I,SCIENCE THE Science magazine of imperial college
sex, drugs & rock ‘n’ roll Summer 2016
I,SCIENCE THE SCIENCE MAGAZINE OF IMPERIAL COLLEGE
Editors-in-Chief Greta Phyllis Keenan Harry Pettit Magazine Editor Alexandra Cauvi Web Editor Zoe öhman Deputy Web Editor Neil Stoker Pictures Editor Eva Spielvogel Business Manager Olivia Philipps Marketing and social Media Marianne Guenot Radio Editor Àngels Codina News Manager Sarah Cowen-Rivers Online Features Manager Sophie Walsh Events Manager Abigail Skinner TV Editor James Bowers Deputy TV Editor Natasha Khaleeq Sub-Editors Erin Frick Hilary Lamb Katie Miles Daniel R Silva Cathy Wong Cover Illustrator Jay Kural
I, Science, c/o Liam Watson, Level 3, Sherfield Building, Imperial College London, London SW7 2AZ Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Printed by:Leaflet Frog, 38 Britannia Way, Bolton BL2 2HH
s term draws to a close and the summer months beckon, we will each unwind in our own distinct way. Statistics suggest that some 70% of UK students have taken an illegal drug in their lifetime and that more than half of Tinder users are based at university. Clearly then, the ‘sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll’ lifestyle is far from the exclusive preserve of Generation X. Whether your summer plans involve Amsterdam, Glastonbury, or simply finding that special someone, we’ve got something for everyone in this issue of I, Science – our last of the academic year. For the musically inclined, Wilko Duprez looks at how music morphs our minds on pages 10-11, while Natasha Khaleeq takes us on tour with some of science’s most famous rock stars on page 30. If you have any festivals lined up this summer, be sure to check out Ellyw Evans’ look into the history of the portaloo in Science Behind the Photo on pages 1617; just remember to bring your own loo roll...
For those more interested in narcotics, Charlotte Steward delves into the science behind addiction on pages 14-15, while Robert Westbrook takes us on a trip through the fascinating world of psychedelic therapy on pages 8-9. This complements an interview with Imperial neuroscientist and drug specialist David Nutt on pages 24-25, where he discusses how stringent regulations hinder vital research into psychoactive substances. Anyone looking for romance this summer should turn to pages 6-7, where we explore the science behind falling in love, or to page 26, where Sophie Hull and Caroline Steel give us the lowdown on ‘dirty talk’. For something a little more medicinal, turn to pages 15-16 to investigate two of Big Pharma’s most elusive puzzles: the male pill, and female viagra. We hope you enjoy this issue, and whether it’s sex, drugs, or rock ‘n’ roll that takes your fancy, remember: don’t do anything we wouldn’t…
Harry and Greta
I, Science is a publication of the Science Communication Unit, Centre for Languages, Culture and Communication, Imperial College London. However, it is a student publication, and as such the views expressed in I, Science do not reflect the views of the Unit, Centre or College.
Find more great content on our website: www.isciencemag.co.uk We’re always on the lookout for new contributors for both the magazine and the website. If you would like to get involved as a writer, editor or illustrator please don’t hesitate to get in contact. You can email us at email@example.com, tweet us @i_science_mag or contact us directly through our website www.isciencemag.co.uk.
Contents News | 5 Sarah Cowen-Rivers covers the latest news from empathy reduction to dung beetle navigation.
High Profile | 8 Robert Westbrook takes a trip into the world of psychedelic drug research.
6 | ‘I Wanna Know What Love Is’ Harry Pettit explores the science behind one of life’s great mysteries: the act of falling in love.
10 | Good Vibrations Wilko Duprez explores the fascinating field of music psychology.
Top Five | 12 14 | Hooked In the animal kingdom, it is truly the survival of the ‘fittest’. Cheyenne McCray investigates the interesting mating behaviors of five different animals.
Sometimes we just can’t say no. From first try to habit, it’s all chemistry. Charlotte Steward takes a look at the ups and downs of chemical addiction.
Science Behind the Photo | 16 18 | Plan C Ellyw Evans narrates the chemical evolution of our indecent ally, the portable loo.
It’s been a long time coming, but in the development of the ‘male pill’, science is closer than ever.
The Little Pink Pill | 19 20 | To Dope, or not to dope? Flibanserin has become the first FDA-approved drug for female sexual dysfunction. But does lack of sexual desire require treatment?
Performance-enhancing drugs are controversial at best, but is it time to rethink regulation? Naomi Stewart delves into the murky world of doping.
From Bach Punk to Daft Punk | 22 24 | Interview Sophie-Jo Walsh explores the scientific case for the evolution of electronica.
Greta Keenan interviews Professor David Nutt to find out why illegal psychoactive drugs are so difficult to research.
Talk to me, baby | 26 27 | Having It Off On High “Is that a graduated cylinder in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?” Caroline Steel and Sophie Hull clear the air around talking dirty.
From alcohol to opiates: Will Latter explores the science of less-than-sober sex.
You Want Fries With That? | 28 30 | Rock ‘n’ Roll Scientists Jennifer Graudenz investigates the role pills can play in tackling obesity.
Natasha Khaleeq introduces us to the rock stars gifted with scientific flair.
Reviews | 31 Our latest book and event reviews.
Sarah Cowen-Rivers covers the latest news. Sarah Cowen-Rivers is studying for an MSc in Science Communication
Paracetamol reduces empathy as well as pain
ur ability to feel empathy plays a vital role in upholding the moral and social fabric of society, and a new study from The Ohio State University has revealed that paracetamol reduces it. The study involved recording people’s ability to decipher the level of emotional or physical pain felt by others when reading emotionally charged fictional stories, under the influence of paracetamol or placebo. The researchers also asked another group of paracetamol-treated participants to record how increasingly unpleasant levels of white noise would bother others. The results showed that in both groups, the people who had taken paracetamol were more likely to rate levels of pain or ‘unpleasantness’ significantly lower than those on a placebo. While this study does not indicate that popping a paracetamol is going to turn your heart cold, it might be worth avoiding paracetamol in certain emotive scenarios.
Dung beetles use mental-map of the stars to navigate
he unfortunate yet accurately named dung beetle is puzzlingly skilled at pushing around a ball of dung to a safe spot where it can be used for food and shelter for its offspring. A recent study from Lund University in Sweden has illuminated how the beetles are able to find their way around the sweeping savannas that they call home. They look up. The scientists found that dung beetles use a plethora of celestial cues to find their way around, which is captured as a mental snapshot during a ‘dance’ on top of the dung they have collected. This was discovered by observing the beetles under an artificial sky that allowed the scientists to manipulate the cues and observe the effect on the dung beetle movements. It certainly puts our reliance on Google Maps to shame.
Unchanged galaxy provides clues to Big Bang
galaxy far away from Earth might hold key information that will help scientists unravel how stars were formed after the Big Bang. The galaxy in question, with the catchy name AGC 198691, is thought to mimic the very beginnings of our own galaxy due to its low count of heavy elements, such as metals. Heavy metals were only able to form after light elements such as helium and hydrogen created stars. Therefore scientists at Indiana University Bloomington believe that this galaxy is our best bet at deciphering the conditions found directly after the big bang. Although satellite images have found stars within the galaxy, their blue colour indicates that they are young stars that have only recently formed, making it the perfect subject for studying early galaxies before they became as chemically varied as our own.
‘I Wanna Know What Love Is’
heir eyes catch yours and the room melts away. Your stomach flutters as a skittering rush of excitement surges through your body. Your heart drubs like an engine against your chest; your hairs prickling while your cheeks flush a deep scarlet. They turn their back and it’s lost in an instant. Your eyes re-focus. The noise around you draws back from a mumble. You’re back in the room. Love: simple biology or something more? Our human obsession with love permeates every society, with much of today’s pop culture and advertising geared towards its irresistible allure; yet we understand little about it. So, how much do we really know about love? Helen Fisher, Biological Anthropologist at Rutgers University in New Jersey, suggests that there are three stages to falling in love. In one of the first papers tackling the biology of love, ‘Lust, Attraction and Attachment in Mammalian Reproduction’, she claims that each stage is driven by a distinct set of hormones and neurotransmitters, shaping and reshaping our romantic thoughts and desires.
Stage One: Lust Initial attraction is a complex phenomenon. Lust is driven by testosterone and oestrogen in most mammals and is vital for the survival of the species, pushing us to procreate and spread our genes to a new generation. According to Fisher, lust is separate from the more cognitive functions involved in an emotional attachment. Ever woken up with someone you shouldn’t have? You can blame your sex hormones rather than your brain for that one. In her paper, Fisher claims that environment plays a
key role in our feelings of lust. The right temperature, light, and smells can all contribute to our desires. Perhaps this is why a festival romance can seem so absurd once you’re home in the cold light of day…
Stage Two: Attraction Once we’ve passed the initial surge of lust, our biology steps it up a notch. Attraction is the stage of love in which your brain gets involved, and you’re truly pinned by Cupid’s arrow. In this stage, the target of your affections plagues your thoughts, you lose your appetite and struggle to sleep. Fisher suggests attraction is caused by three neurotransmitters:
Adrenaline In the first blooms of love, your stress response activates, releasing adrenaline and cortisone into your bloodstream. This leads to discomfort when you are around your new love; your mouth dries, your heart races, and you may even start to sweat.
As your affection grows, it triggers dopamine release, which is connected to your brain’s desire and reward systems. Fisher describes this region as the “reptilian core of the brain” associated with wanting, motivation and cravings. Being with your love therefore causes an immense rush of pleasure, similar to that of cocaine Illustrations: Wendy Ling-Hsuan Wang or nicotine. “Couples often show the signs of surging
Harry Pettit explores the science behind one of life’s great mysteries: the act of falling in love. dopamine: increased energy, less need for sleep or food, focused attention and exquisite delight in smallest details of this novel relationship”, Fisher says. No wonder we can find ourselves ‘high on love’!
