Category: Science

Imperial in the news: The Life Scientific

It is not every day that you turn on the radio and get to hear one of your colleagues talking about their career over the airwaves while you eat your corn flakes. But then, it is pretty rare that one of your colleagues is a Fellow of the Royal Society, President of the Royal Meteorological Society, sat on the International Panel for Climate Change and has a CBE for services to atmospheric physics.

Imperial’s Head of Physics, Professor Jo Haigh, was interviewed by Professor Jim Al-Khalili for BBC Radio 4’s The Life Scientific, a This is Your Life-style programme for scientists and researchers who have shaped their fields and influenced society.

Imperial in the news: How to put a human on Mars

Last weekend (27 and 28 July 2013) the BBC broadcast a 30-minute programme called How to put a human on Mars, exploring some of the key aspects of how a mission to Mars might look.

Dr Simon Foster (Physics) was one of five researchers at Imperial who took part. He showed how ice could be used to produce fuel for the return journey and how parachutes would be deployed to slow down and stabilise the landing craft before the astronauts could step foot on the red planet.

To demonstrate this he threw a camera off of the Queen’s Tower, attached to bin bags by string, and talked about his experience in the Imperial Podcast.

Imperial in the news: celebrity status

They may have starred together in the 2010 movie The Tourist, but you could be forgiven for thinking it far-fetched that Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp would be reunited via Imperial College London.

But last week that’s exactly what happened. Well, it’s sort of what happened. Following her public announcement that she had undergone a double mastectomy after finding out genetic tests gave her an 87 per cent chance of developing breast cancer, Jolie was the subject of much debate in the public sphere and cancer expert Professor Justin Stebbing (Surgery and Cancer) spoke with BBC Radio Coventry and Warwickshire about it.

Imperial in the news: dinosaur killers

For generations, the debate has raged as to what exactly caused the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Following a series of varying suggestions, the latest research proposes that the widely-held belief that an asteroid collided with the earth to cause a catastrophic chain of events is wrong. Sort of.

Researchers in the USA announced earlier this month that rather than an asteroid, the impact of the Chicxulub crater in Mexico was caused by a comet. The difference between the two interstellar objects is that comets are made of ice, rock and dust whereas asteroids are made predominantly of metals.

Imperial in the news: the future of climate change in schools

On Monday, The Guardian reported moves by the Government to remove the topic of climate change from school geography lessons.

The situation raised concerns among policy makers and researchers. Under the new proposals the curriculum for geography up to the age of 14 would not specifically teach anything about climate change or its social and political implications.  The science of climate change would instead be taught in chemistry classes..

Policy makers argue that there has been a positive impact by the current generation in tackling climate change, thanks in part to debate and discussion in geography classes. This could be lost if pupils are taught the ‘building blocks’ of climate science, but not the social or political implications of the topic in the future.

Imperial in the news: sterile sperm

As February takes hold and it becomes harder to maintain the resolutions to lose weight and do more exercise, Professor Lord Robert Winston allayed the concerns of those fearing a return to a sedate lifestyle could impact their fertility.

The ‘Child of Our Time’ presenter, who is Professor of Science and Society at Imperial, explained in the Guardian that there is little scientific basis for claims that inactivity on a leather sofa or watching television would reduce the amount of sperm or eggs an adult produces. This is in response to a study of nearly 200 university students by researchers at Harvard stating otherwise, although it’s worth pointing out that no one claimed correlation implied causation.

Imperial in the news: music and medicine

An innovative collaboration between Professor Roger Kneebone [Surgery & Cancer] and Professor Aaron Williamson, of the Royal College of Music, explores the similarities between surgeons and musicians in performance.

Surgeons and musicians are both required to perform perfectly under pressure. Both go through routines in advance of their performance, which also closely match their mental preparations.

Professors Kneebone and Williamson discuss the parallels between the groups, including instruments, techniques and the theatres in which they perform, and the stress and tensions that they might be experiencing.

This documentary on BBC Radio 3 features the thoughts of junior surgeons and young cellists about how they get ready and focussed for their work, as well as what they consider during their performance and the distractions that they need to manage.

Imperial in the news: Quandrantid meteor shower

Although you may have missed your chance to see the Quandrantids meteor shower at 5am this morning, Dr Simon Foster [Physics] told Daily Telegraph readers a little bit about this heavenly spectacle.

The meteors come about when the earth passes through the debris trail of an ancient comet around this time each year. In a video on the media outlet’s website, Dr Foster explained the best places to see the shooting stars is in the countryside and away from light pollution.

He said the best direction to look to observe the shower is towards the North West, at any dark patch of sky close to Ursa Major, the constellation known as ‘The Big Dipper’.

Imperial in the news: three million dollar boson

Over the last few years, particle physics has been the science subject on everyone’s lips, with the probable discovery of a Higgs boson this summer the icing on the expensive, but ultimately enthralling, cake.

Adding to the glamour of rigorous study of particles unimaginably small and hard to pin down, Russian entrepreneur Yuri Milner has taken it upon himself to award multi-million dollar prizes for scientists working in the field.

The New York Times reports that one of his latest prizes, worth $3 million, has been dedicated to the groups working at the Large Hadron Collider in CERN, including the particle detectors Atlas and CMS.

Imperial in the news: stroke and spatial neglect

Earlier this month, Dr Paresh Malhotra [Medicine] had a study featured in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry. His research demonstrated how stroke patients achieved better results in tests of visual attention if offered a reward for being successful, being given a pound for every correct circle they drew. Where there was no reward, the patients showed no discernable improvement.

Between a third and half of stroke patients are affected by some form of spatial neglect –their brain ‘ignores’ the activities taking place on one side of their body. Dr Malhotra explained the condition to the Guardian in a video featuring patients including Alan Burgess, one of his patients, who had a stroke in November 2007.