Welcome to STEMology – Show Notes

Season 1, Episode 2

Disco jackets, Bats, Hayfever, Epilepsy and Poo Torpedos

In this episode Dr Sophie Calabretto and Dr David Farmer talk about…

Jackets that can communicate

So I read this and I got super excited…. the first thing that I wrote down was disco jacket, exclamation mark, because I mean, how fun would that be at a disco?

Bats and roads

Researchers from the University of Melbourne have done a study and they found that bats are avoiding freeways

A new innovation to combat hay fever

I know lots of allergy suffers and they just seem sad all the time in hay fever season

Advancements in Epilepsy monitoring

They’ve created a couple of models and then they’ve merged these models together for these people to predict onset of these seizures.

Poo Torpedos helping to identify COVID

I learned a lot of things reading about this piece that I feel like I should know as an adult, but I don’t.


This is a “kind of, sort of, vaguely close” copy of the words that David & Sophie speak in this episode.

IT IS NOT 100% accurate.  We are very sorry if we have spelt something completely incorrectly.  If it means a lot to you to have it corrected, email us at stemology@ramaley.media

STEMology s1e2

David: [00:00:00] This week on STEMology. We’re going to be talking about disco jackets,

[00:00:02]bats and roads

[00:00:04]Sophie: [00:00:04] Allergy proteins, epilepsy

[00:00:06] David: [00:00:06] and the poo torpedo.

[00:00:08] Sophie: [00:00:08] Oh man, gross.

[00:00:10]  All right. Shall we get into it?

Disco Jacket [00:00:15]

[00:00:15] David: [00:00:15] Yeah. So Sophie, experts at the University of Fudan Shanghai, University of Technology, Sydney and others have developed what they say is the next big thing in electronic communications. And they say, it’s your favorite jacket? What’s your take on this? Wearable electronic textile fabrics. What do you reckon?

[00:00:31] Sophie: [00:00:31] So I read this and I got super excited. So the first thing that I wrote down was disco jacket, exclamation Mark, because I mean, how fun would that be at a disco? And you could get it to like flash words, but no, the first thing I actually thought about was,  as a Sydneysider someone who lives in Sydney now, but did not grow up in Sydney.

[00:00:47] I would love a top just to like blare things that people like in really bright lights. So say for example, like, look up, stop looking at your phone. Like don’t run into me, like be aware of the people around you. There’s a car coming. Like I just thought  that would be fun, but, um,

[00:01:01] David: [00:01:01] let’s facilitate your city anger a little bit.

[00:01:04] Sophie: [00:01:04] yeah.

[00:01:04] Yeah. I mean, there’s a bunch of other, like really good applications. I think that would be mine. Just like telling people about my personal space and how I don’t want them in it.

[00:01:13] David: [00:01:13] I had the opposite response. I thought this is a step towards utopia. This is me sitting on the bus, watching RuPaul on the back of the person sitting in front of me.

[00:01:21] Sophie: [00:01:21] Oh my gosh. And okay, so spoiler, but did you know you didn’t watch the season of RuPaul drag race UK?

[00:01:27]David: [00:01:27] I have watched bits of it actually. Yeah, I’ve been up in my, my Mrs. Has been watching it and I’ve been dropping in and out and I’ve been really

[00:01:33] Sophie: [00:01:33] so do you know who won.

[00:01:35] David: [00:01:35] No, I don’t. Don’t

[00:01:36] Sophie: [00:01:36] Uh, no, Dave, you got to go watch it. It’s uh, it’s my favorite outcome anyway. Um, but yeah, so what they’ve managed to do right is cause obviously we have lots of different things that, you know, We’ve got led screens. We’ve got all these things that flash up words and pictures to us, but it’s about how do we get this in a t-shirt?

[00:01:52] So they’ve done this really cool thing where they’ve got cotton fibers. I learned about how cloth is made. I learned words like weft and warp that’s the direction of the fibers. So they crisscross, you know, so normally you’ve got your crisscrossed fibers. And what they’ve done is between the actual cotton they’ve interweaved.

[00:02:09] Transparent conductive fibers and then luminescent fibers. So I learned a little bit about what those were made about. So just, I want to say some big words I learned. So the conductive fibers are made from ionic liquid doped, polyurethane gel. Basically it’s a fiber that conducts. Yeah. And the luminescent fiber is a conductive yarn.

