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Issue 2 Hilary 08
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B ANG! Briefs
Getting you up to speed with the latest scientific developments...
eep brain stimulation techniques are being tested to restore the memory of dementia patients. Although it will do nothing to treat the underlying disease that causes dementia, the hope is that it will help them to hold on to their identities for longer. The team in Canada stumbled upon the technique whilst attempting to treat a morbidly obese man through deep brain stimulation. Lead research Professor Andres Lozano, of the Toronto Western Hospital, Ontario, said: “This is a single case that was totally unexpected. We knew immediately this was important. We are sufficiently intrigued to see if this could help people with memory disorders.”
The Canadian team had been trying to help a 50-year-old obese man with type 2 diabetes and sleeping disorders who had failed to respond to diet, medications and psychological help. He had refused gastric surgery, and doctors decided to perform deep brain stimulation of the hypothalamus; a structure in the brain linked with appetite. During surgery, electrodes were implanted in the brain under local anaesthesia, with the patient awake so that his responses could be monitored. When the electrodes were stimulated by electrical impulses the patient began to experience feelings of deja vu. He had a sudden perception of being in a park with friends. He felt younger, thought he was around 20-years-old, and his girlfriend of the time was there. A year later the patient again performed well in memory tests when the electrodes were stimulated, but less well when they were switched
off. “We hopefully have found a circuit in the brain which can be modulated by stimulation, and which might provide benefit to patients with memory disorders,” said Prof Lozano.
ome of Britain’s most challenging young prisoners are to be given food supplements in a study aimed at curbing violent behaviour. Scientists from Oxford University say the effect of nutrition on behaviour has been underestimated. They say increases in consumption of “junk” food over the past 50 years have contributed to a rise in violence. The university will lead the £1.4m study in which 1,000 males aged 16 to 21 from three young offenders’ institutions in England and Scotland will be randomly allocated either the vitamin-and-mineral supplements or a placebo, and followed over 12 months. In a pilot study of 231 prisoners by the same researchers, published in 2002, violent incidents while in custody were cut by a more than a third among those given the supplements. Overall, offences recorded by the prison authorities fell by a quarter. John Stein, professor of physiology at Oxford University, said: “If you could extrapolate from those results you would see a reduction of a quarter to a third in violent offences in prison. You could reduce violent offences in the community by a third. That would have a huge economic benefit.” The theory behind the trial is that when the brain is starved of essential nutrients, especially omega-3 fatty acids, which are a central building block of brain neurons, it loses “flexibility”. This shortens attention spans and undermines self-control. Even though prison food is nutritious, prisoners tend to make unhealthy choices and need supplements, the researchers say. Bernard Gesch, a senior research scientist in the department of physiology and the director of Natural Justice, a charity that investigates the causes of offending, said the prisoners would be given the
supplement containing 100 per cent of the recommended daily amount of more than 30 vitamins and minerals plus three fish-oil capsules totalling 2.25g on top of their normal diet. The Ministry of Justice is backing the three-year study, which will start in May. David Hanson, the Prisons minister, said he hoped it would shed further light on the links between nutrition and behaviour.
Julie Bentley, Chief Executive of the fpa (Family Planning Association) said it’s great news for women. “There is now substantial evidence showing that for most women the benefits of taking the contraceptive pill are far greater than any of the risks.” Past studies have shown that the pill provides long-lasting protection against endometrial cancer but increases the short-term risk of cervical and breast cancer. However, analysis has shown that 10 years after stopping the pill, the risk falls to that of women who never took it. “Young women don’t have to worry about cancer from taking the pill because the eventual reduction in ovarian cancer is bigger than any increase in other types of cancer,” said the coauthor of the study Sir Richard Peto. Dr Lesley Walker of Cancer Research UK said, “All women who have taken the pill or are currently taking it should be reassured by this study.”
Art by Thu Phuong Nguyen Words by Ben Wallace
ral contraceptives may protect 30,000 women against ovarian cancer each year, new research shows. The study, carried out by the cancer epidemiology unit at the University of Oxford, UK, found the pill has stopped at least 200,000 women from developing ovarian cancer and saved about 100,000 lives over the past 50 years. The team gathered results from 45 worldwide studies involving 23,257 women with ovarian cancer and 87,303 women without ovarian cancer. Their findings, reported in The Lancet, suggest that the risk of ovarian cancer is cut by 20 percent for every five years that a woman has been on the pill. Women who take the pill for 15 years reduce their risk by half. The researchers also found that the pill protects women against ovarian cancer for more than 30 years after they stop taking it. This is important because ovarian cancer is most common in those over 50.
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robably the single most emotive word in the English language. Debate on recent conflicts has shown us that it is perhaps the most controversial concept in modern societiy. It has scarred the pages of history with its brutal chaos, exhibiting destructive power second only to that of time. We belligerent humans are forced to adapt and invent, supplied with perhaps the best incentive there can be: fail and face annihilation; succeed and secure glory. Scientific endeavour is removed from Kuhn’s ‘normal science’ and thrown into the realm of ’scientific revolution’. In this way, war has undoubtedly been a very effective catalyst for innovation.
the twentieth century to roll around for martial investment in science to become extensive. But surely all that conflict has produced is better ways of waging war? Not all. Of course, the Great War of 1914 to 1918 began in true colonial style, using horses and swords, but within a few all-too-long years both sides had developed machineguns, tanks and aeroplanes. In a similar fashion, the Second World War brought sonar, radar and the notorious atomic bomb. Who can say how modern history may have been altered, for better or worse, had these inventions not been created? But what is more interesting is the legacy of peaceful inventions that war has left behind, and that we still use today, often taking them for granted, long after the treaties have been signed.
that gunpowder found the peaceful use that entertains so many (and keeps so many awake!) every November: the manufacture of fireworks. Roger Bacon, a thirteenth-century natural philosopher described a contemporary firecracker in his writings as ‘a child’s toy of sound and fire’: clearly not something that would pass a health and safety test today! Furthermore, Renaissance Europe saw a true (albeit enforced) symbiosis between martial and civilian activities: firemakers, the people that produced gunpowder for the military, were also required to create fireworks for entertainment during victory and peace festivities. So, it seems, the firemakers were never out of business. The middle ages, particularly the illdefined era of the Scientific Revolution, offered many more advances that had their roots in the military. For example, the First Law of Thermodynamics, hallowed amongst Chemists and Physicists, was conceived by Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford when he noted that heat was produced while cannon barrels were being bored. Along with its counterpart Zeroth, Second, and Third Laws, the First Law forms the basis of our understanding regarding energy transfer, finding applications in fields as diverse as pharmacology, mining, and steam engines. Although not the original inventor of
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However, until recently, the relationship between science and the military has been informal. For example, the Longitude Prize was offered by the British government in 1714 to encourage someone to come up with a method to help the Navy when they found themselves lost at sea. The winner? John Harrison, long suffering clockmaker, whose work now features most prominently (or most farcically) in Only Fools and Horses, and in Dava Sobel’s popular book, Longitude. The French Revolution also saw natural philosophers being recruited in the name of fraternité. But not until the late nineteenth century did the military become dependent on modern science, when mechanisation was the order of the day, and we had to wait for the latter half of
Perhaps the most obvious example is gunpowder (a combination of saltpetre, carbon and sulphur) which has seen a history as mixed as its composition. Originally discovered during the ninth century in China, its alchemist inventors were seeking, rather ironically, the elixir of life. Quite quickly, the offensive potential of this innocuous-looking black powder was realised, and the first bombs were born. Yet it was not until the medieval Arab chemists got hold of the substance
the nation from imported Chile saltpetre, required for ammonium nitrate, a mandatory ingredient in explosives. Historians have suggested that without this process, the war would have ended two years early. Haber was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1918. In modern times, the Haber process is still being used, which is probably why your Chemistry teacher seemed to think it was so important! However, explosives are not the end result of ammonia these days, but rather nitrates and urea for fertilisers, as well as household products such as bleach and dyes. Weather prediction hardly seems extremely important to us in modern times. Usually, that short slot after the news is a time when we switch off. However, the development of aeroplanes and the deployment of poison gas made meteorology an incredibly important area. Weather information was always in demand. It is for this reason that French science was directed to this end in the latter war years, even poaching scientists from every discipline and retraining them as field weathermen! You now know who to blame next time you get drenched because you were told it would be sunny… The treatment of the soldiers with facial injuries is what produced many of the modern methods of plastic surgery, mainly as a result of the work of Sir Harold Gillies, an ear, nose and throat specialist from New Zealand. Archibald MacIndoe, his student and cousin, went on to continue his work on burns victims in the Second World War, and founded the famous Guinea-Pig Club for his patients. Hollywood would not be the same without their work.
humble SONAR and RADAR are easily overlooked. However, it was the invisible, increasing threat of aeroplanes, submarines, and indeed rockets that provided the pressure for these inventions to be developed. Sparked by the Titanic tragedy of 1912, research into echolocation continued through the First World War, and British ASDIC devices were active at this time. However, the onset of increased submarine use and the deployment of mines and depth charges in the Second World War led to very sophisticated systems being implemented. Today, RADAR saves lives all the time as the basis of air traffic control systems.
