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Scientists use stem cells to grow tiny human stomachs

If you ever visit a doctor about some kind of persistent stomach problem, such as frequent bloating, cramps, or constipation, you’ll quickly discover just how mysterious the human stomach is, even to the experts. As you’re referred to an ultrasound machine, a nutritionist, and quite possibly another doctor, and asked to trial various diet changes and treatments over the course of several months, you’ll probably be wondering why there isn’t a better way. Maybe you have the very common gastrointestinal disorder, irritable bowel syndrome. It’s said to affect up to 20 percent of the global population, but we still have no idea what causes it, or really how to treat it.

Around half the world’s population is affected by a gastric disease caused by the bacterium Helicobacter pylori, which penetrates the lining of its host’s stomach and can cause an array of symptoms including nausea, bloating, vomiting, and can even lead to ulcers and stomach cancer. And yet, the link between H. pylori and different types of stomach cancers remains frustratingly complex, with research suggesting that an H. pylori infection might decrease the risk of some cancers but increase the risk of other cancers.

So what if there was a way for scientists to mess around with as many stomachs as they wanted, endlessly, until they had this hollow, muscular enigma pegged? Looks like there just might be. A team led by James Wells, director of the Pluripotent Stem Cell Facility at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Centre in the US, has developed tiny, pea-sized human stomach replicas, by growing them from stem cells in petri dishes. They’re so perfectly formed, that the lining inside these hollow, oval-shaped ‘gastric organoids’ is folded neatly into a complex arrangement of glands and pits, just like a real stomach.

Which means they look great, but do they work? According to Stuart Clark at The Guardian, the team has found that its miniature stomachs respond to various infections in a similar way to how actual stomachs respond to them, which gives them the perfect testing ground for diagnosis and treatments. Via Scientists use stem cells to grow tiny human stomachs.

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Newly explored regions of the human genome reveal fundamental processes of life


Scientists have gained an insight into previously uncharted regions of the human genome, discovering the function of more than 250 genes involved in cell growth and development. Ten years ago, the human genome, often referred to by scientists as the ‘book of life’, was mapped and sequenced. This genetic blueprint was the culmination of years of research, yet we still do not fully understand the function of almost half these genes.

In an effort to unravel the role of more genes in the human genome, researchers from the University of Cambridge in the UK explored the functions and processes of genes involved in three cellular processes – cell shape, microtubule organisation (the arrangement of tube-like structures that help cells divide), and cell-cycle progression (the various events that take place in a cell, leading to cell division). All three of these processes are key to cell development and growth, and the team wanted to find out how various genes interact with them.

“We have no ‘catalogue’ of genes involved in cellular processes and their functions, yet these processes are fundamental to life,” said Carazo Salas, cell biologist and lead author of the study, in a press release. “Understanding them better could eventually open up new avenues of research for medicines which target these processes, such as chemotherapy drugs.” The results, which are published in the journal Developmental Cell, report that these processes share some surprising links and their function relies on many of the same genes. Continue reading

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The most powerful machine ever built by man

saturn V liftoffThe Saturn V was a rocket NASA built to send people to the moon. (The V in the name is the Roman numeral five.) The Saturn V was a type of rocket called a Heavy Lift Vehicle. That means it was very powerful. It was the most powerful rocket that had ever flown successfully. The Saturn V was used in the Apollo program in the 1960s and 1970s. It also was used to launch the Skylab space station.

How Big Was the Saturn V?
The Saturn V rocket was 111 meters (363 feet) tall, about the height of a 36-story-tall building, and 18 meters (60 feet) taller than the Statue of Liberty. Fully fueled for liftoff, the Saturn V weighed 2.8 million kilograms (6.2 million pounds), the weight of about 400 elephants. The rocket generated 34.5 million newtons (7.6 million pounds) of thrust at launch, creating more power than 85 Hoover Dams. A car that gets 48 kilometers (30 miles) to the gallon could drive around the world around 800 times with the amount of fuel the Saturn V used for a lunar landing mission. It could launch about 118,000 kilograms (130 tons) into Earth orbit. That’s about as much weight as 10 school buses. The Saturn V could launch about 43,500 kilograms (50 tons) to the moon. That’s about the same as four school buses.

