Tuesday, April 15, 2014

origins of our species

Last month I attended a fascinating symposium on human evolution at Sitges, near Barcelona. I got the impression that the origins of our species are getting more complicated with all the new information coming in from genetic and archaeological finds. So my latest feature is called:

The complicated origins of our species

Current Biology Volume 24, Issue 8, pR295–R298, 14 April 2014

and it's on free access now until the next issue appears:

HTML text (with sharing buttons, hint, hint)

PDF download

Full moon rising over Sitges beaches and harbour (own photo).

Friday, April 11, 2014

prize coverage

I was recently awarded the GDCh Preis für Journalisten und Schriftsteller, that's the prize for journalists and authors from the German Chemical Society. This kind of thing is new to me, so I have no idea when where and how I should brag about it, but I'm guessing it might be useful to have an archive for the relevant press coverage, so here goes:

Chemistry Views magazine (10.3.2014)

Angewandte Chemie 2014, 126, 2570 (restricted access)

Angewandte Chemie Int. Ed. 2014, 53, 2536 (restricted access)

And I would never have found those three references if it hadn't been for the attention of chemists at my alma mater, the Phillipps Universität Marburg, who included them in their history brochure on page 21.

Articles connected to / motivated by the award:

Mein Weg zum Wissenschaftsjournalismus Chemie in unserer Zeit 2014,48, 68-71 DOI: 10.1002/ciuz.201400659 [FREE access]

photo of the event from the GDCh facebook page

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

sense and sensitivity

I've been following the work of Kevin Plaxco's lab on biosensors made from DNA aptamers since the beginnings, and last November there was a new breakthrough to report, the development of a sensor that can monitor the concentration of a target substance in real blood in real time.

I've taken this as an opportunity to write a feature on real time sensors which has now come out:

Biosensors in real time Chemistry & Industry 2014, Nr 4, pp 42-45
restricted access (but drop me a line if you want a pdf file)

In the same issue, I also have a review of the book Bioactives in Fruit:

The good fruit guide Chemistry & Industry 2014, Nr 4, p 51
restricted access (but drop me a line if you want a pdf file)

which is a good excuse to embed one of my foodporn photos:

Monday, April 07, 2014

sylva kay

In my new series on buskers I've seen in Oxford, here's a singer-songwriter whose work reminds me a bit of the 1990s (I hope she won't mind me saying), of people like Garbage and early Sheryl Crow. (It's got the right mix of stirring noisiness and quiet sensitivity for me, if that makes any sense at all.)

Sylva is new on the Oxford scene, but is putting in a lot of appearances in Cornmarket Street, so with any luck Oxford based readers will have seen her or may find her soon.

She's got a CD out called Undercut which you can buy from her or via her official website. (Alternatively, you could listen to it on SoundCloud.) No you can't borrow mine, because I play it every day.

Last Saturday she played a proper indoors gig at the Wheatsheaf which was really lovely and hopefully the first of many at the wide range of venues we have here. You can find videos of the first three songs on my YouTube channel (which currently doesn't contain much else, so they're easy to find). And I just discovered a short film from an earlier life of hers, when she lived in San Francisco. It's called Access every sparkle. Oh, and another video called Sylva's Sticks.

PS something I love about pics of buskers is the complete randomness of shouty shop signs in the background, like the "change" in this one. There are a lot more of these to come in the series!

Thursday, April 03, 2014

the unbearable lightness of party balloons

As befits the two months covering both carnival and April Fools day, the roundup of German pieces published in March/April includes an equal mix of serious and not so serious pieces. We find the unbearable lightness of party balloons, the equally unbearable inability of humans to handle antibiotics responsibly, quantum cubism, and the Microfluidic Electrochemical Detector for In vivo Continuous monitoring, or MEDIC, for short.

Aptamerensoren für kontinuierliche Bluttests
Chemie in unserer Zeit 2014,48, 88 DOI: 10.1002/ciuz.201400659 [abstract and limited access to full text]

See also my story in Chemistry World on the same topic: Free Access

Ausgeforscht: Die Leichtigkeit der Partyballons
Nachrichten aus der Chemie 2014, 62, 395

Ausgeforscht: Quanten-Kubismus
Nachrichten aus der Chemie 2014, 62, 495

Blickpunkt Biowissenschaften: Auf Resistenzen besser reagieren
Nachrichten aus der Chemie 2014, 62, 445-447

Monday, March 31, 2014

losing our mobility

With the general resurgence of various nationalist and rightwing movements across Europe, which will probably have a significant impact on the European elections in May, there is the risk that we may lose mobility, which will also cause problems for science. My latest feature, written after the Swiss referendum on "mass immigration" takes a closer look at what's at stake.

New barriers to mobility in Europe?

Current Biology Volume 24, Issue 7, pR257–R259, 31 March 2014

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2014.03.019

Free access to full text and PDF download

... and now also with buttons for easy tweeting and sharing !

