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What’s on in Oxford




Regulating Nanotech


Nanodata Storage


Quantum Dots 10

An intellectually challenging and rewarding career option

You will leave the lab environment yet remain at the cutting edge of science and technology, applying your knowledge and skill in a commercial context. You will help to protect intellectual property assets and grow businesses.

Editors-in-Chief Stephen Attwood Mantas Krisciunas

Out of Space 22 A Gut Feeling 24 The Smallest Motors 26 Homage to the Micrographia 28

James Egleton MChem in Chemistry, University of Oxford (2011) DPhil in Organic Chemistry, University of Oxford (2015)

Sound Interesting? Patent and Trade Mark Attorneys in London, Oxford, Cambridge and Munich. We welcome applications from exceptional candidates at any time of the year.

DPhil in Structural Biology, University of Oxford (2015)

Where on Earth did I come from? 14

Interview with James Watson 19

Training as a Patent Attorney is a career path that will enable you to combine your understanding of science with legal expertise.

BA and MSci in Natural Sciences, University of Cambridge (2011)

Staff List

The CRISPR Controversy 16

What Does It Involve?

Eleanor Healey

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch 12

OSPL Staff Chairman Louis Walker Managing Director: Rebecca Iles Finance Director: Kate Birnie Company Secretary: Tom Hall Directors: Sophie Aldred Mack Grenfall Josh McStay Tom Metcalf Steven Spisto Utsav Popat

Deputy Editors Ray Williams (Print) Eleanor Martin (News and Web) Sub Editors Brianna Steiert Claire Ramsay Emily Gowers Marianne Clemence Rachel Kealy Thomas Evans Thomas Player Creative Director Florrie Engleback Artists Matthew Gowell Sophia Malandraki-Miller Martha Glover Gulnar Mimaroglu Business Manager Bethan Broad Copyright Bang! 2017


We are now recruiting talented applicants for our Editing, Creative, Writing, Web, Publicity and Business teams. To get involved, visit: or email


elcome to the Trinity issue of Bang!, as always replete with inimitable illustrations in celebration of the unbreakable link between the creative and the empirical. The arts and sciences may have drifted apart since the abundance of polymaths in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but as Aristotle wrote ‘there is no thought without an image’! Science can inspire art and art helps us to develop the skills of careful observation, clarity of thought and expression required by both scientists and artists alike. As Goethe’s Mephistopheles said, Dies sind die Kleinen, and indeed this is the ‘Nano’ themed issue of Bang!. Nevertheless, the range of this issue is definitely not ‘nano’, as the wealth of our content has never before been this great! Nano-innovations are about miniaturisation and manipulation, often inspired by nature. Juliane Borchert’s article on NEMS, discusses the challenge of replicating nature’s motors in our future technologies for the manipulation of the very small. We also take a look at human divergence, discovering how nature’s favourite nano-data-storage device, the genome, encodes our genetic variation and asks, what does all that variation say about who we are? In Daniel de Wijze’s tale of the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ we learn that the oceans are no longer a dilute solution of whales, but are instead becoming a ‘plastic “soup”’, the corporeality of the emerging micro-plastics crisis. If ‘plastic soup’ leaves you feeling queasy, then let’s hope your gut microbiome can save you through one of the many interactions described in Brianna Steiert’s journey through the gut. This term’s interview section features an encounter with controversial octogenarian, James Dewey Watson, the co-discoverer of the double helix structure of DNA. It must be confessed that, prior to this meeting in China, we had thought of James Watson merely as the hyphenated companion to Crick. We included Watson owing to his direct insight into a most important discovery. It is said ‘never meet your heroes’, so we are only left wondering what an interview with Charles Darwin would be like! Returning to the worlds of physics and engineering, two articles consider revolutionary new quantum technologies. Rachel Kealy explores the potential of ‘Quantum Dots’ in imaging, sensors and medicine, whilst David Johnson looks at single-atom nano-datastorage. Jiaxen Lau propels us into space and asks what can be done about the hazards posed to spacecraft by micrometeoroids. We have outlined some, but not all, of the delights awaiting you in this term’s issue. We will leave you to discover the remaining gems, as well as the usual news and features. It merely remains for us to give a special Trinity thank you (that’s thank you to the power of three) to all those who, faced with imminent prelims/mods or finals, on top of Oxford’s continual essay deadlines, volunteered to write, draw, market or edit for Bang!. Thank you to all those who answered the call!

Stephen Attwood & Mantas Krisciunas Editors-in-Chief 3

What’s on in



3. It’ll fly rings around you 6. A real walk in the park 8. Gulliver’s data could be so described 9. Little pictures 11. Historian and Wadham chap 12. It’s pretty standard



1. A problem solved by nanotubes 2. The racing boat captain’s other profession 4. Frankly, Ros should have won it? 5. The third B 7. This device isn’t the real McCoy 10. A space with a fantastic view

....this puzzle will be considerably easier if you read the magazine first...


Best of… Conferences and Workshops

Best of… Science Talks

Evidence Live 2017 is a conference and a series of evidence-based workshops, during which international thinkers will share ideas on how to improve healthcare. The theme is EvidenceBased Medicine (EBM), focusing on how clinically relevant research, coupled with clinical expertise, can help when making decisions regarding the care of individual patients. Halstead’s radical mastectomy, painful ‘soapy enemas’ for expectant women, and unwarranted tonsillectomies―all were common in the past, and all are examples of treatments shown to be useless or even harmful in the light of proper controlled studies, i.e. evidence. Evidence Live 2017 will take place on the 21st and 22nd of June, and is a partnership between The BMJ and the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine in the University of Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences. The conference will be opened by Professor Carl Henegan, Oxford’s most active proponent of EBM, and if you are a fan of Ben Goldacre, he’ll be there too. More information can be found at

10th June ―Dr Jim Baggott et al Dr Jim Baggott (author of ‘The Quantum Story: A History in 40 Moments’), together with a plethora of European quantum physicists, will try to explain the quantum world. In addition to the usual cats in boxes, questions such as ‘How an Electron Can Be in More than One Place at a Time?’ and ‘Who am I in the Multiverse?’ will be addressed. Further details of the talks, which will be hosted by St Cross College, are available here: nature-quantum-reality-one-day-conference

‘Crops in silico’ symposium and workshop brings together agriculture, bioinformatics and computational modelling. Organised by researchers from the University of Oxford’s Department of Plant Sciences and the University of Illinois’ Institute for Genomic Biology, the meeting will be held at St Catherine’s College, Oxford, from the 26th to 28th June. The event aims to marry the more empirical disciplines of agronomy, physiology, plant development, and phenotyping, with expertise in computational biology, software development and data visualisation to drive future developments in crop breeding and bioengineering. More details on this exciting multidisciplinary event can be found here:

26th June―Dr Emily Grossman In her talk ‘On Science and Social Equality’, Dr Emily Grossman, who has studied Natural Sciences at Cambridge University and has a PhD in cancer research, will discuss her career, gender equality and diversity, and the career prospects of women in STEM. This thought-provoking talk will take place as part of the Oxford Festival of the Arts, further details can be found here: speakers-1/emily-grossman-on-science-and-socialequality 29th June―Radio 4’s Claire Fox and a panel of experts ‘The Great Debate: Smart Drugs - Is it Cheating?’ will be held in commemoration of the original Great Debate on evolution in 1860. The venue will again be the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, but the topic rather different from that which led Wilberforce to enquire about Huxley’s lineage. The topic of this second debate concerns the use of drugs which are intended to enhance cognitive function (nootropics)―should you be sent to the proctors for taking choline before an exam? The debate must surely be of interest for students and examiners alike, and details of how to book are here: great-debate-smart-drugs-it-cheating


News in Brief Simple tests for genetic diseases given the green light by the FDA

Last month, the American Food and Drug Administration gave 23andMe, a company that has been selling genetic tests since 2006, the permission to include predictions of the risk of the customer developing any of 10 genetic diseases, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, in the test results they provide. Originally it had provided predictions of developing many more diseases, but the FDA ordered it to stop this service in 2013, when it was judged that the accuracy of its results was insufficient to be used by customers as a basis for their medical decisions. This latest ruling might be a sign of the federal agency giving Silicon Valley more leeway in the healthcare sector, although not everyone is convinced that this is a good idea.

Cassini begins its inward spiral towards Saturn

Fermilab prepares to probe muons

A newly discovered strain of giant viruses, called Klosneuvirus, which contain a more complete set of genes responsible for protein synthesis than any that have been discovered so far, have led to doubts about our current understanding of where viruses fit in the tree of life. This debate was originally sparked in 2003 when French scientists published a paper in Nature describing the genome of the first giant virus, Mimivirus (short for ‘Mimicking microbe’), but the evidence was too slim back then to propel a compelling argument―Klosneuvirus might just fill in the gaps. The main point of contention is whether these viruses descended from a fourth, now-extinct, form of life, that could survive and multiply outside of the host organisms that are now necessary for viral replication, or whether they started out as smaller, more familiar viruses and simply picked up bits and pieces of DNA through countless iterations of infecting different organisms. Though a thorough study of the klosneuviral genome is unlikely to completely settle this debate, it is sure to deepen our understanding of the bigger picture of life on Earth.

