Archive for Science

Scientist of the Day: Barbara McClintock

// November 2nd, 2010 // 67 Comments » // Science


During the 1940s and 1950s, McClintock discovered transposition and used it to show how genes are responsible for turning physical characteristics on or off. She developed theories to explain the repression or expression of genetic information from one generation of maize plants to the next. Encountering skepticism of her research and its implications, she stopped publishing her data in 1953.

Clintock’s research became well understood in the 1960s and 1970s, as researchers demonstrated the mechanisms of genetic change and genetic regulation that she had demonstrated in her maize research in the 1940s and 1950s. Awards and recognition for her contributions to the field followed, including the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, awarded to her in 1983 for the discovery of genetic transposition; she is the only woman to receive an unshared Nobel Prize in that category.

Gene Mapping Lab Report

// September 24th, 2010 // 43 Comments » // Science, Study

I’ve just finished my lab report for Molecular Biology on gene mapping in the Queensland fruit fly. I have uploaded it here for posterity, so that when I am a famous geneticist I can look back on it and laugh at its simplicity and obvious errors! But right now, I’m quite proud of it.

MBLG2972 – Gene Mapping with Molecular Markers (PDF)

Insane Quantum Physics Awesomeness

// July 27th, 2010 // 63 Comments » // Science

Somehow I started reading this paper about a new theory of time travel. Can’t understand much of it but man it’s fun!

Here’s my favourite bit:

‘I received a telephone call one day at the graduate college at Princeton from Professor Wheeler, in which he said, “Feynman, I know why all electrons have the same charge and the same mass.”


“Because, they are all the same electron!”

And, then he explained on the telephone, “Suppose that the world lines which we were ordinarily considering before in time and space – instead of only going up in time were a tremendous knot, and then, when we cut through the knot, by the plane corresponding to a fixed time, we would see many, many world lines and that would represent many electrons, except for one thing. If in one section this is an ordinary electron world line, in the section in which it reversed itself and is coming back from the future we have the wrong sign to the proper time – to the proper four velocities – and that’s equivalent to changing the sign of the charge, and, therefore, that part of a path would act like a positron.”

What the? Mind boggling. I wish I had the right brain for physics sometimes!

Semester 2 Courses

// July 22nd, 2010 // 174 Comments » // Science, Study

Here are the courses I’m doing this semester at the University of Sydney, if anyone’s interested:

ANAT2010: Concepts of Neuroanatomy
Students are introduced to the structure and organisation of the central and peripheral nervous system. The course begins with an exploration into the make-up of the individual cells, followed by an examination of the different regions of the nervous system. A final theme of the course touches on the organisation of various systems (sensory and motor), together with aspects of higher-order function (memory). In essence, the course covers general concepts of organisation, structure and function of the brain and its different areas. The practicals offer students the unique opportunity to examine specimens in the Anatomy labs and museum.

BIOL2917 Entomology (Advanced)
This is a general but comprehensive introduction to Insect Biology taught in 3 integrated modules. The first module examines morphology, classification, life histories and development, physiology, ecology, behaviour, conservation, and the biology of prominent members of major groups. The other two modules examine new developments in entomological research, focusing on research strengths at the University of Sydney, the biology of social insects and insect behaviour.

MBLG2972 Molecular Biology and Genetics B (Advanced)
This unit of study shows how modern molecular biology is being applied to the study of the genetics of all life forms from bacteria through to complex multicellular organisms including plants, animals and humans. Lecture topics include classical Mendelian genetics with an emphasis on its molecular basis, cytogenetics, bacterial genetics and evolution, molecular evolution, bioinformatics and genomics, developmental genetics and the techniques and applications of molecular genetics.

PCOL2012 Pharmacology: Drugs and People
This unit of study examines four important areas of Pharmacology: (1) drug action in the nervous system (2) drug discovery and development (3) pharmacotherapy of inflammation, allergy and gut disorders, and (4) drugs of recreation, dependence and addiction. The delivery of material involves lectures, practicals, computer-aided learning and problem-based workshops. Practical classes provide students with the opportunity of acquiring technical experience and teamwork. Problem-based workshops are based on real-life scenarios of drug use in the community. These workshops require students to integrate information obtained in lectures in order to provide solutions to the problems. Online quizzes accompany each module.

