Let's Talk About Soil

Kasparas Vasiliauskas looks under our feet at some of the Earth’s most overlooked material. Met in almost every step we take, soils, despite being so familiar, are often overlooked in discussions of natural systems. This is evident, for example, in making climate models and predictions and even more so when thinking about humanity’s future outside Earth. The entirety of soils and the space where their formation takes place is called

Most distant planetary flyby in history

The NASA probe captured photographs of the distant object Three years ago, NASA’s New Horizons probe made its famous flyby of the dwarf planet Pluto. On New Year’s day 2019, the probe made history again, in its flyby of Ultima Thule. This is the farthest away object humanity has ever visited in the Solar System, 6.5 billion km away from the Earth. Flying as ‘close’ to the object as 3,500km, New Horizons took a series of stunning

Drought and the Collapse of the Maya

James Kershaw discusses whether new data is raining on, or could prove, this fashionable hypothesis Water is essential for life. In this article, we explore the palaeoclimatological evidence linking societal change to periods of drought, with a specific focus on the Maya civilisation. It has been the subject of recent sensationalist news articles, so we ask whether science can conclusively confirm how the great society collapsed. “We definitely consider ourselves

How could feedback loops in the atmosphere lead to runaway environmental disaster?

James Weber explains the role of positive feedback loops and how they could lead to runaway environmental disaster Our atmosphere can be thought of as a single, highly complex system. The complexity arises in part due to the coupling of a vast array of different elements, such as temperature, wind speed, and chemical composition. Should one element be disturbed, others will also change, and this perturbation will propagate throughout the

Peering into the Past

Dan Brubaker and a mishmash of know-nothings convene at the Dr Ralph L Buice, Jr Observatory, Atlanta A low, steady rumble vibrates through the air
and under my feet. It is the sound of a garage door closing, only this is no garage. The single curved wall that surrounds the room remains remarkably still. It
is the mechanical domed ceiling perched overhead
that is causing the ruckus, that is rotating with careful precision

Why Limit Ourselves to Silverware?

Think goldware, zincware and copperware! Bianca Provost explains what Professor Mark Miodownik’s work can tell us about materials and food With every spoonful of food you eat, you are 
also consuming billions of atoms worth of the spoon’s material. It should therefore come as no surprise that your spoon’s composition affects the taste of your
meal. Dr Mark Miodownik, Professor of Materials and Society as well as director of the Institute

Breaking up at Sea:
 The Great Collapse of an Ice Shelf

Dr Alison Banwell tells Silas Yeem Kai Ean and Seán Thór Herron how ice shelves break up In 2002, the Larsen B ice shelf disintegrated into the Antarctic ocean in a mere span of two weeks. A floating mass of ice about the size of Cambridgeshire simply disappeared into the sea. This spectacular event not only inspired the lyrics to a British Sea Power song and sparked mass panic amongst

Liquid-liquid Phase Transition Observed for the First Time

Esther Pilla reports on the state of water research On Earth, water can exist as solid, liquid and
 gas. These phase transitions are important because they occur within a range of temperatures compatible with human life (or, in the case of boiling water, temperatures that allow cooking). This March, a team from Arizona State University and the University of Amsterdam demonstrated for the first time that water can transition from

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