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Posts Tagged ‘science’

Chinese researchers have made a phenomenal breakthrough in stem cell research.

Duanqing Pei and his team from Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health have  found a way to coerce stem cells collected from urine to become induced pluripotent stem cells that can be used to generate other types of cell. They have demonstrated this potential by making teeth, though they could also make cells for other major organs.

The team are quick to point out that this technology is still very experimental, with the teeth produced not yet as hard as the teeth that humans are born with and a success rate currently running at 30%.

Their research is published in the  online open access journal Cell Regeneration.

The potential is incredible, particularly in terms of immune system responses. Just think, in future you might literally pee out the foundation for your new teeth!

It certainly lends a whole new meaning to the phrase “taking the piss”…

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saturn

Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

On 23rd July, NASA published a picture of Earth taken from the dark side of Saturn by its Cassini spacecraft. It is, apparently, only the third time that Earth has been photographed from the outer reaches of the solar system. The picture was taken in a photo session of Earth that occurred on 19th July between 2:27 to 2:42 pm PDT (9.27 to 9.42 pm in the UK). We have the technology to take that kind of picture from almost 900 million miles away.

Look at that amazing picture and think about it just for a moment.

Where were you and what were you doing between 9.27 and 9.42 pm?

I was eating my tea, having walked home through Gloucester Park after a trip to the cinema and a showing of Pacific Rim. It had been a beautiful evening – I posted a picture on Facebook – and I spoke to Laura on my way.

I’m on that dot. We are all on that dot. All of us together.

Suddenly, we all seem very insignificant.

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A slo-mo highlights reel from the Danish TV show Dumt & Farligt (“Stupid & Dangerous”) has been posted online. A series of madly hypnotic stunts, usually involving some form of explosive energy, there is something beautifully hypnotic about the results. Shot at 2500 FPS, you get to witness aspects of motion that you would never ordinarily see.

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It may sound like Day of the Triffids in reverse, but it might just be that mushrooms are about to save the planet.

Bloomberg Business Week reports on the work of Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre and the innovative work on plastic substitutes that they have been doing with mushroom fibres:

It starts with a mash of corn stalks and vegetable husks impregnated with mushroom spores. The fungus eats the plant nutrients, then grows a complex root network that fills the shapes of the molds. The final product is a foam that looks something like a big wafer of nougat candy. It is placed in an oven to stop the spores from growing and to give the material the proper texture, hardness, and elasticity.

“The products literally grow themselves. In the dark. With little to no human contact,” says McIntyre. Each mold can be treated to create a material with different qualities. Home insulation must be fire-retardant and energy efficient; cabinets have to be sturdy; a car dashboard or bumper has to be strong but with give.”

And to get rid of it?

Simply throw it on the compost heap and it is gone in weeks.

The reason this is so important?

Polystyrene.

Polystyrene is non-biodegradable and so takes hundreds of years to disappear. The blowing agents that are used to expand it can be highly flammable. Some versions of it are made with hydrofluorocarbons that are over a thousand times more potent in terms of global warming potential than carbon dioxide. It is also regularly excluded from recycling services as it is uneconomical to collect and compact (due to its lack of density versus the space it occupies).

The company behind the mushroom fibre revolution, Ecovative Design, has just signed a deal with the packaging behemoth Sealed Air, the company responsible for Bubble Wrap and Cryovac. Both Dell and Steelcase are already using the material for packaging and it promises a biodegradable revolution in how we ship stuff.

I wonder if this is something that the impressive Centre for Process Innovation should pick up here in the UK? They are the increasingly impressive outfit based in Redcar. In their own words:

“CPI helps companies to prove and scale up processes to manufacture new products and create more sustainable, efficient and economic industries of the future.”

There is some real talent out there in the British economy, particularly in the emerging green and high-tech industries. A UK angle on this would help boost manufacturing, jobs and the wider economy, whilst at the same time helping to tackle the huge waste problem there is with packaging.

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Noise.

It fills our lives. It is something that is so constant that I doubt any of us really experience true silence except perhaps on a few occasions in our lives. There is the daily burr that forms a soundtrack to our lives that we barely pay attention to any more. There are the phones chirruping away, cars passing, doors closing, papers shuffling, colleagues talking at the water cooler, footsteps in the corridor. The list is endless.

