Page 1

interesting ISSUE 39


brain entertainment

the quest for knowledge

Refresh your mind

Elon Musk wants to send tourists into space in




2018 WHY WE DANCE! p.28


Research says we are born to move



p.52 p.60

Trust your



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It’s smarter than all your other organs (even your brain ... almost)




Who’s attacking what?

• Fancy Bear – The White House! • Lazarus Group – Sony Pictures! • Shadow Brokers – US politics! • United Cyber Caliphate – The NHS! • Equation Group – Iran’s nuclear programme!

Plus: In association with


• What connects frogs and fresh milk? • How does physical exercise help reduce stress? • Could you throw a Frisbee on Mars? • How do we talk in our heads? • What happens in my body when I sleep? • Can the placebo effect harm you?



WONDERS TO SEE BEFORE YOU DIE Glacier caves Peer into hell Total eclipse Liquid fire Southern lights Tornado alley


Robo rugrat


isit the Robots exhibition at V London’s Science Museum and you’ll be greeted by this little

whippersnapper. The realistic, wall-mounted robot baby was built by UK animatronics company John Nolan Studio, and is based on the puppet babies they make for use on film sets. The puppets are usually operated remotely, but this one’s been automated so that it runs through a routine of movements and expressions throughout the day – which is what the cables sticking out of the back are for. Creepy near-realism aside, then, the baby is actually a low-tech affair. But that’s the point: it’s the first thing you see on a journey through 500 years of robot history, while the last thing you see will be an all-singing, all-dancing, high-tech AI robot toddler – symbolising both how far we’ve come, and how far we still have to go in the world of robotics. “The exhibition is really about the human form as mechanism,” says head curator Ben Russell. “So we wanted something that would capture people’s attention and bring them into that headspace, before plunging them back to the 1500s to see automaton monks.” 39/2018


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thisissue p.16

Live and learn At Very Interesting we have only one new year’s resolution: know more about a wider range of fascinating topics at the end of 2018 than we did at the beginning of the year. The possibilities are so exciting they make us want to dance! Okay, maybe not – deadlines don’t get met when you’re groovin’ in the corridor – but that thought made us wonder what does make people want to dance. Check it out on page 52 (This is why we dance), while you still have energy after your holidays. Back to the deadlines then, and with Elon Musk saying he wants to send his first space passengers around the moon and back this year, the queue will already be forming for that set of tickets. Discover the technology that will – hopefully – make that dream a reality on page 28, in Space tourism gets real. Back on Earth, there’s a reminder that, smug as we are about all our achievements, we have little to no idea about what’s really going on in the depths of our distant oceans (see page 16 – The Final Frontier). And there’s encouragement for dreamers who like to use the phrase ‘Trust your gut’ when making everyday decisions – it seems there’s some medical back-up for that notion, explored in Meet your second brain on page 60. New year, new perspectives – we look forward to learning with you in 2018. Keep your questions coming to And take advantage of our subscription deals at Happy reading!

Bruce Dennill Editor 2

p.28 BODY

10 How many organs could you lose and still live? Are you kidneying me with this question? ENVIRONMENT

11 What would happen if all Earth’s insects vanished? Can we keep the dung beetles? FOOD


12 How long could you survive on beer alone?

13 Why do some fish have colourless blood?

Asking for a friend ...

Check that it’s water before having a sip! INNOVATION

15 Why is making paper rabbits important? Ask a mathematician. We did. SPACE

24 How do stars die?

Waiting for a call from their agent, maybe? FOOD

p.60 39/2018

25 Why do champagne bubbles rise from the bottom of the glass? This was a gas to answer …

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thisissue p.52


26 Divided desert

The dunes and don’ts of keeping sand creep to a minimum.





50 Microgreens have macro impact


Tiny veggies are a big deal, say Stellenbosch scientists.





58 Do trees reduce air pollution?


You still can’t smoke in the greenhouse … TECHNOLOGY

59 Altered perceptions

Freaky-looking robot may be able to respond to stimuli without human input.

70 Down to Earth

Forensic psychologist Kerry Daynes on serial killers, misogyny and being taught how to bone a turkey.

p.42 39/2018

All the questions you didn’t know you wanted the answer to including:

How do we talk in our heads? Could you throw a Frisbee on Mars? How do household cleaning products affect the environment? ■ Can the placebo effect harm you? ■ How hot could Earth get before it’s uninhabitable for humans? ■ What happens in my body when I sleep? ■ Does holding your breath make you stronger? ■ What’s in hand cream? ■ How does physical exercise help reduce stress? ■ Do seagulls drink seawater? ■ What connects frogs and fresh milk? ■ What is the biggest a moon can be in relation to its mother planet? ■ Do all fish and shellfish contain mercury? ■ Why does 37°C feel so hot when our bodies are at that temperature already? ■ What is being done to preserve Pompeii? ■ How is helium turned into a liquid? ■ ■ ■




interesting VERY

the quest for knowledge

Refresh your mind

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He’s got the whole world in his hands


Weight of the world

7Very Interesting issue 33, page 46, gives the growth of the world population from 2.5 billion to 7.2 billion. What effect does this (along with other changes in nature) have on the total mass of the Earth? And do materials taken into space (on satellites, for example) or particles entering the atmosphere from space affect that calculation? Jan Potgieter, via email

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The simple, very nonscientific answer appears to be ‘nothing’ and ‘no’. The saying, ‘We are what we eat’, applies here: we are mostly made up of air, water and food (with its associated minerals). Air? Yes – we eat a lot of plant matter, and plants take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen, so in eating plants we are indirectly eating air. In this way we are as much a part of the Earth as its inhabitants, with our collective weight being negligible to its total weight. In 2012, researchers from the London School Of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine determined that the total weight of the human adult population was around 287 million tonnes. This seems like a large figure until you factor in the Earth’s total

weight of 5.9736 x 1,024kg. Write that out in full: 5,973,600,000,00 0,000,000,000,000kg, or 5.9 sextillion tonnes. So we are just a drop in the ocean. Getting heavy The average body mass globally is 62kg. North America, which has the highest body mass of any continent, has an average of 80.7kg – the continent has only 6% of the world’s population but 34% of the world’s biomass, thanks, in part, to obesity. In contrast, Asia has 61% of the world’s population but only 13% of the world’s biomass.

Alcohol makes you a jerk

Why do I twitch during sleep and sometimes just before I fall asleep? I also seem to twitch more after drinking alcohol. Maret, Pinelands A twitch, or ‘hypnagogic jerk’, is an involuntary muscle spasm that occurs as a person is falling asleep. It takes its name from the hypnagogic state, which is that period between sleeping and being awake. Hypnagogic jerks are also commonly known as

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Getting legless

7 Many creatures such as snails and limpets have one leg, many such as ostriches and humans have two, many such as frogs and camels have four, many such as crabs and flies have six, many such as spiders and octopi have eight, many such as millipedes have more than eight. What is the number most prevalent in the entire animal kingdom? Terence Dennison, via email ‘hypnic jerks’ or ‘sleep starts’. There are a few hypotheses as to their cause, ranging from an evolutionary primate response to the muscle’s relaxation to a natural response to the transition between tension and relaxation. Another theory is that stress, caffeine and fatigue may contribute to their onset. Alcohol can negatively impact nerves in serious cases. Alcohol can alter levels of thiamine, folate, niacin, vitamins B6 and B12, and vitamin E, all of which are required for healthy nerve function. A paper published in Alcoholism: Clinical and

According to science writer Luis Villazon’s research, the answer would be none, thanks to the 10 billion trillion nematodes found in high densities in just about every ecosystem. While they are mostly microscopic, they are still multicelled and count as animals. Taking into account the seven billion humans and approximately 200 billion birds found on earth, you could have been forgiven for answering ‘two’. And with all the species of fish, reptiles and Experimental Research, showed that alcohol may relax you enough to fall asleep but it reduces deep sleep and may contribute to shallower, more disturbed sleep. Researchers warn that twitching when falling asleep could be a symptom of a wide range of conditions, from periodic limb movement to more serious health challenges such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease. If the twitching is causing problems, then consider having a medical professional check you out for peace of mind.

Love your Bangs

Was there more than one ‘Big Bang’, maybe taking place a huge distance from the one that scientists believe formed our universe? Muhammad Atteeq, Lahore, Pakistan

amphibians and the 500 billion non-human mammals – all mostly four-limbed – you could suggest that is the answer. But when you add in the 10 billion trillion nematodes, all calculations are moot – that’s still twice the number of the world’s insect population. Thanks to the nematode population, the average number of legs drops to 0.1, meaning that the closest whole number is a surprising zero! According to research published in 2006, the universe is at least 986 billion years older than most physicists thought and is probably much older still. Contrary to what we have all believed for some time, the study suggests that time did not begin with the Big Bang, 14 billion years ago. This mammoth explosion, which created all the matter we see around us, was just the most recent of many cyclical ‘big bangs’. Neil Turok, a theoretical physicist at the University of Cambridge, has said of the Big Bang theory, “People have inferred that time began then, but there really wasn’t any reason for that inference. What we are proposing is very

7 Cedric Pimms I read your mag cover to cover. Don’t do that much any more … 7 Zama Hlope My brother and I share the copy our mom buys and then ask each other questions. Thank you! 7 Alison Krauss Great range of topics in Very Interesting. Not the generic stuff like everywhere else. 7 Skhumba Mbamba Wish this was a monthly magazine – want to read more! 7 Gladys Terrence Love your fun stories. They make me think! Like us on Facebook (Very InterestingMag), follow us on Twitter (@V_I_mag) and ask a question at radical. It’s saying there was time before the Big Bang.” According to his research, conducted with Paul Steinhardt at Princeton University, the universe is at the very least a trillion years old, with many big bangs having happened before our own. Having said all that, there is no general consensus among scientists. Dave Cornell, a former graduate student and postdoctoral researcher at Cornell University who used infrared and X-ray observations and theoretical computer models to study accreting black holes in our galaxy, still thinks that in our observable universe there has only been one Big Bang. 39/2018




The little lumps seen here are tardigrades. When they dry out, they retract their heads and legs



Water bears survive dehydration by turning into glass


hen it comes to survival, Bear Grylls has nothing on tardigrades. These microscopically small critters, sometimes known as water bears, can survive in environments with temperatures as high as 100°C and as low as -200°C and pressures up to six times higher than at the bottom of the ocean. They can even withstand the vacuum of space. Now, researchers at the University of North Carolina have figured out the secret behind another of their incredible abilities – the capacity to survive for more than a decade without water. It seems that when water bears are dehydrated, the cytoplasm in their cells turns into glass, locking biological molecules in place to prevent them from becoming altered or damaged. And it all happens thanks to the action of a class of chemicals dubbed ‘tardigrade-specific intrinsically disordered proteins’ (TDPs). By analysing the gene expression of three species of tardigrade under different conditions – unstressed, drying out and frozen – the team found unusually high levels of TDP gene expression during the drying-out period. “The big takeaway from our study is that tardigrades have evolved unique genes that allow them to survive drying out,” said research lead Thomas Boothby. To verify their results, the researchers put the genes encoding them into yeast and 39/2018


A The Ophiocordyceps fungus lives in rain forests where there is very little wind to help distribute its spores. A It solves that problem by attaching itself to passing ants and surrounding their brains, and then killing them when it erupts from their heads in a different location!

bacteria, and found the genes were able to protect these other organisms when deprived of water too. The results show that TDPs have a number of potential uses, including protecting crops from drought and safeguarding medications that normally require cold storage, the researchers say. “Being able to stabilise sensitive pharmaceuticals in a dry state is very important to me personally,” Boothby said. “I grew up in Africa, where lack of refrigeration in remote areas is a huge problem. These real-world applications are one of the things that led me to study tardigrades.”

Make mine a pint! A team at Pennsylvania State University has found that drinking a beer a day can help to lower harmful cholesterol in the blood stream. Don’t get too tipsy though – the effect is reversed in heavy drinkers.


CLINGY MOTHERS It’s time to cut the apron strings. Children who go to nursery rather than staying at home with their parents have more talking, social and motor skills, researchers at Oxford University have found.




Ever catch a glimpse of your dad bod in the mirror and despair? Well, don’t: researchers at Yale University have found that older dads who pile on the pounds, due to decreasing testosterone levels after fatherhood, live longer and have stronger immune systems than their buffer, childless counterparts.

The phrase ‘all show and no go’ evidently has some truth to it. A study published in Muscle And Nerve has found increases in muscle size due to working out are not directly related to muscle strength.


Secrets of dreaming uncovered in brain scan study


hether it’s falling from a great height or going to work without any clothes on, we all have dreams that stick in our minds. Now, researchers at the Wisconsin Institute of Sleep and Consciousness have found tantalising clues of what exactly goes on in our brains when we dream. The researchers monitored the brain activity of 46 sleeping volunteers using caps linked to 256 electrodes. They found that dreams occurred during both REM and non-REM sleep, and the brain showed high-frequency activity in particular regions according to the content of dreams. For example, dreams associated with hearing speech triggered activity in parts of the brain involved in language perception and understanding. “This suggests that dreams recruit the same brain regions as experiences in wakefulness for specific contents,” said researcher Francesca Siclari. “This also indicates that dreams are experiences that truly occur

during wakefulness, and that they are not ‘inventions’ or ‘confabulations’ that we make up while we wake up.” The researchers also found that dreaming was linked to activity in a ‘hot zone’ found in the back of the brain, regardless of which stage of sleep the volunteers were in. The study also shows that dreams may be a valuable model for studying consciousness, they said. “Dreams are forms of consciousness that occur during sleep. In the course of a night’s sleep, consciousness varies considerably: it can either be absent or present in the form of thoughts, images or dreams,’’ said researcher Giulio Tononi. “An important aspect of this study is that we were able to compare what changes in the brain when we are conscious, that is, when we are dreaming, compared with when we are unconscious, during the same behavioural state of sleep. In this way we could zoom in on the brain regions that truly matter for consciousness.”

Shorts Among the great inventions inspired by dreams – according to their creators – are Google (Larry Page), the alternating current generator (Nikola Tesla), the sewing machine (Elias Howe) and the periodic table (Dimitri Mendeleyev). A

Don’t wear your heart on your sleeve – wear it in a salad instead 7MEDICINE

Heart tissue grown on spinach leaves


his takes growing your own to a new level: researchers in the US have created beating human heart cells using spinach leaves. The technique could eventually allow researchers to use spinach leaves to grow layers of healthy cardiac muscle to treat heart attack patients. “We have a lot more work to do, but so far this is very promising,” said study co-author Glenn Gaudette. “Adapting abundant plants that farmers have been cultivating for thousands of years for use in tissue engineering could solve a host of problems limiting the field.” The team removed the plant cells from spinach leaves by flowing a detergent solution through the veins, leaving behind a framework made mostly of cellulose. They then pumped fluids and microbeads similar in size to human blood cells through the spinach veins, and seeded them with the human cells found in blood vessels. “I’d done decellularisation work on human hearts before, and when I looked at the spinach leaf its stem reminded me of an aorta,” said study co-author Joshua Gershlak. “We weren’t sure it would work, but it turned out to be pretty easy and replicable. It’s working in many other plants.” The researchers are now working on refining the technique and using it to create more complex structures.




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Sorry, but we’re about to get very creepy in the name of science …

A The heart pumps more than 5ℓ of blood every minute. A At one point, first aid practitioners in the UK were taught to sing Nelly The Elephant as they pumped a patient’s chest during CPR, as the rhythm fitted the action. Now faster chest compressions are recommended, with Stayin’ Alive by the Bee Gees a better guideline.

alking in our heads is referred to by psychologists as ‘inner speech’. It involves some similar processes to ‘overt’ speech – it recruits brain regions involved in language, such as the Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas, and is even accompanied by minute muscle movements in the larynx. However, there are notable differences too, with brain areas useful in inhibiting overt speech playing a greater role in inner speech. The exact brain mechanisms involved may come down to why we are talking in our heads in the first place. For example, when we read a book, brain regions involved in attention may be more active than when we are mentally preparing for a race.

