Military Develop New and Targetted Eye in the Sky

Military Develop New and Targetted Eye in the Sky

A new motion tracking system could improve the efficiency of security and military surveillance.

The system, a collaboration between the Naval Research Laboratory and Space Dynamics Laboratory, has been shown in testing to accurately recognise, geographically pin point and take high quality images of moving objects, without any human input.

In the tests, carried out in March of this year, the system was able to track vehicles and also showed the possibility of being able to identify humans. “The demonstration was a complete success,” said Dr. Michael Duncan, Office of Naval Research program manager.

In these tests the researchers used a camera known as the Eyepod, developed by the Space Dynamics Laboratory. This camera, when operated from a height of 5000 feet, can identify objects on the ground from 17-80 cm across, depending on the set up. The camera was able to accurately track objects on the ground and relay high quality images and information to  a communications centre, via a high-speed data-link.

A representation of the new system (Click to Enlarge)

“These tests display how a single imaging sensor can be used to provide imagery of multiple tracked objects,” said Dr. Brian Daniel, a research physicist who worked on the project, “A job typically requiring multiple sensors.”

There are many different potential applications for this research, ranging from the more obvious military uses to high-end private security. With the UK containing more CCTV cameras per person than any other country interest in this technology is likely to be high.

Both military and security surveillance generates a huge quantity of footage, which is time and money consuming for humans to observe in entirety.  It is believed that this new technology could help make surveillance more efficient and to improve the speed with which intelligence reports can be produced.

Genetic basis of lazy eyes uncovered

Genetic basis of lazy eyes uncovered

The underlying gene responsible for crossed or lazy eyes has been discovered.

The condition, scientifically known as strabismus, affects 1 in 20 children and typically the first symptoms will be seen between the ages of 1 and 4. Whilst it had previously been observed to run in families the genetic factors responsible were unknown until now.

The research, carried out by an international team including scientists from Harvard, identified the faulty gene TUBB3. This gene codes for the important cellular component tubulin in nerve cells. This is essential for maintaining nerve axons and ensuring accurate transport.

The study took 15 years and looked specifically at the congenital occurrence of strabismus in a family from Victoria. “We looked at about 50 members of the family (and) about 25 of them were affected in different ways. Some of them had both eyes turning, for others it was one side,” said Dr John Ruddle, a research fellow at the University of Melbourne Centre for Eye Research Australia, and one of the lead scientists in the project.

The family members in the study portrayed particularly strong indications of hereditary strabismus. However, this is not the most common form of the condition. It is hoped that the research will help understanding of non-congenital strabismus progress. There are many theories as to what may cause “simple strabismus” including viral infection and deficiencies in eye sight. “The discovery was important because it has helped build understanding of the development of the nerves that control eye,” said Dr Ruddle.

The current recommended treatments range from wearing an eye patch to corrective surgery.  The former highlights the emotional and social distress that the condition can cause for a sufferer, whilst with the later there are risks and complications associated with the surgery.

The research also identified that other problems in the developing brain may have a link to the same defective gene. This includes intellectual and behavioural impairments and facial paralysis, the researchers have term the spectrum of disorders TUBB3 syndromes.

Back to the Science Future

Back to the Science Future

Where is my jet pack? Why can’t I live forever yet? And where is my Technological apocalypse?

Friday saw the launch of the new issue of I’Science magazine. It has been entitled the “Great Expectations” issue. It looked at what science has promised us in the past and how close we are to full filling those predictions. You can check it out here.

 To celebrate the release of the issue I am going to share an art project which I happened across a few weeks ago.  It is a set of prophetic illustrations by the French artist Villemard. He produced them in 1910, intending to show what life would be like in the year 2000. Some of his predictions are remarkably accurate and others are just plain odd.



Prediction: Appears to be a primitive version of video calling

Exists in the 21st Century: Yes, and has been around in various forms for decades.


Prediction: Flying cars and flight suits

Exists in the 21st Century: No, although not from lack of trying 


Prediction: Computer aided design

Exists in the 21st Century: Yes, and with the rise of the 3D printer only likely to become more prevalent and publicly available.


Prediction: A Matrix-esque method of learning

Exists in the 21st Century: No, still only in science fiction. Although it could be argued that this is image is an allegory for Wikipedia.


