Spinning Fat From Milk

While touring the Tillamook Cheese Factory, I was looking over the display case, intrigued by the mix of ornate glassware and rugged mechanical tooling. The slender-necked bottles were calibrated. The tool had a clamp mount and a crank. “Wait a minute,” I thought, “That’s not for churning, that’s a centrifuge!”

Babcock Centrifuge

Babcock Centrifuge at the Tillamook Cheese Factory. Photo:Ted Baughman

US dairy standards in the late 1880’s were a lax affair. Very few dairies had the interest or capability to execute the tedious laboratory manipulations to determine the butterfat content of milk, the key determinant of milk quality. Dr. Stephen Babcock, a Professor of Agricultural Chemistry at the University of Wisconsin, was presented with the challenge of generating a “practical, workable test for butterfat, that could be applied by farmers or creamery operators working without a laboratory.” Starting from a more complex assay developed by his colleagues, he soon had an assay that worked, with one exception.

“Hundreds of tests were made by my first method, all of which were satisfactory except with the milk of one cow, ‘Sylvia’ in the station herd, a Jersey of good type and normal in every way.”

Stymied by Sylvia’s milk, it eventually led Dr. Babcock to the critical variable: sulfuric acid.

Milk is a colloidal suspension, a mixture of lipids, carbohydrates, protein and minerals. The stuff we call “butterfat” comes from the lipid suite, which is a mixture of various hydrophobic entities. The key lipids in butterfat are triacylglycerols and phospholipids. Triacylglycerols are a dense source of energy, but they’re not soluble in water, so they aggregate instead of disperse. Phospholipids are chemically similar to soap – long fatty chains with a water-soluble headpiece.  Nature conspired to combine these into an aqueous fat delivery system. The phospholipids coordinate a water-friendly shell of proteins and carbohydrates around a rich payload of triacylglycerols. These vessels are referred to as “fat globules,” and a schematic is shown below:

Milk Fat Globule: http://www.dolcera.com/wiki/images/MFGM_STR.gif

Milk Fat Globule: http://www.dolcera.com/wiki/images/MFGM_STR.gif

These fat globules are dispersed throughout milk, protected by their membrane shell. If you want an accurate quantitation of butterfat, you have to break these shells apart. Dr. Babcock discovered that concentrated sulfuric acid was the best way to do this. Sulfuric acid rapidly degrades proteins, cleaves polysaccharides, and solubilizes the minerals. This assault on the hull of the fat globule boat allows the payload of triacylglycerols to pour into solution. Buoyant, repelled from water, they soon aggregate and float to the top of the solution. Just as important, sulfuric acid proved to be an ideal solvent for dissolving the non-lipid components of milk, resulting in a neat liquid partition between fat and non-fat. In a final, elegant twist, the chemically-derived heat generated in the process further increases the solubility of the aqueous components and enhances the density difference between the water and fat layers. Before this heat dissipates, a relatively modest application of gravity via a centrifuge quickens the separation and completes the assay.

Hand Crank Centrifuges. Photo: Ted Baughman

Hand Crank Centrifuges at the Tillamook Cheese Factory. Photo: Ted Baughman

Dr. Babcock’s assay was published in July of 1890 and had an immediate impact. A ready assay for butterfat content allowed for a standardization of milk blends. Illegal milk dilution became a relic of the past. Dairies could set prices based on the richness of the product, which provided farmers an incentive to improve butterfat production. Farmers could now readily assay their own product before sale, creating transparency throughout the distribution system. Stock breeders focused on balancing production quantity with butterfat quality.  By 1899, Dr. Babcock was awarded a medal by the Wisconsin legislature. It was soon followed by recognitions from New Zealand and Australian dairy farmers, and grand prizes at the Paris (1900) and St. Louis (1904) expositions.

Remarkably, Dr. Babcock showed no interest in pursuing material gains for his discovery. The initial disclosure of the assay concluded with the words: “The test is not patented.”

