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Post-Halloween bummer for Freakshake fans

For anyone who isn’t familiar with the concept of Freakshakes, imagine what a kid would do to a milkshake when given the chance and free reign over the entire candy department of a store. Freakshakes not only contain the creamy milky goodness of a traditional milkshake but are adorned with additional candies, chocolates, syrups, whipped cream, sprinkles and pieces of cake. Literal big slices of cake at times. It is therefore not surprising that many of them come in at more than half the daily calories recommended for adults.

FreakshakeResearchers tested 46 Freakshakes from different suppliers and all fell in the red label category for sugar, including examples such as the “Unicorn Freakshake” available at Toby’s Carvery, containing 39 teaspoons of sugar and 1,280kcal. The problem with those numbers becomes apparent when one has a look at the recommended MAXIMUM intake of sugar for an adult: 6 teaspoons. While the shakes definitely are Instagram worthy and fun to maybe share as an occasional treat, the campaign group Action on Sugar now demands a ban on any freak- or milkshake that contains more than 300kcal. Public Health England agrees and is running a sugar reduction programme which is part of the government’s childhood obesity plan and attempts to incentivize businesses to cut sugar by 20% by 2020, including milkshakes and the like. The Freakshake trend is particularly worrying, as obesity rates and incidences of diabetes type 2 are increasing in the UK, with more than 1 in 17 people in the UK already suffering from diabetes. The amount of sugar and calories found in a single serving of a Freakshake is to a certain extent frightening and between all the Halloween candy and the upcoming Christmas feasting period, we should really reconsider if we are in need of monstrous milkshakes.

Obesity = Cancer, but why?

The link between obesity and cancer has been well established and over 1 in 20 cancer cases are caused by excessive weight. This means that only short of smoking, obesity is the number one cause for cancer in the UK. cancerIntriguingly we don’t exactly know why, but researchers have suggested overproduction of hormones and insulin as possible triggers of cancer development. Researchers from Trinity College Dublin have now identified one definitive way in which obesity can cause cancer, by clogging up our immune system with fat. The paper, published in the journal Nature Immunology, reports that one type of immune cells, called Natural Killer (NK) cells are literally clogged up by fat and cannot function properly anymore. While they are still able to recognise tumour cells, their ability to destroy the tumour cells is diminished, thereby rendering them useless for fighting cancer. The researchers used human NK cell cultures, as well as mouse model organisms and found that NK cells failed to reduce tumour growth in obese mice. Interestingly, they showed that by adding a compound that breaks down the clogged up fat in the NK cells, their protective function can be restored. However the researchers suggest that, rather than taking drugs which might come with side effects, simple weight loss would do the trick. So, step away from the Freakshake.

Britain’s got Science

The Bank of England announced that the new polymer £50 note is coming after all and they have asked the public to hand in their suggestions for who they want to see on the new note, besides Her Majesty.

moneyThere are currently about 330 million £50 notes in circulation, so whoever will be portrayed on it will surely receive attention from the public. The relatively new polymer banknotes were first introduced in September 2016, starting with the new £5 notes portraying the politician Winston Churchill. The reasoning behind the introduction was that they are generally harder to counterfeit, cleaner and more resistant to damage. While you might think that introducing more plastic into the world is not such a good idea, the Bank of England argues that the polymer bank notes are actually better for the environment as they last longer than the old paper money. One of the downsides is the use of animal fat in the production of polymer notes, but most people probably prefer this to the alternative of palm oil, which is highly unsustainable for our environment.

Everyone who is interested in making a nomination can go to their website and fill in a short form to make their wishes known. The first condition: it has to be a British scientist!

With the current climate of mistrust in Science and “experts”, this is a good opportunity to highlight some important scientists who are not widely known, but have made huge contributions to the advancement of the Sciences. The other conditions are that the individual must be dead and from the field of astronomy, biology, biotechnology, chemistry, engineering, mathematics, medical research, physics, technology or zoology.

So, if you have anyone in mind you would like to see represented on the new money, go ahead and let the Bank of England know!  You can nominate your favourite dead scientist until Friday, the 14th of December.

Written by Charlott Repschlager


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Having your appendix removed might protect you from Parkinson’s disease

parkinson'sWhere does Parkinson’s disease start? The answer to this seemingly simple question might be very different than we thought. The condition seems to originate in the gut, rather than the brain, and travels along nerves, ultimately causing brain damage. New research is pinpointing the origin of Parkinson’s more precisely. In a study published in Science Translational Medicine Bryan Killinger and his colleagues show that the toxic compound which causes Parkinson’s can be found in the appendixes of healthy people. Furthermore, having your appendix removed early in life seems to protect from Parkinson’s.

