Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
May 23, 2024

Science news in review: April 7

By PRIYA DUBEY | April 7, 2024

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PHIL HART / CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

This week's most significant science news is the forthcoming total solar eclipse which will be seen across North America on Monday, April 8.

As the semester winds down, take a moment to learn about this week's breaking science news. We learned about scientists’ preparations for studying the total solar eclipse, the rediscovery of the world's first police crime lab, how AI can detect severe floods worldwide and the necessary re-evaluation of air pollution’s impact on public health.

Scientists gear up for total solar eclipse

On Monday, April 8, a total solar eclipse will allow scientists in North America to study the Sun’s corona, its outer atmosphere, which is usually concealed by the Sun’s glare. This eclipse will occur at the same time as the solar maximum, a duration of heightened solar activity that happens every 11 years, making it particularly of interest to researchers. 

The corona’s temperature is puzzling because it is much hotter than the solar surface. Moving farther from the solar surface should lower temperatures, but researchers see just the opposite.

Predictive Science has released a simulation of how the corona would appear during the eclipse. The simulation showed spiky structures called streamers and dark areas called coronal holes. Scientists will improve their models based on the actual eclipse as it occurs.

Scientists will also study the sun’s chromosphere, a thin layer of plasma on top of the solar surface, which has prominences, small filaments of plasma coming out of the corona. Prominences explode to form coronal mass ejections, which are enveloped by the corona. Using high-speed and high-resolution cameras, researchers will capture these images to help understand how these plasmas exist together and interrelate.

The Airborne Coronal Emission Surveyor (ACES) team will fly above the clouds to study one long streamer’s infrared light emission and ion makeup, as well as the strength of the magnetic fields in the corona. 

Rediscovered photos of the world's first police-aiding crime lab

In Lyon, France, a photographic archive of the world’s first police crime lab has been found from 1910. The lab’s founder was Edmond Locard, a prominent forensic scientist. The collection was filled with around 20,000 glass photographic plates that depict the lab’s innovative scientific methods, crime scenes and Locard’s personal correspondence. The discovery of this archive may guide and improve forensic science today by renewing historical practices. 

Locard expanded his forensics work, which began with the use of fingerprint identification, to include analyses of blood, hair, dust and pollen. His team built upon work from various countries to influence his experiments and forensic analyses, which garnered them international attention. 

However, despite Locard’s contributions, many of his techniques face criticism today for lacking scientific grounding. Improvements that Locard had suggested in his work include structuring smaller labs with generalists who can provide a holistic view of cases. Locard’s work remains influential even today, as he continues to earn his comparison to Sherlock Holmes.

Artificial intelligence can offer predictions of severe floods worldwide

Anthropogenic climate change is defined as humans’ impact on the Earth’s climate. This type of climate change is in danger of causing major flooding, but AI forecasting systems can now predict flooding events. These systems provide reliable global river flooding data, even in areas that lack local data. 

A recent study prepared an AI model using global data from streamflow gauges to predict existing flood forecasting systems. Results show that the AI model’s ability to quickly detect possibly disastrous events was better than that of conventional hydrology models

Hydrology data remains important, however, because this is what AI systems scan for when determining flood occurrences. Research continues to develop similar AI resources that can help detect other types of natural disasters. 

Understanding the impact of air pollution on human health

Air pollution impacts human health significantly, inducing diseases and increasing mortality. Air pollutants have adverse effects on different organ systems, which emphasizes the need for the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study’s prevention strategies. 

Recent evidence suggests that there are stronger health effects per unit of exposure at lower levels of particulate matter, which contradicts current regulatory standards. Some possible explanations for this are differences in air pollution mixture at low concentrations and differences in demographics, with a higher proportion of older and therefore more susceptible people.

This calls to attention the need to re-examine air pollution’s health impacts, considering susceptibility factors and the interactions between pollutants. This research may inform practices to better address the underestimated burden of air pollution on public health.


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