Female Polar Explorers

As I prepare for a summer vacation in Alaska, I thought it would be fun to look back at all female Arctic and Antarctic explorers.

Five women: Ann Daniels, Caroline Hamilton, Zoe Hudson, Pom Oliver, and Rosie Stancer reached the South Pole.  They planned it. organized it, trained for it, raised the funds and in November 1999 walked over 700 miles across the most inhospitable continent in the world to reach the South Pole on foot.  The first all British women’s team to do so.

South Pole team

Ann Daniels (a mother with triplets) had a dream of putting together the first women’s team to ski from land to the North geographic pole. Apart from her previous experience in a relay, Ann’s first expedition, where fresh team members were brought in on each leg, no all women’s team had completed the entire journey. In fact due to the extreme difficulty of the terrain and climate, very few expeditions had ever walked the complete distance to the pole. She asked Caroline Hamilton and Pom Oliver to join her and together they put together the M&G North Pole Expedition, spending over a year planning and training for the arduous and extreme challenge.

Caroline Hamilton, Pom Oliver and Ann Daniels in Resolute Bay, NU. Canada. Photo by Jonathan Hayward

As they set off from Ward Hunt Island their sledges weighed almost 300  pounds. Temperatures as low as –50º for the first 26 days severely hampered the expedition’s progress and success looked doubtful. The team of three girls were hit by storms so severe that they were unable to put their tent up and had to huddle under tent material for 3 days, with little food or water. On day 37 they had completed just 69 miles of the 500 mile journey.

A journey across the Arctic Ocean is fraught with difficulties. Not least the extreme temperatures in a marine environment but the very ice they skied across moved and changed constantly as the enormous power of arctic currents and wind drove the ice together and at other times cracked it wide open. They encountered huge ridges, at times 30 to 40 feet in height, thin ice, open water, rubble fields and of course the constant threat of a polar bear encounter.

They suffered from severe frostbite, back problems and carbon monoxide poisoning from contaminated fuel. After 47 hazard filled days Pom Oliver had to leave the expedition as a result of frostbite and wet gangrene, leaving Ann and Caroline over 300 miles to cover in 30 days. Although the pole looked impossible neither were willing to give up and skied for over 15 hours each day, with little sleep in between. Both fell into the ocean and had to swim across open expanses of water but their determination to succeed prevailed.

Ann Daniels (c) Martin R. Hartley
Caroline Hamilton Photo (c) North Pole 2002 Ltd.
Crossing open water in a dry suit

After 80 days on the ice, they reached the North Pole, exhausted but triumphant and planted the union jack.  They sang the national anthem terribly and celebrated with whiskey saved for the occasion.

June 2, 2002 finally there. Photo (c) North Pole 2002 Ltd.

Against all odds they had become the first all women’s team in the world to ski to both poles. A feat that has never been repeated.

 

 

 

 

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The Marriage of Biology and Engineering

Bioengineering’s most visible branch is the development of medical innovations such as prosthetics and high-tech implants, but genetic, stem cell and tissue engineering are all set to become key fields in the medicine of the future.

For example, to help prep a surgeon who needed to close the hole in an infant’s heart, a biomedical robotic expert at the Children’s National Medical Centre in Washington, DC created a model heart with a 3D printer. He used a mix of hard and soft plastics to replica the feel of a real heart.

A model heart created by 3D printer Photo: Carolyn Cochenour/Washington Post

In China medical doctors at the Orthopedic Hospital in Zhengzhou City created a 3D model of a dislocated spine. This allowed them to practice a complicated surgical procedure ahead of time…isolating and opening the problem area, resetting the dislocation and then screwing everything back together without damaging the patient’s actual spinal cord.


Model of a spine with a 3D-printed vertebra devise in Beijing Photograph: Jason Lee/Reuters

To rescue babies born with congenital breathing condition which caused their airways to collapse, the University of Michigan has customized tracheal splints made from biocompatible material.   The splints support the collapsed trachea and then get reabsorbed within two years.

Trachea splints Photo courtesy of Leisa Thompson, Photography/UNHA

Using bioengineering to create organ structures that function and restore the health of that tissue for that person, is the holy grail of bioengineering for regenerative medicine.

Scientists at Northwestern University created prosthetic ovaries for mice. The prosthetic ovaries were printed using liquid gelatin made from broken-down collagen, a natural material, which is found in ligaments, tendons, muscles, bones and skin.