The degenerative condition causes motor difficulties such as tremors, muscle stiffness and slowing movement. In the brains of Parkinson’s patient’s synuclein, a protein whose function in the healthy brain is not clear, aggregates into clumps and causes the loss of nerve cells. This sets off a domino effect which leads to more clumping and the loss of more and more nerves.

The new study shows, that the appendix, which also plays a major role in the regulation of gut bacteria, is a reservoir of clumping synuclein, even in healthy individuals. To answer the question, if appendectomies would protect patients from the condition, Viviane Labrie of the Van Andel Research Institute in Michigan conducted the largest and longest study on this to date. The researchers analysed healthcare records of 1.6 million Swedish people over the age of 52. They concluded that patients who had their appendix removed had a nearly 20% lower risk of developing Parkinson’s.

It is unclear if removing the appendix at an early stage of the disease might slow or stop its progress. With synuclein aggregates being found in the appendixes of healthy individuals, the search for the factors that tips the scales towards Parkinson’s disease in some patients continues.

The stars of a new dinosaur blockbuster: blind, grazing and nocturnal?

The largest bird alive today is the ostrich. A large male ostrich can be up to 9.2 ft (2.8 m) tall and weigh over 344 pounds (156 kg). But when it comes to the heavyweight champion of the bird world, no one beats the recently discovered elephant bird species Vorombe titan, an extinct flightless bird from Madagascar. Researchers estimate that this bird weighed 1400 pounds (650 kg) and while height estimates are harder to make, up to 12 ft seems possible.

ostrichIn a new study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Christopher R Torres and Julia A Clarke digitally reconstructed two elephant bird brains (Aepyornis maximus and Aepyornis hildebrandtii) and compared them to the brains of contemporary species to find out more about the behaviour of the extinct birds. Species related to elephant birds that are alive today, such as emus and ostriches, are active during the day, but features of elephant bird brains did not fit that pattern. Digital models confirmed that the optic areas of the extinct birds were significantly reduced and that the olfactory bulbs were enlarged. What does this tell us about the behaviours of these birds? A contemporary bird with reduced optic lobes is the kiwi, which has evolved hypersensitive hearing, smell and touch, and doesn’t rely on its lacking vision- it is flightless and night-active. Through the neurological similarities, researchers now assume that elephant birds also were mostly active at night. In A. maximus’, the larger of the two species, olfactory bulbs are somewhat bigger than in A. hildebrandtii, and from observations in contemporary birds the researchers concluded that A. maximus likely lived in a forested environment and A. hildebrandtii in an open grassland.

Will the next Jurassic World movie pick up on this new discovery and add huge, blind, nocturnal grazing birds roaming the forests and grasslands to its cast of prehistoric creatures? Let’s hope so.

Historic climate change lawsuit proceeds

21 plaintiffs, aged between 11 and 22, are bringing a lawsuit against the US Government that is the first of its kinds. They allege that the US government has violated their constitutional rights to life, liberty and property by failing to combat climate change. The plaintiffs hope that they can compel the US government to put policies in place that will reduce greenhouse gas emission and the use of fossil fuels.

lawsuitSince the suit was filed in 2015, the Obama and Trump administrations have asked courts to dismiss it, questioning its merit. The suit will now proceed in the 9th district court in Oregon. Its path ahead remains unclear, as the Supreme Court left it to the Federal Appeals Court to consider the government’s arguments before the trial begins in Oregon, while the youths’ lawyers are pushing for the hearing to begin in the next weeks.

Written by Maria Rappaport

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For frack’s sake

Seven years after it was banned in the UK, fracking has begun again. Cuadrilla, an energy company, has resumed fracking at a well in Lancashire. The previous ban was due to the operations causing ‘minor earthquakes’. However, only a few days after Cuadrilla resumed activities, seismic events ranging from 0.4 to 1.1 magnitude have occurred.  Tremors of 0.8 magnitude caused work to be suspended on Friday and Saturday, with an event of 1.1. magnitude on Monday again pausing operations, as a tremor above 0.5 requires fracking to be stopped while tests are carried out.

