Friday, October 24, 2014

Day 16: The Royal Society

Our last Saturday in London, we went to see the Royal Society's summer science show.  Founded in 1660, the Royal Society has been a center for the exchange of scientific knowledge and promotion of science for centuries.   And every summer, they invite researchers to present their work to the public. We scheduled our trip, in part so we could attend.  And it was fascinating.  We spent a good chunk of the day wandering around, looking at the displays and chatting with the researchers.

What sort of exhibits were they?  Well:

  • The University of East Anglia is doing research into leaf-cutter ants.  The leaf-cutter ant does not cut leaves to eat, it cuts leaves and uses them to farm fungi, which it then eats.  The ants produce a number of compounds in their bodies that help them to encourage useful fungi and discourage unuseful ones.  Some of those compounds are known antibiotics.  But the ones that aren't- those have the potential to generate entirely new classes of useful drugs.  So the researchers are isolating, analyzing and testing these compounds to see what they can do.  
  • Another group is working on interactions of bacteria in our guts with the immune system.  This has enormous potential for the treatment of conditions like colitis and IBS.  
  • The police academy in presented research on accident investigation and analysis. 
  • A presentation on research into use of ionic liquids for treating polution (ionic liquids tend to be short-lived compounds but can be extremely effective solvents. 
  • A bio-medical imaging study that turns tissue transparent so it can better be analyzed (right now, it's limited to dead tissue, but they're working on doing it with living tissue). 
  • The Rosetta mission to land a probe on a comet.  They expect to catch up with the target comet in November- I'm quite keen to see what happens.
  • Use of proton beams to treat cancer (they have lower energy than the typical radiation therapy and can be used with less damage to healthy tissue). 
  • 3D laser imaging being used to map and analyze the possible movements of dinosaurs. 
  • Software to make 3D images using 2D cameras. 
  • Smart wing design
  • Using ultrasonic waves to levitate small items, locate flaws in solid objects, and provide tactile feedback for use in virtual control devices.  

I can't begin to do the coolness if it all justice.  Do check out the show site.  The early 21st century is  just an amazing time and place to be alive.

Views from the Royal Society terrace

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