What Is the History of the Saturn V?
The Saturn V was developed at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. It was one of three types of Saturn rockets NASA built. Two smaller rockets, the Saturn I (1) and IB (1b), were used to launch humans into Earth orbit. The Saturn V sent them beyond Earth orbit to the moon. The first Saturn V was launched in 1967. It was called Apollo 4. Apollo 6 followed in 1968. Both of these rockets were launched without crews. These launches tested the Saturn V rocket.

saturnv2The first Saturn V launched with a crew was Apollo 8. On this mission, astronauts orbited the moon but did not land. On Apollo 9, the crew tested the Apollo moon lander by flying it in Earth orbit without landing. On Apollo 10, the Saturn V launched the lunar lander to the moon. The crew tested the lander in space but did not land it on the moon. In 1969, Apollo 11 was the first mission to land astronauts on the moon. Saturn V rockets also made it possible for astronauts to land on the moon on Apollo 12, 14, 15, 16 and 17. On Apollo 13, the Saturn V lifted the crew into space, but a problem prevented them from being able to land on the moon. That problem was not with the Saturn V, but with the Apollo spacecraft. The last Saturn V was launched in 1973, without a crew. It was used to launch the Skylab space station into Earth orbit.

saturn v

Click image for beautiful full size view

How Did the Saturn V Work?
The Saturn V that launched the Skylab space station only had two stages. The Saturn V rockets used for the Apollo missions had three stages. Each stage would burn its engines until it was out of fuel and would then separate from the rocket. The engines on the next stage would fire, and the rocket would continue into space. The first stage had the most powerful engines, since it had the challenging task of lifting the fully fueled rocket off the ground. The first stage lifted the rocket to an altitude of about 68 kilometers (42 miles). The second stage carried it from there almost into orbit. The third stage placed the Apollo spacecraft into Earth orbit and pushed it toward the moon. The first two stages fell into the ocean after separation. The third stage either stayed in space or hit the moon.

Thanks to Phil Krause for suggesting this post that we have edited from NASA

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Why doctors always whack you in the knee

Thanks to Phil Krause for advising us about the Mono-Synaptic Response.

Why doctors always whack you in the knee? Yes, yes, reflexes. But why the knee? And what would it mean if your knee didn’t jerk. Find out why you are beaten with a rubber mallet as part of a medical check-up.

There are plenty of tests doctors do that live in infamy; especially when it involves telling a patient to cough. Only one term has broken free of the doctor’s office and become its own idiom. The ‘knee-jerk response’ is any kind of reaction that is done automatically, without thought. We all know what it means in the political or social arena, but few understand what it means in the medical one.

The hit to the knee causes the thigh muscle to stretch. This stretch sends a signal along a sensory neuron to the spinal cord where it interacts directly with a motor neuron which goes to the thigh muscle. The muscle contracts and the leg kicks. The brain never gets involved, which is helpful because what doctor trusts their patients’ brain? More importantly, the knee-jerk reflex is what’s known as a mono-synaptic response. The impulse only has to jump from one nerve to another once. There aren’t many variables to be dealt with, so it’s its own little controlled experiment. If there is no response to the knee tap, it indicates nerve damage that needs to be dealt with. Continual jerks after the tap can indicate cerebellar disease.

Either issue can lead to huge problems. Without the quick activation of muscles in response to a stretch, any unanticipated weight on the legs would cause them to collapse. Even walking would take concentration. A knee-jerk response is a good thing, as long as its not in debate. And so your doctors will continue to assault you, long into the future. Edited from io9

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In Deskarati’s series of posts about 1914 we have had many interesting details about lost scientists. This time Alan Mason tells us the story of a musician Enrique Granados Campiña.

My three earlier essays on talents cut short by the First World War, “Henry Moseley” (physicist), “George Butterworth” (composer) and “Alain-Fournier” (writer), are in contrast to this one, because all three subjects were soldiers involved in battle, and killed in action. Here the subject, Enrique Granados Campiña, was not a military man, but a civilian, from a neutral country, Spain, caught up accidentally in the conflict. I have chosen him to stand for all the civilians lost in the war, from the people of Sunderland killed in German naval bombardment in 1914, Belgian people killed or executed in the 1914 advance through Belgium, French men women and children killed in the villages which later became the front line, as well as the many thousands of Russian, German and eastern European civilians killed on the eastern front, or dying of starvation there.

