Mangalayaan

The launch of India’s spacecraft to Mars should not come as a surprise. Five years ago, the country sent a mission to the Moon. And going ahead, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has bolder aims. In 2015, it plans to send a probe to Venus and then another to the Sun. A reusable launch vehicle is already in the works, something that NASA is letting SpaceX develop. These achievements, however, haven’t stopped detractors from asking why India is doing this when a third of its people live below the international poverty line.

Poor countries want space programs more than rich ones do, Ars Technica, 11 November 2013.

Image credit: ISRO

Improving online learning

In recent years, massive open online courses (MOOCs), through the likes of Coursera, have attracted hundreds of thousands of students from across the world. But are they really improving learning? The evidence is not fully convincing. Not surprisingly, studies have shown that students suffer from attention lapses when learning through videos.

Given those findings, an improvement in students’ attentiveness is bound to pay significant dividends. To that end, Karl Szpunar, a cognitive psychologist at Harvard University, might have a rather simple solution to rein in distractions, one that focuses attention in real-world classrooms: intersperse pop quizzes into the online lectures.

Testing students during video lectures improves learning, Ars Technica, 8 April 2013.

Image credit: UPenn

Nanoparticles that trap viruses

Biology and nanotechnology are moving ever closer together. I recently wrote about the use of nanoparticles to aid delivery of stem cells in cardiac therapy. Now, Swiss researchers have developed nanoparticles that can detect, and one day could combat, viruses.

Nanoparticles formed using human viruses, to fight human viruses,  Ars Technica, 1 April 2013.

Image credit: Emil Alexov

Resetting humanity’s clock

Some time in humanity’s past, a small group of Homo sapiens migrated out of Africa before spreading out to every possible corner of the Earth. All the women of that group carried DNA inherited from just one woman, commonly known as mitochondrial Eve, whose DNA was inherited by all humans alive today. But the exact timing of this migration is not clear, and it has sparked debate among geneticists. Now, new research published in Current Biology may help calm both sides.

Fossil DNA used to reset humanity’s clock,  Ars Technica, 28 March 2013.

Image credit: Dongyi Liu