Check out the June issue

May 31, 2011 at 10:16 am | Posted in Lab News videos, Watch | Leave a comment
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Here’s what’s going on in the June issue

Denim drumming

May 26, 2011 at 10:23 am | Posted in Editorial Comment | Leave a comment
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Drumming in your jeans takes on a whole new meaning

Lugging a drum kit about is a pain – our editor Phil is a drummer in band and he knows the hassle it can be to travel to gigs with the huge amount equipment required by a drummer – let alone the rest of the band.

Aseem Mishra also knows what a chore it can be, but he thinks he might have come up with a solution – a pair of jeans that also doubles up as a drum kit. Sensors in the thighs of the trousers detect the beat which gives off an analogue signal which is then sent to an amp and circuitry in the bag.

“I’ve been drumming for about eight years now and it’s such a hassle taking a drum kit around,” said 17-year-old Mishra. “Whenever we go to a gig, we put the drum kit in the car are it fills the whole car. So one guy have to go to the gig in the car with the drum kit and come back for everybody else.”

Mishra has just won the senior age group title at the Young Engineers of Great Britain Competition and is busy optimising his denim drum kit for the Intel Science and Engineering Fair in LA – not bad for someone who just started messing around at home.

“This was just a project I was doing at home in my own time. I love electronics and I love drumming so it’s a culmination of my passions,” he said. “I just started messing around at home and I’ve got a system that works.”

It’s great to see that his talent and passion for two different things – science and the arts – can be combined and put to good use. His talent for both electronics and drumming has led to him potentially creating a solution to something he loves.

He’s now working on a wireless version – and once his exams are over, he want to study medicine at university, putting his talent for inventing things into the field of biomechanics or bioengineering.

I’m not sure how great the denim drums would go down at a gig – although Midi, the software used to convert the signal from analogue to noise gives realistic drum sounds, nothing beats a live gig. Perhaps just stick to using them in rehearsals then!

The delicate art of inspiration

May 24, 2011 at 7:43 am | Posted in Science Lite | 1 Comment
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Inspiration can manifest its self in many different guises, shaping the tableau of humanity’s exploits and endeavours in ways that can be hard to piece together. Sometimes with subtlty, sometimes with explosive aplomb – whatever its form, it is written into the make-up of human cognition – one idea breeds another, breeds another, breeds another.

It is a sequence that has led to most ­– if not all – of our advanced technologies and ideas. As for the inspirational spark that sets off this cerebral chain reaction? Well, if it exists – indeed if it can be imagined, for existence need not be a limiting factor – it can be the flash point for a string of thoughts.

Surely one of the most inherently ancient sources of inspiration for mankind has to be the simple pleasure of gazing up at the night sky. It is something that stretches across our existence – a delicate thread of curiosity unifying us with our early genetic brethrens – barely changing yet revealing new things all the time.

Modern astronomy has grown from this ancient seed of fascination – and what an endeavour it has been. The things we have learned, the distances into which we can now peer and the understanding we can now bring to bear on the beautiful images we can see were simply beyond the realms of imagination for the earliest Homo sapien star gazers.

Yet, we on the Science Lite desk feel we have spotted an area of this anciently inspirational specialty that seems to be entirely bereft of any inspiration. And that area is telescope nomenclature. Now bear with us on this, we know that the term ‘telescope nomenclature’ may well strike a cold dagger of boredom into you, our dear readers, but it is something we have been wondering about for a while now and recent news has forced our hand.

The project office for the World’s biggest telescope is to be based here in the UK at Jodrell Bank in Manchester. Exciting news – yet the name of this cutting edge telescope is anything but. There is no way to sex this up, so here it is – it’s called the Square Kilometre Array. “Functional” is really the kindest thing we can say about this epithet.

Surely an instrument as advanced and ambitious as this deserves a more inspirational name? Its mission after all is to answer some of the most fundamental questions about the Universe – including helping to understand dark energy, general relativity in extreme conditions and how the Universe came to the look the way it does now.

Yet the practice of brutally functional names seems well established in the telescope fraternity. There’s the Very Small Array, the Very Large Array, the Very Large Telescope, the European Extremely Large Telescope and our personal favourite in the name stakes – the Ukrainian T-shaped Radio telescope.

Don’t get the wrong idea – we appreciate the completeness and efficiency of the names – but surely something a little loftier would be more fitting for these amazingly insightful and exciting instruments.

