Google Glass Might One Day Diagnose And Track Diseases Like HIV
Feb28

Google Glass Might One Day Diagnose And Track Diseases Like HIV

When Google began releasing its new head-mounted computer to beta testers last year, technology enthusiasts were pumped. After all, the futuristic device, called Glass, might one day enable people to answer email hands-free or view driving directions projected onto the road in front of them. Others, though, have complained that Google Glass is a cool piece of tech that hasn’t yet justified its existence. (Still others have complained that Glass is creepy, but that’s a story for another day.) Slowly but surely, though, beta testers in Google’s Explorers program have been making a case for the sophisticated eyewear by demonstrating its unique—sometimes scientific–capabilities. Physics teacher Andrew Vanden Heuvel famously shared his visit to the Large Hadron Collider, in Switzerland, with his students via Glass. Ohio surgeon Christopher Kaeding gave medical students a live, bird’s eye view of a knee operation he conducted while wearing the device. And now, a research team led by Aydogan Ozcan of the University of California, Los Angeles, is using Google Glass to help diagnose and track disease. The engineers designed an app for the wearable computer that images and reads rapid diagnostic tests such as pregnancy pee sticks. It also links the results to a scannable QR code, stores them, and tags them geographically. “The new technology could enhance the tracking of dangerous diseases and improve response time in disaster-relief areas or quarantine zones where conventional medical tools are not available or feasible,” Ozcan says. Among the first to be selected by Google as Explorers, Ozcan and his team demonstrated the capabilities of their new app by using it to read a few types of home HIV and prostate cancer tests—ones that require an oral swab or a drop of blood to work. They recently published their efforts in ACS Nano (2014, DOI: 10.1021/nn500614k). True, it doesn’t take much to read one of these tests—either lines appear or they don’t in the case of the HIV tests. But the app could save time for clinicians who routinely have to read a multitude of different types of sticks and remember which symbols and lines signify a positive or negative result, Ozcan points out. After a single calibration run, the online tool recognizes a particular test stick and can even assign a biomarker concentration to the lines that appear. These rapid diagnostic tests typically use nanoparticles to create these lines (which is why Ozcan’s study appears in ACS Nano). Coated with an antibody, the particles recognize a specific biomarker in blood, urine, or saliva samples and bind to it. As the particle-biomarker complex flows down the test stick, rows of a different type of antibody already...

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Vitamin D, Divider Of Good And Evil? We Don’t Think So
Jan03

Vitamin D, Divider Of Good And Evil? We Don’t Think So

At the end of 2013, two researchers in the U.K. published a report suggesting a reason why good typically triumphs over evil in the realm of sci-fi/fantasy: vitamin D. Virtuous characters typically get a lot of sunlight, and villainous ones keep to the shadows, where ultraviolet light can’t help their skin produce the “sunshine vitamin,” the scientists argue. They back up their claim by evaluating characters in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” (the second installation of which is still kicking butt in theaters). Although we admire these nerdy researchers’ efforts, we in the Newscripts gang were skeptical. So we once again turned to our resident Tolkien expert, Ty Finocchiaro. The following are his thoughts on the vitamin D-evil connection. He’s not buying it: To think that a few hours of sunlight and a proper breakfast meant the difference between the Dark Lord Sauron’s victory and defeat at the close of the 3rd age is fairly preposterous. But that’s just what a curious paper entitled “The Hobbit – An Unexpected Deficiency” by Joseph and Nicholas Hopkinson hints at. While the article is a fine initial effort, I’d like to take a bit of time to point out a few inconsistencies and oddities in its methods and results as well as shed a bit of light on further discussion topics. The study chose to concentrate on dietary vitamin D intake along with average sun exposure levels of the main races and a few dramatis personae from ”The Hobbit.” Seven were picked to represent the side of Good and four the side of Evil (see Table 1). The authors assigned a “Vitamin D Score” from 0 to 4 for each race or character. Right off the bat I take issue with a few glaring omissions on the side of Evil. For one thing, where are the Wargs? The canine beasts are a huge part of “The Hobbit.” They hunt lead dwarf Thorin and the rest of his company after their time beneath the Misty Mountains and are a major player in the Battle of Five Armies. To leave them out of the study is quite suspect. They do not fear sunlight like the bulk of Evil’s minions nor live in total darkness. As such they will provide a noticable boost to Evil’s Vitamin D average. On the other side of the coin, I’d be remiss not to add the Giant Spiders of Mirkwood to the Evil roster. They are quite numerous in the region and would likely have been present in some form when the White Council came for the Necromancer in Dol Guldor. These creatures detest light however, so they’ll drag the...

