Sunday, 29 July 2012

Biological nano-motors

A team of researchers investigating the tiny nano-scale motors in cells were part of the the Royal Society's Summer Exhibition recently, in which they described the work they are undertaking to understand the way these motors work and also to try and build their own.
Two particular areas of investigation related to the flagella that propel bacteria and the transport mechanisms within cells.

Many bacteria have a whip-like tail that they use to propel themselves around. This is powered by a tiny motor (see diagram below). The “fuel” for the motor is a charge difference between the inside and outside of the cell wall. This causes a flow of positively charged hydrogen ions to move across the cell wall. The “rotor” part of the motor is the structure that actually transports the ions across and is turned as it does so - at speeds of up to several thousand rpm.

NSB talked to a charming an enthusiastic researcher who explained that all cells have a kind of “rail network” within them of microtubules. These are used by Kinesin molecules to transport material around the cell (e.g food inwards from the cell wall, waste outwards to the cell wall, intermediate chemicals within the cell), with each function having its own network of microtubules.Incredibly, the Kinesin molecules “walk” along the microtubules, carrying their cargo as they do so.

One can get some feeling for the incredible complexity of a cell, and just how many processes are working at the same time, from the animation below, you can see Kinesin molecules “walking” at around 1m07s to 1m25s.


There is also a more detailed explanatory video here.

A detailed look at the kinesin mechanism can be found in these 2008 and 2009 papers by Baker and Berry from the University of Oxford, both of which have some incredible imagery

Synthetic Nanostructures
The University of Oxford are also looking at ways of using DNA building blocks to manufacture nano-scale structures, nano-motors and (in combination with Kenesin) DNA nano-shuttles. It is all fascinating stuff and you can read about it at the groups web page here.

Image Sources
Flagella schematic, Walking kinesin

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Lecture : Nanotechnology in Healthcare

The first in a new series of the University of Nottingham’s “ Science Public Lecture Series” featured a talk by Clive Roberts, Professor of Pharmaceutical Nanotechnology at the UoN. The talk was titled “Seeing the Nanoworld: New solutions for Healthcare” and explored the topic of nanotechnology and how it can be applied to create novel drugs and treatments. Prof Roberts began by giving an overview of some of the local high-tech companies and University departments that were involved in this area of research and development.

Molecular profiles, recent recipient of a number of awards including a Queens Award for Enterprise.

Eminate, a Nanotechnology centre in the City of Nottingham focussed on the manufacture of pharmaceutical nanomaterials.

NNNC (Nottingham Nanotechnology and Nanoscience Centre) This new centre is an equal collaboration between the Schools of Pharmacy, Chemistry, Physics and Materials.

LBSA (Laboratory of Bioscience and Surface Analysis). LBSA has an internationally reputation in scanning probe microscopy and surface chemical analysis.

Nanotechnology is very much a multi-disciplinary area, as can be seen by the fact that the team at NNNC comprise a mix of materials scientists, chemists and physicists. Prof Roberts explained that nanotechnology was interested in structures in the range 1-100 nanometre range. To give some perspective, the DNA helix is about 2nm in thickness, while the smallest cellular life is around 200nm in size. One way the nanotechnology is more than just small versions for conventional structures and machines is that, according to Prof Roberts “at that scale, new physics, new phenomena, happen”

Whilst the name “nano-technology” is only a few decades old, mankind has been using nanostructured materials, without knowing why they worked, for millennia. For example:

9th Century Abbasid ceramics had a beautiful lustre, which was caused by the use of metallic compounds that formed nanoparticles during the glazing process

B&Q have yet to replicate the lustre of these ceramics on the 9th century Mosque of Kairouan, Tunisia

Muslim Swords of the 10th century Damascus blades contained carbon nanotubes The steel of Damascus blades, used by Arab soldiers in the Crusades, had a characteristic wavy banding pattern known as damask, and an extraordinary combination of sharpness, toughness and strength. Recent research has shown that these properties were the result of the use of a particular Indian iron called Wootz, which contained a large amount of carbon and also, critically, small amounts of other metals that promoted the formation of carbon nanotubes and then a form of iron nanowire.

