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Saturday 31 October 2015

Our face spiders - friends or foes?

You may be surprised (or perhaps horrified) to know that you have spiders on your face right now. In addition to the millions of bacteria, viruses and fungi that make up our skin microbiome (the community of microorganisms on our skin) we have microscopic eight-legged creatures that also make a home in our skin. In humans there are two species; Demodex folliculorum which reside in our hair follicles and Demodex brevis which are found in our sebaceous glands[1]. They are just two of the 46,000 different species of mites that form the Arachnid family along with spiders and ticks.

Thankfully, the arachnids on your face aren't as big as this Christmas Lights Jumping Spider! Jumping spiders sometimes follow convoluted routes when hunting, even losing sight of their prey. How and why they do this, especially given the size of their brains, is also an open question. Image credit: public domain, via USGS (Flickr)

While studies suggest that we aren’t born with these creatures on our skin, but acquire them over time as a result of skin to skin contact with our mothers, how the spiders get onto us remains a fundamental mystery. Their numbers increase as we get older, but we don’t know why this is[2,3]. To date scientists have been unable to culture Demodex long term outside the body, as they dry out very easily[4,5]. As a result they are difficult to research and little is known about their life cycle apart from the observations of Spickett in 1961. He suggested that the mites roam the surface of our skin at night in order to breed. Females lay eggs within our hair follicles where they hatch and develop into adults and the cycle starts again[6].

Thursday 22 October 2015

The Energy of Atoms (other than Hydrogen)

Whilst the things we don’t know about quantum mechanics could fill a black hole, it’s still thought of as a glorious theory that swept in and revolutionised atomic theory. In a way it has, well, revolutionised one atom: hydrogen. Because that’s the only atom we know how to “solve”.

Hydrogen atom cartoon copyright TWDK / R. Fletcher-Wood
The hydrogen atom consists of just one proton in the nucleus and one surrounding electron: a simple system to model. Image credit: TWDK / Rowena Fletcher-Wood

Monday 21 September 2015

Location, Location, Location

Nuclear power and nuclear waste are sensitive public issues. Whilst the Finns are already building a geological disposal facility in Onkalo, in the UK we still haven’t decided what to do with our waste. Before the site can be chosen and built, a formal, scientific safety case must be completed, evidencing the likelihood that the containment facility will remain intact on a timescale of at least thousands of years. Learning from the “Yucca Mountain controversy”, where the state of Nevada legally opposed the construction of an American disposal facility on the grounds that they didn’t want to be lumbered with the country’s nuclear waste without consent, the UK government are waiting for volunteer communities to emerge before they can even start studying local geology in detail. Huge climate and geological changes, including at least one ice age, are predicted, which would totally change the landscape, the exact impacts of which could vary widely depending on where nuclear waste goes.

Low-level waste storage pit at the Nevada National Security Site
Nuclear waste is divided into three categories: High, Intermediate and Low Level Waste. High Level Waste is what's left after spent fuel is recycled to extract as many reusable uranium and plutonium fuel isotopes as possible. This waste is usually vitrified: transformed into a glass by fusing with borosilicates at high temperature. Intermediate and Low Level Wastes are non-fuel items (such as containers) that have been or may be been contaminated during normal operation of the nuclear power plant, and comprise the bulk of the waste. Image credit: Nevada Test Site Guide (public domain)

Tuesday 8 September 2015

Do cheaters prosper?

Attempting to selfishly gain an immediate advantage in a situation where others are co-operating is called social cheating. Many people are likely to bitterly recall an experience of this, queue jumping is a classic example, and a wide variety of other organisms undergo the same injustices. Cheaters in theory should have an evolutionary edge, but social co-operation remains at the base of almost all populations. This is a mystery that scientists have been intrigued by for years, as there is very little we really understand about these behaviours and how they co-exist.