[00:02:29] So it’s a silver plated yarn that is coated in zinc, sulfide phosphate. So basically this is  phosphorescence at play. And what happens is when you have one of these conductive fibers and one of these luminescent fibers crossing each other, at the point that it crosses, that’s where you get the light, that’s like your light pixel.

[00:02:46] So basically,

[00:02:47] David: [00:02:47] Yeah. Yeah.

[00:02:48] Sophie: [00:02:48] yeah. So you’ve got this like flexible fiber and then where some of the fibers touch each other, like that’s where you get this light happening, but then they’ve done all this other cool stuff where they’ve managed to O’Hare. So. Back to basics. We have fabric that can light up. We need to power it.

[00:03:01] Somehow they’ve powered it by the sun, right? So this is solar powered fabric. And the way that they’ve done that is they build in the solar panels into the shirt. So in that particular instance, you would have a photo anode weft. So that collects this light energy and like stores it. So there’s a couple of cool applications that they’ve got in this particular paper. So there’s someone looking at their arm, but their arm is Google maps, but it’s like the pong version of Google maps. Cause it’s quite rudimentary. So you’re the little pong ball and the walls are just like the roads

[00:03:33] David: [00:03:33] We’ll, forgive the map cause it’s new and cool.

[00:03:35] Sophie: [00:03:35] It’s new and cool.

[00:03:35] Yes. or, you could send someone a text message and so you need to be able to use a keyboard. So they’ve even managed to weave in a keyboard. And in that time, the weft, and what’s the other word I learned what the weft and a low and high resistant fibers. And it’s the intersection of those fibers that are like the keys.

[00:03:54]But also this thing, apparently you can connect it up to your phone with Bluetooth. And I dunno, Dave, this is like, I think this is amazing. I want one of these t-shirts right now.

[00:04:02] David: [00:04:02] I think you’ve covered a lot of really important parts about it. And speaking of the resistance of it, one of my favorite things about this is that they showed that it was wash resistant. So you have this cotton material with the electronics woven into it, and then they actually washed it in a washing machine.

[00:04:18] And if anyone’s curious, they use the washing temperature of 60 degrees. So quite a vigorous wash, um,

[00:04:23] Sophie: [00:04:23] yeah, that’s a hefty wash. Yeah.

[00:04:25] David: [00:04:25] quite, quite. And the stirring speed was a thousand RPM. So we’re not just talking like a gentle,  brush off. They actually washed it which means a large part of the study was doing laundry.

[00:04:33] And I mean, if you are in STEM and you go and you like a laboratory STEMologist of some kind and you go into a laboratory, one of the great things is  leaving the banality of the normal world behind. So can you imagine it being like the poor PhD student or the post-doc who got taken out? Right?

[00:04:49] Why are we doing today? It’s like today we’re washing jackets in a washing machine a hundred times.

[00:04:55] Sophie: [00:04:55] Right. Exactly. It’s like cycle one down tick. Alright, what’s next? Okay. Let’s do, we’ll do it one more time. Okay. And then just one more time. And then apparently as well. Cause obviously when we wear fabric it moves. And so they did test bending, stretching, and pressing tests and it survives a thousand cycles of that.

[00:05:13] So you can be like really rough with it and you can wash the heck out of it. And it still survives.

[00:05:18]David: [00:05:18] well, I think this is amazing. So yeah, the next big thing in electronic communication and in all seriousness, they do believe that this could be used to help people with voice or speech difficulties to communicate in real time. And I

[00:05:28] Sophie: [00:05:28] That was the first thing I thought. Yeah. You know, people who are hard of hearing or, you know, people who are anxious, people who are stressed people, do you know how they’ve got, I’m about to compare people to dogs, but you know how they have different colored coats that dogs can wear? Like, I’m an anxious dog don’t Pat me kind of thing. Like this seems like a, a slightly, a nicer way to do that. But yeah, this is cool. And I want one, it’s a dynamic version. And when they go on the market, Dave I’ll buy us all t-shirts and so we can just talk to each other with flashing lights.

[00:05:54] David: [00:05:54] Love it.

