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Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Can a Biologist Fix a Radio?


Andreas DL1AJG (who in real life is a professional biologist) sends us this excellent article about how biologists approach problems in living cells as opposed to how engineers or technicians approach problems in broken radios. 

This excerpt from the 2002 article gives you an idea of the tone and content of the article: 

"... I started to contemplate how biologists would determine why my radio does not work and how they would attempt to repair it. Because a majority of biologists pay little attention to physics, I had to assume that all we would know about the radio is that it is a box that is supposed to play music. How would we begin? First, we would secure funds to obtain a large supply of identical functioning radios in order to dissect and compare them to the one that is broken. We would eventually find how to open the radios and will find objects of various shape, color, and size (Figure 2). We would describe and classify them into families according to their appearance. We would describe a family of square metal objects, a family of round brightly colored objects with two legs, round-shaped objects with three legs and so on. Because the objects would vary in color, we would investigate whether changing the colors affects the radio's performance. Although changing the colors would have only attenuating effects (the music is still playing but a trained ear of some can discern some distortion) this approach will produce many publications and result in a lively debate..."

Andreas points to diagrams in the article (see below).  The first (A) shows how the biologist might view the radio.  The schematic (B) shows how engineers or technicians view it: 

As I read the article, I was reminded of the wise advice frequently dispensed through the SolderSmoke podcast:  Do not look at a schematic as one single circuit.  Instead try to see it as a number of subcircuits.  Build and test these subcircuits separately.  Join them together only after each subcircuit is found to be working. 

Here is the link to the 2002 article in Cell by Yuri Lazebnik:  https://www.cell.com/fulltext/S1535-6108(02)00133-2

This is all really interesting.  I will share this with my son who is involved now in biological research. 

In addition to his day job as a biologist, Andreas is a homebrewer of radios. Here is a pictures he sent to us back in 2019 of a regen receiver that he built: 

Andreas asks if he might need an old Boatanchor radio to work on to improve his electronics/physics skills.   I'd suggest staying away from the older tube stuff.   Stick with the BITXs -- homebrew one, stage by stage.  And indeed,  use the engineering approach to the electronics!  


  1. Use the 5 Step Scientific Method. But maybe a Michigan Mighty Mite as a 1st project followed by a DCR. Then tackle the Bitx.
    Pete N6QW

  2. A regen receiver is close to a living organism ;-)

  3. Living organisms definitely have electrically excitable cells that act as resistors, capacitors and amplifiers, but not inductors. But there are lots of resonances in the electrical circuits of the brain which underlie different functional modalities (like memory consolidation).


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