CuadrillaThis news may be unsurprising to the many people who have protested against fracking, a controversial procedure due to the possibility of triggering seismic activity and the non-renewable nature of the energy. Earlier this month, the prison sentences of two green activists who had protested against fracking were quashed after the court of appeal ruled they were ‘excessive’. Energy sources such as coal, gas and oil exacerbate climate change and critics argue that the opening of new power plants or fracking sites indicates a lack of commitment on the government’s part to the Paris Agreement, the goal to limit the increase in global temperature to 1.5°C in order to minimise the effects of climate change.

It is unclear what will happen if seismic events continue to occur at the fracking sites in Lancashire, but it is certain that if we continue to consume and rely on fossil fuels, we will have bigger problems than 1.1 magnitude tremors.

Lavender fields forever

Do you like the smell of lavender? Maybe you have a scented candle which calms you down, or a bottle of essential oil to help you sleep. Thanks to a new study from Kagoshima University, Japan, scientific evidence is growing to suggest that the purple flower’s properties are as powerful as aromatherapy lovers have been reporting for years.

lavenderPlants and other natural products may contain a plethora of active ingredients, each contributing to its purported effects. Extracting, identifying and purifying these individual chemical components are just some of the challenges of studying the effects of natural species.

In their study, Kashiwadani and co-workers tested linalool, an alcohol from the lavender extract which has been reported to have anxiolytic effects (meaning to reduce anxiety). Mice were exposed to linalool vapour, and subsequently showed an increase in exploration of the test chamber compared to mice that had not been exposed to linalool. They also noted that this occurred without motor impairment as seen when using another anti-anxiety class of drugs, the benzodiazepines (e.g. Valium).

While the results from this study seem to support anecdotal evidence about the relaxation properties of lavender, it is worth noting that studies in mice often cannot be replicated in human patients. As mentioned previously, linalool is only one component of lavender, and until further studies have been conducted to determine the effects of the remaining compounds, lavender will be seen more in candles and bath products than in anti-anxiety drugs.

Now you see me…

Hurricane Walaka has caused a Hawaiian island to be wiped off the map. Scientists have confirmed that East Island, an 11-acre island atop a coral reef, has disappeared.

HawaiianIslandAlthough small, the island hosted a US Coast Guard Radar until 1952, and is part of a protected marine area called the French Frigate Shoals. It was home to the critically endangered Hawaiian monk seal, of which there are only 1,400 remaining in the wild, green sea turtles and other wildlife. Small, sandy islands like East Island are highly at risk due to rising sea levels associated with climate change.

The hurricane was categorized as Category 5 with winds over 157 mph. Warmer weather as well as warmer seas can affect the severity of storms, as well as their frequency. Powerful weather events like these can have a huge impact on vulnerable shores, but it remains to be seen how the wildlife that rely on the French Frigate Shoals cope with the loss of East Island.

Written by Isobel Tibbetts

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Promising the moon

In a novel approach to doing away with streetlights, Chengdu, a city in China, has announced plans to launch an artificial moon to illuminate the city at night by 2020.

MoonAccording to the People’s Daily, the “illumination satellite” will “complement the moon at night”, at eight times the brightness of the real moon, lighting up an area of 10 x 80 km.

Wu Chunfeng, Chairman of Chengdu Aerospace Science and Technology Microelectronics System Research Institute made the announcement at a national mass innovation and entrepreneurship event held in Chengdu. He commented that the testing of the illumination satellite started years ago, but now the technology has finally matured enough to allow for launch.

The idea has been credited to a French artist who imagined hanging a necklace of mirrors above the earth to reflect sunshine through the streets. But perhaps few at the time thought that such an idea could become a reality.

Concerns have been raised regarding the reflected light from space, which could have undesirable effects on the daily routine of some animals. However, Kang Weimin, Director of the Institute of Optics, School of Aerospace, Harbin Institute of Technology, assured critics that the light of the satellite is similar to a dusk-like glow, so it should not affect the regular routines of animals.

Better the devil you know?

Although most people accept that smoking isn’t exactly a healthy habit, much research has been done to document the addictive effect of nicotine and the harmful effects of smoking are largely understood. However, less research has been done on vaping and currently, it is believed to be a safer alternative.

New research by Duke University Medical Center, published in the journal of Nicotine & Tobacco Research, has shown that what has previously been considered innocuous – flavourings added to e-liquids – could actually have considerate health consequences.

smokeChemical additives, used to make flavourings, react with compounds already present in the e-liquid creating new compounds that could trigger irritation and inflammation when inhaled. What is particularly concerning about these findings is that these reactions make new chemicals that haven’t been disclosed or thoroughly researched.

