Literature search and essay

As part of 3rd year biophysics it is required that each student undertake a library and internet search on a particular topic. Choose three topics from the following list, in ranked order and submit them to the course co-ordinator. The essay must be typed or word-processed, up to a maximum length of 10 A4 pages. Organisation, presentation, clarity, and accuracy of reference citations are especially important. In topics of a more controversial nature, care must be taken to discriminate "good science" from "bad"!

Essays must be handed to the course co-ordinator for assessment. The essays will be marked on a "pass/fail" assessment and critical comments returned to the students. The essay mark plus a seminar will count for 1/2 of a module.

Proposed essay topics:

  1. Regenerative Life Support for Space Travel. The next phase of testing of regenerative life support systems has begun at NASA's Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX. A crew of four is being maintained in an air-tight chamber environment for 90 days testing life support systems for future space exploration missions, such as a mission to Mars. Investigate the biophysical principle behind this study.
  2. Life on Martian Meteorites. A 1996 study by NASA researchers revealed evidence of life on Mars by proxy investigations of Martian meteorites. Discuss the scientific results of this study and the subsequent arguments against this finding. D.S. McKay et al. (1996) Search for past life on Mars: Possible relic biogenic activity in Martian meteorite ALH84001. Science, 273: 924-930.
  3. SQUIDs in biological imaging.  J Clarke, Scientific American 271,#2, 36, 1994. 
  4. Infrared vision.  E A Newman & P H Hartline, Scientific American 246,#3, 98 1982.
  5. Aerosols and climatic change.  R J Charlson & T M L Wigley, Scientific American 270,#2, 28, 1994.
  6. Acoustic communication in insects. W H Kirchner & W F Towne, Scientific American 270,#6, 52, 1994.
  7. Airborne particles. Outline the effects of inhalation of airborne particles on lungs. What factors affect the degree of lung damage caused by the particles? Describe instrumentation that is used for measuring the number and size range of airborne particles. Design an experiment to determine the likely dose of sub 10 micron particles inhaled during the daily use of cosmetic talcum powder. What dose would you consider to be detrimental to health and why?      D.W. Dockery and C.A Paope III (1994) Annu. Rev. Public Health 15, 107-32. J. Lee (1995) New Scientist, Inside Science No 84
  8. Electron energy loss spectroscopy. In a transmission electron microscope (TEM) we measure the intensity of electrons hitting a position sensitive detector (e.g. photographic film) to produce an image of the sample that the electrons have passed through. However, some of the electrons lose energy as they pass through the sample. By measuring the amount of energy lost extra information can be gained about the sample. This newly developed technique is now being applied in TEM studies of biological specimens. Review the technique and describe why it may revolutionize the use of TEM in biological studies. R.D. Leapman and J.A. Hunt (1992) Microscopy: The Key Research Tool, March issue 39-49 (available in CMM).
  9. Scanning probe microscopy. Scanning probe microscopies such as Scanning Tunneling Microscopy and Atomic Force Microscopy enable surfaces to be mapped in 3 dimensions at very high resolution. Review the use of these techniques in the study of biomolecules such as DNA and proteins and identify the information that has been gained that was not possible by other techniques. Klomparens K.L. and Heckman J.W., "Transmission electron microscopy and scanning probe microscopy" in "Bioanalytical Instrumentation" (ed., Suelter C.H.) John Wiley & Sons, Inc., (1993) pp. 73-115 Hansma H.G. and Hoh J.H. (1994) Annu. Rev. Biophys. Biomol. Struct. 23, 115-139
  10. Magnetotactic bacteria. Some bacteria are able to produce particles of magnetite and greigite within their cells and extracellularly as well. What is the function of this magnetite and what are its distinctive magnetic properties? Farina, M, B Kachar, U Lins, R Broderick, HL DeBarros (1994) The observation of large magnetite crystals from magnetotactic bacteria by electron and atomic force microscopy. Journal of Microscopy: 173; 1-8. Sakaguchi, T, JG Burgess, T Matsunaga (1993) Magnetite formation by a sulphate-reducing bacterium. Nature: 365; 47-49.
  11. Survival of an organism prone to lightning strike. Every year lightning strikes and kills both humans and animals. However, not everyone is killed when struck by lightning. Why do some survive and others not? What are the major factors determining survival of a strike? 
  12. Longterm changes in the biosphere. What have we learned from the Greenland Icecore Project about changes in the component gases of the Earth's atmosphere? What is the evidence for human impact? What will become of Perth's metro coastline under sea level rise? Rowland FS, Isaken ISA (eds.) "The Changing Atmosphere", Dahlem Workshop Reports, 1988
  13. Philadelphia twins research. Review data and summarise implications for genetic vs environmental factors. Check for comparable Australian studies. 
  14. Physio-acoustical warning devices to protect non-target species. Review current practices and proposals to avoid unwanted netting of cetacea. 
  15. Patch clamp techniques. Review in relation to investigation of ion channels and commumication between and within cells. Scientific American 266, p28-35, 1992. 
  16. The relationship between molecular structure and biological function. Review the current status of our understanding of the link between the gross shape of a biomolecule and its observed behaviour and/or function.
  17. Active noise suppression. A recent survey of members of the Australian Acoustical Society nominated active noise cancellation as the most promising new technology in acoustics today. Active noise suppression is a technique for reducing unwanted noise. It is basically a negative feedback system wherein noise monitored by a microphone is fed back in inverted phase to a loudspeaker so as to cancel out the noise. Review the techniques, describing its strengths and limitations and comment on some of the innovative new applications being developed around the world at the moment. 
  18. Hearing damage from loud music. It is commonly believed that many people are damaging their hearing by listening to Walkman-type music systems at very loud levels. Review the literature on the subject and come to your own conclusion about this. 
  19. Electricity within animals. Throughout the animal kingdom there exists a number of exotic uses of electricity. What is the physical process behind the production of this electricity?    Physics Today ???? as a starting reference. 
  20. Jaundice in Babies. Fifty percent of all new born babies suffer from jaundice. Explain the cause and current treatment for babies suffering from this condition. 
  21. Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy. Describe the principles and applications 
  22. It's all in the hair. A recent article in Nature (Vol 398, p33) has shown a possible link between hair structure and breast cancer. Describe these findings and the implication on current treatment and long term prognosis.