Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Belangkas or Horseshoe Crab & Mangroves


The belangkas or horseshoe crab is often called a "living fossil."  It has been estimated to have inhabited the Earth for over 300 million years!  However not many people know about this or even seen it up close.  Mangroves on the other hand are not pretty to look at – it’s smelly and its location is quite inaccessible.  However it has a unique ecosystem which is beneficial to us and our environment.
The objective of this particular engagement session is to provide an avenue for scientists from Universiti Malaysia Terengganu (UMT) to share their research in these two areas with the public. 
There were two teams involved – The Mangroves Research and Conservation Unit (MARU),
and the Horseshoe Crab Research Group.  Over the two days, the scientists and their assistants coaxed, encouraged and readily interacted and shared knowledge with the public.

Yes, our scientists are friendly and approachable indeed!

What are belangkas?
 The belangkas or horse shoe crab is an invertebrate descended from the trilobite, and is closely related to spiders, ticks and scorpions.  There are four species worldwide and three can be found in Malaysia.  Its blood is colourless and turns light blue when exposed to air (oxygen).  It reaches maturity at 9-12 years of age and the female is normally larger than the male.
 The Horseshoe Crab Research Group recently came up with a kit that uses belangkas blood to detect bacterial contamination.  This kit could be manufactured locally and could be considered as economically feasible for the breeder and manufacturer.
What are mangroves?
 Mangroves or bakau are found along sheltered coasts where there is saline soil & brackish water.  Based on research, mangroves have been in existence 70 million years ago.  There are currently 105 recorded species of mangrove vegetation in Malaysia (Sulong I. & M Lokman H, 2012).
Mangroves may be smelly and unsightly but it has many important roles and benefits. 
• It contributes to complex food webs.
• It is a breeding area and provides protection from predators.
• It is rich in nutrients due to the large amount of unconsumed fallen foliage.
• It acts as wind and wave breakers.
• The root system traps sediments.
• It has socio-economic importance.

This article is written in conjunction with Petrosains Science Engagement Session on 9-10 March 2013 with scientists from Universiti Malaysia Terengganu -
1. The Mangroves Research and Conservation Unit (MARU) headed by Pn. Siti Mariam Muhammad Nor
2. Horseshoe Crab Research Group headed by Dr. Faridah Binti Mohamad.


Thursday, 19 September 2013

Why Does The Candle Flame Point Upwards?

Today is the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month and many are celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival. This festival is meant to celebrate friendship, fertility and togetherness and there are a number of traditions associated with celebrating this festival, one of them being the iconic paper lanterns. Lanterns in general are portable lighting devices that comes in various shapes, sizes, and materials with a light source inside usually candles or an electricity-powered bulb. For the Mid-Autumn Festival, candle-lighted lanterns are typically used and which gives a beautiful gentle glow that flickers with the wind.
What is a candle though and how does it provide light? A candle consists of wax and a wick. Most candles are made from paraffin wax, i.e. they are hydrocarbons and are composed of hydrogen (H) and carbon (C) atoms. Just like other hydrocarbons such as the fuel we pump our cars with, wax is the source of energy for the candle. When we light a candle, the heat of the flame melts the wax near the wick, feeding the fire with something to burn. What happens is that the heat of the flame vaporizes the liquid wax and starts to break down the hydrocarbons into molecules of hydrogen and carbon. These vaporized molecules are drawn up into the flame, where they react with oxygen from the air to create heat, light, water vapor (H2O) and carbon dioxide (CO2).
Lanterns lit by candles are used both indoors and outdoors. The candle is placed inside colourful and beautiful paper lanterns that fills the night with colours. However, as most lanterns are made of paper and we all know that paper burns quite easily, why is it that the paper lanterns do not get consumed by the flames from the candle within? Of course if the paper comes in contact with the flame, it will burn but generally, the flame of the candle only point upwards and do not move too far to the side therefore keeping the paper lanterns safe from being burned up. Do you know why the flame point only upwards?
When a candle burns, the flame heats the nearby air and starts to rise. As this warm air moves up, cooler air and oxygen rush in at the bottom of the flame to replace it. When that cooler air is heated, it too rises up and is replaced by cooler air again. This creates a continual cycle of upward moving air around the flame, which gives the flame a teardrop shape. Basically the continuous movement of hot air going up displaces cooler air down to the side which then gets heated up again and move upwards causing the distinctive shape of the flame and which is why it points only upwards.