Flavourings such as cinnamon, vanilla and cherry react with solvents in the e-liquid to created acetals. According to Dr Sven-Eric Jordt, an Associate Professor of Anesthesiology, Pharmacology and Cancer Biology at Duke University Medical Center manufacturers of e-liquids have not widely documented or disclosed the presence of these acetals in the inhaled vapour.

Jordt said: “These individual ingredients are combining to form more complex chemicals that are not disclosed to the user. When inhaled, these compounds will persist in the body for some time, activating irritant pathways. In time, this mild irritation could cause an inflammatory response.”

The researchers found that when flavour additives are mixed with the e-liquid solvents around 40% of the additives are converted into acetals. And additional testing showed that 80% of these acetals were transferred into the vapour for inhalation.

The acetals were found to trigger receptors in the body involved in lung irritation, the same receptors the research demonstrated that maintain irritation and inflammation in people suffering from asthma.

Dr Hanno Erythropel, a Postdoctoral Associate in chemical and environmental engineering at Yale and a co-author of the study, said: “Individuals who use e-cigarettes frequently should know they are exposing themselves to these chemicals and that the long-term effects of these chemicals on the airways are unknown.”

Could having a daily bath help to combat depression?

Research written about this week by NewScientist has suggested that taking biweekly baths could be enough to improve the mood of those with depression.

bathA small study conducted at the University of Freiburg in Germany, as reported by New Scientist, has found that “afternoon baths just twice a week produce a moderate but persistent lift to mood.”

Currently, physical exercise is recommended to those with mild or moderate depression, but the benefit of taking a hot bath produced a similar benefit.

It has been theorised that the hot bath helps because it restores normal circadian rhythms to individuals, something that is often disturbed in those with depression. Improvements to circadian rhythms could also lead to a better night’s sleep.

A circadian rhythm is a cycle lasting around 24 hours, which is involved in body processes of all living things. The cycles can be altered by external cues such as temperature and light but are originally generated by internal mechanisms within the organism, which can become imbalanced.

An additional explanation for the results is that the hot bath causes more serotonin to be released in the body, a brain signalling molecule shown to regulate mood.

Written by Angharad Kolator Baldwin


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Our Climate in Crisis

In December 2015 the member states of the United Nations agreed to limit the global average temperature increase to well below 2.0° Celsius above pre-industrial levels. This agreement signed in Paris formed the basis of UK policy to meet at least 15% of its energy needs using renewable sources by the year 2020. In the same meeting, it was decided that all parties should also aim to limit global warming to 1.5°C. This was (and still is) an ambitious goal, but the importance of keeping temperature rise to a minimum has become shockingly clear in the UN’s most recent report.

CrisisIf global warming reaches 2.0°C sea levels will be ten centimetres higher than if we are able to limit the temperature rise to 1.5°C, causing more widespread flooding. It would also result in a near-total destruction of the world’s coral reefs. The effects of global warming on human lives are being felt already, with extreme weather such as heat waves and hurricanes becoming more common. The consequences of failing to tackle climate change have been laid out clearly by the UN.

The report came with a statement from UN Chief António Guterres, and a summary for politicians and governments. These make it clear that limiting global warming to 1.5˚C will require “rapid and far-reaching” action but that it is not impossible. To save lives, money, and animal species every country must do as much as they can to limit the damage that climate change is wreaking on our planet.

The Kilogram Is Getting a Makeover

The metric system was born in France during the French Revolution to allow easier international trade and to reduce fraud. The idea of having a common standard of measurements was so simple and powerful that conventions from the 18th Century are still used today. The kilogram was first defined as the weight of a litre of water; an equal mass was then set cast as a block of platinum in 1799. Today a copy of this, known as the International Prototype Kilogram (IPK), (a very precise lump of platinum and iridium) sits in a triple-locked vault in Sèvres, France at the International Bureau of Weights and Measurements.

scaleWhat this means is that every set of kitchen scales you have ever used is based on a piece of metal on the other side of the channel. This requires the UK to send off their copies of the IPK for comparison approximately every 30 years. However, it has been found that measurements of the IPK against its clones are drifting further apart over time, possibly due to contamination of the IPK. This has prompted scientists to look for an alternative to relying on a specimen that all measurements are linked to.

