Zubbles – Get Your Colored Bubbles

Posted on December 3, 2009  Comments (0)

photo of blue bubblephoto of blue colored bubble.

I first posted on this in 2005: Colored Bubbles. Now you can order your own via Zubbles. Colored Bubbles Have Landed (and Popped and Vanished)

Having solved the colored bubble dilemma, we spent most of 2006 trying to refine our dyes and the manufacturing process. We had invented several completely new dyes and a few derivatives of existing dyes. But the manufacturing process was long, tedious and expensive. It took three days just to make a few grams of each dye. It quickly became apparent that we needed to radically streamline the production process in order to have a viable product.

The complexities of the chemistry resembled a pharmaceutical more than a toy. So I enlisted the help of Gary Willingham, and the Belgium development team, at Fisher Scientific. Fisher is a pharmaceutical chemical manufacturer with the equipment and expertise needed to manufacture tons of our dyes.

Due to the complexities of the chemistry, Jamm decided to stay close to the production process and manufacture Zubbles in the US. The first bottles rolled off the line this week. Jamm presented me with the very first case of Zubbles. And it was a very strange feeling to finally hold the product in my hand—15 years after I mixed my first batch of dishwashing detergent and food coloring.

Being an entrepreneur is a challenge any time. When your product requires complex science and engineering that adds additional challenges. It is great to see this product is now available.

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Protein Synthesis: 1971 Video

Posted on December 2, 2009  Comments (2)

The above webcast shows protein synthesis, from a 1971 Stanford University video with Paul Berg (Nobel Laureate – 1980 Nobel Prize for Chemistry and National Medal of Science in 1983). The film does not exactly present the traditional scientist stereotype. It does pretty much present the typical California 1970’s hippie stereotype though.

Related: Friday Fun – CERN VersionRoger Tsien Lecture On Green Florescent Protein

Feynman “is a second Dirac, only this time human”

Posted on December 1, 2009  Comments (1)

Oppenheimer recommendation of Feynman, page 1

Great quotes from Oppenheimer’s recommendation of Richard Feynman

“He is by all odds the most brilliant young physicist here, and everyone knows this. He is a man of thoroughly engaging character and personality, extremely clear, extremely normal in all respects, and an excellent teacher with a warm feeling for physics in all its aspects. He has the best possible relations both with the theoretical people of whom he is one, and with the experimental people with whom he works in very close harmony.”

Bethe has said that he would rather lose any two other men than Feynman from this present job, and Wigner said, ‘He is a second Dirac, only this time human.”

Oppenheimer recommendation of Feynman, page 2

Images of letter from Oppenheimer to the University of California – Berkeley Recommending Richard Feynman for a position, November 4, 1943 (from Big Science at Berkeley).

via: He is a second Dirac, only this time human.

Related: Vega Science Lectures: Feynman and MoreThe Feynman Lectures on Physics by Richard P. Feynman and Robert B. Leighton and Matthew Sands – posts on physics

Ants Counting Their Step

Posted on November 30, 2009  Comments (6)

Ants That Count!

Most ants get around by leaving smell trails on the forest floor that show other ants how to get home or to food. They squeeze the glands that cover their bodies; those glands release a scent, and the scents in combination create trails the other ants can follow.

That works in the forest, but it doesn’t work in a desert. Deserts are sandy and when the wind blows, smells scatter.

It’s already known that ants use celestial clues to establish the general direction home, but how do they know exactly the number of steps to take that will lead them right to the entrance of their nest?

Wolf and Whittlinger trained a bunch of ants to walk across a patch of desert to some food. When the ants began eating, the scientists trapped them and divided them into three groups. They left the first group alone. With the second group, they used superglue to attach pre-cut pig bristles to each of their six legs, essentially putting them on stilts.

The regular ants walked right to the nest and went inside. The ants on stilts walked right past the nest, stopped and looked around for their home…

I posted about this back in 2006: Ants on Stilts for Science, but the webcast by NPR is worth a new post.

