Burrito birthday!

October 13, 2011 at 10:05 am | Posted in Science Lite | Leave a comment
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As you will no doubt have noticed it is the 40th anniversary of Laboratory News, and this issue is something of a ‘birthday party’ issue.

The Editor has been rattling his ‘40th anniversary sabre’ for several months now. “I want you all fully on board with this. I want original ideas” he regularly shouts. “…And yes, I’m looking at you Science Lite desk.”

Now, regular readers of Science Lite will be all too aware that ‘ideas’ and ‘originality’ are not necessarily something for which we hold a natural inclination. Yet a small seedling started to germinate in the collective imagination of Science Lite and we got to thinking, Lab News is 40 – so what do 40 year olds want on their birthday?

Well, a bit of a reminisce followed by far too much alcohol and then a fully fledged mid-life crisis complete with sports car and a wardrobe full of inappropriately youthful clothing. Obvious really.

It was the first of these that was to be our gift to Laboratory News – a trip down memory lane. After a swift search through the dusty archives we discovered that at its inception the magazine was based at a rather glamorous sounding address on London’s Fleet Street. Excellent we thought – a quick trip to the big smoke, a swift befriending of the current residents and a tour of the office to lap up the heady atmosphere of glories past – followed, of course, by a few celebratory beverages.

The Editor was swift to voice his concern. “You have checked that the current occupants will be happy for us to traipse around their office haven’t you?” he said. “…of course” we lied. Permission to enter the premises however was to turn out to be the least of our woes come the big trip – you see such was our enthusiasm we had neglected to check if the building was even still standing, let alone occupied.

Having gathered all the staff that showed even the slightest hint of willingness, we set-off on the retrospective trip of a lifetime – yet almost immediately upon arrival on Fleet Street the inevitable sense of failure began to gather around our little field trip. You see we neglected to examine who was occupying our ex-office as we simply – and wrongly as it turned out – assumed it would be another publishing company given its locale on Fleet Street. Much to our – and our Editor’s – chagrin it was, in fact, nothing of the sort.

So what was the noble enterprise that now occupied our hallowed ground? A library perhaps, a charitable foundation working for the betterment of science, a venture capitalist specialising in R&D investment?

No – in fact we were greeted by Chilango, a Mexican fast food joint. After standing open mouthed for a few minutes we had to act. “Well, this is perfect!” We announced, hoping to dissolve everyone’s obvious discontent with the situation. “Let’s go in and celebrate. If nothing else it surely shows that even businesses behave according to the laws of thermodynamics – all commercial enterprise inevitably breaks down, eventually becoming a fast food joint of some kind.”

Inside, the mood of our little trip started to noticeably change. Perhaps it was the delicious scent of the food, perhaps it was the frankly mood altering décor – a picture of neon perfection which could surely batter any ill feeling into submission – either way tensions began to lift. This combined with the incredibly friendly staff and the absolutely delicious food meant that the day started to pull back from the precipice of calamity.

So to you the staff of Chilango we say thank you – not just for the lovely food and warm welcome, but for saving what was otherwise bound to be another Science Lite disaster. And to our readers we implore you to pay a visit to Chilango on Fleet Street – not only will you be able to bask in Lab News tradition, but you will also be able to eat very well indeed. And finally to you Laboratory News we simply say: Feliz cumpleaños!

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Return of the science cookies!

October 6, 2011 at 9:56 am | Posted in 40th birthday celebrations, Competition, Cooking with science, Do | Leave a comment
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This month we’re lucky enough to have a selection of cookies made by Quirky Cookies & Cakes aka Wendy – a self-confessed science groupie and geek – and her analytical chemist husband, Jason.

Working from their home in Derbyshire since 2009, Wendy has produced her bespoke biscuits and cakes using as many locally sourced ingredients as possible.  Each cookie is made to her own recipe, and intricately decorated with royal icing, and would make a fabulous addition to any celebration – our favourite is the exploding supernova, which has space dust on it so it also explodes in your mouth!

Wendy and Jason love a challenge, and if they haven’t got a suitable shape in their collection of over 500 different cutters they can even make their own. Quirky Cookies and Cakes welcome orders, just e-mail enquiries@quirkycookiesandcakes.co.uk, call 01332 610997 or send a tweet to @quirkycookies Check out a selection of their cookies at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Quirky-Cookies-Cakes/130360187673

To be in with a chance of winning a fabulous selection of science cookies, just email your name, address and organisation/institution to phil.prime@laboratorynews.co.uk by 28th October.

The office party…why we get drunk

September 22, 2011 at 10:44 am | Posted in 40th birthday celebrations, Editorial Comment | 2 Comments
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Its our 40th birthday next month – hurrah – and we intend to celebrate. But just like the office Christmas party, we need to make sure we don’t embarrass ourselves by getting too intoxicated!

