Personalised Medicine

Personalised medicine, a visionary health care model, is far from complete. Given its brilliant central aim – to administer each patient an individual, active drug whilst minimising adverse side effects, requiring both personalised I.T services and accurate diagnostic testing – one cannot expect any surging practical developments in the foreseeable future. The mechanism of personalised medicine entails that patients are stratified, sub-divided into groups based on certain, individual factors. In this way, medical interventions are thought to be far more effective than current methods of treatment, described as a ‘one dose fits all’ system by some. This essay will examine how this can be made possible, taking healthcare economics and the essence of current genomic research into account.

The risk of contracting or developing a disease, and its subsequent treatment, cannot be generalised to any wide population. Variations in factors such as human genetic coding, immunological functioning and gene-environment interactions make it impossible to do so. Therefore, it is important to define the scope of our biological variation in order to produce more targeted treatments which can have far greater benefits than a ‘one dose fits all’ system. A patient’s medical history, immunology and genetic make-up will determine these treatments but, as we shall see throughout, there are obstacles to such conditions.

One practical obstacle is the colossal task of computerising patient medical history, which is pivotal to our model. In the United Kingdom, a £12 billion National Programme for Information Technology scheme was recently withdrawn and this allegedly had the intention of fulfilling such a condition. This was accompanied with criticism from the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, National Audit Office and health secretary Andrew Lansley, who blasted the last Labour administration for “wasting taxpayers’ money”. The cost of building a national DNA database could be considerable. However, this is not yet out of the question, after a report from the Human Genomics Strategy Group – Building on our inheritance, Genomic technology in healthcare – strongly recommended such a mass storage of information which is looking certain to develop over time. Lansley has welcomed this report.

There are also ethical problems related to computerisation. Firstly, given that genetic composition influences health, the extent of the patient’s right to privacy is in question. This is because, for instance, if a patient’s information is collected and used for risk profiling and diagnosis of others, which could be done in any implementation of personalised medicine, this cannot be kept anonymous because it is by definition personalised. What uses are ethical? How can this information be kept private? This is one of many ethical problems that face personalised medicine and require comprehensive dialogue between the scientific community and the general population. In the United States, cost is also an issue, where allegedly 46 million are without healthcare insurance which raises the question of whether everyone can access personalised medicine.

The implementation of personalised medicine can have profound economic benefits through reshaping pharmaceutical business models. Profits from the ‘one dose fits all’ system are currently in excess of $1billion per annum globally; however, this offsets the cost of investment in research and drug approval. As drugs become specialised to genetic sub-groups, those that are ‘wasted’ or classed as insufficient to help the general population can be considered for these groups and this can save time and expenses in the process of regulation. Perhaps one could argue that such savings could be distributed to those U.S patients who are uninsured.

Some critics of personalised medicine argue that behavioural change can have far greater benefits than seeking the genetic causes of disease because it impacts the wider population. For example, they claim incidences of death from diseases such as heart disease or types of cancer can be reduced if factors such as smoking, drinking and lack of exercise are corrected. However, this theory does not consider the strong genetic component of such multi-factorial diseases and thus, it cannot be said that research into the role of genes as a cause of disease is wrong. As Islamic polymath Avicenna wrote in his 11th century ‘Canon of Medicine’ (Al-Qanun fi al-Tibb): ‘It is a truism of philosophy that a complete knowledge of a thing can only be obtained by elucidating its causes and antecedents, provided, of course, such causes exist’. In final analysis, it is therefore necessary that modern medicine must seek gain a greater understanding of the genetic causes of disease since genes are a major factor in disease.

Perhaps London 2012 can offer us a brighter landscape. Its broad legacy will now include a medical research (MRC-NIHR Phenome) centre based in Harlow, Essex, facilitated by the equipment and expertise of anti-doping facilities operated by King’s College London. Its primary goal will be to search for new molecular biomarkers for disease by analysing samples and, in doing so, it may become easier to explain why certain individuals are more susceptible to disease. Ultimately, more targeted treatments can be developed in the long run. This scheme is to be funded by £5million from both the Medical Research Council and National Institute of Health Research.

The importance of biomarkers in personalised medicine makes it worthy of mentioning. In medicine, a biomarker is a naturally occurring molecule, gene or substance whose presence is indicative of disease and other biological phenomenon. They are currently being used to stratify patients to potentially tailor treatments and predict susceptibility to disease. Although this is developing, it is an area where proponents of personalised medicine can hold a certain degree of confidence.

There is a problem with the art of predicting. Since Genetics is a very complex area of study, an attempt to create a mathematical model to predict susceptibility can be regarded as tentative and bold. However, at the same time, it is important to do so because it can potentially identify those who can benefit from early interventions and therefore reduce the cost of long term health costs. Moreover, in a post-Human Genome Project era where a genomic revolution is in course, pharmacogenomics may yet face challenges in designing targeted drugs for genetic subgroups whilst minimising adverse side effects. The so-called ‘Big Pharma’ companies such as GlaxoSmithKline have long attempted to do so with no major developments and this is not surprising, given the complexity of the mechanism of drug action itself.

