The modern day Leeuwenhoeks

English: Anton van Leeuwenhoek postage stamps ...
 Anton van Leeuwenhoek postage stamps Netherlands 1937
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
When Anton van Leeuwenhoek invented the microscope, working out of his own shop in the Netherlands, little did he know the scale of the world, he was opening doors to. From being able to see little animalcules, as Anton called them in his letters to the Royal Society, we moved to a world, where we could isolate these microorganisms and study them. As our understanding improved, we started using these micro organisms for our own benefits like making cheese or beer and today, we know them so well, that we can edit their genetic properties to make vaccines and medicines for us. Yet, these tiny little beings continue their mischievous behaviour as they used to hundreds of years ago. In spite of all the antibiotics that we have, these micro-organisms can cause havoc in our bodies at the slightest opportunity available. The recent of case of Ebola in West Africa or the pandemic of AIDS are just examples of how we are still struggling to stay on top of this human-microbial see-saw. 

As the field of microbiology continues to grow, scientists discover new types of micro organisms, some useful while others harmful. Rather, adventurous scientists like Craig Venter have gone ahead and created synthetic life forms  on their own. While this might sound like a story of a sci-fi movie, with the crazy scientist trying to build a super bug, the larger scare is actually from the organisms that we know are harmful and are hiding amongst us, looking for that opportunity to strike. Tropical diseases have long been neglected by pharmaceutical companies, primarily, because there is little of hope of recovering research and developmental costs from sale of drugs in these countries. But now that we know that these micro organisms are capable of travelling across continents, governments are taking precautionary measures to avoid epidemics from occurring in first place. 

One effective way of preventing epidemics is containing the disease at the source. This is why international organisations such as WHO, FIND, MSF etc. have been working at grass root levels so that they can arrest the spread of such diseases before they turn into epidemics. Unfortunately, diagnostic methods in these remote areas are quite primitive. Just like pharma multinationals, companies dealing with new age diagnostic methods shy away from remote areas and prefer wealthy urban areas as their starting points for on-field implementation. There are some philanthropic organisations that try to avoid such neglect of the needy areas but such efforts are usually time consuming. The best way to address such issues is to to develop new techniques with easily available existing tools so that the costs of R&D remain low and even the remote areas can access them easily. One such effort is the CellScope, being developed by the Fletcher Lab at UC Berkley.  

The CellScope is a modern adaptation of the microscope that is aimed to be used by anybody and everybody. Breaking the tradition that microscopes belong to the lab and to the scientists therein, CellScope is a simple device that fits your pocket and can be carried everywhere. And why not? It is actually your smartphone, improved for scientific pursuit. There are many among us who boast about the capabilities of their new smartphones and probably, even the quality of 'selfies' that it can take. The Fletcher Lab is putting this 'self-obsessiveness' that smartphone companies use to sell us new models, to some good use by harnessing the power of their cameras for investigative purposes. 

Basic CellScope
Image credit:
Among the initial models built by the lab, is a platform consisting of comparatively higher optics, a source of illumination for the object to be studied and some custom software that can be applied to get standard (black and white) as well as fluorescent (coloured) images from a regular smartphone. 

Such a simple and small set up is easily portable and is also not demanding in terms of power or technical expertise. The team has successfully conducted some trials in countries such as Vietnam, Thailand, Cameroon, Ivory Coast etc. to name a few. 

This simple device can be used to detect cancerous cells in patient samples or simply identify the flora and fauna in water bodies. You could be in the middle of a sea, take a small sample of water and start recording your observations right on the deck with a CellScope. That is how quick this device is. But that is not what is really meant for!

What the inventors of CellScope want to do is make the device more smaller and portable and even simpler to use. This drive to make the device simple to use led to development of the OtoScope to help you keep a track on your child's ear infections.

