Now, this may sound similar to what Korneel Rabaey is doing in Gent. You may remember from just a few blogs ago that Korneel is also focusing on using urine in MFCs to improve energy recovery from waste in order to improve sanitation and access to toilets in countries like India. The lab of Ioannis is working on the same project, partially funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, as Korneel’s group to optimize MFCs for use in treating human waste. While visiting the Robotics laboratory, I was able to visit a few of the graduate students and post-docs that are working in the lab to make all the research happen!
Jonathan Winfield has been working on “EcoBots” I-IV- robots that operate on MFCs set up in series that are fed with human urine and/ or insect wastes. For example, with Chris Melhuish, the laboratory developed EcoBot II- a robot capable of powering itself via capturing flies and harnessing the energy in their biomass. With each new iteration of EcoBot, the technology improves and becomes more sophisticated. Now, the lab has begun to use giant stacks of MFCs in actual urinals to charge small electronic devices like cell phones and tablets.
Pavlina Theodosiou, a PhD student in the lab, is currently working on a project called Evobliss which seeks to use 3D printing technology to completely automate the development and maintenance of MFCs. With a series of sensors, Pavlina’s research goal is to construct a platform that essentially enables robots to operate and maintain themselves.
Coincidentally, my visit to Bristol aligns perfectly with the Bristol Balloon Fiesta. This fiesta is a weekend long carnival event that has daily launchings of hundreds of hot air balloons. Having purchased my ticket a few months in advance, I am more than ready to take off on an adventure in the sky over Bristol. I managed to capture the entire trip on my GoPro, unfortunately most of the video was corrupted. However, I did manage to salvage the first 17 minutes of the launch so you can watch many of the balloons taking off in the video below:
After getting a ride back to the hostel from a friendly American that I stood next to on the flight, I cook a late dinner. The only super market open at the time was an Asian market just down the street, so I decided to prepare some spicy tofu ramen. During the meal preparation and cooking, I met Roxana who was very interested in the meal I was preparing. Roxana is a Romanian artist and film maker that recently finished a documentary about local food, farming, and traditions in “old Romania.” You can watch the short feature, starring Roxana here.
Of course, visiting the Harry Potter tourist thing was not really all that bad. The people I was with were super nice. After the train station, we walked to Camden Market where they had really good food at reasonable prices. They also had a lot of record stores, interesting bars, and cool antique places to window shop.
On the way, they even had a series of statues that had no description. To the untrained eye, they may appear as mere oblong shapes with no real meaning or purpose. However, being the poop doctor I am, I immediately recognized them for what they were. Ladies and gentlemen, I kindly introduce an interactive sculpted experience better known as “Know Your Shit: The Bristol Stool Scale.” Upon close observation of the modern art pieces, one can clearly see that the artist payed special care to the intricate details of the shit at hand so that the observer could clearly delineate between:
Type I: Separate Hard Lumps (very constipated)
Type III: A Sausage Shape with Cracks on the Surface (normal)
Obviously I cannot be absolutely certain that this is what the artist had in mind, but with Bristol so nearby, I can’t help but believe I’m 100% on the money with my assumption that these statues are literally shit statues. Scientifically accurate shit statues mind you. For those of you skeptics out there, I’m not making this shit up- it is real and you may even be able to get money for donating your poop to assist people with C. difficile infections. I shit you not!
Brewing beer is one of my favorite examples as to how science is practical and understandable. After all, the brewing process is a nice blend of chemical engineering and microbiology. The way microbes (usually yeast in beer, unless you’re making a sour) are manipulated during the brewing process is not too dissimilar to how microbes are manipulated during the wastewater treatment process. For example; many of the materials require pretreatment (chemistry), the reactions are carried out in bioreactors (biology) with specific protocols based on rates (kinetics). At the end, you get a chemical product based on your inputs (chemical engineering) that has a high value (business practical). To put it into perspective, right now many researchers are trying to find ways to produce gasoline in bioreactors that they can then sell for $5 a gallon. A pint of Guinness is $5- there are 8 pints in a gallon- that’s $40 a gallon for Guinness. A pound of barely costs less than $0.07. This means that breweries have been using the simple biology of yeast fermentation to produce a product that people value ~10x more than the gasoline that operates their car! You can watch this delightfully tacky video on how Guinness is made below (please, please, please watch this after minute four- it’s just sooo awful is all the right ways):
Here is a much more informative and practical video on the science of brewing:
and of course, Coco's visit to the Guinness brewery:
To close out my time in Dublin, I decide to rent a bike for the day to ride to a nearby island called Bull Island and to a nearby mountain called Howth to go on a hike. This is a trip I have been putting off since the day I arrived in Dublin due to the inclement weather. Just the day before, I determined not to go because it was cloudy in the morning and I figured the rain would destroy my day- the rest of the day turned out to be beautiful and I spent it at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. By now, I had learned that, to be Irish you cannot let the weather dictate how you spend your day. In Dublin, it can be pouring rain for five minutes, then clear for five hours, then pour for five minutes- you never know. The first order of business was to find a place to rent a bike- the place was about a thirty minute walk from the hostel. When I get to the place, I am greeted by an oily middle aged man holding a crescent wrench surrounded by about 50 bikes in a warehouse. He greets me in an Irish accent and I ask if I can rent a bike. He takes my 5 pounds and tells me to have a nice day. That’s it- he didn’t even ask my name!
