Discovered: Wearable "smoke"; aphids convert sunlight into energy; "bigfoot" spider found; pro-ana blogging can be a support network.
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Pro-ana blogging as a support system. At first glance, there doesn't seem to be anything positive about the online network of "pro-ana" bloggers, people with eating disorders turn to "thinspiration" sites for pictures of emaciated bodies, tips on forgoing food, and other content that promotes anorexia. But in the first academic study to focus on interviewing those behind the sites, Indiana University researchers have found that pro-ana blogging can be a supportive outlet for those who feel misunderstood because of their eating disorders. Daphna Yeshua-Katz and her colleagues interviewed 33 pro-ana bloggers from seven different countries, which is a novel approach to studying the phenomenon. Most researchers have looked at the pro-ana content itself, instead of reaching out to the bloggers responsible for it. "These communities are providing support, albeit supporting an illness that may result in someone's death," says Nicole Martins, a telecommunications professor at Indiana University. "But until they're ready to go and seek recovery on their own terms, this might actually be a way of prolonging their life, so that they are mentally ready to tackle their recovery process." [Indiana University]
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The missing spider link. Arachnologists from the California Academy of Sciences and the citizen science project Western Cave Conservatory have discovered a spider so strange that they believe it may upend our scientific understanding of arachnids. The Trogloraptor, colloquially dubbed the "bigfoot" spider, was discovered in a cave in south-west Oregon. San Diego State University researchers have also found specimens in old redwood forests. A relative of the goblin spider, it hangs from the ceilings of caves, and is notable for its "incredible raptorial claws" and other extraordinary anatomical features. These features make the "bigfoot" spider a challenge to arachnologist's current understanding of spider evolution. [New Scientist]
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'Smoke' you can wear. Aerogel is a substance so lightweight that it's come to be known as "solid smoke." But until now, they've been fragile and prone to falling apart. New developments in aerogel technology presented at the American Chemical Society's National Meeting in Philadelphia show promise for improving the strength of aerogel, making the material useful in clothes and other products. To alter the architecture of this substance, first developed decades ago, scientists have introduced polymer to prop up aerogel's silica networks. "The new aerogels are up to 500 times stronger than their silica counterparts," says NASA Glenn Research Center's Mary Ann Meador. "A thick piece actually can support the weight of a car. And they can be produced in a thin form, a film so flexible that a wide variety of commercial and industrial uses are possible." For instance, these tensile aerogels could insulate clothes, making them not only warmer, but also lighter. [BBC]
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What aphids and plants have in common. Plants aren't the only organisms capable of converting sunlight into nutrients, scientist have discovered. The pea aphid also uses a photosynthesis-like process for metabolic purposes, finds Sophia Agrobiotech Institute entomologist Alain Robichon and colleagues. Until now, it was thought that all animals obtained carotenoids—a type of pigment that plays a crucial role in sight, skeletal growth and vitamin production—by eating plants. But two years ago, University of Arizona biologists discovered that pea aphids could create their own carotenoids. By measuring the ATP levels in differently pigmented aphids, researchers were able to determine that green-colored pea aphids use carotenoids to create energy from sunlight. [Wired]