Ketamine depression treatment trial secures $2m Federal Government grant – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

DIY Ketamine packs offered to patients with depression

UNSW researchers say studies show ketamine can reduce the symptoms of depression within hours.

A $2 million grant from the Federal Government has been awarded for research into use of the drug ketamine as a new treatment option for major depression, the largest clinical trial of its kind in Australia.

According to the Black Dog Institute, an organisation that focuses on mood disorders, about one third of people suffering from major depression do not respond to traditional anti-depressant medication.

“We need to properly test if we can use ketamine as a treatment over a whole course of multiple doses”, said Professor Colleen Loo, who is leading the study from the University of New South Wales and the Black Dog Institute.

“Is it effective and is it safe? We don’t actually have that data [and] this trial will answer that question.”

Ketamine is used in Australia as an anaesthetic and pain killer and can only be prescribed by a doctor. The Therapeutic Goods Administration has not approved its use as a depression treatment.

The drug is also used recreationally and can lead to out-of-body experiences and a sense of intoxication.

“I think controversy surrounding ketamine [is that] it is used as a drug of abuse and so there are concerns, but if used in a carefully, controlled medical context, then that hasn’t been shown to be a problem,” Professor Loo told the ABC.

Earlier this year, an ABC investigation revealed a commercial medical clinic was selling unapproved take-home packages of ketamine for patients to self-inject.

“It’s one of these fields where the clinical application has run ahead of proper research testing,” Professor Loo said.

“Clinics have run ahead and actually started to treat people and to run it as a business, so that’s why this trial is so critical to do now and as quickly as we can.”

Trial involving 200 patients due to start April 2016

The trial is expected to start in April 2016, and will enrol 200 patients who have not responded to existing medication. The trial will compare the effects of ketamine against an active placebo treatment over the course of four weeks.

According to the university, previous studies have shown a single dose of the drug can reduce the symptoms of depression within hours, even in treatment-resistant patients.

“If you give a single treatment, the studies show that you get an amazing anti-depressant response that lasts at least a few days,” Professor Loo said.

“But what no study has shown is how can you use it as a clinically useful treatment to get a lasting response.”

The grant is a part of a $630 million investment from the Federal Government for more than 800 health and prevention of disease projects around the country.

Eating grilled or barbecued red and white meat linked to increased kidney cancer risk.

According to researchers, people who ate the most grilled meat — red meat and chicken — had a higher risk of kidney cancer.
According to researchers, people who  ate the most grilled meat — red meat and chicken  — had a higher risk of kidney cancer.
Red meat has been getting a lot of attention lately, but now chicken and white meat can join the list, as researchers report it’s the way the meat is cooked that can be cancer-causing.

The amount of meat consumed is also important, according to the study authors. The elevated kidney cancer risk is associated with consuming more meat, as both red and white meat resulted in increased risk, explained author and physician Xifeng Wu.

Burning or charring meat creates cancer-causing substances, according to Wu.

The study authors write that, “cooking meat at high temperatures or over an open flame, such as when barbecuing or pan-frying, is known to result in the formation of carcinogens…”

It’s the job of the kidneys to flush out any toxins.

“The kidney is a biochemically active organ responsible for filtering many harmful toxins from the body, and therefore it makes sense to investigate the effects of dietary intake, including carcinogens, on kidney cancer risk,” said Stephanie Melkonian, postdoctoral fellow, epidemiology and lead author of the study.

Researchers at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, led by Wu, studied the diet and genetic risk factors of 659 patients newly diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma and 699 healthy controls. The study was published in the journal Cancer.

Researchers also reported that individuals with specific genetic mutations are more susceptible to the harmful compounds created when cooking at high temperatures.

Last month, the World Health Organization’s, International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) released a controversial report that stated that processed meats such as sausages, deli meat and bacon cause cancer and that red meat probably does.

READ MORE: WHO: Processed meat can increase risk of cancer; red meat risky too

“Our findings support reducing consumption of meat, especially meat cooked at high temperatures or over an open flame as a public health intervention to reduce RCC (kidney cancer) risk and burden,” said Wu.

