All posts by Krista

Krista's a freelance proofreader and writer who spends most days eyeballing medical texts, others crafting stories for teen games. Sometimes she even makes a few bucks with photography. One thing's always true--she's got a hot geek streak for historical and scientific discovery.

Why do colors fade in the sun?

Unless you’re a hermit, you’ve experienced the strength of the sun many times in life. It doesn’t even require long days at the beach or afternoons spent at outdoor events. Just standing outside on a bright, sunny day provides a glimpse of its power. The evidence is in the sweat that trickles and the red tone that rises on your bare arms, legs or face. In fact, our bodies are the sun’s best way to boast.

Whenever you spend a little too much time outside with exposed skin, you can count on some amount of sunburn. Sunburn is the result of overexposure to the sun’s ultraviolet radiation. It causes chemical changes in the skin, leading to alterations in color, among other physical changes.

For many, the reward of sun exposure is a nice tan. However, due to the chemical changes taking place, this can come at a price: overexposure damages the DNA, sometimes even causing skin cancer. In other words, there are risks and rewards when we spend time in the sun.

But what about for nonliving things?

Humans aren’t unique in their susceptibility to sun damage. Along with living creatures, inanimate objects undergo changes after sun exposure. And such changes include alterations in color.

One key ingredient: ultraviolet radiation

The sun is the primary source of ultraviolet radiation, a type of electromagnetic radiation that is present in sunlight. It is named as such because UV light is beyond the visible spectrum of light, which ends with violet, the highest frequency of visible light. Thus, “ultra”-violet.

There are three main types of ultraviolet light: UVA, UVB and UVC.

Name Wavelength (nm) Absorbed by Ozone?
UVA 315-400 Little effect
UVB 280-315 Most absorbed
UVC 100-280 All absorbed

At the top of Earth’s atmosphere, right on the edge of space, 10% of sunlight is made up of these types of UV light. By the time sunlight hits the ground, it is only 3% UV light, and of this light, over 95% is UVA, the rest UVB. This small amount of UV light is strong enough to cause cancer with overexposure; however, the intensity is not uniform.

According to the American Cancer Society, several factors impact the strength of rays when they hit the earth:

  • Time of day: UV rays are strongest between 10 am and 4 pm.

  • Season of the year: UV rays are stronger during spring and summer months. This is less of a factor near the equator.

  • Distance from the equator (latitude): UV exposure goes down as you get further from the equator.

  • Altitude: More UV rays reach the ground at higher elevations.

  • Cloud cover: The effect of clouds can vary. Sometimes cloud cover blocks some UV from the sun and lowers UV exposure, while some types of clouds can reflect UV and can increase UV exposure. What is important to know is that UV rays can get through, even on a cloudy day.

  • Reflection off surfaces: UV rays can bounce off surfaces like water, sand, snow, pavement, or grass, leading to an increase in UV exposure.

There are also factors that influence the amount of UV exposure a person receives, such as length of time exposed and type of protection (clothing, sunscreen).

When each of the above are combined, they affect how the sun changes the color of inanimate objects we see.

So how do we see color?


How the eye works

The human eye uses three cell types in the retina to distinguish color. Called cones, each cell type is most sensitive to a different wavelength of light: short wavelength, medium wavelength and long wavelength. Short cones can detect light wavelengths in the range of 400 to 500 nm, medium cones 450 to 630 nm and large cones 500 to 700 nm. These each cover a different, often overlapping segment of the range of visible light, and when stimulated, the cones send signals to your brain to process color.

Single or multiple cones may show high stimulation when exposed to visible light, but it all depends on the particular wavelength. For instance, a short cone may react sharply to 450 nm wavelengths while the same light barely registers with medium cones. At the same time, each cone type has individual peak sensitivity (i.e., a strongest reaction) to specific wavelengths, and the overlap in detectible ranges allows two cones to react with the same strength to the same wavelength. For example, both the medium and long cones may respond equally as strong to wavelengths of 575 nm, even though they each react most strongly to other wavelengths. Combined with current knowledge, these facts help complicate what we thought we knew about sight.

light spectrum - cone fundamentals
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

If you’re like me, you’re probably most familiar with previous thoughts on sight, where scientists believed that short, medium, and long cones corresponded to the colors blue, green, and red, respectively. However, we now know that cones do not correspond to specific color detection, and that they each detect other colors as well. Interestingly, peak sensitivity in each cone can differ from person to person, even among those with normal color vision. In other words, your short cones may react most strongly to a 425 nm wavelength, whereas mine react most strongly to 440nm, both of which are different hues!

