From Cicadas to Centrifuges - The Frugal Science Revolution

Ask A Biologist Podcast, Vol 136
Podcast Interview with Saad Bhamla
Saad Bhamla -  In his lab

Dr. Biology: 00:01

This is Ask A Biologist, a program about the living world, and I'm Dr Biology. In today's episode we get to explore a wide range of topics, from insects that shoot jets of pee —yes, you heard that correctly—to a tangled ball of worms that have the answer to a problem we've all faced. I'll let you think about what that problem might be. Along the way we're going to explore how our is also making science accessible to a larger audience, and I don't mean just reading about it, but also doing science. My guest is Saad Bhamla, a scientist and researcher in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. 


He's been exploring the world of physics and biology, and, like all good scientists, he's been sharing what he's learned and discovered in research journals such as Science, Nature and PLOSOne, and that's just to name a few. But that's not the only way he communicates what he's discovered or created or developed from his research, and that's where I think we might be in for a treat, something Saad calls the Curious Zoo of Extraordinary Organisms. But before we get to that, let's learn about what Saad and his lab team have been doing and a bit about what they've learned and created. Welcome to Ask A Biologist, Saad. 

Saad: 01:38

Thank you for having me Always enjoy chatting science and science communication with other folks. 

Dr. Biology: 01:43

And so everybody knows they might actually hear it that we're beaming you in via Zoom. You, interestingly enough, have combined a passion for physics with your love of insects, and that sounds like a fun combination to me, but to some people that might seem like an unlikely pair. Let's begin by talking about your work with insects and other tiny animals. 

Saad: 02:08

It's so interesting you phrase it that way because I think there was a particular moment in my life, maybe six or seven, eight years ago, where I realized I had this kind of epiphany that I could combine my interest in studying bugs and weird creepy crawlies and actually kind of unravel and discover interesting physics, mathematics, use them to design interesting widgets, robots, tools, and you could do that sustainably. You could actually do that in a respectable way, a fun way, work with other collaborators, colleagues, students, get resources to actually do this, and when I realized I was like duh, why would I do anything but this? So it's one of those things in life when you see something, it's like a superpower. You're like, oh wait, does everybody know this? And to me it was like a special revelation and I was like well, I'm going to do it. 

Dr. Biology: 03:05

Right, basically the physics of insects and how these other tiny     animals figure out how to do things that, honestly, we don't know how to do yet, and we get to learn from them, right. 

Saad: 03:18

Yeah, absolutely. I think there are two ways we always discuss this in the lab but the team members will say it's not a bug, it's a feature. [laughter] And then the second aspect is bugs especially epitomize nature's physics, biology, chemistry and engineering, right, all kinds of engineering, mechanical, oftentimes very sophisticated engineering, all in one package. But nature doesn't know all these fields and languages. 


So, we take this living system with all these you know, moving structures and it does amazing things. Maybe it's hunting something, maybe it's just flying or whatever. And our goal is to put these different lenses on and kind of understand, well, what are the physics going on, what are the engineering principles going on? Basically, playing detective which who doesn't like? Like when I was a kid I was all into Sherlock Holmes and trying to figure out puzzles, and to me every living system [or] creature is doing a puzzle, oftentimes with unknown answers or much more complex answers, and we just get to apply these different hats. And we might apply a mathematics hat and we might apply a robotics hat and try to understand nature's remarkable engineers. And, yeah, most times we get some interesting insights, but always the satisfaction of having fun is there. F or whatever that's worth.

Dr. Biology: 04:42  

Right, and I love that it's not a bug, it's a feature. Another thing, because my entomologist friends can get really cranky with me sometimes when we say bugs in general and so I always say to people OK, all bugs are insects, but not all insects are bugs. 

Saad: 05:01 


Dr. Biology: 05:05

And that's a bit of a riddle and we actually have a story on Ask A Biologist called True Bugs, and I can give just a hint about one of the differences between what makes a bug a bug and not just an insect. And that's true bugs suck. 

