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Child with Eczema scratching itchy arm

A child scratches an arm affected by atopic dermatitis. A new skin patch accurately detects such scratching. Credit: Lisa Kingdon/Getty

Engineering

How itchy are you? A new device knows precisely

A skin patch that monitors scratching is far less invasive than the infrared camera recordings used now.

A wearable sensor that measures how often a child scratches themself could offer doctors a straightforward way to quantify itching.

Atopic dermatitis, a skin condition commonly known as eczema, causes chronic itching. It can be so severe that children scratch their itchy skin at night instead of sleeping, leading to stunted growth. Until now, the only reliable method to measure the effectiveness of treatments to stop itching at night was time-consuming analysis of infrared-camera recordings.

John Rogers and Shuai Xu at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, and their colleagues developed a sensor that sits on the back of a child’s hand and uses acoustic and mechanical signals to measure scratches initiated from the arm, wrist, fingers and fingertips. By wiring up healthy volunteers, the researchers trained an algorithm to detect which movements constitute scratching and which do not. They then tested the device in 11 children with moderate to severe atopic dermatitis over 46 nights.

When they compared these results with those obtained by infrared-camera data, they found that the device correctly identified 84% of scratching movements and 99% of non-scratching movements.

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Plastic and other debris floats underwater in blue water

Plastic detritus from snacks and meals floats in the Red Sea. Marine sampling shows that food waste accounts for nearly 90% of plastic pollution at some locales. Credit: Andrey Nekrasov/Barcroft Media/Getty

Ocean sciences

Humanity’s fast-food habit is filling the ocean with plastic

Food bags, drink bottles and similar items account for the biggest share of plastic waste near the shore.
Conceptual artwork of a pair of entangled quantum particles.

An artist’s impression of ‘entangled’ particles, which share properties even at a distance. Entangled photons can be used to help secure a multi-party video meeting. Credit: Mark Garlick/Science Photo Library

Quantum information

Quantum keys dial up tamper-proof conference calls

A new experiment efficiently distributes the highly secure keys to four parties instead of the typical two.
Farmers harvest pineapples in a field.

Workers harvest pineapples in Lingao County, China. Less than one-third of the money spent on food eaten at home reaches farmers. Credit: Yuan Chen/VCG/Getty

Economics

Poor harvest: farmers earn a pitiful fraction of the money spent on food

The bulk of consumer food spending around the world ends up in the coffers of distributors, processors and other parties beyond the farm gate.
A woman wearing a protective face mask splashes her hands in a jet of water

A pedestrian seeks relief from searing temperatures in Spain, where a high proportion of heat-related deaths have been linked to climate change. Credit: SALAS/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Climate change

More than one-third of heat deaths blamed on climate change

Warming resulting from human activities accounts for a high percentage of heat-related deaths, especially in southern Asia and South America.
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