This Way Up for Saturday 2 September 2017

Could brighter street lighting be harming our health? Hidden sonic weapons in Cuba, the educational value of (computer) games, stopping sepsis deaths using bacteria, and the world's first truly accessible theme park.

Could brighter street lighting be harming our health?

Gulf of Mexico (NASA via

Gulf of Mexico (NASA via Photo: (NASA via

Our nights are now more brightly lit than ever before. 

As countries all over the world, including New Zealand, busily replace yellow high-pressure sodium street lights with cheaper, more energy-efficient, white LED lamps they're going to get even brighter.

But could all this street lighting at night be harming our health?

A growing body of research links high levels of artificial light with a host of health problems.

Previous studies have linked a lot of light at night to obesity, diabetes, depression and reproductive problems, as well as disruptions to animal life. And last June the American Medical Association highlighted the health consequences caused by poor sleep that it blamed on the accelerating move towards LED street lighting in the US. 

At the heart of all these concerns is the way that brighter street lights seem to interfere with our sleep patterns and the production of the hormone melatonin, which is produced in the pineal gland in our brain and can also be taken as a supplement. Melatonin plays an important role in regulating our sleep and is also believed to have anti-cancer properties.   

Peter James at Harvard Medical School has just used information gathered from more than 100,000 nurses living across the US to map elevated night-time light levels with increased breast cancer risk

Meanwhile, Professor Richard Stevens conducted similar studies last year looking at light levels and breast cancer risk in Connecticut, since first becoming interested in the issue more than 20 years ago.

He's recently written about the potential link between outdoor artificial light levels and breast cancer rates in The Conversation

US nighttime brightness map

US nighttime brightness map Photo: (Supplied)

Is Cuba using hidden sonic weapons to target foreign diplomats?


Photo: (Saso Tusar via

It sounds like a story straight off the pages of a spy novel...

A group of Canadian and American diplomats based in Cuba claim that they and their families have been targeted by hidden sonic weapons which have left some of them with permanent hearing damage.

Steve Dorsey of CBS Radio in Washington DC was the first person to ask the US government for its response to the affair.

Which computer games have the most educational value?

The idea of 'educational' computer games may have some parents rolling their eyes, but with an expanded digital curriculum for Year 1 to 10 students already in the works, online games and other digital resources will increasingly be used as teaching aids in the classroom.

So how can we tell which games have the most educational value to children?

Dr Bronwyn Stuckey is a firm believer in the role of games in the classroom (and a big Minecraft fan) who is here for the Games For Learning conference at Te Papa this week.

A former primary school teacher from Australia, Stuckey is now Director of Innovative Educational Ideas at Arizona State University Center for Games & Impact.

How bacteria might stop sepsis infection

Lactobacillus acidophilus

Lactobacillus acidophilus Photo: (By Mogana Das Murtey and Patchamuthu Ramasamy CC BY-SA 3.0)

Sepsis is a potentially life-threatening complication which happens when your body's attempts to fight off an infection go badly wrong.

Basically, your immune system overreacts, causing inflammation throughout your body that can damage your organs and even kill you if it isn't treated quickly.

Around the world there an estimated 30 million cases every year and it kills some 5 million people.

Sepsis is especially dangerous if you are older or immuno-compromised. In parts of the developing world where babies are often born early and underweight it kills hundreds of thousands of infants every year.

Now scientists have found that if you feed babies a particular strain of probiotic bacteria – a type of lactobacillus found in kimchi, yoghurt and fermented vegetables – you can dramatically reduce this risk.  

It's really cheap too, with a whole course of the treatment costing about $1.30. 

Professor Pinaki Panigrahi of the University of Nebraska Medical Center is on the team that made the discovery.

The theme park that's open to everyone

Gordon Hartman raised $70 million to build the world's first ultra-accessible theme park in Texas targeted at people with disabilities.

Since it opened in 2010, 1 million people have flocked to Morgan's Wonderland, which is inspired by Gordon's 23-year-old daughter.