Saad: 05:15

[laughter] That's a good one. It's a good bio joke, it's a good entomology joke. 

Dr. Biology: 05:22 

Yes. Let's pick out one of your not necessarily a favorite, but one of your insects that you've been studying. Let's talk about them, because I know there's a large collection that you have been exploring. 

Saad: 05:34

A most recent study, which is a continuation of theme of things. We just published this paper on cicadas and how cicadas excrete or pee in jets. 

Dr. Biology: 05:46

Seriously, they pee in jets. 

Saad: 05:49

Faster than any mammal, faster than you and I or even an elephant. And that was basically the remarkable discovery that these enigmatic insects pee in very powerful, fast jets. And you're like what the heck? But the whole question became like five or six years ago when I was starting, and I actually made an observation in my backyard in Atlanta. I think it was on a basil plant. [I] saw a bug actually flick a droplet of pee from its, you know, we call it the business end and I couldn't catch it. So, I took an iPhone and I tried to use the slow-mo feature because it records at 240 frames per second and that's usually my first tool I use in my puzzle solving. We all carry this phone, a beautiful piece of technology. 


Zoom in and I can barely see what's happening and I can see a droplet being flicked away and at that point it struck me that this insect was actually peeing. And I had to stop and think to myself I'd never thought actually, do insects pee? A behavior, a biological function I had never associated with insects. It's obvious, of course, my dog pees, I pee. I have a four-year-old change enough diapers in life but never considered that it would be ubiquitous and in hindsight it's so obvious, makes sense. What goes in must come out. And you know, of course organisms should have like feeding and excretion - are the hallmarks of any living system, irrespective whether you're a tiny cell or a giant whale. But I've never appreciated this. So, this is where it all started from. 

Dr. Biology: 07:25

So now we've got this cicada with a jet stream. My question is why, why so fast? 

Saad: 07:35

This is what I find interesting as a scientist. It's partially a selfish thing we do. Why do I want to know why this insect pee? I don't know. I have an itch that I need to solve, but also there is a delight, partially in me and my team members. We want to be the first to figure something out. Because money doesn't give me joy. I have enough money to be satisfied. But what really gives me joy which happens every day, every week and I think is a special power that makes me so grateful to be alive, is that I keep getting these joys of figuring things out and getting an answer and it makes me feel like, ah, it's just this deep, immense joy of knowing something and understanding something about nature, especially of a living system, and so I just wanted to know why this insect has to pee. 


As with any good story and understanding, we have to kind of appreciate what these cicadas are doing. I think of these cicadas as like a whole civilization of aliens living under our feet, because this year we're going to have these two broods come out, at least for us in North America. I did a rough ballpark estimation because you can estimate per acre, 10,000 or a million, depending on density, I estimated that about a trillion to 100 trillion. That's a lot of zeros. I don't even know how many zeros are there in trillion, but we're going to have like trillions of these bugs come out of the ground, come up and they'll stay for a week or so, mate and die. And I commented to one of my entomology colleagues and I said well, cicadas have such a short life, you know, they just die in a week. And he corrected me. He said cicadas come out to die, they're living underground and that's a fact. They actually have the longest developmental stages of any organism 15 years, 17 years. That's a huge time. They're just living underground, feeding on plant xylem sap. 

Dr. Biology: 09:31

We actually had John McCutcheon on this podcast, and he does a lot of work on cicadas and it's interesting, you call this alien. I think I even said to him they kind of look alien to me and he says, yeah, I think they're kind of cute, but that's me. [laughter] So these cicadas, they come out. This is the final hurrah, right? This is the big date night, right? Or a couple of date nights maybe. So back to our pee what's the story? 