Characteristics wavy pattern of Damascus steel - beautiful but deadly. A bit like a Porsce 911.

The Roman Lycergus cup is a beautiful, incredibly intricate vessel that has a different colour depending on whether it is lit from the front or the back. The effect is achieved adding tiny amounts of gold and silver dust (made by colloidal precipitation) to the glass. The particles are only about 70 nanometers across, and embedded in the glass.

The Lycergus Cup - that is some serious carving going on there.
Not sure I could have handled the pressure.

Nano People
Some of the key names in the recent history of nanotechnology are Norio Taniguchi, Richard Feymann and Eric Drexler, all of whom are covered in this rather excellent Wikipeida article .

Natures Nano
The natural world is pretty much chock full of nanostructured materials and Prof Roberts provided a few of the more spectacular examples :

The nanosized hairs on a Gecko’s feet enable it to be in actual contact with a much larger proportion of the surface it is walking on than would be the case if its feet has a flat surface. It is often the case that two surfaces in intimate contact will generate a small adhesive force between themselves- the trick is to ensure that the surfaces are really in close contact. And the many tiny hairs allow the gecko to do exactly that. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there has been great interest in the possibility of a synthetic version of this natural adhesive, which has resulted in “Gecko Tape” and a experimental "Stickybot"

Gecko feet - very, very, clever. Puts Nike in their place.

Off topic, but this is a Oligocene-era Gecko trapped in amber. How cool is that?

The Lotus leaf is an extremely hydrophobic structure, and water that is placed on it stays as discrete sroplets and does not wet the surface. Although the effect has long been known, it was only with the advent of electron microscopy that scientists were able to discover that the phenomena was caused by a combmination of micron sized lumps, each covered with nanosize wax crystals, on the leaf surface. Together, these features prevent water droplets from wetting the leaf surface (you can see some cracking images here. Again, there have been attempts to make synthetic equivalents, especially for fabrics, as you can see here.

Water on Lotus leaves
Artists impression of microstructure of a Lotus leaf

The whip like flagella that some bacteria use to move around have a very mechanical looking nano-sized structure, complete with “bearings” and “stators”. It really is a quite incredible mechanism. Given the potential applications for such a generator in the portable electronics field, it is no surprise that the first tentative steps towards an artificial equivalents have been taken. It’s also worth mentioning that at the micron scale research has developed the capability of making intricate gears and other mechanisms, such as that done at Sandia National Laboratories.

Schematic of a bacterial flagella, from the relevant Haynes manual

Mite next to some MEMS micro machines. Crikey

Seeing Nano
Prof Roberts also described how the Atomic Force Probe Microscope was a key enabling technology in the nano field as it allowed researchers to observe and manipulate object on a nanoscale. The Prof provided a startling metaphor for its sensitivity by explaining that, if the tip of the microscope was the size of one of the great pyramids of Giza - a protein would be the size of a football - and yet proteins can actually be images by this technique!

How an Atomic Force Microscope Works.
Imaging atoms? Who'd have thunk it possible?

AFM tip

Image of single, rather undisciplined looking,  polymer chains.

Nano medicine
Nanotechnology has huge potential in the medical field. Applications include:

“Lab on a chip” - where chemical or biological tests are performed on samples at an extremely small scale.

Implantable sensors - where small devices are placed in the body and are able to report back on specific biological properties.

Drug Packaging - Many natural barriers to delivery of drugs are porous to nano particles. Interestingly, the window of sizes that can pass through the barrier varies, being 8-12nm for kidneys, 10-24nm in the air-blood barrier in the lungs. This can be used to advantage by creating custom-sized particles that combine the drug and a coating of nano-material. Carefully controlling the size of the final particle allows it to be targeted at a specific organ, potentially preventing harmful effects elsewhere. An example of this is Doxil, which encapsulates the drug doxorubicin in liposomes (tiny spheres of fat like molecules) about ~ 100 nm in size - which is the ideal size for the structure to penetrate tumours and also reduces harmful effects on other tissues.

Pregnancy Tests - one of the first big medical markets for nanomaterials was the use of gold nanoparticles in pregnancy (and other) tests. The principle can be seen here.

