Category Archives: Biology

Scotland’s Quiet Revolutions – One Nation with Sovereign Achievements… and a Pure Dead Brilliant Future!

A photograph of the countryside north of Glasgow - sheep grazing. Image: NaturPhilosophie

Scotland’s Quiet Revolutions

It seems quiet at first, and even dull.  Not much happening…  Dreich, as one might say!  Sad.  Grim.  Bleak.  Not much to do…  Not much to see here…  Just sheep…  But wait!!  Look closer!  Is that Dolly in this field?  Now, that’s interesting!  Oh, Aye, we’re in Scotland!  It changes EVERYTHING…  Continue reading Scotland’s Quiet Revolutions – One Nation with Sovereign Achievements… and a Pure Dead Brilliant Future!

We Glimpse at the Body Electric – An Introduction to the Physics of the Human Nervous System

An artist's impression of the human nervous system at work.The Human Nervous System: 100 Plus Billion Cells

The human nervous system contains roughly 100 billion nerve cells.  Worth pausing for an instant… and read it again.  That’s right, 100 billions!  To give an idea of the scale, the Milky Way, our own galaxy, contains roughly 100 billion stars.  And although human beings are way smaller than galaxies, we begin to appreciate how each one of us is as complex, as mysterious, and as magnificent in its own right, as any large astronomical entity in the physical Universe Continue reading We Glimpse at the Body Electric – An Introduction to the Physics of the Human Nervous System

The Craic about “Fracking” – Technical Facts on Hydraulic Fracturing

A photograph illustrating the phenomenon of natural hydraulic fracturing or 'fracking'.The Industry Term is ‘Fracturing’

Hydraulic fracturing, more commonly referred to as “fracking” in the media, is the fracturing of rock by a pressurised liquid.  Some hydraulic fractures form naturally – certain veins or dikes are examples.  However, induced hydraulic fracturing or hydro-fracturing is also a long tried-and-tested mining technique that has been most controversial recently…  But let’s not panic!  Continue reading The Craic about “Fracking” – Technical Facts on Hydraulic Fracturing

Eroded Earth: The Forge of Gravity

A beautiful photograph showing rock arches at National Park - Mesa Arch starburst panorama.Gravity-Defying Lanscapes

Over millions of years, weathering and erosion of sandstone have produced unique landforms, such as arches, alcoves, pedestals and pillars.  Until now, the natural process remained a mystery.  It was difficult to study, because of the huge time-scales involved in the erosion of natural slabs of sandstone.  Gravity-induced stresses had been assumed not to play any role in landform preservation.  Instead gravity was thought to increase the rates of weathering and natural erosion…   Continue reading Eroded Earth: The Forge of Gravity

Friends or Fourth Cousins

A photograph of a group of friends hugging each other. Friends or Fourth Cousins.Do your Friends have Similar Genomes?

Do you know who your fourth cousins are?  The chances are you don’t.  But do you know who your friends are?  Of course, you know that much.  But did you ever stop and think why or how your friends are your friends?  Could your friends actually share part of your DNA, to the same extent a distant family member does? 

Continue reading Friends or Fourth Cousins

Van der Waals and the Gecko

A photographic collage showing a black and white portrait of Van der Waals and a gecko climbing on the outside of a corrugated glass panel.The Sticky Physics of Van der Waals Forces

Geckos are amazing creatures.  They scamper up walls, scuttle along ceilings and hang upside down on polished glass surfaces.  However, the secret of their amazing climbing ability remained a mystery until relatively recently.  The secret lies in weak intermolecular forces, described by Van der Waals in 1873. Continue reading Van der Waals and the Gecko

Calculating Entropy – The Energy of Change

A drawing showing a snowflake of Ice melting into molecules of water. From order to disorder, there is only entropy.It’s About Heat and Temperature

What is the difference between heat and temperature?  Heat is thermal energy.  Temperature is a measurement of the average kinetic energy of the particles which compose the matter being tested.  When heat flows into a material, one of two things happen: either the temperature of the material can rise, or there may be a change in its state (such as from ice to liquid, or liquid to vapour). Continue reading Calculating Entropy – The Energy of Change

Rise of the Exoskeletons – Get Up… and Kick-Off!

