Health, Science, Tech

Cast of Thousands

English: Fig 57 on Page 190. A broken arm in a...

English: Fig 57 on Page 190. A broken arm in a splint Flickr data on 2011-08-17: Tags: public domain, copyright free, illustration, drawing, image, Points in Nursing, 1910, Emily A. M. Stoney License: CC BY 2.0 User: perpetualplum Sue Clark (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

People are always saying “oh, you’ve just got to do this before you die” about so many things; seeing the sun set over the Kalahari, visiting Thailand, touring Italy, bungee jumping, and so on.  Breaking your limbs, however, not so much of a must-do and, call me insane if you must, personally I’ve avoided the experience as much as possible.  So far I’ve only managed to crack a clavicle.

One thing I would dread is the cast – the ugly lump of white plaster, er, plastered around your limb getting progressively grubbier and inevitably itchier with every passing day, getting in the way of normal clothes, making it awkward to sleep, bathe, eat and so on.

Well a solution may be on the horizon – Jake Evill, a Victoria University of Wellington graduate, has designed a concept for a modern replacement utilising the current wonder-tech of 3D printing.  While home 3D printers let us make little plastic models this concept spits out something very neat – a lattice-work structured, washable, hence hygienic and non-itchy, cast created using x-rays of the limb fracture which can concentrate its strength and rigidity where it’s needed most around the break.  It would be assembled and fitted together with permanent fasteners to prevent it being taken off prematurely or accidentally and would then later be sawn off in the same was as a conventional cast.  Another advantage is the plastic could potentially be recycled.

Once the current print time of 3 hours reduces this could be the more comfortable and less obtrusive future of broken limbs – just, as Gizmodo’s article points out, without the friends’ decorations.

[Gizmodo / Dezeen]

Science, Society

Unpredictability on Trial

L'Aquila, Abruzzo, Italy. A goverment's office...

L’Aquila, Abruzzo, Italy. A goverment’s office disrupted by the 2009 earthquake (’Aquila_earthquake ) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This week six scientists and an ex-official were convicted of manslaughter in Italy because, it was said, they had given misleading and falsely reassuring advice to government officials.  Following a tremor in the L’Aquila area in 2009 scientists told officials that a further quake was not impossible but not likely.  In this region people would usually stay outside following a smaller quake but taking the advice as meaning they were safe many went home and when a larger quake occurred many were tragically killed.

Scientists have been trying to find some pattern, some definite precursor effect that will indicate an imminent earthquake for decades but aside from the theory that earthquakes can process along fault lines as movement during one can move the geological stress further along the ability to say when one will occur still eludes them – therefore the best they can say is that one may occur.

The Fortean literature is full of stories of Earthlights – small balls of glowing plasma – floating over fault lines and animals leaving the immediate area in the hours before quakes but again these effects haven’t been documented or proven.

If the authorities had said “there is a possibility that this smaller quake could lead to a massively destructive one” and evacuated every time there was a quake in a seizmologically active area it would cause chaos and cost a fortune, and how long do you tell people to stay away?  A follow-up quake could happen the day everyone returns.

The L’Aquila verdict will have an effect on science, as many are already saying; the journal Nature called the verdict “perverse and the sentence ludicrous” and called for protests, and the head of Italy’s disaster body has resigned stating that the commission could not work under such pressure in the future.  It will make scientists more weary about telling anyone about their discoveries, or offering any advice at all just in case one time something goes wrong.

[BBC News Magazine, BBC News, BBC News]