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“It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn't feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.” – Neil Armstrong (1930-2012)

Fresh Reads from the Science 'o sphere!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

RSAF Open House 2008

I went to the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) Open House yesterday - mainly to visit my brother who is on duty there, but also get a bunch of nice photos for you guys.

Although I have been to this open house event before, this year is special because it is the Air Force's 40th anniversary.

Singapore may be a small and young country, but we have a nifty Air Force with its own proud traditions.

When I arrived a huge crowd was lining up outside the gates.

It was only about 10 am but the sun was already blasting at us with full force.

Man, it was unbearably hot. Unfortunately the line seemed to be moving very slowly. In fact, I missed most of the aerial display while waiting in line.

The main reason for this is because all visitors had to go through a security check, one by one, before entering the airbase. Well, it's prudent to be more careful.

Fortunately I did catch the flight of the Apache attack helicopter. I didn't take any other aerial photo, so if you want to see photos of fighters in flight you can check out one of my earlier posts.

I put up this photo of the Apache because it reminds me of the time when I was growing up. At that time, the Air Force only had second-hand F-5 Tiger fighters, A-4 Skyhawk attack planes and some old Hawker Hunter fighters left by the British.

As a schoolkid, I always felt that we lacked close support vehicles for our Army. Singapore is a small island and thus a slower, low-flying attack plane would bridge the gap between helicopters and high-flying fighter interceptors.

So when the Air Force announced that they were going to buy new F-16s to replace some of our older fighters during the 1980s, I wasn't convinced that we needed more fighters. I thought that we should buy some inexpensive Pucarás instead.

Many years later, when they decided to buy Apaches, I felt vindicated because it seems that at least the Air Force was aware of this gap.

The Apache is indeed a superb low-flying attack vehicle - but will it own a Pucará in a one-to-one dickfight?

That question... I'll leave it for the schoolkids of today.

No Fresh Brainz article is really complete without a random quip about certain parts of the human anatomy.

So here's a flaccid-looking wind sock for you.

It looks like it has gone south, but the wind is actually coming from the south.

And now for the exhibition itself.

Since this is an Artisun post, I won't bore you with the aeroplane-geek small talk.

Pretty photos at 12 o'clock!

Fighter planes are always crowd-pullers. Here are some members of the public eager to check out the "office" of a fighter pilot.

They've put up many fighters for static display this year.

Black Knights "Number 1".

Only an outstanding pilot with incredible skills and experience can earn the privilege of flying the Number 1 plane in the aerobatic team.

Like they say in the movie Top Gun - the "Best of the Best".

As for that other pilot who gets to fly Number 666 - he is simply badass.

'nuff said.

Just in case you've associated fighter pilots with bronzed bodies and beach volleyball, here's the business end of their flying machines to remind you of the seriousness of their profession.

Apparently pilots still accord their peers special respect if they manage to down their adversaries the old-fashioned way using guns, rather than missiles.

Or so I heard in a Dogfight documentary in the History channel.

Using missiles feels so... cheating.

The Air Force isn't only about fighter pilots and their sleek jets. Here's an E-2C "eye in the sky" that tells them what's going on and what to do next.

Although it carries a huge radar on its back, this photo is a tribute to the "Mark 1 Eyeballs" of its hardworking crew.

Transport planes tend to be sidelined at airshows, but this "Charlie One Thirty" appears especially shiny on this occasion.

It reminds us that impressive-looking hardware is only part of the equation for an effective Air Force. Support and maintenance aren't particularly glamorous but are indispensable to the success of the whole team.

Here's something else that's shiny - a mysterious reflector drum on the back of an Apache chopper. Not every Apache has one.

I don't know what it is but it's really eye-catching. Maybe it's for Disco.

Finally I waited in line to visit the Flight Simulator Centre, where they train pilots using state-of-the-art computer technology.

Photo-taking isn't allowed at the centre, so I can't show you what's there. Suffice to say that pilots are trained in complex team manoeuvres using computer terminals, mini-domes and large domes where computer graphics, similar to a video game, is projected around them.

Unlike a game, however, their performance during virtual training is formally evaluated.

