the following NASA’s instructions on its website.

Great Challenges

As Juno embarks on a mission to record teh various aspects of Jupiter, it is fraught with extreme conditions to be overcome.

Being gaseous in nature, Jupiter offers no solid bae for probes to land on it. This is a big hurdle as any probe sent deep into its atmosphere will be crushed and destroyed due to the intense pressure of the atmosphere surrounding it.

Travelling into deep space and close to Jupiter, which no other spacecraft has done before, causes the spacecraft to be exposed to intense radiations. The radiations encountered are in three different positions:

  • Earth radiation: Caused due to the magnetosphere of the earth as the spacecraft vaults into outer space. Many of these conditions are well studied and simulated for Juno to withstand. Juno overcame these.
  • Inter space radiation: The solar particles, random space objects and cosmic rays from outside the solar system are all travelling at high speeds, acting as projectiles and cause the interstellar radiations. Juno's protective shield has to withstand these radiations too.

All these hurdles can cause severe damage to Juno by making it highly electrically charged. This affects the functioning of the spacecraft, disrupting the working of the electronics and recording equipment. Additionally the noise generated by the hitting particles rapidly degrades the functioning of the equipment.

Mission Requirements

Despite the earlier missions, Jupiter still remains enigmatic. Due to its gaseous state, and a probable liquid core, a lot has to be revealed about this giant planet. As Juno approaches the clouds over Jupiter it will peer into the gaseous atmosphere. The studies will also reveal if Jupiter has a solid core. Jupiter is such a huge ball of raging gases, that it can easily be misunderstood for another Sun. The great red spot on its surface is blazing a gas which is big enough to gobble up the earth. A critical and close up view of the planet will reveal a lot of mysteries about the formation of the solar system.

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