Social systems can be ‘modelled’ in much simpler organisms than us; the social amoeba for example. Dictyostelium discoideum (Dicty), are generally alone throughout their lives, but for one 10 hour period. This time is where they become social in order to release spores that will grow into new amoebae. To do this they form ‘fruiting bodies’, where some Dicty give up their lives and harshly but more importantly; their bodies. These form a stalk, the top of which the spores can be released from. However some Dicty cheat - there are amoebae that climb straight to the top to release their spores and contribute less to the stalk. By doing this they release more spores than other, co-operating amoebae and so gain an evolutionary edge, passing on more of their genes. But this advantage cannot be significant, as otherwise they would overrun the co-operators and drive them to extinction.

Photograph of stalked slime mould fruiting bodies, by Lairich Rig (CC BY-SA 2.0)
The Dicty amoebae begin as single celled organisms, before congregating as a multicellular ‘slug’, which then gives rise to fruiting bodies with spores atop long stalks. In the species shown here, each of the sporangia was 2-3mm tall. Image credit: © Lairich Rig, via geograph (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Wednesday 2 September 2015

The Inspirational Butterfly

An Insight into Developments in Solar Power

The UN is calling for drastic action to be taken to stop climate change in its tracks. With any luck an agreement will be reached this year on the actions that will need to be enforced by 2020 to tackle this worldwide issue[1]. As a result, countries are desperately attempting to reduce their carbon emissions, and focus on renewable energy sources is increasing. If the right developments are made to improve efficiency and distribution of renewable sources, we could be one step closer to establishing a sustainable worldwide energy supply and battling the ongoing threat of climate change.

The prospect of being able to harness energy from the Sun is one that has captured our interest given its relative reliability, and solar power is already a widespread phenomenon. However it does not yet compare to the cost of generating power from fossil fuels, and a result is often considered to be less economically viable.

Electrical apprentice Eric Penel works on the solar reference array, which has been installed on the roof of the Shaw Theatre at NAIT's Main Campus in Edmonton.
The UN conceded in the Kyoto Protocol that limiting global warming to just 2 degrees, relative to the pre-industrial temperature level, would be necessary to reduce harmful climate impacts. For this to be achievable a 75% decline in carbon emissions by 2050 would be necessary[2]. If innovations in solar power continue to progress at the current rate, it could become the world's largest energy source by 2050. Today, solar photovoltaics and concentrated solar power contribute 16% and 11% to global overall consumption, respectively[3]. Image credit: Northern Alberta Institute of Technology via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Given the positive effect a switch to solar power could have on the climate, there is much ongoing research into whether the efficiency of solar power can be improved. Inspiration for this goal can sometimes be found in the most unlikely of places..

Wednesday 19 August 2015

Food for Thought; the Future of Global Food?

A global food shortage may not appear to be a threat or worry for a lot of people; around half a billion have been diagnosed as obese, that’s 1 in 14 people worldwide[1]. However, with an estimated 1 in 9 people being malnourished, in many countries the threat is already a reality. Though numbers predicted vary, the global population was agreed to have breached 7 billion people by 2012[2]. Most estimates point to another 2 billion people on the planet by the middle of the century. To put that increase into perspective, when we reached the first billion by 1804 it took around 156 years to add 2 billion. At our current rate of growth, an addition of the same number again will happen more than five times faster.

Worldwide malnourishment data from United Nations World Food Programme 2012, and the global prevalence of obesity.
The prevalence of malnourishment and obesity across the globe, and the disparity between the two. South-east African countries appear most malnourished, whilst levels of obesity rose in almost every country last year. Image credits: Undernourishment by country (top) via wikimedia [CC BY-SA 3.0], obesity by country (bottom) from Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation [CC BY-NC-ND 4.0]

Monday 10 August 2015

New Horizons - The Mysteries of Pluto Unveiled

At 9pm on July 14th 2015, the NASA New Horizons mission team received a very important phone call..

New Horizons had completed the first ever flyby of Pluto. It took over nine years and three-billion miles to complete, but has finally given us our first detailed glimpse of the ex-planet at the end of the solar system. It looks like Pluto was definitely worth investigating.