Researchers at the Fermi National Laboratory in the US are preparing to start a highly anticipated experiment that will measure how muons, exotic particles related to electrons, behave in a magnetic field. The experiment will focus on unearthing the precise ways in which muons interact with virtual particles, hoping to probe this mysterious area of quantum physics that underpins the subatomic world. Measuring the muon’s magnetic moment with unparalleled precision will hopefully allow researchers to expand our understanding of the Standard Model, the wildly successful yet maddeningly incomplete theory that describes interactions between particles. Instead of smashing the particles and analysing the fallout, like in the LHC, this experiment will instead measure the wobble of the magnetic field as the particles circle around the 14-meter accelerator at close to the speed of light. 6


etinal degenerative disorders, such as Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD), affect millions of people around the world. In the UK alone, AMD is the main cause of loss of sight, affecting over 600,000 people. In all of these disorders, the photoreceptor cells lining the retina at the back of the eye lose function, which leads to the loss of sight. Available treatments are at best capable of only slowing the degeneration in some individuals. The devastating impact of these disorders on human wellbeing and the lack of a cure have prompted researchers to seek radical solutions to the problem. The idea they came up with was to replace the damaged retina with an artificial one, and the development of such ‘bionic’ eyes has exploded into a wide range of devices and systems. The US Department of Energy has even set up its own Artificial Retina Project leading to the first clinical trial (Argus I) in 2002 in which six patients received ‘bionic’ eye implants. By 2006, trials of the Argos II device had been carried out in 30 patients across Europe and the United States. By 2011 the device was approved for clinical use in Europe and by 2013 70 people had received these implants. Unfortunately, these retinal prosthetics use arrays of electrodes or photodiodes to convey small pulses of electricity to mimic the action of the lost retinal cells by stimulating the nerves of the retina; they are therefore limited by the density of photoreceptors and by the weight and bulk of the materials used. Consequently, these implants generate very low resolution images and are of benefit only to those with extensive sight loss. Fortunately, a team at the University of Oxford’s Department of Chemistry, and led by Dphil student Vanessa Restrepo-Schild stepped in with an innovative solution to many of the problems faced by these ‘digital camera’ style implants. Restrepo-Schild realised that the scarring and inflammation caused by such devices, which limited their utility, could be avoided by building a retina out of biological materials―using only materials that occur naturally in the eye. Consequently she set about building a photosensitive array similar to that of the retina from materials normally used in cell culture. The resulting implant would be not only less inflammatory, but also more soft and flexible to mimic better the original retina. Vanessa Restrepo-Schild realised that the hydrogels normally used in the laboratory had the right strength and flexibility for the job, but the team developed their own tailored gel for the purpose. To emulate the light response function of the retina, they developed what they called ‘synthetic cells’, which were produced by arranging water droplets on the hydrogel in a lipid-containing oil. A lipid bilayer then formed naturally around each droplet, creating a ‘synthetic cell’. The cells were made photosensitive by adding the light-driven proton pump, bacteriorhodopsin, to the water droplets. In addition to flexibility and compatibility, the tiny water droplets can achieve arrays with greater pixel density than the ‘digital camera’ style devices. The approach is particularly neat because, as Restrepo-Schild points out, their synthetic retina already speaks the same language as the underlying nerve cells, and so should generate electrical impulses exactly as the real retina would. The impulses, when passed to the brain, are likely to be interpreted more readily as natural sight. Restrepo-Schild’s next step is to create, in fact print on their lab’s bespoke 3D printer, a 3D version of the device and observe how it communicates with nerve cells in tissue culture. The team is confident that they will soon have a system able to not only recognise colours, but also shapes and patterns, prior to preclinical testing and then clinical trials. Restrepo-Schild cites her childhood fascination with the difference between the living and the machine as the source of her inspiration. She has long been pondering the idea of using parts of our own living bodies in devices that would not themselves be living, but would function as in vivo. We at Bang! are thankful that her childhood interests never faded, and rather proud that this potentially life changing research was done here, in Oxford. Vanessa Restrepo-Schild is a student in the laboratory of Professor Hagan Bayley and their original research paper can be found here:

News in Focus

On September 15th, just a month short of its 20th anniversary, the tiny man-made satellite of the gas giant Saturn will complete its final fly-by and will burn up in the planet’s thick atmosphere, concluding one of the most celebrated space missions of all time. At the end of last month, it slingshot past Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, and was the first spacecraft to pierce the empty space between the planet and its iconic rings. As it circles ever closer to the planet, Cassini will continue to record data on the composition of Saturn’s rings, which scientists hope will provide evidence on how they formed, and the particles in the planet’s upper atmosphere. Developed jointly by three international space agencies and launched in 1997, the spacecraft originally consisted of two parts, one of which, the Huygens lander, was sent to land on the surface of Titan almost as soon as the spacecraft arrived at the gas giant. Although no near-future missions to Saturn are scheduled, the Titan Saturn System Mission has been proposed as the successor of Cassini in 2009.

Giant viruses: what even is life?

An Eye for Nature: Oxford student develops innovative approach to restoring sight


Nanodata Storage Can we create an ‘Internet of Matter’?

Regulating Nanotech Keeping track of a fast-growing field


he rapid evolution of nanotechnology as a science is occurring at an exponentially increasing rate. It is no longer considered an immature science, but rather, as a modern established field with much potential and promise to solve many current-day problems. It is likely that many unforeseen applications of nanotechnology will also occur in the not-toodistant future. There are, however, several potential issues and negative implications that may present themselves if society, governments, and manufacturing sectors are not adequately educated and prepared for the rapid uptake of this technology. One obvious and important factor is that research, development, production, use, and adoption of nano-enabled technology is undertaken in a responsible manner. This includes taking into consideration any negative ethical, societal, and environmental implications that may potentially occur whilst simultaneously maximising opportunity for positive outcomes. Regulatory bodies are therefore obliged to ensure that these positive and negative implications are managed properly. This has been a difficult task, mainly due to a lack of clear definitions of what exactly is ‘nano’. This is further compounded by the rapid progress of these ‘nano’ technologies and the broad multidisciplinary nature that they almost always take. Furthermore, differing views across nations on how to regulate ‘nano’ has resulted in large numbers of regulatory bodies and a complex network of mismatched or often overlapping regulatory policies. Another aspect that regulatory bodies and their governments need to consider is the potentially disruptive nature that new nanotechnologies might have. They can either break existing industries or make entirely new ones. These regulatory bodies need to consider the fine line that distinguishes over-regulation that hampers new opportunities and underregulation that elevates the risk of negative outcomes. Ideally, regulators and governments should aim to provide regulation between these lines. Another critical point that must be considered when developing any new technology are the other mechanisms for regulation that may play an important role in the acceptance of new technology. This can include the media and public opinion. It is easy for the media to influence public opinion on new technologies and generate fear. It is also possible that a poorly educated pool of people can themselves create fear mongering. It is therefore important that both the media and public are properly educated in the merits of any new technology. It may also be wise to introduce the basic concepts of nanotechnology into the school curriculum so that future generations become accustomed and accepting of new nanotechnology as it inevitably arises. After all, we do not want nanotechnology to be treated with the same scientifically unfounded fear that surrounds genetically modified foods and vaccines for some people.

Roberto Duca



ave you ever wondered what would happen if we reached the physical limits of data storage? While it’s not something that we have to worry about any time soon it is surely an inevitability. For example, the Internet is fast exhausting its 4.3 billion unique combinations of numbers that are used to identify individual computers and devices, known as IP addresses (IPv4s). Our world is full of computing devices―no longer just computers and mobile phones, but now sensors, home automation such as ‘smart’ refrigerators and washing machines, activity trackers and personal sensors, flying drones and Internet-connected (and soon to be driverless) cars. Luckily the overseers of the Internet, the US-based ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), anticipated this and developed a new addressing system, called IPv6, before top-level exhaustion of IPv4 addresses occurred in January 2011. Some claim that IPv6 promises 340 undecillion possible addresses (a undecillion is 1 with 36 trailing zeros). To paraphrase a widely used analogy about the scale of the IPv6 addressing system, in theory ‘we could assign an IP address to every atom on the surface of the earth, and still have addresses left over to cover another 100 earths’. It seems fanciful but scientists at IBM have recently announced that they have created the world’s smallest magnet―and with that have stored data on a single atom. In early 2017 IBM issued a press release declaring that this latest breakthrough in nanotechnology promises the ability to create smaller and denser data storage devices. To read and write a single bit of data (a ‘bit’ is a binary digit, or in lay terms a unit of information that is represented by only a 0 or 1) in traditional hard disk drive technology requires material consisting of about