At a DNA & Genetics conference earlier this year, Dr. Helen Yarwood gave a lecture on this topic. She cited a clinical trial involving the Receptor Tyrosine Kinase gene (a high-affinity cell surface receptor and potential biomarker for some tumours), and biomarkers which underscored the potential of personalised medicine. Firstly, we must understand the term ‘tumour’ – an abnormal new mass of tissue partly caused by genetic mutations – and how they are treated, that is, through either cutting the tumour out or, if it has spread, extensive chemotherapy. These approaches fail in many cases. Dr.Yarwood articulated that mice, with an increased level of RTK genes due to tumours, when treated with Gefitinib and chemotherapy, life span had markedly increased. Of course, as is often the case with medical treatments, this did not prove successful with human trials generally. However, Gefitinib, being a targeted treatment, had remarkably only benefited an Asian group which highlights the importance of this topic.

In summary, one would like to place particular emphasis on some key points. Firstly, that personalised medicine is indeed far from its maturity. Scientific understanding of the genetic components of disease is still in its infancy. However, as shown, growth in this area is exponential and educating the general population and healthcare providers about these developments is paramount to its success, despite a potential economic challenge. Secondly, that it will require scientists to work together and overcome genetically reductionist notions of this medical model and recognise that this is a model for the people. Finally, that transparency is imperative if the general public are to form a consensus over social, legal and social issues. In an age of genetic enlightenment and certain absurdities that come with it, one hopes that personalised medicine is not caught in the cross fire.

Contributed by Blend Ashtey

Apple’s Global Dominance

The global dominance has once again been shown by ‘Apple’ as the company made history when its shares hit $600 for the first time on 15th March. Apple’s market capitalization is, at time of writing, $559 billion, according to Yahoo Finance. To highlight the value of wealth of Apple Inc, it is worth more than the rest of the US retail sector, the GDP of Poland and Belgium. But how has Apple brand achieved so much success? How does Apple sustain their success? What is it about their products that appeal to millions of people? These are question that many of us wish to examine in closer detail.

A famous quote of Steve Jobs’, the late CEO of Apple was “… you gotta start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology.”– a quote central to Apple’s philosophy. The whole Apple ‘package’ encompasses aesthetics, customer service and performance, with each of their products concentrating on consumer experience as a whole which is visible in the Apple stores.

Some critics believe Apple takes customer service too far, pointing how it appears to hand out new iPhones or iPads without fully checking there are no faults aspects. Apple prefers to take the route of trust in its customers rather than legitimacy of the return. Greater trust builds a stronger bond between firm and consumer. Although there may be more cases of illegible returns, the quantity of return for the business is guaranteed by customer loyalty because the benefits of good customer service heavily outweighs the costs of reissuing new phones.

Apple’s aesthetics of its products can be summarised as minimalistic, usually with one colour, such as black or white, for iPads and iPhones and various colours of the rainbow for iPods. The products are very slim, uses gloss finishes and the interfaces are simple. They are not complex, not outdated and do not contain irrelevant switches or buttons. These styles are a reflection of Apple’s pursuit for total perfection. All aspects of Apple’s design is scrutinised to ensure nothing is left mediocre to the extent that the packaging itself is highly aesthetic. For example, imagine HP’s packaging; distasteful, boring and obsolete. Compare this to an Apple’s packaging; vibrant, innovative and fashionable. Clearly, the Apple packaging will make consumers want to be seen with it, especially on Christmas morning when parents are trying to please their children.

Apple’s business plan, radically different to most companies’ approaches, of conducting their operations and teaching of their business schools, is the ideal model for all competitors to follow as well as envy. Most companies expect employees to gradually move up the rank and focus on employee. In contrast, Apple prefers to keep people where they work best. This structure, similar to investment banks, enhances the firm’s productive efficiency and the productivity of workers themselves. To use an example, Apple senior vice president of design, Jonathan Ive; it was wrongly speculated that Ive was being groomed to become the next CEO. However, Ive kept doing what he loved and did best- designing. This organisational structure concentrates and improves on people’s expertise in certain fields rather than just their role in the business as a whole.

iTunes, because it revolutionised the manner music was bought, allowed Apple to dominate the music market for iPod owners. Take this scenario; one has bought an iPod yet one needs music to fill inside it. Sure, one probably has CDs ready to insert but in order to obtain new music one must buy new music. Cue iTunes. When confronted with the choice of either going to the nearest music store to buy a CD or instantly download a whole album from iTunes, one would select second choice since it requires little effort. Indeed there are other online music stores which exist but the convenience of buying music from your iPod managing application, which automatically adds the songs to your library after purchase, outweighs, for the majority of customers, buying from other online retailers and adding the songs by oneself, despite iTunes higher prices. iTunes is now the largest music retailer, a feat achieved only 6 years after its debut in 2003. The Application or, more commonly known, the ‘App’ Store was launched in July 2008 and within 4 years it has celebrated its 25 billionth download. Sneered upon during its opening by its rivals, the App store made the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch, along with ‘apps’ for all genres, which appealed to the mass market. Gaming, language, news ‘apps’, just to name a few, became so popular amongst the majority of consumers that Apple enjoyed a ‘monopoly’ over iOS apps due to the way they were programmed. The recently opened ‘Mac App’ store has enjoyed the same success with 1 million downloads after the first 24 hours. The Apple stores are also an example of Apple playing on ‘convenience buying’ in which the store offers accessories for the Apple products such as headphones, keyboards, mice and software. Once you buy a product in the store, one feels compelled to buy accessories and is more likely to do so due to the close proximity.

