About jackg00de

PhD Student working on New generation Biosensors for Diagnostics and Research. Intrests in Cocktails, The future and Science

Eurovision drinking game

Ok so; its that time of year when people dust off their sparkly yeti boots and start attempting to hit that high note in Slovack or whatever godforsaken dialogue tehy have chosen by confusing their map for a dartboard and going with the cultural “heritage” of wherever it landed. 

Still the Eurovision Song Contest is the gateway drug for far flung eastern Bloc countriess to feel for one evening like tehy are fully fledged members of the EU; This year they can even join in with the greek banter and everything!  

 

Whislt all of this is going on however I believe drinking yourself into a mild gin-Coma is a sensible alternative so here are the hastily devised rules for a drinking game. 

 

But remember children; a “NORMAL!?” Adult does not exeed 3-4 Units a day ! 

Here are the rules, you must Drink If:

– Any flames on stage

– Presenters make a Joke that no-one laughs at/ try to sing badly/ make cringe-worthy statement

– If they say badly rhyming pun.

– Anyone on stage is wearing a codpiece.

– Everyone on stage is dressed Identically 

– Song has political metaphor, chains, cloaks etc.

– Key change in teh song.

– Singer trys to involve the audience

– Song From former USSR state is depressing.

-France does something wierd.

– BackupSingers Rap 

– Punch the air why hitting a High Note 

– Drops to their Knees 

– Anyone uses any ethnic instruments

– ANY use of air Guitar/ Other Instrument.

– Preview video of country has sweeping helicopter shots  

– Everytime your Country gets nil Points

– Down your drink if your country gets 12 points 

– there is really bad time delay and presenters talk over each other. 

– Every time Voice over person makes a bitchy comment 

 

 

Enjoy people!  and of course you can do this with international drinking Rules the whole time as well for added fun 

 

 

 

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St Germain, Springtime is here

I Drink spirits a lot but recently I have been dipping my toe into the world of liqueurs. With spring finally here and summer just around the corner I thought I’d explore the potentials to add a new depth and dimension to my drinks.

A great springtime flavour is Elderflower, Its such a childhood memory of the countryside and to me a quintessentially British taste. In spite of this, my favourite elderflower liqueur comes from Paris. Still based in the St Germain District of Paris the company produces a fine tipple over an intense spring period. Elderflowers are harvested in a narrow 4-6 week window in alpine villages where farmers thand pick just the fragrant flowers. The flowers are then bicycle ridden to local depots where the flowers are immediately macerated and steeped in a local aqua vie which itself is crafted from local Chardonnay and Gamay grapes, introducing another element to the complex balance and structure of flavours.

Many variables have been altered but this has been found to be the best way of preserving the delicate taste  without imparting bitterness or any acrid tones imparted by certain methods.  After this has happened, the flowers are removed before they begin to age, as within 4 days of picking they loose their fragrance and their flavour begins to change. Then sugar is added, at a rate of 180g/L^-1, Surprisingly low for a liqueur however for me perfectly avoiding the syrupy malaise of Cointreau and other famed french drinks, this manages to just tease the best out of the elderflower and settle and balance the drink.

As I bartender I love it as an ingredient the subtle echoes of the aquavit blended with the complex fragrance of elder flower imparts a flavour which is somehow everything at the same time though the elderflower is the main flavour, is does not hit you square in the face as with some “syrups” available on the market {which are often amide form freeze- extraction techniques- Effectively using dead plants} , the aftertaste settles somewhere between the citric end of the spectrum with grapefruit tones as well as more subtle aromas similar to lychee and Peach.

So back to a British Spring By way of Paris and Alpine France My recommendation for a drink usinng St germain could be a very long list; it goes well with Gin, Vodka, Zybrowka  as well as calvados, and clean rums. I would have to go for:

Ice in a Glass:

1 Part Gin, something clean with subtle tones, otherwise the flaovours might over-compete

1 Part St-Germain,

2 Parts Pressed Apple juice, preferably dry so the sweetness doesnt override the liqueur

top with soda,

 

 

Enjoy and Have a lovely time Preferably outdoors in the Sun.

