Flu and birth year

the-economist-logoWHEN it comes to infectious diseases, Ebola and Zika have hogged the headlines of late. But the rise of exotic pathogens does not make more familiar ones less dangerous. Epidemiologists are therefore keeping a close eye on two versions of influenza, known as H5N1 and H7N9 (the “H” and the “N” refer to proteins in the viral coat, and the numbers to particular versions of those proteins). Either of these, they fear, might become pandemic…

This article first appeared in The Economist on 15 November 2016. To continue reading, click here.

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Mapping the uncanny valley

ns_logoON THE face of it, The Polar Express was a sure-fire winner: starring Tom Hanks, it told the charming story of a boy’s magical train journey to the North Pole. But when the movie came out in 2004, there was a problem: the ultra-realistic animation gave some viewers the creeps. Five years later, when James Cameron chose the same technology for Avatar, his graphics people reportedly thought the decision might bankrupt the production company. But Cameron’s blue humanoids went down a storm. For a while, Avatar was the highest-grossing film of all time…

This article first appeared in New Scientist on 29 October 2016. To continue reading, click here.

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History lessons

ns_logo“MY NAME is Ozymandias, king of kings: look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!” So run the famous lines of Percy Shelley’s poem about Ramses the Great, a pharaoh who ruled Egypt’s New Kingdom in the 13th century BC, when it was the world’s most sophisticated society. But the poem’s theme is the transience of glory. It describes the ruins of a giant statue to Ramses that lie scattered in the desert: “Round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare, the lone and level sands stretch far away…”

This article first appeared in New Scientist on 15 October 2016. To continue reading, click here.

Seshat, ancient Egyptian goddess of wisdom
Seshat, ancient Egyptian goddess of wisdom

 

 

The twin boom

lzuB88p2IN Greek mythology, twins Castor and Pollux are so tightly bound that when mortal Castor dies, divine Pollux surrenders half his immortality to stay with him, and the pair are transformed into the constellation Gemini. In a modern reversal of the myth, twin astronauts Scott and Mark Kelly were reunited in March after Scott returned from a year’s stint on the International Space Station – an event eagerly awaited by medical researchers who saw their chance to conduct tests on the twins to assess the effects of space on the human body…

This article first appeared in Aeon on 18 August 2016. To continue reading, click here.

Twins Scott and Mark Kelly, former astronauts
Twins Scott and Mark Kelly, former astronauts

 

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