Posts tagged ‘china’

We have recently begun to work on a project that requires us to find out whether a zebrafish larva can see or not. To this end, we have built a small machine to check whether the larvae show a visual behaviour called the optokinetic response (OKR).

This video shows the OKR machine, which is essentially a drum with black and white stripes that the rotating direction is controlled by a motor.


The fish larvae will be immobilized in thick solution in a Petri dish, which will be put inside the drum. The larvae with normal vision will be able to track the stripe rotation and move their eye balls. In this video, the bottom larva shows a normal OKR, while the top one does not show an OKR. It does not show an OKR because it is a blind mutant. An air bubble is put on the left to reflect the direction of the stripe movement.


During the process of fabricating this machine, we had come across with another cheaper way to do the same thing. There is a type of ancient Chinese lantern that part of outside drum will move due to heat convection generated by the light (A picture can be found in this Chinese article). We bought a contemporary version that the moving drums are driven by a motor. The type that we bought has the moving mechanism for rotating in opposite direction. We then took apart the lantern and used the moving mechanism to drive the opposite rotating stripes. See the following video for the moving mechanism of this alternative version of OKR.


Even though it is not perfect, it works! The most amazing part is the difference in the cost of fabrication.

  • The OKR machine made from Chinese Lantern: ~ $US 3 (for buying the Chinese Lantern)
  • The OKR machine that is made as shown in the first video: ~$US 150 (for materials) + ~$600 (for labor) = ~ $800 (and that does not include the controller box) !!!
  • A turnkey solution from a company costs > $40,000!

That is actually another example of the difference in the cost structure in doing research between the East and the West!

I also had a lot of fun sourcing other cheap parts for the final setup. For example, I have bought a very decent eye-piece camera for less than $40 (the price seems to have gone up a bit since then… but it is still very cheap) to capture the video of larval eye movement as shown in the second video. I have also bought a very economical ring light from AmScope for less than $60 for illuminating the drum area finally.

We are going to use this assay to identify fish with eye problems and then characterize the underlying molecular defects. That will help us study and find cures for the same diseases in human.


A warm Chinese-style welcoming at the entrance!
















I recently visited the Eye Hospital at Wenzhou Medical College, where they have very good research infrastructure that has integrated various aspects of basic and clinical ophthalmology research together. I gave two talks over there and had a great interaction with everyone. I did not get a chance to take many pictures but here are a few snapshots of some interesting things that I have seen. One particularly impressive setup in their group is a large meeting and relaxing area that is right next to the research laboratories. Conducting a successful research is about communication and conversation; merely having good equipment is not enough, it is crucial to have effective interaction between research members at all levels. With a wonderful atmosphere as such, I can totally imagine the colleagues from Wenzhou will have very fruitful and exciting interactions. Indeed, the teachers there are very sincere and down-to-earth, and the students are very enthusiastic in learning new ideas. Many of them were in fact courageous enough to ask questions and discussed their ideas during and after my lectures. This is really contradictory to the stereotype of many quiet and obedient Asian students. No wonder their group has a very rigorous research and education program.

A nicely decorated balcony for students to take a break or spend time thinking about research!

A well lit meeting area for research group members to interact. I had an enjoyable lunch and conversation with several students here.

It is really gratifying to see that there are many Chinese Institutes conducting good research. When the West is undermining their good research infrastructure in the midst of a poor economy, it is not surprising that the East is going to catch up and will lead the scientific research in the near term future.

A glimpse of the prosperous Wenzhou city from my hotel room.