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Contents i ii 1 2 3 4 5-6 7-8 9-10 11 12 13-14 15-16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23-24 25 26 27 28

React Magazine @react_magazine

Contents, Get Involved! Editorial, Our Theme, The Team {Profile} Science Hero: Sir David Attenborough by Alice Johnson {News} Science news by Claire Tweedy {Lead Article} Transforming our world by Carla Washbourne {Lead Article} Women in science by Wendy Carr {NCL Research} Deep sea sediments by Charlotte Spencer-Jones {NCL Research} Exploring the unknown by Ruth Rowland-Jones {NCL Research} The brain: The final frontier by Lizzie Gemmell {NCL Uni Science} Extraterrestrial weather by Thomas Lundy {NCL Uni Science} One extreme to another by James Simpson {Central Feature} Voyager 1 has left the solar system by Elspeth K Ritchie {Issue Theme} Microbiology: Has it passed it’s Golden Age by Nicole Ong {Issue Theme} Atlantis: Fact, or just an old fish tale? by Mahum Butt {Issue Theme} No more blank spots on the map? by Gesa Junge {Issue Theme} Nanotechnology: Changing how we fight disease by Verity Mitchell {Issue Theme} Making waves by Ben Dannatt & Andrew Tait {Opinion Piece} Science on the box by Charlotte Bell {Opinion Piece} Should Newcastle University stop investing in Fossil Fuels by Edward Byers {Science:fiction} Fiction? What fiction? The science behind the stories by Calum Kirk {Student Stories} {react} at the Maker Faire by Verity Mitchell & Emad Ahmed {Puzzle Page} Puzzle by Steve Humble (Dr Maths), Comic by Martha Snow {Advert} British Science Festival {Listings}

Get Involved!

{react} magazine gives students the opportunity to explore science communication, and we want to make your voices heard. Scientist or not, if you’re interested we’ve got several different ways for you to get stuck in. Prior experience is not necessary! Budding science writer? We want our content to be interesting, contemporary and accessible to all who care to read it. Contributing to {react} is not about writing technical 1000 word reports; we are looking for imaginative and insightful articles, from longer features and interviews to reviews and opinion pieces. You can write for our print issues, next published in November 2013, or help to create bespoke content for our website. If you would like to get more involved in editing the magazine, or are a budding writer but don’t feel ready to submit your own articles quite yet, you can apply to be on our editorial team.

Get in touch by email: Determined Doodler? {react} magazine isn’t just about the writing. We pride ourselves on being strongly design-led (we hope a quick flick through will demonstrate this!) and we don’t want to look like your average science magazine. {react} relies on student artists, designers, and layout editors to help bring our stories to life. You don’t need loads of experience, just an interest in the project and a willingness to learn on the job!

Get in touch by email: Printed on a termly basis, the magazine will be distributed on campus and available to local schools, sixth form colleges, and in public venues across the city. Our online content will be updated throughout the year, so there is always plenty to do. React Issue #3.indd 2

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Editorial Strap on your scuba gear, fire up your rockets

and warm up your microscopes (though perhaps not all at the same time); this issue of {react} is going to take you on some exciting adventures through the world of science and technology. Oh, the places you’ll go! Taking our cues from the life of explorer and TV stalwart David Attenborough (pg. 1) we meet the microorganisms that make their homes in some of the most extreme places on earth (pg. 12) and delve to the bottom of the sea in search of evidence of global change (pg. 5-6) and traces of sunken civilisations (pg. 17). Blasting off into unexplored territory, we chart the course of Voyager 1 through our solar system and beyond as it becomes the farthest man-made object from the earth (pg. 13-14), take you on a meteorological journey to outer space (pg. 11), then ponder ‘What is left to discover?’ (pg. 18). Back on terra firma we seek out science making massive impacts on microscopic scales. Has microbiology passed its ‘golden age’ of discovery (pg. 15-16) and could nanotechnology really change the way we fight disease (pg. 19)? There are plenty of adventures to be had close to home, as we investigate the cutting-edge projects

taking place at Newcastle University’s Culture Lab (pg. 3), design our own experiments (pg. 7-8), muse over how much, or little, we really know about our own brains (pg. 9-10) and follow our reporters around the Maker Faire (pg. 25) Top of {react}’s to-do list is closing the abyss between science and the public. Fresh approaches to public engagement can help, as we find out how women in science are making their voices heard in the north east (pg. 4) and investigate new ways of helping kids think about renewable energy (pg. 20). Exploring some tough issues of science in society, we ask if science TV really switches on its viewers (pg. 21) and consider whether Newcastle University should stop investing in fossil fuels (pg. 22) When you’ve had your fill of adventuring check out the latest Science News (pg. 2), discover how science fiction has become science fact (pg. 2324), chuckle over our comic strip (pg. 26), then kick back with a cool drink and get your brain around Dr Math’s glass-flip challenge. This is the last {react} issue of the academic year, but we are already hard at work preparing for the British Science Festival, on campus 7th – 12th September 2013, and a spectacular issue 4. Have a great summer and we’ll see you in the autumn!

Our Theme The inspiration for this issue’s theme, ‘Centre of the earth, bottom of the sea’, is the aspirational science fiction writing of Jules Verne (and the 1980’s cartoon series Around the World with Willy Fog!) Science and technology help us to discover the unknown and explain the wonders

in the world around us; in this issue we wanted to capture some of the excitement of the current pioneers of science. We think we know so much now, yet science continually provides us with new stories and shows that there is still so much left to explore!

The Team EDITORS: Elspeth K. Ritchie, Carla-Leanne Washbourne DEPUTY EDITORS: Gesa Junge, Stephen John Shackleton SUB EDITORS: Jamie Auxillos, Rachel Dickinson, Adam Field, Alexander Griffen, Lindsay Gill, Rachel Horrocks, Alice Johnson, Nevena Karapavlovic, Calum Kirk, Arun Krishna, Holly Peacock, Sarah Rice, Michael Savage, Anawat Tarr

NEWS EDITOR: Clare Tweedy CREATIVE DIRECTOR: John Dawson DESIGN: John Dawson ILLUSTRATORS: Hannah Scully, Robyn Nevison, Martha Snow, Laura Marsh, Matthew A. Cooper NEW MEDIA EDITOR: Elizabeth Lewis BUSINESS: Scott Pygall SPECIAL THANKS: Ian Wylie & Dan Howarth (Jesmond Local), Dr Maths, The Life Science Centre

NOTES: Cover by Matthew A. Cooper References for all articles in this magazine are available online at Creative Commons description @

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Profile Science Hero: Sir David Attenborough by Alice Johnson Sir David Attenborough is a natural history broadcaster, perhaps bestknown for his award-winning “Life” series of documentaries, made over the last 34 years in association with the BBC. His enthusiasm and passion, both on-screen and off, have the power to influence how we view and treat our planet and for this reason Sir David Attenborough truly is a science hero. He first developed his interest in science when he took a degree in natural sciences at Cambridge University but instead of pursuing a career in lab research or practical fieldwork, he decided to delve into broadcasting and production. Attenborough joined the BBC in 1952 and worked on numerous productions, including quiz shows and a series about folk music. It wasn’t until 1954 that he embarked on a series of nature documentaries,

known as Zoo Quest. Originally, Attenborough was only meant to produce the show but due to a chance happening when one of his colleagues fell ill, he ultimately became the presenter. Zoo Quest proved to be extremely popular and included footage of animals that had never been broadcast before. Attenborough’s career underwent further changes when he left the BBC to take a postgraduate degree in social anthropology. Despite this, he was still involved in filming and ended up accepting the position of BBC Two Controller in 1965. During his time as controller he made many changes to the schedule and produced a diverse and eclectic mix of programmes. In 1967, the channel was the first in Britain to regularly broadcast in colour, placing BBC Two at the forefront of technology under Attenborough’s charge. He was promoted to Director of Programmes in 1969, leading him further away from presenting roles, but this position did not suit his interests at all and consequently he resigned and returned to his true passion, filming. He wrote and presented a series that he had planned with the BBC Natural History Unit, ‘Life On Earth’. Other natural history programmes that he created include ‘The Living Planet’ (1984), ‘The Blue Planet’ (2001), ‘Life of Mammals’ (2002) and ‘Planet Earth’ (2006), all of which attracted large viewing audiences and were highly-acclaimed. In addition to his universally popular documentaries, Attenborough provides his voice and opinion on subjects such as climate change and population growth. Through his work as a broadcaster, he has witnessed more of the natural world than most of us can imagine and has gained recognition as an internationally respected naturalist. Consequently, Sir David Attenborough was knighted in 1985 for his contributions to broadcasting and his efforts to explore the unknown. These efforts have allowed millions of people all over the world to witness the beauty and vastness of biological science such as evolution, species behavioural patterns, food chains and population trends. Furthermore, Attenborough has backed many campaigns and encourages his followers to take a similar stance, actively working towards a better understanding of the natural world.


