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24 July 2015
NASA’s recent discovery of 12 more exoplanets,
including the most Earth-like yet, brings the number of exoplanets –
those outside our solar system – discovered to nearly 2,000. It’s now
thought that almost every star has a planetary system, with Earth just
one of several billion planets in our galaxy alone, writes Dr Giovanna Tinetti (UCL Physics & Astronomy) in The Conversation.
23 July 2015
Two themes dominate the Conservative government’s approach to science: research excellence and local economic growth. Are they compatible? Chancellor George Osborne is living up to his avowed commitment to science. He talked about radio astronomy in his speech to the CBI, an industry lobby group, and even mentioned science in his Mansion House speech to City grandees. This month’s budget and productivity plan make unequivocal commitments to excellence, writes Professor Graeme Reid (Office of the UCL Vice-Provost, Research) in Research Fortnight (£).
22 July 2015
Deep into the Arctic Circle in the far north of Norway, Finland, Sweden
and north-west Russia, a few thousand indigenous minority people known
as the Saami continue to follow a lifestyle of reindeer husbandry. But their profession is increasingly under threat from a number of developments ranging from climate change to globalisation, writes Matthew Gwynfryn Thomas (UCL Anthropology) in The Conversation.
The holiday season is getting into full swing, but a shadow has been
cast by the abysmal failure of our boys to get anywhere near the
enormous target of 509 which Australia’s cricketers set them to win in
the second Test match. It may seem preposterous even to have thought
they would. But a revolution seems to be taking place in the ability of
teams to make large scores in the fourth innings, writes Dr Paul Ormerod (UCL Clinical, Educational &
Health Psychology) in City AM.
16 July 2015
Drifting along at what for decades was regarded as the outer boundary of
our solar system, icy Pluto is far from alone. The dwarf planet has
moons – at least five of them
– which are all fascinating little worlds in their own right. Detailed
views of these icy bodies, captured by the New Horizons spacecraft, have
now begun to stream back to Earth as data and will reveal much about
the chemistry and physics of the outer solar system, writes Dr Geraint Jones (UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory) in The Conversation.
15 July 2015
The Large Hadron Collider, famous for finding the Higgs boson, has now
revealed another new and rather unusual particle. Teams at the LHC, the
world’s largest particle accelerator, recently began a second run of experiments using far more energy than the ones that found the Higgs particle back in 2012.
But another of the groups, LHCb, have also been sifting through its
data from the billions of particle collisions of the first run of the
LHC, and now think they’ve spotted something new: pentaquarks, writes Dr Gavin Hesketh (UCL Physics & Astronomy) in The Conversation.
We make a huge number of decisions every day. When it comes to eating, for example, we make 200 more decisions than we’re consciously aware of every day. How is this possible? Because, as Daniel Kahneman has explained, while we’d like to think our decisions are rational, in fact many are driven by gut feel and intuition, writes
Rikke Duus (UCL Management Science & Innovation) in The Conversation.
New Horizons' fly-by of Pluto and
its moons is the latest in a historic string of missions to objects in
the solar system. But given that a fly-by lasts for just a short time,
how much can we really get out of it? There’s no doubt that the mission
will yield a great deal of interesting data, but surely more would be
gained if the spacecraft could go into orbit for a number of days or
actually land on the surface and take physical samples, writes Professor Andrew Coates (UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory) in The Conversation.
For decades, development agencies have encouraged low and middle-income
countries to focus their education spending on primary schools and basic
vocational skills. They have considered that universities provide lower rates of return on public investment and benefit elites at the expense of the poor, writes Dr Tristan McCowan (UCL Institute of Education) in The Conversation.
Words matter. The way we use them to communicate with or about others
can have a huge impact on people’s lives. This is especially the case
when it comes to disability. Handicapped. Retarded. Mad. Activists have
campaigned hard to eradicate such terms, which are offensive and
perpetuate a negative view of disabled people – one as passive, unable
to take control over their own lives, says Dr Liz Pellicano (UCL Institute of Education) in The Conversation.
There were a surprising number of announcements relating to higher education in George Osborne’s budget this week. One of the most controversial
was the announcement that university maintenance grants for
lower-income students in England and Wales are to be scrapped from
September 2016 and replaced with loans, writes Dr Gillian Wyness (UCL Institute of Education) in The Conversation.
Cervical cancer screening, or the “smear test”, aims to pick up and
treat abnormal cells in the cervix before they become cancer. But for
most gynaecological cancers there isn’t a screening programme, so
noticing symptoms and getting them checked out is the key to making sure
cancer can be diagnosed at an early stage when treatment is most
effective, writes Dr
Jo Waller (UCL Epidemiology & Public Health) in The Conversation.
