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cial Evolution spe


STANDING How we became the only humans on Earth p24

return of the wolf Comeback of an iconic predator p68 QUEST FOR the higgs boson What does it mean for physics? p82

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3d printing The new technological revolution p54 Q&A:

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How old are the oldest diamonds? p89 Could we terraform Venus? p92 What makes things cute? p92

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On the cover

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Greatest writers • part one •

William Shakespeare


The first author to feature in our three-part series celebrating the greatest English writers of all time is William Shakespeare. Jerry Brotton examines how Shakespeare’s plays have shaped popular understanding of royal history, both during his own time and to this day.

o fewer than 10 of Shakespeare’s plays can be classified as histories – over a quarter of his work, and all mostly written during his first decade as a playwright. His dramatisation of some of England’s greatest monarchs has remained compelling and relevant ever since. Shakespeare used his history plays to perform a delicate balancing act. He offered the Tudor state and its censors a version of royal history that they found acceptable. At the same time, he examined the private, emotional pressures that defined and, in many cases, undermined English kings ranging from Richard II to Henry VIII. His portrayal of kingship and the historical reality of the best-known monarchs will be forever linked in the popular imagination. Thanks to Shakespeare, many people today regard Henry V as a virtual saint, while Richard III is seen as the ultimate villain. The reality, however, is far less straightforward. Actors and directors continue to extract a deeper level of complexity within these stereotypes. For instance, Laurence Olivier’s 1944 film version of Henry V offered a Churchillian version of the King, confident



ShakeSpeare: a brIef hIstory Born: unknown – baptised 26 april 1564, stratford-upon-avon Married: 1582 to anne hathaway Died: 23 april 1616 Children: susannah hall, and hamnet shakespeare and Judith Quiney (twins)

E the third of eight children, William shakespeare is thought to have been educated at the local grammar school in stratford. after his marriage, he moved to London to act and write plays. Critical reviews upbraiding him for presumption in attempting to match university-educated playwrights such as Christopher Marlowe show that his work was being performed by 1592; the bulk of it was written between then and around 1607, and

the last co-written play attributed to him is from 1613. shakespeare co-owned a company called the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, later known as the King’s Men, and from 1594 onwards this was the only troop of players to perform his work. the company built the Globe theatre on the south bank of the river thames in 1599. shakespeare divided his later years between London and stratford, and died a wealthy man.

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and assured as he leads his men into victory in France. The film was dedicated to the armed forces involved in the Normandy invasion that took place that summer, and Olivier deftly extracted a strand of royal authority and English nationalism from Shakespeare’s original play that chimed perfectly with the country’s mood during war. a man for all seasons Some 45 years later, Kenneth Branagh filmed the play again under very different circumstances. Post-Vietnam and the Falklands, Branagh’s Henry was a young man struggling with his new-found responsibility, who even wept in the face of the cost of war. Again, Branagh’s 1980s ‘new man’ interpretation resonated with audiences while remaining faithful to the original play. Although not as innovative as Olivier’s film, Branagh’s vision has shaped more recent productions, particularly in the light of recent events in Iraq and Afghanistan. To best understand how Shakespeare produced such ambiguous and multi-layered representations of royalty, it is useful to set him E within the times that shaped his early history

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36 Greatest Writers


The first in a new series about the greatest English writers, starting with Shakespeare

EvoLuTIoN SpEc


STANDING How we became the only humans on Earth p24

68 Return of the Wolf

Wolves are an increasingly common sight in parts of North America, but at what cost?

rEtUrn OF tHE WOlF Comeback of an iconic predator p68 QUESt FOr tHE HiggS bOSOn What does it mean for physics? p82

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Q&A: How old are the oldest diamonds? p89 Could we terraform Venus? p92 What makes things cute? p92

82 The Big Idea: the Standard Model After half a century, physicists are about to see the completion of one of their greatest theories




3d printing The new technological revolution p54


LAST MAN STANDING How we became the only humans left on Earth p26 Have we beaten evolution? p30

54 The Revolution Starts Here

3D printing has potential applications from space exploration to food preparation

88 Q&A

Another batch of your questions answered by our panel of experts

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Vol. 4 Issue 3


26 The Last Humans

Over millions of years, all the other hominid species have either evolved or died out – except for us. Find out how the “wise man” did it

30 Have We Beaten Evolution?

Are humans still evolving? Some scientists claim that this is it for Homo sapiens, while others disagree and believe we are continuously evolving


48 Portfolio: Orchids




36 Great Writers: Shakespeare

Part one of a brand new series about great English writers asks whether Shakespeare was indeed the greatest of them all With over 35,000 different species, orchids are one of the most successful and diverse families of flowering plant in the world ON THE COVER

54 The Revolution Starts Here

3D printing is set to change the way that any number of parts are made – here on Earth and in space


Human Evolution How Homo sapiens kept ahead of the rest










60 The Sea Eagle Has Landed

Follow 16 eagle chicks on their journey from Norway to a new home where they will grow into massive birds and rule the skies of eastern Scotland

The latest news in a flash


68 Return of the Wolf

Wildlife fans are celebrating wolves’ return to North America, but not everyone is pleased to see them back

76 Can You Spot A Psychopath

Research has shown they are more common than we think within upper tiers of the corporate world. Luckily scientists are coming up with more ways to suss them out ON THE COVER

82 The Big Idea: the Standard Model Despite its uninspiring name, it explains everything from radioactivity to the power source of the stars

88 Q&A

Focusing on the answers


Return of the Wolf North America’s prodigal son


48 Portfolio One of over 35,000 species of orchids

6 Welcome

Care to share your thoughts on recent issues, write to us

10 Snapshot

Three more revealing pictures from the worlds of science, nature and history

UPDATE 17 The Latest Intelligence

Could stars help heal the sick? And what is the secret to the chemistry of cookery?

22 Comment & Analysis

60 Sea Eagles Magnificent creatures make their come back in Scotland

Are some endangered species simply too expensive to be worth saving?

88 Q&A


Where the people with the answers meet the people with the questions

Resource 93 Reviews

Another round-up of books to keep the little grey cells well nourished

96 Time Out


Resource Keep the grey matter in shape

More confounding conundrums and perplexing puzzles to make your head spin

98 Last Word

John Horgan says that, despite all the doom and gloom in the press, the future’s never looked brighter NEW SERIES: GREATEST WRITERS

p36 Vol. 4 Issue 3







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Welc me

Y Send us your letters

What It Means To Be Human? We are all winners in the hominid race for survival and to emerge victorious, we Homo sapiens outwitted, surpassed, and ultimately outlasted the rest of our primate competition. But in the grand scheme of things, to be human doesn’t mean just having the physical or cognitive attributes. Being the dominant species on Earth, humans have a greater responsibility to ensure the survival of the rest of the species we share it with. Unfortunately, in our quest for survival and development, our reckless use of natural resources and disregard for the environment has contributed to the demise of several animals, plants, and insects, bringing many other species to the brink of extinction as well. We are at a turning point, just as our species were some 12,000 years ago when they made the transition to producing food, which resulted in the growth of the human population. But if we do not tread forward with care, the unintended consequences of our actions be it chemical wastes, new strains of viruses or bacteria, may attack us or stress our already fragile ecosystems and create irreversible damage, erasing what took millions of years to create.

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Includes selected articles from other BBC specialist magazines, including Focus, BBC History Magazine and BBC Wildlife Magazine. SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY FUTURE

Important change: The licence to publish this magazine was acquired from BBC Worldwide by Immediate Media Company on 1 November 2011. We remain committed to making a magazine of the highest editorial quality, one that complies with BBC editorial and commercial guidelines and connects with BBC programmes.

Experts this issue Alice Roberts

worked as a doctor in South Wales before becoming a lecturer in anatomy at Bristol University. She has a PhD in paleopathology – the study of disease in human remains – and has presented a number of programmes for BBC TV, including Are We Still Evolving? (2009) and last year’s Origins of Us See page 30

Y We welcome your letters, while reserving the right to edit them for length and clarity. By sending us your letter you permit us to publish it in the magazine and/or on our website. We regret that we cannot always reply personally to letters.


BBC Knowledge Magazine

Stephen Mills

is a producer, cameraman and writer who has made 35 wildlife films for TV, including Land of The Tiger, Private Life of Plants, Tiger Crisis and Wolf Saga for the BBC. In this issue, Stephen reports on the reintroduction of wolves to North America and speaks to some of the people affected by their return See page 68

Jerry Brotton

has completed an AHRC-funded book on the mapping of the world from the Greeks to Google Earth, published by Penguin Books last year. He welcomes for PhD supervision students interested in undertaking research particularly in the areas of east-west travel and cultural exchange, geography, and Shakespeare. See page 36

BBC Knowledge Magazine provides trusted, independent advice and information that has been gathered without fear or favour. When receiving assistance or sample products from suppliers, we ensure our editorial integrity and independence are not compromised by never offering anything in return, such as positive coverage, and by including a brief credit where appropriate.

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contributors Kieron Allan, Peter Atkins, Rob Attar, Daniel Bennett, Stuart Blackman, Susan Blackmore, David J Bodycombe, Jerry Brotton, Philip Hoare, Christian Jarrett, Richard Jones, David Keys, Mark Mardell, Andy Martin, Robert Matthews, Stephen Mills, Gareth Mitchell, Kate Ravilious, Nick Rennison, Alice Roberts, Mark Ronan, Murray Rudd, Nige Tassell, Bart Van Es, Edward Vallance, Luis Villazon, Kenny Taylor, Christian Ziegler. Distributors Singapore - Region Periodicals Distributor Pte Ltd Malaysia - MPH Distributors Sdn Bhd Indonesia - PT Javabooks Indonesia Thailand - Asia Books Co., Ltd. Philippines - Asia/Pacific Circulation Exponents, Inc. Taiwan - Formosan Magazine Press Inc Hong Kong/China/Macau - Times Publishing (HK) Ltd

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Voyage of disaster RMS TITANIC, 1912

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Proudly standing beneath two of RMS Titanic’s enormous bronze propellers 100 years ago, this group of Belfast shipbuilders could not have foreseen the tragedy that would strike the ship mere months after their photograph was taken. On 14 April 1912, around 640km (400 miles) into her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York, the largest passenger steamship of the time struck an iceberg south of Newfoundland and sunk, killing 1517 people. A catalogue of events made the tragedy inevitable. One much-debated contributing factor is said to have been the use of cheap rivets, made from sub-standard iron and used to fasten the sheets of the ship’s bow, which popped after the collision.



Eagle v gull Flatanger, Norway

While this common gull (Larus canus) may appear to be hitching a ride on the back of a white-tailed sea eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla), it is actually on the attack. Such aerial battles usually occur when gulls feels threatened, and peak during the breeding season as they try to protect their young from predators. In a process known as mobbing, a flock works together to repel a threat. Although this picture was taken off the Norwegian coast, gulls have been witnessed mobbing eagles around the world, including the bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) in Nova Scotia, Canada, which is around twice the size of the gulls. 12

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Go with the flow Russell glacier, greenland

Science Photo Library

A fluorescent dye tracer throws a torrent of meltwater into sharp relief on Russell Glacier as part of an ongoing study by University of Edinburgh scientists to measure the speed of the receding ice. Dye tracing has been used to track the flow of glacial meltwater for at least the past 20 years and, despite appearances, is non-toxic. The scientists use a fluorometer, an instrument that can identify minute traces of fluorescence, to detect the dye as it flows downstream. The amount of dye present relates to the volume of meltwater, which has increased annually as a result of climate change since these scientists began their measurements in 2007. The meltwater lubricates the glacier’s base, causing it to recede more quickly.


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Escape to Nirwana Gardens and you will be pleasantly spoilt for choice. True to its name which translates into “perfect bliss”, Nirwana Gardens serves up a heady concoction of 5 different holiday experiences on the north-western coast of Bintan Island. Spanning across 330 hectares of lush tropical land and powder-soft beaches, there is Nirwana Resort Hotel – the sun-kissed paradise for fun seekers; Mayang Sari Beach Resort – a reclusive getaway for the urban-weary; Nirwana Beach Club – a haven for sea-sports enthusiasts; Banyu Biru Villas – homes for the cosy reunions and the magnificent Indra Maya Pool Villas – where ultimate privacy and luxury is a priority. Also adding flavour to your resort experience is the Kelong Restaurant which offers authentic dining over the sea. Nirwana Gardens is a truly complete resort destination for you, your family, loved ones and friends. Even getting there is easy, via a 55-minute ride on fast speed catamaran from the Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal in Singapore, followed by coach transfer from the ferry terminal to the resort grounds. Give yourself a treat today and have a taste of heavenly bliss at Nirwana Gardens! Nirwana Gardens

Jalan Panglima Pantar, Lagoi 29155 Bintan Resorts, Indonesia Tel: +62 770-692505 Fax: +62 770-692550 Reservation Tel: +65 6323-6636 Fax: +65 6323-7717 Email: Website: Nirwana Pte Ltd (Singapore Sales & Marketing Office) 991D Alexandra Road, #01-22/23, Singapore 119972 Tel: +65 6213-5830 Fax: +65 6291-1343 Email:


The latest intelligence

P New light shed on the early Earth’s atmospheric make-up p18 P Why cooking is a matter of chemistry p19 P A plant that eats worms p19 P How snakes hear p19 E For the latest news visit

So far, no disease-causing microbes have been found to be resistant to plasma

Lightning generates plasma, the ‘fourth state of matter’

Can stars fight disease? Plasma has potential to kill off even the toughest of viruses lasma – the substance that makes up the stars and is generated by lightning – is set to revolutionise the way lifethreatening viruses such as SARS are treated, as well as fighting less dangerous complaints ranging from food poisoning to acne. Plasma is often described as the ‘fourth state of matter’. Neither solid, liquid nor gas, it is a collection of charged particles that takes the form of a gas-like cloud. A growing body of research indicates that plasma could serve as a microbe-fighting tool, in addition to disinfectant and antibiotics. Unlike many other

eyevine, thinkstock


treatments, plasma appears to be relatively harmless and, thus far, no disease-causing microbes have been found to be resistant to it. In their latest research, physicists at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE) and the Technical University of

which is responsible for conditions such as pneumonia and bronchitis. Plasma has several components – charged atoms and molecules, electrons, UV light and highly reactive molecules, or ‘reactive species’ – and its modus operandi is still under investigation. “How it

Unlike many other treatments, plasma appears to be relatively harmless Munich in Germany have discovered just how effective at fighting diseases plasma could be. It can even kill adenovirusus, one of the most difficult viruses to inactivate,

kills off microbes is one of the most frequently asked questions and we are still trying to work that out,” explains Julia Zimmermann, a biophysicist at MPE. “It has

to be the interplay between all these different components that makes it so effective at killing microbes.” While the plasma within the Sun rages at hundreds of thousands of degrees Celsius, at room temperature it is a ‘cold plasma’ whose diseasefighting capabilities are being investigated in Germany. Clinical trials have already taken place at German clinics, using plasma to treat complex and slow-healing wounds by killing off bacteria such as MRSA. Here, a refrigeratorsized device generates the plasma. In addition, much smaller, electric toothbrushsized devices are being developed to generate plasma in the same way that lightning does – by ionizing molecules in the surrounding air. These could be used on skin to treat acne, or on food to kill off E. coli and other foodpoising microbes. With industry support, Zimmerman expects the devices to be in use in hospitals in the next two or three years. Vol. 4 Issue 3



The latest intelligence

Rethink on origin

How the Earth may have appeared 3.3 billion years ago

New light shed on Earth’s atmosphere he atmosphere of early Earth appears to have been very different to what has been believed for more than half a century. The discovery is of significance to our understanding of the formation of life on our planet – and on others. In 1952, US scientists Stanley Miller and Harold Urey conducted what is considered to be the classic experiment on the origin of life. They filled a glass flask with methane, ammonia and hydrogen gases, all of which are thought to have been present in Earth’s oxygen-free early atmosphere. When sparks were fired between electrodes


to simulate lightning, amino acids – the building blocks of the proteins found in living things – and other so-called biological precursor molecules were produced. But the first direct evidence of the components of the Earth’s atmosphere, when the planet was just 500 million years old, suggests that it wasn’t actually the methanerich environment that was previously thought. Scientists at the New York Center for Astrobiology at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, used the mineral zircon, which remains intact for millennia, to make their discovery. “We can

decode these ancient crystals,” says geochemist Bruce Watson. “They contain chemical signatures. We just have to be smart enough to read them.” Zircon is formed when zirconium and silicate combine in magma in the Earth’s

Stellar nursery

Science photo library, ESO, Getty, thinkstock x2, FLPA

Located about 6500 lightyears from Earth, the Omega Nebula is one of the most active areas of star formation in our galaxy. This photograph was taken by the Very Large Telescope in the Atacama Desert in Northern Chile, operated by the European Southern Observatory, and is among the sharpest taken of the nebula from the ground. The newest stars are incredibly bright and shine blue-white; the dark ribbons are dust and the glowing areas are gases. The red colour comes from hydrogen gas, which glows because of the intense ultraviolet rays emitted by the young stars. The lack of cloud cover and light pollution make such stunning images possible.