Apple has reinvested majority of its money into research in order to stay ahead of its competitors with regards to its cutting edge technology and products. Innovation is rife inside Apple and everyone is encouraged and open to share their ideas. Designers are paid around 50% more than their counterparts working in other technology companies and coupled with the respect they have for the company and rewards and credit they receive for their job, they are really motivated to work hard. Apple organises workshops where engineers and designers are encouraged to think freely and allow others to pinpoint the best parts of their creations. Staying ahead of competitors is essential and the majority of people have probably now experienced that “wow” reaction to a new feature of a new Apple product which people have never seen before.

The Apple Inc has been compared to religion in the way that they operate some parts of their company. Their store openings and product in-store releases are famous due to their fans who queue up for hours and even days, along the streets in order to be the first to get into the new store and get their hands on the new product. In a BBC program, named ‘Secrets of the Superbrands’, journalist Alex Riley likened the store opening to ‘an evangelical prayer meeting’, as staff riled up the crowd with cheers and ‘Hi-5s’ akin to spiritual music. Apple has managed to strike a chord inside its customers which Microsoft or Google has not managed to do. These customers are not just consumers of Apple, they are devotees which ensures these customers will conduct repeated business with Apple in the near. In addition on the BBC program, an MRI scan of the brain of an Apple fan showed that his brain had the same reactions to Apple products that devoted Christians have to pictures of Jesus. Although this experiment has only been done on a very small group of people, it is not hard to believe this seeing the reactions of many after the death of Steve Jobs with footage of people crying and messages of their condolences. The reaction from people who never met the man shows that Apple is able to create more than just a business-customer bond. Apple is well known for being a very secretive organisation, which is well documented in Adam Lashinsky’s book, with employees kept in the dark about things not related to their division. This has two benefits; 1) no competition can know everything about new products if someone was to leak anything and 2) this mystery builds hype as nobody knows about the product and everybody wants to be the first to know everything about and own the product on launch day. Apple makes employees sign agreements acknowledging that you will never reveal information to anyone, and they can take legal action if you do, and it is said that since many employees are so committed and passionate, they will not hesitate to report a colleague if they feel they are damaging the company. Lockdown rooms with tinted windows are reported to be the only place where the next product can be discussed.

These recent milestones suggest Apple still has plenty of capacity to grow to the extent that it could become the first trillion dollar company, in terms of market capitalisation. But is its stranglehold on the market coming to an end? The iPhone 4S was not radically different iPhone 5, which surprised many, but simply an iPhone 4 with some extra features such as Siri. Apple has always tried to under-promise and over-provide but with the iPhone 4S it over promised and under-provided. In terms of hardware and product specification, the iPhone 4S didn’t lead the pack, but settled in amongst the herd, despite boasting a dual-core processor on release. However, Android phones such as the Samsung Galaxy SII were using these for quite a bit before- is it a sign of competition closing in? The camera was exaggerated – Facetime with 8MP camera and 1080p filming being highlights of the 4S, again the default of many Android phones at the time. The detail on ‘Retina’ screens took everyone’s breath away when announced, but now when placed side by side to a Super AMOLED screen, Samsung receives the most praise. This is likely to be a wakeup call for Apple that they cannot rely solely on their brand to make sales. Yet one can be sure they will be investing most of their $100 billion cash reserves into R&D. Apple will not lose their global dominance without a fight.

Contributed by Mark Kelly

My Childhood with Nintendo

Back in the days of winter 2004, when I had just started ‘slaving away’ for my 11+ exams, an advertisement on the window of the GAME(currently in administration) caught my eye as I was walking to my piano lesson. A grey slab of electronic kit from Nintendo was about to go on sale, at an eye-watering launch price of £99.99 (please bear in mind that this was about eight years ago, when petrol had not yet reach £1 a litre and a loaf of bread was still below 50p, so £100 is a lot of money). The advert had the image of the product in question: a cuboid-shaped piece of plastic hardware which opens up to reveal two screens, with the bottom one being capable to respond to touch. Its casing also housed the iconic stylus, which can be pulled out and used to pinpoint specific actions on the bottom screen.

The moment I saw this advert, this piece of entertainment gear became number one on my wish list, knocking the Hasbro Optimus Prime figurine off top spot. A few days later, its glorious material form emerged before my eyes under a willow tree in the playground of my primary school, as a spoilt brat brought it out of his bag to show it off to everyone. This caused quite a commotion, with every one of my friends elbowing past each other just to get a glimpse of this new (and expensive) toy. Such a large group had gathered by the tree that it caught the attention of the teachers, and soon they swooped down upon us to learn of the cause. Within minutes, they departed and the cluster of kids disbanded, leaving the spoilt brat to weep on his own. Having discovered the consequences of bringing a games console into school, he sobbed and prayed that he would cradle it in his arms once more.

For the past 300 words, which games console was I talking about?

Of course, I was talking about the instant smash hit of Nintendo DS. The best-selling handheld console to date, and the second best-selling games console overall, it can be viewed as a device which redefined gaming: the ability to have multiplayer on a mobile gadget through a wireless connection, no matter where the players are, whether they are in the same room as you or not. It is also the first apparatus that is able to access the internet, opening up a new whole world of downloadable content, primarily trial version of games yet to be released.

