Sunday, December 30, 2007

A quick round-up of what I've been missing

So while I was gone there were a bunch of interesting posts from the blogosphere. A quick round-up:

  • JoVE -- This is the official blog of JoVE, the Journal of Visualized Experiments. Looks like fun

Post holiday catch-up

I am finally back to blogging after an extended illness and ten days in Hawaii for Christmas (sadly, these two events overlapped significantly). Here are the things I miss about Hawaii --
  • chocolate popsicles -- don't even get me started
  • teri chicken plate lunch
  • my cat Aengus -- 15 years old and still more fun at a party than me
  • the weather -- where even the rain seems pleasant
  • the mountains, the plants, the birds, the beaches
  • the fact that I look just like everybody else
  • how everybody is in a good mood all the time
Things I do not miss about Hawaii:
  • my allergies to just about everything in Hawaii (including my fab cat Aengus)
  • the traffic -- worse than Boston, I am sure
  • the fact that Hawaii is a rock in the middle of the ocean -- people are always asking me why I would want to leave paradise. The truth is you can only take paradise for so long before it starts to bother you that you've basically done and seen everything. You can drive around the entire island in a couple of hours and you'll just end up back where you started. Everything is expensive and a lot of things never make it to Hawaii at all (think movies, plays, concerts, products in stores, ideas for chrissakes). It's like the little town you grew up in where everything is safe and familiar but all you want to do is get to the big city and pursue your dreams. Except you can't take a Greyhound out of town or hitch a ride with some likely stranger -- you have to buy an expensive plane ticket. Yup. Nice place to visit. Hard to live in. At least for me.
So the holidays were nice if short and a bit stressful. I was able to visit my grandmother on Maui, who just had a stroke, which was a good thing (the visit, not the stroke). Spent some time with my Mom and caught up with a couple of old friends. Spent exactly ten minutes at the beach (Waikiki Beach, which hardly even counts - plus I was wearing sneakers, which makes it count even less). Witnessed the Christmas miracle of Taz (my mother in law's dog, who has been quite ill, and who was so sick that we all thought he was going to die that night -- shaking uncontrollably, unable to get up, not responding -- who got up the next day, bouncy and happy, demanding to be taken for a walk and given treats! Yay!). Hooked up with the wonderful Honolulu Derby Girls and went to two practices with them -- also met Sassy Chassis (Rat City Rollergirls) and Bea Attitude (Texas Rollergirls) who were also in town. Hooray for derby! Completely and totally ignored my email and anything even resembling work, despite the fact that Shawn Dash sent me an email saying he was DONE WITH THE HYPOPONERA!!! More on that later.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Bolton's Technomyrmex Revision

Bolton's Technomyrmex revision is now available from The American Entomological Institute.

Taxonomy of the dolichoderine ant genus Technomyrmex Mayr (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) based on the worker cast. Barry Bolton. 2007. 150 pp. Contributions of the American Entomological Institute Volume 35, No. 1. $30.00

Thanks to the anonymous commenter who pointed it out.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Shrinky-Dink microfluidics

I grew up in Hawaii, where apparently Shrinky-Dinks never quite made it as the icon of childhood craftiness that it seems to be for others of my peers, but I recently heard about them in the journal Chemical Technology. Check it out:

Shrinky-Dink microfluidics

A children's toy has been turned into a microfluidic research tool in the hands of US engineers.

Michelle Khine's team from the University of California, Merced, printed microfluidic mould patterns onto Shrinky-Dinks and used them to make patterns of channels for mixing fluids and moving cells about. The technique allows the whole process - from device design conception to working device - to be completed with very simple tools within minutes.

Shrinky-Dinks are thermoplastic sheets of polystyrene which have been pre-heated and stretched. When they are reheated they shrink to their original size, also shrinking anything drawn on them. The drawn features become narrower and more raised as the ink lines are compressed.

An image showing the patterns of channels

Using only a laserjet printer and a toaster oven, the team printed a device layout on a Shrinky-Dink sheet and shrunk it down to make a mould. The ink lines printed on their Shrinky-Dinks were raised by over 500% to form a series of small walls with slightly rounded edges, ideal for making channels for use with microfluidic valves. The polydimethylsiloxane plastic used to make the devices could then be simply poured onto the mould, cured, and peeled off.

