Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Probably my favorite science news story of 2013...

Jack Andraka, a 15 year old kid from outside Baltimore, MD had a family friend die of pancreatic cancer, which raised his awareness to the fact that a good early detection system for pancreatic cancer is lacking.  Coming up with an idea for a cheap diagnostic test that uses carbon nanotubes and antibodies against a protein called mesothelin, he pitches it to a bunch of scientists at Johns Hopkins University, gets one to give him a job working in the lab, and, with lots of hard work and dedication, he develops a working prototype that he has tested on samples from mouse models of pancreatic cancer, and even on some human blood samples.  You can read the story over at The Scientist.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

If the stress doesn't kill you, believing that it can kill you just might

People's perception of the effect of stress on their health is linked to risk of heart attacks
This is a great example of the nocebo effect, which is the evil cousin of the placebo effect.  As we all know, a placebo effect is when you experience a presumed benefit from an inert material simply because you don't know it is inert, but instead think it to be an active compound... the old "sugar pill" in the drug trial.  But what happens if you believe the sugar pill is actually something that is bad for you?  As it turns out, things that have no effect could harm you if you believe they are harmful, or things that are only a little harmful could be made worse by your perception, as is the case here.  So don't stress about the stress... you're only going to make it worse.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Geek Gift Guide: Super Magnetic Thinking Putty

A few days ago, I posted a non-Newtonian sand as a great gift idea for the geek(s) in your life this holiday season.  Well, today, I pose the question, what's better than a silly putty based toy that disobeys the rules of a Newtonian fluid?  Answer: one that disobeys the normal rules of fluidity while simultaneously obeying the rules of magnetism.  Thus, Super Magnetic Thinking Putty.  Yup, that's right, strongly magnetic silly putty!  I don't know if I can provide a better description than that, so if you still need a last minute gift or stocking stuffer, check it out...

Monday, December 16, 2013

The geek gift guide, second day of Christmas: Experiments on babies

Okay, this one is a little specific, but if you happen to need a gift for a science geek who's expecting or recently had a kid, I highly recommend Experimenting With Babies by Shaun Gallagher. The book provides all sorts of examples of activities you can do to test things like the Babinsky reflex, which basically involves tickling the sole of the foot and watching whether the toes curl up or down. The answer might give you some insight into how long it can take for your baby's nervous system to develop and reach certain milestones. Overall, the book provides a fun way to discover some interesting and surprisingly useful things about babies that scientific research has uncovered. So, like I said, a bit of a niche gift, but definitely worth checking out... if not for Christmas, then perhaps your next baby shower.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Christmas Geek Gift Guide: Non-Newtonian Sand

If you are looking for gifts for the geek in your life, look no further.  Over the next several days, I will post a handful of items that I, in my extreme nerdiness, deem to be some of this year's great geek gifts.  For this first day of Christmas, may I recommend SAND by Brookstone (or for the Europeans in the crowd, Kinetic Sand by Waba Fun).  These products are 98% sand and 2% polymer, resulting in a non-Newtonian sand substance... if that's not total geek fun, I don't know what is.  You can see from the YouTube vid posted by Waba Fun (below), that their product can behave like a doughy solid at times, but also like a grainy, almost liquidy pile of sand that slips through your fingers.  It all depends on how the substance is being used, just like some other more well known non-Newtonian substances, like ketchup in a bottle (stuck, solid-like in the bottle until you stick the butter knife in there to get it out, then all of a sudden it pours out like Niagara).  Or like cornstarch mixed with water, bouncing on a sub-woofer (runny liquid when at rest, but congealed semi-solid when smacked by the bass).  Or, like one of my favorite non-Newtonian solids: Silly Putty (pull it apart fast and it snaps apart like a karate master's board, pull it apart slow, and it's like that mozzarella on the first slice of pizza that, no matter how long it gets, still won't break).  In fact, these sand products are actually made using the same polymer that goes into silly putty (polydimethylsiloxane), which helps the sand to never dry out, and helps it clump together so clean-up is a breeze.  Enjoy!

Friday, December 13, 2013

An artificial sweetener in research news NOT for causing cancer,

But instead may actually help to treat Parkinson's and other neurodegenerative diseases... read more