STEM Careers: QuantuMDx handheld diagnosis devices

quantumdx logo

QuantuMDx logo

Recently I visited a fantastic and exciting company: QuantuMDx. Based in Newcastle, the diverse team splits their time between the office and lab, exercising a range of STEM and business skills. They’re developing a range of low cost, handheld medical devices which will diagnose a range of diseases in minutes – the world’s first handheld DNA laboratory.

The company’s technology allows them to extract DNA from a blood sample and, using custom-developed nanotech, test it against markers for specific diseases within about fifteen minutes. The devices are speedy, accurate, and in principle can test for hospital-acquired infections, tuberculosis, HIV, cancers, and more. The team have initially set their sights on malaria treatment: quick diagnosis in the field will allow health professionals to prescribe effective treatments, improving outcomes for patients.

There are public health benefits too. Imagine a cheap, quick, readily-available device which can accurately test for a disease like Ebola. Rather than samples being returned to a lab and tested over a period of days, those devices could be deployed in the field. Integrate them with mobile phone technology, and location information could be included in the test results and collected in minutes. The implications for how we observe, understand, map and ultimately control the spread of outbreaks of contagious diseases are immense, and very much the sort of direction QuantuMDx are heading.

quantumdx Q-POC handheld diagnosis device

QuantuMDx Q-POC handheld diagnosis device

The team at QuantuMDx are made up of Physicists, Nano-Scientists, Chemists, Electrical Engineers, Biomedical Engineers as well as as a team of business professionals. Lucy Harvey, Marketing and Business Development Officer, has a background in science, having studied a BSc in Sports and Exercise Science at the University of Stirling. Lucy considers this a key strength to her role as she understands the science behind the product, and can promote what QuantuMDx is developing to the wider community and potential stakeholders.

It’s no exaggeration to say that QuantuMDx are setting out to change the world, and for many of their future patients they most certainly will. By studying STEM subjects you too could work on unique and life-changing technologies, with innovative and multi-skilled teams, right here in the North East! For more information about QuantuMDx visit their website, read their blog, and watch the film we’ve embedded below of molecular biologist Jonathan O’Halloran speaking at the WIRED Health event last year.

Teachers: QuantuMDx is fantastic company to showcase within science lessons, because of the diversity of the team. Perhaps your class could be the ‘Research & Development’ team tasked with thinking of new ways that the device could be developed and utilised even further? Please use the comments box below to message us your ideas and innovations.

Royal Society Young People’s book prize

As Christmas comes rapidly nearer, family members might be asking what children would like for Christmas.  Books are often popular (particularly with more distant relatives).  But what to buy?

For children who are curious and interested in the world around them, the books from the Royal Society Young People’s book prize could be ideal.  Science books which are aimed at under-14s are considered and then a shortlist of 6 books is chosen.  This year’s shortlist was announced before the summer holiday, and then panels of school children around the country read and judged the books.  They sent their comments and verdicts to the Royal Society, and the winner was announced on Monday 16th November.

2015-11-17 12.35.11

The 2015 shortlisted books for the Royal Society Prize

A number of our partner secondary schools took part in the judging, with books clubs made up of years 7 and 8 reading the books and discussing the good (and bad) points.  One school, Cramlington Learning Village, has shared their comments on the books to help you choose which would be the most interesting to read.  Here are some of their thoughts…

365 Science Activities

  • This book is a bit big to use – but also allows the author to fit in even more activities to keep the reader busy and entertained!  There’s a limited amount of scientific vocabulary and the experiments could maybe have been more organised into different sections or themes. — Laura, 11
  • Very colourful and packed with fun things to do. — Josh, 11
  • Eye-catching and great fun.  Love the idea of an activity for every day of the year. — Lily, 12
  • The illustrations make the experiments look even more exciting and tempting and the language is just right.  I learnt a lot! — Chelsea, 12
  • I love doing experiments but even so I learnt a lot of new stuff from this book. — Rachel, 11

Published by Usborne, ISBN 978-1409550068 | Goodreads page, Google Books | Buy from Amazon UK, Waterstones, AbeBooks, or your local bookshop.

