My Writings. My Thoughts.
Ahoy mateys! It be the best day of the year once again! Happy talk like a pirate day!
It’s too late to get your ergonomic pirate keyboard, but add plenty of R’s into your day anyway.
The image is from the Language Log, who weren’t sure who to credit it to. They had a little post about the linguistics of Arrr a few years back. O’course, I highly recommend the Official Talk Like a Pirate Day website for all your piratey needs!
May your timbers shiver and mainsails rise! Arrrr
Ethical concerns aside, gene therapy is a really exciting area of science. How cool to explore the functions of DNA and cellular machinery by inserting exactly what you want into a cell of your choice. How many options to treat disease, create better crops or fun novelties like glow in the dark cats.
As an undergrad, when we played with inserting genes into E-coli and yeast we would take a whole bunch of cells and mix them in a tube with the DNA we wanted them to absorb. Then we’d “shock” the cells by heating them up and cooling them, so that – hopefully – a small percentage would be so stunned they would just nom up all the bits of DNA and incorporate them into their own genome. Then would be the tedious bit of plating them out onto agar that contained antibiotics or whatever and checking that they really did take up your bit of DNA that gave them resistance to antibiotics.
Needless to say, it wasn’t easy and many bacteria died in the process – either when I shocked them or, most likely, when I plated them on poison (oh the blood on my hands! Out damn spot.) So I found this press release really exciting.
Scientists from South Korea poked holes in single cells using a high-powered femtosecond laser. Then, with the finesse of a golfer on the green, gently popped in a polystyrene-based microparticle coated in DNA using optical tweezers. The tweezers use laser beams like magnets to attract or repel polar chemicals.
The method of poking holes, or pores, into cells with lasers already existed, as did optical tweezer technology. This research combined the two to ensure that the DNA was specifically inserted into one cell- a big boost in precision.
One of the cool things about this is that it can be done without opening the petri dish, unlike microinjection. With microinjection, which I guess is like those videos where people poke DNA into an egg for cloning, there’s a chance of contamination.
Another benefit is that the microparticle they inserted could be modified to sense things in the cell, rather than just delivering a payload of DNA. So there are a whole bunch of useful functions that they could explore with this technique.
A third benefit – you can play GOLF AT A CELLULAR LEVEL! That is just geekery at its finest. The next question for researchers will be – can you get lab coats to match golf pants?
The paper is open access and available here.
On Thursday I’m heading to Adelaide for the Australex 2013 linguistics conference at the University of Adelaide. The topic – Endangered words, and signs of revival.
I volunteer with a project to revive an endangered language called Barngarla, which was spoken by Aboriginal people in the Eyre Peninsula of South Australia. During the missionary days people weren’t allowed to speak their language or teach it to their children, and within a few generations it had all but disappeared.
Old documents written by missionaries recorded a Barngarla dictionary and grammar, and Professor Ghil’ad Zuckermann, who’s also organising the conference, and a team are using them to revive the language. It’s ironic (in a wonderful way) that the missions wiped out the language while also preserving it and ultimately became key to reintroducing it. Barngarla is now being taught to people once more.
The Australex conference is celebrating 175 years of Lutheran Missionaries’ Aboriginal Lexicography (writing dictionaries.)
I find it interesting that linguistics shares so many words with biology. Linguists talk about endangered languages and hybridisation, while biologists have DNA transcription and translation. My explanation is the oft-used by imperfect analogy of DNA as a “recipe book” or “instruction manual” – placing it more firmly in the realms of language.
It’s actually a bit strange that we still think of DNA this way, that we haven’t updated it to, say, a hacked Wiki – sometimes edited by viruses. Hey, that’s not a bad analogy actually. Both are built up over time and the contributions of many, and aren’t exactly perfect but they do the job. Except that there’s not so much junk on Wiki’s as there is in DNA, but in both cases humans are pretty good at sorting the junk from the useful stuff.
I’m looking forward to the conference and meeting more of the people involved in reviving the Barngarla language, and hearing about similar projects in Hong Kong and Tibet. It should be an interesting few days, and I’ll try to keep you posted on what I hear.
It’s the century of smalls, where tiny devices are top dog. Computers shrink into tablets, phones are limited only by screen size, and mini-microphones can fit onto a pair of spectacles or atop a tiny flying robot. Why not? If you’re going to bug someone, you may as well use a robot bug.
As microchips become more and more micro, one thing holding us back is the battery. To get a decent battery life, you still need a rather large and heavy battery. Even my humble Nokia (circa 2002, still works like a charm) is half as heavy if you take out the battery. Think how light my pocket could be with a better battery!
Light pockets are one thing, a light heart is another.
Pace makers depend on lithium iodine-polyvinylpyride batteries, and they must be reliable and long-lasting.
“The battery occupies major portion of the pulse generator in terms of weight, volume, and size. The most important factor for a cardiac pacemaker battery is its reliability. Unlike many consumer products, batteries in implantable devices cannot be replaced. They are hard wired at the time of manufacture before the device is hermetically sealed… In general the power source of the implantable device is the only component which has a known predictable service life, which in turn determines the service life of the implanted device itself.” – Mallela, Ilankumaran & Rao “Trends in Cardiac Pacemaker Batteries” Indian Pacing and Electrophysiology Journal.
Don’t get me wrong, batteries have come a long way over the past twenty years. But there’s always more juice to be squeezed, and when it comes to juicy technology you can’t go past the 3D printer.
To make the sand-sized batteries, a team from Harvard University and the University of Illinois printed layers of concentrated lithium oxide-based inks. The 3D printer squeezed out tightly interlacing anodes (red) and cathodes (purple) using a nozzle finer than a human hair. The ink hardened as it was placed. Then they enclosed the stacks of electrodes in a container and filled it with an electrolyte solution.
Tests showed some impressive results for battery performance.
“The electrochemical performance is comparable to commercial batteries in terms of charge and discharge rate, cycle life and energy densities. We’re just able to achieve this on a much smaller scale,” Researcher Shen J. Dillon, University of Illinois, said in the press release.
Tiny and powerful batteries could make all sorts of new devices possible. Medical devices used not just for treating illness, but also for sensing infection or blood sugar levels, perhaps. Iron Man suits, now that would be exciting. And wafer-thin laptops, tablets and phones. Maybe I’ll wait until these new batteries hit the market before I update my Nokia…
Sun, K., Wei, T., Ahn, B., Seo, J., Dillon, S., & Lewis, J. (2013). 3D Printing of Interdigitated Li-Ion Microbattery Architectures Advanced Materials DOI: 10.1002/adma.201301036
How cool is this? Astronaut Chris Hadfield sings Space Oddity from the International Space Station. He is floating in a most peculiar way, as the guitar spins in front of him.
In another video he talks about having to re-learn guitar in zero gravity, as his brain had to adjust for the lack of weight in his arm. At first, he would overshoot the frets because his arm felt weightless. Plus he would bumping into things while playing.
Chris Hadfield has 17 videos in his YouTube account, showing why you can’t cry in space (well, you can, but it just pools in your eye) and shaking up a can of coke while living on the ocean floor.
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