It isn't easy to be a fighter pilot.

As my A-Maths tuition teacher used to say:

"Better practice hard and do well for your Maths. Some of you think that you don't need to study because you want to become a fighter pilot. Let me give you some numbers. If 100 people apply for pilot training, guess how many actually become pilots? Two. OK? Two."

*writes the ratio on the white board*

"If 50 people apply for pilot training, how many will become pilots? Is it one? Sorry ah - it's none. Zero. None of them will become fighter pilots because not every batch will produce successful fighter pilots. OK? Understand why you need to study Maths? Now let's look at the next question in your assessment book..."

He always hit us with the harsh reality.

I still suck at Maths though...

Thursday, August 28, 2008

COMEX 2008: Under $200 Deals

Just sneaked a peek at the COMEX 2008 exhibition this afternoon. Apparently it is the biggest and baddest event so far, occupying practically every level of Suntec City exhibition centre.

Well, we figured that you might not fancy having to squeeze through the crowds and spend hours getting elbowed or smelling armpits UNLESS there is a good deal there.

So we have compiled a list of some great buys under $200 - just for you! Please remember to do your own research before sinking your hard-earned cash into these bargains.

But first, a quick overview...

COMEX 2008 is open from 28 - 31st August from 12noon - 9pm daily.

According to a TV news report, this exhibition is 10% larger than last year's. The walkways are quite spacious but be prepared for the massive crowds.

In keeping with the F1 motor race coming to Singapore in late September, here's the Lenovo booth with a racing simulator.

Not surprisingly, accessory retailers are anticipating a huge demand for racing wheels.

And now: superb deals under $200!

Digital cameras

This year the price point for entry-level cameras has dropped to incredibly affordable levels. Most major manufacturers now offer a basic camera for less than $200.

Extracts of the brochures are shown below, and products are arranged in alphabetical order of their brand name.

We have also provided lens data such as focal length (35mm-film equivalents) and focal ratio, which is crucial information usually missing in sales pamphlets.

If you're a blogger and you're still using your cellphone to take blog photos - stop torturing your readers and pick up one of these...

Brand: Casio
Model: EX-Z77
Location: Level 4, Booth 8117
Summary Specs: 7.2 megapixels, 3X optical zoom, 2.6-inch LCD
Lens: 38 - 114mm (film equivalent), f/3.1 - 5.9
Price: S$199

Brand: Fuji
Model: A850
Location: Level 4, Booth 8130
Summary Specs: 8.1 megapixels, 3X optical zoom, 2.5-inch LCD
Lens: 36 - 108mm (film equivalent), f/2.8 - 4.9
Price: S$139

Lowest price in the exhibition!

Brand: Nikon
Model: L16
Location: Level 4, Booth 8218
Summary Specs: 7.1 megapixels, 3X optical zoom, 2.8-inch LCD
Lens: 35 - 105mm (film equivalent), f/2.8 - 4.7
Price: S$199

Great to see that a reputed manufacturer like Nikon is able to offer such a nice set of features at this price. It's a pity that Canon, Olympus and Sony did not do so in this show, though the Sony DSC-S730 (S$209) comes pretty damned close.

Brand: Pentax
Location: Level 4, Booth 8361

Model: E50
Summary Specs: 8.0 megapixels, 3X optical zoom, 2.4-inch LCD
Lens: 37.5 - 112.5mm (film equivalent), f/2.8 - 5.2
Price: S$169

Model: Z10
Summary Specs: 8.0 megapixels, 7X optical zoom, 2.5-inch LCD
Lens: 38 - 266mm (film equivalent), f/3.5 - 5.4
Price: S$199

Pentax offers two cameras below $200 - including the Z10 with an impressive 7X zoom. However, Z10 sales is limited to 100 sets per day.

Brand: Samsung
Location: Level 6

Model: M100
Summary Specs: 8.0 megapixels, 3X optical zoom, 2.5-inch LCD
Lens: 37 - 111mm (film equivalent), f/2.8 - 5.2
Price: S$199

Model: S760
Summary Specs: 7.2 megapixels, 3X optical zoom, 2.4-inch LCD
Lens: 38 - 114mm (film equivalent), f/2.8 - 5.2
Price: S$159

Samsung also offers two cameras in this price range.