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The Omega Nebula, as seen by the Very Large Telescope in Chile

crust. When Watson and his colleagues recreated the process in the lab, they could only replicate the chemical composition of zircon formed on the early Earth – or, more specifically, reproduce the level of the element cerium found in zircon, when there were relatively high levels of oxygen. If the early volcanic gases contained high levels of oxygen, oxygen-carrying molecules such as water and carbon dioxide would have formed and dominated the atmosphere rather than methane and ammonia. “In a way, this new knowledge could be regarded as discouraging from the standpoint of the production of complex organic molecules by the mechanism proposed by Miller and Urey,” says Watson. “Carbon dioxide and water are relatively unreactive molecules – they don’t combine to produce biological precursor molecules. But it doesn’t mean it wouldn’t happen.” Although this zircon-led description of the atmosphere allows for the presence of more oxygen, it is bound up in other molecules. It would still have taken life to generate the ‘free oxygen’ we breathe today.


in Brief Milestones

A chef is essentially a chemist who favours the kitchen over the science lab

Cooking with chemistry

Traditionally, palaeontologists have only been able to make educated guesses as to where fossils lie. Researchers at Washington University in St Louis and Western Michigan University have now developed a computer model that can predict where preserved remains are located. Crucially, the system uses artificial neural networks – computer networks that imitate the workings of a human brain – and can be ‘trained’ to use characteristics of existing fossil locations to identify others.

Why certain foods work well together

Worm-eating plant

Helen Keller feels the face of her dedicated teacher Anne Sullivan

125 years ago G 3 March 1887: Anne Sullivan begins teaching sixyear-old Helen Keller, who is blind, deaf and mute. After arriving at Keller’s house in Alabama, Sullivan starts teaching her to finger-spell. It’s only when Sullivan pumps water over Keller’s hand at the same time as spelling ‘water’ on the other that Keller realises that every object has a name. From then on, progress is rapid. Keller goes on to become an author, political activist and the first deaf-blind person to gain a BA degree. Keller’s abilities earn her worldwide fame.

150 years ago H 20 April 1862: French chemist Louis Pasteur and physiologist Claude Bernard complete the first test of pasteurisation. Their first test is carried out on dogs’ blood and on urine, which are heated to 30ºC. The process is initially conceived as a way of preventing wine and beer from souring. It is only later that the technique is applied to milk.

Louis Pasteur and the discovery that still bears his name today

Finding fossils

hefs of North American and Western European cuisine tend to pair certain ingredients because they contain the same flavour molecules, while chefs of Asian cuisine do the exact opposite. These are the findings of research that analyses a vast number of recipes from across the world at molecular level for the first time. Sebastian Ahnert, a physicist at the University of Cambridge and an amateur molecular gastronomist, was intrigued by the theory that foods are often paired on the same plate because they have flavour molecules in common. As well as revealing a fundamental difference between Western and Asian dishes, his research also predicts that some apparently incongruous combinations of foodstuffs – such as olive and raspberry, coffee and garlic or chocolate and blue cheese – should prove agreeable to Western palates. “To our knowledge, this is the first large-scale quantitative test of the hypothesis that foods taste well together because they share flavour molecules,” says Ahnert. “People haven’t ever really taken a step back and looked at the whole spectrum of recipes.” Ahnert and his research team developed a vast database of the flavour molecules in different ingredients. They also developed software that could trawl recipes online and hunt for patterns in the ingredients used together. In all, over 56,000 Western and Asian recipes were ‘data-mined’. Combining the two sets of data revealed molecular patterns in the combinations. The avoidance of the same flavour compounds in Asian dishes presents something of a mystery to the scientists, but tradition could be an important factor. “It could be that there is some strong cultural tendency to pair certain foods, such as soy and ginger or lime and coriander, and that dominates,” Ahnert explains. He now plans to refine his research, finding out how much of each flavour compound is present in specific ingredients. He hopes chefs will use his findings to create new exciting ingredient pairings, or even provide an online resource for fellow molecular gastronomers at home.


The underground leaves of Philcoxia plants, which thrive in the nutrient-poor sands of Brazil’s mountain savannah, trap and devour tiny nematode worms. An international team of biologists found that when nematodes that had been fed bacteria containing a heavy isotope of nitrogen crawled onto the plant’s leaves, the heavy nitrogen was absorbed into the plant, indicating the worms had been consumed.

How snakes hear Snakes appear to ‘hear’ sounds through the vibrations they make in their skulls. They lack external ears but have an inner ear. Biologist Christian Christiensen of Aarhus University, Denmark, has found that sound waves cause vibrations in the skull of the ball python (Python regius). At the same time, nerve cells linking its inner ears to its brain relays an electrical pulse. No visible ears, but this Royal Python (Python regus) can still hear you

MEET THE FOSA The soap-eating carnivore from Madagascar




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c EvoLuTIoN SpE

InsIde the BraIn LaB EDUCATION 2.0 The classroom education concept evolved p48



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Using a three-dimensional atlas of the human brain to uncover its mysteries p28

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ThE UNTOLD SECOND WORLD WAR Facts of the war that weren’t publicised p54

ThE NEXT MIRACLE MATERIAL Understand the hype surrounding graphene p77

Q&A: What is Kirlian photography? p88 Why does asparagus make your urine smell worse? p91

How we became the only humans on Earth

FOREVER YOUNG Has science found a cure for ageing? p62


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to What led crisis? Eurozone p22

The coldesT lab

on earTh

rEtUrn OF tHE WOlF Comeback of an iconic predator p68

Searching for new life at the foot of the planet p34 Plus: The South Pole, 100 years on – exploring Scott’s legacy p40

QUESt FOr tHE HiggS bOSOn What does it mean for physics? p82 Fall oF the aztecS Did their ruler betray his people? p70

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Stink bird The bird that thinks it’s a cow p76

in the line oF Fire How to second-guess wildfires p24


3d printing The new technological revolution p54

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Q&A: Did Picasso steal the Mona Lisa? p90 Why is wholemeal bread better? p90



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How old are the oldest diamonds? p89 Could we terraform Venus? p92 What makes things cute? p92

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World News in context Cold War in the Middle East

5 October 2007: an Iranian boy with a plastic gun during demonstrations to mark Jerusalem Day in Tehran

Relations between Israel and Iran are steadily deteriorating. David Keys examines the factors behind the hostility cold war between Iran and Israel – the Middle East’s two top military powers – has been gathering pace, and observers are increasingly worried about its potential for escalation. Towards the end of 2011, Israel tested a ballistic missile. Around the same time, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) bolstered suspicions that Iran has secretly been developing technologies that could in the future be used to make nuclear weapons. Inexorably, a dozen different historical threads are slowly coming together to produce greater tension – or worse – in the Middle East. At the core of the problem are the mutual distrust, dislike and fear between Israel and Iran. The Shah’s preIslamist regime in Iran was favourably disposed towards Israel, but the Islamic revolutionaries who displaced it in 1979 were not. Partly, their hostility was a reaction to the Shah’s pro-Israeli position. But it was also because the replacement Islamist government wanted to develop a leadership role within radical Islam across the region, and realised that supporting radical Palestinians against Israel might help in that process. Ideologically, it also

Reuters x2. illustration BY Sheu-KuEI Ho


Caspian Sea


Lebanon ISRAEL Gaza









Areas where the majority religion is Shia Islam Nuclear facility Nuclear facility bombed by Israel in 2007



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sees Israel as part of a wider US-aligned ‘neo-imperialist’ threat to the geopolitical independence of some nations in the developing world. But there was an additional historical factor that conceivably played a role in shaping Iranian clerical anti-Israeli views. Back in the 1930s and during World War II, Nazi Germany sought to promote anti-Semitism in Iran and elsewhere in the Middle East. Radio Zeesen The vehicle for the propaganda was Radio Zeesen, a German station broadcasting from Berlin in the Iranian Farsi language. The transmitter had been upgraded for Berlin’s 1936 Olympics and by 1940 the station, which became extremely antiSemitic, had become one of the most popular in Iran. The German ambassador in the Iranian capital, Tehran, advised the German foreign office that in order to foster antiSemitic sentiment in Iran, Radio Zeesen should, by quoting the Qur’an, “highlight Mohammed’s struggle against the Jews in ancient times, and that of the Führer in modern times.” Radio Zeesen’s prewar and wartime propaganda onslaught started as part of a much broader relationship between Germany and Iran. By 1940, 47 per cent of Iranian exports were to Germany, while 80 per cent of all industrial machinery in Iran came from Germany. The Iranians’ pro-German sentiments only grew stronger after Soviet and British troops invaded and occupied the country in August 1941. Radio Zeesen was certainly listened

to by some members of the Iranian clergy, including the man who would eventually become supreme leader of Iran – Ayatollah Khomeini. By 1941, Iranian rural clerics were, according to the German ambassador, suggesting that Hitler had been sent to Earth by God as an Islamic saviour. In the postwar decades, right-wing German influence on Iranian clerics continued in the form of the controversial philosopher and former Nazi, Martin Heidegger. In 1963, Khomeini told his supporters: “Jews and foreigners wish to destroy Islam.” In his 1971 book The Islamic State, he accused the Jews of being “the first to begin anti-Islamic propaganda and ideological conspiracies”. These anti-Jewish sentiments gradually merged with a more political sounding anti-Zionism. In 1967, Khomeini told his followers “to annihilate unbelieving and inhuman Zionism”. Holocaust denial More recently, despite the Iranian government having reasonable relations with Iran’s own Jewish community, elements of the Iranian leadership have tried to question the Holocaust as a historical event. In 2006 they convened an international conference on the Holocaust to which they invited substantial numbers of Holocaust deniers and far-right activists – including a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan and a senior German neo-Nazi. The fall of the USSR in 1991, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)’s recognition of the existence of Israel in 1993, and the decline of the conventional Arab left in the region has created a political vacuum that has been increasingly filled by Islamist ideology.

Iran has been a major beneficiary of this process – as has its client or allied movements Hamas (founded in 1987), Palestinian Islamic Jihad (founded in 1979) and Hezbollah (founded in 1982), which are seen by Israel as threats. In recent years that latter organisation – now a coalition partner in the Lebanese government – has been supplied by Iran with many weapons, including thousands of rockets. Nuclear weapons Another factor serving to escalate tensions in the Middle East is the Iranian government’s behaviour relating to nuclear issues – evidenced by its frequent clashes with the IAEA. Although Iran denies that it wishes to develop a nuclear bomb, its actions have made Israel increasingly nervous. Until now, Israel has been the region’s only nuclear power – though it has always refused to confirm or deny this – and Iran no doubt feels intimidated by Israel’s conventional firepower as well as its nuclear weaponry. Iran also fears how the US and Pakistan’s nuclear weapons could be used in the future and no doubt feels it needs a deterrent. Iran’s nuclear industry goes back to the 1960s, but it was only from 2002 that its nuclear behaviour began to provoke substantial international distrust. Iran has also had a missile development cooperation programme with North Korea. The IAEA now believes that there is “credible evidence” that Iran was and may still be secretly engaged in “activities relevant to the development of a nuclear device”. There’s another key reason why Israel is wary of Iran, namely Iran’s capacity and probable willingness to wage long-term conventional war against Israel, should Israel – or indeed the US – try to use military means to neutralise Iran’s nuclear weapons programme. But Israel’s fear of Iran’s conventional war capability is also, to an extent, based on Iran’s past willingness to sacrifice vast numbers of its citizens in conflict. This was demonstrated in the Iran/Iraq war (1980-88) when Iran fought on for eight years, losing up to 700,000 men. Iraq lost up to 300,000. Israel’s concerns are massively reinforced by the experience of Jewish history – repeated persecutions and massacres in Europe in the medieval and early modern periods, then the Russian pogroms in the

late 19th century and the Holocaust in the mid-20th century. Few other peoples on Earth have experienced such fundamental threats to their existence, and Israeli politicians and military planners obviously approach the potential Iranian nuclear threat in the context of that history. Iran, meanwhile, also has a history unlike any other country in the Middle East. Firstly, it has existed as an independent state for thousands of years – since the 9th century BC – and therefore has a very strong national identity. Secondly, it had no major internal religious divisions since most of the population converted from Sunni to Shia Islam in the 16th century. And Iran is now the standard-bearer for Shia communities throughout the Middle East. Thirdly, it is intensely nationalistic – partly a product of at least half a dozen foreign interventions over the past century. In 1907, Russia and Britain de facto partitioned Iran into economic interest zones. In 1908, the Russians intervened in the country. In World War I, neutral Iran was invaded by the Ottomans, the Russians and the British. After the conflict, British and Russian troops were active there. In World War II, neutral Iran was again invaded and occupied by the British and the Russians. Western involvement In 1953, the CIA and Britain’s Secret Service helped organise a coup d’état to secure control of the country’s oil by removing its nationalist prime minister. By 1957, the US and Israel were training the Shah’s widely detested secret police. In the decade prior to the 1979 Islamist revolution, the US had 15,000 troops stationed in Iran, who were controversially not subject to Iranian law and whose presence often caused much resentment. Although Iran and Israel don’t share a border, Israel is partly surrounded by Iranian-backed militias – Hamas in Gaza, Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the West Bank and Hezbollah in Lebanon. All three are able to stir up military problems for Israel. And all came into being directly – or indirectly in the case of Hezbollah – as a result of an issue that has haunted the Middle East for more than 60 years: Israel’s fraught relationship with the Palestinians. Some 130 years ago, 95 per cent of Palestine (ie what is now Israel, the

Tehran, 2006: a banner during a gathering to mark the anniversary of the Islamic revolution

West Bank and Gaza) was inhabited by Palestinian Arabs. In 1948, the Palestinians were offered 43 per cent of the land – an offer they rejected. The Arabs then tried to destroy Israel, but failed. Half a century later, at Camp David in 2000, the Israelis offered the Palestinians 15 per cent of what had been Palestine with the possibility of another four per cent later. The offer was turned down. Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank has continued for most of the past decade – and it’s likely that the current Israeli government would offer less than was offered in 2000 if negotiations were to resume. With the Israeli occupation continuing and anti-Israeli sentiment high, Hamas – backed by Iran – won the last Palestinian elections, in 2006. Direct hostilities have not yet broken out between Israel and Iran. The key question is whether Israel is prepared to see a viscerally anti-Israeli enemy develop the ability to carry out a nuclear attack on it. So far, attempts by Iran’s enemies to slow down its nuclear programme have included the assassination of four top Iranian nuclear scientists and the use of a computer virus. How long it will be before this Middle Eastern Cold War gets hotter is, for the time being at least, an open question. David Keys has worked on more than a dozen BBC TV history and archaeology documentaries and is a specialist correspondent for The Independent.

find out more E Israel vs Iran: the shadow war by Yaakov Katz and Yoaz Hendel (Potamac, 2011) E For the latest developments in the Middle East Vol. 4 Issue 3


EVOLU HUman evolution

ial c e p s n o ti u l o Ev


STANDING Over the last 6 million years, the most successful species in history has gone through countless adaptations, with all but modern humans having long since died out. So what makes us so special?


