Category Archives: powerful questions

Meet Pregnant Man

Meet Pregnant Man.

We recently made a film that we hope will get people thinking (and that you might consider using in the classroom!).

Watch our Pregnant Man tell his story

First off, let me start by saying that this is not currently possible, and a genetic male of the human species has not yet managed to become pregnant!

Thomas Beatie, the ‘pregnant man’ that you probably heard about a few years ago, is a transgender man (ie a woman undergoing gender reassignment), and actually had female reproductive organs when he became pregnant.

What we ARE saying is, ‘what if…’

  • A little bit about the science behind male pregnancy as depicted in our film. It’s based on ectopic pregnancies in women where a fertilized egg implants outside the womb; the idea is that IVF would be used to fertilize an egg, and the resulting zygote implanted into the man’s abdominal cavity.
  • The placenta would develop and attach to an organ in the abdomen, such as a kidney, to provide it with a good blood supply. The man would need to take loads of oestrogen and progesterone, female hormones that regulate pregnancy. Side effects of the hormones would be growing breasts, shrinking testicles and smoother skin.
  • The baby would have to be delivered by caesarean, and part of the organ supporting the placenta would have to be removed during birth as well. The entire process would be really risky for both the man and the baby- but as with any medical procedure, further research could increase safety and success rates.

So, whilst it’s not a reality now, it could feasibly happen- with enough research into it. Should we do it, just because we can? 

And sure, it sounds really ‘out there’ but then again, so was IVF when it first came out. Now IVF is very much accepted and even paid for on the NHS. In what circumstances would it be acceptable to have children this way?

Would the world be turned on its head if the traditional reproductive role of women were suddenly shared by men? And what would it be like for the child?

So much to consider, so much that could change! Would any of your students be willing to try it?

 

Wonderful Things: EEG cap

Imagine if your best friend -or even worse, your boss- could read your thoughts!  It sounds like the stuff from Star Trek but scientists are now experimenting with technology that could do just that.

The technology they are using is the electroencephalogram, or EEG.  This is a machine that detects the brain’s electrical activity and records it onto paper or a computer as wavy lines.    

The first human EEG recording, 1924

The first human EEG recording, 1924

This image is the first human EEG, which was recorded in 1924.  The recordings are taken using electrodes, which are flat metal discs that are placed at specific points on your scalp or are fitted into a special cap that you can wear.  The electrodes pick up the electrical signals in your brain as they jump across your synapses and transfer the signals to the EEG machine.  This records the activity as lines like this one.  

EEG tests are usually used by doctors to help them diagnose conditions that affect the brain, such as epilepsy or for detecting head injuries.  Scientists are now experimenting with them to see if it is possible to read people’s thoughts through them. 

EEG cap. What could this tell us about our minds?

EEG cap. What could this reveal about our minds?

Similar experiments have already occurred in the computer games industry.  Emotiv Systems have created a game which uses an EEG to record a players’ brain activity for six seconds.  The player then has to repeat the exact same brain signals and, if successful, they will be able to manipulate an image on the computer screen.  Of course, this isn’t actually reading your thoughts as you could have been thinking about anything during the game.  As long as you can replicate the brain activity it recorded you will win.      

At the moment it isn’t possible to decipher exact thoughts through an EEG but they can be used to successfully detect people’s emotions and when they are lying!  This is done by combining the EEG recording with image scans of the brain to see in which area the electrical activity originated. 

This has real potential to help those suffering from Locked-In Syndrome (who are only able to communicate using very basic means such as blinking) and even those with Total Locked-In Syndrome, where they are totally paralysed and cannot communicate at all. 

At present then, it isn’t possible for your boss to read your mind… but they might be able to work out how you really feel about them!

Can your students think of any pros or cons to this technology?

How would you feel if the police started using EEG’s and brain scans in their investigations? Would you happily take the test?

The mind-reading EEG cap is on display in the Who Am I? gallery on the 1st floor of the Wellcome Wing.

 -Kate Davis

Jokes business

Using humour in your teaching can help you engage your students- that’s nothing new. But what about LITERALLY using humour?

