I, Robot

Most of us are healthy and enjoy walking, hiking, and other outdoor activities. Imagine how it is to have been paralyzed from the neck down for a long time, unable to even drink a cup of coffee. And imagine how it is to be able to then regain this ability. This is what, by using a remote robotic arm, a 58-year old woman has achieved for the first time in 15 years since she had a brainstem stroke.

The brainstem is the part of the brain responsible (among others) for transmitting movement commands from the brain to the rest of the body. This is why the woman became tetraplegic ( that is, paralyzed from the neck down) after the brainstem stroke even though her limbs were healthy. Read more »

Heart skips a beat ...

"Damn I’m late, thank you immaculately timed traffic!", I mutter under my breath, as I rush into the hospital building and semi-dive into the elevator. I'm about to meet one of my medical idols - Dr Ganesh Kumar - an interventional cardiologist and the current Head of Interventional Cardiology at Hiranandani Hospital in Mumbai, India. As I get off the elevator, a nurse redirects me to the so-called catheterization laboratory, where Dr Kumar performs his surgeries. He greets me and to my absolute delight he invites me to join him for the day. Read more »

How to thrive as a research student (part 2): Overcoming self-doubt

Often such thoughts of self-doubt can get between you and your PhD project. Your intention to finally make some progress is replaced with anxiety. If in addition, your results do not reflect the time and effort you invested in your project, this will inevitably have an impact on your motivation and slow you down. Self-doubt has the power to reduce your effectiveness for days or even weeks. You will start to avoid work altogether and lose yourself in procrastination. Sound familiar? Read more »

The Egg and Sperm Race

We never imagined that this phrase would fill us with such overwhelming pride. We were in the middle of a music festival telling people about reproductive biology, and the time and effort we'd put into our public engagement project, the Egg and Sperm Race, was finally paying off.  Still, the pedant in me couldn't help pointing out, “Actually, it's not just a vagina, it's the whole female reproductive tract.”

The project started 10 months earlier, shortly after Vicky Young and I started our PhDs at the Centre for Reproductive Health. We both feel that public engagement is important for giving something back to the people who fund us through taxes or charities, so we plotted a way to reach people who don’t usually go to public engagement events. Although I have to admit, part of our motivation was to get into music festivals for free. Read more »

No Impact Man: Saving the planet one family at the time

In this book, the author, Colin Beavan, describes his search for a sustainable lifestyle. His goal is to live as a No Impact Man, with his wife and baby daughter in New York City. Throughout the book, Beavan investigates not only sustainable solutions for an environmentally friendly lifestyle, but also questions as to whether our large impact on the planet actually makes our lives happier. Personally, I like the idea of an eco-friendly lifestyle, but at the same time I happily accept the plastic bags Tesco conveniently offers, and turn up the heating to warm my draughty single glazed room. A hypocrisy in which I am not alone: how many of us rather close our eyes to this global problem thinking we can’t make a difference anyway? The claim that Beavan would show me how “we can realistically live a more eco-effective and content life in an age of inconvenient truths” thus appealed to me. Read more »

Aglow in the dark: The Revolutionary Science of Biofluorescence

The description, genetic manipulation and application of biofluorescence, the process by which light is emitted from certain cells, has transformed biology. These advances are opening new avenues of scientific discovery and exploration, have made it possible to gain detailed insights into the world of cells, and now form a fundamental component of the molecular biologist’s toolkit.  Read more »

Dr Hypothesis (Issue 12)

My friend told me the other day that if you drink more than one glass of orange juice in a day it only counts as one portion, even though every glass equals one portion. As someone struggling to get my five a day by chugging Innocent Smoothies, I'm distressed by the revelation that I might also have to eat real fruit. Please help! - Fruity Frank

You're right: according to the NHS, fruit juice can only count toward one portion of your fruit and veg intake every day. The reasoning behind this is that fruit juices contain less fibre than fruit, meaning they don't have quite the same love affair with your digestive tract. Removing most of the fibre and giving the fruit a greater surface area for oxidation (the process that makes cut apples go brown and reduces the vitamin quality of your food) means there's less nutritious value in juice than in eating a piece of fruit. Read more »

Science Funding Meets Global Austerity

In issues 8 and 9, Jess Smith and Akshat Rathi explored how the new UK coalition government might balance funding science, engineering, and technology (SET) in the face of growing deficits and the global uncertainty of 2010. Science and Universities Minister David Willetts appeared to support ‘blue skies’ research while Business, Innovation, and Skills Secretary Vince Cable warned universities to develop viable ways to commercialize research discoveries or prepare for a 25% across-the-board cut. Concerned researchers from all disciplines mobilized in the ‘Science is Vital’ campaign and their message was heard. Science funding was frozen at then current levels over four years (a 10% cut afterinflation). Two years later, have these cuts happened and is the US doing any better? Read more »

Did you know Munch is here?

From the moment of my birth, the angels of anxiety, worry, and death stood at my side, followed me out when I played, followed me in the sun of springtime and in the glorious summer.” The journal entry by Edvard Munch himself might sum up the melancholy a viewer would feel, when faced with his art works. This summer, ironically not being our sunniest, presents an opportune time to follow Munch’s work. One exposition closer to home at the Edinburgh Gallery of Modern Art, "Edvard Munch: Graphic works from the Gundersen Collection" and the other at the London Tate Modern Gallery, "Edvard Munch: the Modern Eye". Read more »

Liar Liar, Brain's on Fire

“We asked Stacey Anne, ‘Have you ever conducted inappropriate relations with your brother’s gardener’s wife’s husband?’ She answered, ‘No’. Well, we can reveal, she was in fact…LYING.”

Just an average day on the Jeremy Kyle Show. The lie detector tests used on many popular daytime TV shows are traditional polygraph tests, where the participant is hooked up to a machine that typically measures a variety of physiological variables, including blood pressure and the moisture levels of the skin, whilst being asked a series of questions. The validity of these tests, however, has long been doubted.

Lying and deception are a part of everyday life, whether it be a small, ‘selfless’ lie, like telling someone a dress looks good on them when it clearly resembles a potato sack, or a more consequential lie, like lying in a criminal investigation. Read more »

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