The Last Humans p26

Have we beaten evolution? p30

Kate Ravilious explores human history to determine why Homo sapiens are the only survivors of all the hominid species

It’s a question that’s asked again and again, with scientists split on the answer. Alice Roberts looks to the past and future

Vol. 4 Issue 3

Alamy, Corbis, Science photo library, thinkstock x2


The Ju/’hoansi tribe in the Namibian bush represent the oldest lineage of modern humans

The last humans Some 50,000 years ago, Homo sapiens beat all other hominids to become the only surviving species. Kate Ravilious asks how we came out on top

The view from the Denisova cave in Siberia, where a finger bone (CAT scan left) proved a new piece to the puzzle 26

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oday there are more than 7 billion people living on Earth. No other species has exerted as much influence over the planet as us. We’ve inhabited every continent and restructured the Earth’s surface and atmosphere. But our place in the pecking order wasn’t always this high. New scientific evidence has shed more light on our ancestors’ fight for survival against other hominids. So what happened to those other ancient people? Turn back the clock 80,000 years and we were one of around five species of human roaming the Earth. Our own species, Homo sapiens (Latin for ‘wise man’), was most successful in Africa. In western Eurasia the Neanderthals dominated, while descendents of Homo erectus may have lived in Indonesia and Homo floresiensis (the ‘Flores’ or ‘Hobbit’ man) inhabited the Indonesian island of Flores. An unusual tooth and a finger bone discovered in Denisova cave in Siberia in 2008 led scientists to believe that yet another human


population – the Denisovans – may have been widespread across Asia. Somewhere along the line the others died out, leaving Homo sapiens as the sole survivor. But what made us the winners in the battle for survival? Was it chance, or did our unique skills and attributes have a crucial role to play? One of the earliest encounters between human species may have taken place in India prior to a massive volcanic eruption. Some 74,000 years ago, the Toba supervolcano on the Indonesian island of Sumatra blew its top, releasing 2500km3 of magma – nearly twice the volume of Mount Everest. The eruption, over 5000 times as large as the 1980 Mount St Helens eruption in the US, flung ash as far as eastern India more than 2000km (1250 miles) away. The ash fell like snow for over two weeks, turning day to night, smothering plant life and polluting water supplies. Previously, scientists speculated that the global climate change brought on by the Toba eruption may have

almost wiped out the human race, but archaeological evidence from India shows that this was far from the case. No skeletons have ever been found – the moist tropical environment is not good for preserving bone – but University of Oxford archaeologist Mike Petraglia and his team have uncovered thousands of stone tools buried beneath the ash. The same kind of stone tools continue to emerge from the soil layers above the ash, proving that the people who made them survived the disaster. Two Indian species So who were they? Many of these tools are hand axes – simple, efficient cutting blades that Petraglia believes most probably belonged to a species like Homo erectus. But some of the tools, including possible spear tips of the type used by Homo sapiens, have led him to speculate that there were two species of human living in eastern India prior to the Toba eruption. Based on careful analysis of the tools and dating of the sediment layers where they were found, Petraglia and his team suggest that Homo sapiens arrived in eastern India around 78,000 years ago, migrating out of Africa and across Arabia during a favourable climate period. After their arrival, the simple tools belonging to Homo erectus dwindle and eventually disappear completely. “We think that Homo sapiens had a more efficient hunting technology, which could have given them the edge,” says Petraglia. “Whether or not the eruption of Toba also played

Chris Stringer examines the skull of a Neanderthal woman found in Gibraltar

a role in the extinction of the Homo erectus-like species is unclear.” Some 45,000 years later, another fight for survival was underway. This time the location was Europe and the protagonists were our ancestors and the Neanderthals. Initially, Homo sapiens and Neanderthals had no reason to compete, but then Europe’s climate swung into a cold and dry phase. “Neanderthal and Homo sapiens populations had to retreat to refugia [pockets of habitable land] and this heightened competition between the two groups,” explains Chris Stringer, Research Leader in Human Origins at the Natural History Museum in London and author of The Origin of our Species (Allen Lane, 2011). How did the two species square up? Both were physically strong and stockier than the average human today, but Neanderthals were particularly robust. “Their skeletons show that they had broad shoulders and thick necks,” says Stringer. Our ancestors probably wouldn’t have come off well in a fistfight with a Neanderthal but they may have been skilled at throwing a spear.

Neanderthals return from hunting the game that was key to their diet

Our ancestors relied on a smorgasbord of resources Even if the two species weren’t engaged in direct combat, this long-range killing ability may have given Homo sapiens an advantage in hunting. “Homo sapiens could use this skill to kill from some distance with less danger and using relatively little energy,” explains Stringer. Both Neanderthal and Homo sapiens skeletons have been found in cold climate regions, living alongside woolly mammoths in Ice Age Britain, for example. The large body size of the Neanderthals helped to keep them warm but it came at a cost. “Compared to Homo sapiens living in the same environment, Neanderthals may have needed

to consume several hundred more calories every day, which made them much more dependent on game such as deer and horse,” says Stringer. Chemical analysis of Neanderthal and Homo sapiens bones support this theory, showing that Neanderthals were top-level carnivores, while our ancestors relied on more of a smorgasbord of resources, including small game and fish. When it came to keeping warm, Homo sapiens had another trick up its sleeve: weaving and sewing. Archaeologists have uncovered simple needles fashioned from ivory and bone alongside Homo sapiens dating as far back as 35,000 years. “Using this technology we could use animal skins to make ourselves tents, warm clothes and fur boots,” says Stringer. “Most importantly, we could keep our babies warm, which may have given us the edge over Neanderthals for surviving climate fluctuations.” In contrast, Neanderthals never seemed to master sewing skills, instead relying on tying or pinning skins together. Brain teaser Some of these differences in behaviour and technology may have emerged because the two species thought in different ways. By comparing skull shapes, archaeologists have shown that Neanderthals had similar-sized brains to early Homo sapiens but with a larger occipital lobe. This region at the back of the brain is associated with visual processing, which may have meant that Neanderthals had keener eyesight and were better E Vol. 4 Issue 3


Stephen Schuster / Penn state, press association x2, max plank institute for evolutionary anthropology, SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

human evolution

Natural selection Our hominid ancestors adapted to different situations in a number of ways that helped them to survive Did the early hominids fight each other? Homo sapiens are sometimes shown skirmishing with Neanderthals and Homo erectus. There’s no hard evidence of conflict between the two but it is likely, according to paleoanthropologist John Shea of Stony Brook University, New York. “Among the big primates today you can see two strategies for dealing with disputes. Bonobos have sex, while chimpanzees fight each other. However, I think the hominids mainly left each other alone.” That’s not the only view, however. Back in 1959, the remains of a Neanderthal dubbed Shanidar 3 were found in a cave in Iraq. The skeleton had an unusual injury on its left side. Steven Churchill of Duke University, North Carolina, argued that the wound was caused by a projectile, implying a spear that was thrown rather than thrust. In other words, Shanidar 3 may have been killed by Homo sapiens.

Stephen Churchill (right) and colleagues investigate the power of early weapons


Spears: thrusting vs throwing

Our ancestors’ ability to throw spears gave them an edge over Neanderthals

Neanderthals’ wooden spears were big and heavy, measuring 1.5-2m (5-6.5ft) long and 4-5cm (1.6-2in) thick, and tapered at one end. Shea says that the stone points Neanderthals made are too thick to have been effective projectile points. They are more likely to have been knives or tips of thrusting spears, which were mainly used at close quarters by thrusting into the side of large animals like elephants. Neanderthals were strong enough to hold a spear steady while an animal writhed, causing huge damage. They could also throw for short distances. Homo sapiens were better throwers, however. Their longer forearms made their entire arms longer, which enabled them to hurl spears over larger distances.

Painted hunters Neanderthals’ skin was lighter than Homo sapiens’, because they had made the journey out of Africa half a million years earlier. According to Shea, cloudy European weather could have caused natural selection to favour lighter skins, in order to boost the amount of UV radiation they absorbed. But lighter-coloured bodies would be conspicuous, so the Neanderthals may have painted their faces and bodies before hunting. “Black manganese – a dark mineral pigment – has been found with Neanderthal remains,” says Shea. “They might have decorated themselves if their skin had lost melanin. The pigment would have acted like camouflage so they could get closer to animals.” There’s even evidence that pigments could have been used for cosmetics, as traces have been found on shells from Spain.

A Neanderthal make-up container? Traces of pigments were found on shells

E able to distinguish objects in dimly lit places, like murky forests. Homo sapiens, however, had more developed temporal lobes (the regions at the side of the brain, associated with listening, language and long-term memory). “We think that Homo sapiens had a significantly more complex language than Neanderthals and were able to comprehend and discuss concepts such as the distant past and future,” says Stringer. Furthermore, we may have been able to talk faster. In Homo sapiens the upper respiratory tract is more flexed than that of Neanderthals, making it more efficient at creating a wide variety of sounds quickly. Penny Spikins, an archaeologist at the University of York, UK, has recently suggested that Homo sapiens may also have had a greater diversity of brain types than Neanderthals. “Our research indicates that part of the reason Homo sapiens were so successful is because they were willing to include people with ‘different’ minds in their society – for example, people with autism or schizophrenia,” she explains.

Diverse population Recent analysis of the Neanderthal genome supports Spikins’s ‘different minds’ theory, revealing that Neanderthals didn’t carry the genes associated with autism or schizophrenia. “It seems reasonable to conclude that Neanderthals were much more similar to each other genetically and not prepared to accommodate differences in people,” says Spikins. By being tolerant of these seemingly damaging traits, Homo sapiens acquired specialist skills and a diverse population that was better able to adapt to – and exploit – different environments. For example, people with mild forms of autism are often highly skilled at one particular activity. “It’s not difficult to see how attention to detail, exceptional memory, a thirst for knowledge and narrow, obsessive focus can lead to significant achievement in certain realms,” says Spikins.

human evolution

Homo sapiens adaptability was key to them standing on top of the heap

Homo sapiens may have had a greater diversity of brain types than Neanderthals High-precision tools, new hunting technologies and the development of symbolic communication may all have come about by encouraging people to ‘think outside the box’. Meanwhile, people willing to lead an isolated existence may have become explorers, discovering new lands and resources to exploit. Unusual ways of thinking could also have helped people to come up with new ways of resolving social tensions. “Shamanism, music and dance all helped bind people together,” says Spikins. Sexual equality By around 30,000 years ago, many of these talents and traits were well established in Homo sapiens societies but still lacking from Neanderthal communities. “We see similar kinds of injuries on male and female Neanderthal skeletons, implying that there was no division of labour or specialised roles,” says Spikins. Tolerance and open-mindedness, as well as a thirst for exploration, gave Homo sapiens another significant advantage over Neanderthals. Objects such as shell beads and flint tools, discovered many miles from their source, show that our ancestors traded over large distances, exchanging useful materials and sharing ideas and knowledge. By contrast Neanderthals tended to keep to themselves, living

in small groups. They gathered resources from close by, perhaps failing to discover new materials, technologies or environments outside their own territory. Nonetheless, Neanderthals were a highly successful species, dominating the European landscape for 300,000 years. Yet within just a few thousand years of the arrival of Homo sapiens, their numbers plummeted. They eventually disappeared from the landscape around 30,000 years ago, their last known refuge being southern Iberia. Stringer thinks that in many ways the Neanderthals were just unlucky, living in the wrong place at the wrong time. “They had to compete with Homo sapiens during a phase of very unstable climate across Europe,” he says. “During each rapid climate fluctuation they may have suffered greater losses than Homo sapiens, and thus were gradually worn down. If the climate had remained stable throughout, they might still be here.” Once the Neanderthals had died out, only two species of human are believed to have remained: Homo sapiens and Homo floresiensis – the Hobbit people. As their nickname suggests, these people had small bodies – only just over 1m (3.3ft) tall – and small brains. Nonetheless, they behaved in an intelligent way. They used stone tools, which

indicate cooperative hunting, and perhaps also fire for cooking. They might still be alive today if it weren’t for a huge volcanic eruption 17,000 years ago. It devastated the island of Flores, wiping out its vegetation and the stegodon – a dwarf elephant-like species that may have formed the staple diet of the hobbit people. “So far there is no evidence of any competition with Homo sapiens. Perhaps they simply failed to survive the aftermath of the eruption,” says Stringer. However, it turns out that all of our fellow human species may not have completely died out after all. Last year Svante Pääbo, from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, and colleagues analysed Neanderthal bones and sequenced the Neanderthal genome. They discovered that all humans with ancestry outside Africa share around two and a half per cent of their DNA with Neanderthals. In 2011, Pääbo and his colleagues carried out the same analysis on the finger bone found in Denisova cave in Siberia. They showed that the Denisovans share as much as five per cent of their genetic material with presentday Melanesians (people living in the islands of South East Asia). “Both Neanderthals and Denisovans were able to interbreed and have fertile offspring with modern humans,” says Pääbo. “In some ways, they live on in us today.” [A version of this article originally appeared in Focus magazine]

Kate Ravilious is a freelance science writer based in the UK. She has written extensively on ancient civilisations.

find out more E Huge resource about modern and early humans E The Origin of our Species by Chris Stringer (Allen Lane, 2011)

What do you think? What is the most important reason for Homo sapiens’s survival? Email:

Vol. 4 Issue 3



Scientists are still trying to piece together the jigsaw puzzle of human evolution

Have we beaten evolution?

Alamy x3, thinkstock, Science photo library, Press association

Have modern life and new technology made us immune to the pressure of natural selection? Alice Roberts investigates whether we’re still evolving

The skeletal remains of the Red Lady of Paviland, found by Reverend William Buckland in this cave in Wales in 1823 30

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hile digging for fossils at Goat’s Hole Cave in South Wales, Reverend William Buckland found a bone. As he dug deeper, a partial skeleton revealed itself, covered in red ochre and buried with shell and ivory ornaments. This was in 1823. It would be years before the geological age of the Earth was known and before Darwin would publish his theory of natural selection, so Buckland believed it was impossible for any human remains to be more than a couple of thousand years old. The Red Lady of Paviland, as the skeleton came to be known, was later found to be the remains of a young male. At more than 30,000 years old, it is the earliest modern human skeleton found in the UK. Buckland’s mistake was completely understandable – those ancient bones look remarkably similar to more recent skeletons. It seems that humans haven’t changed much in the last few millennia. So is it possible that we are somehow ‘frozen in time’, that


our species is no longer subject to natural selection? I’ve been asked this question more times than I care to remember. I’m always tempted to respond flippantly: “Come back in a million years and I’ll tell you the answer,” but it’s actually a very good question. It makes us look at species objectively and has provoked a variety of answers from a range of experts. It goes to the very core of what we understand about evolution and how we see ourselves as humans. Great apes Looking at ourselves in an evolutionary context, we are African apes. Our closest living cousins are chimpanzees, with whom we share a common ancestor going back some 7 million years. But we’re very unusual apes. While other African apes are forest-living, fruit-eating, knucklewalking creatures, our ancestors started to do things differently, striding out on two legs into wideopen spaces and surviving in all

Human evolution


sorts of environments, eating a vast range of foodstuffs. For some reason – perhaps to make sweating and heat loss easier, perhaps because we just prefer hairless mates – we lost our fur, and we have the most absurdly large brains of any mammal on the whole planet. Those ancient bipedal apes appear to have been very successful. Just from the fossils found so far, paleoanthropologists know that over most of the last 4 million years there were several species of humans or pre-humans (hominins) around at any time. The position we now find ourselves in, as the only hominin on the planet, is unusual. The other strange thing about our species is that we, unlike any other hominin before us, have spread everywhere. And there are billions of us. Born survivors As a species, it’s fair to say that we’re incredibly successful. It’s hard to pin down exactly what causes this success, but two key factors are probably our adaptability and our longevity. Our adaptability allows us to survive by eating a vast range of different diets and to live in many types of environment. Our big brains and long childhoods are particularly helpful when it comes to adapting to new environments by allowing each of us to learn how to live in a particular location. Our longevity allows wisdom about survival to be passed on, and it means that post-menopausal women can support their daughters, enabling younger women to have lots of children. In a nutshell, we can breed like rabbits and our culture allows us to survive just about anywhere. It’s our cultural capabilities that have led some experts to say that we have excluded or buffered ourselves from natural selection. In an interview in 2000, the Harvard palaeontologist and science writer Stephen Jay Gould said: “Natural selection has almost become irrelevant in human evolution. There’s been no biological change in humans in 40,000 or 50,000 years. Everything we call culture and

Resistance to HIV may be a result of historical mutations

Influential American evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould in his Harvard office

civilisation we’ve built with the same body and brain.” Indeed, looking at the bones of our ancestors, it is difficult to see much evidence of any major changes since our species originated more than 100,000 years ago. However, when you start to look at ancient bones more closely, it is possible to discern changes over time. These may be quite subtle, but that is to be expected within a single species. Another clue to recent human evolution is the diversity of humans today. There are so many different shapes and sizes of human bodies, so many different hair, eye and skin colours. But there’s even more compelling evidence when we start to compare our DNA. Hot on the heels of the Human Genome Project, geneticists are just starting to map the diversity within human genomes and to question seriously the idea that

Evolutionary enemies In evolution, we co-evolve with other species – not to mention pathogens Drugs are a relatively new addition to the human anti-viral arsenal. Pre-drugs, specific mutations in the human genome were selected for the protection they conferred. Some people have been found to be resistant to HIV infection, for example, although it seems that this may be down to historical mutations that helped protect against other diseases, perhaps smallpox or dysentery. So will we ever evolve to beat the viruses? The eradication of smallpox might raise such hopes. But smallpox was a relatively soft target: if it had mutated as fast as flu or HIV do, it’s unlikely that scientists would ever have been able to develop such an effective vaccine for it. We’ve also made it much easier for pathogens to infect us today, by living in high densities and our penchant for travelling. While modern medicine is fighting a valiant battle against such infections, modern living is making it much easier for them.

