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A person in heat protective gear and a red hardhat works as the copper flows into molds at a smelting plant in China.

Metals can be lost at any stage of their commercial lifespan — including during smelting.Credit: He Huawen/VCG via Getty

Metal lifespans shows scale of waste

A study looking at the life cycles of 61 commercially used metals finds that more than half have a lifespan of less than 10 years. Exceptions include gold, which stays in use for centuries and can be repurposed many times, as well as iron and lead. “The longer we use metals, the less we need to mine,” notes industrial ecologist and co-author Christoph Helbig. He suggests one way to boost metals’ economic lifetime: mandating that new products be made with reused material.

Nature | 4 min read

Scrap metal: End-of-life recycling rates and loss rates for metals on the periodic table.

Source: Ref. 1

Satellite swarms threaten astronomy

Astronomers are worried about the impact of satellite ‘megaconsteallations’, such as SpaceX’s Starlink Internet network, which already consist of thousands of satellites — and there are plans to launch tens of thousands more. If that happens, at some latitudes and times of year, a significant number of ‘stars’ visible to the naked eye will actually be satellites. The International Astronomical Union is about to debut tools to help telescope operators predict satellite locations so that they can point their instruments elsewhere. But SpaceX and other satellite companies are still struggling to find solutions. “This is an unsustainable trajectory,” says astronomer Meredith Rawls.

Nature | 7 min read

Features & opinion

US science raises its voice for gun control

Leading journal Science and magazine Scientific American have simultaneously published impassioned editorials calling for changes to gun laws in the United States.

“The science is abundantly clear,” write the editors of Scientific American. “More guns do not stop crime. Guns kill more children each year than auto accidents. More children die by gunfire in a year than on-duty police officers and active military members. Guns are a public health crisis, just like COVID, and in this, we are failing our children, over and over again.”

“Scientists should not sit on the sidelines and watch others fight this out,” argues Science editor-in-chief H. Holdenr Thorp. “If children do not feel safe, they cannot learn. And a country that cannot learn cannot thrive. A nation of children threatened by gun violence does not have a future.”

Science | 5 min read & Scientific American | 6 min read

COVID lessons from Japan

The number of COVID-19 cases and deaths per capita in Japan has been significantly lower than in peer countries. Japan has several distinctive characteristics: it has the world’s oldest population, its land is densely populated and its constitution prohibits strict lockdowns. While other countries focused on disinfection, Japan emphasized avoiding sanmitsu, the ‘3Cs’: closed environments, crowded conditions and close-contact settings. Virologist Hitoshi Oshitani, who advises the Japanese government on its pandemic response, looks back on what worked and considers what the future might hold.

Nature | 5 min read

Farewell to the ‘isotope queen’

Biogeochemist Marilyn Fogel pioneered the use of isotope ratios to answer questions across topics as varied as palaeoecology, astrobiology, nutrient cycling and climate change. Fogel has died aged 69. Her lively and funny blog, Isotope Queen, includes 34 entries under the tag ‘Don’t take yourself too seriously’. Equally at home in the laboratory and the field, Fogel was known for her generous mentoring of early-career women. “The astrobiology community has lost one of its best,” wrote Andrew Steele, Jennifer Eigenbrode and Tim Lyons, astrobiologists at NASA, where Fogel worked for more than a decade.

The Washington Post | 5 min read & Astrobiology at NASA | 5 min read

The father of modern neuroscience

Santiago Ramón y Cajal went from an “inattentive, lazy, disobedient, and annoying” child (in the words of a disgruntled teacher) to a Nobel-prizewinning neuroanatomist. A new biography by science writer Benjamin Ehrlich paints a vivid picture of Cajal’s life but stumbles when putting his discoveries into context, writes reviewer and science journalist Alison Abbott.

Nature | 5 min read

Podcast: The puzzle of Palaeospondylus

Over a hundred years ago, palaeontologists discovered fossils of Palaeospondylus, a small, fish-like animal that resembled a tadpole and was, no more than a few centimetres long and that resembled a tadpole. Since then, researchers have argued over where the creature sits on the tree of life. Now, an X-ray analysis of Palaeospondylus’s anatomy might help to solve this mystery.

Nature Podcast | 26 min listen

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