A scaffold for a bioprosthetic mouse ovary 3D-printed with gelatin Photo by Kristin Samuelson

The research team built the ovaries by printing various patterns of overlapping gelatin filaments on glass slides—like building with Lincoln Logs, but on a miniature scale: Each scaffold measured just 15 by 15 millimeters. They then carefully inserted mouse follicles—spherical structures containing a growing egg surrounded by hormone-producing cells—into these “scaffolds.”

After punching out 2-millimeter circles through the scaffolds and implanting 40–50 follicles into each one, they created a “bioprosthetic” ovary. The team showed that blood vessels from each mouse infiltrated the scaffolds. This process is critical because it provides oxygen and nutrients to the follicles and allows hormones produced by the follicles to circulate in the blood stream. The result was a fully functional bio-prosthetic ovary that not only restored hormone function, but also allowed the mice to get pregnant, deliver pups and lactate after birth.

In the future ready-to-implant organs should be possible in humans with 3D bioprinting. Scientists are excited that this technique could restore function in cancer patients who have lost their fertility.

Bioengineering is also being used to build artificial biological systems for research, engineering and medical applications.

Illustration of synthetic biology by Eric Proctor and Autumn Kulaga

Synthetic biology gives scientists unprecedented control of living cells at the genetic level. This field encompasses both plant and mammalian cells.

MIT biological engineers have created a programming language that allows them to rapidly design complex, DNA-encoded circuits to give new functions to living cells. The circuit runs inside a bacteria cell.   It’s like they are hacking living cells to program a new language.

Illustration of programing bacteria Image by Janet Iwasa

The MIT team plans to work on several different applications using this approach: bacteria that can be swallowed to aid in digestion of lactose; bacteria that can live on plant roots and produce insecticide if they sense the plant is under attack; and yeast that can be engineered to shut off when they are producing too many toxic byproducts in a fermentation reactor. In the future the bacteria could be programmed to release cancer drugs when encountering a tumor.

Biomedical engineering and biological programming are exciting, expanding new field of research with unlimited possibilities.

 

 

 

Cute but Deadly

Head-on view of caterpillar Credit: Melvyn Yeo/Science Photo Library

Most caterpillars have long hair called setae covering their bodies.  This hair act as a  defense mechanism.  The hairs often have detachable tips that will irritate would-be predators by lodging in the skin or mucous membranes.

Here are a trio to avoid: the puss caterpillar, the hickory tussock caterpillar and the io moth caterpillar.

The most venomous caterpillar in the United States, the puss caterpillar, got its name because it resembles a cuddly house cat. Small, extremely toxic spines stick in your skin releasing venom. At first the sting feels like a bee sting, only worse. The pain rapidly gets worse and can even make your bones hurt. People who have been stung on the hand say the pain can radiate up to their shoulder and last for up to 12 hours.

Furry puss caterpillar feeding. Photo by Caterpillar hunter/Flickr

One dapper critter called the hickory tussock caterpillar has a velvety back and sweeping bristles.  It looks more like a vintage feather boa than a caterpillar and is widely distributed in the eastern half of North America.

Hickory tussock caterpillar Photo by Greg Dwyer/Wikipeida Commons.

Some people have little to no reaction to the hickory tussock’s sting, but others have a reaction that ranges from a mild to severe rash comparable to poison ivy.   It’s microscopic barbs may cause serious medial complications if they are transferred from the hands to the eyes.   The adult moth flies away in May and June.

Caterpillars have to eat a lot. Within a few weeks of devouring as much greenery as physically possible, an io caterpillar can go from being a half-inch-long worm to a nearly three-inch-long monstrosity, brilliant green with red and white racing stripes  like the Io mother caterpillar:

Io moth caterpillar. Photo by Tim Lethbridge

Io caterpillars are indeed capable, and more than willing, to deliver a painful sting. If you brush up against these spines, the tips will break off and start to inject venom.

So what do you do if you get stung by any of these toxic caterpillars? Place Scotch tape over the affected area and strip off repeatedly to remove spines. Apply ice packs to reduce the stinging sensation, and follow with a paste of baking soda and water. If you have a history of hay fever, asthma or allergy, or if allergic reactions develop, contact a physician immediately.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vaudeville to American Suffragette

 

Trixie Friganza was born on November 29, 1870 and given the name Delia O’Callaghan.

She began working at a young age (12 or 13 years old) in order to help support her family, securing a cash girl position at Pogue’s store, and earning $3.00 a week. When she was sixteen she was promoted to the handkerchief counter at Pogue’s store and her salary went up to around $4.50–$5.00 a week. It was her boyfriend at the time, who encouraged her not to waste her talents as a singer and actress and to venture onto the stage where she could double or triple her current salary. She took her mother’s maiden name Friganza and the nickname Trixie stuck.