Frank Einstein, by John Scieszka, illustrated by Brian Biggs

  • More aimed at older ages, this story about a child-genius is written well with lots of pictures, facts – and humour!  The illustrations made me want to open the book and I’m pleased I did.  It hooked me in and the plot was so interesting I found it hard to put the book down.  An amazing and very clever combination of facts and story. — Ayesha, 12

Website | Published by Amulet, ISBN 978-1419712180 | Goodreads page, Google Books | Buy from Amazon UK, Waterstones, AbeBooks, or your local bookshop.

Jake’s Bones, by Jacke McGowan-Lowe

  • Easy to use because of the combination of arrows and text. — Grace, 11
  • The bright, clear pictures guide you through the facts in the book.  The picture of the dinosaur skeleton really made me want to read and find out more! — Oliver, 11

Website | Published by Ticktock, ISBN 978-1783250257 | Goodreads page, Google Books | Buy from Amazon UK, Waterstones, AbeBooks, or your local bookshop.

Night Sky Watcher, by Raman Prinja

  • A very interesting and educational book. — Josh, 11
  • The interesting images make this book inviting and all the facts are very clearly explained.  Also, it has a zip and that’s unusual in a book!  Fun and entertaining for ages 9-90. — Amy, 11
  • The zip made me want to open this book! It was educational as well as great fun.  All the difficult, scientific words are well-explained making this an easy book to read and dip in and out of, with clear signposting. — Rebecca, 12
  • Very easy to find out what’s where in the book which is written like a huge factfile. It’s fabulous (I love the zip!!) — Bethany, 12

Published by QED, ISBN 978-1781716571 | Goodreads page, Google Books | Buy from Amazon UK, Waterstones, AbeBooks, or your local bookshop.

Tiny, by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Emily Sutton

  • Easy to read with big, colourful illustrations. — Beth, 12
  • Written like a story this book is really easy to use with beautiful clear yet detailed illustrations on every page.It’s great for younger children as there are more pictures than facts and all the information is clearly explained through the pictures. I found it really interesting too. A very clear, interesting book with beautiful illustrations. — Evie, 12

Website | Published by Walker Books, ISBN 978-1406341041 | Goodreads page, Google Books | Buy from Amazon UK, Waterstones, AbeBooks, or your local bookshop.

Utterly Amazing Science, by Robert Winston

  • Creative, imaginative, fact-filled and fun. — Adam, 11
  • The entertaining pop-ups will really encourage young children to learn. — Laura, 11
  • The diagrams, bright colours and pop-up pages make picking up the science facts really easy. — Emma, 11
  • Fascinating facts made easier to remember with the pull tabs and pop-ups. — Beth, 12

Website | Published by DK Children, ISBN 978-1409347934 | Goodreads page, Google Books | Buy from Amazon UK, Waterstones, AbeBooks, or your local bookshop.

And the winner is…

The young people from Cramlington thought that the winner should be Utterly Amazing Science. The Royal Society judges agreed with them, and Robert Winston won the award for his pop-up book.

For more information about the Science Prize, and previous winners, visit the Royal Society website.

RI Engineering Masterclass: Chain Reaction

My desk, earlier in this week.

My desk, earlier this week.

If you have the misfortune of following my Twitter feed, you may have noticed a flurry of posts this past week with pictures like the insanity in the heading, or this tumble of wires.

All is now revealed: I was prepping for a new workshop, delivered for the first time this morning to the poor unsuspecting members of our Autumn 2015 cohort for the Royal Institution Engineering Masterclass scheme. This was their sixth and last session, and we wanted to leave them with something creative, challenging, and just a little ridiculous.