Serotonin The third and final hormone involved in attraction is serotonin. One of love’s most potent tools, serotonin changes the way we think and behave around our new infatuation. Dr Donatella Marazziti of the University of Pisa analysed the blood serotonin levels of 20 new couples who described themselves as ‘madly in love’. Marazziti found soaring levels of serotonin in each of the couples, and linked this love-struck state to sufferers of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, who experience similarly high serotonin levels. This, Marazziti suggests, may help explain why we brood so fixatedly over those we fall in love with.
Stage Three: Attachment You’ve made it this far? Congratulations! Once the honeymoon phase is over, what is it that keeps us together for the years or even decades that follow? According to Fisher, there are two hormones driving long-term attachment:
Oxytocin Nicknamed the ‘cuddle hormone’, oxytocin is vital for forming social connections. The hormone is released by men and women during
orgasm, and is likely responsible for the strong bond we feel with partners after sex. The more sex a couple has, the stronger this bond becomes, which may explain why good sex is so often the centrepiece of a healthy relationship. Oxytocin is also released during childbirth, and is key to the powerful attachment a mother feels towards her baby. It helps stimulate lactation in mammals, boosting the production of milk when a mother hears her child cry. Without oxytocin, we would struggle to feel the bond that is vital to any long-term relationship, romantic or otherwise.
Vasopressin Another hormone released after sex; it is used by the body to control hydration. Scientists at Florida State University, writing in Nature in 2013, explored the hormone’s role in attachment through experiments on the American prairie vole. Prairie voles, like humans, form long-term monogamous relationships, and have sex for pleasure as well as for reproduction. The researchers found that, upon lowering the male voles’ blood vasopressin levels, the bond between the vole and his partner instantly deteriorated. The male voles lost interest in their partners and ceased to defend them from rival suitors. Romantic love focuses our mating energy, guiding us towards a biologically favourable life partnership. Fisher equates love to an addiction, with tolerance, withdrawal, and relapse all common symptoms. She describes romantic love as one of the most addictive substances known to man. The science of love is intricate beyond comprehension and only recently have we begun to delve into the murky depths of what drives our most intense romantic feelings. While hormones play an important role, they are merely a small part of a complex tapestry of psychological, social and biological cues. Our search for the key to love is far from over. German sociologist Theodor Adorno famously said: “love is the power to see similarity in the dissimilar”. As it turns out, it’s a little more complicated than that…
Harry Pettit is studying for an MSc in Science Communication
n the shadow of the first ever images of the tripping mind, published by Imperial last month, a pivotal anniversary has come and gone almost unnoticed. April 19 marks ‘Bicycle Day’ – the day on which the inventor of LSD, chemist Albert Hoffman, experienced the first ever acid trip. Hoffman cycled home on his usual route after ingesting 200µg of Lysergic Acid Diethylamide and embarked on a journey that would light up both the scientific and artistic worlds. In the original report of his experience with LSD, he tells of being astonished by “kaleidoscopic, fantastic images” and how “every acoustic perception became transformed into optical perceptions”. Almost immediately, a tremendous research effort began, aiming to unlock the power of this mysterious new substance. By 1965, there were at least four international conferences and around 1000 clinical papers with 4000 patient cases, all dedicated to the exchange of knowledge about psychedelics and their use in therapy. Harvard Professor Timothy Leary saw huge potential for psychedelic substances in understanding behavioural psychology and became an influential voice in the field. His interest in psychedelics, however, was not purely scientific. In 1960 Professor Leary began to experiment with the drugs himself, at a time when he was rubbing shoulders with important artistic figures such as British writer Aldous Huxley and American poet Allen Ginsberg. It was the beat-poet’s view that all people should experiment with substances and this strongly influenced Leary’s thinking about the relationship between drugs and society. By endorsing psychedelics to the masses, the Harvard professor transitioned from respected
scientist to prophet-like figure. As more people experimented with psychedelic substances during the counterculture movement, drugs like LSD and magic mushrooms became highly politicised and by 1971 they were banned under UN drug conventions. Hallucinogenics were classified with other hard drugs such as cocaine, under the schedule 1 category. Substances under this grouping are said to have no medicinal value and cannot be prescribed making research almost impossible. In a flourish, the field of psychedelic research halted to a full stop, initiating a 40 year radio-silence. In the 21st century, attitudes towards controlled substances have slowly begun to change. While the laws that bind researchers remain restrictive, a scattering of pioneering experiments have been given the go ahead. A flagship study was undertaken at John Hopkins University in Baltimore in 2006. Researchers tried to measure the experience
of first-time users of psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms. The results showed that 70% of the subjects valued their psychedelic experience as one of the five most meaningful occurrences of their lives. Another study, undertaken by the same group in 2014, found that 80% of patients gave up smoking after a similar treatment with the substance. This was twice as effective as any other treatment available. While these results have shown promising outcomes, the science behind them has been a mystery until now. A pioneering study led by Dr Robin CarhartHarris and overseen by the eminent champion of psychedelic drug research, Professor David Nutt, set about imaging the brain during an LSD experience. At first glance, researchers observed that the brain is many times more active under the influence of acid. By reading between the neurons, however, scientists have unveiled some fascinating insights on the brain’s inner workings.
Illustration: James Marno
Robert Westbrook takes a trip into the world of psychedelic drug research. The images revealed show enhanced resting state connection within the visual cortex. Under the influence of LSD, this part of the brain is overrun by signals from every corner of the subject’s mind. The effect was amplified when more connections could be made between different areas of the brain as the visual cortex could absorb more information. This explains the hallucinations that are experienced by LSD users. For the first time, one of the most fundamental aspects of the psychedelic experience has been pinned down, and correlated to real-time MRI images. In contrast to the spike in activity around the visual cortex, the study also found that the brain experiences a decrease in blood flow to the default mode network (DMN) – a part of the brain associated with the sense of self, or ego. Researchers contemplate that this could explain the state of ego-dissolution that psychedelic substance users frequently describe. It is thought that one of the root causes of diseases such as depression is an over-active DMN. Existing methods for counteracting such problems, like electro-compulsive therapy and meditation, set about to reduce function in this part of the brain. While those methods have had limited success, the research being conducted by Professor Nutt and Dr Carhart-Harris has shown that some psychedelic substances not only stem blood flow to the DMN but effectively switch it off altogether.
to 42% after three months, psilocybin was still found to be twice as effective as other traditional treatments for depression. In spite of this, scientists must still grapple with research councils that are wary of any dealings with schedule 1 listed substances. This paradox has led scientists to look for unconventional sources of funding in the past.
In a recent clinical trial, Dr Carhart-Harris demonstrated the healing potential of psychedelics by administering psilocybin to 20 patients with depression. All patients showed some signs of improvement, and a week after treatment, two thirds of patients were depression-free. Although this figure dropped
For the first time, one of the most fundamental aspects of the psychedelic experience has been pinned down. In 2012, professor David Nutt agreed to broadcast his Ecstasy Trial live on Channel 4 in order to obtain sufficient funding for his research. Of course, the quality of the results was tarnished significantly by the public nature of the experiment. Without this approach, however, no study could have been made at all.
ranking system for controlled substances, based on the harms they cause to individuals and society. According to this ranking, alcohol should be placed first and psychedelic substances such as LSD should go at the bottom of the scale. Despite the many campaigns to change the government’s classification of these substances, LSD and psilocybin are still schedule 1 drugs, hindering the growth of research in this field and its potential for therapeutic use. Today, it takes a whole year to get ethical approval for a trial with these substances, as in the case of the depression pilot-study. On top of that, the trials needed six months of safety assessments plus an additional two and a half years to actually acquire the highly classified drugs. Describing this state of affairs, Professor Nutt recently told The Guardian, “It cost £1,500 to dose each person, when in a sane world it might cost £30.” Professor Nutt continues to campaign for fewer restrictions on research with substances that could be used for medicinal purposes.
Professor David Nutt was deposed from his seat as the government’s Chief Drug Advisor after criticising its decision to upgrade cannabis from class C to class B in 2009. During his time in government he was an outspoken critic about the way drugs are classified in the UK, famously comparing the risks associated with the use of ecstasy to those of horse-riding in a paper entitled Equasy.
The impact of the first MRI investigations of the brain on psychedelic substances is currently reverberating through the media, once again knocking at the door of policy makers. Will drugs studies conducted at Imperial mark a paradigm shift in the way diseases such as depression are treated? Or will psychedelics sink back into obscurity, just as they did back in 1971? Scientists and patients alike will hope that these new revelations are enough to continue the research effort.
As chair of the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs he has suggested a new
Robert Westbrook is studying for a PhD in chemistry, researching perovskite solar cells
You can find an interview with Professor David Nutt on pages 24-25 of this issue.
hat is music doing to our brains and why do we love it so much? We’ve all felt the magical moment when a song perfectly fits our mood and adds a special something to an event. It’s no wonder that scientists and psychologists have begun to dig into why this happens and are trying to better understand how music triggers our emotions.
According to Professor David Huron from Ohio State University’s School of Music and Center for Cognitive and Brain Sciences, we get a rewarding, pleasurable feeling when we successfully predict repetitive patterns in a song. The repetitive formulas shared by many music genres enhance the reward experience that comes from listening to predictable melodies and beats.
‘Music psychology’ is the exciting field of research that is gradually unravelling music’s effects on our brains. Researchers in the field are even hoping to manipulate these effects for health benefits. Some of their most recent findings have been quite surprising: the way music affects our moods, the way it may be closely linked to psychological disorders, and the unusual consequences of music-related illnesses.
