Simply Scientific: Living cement

Every couple of kilometers, there lies huge concrete monoliths that are argued to screw up nature, also known as cities.

The cement industry alone is said to contribute to five percent of global CO2 emissions. But, what if I told you that a new “living” construction material could be the future of architecture?

A team of researchers from the University of Colorado, Boulder, created a new form of concrete that uses bacteria to grow––and even heal itself.

The bricks created by Dr. Wil Srubar and his team are composed of sand particles bound together by natural glue. The process is very similar to the formation of seashells. The bacteria that thrives on CO2 produces tiny limestones that act as glue to bind the sand particles together. This process is called biomineralization.

Some may think the bricks would be gooey or soft––and they are at first––but a monitored and controlled dehydration process makes the organic concrete completely solid. Once solidified, the cells shut down and stop the production process, so your house won’t become a skyscraper within weeks. However, in a controlled environment, the cells could be woken up and temporarily keep growing. Think of all the benefits and advantages this could bring to repairing buildings!

In an interview with CBC, Srubar said the bricks take less than a day to grow. On top of that, his team experimented with different methods and came to realize that when divided, the two new half-bricks grow individually to become two fully grown blocks.

Since the bacterias live off CO2, this new method is argued to be sustainable and environmentally-friendly. This is exactly where Srubar was taking his research, he said on CBC Radio’s show, Quirks & Quarks. According to him, the next generation of technology findings will be based on biology principles. He finished the interview by saying that his new finding could be an asset to human space exploration, arguing that it is easier to use growing blocks rather than carrying tons and tons of cement into space.


Graphic by @sundaeghost


Simply scientific: The plague

“The one from ancient times?” my friend asked across the table. “Why write about that?”

Because, old friend, the plague lives. It never left.

Only three weeks ago, a hunter from China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region north of Beijing caught and ate an infected rabbit, and also caught the bubonic plague.

A week later, in the same region but in unrelated circumstances, two people were diagnosed with the pneumonic plague.

The plague has a long and terrible history of killing people and rodents. It has killed 10s to 100s of millions of people over three pandemics. Estimates say that up to 50 million people may have died from the plague over a seven-year period nicknamed the Black Death in the 1300s.

So … should we be worried today?

Meh. Maybe.

An average of seven people a year are infected in the southwest of the United States according to the Center for Disease Control. And the Canadian government says that the first and only case up here was in 1939.

And apparently, it’s easily treatable with antibiotics if diagnosed early on, according to the World Health Organization.

That said, the two main forms, bubonic and pneumonic, are pretty nasty.

You catch the former from an infected flea or louse or by eating raw, infected meat. Bacteria in infected fleas create a biofilm that blocks food intake. When the fleas bite you, they regurgitate your own blood back into you with plague bacteria. Over a few days, you develop swollen, pus-filled lymph nodes before you start vomiting blood and developing gangrenous extremities. People can survive this form without treatment, but lowkey, I don’t think that’s recommended.

You catch pneumonic plague like you catch a cold, through droplets in the air. It’s 100 per cent fatal if you don’t get treatment within the first day. As the saying goes, “If you’re coughing up blood … go to the doctor.”

So it’s probably wise to check beforehand if plague bacteria are present in rodent populations in a region your visiting.

Anyway, the plague has been in the news recently, which might have worried some. From 2010 to 2015, an average of 100 people a year around the world died from the plague, and that’s awful.

But it’s not Black-Death-horrible, which is something.


Graphic by @sundaeghost

Student Life

If you’re planning on getting busy this Valentine’s Day, stay protected

Spread the love, not the disease

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, some of us who are romantically involved are preparing to spend the day with that special someone. While indulging your partner is important, so is keeping in mind the risk of contracting a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or disease (STD).

According to Women’s Health, the difference between STIs and STDs are whether symptoms are present, and ailments are only described as diseases when symptoms are present. “You can have an infection, such as chlamydia, without symptoms,” said Angela Jones, M.D., an ob-gyn at Healthy Woman Obstetrics and Gynecology in Monmouth, NJ. Since 2005, the Canadian government has recorded a rise in reported STD/STI cases, mainly cases concerning chlamydia, which is the most reported sexually transmitted disease in Canada. In 2009-2010, 68 per cent of sexually active 15 to 24 year-olds reported using a condom the last time they had intercourse, according to Statistics Canada.

The World Health Organization states that there are more than 30 viruses, bacterias and parasites that can be transmitted sexually. Of these, eight are the cause of most reported STD/STI cases. Four are currently curable: syphilis, gonorrhoea, chlamydia and trichomoniasis. The other four—hepatitis B, herpes, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and human papillomavirus (HPV)—are viral infections and are not curable.

“While most people think that STDs[/STIs] are only transmittable through sexual intercourse, like penetration, there are really, in fact, many ways of getting them,” said Charlotte Gagné, a sexology student at the Université du Québec à Montréal. “For example, [they can be transmitted through] skin to skin contact, blood and sharing sex toys. It can also be passed down from mother to child.”

One of the best ways to avoid contracting and spreading STDs/STIs is to use protection. Condoms are accessible, relatively affordable and they come in various styles that can make using protection fun. Trojan has ribbed condoms geared for female pleasure, their thinnest condom called the ‘bareskin’ and even benzocaine-lubed condoms for climax control, all meant to maximize pleasure. Just be sure to always check condoms for rips or tears, as well as expiry dates, before use.

STDs/STIs not only affect you physically, but mentally and socially as well. “Our society judges and rejects people with STDs[/STIs],” said Gagné. “They are often seen as prostitutes or floozies. People are afraid to touch them, they act as if they have the plague.”

Kelyane Dizazzo, a student at Collège Ahuntsic, has contracted chlamydia in the past. “It felt like the end of the world,” said Dizazzo. “I know it could’ve been something much worse, but when I got the news, I couldn’t stop crying,” she said. Whether you’re single or in a relationship, the importance of getting regularly tested for STDs/STIs while sexually active is pertinent. Concordia Health Services recommends getting tested every two months, or between different sexual partners.

“I lost some friends,” added Dizazzo. “Their girlfriends didn’t want them near me, let alone talking to me.” Dizazzo went on to explain that if she had known how badly this disease would affect her, she would have been much more careful.

“Being informed is key,” said Gagné. “Knowing about the different types of STDs[/STIs] and how they can be transmitted not only helps you know how to protect yourself, but it lets you know what to expect if you are not careful.”
Being honest with yourself and your partner can help stop the spread of these sexually transmitted diseases. Having an STD/STI does not only affect you, it also affects your future sexual partners, and previous ones that could be carriers or infected as well.

“There a lot of resources available to help prevent STDs[/STIs], but you have to look for them,” said Gagné. “If you think you have an STD[/STI] or just want to make sure that everything is okay, go to an STD[/STI] testing clinic. It’s better to be safe than sorry.”

Valentine’s Day is about showing your loved ones how much you care. While Hallmark holidays will push us to buy material items as expressions of our love, what better gift is there than the gift of protection and peace of mind?

Feature graphic by @spooky_soda

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