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Single Atom X-rayed For First Time in Breakthrough That Will ‘Transform the World’
Many laymen will not be aware that science has never been able to X-ray a single atom.
The best that current state-of-the-art synchrotron scanners can manage is to X-ray an attogram—about 10,000 atoms—but the signal produced by a single atom is so weak that conventional detectors cannot be used. Until now.
This landmark feat was achieved thanks to a purpose-built synchrotron instrument at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois using a technique known as SX-STM (synchrotron X-ray scanning tunneling microscopy).
The researchers behind the breakthrough say it paves the way for finding cures for major life-threatening diseases, the development of superfast quantum computers, and other advancements in materials and eco-science.
Atoms are the particles that build molecules, and the limit to which any substance can be broken down chemically. There are as many in a golf ball as golf balls would fit into Earth.
SX-STM can now measure them to an infinitesimal degree. The feat has been described as the ‘holy grail’ of physics, and a long-standing dream of Professor Saw Wai Hla of Ohio State University, the lead author on the paper explaining the discovery.
“Atoms can be routinely imaged with scanning probe microscopes—but without X-rays one cannot tell what they are made of,” explained Dr. Hla. “We can now detect exactly the type of a particular atom, one atom-at-a-time, and can simultaneously measure its chemical state. This discovery will transform the world.”
Since its discovery by Roentgen in 1895, X-rays have been used in dozens of applications and fields, from medical examinations to security screenings in airports.
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NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity is equipped with an X-ray device to examine the composition of the rocks.
An important usage of X-rays in science is to identify the type of materials in a sample. Over the years, the quantity of materials in a sample required for X-ray detection has been greatly reduced thanks to the development of synchrotron X-rays.
SX-STM collects excited electrons, particles on the outside of an atom that move around the protons and neutrons inside, and the spectrum thus produced is like a fingerprint that enables the precise detection of what the atom is.
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“The technique used, and concept proven in this study broke new ground in X-ray science and nanoscale studies,” said first author Tolulope Michael Ajayi, a PhD student at Ohio.
“More so, using X-rays to detect and characterize individual atoms could revolutionize research and give birth to new technologies in areas such as quantum information and the detection of trace elements in environmental and medical research, to name a few.”
“This achievement also opens the road for advanced materials science instrumentation.”
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Little Boy Lost for 6 Days in Harsh Kenyan Wilderness is Rescued: ‘An Amazing Moment’
Kenya’s vast Tsavo East National Park is no place for the solitary. It’s easy to get lost in the dense bush, a fact 4-year-old Ayub from the Asa community will remember for the rest of his life.
The boy faced a terrifying ordeal, lost for 6 days amid a territory 66% larger than Yellowstone, and populated by killers like elephants, buffalo, and rhinos.
But this story of survival had a happy ending thanks to the help of two Kenyan-British pilots: The Carr-Harleys—Roan and Taru.
“When I was flying around, I saw lots of hyenas, jackals, and it was pouring with rain,” Roan Carr-Hartley, a helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft pilot who works with his brother at Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, told CBS News about the rescue efforts.
“It’s such a harsh and unforgiving environment for a tiny boy, there’s nothing or no one there. And so you start worrying and fearing the worst, you feel so hopeless.”
Ayub went missing from his village during a storm. The community chief had phoned the Carr-Hartleys asking for help because he and some other villagers were already tracking the boy’s footprints.
They searched for days with no luck, until on the 6th, Roan got a call from the chief saying they had picked up fresh tracks about 15 kilometers north of their village, and shortly after arriving in the area, Roan spotted Ayub under his left wing, describing him as this “tiny guy in the middle of nowhere” who was weak and stumbling.
Coordinating with the searchers on the ground, it was Ayub’s uncle who got to him first, picking him up and swinging him in the air.
Roan explained that it’s tradition in Asa culture to chant songs of gratitude on a walk back to the village.
“When his mother saw him, she just burst into tears. She couldn’t believe it. She was totally in hysterics,” Roan said. “He also reunited with his dad and the rest of his family. It was an amazing moment. Doctors arrived, we administered first aid, replenished his electrolytes, and tested him for malaria.”
