The International Year of Light provides a good opportunity to revisit the early studies on the optical properties of X-rays. X-rays were discovered by W. C. Röntgen on the evening of 8 November 1895 while he was redoing some of Hertz’s experiments on cathode rays. By the end of the year, even before informing the world of his discovery, he had observed the basic properties of X-rays: like light, they propagate as straight lines and are diffused by turbid media, but are not deflected by a prism, nor refracted or reflected by matter; they pass through bodies, as shown by the radiograph of his wife’s hand.
What’s your first reaction when you see this picture? Love? Fear? Repulsion? If you are like many Americans, when you come across a spider, especially a large, hairy one like this tarantula, the emotions you experience are most likely in the realm of fear or disgust. Your actions probably include screaming, trapping, swatting, or squashing of the spider.
The news that Britain is set to become the first country to authorize IVF using genetic material from three people—the so-called ‘three-parent baby’—has given rise to (very predictable) divisions of opinion. On the one hand are those who celebrate a national ‘first’, just as happened when Louise Brown, the first ever ‘test-tube baby’, was born in Oldham in 1978. Just as with IVF more broadly, the possibility for people who otherwise couldn’t to be come parents of healthy children is something to be welcomed.
Everything is connected. Animals and asteroids, bodies and stardust, heart valves and supernovas—all of these rise from the same origin to form the expanse of the universe, the fiber of our being. So say our guests of this month’s Oxford Comment, Karel Shrijver, an astronomer who studies the magnetic fields of stars, and Iris Schrijver, a physician and pathologist. We sat down for a captivating discussion with the co-authors of Living with the Stars: How the Human Body is Connected to the Life Cycles of the Earth, the Planets, and the Stars.
A Practical Genomics Revolution is rolling out, owing to the dropping cost of DNA sequencing technology, accelerated DNA research, and the benefits of applying genetic knowledge in everyday life. We now have ‘million-ome’ genome sequencing projects and talk of ‘billion-omes’ is growing audible. Given the expense – even at only $1000 a genome, a million still costs $1 billion US dollars — it is only right to ask, “What will the impact be?”
Dolphins are famous not only for their playful personalities, but also their striking level of intelligence. After half a century studying their minds, scientists have learned a lot about how dolphins think, and the nature of their intelligence. You’ve probably heard a lot about dolphins over the years, but how much do you know about the latest scientific research into dolphin cognition? Take the quiz and find out!
A couple of days after seeing Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, I bumped into Sir Roger Penrose. If you haven’t seen the movie and don’t want spoilers, I’m sorry but you’d better stop reading now.
Still with me? Excellent. Some of you may know that Sir Roger developed much of modern black hole theory with his collaborator, Stephen Hawking, and at the heart of Interstellar lies a very unusual black hole. Straightaway, I asked Sir Roger if he’d seen the film. What’s unusual about Gargantua, the black hole in Interstellar, is that it’s scientifically accurate.
Charles Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection changed the way scientists understand our evolutionary past, and is a concept with which most people are quite familiar. One often overlooked element of Natural Selection, however, is the role chance plays in guiding this process.
Watching the field of genomics evolve over the past 20 years, it is intriguing to notice the word “genome” cozying up to the word ‘million’. Genomics is moving beyond 1k, 10k and 100k genome projects. A new courtship is blossoming. The Obama Administration has just announced a Million Genomes Project – and it’s not even the first. Now both Craig Venter and Francis Collins, leads of the private and public versions of the Human Genome Project, are working on their million-omes.
Many attempts have been made to explain the historic and current lack of women working in STEM fields. During her two years of service as Director of Policy Planning for the U. S. State Department, from 2009 to 2011, Anne-Marie Slaughter suggested a range of strategies for corporate and political environments to help better support women at work. These spanned from social-psychological interventions to the introduction of role models and self-affirmation practices.
Life is the most exquisite natural outcome on our planet and has arisen as an evolutionary experiment that has persisted for the 4.5 billion years since the formation of this planet. The enormous biodiversity we see today represents only a small fraction of life that has existed on earth.
February 2nd marks Groundhog Day, an annual tradition in which we rouse a sleepy, burrowing rodent to give us winter-weary humans the forecast for spring. Many know little about the true life of a wild groundhog beyond its penchant for vegetable gardens and large burrow entrances.
I recall a dinner conversation at a symposium in Paris that I organized in 2010, at which a number of eminent evolutionary biologists, economists and philosophers were present. Whenever the topic of “group selection” was brought up, a ferocious argument always seemed to ensue.
Galileo and some of his contemporaries left careful records of their telescopic observations of sunspots – dark patches on the surface of the sun, the largest of which can be larger than the whole earth. Then in 1844 a German apothecary reported the unexpected discovery that the number of sunspots seen on the sun waxes and wanes with a period of about 11 years. Initially nobody considered sunspots as anything more than an odd curiosity.
Meet Utricularia. It’s a bladderwort, an aquatic carnivorous plant, and one of the fastest things on the planet. It can catch its prey in a millisecond, accelerating it up to 600g.
From the comfort of a desk, looking at a computer screen or the printed page of a newspaper, it is very easy to ignore the fact that thousands of tons of insecticide are sprayed annually. Consider the problem of the fall armyworm in Mexico. As scientists and crop advisors, we’ve worked for the past two decades trying to curb its impact on corn yield.