Pooh Sticks

Just a short post today. I came across this video of the strangest animal behaviour I’ve ever witnessed. The bear, named Claude, can be seen twisting and spinning a large stick with more precision and agility than your average sergeant major. Such complex tool use is rarely seen in the animal kingdom naturally, such as […]

Birth of a galaxy

8 months in the making, this simulation is the most detailed picture of how the Milky Way formed. For more information visit http://www.hpc-ch.org/blog/2011/08/25/first-realistic-simulation-of-the-formation-of-the-milky-way-computed-at-cscs/

Bird Brainiacs

Fact of the Day #2 Pigeons are smarter than most mathematicians. Well, they are if you look at one specific mathematical conundrum called the Monty Hall Problem. The name  comes from the host of an American quiz show, who, at the end of each show, offered a contestant the chance to win a prize. The prize […]

Pure Water Can KIll You

Fact of the day #1 Drinking absolutely pure water can kill you. All the water we normally drink – from taps, from bottles, from the garden hose – contains impurities which affect a property of water called tonicity. This is the ability of a solution to draw or repel water from ajacent solutions when separated by […]

Harmony in motion

Sound, as you probably know, is the result of pressure waves travelling through the air. As the pressure wave enters your ear, it causes the tympanic membrane to vibrate. This, simultaneously, causes your inner ear bones to dance around like a teenager at a rock concert. In turn, this moshing vibrates tiny hairs in your […]

The Descent of Giraffe

The birth of a new life, for most of us, is a wonderful thing. For the newborn, it is the first glimpse of our bright, brave new world. What adventures have we set in store? What beauty will we see? A multitude of possibilities are ahead. For a baby giraffe, however, birth must be an […]

The Dance of the Starlings

This amazing video by Mark Rigler demonstrates the beautiful complexity that exists throughout the natural world. Like a Bach fugue, patterns emerge and fade, interweave, and are exquisitely modified to form an endless variety of beautiful structures. The end result seems too complicated, too ordered, too apparently designed to have appeared by chance. But, like […]

Genetic modification of bacteria leads to new vaccine

A new type of vaccine for pneumonia based on genetically engineered bacteria has been developed, and may help in the fight against many other infectious diseases. The vaccine, which protects against a virulent form of the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae, works by introducing a modified form of the bacterium that produces less pneumolysin – a toxic […]

Run Lassie – no not over there! Damn you Lassie!

Scientists can be utter bastards some of the time. Not content with letting us unwashed masses revel in our ignorance, they systematically poke and prod the world around us, looking for answers to questions best left unanswered. The latest casualty of this scientific tirade – my childhood. Specifically, the destruction of my faith in man’s […]

A new spin on computing

Spin, as anyone who has ever heard Alistair Campbell speak, is a tricky thing to figure out. Quantum spin – a property many subatomic particles have – is equally confounding, but, if understood, could lead to a powerful new breed of computer technology called spintronics. Despite its name, quantum spin does not actually refer to […]

Science Behind the Photo #26

Seven-spot Ladybird (Coccinella septempunctata) One of the most distinctive and, arguably, the most popular insects in the UK, the ladybird has captured the imaginations of many a young child. However, the future of our bespeckled friend is not as bright as her iconic red coat. Many native species of ladybirds are in decline thanks, in […]

Drug smuggling cells evade detection

Us humans are always looking for the easy way out. If we can get someone else to do our dirty work for us, so much the better, which is why drug dealers rely on mules to ship merchandise for them. One of the trickiest things to do in medical science is smuggling drugs or nanoprobes […]

Podcast: Do you know your A.C.G.T?