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Top 10 Chemistry Videos Of 2013
Jan02

Top 10 Chemistry Videos Of 2013

Although it’s our mission at Chemical & Engineering News to describe in words the wonders of chemistry, sometimes words just don’t do justice to the dynamics of a particular reaction or funky new material. Sometimes our prose just doesn’t capture a scientist’s excitement for research (or the time he spent playing the theme song to Super Mario Bros. with a chromatography column in the lab). It’s those times when we turn to video. Following are some of the Newscripts gang’s favorite clips of 2013. They’ve been collected from our blog and from our YouTube channel. Some we even homed in on and plucked from the roiling sea of inappropriate pop stars, prancercisers, and talkative foxes on the Interwebz last year. And we did it all for you, dear readers. So pour something delicious into that mug that looks like a beaker, kick back next to your science fireplace … and enjoy! Number 10: Alright, so this video isn’t technically chemistry—that’s why we’re ranking it last. But when a theoretical physicist uses the melody to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” to sing about string theory, we’re gonna take note. Did we mention the Einstein sock puppet? Number 9: Unless you lived under a rock in 2013, you probably heard about a little show called “Breaking Bad.” In this clip, Donna Nelson, science advisor to the show and chemistry professor, discusses some memorable chemical moments from the series. (Alright, alright, we admit this video made the countdown not only because it’s awesome but also because we like hearing Nelson talk about C&EN.) Number 8: Last year, the folks across the pond at the Periodic Table of Videos filmed a number of chemical reactions with a high-speed camera to learn more about reaction dynamics. This video, about a reaction called “the barking dog,” is their most recent—and one of our faves. It’s got historic footage of explosives lecturer Colonel BD Shaw and current footage of Martyn “The Professor” Poliakoff. Need we say more? Number 7: Yo, yo, yo! These dope 7th graders made a hot “rap battle” video last year that details the historic tensions between Rosalind Franklin and the notorious DNA duo, Watson & Crick. Word … to their mothers, for having such creative kids. Number 6: You couldn’t open your news feed in 2013 without finding at least 10 concurrent stories about 3-D printing. One stood out for us, though: Researchers at the University of Oxford printed eye-popping, foldable structures out of liquid droplets. Number 5: Nostalgia for two cartoon plumbers + a handful of test tubes + a chromatography column + Vittorio Saggiomo (a researcher who happened to have some time...

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2013 Holiday Gift Guide
Nov25

2013 Holiday Gift Guide

The Newscripts gang prefers to digest our Thanksgiving turkey and stuffing before facing the inevitable onslaught of the holiday shopping season. But this year Thanksgiving and Hanukkah fall on the same day – a rare convergence that won’t occur again until the year 79,811. So to help out the last-minute shoppers among our Jewish readers (don’t forget you’ve got an eight-day grace period), we’re putting up our chemistry-themed gift ideas a week earlier than usual. Did we miss something? Add it to the comments. And if you still haven’t found the perfect present among these offerings, check out our 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, and 2008 gift guides for more...

