Webcasts on the Human Microbiome

Posted on February 27, 2016  Comments (2)

The human microbiome is a very interesting aspect of our health and biology.

The 99% figure they quote is mainly silly. It might be technically accurate, but it is much more misleading than accurate (if it is accurate). We have more non-human cells than human but those cells are much smaller and we are overwhelmingly made up of human cells by weight (95+%).

The complexity of healthy bodies is far from understood. It is interesting to watch our understanding of the balancing act going on inside of us. Many foreign “invaders” are critical to our health.

Related: People are Superorganisms With Microbiomes of Thousands of SpeciesPeople Have More Bacterial Cells than Human CellsFighting Superbugs with Superhero BugsWe Have Thousands of Viruses In Us All the Time

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Google Cardboard 3d Viewer Helped Surgeons Save Baby’s Life

Posted on February 14, 2016  Comments (5)

$20 cardboard toy saves baby’s life

Doctors at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami used the device to map out an operation they say they couldn’t have envisioned otherwise.

“It was mind-blowing,” says Cassidy Lexcen, the baby’s mother. “To see this little cardboard box and a phone, and to think this is what saved our daughter’s life.”

Google Cardboard is a virtual reality and augmented reality platform developed by Google for use with a head mount for smart phone. Just get a simple cardboard holder you wear like goggles and an app for Android or iOS and you can view cool 3d virtual realities.

Related: Night Vision Contact LensesiPhone Addition as Alternative to Expensive Ophthalmology EquipmentVery Cool Wearable Computing Gadget from MITCool Mechanical Simulation System

Cleaning Up the Plastic Pollution in Our Oceans

Posted on January 30, 2016  Comments (0)

This is an interesting talk on an important topic: cleaning up plastic in the ocean. ,a student from the Netherlands, looked to find a solution to a problem others said couldn’t be solved.

This is exactly the type of wonderful activity that inspired people can accomplish using science and engineering. He collected an understanding of the 50 issues that supposedly makes a solution impossible.

After getting funding (sparked by an explosion of viral social media) he worked on exploring the “insolvable” problems (having withdrawn from school to work on this problem). It is wonderful to see what we can do when inspired people use science and engineering to make the world a better place.

From their website, The Ocean Cleanup

In the feasibility report, we estimated that a 100-kilometer array operating in the North Pacific gyre for 10 years could remove 42% of the plastics in the area, or an estimated 70 million kilograms.

The plastic will be stored in an internal buffer within the platform at the tip of the V-shaped array. The plastic in the buffer will regularly be emptied onto a vessel that comes to collect it for transport to land. This will occur approximately once every six weeks, depending on the size of the vessel.

Besides monetary support, your relevant knowledge and skills may be a very welcome addition to The Ocean Cleanup. Our work requires not only scientific and technical expertise, but also assistance with legal, commercial and policy matters. If you would like to get actively involved in our work, If you would like to get actively involved in our work, please visit the careers page.

They aim to put a full scale pilot project in place in 3 to 4 years.

Related: Albatross Chicks Fed Plastic Ocean Pollution by ParentsAltered Oceans: the Crisis at Sea (2006)Using Robots to Collect Data on our OceansDead Zones in the Ocean

Ancient Chinese Natural Gas Drilling Using Bamboo

Posted on January 23, 2016  Comments (0)

This very interesting article is a great read about the history of Chinese bamboo drilling by Oliver Kuhn.

The first recorded salt well in China was dug in Sichuan Province, around 2,250 years ago. This was the first time water well technology was applied successfully to the exploitation of salt, and marked the beginning of Sichuan’s salt drilling industry. From that point on, wells in Sichuan have penetrated the earth to tap into brine aquifers, essentially ground water with a salinity of over 50g/l. The water is then evaporated using a heat source, leaving the salt behind.

At some point around 2,000 years ago the leap from hand and shovel dug wells to percussively drilled ones was made. By the beginning of the 3rd century AD, wells were being drilled up to 140m deep. The drilling technique used can still be seen in China today, when rural farmers drill water wells. The drill bit is made of iron, the pipe bamboo. The rig is constructed from bamboo; one or more men stands on a wooden plank lever, much like a seesaw, and this lifts up the drill stem a metre or so. The pipe is allowed to drop, and the drill bit crashes down into the rock, pulverizing it. Inch by inch, month by month, the drilling slowly progresses.

