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OpenLearn Live: 13th August 2015

Updated Thursday, 13th August 2015

The man who found out what made jellyfish glow, and more free learning across the day.

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OpenLearn Live is a rolling collection of interesting, intriguing and inspiring free learning and research. Refresh this page during the day, or keep an eye on our Twitter feed @OpenLearnLive.

Yesterday we met a controversial Peace Prize winner, eavesdropped on Heath & Nixon, checked the Chinese currency and more

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Today's Posts


The Tianjin infero

The series of enormous explosions in the Chinese port of Tianjin have made headlines around the world - and those headlines are as astonishing as the original explosions. As The Economist explains, it's something of a departure for an authoritarian government to allow such open reporting of a disaster:

Disasters, man-made or natural, are dangerous to authoritarian governments since public distress can turn to public anger. Social media add to the problems since they make it harder for governments to hush up the scale of damage or the inadequacies of the response.

The Tianjin explosions showed new rules of disaster management in action. With a few exceptions, the authorities allowed reporters access and have so far done little to censor coverage. Tweets were not blocked, even those criticising the response: why, asked one, were firemen allowed into a burning warehouse full of dangerous chemicals? (They had been called to a fire 40 minutes before the explosions; several were killed when the warehouse erupted with them inside.)

Read Inferno in Tianjin at The Economist

However, while the government might be happy to allow reporters in, those directly affected by the disaster are less keen on their presence. CNN reporter Will Ripley found that out the hard way as he reported from a hospital. Australia's 9News explains what happened:

As CNN anchor Michael Holmes asks Ripley to describe the scene of the explosions, at least three men appear, shouting and grabbing at Ripley's camera.

Ripley's attempts to calm the mob can be heard as he is manhandled.

"It's okay, it's okay," he says.

The footage becomes increasingly shaky before cutting out entirely seconds later.

Read CNN journalist attacked by survivors of Tianjin blasts during live report

Reporting from a disaster area - whether on a global scale like Tianjin, or at a more local level like, say, a fatal flood - can be a challenge even for the longest serving journalists; especially when you're working in a culture that is different from your own. The Dart Center offers an online course which helps journalists (and would-be journalists) prepare themselves for this sort of occurence, which draws in part of the work of The Open University's Stuart Hall:

In these breaking news scenarios, tight deadlines and the 24-hour news cycle amplify the pressure, as news consumers, especially those with family and friends in the affected areas, hunger for updates. Journalists play a critical role in informing the public, especially in the very early days after these types of events.

Yet we must stop to think about what happens after the stories have been filed, printed, posted, or broadcast. Audiences negotiate and attempt to make sense of what they are consuming and decode the messages based on their own experiences, according to the cultural studies scholars who focus on media.

Stuart Hall, who [wrote and lectured] extensively on media representation, urges us to probe inside and behind messages in his educational film, "Stuart Hall: Representation and the Media." This involves stepping back from the media environment in which we are constantly immersed and deciphering the meanings encoded in messages.

Read Reporting Natural Disasters


It's A-Level Day

If you (or someone you care about, or for) has just got their A-Levels, and it's gone well, they might be about to take their next step into Higher Education. That can be quite an adjustment, whatever sort of University you join. Want to prepare first? Try our free course, Taking Your First Steps Into Higher Education.

If you've got your results and are thinking that maybe your next step should be towards The Open University, visit the Can I Do It site.


Japanese Nobel Laureates: Osamu Shimomura

Continuing our start-up segment for the week, where we're focusing on five Japanese people who have won Nobel Prizes. Today, we're moving into chemistry, and meeting Osamu Shimomura (下村 脩).

Osamu Shimomura Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Prolineserver under GFDL 1.2 licence

Shimomura survived the nuclear weapon detonated over Nagasaki - he was briefly blinded by the flash, and drenched in the fallout rain. Beyond that, the collapse of the city affected his education - although this turned out to have a positive, unexpected outcome, as he explained in his Nobel lecture:

In the mess after the war, however, I could not find any school to attend. I idled for 2 years, and then I learned that the pharmacy school of Nagasaki Medical College, which had been completely destroyed by the atomic bomb, was going to open a temporary campus near my home. I applied to the pharmacy school and was accepted. Although I didn’t have any interest in pharmacy, it was the only way that I could have some education.

Fortunately, Shimomura turned out to have an aptitude in the field, and quickly progressed. It was a path which would take him into organic chemistry, and on to Princeton, where his studies would turn to a fascination with the crystal jellyfish, the Aequorea victoria.

This creature glows. Literally. Shimomura travelled to Friday Harbor, in Washington State, to gather "squeezate" - effectively, the bioluminescence squeezed out of the jellyfish. He then set about understanding the process which enabled the fish to shine. What he discovered is explained by the Green Flourescent Protein website at Connecticut College:

He found that in order to bioluminesce Aequorea releases calcium ions. These bind to a protein that he called aequorin, which release blue light upon calcium binding. The blue light is absorbed by green fluorescent protein, which in turn gives off the green light.

In itself, that's fascinating. But it's what this green fluorescent protein could then be used for that was really valuable - the protein can be added to cells; even to particles within cells; and that allows medical, biological and other researchers to understand processes in new ways. For example, the protein - illunintaed under ultraviolet light - can illuminate a growing tumour; the spread of Alzheimer's Disease in a brain; perhaps even how a cell produces insulin.

Shimomura's discovery effectively created a tiny flag which could be attached where it was needed. A miniscule Post-It note for researchers.

He shared the 2008 Nobel Prize with two other chemists - Martin Chalfie and Roger Tsien - who built upon his research in the same field.

Inspired? Find out about studying chemistry with The Open University

A history of Green Fluorescent Protein

Watch Osamu Shimomura's Nobel Lecture

 

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