Category Archives: Chemistry

A Theory of Life… The Physics of Cells and Macroscopic Irreversibility

A meme that reads: "Life has No Ctrl + Z".“It’s Life!  But Not as We Know it…”

There is one essential difference between living things and inanimate clumps of carbon atoms.  From an all-physical point of view, the former tend to be so much better at capturing energy from their environment and dissipating that energy as heat.  At MIT, Jeremy England derived a mathematical formula that he believes explains this capacity.  Continue reading A Theory of Life… The Physics of Cells and Macroscopic Irreversibility

Between the Lines of the Herculaneum Papyri using X-Ray Imaging Techniques

A photographic montage showing a calcinated Herculaneum papyrus scroll on a Greek scriptures background. Scrolling Back the Past at Herculaneum

Once a chic resort on the Bay of Naples, Herculaneum was favoured by the finest of Roman’s elite society, who spent the hot Italian summers there… until a catastrophe struck one afternoon in 79 AD.  The Villa dei Papiri, excavated centuries later, was found to contain the only library to have survived from the Classical World – a unique cultural treasure, which the eruption of Mount Vesuvius nearly destroyed, and yet preserved all at once.  How do you read what is essentially a charred book?  Continue reading Between the Lines of the Herculaneum Papyri using X-Ray Imaging Techniques

A Day in the Life of a Plant – Photosynthesis and Phytochemistry

A photograph showing two hands together holding a clod of earth with a small green seedling.Plant Life

Plant life is one of Nature’s miracles.  Imagine being a plant and almost all you will ever need to keep on striving is sheer sunlight.  In green plants, both photosynthesis and aerobic respiration occur.  It’s a lot like the way in which the human body breaks down food into fuel that it can store.  Essentially, using energy from the Sun, a plant can transform carbon dioxide CO2 and water into glucose and oxygen… Continue reading A Day in the Life of a Plant – Photosynthesis and Phytochemistry

Yes, Calcium is a Metal!

A photographic montage showing a human skeleton pulling on a giant container of calcium supplements.Building the World

Most of us are familiar with the idea that our bodies need calcium.  And calcium is indeed the key element in our bones.  Calcium is the most abundant metal in the human body – and those of animals too.  The fifth most abundant element on Earth and our World’s chosen architectural building block.  Yes, calcium is a metal.  Do we really appreciate its true value? Continue reading Yes, Calcium is a Metal!

Defining the Anthropocene – What is the Age of Man?

An artist's impression of a baffled orangutan.The Age of Man

We, humans, have driven environmental changes on a scale that is unique in Earth’s history.  Human-driven biological, chemical and physical changes to the Earth’s system are so great, rapid and distinct that they may characterise an entirely new epoch – The Anthropocene. Continue reading Defining the Anthropocene – What is the Age of Man?

You Wait Ages for a Chemical Element, and Then… BINGO!!

A photograph of Kosuke Morita, the leader of the Riken team, posing with a board displaying the new atomic element 113 during a press conference in Wako, Saitama prefecture on 31 December 2015.Four Elements Come Along at Once…

Just like buses, it seems.  But even rarer and a damn sight more exciting to be honest.  Ooohoo!!!  Out with your old Science books!!  HeL-LOOooo elements 113… 115, 117 and 118!! Continue reading You Wait Ages for a Chemical Element, and Then… BINGO!!

Lateral Thinking in Science – Who Are You?

A photographic montage showing Laura Dern, Benedict Cumberbatch and Lennie James in various cinematic and TV roles as scientists. The caption asks: "What kind of scientist should you be?"What kind of Scientist are you?

Already this article is beginning to sound like one of those sempiternal quizzes you so often get on social media… but it actually shows how science reality connects.  Are you having a scientific identity crisis? Continue reading Lateral Thinking in Science – Who Are You?

We Do Science on Crack… with Cocaine and the Blood-Brain Barrier

A classic picture showing a line of cocaine, along with a rolled-up dollar bill.Root of All Evil

Goofball, candy, ice, crack, snow, weasel dust, Belushi, Charlie…  High in the Andes of South America, Erythroxylum coca grows as a shrub.  For 2,500 years at least, its leaves have been known and used for their stimulant properties.  Over 5 million people use cocaine and its derivatives in the United States alone. Continue reading We Do Science on Crack… with Cocaine and the Blood-Brain Barrier

Professor Challenger, The Earth Core and The Moho

A photographic montage featuring a classic Joseph Clement Coll's Professor Challenger character seen running and waving an umbrella against a background of serpentinite. Image: NaturPhilosophieProfessor Challenger, We Meet At Last!