The Japanese product was so successful that Nintendo decided to stick with this creation, rather than developing a new invention. Hence, the DS has digi-volved many times, first into the DS Lite. This redesign was a ‘smaller, slimmer, and lighter’ version of its predecessor. Apart from the styling and weight, the two DS consoles were virtually the same, in terms of processing power. But apart from those, there were a few noticeable changes: the more recent of the two featured a brighter screen as well as improved battery life.

Two years after the launch of the DS Lite came the release of the DSi, with the DSi XL following soon after. Like many contraptions nowadays, it introduces a forward and rear facing 0.3MP camera as well as camera software which allow you to tweak certain aspects in the onscreen image. Nintendo had also updated its online shop to give it a fresh feel. Furthermore, the DSi XL packs a 4.2 in screen, the biggest screen to date.

In terms of games, Nintendo gives an impression that it only focuses on interaction between the game and the player, while its rivals, Sony Entertainment and Microsoft, concentrates on the quality of gameplay for hardcore gamers who want to be engaged in action. This is evident in the games that Nintendo produces. The game ‘Nintendogs’ will sound very familiar for readers of this article who have sisters. Similar to the once fashionable ‘Tamagotchi’, it allows players (mostly girls, but sometimes lonely boys too!) to keep a pet dog and to entertain it with the purpose of keeping it happy. Overtime, the dog will become hungrier and dirtier if no action has been taken to improve its condition. Therefore, constant attention is required, which may prove wearisome after prolonged periods.

However, the most popular game in Nintendo’s history does not involve house-trained animals, but a rather unlikely candidate; an Italian plumber. As soon as the world-famous theme tune is played, its swung rhythm coupled with the synthesised sounds will capture your imagination immediately. Indeed, Mario is arguably the mascot for the gaming industry. His face appears everywhere: from T-shirts to lunch boxes. Usually depicted as a mushroom-eating hero, it has gone on to become the best-selling video game franchise of all time.

Coming back to Nintendo consoles, the most technologically advanced device in production is ultimately the 3DS. As suggested by the name, it is capable of playing games in 3D without the use of glasses, provided that the game is designed for that purpose. Inside the plastic housing, there is a gyroscope and an accelerometer, meaning that the game can be control by movement.
Despite these impressive party pieces, the sales figures weren’t remarkable. Perhaps this could be down to the price tag of £230. This, when coupled with possible health risks and an incredibly short battery life in 3D mode, does not make the handheld a very attractive gadget. As a result, net profits fell 74% to 49.5bn yen ($598m; £376m) in the nine months to the end of December 2011. The strong yen had also contributed to the loss of 84.4bn yen in exchange rate losses.

Nintendo has realised this, and responded by cutting its price down to £150. Obeying the laws of demand and supply, sales naturally increased. Now, at the time of writing, more than 25 million units have been sold.

In summary, let’s turn away from portable consoles and look into the future. Nintendo is planning to launch the Wii U, the successor to the Wii. The first console able to produce HD 1080p from the company, it aims to add realism and depth to the gaming graphics and compete with its rival companies. The controllers have also been re-designed: it will now contain a camera as well as a resistive touchscreen which is similar to the 3DS. Although these features seem appealing, share prices fell almost 10% following the unveiling of the new product. While this may be a bad omen, I’m sure Nintendo will pull through and emerge stronger than ever, producing innovative designs and continuing to make gamers, young and old, immersed in this fanatical pastime.

Contributed by Hin Cheong Wong

The Future of Energy

In a constantly growing population, the demand for energy has rocketed, driving up
the price of fuels struggling to fulfil this rising need. The growth boom from the East, in
countries such as China and India, has added pressure on energy firms to increase their
output as they invest in resources to improve their infrastructure and feed their expanding
populations. Alternative energy sources have been in the headlines more frequently and the
awareness for them has increased because the public and the government realise that the
world has to lose its dependence on fossil fuels and change to more sustainable means. But
will these new sources of energy relieve us from the energy crises that have occurred over
the years and will they be fully viable to meet the new challenges of the modern age?

The majority of energy used in the world at the moment is produced from the combustion
of fossil fuels (oil, natural gas and coal). But these resources, known as non-renewable fuels,
due to their scarcity will not last forever and thus, it is only a matter of time before they can
no longer meet our requirements. Another problem which arises from using fossil fuels is
that they enhance global warming. Expansive, environmental research has shown that man
has and is contributing to global warming, largely by burning fossil fuels, although it is not
fully understood the magnitude to which we are doing so. Carbon dioxide is released when
the fossil fuels are burned and it collects in the atmosphere, allowing sunlight in but not
allowing it to escape out of the atmosphere when it turns to heat. This causes the Earth to
heat.

New forms of energy are on their way. With 81% of its energy coming from geothermal
(66%) and hydropower (15%), Iceland has the largest proportion of its primary energy
produced through renewable means in the world due to its geographical features
(volcanoes and hot springs). Other countries, are also investing heavily into renewable
energies and China is leading the way with the highest installed renewable energy capacity,
pushing America into second place. From 2005 to 2010 it has seen a 106% increase in its
renewable energy capacity. With its economy coming on terms with the US, could this could
be yet another indication that China is on its way to becoming the largest superpower? This
competition from countries to show themselves as the “green countries” could boost the
attractiveness of renewable sources even more and help countries examine its benefits
more rather than the expensive price tags they usually entail. Renewable energies are an
investment, costing relatively large sums of money but providing savings over their lifespan.