* Illustration by Robyn Nevison

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News Robotic throat cancer surgery a success A revolutionary method of surgery involving the use of robotics has been used to successfully treat three patients at Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital. The surgery to remove cancers of the throat has been performed by surgeons operating a robot via joystick controls. The Da Vinci robot, costing an estimated £2 million, reduces the need for invasive and lengthy procedures. Recovery time following surgery has shown to be significantly reduced,

by Clare Tweedy

as is the need for potentially dangerous radiation therapy. Throat cancer is an increasingly common form of cancer in the UK, thus it is important to research more effective and simplified treatments. The use of robotic surgery for the removal of cancer from the throat has been successful in all of the three patients trialled, and brings bright hope for the future.

Recycled café for a sustainable future A team of Newcastle University staff and students have built a café from entirely recyclable materials. The coffee they serve is the only non-recyclable feature you’ll see when visiting the café, created to promote awareness of sustainability. With chairs made from plastic bottles and recycled plastic bags as staff aprons, the U-café opened for business for three days in April. Items that were once viewed as rubbish have been

transformed into the foundations of a working café, encouraging the public to see waste products in a new light. The project was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. Due to its recyclable nature, the café has since been transported around the North East and is expected to make an appearance at the upcoming British Science Festival this September.

Pesticides damage learning and memory in honey bees The past few decades have brought an increasing awareness of the potential dangers of pesticide use, with the focus being mainly on the damage to human health. However, fears of negative environmental effects have been raised as two new studies from both Newcastle and Dundee University reveal a surprising effect on a honey bee’s ability to learn. Two types of chemicals

found in pesticides have been shown to lower the activity of the brain, and this in turn may affect a honey bee’s ability to pollinate and find food. Bees rely on learning to remember which scents and floral traits are indicative of the most food. The delicate changes to the ecosystem as a result could affect other species, and brings to light the environmental dangers of pesticide use.

Improved muscle function with Vitamin D supplements Research at Newcastle University has shown that Vitamin D supplementation is able to improve muscle function, and potentially energy levels. The vitamin, mainly produced by the skin in response to sunlight, can also be found in a number of foods such as fish and egg yolks. Up to 60% of people in the UK are believed to suffer from Vitamin D deficiency, marked by muscle fatigue and poor bone health. Research has shown it is possible

to increase muscle function and energy levels by providing Vitamin D supplements to these patients. By improving the function of mitochondria, the power source of our cells, Vitamin D can relieve the symptoms of muscle fatigue. While it has long been recognised that Vitamin D supplementation can improve energy levels, this is the first study to establish a link between Vitamin D and the function of the mitochondria.

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Lead Article Transforming Our World: Human-Computer Interaction at the Culture Lab by Carla Washbourne The Culture Lab is nestled in a beautiful building on King’s Walk, opposite the shiny new King’s Gate Centre. Chances are you might not have set foot inside, as this building is off the beaten track for many on campus, but take the opportunity to explore a little and you’ll find that it is a hub of offices, workshops and specialist digital facilities. The Culture Lab is the interdisciplinary base of students and researchers working at the interface between computers and humans, and it forms the focus for digital and creative studies at the University.

Rachel Clarke: Digital Portraits

I chatted to PhD students Anja Theime, Rachel

Diana has a background in practical informatics. Her PhD work revolves around the development of objects to work in unison with ‘touch tables’, large-scale touch-controlled digital surfaces. Her ‘Touchbugs’ are bespoke devices, made in-house, which use vibration motors (like the one in your phone), infra-red LEDs and light sensors to find their way around the touch table environment. Her work explores the ways in which tangible, physical objects can be used in touch-screen computer settings; taking cues from human anatomy and psychology and pre-empting the importance interactive surface technologies like these will have in the future.

Clarke and Diana Nowacka as they prepared to attend the CHI conference (the ACM SIGCHI Conference of Human Factors in Computing Systems, to give it its full title) in Paris, where all three presented projects which use technology to explore, assist in, or even pre-empt societal issues.

Anja Thieme: Spheres of Wellbeing, Design for Mindfulness & Self

Anja has a background in applied cognition and media sciences. Her PhD research looks at how tangible, technological objects can become emotionally and personally meaningful to people. In a project which combines computing, clinical psychology and design, she has worked with women with complex mental health issues, developing activities and creating three different objects to supplement their existing therapy. An example object uses QR codes to trigger personally significant video content on flat screen displays embedded in personalised leather purses, helping to reinforce a sense of self and identity.


Rachel has a background in Contemporary Arts. Her PhD research investigates the role photography, and photo-sharing in particular, can play for people recovering from life disruption caused by domestic violence. Her work with a women’s charity in the region has involved developing workshops which explore storytelling techniques through digital media, and designing techniques and technologies to share photographs in a multi-sensory way. This has even involved designing a physical prototype ‘photo album’ technology, built specifically with the needs of the project users in mind, which can be controlled by a brooch worn by the owner.

Diana Nowacka: Touchbugs

It is difficult not to find the work and setting of the Culture Lab completely inspiring and forwardthinking. The large open-plan spaces, sitting artists and designers next to programmers and technicians, creates a dynamic and inherently multi-disciplinary working environment. Very few of the people based at the Culture Lab focus on a single, solo project, but take part in large numbers of collaborative endeavours with their colleagues from across the academic board. Many of us could learn something from this example: sharing academic ideas and problems freely, and working between disciplines from the outset of a project to create something much bigger than its individual parts.

Touchbugs * Image: Diana Nowacka

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Lead Article Women in Science by Wendy Carr Science, engineering and technology are integral in all our lives; without them how would we progress as a country and drive our economy forward? In order to continue to do this we need to encourage the next generation to take up STEM subjects (Science, technology, engineering and mathematics). One of the main questions I always ask is “what does a scientist look like?” A stereotypical answer is often a man with grey hair in a white coat. Is this true? Have you ever thought about how many women there are in science, technology, engineering or mathematics careers? In 2010 analysis showed men are six times more likely to work in careers associated with STEM than women. What can we do to readdress this balance and highlight possibilities for women in STEM?

accompany them to STEM subjects and inspire the next generation to get involved in STEM. The series of presentations will all focus on different topics within science and engineering. While these events will be fun and informative, they also aim to be inspiring too, hoping to initiate a spark of interest that will spur young people, particularly girls, to become more involved in STEM.

Recently I had the chance to become involved

in an initiative at the Discovery museum, in the heart of Newcastle, to encourage young people, especially girls, into STEM. The event, entitled “Women in STEM”, aimed to highlight what women scientists do both in industry and in universitybased research careers. A series of training courses at the museum brought together women from different technical backgrounds. Each participant was asked to think about what led them to become involved in their chosen career. Personally, I have a need to find out exactly how things work and was inspired by James Watson, Francis Crick, Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin’s discovery of the molecular structure of DNA. “Women in STEM” participants were also asked to think how they could make their fields of research into the topic of a public engagement event. The event, which is currently running at the Discovery museum and continues until September 2013, is called ‘Meet the Scientist’. It aims to introduce children, young people and the adults who

First ever photo of DNA taken by Rosalind Franklin in 1953

Additionally, the Women in STEM event links nicely with “Trailblazers – Women in Science” also held at the Discovery Museum. The Trailblazers event celebrates the achievements of women who are notable for major contributions in STEM. This does not just apply to past achievements but also to advances women are making today. The event, in collaboration with the National Portrait Gallery, displays images of inspirational women including Dorothy Hodgkin, Jane Goodall and Rosalind Franklin. I strongly encourage you to find the time to visit the Trailblazers event and even get involved with Meet the Scientist. Remember that the next time someone asks “what does a scientist look like?” the answer is: like me!