We have the most absurdly large brains of any mammal on the planet we might have escaped from the clutches of natural selection. In her lab at the Broad Institute in Boston, geneticist Pardis Sabeti has revealed evidence for recent evolutionary changes. Sabeti started by looking at the evolution of

resistance to disease, but when she looked at the genome more widely, she began to find plenty of other evidence for recent evolutionary change. Her breakthrough lay in combining existing methods, developing a powerful tool for scrutinising DNA to find evidence of selection. She looked for mutations that have happened relatively recently and that have then spread quickly through a population – a sure sign of adaptations being positively ‘selected for’. Her team discovered about 300 areas in the genome that fitted these criteria. Many of the strongest signals of selection were related to resistance to infections such as tuberculosis, leprosy, sleeping sickness, polio, E measles and Lassa fever. There Vol. 4 Issue 3


Becoming human For millions of years, our ancestors were making new discoveries and adaptations that would eventually lead to the species we recognise today A timeline of human evolution 6 mya

5 mya

4 mya

3 mya

2 mya

1 mya

2.5 mya

5.8 mya

First evidence of hominins walking on two legs

6.0 mya

Alamy x3, getty, press association, thinkstock

Chimp and human lineages split



First simple stone tools

Earliest evidence of purpose-built shelters

1.6 mya

First use of fire

3.5 mya

Meat eating begins

1.8 mya

First wave of migration out of Africa begins


Earliest evidence of cooking

H Australopithecus afarensis

H Australopithecus africanus

H Homo habilis

H Homo erectus

Meaning: Southern ape from afar Lived: 3.7-3mya Location: Eastern Africa Height: Males 1.51m (5ft); females 1.05m (3ft 5in) Weight: Males 45kg (93lb); females 29kg (64lb) Brain size: 387-550cm3 (23-33 cu in) Facial features: A flat, broad face with long, narrow jaws and a prominent brow ridge above the eyes.

Meaning: African southern ape Lived: 3.3-2.1mya Location: South Africa Height: Males 1.35m (4ft 5in); females 1.10m (3ft 7in) Weight: 25-50kg (55-110lb) Brain size: 428-625cm3 (26-38 cu in) Facial features: Shorter and more human-like than A. afarensis, with a smaller, rounder jaw and a greatly reduced brow ridge over the eyes.

Meaning: Handy man Lived: 2.4-1.6mya Location: Eastern and southern Africa Height: 1-1.35m (3ft 3in-4ft 5in) Weight: 32kg (71lb) Brain size: 600-700cm3 (36-43 cu in) Facial features: Wide face with a wide and pronounced nose, separated from the mouth by a deep upper lip. Forehead begins to emerge and the face is lower and shorter than A. africanus.

Meaning: Upright man Lived: 1.8m-30,000ya Location: China and Java; African and European sites remain contested Height: 1.6-1.8m (5ft 3in-6ft) Weight: 40-68kg (88-150lb) Brain size: 750-1300cm3 (46-79 cu in) Facial features: Wide, flat cheekbones, protruding jaw and wide nose. The eyes may have had smaller irises and distinct whites by this time.

Feature in here

Digesting milk into adulthood is a relatively recent human evolutionary development



Clothing invented and earliest evidence of jewellery

Agriculture begins, first villages



First evidence of longdistance trade

Bronze Age begins


Second wave of migration out of Africa

H Homo sapiens Meaning: Wise man Lived: 200,000 years ago to present Location: Worldwide Height: 1.5-1.8m (5-6ft) on average Weight: 54-83kg (120-183lb) on average Brain size: 1000-2000cm3 (61-122 cu in) Facial features: Flatter face with rounder, smaller, non-protruding jawline, smaller nose and parallel sides of the skull.


Earliest known writing

E were also hotspots in genes relating to skin pigmentation in Europeans. Sabeti had dated the appearance of mutations by looking at how much the DNA around the important change had been mixed up and reshuffled by the recombination that goes on between each generation.

Delicate balance This confirms that some of the obvious diversity among people today has appeared very recently in evolutionary terms. Given what we know about the migrations of Homo sapiens into Europe and northeast Asia, the development of pale skin in those areas must have appeared within the last 40,000 years – and the genetics bear this out. The amount of the skin pigment melanin that we each have in our skin seems to be the result of a delicate balance between protecting against too much UV radiation while still being able to make enough vitamin D. “The research has had a huge impact on our understanding of human evolution,” says Sabeti. “The ability to mine large data sets and look at many, many people throughout their genomes means we’re now at a place where we can really explore what’s driving evolution.” Other recent changes are less obvious. Molecular evolution

has been happening inside us in ways that don’t show up on the outside but have profound effects on the way we interact with our environments, including how our bodies process what we eat and drink. Mark Thomas, Professor of Evolutionary Genetics at University College London, has been researching lactase persistence. As mammals, it is to be expected that humans would be able to digest the milk protein, lactose, as babies. Other mammals lose this ability as they mature but many humans have evolved the ability to digest lactose into adulthood. This seems to have occurred as some ancient populations started to domesticate animals and drink their milk. Genetic mutants who possessed the ability to digest milk as adults by continuing to make the enzyme lactase had a distinct advantage – especially during times of drought or famine when milk may have been the only source of nourishment available, so lactase persistence spread through those pastoralist populations. “It’s probably the most advantageous characteristic that Europeans have evolved in the last 30,000 years,” says Thomas. Lactase persistence occurs in about a third of people worldwide, but the proportion varies widely in different locations. It’s present in up to 96 per cent of British and Scandinavian E Vol. 4 Issue 3


Evolution can be thought of as what parents pass on to their children

E people, for example, while it’s very rare in East Asians, who never kept animals for milk. The research is truly interdisciplinary, bringing together a range of archaeologists and geneticists. Thomas’s own research involved using computer simulations to test hypotheses generated from the archaeological evidence for ancient pastoralism and the genetic evidence for lactase persistence in populations today. His work shows that population size would have been important in the spread of this trait, and that the selection pressure varied over time, which makes sense if lactase persistence became most advantageous during famine.

Alamy x2, thinkstock x2


Human evolution

Evidence of change It seems that Gould was wrong when he said that no biological changes have happened in human populations in the last 50,000 years. Researchers such as Sabeti and Thomas have found evidence of evolutionary changes that have happened much more recently – in the case of lactase persistence, within the last 10,000 years or so. To find out if natural selection is acting as strongly now as it has done in the recent past we need to look carefully at birth and death. In the 18th and 19th centuries, families had more children, many of whom 34

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It’s inevitable that our species will suffer the same fate as any in the history of life on Earth died young and never reached adulthood. Today, couples have fewer children, but with better chances of survival. “The patterns of life and death, which are the raw material for Darwin’s great engine of evolution, have changed dramatically,” says Steve Jones, Emeritus Professor of Genetics at University College London. “To me, that says that natural selection has, if not stopped, at least slowed down.” Jones’s analogy of evolution is an exam with two papers: the first test involves surviving to adulthood; the second involves passing on your genes – having children. It’s hard to argue with his logic. He isn’t saying that humans have reached the end of evolution, but that, in developed countries at least, we have significantly dampened the effect of natural selection. If developing countries catch up, then the effects of natural selection will diminish there as well.

On the other side of the Atlantic, Stephen Stearns, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Yale University, has been looking at the results of a long-term medical study of the inhabitants of the rural town of Framingham, Massachusetts. Sifting through masses of data on a large number of traits, including height, weight and blood pressure, Stearns has found clear trends in several characteristics. Most of the changes are due to environmental factors, but his analysis has revealed a small but clear signal of hereditary (genetic) change as well. “Charles Darwin thought mostly about mortality, and it wasn’t until some time in the mid-to-late 20th century that people realised that it’s not really mortality, it’s reproductive success that is changing gene frequencies,” says Stearns. Survival rate Despite a massive reduction in childhood mortality, there’s still some variation in the numbers of children people have. Natural selection continues to wield some power over our future. In developed countries, natural selection may have been dampened, but it certainly hasn’t gone away completely. While culture may buffer us in some ways – with modern medicine making childhood death less likely, for instance – it also forms part of the new, selective

Natural selection goes a long way to explaining the diversity of humankind

You are what your ancestors ate The more we find out about human DNA, the more complicated it becomes. Our bodies and brains are a result of a complex conversation between our genes – and between those genes and the environment. The environmental ‘programming’ of genes is known as epigenetics, and when those effects are considered across the genome, epigenomics. At a molecular level, genes are switched off by adding a methyl group to the DNA itself, or by sticking a range of molecules onto the DNA’s protein packaging. Epigenomics explains how the cells within our bodies, containing the same DNA as each other, have different genes switched on or off. So the DNA of genetically identical cells is manipulated to produce cells as vastly different as nerve cells and liver cells, for instance. But as well as creating differences between cells inside a single individual, epigenomics also produces some of the differences between

landscape. Our ancestors who invented pastoralism and dairying to ensure their continued food supply ended up adapting to the new inventions. Other aspects of our current culture and technology could influence our evolution in the future. At his IVF clinic in Los Angeles, Jeff Steinberg has attracted criticism for suggesting that parents might be able to select certain genetic traits in their children. Steinberg already lets them choose the sex, for instance. But what about other human characteristics such as eye colour and height? And, as we discover more about the genetic basis of ourselves, how about being able to select for intelligence? Steinberg dismisses these as trivial choices. “The potential for abuse is there and we’re very cautious about where we’re going,” he says. “The future [of this technology is about] curing and preventing diseases.” For Steinberg, the real power of technology for the future of human evolution lies in reducing the burden of suffering.

Environmental factors, not just genes, shape human development

people. Going back just 10 years, this type of environmental programming of our DNA was not thought to be inheritable. However, several studies have shown that at a molecular level it’s not just the DNA that’s being inherited but also the modifications to the DNA that govern gene expression. So environmental factors acting in parents have been shown to affect their offspring. A study by the geneticist Marcus Pembrey on people living in Överkalix, Sweden, showed that grandfathers who over-ate went on to have grandchildren who were

Many parents might agree. But that choice currently relies on unnatural, in vitro fertilisation. A future where all babies are conceived in a lab is pure science fiction, but even without that type of intervention it’s inevitable that we will evolve. Even if we can lessen the impact of natural selection, we can’t avoid it entirely. Ultimate fate As a global and well-connected species with contact and gene flow between widely separated populations becoming easier and easier, it may seem unlikely that populations will become reproductively isolated and diverge into separate species. But, given enough time, it’s inevitable that our species will suffer the same fate as any in the history of life on Earth: to develop into a new species or to go extinct. Culture and technology could also drive our evolution in unexpected directions. Various events could accelerate the process of speciation or extinction – a global holocaust of our own making, a massive asteroid hit or volcanic

four times more likely to die from diabetes. Epigenetics means that geneticists need to look not only at genes, but at how the expression of those genes is regulated, as that is also subject to natural selection. Furthermore, when Pardis Sabeti from the Broad Institute in Boston looked for selection hotspots in the genome, only half of them occurred in genes. The rest lay within what used to be known as ‘junk DNA’ – the stretches of DNA between the genes.

eruption, or a devastating pandemic, for instance. We mustn’t fall into the trap of thinking that we’re somehow special enough to escape evolution. We’re certainly a very special species of ape, but we’re not that special. Come back in a million years and you’ll see what I mean. [A version of this article originally appeared in Focus magazine]

Alice Roberts is a BBC TV presenter and Professor of Public Engagement in Science at the University of Birmingham, UK

find out more E Evolution: the human story by Alice Roberts (Dorling Kindersley, 2011) E prehistoric_life/human/ A wealth of online resources from the BBC investigating how humans evolved

What do you think? How will humans evolve in the future – or have we beaten evolution after all? Email:

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Shakespeare: a brief history Born: unknown – baptised 26 April 1564, Stratford-upon-Avon Married: 1582 to Anne Hathaway Died: 23 April 1616 Children: Susannah Hall, and Hamnet Shakespeare and Judith Quiney (twins)

E The third of eight children, William Shakespeare is thought to have been educated at the local grammar school in Stratford. After his marriage, he moved to London to act and write plays. Critical reviews upbraiding him for presumption in attempting to match universityeducated playwrights such as Christopher Marlowe show that his work was being performed by 1592; the bulk of it was written

between then and around 1607, and the last cowritten play attributed to him is from 1613. Shakespeare co-owned a company called the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, later known as the King’s Men, and from 1594 onwards this was the only troop of players to perform his work. The company built The Globe theatre on the South Bank of the River Thames in 1599. Shakespeare divided his later years between London and Stratford, and died a wealthy man.


Greatest writers • part one •

William Shakespeare The first author to feature in our three-part series celebrating the greatest English writers of all time is William Shakespeare. Jerry Brotton examines how Shakespeare’s plays have shaped popular understanding of royal history, both during his own time and to this day.

o fewer than 10 of Shakespeare’s plays can be classified as histories – over a quarter of his work, and all mostly written during his first decade as a playwright. His dramatisation of some of England’s greatest monarchs has remained compelling and relevant ever since. Shakespeare used his history plays to perform a delicate balancing act. He offered the Tudor state and its censors a version of royal history that they found acceptable. At the same time, he examined the private, emotional pressures that defined and, in many cases, undermined English kings ranging from Richard II to Henry VIII. His portrayal of kingship and the historical reality of the best-known monarchs will be forever linked in the popular imagination. Thanks to Shakespeare, many people today regard Henry V as a virtual saint, while Richard III is seen as the ultimate villain. The reality, however, is far less straightforward. Actors and directors continue to extract a deeper level of complexity within these stereotypes. For instance, Laurence Olivier’s 1944 film version of Henry V offered a Churchillian version of the King, confident


and assured as he leads his men into victory in France. The film was dedicated to the armed forces involved in the Normandy invasion that took place that summer, and Olivier deftly extracted a strand of royal authority and English nationalism from Shakespeare’s original play that chimed perfectly with the country’s mood during war. A man for all seasons Some 45 years later, Kenneth Branagh filmed the play again under very different circumstances. Post-Vietnam and the Falklands, Branagh’s Henry was a young man struggling with his new-found responsibility, who even wept in the face of the cost of war. Again, Branagh’s 1980s ‘new man’ interpretation resonated with audiences while remaining faithful to the original play. Although not as innovative as Olivier’s film, Branagh’s vision has shaped more recent productions, particularly in the light of recent events in Iraq and Afghanistan. To best understand how Shakespeare produced such ambiguous and multi-layered representations of royalty, it is useful to set him E within the times that shaped his early history

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E plays. Although he dramatised many other kings on stage, including King John and Henry VIII, his primary involvement with England’s immediate royal past came in the series of plays he wrote throughout the 1590s, which dealt with the turbulent years of English history between 1398 and 1485. The first cycle of four plays – the three parts of Henry VI and Richard III – dealt with the catastrophic Wars of the Roses (1455-85). They begin with the descent into civil war under the factional rule of Henry VI, and end with the collapse of the ruling House of York, the death of Richard III and the rise of the first Tudor king, Henry VII. All four are thought to have been written within just three years (1591-94), and were some of Shakespeare’s earliest plays. Significantly, just over a year later Shakespeare went back even further in time to explore the causes

of the Wars of the Roses. Between 1595 and 1600, he wrote a second cycle of four plays exploring the years 1398 to 1420. The cycle began with the deposition of King Richard II and the rise of King

Historians have argued that Shakespeare’s Richard III is a piece of Tudor propaganda

Henry IV, followed by two plays on Henry’s attempt to deal with the political consequences of his coup d’etat. The cycle concluded with the triumphant Henry V, although most of Shakespeare’s audience

would have already seen what came next – the disastrous reign of Henry VI – performed on stage less than 10 years earlier. The cycles suggest a complex and sophisticated understanding of royal history on the part of both playwright and audience, and Shakespeare was also shrewdly tapping into a popular appetite for history. So-called ‘chronicle history’ of England’s kings and queens was a relatively new genre, and proving to be extremely popular. As source material, Shakespeare used Edward Hall’s The Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Famelies of Lancastre and York (1548) and Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland (1577). His plays and the books offered new ways of understanding relations between the past and the present. History was no longer ordained according to a divine plan. Instead,

Shakespeare’s kings The views of Shakespeare’s audience versus those of audiences today

Richard II

Henry IV

Henry V

Shakespeare’s Richard

Shakespeare’s Henry

Then: Introspective and tragic, a monarch adept at beautiful rhetoric but with little bearing on reality.

Then: A powerful, energetic figure in Richard II but rather colourless throughout the three parts of Henry IV, struggling with the guilt of deposing Richard II. Now: A shadowy figure obsessed with images of corruption that threaten to overwhelm his tenuous grip on power.

