The Dangers of Vaping
Vapes were first released in 2004 by Hon Lik, a pharmacist and Chinese traditional medicine expert whose dad had just died from lung cancer. He created vaping to help smokers reduce the harm they were doing to their bodies, but instead, it has become very popular with non-smoking children under the legal age of 18. Although vaping is better for you than smoking, it still has many negative effects.
By Charlotte Fox, 9L
In collaboration with the STEAM magazine and international women’s day on 8th March, the following article brings light to a huge scientific breakthrough for cancer research led by a female scientist.
Dr Eva Ramon Gallegos, a Mexican scientist from the National Polytechnic Institute, and her primarily female team (pictured left) have reportedly found a complete cure for human papillomavirus (HPV). The cure would help to prevent the spread of cervical cancer and Dr Ramon Gallegos claims to have eliminated the virus in 29 patients infected with HPV which is an outstanding achievement regarding the fact that cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the world and is becoming a leading course of deaths among female cancer patients.
A report states that a team of researchers led by Dr Ramon Gallegos treated the 29 patients diagnosed with HPV with non-invasive photodynamic therapy (PDT) which “is a treatment that involves using a drug, called a photosensitizer or photosensitizing agent, and a particular type of light to treat different areas of the body” according to their report.
Dr Ramon Gallegos has been researching the effects of PDT for over 20 years to cure cancers such as breast and melanoma. She treated 420 patients in Oaxaca and Veracruz, in addition to 29 HPV patients in Mexico with PTD, which had promising results as PTD was able to eradicate the virus in the patients.
The treatment was 64.3% successful in women with both HPV and lesions but eradicates 100% of those tested who carried HPV without premalignant lesions of cervical cancer.
Moreover, what makes this accomplishment more impressive is that the treatment has no side effects and does no damage to the body at all.
“Unlike other treatments, it only eliminates damaged cells and does not affect healthy structures. Therefore, it has great potential to decrease the death rate from cervical cancer,” – Dr Ramon Gallegos, Radio Guama report.
For more information you can visit; https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/12/181218100404.htm
By Kashmea Wahi
Getting to Mars
Humans have looked out at the stars and planets for millennia, but it is only with the advent of flight that the dream of leaving our planet has become even remotely possible. The first human space flight by the soviet citizen Yuri Gagarin in 1961 was relatively quickly followed by the US moon landing in 1969. However, progress since then has been confined to near Earth orbit. The Cold War, which spurred the space race, had ended by the late 1970’s and commercial usage of satellites and near- earth exploration became the priority. This is compounded with the fact that the technical difficulties of reaching another planet are indefinitely greater than flying to the moon. Yet this has not stopped space enthusiasts from dreaming of a day when we will land on another planet, the most obvious choice being Mars. Mars is the second closest planet to Earth in our solar system, and the most earth-like, therefore it is thought to be the easiest stepping stone in our quest to become a multiplanetary species.
When the orbits of Earth and Mars are closest, the distance between the two planets is 34 million miles, 1000 times the distance between Earth and the Moon. To travel this distance, we will need an extremely powerful rocket, and massive amounts of fuel. This is where our first problem arises. The only model of rocket we have ever built that would have been capable of carrying us to Mars – the Saturn V no longer exists. This rocket was the tallest, heaviest and most powerful rocket that has been brought to operational status, and only 13 were built. They were used to bring us to the moon, and the last was launched in 1973. Today, no rockets exist that could provide us with a return journey to Mars. In order to do this, we would need reusable rockets (which have not yet been invented). The more fuel we use, the shorter our travel time will be. There is, of course, investment in other modes of transportation. A vasimr engine could reduce travel time to 5 months, while antimatter could reduce it to 45 days. However, it will be decades at least until some of these technologies will be on the market and ready to use.
Alternatively, SpaceX, a rocket company founded by Elon Musk is in the process of designing ‘Super Heavy’ (also known as BFR), a rocket system that is hoped to be fully reusable, designed to carry up to 100 people on interplanetary flights. This rocket, alongside the ‘starship’, one intended to reduce flight time to anywhere on earth to under an hour, are some of the world’s current greatest underway inventions. Considering that SpaceX has, in 10 years become a company worth $25 billion, and has in only a decade, managed to become the world’s biggest rocket launching company, with over 50 successful missions, it is amazing to think what it may be able to do in the next decade.
