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Science news digest – 20th March 2014

In the science news this week, early Universe expansion theory gains new evidence, vigorous exercise reduces the risk of flu, Tim Peake’s mission seeks name, and finally… the UK Young Scientists and Engineer of the Year 2014 are announced.

Evidence for the Big Bang Theory announced

New evidence that supports the Big Bang Theory of the origin of the Universe has been revealed by astronomers working on a project called BICEP2, reported the Guardian.

Scientists believe they have found the signal that was left in the sky after the super-rapid expansion of space just fractions of a second after the beginning of everything.

"This is spectacular," commented Prof Marc Kamionkowski, from Johns Hopkins University.

"I've seen the research; the arguments are persuasive, and the scientists involved are among the most careful and conservative people I know," he said.

The project, known as BICEP2, has been using a telescope at the South Pole that has been making detailed observations of a small patch of sky.

The astronomers have been looking for a residual marker of “inflation”, which is the theory that the cosmos experienced an exponential growth spurt in its first trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second.

The idea is that the Universe went from something unimaginably small to something about the size of a marble in a fraction of a second.

This inflation, theoretically, would produce waves of gravitational energy, which would be visible within the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation.

The BICEP2 team now believe that they have found that signal, which is called B-mode polarisation.

Professor John Kovac of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and a leader of the BICEP2 collaboration, said: "This is opening a window on what we believe to be a new regime of physics - the physics of what happened in the first unbelievably tiny fraction of a second in the Universe."


Vigorous exercise reduces the risk of flu

New results from the UK FluSurvey have suggested that those of us who do at least two and a half hours of vigorous exercise each week, have a lower chance of developing flu.

FluSurvey have been working closely with National Science & Engineering Week to encourage members of the public to sign up to the weekly epidemiology survey, and record any instances of influenza-like symptoms they experienced. Thousands of people have taken part, and researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) have assessed the results.

Dr Alma Adler, the lead UK researcher on the project said: "We need to treat this result cautiously as these are preliminary findings. However, they are consistent with findings for other conditions and really show the health benefits of exercise."

According to the BBC, the researchers have suggested that 100 cases of flu per 1000 people could be prevented by engaging in vigorous exercise. 

Further to these findings, the survey also showed the lowest levels of flu reported, compared to the last four years that the survey has run. The data gathered in the FluSurvey is used by Public Health England to monitor flu levels, and is being released to mark the start of National Science & Engineering Week.


Tim Peake’s mission needs a name

The European Space Agency (ESA) is asking for members of the public to suggest names for Major Tim Peake’s mission to the International Space Station (ISS) next year, reports the BBC.

The winning entry needs to be short and snappy, as it will be incorporated into the mission logo.

Names for previous missions that were suggested by the public include, “Marco Polo” for the Italian astronaut, Roberto Vittori, "Odissia" for Belgian Frank de Winne, and "DELTA Mission" for Dutch astronaut Andre Kuipers' flight to the ISS.

The name should reflect the astronaut’s nationality, but also be inclusive to the wider European community, as well as being easy to pronounce.


And finally…

UK Young Scientists and Engineer of the Year 2014 announced

The National Finals of the National Science + Engineering Competition were held last week at The Big Bang Fair in Birmingham. There were over 200 projects at the Finals this year, showcasing their work on the Thursday and Friday.

The title of UK Young Engineer of the Year 2014 was given to Rebecca Simpson for her project based on a retro arcade game that she built and designed herself aimed at helping young people to revise their science subjects at school.

Ameeta and Aneeta Kumar were awarded the title of UK Young Scientists of the Year 2014 at the Finals as well. Their project centred on a protein called pHLIP, which they found inserts into some tumours, so could be used for cancer detection, if the protein was tagged with fluorescence, or even cancer treatment, if it was tagged with chemotherapy drugs.

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