If sad music makes us feel better, what about other forms of music? What happens when people listen to fast-paced, loud, and gritty music such as heavy metal?
Does sad music make us feel sad or do we listen to sad music when we are sad already? This is the kind of question music psychologists are keen to answer. According to a 2013 study from the University of Tokyo, our emotional reaction to such music is ambivalent. Yes, we do perceive a tragic emotion while listening to a sad song, but we also find comfort and delight in artistic beauty of the piece. These two emotions were found to be unrelated. Moreover, the emotions induced by music are generally harmless and inconsequential; we find pleasure in them and in the case of sad music, even romanticise them. According to the same study, sad music puts things into perspective and actually helps us process our own sadness. Sad music can also make us feel better through a phenomenon called ‘sweet anticipation’.
A study at the University of Queensland in 2015, suggests loud music unexpectedly helps with our ability to control and process anger. After exposing subjects to an ‘anger-inducing’ session, the researchers found that listening to ‘extreme music’ allowed the listener to explore this particular emotional state and evacuate their stress.
Hostility, irritability, and stress levels actually decrease after a punk, metal or hardcore session.
The results suggest that hostility, irritability, and stress levels actually decrease after a punk, metal or hardcore session. The control group, who were submitted to a period of silence after a similar ‘anger-inducing’ event, demonstrated lowered physical symptoms of anger, such as lower heart rate, while irritability and frustration remained. If you want to feel
blissfully calm before an exam, go check out Slayer and make sure to jump in the moshpit. We are now beginning to understand how we can use music for positive self-regulatory purposes and emotional therapy. However, what if music could affect far more than just our moods? In 1993, a now-famous research project on the effects of music on the brain was shamelessly sensationalised by the media. The original paper, titled ‘Music and Spatial Task Performance’, appeared in Nature and showed that after listening to a piece by the classical composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (the Sonata for two pianos in D Major, K448), participants had short-term improvements in spatialtemporal reasoning. However, the media vastly exaggerated the findings – with claims that you could boost your IQ by listening to Mozart – in what came to be known as the ‘Mozart effect’. This even led to a US state planning to play classical music to newborn babies, and farmers expecting better quality milk from exposing their cows to Mozart’s melodies three times a day. Large-scale psychological studies have since suggested that some pop songs perform as well as, or better than Mozart, but also confirmed the short-lived nature of the effect. The public’s idea that classical music could permanently increase your IQ was hence revealed as a total myth. Music also has an elusive relationship with some diseases. Contemporary research is looking into a phenomenon in which specific songs may either trigger or control seizures in sufferers of epilepsy. ‘Musicogenic epilepsy’ is not only triggered by a specific song or genre,
Wilko Duprez explores the fascinating field of music psychology. but an episode may be initiated by a single instrument or even a particular composer. Studies that have looked at the effect of Mozart on individuals with epilepsy are trying to shed light on the mechanisms that may either trigger or calm the seizure with the goal of better understanding the disease. Some people think that musicogenic epilepsy is triggered because the parts of the brain associated with seizures are also sensitive to music. Others think it could be an indirect consequence of the emotions induced by sounds. However, new studies point to another potential cause: the neurotransmitter dopamine. Research suspects that music triggers the release of this powerful substance in the brain, which is known to be an anticonvulsant agent for people with temporal lobe epilepsy. British scientists from the London School of Pharmacy suggest that the
neurotransmitter could very well have an opposing effect and trigger seizures in cases of people with musicogenic epilepsy. Although music psychology and music therapy are relatively young disciplines within the medical sciences, for a while it has been clear that some people suffer from music-related illnesses. For example, some suffer from amusia, more commonly known as being ‘tone-deaf’. Despite performing well in all other cognitive functions, those that suffer from amusia cannot recognise or memorise a musical pattern, melody, pitch, or even sing! Amusia was once thought to only occur through brain damage, but recent studies conducted by a team of psychologists from the University of Montreal suggest it can also be a congenital phenomenon. Auditory agnosia is an even more disconcerting syndrome. Patients can perfectly hear any sound
or musical melody but are systematically unable to recognise it or link it to previous memories. For example, they can describe a song as they listen to it, but aren’t able to associate it with the concept of music without other verbal clues. Robert J. Sternberg, an American psychologist, has suggested that the issue stems from a disruption in the brain pathway responsible for object recognition and form representation. Still, scientists are not quite satisfied with this, and are currently looking into other possible explanations. Another form of music-related illness is linked with ‘acoustic hallucinations’. We’ve all at some point heard a buzzing or ringing sound in our ears that no one else notices. This is a sound hallucination called ‘tinnitus’. However, for some people, hallucinations like this are much more than a simple buzz in the ear. They can perceive random bits of melody when no music is being played. Researchers such as the late neurologist Oliver Sacks have traced these musical illusions to the patient’s early childhood. Patients also report that the volume of the music they ‘hear’ is similar to the music they originally heard and independent of their current hearing ability. We have only just begun uncovering the tip of the iceberg when it comes to understanding how music affects our brains. This new research has led to psychologists and psychiatrists using music in some of their therapies. Imagine a hypothetical future where your GP gives you a list of artists to listen to as part of your treatment in par with tablets and exercise. Now, wouldn’t that be more exciting?
Illustration: James Marno
Wilko Duprez is studying for an MSc in Science Communication
African cichlid fish mate via ‘mouthbrooding’, which refers to the incubation of fertilised eggs within the mouth of the female cichlid. But how does fertilisation occur? It involves some dancing and a rather appealing posterior! The mating process begins when a male attracts a female through a ‘dance’ made up of seizure-like motions. If she is interested, the two will swim over to a flat rock surface (the spawning area) and swim in circles for what can last hours. Eventually, the enticed female will lay her eggs and quickly scoop them into her mouth, unfertilized. This is where the appealing posterior comes in. The male cichlid’s anus is patterned to look like the eggs of the female. Believing them to be just that, the female cichlid will attempt to collect the ‘eggs’ off of the male’s anus. With her mouth left wide open, the male cichlid then fertilizes the eggs resting in her mouth.
Antechinus Antechinus are small marsupials found in parts of Australia and New Guinea that most closely resemble a cartoon mouse. As Antechinus are semelparous, meaning they only live long enough to breed once, sex is literally a once in a lifetime experience. Well, not really once. While antechinus do die after mating season, during the (up to) 12 hour mating process males have nonstop sex through protracted copulation with multiple females. In order to achieve this feat, the male antechinus forgoes food and suppresses his immune system, using all free metabolic energy to mate. At the end of mating season, the successful males die having traded their well-being for a short-lived sex marathon.
Found in New Guinea and Australia, female Bowerbirds choose their mating partners based on appearance. Not the physical appearance of the male Bowerbird himself, but rather the collection of objects he surrounds himself with. Male Bowerbirds spend countless hours building elaborate bowers made from sticks, leaves, and a variety of brightly colored objects he collects such as flowers, pieces of glass, berries and even coins. He may even vividly decorate a path leading to his hut structure for the female’s visual approval. Upon bower completion, a female will visit, often greeted with a ‘dance’ performance from the male. But female Bowerbirds also ‘play the field’. During mating season, they will visit several bowers, only returning to the one they find most attractive for mating.
In the animal kingdom, it is truly the survival of the ‘fittest’. Cheyenne McCray investigates the interesting mating behaviors of five different animals.
Porcupine Preferring to live in solitude, female porcupines are indifferent to male porcupines for most of the year. When mating season commences, however, the female porcupine has a special way of showing her interest: watersports. The female will sit high in a tree, urinate, and then rub her genitals on nearby objects. Attracted to the pheromones present in the odor of the female’s urine, the male porcupine will climb the female’s tree. Sitting below the female on a lower branch for some time, the male will fight off other male suitors who may also have been attracted by her urine. Eventually, when he feels the time is right, the male will make his move by climbing next to the female and urinating on her. This act helps trigger the female porcupine’s breeding cycle. Once this is done, they descend from the tree and mate on the ground.
Cheyenne McCray is studying for an MSc in Science Communication
Flatworms Flatworms are hermaphrodites, meaning they have both sperm-producing testes as well as egg-producing ovaries. How do they mate you ask? Through ‘penis fencing’ of course. Penis fencing is a mating behavior that involves two flatworms attempting to stab one another using their dagger-like penises. Each penis consists of two sharply pointed heads which extend from the flatworms’ bodies, ready for ‘battle’. When a flatworm successfully stabs its opponent, it injects sperm directly into the others haemocoel (main body cavity). This is known as traumatic insemination. The flatworm that is successfully stabbed becomes the ‘female’, responsible for laying eggs.