The distance to Mars gives rise to another issue- the lengthy amounts of time that astronauts will have to spend in space. Getting to Mars will take roughly 240 days. Surviving this long in space is a challenge for any astronaut and its dangers are varied. The first is its impact on mental health. Despite the fact that all astronauts are heavily psychologically tested, depression and attention deficit are conditions that astronauts are likely to have to face. This is mainly due to the massive amounts of time they will spend staring at a black void. A recent study observing a group of people in isolation as the base of a volcano has determined that to avoid mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, astronauts will have to be kept busy with physical activity and work for the majority of the day.
Astronauts will however also be faced with many physiological dangers. The gravity on Mars is 38% of Earth gravity, at 3.7m/s2, compared to ours at 9.8m/s2. Throughout the journey to Mars, the gravity inside the rocket will be in micro-g’s (microgravity). The long-term effects of weightlessness for a journey of 7 months are likely to include the atrophy of the heart and muscles, balance and eyesight disorders, as well as a reduction of aerobic capacity and a slowing down of the cardiovascular system. When on Mars, the human body will have to adapt to small amounts of gravity again. The return journey will be even harsher, as astronauts will not have experienced our full gravity for several years. It may be possible to counter this problem by slowly reducing gravity in the spacecraft and then increasing it again on the return journey, but the technology for this is still questionable. Other dangers include those of disease. Growing evidence shows that prolonged periods in space can have a detrimental effect on the human immune system making astronauts more vulnerable to disease. In addition to this, outside dangers such as cosmic and solar radiation could cause cancer, dementia and impaired vision. To prevent these, engineers are in the process of designing suits and shelter that will be able to withstand heavy radiation. However, the dangers of stray rays piecing them will always be there.
Now that we can understand some of the dangers and issues that astronauts and technicians will face to get us to Mars, how soon will it actually be?
Elon Musk believes that SpaceX will be able to bring the first people to Mars by 2022. That is in just 3 years. Its objectives for this mission will be to confirm water resources, identify hazards and to build the initial infrastructure that will be needed to live on Mars for a significant amount of time. They optimistically believe that a second mission with crew and cargo aboard, will land in 2024.
NASA on the other hand is slightly less optimistic. They plan to take advantage of the point in a 15-year cycle when we will need to least energy to make the journey, and get to Mars by 2033. President Trump himself has issued a mandate urging NASA to do this. However, for NASA to fulfil its aim it will require an estimate of over $500 billion. Currently NASA’s annual budget is $19.5 billion. It would take many years for NASA to accumulate the funding for such a mission. This has led rise to the debate between whether it will be national or even international organisations such as NASA that will be the first to land humans on Mars, or whether it will be privately owned companies such as SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin, who will achieve this feat. National organisations lack the funding a mission of this scale would require, and therefore it is private companies that are launching a new space race. This race is not greatly international. Many companies that aim for interplanetary travel are based in the US, and they do not compete for dominance in achieving a goal, but rather for customers. Their aims include commercialising space travel in orbit, making life on other planets possible, and visits to the moon.
Once we have reached Mars, there is one more challenge we must overcome – how to survive there. The basic requirements for human life on earth are food, water, and shelter. Living on Mars requires the same things, and one more - oxygen. The Martian atmosphere is 100 times thinner than ours, containing 96% carbon dioxide. This is not breathable. For humans to survive on Mars, we would need to produce our own oxygen, and we would not be able to step outside without a spacesuit. Carrying enough oxygen from Earth to Mars to support around 6 people for 4 years would be impossible. Luckily, Michael Hecht a scientist at MIT has developed an instrument called MOXIE, a specialised reverse fuel cell that converts CO2 into O2. This instrument has been selected by NASA to accompany Mars 2020 (a rover being sent to Mars next year to aid the Curiosity rover). It is believed that a system like MOXIE, may in the future be able to provide oxygen on a larger scale that could support a mission to Mars.