Another contrast is that my subject died at the age of forty-eight, so that he had some thirty years to establish himself as a pianist and composer, whereas the three soldiers died in their late twenties or early thirties, and are remembered for their work of around ten years only.

The first portrait (1) shows Enrique Granados Campiña (en ree kay, gran ar doss, cam peen ya) as a young man. In the Spanish fashion, his middle name, Granados, is his father’s surname, and his final name, Campiña, is his mother’s surname. He was born on the 27 July 1867, into a comfortable middle-class Spanish home in the Catalan city of Lérida (2) (alternatively in the Catalan language, Lleida, l yay ee da) about ninety miles (144 Km) west of the major port of Barcelona.

His father, Calixto, was a captain in the Spanish army and his mother was Enriqueta, after whom he was named. (Enriqueta is “Henrietta” in English, and Enrique is “Henry”.) He showed an early aptitude for music, and he studied piano in Barcelona, under the tuition of Francisco Jurnet, and Joan Pujol. He also studied the theory of composition there, under Felipe Pedrell, perhaps his most influential teacher. By the time he had reached twenty, he was ready to leave Spain, to study in Paris. Continue reading

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As Tomek Bagiński’s short film Ambition makes clear, it is the essence of what it means to be human, to attempt difficult things, to reach for seemingly impossible goals, to learn, adapt and evolve. And at the heart of this film is Rosetta, ESA’s real mission to rendezvous with, escort and land on a comet. A mission that began as a dream, but that after decades of planning, construction and flight through the Solar System, has arrived at its goal.

Its aim? To unlock the secrets hidden within the icy treasure chest for 4.6 billion years. To study its make-up and its history. To search for clues as to our own origins. From 100 km distance, to 50, 30 and then, defying all expectations, to just 10 km, Rosetta continues to captivate and intrigue with every image and every data packet returned. It will rewrite the textbooks of cometary science.

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Scientists have grown a functioning blood vessel in just seven days

Using just two tablespoons of blood, scientists have managed to grow a brand new blood vessel in a week – revolutionising the method used for creating new tissue with stem cells.

Three years ago, a patient who was missing the vein that connects the gastrointestinal tract to the liver received a blood vessel transplant grown from their own stem cells. Shortly after this case, the pioneering transplant was performed again on two young children, but this time, the stem cells were extracted from just two tablespoons of blood instead of from the bone marrow. Until now, stem cells have been extracted from the bone marrow, as it is a rich source of the cells. However, the procedure is invasive and extremely painful.

“Drilling in the bone marrow is very painful,” said Suchitra Sumitran-Holgersson, a professor of Transplantation Biology and lead author of the study, in a press release. “It occurred to me that there must be a way to obtain the cells from the blood instead.” The research and transplants were carried out at Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Sweden by Sumitran-Holgersson and Michael Olausson, a surgeon. Much to the researchers’ surprise, the extraction procedure was successful on the first try and the new blood vessel worked perfectly after being implanted into the patients. “Not only that, but the blood itself accelerated growth of the new vein,” said Sumitran-Holgersson. “The entire process took only a week, as opposed to a month in the first case. The blood contains substances that naturally promote growth.” Via Scientists have grown a functioning blood vessel in just seven days.

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Figuring out how we get the nitrogen we need

Nitrogen is an essential component of all living systems, playing important roles in everything from proteins and nucleic acids to vitamins. It is the most abundant element in Earth’s atmosphere and is literally all around us, but in its gaseous state, N2,, it is inert and useless to most organisms. Something has to convert, or “fix,” that nitrogen into a metabolically usable form, such as ammonia. Until about 100 years ago when an industrial-scale technique called the Haber-Bosch process was developed, bacteria were almost wholly responsible for all nitrogen fixation on Earth (lightning and volcanoes fix a small amount of nitrogen). Bacteria accomplish this important chemical conversion using an enzyme called nitrogenase.

