Last week brought excitement and disappointment in approximately equal measures for my research on tracking nanoparticles [see ‘Slow moving nanoparticles‘ on December 13th, 2017 and ‘Going against the flow‘ on February 3rd, 2021]. The disappointment was that our grant proposal on ‘Optical tracking of virus-cell interaction’ was not ranked highly enough to receive funding from Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. Rejection is an occupational hazard for academics seeking to win grants and you learn to accept it, learn from the constructive criticism and look for ways of reworking the ideas into a new proposal. If you don’t compete then you can’t win. The excitement was that we have moved our apparatus for tracking nanoparticles into a new laboratory, which has been set up for it, so that we can start work on a pilot study looking at the ‘Interaction of bacteria and viruses with cellular and hard surfaces’. We are also advertising for a PhD student to start in September 2021 to work on ‘Developing pre-clinical models to optimise nanoparticle based drug delivery for the treatment of diabetic retinopathy‘. This is an exciting development because it represents our first step from fundamental research on tracking nanoparticles in biological media towards clinical applications of the technology. Diabetic retinopathy is an age-related condition that threatens your sight and currently is managed by delivery of drugs to the inside of the eye which requires frequent visits to a clinic for injections into the vitreous fluid of the eye. There is potential to use nanoparticles to deliver drugs more efficiently and to support these developments we plan that the PhD student will use our real-time, non-invasive, label-free tracking technology to quantify nanoparticle motion through the vitreous fluid and the interaction of nanoparticles with the cells of the retina.
Last October I cited John Hull’s audio diary in which he said ‘Cognition is beautiful. It is beautiful to know.’ [See my post entitled ‘Cognition is beautiful‘ on October 19th, 2016] Last week, I watched the film ‘Notes on Blindness‘ based on his book ‘Touching the Rock‘. We found it a moving and life-enriching experience. At one point, John Hull, after he has lost all of his sight, opens his front door during a rain storm and describes the beauty of the rain. “Rain has a way of bringing out the contours of everything; it throws a coloured blanket over previously invisible things; instead of an intermittent and thus fragmented world, the steadily falling rain creates continuity of acoustic experience.” You can read more of this extract at www.johnmhull.biz/Touching the Rock.html in which John wishes that rain could fall inside a room to give him a sense of the things in the room. This seemed particularly poignant to me, a sighted person, who benefits from photons raining down on everything around us during daylight or when the light is switched on. The photons cause light waves to radiate from every surface in a similar way that the rain drops cause sound waves to radiate from everything as John experienced. Our eyes are amazing with 137 million separate ‘seeing’ elements on the retina, or in digital camera terms, that’s 137 megapixels. But to quote the Roman poet, Lucretius who in his poem ‘De Rerum Natura’ wrote “Nothing in the body is made that we may use it. What happens to exist is the cause of its use.” In other words, we do not have eyes so that we can see but we see because we have eyes. John Hull discovered new ways to experience the world using what was available to him although he struggled with what he had lost. It is difficult to imagine losing one’s sight but his diary and the film bring us considerably closer to an appreciation of the loss.
Yes, I know I switched from a particle to wave description of light but I wanted to emphasize that the photons don’t just bounce off surfaces, otherwise all surfaces would look the colour of the illuminating light.
Charles Sherrington, Making of the eye, in The Faber Book of Science, John Carey (ed), London: Faber & Faber, 1995.