A major breakthrough was achieved around 1050 AD, allowing deeper wells, when solid bamboo pipe was replaced by thin, light, flexible bamboo “cable”. This dramatically lowered the weight that needed to be lifted from the surface, a weight that increased with the depth being drilled. By the 1700s Sichuan wells were typically in the range of 300 – 400m deep

One bamboo pipe line would take away the brine, and others the gas. The 2,000 year plus Sichuan salt industry has drilled approximately 130,000 brine and gas wells, and 10% of those were in the immediate Zigong area. Zigong has a cumulative gas production over this period of over 30 billion cubic metres. The area continues to be a major salt producer, and many of the historical wells are still in production.

drawing of Chinese drilling scene

An ancient sketch originally from “The Annals of Salt Law of Sichuan Province”. A “Kang Pen” drum is seen in the centre foreground, with gas pipes directly feeding the salt stoves on the right. At the top, brine from a remote well is being carried in buckets by men, who feed it into a bamboo pipeline that runs down to the stoves. One of the carriers is being paid at top left, and it appears that a blow out is depicted on a new well being drilled.
(from Zhong & Huang)

As recently as the 1950s there was still over 95km of bamboo pipeline in operation in the Zigong area.

Related: Research on Ancient Roman Concrete Will Allow the Creation of More Durable and Environmentally Friendly ConcreteWhy did China’s Scientific Innovation Stop?Hyperloop – Fast Transportation Using a Better Engineering Solution Than We Do Now

Backyard Wildlife: Fox

Posted on January 17, 2016  Comments (2)

photo of a fox in ivy under a holly tree

I have seen this (or another fox) several times recently but this was the first time it stayed visible long enough for me to get a photo. It is fun having backyard wildlife to connect us to nature.

A few years ago another fox enjoyed laying out in the sun in my backyard for a few weeks.

I am amazed how many animals I have seen in my backyard in a very urban area. In the last few weeks, in addition to this fox: possum, raccoon (I’ll post photos later), deer, squirrels, and various birds.

Here is an updated photo of deer, since my first few sightings didn’t result in a good photo.

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$1 Device To Give Throat Cancer Patients Their Voice Again

Posted on January 2, 2016  Comments (1)

Bengaluru Doctor Invents a Rs. 50 Device To Give Throat Cancer Patients Their Voice Again

Dr. Vishal Rao, a Bangalore based oncologist, has developed a voice prosthesis that can help throat cancer patients speak after surgery. And unlike the extremely expensive ones available in the market today, this device will cost just Rs. 50. [$US 1]

We need to keep developing cost effective solutions to provide for the needs of billions of people around the world. It is great to see appropriate technology solutions at work making people’s lives better.

Related: Appropriate Technology Health Care Solution Could Save 72,000 Lives a YearManufacturing Biological Sensors Using Silk and LoomsPedal Powered Washing MachineAppropriate Technology: Self Adjusting Glasses

20 Most Popular Post on Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog in 2015

Posted on December 26, 2015  Comments (1)

These were the most popular (by number of page views) posts on our blog in 2015.

3d printed taco holder with tacos

Taco Shell Holder, Noah Hornberger had the idea during breakfast and printed a version to test the next day.

This list shows how popular old posts can remain over time. 12 of these were also in the top 20 in 2014, 8 are new to the list this year. 3 of those are 2015 posts, in 2014 1 post from 2014 made the top 20. The distribution over the years of publication of the posts in the list this year:

2015: 3

2012: 1
2011: 1
2010: 4
2009: 3
2008: 5
2007: 2

2005: 1

Engineering Solutions to Make Our Living Spaces Less Noisy

Posted on December 20, 2015  Comments (1)

I am sensitive to noise so the engineering tools available to reduce noise is something I am interested in. I wish those building apartments, condos and hotels paid more attention to these options.

Soundproofing for New York Noise

Part of the difficulty in damping sound is that it moves in two ways. Both high- and low-pitched noises can be airborne, like a child’s incessant piano practice that comes through a wall. Low-pitched noise, like the grating sound of a chair scraping the floor above, tends to move as vibration through a structure’s framing. Sometimes it’s a combination of the two, like from a TV mounted on a common wall.

A compounding issue is that it takes only a very small gap to let in a lot of sound.

“If you have a weakness in a wall that is only 1 percent of the total area, the sound transmitted through could double,”

There are many products to aid in reducing sound into your home. Sound Sense shows a wide variety of products available to aid in those efforts.

Soundproofing 101 provides some good basic explanations of the issues involved in soundproofing solutions.

Casual noise can be reduced to a very tolerable level by simply “beefing up” existing walls, floors and ceilings. However, if you want to achieve significant soundproofing, then a dedicated construction plan is in order. The room within a room is the most sound isolated system you can build.

It does sound extreme but I have considered this for a bedroom. Or even scaling it down into a enclosed sleep chamber, just to let me have a quite space to sleep.

