Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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What black hole collisions reveal about the universe

The remarkable detection of gravitational waves by the LIGO collaboration recently has drawn much attention to the fundamental and intriguing workings of gravity in our universe. Finding these gravitational waves, inferred to be produced by merger of two stellar mass black holes, has been like listening to the very distant sound of the universe.

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Who was John David Main Smith?

This blog post concerns a virtually unknown chemist, John David Main Smith, who contributed a significant piece of research in atomic physics in the early 1920s at the time when knowledge of the field was undergoing very rapid changes. Main Smith is so little known that I had to search far and wide for a photograph of him before finally obtaining one from his son who is still living in the south of England.

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Galileo’s legacy: Catholicism, Copernicanism, and conflict resolution

In Rome on 22 June 1633 an elderly man was found guilty by the Catholic Inquisition of rendering himself “vehemently suspected of heresy, namely, of having held and believed a doctrine which is false and contrary to the divine and Holy Scripture”. The doctrine in question was that “the sun is the centre of the world and does not move from east to west, that the earth moves and is not the centre of the world.

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How to teach quantum mechanics to kids

Does this even make sense? Doesn’t quantum mechanics involve advanced esoteric mathematics? Didn’t Richard Feynman say that nobody understands quantum mechanics, and Niels Bohr remark that those who aren’t shocked by quantum mechanics can’t possibly have understood it?

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Mary Somerville: the new face on Royal Bank of Scotland’s ten-pound note is worthy of international recognition

From 2017, ten-pound notes issued by the Royal Bank of Scotland will feature a new face: that of the great nineteenth-century science communicator Mary Somerville. Her book on mathematical astronomy, Mechanism of the Heavens — published in 1831, when she was fifty years old — was used as an advanced textbook at Cambridge for a hundred years. This is a phenomenal achievement for a woman who taught herself science and mathematics.

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Earth’s climate: a complex system with mysteries abound

We are living with a climate system undergoing significant changes. Scientists have established a critical mass of facts and have quantified them to a degree sufficient to support international action to mitigate against drastic change and adapt to committed climate shifts. The primary example being the relation between increased atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations and the extent of warming in the future.

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When black holes collide

The discovery of gravitational waves, announced on 11 February 2016 by scientists from the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO), has made headline news around the world. One UK broadsheet devoted its entire front page to a image of a simulation of two orbiting black holes on which they superimposed the headline “The theory of relativity proved”.

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A history of the International Space Station [infographic]

The International Space Station was originally conceived as our base camp to the stars – the first step in a long journey of human civilisation exploring new planets, asteroids, and galaxies, and perhaps even helping us to meet other forms of life in the universe along the way. The International Space Station is an incredible feat in human engineering, politics, and bravery.

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Blue planet blues

The Earth we live on was formed from a cloud of dust and ice, heated by a massive ball of compressed hydrogen that was the early Sun. Somewhere along the four billion year journey to where we are today, our planet acquired life, and some of that became us. Our modern brains ask how it all came together and progressed, and what shaped the pathways it followed.

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Time and perception

The human brain is a most wonderful organ: it is our window on time. Our brains have specialized structures that work together to give us our human sense of time. The temporal lobe helps form long term memories, without which we would not be aware of the past, whilst the frontal lobe allows us to plan for the future.

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An efficient way to find monsters with two faces

Quasars are distant galactic nuclei generating spectacular amounts of energy by matter accretion onto their central supermassive black holes. The precise geometry and origin of this huge activity are still largely unknown, and direct spatial resolution of the emitting regions from such distant monsters is not currently possible.

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Exploring spiral-host radio galaxies

A galaxy is a gigantic system possessing billions of stars, vast amounts of gas, dust and dark matter held together by gravitational attraction. Typical size of galaxies can be anywhere from a few tens-of-thousands to a few hundreds-of-thousands of light-years.

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Those four new elements

The recent announcement of the official ratification of four super-heavy elements, with atomic numbers 113, 115, 117 and 118, has taken the world of science news by storm. It seems like there is an insatiable appetite for new information about the elements and the periodic table within the scientific world and among the general public.

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The world’s most (in)famous exoplanet vanishes

In 2012, a team of astrophysicists led by Xavier Dumusque caused a sensation when they announced the discovery of Alpha Centauri Bb: an Earth-sized planet in the Alpha Centauri star system, the star system closest to the Sun. If verified, Alpha Centauri Bb would be the closest known exoplanet to our own Solar System, and possibly also the lowest mass planet ever discovered around a star similar to the Sun.

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Holograms and contemporary culture

Holograms are an ironic technology. They encompass a suite of techniques capable of astonishingly realistic imagery (in the right circumstances), but they’re associated with contrasting visions: on the one hand, ambitious technological dreams and, on the other, mundane and scarcely noticed hologram products.

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