How objects show their color

Despite changes in our thinking about vision, one thing is still certain: while each person’s cones may react differently to the same wavelength, all of our cones need to detect reflected light for us to distinguish color. For example, imagine you an apple. The red color you see is based on the wavelengths that are bouncing off, rather than being absorbed, by the fruit. In other words, the apple skin doesn’t have red in it; it is reflecting the color red as light bounces off of it, due to chemicals in the peal.

I know what you’re thinking. Black and white seem different, but the same principle applies.

black and whiteWe see white when all of the colors are reflected. This is why the sun at noon looks white: all of the colors are reaching the eye. But why does it look yellow, orange or red at other times of the day? As the sun’s position changes in the sky, shorter wavelengths, such as blues and greens, get scattered in the atmosphere, leaving longer wavelengths, the reds and oranges, to reach your eye.

Black, on the other hand, is the lack of color. When you look at a black object, like a shiny new tire or the outer frame of your TV, there is no light reflected out because it is all absorbed by the object. And when there are no reflected wavelengths, there is no color.

Putting it all together: it’s in the chemistry

Although not the only possible culprit, UV radiation plays a significant part in the breakdown of the colors we see in outdoor objects. Unlike skin, an inanimate object doesn’t have DNA to destroy, but it is made of chemicals that can degrade. These chemicals, such as dyes, are subject to the same factors that cause sunburn, and thus the strength of UV light and the amount of exposure objects receive cause chemical changes that alter, among other things, color.

Remember the apple skin mentioned before? The chemicals in its skin do not allow the absorption of certain wavelengths, instead reflecting them.  When it comes to objects such as an outdoor table umbrella, the same idea applies.

blue and white umbrellaIf you consistently leave a blue umbrella outdoors, the compounds and molecules that reflect blue wavelengths will be exposed to varying strengths of UV light, depending on the weather, location, proximity to reflective surfaces, etc. Over time, the energy from the constant battering of UV light wears down the chemical bonds between the molecules, eventually breaking them and leading to gradual fading. This is called photodegradation.

In other words, the color fades because the molecular bonds changed and the object can no longer absorb and/or reflect certain wavelengths on the visible spectrum.  Objects may even eventually turn completely white because the wavelengths reflected have changed to that beyond our visible spectrum.

So then why do we get darker in the sun?

One thing we have that objects don’t is melanocytes. These cells exist in the lower layer of the epidermis, and when UVA rays are absorbed into the skin, they activate the melanocytes, which then produce melanin, the skin’s natural protector.

Melanin is a pigment that darkens the skin beyond your natural skin tone to protect from the harmful effects of sunlight. It absorbs light and disperses UV radiation, but as anyone whose tan has faded knows, the effect is only temporary. Every 28-30 days, the newly darkened cells make their way up to the surface and are shed, just like all skin cells.

Is there any way to protect the color of outdoor objects?

It’s not likely that you can completely prevent color fading from sunlight exposure, but you may be able to slow it by making careful choices. For instance, some dyes and other chemicals are stronger against UV; since red dyes appear to fade most quickly, it may be best to avoid the color. There are also spray-on chemicals available that claim to block UV and prevent fading.

Goodbye, Microsoft Paint! It’s been 32 years too long…

With the upcoming release of Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, one of most well-known graphics editing programs is on the chopping block. That’s right, MS Paint is listed as a program that is “not in active development and might be removed in future releases.” Am I allowed to say it’s about time?

I won’t deny that I spent a ton of time using Paint is a kid. But that was back pre- and during Windows XP. Before I was introduced to Photoshop and other programs. I mean, I know some meme-makers all over the web still use it, but I simply cannot remember the last time I used Paint.

Think about it. Just with Paint 3D and, it’s outdated, and when you can also use Canva, Pixlr or Vectr or download free programs like GIMP, it’s really time to move on. Besides, after 32 years, Paint had a nice, long run!

So while we don’t know Paint’s official funeral date, I’m happy to kick off the goodbyes.

See ya later, MS Paint!

You won’t be missed in this household, but I’m sure low-grade meme-masters everywhere will be saddened by your retirement.

Update: Due to outpouring of support for MS Paint, Microsoft has announced that the program will be available for free on the Windows Store.