Drugs Development
Prof Roberts gave an outline of the process of drug development, pointing out that it typically costs $1billion and 12 years to develop a new drug, with only 1 in 5000 drugs getting to market and only 1 in 5 of those making any money.

One stumbling blog with otherwise promising drugs is solubility, some 40% of drugs fail because they have poor solubility characteristics.

But solubility is very much scale dependent. A grain of sand will take 34 billion years to dissolve in water. But the same grain will dissolve in one second if it is in the form of 1nanometre nanoparticles!

This scale dependency has been utilised in drugs that combine a very fine dispersed active ingredient in a polymer that has good solubility characteristics. The fine nature of the active ingredient allows it to dissolve into the surrounding body fluid in a timely manner.

Making a box from DNA
Fascinatingly, there is now research underway looking at how fragments of DNA itself can be used as a structural material. Already nano-sized boxes with hinged lids have been manufactured.

Survey of attitudes to nano materials
Lastly, Prof Roberts outlined some of the concerns regarding nanomaterials.

He described how the body has trouble dealing with very long needle-like particles such as carbon nano-tubes and also that incineration discarded nano-containing products could release the nano-particles back into the environement.

Closing the talk, he recalled a survey of ordinary people on nano-technology related issues. Whilst there had been concerns in a number of areas, when the group were asked about nano materials in cosmetics, half (the female half) were suddenly very positive, essentially saying “what ever you can do - go for it” !

Rating on the NSB Science Accessability Criteria.
The talk has provoked NSB into setting up a list of actions that it would like to see presenting organisations follow, items that make it easy to follow up on a talk and find out more information. So here goes :

1) Does the organisation have a central list of all events? No
2) It is clear, before the talk starts , whether the slides will be available on the Internet or by email?No
3) Are links provided for people to find out more information?Some
4) Are papers that are referred easily accessible, in full, to the public?No checked

Image Sources
Mihrab, Brooches, Gecko, Gecko in Amber, Lotus, MEMS Courtesy of Sandia National Laboratories, SUMMiT™ Technologies,, AFM, AFM Polymer, Flagella

Friday, 20 July 2012

Notts Uni Science Public Lecture Series

The University of Nottingham has just started its latest "Science Public Lecture Series" which has the following events scheduled for the next few months:

19th Jul: Prof Clive Roberts - Seeing the Nanoworld:New solutions for Healthcare
16th Aug: Dr Trevor Drage - Energy in a Carbon Constrained World.
20th Sep: Dr Robert Stockman - Nature's Chemical Warfare Agents : From Poison Arrows to Magic Bullets.
18th Oct: Dr Richard Alexander - Exoplanets : Hunting for Other Worlds
15th Nov: Dr Barry Lomax - Origins of Flowering Plants 13th Feb

All talks are in Lecture Theatre B1 in the Maths and Physics building at the main University of Nottingham campus. Free entry You can read reports from a number of previous lectures at the Event Reports tab on this blog.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

PomeGreat PurePlus antioxidant effects

Read an article in the Daily Mail back in November 2011 about the alleged health benefits of a PomeGreat PurePlus capsule supplement derived from Pomegranates.

NSB was a little nervous about this report as there have been a number of cases where food supplement manufacturers have published marketing material that deliberately distorts science.

The article states that a capsule containing "an extract of the whole fruit" was given to 60 people every day for a month (and that other people were given a placebo).

and goes on to say that. . .
"Researchers monitored the activity of chemicals in their bodies compared with those who took a placebo. They found a significant decrease in a marker associated with cell damage"

NSB wanted to find out more about the reseach, so sent PomeGreat this :

I've just read about the fascinating research that PurePlus has undertaken on the anti-oxidative effects of PomeGreat PurePlus. I'm hoping that you will be kind enough to clarify a couple of points to relieve some concerns that I have. . .

a) Was the research undertaken in a randomised double blind study?
b) Was the PurePlus capsule and the placebo capsule identical in appearance?
c) What was the level of statistical significance ("p" value) shown in the results?

Also, is it possible to send me a copy of the research paper?

UPDATE: 17 Nov 2011
A reply arivved from PomeGreat the very next day. It said that they would let me know as soon as the report was published and that "the details featured in the newspapers today are an accurate reflection of their findings."