An Otoscope helps you take videos of the ear and send them to a doctor for his opinion. You get a diagnosis and even a prescription, if necessary, all within two hours, when you are still sitting in the comfort of your home.
Image credit:

A simple addition to your phone's camera allows a parent to tackle ear infections at their first notice. Using the Otoscope, you can easily take a video of the inner ear and send it to a doctor, at any time of the day, without having to visit a hospital. The doctor's team at Otoscope will review the video in less than 2 hours and send you their diagnosis and even a prescription where necessary. So, no more waiting at emergencies, just because you an innovative cellscope at your disposal.

But Cellscope is not just about making a device that saves you a hospital trip. Rather, recent developments on the CellScope have allowed researchers to come up with a life saving device. The work published in Science Translational Medicine, speaks about a pilot study carried out in Cameroon, where parasitic infections such as filariasis and onchocerciasis are major health problems.

Ivermectin, an anti-parasitic drug, is a simple treatment that can be offered to patients here, but this
drug administration has been compounded by another parasite called Loa Loa, whose presence in the blood, can lead to severe brain complications, if Ivermectin is administered to the patient. Identifying whether a person is infected with Loa Loa is a completely manual task and requires a highly trained technician and a conventional laboratory microscope. In such circumstances, the government's efforts to carry out mass campaigns to inject Ivermectin and control filariasis and onchocerciasis, are severely affected, since arranging men and machine in remote locations for mass drives for the entire country is a logistical nightmare.
English: "Microfilaria of L. loa in a thi...
 "Microfilaria of L. loa in a thin blood smear, stained with Giemsa." (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An advanced adaption of the CellScope was used in the pilot project, where a single drop of blood was taken from the patient and loaded onto a capillary. The capillary is then inserted into an analytical base that is paired with a smartphone. All the user needs to do is inform a custom made app that the sample has been loaded after which, the smartphone communicates with the base, moves the sample near the phone's camera and takes a video of the blood sample. The video is then analyzed by the smartphone for a wriggling motion that is peculiar to the Loa Loa parasite and then displays the number of worms spotted in the sample. All this analysis is completed within a matter of two minutes and requires no high end microscopy or even a well trained microbiologist to tell you where the nasty Loa Loa worm is present. Patients signing up for mass administration of Ivermectin can be quickly screened and protected against any adverse side effects. Called CellScope Loa, the device works something like this.

Aren't these guys the modern day Leeuwenhoeks?

If you would like to know more about the Otoscope, CellScope or the CellScope Loa, you can find all the information at the Cellscope site at Berkeley University. For the readers interested in knowing more about the Loa Loa Cameroon Project, the link to the research paper is given below.

And if you would like to know more about such wonderful discoveries from the world of science, subscribe to our blog and we will send you an email every time we post something new and interesting. Alternatively, you can follow us on social media such as Facebook, Twitter or Google Plus!


D'Ambrosio MV, Bakalar M, Bennuru S, Reber C, Skandarajah A, Nilsson L, Switz N, Kamgno J, Pion S, Boussinesq M, Nutman TB, & Fletcher DA (2015). Point-of-care quantification of blood-borne filarial parasites with a mobile phone microscope. Science translational medicine, 7 (286) PMID: 25947164

The Tiniest of Fossils and what they tell us! [Video]

English: Tests of foraminifera extracted sand ...
Tests of foraminifera extracted sand from the beach of Ngapali (Myanmar) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
You must have heard of the largest fossil of dinosaur, Argentinosaurus found last year and we know that was probably the largest creature to have walked our Earth.  But what do the tiniest fossils tell us. 

This video from AMNH tells us more about the tiny creatures from the sea floor! 

small Hadron Collider in Every smartphone!

An example of simulated data modelled for the ...
An example of simulated data modelled for the CMS particle detector on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN. Here, following a collision of two protons, a is produced which decays into two jets of hadrons and two electrons. The lines represent the possible paths of particles produced by the proton-proton collision in the detector while the energy these particles deposit is shown in blue. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
As the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is fired up for its round two of investigations by CERN, the scientific community waits for fresh findings from the single largest machine ever built by mankind. The last time, the LHC was fired up, it was able to generate substantial data to show that the Higgs Boson was not just a theorized particle but something that actually existed inside an atom. Naturally, hopes from this massive particle accelerator are huge and in the past two years, the machine has been armed to accelerate particles twice as fast and there are some serious answers expected to our doubts about the Standard Model and the moments just after the Big Bang

If you would like somebody to explain the standard model to you as if you were a 5th grader, then you should read Jonathan Caroll's Explainer on The Conversation. But for those who like simpler things, here is the good news. Unlike the massive machine that CERN built over 10 years near Geneva, to detect particles that exist in our universe, each one of us is capable of finding out about these particles, whether we understand the complex physics or not. Its just that we are not aware of it! All one needs is a smartphone. 