The next challenge astronauts living on Mars would face is temperature. The average temperature on Mars is -630C. At the height of summer at the equator, it might reach 210C, while at night lows can reach -730C. This would make it impossible for astronauts or even future colonists to go outside without a highly insulated suit (this is forgetting the problem of Mars’s extremely low pressure at 0.6% of Earth’s).
Getting water on Mars will be another issue. Water is an extremely heavy substance and it would therefore be impossible to bring it from earth to our destination. Although Mars may look barren, it is not. Only a few cm under Mars’s red surface lies a layer of permafrost. Rovers have discovered that the Martian soil contains up to 60% water, and in addition to this, large amounts of ice are concentrated at its north and south poles. However, melting this will not be necessary as in 1998, a dehumidifier was invented that would be able to draw all the water needed to live on Mars from its atmosphere.
With possible solutions for obtaining water and oxygen on Mars, other key challenges revolve around shelter and food. Although it may be possible to grow 20% of settlers’ food requirements hydroponically in greenhouses, 80% of food will have to be dried and brought over from earth. The issue of shelter is possibly easier to solve. Initially astronauts are expected to live in their landers, and inflatable pressurised buildings. Later, it is thought that they will be able to build bricks out of the Martian soil, or live in caves and lava tubes.
Surviving on Mars looks as if it may be achievable. But will living in restricted shelter, without being able to go outside and breath fresh air really satisfy us? Although we currently see going to Mars as scientific exploration, some believe and hope that we will one day be able to live there. While Mars is the most earth-like planet in our solar system, the differences between the two planets are significant. The variety of life, nature and beauty on earth simply does not exist there. Scientists say that it may be possible to terraform Mars, that we could heat the dry ice on the poles to thicken its atmosphere, we could sublime ice with solar sails to flood the planet with water, and we could create a water cycle with rain and snow similar to that on Earth. Yet these theories are not proven. For now, we must focus on getting to Mars, living there will be a separate issue.
By Caroline Utermann
Do mutations require a milieu?
‘A mutation is a change in the DNA at a particular locus in an organism.’ Mutation plays an important role in evolution and is the ultimate source of all genetic variation. It is salient as the introductory step of evolution because it creates a new DNA sequence for a particular gene, creating a new allele. Gene mutations occur very rarely but its rate can be artificially increased by mutagenic agents such as mustard gas, x-rays and ultraviolet light to give induced mutations.
Genetic mutations can be classified in two major ways: hereditary and somatic. Hereditary mutations are present virtually in every cell in the body and are inherited from a parent. Due to their presence in the parent’s gametes, the mutations are also referred to as germline mutations. If a mutant gene is passed onto offspring, when growth occurs due to mitosis, the mutation will be present in all cells. The other type of mutations is somatic (acquired). These occur during a person’s life and are therefore present only in some cells. These can be caused by environmental factors such as ultraviolet radiation from the sun, or due to an error made during cell division, which is called non-disjunction. Somatic mutations cannot be passed to offspring due to the mutations not being present in gametes.
A number of regions of DNA possess dominance determining when and where genes are turned ‘on.’ Occurring mutations in these parts of the genome can substantially change the way the organism is built; a mutation in a control gene can cause a cascade of effects in the behaviour of genes under its control. An example of a control gene is hox genes. They are found in a number of animals like humans and designate where the head goes and which regions of the body grow appendages. Such genes assist in the directing of the body’s unit construction eg. segments, limbs, and eyes. Thus evolving an extensive change in basic body layout may not be so unlikely; it may simply require a change in a Hox gene and the favour of natural selection.
‘Mutations can be either beneficial, neutral, or harmful for the organism.’ Though it is said that factors in the environment an influence on the rate of mutation, they are not thought to influence the direction of mutation. This means that exposure to harmful chemicals may increase the mutation rate, but will not cause more mutations that make the organism resistant to those chemicals. In this respect, whether a certain mutation occurs or not is unallied to how serviceable that mutation would be, proving the concept that mutations are random. For example, in the U.S. where people have access to shampoos with chemicals that kill lice, a lot of lice that are resistant to those chemicals are commonly encountered. Two possible explanations can arise for this:
‘HYPOTHESIS A - Resistant strains of lice were always there — and are just more frequent now because all the non-resistant lice died.
