Introducing the worlds blackest material: Vantablack

British scientists created the original Vantablack (Virtually Aligned NanoTube Arrays) in 2014, which then held the record for the blackest material in the world. But they’ve outdone themselves and made a new Vantablack that can absorb up to 99.8% of light.

The material is made from carbon nanotubes. The nanotubes are so small that light photons can’t get inside, but instead fit into the small spaces between the tubes, where they are captured. So that the photons aren’t reflected back and the material seems to just absorb the laser beams. Vantablack absorbs more than just visible light, and is effective across a whole range of the spectrum.

Whats the point of making a material such as this you ask?

Well this material could have a whole host of applications such as reducing light pollution in telescopes, improving infrared cameras or to increase the absorption of heat in solar power technology.

For the first time ever researchers have grown viable eggs in the lab

One of the key goals in developmental and reproductive biology has been achieved this week which could have incredible implications on both this planet and others. Life has been created in a Petri dish.

In a paper published just this week in Nature, Japanese researchers have been able to grow mouse eggs entirely In vitro. Fibroblasts (skin cells which produce collagen) were reprogrammed to make eggs.

While it is true that cells have been reprogrammed to different types of cell in the past. Creating eggs is much more tricky. Eggs are the ultimate stem-cell, able to create all the bits necessary to an organism from raw genetic blueprints. They are far more flexible than stem cells.

This is very solid work and an important step in the field

– Developmental Biologist Diana laird

Continue reading For the first time ever researchers have grown viable eggs in the lab

‘We are made of star stuff’ – #2 – The Big Bang

After recently becoming fascinated with astronomy, I thought I would expand on my original article – about the creation of atoms in the heart of dying stars – and make a mini blog series on astronomy. While it is my intention to write about all things space and physics that fascinate me, there is a LOT of ground to cover. It will therefore be a very brief and perhaps superficial look.

Untitled.png

Continue reading ‘We are made of star stuff’ – #2 – The Big Bang

Simple Sunday #2 – Ice Ages

Screen Shot 2016-02-05 at 18.00.32

During its lifespan the Earth has experienced a number of the ice ages, also called glacial ages.

The were times of extreme cooling of the climate where ice sheets expanded to cover large areas of land. Between ice ages there were warmer interglacial periods and we are now living during such a time.

Many factors have altered the Earths climate over time, including tiny periodic variations in its orbit, the orientation of its spin axis and the movements of the continents. Surprisingly, throughout much of the Earth’s history global temperatures were on average 5 ºC warmer than today and the poles remained ice free.

Continue reading Simple Sunday #2 – Ice Ages

Homo naledi: The discovery of a new Hominid species in South Africa

Discoveries of new species tend to result from a combination of fortuitous luck and scientific nous. The discovery of Homo naledi certainly involved both.

In October, 2013, Rick Hunter and Steven tucker – both recreational cavers – stumbled across some human looking fossils in the Dinaledi cavern part of the Rising Star cave system. Initially fearing them to be the remains of fellow cavers they continued to see how far the cavern went back. On their return journey it became apparent that they may have stumbled upon some hominid fossils – previously, they had been told to be on the look out for fossils in this hominid fossil rich area, dubbed the Cradle of Humankind.

After pictures were sent to Professor Lee Berger an expedition party was assembled. Not more than two months after the discovery of these bones the excavation began…

Continue reading Homo naledi: The discovery of a new Hominid species in South Africa

Henry cavendish: A brilliant life lived behind closed doors

Biography

Henry Cavendish born in Nice, France in 1731 was a british physicist, a chemist, a natural philosopher and among other things one of the greatest scientific minds of the century. While he may give Sir Isaac Newton a run for his money in pure brilliance, he could completely surpass him in strangeness. He attended Dr Newcomb’s academy in England and Cambridge in 1749. He was so reserved from society that there is very little record of him, other than the odd venture into society to meet with some scientific peers.

Continue reading Henry cavendish: A brilliant life lived behind closed doors

Did Neanderthals walk themselves into extinction? an analysis of locomotion efficiencies in comparison to Homo Sapiens

 

The Homo genus originated in Africa around 2-3 million years ago (mya), as the lineage split from the Australopithecine line (Henke and Hardt 2011), the following wide-spread dispersal lead to the colonisation of almost every habitat on Earth as we see today. It is thought that Australopethicines adaptations were confined to habitats in Africa by ecological, physical or climatic reasons, and the adaptations of the Homo species were able to overcome this (Henke and Hardt 2011).

wisetime

Continue reading Did Neanderthals walk themselves into extinction? an analysis of locomotion efficiencies in comparison to Homo Sapiens

Why genetically modified plants (GMO) will play a huge part in our future

We seem to see the use of genetically modified organisms (GMO) more and more in recent years. Most recently we’ve seen the first genetically modified salmon cleared to enter the food chain by the FDA and there is also GMO pork in development.

Genetically modified food is not permitted anywhere in the world. This is due to public weariness with polls showing 52% of people believe GMO foods are unsafe and a further 13% unsure.

Continue reading Why genetically modified plants (GMO) will play a huge part in our future

Stunning Saturday #2 – Vaadhoo island, Maldives

Located in the maldives, known as ‘the sea of stars’ Vaadhoo island is breathtaking. The pinpricks of brilliant blue light seem to mimic the stars above and make for some incredible natural lighting.

Continue reading Stunning Saturday #2 – Vaadhoo island, Maldives

Antibiotic ‘Last line of defence under threat’ say researchers

You may have read in the news recently that our last line of defence against bacterial infection has come under serious threat. While hospitals are already forced into using ‘last-resort‘ antibiotics, new research results suggest we may reach breaking point soon.