THE WAR THAT WASN’T
Perhaps rather ironically, the Cold War is where most modern advances were made. The American military was the largest benefactor of universities, and nuclear technology could come out in the open. An indirect result of this polarisation of scientific endeavour towards martial purposeswas that the biological sciences gained many more adepts, being seen as a discipline where philanthropic scientists could work without military interference. A more direct example of the Cold War’s influence on research was its sway in the development of computing, which has subsequently changed the face of our society and the way things are done. Most of us could not imagine not having our computers, whether to write essays, or – ahem – check Facebook. But it was Cold War tensions that caused a race not only in arms, but also in computing power. Faster, more powerful machines were needed to control weapons and to break ever more elaborate codes. The effects have also been rather wide-ranging, as the infiltration of computers into everyday life has been key to the birth of many new ways of thinking about the world, particularly the increased application of numerical approaches to complex problems, and in the human mind, intangible a concept as it is, being compared to a computer. This, in turn, has directed much of modern cognitive science and psychology.
the telescope, Galileo greatly improved its design, and when presenting it to de Medici’s court, he pitched it as having military potential. The telescope would have settled Galileo for life with a doubled salary at the University of Padua, had he not gone on to become rather controversial regarding the Solar System.
THE CHEMISTS’ WAR
Today, the chemical sector is the largest contributor to the UK’s economy. In the EU as a whole, there are a massive 60,000 companies contributing two-third of the Union’s trade surplus. Britain is also heavily reliant on agriculture. The industrial synthetic process for ammonia manufacture, the Haber Process, is what fuses these two facets of our economy. ‘The Chemists’ War’ is a phrase coined by historians to describe the First World War. A little investigation makes the reasons obvious: in the stalemate that was trench warfare, long-range explosives and poison gas were seen as the technologies that would break the tie. But perhaps more fundamental than the weapons on the field is what keeps a nation ticking over under the pressures of conflict. This method of ammonia production was first developed by Fritz Haber in Germany prior to the First World War, but then became extensively used during the war years as blockades were isolating
THE PHYSICISTS’ WAR
The Manhattan Project and the pervasive use of rockets are responsible for this caption being applied to the Second World War. Faced with the dramatics of the development of these weapons, the
Many consider the monotone voice emanating from their car’s satellite navigation system a curse rather than a blessing, but undeniably these gadgets have been a great help to many, not least of all to professional drivers. The ‘satellite navigation’ referred to in their title is in fact the American Global Positioning System (GPS), a mongrel technology inspired in the Second World War, shown to be possible by the Soviets in the Cold War, and finally realised by the US Navy. It was the GEE system (LORAN in the US) used by the RAF and its sister, Decca, used by the Allied Navies, that were the precursors for GPS. However, rather than being satellite-based, these systems were fixed to the ground and used lowfrequency radio to determine positions. With the launch of Sputnik 1 by the Soviets on 4 October 1957, it was shown to be possible that a more accurate, more widely available version of global positioning would be possible. With this in mind, the US Navy researched and finally produced the first GPS, named Transit, and tested it in 1960.
Some good examples arise from medieval history. Firstly, gunpowder was discovered accidentally through peaceful research. Some might argue that it might have been discarded had someone not seen marketable potential as a weapon, resulting in widespread use and someone spotting entertainment value in the powder. On the other hand, it is unlikely that this strange find would have been simply thrown away. Indeed, gunpowder’s explosive nature was recorded when it was originally discovered, increasing the likelihood that the substance was well publicised: ‘smoke and flames result, so that their hands and faces have been burnt.’ More difficult to say is what might have become of Galileo’s telescope. Had he not marketed it as a military instrument, might it just have been ignored? Again, this is unlikely. Galileo was not the only person working on the telescope, so even if he had not sealed the deal with his pitch in the medieval Dragons’ Den, it is probable that someone else would have. It is the case with so many of these inventions that the groundwork had already been carried out previous to the armed conflict to which they are attributed. The ancient Indians were carrying out reconstructive skin grafts 2700 years ago, research into the precursors of SONAR started with a civilian tragedy, and to be honest, we could all do without the quality of weather prediction we get today. All that war has achieved is to provide the pressure for people to stop messing about and get things done. This imperative pressure is a point that is being argued by recent historians. Take Paul Forman, who wrote an incendiary article on the matter in 1987. He proposed that military funding of science during the Cold War fundamentally changed the nature of its beneficiary endeavours, saying that there was ‘a qualitative change in its purposes and character.’ Forman’s point is that research was drawn away from exploring the fundamentals of academic science, particularly physics, and focussed into deriving new applications. In short, science was moved from academia to industry. Has this damaged the modern sciences? Again, here is a contentious issue: historians such as Daniel Kevles have attempted to demonstrate that if the military funding had been absent, the research it encouraged would have been absent rather than different, so all in all, we have made a net gain.
JUST AS LONG AS IT WORKS
If Forman is correct, then is a more industrial approach to scientific endeavour such a bad thing? Clearly we have gained a lot from this attitude, so why not adopt it permanently, rather than when we need to? Once more, we hit a seemingly endless debate, this time amongst philosophers of science. Idealists claim that it is the scientists’ calling to truly understand the world, while others point out that we can never know for sure that what we think we know is true, so we may as well give up. Both points of view have their merits. On the one hand, even if we can never truly understand our universe, we can come up with some pretty handy models for predicting it; on the other hand, it is only the applications of science that are of any benefit to society as a whole. But then again, surely the nature of peace is that we are able, free from the pressures of conflict, to intellectually indulge ourselves in academia or industry, as we like? It is clear that war science is efficient, useful, focussed, and resourceful. And to that end, it has been beneficial, especially since the dust has settled and technology is now readily shared between friends who were once enemies. But these spoils of war have come at a large cost. In this age of supposed enlightenment, we can recognise what makes good science and what is required, and innovation is now produced in reaction to social rather than military pressures. Your great-greatgreat-great-great-grandfather might only have carried out the first skin graft because he had to, but now we’re doing face transplants because we want to.
Words by Eachan Johnson Art by Clare Hobday
THE COST OF PROGRESS
Clearly there are many things that have come out of armed conflict that have shaped our world today, and it is unlikely that what we now take for granted would have been the same without it. The inventions and discoveries mentioned above have, to a greater or lesser extent, improved our understanding HA of the world, augmented our BE RP RO quality of life, and helped CE save people. Yet they SS have come at a great price. A necessary question follows: is war essential for advancing in the lab as well as on the front? The answer is, irrefutably, ‘no’. Doubtless, the scuffles and skirmishes of our early ancestors drove scientific development in a Darwinist survival of the fittest environment, but in the modern world, while war has certainly sped up certain advances, not all wars have produced significant scientific contributions, so these conflicts, if intended to serve as catalysts for technological progress, would seem to be a waste of time and more crucially life. Furthermore, it cannot be said that benign discoveries that do have their roots in conflict were not made without a corresponding new method of war, and more importantly that the beneficial inventions would not have been made without military influence.
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hen Heinz introduced their new squeezable ketchup bottles in 1987, millions of people round the world breathed a sigh of relief that one of life’s great mysteries was finally resolved. The Great Ketchup Mystery had troubled even top physicists, leaving them resorting to experiments in space in an attempt to understand the phenomenon. Coming to the rescue, Bang! attempts to dislodge some of the Physics from the old ketchup bottles. We’ve all been there, sitting in a restaurant trying to make your burger ever more tantalising by adding the perfect size dollop of ketchup. You shake the bottle and barely anything comes out. So you shake a bit more and suddenly a tidal wave of ketchup sweeps over your burger, engulfing the surrounding chips as well. Why is it that every time you try to pour ketchup it always behaves in such an unpredictable manner, instantaneously transforming from a thick unmoveable gloop into a runny liquid? Ketchup, like many other common liquids including whipped cream, blood and nail polish, is actually a complex fluid that exhibits the property of shear thinning. One minute as thick as treacle, they can suddenly become as thin as water when stirred or shaken. Paint is another example – have you ever considered why one minute it’s viscous enough to flow from a stroked brush but in an instant is so thick that it doesn’t drip down the wall?
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very high and low shear rates, such fluids will exhibit Newtonian behaviour and have approximately constant viscosities. So how does this relate to shaking ketchup out of the bottle? Well, when you shake the bottle, the agitation causes a shear force to be applied to the ketchup, resulting in a sudden change in viscosity. The sauce abruptly transforms from a thick gloop to a thin fluid, allowing it to flow more easily and causing it to gush from the glass bottle and pour onto your plate. Obviously before you shook it, the ketchup had been in a state of rest for a comparatively long time, allowing it to take on a thicker gel-like state which obstructed the neck of the bottle. This leads to the second problem - the blockage of air-flow into the bottle by the ketchup in the neck. In order to pour a fluid, the substance in question must be displaced by something else, for example air. Thinner liquids, like water, have a much lower static shear strength and can easily be displaced by air to form a small entrance channel into the bottle, making them easier to pour. With thicker fluids such as ketchup the air cannot easily get through the container’s opening, making it harder to serve.
than 45° and tap repeatedly on the lower surface of the bottle’s neck (the circular “57” label is a good aiming point) with the heel of your right hand. The force from the taps should liquefy some of the sauce and manoeuvre it sufficiently to allow air to enter and displace the ketchup coming out.
The Horizontal Bop
Leave the cap on the bottle and, holding it vertically, strike the bottom against the palm of your other hand. Remove the lid and rotate the bottle through just over 90°, then wiggle the bottle neck side-to-side (in a plane parallel to the table). The sideways forces generated cause shear thinning and should help the ketchup flow easier from the bottle.
