SciFridays: Mining Minerals from Seawater

[If the video doesn’t play, click HERE to view the video from]

“Damian Palin is developing a way to use bacteria to biologically “mine” minerals from water — specifically, out of the brine left over from the desalinization process.”–from his profile on

In this short and sweet video, engineer Damian Palin invites us to “imagine a mining industry in a way that one hasn’t existed before. Imagine a mining industry that doesn’t mean defiling the Earth.” His work is based in Singapore, a country with no natural resources, where land is at a premium, and water itself is a scarce resource. No wonder they are a leader in desalination technologies (seawater reverse osmosis where seawater is forced through a membrane filter creating pure water–with brine as a waste by product).

However, the brine by-product of the desalination process is currently just being dumped back out to sea, and is detrimental to the local environment. So Palin proposes that he can use bacteria to mine minerals such as calcium, potassium, and magnesium out of the brine, basically creating a mineral mine for Singapore.

I’m intrigued by the innovation of out of the box thinkers like Palin, especially knowing that conservation and sustainability are the driving force behind his research. He says in one of the comments: “Be assured that I believe in the power and beauty of Nature and that the processes I am experimenting with are bioinspired and so should integrate harmoniously with natural processes.”

I think that his thoughts embrace the principle of “Think Global, Act Local,” and hope his research is as successful and sustainable as he imagines it could be.

How about you? Any thoughts?


SciFridays: Stories–The Bridges To Real World Experiences

“That upon which we focus our attention is what we manifest in the third dimension…

I stumbled upon this blog post over at The Struggling Writer and was so intrigued by the video that I had to share. This is an engaging keynote speech by Levar Burton that explores the idea that stories are bridges to real world experiences; that imagination is the key to the unlocking of experience.

He shares his deep love with science fiction literature, a genre that dares to ask “What if?” Science fiction literature invites us and engages us in imagining a world that we ourselves would like to see, to inhabit, to explore.

He uses his own life as an example. As a child, he read a lot of science fiction books, but it was rare for him to see people like him in those pages, any heroes of color. Of course there were exceptions, but it was not the norm, especially in the ’60s.

Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future, then, was hugely influential to him, and became one of his greatest life changing moments. Because what Gene’s vision said was:

“by the virtue of Nichelle Nichols sitting on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, there was going to be a place for me in that imagined future.”

(Considering his role as Lt. Geordi LaForge in Star Trek: The Next Generation, this reality manifested for him in more ways than one.)

…the stories that we tell each other inform us of who we are, why we’re here and where we’re going.”

He also goes on to say that he likes to think that there was a child back in those days who saw Captain Kirk speak into a handheld device to communicate to his team, and eventually created one of the most ubiquitously used device in our society–the cellular phone. (Now, if that same geek can please develop a teleportation device, I would truly be grateful.)

My favorite moment is around minute 2:50, where he talks about the link between that which we imagine and that which we create. He posits:

“The stories that we tell each other and have told each other throughout the history of development of civilization are integrally important, inextricably linked with how we continue to invent the world in which we live.”

“Human beings are manifesting machines. We are that child watching episodes of Star Trek, seeing those images, using our imaginations, coming up with a piece of technology that actually serves humanity going forward. Imaginations are our continuing link into ourselves in order to make contact with ourselves that we might share the beauty of ourselves through culture with the rest of the world.”

I enjoyed that our perspectives on science fiction literature align. I mentioned in a previous post, SciFridays: The Green Float Concept that science fiction literature is an ally to innovation because it asks “What if” and lends itself to “Why not?” 

I feel the need to quote Einstein again, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

What are your thoughts? Have you had an encounter with the written word that resonated with you as strongly?

[I’m celebrating my blog’s Birthday Month! Hop over HERE to read the deets, and fill out the comment form to enter for a chance to win a $20 Amazon or Barnes and Noble e-gift card. Remember, any additional comments on any post this month will earn you extra entries!]

SciFridays: From Organs to Cells–A Journey Through Controversy

Pioneering surgeon Susan Lim performed the first liver transplant in Asia. But a moral concern with transplants (where do donor livers come from …) led her to look further, and to ask: Could we be transplanting cells, not whole organs? At the INK Conference, she talks through her new research, discovering healing cells in some surprising places.

[If for some reason the video can’t play, please visit the TED TALK HERE.]

“It made me wonder if there could be a better way. A way to circumvent death, and yet deliver the gift of life that could exponentially impact millions of patients worldwide.”

“Stem cells provide hope for a new beginning.”

Dr. Susan Lim

I admire Dr. Lim’s vision and compassion as she talks through her personal experiences as a pioneer surgeon. I am inspired by how she reacted to moral concerns, and followed her values to find better, more innovative solutions that focused on gifting life to patients.