Before his death in 1931, Dr. Babcock made numerous other discoveries at the forefront of nutritional science, including experiments which led to the discovery of vitamins.

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Milk Transportation System in Heifer International’s World Ark Magazine

Image: Heifer International. http://www.heifer.org/join-the-conversation/magazine/2014/spring/building-better-milk-can.html

Image: Heifer International. http://www.heifer.org/join-the-conversation/magazine/2014/spring/building-better-milk-can.html

Heifer International’s World Ark Magazine article, Building a Better Milk Can, highlights our Milk and Transportation System, which was developed for IV’s Global Good Program for use in rural areas of the developing world. Our goal was to invent a system that helps rural dairy farmers maximize the quantity and quality of milk they’re able to market and sell.

Through field tests and user-centered design practices, the Milk Transportation System is focused on a durable 10-liter container designed specifically to reduce spillage and spoilage. Farmers can milk directly into the container with a detachable funnel that limits contaminants, helps identify signs of udder infections, and reduces spillage when the container is tipped.

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Metamaterials Commercialization Center Launches New Website

metamaterialsThe Metamaterials Commercialization Center (MCC) is a team of dedicated engineers, physicists, and scientists involved in research and development of metamaterials related technology, including idea-generation, application-scoping, proof-of-concept demonstrations, technical-risk-reduction projects, and applied research programs. MCC is part of the research and development efforts housed at the Intellectual Ventures Laboratory, and work closely with the business development team at IV’s Invention Science Fund.

Learn more about this team of dedicated engineers, physicists, and scientists and their work in the field of metamaterials on their new website: http://www.metamaterialscenter.com/.

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Staff Spotlight: Anthony Lozama

IMG_7608-webQ: What is your background and more specifically, what accomplishments have led you to where you are now? 

A: I was born and raised in the East New York section of Brooklyn, NY. My neighborhood and background definitely don’t scream “scientist.” East New York is sadly a poor and violent area, especially during the 80’s when I grew up.

I was determined to get out of that environment and help my family to do the same, mostly because of the environment and the lack of opportunities there for upward mobility. Living in Bellevue now and looking back to where I grew up certainly has been a humbling experience.

Seeing the effects of the War on Drugs firsthand instilled a curiosity and fascination with drug interactions, and understanding how they worked in the body and could alter behavior or internal chemistry. However, I didn’t think of organic chemistry as a career path until I took a course while pursuing my undergraduate degree at Binghamton and later Stony Brook University. I found drug development and design and their physiological interactions on the body intriguing, and something about doing this kind of work just clicked with me. After undergrad I thought a logical next step was medical school, but I wasn’t actually that interested in becoming a medical doctor.

It was important for me to leverage my education as best I could, and I wanted to make a decision that would be fulfilling, as well as financially wise in order to help my family. While I was mulling over what to do, I ended up working construction in New York City as well as part-time at an auto sales and accessories shop. I was making a living wage, but I wasn’t using my education or skills directly. It was at this time that I made the decision to continue my education and ended up going to graduate school at the Universities of Iowa and Kansas, ultimately earning my PhD in 2010.

During graduate school, I was offered an internship and research opportunity at the pharmaceutical company Alkermes. I did opioids research (also the subject of my dissertation), and my four-week internship turned into a month, and then two months. Eventually, I needed to make a decision as to whether I was going to go back to Kansas and finish out with my Masters or continue on for a PhD. I decided to focus on my PhD in organic chemistry with the idea of returning to Alkermes. Unfortunately, after I completed my dissertation defense the option of continuing work with Alkermes was no longer on the table, so I instead began working at the University of Kansas Cancer Center doing research on breast and prostate cancer in partnership with The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI). I eventually transitioned from the Midwest to La Jolla, Calif. and continued my work at TSRI.