Now: Henry seems to speak with one eye on how religion and history will judge him. Many directors dwell on how Shakespeare offers the common people room to criticise the King’s decisions.

Mary evans picture library x5, ITV / Kobal, rex, Alamy

Reigned 1377-99

Reigned 1399-1413

Now: The play is considered more a tragedy than a history – the study of a flawed but attractive ruler who is better as a man with nothing than a king with everything.


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Henry VI

Richard III

Shakespeare’s Henry

Shakespeare’s Henry

Shakespeare’s Richard

Then: England’s great warrior king, who defeated the French and unified his people. Fused with the figure of St George, he was an almost mythical king.

Then: A weak and otherworldly individual doomed by prophecy before he was born and never taught the necessary skills to control the political factionalism of York and Lancaster.

Then: The last Yorkist king. A scheming, Machiavellian figure and scapegoat for Tudor authorities to justify their rise to power following his fall.

Reigned 1413-22

Reigned 1422-61; 1470-71

Now: Henry is seen as a far more sympathetic figure, doomed from the beginning, whose piety is ruthlessly exposed in an ever more secular political landscape.

Reigned 1483-85

Now: Often played with comical, even camp relish, a sinister and troublingly erotic villain who speaks directly to his audience. A sobering reminder of the dangers of political spin.

Olivier’s wartime Henry V was a rousing success

historical change was contingent on men’s actions, which put even greater onus on the monarch’s personal moral responsibility. This tremendously liberating and artistically exciting development was also politically dangerous. Wretched reign The chronicle histories helped to create a historical justification for the rise of the Tudor dynasty, from Henry VII to Elizabeth I, which is one reason why Shakespeare began with the reigns of Henry VI and Richard III. In the three parts of Henry VI, Shakespeare portrays the self-confessed “wretched reign” of the young, pious but politically naïve Henry. Although Henry was of the House of Lancaster and technically therefore an ancestor of the Tudors, the audience of the time knew that his long reign would be defined by civil war and humiliating military defeats in France. From the very beginning of the cycle, he is portrayed as essentially good but weak, unable to stifle the “dissension grown betwixt the peers” of the Houses of York and Lancaster. Throughout all three plays, the young King is overshadowed by the legacy of his father, from losing England’s French possessions to being cuckolded by his wife, Margaret of Anjou. Shakespeare’s portrayal of the King is broadly accurate. His main innovation is to stretch the long and complex military campaigns in France, as well as the rebellion led by Jack Cade in 1450 that briefly threatened to unseat the King. By the end of the cycle of plays, as

Henry prepares to be murdered at the hands of the future Richard III, Shakespeare portrays him as a Christ-like figure who must be sacrificed for the onward march of history. The next instalment in the cycle, Richard III, features the most controversial of all Shakespeare’s kings. Critics generally agree that it was in the interests of the Tudors to demonise Richard as the personification of all evil. Richard held a perfectly valid claim to the throne, and his usurpation by Henry, Earl of Richmond – the future King Henry VII and the first Tudor monarch – required some justification. What better grounds for deposing a king than to spread the rumour that he is a regicide (who kills Henry VI), a child murderer (disposing of two of his nephews with rival claims to the throne), a wife-poisoner and, perhaps most notoriously, a hunchback? Appetite for power In Shakespeare’s play, which drew on Sir Thomas More’s much earlier character assassination in the form of The History of King Richard the Third (c. 1513), Richard becomes a “deformed” monster, an “elvishmarked, abortive, rooting hog”, and a “poisonous bunch-backed toad” with an insatiable appetite for power who admits theatrically that he is “determined to prove a villain”. More recently, however, historians have argued that Shakespeare’s portrayal is a classic piece of Tudor propaganda. It E obscures the fact that the real

Kevin Spacey takes the lead in Sam Mendes’ Richard III in Athens last year

The Wars of the Roses York v Lancaster (c. 1455-1485): a beginner’s guide For three decades two powerful dynasties – the Houses of York and Lancaster – battled for the throne of England in a series of clashes that later became known as the Wars of the Roses. Hostilities began during the reign of the Lancastrian Henry VI, a mentally unstable king who presided over several defeats in France. Henry had a breakdown in 1453 and the powerful Richard, Duke of York, was named protector, continuing to wield a great deal of influence even after the King’s partial recovery two years later. The Lancastrians at court challenged Richard’s position and the two factions were soon engaged in open hostilities. With Henry increasingly marginalised, the Duke of York had himself named heir in 1460, but two months afterwards was killed in battle. His son Edward took over the Yorkist claim, winning a series of victories in 1461 and proclaiming himself Edward IV. Edward achieved some stability but his reign was disturbed in 1469 when he fell out with a key supporter, the Earl of Warwick, who switched to the Lancastrian side. Warwick helped restore Henry VI to the throne in 1470, forcing Edward into exile. However, the following year Edward returned with a vengeance, defeating and killing the Earl of Warwick, executing Henry VI and securing the throne until his own death in 1483. Edward’s young son Edward V was swiftly usurped by his uncle (Edward IV’s brother), who had himself crowned as Richard III. Edward V and his brother disappeared and were probably murdered on Richard’s orders. Two years later, Richard himself met a violent death at the Battle of Bosworth, where victory was achieved by a new Lancastrian claimant, Henry Tudor. Henry VII married Elizabeth of York in a bid to unify the warring factions. Small-scale rebellions continued but the Tudor dynasty managed to overcome them and put an end to the Wars of the Roses. Rob Attar is a British history journalist. He is Deputy Editor of BBC History Magazine

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E Richard was a shrewd and fair political administrator with a perfectly normal physique. Most of the speeches Shakespeare gives to Richard are pure dramatic licence, and his death at the hands of Henry, Earl of Richmond, at Bosworth is fiction. There can be little doubt that Shakespeare’s Richard III was central to the Tudor myth of its own origins.

Complex portraits The cycle of plays from Richard II to Henry V shows Shakespeare increasingly departing from the contemporary historical record in favour of more psychologically complex portraits. He ages Richard’s French wife Isabella to increase the poignancy of their separation, and conflates Richard’s abdication and Henry IV’s accession in order to intensify the drama and pose the

question that echoes throughout the rest of his subsequent history plays: “What subject can give sentence on his King?” Richard is deposed by his cousin, Henry of Bolingbroke, who then becomes the new King Henry IV and suffers alienation from his son, Prince Hal, who in turn regards Sir John Falstaff as his surrogate father. The sins of the father wear heavily on Hal, and the drama of the two parts of Henry IV focus as much on this fact as the rebellions and squabbles that characterise the new King’s role. Once again, Shakespeare telescopes and simplifies the public historical record, most famously expanding on Prince Hal’s immersion in the London underworld of Falstaff and his cronies. For an audience, Henry IV always suffers in comparison with

Most of the speeches Shakespeare gives to Richard III are pure dramatic licence, and his death is fiction Henry IV’s relationship with his son, Prince Hal is central to the play

The First Folio, as this 1623 collection would become known

the tragic King he deposed and the heroic King he produces; as a result, he disappears for large sections of the play. In contrast, Shakespeare’s Henry V (1598-99) places its king at the heart of the action. By the time of this play, Henry’s reputation was assured and Shakespeare followed admiring chroniclers like Holinshed in celebrating the King’s military prowess in France, culminating in victory at Agincourt. It was this collision between the demands of the Tudor state and Shakespeare’s fascination with how individuals make their own history that make his history plays such compelling drama, both for his contemporaries and for us today. [A version of this article first appeared in BBC History Magazine]

Jerry Brotton is Professor of Renaissance Studies at Queen Mary University of London. He also writes and presents for the BBC Rex, akg-images / interfoto

find out more E The World Shakespeare Festival begins on 23 April and runs throughout Summer 2012 – this site covers all the events taking place E figures/shakespeare_william.shtml An overview of Shakespeare’s life 40

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Is history right to herald Shakespeare as the greatest English language writer in history?

YES Bart Van Es is a fellow and lecturer at St Catherine’s College, University of Oxford

Academics tend to feel awkward about arguing for obvious truths. The playwright was far and away the most popular and highly regarded artist of his own time – so much so that plays like Sir John Oldcastle and poetry collections like The Passionate Pilgrim were falsely published under his name so as to attract an audience. He was not only loved by the general public but also highly regarded in elite circles. King James made his acting company the King’s Men soon after his accession and never tired of seeing his plays performed at court. That reputation has remained near-enough constant throughout history since. It is impossible to find a writer anywhere in the world who has had comparable success. This, however, is still to set the bar a little low for Shakespeare. He is also the greatest writer ‘in history’, in the sense that he

has changed history itself. Most directly, this is the case for cultural history. Countless novels, plays and operas have been inspired by his output, and 19th-century Romanticisim, the most powerful of intellectual movements, would have been entirely different without his influence. What is perhaps most relevant to historians is that our whole notion of Englishness owes much to Shakespeare. His words have shaped our language more than any other author and his ideas have taken men to war. Many things that now seem eternal were invented by Shakespeare. When he wrote of his nation as ‘this sceptered isle’ (Richard II) he was himself not living in an island kingdom because Scotland at that time was a foreign country. When Henry V fought the battle of Agincourt, he was a Norman lord defeating a rival claimant to the French crown – it was Shakespeare, above all, who made him English. Historians may argue as to whether Shakespeare’s influence was a good or bad thing and thereby show their cleverness. That Shakespeare is the greatest writer in history, however, is obvious.

It’s impossible to find a writer anywhere who has had comparable success

NO Andy Martin is a lecturer in languages at the University of Cambridge and a fellow of the New York Public Library

“O noble English! That could entertain with half their forces the full pride of France, and let another half stand laughing by, all out of work and cold for action.” Henry V act 1, scene 2. Considering that Shakespeare was always cracking jokes about the French, or having his kings conquer them, perhaps it is not so surprising that the French did not take too well to him. Voltaire, for one, denounced him as a “drunken savage”. Only in the 19th century, with the rise of Romanticism, was he given full credit for being a rule-breaking free spirit by writers like Victor Hugo, whose son was the first to translate all of Shakespeare into French. But Shakespeare is no romantic hero. His work probably marks the beginning of global linguistic imperialism by English. If his loose, permissive, accommodating form of ‘Globish’ has been so successful rather like Henry V’s army), it is because

What do you think? Do you agree with either academic – or neither?

it is impersonal and anonymous. It’s funny that we are so intent on pinning a literary gold medal on Shakespeare when I reckon he would be the last writer to want it. But this brings out the reason why Shakespeare will never get my vote. He is too self-effacing – virtually self-annihilating. He is so good at being everyone that he comes out as being no one. No wonder the pretenders are queuing up to be the real author of the plays. I acknowledge that Shakespeare is the greatest at satirising megalomaniacs who go about claiming themselves to be the greatest. The ‘history’ plays should really be seen as a series of secret satires of the greatness syndrome. All kings are just ‘kings’ – selfappointed tyrants surrounded by other wannabe tyrants all scheming to take their place. Anyone (with immense linguistic virtuosity) could have been Shakespeare. Amid all the personae there is no personality. A writer should be more than the sum of his parts – weirder, and more wonderful. After Byron and Wordsworth, Freudian psychoanalysis and existential angst, Shakespeare comes across only as the greatest impressionist.

He is so good at being everyone that he comes out as being no one


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he city is amazing!” Zhang Tian Jiao exclaimed as we looked upon the city so many had fallen in love with. There was a certain charm in its oldness, something you can never find in a young nation like Singapore. “Despite being a buzzing cosmopolitan city like Singapore, London’s historical buildings seem to have brought us back to a whole different era,” tells Too Jue Ying Joan. We were really thankful that STA Travel organized us a tour guide, Konrad Welkowinski, who managed to show us the most beautiful landmarks such as the Big Ben, Tower Bridge, London Bridge, Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s Cathedral, all in a day! For the past 13 years, STA Travel has been heavily involved in planning valuable learning trips for schools in Singapore, and this enriching trip was certainly testament to their efficient and meticulous planning. For me, watching the guard mounting at Buckingham Palace was a spectacle unlike any other I have ever seen. Tourists from all over the world visit Buckingham Palace in hope of catching a glimpse of the guards, clothed in their famous sleek, bold red uniforms and topped with their smartly matched bearskin hats, marching in perfect synchronization.

The Big Ben Theory

One can never quite get used to how large London is or how old her majestic buildings are. By Nina Gee

The irrepressible guards in action at Buckingham Palace

Gearing up for the Doctor Who Experience

THE DOCTOR WHO EXPERIENCE The next day, we headed down to West Kensington for the Doctor Who Experience. Hailed as a multi-sensory interactive journey packed with amazing special effects and exclusive filming, the experience was certainly worth its weight in gold. “Is Doctor Who a big thing over at Singapore?” the Ticket Master asked us

(Start planning your next school trip with STA today, visit

as he scanned our tickets. “Not really,” replied one of the girls. “We haven’t seen an episode.” “Well, I hope you still have fun then,” he replied with the broadest smile as we walked into the studio. It was what one would expect from a museum like this - all the costumes from the First

Doctor, played by William Hartnell in the ‘classic’ series way back in 1963, to the current Eleventh Doctor of the 2005 reboot, played by Matt Smith. What we saw next was unlike anything I’ve ever seen in an ordinary museum, we were treated to a video of the Eleventh Doctor himself inviting everyone to step into a crack in the hole of time and space to join him in an adventure. We were also given the opportunity to pilot the TARDIS, Time and Relative Dimensions in Space - the Doctor’s spaceship, which we did with unabashed glee. After the interactive portion was over, there were still lots to see. Actual set pieces from the show’s long history were littered throughout the museum. One could have their pictures taken in the console rooms

Having a hearty lunch at Jamie’s Italian

of Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Eleventh Doctor, the makeshift console from the episode ‘The Doctor’s Wife’s, or while wearing Idris’ dress. The Doctor Who Experience was enjoyable for both fans and first timers. Thoughts of spending the holidays watching the Doctor Who Series entertained me as we headed for lunch at British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s much lauded restaurant, Jamie’s Italian. There, we were treated to a savoury, mouthwatering meal thanks to BBC Worldwide and Visit Britain. They had such a vast variety of choices on the menu that simply deciding what to have for lunch proved a real dilemma. In the end, the group decided that each person was to take a different dish each just so we could sample all the different unique dishes.

BBC TELEVISION CENTRE After all the time I have spent watching television shows or the news at home, not once had I ever imagined being able to witness the magic behind the creation of our daily entertainment. The tour around

Witnessing the birthplace of Britain’s very best television programs at the BBC Television Centre

BBC television centre started off with a warm welcome from our wonderful guides and a captivating introductory video clip about the importance of mass media and how BBC first came about. Thereafter, we got to learn more about the BBC Knowledge TV channel, whose innovative content is widely credited for revolutionising the world of factual entertainment through a breathtaking mix of science, technology, history, natural history and adventure programming. BBC Knowledge is available in Indonesia, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand. Please call your cable operator for more details or check out

Sitting in the heart of the newsroom, the guides spared no detail in explaining how news was gathered, specially organized and tailored to suit their specific audiences at different times of the day. It was even said that the BBC news station had their own in-house travel agency, allowing journalists and film crews to reach inaccessible areas such as the war torn Iraq, faster. As they continued to guide us through the famous question mark building designed by Graham Dawbarn, the guides enlightened the group on many fun, fascinating and little known facts. (Did you know that the floors of the studios are repainted after every shoot so as to fit the changing sets for different shows?) The guides also did not fail to entertain us with peculiar stories of eccentric celebrities

who once graced these corridors with their very presence. We also visited the place where the weather forecasts were filmed and had lots of fun toying with the blue/green screens and learning about the special effects that go into making the forecasts happen. “One my favourite activities was masquerading as a BBC news broadcaster and creating my own television production.” said Bao Yi.

BBC BROADCASTING HOUSE Upon entering the heart of British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), one could not help but admire the beauty of this old building. Designed by G Val Myer, the building had been standing there since 1932; a statue of Prospero and Ariel (The Tempest by William Shakespeare) embellished the entrance. Our guides gave us a warm welcome and a quick introduction of themselves before starting the tour by delving deep into the history of BBC Broadcast. We were brought around the entire building, and explained the unique stories behind each and every room. We even got to see one of the recording studios where live broadcasts and recordings take place. It was explained that the walls and floors, inside and out, were sound-proofed so that noise could neither escape nor disrupt a broadcast. At the broadcasting house, we learnt how sound effects are cleverly created and woven into the stories using simple everyday props such as bells and whistles. “These tours are an eye-opener to the behind-the-scenes working of the most internationally acclaimed broadcasting organisation.” says Tian Jiao.