Her mother was inconsolable and devastated at her daughter’s decision to take to the stage. She notified Cleveland authorities who brought Trixie before a Cleveland judge to justify her decision to work in theater. She presented such a compelling and rational case for this career move (she had to prove to the judge that she was neither “silly” nor “stage-struck”, that this was a business move) that the judge granted her clemency and telegraphed her mother saying that Trixie was doing the right thing. She remained on stage in some form or another for the next fifty years.

Trixie Friganza was civic minded and socially attuned. She was not progressive by modern standards, but for a woman at the turn of the twentieth century to align herself with women’s suffrage and to promote a positive female body image was pretty radical. On October 28, 1908, Trixie attended a women’s suffrage rally at New York City Hall where she delivered a speech for women’s rights.

Trixie at Suffragette movement in New York, 1908

She transitioned to film in the early 1920s mostly playing small characters that were quirky and comedic and retired from the stage in 1940 due to health concerns. She spent her last years teaching drama to young women in a convent school and when she died she left everything to the convent. She became a highly sought after comic actress after the success of The Chaperons.

Trixie Friganza in The Chaperons

Trixie toured with many theatre companies in the coming years working her way from roles in the chorus to more prominently featured roles with speaking parts. Part of her success can be attributed to her constant willingness to step in and take over roles when others fell ill or could not appear. These instances provided her an opportunity to demonstrate her ability and ingenuity. She impressed agents, audiences and other actors alike with her stellar singing voice and ability to command audiences with her humorous interpretation of characters.

Trixie Friganza with Buster Keaton in Free and Easy – Easy Go, 1930 Credit: AF archive/Alamy

You can watch a funny video of Trixie here:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9H-7fKb9uQY

 

Home is Where the Microbes Are

A person’s home is their castle and they populate it with their own subjects – millions and millions of bacteria.

When we move from one location to another we take all of our bacteria with us and “colonize” the space around us within a matter of hours. These “bacterial signatures” are unique.

Mouth microbes Credit Martin Oeggerli, with support from School of Life Sciences, FHNW

Microbiome studies could serve as a forensic tool. In the future scientists could look at bacterial colonies to identify the last person to come into contact with the victim of a crime and estimated when the contact happened.

Microbes on small intestines Credit: Stephanie Schuller

The human gut teems with bacteria, many of their species still unknown. They help us digest food and absorb nutrients, and they play a part in protecting our intestinal walls. Gut bacteria may also help regulate weight and ward off autoimmune diseases.

Chain of streptococcus in a lab sample. Credit: Photo by Martin Oeggerli, with support from School of Life Sciences, FHNW
Colored scanning electron micrograph of microbes in human gut Photo by Martin Oeggerli

What are “superbugs” ? Any bacteria that cannot be treated by two or more antibiotics is being called a superbug. The CDC claims the single leading factor for the increase in superbugs is the misuse of antibiotics. Most people who get a C. diff (Clostridium difficile) infection are getting medical care.

SEM by David Phillips of Clostridium Difficile

MRSA (Staphylococcus aureus) is carried by around 30 per cent of the population without causing any symptoms. However, in vulnerable people, such as those that have recently had surgery, it can cause wound infections, pneumonia and blood poisoning. MRSA cannot be treated with penicillin.

Staphylococcus aureus MRSA bacteria, computer artwork by Alfred Pasieka/Science Photo Library

Doctors sometimes recommend beneficial bacteria, also known as probiotics, for patients suffering from GI illnesses such as colitis and Crohn’s disease. However, these over-the-counter probiotic supplements may contain varying amounts of bacteria, and may include cells that are no longer viable. Furthermore, these probiotics have no protective coating, so they can be damaged by acid in the stomach before reaching the intestines.

An MIT team has come up with a method of coating these beneficial bacteria with layer-by-layer layers of polysaccharides or sugars. The thin, gel-like coating protects the bacteria cells from acid in the stomach, as well as bile salts. Once the cells reach the intestines, they settle in and begin replicating, creating a whole new microbiome.

MIT coated probiotic bacteria Credit: Second Bay Studios

 

 

Psychedelic Images in Science

3D Computed Tomography (CT) is a nondestructive scanning technology that allows you to view and inspect the external and internal structures of an object in 3D space. Computed Tomography works by taking hundreds or thousands of 2D Digital Radiography projections around a 360 degree rotation of an object. Algorithms are then used to reconstruct the 2D projections into a 3D CT volume, which will allow you to view and slice the part at any angle.

