Archive by category | Lab life

Rocket woman


A physicist at the Indian Space Research Organisation’s Space Applications Centre, Moumita Dutta was part of the team that put a probe into Mars orbit in 2014. The instruments they designed for the Mangalyaan are still beaming back data. Now India is gearing up for its third planetary mission in 2018 — Chandrayaan-2, a return to the Moon. As Dutta prepares to take part in the London Science Museum’s Illuminating India events, she talks about the lure of optics, the challenge of crafting super-light sensors, and the rise in Indian women entering space science.    … Read more

When physics and family collide

Olivia Williams (seated) and Olivia Colman as Alice and Jenny.

Lucy Kirkwood’s new play Mosquitoes is such a sparkling showcase for physics that it might as well have been commissioned by CERN, Europe’s particle physics laboratory. But this tragicomedy is most successful in its portrayal of heartbreak, trust and the tug of family ties.  Read more

An immortal life: Henrietta Lacks on film

An immortal life: Henrietta Lacks on film

The idea that people should have a say over how their cells are used in research isn’t revolutionary, but it flies in the face of research practices over the past century. That it nearly became law is due in no small part to Rebecca Skloot’s 2010 bestseller The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, the story of the African-American woman living in Baltimore, Maryland, whose fatal tumour – taken by scientists at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1951 without the knowledge or permission of Lacks or her family — gave rise to the first immortal human cell line, HeLa.  Read more

Ancient DNA and the rise of ‘celebrity science’

Elizabeth Jones.

Whether it’s about Neanderthal-human interbreeding or the prospect of resurrecting woolly mammoths, the public cannot seem to hear enough about ancient-DNA research. For science historian Elizabeth Jones, ancient DNA offered an opportunity to study the development of a field in the crucible of intense public interest. She defines the phenomenon as “celebrity science”, in which scientists harness attention to generate interest in their work and capture future funding.  Read more

Waltzing for science

The Vienna Science Ball 2017, in the city's Town Hall.

Around midnight on 28 January, hundreds of couples lined up in the splendid ballroom of the Vienna City Hall for the quadrilles — and the Vienna Ball of Sciences became tangibly interdisciplinary. Students, scientists and scholars of myriad fields whose paths would scarcely cross in daily academic life moved gracefully to the waltzes of the younger Johann Strauss. Laughter filled the air as rows of elegantly clad dancers performed (in reasonably perfect composure) the bows and figures of the traditional courtly dance.  Read more

On the road with Star Men

Very Large Array radio telescopes, New Mexico.

Fifty years ago, four young men with newly minted PhDs left England for the California Institute of Technology. They were embarking on what turned out to be long and successful lives in astronomy. CalTech afforded Donald Lynden-Bell, Roger Griffin,  Wal Sargent and Neville Woolf opportunities — to probe the heavens, through access to the world’s best telescopes at Mount Wilson and Mount Palomar, and to explore the astonishing landscapes of the western United States on the road.  Read more

Science guns the engine

Science guns the engine

What is it about scientists and motorcycles? Is the idea of caning it helmet-free down the highway an antidote to the close analysis and hunched precision of the lab? Does the love of Harley-Davidsons on an open road somehow spring out of the exploratory dynamism of the scientific enterprise? Or is the boffin-bike nexus just down to the deep groove Easy Rider cut in our collective psyche?  Read more