The Sole Shake
With the cap on, shake the bottle a few times to induce shear-thinning, then remove the cap and rotate the open end of the bottle downwards just past the horizontal allowing the sauce to flow out gently. Holding the closed bottle by the neck, as though it’s an extension of your forearm, swing your arm a few times as though it were a pendulum. Stop swinging, open the bottle and pour!
The Western Swing
So is there anyway to avoid your ketchup splattering everywhere without breaking the laws of physics? Yes, providing you overcome either the ketchup’s static shear strength or the air blockage. Following Bang!’s simple instructions you too can deliver the perfect amount of sauce to your meal from a glass ketchup bottle:
WHAT IS SHEAR-THINNING?
Water and most gases are Newtonian fluids, displaying a linear relationship between their shear stress and shear rate at a given temperature. However, fluids with a high molecular weight or ones containing fine particles are often non-Newtonian and instead of this linear relationship they exhibit one which changes over time. Fluids are classified as shear thinning when their viscosity decreases with increasing shear rate. However, at both
Stress = Force per unit area
The Bump Method
Remove the cap and hold the bottle in your left hand horizontally (ie. parallel to the table). Rotate through just less
Shear str ess measure = The of a material’ s tendenc slide over y to stress is p itself when arallel to it’s face Shear ra t rate of c e = T he hange o f velocity as layer mo one fluid ves ov another er
Words by Chloé Sharrocks Art by Sean McMahon
DE TO THE O
Radiating light, giving life; our nearest star has inspired poetry, songs, art ...and human sacrifice
o-one likes having their heart ripped out before breakfast. For the Aztecs, though, it was a daily occurrence - a messy human sacrifice for the sun god Huitzilopochtli, just to be sure that he’d make the sun rise again. A little on the irrational side you might say, but the Sun has always held a special place in human culture.
earth – and so these nuclear reactions are happening all the time, giving the sun a total output power of about 4026W . The bad news is that eventually the fuel will run out. Astrophysicists estimate the sun is about 5 billion years old and that, given its mass, composition and output power, it should continue hydrogen burning for another 5 billion years. After the hydrogen fusion ceases the two processes that are responsible for balancing the gravitational collapse of the star, radiation pressure and gas pressure, will cease, and, like a deflating balloon, the star will begin to collapse under gravity, mirroring the process that gave birth to it.
clouds cause parts of the cloud to come together. Over millennia these parts are thought to form planets and satellites, in much the same way the original cloud collapsed to form the sun. As Joni Mitchell once sang, we are stardust. It’s difficult to believe, but every single atom in our bodies, in everything around us (apart from hydrogen and helium) was once manufactured by the nuclear reactions in a star. So not only do we owe the sun for our continued survival and pleasant holidays, we owe its long lost brothers and sisters for the very atoms that make up our planet. Whether this would have be a comfort to those Aztecs who got a close-up of their own still-beating hearts is another question.
Equating it with God is perhaps understandable – the Sun is the original lifegiver, creating for our species the conditions needed for life to develop, as well as keeping us warm and fed for millions of years. And for all their wacky human sacrifices and general bloodlust the Aztecs were smart enough to realise that without the sun they’d be totally screwed. Yet there is nothing particularly mysterious or even special about the Sun. It is but a typical yellow star, a third generation ‘main sequence’ star. Stars form when clouds of matter collapse under gravity, heating up due to the conversion of gravitational potential energy to thermal energy. Eventually the star heats up to such a temperature that it is hot enough to undergo nuclear fusion in its core. This process releases vast amounts of energy. Hydrogen fusion is the process that fuels the main sequence stars and basically involves the conversion of mass into energy described by Einstein’s famous equation E=mcsqd. Under the high temperatures (about 20million Kelvin) and pressures in the core of a star the repulsive force between two protons can be overcome and the protons ‘fuse’ into a helium nucleus. However, the mass of the latter is less than the mass of the former, and this mass-deficit is actually converted into energy via the above equation. Of course the sun is absolutely huge - it has a mass of about 2030 kg, several hundred thousand times greater than the
“The bad news is that eventually the fuel will run out.”
The temperature of the star increases up to a critical value, only this time it is the required temperature for hydrogen fusion to occur in the outer core. This new fusing layer causes the star to expand and increase its luminosity tremendously – it becomes a red giant. When the sun morphs into a red giant it will grow large enough to engulf the orbit of Mercury, though not quite making it as far as Venus. Its increased power output will make earth not a fun place to be. The Sun will spend about 10% of its lifetime in this stage before eventually running out of fuel again and will eventually give up and shed its layers. All that will be left is a giant lump of white-hot matter, a ‘white dwarf ’, surrounded by a far-stretching nebula of cooling dust. But that’s not quite the end of the story. In a universe dominated by gravity, random variations in the density of dust
Words by Ricki Nabeshima Art by Sean McMahon
LoVe iN a Cold ClimAte? OxfoRd 2058 Climate?
Hurled headlong back through the corridors of time, Bang! discovers the diary of a student from the not-too-distant future...
10:16 Struggling into wakefulness, I peer blearily at the alarm atop my imitation wooden desk: 3am?! Brain-baffled, I squint through my mosquito net and out across the parched yellow grass of Keble quad – the blazing sun confounds me. Realisation hits: there must have been another early morning blackout. When is that fusion power plant going to go online? 10:24 I grab a French banana from the chill cupboard. I guess the reduction in air miles makes them popular, especially now that they come over by train through the Channel Tunnel. Bananas from Costa Rica are just too expensive because of the carbon tax, so I only buy them when they’re in season. 10:31 As always, Parks Road is chock full of traffic. As a scientist (and a bit of an anorak) I enjoy watching the cars and figuring out which propulsion method they’re using. Compressed air drives are the easiest – they make a muffled “thud, thud, thud” as air expands out of its canister. Then you’ve got the flywheel cars, which have been improving fast since we developed a decent nanomaterial for the wheels back in the ‘40s. The only problem is the strange feel when you turn corners. You still see a fair few hydrogen cars but they’re definitely on the decline. They had their heyday back in the 2030s. These days it’s all about Electrics. Electric cars are easier and cheaper to charge, and have a better range now that BP has installed inductive charge pads at most intersections and motorway slow lanes. 50 years ago I would have bought a Toyota, but these days they’re not worth an island in the South Pacific. You’d have thought they’d notice the green market after the success of Prius – these days even Oxford Entrepreneurs have jumped on the low carbon bandwagon. I guess Toyota put all of their money into R&D of hydrogen technologies and not enough into electrics. 10:34 The beauty of the Rad Cam square never ceases to amaze me. Apparently it looked even more exquisite before the twin towers of All Souls were destroyed in the hurricane of ‘31. Since then most of the University buildings have been re-enforced to cope with the extreme weather events that climate change is throwing at us these days. 10:36 I’m in the Rad Cam looking for an old book on atmospheric physics. I’m trying to understand quite how climate scientists in the 00’s managed to ignore feedback mechanisms, which accelerate climate change. The 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report just about mentions them in its main body, but fails to include them in the executive summary (let’s face it, the only bit anyone reads!). As a result, policy makers didn’t start even thinking about feedbacks until the next report in 2012. By then it was too late, as a post-Kyoto framework had already been set in stone for the next decade or so. If the IPCC had included feedbacks in their executive summary in 2007 we might well be in an entirely different situation today - for one, I might be able to read my books off of paper! 13:07 Whatever the era, every student knows the best cure for a wasted morning: lunch, preferably with a friend. Hence to the parks, with a chance to clear my head among the fabulous diversity of flora and fauna that live here. An African bluebird flies overhead while Eva and I wander through the park looking for a place to sit. Our path is lined with palm trees, rubber plants and even the odd tree orchid. Eva scans the ground for poisonous insects while I get the lunch out. “I can’t believe that they quarantined LA!” exclaims Eva, “I have a ticket
booked there this summer, and now I’m not even going to be allowed to go. Whoever messed up those GMO experiments had better get in a lot of trouble!” LA is a hot topic at the moment because of a lab there that designed a genetically modified organism (GMO) that can extract CO2 from the atmosphere. They were doing field trials in algae pools when people realised that the organisms were spreading in the air and weakening the immune systems of anyone that breathed them in. The algae, which had been designed to breed rapidly, started reproducing inside people’s lungs and then spreading further whenever they coughed. As a result LA and the surrounding area has been quarantined until further notice. “Don’t worry Eva, I’m sure there’ll be a lot of people in plenty of trouble because of this”, I smile sympathetically through my sandwich. 15:06 Eva and I decide that it is too hot to work this afternoon, so head out on a walk instead. Beyond the high bridge at the bottom of Uni Parks we explore a beautiful vineyard, beyond which lies an equally enchanting olive grove. 16:47 During our trek down Marston Road we pass a factory that is making enormous turbines for use in the Atlantic Ocean. In Scotland they’re used to harness the powerful tidal currents that speed through narrow gaps between the isles. In 2009 the EU started construction on a large-scale project of this type with 100 turbines in the Straits of Messina, between Italy and Sicily. To this day the tidal current project produces a large fraction of
Sicily’s power. However, the majority of turbines produced in the Marston Road factory are used for an even more interesting project – driving the ocean conveyor belt, or thermohaline circulation system (THC) as it is technically known. Between 1992 and 2005 the Gulf Stream – the most famous leg of the THC – slowed 30%. In the past 50 years it has slowed another 60%. This turbine factory is part of a global effort to resuscitate the Gulf Stream. We are attempting a planetary heart transplant. The idea is to place arrays of these turbines on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean to help keep the deep-water currents flowing. The idea may seem a little far-fetched, but desperate times call for desperate measures. The governments of today spend several trillion Euros a year tackling climate change. 17:34 We take a quick shortcut, which brings us out in South Parks. Below us, the famous Oxford skyline is just visible through the city smog. The surrounding hills are peppered with wind turbines – there seem to be more every time I come up here. All of a sudden the sky turns an ominous grey as clouds move in to obscure the sun. The temperature drops rapidly. “We should hurry back,” I say to Eva, “I think it’s going to rain.” 17:58 Icy cold water runs down my head as Eva and I rush to find shelter. The rain quickly turns to hail. We finally reach a coffee shop as pea-sized chunks of hail scatter around us. “It had better stop soon, I really don’t want our house to flood again,” Eva exclaims. A man with a long American drawl serves us. “He’s probably a Texan refugee,” whis-
pers Eva. “I guess he’s here because of the twister problem.” Texas has been hit hard by climate change. The almost daily tornadoes that tear up the landscape have made the area largely uninhabitable, particularly along the coastal regions. 18:23 An Asian man clears away our empty mugs. I think he may also be climate refugee, this time from Bangladesh. In ’48 the world witnessed the heart-wrenching destruction of half of a country. The Bangladeshi monsoon season has been getting shorter and shorter, giving rise to the double-whammy of more intense floods and longer periods of drought. In ’48 a particularly bad flood struck at the same time as a strong cyclone, leaving the country in ruin. Tens of millions of climate refugees flooded into neighbouring countries and beyond. 19:04 Pulling on my gown as I enter hall, a few friends and I buy a bottle of local Oxonian wine. It isn’t as good as the French stuff, but vineyards here are still maturing. Keble proves, yet again, that it is stuck in its ways by serving us cabbage. They claim the vegetable is typically English, despite the fact that it doesn’t even grow in this country any more! Thank goodness for alcohol…! 11:23 Tottering upstairs in the heavy humidity of the late evening, I fumble my room key while hiccupping “G’night.” The merriment of dinner puts me in serious danger of tearing my mosquito net! I fall asleep considering how I would have governed the planet to safety all those years ago… Perhaps with Eva at my side… Ahem. Yes…
Words by Niel Bowerman Art by David Abelman
What is the Thermohaline Circulation System? The THC is the highway that transports heat and water around our planet. Just like our blood stream, every circulatory system requires a heart, and the heart of the THC lies Northwest of the UK, off the coast of Greenland. Warmer surface waters travel northwards in the Gulf Stream until they reach the heart of the THC, the North Atlantic Sink, where the salty Gulf Stream cools. From here the water in the THC doubles back on itself and travels towards the equator in deep water currents, driving the ocean conveyor belt.