The days of Professor Challenger are here.  This week, scientists have set out to drill deeper into the Earth’s mantle than has ever been done before.  This time, let us hope the World will not scream!  Continue reading Professor Challenger, The Earth Core and The Moho

What’s the Matter… with Spontelectrics?

An artist's impression of a blue electric field in gas. Source: Science AlertSpontelectrics

This blog is cool.  It’s spontaneous!  It’s electric!!  But not as cool as it has been at these cutting-edge laboratories on the outskirts of Europe.  Scientists there are dealing with an entirely new type of solid matter – ‘spontelectrics’. Continue reading What’s the Matter… with Spontelectrics?

What Lies Beneath – The Toxic Legacy of Post-War Ammunitions Sea Dumping

A stamp from the Faroe Islands depicting a naval ship dumping barrels of chemical warfare agents at sea.A Long Time Ago…

Following World War I and World War II, at least three major powers disposed of massive quantities of captured, damaged and obsolete chemical warfare material by dumping them into the oceans.  Mustard gas, phosgene, lewisite…  Submerged chemical ammunitions pose very serious ongoing environmental problems. Continue reading What Lies Beneath – The Toxic Legacy of Post-War Ammunitions Sea Dumping

Physics Without Frontiers…

Young international physicists holding out their passports - most of them from different nations.It’s Nobel Prize Season Again!

In the run-up to the 2015 physics Nobel prize, which was awarded on Tuesday 6 October, Physics World looked at how Nobel-prize-winning physicists have been moving around the globe over the past century. Continue reading Physics Without Frontiers…

Mars Has Water!

Mars has water: An artist's impression of Mars primordial ocean.Liquid Water on Mars

Mars is not the dry, arid planet we once thought it was.  Under certain circumstances, liquid water has been found.  NASA’s announcement has the potential of turning some Red Planet theories on their heads…

Continue reading Mars Has Water!

Armchair Fossil Hunting in the Turkana Basin

Workers busy documenting a paleontological dig site in a desertic part of the Turkana basin in Kenya where some fossil bones have been found.

Online Citizen Science Project

A new online citizen science initiative, Fossilfinder, is inviting ordinary members of the public to help hunt for fossils in the Kenyan desert. The volunteers will have the opportunity to sift through one million images from the arid Turkana Basin – a key area for fossils of early human ancestors. Continue reading Armchair Fossil Hunting in the Turkana Basin

Proving that Physicists were the Original Hipsters

A black and white photograph of Nobel physicist Richard Feynman, pictured smiling in front of the blackboard of a lecture room, which is covered with mathematical equations.Modern-Day Hipsters Take Heed…

With his wind-swept mane, the inimitable Richard Feynman looked devilishly handsome. And he darn-diddly knew it too! As for Fritz Haber, Rosalind Franklin and Neil deGrasse Tyson, they were the original hipsters. That’s according to BuzzFeed anyway… Continue reading Proving that Physicists were the Original Hipsters

Three Trillion Trees

A photograph of trees in the Meridon Forest in Central France. Image: NaturphilosophieGreen Planet

Once upon a time, Europe was almost covered by one giant forest.  Now, it’s almost entirely fields and grasslands.  Humans are controlling tree densities.  Understanding the global extent and distribution of forest trees is central to our understanding of the terrestrial biosphere. Continue reading Three Trillion Trees

Exoplanet ‘Young Jupiter’ 51 Eridani b

An illustration showing the distant exoplanet 51 Eridani b, nicknamed "Young Jupiter". Source: SETIKing of Planets

Astronomers have found the smallest exoplanet yet to be directly photographed by a telescope on Earth.  A methane-shrouded gas giant.  A young Jupiter… Continue reading Exoplanet ‘Young Jupiter’ 51 Eridani b

The Future of RadioCarbon Dating – And an Overview of the AMS Technique

A photograph of one of the Dead Sea scrolls - The Isaiah scrollFossil Fuel Emissions Threatens Carbon Dating Accuracy

