Archive for Science at Home

Solar powered laptop bags and handbags

// August 5th, 2010 // 7 Comments » // Science Art, Science at Home

Voltaic Generator Bag

Winter sun is something worth enjoying. Spreading out lizardlike and soaking up UV rays to make Vitamin D is an excellent endeavour. I often take my laptop out with me and blog in the sunlight.

Today as I was doing just that, my laptop started complaining about low charge. It made me wonder if you could solar power your laptop. Turns out you can.

You can have a panel on just about anything. Most only charge small devices like a phone, but you can have one on your desk, one on your bike, or even one on your hat (powering a small fan which spins faster as it gets more sun.)

The one pictured is a laptop bag with solar panels on the front, and it’s capable of charging a laptop. They charge a battery inside the bag, which you can run your laptop on.

Solar Handbag

I did a bit more snooping, and I found some fashionable handbags that do a similar job. These were sold on auction in mid July (one of a kind, probably couldn’t have afforded them anyway), and feature sexy solar panels that can charge your ipod, camera or phone as you walk.

It’s part of the portable light project, which has sadly finished. They create flexible photovoltaic textiles for use in developing countries. The material lends itself to traditional weaving and sewing, so people can incorporate the technology into their own culture. Open source electricity.

The solar units charge during the day, and at night work as lamps. They also have a USB port to charge phones, making it easier for traveling artists to connect with stores or midwives to seek clinic advice and diagnosis.

A mighty fine endeavour, but I’d be happy with something that quickly charged my iPod nano because he has problems. It leaks charge all over the joint like a poorly toilet trained puppy. I leave it switched off and locked in my bag, and next time I try to use it, it’s gone to Davey Jones locker. Perhaps it be time to update to an iPhone…

Happy Pi Day!

// July 22nd, 2010 // 2 Comments » // Just for Fun, Science at Home

Strawberry PieYarr, it be one of the finest days on the calendar – Pi Day! Officially recognised by the eating of pie! Pictured is my apple and berry pie with a crumble topping and strawberry garnish. Not too shabby for a pirate!

We can celebrate Pi Day on the 22nd of July because 22 divided by 7 is a good approximation of pi.

What I love most about Pi Day is not the pie (okay, it is the pie), but it’s also how many different days you can celebrate it. There’s March 14 (which is the most celebrated Pi Day – 3.14 being the first 3 numbers of pi, even though 22/7 is more accurate), March 4 (14% of the 3rd month), April 5 (when 3.14 months of the year has passed), and November 10 (the 314th day of the year).

Thanks maths for the pie.

World’s sweetest antibiotic? The five ways honey kills bacteria.

// July 13th, 2010 // 5 Comments » // Drugs, How Things Work, Recent Research, Science at Home

HoneyYou’re at the doctors with a suspected infection, but instead of offering penicillin or erythromycin, they prescribe honey. Would you switch toast toppings? Take a honey pill? How about letting the doctor smear medical grade honey over the infected area?

People have been using honey (not mad honey) as medicine since ancient times, but until now we have never fully understood how it works. Research lead by Dr. Paulus Kwakman from the University of Amsterdam and his team have finally identified the key elements which give honey its antibacterial activity.

Bacteria are becoming resistant to drugs faster than we’re developing them. Honey might help because it works when other drugs don’t. Studies show it has good activity in vitro against antibiotic-resistant bacteria. An older study reports successful treatment of a chronic wound infections not responding to normal medicine.

So how does it work? It’s a combination of five factors.

1. Hydrogen peroxide, a kind of bleach. The honey enzyme called glucose oxidase makes hydrogen peroxide when honey is diluted with water. We clean toilets with bleach, and it’s pretty good at killing bacteria.

2. Sugar. Honey has so much sugar there’s hardly any water for bacteria to grow in.

3. Methylglyoxal (MGO), an antibacterial compound found in New Zealand Manuka honey a couple of years ago. It’s also found in medical grade honey which is made in controlled greenhouses, albeit in smaller amounts.