Saad: 10:01

So, cicadas are a group of organisms that specialize on feeding on plant xylem sap. So, just like we have arteries and veins, one of them takes fresh blood from our heart with oxygen to the rest of the body and then the rest is just weighed back to our heart. Plants have a similar vasculature and you've got xylem, which brings us water from the roots all the way to the top, and then you've got the leaves, which are like the kitchen, making all this delicious glucose using sunlight, and then they send this glucose-rich sugary sap in the phloem all throughout the body. Now these glassy-winged sharpshooters another organism, the one I observe in my backyard, cicadas cousins right, Cicadidae, they feed on xylem sap, and xylem sap is very, very nutrient-poor. Basically, it's water, so 95% water because it's just coming from the roots. 


It's like if you or I were living on just a diet of diet lemonade and not being able to eat any solid foods or any nutritious food. So you have to constantly be eating, constantly be drinking the xylem sap because it's so poor in nutrients, which means that they have to constantly be peeing, because they're trying to extract energy from that little dilute nutrient source and that's why they have to pee so much because it's basically their ecological diet. And this raises lots and lots of questions. Why feed on xylem sap in one place, like if I were a robber, if I knew a castle, why wouldn't I go after the main area where all the rich goods were being transported? Why would I go to the back alley and the back road? You know there's nothing of value and work so hard and there's so many questions we could ask. 

Dr. Biology: 11:49

So, we have our cicada, but that's not the only creature. You've been doing some work with. One of your other organisms that caught my attention, and it's not an insect or a bug, it's a worm, or maybe I should say a tangled ball of worms. And these worms have solved a problem that everyone has had at one time or another, and that is how to untangle a tangled ball, and, in their case, almost instantly. Can we talk about these worms? 

Saad: 12:25

Yeah. So this is another observation I made. I did my PhD and postdoc in the Bay Area, at Stanford, and if you ever go to the Stanford campus, there's a lake. It's called Lake Lagunita, and because for folks in California, you know that there is constant droughts and during those five years of my PhD, drought the lake was dry, just grass. But I stayed on for my postdoc and then one day it rained in 2016. And all the undergrads, grads, faculty, everybody's at the lake, which we know should be filled with water, and it's temporarily filled with water, people are bringing out kayaks and windsurfing. 


And I had a question. I wanted to know that, in a lake that was, I knew, dry, I had seen with my eyes, and overnight there was water what kind of life would emerge in something that was so-called dead or dry. And so I took a pipette from the lab and I had my empty plastic water bottle and I'm walking around the lake trying to see if there are any bugs and asking myself well, this is an amazing thing, right, like you have desiccation cycles, and how are the organisms living in this crypto state where they're just waiting for water? How are they computing when the water will come? So I saw these worms.  


They're called California blackworms, which of course at the time I didn't know, but they're very common. They're actually called California blackworms. They're very common up and down the coast and as the water recedes they form up this blob. They just tangle up with each other like a bunch of ethernet cables or your ramen, if you're eating ramen noodles. But unlike those two examples, these are living. So I did what any scientist would do I took a stick and poked at it and they started wriggling away. And there are two reactions to that usually my partner, who basically tries to run away, screaming because I poked a wriggling ball of red worms. I basically was like the happiest person because I knew what my first Ph.D. student's first project was going to be as soon as I start my lab. 

Dr. Biology: 14:22

Right, and so the story of these ball of worms is that they have solved a way of untangling really fast. 

Saad: 14:33

Right. So we brought them to the lab and now we have like millions of them in our lab downstairs at Georgia Tech. We figured out why they do it because it protects them. Survival in numbers and they tangle up and protects them from evaporation and heat. But one day one of my grad students, Harry, actually made a discovery. He actually shown some UV light on this ball of worms and it quickly dissipated. 


And this was kind of the aha moment because, as we all know, if you have long hair or if you are knitting or headphones, when you put them in our pocket not the Bluetooth ones, but the ones with wire they always get tangled up. It's like this weird law of the universe, like if you have a flexible filament, it will always get tangled up, and the worms tangle up, and untangling them is basically a problem that hairdressers face, that sailors face, that grandmothers face and you and I face. But these worms are able to quickly unravel, and there are beautiful videos on the website, and so the question then became like how are these nature's Houdini's able to get out of this knot that they're in? We want to understand what topological tricks, what biophysical tricks they have up their sleeve, of course, and we figured that out and ask ourselves could that help us design interesting robots, interesting materials? 