Artist’s concept of New Horizons Approach to Pluto.
The New Horizons space probe has been designed to function with a minimal power input. It required less than 200 Watts of Power to reach Pluto - that’s less than a pair of light bulbs. Compared to a grand piano in size, New Horizons weighs just 478 kilograms[1]. Image credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

Monday 3 August 2015

The Impossible Quasar at the Dawn of the Universe

The recent extraordinary discovery of the biggest and brightest quasar of the early universe has intrigued astronomers worldwide. The reason behind this? The quasar - SDSS J010013.02+280225.8 (affectionately nick-named J0100+2802), is far larger than current black hole theories predict it should be[1].

Artist’s impression of quasar J0100+2802.
Among the oldest and brightest entities in the universe, quasars eject jets of very bright light that can be seen from lightyears away. It was initially believed that different events were being seen when quasars were observed, but it was later established that our line of sight affected the appearance of the quasar, for example a blazar is a quasar with jets that are pointing towards Earth. Image credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

Monday 27 July 2015

Can we regenerate our hearts?

In ancient Egypt the heart was a revered organ; it was believed to be the source of the soul. According to the Egyptians, all of our emotions, wisdom and even personality traits were thought to originate in the heart. It was one of the few things left inside a body for mummification, whilst the brain - whose only purpose was thought to be the provider of nasal mucus, or a ‘runny nose’ - was simply thrown away. Though we still agree with the vital role the heart plays in life, after more than 5,000 years of study the organ is now generally considered to be well understood. That being said, some scientists believe that the full potential of our heart has not yet been reached. This article aims to explore one of the questions currently being posed by researchers: could our heart regenerate itself?

Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD)
Currently, a failing heart requires surgical assistance, such as the installation of a Ventricular Assist Device. Cardioregeneration could make such devices unnecessary. Image by Blausen Medical Communications, Inc. [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday 15 July 2015

Midlife Matters

The really exciting thing about psychology is there are a huge number of unknowns... but for me a really important part is understanding how high level cognition and decision making change in adulthood. - says Lily Fitzgibbon, a researcher in psychology at the University of Birmingham, who is exploring unknown pastures in psychological science.

Middle adulthood, commonly defined as your 30s, 40s and 50s, is a key time for making significant life changing decisions. It is also precisely what the Online Wisdom Lab (OWL) team at Birmingham University want to explore, and they are already underway preparing a suite of apps for members of the public to download and contribute through.

The majority of research into adult psychology is done at universities on the most readily available source of adult volunteers - university students. But perhaps this has led us astray a little, because this means that our current understanding of adult psychology is based almost entirely on the psychology of 18-21 year olds - at least until later adulthood, where some researchers have explored decline in cognitive abilities and its connections to illnesses such as Alzheimer's. Even though I like to think I was a pretty together undergraduate student, I'm not sure I'd feel represented now by the psychology of 18-21 year olds. When I was 21 I tried to take a piano hill walking. I broke into my friends' houses and left them hidden chocolate muffins. I survived for days at a time on free crisps and biscuits alone. I’m no longer the same person I was, just a few years later.

Not only this, but at 21 the human brain hasn't finished growing yet - especially the prefrontal cortex, where higher level thinking and decision-making take place. This region of the brain carries on developing into your mid-late twenties at the very least[1,2,3].

Lateral view of the brain, with the different lobes labelled
On average, brain maturity is reached at around 22, synaptic "pruning" in the prefrontal cortex continues into the twenties and white matter volumes peak in the late thirties. Image credit: BruceBlaus [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

If 18-21 year olds are not fully developed, then might we be underestimating the decline of cognitive abilities in old age?

Friday 10 July 2015

How do we fall asleep?

If there’s one thing everyone has in common, it’s sleep. Regardless of age, gender, race or religion, without enough sleep we fail to function normally. As you’ve probably experienced, a lack of sleep can be detrimental for mood and focus. Lose enough of it and you are more prone to serious health issues like heart disease, diabetes and even death. The amount of sleep we’ve had seems to be one of the things we think about (read: regret) daily, but what about how it happens? This article aims to introduce sleep as a fascinatingly interwoven structure of processes, not just a simple currency of life, exploring the inner workings of the brain that might be responsible for how it happens. The reasons behind how we sleep are distinct from the potential reasons behind why we sleep, which we covered in a previous article (and video).