IMAGE: national geographic
n a daily basis, I take enough drugs to sedate Greater Long Island. I take Quaaludes for my back – 15 to 20 a day. I use Xanax to stay focused, Ambien to sleep, pot to mellow out, cocaine to wake up, and morphine because it’s awesome.” While the drug-saturated lifestyle of Jordan Belfort (aka the ‘Wolf of Wall Street’) may not be familiar to everyone, his daily regimen of class A drugs is a perfect example of chemical addiction. Attraction to drug use varies from person to person, so while science can study what makes us addicted, we might also question why we try drugs in the first place. Whether we’re looking for confidence, creativity or even concentration, everyone has a unique motivation for wanting a superpower. For example, nootropics, also known as ‘smart drugs’ or ‘cognitive enhancers’, are extremely popular among students. In 2015, the international sale of these drugs exceeded $1
billion (USD). Many of those fighting substance abuse refuse to acknowledge their addiction and often overestimate their ability to quit at will. So what is the difference between taking drugs for a one-off high versus a full-blown addiction? The US National Institute on Drug Abuse defines addiction as “a chronic, relapsing disease characterised by compulsive drug seeking and use despite harmful consequences as well as neurochemical and molecular changes in the brain”. From this definition, it is clear that addiction is not limited solely to drugs and can involve alcohol, gambling, sex, food, and even seemingly innocuous habits such as computer usage. Addictive drugs are chemically diverse and have a wide range of target receptors in the brain. Within this range of targets, addictive drugs act on individual mechanisms that result in an increased release of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is involved in learning, behaviour,
and attention. In the brain, these traits are regulated by the striatum and prefrontal cortex. Here, dopamine is able to strengthen or weaken the connections between neurons, in addition to changing the rate at which these neurons fire. Dopamine neurons in these areas form ‘rewardprediction-error’ software in the brain. This ‘software’ is used to predict rewards, and hence alter behaviour in order to increase the likelihood of gaining rewards while decreasing the chances of punishment. The increase in dopamine production incited by addictive chemicals overrides this reward system and affects learning, behaviour, and attention. This leads to the development of a ‘drug-seeking’ characteristic in users. However, not all drugs are addictive in and of themselves. The reward system attributes an ‘incentive salience’ – a motivational wanting – to inanimate objects such as cocaine powder or a bottle of alcohol, making them desired substances. You therefore don’t even have to
Sometimes we just can’t say no. From first try to habit, it’s all chemistry. Charlotte Steward takes a look at the ups and downs of chemical addiction. enjoy a drug to become addicted to it. Hedonics is the division of psychology that deals with this pleasurable or unpleasurable state of consciousness. It demonstrates that the ‘liking’ and ‘wanting’ parts of our brain are separate, which explains why we might want a drug without actually enjoying it. This is the reason why nicotine in cigarettes is highly addictive compared to other substances despite its lower euphoric rewards. Drugs are not equal in their addiction potential. In general, the quicker the drug reaches the brain, the more addictive it is. The rate at which a drug reaches the brain is important because drugs cause changes in gene expression. Neural plasticity is the brain’s ability to form and break connections between neurons, allowing it to adjust its activity in response to new circumstances and changes in the environment. Faster acting drugs affect ‘immediate-early gene’ expression, which is central to encoding memories through neural plasticity.
a potential addiction therapy. When a drug is delivered through the skin or by ingestion, a longer-lasting and weaker effect is produced. This reduces patients’ withdrawal symptoms as the drug stabilises the brain and is less addictive. This idea is becoming increasingly popular as a potential treatment option – a common example being the nicotine patch.
Different methods of delivery can have an effect on the potency of a drug by varying the rate at which it reaches the brain. The fastest route to the brain is by smoking, followed by injection, snorting, and then ingestion. For example, alcohol takes a few minutes to cause biological and behavioural changes compared to the mere seconds taken by more addictive drugs. As addiction progresses, users who become more reliant on drugs often change their method of delivery in favour of more immediate and intense highs. However, there are several other factors to addition that can affect the addiction potential of a drug. What does this mean for treatment options? We can use our knowledge of slow delivery as
Recent experiments have shown that it is possible to reverse drug-induced changes in the brain.
Recent experiments have shown that it is possible to reverse drug-induced changes in the brain. Neuroscience research has set out to reverse the changes to synapses that have been strengthened by drug use, essentially resetting the wiring of the brain to a non-addicted state. This approach uses optogenetics, a technique that allows modified neurons to become activated by light rather than a chemical trigger. It is not currently possible to genetically modify humans, so for the time being this remains a proof of principle rather than a miracle cure.
phenomenon. Select sub-groups in many species have been proven to be highly impulsive while others show an elevated responsiveness to novelty. The ‘sensation seeking’ personality trait is identified in people who are willing to take legal, social, financial, and physical risks for experiences and feelings that are varied, novel, complex, and intense. The increased responsiveness to novelty in this sub-group has also been shown to increase the chances of initiating drug use. While ‘sensation seekers’ are more likely to initiate drug use, those who are highly impulsive are more likely to develop an ongoing addictive behaviour. Analysis of the compulsive nature of drug taking in ‘impulsive’ groups suggests that these individuals had neurons in the prefrontal cortex – an area at the front of the brain – that were less active than normal. As the prefrontal cortex is largely responsible for anticipating negative consequences and managing selfcontrol, people with decreased activity in this area are more likely to make rash decisions and have less control over their behaviour. This characteristic allows them to largely disregard any potential aversive outcomes, thus enabling them to continually self-administer even when it is destructive to do so.
While some drugs are more addictive than others, are some people more susceptible to addiction? To what extent do familial traits dictate our vulnerability, and how may we overcome this?
Addictive drugs increase the amount of dopamine in the brain, triggering our reward prediction system. As the neurochemical mechanism to control hunger also modifies dopamine neuron activity, this raises the question – might it be possible to become addicted to more common substances such as food? This research is well underway and findings to date suggest that it is very likely.
DNA may predispose some people to addiction, as explained by the ‘addictive personality’
Charlotte Steward is studying for a BSc in Biochemistry
Science Behind the
visit to a portable toilet, or ‘portaloo’, is an unpleasant experience for any festival-goer, but unavoidable when nature calls. Judging by the distinctive TARDIS-like look of the blue plastic box overflowing with acrid chemicals, you’d be forgiven for thinking the portable toilet is a modern invention.
While the idea of a self-contained, transportable toilet was born in the 1940s for shipyard workers, we have actually been using chemical toilets for hundreds of years. Old-fashioned outhouses are one of our oldest examples, and consisted of a simple wooden box over a hole in the ground. Users would pour lye or lime down the hole after finishing their ‘business’ to help purge the smell. Lye (otherwise known as sodium hydroxide) and lime (or calcium oxide) are both strong alkalis that react with urea – the main chemical in urine – to produce ammonia through a process known as alkaline hydrolysis. Ammonia not only has a very strong smell which overpowers the odour of human waste, it also kills bacteria and is hence commonly found in household cleaning products. A word of caution though: lye and lime mix very well with water to form basic, corrosive solutions, that are damaging to the skin. For the wellbeing of the next visitor, users had to be careful not to spill any on the seat! Speaking of cleaning products, it is also important not to clean wooden outhouses with bleach. One of the ingredients in bleach is sodium hypochlorite, which reacts with ammonia to produce a cocktail of hydrogen chloride, chlorine gas, and the toxic chemical chloramine. If ammonia is present in a higher concentration than bleach, there is a chance that liquid hydrazine may be formed – this is used in rocket fuel and, as you can probably imagine, would bring new meaning to the phrase ‘explosive diarrhea’!
Photo Toilet chemistry has since evolved into non-explosive forms. Formaldehyde was once commonly used in portable toilets as it kills most bacteria and destroys viruses. However, due to its extreme toxicity in high concentrations and interference with the breakdown process in sewage plants, we rarely use it today. Present-day formulations are enzyme-based, and break down waste through organic, biological activity. Ellyw Evans is studying for an MSc in Science Communication
Plan C It’s been a long time coming, but in the development of the ‘male pill’, science is closer than ever.
hy is the male contraceptive so difficult to crack?
In the 1960s, the female contraceptive pill allowed women to take control of their reproductive rights, spurring on the gender revolution. Today, women have at their disposal 15 different types of contraception. In contrast, only three methods of contraception are available to men: use of condoms, vasectomy, and withdrawal. In an already overpopulated world, the need for more effective and diverse options for birth control becomes more pressing by the day. Today, exciting new research brings hope for the discovery of the elusive male contraceptive. Granted, the execution of the male contraceptive has taken a long time, but it is not for lack of trying. An effective contraceptive must be easy to use, reversible and provide sufficient protection without harmful side-effects. In men, this has proven difficult to achieve. The principle behind contraception is simple: stop the male sperm from reaching the female ovum after ejaculation. One approach is to prevent sperm from being produced via hormonal contraception. In the female version of hormonal contraception, women ingest a pill containing a cocktail of hormones which tricks the body into thinking it has already produced its ovum for the month. The male equivalent of this hormone cocktail is testosterone. However, when testosterone injections were tested on men, the results were inconsistent and in some cases, led to irreversible sterility. This closed the door on male hormonal contraception for some time. No alternatives led to promising results until recently when, as is often the case in drug
discovery, reduced sperm production was noticed as a side effect of a drug unrelated to contraception. A derivative of this drug, Gamendazole, was found to reduce spermatogenesis, the process by which sperm are produced. Unfortunately, countless versions of this drug were found to be useless as they either caused side effects including nausea, vomiting, and testicular pain, or could only be delivered to the testicles via injection. Renewed hope for a male pill came this year, when a team led by chemist Dr Gunda Georg from the University of Minnesota took on the challenge of redesigning the molecule to eliminate side effects. By subtly varying the chemical composition of Gamendazole with hundreds of tweaks, the team created a molecule that is more soluble, meaning it can be ingested orally, and more stable, meaning that one dose can last longer in the body. By continuing this process, the researchers are hoping to make the drug more efficient while limiting its side effects. These molecules have not been tested in humans and a commercially available form of the pill is at
least a decade away. However, Dr Georg notes that “[the compound] is the best we have, and after making many compounds, we are on the right track now.” Another promising approach to male contraception is to mechanically block the sperm in the testicles. This is effectively what happens during a vasectomy, a surgical procedure which snips the vas deferens, the tube which brings the sperm to the penis. The ultimate goal is to invent a reversible procedure which would block sperm in the vas deferens. VasalgelTM, a polymer discovered earlier this year, might make this possible. This gel can be injected directly into the vas deferens, blocking the sperm while letting water-soluble molecules through. A study conducted on rabbits showed that the molecule blocks sperm release within 29 days after injection and lasts for at least 12 months, possibly longer. The real improvement of this technique is that the polymer can be flushed out at any time with another injection, making the contraception completely reversible. While tests have only been carried out in animals, a clinical trial in men is scheduled to launch by the end of the year and is estimated to reach the US market in 2018. While it has been a long and tedious process, 2016 has been a pivotal year in the development of the much-needed ‘male pill’, which is now finally within reach. Considering the impact that birth control has previously had on our society, we should expect repercussions beyond contraception. We might be entering a period wherein our societies will once again challenge accepted gender expectations and reproductive rights. Only time will tell.
