Light Friday: How to Diagnose a Zombie
Credit: Andrew Braithwaite
Credit: Andrew Braithwaite

Plus: Dissolvable Electronics, a Real-Life Tractor Beam and the Worst Excuses for Calling in Sick.

Dissolvable Electronic Implants

New “transient electronics” that disappear after they serve their purpose could have a major impact on the medical, military and even environmental industries. Researchers from Northwestern University, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Tufts University, developed these electronics to dissolve when they react with water—eliminating the need to retrieve them.

This technology opens the door to implantable medical devices that can monitor and measure brain and heart activity, as well as environmental and military monitoring equipment systems. Transient electronics could even monitor large chemical spills. So far, the implantable electronics have also been proven to kill bacteria in test mice.

The science behind the technology, funded by DARPA and the National Science Foundation, involves a magnesium oxide encapsulation layer and silk overcoat, which envelop the electronics, with the thickness as the determining factor in how long it will take to disappear. The timescale can range from a few days to several months before the electronics vanish.

The biocompatible element is critical, and the dissolvable electronics do not create adverse effects in the human body. “We selected materials familiar to the human body, such as magnesium,” Yonggang Huang, co-author of the team’s published results, explained. “We didn’t want to use a material the body has no experience with.”

The electronics are time-saving and environmentally friendly, too. As Popular Mechanics points out, while a standard integrated circuit wafer could take 1,000 years to dissolve, a 20-nanometer thick wafer would take only weeks to vanish.

Check out the following video to see how these amazing dissolvable devices work:

Physicists Develop Real-Life Tractor Beam

In yet another step closer to Star Trek technology, two scientists have developed a method of using a laser to draw objects closer. In other words, they’ve invented a tractor beam.

David Ruffner and David Grier of New York University have shown how 30 micrometer-sized silica balls can be moved by a laser in water, according to The research builds on earlier work by scientists working in China and Hong Kong.

Using a laser firing a Bessel beam, an operator can strike an object with the beam at a glancing angle. The Bessel beam fires in concentric circles and, after striking an object, can reform its wave pattern. As the light is reflected off the object, the light waves give it a slight push back toward the laser source.

“It’s a bit like a boat moving through water,” Professor Ortwin Hess of Imperial College London told BBC News. “In the eddies you generate as part of that forward movement, there are areas that literally seem to be pulling back. The ship has a shape, and you get these backward eddies at the side; in a similar way if you have a Bessel beam you have certain areas that do the same thing.”

The new theory is different from “optical tweezers,” in which a small object is trapped within a laser and made to move within it. However, the NYU duo’s laser would require too much energy to move larger objects, even if it were mounted on, say, a moon-sized space battle station and directed at a legendary cargo freighter.

So what could this type of device be used for?

“Light can indeed pull a particle…” the Chinese authors wrote about their theory last year. “[A]nd this may open up new avenues for optical micromanipulation, of which typical examples include transporting a particle backward over a long distance and particle sorting.”

The Weirdest Excuses for Calling in Sick

Anyone can fall ill, and staying home when you’re sick is a normal, accepted part of the working world. However, not everyone who takes a sick day is actually under the weather. Having a legitimate (or at least legitimate-sounding) excuse for calling in sick is important. Unfortunately, some employees haven’t quite mastered the art.

In the past year, 30 percent of workers have called in a fake sick day, while 29 percent of employers have checked up on an employee to verify that the illness is legitimate, usually by asking for a doctor’s note or calling the employee, according to a recent survey from CareerBuilder. Some measures are even more extreme: 14 percent of employers have had someone actually drive to an employee’s house to check on the excuse, and 17 percent have fired an employee for providing a fake excuse.

“Many supervisors say they appreciate and respect a simple statement that an employee is too ill to work. Giving too many graphic details, or trying too hard to sound sick with ‘a very artistic fake cough, or saying, ‘Oh, I have such a headache I can hardly talk,’ can spark suspicions that an employee is lying,” Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources for CareerBuilder, told the Wall Street Journal.

Among the worst, weirdest and least believable excuses for missing work employers have heard:

  • My sobriety tool won’t allow the car to start;
  • I forgot I’d been hired for the job;
  • My dog was having a nervous breakdown;
  • My dead grandmother is being exhumed for a police investigation;
  • My toe was stuck in a faucet;
  • A bird bit me;
  • I’m too upset after watching “The Hunger Games”;
  • I got sick from reading too much;
  • I’m suffering from a broken heart; and
  • My hair turned orange from dying it at home.

A word to the wise: if you’re too sick to work, stay home. But if you just want to take a day off, be honest about it.

How to Diagnose a Zombie

With Halloween approaching, it’s important for all of us to be able to identify the walking dead when they come shuffling along. But while you might think you know a zombie, would you be able to diagnose one in a medical context?

To help us spot, understand and hopefully avoid the brain-eating undead, the folks at TED-Ed have put together this video, which analyzes zombies from a neuroscience perspective:

Have a great weekend, folks.



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