Posts about UK

Lean Science: Using Cheap Robots to Aid Research

Fun video showing how scientists use Lego Mindstorm robots to aid research into creating artificial bones. Lego Mindstorm robots are useful at a very reasonable price.

The webcast also includes this practical quote from Michelle Oyen, lecturer in the Department of Engineering at Cambridge University: “without your bones you would be a pile of goo lying on the floor.”

The thinking discussed in the webcast echos the lean manufacturing principles discussed in the Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog: finding good solutions to aid people in doing their jobs. The type of custom solutions they discuss here are great.

This type of use of technology is great. One of the problems we often see with technology solutions though is when they are imposed on the workplace in a way that doesn’t aid people. There is a big difference between what Toyota does (using robots to make people’s jobs easier) and what others do in trying to copy Toyota (using robots to eliminate jobs). Lean manufacturing stressed the importance of using brainpower people bring to work every day. You want to use technology to enable people. These scientists understand that. Unfortunately many managers don’t.

Related: Lego Mindstorms Robots Solving: Sudoku and Rubik’s CubeOpen Source for LEGO MindstormsRubick’s Cube Solving Lego Mindstorms Robot

£50m Package to Attract Scientists and Boost Welsh Economy

‘Star scientists’ £50m package to boost Welsh economy

First Minister Carwyn Jones said the fund would be used to encourage leading professors to move to Wales to work and boost research and the economy. It will pay for specialist equipment, top-up salaries to the level outstanding academics would expect and will fund members of their teams.

our network plans will enable us to attract more talent to Wales to help drive this figure up and in due course create more high quality business and research jobs in Wales.” The strategy sets out three key areas to boost research and businesses – the life sciences and health; low carbon, energy and environment; and advanced engineering and materials.

The Welsh government said it wanted to see more industry-academic partnerships like SPECIFIC led by Swansea University with Tata Steel UK. The £20m project aims to turn homes and businesses into self-generating “power stations” by developing a special coating for ordinary building materials, such as steel and glass, that traps and stores solar energy.

The USA dominated the practice of attracting leading scientists a few decades ago. In the last decade or two Europe stepped up and was able to attract global talent. Lately Asia (Singapore, Korea, China…) has been spending to attract leading scientists. I believe Asia will continue to do so and the benefits of doing so will pay off handsomely for Asia (at the expense of Europe and the USA).

Related: USA Losing Scientists and Engineers Educated in the USAInvest in Science for a Strong EconomyAsia: Rising Stars of Science and EngineeringSingapore Research Fellowships

Webcast of a T-cell Killing a Cancerous Cell

Very cool. Very good job by University of Cambridge to make this kind of material available openly online. I find this kind of video amazing. Every day you body has this going on all day long. How amazing.

This is what it looks like when cancer gets smacked down by a T cell

This was shot by University of Cambridge medical researcher Alex Ritter, and is 92 times faster than real time.

Cells of the immune system protect the body against pathogens. If cells in our bodies are infected by viruses, or become cancerous, then killer cells of the immune system identify and destroy the affected cells. Cytotoxic T cells are very precise and efficient killers. They are able to destroy infected or cancerous cells, without destroying healthy cells surrounding them.

Related: Using Bacteria to Carry Nanoparticles Into CellsHow Cells AgeVideo showing malaria breaking into cellSynthetic Biologists Design a Gene that Forces Cancer Cells to Commit Suicide

Royal Society Journal Embraces Open Access

Royal Society journal archive made permanently free to access

The Royal Society…journal archive – which includes the first ever peer-reviewed scientific journal – has been made permanently free to access online.

Around 60,000 historical scientific papers are accessible via a fully searchable online archive, with papers published more than 70 years ago now becoming freely available.

reasures in the archive include Isaac Newton’s first published scientific paper, geological work by a young Charles Darwin, and Benjamin Franklin’s celebrated account of his electrical kite experiment.

