Friday, July 29, 2016

pneumatic bread

I've just been to San Francisco, which stakes claims to being one of the sourdough bread capitals of the world. Coming from Melbourne, where sourdough is also raised on a pedestal as an art form, I was intrigued to try some of the best. I tried several loaves, from the touristy sourdough factory on Fisherman's Wharf, to a line-up and queue little bakery on the other side of town.

The bread was good, but where I really discovered something different, was at the SciFoo conference I was attending a few days later at Google in Palo Alto. There I found bread which had been raised to new heights, not through artisanal techniques, but rather, pneumatic technology.

As part of an MIT winter course, Lining Yao was teaching students how to design pneumatic food. Playing with the puffy qualities of fermenting bread dough, the instructors had already experimented with a food plotter that cut the dough into a designing shape, as well as a pneumatic system to blow air into the food. Here are some of the results of those experiments.

Through hands-on-learning the students in the class also experimented with pneumatic food of different kinds such as cheese and sugar. I know this is a bit of a stretch from pneumatic tube systems, but I just couldn't resist sharing these beautiful pneumatic food creations with you.

Images from

Saturday, July 23, 2016

running outdoors

Long Branch Mike has alerted me to another amazing pneumatic tube system - the one running underneath Indiana University Health's People Mover, which connects several hospitals in Indianapolis.

These outdoor hospital tubes are pretty impressive - they remind me of riding the monorail to Disneyland as a kid. The gaps in the rails are designed to prevent the collection of snow. Although as Mike wonders, how do they keep the tubes from freezing in the winter? Must investigate.

Image by Dina Wakulchik from Indianapolis, Indiana, USA - Clarian Health Partners People Mover, CC BY 2.0,

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

how iphones helped solve a medical mystery

While hospital pneumatic tubes work well a lot of the time, sometimes there are mishaps - contents of containers might spill for example, or objects get stuck, or blood samples clot. There are all kinds of ways of finding out the problem spots in pneumatic tubes - I am currently writing a book chapter on how sound is used for example. But today I wanted to write about another method used recently at the University of Virginia - the iphone repair method.
Two pathology professors at the university theorised that it may be due to points of high pressure that there were problems and sent two iphones through their hospital tubes to check. One phone had a sensor app and a light source and the other recorded the journey of a blood sample. The footage surprised them - the blood's journey was like a blender, "like you are mixing a margarita". The hospital no longer sends their blood on long journeys to avoid the cocktail-effect.

You can read more and listen to the story here, on WVTF public radio.