Latest posts

Moon Boy

After splashdown at 4:51 pm on 24th July 1969 the Apollo 11 astronauts returning from the first moon landing  had to don full-body Biological Isolation Garments before they could leave the conical command module that was bobbing in the Pacific Ocean. Having transferred to the dingy that had come to meet them, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Continue reading

Posted in Apollo 11, History of Science, Michael Collins, Moon Landing, technology | Comments Off

The Cupcakes of Mitosis

Tomorrow, Crox Minor is having a bake sale in aid of her favourite charity Children of Peace. This afternoon she and Mrs Crox made loads of cupcakes … some of them on the theme of mitosis. Here are two cupcakes, approaching metaphase…
… and here is a cupcake, poised on the threshold of division. Sorry it’s a bit blurry, at moments such as th Continue reading

Posted in anaphase, Apparitions, cell division, children of peace, cupcakes, Domesticrox, metaphase, mitosis, Science Is Vital, Silliness, yourtosis | Comments Off

Costa Rica: Part 2- river adventures (“Don’t cross the river, if you can’t swim the tide…”)

No visit to Costa Rica would be complete without visiting the fascinating rivers than run through the luscious rain forests. However, there are a wide variety of river adventures, some of which I would warmly endorse, whereas others – well I will let you judge…
Me, on the rocks

ontherocks inset
If anyone thought I was having fun, think again. RPG, I g Continue reading

Posted in birds, Costa Rica, flowers, river, science, travels, wildlife | Comments Off

In which outrage finds focus: petition about the Daily Mail Peiris/Aderin-Pocock affair

Most of you have probably heard about the crass article that appeared in everyone’s favorite working mum- and immigrant-bashing rag (that’s me firmly in its sights, then, for embodying both evils simultaneously), the Daily Mail.

Which one, you ask? Because there are so many.

Continue reading
Posted in The profession of science, Women in science | Comments Off


A group of geeky colleagues assembled in the lobby after work last night and headed down to Vancouver’s Railway Club for Café Scientifique. This monthly science outreach event encompasses talks about everything from biodiversity to genomics to chemistry to particle physics; the speaker this time was Dr. Elizabeth Simpson, talking about her wo Continue reading

Posted in communication, drunkenness, photos, science, Vancouver | Comments Off

Living on the Edge of Equilibrium

Last week my bike got a puncture. So what, you might ask. In itself this is totally trivial, but it also represents the way the trivial gets in the way of everything else. A puncture for me represents potential disaster. If I get a puncture, then I’ll miss my train (meeting, lecture, insert some appropriate noun according to your own life); i Continue reading

Posted in accidents, luck, Science Culture, stress, workload | Comments Off


knife manWhen Crox Minor and I visited the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons recently, I bought a copy of The Knife Man, by Wendy Moore, a biography of John Hunter, whose collection forms the nucleus of this remarkable museum. The subtitle – ‘Blood, Body-Snatching and the Birth of Modern Surgery’ – promises gothick ex Continue reading

Posted in chthonic, effluvia, eldritch, hunterian museum, ichor, john hunter, Research, royal college of surgeons, the knife man, wendy moore, william hunter, Writing & Reading | Comments Off

In which satellite models trump circumspection: the case of MH370

The strange disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH340 has captivated the world, myself included. In an era of instant information, it’s sobering that an entire Boeing 777 could just vanish. I am sure I am not the only one who will be uneasy the next time I board a plane for a routine journey – especially if its itinerary lies ove Continue reading

Posted in Scientific method, Scientific thinking | Comments Off

Alice’s Restaurant Massacree

In other news, Australia’s ongoing experiment with biological warfare doesn’t appear to be having any more success than it did with cane toads.

Killing dingoes has side effects” (and presumably not just for the dingoes) screams the Nature Research Highlights headline.

If you poison dingoes, according to a paper in Proc Roy Continue reading

Posted in art, cane toads, dingoes, internet, kangaroos, rants, video | Comments Off


You know the feeling – no sooner have you graduated from some hallowed hall of learning or another than one’s alma mater sends you a begging letter. It’s rare for one to receive such a missive from an institution of learning one left in the Dark Ages and to which you have made your feelings of non-correspondence clear.

I was a pup Continue reading

Posted in a night at the opera, alma mater, alumni, bohemian rhapsody, deep purple, deep purple in rock, idi amin, peter jackson, queen, sevenoaks school, the hobbit, zack chaudhury | Comments Off


On my thirtieth birthday I remember feeling that whatever else I might have achieved, I’d at least published my first book.

More than twenty years later, it seems I might have produced something that people actually want to read. The Shameless Plug has made the top twenty of science books most requested in bookshops and libraries (according t Continue reading

Posted in Books, reading, Writing, Writing & Reading | Comments Off

In which we feel the force

It’s amazing what you can buy off the internet these days.

Posted in Silliness | Comments Off

Costa Rica – Part 1: The Tree House

Our Casa de Rana (frog) Tree House, recently

Costa Rica is an incredible country, often described as the “Switzerland of Central America” (apologies to my UK friends, but Ben Nevis and the Munroes don’t quite compare with the Alps…). A country of about 5 million people, with no army and no enemies. 99% literacy rate. Lowest Continue reading

Posted in Arenal, armadillo, birds, coffee, conservation, Costa Rica, ecotourism, education, guides, hummingbirds, rain forest, science, Tree House, tropical paradise | Comments Off

Considering the Historical Context

At a talk I gave in Sheffield last week the local MP Meg Munn remarked on the fact that, being a non-scientist, she had learned a lot about how science is done from reading my blog (in particular this one, in which I refer to my habitual use of post-it notes). As a scientist it is easy to take this for granted because of course one knows one’ Continue reading

Posted in History of Science, lectures, Newton, Teaching, Von Guericke | Comments Off

Lock up your hydrangeas, drug thieves about!

Hydrangea hortensis smith

Plants are rich and varied sources of chemicals that change brain function, so-called psychoactive chemicals. For example, the coca plant, a shrub indigenous to the foothills of the Andes, was used for thousands of years by the local people because of the effects of the cocaine contained in the leaves. The peyote cactus has been used for millennia Continue reading

Posted in cannabis, cocaine, cyanogenic glycosides, flowers, Guest posts, hortensia, hydrangea, hydrogen cyanide, marijuana, mescaline, opium, peyote, psychoactive chemicals, tetrahydrocannabinol | Comments Off