July 2017

What if We Touched Mars?

Patrick Lundgren reflects on the scientific and moral implications of humanity’s dream of space exploration coming true. Humans have always been captivated by the beautiful bright speckles of light scattered across the night sky and the prospect of exploring these unknown worlds beyond ours. erefore, it is not surprising that the sciences pertaining to outer space (astronomy and its derivatives astrophysics, astrochemistry, astrogeology, and astrobiology) have successfully appealed to a wide

A Psychedelic Conversation: Tackling the Taboo

Antonina Kouli and Bart Nieuwenhuis report on the CamBRAIN panel discussion of psychedelic drugs’ medical potential As strange as it sounds today, psychedelic drugs like LSD and psilocybin (magic mushrooms’ active ingredient) showed great clinical promise in the early 1960s. Several early scientific papers suggested that psychedelics could be used to treat psychiatric disorders and even for pain relief. However, the simultaneous rise in psychedelic use by the public at

The Inexpert Ape

Laura Van Holstein explains why none of us is a specialist, and why this makes us so successful. We belong to a remarkably successful species. By comparison, our closest living relatives, chimpanzees and bonobos, never experienced a population boom or geographical sprawl on the scale of Homo sapiens. The key to our curious reproductive overdrive and environmental in delity is our place at the bottom of the Scala Naturae, if

The Drug that Brought the Dress Back

Following Professor France Ashcroft’s 2015 damehood, Atreyi Chakrabarty examines how the work of one woman transformed both treatment and understanding of a debilitating childhood disease. Neonatal diabetes is a myth. At least that was what Frances Ashcroft was told in 1997 on her quest to find newborns with the condition. Yet her persistence and determination to find the cause and cure of this unique condition was unfailing. Not only did she

FOCUS: Speak More, Act More

With ongoing political and public apathy surrounding sustainability and development, Kelsey Reichenbach and Paul Cohen ask the experts Professor Simon Schaffer, Professor Eric Wolff, Dr Hugh Hunt, Anthony Haynes and Ian Ellison how we can better communicate the urgency of Climate Change. In the famous words of George Bernard Shaw, “the single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” Scientists and engineers spend between 20% and 40% of

Standing on the Gene: an interview with Professor Wolf Reik

Jiali Gao and Salvador Buse discuss the emerging field of epigenetic modification, and ask Professor Wolf Reik where it might take us. In the news, in conversation, in the cafe – you have probably heard of epigenetics. But what exactly is it? Epigenetics literally means ‘on top of genetics’. Whereas genetics is the study of genes, which are stretches of DNA containing the information needed to make proteins, epigenetics is the study

Lord Martin Rees: the Future and Catastrophe

Lord Martin Rees is a former Master of Trinity College and an accomplished cosmologist and astrophysicist. He has been Astronomer Royal since 1995, and was President of the Royal Society between 2005 and 2010. Lord Rees spoke to Gabija Maršalkaite and Deyan Mihaylov. Cambridge is a good place to convene experts who can try to decide which threats can be dismissed as science fiction and which are worth thinking about. There is

Planting Ideas: an Interview with Professor Beverly Glover

Ramya Gurunathan and Caitlin Walker talk to Professor Beverly Glover about communication, collaboration, and botanical research. “It’s important for scientists to be able to communicate about their research, we all know that, but sometimes it’s hard to know quite how to,” explains Beverly Glover, Professor of Plant Systematics and Evolution at Cambridge. Glover is not only Director of the Botanical Garden but also the leader of an active research group

Understanding the Irrational

Laura Nunez-Mulder discusses psychiatry’s future with Professor Paul Fletcher Psychiatry is changing. Historically, the field has been dynamic, undergoing transformation as institutions and asylums have come in and out of fashion. Over the last century, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a handbook of checklists by which psychiatrists can make diagnoses, has been overhauled time and time again. The DSM is a controversial manual. Many disorders overlap,

Food for Thought: Fake News and the Diet Industry

Zi Ran Shen talks fad diets and pseudoscience with Cambridge’s Dr Giles Yeo. The post-truth era has taken over – beliefs are emphasised while cold hard facts are ignored. From Kellyanne Conway’s insistence that falsehoods were “alternative facts”, to Nigel Farage’s flip-flopping on the promised £350m for the NHS, nothing seems to be untouched by the post-truth haze. But perhaps all this is not so very new. We have seen