Dersetec, the super grid that Might not ever happen

There have been plans floating around for the last few years to create a Super Grid across Europe, the Middle east and North Africa to unite Power lines and ensure stability and effective sourcing of renewable energy. One problem often cited against the use of renewable energy such as Solar and wind power is, that it is very unpredictable and any calculated yields rely heavily on weather predictions which as we all know are far from infallible. 

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Desertec, in spite of the James Bond villan-esque title is a project headed up by engineers and researchers which loo0ks to resolve this, initially by augmenting networks which currently exist across Europe with trans Mediterranean links to Solar farms in North Africa and Geothermal facilities in Iceland where there is a large amount of electricity generation from volcanoes and heat form the earth’s core.  The cost of the project has been estimated around 400bn EUR and it is aimed that up to 15% of Europe’s energy needs can be imported via this grid by 2050. 

 

Many people have projected that energy concerns will be a topic of increasing political tension so whilst DESERTEC may be allaying those fears, and be inclusive of currently less developed nations, building their infrastructure and encouraging development it may also bring energy security problems of its own. One major feature of this will be the division of Power and who decides on distribution rights after the Network is established, If western Europe continues to siphon energy from Poorer states who’s future generations have little say and are powerless to stop this, then clearly they shaln’t put up with it for long. This potential ransom I feel is rightfully seen as an incentive of more powerful nations not to abuse the system and thus keeping a level playing field for both sides effectively stabilizing energy prices in a fairer system . 

In the implementation of such large engineering challenges there will also be a lot of contracts and money flying around, in some states there is always the threat of corruption which must be monitored. But the one thing I see as a a current hindrance is the political instability of all problems.  Again with the potential de-railment of this project at any stage, even whilst it is functioning it will remain a key target and any group with an axe to grind may see it as a legitimate target to get their voice heard. Ideologies and reasons aside I think that this is a key consideration as no m,atter how well implemented and how transparently administered until there is a more settled political landscape this project may face alot more difficulties along its roadmap. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Drambuie Drips, Drams and dilutions

So As a blended whisk(e)y Liqueur this sweet nectar of a libation has the capacity to offend many whiskey drinkers.  I however love it It is a mixture of honey herbs and whiskey all of which ring through its rich syrupy texture and give a wwarming mellow sensation.

The “Legend” come marketing storey is that  The recipe was given to Cpt John MacKinnon, of the MacKinnon clan on the Isle of Skye, by the then exiling Prince Charles Edward Stuart  after the battle of Culloden in 1746. This story is historically disputed but it is known that the MacKinnon Clan did have the recipe which they passed onto James Ross in the 19th Century. Ross an entrepreneur and Hotelier adapted the recipe and began selling it in the Broadford Hotel in the 1870’s where it is alleged a local coined the name “Drambuie” it began trading globally and was eventually registered as a trademark in 1893.

For me it is the perfect evening drink from  a night in, on the rocks preferably mixed with a nice single malt as a Rusty Nail. This helps cut through the sickliness and and the ice as it melts unlcoks the flavour, the best diagram I could find below shows that as alcohol dilutes it allows the “flavour” molecules  are realeased.

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One thing I also love with drinking spirits especially such sweet ones is the marangoni effect you can see. This happens  as the lower surface tension of the alcohol causes it to creep up the sides of the glass, in wine this can be known as “tears” and is to do with the difference between surface tension between different components of a system. In drambuie the heavy thick honey based parts contrast greatly with the high alcohol content and you can sometimes see films dancing around the edge of your glass. it looks great and tastes even better.

Electrophoresis – A History

So, I’ve been very busy in Labs this last week, Mainly running Western Blots and running Coomassie gels, which I am still uncertain on how to pronounce  ( Co- like co-op, or Coo like a bird ?). Well anyways I have been doing them to look at antibody purification protocols and whilst they may seem fairly primitive techniques they remain some of the most powerful and cost effective in biochemistry.

Working according to the principle that a charged object travels towards an opposing charge, in a speed directly proportional to its charge and size, as proteins are separated by travelling across a gel matrix. In SDS-Page, the technique i have been using SDS is added to the protein which is heated in order to break disulphide bonds and denature the protein. this removes the effect of shape and keeps the Molecular Weight (KDa):volume ratio constant so, proteins are separated uniformly by their molecular weight.