So, what is sleep? The definition of most verbs (for example, running[1]) describes how it happens. However anywhere you look, sleep is not currently defined in this way. Instead, its physiological effects are outlined. Breathing slows, most muscles are relaxed and the eyes go through varying periods of rapid movement, called REM. Sleep is defined in this way because we don’t know how it happens.

Photograph 'Sleep Like A Baby' ©peasap (CC BY)
We can fall asleep before we've even been born, but how do we do it? Photograph ©peasap via Flickr (CC-BY)

Friday 19 June 2015

Holly Godwin

Hi, I’m Holly, and I’m working as part of a SEPnet placement at Things We Don’t Know this summer. Firstly I would like to introduce myself and give you a bit of an overview to explain how I got into physics and why this website is different to any other.

Photograph of Holly Godwin at Things We Don't Know
Holly at work in the TWDK offices. Photograph ©TWDK

Monday 15 June 2015

Joshua Fleming

First of all hi, my name is Josh and I’m the new summer intern at Things We Don’t Know (TWDK). I’m studying Biology, Biochemistry specifically, at Leicester University and have just completed my first year. To give you a better idea of who I am, I thought I’d give you a bit of background information about how and why I started studying Biology, and what I hope to achieve this summer.
Photograph of Joshua Fleming, copyright TWDK
Josh hard at work in the TWDK offices in London. Photo ©TWDK

Saturday 6 June 2015

Teaching Climate Change greetings cards

We're very happy to report that the artwork for the greetings card from We Are Stardust is now available - and it looks fantastic!

Preview of Teaching Climate Change greetings card by We Are Stardust
The cover artwork and inside text for the greetings card. Image ©We Are Stardust/Things We Don't Know
The cards will be made from sustainable materials, in keeping with the theme of our project. The cards are Forestry Stewardship Council certified, so you can be sure you are not contributing to the destruction of the world’s forests, while the envelopes are made from recycled paper and the cellophane wrappings are biodegradable.

The cards are available through our Teaching Climate Change crowdfunding campaign, and are priced at £5 for a single card or £15 for a pack of 5 (just £3 each).

Thursday 21 May 2015

Cheltenham Science Festival

We are pleased to announce that TWDK will be at Cheltenham Science Festival in June. Our Natural Sciences Editor Ginny Smith will be there from 4th-7th to talk to speakers and create content for our website.

Since the first event in 2002, Cheltenham Science Festival has grown into one of the most important science festivals in the UK. The 6 day schedule is packed with talks and interactive, hands-on activities covering a huge range of scientific topics, including plenty on active areas of research.

While there, Ginny will talk to as many scientists as possible, and ask each of them one simple question: “what is the most important Thing We Don’t Know in your area of research?”. Their answers will become part of our database, and will appear on the main website once it launches.

With some of the more high-profile speakers, she will also record this discussion and produce a podcast so you can hear their answers. The podcast will be made available as one of the perks for contributing to our Indiegogo campaign “Teaching Climate Change

Of course, she will also be attending some of the fantastic talks, and tweeting from @TWeDK, so if you want to find out what she is up to, follow us on twitter! And if you're going to the festival yourself, we'd love to hear from you.

Saturday 25 April 2015

Teaching Climate Change

Last September, we announced that we are one of 200 British businesses that are pledging their support for the Your Life campaign, with the purpose of inspiring young people to study maths and physics as a gateway to exciting and wide-ranging careers. One of those pledges was to produce a series of downloadable materials highlighting current real-life research issues for use with the KS4 curriculum.

And now we're making it happen.