The need for change applies not just to the kilogram, but to all units that we use to measure the properties of our universe. On 16th November 2018, a vote will take place at the 26th General Conference on Weights and Measurements to decide whether we change to a system that defines these units in terms of fundamental constants of nature. If the change comes to pass scientists will be able to rely on units that can be calculated regardless of location, instead of sending off your kilograms for a regular check-up. Just think of how much they’ll save on postage and packaging.

Why Do We Dream?

The reason that humans dream while sleeping has long been the subject of scientific interest and debate. Contemporary research suggests that sleeping and dreaming play complex roles in the cataloguing of memories, emotional response, and in brain development. Most of the public know that sleep is important but we’re gradually getting closer to a reason why.

dreamRecent research conducted at the University of Bonn in Germany suggests that while we are asleep our brains are replaying recent memories. This doesn’t mean that we’re learning while we nap, but that we are unconsciously going over information that we may not be able to recall the next day while awake. If this information is associated with memorisation mechanisms in the brain, then it is more likely to be recalled the day after first seeing it. This new insight into the way the sleeping and waking mind processes memories provides new avenues of research for scientists to explore. We soon may be able to answer questions such as: “How do we do trigger these memorisation mechanisms?” and  “Is it possible to increase the brains memorisation efficiency during sleep?”

Written by Dave Ayland

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Nobel Prize in Chemistry and Physics

The Nobel Prizes were announced last week, and history was made in the Physics and Chemistry categories.

nobel prizeThe Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to three people this year, with half of the award going to Donna Strickland and Gérard Mourou for their method of generating high-intensity ultra-short optical pulses, and the other half of the award going to Arthur Ashkin for his work on optical tweezers and their application to biological systems.

Donna Strickland, an associate professor at the University of Waterloo in Canada is only the third woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in the 117-year history of the prize. The last woman to receive a Nobel Prize in Physics was Maria Goeppert-Mayer in 1963 and before that was Marie Curie in 1903.

Donna Strickland and Gérard Mourou invented the technique of creating ultrashort high-intensity laser pulses without destroying the amplifying material, called chirped pulse amplification (CPA). This technique soon became standard for subsequent high-intensity lasers. Its uses include the millions of corrective eye surgeries that are conducted every year using the sharpest of laser beams.

Arthur Ashkin invented optical tweezers that grab particles, atoms, viruses and other living cells with their laser beam fingers. This enabled these molecules and organisms to be studied without touching them, holding them in place with laser light.

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry was also split this year with one half awarded to Frances H. Arnold for her work in the directed evolution of enzymes and the other half awarded jointly to George P. Smith and Sr Gregory P. Winter for their work on the phage display of peptides and antibodies.

Frances H. Arnold, a professor of chemical engineering, bioengineering, and biochemistry at the California Institute of Technology, is only the fifth woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in the 117-year history of the prize.

In 1993, Frances H. Arnold conducted the first directed evolution of enzymes, which are proteins that catalyse chemical reactions. Since then, she has refined the methods that are now routinely used to develop new catalysts. The uses of these enzymes include more environmentally friendly manufacturing of chemical substances, such as pharmaceuticals, and the production of renewable fuels for a greener transport sector.

George P. Smith developed a method known as phage display, where a virus that infects bacteria can be used to evolve new proteins. Sir Gregory P. Winter used phage display for the directed evolution of antibodies, with the aim of producing new pharmaceuticals.

The First “Exomoon” May Have Been Found

 Scientists have published a study in Science Advances providing evidence of what could be the first “exomoon”, orbiting the exoplanet Kepler-1625b. Scientists have been looking for exoplanets, planets that are beyond our solar system, in the hopes of finding one that is suitable for supporting life. However, exomoons could also support life if they fall within the “habitable zone” of the star.


The discovered exomoon, called Kepler-1625b-i, has a radius of around four times that of Earth and is roughly 16 times heavier, making it much more similar in size to Neptune. Its corresponding exoplanet is Jupiter-sized, and both are located about 8,000 light-years away from Earth.

As this is the first discovery of a possible exomoon, it is hard to say if it is unusually big, and how it came to be a moon has also yet to be explained. There are three main mechanisms covering the most likely reasons behind the formation of a moon, the first is an impact scenario, which explains the existence of our moon. The second mechanism is moons coalescing out of a disk of materials swirling around the planet in the early days of the planetary system, this is how the moons of Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus were formed. Lastly, a capture scenario, which explains Neptune’s largest moon Triton, as it was captured from the Kuiper Belt.