100,000 atoms―IBM is claiming to do it in one. The researchers at IBM’s Almaden Valley facility just outside San Jose, California utilised a needlelike instrument to pass an electric current through atoms of the element Holmium to flip an individual atom’s magnetic field. When the current is removed the atom’s magnetic poles remain in their orientation. By measuring the magnetic orientation of the Holmium atoms, it is now possible to encode 0s and 1s on a peratom basis, in a similar way to what happens in present-day magnetic hard disk drives. Of course, this research only replicates traditional digital storage at the atomic scale and it is not clear how this might fit in with quantum technology and its corresponding homologues such as the qubit (a quantum bit―a unit of information that can be encoded as a 0 or a 1, like a traditional bit, but also quite strangely could be both simultaneously). Nanotechnology is of growing importance to a broad range of fields in engineering, such the automotive, aerospace and energy industries, as well as in medicine. For example, there are researchers here at Oxford looking into how to control drug molecules with magnets so as to target better the delivery of drugs inside the human body; building more efficient solar cells, lighting, and photo-sensors using tiny semiconductor particles (quantum dots); and even building extremely miniaturised physical, biological and chemical sensors. Computers may eventually be developed with parts no bigger than a few nanometers (thousand-millionths of a metre). The ability to store data on an atomic scale is a step towards this. However, if we reach a point where technology is everywhere, embeddable into anything, and if we anticipate a next

shift beyond today’s data deluge―let’s call it ‘Brobdingnagian data’―it means that data might literally permeate our world. Everything tangible by design to our everyday human interaction could have tangential invisible purposes by also being able to store, process, and communicate data at the nanoscale. What might once have been inanimate substance could then be enkindled with the ability to flow with information. Forget about today’s Internet of Things―the Web of computing devices and sensors embedded in everyday objects― welcome to tomorrow’s Internet of Matter. But of course, this last point is just fanciful science fiction. The achievement by IBM towards atomicscale data storage is specific to one rare earth element (Holmium) and there has yet to be the invention of a general-purpose electronics infrastructure around reading and writing data with this method. That aside, we’re also already facing an unprecedented age of societal, ethical and economic headaches surrounding what to do about new technologies. The Internet of Things has made hot topics out of cybersecurity, privacy, and the nature of data. We’re now worried that our phones, TVs, and microwave ovens are spying on us. A nanoscale Web of Devices, should it ever exist, would greatly stoke the fire of these areas of concern. On the other hand, this kind of technology promises to allow people and businesses to store thousands of times more information in smaller spaces, with less raw material, and with radically less energy consumption, someday making data centres, computers, personal devices and sensors radically smaller and more powerful.

Dr David Johnson

Radius of a holmium atom: 0.175 nanometres


Quantum Dots


The technologist’s nano-sized aint Box

istant though it may seem, quantum mechanics underlies all of our reality: quantum tunnelling allows enzymes to work in our body; our smartphones contain billions of transistors and other devices which use the principles of quantum mechanics to shepherd electrons about. Indeed, it is atomic interactions mediated by quantum mechanics that stop us from falling through the floor. Unfortunately, seeing is believing, and in these cases the importance of quantum mechanics remains hidden away from our visceral understanding of the world. This is not so, however, for the quantum dot, which in all its fluorescent and technicolour glory is perhaps the most tangible piece of quantum mechanics we have at hand. The name ‘quantum dots’ really says it all; they are tiny semiconducting nanoparticles made up of a few hundred atoms which, due to their size, are subject to quantum effects. To understand why quantum dots are so important we must first appreciate the fact that free electrons are confined within these miniature three dimensional structures. Electrons can act like waves and so, confined within the 3D structure of the quantum dot, they can be thought to slosh around rather like ripples in a water tank. Just like water waves undulating in a pool, only certain modes are allowed. These modes represent energies that electrons in a quantum dot may have. It is found that as the dot gets bigger, the differences between allowed modes get smaller. This is the feature that makes quantum dots different to their bulk material. In materials we’re used to, like crystals of silicon, electrons occupy bands of allowed energy, whereas in these nanoscale dots they can only take on certain precise energies and the energy difference between each energy level can be tuned by changing the size of the dot. So far we haven’t considered where the free electrons come from. To do this, we need to think about how semiconductors work. In semiconductors, electrons need to be taken


from a lower energy ‘bound’ state to a higher energy ‘delocalised’ state. Once they reach this state of higher energy, they become free to move within the quantum dot whereupon the material becomes electrically conductive. To get to the higher energy level the electrons must be ‘excited’ by at least enough energy to push them over the energy gap separating the two levels. This energy can be delivered by a photon, a particle of light. When an electron is excited, it leaves behind a ‘hole’ in the lower energy level and the two together are called an electron-hole pair, or an ‘exciton’. This exciton has an energy corresponding to the difference between the two energy levels. Eventually the electron falls back down into the hole in the lower energy level, and so the exciton is destroyed, releasing energy in the form of a photon. This photon has an amount of energy equal to the exciton, which depends on the size of the quantum dot. The energy a photon has defines its wavelength, and within the visible spectrum, a colour. As a result we find that the optical properties of quantum dots can be tuned by simply changing their size; shining a white light onto quantum dots will yield eye-popping violet from small dots and deep reds from larger dots. This beautiful exchange turning white light into pure colours is called photoluminescence. Far from being spectral curiosities, quantum dots are already well established in the fields of biology and medicine, in which the luminescent quantum dots are used as markers in living cells. Many more technologies that will use quantum dots are being developed. One such technology is the design of miniaturised sensors which could be incorporated into a device akin to the ‘medical Tricorder’, a fictional device that Dr McCoy uses to run many diagnostic procedures at the same time in Star Trek. This is no longer science fiction―recently scientists have made a biosensor using quantum dots that can identify different strains of the flu virus. The sensors work by attaching DNA sequences that

only bind to a specific strain of a pathogen, to quantum dots. Different DNA sequences can be attached to quantum dots which fluoresce with different colours. This makes identifying a pathogen as simple as reading off the name of a colour. In the field of optoelectronics an equally futuristic application lies in solar windows, where quantum dot materials could enable some of the light passing through a window in a building to be redirected and transformed into electrical energy by a solar cell. These technologies still only exist in the laboratory, however in one case quantum dots have already entered the home, that is in highend television screens. Quantum dots have been incorporated into existing screen technologies by several companies including LG, Amazon and, notably, Samsung, which released a new ‘QLED’ model this year. The name ‘QLED’ is a rather misleading marketing ploy as this technology is not a ‘pure quantum dot’ display as is suggested by QLED, but rather uses a technology in which quantum dots filter and re-emit the light produced by the LED backlight before it reaches an LCD panel at the front of the TV. This results in better colour accuracy in the screen as LED devices often produce light which is more blue than normal ‘white light’, this gives LCDs that lack quantum dots a cool hued overlay. Using quantum dots the blue, energetic light from the LED is absorbed by quantum dots of different sizes and is then reemitted as red, green, and blue (and anything else in between) before it reaches the LCD panel. The result is a much richer image for a small price, as the quantum dot film used is relatively cheap to produce. Whilst this sounds impressive, these quantum dot films are only scratching the surface of what the technology is capable of. ‘Pure quantum dot’ screens are envisaged, which use quantum dots to produce light in the first place through ‘electroluminescence’, whereby electrons and holes are injected into the quantum dot within which recombination occurs, and a single colour of light is emitted. The device is constructed as a sandwich of materials―an electron injecting material

and an electrode is placed on one side of the quantum dot layer, on the other side of which there is a buffer (or hole injection layer) and a conducting layer. An electric field is applied across the sandwich to stimulate the injection of electrons and holes. The benefits of this ‘pure quantum dot’ technology are even better colour accuracy and greater energy efficiency, coupled with the possibility of making screens flexible and lower processing costs than rival screen technologies such as OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode). At their most basic, quantum dots are simply nanocrystals of semiconducting materials which can be grown by wet-chemistry techniques. The crystals grow in a suspension or solution and the distribution of sizes can be controlled by varying the time and temperature of the reaction. However these simple quantum dots have a low ‘quantum yield’, i.e. they reemit only a small fraction of the light they absorb, and have short lifetimes. To improve these important properties, the nanocrystal cores are often encased in a shell of another semiconducting material and are further capped with organic compounds to prevent them from clustering together in solution. These particles can then be blended with polymers, for example, to produce quantum dot films that are currently used in screen technologies or the quantum dot solution can be printed to fabricate true quantum dot displays. These technologies are viable, however a major draw-back is that many quantum dots contain cadmium, a toxic heavy-metal element which restricts their commercial use. A lot of current research, therefore, is focused on finding ways to make highly efficient quantum dots out of low toxicity materials. The beauty of quantum dots lies in their simplicity. The easily tuneable optical properties give rise to an array of exciting and futuristic applications which are already being realised, as demonstrated by state-of-the-art TV displays. Never before has nanotechnology looked better.

Rachel Kealy

Radius of a quantum dot: 2~6 nanometres (colour dependent)



he Great Pacific Garbage Patch, also known as the Pacific trash vortex, is an area of the ocean with an unusually high amount of marine rubbish. Specifically, this patch of ocean has a very high concentration of man-made plastics, chemical sludge and other pieces of rubbish. Despite covering an area of at least 700,000km2 (the same size as Texas), the Garbage Patch has proved to be surprisingly elusive. Oceanographers speculated about its existence and it was first described in a scientific paper in 1988, but it was not until the late 1990s that oceanographer and sailor Charles Moore sailed through the Patch and described it. This is because the Garbage Patch is extremely remote, lying far away from most inhabited land, in the North Pacific Ocean gyre. The gyre is a huge system of circulating ocean currents with a very calm, high pressure zone in the centre. Plastic and other waste from North America and East Asia drifts towards the gyre, and comes to rest in the still centre of the ocean after several years. The name ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ probably conjures up an image of a giant floating island of plastic that you could dock a boat next to 12

and walk around on. However, this name is misleading, as in reality the Garbage Patch is more like a plastic ‘soup’ with millions of tiny pieces of plastic floating around in the water column. That is why it is so difficult to measure the size of the Garbage Patch, and why it rarely shows up in satellite images. What makes the Garbage Patch significant is its vast scale, as well as the density of rubbish floating in the water. Even though most of the Garbage Patch is made of micro-plastics, Charles Moore described sailing through the Garbage Patch with the words, ‘no matter what time of day I looked, plastic debris was floating everywhere: bottles, bottle caps, wrappers, fragments.’ Further study has revealed that the Garbage Patch has two main sections; the western section lies off the coast of Japan and the eastern section is north east of the Hawaiian archipelago. The two sections are linked by the subtropical convergence zone, an area where warm waters of the South Pacific meet cool waters of the Arctic. Worryingly, the Garbage Patch may be growing to occupy even more of the waters of the gyre as we add eight million tonnes of new plastic to the ocean each year.