A cartoon showing a school class of polar bears learning about climate change, with a frozen Earth being heated over a fire.
Our first downloadable materials for teachers will be about Climate Change

Wednesday 15 April 2015

Male vs Female Brains

Women are from Venus and men are from Mars, or so we have long been told. There are obvious physical differences between the sexes, but do these disparities extend to our brains? And if there are sex differences to be found in the brain, are they there from before birth, or are they a product of our upbringing? As well as being interesting areas for scientific study, these questions open up some ethical conundrums - if we did find robust, biological sex differences in the brains of men and women, what would this mean for how we should treat the sexes, and how we should raise our children?

Artist's impression of the cerebrum, with the temporal lobe coloured
We all have one of these - but are men's and women's brains different?
Image credit: Anatomography, via Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 2.1 jp]

The first, and probably easiest, question to answer is whether there are physical differences in men's and women's brains. We know that males tend to have larger brains than females, and this has been confirmed by a recent meta-analysis[1]. But do these physical disparities correspond to a difference in ability, or function? Some have argued that larger brain volume suggests greater intelligence, but it is now widely accepted that total brain volume is not a very good indicator of intelligence - Einstein’s brain was actually found to be slightly smaller than average[2]. A criticism of many studies on brain volume is that they fail to take into account that women, on average, have smaller bodies than men - so it seems reasonable to expect their brains to also be smaller. However brain to body size ratio can’t account for the dissimilarities completely - the correlation between the two is not strong in humans, and boys’ brains remain bigger even at age 11-13, where their bodies are, on average, smaller[3].

As well as looking at the brain as a whole, researchers look at specific structures inside the brain to see if there is divergence there. The same meta-analysis found size differences in a huge number of structures in the brain, including the amygdala, which is involved in emotional processing and the hippocampus, which is important for memory. Again, these differences weren’t adjusted for the overall distinctions in size between men & women, but as the variations in size and connectivity differed by region it seems it is not just as simple as every area being bigger in men. Discrepancies have also been found in the percentage of grey matter and white matter in the brains of men & women[4].

Tuesday 24 March 2015

Technicolor theory and the Higgs

Earlier this year, claims have been bouncing around the internet about the results of the biggest discovery in particle physics. That the Higgs boson, the boson meant to help us understand where the origin of mass in particles comes from, is not actually the Higgs boson and that Peter Higgs should have his Nobel Prize whisked away from him quicker than you can say ‘Large Hadron Collider’.

Photograph of the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) at CERN in Switzerland
The Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) is one of the detectors in the Large Hadron Collider where the Higgs boson has been detected (the other is ATLAS). Data from this is processed by supercomputers which produce the beautiful collision diagrams for scientists to pore over and deduce what particles have been detected. Image credit: CMS/CERN

But surely the Nobel committee can’t have given away such a prestigious award so carelessly, without having checked the integrity of the results particle physicists have spent years working on? I spoke with Dr Alexander Belyaev from the University of Southampton, who explained how these articles have somewhat missed the point, and how it relates to his research into Technicolor theory. So what is a Higgs boson anyway?

Monday 16 March 2015

Questions science can’t answer

There are some questions science can’t answer. But how well does this define what should, and shouldn't, be on the school science curriculum?

There is a requirement in the UK school science curriculum which states pupils should be taught that there are some questions that science cannot currently answer, and some that science cannot address. I showed this to a bunch of people (in a very non-scientific manner) and was surprised at how many immediately got upset at the concept.

One person equated this with teaching children that there are things “we should never attempt to know”, and many saw it as a conflict between science and religion, particularly related to the teaching of evolution.

This surprised me because, to a scientist, the statement should be obvious. If there were no questions that science cannot currently answer, then every scientist in the world would be out of a job - hence the name of this website. Yet there is a deep seated association in all of us that science is about proven facts - when really it’s nothing of the sort. Even the most well established scientific Theories remain open to question, representing our best understanding so far.

The second part of the statement, that there are some questions science cannot address, is typically what drew the comparison to religion. In a way they were right about there being a link, but perhaps not to be upset by it. Indeed, there are some questions that will never appear on the pages of Things We Don’t Know, because they are not questions that science can answer. In other words, because they are not scientific questions.