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While Roan and his brother Taru normally are looking for humans with malintent (poachers) and rescue four-legged members of the Tsavo East community (elephants), Ayub is not the first person they’ve rescued this year.
GNN reported on a Sheldrick Wildlife Trust release in May when the brothers piloted their helicopter to the rescue of a tanker truck driver who had been stranded on a flooded road section.
Dwarfed by the angry river, the tanker had flipped onto its side, and the driver, James Rufus Kinyua, had climbed out of the cab and was lying on the door. Slowly, the pilot lowered the helicopter closer and closer to the tanker where the driver sat crouched in the swirling winds from both the flooding and the rotors.
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“I was told he had been there since 10 am, in extreme fear I am sure,” Taru Carr-Hartley told Nation Africa. “He was hanging half out of the window, lying on top of the truck, and I could see the windscreen was smashed and the whole cabin was filled with water.”
All in a day’s work for the Carr-Hartleys, born as the third generation of British-Kenyans who work in wildlife conservation and biology in the East African nation.
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Astraphobia is a fear of thunder and lightning
Thunderstorms are unpredictable. They can sometimes intensify fast and produce damaging winds, cloud-to-ground lightning that comes crashing downward, tornadoes, or perhaps flooding. Some people are terrified by loud thunder and lightning, especially at night. It’s the unknown that scares people … and pets. If you fear lightning and thunder, as many children, indoor pets and some adults do, then you (and they) have astraphobia.
The symptoms of astraphobia
PsychCentral.com lists the following as symptoms of astraphobia. They are similar to those of any phobia:
anxiety and worry
tremors or shaking
shortness of breath
heart racing or palpitations
nausea or vomiting
Additionally, astraphobia can cause someone to want company and reassurance during a storm. They may seek shelter beyond what’s necessary for a thunderstorm. Someone suffering from astraphobia may close the curtains and attempt to block out the sounds of the storm. Or they become obsessed with weather forecasts, wanting to be certain there are no storms near them. Astraphobia can even lead to agoraphobia, the fear of leaving your home.
The fear of storms in animals
According to the Iowa Veterinary Medical Association, thunder and lightning are some of the most common phobias experienced with dogs.
Behaviorists are not yet sure what part of the storm frightens dogs most, whether they’re reacting to lightning flashes, the sound of thunder, wind blowing around the house, or the sound of rain on the roof. Some dogs even start to pace and whine half an hour or more before a storm. They may be reacting to a sudden drop in air pressure or the electrical charge of the air.
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What is there to be scared of?
Most storms are harmless, even soothing to some, and nurturing to plants and wildlife. Thunder can’t hurt us, of course, but lightning strikes can be deadly. According to the CDC, about 28 people die from lightning per year in the U.S.
There are other weather related deaths. According to the National Weather Service (reported by CBS News), an average of 71 people die in the U.S. every year from tornadoes. And approximately 200 in the U.S. die annually due to flash flooding, according to dps.mn.gov.
However, the deadliest weather phenomenon is heat waves. A recent study suggested that an average of 400 deaths occur annually due to heat in the U.S., with the highest death rates occurring in persons aged 65 years or more.
Still, lightning strikes are deadly, which is why you should go indoors when you hear thunder. The majority of lightning fatalities typically occur in the spring and summer, when there is ample unstable air to create strong updrafts and potent thunderstorms containing dangerous cloud-to-ground lightning.
What’s the treatment for astraphobia?
If your child or pet is afraid, soothe and snuggle them. Being held tightly seems to help some people. In a similar way, some people swear by thundershirts for dogs. But you don’t have to buy an expensive one. Any old tightly wrapped t-shirt for your pet might work just as well. If your child’s fear is severe, or lasts longer than six months, you might want to seek professional treatment so that a childhood fear of storms doesn’t become a full-blown phobia in adulthood.
Bottom line: If your heart starts to race when a thunderstorm comes near, and you want to hide from the thunder and lightning, you might have astraphobia.