How did we end up with a giant pile of rubbish in the middle of the sea that no one noticed? Although humans have been polluting the oceans for hundreds of years, a recent surge in the use of plastics is a key factor. Plastic is cheap, extremely durable and used extensively in packaging and industry. Furthermore, plastic does not degrade like wood or metal―instead a process called photodegradation means that the sun simply breaks it down into smaller and smaller pieces. These microscopic pieces hang around in the water column where they can kill local wildlife, or enter the food-chain to cause even more damage. Pieces of plastic can block out sunlight for photosynthetic plankton which limits the food available for fish, turtles and sea birds. Worse still, any plastics that do break apart can release potentially toxic chemicals such as Bisphenol A into the water. A mass of floating rubbish thousands of miles away may not seem like a problem that could affect your everyday life, but as more and more waste enters the food-chain, you could be faced with the unappetising thought of eating fish fingers filled with tiny pieces of plastic. When faced with a problem of

this scale it is easy to think that cleaning the oceans is a hopeless task. However, in 2013 Dutch student Boyan Slat felt equal to the challenge and dropped out of his aerospace engineering course to found Ocean Cleanup. This ambitious project aims to remove plastic from the ocean by constructing a network of long, floating barriers. As ocean currents move plastics around the gyre, they are trapped and concentrated by the barriers, which are designed to cause as little disruption to marine life as possible. By creating a static clean-up structure, Ocean Cleanup avoids the needs for nets or a fleet of ships to move around and collect the plastic actively which would be very expensive. Successfully raising over $2 million though a crowdfunding campaign, Ocean Cleanup sent 30 vessels in 2015 to produce a highresolution map of the Garbage Patch. This year, a 100 metre prototype of the system is being tested in the North Sea off the coast of the Netherlands. If all goes to plan, Ocean Cleanup will deploy a 100 kilometre barrier in the Pacific by 2020, aiming to remove half the plastic in the Garbage Patch in just ten years. Excitement surrounding Ocean

Cleanup has been tempered by some biologists and oceanographers who question the feasibility of the project. The floating barrier system uses long screens to catch and concentrate pieces of plastic, but biologists worry that many marine species such as jellyfish may be unable to avoid being trapped too. In addition, building and maintaining a 100 kilometre structure that must weather rough conditions in the middle of the ocean for years is a huge technical challenge. If something breaks, the isolated geography of the Garbage Patch means that it could take a long time before it is fixed. Finally, many scientists believe that the bulk of plastic pieces in the ocean are even smaller than the micro scale, which would make it difficult for the Ocean Cleanup barrier to collect them. Despite the huge challenges ahead, the Ocean Cleanup project offers real hope that a system for removing micro-plastics from the ocean is viable and that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is something we can tackle. However, just as important as tackling ocean plastic is reducing the source of the rubbish: it is vital that we don’t carry on producing and dumping more and more plastic

into the ocean each year. As with many environmental issues, the problem is one that requires action on a huge scale, but some progress can already be seen. For example, the 5 pence bag charge in the UK has led to an approximate 80% drop in plastic bag use in just six months. Organisations such as 5 Gyres, Beat the Microbead, and The North Sea Foundation are locked in battle with companies that produce microbeads, tiny plastic beads in cosmetics which pass straight into waterways after use. The UN has launched the Clean Seas campaign, which aims to get rid of micro-plastics in cosmetics and single use plastic bags entirely by 2022. Gradually, people are starting to understand that the waste we produce has a clear impact on the environment, in ways that we might not envisage or understand at the time. Human activity and pollution has caused great damage to the planet, but it is also possible that human ingenuity can solve the problems we have created and clean up the oceans for good.

Daniel de Wijze

Diameter of a micro-plastic particle: <5000000 nanometres


Where on Earth Did I Come From? Thank goodness the DNA is keeping notes


here did we come from? Well it’s one of those mindboggling, Pandora’s box questions. I suppose it can be answered rather simply: from our parents. Our ancestry can be traced farther back than that to include our grandparents and greatgrandparents, and even the first modern humans. We can find the answer written down, waiting for us to read it, in the message from our genes. That is, of course, a gross oversimplification. The genetic code is wonderfully concrete in some ways, but also hopelessly complicated and prone to damage. Still, it is a notekeeper for the instructions of not just each individual human, but for eons of humans through history. We can find out about your many ancestors simply by looking at your DNA. A bit of background for those unfamiliar with genetics: The genetic code provides the instructions for translating DNA into proteins, providing the basis for living organisms. Some genes come in different types (of which you inherit one), each coding for slightly different outcomes. This creates variation between people. Roughly half of your DNA comes from each parent, and you will then pass on half your DNA to your offspring, and so on and so on. Now, things get complex pretty quickly. You don’t pass on the same half to all offspring, in fact what is passed on is incredibly variable, and this is one of the reasons everyone is so different. How exactly does DNA act as a


note-keeper? Our DNA is basically a long sequence of chemicals called bases, organised into segments called genes, which each provide the instructions to make proteins. In addition, some DNA doesn’t code for proteins. Yet it is still useful for tracking ancestry because it has been conserved and recombined to make new forms across generations. If we take the gene and the non-gene regions together we have a massive record that can be used to study the migrations and nature of past human populations, dating back to the origin of modern humans in Africa. Scientists are working to understand our past from the view of DNA, and to do so they use increasingly sophisticated methods of data analysis. Computing immense amounts of information is not easy because there are still many uncertainties. When we try and study the genetics of whole populations this uncertainty comes front and centre. Uncertainty comes from decoding the DNA itself, for example sequences may be misread, or only parts of genomes may be available. Even with lots of data, genes can’t act as an automatic crystal ball; often scientists will find that a number of different models for the history of human populations would work given a specific set of data. At the moment there is a lot of debate about the accuracy of the current mutation rate, which is a prediction of how fast the genome changes. If we know the mutation rate, then we can work

out how closely related different populations might be by looking at how similar their genomes are. Some have suggested the rate may be much faster that we currently think, which changes estimates for the whole of human history. Analysis has shown us we probably left Africa around 50,000 years ago, and proceeded to spread across the globe in a series of migrations. Here is the first point of contention: we display different populations over time as trees, with splits where they diverge to form new ones. But modern Homo sapiens populations weren’t that isolated from each other, there was a lot of mating between individuals from different populations. Some suggest this means trees are really misleading, and we should think about the history of H. sapiens’ population movements like a big interacting web instead. The question of race and genetics has been paid much attention. The notion of web vs. distinct populations is pivotal to the debate about whether race is a real biological concept. Well, the answer from our DNA is a resounding no: ‘race’ as many people think of it doesn’t exist. The fact is people are vastly different, and when we want to go about making inferences from our genes, we need some way of categorising them or we are left with a computational nightmare. Hence, the concept of race has been clung to even though its basis is flawed. Moreover, there are differences between populations;

we can see them with our own eyes, and from the different migrations and mixings of different population groups. It turns out from an analysis of how similar the genes of individuals are, that there is much more genetic difference between individuals, than between suggested ‘races’. Moreover, if we look at population lineages, there are no distinct patterns of descent clear enough to categorise groups into races. If the concept of race is incorrect, how do we explain the pronounced differences seen between populations? Adaptations to different environmental regions might have led to our regional diversity over eons of divergence; however, the

modern human populations we see today, with all their variety, arose over a mere 60,000 years―far too short a time for divergence by natural selection. In fact, as the first modern humans migrated out of Africa the founding populations were so small that each contained only a fraction of the variation in our diverse common ancestral population. The small populations were prone to further variant loss (mostly random, a little by selection), followed by vast expansion of human numbers, leading to the regional variation that today gives the impression of races. We are all recent descendants of the same African population, a mishmash of traits such that even those that appear

quite different between populations are often really hard to recognise at the DNA level. Each trait is usually created by lots of different genes acting together. So, small changes in population frequencies of genes can reflect seemingly big shifts in the presence of a trait.