While I loved testing compounds in vivo and was lucky enough to have several compounds I designed tested in rats, monkeys, and humans, I was strongly considering academia, since I really enjoyed exploring organic chemistry concepts and teaching. I am also really passionate about designing drugs or probes from naturally occurring molecules and I love being able to answer the question “Why does y bind to x particular receptor and what effect does it have?”

I can’t remember the details of the job description I applied for at IV Lab, but I remember being extremely impressed during the interview process. When I took a tour of the facilities, saw all the equipment and laboratories, and was briefed on all the on-going projects, I was even more sold on it. However, the best part to me was that IV Lab had an incredible set of values. It wasn’t limited in the ways that I saw academia and the pharmaceutical industry to be. IV Lab is unique in that the value of a project was premised on neither its academic relevance nor its profitability exclusively. It seemed like a place where I could really pursue interesting projects and contribute to something deeply meaningful, while also getting to live in the gorgeous Pacific Northwest!

Q: What do you bring to the Lab? What is your specialty or area of expertise?

A: In addition to my expertise in medicinal and organic chemistry along with pharmacology, I bring energy and enthusiasm about all science to IV Lab. I’m always excited about expanding my skill set, and IV Lab provides me with a great environment to do that in. Since there are so many scientists and engineers among us, we have access to a really varied pool of knowledge and skills. Asking the same question can produce all sorts of methods and toolsets for solving it, depending on who you ask.

Q: What do you do at IV Lab?

A: Currently I am a part of several research projects including Malaria Diagnostics and Tuberculosis (TB) Diagnostics, sample prep for both the previously mentioned projects, and the artificial mosquito diet. Like everyone else at IV Lab, I’m indirectly involved in a lot of projects to consult on problems that my expertise is relevant to.

Q: Of the projects you have worked on at IV Lab, which one is your favorite?  

A: While all the projects I have been part of during my time at IV Lab have been interesting, I would say that the TB Diagnostics project has been my favorite.  I have spent a considerable amount of time trying to improve sample prep for TB Diagnostics and it has been deceptively challenging in a variety of ways. While preparing the samples in a lab is one thing, the real key is figuring out how to do something that is transferable to a low-resource or low-tech environment, where diagnostic tools are most needed and where cost differentials matter the most. To this point, I have been exploring the most advanced techniques to maximize processing and analyzing sputum efficiently while minimizing complexity and cost.

Q: Who was an important influence along your path?

A: I’ve been very fortunate to have several great influences during my journey.  Without a doubt, my parents were the biggest influence and support for me. I wanted to achieve for them, not just myself. My uncle was probably the first person who I saw in a STEM field – he was an engineer. It was inspiring to see that he had money to support his family and have nice things, but was also doing something personally rewarding and socially productive. Professionally, my graduate and post-doctoral mentors were significant influences, as well as my former supervisors and mentors while I worked in pharma.

Q: Who is your favorite scientist, engineer, or inventor?

A: My favorite engineer or inventor is probably Paul Rosche.  I am a big car guy, and he was instrumental in designing and developing new engines that eventually led to the development of the BMW M division.

My two favorite scientists are Percy Julian and R.B. Woodward. Julian was one of the first African-Americans to receive a PhD in Chemistry and he had a tremendous scientific career including holding 130 chemical patents, including a patent for the production of cortisone and one for the recovery of sterols from plant material.

Woodward is possibly the greatest organic chemist of all time. His contributions to modern organic chemistry are tremendous. He was responsible for several ground breaking total syntheses which were brilliantly executed including strychnine, reserpine, and the monstrous B12 along with mentoring a multitude of some of the most distinguished chemists today.

Q: What are you reading right now?  Business or pleasure.

A: Currently for pleasure I am reading the Matarese Countdown by Robert Ludlum and The Best Democracy Money Can Buy by Greg Palast. I just finished reading All the Devils are Here by Bethany McLean and The Unwinding by George Packer.  Both were fantastic reads.