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NCL Research Deep Sea Sediments: Archives of Past Global Changes by Charlotte Spencer-Jones The amount of carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) in the atmosphere has recently been measured at 400 ppm, this is the highest in 3 million years and the highest our species has ever experienced. The increases in greenhouse gases (such as carbon dioxide and methane) that are being observed today are a result of human activity and this may be having an impact on climate. Surface temperatures over land have increased by ~0.27ยบC over the past two decades and it is thought that this increase in temperature is due to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. While Earth has undergone warm and cold phases in the past (interglacials and glacials), the current rate of warming is much faster than humans have ever experienced. Biogeochemical cycles (the turnover of an important substance like carbon, nitrogen and oxygen) are linked to climate feedback mechanisms, whereby changes in biogeochemical cycling are observed during a warming climate which in turn act to further promote climate change. With this in mind, it would be beneficial to know what effect variations in climate may have on the carbon cycle. To do this, we would need a record of carbon cycle activity and a temperature record. Instrumental records of these cycles do not extend far back enough in time to fully understand these processes. However, temperature and carbon cycle records are preserved in deep sea sediments and it is from these archives we can try to understand climate change.


IODP and Me I am currently doing my PhD in the Civil

Engineering and Geosciences department and I study how the carbon cycle has changed over the past 2.2 million years. I do this by examining deep sea sediment cores and analysing them for specific compounds that relate to discrete processes within the carbon cycle, particularly the methane cycle. Luckily I do not have to worry

Riserless Vessel: JOIDES Resolution

about drilling the deep sea sediment cores myself as vast archives of material have been compiled during the past 45 years. Some of this material is stored at the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) core repository in Bremen (Germany) and last month I made my first visit there to collect sediments recovered from the Congo fan. IODP is a legacy program of the Ocean Drilling Program (ODP 1985-2003) and the Deep Sea Drilling

Different drilling capabilities

* Images:

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Program (DSDP 1968-1983). The huge IODP repository is just one of three, with the other two located in College station (US) and Kochi (Japan). Bremen core repository is the largest and houses around 10,000 cores from the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans and the Mediterranean Sea. This is enough material to stretch from where I am sitting in Newcastle to the University of York if we placed each core end to end.

So, what is the benefit of collecting huge amounts of sediment from the world’s oceans? The world’s oceans represent an important component of Earth’s climate cycle. Oceans store a large amount of heat and are sinks for climatically active gases such as methane and carbon dioxide. Variations in oceanic temperature will have an impact on marine biogeochemical cycles and changes in oceanic circulation can impact on continental climate causing variations in precipitation and organic carbon transport to the oceans. Therefore, the sediment cores stored at the IODP repositories represent a huge archive of data about past earth climate cycles that is waiting to be interpreted. Continuous marine deposits can extend back in time tens of millions of years, the oldest core so far recovered was in the West Pacific ocean and dates back 170 million years. But what tools do we have to interpret these archives? We could look at the organisms that lived in the environment we are interested in, however these organisms are usually dead by the time we can look at these sediment cores, so instead we look at the parts of these organisms that are still around (a biomarker).

to generate energy. This process is known as aerobic methane oxidation (AMO) and may be an important component of the carbon cycle and a sink for methane.

CH4 + 2O2  CO2 + 2H2O Some aerobic methanotrophs produce characteristic cell membrane components, amino bacteriohopanepolyols (aminoBHPs), which are preserved in ancient marine sediments and can be used to trace the occurrence of AMO in the past. Previous work on the Congo deep sea core I am studying has found high concentrations of aminoBHPs. What is interesting about this is that AMO is now considered a minor process in modern soils and sediments, but perhaps AMO was a more important process in the past. Understanding and characterising methane sources and sinks is important in our understanding of future climate change. By fully exploring all components of the carbon cycle we may be able to further strengthen our climate models which can be used to better equip us to estimate future climate change. For further information about IODP expeditions, opportunities and resources visit

Understanding past carbon cycling: Bacteriohopanepolyols Aerobic methanotrophs are bacteria that oxidise methane into carbon dioxide and water under the presence of oxygen (see equation below) in order IODP cores * Illustration by Hannah Scully

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NCL Research Exploring the Unknown: Design Of Experiments (DOE) by Ruth Rowland-Jones As scientists we question everything; our surroundings, our work, ourselves. As a result we are constantly investigating and exploring unknowns, applying logic to an array of issues. Being taught scientific skills from a young age we learn to plan and evaluate investigations. It is almost built into our system – what is the aim of the experiment? What are our initial theories? How can we go about this in a logical and systematic way? We apply logic to our plan, so that we ensure our approach is as effective as possible. One statistical tool, known as Design of Experiments (DOE), attempts to resolve issues of ‘Quality by Design’, an initiative brought about by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), where rather than proving product quality by end-of-process testing, the quality is built into the design. Common methods of experimentation involve

identifying these key factors to which a series of One-Variable-At-a-Time experiments are applied. This approach will probably be very familiar to you, for example, you identify temperature, pH and time as key variables. You then vary one of the three variables, keeping the other two constant. Having completed this, you then continue by testing one of the other variables and so on. However, this type of experimentation is limited as it doesn’t detect interactions between the variables. DOE allows for controlled changes to the key variables in order to see which factors influence the output. DOE investigates multiple factors systematically and at the same time, ensuring that key factors are not only identified but the best combination of these factors is also determined. These interactions are better understood when visualised. Imagine a set of goal posts (see illustration on following page). You’re standing in front of the goal waiting to take the penalty kick.

If we weren’t to look at the interactions, then we might only consider the ball travelling straight ahead, left or right along the ground. However, we can also add further dimensions: the height of the goal, the depth of the goal, wind speed, the distance from the goal to where you are standing and the kicker themselves. Considering how each of these factors interact gives us a “design shape”. What makes this so crucial is that we achieve a much fuller understanding of what is going on. This is particularly important when scaling up processes, such as pharmaceutical manufacturing. By carrying out DOE, we have considered a variety of key interactions which may not have been considered otherwise, giving an element of flexibility. For example, in a more traditional design you may have measured temperatures of 10°C, 27°C and 35°C, and found the optimum temperature for the process to be 27°C. However, during production of one batch at the process scale the temperature deviates from the set 27°C and as this hasn’t been considered during development, the batch may need to be thrown away. If DOE had been applied, it may have been found that this deviation won’t affect your end product therefore the process could have continued. This is greatly simplified but it gives you an idea that not only does DOE help apply logic to your process, it also gives a fuller understanding of the process and introduces flexibility in the operation. There are several different types of DOE designs. Which design you choose is dependent on the objectives of the experiment and the number of factors tested. DOE can be applied to screening studies where it is used to determine which factors have an effect on a specific response and how they are having this effect. Optimisation is another application where the purpose is to identify the combination of different factors that gives the best output, for example, concentration of the final product. Finally another design, known as “Response Surface Modelling”, may be used and has a number of applications. These include, reaching a specific target, such as obtaining the same product concentration quicker than previously, minimising or maximising a response and making the process more robust.

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The way in which you can then analyse your results involves the use of ‘Analysis of Variance’ (ANOVA) which allows you to remove the insignificant interactions – but that’s a topic for another day. This feature gives only a glimmer of the potential in how helpful DOE can be and where it might be applied. So next time you start planning an experiment, why stop at one variable? Incorporate quality into your design. I am no statistician and I managed.

In this experiment, shots are made on the goal with the player aiming at specific points. For example, the first shot is aimed at the horizontal and vertical centrepoint * Diagrams by Elspeth Ritchie

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NCL Research The Brain: The Final Frontier by Lizzie Gemmell “The brain is a world consisting of a number of unexplored continents and great stretches of unknown territory.” - Santiago Ramón y Cajal, father of modern neuroscience (1906) It’s hard to believe that the lump of wrinkly tissue between our ears is responsible for everything that makes us, us. How does that tangled forest of cells produce such incredible, intangible phenomena like consciousness, memories and emotions? Currently, we still don’t really know; understanding the brain is proving to be one of the greatest scientific challenges of our time. Latest estimates suggest the brain contains

around 86 billion neurons, specialized tree-like cells which communicate with each other through connections called synapses. Each neuron can contact tens of thousands of other neurons, resulting in trillions of synapses connecting millions of miles of neurons. It’s this complex network of connections (our ‘connectome’) that holds the key to the brain’s function, and paradoxically has also had us stumped for so long.

