Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Leeuwenhoek - Father of Microbiology

If you love science, technology, and engineering, chances are you are like me and an "early adopter." An early adopter is defined as, "a person who uses a new product or technology before it becomes widely known or used." Early adopters are often innovators as well. They recognize the value of a new invention or process, try it and then improve it, apply it in a more effective way, or try it in a completely different application.

This was especially the case several hundred years ago when early scientists and engineers had to conceive of and then construct their equipment before using it to seek answers to puzzling questions.

Early Dutch scientist, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek (1632 – 1723) was highlighted this week with a Google doodle for his discovery in 1676 of "little animals" (microorganisms) in rainwater. He saw these through his improved (i.e., he ground and polished his own single lens) version of Robert Hooke's microscope. With this DIY improvement, van Leeuwenhoek went on to study muscle fibers, bacteria, spermatozoa and blood flow in capillaries.

As a scientist trained in microbiology, van Leeuwenhoek is my hero. His improved lens could magnify objects by a factor of about 200 – 300, while Hooke’s compound microscope magnified only by a factor of about 40 – 50. 

Just another example of old school ingenuity and innovation in action. Go science!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Celebrate National Fossil Day

It's finally here! National Fossil Day! Hurray! A special day for dinosaurs (every child's and many an adult's secret wish come true)! It's the perfect time to celebrate your favorite fossil and chat with similarly minded folks about the cool things your favorite dinosaur can do (or did). 

Mine is the Triceratops, with three impressive horns and bony frill around the head. I've always imagined it as one of the solid, hard working dinosaurs. Kind of the bull dog of the plant-eating dinosaur set. 

Today on National Fossil Day a major Tyrranosaurus rex question has been answered by researcher, Mary Schweitzer, Ph.D., who discovered that "Bob" the T. rex was really a pregnant female from dinosaur medullary bone cells found in recovered bone tissue. Medullary bone, also found in modern birds who lay eggs, is a temporary bone tissue that stores calcium for eggshell formation. Without it, the needed calcium would be pulled from the mother's bones (never a good thing, but particularly tricky in light, delicate bird bones.)  Anyway, this is the first time a female gender designation has been found for T. rex

As always, it's exciting to discover big science news after much time (68 million years) has passed. Go science!