Sparkle sparkle

October 27, 2011 at 9:32 am | Posted in I didn't know that! | Leave a comment
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Sparkle sparkle

It’s that time of year again – no we’re not talking about Christmas – it’s Bonfire Night, and with it come various fireworks and sparklers.

I love a sparkler and I must admit to sulking like a little girl if I don’t get to write my name with one – but what are they actually made of? Continue Reading Sparkle sparkle…

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Return of the science cookies!

October 6, 2011 at 9:56 am | Posted in 40th birthday celebrations, Competition, Cooking with science, Do | Leave a comment
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This month we’re lucky enough to have a selection of cookies made by Quirky Cookies & Cakes aka Wendy – a self-confessed science groupie and geek – and her analytical chemist husband, Jason.

Working from their home in Derbyshire since 2009, Wendy has produced her bespoke biscuits and cakes using as many locally sourced ingredients as possible.  Each cookie is made to her own recipe, and intricately decorated with royal icing, and would make a fabulous addition to any celebration – our favourite is the exploding supernova, which has space dust on it so it also explodes in your mouth!

Wendy and Jason love a challenge, and if they haven’t got a suitable shape in their collection of over 500 different cutters they can even make their own. Quirky Cookies and Cakes welcome orders, just e-mail enquiries@quirkycookiesandcakes.co.uk, call 01332 610997 or send a tweet to @quirkycookies Check out a selection of their cookies at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Quirky-Cookies-Cakes/130360187673

To be in with a chance of winning a fabulous selection of science cookies, just email your name, address and organisation/institution to phil.prime@laboratorynews.co.uk by 28th October.

Science showoff

October 4, 2011 at 1:52 pm | Posted in Events | Leave a comment
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Got something scientific you want to shout about? Science Showoff is the perfect opportunity – it’s an open mic night for scientists, science communicators, science teachers, historians and philosophers of science, students, science popularisers and anyone else with something to show off about science. Happening on a monthly basis at the Wilmington Arms in Clerkenwell, there’s every chance that this free event will have something for everyone!

The first night takes place on 4th October, and keep an eye on www.scienceshowoff.org for future dates and more information.

7.30-10pm @ Wilmington Arms, 69 Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R 4RL

The office party…why we get drunk

September 22, 2011 at 10:44 am | Posted in 40th birthday celebrations, Editorial Comment | 2 Comments
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Its our 40th birthday next month – hurrah – and we intend to celebrate. But just like the office Christmas party, we need to make sure we don’t embarrass ourselves by getting too intoxicated!

Why is it that we always get drunk at the office party? New research from the University of Birmingham – published in Alcohol and Alcoholism – suggests drinking in an unfamiliar environment can lead to an inability to reign in unsuitable behaviour. When drinking in familiar environments, we learn a conditioned compensatory response that enables us to learn the anticipated effects of alcohol – but when in an unfamilar context we lose this response say researchers.

“The implications for drinking in a real life situation are that if you have an alcoholic drink somewhere new, for example, at the office party or in some other environment that you don’t associate with alcohol, you may experience more of these effects of disinhibition because you lack the conditioned compensatory response that you would experience in your usual drinking environment,” said Dr Suzanne Higgs, lead investigator.

So our advice – once you know where the office party is going to be – head over there for a few drinks before the night – it might just save embarrassment!

You’re having a laugh?

September 15, 2011 at 8:53 am | Posted in Science Lite | Leave a comment
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Laughter, they say, is the best medicine. Strange then, that the world’s pharmaceutical companies have yet to cotton on to this and develop a cure-all in the form of a simple laughing pill.

Could it be that the laughter/medicine link is simply cosy phraseology, with no actual link to biology? Well yes, of course it is – yet associations betwixt the two are, it seems, becoming apparent. So much so in fact that the study of the health benefits of laughter now has its own name – indeed, if you do ever happen upon a professor of parody, a doctor of drollery or a medic of mirth, then you’ll know they are proud members of the Gelotological circle.

Yet we can’t help think that the physical rendering of an emotional state rooted deep in the ancestral parts of our brains can surely achieve nothing of note medically? As you can tell, the inner cynic that constantly patrols the Science lite desk is growing ever more alert, growling and drooling like a distempic hound primed for its next kill.

