On the 15th September 2017, a twenty year long mission by the NASA Cassini space probe came to an end when it plunged into Saturn’s upper atmosphere.
Launching in 1997, and planned for years beforehand, Cassini was intended to study as many moons as possible, in particular, those surrounding Jupiter and Saturn. One of the objects of the mission was also to learn more about the possible existence and availability of water in on the astral bodies it passed. In this regard alone, the many pictures taken by Cassini produced much revealing and exciting information.
Thanks to Cassini’s observations of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, scientists have discovered that it possesses lakes, rivers, channels, dunes, rain, clouds, mountains and possibly volcanoes, just like Earth. Another of Saturn’s moons, Enceladus, revealed sprays of icy particles erupting from its surface; jets of ice-water three times taller than the width of Enceladus itself. Further, Cassini was able to get as close as 15 miles from this moon’s surface and determine that there was a global subsurface ocean, which might have the conditions suitable for sustaining life.
One of Jupiter’s moons, Europa, also shows extensive evidence of water. Its surface is covered with a layer of frozen ice, which scientists again believe hides an ocean beneath. As a consequence, Europa is often touted as a possible abode for life. Cynthia Phillips, a Europa project scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, believes there is a lot of indirect evidence for a liquid ocean, “We’re almost certain one is there…” she told Space.com “… the mass of Europa, combined with its density… gives a figure close to one [gram per cubic centimetre] …water is the only material like that.”
The question of the amount (or existence) of water in space has long been debated, often with a view to it sustaining mankind in the future. Mars in particular has attracted a lot of speculation of this nature. Images from the so-called Red Planet have shown dried up riverbeds, lakes, and coastlines across its surface. Recent satellite images from the Aeolis Dorsa region of Mars have uncovered new evidence of the densest river deposits recorded to date. These deposits are believed to date from water that flowed on the surface over 3.5 billion years ago. The channels and ridges formed by these ancient rivers are being studied in the hope that we can better understand the two evolutionary cycles of Mars and Earth, to see if links can be made.
With Cassini’s mission generating a colossal amount of data, scientists now have the opportunity to learn more about the environment of space, the evolution of numerous planetary moons, and the amount of water those moons and their commanding planets could hold now, or may have done in the past.
Will this information lead to mankind ultimately growing food- or even living- in Space? Only time will tell.
At the present time, one of the worst storms in American history, Tropical Storm Harvey (seen below at full strength), is laying waste to east Texas. It also generated the worst hurricane to hit Texas in fifty years and is causing unprecedented flooding in the city of Houston. The neighbouring state of Louisiana is also beginning to feel its effects. Harvey, which made first landfall as a category 4 hurricane, has brought flash floods and extreme winds across the land; claiming lives, destroying the environment, and damaging the long term economy. Tropical storms can include hurricanes as was originally the case here, or cyclones and typhoons, or a combination of all three. With them comes heavy rainfall, mudslides, and floods.
As tropical storms need intense heat in which to form, they only occur either just to the north or south of the equator, where the sea temperatures can reach up to 27ºC. Generating where the air above a warm sea rises, it is this combination of temperature between the water and the sky that causes the sort of atmospheric low pressure which can spark a tropical storm.
When superheated air rises, it begins to spin, forming the eye of a forthcoming storm. Once that air has risen it cools rapidly, condensing into massive clouds. Compacted air within these clouds creates areas of intense low pressure. In turn, that low pressure sucks at the air around it, creating incredibly strong winds. Only when the storm blows inland, where the air and ground cover are cooler still, do these major weather events begin to blow themselves out.
To make storm weather data easier to track and record accurately for future meteorologists and historians, tropical storms are given names. These names are alphabetical and alternate between male and female. It means that the next tropical storm in America will be given a female name beginning with the letter ‘I’.
Due to the erratic nature of the air pressure near the equator, it is very difficult to accurately predict the path a tropical storm will take. This means that evacuating people and livestock from a threatened area is not easy. For example, when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in August 2005, over 1,800 people died and 300,000 homes were destroyed before the area could be completely evacuated.