Want to get a new printer for your home or office? There are many printers below $200 this year, but here are the lowest-priced...

Brand: Brother
Model: DCP-135C
Location: Level 4, Booth 8305
Price: S$88

Brand: Epson
Model: T10
Location: Level 4, Booth 8115
Price: S$88

Brand: HP
Model: D2560
Location: Level 4, Booth 8150
Price: S$79

Cheapest in the fair!

Multimedia gadgets

Even the poorest student needs entertainment that doesn't involve liquid nitrogen.

Brand: AV Labs
Model: AVL977
Location: Level 6, Booth 6138
Price: S$89

A nice digital photo frame to show off your exciting new holiday photos or your trophy wife.

Alternatively you can display some photos of your favourite star, and dream of someday when Code Monkey have everything... even pretty girl like you.

Larger versions are available: eg. 7-inch screen for $169.

Brand: Creative
Model: Various
Location: Level 6, Booth 6121
Price: From S$59

MP3 players are dirt cheap nowadays, priced scarcely more than the flash memory that they sit on.

Nonetheless they are indispensible when taking public transport. When you can't hear stupidity, the world magically transforms into a more pleasant place.

Brand: Sonic Gear
Model: Tatoo 303
Location: Level 6, Booth 6146
Price: S$19.90

There are many types of speakers available for less than $200, however this is the cheapest 2.1 speaker set that I have ever seen. For such a small speaker it certainly delivers a solid punch, though it's unlikely to be as distortion-free as a Bose.

But then again, very few of us work in a recording studio or play golf for a living.

Brand: Sony
Model: DVD-PR50
Location: Level 4, Booth 8401
Price: S$79

It's hard to imagine how much the price of DVD players have crashed. Pretty much the only Sony that you can buy for under $200 is a DVD player.

Science geeks know that watching a DVD movie by itself isn't really entertainment; it's the weeks of debate over plot holes and technical inaccuracies with your friends that is the fun bit.

Eye Candy

Not directly relevant to shopping... but who can forget the hot models who are inseparable from such computer fairs?

It's quite bizarre if you think about it. These ladies sell cameras predominantly to men, who then use the cameras to take photos of them selling cameras to them...

Hot babes attract photographers! In other news... water is wet.

I'll end this post by showing you the half-page advertisement of COMEX 2008 in the Straits Times.

Notice anything odd?

The reflection in her sunglasses doesn't follow the law of physics.

Instead of being laterally inverted, these are normal letters that are simply typed backwards.

Maybe I should submit this to that photoshop disasters site.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Dangers Of Chelation Therapy

There is an ongoing discussion at The Online Citizen about alternative medicine and autism entitled "A Straits Times campaign against alternative therapies?"

For some unknown reason I keep getting an error message when I try to post my response.

I've tried numerous times but I only succeeded in getting a few words out. Thus, I've given up and will not be continuing the conversation there.

The discussion was with Mr. Richard Seah and Mr. John Yeo, both alternative medicine proponents.

This was my full reply -

Mr. Seah says:

"Several discussions are already available on - eg studies on chelation, probiotics, vitamin B12, HBOT, neurofeedback, etc."

Since you don't want to pick a study to discuss, I'll pick one for you.

The key claim in chelation therapy is that mercury in vaccines is a significant cause of autism, and that drugs such as DMSA (which removes heavy metals such as mercury from the bloodstream) is an effective treatment for autism.

But do children with autism have higher levels of mercury in their blood, and/or difficulty excreting it?

Both you and Mr. Yeo have referenced this study:

Bradstreet J, Geier DA, Kartzinell JJ, Adams JB, Geier MR, 2003. A case-control study of mercury burden in children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. J.Am. Phys. Surg 8(3): 76-79

Original paper -

It is a single-blind retrospective study with 221 cases and 18 controls, which is a good sample size.

However, this study has some irregularities.

1. Instead of directly measuring mercury concentration in blood, the researchers measured the amount of mercury excreted in urine.

