A Day In The Life: A Scientist With Wings

Laura Nunez-Mulder interviews Prof. Nicky Clayton Professor Nicky Clayton sits with her knees tucked up and her feet on the sofa, cradling her cup of coffee in her hand. “I’ve always been interested in birds, from as soon as I could start walking. I’m a movement junkie. I wanted to fly, to be like a bird. I’ve got invisible wings – can’t you see them?” She shimmies, and smiles. Nicky

A Laser Game Controller for the Cambridge Science Festival

James Macdonald describes designing a system to control video games with lasers. Each year over 1000 visitors pass through the main doors of the Institute for Manufacturing for the Cambridge Science Festival; around 300 laser-engineers-of‑the-future make it into the laboratories of the Centre for Industrial Photonics.  Among the many exhibits was the laser video game controller developed by the MRes Ultra Precision CDT (Centre for Doctoral Training) students. In this

Pterodactyls lived like seagulls

Jack McMinn investigates pterosaur parenting Pterosaurs were the the dominant airborne animals of the Mesozoic Era (252-66 million years ago), dying out alongside the dinosaurs and being ecologically replaced by birds. However, a new study by Xiaolin Wang et al. seems to suggest that pterosaurs often used the same evolutionary strategies as their avian replacements. Fossilised embryos of Hamipterus, a Chinese cousin of the famous Pteranodon, were found still inside

Regulation and Foresight

Harry Lloyd ponders our duty to think ahead of technological progress As we marvel at the latest gadgets, technology is already working behind the scenes to bring us the ‘Next Big Thing’. It has a sly habit of developing rapidly, but never making leaps so big we collectively stop to think about where it’s all headed. Like a toad in a slowly heating bath of water, we might not know

Is the Evolution of Language all Talk?

Steve Samuel ponders whether it is worth tackling the central question of how language has come to be How is it that one species alone on this planet evolved language? Though we are not the only animal to have acquired a unique capability, language is so woven into the fabric of our species that it forms the defining element of our species-identity. For some, without language we would not even

Lady of the Diptera

Matthew Brady talks to Dr Erica McAlister about her work exploring the world for some of science’s smallest animals With approximately 160,000 described species, and having evolved over 260 million years ago, Diptera are amongst the most diverse groups of organisms on the planet. They also mean a lot of science, and vinegar flies have been directly involved in Nobel prize winning work for physiology or medicine six times. The

Judged by your Genes

Katherine Dudman introduces genetic discrimination, the sly cousin of racism and sexism Have you ever spared a thought for the value of the information encoded in your genes? Have others? We are constantly bombarded with headlines about the latest research to link behaviour, appearance or disease to variations in our genetic makeup. You may even have considered your own chances of developing cancer, escaping Alzheimer’s or making it through to

No Time for Hot Air

Lauren Broadfield reflects on the state of climate change policies in an increasingly hostile political environment In a recent interview with fellow naturalist Chris Packham, Sir David Attenborough proclaimed that “humanity must come to its senses or face environmental disaster”. We are never short of reminders that climate change is a pressing global problem: we see climate refugees forced to flee their homes, changes in the distribution of some water-borne

Weird and Wonderful: Giving a Fig about Wasps

While many plants entice pollinators with nectar, fig trees do so with the promise of safety and food for the pollinators’ offspring. For the last 50 million years, fig trees have been exclusively pollinated by symbiotic wasps. The insects are born in the little flowers that make up the inside of the fig fruit and are thus provided with a ready food supply. The winged females and wingless males mate

Just Your Cup of Tea

Sophie Protheroe examines the global history of tea and its effect on our health Tea has become a quintessentially British symbol. As a nation, we have been drinking tea for over 350 years. However, tea has endured a tumultuous journey to reach its status as the nation’s favourite beverage. Originating in China, where it was thought to have medicinal properties, tea’s history is closely intertwined with the history of botany