The exoplanet was found using the transit method; when a planet passes in front of a star from our point of view, it blocks out a little bit of the starlight that we can see. We can then measure this slight dip in the intensity of the starlight. This discovery hints at the potential discovery of an exomoon, which the study’s authors cautioned should not be taken as conclusive evidence. It was made because if there is a moon orbiting around the planet then we would expect to see a big dip in the light intensity corresponding to the planet crossing the star and then a smaller dip when the moon crosses the star. The gravitational influence of the moon on the planet can also cause the planet to wobble as it orbits the star, and this can cause the planetary transit to come through early or late.

Written by Jeanne Kroeger

Go green!

The first ever Green GB Week 2018 is being launched this year (15 -19 October), as part of a new government initiative to showcase how the UK is currently tackling the issue of toxic emissions. The concept is ‘clean growth’ and the initiative shows how it can bring benefits to all parts of society. Activities and events are to be held across the UK to inspire local communities to get on board.

Clean growth is simply economic growth resulting from ‘cleaner’ business practices, which can be applied on a local or global scale.  Motivating businesses and people to switch to low carbon emitting technologies and to use cleaner resources in a more efficient way means that everyone can lend a helping hand in tackling the issue of climate change – whilst creating new jobs and cleaner air!

This year, the week will focus on the UK’s leadership approach to climate change, with emphasis on how well the UK has done in moving towards becoming a cleaner economy, whilst highlighting the urgent need to tackle climate change. It is encouraging to know that the UK has led the world to date in cutting emissions while creating wealth. Between 1990 and 2016, the UK reduced its emissions by over 40% while growing the economy by more than two-thirds – the best performance in the G7 on a per person basis (1).

Of course this week will naturally provide a fantastic platform for the latest research into the impacts of climate change, especially for the UK’s academic community. The latest green technology would never have happened if it wasn’t for the brilliant minds of scientists and engineers – which is why Imperial College London are also celebrating this week, marking the occasion with the launch of their first ever Imperial Lates, which aims to be a evening series of after-hours discovery events.

Imperial Lates: Greenovate 18 October 2018, 18.00pm to 21.00pm.

Unfortunately, the event has already sold out due to incredibly high demand, so we hope you managed to register! Imperial Lates: Greenovate aims to exhibit the science behind the green innovations and new ideas, which could help address the major environmental issues we face. An evening filled with activities, academics, students and staff; see how they capture the spirit of Green GB Week for one night only! With opportunities to print your own sun harvesting wallpaper, shape future innovations with at an ideas workshop, and take part in a frank discussion on how the UK can tackle London’s air pollution, this evening is will be a great way to enjoy Green GB week. Throw in a bar and you’re bound to have a fun, relaxing and educational evening!

The programme for the night includes:

  • Discuss new approaches to tackling London’s air pollution crisis through innovation and evidence-based policy making 
  • Make your own bioelectrode badge to take home and build your own living solar cell with the inventors of paper bio-batteries and sun powered wallpaper
  • Visit a futuristic Carbon Capture Pilot Plant in the heart of London and learn what aero chocolate can teach us a lot about storing captured CO2 beneath our feet
  • Lend your views to our next generation of green tech innovators and discuss their latest ideas for inventions that will change our future
  • Enter an immersive ocean plastic’s zone created by artist Vinita Khanna showcasing potential solutions to this global problem through new recycling technology and membrane lined turbines to hoover up the man-made waste in our seas
  • Whet your whistle by sampling our specially created eco-friendly beer
  • Tell your polypropylenes from your polyethylene and tackle ocean plastic with the Team Matoha students, and their infrared spectroscopy tool to cheaply & quickly sort plastics by hand – aiding developing world recycling
  • Check out students designs for sunlight filters to promote coral growth in algae-occupied shallow coastal sea
  • Keep cool with our solar powered fridge that is being field tested both in India and on our roof here in South Kensington to provide

So make sure to go green with Greenovate! If you didn’t manage to secure tickets keep a look out for future Imperial Late events.

Get involved!

The government wants everyone to get on board – here’s a toolkit with information on the ways you can support Green GB week!

Written By Anna Hoang




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Should we dust off the SlimFast?

With Britain being the obese man of Europe and rising incidences of obesity related diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease, the NHS is struggling to get people to lose weight.