The researchers do not suggest that individuals should remove meats completely from their diets, but rather consume it in moderation, as part of a well-balanced diet, complete with fruits and vegetables. When grilling or pan-frying meat, try to avoid charring it as much as possible, suggest the researchers.


Biologists Could Soon Resurrect Extinct Species. But Should They?

A pair of white rhinoceroses on the Okavango Delta.

IN CENTRAL KENYA, three of the world’s four remaining Northern white rhinos are stubbornly refusing to mate. Since 2009, conservationists have tried and failed to coax the animals together—and with the lone male nearing his 43rd birthday, too old to breed, extinction is inevitable. It’s a matter of time before the remaining beasts die off, one by one.

So in the meantime, in San Diego, scientists are working to resurrect them.

At the Scripps Research Institute, regenerative medicine researcher Jeanne Loring has figured out how to make induced pluripotent stem cells, capable of transforming into any cell type in the body, out of rhino skin. She and her team are now working out how to turn them into rhino eggs and sperm. If successful, they should be able to create new rhinos via in vitro fertilization, saving the animal from extinction—or more likely, bringing it back from the dead.

The white rhino isn’t the only beast on the verge of resurrection. For species that are already wholly extinct, scientists are turning to massive caches of animal and plant cells stored in deep-freeze repositories like the Cryo Collection, buried in the bowels of the American Museum of Natural History. Others are using a method called anthropogenic hybridization—crossbreeding a dying species with a similar, living one so that some of its characteristics survive.

With these methods and others, biologists may soon be able to bring animals back from the dead. That’s a thrilling but distinctly unnatural approach to preserving nature. And some scientists and conservationists are asking if resurrection is really the right way to save the Earth’s threatened species.

Wild Without the Wilderness
Many of the arguments against resurrection are the same that conservation scientists have heard against their more traditional methods for decades. When the costs are so high—tens of millions of dollars to save a few Kihansi spray toads, for example—it’s easy to argue that natural selection is a force humans just shouldn’t mess with. If an animal can’t hack it in a changing world, them’s the breaks. Some scientists, the “hardcore Darwinians,” believe that logic applies even when humans are the ones forcing animals like the white rhino and the Pinta tortoise out. “Humans themselves are part of nature,” or so the logic goes, says Joanna Radin, a science historian at Yale. “So it’s survival of the fittest.”

If scientists do choose to save a species, that doesn’t mean it will thrive. When conservationists released the once-endangered whooping crane back into the wild, for example, the birds weren’t able to migrate without following the lead of a human pilot in an aircraft. And if Loring successfully birthed a Northern white rhino, she couldn’t release it into the wild—poachers would kill it. “Until we make space for other species on Earth, it won’t matter how many animals we resurrect,” writes M.R. O’Connor in her book Resurrection Science. “There won’t be many places left for them to exist.”
The places they will be able to exist? Zoos. Loring calls her work “Jurassic Park without the scary parts,” in part because her newly-birthed science experiments might only ever get to roam in a living museum. Some question whether preserving wildlife is valuable if it can’t live in the wild. “A tiger in a zoo isn’t really a tiger anymore because it’s not doing its thing,” the environmental ethicist Holmes Rolston III told O’Connor.

An animal robbed of its natural home is hardly an ideal solution, Loring recognizes. “I don’t want to rescue an animal that’s going to exist only in a zoo,” she says. “But it’s probably better than not having it at all.”

That fear of missing out is what’s driven scientists to fill freezers with cells from threatened animals—a proto-zoo of a sort. (One facility in San Diego actually calls itself the Frozen Zoo). These DNA banks serve as storage lockers for things that scientists don’t really know what to do with yet: samples from the vulnerable Himalayan clouded leopard and coral from the Great Barrier Reef. “In a way, freezing animals is a concession that we’re not sure how else to save them,” writes O’Connor. Scientists filling the frozen cell banks of the world are attempting a sort of “planned hindsight,” says Radin.