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Turning A Hollywood Set Into A Laboratory
Oct28

Turning A Hollywood Set Into A Laboratory

Much has been made of the meticulously chosen props that decorate the set of AMC’s “Mad Men.” To bring the 1960s world of Don Draper to life—and to make it believable—set designers have gone above and beyond. The phones and typewriters in the office are vintage, genuine magazines from the era sit on tables, and real expense reports for characters cover the desks. Many of these details are never caught on camera, but the show’s creator, Matthew Weiner, insists on them being there to lend “Mad Men” authenticity. I don’t think the same amount of ink has been put to paper describing the set design of CBS’s “The Big Bang Theory.” (Although the show has made a certain chemistry shower curtain quite popular.) But I would contend that bringing to life the apartments, offices, and laboratories of a group of geeky scientists who work at Caltech isn’t an easy job either. Sure, it’s not on the same scale as decorating a 1960s advertising agency, but it still requires some skill to illustrate for the public what academic life looks like. I recently stumbled upon a scientist in California who has, on occasion, lent a helping hand to make the labs of “Big Bang” realistic. Tommaso Baldacchini works for Newport Corp., a well-known international lasers and optics company that has a facility near Burbank. His “Big Break” with “Big Bang” came when the show introduced the character Amy Farrah Fowler, a neurobiologist played by Mayim Bialik. The show wanted to shoot Amy in her lab dissecting brains, and the props manager needed some plausible-looking microscopes to sit in the background. Baldacchini, whose specialty at Newport is two-photon nonlinear optical microscopy, got the call. “When the show started, the producers needed a way to fill the labs with scientific instruments,” Baldacchini says. “So they asked their science adviser [David Saltzberg of UCLA] to suggest a local company that could provide parts—and he mentioned Newport.” Naturally, Baldacchini’s favorite “Big Bang” episode so far has been one called “The Alien Parasite Hypothesis,” in which Amy and her loveable but narcissistic boyfriend, Sheldon Cooper, sit in front of a microscope set up by Baldacchini (see photo here). “She even refers to it as a two-photon microscope,” Baldacchini says, although he admits it doesn’t look exactly the way one would look in a real lab. I stumbled into contact with Baldacchini while tracking down the origin of a journal cover I spotted in the background of a “Big Bang” episode (that story’s here). The poster hangs on the wall in Sheldon’s office, and it’s a reasonable facsimile of the Journal of Physical Chemistry A, one...

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Nerd Nite Globalfest
Aug21

Nerd Nite Globalfest

(OR How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Esoteric Minutia) This post was written by Rick Mullin, author of the blog “The Fine Line,” business reporter for C&EN, and, apparently, a nerd. I arrived early and waited outside with the first two nerds on the scene. We sipped our coffee next to the chalkboard indicating we had come to the right place: “Nerd Nite Globalfest” at the Brooklyn Lyceum. Yes, I went to Nerd Nite Globalfest. My business journalist colleagues demurred when the home office (C&EN headquarters in D.C.) inquired as to whether one of us in the Manhattan bureau might want to swing by the event for a day and see what it’s all about.  But I gave it a little more thought:  “Nerd Nite,” I said to myself. “A conclave of people so unlike me that I will have an opportunity to do some truly objective reporting.” Or … not. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that Nerd Nite would be an excellent place to assess the pop culture phantasmagoria into which science would seem to be sliding all helter skelter, what with the rise of science-y sit-coms and TED Talks. And what better place than Brooklyn, N.Y., to investigate the conflation of nerd and hipster—a troubling social phenomenon that threatens to turn the definition of nerd upside down. I realized I had some strong opinions. But I kept them to myself while chatting with my two nerd companions, Cristina Romagnoli and Gunther Oakey outside the lyceum this past Saturday. Romagnoli told me how she had attended a previous Nerd Nite in Orlando, shortly before moving to Brooklyn this summer.  “I felt that I’d found my folk down in Florida,” she said. And these folk told her about the Brooklyn Globalfest, which was obviously an ideal way to get back with her people in her new hometown. “So I showed up last night and met up with the five Nerd Bosses from Orlando!” Oakey told a familiar story of grade school ostracism followed by nerd solidarity and collectivism in boarding school, after which things got even better. “Luckily, we are in the Golden Age of Nerdom, where movies and pop culture are all, sort of, glorifying nerds,” Oakey said. Inside, I met organizer Matt Wasowski, who is the “Big Boss” of Nerd Nite. He explained to me how the series evolved from a regular gathering of scientists in a bar in the Jamaica Plain area of Boston in 2003. The bartender begged these people to stop talking, or to try to organize their endless science discussions into something like a monthly meeting,...

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