According to their results, even before DMSA treatment, children with autism have more than 3 times the amount of mercury in their urine than control subjects.

After a 3-day DMSA treatment, children with autism have six times the amount of mercury in their urine compared to controls!

However, both vaccinated and unvaccinated control subjects do not have elevated levels of mercury in their urine. This indicates that vaccination is not a direct cause of high mercury in urine.

The result only shows that for some unexplained reason, there is high mercury in the urine of autistic patients.

It could be due to higher mercury intake, or lower tissue retention, or even that control subjects are retaining more mercury in their bloodstream!

Without data from blood, we cannot conclude much from these results.

2. The quality of the data doesn't look good. Mean urinary mercury level is measured in micrograms per gram of creatinine units (mcg/g), and this is the data for children with autism:

Mercury level before treatment = 4.06 +/- 8.59 mcg/g

Mercury level after treatment = 6.42 +/- 12.69 mcg/g

The error bars are huge. The standard deviation is even larger than the mean itself, indicating that many children have no mercury in their urine at all.

Thus the results may be statistically significant, but not physiologically significant.

3. The paper contains a clause regarding two of the authors in this study:

"Potential conflict of interest: Dr. Mark Geier has been an expert witness and a consultant in cases involving adverse reactions to vaccines before the U.S. Vaccine Compensation Act and in civil litigation. David Geier has been a consultant in cases involving adverse reactions to vaccines before the U.S. Vaccine Compensation Act and in civil litigation."

I have read many scientific papers, probably as much as Mr. Yeo has, however, this is the first time I've come across such a statement in any paper.

This suggests that these authors have vested interests. To learn more about Dr. Mark Geier, here's a primer:

Dr. Geier is a controversial figure. In fact one of his recent papers to Autoimmunity Reviews has been retracted. To have a paper retracted is a serious setback for the reputation of a researcher.

On top of this, although DMSA is approved for the treatment of mercury and lead poisoning, it can also remove essential minerals such as calcium and iron.

Thus DMSA has potentially serious side effects for developing children.

As Mr. Yeo has pointed out in his website ( a study on DMSA funded by US NIH has been halted due to safety concerns.

In the light of all these facts, I would like to know on what basis does Mr. Seah and Mr. Yeo continue to support chelation therapy, and how do they intend to establish the safe dose of DMSA for their patients?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Sex, Violence and Space Comedy

Do you like Star Wars?

Do you like Star Trek?

Here's a little something to brighten up your Monday - it's absolutely unsuitable for everyone, including children. So don't watch this at work!

I know you'll love it.

Shockingly funny!

Would you like to know more?

Tripping the Rift (NSFW)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

How Not To Get A PhD

Just came across this interesting article about seven ways of NOT getting a PhD - common issues that can distract a student from completing her or his studies.

I wish I had read this earlier, but it's still helpful to me now.

Here's an exerpt that I find particularly relevant:

You can leave the paradigm shifts for after your PhD. And, empirically, that is indeed what happens. The theory of relativity (a classic example of a paradigm shift in relation to post-Newtonian physics) was not Einstein's PhD thesis (that was a sensible contribution to Brownian motion theory). Das Kapital was not Marx's PhD (that was on the theories of two little-known Greek philosophers). Of course, while doing their PhDs Einstein and Marx were undoubtedly preparing themselves for the great questionings that led to the big shifts, but they were also demonstrating their fully professional mastery of the established paradigms.

It is this professionalism that the PhD is about. To think it is more than that can be very debilitating. You can wait for a long time for a new paradigm to strike. Overestimating is a powerful way of not getting a PhD.

If you want to break the rules, you must have deep understanding of the rules first.

No matter how much of a creative, non-conformist rebel a student is, she should still exercise restraint until her training is complete. Even super-geniuses are not exempt. The PhD programme, like any other academic programme, requires that you fulfill certain ground rules and expectations.

I hope that potential students realize that PhD training isn't a good time to rock the boat.

Would you like to know more?

Planning a PhD Thesis

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Lasagna Cat

Here's a live demonstration of how unfunny comic strips actually are:

I have no skills too.

