Friday, December 8, 2017

Scallops' Eyes are Amazing

It's known that scallops have dozens, sometimes hundreds, of eyes. In fact, their retinal design provides an elegant example of nature's engineering. However, these structures are difficult to study in a lab due to drying and other physical deterioration. 

So, Lia Addadi at the Weizmann Institute of Science and her team, including Benjamin Palmer and Gavin Taylor  decided to try a cryo-scanning electron microscope and the rapid freezing of samples to keep delicate and important structures intact. 

With this method, they discovered that scallops' eyes each have a segmented mirror that grows individually. They are made of square, flat, guanine crystals (a millionth of a meter wide) that link together into a grid. 

Stacked groups of grids (20-30) have liquid filling the spaces between them. The crystals and separating spaces are 74 and 86 billionths of a meter thick which works well at reflecting blue-green light in the ocean environment.

The group also noticed that the mirror crystal segments are not inactive, but seem to grow inside the cells of the scallop’s eye, filling them up. Then, they join together to form a uniform mosaic layer. 

So now that we know how scallops' eyes develop, the next research question is whether they all provide images individually or combine information into a single complex image? I can't wait to find out. Go science!

Friday, September 29, 2017

Arctic and Science cafe anniversary

You often hear the expression "down under" when talking about Australia. So when the Summit Station and Arctic are in the news, is it "up over?" 

This mind-worm question has me in its grip this Friday afternoon after the incredibly fun and successful Science cafe 10th anniversary event held on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017 at the Historic Arkansas Museum.

If you were there, you were treated to several mind altering hands-on virtual reality demos from the UALR Emerging Analytics Lab. The VR applications that encompassed medicine to archaeology were amazing. Plus we had tons of food, Stone's Throw Brewery beer, Loblolly ice cream, cake, food, door prizes, and an interesting virtual reality Science cafe discussion with Carolina Cruz-Neira, director/developer of all things VR. 

If you have a Science cafe in your area, find it and attend the interesting events on a variety of subjects. I started our SC in March of 2007 and it has been super great meeting tons of scientists and local experts talking about topics that they are passionate about. Go science!

Friday, September 8, 2017

Epic Weather Affects Research too

As friends and family paddle out of Hurricane Harvey's wake and Floridians brace for Irma, researchers are making hard decisions about research facilities, costly instrumentation, samples and model systems in the path of oncoming destruction. 

This article by The Scientist gives a great overview of things to be considered as part of organized emergency preparedness for scientists in the face of approaching threats.

Some of these preparations include backing up data and moving critical specimens, organisms, and animals to distant facilities. It is crazy enough trying to get your family safe during violent weather, but having to secure your life's work adds another layer of complexity to the drill. We're thinking about you. Go Science! 

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!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Virtual Reality is a Reality

Finally back from fuzzy bed-headed winter/spring head cold couch potato land, I wanted to share a fun event coming up April 7 and 8, 2017 in Little Rock, AR. 

The University of Arkansas Little Rock Emerging Analytics Center Virtual Reality lab will be open to the public. Bring friends, family and neighbors.

Check it out! It's free, but tickets are needed in order to make sure everyone gets a chance to see and try everything. Go Science!

Friday, February 10, 2017

Scientific Conferences - Just go!

I just returned from the Photonics West conference in San Francisco, CA and was treated to hundreds of seminars on biomedical methods, advanced imaging, photonics and the latest in optics. It was definitely mind-blowing and exciting at the same time. 

My challenge now is to figure out how to concentrate everything I learned (during talks, posters, new technology, and equipment) offered by the myriad of presenters and exhibitors into usable information for interested researchers at my home institution (academic medical center). Naturally, I have all the product handouts from the various vendors to pass on, but I also want to communicate the energy and enthusiasm of the conference. The sense of excitement at progress being made in many disciplines was infectious and comes at a time when there is lots of uncertainty about the future of research in this country.

To me, conferences are super important to keep up with current advances and equipment, as well as to tag up with colleagues old and new. They remind me of the reasons why I became a scientist and help relegate nagging administrative tasks back home to a mental back burner for a time.

Every time I attend a new conference, I wonder what took me so long to register. Next time, I won't wait. I'll go and enjoy. You should too. Go science!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Genetic Cause for Bad Hair Days

And you thought science only addressed lofty questions like the origin of the Universe and/or dark matter? Well, think again. Now we know that for some people continuous bad hair days are genetic in origin.

According to Regina Betz, PhD, at the Institute of Human Genetics, University of Bonn in Germany and an expert in rare hereditary hair disorders, there are three genes (DNA material) in humans that code for crazy, uncombable hair. In fact, under a microscope the hair strands from people with the identified mutated genes had clumps along the strand compared to those people with normal DNA coding hair that were clump free. 

The results of this work done by Betz and other scientists in Bonn and Toulouse were published in the November 2016 issue of the American Journal of Human Genetics. 

Now, at least for some parents, there is a scientific explanation for critics with smooth hair. Go science!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Cyber Countermeasures

Happy New Year! Now that we're back from the holidays, let's talk cyber. It has been a hot topic for a while. Every time we turn around a bank, credit card company, or health care system  (to name a few) gets hacked. Personal and financial information are stolen and we are left feeling violated and helpless. Don't even start on the ongoing incursions by foreign entities (a topic for another time). 

Anyway, I was excited to read about a new way of protecting data code, called Shuffler being done by researchers at Columbia Univ., Brown Univ., and the Univ. of British Columbia. 

Here's how it works. Instead of protecting against a hackers' inserted code (meant to hijack a program's operations and info), Shuffler runs alongside the home team's program and protects it by constantly shuffling or re-randomizing the code as it is running (i.e. making it harder for an intruder to lock on to a constantly moving/changing target.) On top of that, Shuffler shuffles itself! Cool.

So until unhackable quantum computing is used by everyone, Shuffler appears to be a easy-to-use tool in the fight against cyber crime. Go science!