Strange But True: 'Smart' clothes for baby bump


Q: You moms-to-be, how smart are the clothes you've been putting on your "baby bump"?

A: Smart, smart, smart is the word for the latest style of maternity clothes, which have been fashioned with silver wires in the waistline, says Aviva Rutkin in "New Scientist" magazine. Conductive wires are discretely woven into the fabric to permit monitoring of temperature, heart rate and blood pressure. This clothing line, that permits pregnant women to keep better track of their changing bodies, was designed by fashion design student Blake Uretsky. Since wearable technology clothing often struggles to be both attractive and useful, she interviewed many local mothers about their experiences and came up with "B" Maternity Wearables, including blouses, trousers, skirts and even an evening gown — in neutral colors and adjustable to a growing bump. A small wire on the wearer's belt relays the health data to a smartphone app, which can notify a doctor if her vital signs "veer out of whack, perhaps due to stress or inactivity."

As maternal health expert Julia Walsh says, for most pregnant women this constant monitoring is unnecessary. "But women with high-risk pregnancies or who enjoy tracking devices like the Fitbit, for example, could get a lot out of it."

Q: One of a handful of experts on the "orphan sense," Ned Ostojic has become a silent hero of Brooklyn residents and others. What does he know that gains him this respect?

A: Ostojic's nose has "inhaled the air of tuna canneries in American Samoa, whiffed gooey kibble at pet-food factories in Canada and sniffed sewage in Brooklyn"—-all with the goal of identifying and neutralizing the offensive odors, says Megan Gannon in "Scientific America" magazine. The human nose contains hundreds of odor receptors, each responsible for detecting different odor molecules. Thus, it's particularly tricky to "read" the varied combinations of these molecules.

In the field, Ostojic employs an olfactometer called Nasal Ranger that acts somewhat like a gas mask to create a confined odorless environment for helping him determine the nature and intensity of the stink.

And now to Brooklyn, whose largest sewage waste treatment plant emitted a stench so putrid that even the manager was left retching at times. Ostojic covered the offending aeration tanks and ventilated them through wide cylinders of porous carbon to absorb the fetid air. Result: Stench gone!

Q: It sounds like pretty beastly behavior, so what are plants doing getting into this one?

A: The plants are meat-eaters or "carnivores," and though they don't immediately spring to mind, there are 600 or more of these species thriving in "places where other plants struggle, including bogs and heaths," says Gemma Tarlach in "Discover" magazine. Some have traps plus enzymes that can hold and digest proteins. The famous Venus' flytrap has a snapping taco shell.

The most widespread of them, found on every continent but Antarctica, are aquatic bladderworts, where passing prey trip "trigger hairs" that open and close a trapdoor in only a few milliseconds, creating pressure variation to suck the prey inside. This was finally documented in 2010 using high-speed videos.

Borneo's "Nepenthes rajah," the largest carnivorous plant whose pitcher can hold more than a half-gallon of fluid, evolved to eat poop. It works this way: Nectar secreted by the pitcher lid attracts tree shrews and rats that then sit on the rim and defecate into it, providing the plant with nutrients.

Interestingly, "the oldest carnivorous plant leaf fossil was found in Baltic amber that is 35-47 million years old."

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