The social impact on an area hit by a tropical storm can often be major and long term. Power is often cut, with vast populations being left without electricity for many weeks, if not months after the storm has passed. Homes have to be abandoned and many will be destroyed entirely. Mass migration from the affected area leaves entire communities temporarily, or permanently, homeless. Neither is it certain that affected communities will return entirely. In fact it is more probable that a significant number will not. It is estimated that around 50,000 of the population left or did not return to New Orleans after Katrina. What will happen to Houston remains to be seen.
As well as homes, businesses, towns, farms and power stations are all vulnerable to destruction. The looting of abandoned homes and shops can also come from criminal and desperate locals alike. On a national level, resources such as petrol can’t be taken safely into a hurricane hot spot, which means fuel prices rise, as does the cost of food and clean water. Houston will be a prime example, as it produces a great quantity of the oil America runs on, let alone exports. Tourists also stop coming to the area, and as most places on the equator rely heavily on tourists from countries with cooler climates, the economic impact can be extreme. An industrial city like Houston might not feel this, but New Orleans certainly did.
If a tropical storm burns itself out quickly, then the environmental, social and economic costs can be quickly mitigated. When storms of the ferocity of Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey hit, however, the costs are far higher- and can take decades to overcome.
Primarily a visual communicator, a graphic designer is someone who creates eye catching concepts by hand or by using computer software. These images are used to communicate ideas, to inspire, or to inform, via an imaginative use of fonts, shapes, colours, images, print, photography, animation, logos and billboards.
A graphic designer cannot begin a project without first winning a commission from a client, be they an individual, a small business or a larger corporation. Therefore, a graphic designer will spend some time accessing the requests they’ve had for new work, and discussing ideas with their peers. Once they’ve chosen a project they’d like to work on, they will go over ideas with the client in order to make sure that they meet specifications.
Once a graphic designer has decided on a project he or she will develop a prototype for the design. Once that prototype, such as a logo, a menu, or a poster, had been finalized, the designer will present it to the client. A great deal of customer interaction takes place during a typical working day.
3) Finalizing a design
Using a variety of design elements, the graphic designer will develop the overall layout and production design for their client using both text and images. Graphic designers need an excellent eye for detail and a good understanding of popular trends in adverting and art to be able to pitch their designs correctly for each given project.
Often working alongside art directors and communication designers, the graphic design world has strong links with public relations, advertising and promotional work. As advertising and communication via social media becomes increasingly relevant in our day to day lives, the role of the graphic designer is also becoming more important. Consequently, it is essential for a graphic designer to always be up to date with the latest computer design software so that they can remain competitive in the graphic industry market place.
An architect’s day revolves around creating and developing designs for buildings (or entire settlements), and then communicating those design ideas to a client before either helping them make that design a reality, or adapting it into a real build possibility.
Typical tasks in the day-to-day of an architect include:
1) Tackling design problems
Often working as a team, time will be spent tackling spacial issues, a structures appearance, and cost, to make sure a design can go ahead to their client’s satisfaction. For example, a client might want a building to cover a certain amount of space and fulfil a number of functions. It is up to the architect to design the building in such a way that it meets those requirements.
2) Making drawings and 3-D computer models
Architects spend a lot of time making visual models and drawings of what proposed buildings will look like on completion. These models are mostly produced on the computer, and can be displayed as 2-D or 3-D pictures, allowing a client to see every angle of the design.
3) Coordinating with multiple different parties
Architects are the link between the clients who want the building constructed, the builders on the site, and the planning permission and council officers who might need to be involved in a property build. They also have to meet with other specialists, such as structural engineers, to make sure the build goes to plan.
Employment in the world of architecture is both challenging and exciting. You get to see your idea develop from an idea into a practical plan and schematic, then into an actual building, street, housing estate, town or city. It can be immensely rewarding and even influential to the character of a community.
Architects have to have very good attention to detail, as every part of their designs has to be perfect, or the buildings they are working on won’t work, or will be unsafe for use. Consequently the hours can be long in the quest to meet deadlines with flawless design plans.