Shark week blues: 5 documentaries to watch instead

By now I’m sure you’ve seen this year’s Shark Week promos. Perhaps it was singer Seal as a tasty dockside snack. Maybe it was Michael Phelps’ upcoming ‘thriller’ where he will ‘race’ against one of the ocean’s scariest beasts. Aren’t you so psyched? On Sunday, June 23rd, it all begins. There’s just one problem: I’m just not hyped.

Years ago I loved Shark Week. I would block off hours to watch the shows. It was something I looked forward to every year. Now? I tune in NAT GEO WILD’s Sharkfest, also starting on Sunday, June 23rd, this year. To me, their programming is much better.

One, Shark After Dark. Sharkmania. Really, Discovery? Give me a new show instead of this filler bull.

Two, I don’t need the 50th installment of Air Jaws.

Third, just five words: Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives. Screw you.

Fourth, is it just me, or do most of the shark attack shows seem like reruns? Or maybe new drapes, old furniture?

Finally, throwing celebrities in the middle of my shark shows. Look, I love Les Stroud. Survivorman is my favorite of the survival shows, by far. At least he’s outdoorsy. But comedians? Actors? YouTube personalities? Reality stars? Please go back to the days with no host.

Discovery’s Shark Week shows left a bad taste in my mouth starting a few years ago for these and other reasons. They felt repetitive, boring, too ratings-hungry and less what I used to love. I don’t hate Shark Week, really, but we’re taking a break. Seeing other people.

I’m going to try to get over it, I promise.

But until then, I’ll be watching Sharkfest and checking out the following shark-related documentaries.

These are what I want Shark Week to be. Not Michael Phelps ‘racing’ a shark. (Seriously, 4.4 mph versus 25 mph? What cheating tech is he going to wear? If your biggest promo makes me roll my eyes….this is what I’m talking about!)

Take a chance on these shark docs!

BBC One's Shark

A multi-episode series, Shark covers over 30 species, telling the story of shark life--from birth and courting to hunting and threats to their well-being.

Watch on Netflix

Galapagos: Realm of Giant Sharks

Researchers travel to Darin Island, where they track sharks to study their migration patterns. Here, both the currents and the sharks are a danger. 

Watch on Amazon

Mysteries of the Coral Canyon

This PBS documentary follows researchers in the atolls of French Polynesia as they explore how sharks and coral reefs are connected.

Watch on PBS

Of Shark and Man

According to the documentary's website, it "is an independent movie that follows the journey of David Diley, an ordinary man as he pursues his childhood love of sharks, uncovering one of the greatest conservation success stories of all time in the process."

Watch on Amazon

Shark Girl

From the Smithsonian website:
"For the young Madison Stewart, nothing feels safer or more natural than diving straight into shark-infested waters. Since childhood, growing up by the Great Barrier Reef, she's treated these predators as family. But they're vanishing from existence, and because of their bad reputation, few people seem to care. Follow Madison on her mission to protect our sharks, a battle that began when she put her studies on hold, grabbed a camera, and set out to save these incredible, misunderstood creatures."

Buy on VUDU or Amazon

6 must-have, but often overlooked, apps and products for working at home

There are a number of reasons I love working at home. The flexibility of my schedule, hours spent working with a dog in my lap, ease of grabbing a cup of coffee and starting work in PJs. It is stressful at times with due dates and workloads, but for the most part, there are few downsides. Of course, that doesn’t mean there aren’t small ways to make the home office life even better.

When you sit for hours at a time, something as simple as a back pillow can make a huge difference. If you’re like me, short and with arthritis in the knees, a comfortable, properly sized chair can limit pain. With a hectic schedule, nothing’s better than a good old planner or wall calendar. But these are the usual office go-to’s.

If you’re looking to improve your work-at-home space, think outside the box and consider the following products.

6. Lap Desk

Sometimes sitting at a desk all day just doesn’t cut it. But it’s uncomfortable to lean over a coffee table. Plus, laptops get hot when in a lap for long periods. The best remedy is a lap desk, and this one is an upgrade from your basic one.

Recommendation: Sofia + Sam Multi Tasking Memory Foam Lap Desk with USB Light

Sofia + Sam Lap Desk

  • Slide-out side table
  • Memory foam bottom, wrist rest, handle for transport
  • Slots to hold mobile devices (side table) and larger tablets (main table)
  • USB light that’s removable to plug in other USB devices (requires 4 AA batteries)

If you enjoy working on the couch or in the recliner like I do, lap desks like these are practically necessary.