Mapping the brain: ‘Connectomics’ Find out more The Human Connectome Project aims to create a detailed 3D map of all major neuronal connections in the brain. It’s the first large-scale attempt of its kind and involves scanning 1200 people’s brains with high-resolution imaging techniques. Diffusion tensor MRI (DT-MRI or DTI) detects subtle differences in the movement of water molecules in the brain; contrasting the restricted diffusion of water molecules inside neuronal connections (white matter tracts) with more freely moving water molecules outside tracts. This information is then transformed into stunning multi-coloured maps of the fibrous connections, sometimes described as ‘information highways’ traversing the brain. You may even recognize one of their images from the cover of Muse’s latest album!

However, recent advances in science and technology have enabled the development of new techniques which can accurately visualize and trace connections in the brain. There’s a lot of excitement about this research as it’s hoped that understanding how the brain is wired will help us decipher how the brain works. However, actually mapping such a complex network is an ambitious aim, given that the connectome contains a million times more connections than the genome has letters. Undeterred by the scale of the challenge, several pioneering projects are already making exciting progress using a variety of innovative techniques. This research is helping to fundamentally change the way we think about the brain; no longer as discrete lobes performing individual tasks, but as a unified network of highly interconnected regions working in perfect synchrony a bit like musicians in an orchestra.


“Play a game today, advance the neuroscience of tomorrow” Join in the game at Researchers in Sebastian Seung’s Lab at MIT have developed an online game to help discover new types of retinal neurons and their connections.

* Images:

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‘Eyewire’ involves tracing individual neurons from a series of 2D images which are then used to create detailed 3D reconstructions. This technique is so powerful that it can detect individual synapses between neurons just 30 nanometres apart. Since EyeWire was launched in December 2012, an army of over 60,000 ‘citizen neuroscientists’ around the world have spent around 500 hours per day mapping EyeWire’s neurons! This is an impressive demonstration of the power of crowd-sourced data analysis and hints at a promising future for ‘citizen scientist’ research.

in the US. Both aim to accelerate progress through the development of innovative techniques to map and model the functional connections of the brain, right down to the level of individual neurons.

See-through mind ‘CLARITY’ is an exciting new treatment which will allow researchers to literally see how the brain is wired. Researchers at Stanford University developed and successfully used CLARITY to turn mouse brains completely transparent, and are now in the process of applying it to an entire human brain. Although this can’t be used in live brains, the great thing about this technique is that the tissue can then be stained to view neurons under a microscope using conventional techniques. Check out some amazing see-through brains here http://

The future of brain mapping As this field is still in its infancy the techniques used today will require considerable development before they can reach their ultimate goals. However, in the last few months two major longterm initiatives were launched to support brain mapping research; The Human Brain Project (an EC Future and Emerging Technologies Flagship project) and the BRAIN Initiative (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies)

The wide-ranging implications of this research promise an exciting future for brain mapping. Understanding how the brain works will not only help us answer fundamental questions about the mind, but will also provide the ultimate tool for investigating how brain disorders are understood and treated. It’s hoped that discoveries about the circuitry of the brain will even inspire the development of new supercomputing systems and intelligent robots. Find out more about the BRAIN Initiative: and The Human Brain Project:

* Illustration by Hannah Scully

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NCL Uni Science Extraterrestrial Weather by Thomas Lundy Despite being carried out over thousands of years, meteorological research has maintained a common theme: it’s all been focussed on the atmosphere here on Earth. This, however, is beginning to change. The interdisciplinary study of our planet’s

atmosphere and climate, termed meteorology, has been a vital part of human life for millennia. Whilst first discussed in ancient Indian texts around 3000 BC, modern meteorology finds its roots in Ancient Greece, where renowned philosophers, physicians and physicists such as Aristotle, Thales and Archimedes all contributed to theories and practices most of which are still upheld today. The applications of meteorology are as vital as they are numerous, with weather forecasting, air traffic management, agriculture and even military operations all dependant on information provided by Earth’s atmospheric processes.

Curiosity rover, NASA’s car-sized robotic vehicle exploring the surface of Mars, works in tandem with the satellite “Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter” (MRO) to track the evolution of dust storms on both a local and regional level. This allows NASA to link atmospheric changes detected by Curiosity on the surface to climatic events observed by the MRO. In this case, NASA is attempting to observe what factor is the trigger for a regional sized dust storm to grow into a global scale dust haze which swallows the entire planet, thickening the atmosphere and causing a drop in surface temperature.

HD189733b exoplanet

Mars polar cap

Exo-meteorology is the study of other planets’ atmospheres, both inside of our Solar System and out. By peering into the atmospheres of the (relatively) nearby planets in the Solar System, scientists have observed climatic events which could not be seen on Earth. With a diverse range of atmospheres to choose from, there is an abundance of interesting weather to see in our solar system, ranging from large, seasonal dust storms on Mars, to the astronomically huge weather systems and mega-storms of Saturn and Jupiter. As technology improves, so does the quality and depth of exo-meteorological research. The Mars


When it comes to observing the extremely distant gas-giants Jupiter and Saturn however, gaining surface data isn’t possible. Large, high power telescopes are needed to observe meteorological changes on these planets. The Hubble Space Telescope, for instance, has been used to monitor how quickly the weather changes on Jupiter. But Jupiter isn’t the limit of exo-meteorologists’ interest. The Hubble Telescope has recently been used by a team at the Institut d’Astrophysique de Paris to monitor meteorological changes on the exoplanet (a planet outside the Solar System) “HD 189733b”, which is around 600,000 billion km away. With the ability to observe planets so far away, there is significant potential impact of this form of research; Exo-meteorology may eventually be how the first signs of extra-terrestrial life are detected. By monitoring the atmospheric composition of exoplanets, scientists can look for hints that life may be present there, for instance organic signatures in the atmosphere – or even elevated levels of CO2, a possible characteristic of a full scale industrial-age civilisation.

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NCL Uni Science One Extreme to Another by James Simpson Believe it or not, everything we look at has the ability to support life. The world is made up of millions of different and unique ecosystems all able to support a vast range of life.

enzyme which is crucial to DNA replication. One variant was isolated from a thermophile known as Thermus aquaticus and is now routinely used in the laboratory. This is possibly the biggest research breakthrough in the last 40 years.

We think of life and automatically associate it with the large and prolific. Humans, lions, elephants and blue whales are all stunning creatures. However there are things out there much more incredible, both in complexity and in their ability to survive. An example is the extremophiles.

These organisms can survive the harshest of conditions and are so tiny that many are microscopic. They live where nothing else can, and they do it brilliantly. From the deepest thermal sea vent to the coldest permafrost, you will find them. They come in many different forms including, but not exclusive to, those which can withstand extremes of: temperature; salinity; pH; pressure; radiation and chemical exposure. The appearance and function of extremophiles vary as much as we do. The vast biodiversity which they exert remains very much unknown as they are still being discovered. It must be noted though that their appearance and function is often directly related to the extreme environment in which they live. For example, hyperthermophiles live in environments of extremely high temperatures such as in the hot springs found in Yellowstone National Park, U.S.A. They contain high levels of fatty acids in their cell membranes to ensure they do not become degraded under extreme temperatures. They also contain enzymes that are stable and therefore can function at high temperatures. These evolutionary adaptations ensure they continue to survive even in the harshest of conditions. They are not just amazing organisms with a neat ability to survive: They perform some vital functions and can be manipulated for human use.

Grand prismatic spring Yellowstone thermal feature

Even if you weren’t aware of extremophiles they are very much aware of you. Well at least some of them, because they’re living inside you as you read this. Now, however unnerving you find that, without them, digestion would be near impossible. Known as acidophiles, they live in your stomach which is extremely acidic due to all those digestive juices. One particular type is called Lactobacillus acidophilus which is available as a supplement to aid digestion. What’s more, astrobiologists believe extremophiles are our most promising chance of finding life on other planets! With their ability to survive in nonconventional environments, it’s thought they could live without a stable atmosphere, and even without oxygen. These extremophiles probably hold the secret to life on other planets. This could be an exciting new field of research which may have a breakthrough in the next half century. So the next time you see a desolated place or abandoned nuclear site and you think that nothing could possibly exist there, then spare a thought for the extremophiles. After all, their sheer ability to survive in any conditions means they are going to be here a lot longer than we will be!

