Elf Eldridge

Tell Us a Story: The Power of Narrativium - Just So Science

Aug 26, 2011

It has warmed the cockles of my heart recently to see many scientists really pushing the power of storytelling. There have been a few inspiring speeches, a few articles and a TED talk or two – but what I’m really excited about are the upcoming science storytelling competitions running across the country. "Tell Us a Story" Competition Firstly, Elizabeth Connor (inaugural recipient of the Prime Minister’s Science Communication Prize) and the Faculty of Science and Engineering at Victoria University have put together a storytelling competition for PostGraduate students. It’s aiming to teach them how to tell stories and create narratives, instead of the usual list of facts and figures we often associate with science talks. They’re holding the finals in Wellington on Monday October 17th at a … Read More

“Weekend Nanotech”: Snot-light? - Just So Science

Aug 22, 2011

Another entry in my “bizarre use of bodily fluids but that has a really cool result” category for nanoscience, is this paper published a couple of weeks ago in the Advanced Materials journal. The problem the researchers from Tel Aviv university were trying to solve is simple: we can make white LEDs now easily enough, but they’re complex to manufacture and complexity means expensive! Colour spectrum available from dyes embedded in a mucin matrix Producing ‘white light’ for humans is quite simple, more than likely your computer monitor is employing this trick right now, you simply produce equal amounts of red, green and blue light from the same pixel – this is what we humans perceive as white light. The problem with LEDs is that to get these colours, you use 3 different dyes – but when you put these … Read More

“Just So Science” – Superflare - Just So Science

Aug 21, 2011

There always seems to be some new ‘fashionable’ way for people to predict the end of the world doesn’t there? Last year it was the supposed black holes created by the LHC, then there was the whole “planetary alignment” thing promoted by films like 2012. The one that poked it’s head up this week is the idea that in 2012 a massive solar flare from our sun will engulf the earth, disrupt electrical grids and communications and just generally cause chaos and pandemonium. A more indepth discussion of how terrified we should all be can be found here. So, should we all be hiding under our beds, scared that the sky will fall? Well, like all the best horror stories, this idea takes elements of truth and weaves them together into a compelling narrative to attempt to give … Read More

“Weekend Nanotech” – Nanomachines - Just So Science

Aug 15, 2011

Public perception of nanomachines?? One of my favourite things about being a scientist is the knowledge that one day you may be part of something that changes the world! Unfortunately, this change can be for the better or worse – and often the ‘worse’ is what makes a better story! This is why we get books like Michael Crichton’s ‘Prey’ – a book centred around the so called “Grey Goo” hypothesis of nanomachines. If you’re not familiar with “Grey Goo”, it’s the idea that self-replicating nanomachines  could take over the world and devour all carbon-based life in a matter of days, leaving our planet a barren wasteland. The term and idea is attributed to nanotechnologist Eric Drexler from his book “Engines of Creation” and the name was intended to indicate that something visually unintestesting, could potentially outcompete the diversity of life … Read More

“Just So Science” – A Star is Born - Just So Science

Aug 14, 2011

While observing the open clusters M6 (the Butterfly cluster) and M7 (the Ptolemy cluster) in the tail of Scorpius (whilst dressed as Dr Who) this week, I realised that, whilst I had waxed lyrical about the bits of star forming regions visible in the night sky, I had never actually explained why or how stars form! Now, I can understand those that say this knowledge isn’t hugely useful on a day-to-day basis, but it does provide a huge insight into our own place in the universe, and it certainly humbles me! So for that reason alone it’s worth going into and without further ado here is my intro to star formation! Vast molecular cloud just beginning to condense into protostar forming regions Stars are the ‘cells’ of galaxies. They are the units that … Read More

“Just So Science” – The Dusty Eagle - Just So Science

Aug 08, 2011

A towering pillar of dust and gas within the eagle nebula (M16) For my final (at least for the moment) Sagittarius post, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to mention of the best known and loved of all nebula to astronomers all over the world: M16, the Eagle Nebula. This particular nebula can be a little tricky to find however, as it’s not near any of the other bright objects in Sagittarius; rather it is way out on the border of Scutum, the shield constellation, that appears lower and North of the ‘teapot’ within Sagittarius. That said, none of the objects I’ve previously mentioned, here and here, within Sagittarius are immediately obvious from areas suffering from even small amounts of light pollution, so here’s a little ‘map’ to make things easier. Read More

“Weekend Nanotech” – Bat Thermal Imaging - Just So Science

Aug 06, 2011

Vampire Bat's nose - laden with infrared sensors. From Reference 1 This week has been a great week for interesting nanoscience, with Nature Nanotech being published with a couple of great articles that I will discuss in time (namely building glowing stuff with Quantum Dots and a DNA scaffolding and nanomachines made of neurodegenerative amyloid proteins – oh I cant wait! Perhaps a two post edition of “Weekend Nanotech” is in order) , but the articles that really caught my eye this week concerned vampire bats, snakes, and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s greatest movie – Predator. For some time now we have known that vampire bats and snakes have the ability to see into the infrared[3]. However what Gracheva et al [2] showed in Nature this week was exactly how, at a nanoscale, … Read More

“Just So Science” – The Astral Archer’s Bow - Just So Science

Aug 01, 2011

As a follow-on from my previous Sagittarius post, this week I want to mention a few of the eye-watering spectacles viewable within this astral archer at this time of the year. All of the objects i’m about to mention are just to the North of the cosmic teapot, where the steam would billow from the spout in fact. The first two, M8 and M20 are visible in most photos of the centre of the Milky Way as large glowing, red smudges of starlight reflected and emitted from huge clouds of interstellar dust and gas. Galactic Centre within Sagittarius showing red patches of emission nebulosity These are two famous, and extensively studied Messier objects: the Trifid and Lagoon nebulae. The trifid nebula is, like most of the nebulae I blog about, a hot-spot of star formation. The somewhat strange name comes from … Read More

“Weekend Nanotech” – Rhinovirus Nanotechnology - Just So Science

Jul 30, 2011

Well my ‘Weekend Nanotech’ post from last week was a little delayed this week, primarily due to this little guy here: Rhinovirus Capsid Rhinovirus - the more cuddly version A Rhinovirus. Most commonly known as the causative virus of the ‘common cold’, rhinoviruses are found pretty much everywhere [1] decent hosts are. And yes, unfortunately that included me! That said, despite their small size these little ‘critters’ (pardon the affectionate language – I certainly don’t mean to diminish the havoc and pain these can cause!) are absolutely AMAZING. Lets take a step back for a moment and look at what these guys have to achieve in order to infect you. Firstly they have no host ‘reservior’ other than humans so in order to become infected you must be in direct contact with another infected individual or … Read More

“Just So Science” – Sagantastic - Just So Science

Jul 22, 2011

This week I was fortunate enough to stumble onto this gorgeous image taken by the Voyager 1 satellite in 1990. By the request of physicist Carl Sagan, the camera were turned around for one last shot of Earth before the rest of Voyager’s epic journey which, as of 2011, has bought it to the heliopause, the edge of reach of Sol‘s solar wind. Sagan’s description of the image is one of the most humbling pieces of prose I have ever read, and is one of my favourite passages of all time! Pale Blue Dot - the Earth is that tiny dot on the right hand side that you can barely see! ‘…everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The … Read More