Check out my favourite (frankly, awful) selection of science jokes below…

 -Biology is the only science in which multiplication is the same thing as division.

-Did you hear about the famous microbiologist who traveled in thirty different countries and learned to speak six languages? He was a man of many cultures.

-Q: What is the fastest way to determine the sex of a chromosome?
A: Pull down its genes!

-When a year 3 pupil was asked to cite Newton’s first law, she said, “Bodies in motion remain in motion, and bodies at rest stay in bed unless their mothers call them to get up.”

-What did the male stamen say to the female pistil?
I like your “style”

-Two atoms were walking across a road when one of them said, “I think I lost an electron!” “Really!” the other replied, “Are you sure?” “Yes, I ‘m absolutely positive!”

Image sclick.net

OK, I might have you shaking your head- but you probably had a little chuckle too! If your students get the joke, it’s likely they understand the science behind it. If they don’t, its a good way to  see where they might need to brush up a little.

A quick google search will bring up loads of science jokes and humour. You can experiment using jokes as discussion starters, or even end a lesson with one to consolidate what you’ve covered. Or perhaps you just want to make your students laugh (or groan)!

Happy LOLs :)

Wonderful Things: Mighty mouse

On one side stands your typical everyday house mouse, cowering before his fearsome opponent: a mouse almost twice the size and boasting an incredible physique, nicknamed, appropriately, “Knock Out”.

Knock Out mouse vs wimpy mouse

Knock Out mouse to wimpy mouse: 'I'll eat you for breakfast"

So, is this brutal mismatch down to years of obsessive bodybuilding on the running wheel? Far from it. The only difference between these two individuals is that one mouse has had a specific gene type known as Myostatin (MSTN) removed or “knocked out”. This genetic alteration has allowed its muscles to grow to a colossal size. The ‘Mighty Mouse’ strain was first created by geneticists in 1997.

The implications of the discovery are vast. Such a technique might eventually allow the treatment of certain degenerative diseases such as muscular dystrophy and even allow humans to maintain a high level of muscle strength into old age. Athletes could, in theory, build muscle mass without exercising!

However, in an age where advertising, magazines, comic book movie adaptations and popular culture bombard us with images of bodies seeking perfection, it is argued that an important distinction needs to be made between using genetic technologies to treat those who are suffering, and using them on healthy people seeking to become superior to the average person.

Imagine if you were granted the power to use gene knock-out technology in humans to not only cure illness but also enhance an individuals abilities:

How would you decide who would be entitled to such treatment?

If you could genetically improve one thing about yourself, what would it be and why?

Should people who can afford it, be able to pay to become ‘super-human’?

To see our monstrous Mighty Mouse and discover other gene modification techniques used on animals, visit the Who Am I gallery on the first floor in the Welcome wing.

-John Inch

Wonderful Things: Gastric Band

We’ve all seen those celebrities who’ve been household names for decades, who appear to be comfortable in their non- size-zero bodies. Then, lo and behold, one day, they appear with new sleek, svelte figures.

 How do they do it? Simple: a bit of prosthetic surgery and hey presto, goodbye spare tyre! I am of course, talking about gastric banding which has been in use since the mid 1980s.

A gastric band helps reduce the amount of food you eat. It simply acts like a belt around the top portion of your stomach, creating a small pouch. It restricts the amount of food that can fit into your stomach, meaning that you feel full after eating a small amount of food, resulting in weight loss.

Gastric band on model stomach

Fancy a tummy squeeze? Gastric band on model stomach

According to The British Obesity Surgery Patient Association, on average, people lose between 50–65% of their excess weight in the two years after placement of a gastric band. Long before they reach that stage, they start to feel the benefits, especially if they also have any of the obesity–related diseases such as diabetes, heart disease or high blood pressure. They also have a much greater capacity for physical activity and more self–confidence; not like this gentleman in the public health poster below!

