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FF’s Lab Letters Issue #2

And so we meet again, darlings. Welcome to another edition of Lab Letters, FF’s weekly science micro-post!

Last February 1st marked the fourth year of FF in existence. It’s great to be a part of an organization that digs reason, science, and secularism as much as (even more than) I do.

While one may ponder about the prevalence of Reason in the annals of internet message boards, forums, and Youtube comments, and while the state of Secularism in this country isn’t something to smile about, perhaps this week’s crop of Letters can hopefully bring some cheer. It’s time for Science, bitches!


Dude… can I see it?


Achtung, Boobies!

Members of a German military unit known for performing drills at ceremonies have grown man-boobs, but only on their left side, apparently as a result of repeatedly slapping their rifles against their left chests while performing. Scientists, doctors, and people who want to avoid giggling call the phenomenon as gynecomastia, and the term for giggling at the misfortune of others is schadenfreude.


Not pictured: crystal sex


Blue lights and hydrogen peroxide make crystals get jiggy wit it

New York University biophysicists have synthesized ‘living crystals’ that are capable of self-aggregation under certain chemical and physical conditions. The particles are said to model how living things behave (mobility and metabolism). The lab is now trying to achieve the trifecta: mobility, metabolism, and self-replication. Meanwhile, I never thought I’d ever read the words “blue light,” “hydrogen peroxide,” and “crystals” in a non-rave party context.


Zinc fingers (in blue) holding a zinc ion (green ball)


Stacking the odds against HIV

Think of zinc finger nucleases as DNA scissors: they seek out a specific region of DNA, then snip it into two pieces, rendering it non-functional. And well, if that particular region of DNA happens to code for a protein receptor that allows the HIV virus to stroll right into the immune cell? Well great! Stanford scientists went one step further: not only did they cut the DNA, they slipped in a bunch of HIV resistant genes as well just to be sure. This hacking and stacking is not meant to ‘cure’ HIV completely, it is meant to block the disease from progressing into AIDS.


This week in science history:

You could call it the week of remembering catastrophic crashes. On January 28, 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart in mid-air due to a malfunctioning O-ring seal that caused its rocket booster to fail during lift-off. It was to be the spacecraft’s 10th mission. All seven crew members were killed.

left: Space Shuttle Challenger. right: Space Shuttle Columbia


On February 1, 2003, the Space Shuttle Columbia and its crew of seven also suffered a similar fate while on their 28th mission. A briefcase-sized piece of foam broke off from an external tank and struck the left wing, compromising the shuttle’s thermal protection system. It didn’t survive the intense heat during re-entry.


And finally…

Here’s is International Space Station Commander Chris Hadfield demonstrating how astronauts wash their hands in space:


See, space exploration doesn’t have to all airlock-ejections and exploding spaceships. Think of all the fun stuff you could do in zero gravity!


Join us again next week for another issue of FF’s Lab Letters! I’ll see you then. ♥



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FF’s Lab Letters Issue #1


Welcome to the very first issue of Lab Letters, FF’s weekly science news micro-post!

While the Philippine justice system is busy placating the feelings of the offended Catholic clergy and trying to stifle free speech, here’s what the rest of the world’s scientists living in the 21st century have been up to:


Tang was just the beginning

The NASA Space Food Systems Laboratory’s Advanced Food Technology Project has posted a series of pictures detailing the various things astronauts eat while in space:


Psychology gets in on the gigil phenomenon…

…scientifically dubbed “cute aggression,” with an experiment involving bubble wrap:


165-million-year-old blood-biting tyrant swimmer identified

The partial skeleton, said to be related to crocodiles and similar to dolphins, has been sitting in a Glasgow museum since 1919:


Wow! Almost as much as a floppy disk!

UK scientists convert Shakespeare’s sonnets and other data totalling 739 kilobytes into DNA strands:


Scotty would be proud

UK and Czech scientists are working on a ‘tractor beam’ that can ferry small molecules across a small distance, hopefully scalable to bigger objects:


Once you pop

Finally, here’s how popcorn happens:


What information would YOU want to be stored in DNA? Tell us in the comments!

See you next week for another awesome issue of FF’s Lab Letters!


Image c/o D. Bogdanov/University of Edinburgh

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