Maybe I should become a cartoonist.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Six Words Yet A Whole Lifetime

Can you tell a story in six words?

According to a legend, acclaimed American novelist Ernest Hemingway was once challenged to write a story in only six words.

He wrote - “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

Here at Fresh Brainz, we are curious to know if you can write a story about yourself or about life in Singapore - using just six words.

Whether it is inspiring or depressing, thoughtful or shocking, England or Singlish - we would like to hear about it.

A few words can change everything.

Pipette tip to Vexillum II.

Would you like to know more?

- Six-Word Memoirs (SMITH magazine)

Friday, August 15, 2008

X-periment! 2008

I was invited to the opening ceremony of the "X-periment!" science carnival at Marina Square today.

This event kicks off the six-week-long "science.08" festival comprising numerous fun activities throughout the island.

Boy do I have lots of photos for you!

When I first arrived, I was directed to the "media" desk where I was issued this nametag, a press kit, and allocated a seat together with real reporters behind the VIP row.

Wow, is this a sign that Fresh Brainz is finally legit?

Two long years ah... *sob*

Here's the MC for the event.

A model racetrack, which will later be used for the opening ceremony, occupies the centrestage.

The theme for this year's Science Month is "Fast Forward: The Science of Speed" - no doubt drawing an association with the F1 motor race coming to Singapore in late September.

The welcome address was given by Dr. Chew Tuan Chiong, the head of the Singapore Science Centre.

He mentioned that Science Month was previously known as Tech Month, which had been around since the 1980's. That's interesting to know - obviously it wasn't so high profile back then, since I've never heard of Tech Month.

I first heard of this activity when they changed the name to Science Month in 2001. That was much better publicized.

Ms. Grace Fu, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of National Development and Ministry of Education, gave the opening address.

She noted that: "It is undeniable that science and technology has an impact on every aspect of our everyday lives. It dictates how we are living and how we will be living in the future."

I like the part of her speech where she encouraged our youths to be inquisitive about science.

Basic curiosity is critical to the sustainability of our scientific endeavour; world-class salaries can only get you so far.

The science carnival was then officially opened by Ms. Fu, Dr. Chew and Prof. Ren Ee Chee (Director, Graduate Affairs Office, A*STAR).

Dr. Chew and Prof. Ren drove two model racecars around the tracks by remote control, and when their "friendly race" concluded, balloons and confetti showered from the ceiling.

Let the festivities begin!

The opening performance was given by Rhys Thomas, an American juggler-stand up comic-physics educator.

Apparently he's been doing this for over 20 years.

He is good.

Here, Rhys demonstrates gyroscopic stability to the audience.

When you spin a funnel, it's easier to balance it on your palm.

A static funnel would simply tip over.

"It's unstable - just like my income!" he says.


Now Rhys begins to juggle five plastic rings.

He reveals an insider trick: the rings are spun just before they are released, so that they will follow a more predictable path.

Next he moves on to the Chinese yo-yo (or Diabolo).

Man, he's a maestro of spinny things.

And I love the word "diabolo". It totally sounds like something else that is utterly evil and twisted.

Of course "diabolo" has as much to do with the diabolic as "titular" has to do with tits.

Cat's cradle!

Without noticing it, Rhys forms a pattern that resembles the "X" on the X-periment logo behind him.

I believe that in the photography business, they call this "juXtapositioning".

Again it has nothing to do with jugs.

Finally he attempts to keep nine bowls on sticks all spinning at the same time.

"Don't worry about the bowls - they're not mine."

Funny guy.

Don't miss his entertaining performance - scroll down to the end of this post for a detailed schedule.

Before I talk about the exhibition itself, let me focus your attention on the decorative signs that are attached to the ceiling. They indicate the speeds of well-known things like cheetahs and space shuttles.

Here's one that reads: "Speed of a free falling human being: 200 km/h"

I don't know if it's the words or the skyscrapers in the background, but I find the sign tragically funny.

"Free falling human being" sounds so... sad.

Don't be a free falling human being.

Be a skydiver!

Notice that people may fall at around 200 km/h, but sharks swim at exactly 69 km/h.

Not 70 km/h or 68 km/h, mind you.

