Deakin Communicating Science 2016

EES 200/101

Applicable Illumination.

So you were scrolling around the internet, sometime in the past 48 hours, & saw something like this:


“literally” #wowscience

I imagine that you had something like one of the following reactions to this claim:

  • ‘Thanks for the info’ – *doubletap*
  • ‘This is an intentionally misleading media release’
    – *seeks reputable source/origin of the claim*
  • ‘PROOF that GOD creates a soul at CONCEPTION’
(all of the above comments are taken directly from forum comments)

The claim that these incredible ‘fireworks’ are the aesthetic pleasure marking the moment of conception is easy to romanticise & inflate.

The facts are less magical – but potentially far more practical.

The paper is titled “The Zinc Spark is an Inorganic Signature of Human Egg Activation.”

Published in Scientific Reports, Northwestern researchers have discovered that when the human egg is activated by a sperm enzyme, a sudden burst of zinc is released.
(something previously seen in animal studies but never before reproduced in human cells)

Within the study’s fluorescence microscopy experiments, the researchers saw this release of zinc bind to light-emitting molecule probes (present specifically for the purposes of visual evaluation of the experiment).

The eggs in the study were not fertilized with actual sperm due to legal restrictions, rather they were injected with a sperm enzyme the causes calcium to increase inside the egg & the emission of zinc.


Video: recommended (y)



The potential benefits of this study are perhaps most relevant to the world of IVF.

A majority of IVF cycles do not result in pregnancy, see below.


2013, Australian IVF patients, success rates (fresh eggs)

“There are no tools currently available that tell us if it’s a good quality egg,” said co-author of the paper, Dr. Eve Feinberg. “This is an important discovery because it may give us a non-invasive and easily visible way to assess the health of an egg and eventually an embryo before implantation”.

When observing the zinc bursts of multiple eggs it was clear to the researchers that some eggs were ‘better’ than others – choosing these eggs to implant during IVF cycles may vastly improve the statistics for viable pregnancies.

The potential positive ramifications of the above application of this study are metered by the potential shaking, negative effects within our broader societal conversation:

– the debate around abortion ethics
– the use of fertilised human eggs in research
– the freezing of eggs & sperm
– the funding of all of the above


Further ESS200 reading:
here, here, here & there



Our blogs exist for the stimulation of conversation… please share your thoughts (or science-fail screen shots) below:


One comment on “Applicable Illumination.

  1. Adam
    May 4, 2016

    Interesting, I hadn’t seen this story.

    From the first couple of sentences I thought you were going to say what the process behind the Zinc spark…

    This is a nice blog, its clear and pretty easy to read. Not much more to add sorry.



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This entry was posted on April 28, 2016 by in Burwood - Thursday 2pm, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , .

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