Prediction: A sort of boat, airship crossbreed

Exists in the 21st Century: No, I’m pretty sure these don’t exist! 


Prediction: An automated hairdressers

Exists in the 21st Century: No, the closest we have come to this prediction is the electric razor.


Prediction: Automatic Make-up

Exists in the 21st Century: No, although versions of this can be seen in the Fifth Element and The Simpsons.

8 )

Prediction: Electric roller skates

Exists in the 21st Century: These do exist

New Multimedia Science Blog Launches

New Multimedia Science Blog Launches

Today sees the launch of a new multimedia blog on the PLoS Blogs network.  Called ‘Inside Knowledge’, it is produced by Lizzie Crouch, David Robertson, Anna Perman and myself. Over its 12 week duration we will be embedding with, and reporting on, the Imperial College Blast Lab.

Every week we will release a post looking to shine a light on the craft of science. We aim to use as much multimedia as possible, so as to really bring the lab to life.

Our first post is a trailer, it explores the lab and gives hints at the themes of the research we are aiming to explore over the next 12 weeks. To check it out click here.

For more information you can check out the about page of our blog and to stay updated with our developments you can follow us on Twitter here.

Science’s Search For Secret Of Heat Resistant Chocolate

Science’s Search For Secret Of Heat Resistant Chocolate

Why God!? Why!?

Science, it seeks to solve some of the biggest problems facing humanity. It tries to understand the nature of life, cure cancer and save the planet. However, now it seems to be dealing with THE big issue facing society, increasing the melting point of chocolate!

We’ve all been there, you hold a toffee crisp (or whatever happens to be your weapon of choice) for too long and you are left with horrible chocolatey sticky fingers. Well never fear, wipe away those tears…and the melted chocolate…because science is working on it! A new paper from the University of  Guelph, Canada, has reviewed many potential techniques for increasing the melting point of chocolate and have outlined 3 concepts:

  • Enhancing the microstructure of the materials
  • Addition of a polymer
  • Increasing the melting point of the fat phase.

But, how would you go about doing each…

Microstructure Enhancement

Photograph and full spectrum autofluorescence micrograph of chocolate confection showing (A) cream filling, (B) milk chocolate coating, (C) white chocolate coating.

One technique mentioned to do this was to add water. However, it’s not quite as simple as it sounds. There are several suggested complicated ways of incorporating the water. You could add it directly with the ‘Lataner’ technique  (4-20% water) ensuring that all the sugar is disolved. This will produce chocolate that “is said to be able to withstand any climatic conditions found in any part of the world”. However, it is also highly viscosous making it difficult to mould and not commercially viable.

The ‘Russell and Zenlea’  method is more complicated still, involving warm water addition with the chocolate being “stirred continuously in a steam jacketed mixer until a homogenous”. This produces chocolate that can withstand up to approximately 49 °C.

There are several other ways to directly add water to chocolate. However, they all have two major drawback, a susceptibiltiy to sugar bloom (what you see when the chocolate gets a weird white gray coat) and a reduction in the quality of the chocolate.

You can also add water indirectly. Frieman in 1921 as well as Kempf & Downey both produced high melting-point chocolate (HMC) this way. However, “chocolate likely had a high viscosity, poor texture and an unfinished flavor”. Other methods of water inclusion involved the use of water/fat emulsion. These prototypes produces chocolate able to withstand sufficient temperatures. But, there was a lack of taste testing of the products.

So, whilst overall these methods were are able to increase the melting point the quality was sacrificed. Clearly not an ideal situation.

Oil/fat binding polymer

This method of altering chocolate really came into its own in 2006 when Ogunwolu and Jayeola looked at adding cornstarch or gelatin. They were added at levels of 2.5, 5.0, 7.5, or 10.0% to other chocolate ingredients at the grinding and mixing stage. They then looked at the melting points and found that both caused it to increase (Figure 1)

Figure 1: Melting points of chocolate with addition of cornstarch or gelatin

These forms of chocolate also, like the previously mentioned methods, had their drawbacks. Sensory evaluation showed that 10% cornstarch chocolate whilst not significantly different than conventional milk chocolate in colour, taste and  smoothness, there was a significant decrease in sweetness of the product (ρ < 0.05). 10% gelatin chocolate was observed to not be significantly different in colour and sweetness, although did have significantly poorer taste and decreased smoothness when compared to conventional milk chocolate.