Related: E.O. Wilson: Lord of the AntsHuge Ant Nestposts showing the scientific method of learning in action

Disrupting Bacterial Communication to Thwart Them

Posted on November 29, 2009  Comments (0)

Interrupting Bacterial Chatter to Thwart Infection

To measure their own numbers, bacteria produce, release, and detect chemical signals called autoinducers. As a population of bacteria grows, it releases more autoinducer into its environment. When individuals detect that a threshold level of autoinducer is present, they change their behavior – by releasing a toxin, for example.

Bassler and her colleagues disrupted these lines of communication by interfering with molecules called acyl-homoserine lactone (AHL) autoinducers, which drive quorum sensing among a kind of bacteria known as Gram-negative bacteria. Gram-negative bacteria include Pseudomonas, E. coli and Salmonella, and other disease-causing microbes. In the study, the team focused on Chromobacterium violaceum, which rarely infects human, but can be lethal to other organisms. C. violaceum lends itself to studies of quorum sensing because it produces a readily detected, bright purple dye when it detects that its population has reached a critical mass.

The experiment shows that interfering with quorum sensing may provide an alternative to traditional antibiotics, Bassler says, and circumvent the problem of resistance that antibiotics foster by killing off susceptible bacteria but allowing resistant ones to survive and propagate.

Related: Bacteria Communicate Using a Chemical Language (quorum sensing)Disrupting Bacteria Communication (2007)Electrolyzed Water Replacing Toxic Cleaning SubstancesGram-negative Bacteria Defy Drug Solutions

Friday Fun: Bird Mimics Other Birds and More

Posted on November 27, 2009  Comments (3)

The lyre bird, not only mimics the calls of other birds, buy also man made noises such as cameras, saws and chainsaws, in an attempt to impress potential mates. David Attenborough narrates the above clip.

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Jetman Jumps from Plane Then Into the Ocean

Posted on November 25, 2009  Comments (5)

Yves Rossy’s attempt to fly 28 km across the the Strait of Gibraltar from Tangier in Morocco to Atlanterra in southern Spain fell short. He did make it about 15 km flying his jetwing before he ditched into the Atlantic. I posted about him before: Jetson Jetplane Over English Channel and Jetson Jetplane.

Related: Successful Emergency Plane Landing in the Hudson RiverWhy Planes Fly: What They Taught You In School Was WrongEngineering the Boarding of Airplanes

President Obama Speaks on Getting Students Excited About Science and Engineering

Posted on November 23, 2009  Comments (6)

The President announces the “Educate to Innovate” initiative, a campaign to get students excited about pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Quotes from President Obama from his speech – (see webcast above):

“As President, I believe that robotics can inspire young people to pursue science and engineering.”

“Now the hard truth is that for decades we’ve been losing ground. One assessment shows American 15-year-olds now rank 21st in science and 25th in math when compared to their peers around the world.”

“And today, I’m announcing that we’re going to have an annual science fair at the White House with the winners of national competitions in science and technology. If you win the NCAA championship, you come to the White House. Well, if you’re a young person and you’ve produced the best experiment or design, the best hardware or software, you ought to be recognized for that achievement, too. Scientists and engineers ought to stand side by side with athletes and entertainers as role models, and here at the White House we’re going to lead by example. We’re going to show young people how cool science can be.”

“improving education in math and science is about producing engineers and researchers and scientists and innovators who are going to help transform our economy and our lives for the better.”

Related: 2008 Intel Science Talent SearchReport on K-12 Science Education in USAFun k-12 Science and Engineering LearningScience Education in the 21st CenturyHigh School Inventor Teams @ MITEngineering Education Program for k-1276 Nobel Laureates in Science Endorse ObamaLego Learning

Re-engineering the Food System for Better Health

Posted on November 22, 2009  Comments (6)

Good food nation

According to the Centers for Disease Control, between 1980 and 2006 the percentage of obese teenagers in the United States grew from 5 to 18, while the percentage of pre-teens suffering from obesity increased from 7 to 17.

