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Architectural perfection

Scientists studying termite mounds miss the Creator behind the creatures Edelmann

Architectural perfection

A group of researchers in London recently set out to discover how termite communities build their homes—towering mud mounds that are self-ventilating, self-cooling, self-draining, and have previously mystified scientists.

For the study, published March 22 in Science Advances, the researchers used 3D X-ray to analyze termite nests as large as 23 feet tall in the African countries of Senegal and Guinea. “Termite nests are a unique example of architectural perfection by insects,” concluded lead researcher Kamaljit Singh from Imperial College London.

The average termite is half an inch long. So termites building a 23-foot-high structure would compare to humans building a mud hut twice the height of the Empire State Building using no mechanical or electronic equipment. And considering these nests keep the internal living environment cool, dry, and well-ventilated, it’s easy to understand why these God-designed creatures baffle scientists.

The researchers found that the insects ventilate their skyscrapers through networks of large and small pores in the walls that help to exchange carbon dioxide with outside air. During high winds, they allow carbon dioxide to blow out of the nest, but with slower wind velocities they release it through diffusion, allowing the nests to ventilate regardless of the weather outside.

The larger pores in the outer wall of the nest also help to regulate indoor temperature and keep the nest cool. The pores fill with air, which reduces heat entering through the walls much the same way double paned windows keep heat inside a house.

The researchers also discovered the ventilation system works even when it rains. The nests use capillary action that forces water to move from larger pores to smaller ones, ensuring that the larger holes stay open and continue to provide air flow while also allowing quick drainage of rainwater.

The scientists said they hope engineers can one day imitate the newly discovered termite architecture to design energy-efficient, self-maintaining buildings.

“This study shows that there is a lot more to learn from Mother Nature when it comes to solving even the most important 21st century problems,” said Bagus P. Muljadi, co-author of the study.

But James Johnson, chief academic officer for the Institute for Creation Research, noted that the scientists are missing the significance of what they discovered. “Creatures proactively engage with and change their environments, but they don’t ‘engineer’ anything,” he wrote. “That glory goes to creation’s Architect and Bioengineer, the Lord Jesus Christ, who designed, built, and maintains all of these small-yet-great, super interactive ecosystems.”

A sign posted at the Rockland County Health Department in Pomona, N.Y., on March 27

A sign posted at the Rockland County Health Department in Pomona, N.Y., on March 27 Associated Press/Photo by Seth Wenig

Medical emergency

Officials have confirmed at least 153 cases of measles in Rockland County, N.Y., just north of New York City, since October. Last week County Executive Ed Day declared a state of emergency and issued a controversial ban, barring any unvaccinated people under the age of 18 from public places, including shopping malls, civic centers, schools, restaurants, and even houses of worship for 30 days unless they get vaccinated.

Authorities could charge violators with a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail, but Day said the county does not have any concerted enforcement effort planned. The ban is intended to emphasize the seriousness of the situation.

The parents of 44 unvaccinated children who were barred from a private school in the county have challenged the emergency ban in court.

“It’s irrational,” said civil rights attorney Michael Sussman, who is representing the parents. “You’re punishing people who don’t have the illness rather than quarantining people who are sick.” Sussman said the spread of the disease would stop quickly if authorities quarantined measles patients and those close to them.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared measles officially eliminated in 2000, but travelers bring the disease to the United States from other countries. The CDC has recorded more than 350 cases in 15 states so far this year, most of them in unvaccinated children. Five states—California, Illinois, New York, Texas, and Washington—have reported outbreaks, defined as 3 or more cases.

On a related note, more than 2,000 students and staff at Temple University lined up for free mumps vaccine booster shots last week following a mumps outbreak of 106 confirmed or probably cases at the school. Most of the cases occurred in individuals already vaccinated. Protection tends to fade 10 or more years after the second dose of the vaccine, usually given between ages 4 and 6. —J.B.

A sign posted at the Rockland County Health Department in Pomona, N.Y., on March 27

A sign posted at the Rockland County Health Department in Pomona, N.Y., on March 27 Associated Press/Photo by Seth Wenig


In hopes of learning ways to develop more effective pain treatments, researchers at the University College London are studying the genetic makeup of a Scottish woman who has felt virtually no pain her entire life. The scientists published their study in the British Journal of Anaesthesia on Feb. 22.

The woman, 66, came to doctors with a hip problem a year ago. They found she suffered from severe joint degeneration but felt no pain. She also recently underwent a usually painful hand surgery but reported no pain after the operation. The woman has experienced little to no anxiety or fear, even in dangerous situations, and her wounds heal quickly. She said that she has not realized she was being burned until she smelled burning flesh.

The researchers conducted a genetic analysis and found two mutations that could be responsible for altering the woman’s neurotransmitters.

“We hope that with time, our findings might contribute to clinical research for post-operative pain and anxiety and potentially chronic pain, PTSD, and wound healing, perhaps involving gene therapy techniques,” lead researcher James Cox said in a statement. —J.B.

More information on mammograms

The Food and Drug Administration issued a proposal last week that, if passed, would require doctors to supply all women who get mammograms with a short summary of their breast density.

More than half of women older than 40 have dense breasts, which means they have less fatty tissue and more connective and glandular tissue. Such tissue makes it harder to detect cancer because it appears white on X-rays, just like cancerous tumors.

Mammogram reports include information about breast density, but the information wasn’t shared with patients until some cancer survivors began to push for disclosure laws. More than 35 states require some type of notification, but the new FDA proposal would set minimum standards for all states. The guidelines don’t include recommendations for women with dense breasts, but physicians can order other types of scanning such as ultrasound or MRI for them. —J.B.

Julie Borg

Julie is a WORLD contributor who covers science and intelligent design. A clinical psychologist and a World Journalism Institute graduate, Julie resides in Dayton, Ohio.

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