Buy It: Amazon | Walmart

5. Multi-Device Desk Charging Station

Do you have a quite a few devices that you tend to leave everywhere? I do. My cell phone, tablet, laptop, kindle. I move my cords all over the place, too. One place to keep my devices for charging prevents me from wasting time. Like those 20 minutes wasted when I just needed to load my iPad with photography gig details.

Recommendation: MobileVision Bamboo Charging Station & Multi Device Organizer Slim Version for Smartphones, Tablets, and Laptops

MobileVision Bamboo Charging Station

This dock provides plenty of space for devices as large as laptops; because the weight is evenly distributed and there are magnets to keep the top and bottom together, there is no fear of tipping. Word has it that the middle slots are wide enough to fit iPads with OtterBox cases. The bottom has space for a multi-USB charger (not included) so everything can charge in one spot.

Buy It: Amazon

4. Noise-Cancelling Headphones

When you need to concentrate on audio or just need to drown out the noise around you, nothing’s better than noise-cancelling headphones. If you’ve ever worn ear plugs, you know they muffle noise only to a point, and that wearing them for long periods can be itchy, sometimes painful. However, with the right set of headphones, you can shut out even more sound.

High-Price Recommendation: Bose QuietComfort 35 Wireless Headphones

Bose QuietComfort 35 Wireless Headphones

  • 20 hours wireless use; 40 for wired use
  • Bluetooth or NFC pairing
  • Voice controls
  • Lightweight, comfortable
  • Balanced audio performance
  • Noise-rejecting dual microphone system

Buy It: | Best Buy

Lower-Price Recommendation: Paww WaveSound 3 Bluetooth Headphones

Paww WaveSound 3 Bluetooth Headphones

  • Wireless
  • 16 hour battery
  • Bluetooth connection
  • Foldable and rechargeable
  • Blocks up to 23 dB of noise
  • Turn noise cancellation on/off
  • Built-in microphone for use with smartphone

Buy It: Amazon |

3. Cup Warmer

I am the world’s worst about getting busy and letting my coffee or tea get cold. That means either trips back and forth to the microwave or lukewarm coffee after topping it off from the pot. Best solution? A cup warmer for the desk! Not only does it save time, it keeps my caffeine intake at the ideal for long days and nights.

Recommendation: Norpro Decorative Cup Warmer

Norpro Decorative Cup Warmer

The Norpro cup warmer holds up to a 3.75-inch cup of coffee or tea. Its nonstick plate heats up just enough to keep your drink warm, and in case of spills, the surface is easy to clean. The wall cord reaches a nice 5 feet.

Buy It: Amazon

2. Task management app

Paper and digital calendars are helpful for keeping up with to-do’s, and everyone’s fell into the lap of Big Sticky Note, but nothing really beats a good task-management app that can do it all.

Recommendation: Wunderlist


  • Build a to-do, grocery or other list
  • Create reminders, due dates and to-do’s with deadlines
  • Add notes and hashtags, or organize into folders
  • Print, or create push or e-mail notifications
  • Share lists and reminders with friends, coworkers or employees
  • E-mail things to your list, or add websites straight from your browser

Wunderlist is available for any platform you need–Android, iPhone, Mac and PC–as well as with browser plugins for Chrome, FireFox and Safari. You can download the app to your phone and desktop, and they’ll sync as you update them from anywhere. It’s really the best app for organization.

Download It: Wunderlist

1. Portable Scanner

Having digital copies of everything is practically mandatory these days. For one, it’s easier to organize items. Two, that makes it easy to later look them up. Three, it often means you have duplicate copies, so if the paper document is lost, there is a backup. It’s just good policy, both for personal reasons and for business reasons.

For instance, I have a tendency to misplace my business receipts. Once my printer’s scanner broke, I started taking pictures of everything.  Problem is, they’re not always the clearest. Plus, emailing pictures of business documents? That lack of clarity isn’t professional either. So, instead of relying on pictures from my iPhone, I broke down and bought a portable scanner–and it’s been a dream!