Buhle Cibane, Atteridgeville

ou can still have a fairly normal life without one of your lungs, a kidney, your spleen, appendix, gall bladder, adenoids, tonsils, plus some of your lymph nodes, the fibula bones from each leg and six of your ribs. Losing your uterus, ovaries and breasts, or your testicles and prostate, is also survivable, although you might need hormone therapy to avoid other long-term problems, such as brittle bones. If you allow yourself artificial replacements and medication, we can go further and remove your stomach, colon, pancreas, salivary glands, thyroid, bladder and your other kidney. Still not enough? Theoretically, 10


Cedric Jacobs, Queenstown


How many organs could you lose and still live? Y

How do we talk in our heads?

surgeons could amputate all of your limbs, and remove your eyes, nose, ears, larynx, tongue, lower spine and rectum. Supported by machines in an intensive care unit, they could also take away your skull, heart and your remaining lung, at least for a short while. This adds up to a theoretically survivable loss of around 45% of your total body mass. But any trauma that destroyed all these organs all at once would almost certainly kill you from shock and blood loss. And surgically removing them one at a time over many months would likely also be fatal, due to infections in your immunecompromised state.

How do household cleaning products affect the environment? Nkosi Sithuli, Hartbeespoort


ven after passing through water treatment plants, small quantities of chemical compounds from cleaning products can find their way into rivers, ponds and lakes and have adverse effects on aquatic life. Phosphates in laundry and dishwasher detergent have a fertilising effect, triggering the widespread growth of algae that sap away the water’s oxygen, reducing biodiversity. By reducing water tension, surfactants allow other pollutants in water bodies to be absorbed more easily by plants and animals. Many other compounds can be toxic to wildlife, or affect growth and reproduction, for instance by mimicking the effects of hormones in mammals and fish.

Tina Essop, Paarl


t -269°C, helium gas condenses to become a liquid. Cool it further and it becomes a state of matter called a superfluid. In this state it has no measurable viscosity and so does some odd things, such as climbing up the walls of a dish, leaking through apparently solid materials and staying motionless while its container is spun. To create the liquid and superfluid states, you cool down helium gas to a few degrees above absolute zero. This is achieved by compressing the gas, and then expelling it through a small nozzle. As the gas expands, it rapidly cools (as with an aerosol deodorant). The process is repeated until the gas that rushes out of the nozzle is cold enough to condense into a liquid, and if you repeat the cycle a few more times the helium will become cold enough to turn into a superfluid.


How is helium turned into a liquid and a superfluid?


A Helium is the least dense of all the chemical elements. A Helium makes up around 45% of the sun’s mass. There, it is formed by the fusion of hydrogen molecules at high temperatures.

Could you throw a frisbee on Mars? Fanyana Dlamini, Alexandr


ince the Martian atmosphere is about 100 times less dense than Earth’s, the ‘lift’ a Frisbee experiences would also be about 100 times less. But the gravitational force on Mars is about a third of that on Earth, so a Frisbee on Mars would act as if it is about 33 times heavier (100/3). Since the lift depends on the size of the Frisbee, the angle of attack and the velocity it is thrown at (as well as air density), it would still be possible to make a Frisbee glide, but it would require much more effort on the part of the thrower.


What would happen if all Earth’s insects vanished?


Most non-marine food chains depend on insects. Almost all birds eat insects, and even those that eat seeds as adults still feed insects to their young. It takes 200,000 insects to raise a swallow chick to adulthood. Insects also break down plant matter and help recycle nutrients into the soil. Without any insects at all, most bird and amphibian species would be extinct in two months.


Of the world’s food crops, 75% are pollinated by insects. Without insects, we could still grow many foods, but onions, cabbage, broccoli, chillies, most varieties of tomato, coffee, cocoa and most fruits would be off the menu. So would sunflower and rapeseed oil. Demand for synthetic fibres would also surge because bees are needed to pollinate both cotton and flax for linen.


On the plus side, if there were no longer any insects, we wouldn’t need the 430,000 tonnes of insecticides that are sprayed onto crops every year. In the US, pesticide residues cause between 4,000 and 20,000 cases of cancer each year, according to the National Academy of Sciences. But this is a small compensation for total ecological collapse and global famine. 39/2018


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Got questions you’ve been carrying around for years? Very Interesting answers them! Mail your questions to



Can the placebo effect harm you?

The percentage of the world’s population who eat chillies every day.

Arthur Albertyn



How long could you survive on beer alone? Jessica Bosch


eer typically has around 40 calories per 100mℓ (one pint = 568mℓ). To get your daily 2,000 calories just from beer, you’d need to drink 11 pints every day, which is hardly healthy. But the alcohol is the least of your problems. Beer, even real ale or Guinness, contains no fat, almost no protein and – crucially – no vitamin C. Without any source of vitamin C, you’ll experience symptoms of scurvy in two or three months and be dead in six.

6,000 The number of wildebeest that drown during the Serengeti migration every year.


ust as the placebo effect causes positive results if you believe you are taking beneficial medicine, there is a negative version, called the ‘nocebo effect’. This creates harmful effects such as pain, high blood pressure, dizziness and rashes if you believe that these are possible side effects of the medication you have been given, even though it’s a placebo.

The number of tiny needles embedded into a painless skin patch vaccine that could be used instead of traditional syringes.


How hot could Earth get before it’s uninhabitable What is being done for humans? to preserve Pompeii? Sakhile Ncwane


umans need to sweat to survive in warm conditions, and that’s only possible if the combination of temperature and humidity – known as the wet-bulb temperature – stays below around 35°C. According to a 2012 study by scientists at MIT, this limit could be reached globally if our planet warms by around 12°C. Fortunately, few scientists think global warming will do this in the foreseeable future.



A Pompeii’s amphitheatre includes large painted wall panels of wild animals, such as a bull and a bear tied with rope so that neither can escape. A Before the Vesuvius eruption that buried the city in AD 79, the area was also shaken by a large earthquake in AD 63, and was still recovering from that disaster when the volcano exploded.

Phumlani Nxumalo


he main threat to the already excavated buildings and mosaics is moisture, which attacks the plaster and mortar. But Pompeii has attracted the best archaeological conservationists from around the world. In 2012, a 10-year

project began installing protective roofs, removing existing moisture and researching the chemical structure of ancient plasters. There is also a moratorium on new archaeological excavations.

What happens in my body when I sleep? Sleep consists of two radically different physiological states. There is rapid eye movement sleep (REM) and non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM). The sleep stages seem to have different functions, but why we sleep is still not completely understood. Babies spend half of their sleep in REM, but this drops to a quarter by the age of two. It is therefore thought that REM sleep is particularly vital for the developing brain. In NREM sleep, brain activity slows and a person woken at this stage may feel groggy.

1. Pituitary gland

2. Mouth

3. Lungs

During non-REM sleep, the pituitary gland produces growth hormone and secretes prolactin. This counteracts dopamine, to lower general arousal levels.

You produce less saliva, which reduces the need to swallow. Five per cent of adults also grind their teeth at night, mostly during the early stages of sleep.

The throat muscles relax so your airway narrows when inhaling. This can cause snoring, or temporarily halt your breathing for a few seconds (sleep apnoea).

4. Heart

5. Limbs

6. Bladder

Your pulse drops by 10 to 30bpm while you sleep, lowering your blood pressure. Less blood flows to the brain, and more is diverted to your muscles.

The extra blood swells your arms and legs slightly. Muscles are paralysed while dreaming, but between dreams you change sleeping position 35 times a night.

Vasopressin hormone levels rise. This reduces the amount of urine collected in the bladder to between half and a third of normal daytime levels.

Why do some fish have colourless blood? A

ntarctic icefish have colourless blood with no red blood cells and no haemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying pigment. This probably comes down to a genetic mutation, and means their blood carries 90% less oxygen than red blood. They survive partly because frigid Antarctic waters are oxygen-rich. Icefish also have enormous hearts that pump huge volumes of blood around their bodies, making sure they get enough oxygen. Antifreeze in their blood stops them from freezing (the salty Southern Ocean gets down to -2°C), but as they are so well adapted to the cold, their future in a warming world remains uncertain.



Bradley Prince, Uvongo


A The body of a newborn baby contains about one cup of blood. A There are approximately 160,000km of blood vessels in the body of a human adult.



Quickies Like a Brazilian free-tailed bat out of hell, he’ll be gone when the morning comes …


Tiny bat smashes flight speed record


eet the Brazilian free-tailed bat, the fastest horizontal flier in the animal kingdom. Researchers at Germany’s Max Planck Institute have clocked the small mammal speeding through the air at more than 160km/h (99mph), smashing the previous record of 111km/h (69mph) held by the common swift. Key to the bats’ speed are their aerodynamic, projectile-like bodies, light bones and long, narrow wings. Peregrine falcons hold the overall speed

record reaching around 390km/h when diving, but they can only manage 90km/h during horizontal flight. “Initially, we could hardly believe our data, but they were correct: at times, the female bats, which weigh between 11 and 12 grams, flew at speeds of over 160 kilometres per hour – a new record for horizontal flight,” said researcher Kamran Safi. The team clocked the record-breaking speed

by attaching small radio transmitters to the bats’ backs and then following their flights using a mobile receiver on board a small aircraft. “It was not easy for the pilot to follow the fast-flying animals so that we could localise them accurately and measure their flight path continuously,” said researcher Dina Dechmann. “External factors like landscape and tailwinds cannot explain these results, as they had no impact on the maximum speeds.”

Shorts A There are more than 1,100 species of bat. A Some species of bat can survive to be 30 years old – unusual longevity for mammals of their size.

The crater studied by University of Texas researchers lacks the surrounding debris typical of an impact crater 7SPACE


t might not look like the most hospitable place to live, but this strangely shaped depression could have once been home to Martian life. The crater is perched on the rim of the Hellas basin, in the southern hemisphere of the Red Planet, and was probably formed by a volcano beneath a glacier. It could have been a warm, chemical-rich environment well suited for microbial life, says Joseph Levy, a researcher at the University of Texas. “These landforms caught our eye because they’re weird-looking. They’re concentrically fractured so they look like a bull’s eye. We were drawn to this 14


site because it looked like it could host some of the key ingredients for habitability – water, heat and nutrients.” It first caught the researchers’ attention in photos taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, thanks to its similarity to ‘ice cauldrons’ – formations made by volcanoes erupting beneath an ice sheet – found in Iceland. They then used pairs of high-resolution images to create detailed 3D models of the depressions that enabled in-depth analysis of their shape and structure. “The big contribution of the study was that we were

able to measure not just their shape and appearance, but also how much material was lost to form the depressions. That 3D view lets us test this idea of volcanic or impact,” Levy said. The analysis revealed the crater has an unusual funnel shape, and features a fracture pattern that suggests the ice has been melted away by volcanic activity. It also lacks the surrounding debris that would have been left by an asteroid impact. This means it may once have been host to liquid water and nutrients – elements thought to be required for the existence of life.


Funnel-like crater may be the best place to look for signs of life on Mars


Computational origami takes a big leap forward


n MIT professor of computer science and an assistant professor in civil engineering at the University of Tokyo have joined forces to come up with a better way of … making paper rabbits. Or rather, they have created an algorithm that enables the creation of any 3D shape from a single sheet of a given material. MIT’s Prof Erik Demaine has previous experience in this area: his 1999 PhD thesis described the same thing. The difference, though, is that his previous algorithm essentially involved taking a long, thin strip of paper or other material and winding it into the desired shape. This tends to leave you with lots of seams in the finished 3D shape, and is inefficient in terms of the amount of paper (or other material) required. The new algorithm, on the other hand, preserves the boundaries of the original sheet of paper, and minimises the number of seams. “It’s a totally different strategy for thinking about how to make a polyhedron,” said Demaine. If you’ve ever unfolded a paper cup from the water cooler, and ended up with a circular piece of paper, that’s the perfect example of how the new algorithm works – the outer edge of the circle ends up as the rim of the cup. Demaine’s old method, however, would have created a non-watertight cup shape by winding a thin strip of paper into a coil. The technique could have practical applications in manufacturing, particularly in areas such as designing and building spacecraft, where materials efficiency is of paramount importance.

The new origami algorithm can make any shape from a single sheet of material

Comb jellies are sonamed because of the rows of comb-like plates that they use to propel themselves through the water 7HISTORY


id your billion-times great grandfather look something like this eerie bag of jelly? Evolutionary biologists at Vanderbilt University in Nashville certainly think so. The researchers compared the individual genes of comb jellies with those of 18 other organisms, as part of a technique dubbed ‘phylogenetics’. The team determined that comb jellies have more genes supporting their claim to be the first animal to diverge than sponges. Sponges were previously thought to be the earliest form of animal life, due to their simplicity. “In these analyses, we only use genes that are shared across all organisms,” researcher Prof Antonis Rokas explained.

“The trick is to examine the gene sequences from different organisms to figure out who they identify as their closest relatives. When you look at a particular gene in an organism, let’s call it A, we ask if it is most closely related to its counterpart in organism B? Or to its counterpart in organism C? And by how much?” The finding could have a major impact on scientists’ thinking about how the nervous system, digestive tract and other basic organs in modern animals evolved.“We believe that our approach can help resolve many of these longstanding controversies and raise the game of phylogenetic reconstruction to a new level,” Rokas said. 39/2018



The most ancient animals on Earth may be comb jellies


THE FINAL FRONTIER We know more about outer space than our own oceans; we have better maps of Mars and Venus than the seabed. Meet a new breed of divers who are boldly going where no scientist has gone before









ntil about a century ago, it was thought that not much lived in the deep sea. With its average depth of around 3.5km, crushing pressures and permanent darkness, few people bothered looking there – what could hope to survive in such an environment? According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 95% of the oceans are still completely unexplored. But today’s scientists have ditched the old ideas of a deep, empty ocean and flat, featureless seabed. They’re keen to take a closer look beneath the waves, and the latest generation of research equipment is opening up the depths like never before. New technology is helping scientists uncover the oceans’ vital role in global climate, and find bizarre creatures that offer clues about the origins of life on Earth – and the possibility of life in outer space.

“It feels like I’m somewhere I shouldn’t be. This kind of exploration can give you tingles” 18



Exploring the mysterious ‘twilight zone’ t feels like I’m somewhere I shouldn’t be,” says Jack Laverick, a PhD student “I at Oxford University, as he recalls being the

first person to see part of a 100m-deep Caribbean reef. “This kind of exploration can give you tingles.” He’s one of a new breed of scientists who are venturing deeper than most scuba divers ever go. Divers can now descend into the ‘twilight zone’, from 50m down, where sunlight begins to run out. Few have visited these depths, but now rebreathers are making it possible. Although invented before scuba equipment, rebreathers have only recently become safe enough for use in research. Instead of bubbling exhaled air into the water they recycle it, scrubbing out carbon dioxide and topping up the breathable oxygen.

Astronauts on space walks use similar apparatus. Dominic Andradi-Brown, another deep-diving PhD student from Oxford, recounts the excitement of descending the sheer face of an underwater cliff. “It feels like you’re going off the edge of an abyss and anything could be below you.” Laverick and Andradi-Brown took part in Thinking Deep, a 2015 dive off the island of Utila in Honduras. Using rebreathers, they dived into the twilight zone for up to four hours at a time. This let them access parts of the oceans that are understudied. Submersibles go much deeper than this, while regular scuba divers can’t safely go beyond 40m. “There’s this really understudied middle bit,” explains Laverick.