Something to think about though, if you light a candle in space, how will the flame look like? Do you think it will be the same shape? Does gravity play a role? Let us know if you have the answer by leaving a comment!

Posted by Ayu
Learning Specialist, Petrosains

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Aluminium Can Lantern

Lanterns are beautiful and often festive, but did you know that you can make your own out of used aluminium cans? This of course isn’t a new idea and was actually done a long time ago when it wasn’t so easy to buy things and people tend to fully make use of materials around them in order to produce something. Milk cans, bamboo and coconut shells can be used to make lamps and lanterns for use around the house.

The next time you’re enjoying a soda, try collecting the cans. First, clean and dry the cans and then cut lines all around the sides of the cans vertically from up to down like stripes. Refer to the picture above.
Then compress the can by pressing the top and bottom together to gently form the shape of a lamp. The cans can then be spray-painted or decorated, or even left as it is for a more ‘DIY’ look. To get a good even colour though, it must first be sprayed with a white base-coat before painting it in the colour you desire.

The lantern aluminium cans are now ready to be hanged! What I did was to hang them in a spiral pattern for added ‘oomph’ but you can choose to hang them in many ways. In the way I liked it, it takes up to five lamps to get the effect I wanted. As I used it during the recent Raya celebrations, I cut-out shapes of moons and stars from used to give a touch of Raya to the lamp.
To light the lamp, a good source will be battery powered LED lights or small bulbs as these pose no fire risk. A candle will quickly heat up the can and be a burn hazard.


Decorations made from used or recyclable materials can be beautiful, interesting and it helps to preserve our environment with only a small cost involved. Do it with your family and friends as a weekend project and let the kids run wild with their imagination!.


Posted by Ayu
Learning Specialist, Petrosains


Friday, 13 September 2013

Home grown hydroponic fresh vegetables!

Take a good look around at the vegetables sold in the market nowadays, aren’t they beautiful?  Indeed. But to preserve the beauty of the fresh produce, pesticides were sprayed on them. That is the main reason why people preferred to plant and cook their own vegetables at their backyard or garden as it is a healthier choice. An alternate method of getting your own vegetables is by planting it on a non-static hydroponic system.
The word ‘hydro’ stands for water while ‘phonic’ deprived from a Greek word which means work. Therefore the word ‘hydroponic’ itself means work dealing with water. Hydroponic is a method for growing plants that use mineral nutrient solutions in water instead of soil. Plants grow when their roots absorb essential components of mineral nutrients that are added to the water.

There are many modern variations to hydroponic farming but the two common ones are static flow or continuous-flow in which the water used is either static (kept in a container, often for home-use) or flowing (part of a system where water is circulated continuously).
Here is a view of how home grown hydroponic(static flow) produce looks like:
Full-grown sawi ready to be harvested.

The static flow hydroponic system in Malaysia was initiated by Madam Lau Kam Lin in 1989. She got the idea when all the vegetables exported to Singapore were rejected because of over dosage of pesticides. At the meantime, Pengarah Pertanian Negeri (PPN) started hydroponic planting using circulating system. The structure is expensive and it has disadvantages. If there is no electricity supply, all the plants will get dried up and if root rot occus, all plants will be affected. On the other hand, non-static hydroponic system doesn’t require any electricity supply and only one takung is affected if root rot occurs. The requirement of water in the hydroponic takung is all calculated until harvest.
Sawi planted on static flow hydroponic system.
The procedures of planting using a static-flow hydroponic system is as simple as P.O.H.:
P- Plant. (Start planting by setting up the hydroponic set which includes preparing the water with the recommended nutrient solution and sowing the seeds)
O- Observe (Make sure the seeds germinate and no insects are attacking the plants)
H- Harvest (Harvest at maturity or whenever needed)
All ready to harvest!