Emerging economies such as India and China are investing billions into hydropower
electricity. They have begun projects to build dams all along the rivers in Kashmir to harness
the energy in the rivers in order to produce enough energy to power its economy and
population of over a billion. It plans to add 3,000MW to its grid in the next eight years. The
potential for hydro-electric energy is huge projects like those in Kashmir could be replicated
on the majority of the rivers around the world.

Using renewable energy sources does create some problems. Firstly, many of these rely
on the natural elements, namely wind, solar, tidal and hydroelectric. If the sun isn’t out or
there is not enough wind, the energy gained from these methods can be severely limited.
This could be a real problem in the future if renewable energies were our sole providers
because unexpected weather patterns could dramatically change the energy we receive.

For wind power, this can be partially by building them far out in the ocean. On average,
the wind speed is 90% faster than that on flat land and predicting where it will be is more
predictable. Solar energy is obviously only efficient in countries where there is large
volumes of sunlight, meaning colder and less sun ridden countries will have to use the other
alternative energy resources.

Renewable energy has a huge role in the global macroeconomic objective of obtaining
sustainable development. Sustainable development is formulated of economic, social and
environmental sustainability, in which the use of resources is aimed to meet human needs
as well as preserving the environment now and for future generations. The majority of
alternative energies are carbon-neutral, including nuclear, solar, wind and hydroelectric,
and when energy is produced by these means they do not cause a net release of carbon
dioxide which is what sustainable development promotes.

A new type of energy is being researched and tested by scientists. Nuclear fusion is the
process in which two nuclei of protium, an isotope of hydrogen are fired together to
form a larger nucleus, which releases a huge amount of energy when the repulsive force
between nuclei are overcome. Protium is 1 in every 8000 hydrogen atoms and although it
technically isn’t renewable, the abundance of protium means it will last for a long time. The
technology is in relatively early stages though. The process is also very safe. If there was
any malfunction which allowed leakage of any material, the conditions required for nuclear
fusion to take place would be compromised and its ‘shutdown’ process would be quicker
in comparison to nuclear fission reactors in which the process can carry on for days such as
the Fukushima Plant. Yet the major problem currently with nuclear fusion is that the energy
needed in order to create the right conditions, is around the same as it is produced, making
it an inefficient source of power. The aim is to reduce this input energy which is needed
to create a larger output. Many scientists believe that nuclear fusion will be available as a
viable energy source from as early as 2025 to 2040 yet nobody can be fully certain whether
it will produce enough energy to be commercially used.

Whose light will burn brightest between non-renewable and renewable? Although
renewable energies have been slow to ‘get off’ the ground, for majority of countries, the
future looks set to be one where renewable energies provide the bulk of our energy. Large
businesses are pouring money into these opportunities, seeing renewable as a profitable
investment as they decline in price. But it all lies with the separate governments around the
world to act. Despite organizations such as the EU have set targets to cut carbon emissions
and over 119 have some form of renewable energy policy, the changeover from fossil fuels
to newer, cleaner and maybe even safer resources cannot be forced upon anyone and so,
we must hope that the world will come to their senses that accepting these alternative
sources is logically the way forward.

Contributed by Mark Kelly

Highly Charged

BAE has released the details of its new ‘structural batteries’, batteries which will do more than just provide power to machinery.

These new batteries are much more than that and instead of taking a battery and applying it to a circuit, BAE has created a power source, which can be built into the structure of the hardware it is designed for.

The battery is made from a composite material, which combines carbon fibre with the nickel-based chemistry in your average battery. This means the material has both the chemical ability to store charge, woven into the physical strengths associated with carbon fibre.

Furthermore, BAE are saying this design is more than just a traditional battery in an oddly formed case and there is potential for the new design to act as a substitute for existing composite materials. Stewart Penney of BAE systems said, “There are a number of people that will build a battery shaped like a beam, for example, but fundamentally that’s just an odd-shaped battery, it isn’t a structural battery. The beauty of what we’ve got is that, when it’s fully developed, a company will be able to go out and buy what is a standard carbon-composite material, lay out the shape, put it through the curing process and have a structural battery,” he said.

BAE knows the technology works. Only last year, they announced that construction of a torch and small unmanned aerial vehicle (shown above) using this technology had been successful, but the key advantages a project could gain from technology such as this are mainly to be found in weight-saving. By effectively merging the battery into the physical structure of a product, a designer loses the need for both a battery and material to case it in, instead using the same lighter material for both, losing the excess weight of the power source.

‘Structural composite batteries’, to give them their full title, were first investigated as a possible way of lightening the burden of soldiers carrying electronic items in difficult terrain. In a press release, BAE set out some futuristic (and fairly optimistic applications) such as a tent with its own power supply, but at the moment it is working on an equally ambitious project, testing the technology in the Lola-Drayson B12/69EV, which aims to become the fastest electric car in the world.

“It’s only when you shake rattle and roll these things on a real-world platform that you uncover issues,” Mr Penney told the BBC on Monday. However, he admits there are current issues with the design, chief among which is the power density of these new batteries (the energy they can store for a given mass). Currently, their power density is around a third that of a car battery and around a tenth of the lithium batteries you get in a laptop.