How sensor-equipped seals are helping scientists peer below the Antarctic ice


agging huge elephant seals on an Antarctic beach T isn’t a job for the faint-hearted. Mature males weigh up to four tonnes, and can easily mistake a human for

Less than a decade ago, researchers confirmed that tropical coral reefs grow into the twilight zone – despite corals usually being associated with the sunny conditions in shallow waters. These ‘mesophotic reefs’ could provide species a refuge from threats that impact shallower waters, such as overfishing and rising sea temperatures. Laverick is investigating whether shallow, damaged reefs could regrow from young corals born in the deep. Andradi-Brown, meanwhile, is studying fish. Below 60m, he’s seen shark species that have been all but wiped out by fishing closer to the surface. “Coral reefs are a doom and gloom story at the moment,” he says, “but these deep refuges are showing real potential.”

another seal looking for a fight. “Elephant seals don’t have good vision,” says Dr Horst Bornemann, a researcher from Germany’s Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research. “You want a team who can anticipate their behaviour and fend off advancing territorial males.” There’s a good reason for working with such colossal, bad-tempered animals in remote, sub-zero conditions, though. Southern elephant seals, the deepest-diving seal species, can dive below 2,000m for hours at time, so fixing small, electronic sensors to their heads can transform them into a fleet of researchers. These sensors gather data on the seals’ movements – how deep they dive, what they eat and where they go – and can ping information back up to 250 times a day, when the seal surfaces for air. Tagged seals can help answer important questions about the oceans. Over seven years, close to 20,000 dives were logged by dozens of elephant and crabeater seals in parts of the Bellingshausen Sea, off the Antarctic Peninsula, where research vessels rarely venture. Another recent study used information from a programme called MEOP – Marine Mammals Exploring the Oceans Pole-to-Pole – to understand more about why West Antarctic ice shelves are melting, showing that a layer of warm, salty water is edging up to the continental shelves surrounding Antarctica. “There are ice-covered areas, in which it’s a huge effort to manoeuvre a ship,” says Bornemann. “But seals can cope with any icy conditions, all year round. So you get perfect winter data.”

Attaching sensors to four-tonne elephant seals can be dangerous





How gliders are going where humans can’t ery small, gentle submarines.” “V That’s how oceanographer Dr Pierre Testor from Paris’ Pierre And Marie Curie

University describes the underwater robots he works with. In the 1980s, scientists came up with the idea of long-range vehicles that could explore hard-to-reach areas of the oceans. Today, fleets of autonomous robots known as gliders scour the seas for months at a time, gathering crucial data about how the oceans work. When Testor started carrying out his glider studies a decade ago, the worry of not knowing if costly equipment would make it back in one piece was tempered by the excitement of new discoveries. “I felt I was starting to do oceanography in a different way,” he recalls. Since then he’s seen gliders used in all spheres of ocean science, from physics to biology. Current gliders can reach depths of 1,000m, but Testor is deputy science co-ordinator of a European project, Bridges, which is



developing new gliders that go much deeper. “We plan to produce a glider that’s able to go to really great depths, around 6,000m,” he says. This means they’ll be able to reach around 98% of the oceans. A big part of the gliders’ success is their extreme efficiency: they consume about the same amount of power as two Christmas tree lights. The new Bridges gliders are intended for academic and industrial uses, including monitoring pollution from deep-sea mines. Rare earth minerals are in huge demand from the electronics industry and could soon be extracted from the seabed and oceanic hydrothermal vents. Conservationists are concerned that such mines will be very difficult to monitor. It’s therefore hoped gliders will help keep an eye on operations many kilometres beneath the waves: equipped with acoustic sensors, they’ll be able to detect clouds of metal-rich sediments churned up by the mines.

A depth chart of part of the Gulf of Lyon in the Mediterranean, produced using one of Bridges’ gliders








The Ocean Exploration Trust recently found 500 spots off the US west coast where methane bubbles float out of the seabed like champagne, and where several little-known species thrive.

Thousands of deep sinkholes form part of the longest underwater cave system in the world. The caves are flooded with freshwater overlying saltwater, and many remain unexplored.

In 2012, researchers stumbled across a coral reef while taking water samples 900m down off Greenland’s southern coast. Little is known about it, but similar reefs in Norway are 8,000 years old.

Few coral reefs have been studied deeper than 40m, but in the Indian Ocean, healthy deep reefs in the Chagos Islands could help shallower areas recover from 2016’s mass coral bleaching.

In the middle of Iceland, this is the only place where you can swim in the crack between two continents (the Eurasian and North American plates). It gets 2cm wider every year.

Researchers drilling hundreds of metres through the world’s largest ice shelf have found fish and crustacean species living underneath. How they got there – and survive – is a mystery. 39/2018






Building a distinctly human-like underwater avatar


easuring 1.5m in length and M weighing 180kg, OceanOne is quite unusual for a remotely operated

underwater vehicle. Described as a ‘robo-mermaid’, it has a head, two cameras for ‘eyes’ and a pair of fully articulated arms, complete with wrists and fingers. OceanOne acts as an underwater avatar, allowing people to feel like they’re diving to inaccessible depths while remaining safe and dry. A human pilot can see what the robot sees via stereoscopic cameras, and feel what it’s holding via sensors in the robot’s hands that transmit haptic feedback to a controller on the surface. To a certain extent, OceanOne can even think for itself. Onboard processors analyse camera footage and adjust the thrusters in the robot’s tail to make sure it doesn’t bump into anything. If sensors detect an unavoidable upcoming collision, the robot braces its arms to

cushion the impact. Built by a team at Stanford University, OceanOne’s first mission, in April 2016, was to explore a 17th-Century shipwreck, La Lune, lying 100m deep in the Mediterranean. The humanoid robot carefully swam around the structure and gathered ancient artefacts without crushing them between its fingers. The idea is that eventually the robomermaid will be able to perform other skilled tasks, such as examining fragile coral on reefs or operating machinery in places such as deep-sea mines and oil rigs. 7 Dr Helen Scales is a marine biologist, writer and broadcaster. Her latest book is Spirals In Time: The Secret Life And Curious Afterlife Of Seashells



Q&A Questions & Answers

Got questions you’ve been carrying around for years? Very Interesting answers them! Mail your questions to

Does holding your breath make you stronger?

How do stars die?

Siyanda Zama, Howick

t won’t make you stronger in the sense of building muscle in your heart or diaphragm, but holding your breath while training for certain sports has been shown to improve the ability of your muscles to cope with short, intense exertions. This works by increasing the concentration of bicarbonate in the blood, which helps to neutralise the lactic acid produced during anaerobic exercise.

For this technique to work, you need to exhale normally and hold your breath when your lungs are empty, rather than taking a big breath in and holding that. There are significant risks, though. A 2009 study found that free divers who regularly held their breath for several minutes had elevated levels of a protein called S100B in their blood, which is an indication of long-term brain damage.

Simon Cook, Malelane


tars die because they exhaust their nuclear fuel. The events at the end of a star’s life depend on its mass. Really massive stars use up their hydrogen fuel quickly, but are hot enough to fuse heavier elements such as helium and carbon. Once there is no fuel left, the star collapses and the outer layers explode as a ‘supernova’. What’s left over after a supernova explosion is a ‘neutron star’ – the collapsed core of the star – or, if there’s sufficient mass, a black hole. Average-sized stars (up to about 1.4 times the mass of the sun) will die less dramatically. As their hydrogen is used up, they swell to become red giants, fusing helium in their cores, before shedding their outer layers, often forming a ‘planetary nebula’. The star’s core remains as a ‘white dwarf’, which cools off over billions of years.  The tiniest stars, known as ‘red dwarfs’, burn their nuclear fuel so slowly that they might live to be 100 billion years old – much older than the current age of the universe.




What’s in hand cream?

WATER 80% Gives the cream volume and dissolves some ingredients.

GLYCERINE 3% A typical humectant used to draw water in from the atmosphere.

THICKENERS 5% PEG or polyacrylic acid (which may appear as carbomer on the label) are long polymer molecules that increase the viscosity of the cream, making it easier to apply.



FATS AND OILS 7% Coconut oil, petroleum jelly or lanolin (a waxy substance secreted by woolly animals such as sheep) might be used as occlusive agents that form a barrier to block escaping water.

EMULSIFIER 2.5% Glyceryl stearate and stearic acid help to stabilise the oil-water mixture.

PRESERVATIVES AND FRAGRANCE 2.5% These improve the product’s shelf life and make it smell good.


There are two ways that hand creams act to moisturise your skin. Occlusive agents form a barrier that traps water, while humectants attract more water to your skin. The problem is that the humectants are water soluble, while the occlusive agents dissolve in oil. So to get them to mix in an easy-to-use formulation, the creams also need an emulsification system.

A Islamic and Chinese astronomers documented their observations of a supernova in 1054. The phenomenon was so bright it was visible in daylight. A It is thought that the famous Crab Nebula is a result of that 1054 explosion.


If your champagne glasses are grubby, bubbles will form on the specks of dirt, betraying your shoddy washing-up skills


A There are approximately 49 million bubbles in a 750mℓ bottle of champagne. A This results in around three times more pressure in the bottle than there is in the average car tyre.

Why do champagne bubbles rise from the bottom of a glass? Zanele Zuma, Boksburg


he bubbles are filled with carbon dioxide (CO2), a gas 800 times less dense than the surrounding liquid. Molecules of this gas accumulating in imperfections in the glass start to form a bubble, whose low density supplies enough buoyancy to break off and float towards the surface. In the process they run into more molecules, making the bubble even bigger and more buoyant, and accelerating its ascent.

Why does 37°C feel so hot when our bodies are at that temperature already? Alice Delport, Cape Town


hat’s the temperature of your core. Your skin is usually around 34°C and your face, fingers and toes can be much colder. The receptors in your skin react to differences in temperature, so when you put your hand on your bare stomach, your hand registers warmth but your belly shrieks ‘cold!’, even though both are ‘skin temperature’. Similarly, the inside of your mouth feels warm to your finger, but not to your tongue.




The future is now

BCX is a company concerned with the future, and with making customers aware that the future is already here 7 TEXT AND PHOTOGRAPHY: SUPPLIED


s the largest SAowned tech company in the country, BCX’s drive is to keep clients at the forefront of the digital revolution, handling their end-to-end digital requirements and allowing them to focus on their core business. BCX CEO Ian Russell explains the company’s vision and the importance of encouraging disruption as a primary strategy, not an afterthought.

Most people, in any business, find themselves saying, “… but we’ve always done it this way.” Your solutions and products will no doubt help them improve their effectiveness, but only if they can be convinced that their current mindset is wrong. It that a tough sell? Ian Russell: The process is about helping people to understand that standing still is actually going backwards. I like to use the example of agriculture – the oldest industry in the world. It needs technology. In South Africa, the cost to produce a tonne of maize or a similar crop is higher than in other countries because of ineffective methods, which leads to a knock-on effect, with higher prices in supermarkets and in exports. We need to think about increasing productivity. What if you as the farmer could always know where your workers were and for how long? That can be monitored through cellphones or a sensor in a belt buckle. What about sensors in seed drills to make sure the right 26


number of seeds is going in, or in the soil to measure whether its composition was optimum? All that information can be fed back to an iPad or a phone, and the farmer can determine what needs doing in each of his fields, and pay his workers electronically for the work he knows they’ve done. The technology to do all of this exists, but we don’t yet have a pervasive mindset that embraces change. If we can get disruption right, the effect will be felt at GDP level and beyond. BCX is a wholly owned subsidiary of Telkom, which is obviously good news for its infrastructure capacity. The old Business Connexion was mostly an IT-related business that grew to be a fairly large company worth around R8 billion, and the old Telkom Business obviously has a focus on connectivity, and that’s also a large company, and they came together to bring about BCX. With BCX, we found ourselves in a situation where the technology we were working with would become obsolete because of disruption by around 2025. For instance, we ran very good data centres, but those have now been replaced by the Cloud. We needed to maximise the opportunities each business creates, and then use the cash generated there to invest in new technology for new growth strategies.

‘Disruption’. The connotations of the word have always been negative, but in this context it’s a positive thing. What’s the new definition? I tell my kids that being disruptive is not helpful, and the behaviour I’m talking about there is not good. What we mean by disruption – in a business context – is ‘paradigm shift’. Take Uber as an example. They’ve caused genuine disruption in more than one way – companies need to be thoughtful in how their business is implemented. This perspective also means new opportunities and careers. Large organisations are very structured, set up with contracts, payroll and all the rest. As an example, young people think differently about remuneration. They want what they call a ‘base load’ – an amount that will cover their costs – and then fill the rest of their time with whatever they do for fun. We ran a guerrilla campaign to scout for talent– the applicants didn’t know who they were being hired by – and offered different packages. Some of

them were time rich and some of them were toy rich – new phones and tablets and so on. The results were interesting, but there’s still more to do to find the best formula. Right now, we are involved with WeThinkCode, a free peer-topeer programming and coding course that will train young developers and give them eight months of work experience during their studies. The structure of the Ford Motor Company was based on the structure of the US Army, which at that time had 17 job grades. Huge numbers of other corporates copied Henry Ford’s ideas and now it’s been like that for 100 years! Legislation doesn’t allow us to change that grade structure – that needs to be looked at in the future. What are some of the top disruptors; the common themes that come up again and again? Data analytics and data science lead to fundamental disruption. It’s all about what factors you consider. For instance, you can correlate the temperature on a certain day with the stock levels of Coca-Cola in a particular supermarket, then check when the local matric dance is happening and in which venue and then create a pinpoint

Solutions and products BCX offerings include the following: ■ Cloud computing ■ Converged connectivity ■ Security ■ Big data analytics ■ Unified communications and collaboration ■ Business mobility ■ Internet of Things and M2M campaign for that supermarket and event, linking supply and demand. That sort of thing changes the way you manage stock – and a whole building for that matter. We’re making new investments in data analytics and data science, particularly in skills in this area. We’ve just opened an academy in Cape Town, and we will fully fund 100 students for a year. We’re also talking about changing the game in cybersecurity and will be opening a new centre in Johannesburg to work with companies. Another big push will involve the Internet of Things at an industrial level.

