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Parents with children who are suffering from respiratory diseases are lining up at a children's hospital in Chongqing, China, on November 23, 2023.

Credit: Costfoto/NurPhoto via Getty

What’s behind China’s pneumonia wave?

A spike in respiratory illnesses, including pneumonia, in children in China is the result of common winter infections — not a novel pathogen. The World Health Organization reports that the country is experiencing a typical ‘winter surge’ in acute respiratory infections. Epidemiologists say the surge is to be expected, given that this is China’s first winter since the COVID-19 pandemic began that the country has been free of COVID restrictions.

Nature | 5 min read

Why Staph makes us itchy

Staphylococcus aureus bacteria congregate around the endings of certain sensory nerves in the skin and release an itch-inducing enzyme called V8. The microorganisms form part of humans’ normal microbiome, but can also cause infections. The bacteria are particularly prevalent in people with atopic dermatitis, or eczema. In experiments with S. aureus-infected mice, a medication that blocks nerve cells from interacting with V8 made the animals less itchy. “Hopefully, this understanding will translate into new treatment options helping to tackle the misery of itch and eczema,” says dermatologist Emma Wedgeworth.

The Guardian | 4 min read

Reference: Cell paper

How to make waves eat themselves

Physicists have demonstrated that two cavities carved into the side of a channel can totally dissipate the energy of incoming waves. In a model set-up with real water, researchers were able to achieve ‘perfect absorption’ — in which the waves completely cancelled themselves out as they bounced off the cavity walls — with waves of a frequency of 2.9 Hertz. The finding hints at the possibility of designing structures to protect coastlines or harvest wave energy.

Physics Magazine | 4 min read

Reference: Physical Review Letters paper

Computer-generated illustration showing two cavities in a channel that dissipate and cancel out wave action

This illustration shows how cavities cause waves in a narrow channel to interfere with themselves. (Léo-Paul Euvé)

Features & opinion

How to make chemistry more accessible

Inaccessible buildings, lab spaces and equipment are all areas in which thoughtlessness can create barriers for disabled, chronically ill and neurodivergent chemists. The dearth of part-time career opportunities and flexible work options can also be a problem. Three chemists advise on how companies and institutions can do better — including by asking those who have left the profession to give their input on what went wrong.

Nature | 9 min read

Why we should embrace uncertainty

Uncertainty — that “uneasy sense of not-knowing” — offers an unsung opportunity to develop cognitive skills such as curiosity, adaptability and resilience, says science writer Maggie Jackson. Rather than seeking comfort in unwarranted confidence, we would do better to embrace the reality of unpredictable situations, say psychologists. In her new book Uncertain, Jackson explains how, “as we confront something new, powerful neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine boost the mind’s receptivity to new data, fire up cognitive circuits that flexibly control focus and prime brain regions to engage in information-sharing”.

CNN | 6 min read

Where I work

Spela Borko during sampling in one of the cave she is carrying on research, Slovenia.

Špela Borko is a researcher and coordinator at Scientists for Balkan Rivers. Interview by Stav Dimitropoulos.Credit: Peter Gedei

Biologist Špela Borko says that cave-diving enhanced her appreciation of the myriad life forms that teem in underground lakes. (Nature | 3 min read)

Quote of the day

“If an earlier career person, or somebody in a less financially stable position, or with a less supportive family, or without those kinds of social connections, or a host of other things… if they didn’t have those comforts and privileges that I had, they would have had much less chance of getting the help that they would desperately need to be able to defend the truth.”

Reproductive-health researcher Chelsea Polis was sued by that maker of the Daysy fertility tracker after speaking out about misleading marketing. She has won this year’s John Maddox Prize, given by the charity Sense About Science and Nature, for advancing science and evidence in the face of difficulty or hostility. (The Guardian | 8 min read)