Category Archives: History of Science

Sailing the Lower Midnight… – The Uncharted Frontier of Modern Deep-Sea Exploration

A photograph of the not-so-friendly, and frankly scary-looking, footballfish, a deep sea-predator from the anglerfish family.What lies 5,000 metres Below Sea Level?

It’s cold down there.  Icy cold.  It’s dark.  Pitch black, in fact.  And the crushing pressures make the deepest parts of the oceans into some of the most hostile places on our planet.  The lowest of the low.  The deepest of the deep.  Only three human explorers ever made it down there.  As a brand new wave of deep-sea exploration begins, we look at the mysterious world where marine scientists will be diving into… Continue reading Sailing the Lower Midnight… – The Uncharted Frontier of Modern Deep-Sea Exploration

Global Winds and the Coriolis Effect – The Ever Changing Atmospheric System

A photograph showing blue sky and the wind blowing through a field of oats.What is Wind?

It comes at you as a breeze.  As a gust.  As a gale.  Or in the scariest of situations as a hurricane or a tornado with wind speeds of up to 400 kilometres an hour.  But what is wind?

Continue reading Global Winds and the Coriolis Effect – The Ever Changing Atmospheric System

Fantastic Beasts of the “Misty Isle” – Welcome to Jurassic Skye!

Artwork collage focusing on a drawing of Megalosaurus dinosaurs running on the shores of the Jurassic Isle of Skye. Image: NaturphilosophieWelcome to Scotland’s Jurassic Park

Welcome to Jurassic Skye!  While dinosaurs might be long dead and no threat to puny humans, the rich fossil record of the Scottish island of Skye – the “Misty Isle” – has provided palaeontologists with important clues to the lives of prehistoric predators and their preys.  Continue reading Fantastic Beasts of the “Misty Isle” – Welcome to Jurassic Skye!

Human versus Nature – The Golden Spike of the Anthropocene

A green nefarious-looking nuclear cloud, based on a photograph of the spectacularly large mushroom cloud resulting from the Trinity nuclear test experiment of July 16, 1945, that was part of the Manhattan Project. Image: NaturPhilosophieA New Epoch has Begun

The term ‘Anthropocene’ has entered scientific literature as an expression of the fundamental environmental change caused to planet Earth by humankind, despite not being a formally defined geological unit within the geological time scale.  The hunt is on for the “golden spike” – a marker for future researchers to point to in millions of years and identify as the geological start of the Anthropocene epoch.  Continue reading Human versus Nature – The Golden Spike of the Anthropocene

Looking on the Bright Side of Clinical Depression

A photograph showing a young man sitting alone near a beach, looking very down-hearted.

New Hope

A revolution in the treatment and understanding of clinical depression may be looming.  And specialists are already talking about one of the strongest discoveries in psychiatry for the past two decades.  For the 350 million people who suffer from the illness worldwide, this could potentially mean light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.  Continue reading Looking on the Bright Side of Clinical Depression

Panacea Nostrum – The Forensic Toxicology of Cannabis

Artwork for Cannabis Panacea allegory, depicting the goddess Panacea seeding cannabis plants. Image: NaturPhilosophieWhat is Your Poison of Choice?

Be honest.  We all have one.  What’s your poison?  Booze, tobacco, prescription drugs… or something a little more exotic?  Cannabis is a controversial plant, regarded by many as a godsend.  If Carlsberg made a ‘erb… Continue reading Panacea Nostrum – The Forensic Toxicology of Cannabis

The Evelyn Tables – Musings on Leoni d’Este’s Human Herbarium

A photograph showing one of the Evelyn tables, featuring the spinal cord and the entire nervous system in the human body.Finding Gems in London

The Evelyn tables are the oldest known anatomical preparations in Europe –  a manner of human herbarium – showcased at a scarcely visited location in the very heart of London.  Continue reading The Evelyn Tables – Musings on Leoni d’Este’s Human Herbarium

Ouch!! #$@*!! – We Take a Quick Look at the Neuro-Physics of Pain

A cartoon illustrating the phenomenon of physiological pain.Signals and Perception

Prior to the discovery of nociceptors in 1906, scientists believed that animals were like mechanical devices that transformed the energy of sensory stimuli into motor responses.  Pain is one of those stimulated reactions, but it is unlike other sensations.  What is the purpose of pain? Continue reading Ouch!! #$@*!! – We Take a Quick Look at the Neuro-Physics of Pain

Hunting Ripples in the Fabric of Space-Time – The Trials and Tribulations of LISA

Artwork for "Hunting Ripples in the Fabric of Space-Time – The Trials and Tribulations of LISA" showing the LISA space array, with the caption: "Think Again!" Artwork: NaturPhilosophieMeet LISA!