Recommendation: Epson WorkForce DS-30 Portable Document Scanner

epson document scanner

Scan your documents directly to cloud services with this portable scanner. With up to 600 dpi resolution, scans up to 8.5″ x 14″ come out clear. The scanner works quickly, and it even can create editable and searchable PDFs. Mac and PC compatible, it features a USB connection, and software such as Epson Document Capture Pro (Windows), ABBYY FineReader, NewSoft and Page Manager (Mac) provide enhanced functionality.

Buy It: BestBuy

A love-hate relationship with my 6-year-old macbook pro

I’ll be honest: I’ve been an Apple fangirl since high school. After growing up on PCs, the first computer I purchased for myself was a used Powerbook G4 off of eBay. The second was a Macbook in 2009. The third was the late 2011 MacBook I’m typing this on. The one that’s now, you know, trying to kick the bucket. And I’m determined to fix it.

An old friend

We’ve been through some important things together. I bought it while finishing my bachelor’s degree. Used it to type the short story for my grad school acceptance. Spent hours writing term papers, doing research, and drafting the first chapters to a novel for my senior thesis. A novel which I’m still writing and planning to publish. I started my freelance career with this laptop!

In other words, I have spent and do spend a lot of time on it. And besides being old and used a ridiculous amount, I have had no major issues with it. Which is why I’m so irritated right now.

It all goes down hill

The first thing that failed was the CD drive. Initially, it stopped burning DVDs. Then, it stopped reading discs. Was it a big deal? Nah. I very rarely need the disc drive. Not long ago, I even took it out and trashed it.


Next to go were the USB ports. It started with just the top one. I noticed that my phone charged while plugged in, but nothing transferred, and my mouse did not work. A few months later, neither port worked. The only bad thing? Using a Bluetooth mouth sucks. Oh well.

Then, I noticed my screen was wobbling. Adjusting its angle shows the connection is loose on the left side. It doesn’t impact the screen itself, so who knows? I guess as long as I’m careful, the electronic connections won’t break. I’m certainly too terrified to remove the screen and try to tighten the screws myself.

What’s next? Oh! My trackpad. I like to physically push and click. Now I have it set to tap because most of the time my trackpad will not click except in certain spots. This, combined with a crapy Bluetooth mouse connection, means gaming is an absolute chore.

No problem, right? I can live with all of that, even if it’s annoying.

One thing I can’t live with is a failing hard drive.

The final straw

It began with a sound.

Click, click, click. Click, click, click. Low, weird screeching. Click, click.

Rinse. Repeat. Until it drives me absolutely crazy.

See, I thought it was my DVD drive. It sounded like it was coming from that location, but when I took it out, it still happened.

hard driveThen, I thought it was the fan. Until my computer started locking up during the noise. Over and over again.

I backed up all my files to the desktop PC I bought for gaming just in case it finally crapped out. I deleted anything extra except for basic programs, and I’m only using it for work and surfing the internet.

It still makes that damned noise, which at times makes me want to throw it across the room. Perhaps it’s just hopeless.

They say if you love it, let it go

I just can’t though. Although I do love my desktop PC for gaming and working, I love my laptop for surfing the net and writing while the boyfriend watches TV.  And so I can work anywhere, anytime. I can’t afford a new MacBook Pro, and I don’t want a PC laptop. What can I say? I’m partial to my buddy here.

That’s why I’m going to attempt a rescue.

Updating and fixing a MacBook Pro

Luckily for me, in pre-2013 models, there are some things you can do to either update your MacBook’s performance or fix certain problems. (Newer models, however,  have fewer options, so hit the Google before you open yours up.) Some of it is easy, some more challenging.

For instance, I upgraded my laptop’s memory a couple of years ago. (see on Apple’s website MacBook Pro: How to remove or install memory). It was as simple as looking up the max memory for the model (for me, 16 GB), making a purchase, loosening some screws, and swapping it out. In my case, it made a nice difference in performance.

Got a bad disc drive or want to swap it out? Removing the optical drive is a bit more difficult because here are many connections and cables that run on or around the drive. This includes speaker and Airport/Bluetooth assemblies. If you don’t have the proper tools, like I didn’t, it’s not going to be easy. Make sure to have them on hand, and use a good guide to walk you through it.

I changed out a malfunctioning fan. Again, all it took was removing the case, unhooking the fan cable, unscrewing it, then hooking up the new one. iFixit has great guides for this.

I don’t yet have the nerve to mess with my screen, but if you’re having a problem similar to mine, iFixit’s display guide can help.  I’d be cautious if you’re not used to working with the guts of a computer.

