Friday, July 29, 2011

What's degree life like?

As most of you are aware I'm currently pursuing my Bachelor degree of science in biotechnology in UTAR.

Honestly I wasn't sure why I took this course but I'll leave that indecision for the coming years.

I've heard that degree life is different from foundation life, in that the course will be much more difficult.

So far I've not really got the chance to experience this 'quantum leap' in difficulty, instead I find myself having more time for leisure, and that doesn't mean that I'm skipping classes more often than not, because I've skipped classes less. Maybe it's because the tutorial classes are held on only 4 weeks per trimester.

Yeah, that should be it.

I used to spend large amounts of time at home finishing my tutorials (especially physics and maths ones, and since I'm not taking both domains this trimester, I'm free from constant exercises to remind me of certain complicated steps in order to solve mathematical problems or weird equations in physics leading to unexpected results). And giving me so little to do I know I'll slowly rot off before I have time to prepare myself for the finals.

Lab reports are more troublesome in degree. Instead of procedures, you write methodologies, which is about the same thing but still a bit different anyway. Oh, and your introduction carries marks. Loads of them. References must be written in APA format and conclusions are longer than foundation reports as well. But the absence of physics graphs are a huge sigh of relief. Believe me, I used to spend hours just to find the gradient and error percentages for physics experiments. However, lab reports do come out more frequently though, and the deadlines are tight. Squeeze in assignments and constant quizzes and tests (Cell biology alone has six), and you have a huge pile of workload in front of you.

The key to being free? Complete your tasks early. Presentations? Be the first group to present, and you can afford to be absent in the coming lectures without having to worry about your turn. Complete chunks of your report on the day of issuing, leaving the complicated stuff for later (definitely not pre-deadline day) and you'll have time for entertainment. But as always, study first. Quiz at the end of the week? Study during the weekend before.

I know I am not supposed to judge or give advice since my results are a little to the side of lackadaisical compared to most of you here, but if you happen to ask why I'm so free at times in this 'stressful' degree life, here's my answer for you.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

What lies ahead?

Posts like this don't come every once in a while.

Lately I've been reading some book I bought from a bookshop. It's called

Title is self-explanatory. How will modern science shape our lives by the year 2100?

*If you're thinking about teleportation, spoiler alert. There's nothing about it in this post.*

Call it irony if you may, but as to why I actually chose biotechnology for my degree course I do not even have a concrete reason. Honestly I'm more interested in physics, astronomy, nanotechnology... but it's true that all fields of sciences must work in tandem in order to move our society forward.

The laws of physics seem to have governed the universe for eternity. As for those who actually figured them out (Newton, Einstein, de Broglie, Planck to name a few), I can show nothing more than full respect and admiration for them.

We continue to grow exponentially day by day. Whether it's the human population, advances in gadgets or (admittedly, quality sliding down instead of going up) music and entertainment, there are many obvious changes since the turn of the century. You can bring a man from 1945 post-war Japan to the modern world and he'll probably say that he is in another world when you bring him to downtown modern Tokyo.

Our advances in computing have been predicted correctly by Moore's Law, stating that our computers get more and more powerful exponentially. Eventually we will have computers and the Internet in the future like we already have electricity and running water now. They will become basic commodities. Discovery of room temperature superconductors will lead to magnetic cars everywhere, and the roads will become obsolete. Fusion reactors will proliferate on the planet, ending the need to rely on natural resources and radioactive elements.

But two particular parts of this book actually hit me hard.

How, will nanotechnology shape our future?

how will the future of medicine be like?

Hypotheses may vary, but if perfection of nanotech particles are to be achieved, we can very much change the way society functions. Nanotechnology is the way for the future, at least in my eyes. We will most probably send nanites to other star systems since they require minimal amounts of propulsion to send them to near the speed of light. Nanites will also be responsible for regulating our human body, killing cancer cells by the second, thus we might finally find the cure for cancer. But the crowning glory of nanotechnology will be the introduction of self-replicating nanites. Often we see these in games such as Command & Conquer 3(those little things which repair your damaged vehicles near factories) and Megaman X(goo that replicates itself into two separate entities and does surface damage to you). It is ill-advised to incorporate artificial intelligence into these creations, but with the advanced computer technologies in 2100, it may be possible to control these little 'things' to avoid proliferation. Then comes the job of these nanites. To carry out several jobs deemed impossible by present day scientists (sticky fingers and careless hands, they say, prevent nanites from carrying out their jobs). Once such inventions are realised, one can create the replicator, the holy grail of material science. You simply throw raw materials into this machine, and nanites inside it assemble them together, giving you a wholly new material after processing. Science fiction? Maybe just for now, not in another 100 year's time.

For the future of medicine, the nanites previously mentioned are just one of the ways of curing previously fatal diseases. Gene sequencing and artificial plasmids get into this category as well. Our entire genome will be easily made available to us in the future, letting us discover which disease we are more prone to. However, one thing struck my mind more than anything, and kinda boosted my (wilting)interest in biotechnology.

The possibility of eternal life, or even reverse aging.

I realised that certain genes control our aging processes. We just need more time to search for these genes then we can manipulate them to our liking. (The discovery of sirtuins, proteins found in red wine that can ensure a longer lifespan when activated by resveratrol caused quite a media frenzy, with red wine businesses booming overnight). So if one can master the fundamentals behind this, he may reverse the aging process and extend lifespans(if one can manage to find why reptiles have such long lifespans, he can manipulate it at his own peril). And that may just be the tip of the iceberg.

These discoveries are not false. They may become prominent in the future. It's just out of our imagination for the time being(you can't envision us reaching the moon if you are from 1869, trust me). The only doubt for me is the perfection process, which might take more talent(and time) than we first envisaged to materialise.

I hope to be in the footsteps of people who have contributed to our future technologies, even if I might not make it to the day mankind see it for themselves.

Thanks, Professor Kaku, for the inspiration.

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