Marianne Guenot is studying for an MSc in Science Communication Image: CREATIVE COMMONS
The Little Pink Pill
Flibanserin has become the first FDA-approved drug for female sexual dysfunction. But does lack of sexual desire require treatment?
ypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD) – lack of female sexual desire – is a controversial condition. Many cite it as an example of ‘disease mongering’ – the widening or construction of diagnoses to expand the market for existing drugs. How pervasive is sexual dysfunction? A 1999 study sought to find out. It posed seven questions, including: ‘Have you experienced low sexual desire?’ or ‘Failed to find sex pleasurable?’, and an affirmative response to any one of these led to the classification of ‘sexually dysfunctional’. We may laugh at a model that labels 43% of women as sexually dysfunctional, but the study is extremely influential; cited nearly 2300 times since publication. It emerged that two of its three authors had connections to Pfizer which – having reaped astronomical profits manufacturing Viagra – was preparing to launch an HSDD treatment. Exerting subtle influence on scientific publications was just one approach, along with bankrolling conferences and producing learning resources, pharmaceutical companies took to reclassifying HSDD as a widespread condition in need of a ‘cure’. Meanwhile, the medical consensus was moving in the opposite direction. In 2013, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders replaced HSDD with a more loosely defined disorder; merging libido and arousal disorders. Sexual desire was less standardised; responsive to individuals’ circumstances. Dr John Bancroft, Director of the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University, warned that “the danger of portraying sexual difficulties as a dysfunction is that it is likely to encourage doctors to prescribe drugs to change sexual function when the
Image: CREATIVE COMMONS
attention should be paid to other aspects of the woman’s life.” Allegedly, the cure for this dysfunction is flibanserin. Originally developed as an antidepressant, flibanserin is not really a ‘female Viagra’. Its precise mechanisms are unknown, although the manufacturer claims that it rebalances the neurotransmitters responsible for sexual excitement. In 2010, UK pharmaceutical company, Boehringer Ingelheim, submitted an early version of flibanserin to the FDA. It was rejected; its risks outweighing its benefits. Boehringer passed the rights to Sprout Pharmaceuticals. Flibanserin’s clinical trials involved women with HSDD taking flibanserin or a placebo, and counting the number of ‘satisfying sexual events’. The results were disappointing: it increased the number of these events by an average of 0.5 to 1 per month over the placebo, and more women experienced awkward side effects than meaningful benefits. When Sprout submitted flibanserin to the FDA in 2013, it was rejected again. Sprout Pharmaceuticals responded not by adapting flibanserin, but by adapting their strategy. At first glance, the Even the Score campaign looked like a grassroots organisation of women wanting to ‘even the score’ on sexual function.
It was, however, brought together by a Sprout consultant, funded by Sprout and managed by an elite PR firm. No wonder it was so invested in campaigning for flibanserin’s approval. Its main line of argument was centred on the injustice of the FDA approving multiple treatments for male sexual (erectile) dysfunction, but none for women. In framing the FDA’s decision as an issue of sexual politics, Even the Score detracted attention from the questionable efficacy of the drug. Even the Score boosted flibanserin’s media profile (such as with its spurious #WomenDeserve campaign), and persuaded members of Congress to write to the FDA backing the drug. Their timely activism paid off. In August 2015, flibanserin, marketed as ‘Addyi’, gained qualified approval. Unlike Viagra, Addyi comes with strict safety requirements, including complete abstention from alcohol. Addyi costs the same per pill as Viagra, but must be taken daily. For $780 per month, a woman with sexual difficulties may benefit more from therapy, or a romantic weekend away. Useless and most likely unnecessary, flibanserin only made it to market through persistent manipulation of scientific and public discourse. Rendering lack of sexual desire as a dysfunction narrows the definition of ‘normal’ sexuality, and brushes away the social, psychological and personal roots of the difficulties which need addressing. This only serves the interests of Big Pharma, doubling the size of its market for sexual dysfunction treatments.
Hilary Lamb is studying for an MSc in Science Communication
To dope, or not to dope?
he competitive landscape of athletics has driven humans to all measures of training and diet in the pursuit of glory. However, many athletes have also turned to other alternatives to improve their chances of success: performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). Known users include some of the most famous athletes in history, from Alex Rodriguez to Lance Armstrong, and Marion Jones to Maria Sharapova. The use of drugs to enhance performance is an age-old practice, at least since the time of the ancient Greeks who gorged excessively on meats prior to competition, as well as regularly flirting with herbal medications, hallucinogens, and animal testicles or hearts to increase their athletic prowess. The Romans used hallucinogens and strychnine to stave off pain and fatigue during their Coliseum battles. In the thousands of years since, other PEDs have included alcohol, coca leaves, and opiates. Nowadays, drugs are normally synthetic and far more effective, with users covering the full spectrum of sports and competitors – runners, skiers, baseball players, cricketers, tennis players, and so on. Currently, any chemical compound that artificially enhances an athlete’s performance during training or competition is banned from both professional and amateur sports. The World Anti-Doping Agency, established in 1999 by the International Olympic Committee, lists hundreds of banned substances. Some seem an impossible-to-pronounce collage of letters and numbers inspired by Pollock himself, but the more popular ones – often used in combination with each other, a practice known as ‘stacking’ – include:
Illustration: Wendy Ling-Hsuan Wang
Anabolic steroids: A synthetic hormone that mimics testosterone to stimulate protein growth and increase muscle mass. This is one of the earliest and most common PEDs; US discus thrower Ben Plucknett was the first Olympic athlete disqualified for using them in the early 80s, Canadian sprinter and gold medalist Ben Johnson also tested positive in the 80s, and baseball all-star Alex Rodriguez admitted to using them in 2009. Human growth hormones: Though science is still unclear on the standalone athletic benefits, it is commonly thought that synthetic growth hormones increase muscle mass, decrease fat stores, and improve muscle recovery. Lionel
Messi has been criticised for his childhood use while suffering growth hormone deficiencies, but his discontinued use once he reached adulthood as well as their use purely as therapy shields him from any repercussions. Erythropoietin (EPO): This is a protein hormone naturally produced in the kidneys before making its way to the bone marrow where it mimics red blood cell production. As a byproduct, it also increases the user’s oxygen-carrying capacity. Increased oxygen allows athletes to avoid fatigue longer, while also increasing endurance. EPOs replaced the earlier, messier practice of ‘blood-doping’, where athletes injected themselves with blood
Performance-enhancing drugs are controversial at best, but is it time to rethink regulation? Naomi Stewart delves into the murky world of doping.
just before competing. This was one of the main drugs Lance Armstrong admitted to using in his infamous doping scandal. Marijuana: Generally considered a performance-diminishing substance, recent studies show marijuana might actually increase athletic stamina. Humans have an endocannabinoid system in the part of the brain responsible for pain-sensation, mood, memory, and regulation of cannabis. For long distance runners, the ‘runners’ high’ actually seems to be more tightly linked to this system rather than endorphin production as previously thought. Taking marijuana before running could result in an extensive runners’ high, allowing athletes to bypass and reduce pain and anxiety. Many have also argued it’s a safer, less addictive painkiller for athletic injuries. Diuretics: These help the body expel water and are often used by athletes trying to meet certain weight categories or trying to mask the consumption of other PEDs. Jamaican Olympian Veronica Campbell-Brown and American football players Kevin and Pat Williams are notorious examples of athletes caught using diuretics. Those that test positive for these and other PEDs face heavy professional and social consequences, including short or long-term bans, fines, and being stripped of awards, medals, or prizes; Marion Jones had to give back three Olympic gold and two bronze medals, and Lance Armstrong was famously stripped of all seven of his Tour de France titles. There are also long and short-term health risks associated with improper or chronic use of each drug, ranging from heart attacks, liver disease, strokes, diabetes, or even death. The
first recorded death from PED use was in 1960 when Danish cyclist Knut Jensen collapsed mid-race during the Summer Olympics in Rome, fracturing his skull on the pavement. His autopsy revealed a blood system flooded with amphetamines. Seven years later, British cyclist Tommy Simpson collapsed in the Tour de France from a combination of amphetamines and brandy that caused his body to shut down mid-race. With severe health risks, fiery scandals, and careers destroyed at their peak, it is puzzling that so many athletes across an impressive array of sports continue to take the risks.
Altering DNA for improved human physiques will call into question broader moral quandaries.
