HEALTHCARE WORKERS HIT THE PICKET LINE.
Over 75,000 Kaiser Permanente employees initiated the US’s largest healthcare strike on Wednesday. Representing 40% of Kaiser’s workforce through an eight-union coalition, most strikers hail from western states like California. The strike results from expired employment contracts and broader labor movements across the US post-pandemic. Strikers, including nurses and pharmacists, demand higher pay, strategies to combat staff shortages, anti-outsourcing protections, and clearer communication for remote work transitions. They seek a 6.5% pay raise for the initial two years of a new labor contract, followed by 5.75% for the next two years, countering Kaiser’s 4% raise proposal. The strike is set to conclude on October 7th, but a prolonged strike in November is possible without an agreement. Kaiser has made preparations, but non-emergency patient services may face disruptions. (CNN)
NOBEL PRIZE IN CHEMISTRY.
Three US-based scientists, Moungi Bawendi (MIT), Louis Brus (Columbia University), and Alexei Ekimov (Nanocrystals Technology Inc.), won the Nobel Prize in chemistry for their groundbreaking work on quantum dots. These nanoparticles, just a few atoms in diameter, release bright colored light and are used in electronics and medical imaging. Quantum dots glow in blue, red, or green depending on their size, with larger dots emitting red and smaller ones blue. This color variation arises due to electrons behaving differently in confined spaces. Though physicists predicted this behavior in the 1930s, producing controlled-sized quantum dots took another 50 years. Ekimov and Brus are technology pioneers, while Bawendi improved quantum dot production quality, making them application-ready. Bawendi expressed surprise and honor upon winning. In an unusual event, the winners’ names leaked before the official announcement. Each Nobel laureate receives approximately $1 million, an 18-carat gold medal, and a diploma. (Associated Press)
SCIENTISTS AGAINST DISINFORMATION.
According to an editorial in Nature, 2023 will witness significant elections worldwide, including in India, Taiwan, the U.S., the U.K., and the European Parliament. With social media’s massive role in information dissemination, election researchers are concerned, particularly with the inability to access data from X (formerly Twitter). X had been an anomaly, providing data openly for research, but has ceased this policy, affecting the monitoring of potential disinformation campaigns. Tech firms now control researchers’ data access, potentially leading to biased portrayals of their platforms. While the EU’s Digital Services Act, effective from next year, mandates large online platforms to offer data to independent researchers, its implementation might face challenges. Each EU nation can interpret data security, confidentiality, and trade secrets uniquely, risking data request denials. Researchers should collaborate with policymakers to streamline data access and prevent prolonged disputes. Independent data access for researchers is crucial for democratic societies. Concerningly, Elon Musk recently dissolved X’s Election Integrity Team, emphasizing the need for other platforms to cooperate with researchers for unbiased assessments. (Nature)
UK LOSING ITS WILDLIFE.
The UK ranks among the world’s most nature-depleted countries, according to the comprehensive State of Nature 2023 report. Over the past five decades, the UK has witnessed a significant decline in biodiversity. Alarmingly, one in every six species in Great Britain is at risk of extinction, as classified by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (critically endangered, endangered, or vulnerable). For instance, the distribution of the brown hare in Great Britain decreased by 15% from 1970 to 2015. Predominantly, the country’s vital habitats for wildlife are in deteriorating condition. The primary reasons for this nature loss are intensive land management for agriculture and the ongoing impacts of the climate crisis. In marine environments, overfishing and climate changes are the chief culprits. Nevertheless, the report suggests hope, emphasizing that timely restoration projects can benefit both nature and humans, aiding in climate change mitigation and adaptation. (BMJ)
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ANTIBIOTICS AFTER SEX.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released a draft recommendation advising healthcare providers to consider prescribing doxycycline as a preventative measure against bacterial STIs, including chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis. This recommendation, termed doxyPEP, is specifically for men who have sex with men and transgender women. The CDC is welcoming public comments on this proposal until November 16. Doxycycline, generally prescribed post-infection, has shown potential as a preventive measure if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex. The recommendation comes amidst a concerning rise in STI rates in the US, with over 2.5 million cases reported in 2021, a 7% increase from the previous year. A study discovered that doxyPEP reduced the incidence of these STIs by about 65% in clinics in San Francisco and Seattle. Some local health departments have already begun suggesting doxyPEP for STI prevention. (CNN)
CRUNCHTIME FOR COMMERCIAL LUNAR LANDING PROGRAMS.
NASA is anticipating a historic landing on the Moon, marking the first successful American lunar landing in over half a century. This achievement will bolster the confidence of startups targeting lunar missions and assert NASA’s reliance on commercial entities for its Artemis program. While there are potential risks with the first two commercial lunar landing missions, NASA is setting low expectations. The Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, initiated five years ago, has two companies, Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines, with lunar landers ready for launch. Astrobotic’s Peregrine and Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C are expected to launch soon, aiming for the Moon’s south pole. Successful landings would showcase US space leadership and reinvigorate lunar science. Delays have been attributed to the pandemic’s effect on the supply chain. While NASA hopes for commercial success, there are considerations to increase oversight if the current lighter touch approach with private sector proves ineffective. The overall goal is to expand commercial lunar activity, with a vibrant lunar economy relying on commercial customers alongside NASA. (Ars Technica)
NASA’s spacecraft is set to have a close-up with the asteroid Psyche, believed to be a metal-rich asteroid, potentially a part of an early planetary building block stripped of its outer layer during the solar system’s formation. Research by NASA’s Ames Research Center indicates the Psyche mission will indeed find a metallic asteroid. Using NASA’s airborne Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), the team observed Psyche’s surface in its entirety. They studied light wavelengths reflecting off Psyche and found characteristics suggesting its metallic nature. Interestingly, they did not observe the 10-micron plateau, often indicative of a “fluffy” surface, which contrasts with earlier studies. This inconsistency hints at potential differences in the asteroid’s poles. Maggie McAdam commented that astronomical observations have exhausted what can be learned about Psyche; a physical visit is now essential. NASA’s mission, launching on Oct. 12, 2023, and arriving in 2029, will offer a closer study of this celestial body, which can help understand planet formations and core structures. (NASA)
KUIPER BELT MYSTERY.
Beyond Neptune lies the Kuiper belt, a region of small icy objects including Pluto, which abruptly ends around 50 astronomical units (AU) from the Sun. In contrast, similar belts in other solar systems extend for hundreds of AUs. Astronomer Wesley Fraser and his team, while searching for new objectives for NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft using ground-based telescopes, have found roughly a dozen objects beyond 60 AU. This could imply the Kuiper belt is larger than believed or that a separate belt exists. Data from the New Horizons, currently at 57 AU, supports this. While its instruments are mostly dormant, its dust counter, an indicator of colliding planetary bodies, remains active and hasn’t shown a decrease in impacts. These findings, though not yet peer-reviewed, challenge previous surveys that found limited objects beyond 50 AU. The ongoing New Horizons mission, now extended, offers potential for further discoveries using AI-driven analysis. (Science)
Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.
WORDS: The Biology Guy.
IMAGE CREDIT: Nobel Prize Foundation.