While the focus of the Large Hadron Collider has been its sheer size, capability of accelerating particles to high speeds and making them clash, the most important components of the device are actually the Seven detectors that have been placed along the circular track of accelerating particles which detect the remnants of the collision and capture all the data for us. It is these detectors that are the heroes of the entire experiment being conducted by CERN, the silent observers of the entire process. But a camera in a smartphone is equally capable of detecting such particles, provided we know how to use it.

High energy particles originate from cosmic rays that strike the Earth's atmosphere and span several kilometres across in the sky. (You can read more about these mysterious cosmic rays from the Pierre Auger Observatory website ). A very large detector would be required to detect these high energy particles. Researchers Daniel Whiteson and his colleagues at the University of California, hypothesize that the CMOS sensor of a smartphone is capable of detecting high energy particles in the atmosphere. But since the size of the sensor is quite small, it would not be able to cover the large area span of these particles. This disadvantage can be offset by using many small smartphone sensors lined up together to form an array of smartphone sensors. But would you be willing to donate your smartphone for such a scientific experiment? Actually, you do not have to because there is an app for that!

Once installed, the Crayfis (Cosmic Rays Found In Smartphones) App collects this data for you by using the camera sensor and uploads it to the database using the Wi-Fi connection on the phone. The app has been designed to use the phone's idle time such as when it is plugged in, charging and not being used by you, to ensure that your usage of the phone is not hampered in any way. Besides, you are given a score for your contribution to the data collected and you can even make it to the leader board like the guys below have!

Leader board of users and devices participating in the Crayfis experiment.
If your phone captures valuable data, you will become an author of a scientific paper!
Photo Credit:
The only issue is that Crayfis App is currently in beta testing and not available to all. If you would like to sign up for this experiment and get yourself a scientific paper, then you can visit CRAYFIS website and register your interest. Alternatively, you can just subscribe to our blog and we will keep you posted as soon as the app is available for all. 

Since there are more than a billion smartphones being used in the world currently, collectively the camera sensors make up a massive array of detectors that will capture data about these particles, much alike the Large Hadron Collider. So, although, it is not exactly a Hadron Collider in each phone, collectively all smartphones can do the same work that the Large Hadron Collider is aiming for in Geneva.  

For those who knew that it wasn't really a hadron collider in every smartphone, then Kudos to you. But we would like to know at what stage of this post, did you become aware of this fact. 

A) At the very beginning of the article. 
B) Mid way through the article. 
C) Had absolutely no clue till the end. 

You can simply write A, B or C in the comments section below and probably a little background information about yourself, such as whether you have a scientific background or you are just a science enthusiast! 


Daniel Whiteson, Michael Mulhearn, Chase Shimmin, Kyle Brodie, & Dustin Burns (2014). Observing Ultra-High Energy Cosmic Rays with Smartphones Instrumentation and Methods for Astrophysics arXiv: 1410.2895v1

Analysing the Humming Bird

English: Humming Bird - Texas
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you have a small garden in your balcony, chances are you've seen these busy birds come by at least once a day. Consuming their weight in nectar everyday, its amazing to watch these dainty little bird go about their business. Here's a video released by Deep Look a new video series created by KQED San Fransisco, that takes a closer look at how these birds do their thing.

What you do not know about Mucus!

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
We have all been irritated with snort at some point or the other! But this mucus is more useful than irritating!

Here is an infographic that will tell you more about Mucus than you could imagine!

Can we really colonize Mars?