The move is being made as part of the Royal Society’s ongoing commitment to open access in scientific publishing.

Good for them. Slowly more and more are realizing clinging to old fashion publishing models are contrary to promoting science and scientific literacy.

Related: 340 Years of Royal Society Journals OnlineBritain’s Royal Society Experiments with Open Access (2006)8-10 Year Olds Research Published in Royal Society Journal

Brian Cox – Lecture on Science and Quantum Mechanics

Brian Cox gave a wonderful lecture at the Royal Institution of Great Britain. This is one more great thing the internet makes possible: have great fun while you learn. Enjoy.

With the help of Jonathan Ross, Simon Pegg, Sarah Millican and James May, Brian shows how diamonds – the hardest material in nature – are made up of nothingness; how things can be in an infinite number of places at once; why everything we see or touch in the universe exists; and how a diamond in the heart of London is in communication with the largest diamond in the cosmos.

Related: Quantum Mechanics Made Relatively Simple Podcasts by Hana BetheBrian Cox Particle Physics WebcastPhysicists Observe New Property of Matter

Can Just A Few Minute of Exercise a Day Prevent Diabetes?

That just 1 minute of exercise a day could help prevent diabetes seems to good to be true. But research at the University of Bath indicates it might be true. I am a bit of a soft touch for seeing the benefits of exercise. And I also love health care that focuses on achieving healthy lives instead of what most of the spending focuses on: treating illness.

Performing short cycle sprints three times a week could be enough to prevent and possibly treat Type 2 diabetes researchers at the University of Bath believe.

Volunteers were asked to perform two 20-second cycle sprints, three times per week (but really this works out to under 10 minutes of total time including warm up). After six weeks researchers saw a 28% improvement in their insulin function. Type 2 diabetes occurs when blood sugar levels build up to dangerously high levels due to reduced insulin function, often caused by a sedentary lifestyle. The condition can cause life-threatening complications to the heart, kidneys, eyes and limbs, and has huge costs (monetarily and to people’s lives).

Regular exercise can help keep blood sugar levels low but busy lifestyles and lack of motivation mean 66% of the population is not getting the recommended five 30-minute sessions of moderate exercise a week.

Dr Niels Vollaard who is leading the study, said: “Our muscles have sugar stores, called glycogen, for use during exercise. To restock these after exercise the muscle needs to take up sugar from the blood. In inactive people there is less need for the muscles to do this, which can lead to poor sensitivity to insulin, high blood sugar levels, and eventually type 2 diabetes… We already knew that very intense sprint training can improve insulin sensitivity but we wanted to see if the exercise sessions could be made easier and shorter.”

In the study the resistance on the exercise bikes could be rapidly increased so volunteers were able to briefly exercise at much higher intensities than they would otherwise be able to achieve. With an undemanding warm-up and cool-down the total time of each session was only 10 minutes.

This type of study is very helpful in identifying solutions that will allow more people to lead healthy lives and save our economies large amount of money. Medical studies can’t be accepted on face value. They are often not confirmed by future studies and therefore it is unwise to rely on the results of 1 study. The results provide interesting information but need to be confirmed (and in the area of studies on human health this has been shown to be problematic – are health is quite a tricky area to study).

Related: Aerobic Exercise Plus Resistance Training Helps Control Type 2 DiabetesRegular Exercise Reduces FatigueFood Rules: An Eater’s Manual

Continue reading

YouTube SpaceLab Experiment Competition

YouTube SpaceLab is an open competition inviting 14 – 18 year olds (anywhere in the world) to create an idea for a science experiment in space. You don’t have to actually do the experiment, you just have to record yourself explaining it.

Entries must have be submitted on YouTube by 07:59 GMT on December 8th.

The winning experiments will be conducted on the International Space Station (ISS) and beamed live on YouTube for the whole planet to see.

