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April 16, 2024

SciTech Talk: Condoms, bees, stars and cooling buildings

By MICHAEL YAMAKAWA | March 28, 2013

Bill Gates: entrepreneur, business magnate, investor, condom philanthropist: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, renowned

for its philanthropic efforts to enhance healthcare and reduce poverty, has pulled focus to a new area for world improvement: sex. Many couples eschew condom usage because they say the material reduces the pleasure from the activity.

As many of you know from countless college talks about unprotected sex, this can lead to unwanted pregnancies and the spread of STDs. Nevertheless, many couples still have sex without condoms to maximize pleasure.

In hopes of improving sex lives around the world, the Foundation will award $100,000 for whoever designs the best prophylactics that encourage protected sex.

They will also make $1,000,000 available for future research on contraceptive designs. So, before you have unprotected sex to avoid the latex feel, remember that we may soon have new contraceptives that can make protected sex more pleasurable!


Some Bees are Falling Behind in Education: Yes, bees can have trouble learning, too. Some studies have actually found that agricultural pesticides can interfere with the learning circuit in the brains of bees.

You may ask, what is there for bees to learn anyway? Bees rely heavily on their memory to locate their hives, as well as other places that are rich with food. Bees also present very sophisticated behaviors as pollinators, and use their memories to remember floral traits associated with food.

Using two common pesticides, neonicotinoid and coumaphos, researchers studied the loss of brain function in bees exposed to various concentrations of the pesticide. In some trials, they used both pesticides at once and recorded a greater effect on learning.

While humans can implement educational reforms to improve learning for our younger generations, the bees have no choice but to wait for human agricultural businesses to find new ways to drive away pests.


How to build big stars: The size of our Sun is unfathomable. You can fit 109 Earths into the diameter of our Sun, and over a million Earths into the Sun’s volume.

It may surprise you that the largest stars ever recorded in the universe exceed our Sun by over a thousand fold. However, scientists were puzzled by how stars could grow that large since, theoretically, stars that are ten times the size of our Sun tend to expel the gases necessary to grow.

However, this mystery was cleared up when researchers suggested a method for how these massive stars come to exist. They suggested that young stars that grow within the corral of older stars are able to grow by feeding off the gases from the other stars. This is called “convergent constructive feedback.” Let’s be grateful that our Sun didn’t grow this way, or Earth would have been engulfed!


Nanowire material cools buildings: Is there another way to keep a building cool besides running the air conditioner? Stanford University researchers have developed a material that can radiate heat back out into space.

There were two aspects of cooling devices that the researchers focused on. The first is the amount of light that it reflected. The extent of reflection determines how much heat is prevented from entering. Secondly, the wavelength at which the device radiates must be one that can travel through the atmosphere without being reflected back to Earth. This reflection phenomenon is commonly known as the greenhouse effect.

The material that Stanford researchers designed overcomes the pesky greenhouse effect that is a major driver of global warming. Since the material’s nanowire structure can be tuned to a specific wavelength, it can radiate the energy it absorbs at a wavelength that penetrates the atmosphere and reaches outer space.

The potential for the nanomaterial is enormous. The researchers suggest that by covering just 10 percent of a rooftop on a typical one-story house can reduce its air-conditioning use by 35 percent in the heat of summer.

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