There are lots of ‘chain reaction’ type workshops around, and while they’re a heap of fun they tend to go big on the trial-and-error aspect of engineering. I wanted something just a little more thoughtful that brought in a wider range of elements. So the plan was hatched for each stage of the machine to weave in and out between the physical domain and the electronic.

That is: the connections between stages of the chain reaction wouldn’t all be mechanical. So we had a wide range of sensors, some Arduino code to handle those inputs, and a few different types of servos, relays and motors to transfer the electronic processing back into the mechanical realm.

It was a lot of try to pack into a 2½ hour workshop, but it almost worked. It helps that this bunch of Masterclass students are smart, capable and inventive, and they worked really hard to make something out of the session. We didn’t get a sustained chain of machines going, but here’s what they did, and what it all looked like:

Well done, everyone. I thoroughly enjoyed working with you, and you should be properly proud of your inventiveness and ingenuity.

Some of you were asking about the Arduino kits we use: I recommend Oomlout’s ARDX kits. There are other starter kits out there, often with glossier booklets to accompany them, but I’ve found Oomlout’s documentation to be better-written than most, and the range of components is good. They’re also one of the cheaper starter kits. You can buy directly from Oomlout (which is a lovely chap called Aaron who’s usually around at Maker Faire UK) or via Amazon. Other useful suppliers include Pimoroni and Kitronik.

The Arduino ecosystem is vast but fairly accessible, and the suppliers above have a huge range of breakout boards, add-on ‘shields’, sensor inputs, servos, and so on. The hardest part is starting to think of projects to apply all your new tools to – which is precisely why I like things like chain reaction machines or playing musical instruments. There are lots of books of projects like plant waterers or burglar alarms, but straight-up playing with this stuff gives you an excellent idea of the range of problems to which you might apply it all. In the end, I think guilt-free playing is the most effective route to learning about electronics and micro controllers, at least for these initial steps. Later on… well hey, people do degrees and apprenticeships and make careers in this stuff. But start with something you find amusing.

I’ll be making quite a few changes to the Chain Reaction workshop before I run it again. But I will run it again. Thanks again all!

Update Monday 23rd – the lovely folks at Cambridge Science Centre have this morning tweeted a link to this video. Wow.

Ohbot on Kickstarter

I may be a little obsessed with DIY robots. We’re gradually building up a robot menagerie in the Think Physics office, and I’m planning a comparative review of some of the available kits and plans. But that’s not ready yet, and in the meantime you may like to know about this:

I met Matt and Dan at BETT at the beginning of the year, where they had a tiny stand showcasing early prototypes of their Ohbot robotic head. Think Physics bought a couple – we were showcasing one of them at the Juice Festival last week, and you’ll see them around at more of our events over the coming months. I continue to be impressed by them, and the software’s particularly good. It’s Windows-only, but adopts a Scratch-like block programming system which is both straightforward and quite flexible.

Right now, the guys are back on Kickstarter with a more developed, easier-to-build and more expressive version of Ohbot. It’s turning even more into a robot puppet, and once they get over the injection moulding hurdle it should be considerably cheaper than the previous short-run laser cut prototypes.

Ohbot’s interesting because while it is a robotics and programming project, it’s also about self-expression, dialogue, emotion, and our responses to technology. I very much like the pure robotics approach of miniature robotic arm MeArm, and the accessible turtle-graphics programming focus of Mirobot, but Ohbot is a fascinating addition to the mix. For Think Physics’ purposes, I like it because it’s clearly using the same palette of components and techniques as our other robots, and it’s also doing something rather different. If the Maker movement is about any one thing, that thing has to be “technology put to creative use”, and Ohbot is an excellent invitation to think beyond Arduino coding and wiring components together, and to really explore how we want our technology to work for us.

The Ohbot2 Kickstarter closes on Sunday morning (!), and as I write this is tantalisingly close to success. If you can help it reach its target, do pledge for one of the rewards.

Update: Success!
The Ohbot2 Kickstarter was successful on Sunday, so the team are gearing up for full-pelt production in time for Christmas. Congratulations, guys!