Category Archives: Thomas' Corner

Written by Thomas

(Crocheting) reefer madness!

Just wanted to say happy birthday to Ol’ Captain Skellet and also well done on her contribution to the RIAus crochet coral reef. All the contributors for the reef have made a freaking awesome display. They’re starting up FREE workshops again, so if you want to try your hand at it, register here. I was lucky enough to get to visit the reef a couple of months ago and get a few snapshots, which are shared down below. They are quite amazing. The exhibition opens again in early December at the RiAus. Get in on it.

More pictures after the fold Continue reading

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Resident

Sorry, kids. No time for a big post, but here’s a poem I wrote about resident bacterial/viral flora  to tide you over.

 

Civilisation
That’s what they call it
We live
In the plains, in the valleys, in the walls
Stigmatised
As disease-causers and bloody anarchists
Innocent life
Almost unnoticed by the self-appointed Empire

Uneasy truce
Between us and this floating isle
A grain of greed
Tempts tumbling, cascading white cells
Itchy fingers
Coiled tightly around taut leashes
Maddened by M.A.D.
We embrace awkwardly amongst sleeping dogs

A crack
as klaxons echo throughout the ranks
Invaders!
Peacekeepers ready their weapons
Refugees flood
Shot and sunk for the company they keep
Pioneers lost
The finest sieve finds no justice

Meanwhile
In geological time, slow as melting glaciers
A resentful kiss
Between lovers, contains more bitterness than it seems

 

TT

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Lustful oxygen

Yo, just so you know, I’m going to be reciting my 2nd-place winning poem tomorrow at the Great Big Science Read: Where worlds collide event held at the RiAus. It’s free and I’m going to be there, so if you have a couple of hours you should also come and get some culture, both artistic and bacterial (that’s what we in the poetry business call a double entendre).

Anyway, this post I’m going to analyse the poem that I wish had won –

Lustful oxygen

Filled-valence prudes tut-tut

An extinguished flame

Aw, yeah, lustful oxygen. (Photo of James Kleinig flicking water on some tealights by Colin Sinclair)

I was taught in high school that all chemistry is electrons. But, of course, it is all eclipsed by things blowing up. Fire is the thing that I most closely relate to chemistry. It is a source of intrinsic passion, of instinctial awe, of heat and danger. And it’s all caused simply oxygen in the air binding to stuff (carbon in the above case). Oxygen is one of the most reactive elements out there, meaning that it has strong desire to bind and couple with other atoms and molecules. When it does so, it relaxes a bit and releases some energy. That energy is the heat.

But if atoms are already bundled up in couples of high affinity, not even oxygen can break that bond (under normal conditions). Nitrogen gas (N2) is an example of atoms that naturally strongly bound together. This bond means that the two nitrogen atoms share electrons (3 from each atom, in this case) and are both satisfied. Satisfaction as atoms are concerned is defined in terms of valency (a complex topic involving periodic tables, electrons and oxidation states). Once an atom’s valence is filled, then it is stable.

Nitrogen gas makes up 70% of the atmosphere. So we blow out mostly nitrogen when we exhale.  What we do when we blow out a candle is basically surround the oxygen with highly stable nitrogen gas. Oxygen can’t bind to the nitrogen and can’t get to the carbon that it can bind to. What happens then is that the flame is extinguished because no heat is being produced.

Woo, science!

TT

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Hepatitis C Virus – The celebrity hepatitis

Edit: A version of this article was published in The Advertiser on September 13, 2011.

July 28th was World Hepatitis day; the day to raise awareness of hepatitis B and hepatitis C. Both are very important diseases: together they cause >1 million annual cases of liver cancer, one of the most deadly cancers. Hepatitis viruses (A, B, … G) are completely different viruses. The thing that they have in common is that they all infect the liver.

You may have heard of Hepatitis C recently, as an anaesthetist was charged with infecting 54 women with Hepatitis C in a Melbourne hospital a few months ago.