Winners get the choice to either watch the rocket blast off with your idea on it in Japan or take a specially tailored astronaut training course in Russia when you turn 18. There are other amazing prizes for the runners-up too.

Here is an example entry from 3 students in UK on an experiment to learn about quorum sensing by bacteria in the micro gravity of space.

Related: Google Science Fair 2011 ProjectsBacteria Communicate Using a Chemical Language (quorum sensing)11 Year Old Using Design of ExperimentsResearch by group of 8 to 10 Year Olds Published in Royal Society Journal

Epigenetic Effects on DNA from Living Conditions in Childhood Persist Well Into Middle Age

Family living conditions in childhood are associated with significant effects in DNA that persist well into middle age, according to new research by Canadian and British scientists.

The team, based at McGill University in Montreal, University of British Columbia in Vancouver and the UCL Institute of Child Health in London looked for gene methylation associated with social and economic factors in early life. They found clear differences in gene methylation between those brought up in families with very high and very low standards of living. More than twice as many methylation differences were associated with the combined effect of the wealth, housing conditions and occupation of parents (that is, early upbringing) than were associated with the current socio-economic circumstances in adulthood. (1252 differences as opposed to 545).

I find Epigenetics to be a very interesting area. My basic understanding as I grew up was that you inherited your genes. But epigenetics explores how your genes change over time. This has been a very active area of research recently. Your DNA remains the same during your life. But the way those genes are expressed changes.

I don’t know of any research supporting the idea I mention in this example, but, to explain the concept in a simple way: you may carry genes in your DNA for processing food in different ways. If you have very limited diet the way your body reacts could be to express genes that specialize in maximizing the acquisition of nutrition from food. And it could be that your body sets these expressions based on your conditions when young; if later, your diet changes you may have set those genes to be expressed in a certain way. Again this is an example to try and explain the concept, not something where I know of research that supports evidence for this example.

The findings by these universities, were unfortunately published in a closed way. Universities should not support the closing of scientific knowledge. Several universities, that support open science, require open publication of scientific research. It is unfortunate some universities continue to support closed science.

The research could provide major evidence as to why the health disadvantages known to be associated with low socio-economic position can remain for life, despite later improvement in living conditions. The study set out to explore the way early life conditions might become ‘biologically-embedded’ and so continue to influence health, for better or worse, throughout life. The scientists decided to look at DNA methylation, a so-called epigenetic modification that is linked to enduring changes in gene activity and hence potential health risks. (Broadly, methylation of a gene at a significant point in the DNA reduces the activity of the gene.)

Related: DNA Passed to Descendants Changed by Your LifeBlack Raspberries Alter Hundreds of Genes Slowing CancerBreastfeeding Linked to More Intelligent Kids

Continue reading

Quantum Information Theory Postulated As Source of Emergent Theory of Gravity

I love the advances we have made using our understanding of science and engineering, like the internet, air conditioning and antibiotics. I also love the discussion of research where we really have only educated guesses about what the scientific inquiry process is telling us about the way things are. This research from the University of York is very interesting.

Escaping gravity’s clutches: the black hole breakout

Professor Braunstein says: “Our results didn’t need the details of a black hole’s curved space geometry. That lends support to recent proposals that space, time and even gravity itself may be emergent properties within a deeper theory. Our work subtly changes those proposals, by identifying quantum information theory as the likely candidate for the source of an emergent theory of gravity.”

Dr Patra adds: “We cannot claim to have proven that escape from a black hole is truly possible, but that is the most straight-forward interpretation of our results. Indeed, our results suggest that quantum information theory will play a key role in a future theory combining quantum mechanics and gravity.”

It is too bad the University of York supports closed science and allows work to be withheld from the public to support outdated publishers business models. Luckily scientists often support open science and publish material openly – I have provided a link for those interested in science instead of the link the University of York gives to a publishers closed system.

