Issue 11

Magnifying the Potential of Mobile Phone Microscopes

If you’re not up on your geeky gadgets, you might have missed the recent spate of mini-microscopes that have surfaced over the past few years. Thanks to widely available consumer electronics, several nifty mobile phone hacks can now allow you to see the world up close. While recent advances put affordable and impressive magnifying power in your pocket, these smaller, cooler microscopes aren’t just gimmicks; they may be the key to revolutionising global medicine and sparking the public’s interest in science. Read more »

Khan Online Academy Change Science Education?

Salman Khan, an MIT and Harvard graduate, had been helping his young cousin Nadia with her maths homework over Yahoo! Messenger, but when they couldn’t be online at the same time he began making video tutorials. To check her understanding, he added software that would generate questions related to the tutorial topic. Only once she could correctly answer 10 problems in a row was she allowed to move on to the next topic. Read more »

Panic! Panic! Panic!

  • Panic attack: When you are so overcome by anxiety that you feel physically in danger even though there is no real threat.
  • Did you know that NHS statistics show panic attacks affect one in ten people? 

There are various theories about what triggers a panic attack. The ‘learning theory’ suggests that when you encounter a situation previously experienced in a panic attack, you are more likely to experience another panic attack. In the ‘cognitive theory’, panic attacks are initiated by misinterpreting normal bodily actions as anxiety, so your brain overestimates the possibility of danger. Lastly, the ‘psychodynamic theory’ predicts that trauma can induce a self-protection mechanism of the brain, preventing you from remembering the event that initially caused the panic attack. Read more »

What's the first thing you can remember?

Rozencrantz attempts to answer this question but fails. He opens his mouth, hesitates, then admits, “No, it’s no good. It was a long time ago.”
     Growing agitated, Guildenstern presses him, “No, you don't take my meaning. What’s the first thing you remember after all the things you’ve forgotten?”
     A spark of realisation appears in Rosencrantz's eyes “Oh! I see!” He hesitates again, and it’s gone. “I've forgotten the question.” 

This vignette is taken from Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. The play highlights our fascination with our earliest memories, and begs the question: just how far back can our memories go? Read more »

Biochar: Coming From the Past to Improve the Future

Q. The term ‘biochar’ is a relatively recent development, and there is a range of terms when discussing biochar, such as charcoal, agrichar, biocoal… What is biochar, and how does it differ from other forms of chars? Read more »

Sines of Ghosts

The question of life after death, and more specifically the possibility of the dead coexisting with the living, has always been a fascinating and divisive topic of debate. Over the last decade, several TV shows such as Most Haunted or Ghost Hunters have accumulated a massive cultural following by employing the scientific method to investigate the unhappy inhabitants of some of the most famously haunted places across the globe. Sadly, these methods, which range from using electromagnetic force detectors and thermometers to standing in the dark and listening very hard, have so far failed to unearth any convincing evidence of ‘the other side’. Read more »

Victoria Secrets

I love cake. I love eating it and I love baking it. And one of the most fun things about baking cake, as opposed to other kinds of cooking, is that baking is chemistry. In savoury cooking, the skill is in picking the right ingredients that will be tasty together - an art. But in baking cake, you obviously want good flavours, but it’s meaningless if you can’t get the right combination of flour, sugar, egg, fat, and raising agent. You have to set up the right chemical reactions between your ingredients to get a good cake. Read more »

Pass me the flux capacitor!

“One day, if somebody knocks on your door and claims to be your great-great-great-great-great-granddaughter a thousand years into the future, don’t slam the door! Because maybe your descendant got into a time machine to visit her ancestor.”
- Michio Kaku, theoretical physicist
Read more »

Away from the Bench: Britain's got Science

It is an evening in early October and I find myself in a school hall filled with excited pupils, apprehensive teachers, discerning parents, a recognized neuroscientist, a professional astronomer, and a dedicated science education coordinator. An odd mix for a Wednesday evening, so let us start from the beginning.

Nearly 12 months ago, the seeds of an idea began to grow in Dr Joanna Brooks’ imagination. Ordinarily working in the Neuroscience department of the University of Edinburgh, Joanna started to wonder what was needed to inspire children to engage with science. And not just more books, theories of relativity or chemical reactions dryly written at the front of the classroom. She was looking for an innovative and challenging medium that would bring the fun back into science. Read more »

The Sky's Dark Labrinth

When asked to review a quasi-fictional tale of scientific intrigue, I was hesitant. A physicist reading a scientific work of fiction is like a historian reading a Dan Brown novel. I assumed the technical inaccuracies would merely irritate. Yet, The Sky's Dark Labyrinth was a revelation. According to his biography, the author Stuart Clark is a "star of British astrophysics teaching" and thus firmly knows what he is talking about. The Sky's Dark Labyrinth's main strength is that it distills the technical complexities of what Kepler and Galileo grappled with and understood, without compromising the immensity of their discoveries. Read more »

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