Biohazard cookies! (Cookies by James Kleinig and Gen Sinclair; photo by Thomas Tu)

The cause of Hepatitis C, the Hepatitis C Virus (HCV), was discovered very recently in 1989. But since then, we’ve recognised that 3% of the world’s population have been infected with HCV. Famous patients include Baywatch actress Pamela Anderson, the infamous Mark Brandon “Chopper” Read, and stuntman Evel Kinevel.

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Wherein awesome things happen

Holy crap, yesterday was a good day.

Firstly, one of the blog pictures (from here) gets included in the very awesome photoblog “Things Organised Neatly“. As you see here, it was reposted around the place with comments like “I miss using micropipettes @.@“,  “ahh brings me back to my 10th grade genetics class…fuck“, and (for some reason) “Is it odd that this is sexy to me?

Yes, it bloody well is odd (Photo by Thomas Tu)

Secondly, I won second place in an open science haiku competition! The Royal Institution (in conjunction with the Friendly Street Poets) organised the second annual Sci-ku competition earlier this year with the themes being International Year of the Forest and Year of Chemistry. I was picked for second place for this:

Frenzied matter zoo

Then, Mendeleev’s table

The world ranked and filed

I’ll explain this poem a little bit. Continue reading

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Soylent brown – “Shit burgers”

Update: According to a good work-up, there’s a very high probability this video is a hoax that just recently went viral. I blame the stout for my lack of reasonable doubt. Indeed even Yahoo news and Fox news have fallen for it. Anyway, I’ll leave this post here because the idea of lab-grown meat  made from waste products is an interesting idea that has scientific merit. (Cheers to Bobster’s house)

Sorry again for the lack of activity on the blog. I am going pretty well on my thesis, thanks for asking.

Anyway, I was drinking with a couple of friends of mine who are doing their PhDs in environmental health and bioremediation the other night. Long story short, I wake up with this on my hand:

At least it wasn't a dick and balls. Picture taken by Thomas Tu

After some greasy food and coffee, I summoned enough courage to look up “shit burgers” on Google. Then it came back to me, we had been talking about a nutty bit of science where a Japanese team had created faux meat from sewage. While I’m not sure that it isn’t a hoax, here’s a video:

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Get up off your arses!

Are you comfortable there with your improved health? Not dead because of some penicillin-sensitive bacteria? Good. Now get up and support Australian medical research because less money means fewer medical discoveries that keep you comfortable and alive.

A cut of $400M (absolute peanuts with respect to the size of the Austrlian budget of ~$354600M) over 3 years is being slated for the major federal medical science funding body, NHMRC. To put that in perspective, the NHMRC has an annual budget of ~$700M,  and that’s only after scientists had worked hard for 10 years previously to get up to that competitive rate.

It won’t affect everyone equally. Money gets handed out first to those continuing grants. Those really affected are those young researchers going for new grants; researchers who are more likely to up and change jobs. This would leave a gaping hole in continuing line of researchers and disrupt the entire structure of research. Stop/start funding has huge effects.

Not only that, investment into science is investment into your well-being: pennicilin, cochlear implants, cancer treatments, discovery of the cause of stomach ulcers are all things that have been made possible with Australian research. This is all pretty obvious stuff that has been covered in much better detail by others and still others.

It’s time to do something. Rallies around Australia against these cuts have been planned. Get along to them if 1) you value further medical discoveries that will make your life much more comfortable and 2) are not a jerk. Please visit Discovery need dollars for more details and fliers.

MELBOURNE – State Library – Tuesday 12 April @ 12:45-2PM
SYDNEY – Belmore Park – Tuesday 12 April @ 12:45-2PM
ADELAIDE – Steps of Parliament house, North Terrace – Tuesday 12 April @ 12:30PM (Adelaide time)

Click here to get signs in a printable format

 

TT

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