Category - Living in the natural world

Elly Vesty, New Optimist, on the advantages of understanding the historical evolution of plants

Elly Vesty’s research makes her optimistic that we can improve food security.  Her work on how, historically, plants have germinated to ensure they grow is about having a core understanding of how crops will grow.

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What’s coming up for the New Optimists

There are lots of exciting things coming up for the New Optimists in the next few months. As well as more Face to Face interviews with some of the scientists who have contributed to the project, there are some other big things which we’re very excited about.

  • There will be some activity over the coming months to tie in with the first Kindle book, Challenging Cancer. We’re also going to be working on forthcoming Kindle books, which will cover topics such as renewable energies, ageing, and how scientists view the world.
  • The New Optimists Forum is something we’re really looking forward to – a series of unconference-style gatherings where we bring together scientists to talk about viable approaches to deal with challenges which we will face in our near future. The first Forum theme is the prevalent topic of Food & Cities.
  • There’s also a book in the pipeline about stem cell research, covering epigenetics and how our environments reprogramme the human genome.
On top of this, there will be plenty more stuff to come so keep your eyes peeled on the blog as well as on Twitter and Facebook!

Make-a-Human DNA instruction kit, Ian Stewart & a third cup of coffee

I’m midway through the OU short course Human genetics and health issues. (I thought I needed more than a smattering of understanding about genetics and epigenetics, given I’ll be talking to a few top-notch researchers in the field in the coming months.) And until Chapter 11, I was doing just dandy at answering the questions in the OU text. I linked cytosine with guanine in a meaningless kind of way, realised why The Binding Site (HQ in nearby Edgbaston) is so-called, know a tad more about the double helix and what mitosis is. But getting thus far hadn’t begun to touch my ignorance

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Aston power plant & plans for a “thermal ring”

What kind of lab is useful for a chemical engineer whose research is about how to convert biomaterials into energy? The answer is, of course, a power plant.

And that’s exactly what New Optimist Andreas Hornung is about to get.

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Can parrots think strategically?

It may seem an arcane notion, the notion that birds can think, and can really communicate not just mimic.

But Jackie Chappell is not alone in her discoveries that parrots can think, and think in complex ways. Let me, by way of a starter, introduce you to grey parrots called Alex, Griffin and (wait for it) Einstein. (See examples of the trio’s behaviour on YouTube.) 

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Can plants get cancer?

Robin May knows how to woo scientist colleagues into his office on the 4th floor of the School of Biosciences at the University of Birmingham. White chocolate cake spilling over with red currants. Or blackberry and apple crumble cake oozing decadence.

Jackie Chappell and Juliet Coates, the latter doing a turn at the CASC Conference later this week, were already there when I arrived

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Seeing is believing

If you didn’t see Horizon last night on BBC2, do catch it on iPlayer. The programme was chocker with fascinating insights into how, and some of the “why” our minds can be manipulated . . . Here’s an extract: A woman responds to The Rubber Hand Illusion

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Mum’s the word

This post from the Guardian’s Environmental blog takes an interesting angle on the climate change issue – unlike much of the coverage and debate around such a button-pushing topic, it takes a more personal and, above all, motherly point of view — albeit Professor Gail Whiteman, a mum with a prof-ship at Eramus University in Rotterdam.

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Are SUDS The Answer to Floods?

It’s another rainy day in the West Midlands and visions of the floods the UK suffered in the summers of 2007 and 2008 are inevitably surfacing.

Flooding costs in the region of £1 billion a year to clean up and it’s likely to get worse too;  a recent Parliamentary report suggested annual flood damage could cost £27 billion annually by 2080.

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Microhabitats and Motorbikes

To Aston University’s New Optimist Lucy Bastin, derelict wasteland is far from an eyesore. It’s home. Not hers obviously. But often home to more biodiversity than any fertile farmland.

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