…as easy as 1.2.3… Sorry, got caught up singing my favorite song. Jackson 5, legends. Though they obviously got the A.B.C part wrong because it should have been A.G.C.T, the 4 most important letters of life! A.G.C.T represent the 4 bases that make up DNA, adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine. When contained in DNA they […]

Beardy wierdy

Beardedness is not a word I would have ever expected to find in a scientific journal. However, it has sprouted up everywhere in one particular article published in the journal Psychological Reports. Beardedness – the condition of having a beard – apparently serves as a signal fora great number of qualities. From the first downy […]

Bloomin marvellous

An unusually snowy winter, and weeks of heavy rainfall in south east USA has resulted in the Mississippi River flooding to record levels.  As a response, US engineers have released the rising waters onto the floodplains surrounding the river, in order to save the heavily populated regions further downstream. The economic costs of such an […]

Monitoring your sleep patterns

It’s 3am. The cold light of my computer screen illuminates my face, highlighting the bags that are forming under my eyes and casting disturbing shadows around my bedroom. You might think that I was engaged in something incredibly important to keep me up so late. But no, the truth is, I am unable to sleep […]

Baby boomers

Anyone who has ever taken a long plane journey knows just how annoying babies can be. In the cramped, stuffy environment of a plane cabin sometimes the only relief you can find is in sleep. You may, miraculously, find yourself drifting off, only to be rudely brought back to Earth by the sound of a baby screaming its lungs […]

The Forest Garden

It is quite fashionable these days to be seen to care for the environment. Celebrities, corporations, even the Conservative party are all keen to emphasise their green credentials. Most of the time, however, their efforts are all but tokenistic – perhaps taking a few less private jets a year. Their efforts are put to shame […]

Titanic antics

Last year, I had the good fortune of going on a white water rafting trip. Shivering uncontrollably from the combination of the cold and the danger, it was, all things considered, an amazing adventure. One factor, which at the time, I was very grateful for was the raft – a sturdy construction of rubber and […]

Sting bomb detector

A novel instrument capable of detecting single molecules of explosives such as TNT has been built using carbon nanotubes and, strangely, bee venom proteins. The detector draws upon the discovery that carbon nanotubes emit a specific spectrum of infra-red light depending on the chemical environment. Carbon nanotubes, by themselves, are not able to detect TNT.  […]

Surveillance society

Ever found yourself doing something that you know you probably shouldn’t be doing? And, when you’re doing said unscrupulous act, are you constantly wary of anyone who might discover and judge you? Don’t worry, we’ve all been there. It turns out this fear of being caught is part of our evolved psychology. Acts of moral […]

Pendulum Waves

If you’re reading this right now, you are most likely procrastinating, arent you? Don’t worry, I wont judge. Your brain is probably feeling very overworked, but you might also be feeling guilty that you’re not doing anything productive. So, here’s a video that has all the semblances of work – its got maths, and harmonics, […]

Beauty isn’t in the eye of the beholder, it’s in the eye

Yes, maybe it’s true that there are differing opinions on who we think of as attractive. Indeed, some people think Simon Cowell is good looking. Still cant get my head around that one,  but I digress. Yes, people have their own personal prefernces – blonde or brunette, brainy or brawny, etc.  However, numerous studies have […]

Attack of the killer white blood cells

Forget werewolves, vampires and George Osbornes. The scariest thing in the world isn’t out there waiting to get you, it’s inside you. It’s always ready – ready to pounce on its unsuspecting victims, to eat them in a single bite. Thankfully this monster is on our side – the humble white blood cell. The video […]

Grasping for attention

Collectors come in all shapes and sizes. Some are relatively tame, such as the humble stamp collectors and comic book hunters. Others are harder to understand. For example, Michael Lewis has a handsome collection of Moist Towelettes. Sergei Frolov has over 150 Soviet Calculators. Most bizarrely though, for 27 years Graham Barker has been scouring […]

Science saved my soul

I know many of us are revising frantically at the moment, spending every waking moment trying to cram as much knowledge into our delicate little brains as we can. Either that or feeling guilty for not doing as much as we should. It can feel like our lives have been dominated by the need to […]

The unseen threat of nitrogen

Nitrogen is one of those elements that never really gets much attention. It’s colourless, odourless and mostly inert. For the most part, it’s a bit of a loner as well, only bonding with itself in the form of N2. Unfortunately, it’s the quiet ones that can prove to me the most dangerous, as an international […]

A bug’s life is better with company

Parasites are amazing.  By taking advantage of the efforts of another species, parasites have been able to flourish in countless strange ways. For example, there is one parasite that lives only on the lips of lobsters (Symbion americanus). The fungal parasite, Ophiocordyceps unilateralis infects the brains of ants, causing them to climb high into the forest canopy, […]