Electrophoresis began after the early work of Faraday, when scientists such as Kohlrauch, Nernst and Hittorf would put charged particles one side of a U shaped tube then by applying a  charge would observe it migrate across to the opposing electrode.During this period a whole variety of compounds were tested, which eventualy lead to testing the mobility of proteins affected by an electrical charge.

More sensitive methods were eventually devised by a swede Arne Tiselius, which eventually lead to him winning him the 1948 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He worked in Upsalla in the 1930’s initially with solution only systems, however due to the faster motion of particles in liquid systems proteins traveled too fast and little separation was observed. By the 40’s  he had moved towards filter papers and gels, taking the ideas from classical organic chromatography in order to slow down migration and improve the resolution of  different molecular weight proteins.

Across this period the gels used varied significantly, some of the earliest gels used were sucrose gels, which then were replaced by starch and eventually Acrlamyde gels. This key development by Raymond & Weitraub allowed for the determination of pore size within the gel, allowing a more regular pathway through the matrix and more even results. The next breakthrough towards SDS-Page was the introduction of SDS as a denaturing agent, introduced by Weber and Osborn  this lead to the high resolution protein separation methods that we use on a routine basis.

For a routine technique used in Genetics and molecular biology as well as a range of other  Biological sciences  I find it settling to think that it only works due to physics, the studies of charge, current and motion of charged particles under Bias are all Physics problems, something which many biologists probably often forget whilst waiting for a gel to run. I think this is a really good demonstration of what works when you break down the boundaries and look at a problem and how it can be solved form another perspective. Some great early 20th Century cross-disciplinary work.

 

 

 

Bilingual Brains, Super Interesante !

There have been a few articles recently looking at cerebral development in multilingual people and what this may mean for their later lives and how their brain processes certain things. One Important distinction made across the papers was whether people had grown up bilingually, either as foreigners in a certain country or having parents of different nationalities, in which case there was never an active “choice” to be bilingual; it had been around since before they could remember. The other class was people who had moved abroad later in their lives or began a career in languages after the language processing parts of their brains had developed in their native tongue which they then needed to train to allow secondary languages to come forth.

One Study, Looked at the value decisions made by bilingual people, in each respective language, it found that when working in which ever language was the most secondary/ non-native people were more inclined to detach emotionally and use logical arguments in answering questions, particularly ones with moral implications. This is fascinating as it would seem to implicate the Left hemisphere of the brain which tends to deal with the more analytical logic based approach, leaving the right side of the brain, the “Feeling” half, where snap value judgments and “gut Feelings” are thought to originate.  More advanced work has looked at putting Multilingual People in Mri scanners and has located some people in which different languages are compartmentalized in regions across the brain.

This is all fascinating as It can show us how the brain adapts to inputs and how the synapses and their pathways may alter when  a new process is learnt. Another study has shown that when speaking in a secondary language, speakers may unconsciously suppress negative words, choosing not to process them in the same language as the rest of whatever they are reading, thus keeping it mentally separate and distancing themselves from emotional aspects.  This has some funny consequences such as, swear words often seem milder in a  foreign tongue, Which I feel is true however holds the caveat of context, which may change the severity of swearing drastically and often is much more subtle.

The regulation of 2 spatially independent language centers in the brain also has the advantage that bilingual people develop the ability to subconsciously over-ride brain processes by “switching” between languages. Psychologists thing thists on:off attitude is vital for epople who like to ahve many tasks all going on at the same time as it allows them to switch between tasks and come back to things later . It has also been found that there may be a link between speaking foreign languages and reduction of Alzheimer’s as it keeps the brain active, as well as increasing exam results( whatever that means).

This is all fascinating research and goes to show that speaking another language is a great this, it also brings cultural knowledge and generally opens up horizons. so why not go and learn a language …. Pourquoi Pas ?

When things Work

Many scientists accept that their work can be a grueling voyage which seems to leap from failure to failure, slowly chipping away at the options until we find something that works. From an outside perspective we can seem to glase over and get the overall impression that scienec is accellerating at such an astonishing rate that success is almsot guaranteed. 