Not only are there taste issues with the products some countries do not permit any amount of oat flour, cornstarch or gelatin to be present in chocolate, limiting the potential applications of these methods.

High fat melting point addition

Several different high melting point fats have been tested as a component of chocolate. Two that have had the most research conducted into them are mahua (Madhuca latifolia) and kokum (Garcinia indica). These are both found in trees in India. The blending of these fats fats, was observed to improve the solidification and melting characteristics of the product. However, there would need to be a compromise reached between heat resistance and taste. A sensory evaluation found that 5% kokum chocolate was not significantly worse than normal chocolate, although this low level of the fat only raises the melting point to 34.8 °C. Also, there was no data for the taste of kokum chocolate at greater than 5%.

Heat resistant chocolate has been an idea that people have tried to perfect for a long time. During WW2 the American Military tried to make a Hershey Field Ration “D” with oat flower. As the above research shows it is possible to make heat resistant chocolate. However, the products currently are neither simple, inexpensive nor of sufficient quality compared to regular chocolate. So, nice try science…but you’ve still got a way to go!

Terri A. Stortz & Alejandro G. Marangoni (2011). Heat resistant chocolate Trends in Food Science & Technology : 10.1016/j.tifs.2011.02.001

Maheshwari, B., & Yella Reddy, S. (2005). Application of kokum (Garcinia indica) fat as cocoa butter improver in chocolate Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, 85 (1), 135-140 DOI: 10.1002/jsfa.1967

Ogunwolu, S., & Jayeola, C. (2006). Development of non-conventional thermo-resistant chocolate for the tropics British Food Journal, 108 (6), 451-455 DOI: 10.1108/00070700610668423

Viral Science: A Laboratory Prank

Viral Science: A Laboratory Prank

Everyone loves a good prank. As can be seen by the photo below which is part of a prank of a friends room I was involved in a few years ago:

With the ascent of Google the Yellow Pages needed to diversify its uses....

Well scientists are no different. The ‘story’ behind this weeks viral science video is that the researcher was apparently frequently late for work so his work mates decided to have some fun (the ‘punch line’ is 45 seconds in) :

It is unfortunately faked. But, funny regardless!

Anyone have any good prank stories, science related or otherwise?

The Science Network: Bloopers

The Science Network: Bloopers

Yesterday I posted up mine, Katya and Polly’s science parody of the social network. Today, I give you the treat of our bloopers reel.

Here are the blogs of some of fellow science communication students who featured in the film:

David Roberston – Christy – Aka the crazy boyfriend

George Wigmore – Divian Narendra – Aka freind of twins

Charlie Harvey – Winklevi Number 1

Camila Ruz – Winklevi Number 2

Thea Cunningham – Member of administrative board

Chloe McIvor – Member of administrative board

Anna Perman – Film board clapper operator

James Pope – Man at computer

And also

Lizzie Crouch – Who wasnt in the film but has helped promote it!

The Science Network

The Science Network

What would happen is the Social Network was about pubmed?

As promised here is The Science Network, a parody of the social network trailer all about science research and pubmed. It was made by Polly Bennett, Katya-yani Vyas and myself, with help from lots of friends and course-mates.

This was made for our MSc in Science Communication at Imperial College London. We hope that you enjoy it!


The Sound of Science: An Experiment

The Sound of Science: An Experiment

[Update: to check out the results and explanations post click here]

So far in this blog I have pretty exclusively commented and reported on science. Well, today is a bit different. With your help we shall engage in a little experiment! [Update: to see the results and explaination  post click here]

Embedded below is a sound that has some science theory behind it. To at least try and prevent any mean ol’ placebo results I am not going to say what the science is. The longer you listen to the sound the better, but I do understand that it isn’t particularly aurally pleasant! It also supposedly works best with headphones. [update: for some people it seems the embedded player doesn’t work if this happens to you the sound is also here]

Beneath the track is a poll to fill in after you have listened to the sound. Tomorrow (March 4th) I will reveal the results along with the theory, and we shall see if the science is right!

Also if people were to share this that would be great, the more data the merrier :D!

p.s. Don’t worry it’s not the ‘Brown Note’…