All posts by Edward Willett

I'm a freelance writer in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. I've written more than 30 books (I've lost count) on a variety of topics. My nonfiction titles include books on computers, diseases, genetics, and the Iran-Iraq War, some for children and some for adults. I've also written several biographies for children, on individuals as diverse as J.R.R. Tolkien, Orson Scott Card, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and the Ayatollah Khomeini. I've loved science fiction and fantasy since I was a kid (thanks, Andre Norton, Madeleine L'Engle and Robert A. Heinlein!) and have also written young adult fantasy and science fiction. More recently I've turned to adult science fiction. My first adult SF novel, Lost in Translation, was published by Five Star in hardcover in 2005 and reprinted in paperback by DAW Books in 2006. My new SF novel for DAW, Marseguro, will be out in February, 2008. I write a weekly newspaper science column, I love good wine and good food, I'm married and have a daughter, and I'm a professional actor and singer when the opportunity presents itself, and act and sing just for fun when I can't find anyone to pay me for it. My website is at, and my blog is at edwardwillett.blogspot. com. And that is probably more about me than anyone could possibly want to know...

Dirty water in, clean water out

Lifesaver water purification bottle The Lifesaver is a water bottle–but not just any water bottle. Through "an advanced ultra-filtration membrane that incorporates a high specification carbon block" it can convert dirty water to clean in a matter of seconds–you put in the water, pump it through the filter a few times, then drink. The cartridge is supposed to be able to filter out waterborne pathogens and eliminate bad tastes and odors, too. The replaceable cartridge has a filtering capacity of 4,000 to 6,000 litres, so it’s not short-lived: 700 litres is a year’s supply of water for one person. The military is interested, naturally, but an even more important application would be to supply clean drinking water after disasters such as the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004 or Hurricane Katrina: instead of distributing bottled water, you could distribute bottles that clean the water that’s at hand. And even in the absence of disasters, access to clean water is a worldwide problem.

Hmmm. My daughter’s water bottle is starting to smell funny. Maybe I should be getting her one of these…

Or maybe the Lifestraw is the way to go. It’s a plastic pipe filter 25 centimetres long and 29 millimetres in diameter that costs just a few dollars and can purify up to 700 litres of water.

A word of advice, though: when giving a Lifestraw to a suffering disaster victim, find a different way to instruct him in its use than telling him to "suck it up."

(Via Gizmag.)

(Photo from Gizmag.)

[tags]water,disaster relief,technology[/tags]

Mechanical mole robots to the rescue!

The Urban Search And Rescue (USAR) robot design settled on by the Manchester Robotics group after extensive research into the problems of negotiating debris fields

Inspired by the European mole, Robin Scott and Robert Richardson of the University of Manchester hope to develop a digging robot that could "swim" through debris to rescue people trapped under rubble after a disaster. Here’s a video of their new digging mechanism undergoing tests with a range of materials, and here’s an animation that shows how the mechanism works. A search-and-rescue robot based on the design could be ready in as little as two years.

That’s probably longer than you want to wait if you’re trapped under rubble right now, but if you’re planning on being trapped in the future, it’s good to know improved options are on the way.

Other researchers are experimenting with rescue robots that roll, walk or slither.

And then there’s the human-eating firefighter rescue robot. You have to admit, a mechanical mole sounds downright friendly next to that one.

(Via NewScientistTech.)

(Image from Newsline 36, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council)

[tags]robots, search and rescue, engineering [/tags]

Nanotechnology, bioengineering combine to make cheaper, better vaccines

Dendritic_cell: A screen clip from a video included in the journal article “Environmental Dimensionality Controls the Interaction of Phagocytes with the Pathogenic Fungi Aspergillus fumigatus and Candida albicans” So, for my first real post, how about some good news combining bioengineering and nanotechnology, making it very futurismic–er, futuristic. Whatever.

Researchers at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland have developed (and patented) a nanoparticle that, they believe, can deliver vaccines "more effectively, with fewer side effects, and at a fraction of the cost" of current vaccination methods.

Once upon a time, vaccines were made from dead-but-whole or living-but-weakened pathogens. Recently, researchers have figured out how to generate an immune response with a singe protein from a virus or bacterium. They’ve also discovered that the best way to get sustained immunity is to deliver an antigen directly to the specialized immune cells known as dendritic cells (DCs).

The trouble is, DCs aren’t all that common in skin or muscle, where injections are usually made, and in order to use them to activate the whole immune system, you also have to deliver a kind of "danger signal"–which there hasn’t been a good way to do, until now.

The new nanoparticles are so tiny they slip right through the skin and into the lymph nodes, where there are lots of DCs, and they carry a chemical coating that mimics the surface chemistry of bacterial cell walls. The result: a strong immune response without nasty side effects.

The researchers believe these nanoparticles could make it possible to vaccinate against diseases like hepatitis and malaria with a single injection, and at a cost of only a dollar a dose, far cheaper than current vaccines. The research team also plans to try using the technique to target cancer cells. And best of all, they say, the technique could be in use within five years. [Photo from Wikimedia Commons]

(Via Science Daily.)


My first Futurismic post: it’s all about me! Me! Me!

A photo of Edward Willett First posts are fraught with danger–"you never get a second chance to make a first impression," and all that–but at least in this instance the nerve-wracking decision of what to post about has been taken out of my hands: I’m supposed to introduce myself. (Which also removes the fear of blabbing on about something I know nothing about, I suppose: bonus!)

So. I’m Edward Willett, one of your new Futurismic bloggers. My interest in science fiction goes back to childhood, thanks to the corrupting influence of my two older brothers, and my interest in science stems very much from my interest in SF. I was born in New Mexico, but moved to Weyburn, Saskatchewan, Canada from Texas when I was eight. I studied journalism and art at Harding University in Arkansas, then returned to Weyburn, where I was a newspaper reporter/photographer/columnist/editor/cartoonist (it was a smallish paper) for eight years, before chucking it all in and becoming communications officer for the Saskatchewan Science Centre here in Regina, where I now live.

In 1993 I dumped the workaday life to become a fulltime freelance writer. I’m the author of more than 30 books. First came computer books, then I branched into children’s nonfiction, which I continue to write, on topics that have run the gamut from Ebola Virus to the Iran-Iraq War to biographies of Jimi Hendrix, Orson Scott Card, Janis Joplin and J.R.R. Tolkien (coming soon: Johnny Cash and Andy Warhol!). I’ve also written adult non-fiction, including Genetics Demystified for McGraw-Hill.

Somewhere along the way I sold a few young adult science fiction and fantasy novels to small publishers. In 2005 I sold my first adult science fiction novel, Lost in Translation, to Five Star, and in 2006 DAW Books put it out in mass-market paperback. I have a new science fiction novel, Marseguro, coming out from DAW in February.

I’m the administrative assistant for SF Canada, the association of professional speculative fiction writers of Canada, and maintain the SF Canada news blog. My own personal blog is here.

I write a weekly newspaper science column, which I also podcast. I’m married to a telecommunications engineer and have one daughter. (Oh, and on the side, I’m a professional actor and singer, so if I sneak in a few references to SFnal musical theatre productions, you’ll know why.)

Whew! I’m glad that’s out of the way. That’s way more than enough about me. Now I can think about my first real post…

[tags]bloggers, Futurismic, staff[/tags]