Like, imagine your t-shirt and you could give it a cue and voila like all of the threads come apart. We never recycle clothes. That's a huge problem. Your N95 mask inside, if you ever open it up, it's filled with non-woven fibers. They end up in the ocean. We can't recycle these things. But what if there was a   trigger and all of these fibers untangle and then we could recycle them and reuse them. Give these plastic, polyester filaments a new life. Anyways, those are the ideas, but you think about it from worms. 

Dr. Biology: 16:22

Ah, all right. You talk about these puzzles and figuring out how we might be able to find solutions to problems by observing nature. Another part of your work is tied to health care and the medical sciences. This is something you talk about as the need for frugal science and global health. One of the instruments that came out of this that amazed me is based on an ancient toy that you've repurposed to provide a similar capability as a centrifuge that costs thousands of dollars. Only your instrument based on the toy costs just pennies. 

Saad: 17:05

So, there's this growing moment, our lab and part of other labs that thinks about how do we build medical   devices and, essentially, hardware that is more accessible and affordable. The vision is that for you and I to do science or anybody to do science there are two things I think we need. One is information, which you have. Billions of people today have phones and they're, in some form or the other, connected to the internet, so you get information for free. You could potentially look up what Moderna's RNA vaccine, nucleic acid, amino acids formulation looks like. You could understand how CRISPR works, et cetera, et cetera. But that's not really how we do science. There's another part which is actually doing it. The experience of hands-on science, because you could know a lot of information, but in most aspects of science you require hardware whether it's a microscope, a centrifuge, any number of hardware and that's our perspective that hardware is both kind of an impediment if you don't have it, but also an enabler if you have it, and in some sense it decides who gets to do science. The difference between the haves and the have not and that's kind of our perspective is how do we empower the billions of people we all inhabit this fragile, resource-constrained planet, but not everybody gets to partake in the joy and contribute to the modern scientific inquiry, not that because they don't want to. And hospitals, schools, they all look different depending on where you are. If I were in Afghanistan today, or if I were in Iraq, a hospital in Uganda would look completely different to if I were in Afghanistan today, or if I were in Iraq, a hospital in Uganda would look completely different to where I am in Atlanta. And so the idea is how do we make biomedical hardware different? And that's where frugal science come in.


The example you talked about a centrifuge. It was the inspiration to create a centrifuge so we could make diagnostics for malaria and anemia easier. We were in Madagascar doing fieldwork for malaria and we had to hike like, I think, like four miles. It's so inaccessible. We had to cross a river. Motorbikes were not accessible. We just had to walk and there were a village of, you know 200, 300 people who've been living there for, you know, almost a hundred years, if not more. Well, how do they get medical access? So you can't just carry a commercial device. So, we were able to think about the challenge and I got this idea. 


My grandmother used to give me these buttons and threads to play with. We weren't very well off, but it's a toy that every culture has and it has different names uh, very onomatopoeic names like buzz, buzz, run, run and essentially you take a button, you put the thread through and you hold it between your hands right in front of you, and it goes [buzz-run]. The aha moment was that this object was spinning at hundreds of thousands of RPM, all by using your hand, energy and a piece of string and a button. So, we converted into a centrifuge and I think might even have the or used to have the Guinness Book of World Records for the fastest spinning object, using just human motion. Along the way, as with this that we applied our lens of physics, we realized what we've figured out is these strings, which are inelastic, were coiling up and super coiling up to act as a nonlinear spring, which were allowing us to do it. So, we use these physics from DNA to understand how this object worked also showed its application. 