Bats and roads [00:05:55]

[00:06:02] Sophie: [00:06:02] Okay, Dave, so disco jackets aside. I want to talk to you about bats right now.

[00:06:06] David: [00:06:06] Okay. Very natural segue there.

[00:06:08] Sophie: [00:06:08] It is very, it’s very nice. Like I love a disco jacket, but I do love a bat as well. Again, this is another thing about living in Sydney. You see you like, is that a flock of birds or a flip of bats? And I get really excited when it’s a flock of bat.

[00:06:19] David: [00:06:19] that too. And Melbourne too at sunset. When the sun goes down and you get all these bats going overhead and they’re the fruit bats, they’re not these tiny little bats. So these gigantic, you know, two metre wingspan, inspire Bruce Wayne to become a vigilante bats.

[00:06:32] Sophie: [00:06:32] yeah, exactly.

[00:06:33] David: [00:06:33] and I love it very much.

[00:06:35] Sophie: [00:06:35] It turns out that we are a little bit problematic for maybe not these specific fruit bats, but for a bunch of insect eating bats. We’ve become like a big problem. So as human beings, we’re amazing at destroying habitats of, you know, various animals and then maybe making them go extinct. And it turns out that we’re far more problematic than we realized, even when we’re not trying to be problematic.

[00:06:55]Researchers from the university of Melbourne have done a study and they found that bats are avoiding freeways. So we build a freeway through the habitat and it turns out that, I mean, we probably knew that anyway, cause freeways a sort of they’re loud and they’re noisy and they’re a bit gross, but it turns out that they’re actually giving freeways a far wider birth than we originally thought.

[00:07:17] Right.

[00:07:17] David: [00:07:17] Yeah. Yeah. And actually, so they, it says they looked at bats and people have done this, so they call this the road zone effect. Right. So this is the effect on the ecosystem. That road has to expand beyond the physical road itself due to say the lights or the noise of the cars or the pollution or whatever.

[00:07:34]And so they speculate that because of effects on the vegetation nearby, that impacts the behavior of the insects that are nearby. And therefore that impacts the behavior of the bats. So actually the bats are being pushed out.

[00:07:46] Very far. And actually they see that they look at the bat specifically because they are so numerous and because they have a big role in the ecosystem in terms of pest control and pollination and things, they argue that looking at bats specifically gives you a good indication of overall impact of the road, which I thought was interesting.

[00:08:05] Sophie: [00:08:05] yeah. And how problematic we are, but yeah. So what they did though,

[00:08:09] David: [00:08:09] we made it for the bats.

[00:08:10] Sophie: [00:08:10] I really, what I really enjoyed was that they have these detectors that are called Anna Bhat, SD, wan, and

[00:08:16] David: [00:08:16] I read about antibiotics. It’s

[00:08:17] Sophie: [00:08:17] how good is that?

[00:08:19] David: [00:08:19] a whole dedicated bat detection thing that does it automatically. I

[00:08:23] Sophie: [00:08:23] Yeah, it detects bat calls. And so what they did is they like put these out around the freeways and sort of out into the non freeway areas. And then they looked at the sort of maximum detected activity. So where are all these calls, like where they’re the most calls and then I slowly moved into the freeway to the point where the sort of that maximum call detection level had dropped by at least 20%. And then that forms the boundary of this road effect zone. And they found that for yeah, the seven out of the 10 insect eating bats, the road effect zone. The overall road effect zone was about 307 meters from the freeway itself. But for some species actually extended to yeah.

[00:09:04] Also for, uh, one spacing in particular 890 meters. So it’s almost a kilometer away. They’re being driven like pretty far. I think one of the species, like it was 123, so they would just the slightly more resilient, insect eating bat. But it is really interesting. Cause I think, you know, we were aware of things like deforestation and we know that that’s bad and that destroys habitats, but then it turns out that if you try to preserve a habitat and just build a road through it, you’re actually being sort of more destructive than you thought anyway.

[00:09:30]David: [00:09:30] I know, and I mean, this is a serious issue and it gives us the ability to when we plan roads, better plan the roads for the, you know, their own effectiveness, but also like minimizing the effect on the bats, given their importance in the ecosystem, et cetera. But also with regards to the bats, they avoid freeways.