From designer to budget manager, to customer liaison, an architect’s day involves a wide range of rewarding and challenging tasks.
Albert Einstein was born on March 14th, 1879 in Ulm, Württemberg, Germany. He was to go on to become the most celebrated physicists of all time.
Of a secular Jewish family, Einstein attended elementary school at the Luitpold Gymnasium in Munich. Einstein never settled at school and towards the end of the 1880s, Max Talmud, a Polish medical student became Albert’s informal tutor. It was Talmud who introduced Einstein to science.
Before he could finish his schooling, Einstein’s parents moved to Italy for better jobs. However, he chose to remain in Germany to finish his studies. This despite the fact that whilst he was good at maths and science, his teachers didn’t agree he was a worthy pupil. His Munich schoolmaster said “he will never amount to anything”. Hope for us all, perhaps.
Einstein went on to Zurich technical college. He graduated with only average marks, and two years later he was employed at a patent office in Bern. He found the work easy here, and was able to spend a good deal of his time thinking more about physics!
It was during this time that he wrote a paper entitled “On the electrodynamics of moving bodies”, which would later become known as Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity. This showed that measurements of space and time were relative to motion, and this subsequently forced physicists to re-evaluate some of their most basic concepts.
As time passed, so Einstein’s fame and influence continued to grow. In 1915, he announced his most famous work, the General Theory of Relativity, which was the final culmination of an eight-year obsession with gravity. With its astonishing implications about the nature of time and space, it displaced Newtonian mechanics and shook the physics world. It suggested that space and time were one and the same and that gravity was not a force as Newton described, but rather the effect of objects bending space-time. His theory was given the weight of observational evidence when it was used to correctly predict anomalies in the orbit of Mercury; a problem that Newton’s theory of gravitation had been unable to resolve.
In 1919 the British physicist Arthur Eddington went to a small African island to observe the total eclipse of the Sun so that he could test Einstein’s theory; Einstein had predicted that gravity should bend light. The eclipse proved he was right, and our view of the Universe was changed forever. As a result of this and all his other work, Einstein was subsequently awarded the 1921 Nobel Prize.
Einstein continued to make substantial contributions to physics, including his desire to find a more complete and less complex theory for Quantum Physics. He sought to make sense of sub-atomic behaviour in a way that his general relativity theory could not.
Einstein died at the age of 76 on 18th April 1955, after suffering an abdominal internal bleed, which he refused to have treated. For all his successes, Einstein never was able to find a theory for Quantum Physics, though. He made a huge contribution to the way in which we understand the Universe, but with this failing, Perhaps some things are meant to evade the greatest of minds, though – it is a theory which still eludes physicists’ today.
Why do leaves change colour in the autumn? It’s a simple question with a simple answer, you might say – they start to die. But there is a bit more to it than that, if you’re interested in the science, and how it can produce some of nature’s most picturesque scenery.
Every autumn the leaves from deciduous trees change colour before falling to the ground. This is due to the fact the leaves contain many chemical pigments, the most important being chlorophyll. Chlorophyll makes leaves green and helps in the process of photosynthesis, which attracts sunlight to the tree, helping them grow. Leaves also contain the chemical carotene, which has a yellow colouring. Carotene lives in the leaves all year, but is masked by the green of the chlorophyll.
The process of leaves turning from green to yellow, red or brown, is dependent on the climate. When autumn approaches and the warmer temperatures of summer begin to dip, the chlorophyll within the leaves begins to break down. Other pigments that live beneath the chlorophyll, such as the carotene, come forward.
Chlorophyll is dependent on water as well as sunshine. As the climate cools and the tree draws colder water up through its roots, the tree prepares for winter. It does this by growing a thin layer of cells over the water tubes in its leaves, closing them up in preparation. Without a regular supply of water, the green chlorophyll starts to disappear and the other colours in the leaf, such as the yellow carotene, can be seen. In some trees, when the leaf cells build, the water blocking wall which seals the tubes in the leaf’s stem traps sugar inside the leaf. This turns the sap and therefore the leaf red, or even purple.
