NEWS: Lab notes – dispatches from the world of science

I had these 3 news-in-brief pieces published in the Discover section in The New Review, The Observer, in September 2014.

Sounds like good news

Separating different types of cells using sound waves has been made much more efficient by a team of scientists. The technique could allow researchers to separate harmful, rare cancer cells from white blood cells using a device no bigger than a penny. The team from MIT, Pennsylvania State University and Carnegie Mellon University believes that the method offers a simple alternative to existing cell-sorting techniques that often require the use of chemicals or potentially damaging mechanical forces. Subra Suresh, co-author and president of Carnegie Mellon said: “It has the potential to offer a safe and effective new tool for cancer researchers, clinicians and patients.”

It all adds up for tots

Children as young as two intuitively use mathematical concepts such as probability to help make sense of the world, scientists have found. Researchers from the university of Washington allow children to watch demonstrators interacting with a marble-dispensing machine activated by two different wooden blocks, one of which triggered the release of a marble with greater probability than the other. When the toddlers were allowed to have a go, scientists found that most used the probabilities to identify the block with the greater likelihood of releasing a marble. The researchers believe such findings could be used to make the science curriculum more accessible.

Trans-ratty acids

Eating junk food not only makes rats fat, it also reduces their appetite for healthy foods, researchers from the University of New South Wales, Australia, have found. The study helps shed light on how a junk-food diet could change human decision making when it comes to food choices. The study showed that when rats were fed pies and cake for two weeks, they developed a preference for unhealthy foods. The researchers believe humans who eat unhealthy food could become more susceptible to to junk food advertising. UNSW professor Margaret Morris said: “It’s like you’ve just had ice cream for lunch, yet you still go and eat more when you hear the ice cream van come by.”

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