“For decades, we have been trying to understand how nitrogenase can interact with this inert gas and carry out this transformation,” says Doug Rees, Caltech’s Roscoe Gilkey Dickinson Professor of Chemistry and an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI). To fix nitrogen in the laboratory, the Haber-Bosch process requires extremely high temperatures and pressures, yet bacteria are able to complete the conversion under physiological conditions. “We’d love to understand how they do this,” he says. “It’s a great chemical mystery.”

But cracking that mystery has proven extremely difficult using standard chemical techniques. We know that the enzyme is made up of two proteins, the molybdenum iron (MoFe-) protein and the iron (Fe-) protein, which are both required for nitrogen fixation. We also know that the MoFe-protein consists of two metal centers and that one of those is the FeMo-cofactor (also known as  “the cofactor”) at the active site, where the nitrogen binds and the chemical transformation takes place. Read the rest of this interesting article here – Figuring out how we get the nitrogen we need.

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Light-matter interaction can turn opaque materials transparent

All objects’ colors are determined by the way that light scatters off of them. By manipulating the light scattering, scientists can control the wavelengths at which light is transmitted and reflected by objects, changing their appearance.

In a new study published in Physical Review Letters, researchers have developed a new method for manipulating light scattering. They theoretically show how to induce transparency in otherwise opaque materials using the complex dipole-dipole interactions present in a large number of interacting quantum emitters, such as atoms or molecules. This ability could have several potential applications, such as producing slow light or stopped light, along with applications in the field of attosecond physics.

“The significance of our work is in the discovery of a very neat phenomenon (dipole-induced electromagnetic transparency [DIET]), which may be used to control light propagation in optically active media,” coauthor Eric Charron, Professor at the University of Paris-Sud in Orsay, France, told “We showed how light scattering by a nanometric size system, collectively responding through strongly coupled two-level atoms/molecules, can be manipulated by altering the material parameters: an otherwise opaque medium can be rendered transparent at any given frequency, by adequately adjusting the relative densities of the atoms/molecules composing it.” Via Light-matter interaction can turn opaque materials transparent.

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Now We Know What Makes White Dwarf Stars Go Supernova

What makes a dead star explode? Scientists have long suspected a mechanism for making a white dwarf go supernova, but they weren’t able to confirm it — until now. ESA recently trained its INTEGRAL observatory on an exploding supernova in the M82 galaxy, and were able to catch it in the act as it threw off gamma rays in its final death throes. The signature of those gamma rays, says ESA, are hard evidence of just how fusion is taking place and by what kind of process it happens. They put together the above sequence of images to explain just how the whole thing unfolds, along with this annotated guide:

A white dwarf, a star that contain up to 1.4 times the mass of the Sun squeezed into a volume about the same size as the Earth, leeches matter from a companion star (image 1). The Integral measurements suggest that a belt of gas from the companion star builds up around the equator of the white dwarf (image 2). This belt detonates (image 3) and triggers the internal explosion that becomes the supernova (image 4). Material from the explosion expands (image 5) and eventually becomes transparent to gamma rays (image 6). Via Now We Know What Makes White Dwarf Stars Go Supernova.

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Sweet! A special cocoa drink may reverse memory loss

A special type of concentrated cocoa drink seems to turn back the clock on memory, changing the brain and helping middle-aged people ace memory tests, researchers reported on Sunday. Plant compounds called flavanols seem to be what does the trick, the team at Columbia University Medical Center report in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

“If a participant had the memory of a typical 60-year-old at the beginning of the study, after three months that person on average had the memory of a typical 30- or 40-year-old,” said Dr. Scott Small, who led the study. It wasn’t hot cocoa that they drank, he cautions, but a proprietary drink made by Mars, Inc., which has also demonstrated that its flavanol-rich compounds can improve heart health. It is not yet available on the market.

Small’s team tested 37 healthy volunteers aged 50 to 69, who either drank a high-flavanol diet (900 mg of flavanols a day) or a low-flavanol diet (10 mg of flavanols a day) for three months. Everyone got functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans and also memory tests at the beginning and after the three months.