The final part of the process before a leaf falls is when the water within the tree dries up completely. This dehydration kills any remaining green chlorophyll, as well as the yellow and red pigments. Consequently, the leaves turn brown and start to die, becoming dry and crunchy before they fall from the tree.
All in all, it’s quite a complicated and intricate process that provides us with this often beautiful time of year. When it isn’t raining at least!
Scientist and mathematician Galileo Galilei was born on February 15th, 1564, in Pisa, Italy. A pioneer of maths, physics and astronomy, Galileo’s career had long-lasting implications for the study of science.
In 1583, Galileo was first introduced to the Aristotelian view of the universe, which was a religion-based view of how the world worked. A strong Catholic, Galileo supported this view until 1604, when he developed theories on motion, falling objects, and the universal law of acceleration. He began to openly express his support of the controversial Copernican theory, which stated that the Earth and planets revolved around the sun, in direct contrast to the doctrine of Aristotle and the Church.
In July 1609, Galileo learned about a telescope which had been built by Dutch eyeglass makers. Soon he developed a telescope of his own, which he sold to Venetian merchants for spotting ships when at sea. Later that year, Galileo turned his telescope toward the heavens. In 1610 he wrote The Starry Messenger, where he revealed that the moon was not flat and smooth, but a sphere with mountains and craters. He discovered that Venus had phases like the moon, and that Jupiter had revolving moons, which didn’t go around the Earth at all.
With a mounting body of evidence that supported the Copernican theory, Galileo pushed his arguments against church beliefs further in 1613, when he published his observations of sunspots, which refuted the Aristotelian doctrine that the sun was perfect. That same year, Galileo wrote a letter to a student to explain how Copernican theory did not contradict Biblical passages, but that scripture was written from an earthly perspective, and that this implied that science provided a different, more accurate perspective.
In February 1616, a Church inquisition pronounced Galileo as heretical. He was ordered not to “hold, teach, or defend in any manner” the Copernican theory regarding the motion of the Earth. Galileo obeyed the order until 1623, when a friend, Cardinal Maffeo Barberini, was selected as Pope Urban VIII. He allowed Galileo to pursue his work on astronomy on condition it did not advocate Copernican theory.
In 1632, Galileo published the Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, a discussion among three people: one supporting Copernicus’ heliocentric theory of the universe, one arguing against it, and one who was impartial. Though Galileo claimed Dialogues was neutral, the Church disagreed. Galileo was summoned to Rome to face another inquisition, which lasted from September 1632 to July 1633. During most of this time, Galileo wasn’t imprisoned, but, in a final attempt to break him, he was threatened with torture, and he finally admitted he had supported Copernican theory. Privately, though, he continued to say he was correct. This ultimately led to his conviction for heresy and as a result he spent his remaining years under house arrest.
Despite the fact he was forbidden to do so, Galileo still went on to write Two New Sciences, a summary of his life’s work on the science of motion and strength of materials. It was another work that has helped cement his place in history as the world’s most pioneering scientist, even if he was not fully appreciated in his own time. Galileo Galilei died on January 8th, 1642.
By far the biggest killers in today’s Britain are cancer and circulatory disease. Of the 501, 424 people who died in 2014, 29% died of cancer and 27% from heart attacks plus strokes. There is no doubt as to why charities seeking a cure for these scourges attract so much public support.
By contrast, leaving aside ‘flu and pneumonia, which mainly kill the already weakened elderly and infirm, infectious diseases account for a mere 0.6% of deaths. Your chances of being cut down by one of these in your prime of life is comparable with that of the threat from road traffic accidents or suicide. The reason we are dieing largely from heart disease and cancer is not because they are becoming more virulent, then. It is simply because we are living longer. Whereas in 1900 the average life expectancy in this country was just 48, now it is 81.
