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Ultra-black nightmare fish reveal secrets of deep-ocean camouflage – CNET

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A deep-sea dragonfish has ultra-black skin capable of absorbing bioluminescent light. It also has great teeth.


Karen Osborn, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Goths know black is cool. Some scary-looking fish swimming the ocean depths know it too. Researchers are unlocking the deep, dark secrets of blacker-than-black fish that have developed special skin characteristics to help them hide from predators that use bioluminescence to hunt.

The team of researchers, including lead author Alexander Davis, a doctoral student in biology at Duke University, published a study on the ultra-black fish in the journal Current Biology (PDF) on Thursday. They identified at least 16 species of deep-sea-dwelling fish with skin that absorbs over 99.5% percent of light. It’s the ultimate camouflage for the inky depths of the ocean.  

As the names suggest, dragonfish and common fangtooth fish aren’t the cuddliest looking critters in the sea. They might appear nightmarish to squeamish humans, but they’re of great interest to scientists who are looking at ways to develop new ultra-black materials. 

Vantablack is the most famous of the ultra-black coatings. It was designed for defense and space sector applications, but has also appeared in architecture and art. It’s not the only one of its kind. MIT announced a new “blackest black” material in 2019.

The ocean research team used a spectrometer to measure light reflecting off the skin of fish pulled up from Monterey Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. These denizens of the deep live up to a mile below the ocean surface. 

“The darkest species they found, a tiny anglerfish not much longer than a golf tee, soaks up so much light that almost none — 0.04% — bounces back to the eye,” Duke University said in a release on Thursday.

The scientists discovered differences between black fish and ultra-black fish by focusing on melanosomes, structures within cells that contain the pigment melanin. 

“Other cold-blooded animals with normal black skin have tiny pearl-shaped melanosomes, while ultra-black ones are larger, more tic-tac-shaped,” Duke noted. The ultra-black structures are also more tightly packed. Computer modeling revealed these melanosomes “have the optimal geometry for swallowing light.”

This ultra-black fish is an Anoplogaster cornuta. It was released back into the ocean after being studied.


Karen Osborn, Smithsonian

According to study co-author Karen Osborn, “Mimicking this strategy could help engineers develop less expensive, flexible and more durable ultra-black materials for use in optical technology, such as telescopes and cameras, and for camouflage.” Osborn is a research zoologist with the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

The fish skin study adds to our understanding of how these unusual animals function in their dark home worlds. A 2019 study discovered that some deep-sea fish see in color

The ultra-black fish presented some challenges for the scientists when it came to photos. “It didn’t matter how you set up the camera or lighting — they just sucked up all the light,” said Osborn.

Fortunately for your nightmares, Osborn captured startlingly toothy views of an ultra-black deep-sea dragonfish and an Anoplogaster cornuta. Be sure to cue up some Bauhaus music and stare deeply into their milky eyes. 

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Alberta researcher gets award for COVID-19 mask innovation – CTV News

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Salt that crystallizes with sharp edges is the killer ingredient in the development of a reusable mask because any COVID-19 droplets that land on it would be quickly destroyed, says a researcher who is being recognized for her innovation.

Ilaria Rubino, a recent PhD graduate from the department of chemical and materials engineering at the University of Alberta, said a mostly salt and water solution that coats the first or middle layer of the mask would dissolve droplets before they can penetrate the face covering.

As the liquid from the droplets evaporates, the salt crystals grow back as spiky weapons, damaging the bacteria or virus within five minutes, Rubino said.

“We know that after the pathogens are collected in the mask, they can survive. Our goal was to develop a technology that is able to inactivate the pathogens upon contact so that we can make the mask as effective as possible.”

Rubino, who collaborated with a researcher at Georgia State University in Atlanta to advance the project she started five years ago, was recognized Tuesday with an innovation award from Mitacs. The Canadian not-for-profit organization receives funding from the federal government, most provinces and Yukon to honour researchers from academic institutions.

The reusable, non-washable mask is made of a type of polypropylene, a plastic used in surgical masks, and could be safely worn and handled multiple times without being decontaminated, Rubino said.

The idea is to replace surgical masks often worn by health-care workers who must dispose of them in a few hours, she said, adding the technology could potentially be used for N-95 respirators.

The salt-coated mask is expected to be available commercially next year after regulatory approval. It could also be used to stop the spread of other infectious illnesses, such as influenza, Rubino said.

Dr. Catherine Clase, an epidemiologist and associate professor of medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton, said the “exciting” technology would have multiple benefits.

Clase, who is a member of the Centre of Excellence in Protective Equipment and Materials in the engineering department at McMaster, said there wasn’t much research in personal protective equipment when Rubino began her work.

“It’s going to decrease the footprint for making and distributing and then disposing of every mask,” she said, adding that the mask could also address any supply issues.

The Public Health Agency of Canada recently recommended homemade masks consist of at least three layers, with a middle, removable layer constructed from a non-woven, washable polypropylene fabric to improve filtration.