There are many good sites and articles out there to help fix your particular Macbook problem. Don’t be afraid to check them out if you have some technical ability. But also don’t be afraid to go to the professionals if you don’t. 

Since I already completed a few changes and repairs, such as a couple of the above, the current job doesn’t seem too significant. Until you remember the problems I outlined previously.

think outside the box

Problem-solving: don’t be afraid to think outside the box

Let’s recap: my USB ports don’t work, I don’t have a CD drive, and my hard drive is crapping out. So how in the world will I install a new hard drive if I can’t hook it up to format it as Mac OS Extended? Install the operating system from a USB drive or a disc?

I could buy a new optical drive, but what’s the point when I’m only using it to set up a new hard drive?

I could buy an adapter to turn my Thunderbolt outlet into a USB plug, but would it even work without the OS X operating system installed?

It seems like there’s only one choice at this point.

If you haven’t heard, that old optical drive bay can be converted to a second hard drive bay. And that’s exactly what I plan to do:

  1. Buy a hard drive caddy made just for this
  2. Buy two new hard drives
  3. Insert one hard drive into the caddy
  4. Insert the caddy into the old CD drive slot
  5. Boot from my usual hard drive, then format the new one using Disk Utility
  6. Install OS X onto the new drive
  7. Replace the old drive with the new
  8. Set up the 2nd new hard drive
  9. Hope nothing else craps out in the process

I’m not saying it’s going to be fun. Heck, it may not even be worth it if something else important breaks. But I’m not going to let my temporary hate for this damned laptop make me do something rash when my problem is entirely fixable.

So stay tuned, dear reader, because in the next week or two, I’ll be taking you through the process with me.


5 new medical technologies that will ‘wow’ you!

Despite seeing the benefits of technological innovation in our everyday lives—from computers in the palm of your hand to self-driving cars, lab-grown meat to designer babies—we often don’t think about how these things are possible, and this is especially true in the realm of medical and biological research. The simple reason? For many, science is just plain hard to understand.

Do you know how scientists isolate genes, mix and match for genetic modification?

How about the techniques involved in the search for an HIV cure?

Have you ever looked into the new cancer treatment therapies undergoing clinical trial?

I love learning how these things work. Yet, in no way do I understand every piece of science underlying these and other medical research tactics. At the same time, these are more important to everyone’s future than, say, the latest cell phone.

Look, I get it. The evening news finds it easier to explain why wine is great for heart health than how the latest advance in molecular cancer therapy works. It’s easy to understand. Plus, people love an excuse to eat or drink something they normally feel they shouldn’t. But is there a way to bring biomedical innovation to a bigger spotlight? I say yes.

The average person may not understand how stem cell therapy works, or how and why you’d put human genes in a mouse.  What do they love, though? Technology. Show a robot doing something cool or artificial intelligence beating a human in a task, and they’re hooked.

So, in the spirit of showing off biomedical advances you probably haven’t heard of, check out these cool technologies that may one day help save your life.

Robots improve upon designer microbes

Zymergen is a rising star in the biotech industry, having raised $130 million in 2016 to power their robot factory. A robot factory that takes genetically engineered microbes out of human hands and improves them using artificial intelligence.

microbiologistFirst, the robots are much more precise than humans. For instance, instead of pipetting liquid like human scientists, Zymergen robots use sound waves to send a ripple through the liquid. This results in a more precise, specifically a thousand-times smaller, droplet landing in the selected container.

Also, the robots are fast. Instead of testing maybe a dozen hypotheses a month, Zymergen’s robots can run up to 1000 experiments a week. With each experiment for a specific microbe, the computer system collects the data, then uses it to design further experiments. While there are human scientists checking the work, the artificial intelligence is the one making the decisions as to what to edit in the microbe’s genome. And so it goes until they hit something that works.

Right now, Zymergen’s robots revise and improve upon industrial microbes, such as biofuels, drugs, etc.,  that were already human engineered, finding any flaws and improving the product in ways humans may miss. The hope, however, is to one day have AI take control from the start.

Read more about Zymergen’s technology in Science.