Obesity is widespread due to our national-scale system of food production and distribution, which surrounds children – especially lower-income children – with high-calorie products…
90 percent of American food is processed – according to the United States Department of Agriculture – meaning it has been mixed with ingredients, often acting as preservatives, that can make food fattening.

Now, in another report finished this October after meetings with food-industry leaders, the MIT and Columbia researchers propose a solution: America should increase its regional food consumption.

Only 1 to 2 percent of all food consumed in the United States today is locally produced. But the MIT and Columbia team, which includes urban planners and architects, believes widespread adoption of some modest projects could change that, by increasing regional food production and distribution.

To help production, the group advocates widespread adoption of small-scale innovations such as “lawn to farm” conversions in urban and suburban areas, and the “10 x 10 project,” an effort to develop vegetable plots in schools and community centers. Lawns require more equipment, labor and fuel than industrial farming nationwide, yet produce no goods. But many vegetables, including lettuce, cucumbers and peppers, can be grown efficiently in small plots.

As Albright sees it, the effort to produce healthier foods “fits right in with the health-care reform effort right now because chronic diseases are so costly for the nation.” America currently spends $14 billion annually treating childhood obesity, and $147 billion treating all forms of obesity.

Good stuff. We need to improve health in the USA. The current system is unhealthy and needs to be improved. The public good from improving the health of society is huge (both in terms of individual happiness and economic benefits).

Related: Rethinking the Food Production SystemStudy Finds Obesity as Teen as Deadly as SmokingEat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.Active Amish Avoid ObesityObesity Epidemic ExplainedAnother Strike Against Cola

Florence Nightingale: The passionate statistician

Posted on November 21, 2009  Comments (0)

Florence Nightingale: The passionate statistician

She brought about fundamental change in the British military medical system, preventing any such future calamities. To do it, she pioneered a brand-new method for bringing about social change: applied statistics.

he statistics changed Nightingale’s understanding of the problems in Turkey. Lack of sanitation, she realized, had been the principal reason for most of the deaths, not inadequate food and supplies as she had previously thought.

As impressive as her statistics were, Nightingale worried that Queen Victoria’s eyes would glaze over as she scanned the tables. So Nightingale devised clever ways of presenting the information in charts. Statistics had been presented using graphics only a few times previously, and perhaps never to persuade people of the need for social change.

Applied statistics is a tool available to all to achieve great improvement. Unfortunately it is still very underused. As George Box says: applied statistics is not about proving a theorem, it’s about being curious about things. The goal of design of experiments is to learn and refine your experiment based on the knowledge you gain and experiment again. It is a process of discovery.

Related: articles on applied statisticsThe Value of Displaying Data WellStatistics for ExperimentersPlaying Dice and Children’s NumeracyQuality, SPC and Your CareerGreat Charts

Web Gadget to View Cell Sizes to Scale

Posted on November 19, 2009  Comments (0)

graphic of red blood cellImage of cell size gadget from University of Utah

The Genetic Science Learning Center, University of Utah has a nice web gadget that lets you zoom in on various cells to see how large they are compared to each other. Above see a red blood cell, x chromosome, baker’s yeast and (small) e-coli bacterium.

A red blood cell is 8 micron (micro-meter 1/1,000,000 of a meter). E coli is 1.8 microns. Influenza virus is 130 nanometers (1/1,000,000,000 a billionth of a meter). Hemoglobin is 6.5 nanometers. A water molecule is 275 picometers (1 trillionth of a meter).

Related: Red Blood Cell’s Amazing FlexibilityHemoglobin as ArtAtomic Force Microscopy Image of a MoleculeNanotechnology Breakthroughs for Computer Chips