Related: Dealing with Noise Pollution in Your CondoTurn Windows Into Sound Canceling FiltersGadgets to Mask Noise and Help You Sleep or ConcentrateEngineering Quiet, Efficient Planes

Our Poor Antibiotic Practices Have Sped the Evolution of Resistantce to Our Last-Resort Antibiotic

Posted on December 12, 2015  Comments (2)

The risk to human health due to anti-biotic resistance continues to be a huge public health concern. Our continued failure to adopt better antibiotics practices increase that risk. Those bad practices include feeding large amounts of antibiotics to farm animals to increase yields and increase the evolution of drug resistant bacteria.

Resistance to last-resort antibiotic has now spread across globe

The genes found in Denmark and China are the same, says Aarestrup, suggesting mcr-1 has travelled, rather than arising independently in each place. It is thought to have emerged originally in farm animals fed colistin as an antibiotic growth promoter.

In 2012, the World Health Organization called colistin critically important for human health, meaning its use in animals should be limited to avoid promoting resistance. Yet in 2013, the European Medicines Agency reported that polymyxins were the fifth most heavily used type of antibiotic in European livestock.

Colistin, an antibiotic that previously was a last defense against resistant strains of bacteria, is even more heavily used in China than Europe (it is not clear how the resistance developed but it likely developed in one place, most likely China, and spread rather than emerging in 2 places). The USA has been more responsible and has not risked human health through the widespread use of colistin in farm animals. But the USA still uses antibiotics irresponsibly to promote livestock growth at the risk of human lives being lost as antibiotics lose their effectiveness as bacteria evolve resistance (which is sped by poor practices in agri-business).

Antibiotic resistance is an enormous risk to human health. Millions of lives could be lost and we have have years to reduce those risks. Scientists are doing a great deal of work to find new tools to help us avoid catastrophe but we have been far too careless in our practices, especially in the massive use of antibiotics merely to boost yields in agribusiness.

Related: Are you ready for a world without antibiotics? (2010)80% of the Antibiotics in the USA are Used in Agriculture and AquacultureWhat Happens If the Overuse of Antibiotics Leads to Them No Longer Working?Waste Treatment Plants Result in Super Bacteria (2009)CDC Again Stresses Urgent Need to Adjust Practices or Pay a Steep Price (2013)

Beehive Fence Protects Farms from Elephants

Posted on December 5, 2015  Comments (2)

photo of farmer in front of beehive fence in Botswana

Another cool use of appropriate technology. One of the problems with Elephants in Africa is when they go into farm fields and eat crops and destroy crops. The elephants and bees project is helping farmers deal with that problem.

By doing so they eliminate the need of farmers to protect their crops by killing elephant. The project uses bees natural behavior and elephants natural desire to avoid bees to create a fence that works to keep elephants out.

The beehives are hung on wires stretched between fenceposts around the farm. If an elephant bumps into the wires to try and enter the farm the bees will swarm and the elephants will run away (and the elephants will send an warning to other elephants to stay away). The fences are being used in Africa and India.

And this fence also produces honey. You can donate to the project to help elephants, bees and people.

Related: Insightful Problem Solving in an Asian ElephantElephant Underpass in KenyaUsing Drones to Deliver Medical Supplies in Roadless AreasFighting Elephant Poaching With Science (2007)Europe Bans Certain Pesticides, USA Just Keeps Looking, Bees Keep Dying (2013)

Using Diatom Algae to Deliver Chemotherapy Drugs Directly to Cancer Cells

Posted on November 26, 2015  Comments (2)

I am thankful for scientists doing the time consuming and important research to find new ways to fight disease. Here is an interesting webcast discussing how chemotherapy is used to fight cancer and how scientists are looking to algae to deliver the chemotherapy drugs to better target cancer cells (while not savaging our health cells).

I am also thankful to the funding sources that pay for this research (and for cool explanations of science, like SciShow).

Read more about the genetically engineered algae kills 90% of cancer cells without harming healthy ones. The algae are a diatom and many diatoms look very cool.

Sadly the actual research paper (by government funded university professors) is published by a closed science publisher (when are we finally going to stop this practice that was outdated over a decade ago?). Thankfully those responsible for SciShow are much more interested in promoting science than maintaining outdated business models (in direct contrast to so many science journal publishers).

Related post on cool delivery methods for life saving drugs: Using Bacteria to Carry Nanoparticles Into CellsSelf-Assembling Cubes Could Deliver Medicine (2006)Nanoparticles With Scorpion Venom Slow Cancer SpreadNASA Biocapsules Deliver Medical Interventions Based Upon What They Detect in the Body

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