UPDATE: 29 Feb 2012
Sent an email to ask whether the report has been published yet and received a (very quick) response saying that that had checked with ProbelteBio and that the study has not yet been published, and that they had asked to be informed when it was.

UPDATE: 10 Apr 2012
Sent another email to ask whether the report has been published yet.

UPDATE: 25 Jun 2012
Sent another email to ask whether the report has been published yet.

UPDATE: 19 Jul2012
Received a response from Pomegreat saying that "The reason there has been a delay in publishing this study is that ProbelteBio have decided to expand the research into the effects of pomegranate and cardiovascular health. The previous study conducted showed such positive results that ProbelteBio are now researching deeper into why this happens. When the findings from these continued studies are published we will be happy to send you a copy of the published research." and also provided these responses to NSB's specific questions:

Q1) Was the research undertaken in a randomised double blind study?
A1) The study was A randomized, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over trial.

Q2) Was the PurePlus capsule and the placebo capsule identical in appearance?
A2) Yes, they were the same.

Q3) What was the level of statistical significance ("p" value) shown in the results?
A3) Depends on the parameter measured, but we cannot free this information now. We measured some parameters related to cardiovascular health and others, like prebiotic-like effect, anti-inflammatory (general and specifics), etc.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Doggerland - Europe's Lost World

A team of archaeology researchers werepart of the the Royal Society's Summer Exhibition recently, in which they described the work they are undertaking to map and understand the now-underwater landscape of Doggerland, in the North Sea. This large land area was exposed because, during the last ice-age, sea levels were around 120metres lower than today, resulting in a great deal more land being exposed. After the ice-age, the area slowly became submerged between 18,000 BC and 5,500 BC.

It has been long been known that this area used to be land and was once inhabited, not least because trawlers have periodically dredged up human artifacts when fishing in the area. It's worth remembering that this was not some desolate wasteland, but an area with lakes and rivers, as well as varied plant and animal life.

One of the last areas to be inundated was the "Dogger Bank", which now lies just 20m below sea level (compared to 50-70m for much of the rest of the North Sea) and it is fascinating to think about what happened to the inhabitants of this area as the sea slowly but steadily encroached on their land. Did they feel threatened? Did they move to the mainland well before things got a bit tricky? Were they in touch with the mainland by boat for thousands of years before they moved out?

Or was it the other way around, perhaps they spent their time fending off invaders from Scandanavia, Denmark, France and England?

Incidentally, you can explore the North Sea via a zoomable maritime chart here (prepare to be surpised how many oil and gas fields are in the area)

NSB was surprised to see that one of the main funders for this work was the "Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund", being unaware that such a fund existed. A little digging revealed that this very worthy fund was scrapped in late 2010, a rather disturbing decision that you can read about here.

More information on the project can be found at the Birmingham University Website., including an interesting article in Nature.

As well as the geography of the area, project partners are using low cost rapid prototyping technology to make replicas - sometimes at ncreased scale - of artifacts that have been recovered from the Doggerland area.

The researcher involved in this aspect of the work was really engaging, quipping that "I'm working in artificial intelligence and emerging technologies - what could possibly go wrong?".

NSB's mind has scrolled - through - the - possibilities and suspects that mankind will be okay so long as the AI needs plugging in. Issac Asimov could have avoided a lot of grief if he had just make a fourth rule of robotics which said "A robot must have a battery life of no longer than three hours"

Update Sep 2014
"One time professor in Clean fossil energy and carbon capture" Trevor Drage (@trevorgrage) Tweeted about research into subsea landslides and NSB was gobsmacked to read about the "Storegga Slide", one of the largest landslides known, which caused Tsunami that would have swept catastrophically across the low lying Doggerland.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Epigenetics at the Babraham Institute

The Babraham Institute were part of the the Royal Society's Summer Exhibition recently, in which they described the work they are undertaking in the field of epigenetics.

Epigenetics is the study of processes where molecules bond to specific sites in a persons DNA, thus changing the way the DNA code is interpreted by the cell (but not the structure of the DNA itself). These changes can be carried through the process of cell division, so daughter cellls may have the same modifications as their parents.

