An Off Switch for Pain; Charging Cell Phones with Fingers

Rebecca Greenfield
An Off Switch for Pain; Charging Cell Phones with Fingers

Discovered: An off switch for pain, a finger-powered cell phone charger, what your ear of choice says about your brain, the clouds are coming for us, and buckyballs in space. 

  • An off switch for pain? This sounds too good to be true, because it is. At least, real-life therapeutic applications are "a long way off," says researcher Timm Fehrentz. But science has a theory that could lead to a light-activated off-switch for pain receptors. Here's how it would work, in science speak: "The molecule is made up of two functional parts, each containing a quaternary ammonium, which are connected by a nitrogen double bond (N=N)," explains the report. "This bridge forms the switch, as its conformation can be altered by light. Irradiation with light of a specific wavelength causes the molecule to flip from a bent to an extended form; exposure to light of a different color reverses the effect." [LMU]
  • Fingers as cell-phone chargers. They call it Power Felt, and it would eliminate so many battery-charging-related anxieties. The material, made of tiny carbon nanotubes, converts heat into enough electrical energy to make another phone call -- essentially, you put the fabric on the phone, touch it, and it charges. Very useful! "Imagine it in an emergency kit, wrapped around a flashlight, powering a weather radio, charging a prepaid cell phone," says researcher David Carroll. "Power Felt could provide relief during power outages or accidents." Or for the countless times we've left our phone chargers at home before long, important trips that involve lots of cell phone use. [Wake Forest University]
  • What your ear of choice says about your brain. Quick, fun game before we start: Hold your cell phone up to your head. Which ear did you pick? Left brain thinkers choose the right ear, a new study finds. Fun, right? Also apparently practical: "By establishing a correlation between cerebral dominance and sidedness of cell phone use, it may be possible to develop a less-invasive, lower-cost option to establish the side of the brain where speech and language occurs," explained Dr. Michael Seidman. [Henry Ford Hospital]
  • The clouds are coming for us. In the first decade of this century, the Earth's clouds have lowered about one percent, on average. Considering all that other wacky weather stuff generally has to do with climate change, we suspect it has something to do with that. But science doesn't want to get hasty. "We don't know exactly what causes the cloud heights to lower," says lead researcher Roger Davies. "But it must be due to a change in the circulation patterns that give rise to cloud formation at high altitude." Whatever the cause, we find the prospect kind of dreamy. Maybe the fluff balls will get low enough for some cloud naps. [NASA] 
  • Buckyballs in space. Like any exciting space discovery, this one apparently means something for future life outside of Earth. "This exciting result suggests that buckyballs are even more widespread in space than the earlier Spitzer results showed," said Mike Werner, project scientist for Spitzer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. What are buckyballs? Carbon molecule balls considered " ideal candidates for electrical and chemical applications on Earth, including superconducting materials, medicines, water purification and armor." Werner continues, "They may be an important form of carbon, an essential building block for life, throughout the cosmos." [NASA]