You held the inaugural BCX Disruption Summit in November, with an incredible line-up of speakers that included Malcolm Gladwell, and Nick Goldman. What is so powerful about sharing knowledge at that level? As a big local tech company, we feel we have an obligation – after all, what makes us believe we can change the South African economy? We looked at the usual ways of positioning a brand. Sponsoring sports teams or taking clients to horseraces doesn’t change minds. So, we disinvested all the cash we had in sponsorships and put it into a thought leadership event. Moving that budget around meant we could sign cheques for big names in their fields. Last year was the first in a three-year plan for that event – we’re committed to continuing the conversation. More power equals more effect, harnessing the power of the people who work within organisations. 7

For more information, go to




S PA C E TOU R ISM GETS REAL Elon Musk has pencilled in a date this year to send two tourists around the moon and back on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket. Here are 10 things you need to know before you buy yourself a ticket …


ayPal founder and Tesla boss Elon Musk isn’t a man who thinks small – nor is he short of a few million dollars to chuck at any obstruction in his path. Which is why SpaceX – the company he founded in 2002 with a view to developing cheaper, faster, longer-distance space travel, and ultimately colonising Mars – has become the world’s leading private spaceflight provider. The list of spaceflight ‘firsts’ that SpaceX has racked up over the course of the past 15 years is a long one. Among other achievements, it was the first private company to put



a liquid-fuelled rocket into Earth orbit (Falcon 1, 2008); the first to send a spacecraft to the ISS (Falcon 9, 2012); the first to put a satellite into geosynchronous orbit (Falcon 9, 2013); and the first to relaunch and land a ‘used’ orbital rocket (Falcon 9, 2017). As you can see, the reusable Falcon 9 rocket has been the key to many of SpaceX’s successes. Long term, Musk’s eyes remain firmly fixed on the Red Planet, but in the meantime, let’s take a closer look at this 69.9m-tall behemoth, which has now made 38 successful flights and is fast becoming the go-to option for getting payloads and people into space …



1  IT’S


When SpaceX launched a communications satellite into orbit in March 2017, they made a little piece of space history. It was the first time an orbital rocket had been reused – it had already been to space and back in April 2016. The Falcon 9’s first stage – the bit with most of the fuel and the main engines – is brought back to the ground and collected to fly again. This could be a game-changer for space exploration, because that’s the most expensive part of the rocket. Previously, each time you wanted to go to space you had to fork out hundreds of millions of dollars for a brand-new rocket. Now the same one can be used multiple times. SpaceX is offering its customers a discount of up to 30% if they opt to fly their payload on a reused Falcon 9, cutting the cost of getting to space even further. 39/2018


Space 2


 The Falcon 9 rocket boasts a 95% success rate. There have been 41 launches since the first in 2010, and all but two achieved their stated goals. One failed to reach orbit, the other exploded on the launchpad during a pre-flight test. This compares well to the rest of the rocket industry, where the average failure rate is also 5%. NASA’s Space Shuttle, which ferried astronauts to and from orbit, had a success rate of 98.5%, with the famous Challenger and Columbia disasters notable black marks. The Russian Soyuz rocket, which is currently the only way to get people to the International Space Station, has seen over 1,700 launches and has a 97% success rate. If SpaceX wants to start using its technology to send people to space, then perhaps it will have to boost its success rate a little to bring it in line with these other benchmarks.



NASA’s Apollo missions did a lot more than just land 12 astronauts on the moon. A whole generation watched on as human beings ventured out into a new world for the very first time. Those unprecedented steps fired up the imaginations of countless young people worldwide, many of them turning to careers in science, maths and engineering as a result. But humans have languished in low Earth orbit ever since Apollo 17 departed from the lunar surface in 1972. Yes, we have the International Space Station, but don’t underestimate the power of seeing humans push new boundaries. If private space companies can return people to the moon, or even send them to Mars, their exploits will be beamed around the world in an era now equipped with HD cameras, social media and 24/7 news channels. The inspirational effect of those missions would be unrivalled. Who knows what this generation might be inspired to do next? SpaceX engineers inspect one of the Falcon 9’s interstage sections prior to assembly





In the past, the huge costs of space launches meant only those with the broadest shoulders could afford the astronomical sums involved. That used to mean governments. But governments are funded by taxpayers, many of whom are sceptical about the merits of space exploration when they see more pressing concerns closer to home. SpaceX is blazing a trail for the true commercialisation of space by proving that it can be done well for less. Now other companies are also springing up, looking for a slice of action. Billionaires Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson are already putting their money on the line. The global space industry is growing rapidly, consistently outpacing even the Chinese economy. As a result, companies that were priced out of space before are beginning to think that it might be affordable after all. The fleets of satellites that these companies inexpensively put into orbit will help run innovative new technologies including autonomous vehicles and super-fast internet connections.

 The power behind the Falcon 9 is the Merlin engine, which is built in-house by SpaceX. Nine of these engines are clustered together in the first stage, while the second contains a single Merlin that’s modified to fire in the vacuum of space. The engines burn a mixture of rocket-grade kerosene and liquid oxygen. On a typical launch, the first-stage engines burn for 162 seconds, and the second-stage engine burns for 397 seconds. The powerful Merlin is one of the most efficient engines ever built. Having nine of them in the first stage also offers some built-in safety. On other rockets, if an engine fails during launch, the lost thrust can destroy the payload’s chance of successfully reaching orbit. But the Falcon 9 is designed so that two of the nine Merlin engines in the first stage can fail and the launch won’t be affected. The healthy engines can burn longer, picking up the slack to save the mission.




A Merlin engine being prepared for testing. The Falcon X carries 10 of these engines 39/2018



FA L C O N 9 H OW I T W O R KS The Falcon craft have been a decade in the making. Here’s what you need to know about the rocket and the capsule DRAGON SPACECRAFT


PRESSURISED SECTION Also referred to as the capsule, this is designed to carry both cargo and humans into space.




Partial failure Loss during flight


Loss before launch

2.5 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017

FLIGHTS BY LANDING OUTCOME TRUNK Dragon’s trunk supports the spacecraft during ascent to space, carries unpressurised cargo and houses Dragon’s solar arrays. The trunk and solar arrays remain attached to Dragon until shortly before re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere, when they are jettisoned.


Ground pad success


Drone ship success


Ocean success


Parachutes failure Ground pad failure


Drone ship failure


Ocean failure No attempt 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017


NINE MERLIN ENGINES With its nine first-stage Merlin engines clustered together, Falcon 9 can sustain up to two engine shutdowns during flight and still successfully complete its mission.

FALCON 1 2006-2009



FALCON 9 V1.0 2010-2012

FALCON 9 V1.1 2013-2014





Once the rocket reaches an altitude of around 60km, the Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage – home to nine Merlin engines – falls away from the Dragon spacecraft, just as the Saturn V rockets fell away on the Apollo missions. Unlike the Saturn V, though, the Falcon 9 will return to Earth to be reused on future missions.


As the Dragon spacecraft heads off on its adventures, Falcon 9 first completes a flip manoeuvre to turn around 180°. Then there’s a short engine burn to propel it back towards Earth. As it approaches Earth’s atmosphere, aerodynamic fins are deployed to guide it, after which there’s another very quick ‘entry burn’. Some adroit manoeuvring later, the rocket is ready for its vertical, bottom-first landing.


The second stage of the Falcon 9, which is equipped with a single Merlin engine that’s been modified to fire in the vacuum of space, fires up once the first stage has been jettisoned. It burns for only a little over 6.5 minutes, but that’s enough to propel the Dragon spacecraft on to its final destination.












Space 6


 So far, all launches have taken place from one of three land-based launch sites. However, some landings have taken place out at sea. After five unsuccessful attempts, the first flawless landing on a floating drone ship came in April 2016. This is key because landing at sea requires less fuel than returning to the launch site, and expending less energy in the landing means there’s more energy available to reach a higher orbit. Touching down on water is also safer if anything goes wrong. The two floating barges – Of Course I Still Love You and Just Read The Instructions – are named after spaceships in the Iain M Banks novel The Player Of Games. The former is stationed in the Atlantic Ocean to pick up rockets launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida; the latter in the Pacific to collect missions launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

A Falcon 9 rocket touches down on oneof the two offshore landing platforms 34




 SpaceX has already successfully used its reusable Dragon capsule to deliver cargo to the International Space Station – the first time that was done by a private company. Launched on top of the Falcon 9 rocket, its true purpose is to send people into space. Four windows will provide the lucky astronauts with a stunning view. The next version of Dragon – Dragon 2 – was scheduled to make its first delivery to the ISS in November 2017. It’ll be launched on the new Falcon Heavy rocket, which will also be making its maiden flight. Elon Musk has even announced his intention to send two paying customers around the moon in a Dragon 2 capsule and return them to Earth. Remarkably, he says this will happen in 2018. Given that only one government has ever achieved this feat before, it would be some statement of intent.




Even if two paying punters don’t end up getting sent around the moon in a week-long mission this year, it’s easier to see SpaceX launching tourists into Earth orbit. In the decades to come, travelling into space will become as common as getting on a plane. The first trans-Atlantic flights cost thousands of dollars in today’s money, but now the ocean can be crossed for a few hundred. Similarly, a successful launch of customers into orbit by a private company will generate even more competition and drive down the price for all of us. Don’t be surprised if the children at school now are holidaying in space for a few days later in their lives. For the price of a round-the-world cruise or a top-of-the-range car, they could be looking down on the rest of us from orbit as they float in a Dragon capsule. 39/2018



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It’s no secret that Elon Musk’s ultimate goal is to get people to Mars. However, that feat is leagues ahead of escorting astronauts into Earth orbit. Musk’s vision involves SpaceX’s Interplanetary Transport System (ITS). The aim is to eventually park up to 1,000 spaceships in Earth orbit, each with a crew of 100. They’ll await the optimal window to head for Mars and depart en masse. This happens every 26 months when the gap between the planets is narrowest. Musk’s publicly stated ambition is to get a million people to Mars within the next 50 to 100 years. The Red Planet still presents significant hurdles, however. The radiation exposure on the sixmonth voyage would be unacceptably high, so the crew will need shielding. Slowing down sufficiently to land safely on Mars is a real challenge, too, as is keeping a crew supplied with enough food, water and energy for such a long journey.



There’s a reason why many commentators baulked when Elon Musk announced his vision of a Moonshot as early as 2018. Space travel is still difficult, especially with heavy payloads beyond Earth orbit. NASA managed it in the 1960s and ‘70s, but only by throwing a huge amount of money at the problem. In the years running up to the first moon landing, NASA’s budget was over 4% of US GDP – the largest economy in the world. As a private company, SpaceX’s books are secret, so we don’t know how much money it’s pumping into space exploration or how likely it is that its efforts will ever be profitable. If all goes to schedule, then SpaceX should deliver astronauts to the International Space Station in 2018, and a lot will depend on how that goes. Glitches could put back any subsequent human flights significantly, but it wouldn’t be the first time SpaceX has done something unprecedented. 7


Colin Stuart is a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society. His books include 13 Journeys Through Space And Time, Why Space Matters To Me and Physics In 100 Numbers. 39/2018




WONDERS TO SEE BEFORE YOU DIE Spectacular natural phenomena to add to your bucket list 7 WORDS: JAMIE CARTER



Drive along Iceland’s iconic Ring Road and you’ll pass many enormous glaciers. Inside some of them are glorious ice caves with translucent walls that produce weird light in hundreds of shades of blue. It’s a photographer’s dream. “Most of them [the caves] are formed by water running either through tunnels in the ice, or on the ground underneath the glacier,” says landscape photographer Iurie Belegurschi at Iceland Photo Tours, who takes groups into the ice caves within the vast Vatnajökull glacier in southeastern Iceland. Although there are many ice caves in Iceland, Vatnajökull’s are the most accessible. Safety is still important, though. “It’s safe to visit ice caves from November to March when it’s coldest outside and they’re stable,” says Belegurschi. “But always get a professional, local ice cave guide, who will provide you with all the safety gear and know exactly which caves are safe to enter.” WHERE TO GO: Southeastern Iceland WHEN TO GO: November-March



2. PEER INTO HELL As attractions go, the Darvaza Gas Crater in Turkmenistan’s Karakum Desert is as strange as it is scorching. Back in 1971, Soviet geologists were searching the area for oil fields. Unbeknown to them, they had started their exploratory drilling on top of a cavern filled with natural gas. The ground collapsed, swallowing their equipment and opening up a huge crater. Fearing that toxic gases could harm local people, it was set on fire. This is called ‘flaring’, and is a familiar way of dealing with such a problem. But it backfired at Darvaza. Instead of burning for the expected two weeks, it’s been blazing non-stop ever since it was ignited. At around 60 x 20m, the largest crater is now a tourist attraction, which is referred to as the ‘Gates to Hell’. It’s best visited from Ashgabat, the country’s capital, about 250km south. Take an organised tour, specifically one that visits the crater at night when it’s at its most spectacular. WHERE TO GO: Karakum Desert, Turkmenistan WHEN TO GO: Anytime

3. WATCH A TOTAL SOLAR ECLIPSE Solar eclipses happen somewhere on Earth every 18 months. The spectacle is brief, but dramatic. “The sky suddenly darkens, and if you’re watching with eclipse glasses you will see the crescent of the sun rapidly shrink and break up into a series of beads,” says eclipse cartographer Michael Zeiler. “Then you see a beautiful diamond ring around the Moon.” Moments later, the sun’s corona – its super-heated outer atmosphere – appears as an ice-white halo. To catch the next one, head out to Chile or Argentina for 2 July 2019.  WHERE TO GO: Chile WHEN TO GO: 2 July 2019 39/2018


Visual 4. GAZE AT LIQUID FIRE “So you’re walking through a valley and all of a sudden a waterfall catches on fire,” says photographer Dave Gordon. He is speaking about a phenomenon that takes place in Yosemite Valley’s Horsetail Falls during late February, when light from the setting sun causes the flowing water to glow yellow, orange and red, mimicking fire. “It occurs once a year, for a few days in a row, each lasting mere minutes,” says Gordon. “So in total your chance of seeing a Yosemite waterfall turn into what looks like lava, or flowing fire, is about 60 minutes per year.” The spectacle relies on many things: the angle of the sun as it sets, recent rainfall levels that feed the waterfall, and a clear sky. “There is something spiritual in being able to visually witness the astrophysics of our solar system play out,” says Gordon. “How many points in time had to line up perfectly to make this exact moment happen? It’s nature at its absolute best.” Yosemite National Park also happens to be one of the most photogenic locations on the planet, making the Horsetail Falls phenomenon a favourite for photographers, so expect a stake-out if conditions are right. WHERE TO GO: Yosemite National Park, California WHEN TO GO: Late February




5. CHASE STORMS IN TORNADO ALLEY “I’ve been a storm chaser and spotter since I was little,” says Nicholas Langley from the group Tornado Alley Chasers and Spotters. “I would sit outside my house in Tennessee watching storms roll in. It fascinates me how clouds can form out of thin air, then explode into monster supercells.” A tornado is caused by updraughts and downdraughts of unstable air during a thunderstorm, when a wind shear tilts to form an upright vortex. However, storm chasing comes with huge risks, particularly traffic accidents. “You get tunnel vision out there and you don’t see the surrounding area – you just see the tornado,” he says. Tornado Alley is generally regarded to include the US states of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. Tornadoes are typically active in those states between March and late-May. Other areas of the world where violent tornadoes are frequent include an area of the Pampas lowlands in Argentina, Paraguay and southern Brazil, and coastal Bangladesh on the Bay of Bengal. WHERE TO GO: Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas or Nebraska BEST TIME TO GO: March-May

6. SEE COLOURFUL LIGHTS IN THE NIGHT SKY The Northern Lights are more familiar, but the Southern Lights are well worth a visit too. “Dunedin in New Zealand is probably the easiest place to go if you want to see the Southern Lights, but it’s only got about as much chance as northern Scotland or England,” says Dr Melanie Windridge, author of Aurora: In Search Of The Northern Lights. Other good locations include Ushuaia, South Georgia Island, the Falkland Islands and Antarctica. “The trouble with the Southern Lights is that they happen mainly over the ocean or in Antarctica,” says Windridge. Auroras occur when charged particles emanating from the sun strike atoms in Earth’s atmosphere, causing the electrons of the atoms to move to a higher-energy state. “When they hit oxygen they emit green, and also red higher up, while nitrogen emits blue and purple colours,” says Windridge. WHERE TO GO: Dunedin, New Zealand WHEN TO GO: March-September 39/2018








The rise of the internet has transformed hacking into an opportunity for crime, activism and political interference. So who are the hackers and can they be stopped? 7 TEXT: CHRIS HALL



uropean politics was busy in 2016, with Austria, the Netherlands, France and the UK all heading to the polls. Each one of these elections was preceded by fears that hostile powers, acting online, would seek to manipulate the outcome of the elections. These fears came closest to being realised in France, where eventual winner Emmanuel Macron and his En Marche! party were victim to a 9GB leak of emails just 48 hours before the voting took place. Things are little different across the Atlantic, with four legislative committees, as well as the FBI, investigating alleged Russian influence over the US election, including the hacking of Hillary Clinton’s emails. In the UK, hacking was in the news when the WannaCry ransomware worm crippled computer systems in 40 NHS hospitals in May 2017. In the wake of each attack, politicians spoke urgently of a need to ‘regulate’ the internet. Across the West, our democracy and our freedom are under sustained attack, and at the heart of the battle is our grasp on technology. Maybe that sounds like hyperbole, or even the stuff of a movie trailer. Well, consider this: the average person in the UK spends 25 hours a week online and has between 27 and 40 online accounts. There were set to be 8.4 billion connected devices in the world by the end of 2017 – 20 billion by

2020 – and in the US alone there were more than 1,000 recorded data breaches in 2017. Hacking isn’t just about pinching passwords any more: the geeks have truly inherited the Earth. “There’s no question that there is more malware now than there has ever been,” says David Emms, principal security researcher at antivirus and internet security specialists Kaspersky Labs. “And the volume is growing massively.