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he world around us is changing. In order to survive, an organism of any species must adapt to its environment. As humans, what sets us apart from most other species is our intelligence and with it our ability to adapt to the environment in which we find ourselves far faster than the rate of physical evolution would permit. In the past we have used the world around us, making tools, clothing and shelter, but in recent years huge advances in medicine and technology mean we are on the brink of a whole new level of adaptation, being able to manipulate ourselves – body and mind… As computers become more and more sophisticated we are becoming more reliant upon them. Paying with your credit card, checking your emails, watching a DVD, setting a digital alarm clock - all these basic daily tasks involve interaction with technology. Surely to truly adapt to this brave new world humans must synergise with their computers. With rapid developments in the field of cybernetics this may be possible sooner than you think. Humans aready have controlled computer cursors, played computer games and moved a robotic arm by the brain power alone, via ‘mind-reading’ electrodes. So go on, evolve. Plug yourself in. Become a cyborg.
meet homo sapiens 2.0
artificial hip is in fact a cyborg.
A more recent innovation which is growing in use today is the Cochlear Implant. These can partially restore hearing in individuals with profound sensorineural deafness, a condition usually caused by damage to the hair cells within the inner ear. Normally these hair cells convert sound vibrations into neural signals which are interpreted by the brain. In contrast to hearing aids that simply amplify sound, cochlear implants functionally replace the hair cells by directly stimulating the auditory nerve in response to sound. Currently these signals can only approximately mimic the complex actions of the hair cells but the brain shows remarkable plasticity and many patients quickly relearn to recognise sounds.
DEEP BRAIN STIMULATION
Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) is another widespread form of electronic brain implants. DBS involves the permanent implantation of stimulating electrodes into specific brain regions. These are connected to an “Implantable Pulse Generator” (akin to a pacemaker) which is implanted under the skin of the shoulder. DBS is most commonly used as a treatment for Parkinson’s Disease, a progressive neurodegenerative condition associated with difficulty converting the intention to move into action. In these patients stimulation is usually applied to the subthalamic nucleus, a brain region whose activity is deregulated by the disease process. Although the response varies between individuals, DBS has been shown to markedly reduce the motor deficits in many Parkinson’s sufferers, even those resistant to drug based treatments, drastically improving their quality of life.
CYBORGS AMONG US
Perhaps you have not realised this but there are already hundreds of thousands of cyborgs walking around the streets of Britain, possibly even one or two are reading this very article... If we define a “cyborg” as a self-regulating integration of artificial and natural systems you will realize that even your granny with an
An RFID (Radiofrequency identification) chip is a silicon chip stored in a biocompatible glass capsule, implanted beneath the skin of the user. The chip is encoded with a unique identification number, which can be read by handheld scanners (like a barcode) and is used to confirm the identity of the user. These devices are already widely used in animals enabling identification and return of lost pets. Now this technology is making the transition to humans… In order to prevent identification theft the RFID chip number is encrypted and can only be read by authorised scanners. Additionally the identification number is meaningless unless linked to databases containing personal profiles. Confident with such security measures, many US corporations are already ‘chipping’ their employees, to give them access to secure areas and sensitive information. However, as highlighted by a recent security breach at the Child Benefit Agency, it is not inconceivable that criminals could gain access to data bases and the identification numbers that they contain, produce counterfeit chips and impersonate the true user – effectively stealing your life. RFID chips have the potential to save many lives by acting as electronic medicalert bracelets. In emergency medical situations in which the patient’s identity is unknown there is a real danger that allergies or underlying medical conditions could be missed. RFID chips could provide a fast means of identification and access to the patient’s detailed medical records, and have already proved efficacious in this capacity. This technology could also be used to fulfil the increased demand for locating missing children. For example, if future RFID chips can communicate directly with the GPS network and provide a discrete, non-removable alternative to the current external tracking devices. Advanced RFID chips are also under development by the US military. The “BioChip” contains sophisticated biological sensors and was originally designed to be implanted into the heads of wounded soldiers to monitor brain lactate and glucose levels as an indication of the degree of head trauma suffered. However, technical advances have now led to the possibility that BioChips could be fitted to all service personnel for long-term monitoring. This technology has implications for the civilian population by enabling non-invasive monitoring of chronic conditions, such
as diabetes, providing an early-warning of abnormal internal conditions. BioChips are still five years away from human trials but, if successful, could be rolled out as a compulsory military implant in the near future.
Kevin Warwick a.k.a “Captain Cyborg” is Professor of Cybernetics at Reading University and a world expert in the field. We asked him about his views in the field of cybernetics… Where do you see the field progressing in the future? In the next 5 years we’ll see this sort of technology used to help people who are paralysed switch on lights and drive their car. In 50 years, though, we have the potential threat of superintelligent machines capable of making their own decisions. Upgrading to become Cyborgs is perhaps humanity’s only option. What developments would you like to see happen in the future? The main development that drives me is in terms of communication. We have already achieved telegraphic communication between the nervous systems of two humans. What I would like to bring about is telegraphic communication between two human brains. What was it like to be a cyborg? It was tremendously exciting to be a Cyborg. The first time (when implanted with an RFID chip) I was able to open doors and switch on lights just by moving around. The second time (when implanted with the stimulating/recording electrode array) was much more important as I controlled a robot hand from a different continent, (and experienced) telegraphic nervous system communication. Is there any reason to fear the creation of cyborgs? To me upgrading into Cyborgs appears to be a natural step. For some though the possibility of human enhancement is not one they wish to recognise – clearly some religious groups fall into this category. Even for some people interested in technology, what I am doing pushes the boundaries.
CYBORGS OF THE FUTURE
Similar to Cochlear implants, retinal implants aim to restore vision to patients suffering from retinal degeneration. Retinal implants, connected to a camera, mimic the activity of the photoreceptors of the eye by converting light signals into electrical stimulation of the optic nerve leading to the brain. Research into retinal implants is in the advanced stages and preliminary human trials have proved successful.
The aim of a prosthetic limb is to replicate the functions of the biological limb as closely as possible. The ultimate goal of the prosthetics field is to enable the patient to move the device using thought alone. While this may seem like wishful thinking, it may be not that far off… In 2003 experiments showed that monkeys with electrode arrays implanted directly into the motor cortex of their brain were able to control a robotic arm simply by thinking. Initially the monkeys were trained to control the robotic arm using a joystick, while the neuronal activity associated with the various types of movements was decoded. Subsequently the robotic arm was connected directly to the neuronal output and the joystick removed. At first the monkeys continued to physically move their arms, as if using an imaginary joy stick, however after a few days they appeared to realise this was superfluous and began to control the robotic arm by thought alone.
