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A Digital (R)Evolution

Charles Jameson examines neuroscience’s role in solving the most difficult computational problems IN MAY 1997, IBM’s computer program ‘Deep Blue’ infamously defeated chess world champion Garry Kasparov in a set of six highly anticipated games. In a curious case of repeated history, DeepMind’s program ‘AlphaGo’ did the same for the ancient Chinese board game of ‘Go’ 19 years later, beating 18-time world champion Lee Sedol 4–1 in March 2016. While

Review: Adventures in the Anthropocene

“For many of us, the effects of the Anthropocene may feel far off, but as human activity continues unabated, this book is an important journey we all should take“ The term Anthropocene is used to reflect the age of human influence on our planet. A read of Gaia Vince’s Adventures in the Anthropocene is an unquestionable must for every one of us. In ten chapters, each representing a different ecosystem, Vince reflects on a monumental journey to understand what the

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

Walking in the footsteps of robotic fossils

Robot of ancient fossil enables scientists to model gait Ripples are forming at the surface of a glass of water; scared children huddle at the back of a car; ominous footsteps resonate on the not-so-distant-anymore horizon. And suddenly, it appears: swinging its tail side-to-side, little arms tucked on the side, a T-rex makes its way into the frame, walking its characteristic walk. But how do we know which gait the now (thankfully) extinct giant adopted? Fossils can

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

Live bacteria pills, a possibility

Pills containing live bacteria on the horizon Taking a pill full of live bacteria does not sound like a medicine that your doctor would, or could, prescribe – but it might soon be. In the last decade, gut microbiome research has drawn a lot of attention and funding, but it was not clear whether any therapies would come out of it any time soon. Synlogic, Inc in Cambridge, MA developed a live bacterial therapy to treat phenylketonuria,

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

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Scientists work together to create more effective medicines Advances continue to progress personalised medicine, a field in which drugs are tailored to patients’ needs based on their genetic information. Historically, simply screening patients’ genomes enabled this trend but more recently, synthetic nucleotide-based medicines have taken this a step further. Nucleotide-based medicines use artificial DNA and RNA (nucleotides) to target cellular genetic information directly, shutting off genetic diseases at their source.