You’re still retrievable.”

Safar’s work began to change our perceptions of death – blurring the point that is meant to mark the end of our lives. “We’ve all been brought up to think death is an absolute moment – when you die you can’t come back,” says Sam Parnia, at the State University of New York in Stony Brook. “It used to be correct, but now with the basic discovery of CPR we’ve come to understand that the cells inside your body don’t become irreversibly ‘dead’ for hours after you’ve ‘died’… Even after you’ve become a cadaver, you’re still retrievable.”

Blurred line

Tisherman now thinks of death as the (admittedly subjective) point at which doctors give up resuscitation as a lost cause – but even then, some people can still make a remarkable comeback. Last December, a paper in the journal Resuscitation caused a stir by suggesting that 50% of surveyed emergency doctors have witnessed ‘Lazarus phenomena’, in which a patient’s heart has begun beating again by itself, after doctors had given up hope.

Kick-starting the heart is only one half of the doctor’s battle, however; the lack of oxygen after a cardiac arrest can cause serious damage to the body’s vital organs, particularly the brain. “Every minute that there’s no oxygen to those organs, they start dying,” says Tisherman. His former mentor, Safar, came up with a solution to this problem too, with ‘therapeutic hypothermia’, a procedure that involves cooling the body, typically to around 33C by placing ice packs around the body, for instance. At lower temperatures, cells begin to work in slow motion, reducing their metabolism and the damage that could be caused by oxygen starvation.

I remember one boss who, once in a blue moon.

I remember one boss who, once in a blue moon, would walk around the office; whenever he crept up behind me I was invariably writing a shopping list or was on the phone to my mum.

Such surveillance did not improve my behaviour, though it did increase my sense of injustice. To have been monitored all the time – which would have put the shopping list in the context of otherwise diligent behaviour – would have been a vast improvement.

In most offices a raft of mainly pointless, cumbersome tools are used to assess performance, including “competency matrices”, appraisal interviews and psychometric testing. Together they are so ineffective that according to a delightful piece of research by the University of Catania, companies would be no worse off if they promoted people at random.

So if we are in favour of meritocracies, we should also be in favour of anything that helps us measure merit more accurately.

While the data collected by the new sensors are almost certainly too crude to offer much help now, I see no reason why in time (and probably quite soon) we will not have worked out exactly which behavioural quirks are the key to high (or low) performance, and found a decent, objective way of measuring them.

You could say that monitoring behaviour in offices would kill trust and spontaneity, making robots of us all.

These particles have come a long way.

Scientists already knew that microplastics—polymer beads, fibers, or fragments less than 5 millimeters long—can wind up in the ocean, near coastlines, or in swirling eddies such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. But Rachel Obbard, a materials scientist at Dartmouth College, was shocked to find that currents had carried the stuff to the Arctic.

In a study published online this month in Earth’s Future, Obbard and her colleagues argue that, as Arctic ice freezes, it traps floating microplastics—resulting in abundances of hundreds of particles per cubic meter. That’s three orders of magnitude larger than some counts of plastic particles in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. “It was such a surprise to me to find them in such a remote region,” she says. “These particles have come a long way.”

The potential ecological hazards of microplastics are still unknown. But the ice trap could help solve a mystery: Industrial plastic production has increased markedly in the last half-century, reaching 288 million tonnes in 2012, according to Plastics Europe, an industry association. But ecologists have not been able to account for the final disposition of much of it. The paper shows that sea ice could be an

important sink—albeit one that is melting, says Kara Lavender Law, an oceanographer at the Sea Education Association in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, who was not part of the study. “There could be freely floating plastics, in short order.” The authors estimate that, under current melting trends, more than 1 trillion pieces of plastic could be released in the next decade.

Obbard and her colleagues based their counts on four ice cores gathered during Arctic expeditions in 2005 and 2010. The researchers melted parts of the cores, filtered the water, and put the sediments under a microscope, selecting particles that stood out because of their shape or bright color. The particles’ chemistry was then determined by an infrared spectrometer. Most prevalent among the particles was rayon (54%), technically not a synthetic polymer because it is derived from natural cellulose. The researchers also found polyester (21%), nylon (16%), polypropylene (3%), and 2% each of polystyrene, acrylic, and polyethylene. Co-author Richard Thompson, a marine biologist at the University of Plymouth in the United Kingdom, says it’s difficult to pinpoint the source of these materials. Rayon, for instance, can be found in clothing, cigarette filters, and diapers.

Abundances are likely to grow as scientists learn to sift more finely. Law points out that microplastic estimates for the Great Pacific Garbage Patch are based on phytoplankton nets that catch only particles bigger than 333 microns. Obbard, who used a much smaller 0.22 micron filter, says she still probably missed many particles herself; searching by eye, she easily could have missed brownish or clear plastic particles that were masquerading as sand grains.

What is the consequence of all this plastic floating around? At this point, it is hard to say. Plastic is chemically inert. But the plastic can absorb organic pollutants in high concentrations, says Mark Browne, an ecologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Browne has performed laboratory experiments with marine organisms showing not only how the microplastics can be retained in tissues, but also how pollutants might be released upon ingestion. “We’re starting to worry a bit more,” he says.