What are the benefits of using Static Flow Hydroponic System?
Especially for those who have insufficient land to grow vegetables, hydroponic comes in handy because it takes up minimum amount of space to grow vegetables. Despite the fact that you can have fresh produce vegetables, they are also pesticides-free because it is for own consumption. Hydroponic planting is so much easier to handle than growing on soil because it doesn’t require watering and weeding. And the best part is you can plant a variety of vegetables such as kai lan, sawi, lettuce, bayam, kangkong and etc. or even flowering plants e.g rose, petunias, japanese rose, marygold and etc. 
A lady holding the Senposai plant planted on a static-flow hydroponic set.

As for me, the main reason why I like hydroponic is because the harvest are pesticides free and I can have instant fresh vegetables anytime at the side of my house. 

Shared by Ruby.
Intern at Petrosains, The Discovery Centre

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Organ Donation and Transplant


In Malaysia organ donation is a delicate matter especially among the older generation.  Fear basically due to misinformation and in certain circumstances the lack of it is one of the reasons.  Younger Malaysians in general are however more receptive.  According to Dr. Sh. Mohd Saifuddeen, these fears are unfounded as a procedure has been put in place to ensure organ donation is done in a proper and respectful manner.
A person has to be brain dead before any organ can be removed.  According to Malaysian Society of Transplantation “Brain death is a clinical diagnosis. The presence of irreversible brain damage must be established. Metabolic factors must be ruled out as the cause of the patient’s condition. The patient must be apnoiec (i.e. makes no respiratory effort). The patient is totally unreceptive and unresponsive with the absence of brain stem reflexes while being properly ventilated”.
From the perspective of Islam, Muslims are encouraged to donate their organs.  In Malaysia, organ donation and transplantation had been decreed since June 1970 (Details: http://www.agiftoflife.gov.my/eng/organdonation2.html).  Other main religions of Malaysia; Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and Sikhism, allows their followers to donate organs under the premise that no commercialism or exploitation is involved.  It is a holy thing to donate organs as the donor is saving lives (Details:   http://www.agiftoflife.gov.my/eng/organdonation3.html).

Meet Malaysia’s first mechanical heart recipient and also recipient of a normal heart, Muhd Fikri Norazmi
Malaysia’s first mechanical heart recipient and also recipient of a normal heart, Muhd Fikri Norazmi, was also present to share is experiences – the pain he had to endure and the discipline he had to instil upon himself to complete his education.
Dr. Sh. Mohd Saifuddeen reminded those who wish to pledge their organs for donation to discuss with their families and loved ones first so that they are aware of your intentions.  This will greatly avoid conflicts later.
More information at:
• Pusat Sumber Transplan Nasional (HKL),
• The Malaysian Society Of Transplantation, www.mst.org.my

About the speaker

Dr. Sh. Mohd Saifuddeen Bin Sh. Mohd Salleh in action
Dr. Sh. Mohd Saifuddeen Bin Sh. Mohd Salleh is a Consultant Expert at the Programme for Applied Sciences and Islamic Studies at the Academy of Islamic Studies, the University of Malaya since September 2012.  He holds a degree in chemistry and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Glasgow, as well as a master’s degree in history and philosophy of science, and a doctorate degree in the same field from the University of Malaya.
Prior to joining the university, he was with the Malaysian Strategic Research Centre (MSRC) and the Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia (IKIM). He also served as Executive Director as a private consultant at Yayasan Ilmuwan between 2005 and 2012.
He is a member of the Public Awareness Action Committee on Organ Donation and contributes regularly to awareness programmes organised by the National Transplant Resource Centre (NTRC). He is also a member of the Research Ethics Committee, Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM) and distinguished fellow of the research advisory committee of the Malaysian Biotechnology Information Centre (MABIC).
He has written nearly 50 academic articles published in books and journals.  In terms of research, he has been involved in a number of research projects in particular on issues of Islam and science. His research interest is applied Islamic ethics.
The attentive listeners