Words by Alice Blachford & Rachael Houlton Art by Sean McMahon
The Mozart Effect
t is a truth universally acknowledged that well-meaning parents in want of an intelligent child will play their unborn infant classical music, believing that something about the highbrow art of Mozart, Schubert and Bach will stimulate their offspring’s brain into doubling in size. This is one of the biggest psychological myths ever. Raising the IQ through classical music, or ‘The Mozart Effect’ as it has come to be known, was first employed 15 years ago, when psychologists found that undergraduates performed better on a spatial IQ test after they listened to Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos in D major than when they sat in silence. Repeating this experiment with the music of Bach and Schubert only reinforced this view. What the manufacturers of the “Baby Einstein: Baby Mozart” CDs don’t tell you though, is that this Mozart effect has been observed only with one particular spatial IQ test, not IQ in general. They also keep quiet about the fact that the effect has not been well reproduced in scientific literature. Also, as well as a Mozart, Bach and Schubert effect - a Blur effect has also been observed. Yes, that’s right. Blur. As in everyone’s favourite 90s Britpop band Blur. So can you use any type of music to enhance IQ? Some psychologists have argued that the Mozart effect is not anything to do with classical music being special, but simply that listening to music puts you in a good mood and optimises your arousal levels. Let’s face it, most undergraduates will not be that awake when they stumble into a psychology lab to do an IQ test at 10.00 in the morning, but play them some Blur and they soon will be. Sure enough, these researchers found that mood and arousal levels seemed to be the key link in the increase in performance on spatial IQ tests found in Mozart effect studies. People’s music preferences tend to vary widely. This is evident from the vociferous
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Art by Thu Phuong Nguyen Words by Charlotte Rae
complaints, and misguided might I say, that arise from my friends every time I try to play Radiohead at a party. People are affected in many different ways by music, and so your own favourite music is likely to be the most effective at putting you in an optimum mood and calming or uplifting you. One man’s Radiohead is another man’s 50 Cent. I arranged for some guinea-pigs (“participants”, if we’re being politically correct) to come to my lab to do the spatial IQ test used in all the other Mozart Effect studies. I also got them to bring along some music that they wanted to listen to. The only condition was that it had to make them feel calm & relaxed or uplifted & lively so that I could separate and investigate arousal effects. Meanwhile, other participants sat in silence or listened to Mozart.
preferred music effect that I had hoped to find, was simply not there. There also remains the mystery of why Mozart only improves performance on one particular spatial IQ test and does not raise IQ in general. Some have argued that spatial reasoning and music processing are both carried out by the right side of the brain, and so listening to the optimum music will prime the right hemisphere for spatial IQ tests. But once again this isn’t true. Both sides of the brain are involved in both of these functions, even if in some people (typically, left-handers) a few functions tend to be concentrated in the right hemisphere of the brain. Lets face facts; a lack of well-supported explanations and frequent failures to replicate the original experimental findings mean that, in reality, the Mozart effect doesn’t exist. Listening to classical music can do many things, but it doesn’t, seemingly, make you clever. Sadly. If it did, do you think I’d have revealed the psychologist’s ultimate secret for success to you in Bang!? No. I’d have developed a lucrative program for personal self-improvement through the medium of music, and be guaranteeing myself a 1st come June by walking to Exam Schools listening to Blur. Or Radiohead. But not Mozart.
The ea r
Those who listened to their favourite music, whether calming or uplifting, tended to perform best on the spatial IQ test, followed by those who listened to Mozart, and then those who sat in silence. However, the differences between the groups were, in reality, very small, and whilst participants in the ‘favourite music’ group showed the greatest changes in mood and arousal levels, this was not reponsible for the small difference in performance between the groups. In fact, whilst both favourite music groups performed the best, their arousal levels went in opposite directions, suggesting that it was not to blame for their good performance. The Mozart effect, or rather, the
When French paper merchant Joseph Mongolfier was sat watching campfire embers rising upwards in 1782, he wondered if the same force causing this “levity” could be used to transport humans through the air. Little did Mongolfier know that his scientific and technical ingenuity would later provide a perfect leisure activity for a plethora of bearded millionaires such as Richard Branson. However, the invention of hot air balloon was to be instrumental in the understanding of the way the body copes with oxygen at high altitude i.e.not all that well - as the early balloonists discovered to their peril. The effects of breathing air at altitude were first recorded during one of the earliest balloon flights which set off from Wolverhampton in 1862. Henry Coxwell, balloonist, and James Glaisier, a scientist had planned to ascend into the atmosphere to take meterological measurements. However, the consequences of their fated trip were to go down in history as one of the most stupid self-experiments to date, even though they didn’t set out to make themselves the subjects. They ascended very quickly and reached a height of 8850 metres after one hour (‘high altitude’ is generally accepted to
be anything above 3000m). Continuing to rise, Glaisier recorded that it was becoming more difficult to read his barometer and eventually lost his sight, voice and use of his limbs. His companion, also paralysed, was able eventually to bring the balloon under control using his teeth, enabling them to descend. By the time they had dropped to 8000m, they had both made a full recovery and luckily for science, lived to tell the tale. Glaisier and Coxwell had suffered from acute hypoxia, brought about by the effects of rapid ascent upon the body, mediated by a decreasing partial pressure of oxygen at altitude. As air density decreases with altitude, as does the atmospheric pressure which is determined by the weight of the air itself at a certain height. At sea level the air contains the same percentage of oxygen as it does at the top of Mount Everest but because of the decrease in barometric pressure at the top of Everest, the partial pressure of oxygen is reduced proportionately. Mountain climbers are only too aware of the signs of altitude sickness: tiredness, restless sleep, unsteadiness, dizziness, nausea, lack of appetite, breathlessness and later unconsciousness and death (caused by cerebral or pulmonary oedema). The only way to combat it is to descend and breathe in more oxygen-rich air. However, there are millions of people that live at high altitude over the world, and in 1978 Habelar and Messner proved
it was possible to climb Everest without supplementary oxygen. This is because humans can acclimatise themselves to survival at altitude by spending time at various heights before descending for a period, then ascending higher and descending again etc. training the body to increase the oxygencarrying capacity of the blood. In comparison, Glasier and Coxwell’s balloon rose to high altitude in a relatively short time, explaining their dramatic observations. Nowadays, we think nothing of getting into a metal tube (a younger cousin of the Mongolfier balloon) that transports us rapidly to altitudes greater than 10 000m and live to emerge at some faraway place only by the wonder of compressed air, which circulates in aeroplane cabins. Without this measure, or if the cabin were to rapidly depressurise as is a regular occurrence in Hollywood thrillers, everyone aboard would be dead within minutes.
air with you. The problem comes with the behaviour of air at pressure i.e. at depths underwater. The earliest divers (circa 16thC) jumped inside a church bell and launched themselves into the water. The air trapped within the bell kept the diver alive at depths of a few metres, but as Robert Boyle (1627-91) - Oxford scientist extraordinaire - discovered, the volume of a gas decreases directly proportional to the pressure upon it. The bell-divers of the 1500s soon discovered this and began feeding air through a hose fed by a pump at the surface. Eventually this evolved into an air-filled waterproof suit with a copper helmet. During the Industrial Revolution and the construction of the nation’s railway network ‘Caisson Sickness’ was a common complaint amongst labourers working in the deep concrete tubes, or ‘caissons’, that extended deep into the earth. These tubes were filled with compressed air to keep out the water. Although not understood at the time, it was recognised that upon ascending from a long day’s work men were found to suffer from itchy skin, pain in joints, headaches, nausea, paralysis of muscles causing ‘bent’ arms and legs, faintness and in the worst cases: loss of conciousness and death. Both of these conditions are what we now term ‘The Bends’. Under high pressures, gases in the air dissolve into our tissues and blood. If we ascend too quickly, this gas (mainly nitrogen) comes out of solution and form bubbles, causing blockages in blood vessels and tissues (Think opening a bottle of fizzy drink quickly). In the worst cases, bubbles in the brain cause paralysis and loss of conciousness. If we ascend slowly, however, it is possible to rid the body of the excess gas through normal respiration. This is why it is essential to ascend slowly after finishing a dive.
If God had meant for humans to float around underwater, he wouldn’t have given us lungs - that’s for sure. One thing we do know, though, is that one land-adapted organ never stopped the human race from pursuing ridiculous hobbies. Breathing is the easy part: you take your
Words by Eiluned Pearce & Frances Pearson Art by Sean McMahon
An essay’s due at nine o’clock tomorrow morning. It’s now midnight and you haven’t even started the reading. What are you gonna do? That’s right folks, you’re gonna down caffeine and ignore your damn bed. Although one night of fevered typing and no Zs might not have much effect beyond snoring in lectures and blank stares in tutes, prolonged sleep deprivation is more serious. In 1964 a 17-year-old in San Diego called Randy Gardner (stop laughing) managed to forego sleep for 11 days without the use of any stimulants. Pretty impressive, but not without side effects: Randy became moody, had problems with concentrating and short-term memory (hence our common difficulties in lectures and tutes…) as well as developing paranoia and hallucinations. For example, he believed he was winning the Rose Bowl and mistook a street sign for person. Having said that, Randy managed to give a press conference on day 11 without slurring or stumbling over his words, something most of us can’t manage most mornings.
