Thursday, December 29, 2005

Words to love

I love words. An easy way to learn a new word each day is to sign up for Word of the Day on Google's new personalized home page. Here are some words from the past week. It would be great to hear these words used more often in our day-to-day speech, or at least see them in an email or two:

digerati: persons knowledgeable about computers. confrere: a colleague, comrade, or intimate associate. querulous: habitually complaining; also, expressing complaint. vociferous: clamorous; noisy. firmament: the sky; the heavens. jollification: merrymaking; revelry. benefaction: the act of conferring a benefit; also, a benefit conferred. apposite: of striking appropriateness and relevance. cynosure: a center of attention.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Electromagnetic waves = fast minus circuitry

If you are trying to imagine just how fast information will move in the future, check this out:

Georgia Tech [this is one awesome place] says, "By using electromagnetic waves instead of electrical current for switching, researchers have operated an optical modulator at terahertz frequencies – an accomplishment that could one day facilitate data transmission rates in the trillions of bits per second.

To gain those higher rates, researchers at GT and at the University of California, Santa Barbara and the NASA Ames Research Center "used very high-frequency waves from a free-electron laser to control the modulator. These electromagnetic waves consist of an oscillating electric field and have the advantage of being able to move through free space without the need for circuitry."

This is some cool finding - and the work represents a key step toward a new generation of optical communication systems that would be as much as 100 times faster than current technology. For more information, visit

Nanotechnology supervised

Recent nanotechnology conversations point to understanding what happens to nano materials when used in the human body.

Now, scientists at Northwestern University have "devised a noninvasive method of imaging these nanostructured materials within the body, providing a way of tracking the fate of these materials in a living organism. These researchers have been developing a toolbox of synthetic amino acids (related to building blocks of proteins) that assemble themselves into complex structures that may prove useful in drug delivery and tissue engineering applications. To learn more, visit

In addition, watchdog Pew Charitable Trusts recently launched "Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars to ensure that the federal government and the private sector address the potential human health and environmental risks as well as the benefits of emerging nanotechnologies. The project works with industry, the government, and the scientific and public interest communities to identify gaps in nanotechnology risk-assessment research and oversight and to develop strategies to address them." To learn more, visit Pew Charitable Trusts.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Intelligent design violates Constitution

Here's one for science:

A report on CNN says, "Pennsylvania school district cannot teach in science classes a concept that says some aspects of science were created by a supernatural being, a federal judge has ruled. In an opinion issued Tuesday, US District Judge John Jones ruled that teaching "intelligent design" would violate the Constitutional separation of church and state. 'We have concluded that it is not [science], and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents,' Jones writes in his 139-page opinion posted on the court's Web site. 'To be sure, Darwin's theory of evolution is imperfect. However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions,' Jones writes.
Intelligent design claims the complexity of some systems of nature cannot be explained by evolution but must be attributed to a designer or supernatural being."

That's all, just the judge on this one.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Evo devo - mutations, passive evolution benefits

Taking a look at genetics topics today, and I am intrigued by what scientists are intrigued by and what gets them going - so here is some news that excites some geneticists.

According to a news release from Georgia Tech, biologists there have "provided scientific support for a controversial hypothesis that has divided the fields of evolutionary genomics and evolutionary developmental biology, popularly known as 'evo devo," for two years. Appearing in Trends in Genetics, researchers find that the size and complexity of a species’ genome is not an evolutionary adaptation per se, but can result as simply a consequence of a reduction in a species’ effective population size."

Scientists Soojin Yi says, “The interesting thing here is that biological complexity may passively evolve. We show that at the origins, it’s not adaptive mutations, but slightly bad ones that make the genome larger. But if you have a large genome, there is more genetic material to play with to make something useful. At first, maybe these mutations aren’t so good for your genome, but as they accumulate and conditions change through evolution, they could become more complex and more beneficial.”

Scientist J. Todd Streelman says, “As a general rule, more complex organisms, like humans, have larger genomes than less complex ones. You might think this means that animals with the largest genomes are the most complex – and for the most part that would be right. But it’s not always true. There are some species of frogs and some amoeba that have much larger genomes than humans.”

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Genome mapping leads to atlas for cancer

A lot of work went into mapping the human genome, and now an ambitious team of scientists will take this knowledge and apply it to new cancer discoveries.

The National Cancer Institute and the National Human Genome Research Institute today launched a comprehensive effort to accelerate the understanding of the molecular basis of cancer through the application of genome analysis technologies, especially large-scale genome sequencing. The overall effort, called The Cancer Genome Atlas, will begin with a pilot project to determine the feasibility of a full-scale effort to systematically explore the universe of genomic changes involved in all types of human cancer.

According to National Intitutes of Health Director Elias A. Zerhouni, “This atlas of genomic changes will provide new insights into the biological basis of cancer, which in turn will lead to new tests to detect cancer in its early, most treatable stages; new therapies to target cancer at its most vulnerable points; and, ultimately, new strategies to prevent cancer.” Find the government's news release at the NIH web site.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Dust-speck size container delivers drugs

Back to the topic of small delivery channels for medical purposes.

A Eurekalert press release from Johns Hopkins says researchers have "devised a self-assembling cube-shaped perforated container, no larger than a dust speck, that could serve as a delivery system for medications and cell therapy." The researchers report in Biomedical Microdevices that "the relatively inexpensive microcontainers can be mass-produced through a process that mixes electronic chip-making techniques with basic chemistry. Because of their metallic nature, the cubic container's location in the body could easily be tracked by magnetic resonance imaging."

One Hopkins scientist says, "We're talking about an entirely new encapsulation and delivery device that could lead to a new generation of 'smart pills.' The long-term goal is to be able to implant a collection of these therapeutic containers directly at the site or an injury or an illness."

Check out this new nanotechnology advances of David Gracias' at his Hopkins web site.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Blue Brain and the eServer Blue Gene

As I have mentioned before, researchers in Switzerland recently launched an ambitious project called Blue Brain, which uses IBM's eServer Blue Gene, a supercomputer capable of processing 22.8 trillion floating point operations per second (TFLOPS).

States the Computerworld article: The Blue Brain project is modeling the behavior of 10,000 highly complex neurons in rats' neocortical columns (NCC), which are very similar to the NCCs in a human brain. The NCCs run throughout the brain's gray matter and perform advanced computing. The first objective of Blue Brain is to build an accurate software replica, or template, of an NCC within two to three years.

What I find interesting is that the researchers say that "some major brain experiments could be done in silicon rather than in a "wet" lab. A simulation that might take seconds on the supercomputer could replace a full day's worth of lab research. Ultimately, simulated results of brain activity could be matched with recorded brain activity in a person with a disease in order to "reverse-engineer" the circuit changes in diseases. The real value of a simulation is that researchers can have access to data for every single neuron," IBM researcher say.

The future of acadmic medicine is anyone's guess - can these academics keep up with the new technoglogy available?