Erm…No.  Not Mona Lisa!  (Rolls eyes.)  Think again!!  This is LISA – the Lisa Pathfinder satellite, the key element for a grand new project: a space-based gravitational observatory.  Continue reading Hunting Ripples in the Fabric of Space-Time – The Trials and Tribulations of LISA

Optically Brilliant Metamaterials

Artwork illustration for 'Optically Brilliant Metamaterials', depicting a human eye looking at the nanoscopic world with the help of metamaterial molecules. Source: Canada Stock Journal

Smart Materials

They are made from assemblies of multiple elements fashioned from composite materials, like metals or plastics.  And they promise to revolutionise the way we look at things. Continue reading Optically Brilliant Metamaterials

Breaking Bad – The Evolutionary Perspective of Evil

A blurred photograph featuring the face of an angry ape chimpanzee. Image: NaturPhilosophieEvil as an Evolutionary Advantage

There is a side of us that is not unique to our own species.  Evil.  Why?  How did it start?  The first time.  Asking why evil came into existence is a valid question.  Evil behaviours are categorised into four distinct groups.  Of course, it gets pretty dark.  But what is “Evil”?  Continue reading Breaking Bad – The Evolutionary Perspective of Evil

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

The Discovery of Gravitational Waves – Merging Black Holes and Advanced LIGO

An animation illustrating two colliding and merging black holes in outer space.

Black Holes Far Ago Have Been Causing a Stir…

You know how when you throw a rock into a pool, that makes ripples in the water?  And how Einstein once upon a time predicted that the very mass of stars and planets should warp spacetime?  Although we have had a justified inkling that Einstein was right for quite some time, we had never before detected such a phenomenon.  Until THIS happened… Continue reading The Discovery of Gravitational Waves – Merging Black Holes and Advanced LIGO

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?

Name: Tim Peake Job: Space Electrician

A selfie photograph taken by British astronaut Major Tim Peake of himself during his historic first space walk outside the International Space Station on 15 January 2016. The British Union flag is visible on the left shoulder of his pressure suit, as well as a view of the Earth being reflected in his visor. Spaceman, I always wanted you to go into space, man!

After nearly five hours in space, British astronaut Tim Peake completed his first spacewalk, at 17:31 GMT on Friday 15 January.  Intended to last over six hours, the space walk was cut short after his US colleague Tim Kopra reported a water leak in his helmet. Continue reading Name: Tim Peake Job: Space Electrician

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!!

On the Evolution of Darwin’s Finches

A close-up photograph of a female Medium Ground Finch from South Plaza Island.Adapt or Die

Finches in the Galápagos Islands are being threatened by a parasitic fly that attacks their young, placing the same species of birds that helped Charles Darwin refine his theory of evolution in danger of extinction.  But the authors of a new study say that human intervention could alleviate the risk. Continue reading On the Evolution of Darwin’s Finches

The Everlasting Storm of Catatumbo, Venezuela

A photograph showing the intense lightning at Catatumbo in Venezuela. National Geographic MagazineCatatumbo’s Lightning Show

There is a place on Earth where lightning storms last forever.  We are at Catatumbo, in Venezuela.  And this year, Catatumbo was approved for inclusion in the Guinness Book of World Records, as the place in the World with the most lightning bolts per square kilometre each year at 250.  What causes such a powerful storm to develop in the same spot, up to 300 nights a year? Continue reading The Everlasting Storm of Catatumbo, Venezuela

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

On the Trail of Hurricane Patricia

A NASA photograph showing the extent of Hurricane Patricia seen from space - the largest hurricane ever recorded on Earth.The Strongest Ever Hurricane

23rd October 2015.  The ‘strongest ever’ hurricane recorded in the Western hemisphere is about to make a “potentially catastrophic” landfall on the western coast of Mexico.  This is hurricane Patricia.  At that time, the super storm is a Category 5.    Weather scientists predict 20 inches of rain and 200 miles per hour winds… Continue reading On the Trail of Hurricane Patricia

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…