[00:09:45] But what about toll ways, I mean, we don’t know how they feel about toll roads. Like, is it just the tax funded roads that they avoid or, I mean, are bats just quite right-leaning mammals? I mean,

[00:09:55] Sophie: [00:09:55] I mean they could be. And we only talked to, you know, to a few species in Victoria. Maybe it changes when you go state to state. Maybe people have sort of,  different priorities in their political VAT that views.

[00:10:07] David: [00:10:07] among the bat community.

[00:10:09] Sophie: [00:10:09] Among the bat community of insect eating bats. We’ll talk to the fruit bats next, because I wonder, I mean, I guess living in city and we just said, we, we have all these fruit bats and there’s roads everywhere, and they’re clearly very tolerant of our rubbish.

[00:10:21] David: [00:10:21] Yes. Fruit bats, vegetarians. That’s the, that’s the cosmopolitan hipster community of the bats. I

[00:10:26] Sophie: [00:10:26] Uh, okay. They like to be the, the inner city bats, but yeah. So I thought that was super interesting, but, um, yeah, let’s, let’s stop destroying the bats habitats guys.

[00:10:36] David: [00:10:36] Yes. Don’t destroy the bats, be nicer to the bats and be aware of that where the roads go it’s very bad, much worse for the bats than we previously thought.

[00:10:43] Sophie: [00:10:43] Yeah, let’s just start walking everywhere, I think.

End to allergies[00:10:45]

[00:10:45]  David: [00:10:56] From the effect of roads on bats to the effect of proteins on the immune system. So this is some work from the Australian National University. Heralding a new role for a protein called Neuroton, which was previously used to identify cells in the hippocampus, which are involved in memory is actually important in regulating immune responses, particularly in allergy and autoimmune conditions.

[00:11:19] Sophie: [00:11:19] do you know, I wrote down straight away for this one, Dave.

[00:11:22] David: [00:11:22] What did

[00:11:22] Sophie: [00:11:22] all have dramatic immune systems. That was my take on the situation.

[00:11:27] David: [00:11:27] So maybe so maybe we should quickly explain the immune system. Do you think.

[00:11:31] Sophie: [00:11:31] uh, yeah. Well, I mean, I don’t know heaps of it. I’m a mathematician, so I don’t know he was about the immune system, but I do know. Do you want me to tell you what I think? And then you can

[00:11:40] David: [00:11:40] please,

[00:11:40] Sophie: [00:11:40] right about something a bit biology. So we’ve got, you know, so we’ve got these things are like auto immune diseases and it means that we have antibodies and our antibody is a little bit confused and rather than fighting pathogens, they’re fighting us, they’re fighting our tissues.

[00:11:53]And that’s, yeah, that’s basically it. And that’s a problem. So we’re attacking ourselves from the inside and that’s not a good thing, but then this Neuroton stops that.

[00:12:01] David: [00:12:01] Yeah. So, so basically, but you’re at a fundamental level. We are everyone listening to this podcast has a body and that body is surrounded by foreign things that want to kill it like bacteria and fungi, et cetera. So you have a thing called the immune system, which attacks those things. So, so the things that are trying to kill you are themselves attacked and it will respond to anything that’s foreign.

[00:12:20] That’s not, does not belong to your body, but it can’t be that simple, right. Because if it responded to absolutely anything that was foreign to your body, then you’d have an immune reaction to things like food when you ate it. Cause that will be comprised of a lot of foreign protein. So this is quite complicated process called tolerance by which the immune system decides which things are good and can be allowed in and which things are bad and should be attacked.

[00:12:45] And basically when that goes wrong, that’s when we get either allergy or auto immune. So allergy, if you develop an immune response to pollen, which is pretty innocuous, but you have dramatic response to you get hay fever. And if you develop an immune response to something in your body on one of your organs, like say your pancreas, then you have an auto immune condition and that organ gets attacked and that’s bad and that’s disease. So it’s when something goes wrong.

[00:13:08] So basically these folks have found this protein called neuroten and they say it’s released by some cells in the immune system called T regulatory cells. And I’m trying to keep this simple, because the immune field is a riotus hell of acronym, but basically you’ve got these cells called T regulatory cells that secrete a protein called neuroten and they find that this protein called neurotoxin acts on the cells called B cells that release the antibodies, which act either to produce an allergy or to produce auto immune disease and tell them to stop it. So they said, this is a very specific way targeting this pathway is a very specific way of stopping these things from happening.

