Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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Decoding the beauty of pearls

By Nori Satoh
How beautiful pearls are. Pearls emit a complex pattern of brightness, each with completely different color combination. They have attracted human beings, especially women, for long time, but simultaneously they have attracted biologists with a long-standing question of how pearl oysters generate such beautiful biomineralized materials.

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Time-travelling to distant climates

By Jan Zalasiewicz and Mark Williams
Imagine that time machine has finally been invented. All of the ancient Earth can now be visited. One could experience the world as it was: see long-dissipated cloud systems with one’s own eyes, feel ancient rain and primeval winds, and sense the warmth of prehistoric sunshine on one’s back. A safari into the ancient past with just 5 stops were allowed. Where would one choose to go?

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The evolution of orchids

By Alec Pridgeon
“Blasphemy”! That was the only remark that anyone heard from the woman after she stormed out of the orchid society meeting in Florida. Taken aback for a moment, the speaker continued his talk on orchid evolution to an otherwise appreciative audience.

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It’s Ecology, not Environmental Science

By David Gibson
“You’re an ecologist, so tell me, should I replace all the incandescent bulbs in my house with fluorescent bulbs? And, what about these new light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs?” Well, I have a reasonably well-informed opinion on this issue, but it’s not really my expertise. “Perhaps then you can tell me more about the problem of invasive species?” Now you’re talking; this is something that ecologists can help with.

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DNA Day, 2023

By Harry Ostrer
Imagine this day in 2023. You decide it is time to allow your doctor to obtain your whole genome sequence to develop a risk profile. You are 58 years old and you have been forgetting simple things. Your family is worried. Your genetic counselor asks which results you would like to learn. You choose only the results for which your doctor says something useful could be done.

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Scientists identify DNA

This Day in World History
The April 25, 1953 edition of the journal Nature included a scientific paper that opened new doors in scientific understanding. The paper, written by James Watson and Francis Crick, described the structure of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), the substance that determines the hereditary traits of a living organism.

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Cool, clear water? On cleaning up US rivers

By Wallace Scot McFarlane
Many rivers in the United States carry the burden of having been severely polluted. Indeed all the rivers on which I have lived were once no healthier than an open sewer: the Trinity River (Dallas’s untreated sewage), the Concord River (military-industrial complex Superfund sites), the Androscoggin River (paper mills), the Charles River (“love that muddy water!”), and the Willamette River (paper mills). Although none of these rivers live up to the clean water promised by the Clean Water Act, they are nonetheless much cleaner and offer plenty of recreational opportunities, often neglected by the many people who call these watersheds home.

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Let us now praise human population genetics

By Harry Ostrer
Exactly who are we anyway? Over the last generation, population genetics has emerged as a science that has made the discovery of human origins, relatedness, and diversity knowable in a way that is simple not possible from studying texts, genealogies, or archeological remains. Viewed as the successor to a race science that promoted the superiority of some human groups over others and that provided a basis for prejudice, forced sterilization, and even extermination, population genetics is framed as a discipline that is based on discovery using the amazing content of fully sequenced human genomes and novel computational methods. None of the recent discoveries would have been possible in the past. And what have we learned?

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Name that cloud

By Storm Dunlop
World Meteorology Day marks a highly successful collaboration under the World Meteorological Organization, involving every country, large or small, rich or poor. Weather affects every single person (every living being) on the planet, but why do people feel meteorology is not for them? Why do they even find it so difficult to identify different types of cloud? Or at least they claim that it is difficult. The average person, it would seem, looks at the sky and simply thinks ‘clouds’. (Just as they look at the night sky and think nothing more than ‘stars’).

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Carbon dioxide and our oceans

By Jean-Pierre Gattuso and Lina Hansson
The impact of man’s fossil fuel burning and deforestation on Earth’s climate can hardly have escaped anyone’s attention. But there is a second, much less known, consequence of our carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. A large part of human-caused CO2 is absorbed by the world’s oceans, where it affects ocean chemistry and biology. This process, known as ocean acidification, is also referred to as “the other CO2 problem”.

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It’s World Water Day! What are you doing to help?

Is staggering population growth and intensifying effects of climate change driving the oasis-based society of the American Southwest close to the brink of a Dust-Bowl-scale catastrophe? Today is International World Water Day. Held annually on 22 March, it focuses attention on the importance of freshwater and advocating for the sustainable management of freshwater resources. We sat down with William deBuys, author of A Great Aridness: Climate Change and the Future of the American Southwest, to discuss what lies ahead for Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and Utah.

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Climate change: causing volcanoes to go pop

By Bill McGuire
When I first mention to someone that a changing climate is capable of causing volcanoes to go pop or the ground to shake, they think that I am either mad or having them on. Usually, this is just because they have not given the idea much thought, so that when I am given the opportunity to explain how this works they often become quite keen on the notion. Of course, the dyed-in-the-wool climate denier ideologues are already attacking the whole thesis; not on the basis of arguments rooted in science, but because it does not fit with their blinkered world view.

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Will climate change cause earthquakes?

In Waking the Giant, Bill McGuire argues that now that human activities are driving climate change as rapidly as anything seen in post-glacial times, the sleeping giant beneath our feet is stirring once again. The close of the last Ice Age saw not only a huge temperature hike but also the Earth’s crust bouncing and bending in response to the melting of the great ice sheets and the filling of the ocean basins — dramatic geophysical events that triggered earthquakes, spawned tsunamis, and provoked a series of eruptions from the world’s volcanoes.

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Understanding evolution on Darwin Day

By Karl S. Rosengren, Sarah K. Brem, E. Margaret Evans and Gale M. Sinatra
Today is Darwin’s birthday. It’s doubtful that any scientist would deny Darwin’s importance, that his work provides the field of biology with its core structure, by providing a beautiful, powerful mechanism to explain the diversity of form and function that we see all around us in the living world. But being of importance to one’s field is only one way we judge a scientist’s contributions.

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What mushrooms have taught me about the meaning of life

Once upon a time, I spent 30 years studying mushrooms and other fungi. Now, as my scientific interests broaden with my waistline, I would like to share three things that I have learned about the meaning of life from thinking about these extraordinary sex organs and the microbes that produce them.

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International Climate Policy: The Durban Platform Opens a Window

In late November and early December of last year, some 195 national delegations met in Durban, South Africa, for the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP-17) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the latest in a series of international negotiations intended to address the threat of global climate change due to increased concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases (GHSs) in the atmosphere, largely a consequence of the worldwide combustion of fossil fuels, as well as ongoing deforestation.

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