SlimfastLosing weight and keeping it off is hard and the NHS’s current approach to the issue usually consists of GP advice and support for patients seeking out slimming clubs or gym memberships. In extreme cases surgery might be an option when everything else has failed. None of these approaches seem particularly promising, as only very few people manage to lose weight and keep it off in the long run. A new study by the University of Oxford might offer a different solution. The observational study followed 278 people from 10 GP practices throughout Oxfordshire, with half of the participants following a very low-calorie diet mainly consisting of shakes and soups, paired with continuous counselling and the other half receiving support from their GP practice. The people on the highly restrictive diet followed the Cambridge Weight Plan programme for eight weeks, followed by 4 weeks of gradually introducing normal food back into their diet. The Cambridge Weight Plan consists of specially formulated drinks, soups and snacks, as well as milk, water and fibre supplements to guarantee adequate nutrition at only 810kcal per day. The patients on the restrictive diet consistently lost more weight than the control group at every time point measured, leading to an average weight loss of 10.7kg (1st 9lb) versus 3.1kg (1/2st) after one year. This is impressive, especially considering that the programme lasted for only 12 weeks, but the first push of successful weight loss, paired with slow reintroduction of foods and counselling seems to have led to a longer-term weight loss success not seen in the GP advice and support only group. Blood pressure and cholesterol measurements also improved in the restrictive diet group and those with type 2 diabetes were able to radically reduce their medication. While the results of this study sound promising, researchers warn that this kind of diet should not be embarked on without professional support and might only be applicable for people with a BMI over 30. NHS England is considering to introduce this kind of diet support as part of a long term plan for the NHS, but experts point out that the best way to a healthy life is still a balance of nutritious food and exercise, as well as a good amount of sleep, coupled with only a moderate intake of drink and no smoking. So maybe we should leave the SlimFast where it is and while we wait for the NHS to support this kind of treatment approach go for a walk around the block.

Less Screen Time for Kids might be a Good Idea

Your parents might have been right after all. A study published in The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health Journal found that reduced screen time is linked to better cognition in children. The observational study involved 4,500 US children and used questionnaires to estimate physical activity, sleep and recreational screen time. The children aged 8 to 11 also had to complete a cognitive test, measuring language, memory and attention skills. The study concluded that a daily screen time below 2 hours, 9 to 11 hours of sleep and 1 hour of physical activity seemed to be the ideal cocktail for optimal cognitive ability in the children. While the study controlled for several factors, including household income, parental and child education, ethnicity, pubertal development, BMI and traumatic brain injury, it remains an observational result, only showing association and not proving causality.

phone-imageThe researchers also pointed out that the type of screen time might be important, with different studies showing cognitive benefits of educational TV programmes and certain video games and more negative effects with the use of social media and mobile devices. Another of the studies limitations is that the children had to self-report and the questionnaires were only used at the beginning of the study, without any follow up ones to track a possible change in cognition or behaviour over time. Having said this, there is a mounting body of evidence suggesting it might be a good idea to limit the time your little one spends in front of the screen until the final verdict comes in.

Can you hear the “Twit-twoo”?

Many of you might have heard the characteristical “twit-twoo” when out and about or maybe during a camping trip into the woods. The distinct sound is coming from the tawny owl, or brown owl, a solid medium sized bird inhabiting the mixed woodlands, large urban parks and suburban gardens of Britain and Europe.

owlWhile the tawny owl lived happily across Europe for a very long time, light pollution and urbanisation are starting to take a toll on the British population and their conservation status was recently changed from green to amber. The British Trust for Ornithology is therefore calling to all bird lovers to spend 20 minutes a week listening out for the calling sound of the owl and to report back on the sounds they hear or might not hear. This will give researchers a better idea of the numbers of tawny owls remaining in Britain and where their numbers might decline. While listening out for their calls it might be interesting to know that the “twit-twoo” is not actually a call from a single owl, but a female owl calling out “twit”, with the male owl answering in a longer “twoo”. The owls find a partner after their first year of life and usually stay in a monogamous relationship for the rest of their life, while staying within the same territory. If you’d like to help out you can participate in the Tawny Owl Survey from 30th September – 31st of March on the BTO website. Even if you don’t listen out every week, researchers point out that every bit of collected data is useful and getting involved is a good way to channel your inner researcher.



Top Science News

Obesity to overtake smoking as cause for cancer in women

A report from Cancer Research UK predicts that obesity will overtake smoking as a cause for cancer in women by 2043. Currently only about 4% of cancers in women are linked to obesity, with 12% having been linked to smoking. But with obesity numbers rising and numbers of women who are smoking steadily declining, carrying around more weight will soon make this gap disappear.