[00:13:45]Sophie: [00:13:45] Yeah. And so the way that they found this out, right, is that they genetically engineered some mice and they lacked this ability to produce neuoten and they found that they had like an increased chance of dying from anaphylaxis when injected with the albumin from an egg, which I also look up and that’s

[00:14:01]David: [00:14:01] That’s a model of alergies. So you can basically sensitize the animal to a protein. And albumin is one that’s very commonly used. And once the animal is sensitized, you can induce an allergic reaction by giving an injection of the protein.

[00:14:11] Sophie: [00:14:11] Yeah. And then when they injected neuroten, Then this thing didn’t happen to the mice.

[00:14:17]David: [00:14:17] Yes, that’s right. So that’s interesting and cool. And the other thing I thought was really interesting about it is that this protein neuroten, like I said, was previously spotted in the brain. So this is another instance of something that’s happening quite recently, which is pretty cool, which is about the interaction of the nervous system and the immune system where the immune system gets hit up by something.

[00:14:40] But actually the brain finds out about it and becomes quite involved in regulating it, which is quite a new and cool and exciting thing. And this is yet more evidence of that. And I think that’s neat.

[00:14:49] Sophie: [00:14:49] well, I’m excited and anything about, you know, the implications of this are huge because you know, at this stage like, Oh, you can do is treat the symptoms of an auto immune disease. Right? You can’t actually. You can’t get rid of it. And so this would be a really good way to help out all of those people.

[00:15:02] And also there’s, I, I know lots of allergy suffers and they just seem sad all the time in hay fever season. And I just think we need to, we need to help them out a little bit.

[00:15:10]David: [00:15:10] My first spring in Australia, I felt like I was going to die the hayfever. There’s just a lot of pollens and I felt like I was going to die. I mean, I didn’t ultimately,

[00:15:20] Sophie: [00:15:20] Yeah. And that’s, that’s why you’re here, because my understanding is ghosts can’t interact with like microphones. And so I know that’s not true. I’m lying. You could be a ghost, Dave. I don’t trust you anymore.

[00:15:29] David: [00:15:29] The, I could be in your imagination, I suppose,

[00:15:31] Sophie: [00:15:31] yeah.

[00:15:32]Super cool piece of research.

Epilepsy [00:15:34]

David: [00:15:38] taking it from brain proteins right into the brain itself, we’ve also got some work here by scientists at the university of Southern California at the school of engineering and medicine, the collaboration looking at how we can use measurements of brainwaves in order to predict seizures in epileptic patients.

[00:15:54] Sophie: [00:15:54] Yeah, so this is sort of cool. They’ve created a mathematical model and it’s a little bit complicated, but basically what they’ve done is they’ve taken a bunch of people who suffer from epilepsy and they’ve done longtime monitoring of the brains electrical signals that’s using an EEG.

[00:16:09] And I discovered that I’d never knew what EEG stood for. So I looked that up as well. I’m loving the discovery on this journey. Electro and Seth, are you, I’m just going to read it out. David

[00:16:20] David: [00:16:20] I’m sorry. We got, no, you go.

[00:16:22] Sophie: [00:16:22] encephalopathy. Graphy electroencephalography. Yes.

[00:16:26] David: [00:16:26] And specifically, this is the intracranial kind, right? So this is where they physically got electrodes inside the skull

[00:16:32] Sophie: [00:16:32] Inside the skull.  And so what they do is they monitor these electrical signals over long periods of times, and they look at what the brain is doing in terms of signals when you’re in a seizure state, when you’re in a non seizure state. And they’re looking for precursors or patterns that show what brain is doing when that specific patient is at the risk of seizure onset.

[00:16:53] Cause apparently it can be different in lots of different people. So they’ve done it for specific people.

[00:16:58] David: [00:16:58] Yeah. And just to, just to introduce that for the audience, like, so in your brain, you’ve got lots of cells called neurons and they’re all electrically active and they’ll fire with their own little pattern and you’ve got 86 billion of them. And somehow them all firing together in the right own way makes you.