There's a more recent example that we've spun out a company takes inspiration from a household barbecue lighter and thinks about vaccine delivery, because even today there are billions of people who don't have access to mRNA vaccines because of cold chain issues and lipid nanoparticles that enable this modern miracle that saves, arguably, millions of lives. It still has a lot of issues and many, many countries around the world don't have access to mRNA, and it's supposed to be the future of how we will address epidemics. So we got insight that you could use a barbecue lighter the same device that you use for your 4th of July barbecue and if, when you click it, you hear this characteristic sound and what it is a piezoelectric crystal, and that allows us to temporarily open up tiny holes nano holes in our cells, because we need to put mRNA or DNA inside our cells. These are modern nucleic acid vaccines, and we've now spun out a company, and one of my students is the founding CEO. 


But the point is that we can take some of these everyday objects and think a little bit cleverly, because these things cost less than a cup of coffee, but hopefully they can scale up in billions, and we're working on efforts to try to translate them and demonstrate that not everything needs to cost a million dollars, and these superlatives are one aspect. Like one of my colleagues used to say, what would you do if you have a million dollars? And that's kind of how Western science works. Our approach is a little bit more Gandhian. We'd say what would you do if you just had a dollar? What can you do with that? So, we apply this box and then we have to think outside the box. 

Dr. Biology: 22:01

Okay, so back to our worms. 


That's an interesting segue right Because you talk about in order to be able to do science, you have to have certain instruments, and not everyone has them. So if you can build these instruments that are very inexpensive, you can open up a world to a lot of future scientists. You also have another way you are opening up science to a wider audience, and that's something you call the Curious Zoo of Extraordinary Organisms. This is a place where you have transformed a typical science article, some might say boring article into a comic book that is accessible to a wide audience. So, can we talk a little bit about your Curious Zoo of Extraordinary Organisms

Saad: 22:58

This was one of those crazy ideas that once in a while we have like these brainstorming sessions in our group meeting. We call these things super happy, fun time, where you know we do the science and then every group meeting we'll have like a little bit of time allocated. We give ourselves permission to come up with crazy things. And in this spirit, I thought wouldn't it be amazing if, like each paper when we publish this, we had comics? Because the realization was that I'd publish these papers and I'd be so happy and next day I'd check my paper to see you know how many people opened it, read it, just because you know we're all a little bit vain. And I'd realize, like three people opened it, maybe four, and no kid, no young person I know will ever actually go to science or nature and like, oh, let me open up this issue and read it from cover to cover. And so I thought, well, I really want to share my science. I really want everybody to appreciate this beautiful system, these insights. It's so amazing, but I can't expect them to come. 


And sometimes these things are behind paywalls, the barrier is so high. Well, why do I have to wait? Why can't I do something about it? Why can't I put money where my mouth is? I was like wouldn't it be amazing if each paper had a comic? You could read a paper. We make videos, but why not a comic? 


And comics are amazing for many, many, many reasons, and why stop there? We translate them. Why not multilingual comics? I write a lot of Panchatantra and Hindi comics and wouldn't be amazing if they're not just about historical fiction and fables, but actually had some science mingled in it, some bugs, some stories about how scientists solved these things, what it meant, and amazing if it was in Telugu or Tamil or Arabic or Mandarin. There's this hegemony of things and so, anyways, that was the idea, and, as we sometimes get caught in these things, we started doing this and we had so much fun. Now, for each paper, we make a comic, and it's sometimes in life we have good ideas and then now we're just doing them and asking ourselves what have we started? Because it takes a lot of effort to make these things, as you probably know very, very well. 

Dr. Biology: 25:11

Right, and you mentioned something important A lot of people don't have access to certain journals because you have to have a subscription and they're not inexpensive, and so that's one of the reasons why it's so great that you're creating these comics. The other thing, I think, is this really good exercise to distill down the essence of what you're communicating to scientists in a way that everybody can understand, and the format of a comic fits very nicely, because I suspect that it's not something that you do just overnight. It takes a little bit of time to think about what is the story and how can I tell it in an engaging way or a fun way. 