While I have a love for the fun and intrigue of spy fiction, I have always been fascinated in the ways that finance on micro and macro scales works. The financial systems we all participate in make up a large part of how the world works, and plays into the underlying structure of social life. Understanding how systems like this work I think plays to my interest in understanding how the human body responds as a system to different events.

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Seattle Times Cool Jobs Q&A with Mike Famulare

IMG_8418-2webYesterday, the Seattle Times published a Cool Jobs Q&A with the Institute for Disease Modeling’s epidemiologist Mike Famulare. Learn more about Mike’s work in support of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, his typical day, and the best part of his job here.

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FIRST Robotics 2014: Aerial Assist

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics competitions bring together high school teams with business and science professionals to ensure that invention makes an impression on youth. Intellectual Ventures is full of robot enthusiasts, so in addition to our corporate sponsorship, many IV Lab employees share their passion as FIRST Robotics mentors; and our own Geoff Deane is the Washington FIRST Robotics Board Chair!

FIRST robotics competitions that are like a varsity sport for the mind. Teams of teens and mentors, are challenged to build a robot to solve a common problem using a standard kit of parts and a common set of rules. By running their teams like a company, students learn the business of invention first-hand and gain valuable experience in teamwork and technology.

The animation above depicts the 2014 FIRST Robotics Competition game, Aerial Assist. Robots assist each other to move 24-inch game balls down the field and into low or high goals to score. The more the robots assist each other, the higher the bonus points earned. Check the Washington FIRST Robotics website for details about upcoming matches and watch live video during the competitions.

The Flickr photo set below is from the March 6, 2014 competition. Evan Kline, IV Lab’s Instrument Shop Intern, can be found in photos with robot 2412, just look for the red mohawk!

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2014 ViE Awards

World Vaccine CongressAs part of IV’s Global Good program, the Passive Vaccine Storage Device won two ViE awards at the 2014 World Vaccine Congress, held in Washington D.C. earlier this week.

Best Technological Development Finalists
Winner: Gates Foundation and Intellectual Ventures (Global Good cold chain technology)
Highly Recommended: Vaxess Technologies (Novel silk protein-based vaccine stabilization technology)

Best Vaccine Partnership / Alliance Finalists
Winner: Intellectual Ventures and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (Global Good cold chain technology)
Highly Recommended: Bio-Manguinhos and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (Measles/rubella vaccine partnership)

See more at: http://www.terrapinn.com/conference/world-vaccine-congress-washington/awards.stm

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Bill Gates: The Rolling Stone Interview

Image from www.dts-nachrichtenagentur.de

Rolling Stone published an interview with Bill Gates on March 13th on their website (appearing in the March 27th Rolling Stone print edition).  The interview touches on a variety of subjects from health care reform to climate change, the role of innovation and politics in progress, and predicting the age of a desktop in nearly every home.

After briefly mentioning efforts in vaccination and disease modeling, Gates references TerraPower in a question about nuclear energy, arguing that it is unique in its sector because

“In a normal sort of private market, [TerraPower] probably wouldn’t have emerged. It took a fascination with science, concern about climate change and a very long-term view…it’s an example of an innovation that might not happen without the proper support.”

Perhaps Gates’ most interesting point as it relates to IV Lab is how he talks about innovation driving change and progress:

“Our modern lifestyle is not a political creation. Before 1700, everybody was poor as hell. Life was short and brutish. It wasn’t because we didn’t have good politicians; we had some really good politicians. But then we started inventing – electricity, steam engines, microprocessors, understanding genetics and medicine and things like that. Yes, stability and education are important – I’m not taking anything away from that – but innovation is the real driver of progress.”

