Author Archives: Paul Blakeley

That Loving Feeling: The Science Behind Attraction

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What is love? It’s a hard enough question to contemplate, let alone answer. We all know what it feels like; flushed cheeks, clammy hands and a racing heartbeat are all sure fire signs that cupid’s arrow has struck home. But what about the science behind the emotion. How exactly is that loving feeling created, and just what are the physiological and psychological triggers behind it?… THE PHYSIOLOGY: Although research is still in its infancy, a number of hormones have been identified as key regulators in the development of love. To begin with, the brain and adrenal glands begin to pump out prodigious amounts of dopamine, which enhances testosterone release. Dopamine itself acts on various organs, including the genitals and the sweat glands, to produce those physically embarrassing effects of attraction that we all know so well. It also influences the senses, causing a shift in mood and emotions, which leads to feelings of increased energy, excitement and happiness. Meanwhile, testosterone continues …

Making a Killing: Which is the Most Humane Method of Execution?

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If, like me, you’re an avid reader of depressing news stories, then you may have come across several articles this week reporting on the recent decision by the government of Papua New Guinea to legalise the death penalty. Now I don’t want to get into a discussion on the morality of the decision itself (I have neither the word count nor the time), but it did get me thinking about the science of executions. Although it may sound obvious, just exactly how do the major forms of execution work, and which, if any, should be considered the most humane?… Hanging One of the oldest forms of execution, the principle behind hanging has remained unchanged for centuries. The favoured modern variation is termed the ‘long drop’ and was the method used to kill former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in 2006. Those planning the execution calculate the so-called ‘drop distance’ required to break the neck based on the height, weight and build …

Popular Science

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It’s time for another top-5 countdown. And after spending my bank holiday-weekend vegetating in front of the TV, I thought it would be poignant to conduct a brief round up of the greatest fictional scientists ever to grace our screens. 5) Professor Frink: The Simpsons Glahaven! One of the most recognizable scientists of all time, Frink is a stalwart of the World’s most successful cartoon series. With his frantic gesticulations and bizarre utterances, he helps reaffirm the notion that scientists speak a language few can understand. An absent-minded parody, Frink is generally seen unleashing his new (and often ill-conceived) inventions on the rest of Springfield’s hapless inhabitants. From shrink rays to human clones, Frink has done it all. But whilst he seems perfectly at ease dabbling in all of science’s major disciplines, he is completely incapable of mixing with the ladies. 4) Dr Emmet ‘The Doc’ Brown: Back to the Future Great Scott! As one half of cinema’s best-loved time-travelling duo …

Victory Is Bitter Sweet

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They are often cited as the one creature likely to survive in the event of all out-nuclear war. But it seems that the lowly cockroach has now found a brand new way to survive. American scientists have discovered that a strain of European cockroach has managed to completely reorganize its sense of ‘taste’. Instead of being attracted to the ‘sweet’ glucose used in traps around the continent, these intrepid little bugs perceive the bait as bitter. The phenomenon was first noted over two decades ago, when pest controllers reported a failure to eradicate the roaches because the insects were stubbornly refusing to eat the bait. Subsequent scientific studies have confirmed these anecdotal observations. When offered a choice between sweet jam or the more savoury peanut butter, hungry cockroaches from the mutant strain showed a much greater aversion to the glucose rich jam, physically jumping back when contact was established. The neural mechanism behind the response was identified using tiny electrodes to …

Shiny Happy People

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Now that the warm weather has finally arrived, smiles are starting to return to faces and frozen fingers are beginning to thaw. After nearly 6 months of spine-tingling cold it seems that we are all drawing a deep sense of satisfaction from watching the mercury rise. But bizarrely, this well-established link between sunshine and feeling good may well be another one of those popular misconceptions. A cursory examination of last-year’s ‘well being’ statistics reveals that the happiest regions of the UK were found at higher latitudes, including the Shetland Isles and the Outer Hebrides, where annual hours of sunshine were 340 below the national average. Support comes from the list of the world’s happiest countries, which is consistently topped by northerly nations like Norway, Sweden, Canada and Denmark, none of which are known for their prodigious quantities of warm weather. The association between sunshine and feeling happy was first put forward in scientific circles during the 1970s and 80s. Various …

Try Again, Fail Again, Fail Better

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  A few months ago I wrote a piece on some of the most amazing scientific predictions to come out of classical literature. From IVF to space travel, it seems that an unexpected number of major technological innovations have been proceeded by the imaginations of great historical authors. But, if amazing scientific breakthroughs can be predicted before they happen, then surely the reverse must also be true. Indeed, history must be littered with examples of respected authorities confidently postulating the possibility of a discovery one minute, before shame-facedly back-pedalling in the next. So, with that in mind, here’s a run-down of science’s top-5 greatest hypothetical hick-ups.   5) Theory: Planet Vulcan, Proponent: Urbain Jean Joseph Le Verrier During the 1800s, astronomers were struggling to explain certain peculiarities in Mercury’s celestial orbit. Several scientists, led by Le Verrier, suggested that these disturbances arose due to the existence of another planet or  moon, which was named ‘Vulcan’, after the Roman god of fire. The theory drummed …

A Question Of Faith

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  To say religion is a contentious issue may qualify as a serious contender for understatement of the millennium. The Western World in particular has experienced a greater number of religious scandals in recent years, along with a growing and more vocal secular movement. But religion is not a recent phenomenon and, from Aristotle to Aquinas, has always been at the forefront of attempts to explain our existence. It is only relatively recently, with the advent of modern scientific discovery, that these traditional modes of faith have been challenged by a new and empirical worldview. And yet, faith and religion continue to hold a prominent place in the hearts and minds of billions of people across the globe. So just what is it that makes them such attractive concepts, and why are they so prevalent throughout human culture? What’s immediately clear, is that the origins of our obsession with faith are mired deep in evolutionary history. Indeed, it all seems …

Bad Boys…

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When we think of science we like to imagine dedicated men and women laboring intensely for one grand and noble aim; the pursuit of knowledge. But unfortunately, the scientific spirit has not always been quite so pure. History shows that there have been many evil empiricists who were willing to abandon all ethical considerations in pursuit of their own twisted aims. So, just who are science’s top 5 bad boys? Let’s take a look… 5) Scientist: Sidney Gottlieb, Experiment: MKULTRA The fact that Gottlieb’s unofficial moniker was ‘Dr Feelgood’ may give you some indiciation about his particular field of scientific misadventure. An American military psychiatrist with a PhD in chemistry, Gottlieb worked with the CIA during the Cold War. Displaying an extraordinary single mindedness, he tended to prefer to solve all problems by simply poisoning the offending party. He was the mastermind behind the plot to place thallium in the soles of Fidel Castro’s shoes. A potent depilatory, the thallium was supposed …

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