North Star Technology integrated circuit micro Chip 3D x ray nanotanomography ct scan
Integrated circuit micro chip shown using 3D nano tomography CT scan by North Star Technology

The same technology allows medical doctors and dentists to more accurately diagnose their patients and/or to view implants.

Brain Skull DawidKasza istockphoto 185555045
3D CT scan showing brain in human skull Credit:  DawidKasza/iStockphoto.com
Dental-CT-Scan showing implants
Dental 3D CT scan showing dental implants

In the course of developing sophisticated imaging techniques for peering into the human body, radiologist Dr. Kai-Hung Fung discovered something within himself: an artist.

Dr. Fung is a specialist in diagnostic radiology at Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital, Hong Kong SAR, China. The discovery happened when Fung was asked by surgeons to generate 3-D images to allow them to visualize complex anatomies prior to surgery. Beginning with CT scans that show slices of organs at different depths, Fung stacked the slices into a single image and developed a way to indicate changes in depth with contour lines similar to those on a topographic map.

Teeth
Looking at human teeth upward from inside the mouth.  Credit:  Dr. Kai-Hung Fung
Kai Hung Fung CT scan cancerskulll
CT scan of human skull.  The red ring-like pattern is cancer of the thyroid, which has become detached and deposited on the skull bone.  Credit:  Dr. Kai-Hung Fung
Down through top of brain netwk arteries and veins Kai hung Fung blob1
Network of blood vessels inside the brain with the skull base as background.  Credit:  Dr. Kai-Hung Fung

Dr. Fung has used a post-production trick he developed, known as the “rainbow technique” to add colored contour lines to his images. This enhances the 3D effect.

Roof of 4th ventricle of brain K H Fung 1.jpg.CROP.original-original.jpg
Roof of 4th ventricle of brain  Credit:  Dr. Kai-Hung Fung

His approach to radiology doesn’t stop with medical imagery. He has partnered with Dr. Gary Yeoh to produce 3-D CT images of flowers and biological specimens.

Bell pepper (Capsicum annuum), 3D CT scan
Colored 3D CT scan of bell pepper.  Credit:  Dr. Kai-Hung Fung
Whelk, 3D CT scan
Colored 3D CT of whelk shell  Credit:  Dr. Kai-Hung Fung
Stargazer lily from mysicalgarden.org
Stargazer lily from mysticalgarden.org

Dr. Fung’s art career has blossomed. His amazing diagnostic images have been awarded, exhibited and published. His CT and MR scans are more than just psychedelic images, they are “4-D visualizations” that help surgeons visualize the changing perspectives and relative relationships of various anatomical structures.

Rivers in the Air

Satellite composite image of integrated water vapor showing an atmospheric river impacting the U.S. West Coast.
Satellite composite image of integrated water vapor showing an atmospheric river impacting the U.S. West Coast.

Atmospheric rivers, which can be hundred kilometers wide and stretch across thousands of kilometers from the tropical oceans to the poles, have been known to carry twenty times more water than the Mississippi River. These skyward rivers can release enormous amounts of water given the right conditions. Apart from discharging large volumes of water, the rivers are responsible for some serious weather, including heavy winds, which have been known to cause even more damage than the rainfall itself.

Atmospheric rivers are sinews of moisture from the tropics. The one pictured here appeared over the Northern Pacific on Jan. 3, 2017 Credit: NOAA
Atmospheric rivers are sinews of moisture from the tropics. The one pictured here appeared over the Northern Pacific on Jan. 3, 2017 Credit: NOAA

These “rivers in the air” can be huge, thousands of miles long and 250 to 350 miles wide. They bring rain from the tropic to the rest of the world, which is good, but if they are too strong, they cause floods. If one hits the West Coast it is called a Pineapple Express; while one that hits Louisiana and Texas is called a Mayan Express because you can trace the moisture back to Central America.

A giant atmospheric river hovering over the Mississippi caused flooding in Louisiana and East Texas in March of 2016.
A giant atmospheric river hovering over the Mississippi caused flooding in Louisiana and East Texas in March of 2016.

In February of 2017 the Oroville Dam in Northern California threatened to fail after heavy rainfall due in part to an atmospheric river overflowed Lake Oroville causing officials to open up the emergency spillway.  More than 180,000 people downstream from the Oroville Dam fled after fears of an imminent collapse of the spillway prompted an evacuation order.

170213103658-08-oroville-dam-0213-super-169

Atmospheric rivers are not restricted to the Pacific Ocean, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The fact, the rivers move with the weather and are present somewhere on the planet at any given time.

Because atmospheric rivers play such an integral role for water-starved regions, scientists are hoping to lengthen the forecast time and predict the exact areas where the rivers will strike.