I am starting this blog with a noble purpose- first, to inform you, the interested public (I know you’re out there), of current events in the science-o-sphere - and to spare my loved ones the details of every article that shows up in my ‘science news’ rss feed.
What can I do? Science is really exciting, really cool, and, in my opinion, should be shared with the world! And so this blog is for you, dear reader…a distilled (and hopefully not-too-infrequently updated, time permitting) version of everything cool & everything science. May you be inspired, ever curious, and stay tuned for the next update!
Here’s a little something to pique your interest for now, and its something that’s very, very important to me…
This image was one of the winners of the 2012 Wellcome Image Awards. It was taken by Annie Cavanagh and David McCarthy using a scanning electron miscroscope, which works by moving a beam of electrons over an object. As the electrons bounce back off of the surface of the object, electrons are knocked from atoms on the surface of the object, and x-rays are emitted, they are all read and recorded by a detector. From this information a 3-D image of the topography of the sample is assembled.
But enough about that- the image you see here is a cluster of caffeine crystals. The color, of course, has been added by a computer, but if you’ve ever wondered whats in your coffee, there you go. Caffeine is found in many plants (tea leaves, cocoa beans, coffee beans, kola nuts, etc.), and it is actually produced by plants as a pesticide, killing and paralyzing the insects that attempt to eat them.
Fortunately for us, caffeine is not harmful (although it can be addictive and lethal if taken in excessive doses- but we’re talking the equivalent of 4 gallons of coffee), and so it is commonly used as a stimulant, as it keeps us awake, alert, and provides a brief boost of energy. Caffeine looks and behaves similar to another molecule, adenosine. In the body, adenosine binds to adenosine receptors on nerves and slows down nerve activity.
When we ingest caffeine, however, it can also bind to adenosine receptors. Adenosine can no longer bind to its receptors when they are actively blocked by caffeine, causing an increase in nerve activity which activate’s the body’s ‘fight or flight response’. The body mistakenly interprets the extra nerve activity as an emergency, and responds by producing adrenaline, which is the hormone that makes our heart start beating faster, blood pressure rise, and gets us feeling all fired up.
So there you have it: the physiology of caffeination. There’s plenty more where that came from, so stay tuned!