Announcement: Join the FF Saturnalia Party 2017.

Categorized | Science

Lab Letters Issue #7: 3-D Printed Skulls, Golden Rice, & Viking Sunstones

Hey there, pals! Time for another issue of Lab Letters, FF’s weekly micro-post!

The man with the plastic skull

Here’s something that’s been making the rounds lately: the guy with a 3-D printed skull. How is it done? First, the biomedical/materials manufacturing company Oxford Performance Materials scanned the patient’s head, modeled the missing chunk of skull on a computer, printed it out, then surgically put it into the patient’s skull. The company says the implant was ready in two weeks after the head scan.


The small indentations made on the skull replacement encourage cell growth

(source: Oxford Performance Materials)

 A 3-D printer works by adding layers upon layers of material (usually plastic) to construct an object initially rendered in a computer. The highly precise method allows users to build stuff with great detail and customization. 3-D printing  isn’t a new technology, having been around since the 80s. Recently though, it’s gotten cheaper, more efficient, and more robust –  it is now a quickly growing field that has applications in a whole lot of different sectors (engineering, medicine, modeling, industrial design, etc). Now we can print out body parts, guns, food, and even haute couture. I wouldn’t download a car, but I will absolutely print one out if I could! And the future says I definitely can.


Left: Golden rice Right: White rice.

(source: Forbes)

I can’t believe it’s not buttered rice!

 Meanwhile, back at the farm, scientists at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Laguna have been crafting golden rice for the better part of three decades. Golden rice is a genetically-modified grain that contains beta-carotene, which makes it yellow. Once in the body, beta-carotene is processed into vitamin A, an essential nutrient for a healthy immune system and normal vision. Earlier this year, IRRI has announced that it has concluded two seasons of field trials in Camarines Sur. This is part of a long regulatory process by the Department of Agriculture to ensure the safety and efficiency of the product. IRRI hopes to make the grain widely available to the public by 2015.


Left: Viking warrior in the Middle Ages Right: a modern visualization


 The magical Viking sunstone

The Vikings are known as fearsome medieval warriors who wore horned helmets, drank wine from the skulls of their fallen enemies, and scoured the Scandinavian peninsula looking for women to rape and villages to plunder (not all true, by the way). They traveled extensively on water, and were very much adept at nautical navigation. Some sources claim that they used magical sunstones to help them locate the sun when it was cloudy or even during dusk. Accounts of Vikings using sunstones were believed to be merely allegorical, but recently a team of French scientists have reported finding a crystal in the wreckage of a British ship that sunk in 1592 in the English Channel. It was found near the ship’s navigational equipment, and was determined to be Icelandic spar, a polarizing mineral that can break up sunlight into two beams. By rotating the crystal until the two beams line up, the position of the sun can be determined. Note that the Vikings weren’t around anymore in the 16th century, but the British sailors may have used a sunstone as a backup for their magnetic compasses.


Left: Iceland spar is made of calcite and can bend light two ways Right: the calcite crystal pulled from the shipwreck.

(source: R.Weller/Cochise College; Alderney Museum)

Your next wallpaper is here

National Geographic, in celebration of its 125th anniversary, recently launched a tumblr site for its old photo archives. The photos show a variety of eras and cultures, from a motorcycle club in 1960s London to a Texas cowgirl parking her pony to Alexander Graham Bell kissing his wife in a tetrahedral kite. Yep.





Hope you had fun, and I’ll see you folks in next week’s Lab Letters!



DISCLAIMER: The opinions in this post do not necessarily represent the position of the Filipino Freethinkers.