Sarah Robertson Artwork: Sophia Malandraki-Miller

Length of DNA base pair: 0.34 nanometres


The CRISPR Controversy

As familiar to lawyers as to biochemists


RISPR is a novel gene editing technique which is making a big splash in the biotechnology community. It certainly rolls off the tongue much more easily than the phrase it stands for—Clustered Regularly Interspersed Short Palindromic Repeats. In simple terms these are repeats in a bacterial DNA sequence, but the acronym is also used to describe the novel experimental method mentioned. This method involves using a bacterial protein called Cas to locate and edit any DNA sequence in a target cell, thus altering the genes encoded. The development of this technique, and the surrounding furore in the biotechnology industry have been impossible to ignore. As well as revolutionising genetic research, CRISPR is set to have game-changing effects on the field of medicine. Millions of dollars have already been spent fighting over the lucrative patents, and the battle looks sure to continue in courts across Europe, America, and Asia. Despite the hype, CRISPR isn’t the only technique capable of gene editing: it was preceded by the Zinc Finger Nuclease technology, and the TALEN (Transcription activator-like effector nucleases) method arguably wins on precision. But CRISPR stands out thanks to its unparalleled speed, ease of use, and, crucially, the relatively modest running costs. The technique in its modern incarnation was first applied in 2012, but the DNA sequence in CRISPR was observed as long ago as 1987. These repeats crop up time and time again across swathes of bacterial species, and it was postulated that CRISPR sequences are used as a bacterial immune system defence against viruses. This theory was later proved when it was shown that CRISPR is used to recognise foreign


invaders, which are then sliced up by a Cas protein. Soon after, scientists started to tailor the system for their own purposes. This is the point in CRISPR’s history where things start to get complicated. The earliest paper published outlining CRISPR’s use was in 2012, by Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier. It was a joint effort by their respective labs at the University of California and the University of Vienna. They plucked a CRISPR-Cas system from Streptococcus pyogenes, and were able to guide the Cas protein to cut at any DNA sequence they specified. They then replaced this with DNA they’d inserted into the cell. In short, they had the ability to exchange any DNA sequence with another one. Six months later, in January 2013, Feng Zhang and his team at the Broad Institute published a paper illustrating that the technique can also be successful in eukaryotic cells— everything from yeast to humans. This was followed just weeks later by a similar paper from the University of California. The California based team published the initial, pioneering research, so the situation seems clear—surely the technology belongs to them? That’s what the judges of the 2015 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences thought, as this multimillion dollar award went to Doudna and Charpentier. And yet the first CRISPR patent was awarded to Zhang and the Broad Institute, despite their application being filed after Doudna’s. Eventually Doudna was also awarded a patent, but this one only covered the use of CRISPR in bacteria. All the most useful—and lucrative— applications of the technique are in eukaryotes. This is why in 2015, the Berkeley team requested that the US Patent Office run an interference

proceeding. Essentially they wanted to prove that their work and patent covered all uses of CRISPR across bacteria and eukaryotes. This would invalidate the patents obtained by the Broad Institute due to a lack of novel methods. As expected, the Broad Institute team argued that the leap from working in bacteria to eukaryotes was far from obvious, and thus separate to Doudna’s patent. However, they went even further, producing lab books from 2012 which claimed to prove that Zhang’s lab had been successfully using the technique before any of the Californian papers were published. When asked what he’d learned from the 2012 paper, Zhang claimed ‘not much’. Needless to say, these comments did little to assuage the bad blood between the two parties. Finally, after tens of millions of dollars had been spent by both sides, the US Patent Office came to a decision. In February 2017 they ruled in favour of Zhang and the Broad Institute. Surely that is the end of the saga? Not by a long shot. Just weeks later, the European Patent Office weighed in and further complicated the issue. Thanks to the ‘first-to-file’ awarding system (as opposed to the ‘first-to-invent’ system practised in the US at the time of the dispute), a broad strokes patent for CRISPR gene editing technology in both prokaryotes and eukaryotes was granted to Doudna and Charpentier. An appeal from the Broad Institute is almost certainly imminent. The already perplexing patent battle is further complicated by the involvement of not just people, but corporations. Charpentier is now aligned with CRISPR Therapeutics, Doudna sits on the board of Caribou Biosciences as well as founding Intellia Therapeutics, whilst Zhang is at Editas (which he co-founded with none other than one Jennifer Doudna). Rest assured that normally the scientific community manages to

agree on ownership rights without these levels of acrimony. CRISPR, however, is no ordinary invention. Between them, these CRISPR-based start-ups have so far raised over $150m of investment. What makes them worth it—why all the fuss over a technique that isn’t even the first gene editing tool? The most exciting answer to that question is that we simply don’t know. The more we understand how CRISPR genes work in nature, the more inspiration there is to develop new uses for them. It is already clear that this technology has the potential to revamp medical treatments for a host of illness, none more so than genetic diseases. Scientists at MIT have already reported that they successfully used CRISPR to cure a liver disorder in mice. Though this is only a simple illness caused by a single gene, the mechanism could well be applied to human diseases like haemophilia, Huntington’s disease, and more. The same principles can be applied in plants, allowing us to produce disease-resistant or vitamin-enriched crops. The effect on research is less likely to make headlines, but no less important. Whereas previously it would have taken at least a year (and three generations of animals) to construct a genetically altered mouse, with CRISPR it is now possible in months with only one generation. Genetic research is now faster, cheaper, and easier than ever before. The rewards will be reaped across a host of biological disciplines. Now, calls for informed conversation are coming from all corners of the scientific community. Even Jennifer Doudna has said the use of CRISPR on germ l i n e

cells should be postponed until the technology is further understood. As with many of the biggest scientific technological developments in human history, CRISPR’s use is shrouded in controversy and continues to face resistance. It took years for GM crops to gain approval from the powers that be. It is therefore unsurprising that tampering with human genomes, especially in embryos, faces fierce opposition. Nonetheless, common treatments like IVF or organ donation were once regarded as controversial new developments; I suspect CRISPR will one day be considered as familiar and accepted as they are now.

Bramman Ra jkumar Artwork: Martha Glover

Unraveled length of a Cas protein: 1130 nanometres


Bang! Talks to... James Dewey Watson


he following reportage includes responses to questions asked, or topics prompted by, the students of Sichuan University in China, during an ‘open debate session’ with Professor James Dewey Watson, the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA. Watson is also probably the most controversial US scientist around today. Nevertheless, Bang! was there to capture the moment, and what follows is taken from verbatim transcripts. Here Watson shares his thoughts on topics as varied as academia, society, Trump, tennis and even Oxford, as well as sharing details of his upbringing and family life. We hear scientific endeavour described as a competition, ‘red in tooth and claw’, with winners and losers; though the idealist might prefer to see research as driven by curiosity and need, with merely accidental fame and glory! Indeed, the views expressed are those of James Watson (89), and not of Bang! or its reporters, and some may find some of the opinions below disturbing. ________________________________

Artwork: Matthew Gowell


How did you feel when you realised that you had discovered DNA’s double helix structure? ...we found the structure of DNA in Feb 28 1953, it just had the smell of ‘Big Winner’. It just looked right and it proved to be right. I sort of knew it was the big step beyond Charles Darwin. What none of us could have predicted is what’s happened since then, being able to cut and paste DNA molecules, being able to sequence them, and to begin to find the genetic causes of disease. These are things I never thought would be possible. Now I realise I’m, those dreaded words, the world’s most famous scientist. So that’s where I ask myself why did I do it? It was a lot of luck, especially when I had found the double helix. Rosalind Franklin might’ve, Linus Pauling might’ve, then no one would be listening to me here now.

How do you respond to those who say that you stole the idea of the double helix? Basically the luck was that the other people had failed and we had succeeded, not that we had sort of stolen the data from them or in any way ethically behaved badly. Now some people in the United States criticised what we did as too ambitious and [we] wanted to win too much, and it would have been nicer for the world if Rosalind Franklin had won. But she didn’t deserve to win, she just ignored evidence and she was talented but she didn’t deserve to win. She lost because she wouldn’t talk to other people, whereas Crick and I could talk to each other. What do you think was the key to your success? We knew we were going for gold, and if I give you any advice always have an important objective, don’t work very hard for something which no one will be interested in. You always have to think, will other people be interested in what you are doing? To a certain extent I was aided by the fact that I came from a financially impoverished family, there was no money and I wasn’t going to be given a second chance if I lost. So I had enough sense to be sensible. The other reason I think the other guys didn’t win and why I succeeded is I’ve always known more than other people, in what we’re doing you know. I knew the right facts that other people ignored. So I spent about half my every day reading. I don’t talk that much, except when I’m out here. I prefer reading and I’ve always found on the whole books are more exciting than people. The book will tell you something new, whereas generally most people are boring. They don’t say anything new. So I’m constantly trying to seek the new through reading. I’ve been

a reader since about the age of ten and even by being too {indistinct}, I just like to read, and so the most important things in my life have always been books, they have not been personal friendships. That’s not to say that you don’t need personal friends or they’re not good. But you can only expect too much from your friends, not that they will know what you should know. So you’ve got to be in that sense, independent of people. The other is that in the university I was really taught with ‘don’t argue with the truth’. If something is a fact you’ve gotta accept it. Right now I would say that China has a big opportunity to be reasonably supportive of {indistinct} in the world because the United States has sort of given up on truth, and it’s hard to say whether our educational system has fallen apart because we don’t want to learn unpleasant truths. And so we want an education which is pleasant not truthful. When I went to the University of Chicago? I felt this was the best university in the world, and that really made a difference…. My teachers liked me so I wasn’t worrying about my future when I was young. So I was willing to take chances. The other very important thing, I think, is that my education, and of course my family, gave me culture, it gave me awareness of the wonderful things of life and you know I grew up loving paintings, I loved music, so I was exposed to culture at an early age and I think my life is interesting {indistinct}. I think the most important thing this university gives you is culture. How to move through life, to move through life, as opposed to facts, which you learn and forget and so on, but your culture is sort of everything. I’m sort of proud of my culture. I never thought I’d be proud of that, but my family were friends

Width of a DNA double helix: 2 nanometres


of Abraham Lincoln and it was good that they supported him. And so I think I know what good families are. How they work for the common good and try to make it better.

what he was doing and Francis was never interested in understanding cancer―though he himself did die of colon cancer, fortunately quite late in his life.

