Science Times Wrap-up (1.27.15)

Another Tuesday, another edition of Science Times.

This week’s stories include the launch of a solar sailboat into space, as well as an article about the cute interactions between animals of different species and what we might be able to learn from them. But let’s talk about 3-D printing.

Karen Weintraub reports on a new way for using 3D printers in which brain surgeons, for example, can get a 3D printout of the brain they’re going to operate on before the surgery, so that they can know exactly what to expect before heading into the operating room.  By now, i’m sure you’ve probably heard about some other cool ways 3D printers are being used, but like all things on the internet, not all of them are entirely accurate. So let’s check some of these out.

1. Prosthetics

Speaking of cute animals, 3D printing is now being used to make prosthetics for handicapped animals. And it works really well! 3D printers are proving to be a fast and inexpensive way to custom print limbs for pets that may be missing one. The next step will be to make them for humans too, which we are pretty close to achieving.

2. Human Cells
Well, here’s another example of stretching the truth. A lot of news articles claim (without sourcing it either) that scientist have already been able to print out living cells from a 3D printer. Truth is, we haven’t. What really happened was that researchers printed a scaffold on which living cells were able to attach to. Specifically, in doing so they were able to construct segments of the trachea. But these segments have yet to be put into humans. So living 3D-printed cells is a negative. That being said, they have been able to implant a 3D-printed heart quite recently.

3. Pizza

Though the taste looks questionable, researchers actually have managed to 3D print a pizza. No seriously, check out this youtube video. Yes, NASA is currently looking into applying 3D printers to the food astronauts eat, and how it might be able to improve nutritional stability or minimize crew time and waste. The caveat to this is that the pizza printer was a lone contract, and the project is in its very initial stages. This means there’s no guarantee astronauts will be printing pizzas in space anytime soon. But its at least possible to do so on Earth!

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