Saad: 25:50

Sometimes we do these things for others, but at least I think, 90% of the things I do, I'm very honest. I do them for myself and for my kids. My kid, my four-year-old, loves reading books. I read to him, like last night right, he won't let me stop. And, yes, I will show him videos. I have the Khan Academy app. We play games when I'm biking with him and we're on the train station. But I do want him to have something tangible, something he can engage with, something so beautiful. It's like a work of art, but it's not stuck to a screen. One day I'll hope I write a book, but for now I'm going to make a comic, because it has all these characters and I'm not bounded by lines and margins. And I can break rules and I can add puns and jokes and I can put all my dad jokes in there and that's basically why I do it. 

Dr. Biology: 26:35

Okay. All right. So, Saad, before you get to go, all my scientists have three questions that I ask of them. So, are you ready?

Saad: 26:45

I'm ready, 

Dr. Biology: 26:46

You're ready. Okay, when did you first know that you wanted to be a scientist? And I always say, it's kind of this aha moment, and it may not have been an aha moment when you were that age, but when you look back on it you go, oh yeah, that's how I got started. 

Saad: 27:02

I was an undergrad and it was my first research experience and my mentor at that time this was in Pune, India. He basically gave me the independence to try an experiment. I was actually studying dough. The idea was that in South Asian continents, like if you think about India, we make a lot of flatbreads, and if you go towards the other continents in Asia, like China, you'll see a lot of noodles. And the question was well, how did these societies decide they're going to take the same amount of wheat, but one will make flatbread, one will make noodles. And the kernel of insight over there was that it's in the gluten and the starch and the rheology, which is just the ability of how we process these materials, that shapes what kind of foods we make. And so my project was on something like that, and so I was hooked because it was such a beautiful puzzle to think about our food and how material properties shape the kind of shapes we make out of food. And I was just like, oh my God, this is so cool. I was just hooked. And my advisor goodness, he gave me so much independence. 


That was my first taste for science and some of my advisors when I was in India, at the research institute. They used to say stuff like for the love of science, and I'd be like I don't understand what they're smoking. What do you mean for the love of science? And then I get it. At that time I was too young to figure out what they were talking about, but it was just seeing them do this and I was like I don't think they're being paid that much to do it. But I just saw them so happy and get this delight and they were so on and it was like they were alive and I was like I need to be in on whatever this drug they're on and basically I felt like they would never age and they would never run out of puzzles. And so that's how I got hooked. 

Dr. Biology: 28:46

Right, I always say I'm easily amused. Just the tiniest things that you can discover, it's like wow, that's just amazing. You know I'm a microscopist, so I do a lot with a microscope and you know there are a lot of days I get to go see things that no one else has ever seen before, or at least I get to see it first, which is cool. 


Yeah, all right. So, we're both passionate about science. You're starting off on your career, but I'm going to take it all away from you. This is just a thought question, so no one panics and I'm going to take it all away. And I always take away teaching, because almost everyone loves to teach that I have been talking to. So if you weren't a scientist and you can't teach, what would you be or do? 

Saad: 29:32

I would be an artist. I would love to make movies. I just watched Dune. I love the Matrix movies, Lord of the Rings. I'm fascinated by how we communicate ideas through different mediums. Fundamentally it's just a bunch of vibrations, right Like a bunch of jiggling of electrons and atoms, but somehow encoded in there is like a profound idea that a person or a small group of people can communicate and transfer from one brain to millions, if not billions, of brains and help them experience through all their senses. To me that's just so crazy. To me making videos. To me using the medium and the art world to tell a great story and convey this idea, to make somebody feel excitement, happy, sadness, I don't know. I find that so fascinating. Like if I had another world, I would be an artist of some sort. Yeah, I just I think of my science as an art. 