Do you have any regrets? Sydney Brenner is generally called the discoverer of mRNA, but we found it six months before he did. Absolutely we knew what we had, but at that time I thought I’m already so famous I don’t have to be more famous, but now when I read that he did and it was my idea, it annoys me, but that’s all. It was not publishing my data fast enough that’s all.

What do you see as the priority areas in the future of biomedical science? Francis never became interested in disease. I became interested just because it was so cruel to the people involved. It seemed to me disease is just primary, you’ve got to fight against it. Now we have so many medicines that only work half-way..., we don’t have good medicines for the brain yet. If we solved cancer I would move on to the brain as the real objective.... That includes really serious study of mental disease because mental disease everywhere in the world is the greatest curse of human existence. I know this personally, one of my two sons is schizophrenic and it’s a cruel disease, and I wish we could do more. But in retrospect I realise that maybe we just have to work really hard for the next hundred years. If we solve it after a hundred years, it’s better than never solving it. We should always go for important human goals. Also important is finding out how memory is encoded in the brain. That’s big! The language of the brain, we don’t know it… I’d just try and read any book that tells you anything, later in your life you hope to meet a person who has written a book or written an article that you want to beat. Generally when you meet someone who has written a book they don’t have any new ideas―that’s really up to you.

What advice do you have on how to write good research papers? Writing can be fun if you have a story to tell, if you don’t have a story to tell it’s painful and not worth doing. So, I didn’t enjoy writing until really I was working on my first scientific paper, well my first important one. Delbrück, I sent it to him, he was in California and I was in Denmark. He completely rewrote the first paragraph to really sell what was in the paper, to make it interesting. So I realised that your first sentence is very important, and when I wrote the book The Double Helix, suddenly I had written down ‘I had never seen Francis in a modest mood’, that became my opening sentence in The Double Helix and that summarised the whole book, Francis Crick was never a modest man, but he was a wonderful man. It wasn’t that he was a bad man because he wasn’t ever wrong, just that’s what he was. And so his personality was for many people very hard to take. At the time he was the only person, who I could talk to, that wanted to talk about DNA. Everybody wanted to talk about something else, but Francis talked about DNA. So we were really very close because we had a common objective. Later in life he became interested in the brain and we had really had nothing to say to each other, because I didn’t understand 20

What advice do you have for early career researchers? One thing you have to know something and second you have to have pep. Some people just have pep and get things done fast. And other people just don’t seem to walk fast, it’s just the desire to do things as fast as possible. I think that’s important,

you can be very intelligent and not walk fast enough. I’ve always been a fast walker. So I think that is very important in my life, just get there first. Just be first. It’s very important also to let other people win. In a sense you get as many winners as you can in your society. I had about twenty graduate students at Harvard, about ten proved to be big winners later. So I felt proud of these students that had a high ambition and succeeded…. Not being selfish that’s, letting people who deserve credit get credit, fair play. ...a rule which is very important, never be the brightest person in a room and always have someone you can learn from. Someone who can do something better than you, so you get better by being with them. Francis Crick had a problem, he had a problem, he was always the brightest person in the room and everyone knew it so he had a rather difficult life. No one, I think, has ever thought I was the brightest person in any room where I’ve been―’cause I used to stay quiet, I like to stay on the outside, I don’t like to dominate conversations and I listen. In any case I’ve probably had more impact on the world of today’s biologists than any person since Darwin. But a large factor was my culture, I knew when to write a book, I knew what to say, I knew one day when I had to stand up and be heard. Finally, it’s the young people who are going to make the step forward not the people who are already around. I made my discovery when I was 24 and I didn’t feel I was young. Now I’m 89 and I figure, I’m still thinking more than almost everyone else in cancer research, but there’s nothing else to think about. You know I’d rather think about Cancer research than Donald Trump. What are your views on the current state of academia and education? So I think you’ve just gotta, the best thing you can be with other people

is just truthful. So that when you’re saying something they will learn from you. Right now due to political correctness in academia were just filled with everyone saying things there is just no evidence for. And they don’t like genetics because they don’t like mutations. They don’t like mutations because it leads to losers, and in America we’re not supposed to have any losers. But the world is filled with losers and the real problem though in society is how to treat your losers fairly because some people lose because it is their own fault, other people lose for reasons that have nothing to do with them―and they’re in bad shape and so you’ve gotta help them. So I think the most important human quality is an ability to work with and help other people. One has to be careful to explain to other people that you help them by criticising. In America now, men are never supposed to criticise women, but women can criticise men. There’s a certain asymmetry to this all and it’s crazy, but this is the way our society is moving. We haven’t been perfect in the past so we have to constantly apologise for the past. I think we should apologise for the present, it doesn’t really help apologising for the past. It’s your present, if you’re not helping people in the present then that’s bad. …I think as teachers your job is to identify the students who are going to be great and somehow pick out those students and encourage them. And single out people who seem to be different. I had a couple of great teachers, they really made me feel special in my early 20s. I’ve talked too long. My main message really is know chemistry, and seek answers through chemistry not DNA sequencing and my message to the students is to have bright friends who can help you. Everyone needs help― and so you’ve got to be in a position where you can receive help…. The Rhodes scholars who went from the US or other places to Oxford were

identified as the leaders of the future. I never got something like that, but I was still picked out…. At Oxford and Cambridge there are two levels of instruction to be given. You are instructed by the University and you get instructed by the college. So that’s very expensive, but I think China should have very expensive systems for really the brightest students. You are regarded as outspoken and controversial, how do you feel about that? Fortunately I had parents who never made me behave well. They just didn’t care how I ate my food or they didn’t care how I spoke, you know, and I just didn’t want to be like old people. Most people think that I am inappropriate, I say things that I shouldn’t say. Well I just feel someone has to say the truth, even though I know I will get in trouble, and now in the United States I’m in deep trouble. You know there’s a sociologist called Charles Murray, who is, well the best phrase is radical, he and I are the two most disliked people in American academia because we say that people are not equal and you’re not supposed to say that people are not equal. You try to explain things like people are not equal because of evolution and they―and facts and things like that. So America wants to disagree. They solve nasty problems by denying their existence―just begone! That’s why I worry about the United States. I don’t try to talk about, err it’s difficult but still. I do think you have enormous opportunity to move ahead by serving as an example to the rest of the world of how to behave. And the best {indistinct} is to always be honest with people. We’ve just seen American democracy go to hell. You know with Trump and these Tea Party people, they’re just awful, so what do you do with awful people? Good question, do you treat them with respect? Do you knock them over the head? I don’t know what to do. We’re

behaving very irresponsibly now…. We keep people alive under the sort of religious principles that living is so important. You shouldn’t all people to suffer unless you think they’re not going to suffer later. If they’re just suffering just end it. That’s my feeling, but there are certain religious groups in particular the Catholic church, they’re just hopeless, you know they just want you to suffer for God. I can’t understand them and I just think they’re my enemy. What do you do for leisure? For the most part I don’t like to play chess…. I want to reserve all my thinking for something important not for a game. So I’d rather play tennis or something when I’m not {indistinct}, but in tennis I want to hit winners, so it’s no fun unless you hit a really good shot. So I have one forehand shot which is so very good. You know it could even win a point against Federer if I just hit it, woo! So I like to go for winners but not under pressure. Some days I can hit one winner in an hour and on another good day I can hit ten. ________________________________ As ‘honest Jim’1 left us, in a convoy of Rolls-Royce Silver Shadows with a police escort, he may have felt that he has found his niche in China. Whether or not that may be, Watson’s ambition and activity (he is setting up a chain of research institutes in China) in such advanced years is impressive. Despite some of his views, which I find difficult to reconcile with my own, Watson is part of our scientific history. Indeed, listening to him offers a glimpse into the past, to an earlier way of thinking, and of an academic society, that has since evolved into that in which we strive to address the great questions of our time. ‘Honest Jim’ was the draft title for The Double Helix, perhaps inspired by the novel Lucky Jim also published by Kingsley Amis in the same year. It is has also been said that it was a nickname referring to Watson’s ‘candour’. 1

Stephen Attwood 21

Out of Space

We are all (at risk of dying from) space dust


he space around planet Earth is a bit like my college room: over time it has amassed a hefty collection of leftover junk that is creating a threat to future exploration. Humankind’s knack for sending things into space is a testament to our scientific abilities, but the remains of defunct satellites and empty rocket stages are starting to clutter the space surrounding our planet, impairing future journeys. At the same time, small naturally occurring particles known as ‘micrometeoroids’ that break off from larger pieces of rocks populate the same region of space. Collectively referred to as Micrometeoroids and Orbital Debris (MMOD), these particles travel at high velocities around the planet, creating a hostile environment for space exploration; last year, NASA claimed that the risk of MMODs punching bullet hole wounds into spacecraft is the ‘primary’ threat to the safety of commercial crew vehicles. Even though they’re tiny, the


danger they pose arises due to the velocity and sheer number of these particles. MMOD travel at an average velocity of 10 km/s relative to orbiting spacecraft, giving them the potential to cause catastrophic damage (for contrast, the fastest modern bullets fail to even reach a fifth of such speeds). After its return, the 1983 Challenger space shuttle’s broken window revealed that a speck of paint travelling at about this speed had penetrated several layers of glass. As of 2013, there were an estimated 170 million MMOD particles tinier than 1cm, and roughly 700,000 pieces greater than 1cm surrounding planet Earth. These numbers are growing because humans continue to launch spacecraft and satellites. Furthermore, collisions among existing MMOD cause runaway chain reactions of further collisions, creating exponentially growing collections of small but lethal debris, a phenomenon known as Kessler syndrome.

