Friday, July 7, 2017

3D Printed Yeast - Brew a glass at a time

I have been interested in 3D printing and all it ramifications for several years. I've even written about it in the Manufacturing Engineering Handbook (see Chapter 15) and have attended national conferences that had me spellbound. 

Today, I came across a breakthrough that everyone can get behind - 3D printed yeast in a tiny lattice bioreactor that keep fermenting glucose forever! (At least they have been going for months and months with no slowing down.)

Dr. Alshakim Nelson and his lab group in the Chemistry dept. at the University of Washington have created ethanol from the 3D printed yeast-infused 1 cm structures and plan to try other substances like proteins or even drugs. 

The question to run on the heels of this discovery is, "Can yeast added to a hydrogel cube be put into fruit juice and it will convert the sugar in the drink to alcohol?" You could brew your own alcoholic beverages in a matter of hours or overnight! For lightweight drinkers like me, you could stop the process at just the alcohol level you want. Science win! And who says the basic sciences don't work for the common good? Go Science!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Plastic Ocean Pollution Alarming

If you are like me, your recycle barrel gets full 2x-3x faster than your garbage bin. We know it's important to recycle plastic and even have little rectangular symbols to help us decide what to recycle and where. 

However, plastic pollution in the oceans is another story. Up to 10 - 20 million tons of plastic litter finds its way into the oceans each year. 

Since the 1960s, scientists have been finding seabirds with stomachs full of plastic. Great floating plastic trash areas like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and Great Atlantic Garbage Patch extend from coast to coast. And tiny fragments called microplastics are insidious in the environment as well. Ranging in size from 100 nanometers to 5 millimeters, they are part of everything from personal-care products to industrial abrasives used for paint removal/cleaning. 

But there is more to the problem, the small size of colorful plastic particles trick many different types of birds, mammals, fish, and more to think they have found food. So they eat them and then other animals eat those - all the way up the food network. Plus, plastics are made of chemicals that break down in the bodies of these consumers. It is not clearly known how much harm this causes (different organisms are different), just that many breakdown chemicals found in plastics are known carcinogens.

So, what can we do in addition to recycling the heck out of our trash? Rethink single use plastics like coffee cup lids. Bring your own to your local barista. If we all shift away from plastics as much as possible. We will make a difference. Go science! 

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Cyber Crime and You

As many of you know, I started the Science Cafe in Little Rock 10 years ago. Since then, I've learned a lot from many great panelists. This month will add to that knowledge base when we discuss the latest cyber threats, artificial intelligence, and ways to protect against computer criminals in the 21st century. 

Science cafe will host panelists from academia whose research is focused on artificial intelligence (AI) and cyber hacking of automobiles, and also someone from the military who heads up a relatively new cyber training program for military personnel to help them in their current positions as well as give them terrific skills for after they transition to civilian life. 

It will be an interesting event with lots to consider as we move forward into the 21st century of computer everything and the Internet of Things. Go science!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Congrats Peggy Whitson!

As you might remember, I worked at NASA-Johnson Space Center for several years and was privileged to know and work alongside incredibly talented and courageous scientists, engineers, computer scientists and astronauts. One of those was Peggy Whitson who now holds the longest total combined time in space of any human. Peggy is a huge supporter of STEM education and all it offers. Check out this video of her talk with the President about all the opportunities in STEM and what her work means to her. Go science!