Saturday, December 28, 2013

Self-assembly of 3D Structures

As another holiday season of boxing and wrapping comes to a close, it might be fun to take a look at boxes on the micro and nanometer scales for those specialized gift-wrapping occasions. 

At those sizes, 3D containers are too tiny to be assembled by a machine. They have to come together on their own. Seem like science fiction? Well, engineers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland and mathematicians at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island have found a way for polyhedra (many-sided structures) to fold and assemble themselves. With support from the National Science Foundation, Brown University mathematician Govind Menon and Johns Hopkins University chemical and biomolecular engineer David Gracias are developing self-assembling 3-D micro and nanostructures for a number of applications, including medicine.

The personalized delivery of an anticancer drug to a tumor, for example, has virtually no global side effects unlike the whole body chemotherapy treatments of today. It's like pouring salt on a slug on the sidewalk to kill it instead of spreading salt over the entire yard. 

Check out this video to see how the addition of heat causes 2D polyhedral nanostructures assemble into hollow 3D structures. Go science!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Origami, Space and Solar Arrays

I love creativity in all its forms so when I came across this video on how engineers turned to origami to solve astronomical space problems (e.g., solar array design), I was hooked. 

Found in nature as fractals, math (specifically geometry) is complex and elegant. I love looking at the patterns of minerals, ferns, snowflakes, etc. The mirroring and pattern progression are beautiful and mesmerizing. Enter engineers looking for a way to compact a large solar array into a much smaller space (launch space is expensive). Voila! Art and engineering collide to create a functional, economic solution. 

Who knew the origami we all played with as kids could further space research? In my mind it just goes to show that art and science are intricately intertwined. Go science! (and art and engineering!) 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Holiday Chemistry

The subtleties of nature never cease to amaze me. Even the difference in placement of one molecule in a chemical structure can make a world of difference.  

For a fairly simple example of this, check out the National Science Foundation video describing the difference between clove and nutmeg. (Hint: It's only the placement of one double bond.) The chemical formula of their main ingredients (eugenol and isoeugenol) is the same (C10H12O2), yet extensive expeditions and even wars were started over the search and possession of these spices in the ancient world. 

Cinnamon (cinnamaldehyde) is quite a bit different since its chemical formula (C9H8O) and structure are more complex. But, I pair cinnamon with cloves and nutmeg regularly during my holiday chemistry experiments known as baking. And the taste buds sit up and take notice of this chemical combo. How about you? What are your favorite spices to combine? Go Science!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Earthquake Engineering

Invention, architecture, math, and science all came together in this Univ. of California at San Francisco campus building. The cantilevered Ray and Dagmar Dolby Regeneration Medicine Building that climbs up a steep slope at UCSF's Parnassus campus has claimed national recognition as an amazing architectural/engineering feat incorporating new technology and ideas to thwart and counteract movement from seismic activity. The innovation and complexity of the stem cell research taking place in the building seems to be well paired with its unique exterior and structure. Go Science!