We analyse a million objects [of malicious code] per day in our virus lab, and more than 60% of our detections are of code that has never been seen before.”

A Cybercrime

Such a proliferation of threats is undeniably concerning, but also hard to grasp. One reason the subject of hacking can feel so nebulous is that the term covers a multitude of sins.

There are allegations that Russian hackers interfered with the US electoral system. Some claim this led to the defeat of Hillary Clinton in 2016’s election



Technology for payments). And the attack was relatively easily halted by a security researcher who inadvertently realised that by registering a domain name found within the malware, he activated a built-in ‘kill switch’. This doesn’t tally with the sophistication of the tools that were used in the attack, or the capabilities of those alleged to be behind it (some have pointed the finger at North Korea). So how did we get to a point where hackers can rob and extort with impunity, and – if analysis is to be believed – nations such as Russia or North Korea can interfere in political campaigns? Russian president Vladimir Putin came close to conceding that Russian elements could be behind recent political hacks. “If

“Stolen user data is bundled up and traded on the dark web, while compromised machines join sprawling botnets to be unwittingly used in bringing down large targets”

/TYPES OF HACK Don’t know your Trojan from your worm? Brush up on your hacker lingo here



Hackers targeted Emmanuel Macron just 48 hours before French voters were due to go to the polls – he still beat his rival Marine Le Pen to become president of France


Most malware tends to be either a virus or a worm. The difference comes down to the software’s ability to propagate. Like their biological namesakes, computer viruses require a host body, whereas worms can spread from one machine to the next unaided.


Short for distributed denial of service, a DDOS attack is basic yet effective. It works on the principle that if a website’s DNS server can be overwhelmed by traffic requests, the site will crash. Hackers run botnets – networks of zombie computers or devices – to besiege a server from multiple fronts simultaneously.


Cybercrime attacks can be serious offences such as theft, extortion, espionage, libel or fraud, but they can also be low-level nuisance behaviour. Where this comparison with real-world crime differs is that every hack and every leak can feed into greater crimes. For example, stolen user data can be bundled up and traded on the dark web (the dark web refers to encrypted sites that cannot be found using standard browsers or search engines), while compromised machines join sprawling botnets to be unwittingly used in bringing down large targets. Let’s take a look at the NHS ransomware attack as an example. It was carried out using tools leaked online by nefarious group the Shadow Brokers. The tools were recognised by the international security community as hailing from the NSA’s Equation Group cyberwarfare team. They contained a number of ‘zero-day exploits’, which could be used to gain access to computers running Microsoft operating systems from Windows 2000 to Windows 8. The toolkit – known as Eternal Blue – exposed a multitude of vulnerabilities and made it child’s play for the perpetrators to spread the WannaCry ransomware around the world. Where it gets murkier is when you start to consider the motive for the WannaCry attack. It would seem to be financial, yet relatively little cash was paid out – just R1.7 million worldwide (this was easy to track, thanks to the open nature of the Bitcoin transactions that were used


As its name suggests, a Trojan is a form of malware that sneaks into your computer under an innocuous guise (like an email attachment). Its cargo can be any form of malware. A Trojan’s specific ability is getting in, then leaving a backdoor open for others to follow undetected.


This subset of malware made the headlines for the WannaCry attack, but has been around since at least 2012. It searches for important files, encrypts them and demands a ransom (usually paid in Bitcoin) for their safe return. In some cases, the ransomware can lock down a machine rather than specific files.


An evolution of phishing (the spelling harks right back to early phone-based hacking, or ‘phreaking’), spear-phishing is more direct, and consists of targeted campaigns, usually over email, to spread malware in a particular network or company. The messages sent out would be laden with Trojans.




/THE BIGGEST HACKS IN RECENT MEMORY MACRON EMAIL LEAK Just 48 hours before the run-off poll between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen, a 9GB cache of emails from Macron’s En Marche! party was posted on PasteBin, a file-sharing platform. They were spread to WikiLeaks. “The attacks were so simple and generic that it could have been practically anyone,” France’s cybersecurity chief said.

BANGLADESH BANK HEIST In February 2016, hackers got the login credentials used by Bangladesh Central Bank for the international banking transfer system SWIFT. They tried to transfer R12.5 billion to accounts in Sri Lanka and the Philippines. Most transactions were flagged, but R1.3 billion was removed. A Trojan known as Dridex was used, which hides in MS Word or Excel attachments.

WANNACRY ATTACK On 12 May 2017, a global ransomware attack affected more than 230,000 computers, including PCs in the NHS, FedEx and Deutsche Bahn. The malware was leaked from the NSA, and targeted machines running Windows XP and Windows 2003. The attack yielded just over R1.6 million in payments and caused considerable upheaval.

YAHOO! BREACH In 2016, Yahoo! was forced to confirm that its systems had been breached twice, in 2013 and 2014, resulting in the loss of more than a billion users’ personal information, including passwords. The hackers used fake browser cookies that allowed them to dupe the site’s login systems. To date, it is the largest loss of customer data by any single company.

CHIPOTLE ATTACK The Mexican restaurant chain, which has more than 2,250 outlets in the USA, reported that if you paid with a credit card between 24 March and 17 April 2017, your credit card details had almost certainly been obtained by hackers. The attack vector has not been confirmed, but the malware involved allegedly read the card data directly from the machines as they took payment.



hackers are patriotically minded, they start to make their own contribution to what they believe is the good fight against those who speak badly about Russia,” he said in a recent interview. (Those with longer memories will point out that interfering in the elections of satellite states was a favourite activity of the US during the 1980s – it just wasn’t done online.)

smart home technology reaches a tipping point, and the weaknesses are there to be exploited. “Companies who have never had to think about internet security in the context of standalone products wake up to the need for security when they add Internet of Things functionality,” says David Harley, a security consultant and chief operations officer for the AntiVirus Information Exchange

Network. Although, he adds, the smart home’s sheer scale could also act in its favour. “Because of the wide diversification of brands, technologies and devices, the scope of an individual attack may be comparatively restricted.” Restricted or not, there is the potential for some creatively unpleasant hacking. “Imagine a ransomware attack linked to your heating system!” says Emms. PHOTOS: GETTY X3, ALAMY X2, SHUTTERSTOCK

One side of the answer is the exposure of people to the internet. As the Internet of Things grows, we are adding ‘attack vectors’ to our lives. We are opening more and more doors for hackers to walk through. “Smart home technology has not yet been universally adopted, so attackers don’t have much to gain from it other than nuisance value,” explains Emms. But that may soon change when

‘Hactivist’ group Anonymous tends to attack religious and political groups, and large corporations. Many members opt to wear the stylised Guy Fawkes mask

So, you don’t have to worry about someone hacking into your smart kettle – yet. But that’s only because there are easier ways for criminals to get what they want, whether that’s by simply buying leaked data, sending out a few thousand phishing emails, or exploiting existing vulnerabilities that go unfixed by users who neglect to update their software.

A Blame game

But we can’t place all the blame on lazy individuals or companies. The majority of security researchers concur that without punishment, crime is allowed to flourish. “It is a myth to think criminals have some magical edge,” says Stephen Cobb, senior security researcher at antivirus specialists ESET. “Right now it appears that way with cybercriminals because of the massive failure of governments to mobilise international law enforcement. How many culprits involved in watershed breaches have been brought to justice? Clearly, not enough to deter new entrants to the field.” But who are these hackers anyway? The security community is generally cagey about attributing attacks to certain groups or countries, seeing it as the responsibility of law enforcement to act on their pure analysis of the code. Nonetheless, the anonymity offered by the internet makes it hard to be certain. The few major hacking groups that are known to security researchers are the exception, not the rule, and their actual membership can be even harder to pin down. Cal Leeming gained notoriety as the UK’s youngest convicted hacker in 2007. According to Leeming, his natural talent was “given a bit too much freedom”. He was carrying out illegal attacks at the age of 12, then in 2006 he was sentenced for using stolen credit card data to buy R13.5 million worth of goods. Now running his own security consultancy for high net worth individuals, he laughs when asked if hackers really fit people’s image of them. “Stereotypes do generally exist for a reason,” he says. Still, he doesn’t quite live up to these 39/2018



/THE BIG PLAYERS Who are the most notorious hacking groups out there and what do they want?

FANCY BEAR Also known by a myriad of aliases including Sofacy, APT28 and Pawn Storm, this highly capable group is widely believed to operate with at least the tacit approval of the Russian government. It has claimed responsibility for attacks on NATO, the White House, the French election, the DNC and German parliament.







This group is known for the attacks on Sony Pictures and the Bangladesh Central Bank in 2014 and 2016, respectively. The Lazarus Group is also thought to have attacked the South Korean government between 2007 and 2013. Specialising in financial attacks and espionage, the group has been linked by researchers and the media to the North Korean regime, albeit not conclusively.

One of the newest groups to emerge, Shadow Brokers published leaked hacking tools from the NSA in summer 2016, with the possible assistance of a former military contractor at Booz Allen Hamilton. Little is known about the group’s identity or motives, but there is speculation that the leak’s main purpose is to send a message of mutually assured destruction if the US were to retaliate for the group’s hacks on the Democratic National Committee in 2015 and 2016.

The UCC, also referred to as the Islamic State Hacking Division, refers loosely to all groups claiming to further the ideology of ISIS. Yet it is not known how co-ordinated it is with others, such as the Tunisian group that claimed responsibility for an attack on the NHS in February. The group has attacked American, British and Australian targets.

Classed as one of the most advanced threats by security companies, the Equation Group (named for the complexity of its encryption) is commonly believed to be affiliated to the NSA and has been particularly involved in cyberattacks across the Middle East. One such attack was the Stuxnet worm, which destabilised Iranian nuclear centrifuges.


stereotypes, as his childhood hacking was born of a need to support his family rather than a desire for mischief. “Back when I started, it really was the Wild West out there. And there was an innocence to it. When groups of us met in chatrooms, we didn’t really realise we were creating criminal gangs. I used to think the internet should be totally free, no rules, everything goes,” he explains. “But we have got to a point where the internet, and anonymity in particular, has brought out the very worst in our culture. It has brought out the best too, but we have become desensitised to how awfully we’re treating each other.” As an emerging hacker, Leeming lacked guidance but also felt that the law was too heavy-handed.

“It has criminalised school-kid mischief,” he says. He cites the tendency of small crimes to turn into bigger ones. “We need people who can interact with those kinds of young adults – people who otherwise develop no grasp of ethics or personal responsibility.” However, the general consensus among experts is that hackers and hacking are something we need to accept will never disappear, yet that doesn’t mean we have to give up the fight.  “There will always be some level of criminal hacking, but it is possible to improve human behaviour. For example, there’s a lot less crime in America and the UK today than there was 25 years ago, and not because all the criminals have gone online,” says Cobb.

When the diagnosis is as allencompassing as a global issue like cybercrime, so the prescriptions are going to be pretty far-reaching. For David Emms at Kaspersky, it’s an education issue. “Cyberattacks are so often reliant on humans and their mistakes, so big businesses could go a long way towards dealing with the problem by focusing more on a culture of awareness and developing education,” he says. “It’s like parenting: you can’t expect to tell your kids to do something once and they’ll never do it again. It’s a longer-term process.” However, there’s no question that serious vulnerabilities remain. “I think the big tech companies need to take a step back and realise that their future profits are in

serious jeopardy if we don’t improve cybersecurity across the board,” says Cobb. “There are massive tech companies sitting on billions in cash and I would argue a chunk of that cash came from the corner-cutting we have done so far.” But that doesn’t mean it’s all doom and gloom. It’s a glorifying myth, says Harley, to think of it as ‘genius hackers versus plodding security companies’. Instead, if we think of hackers like ordinary criminals and guard against them in the same way, then there’s no reason why society, including the public, the media, companies and governments, cannot keep cybercrime under control. 7

“The big tech companies need to take a step back and realise that their future profits are in serious jeopardy if we don’t improve cybersecurity across the board” 39/2018



MICROGREENS … MACRO-IMPACT! Tiny plants are so much more than just a culinary garnish 7 TEXT: DR BIANKE LOEDOLFF



hristopher Columbus once coined the term ‘superfood’ to describe food items that presumably had superior health qualities beyond the traditional ‘apple a day’ concept. His sentiments echoed those of Hippocrates, the Greek physician who said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” What on earth do Columbus and Hippocrates have in common? They both believed in the superior health benefits that fresh produce can have on the human body. These include



our daily regimen of fruits and vegetables, which are rich in phytochemicals – plant-derived bioactive chemicals that are beneficial to humans beyond the basic nutritional value of food. These phytochemicals serve as antioxidants, which protect our cells from the damage caused by free radicals (chemicals that cause severe cellular damage if left unchecked). These free radicals are very unstable chemicals that oxidise macromolecules (DNA, proteins and lipids) in the human body, and have been linked to the

onset of noncommunicable diseases like cancer, diabetes, heart diseases and strokes. A Natural supplements

Although the daily consumption of fresh produce is enough to sustain basic health and well-being, it is not always enough to reach the desired protective effects from antioxidants, leading us to turn to pharmaceutical supplements. Furthermore, to obtain these protective effects from antioxidants, we need to eat fresh produce uncooked, which is often

an unpalatable experience. Microgreens, a popular gourmet garnish, are immature plants with two to four leaves (not to be confused with germinated seedlings called sprouts) and contain up to 100 times more phytochemical content than mature plants. The good news is that microgreens pack a flavourful punch and are not as fibrous and hard to chew as more mature vegetables, which make these little plants ideal as a fresh, non-pharmaceutical ‘supplement’ to our daily regimen.