These processes can have profound effects on a persons biology. For example, it is modifications like this that allow cells to specialize during human development (e.g. into muscle, brain or lung tissues)

Also, we are particularly susceptible to epigenetic changes while developing in the womb. For example malnourishment during the first trimester of pregnancy increases the risk of diabetes and obesiity in adult life. This is because epigenetic changes to parts of the DNA makes cells respond as if they are in a "famine" environment, even if food is abundant (see here for an example)

Animal testing suggests that these modifications may even be transmittable to their offspring, who may themselvs show increased susceptibility to disease.

Thus the liklihood of a person suffering some conditions may be increased by the environment that their grandmother was living in when she was carrying the persons mother!

Research has shown that epigenetic changes are potentially reversible and drugs are being developed that aim to reverse the specific accululated epigenetic changes implicted in cancer, diabetes and other chronic health problems.

Another avenue of research is looking at turning ordinary skin cells into stem cells by removing the epigenetic changes that make the specialised, the aim being to use these stem cells to grow new tissues or ergans to replace those that have been damaged by disease.

As with all the exhibitors at the exhibition, the team at the Babraham stand were very friendly and keen to explain (in simple English) what they were working on.

DNA is not your only Destiny.   .    . Luke

La Prairie Cellular Platinum Cream

A while back, NSB read an unbelievable article in the Guardian about pricing of various products.

One part of it particularly caught NSB's attention. It was an interview with Rachel Simmonds who is the skincare training manager at La Prairie, whose 50ml Cellular Platinum Cream is sold for £656. It was the following comments (amongst others) from Rachel that left NSB a little lost:
"The high cost is because of the platinum colloidal water we use. It is magnetically charged particles of platinum, so it has an impact on the electrical balance of the skin. It helps to realign the water molecules so you have a better receptivity to nutrients. But it also stops vital hydration from being lost."

"Because of the magnetic charge each particle contains, it's symmetrical within the product and the way those tiny particles – they're submicrons, so they're really, really tiny – that's how it spreads evenly on the skin, and that's why it is able to shift water molecules and change the electrical balance."

"Yes, it's as simple as opposites attract, because the positive charge of the water molecules in the skin stand up on the right end because they're attracted to the product, and that's how you get your protective buffer zone back intact. Platinum is also classed as a super-antioxidant."

Which resulted in this message to the company:
Dear LaPrairie,
I just read an interivew with your skincare training manager, Rachel Simmonds, in the Guardian which has left me a little confused. I'm hoping that you can answer a few questions about it:
I understand that Platinum is a non-magnetic metal, so I am struggling a little to understand how the particles can have a magnetic charge. Have I missed something?

I'm afraid I don't understand what the "eletrical balance" of the skin is. Can you point me towards some kind of on-line medical resource that explains this?

Sadly, I can't visualise how the cream "helps to align the water molecules" as the cream presumably penetrates the skin to a degree and the water molecules in this penetrated layer will have nano-particles in all directions around them - Could you please advise which direction the water molecules are aligned in?

Do you have any evidence that platinum nano-particles are safe?

Incidentally (and this is not a question, merely a point that I note) I don't know how much colloidal Platinum costs, but 10ppm colloidal Gold costs about £60/litre, so I do rather wonder how colloidal Platinum can be a significant contributor to the cost of a cream that costs £13,120/litre

Update(11 May 2012)
Received a response from La Prairie today, apparently from the "Vice President, Brand and Public Relations (Global Communications)" in New York. Crikey.
It didn't actually answer any of my questions, but did give the name of a researcher who has worked in this area. So NSB bounced back this response to La Prairie:
Thanks for getting back to me, I really appreciate it.
It’s a shame that you couldn’t answer my question asking how non-magnetic Platinum particles can have a magnetic charge as I was really having trouble getting my head round this.
And I’m a little disappointed that you felt unable to point me towards any resources explaining what the “electrical balance” of the skin is.
Also, I guess I’ll have to keep on wondering how the particles can “align the water molecules”.
Lastly, it’s unfortunate that you felt unable to provide any evidence that Platinum nano-particles are safe.
On the plus side, thanks for mentioning that Prof XXX is doing work in this area, that is something I can chase up.
Also sent an email to the Prof asking if he can explain how a non-magnetic element can produce magnetic particles.