You only have to ask a Biologist about DNA polymerase and their eyes will light up. This is an

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"Ladies and gentlemen, Voyager has left the system" Or has it? As we discover more about the universe, we push back not only the metaphorical

boundaries of knowledge but the physical boundaries, as seen by NASA declaring a newly discovered region of space part of our solar system. Two spacecraft are at the heart of this redefining of frontiers: Voyager 1 and Voyager 2. In 1977, the twin spacecraft were launched by NASA to conduct close up studies of Jupiter, Saturn, and the moons of both planets. Both Voyagers did so well that NASA decided to just keep going. While originally built to last a mere five years, the spacecraft have gone on to spend nearly forty years moving ever further out into the unknown. Stellar Winds Particles flowing from the upper atmosphere of a star at high speed, which can be neutral or charged. Solar Winds Stellar winds specifically from the Sun. Solar winds cause the Aurora Borealis as well as geomagnetic storms, which can knock out power grids. Interstellar Medium Space isn’t completely empty. Interstellar medium is the matter that exists in the spaces between stars. While mostly composed of gases in different states, it’s also thought to be about 1% dust by mass. Astronomical Units 1 AU = 15.813×10−6 light years = 149.60×106 kilometres = 92.956×106 miles


Voyager 1 Launched: 05 September 1977 Began trip out of Solar System: 12 November 1980 Voyager 2 Launched: 20 August 1977 Began trip out of Solar System: 25 August 1989

3 2

Heliosheath The region of the heliosphere beyond the termination shock.

Termination Shock Voyager 1: 15 December 2004 Voyager 2: 05 September 2007 Distance from Sun: 75 to 90 AU What is it? The point in the heliosphere where solar wind speed drops to below the speed of sound. This slowdown is caused by interactions with interstellar medium.


* Illustration by Robyn Nevison

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What Else is Out There?

According to NASA, the Voyagers should operate until 2020 at least. By that time, it’s thought that Voyager 1 will be 19.9 billion KM from the Sun and Voyager 2 16.9 billion KM away. After the power runs out, the Voyagers will continue to drift across space.

New Galaxies

The solar system is part of the Milky Way, but it’s not the only galaxy out there. In fact, more are being discovered each year. On March 19th 2013, it was announced that UGC 09555, a galaxy approximately 750 million light years away from us, was discovered using a radio telescope called LOFAR (LOw Frequency ARray) in the Netherlands.


LOFAR isn’t just a single installation. Additional sites are planned to give a total of over 5000 antennas, spread across Europe. One site currently in operation is in Chilbolton, England. Opened in 2010, research at the site in is overseen by LOFAR-UK, an organization made up of 22 universities (including Newcastle University) and two non-university organizations, Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and the UK Astronomy Technology Centre.


5 4

Magnetic Highway The newly discovered area of space outside of the heliosphere but still part of the solar system. Particles move according to interstellar magnetic field lines, which allow particles from the heliosphere out of the heliosphere and particles from interstellar space in.

Heliosphere A region of space dominated by Earth’s sun and surrounding the solar system. It includes the termination shock, the heliosheath, and the heliopause.

Heliopause Voyager 1: 25 August 2012 Voyager 2: Not Yet Distance from Sun: 80 to 100 AU What is it? The theoretical boundary where the solar winds are stopped by interstellar medium and the end of the heliosheath.

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Issue Theme Microbiology: Has it Passed its Golden Age? by Nicole Ong Anyone looking back at the history of Microbiology would have noticed that the discoveries made in this field are slowly declining. With textbooks and articles still referring to the mid-18th century and the early 19th century as the Golden Age of Microbiology, one has to wonder if the Golden Age of Microbiology has really passed. To answer this question, we would have to

start from the 17th century where it all began. Robert Hooke, an English scientist, is the person who started it all. A pioneer in microscopy, he developed the first microscope and published his observations in the illustrated book Micrographia. This is the first time we got a glimpse of a completely new and different world - the microbial world. Anton von Leeuwenhoek, a Dutch scientist, succeeded in building a microscope of a higher power and resolution than his colleague which led him to the discovery of bacteria. If we were to analyze his drawings of microorganisms, we would be able to recognize some, e.g. the rod shape bacteria. After his death, the progress in this field waned as scientists lacked the tools to study microorganisms. Also, the belief that microorganisms did not play a role in our lives restricted further progress. Fortunately, this belief was eradicated after Louis Pasteur’s success in disputing the theory of spontaneous generation; the belief that living organisms can somehow be produced by nonliving matter. He proved this with an experiment involving swan-neck flasks (Pasteur flask) showing that exposure of sterile solutions to air resulted in contamination with microorganisms whereas the solution remained sterile indefinitely if it was not exposed to air. This led to the development of the germ theory of disease, which states that a specific disease is caused by a specific microorganism. Pasteur was however unable to prove this theory as he failed to obtain a pure bacterial culture. The theory was later proven by Robert Koch, and his procedures became known as Koch’s postulates. He used mice as experimental models and injected them with


Bacillus anthracis. He then took the blood of the diseased mice and injected it into a healthy mouse causing it to develop anthrax and thus proving Pasteur’s theory. In the beginning of the twentieth century, the field of microbiology reached a new milestone with the discovery of penicillin. This was an accidental discovery made by Alexander Fleming when one of his petri dishes containing a pathogenic bacterium, Staphylococcus aureus, was contaminated by mould (later identified as Penicillium) and the bacteria did not grow in the vicinity of the mould. Although discovered by Fleming, it was Howard Florey and Ernst Chain who succeeded in purifying Penicillin and converting it into a drug.

A SIM fluorescence microscope

Yet another milestone was reached when the structure of DNA was discovered by James Watson and Francis Crick. This discovery not only identified DNA as the genetic information store, but also led Crick to propose the central dogma which states that information is transmitted from DNA and RNA to proteins. It also paved the way for Francois Jacobs and Jaques Monod to discover the lac operon (a stretch of DNA which switches genes on and off, depending on a cell’s need), which affected our concept of genes and suggested that, in addition to structural genes there are also regulatory genes. From the age old Gram staining method of distinguishing the two different groups of Gram positive and Gram negative bacteria to more

* Images: Nicole Ong

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recent techniques such as immunofluorescence and green fluorescence protein (GFP) tagging, one could say that research in the 21st century in the field of microbiology has advanced tremendously with the current technologies. Immunofluorescence in particular, has high specificity as it only detects specific cell components with a fluorescence antibody whereas green fluorescence protein (GFP) tagging works by genetically manipulating

Another progress worth mentioning is genome sequencing. This transformed the field of microbiology as time consuming mapping or cloning was no longer needed and vast information could be obtained from bacterial genetics. Bacterial DNA sequencing made research work easier for scientists and allowed results to be produced and examined more accurately and at a faster pace. Furthermore, this method could also be used to study highly intractable organisms. Last but not least, the arrival of biotechnology can also be said to have started a new era in Microbiology. Biotechnology simply means technology based on the properties and actions of living organisms. This technique was first used by Stanley Cohen and Herbert Boyer for large scale production of insulin by Escheria coli bacteria which has since then benefited millions around the world. Now it is simply used in most aspects of our lives, e.g. health and food, as we manipulate organisms for our benefit in medicine, agriculture and much more. In addition, we could also use biotechnology to design and build organisms from scratch.

An example of fluroescence

the cell being investigated so that it can fuse with the gene encoding GFP. This method is a powerful tool in demonstrating the localization of the fusion protein and enables us to understand its function and roles in more depth. Moreover, there are now a range of color variants which enabled us to visualize different proteins simultaneously, which also introduce us to new tools such as the fluorescence microscope. With these advanced tools and methods scientists have been able to observe microorganisms more clearly, which has made it possible for them to dispute previous speculation regarding the components and cells in the microorganisms.

With the ever advancing technology and new techniques being introduced, whoever said that the Golden Age of Microbiology has passed should definitely take a step back and reconsider their thoughts, as The New Golden Age of Microbiology has just begun.

Focus Knob


Sample Holder

Leeuwenhoek Microscope

Sample Translator

Leeuwenhoek microscope (17th century) One of the earliest microscopes used to view microorganisms * Image: Diagram:

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Issue Theme Atlantis: Fact or just an Old Fish Tale? by Mahum Butt The concept of Atlantis is a well-known legend to the majority of the public: a utopian empire that angered the gods and was destroyed overnight through a series of floods. In general, that’s not so unbelievable; we have seen natural disasters on a similar scale with civilisations such as Pompeii. However, over time, it has become harder and harder to prove that Atlantis was a true civilisation lost at sea and not just a concept blown out of proportion. Don’t count it out completely though; there is

evidence to suggest that rectangular structures and concentric circles found in Spain and Ireland match our earliest recorded descriptions of the Atlantian palaces. Atlantis was first mentioned by Plato over 2,000 years ago in his dialogues “Timaeus” and Critias”, which was claimed to be based on facts that were passed down by poets throughout history. But there hasn’t been any evidence dated earlier than this that can be traced back to Atlantis; nor has there been any true physical evidence of its existence. Rather, it is possible that Atlantis was a concept drawn from a combination of several places. In 1973, the U.S. Navy had been reported to have ‘found’ the sunken empire 19 miles off the coast of Spain – though, we know now that all they really found was underwater evidence of roads and large columns, some with concentric spiral motifs. Interestingly, the geographic description of Atlantis matches that of an island that is still standing today – Ireland. It is 300 miles long, 200 miles wide, and features a central plain that is open to the sea: just as Atlantis was believed to be.