A handheld heart scanner? European scientists hope to put them in doctors’ hands

In 2015, the European Union’s Horizon 2020 project provided a €3.6 million research grant to fund the development of CARDIS (CARdiovascular disease Detection with Integrated Silicon Photonics), a handheld doppler scanner to diagnose heard conditions.   It works like a supermarket scanner and can provide results much faster and cheaper than current methods. With cardiovascular disease listed as the leading cause of death in the world today, this new diagnostic tool is a possible game-changer in the healthcare world.

Using Laser Doppler Vibrometry, medical practitioners point the device to the chest, where it detects any change in vibration of light or sound waves and maps the chest and heart area. This allows doctors to detect conditions, such as possible stiffness in the arteries, build-up of plaque and arterial stenosis, long before cardiovascular disease is typically diagnosed.

cardis handheld doppler scanner

There are a number of reasons to hope 2018’s prototype lives up to the hype.

  1. It’s thousands of dollars cheaper than other tools. For this reason, researchers hope to put it in the hands of doctors for in-office procedures.
  2. It’s noninvasive. There’s no need for examining cardiac biomarkers, performing cardiac catheterization, cardiac MRI or Holter monitoring. Instead, CARDIS, due to its inexpensive and portable nature, can get a quick, early diagnosis to slow or reverse cardiovascular disease.
  3. It’s more accurate than other tests and provides results in a fraction of the time.

Read more about the project on the CARDIS website.

Hate shots? Microneedle vaccinations are on the way

While I don’t personally mind most shots, I understand why both adults and kids have a fear of needles. They’re long, they go in places they seemingly shouldn’t, and they just look like they’ll hurt. Plus, some medical professionals aren’t the greatest at limiting the pain for even the simplest shots. Or hitting the vein the first time. The good news is that science is working to make the whole process a little more comfortable.

Using dissolvable microneedles, researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University have developed a pain-free patch for vaccine delivery.  The dime-sized patch contains 100 water-soluable microneedles, and it’s so easy to use that they hope to eventually be able to mail you your flu vaccine.

According to the National Institutes of Health, it’s as simple as using a Band Aid:

Adhesive helps the patch grip the skin during the administration of the vaccine, which is encapsulated in the needles and is released as the needle tips dissolve, within minutes. The patch is peeled away and discarded like a used bandage strip.

They’re also safe for storage and disposal. Patches last for one full year without refrigeration, and you can toss them in the regular trash, no sharps container needed.

So far, the results speak for themselves. A 100-person clinical trial of 18- to 49-year-olds showed that flu vaccine patches and regular injections were equally as effective, and 70 percent of participants stated they would choose the patches over injections or nasal sprays. With such outcomes, it’s easy to imagine that, if this were to hit the market, parents would happily choose the painless option not only for themselves, but especially for their children.

Now researchers are seeking to conduct further trials in order to gain FDA approval. Even better, they’re also already working to develop patches for other vaccines.

Of course, there are going to be vaccines that may not transition to such a patch because they require deep penetration via intramuscular injection to be most effective. On the other hand, who is going to complain when fewer vaccines require normal needles? I’m sure not!

3D printing could revolutionize biomedicine

While doctors in Brazil are now using fish skin to treat wounds, multiple research groups from around the world are taking a different approach: 3D-printed human skin.

Scientists in Madrid, Spain, created a prototype 3D bioprinter that successfully prints functional human skin that’s transplant-ready. The bioinks are created with stock industrial cells or even cells from the patient’s own body. Just like your printer, the ‘inks’ are inserted into cartridges, which are inserted into a specialty printer and used for printing. They hope to have the printer on the commercial market for use in burn centers within 2 years.

Instead of printing skin to later use on wounds, researchers from the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine are testing printing skin directly onto wounds. For their method, wound depth and size are determined with a scanner, then the details are used by the printer to print the correct kind of skin cell at the appropriate depth. Now in the second phase of their trial, researchers are testing whether a type of stem cell from the amniotic fluid or the placenta helps heal wounds.

The implications for either technique are massive. Not only can 3D printing reduce the scarring and minimize or eliminate skin-grafting surgeries, it can provide coverage for larger areas of skin and perhaps even shorten healing time. It also has the potential to provide a low-cost alternative for countries, like Brazil, who have a shortage of skin bank availability.

Even more importantly, it opens up the possibility for 3D printing of other biological materials vital to human life, such as patches of blood vessels for the ischemic heart; ear, bone, and muscle structures; nerves; and human organs.