HYPOTHESIS B - Exposure to lice shampoo actually caused mutations for resistance to the shampoo.
In 1952, Esther and Joshua Lederberg performed an experiment that aided in showing that mutations are random. They focused on the idea that bacteria grow into isolated colonies on plates. These colonies have the ability to reproduce from an original plate to a new plate by the process of ‘stamping’ (stamping the original plate with a cloth and then stamping empty plates with the same cloth). Bacteria from each colony are picked up on the cloth and then deposited on new plates. This led to Esther and Joshua hypothesising that antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria surviving an application of antibiotics had the resistance before their exposure to the antibiotics, not as a result of the exposure. Their experimental set up is summarised below:
This shows that before the encounter of penicillin the resistant bacteria were present in the population thus did not evolve resistance in response to the exposure of the antibiotic. Moreover, from the evidence available, we can hence deduce that mutations might therefore preferentially form around existing ones.
By Gaya Giritharan, 10F
The Science Behind Glioblastoma
CN: picture of brain surgery
How do brain tumours form?
A brain tumour occurs when brain cells divide and grow in an abnormal and uncontrolled way. When a cell divides, it copies its genes and replicates itself. Sometimes however, mistakes occur in this process, and are known as mutations. Whilst some mutations are harmless, others cause the cell to divide uncontrollably.
The mutation causes the cells to behave as though they are receiving a growth signal or deactivates the checkpoints that would stop the cells from dividing. Therefore, the cells continue to divide uncontrollably, forming a tumour
What is glioblastoma?
Glioblastomas are the most common and aggressive type of brain cancer that forms from cells called astrocytes in the nervous system. They belong to a group of brain tumours called gliomas, which are malignant tumours of the glial tissue. The average age of patients with glioblastoma is 64 years old; its risk increases with age. Whilst glioblastomas are mostly found in the cerebral hemispheres, they can be found anywhere in the brain.
Glioblastoma is a ‘diffuse’ tumour, meaning they are infiltrate and able to spread into healthy tissue in other parts of the brain, and therefore is very fast growing and fast spreading. This makes it very difficult to pinpoint precisely where the tumour starts and ends. Particularly aggressive glioblastoma are able to even spread to the opposite side of the brain through connection fibres, known as corpus callosum. Gliobastoma’s ‘diffuse’ property is particularly problematic when tumours spread near to important regions of the brain that are essential to functions such as movement and coordination.
Symptoms and side effects of glioblastoma
Due to mass swelling from the fluid surrounding the glioblastoma (edema), patients develop symptoms very quickly. The most common symptoms are nausea, vomiting and severe headaches, and are predominantly due to the increased pressure in the brain as a result of the tumour and swelling. Neurological symptoms are also not uncommon, for example, weakness, sensory changes, difficulties with balance, and neurocognitive or memory issues.
Treatment of glioblastoma
Mark Gilbert, director of the Neuro-Oncology Branch in NCI’S Centre for Cancer Research said, “Glioblastoma is one of the hardest to treat in the history of oncology.” Despite continued efforts to develop promising treatments for glioblastoma, none have proved successful, with only 3.3% of patients living for longer than 2 years. The usual treatment for patients with glioblastoma is a surgery to remove most of the tumour, followed by chemotherapy and radiation.
Commonly, surgery would take place in an attempt to remove as much of the tumour as possible- a procedure known as debulking. It is difficult to remove the entire tumour because glioblastoma is a diffuse tumour, which means it can spread into the rest of the unaffected brain, and so it is difficult to tell the difference between affected and unaffected brain tissue.
There have been recent advances, which have improved the extent to which the tumours can be removed in surgery. Prior to surgery, patients are given a drink containing the substance 5-ALA, which causes the affected cells to glow pink under violet light. This makes it less difficult to tell the affected and unaffected cells apart, and so more of the tumour can be removed.