Just what happens to those stores when the animals die out is up for debate. If, as Loring is attempting with the white rhino, induced stem cells could turn into sperm and eggs, scientists could create a new animal in the lab. Or they could attempt to insert certain DNA from extinct animals back into living ones that share some of the same characteristics (one scientist is hoping to co-opt elephant cells this way in an attempt to resurrect the woolly mammoth).

But by focusing single-mindedly on saving DNA—banking on future technological resurrections—scientists may in fact be letting animals’ true auras die out. “No one would say that freezing the DNA of humans preserves what makes us human,” O’Connor points out.

To resurrect the extinct Galapagos Pinta tortoise, for example, scientists are inbreeding tortoises that each share a bit of the Pinta’s DNA in the hope that a century from now, one of the offspring might be born with all the DNA of the Pinta. It’s arguable, though, whether that jigsaw puzzle of an organism would be the same as the tortoise that once was. “Paradoxically,” says O’Connor, “the more we intervene to save species, the less wild they often become.”

Hunter’s Remorse
Still, perhaps humans are morally obligated to take care of the species they’ve actively pushed out. To Loring, the white rhino is a good candidate for resurrection both because of its place in our imagination as one of the “great beasts” of Africa, and because of the culprit behind its demise: “The rhino is forced into extinction by a very direct process—people killing them for their horns,” says Loring. “I think we have a responsibility to save animals that we are responsible for killing in the wild.”

But the attempt to save the white rhino might have another driver: human self-interest. Fifty years ago, scientists successfully cloned carp, currently a vulnerable species. But using that technology to increase the fish’s numbers isn’t nearly as attractive as the redemption story of bringing back the white rhino from the brink of extinction. It’s estimated that human activity is causing Earth’s species to go extinct at 100 times their natural rate. But only those species that have earned favor among humans—or make us feel especially guilty—get a lifeline. “I’m not saving mosquitos,” says Loring. “Trust me.”

De-extinction, then, is a uniquely self-gratifying brand of conservation. Resurrection reflects an urge to do something, O’Connor says, “before humanity relinquishes the existence of wild places and wild things in the world.” But it’s for humans, not for the animals. “It really doesn’t matter to a dead species whether they’re brought back,” she says. Perhaps, nostalgia for the great beasts of the world has clouded humans from realizing that what is truly natural may be to let them die out.

Greenhouse Gases Reached Record Highs In 2014

<span class='image-component__caption' itemprop="caption">Cows and other livestock give off significant amounts of methane gas.</span>
JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER VIA GETTY IMAGESCows and other livestock give off significant amounts of methane gas.

 GENEVA, Nov 9 (Reuters) – Greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere reached a record high in 2014 as the relentless fueling of climate change makes the planet more dangerous for future generations, the World Meteorological Organization said on Monday.

“Every year we say that time is running out. We have to act NOW to slash greenhousegasemissions if we are to have a chance to keep the increase in temperatures to manageable levels,” WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said in a statement.

Graphs issued by the United Nations agency showed levels of carbon dioxide, the maingreenhouse gas, climbing steadily towards the 400 parts per million (ppm) level, having hit a new record every year since reliable records began in 1984.

Carbon dioxide levels averaged 397.7 ppm in 2014 but briefly breached the 400 ppm barrier in the northern hemisphere in early 2014, and again globally in early 2015.

Soon 400 ppm will be a permanent reality, Jarraud said.

“It means hotter global temperatures, more extreme weather events like heatwaves and floods, melting ice, rising sea levels and increased acidity of the oceans. This is happening now and we are moving into uncharted territory at a frightening speed.”

The rise in carbon dioxide levels was being amplified by higher levels of water vapor, which were in turn rising because of carbon dioxide emissions, the WMO said.

Levels of the other two major man-made greenhouse gases, methane and nitrous oxide, also continued their relentless annual rise in 2014, reaching 1,833 parts per billion (ppb) and 327.1 ppb, respectively. Both increased at the fastest rate for a decade.

The U.N. panel of climate scientists estimates that concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide are at their highest in at least 800,000 years.

Jarraud’s annual plea for the world to do whatever it can to cut greenhouse gas emissions comes weeks before negotiators from more than 190 countries are due to meet in Paris to try to agree a new U.N. climate deal.

