Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster: A look back 100 years

By Marjorie C. Malley
This weekend we remember a tragic, terrifying accident that potentially affected not only Japanese citizens, but the entire planet. Dangerous radioactive substances were released into the atmosphere, making the region around the plant uninhabitable, and contaminating the drinking water and the food chain.

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Mendeleev’s Periodic Table presented in public

This Day in World History
On March 6, 1869, Dmitri Mendeleev’s breakthrough discovery was presented to the Russian Chemical Society. The chemist had determined that the known elements—70 at the time—could be arranged by their atomic weights into a table that revealed that their physical properties followed regular patterns. He had invented the periodic table of elements.

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SciWhys: a cure for Carys? Part Two

By Jonathan Crowe
Using science to understand our world can help to improve our lives. In my last post and in this one, I want to illustrate this point with an example of how progress in science is providing hope for the future for one family, and many others like them.

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A post-quantum world

By Vlatko Vedral
Most of you science buffs out there will, of course, know that science progresses in abrupt jumps, and every once in a while a new theory gets discovered that forces a radical departure from previously held views. I indeed viewed the evolution of science, through what the philosopher Karl Popper called the process of “conjectures and refutations”, as another instance of information processing. But if it’s not unlikely that quantum physics will one day be surpassed, then what confidence should you have in my main thesis? Could it be that the new theory will claim that some other entity – and not a bit of information – is yet more fundamental? In other words, will the post-quantum reality be made up of some other stuff?

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SciWhys: a cure for Carys?

By Jonathan Crowe
Using science to understand our world can help to improve our lives. In this post and the next, I want to illustrate this point with an example of how progress in science is providing hope for the future for one family, and many others like them.

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Galileo arrives in Rome for trial before Inquisition

This Day in World History
Sixty-nine years old, wracked by sciatica, weary of controversy, Galileo Galilei entered Rome on February 13, 1633. He had been summoned by Pope Urban VIII to an Inquisition investigating his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems. The charge was heresy. The cause was Galileo’s support of the Copernican theory that the planets, including Earth, revolved around the sun.

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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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SciWhys: Why do we eat food?

We all know that we eat food to keep ourselves alive. But why do we find ourselves slaves to our appetites and rumbling stomachs? What’s happening inside each of us that couldn’t happen without another slice of toast or piece of fruit, or the sneakily-consumed mid-afternoon bar of chocolate?

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2012: The year that the Higgs boson is discovered

By Jim Baggott
The new year is a time for bold and often foolhardy predictions. Certainly, most of us will take the prophesy of impending doom on 21 December, 2012 with a large pinch of salt. This date may represent the end of a 5,125-year cycle in the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar, but it doesn’t necessarily signal the end of all things (not even in Mayan history, contrary to popular belief). I think that when the time comes, we can plan for Christmas 2012 with a reasonably clear conscience. But, despite the obvious pitfalls, I am prepared to stick my neck out and make a prediction. I predict that this will be the year that the Higgs boson is discovered.

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Curies discover radium

This Day in World History
Working in an old shed on a sample of pitchblende, or uraninite, using chemical processes to separate different elements, the wife and husband team finally reached their breakthrough. They isolated a new element more radioactive than the uranium studied two years before and called it radium.

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The periodic table: matter matters

By Eric Scerri
As far back as I can remember I have always liked sorting and classifying things. As a boy I was an avid stamp collector. I would sort my stamps into countries, particular sets, then arrange them in order of increasing monetary value shown on the face of the stamp. I would go to great lengths to select the best possible copy of any stamp that I had several versions of. It’s not altogether surprising that I have therefore ended up doing research and writing books on what is perhaps the finest example of a scientific system of classification – the periodic table of the elements.

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SciWhys: Why are plants green?

By Jonathan Crowe
After the greyness of winter, the arrival of spring is heralded by a splash of colour as plants emerge from the soil, and trees seemingly erupt with leaves. Soon, much of the countryside has moved from being something of a grey, barren wasteland to a sea of verdant green. But why is it that so much vegetation is green? Why not a sea of red, or blue? To answer this question let me take you on a colourful journey from the sun to within the cells of plant leaves.

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Professor Frank Close talks neutrinos

Neutrinos: what are they and why does nature need them? In a recent lecture Professor Frank Close gave an overview of the discovery of neutrinos, discussing how we are becoming increasingly aware of their significance and speculating over ways in which we may utilise them.

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The origin of Reactions

By Peter Atkins
There are three major problems associated with the challenge of reaching out to the general public with chemistry. One is its collective disagreeable memory of how in many cases it was taught. Another is the association of the subject with harmful effects on humanity and the environment. The third is what is perceived as the intrinsically abstract nature of its explanations. If chemistry, and all its marvellous contributions to the joy of being alive, is to be appreciated by the general public

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