Although there is on-going work into developing similar composite batteries with lithium instead of nickel, further problems exist in the required life-time of the battery. You can’t just take off an aeroplane wing and throw it away when it runs out of power. Added to this the applications in high speed cars and the military would suggest a huge price-tag and difficulty to work with.

However, BAE is still confident that it can overcome these problems. “The goal, and we are still working towards it, is to have a material that isn’t significantly more expensive than carbon fibre”.

We do know the technology works and in the near future we will see the first glimpses of its potential in the real world and hopefully its success in the test-beds of Le Mans, allowing the technology to find its way into our lives.

Contributed by Alex Hawkings

The Human Body and Modern Society

We have all had that dreadful day when everything seems to go wrong and it feels as if the whole world is against us. However, when we are facing such a bad day, it is often a certain situation that often causes us to think in such a negative manner. For example, when we get unsatisfactory grades in an important exam, have our dear possessions stolen or the death of a loved one. After any of these unfortunate situations, all of us will inevitably feel stressed. Nevertheless, in the modern day and age it seems that we are constantly in these types of situations and therefore feeling under pressure all the time; which consequently has a detrimental impact on the human body.

Scientifically speaking this is mainly due to the adrenal glands secreting into the blood stream a hormone called ‘Cortisol’. Cortisol, is one of the primary stress hormones that is stimulated by the hypothalamus (found in the brain) when we feel stressed. Ironically, it is commonly known as the “stress hormone”, but it is essential as it regulates the way your body uses the various fuel sources (lipids and carbohydrates) and for recouping energy following stress. Normal cortisol hormone levels usually follow a 24-hour circadian (daily) rhythm. When here are high cortisol levels being present in the early morning, it rapidly drop off and continue to decline for the remainder of the day. Like many metabolic processes in the body, if the cortisol rhythm is kept at that balance adjusting to moments of stress and relaxation it can be considered a healthy response.

Unfortunately, nowadays a “normal” day for most people will be far from being what most of us would call “ideal” and is much more likely to include a fair amount of distress. This constant hectic lifestyle of rushing around, eating a diet of fast food and not getting enough sleep or exercise are often prime examples for having an overexposure to cortisol. One such example can be seen in traders on the stock market, where when they are on a ‘money making’ streak, their testosterone levels surge, sparking such euphoria that they underestimate risk. However, when the markets fluctuate they can become stressed so the adrenal gland produces a flood of cortisol, which can make them overly fearful and risk-averse. This has been found in an experiment conducted by John Coates, a neuroscientist at Cambridge University, in which he found that the secretion of cortisol increased in direct correlation to the volatility in asset prices in the stock market.

The persistent and elevated levels of cortisol have now been scientifically proved to be associated with chronic health problems such as obesity, heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Furthermore, the higher levels of cortisol can actually suppress the immune system by accelerating the death of white blood cells (lymphocytes). So you might find when you are worrying over an impending and important exam you are unintentionally also making yourself more susceptible to catching a disease.

In conclusion, after reading this you may think to yourself, “I’ll just get a job that doesn’t involve too much work to avoid stress and health problems in the future”. However, in modern society, stress is almost impossible to avoid and it is how each individual’s body is able to adapt and cope in modern society which will ultimately determine whether you will be able to survive in this tough world. Like the famous philosopher Herbert Spencer once said, “It is essentially survival of the fittest”.

Contributed by Sayibrinthan Vickneswaran

The ‘miracle material’ that is Graphene

Sir Andre Konstanin Geim, a Russian physicist, first came to media attention when
he was part of a team that levitated live frogs in mid-air with magnetic fields, an
experiment that got him an Ig Nobel Prize in 2000 – a parody of the Nobel Prizes. A
decade later, along with Sir Konstantin Sergeevich Novoselov, they garnered the real
thing for their pioneering research on Graphene, despite early scepticism amongst the
scientific community on its potential.

Since their ascendancy to the pinnacle of scientific research, the excitement
surrounding Graphene has propagated through the scientific and non-scientific
community alike. The question that many present today is: why? In order to
appreciate the importance of one of the greatest scientific findings in history, we must
take into account its properties, structure and its current and potential applications.

Graphene is a form of Carbon that exists as a planar sheet of Carbon atoms; one atom
thick. The atoms are arranged in a two-dimensional crystal lattice – terms Tiffin boys
are especially familiar with – and it is known to be the thinnest and yet strongest
material known to science. You have probably begun to appreciate its calibre – if
not before you reached this paragraph – but this is just the beginning. Speaking of
beginnings, Geim and Novoselov first showed in 2004 that the single layers of this
Graphene could be isolated through their renowned sticky tape ‘trick’. They simply
placed sticky tape on Graphite, another form of Carbon, ripping off thin flakes of
the Graphite. Subsequently you, as Geim says, “fold the tape in half and stick it to
the flakes on top and split them again. And you repeat this procedure 10 or 20 times.
Each time, the flakes split into thinner and thinner flakes”. It was this groundbreaking
experiment – dubbed ‘mechanical exfoliation’ – that paved the way for the material to
reach its full, staggering potential.

Within 6 years, Graphene was shown to have some remarkable uses, however
irrelevant it may seem. In 2008, for example, it was used to create a microscopic
pressurised ‘balloon’ – the world’s smallest balloon – that is impermeable to gas. It
was later concluded that the setup could be used as a tiny weighing device. More
recently, it was announced that levitating Graphene is the fastest spinning object ever,
rotating 60 million times per minute, boasting an opportunity to further manipulate its
applications. Larger sheets of Graphene have also been made into touchscreen and it
has been suggested as a component of solar cells. Encompassing environmental and
practical functions and being relatively cheap to manufacture, it is clearly the material
of the future.