[00:17:13] And basically what happens when you have an epileptic seizure, is that in some part of the brain, they’ll all become active at the same time. And that like activity will spread like a wave across the whole brain. And that’s what a seizure is. So basically, you know, that myth about human beings only use 10% of their brain or 20% of their brain is nonsense.

[00:17:32] Because if you’re using all of the neurons of your brain simultaneously, you are having an epileptic seizure. It’s not a good thing. It’s not something we want to happen. These electrical signals is what they’re measuring and they’re looking for patterns that lead to that depolarization right.

[00:17:45] That, that wave of activity.

[00:17:47]Sophie: [00:17:47] Yeah. And so then what they’ve done is that using these particular signals, they’ve created a couple of models and then they’ve merged these models together for these people to predict onset of these seizures. And so there, I’m not gonna go into the details too much, but so what they’re looking at are like the linear dynamics and the nonlinear dynamics.

[00:18:06] So the linear dynamics they’re the more simple things. And then there are things that are obviously in control of something. They look at that on a short time scale. So the linear model predicts what the current EEG values would be as a weighted summation of past values. So basically it means that they’ve looked at all the things happening in the past.

[00:18:25] And they’ve said based on this statistically, like what’s likely to be happening now. Right. So they do that. And then we have these non-linear models, which

[00:18:34] are.

[00:18:35] David: [00:18:35] that’s like chaos theory, right? Non-linear

[00:18:37] Sophie: [00:18:37] Non-linear chaos. And so this one’s like, yeah. Non-linear stuff and chaotic stuff is far more difficult to deal with because it means that you’ve got lots of like big things happening and you’ve got smaller things happening, but sometimes those smaller things actually have like far more an effect than we realize.

[00:18:53] So I think. You know, it just generally, when you talk about a mathematical model, like one of the things that people do is they try to make a linear model because it’s just a bit easier to deal with. But you can’t, if you ignore the nonlinear effects and like you’re often ignoring things that are impacting hugely on the system.

[00:19:07]So they basically then look at the long-term dynamics and what’s happening in the short term what’s happening in the long-term. Long-term is the non-linear model where they actually use a luggage of Altera AR model. I’m not going to go into it, but if you’re into Neuron firing in the brain in a mathematical way.

[00:19:22] Like all those words will be very familiar. And so then they combine the AI model. So they, which is an it’s an order regressive model. So the, the past behavior model that linear one, they combine that with the nonlinear one. And they also look at errors and stuff like.

[00:19:35] David: [00:19:35] Okay. So basically they’re taking something established and simple. This, this M auto aggressive model that’s been used to look at the linear components, the bits that are easy to associate with the outcome, and then they’re incorporating some of this chaotic stuff and saying, actually this works really well.

[00:19:50] And lets us predict when someone’s going to have a seizure.

[00:19:53] Sophie: [00:19:53] yeah. Yeah. Based on their physiology, which means that then they can detect that. Okay. So this is, this is your pre seizure warning sign and it could be like a couple of minutes. It could be, you know, They’d say that it’s more likely to be up to an hour or something. So they say, okay, based on like your brain activity right now, you’re very likely to have a seizure in an hour’s time.

[00:20:10] So that’s really important. So say if someone’s driving a car, someone’s doing something someone’s in a situation where it would not be a good idea to have a seizure then, and there, they can get themselves in a safe place, which is like pretty huge.

[00:20:21] David: [00:20:21] It’s huge. And  they also say in the paper, so to, to get at the scale of this problem, the reason people are trying to do this is that people with epilepsy are treated with irreversible surgical resection or drugs, and 25 to 30% of people who have epilepsy that will not work.

[00:20:36] So on the assumption that you can’t treat people to prevent them having seizures, like you say, then you need a way of predicting when it’s going to happen. So they can even just pull over the car. That’s going to make a huge difference to their safety. So awesome.

Poo Torpedo [00:20:49]

[00:20:49] So I think we have saved the best for last here sophie we’ve saved the absolute best for last.

[00:20:54] Sophie: [00:20:54] We’ve really have, and I’m,

[00:20:56] David: [00:20:56] I don’t even know where I don’t know where to begin. I just it’s. It’s so good. And it gives me such optimism for humanity this story,

[00:21:03] Sophie: [00:21:03] Yeah. So David, if I say the word poop torpedo, Dave, what do you think of?

