Posts Tagged ‘free’

University of Adelaide research week begins

// October 28th, 2011 // Comments Off on University of Adelaide research week begins // Science Communication

Today marks the start of Research Week at the University of Adelaide, so if you’re SA based like me, might be worth heading in for a look.

Monday 5pm there’s a seminar on wind energy that looks good. We’re always spotting turbines when we road-trip to Melbourne.

On my way to Whyalla for a science show earlier this year we stopped in the infamous bodies-in-the-barrels Snow Town. A turbine blade fell off a truck years ago and, damaged, they put it on show in a fenced outdoor spot. They are MASSIVE!!! The bank where the bodies were found, in barrels of acid, so the killers could receive their government payments from what I heard, was all boarded up.

Wednesday evening it’s a toss-up between African Research Safari, where directors of the Joanna Briggs Institute talk about challenges and success stories to evidence-based health research in Africa, and a Meet the Researchers event, with a short introduction from ten world-class researchers and a chance to chat with them over tea and cake. Both sound really good!

Though it’s not super sciencey, I’m keen to go to the History of Emotions workshop on Thursday 12 – 5 (if I can justify taking the afternoon off.) There’s Shakespeare, which I freaking love to be honest, and discussions on how shifting cultures change emotional regimes over time. Sounds difficult to research – is historical evidence different because the emotions are different, or because the writing style and language was different? On the other hand, without the language to describe emotion, can we even experience the emotion… maybe not. And how could we tell? Takes me back to my philosophical Theory of Knowledge days.

Click here for the full event calendar.

ChemWiki, free textbook for University students

// March 3rd, 2011 // 4 Comments » // Science Communication

This week, thousands of Australians went back to Uni starting a new semester of study. For some, science is their bag and they’re picking up a chemistry class or two. I’ve been there, and they’ve got a big year ahead.

There’s nothing quite like studying chem. Is it the nerdiness? The lab work? The elegant complexity and simplicity of laws? Perhaps its the joy of pushing electrons, pure love of a benzene ring, cherished conjugated systems or perfectly balancing equations.

But it takes a while to get to that state of love, like dating an attractive person with a terribly annoying habit. Don’t drop out, seek counseling at the ChemWiki.

An open access textbook, ChemWiki is a collaborative approach towards chemistry education. Students and faculty members write and rewrite sections to make it accurate and easy to understand. It’s been in development for two and a half years, and over 2000 people have contributed.

I first heard about it when it was still an infant wiki in swaddling clothes from Kyle Finchsigmate at The Chem Blog, which is now sadly shut down. Kyle is the reason I started blogging, being the first blog I subscribed to after his Nacho Average Cheesecake post changed my life.

Since those small beginnings, $2000 and a handful of uni classes spreading the news, it has grown pretty huge. It’s at the stage where it could replace paper textbooks for Uni chem courses, which is a saving of at least $150 per student. It’s ideal for Universities who are embracing new technologies in the classroom, like the University of Adelaide who gave a free iPad to every new student this year.

Unlike paper textbooks (and most hypertextbooks too,) the ChemWiki is designed in a non-linear way. You can jump from topic to topic with hyperlinks, so knowledge is constructed to suit the student. For me, chemistry only really came together in third year when the separate subjects wove together like a tapestry. It suddenly ALL made sense. But with non-linear learning, its easier to see patterns and connections and build up a frame of understanding as you go. I’m a fan.

I can’t recommend the ChemWiki enough. It covers coursework about analytical, biological, organic and inorganic topics, and is perfect for Chemistry students at Uni. Get involved and spread the word!

Have a nap and let your computer cure cancer

// October 18th, 2010 // 2 Comments » // Drugs, How Things Work, Recent Research, Science Communication

computer doing science

Image by John Watson

While waiting for inspiration to strike a solid introduction into my head, my computer screen went blank. Good ol’ MacBook conserving energy! But letting your computer go idle doesn’t mean you have to waste its processing power. Why not cure cancer with grid computing?

It’s a kind of parallel computing, which breaks up complex problems into smaller calculations and then solves them at the same time. Instead of one processor working on one calculation a time, a group of processors work on different calculations together. Dual-core computers is one way to do it. Grid computing is another.

Grid computing is like a massive virtual computer whose processors are computers linked by a central software.

World Community Grid is one group which utilises the personal computers of over half a million volunteers around the globe. Their software switches on when the computer is idle and runs virtual experiments, calculating and number crunching its way through chemical simulations. They provide this public grid to humanitarian research projects.

Childhood cancer
One of the projects they are running is helping to solve childhood cancer by finding potential new drugs for neuroblastoma, one of the most common solid tumors in children. In some people the tumors do not respond well to chemotherapy. This research is hoping to turn this around by targeting three proteins which are important to the cancer’s survival. Knock out those proteins and the cancer will in turn be knocked out by chemo.

Good plan, but how to knock out the proteins? That’s where the grid comes in.

There are three million potential drug candidates who MIGHT bind to one of the proteins and knock them out. Of course, that’s a lot of laboratory time right there. A computer would be better, but to run these nine million virtual experiments would take 8000 years. By working with the public grid they expect the project to be finished in just two years. Possibly less.

That’s a big saving on time and grant money. It’s rational based drug design (which I blogged about here) taken to a crowd sourcing extreme. They are trying a similar thing to discover dengue fever drugs.

Carbon Nanotubes

Image by Mstroeck

Clean Water
Drug design isn’t the only industry using the World Community Grid. Last month universities in Australia and China announced they are running simulations through the grid to find out how to filter water using nanotubes.

Nanotubes are small tubes that only water molecules can fit through. Not bacteria, not even viruses. It’s a great way to get rid of water dwelling nasties and desalinate sea water. But with such small pores you would expect the pressure and energy needed to force water through the filter to be incredible. And incredibly expensive. But in 2005 experiments showed that actually the water flowed pretty fast through the filters.

Why? Possibly the water molecules touching the nanotubes act more like ice and reduce friction. But who knows? To find out exactly what’s happening they’re running realistic simulations using the grid. The outcome could lead to huge improvements in water availability, potentially saving millions of lives a year in the developing world.

Like the idea of grid computing? Sign up to the World Community Grid here, and let your down time make a difference.






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