Jerri Nielsen: Surviving the Last Place on Earth

There may be no place on Earth less visited by humans than the South Pole. Despite a permanent research base with buildings clustered about the pole and active scientific programs, comparatively few people have made the arduous journey there. From October to February, up to 200 people may be stationed at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station for the Antarctic summer, and tourists checking an item off their bucket lists come and go. But by March, when the sun dips below the horizon for the next six months, almost everyone has cleared out, except for a couple of dozen “winter-overs” who settle in to maintain the station, carry on research, and survive the worst weather Mother Nature brews up anywhere on the planet.

To be a winter-over means accepting the fact that whatever happens, once that last plane leaves, you’re on your own for eight months. Such isolation and self-reliance require special people, and Dr. Jerri Nielsen was one who took the challenge. But as she and the other winter-overs watched the last plane leave the Pole in 1998 and prepared for the ritual first-night screening of John Carpenter’s The Thing, she had no way of knowing what she would have to do to survive the cancer that was even then growing inside her.

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The Physics of Healing: Radiation Therapy

Few days are worse than a day when you hear the words, “I’m sorry, you have cancer.” Fear of the unknown, fear of pain, and fear of death all attend the moment when you learn the news, and nothing can prepare you for the shock of learning that your body has betrayed you. It can be difficult to know there’s something growing inside you that shouldn’t be there, and the urge to get it out can be overwhelming.

Sometimes there are surgical options, other times not. But eradicating the tumor is not always the job of a surgeon. Up to 60% of cancer patients will be candidates for some sort of radiation therapy, often in concert with surgery and chemotherapy. Radiation therapy can be confusing to some people — after all, doesn’t radiation cause cancer? But modern radiation therapy is a remarkably precise process that can selectively kill tumor cells while leaving normal tissue unharmed, and the machines we’ve built to accomplish the job are fascinating tools that combine biology and engineering to help people deal with a dreaded diagnosis.

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Automated Chamber Passes Just the Right Gas

It sounds like an overly complicated method a supervillain would use to slowly and painfully eliminate enemies — a chamber with variable oxygen concentration. This automated environmental chamber isn’t for torturing suave MI6 agents, though; rather, it enables cancer research more-or-less on the cheap.

Tasked with building something to let his lab simulate the variable oxygen microenvironments found in some kinds of tumors, [RyanM415] first chose a standard lab incubator as a chamber to mix room air with bottled nitrogen. With a requirement to quickly vary the oxygen concentration from the normal 21% down to zero, he found that the large incubator took far too long to equilibrate, and so he switched to a small acrylic box. Equipped with a mixing fan, the smaller chamber quickly adjusts to setpoints, with an oxygen sensor providing feedback and controlling the gas valves via a pair of Arduinos. It’s quite a contraption, with floating ball flowmeters and stepper-actuated variable gas valves, but the results are impressive. If it weren’t for the $2000 oxygen sensor, [RyanM145] would have brought the whole project in for $500, but at least the lab can use the sensor elsewhere.

Modern biology and chemistry labs are target-rich environments for hacked instrumentation. From DIY incubators to cheap electrophoresis rigs, we’ve got you covered.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Online Bone Marrow Cytometry Aid

Simple blood tests can lead a doctor toward a diagnosis of blood cancers, like leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma, but to really see what’s going on, he or she needs to go to the source of the problem: the bone marrow. Examining maturing blood cells from the marrow with a microscope is an important step in staging the disease and developing a plan for treatment, but it’s a tedious and error-prone process that requires a doctor to classify and tally a dozen or so different cells based on their size, shape and features. Automated systems like flow cytometry and image analysis software can help, but in an austere environment, a doctor might not have access to these. Luckily, there’s now an on-line app to assist with bone marrow cytometry.

Thanks to [Eduardo Zola], a doctor can concentrate on classifying cells without looking up from the microscope, and without dictating to an assistant. Keys are assigned to the different cell morphologies, and a running total of each cell type is kept. With practice, the doctor should be able to master the keying for the various cells; we suspect the generation of physicians that grew up with the WASD keying common in PC-based gaming might have a significant advantage over the older docs when it comes to learning such an app.

[Eduardo]’s app seems like a simple way to improve on an important medical procedure, and an enabling technology where access to modern instrumentation is limited. To that end, one area for improvement might be a standalone app that can run on a laptop without internet access, or perhaps even a version that runs on a smart phone. But even as it is, it’s a great entry for the 2015 Hackaday Prize.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Brewing up some quantum dots

We’re taking a field trip from the backyard, garage, and basement hacking in order to look in on what research scientists are up to these days. A group from the Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology has been manufacturing quantum dots for use in the medical field. Made up of Cadmium Selenide, this is a nanomaterial that you can think of as individual crystals of the smallest size possible. Quantum dots have many uses. Here, [Charli Dvoracek] takes the recently manufactured dots and activates them with antibodies capable of targeting cancer cells. Once mixed with a biological sample, the dots embed themselves in the walls of the cancer, allowing the researchers to find those cells thanks to the phosphorescent properties of the dots.

The video after the breaks walks us through the various steps involved in growing these dots. [Charli] has the benefit of a fully outfitted lab, using tools like an argon-filled glove box to protect her from harmful off-gases. You’re not likely have this sort of thing in your home laboratory, but as we’ve seen before, you can make some of your own equipment, and produce interesting chemicals with simple processes. If you’re someone who already tinkers with chemistry experiments we want to hear about your exploits so please drop us a tip about what you’re up to.

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Road tour on a bike with an attitude

This is Precious. Precious is a bike that the folks over at BreakfastNY have anthropomorphised for a good cause. By adding sensors for a variety of data sources to the bike, and transmitting them back to a server via a cellular module, Precious can spit out cheeky comments about the ride on its Twitter feed. Right now Precious is on his way across the country powered by his rider, Janeen, to raise money and awareness for cancer research. You can track the progress, enjoying some attractive web design and reading the oft-beligerant comments from the bike, at yesiamprecious.com.

Although there’s no specifics about the hardware, we saw the typical project box during the teaser video. Inside you’re sure to find the usual suspects. Considering that speed, cadence, grade, temperature, humidity, and GPS data are all available on high-end bike computers we hope they found a way to just read in that data. But your guess is as good as ours; start speculating in the comments.

Mr. Burns prevents sun burns

[nmcclana] wrote out this very detailed instructible on building Mr. Burns, a sun burn alarm.  Enter your skin type, sunscreen type, and UV levels for the day and Mr. Burns will let you know when it is time to go seek shelter or re-apply that sunscreen. Built on a Propeller platform, he’s using a blue LED as the UV sensor. He mentions that the device is fairly accurate, however people tend to put sunscreen on too thin and that will throw off the readings. There is a video of it in action on the instructible.