This final stand against the tide of antibacterial infection comes in the form of Polymyxin. A group of antibiotics with a general structure of a cyclic peptide and a long hydrocarbon tail. They kill bacteria by binding with lipids in the phospolipid membrane and thus disintegrating it. While this group of antibiotics was developed around 60 years ago they are rarely used. This is because they are both neuro- and nephrotoxic; affecting both the nervous system and the kidneys.

Continue reading Antibiotic ‘Last line of defence under threat’ say researchers

Stunning Saturday #1 – The Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis)

The results are in from last weeks poll. Showing a preference for ‘Stunning Saturday’ and ‘Simple Sunday’. For the moment I will post both series, however future time restraints may restrict me to just doing one, for which I will pick the most popular! As always I would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions for anything you would like me to cover.

So, Welcome to the very first episode of ‘Stunning Saturday’ where I shall bring you some of the most beautifully stunning events and phenomena that occur in our Universe.

I think a very good place to start is with something that is on my personal bucket list and I can imagine millions of people around the world yearn to also see this with their own eyes. It is of course the Northern lights (Aurora Borealis). Even just saying the name conjures up awe-inspiring images in my mind, it is a purely ethereal display.

Continue reading Stunning Saturday #1 – The Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis)

‘We are made of star stuff’ – Carl Sagan

The fact that the elements that make up our bodies, our animals and our ‘apple trees’ were created in the interior furnaces of stars and then catapulted across the universe in violent stellar explosions was said with great poetic beauty by Carl Sagan in 1973. In his book: “The cosmic connection: an extraterrestrial perspective” he said:-

‘Our sun is a second- or third-generation star. All of the rocky and metallic material we stand on, the iron in our blood, the calcium in our teeth, the carbon in our genes were produced billions of years ago in the interior of a red giant star. We are made of star-stuff’

Continue reading ‘We are made of star stuff’ – Carl Sagan

Cold, Warm or just Right? Were Dinosaurs actually cold-blooded?

Dinosaurs (meaning fearfully-great lizard – Richard Owen 1842) are reptiles, so are therefore cold-blooded. Yes? Well maybe not….

A quite aptly named theory suggests that dinosaurs were neither cold blooded or warm-blooded, but instead “dinosaur-blooded”. Combining elements from both cold-blooded and warm-blooded strategies with a changing metabolism over the animal’s lifetime. By using Annuli, which are concentric rings of growth used to age individuals (like the rings of a tree) scientists were able to deduce the metabolism of a number of species (including Tyrannosaurus, Allosaurus, Tenotsaurus and a range of present-day species) and found that their growth rates were not characteristic of either warm or cold-blooded animals.

Continue reading…

How bad teeth could tell us a great deal about ancient humans.

At some point, most of us have probably been told by the dentist that we need to brush more as we have dental plaque building up. But what is dental plaque and what could it tell us about ancient humans?

Dental calculus (plaque) is ubiquitous on modern human teeth; it forms when a biofilm of oral bacteria builds up on the teeth and calcifies. As calcium phosphate mineral salts deposit on the tooth surface the biofilm becomes ‘trapped’ and preserved (Weyrich et al. 2015). This happens constantly over the individual’s lifetime trapping layer upon layer of bacteria. While dental plaque is often discarded from both live and dead individuals it is now recognised that this plaque contains bacteria that can be identified. Luckily for us ancient (and modern) hunter-gatherer groups don’t brush their teeth!

Continue reading How bad teeth could tell us a great deal about ancient humans.

Is Objectivity possible in Archaeology?

Objectivity is the state or quality of being ‘bias-free’ (where biases include personal feelings, experiences and imaginings) while subjectivity is the idea that our decisions and ideas are formulated as a result of our own mental experience (Kristianses and Rowlands 2005). The scientific method strives to produces results that are objective or objective truths and is concerned with reproducibility and testability of methods and theories.

Continue reading…

Is Religion and Science compatible?

The relationship between science and religion is a debate that has raged on since classical antiquity. Discussed at length by philosophers, theologians, scientists and politicians, I have also found myself far too often discussing the ins and outs of religion and science over a pint of the local ale with friends and colleagues. This post will briefly describe the ways in which religion and science may be completely incompatible.

Continue reading…

Why herbal medicines may not be such a joke

This post has stemmed directly from my undergraduate research, where I tested extracts from the plant Espeletia pycnophylla against microbial pathogens to determine if this plant had potential as an antimicrobial.

Herbal medicines are a type of dietary supplement sold as tablets, capsules, teas and extracts that derive from plants but can also extend to honey and fungal products.The use of plants for medicinal purposes is known as herbalism. When people hear the terms traditional, herbal or alternative medicines many people scoff and picture thoughts of a shaman dancing around a fire blowing smoke in your face shaking maraca’s while calling on the gods for healing, however before the advent of modern medicine plants and natural compounds were used as medicines for thousands of years to treat almost every type of infection. In some developing countries plants are still the only source of medicinal compounds with up to 80% of the population depending upon traditional medicines.

Continue reading Why herbal medicines may not be such a joke

Bacterial antibiotic resistance explained in a short video

A fantastic short educational video on bacterial antibiotic resistance genes, it helped me to visualise the mechanisms when i was revising for my undergraduate microbiology exam. This and other videos by Armando Hasudungan deserve a lot more popularity as they are very well put together and explain things with great clarity.

Reconstructing prehistoric animals

This post is based upon the book: All Yesterdays, unique and speculative views of Dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals by John Conway, C.M Kosemen and Darren Naish. I recently read this book and would recommend it to anybody studying archaeology and anthropology. The book raises the issues of clothing bones in tissue (e.g. skin, muscles, fur and feathers) or in other words bringing the animal back to life in art.

Continue reading…