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OSB archive

Summer of pests, motors, & spin

Pete Wilton

Find out about insect birth control, machines made from DNA, and weird quantum properties that could power supercomputers, in Oxford University exhibits at this year’s Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition.

The exhibition, that starts today in London and runs until 8 July, also features Oxford research into creating a genetic map of Britain.

The insect control exhibit explains how genetically modified (GM) insects can help to tackle dengue fever, a potentially fatal mosquito-borne disease which infects 50-100 million people each year in over 100 countries.

A new technique creates GM 'sterile' male insects which are released so that wild females mate with them. These females then have fewer offspring or none at all and, if enough sterile males are released over a long period, this can significantly reduce, or even eliminate, the population.

Michael Bonsall of Oxford University’s Department of Zoology, lead exhibitor of insect control, said: 'Our approach uses advances in genetic engineering in a bid to address the challenge of insect pests. Our research draws on many scientific disciplines, from ecology to health economics, and demonstrates that it can be effective'.

The nano-scale transport exhibit, meanwhile, looks at what we could learn from self-assembled motors found in the natural world and about how we could build our own molecular machines.

The flagellar motors that power bacteria, and the kinesin motors that transport cargoes within cells, are just two of the systems Oxford scientists are investigating.

The exhibit also explores how DNA can be used as a construction material: making tiny 'walkers' that can control chemical reactions, as well as containers and geometric figures.

Quantum of spin is an exhibit all about the science of 'spin'; a weird quantum property that is possessed by electrons and atomic nuclei.

Visit this stand and find out how technology harnessing spin is used in hospital MRI scanners and how Oxford research is examining how it could be used to build the ultimate supercomputer, and even find out how robins and other birds find their way during their long migrations.