Artist's depiction of a colony on Mars
Image Source: 
Contrary to the scare that comes along with the thought that aliens might be interested in visiting our planet, humans, as a race, are quite enthusiastic when it comes to possibilities of inhabiting other planets in our solar system.  Whether we are eager to do this, in the name of science, or probably to quench our age old traits of conquering newer lands (something that is no longer an option on Earth), is matter of debate. But since, most people agree to this thought of colonizing other planets, we thought we could scientifically discuss, whether this was really possible. 

First and foremost, where do we go? 

Before we can decide what we would really need on this campaign for colonization, we need to first decide, where we need to go. Do, we go towards the Sun or away from it? Or do we just pick up the nearest planet to the Earth and start our preparations? We can simply look at our immediate neighbours first, Venus and Mars. While Venus is approximately 41 million kilometres away, Mars is about 78 million kilometers away from the Earth. So, why did NASA send its rover missions to Mars, when Venus was just half he distance away? 

Well, the answer to this lies, in this simple graph that compares temperatures of the planets in our Solar system
Graph showing average temperatures for the planets in our Solar system
Graph showing average temperatures for the planets in our Solar system
Image Source: www.enchanted
As you can see, the Earth's average temperature is around the zero degree Centigrade mark, the temperature where we know water freezes. In comparison, Venus, the planet that is closest to us has a temperature around the 450 degrees centigrade, making it completely inhabitable for humans. If we were to set up a colony there, we would have to find a very good mechanism to cool down the planet or at least the colonised area by a massive 400 degrees, something that we are not very good at, at this point in time. 

On the other hand, Mars has a sub-zero temperature range, with some places even registering a positive temperature. Additionally, as a race, we are quite adept has surviving in sub zero temperatures and keeping ourselves warm. Thus, Mars becomes the logical choice, when looking for a planet that we can colonize. It is not only close by, but we also already know a few things that can help us survive there. This is why, NASA and other space agencies have been sending exploratory missions to Mars and not Venus instead. 

What do we need? 

So, now that we know, which planet can be reached, we now need to make a list of things that we will need to get there and require, once we land on Mars. 

Place to Live 

In preparation, we will first need to ship Living Blocks to Mars that will be capable of supporting human existence on the planet. These blocks will maintain regular room temperature and levels of oxygen, Carbon dioxide, nitrogen, etc. within the blocks, just like the atmosphere on Earth. This will allow the first human inhabitants on the planet to live a life, free from space suits, much alike how life is aboard the International Space Station (ISS)

Food to Eat

Needless to say, the Living Block would have to be stacked with food, since from the information we have so far, Mars is incapable of growing potatoes and wheat for us. The ISS is also stacked with food for a crew of 3-5 people but supplies on the ISS are restocked every six months or so. The Living Units on the Mars would need supplies for at least 3-5 years since even a planned mission to the planet requires 7 months of journey time. 

Work to do

After spending billions of dollars to ensure that humans reach the red planet with food supply to last many years, it would be quite stupid to let them sit there and waste their lives, waiting for a pickup back to Earth. Curiosity demands that we do something there, like take a torch light and look out for signs of life. Rovers sent to Mars have already been able to send us good amount of information about what elements exist there, so that natural thing to do would be use this information to make the planet more habitable for us. For example, carry genetically engineered plants from here, that can sustain themselves there.

If these ideas seem a little beyond the horizon for now, the least we could do is carry enough equipment to set up more living units and stock more food so that more humans can be sent there at a latter point, with a mission that extends beyond just survival.

Means of transport

Moving along the surface of Mars should not be very difficult, since Rovers sent earlier to the planet have been able to do so with the power that is drawn using solar panels. However, it is the lift off from Mars that will much more difficult to achieve. Although, the gravity on Mars is only 38% of that on the Earth and the atmosphere is also thinner on the planet, the fuel to lift off has to be first transported from the Earth, along with other supplies and stored carefully, until the time it is required. Since, this looks like a tedious task to achieve, it is likely that humans travelling to such colonies may not return back to Earth in their life time.

