Top stories in science this week

1. These birds are the only other that can use tools to drum like humans

All human societies have music with a rhythmic “beat,” typically produced with percussive instruments such as drums. The set of capacities that allows humans to produce and perceive music appears to be deeply rooted in human biology, but an understanding of its evolutionary origins requires cross-taxa comparisons. Scientists have shown that drumming by palm cockatoos (Probosciger aterrimus) shares the key rudiments of human instrumental music, including manufacture of a sound tool, performance in a consistent context, regular beat production, repeated components, and individual styles.

Reference: Science Advances

2. Scientists have built the sharpest laser in history

Sharper lasers mean better accuracy in all the fields where they’re used, and scientists have just set a new record for laser sharpness, building a laser with a linewidth of just 10 millihertz (0.01 hertz). That linewidth is a measurement of how much of the optical spectrum it covers, and while we haven’t achieved the ideal of a laser with just one specific wavelength — photons streamed at a single frequency — we’re now closer than ever.

Reference: Physical Review Letters

3. Scientists have used carbon nanotubes to restore lost connections between neurons

They have shown that the carbon nanotubes can be used safely and hope they can restore neural function to people with spinal injuries. The integration of carbon nanotubes brought along some unexpected benefits too.

Reference: Nanomedicine: Nanotechnology, Biology and Medicine.

4. This robot can grip like a gecko to clean up space junk

Over the past 60 years, humans have successfully launched satellites, space vehicles and humans into Earth’s orbit. We’ve also managed to leave a whole bunch of stuff floating up there that can destroy satellites in an instant. Thankfully, researchers have designed a robotic gripper that can pick up the junk we’ve left behind on our space adventures. Taking design cues from gecko feet, the gripper’s super clingy adhesive could enable climbing robots to carry out a range of tasks on a spacecraft, from checking and repairing defects to shooting videos.

Reference: Science Robotics

5. Researchers have identified hidden links on why we reject transplanted organs

The discovery opens the way for scientists to develop new forms of treatment that could prevent immune responses from attacking life-saving tissue transplants without leaving the body so open to infection or cancer.

Reference: Science Immunology

6. Physicists found that one of the forces holding the world together can also push it apart

A type of force that makes molecules briefly stick to one another has been shown to have a more repulsive side, even when they aren’t being squeezed together. Since first being described in 1930, van der Waal forces have been regarded as mostly attractive, only pushing back when groups of molecules are under pressure. New research predicts such a reversal can occur in the real world where crowds of molecules jostle freely, an idea that could affect how we approach everything from protein folding to nanotechnology.

Reference: Physical Review Letters

7. New microbots can clean bacteria out of water supply in minutes

Scientists have unveiled spherical microbots capable of propelling themselves through water and killing off bacteria at the same time, potentially giving us a new and effective way of tackling contaminated water supplies. Swimming through water infected with E. coli, the new bots were able to kill more than 80 percent of the bacteria present inside 20 minutes, and because they’re magnetic they can be easily pulled from the water too.

Reference: ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces

8. Scientists are getting close to being able to read minds

Scientists are one step closer to becoming mind readers after new research identified some of the complex brain patterns that go into forming sentences in our heads. Brain patterns generated by certain sentences could be predicted with 87 percent accuracy in the study, based on an ‘alphabet’ of 42 different concepts covering size, location, colours, actions, and other elements that make up complex thoughts.

Reference: Human Brain Mapping

9. Orbiting supermassive black holes have been observed for the first time

In a major discovery, astronomers have observed a pair of supermassive black holes orbiting each other, hundreds of millions of light years away. The discovery is the result of more than two decades of work, and an incredible feat considering the precise measurements required. Understanding the nature of such interactions will give us a greater understanding of how galaxies, and the universe, have evolved.

Reference: The Astrophysical Journal

10. Scientists show water can exist as two different liquids

Water is one of the most fundamental molecules on Earth, and yet scientists are only just beginning to wrap their heads around how bizarre the substance really is. Researchers have now discovered that water exists in not one, but two distinct liquid phases, each with big differences in structure and density.

Reference: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

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