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Thursday 28 August 2014

The 3QD Science Prize 2014

We're very happy to report that one of our articles - Squid Lady Parts - is one of 85 articles nominated for this year's 3 Quarks Daily Science Prize.

The first round is open to public vote, so please go there and show your support for us! The other 84 articles are really good too, so we heartily recommend reading them all.

For those of our readers who aren't familiar with 3 Quarks Daily it's a selective aggregation service, or in their words a filter blog. In other words, they share content they like from other sites. Six days a week (Tuesday through Sunday) their editors share items from other websites in the areas of science, design, literature, current affairs, art, and anything else they consider to be inherently fascinating. On Mondays, they publish original material written by themselves.

The 20 most popular articles will then go through to the next round, with the winners being determined by Frans B. M. de Waal - a Dutch/American biologist and primatologist known for his work on the behaviour and social intelligence of primates.

Voting is open until 11:59pm on September 1st, NYC time - which is 5am on September 2nd for the UK.

Edit 04 Sep 2014:
We made it through to the semi-finals!

Our article was the 6th most-voted-for entry of the competition! The editors of 3QD will now make a selection of 6 to 9 articles, which will be passed to Dr. de Waal for the final decision.

A big thank you from all of us to everybody that voted for Squid Lady Parts!

Monday 18 August 2014

Thinking about Things We Don't Know

Things We Don't Know Venn diagram

Since starting in June, I’ve had a lot of fun with Ed and the team here at Things We Don’t Know. I’ve learnt a lot about where research is headed in several different fields, and I’ve spoken to some pretty cool people about what they do in research. I’ve learnt many things from this internship, here are a few of the less science-y (kind of) things:
  1. There are so many things we don’t know!
  2. Seems kind of obvious, what with common sayings such as, “We know more about space than our oceans”. However, I didn’t realise there are things we don’t about almost everything. Birds, ocean currents, the inner workings of our own minds – we are constantly learning more and more about our own surroundings despite them being the most familiar things to us, and working here has made me so much more aware of that fact.

  3. Priority is key
  4. I used to think time-management was a fairly good skill of mine, until I realised I was keeping up with the small things but not necessarily being on top of everything. Sometimes you have to sacrifice smaller jobs for later, to be able to get a big task done on time. Recognising the importance of each task is a little more difficult – sometimes it relies purely on the deadline. Once you’ve nailed that side of things managing your time effectively becomes much more of a doddle.

  5. Be a zombie
  6. I don’t mean walk around slowly dribbling a bit, I’m talking about eating brains! I’ve been working with people who are experts in many different fields. Picking these big brains has been a huge perk of this job, I’ve learnt many useful tips and tricks which I can now take and use in whichever job I end up doing. People don’t generally mind having their brains picked either, everyone here has been more than happy to teach me.

Saturday 9 August 2014

Autoimmune diseases - the friendly fire of our immune system

Autoimmune diseases affect millions of people, and have become an important focus of scientific research in the past decade due to their apparent increase in prevalence worldwide[1][2] - and yet little is known about their cause. Our body’s immune system is a pathogen-fighting machine, finely adapted to seek and destroy any foreign invaders which might cause damage within our bodies. To do this, it needs to be able to work out what is dangerous foreign material and what isn't, and sometimes it can get confused. Common allergies like hay fever occur when the body treats harmless pollen like a dangerous pathogen, and mounts an immune response. This can be irritating, but the real problem comes when your immune system becomes convinced your own body is a danger, and begins attacking itself. This is what happens in autoimmune diseases

The precise cause of these diseases is unknown but is thought to be a combination of both genetic and environmental factors[3]. It is known that relatives of people with autoimmune diseases are more likely to develop them, yet multiple studies have shown that in a pair of identical twins, with identical sets of genes[4], sometimes only one twin will develop an autoimmune disease.

This suggests that while genetic factors can predispose you to an illness, an environmental factor may be involved in triggering the development of the disease. One type of environmental factor associated with autoimmunity is infection. Exposure to numerous common viruses has been described as a risk factor for developing autoimmunity. A well-known example is the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) which is the cause of glandular fever (also known as the ‘kissing disease’ or Infectious Mononucleosis). Over 90% of the adult population are latently infected with EBV, meaning the virus is present in their system but does not cause any symptoms.

Electron microscopic image of two Epstein Barr Virus virions
All viruses have the ability to evade the host’s immune system in some way - this ability to hide from the immune system enables viruses to survive. Immune suppressive responses have evolved in viruses over time, and they have even stolen bits of our immune system that are beneficial to them. Image credit: By Liza Gross[8] ©2005 Public Library of Science (CC-BY).

Just like any other virus, the EBV virus is able to evade its host’s immune system. One way it does this is to produce proteins which modulate the host’s immune system. In the majority of people this has no detrimental effect; however in people with genetic susceptibility to autoimmunity an immune response to the body's own tissues is initiated. We have not yet been able to explain why it affects this small proportion of people, but not the many others also infected.

Friday 1 August 2014

Four Space Science Videos

A few weeks ago we announced that, through our partnership with Sheffield Hallam University, four teams of media and games design students had worked with us to adapt some of our previously published space science articles into animated videos. Since then, we've been releasing the videos through our YouTube channel. All four videos have now been released, so here's a quick round-up of the four.

The first of these was about the NASA space mission "New Horizons" which is currently en route to Pluto, based on Pluto's New Horizons by Peter Ray Allison. The video was created by a team of four students (Ryan Stewart, Jake Samson-Roberts, John Teo and Jason Vickers), who decided to use a similar "live animation" style as our previous video Why do we sleep?

The second group chose to animate Why are the planets so different?, by Adam Stevens. This group consisted of five students (Renny Nascimento, Will Pritchard, Clark O'Connell, Rachel ? and Romy Nelson). Their chosen style was to use stock motion with a 3D overlay which they produced using 3DS Max and Adobe After Effects, producing an 8-minute video with 5 sections.