More than 150 countries, led by top greenhouse gas emitters China and the United States, have issued plans to limit greenhouse gas emissions beyond 2020. But the plans revealed so far will not curb emissions enough to meet a target agreed in 2010, to limit global warming to within 2° Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) of pre-industrial levels.

Is machismo the cause of the male suicide emergency?

Jeremy Corbyn has said that a machismo culture is causing men to commit suicide

Jeremy Corbyn declared his concern for the high male suicide rate during a visit to a mental health hospital in Liverpool last week.

The Labour leader, who is rapidly becoming a beta male icon, said that the problem arises because women are prepared to speak out, but our macho culture stops men from doing the same.

While it is great news to see leading politicians raising the issue of male suicide, there is a tragic irony behind Corbyn’s words, namely that the party founded for the working man has been mute on the subject of men’s issues for decades.

Rightly or wrongly, the left has given us a brave new world of women’s ministers, women-only shortlists, an annual women’s conference, a manifesto for women and the #WomanToWoman pink bus.

In the process, Labour has become not so much a party of One Nation but a party of One Gender and any attempt to bring men’s issues to the table have been fiercely resisted.

Men aged between 35 and 55 are more than four times as likely to take their own lives as women of the same age
Men aged between 35 and 55 are more than four times as likely to take their own lives as women of the same age 

When the recent recession hit Britain, for example, the number of men in work fell between 2008 and 2012 at nearly 50 times the rate for women, leaving us with 387,000 fewer men in the workplace compared with 8,000 fewer women. Around the same time (2008 to 2010), researchers estimated there were more than 1,000 additional suicides as a result of the recession and that 84pc of those who killed themselves were men.

So what did Labour do to “speak out” for these working men whose lives were devastated by the economic pressures of unemployment?

The answer is: nothing. They were as silent as a suicidal man unable to find the words to put his emotional distress into language.

Instead, when it came to gender issues, Labour and its friends on the left flooded the media with a deluge of messages about Cameron’s “women trouble”, claiming there was a “war on women” and telling us it was “raining men in the Tory party” so heavily that we needed to send out “a life raft for women’s equality”.

A new study reveals that more middle-aged men are committing suicide in Britain than 7 years ago
A new study reveals that more middle-aged men are committing suicide in Britain than 7 years ago 

Not that The Conservatives have done any better. They may have more male ministers in the cabinet, but they haven’t got any men’s ministers.

In politics, the battle of the sexes is fought on the basis of which party is doing the most for one gender: women. For its part, the Conservative partyalso has policies for women, a women’s minister and a leader who employed a women’s advisor.

When it comes to gender politics it’s constantly raining women, leaving men without a lifebelt, caught between the rocks of the traditional, socially conservative desire to protect women and children and the hard place that is the progressive, socially liberal drive to champion women and girls.

So Jeremy Corbyn deserves credit for daring to mention male suicide. However, his soundbite theory that “macho culture” is the problem and “speaking out” is the cure, doesn’t stand scrutiny.

Labour leader contender, Jeremy Corbyn leaves the Royal College of Nursing in central London
Labour leader contender, Jeremy Corbyn leaves the Royal College of Nursing in central London

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that for some men, being a straightforward, ordinary bloke is a perfectly good defence against suicide. Being able to take on the provider and protector role, with a wife and kids, gives these men the security and responsibility of having a family to look out for.

Having a home, money, social bonds and a purpose in life can be the foundations for a man’s mental wellbeing. Such men will develop a range of healthy coping mechanisms at times of stress and distress, such as sport, exercise, hobbies, listening to music and of course, retiring to a real or metaphorical shed.

These men may be part of the “macho culture” that Jeremy Corbyn dislikes, but their “keep calm and carry on” approach to manhood works for them and we should honour and respect that.

“If some of the most powerful men and women in the county are so unwilling or unable to talk about men’s issues, why on Earth are we surprised when the most disempowered and distressed men in the country don’t speak out?”
Glen Poole

Of course for some suicidal men, finding someone to talk to will make all the difference. As a society we need to make it as easy as possible for those men to talk, by supporting services like the male suicide prevention charity CALM UK.