Friday, March 28, 2014

buskers in Oxford

I've come to realise in recent years that we have an amazing busking scene here in Oxford. There are quite a few artists and bands whose music I really love and whom I discovered in the streets of Oxford, and from quite a few I also bought CDs:

So as a new series on this blog, I will start introducing some of my favourite buskers. Starting with flamenco fusion band Fernando’s kitchen, who I saw a few years ago. They aren’t regulars on the Oxford scene, as they are based in London and Cambridge, so I’ve been extremely lucky to bump into them.

Since then, they have brought out a couple of new CDs which I ordered off their website. In fact, I also bought the cajón (which is the background for the CDs photo above) because of them. Percussionist and singer Heidi Joubert teaches cajón lessons on YouTube and in real life and by now also sells her own brand cajóns.

As I understand it, FK are consciously remaining independent of music labels and selling and promoting their own music, so the best way to get it is through their website (unless, of course, you're lucky enough to find them playing in the streets of London or Cambridge).

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

shakira - the eponymous album

It's a gift for anybody who loves the word "eponymous" as much as I do :) Seriously though, as I'm playing the album for the 5th time, here are my first impressions:

Having followed Shakira's output for nearly 15 years now, I expect nothing less than brilliance from her releases in Spanish but anticipate the English ones with some trepidation. Conflicts between the artist's vision and the label's views on commercial viability have obviously damaged past English releases. Considering this, the self-titled album is surprisingly good. All the eccentricities we've come to expect from her are firmly in place. The only obvious input from the sales guys is the duet with Rihanna, but as I like both the collaborator and the track, I'm fine with that. (I'm even ok with the football anthem.) Prick up your ears for the slower, more sensitive numbers, including cut me deep, 23, and broken record.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

colombian gold

I have fond memories of the gold museum (museo del oro) in Bogota, Colombia, which I visited back in 2000, so I was pleased to see that the Colombian gold came for a return visit to the UK, for the exhibition Beyond El Dorado at the British Museum which runs until March 23rd, i.e. Sunday.

I saw the exhibition in combination with the recent panel discussion on Colombia's resources, and took this opportunity to write a feature on Latin America's resources more generally, also covering Ecuador's oil:

Latin America’s resources: Blessing or curse?

Current Biology, Volume 24, Issue 6, R209-R211, 17 March 2014 doi:10.1016/j.cub.2014.02.054

free access to full text and PDF download

This pendant, made in pre-Columbian times from the gold alloy tumbaga, is one of the objects displayed at the British Museum during the exhibition of Colombian gold artefacts, which runs until March 23rd. (© Museo del Oro – Banco de la Rep├║blica, Colombia.)

Thursday, March 06, 2014

fertiliser challenges

oooops, looks like I forgot to announce the publication of my feature on the challenges surrounding the fertiliser elements phosphorus and nitrogen:

Fertile Ground?

Chemistry & Industry January 2014, pp 24-27

Full text - free access

In the same issue of C&I I also have a review of the book:

The bet: Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon and our gamble over Earth's future, by Paul Sabin

which appears on pp 50-51 (restricted access)

Monday, March 03, 2014

life on Mars

Planet Mars is in the focus of planetary research like never before. The rovers Opportunity and Curiosity as well as three separate orbiters are providing us with clues to the present and past condition for life of the red planet, while people at the non-profit company Mars-One are preparing for the future of life on Mars in the shape of human colonies.

To me the most mindboggling aspect of the whole story is the fact that Opportunity is still operating after 10 Earth years on Mars, while the computers used to guide its trip there must by now be all dead and buried.

Anyhow, read all about it in today's issue of Current Biology:

The past and future habitability of planet Mars

Current Biology, Volume 24, Issue 5, R175-R178, 3 March 2014 doi:10.1016/j.cub.2014.02.029

Free access to full text and PDF download

A selfie of the rover Curiosity produced shortly after landing. By combining several takes, the editing removed the camera arm from the final mosaic image. (Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems.)

For background info, see Astrobiology - a brief introduction, 2nd ed., which describes the state of the field just before Curiosity landed.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

deep sea dilemmas

While I've never actually visited the Deep Sea, I'm kind of attached to that vast part of our planetary biosphere, as my PhD thesis was about biological functions under high hydrostatic pressures of the kind that you would find in the deeper parts of the oceans. Knowing how inaccessible and remote from us surface dweller the deep sea is, I might have hoped that it is better protected from the collateral damage of human activities than most places. Recent developments suggest, however, that even the deep biosphere may feel the effects of climate change, and it could also experience large scale devastation from industrial mining operations very soon.

All this is discussed in my latest feature in Current Biology which is out now:

The deep sea under siege

Current Biology, Volume 24, Issue 4, R137-R139, 17 February 2014 doi:10.1016/j.cub.2014.01.062

Free access to full text and PDF link

A black smoker known as The Brothers, off the coast of New Zealand. (Photo: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/Wikimedia Commons.)

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