Dr. Biology:  30:3 0

I can't fault you there, because my undergraduate degree is in fine arts, so I'm a painter and a sculptor and a photographer, and more photography these days than anything else. 

Saad: 30:42

I knew I would like you. You're growing on me. 

Dr. Biology:


All right. So the last question what advice would you have for a young scientist, or perhaps someone who always wanted to go into science but didn't know how to go down that path? 

Saad: 31:00

I think the best advice I always tell students is to be yourself. I'm grateful that I'm in a place where I can be myself. I'm a chemical and biomolecular engineer who study bugs and worm balls, and I always tell my students you just have to be the best version of yourself. You don't need to be some version that you think your parents want to be, or your teachers or your brother or sister or friends, because it's so easy to be influenced and it's okay. Sometimes we try to aspire, and every time we fail to be like somebody else, we become a little bit better version of ourselves, and so people have these ideas a scientist should look like this, should talk like that, should wear this. 


That's nonsense. Anybody can be a scientist and there are different levels of science. Citizen scientists exist. High school teachers do science. You do science anywhere on the streets, under a tree. You could do science in your kitchen, in your backyard. 


History is full of that. You don't need to be in a particular building which has some university stamp on it that tells you okay, now you're allowed to do science, you don't need any of that. And so, if you remove all of that. Suddenly you realize, okay, well, I don't need permission and you don't need to look like X and there is no way to do science. 

It's so easy to say but so hard to do. But it's like the most amazing thing, once you figure this out, that really you can have your flavor of science, you can have your smell of science, your taste of science, whatever that means, and it's actually makes science even better to have a scientist, because they say you know the lion by the claw for a great scientist, and I think that means something. Essentially, I think you can't decouple the science from the scientist, and so it's important to be genuine and find your own thing. 

Dr. Biology: 32:41

Well, on that note, Saad, thank you so much for being on Ask A Biologist. 

Saad: 32:45

Thank you, Dr Biology. Thank you for having me. 

Dr. Biology:  32:48

You have been listening to Ask A Biologist, and my   has been Saad Bamla, a scientist and researcher in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. 


Saad's also the creator of a fun series of comics that make up The Curious Zoo of Extraordinary Organisms. Now I bet you will want to see Saad's work, especially those comics, so we'll add links to them in the show notes. The Ask A Biologist podcast is produced on the campus of Arizona State University and is recorded in the Grassroots Studio housed in the School of Life Sciences, which is an academic unit of The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. 

Also, a quick reminder here if you have not subscribed to this podcast, please take a moment to do that so you don't miss any of our future episodes. 

And remember, even though our program is not broadcast live, you can still send us your questions about biology using our companion website. The address is, or you can just use your favorite search tool and enter the words Ask A Biologist. As always, I'm Dr Biology and I hope you're staying safe and healthy.

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Bibliographic details:

  • Article: From Cicadas to Centrifuges - The Frugal Science Revolution
  • Episode number: 136
  • Author(s): Dr. Biology
  • Publisher: Ask A Biologist
  • Date published: April 13, 2024
  • Date accessed: May 21, 2024
  • Link:

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Dr. Biology. (2024, April 13). From Cicadas to Centrifuges - The Frugal Science Revolution (136) [Audio podcast Episode.] In Ask A Biologist Podcast. Ask A Biologist.

American Psychological Association. For more info, see

Chicago Manual of Style

Dr. Biology. "From Cicadas to Centrifuges - The Frugal Science Revolution." Produced by Ask A Biologist. Ask A Biologist Podcast. April 13, 2024. Podcast, MP3 audio.

MLA Style

"From Cicadas to Centrifuges - The Frugal Science Revolution." Ask A Biologist Podcast from Ask A Biologist, 13 April, 2024,

Modern Language Association, 7th Ed. For more info, see
Paperfuge instrument

From an ancient toy to a research insturment that cost pennies, this hand centrifuge is one of the frugal science inventions that Saad Bhamla and his collaborators have developed.

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