The dance of the starlings

Posted on August 8th 2011 in Features with 6 comments

starling-flock

This amazing video by Mark Rigler demonstrates the beautiful complexity that exists throughout the natural world. Like a Bach fugue, patterns emerge and fade, interweave, and are exquisitely modified to form an endless variety of beautiful structures. The end result seems too complicated, too ordered, too apparently designed to have appeared by chance. But, like the fugue which is built from just one or two simple musical patterns, the dance of the starlings is choreographed from only a few simple rules, which scientists are now only just beginning to decode. Across the animal kingdom, large numbers of similar individuals will…

Read more

Run Lassie – no not over there! Damn you Lassie!

Posted on July 31st 2011 in Blog with 5 comments

evil-lassie

Scientists can be utter bastards some of the time. Not content with letting us unwashed masses revel in our ignorance, they systematically poke and prod the world around us, looking for answers to questions best left unanswered. The latest casualty of this scientific tirade – my childhood. Specifically, the destruction of my faith in man’s best friend, embodied in the iconic form of Lassie. For decades, Lassie was a symbol for all that was good in the world: unconditional friendship, teamwork, altruism in the face of danger, She was a canine beacon of light in a cynical, selfish world. Lassie…

Read more

Street Art: A Natural History

Posted on July 30th 2011 in Video with Comments Off on Street Art: A Natural History

pers

A new spin on computing

Posted on July 2nd 2011 in Features with 1 comment

dna-art

Spin, as anyone who has ever heard Alistair Campbell speak, is a tricky thing to figure out. Quantum spin – a property many subatomic particles have – is equally confounding, but, if understood, could lead to a powerful new breed of computer technology called spintronics. Despite its name, quantum spin does not actually refer to a rotating ball such as the Earth. “The electron is not physically spinning around but it has a magnetic north pole and a magnetic south pole,” says Professor Philippe Jacquod, a researcher in spintronics at the University of Arizona. “Its spin depends on which pole…

Read more

Ladybird Decline

Posted on June 26th 2011 in Blog with Comments Off on Ladybird Decline

ladybird

Seven-spot Ladybird (Coccinella septempunctata) One of the most distinctive and, arguably, the most popular insects in the UK, the ladybird has captured the imaginations of many a young child. However, the future of our bespeckled friend is not as bright as her iconic red coat. Many native species of ladybirds are in decline thanks, in part, due to the action of a rival species – Harmonia axyridis – the Harlequin ladybird. The word harlequin originates in old European folk tales; buffonish comic figures dressed in multicoloured clothes. Unfortunately, there is nothing funny about the eponymous ladybird. Once confined to the…

Read more