[00:21:08] David: [00:21:08] Well, it’s an audio medium. And I think every listener now has their own image. That’s far more powerful than anything I could describe on the audio medium. But this is a piece of technology. This is not just

[00:21:22] Sophie: [00:21:22] Yeah, it’s not, it’s not, it’s not acting as a torpedo. It is, uh, it’s a torpedo for, uh, measuring things in poop.

[00:21:31] David: [00:21:31] Yes. And this was researchers at the Monash university’s department of civil engineering in partnership with a consortium of universities and industry locally and internationally, which is very general from which I interpret that the design was first drawn on the back of a beer mat and the pub, a scientific conference of some kind.

[00:21:48] Sophie: [00:21:48] A hundred percent

[00:21:49]David: [00:21:49] and basically this is a bullet shaped piece of technology. That’s very cheap to manufacture that contains a lot of gauze and cotton swabs that you can use to detect COVID and the water and like in the river systems and estuaries, et cetera.

[00:22:07] Sophie: [00:22:07] Yeah. So this is a, it’s a cool detection thing. So this only works because we know that we can detect genetic signatures of COVID in. Now I’m going to say I was going to say the sewer, but I just want to digress for a second Dave, because I learned a lot of things reading about this piece that I feel like I should know as an adult, but I don’t.

[00:22:24] So I thought sewage and sewage were the same word, I thought it was like an American British English thing.

[00:22:30] David: [00:22:30] or like a flammable inflammable thing.

[00:22:33] Sophie: [00:22:33] Not. So it takes, so sewage refers to waste that is discharged. Sewerage is like the same as like the sewers. So it’s the structure that the discharge goes into. So I just say sewerage all the time to refer to everything, but I should be saying sewage.

[00:22:48] When I talk about the, waste that is discharged and sorry.

[00:22:52] David: [00:22:52] Sewerage is the pipe and the sewage is the poop and the pipe,

[00:22:57] Sophie: [00:22:57] Which has, if you think about the words, it makes sense, right? Because sewerage has the word sewer in it, but sewage does not. and yeah, so basically what happens is if you have COVID and you go to the bathroom and then everything ends up in the sewers, I’m going to say sewers.

[00:23:10] Cause it makes it slightly more simple for me when I forget what I’ve just learnt. Um, and turns out that, yeah. So there’ll be virus in your poop. That will like gradually disintegrate, but it leaves behind its unique genetic signature. So the RNA, so we can tell if there’s been COVID poop in a sewer.

[00:23:27] And so what we want to do is we want to, we need to collect, let’s say some sewer water to test this. As you’ve said, Dave, they’ve come up with a very simple, so it’s apparently is about 20 bucks to make which compared to other like, yeah. So apparently you can get like portable automatic water samplers, but they’re about like five grand.

[00:23:45] Whereas you can just make this thing for $20. So it’s like a 3d printed shell. And they’ve done it in the shape of a torpedo and we can get into the hydrodynamics of a torpedo in a second if you’re super interested, but they, they make, you know, a few little holes at the front just so you can have, you know, sort of.

[00:24:00] Effluent that passes through. Oh, that was my other thing F I don’t, you love the, the effluent is very like the word affluent. And then I ended up in like big etymology pit on the internet and it turns out that they all come from the same thing. And then I learned that there’s so

[00:24:16] David: [00:24:16] Affluent affluent would be like flowing too. Wouldn’t it? And effluent would be flowing away.

[00:24:21] Sophie: [00:24:21] well, no, it was funny. Cause then there’s another word that’s influent. Which is flowing into an effluent flows out of it. And then I’m like, I’m a fluid mechanism. Why don’t I know these words about fluid flow anyway. So, um, you basically, yeah. So as you said, there’s cotton buds and there’s gauze and they’re in this like 3d printed shell that looks like a torpedo.

[00:24:40] And basically they just like throw it in on a rope and they tie it up and they leave it there for sort of like one to two days. So don’t lose it. Cause that’s going to, you know, if it’s torpedo shape that is gonna rocket down those sewers. But the bit that I really enjoyed was how they got to the torpedo shape.

