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Sci-fi and Jurassic Park have driven research, scientists say The Conversation 15/06/2015

Dinosaurs are back, on the big screen at least, as Jurassic World comes crashing into cinemas with a new dino star - a genetically-engineered hybrid, ominously named Indominus Rex. In the wake of the original 1993 Jurassic Park, scientists were unanimously emphatic that there was no way on earth dinosaurs could ever be resurrected. But according to PhD Candidate Elizabeth Jones, the film franchise, to some extent, did actually drive and develop the science and technology of ancient DNA research. As a knock on effect, questions are also being raised about the possibility of mammoth de-extinction, and the ethics surrounding it.

Drunken monkeys? Only humans really don’t know when they’ve had enough The Conversation 15/06/2015

Some wild west African chimpanzees are teetotallers, whereas others are frequent drinkers given the opportunity – consuming the equivalent of three pints of strong lager per day. A new scientific study lends support to the drunken monkey hypothesis, which suggests humans and their primate relatives are attracted to the smell of alcohol because in our common evolutionary history this indicates the presence of energy rich, albeit fermenting fruits. This could help explain why people and some primates become addicted to alcohol writes Wildlife Conservation Professor Robert John Young, who also discovers if any species, other than humans, regularly drinks to intoxication.

How frogs and fish can help us learn to freeze humans The Conversation 08/06/2015

From Star Wars and Alien to Futurama, the idea that humans can be frozen in time in order to be awoken later is a well-established sci-fi trope. While stopping biological time or inducing long-term hibernation is still as far off as the long-distance space travel that it’s associated with, the research around it is of huge scientific and medical importance, says chemistry professor Matthew Gibson. His research is inspired by the so called antifreeze glycoproteins that enable frogs and fish to survive in subzero temperatures – and he points out that we can already freeze and store cells, tissues and organs.

The real vampires of New Orleans The Conversation 01/06/2015

Vampires walk among us. But these people aren’t the stuff of nightmares – far from it actually. John Edgar Browning has spent five years conducting ethnographic studies of the “real vampires” living in New Orleans and Buffalo. While they don’t turn into bats or live forever, many do sport fangs and just as many live a primarily nocturnal existence. These are just some of the cultural markers real vampires adopt to express a shared (and, according to them, biological) essence – they need blood (human or animal) or psychic energy from donors in order to feel healthy. The real vampire community spreads across the world, from Russia and South Africa to England and the United States. Particularly in the internet age, vampires are often well attuned to community issues.

The skyscrapers of the future will be made of wood The Conversation 01/06/2015

In an opinion piece, Sustainable Construction expert Peter Wilson argues that the sky’s the limit when it comes to wooden engineering structures. Thanks to new manufacturing technologies and developments in engineered wood products, architects and engineers are thinking differently about the opportunities wood offers in the structure and construction of tall buildings. These provide strength, stability and, importantly, a convenient way of locking in considerable volumes of atmospheric carbon dioxide. The tallest modern timber building in North America is the Wood Innovation and Design Centre at the University of North British Columbia which, which stands at 29.25 metres (roughly eight storeys) tall.

How the language you speak changes your view of the world The Conversation 01/06/2015

New research suggests that bilinguals can view the world in different ways depending on the specific language they are operating in, writes Panos Athanasopoulos, Professor of Linguistics and English Language at Lancaster University. For example, he says the worldview assumed by German speakers is a holistic one – they tend to look at the event as a whole – whereas English speakers tend to zoom in on the event and focus only on the action. People also say they feel like a different person when using their different languages and that expressing certain emotions carries different emotional resonance depending on the language they are using.

Gaming improves your brain power – reality or hype? The Conversation 11/05/2015

The potential cognitive benefits of gaming – such as helping us make quicker decisions, think more fluidly and avoid distractions – has led to a flurry of research in recent years. Some results indicate benefits for gaming and some, such as a recent US study reported in the journal Psychological Science, do not. Examining past gaming research and hypotheses, Bradley C. Love, Professor of Cognitive and Decision Sciences at UCL, discusses whether the idea that gaming can improve brain power is reality or hype.

To deal with the refugee crisis you need to understand the cause The Conversation 11/05/2015

Around the world, there are more than 50 million displaced and 16 million refugees. Capacities and resources in host countries are being stretched to breaking point and an overflow of desperate migrants attempting the perilous journey to Europe by sea in search of protection is increasing. To deal with this global displacement crisis, Alexander Betts, Professor in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies at University of Oxford, says that political leadership and large-scale international cooperation is needed. “We need a European resettlement scheme that reflects a commitment to proportionately share responsibility for the global refugee population.”

Baltimore riots: Baltimore’s toxic slum housing and its part in the violent death of Freddie Gray The Conversation 04/05/2015

The death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man, while in police custody spawned two days of intense riots in Baltimore. Gray’s death tipped Baltimore into turmoil, Nicholas Sharrer says his death is not the cause of the rioting. Rather, the city’s municipal legacy of racial segregation, its impact on slum housing and a general failure to provide healthy, affordable housing for its working-class Black population have cultivated feelings of anger and hopelessness in many of Baltimore’s young people.

Hubble Space Telescope’s chief scientist on what it took to get the project off the ground The Conversation 04/05/2015

Relaying iconic images of astronomical pillars of gas and dust, views of galaxies soon after they were formed, and an accelerating universe driven by Dark Energy has made The Hubble Space Telescope undoubtedly one of the most popular science projects today. But that wasn’t always the case. C Robert O’Dell was Chief Scientist on the Hubble Space Telescope project. Twenty five years after its launch, he explains what it took to get the project off the ground in the 1980s.

