Monday, 21 January 2008

Body Part Printing. No, really.

When I first heard about 3D printers, I was excited. The idea of drawing out things and then seeing them built up out of nothing is like something out of Star-Trek. Needless to say, they are somewhat out of my price range for a desk-top item.

Now, in a rather genius move, scientists have gone one better, and adapted this technology to work not with little chunks of plastic, but with cells, and they say they can print body parts. Skin, bone, and even more complex internal organs can apparently be printed.

I love this idea. And I love it even more because on their patent application (which can be found here) they refer to a multi-cellular "pie" structure, a turn of phrase which conjures up a whole myriad of applications. You could print out the perfect steak, with exactly the right amount of fat running through the meat.

A printer that can print body parts: probably painfully expensive.
Trivialising what could be an enormously important life-saving invention: priceless.

Mark appears on top journalism show.

Victoria Weatherall - the new Oprah? You decide. Watch as the battle of McVities unfolds.

Friday, 18 January 2008

Cloned pork chops

I wonder whether one day there may be a new question we have to ask ourselves in Tesco - would you rather eat a pig who had a lovely life dashing round the greenlands of Devon but came from a test tube, or a natural pig whose standard of life was low? If you had to choose, would you go for free range cloned or battery farmed natural?

The Miracle of Life


Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Horizon: How to Kill a Human Being

As a scientist, I have tended to find the BBC's Horizon documentaries somewhat less than inspiring. Over-dramatic, with not enough good content and often over-simplified to the point of being painfully patronising. The most recent one, however, seems to be bucking that trend spectacularly.

Michael Portillo's investigation of the various methods currently used for execution managed to get more good science in than usual, and be enormously entertaining television at the same time. Some of the interviews with various figures in the field, varying from scientists to more political figures, were equally enlightening.

And best of all, because of the BBC's fantastic new iPlayer, you can (for the next 6 days at least) go back and watch it here. Well worth a watch.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Friday, 11 January 2008

Physics can save your life!

Alcides Moreno survived a 500-foot (152 meters) tumble off a New York City high-rise. Moreno didn’t walk away – he suffered two broken legs – but he lived! Doctors think Moreno’s recovery from a total of 10 broken bones (right arm, both legs, and a few ribs), massive internal bleeding (including his brain), and spinal damage is a miracle. It may well be a miracle. It was defiantly physics.

The physics of Moreno’s fall have been brilliantly presented by Newsweek’s Charles Euchner in his article Falling Man: The physics of surviving a 500 foot fall. It is an excellent read and science article non-scientists will find engrossing.

Euchner interviewed University of Minnesota physics professor James Kakalios, author of The Physics of Superheroes. Kakalios knows his stuff; he gave an excellent talk at my academic home, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL).

The laws of physics aren’t a license to take a tumble, so don’t try to mimic Moreno’s descent. But do read more about how physics saved his life and how it could save yours.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Science $$$ woes for both UK and US

I am in the lab enjoying a cup of coffee and reading MSNBC as part of my morning routine. I click "Technology & Science" when I see a story that makes my blood run cold. The story? Big trouble for big science. The story details the U.S. Congress' unexpecteded, sneaky, and nearly night-before-Christmas slashing of science research funding and the impact to major national facilities like Argonne and Fermilab. It makes me wonder what exactly those 435 people think the money should be spent on.

My fellow Americans, who may have overlooked Hayley’s post regarding falling physics funds as a U.K. only problem, think again. To all my fellow chemists, don’t think “lucky me!” Think “they’re coming for us next!” Because they will. You too biologists! And you, X-ologist, X-ist, X-ian. Oh, don’t think you’re getting away. Don’t think “my work is far too important!” It isn’t.

Think about how fast you can contact your local congressional representatives. Don’t know who they are? Note your zip code and go here. Take a break from your morning routine, pop a snarky email to a U.S. Representative or Senator, and save science.

Saturday, 5 January 2008

Dr. Gillian McKeith: The Poo Lady.

For any of you (myself included) who have over-indulged this festive season, and/or are embarking on a post-Christmas diet, you may have considered taking advice from a certain television-nutritionist. She is somebody with a wealth of diet books and suchlike, and her word on the subject is often seen as fairly authoritative. At this point, I would take the time to read this excellent article.

From what I had read previously (I unfortunately missed the article at the time) I had had the impression that she was a somewhat dubious authority, but I hadn't quite realised to what extent. Makes me feel rather angry just thinking about it.

NB. I have linked to some of Ben Goldacre's work before, and it is consistently excellent. There is a brilliant speech he gave (including a little more about Ms. McKeith), available through iTunes, or here, on his website. Well worth a visit.