Issue 7

Focus: 

When Science Meets Choice

Decisions are made by us and for us everyday, some more important than others; but how much do we know about how these decisions are made and what implications they have for our future health, wealth and happiness?

This focus examines some of the theories behind decision making, some of the ways in which these decisions are made and a few situations where these are applied to situations which can affect all of our lives.

Features: 

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The Doughnuts of Science

If I were to ask you, "What is a synchrotron?", you would probably think "Eh?", but you are probably aware of the largest of them all, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), part of the CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research. This particle smasher, which is hunting for the so-called 'God particle', the Higgs Boson, lives under part of the French-Swiss border. The LHC is a large circular pipe that is 27 kilometres in circumference and works by accelerating charged particles (such as protons and electrons) around the circle by use of varying magnetic fields. When the particles are fast enough, they are diverted and allowed to smash into each other, revealing what they are made of in the process. However, though the LHC is the largest synchrotron in the world, and as a result can generate the fastest particles, it is not the only one. Read more »

Our friends in the gut

There are 10 times as many bacteria in your gut than there are cells that make up your entire body. In total they weigh 1.5 kilograms. After they die, they make up 60% of the dry mass of your poo, and there are between 300 and 1000 different species of them. They are clearly a major component of your biology. Read more »

Neuroimaging in the dock

In 2009, evidence from functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was submitted to a US court for the first time. The defence for Brian Dugan, a convicted murderer and rapist, suggested that brain scans demonstrating blood flow abnormalities more common in psychopathy should be viewed as a mitigating circumstance when choosing a sentence for his crime. Despite this defence, he was sentenced to death.

Dugan's case was the first use of fMRI in court. However, a range of neuroimaging technologies have had applications in criminal law. They have been used to demonstrate injury, to suggest diminished responsibility for crimes on the basis of brain abnormalities and, most recently, touted as potential truth detectors. This article first describes some notable cases involving neuroimaging, and then considers some possible technical and ethical concerns about the new 'mind reading' machines. Read more »

Regulars: 

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Panic in level 4

Richard Preston is best known for his bestselling novel, The Hot Zone, in which he introduced the Ebola virus to a mainstream audience. His latest work, Panic in Level 4, is a collection of non-fiction, science-related stories.

Preston opens with an introduction detailing his experience in a Level 4 laboratory, Level 4 being the highest level of bio-security. He then introduces us to the Chudnovsky brothers, who built a supercomputer in their New York apartment to continue their quest for pi (π)- they’ve calculated it to over 2 million places! The brothers appear again in a story about the famous artworks, the Unicorn Tapestries. Preston’s interest in the tapestries lies in the difficulties encountered during digital imaging, performed to capture and record the colours and mirror images found perfectly preserved on the reverse of the tapestries. The Chudnovsky brothers’ mathematical minds are required to reassemble the tiny bits of the images. Read more »

Sleepfaring

We spend more than a third of our life sleeping but we know very little about it. How many times have we heard people ask questions like, “Am I sleeping enough?”, “Am I sleeping well?” or “How can I sleep less and still be as productive?”, and yet we have not tried to answer them. Jim Horne’s Sleepfaring has solutions for many of these problems and more. It is a compelling read for anyone wanting to learn about this mysterious subject. Read more »