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) have had their run-ins with micrometeoroids. The Cupola is an observation port on the ISS popular amongst astronauts for taking photographs of Earth and Space. When it is in use, each of the Cupola’s seven windows has four layers of protection against MMOD and the harsh environment of space, as well as a shutter that closes to provide additional protection whenever the Cupola is not in use. Despite these precautions, in June 2012 the ISS crew was forced to shutter close one of its Cupola windows due to a micrometeoroid impact causing visible damage. Space Safety Magazine reports that ‘MMOD impacts occur all the time on ISS and other spacecraft, although most are not easily visible through a window. Returning Space Shuttles have shown pock marks from high velocity MMOD.’ Space agencies currently employ different strategies to deal with the

threat depending on the size of the MMOD particle. Although large particles have the potential to create the most damage in a collision, their large size allows them to be actively tracked and catalogued. For example, the United States Strategic Command radar actively tracks and calculates the trajectories of 18,000 particles larger than 10cm to identify potential collisions with the ISS, which in turn manoeuvers to avoid them. Unfortunately, particles smaller than this are far more abundant and cannot be actively tracked, and thus pose a different challenge to space agencies. The effect of very small MMOD (less than 1cm) is akin to sandblasting, which creates surface weathering and microscopic holes in spacecraft, while the remaining medium sized MMOD (between 1cm and 10cm) are large enough to penetrate and cause lethal damage to unprotected spacecraft. To defend against these particles, space agencies currently employ a technology called ‘Whipple shielding’. The Whipple shield consists of a thin aluminium ‘sacrificial’ wall and an inner ‘rear’ wall. The sacrificial wall is designed

to break up and vaporise incoming MMOD particles into a cloud. This cloud expands, resulting in the momentum and energy of the MMOD being distributed over a wider area as it encounters the ‘rear’ wall. The result is a gentler collision for the spacecraft to take. Inner layers of Kevlar provide further insurance against particles penetrating the shield. The Whipple shield, however, is not fool-proof and further developments to address MMOD are needed. NASA’s Langley Research Centre is considering incorporating self-healing shields, having developed its own material consisting of two organic polymer sheets separated by a specially engineered gel. On contact with air and heat, the gel quickly solidifies, giving any possible breaches a temporary fix, and the space crew time to make proper repairs. Excitingly, NASA proposes that this technology could also be used in more ‘down-to-earth’ circumstances like aeroplane hulls and car bodies. Other organisations have proposed other plans and technologies to begin the removal of larger pieces

of debris; Surrey Space Centre’s RemoveDEBRIS programme and Airbus are both investigating the option of capturing, with a large net or harpoon, debris and removing it from orbit. It is in our interest to prevent further pollution of the space around the planet for the safe continuation of space exploration. Academics note that, much akin to the issue of air pollution, there is currently little commercial incentive for corporations to reduce their creation of space junk. Proposals to ameliorate this are pouring in, but contentious political and economic realities are slowing debates down. In a time when mass venturing into space seems like a tantalisingly close reality, we will eventually need to address the issue of doing so responsibly and safely. Sooner or later, my college room has got to be cleaned up.

Jiaxen Lau

Length of a speck of paint: 300000 nanometres


A Gut Feeling Brain health may begin in the gut


hen you think of other organisms living inside of you, you probably think of harmful ones like parasites or bacteria that cause you to get sick. But, there are 100 trillion microorganisms living in your intestines making up what is called the microbiota, and they affect your daily health in more ways than you may suspect. The microbiota is important for many things from digestion to immune health. Novel, exciting studies are showing a possible link between the composition of the gut microbiota and many neurological and neurodevelopmental diseases including multiple sclerosis, autism, depression, schizophrenia, and Parkinson’s disease. Prior to birth, an individual’s gastrointestinal (GI) tract is sterile, but will soon become colonized with various microorganisms. Microbes in the gut serve a multitude of functions. The microbiota is essential for digestion and development of the immune system, as well as the nervous system. Take for example the bacteria Bifidobacteria, which is considered a ‘good’ bacteria or probiotic. It is important for proper gut function, aiding in the break down of food, helping absorb nutrients, and helping maintain high levels of the types bacteria you want in your gut microbiota, which can be diminished by diarrhoea, sickness, and antibiotics. 24

Other microorganisms in the gut are bacteria that can produce signalling molecules, which interact with the nervous system. These signalling molecules include neurotransmitters, which are important for communication between the intestinal tract and brain, and are needed for overall

maintenance of gut health. These interactions with the nervous system occur primarily through the vagus nerve, which governs gastrointestinal (GI) system function, and is the most direct path for communication between gut and brain. This is usually a symbiotic relationship helping with proper function of and communication between the central

nervous system (CNS) and GI tract. Nevertheless, alternations to the composition of the microbiota could disrupt the normal flow of signals, and lead to some of the disorders listed previously. This symbiotic relationship between the microbes and the gut is a delicate one that can be disrupted by inflammation. Microbes are usually confined to the intestines by a tight barrier of epithelial cells and mucus. Here they are involved in maintaining the consistent immune responses, promoting tolerance of microbes and protecting the barrier. This barrier can be disrupted by inflammation caused by damage to intestinal tissue, pathogens, or substances that trigger an immune response. The idea of a gut-brain axis–the connection between the intestinal environment and the central nervous system–has been characterised in intestinal inflammation diseases, such as irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease. These diseases are well-studied examples that frequently show the effect of inflammation on the CNS. Intestinal permeability may also affect inflammation. As mentioned earlier, microbes are involved in the maintaining intestinal barriers and tight junctions. Inflammation can compromise these junctions, making the barrier more permeable, which

can elicit a greater immune response. These responses are typically taken care of quickly, but the gut is prone to frequent inflammation, prolonging inflammatory and immune responses. Our intestinal immune systems are constantly exposed to foreign pathogens so prolonged inflammation can develop over a lifetime. Nevertheless, not everyone will develop a chronic bowel inflammatory disease. Low levels of inflammation can still affect the composition of the microbiota. An imbalance of microbes in the body, most commonly in the digestive tract, is called dysbiosis. Inflammation, among other things including poor diet, can cause this upset in the balance of microbes. Chronic dysbiosis can lead to inflammatory responses from the brain, and such responses have been linked to neuroinflammation, a cause of neurodegenerative disease. Since immune cells can also communicate with the CNS, the inflammation of the GI system is another mechanism that can cause downstream effects on the CNS. Again, the vagus nerve plays a role here, because inflammation affects intestinal neurons, which then stimulate a CNS response. The response can affect the blood-brain barrier (BBB), the permeability of which can be altered by inflammation and age. Changes in permeability can allow harmful substances to get past the BBB having potentially damaging effects on immune responses and CNS function, affecting neural health. Neurodegenerative diseases are becoming more common with an ageing population, and the mechanisms that govern these diseases are largely unknown. Since age is one of the biggest risk factors for these diseases, and chronic intestinal inflammation becomes more common with age, researchers are now exploring the plausible link between the two. Of particular interest is Parkinson’s disease (PD), and the notion that bowel

inflammation caused by dysregulation of the immune system may be one of the first indicators of this disease. PD is characterised by changes in motor control caused by loss of dopamine in the brain and general neurodegeneration. Aside from dopamine replacement treatments, there are no treatments to slow the progression of the disease. Recent research has shown that PD patients have neuroinflammation. Patients also exhibit non-motor symptoms, such as rapid eye movement, anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, and impaired reaction time. These symptoms are usually present in the preclinical stage or observed with greater frequency in people who develop PD later in life, indicating these may be early indicators of the disease and may be key for developing preventative treatments. In a similar way, intestinal dysfunction may be an early indicator for PD, and researchers are suggesting that the mechanism for progression of PD may be intestinal inflammation. Patients often exhibit intestinal dysfunction years before any motor symptoms appear, with around 50 per cent of patients reporting constipation. In addition, PD patients appear to have more intestinal wall damage, an indication of inflammation. To investigate the relationship between PD and the microbiota, studies have been conducted to characterise the composition of the bacteria population from faecal samples in PD patients and healthy, control individuals. Patients had markedly different abundances of common bacteria from four families: Prevotellaceae, Lactobacillaceae, Bradyrhizobiaceae, and Clostridiales Incertae Sedis IV, compared to their healthy counterparts. The functional effects of these changes in bacteria include altered metabolism and increase in resource allocation to the synthesis of the cell wall component LPS, a common mediator of

inflammation by pathogenic bacteria. These changes in the microbiota make the gut more prone to inflammation. Researchers at the Emory University School of Medicine in the United States have modelled PD pathogenesis. It starts with an initial inflammatory trigger, such as an external assault from a toxic substance. From this, low-level inflammation develops and persists as the microbiota composition shifts and the intestinal becomes damaged. The prolonged proinflammatory immune responses that result have been shown to affect the CNS through moderation of the BBB. This leads to neuroinflammation and eventually the neurodegeneration characteristic of PD. This model may serve as a launching point for future PD research. Targeting the composition of the microbiota may lead to treatments to slow the progression of the disease. The microbiota may not be linked to PD through the gut-brain axis, particularly through the effects of inflammation. Even if the answer to PD cannot be found in the gut, we should learn to appreciate the 100 trillion microorganisms that make up our microbiota because of all they do for our digestive and immune health.