Update(25th June 2012)
Recently received a response from the researcher mentioned by La Prairie, who stated (not entirely unexpectedly) that:
"Platinum nanoparticles are not magnetic. If you want to manufacture magnetic platinum nanoparticles, you have to make bimetal platinum nanoparticles with cobalt or iron."

So NSB sent off another, perhaps slightly cheeky, missive to La Prairie:
I just received a response from the Prof XXX who stated (not entirely unexpectedly) that: "Platinum nanoparticles are not magnetic. If you want to manufacture magnetic platinum nanoparticles, you have to make bimetal platinum nanoparticles with cobalt or iron."
Is it the case that your nanoparticles are non-magnetic or is it the case that they contain reactive metals such as cobalt or iron?

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

People of the British Isles

The University of Oxford's "People of the British Isles" project were part of the the Royal Society's Summer Exhibition recently, in which they described the work they had been doing to map the genetic diversity of the British Isles.

The PoBI project has coolected DNA samples from some 3,000 volunteers in rural populations around the UK. The names and DNA characteristics of these volunteers are being used to build a map showing how ancestry varies across the UK.

For example,it is known two important sources of historical genetic information are the Y chromosome, which is passed on by fathers, and mitochondrial DNA, which is passed on by mothers. The DNA of people in the Orkneys shows a relaitvely high proportiion of a particular Y type that is common in Scandanavia, but mitochondria DNA that is similar to rest of the UK. This suggests that male Vikings raided the islands but then settled there and married Orkney women.

Whilst this is very interesting, the main motivation behind the project is to determine whether particular diseases can be associated with particular DNA sequences.

In the early days of DNA testing, back in the 60s and 70s, two groups of people (one with a disease, one without) would be compared to see if there were significant differences between them.

Initially there were some successes (such as certain types of arthritis). However, when a similar approach was taked with more complex conditions such as heart disease (where a number of genes may be involved) results were much less conclusive. The small sample sizes of these studies also made it hard to draw firm conclusions.

So, it seems that what is needed is large studies and a fine grained understanding of genetic diversity in the UK.

It is this latter point that the project focusses on.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Edinferno - Uni of Edinbugh's RoboCup team

The University of Edinburgh Informatics team had an exhibition at the Royal Society's Summer Exhibition recently, in which they demonstrated their work with robots, particularly regarding the machines ability to interact with the environment and people around it. This is of relevance for a number of potential applications, not least the fact that robots are being considered for “home-help” type applications for the elderly.

One way the group is developing the technology is by participating in the annual RoboCup championship. The competition has a number of classes, and the University of Edinburgh compete as “Edinferno” in the “standard platform” group where the teams all use the same design of robot - but develop their own software.

The research group, although much smaller that some of the big boys from the US and elsewhere, had a rollercoaster of a ride at the “RoboCup2012” competition in Mexico, where they were the only UK team !

Edinferno began the competition in Group H, where they had to play against favourites UT Austin Villa (University of Texas, USA), Cerebus (Boğaziçi University, Istambul, Turkey) and Bembelbots (Goethe University, Frankfurt, Germany.

They managed to give Cerebus a 5:0 whipping and hold Bembelbots to a 3:3 draw before losing to UT Austin Villa.

Having managed to score enough points to go through to the Internediate round, they now faced UChile. Concerns that they might struggle to overcome the natural latin american flair for football proved unfounded as Edinferno gave the south americans a 4:0 drumming. Edinferno were now clearly getting into their stride.

Progressing to the second round, Edinferno found themselves in Pool K and played a series of high scoring matches. Achieving two wins and one loss was enough to get Edinferno a place in the quarter finals.

Their opponents here in the last eight were B-Human, from the University of Bremen.

So that would be Germany.

Uh oh.

I think we can all see what is coming next.

Despite their undoubted pluck and against-the-odds efforts, the brave Edinferno robots went down in a 0:10 hammering by the clinical Europeans.


One can imagine the tears rolling down the cheeks of the University researchers as the final whistle blew. So close and yet so far. For those of you who like postmortems, competition results can be found here.