Of all the speeds in the known Universe, it has to be 69.

I love sharks.

OK, back to the exhibition.

This is the F1 racing simulator set up by Nanyang Polytechnic. Ms. Grace Fu was briefed on how to drive the simulator while the ever-present mainstream media snapped away.

Fresh Brainz will always be more awesome than the mainstream media.

Do you know why?

It's because, umm... because... we are more inquisitive. That's right.

We're funnier because we ask the sort of questions that YOU would ask.

Questions like: "Can you polish a black shoe so shiny that it is no longer black?"

Ok maybe not that sort of questions.

Next, Ms. Fu visits the National University of Singapore booth featuring "Air-Mix" - an interactive music interface that allows you to jam with the melody, bass and drum tracks by moving a set of printed discs in front of a camera.

Be a VJ!

Here's a kid and his mummy who look like they are having fun with the Air-Mix.

In order to engage the public, an intuitive hands-on interface like this is definitely helpful.

Since this is an NUS booth, I'll be coming back to support the guys after my initial tour of the exhibition.

More on that later.

Ever wondered where rainbows come from?

Here's a volunteer from the Data Storage Institute using reflected sunlight and a water spray to create a short section of rainbow just above the booth - I've increased the contrast so that you can see it better.

Speaking of rainbows, here's a plethora of colours revealed by a set of polarizing filters. Scientists use these to study the stress patterns in transparent materials.

You can see a nick on the mouth of the plastic cup - it could be a weak point in the cup, but all the other cups seem to have it too. Perhaps it shows us how the cups were manufactured.

Polarized light seems so "physics" but biologists use it too.

I'll come to that later.

And now... a demonstration of the effects of liquid nitrogen by Colonel Uri Abusikov!

Ursula, can you bring me the liquid nitrogen?

Thank you, my love.

Erm, actually it isn't Abusikov doing the demonstration, but a young Nanyang Technological University volunteer.

Which unfortunate object will be dunked into liquid nitrogen today?

It's a banana hammer!


A banana frozen solid by liquid nitrogen is hard enough to drive nails into a wooden plank.

*thunk thunk thunk*

Looks painful...


Aiyeeeeeeee! That's so wrong... snapping it into two...

I should mention that the volunteer only broke the banana because a mainstream media videographer insisted that he should break it for dramatic effect.

Fresh Brainz would have been much kinder to hapless bananas.

Someone bring me a mallet!

Since it is already broken, let's take a look at the cross-section of the banana.

What a clean break!

Indeed, in real life scientific research, liquid nitrogen is used to help make biological samples hard enough to be cut into very thin sections and examined under a microscope.

Liquid nitrogen - it's a miracle!

Also at the NTU booth is this demonstration of popping a balloon under water to watch the effects in super slow-motion.

I don't know what's it with water, balloons and high-speed cameras - they always seem to go together.

In my humble opinion, there is one more element that would make this demonstration even more compelling.

Hey, here's Mr. Thomas again.

Although there's still some time before his next performance, he's already hard at work teaching kids how to balance a spinning ball.

And so I move on to the Republic Polytechnic booth, staffed by these young enthusiastic volunteers.

Show me da goods!

Wha... it's not about breaking stuff again, I hope?

Luckily, their project is about developing composite materials that have self-healing properties. Such materials can be potentially used in parts of cars and aircraft which are subject to high stresses.

Here's a piece of plastic with embedded glass capillaries inside which separately contain two liquid constituents of epoxy glue.

If the material snaps into two, the capillaries break and the glue components pour out - mixing together to form a solid seal between the two broken parts.


And these are the individual glass capillaries, seen close-up.

They look so arty!

I can't resist slipping a bit of biology into this post.

At the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology booth, Prof. Vladimir Korzh is demonstrating the use of polarized light to examine zebrafish embryos. It's possible to do this because zebrafish embryos are transparent for much of their early development.

These appear to be 24-hour stage embryos, seen through the microscope. There is obvious vignetting here because I took this picture right through the eyepiece.

The embryos are still alive - you can see their tiny hearts beating!

Using this standard bright field technique, you can't see which part of the embryo is made of muscle...