Antibiotics, the drugs used to treat bacterial infections, are a recent invention. Alexander Fleming stumbled upon them by accident in a London laboratory in 1928, though the first, penicillin, only went into mass-production in 1944. When it did so, it reduced at a stroke the number of deaths from infections, making hospital operations safe, battlefield wounds less fatal, and many serious diseases treatable.
Bacterial resistance to antibiotics emerged as a problem in the 1950s, but it has now become critical. Resistant bacteria have the ability to transfer their resistance to other species as well as passing it on to their offspring. So, once established, resistance to a particular antibiotic spreads rapidly, and bacteria with multiple resistances emerge. By 2004, bacteria resistant to almost all known antibiotics had appeared, while in 2015, bacteria resistant even to the”antibiotic of last resort” appeared in southern China. It is expected to spread to the west shortly.
In April 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) sounded the alarm on this topic in no uncertain fashion. It spoke of a “major global threat” from such antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and an imminent return to a pre-antibiotic era, where people regularly die from the simplest of infections. If and when this happens, you would be far more likely to die from sepsis following a cut, or from airborne or waterborne bacterium, and less likely to live to an age when cancer and heart disease are a concern.
There is, though, a glimmer of light on this dark horizon. Traditional antibiotics are developed from defensive chemicals produced by fungi and bacteria. However, our own cells also produce chemicals that attack bacteria. They are short proteins (peptides) produced on our own cellular protein-assembly machines, called ribosomes. From this comes their acronym, RAMP antimicrobials (ribosomally synthesized antimicrobial peptides). These antimicrobials carry a positive electrical charge on their molecules and are attracted to the negatively charged outsides of bacterial cells. Once attached to the bacteria, they punch holes in the bacterial wall or membrane, killing the cell.
These natural defence molecules have been around for millions of years, during which time bacteria have failed to develop effective resistance to them. So, if this is the case, and if effective artificial mimics of natural RAMPs can be made, we may yet avoid a potential return to the dark ages of pre-antibiotics.
Bacteria, the discovery and action of antibiotics, and the emergence and spread of resistance, are all covered in depth in the new A level Biology course recently launched by Oxford Open Learning. You can find out more about the course here: http://www.oxfordhomeschooling.co.uk/subject/biology-a-level/
For anyone interested in taking a break from the books for a bit and taking a field trip to a Science Museum, or wishing to take part in an event on any part of the subject, the following may be of interest…
British Science Week 2015 will take place 13 – 22 March. This is a ten-day celebration of science, technology, and engineering and features, entertaining and engaging events across the UK for people of all ages. You can find more information, including activity packs for different age groups, through their website at http://www.britishscienceassociation.org/british-science-week . Anyone can organise an event or activity, and the British Science Association helps organisers plan by providing what are free support resources.
The Big Bang Fair UK: Young Scientists and Engineers Fair www.thebigbangfair.co.uk/
This fantastic event is coming back to the NEC this month from 11 – 14 March 2015. Visitors can meet engineers and scientists from large multinational corporations and a range of diverse and unique UK companies.
The Summer Science Exhibition at the Royal Society London
The Royal Society’s Summer Science Exhibition is their main public event of the year and showcases the most exciting cutting-edge science and technology research and provides a unique opportunity for the public to interact with scientists.
The Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition 2015 runs from 30 June – 5 July at the Royal Society, London.
There are a great many science museums in the UK. Here are some of the best.
1) Science Museum, Birmingham includes a science garden, planetarium and an interactive show which lets children explore the human body by seeing what it’s like to shrink to the size of a living cell. thinktank.ac/
2) National Space Centre, Leicester. Here you can explore the wonders of the Universe and discover the science behind the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence, plus take a tour of the 42m high rocket tower. There is also the Sir Patrick Moore Planetarium. spacecentre.co.uk
3) Museum of the History of Science, Oxford, has an unrivalled collection of early scientific instruments in the world’s oldest surviving museum building. mhs.ox.ac.uk
4) Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI), Manchester is currently showing a 3D printing exhibition. mosi.org.uk
5) The Science Museum, London contains a new nanotechnology exhibition, and the space travel exhibition is outstanding. I found the history of medical science exhibition very good. sciencemuseum.org.uk
6) Techniquest, Cardiff is currently showing an exhibition of colourful chemistry over the weekends 28 February – 22 March. techniquest.org
7) MAGNA, Rotherham has a fantastic electric arc furnace exhibition, including pyrotechnics. visitmagna.co.uk
8) Discovery Museum Newcastle www.twmuseums.org.uk/discovery.htm
This museum houses the finest collections of scientific material outside London and has important collections of maritime history.