In a 2004 article in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, Oxford ethics professor Julian Savulescu argued that allowing regulated levels of PEDs would actually level the athletic playing field. He cites numerous arguments against bans and regulations, including: i) impartial economic access to training facilities and tools; wealthier people and countries get unfair access, ii) unfair genetic inheritance; chance is a large determinant of athletic success, iii) lack of safety in unregulated drug use; some athletes will clearly continue to use them regardless
of rules and regulations, and iv) the moral ambiguity of what cheating is anyway; cheating is a human construct, so if PEDs are allowed, it’s no longer cheating. Savulescu further argued that, “performance enhancement is not against the spirit of sport; it is the spirit of sport. To choose to be better is to be human. Athletes should be the given this choice. Their welfare should be paramount. But taking drugs is not necessarily cheating. The legalisation of drugs in sport may be fairer and safer.” Another factor that needs further consideration and may involve drastic changes to future antidoping regulations is increasing trends towards gene therapy. Altering DNA for improved human physiques will call into question broader moral quandaries. For example, will someone who underwent gene therapy for medical purposes, but which conferred tangential athletic benefits, be exempt from playing sports due to ‘unfair’ advantages? There are droves of sports fans who idolise the ‘spirit of the game’ and the ideal of physical purity matched with peak performances, and ethicists looking at the larger social and philosophical picture may have a tough time convincing these fans of the moral ambiguity of PED bans. However, in pondering the fluid moral determinants of ‘pure’ athletic physique, performance, and PEDs, it may be time to consider another way forward besides strict substance bans, and widen the debate about what is acceptable and safe.
Naomi Stewart is studying for an MSc in Science Communication
From Bach Punk to Daft Punk
arwin was prepared to accept musical expression as a feature of natural selection. Indeed, remains dating back at least 40,000 years provide evidence of a diverse range of music forms among early Homo sapiens. But despite the rustic charm that playing drums on upturned logs continues to provide at Glastonbury, music has (thankfully) evolved along with us. Rather than a gradual progression, however, changing technical possibility and musical acceptability have caused music to progress in rather more noticeable leaps. Today, we are all able to produce and record sounds on our laptops, in the comfort of our own homes.
A study published in the Royal Society Open Science Journal last year, ‘The evolution of popular music in the USA: 1960-2010’, aimed to quantify the evolution of music. The authors noted that while much has been written about the origin and evolution of pop music, most claims were “anecdotal rather than scientific in nature”. These researchers analysed the musical properties of over 17,000 hit records to demonstrate quantitative trends in their harmonic and timbral properties. The properties were then used to classify musical styles and study the evolution of musical diversity.
After extensive investigation, they found that music progressed rapidly around three stylistic revolutions: 1964, 1983 and 1991. How and why did these uprisings occur? We take a look at a timeline that transports us from the cutting room floor to a digital reworking of an opera based on Darwin’s theory of evolution.
1920s-1930s Nearly all radio programmes were broadcast live; recording was extremely cumbersome and expensive. Tape hadn’t yet been invented, and cheap computers were still half a century away. Futurists were the first to appreciate the value of ‘noise’; placing artistic and expressive value on sounds which were not even remotely musical. In the 20s and 30s, early electronic instruments such as the etherphone were developed around this idea. Sound recording made a leap forwards in 1927, when American inventor J. A. O’Neill developed a recording device that used magnetically coated ribbon. The method of photo-optic sound recording made it possible to obtain a visible image of a sound wave, as well as to synthesise a sound from an artificially drawn wave. AEG developed the first practical audio tape recorder, the ‘Magnetophon’. It was unveiled at the Berlin Radio Show in 1935, and Bing Crosby became one of the first performers to record radio broadcasts and studio master recordings on tape.
After extensive investigation, they found that music progressed rapidly around three stylistic revolutions. 1940s/1950s
The advent of cheap, reliable, high fidelity magnetic tape created huge potential for advancements in music. Most importantly, it was easy to manipulate. Before magnetic tape, individual sounds were recorded onto discs or spools of steel wire, making it impossible to edit them together in advance. Now, it could be slowed down, sped up, reversed, chopped and changed while remaining seamless and even looped to play repeat patterns of pre-recorded material. This era also saw the development of amplification and mixing, allowing the combination of prerecorded pieces with little loss of fidelity. Daphne Oram realised that tape could be used to compose a new genre of music. The ‘noise’ that the futurists spoke of; the music of everyday sound. In 1958, she became the first Studio Manager of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, before setting up her own studio and developing the ‘Oramics machine’. This machine pulled eight parallel tracks of 35mm film over photoelectric cells, which converted black curved lines drawn by Oram into sound. This was considered so revolutionary that in 2011 the Science Museum in London curated an exhibition based on her work. Delia Derbyshire, another pioneer of electronic music, realised that while the musical products of her generation weren’t yet the best that the medium had to offer, they would form the bedrock of what was to come. This was what the future would sound like.
Sophie-Jo Walsh explores the scientific case for the evolution of electronica.
1960s – Expansion (1964- The first musical revolution) The industry soon tired of ‘cutting and sticking’ tape. Experiments with computers and synthesisers lead to another leap in recording which saw electronica transition from the avant-garde to popular music. The availability of the Moog Modular Synthesizer produced in 1964 was key to this shift. The Beatles bought one, as did Mick Jagger, and the number of musicians working with new sounds and instruments grew. David Bowie and Pink Floyd famously experimented with futuristic sounds in the space rock of the 1960s and 1970s. The ‘Theremin’ and ‘Mellotron’ were used to supplement and define the sounds of bands like The Beatles and The Beach Boys, and by the end of the 1960s, the Moog synthesizer was entrenched in the sound of emerging progressive rock.
1970s, 1980s: Popularisation (1983The second musical revolution) The New Romantic movement allowed synthesisers to dominate the pop and rock music of the early 80s, with bands like Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet coming to the foreground. Programmable drum machines were also developed, and the Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) enabled new instruments to connect and communicate with other instruments and computers. As synthesisers fell in popular estimations, the popularity of dance and techno music began to grow, prompting the rise of German electronic pioneers Kraftwerk. The band took over the Turbine Gallery at the Tate Modern in 2013 to perform their seminal electronic back catalogue; inspired by their experiments with tape and synthesisers.
1990s/2000s/2010s (1991 – The third musical revolution) Computer technology is now so accessible and advanced that we all have the capacity to become music producers and consumers – whether we all have the creative capacity is open to debate. In 2010, The Knife, a Swedish electro-pop duo collaborated with a Danish theatre company to create an electro-opera at the Barbican Centre: ‘Tomorrow, in a Year’. It was a critically acclaimed look at the formative moments in Darwin’s life and the development of his theory of evolution. Incidentally, in doing so, they also highlighted the evolutionary nature of music.
Sophie-Jo Walsh is studying for an MSc in Science Communication
www.isciencemag.co.uk Illustration: James Marno
esearch has revealed that LSD and psilocybin – the active ingredient in magic mushrooms – have profound therapeutic potential in the treatment of psychological disorders such as depression and addiction. The psychedelic state induced by these compounds also provides a unique insight into human consciousness. Yet under current UK law, it is near impossible to study them. Greta Keenan interviews leading Imperial College neuroscientist and former drugs adviser to the government, David Nutt, to find out why.
Swiss chemist Albert Hoffman synthesised LSD for the first time in 1938 while attempting to produce a blood stimulant for his employer, Sandoz Pharmaceutical. The discovery of its hallucinogenic effects a few years later – when Hoffman accidentally consumed some of the drug – led to its widespread use in researchers’ exploration of human consciousness and psychosis. In the 1950s and 60s there was an abundance of research on LSD, but its adoption as a recreational drug led to its outlaw in the late 1960s. The ban immediately stunted scientific research into LSD and its effects on the brain, hampering the prospect of potential therapeutic uses.
study because the regulations are painful, disruptive, confusing and scary, and they also massively increase the price of doing the studies.” Only certain people are authorised to use illegal drugs in a professional capacity. LSD and psilocybin are classified in schedule 1, the highest restriction level of 5, meaning that possession and supply is prohibited except in accordance with the Home Office. As a consequence, Nutt’s research group is one of a small number in the world allowed to study illegal psychoactive drugs in humans. “Most people just don’t have the guts or stupidity to persevere with what we persevere with.”
Known for his research into how drugs affect the brain and conditions such as addiction, anxiety and depression, Professor David Nutt has always been outspoken about the relative risks of different drugs and how this should be taken into account when classifying drugs. I sit down for coffee with Professor Nutt in a busy commuter café in Paddington station to discuss how current laws are impeding drug research. He is a very busy man and this is the only hour he has to spare within a two-week window. He fires off some emails on his blackberry before we begin – he is wanted at a press conference in San Francisco. I ask Professor Nutt how illegality changes the way drug research is funded. “The illegality has two effects. One is it makes it very difficult to
The enormous costs and logistical problems associated with researching schedule 1 drugs are enough to put most scientists off working with LSD, psilocybin and similar compounds. It costs thousands of pounds to get a licence and can take years to get ethical approval for a single study. “It was easy compared to getting the drug,” Nutt said, in reference to his latest study with psilocybin. “The ethics took a year, getting the drug took two and a half years. Only one place in the world would make it and they didn’t have a licence so they had to get one.” Nutt acknowledges that you can buy psilocybin on the black market for a fraction of the price: “if I want magic mushrooms I’ll go and pick them on
Greta Keenan interviews Professor David Nutt to find out why illegal psychoactive drugs are so difficult to research.
the bloody moor.” However, academic research demands that you source the active compounds via an official route, which dramatically increases the cost. With early evidence suggesting that psychoactive drugs could be the key to unlocking our understanding of human consciousness, and that a single dose can cure depression in some treatment-resistant individuals, why are the regulations so restrictive? “It’s designed to be difficult so that people don’t do it. Governments don’t want to know that it is important and that the drugs are safe and you can use them experimentally, and they don’t want to be brought to account on the fact that they shouldn’t have banned them in the first place.”