But it’s not a “macho culture” that prevents men from “speaking out”; it’s a culture that isn’t yet “man enough” to listen and respond to men’s needs.

All the research tells us there are multiple factors that make men of all backgrounds more vulnerable to suicide. They include exclusion from school, poor education, unemployment, low income, fatherlessness, relationship breakdown, separation from your kids, homelessness, imprisonment, substance abuse, being a victim of violence and abuse, mental health problems and a lack of male-friendly services.

All of these issues disproportionately impact men and boys. They are men’s issues. Issues that men and women in power across all political parties stubbornly refuse to talk about, as we saw in the recent blocking of a men’s issues debate in parliament on International Men’s Day.

MPs Philip Davies and Jess Phillips were involved in a heated argument on the subject of a men's issues debate in Parliament
MPs Philip Davies and Jess Phillips were involved in a heated argument on the subject of a men’s issues debate in Parliament 

If some of the most powerful men and women in the county are so unwilling or unable to talk about men’s issues, why on Earth are we surprised when the most disempowered and distressed men in the country don’t speak out?

One of the biggest barriers that stands in the way of us creating a society where men and boys in need are equally capable of getting help as women and girls, is the one gender approach of our political classes, shaped by the false belief that when it comes to gender issues, women have problems and men are the problem.

If women’s ministers, women and equality committees, women’s policies, women’s manifestos and International Women’s Day debates are the right way to tackle the issues that women and girls face, why do we deny men and boys the same support and then point the finger at men when we struggle to get help?

13 men will kill themselves in the UK today, if we think “speaking out” would have helped them, then we need people in power, like Corbyn and Cameron, to be “man enough” to “speak out” about men’s issues, starting with International Men’s Day on 19th November.

New electron microscopy method sculpts 3-D structures at atomic level

New electron microscopy method sculpts 3-D structures at atomic level
ORNL researchers used a new scanning transmission electron microscopy technique to sculpt 3-D nanoscale features in a complex oxide material. 

Electron microscopy researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory have developed a unique way to build 3-D structures with finely controlled shapes as small as one to two billionths of a meter.

The ORNL study published in the journal Small demonstrates how scanning transmission electron microscopes, normally used as imaging tools, are also capable of precision sculpting of nanometer-sized 3-D features in complex oxide materials.

By offering single atomic plane precision, the technique could find uses in fabricating structures for functional nanoscale devices such as microchips. The structures grow epitaxially, or in perfect crystalline alignment, which ensures that the same electrical and mechanical properties extend throughout the whole material.

“We can make smaller things with more precise shapes,” said ORNL’s Albina Borisevich, who led the study. “The process is also epitaxial, which gives us much more pronounced control over properties than we could accomplish with other approaches.”

ORNL scientists happened upon the method as they were imaging an imperfectly prepared strontium titanate thin film. The sample, consisting of a crystalline substrate covered by an amorphous layer of the same material, transformed as the passed through it. A team from ORNL’s Institute for Functional Imaging of Materials, which unites scientists from different disciplines, worked together to understand and exploit the discovery.

“When we exposed the amorphous layer to an electron beam, we seemed to nudge it toward adopting its preferred crystalline state,” Borisevich said. “It does that exactly where the electron beam is.”

The use of a scanning , which passes an electron beam through a bulk material, sets the approach apart from lithography techniques that only pattern or manipulate a material’s surface.

“We’re using fine control of the beam to build something inside the solid itself,” said ORNL’s Stephen Jesse. “We’re making transformations that are buried deep within the structure. It would be like tunneling inside a mountain to build a house.”

The technique offers a shortcut to researchers interested in studying how materials’ characteristics change with thickness. Instead of imaging multiple samples of varying widths, scientists could use the microscopy method to add layers to the sample and simultaneously observe what happens.

“The whole premise of nanoscience is that sometimes when you shrink a material it exhibits properties that are very different than the bulk material,” Borisevich said. “Here we can control that. If we know there is a certain dependence on size, we can determine exactly where we want to be on that curve and go there.”