Conor Ruzycki, an aerosol scientist in the University of Alberta’s mechanical engineering department, said Rubino’s innovation adds to more recent research on masks as COVID-19 cases rise and shortages of face coverings in the health-care system could again become a problem.

Ruzycki, who works in a lab to evaluate infiltration efficiencies of different materials for masks and respirators, is also a member of a physician-led Alberta group Masks4Canada, which is calling for stricter pandemic measures, including a provincewide policy on mandatory masks.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 24, 2020

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Alberta researcher wins award for salt-coated mask innovation – CBC.ca

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Salt that crystallizes with sharp edges is the killer ingredient in the development of a reusable mask because any coronavirus droplets that land on it would be quickly destroyed, says a researcher who is being recognized for her innovation.

Ilaria Rubino, a recent PhD graduate from the department of chemical and materials engineering at the University of Alberta, said a mostly salt and water solution that coats the first or middle layer of the mask would dissolve droplets before they can penetrate the face covering.

As the liquid from the droplets evaporates, the salt crystals grow back as spiky weapons, damaging the bacteria or virus within five minutes, Rubino said.

“We know that after the pathogens are collected in the mask, they can survive. Our goal was to develop a technology that is able to inactivate the pathogens upon contact so that we can make the mask as effective as possible.”

Rubino, who collaborated with a researcher at Georgia State University in Atlanta to advance the project she started five years ago, was recognized Tuesday with an innovation award from Mitacs, a Canadian non-profit. Mitacs receives funding from the federal government, most provinces and Yukon to honour researchers from academic institutions.

The reusable, non-washable mask is made of a type of polypropylene, a plastic used in surgical masks, and could be safely worn and handled multiple times without being decontaminated, Rubino said.

The idea, she said, is to replace surgical masks often worn by health-care workers, who must dispose of them after a few hours. Rubino said the technology could potentially be used for N-95 respirators.

The salt-coated mask is expected to be available commercially next year after regulatory approval. It could also be used to stop the spread of other infectious illnesses, such as influenza, Rubino said.

‘Exciting’ technology 

Dr. Catherine Clase, an epidemiologist and associate professor of medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton, said this “exciting” technology would have multiple benefits.

Clase, who is a member of the Centre of Excellence in Protective Equipment and Materials in the engineering department at McMaster, said there wasn’t much research in personal protective equipment when Rubino began her work.

“It’s going to decrease the footprint for making and distributing and then disposing of every mask,” Clase said, adding that the mask could also address any supply issues.

The Public Health Agency of Canada recently recommended non-medical masks consist of at least three layers, with a middle, removable layer constructed from a non-woven, washable polypropylene fabric to improve filtration.

Conor Ruzycki, an aerosol scientist in the University of Alberta’s mechanical engineering department, said Rubino’s innovation adds to more recent research on masks as COVID-19 cases rise and shortages of face coverings in the health-care system could again become a problem.

Ruzycki, who works in a lab to evaluate infiltration efficiencies of different materials for masks and respirators, is also a member of the physician-led Alberta group Masks4Canada, which is calling for stricter pandemic measures, including a province-wide policy on mandatory masks.

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China launches mission to bring back material from moon – World News – Castanet.net

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China launched an ambitious mission on Tuesday to bring back rocks and debris from the moon’s surface for the first time in more than 40 years — an undertaking that could boost human understanding of the moon and of the solar system more generally.

Chang’e 5 — named for the Chinese moon goddess — is the country’s boldest lunar mission yet. If successful, it would be a major advance for China’s space program, and some experts say it could pave the way for bringing samples back from Mars or even a crewed lunar mission.

The four modules of the Chang’e 5 spacecraft blasted off at just after 4:30 a.m. Tuesday atop a massive Long March-5Y rocket from the Wenchang launch centre along the coast of the southern island province of Hainan.

Minutes after liftoff, the spacecraft separated from the rocket’s first and second stages and slipped into Earth-moon transfer orbit. About an hour later, Chang’e 5 opened its solar panels to provide its independent power source.

Spacecraft typically take three days to reach the moon.

The launch was carried live by national broadcaster CCTV which then switched to computer animation to show its progress into outer space.

The mission’s key task is to drill 2 metres beneath the moon’s surface and scoop up about 2 kilograms of rocks and other debris to be brought back to Earth, according to NASA. That would offer the first opportunity for scientists to study newly obtained lunar material since the American and Russian missions of the 1960s and 1970s.

The Chang’e 5 lander’s time on the moon is scheduled to be short and sweet. It can only stay one lunar daytime, or about 14 Earth days, because it lacks the radioisotope heating units to withstand the moon’s freezing nights.

The lander will dig for materials with its drill and robotic arm and transfer them to what’s called an ascender, which will lift off from the moon and dock with the service capsule. The materials will then be moved to the return capsule to be hauled back to Earth.

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