(Left to right): Yaghi Laboratory at UC Berkeley; University of Alberta/John Ulan; Image Source/Alamy Stock Photo

Top stories: Life support on Enceladus, shoelace physics, and squeezing water from desert air

Study finds some significant differences in brains of men and women

Do the anatomical differences between men and women—sex organs, facial hair, and the like—extend to our brains? The question has been as difficult to answer as it has been controversial. Now, the largest brain-imaging study of its kind has found some sex-specific patterns, but overall more similarities than differences. The work raises new questions about how brain differences between the sexes may influence intelligence and behavior.

 

This new solar-powered device can pull water straight from the desert air

You can’t squeeze blood from a stone, but wringing water from the desert sky is now possible, thanks to a new spongelike device that uses sunlight to suck water vapor from air, even in low humidity. The device can produce nearly 3 liters of water per day, and researchers say future versions will be even better. That means homes in the driest parts of the world could soon have a solar-powered appliance capable of delivering all the water they need, offering relief to billions of people.  

Unique Canadian ice core collection suffers catastrophic meltdown

A precious collection of ice cores from the Canadian Arctic has suffered a catastrophic meltdown. A freezer failure at a cold storage facility in Edmonton run by the University of Alberta caused 180 of the meter-long ice cylinders to melt, depriving scientists of some of the oldest records of climate change in Canada’s far north.

Why do shoelaces untie themselves? This team may have the answer

It’s the bane of tennis shoe wearers everywhere: No matter how tightly you tie your laces, they seem to come undone, often at the most inopportune time. Now, for the first time, scientists have untangled why shoelace knots fail. The work also reveals the best knots to tie, which could have implications for everything from surgery to new cancer drugs.

Food for microbes abundant on Enceladus

In 2005, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft spied jets of water ice and vapor erupting into space from fissures on Enceladus, evidence of a salty ocean beneath the saturnian moon’s placid icy surface. Now, it turns out that the jets contain hydrogen gas, a sign of ongoing reactions on the floor of that alien sea. Because such chemistry provides energy for microbial life on Earth, the discovery makes Enceladus the top candidate for hosting life elsewhere in the solar system—besting even Jupiter’s Europa, another icy moon with an ocean.