'Many researchers are excited about this, because it dramatically lowers the barrier to entry into the microfluidics field,' said Khine. 'There are no tooling costs - all you need is a printer and a toaster oven.'

'I am not a patient person,' explained Khine, 'and being a new faculty member at a brand new university, I did not have the cleanroom facilities I am accustomed to. As I was brainstorming solutions, I remembered my favourite childhood toy and decided to try it in my kitchen one night, and it worked amazingly well!' The Shrinky-Dink moulds can be used more than ten times, and different heights of channel can be made by running the Shrinky-Dink sheets through the printer more than once.

'We are using the microfluidic chips for chemotaxis experiments and cell culture experiments,' she added, 'and we definitely have a couple more projects based on this in the oven.'

Clare Boothby

Link to journal article

Shrinky-Dink microfluidics: rapid generation of deep and rounded patterns
Anthony Grimes, David N. Breslauer, Maureen Long, Jonathan Pegan, Luke P. Lee and Michelle Khine, Lab Chip, 2008

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

At this lab, everyone is required to maintain a science blog

I think this is a fabulous idea. Via The World's Fair:
Posted on: December 4, 2007 1:44 PM, by David Ng

Last week (or thereabouts), I had a chat with Rosie Redfield, an evolutionary biologist at the University of British Columbia. She had come over to visit because I noticed that every member of her lab (predominantly postdocs) had their own blog, and I was curious to see what was up with that.


Anyway, it turns out that Rosie makes it a requirement for her lab members to maintain a blog. This was primarily to act as an appendum lab book, and a place to reflect on the experiments carried out recently.

Chatting with her, she was quite excited by the prospect of such a thing becoming common practice. She noted a number of side benefits to the process:

1. It allows her, as a supervisor, to remotely keep track on what's going on. Think of it as preface material before the lab meeting, or the one on ones.

2. She's convinced that with the public facade to the posting, folks in her lab tend to conceptualize more fully what the experiments and data could signify. In doing so, there's a great opportunity for blogging to help clarify the experiments necessary to move the research projects forward.

3. Scientists are not necessarily noted for their writing skills. Which is too bad, because that ability tends to come in very handy in the fine art of preparing grants. Here, you have a platform where you can work the "practice makes perfect" angle.

4. Depending on the tact of the blogger, you may inadvertently end up with a significant amount of draft material for that thesis or paper you going to have to write later.

Then, of course, Rosie got into the whole issue of open access. In that, her efforts to promote science blogging in her lab, could possibly be thought of as a powerful exercise in scientific communication. Imagine a scenario where facets of the standard "lab book" are offered for public viewing.

This means that things like negative data, serendipity findings (things that don't normally get published) have a chance to be publicly aired, which only adds to the body of scientific knowledge. And what about unpublished data? How open is that? For instance, Rosie herself has no qualms in presenting her grant proposals, even before competition deadlines.

Mind you, her lab happens to focus on a research area that is not too competitive, so the relative merits of what her lab's blogging is obviously subjected to this important nuance.

Still, it's interesting to imagine a scenario where what Rosie's lab does is common practice. i.e. what if NIH, NSERC, NSF, CIHR made it explicit in their funding structure.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

A review of the genus Mystrium

Jochen Bihn from Trophallaxis has just published a review of the genus Mystrium in the Indo-Australian region:

JOCHEN H. BIHN & MANFRED VERHAAGH, 2007: A review of the genus Mystrium (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) in the Indo-Australian region. Zootaxa 1642: 1-12.

Indo-Australian species of the amblyoponine ant genus Mystrium Roger are reviewed. Three species are recognized in the region, and two of them, which were found in Indonesia (Papua and West Papua Province), are described as new species: Mystrium maren sp. nov. and Mystrium leonie sp. nov. Worker diagnoses and illustrations of the three species and a tabular key are given.

Full article can be downloaded here.
Image: Mystrium maren