Heavy hitting - a public health poster

Heavy hitting - late 20th century public health poster

Having a gastric band is regarded as major surgery as patients undergo a general anesthetic. This presents some very real risks, side-effects and complications. Each operation costs the NHS around £8,000, but only those who fit specific criteria qualify to receive the surgery.

Is gastric banding an easy way to lose weight without having to diet or exercise as much? 

Would knowing someone who has had a gastric band change your perception/opinion of them? 

Is obesity a problem that humans inflict on themselves?

Should the NHS (and taxpayers) pay for gastric band surgery for very obese patients? What about if someone just wants to lose a few pounds? 

The gastric band is in the Who am I? gallery on the 1st floor of the Wellcome Wing.

-Denise Cook

 

Wonderful Things: Energy-harvesting paving slab

‘Cause the power you’re supplying, is electrifying…

Have you ever looked out the window in the wee hours of the night and seen street lights glowing and absolutely nobody in the street benefitting from them?  These days we hear a lot about our energy consumption and the size of our carbon footprints pretty much everywhere we go.  So, witnessing the waste that goes on right outside my front door whilst I am made to feel guilty for leaving my television on standby makes me feel a bit fed up with the whole issue.

My interest is reinvigorated, though, when I hear of the progress being made by scientists working on the development of new technologies that use  renewable resources to meet our energy needs.

One development, in particular, has caught my attention and is one that could help my local council with the street light problem.  This is the energy harvesting paving slab.

It is a paving slab that generates electricity as you step on it whilst you shop for the latest designs from Top Shop! It works by harnessing the  kinetic energy created by your footstep pressing down on the slab and converting this energy into electricity which can either be used immediately or stored in a battery for later use.

Turning footsteps into power!

Turning footsteps into power! Energy harvesting paving slabs in East London

The slab itself is made from old rubber tyres and the internal components are made from recycled aluminium.  It moves just 5mm when it is stepped upon but this is enough to generate up to 2.1 watts continuously when it is frequently in use.  This power can be used to operate many different appliances, from street lights to information display stands.

The slabs are made by a company called Pavegen and have already won the award for the most innovative product at Ecobuild 2010.  The slabs have already been tested in East London and Pavegen now have plans to install them in train stations, shopping centres and airports, so I guess it’s only a matter of time before we can all start to generate electricity by just going about our daily lives.

 

So, would you walk the long way home in order to step on these slabs? 

For the moment, these slabs have been tested in London, where there are loads of people but what about more rural places?  Where do you think these paving slabs should be placed here to be most effective?  Hopscotch, anyone?

The energy harvesting paving slab is on display in Atmosphere on the 2nd floor of the Wellcome Wing. 

-Kate Davis

Wonderful Things: Jedi helmet

Browse any medical forum post from someone seeking advice on Magnetic resonance imaging (or MRI scanning as is commonly abbreviated) and you will notice their queries often highlight feelings of apprehension, uncertainty and fear, despite the relative safety of the apparatus involved in such testing.

Using MRI allows doctors to get highly refined visuals of the bodies’ interior by using strong magnets and pulses of radio waves to manipulate the natural magnetic properties in the body, which in turn generates the image. The process is dependant on the patient lying very still while slowly passing through a noisy machine in a claustrophobic process lasting up to half an hour.

Further to this slightly daunting prospect, scans are enhanced by using surface coils, placed around the region of interest (i.e. the head for a brain scan) as conductors, to increase magnetic sensitivity. Having pieces of copper tubing taped to your face (as was initially done) may have created a beautifully detailed image but did nothing to ease your nerves!

Now imagine yourself as a child, preparing to lie down and go through this huge machine in the 1980’s when its exact purpose and safety assurance were less understood.

Ian Young at the Hammersmith Hospital tackled this tricky problem by creating an experimental helmet to get the best possible pictures of a child’s brain, designed in such a way that a child would feel enticed, rather than afraid to wear it!

Jedi Helmet- making MRI scans for children a lot less frightening!

Jedi Helmet- making MRI scans for children a lot less frightening!