3D imaging in medical scans

Using 3D imaging in medicine isn’t exactly new, but EchoPixel is kicking it up a notch. This new tool creates interactive, 3D holographic images of CT and MRI scans. Medical professionals can move, dissect and size parts of the patient anatomy, manipulating holograms to get a full view of the organs and better pinpoint disease.

According to the EchoPixel website, there are five key advantages to the technology:

  1. Real-Time, Interactive Virtual Reality System: True 3D moves beyond the flat screen, displaying real patient anatomy in open 3D space, with instant response and seamless interaction capabilities.

  2. Optimal Image Strategy: Anatomical information is tailored to be procedure-specific, easily accessible and unobstructed.

  3. Effortless Interpretation: True 3D provides the required visual context, with no extraneous information, significantly lowering the cognitive load for doctors.

  4. Engaging User Interface: It’s intuitive to use. Specialized tools enable users to directly grasp, dissect and size key clinical features with one move.

  5. Advanced Protocols and Sharing: Expert-derived protocols facilitate specific procedures, allowing doctors to create rich data, share it with others, and improve the utility of the system across the network of users.

The video below shows how it works.

It will be interesting to see how the technology helps to improve diagnosis as it achieves more widespread use.

Other technologies to keep an eye on

New technology to manipulate cells could help treat Parkinson’s, arthritis, other diseases

Scientists replay movie encoded in DNA

Soft robot helps the heart beat

3D-printed robot aims to fight cancer

New ‘smart needle’ to make brain surgery safer

Laser printing with nanoparticles holds promise for medical research

VIDEO: Learning the facts on ocean pollution

Although we see pollution on our beaches, sidewalks and streets, it’s not often that we think about what we don’t see–the pollution that winds up floating in and resting on the bottom of our oceans.

Put the following videos on your watch list to see what’s going on in our oceans and why it’s important that we recognize it, and hopefully make changes to slow it. Who knows? Perhaps with the help of technology, we can even clean it up.

How did the deepest part of the ocean get so polluted?

How much plastic is in the ocean?

The Great Pacific Garbage patch explained

How pollution is changing our ocean’s chemistry

Turning down the volume on human noise pollution for marine life

Can this project clean up millions of tons of ocean plastic?

10 awesome electron microscope images of tiny creatures

Science is helping us see creatures in ways we never have before. For instance, you generally know what a flea looks like, but have you ever examined it closely? It’s hard to get any details other than its tiny legs. But with technology like the electron microscope, we can see the flea’s details–from its face to the tiny hairs on its body!

To get a high-resolution, magnified image of a specimen, the electron microscope sends a beam of electrons toward it. Instead of lenses like a regular microscope, the electron microscope has a series of electromagnets that bend the electron beams to magnify the image. And magnify it does! The details are clearer than those from the regular light microscope you’re used to.

Check out the following images to witness the power of the electron microscope and see some tiny creatures up close and personal.

Hydrothermal Vent-tube Worm
Source: Philippe Crassous/

Head Louse, balancing on two hairs
Source: Louwrens Tiedt/

Source: Ms. Siti Nurul Mardhiah Mohamed , Universiti Malaya/

Mosquito's Wing
Source: Daniel Oldfield/@TheMicroscopist

Close up of spider eyes
Source: Dr. Louise Hughes/@DrLouiseCHughes


Close up of an ant
Source: US Govt
Source: matt the monkey/Flikr via  CC BY-NC 2.0


Fruit fly
Source: ZEISS Microscopy/Flikr via CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


Arrow worm
Source: JesseClaggett/Flikr via CC BY-NC 2.0


First off the assembly line: Tesla Model 3

The first Tesla Model 3 is officially here. You’ll never guess who the slick black car goes to!

…Elon Musk.

Normally the first person who pays full price gets the first car to roll out of production, but apparently Musk wasn’t on top of things for the Model 3. Instead, he was gifted the spot as a birthday present from the person who placed the first order.

The rest of the customers at the top of the list can expect first deliveries around July 28th.

Here are some of the specs for Tesla’s new model:

  • Starts at $35,000 before incentives
  • Compact four-door sedan
  • At 184 in. long, approx. 1 ft shorter than Model S
  • Gets around 215 miles on a single charge
  • 0 to 60 in less than 6 seconds
  • Comes with Tesla’s Autopilot
  • Tesla Supercharger compatible, but a a per-charge cost
  • Available with Ludicrous mode, like the Model S

It’s still not affordable enough for me, but it sure would be cool to have one!