Black Hole Evaporation Rates without Spacetime

Verlinde recently suggested that gravity, inertia, and even spacetime may be emergent properties of an underlying thermodynamic theory. This vision was motivated in part by Jacobson’s 1995 surprise result that the Einstein equations of gravity follow from the thermodynamic properties of event horizons. Taking a first tentative step in such a program, we derive the evaporation rate (or radiation spectrum) from black hole event horizons in a spacetime-free manner. Our result relies on a Hilbert space description of black hole evaporation, symmetries therein which follow from the inherent high dimensionality of black holes, global conservation of the no-hair quantities, and the existence of Penrose processes. Our analysis is not wedded to standard general relativity and so should apply to extended gravity theories where we find that the black hole area must be replaced by some other property in any generalized area theorem.

Related: Gravity and the Scientific MethodGravity May Emerge from Quantum InformationDoes Time ExistWebcast of Astronaut Testing Gravity on the Moonsupport open science

H-index Rank for Countries: for Science Publications

The SCImago Journal and Country Rank provides journal and country scientific indicators. As stated in previous posts, these types of rankings have limitations but they are also interesting. The table shows the top 6 countries by h-index and then some others I chose to list (the top 6 repeat from my post in 2008 – Country H-index Rank for Science Publications). The h-index provides a numeric indication of scientific production and significance (by looking at the citations given papers by other papers). Read more about the h-index (Hirsh index).

Country h-index h-index (2007) % of World
Population
total Cites
USA

1,139 793     4.5% 87,296,701
United Kingdom

689 465     .9% 21,030,171
Germany

607 408     1.2% 17,576,464
France

554 376     1.0% 12,168,898
Canada

536 370     .5% 10,375,245
Japan

527 372     1.8% 14,341,252
Additional countries of interest
18) China

279 161 19.4% 5,614,294
21) South Korea

258 161     .7% 2,710,566
22) Brazil

239 148  2.8% 1,970,704
25) India

227 146 17.5% 2,590,791
31) Singapore

196 .01% 871,512

Related: Top Countries for Science and Math Education: Finland, Hong Kong and KoreaWorldwide Science and Engineering Doctoral Degree Data Top 15 Manufacturing Countries in 2009Science and Engineering Doctoral Degrees WorldwideRanking Universities Worldwide (2008)Government Debt as Percentage of GDP 1990-2009: USA, Japan, Germany, China…

8-10 Year Olds Research Published in Royal Society Journal

Eight-year-old children publish bee study in Royal Society journal

Their paper, based on fieldwork carried out in a local churchyard, describes how bumblebees can learn which flowers to forage from with more flexibility than anyone had thought. It’s the culmination of a project [Blackawton Bees] called ‘i, scientist’, designed to get students to actually carry out scientific research themselves.

The class (including Lotto’s son, Misha) came up with their own questions, devised hypotheses, designed experiments, and analysed data. They wrote the paper themselves (except for the abstract), and they drew all the figures with colouring pencils.
It’s a refreshing approach to science education, in that it actually involves doing science.

The children designed a Plexiglas cube with two entrances and a four-panelled light box in the middle. Each panel had 16 coloured lights, illuminated in clear patterns of blue and yellow. Each light had a feeder that dispensed either delicious sugar water or repulsive salty water. Once the bees had learned to drink from the feeders, the kids turned the lights on.

Absolutely great stuff. This is how to engage kids in science. Engage their inquisitive minds. Let them get involved. Let them experiment.

Some of the children’s questions when looking at what to discover using experiments:

What if… we could find out how much effort the bees will go through in order to get a reward? For instance, they have to move something heavy out of the way to get a reward.

What if… we could discover if bees can learn to go to certain colours depending on how sweet they are?

What if… we could find out how many colours they could remember?

Related: Playing Dice and Children’s NumeracyKids on Scientists: Before and AfterTest it Out, Experiment by They Might Be GiantsWhat Kids can LearnTinker School: Engineering CampTeen diagnoses her own disease in science class

And some of their comments:
Continue reading