Friday, 6 September 2013

Keeping the Pearls of Wisdom - Preserving the Carrier and Messenger


The gist of the session is about preserving the past and learning for the present and future. 
What we learn about the past is not just from artefacts but also knowledge that has been:
a. Acquired from various sources
b. Moulded through research and experiments, and
c. Re-interpreted and manifested through innovations and inventions
During the Islamic Golden Age (mid-8th – mid-13th century), scholars from China, Persia and Central Asia gathered at Baghdad, the center of education and culture.  Institutions of learning, knowledge and research were established and complemented with multi-disciplined and science-based scholars.  What we see today are innovations and inventions that had contributed immensely to mankind then, to us presently and to future generations.
About the Speaker
Mr. Friedrich Farid Zink is the Head of Conservation and Research Centre at the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia (IAMM).  He earned his Certificate in Conservation as Conservator/Restorer for Cultural Heritage and Collections (equivalent to the MA which was later introduced in Germany) from the University Mainz, Germany. 
He served as an Assistant Professor (Guest Professor) at the Department of History & Pakistan Studies, International Islamic University, Islamabad, Pakistan and was also the Independent Consultant for Conservation/Restoration, Cultural Resource and Heritage Management for projects of the State of Qatar, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Germany and Department of Antiquities and Museums (DOAM), Pakistan.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Plastic feeding bottles and BPA


Plastics comes in many forms and shape. We the laymen have no idea how dangerous some of these plastics can be.

The hue and cry over the presence of bisphenol A (BPA) in polycarbonates is very real. Dr. Mustafa was instrumental in having the chemical banned in baby feeding bottles in Malaysia due to his research on BPA. The ban took effect on March 1, 2012 and is in line with Regulation 27A (1) of the Food Regulations 1985. Several countries worldwide later followed suit.

With effect from the regulation, the wordings “BPA free” was allowed to be labelled on feeding bottles not containing BPA. Why is BPA such a necessity? People like things that are sturdy and clean-looking. BPA was the answer to these requirements! It makes the plastic baby feeding bottles translucent and stiffer, while those without BPA has a less clear and “dirtier” look.
Up close – let’s get to know the plastic products.
So what’s so dreadful about BPA? BPA is able to mimic the female hormone, estrogen, and pass through the placenta from mother to baby. It can cause reproductive abnormalities – defective sex organ, reduce sperm counts and cause early puberty. Human exposure to BPA comes particularly from direct food contact with polycarbonate materials that contain BPA. Scientists have found that BPA can leach out from old polycarbonate bottles and tableware used by babies and children.
Do you know what Phthalates is?

What can we do about it?
There’s a lot of hype about the dangers of BPA. What’s important is to get the real facts and not the sensationalist stuff!
1. You may have traces of BPA in you
• If you have eaten anything that comes out of a can or used anything made from hard plastic, you may have taken in some BPA.
• Not all hard plastics contain BPA. Look for the recycling codes on your plastic products. Some, but not all, plastics that are marked with recycle code 7 may be made with BPA.
• If you avoid heating the plastic, there's a good chance you won't get a substantial amount of BPA in your system.

2. BPA has a number of harmful side effects
• Doctors have found that BPA can cause your estrogen levels to rise dramatically – males & females.
• Only prolonged exposure to BPA has been shown to cause negative side effects. If you're simply using canned goods every now and then, there's a good chance the BPA levels in your body won't affect you at all.

3. Avoid taking BPA into your system• Don’t become reliant on canned goods and plastic products.
• Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and only use canned goods when absolutely necessary.
• Check all of your plastic products to make sure they're not made using BPA.

4. Examine bottles and discardWorn or scratched bottles can harbour germs and in BPA-containing bottles, lead to greater release of BPA.
About the Scientist
Professor Dr. Mustafa Ali Mohd joined the Department of Pharmacology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Malaya as a lecturer in 1994 and was promoted to a full professor in 2005. He also holds the post of Deputy Dean at the same Faculty and is currently the Deputy Director (Development) of the University of Malaya Medical Centre.
He was instrumental in establishing the Shimadzu UMMC Centre for Xenobiotics Studies (SUCXes), a prominent and state of the art facilities for analysis of trace quantities of chemicals in the blood, environment, food & drugs. He helped the nation solve the melamine crisis by setting up a monitoring unit & analytical facilities in his lab. In 2010 Professor Dr. Mustafa was appointed as Expert panel for WHO on toxicity of BPA & melamine.
He has published more than 100 papers in international and national peer reviewed journals. He was awarded Excellent Scientist Award in 2005 and Top Research Scientist Malaysia in 2012.
The Science Engagement Session