Issue 9

The Solar Power of Chemistry!

“Chemistry? Scary!” or “That’s difficult, I never understood it at school.” These are typical responses from people who ask what I do. It makes me sad that others struggled with the subject. Perhaps I was lucky to have a great teacher, because from the age of fifteen I was hooked. Chemistry was for me. Thirteen years later I’ve completed a Masters degree, a PhD in chemistry and now work as a post-doctorate on solar energy in Edinburgh University’s School of Chemistry.

Chemistry became fascinating to me when I discovered that it explains everything that happens around us. I am one of those people who hates watching magicians do their tricks and not knowing how they did it. If I do find out the secret, I’m disappointed it was so simple and sometimes feel a bit silly to have fallen for the illusion. Read more »

Vegetarianism, the New Paradigm

This age will be known as the age of challenges. Mankind will face the consequences of climate change and population growth among other issues. To lead our growing population safely into the next century, our generation will have to make changes. According to Live Earth, “Not eating meat is the single most important thing you can do to decrease your impact.” Could it be that easy? Can changing to a vegetarian life-style be enough to ensure a sustainable future for mankind?

The world population is approximately 6.7 billion, 1 billion of which don’t have enough food. Worldwide, 15 million square kilometres are filled with crops, 40% of which is fed to livestock. A field of crops can feed five times more people than a field of cows: for every kilogram of beef, 5 kilograms of grain is used. It sounds like something too good to be true: feed the people crops not livestock and nobody would suffer from malnutrition. Is it really that straightforward? Read more »

Dippy Eggs and soldiers

In the past decade, cooking has been hailed as an art form, with a focus on taste and presentation. However, to produce palatable food there is arguably a scientific aspect to cooking as well. Is a kitchen not just a lab where, instead of clinical white coats, the scientists wear aprons? And do recipes not draw many parallels to protocols? This got me thinking, as a biochemist, about the science involved in turning popular ingredients, flour, yeast and eggs, into the ultimate breakfast treat: dippy eggs and soldiers.

For the soldiers

Flour is the key component in bread; its composition is dependent on the type of grain and the milling processes. Bread is one of the world’s oldest recorded baked foods, dating back from the Stone Age. To make leaven bread, yeast must be included to make the dough rise. Without yeast, bread would resemble hard, flat little cakes. Read more »

A Summer of Science

Summer internships in a laboratory are very important to undergraduate science students as they provide practical experience that is highly sought after by employers. They are also a great way to spend eight to ten weeks of your holidays. In the summer of 2010, I was fortunate to attend a two-month work placement at the John Innes Centre (JIC) in East Anglia, alongside other undergraduates from the UK and abroad.

The JIC was established in 1910 in London as a fruit breeding research station. Now it is located in Norwich, where it forms a large complex of labs and greenhouses. The JIC hosts many experts in the areas of plant genetics, microbiology and biochemistry and carries out high-quality research. Read more »

Science in Edinburgh: Giants from the Past

Edinburgh is nowadays an internationally acclaimed centre for research and its leading university, the University of Edinburgh, is consistently ranked amongst the world’s top universities. Every year hundreds of students from the UK and abroad flock to the University, lured by its excellence in teaching and research. From what does this prestige originate? Who paved the way for it? Read more »

Standing up for Science Media Workshop

The idea of interacting with media outlets, and using them as a platform to communicate research to the wider public is often a daunting prospect for early career researchers. They lack exposure to the machinations of the media, and examples of poorly reported science, as well as limited media and PR training combined with often irrational fears leave them insufficiently prepared to deal with media. Consequently, young researchers often neglect the media as a very effective stage for communicating their science. Read more »

Joseph Black: “so pale, so gentle, so elegant and so illustrious”

A Joseph Black Building can be found on the campus of both the University of Edinburgh and the University of Glasgow. Each is home to one of the oldest chemistry departments in Britain and can trace some of their earliest successes to their scientific namesake.

Joseph Black (1728–1799) was born in Bordeaux, France, to an Irish wine merchant father and Scottish mother. He was schooled in Belfast and at 18 trained in medicine in Glasgow, finishing his education in Edinburgh. During his academic career he took positions at both universities. Read more »

Putting Our Heads Together

A surprising resource is revolutionizing how we solve problems and get information. It is available in great abundance and can be harvested for almost nothing. This resource is the simple power of human thought.

We all know that computers can beat us at chess, find enormous prime numbers and remember our friends’ birthdays. If a task involves only calculations and large quantities of information, then a computer is perfect for the job. On the other hand, ask your computer to find the photos of a lovely peacock that you took on your last holiday, and it’s likely to throw in a picture of an elderly relative. Of course, any of your friends could do a much better job, but only if you can persuade them to bother. The emerging field of human computation is doing just that by using computer games to harness human brainpower. Read more »

Conrad Hal Waddington: discovering the strategy of the genes

A palaeontologist, embryologist, geneticist and philosopher, Conrad Hal Waddington was a true modern day Renaissance man. Considered by many as the forefather of systems biology, he spent the most fruitful years of his career in Edinburgh.

Born in Evesham on 8th of November 1905, his parents were of long-established Quaker families. With the help of his grandmother, the young Conrad assembled a myriad of collections of natural history, geological and archaeological objects. He displayed these in ‘Con’s museum’, located in a barn attached to his house. Under the supervision of ‘Grandpa Doeg’, a local druggist and distant relation of the family, Conrad conducted chemical experiments and was introduced to science. Waddington later described ‘Grandpa Doeg’ as "almost the last surviving real 100% scientist" who "reckoned to deal with the whole of science". Read more »

Should We Try to Defeat Nature, and Win?

Many human ideologies presume that we can manipulate nature without cataclysmic consequences. Yet history begs that we try to live in harmony with nature, and within our means, but who wants to live with this hippie nonsense? Zero growth? Sustainability? Do these ideologies drive nations? Let us cast back to the late 1950s– early 1960s China, to the period in history when Mao Zedong’s war against nature and the scientific establishment killed 36 million people. Read more »

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