However, once you use the polarizing filters, the muscles stand out as a bright streaks.

This makes it easier to study the size and shape of the muscle groups in zebrafish, especially when evaluating the effects of muscle-related genes.

Here are some colourful transgenic zebrafish in a tank, swimming too fast for me to capture a clear shot.

Prof. Korzh pointed out that the noisy environment in the shopping mall is probably making the fish more agitated than normal.

Fish use their lateral line to detect sounds and movement. This is homologous to the inner ear of mammals such as human beings; both structures are made up of a similar type of cells.

How can a science carnival be complete without robots?

This is a "social robot" that can understand speech, recognize objects, pick them up gently and navigate its own way around a room.

So why is it sitting there and staring blankly at a tennis ball?

When a robot seems disturbingly still, you must look at its eyes very cautiously.

If it suddenly glows red - don't fuck around.

Run like hell!

Oh silly me... the social robot wasn't thinking about Sarah Connor; it was motionless because the programmers were having some problems with its camera and they were trying to recalibrate it.

Remember kids - If there's no troubleshooting involved, it isn't science!

Dr. Tan Yeow Kee from the Institute for Infocomm Research is part of the team who developed this robot. He noted that the software created for this robot can have wider applications in a variety of interactive devices.

He speculates that as Singapore faces an aging population, machines that can understand speech and help take care of the elderly will become more common in the marketplace. This is already happening in Japan today.

OK, now time for a quiz!

I mentioned sharks earlier.

Sharks are cool animals.

But what is way cooler than a shark?

A shark with a frickin' laser beam on its frickin' head, why of course!

Here's a green laser source used at the Institute of Microelectronics booth. Although it is quite large (more than 30 cm long), at 1.5 mW it isn't particularly powerful.

In fact it is even weaker than my 5 mW green laser pointer. Perhaps research lasers don't need to be very powerful, but must be more accurate than consumer lasers.

This laser is used for analyzing the surface structure of a type of manufactured crystal known as photonic crystals.

The green beam is first reflected and shaped by a series of mirrors and lenses.

Then the beam is broadened and directed through two barriers that result in a donut-shaped beam of light.

Finally the laser beam is focused into a tiny spot onto the photonic crystal itself. You can see the green laser spot on one of the squares in this picture.

Due to the regular structure of the photonic crystal, the laser is diffracted into six separate beams of light.

You can see this by putting a cardboard box just in front of the sample to "catch" the diffracted rays.

By analyzing these rays, scientists can deduce the surface structure of the crystal without requiring expensive direct methods like electron microscopy.

Finally - one last booth by the Institute of Chemical and Engineering Sciences.

Truth be told I've never been a fan of chemical equations.

Is this some important chemical process commonly used in large-scale industries today?

No, actually it just describes a bizarre colour-changing reaction that oscillates back and forth.

It's formally called the Belousov-Zhabotinskii Reaction.

What a mouthful.

The liquid gradually turns from blue to reddish-purple and then suddenly to green and slowly back to blue again. Looks quite cute.

When I asked the demonstrator about the potential applications of this reaction, she just smiled and stated that there weren't any.

Ah... science for the sake of pure curiosity!

Time to head back to the NUS booth and support our plucky volunteers. Here are five of them showing off their temporary tattoos.

Aside from the Air-Mix, they have also created an SMS poetry generator that takes the first line of your SMS text and turns it into a poem.

So I typed "Come Support NUS ah!"...

... and this is the result.

It sorta makes sense.

Come support - do not delay!

Oooh it's time for another show by Rhys Thomas!

He's back on stage teaching a whole bunch of kids how to balance spinning balls on their fingertips.

If you're not busy with other activities this weekend, why not come down to Marina Square to check out his rib-tickling performance?

Here's the schedule:

Rhys Thomas' "Science Circus"

16 August (Saturday)
12 noon, 2.30pm, 4.30pm, 7.30pm.

17 August (Sunday)
12 noon, 2.30pm, 4.30pm.

Two more days only, somemore it's free, so don't shy-shy - come and enjoy ah!

Would you like to know more?

- About science.08