Plants have the ability to regulate the amount of phytochemicals they produce, depending on the growing conditions. Manipulating the growing conditions (by making it more stressful with controlled UV light exposure) results in microgreens accumulating much more phytochemicals. These phytochemicals are analysed in the laboratory for their total antioxidant capacity (TAC) using the CUPRAC method (which, it has been suggested, could potentially be used in the future to standardise ‘total antioxidant’ as a nutritional index available for food labelling). This method determines the TAC directly from fresh fruit and vegetable extracts – juices similar to that obtained after chewing – by measuring the ability of phytochemicals to keep the free-radical chemicals stable within our bodies. Subsequently, the extracted phytochemicals are used to demonstrate their ability to protect DNA from free-radical damage. A Locking up free radicals

DNA is extremely susceptible to oxidative damage and more

laboratory work is required to validate the benefits of eating these microgreens. Exposing human DNA in vitro (in a test tube) to hydrogen peroxide, a free-radical chemical, results in severe oxidative damage of the DNA, creating a state of disease similar to that of a cancerous tumour. If the DNA is mixed with the microgreen phytochemicals before exposing it to hydrogen peroxide, the damage does not occur and results in complete protection of DNA, which is left healthy. This type of free-radical protection is a promising and attractive health feature in microgreens that we could all benefit from. Once these TAC analyses and DNA-protection assays are finalised, the microgreen phytochemicals are taken into the medical arena, where tests are conducted on actual cancer cells. A cancer cell, or tumour development, is a devastating outcome of the effects of oxidative damage. In the laboratory, we test for the ability of these phytochemicals (extracted from whole microgreens) to induce apoptosis, a kind of programmed

cell death, to stop cancer cell development. Research efforts studying the effects of phytochemicals on cancer cell development have largely focused on single chemicals identified within plant extracts. Phytochemicals should not be considered as an isolated island and are often required to work with other chemicals to provide protection from the damaging effects caused by free radicals. This synergistic effect is achieved through the consumption of whole, raw, fresh foods (such as microgreens). You’re ‘extracting’ value from your leafy greens by chewing them! The microgreen extracts are further analysed to identify specific phytochemicals and the current research has already led to the discovery of novel DNA-protecting phytochemicals accumulating in wild rocket microgreens. In our current health-conscious society, we are continuously seeking for the best and healthiest alternatives when it comes to food. Through critical research efforts into the health benefits of microgreens, we are now able to provide more than anecdotal

evidence. This research takes the microgreen concept beyond the realm of culinary novelty and places it into a recognised scientific paradigm of nutrition and its use as functional foods. These foods are considered to benefit human health and well-being, beyond basic vitamin and mineral nutritional requirements, by preventing the onset of non-communicable diseases. Including microgreens in our diet might be just what we need to realise the words and thoughts of Hippocrates and Columbus in the 21st Century. Microgreens are tiny, tasty, antioxidant-rich plants and a little goes a long way – consider them a ‘designer’ functional food! 7 Dr Bianke Loedolff leads a team of researchers at Stellenbosch University who investigate the potential benefits of microgreens from common leafy salad greens (like wild rocket) that we consume on a daily basis




THIS IS WHY It’s the subject of TV shows, a focus at parties and a get-fit trend. But why are we such dance-lovers? Science might just have the answers … 7 TEXT: DR PETER LOVATT








ancing is in our DNA. It is found in every culture around the world throughout history, and is enjoyed by people of every age, from toddlers to the elderly. From a scientific perspective, dance is an important human activity. Actually, from any perspective, dance is an important human activity. It’s important for enjoyment, for interpersonal communication, for social bonding and for our general health and well-being as well. Scientists have long been interested in dance because it can tell us about our innate responses to music, about why some people get dizzy and others don’t, about how we find a mate and about the very essence of being human. Dance is something that only we can do (no animals on the planet can dance creatively like us), and which every human being is equipped for. If you love to dance, welcome to the club. Now let’s find out why we dance …

A Boogie brains

It all begins in our brains. The human brain is specialised for the control of movement – it needs to be, in order to manipulate our 600-plus muscles. The motor cortex, located at the rear of the frontal lobe, is involved in the planning, control and execution of voluntary movements. Meanwhile, the basal ganglia, a set of structures deep within the brain, works with the motor cortex to trigger wellco-ordinated movements, and may also act as a filter by blocking out unsuitable movements, such as that ill-advised funky chicken. The cerebellum, at the back of the skull, also performs several roles, including integrating information from our senses so that our movements are perfectly fluid and precise. Just lifting a cup of tea to our mouths involves an unimaginably complicated sequence of nerve impulses, so how can our brains cope with a full-blown dance routine? In 2006, researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio asked amateur tango dancers to 54


perform a basic dance step known as a ‘box step’ while lying in a PET (positron emission tomography) scanner. The researchers saw activation in a region of the brain called the precuneus, which is associated with spatial perception. They suggest that this region creates a map of our body’s positioning in space, helping us to keep track of our torso and flailing limbs as we plot our path across the dance floor. Of course, dancing also tends to involve music. By comparing the tango dancers’ brain scans both with and without music,

the researchers noticed that those performing to music had more activity in a particular region of the cerebellum called the anterior vermis, which receives input from the spinal cord. It might be that this region of the brain acts as a kind of neurological metronome, co-ordinating our different brain areas and helping us to keep time to a beat.

A growing body of research suggests we are born to dance. Why else would we make ourselves look so ridiculous at school discos or the office party?

Bulgarian cave paintings dating back to the Bronze Age appear to depict ritualistic dancing Just like any activity, the more we dance, the better we get, as new neural connections are forged and strengthened. What’s more, it seems that our brains may even reward us for having a good boogie. Music has been shown to activate the reward centres in the brain, and some motor areas are also connected to reward-related regions, so dancing can give us

the satisfaction of feeling good. It’s part of a virtuous circle: we generate rhythm, we move to it, we feel great, we do it some more. Let the good times roll …

A Born to bop?

We still don’t know for sure whether humans have evolved an innate instinct to dance, or whether dancing is a learned social activity. Nevertheless, a



growing body of research suggests that we are indeed born to dance. Why else would we make ourselves look so ridiculous at school discos or the work Christmas party, when we’re desperately trying to impress someone? To investigate whether dancing is an innate activity, researchers need to look at three factors. First, do humans show an

he concept of dad T dancing gets a bad press. Even its dictionary

definition is disparaging: “Awkward or unfashionable dancing to pop music, as characteristically performed by middle-aged or older men.” In 2011, I carried out a survey of almost 14,000 people (including over 8,000 men), looking at dance confidence and dancing styles at different ages. I found that men’s dancing confidence typically starts at a very low level in the early teens, steadily increasing with age, peaking and plateauing in the mid-to-late thirties before coming down again after 40. At the same

inclination to dance – a natural tendency, or an urge? Second, is dancing automatic – or, are people able to dance without being taught? And finally, is dancing universal? Do people from all parts of the world display dance-based behaviour? This last one is easy: dance is truly universal, both in time and place. Anthropologists have shown that dance-like

time, their freestyle dance movements tend to become larger, less co-ordinated and more random the older they get. Eventually, it’s like they’re dancing to music that only they can hear. This slightly awkward dancing style may be evolution’s way of signalling reduced testosterone levels, warning younger women that the dancer is past his sexual prime and that they might be better off looking elsewhere. But men, don’t let any negativity put you off. The benefits of dancing are enormous. In the name of science, we should reclaim dad dancing, rebrand it and embrace it. 39/2018





1. IT BOOSTS SELF-ESTEEM Several studies have shown that dancing can help to increase feelings of self-worth. In one 2007 study, researchers from Laban and Hampshire Dance found that children aged between 11 and 14 who took part in creative movement classes reported improved self-esteem, motivation and more positive attitudes towards dance, as well as better physical fitness.

2. IT HELPS YOU FIND A MATE It was Charles Darwin who suggested that dancing can act as a form of sexual selection, and research suggests that we are indeed communicating to potential mates when we strut our stuff. A 2011 study asked women to rate men on their dancing prowess. The winning formula? Head shaking, torso bending and twisting of the right knee, apparently.

3. IT TACKLES DEPRESSION Dancing has been shown to reduce feelings of depression. But different dancing styles have different effects. In a study led by Andrew Lane at the University of Wolverhampton, dancing characterised by relaxed, free-flowing movements helped to improve mood, whereas dancing in a physically contracted way had the opposite effect.

Flash mobs aren’t just good fun, they may help participants to bond too

Just five minutes of freestyle dancing is enough to increase your creativity, according to researchers at Sheffield and York Universities. In 2014, participants were asked to dance, cycle or sit quietly while listening to music, and it was the dancers who showed improvements in both mood and creative problem-solving.

5. IT RELIEVES PAIN Rugby is a tough game played by tough people. But some rugby players will dance before a game – just think of the New Zealand team’s haka. In 2015, researchers at the University of Oxford found that group dancing can increase a person’s threshold for pain. Dancing, it seems, can release endorphins, helping to take the sting out of a full-contact tackle. As with any intense physical activity, dancing can also release endorphins – the feel-good, pain-relieving brain chemicals responsible for the so-called ‘runner’s high’.



Toyi-toyi: action and activism

ancing is often just for D fun, but the toyi-toyi is an African dance forever linked to protest marches (though it is also used in celebratory scenarios). ■ It begins with high-kneed jogging on the spot. ■ The left arm is raised in a defensive position as though holding a shield.

■ The right arm is extended above the head and moved back and forth as though stabbing with an imaginary spear. ■ The music used should help keep the tempo of the toyi-toyi high, though if it’s too complex, it may get in the way of the dancers clearly communicating their message.



Grab your friends and have a dance if you want to enjoy a social high behaviour dates back thousands of years. Early Bronze Age paintings in the Magura Cave in Bulgaria appear to depict a fertility dance, while dancing was an important part of life in Ancient Greece and Egypt. Dance has played multiple roles throughout history, in religious ceremonies, rituals and festivals, and as a way to heal, entertain and tell stories. It might even have served as an early form of language. Meanwhile, there’s also evidence that dancing is both a natural urge and an automatic behaviour. In 2009, researchers led by István Winkler at the Hungarian Academy of Scientists showed that babies as young as two days old are able to detect a simple beat. When the babies heard a missing downbeat, their neural activity suggested that they were expecting the downbeat to be present – so newborn babies

appear to have an innate sense of rhythm. In a separate study in 2010, Marcel Zentner and Tuomas Eerola showed that older babies make more rhythmic body movements in response to music than they do to human speech, and some even speed up their movements when the tempo is ramped up. The evidence all suggests that humans are hardwired to boogie.

A Dancing for joy

If our brains are primed for dancing, it’s no surprise that we love to get our groove on. But there’s another reason, too: it’s a fantastic mood enhancer. I’ve been drunk on disco, made merry by a merengue and felt the euphoria of dancing in a hot, sweaty nightclub. And it seems that everyone can experience that euphoria: Zentner and Eerola even found that their baby subjects smiled as they moved to the rhythm. The more they

moved, the more they smiled. So why does dancing make us feel better? It might be because as we move together in response to music, we also move in response to each other’s rhythms, helping us to form a social bond. It’s one of the reasons why we love music festivals. A 2010 study by Sebastian Kirschner and Michael Tomasello at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology showed that after a session of paired music-making, four-yearold children were more likely to behave co-operatively and helpfully. Music and dancing act as a kind of social lubricant, helping us to bond and form positive relationships. As with any intense physical activity, dancing can also release endorphins – the feel-good, pain-relieving brain chemicals responsible for the so-called ‘runner’s high’. In fact, Bronwyn Tarr and

colleagues at the University of Oxford have found that just dancing in time with someone might be enough to release these neurohormones into the bloodstream. They asked Brazilian high school students to dance in groups of three to fast-paced music, finding that those who synchronised their movements had an increased pain threshold (as measured by inflating a blood pressure cuff around their arm). This suggests that there were more endorphins in these dancers’ bodies, so the researchers speculate that we might get a social ‘high’ from dancing with others. That would explain flash mobs, at least. Dance is one of the most important activities we can do. We are born to groove. It’s what our brains are wired for and it helps us bond. Dancing is good for you. 7 39/2018


Q&A CRISPR Questions & Answers

Who really discovered CRISPR?

Nolwazi Khoza, Randburg


esearch clearly shows that physical exercise can reduce stress and anxiety, but it’s less clear how this occurs. Multiple mechanisms are likely to be important. Exercise can help to reduce the body’s response to stress by boosting serotonin levels in the brain. It can also give us a sense of achievement and increase our self-esteem, which can provide psychological routes by which to reduce stress. Finally, research shows that exercise in moderate amounts and at appropriate times of the day can improve our sleep. Good sleep quality can help us to regulate our emotions and therefore provides another way in which physical exercise helps to reduce stress.



How does physical exercise help reduce stress?


Aspirin was originally made from willow bark. A The manchineel tree, found in Mexico and many Caribbean countries, is covered in a sap that can cause blistered skin if touched.



ailed as the biggest breakthrough in genetic science this century, CRISPR is shorthand for a molecular toolkit that allows scientists to make precise changes to the genetic code of living organisms. Strictly speaking, the acronym stands for ‘clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats’, a pattern in the DNA of bacteria first noticed in 1987. For years the role of this pattern was mysterious, but in the mid-2000s clues emerged that suggested it was part of the antivirus defence system of bacteria. Studies showed bacteria took sections of a virus’s DNA and built it into their own genome using an enzyme codenamed Cas. The resulting CRISPR sequences then allowed the bacteria to detect an attack and fight back. But the key breakthrough came in 2012, when teams in the US and Europe led by Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier showed how the defence system could be turned into a ‘cut and paste’ tool for editing gene sequences. However, another US team beat them to a patent for using the method on human cells, sparking a legal row over priority – and last February, the US patent office ruled against Doudna and Charpentier. Despite this, they remain widely credited as the real pioneers of CRISPR by fellow scientists.



Do trees reduce air pollution levels? Gill Elliott, Rustenburg


he relationship between trees and air pollution is a complicated one. Particulate matter suspended in polluted air tends to settle onto leaves, and certain gases, including nitrous dioxide (NO 2), are absorbed by leaves’ stomata, filtering the air and reducing pollution levels slightly. But trees and other vegetation also restrict airflow in their

immediate vicinity, preventing pollution from being diluted by currents of cleaner air. In particular, tall trees with thick canopies planted alongside busy roads can act like a roof, trapping pockets of polluted air at ground level. To reliably improve air quality, city planners need to give careful consideration to how trees are placed.



Altering perceptions his creepy-looking robot, called Alter, was designed by scientists in T Japan. The robot is connected to electronic sensors that detect minute changes in the environment. These differences in temperature, humidity or other elements influence the robot’s movements, which are controlled by a brain-like neural network without any input from humans.Â




Your digestive system is home to a ‘second brain’, the enteric nervous system, that may affect mental processes such as mood 60


MEET YOUR SECOND BRAIN Decision-making, mood, disease … researchers are discovering that the phrase ‘trust your gut’ is scientifically accurate 7 WORDS: ROBERT MATTHEWS



ou’re facing a big decision – whether that’s to go into a business partnership with a friend, say, or put money into a promising new idea. It’s a tough call, as there are very few hard facts to go on. So it’s time to use your second brain. Don’t worry, you’ve probably used your second brain countless times before; it’s just that when you did, you more likely referred to it as ‘gut instinct’. New research is showing that this age-old phrase is surprisingly accurate. We really do have a second brain that influences our judgement, and much else besides. Known as the enteric nervous system (ENS) – enteric meaning ‘to do with intestines’ – it’s an extensive network of brain-like neurons and neurotransmitters wrapped in and around our gut. Most of the time, we’re unaware of its existence, as its prime function is what one would expect: managing digestion. Yet

the presence of all that brainlike complexity is no coincidence. The ENS is in constant communication with the brain in our skull via the body’s own information superhighway – the vagus nerve. And it’s now becoming clear that all those signals flowing back and forth can influence our decisions, mood and general well-being. “Your gut has capabilities that surpass all your other organs, and even rival your brain,” says ENS specialist Dr Emeran Mayer of the University of California, Los Angeles, who is author of a new account of the science of the ENS, The Mind-Gut Connection. “This second brain is made up of 50 to 100 million nerve cells, as many as are contained in your spinal cord.” Researchers worldwide are now racing to explore the implications. The results are revealing the key role of the ENS in everyday health – and also what happens when it

malfunctions. Links are emerging between the ENS and a host of disorders ranging from obesity and clinical depression to rheumatoid arthritis and even Parkinson’s disease. That, in turn, is opening up new approaches to treating these conditions, with some quite promising results already appearing.