So what, exactly, do these purveyors of prankery (…sorry, this will stop in a moment. Largely as we are rapidly running out of synonyms) think laughing will achieve medically speaking? Well, they say there are so many that we are resorting to bullet points. A cheeky chuckle will can:

  • Lower blood pressure.
  • Increase vascular blood flow and oxygenation of the blood.
  • Give a workout to the diaphragm and abdominal, respiratory, facial, leg, and back muscles.
  • Reduce certain stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline.
  • Increase the response of tumor- and disease-killing cells such as Gamma-interferon and T-cells.
  • Defend against respiratory infections–even reducing the frequency of colds–by immunoglobulon in saliva.
  • Increase memory and learning; in a study at Johns Hopkins University Medical School, humor during instruction led to increased test scores.
  • Improve alertness, creativity.

And so it appears our collective cynicism has been shot down in flames. The beast rests once again. It is the last two of these points that really strike home – essentially the gelotologists seem to be saying that a good, hearty guffaw could actually help you think. Interesting in its self of course, but especially as it is once again time for the Ig Nobels.

If you are not aware of the Ig Nobels – then let us introduce you to the highlight of the international scientific calendar. The Igs honour achievements that “first make people laugh, and then make them think” – although knowing what we now do from the insights of gelotology, perhaps that should be “first make people laugh and then make them think in an altogether more superior way”.

This year’s winners are to be announced on the 29th September, and while we’d dearly love to give you a rundown of the front runners, we’re afraid finding out nominees prior to the event has become harder than winning an actual Nobel Prize. So by way of a little appetite wetter, here are some of our favourite past winners.

First up is the winner of the 1994 entomology prize Robert A. Lopez. And what a winner he was – as scientifically dedicated as he was entirely out of his mind. In 1993 he published work in The Journal of the American Veternary Medical Association based on a series of experiments in which he obtained ear mites from cats, and proceeded to insert them into his own ear, whilst carefully observing and analysing the results.

Then we have Peter Fong of Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania who is definitely up there with Lopez in the ‘why would you do that’ stakes. In 1998 he won an Ig for his paper Induction and Potentiation of Parturition in Fingernail Clams (Sphaerium striatinum) by Selective Serotonin Re- Uptake Inhibitors (SSRIs). In short, he gave clams Prozac.

Our next pick comes from the 2000 psychology prize which was awarded to David Dunning of Cornell University and Justin Kruger of the University of Illinois, for a report in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Now, we are slightly reticent to publish the title of the paper for fear that our Editor will immediately assume it is a detailed description of the Science lite desk – but in the interests of accuracy here goes: Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments.

And our final pick of the Igs goes to the Medicine winners of 2010 – Simon Rietveld of the University of Amsterdam and Ilja van Beest of Tilburg University – for discovering that symptoms of asthma can be treated with a roller-coaster ride. Why? Well it turns out that positive emotions at the end of the ride helped sufferers with breathlessness. Someone should report this to the Gelotological gang – yet more evidence that laughter can be the best medicine.

Watch: The Apollo moon landings – in 4D!

September 13, 2011 at 8:50 am | Posted in Watch | Leave a comment
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For all those who ever wanted to feel the impact of a Saturn V rocket launch, be part of a moon landing and even discover the smell of space – now you can in the Legend of Apollo at the Science Museum’s 4D cinema.  You can experience being part of the ground-breaking Apollo missions of the 1960’s and 1970’s through NASA film archives, exceptional 3D computer animation and the personal reminiscences of former NASA Apollo astronaut Col. David R. Scott.

The Legend of Apollo 4D film uses the latest simulation and effects technologies.

More information at  www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/visitmuseum/galleries/force_field.aspx

The British Science Festival

September 8, 2011 at 8:49 am | Posted in Do | Leave a comment
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The British Science Festival is one of Europe’s largest science festivals and this year’s event hits the streets of Bradford between the 10th and 15th of September. The theme for the 2011 Festival is ‘Exploring new worlds’ and there are lots of things to everyone entertained – from family fun experiment with the kids, DIY science workshops and lunchtime discussions to evening events for adults and trips, tours and exhibitions throughout the week.

For more information visit http://www.britishscienceassociation.org/web/BritishScienceFestival/

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