Discovering underwater evidence of past civilisations is not as unusual as you might initially think. Sea levels have varied significantly throughout the evolution of human civilisation and artefacts have been found on the ocean bottoms from the Bahamas to the coasts of Europe and Africa. If we take all these findings and place them on a map, it’s safe to say that there are some missing civilisations that supposedly stretched across the borders of the North Atlantic Ocean, referencing to the vast size of the ‘lost’ settlements. Perhaps some aspects of Atlantis were real? But, even if we were able to prove that, how did mythical creatures such as mermaids get drawn into the story? It is now frequently claimed that stories of mermaids were believed to have originated from the Spanish explorers of the New World, but later found to be sightings of manatees. Considering that their front flippers vaguely resemble arms, and their method of breast-feeding their young is somewhat human-like, this may be plausible and these are often the most emphasised aspects of the mythical creature.

Though its existence is still questionable, there is definitely evidence suggesting that parts of sunken, little-known civilisations exist beneath the sea. Mermaids, however? Maybe not.

* Illustration by Hannah Scully

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Issue Theme No More Blank Spots on the Map by Gesa Junge The last century has seen many scientific breakthroughs: in 1905 Einstein published his theory of special relativity, and in 1913 Niels Bohr developed his model of the atom. Edwin Hubble was the first to prove that the universe is expanding, and Watson and Crick’s discovery of the helical structure of DNA forms the basis of today’s molecular biology. Explorations to the most extreme regions

of the planet have also been made: In 1953 Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary climbed Mount Everest. Seven years later, Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard descended to the deepest point in the world’s ocean, the Mariana Trench. Nine years after that, in 1969, NASA’s Apollo 11 mission landed the first three people on the moon.

All this does beg the question: What is left to discover?

In 2000, Time Magazine published an email conversation between the two science journalists John Horgan and Paul Hoffman. Horgan had recently published a book entitled The End of Science, advocating the idea that science has run its course and any discoveries left would be smallscale compared to its grand past. This exchange occurred 13 years ago, and in that time alone the human genome project was completed, the Higgs boson was discovered and the first ever synthetic bacterial cell was made in the laboratories of the J. Craig Venter Institute. There are many remaining unsolved mysteries, unanswered questions and unexplained observations. Physicists are still puzzled by issue of dark matter. This phenomenon was first described in 1933 by astronomer Fritz Zwicky, who realised that the estimated mass of the Coma galaxy cluster is not enough to account for its gravitational effects. Bruce Margon, chair of the astronomy department of the University of Washington, summarises this beautifully: “We can’t find 90% of the universe”. Even though this theory

is widely accepted, it was not until last month that NASA scientists announced they may have been able to detect traces of dark matter on the International Space Station (ISS). We still have time travel, teleporting and the chicken-or-egg question to work on, and maybe today’s science fiction may actually be tomorrow’s scientific fact. In his book ‘In The Year 2889’, Jules Verne described the phonotelephote, which facilitates “transmission of images by means of sensitive mirrors connected by wires” – nowadays better known as Skype! Lines between science fiction and science fact are becoming increasingly blurred. Perhaps the whole matter is subjective and we are taking progress for granted. The first one to achieve a defined goal gets all the recognition, leaving none for the second. Mount Everest has not gotten any smaller since 1953, but very few of the other 5000 plus climbers who reached the summit since have gotten particularly famous. So, do we know all there is to know about life, the universe and everything? Well, no. The statement that ‘scientific discoveries have reached their limit’ itself is actually an oxymoron (because how could we possibly know what discoveries remain when they have not been made yet). Science is a self-correcting, self-revising process. Theories are constantly disproved and expanded, and there will always be another aspect to study and a new theory to test.

* Illustration by Robyn Nevison

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Issue Theme Nanotechnology: Changing How We Fight Disease by Verity Mitchell Nanotechnology is a science concerning substances on a molecular level, i.e. on a scale of 1-100 nanometres (nm). To put this size into perspective, a human hair is about 80,000 nm wide and a millimetre is the same as 1,000,000 nm. QuantuMDx is a recently founded company based in Times Square, Newcastle whose aim is to develop relatively cheap and quick devices, which could potentially revolutionise how DNA sequencing is used in medicine. QuantuMDx have purchased worldwide patents for the nanostructures used for DNA sequencing and detecting genetic biomarkers, which have allowed them to develop two key products, one of which may be released this year: the Q-POC and the Q-SEC. The Q-POC The Q-POC has a system of nanotubes, which allows DNA to be exponentially replicated by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) in a fraction of the time it would take in a traditional lab setting. Specific sequences of DNA can then be detected using a 30 nm nanowire biosensor allowing the diagnosis of diseases such as TB, HIV, malaria, STI’s and cardiovascular disease in less than 15 minutes. As this device is portable, a diagnosis could be reached while a doctor is with a patient, allowing a more specific treatment plan to be implemented immediately, instead of waiting several days whilst a sample is processed in a lab. As the device is cheap, (tests using Q-POC only cost

about 5% of the price of methods currently in use), it can be used in third world countries where this level of diagnostics is not currently available.

The Q-SEC Improving Treatment Plans By reading long and short sequences of DNA using different arrangements of nanowires, Q-SEQ can partially sequence the genome. Depending on their genetic background, individuals respond differently to different drugs. Upon detection of specific genetic biomarkers using Q-SEQ, doctors will be able to tailor treatments to their patients. As a result, patients will be able to receive the most effective medication for their condition straightaway. A quicker and more effective treatment plan will be more beneficial for both patients and healthcare providers.

Fighting Antibiotic Resistance In recent years, an increasing number of pathogenic bacteria strains have become resistant to antibiotics at a rate where drug companies cannot keep up with developing new ones. In the example of TB, there is currently no easy way to quickly identify which antibiotics a strain is resistant to. Q-SEC will change this, as nanotechnology has been used to make a small portable device which can be used by doctors to test for resistance while they are with the patient. This means an effective antibiotic can be used and the infection treated in its early stages and resistance avoided.

The Future of Nanotechnology These are just a few examples of recent developments in Nanotechnology at Newcastle. It is a rapidly developing area of science with many innovative companies getting involved. Nanotechnology has the potential to revolutionise many of the day to day things we currently take for granted. To find out more about QuantuMDx go to:

The Q-POC device


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Issue Theme Making Waves by Ben Dannatt & Andy Tait We all know where oil comes from: imposing offshore rigs, plunging to the depths of our oceans. To meet the demand, we have to drill deeper, pump faster and reach the previously unreachable. Now controversial ‘fracking’ puts us on a collision course with the centre of the earth in our appetite for fuel. Reaching these untapped reserves has required significant innovation in engineering and natural sciences, but a further change in innovation is required for the final step: Where do we go when the oil runs out? Instead of scouring the deep, the answer might lie at the surface! Research in the field of biofuels has been gaining momentum for the past twenty years. Biofuels can be grown from crops on land or at sea. A diverse range of molecules, which could be used as fuels, is achievable from a plethora of raw materials. In recent years, microalgae-derived biofuel has emerged as a front-runner; uniquely suited to intensify both cultivation and fuel production. Modern efforts with microalgae have involved collaboration between engineers and biotechnologists to produce optimised and genetically modified species capable of pushing the boundaries of nature: microscopic factories absorbing sunlight and nutrients, delivering precious renewable oil. This collaborative effort continues. For instance, fermentation of biomass (organic matter from plants and microorganisms) to produce bioethanol is the ‘bread and butter’ of chemical engineering and biotechnology. Optimisation and

modification of fungi and bacteria is a cutthroat business, and patent wars are already seen in the biopharmaceutical industry.