In addition to the restrictions, another reason that many scientists shy away from researching psychoactive substances is the stigma surrounding their illegality. “To do what I’ve done is seen by many as career suicide.” Nutt anecdotally describes a situation a few years back when he was asked by Nature Neuroscience Reviews to co-author a paper with an American colleague about how drug policy impedes research. Nutt’s colleague refused to do so due to fears he would never get an NIH (National Institutes of Health) grant again. “They didn’t want their whole career ended by challenging authority,” Nutt explains. This wasn’t a oneoff incident either. Nutt says that scientists frequently approach him after talks, shake his hand and say “thanks David, best thing I ever did was taking LSD when I was a kid. We’re with you, but we just don’t want to go near it.” Clearly many scientists don’t want to be associated with controversial research involving
Regulations don’t stop recreational [drug] use, they just stop science.
illegal drugs. In Nutt’s opinion, “scientists aren’t interested in science, they’re interested in getting the next grant.” Does David Nutt not share their fear of stigmatisation? “I’m 65. My career is over anyway, so I don’t need to be part of this academic route. I have more autonomy. If you’re in the system where you rely on governments to fund you, challenging governments is not a good thing.” Quoting French Enlightenment writer Voltaire, Nutt reveals: “it is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong.”
Against the odds, Nutt’s group remain undeterred in their study of illegal drugs in humans, sometimes resorting to more creative ways to fund their research. “I’ve reconciled myself to the fact that I won’t get funding for this research,” he said. Imperial’s ground-breaking MRI scans of the human brain under LSD, published in April, were made possible through a crowdfunding campaign and The Beckley Foundation, a UK-based think-tank and NGO that supports psychoactive substance research. Despite these roundabout routes of funding, Nutt acknowledges that in an ideal world, the regulations would be changed to make
psychoactive drug research easier. “Regulations don’t stop recreational [drug] use, they just stop science.” “I’m a psychiatrist and I want to help people. These drugs have huge potential, as we knew in the 50s and 60s, and I’m really pissed off that people have been denied them for 50 years.” The argument is that until we take LSD, psilocybin and other psychoactive substances out of the restrictive schedule 1 bracket, they will be too costly, both in terms of money and time, to use in wide scale research. “We’ve got to get the law changed, and we’ve got to get patients on board,” he says. Nutt is already campaigning to change the law and is trying to encourage established scientific organisations to join him. “Doctors, the BMA [British Medical Association], and the Royal College of Psychiatrists should all be campaigning to get the law changed. The problem is that the government pays them, so they fear the consequences.” Given the potential for illegal psychoactive drugs to propel our understanding of human consciousness and psychological disorders, it seems illogical that the system makes it so difficult for scientists to research them. As we understand more about these drugs and their potential to reveal the inner workings of the human mind, it is likely that their position in schedule 1 will be challenged. David Nutt will spearhead the campaign, and as support for psychoactive drug research steadily grows, there is hope for the movement yet.
Greta Keenan is studying for an MSc in Science Communication
Talk to me, Baby “Is that a graduated cylinder in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?” Caroline Steel and Sophie Hull clear the air around talking dirty.
any of us love hearing dirty talk in the heat of the moment. What is it about this erotic communication that heightens our sexual arousal? Looking past the appeal of kink, it turns out there is more to talking dirty than indulging your wild side. Sexual desire and arousal are not only triggered by touch; exciting the brain is also vital. The brain is considered more powerful a sex organ than even the male or female genitalia, hence dirty talk can increase your sex drive. But why exactly is this? Our sex drive originates in the hypothalamus, an area of the brain which is primarily activated by physical, sexual touch. Dirty talk is different in that it activates not only the hypothalamus, but other regions of the brain as well. These naughty whispers are processed by the temporal, frontal, and occipital lobes of the brain. Stimulating these lobes causes the brain to activate other erogenous zones throughout the body. The boosted stimulation of multiple areas of the brain and heightened arousal across the body creates a multidimensional sexual experience and increased sensual pleasure. As dirty talk can be as arousing as physical contact, it is a great way to begin sex outside the bedroom. Dirty talk can be used as a form of foreplay via text, email, or even a whisper in your partner’s ear in a public space. Gradually building anticipation through sexual tension can lead to longer and more anticipated sex, which has been proven to spark a more powerful orgasm.
Gradually building anticipation through sexual tension can lead to longer and more anticipated sex, which has been proven to spark a more powerful orgasm.
Illustration: Cheyenne McCray
the more comfortable we are in vocalising our sexual desires, the more satisfactory our sex lives will become. There is nothing more effective than telling it how it is, and frank communication during sex removes the guesswork from pressing someone’s buttons. In this respect, dirty talk draws its strength from allowing an escape from the idea that our sexual experiences should be limited to our own mind. The release from this restrictive mindset can be so powerful that some people find that they are able to orgasm without any genital stimulation at all. Dirty talk is not something we should shy away from as it is an important part of sex in its own right. It stimulates multiple regions of your brain and body, leads to better communication with your partner, and badda bing badda boom – better sex. For some lucky individuals, just the act of talking dirty can lead to orgasm. So next time you’re feeling hot and bothered, take a tip from science. Speak up and talk dirty.
Caroline Steel and Sophie Hull studying for an Msc in Science Communication
Talking dirty also enhances our sexual experience because it makes sex more than a physical act. It increases intimacy and research suggests that
Having It Off On High
From alcohol to opiates: Will Latter explores the science of less-than-sober sex.
e have been mixing sex and drugs for at least seven thousand years. Sex is a popular and sought after activity (in case you haven’t heard) and in London we are never far from a bar, or drug-fuelled nightclub. We all know a little too much booze can lead to some questionable decision making – those of the sexual variety being no exception – but just how do drugs affect us when we get down and dirty? Recreational drugs act on the parts of our brains involved with motivation and reward for natural behaviours, such as fighting, feasting and frolicking. This is achieved by altering the production or uptake of dopamine and serotonin; neurotransmitters associated with feelings of happiness and satisfaction. Our choice of activities, reactions to events, and adherence to social conventions can all be drastically altered, along with our physical arousal and co-ordination. We’ll start by covering the more familiar drugs, then move on to the harder stuff. Alcohol is one of the most accessible drugs in the world. As many of us know, it can have a cruel combination of effects with regards to sex. We often experience greater sexual desire under the influence of alcohol, but this is coupled with difficulty reaching physical arousal: for men and women. If this can be overcome, however, a couple is likely to be more adventurous while drunk. Marijuana is the most common illicit drug in the UK and, considering its effects on sex, we can see why. Its active ingredient, THC, has
Cocaine can increase and prolong arousal, as well as triggering surprise erections and orgasms, but sustained use can desensitise your private parts and diminish sexual desire. Methamphetamine, another psychostimulant, has similar, but more extreme effects. Meth can intensify sexual pleasure and
been shown to enhance sexual arousal, pleasure and satisfaction in study participants. Be sure to avoid getting freaky with it too often though; it lowers testosterone levels and therefore, like alcohol, can hinder men in ‘rising’ to the occasion. MDMA (ecstasy), a popular drug among students, can heighten pleasure from close physical contact, but sex can become less sexy due to difficulty reaching orgasm and erectile dysfunction. It has been suggested that the difficulty in achieving orgasm could be down to the increased pleasure from sensations of touch, resulting in a sensory overload, confusing the body out of an orgasm. Mixing alcohol, marijuana and ecstasy can lead to more risky sexual behaviour such as promiscuity or unprotected sex, but other substances can prove more damaging.
evaporate all inhibition, resulting in reckless behaviour. Users of opiates such as heroin are more frequently involved in unprotected sex with multiple partners, and serious STDs such as HIV are prevalent in these groups. While small doses can heighten sexual desire and enhance performance in bed, repeated use curbs sexual desire, response and orgasms. All that being said, we must keep in mind that drugs can affect our sexual function in different and unpredictable ways. What might seem like an exciting idea at the time may actually turn into a night of lackluster disappointment. And Skins made sex and drugs look so glamorous…
Will Latter is studying for an Msc in Science Communication
Illustration: Jean-Francois Painchaud
You want fries with that?
n 1994, one in eight adults in England met the criteria for obesity (Body Mass Index, or BMI of 30 and over), today it is one in four. The future looks even gloomier: according to the World Health Organisation 74% of men and 64% of women in the UK will be obese in 2030. Whether somebody weighs ten kilos more or less might not seem important, but it is the long-term problems linked with an increased body weight that are crucial. Cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer – the list of associated co-morbidities goes on. Even if we ignore individual health risks, everyone takes a fair share of the economic burden of obesity, especially in countries with a nationalised health service. Losing weight appears to be a simple way out of this predicament, however, it is not always easy with temptations around every corner. Junk food is three times cheaper than a healthy meal and we’re far more likely to jump in the car than walk even short distances. Unsurprisingly, some may need a little extra help to shed the kilos – patients with a BMI greater than 27, alongside obesity-related comorbidities, may receive anti-obesity drugs in the UK. The pharma industry is, of course, glad to be of service.