The museum contains Charles Parsons’ ship, Turbinia, and Joseph Swan’s historic lightbulbs.
The Turbinia is my favourite museum exhibit which I saw on a school trip in 1967. She was designed by the Tyneside engineer Sir Charles Parsons in 1894 and was the world’s first ship to be powered by steam turbines. Until 1899, Turbinia was the fastest ship in the world, reaching speeds of up to 34.5 knots.
There is currently a demand from various organisations for more pupils to be offered Triple Science in Secondary Schools. The Open Public Services Network, OPSN, has noted that the ‘curriculum taught in poorer parts of England is significantly different to that taught in wealthier areas.’ Geography and wealth have a significant determining factor on opportunity to study Triple Science. They also noted that ‘more than a third of schools do not enter any pupils for Triple Science.’
The CBI is calling for all children who achieve good grades in science at age 14 to be automatically enrolled onto Triple Science GCSEs. The CBI says that Triple Science gives pupils the confidence to go on and study A Level Sciences followed by science courses at University.
The Department for Education, meanwhile, says that ‘75% of Triple Science pupils achieving the highest grades progress to A Level Science subjects whereas 59% achieving these highest grades in Double Science progress to A Level Science subjects.’ They do not seem to analyse the reasons behind this. You wonder, is it simply confidence?
It is interesting to note that the Department for Education has recently removed the IGCSE Sciences from league tables, these being a greater equivalent to the old O Levels and more in depth.
So, what should we make of all this? The problems in poorer areas are invariably related to poor pupil and family attitudes, and so attempting to teach Triple Science to all in poorer areas has a certain futility to it until attitudes change.
One of the limiting factors in what is taught in schools is curriculum time. The legal requirement for science was 12%, but for pupils to have a fighting chance of doing well enough in science GCSEs they needed about 20%. My old school taught Double Science with 20% curriculum time. They started offering Triple Science to the top set with 24% curriculum time, the extra time coming from one lesson per week after school! They are now compelling all pupils to take Triple Science with 24% curriculum time built into the main timetable. Other subjects will have suffered as a result.
There is a notion that Triple Science is necessary for a good base to allow a pupil to go on and do A Level Sciences. I would say it is beneficial but it is by no means necessary. I took numerous pupils through A Level Chemistry with great success on the basis of doing Double Science alone long before any Triple Science was on offer in my school. This was also mostly before the modular system was introduced. If the Triple Science is so vital to promoting the uptake of A Levels why did students do A Levels on the basis of Double Science? And how did they manage? But they did if they were able enough.
It is not that Triple Science is vital for A Levels, but rather it is about pupils ability and suitability for A Levels. A Levels can be followed from any of Double, Triple and IGCSE Science. The courses chosen need to be on the basis of what is best for individual pupils in individual schools.
What is needless and unacceptable in my view is compelling all pupils to do Triple Sciences. Those who are not going on to A Level Sciences do not need 3 science GCSEs, with a quarter of their curriculum time being taken up in this way. This is not in their interests. The Double Science does a good enough job if we want the future general public to have a decent grounding in scientific knowledge. The other big issue with all pupils studying Triple Science is that it is not suitable to the ability of many pupils. We overestimate the ability of average pupils and we overestimate the long term memories of these pupils, so the extra material of Triple Science creates an unreasonable extra burden for no good result. Triple Science should be thought of as top sets subjects.
In conclusion the needs of the individual pupils are more important than the needs of the school, the education system, the league tables, industry and the latest political demands.