The ride back was just about what you’d expect from an Irish summer day. The rain started coming down almost exactly when I decided to start heading back to the hostel. Since the storm was coming straight at me, the wind was blowing directly against my direction. Droplets of rain water felt like they were piercing my eyes as they fell sideways into them. Nevertheless, I was in a spectacular mood- riding for over an hour in the rain- a lot of the time not able to pedal outside of first gear due to the incline and wind- the entire time singing Alice Cooper with a huge smile on my face.
That night, a bunch of us from the hostel go on a pub crawl. During this pub crawl, I meet a man named Hiro who happens to live in Kobe, Japan. He had an interesting App on his phone that had a list of words not to say in English when visiting the United Kingdom or the United States. This word list included “18. Fuckathon… fuck you ♦ Fuck Marathon.” We had a good laugh. Since I am going to be at a conference in Kyoto, Japan in two weeks, I have already booked my plane ticket to Japan! We agree to meet up in Kobe if Hiro is in town when I get there.
Next, I take a quick plane ride to Edinburgh, Scotland to enjoy the Fringe Festival. The Fringe Festival is a month long cultural event in Edinburgh that includes street performers, musical acts, comedy acts, and theatrical performances from all over the world. Essentially, during the month of August, every thespian and theatre major in Europe is in Edinburgh. (A street performer tried to sass me during his show so I sassed him right back!) I captured some of the street performances and share them below:
I knew that I wanted to attend some theatre performances while I was at the Fringe, but was completely overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices. I went through a catalog that had to have been over 200 pages and found a few that looked fun. I met Maria, a friendly Argentinian at the hostel and we agreed to try and see Trainspotting since we had both seen the movie before. When we arrived at the ticket booth, we were informed that Trainspotting is one of the most popular acts during the Fringe and had been sold out for several weeks, but that press passes would be made available in fifteen minutes if members of the press did not claim them. Ok, so we decided to walk around the block to kill some time. When we returned to the box office, there were several groups of people at each of the windows. We managed to find an open window and let the person at the ticket counter know we were interested in getting a ticket to Trainspotting if any were available. She looked at us and said:
“All these people waiting are looking for the same tickets you are.”
“Oh, are there any available?”
“They have still not opened up in the computer. I will keep refreshing. Once they open up, whoever manages to hit refresh at the right moment will be the person who gets them. I hope you two get them.”
(Waiting in suspense. I had a good feeling. I don’t know why, but I felt like we were going to get the tickets. The clerk frowns. ‘Shit’, I think. She continues to look at the screen with great intensity.)
And just like that, we had two tickets to a completely sold out show, one hour before the performance after decided to attend only a few hours before the moment we had the tickets.
With Maria, I attended two shows- both drug related:
The next day, I met a nice German named Laura that was attending university for physics in Germany and was in Edinburgh to visit a friend of hers. We had a personal conversation about some of the struggles she is going through as a woman in a traditionally male dominated science field. Her idle was Marie Currie! Together, we saw:
While I was in Edinburgh, I made my way over to Holyrood Park for a climb to the top of a mountain located in Edinburgh (are you seeing a pattern here?). The hike is a great opportunity to feel like you are out in the elements even though you are technically in the middle of the city, between old Edinburgh and new Edinburgh. The trail is at a fairly steep incline, but the views of the city make this journey more than worth your while!
Remember 1996? Remember when cloning was all the rage? Remember Dolly the sheep? Well, it turns out that Dolly the Sheep was created in Scotland at Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, Scotland and is now on display at the National Museums of Scotland. As a matter of fact, the carcass of has been stuffed and placed on a Lazy Susan next a realistic pile of faux-shit- yes, this is true! Dolly is significant since she was first mammal cloned from an adult somatic cell, using the process of nuclear transfer. Find out how below (click here for a link to a much more in depth report from the New York Times):