[00:24:54] So apparently they made it like a little boat shape in the beginning, but they found that it caught a significant amount of material is the way that it was described. So I’m going to say that site. Poopy toilet paper is just getting like caught on the front and then they decided the teardrop shape might be a little bit better.

[00:25:09] And then they went bullet shaped. Right. And so this is all to do with the hydrodynamics of things. That’s hydrodynamics is just like the movement of fluid. And so this would be a drag issue. Yeah. And a surface area issue. So if you just have a boat, think of a boat is, you know, I guess it’s like, if you just have like a box and you’ve got stuff flowing at the box, you’ve got like a big surface area.

[00:25:28] Right. So it’s going to hit. The box and it’s going to get caught and it’s going to like rocket that box around like crazy. This thing is going to get like flipped then, you know, because you’ve got all of this like incoming flow, hitting a large surface area, if you make it tear shaped and then bullet shaped, essentially what you’ve got is you’ve got all of that fluid flowing into like a really small point.

[00:25:48] So you’re going to reduce the drag heaps. So this thing is just going to then like, sit there really nicely with like this. Super stable with this poop water flowing over it. And then you’ve just got to get some flowing in. So it’s all about, yeah, the cross-sectional area of what the poop water is hitting.

[00:26:02]If that cross-sectional area is really small, then you’re going to reduce the drag and then there’s other stuff like we could, maybe another week we can get into boundary layer, separation, and turbulent boundary layers, and all those kinds of things. But yeah, so I think that’s like it’s super simple 20 bucks, throw it in there, collect some

[00:26:18] David: [00:26:18] bucks,

[00:26:19] Sophie: [00:26:19] Check out COVID.

[00:26:21] David: [00:26:21] I love this as the intellectual property is open source. So the 3d printing files can be shared with everyone. They’ve issued 2,500 instances to people all over the world, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, United States, and Netherlands, and soon Indonesia. So this technology is completely free, so people can do COVID surveillance wherever they happen to be for very cheap.

[00:26:39]And finally it, they dubbed it. The “torpedo passive sampler” and the sewage submarine, but surely “torpoodo”. Or “poo-cluer submarine” or my personal favorite? “The hunt for Brown October”. That’s all I’m saying.

[00:26:50] Sophie: [00:26:50] Oh, I vote for number three.

[00:26:53] David: [00:26:53] Yeah, for definite

[00:26:55] Sophie: [00:26:55] Um, but the other cool thing is that this can actually be used in other ways. Right. So we don’t just need to test for COVID.  They’ve talked about some applications and it could be like illegal sewage dumping in storm water.  And they could also look at fecal contamination in waterways and stuff.

[00:27:12] And the fact that this thing is so cheap to produce you think about, look on a global scale. There are lots of countries where access to clean drinking water is an issue. So 20 Australian dollars make yourself a poop Canon and then you can, and you can just, you can test all these things. So I think that’s really nice as well.

[00:27:28] The fact that we’re making this is science and technology that is accessible to like lots of different people for lots of different reasons, I think is really

[00:27:35] David: [00:27:35] Absolutely. We started very flippantly and with a big smile on our faces, but we’ve, we’ve ended up very positive on the poo torpedo. I think, I think we have, we think it’s a good pitch. poo torpedos are good for humanity.

[00:27:44] Sophie: [00:27:44] Yeah. Good on you. Monash uni, keep up the good work.

OUTRO [00:27:51]

[00:27:51] And thank you for listening to another fun episode of STEMology.

[00:27:55]David: [00:27:55] Be sure to check out the links to all these great stories on our show notes. Go to www.stemology.com.au.

[00:28:02]If you have any news, you think is STEM ology worthy. Drop us an email at stemology@ramaley.Media. We will absolutely give you a call out.

[00:28:09]Sophie: [00:28:09] Your hosts have been Dr. Sophie Calabretto and Dr. David Farmer.

[00:28:13]David: [00:28:13] This is a podcast from Ramaley Media.

[00:28:14] Our executive producer is Melanie De Gioia, and the music is coming from Elizabeth Rose.

[00:28:19] Sophie: [00:28:19] Be sure to hit subscribe on your favorite listening app so you never miss our episodes.

[00:28:23]We look forward to sharing the latest in all things, science, technology, engineering, and maths with you next week and make sure you bring your friends.