Theoretical calculations on ORNL’s Titan supercomputer helped the researchers understand the process’s underlying mechanisms. The simulations showed that the observed behavior, known as a knock-on process, is consistent with the electron beam transferring energy to individual atoms in the material rather than heating an area of the material.

“With the electron beam, we are injecting energy into the system and nudging where it would otherwise go by itself, given enough time,” Borisevich said. “Thermodynamically it wants to be crystalline, but this process takes a long time at room temperature.”

Here’s what happens to your body when you check your smartphone before bed

We all know that checking our electronic devices before bed isn’t ideal for a good night’s sleep, but most of us do it anyway – because what better way is there to end your day than finding out what all your friends did? But now thevideo team over at Business Insider has investigated exactly what that behaviour is doing to our brains and bodies, and let’s just say we’re going to be making a much more concerted effort to keep smartphones out of the bedroom from now on.

The problem comes from the fact that your circadian rhythm, which determines when your body releases hormones, is controlled by light exposure, as psychiatrist Dan Siegel from the University of California, Los Angeles in the US tells Business Insider. So when you check your phone at night, it’s sending a stream of photons right into your eyes and telling your brain not to secrete melatonin – the hormone that makes you feel tired.

That means that you’re awake for longer, which, if you’re anything like us, probably results in you checking your phone for longer, and by the time your brain has finally had enough, it’s several hours past your desired sleep time. And when you have to wake up for work the next day. Do this consistently, and you’re missing out on a few hours of sleep every night.

Now, that might not sound so bad, but as Siegel explains above, researchers are just beginning to understand why sleep is so important. Not only does getting between seven and nine hours of sleep a night let our active neurons rest, it also supports the glial cells that are crucial for cleaning up the neurotoxins that build up in our brains throughout the day. When we don’t get enough sleep, these glial cells can’t do their jobs, and we end up with impaired memories and attention spans.

And that’s not to mention what lack of sleep is doing to your metabolism. Watch the video above to find out more about the effects of smartphone use before bed, and what you can do to mitigate them. And don’t blame us next time you find yourself awake at 1am scrolling zombie-like through Facebook – you’ve been warned.

Dying Doctor Describes Exactly What It Feels Like To Die From A Snakebite

Boomslang Snake


A doctor’s “death diary” explains exactly how it feels to pass away after being bitten by a snake.

Karl Patterson Schmidt died in 1957, after he was bitten by a young boomslang snake. But despite the bite, he didn’t realise he was going to die — and spent the time between being bitten and passing away documenting the specific sensations that he experienced.

It took Schmidt about a day to die. During that time, he was asked whether he needed medical attention — but he refused, for fear of interfering with the symptoms that he was feeling.

Schmidt was bitten at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. The snake had been brought to the museum from the Lincoln Park Zoo, after it had been difficult to find anyone to identify it.

It was during that process that Schmidt took hold of the snake, as he describes in the early pages of his “death diary”. He didn’t use the normal technique for taking hold of the snake — nobody really knows why — and the animal bit him on the hand.

In the following hours, Schmidt described symptoms including nausea and blood loss. The animal’s venom works by causing tiny clots in the blood, preventing the blood from clotting inside the body and making the victim bleed to death.

Much of Schmidt’s diary had been written in a matter-of-fact style. He details the exact amount of food that he consumed (“Ate 2 pieces milk toast”) as well as his symptoms (“strong chill & shaking”, and “Bleeding of mucous membranes in the mouth […] apparently mostly from gums”).

One of the last updates is as Schmidt awakes, the morning after the bite:

“Slight bleeding is now going on in the bowels,” he writes. “No urine, with an oz. or so of blood about every three hours (instead of the several oz. of urine to be expected). Mouth and nose continue to bleed, not excessively.”

Soon after, Schmidt was up and about. He felt so well that he rang the museum where he worked to tell them that he would be at work the next day.

But he became ill quickly, and his wife called the family doctor, who worked to revive him. He was taken to the hospital and was declared dead soon after.

An autopsy found that Schmidt had sustained “extensive internal bleeding”. Large and small bleeds were found throughout his body.

