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Friday 28 June 2013

Simulations, Svalbard and the Solar System

It's been a busy couple of weeks of inspiring science! I've had a couple of days wow-ing other people with talks and tours of the things we know and I've been working here and been amazed, inspired and slightly concerned about some of the things we don't.

Physicist Cait Percy working for TWDK. Photo by TWDK, all rights reserved.
Cait Percy in our London office.
Photo ©TWDK.
Most of the last week or two has been spent exploring dreams, parallel universes, how much life there really is in the oceans and the questions to which radio astronomy may soon provide the answers. I spent a lovely afternoon pondering the Universe and trying to decide if we were all just part of a very large computer simulation and whether we'd know if we were. Almost everyone I've chatted to this week has had some variation of the above brought up in conversation for discussion so I really feel I've been doing my bit to share my passion for science.

Wednesday 19 June 2013

Media violence and criminal behaviour

Between science and policy making

On March 11, 2009, 17-year-old Tim Kretschmer entered the Albertville junior high school in the small town of Winnenden, Germany, armed with a 9mm Beretta semi-automatic pistol and 200 rounds of ammunition. In less than an hour, he shot nine former schoolmates and three teachers; on the run from the police to Wendlingen, he highjacked a car and killed three more people, before he finally committed suicide. The tragedy left his and the victims' relatives, teachers, and the general public petrified with questions regarding the motive for this attack, and how a young man developed into a mass homicide perpetrator.

The debates about the influence of media violence on behaviour show no sign of ending.
Photo credit: arker from
The debate about the causes of Kretschmer's rampage went on in the media for weeks, involving politicians and professionals, as well as witnesses and relatives expressing different theories of the decisive factors, ranging from failure in parenthood to insufficient gun control (even though the German Weapon Act already contains one of the strictest gun control laws in the world). And as with other similar tragedies that happened at different places around the world, violence in digital games was offered as a potential explanation for his actions as well. Winnenden citizens formed a group that called for a public disposal of all "killer games" in a large trash bin they placed in the city centre of Stuttgart. In an unparalleled reaction to such an event, the large department store chain Kaufhof decided to stop selling any movies or games with an age rating of 18+ nation-wide.

Friday 14 June 2013

A year of unanswered questions (and that's a good thing)

We’ve been adding regular posts to this blog for exactly one year this month. Last June our very first intern, Jon started with us through our partnership with SEPnet, and a year on we have another two new interns with us for the summer through them. We still have our two chemistry students at the moment (Freya and Lucy), and last but not least we've been joined by a business and marketing intern via the Sheffield Business School.

The year in numbers:
  • 40 blog posts
  • 16 guest posts, including researchers from the UK, US, the Netherlands, Mexico, and Belgium
  • over 24,000 visits to the blog
  • almost 11,000 unique visitors
  • our site is being read for 1 out of every 3 minutes
  • interviewed by start something and GDI Impuls
  • stage appearances in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland as part of the Freischwimmer arts festival and Aarau Democracy Days
  • we've never paid to advertise our blog

TWDK blog stats 2012-2013
Month by month, our audience has grown at an increasing rate

Wednesday 5 June 2013

Déjà vu

Déjà vu - that sudden, inexplicable feeling that the exact event you are experiencing has happened to you before, in exactly the same way, even though the logical part of your brain knows that it can’t have. Most of us have experienced it at some time or another, but very little is known about what actually causes it. The name comes from the French for ‘already seen’, although this name does not explain the phenomenon fully - as well as feeling you have already seen something, for déjà vu to occur, you must also know that you have not.

temporal lobe brain image
The Temporal Lobe is the part of your brain just above your ears.
Image credit: wikimedia commons
Although for most of us this feeling is harmless, if rather disconcerting at times, for some people it can be a warning sign for something more sinister. Déjà vu experiences have been linked with temporal lobe seizures in epilepsy sufferers. Partial seizures affect only a small area of the brain, so cause different symptoms depending on where they occur. Generally the patient remains conscious and may not even realise that they are having a seizure. The temporal lobes are located above the ears, and contain areas of the brain responsible for memory, as well as language production and comprehension, emotion, and some higher level visual and auditory processing, such as face recognition. These broad ranging functions mean that seizures to this area can cause a variety of unusual symptoms, such as experiencing sensations without a cause, rushes of emotion, or memory problems, including déjà vu. Temporal lobe seizures have even been linked with religious experiences.