However, the most important feature of Graphene is its exotic and revolutionary
electrical properties. As it allows electrons to pass through it so freely, it promises
faster and better electronics in what has been called the ‘Graphene computing
revolution’. It will, scientists say, replace Silicon as transistors for its astonishing
electrical conductivity and a recent Graphene transistor created by IBM is rated at
150 GHz, a speed which easily surpasses the fastest Silicon transistor at 40 GHz. Bear
in mind that the former is less than 10 nanometers wide and 0.1nm thick. But the
ease of electron flow also causes problems because in order to perform calculations,
computers need to be able to turn the flow of current on and off in their circuits
via transistors. Graphene-based transistors are a problem because they are superb
conductors and this issue is currently being tackled through the use of ‘quantum
tunnels’.

On the other hand, key figures involved with Graphene such as Peter Antoinette, CEO
of Nanocomp, urge patience: “Graphene will have its place, but it will just take longer
than people think.” This view is supported by Geim himself: “it is a dream…The
prospect is so far beyond the horizon that we cannot even assess it properly”.

But it is a prospect worth thinking about as, after all, we are living in a period where
21st century research has reached its summit, for now, and Graphene is but one of
recent findings that will revolutionise modern technology in the future, a ‘miracle
material’ that could change the course of modern science forever.

Contributed by Blend Ashtey

Mobile Phones: The Past, The Present, The Future

The world was recently revolutionised by the release of the smartphone – a phone good
enough to make every other appliance you owned appear ancient. Nothing could compare to
the fact that something so small could hold such technology and power. It was a Concorde
for the mobile phone and to some extent, for the technology industry.

At first, only a few small companies were investing in such technological development. Why?
To begin with, the concept that a small handheld device could handle the computing power
of a laptop or a PC and become a tool in your everyday life was difficult to envisage. The
closest product at the time was a PDA (Personal Digital Assistant). Secondly, there would
be large costs in creating a working model because of the complexity of the microprocessor
made greater by the complexity of the smartphone concept. HTC was one of the few phone
companies developing such devices but the first big smartphone that everyone remembers
was, of course, the iPhone. This magnificent machine, made by the already well known
Apple Inc., was an instant success. Its iOS processor, developed by Apple, was a wonder to
behold. It could process everything from the simple things such as calling a contact or taking
a picture, to the more complicated things such as running an app from the iTunes store.

For a couple of years, Apple reaped the rewards, releasing new versions of the iPhone
such as the 3G and the 3GS. They even decided to expand their iOS range to their other
products in the range. As a result, all of their products have increased in value. Profits have
soared and life couldn’t have been better for Steve Jobs. Furthermore, they employed
game developers and in 2009, the addictive Angry Birds was let loose upon the millions
of iPhone users and now has over 12 million downloads from the App Store. All was well
and good until a red, blue, green and yellow monster appeared out of the shadows. Google
stepped into the playing field and unleashed its wrath upon Apple. In 2005, just a year after
it released publicly, Google bought the initial developer of the Android OS. Then, for two
years, it funded Android Inc. to develop a working and efficient OS that could be used in
mobile phones. When it was first released in 2007, a few mobile phone companies such as
Samsung and HTC decided they would use it as an OS for their smartphones. Obviously

at first, it wasn’t very popular especially after Apple had won over most consumers with
their product. Apple’s success could and should have ruined Android in its initial year.
However, in 2008, Android got a lifeline and what a lifeline it was. After hearing about this
new operating system, 14 new companies joined the Green Droid in its fight with the Big
Silver Apple. 3 of those that joined were already well known in the technology sector. One
of these was known in almost all sectors of technology; Sony. Sony Ericsson had decided to
enter the fray and with it came the rise in fame of the Android OS.

As soon as Sony Ericsson let Android integrate their OS into Sony Ericsson’s Xperia series,
the mobile phone market was changed. The beauty and intricacy of the phone attracted the
customers and then the complexity and the ingenuity of the Android system sealed the deal.
Samsung and HTC with their customers did the same and the Android system soon grew
in fame and other companies running the system got higher sales. Android Inc. released
updates to compete with Apple. Apple did the same in order to compete and even within
the ‘alliance’ between the other mobile phone companies, each trying to enhance their
product with more funding and improved aesthetics. Now, smartphones have almost become
an everyday good. They have become common to the majority of us and it is likely that
without them now, we would crumble and descend into insanity. The market is looking more
stable with Android and Apple taking control of the majority leaving smaller companies like
Symbian in the dust.

The future for mobile phones looks exciting. Yet it seems companies are more focused
on how to make the things that we already have better rather than go off and spend some
time developing something new that will surprise the world and lead to a different future.
Android, for example, have released a completely new OS called Ice Cream Sandwich.
Apple responded with a clever new device in the iPhone 4S that everyone will know is called
Siri. Android, in a desperate attempt to respond, got a team to develop similar technology
and, to make a pun, named it Iris. This attempt failed miserably, as people realised after
they downloaded it, which questions the future of the mobile phone. Will something that
was initially developed to assist human beings live life easier end up being another clash
between two international corporate giants with the consumers caught in the middle of
the ceasefire? The heavy optimists would think that it will not end that way but it is a likely
possibility.