 

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Inventors in History: Richard Feynman

Richard Feynman is often considered the clown prince of physicists, lauded as much for his wit and personality as his contributions. Some know him as “the great explainer” or “the greatest human calculator to ever live.” Feynman occupies a singular space in the scientific imagination of the 20th century: part hero, part guru, and part trickster god. If nothing else, Feynman is responsible in part for the image of the theoretical physicist as cowboy or private eye, wrangling mysteries and chasing down new particles on the fringes of our perception. Feynman spent his life supplying the rest of us with tools for understanding the universe because he was stirred by its raw beauty and complexity – by the sheer scientific reality that he (and we) inhabit.

Comparison of Feynman diagrams from multiple academic institutions

Comparison of Feynman diagrams from multiple academic institutions (Kaiser, David. 2005. Physics and Feynman’s diagrams. American Scientist 93(March-April):156.)

Throughout his personal history are uncountable anecdotes relating his curiosity and excitement about problems that were ostensibly outside his domain, whether it was social interaction, security, modeling evolution, hypothesizing nanotechnology, or understanding the Challenger shuttle crash. Given a problem, he would figure out how to represent, solve, and explain it.

If invention is the creation of something new, then innovation in the Feynman-ian sense is a framework for invention: a new paradigm that carries with it the possibility of a whole host of inventions, limited only by the ingenuity of our successors. If this difference between invention and innovation holds, Feynman is a poster-child for innovation: he gave others the tools to invent and explore, to discover for themselves the majesty and beauty of science. Perhaps the best case study for this is the development and history of the Feynman diagram.

A Feynman diagram in its simplest form is a drawing of the path different subatomic particles take as they transition between states. Bear in mind that the word path is largely metaphorical, and that each part of the diagram actually corresponds more faithfully to a mathematical expression rather than an actual depiction of the physical event. In series, these diagrams allow one to keep track of a seemingly daunting number of terms per calculation, and allow for understanding the relative contributions of different scenarios to the overall probability map of what transition the particle actually undergoes. Most importantly, the diagrams simplify and condense the number of calculations necessary because they allow efficient identification of what amplitudes will contribute the most to the probability of the particle’s state or position.

First published Feynman diagram.

The diagrams were created because Feynman desired a clearer way to think about QED (quantum electro-dynamic) calculations – as a visual learner and someone who liked to work out what the result of something should “look like” it was simply the practical thing to come up with such a notation. Granted, other physicists came up with techniques to simplify and manage the same types of calculations, but Feynman’s method was singularly successful because it provided such a tangible way to understand these events – for both experienced scientists as well as undergraduate novices.

Feynman’s key contribution to the history of science is a series of insightful perspectives and techniques of understanding that are applicable in both academic and professional contexts. The diagrams or his much lauded undergraduate physics course (“The Feynman Lectures”) are two of the best examples of his work in this regard. This seems to suggest successful education or development requires you to convince a person or group of people that they can make progress in a field or discipline. This can be as much a matter of medium as content. Representation matters when you’re trying to persuade a student that they too are capable of solving a difficult problem or demonstrate to potential supporters that a given task is even possible to complete. The more ways you are capable of articulating a problem or solution, the more likely it is that you will be able to connect to your audience and transmit information persuasively.

Whether consciously or not, Feynman understood that making progress or innovating is largely a matter of mindset – if you get stuck, it might be time to change the way you’re looking at things, or perhaps temporarily give up a previous commitment or dogma that limits your approaches to an issue.

For those seeking more of Feynman’s wit and wisdom check out the following links:

Feynman.com includes external links to lectures, biographical information, and academic work
A brief video of Feynman explaining the joys of physics
An adapted lecture version of Feynman’s “Los Alamos from Below”

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IDM’s Philip Eckhoff on KUOW

Eckhoff_Phillip_2012-webPhilip Eckhoff, Principle Investigator of Intellectual Ventures’ Institute for Disease Modeling, recently spoke with KUOW’s Ross Reynolds about using computer models to fight infectious diseases. Learn more about Philip’s personal experience with malaria, and how his team of researchers, software developers, and scientists is working to eradicate diseases across the world on KUOW’s The Record.

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