BBC Knowledge Challenge winners, the Nanyang Girls, the writer and Regent Media’s Publisher, Cecilia Woo capturing a moment at the Natural History Museum

NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM The monumental building that towered over us stole our breaths away as we walked through its grand doors, only to be even more awed by Dippy, the humongous reconstructed Diplodocus skeleton residing in the central hall. Looking at our maps, excitement took over us as we scanned through the numerous exhibits listed, Mammals, Fossils. As we walk through the halls, our eyes, wide from excitement, absorbed every single detail from each and every unique display. The Dinosaur Gallery was a huge crowd favourite packed with fans of all ages. Many particularly gathered around one of the museum’s star attractions: an animatronic T-rex that comes to life by moving its skeletal structure. Another attraction of the Natural History museum is the Darwin Centre housed in a state of the art white cocoon shaped building. Virtually projected scientists guided us around the gentle sloping spiral as they shared amazing and interesting facts of the museum’s spectacular 17 million insects displayed. Other intriguing exhibits include the skeletons of the giant sloth and the Dodo, The Vault, which contains a spectacular assemble of one Earth’s finest treasures, the Giant Sequoia and countless more. “The museums in London are much bigger than those in Singapore,” gushed Koh Bao Yi. “Upon seeing the breathtaking displays of glittering rocks and gems, I truly

understood Mother Earth’s richness and beauty” Tian Jiao added.

THE BRITISH MUSEUM We arrived at the British Museum promptly after breakfast the next day, where we were ushered in quickly. We were given the opportunity of choosing to go on various self guided tours. The museum was huge and we managed to visit the ‘Ancient Worlds’ tour, where we saw artefacts from the Mesopotamian,

Yielding to the pharaohs of mighty Egypt at The British Museum

Greek and Roman empires. We feasted our eyes upon the sights of Greek and Roman art dating back to 2500BC, as well as intricately carved statues made by the Greeks in Southern Italy. The Ancient Near East rooms featured lime plaster figures that are some of the oldest large scale structures of the human form, dating back to about 7200BC. We also saw the contents of a kitchen from a Jordanian palace site as well as items from Egyptian period buildings. We were able to look at artefacts from Early Mesopotamia that revealed the development of one of the earliest writings on clay in addition to the Royal Tombs of Ur where jewellery, lyres and games were excavated. “I have always been fascinated by ancient civilisations and this experience gave me a better understanding of those people’s lives and a look at mankind’s development,” Tian Jiao enthused as we looked upon the bronzes of Uratu in Anatolia, modern Turkey. We got to learn more about history while looking at the evidence of its existence f irst hand. The different artefacts were truly unique, satisfying our inquisitive minds. “Through these museum visits, we are reminded of our love for nature, for science and history that initially propelled us to participate in the BBC knowledge challenge.” Tian Jiao shared.

We were also able to attend a performance of the West End musical, Les Misérables, a winner of 75 major awards and the longest running musical in the world. Les Misérables tells the touching story of the intertwined lives of several French characters over a seventeen year period. A tale of love and heartbreak unlike any other, this West End rendition was really effective in pulling our heartstrings, as well as raising issues about laws and amnesty. I marvelled (once again) at Victor Hugo’s use of France’s June Rebellion as the tale’s historically poignant backdrop. Sheer genius.

The girls bring a spirit of cheer to the gloomy Tower of London

Previewing fine arts at The National Gallery

THE NATIONAL GALLERY Housing the national collection of Western European paintings all the way from the 13th to 19th century, the national gallery is like an art masterpiece itself. Each art piece different and unique with the artists own style, with many famous art works being displayed there such as Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, Monet’s Bathers at La Grenouillère, Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Virgin of the Rocks and many more. At the Leonardo Da Vinci exhibition, we sampled almost all his rare art works; timeless masterpieces that had been brought (and exhibited) together for the first time. Being able to see and appreciate his famous Last Supper was definitely a memorable treat. I was never particularly interested in art, but The National Gallery’s spectacular array of art pieces left me overwhelmed and amazed. Each art pieces on exhibition expresses effortlessly, the artist’s genius, through both elaborate and minute details. “As an art lover, I was especially captivated by the art exhibits at the National Gallery” Bao Yi gleefully remarked.

16th and 17th century. As we were lead through the walkways by our guides, we were overcome by an overwhelming sense of despondency. It seemed as though the weariness and woe of the tower’s forgotten prisoners had seeped into the Tower’s very fibre. It’s a place of melancholy, of death and torture. William the conqueror, invader of Britain in 1066AD, had initially built the imposing tower with the intentions of creating a shroud of fear upon Londoners, intimidating them with malevolent autocracy.

SHAKESPEARE’S GLOBE For Shakespearean aficionados, visiting Shakespeare’s Globe was pure bliss. The Globe is a reconstruction of the Globe Theatre - the theatre company that Shakespeare had been part of. This is the second time the theatre had been rebuilt as the first was destroyed by a fire on

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TOWER OF LONDON London’s grey and gloomy weather set the tone for our tour of the Tower of London, which was once a prison in the

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29 June 1613, and the second closed in 1962. Structurally, the globe is unique with its open roof and a thrust stage that projects into a large circular yard. The only covered parts of the amphitheatre are the stage and the seating areas. Also the ceiling of the stage was painted to symbolise heaven. As our guide brought us around the theatre, we were told about how people during Shakespeare’s time watched theatre. In the past, it was much more important to hear what the actors were saying as compared to watching how the actors were acting. This resulted in the seats nearer to the stage to be more expensive. However, there is a small circular yard just before the stage and people could as pay as low as five pence to stand and watch the performance. Below the theatre, there was a museum which featured snippets about Shakespeare’s life and the clever tricks stage artists used to make special effects before such technology existed. It was truly fascinating to see the previous incarnations of present-day theatre. “This trip has been an amazing experience for all of us!” Joan Too tells me during the last day of our trip together. Tian Jiao nodded her head in agreement, adding “Knowing so many famous authors from London, treading the streets of Trafalgar felt like retracing these people’s steps. From the city tour and visits to numerous of London’s places of attractions, I have gained a deep understanding of the culture and history of the country. It has been a great learning journey as well, widening our horizons.” This educational trip has been enriching, memorable, and enjoyed by everyone. We are really grateful towards STA travel, BBC Worldwide and Visit Britain for organizing and sponsoring the entire trip, without them of which, such a memorable journey would not have been possible.




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Portfolio Orchids One of the most prolific families of flowering plant on the planet, the orchid deploys a host of ingenious tactics to ensure its success Photographs by Christian Ziegler

deceptive beauty Sardinia, Italy There are over 35,000 species of orchid known to science, making it one of the largest families of flowering plant in the world, and new species are still being discovered. It thrives in a range of diverse habitats around the world, from the dense cloud forests of Central America to southern Sardinia – the location of this striking pink butterfly orchid (Orchis papilionacea). The plant’s showy appearance encourages bees, its main pollinators, to investigate deep inside its flowers, but it does not produce nectar, meaning the bees help it out with no gain for themselves.


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treetop VISTA Rio Platano, Honduras G Clinging to the branches of a mangrove tree, Myrmecophila brysiana is an epiphytic orchid. It attaches itself to a host plant, and takes moisture and some of its nutrients from the air instead of the soil. Its hollow stems, called pseudobulbs, often house colonies of ants. The insects deposit organic debris as they harvest nectar from the flowers and distribute pollen. The debris provides the orchid with an alternative source of nutrients.

fly trap Peru E Masdevallia caloptera, shown here in full bloom, uses its impressive display to lure its main pollinator – passing flies. This specimen is from the highlands of Peru and is only found at altitudes of 1800-2600m (5906-8530ft) in the dense South American jungle.


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playing dead Western Australia The elegant red beak orchid (Pyrorchis nigricans) is a common sight in eucalyptus woodlands. It typically flowers once bush fires have cleared the undergrowth, so as to avoid competition from rival plants. Although pollinated by insects, it is adverse to attention from other animals and uses a unique defence mechanism to avoid them. When the seeds are ready to disperse, the plant turns completely black – causing local people to refer to it as the undertaker orchid – and blends in with surrounding burnt twigs. The resulting dead appearance discourages any grazing animals.


magic mushrooms Central America E Dracula wallisii, found in cloud forests, relies on both appearance and scent to attract its preferred pollinators – fungus gnats. The orchid’s central lip looks rather like a mushroom, and it also emits a fungus-like scent that is completely irresistible to the tiny gnats. The gnats collect and distribute the orchid’s pollen while laying their eggs.


false love Sardinia G Bee orchids use sexual deception to attract pollinators. They mimic the appearance of female insects, and also imitate their pheromones. Here, an eager Andrena nigroaenea orchid bee is attempting to mate with a deceptive Ophrys fusca bee orchid flower.

pollinator and prey Central and South America E Like many species of Latin American orchid, Gongora tricolor relies exclusively on orchid bees for pollination – and, inevitably, some of the bees’ predators have learned that the plants are a good spot to linger in the hope of a meal. Here, an exquisitely camouflaged crab spider from the Thomisidae family lies in wait.

The photographer Christian Ziegler is a German photojournalist and biologist who specialises in tropical rainforests and their inhabitants. His latest book is Deceptive Beauties: The World of Wild Orchids (2011, University of Chicago Press).

find out more E Christian Ziegler’s official website Our expeditions get you closer. Our film-makers take you deeper. Don’t miss spectacular natural history programs from BBC Earth on BBC America. Meet your planet:

Vol. 4 Issue 3


As well as trivial uses such as making this headline, 3D printing has untold practical applications

With applications from space exploration to food preparation, 3D printing is set to shape the future. Daniel Bennett investigates he prototyping workshop at digital media and design college Ravensbourne in Greenwich is unlike any other in Britain. There are no noisy saws chewing through wood; the air is clean and bears no trace of sawdust. You don’t even have to wear safety goggles. Instead, the place feels strangely clinical, as though the whole


room has been put on mute. The only sound is the hum and whirr of the 3D printers. Students and staff come here to build prototypes, but instead of using wood and metal to build moulds, they simply press ‘print’ and watch as their design materialises before them. In ditching most of its traditional fabricating equipment in favour of a digital approach,

Ravensbourne is well ahead of the trend. Staff and students there are convinced that 3D printing will revolutionise the design and manufacturing process – in fact, it is already doing so. The superjumbo, double-decker Airbus A380 passenger jet uses several parts made by 3D printing. The technology isn’t limited to large-scale manufacturing, E Vol. 4 Issue 3


Thinkstock, Photography by



E either – the first generation of 3D printers has already started to make its way into homes, where they’re being used to print shoes, toys and spare parts.

photography by paul monckton

Face to face I visited the rapid prototyping lab at Ravensbourne to find out just what makes 3D printing so exciting – and to experience it firsthand. Senior prototyping lecturer Jake Durrant asks what I’d like to print. I jokingly suggest a miniature replica of my face. “Of course,” says Durrant. “We’ve all got one of those.” There are dozens of types of 3D printers. Some print plastics, others print food inks and some, like the one used by Airbus, can even print metals. The printer with the honour of recreating my facial features creates objects out of a powdered plaster. It fires a mixture of resin and ink from the same sort of cartridge you’d find in your printer at home at a bed of the powder. The resin glues the powder together, while the ink gives the mixture the closest colour to my skin tone. Once the bottom layer is made, the platform on which it sits moves down a notch and another layer is glued on top. A couple of hours later, a beep signals that my miniature doppelgänger has entered the world. Durrant carefully excavates what looks like a small pebble from the

The state-of-the-art rapid prototyping lab at Ravensbourne, London

Rapid prototyping technology has become incredibly sophisticated and accurate thanks to 3D printing

Jake Durrant retrieves the model of Daniel’s face from the 3D printer


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bed of fine white powder. A bit of dusting and a layer of superglue to set the colours in place, and there lies my palmsized printout. It’s horrifyingly accurate. Every contour – even the small bump in my nose where I broke it years ago – is recreated in 3D. Rapid prototyping 3D printing is already an essential tool for designers and engineers wanting to get their hands on physical embodiments of their designs. My replica is a playful demonstration but is nonetheless a dramatic example of how sophisticated and accurate rapid prototyping technology has become. The printing process is known as additive-layer

manufacturing, referring to the way in which each individual layer is added to the one before. Creating an object using this technique has two main advantages. There is very little waste – there’s no cutting shapes out of sheets of material, for example – and it enables complex shapes to be created that could not be manufactured by conventional means. Consequently, 3D printing is more than just a novel way of testing out new designs. The engineers at Airbus, for example, use their sophisticated printer to make hinges. In the past, metal would have been poured into a mould, so the hinge design would have needed to include E concessions to allow for


Printing Daniel’s face A step-by-step guide to making a plaster replica


G A 3D scanner projects a fine dot matrix onto the subject’s face – mine, in this case. Meanwhile, a pair of cameras, one slightly offset from the other, take a series of photos.


G A computer compares pictures from the two cameras to judge the distance of each dot from the scanner. It uses the data to creates a contour map of my face, to which colours are added.


G A technician checks for any inaccuracies – eyebrows and eyes are tricky as they absorb light. Hit ‘print’, and the geometry and colour information are sent to the 3D printer.


G The printer fires glue and ink at a bed of plaster. Once one layer is set, the whole platform moves downwards, more plaster is fed over the top and another layer of glue and ink is added. This process is repeated until the object is completed.


G Layer by layer, a 3D reproduction of my face is constructed. The inkjet matches my skin tone as closely as possible, while the glue binds together the particles of plaster to create the shape of my face. Once it’s finished, a fine air jet blows the loose plaster off the finished article, and superglue is added to set the colours. The whole process takes just over two hours.


E its manufacturing technique. Instead, Airbus’s printer fuses particles of metal together layer by layer, using a beam of electrons. The hinge-designer can therefore create precisely the shapes and contours that are needed without having to be concerned with the limitations of the fabrication process. The resulting component is just as strong as its traditionally manufactured counterpart, but uses less material and is therefore lighter.

A polymer vessel, which can become an artificial blood vessel, is flushed with cell medium

It’s not just components that are being printed. The technology has already been used to make bodies for an urban hybrid car in Canada and an unmanned air vehicle at the University of Southampton. And it’s not only engineers who are capitalising on the potential of 3D printing. Sharon Presnell and her team at Organovo, a private biological research firm in San Diego, are printing spare parts for humans rather than machines. The company has built biological printers that deposit ‘bioink’ on to a surface to build up layers of cellular tissue. “Human cells have adhesion molecules that drive their attachment to one another,” says Presnell. “We just had to develop a method where the cells could be put into place. Once we managed that, we were able to create blood vessels without the synthetic

scaffold components that you wouldn’t naturally find in the body. We can actually create the architecture and cell density that you’d find in native tissue.” Presnell hopes the first tissue made using 3D printing will be transplanted into a patient within the next seven years. In the meantime, printed tissues will be used as test models to explore possible negative effects of drugs and other treatments. Printing meals At Cornell Creative Machines Lab, New York, scientists have found an unexpected application for 3D printing beyond the realm of engineering – digital cookery. “We were looking at how we can apply this technology elsewhere, like adding solar cells to different materials or creating organic tissue,” explains Hod Lipson, Director of Creative Machines. “In the

MarkerBot industries, Fraunhofer IGB, Corbis, photography by paul monckton

“Right now we’re at the same stage that computing was in 1975” Printing blood vessels The scientist who wants to create human organs to order The first artificial human blood vessel was printed in 2010. Since then, the race has been on to recreate more complicated human tissues. The technique uses a ‘bioink’ made of cells harvested from a patient and grown in a culture. These cells are encouraged to grow into tiny spheres of 100 to 150 microns in size, or into longer cylinders. A 3D printer is loaded with the tiny building blocks and places them on a surface with an accuracy of +/- 20 nanometres. The technique then relies on the cells’ tendency to bind to each other. They fuse together into a larger structure. Sharon Presnell is Vice President of R&D at Organovo, the first company to print a blood vessel. She says the end result is astounding. “I come from a background of cell therapy and tissue engineering, but holding one of these, and feeling its strength and that it’s made out of native tissue... you know this is something you can implant.” 3D printing is already used on huge projects, such as the Airbus A380 56

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PRINTING in SPACE One company’s plan to get 3D printers aboard the ISS If you’ve seen the film Apollo 13 (1995), which documents the true story of the troubled Moon mission of 1970 – in particular the scene where the crew have to cobble together an air filter out of spare parts to save their lives – you’ll appreciate why 3D printing might be useful for space exploration. A Californian start-up company called Made In Space is working with NASA to engineer a printer that could work in zero gravity. Printing a metal like aluminium is currently too difficult; the printer would need to hold particles of metallic powder in place before fusing them together, all in a weightless environment. However, the team has had success printing during zero-gravity flights using plastic, which is laid down as tiny beads that stick loosely to the surface they’re placed on before they are set, so they don’t float off like the powder. “The International Space Station holds over a billion dollars in spare parts, and one-third of those could be 3D printed,” says Jason Dunn, co-founder of Made In Space. “It costs so much to get off this planet, but if you can start building things in space, it takes some of the cost away,” says Dunn. As for the raw materials, Dunn hopes that in the distant future it will be possible to harvest them from space itself. “In the near future, a lot of the junk that’s floating around our planet would be a good place to start looking for the raw materials,” he says.

process, we found that the technology seemed to work just as well with food inks – liquid foodstuffs that could either be cooked or eaten raw. We call it digital cooking. The cookbook is just a piece of software; you’ll download the recipe, with its geometry and ingredients, like a blueprint.” For food professionals, the ability to print different geometric shapes would be tantalising. A porous print would allow heat to spread more evenly through deepfried food, making it crispier, and cakes could be made with different textures throughout. Lipson also hopes that 3D printing will encourage reluctant amateur cooks and novices to get involved in food preparation. “Perhaps people who aren’t competent in the kitchen would be less reliant on ready-meals if they could eat healthier food made by a 3D printer,” he says.