Some of the Edinferno Football playing robots having a gentle training session

Moving back to the Royal Society exhibition, one of the researchers explained that the aim was to have, by 2050, a team that could play the “human” world cup finalists - and win.

NSB can kinda see this happening and wonders whether the fact that the robots will learn some of their behaviour through trial and error will result in the players having differing “personalities”. Will their be some players that are more Gazza than Lineker?

Will they play to their strengths by simply spending the whole 90minutes constantly on the move, thus tiring out the human players?

This is certainly one project that is worth keeping an eye on!

Related Content : Interview with Eben Upton from Raspberry Pi

Royal Society Summer Exhibition 2012

NSB, had been waiting excitedly for the Royal Society’s Summer Science Exhibition for several months, and went along (with No1 and No3 Son) to find out if the event matched the billing.

It certainly did. The Exhibition was, frankly, AWESOME.

The NSB crewdid not stop being amazed, entertained and educated for the entire time that we were there. As with most things that are successful, it was the people that made the event what it was - the stands were manned by such enthusiastic and engaging researchers that one could not help but be interested by the work they were doing.

The grandeur of the Royal Society Building, situated close to Buckingham Palace and Westminster, also added to the atmosphere of the event as did the various historical documents, portraits and equipment that were dotted about the building.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, IKEA have never been invited tender for decoration of the Royal Society's Entrance Hall

In addition, some of the rooms had had walls full of interesting books - for some reason “The Day the Universe Changed” by James Burke particularly caught NSB’s eye, perhaps not a surprise given that NSB is an 80’s kid.

Crowds, books, science and world class coving - what's not to like?

There were 21 exhibits in all, which are outlined here. They ranged from work done by La Sainte Union Catholic School on the relationship between air quality and lichen distribution to the multi-national, multi-telescope, multi-billion pound ALMA radio astronomy project.

Even the wall paintings were a thing to behold. . .

It was great to see that all the exhibitors had stuff you could take away with you to find out more about the subject, and the level of interactivity was really high - there were lots of interesting and unusual activities that the public could participate in.

The presentation by La Sainte Union School

And, although it was certainly busy, there was never any kind of long queue for a particular exhibit or activity.

There was so much good stuff, in fact, that it's a bit too much to fit one post, so the following have been split off into separate posts:

The University of Edinburgh's Edinferno robotic football team.

Research on the genetic makeup of the UK

Epigenentics - or how the environment can affect how DNA works

Doggerland - Europe's lost world

Biological nanomotors

Football playing robots (please insert England related joke of your choice here)

The "Breathless Genes" exhibition included a bookshelf of books..

You'll never guess what all these books represent...

Each of which contained hundred of pages of close typed text...

They are all full of text

Which, close up, could be seen to be the genetic code. Apparently, that whole set of books represents the DNA information contained in each of the cells in our body. Crikey

Ah- the genetic code, so that's what they are all about.

Meanwhile, at the "Laughing Brains" area, Professor Sophie Scott was explaining how laughter was the only sound that was recognised across all human societies and that it was a very deep, primitive emotion that is shared with many other creatures - which makes it all the more strange that we feel comfortable allowing our everyday conversations to be interrupted by laughter.

One of the posters showed how the use of visual communication techniques such as Skype or (very old skool, this) talking to each other result in increased happpiness.

Scientists and error bars - it's just a fact of life.

Winningly, the exhibit even had a stand-up comedian performing in a corner, to ensure that all the visitors experienced the emotion that the exhibit was all about.

Stand Up ??? At a science exhibition ?? Surely some mistake?

As well as the exhibits, there were a series of talks scheduled. No1 son went to one of these and commented that it had been really interesting (trust me, for No1 Son that is a pretty emphatic endorsement). Apparantly, the talk had been by someone who was a serial inventor of products and a successful participant on Dragons Den.

A sensor from an ALMA radio telescope - gives great SKY+ reception too, apparently

But perhaps the best guide to just how good an event it was came as we left the building and NSB asked No3 son to give the exhibition marks out of 10.

"It was so good that you can't mark it out of 10", he replied.

Related Content : Talk by Prof Poliakoff on the Royal Society