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Lead left behind in soil from mining and smelting poses a major health risk to people who live nearby. Researchers in Nebraska and Kansas believe plant life and organic material can limit lead’s spread.In parts of the Midwest where lead mining and smelting lasted for over a century, communities are still dealing with toxic waste left behind by the industry.
Lead, a dangerous neurotoxin, persists in the environment, including in water and soil, where it can pose a threat to the health of people living nearby. The risk is especially acute for children, who can unintentionally ingest lead by putting their hands in their mouths and whose brains and bodies are still developing.
It can be spread to other areas, like yards and schools, by rainfall, and can also taint aquifers or vegetables in gardens, making them harmful to consume.
Now researchers are working to limit the impact of lead in the environment on people, and they believe they’ve found a promising solution: Plant life.
Phytostabilization involves moving lead from soil into the roots, stems and leaves of plants to prevent it from spreading and to limit people’s contact with it.
“One of the goals of phytostabilization is to take the site with lead and put it in a stable state, so that the risk is reduced, and the issues related to lead in the soil can be managed,” said Larry Erickson, a professor emeritus at Kansas State University and former director of the university’s Center for Hazardous Substance Research.
A High School Student Invented An Affordable Brain-Reading Prosthetic
Artificial limb technology has come a long way since the first prosthetic—a big toe made of wood and leather developed in ancient Egypt.
Today’s cutting-edge robotic limbs use mind-control and even give users a sense of touch, helping them feel sensations like a warm cup of coffee or a mushy banana. Still, these state-of-the-art prosthetics often involve invasive brain surgeries and can be exorbitantly expensive.
Hearing of these issues, one teenager set out to create a solution. Seventeen-year-old Benjamin Choi has developed a non-invasive, affordable prosthetic arm. His Star Wars-inspired technology reads a user’s mind with only two sensors—one on the forehead and the other clipped to the earlobe. And he doesn’t plan on stopping there. He sees his work in artificial intelligence expanding to help ALS patients, wheelchair users, and beyond.
Ira speaks with Benjamin Choi from McLean, Virginia about how he developed this arm and what it means to be a young innovator.
New Immunotherapy Shows Promise Far Beyond Cancer
CAR T cell therapy, a type of immunotherapy in which a patient’s own immune cells are modified to create a hybrid immune cell that destroys cancer cells, was first developed over a decade ago.
Now, researchers are continuing to find success in treating new types of blood cancers with the therapy, and are working on applying the technology to solid state cancers like those of the pancreas and brain.
Scientists are also at the early stages of testing CAR T cells to treat autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis (MS) and lupus.
Ira talks with Dr. Carl June, one of the pioneers of CAR T cell therapy, a professor of immunotherapy and director of the Center for Cellular Immunotherapies at the University of Pennsylvania, based in Philadelphia.
Feeling Hopeless About Climate Change? Try Playing These Video Games
Five years ago, Stephanie Barish was tired of the public’s attitude about climate change. “Most people at that time were just so negative about climate,” she said. “It was doom and destruction, and I thought, wow, to make positive change, you have to really look at this from a solutions perspective.”
Stephanie is the founder and CEO of Indiecade, an organization that supports indie video game developers and hosts events like the Climate Jam—the goal of which was to change the gloomy public narrative around climate change. So, with the help of organizations like Earth Games, participants around the globe gather every year to make video games about climate change optimism, solutions, and justice.
Teams can also consult with subject matter experts, like Dargan Frierson, an associate professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington, and also a judge for the Climate Jam. If teams wonder what climate change would look like on a different planet, they can go to him for answers. “We always look for scientific accuracy,” he said. “I think it’s very important to keep things within the realm of possibility, even when you’re looking at fiction.”
Analogue Animation: Turning The Pages Of A Flipbook Machine
Brooklyn-based artist J.C. Fontanive is a master of the moving image—but in analogue. As an animator, he creates mechanical, perpetual motion ‘flipbooks,’ with help from old clocks and colorful illustrations of flying birds, butterflies, and other scenes from nature.
Fontanive joins Ira to talk about the act of invention, the ‘primal’ language of art, and how to create visceral work in a digital age.
Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.