Every month, SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN—the longest-running magazine in the U.S. and an authoritative voice in science, technology and innovation—provides insight into scientific topics that affect our daily lives and capture our imagination, establishing the vital bridge between science and public policy.
>> Key information from this month’s issue:
Experts are concerned that states are demanding tests for diseases in newborns that may not have tangible benefits. Of four million babies born in the US every year, newborn screening identifies 12,500 with developmental disorders. Diseases do not always develop in those who are identified as high risk and often cannot be effectively treated when they do.. See: The Science of Health: Perils of Newborn Screening
• HEALTH TECHNOLOGY
The National Institutes of Health is investigating mobile health applications utilizing cell phones and wireless sensors, writes Francis Collins, director of the NIH. Health apps are being used for counting calories, tracking workouts and calculating body mass index, but there could be wider use of apps in medical research and health care, offering low-cost, real-time ways to assess disease, movement, behavior and environmental toxins. To make this happen, health researchers, technology developers and software designers must work together. See: Forum: How to Fulfill the True Promise of “mHealth"
• DEFENSE TECHNOLOGY
One of the latest U.S. Department of Defense robots under development is the Cheetah—the fastest legged robot, ever, which can run at speeds of nearly 30 kilometers per hour. Drones and bomb-removal bots are designed to keep troops out of harm’s way; a new wave of robots like the Cheetah will be nimbler, and able to navigate terrain too rocky for wheels. See: Engineering: Fleet of Foot
• NUCLEAR MATERIALS
Scientists say burying plutonium is the only reasonable solution to getting rid of it. The vast majority of the radioactive plutonium on the planet is man-made—roughly 500 metric tons, or enough to make 100,000 nuclear weapons. Plutonium is the legacy of nuclear power and the Cold War nuclear arms race and needs to be disposed of. See: Trashing the “Element from Hell"
• ENVIRONMENT & PUBLIC HEALTH
Chlorpyrifos, a common pesticide, may interfere with normal childhood development. Banned for indoor use since 2000, the effects of chlorpyrifos can still be found in the brains of young children now approaching puberty. A recent study used magnetic resonance imaging to reveal that those children exposed to chlorpyrifos in the womb had persistent changes in their brain throughout childhood. The good news is that washing fruits and vegetables can rinse away lingering chlorpyrifos and mitigate much of the risk. See: Technology: Fusion’s Missing Pieces
• On June 6, Sakhiwe Shongwe and Bonkhe Mahlalela, both 14, from Swaziland in southern Africa were named the winners of the inaugural SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN Science in Action Award, powered by the Google Science Fair. Their project explores an affordable way for farmers to grow their crops and vegetables in very large quantities and within limited space without using soil. In addition to the $50,000 cash prize, Shongwe and Mahlalela will have access to a year’s mentorship and will travel to Google’s California headquarters in July to compete in the 13-to-14-year-old age category in the overall Google Science Fair. Seven U.S. finalists from California, Florida, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Texas are also Google Science Fair finalists.