4. Bee defensin 1, a protein found in royal jelly (special food for queen bee larva.) This report is the first time bee defensin 1 has been identified in honey, and it works as an antibiotic.

5. Acid. Diluted honey has a pH of around 3.5, the acidic environment slows down bacterial growth.

These five things work together to provide a broad spectrum activity against bacteria. For example, S. aureus is vulnerable hydrogen peroxide, while B. subtillis is challenged only if MGO and bee defensin 1 are working simultaneously. Honey has the right mix for maximum destruction.

So that’s how bees keep their honey fresh and unspoiled by bacterial growth. Perhaps with this information we’ll create enhanced honey to guard against infection, improving on nature like we did with penicillin. Until then, I know what I’m having on my toast.

A Schooner of Science could be named Australia’s best science blog. If you enjoyed reading, please vote for me.

ResearchBlogging.orgKwakman, P., te Velde, A., de Boer, L., Speijer, D., Vandenbroucke-Grauls, C., & Zaat, S. (2010). How honey kills bacteria The FASEB Journal, 24 (7), 2576-2582 DOI: 10.1096/fj.09-150789

Syphilis detecting handshake used by sailors

// April 16th, 2010 // Comments Off on Syphilis detecting handshake used by sailors // Just for Fun, Science at Home, Uncategorized

Back in the days before antibiotics, syphilis was a dreadful problem encountered on occasion by hapless sailors on shore leave bewitched by young maidens.

Fortunately they could use their super-secret special handshake to detect syphilis. A demonstration is below, feel free to use it when dating.

Amazing! And you can sneak it in when dancing if you miss your opportunity for the greeting handshake. Thanks to Mr. Science Show, the man in the video for the hat tip.

Cola lowers sperm count, study doesn’t show

// April 7th, 2010 // 5 Comments » // Science at Home, Science Communication, Sex and Reproduction

The headline “Cola lowers sperm count, study shows” popped up on ninemsn recently. Usually I don’t pay much mind to ninemsn, but they had a grizzly story about a Russians who drowned a girl, then served her as meat with a side of potatoes to her friend. They plead guilty and said they had done it because they were drunk and hungry, but they HAD POTATOES! Once they drew me in with that story, I checked out the other headlines and stumbled across the cola article.

And I quote: “If you’re trying to have a baby, it might be a good idea to keep an eye on your partner’s cola intake, as a Danish researchers have found that big cola drinkers can have sperm counts up to 30 percent lower than normal.”

I have issues with the cola article.

The research paper is in the advance issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology, and you can read it here. They found that people with a high cola intake had lower sperm count. That doesn’t mean drinking lots of cola CAUSES low sperm count.

Towards the end it reads: “High-quantity consumers of cola or caffeine had an unhealthier lifestyle, which has previously been associated with poorer semen quality”. So is the low sperm count because of the cola or the lifestyle? The researchers considered the diet factor and wrote that it did not explain the correlation, but the report didn’t include any details on how they considered diet so it’s impossible to say if it was accurate.

High cola intake and low sperm count could both be caused by an unhealthy lifestyle. Other things that could cause them are discussed in the report, which reads: “High caffeine and cola consumption may also be related to in utero exposure to caffeine, working in a sedentary position, being less physical active, or being more stressed, variables that have previously been associated with poorer semen quality. Unfortunately, we did not obtain information about these factors.”

Any of these things or something else entirely could cause both high cola intake and low sperm count. Although drinking lots of cola can be correlated to having a lower sperm count, it damn sure doesn’t mean “cola lowers sperm count, study shows.” The study doesn’t show that at all, to me it doesn’t say anything that we didn’t already know.

Granted, ninemsn did write at the very bottom that the results couldn’t be separated from other lifestyle factors. Still, the article still reads like it’s big scary news. Going at it with an angle like “Ooh, don’t let your husbands drink cola, ladies” is just bad science. Walk the plank.






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