A Glorious guts

The ENS and the brain-gut connection look set to become a major focus for 21st-Century medicine. Yet the first hints of its importance actually emerged over a century ago, when researchers began making some strange discoveries about our digestive system. Experiments by British doctors on animal organs revealed that the stomach and intestines have the bizarre ability to work autonomously, processing food even after they’ve been removed from the rest of the body. The ENS, it seemed, was




The enteric nervous system (ENS) centres on the vagus nerve and the digestive tract

Stimulating the vagus nerve externally via an ear clip can help with depression




Around 80% of the vagus nerve is dedicated to reporting information to the brain. Suddenly, the idea of having a ‘gut instinct’ no longer seems so ridiculous

clearly far more sophisticated than just a bag of nerves surrounding various organs, though the reason for its complexity was far from clear. Then in the 1980s, researchers made another startling discovery: the ENS is awash with neurotransmitters, the biochemicals that are vital to brain activity. By the late 1990s, researchers began talking of the ENS as the body’s second brain. That led to some misconceptions, says Mayer: “There was a lot of hype around the idea that the ENS may be the seat of our unconscious mind.” The reality is more nuanced and involves another of the key targets of current medical research: the microbiome. This vast array of bacteria, viruses and other organisms is found throughout the body, but the biggest and most diverse collection is in the gut. Like the ENS, these microbes are principally focused on the complex business of dealing with digestion. But their behaviour in the gut is constantly monitored by the ENS, and the information is relayed via the vagus nerve straight to the brain. A clue to the key role the state of our gut plays in our well-being comes from the fact that around 80% of the vagus nerve is dedicated to reporting

information to the brain. Suddenly, the idea of having a ‘gut instinct’ no longer seems so ridiculous. We’ve all experienced sensations like queasiness and butterflies when faced with challenges, or felt ‘sick to the stomach’ when things don’t go well. According to Mayer, the brain labels memories of such situations with the effect they had on our gut. The result is a rapid-access library that helps assess new challenges based – literally – on gut feeling rather than conscious, rational thought. That’s not to say you should always go with your gut. “The quality, accuracy and underlying biases of this gut-brain dialogue vary between different individuals,” says Mayer. While fast, its response can also be warped by other life events or even what you ate. And sometimes it’s just plain wrong. Faced with a huge financial decision, cool-headed analysis is a better bet than a snap gut decision.


Cerebellum Medulla vagus nerve

A Electric feel

It’s becoming increasingly clear that the ENS influences our brain at deeper, more subtle levels as well. Evidence is emerging that the ENS influences our mood, and even plays a role in depression. Exactly how it does this is still unclear, but researchers are currently focusing their efforts on one of the many neurotransmitters that are found in the ENS: serotonin. Imbalances in serotonin have been implicated in depression for a long time, which is why it is the target of many drugs that have been developed to treat the condition, such as Prozac. Yet around 95% of the body’s serotonin is produced not by the brain, but by the ENS, and is affected by what we eat, the state of our microbiome and the signals sent along the vagus nerve to the brain. This mind-brain connection is now leading to new approaches to treating depression. Studies have found that sending electrical pulses along the vagus nerve can influence the brain’s use of serotonin, helping to alleviate severe depression. Until recently, fitting patients with the necessary




Small Intestines Colon

THE BRAIN YOU NEVER KNEW YOU HAD thought the only brain in your body is Iis infinyouconstant your head, think again. Your grey matter communication with a vast network of neurons and neurotransmitters in your gut making up the so-called enteric

nervous system (ENS). And the two are linked by an information superhighway known as the vagus nerve, which runs down each side of your neck and into your chest, branching out across your entire gut. 39/2018



By stimulating the gut to produce serotonin, it’s possible to affect eating behaviour, alleviate anxiety and even enhance brain functioning


The intestinal muscles are full of nerve cell bodies (black) and their axons and dendrites (yellow and orange)



Better knowledge of the ENS could help us treat conditions such as arthritis (pictured)

S pageee for 42 hackreal ing


Wave goodbye to treating obesity with gastric bands and bypasses he obesity epidemic sweeping the world has led to a surge in T the use of bariatric surgery to help the most seriously obese. The idea seems simple enough: by removing up to 75% of a

patient’s stomach, even small meals will be filling. But studies of patients undergoing such operations have revealed a more subtle effect: the surgery also affects the vagus nerve connecting the enteric nervous system with the brain. This has opened the way to less radical methods of tackling obesity, by blocking the vagus nerve signals controlling appetite. A study published earlier this year reported that by using an implanted device developed by US company EnteroMedics, obese patients lost around a third of their excess weight over a year, with a quarter losing at least 50%. Researchers in France have now set up a trial to see if similar success can be achieved using a device that does not require surgery.

pulse-generating implant required invasive surgery. But researchers at Harvard University and the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences have now developed a device that stimulates the vagus nerve externally, at the point where it’s most easily accessible: the ear. Tests of the clip-on device with 34 patients with clinical depression have already produced promising results, says research team member Dr Peijing Rong: “This noninvasive, safe and low-cost method of treatment can significantly reduce the severity of depression in patients.” Recognition of the key role of the vagus nerve in gut-brain communication is leading to other conditions being treated in similar ways – including obesity. The journal Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences published the results of an international study of vagus nerve stimulation among

patients with the crippling disease rheumatoid arthritis, which affects half a million people in the UK alone. The technique, which currently requires an implant, appeared to benefit some patients by reducing inflammation in the body, a phenomenon also linked to many other conditions including ulcerative colitis and cancer. Meanwhile, evidence is emerging for surprising links between the gut and other disorders usually thought to start elsewhere, such as Parkinson’s disease. A team led by Dr Elisabeth Svensson at Aarhus University, Denmark, recently reported that patients whose vagus nerves had been severed to treat other medical conditions benefited from a substantially reduced risk of developing Parkinson’s. Work is now underway to understand this link, and use it to treat or even prevent the degenerative nerve disease. “To

be able to do this will naturally be a major breakthrough,” says Svensson.

A Real-time data

The explosion of research interest in the ENS is impressive, but it’s still early days in the quest to understand precisely how it works. Most of the trials of vagus nerve stimulation are pilot studies whose positive results may fade in bigger trials. The sheer complexity of the gut-brain connection is daunting, says Dr Xiling Shen of Duke University: “Disorders like irritable bowel syndrome are only diagnosed by symptoms, but their causes and mechanisms are completely unknown.” Together with colleagues at universities across the US, Shen is working on a key tool for unlocking the mysteries of the body’s second brain: a device capable of monitoring the action of the ENS in real time.

The prototype, which is currently being used in animal studies, features an electronic implant that can show how the ENS responds to different neurotransmitters, drugs and diseases. This is already casting new light on how the second brain interacts with the one in our skull. According to Shen, by stimulating the gut to produce serotonin, it’s possible to affect eating behaviour, alleviate anxiety and even enhance brain functioning. And this is just the start, explains Shen: “We are currently developing non-invasive ENS recording technology that will allow personalised and precision treatments.” At this rate of progress, we may all have to prepare ourselves for the day when our family doctor clips a device on our ear with the words: “I just want to check on the state of your second brain.” 7 39/2018


Q&A Questions & Answers

Got questions you’ve been carrying around for years? Very Interesting answers them! Mail your questions to

How does Mr Trash Wheel work?

At the mouth of the Jones Falls River, where it feeds into Baltimore Harbour in the US, sits Mr Trash Wheel. Since 2014, this semi-autonomous floating rubbish collector has scooped up more than 500 tonnes of detritus, including nine million cigarette butts, 492,000 coffee cups and 376,000 crisp packets. Mr Trash Wheel cost R9.3 million to build, and has now been joined by Professor Trash Wheel, a ‘female’ version in a different part of the harbour. 2 The conveyors are powered by a water wheel fed by the river current. When the flow isn’t fast enough, solar panels can take over. 3 A second conveyor belt scoops up the rubbish, drains away the water and carries the rest into a skip on a separate floating barge.


Do all fish and shellfish contain mercury? Sonya Barnes, Durban


ercury levels in the oceans have tripled since the Industrial Revolution, thanks to mining and the burning of fossil fuels. All sea creatures absorb some of this heavy metal directly, and once it’s in the body there’s no way of getting rid of it. The amount of mercury in fish varies between species. Long-lived predators like tuna and swordfish tend to contain the most, because they also absorb mercury from their prey and they’ve had a long time to accumulate it. The lowest levels are found in short-lived species lower down the food chain, such as oysters and shrimp.



5 Most of the rubbish isn’t thrown in the river directly – it’s land litter, washed in by the rain. A heavy storm can fill 12 skips!

The river current drives trash toward floating booms, which funnel rubbish into Mr Trash Wheel’s mouth. Long forks attached to a conveyor collect and compact the debris.


4 As each skip fills, it’s towed away and the rubbish is incinerated to generate electricity. 


A Five of the most commonly eaten fish that are low in mercury are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock and catfish.

What connects frogs and fresh milk? Q&A



Do seagulls drink seawater? And if so, how do they deal with the salt? Noni Mtolo, Bela-Bela


ll seabirds drink seawater – yet birds have less efficient kidneys than mammals, and so excess salt is even more toxic to them than to us. Seabirds cope with this by using specialised salt glands next to

their eye sockets. These look like miniature kidneys and work in a similar way, pumping salt ions out of the bloodstream against the normal flow of osmosis. The extra-salty water drips down the sides of their beaks.

What is the biggest a moon can be in relation to its mother planet?


To protect themselves, frogs secrete substances called cationic antimicrobial peptides (CAMPs). Other animals secrete CAMPs too, but frogs produce much more, including some peptides that are effective against multiresistant bacteria.


Teddy Rudman, Midrand


‘moon’ is an astronomical body that orbits a planet; the definition doesn’t involve size. So, a ‘moon’ could be a small rock or it could be as large as its ‘parent’. However, similar-sized objects orbiting each other are normally called ‘double’ (for example, Pluto-Charon is often considered a ‘double dwarf planet’). But the distinction

between ‘double’ and ‘parent-moon’ systems is not officially defined. Some astronomers define a ‘parent-moon’ system as one that has the point about which both objects orbit (the barycenter) inside the larger object, but this distinction is quite arbitrary because it depends on both size and separation.


Milk goes off because of bacteria, especially species of Lactobacilli and Pseudomonas. These ferment the lactose in milk into lactic acid, and hydrolyse milk proteins into various unpleasanttasting by-products.


A bird’s lungs take up around 20% of its body. For comparison, a human’s lungs take up about 5%. A The whistling swan has up to 25,000 feathers, while tiny hummingbirds may have fewer than 1,000. A

Frogs, like all amphibians, have thin, porous skin that they can breathe through. But this also poses a risk because it makes it easier for bacteria to infect them.

According to Russian folklore, putting a live frog in milk helps it stay fresh. Recent research has found that CAMPs from the Russian brown frog could kill the bacteria in milk and prevent it from turning.



Q&A Questions & Answers

Got questions you’ve been carrying around for years? Very Interesting answers them! Mail your questions to



n 8 September 2016, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission launched. It spent a year orbiting the sun, before travelling towards Earth on 23 September 2017, where it slingshotted around the planet and headed towards the asteroid Bennu. Bennu measures 500m in diameter and comes close to Earth every six years. OSIRISREx’s arrival at Bennu is scheduled for August 2018, and it will start orbiting the asteroid in October, scanning and mapping the surface. In July 2020 it will gather a sample from the surface, before heading back to Earth.


500 m




To gather a sample from Bennu, a sampler head will be slowly lowered down to the asteroid’s surface on a robotic arm. TheSUN head will fire nitrogen gas to blow regolith into the collection EARTH chamber. When enough has been gathered, the sampler head will be closed and safely stowed.




Will there be another Ice Age? Randall Barfield, Usa


ddly enough, an Ice Age has gripped the Earth for most of the last 2.6 million years, and we’re currently experiencing an unusually warm break from this so-called Quaternary glaciation, which temporarily lifted around 12,000 years ago. How long the ongoing ‘interglacial’ period will last depends partly on changes in the orbital size, shape and axial tilt of the Earth, and thus the intensity of sunlight, and also global warming – both



natural and man-made. Earlier this year, a team at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Germany, published research suggesting a complex link between sunlight and atmospheric CO 2, leading to natural global warming. By itself, this will delay the next Ice Age by at least 50,000 years. Add in the effect of man-made global warming, and the delay is increased to 100,000 years.

How SUN EARTH long does caffeine 500 m OSIRIS-REx BENNU take to kick in? Bob Ellis, Edinburgh


tudies have found that the effects of a cup of coffee or a glass of cola are noticeable after just 10 minutes, but the peak caffeine concentration in the blood occurs after 45 minutes. If you take the same caffeine dose in tablet form, the peak caffeine level will be the 500 m longer – between 60 and 75 same but it takes BENNU minutes – to reach that peak. For most people, the caffeine level in your body halves roughly every six hours. So 50% of the caffeine from your 4pm cuppa is still 309 m circulating in your system at bedtime.


309 m


“Can you smell blood?”

Who really discovered the radio? Anne Barker, Colchester

How do sharks smell blood underwater? Todd Michael Wilson, Usa


hen you smell something in the air, it’s because scent molecules have dissolved into the wet lining of your nose. Smelling underwater is no different, except that the molecules are already dissolved in the seawater. It’s a myth that sharks can smell a single drop of blood from a mile away. I N N U M B ERS

Sharks actually have roughly the same sensitivity as other fish and can detect smells at between one part per 25 million and one part per 10 billion, depending on the chemical, and the species of shark. At the top end, that’s about one drop of blood in a small swimming pool.

A seal brain a day keeps the doctor away

1,200 The number of cheetah cubs illegally trafficked out of Africa over the last decade. Just 15% survived the journey.

7 million The amount of egg cells present in a 20-week-old female foetus, decreasing to about a million at birth.

1.5 The wingspan, in metres, of a relatively tiny Late Cretaceous pterosaur that was recently unearthed in British Columbia.

How do Inuits get their five-a-day? Anne Barker, Colchester


he traditional Inuit diet does include some berries, seaweed and plants, but a carnivorous diet can supply all the essential nutrients, provided you eat the whole animal, and eat it raw. Whale skin and seal brain both contain vitamin C, for example. But an Inuit diet isn’t any healthier than a modern Western diet. Inuits have similar levels of coronary heart disease and a somewhat higher incidence of osteoporosis and stroke, since they get a higher proportion of their calories from animal fat and have limited access to dietary calcium.




he discovery of radio waves ranks among the most astounding achievements of Victorian science, with far-reaching consequences that are still felt today. Their existence was predicted in the 1860s by the brilliant Scottish theoretical physicist James Clerk Maxwell, while he was developing a theory that revealed electricity and magnetism are just different aspects of the same phenomenon. Maxwell’s prediction was confirmed in 1887 by the German physicist Heinrich Hertz, who – incredibly – dismissed radio waves as “of no use whatsoever”. Fortunately, other scientists saw potential in the mysterious waves that could travel through air, solid walls or the vacuum of space. Among them were the British physicist Oliver Lodge and the Italian electrical engineer Guglielmo Marconi, who independently invented ways of turning electrical discharges into detectable signals. The two men were often locked in legal battles over patents, but Marconi is usually regarded as the ‘inventor’ of radio communication. That’s partly because he was the first to send simple radio signals across the Atlantic Ocean, a PR coup which led to international recognition, including a Nobel Prize. Yet even Marconi failed to realise the full communication potential of radio. The technical challenges of going beyond electric sparks to a high-fidelity speech and music medium needed the work of a host of far less well-known inventors.





