Harry Potter in the sky? Bid to inspire young stargazers

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In a campaign to get more young people interested in the universe, The Big Bang Fair in partnership with astronomers at University of Birmingham created ‘Look Up To The Stars’: a new set of constellations representing icons from sport, entertainment, science and activism that children are inspired by today. (AFP/UNIVERSITY OF BIRMINGHAM/THE BIG BANG FAIR/HO)
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In a campaign to get more young people interested in the universe, The Big Bang Fair in partnership with astronomers at University of Birmingham created ‘Look Up To The Stars’: a new set of constellations representing icons from sport, entertainment, science and activism that children are inspired by today. (AFP PHOTO/UNIVERSITY OF BIRMINGHAM/THE BIG BANG FAIR)
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A new constellation to celebrate British astronaut Tim Peake. In a campaign to get more young people interested in the universe, The Big Bang Fair in partnership with astronomers at University of Birmingham created ‘Look Up To The Stars’: a new set of constellations representing icons from sport, entertainment, science and activism that children are inspired by today. (AFP PHOTO/UNIVERSITY OF BIRMINGHAM/THE BIG BANG FAIR)
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A new constellation based on and created to celebrate JK Rowling's fictional boy wizard Harry Potter. In a campaign to get more young people interested in the universe, The Big Bang Fair in partnership with astronomers at University of Birmingham created ‘Look Up To The Stars’: a new set of constellations representing icons from sport, entertainment, science and activism that children are inspired by today.(AFP PHOTO/UNIVERSITY OF BIRMINGHAM/THE BIG BANG FAIR)
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A new constellation based on and created to celebrate classic fictional character Paddington Bear. In a campaign to get more young people interested in the universe, The Big Bang Fair in partnership with astronomers at University of Birmingham created ‘Look Up To The Stars’: a new set of constellations representing icons from sport, entertainment, science and activism that children are inspired by today. (AFP PHOTO/UNIVERSITY OF BIRMINGHAM/THE BIG BANG FAIR)
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A new constellation based on and created to celebrate Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt. In a campaign to get more young people interested in the universe, The Big Bang Fair in partnership with astronomers at University of Birmingham created ‘Look Up To The Stars’: a new set of constellations representing icons from sport, entertainment, science and activism that children are inspired by today.(AFP PHOTO/UNIVERSITY OF BIRMINGHAM/THE BIG BANG FAIR/HO)
Updated 13 December 2017
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Harry Potter in the sky? Bid to inspire young stargazers

LONDON: British astronomers have come up with a new set of constellations inspired by modern-day figures such as Harry Potter and Usain Bolt in an attempt to teach children about the layout of the universe.
The eight new constellations in the “Look Up to The Stars” project are the brainchild of The Big Bang Fair, a science education event for young people and astronomers at the University of Birmingham.
The proposals include Harry Potter’s glasses, a tennis racket for Serena Williams, a spaceship for astronaut Tim Peak, a blue whale for naturist David Attenborough and a book in honor of Nobel-winner Malala Yousafzai.
The eight constellations invented are a bid “to get more young people interested in the universe,” The Big Bang Fair said in a statement.
Existing constellations are based on the zodiac and figures from ancient Greek and Roman mythology which “aren’t necessarily proving successful in enticing children today to look up at the stars,” it said.
A survey quoted by The Big Bang Fair found 29 percent of seven to 19-year-olds admitted they would not be able to recognize a single classical constellation.
The survey also found 72 percent of children admitted they had never looked for a constellation at night.
“We really hope these new creations will help people of all ages develop their interest in space and astronomy,” Emma Willett, who led the University of Birmingham research team, said in the statement.


Researchers accidentally engineer plastic-eating enzyme

Updated 17 April 2018
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Researchers accidentally engineer plastic-eating enzyme

  • Despite recycling efforts, most plastic can persist for hundreds of years in the environment
  • Researchers say they are now working on further improvements to the enzyme

TAMPA: Researchers in the US and Britain have accidentally engineered an enzyme which eats plastic and may eventually help solve the growing problem of plastic pollution, a study said Monday.
More than eight million tons of plastic are dumped into the world’s oceans every year, and concern is mounting over this petroleum-derived product’s toxic legacy on human health and the environment.
Despite recycling efforts, most plastic can persist for hundreds of years in the environment, so researchers are searching for better ways to eliminate it.
Scientists at the University of Portsmouth and the US Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory decided to focus on a naturally occurring bacterium discovered in Japan a few years ago.
Japanese researchers believe the bacterium evolved fairly recently in a waste recycling center, since plastics were not invented until the 1940s.
Known as Ideonella sakaiensis, it appears to feed exclusively on a type of plastic known as polyethylene terephthalate (PET), used widely in plastic bottles.

The researchers’ goal was to understand how one of its enzymes — called PETase — worked, by figuring out its structure.
“But they ended up going a step further and accidentally engineered an enzyme which was even better at breaking down PET plastics,” said the report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a peer-reviewed US journal.
Using a super-powerful X-ray, 10 billion times brighter than the Sun, they were able to make an ultra-high-resolution three-dimensional model of the enzyme.
Scientists from the University of South Florida and the University of Campinas in Brazil did computer modeling which showed PETase looked similar to another enzyme, cutinase, found in fungus and bacteria.
One area of the PETase was a bit different, though, and researchers hypothesized that this was the part that allowed it to degrade man-made plastic.
So they mutated the PETase active site to make it more like cutinase, and unexpectedly found that this mutant enzyme was even better than the natural PETase at breaking down PET.
Researchers say they are now working on further improvements to the enzyme, with the hope of eventually scaling it up for industrial use in breaking down plastics.
“Serendipity often plays a significant role in fundamental scientific research, and our discovery here is no exception,” said study author John McGeehan, professor in the School of Biological Sciences at Portsmouth.
“Although the improvement is modest, this unanticipated discovery suggests that there is room to further improve these enzymes, moving us closer to a recycling solution for the ever-growing mountain of discarded plastics.”