“Dr. Schmidt’s optimism was extremely unfortunate, as is proved by his death,” a report by another scientist who published Schmidt’s “death diary” read. “But it must be admitted that there was some justification: The boomslang was very young and only one fang penetrated deeply.

“A total lack of experience with boomslang venom is largely to blame for the tragic events of September 25 and 26.”

Before his death, Schmidt had already contributed hugely to the study of snakes. After he passed away, Schmidt’s work led him to have a huge number of snakes named after him.

Inside The Z Machine, Where Scientists Turned Hydrogen Into Metal

Z Machine

Randy Montoya; Courtesy Sandia National Laboratories

For 80 years, researchers theorized that hydrogen could transform into a metal. This year, scientists at Sandia National Laboratories finally proved it.

They took deuterium, an isotope of hydrogen, and applied 3 million times the atmospheric pressure using the Z machine, shown above. After 200 nanoseconds, the liquid turned reflective, indicating it had become metallic.

“The moment we got our first look at the data, we were very excited,” says Mike Desjarlais, the team’s lead theoretical physicist. “After the first several experiments, we had begun to wonder if we would ever see it.”

The findings change scientists’ understanding of how planets evolve. Because planets cool over time, temperature has long been used to calculate their age. But hydrogen metalli­zation causes surface temps to rise, which could explain, for example, why Saturn is warmer than its age suggests.

New artificial material mimics photosynthesis to create clean, self-sustaining energy source.

It’s one of the holy grails of scientific research: discovering a way of replicating the natural process of photosynthesis, such that light could be easily converted into energy for other purposes, just like a plant does. And now researchers in the US have discovered an artificial material that lets them mimic this system to create a clean, sustainable source of power.

Researchers at Florida State University have discovered a method of using manganese oxide – also known as birnessite – to capture sunlight and then use that solar energy to create an oxidation reaction, breaking down water (H2O) into hydrogen (H) and oxygen (O2). Oxidation occurs during photosynthesis, and by replicating this part of the natural process, we might be able to produce energy in new ways via a simple, practical mechanism.

“In theory, this should be a self-sustaining energy source,” said Jose L. Mendoza-Cortes, assistant professor of chemical engineering. “Perhaps in the future, you could put this material on your roof and it could turn rain water into energy with the help of the sun.”

Best of all, using manganese oxide in this kind of way would be an entirely carbon-neutral method of producing energy sources like hydrogen fuel, and wouldn’t have any negative impacts on the environment. “You won’t generate carbon dioxide or waste,” said Mendoza-Cortes.

Once produced, hydrogen can be used as a fuel and burned with oxygen to form H2O, releasing energy in the process. But usually the creation of hydrogen fuel is powered by burning fossil fuels, which is why this new technology is so exciting.

When looking to find a material that would be able to facilitate the process of breaking down water but also capturing the energy from the Sun, the researchers faced two initial challenges: finding a material that didn’t rust due to exposure to the water, and also one which wasn’t too expensive to create.

The answer Mendoza-Cortes and his team came up with – which is described in their paper in The Journal of Physical Chemistry – was to develop a multilayered material out of manganese oxide. However, it was only when they stripped back the multiple layers to a single layer that they struck what they were looking for. When they did this, the material was able to trap light at a much faster rate.

How is this possible? According to the researchers, the single layer of the manganese oxide material provides what’s called a direct band gap, whereas multiple layers constituted an indirect band gap. Light penetrates different sorts of materials differently, but its energy is only effectively captured and stored by materials with a direct band gap.

What’s remarkable about the material the researchers developed in this instance is that it is more effective at capturing energy when there is only a single layer of it – a desirable outcome for the purposes of any potential real-world applications, as it will be cheaper and easier to manufacture.

“This is why the discovery of this direct band gap material is so exciting,” said Mendoza-Cortes. “It is cheap, it is efficient and you do not need a large amount to capture enough sunlight to carry out fuel generation.”

It’s early days yet and there’s no word so far on when we can expect to see this kind of material manufactured for domestic purposes, but with the researchers already envisaging potential applications like household roof-top energy generators, it’s an incredibly exciting development.