What drugs are available? Drugs to tackle excess weight are not a new invention. The first known medic to prescribe anti-obesity drugs was Soranus of Ephesus, a Greek physician who used laxatives. Later, thyroid hormones and amphetamines gained popularity for their weight-loss effects, though the former only produced modest benefits and the latter were banned by the US Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) due to risks of addiction. The quest for safety and effectiveness led to the development of modern weight loss pills. Currently available drugs work either through reducing food intake (lorcaserin, bupropion/ naltrexone, liraglutide) or impairing dietary absorption (orlistat). ●● Lorcaserin promotes a sense of fullness by binding to receptors of appetitesuppressing neurons in the hypothalamus of the brain, known as POMC receptors. As long as the maximum dose of 20mg per day is not exceeded, lorcaserin only targets these receptors, whereas overconsumption may stimulate other receptors, leading to hallucinations, euphoria or mood swings. ●● Bupropion/naltrexone is a combination drug marketed in the US under the name ‘Contrave’ and sold as ‘Mysimba’ in the EU. The two compounds act on the central nervous system to suppress the desire for food. Bupropion – used to treat depression and help you give up smoking – blocks the removal of neurotransmitters from synapses, therefore stimulating POMC neurons and suppressing appetite. At the same time, naltrexone – used to treat alcohol addiction – blocks the inhibitory mechanism of POMC neurons, boosting the action of bupropion. ●● Liraglutide is taken via intravenous injection. It binds to the special receptors called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP1) receptors, that trigger insulin secretion. As insulin increases glucose uptake from the blood, liraglutide was originally intended to treat type 2 diabetes, but nowadays it is available as an anti-obesity drug under the name ‘Saxenda’. The weight loss results from
its suppression of glucagon, a pancreatic hormone that reduces blood sugar and delays the emptying of the stomach. ●● Orlistat is the most commonly used drug to treat obesity and is sold either as ‘Alli’ in the UK and the US, or ‘Xenical’ across the rest of the world. Orlistat also inhibits gastric emptying while preventing triglycerides, the main type of fat in the human body, from being broken down. Hence fat is not absorbed but instead excreted in faeces. Taking these pills three times a day prevents about 30% of fats from being absorbed.
Are there any risks? Obviously, anti-obesity drugs are not magical pills that come without risks. Secondary effects are common, ranging from the benign to the fatal. For example, the potential side effects that can occur when taking Lorcaserin include suicidal thoughts, headaches, and constipation, among others. While the most common
“” Anti-obesity drugs are not magical pills that come without risks.
complications with Orlistat are gastrointestinal (such as diarrhoea or bowel pain), it can also potentially cause liver disease and kidney stones. A study in Canada showed that the risk
Jennifer Graudenz investigates the role pills can play in tackling obesity. of acute kidney injuries is increased in people who use Orlistat. As is the case with all drugs, there is a chance of a serious allergic reaction, though these are very rare.
What are the alternatives? Besides taking pills, anyone who is seriously obese with a BMI above 40 is eligible for weight loss surgery in the UK. Bariatric surgery comes in many different forms: placing an adjustable silastic band around the top portion of the stomach can reduce stomach size and thus food intake; the more invasive gastric bypass surgery allows food to sidestep certain parts of the stomach and intestines such that less is
absorbed. Operations allow a weight loss of about 15-25% depending on the procedure used, often accompanied by behavioural changes to healthier eating from altered hormone levels. However, every coin has two sides: the death rate is around 1 in 1000, and patients will form a life-long dependency on multivitamin tablets due to malabsorption.
Soâ€ŚAre pills worth it? Given the potential serious side-effects, antiobesity drugs are not for those simply dreaming of dropping a few pounds. Healthy individuals should attempt to lose weight through more conventional methods such as dieting and exercising. On the other hand, for obese people the benefits of these drugs may outweigh the risks as obesity itself is associated with many dangerous health issues. Bariatric surgery is another valid option that has been shown to produce satisfying results despite higher fatality rates. The decision of whether to take a weight loss drug should always be made on a case-by-case basis to evaluate the optimal choice for the patient. Still, research on anti-obesity pills is fervently ongoing; we could well see a future where everyone drops the pounds by simply feasting on a cocktail of drugs. Nevertheless, a healthy lifestyle is essential to maintaining weight in the long-term.
Jennifer Graudenz is studying for an MRes in Clinical Research Illustration: Cathy Wong
Rock ‘n’ Roll Scientists
Natasha Khaleeq introduces us to the rock stars gifted with scientific flair.
cience and rock ‘n’ roll may appear to be entirely different worlds, but a surprising number of scientist rock stars form a bridge between them. These characters just happen to have scientific smarts alongside their musical talent. Some dedicate themselves to science, others to music, and some manage to pursue both. On closer inspection, science and music are more similar than we might think: they are both creative processes which reject dominant, restrictive outlooks and offer new perspectives. The overlap of scientific and musical talent is embodied by the following rock ‘n’ roll scientists:
Brian May is a rock ‘n’ roll scientist who became famous as Queen’s legendary guitarist. His early love for science led him to study mathematics and physics at Imperial College and even commence a PhD, but his academic career was put on hold while he toured the world with Queen. After nearly 40 years, May resumed his studies and completed his PhD thesis: ‘a survey of radial velocities in the zodiacal dust cloud’. Today, he works to popularise science, with appearances on The Sky at Night, and co-founding Asteroid Day. It seems May lived by the motto ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ following both of his passions – even if it meant putting one on the back burner and only returning decades later. May himself has said that science and rock ‘n’ roll fit together naturally: “I think the things tend to go together […] I would say the majority of musicians I know have a bit of passion for the night sky.”
Pardis Sabeti is a scientist by day and Boston rock queen by night. She is a geneticist, computational biologist, and esteemed Harvard Professor who also happens to moonlight as the front woman for alt-rock four-piece Thousand Days. Her scientific achievements include developing a method to spot parts of the genome affected by natural selection and heading a research group which identified the points of outbreak and spread of Ebola in West Africa – work that earned her a place on the 2015 Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People list. She has acknowledged science and music as creative processes, referring to them as “two different kinds of invention.”
Brian Cox has embraced the musical spotlight for nearly 20 years, although today, he is arguably best known for presenting BBC science programmes such as his Wonders series, and The Infinite Monkey Cage. He is a professor of particle physics at his alma mater, the University of Manchester, and works on the ATLAS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. Before his scientific career however, he was the keyboardist for rock group Dare, and dance-pop group D:Ream, who had a number of hits in the UK, including the chart-topping ‘Things Can Only Get Better’, which became famous as the New Labour anthem during the 1997 general election. Getting a D in A-Level Mathematics did not diminish Cox’s fascination with science – apparently he used to read popular science books on the tour bus!
Like Brian May, Milo Auckerman is best known as a rock star, but he gave up his music career to focus on scientific research. Aukerman remains lead singer of the 80s punk band The Descendents, but also holds a biology PhD from the University of California, and conducted post-doctoral research in biochemistry at the University of Wisconsin. Currently, Auckerman works as a plant scientist for chemical giant DuPont, although occasionally he still performs gigs with his band. He has described punk as “intellectually stimulating”, and credited his rock experiences with giving his scientific work a “creative oomph”. Recently, Auckerman compared scientists to punk rockers: “We’re always looking for discoveries that challenge current thinking,” he said, “punk rock is like that, too.”
Diane Nalini de Kerckhove
The multi-talented Diane Nalini de Kerckhove is best known as a jazz singer, but juggles her musical career with a scientific one. As a Rhodes Scholar, de Kerckhove earned her PhD in applied physics, and remained at the University of Oxford to do post-doctoral research in astrophysics and material science. After spending some time teaching physics at universities, she now works in science-based policy, while continuing to release acclaimed jazz albums. She describes musical theory as “almost dauntingly mathematical”, and is herself a living demonstration that mathematical ability can feed into musical ability.
Natasha Khaleeq is studying for an MSc in Science Communication
R e v i e w s
Cure: A Journey into the Science of Mind Over Body
The Wellcome Collection’s Friday Late Spectacular: Feeling Emotional
Imperial College Science Communication graduate Jo Marchant is a seasoned author and her third book sees her explore the mysterious relationship between the mind and body.
We’ve embraced digital platforms in helping us find love, but Tinder can’t quite capture the physical cues of attraction that ‘An Evening of Lust, Sex & Brains’ from Guerilla Science explores. The night is led by experts of attraction who guide you through a series of multisensory mini-experiments designed to test the factors that influence attraction.
Can the workings of our inner mind really heal our physical bodies? This is the simple question Marchant poses in her book, but as we soon discover, the answer is far from simple. The idea of mind-body medicine has been tainted over the years with wild claims by new-age gurus and energy healers, and the stigma of pseudoscience since attached to the practice. Marchant, however, does not believe that “simply dismissing alternative medicine is the answer”. Instead, she unpicks the scientific evidence of mind-body medicine with the rigour and rationality of conventional medicine. Over the course of 12 chapters, she travels the world to investigate pioneering research in the field – from spiritual therapy in Lourdes to virtual reality therapy in Seattle – and uncovers the drawbacks and limitations of each. The book acknowledges some of the solid evidence that the mind does have an important and influential role in our overall health. With a PhD in Microbiology under her belt, Marchant is level-headed and writes cautiously. She reassures readers not to throw away the pills just yet, merely concluding that the mind occupies a certain position in medicine alongside conventional treatment. Marchant delivers a balanced and well-researched account of a controversial topic, peppered with interesting case studies and testimonies of her own that will win over even the most sceptical of scientists.
Ellyw Evans is studying for an MSc in Science Communication
Their first experiment asked us to pair up, blindfold each other, and in our sexiest voices tell our partner about an embarrassing moment. Further tests required us to smell our partner’s body to see if they had that eau de love, gaze intensely into their eyes, and feed them foods rich in carotenoids to try and give them that sun-kissed and attractive glow. After each experiment the panel of experts then delved into the science behind it and explained what impact it has on attraction and mate selection. The evening included a busy itinerary of other guided experiments such as dancing as a means of demonstrating physical fitness, smelling an assortment of aromas and working in pairs to solve cryptic 19th century hieroglyphic love letters. The crowd’s response to the event was one of enthusiasm and intrigue. The Book Club in Shoreditch offered an ideal venue to set a sultry tone for the evening. The likes of Match.com and eHarmony are likely here to stay; however, let’s not forget that love is a chemical reaction and if you’re aiming to make a breakthrough, you need to get inside a lab and start experimenting.For those visiting a Friday Late: expect to be enchanted, but for God’s sake bring a book. The evening was presented by Guerilla Science at The Book Club on the 8th February. Read the full review at www.isciencemag.co.uk/reviews
Erin Frick is studying for an MSc in Science Communication