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Science

Scientists are developing clothing fabric to spy on the body

Plus: The Webb is on track!

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Do you remember Google Glass? For a hot minute in 2013, I seriously believed we might all be forced to wear them in order to participate in basic forms of media. At the time, I even interviewed a scientist who develops brain-computer interfaces to understand how Google Glass and other products like it might change how we see the world (imagine walking around your neighborhood and getting served ads for your local pizzeria via the interface). Google Glass was effectively shelved in 2015, but that didn’t stop scientists from pursuing other smart wearables — and soon we could have smart t-shirts.

I’m Claire Cameron, managing editor of Inverse. Ashley Bardhan, our newsletter writer, will be back tomorrow, but while I have your attention... Welcome to Monday! Keep scrolling for a collection of incredible stories about the world we live in (and some we don’t).

This is an adapted version of the Inverse Daily newsletter for Monday, March 28, 2022. Subscribe for free and learn something new every day.

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Engage! Webb Telescope prepares to unlock the secrets of galactic evolution

The James Webb Space Telescope could be the key to understanding galactic evolution. The observatory can look about three times as far back in time than the iconic Hubble. Doris Elín Urrutia reports:

The Webb will detect infrared wavelengths long enough to pierce through the dense smog of all the light and dust that sits between Earth and the furthest galactic posts, revealing information about the ancient universe where these wavelengths began their journey through space billions of years ago.

Although not quite yet ready to collect data, the Webb Telescope promises a level of perception made possible by its four instruments. These instruments can operate at the same time to siphon observations of objects like galaxies — maximizing the efficiency of the telescope.

On March 17, NASA announced that the Webb has started a new phase of its preparations to look deep into space and time: A six-week procedure called multi-instrument multi-field (MIMF) alignment. This process will help ensure all four of its science instruments go live by the summer of this year.

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Read this next: 30 years ago, an international space mission radically changed how we see Earth

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This novel fabric can ‘hear’ your heartbeat

A new fiber made from a piezoelectric material and a conductor can register sound as mechanical waves and convert it into electrical waves, helping monitor bodies, Elana Spivack writes.

An engineering team from MIT collaborated with students from Rhode Island School of Design to create a textile that can hear and (eventually) interpret what’s happening on and inside our bodies. Their work, published this month in the journal Nature, details how the fabric functions in the initial stages of its development.

The new fabric technology can hear — or at least, it can detect — sound (in the form of mechanical waves) and translate it into electrical waves. This capability comes from a special 10-centimeter fiber woven into the fabric.

Clothes “have been used as acoustic absorbers for millennia, damping sound into heat,” lead author Wei Yan tells Inverse. So he asks: “Can a fabric operate as a sensitive audible microphone like the human ear that converts sound [pressure] into electrical signal?”

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Robots to the rescue: How pollution-munching nanobots could solve a major societal issue

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Science finds the part of your brain that responds to singing

In a new study, researchers identified, for the first time, a group of neurons that are “song-selective,” responding specifically to singing, but not to instrumental music or speech. Nick Keppler has the story:

A few years ago, a team of neuroscientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology approached a group of patients undergoing electrocardiography — an invasive form of brain monitoring where a surgeon removes the top of the skull and places electrodes on the surface of the brain to record electrical activity — and asked if they could study how their brains process music.

The researchers located a “song-selective” hotspot in the middle of the superior temporal gyrus, the part of the brain that contains its sound-processing center, the auditory cortex. This particular song-selective region has stronger speech responses than the larger area that is sensitive to music and is linked to mechanisms for emotions and memories.

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Beat it: An endangered animal could unlock the origins of musical rhythm

Air pollution disproportionately affects people of color.Anton Petrus/Moment/Getty Images

Racial disparities in air pollution exposure reveal environmental injustice

Two recent studies published in the American Journal of Public Health and Environmental Science & Technology Letters reveal stark racial disparities in air pollution exposure, finding that certain historically marginalized communities suffer disproportionately from toxic pollutants in the air. The findings, as Tara Yarlagadda reports, show that despite the overall declining patterns of air pollution in the U.S., certain communities are being left behind.

The findings of one of the studies suggest “that many tribal communities, particularly in more rural areas, may not have benefited as much from increased air pollution regulation as the rest of the country,” Maggie Li, lead author on the study and a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at Columbia Mailman School School of Public Health, tells Inverse.

Together, the studies also highlight how intentionally racist policies over time have contributed to the disproportionate air pollution burden in these communities of color.

Go deeper.

We have a problem: Will a global treaty actually stop plastic pollution? 4 experts weigh in

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  • On this day in history: On March 28, 1963, Alfred Hitchcock released The Birds.
  • Song of the day: Song Sung Blue,” by Neil Diamond