Sunday, 21 September 2014

DNA, the new way of storing Information

Our information databases are growing bigger and bigger and we are running out of storage space. Currently, there is a total of around 3 zettabytes (10²¹ bytes)  of digital information in the world. This takes up quite a lot of space but with new technologies, we could store all of that information in the back of a lorry.

Nick Goldman and Ewan Birney of the European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI) near Cambridge, had the idea of using DNA to encode information and therefore, store it. The plan at first, was to use the 4 different “bases” in DNA -adenosine (A), thymine (T), cytosine (C) and guanine (G) and have say, A and T represent 0 and C and G represent 1 so the code used would be the same as the one used in computers and other electronic devices. The problem was that it sometimes formed repetition of a single base and this could generate problems when reading it so it was decided to use a ternary system instead of a binary one. This means that the numerals 0,1 and 2 are used and this time, every base has a different number depending on the base that was just used as shown on the table:

This has been tried out quite successfully with Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech and a pdf about DNA. Unfortunately, DNA synthesising machines are not yet reliable so information has to be stored in many different chunks. Another downside is that this information takes very long to read but, hopefully, we will find a solution for that in the future. Furthermore, it is far more expensive than storing information on magnetic tape but it can store it for thousands of years without degrading like the magnetic tape would, after all, archeologists have been able to get information from DNA thousands of years old.

This was researched and written by  Isabel Lammers when she was in 3rd ESO and now is a 4th ESO student.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Physics Ig Nobel Prize for Slippery Banana Research

We all know what will probably happen to us if we have the misfortune of stepping on a banana peel; we will end up lying on the floor with a sore bottom. But does anyone know the reason why?
Kiyoshi Mabuchi and his Japanese team decided to do some research on the subject by measuring the friction of banana skins in the lab and demonstrated why other fruit skins (such as orange and apple’s) aren't as perilous.
The Japanese scientists were awarded with the physics Ig Nobel for their research. Ig Nobel Prizes are a parody of the famous Nobel Prizes and are organized every year by the scientific humour magazine Annals of Improbable Science (AIR). Prizes are given out in an annual ceremony early in October at Harvard University and they honour research that “first makes people laugh and then makes them think”.
Although, at first, the investigation may seem slightly absurd and meaningless, it actually has much more to it than we would have ever thought. The team are interested in how lubrication and friction affect the movement of our limbs. What gives banana skins their slippery properties are polysaccharide follicular gels, which are also present in the membranes where our bones meet. They believe that this concept may be useful and relevant in devising a joint prosthesis.  
If you are interested, information on all 2014 winners is available in the following link:Ig Nobel winners 2014 . There are very interesting and surprising projects worth giving a look! 

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Welcome back to a new academic year!!!

To all of those who are reading this, welcome back to the Oak House School Science department blog for this academic year 2014-2015!!

We have been on holiday for the last two months but tomorrow the students return with a vengeance!

We have great things planned for the students and the department this year but you will have to watch this space to find out. 

We do plan to have regular contributions from both teachers and students and even some material from last year. If there is anything you want to read about or would like to contribute yourself then please leave a comment or contact me at We would love to hear what you think!

The world of Science has not been on holiday and lots of new and amazing discoveries have been made! Let's see what we can find out this year!!