In more peaceful places there is still noise: the wind in the trees, birds singing, the sea on the shore, the rustle of grass as we walk. Even now, in this house, with no music playing, the windows double-glazed and with the heating currently off, I can hear the whirr of the computer’s fan and my fingers clicking on the keyboard (and what a joy it is to be typing on a real keyboard, not a laptop or a Blackberry). At other times there might be the creak of pipes or the sound of the house settling after the day or a distant siren howling through the town.

Interestingly, pretty much the world’s quietest place isn’t in the middle of nowhere at all. It is at Orfield Laboratories, in their anechoic chamber:

anechoic chamberAnechoic means echo free and this chamber is designed to completely absorb sound waves and create an experimental space in which there can be absolute silence. Somehow or other I suspect that I would end up being driven mad by the sound of the blood rushing in my ears!

Anyway, browsing Facebook, the feed of an old friend with whom I wish I kept in better touch flashed up a link to a blog: Noise – A human history. Starting Monday 18 March, this 30-part series will explore the role of sound in the past 100,000 years of human history As it says on the blog:

“Recorded on location around the world, it will take us from the shamanistic trance-music of our cave-dwelling ancestors, the babel of ancient Rome, the massacre of noisy cats in pre-revolutionary Paris, and the sonic assaults of trench warfare, right through to our struggle to find calm in the cacophony of a modern metropolis. This is not about sound in the abstract: it is about sound as a matter of life and death, pain and pleasure, feeling and intellect. People, and their past behaviours, are at the heart of it.”

Sound has always fascinated me – how we become attuned to some sounds and not to others, how music can bend our emotions, how people communicate, how we hear the world when we actually stop to listen. Something tells me that this series will be quite special.

Check it out – and those of you who enjoy quality radio, listen out for it.

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Once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away…

Or something like that.

It was actually 1983 and Langdon Hills, Essex – and two friends, Bob and Ben, dreamed of becoming astronauts.

They used to sneak off to the school library in Lincewood Junior School  to look at space books. They wrote to NASA. They wrote space stories and they made space project books.

Then one day reality bit, as it tends to, and the dream died. One got embroiled in politics and the other joined the army (no prizes for guessing which I didn’t do!).

However, just at the time that Ben and Bob were dreaming space, Soichi Noguchi was in his penultimate year at Chigasaki-Hokuryo High School, about to study Aeronautical Engineering at Tokyo University.  In 1996, while Ben was stepping into Parliament for the first time, Noguchi was selected to train as an astronaut.

Noguchi was later lucky enough to travel to the International Space Station. His official NASA biography  is enough to make a Ben or a Bob green with envy:

SPACE FLIGHT EXPERIENCE: STS-114 Discovery (July 26-August 9, 2005) was the Return to Flight mission during which the Shuttle docked with the International Space Station and the crew tested and evaluated new procedures for flight safety and Shuttle inspection and repair techniques.  Noguchi served as MS-1 and EV-1 and performed 3 EVAs (spacewalks) totaling 20 hours and 5 minutes.  After a 2-week, 5.8 million mile journey in space, the orbiter and its crew of seven astronauts returned to land at Edwards Air Force Base, California.

Noguchi next launched aboard a Soyuz TMA-17 spacecraft on December 21, 2009, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, docking with the International Space Station two days later to join Expedition 22 crew.  He became the first Japanese to fly on Soyuz as left-seat Flight Engineer.  For the next 161 days, Noguchi lived and worked aboard the International Space Station as a Flight Engineer on Expedition 22/23, accomplishing Kibo full configuration assembly complete.  The Expedition 23 crew returned to a safe landing in central Kazakhstan on June 2, 2010.  In completing this long duration mission, Noguchi logged 163 days in space.

Whilst in space, Noguchi took a series of amazing pictures which he tweeted from the ISS. Below is a selection of some of my favourites.

In the mean time, neither Bob nor Ben have lost their interest in space. Bob assures Ben that he is delaying his visit to Jodrell Bank until Ben can get up there.

And both can take heart from the fact that Soichi Noguchi is at least seven years older than either of them and so there’s time yet for them to get their butts up to the ISS.

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You may or may not be familiar with the amusingly odd website Will It Blend? Basically, the website’s title says it all.

You may also remember that I have previously blogged about my irrational dislike of all things Apple. Such a cathartic moment, then, to discover that the folks at Will It Blend? have decided to apply themselves to the iPhone.

Enjoy!

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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