“When we imaged our research subjects’ brains, we found noticeable improvements in the function of the dentate gyrus in those who consumed the high-cocoa-flavanol drink,” said Adam Brickman, an associate professor of neuropsychology who worked on the study. “High cocoa flavanols cause an improvement in the area of the brain that’s affected by aging,” Small said. Via Sweet! A special cocoa drink may reverse memory loss

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Where Does the Smell of Rain Come From?

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New CT scans reveal strange, frail visage of Tutankhamun

Despite the beauty of King Tut’s golden burial mask and his stature of Pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt, the ‘boy king’ would have been dealing with some serious physical impairments, new research suggests. Ruling over Egypt between 1332 BC and 1323 BC, Tutankhamun would have done so with large, fleshy hips, a clubbed foot, and a pronounced overbite, according to new research for a BBC documentary called Tutankhamun: the Truth Uncovered.

An international team of researchers took more than 2,000 computerised tomography (CT) scans of the 19-year-old’s body to construct a 3D computer model of what he would have looked like in life. Pairing the scans with a genetic analysis of his royal family, the team reports that Tutankhamun’s parents were likely brother and sister, the result of which was a boy who was riddled with genetic disorders.

The research has once again opened up the debate over exactly how Tutankhamun died. It’s hard to imagine this frail version of Tutankhamun dying in a chariot accident – as has long been suggested – because to die in a chariot means having the strength to command it in the first place. Via New CT scans reveal strange, frail visage of Tutankhamun.

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Genomic data support early contact between Easter Island and Americas

easter island

People may have been making their way from Easter Island to the Americas well before the Dutch commander Jakob Roggeveen arrived with his ships in 1722, according to new genomic evidence showing that the Rapanui people living on that most isolated of islands had significant contact with Native American populations hundreds of years earlier. The findings reported in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on October 23 lend the first genetic support for such an early trans-Pacific route between Polynesia and the Americas, an impressive trek of more than 4,000 kilometers (nearly 2,500 miles).

The findings are a reminder that “early human populations extensively explored the planet,” says Anna-Sapfo Malaspinas from the Natural History Museum of Denmark’s Centre for GeoGenetics. “Textbook versions of human colonization events — the peopling of the Americas, for example — need to be re-evaluated utilizing genomic data.” Via Genomic data support early contact between Easter Island and Americas

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What’s the difference between mitochondrial DNA and nuclear DNA?

eukaryotic cellWhat most people understand as DNA is actually known as nDNA or nuclear DNA. One reason that DNA is differentiated this way is because there is also another type of DNA in our cells. Mitochondrial DNA or mtDNA. So what’s the difference between mitochondrial DNA and nuclear DNA?

dna differenceMitochondrial DNA and nuclear DNA differ in lots of ways, starting with location and structure. Nuclear DNA is located within the nucleus of eukaryote cells and usually has two copies per cell while mitochondrial DNA is located in the mitochondria organelles and contains 100-1,000 copies per cell. The structure of nuclear DNA chromosomes is linear with open ends and includes 46 chromosomes containing 3 billion nucleotides. Mitochondrial DNA chromosomes have closed, circular structures, and contain 16,569 nucleotides. Nuclear DNA is diploid, inheriting the DNA from both mother and father, while mitochondrial DNA is haploid, coming only from the mother. The mutation rate for nuclear DNA is less than 0.3% while that of mitochondrial DNA is generally higher. – Deskarati

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Personal helicopter will be as easy to drive as a car

Within two years, an 18-rotor battery-powered helicopter will be on sale to rich commuters who dream of open skies instead of gridlocked highways.

After slipping into the pilot’s seat, I am handed a sick bag – “just in case” – and given about 5 minutes of flight instructions. Then, despite never having flown a plane, I take off vertically in my futuristic aircraft and explore the UK city of Liverpool from the air, touching down in the centre circle of the pitch at Anfield, Liverpool Football Club’s stadium. Sadly, I was only flying in the virtual world at the controls of a motion flight simulator, which sways and pitches to mimic real flight – hence the sick bag. But this was a simulator with a difference: it was running an early version of an easy-to-use control system that its developers say could form the basis of a much-maligned concept: the flying car.