The general population tends to be aware of the type of cancer that can be linked to smoking, including lung, bladder, bowel, pancreatic and stomach cancers, but might not be aware of the list of cancers that have been linked to overweight or obesity, such as bowel, gall bladder, kidney, liver, breast, ovarian and thyroid cancers.

The report also notes that while more men are overweight or obese and more men are smokers, obesity seems to be a stronger driver of cancer in women. This is why in men obesity is not thought to overtake smoking as a cancer cause anytime soon.

If a child is overweight or obese during childhood, it has a five times higher chance of having the same weight problems in adulthood, increasing the risk of cancer during its lifetime. Professor Lunda Bauld, a Cancer Research UK prevention expert, therefore urges that the government should learn from the campaign against smoking, which is seen as a successful public health intervention, to raise awareness of the problem. 


The oldest animal in the world

Researchers discovered a 558-million-year-old oval shaped fossil, that has put an end to a decade long qualm. The specimen in question, Dickinsonia, was found in north-west Russia, belongs to the Ediacaran Biota and, most importantly, still contained cholesterol.

Dickinsonia fossil

The Ediacaran Biota are thought to have been the first multi-cellular organisms on Earth and while other specimens have been found, scientists could not agree on the position those organisms should take on the tree of life. Some scientists classified them as lichens, fungi, protozoa, evolutionary dead-ends and even as something between a plant and an animal. The presence of cholesterol puts this 75-year-old feud to rest, as cholesterol is a clear hallmark of animal life, therefore placing the Dickinsonia firmly into the animal kingdom. Ediacaran Biota appeared on Earth about 600 million years ago, but largely died out during the Cambrian explosion, which marks the huge diversification of animal life about 541 million years ago. This validates the Dickinsonia fossil as the oldest animal ever found and shifts the perception on when animals came into existence further into the past, solving one of the biggest mysteries of palaeontology.

The cactus – not as hardy as we thought

 The last plant you thought you needed to worry about is probably the cactus. It is generally seen as a very hardy plant, surviving scorching temperatures, draughts and being forgotten on the window sill for several weeks. However, the prickly cactus is in trouble. Illegal smuggling and collectors looking for rare specimen are one of the biggest problems, leading to cacti being dug up and carried away from their natural habitats. After drugs and guns cacti are actually the most commonly smuggled goods leaving Mexico. Research teams from Kew Botanical Gardens now go as far as to not give away the habitat and exact location of newly identified cacti, for fear of smugglers coming to uproot the newly found plants.


The Spanish cactus has another problem altogether, the cochineal beetle. This little insect has brought devastation to the plant in Southern Spain and other areas of the world experience similar problems. New cactus plants can be grown from offshoots of the parent plant and the localised loss of the species, such as in Andalucía in southern Spain, does not spell the end of the species. Yet. Experts warn that this might be part of a worrying trend, as many of the about 2000 different Cactaceae are extremely vulnerable to changing environments as they only have a narrow window of conditions in which they can thrive. More than 30% of cacti are already categorized as critically endangered or vulnerable, compared to the 25% of mammals that fall into the same group.

While it is unlikely that we see a shortage of cacti anytime soon, the fact that this hardy species is in trouble at all, highlight what impact global warming and other human activity can have on even the toughest organisms.

Written by Charlott Repschlager

STEM tutoring at the Deptford Lounge – a new outreach programme

BSA London is starting a tutoring initiative at the Deptford Lounge. We will be offering free tutoring and homework help in maths, chemistry, physics and biology, from GCSE to A-level.

When mitochondria leave you tired, those maths equations seem unsolvable and chemistry makes you think negatively, we might be there to help. We believe that a little help can go a long way when it comes to the success of science education in school. Our goal is to reach out to underserved communities and specifically those who might not have the resources for private tutoring. This is a pilot project for the British Science Association London, to maintain and increase the interest of schoolkids in STEM subjects, which have so much to offer but can seem unapproachable.

Volunteers, educated in a variety of STEM disciplines, will be at the Deptford Lounge on the 27th of September 2018 from 6-8 pm, the tutoring session will be free to attend. As part of our ongoing relationship with the Deptford Lounge, we will be back on the 3rd of November 2018 with a talk by Alom Shaha, a physics teacher film-maker and science communicator, on “How to be your child’s first science teacher”.

Written by Maria Rapoport