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Tuesday 27 November 2012

Would you like to write for us?

Do you work in science and could share some of the things we don’t know about your area of expertise or research?

We’d love for you to write a guest blog post for us to publish on this site.

The process is pretty simple, all we need is a:

  • Few hundred words on a topic of your choice
  • Relevant image or two if possible
  • Couple of sentences about you to help readers learn more about our guest bloggers.

We’ll run the post past our editorial team here before it’s published just to check it’s clear and easy for our non-scientist readers to understand.

As you can tell from our name, we are focussing on the Things We Don’t Know in science, so some background on the topic you're writing about is fine, but remember to tell us mainly about the things that are still open questions.

If you’re interested in writing a guest post for Things We Don’t Know drop us an email ( or leave a comment below.

Sunday 18 November 2012

Why do we yawn?

Photograph of newborn baby yawning
Babies: A common cause of yawning worldwide.
Image credit: Björn Rixman (Flickr/Creative Commons)
With a newborn baby at home, you probably won't be surprised to hear I yawn a lot these days. But why do I do it? Although the answer seems obvious: "I'm tired", the question "why do we yawn" is very much unsolved.

Boredom and tiredness are the two most stereotypical reasons for yawning, but what's the connection between these two conditions? Neither explains why we yawn because we saw somebody else doing so, and there's even a good chance that simply reading this article will make you yawn - and hopefully not because you're bored! Why do we yawn? Is there a physiological reason? Or a psychological one? How about evolutionary? Why can't we control whether or not we do it?

It has been suggested, and even taught, that yawning is a response to a need for more oxygen in the brain, but this has been shown to be wrong1. But what about temperature? It could be that we yawn because the brain is getting too hot, and that yawning helps cool it down again. The cooling effect is thought to come from both the air flowing through the skull as a result of the deep breath, and by increasing the blood flow to the brain by stretching the jaw. This research so far seems promising, but this still wouldn't explain why it's contagious.

Sunday 4 November 2012

Things We Don't Know on stage in Berlin

The Sophiensæle, Berlin - former meeting place of the German Communist Party, and now a theatre, is probably not the sort of place you expect to find a group of entrepreneurs explaining their new business ideas. And yet earlier this week, that is exactly what happened.

Sophiensaele, Berlin
Sophiensæle, Berlin
When I received an email from Thom Reinhard via the Hub, it immediately leapt out at me as something special. A business school graduate turned artist, Thom was looking to combine the worlds of business and art with his partner Monica Truong. Specifically, they wanted to put social enterprise on the stage.

You probably know Things We Don't Know is a social enterprise. What may not be obvious is that in order for us to focus on explaining science well, we have to pay a lot of attention to aesthetics, design, language, imagery... in other words, art. 

Their concept was quite straightforward - they wanted to conduct an experiment. "What happens if you take an entrepreneur looking for funding, have their pitch rewritten by a team of artists, get a professional actor to train them and put them on the stage?" The result is the theatre performance "Invest In Me!", part of the Freischwimmer international arts festival, now touring Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

The opportunity to connect with "non-traditional" science audiences was too good to miss. When I contacted Thom and Monica, they were immediately as excited about what we're doing as we were about them, and in August we announced that we would be joining their project.

A few short but very intensive months later, Tuesday evening was the show's première where we had a very warm reception from the audience. I can't say too much about the show itself without giving away surprises for our future performances, but it was great to connect with people from both the art and business worlds, and hear their feedback and perception of what we're doing. I will say that we have three very unique social entrepreneurs, with very different concepts and equally unique performance styles.  It was particularly interesting to hear one person describe our concept as creating the first "uncyclopedia", we hadn't really looked at it like that!

The "Invest In Me!" stage setting
Setting up the "Invest In Me!" stage

For anybody who saw us on stage and is now reading the site, thank you for your support! Next stop: Vienna.