The original shipwrecked rhino

January 1516 – the rhino famous from Durer’s illustration drowns in the Mediterranean

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Eighty percent of the nitrogen in you came from a chemical factory

Have you ever wondered how the world could suddenly support so many people? In 1900 there were 1.6 billion people and now there are 7 billion. How can we make enough food for them? The answer is a ground-breaking chemical process called the Haber process. It doesn’t sound that interesting – it takes nitrogen from…

Sellotape, pencils and a Nobel prize

You might think you need lots of clever kit and a large research team to win a Nobel prize these days. But Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov did it with just pencil lead and some sellotape. Well, nearly. They won the Nobel Prize for Physics, 2010, for playing with their sticky tape dispenser and producing…

Messing up the world for 2,500 years

We hear a lot about pollution and particularly what we are doing to the atmosphere. It seems we have been doing it for a very long time. Ice core samples from Greenland show raised levels of lead in the atmosphere beginning around 500BC. This is the earliest evidence of anthropogenic (human-caused) pollution. It was produced…

Snot-ites and space snot

Imagine: you go into a deep, dark cave and your hand touches slime. Then you find there is slime dripping from the roof – slime like snot. Eurgh! It’s like something from a horror movie. But it’s real. You’re in a cave festooned with snot-ites. Snot-ites are long, gooey drips of snot-like slime that hang…

Dust-bunnies and stardust

Maybe you live in a super-clean house, but I don’t. If you look under the (my) sofa or bed you will see little clusters of fluff hiding there. (It’s easier to find these if you don’t have carpets.) They’re dust-bunnies. Dust-bunnies are clumps of all kinds of detritus (waste and grunge) that has drifted around…

Do you speak mushroom? It’s the language of the worldwide wood

If you’ve see the film Avatar, you might remember that the forest is a living being, with the plants able to communicate with one another. It’s not just a sci-fi fantasy, though. Researchers found that the trees in a forest in Canada really do cooperate and communicate. They share resources and look out for one…

A metal nose, a pet moose and the stars

We take it for granted that the universe changes. It began with the Big Bang, is still expanding;  stars generate, die and are recycled. But until the sixteenth everyone believed – as the great Greek philosopher Aristotle had taught – that the heavens are eternal and unchanging. Then in 1572, a new star appeared. That…

Dead heads all in a row

The creature in the picture is a caterpillar with a pretty weird habit. That bit that looks like a spike is actually a pile of heads. As if that wasn’t odd enough, the heads all once belonged to the same caterpillar.   Caterpillars go through molts as they grow. They start off teeny-tiny, and as…

Stony stomachs

Do you know that story about the wolf and the seven kids, recorded by the brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm? (If you don’t, you can read it here.) At the end [*spoiler alert*] the mother goat fills the wolf’s stomach with stones and stitches it up. Fairytales aren’t the only place that stones are found…