Surgery is also used for palliative treatment in cases where the tumour cannot be removed- intracranial pressure is reduced to relieve symptoms.
Radiation involves the use of high precision high-energy beams, for example X-rays, gamma rays or protons, to kill the affected cancer cells. An immobilization mask is worn by the patient to hold their head in the same position and limit movement. Intensity-modulated radiation therapy is an advanced mode of radiotherapy that uses computer-controlled liner accelerators to deliver precise radiation doses to a malignant tumour. It allows for the radiation dose to conform more precisely to the 3D shape of the tumour by controlling the intensity of the beam in small volumes. The treatment is planned specific to the tumour using the CT and MRI images of the tumour in conjunction with computerized dose calculations to determine the dose intensity pattern that is best suited for the tumour.
Chemotherapy is a technique that uses cytotoxic drugs to kill the affected cancer cells. Temozolomide, Iomustine and carmustine are the most commonly used drugs in chemotherapy. Temozolomide works by preventing the tumour cells from making new DNA, which prevents them from making new cells and therefore growing. It also makes the affected cells more sensitive to radiation, so chemotherapy and radiation treatments are often used together. Whilst radiation acts on the affected tumour cells, chemotherapy acts on all dividing cells, but healthy cells are able to repair themselves easier than the tumour cells, so few healthy cells die after treatment. The various ways in which chemotherapy can be given are:
Tablets- chemotherapy drugs can be taken in tablet form and are absorbed and carried around the body in the bloodstream to reach the affected tumour cells.
Injection/drip- chemotherapy drugs can be injected into a vein or into the spinal fluid. A drip may be used to insert the drug into the bloodstream, where it is absorbed and carried around the body to the affected cells.
Wafers- drugs can be put inside a polymer wafer and inserted into the brain during surgery. The wafers are made of a biodegradable material so they can dissolve over a few weeks, releasing the drug into the brain to kill the tumour cells.
Whilst several immunotherapy-based treatments have proved unsuccessful in facing glioblastoma, vaccinations has been considered to be one of the more promising approaches.
A particular advance in the use of vaccines for glioblastoma was made by Dr Jason Adhikaree from the University of Nottingham, who proposes to use dendritic cells, a type of white blood cell, to create the vaccine. The dendritic cells would be taken from the patient’s body and ‘taught’ to recognise and kill the glioblastoma-affected cells. They will then be injected back into the patient’s body, in which they can attack the tumour cells.
By Maheria Rashid
It was in India in 2013, that dolphins gained the status of “non-human persons.” To most, it was entirely unprecedented to see dolphins receiving their own ‘dolphin rights’, as it were. This provoked greater research into dolphin behaviour and psychology, to determine whether dolphins do in fact share the same traits as humans, enough to render them ‘people’.
It was discovered that they did, to an alarming degree. Dolphins were found to recognise themselves in a mirror experience emotion; have individual personalities, and understand complex gestures made by humans. It was further acknowledged that Dolphins could understand sign language words, and interpret the syntax of language, a trait highly suggestive of intelligence. They could recall events and change their behaviour as a result of previous experiences, and they could use echolocation to detect objects over 70 metres away. Cognitive psychologist, Diana Reiss even suggested that dolphins could “learn to poke an underwater keyboard to request toys to play with.” She further declared that parallels could be drawn between the learning capabilities in small children and dolphins. So, if dolphins are intelligent enough to be classified as people, how do their brains differ from other animals?
To answer that, we must turn to the evolutionary paths of both dolphins and other species. The last common ancestor of humans and monkeys existed roughly six million years ago. In contrast, Cetaceans (the collective name for dolphins, whales and porpoises) diverged from the mammal lineage some 55 million years ago, and cetaceans and primates have not shared an ancestor for 95 million years. Therefore, primates and cetaceans have existed on two very different evolutionary trajectories for an extended period of time, resulting in both different bodies and different brains.