“Does God (or gods) exist?” is just one such question. For a question or hypothesis to be scientific, it must be falsifiable. It’s easy to hypothesize that one or more gods may exist, but it’s impossible to measure or disprove the existence of such a being. Consequently, it is not a question that science can, or should even attempt to, answer.

Similarly, anything related to ethics cannot be answered scientifically. Consider the ongoing debates over assisted suicide, or abortion. Science can measure and predict impacts of policy changes on society and individuals, but whether it’s right or wrong is ultimately down to the moral code against which the decision is to be judged - and there is no scientific measure for morality. Science can tell us whether capital punishment reduces the crime rate more or less than life imprisonment, and whether torture is more likely to yield information from a prisoner than verbal interrogation - but it cannot tell us whether it is morally right to adopt such techniques.

There is, however, a very clear and important distinction between these two scenarios. Questions that science cannot answer are not science, yet questions that science cannot currently answer are the very purpose of scientific research. So perhaps the emphasis should not be on the statement itself, but on understanding the difference.

In September, TWDK made a commitment to produce a series of downloadable materials highlighting current real-life research issues for use with the KS4 curriculum. Today, I’m very happy to announce our first step to realising this. We will soon be launching our flagship project in this area - Teaching Climate Change, and I look forward to telling you more about it very soon.

Teaching Climate Change teaser/concept image, copyright Things We Don't Know
What are we up to? Here's a teaser of our concept artwork for the upcoming Teaching Climate Change project, by Frank Stark. ©Things We Don't Know

Tuesday 10 March 2015

What is Epilepsy? [Science Video]

Epilepsy affects 1% of the population, and 10% will have a seizure at some point in their lives. But what is epilepsy, what causes it, and how can we treat it? Neuroscientist Dr Ali Jennings (Aliheartscience) interviews neurologist Dr Umesh Vivekananda for TWDK.

Video screencap of Dr Ali Jennings presenting about epilepsy in London for TWDK

Monday 23 February 2015

Are Nanomaterials Toxic?

There's a lot of concern about the potential toxicity of nanomaterials, intensified by the absence of regulatory standards. This means they aren’t currently required to be safety tested before being used in commercial products. So are nanomaterials toxic, what limits our understanding and how big are the risks to our health?

What are nanomaterials?

Nanomaterials are defined purely in terms of size - they are between 1 and 100 nm in at least one dimension. 1 nm is one millionth of a mm in length, and may be occupied by as few as three atoms, depending on their kind. Nanomaterials can be sheets, wires, rods, particles or platelets, and can be made of any material and have any other properties. Natural nanomaterials include spiders' silk and cotton, and manufactured nanomaterials include carbon nanotubes, metal and metal oxide particles and soots. They occur in paints, fabrics and cosmetics, food packaging and drug delivery medicines. More than a dozen new consumer products containing nanomaterials enter the market every month[1].

Sunday 15 February 2015

TWDK Receives All Star Award For User Engagement

Constant Contact logo
TWDK Receives 2014 Constant Contact All Star Award
Recognized for achievements using online marketing tools to drive success

[London, UK][12 Feb 2015] — Science education and communications organisation Things We Don't Know C.I.C. has been named a 2014 All Star Award winner by Constant Contact®, Inc., the trusted marketing advisor to more than 600,000 small organizations worldwide. The award, given annually to the top 10% of Constant Contact’s international customer base, recognizes these select businesses and nonprofits for their significant achievements leveraging online marketing tools to engage their customer base and drive success for their organization. TWDK is one such exemplary organization.

Since 2012, TWDK has helped scientists from across the UK, USA, Europe and Australia to explain the problems they're working on in simple, understandable language. By explaining the things we don't know or understand, how we know there's a problem with our current knowledge and why we haven't been able to answer it already, TWDK aims to improve the public understanding of and engagement with science.

