Apollo 13 & the consequences of Carbon Dioxide: Lessons on avoiding disaster

What’s the connection between a failed moon mission and global Carbon Dioxide levels? I was rewatching Apollo 13 recently, you know the movie with Tom Hanks stating the biggest understatement in history: “Houston we have a problem”. If you haven’t seen it or can’t remember, it’s a fantastic true story about human ingenuity. The year is 1970, it’s NASA’s seventh manned space mission and the 3rd to the moon. Another routine trip. Little did anyone anticipate what was about to unfold. Two days into the mission and more than halfway to the moon, one of the oxygen tanks exploded. (Incidentally, …

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The World’s Longest Running Experiment

Do you know what a pitch is? If you’re a sports fan, the first thing that comes to mind is perhaps the field football is played on or the throw a batter tries to hit. Or maybe since this is a science blog and maybe you’re also musically minded, you think of the frequency of a tone. What I am referring to here though, is the name given to the most viscoelastic solid polymers known, such as Bitumen. All that means is that it’s a plastic that exhibits viscous (like honey) and elastic (like a rubber band) characteristics when under …

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What’s up with Dark Matter?

There’s a lot of confusion and misinformation around the interweb regarding dark matter. Much of it sounds like pseudo-scientific borderline-religious arguments, both from strong ‘believers’ (sorry to use that term but I have heard it used so often in this context) and people who don’t like the idea of dark matter and cling to older/other theories. It is after all I suppose a little like a religious argument, not being able to see it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not there.

Information Overload – The True Cost of Data

In the last few years we have produced more data than in all of human history. We live our lives constantly producing a stream of data, it controls our lives, not in a Matrix or Skynet kind of way, but every time we interact (text, call, tweet), conduct a transaction, perform an internet search, complete a national census or even simply give birth or die, you are creating data and contributing that in the right hands is valuable and powerful tool. A recent EMC study claims that less than 1% of global data is actually analysed.

How fast do you think? – The Two Systems that define us

“A bat and a ball together cost $1.10. The bat costs $1 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?” If your answer was $0.10, then don’t worry, you join many thousands of people who have made the same mistake. More than half the students asked at some of the worlds top graduate universities answered this wrongly and as much as 80% at less selective universities.

Mapping the Brain

Did you know that your brain cells are not actually grey? The function of the brain defines each of us, yet it is hardly understood. It uses 20% of your energy but comprises only 2% of your mass. Recently, the “next big thing” in scientific research was announced, the ambitious “Brain Mapping Project”. It used to be only physics projects that would receive enormous grants and government backing but in recent decades, biologists have got their fair share with ambitious projects to understand the fundamental components of humans with the genome project.

The Rise and Fall (and rise again) of Bitcoin

Bitcoins have been causing quite a stir and amassing much interest recently. Part of this is thanks to the price skyrocketing in recent weeks. This digital currency of choice for hacktivists, described as “gold for computer nerds” is a peer-to-peer decentralised currency, meaning it isn’t controlled by any bank or government.

Looking Back to the Beginning

The Planck space observatory launched in 2009 by the European Space Agency was sent to observe the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation, a phenomena first predicted in 1948. Named in honour of the Nobel Prize winning physicist, it has a higher resolution than previous probes (Cobe and WMAP) and therefore gives a more accurate picture, that it produces by rotating 360 degrees on all axes, measures tiny fluctuations in CMB, to build an image of the universe.