Those of is working in research know that is rarely the case, but what can be done ? I recently was sent on a Stats course, which in Spite of its self was really interesting. It was basically about design of experiments and how we can optimize outcomes but it made me think about what we can do to ensure success.  I admit I have had a lot more free time of late, hence picking up this blog  but it has allowed me time to properly plan my experiments and be certain what Im looking for when I go into labs, this more considered approach, may mean less wasted experiments and hopefully better results. 

Maybe I will be part of this accellerating curve now, we can all hope !  

Open Access, is it fair on young researchers ?

So recently the Wellcome Trust launched the new eLife journal as an Open access outlet to compete with the likes of Elsevier they argue that as publicly funded institutes it is their duty to make the results of their research available to all. Many scientist also oppose the crippling licence fees charged by publishers, a particularly contentious issue when looking at the terms of licencing  when in a financially restrictive climate.

The large publishing houses know that a University often has students across a wide, but not exhaustive area of topics so, they often sell all-inclusive licences whereby the universities are often paying for subscriptions that they may not even need or want.  The Publishers previously had a more defensible position however with E-Publishing being THE primary access route this has become harder, Yes they do arrange  and sponsor conferences however within the realm of research they out-source the Editorial workload on academics paying a relative pittance. Whilst they charge so much for so little work  it can be seen that they have frustrated academics and with he growth of cloud sourced initiatives and the improved communications I think we have reached a stage where eLife and other Free to access journals may have some Impact.

Speaking as an early researcher however I find it hard to convince even myself. Though some very high profile scientists have come to the rallying aid of open Access journals and their start-up, until they become serious competitors, scientists will have to choose commercial publications. This all boils down to the “Impact Factor” argument a figure which is relatively new and aims to reduce a scientist down to a single number to see how “Good they are”  it is calculated using the average number of citations an article gets in a particular journal. The best journals such as Nature have impact factors around 30 and if you secure a publication here its generally a good thing.

As a early career researcher alot of pressure is placed on one to get publications especially with higher Impact factors as this brings prestige and potentially funding to your lab. It also improves application chances for PostDoc positions.  So whilst i think the movement towards Open access is admirable I feel that Early career PhD students should not be expected to fight the front-line and jeopardize their career prospects until at least they, or the new journals are established competitors

GMO Wheat In the Media, Go Nerds !

Recently I attended a Media course held by my Sponsors, BBSRC  (Biotechnology  & Biosciences Research Council) on dealing with your research, its media profile and how to promote your science in the best light for mass media appeal.

On the course were a few delegates from Rothamsted Research Institute, and crucially this was on the day that Field Testing of Genetically Modified (GMO) Wheat Field Trials had been approved.  On the one day course we were tutored on exactly how to discuss our data with a wider audience and got some great feedback and tips.

I never thought that the ramifications of this course and the people I had met would end up making such an impact in public science engagement and Publicity. Today on Twitter Rothamsted has launched a campaign appealing to GMO Activists who are planning activism against this research for May 27th.  On their website, the group known as Take the Flour Back are outlining plans for this “decontamination” and they are citing their reasons for staging it.

The response video and supporting letters from members at Rothamsted very maturely and Calmly deals with these issues, I think it is particularly nice how they emphasise the transparency of their research. I myself am publicly funded and feel the moral duty for this but by stating it overtly and in the public arena I think Rothamsted is taking a very progressive approach in opening dialogue.  Admittedly I am clearly biased in the argument, but I feel that is due to the lack of material argument on the activists’ side. I feel that if they were to enter into a meaningful and open negotiation and actually learn what it is that we aim to do as researchers they may begin to doubt their position.

Many claims made on the protesters’ website is based on Prejudice and assumption, with the odd all-out fantasy peppered in amongst it. If both scientists and activists could take a critical and more importantly INFORMED analysis of their positions then maybe, just maybe this could be a productive process.

I understand that in the GMO argument however emotions can run high as it can drag in all sorts of issues where personal beliefs are projected onto the fundamental science, leading to statements such as “Playing God” AND ” FrankenCrops” and if we could suspend this maybe it could help.

I feel the researchers at Rothamsted have by their calm and collected nature appealed to the greater sense in people. Hopefully the Public may see this and start to question the reactionary motives being protesters actions. We will wait to see what happens on May 27th  and I personally hope Biosciences doesn’t get set back any further.. willful ignorance is horrible