Saturday, 25 August 2012

Name the Biologist - Week 20

No clues this week as he should be fairly recognisable.

As for last week's entry it was none other than Joseph Priestley - a fascinating individual whose observations that air could be "injured" by a burning candle and a mouse and "healed" by a plant was the forst step to understanding photosynthesis and respiration. He actually made a whole load of other discoveries such as oxygen and possibly his greatest contrbution was the invention of Soda water and the eraser.

Biologist point-of-view review: Prometheus

Oh dear - what a mess.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Hunterian Museum

I worked next door to this place and never managed to visit the Hunterian museum in London. It's almost worth just to see inside the Royal College of Surgeons' building to be honest. The collection consists mainly of John Hunter's personal collection of organs and specimens in formaldehyde/alcohol from insects through to human foetuses. To be honest the sheer number of glass jars is overwhelming but there are some very interesting specimens and it was clear that he was driving at something with his dissections - often looking at the similarities in organs throughout species.
The history of Hunter and his contribution to the field of surgery is also fascinating. I wasn't even aware that you didn't requite a medical degree to be a surgeon during his time and it was something you learned via apprenticeship. I guess this is because the profession was very similar to that of a butcher at that time. Fortunately, Hunter was a surgeon who applied scientific method to his work and, along with other similar thinkers, the profession of surgery was transformed.
The upper floor has an interesting history of surgery and it's quite amazing how far things have progressed. It's also quite terrifying how painful and deadly surgery was back then and how we really take things for granted. That said by looking at the history of surgery up to modern techniques, I'm sure people a century from now will look on our surgical/medical practices and think we were barbaric.

It's definitely worth a look but be warned it's not for the squeamish!

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Name the Biologist - Week 19

Inspired by two days of Sun, I decided to make this week's entry this guy;

To be fair he is perhaps best known as a chemist. However he made observations that led to the discovery of one of life's essential chemical reactions. Reading up on the guy reveals a fascinating history. He also invented a very popular type of drink and a whole host of other things. A good old fashioned scientist - the type that should still be encouraged still but unfortunately can't due to academic structure almost selecting against it.

As for last week's biologist, it was none other than Galen. It's hard to convey his importance in terms of his impact on physiology and anatomy. Equally important was that he was one of the earliest examples of applying scientific method (Observation, theory and experimentation) to biology and published a work on how the "best physician is also a philosopher". Galen also pretty much came up with the concept of model organisms in terms of dissection and vivisection of pigs and primates to understand human anatomy because dissection was outlawed in Rome at the time.
He also made groundbreaking and lasting discoveries in neurology and established that the brain and central nervous system control motor function. He also described the function of agonists and antagonists on nerves so was a very early pharmacologist.
He was also a damn good surgeon (probably because he practised on animals) and could even remove cataracts! Sadly a lot of his techniques were forgotten for several hundred years. Good proof that his observations on diet and hygiene is the fact that he lived until the age of 87 which is pretty good going for someone in the second century.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Science songs

This is the official London olympics song by Muse. Pretty scary in that it sounds like it should be the national anthem of some "300" style nation that has ordered Queen to compose at gunpoint. The reason I'm including the song is because for some unknown reason they have people chanting "somites" throughout it. I heard a lot about somites in relation to Zebrafish. If I ever hear any other talks about somites this song will play in my head.


Edit: For some reason Youtube will only let you watch the video through their website. I'm sure you know how to click on it though.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Name the Biologist- week 18

This guy is from way back. Wiki doesn't call him a biologist but I'm willing to argue that he is.

As for the previous edition's answer;

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Biologist point-of-view review; Dark Knight Rises

A more than satisfactory conclusion to the Batman trilogy, this franchise has largely dodged biology, possibly because they were avoiding any "super" people. I'm sure physicists and engineers may have a few issues with the science though - even my head hurts at the "it's cool but how could that work" spinning wheels of the bat-bike.
The only thing I can comment on is the view of how academic publishing works in the world of "Batman". Don't read any further if you want to avoid spoilers.

So there is a physicist who apparently publishes a paper on how to turn a fusion reactor into a bomb. It's pretty impressive considering no-one has built a fusion reactor (except for Bruce Wayne who then shelves the project because of the paper). Let's say the guy published a paper on the theory of how to do this. Well, the villain, Bane, goes to great lengths to capture this scientist and it makes for quite the spectacle when he informs the citizens of Gotham that this is the only person who knows how to make the bomb, which is now armed. He then kills the scientist - implying there is no hope. The problem with this is that if the guy published a paper on how to make a fusion bomb then by definition he should have detailed how one could be made. In terms of peer review a key criteria for a paper being published is that others can replicate the results. This should mean that any decent physicist should also be able to make a bomb. 
In fairness maybe the scientist never published his paper on how to theoretically disarm a fusion bomb in which case he would be the only person who would know how to do so (or it would take a while for others to figure it out). The lesson here, therefore, is that you should publish your results as quickly as possible, nevermind the threat of being scooped - their may be an odd-voiced terrorist super-villain wanting to use your work. At least once published there's no need for them to kill you to keep your work a secret.

Name the biologist - week 17

I've been struck by olympics fever so this edition is inspired by it.
Unfortunately, this seems to be another case of "there aren't any pictures of the people involved". Therefore you will have to make do with the ones involved in the process and guess the theme. I'll mention the other biologists when I give you the answer in the next installment. This guy definitely got the ball rolling though.

And this guy was pretty key in coming up with a theory for how it works.
Finally, this guy got to the root or the actual chemistry of how the whole thing works.

What's interesting is how it took a hundred years and research by several different researchers to get to the bottom of how this thing functioned. That's science for you; a long distance relay event.

The answer to the last installment was Frederick Sanger who developed the DNA sequencing method that used dideoxy chain termination. This method is still used to this day and it was instrumental in completing the human genome and Fred himself was one of the first people to complete a genome when he sequenced the virus Phage Φ-X174. In honour of his contribution to sequencing an institute in Hinxton was named after him as the Sanger Institute which is one of the world's leading centres for genomic-based research. He's also one of only a handful of people to have won two Nobel prizes.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Pearson's test

In my new job, they take co-localisation and linked increase/decrease in signal very seriously so the Pearson's test is mentioned a lot. This confuses me as I always think they are talking about me and is particularly worrying when I am drifting out of a talk.
Sadly I didn't invent the formula bit sometimes I wonder what I would have created it for?