Monday, June 20, 2016

Building Body Parts from Fruit

Yes, I know it would be a sweet deal if it could easily be done, but think about cellulose and the structural parts of an apple. All the stacked cells offer a scaffold for cells to grow into whatever structure is required.

Andrew Pelling, Ph.D., an experimental biophysicist at the University of Ottawa, Canada, is interested in genetic and architectural controls of health and disease. Using different fruits for in vitro 3D cell culture in his Laboratory for Biophysical Manipulation, Pelling found that mammalian cells grow and expand into the structure provided (once the fruit cells were removed). 

This type of research is being done elsewhere, but not with the basic materials found in the kitchen. Not only is it fun to think about, but a great chance to discuss STEM (science, engineering, technology, and mathematics) applications and careers with students. Plus, Dr. Pelling advocates "play" as a crucial part of inspiring his research. Go science!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Robotics - Then & Now

I have long been interested in the various ways robots and mechanical arms add value to nearly every process. In fact, some people worry that robots will eliminate thousands of jobs in the decades to come.


But as an early technology adopter, I'm willing to take the chance. In fact, I'm ready to have a self driving car! After all, I trust aircraft equipped with automatic pilot, so why not robotics on the daily commute? After driving at a crawl for years in the super congested Houston traffic, I KNOW robotics could perform better than a lot of those drivers. 

Progress in robotics science and technology over the past 50 years has led us to today's robo vacuums and flying robots that act like birds. Check out the video link to see how far we've come. Have a great weekend and Go Science!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Emotional Contagion

I learned a new expression today, emotional contagion. I thought it sounded like a "misery loves company" kind of thing, but it turns out it is more related to unconsciously picking up on emotional cues via the eyes.

Officially, Emotional contagion is the tendency for two individuals to emotionally converge. 

Still a bit confused? Me too, until I read research done by Univ. of Tennessee, Assistant Professor, Garriy Shteynberg, Ph.D. on the "psychological impact shared attention (also referred to as shared experience) has on culture and the mind." They basically study how shared attention affects another person's memory, emotion, and goals.

Christine Fawcett, Ph.D., of Uppsala University, Sweden studies emotional contagion by recording the changing a person's pupil size in response to seeing another person’s pupils dilate or contract. Working with 6-9 month-old babies, Fawcett's team showed infants black circles of different sizes designed to look like pupils. They recorded how the infants’ own pupil sizes reacted to these. and also showed the infants images of black squares as a control.

Their results were not super surprising (i.e. babies pick up on your mood), but the fact that they did not respond to the different sized black squares was interesting. 

So if you subscibe to the old saying, "the eyes are windows of the soul" you might be closer to correct than you thought. Go science!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Super Massive Black Holes Explained (so anyone can understand)

 Most of you know how much I love all things space. Combine that with the brilliant cartoon artwork of Jorge Cham, several astrophysicists talking about their work, and my day is made! 

When it comes to astrophysics and phenomenon like black holes, most of us think we have the topic covered. After all, the television and film industry has devoted a huge amount of reel space to presenting dangerous scenarios concerning black holes and their ilk.

It turns out there is a lot of straight forward science that is not well understood like black holes don't actually suck material in. (The word "hole" probably threw the scriptwriters off.)

Anyway, check out the video or read the explanation at PhD Comics. Both make it easy to explain to friends at a bar, baseball game, or during speed dating. Go science!