It is estimated that 34 million years ago, dolphins existed as big creatures with teeth akin to those of a wolf. Scientists suggest that around this time, the dolphin’s ancestors experienced a period of significant oceanic cooling, that altered food stores and the environment in which the creatures lived. As a result, dolphins altered their hunting customs. Their imposing teeth became smaller, the size of a dolphin’s teeth today, and their brains grew in size. Dolphins began to hunt schools of smaller fish collectively, rather than individuals hunting large fish alone. It is understood that with oceanic cooling, came the beginnings of echo location, notably in changes to the inner ear bones in dolphins at the time. As such, dolphins became more communicative and social, with the means and the need to speak with one another, and probably more intelligent as a result.
It is likely that before we overtook them, dolphins were the most intelligent creatures on the planet (more so, even, than chimpanzees), as relative to body size, a dolphin’s brain is one of the largest among the animal kingdom. Some scientists theorise that dolphins have larger brains to process the information from their echolocation system, although this cannot be proven. Nevertheless, it is still widely acknowledged that a large brain is more likely to evolve in order to support more complex cognitive abilities.
A dolphin’s extremely complicated neocortex - the segment of the brain responsible for problem solving - is accountable for a human-like intelligence. Individual whistles produced by dolphins demonstrate a self-awareness, (the knowledge that one exists as an individual being), that is present in the brain’s pre-frontal cortex. Besides dolphins, this awareness appears to only exist in humans and large brained primates. Furthermore, a dolphin’s well developed paralimbic system is essential to processing emotions, a trait that is integral in the forging of social and emotional connections between dolphins. Von Economo neurons (known as Gangly neutrons) have been discovered within dolphins’ brains; these are present in humans and apes, two of the most intelligent creatures on the planet, and have been linked to social cognition, emotional intelligence, and even theory of mind—the ability to perceive what others are thinking. To add to this, the degree to which the cerebral cortex is folded is known to be a measure of intelligence. The more folded the cortex, the more room within the brain to house additional neurons (brain cells) with which to perform processing of information. It is widely accepted that the only animal to have a more folded cortex than man is the dolphin, acting as an indication to just how smart the creatures are.
As of yet, scientists have not discovered a method through which to accurately quantify intelligence in animals. Thus, we must rely on the composition of the dolphin’s brain, and the many astounding feats dolphins continue to perform daily, as evidence of their innate intelligence. Although it is unlikely that dolphins will take over the world at any point in the near future, there is a lot to be learned from these loquacious creatures—the decoding of dolphin vocalisation, particularly, being one of the greatest enigmas of the present. However, the question persists, will our efforts be in vain if the very species we would attempt to study, is rendered extinct?
By Schuyler Daffey
Over half-term, we both attended the EDT's STEAM workshop. It was a very informative and fulfilling 3 day workshop held in London. They helped us learn about the different routes we could take into our future careers in STEAM. We went to Harrow College, University of Westminster and Costain Skanska. We learnt vital skills for the world of work like giving presentations and interviews. Overall, it was a great experience and we thoroughly recommend that you look into one of these courses in the future!
By Hannah Tang and Sienna Parekh
Update from Mr Waddington: the EDT's website has a huge amount on offer for students interested in STEAM - http://www.etrust.org.uk/young-people
Raspberry Pi Club
The aim of Raspberry Pi club is to help us improve our computing and programming skills outside of Computer Science lessons.
We started by learning how to set up the Raspberry Pi and familiarising ourselves with the steps and various components to the set up.
Once we had plugged in our Pis, we opened a Python programme and began to use it to program Minecraft. We began by using coding to simply find our co-ordinates, then we advanced teleporting, building large structures with just a click and even leaving flowers in your wake as the player walks.
Next half term’s exciting and interesting project will be the AstroPi project. Not only will we be writing code and using that code to send personal messages to the astronauts in space, but we can also customise it with various different colours. We are also be able to take a temperature of the air in space and allow images or patterns to appear on the screen in space. Then we will then submit our messages and it will send over to the International Space Station and will brighten up the daily routine of the astronauts currently in space. We will also receive a certificate when our code appears on the space station. How exciting!
By Sienna Lee, 7G