29 June 2015
One doubts that authors, as a class, often get enraged about anything
other than the puniness of their advances, the nastiness of reviewers
and the fact that Ian McEwan and Alain de Botton sell so many more books
than they do. But what is certain is that writers will adapt as
creatively as they always have to the book world they find themselves
in, writes Professor John Sutherland (UCL English Language &
Literature) in the Financial Times.
A Dutch district court has ordered the Netherlands
to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 25% lower than 1990 levels by 2020.
This is several percentage points deeper than the 17% reduction the
country had been envisaging, writes Professor Arthur Petersen (UCL STEaPP) in The Conversation.
26 June 2015
Computer scientists have a history of borrowing ideas from nature, such
as evolution. When it comes to optimising computer programs, a very
interesting evolutionary-based approach has emerged over the past five
or six years that could bring incalculable benefits to industry and
eventually consumers. We call it genetic improvement, writes Dr Justyna Petke and Dr Bill Langdon (both UCL Computer Science) in The Conversation.
When a delegation of Brazilian senators arrived in Venezuela recently to
visit Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma, two Venezuelan leaders who
are being held as political prisoners, they soon ran into trouble, writes
Dr Marco Aponte-Moreno and Lance Lattig (both UCL Management Science & Innovation)
in The Conversation.
24 June 2015
Not since the early years of the 19th century has Greece roused such
strong feeling in the rest of Europe. At that time, the Greek War of
Independence proved to be a rallying point for thousands of sympathizers
who joined together to liberate Greece from the Ottomans and their
empire, writes Professor Phiroze Vasunia (UCL Greek & Latin) in NDTV.
Europe’s weather systems tend to cross the Atlantic and slam into
Britain, which should make the UK ideal for wind power. With very low
running costs, cheap and easy integration into the grid in most of the
country, and with wind being a mature industry that’s still evolving
continuous improvements, how could it not be the country’s cheapest
renewable, asks Andrew Smith (UCL Bartlett School Environment, Energy &
Resources) in The Conversation.
You no longer have to look to science fiction to find the cyborg. We are
all cyborgs now. Mobile phones, activity trackers, pacemakers, breast
implants and even aspirins all act as biological, cognitive or social
extensions and enhancements of our bodies and minds. Some have even
predicted that human beings as we know them will be replaced by
technically enhanced, god-like immortal beings within 200 years. Or at least rich people will, writes Rikke Duus (UCL Management Science & Innovation)
in The Conversation.
23 June 2015
Some time in the late 80s, departments in my faculty received a letter
from the dean instructing us to redesign our undergraduate courses,
replacing outdated traditional degrees with modern, modular programmes.
Up to that point, student achievement was based on finals, taken over an
intensive few weeks in the third year, writes Professor Jonathan Wolff (UCL Philosophy) in the Guardian.
18 June 2015
I have always wondered why our species Homo sapiens, that
evolved in Africa about 200,000 years ago, seemed to do nothing special
for the first 150,000 years. Because it is not until about 50,000 years
ago that the first sign of creative thinking emerged with beautiful
cave paintings found in Spain, France and Indonesia, says Professor Mark Maslin (UCL Geography) in The Conversation.
For more than 20 years, Cuba has been developing a sophisticated
urban and suburban food system, producing healthy food, improving the
environment and providing employment. But how will the sector survive if the economy opens up to US agricultural and industrial trade and investment, writes Dr
Emily Morris (UCL Institute of the Americas) in The Conversation.
Creativity is the ability to generate novel, useful ideas and innovation
is the successful implementation of those ideas. With this in mind, it
is tempting to suggest that technology has made us more creative: the
digital revolution has clearly produced a large number of innovative
products and services, writes Professor
Tomas Chamorro Premuzic (UCL Clinical, Educational & Health
Psychology) in the Guardian.
There has been much discussion in recent years about why East Asian children perform so well on international education tests. I’ve argued before that there is no one reason for these countries' stellar results, but that home background and culture plays an important role, writes Dr John Jerrim (UCL Institute of Education) in The Conversation.
17 June 2015
They said it was crazy – and in truth the European Commission’s
billion-euro plan to build a computer model of the human brain appears
to have been too ambitious. But after years of controversy and dispute,
many neuroscientists believe that the Human Brain Project may no longer be doomed to failure, writes Sanjeevan Ahilan (UCL Biosciences) in The Conversation.
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