Sadly, Randy didn’t even make the Guinness World Records because his record was beaten only a week later by another student, who in turn was beaten within the month by Toimi Soini (11.5 days) from Finland. However, Randy’s attempt remains the most famous, perhaps because it was supervised by a Stanford researcher who guarded against the occurrence of ‘microsleeps’, which would invalidate ‘total sleep deprivation’ but might not even be noticed by the participant. The notoriety of Randy as opposed individuals like Maureen Weston, who apparently completed an 18 day 7 hour rocking-chair contest in 1977, meant that in May 2007 Tony Wright (Cornwall) beat Randy’s record, only to learn that it had already been topped 43 years previously. Gutted. This mistake is pretty understandable. Soini’s record was removed from the Guinness records in 1989 because of the potential health hazards to future contenders. These include blurred vision, headaches, obesity, a weakened immune system and even depression and heart disease. Sleep deprivation can also have similar effects to being drunk – advanta-
geous for a cheap night out, but less good when coupled with driving. In fact people who drove after 17-19 hours without sleep were found to perform worse than those with a blood alcohol level of 0.05%, which is legal in the UK. Which is why weekends and holidays are purely for catch-up sleep, whatever your tutors think.
It’s pretty o bv i o u s that we need food to survive, but humans can go without any food for several weeks and onger if intake is limited. The less food there is available, the more the body has to eat into its stores of fat and eventually muscle. The subsequent severe weight loss may be coupled with diseases caused by vitamin deficiencies: anaemia (lack
of iron), scurvy (insufficient vitamin C), beriberi (insufficient thiamine) or pellagra (lack of vitamin B3 and proteins, especially those containing the amino acid tryptophan). Collectively, these diseases can lead to diarrhoea, which would exacerbate nutrient deficiency and even cause heart failure. With effects like these it seems inconceivable that anyone would purposefully starve themselves. However, people who suffer from anorexia nervosa (AN) do just that. Paradoxically, it has been suggested that AN is a side-effect of an adaptation to cope with famine. Whilst most individuals in a food-deprived population would experience lethargy, a minority would find themselves motivated to be extremely active – AN suffers are often hyperactive and starved rats will literally run themselves to death. These ‘famine-adapted’ individuals would be able to travel to find food resources for the rest of the group and would thus gain popularity. It’s argued that women are more predisposed to showing the ‘famine response’, and thus develop AN, because they could travel more easily in our ancestral environments without being attacked by foreigners.
Even under semi-starvation conditions there can be dramatic effects. For example, the 1944-1946 Minnesota Starvation-Rehabilitation Experiment found that previously healthy young men fed on a diet containing 1,570 calories/day (as opposed to a prior control condition of 3,492) experienced tiredness, muscle soreness, irritability, apathy, sensitivity to noise and hunger pain. The participants also scored higher on measures of hypochondria, depression, and hysteria. Marked decreases in libido and desire for activity in general presumably reflected the fact that all available energy was being channeled into essential organs such as the heart. The participants noticed great changes in each others’ personalities during semi-starvation, perhaps as a result of altered brain function. The experiment seems to have had long-term effects, with participants’ own estimates of recovery time ranging from two months to two years. Also, many participants a rebound effect: they overate and put on lots of weight after the experiment was over.
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Prefer lectures to labs? Science journalism might be for you.
re you one of those scientists who feel happier talking up their research over a coffee than sitting at the bench and squeezing pipettes? Maybe science journalism is for you. This presently much-hyped career path was the one taken by Kerri Smith after reading Human Sciences and then an MSc in Neuroscience at Oxford. Now she is a Podcast Editor for Nature Magazine.
Kerri started on the Nature Podcast when it was re-launched in September 2007; it now racks up 40,000 downloads each week. As she explains, the people at Nature were pleasantly surprised by the audience that tuned in, which included thousands of graduate students. “I guess I was surprised that they were surprised. I mean, how many fifty yearold lab heads own an ipod?” When I visited Kerri at Nature HQ, which fills a converted factory building just a stone’s throw from King’s Cross Station, she was preparing for a telephone interview. In a small sound studio she briefs Dr David Featherstone, from the University of Illinois, on where to pitch his answers: “What we usually tell people is to imagine they’re explaining the work to their grandma.” Twenty-five minutes later, Kerri is hopeful that there will be enough accessible material to make a five-minute segment. She is well aware of the strategies available for turning coalface research into good journalism. “Glial cells are really exciting if you’re a glial cell biologist, but we want to know more about the gay flies!” she quips in a slightly self-mocking way. Asked whose work she admires, Kerri cites the former Guardian writer Tim Radford, an acknowledged expert at sneaking science journalism ‘through the back door’. “If you say, ‘Here is an article about science – read it and your life will be better,’ then they probably won’t. I think people are quite scared of it, for no particularly good reason.” And there lies the role of the science journalist. “If there are people around who can digest it for them and make it less scary, then I think that’s quite important.”
The trepidation cuts both ways, and many scientists are notoriously media shy. But podcasts provide access to one aspect of science that rarely leaves the lab: personality. Kerri had never worked in radio or podcasting before Nature and she is already a fan of the medium. Her interview with Mike Rout, whose team of biologists spent some ten years solving the structure of the nuclear pore complex, left an impression. “I said, ‘Wow, you must be so relieved,’ and he just laughed this slightly manic, hysterical but really happy laugh that said, ‘Yeah, we’ve finally cracked it.’ ...It’s nice to have that on tape.” And is she getting used to the sound of her own voice? “Mmm, surprisingly! I think I’m getting posher though; I’m a bit scared of that. Radio 4, here I come!” Linguistic drift aside, it’s all starting to sound a bit like a dream job. Kerri hears about all the best science, she travels to conferences and works in a cool office. Is there a downside? “I sometimes feel it might be fun to work somewhere where you could run with things a little bit more and be a bit off-the-wall. But it’s incredibly varied anyway, which is great if you get bored easily, like me and lots of the people I knew at Oxford!” It is no surprise, then, that ‘SciComm’ has become something of a buzzword among science graduates. “I think being confronted, when you come out of a sci-
ence degree, with ‘PhD or the real world’ is a bit scary,” Kerri explains. Science journalism makes a good halfway house if you are still more interested in your subject than management consultancy. Yet it remains a rather nebulous career description and Kerri acknowledges that there are no obvious steps to success. Although she took an MSc in science communication at Imperial College, her advice is simply to get published. While still at Oxford, Kerri had written for student newspapers and also won the 2005 New Scientist essay competition, which landed her a two-week placement at the magazine. “If you’re published,” she says, “then you can show people what you’ve done.” What next for our happy podcaster – writing for the Guardian like Radford? “Yes, maybe. That’s one direction I could take. Although Nature does seem to trap people; they often stay here for, you know, a long time! I guess that says good things about the company.” Kerri’s job might not have the price tag that dangles from many of the others colonised by Oxford graduates in central London, but you can see the attraction. Finally, a career for the cappuccino scientist!
To check out some of Kerri’s podcasts – including the one about the gay flies – go to www.nature.com/ podcast/index.html Art by Sean McMahon Words by Joe Bloggs
All Creatures great & SMALL
Breeding midget animals, or as the more politically correct in the business would call them, miniature animals, is not what you’d call an average career choice. But as breeding becomes less and less about food productivity and more about pleasing people’s odd pet penchants (think Paris Hilton doggythat-can-fit-in-a-bag) it is an expanding industry. But cutesy or creepy little dogs are nothing compared to the mini llamas that can change hands for $6,500, and the midget zebras who fetch as much as a small family car. Breeding midgets is not as easy as it may seem. Midgetism can be caused by a range of diseases, many of which are, unfortunately for breeders, not hereditary. Whilst mating the smallest with the smallest is a straight road to smalldom in some naturally small species, like the pygmy goat, in rarely bred species the midget versions tend to die out in the wild, leading some to claim that they no longer exist. This, I am pleased to reassure you, is not true. Send the small sum of $3000 via PayPal to Roger in Jonosboro, Louisanna and your back garden could soon be a veritable zebra playground. That is if you get to the top of the waiting list. His messageboard is full of the wails of disappointed customers, from the classic, “I’ve always wanted a little zebra,” to the rather disconcerting, “I’m interested in breeding zebras to horses in the near future.” Mr and Mrs Bolt from Tanglewood Farm also sell midget animals. They got into the business because o f their farming background, “We started our farm in Georgia in 1993. We were one of the first to bring in many of the different breeds and were able to purchase some of the first foundation stock. I personally am from Nebraska and my dad’s family were farmers and as a child we had a farm and to continue the memory and my heritage (in a mini way).” They prefer miniature animals because the tiny miracles take up less space, “They are easier to manage. They are ideal for the family that wants to experience family life but do not have the space. And they are so adorable.” In fact, Mrs Bolt believes they could be the answer to the growing human population, “It’s definitely an expanding [sic] business. Especially since we are running out of large tracts of land and the fact that minis require less food, too.” Despite their small stature, miniature animals can be farmed for their produce, “For example, miniature Jersey Cows are a sound economic investment. They produce up to four gallons of milk daily and yield higher quality marketable beef. With the emphasis on health related diets to eat smaller servings of meat, the consumer can enjoy smaller cuts of beef with more marbling and less fat.” It is actually frowned upon in midget breeding circles to benefit from actual dwarfism, which is most commonly achondroplasia. It produces markedly short limbs, increased spinal curvature, and distortion of skull growth, which violate the prized ‘normal’ proportions. Dwarfism can also cause serious breathing and mobility problems. But as it does appear in miniature horse and cattle breeds if their parents have dwarf genes, it may have some influence in the breeding process. The cheapest miniature animals available at Tanglewood Farms are some manky-looking manx cats for a mere $225, but to really impress the neighbours you are looking at $5,000 and above, with the top price of $7,500 going for Ghost Blue Mist, a grey and white pinto mare with a “royal attitude”. Extras, of course, cost extra, including $150 extra if you want your animal to have been bottle fed, or $50 for each blue eye on your midget pig. If you are not of sufficient means to procure a midget animal right now, or think the college authorities would not be best pleased with you grazing one in the quad, worry not! Across the world new midget animal kingdoms are springing up. Why not “See them, pat them, and you will love them!” at Crystal Creek Miniatures in Murwillumbah, Australia? Or hold your birthday party at the Miniature Pony Centre in Dartmoor, Devon? Sadly England, always behind the times, is not yet a centre of excellence in midget breeding. Yes we have Shetland ponies, and pygmy goats, and you can even go to the Miniature Pony Centre in Dartmoor, Devon, but it’s not quite the same. So why not go forth and midgetize, forget investment banking and put that science degree to good use.