The scene is set and the race is on! The goal: to produce a low cost, sustainable, liquid fuel usable in existing, unmodified engines. It is evident the solution will come from a multidisciplinary effort; engineering and biotechnology must be married with catalyst chemistry, life cycle sustainability and economic viability, all on a background of rigorous standards compliance. This multidisciplinary way of thinking is not yet the norm and is not promoted to the young scientists and innovators of tomorrow. Researchers at Newcastle University are striving to change that. The British Science Festival is returning to Newcastle for the seventh time in September 2013 and this year the theme is ’Making Waves‘. A team of chemical and mechanical engineers along with biotechnologists and chemists at the Biopharmaceutical Bioprocessing Technology Centre (BBTC) are hoping to be making waves this year with their Fuelling Change workshop. School children from around the country are invited to attend this hands-on session where they will be given the chance to consider some of the decisions faced in the industry, learning a vital lesson that collaboration between the sciences is needed to achieve the optimum solution. Kids will be challenged to design, build and race their very own boat running on biofuel - will they sail through on budget and in time? Climb aboard and see for yourself! You can get up-to-date information about the fuelling change workshop online at: Where will we go when the oil runs out? No one knows for certain, but that’s the point: no ONE person or discipline has the answer. Working together will allow young, inspired scientists to find out.

* Image: Fuelling Change logo

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Opinion Piece Science on the Box by Charlotte Bell We all love telly, but when it comes to science on the box, where do we stand? Sometimes there is a misconception of scientists being locked away in labs, experimenting with bizarre chemicals. What science on the box is successfully doing is educating the audience about where this science is applied, the ins and outs of everyday things and the fact that there’s science behind everything. In the late 90’s when Jana Bennett, Head of BBC Science, wrote about science on television, she listed several reasons for science items in programmes being likely to fail and likely to succeed. Asking a group of 40 people (16 nonscientists and 24 scientists) about their science viewing preferences has shed light on science on the box and challenged Bennett’s Ideas.

Bennett’s reasons for failure included: no relevance to everyday life, footage of boffins/machinery and viewers knowing nothing about the area. It seems that these reasons for failure have since become reasons for success with programmes such as Attenborough’s ‘Africa’, bearing very little relevance to everyday life, but providing captivating entertainment and nature education. One respondent found that Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” sparked their interest in the universe and 60% of survey respondents stated that one of the reasons they watch science programmes is to learn new things, so knowing nothing about the area is not always a turn off. As for footage of machinery, I’ve got to admit that I sometimes find myself zoning out watching “How it’s Made” It seems repetitive to me, but it’s onto a winner, with nearly 50% of respondents watching it, and one commenting that ‘they don’t let a presenter get in the way; while the explanations are simplified, it doesn’t feel as if I’m being talked down to’.

Bennett’s reasons for success included: presented simply without too much explanation of theoretical/technical background, uses Layman’s language and focusses on one clear issue. Presenting information simply should always make programmes more accessible to the wider nonscientific audience, however, it appears that a fine balance exists between use of Layman’s language and technical jargon, so as not to talk down to the audience. “Horizon” was praised by respondents for its ‘clear explanations of tricky issues in terms that enable non-scientists to comprehend’ but was described as ‘not too dumbed down’. As for focussing on one clear issue, many popular shows explore several topics per episode for example, “Bang Goes the Theory”, “Dara O’Briain’s Science Club” and “How it’s Made”. Another important factor affecting science on the box is the presenter. Attenborough, the stalwart of nature presenting tops the bill, with his straightforward language, great voice and classic style; ‘he has been presenting the longest, and listening to him only feels natural’. In contrast, Dara O’Briain’s alternative type of science presenting, with a comedy element, appeals to the audience, ‘combining entertainment and science’ whilst still putting across complex ideas. From 90’s popstar to Professor of Particle Physics, Brian Cox is all over our screens morphing from astronomy into nature. Some find him fake, some love him and describe him as ‘young, fun, and a little bit hot’. With 60% of respondents watching science programmes at least once a week, and 95% agreeing that the overall portrayal of science is neutral or positive, it appears that things are looking good with everyone continuing to learn something from watching science on the box!

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Opinion Piece Should Newcastle University Stop Investing in Fossil Fuels by Edward Byers Last month, Newcastle University Students’ Union passed a policy to call upon the University to divest from two large fossil fuel companies. The motion was brought forward after it was identified that past actions of both companies appeared to contravene the University’s Socially Responsible Investment Policy (SRIP). The University introduced the SRIP in 2011 and

published on the same webpage details of shares held in a variety of companies. “The University is committed to investing in a socially responsible manner” and the SRIP is an important first step towards this. In its current state the SRIP could be described as a passive policy, in such that the University is not actively investing in a socially responsible manner, neither has it called for a review of its current investments. The only current decision that it appears to have taken in this respect is to not invest in tobacco companies, a logical decision by a University with one of the best medical schools in the country. With the investment portfolio published annually for scrutiny by the University community, this will be the first time that the Executive Board (EB) meets to discuss a concern raised by the community through the Policy. Previously, the EB have met to discuss investments in arms companies, which prompted the drafting of the policy.

was contested; the discussion was both academic and philosophical, focusing mainly on the blame to be apportioned for the demand for oil and the impacts for the university. Quite a few questions remain unanswered… it would be great to know what you think!

• Must one consider their own use of

fossil fuels before calling on their wider community to do the same?

• Is it right to continue to research into

fossil fuels and accept funding from these companies, whilst having a policy in place that on moral grounds excludes profitable investment in these companies?

• How can one be a leader in sustainability when profiting from investments in industries that are widely regarded as unsustainable?

• If investing in a company is not linked to

winning research contracts, as should be the case, how might divesting from a company lose future research contracts?

• Whilst the previous activities of

companies are important, shouldn’t we be more concerned about future activities when looking at socially responsible investment?

The concerns in question relate mainly to ‘persistent environmental damage’ that has occurred in many places due to the actions of these companies, in some cases spanning decades and in others quite recently. A quick search will reveal hundreds of news articles on both cases, including peer-reviewed journal articles and reports by organisations including the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). More recently, the Executive Board met with the President of the Students’ Union and the motion proposers to debate the proposal and further courses of action. None of the evidence presented * Image:

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Science: Fiction Fiction? What Fiction? The Science Behind the Stories by Calum Kirk In 1864 Jules Verne wrote “Journey to the Centre of the Earth”, shortly followed by “From the Earth to the Moon”, and a decade later “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea”. At the time these works of fiction fired the public imagination, describing wondrous adventures in fantastical locations. Many of the underwater worlds described in “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” were based on expeditions conducted at the time; however, Verne’s descriptions of prehistoric flora and fauna surviving beneath the ground, an idea extrapolated from the ‘Hollow Earth’ hypothesis, were slightly less accurate.

have now become scientific reality. In fact, the line between the two has become thinner in the years following Jules Verne’s first publication. One area of research uniquely suited to the marriage of science and art is that of robotics, with the terms ‘robot’ and ‘robotics’ originating from literary fiction. For his play “R.U.R”, the playwright Karl Capek derived “robot” from the Slavic word ‘robota’, meaning labour; and in 1941 Isaac Asimov first used the term ‘robotics’ in his short story “Liar!” Asimov, a highly respected author and scientist, is perhaps the most prolific science fiction writer of all time, penning hundreds of short stories and novels. His Foundation Series of books

But even these improbable ideas have found some bearing in scientific reality in the century and a half since their initial publication. Rather than living examples, remains of organisms throughout the fossil record now give us a clearer, although still incomplete, picture of the biological history of our planet. And thanks to the robust theories developed by geologists we now understand the immense forces that bind together the various layers of solid rock and molten lava that form the composition of our planet. The field of undersea exploration is also one of constant discovery. International researchers position unmanned deep sea landers with recording equipment at deeper and deeper depths each year. Since 2012 there has been a flurry of activity. Despite the inherent danger associated with manned underwater research, several missions to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, a depth of 35,756 feet, were successfully made last March. Then in January of this year, scientists from the National Museum of Nature and Science in Japan managed, for the first time, to take live footage of a giant squid, famously included in Verne’s 1870 story. Of course frequent journeys to the moon have now also been made. Many other fantastical ideas once confined to the imagination


* Illustration by Robyn Nevison

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imagined a future where mankind colonised the galaxy, but subsequently threatened to undo its own success. But as famous as these stories are, Asimov’s legacy are his robot stories. Asimov wrote dozens of stories which, along with the term ‘robotics’, established his ‘Three Laws of Robotics’, fictional safeguards on robot behaviour. Many of his stories are concerned with the interaction between humans and robots, and chart the struggle to fully realize the importance of these organising principles. One story in particular, “Lenny”, describes a faulty and potentially dangerous robot still bound by the Three Laws, and Susan Calvin, a major character in many of Asimov’s robot stories, taking it upon herself to teach this robot “baby” how to identify humans and interact with its wider environment. This method of “teaching” robots has now become commonplace in the field of robotics. Programming by Demonstration, or PbD, is a quick and cost-effective method of programming a robot. Combined with an ability to generalise and identify small changes in a given situation, a robot can react more naturally to an environment. This makes it more able to cope with the vast number of individual variables present in even the “simplest” of settings such as a home or factory.