Brianna Steiert Artwork: Gulnar Mimaroglu

Length of Bifidobacteria: 4000 nanometres


Mimicking nature to produce the smallest motors Carbon-nanotube nanomotors put the nano world in motion


cience fiction writers, and more recently scientists, have come up with many ideas of what could be accomplished if we were able to build artificial nanomotors and nanorobots. Tiny robots could swim through our bloodstream and destroy viruses, supporting our own immune system. Other nanorobots could be used to target cancer cells, or to clean up calcifications in blood vessels. Outside of the human body nanorobots could clean up oil spills, spy on enemies or assemble new materials with atomic precision. All of these ideas are nowhere close to becoming reality, but scientists are making first steps towards building artificial nanorobots. One important component of any machine is a motor. Cars, toys, elevators, pretty 26

much everything we use has a built in motor. They exist in in a wide range of sizes. From huge motors powering container ships to the small motor in your electric toothbrush. The smallest of them are nanomotors, tiny motors, which are only a couple hundred nanometers in size. Nature has long used nanomotors for a variety of tasks. Natural molecular motors help regulate our cell membranes, allow our muscles to contract, and enable sperm cells to swim. Unfortunately, these natural nanomotors are very selective about the environments in which they can function. Each requires a particular liquid environment of just the right pH, temperature, and viscosity. To be able to one day build nanorobots, researchers are trying

to fabricate more versatile, artificial nanomotors. These are used as components in Nanometer Scale Electromechanical Systems (NEMS), which are complex systems of nanowires, switches, motors, and sensors that are a first step on the way to building nanorobots. Fabricating and integrating nanomotors into these electromechanical systems is a particularly hard challenge. The laws of physics differ at the nanoscale compared to larger scales. For example, the electrostatic force between two charged objects increases quadratically the closer the two objects get together. Therefore, at the nanometer scale, seemingly small charges can cause a large electrostatic force. This can be a challenge when building nanodevices.

Furthermore, friction changes at the nanoscale. At any scale, friction is proportional to the number of atoms that touch at the surfaces of two objects. For a nano-object that only consists of a small number of atoms most of the atoms are at the surface and are experiencing friction. Therefore, friction plays a large role and has to be carefully taken into account when building nanomotors. Otherwise, the nanomotor could easily overheat or get ripped apart by friction between its components. Luckily, this problem is solved in carbon nanotubes, which exhibit very little friction when rubbing against each other. They are long cylinders of carbon with their walls made of hexagons of carbon atoms. For nanomotors multi-walled carbon nanotubes are particularly interesting. You can imagine these like several straws of different diameters inside of one another.

Such a multi-walled carbon nanotube played a crucial role in the first carbon based nanomotor, built 15 years ago by researchers in Berkley, California. These researchers built everything that a typical electro-motor needs onto a silicon chip with a tiny gold plate to act as the rotor plate. Tiny stators supply the electrical field that turns it. Finally, a multi-walled carbon nanotube supports the rotor and feeds electricity to it. The rotor plate is attached to a short segment of carbon nanotube that can freely rotate on another, thinner carbon nanotube. By varying the electric fields that are applied to the stators, the position, speed, and direction of rotation of the rotor is controlled. All of this is so small, that it would take 100 of these rotors arranged in a straight line to reach the diameter of a human hair. Despite its tiny size, the first carbon nanotube nanomotor proved to be remarkably robust. Even when the researchers made it rotate at high rotation speeds for thousands of cycles, they did not observe any wear or drop in performance. Making this nanomotor was not a trivial task. The stators and contacts had to be in just the right place to accommodate the tiny rotor and support shaft. They were patterned using electron beam lithography and etching. When the tiny stators were ready, the real challenge was to span the carbon nanotube across from one side to the other. Imagine you are bored in a lecture and you have two books sitting next to each other, with a gap between them. To ease your boredom, you play around with a pen and lay it across the gap. This is very easy and won’t keep you occupied for long. You just check that the pen is long enough to reach from one book to the other, pick it up with two fingers and put it back down so that one end rests on each of the books. At such a large scale placing a rod across a gap is a trivial task. At the nanoscale each step becomes a lot more challenging. How do you check

the carbon nanotube is long enough to reach from one side of the gap to the other, when you can’t even see it with a light microscope? How do you pick it up? How do you align it perpendicular to the gap? How do you put it down and make sure it stays on the stators and doesn’t slip down? Doing this would keep you occupied for much longer than one lecture. The researchers who build the first carbon nanotube nanomotor had to use the tip of an Atomic Force Microscope (AFM) to position the nanotube. With this they could both see it, because AFMs provide resolution down to atomic scales and they were also able to use the fine tip of the AFM to pick up the nanotube and position it. With the multi-walled carbon nanotube finally in place, the outer wall needed to be broken off at both ends so that a freely rotating segment remained. To do this, high electrical currents were applied to the nanotube. This heated the tube up and the outer most layer was partially destroyed with only the segment under the gold rotor remaining. Finally, the researchers had fabricated a tiny, fully functional motor. This remarkable proof of concept has encouraged other researchers to also build carbon nanotube based motors. Building a nanomotor in a lab is still far removed from fabricating nanorobots that can swim in our bloodstream. But it is a crucial first step towards artificial nanomachines. Next, artificial nanomotors will have to prove themselves outside the lab. No one knows if they will be as successful as their natural counterparts, but maybe in 100 years nanomotors might be as widespread as macromotors are today.

Juliane Borchert

Length of world’s smallest nanomoter: 1000 nanometres


Life-Changing Careers at Oxford BioMedica

Homage to the Micrographia


A look at the origins of popular science

ore than 350 years ago, a book was published that swiftly became the first work of ‘popular science’. Or at the every least, the first science book that was popular. So many years before Bang!’s own wildly successful ‘Nano’ issue, Dr Robert Hooke― the prodigy, polymath, natural philosopher, and Wadham College alumni―gave the public a glimpse into the world just beyond what the naked eye can see. Micrographia, published in 1665 and described in Samuel Pepys’ diary as ‘the most ingenious’ work he had ever read, propelled forwards the reputation of the fledgling Royal Society and marked a major turning point in the history of science. The publication also worked wonders for the 30–year-old Curator of Experiments’ career. For so many years natural philosophers had gazed up at the stars and far away. And though some had suggested that the world was made of atoms, things smaller than a dust mite were accepted as amusing topics of discussion and fancies of the imagination rather than subjects of observation. Micrographia: or Some Physiological Descriptions of Minute Bodies Made by Magnifying Glasses. With Observations and Inquiries Thereupon is a book that is especially appealing because its 38 engraved illustrations are, quite frankly, beautiful. Unlike the readers of Bang!, his would not have been familiar with science’s potential for beauty. However, growingly advanced microscopes meant that, for the not unreasonable price of 30 shillings, 17th century readers could see everyday objects―poppy seeds, charcoal, insects, needles―in a way they had never seen before. It was here that the word ‘cell’ was coined as a biological term, and it was demonstrated how observation, aided by technology, could reveal the true nature of things. Indeed, the list of remarkable observations made in the Micrographia is so extensive the book might as well have been a manifesto for the scientific method and the value of experimentation. Each chapter either grapples fiercely with an old, established idea,

puts forward a new one, or does both. Hooke, who studied under Robert Boyle, dismissed the idea that ‘fire’ was an element found within objects and gave shape to the modern concept of combustion more than 100 years before the discovery of oxygen. Detailed examination of insect wings and bird feathers brought insights into the mechanics of flight. He proposed that light behaved like waves rippling through water and his investigation into coloured film inspired Sir Issac Newton’s work in optics. He even argued that the shape of spherical celestial objects must have been the result of a gravitational attraction compacting matter evenly around a centre. It is unsurprising that Micrographia was a sensation. However, unlike the two other great scientific works of its time: Galileo Galilei’s Siderius Nuncius (1610) and Newton’s Principia Mathematica (1687), it did not result in a flurry of similar research from his contemporaries. This is perhaps because making the microscopic accessible required a very rare combination of technical knowledge, patience, and amazing artistic skills that very few people possessed. Accessibility is one of the most striking aspects of Micrographia. The historian Allan Chapman, who describes Hooke as ‘England’s Leonardo,’ writes that the text was ‘accessible to any innumerate who could read Shakespeare or the Bible,’ and I can attest to the fact that centuries later Hooke’s style remains surprisingly readable. Moreover, the visual communication of science that we now take for granted owes much to the book and its impact. As such, this very magazine must trace the intellectual origin of its concept all the way back to that ‘most excellent’ book that kept Pepys up until two in the morning and of which he was ‘very proud’. Those of us with even a passing interest in science communication and popular science―including many readers and staffers of Bang!―should recognise Micrographia as the seminal work in the field.

Ray Williams


Oxford BioMedica is a pioneer of gene and cell therapy, with a leading position in lentiviral vector therapy research, development and manufacture. We were founded in 1995 as a spin-out from the University of Oxford’s Department of Biochemistry.

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Bang! Magazine  
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