Words by Hannah Kuchler Art by David Abelman
THE GAME OF L IFE!
the continuing adventures of an
Oxford science graduate
or the intrepid scientist there are many routes out of Oxford. Whilst your degree may be a cosy and comforting place to be, sadly you will soon be forced into the cold, dark world of real life. What lies in store? Some will no doubt be packing their bags and heading to the City lured by the cushy pay and fancy suits of the corporate lifestyle. An equally well-trodden path lies in wait for others: Mr Engineer, Dr Medicine and Ms Researcher, please move forward four spaces. Some, however, take a different approach, preferring to pack light and hoping that the dice are in their favour – welcome to the career path of a Science Entrepreneur. Embarking on this path is not always easy, it’s unstructured and there are few safety nets. The big up-side, though, is the chance to work on projects that actually interest you and to achieve your own goals rather than those of a faceless corporation. Plus, there’s always the glimmer of the chance that you’ll hit on something really big, allowing you to reach that pot of gold and escape the rat race. tion, nto ac So you think you might want to work on a start-up? Never fear, ideas i e if it our ts. tting y degre University is a great chance to prepare: Projecriment with pu hatch of your nd sa e e to exp e escap ocietie ubs, S is a great timen always use th Cl ca rsity e - you Unive isk fre ’s r and it ut. work o oesn’t d
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fr ful Don’t be a ing and use eet interest t Oxford and m our time a meet people – y rtunity to rime oppo is a p entreudents and talented st Oxford there are At get preneurs. a plenty, so co-founders nd people you nd fi cracking a ork with. want to w
r could It’s doubtful that an Oxford professo a ‘How to ride a bicycle’ successfully teach ures, course with nothing other than lect . Business skills are the essays and tutorials ht and same – they can’t very easily be taug doing. Every year, are best acquired by Company Oxford Entrepreneurs runs Start-Aform teams and get which helps students of their the wheels spinning on an enterprise l competition later in the own. The Idea Ido to busiyear then gives away over £10,000 the aim to kick starting ness ideas with g the development process of promisin ventures.
perience. Work Exy to learn about
a A good w m in acto see the art-ups is rking at st bly by wo on, prefera ips.com offer ti rnsh al one. Ente epreneuri ips in entr s students ternsh in e s. This giv y to companie rtunit t oppo the perfec rience and their expe reroaden b the entrep toes into dip their style. neurial life
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ho comurs. academics w Dontreprenedy is one of a new breed of ired by the rampant Bra hip. Insp Sir Michael ing at Mastrepreneurs a spell work arch with en me bine rese nced during apply the sa perie neurialism ex echnology, he decided to in a entrepre of T been involved . Brady has tts Institute rd was sachuse post in Oxfo irada which s to his new s, notably M principle start-up search-driven g in 2003 for $22m. handful of re gin a Molecular Im sold to CTI
. ISIS Innovation
Multi-billionaires Larry Page and Sergey Brin are still on “indefinite leave” from their PhD studies at Stanford after their 1996 paper, “The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine” spawned Google.
c da y! Innovation in ent of ISIS The establishm trepreind change for en 97 signalled a w 19 ly then d, since it was on urship at Oxfor ne e comstarted taking th at the university th generated ademic research ercial value of ac m s researchously. ISIS help its members seri by s by helping ise their finding s to commercial er spinout technology, form tent and licence pa turn ISIS nsultancy. In re mpanies and co co pany. unk of the com take an equity ch
Bill Gates dropped out of Law School at Harvard to hack code for his start-up Microsoft. After attracting an audience with MITS Computers to showcase a version of BASIC he claimed to have developed, he then needed time out to actually produce the code.
Charlie Osmond and Caroline Plumb both studied Engineering, Economics and Management at Oxford before turning down corporate job offers to setup Freshminds, a research and recruitment consultancy.
Start-Up after Graduation.
s. Graduate re cruiters offer excellent training pro grammes an d will equip you with th e skills, know led contacts to work in an in ge and dustry. Many recru iters are wil ling to support you if you decid e to undertake a n MBA.
Oxford MBA students have the luxury of entrepreneurship built into their course since each student undertakes a project developing a business idea. Oxford science degrees do not yet allow you to combine science and enterprise, but hopefully the big push by government for an entrenched enterprise culture in the UK will force a change in our degrees, allowing us to consider the commercial impact of research.
Words by Alasdair Bell, sabbatical president of Oxford Entrepreneurs. Art by David Abelman
A Weird & wonderful new frontier for the home computer.
maller. Faster. Cheaper. Computers overtime have become increasingly sophisticated by reducing the size of their components to that of only a few nanometers. But unfortunately there is a limit to the miniaturizing these components this way, and this limit seems to be close to our currently available technology. If we want computers of the future to outperform our present-day computers, we need a new generation of computers using some other way of calculating things. Many people hope that this is what, one day, might be achieved by quantum computers. The first ideas to use quantum mechanical effects for computing came from Paul Benioff of Argonne National Laboratory ( University of Chicago, USA) in the early 1980’s. Soon after, David Deutsch from the Mathematical Institute of Oxford University started modelling quantum computers and investigating what advantages they could have over classical computers. Today, many mathematicians and computer scientists study them, but the young science of quantum computing remains largely theoretical so far. Any computer has to encode information in small units, called bits. In an ordinary computer the bit can take one of two values: 0 or 1. This is similar to Morse coding, where the whole alphabet is represented by only 2 types of signal: short beeps and long beeps. In contrast to classical computers, in a quantum computer the bits can simultaneously equal both 0 and 1. Quantum bits are called qubits (pronounced “cue-bits”). What is the value of a qubit when it is equal to 0 and 1? In a classical computer this is not possible, in the same way a light bulb cannot be both on and off. In a quantum world this IS possible. In such a case, the state
of the light bulb, or the qubit, is said to be ‘undetermined’. Whilst in classical physics, a state is always determined but might be unknown, in quantum physics undetermined states exist. But the process of measurement destroys this delicate state. Measuring the value of an undetermined qubit will force it to adopt 0 with a probability p and 1 with a probability of 1-p. Physicists describe the state of an undetermined qubit before measurement as a superposition state. So nobody has ever seen a superposition state because it is, by definition of a superposition, impossible to observe it. If you find that strange, you are in good company, the famous physicist Niels Bohr, one of the pioneers of quantum mechanics, said : “Anyone who can contemplate quantum mechanics without getting dizzy has not properly understood it.” But maybe the phenomenon is less weird than it seems. It could be that the effect of dizziness comes from an attempt to describe a special state, the superposition state, in terms of two categories, which it does not belong to. Maybe it should have its own category. It is like trying to describe fungi without using the word “fungi” but only in terms of animals and plants. Fungi have characteristics that they share with each of the two groups but not with the other. They are sufficiently different to deserve a classification group of their own which includes neither plants nor animals. The same might be true for superposition states. Many physicists say that they are both (0 and 1) at the same time, while others prefer saying that they are neither. Regardless which option you personally fancy, it comes down to the same thing: a quantum computer has more possible states. How does a classical computer encode information? It works with a binary
system. That means each position has a value which is a power of 2 (1,2,4,8,…). For example: 001 = 0x4 + 0x2 + 1x1 = 1 010= 0x4 + 1x2 + 0x1 = 2 100= 1x4 + 0x2 + 0x1 = 4 111= 1x4 + 1x2 + 1x1 = 7. Whereas in a classical computer an octet of bits, called a byte, can take one out of 256 (2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2) different values, an octet of qubits, called a qubyte, can take simultaneously all 256 values. This quantum property enables a qubyte to perform 256 calculations when a byte performs only one. And a 500 qubit computer would perform in the same time 2500 more operations than a 500 bit computer , much more than the number of particles in the universe ! The most powerful classical computer today would fit in the tiniest pocket. It is possible to use single photons, electrons, protons or atoms to encode a qubit – particles that are small enough to exhibit quantum mechanical behaviour. An example of an atomic qubit could be a hydrogen atom in a superposition of two possible energy states: a ground state E0 and an excited state E1. An atom in the ground state can be flipped into the exited state by bathing it in laser light, whose photons must have the right amount of energy. That is specifically the energy difference between the ground state and the excited state, (E1-E0). But even this is not sufficient: the laser light pulse has to be long enough. Importantly it can also be used to flip the atom the other way (from the excite state to the ground state). If the applied light pulse is too short, instead of flipping a ground state atom into an excited state atom, the atom will move to a state of superposition. A pulse that’s too short by 50% will flip the atom half way and this “half
