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    CHF fellow Ben Gross takes a look at one of the first flights (or hops?) on record.


    People ask me all the time. “Adam, what’s your favorite organ?” And I answer, without hesitation, “The kidney!”

    Now scientists have grown primitive kidneys in a laboratory dish. They take ordinary adult cells and infect them with a virus to “reprogram” them back to a embryonic state. These induced pluripotent stem cells can develop into any type of cell with the right coaxing. Scientists have already created heart, liver, even neural tissue from iPSCs. But making the cells develop into a kidney has proven difficult.

    Now, scientists at Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Australia have figured out the right recipe to create very simple kidneys. The top image is the full “organoid”, the bottom GIFs show series of cross sections. In all the images, the colors label different proteins that indicate specialized structures.

    These organoids don’t have all the functionality of a real kidney, but they represent a step in the right direction. The ultimate goal? Grow fully functional kidneys for people who need transplants. Because the grown kidneys would be derived from the patient’s own cells, rejection of the transplant by the host immune system wouldn’t be a problem.

    Images: Minoru Takasato/Nature

    The question seemed simple enough: what does this soup taste like? Kikunae Ikeda, a Japanese chemist, asked himself this question while eating one of his favorite dishes, a broth called dashi. He considered each of the four basic components of taste in turn—sweet, bitter, salty, sour. But to his surprise none of them quite fit. He could taste something more in dashi, something beyond the usual quartet. But what? This small, nagging question would soon revolutionize the scientific understanding of taste—and transform the palates of human beings around the globe.

    Read more about the discovery of the fifth element of taste in Sam Kean’s article in the latest issue of Distillations magazine.

    Image: Flickr user Peter Thoeny


    Happy Birthday Niels! 

    Niels Bohr was born 7 October 1885 in Copenhagen and won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1922, among many other medals. He is best known for his contributions to the understanding of atomic structure and quantum theory. He was involved with the Manhattan Project but advocated for open knowledge of atomic energy hoping to avoid an arms race.  

    To read more about Bohr go to the Niels Bohr Institute

    The Volkswagen Affair: Chemical instrumentation’s half-century of scrutinizing auto emissions


    Just what was the software intended to “defeat?” The answer is chemical instrumentation that has been consistently deployed for a half-century to scrutinize automobile emissions and to control air pollution. And how was Volkswagen caught? By this very same chemical instrumentation.

    In the late 1940s, Los Angeles was beset by terrible, stinking and stinging brown smog. It caused eyes to water, chests to cough, skies to darken, and some of the most vulnerable to even die. It was a major scourge that residents, the government, and the business community recognized as imperiling the vitality and growth of the region. Through the efforts of local researchers, the cause of smog was identified: carbon-containing compounds emitted by automobiles, refineries and chemical plants, backyard trash fires, etc. The state created an air pollution control district in southern California to help enforce a set of regulations about these emissions, and to measure the ongoing state of affairs.

    One of the principal tools in the battle against smog was the infrared spectrometer, which measured various emissions like carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide by their characteristic absorption of infrared light. Arnold O. Beckman’s firm in the region, Beckman Instruments, produced an infrared analyzer that could be placed in an automobile and could measure its emissions as it motored about:


    The results stunned the instrument’s developer, Max Liston. The most poorly tuned and oldest cars were responsible for an astonishing amount of pollution.

    At about this time, but across the Pacific Ocean in Kyoto, Japan, a young instrumentation entrepreneur named Masao Horiba was moving into the production of this same form of infrared spectrometer. Horiba began his firm in the inauspicious conditions of Japan in the immediate postwar years, eventually finding success in the manufacture of electronic pH meters – the same product that had established Beckman’s business in the 1930s. During the 1960s, Horiba developed infrared instruments for use in medicine – monitoring the breath of patients during surgery and the like.

    At the end of the 1960s, Horiba’s colleagues convinced him to adapt their technology to the analysis of automobile exhaust. Not only was there a potential market for emissions testing, but the analysis of automobile exhaust could be an important tool for automobile manufacturers in their development of new engines and systems. As with many other instruments, once the US Environmental Protection Agency officially approved Horiba’s “MEXA” line of instruments for measuring automotive emissions, sales took off.


    Eventually, Horiba’s firm became the global leader in providing chemical instrumentation and systems for measuring automobile exhaust. In addition to infrared spectrometers, for measuring nitrogen oxides – of particular concern with diesel vehicles – Horiba adopted chemiluminescence detectors. In these instruments, the sampled gas is mixed at a high temperature with ozone. The nitrogen oxides in the sample react with the ozone, during the course of which they release light. From the amount of this light, the concentration of nitrogen oxides is deduced.


    When Masao Horiba died in the summer of 2015, at age 90, his firm continued to dominate the market for automobile exhaust measurement.


    Recently, engineers and scientists with Horiba Automotive Test Systems introduced their Horiba OBS-2200 instrument. Like Beckman’s early infrared instruments of the 1950s, the Horiba OBS-2200 is designed to measure and analyze automobile emissions while the vehicle is in operation, motoring about. While roughly the same size has the Beckman instrument of the 1950s, the Horiba OBS-2200 is actually a package of several different instrument and sampling systems, along with integrated computing systems for instrument control, data capture, and analysis. But the purpose is the same: to measure cars in real-world conditions.


    It was such real-world measurements with the Horiba OBS-2200 that led to the uncovering of the Volkswagen “defeat device” and the opening of the scandal. A team at West Virginia University was contracted to study the on-road emissions of several diesel-engine vehicles due, in part, by the team’s having the Horiba OBS-2200 instrument.



    Perhaps the interim moral of this story is that you can defeat some of the instruments some of the time, but not all of the instruments all of the time.

    CHF Fellow Ben Gross takes on noble gases. Read more about the man who discovered them on the CHF website.

    Once upon a time a small city in Massachusetts played an outsized role in plastics. From mundane celluloid dice to Disney’s all-plastic house, the plastics industry focused on the future. What happened when the future finally arrived?

    Find out in the latest issue of Distillations magazine.

    “Plastic Town” by Daniel Gross


    This is a wonderfully illustrated 3 volume set of the Holy Bible recently added to the Othmer Library collection.  My favorite illustration is of Daniel in the Lion’s den from the Old Testament.  Check out the expressions on those lion’s faces. Priceless.  I really doubt Daniel is in any real danger unless the lions decide to form an 80’s hair band or something.

    Why does the Othmer Library have a 1788 edition of the Holy Bible?  It’s quite simple really. This edition of the bible, while not attributed, is (according to a well known Joseph Priestley scholar) believed to contain commentary written by Joseph Priestley, a well known scientist and Unitarian minister.

    It’s Banned Books Week, which is the perfect opportunity to crack open your favorite tome. The Bible tops many lists of banned books; we like this version because of its connection to Joseph Priestley.

    (via othmeralia)

    In “Back to the Future II,” Marty outruns the bad guys on a hoverboard. The movie takes place in October 2015, but it’s not the 2015 we might recognize. We don’t have self-lacing sneakers, flying cars, or, really, robots in our everyday lives.

    You can explore more of what the movie got wrong at Dude, Where’s My Hoverboard? this week at CHF.

    What do you wish the movie had gotten right?

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