November 28, 2008

Visualizing Science

I had a fantastic science teacher, Mr. Rees, in high school. He made it apparent to me that an unfortunate divide exists between the general public and the scientific community when it comes to understanding scientific concepts. David Suzuki, Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking, and other great names, have devoted great efforts to bridging this gap and helping people appreciate science.

Now, I give you Felice Frankel...

Felice Frankel is a Senior Research Fellow at Harvard and research scientist at MIT, working with scientists to make spectacular, and communicative, images of their work. Working with researchers to create these images, she found that having them draw images for her improved not only her understanding, but improved the researchers ability to communicate their concepts. Enter "Picturing to Learn", a collaborative project she is heading that challenges undergraduate students in the sciences to draw illustrations that can explain a scientific concept to a different target audience, for example a high school student.

Science is increasingly involved in every aspect of our lives... without a fundamental understanding , everything from our cell phones and pharmaceuticals to our brains and babies is just a black box.

Ferrofluid photographed by Felice Frankel (Top)
Student Illustration of a Particle in a Box (Bottom)

November 24, 2008

A Quantum of Perspective

Having a hard time comprehending how small a nanometer is? Think of it this way...

Imagine the length of one nanometer as the length of one second. The proportion of one nanometer in one meter is equivalent to one second in almost 32 years!

November 20, 2008

Size Does Matter

Have you ever found yourself struggling all day with writing a paper, then finally you get a good, hard, half hour of work done and nothing feels better? Then have you ever woken up with drool on your study notes, only to find that your productiveness was a dream?

Welcome to my paper on the Toxicity of C60 Fullerenes! To be fair, I'm actually have a great time with this assignment... I can't remember the last time I found a subject as fascinating as nanotech and nanotoxicology. Nanoparticles are generally defined as a compound that is less than 100 nm in at least one dimension. To put it into perspective, 1/1000 of a metre is a millimeter... 1/1000 of a millimeter is a micrometer... and 1/1000 of a micrometer is 1 nanometer. That's 0.000000001 metres, aka very small.

My paper is devoted to the highly variable toxicity exhibited by fullerenes with different functional groups attached to their surfaces. C60 (pictured above) is basically a soccer-ball shaped frame upon (or even within) which a variety of compounds can be bonded. They have lots of promising applications, especially in medicine for imaging and drug delivery, but little is known about their toxicity. Some are good, some are bad, some go back and forth depending on their mood. Let's hope the toxicologists and regulators can keep on top of the technologies!

Be sure you'll be hearing more from me about fullerene derivatives, nanowires, quantum dots, and other cool things from the world of the very small!

November 16, 2008

Introductory Talks/Tox

So here I am... why? Partly because I have a poor memory, and a blog to look back upon will no doubt help me piece together the story of my life. Partly because people who I think are cool and who I want to be like do it. But mostly because I have papers to write and I am procrastinating. And as those papers are about Toxicology, in one or another of its many manifestations, my blog starts of with a picture of my newest friend, Xenopus laevis, aka the South African clawed frog (and soon to be happy member of my family!).

The species Xenopus laevis rose to public fame as the notorious killer meat-eating cannibalistic invasive species that has terrorized the native fish, amphibians, and invertebrates of the southern States. But more notably, it is also a model for studying the teratogenicity of chemicals (teratogen = substance that disturbs the development of an embryo or fetus). FETAX, or the Frog Embryo Teratogenesis Assay – Xenopus, involves incubating frog embryos with the desired chemical, and over a period of four days evaluates effects such as lethality, malformation, and growth reduction. The assay can be used not only for isolated chemicals, but for evaluation of complex cocktails, such as pulp mill effluent or soils. So the next time you see a member of Xenopus laevis, say thank you for their contribution to science. Unless you are in California... then send them to the great big stagnant pond in the sky.

Images were taken by me in my undergraduate Medical Toxicology lab at the University of Guelph.