Due to this sudden growth in investment in mobile phones and increase in consumption, the
governments of the countries involved in selling these products have generated greater tax
revenue from value added tax and also gained a large sum of revenue from the workers at
the companies developing these products. Due to competition, investment has shot through
the roof for these companies. Therefore, considering all the effects of sudden economic
boom in the mobile phone market, there should not be an economic crisis right now. In the
end, it seems that our government, despite their budgets increasing from this, they have still
managed to end up in a vast hole of debt from which there seems to be no escape. Right
now, a more likely future is that our governments will bring all of us to ruin before anyone
else does.

Contributed by Krishan Gobithen

Sony, to Sony Ericsson, and back to Sony again

Sony Ericsson first made its name in the competitive arena of mobile phones with
its unique and stylish range of music walkman phones. However, due to strong
opposition from firms, old and new, such as Apple’s iPhone and HTC’s iconic
Wildfire, the products from this joint venture between the Japanese and the Swedish
firms has somewhat become neglected. In October 2011, it was announced that Sony
would acquire the remaining 50% stake to make the business a subsidiary of Sony
Corporation. Now, as the once glorious ruler and king of music phones tries to win
back hearts and minds with the launch of the its latest smartphone, the Xperia S, let’s
look back at the firms’ turbulent history.

Ericsson originally started out as a telecommunications company in Sweden,
incorporated in 1918. Throughout the last decade of the 20th century, its presence has
graced its home city, renovating it into one of the Europe’s focal points in information
technology of the time. A pioneer of mobile phone technology in the mid-1990s,
it thrived on rising demands from all around the world, with its products being air-
mailed to customers in the top market! In spite of this, like many in the industry of
technology and especially in telecommunications, Ericsson suffered battered and
bruised knees after the burst of the dot-com bubble in the early 2000s. Even though
profit was restored by the end of 2000, that year didn’t turn out to be great for the
Swedish firm, as fire broke out at the factory. The Philips owned facility, a supplier
for Nokia as well, was the place where Ericsson solely got hold of the chips for
their devices. Having lost trust in the subcontractor’s capabilities, Nokia sourced its
materials from elsewhere. Ericsson, on the other hand, continued to put all their eggs
in one basket, and duly paid the price: a major shortage soon materialised, meaning
production was stalled. Huge losses were made and inevitably, market shares fell. To
add insult to injury, Nokia produced cheaper phones than its rivals. When asked why
Ericsson did not attempt to take inspiration from profitable designs of the Finnish
firm, which concentrated on producing affordable pieces of equipment of lesser
sophistication, a designer answered ‘If you want a phone that looks like a piece of
soap, then …’

Enter Sony, a new kid on the block with less than 1% shares in the mobile phones
market. The two firms embarked on a joint venture together in October 2001, with the
aim introducing a technology which seemed trivial to me when it was initially brought
in 2005, but is now one of the defining features of a mobile phone: photography. More
on that later…

Against expectations, market shares actually fell after the establishment of the
venture, though this was no different to other firms. A stock market valuation of the
world’s telecom carriers and suppliers had declined by $3.8 trillion from a peak of
$6.3 trillion in March 2000. Nevertheless, Sony Ericsson kept on going, injecting
more funds for R&D in its efforts to curb losses.

Sony Ericsson’s successful children together include the K750i and W800i. Launched

in 2005, the K-series phone packed a 2 megapixel camera while the W-series phone
was the first to bear the signature ‘walkman’ logo. Within a few years, new models
as well as developments of future successors of existing models were rolled off the
production line: T-series, Z-series, C-series (with Sony Cybershot technology) and
eventually my personal favourite, the X-series (more recent models are equipped with
advanced Bravia and Exmor R technology).

Even with incredible sales figures most of the time, Sony Ericsson was still financially
weak at the core. Apple’s unveiling of the iPhone in Q3 of 2007 saw Sony Ericsson’s
cash reserves deflate from €2.2bn to €599m. This meant LG Electronics overtook
its adversary in Q1 2008, when company’s profits fell significantly by 43% to
€133 million, with sales falling by 8% and market share falling from 9.4% to 7.9%.
Net profit crashed again by 97% in Q2 2008, leading to 2000 job losses. In Q3, profits
were around the same level, though sales were up due to the release of a newer model,
the C950.

The Sony Xperia S is the latest addition to the X-series. What’s more special is that
it’s the first Sony phone. With a 1.5Ghz dual-core processor and 1Gb of RAM, it
makes light work of normal tasks. But its party piece is not the ultra fast processing
speeds (most top end smartphones do that anyway), it is the ultra fast focusing speeds
of the 12MP rear camera and NFC (Near Field Communication) technology. The
latter is has been used for years, in Oyster Cards and contactless payment. Now, NFC
tags are used by Sony to activate some of a set of commands on the phone.

Industry experts are very excited about the Xperia S. Sony’s first phone is shaping up
to be a real hardware powerhouse, and its alluring design will turn heads without a
shadow of doubt. The display and camera are particularly worth of note. It’s coming
to the UK in March and I think it’ll certainly follow the booming sales figures of
previous phones, but I’m not too sure if this single product will change the financial
circumstances of Sony’s mobile phone division.

Contributed by Hin Cheong Wong