flipped” atom – the qubit - will be in a 50-50 superposition state: there’s a 50% chance to observe it in the E0 ground state, and a 50% chance to observe it in the E1 excited state. So how can you read the information stored in the qubit atom in a (E0, E1) superposition state? If the atom is well chosen, this can be done with the help of another light pulse and a photon detector. The qubit atom has, in addition to the exited state E1, another energy level E2, such that the energy difference ‘A’ between E0 and E1 equals the energy difference between E1 and E2. To then read the information, we have to first excite the atom with a photon whose energy equals ‘A’. If the atom is in E1 it will move to E2. It will then quickly return to E1 by emitting a ‘A’ energy photon that can be detected. If the atom is in its ground state, it will move to E1, followed by the delayed emission of a photon. So if you detect a photon right after the excitation you can conclude that the atom was in E1. But how can a computer deal with its qubit information? A classical computer treats information by using different logic gates. These perform an operation on one or more logic inputs. A logic gate is composed of different electronic components which function according to specified rules. This produces a single logic output, then used as the input of anoth- e r logic gate. As early as in the 19th century, the logician George Boole showed that any arithmetical operation could be executed using only 3 types of gates: AND, NOT and COPY. David Deutsch formalised this idea in the late 1980’s by showing that quantum states could perform these three tasks. The NOT gate is simply a half way flipping. The COPY gate makes the states of two atoms equal, regardless of their initial states. The AND function integrates the states of 3 atoms. It is these properties, particularly the flipping of the atom that can be exploited to execute any computation. Crucial is the creation of an entangled (state by performing the COPY function: Entanglement is the process whereby two qubits that lose their individuality. They are now “entangled” which means that when you know the state (0 or 1) of one qubit you automatically know the state of its quantum twin. In a classical computer, if we need to know if the outputs of some function f that has two possible inputs (0 and 1) are equal or different, we
have to run the computer twice to get the outputs, and compare them. David Deutsch showed that in a quantum computer the entanglement states can be used to get the answer in a single operation by asking a global question: Are the outputs the same? Not: What are the values of the outputs? The entanglement state is a useful property of the quantum computer because it allows us to compute a series of logic gates that treat a function in one step, which would otherwise take two or more steps) classically. So, will the quantum computer soon replace our classical computers at home? Well, even the enthusiasts are cautious in their predictions. There are a number of difficulties associated with the realization of a quantum computer that seem far from being resolved. So far, the largest number of qubits put together in a “computer” was 16. As the New Scientist puts it, “so far, quantum computers’ practical mathematical abilities are no better than those of the average 10 year old”. Others think that even this is too optimistic (after all, 10 year olds are not that bad at Maths). In practice, it is not an easy task to keep a qubit in a superposition state because one has to ensure that the qubit is not disturbed by its environment. otherwise it would result in the collapse of the superposition state. The more qubits you have, the more difficult this becomes, as they disturb each other. Some scientists say that even if you could maintain many qubits in a superposition state, the increasing noise that is associated with that would mask the information. Essentially the quantum computer is above all interesting for people who are not interested in a particular result but ask a general question about all the possible outputs of an equation. The superposition property enables quantum computers to perform large number of mathematical operations in parallel where-
as an ordinary computer can do only one after the other. There is a downside though, for in a quantum computer the output is itself in a superposition state, and it is not possible to read all the superposed outputs. For when one output is read, the superposition state vanishes, and so do all the other outputs. So whilst a quantum computer would be able to perform a large number of mathematical operations at once we would not be able to access all the results it produced! Nevertheless quantum computing can be very useful in some particular cases such as encryption and prime factoring. People who encrypt their messages (for banks, data protection, military…) usually take two long prime numbers and multiply them, so that they obtain a really big number which can only be factorised if you know one of the two prime factors. As we do not know any mathematical algorithm that allows us to find prime numbers, we are restricted to use the “try and error principle”, which if you have ever tried it takes a very long time indeed, say if you try to factorise let’s say a 4000 digit long number composed of only two prime factors. Quantum computers could use an algorithm imagined by the US computer scientist Peter Shor and factorise a very large number quickly, something classical computers would find impossible. Unfortunately because of enormous technical difficulties we are very far from building the first real quantum computer.
Words by Cleo Bertelsmeier Art by Sean McMahon
o c t o r Who is listed in the Guinness World Records as the world’s longest running science fiction show and there can be little doubt that it has left its mark on popular culture. The story lines are engaging and often original: where else would you find an invention such as the “sonic screwdriver” or a world run by a load of cats?! But is it just that, a nice way to while away a Saturday evening, albeit crouched behind your living room sofa? Or can television shows and books like Doctor Who inspire a whole lot more in a world where the boundaries between science fiction and fact are beginning to blur?
to his “monster”, but this time with disastrous consequences. While in 1818 this sinister scenario was relegated to the realms of gothic horror, today’s technology may not be so far removed from an artificial intelligence (A.I.) reality. Banks often use A.I. systems to organise operations, invest in stocks, and manage properties. In 2001, robots even beat humans in a simulated financial trading competition. In Frankenstein, Victor abandons his creation; in retaliation, the creature wreaks his revenge on all those connected with his maker – irrespective of innocence. In many ways, Shelley anticipated A.I and all of its murky ethical quandaries: at what point are we responsible for our creations and the outcomes of their actions? This brings us to the logical question what use is science fiction to the modern day scientist? Is it merely frivolous, a fun way to pass an hour seated in front of your television, but not real science? It might be easy to dismiss cartoons such as Futurama but, as recently proven when it formed the basis of a mathematical three-topic question on University Challenge, they are often far from irrelevant. At worst you might argue that science fiction is a dangerous thing – the 1938 radio adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds caused widespread panic when many of its listeners missed its opening credits and thought the world was actually under attack from aliens. Most importantly it appears that fiction and science are not mutually exclusive, with scientists like Isaac Asimov, James Lovelock and Richard Dawkins bringing their fields of study into the popular domain. Take Leonardo DaVinci’s designs for flying machines - complete lunacy or science fiction they may have seemed in the 15th century but we now think nothing of hopping on a flying hulk of metal that astonishingly ever makes if off the ground. So whether it’s Saturday night T.V . with Doctor Who or the latest Ian M. Banks’ novel, writers and directors are pushing at the boundaries. Isn’t that what science is for?
Words by Flora Malein Art by Clare Hobday
curves” or CTCs. CTCs represent the unique path of a particle that, as it travels through 4-dimensional spacetime, has the ability to return to its start point and hence to the past. Physicists could do worse than take heed of Back to the Future – a science fiction blockbuster where the outcomes of time travel are not only entertaining but somewhat disturbing. In the first instalment, Marty returns to when his parents were young but lands in trouble when his mother becomes infatuated with him. This idea is also parodied in an episode of Futurama where Fry travels back in time and ends up becoming his own grandfather! Time travel may still seem beyond modern technology but other themes of science fiction appear more and more feasible. One such example is regeneration. The Doctor is able to re-new every cell in his body, thus making him immortal. In many ways this is analogous with modern stem-cell research. Stem cells have the ability to develop into any tissue and potentially replace damaged organs or help people suffering from degenerative diseases. Research at Oxford University discovered that the loss of stem cells over time decreases the body’s longevity, suggesting a crucial but as yet poorly-understood role in body ageing. The implications of regeneration and immortality stray into the complex arguments that have faced philosophy and religion for centuries. While the Doctor’s ability to regenerate (and thus be replaced by another actor) may seem like a clever plot device, it also touches on a highly controversial and much debated area of science. Many believe that if we do find the magical elixir of eternal youth then we will be forced to choose between eternal life and having children. And what about K-9, the Doctor’s mechanical companion who was so instrumental in helping the fourth Doctor defeat a sentient virus? K-9 is a highly intelligent robotic dog and, while apparently capable of autonomous thought, is reliant on his master or mistress to give commands (often executing them a little too literally!). In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Doctor Victor Frankenstein also gives life and artificial intelligence
The TARDIS is perhaps the most familiar image of Doctor Who. It is the means by which the Doctor travels forwards and backwards in time as he rushes to save the world. Time travel has also occupied the minds of many eminent physicists and philosophers. Some theories, such as special and general relativity, suggest that suitable geometries of spacetime, or specific types of motion in space, might allow time travel into the past and future. General relativity describes the universe under a system of field equations, the solutions to which permit what are called “closed timelike
What you hold in your hands is Issue 2 of Bang! magazine. Lovingly crafted by science geeks, obsessive designers and arts students who really should know better, our aim for this issue was not to make science fun, but to make it beautiful. Deep down we all know that midget animals, time travel and ketchup are pretty fun, but sometimes we just need reminding quite how amazing they are, and quite how massive an impact everyday science has on our lives. So read, enjoy, and remember: science isn’t pretty boring, it’s just pretty. Ben Wallace
Content Editor Ben Wallace Creative Director Sean McMahon Creative Team Clare Hobday David Abelman Thu Phuong Nguyen Natalia Rodionova Editorial Staff Ben Bleasdale Eachan Johnson Tori Gretton Amy Jenkins Jobine Talib-Hardy Niel Bowerman Marcus Wilson Business Helen Ramsden David Abelman Anna Tochlin Distribution & I.T. Vaibhav Khullar
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