The last book published before his death, “Next” (2006), cut closest to the scientific bone. Different stories are woven together, each highlighting issues of genetic engineering and transgenics. The book asks big questions concerning the ethics and future of the science, especially when a link between big business and an individual’s own DNA has been formed. Since the publication of “Next”, genetic research has made some remarkable discoveries. Gene therapy, medical diagnosis, forensics and natural history have all developed and improved the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. But ethical questions still remain.

The playwright Karl Capek derived ‘robot’ from the Slavic word ‘robota’, meaning labour.

While his style has ensured their popularity, it is the science of Crichton’s stories that make them truly engaging. Testing the realms of possibility, “Timeline” explored the possibility of time travel, and “Prey” terrified with the near unstoppable dangers of perfected nanotechnology. And of course, “Jurassic Park” showed us how well we would fare if dinosaurs once again roamed the planet.

Robots are crude compared to those in Asimov’s stories, but recent work from the Georgia Institute of Technology may be able to give them an ability much like the one Asimov theorised in his story “Liar!”; the ability to lie. Researchers in the U.S.A. have started to programme robots with behaviour seen in birds and squirrels, allowing them to exploit resources for personal gain by lying to one another about the resource locations. Proposed for military purposes, strong ethical questions will have to be asked about the utility of such robots. Michael Crichton was another author who, thanks to his own scientific training, gave us fictional glimpses of the future. While he did not inspire whole fields of research as Asimov did, he did tackle big scientific questions in a relevant and thought-provoking way. As a result much of his work has been adapted and immortalised in popular culture. Thanks to Steven Speilberg’s 1993 film, “Jurassic Park” is probably his best known work, though his other work is often credited with sharing a similar sense of action and adventure.

The link between scientific research and literature has existed for centuries. In some cases literature holds a mirror up to science, ensuring that research challenges the bounds of credulity while ensuring the scientific community’s integrity remains intact. While literature enables us to look to the future, scientists lay the groundwork in order to make even the wildest of ideas a reality.

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Student Stories {React} at the Maker Faire by Verity Mitchell & Emad Ahmed Maker Faire UK was held at the Centre for Life in April, bringing together inventors and makers from across the UK and even further afield. The original Maker Faire was held in 2006 in California as an event to allow artists, engineers and designers to meet and discuss the beauty of taking a DIY approach to their work. Did the Faire inspire the {react} team to get creating? Verity Mitchell It was hard to know which stalls to visit first! I started my day at Genspace, a community biotechnology lab. They helped you to see what a bacterial imprint of your mouth would look like – which involved getting intimate with a petri dish! Everyone had the opportunity to return on the Sunday and see which bacteria had been living in their mouths. I then moved onto the electronics section, which is very new to me. Bare Conductive have combined art with electronics by creating conductive paint. It’s a great way for everybody, including young children, to learn about circuits by drawing them, as the paint is very safe. I certainly learned a lot! Finally I went to learn the future of toys, and just about any other objects you can think of! Makies, for example, are dolls designed completely by you

to look like someone you know, or potentially a mini-me. There truly was something for everyone at the Maker Faire, so next time it’s around get down there and be inspired.

Maker Faire Top 5 by Emad Ahmed: 1. Sculpteo - 3D Printing The 3D printing boom continues, with the technology becoming more advanced and cheaper, this could be something which revolutionises printing as we currently know it. Sculpteo customers just have to upload a 3D image file, have their object printed and wait for it to be delivered straight to their door 2. Genspace Genspace is a non-profit organisation which has started a community lab in New York City, allowing wider public access to biotechnology labs. 3. Roslin Institute The famous Roslin Institute, part of the University of Edinburgh, were showing off a new genome sequencing system. With advances similar in significance to those in the 3D printing industry, faster computer horsepower and wider availability is resulting in cheaper and more rapid DNA-based services being offered by private companies today. 4. Knitic Using an Arduino microcontroller as the hub, Knitic have created open-source software which allows for particular models of old Brother knitting machines to be connected to a computer via USB, bringing knitting straight into the 21st century. 5. Paper Heart Croat Gjino Šutić (aka Biotweaker) was able to produce a paper heart using bacteria. Weird! By using a paper-like product from bacterial growth, Gjino was able to then construct a model heart which can even carry out pumping functions.

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Puzzle Page 'Triple Trouble' Glasses Game by Doctor Maths Comic by Martha Snow Triple Trouble Glasses Game

Comic Strip

Challenge a friend to get all of the glasses upright, or the next round is on them! Place three glasses on a table:

The goal is to bring all three glasses to the inverted position in exactly three moves, by turning over two glasses at a time. You will find this is easy to do and there are a number of different ways you can do this.

Once you have succeeded, challenge your friend to invert these three glasses to the upright position so you can fill them with drink. The rules are the same, they have exactly three moves and can turn over any two glasses at a time. Try as they might, they will fail to do this, as it is impossible.

Turning over two glasses at a time changes the number of inverted glasses by two or zero. The number of inverted glasses in the first setup was one, so adding two gave a total of three. In the second set up the number of inverted glasses is three. Changing two at a time will allow your friend to fluctuate between one and two upright glasses, but they will never get to three!

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Our world, your future! What difference can you make? The British Science Association is a registered charity: 212479 and SC039236 Hosted by

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Associate Partners

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Listings WHAT



01 Jan 13 - 31 Dec 13

Fragile Planet


01 Jan 13 - 31 Dec 13

Seasonal Stargazing


01 Jan 13 - 31 Dec 13

Earth, Moon & Sun


01 Jan 13 - 31 Dec 13

Dawn of the Space Age


06 Feb 13 - 06 Sep 13 22 Mar 13 - 30 Jun 13

The Sun Show


Fabrice Hyber - Raw Materials


14 May 13 - 27 Sep 13 02 Jun 13

Dino Mighty


Diesel Day


03 Jun 13 12 Jun 13 - 14 Jun 13 15 Jun 13

Child Poverty: Stereotypes, scapegoats, solutions


Revisiting Star Studies


Founders & Benefactors lecture: Cosmetic Dental Makeovers? Facts, Fantasies & Fallacies


Can we read the mind? Should we?


20 Jun 13

How does the brain make your body move?


22 Jun 13

Dine with the Dinosaurs


25 Jun 13 01 Jul 13

Society of Antiquaries Library


Swept under the carpet of regeneration


04 Jul 13 15 Jul 13 30 Jul 13 08 Aug 13 - 09 Aug 13

SECED: Young Engineers Conference

Northern Postgraduate Chem Eng Conference


21 Aug 13 - 23 Aug 13

International Sports Science & Sports Medicine Conference




29 Aug 13 - 01 Sep 13

Agricultural Power from the Past


07 Sep 13 - 12 Sep 13

British Science Festival

07 Sep 13 - 08 Sep 13

Growing Your Own


09 Sep 13

Mark Henderson: Author of the Geek Manifesto


21 Sep 13 - 22 Sep 13 21 Sep 13

Hands On Heritage Skills


Meet The Scientist


10 Oct 13 - 20 Oct 13

Northern Design Festival


14 Nov 13 - 17 Nov 13

Lumiere Durham 2013


17 Jun 13

23 Aug 13


Brave New World? Theology, ethics and post-humanism


The role of antiquarians in Newcastle



LSC = Life Science Centre

BAL = Baltic

GNM = Great North Museum (Hancock)

CL = Space 4/5, Culture Lab

NU = Newcastle University

DM = Discovery Museum


NMB = Northumbria University

DUR = Durham


RID = Room 1.65, Ridley Building 2

BM = Beamish Museum


SRM = Stephenson Railway Museum URB = Urban Cafe, Dance City GLT = Green Lecture Theatre, Dental School

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Issue 3: Centre of the Earth, Bottom of the Sea