Volocopter: easy to fly <i>(Image: E-Volo)</i>Personal air vehicles have a long and chequered history. Cars that transform into aircraft are the usual approach: another prototype of this kind will be launched by Aeromobil of Bratislava, Slovakia, at a technology conference in Vienna next week. But “roadable aircraft” have failed to take off since the 1950s, not least because they still need to fly from an airport. They can’t replace cars and so do nothing to ease road congestion, says Heinrich Bülthoff of the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tübingen, Germany. What’s needed is a vertical take-off system that can fly point to point, he says.

That might be closer than it seems. Before the end of the year, a firm called E-Volo in Karlsruhe, Germany, says it will make its first piloted flight with an easy-to-fly vertical take-off aircraft called the Volocopter. Via Personal helicopter will be as easy to drive as a car

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SpaceX returns to Earth loaded with lab results

SpaceX’s unmanned Dragon spacecraft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on Saturday carrying a heavy load of NASA cargo and scientific samples from the International Space Station that experts hope could yield significant results. A boat was ferrying the spacecraft to a port near Los Angeles, where NASA said the haul of 1.5 tonnes of experiment results and other materials will be removed and returned to the space agency by late Monday for scientists to pick apart.

Dragon also carried crew supplies, hardware and computer resources. The investigations in the cargo could help develop more efficient solar cells and semiconductor-based electronics, as well as grow plants better suited for space and improve sustainable agriculture, according to NASA. “This mission enabled research critical to achieving NASA’s goal of long-duration human spaceflight in deep space,” said Sam Scimemi, director of the International Space Station division at NASA headquarters.

Dragon, which spent a month at the space station, will later travel back for processing to SpaceX’s test facility in McGregor, Texas. Astronauts at the ISS had manipulated the orbiting lab’s robotic arm to detach Dragon on time, at 1357 GMT, in what NASA called a “very clean release.” The capsule splashed down five-and-a-half-hours later, at 1939 GMT, near the Mexican coast, slowed by three enormous parachutes. Via SpaceX returns to Earth loaded with lab results.

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penguinPenguins may lack teeth, but they have backward facing spines in their throats that grip and guide fish down. This photo of a rockhopper penguin was taken by Will Burrard-Lucas on the Falkland Islands. Via Facebook.

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How simple ideas lead to scientific discoveries

Adam Savage (you know the guy from Mythbusters) walks through two spectacular examples of profound scientific discoveries that came from simple, creative methods anyone could have followed — Eratosthenes’ calculation of the Earth’s circumference around 200 BC and Hippolyte Fizeau’s measurement of the speed of light in 1849.

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5 facts about Mount Everest

Edmund Hillary of New Zealand and the Nepalese Sherpa Tenzing Norgay were determined to do the impossible and tackle the mountain that no other person had managed to conquer. Here are 5 facts about their rival – the mountain that towers above all the others…

1) The name ‘Everest’ was chosen by Andrew Waugh, the British Surveyor General of India. He found it difficult naming the mountain as in his attempts to find a local name, he ended up finding a multitude, including ‘Deodungha’ in Darjeeling and ‘Chomolungma’ in Tibet. Waugh decided instead that the mountain should be named after his predecessor, George Everest, and after further disagreements, the name eventually stuck.

2) The last year that nobody climbed Mount Everest since the successful ascent of Hillary and Norgay was 1974. Since then, there has been a successful climb of the mountain along one of the two main routes every year, as well as others along less established routes.

3) Every year, due to the upward thrust generated by two opposing tectonic plates underneath the Earth’s surface, Mount Everest grows 4mm taller – extending its record as the world’s highest mountain.

4) The highest number of deaths recorded during attempts at ascending Everest in one year was in 1996. In total, 15 climbers died, including nine in a single incident. This is closely followed by 2012, when 11 climbers lost their lives, showing how dangerous this mountain really is. It is speculated that hundreds of corpses are still on the mountain, gathered over the years.

5) Around eight tonnes of rubbish was collected from the slopes of Everest in 2012, which was then turned into 75 pieces of art. The collected ephemera from previous expeditions even included the remains of a helicopter. It took 65 porters and 75 yaks to bring all of the gathered garbage down over two expeditions, the idea behind the exhibition being to promote the Nepalese artists who took part, as well as to try and keep the mountain clean. Via 5 facts about… Mount Everest

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