I think my favorite part is around ten minutes in, when she mentioned that she led her team, “at the ridicule of my colleagues,” to focus on adult adipose stem cells. Though these stem cells were more restricted in their ability to give rise to a variety of other cells, I admire her courage to break from the scientific mainstream (who were only focused on embryonic stem cells at the time) to focus on the least controversial source of new cells.

And, how rewarding it is for her that she and her team discovered that adult adipose stem cells were not only a better source for transplant cells, but through the efforts of other researchers, could also be induced* to be reprogrammed back to the pluripotent state of embryonic stem cells (with their ability to give rise to a wide variety of other cells).

So, now her lab is focused on reprogramming mounds of adult fat cells into fountains of youthful cells that they may use to form other more specialized cells, which will one day be used as cell transplants. (Uhm, I’d gladly donate some. Just sayin’)

She mentioned that the pioneering efforts today could not be possible without the curiosity, courage, and commitment of those medical pioneers that have gone before. They each have their own story. Her story was her journey from organs to cells, a “journey through controversy, inspired by hope that one day we could all experience longevity with an improved quality of life.”

Dr. Lim’s journey started with a mindset shift. What are some of your thoughts on Dr. Lim’s journey? What mindset shift (great or small) have you encountered lately? Have you debated on whether to choose the ‘road less traveled’?

Please share, I’d love to hear from you!

*The researchers named these induced adult stem cells “IPS” which stands for “Induced pluripotent stem cells”

SciFridays: The Green Float Concept

Seeing real life scientists and engineers work together to create collaborative projects as the Green Float Concept (and others–see THIS ARTICLE) makes me proud to be a science fiction writer (and, proud to be a big nerd, evidently).

To me, science fiction is more than just setting, like a post apocalyptic world or a spacecraft. Don’t get me wrong, those setting are still COOL, but it’s not the main reason why I love science fiction.

When I think “science fiction,” I think of Jules Verne, Isaac Asimov, Frank Herbert…those pioneers in the genre who used their writing to create new landscapes that evolved from current political/social climes or adventure stories that explored/explained the unknowable (at least in their day).

Science fiction is an ally to innovation and progress because it explores the “what ifs?” and lends itself to the “why not?” Why not create a rocket that can break free of Earth’s gravity and land on the moon? It sounds sort of like a beta test, right? I mean, alien conspiracies aside, I wonder how motivated we would have been to explore the moon if Jules Verne had not written From the Earth to the Moon.

It all brings to mind this Einstein quote: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” What an awesome gift to have, the ability to influence a whole generation with imagination and all the other possibilities (and power) inherent in creativity.

SciFridays: Jules Verne

From the Earth to the Moon

Image via Wikipedia

Jules Verne is my parent’s favorite science fiction author, and though it’s not obvious, is a partial namesake of mine (the other namesake being Liza Minnelli, which I hope is kinda obvious).

For most of my life, I didn’t appreciate my name as I should. Chalk that up to the constant butchering of said name (correcting people who think they’re pronouncing my name correctly gets really tiresome), and also that dreadful Ernest TV series/movie(s). However, the older I got, the more I appreciated my parent’s thoughtfulness in naming me. I like having an instant connection to the foundation of science fiction.

A little too recently (*cough like a few weeks ago cough*), I’ve come to admire Verne’s science fiction because his stories go a step beyond extrapolating current scientific trends to an imagined, yet inevitable, future. Verne seemed to prophesy when he wrote his stories. I mean, come on, From the Earth to the Moon? He practically predicted (or paved the way for?) the international space race that would come 100 years later, even placing the rocket’s launch site in Florida. In a world before gas-powered automobiles were invented and mass-produced, he imagined a story wherein his characters manned a rocket into space and orbited the moon, somehow navigating the gravitational field.

Of course, Verne didn’t just dump a bunch of scientific facts into his works. He wrapped them nicely into charming adventure stories, sprinkled with bits of romance and intrigue. Actually, the adventure aspect of his stories is really what hooked me to read his work, especially since several of them are similar to some of the motifs that run through my current work in progress (WIP2). Notably, The Child of the Cavern, The Propeller Island, The Aerial Village, and The Mysterious Island*, which also happened to be the main inspiration to my beloved TV series, Lost.

I’m happy to know that I have a lot in common with my namesake. Even though I’ve only scratched the surface of his life and works, it’s somehow motivating to me to know his writing journey and career. And, I’ll admit, even though, for all intents and purposes, we have no other connection other than our names, I’m oddly proud of the fact that Jules Verne is my namesake.

Has anyone else experienced this? Have you ever felt proud of a connection to someone you didn’t even know, yet has inspired your life choices?

{*I put links to these works just so you can read their summaries. And, I also thought WIP2’s alpha readers would get a kick out of it. Or not. *shrugs* 😉 }