The radiocarbon 14C dating method has been used for decades to accurately determine the age of a wide range of artefacts.  But our relentless use of fossil fuels has pumped a type of carbon into the atmosphere that is starting to confuse the dating technique.  By 2050, scientists warn, new fabrics could have the same radiocarbon date as items 1,000 years old! Continue reading The Future of RadioCarbon Dating – And an Overview of the AMS Technique

From Super Weed to Super-Capacitors, Another Surprising Use for Cannabis…

A close-up photograph of "skunk" cannabis being poured out of a glass container. The photograph has been stamped with the "Intel Inside" logo.Nano-Cannabis?

Waste fibres from cannabis crops can be transformed into high-performance low-cost pseudo-graphene energy storage devices.  Cannabis is quite possibly the most versatile, yet highly controversial, plant we have on the planet: from a popular recreational drug to a potential medicine for a range of incurable conditions.  If Carlsberg made a weed, this would be it… Continue reading From Super Weed to Super-Capacitors, Another Surprising Use for Cannabis…

Eyes of the Beholder

Look into my eyes! Image: NaturPhilosophieReading Someone’s Mind through their Eyes?

Look into my eyes.  The eyes, the eyes.  Not around the eyes.  Don’t look AROUND the eyes.  Look INTO my eyes.  The eyes…  [click]  You’re not under!  But…  Can you read my mind? Continue reading Eyes of the Beholder

We Check the Time of Death with Post-Mortem Degradation of Skeletal Proteins – And Other Gruesome Forensic Facts of Life

A photomontage showing a body outline, "Do Not Cross" yellow police tape, and a magnifier focused on the word "Forensics". The picture also lists the following forensic ways to estimate the time of death - Wait: Determine the time of death; Rigor mortis; Decomposition; Forensic Entomology; Succession on corpses; Other decomposers.Estimating the Time of Death

Forensic researchers from the University of Salzburg have developed a new method for establishing an exact time of death after as long as 10 days – a significant step forward from the current method of measuring core body temperature, which only works up to 36 hours after death. Continue reading We Check the Time of Death with Post-Mortem Degradation of Skeletal Proteins – And Other Gruesome Forensic Facts of Life

Just a Second…

A close-up photograph of an analog clock showing the hands just reaching the hour.What Does a Second Look Like?

1/60 minute.  1/3,600 hour.  1/86,400 day.  1/1 hertz.  The duration of 9,192,631,770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of a 133 55Cs caesium isotope corresponds to one second.  But what does it look like?  And where might you find a second? Continue reading Just a Second…

Physics at 13 TeV – Cranking Up the LHC

A composite picture showing inside the underground tunnel at CERN, and a small portion of the giant particle accelerator in artificial colours, with the words 13 TeV superimposed on it. Image: NaturPhilosophieA Vernesque Feat of Human Engineering

Deep down, in huge subterranean caverns… Underneath the Franco-Swiss border… 300 feet underground… lies a beast of unprecedented power… and mystery.  The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) that man summons to  explore the uncharted corners of the sub-atomic realm…  After two years of a deep slumber, the mighty beast has awoken… Continue reading Physics at 13 TeV – Cranking Up the LHC

Space-Age Rocket

A photomontage showing the American space shuttle taking off over a background of roquette salad, hence "Space-Age Rocket".Salad Growing… in Space?

Ever since the early days of human space travel, back in the 1960s, astronauts have run experiments involving plants in space.  Over a million seeds of rocket (two kilograms of rocket seeds) are shortly due to take off from Florida, bound for the International Space Station, as part of British ESA astronaut Tim Peake’s six-month Principia mission. Continue reading Space-Age Rocket

Nitrogen – Nature’s Explosive Building Blocks

An animation showing the violent explosion of a nitrogen-filled balloon.“Lifeless”

One of the all-time most interesting elements in the Periodic Table, nitrogen is a colourless, odourless, inert diatomic gas that makes up to 78% of the Earth’s atmosphere.  We breathe it everyday, although an atmosphere of pure nitrogen is nefarious to animal and human life.  It is vital to life and plants simply strive on it.  Nitrogen compounds are explosive, and nations have gone to war over it.  It can feed… or kill. Continue reading Nitrogen – Nature’s Explosive Building Blocks