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Matt Swayne: How Penn State Research is Helping Us Live Long and Prosper

by on November 04, 2012 7:35 AM

I've always been interested in science. Well, to be honest, I've always been interested in science fiction movies and television shows. You know: Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, Lost in Space, etc.

Such is my fate: to be born a nerd at heart with limited math skills.

Luckily, I became a science writer and now I just let the researchers do the hard math, while I write about how these people are changing our future.

And the future is changing.

I recently had the chance to talk with Tony Jun Huang, associate professor of engineering science and mechanics, Penn State, on the acoustic cell-sorting chip that he and his team are developing. This device uses sound waves to take a stream of cells and channel them into several different paths for analysis. It's about the size of a dime.

You can read about the acoustic cell-sorting device here.

That sounds cool on its own, but it's a little more mind-blowing when you realize that the innovations that Penn State researchers are developing, like Huang's cell sorter, may one day lead to inexpensive medical analysis that can fit into a device about the size of your smart phone.

Right now, medical analysis requires machines about the size of room and costs… well, we all know how much health care costs these days.

Here are some more examples of the research going on at Penn State right now.

Researchers study formation of early cellular life

The world was a strange place 4 billion years ago -- and life was even stranger.

Penn State researchers have developed a chemical model that mimics a possible step in the formation of cellular life on Earth 4 billion years ago and may have stumbled onto solving a mystery that has perpetually stumped chemists about RNA.

Christine Keating and Philip Bevilacqua, along with two graduate students, Christopher Strulson and Rosalynn Molden, created primitive cell-like structures out of macromolecules, called polymers. They infused these macromolecules with RNA, the genetic coding material that some researchers think appeared on Earth before DNA. They then demonstrated how the molecules would react chemically under conditions that might have been present on the early Earth.

You can read about the study here.

How Science is (Really) Done

The whole scientific method is based on two things:

Your theories may be wrong.

You should relentlessly strive to prove them wrong.

Penn State researcher Moses Chan and his team of researchers discovered a "probable observation of supersolid helium" in 2004. Leading scientific magazines and journals, like Nature and Science News, heaped praise on this research, labeling the discovery of a new state of matter as one of the biggest scientific discoveries in years.

But Chan and other scientists around the world continued to try to prove the experiment right -- or wrong. This process is what Penn State Research Communications blogger David Pacchioli terms, "the sober majesty of science."

Recently, Chan disproved his own findings on supersolid helium.

Far from a failure of science, as Pacchioli says, this is "how science should be done."

You can read more at the Penn State Research Matters blog.

Team Receives Funding to Study Climate Risk Management

A group of researchers from a range of backgrounds and interest received a $11.9 million grant to help create a climate risk management network.

This network, which will be centered in Penn State, will investigate strategies to help devise responses to possible changes in our environment, economy and society brought on by manmade climate change.

Read more about this here.

Interested in finding out more about the research? Friend us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or check out our blog, Penn State Research Matters.

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Matt is a Research and Technology Information Officer at Penn State. He also is a Public Relations Manager and Adjunct Journalism Instructor at the university.
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