The helmets were cleverly named after and resemble those used for training by apprentice Jedi knights in the popular ‘Star Wars’ films. The coils on the helmet acted as ‘aerials’ for picking up the MRI signals. It enabled clearer diagnoses of diseases and injuries affecting the brain, without any need for invasive surgery or radiation that was commonly used in other methods of examining such delicate areas.

The Jedi helmet was a great example of turning something seemingly quite unpleasant into something far more bearable through an aesthetically appealing design and clever wording.

 

Can you think of any scientific instruments or devices that could be redesigned or renamed to make them seem more appealing?

Our Jedi helmets can be found in the Health Matters Gallery on the Third Floor of the museum. 

-John Inch

Clean orbit

We’ve come a long way since Sputnik 1, the first man-made satellite, was launched by the Soviets in 1957. There are now hundreds of satellites orbiting above our heads, making our mobile phones, traffic signals, TVs, internet and loads of other communications, actually work.

Along with the working satellites, there are the dead ones, the fragments of broken ones, the rocket parts from past missions, and myriad other chunks of junk orbiting at breakneck speeds, looking for something to collide with. And when they do, working satellites are destroyed, the Space Station could be damaged , the astronauts’ lives put at risk, and a whole new cascade of junk fragments  go careening off in all directions. Sound serious? Quite!

 BUT! The Swiss with their great efficiency and tidy ways, have been pondering this massive problem. They are developing CleanSpace One, a little ‘janitor’ satellite to deal with space junk by capturing it and dragging it back into the atmosphere to burn up.

A Swiss janitor satellite to tackle space junk

A Swiss janitor satellite to tackle space junk

This comes not a moment too soon, as space agencies now really have to consider how to de-orbit the satellites they launch, if they don’t want to make the junk problem worse and end up being cut off from space.

So who is responsible for the junk up in space? Is it you and me, as users of the services they provide, or the companies that launch them? Would you pay extra on your mobile phone bill to help clean up space?

Explore space junk and other big issues in Futurecade, our brand new digital game… If you’re a teacher, try it as a starter for a classroom discussion, and use the in-game questions to get your students talking about how science impacts on their lives.

Good luck :)

Busy ‘bots

SO! It’s half-term. Many of you are busy taking a well-deserved rest (STOP WORKING!) and some of you might even be thinking of visiting the museum.

If you do, make sure you head to the Antenna gallery, on the ground floor, to check out Robots to the Rescue, a live event featuring an incredible robot that will do incredible things, and meet the University of Warwick engineers who’ve developed it.

The future of seach and rescue?

The future of seach and rescue?

 This hardy little ‘bot is designed to navigate rough terrain and hunt for signs of life - searching  dangerous disaster zones such as collapsed buildings, making it easier and safer for rescuers to find their way to survivors.

They are only here until tomorrow so make haste!

If you can’t make it to see them, Futurecade’s Robo-Lobster game might make you feel better. Control your mine-seeking robots to keep the harbour safe from attack! The game is based around the idea of robots doing dangerous jobs so humans don’t have to, just like University of Warwick’s rescue robot will do one day.

So will robots just keep improving our lives? What kind of tasks are you happy for robots to take on?

Countdown to Futurecade!

There is much excitement in Talk Science team this week- Futurecade launches this Thursday!

Futurecade launches this week!

Can science save humanity?

Futurecade is a suite of online games based on current and developing research in the fields of robotics, space junk, geo-engineering and synthetic biology.  Most importantly, Futurecade’s four games Bacto-Lab, Robo-Lobster, Cloud Control and Space Junker, are designed to be fun to play- so are an immediate hook to get your students engaged- and they use questions to provoke thought around the way technology might impact our future.

We’ve also worked with scientists to create background science notes and questions for each game, which we hope you’ll find useful to support you using the games in the classroom.

We haven’t been able to stop playing the games (it’s all ‘testing’ of course!) and we really hope you’ll try using Futurecade with your students, as a great hook or stimulus for a discussion around the themes of the games, to explore the applications and implications of science with your students, and help teach How Science Works.

Three… two… one… See you Thursday!