Archive for the ‘Science’ Category
In his latest book, From Here To Infinity, Martin Rees – the Astronomer Royal and Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics at Cambridge – argues that science and hi-tech manufacturing must do more to attract the next generation. “It’s crucial that the brightest young people should perceive the UK as a place where cutting-edge science and engineering can be done,” he says.
Yet something is missing: and that something is women. Lord Rees points out that only 10 per cent of members of the Royal Society, from which he recently stepped down as president, are female. “Obviously, we are handicapping ourselves on the world stage if we don’t give opportunities to women,” he says.
This is where For Women in Science comes in. This award, made by L’Oreal and Unesco every year since 1998, “recognises the achievements and contributions of exceptional female scientists” by offering a £15,000 grant to further their research, money that can be spent on anything from lab equipment to childcare. The latest winner will be announced this evening; among the eight finalists are Dr Antje Weisheimer, who is researching methods to predict extreme weather more accurately, and Dr Monika Gullerova, who is studying the sort of genetic mutation that leads to cancer.
Projects like this are helping to bring about change: Lord Rees says that 30 per cent of those receiving University Research Fellowships from the Royal Society are women. In 20 years, he says, this will be reflected in the higher echelons. “But more needs to be done,” he says.
Perhaps it has always been this way. But it seems that we have been inundated with disasters – both man-made and natural – recently. Japan; New Zealand; Haiti. In each case, our TV screens are filled with images of rescue workers. Countless aid agencies are active, from Save the Children to the medical wing of the Israeli Army, delivering essential humanitarian aid. But what about the psychological damage?
This is where Dr James Gordon, a 69-year-old psychiatrist from Washington DC fits in. Gordon is a big man with a flashing smile and something of the evangelist about him. His medical credentials are impressive: Harvard and the National Institute of Mental Health, a former adviser to Presidents Carter and Clinton. But he is also an expert in alternative medicine. In 1991, he founded the Centre for Mind-Body Medicine, which “combines the precision of modern science with the wisdom of the world’s healing traditions”. And he has made it his mission to work in disaster zones.
Here’s a teaser for you. Of the following six countries, which will have the fastest population growth between now and 2050 — China, Brazil, Mexico, Canada, Iceland or Norway? I’d be willing to bet that your answer is wrong. But then, I’ve got an unfair advantage. I’ve just had a conversation with Laurence C. Smith, dashing Arctic adventurer and professor of earth and space sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). I meet Smith over a coffee in Exmouth Market, Clerkenwell. His new book, The New North: The World in 2050, demonstrates a remarkable knack for divining global megatrends from the stuff of daily life. It seems this is a man to whom the world whispers its secrets. So a simple question first. When he looks around this room — this typical London room — what does it tell him?
Smith weighs his cardboard coffee cup in his hands. “First, I see oil,” he says. “I’m drinking oil as I sip coffee from my cup.” How so? “Oil fuels 99 per cent of our transportation and is an essential ingredient of nearly everything we make. Our food is grown with it, our plastics, lubricants, pharmaceuticals and millions of other products derive from it. Without oil, this coffee wouldn’t exist.”
OK, that’s cute. What else? “I see water,” he says mysteriously. “Or, to put it another way, I see virtual water. Virtual water looks like coffee, or cardboard, or cotton, or cookies. It is embedded in almost everything. Water is in this coffee and this cup. It was vital to produce the floorboards beneath our feet; it made the electricity that powers the lights, and the shirt I am wearing.
“Entire oceans, such as the Aral sea in Central Asia, have been sucked dry to grow our cotton. Water is one of the reasons why the northernmost countries are in the ascendence.”
Thus we have arrived at Smith’s big prophetic idea: the “Northern Rim Countries” or “NORCs” — Canada, the state of Alaska, Greenland, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Finland and Russia — will be the dominant powers of tomorrow.
Last week my daughter, who is three years old, went to play at a friend’s house. When she returned, she was in a mood that can only be described as Satanic. After an hour or so, thankfully, she recovered. The cause? While I thought that she and her friend had been digging for worms in the garden, in actual fact, she told me, they had spent the whole day cooped up in front of the TV.
As it turned out, her friend’s mother had been busy, so she had used the “goggle box” (as my mother calls it) as a mechanical baby-sitter. To some extent, this was understandable. Which parent isn’t familiar with the strategic deployment of CBeebies? But for an entire day? No wonder my daughter was in a monster grump.
Remember that creepy chap in the black hat who used to make art out of dead bodies? He’s now looking rather passé. At the end of January, the Science Gallery in Dublin is opening the doors on Visceral, an exhibition of “bio-art” that makes art out of living organisms, such as home-grown chunks of human tissue.
“H. G. Wells thought that a living being is raw material, something that may be shaped and altered,” says Oron Catts, the curator of the exhibition. “Our group of artists, SymbioticA, explores this idea. We make people feel uncomfortable, and that is part of the point. We test the boundary where art becomes emotionally unacceptable.”
Last week, the news took on a decidedly trippy tinge. First, Professor David Nutt, sacked as an adviser to the Labour government for criticising its policy on drugs, sparked controversy when he published research suggesting that heroin was less damaging than alcohol. The following day, Californians went to the polls to vote on a proposal to legalise cannabis. In a dramatic move, President Obama and his Attorney General, Eric Holder, threatened to intervene if the outcome was a “yes” (it wasn’t).
It is timely, then, that this Thursday, the Wellcome Trust will open the doors on High Society, an exhibition exploring the history of mind-altering drugs.