Unless, of course, in the immediate future, we do find some kind of fuel on the planet or a Transport Shuttle of some sort is invented that can make the take off and landing much more easier to carry out on both the planets. 

Do we have the technology to achieve this? 

Amongst the things mentioned above, we have the technology to get ourselves on Mars (if not back right away). The Living Blocks are something that we need to develop. The development of the ISS is somewhere mid way between leading normal life on Earth and settling down on Mars. These blocks would require a mechanism to extract water from the frozen ice crystals on the planet and also a way to convert the plenty carbon dioxide on the planet to usable oxygen.

There is the chemist and engineer's way of making a device that takes into account the chemical changes required to convert one form of gas into another or else, there is the biologist's way, of using plants that have been doing this for millions of years and are likely to do the same on another planet as well. Rather, preliminary experiments have showed that this is quite doable and probably, along with Living Blocks, we should also send some seeds and saplings to the Red Planet to start off.
Plants grown in simulated soil environments for Moon, Earth and Mars!
Plants for Mars
Image shows plants grown in simulated soil environments for the Moon, Earth and Mars!
Image source: PLoS One. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0103138.g002

We will also need a few handy robots that can helping with building tasks and perform routine checks on equipment on hars environments on the Red Planet. The robots we have built are quite capable of handling tasks for us (A Wall-E future), so this is also achievable in the coming few years.

However, we will need to raise the temperature of Mars to bring it in line with that on the Earth. The human race is well aware of how to do this, so this should not pose a real problem. It is just it will be required to be done much quicker than usual and may be we will be able to find an economical way to transport trapped pollution to Mars in the years to come.

Like mentioned before, we do not have the technology to bring people back, so initially people heading to Mars will only be carrying a single journey ticket.

How soon can we do this? 

To be honest, people have already preparations to travel to Mars. Although, NASA's manned mission to Mars will probably take place in the early 2030s but private firms like Space X and Mars One have plans of landing humans earlier and perhaps even colonising it before NASA astronauts reach there.

Space X has been a well known name in space industry since they have been contracted to transport supplies to the ISS. Their Dragon capsules and Falcon 9 rockets have be applauded for their abilities and its founder and CEO Elon Musk has revealed that a complete roadmap to Space X's Mars Mission will be revealed before the end of 2015.

Mars One on the other hand, is a non-profit company, looking to set up a colony on Mars. Its Co-founder, Bas Lansdorp has been working since 2011 to ensure that the first crew for their Missions takes off from Earth by 2026. Unlike Space X, Mars One does not really have any rockets or launch engines at their disposal and their mission largely depends on the tie-ups they manage and the external funding they can generate to pay for these services. Interestingly, Mars One has already invited applications from the common public to become astronauts for this one way trip and people have responded in large numbers. The applicants list has already been shortlisted to a 100 names and Mars One has plans of broadcasting the selection process, training program and the actual take off to Mars as an historic event world over. The company aims to raise funds for their program through the distribution of the entire event whilst making space research a part of reality television.

But what ever means, people take to reach the Red Planet, the truth is that the race is on and it is only a matter of time, before humans set foot on Mars!

If you think that we have left out some important points in this post, why not bring them to our attention, using the comments section below! Otherwise, you can show us how much you liked our blog, by following it on  Facebook or Twitter or Google+!


Wamelink, G., Frissel, J., Krijnen, W., Verwoert, M., & Goedhart, P. (2014). Can Plants Grow on Mars and the Moon: A Growth Experiment on Mars and Moon Soil Simulants PLoS ONE, 9 (8) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0103138

Find your car in the parking space, with a little help from Science!

Pressing a button on the key unlocks all of th...
Pressing a button on the key unlocks all of the car doors. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
How often do we find ourselves in a situation where we are in the parking space with absolutely no idea about where the car was parked. The keyless entry systems that most cars are equipped with today, do make life a little easier but if you are really stuck in a place that is massively huge and the push button at your disposal is out of the range of your car's receiver.

Well, if you watch this video, you will have a trick up your sleeve, the next time you are caught in a situation like this. The bottle of water you carry can be quite handy.

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