Lipson believes that it’s applications like the digital cookbook that will bring 3D printers out of the labs and factories and into our homes. In fact, the technology inside the cheapest 3D printer on sale right now – the MakerBot Thing-O-Matic, which retails at US$1099 – isn’t far removed from those that can print food. It has to be built from a kit and is currently limited to printing plastic models – like the headline on p56 – but Lipson sees a future where 3D printers will be more sophisticated, versatile and – crucially – more common. “Right now we’re at the same stage that computing was in 1975 when the first computers came out,” he says. “People bought them in parts, and then the first whole kits came out and that was when they started entering

The company Made In Space is already able to print 3D plastic objects in zero gravity

people’s homes. But once the first killer bit of software came out, people really wanted them. Right now, we have the equivalent of iPods with no music. Let’s see what happens in 20 years’ time.” [A version of this article first appeared in Focus magazine]

Daniel Bennett is a science writer based in the UK. He is the technology editor on Focus magazine

find out more E The development blog of Ravensbourne’s prototype lab E Home page of Cornell Creative Machines Lab E Buy and build your own home 3D printer

What do you think? MakerBot’s Thing-O-Matic brings 3D printing to the home

What applications for 3D printing are the most exciting? Email:

Vol. 4 Issue 3


WHite-Tailed eagle

eagle The (sea)

has landed

White-tailed eagles are back in the skies of eastern Scotland. KENNY TAYLOR charts the latest chapter in the species’ recolonisation of the UK. t first, it looks like there’s a speck of dirt on my binoculars. I wipe the front lenses, then raise them again. But the speck is still there, and now it’s bigger. It seems to be moving in my direction. The hills far behind it are imposing: I can even recognise some of the towering cliffs across the several kilometres of choppy grey sea that separate the Isle of Skye from the Shiant Isles, where I’m sitting. Both landscape and seascape have


great breadth and height here. It takes a large creature to seem part of that immensity of earth, water and sky. Whales have that scale, as if formed from the very essence of this wild seaboard. So, too, do eagles. There’s no doubting now that the bird in my ‘bins’ is a white-tailed eagle. Sheer size is the giveaway. An adult female has a wingspan of about 2.5m and weighs 6kg on average, making this raptor Europe’s biggest eagle – and the fourth largest in the world. Vol. 4 Issue 3


Roy Mangersnes

A white-tailed eagle lifts off from a Norwegian fjord with a fish clasped in its talons. After decades of conservation effort, this spectacle is becoming more common in Scotland.

WHite-Tailed eagle

Mark Hamblin/2020VISION

One of Mull’s white-tailed eagles feeds a nearly fully grown chick in its Scots pine nest. Pairs mate for life and re-use the same eyrie, staying close to their breeding territory all year.

The golden eagles that share some of the same airspace in Scotland are noticeably smaller in comparison. Male and female white-tailed (or sea) eagles are roughly 20 per cent heavier, and longerand broader-winged, than ‘goldies’ of the same sex. Their ‘flying barn door’ nickname is well earned. But golden eagles often dominate white- tailed eagles at carcasses. This pecking order gives a clue to the different family trees of the two species – the latter are more closely related to vultures than they are to goldies and other ‘true’ eagles. In flight, a white-tailed eagle does look a bit like a soaring vulture. But when it descends to sea or loch to catch a fish (a favourite food, together with ducks such as eiders and scavenged carrion), everything changes. Wings part-folded, it plummets downwards, gaze fixed on an unseen target. Huge yellow legs thrust forward, it approaches the water, then rocks back, momentarily, its tail almost trailing the surface. An instant later, talons plunge beneath the surface and are pulled back. The eagle ascends with deep, powerful wing beats. A fish now thrashes in its grip; a cascade of droplets trails in its wake. 60

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As the eagle approaching me today makes a slight shift of direction, I glimpse its pale head and the pure white feathers of its tail. It’s an adult, perhaps five years old or more. And it’s the very first of its kind that I’ve seen in Scotland. Iolair sùil na grèine (‘eagle with the sunlit eye’) is what the Gaelic speakers of this part of the Hebrides would have called such a bird, before it was driven to extinction in this country early in the 20th century.

did you know...  Norway is home to the largest recorded wild white-tailed eagle – a huge 9kg female.  A white-tailed eagle roamed Hampshire and Sussex last winter. The juvenile was probably of Scandinavian origin.  In 2007–10 a total of 77 Norwegian white-tailed eagles were set free in Co Kerry, Ireland. The species’ original Irish population had died out some time in the 1800s.  A five-year-old girl was said to have been snatched by a white-tailed eagle in Norway in 1932. But tests show the species can lift only 2kg, so the story is unlikely to be true.

Decline, fall… and take-off White-tailed eagles once bred throughout much of lowland Britain. They died out first in England and Wales, though Scotland still held roughly 50 pairs in the 1800s. The eagles were seen as unwelcome neighbours for the newly established sheep flocks and ever-expanding Victorian sporting estates. Persecution by farmers and gamekeeping interests, and the collection of eggs and skins, pushed the species to national extinction. The last breeding pair in Britain was shot at their eyrie on Skye in 1916. The final native white-tailed eagle (an albino!) was killed on Shetland two years later. But now the white-tailed eagle has risen again over large stretches of Scotland. A reintroduced population is thriving – indeed, it has expanded sufficiently for the raptor to become one of the new symbols of green tourism in the Highlands and islands. The comeback has not been without controversy, however. Some farmers and crofters, worried about eagles taking lambs, have voiced concerns about the new arrivals. Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) offers advice and assistance to

relocation diary

We follow 16 eagle chicks on their journey from Norway to a new home in Scotland.




Clockwise from top left: Ingar Støyle Bringsvor/RSPB; Peter Cairns/2020VISION x3; Dean Bricknell/RSPB


health check  The chicks are taken to their temporary home in a Forestry Commission Scotland forest. They are weighed and given a health check by vets (above), then are released in eagle-proof aviaries (below) with similar-sized chicks of the same sex.

collection day 

Gathering up bolshy white-tailed eagle chicks is no easy task. Having carried out a recce of nests in western Norway to locate broods of twins and triplets – at least one chick must be left behind in each nest so that the Norwegian eagle population is not affected – the RSPB’s Claire Smith scales the trees to retrieve the selected youngsters.


24 arrival at edinburgh  The 16 eagle chicks (aged 5–7 weeks) touch down on Scottish soil in their own chartered flight. Here, Claire is showing one of the birds to the assembled dignitaries and members of the press.



identity parade  The birds are removed from their aviaries and placed in a line of crates ready to be tagged. Each one is fitted with a lightweight radio transmitter on its back and a pair of plastic wing tags. It is the last time that the young eagles will be handled before their release.

WHite-Tailed eagle

Carrion, such as this red fox, forms a major part of the white-tailed eagle’s diet. In parts of Norway, leftovers from otter kills are particularly important.



relocation diary

raring to go 

As the eagles get stronger, they exercise by flexing their powerful wings and sharpening their talons on the (hefty) perches. Today’s inspection has confirmed that these two birds are finally ready to be released.


11 a final meal  Claire gives the eagles their last supper in captivity – fresh roe venison. She will leave food in the forest for them for several weeks until they have perfected their hunting skills and can fend for themselves.



Opposite: Richard Costin

Release photos by Fergus Gill

flying free at last  Time to test out those mighty wings for the first time. After a brief moment contemplating what to do next, the young eagles take off one by one, soaring above the trees to start their new life on Scotland’s east coast.

landowners who have lost livestock, helping to win over hearts and minds, though not everyone is reassured. There’s no doubt that white-tailed eagles can – and do – prey on lambs, but just how common is this behaviour? One of several studies commissioned to investigate the species’ impact found that on Mull, the reintroduced population’s current stronghold, the eagles took only a few dozen a year. Meanwhile, independent survey results released this summer show that the value of the big birds to the Mull economy has tripled since 2005, growing from £1.4 million to at least £5 million annually. That’s an enormous sum for an island with a human population of fewer than 3,000. From the outset, co-operation with Norway has been crucial to efforts to re-establish a viable stock of Scottish white-tailed eagles. After unsuccessful, small-scale attempts in 1959 and 1968,

the first big release scheme (involving 83 chicks reared by renowned Highland naturalist John Love) took place on the island of Rùm, near Skye, between 1975 and 1985. The second phase, carried out by SNH and the RSPB, involved a further 59 Norwegian chicks released between 1993 and 1998 on the mainland. In the latest phase, which began in 2006, chicks from further south on the Norwegian coast are being released in Fife, the fertile peninsula that juts between the estuaries of the rivers Forth and Tay, in eastern Scotland. As this project has grown, so, too, has the number of organisations taking an interest in a healthy Scottish population of sea eagles. Express delivery On an overcast day in late June I drive to Edinburgh Airport to meet the latest

batch of 16 young Norwegian eagles, which have just arrived, in some style, in a chartered light aircraft. Claire Smith, the RSPB’s East Scotland sea eagle officer, is already standing on the tarmac. One of the chocolate-coloured youngsters, about the size of a small turkey but with a meatcleaver beak as long as the palm of Claire’s hand, hunkers down in her arms, literally trying to keep a low profile. Dignitaries and senior representatives from the project partners gather for a closer look, while photographers snap away. It’s a suitably regal welcome for such a magnificent bird. Several weeks later, I travel to a topsecret location in Fife to see the young eagles in more natural surroundings. Claire leads me to a clearing in a pine forest. Unseen by the birds, which are housed in a row of green-painted huts and have no Vol. 4 Issue 3


fa c t f i l e

white-tailed eagle

where in the world Norwegian eagle eyries Bergen


n o r w ay


Haliaeetus albicilla

 other names White-tailed sea eagle.


3 F ife

Fife reintroduction area


 WEIGHT Males: up to 5.4kg; female: up to 8kg.

north sea

TOP eagle-watching locations 1 Aros Centre, Isle of Skye 2 Gruinard Bay, Wester Ross 3 Mull Eagle Watch

Chicken run As Claire works she tells me that the release of these eagles is just the start of a

 ID tips Huge raptor with long, very broad wings, finger-like wingtips and a massive bill. Adults (over five years old) have pale head feathers and a mainly white tail; young are brown all over.

very long process. Helped by an army of volunteers, she will track the movements of the birds using signals from radio tags fitted to each one. Following up sightings from the public will also be a big task. And then there will be the odd sticky situation to smooth over, such as when a young eagle, amazingly, managed to get shut in a chicken coop overnight. “It only ate three of them,” Claire says, evidently impressed by the eagle’s restraint. Her passion for these birds is infectious, and it shines through when she describes the drama of release day. “To me, the process seems almost magical,” she

 habitat Coasts and sea lochs; in Europe, also found on lakes, fish ponds and marshes.  STATUS Scotland has 200 eagles (2010 figures). Elsewhere, range extends from Europe to Russia, China and India.

confesses. “You’ve taken a wild chick from Norway and now it’s flying over Scotland. “It’s thrilling when you first see them soaring. In the first week or so after release, they’re not very good fliers,” she grins. “But then, one day when you’re out radio-tracking, you find you can’t see the bird. Then you realise it’s because it’s very high, and you look up and see it, soaring far above. That’s when you get a sense that the chick has finally become an eagle.” There’s no doubt that the skies of Scotland are changing now, as these massive birds regain their talon-hold along rivers, lochs, glens and coasts. The white-tailed eagle hasn’t simply landed. It’s soaring. And, as Claire knows better than most, that really is a kind of magic. Kenny Taylor lives in the Highlands, not far from the white-tailed eagles’ domain. “With luck, as their range grows, I’ll see them from my garden one day,” he says.

find out more E Wolves: behavior, ecology, and conservation By David Mech and Luigi Boitani (Univ of Chicago Press, 2003)

Fergus Gill

E Read a blog about the East Scotland Sea Eagles project at ourwork/b/eastscotlandeagles/default.aspx One of this year’s young eagles takes flight for the first time, at the release site in Fife.


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E Mull Eagle Watch: datewithnature/146979-mull-eagle-watch Aros Centre, Isle of Skye:

Mark Hamblin

Scottish white-tailed eagle range

direct contact with humans during their stay, she cheerfully goes about her job as a foster parent. Claire removes old food remains through the back of each hut, then pokes fresh provisions through a hatch. Bloody hunks of roe venison are the current dish of the day. But she’ll ring the changes with trout, salmon, red deer and grey squirrel (culled in Aberdeenshire in an effort to boost the area’s native reds) during the seven weeks that the chicks are in her care.

 life-cycle Breeds for first time at five years; pairs stay together for life. Female lays 1–3 eggs; young fledge at 10–14 weeks.

 wingspan Male 207–234cm; female 224–265cm.

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Vol. 4 Issue 3


The reintroduction of grey wolves in the United States is a conservation minefield

Animal Behaviour

wolf After centuries of persecution, the grey wolf is reclaiming its former haunts in North America. Stephen Mills charts the resurgence of an icon of the wilderness

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Return of the


n 1976, I hiked through Isle Royale in Lake Superior in search of wolves. At the time, this spot in northernmost Michigan and the adjacent forests of Minnesota were the only places in the United States – with the exception of Alaska – where viable wolf packs still survived, so rare were they after a century of organised slaughter. I camped beside the island’s swamps and was ecstatic when I found fresh scats and deep-delved, big-dog footprints. But I didn’t see any wolves, and when I travelled west to Wyoming’s famous Yellowstone National Park I saw no predators at all, let alone wolves. In 2007, I returned to Yellowstone and found that everything had changed. Over the course of a decidedly unathletic three-day drive I saw three black bears, six grizzlies hunting and feeding, and, yes, two wonderful, rangy wolves loping through the distant sagebrush. I wasn’t


alone – a staggering 38,000 visitors saw wolves in Yellowstone last year. America’s leading wolf researcher is Dave Mech, whose early work drew me to Isle Royale in the first place. He says that his old stomping ground of Minnesota is home to 3000 wolves today. From there they have spread south to Wisconsin and Michigan, which hold some 1200 more – a population that is growing, according to Mech, by 12 per cent a year. To the west, Idaho, Wyoming and Montana probably have more than 2000 wolves between them. “The official figure is 1700 to 1750, but that’s on the low side,” Mech tells me. “When you count tiny wolf populations, missing a few animals doesn’t make a big difference. As numbers climb, however, you’re bound to miss more individuals. A 15 per cent margin of error equates to hundreds of wolves.” In 2008, wolves bred in the Pacific state of Washington for the first time since the

A staggering 38,000 visitors saw wolves in Yellowstone last year

Wolves running through the snow in rural Minnesota come from Manitoba and Ontario

1930s. There are now five packs there, plus two more to the south in Oregon. In April 2011, the US Congress took the wolf off the federal endangered species list. America’s timber wolf is definitely back. So how has this charismatic if controversial carnivore, which a few decades ago was so close to extinction, made such an amazing comeback? Part of the answer lies in the history of the wolf ’s original demise. Though deforestation and the spread of farming dramatically changed the landscape it inhabited, the E x3

A timber wolf pack feed on a white-tailed deer carcass


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Some farmers take issue with the wolf’s image as a cute animal to be cherished

Wolf distribution in North America Helped by reintroduction schemes and a growing Canadian population, wolves are pushing south across the continent. They are sweeping through the Rockies and Great Lakes regions and into the fringes of the Midwest. Northern Rockies

Great Lakes

• In 1995, 14 grey wolves were reintroduced to Idaho and Yellowstone from Canada; 15 more followed in 1996. • In 2011, the grey wolf was removed from the endangered species list in Northern Rockies. Wolf hunting is now permitted in Idaho and Montana.