An artist's impression of one of the ground-breaking medical event due to take place at the Sao Paulo, Brazil 2014 Footbal World Cup opening ceremony. Image: Walk Again ProjectMind Controlled Exoskeleton Demonstration at 2014 World Cup Opening Ceremony

On 12 June at Arena Corinthians in São Paulo, shortly before 5pm local time, a young paraplegic Brazilian youth will stand up from a wheelchair… walk over to midfield… and take a kick in the opening ceremony of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil!  Continue reading Rise of the Exoskeletons – Get Up… and Kick-Off!

Colossal Genius: Alan Turing

A black and white portrait of Alan Turing - the man behind the Enigma decryption.60 Years Hence

Today’s the 60th Anniversary of the Death of Alan Turing – a genial mathematician, a cryptographer and one of the pioneers of computer science at Bletchley Park.  He is considered one of the greatest minds of the 20th Century.  Alan Turing‘s life was one of complexity and secret triumphs, overshadowed by a very public tragedy.  Continue reading Colossal Genius: Alan Turing

Helium – Lighter than Air

A photograph showing a bunch of Helium red party balloons on strings over a sunny blue sky background.More Than Just Party Balloons…

Helium is the second most abundant element in the Universe, after hydrogen.  On Earth, helium is relatively rare, because it is one of the few elements that can escape gravity and leak away into space.  Therefore, helium exists as a finite resource.  But as our reserves of the precious element steadily decreases, helium is in increasing demand.  In medicine, helium supports the fight against cancer…  Continue reading Helium – Lighter than Air

Winning at Rock-Paper-Scissors… Lizard-Spock!

A picture representing the traditional game of Rock, Paper, Scissors.A Little Game Theory

What is the ultimate strategy for winning at rock-paper-scissors?  According to three physicists in China, the answer does not lie in having absolutely no strategy and ensure that your choice of weapon is completely random, unlike previously thought.  If that strategy seemed obvious, perhaps you haven’t played the game enough to delude yourself into thinking that this might be a winning strategy…  Continue reading Winning at Rock-Paper-Scissors… Lizard-Spock!

Graphite to Graphene… in a Kitchen Blender

A photograph showing a ball-and-stick model of graphene near a typical kitchen blender. Image: NaturPhilosophieThe Wonder Material

Ten years ago, the discovery of the wonder material – Graphene – was announced.  Graphene is thin, stronger than steel, flexible, non-metallic, yet electrically conductive.  For all these reasons, graphene promises to transform electronics, as well as other technologies.  Because of its potential in industry, researchers have been looking for ways to make defect-free graphene in large amounts.  Continue reading Graphite to Graphene… in a Kitchen Blender

Fibonacci’s Golden Spiral – The Relationship between Maths and Nature

A close-up photograph of a cross section through a Nautilus shell showing that the Fibonacci sequence can be found everywhere in Nature.The Language of Nature

They are found everywhere in Nature.  From the leaf arrangement in plants, to the pattern of the petals of a flower, the bracts of a pine cone, or the scales of a pineapple.  The Fibonacci numbers are applicable to the growth of every living thing: a single cell, a grain of wheat, a hive of bees, all of mankind.  From sunflowers to sea shells, the same recurrent mathematical pattern can be observed in Nature, again, and again, and again…  Continue reading Fibonacci’s Golden Spiral – The Relationship between Maths and Nature

We Delve into Time-of-Flight Mass Spectrometry Forensics!

A photograph showing latent fingerprints under the magnifier, enhanced using a large electrical potential. Source: RSCSleuthing with Time-of-Flight Mass Spectrometry

Time-of-Flight Mass Spectrometry is a technique for separating ions of different masses by measuring the time taken to traverse a fixed distance through a magnetic field.  Sounds a bit arcane?  The technique is used daily by forensic investigative teams to research criminal profiling and provide reliable evidence for the prosecution…  Continue reading We Delve into Time-of-Flight Mass Spectrometry Forensics!

