Tag Archives: nanomaterials

Technology reveals science that the naked eye cannot admire

One of the reasons that fields such as biology and chemistry can be difficult for non-scientists to understand is that the objects and processes they study are far too small to be seen with the naked eye.  Envisioning what something like endocytosis might look like is as much an exercise in creativity as reality. However, technology is beginning to bridge this gap, and the result is every bit as fascinating as we could have imagined.

At the University of Cambridge, the “Under the Microscope” project aims to detail the beauty and complexity of biology at its tiniest.  Take, for example, this image of a “Killer T-cell” attacking a cancerous cell in the body:


In this video, we see the Killer T-cell (in green) identify and attack a cancerous cell beneath it (in blue).  While watching it, two things immediately came to my mind.  One was the accuracy of the T-cell in carrying out its duty of destroying the cancerous cell.  The environment was filled with all kinds of tiny cellular neighbors, and yet our hero knew what to aim for and how to get there.

Tomorrow and Friday: BSR live blogs the BERC Innovation Expo and Energy Symposium

At some point during the last year and a half, you’ve probably found yourself thinking: “I really wish the BSR Blog team would live blog a campus event.” Well, the wait is officially over. Tomorrow, Oct. 20 and Friday, Oct. 21 we’ll be posting live updates from the BERC Innovation Expo and Energy Symposium, an exciting event showcasing cutting-edge energy research from UC Berkeley and beyond. If you can’t make it to the events in person (tickets are selling out fast), join us here on our website from 6 – 9 PM Thursday and 9 AM – 6 PM Friday, and we’ll make sure that you don’t miss a thing!

Biomimetics spotlight: a gecko’s special toes

“There’s nothing in the world that hasn’t been thought of before. Invention is almost always just arranging things in a new way.”
-Van Phillips, inventor of a prosthetic leg inspired by cheetahs

One of the most beautiful things about Mother Nature is how she has learned from four billion years of evolution to carry out her tasks successfully, efficiently, and sustainably—without getting in the way of everything else. Humans, though, have a rare habit of destroying things after we use them. Take, for example, the millions of gallons of oil that have spilled into the ocean, destroying many an ecosystem to provide us with a non-renewable resource that keeps our houses warm and our cars running. Or look at the deforestation of our rain forests, which has led to the extinction of hundreds of known and unknown species for the purpose of temporarily creating a more comfortable life for us all.

Biomimetics—the study of nature to solve human problems—strives to eliminate this domineering mindset towards nature and look to her instead with respectful imitation, to improve our lives today without destroying the place that will take care of our offspring tomorrow. Over the years, remarkable achievements have been made in biomimetics, from the prosthetic leg inspired by cheetahs, to the the first flying machine which imitated the birds in the sky, to bulletproof vests fabricated using a process similar to how spiders spin their webs, and even to biologically-inspired photovoltaics from studying the process of photosynthesis. Questioning how nature solves its problems can lead us to discover answers to some of our most complicated problems. Over the next few months, you’ll see a series of posts from me about recent discoveries made by scientific groups working in the field of biomimetics. Let’s start off with a look at a remarkable discovery that was made here at UC Berkeley by a group studying the movement of the gecko.

Should Americans make stuff? Do we really need to ask?

John Henry. Paul Bunyan. Rosie the Riveter. Many of the American icons of the past have something in common: they made things. And for a long time, the rest of the country followed suit, becoming the world’s leading producer of manufactured goods throughout the 20th century.

Rosie the RiveterToday, the story has changed. Manufacturing jobs are increasingly being outsourced—and not just because other countries offer cheaper labor. Positions requiring both high and low skilled workers have flowed steadily out of the country for the last few decades, to the point that China and Germany have recently surpassed the U.S. as the world’s top exporters.

An argument can be made that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with having less domestic manufacturing. Indeed, American corporations like IBM are often applauded for transitioning from manufacturing to services because of the opportunity to earn higher profit margins. This sentiment is even more visible at the level of individuals: doctors, lawyers and movie stars are among the wealthiest members of society, even though they don’t make anything tangible. If providing services works for individuals and corporations, it would seem that the U.S. could likewise pay its bills (and then some) as a global service provider in return for manufactured goods.