I start on Monday! Hurrah!

Small Is Beautiful

// October 20th, 2008 // 112 Comments » // Science

The Nikon Small World prize is an annual competition for microscopic photography which always has stunning images, like this one of a chicken embryo:

Or this amazing photo of a mouse hippocampus with the individual neurons coloured:

Heaps more cool pictures here

Lice and good health and other spurious correlations

// September 5th, 2008 // 99 Comments » // Science

Interesting post from a great blog about the tendency of the media and scientific literature to present statistical correlations as if they prove some important causal relationship. We see examples of this nearly every day in the media it seems. I think it’s one of the dangers of trying to draw conclusions purely from statistics without examining the causes and effects properly.

Junkfood Science: Lice and good health and other spurious correlations

Stroke of Insight

// June 5th, 2008 // 87 Comments » // Science

A great lecture by a brain researcher who herself suffered a stroke. And it’s a good chance to see a real human brain on a platter!

There are lots of other great talks on the TED website as well.

Jill Bolte Taylor got a research opportunity few brain scientists would wish for: She had a massive stroke, and watched as her brain functions — motion, speech, self-awareness –- shut down one by one. An astonishing story.

We are the Extraterrestrials

// May 30th, 2008 // 286 Comments » // Science

Astounding photos today of a tribe found in the Amazon, in Brazil, that are as yet uncontacted by “civilization”. The pics were taken by a Brazilian government department which is in charge of such tribes, and keeps the land around them untouched in “Ethno-Environmental Protected Areas”. Apparently in this one Area there are 4 different tribes who know nothing of each other or of the outside world.

Here’s one of the photos:

Uncontacted Tribe

Smile, you’re on Candid Camera! I mean, if you’re not going to contact these tribes, why the f fly over them in a plane taking happy snaps? Surely that rather gives the game away?

It’s an interesting ethical dilemma though. Obviously the Brazilians have decided it’s best to not contact these tribes and leave them to their own autonomy. But is there a duty to contact them and bring them the benefits of modern medicine? Or is the likely outcome their decimation by foreign microbes anyway? I guess it’s never turned out well in the past. But how long can you keep these people uncontacted? Will they never be integrated with the rest of humanity?

My favourite uncontacted tribe are the Sentinelese, who live on an island in the Andaman Islands near India. Whenever anyone from the outside attempts to land on the island, the Sentinelese immediately attack and kill them – most recently two fishermen in 2006. They even drove off the helicopter that was attempting to collect the bodies with a hail of arrows. Thus it is assumed that they pretty much don’t want to be contacted, so they are now left to their own devices.

Check here for a full list of known uncontacted peoples.

Phoenix has Landed

// May 29th, 2008 // 175 Comments » // Obsessions, Science

I am very excited about the latest mission to Mars, Phoenix, which has touched down in the Martian Arctic. It will be hunting for organic molecules and traces of life in the zone where the frozen polar ice becomes Martian desert. Here is its current view of Mars:

Phoenix View of Mars

There is something so inherently cool about getting this pictures from another planet on the internet so quickly!

It’s still settling in, getting its robotic arms limbered up and so on, but expect some fascinating stuff from Mars in the near future! More info here.

A Handy Guide To Your Poo

// May 9th, 2008 // 116 Comments » // Science

In the course of my day I came across this useful chart called the Bristol Stool Guide. It is an attempt to classify poos into 7 categories, as below:

Bristol Stool Chart

Types 1 and 2 indicate constipation. Types 3 and 4 are the “ideal poos” especially the latter, as I call it, a “teflon coated poo”. Types 5 and 6 indicate diarrhea and 7 – well Type 7 means you are really messed up!

I hope we’ve all learned something today.