Why is it that we always get drunk at the office party? New research from the University of Birmingham – published in Alcohol and Alcoholism – suggests drinking in an unfamiliar environment can lead to an inability to reign in unsuitable behaviour. When drinking in familiar environments, we learn a conditioned compensatory response that enables us to learn the anticipated effects of alcohol – but when in an unfamilar context we lose this response say researchers.

“The implications for drinking in a real life situation are that if you have an alcoholic drink somewhere new, for example, at the office party or in some other environment that you don’t associate with alcohol, you may experience more of these effects of disinhibition because you lack the conditioned compensatory response that you would experience in your usual drinking environment,” said Dr Suzanne Higgs, lead investigator.

So our advice – once you know where the office party is going to be – head over there for a few drinks before the night – it might just save embarrassment!

Marital transitions make us pile on the pounds

August 30, 2011 at 8:04 am | Posted in Editorial Comment, Science Lite | Leave a comment
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Both marriage and divorce are bad for the waistline according to American researchers, with women piling on the pounds once they’ve bagged their man, and blokes after divorce.

Marriage and divorce act as ‘weight shocks’ which lead people to add a few extra pounds to their middle – especially among those over 30, says new research.

“Clearly the effect of marital transitions on weight changes differs by gender,” said lead author Dmitry Tumin, a doctoral student from Ohio State University. “Divorces for men , and to some extent, marriages for women promote weight gains that may be large enough to pose a health risk.”

So what causes the weight gain? The researchers think married women are too busy around the house to exercise, and that being married has a health benefit for men – which is lost when they get divorced.

This wieght gains is more pronounced in those over 30 say the researchers who think that the shock of marriage or divorce  is a bigger later in life.

Either that or we just give up trying!

Simplici-tea

August 25, 2011 at 8:34 am | Posted in Science Lite | Leave a comment
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There’s nothing quite like a steaming hot mug of tea – unless your tea isn’t just tea, but a whole load of common weeds too.

The LabNews team tend to stick to their Tetley’s so we’re not worried, but those of you who like the odd fruity or herbal tipple might like to read this.

A group of high school students found several brands of herbal – and a few brands of regular tea – contain more than is listed on the packet. Among these unlisted ingredients are weeds, garden flowers, ornamental trees and herbal plants. Some of the teas even had parsley in them!

“For example, DNA testing showed that an herbal infusion labelled “St. John’s wort” (Hypericum perforatum) included material from a fern in genus Terpischore. A DNA “barcode” obtained from another herbal tea labelled “ginger root, linden, lemon peel, blackberry leaves, and lemongrass” matched annual bluegrass (Poa annua), a common weed unrelated to lemongrass. Four herbal infusions yielded sequences identical or nearly identical to the tea plant, C. sinensis but none listed “tea” as an ingredient. The most common non-label ingredient, found in seven herbal products, was chamomile (Matricaria recutita).”

The teas – half herbal, half regular – came from 33 different manufacturers in 17 different countries and were collected or purchased at 25 locations in New York. Although the unlisted ingredients are mostly harmless, they could affect a tiny minority of consumers with acute allergies…better check the labels…

Deadly dieting

August 23, 2011 at 1:20 pm | Posted in Science Lite | Leave a comment
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Your tummy is growling at you – you’ve been really good and starved yourself all day, but your brain has already begun to sabotage your efforts.

New research suggests that when we don’t eat, hunger-inducing neurons in the brain start eating bits of themselves, and this act of self cannibalism make you want to eat even more.

The process – known as autophagy – has been uncovered in the neurons in the hypothalamus, and scientists believe blocking autophagy might be a useful hunger-fighting weapon in the war against obesity.

When the brain starts to eat itself, lipid in the agouti-related peptide (AgRP) neurons become mobilised, generating free fatty acids, which in turn boost AgRP – the hunger signal.

When autophagy is blocked, AgRP levels fail to rise in response to starvation. Experiments on mice showed they became lighter and leaner, because they ate less after fasting and burned more energy.

So there might be hope for us yet, but for now, we’ll all just have to struggle with diet and exercise.

Scientific Cookies

July 8, 2011 at 8:06 am | Posted in Competition, Cooking with science, Do | 6 Comments
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We came across these fab chemistry-based cookie cutters  and just had to give it a go – all in the name of science of course!

Each set of unique cookie cutters features a test tube, an atom, a conical flask and a beaker – plus the method for making your tasty cookies.

We had lots of fun experimenting with different methods – we found the one sent with the cutters wasn’t so good for keeping the shape of the our cookies, so we  tried a different one that involved putting them in the fridge (method here).

Once they were cooked and cooled came the fun part – decorating them. If only they looked as good as the ones at www.sciencecookiecutters.com – all I can say is I tried!

We’ve got a set of Science Cookie Cutters to give away – to be in with a chance of winning, just send your name, address, organisation/institution to phil.prime@laboratorynews.co.uk. Good luck!

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