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…

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…

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…