Look, think of it this way – what if other great technologies had been named with such naked utilitarianism?

  • The Apollo Space Vehicles – named after the Greek god of light and music by NASA manager Abe Silverstein, who later said that “I was naming the spacecraft like I’d name my baby” – would be rebranded as the Hermetic Gravity Beater.
  •  The Saturn V which so heroically lifted the Apollo space craft on their way would be forever known as the 100 meter Multistage Acceleration Stick.
  • The Tevatron, the particle accelerator in the US which regularly peers in to the fizzing and dynamic sub-atomic world would become the Magnetic Particle Botherer.

I mean we could go on. Actually the truth is we can’t – so pleased were we with Multistage Acceleration Stick that we rapidly became complacent and are now bereft of further witticisms. But why not have a go at alternative nomenclature yourself – lets us know what you come up with – leave us a comment below. The best ones will be published and there may even be a prize in it for you.

The Chin Chin Laboratorists

May 19, 2011 at 8:39 am | Posted in Do | 1 Comment
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Visit the Chin Chin Laboratorists in Camden – the first ever liquid nitrogen ice cream parlour. They combine haute cuisine with a splash of science and showmanship to create some weird and wonderful concoctions: Burnt butter caramel with fleur de sel; Basil with jelly bubbles; and Tea & Birthday Cake – sprinkles, buttercream and tea! Sounds as fun as it does tasty and customer comments suggest their ice cream is something truly special – what could be better on a hot summer’s day?

The Chin Chin Laboratorists, 49-50 Camden Lock Place, London,
Open Tuesday – Sunday, 12-7pm

The ETA Aquarid Meteor shower

May 17, 2011 at 9:37 am | Posted in Events, Watch | Leave a comment
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Look up to the skies for the ETA Aquarid Meteor shower, the first of two showers that occur each year as the Earth passes through the dust released by Halley’s Comet. The Eta Aquarid meteors – visible from mid-April to late-May – appear to radiate from the constellation Aquarius and will peak between 5th and 7th of May. Estimates suggest we’ll be able to see around 10 meteors an hour, but make sure you’ve got the coffee and blankets out – Aquarius tends to rise an hour or so before morning twilight.

An apple a day

May 12, 2011 at 9:27 am | Posted in Origin of phrases | Leave a comment
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“An apple a day keeps the doctor away” but is there any truth in the old saying?

It turns out apples are one of the few fruits who’s health claims can be justified. They’re low in calories and full of antioxidants, flavonoids and fibre (as our sister MedLabNews covered last year).

A group of researchers from Cornell University in America suggest quercetin – a flavanoid  found in apples – can actually help protect brain cells against neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s.

Apples also contain vitamin C to aid the immune system, and phenols to help reduce cholesterol and animal studies have shown pectin and polyphenols improve lipid metabolism and lowers the production of pro-inflammatory molecules.

A study of 160 postmenopausal women aged 45-65 – one group eating 75g of dried apple a day for a year, another eating dried prunes – showed eating an apple day lowered LDL cholesterol by 23% and lipid hydroperoxide levels and C-reactive proteins. It also reduced body weight, with women losing on average 3.3lbs!

Apples also help reduce tooth decay – by killing bacteria and cleaning teeth – meaning the word doctor has sometimes been replaced with dentist.

But all these health benefits weren’t known when the phrase was first coined. The earliest use of the proverb was in Wales in the February 1866 issue of Notes and Queries:

A Pembrokeshire proverb. Eat an apple on going to bed, and you’ll keep the doctor from earning his bread.

The phrase is also thought to originate from the following nursery rhyme found on love-poems.me.uk:

Apple a day keeps the doctor away,
Apple in the morning, doctor’s warning.
Roast apple at night, starves the doctor outright.
Eat an apple going to bed – knock the doctor on the head.
Three each day, 7 a week – ruddy apple, ruddy cheek.

Win a USB turntable

May 11, 2011 at 8:45 am | Posted in Competition | Leave a comment
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Spring clean your music collections with a USB turntable. Cecil Instruments – the name you can trust for HPLC, Ion chromatography and UV/Visible Spectrophotometers – offers you the chance to win a USB turntable. If you’d like to get your hand on this fab gadget then email your details to phil.prime@laboratorynews.co.uk – first out of the hat will win!

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