We must talk to terrorists to restore their humanity – and ours The Conversation 20/04/2015

To counteract terrorism, military force and policing is a default tactic – and talking to terrorists, by contrast, may feel counter-intuitive. But a recent debate organised by a UK university between a former terrorist, the daughter of terrorist attack victim and experts on extreme violence has found that creating a dialogue with terrorists can bring their violence to an end. It means understanding terrorism, and the individual motivations behind their actions, in an entirely new way. “Talking to terrorists does not imply blind acceptance of their motivations or methods … [it] allows individuals who use violence … to see the consequences of their actions on a human scale, not a political one.”

Game theory of Thrones: how strategy might decide who rules Westeros The Conversation 13/04/2015

For the uninitiated, game theory is a branch of maths that looks at problems of competition and co-operation. It assumes basic rationality and then looks at what each of the parties will achieve in a situation, conditional on other parties wanting to do their best also. But can it predict who will end up on the Iron Throne? As massive hit series Game of Thrones returns, UCL’s Peter Antonioni uses mathematical models to examine the behaviour of George R R Martin’s characters.

Five years ago the iPad changed clicks to touches – but another tablet revolution is coming The Conversation 07/04/2015

Capturing the world’s imagination over the last five years, Apple’s iPad has fundamentally changed the way we think about computing – we now expect to be able to directly interact with screens without the help of a keyboard or mouse. Jason Alexander, Lecturer in Human-Computer Interaction at Lancaster University, says the next revolution is just around the corner. Soon, he claims, we will be dealing with screens that can morph in three dimensions. Flat screens will soon be able to change themselves into other shapes.

UK Couple wins the lottery twice, but will it make them happy? The Conversation 07/04/2015

In March, a British couple beat unbelievable odds of 283-billion-to-one to win a second £1m prize on the EuroMillions lottery. Many of us dream about winning large life-changing amounts of money on games like Lotto. But does winning huge sums of money make us happier and healthier? Mark Griffiths, Director of the International Gaming Research Unit and Professor of Gambling Studies at Nottingham Trent University says that after the initial euphoria, the evidence suggests that most people soon return to their own normal levels of happiness.

Five things Terry Pratchett’s Discworld will teach you about science The Conversation 30/03/2015

Resembling an amiable wizard, English fantasy author Sir Terry Pratchett wove worlds that were packed with magic. His most famous – Discworld, which featured in 40 of his best-selling novels – was a flat planet balanced on the backs of four elephants which, in turn, stood on the back of a giant turtle. Paradoxically, he was also a great advocate for science. Following Sir Terry’s death from Alzheimer’s in March, his friend, mathematician Ian Stewart reveals five science lessons that Discworld has for us here on Earth.

Can animals ever be artists? The Conversation 30/03/2015

Anthropologists consider art to be a uniquely human activity in which a person produces something for the aesthetic appreciation of others. But what of the beauty of birdsong? Or the intricacy of courtship dances? Bowerbirds make and decorate what is essentially a twig sculpture to impress their mates. Robert John Young, Professor of Wildlife Conservation at University of Salford examines whether any of these can take on the likes of Damien Hirst.

Comment: Whoever killed Boris Nemtsov, Putin is responsible for Russia’s climate of fear The Conversation  09/03/2015

Days after Boris Nemtsov, a leading opponent of Vladimir Putin, was shot dead on a bridge in Moscow, thousands of his supporters marched to the spot where he was murdered. Immediately his death became the subject of rumour and conspiracy theories. Though we may never know who killed him, University of Surrey’s Maxine David argues that his death will have a chilling effect on political discourse.

Humanity is in the existential danger zone, study confirms The Conversation 09/03/2015

A new study shows that humans have, in the context of geological timescales, produced near instantaneous planetary-scale disruption. We are sowing the seeds of havoc on the Earth, it suggests, and the time is fast approaching when we will reap this harvest. Reasons not to be cheerful from University of Southampton’s James Dyke.

Syrian refugees in Athens and the consequences of ‘Fortress Europe’ Open Democracy 15/12/2014

Thousands of Syrian refugees are trying to travel through Turkey, only to find themselves drowning in the Mediterranean, jailed for months in Greek detention centres, or in a legal limbo due to the country's strict asylum policy that affects even war refugees. Those who are allowed to stay have to deal with growing racism and a lack of humanitarian policies in the country. As a result, out of 46,500 Syrians who have arrived in Greece since 2011, only an estimated 1600 have applied for asylum. Greece can, and should, do a lot more to accommodate refugees, says Greek journalist Matthaios Tsimitakis in an opinion piece for Open Democracy.

Changing lives: the Homeless World Cup Freelance 10/11/2014

Freelancers Danielle Batist and Elaine Livingstone recently visited Chile to document the 12th Homeless World Cup. Livingstone is a photographer and her stunning images paint a picture of a magical sporting event. Batist wrote about player Marvin Dulder who was in Santiago to play soccer for Holland. Marvin was 15 years old when he moved from the former Dutch colony of Suriname to the Netherlands with his mother and younger sister. He ended up in the Bijlmer, at the time Holland’s first and only ghetto, and turned to crime before a violent attack by fellow criminals nearly ended his life. Dulder took up football to escape the streets and he hopes to start a Bachelor degree course next year as a mature student.

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