Global Weirding: Why The World Must Acclimatise

A composite photograph showing dice over a red sunset background. Loading the climate dice?Loading Up the Dice for Extreme Climate

The impacts of climate change include a higher risk of flooding and changes to crop yields and water availability.  No single country causes climate change, and no one country can stop it.  We need to match the urgency of our response with the scale of the science. Continue reading Global Weirding: Why The World Must Acclimatise

Global Forest Watch Map Recording Tree Loss in “Real Time”

An aerial photograph showing the deforestation web in the Mountains of Jambi, in Sumatra, Indonesia.A Watchful Eye on the Global Forest

A new global monitoring system, Global Forest Watch has been launched that promises “near real-time” information on deforestation around the World.  GFW uses information from hundreds of millions of satellite images, as well as data from people on the ground.  Despite a greater global awareness of the impacts of deforestation, the scale of forest loss remains significant.  Continue reading Global Forest Watch Map Recording Tree Loss in “Real Time”

Mercury: Beautiful Poison

Liquid_MercuryOverused for Millenia…

Ancients called mercury the “first matter” from which all other metals were formed.  For centuries, the heavy metal was also used in medicine.  Yet mercury is now in such disfavour that an international treaty exists to curb its use…  Continue reading Mercury: Beautiful Poison

Algae to Bio-Crude Oil in 60 Minutes?

A photograph showing a hand covered with slimy green algae.Evergreen Energy from Algae

Engineers have designed a continuous chemical process that produces useful crude oil in under an hour.  All from a verdant green algae paste with the consistency of pea soup…  Continue reading Algae to Bio-Crude Oil in 60 Minutes?

Waiting for Rosetta to Wake Up…

An artist's impression of the Rosetta spacecraft in outer space. Image: ESAThe Rosetta Spacecraft

January 20, 2014.  500 million miles from Earth.  09:59:58…  09:59:59…  10:00:00 GMT.  After spending two and a half years into deep-space hibernation, Rosetta awakes

Launched in March 2004 by ESA (European Space Agency), it has since travelled around the Sun five times, picking up energy from Earth and Mars to line itself up with its final destination.  Continue reading Waiting for Rosetta to Wake Up…

Living out in Space: From ‘Major Tom’ to Major Tim

A photograph showing astronaut Chris Hadfield on board the International Space Station (ISS) in the video of his cover version of 'Space Oddity' by David Bowie.Chris Hadfield’s Space Oddity

♫ This is Ground Control to Major Tom… ♫

Commander Chris Hadfield ascended to international stardom when he released his cover version of David Bowie’s 1972 Song ‘Space Oddity’ from the International Space Station.  Continue reading Living out in Space: From ‘Major Tom’ to Major Tim

CSI Scotland: Murder by the Loch – Studying the Forensics…

A colour drawing of Ross Priory - an early 19th-century country house, located west of Gartocharn, West Dunbartonshire, on the south shore of Loch Lomond, Scotland. The scene of the crime? Forensic science and murder meet by the Loch.Can you Solve the Murder by the Loch?

Well, you can try…  I love a gothic mystery, don’t you?  😉

You have six weeks to do it – and a staged murder at Strathclyde University’s Ross Priory house – using the techniques of forensic science.  Starting NOW.  Continue reading CSI Scotland: Murder by the Loch – Studying the Forensics…

Water of Life

A clever design showing the word H2O drawn in condensation water droplets.An Essential Molecule for the Sustainability of Life

Water.  H2O.  The chemical formula is simple.  Two atoms of hydrogen H and one atom of oxygen O, held together by covalent bonds, are all it takes to make what is perhaps the most fundamental substance to life on Earth.  Continue reading Water of Life

Making Plans on the Comet – C/2012 S1 IS ON!!

A photograph of comet ISON. Image: Damian Peach.A Comet is not just for Christmas…

Just when you had high hopes of getting your hands on the latest gizmos and trendy gadgets in time for Christmas… and Boom!  You’re being given a comet!  Not just any comet.  Comet ISON (C/2012 S1).  It’s 4.6 billion years old!  And it will pass within 40,000,000 miles of Earth. Continue reading Making Plans on the Comet – C/2012 S1 IS ON!!

November’s Greatest Sex Show on Earth

An aerial photograph of the Big Blue Hole - a stunning part of the Belize Coral Barrier Reef.The Coral Barrier Reef is Only in the Mood Once a Year.

Aawww!!  What?  Not what you were expecting?  What are you like…  Anyway, it made you look!  😉

This great sex show, the greatest sex show on Earth, happens every year, around about now, in November.  When the tides are just right and the Moon is full, the Coral Reef literally erupts!  Continue reading November’s Greatest Sex Show on Earth

A Short Tribute to Frederick Sanger – Genome Man

A photographic portrait of Frederick Sanger.Have you even heard his name before?  Frederick Sanger?

Dr Frederick Sanger, the British biochemist who is considered to be the “Father of Genomics“, died yesterday, aged 95. 

Continue reading A Short Tribute to Frederick Sanger – Genome Man