We’re delighted to be recognized by Constant Contact for the way in which we engage with our users, said Ed Trollope, TWDK's founder and CEO. We strive to offer the maximum flexibility for users who wish to be notified of our latest updates - we don't want to send you emails you'd rather not get, and Constant Contact provides an easy way for our users to decide which notifications they wish to receive.

Friday 6 February 2015

How big are atoms?

You may have heard someone mention the size of atoms, in the media or at school perhaps, and you’ll certainly have heard people talk about how small atoms are. So you may be surprised to hear that we don’t know how big atoms are - not exactly, only approximately. But why not?

There are two main problems with measuring the size of atoms - other than the fact that they’re definitely too small to measure by eye, even through a microscope:
  • Atoms don’t have defined edges
  • Atoms can change their size and shape

Atoms don’t have defined edges

We normally talk about electrons in “atomic shells”, which gives the impression of hard, discrete surfaces, like the kernel of a nut. Sometimes, instead, we say electrons travel in “orbitals”. But this conjures up an image of planetary orbitals - specific lines that electrons are restricted to, like a running track. This isn’t a good model. A better description of electrons around a nucleus is “electron clouds”. These clouds describe fuzzy areas of electron density with difficult-to-determine edges. Electron density is the same as negative charge if you assume an electron is a goo smeared out like a cloud, rather than a particle which inhabits a distinct space. This is exactly what an atom is like. We have a fancy name for it: electron density probability distributions.

Monday 19 January 2015

Alzheimer's disease - the causes and consequences

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and affects almost half a million people in the UK alone - and the number is rising[1]. Typical symptoms of Alzheimer’s include lapses in memory, mood swings, and difficulties performing everyday activities[1], but the exact symptoms a patient will display are unique to the individual. The only thing that is consistent between all Alzheimer’s patients is the debilitating effects this disease has on the patient and their quality of life. Many patients suffer from extreme memory loss, losing the ability to recognise friends and loved ones. Some patients even lose the ability to feed themselves and rely on carers and family members for basic life skills that we take for granted.

Despite being identified in the early 20th century, we are still not exactly certain why some of us will develop Alzheimer’s while others will not. Our brains are complex organs that provide us with memories, personalities and make each individual unique; any disease that affects this vital organ can lead to drastic changes in someone’s life. Alzheimer’s is no different; it’s a progressive disease meaning the damage to the brain worsens over time, leading to more pronounced symptoms and deterioration in a patient’s condition[1].

Photograph of Auguste Deter, the first patient to be diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease
Auguste Deter was the first person to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, in 1901. She died in 1906, aged 55. Photograph by unknown photographer, 1902. (Public domain)

There are many aspects of Alzheimer’s that makes finding a cause, and indeed a cure, more difficult. For example, Alzheimer’s is unique to each individual patient depending on which part of the brain is affected. There are many different types of dementia, of which Alzheimers is only one, and differentiating between them is difficult because the symptoms are similar and can be very vague in the early stages, and similar to other conditions such as depression. We’re currently able to diagnose Alzheimer’s with 90% accuracy; it’s impossible to achieve 100% without dissecting the brain itself [2], although other diagnosis methods are rapidly catching up!

Saturday 17 January 2015

Easy fundraising

Happy New Year from the team here at TWDK! We hope you're looking forward to 2015 as much as we are.

We wanted to start the new year with a THANK YOU to all our supporters. We really appreciate the fact you're just reading our articles, let alone sharing it and even voting for us in competitions! We've been really blown away by the level of support we've seen in 2014.

Thank you from TWDK. Photograph of two people shaking hands.
You're all awesome, and we do what we do just for you.

And now we've got a simple way you can help support us each time you shop online, simply and easily - and for free :)

We've teamed up with fundraising for good causes website easyfundraising, so that each time you shop online we receive cash donations from the retailers, and it costs you nothing. Just visit their site first to register, then either use their links to visit the retailers or (optionally) install a toolbar that displays a "click here to activate donations" option when you visit one of the 2,700 sites that participate. Personally, I love the toolbar.

Happy shopping!