Forensic psychologist Kerry Daynes talks about psychopaths, stalkers and the surreal side of working with serial killers 7 TEXT: HELEN PILCHER



What do you do? I’ve spent a lot of my career working with people who have severe personality disorders, including psychopaths and sexual offenders. It was my job to make them less of a risk. What’s it like working with these people? It can be surreal. I worked with one serial killer, a trained butcher, who dismembered people. You have to build up a rapport with people in order to work meaningfully with them, so we cooked together. He taught me how to bone a turkey! All along I was aware these were the same skills that he used on his victims. Who are you more like, Clarice Starling or Cracker? Neither, these fictional characters are ‘profilers’. Cracker was an emotionally damaged Scot who tramped all over crime scenes. It’s an inaccurate portrayal of what people like me do. But anything that sparks the public’s interest in science and psychology is okay in my book. What was it like the first time you met one of these offenders? It was a baptism of fire. I was 21 years old, doing research in a high-security prison, interviewing men who had raped and murdered their victims. While it was daunting, I was able to separate myself from it emotionally and get on with the job. In the end, the prison officers were more difficult than the offenders. How do you mean? It was an incestuous, institutional male environment. The guards ordered me to remove my shoes because they were ‘too sexy’. They even ran a book on who would be the first to sleep with me! Things have moved on since then and I don’t work in prisons any more. Forensic psychology is actually a very female world. Does your professional life ever spill into your private life? I became the victim of a stalker. He watched me, bought websites in my name and said damaging things about me in public. The police could only issue a harassment warning but I took civil action against him. It

stunned me how inadequate the current laws are, but it did give me first-hand knowledge of what it’s like to be a victim. Do you ever think about quitting? I’ve worked with the most misogynistic, dangerous men imaginable. It takes its toll. I made a conscious decision a while ago to stop working with them and start working more in general mental health and with victims. I’ve also branched into the corporate sector. Do you meet many psychopaths in the business world? Yes! One in every 100 people are

psychopaths and 20% of CEOs score highly on psychopathic traits. Moderate levels of psychopathic-like traits can be useful, as long they’re tempered with compassion and humility. I draw on my unique experiences to teach skills to business leaders. I think I am going to worry about you. Promise me you’ll be okay? I’m pretty resilient. I come from a very stable and ‘normal’ background; that helps. I also have two enormous dogs, Humphrey and Fozzchops. When the complexity and inhumanity of some humans feels a little overwhelming, the simplicity and

innocence of a happy dog is a great antidote. 7 Kerry Daynes is a consultant psychologist who has worked with some of the most notorious criminals in the UK. Her most recent book is Is There A Psycho In Your Life?.



Cimex lectularius is one bedbug species that’s developed a taste for human blood


World’s oldest bedbugs discovered in USA cave



his story is likely to make your skin crawl. Human lice have been around for at least 100,000 years, and it is thought that another bloodsucker, the bedbug, is equally ancient. But we have no clear evidence for its early forms. Now, though, bedbugs from 5,000 to 11,000 years ago have been discovered. According to paleoinsect expert Martin E Adams, who carried out the research, the remains found in a cave system near Paisley in Oregon, USA are not the species of bedbugs that we know from hotel rooms today (Cimex lectularius and C. hemipterus). Instead, the three species discovered in the caves (C. pilosellus, C. latipennis, and C. antennatus) preyed only on bats. It is thought that while some Cimex species developed a liking for human blood when we lived in caves alongside the flying mammals, these American bugs never made the transition. Pinning down the reasons why the bugs stuck to a bat diet will be an archaeological challenge. It is possible, Adams suggests, that the Paisley Five Mile Point Caves were never occupied long enough for the bugs to adapt. The preferences of the bugs may even give an indicator to changes in the US climate. “The presence of warm-tolerant cimicids in the caves, such as C. antennatus, may suggest that climatic conditions at Paisley Caves 5,100 years ago were similar to what C. antennatus enjoys today in its current range,” said Adams. While the ancient bugs may not have had a taste for human blood, they could prove surprisingly informative about the way our environment has changed.

Shorts A VY Canis Majoris is a is a hyper-giant star, equivalent in size to 1,420 suns. A Neutron stars are the result of stars going supernova and collapsing into much smaller, incredibly dense forms – scientists have tried to explain it by imagining compressing a 747 aircraft into the amount of space taken up by a small grain of sand.

Scientists captured this image of the remains of the explosion


Colliding stars create cosmic fireworks display


alk about starting with a bang! Scientists at the Atacama Large Millimeter Array in the Chilean desert have observed the collision of at least three protostars (one loner and a binary pair) in the Orion Molecular Cloud 1. This vast expanse of gas, 1,350 light-years from Earth, is home to a collection of protostars – infant stars that have yet to properly ignite. Though these bodies are not dense enough to undergo full-scale nuclear fusion, they can radiate in the infrared region because shockwaves are produced as extra material is pulled into the star. According to lead author John Bally of Colorado University, the collision took place around 1,850 years ago and sent the Orion

Molecular Cloud 1 into explosive turmoil. Bally describes this as “a cosmic version of a Fourth of July fireworks display”. It would take the Sun 100 million years to produce the same energy as this celestial pile-up. In the explosion, other protostars were flung clear, and great streamers of carbon monoxide gas were blasted away at high speed, stretching over a light-year into space. The fast-moving gas gives off radio waves, which we can pick up at the Atacama Large Millimeter Array. While there is still plenty to untangle in how this explosive transformation took place, it shows that the cradles of stars can be anything but gentle.







3 5








This tiny quadcopter sports a 5MP camera, weighs just 61g and comes with a charging station that doubles as a smartphone case. It only flies for three minutes, but as it’s designed purely for taking selfies, that shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

For proof that Alexa/Siri-style digital assistants are becoming ubiquitous, see Vizio’s latest soundbars, which have Google Assistant built-in but barely bother mentioning it. Built-in Chromecast is what they shout about instead.

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Amazon wants you to put an Alexaequipped Echo Look in your bedroom, so you can take selfies in your latest gladrags. It can even compare two outfits to tell you which looks best. Just remember to switch it off when you’re done …

Sony’s new flagship 4K camera is a mirrorless, 24.2-megapixel affair with a full-frame stacked CMOS sensor. It’ll shoot RAW images at a blistering 20fps, while tracking moving subjects is simple thanks to autofocus with a 60Hz refresh rate.

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Sony A9 R60,000,




This R450 stand turns your iPhone 6/6s/7 into a replica of the original 1984 Apple Macintosh while charging it overnight. For added retro fun, just add the original MacOS, which you can now run in a browser via M4 Vintage Stand for iPhone R450,



This Lego model of the Saturn V rocket used for NASA’s Apollo missions comprises nearly 2,000 pieces, stands a metre tall and, just like the real thing, can be broken down into its S-IC, S-II and S-IVB sections. We want one. NASA Apollo Saturn V R1,600,


The Glass Universe by Dava Sobel Dava Sobel has written an engrossing account of the women employed by the Harvard College Observatory in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. ‘Employed’ signifies that they worked all hours of the night and day and contributed enormously to our understanding of the

universe and the science of astronomy. This remained a male world and Harvard would not accord any woman a college title or any form of recognition. It is interesting that a particular ‘law’ attributed to Hubble has now been renamed ‘Leavitt’s Law’, because the research and insights were those of Miss Henrietta Leavitt.


Touched With Fire (16VL) Touched With Fire is a message movie with a difference. It is designed to examine a challenging, enigmatic topic – bipolar disorder – and it does so with integrity, creativity and an unwillingness to pander to stereotypes. Katie Holmes and Luke Kirby play Carla and Marco respectively, two adults whose condition renders them less than capable in the eyes of many, including the family members who sincerely support them, even when doing so causes crushing heartbreak. Carla and Marco’s relationship has a rocky start – both are strong personalities, and he’s an uber-cynical intellectual to boot. But their shared condition and perspective on it gives them common

ground; a platform on which to build an unlikely romance and, from there, hope for a life beyond hospitals and being treated as somehow less than ‘normal’. Some of the scenarios require a slight suspension of disbelief, but the film succeeds in raising questions about the way bipolar sufferers are treated and their frustrations at having their voices go unheard. This film offers rare insight into an illness that is not so much ignored as avoided because of its complexity and the often antisocial behaviour of those afflicted by it. It allows two characters on the dark side of the equation to eloquently state their case, and while many viewers won’t be comfortable with their points of view, you’re a truly insensitive sort if you come away from watching this with less compassion than you had going in.

Cult Sister by Lesley Smailes In 1983, Port Elizabeth resident Lesley takes a gap year and travels to America. She has a spiritual inclination and joins something called the Evangelist Cult. For 10 years, she’s a member of this group, which follows an interpretation of the scriptures that isolates them from society and friendships outside the cult, under the unforgiving control of leader Brother Evangelist. Lesley gets married, has three children, eats food from dumpsters and hitchhikes across the US. Coming home she divorces her husband and, though her feelings are not made clear, she is now a working mother, enjoying family life. Insectopedia by Erik Holm A guide to local insects is a useful resource to have in any house. This book provides a good crosssection of the requisite knowledge in this area. Rather than being only a picture-and-blurb guide – it has a section for that in the latter part of the book – it also includes information about how different types of insect will behave in certain contexts, as well as the reasons for that behaviour being displayed. The latter insight is valuable, as it makes management of your coexistence with your creeping, crawling, hopping and flying neighbours more predictable.







QUESTION 1 Why might dropping dice into your drink help you make your own luck?

If you’ve taken at least one jack, two spade cards, three aces and four diamond cards from a new deck of 52, what’s the fewest cards you could have?

hear We’d love toack on b d e fe your les. these puzz ail Please em ma.c VI@panora


Place tents in the empty squares so that the number of tents in each row and column matches the numbers shown. Every tent must be immediately next to a tree (horizontally or vertically). One tent per square only. Tents are never adjacent to each other – not even diagonally.

4 1 2 2 1 2 2 2 2 2


Which shape is the odd one out?

Draw three more vertical lines on this ruler so that any pair of lines measures one of 10 different distances in whole units.


Do this in your head: if the result of the multiplication shown is divided by five, what is the remainder?

28516 79243

Which symbol is called ‘little duck’ in Greek, ‘spider monkey’ in German, ‘elephant’s trunk’ in Danish, ‘cinnamon bun’ in Swedish and ‘snail’ in Korean?


If V is a vowel (A,E,I,O,U) and C is a consonant, which two appropriate phrases have the following vowel/consonant patterns? CVCCVCVCVC CVCVV CVCCVCVV CCVCC

3 1 2 1 4 0 5 0 1 3 3 1 2 1 4 0 5 0 1 3

Q1) If the same side keeps floating to the top, chances are that the die has been loaded. Q2) Shape A is not convex. In technical terms: it’s possible to draw a line between two points on the perimeter (at the top of the heart), such that the line is not entirely contained within the shape. Q3) Just worry about the units column: 6 x 3 = 18, so the remainder will be 3 after dividing by 5. There’s no need to work out the long multiplication. Q4) Seven – focus on the suits first. Four diamonds and two spades gives six cards. The jack can be one of these six, as can the Ace of Spades and Diamonds, but you’ll then need the Ace of Hearts or Clubs, adding a seventh card. Q5) One solution is: at 1, 4 and 9. You can then measure length from 1 to 11 units, except 6. Q6) The @ symbol. Q7) Curriculum Vitae and Victoria Cross (appropriately shortened to CV and VC). Q8) See illustration.


Are you an expert on Earth’s atmosphere?

Answers: 1b, 2c, 3a, 4b, 5a, 6b



What causes the sky to be blue? a) The reflection of the ocean b) The scattering of sunlight by air molecules c) The amount of nitrogen in the atmosphere


What is the difference between primary and secondary rainbows?



Which of these is the most abundant element in Earth’s atmosphere? a) Nitrogen b) Oxygen c) Argon a) Secondary rainbows are longer b) Secondary rainbows only appear in the morning c) Secondary rainbows have a reversed sequence of colours


Which layer of the atmosphere is found at ground level? a) The Mesosphere b) The Troposphere

c) The Exosphere


What is commonly referred to as Jacob’s ladder? a) Rays of sunlight through gaps in clouds b) Glowing green lights in the Northern Hemisphere c) Trails of vapour created by planes at high altitudes


At what altitude does Earth’s

4 1 2 2 1 2 2 2 2 2

Quick quiz

atmosphere end and space officially begin? a) 10km b) 100km c) 1,000km


0-2 an air head 3-4 stuck with your head in the clouds 5-6 a breath of fresh air



BY POPULAR DEMAND DOWN 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 10 11 12 19 21 24 26 28 29 30 32 33 34

ACROSS 8 9 13 14 15 16 17 18 20 22 23 25

Simple feline sounded like a mongoose (7) Capacitor makes prisoner more stupid (9) A trio out of proportion (5) Fibre improved tiles (5) A robin flying round island capital (7) Betting shock treatment will give artist colours (7) Some excited by new particle (5) Girl has nothing but a lariat (5) Sense this is involved with gravity (5) Poison sounding alarm bell (6) Two articles about drink – that’s a pain (6) Foreign territory has different valence (7)

27 30 31 32 35 36 37 39 41 42 43 44

Hide pine in the distance (7) Danish navigator finds creature around river (6) Graduate sees horse outside in its element (6) Imagine daughter having a lot of paper (5) Hebrew prophet finds hard mineral first (5) The best dairy product (5) Mollusc has 31 days to work (7) A number have spoken about noise (7) Company regiment gets soldier a dog (5) Sumo tournament is a hit, but gets old (5) Club left next to river crustacean (9) Swamp man is an officer? (7)

38 40

Irritate at the plant (6) Shout about stoat having a temperature regulator (8) Wireless busy emitting certain particles (11) Hide mistake by fielder (5,4) Three keys, a number and a DNA constituent (7) Article about lilac tin from rock formation (10) Note gives yours truly time (4) Credit deity with turning-point (6) Tolerate an organ (7) Sam managed to get one doctor a shrub (6) Study setting that gets one caught as well (7) Common information about rice (7) U-boat caught right in current from warm parts (11) More peculiar in lead than another element (10) Inferior affair has little character (5,4) Friend sent Mary a tree (7) A bomb affected only building material (6) Attorney volunteers to found convenience store (8) Frenchman meeting a symbol (6) Behold trophy outside is a delicacy (7) French scientist gives scoundrel a head transplant (6) Dutch method of building Arab sailing vessel (4)

ANSWERS For the answers, visit Please be aware the website address is case-sensitive.






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Next issue

Issue 40 on sale from 19 February 2018 7 INNOVATION

What connects mummies and printers? Clue: it’s not that you could leave an imprint of your bum on both.


Can you fool a lie detector? Yes, definitely. Or absolutely not. Maybe.


Why doesn’t everyone get acne? Spot the difference.


Who owns the moon? And do they enjoy listening to Pink Floyd??

ALSO IN THE NEXT ISSUE OF VERY INTERESTING: Much more about matters technological, psychological, historical, natural and scientific. Plus all your questions answered … What do you want to know? Mail 39/2018



Why do we dance?

There are good reasons. But your mom jiving to Britney Spears is still embarrassing. p.52

Bizarre 11, 38, 70 Body 6, 10, 13, 24, 25, 60 Books 75 Culture 69 DVDs 75 Environment 6, 10, 11, 66, 68 Food 12, 25, 50, 68 Gadgets 74 Health 12 History 12, 15, 69 Innovation 1, 9, 15, 59, 67 Medicine 9 Nature 7, 8, 13, 14, 16, 38, 67, 69, 73 Puzzles 76, 77 Psychology 9, 10, 52, 70 Science 11, 24 Space 7,12, 14, 24, 28, 67, 68, 73 Technology 28, 42, 59, 66, 74

Space tourism! Elon Musk wants you in space this year – is your passport ready? p.28

Can you trust your gut? It seems the lazy motivational speaker quote may not be just a cliché … p.60


How many organs could you lose and still live? How do household cleaning products affect the environment? Could you throw a Frisbee on Mars? What would happen if all Earth’s insects vanished? How long could you survive on beer alone? 80


Is it possible to stop hackers in 1018? Dear Anonymous: halt and desist. Signed, all of us. p.42

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