• At their lowest ebb in the 1960s and 70s, the USA’s last wild grey wolves lived here. • Only about 300 wolves roamed the forests of upper Minnesota and upper Michigan.



Corbis x2, dreamstime, FLPA x2, Getty x2, francisco Marquez / BIOSphoto/ specialiststock, thinkstock

Mexican grey wolf • This subspecies became extinct in the USA in 1970; very small numbers survive in Mexico. • In 1998, 11 captive-bred wolves were released in eastern Arizona and western New Mexico. • Further releases helped the population reach 42 by 2009.

CANADA Great Lakes

Red wolf Isle Royale

Rocky Mountains


• A small, reddish wolf, listed as a separate species by the IUCN. • Captive population established in 1980. • Reintroductions took the wild population in North Carolina to more than 100.

Current range of grey wolves Red wolf range Grey wolf range in contiguous United States in the 1960s and 70s Grey wolf reintroduction Southern extent of grey wolf’s historical range

Wolves around the world The wolf’s historical range was about one third larger than it is today. The last wolves in the Netherlands and Belgium were killed in 1881 and 1898 respectively, in a pattern repeated across western Europe. Thirty years ago, the only wolf populations in western Europe were in Portugal, Spain, Italy, Poland and Finland, and they were tiny until as far east as Romania. Since 1970, these trends have been reversed thanks to legal protection, changes in land use and rural human populations moving to cities. Spain now has more than

2000 wolves, and Italy and Poland around 1000 each. Germany has 12 packs. There are 220 wolves in southern Sweden and 200 in the French Alps, and wolves are advancing steadily north through France. In 2011, wolves were sighted in the Netherlands and Belgium once again. There is little information on wolves in the Middle East. Hunting is permitted everywhere there except Israel, while in China and Mongolia wolves are only protected in reserves. India’s wolves are classed as endangered and number between 800 and 3000.

Europe now boasts healthier wolf numbers – such as this Iberian wolf in Spain

Animal Behaviour

overwhelming cause of its decline was direct persecution. The first American bounty was placed on a wolf ’s head in 1630 in Massachusetts. By the middle of the 19th century generous government subsidies for killing wolves were widely available – and, at up to US$150 per corpse, a wolf hunter could earn a living wage. As free-ranging cattle and sheep invaded the West, wolves were snared, shot and poisoned mercilessly. In 1915, Congress established the Bureau of Biological Survey, with a special Division of Predator and Rodent Control. Its mission was the total eradication of wolves and other predators from federal lands. Within 40 years, a campaign that the writer Bruce Hampton has called “the longest, most relentless and most ruthless persecution one species has waged against another” was over. The wolves were pretty well gone.

12 January 1995: the first grey wolf to be released into Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming is carried to its holding pen


Killing stopped But not quite. The good news about persecution is that it’s reversible. If it is the main cause of a species’ demise, all you have to do is stop the killing in time and populations will recover. There has to be a change of heart, however, and that fundamental change in the American consciousness was sparked, more than anyone, by one Aldo Leopold. Although he started out as a triggerhappy forest officer, Leopold was to become one of the most influential

American environmentalist Aldo Leopold is seen as the father of the science of wildlife management

As cattle and sheep invaded the West, wolves were snared, shot and poisoned conservationists of the 20th century. He championed the preservation of the “integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community”. Anything that tended to disrupt this, such as the killing of predators, was simply wrong. He spearheaded the listing of America’s first Wilderness Area – New Mexico’s Gila National Forest – and his concept of a landscape without human interference was later formalised in the 1964 Wilderness Act. Leopold-type thinking was eventually legitimised and funded by the 1973 Endangered Species Act. It culminated in the complete reversal of previous policy and a commitment to restore all native predators to federal lands. In 1995, 47 years after Leopold’s death, the first 14 wolves of a federal reintroduction programme were transported from Alberta, Canada, to acclimatisation pens deep inside Yellowstone National Park, where they were held for 10 weeks before being released. The project was highly divisive – the lead-up triggered 170,000 comments from the public. Since there were 412,000 livestock in the Greater Yellowstone Area, the wolves were accorded “non-essential, experimental” status, which meant that they could be

removed if the balance of opinion, and thus political calculations, changed. A year later, 15 more wolves of different genetic stock, this time from British Columbia, were released in the park. The project envisaged a further three years of releases, but the two pioneering groups prospered to such an extent that extra introductions were not needed. Thirty-five wolves were also released directly into forests across the state border in Idaho. There are projects underway to restore two subspecies, the Mexican wolf in Arizona and New Mexico, and the red wolf in North Carolina. Far and wide By 2010 there were 478 wolves in the Greater Yellowstone Area, 97 of them inside Yellowstone itself. Wolves are known to travel thousands of kilometres in search of new partners and hunting grounds. This is particularly true of young males. Discouraged by the alpha male from mating within the family group, and by nature from pairing up with their own litter mates, these males are programmed to disperse, roaming far and wide until they find other wolves with whom to settle. If the nearest wolves are in another state, the young males will probably find E Vol. 4 Issue 3



E them in the end – this is how the gene pool is refreshed. So the US government’s reintroduction programmes serve as seed capital for the growth of populations over a much wider region. In the meantime, nature is doing the job very well on its own. DNA analysis of scats, for instance, shows that wolves continue to spread from Canada’s western provinces into the US states of Washington, Idaho and Montana, and even into the prairie country of the Dakotas. The population increases in Minnesota and the Midwest have been fuelled by wolves from Manitoba and Ontario. Canada has a slightly more benign

history of wolf management, as well as vast amounts of space and a human population averaging just 3.4 people per km 2 kilometre (8.8 per sq mi). As a result, the USA’s northern neighbour now supports 52,000 wolves, with numbers stable or increasing in most areas. Fear of attack The wolves’ return is not greeted with universal enthusiasm. Many people are still afraid of them, despite the fact that just four people have been killed by wolves worldwide since January 2009. During the same period, 72 people were killed by pet dogs in the USA alone. But the worries of

When a wolf gets among sheep, it behaves like a fox in a chicken coop

farmers for the safety of their livestock are another matter. When a wolf gets among sheep it behaves like a fox in a chicken coop, they say. Conservationists counter that such attacks are rare. The pro-wolf organisation Defenders of Wildlife analysed US government figures for 2005. It found that, where wolves were present, over 70 per cent of sheep losses and 95 per cent of cattle losses had nothing to do with predators but were due to disease, birthing problems or other crises. In the case of sheep, most of the genuine kills were attributed to coyotes. The impact of wolves, it says, was negligible. This is likely to change. In Idaho, incidents of sheep kills have already risen in line with the increase in wolves. A study for the US Department of Agriculture, also in 2005, examined the evidence collected at livestock kills in Idaho. It

Points of view How the reintroduction of wolves affects humans the biologist Doug Smith

the conservationist Jasmine Minbashian

The Farmer Art Swannack

Doug is Project Leader for the Yellowstone Gray Wolf Restoration Project in Yellowstone National Park

Jasmine is Special Projects Director of Conservation Northwest and leads its wolf programme in Washington State

Art farms wheat and runs 1000 sheep in Washington State. His nearest neighbour is 5km (3 miles) away

Corbis, getty

I’ve had a lifelong interest in wolves. I corresponded with Dave Mech when I was 15, and at 18 I worked as a volunteer with a captive pack in Indiana. Yellowstone is unique for three reasons. Our research in the park is in its 17th year, which is remarkable for wolf studies. Sixty per cent of our wolves live where there’s a road, so we can watch them every day and see a lot of interactions between known individuals. And we have an ambitious wolf-handling programme. Since 1995 we have handled more than 400 wolves – putting on radio-collars and taking DNA and blood samples, for example. As a result of this research, we know all about their relationships and their diseases. Yellowstone has changed during the study period. Bear and mountain lion populations are growing. In the past, due to the lack of predators, elk numbers were unnaturally high. Now they have started to fall again, but that doesn’t please hunters outside the park. Managing hunters’ expectations is going to be one of our biggest challenges in the future.


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The commission set up to decide the minimum legal wolf population in Washington State has had comments from 65,000 people, which is amazing. We have 25,000 black bears and 2000 mountain lions here, so I had assumed that the proposed 15 breeding pairs of wolves wouldn’t be a problem, but it’s not so simple. My many conversations with the public have really put me in touch with how the return of wolves affects other people. We need to take into account the number of wolves that ranchers feel comfortable having nearby. Some are worried that the wolf’s return will harm their way of life. But we’re also learning from cattlemen in Alberta who have reduced wolf predation by keeping cows in big herds and not putting out yearlings alone – the yearlings just panic, provoking attack, and are better protected if they are with their mothers. The good news here in Washington State is that, although we haven’t agreed how many wolves there should be, we’ve all agreed that there should be some.

I’m not sure it was ever a good idea to completely get rid of wolves, because the public lost sight of what they really are. People got romantic about them, but wolves aren’t pet dogs – they are not cute creatures. If we’d always had a few wolves around, then people would know that they’re wild, efficient predators that operate intelligently as a group. A few wouldn’t have been a problem, but a lot of them, uncontrolled, will be. The main difficulty is that wolves are legally an endangered species in this state, so as farmers we can’t deal with them. My little sheep are just a bowl of white fuzzballs in a group, like food on offer at a snack counter. I need to be able to protect my livestock. I served for five years on Washington’s Wolf Working Group, which negotiated the State wolf plan. If it’s approved, there will be a compensation system for farmers who lose livestock – but will the legislators really be willing to fund it? In my lifetime we haven’t had to deal with anything like the return of wolves before.


Latin name: Canis lupus Protesters in Bozeman, Montana, campaign for a reduction in wolf numbers

looked at the number of deaths attributed to each of the main predators in relation to their populations in the state. Wolves were responsible for a disproportionate number. For example, a wolf was 170 times more likely to kill a cow than a bear or a coyote was, and 21 times more likely than a mountain lion. While wolf numbers are still relatively low, these arguments are mainly about statistics, but they have serious implications for a future ‘Wild West’ full of wolves. Meanwhile, a few farmers are being devastated by livestock losses right now. Changing views In his 1970 book The Wolf, Mech wrote: “If the wolf is to survive, the wolf haters must be outnumbered. They must be outshouted, outfinanced and outvoted.” I asked how he felt now. “We’ve achieved those aims, but it’s easy to live in a city and think idealistically,” he told me. “There are conservationists with vested interests in maintaining extreme attitudes because that brings them funds. They don’t want any wolves killed at all. But that’s not realistic.” Mech believes the answer lies in education. “It has to go both ways, with urban folk also understanding rural problems. I think there will be wolves

in all the Rocky Mountain states in my lifetime. That will require a new conservation strategy that prioritises conflict reduction.” For 60 years, the wolf has been an icon of wilderness. What is now emerging is that it is an intelligent, adaptable and opportunistic hunter. It is not picky about where it lives, so long as it’s not persecuted, nor about what it eats, so long as there’s meat on it. This is true of most big predators. A mountain lion recently cached a deer behind someone’s pick-up truck in his garage in Boulder, Colorado – a city of 100,000 people. Can Americans look forward to wolves frequenting the fringes of suburbia before long? Conservationists will need to be ready with some answers when people start seeing wolves in their back yards. [A version of this article first appeared in BBC Wildlife Magazine]

Stephen Mills is a wildlife writer, producer and camerman. He wrote the BBC film Wolf Saga (1990) and has more than 30 years of experience watching wolves

find out more E Wolves: behavior, ecology, and conservation By David Mech and Luigi Boitani (Univ of Chicago Press, 2003)

Common names: Grey Wolf, Arctic Wolf, Common Wolf. Size: 160-165cm (63-65in) long, 66-81cm (2632in) tall. Weighs up to 70kg (154lb) depending on sex and seniority. Diet: Widely varied. Large ungulates (moose, caribou, deer, elk, wild boar), small prey, livestock, berries, carrion and refuse. Hunts efficiently in packs to bring down large prey. Breeding: Only the dominant male and female of a pack breed, between January and April. Between one and 11 cubs (typically six) are born after a nine-week gestation. They are fully weaned by 8-10 weeks old, and able to travel with the pack at five months old. Juniors tend to leave the pack by the next breeding season, and are sexually mature at 22-46 months. Longevity: Up to 13 years in the wild. Habitat and range: Once the world’s most widely distributed mammal, thriving throughout the northern hemisphere, its range has now been reduced by around one third. It lives in small populations in remote areas across Europe, Asia and North America, with the largest populations in Canada, Alaska and the northern USA. Main threats: Humans, in the form of competition for livestock and game species, hunting for sport or through fear, and fragmentation of habitat. Conservation status: ‘Least concern’ on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species due to widespread survival around the world, although small regional populations are in more danger than this classification suggests.


photography by paul whitfield

Could you spot a


Vol. 4 Issue 3

t a psychopath?

New research is revealing that among the highest tiers of the corporate world, psychopaths are more common than you might expect. But as Daniel Bennett discovers, scientists are also coming up with new ways to spot them


snake in a suit. It’s a phrase that will remind most people of someone they’ve worked with in the past. The phrase was coined by Dr Robert Hare and Dr Paul Babiak to describe people they came across in their research who, despite under-performing in their job, had managed to slither their way into the highest echelons of the companies they worked for. These individuals were ruthless, callous and charming; traits that seemed to help them reach the top. On the surface, they might have seemed perfectly

harmless and were often well-liked, but closer scrutiny revealed them to be something much more sinister: corporate psychopaths. Over the last three years, Babiak, an industrial psychologist, was hired by seven different companies to help assess whether their employees were ‘promotion material’ or not. The people he was assessing ranged from supervisors to CEOs and even the odd president. While he tested their performance and overall potential, Babiak was permitted to use the Hare Psychopathy Vol. 4 Issue 3




The author of The Men Who Stare At Goats tells us about his journey into madness and the psychopaths he met along the way for his latest book The Psychopath Test

corbis, science photo library

psychopathic patients I had met, like the ones at Broadmoor. It was amazing. I was totally shoehorning him into what I had been taught about psychopathy. Whenever he did something that was sort of reasonable I was really disappointed and I tried to shove it under the carpet. It was then that I realised that being a qualified psychopath spotter could turn me psychopathic – it hardened and dehumanised me. Writing this book taught me just how close we are to dehumanising others and consequently dehumanising ourselves.

Why psychopaths? What compelled you to meet and write about these people? Years and years ago I made this film about a man called David Icke. He believes that giant, blooddrinking, paedophile lizards rule the world and everybody thinks he’s nuts. But then, you’ve got all these eminent psychologists who basically believe the same thing – that there are people with lizardlike qualities that are in charge. They’re referring to the psychopaths that find themselves at the top of the tree. That gave me the thought that madness might be a more powerful engine than rationality when it comes to how the world turns. Basically calm, happy, rational people just tootle on with their lives, not creating any waves or ripples. The people who would be classified as disordered are the ones that actually make the world go round. Now, I always kind of deliberately worked around the possibility that my interviewees might actually be mad, or some of them at least. It became a bit like the elephant in the room, so eventually I had to confront this possibility. Then you very quickly get into the questions like ‘What is mad?’ ‘Who decides what is mad and what does that mean?’ So how did your views on psychopaths change as you worked on the book? I always go into my stories with no real preconceptions because I just want to be a twig in the waves, going where the story takes me. But I was most struck when I met one of the guys on the Fortune 500 [the annual list published by Fortune magazine of the top 500 companies in the US] to see whether he showed any similar traits to the 78

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What was it like to meet a psychopath? Quite often there is a sort of superficial charm. There was this guy in the book – Tony from Broadmoor – who was just a nice, charming, young man. But then his psychiatrists would say, you’ve got to be very, very careful. But that’s quite alarming because there’s nothing whatsoever about his demeanour that would suggest you’ve got to be careful. He’s just somebody you’d like to hang out with. But when I met Toto Constance, the Haitian death squad leader, I really got the sense that this man is like an unexploded bomb. So it does vary. Did you feel duped by Tony’s charm then? I was aware of his crime, but it was a long, long time ago. Tony has this fascinating story. He says he faked madness, to get a softer sentence. But in the end they sent him to Broadmoor. Basically if he hadn’t faked madness and just gone to prison, he’d have been out years ago because prisons are full of psychopaths, they’re just not in the mental health system. But because the psychologists at Broadmoor believe he’s a future danger to himself and others, he hasn’t been let out. At first, the obvious thing to think about Tony, is either, he’s suffered a miscarriage of justice or he’s a psychopath. It took me quite a long time to realise he’s both. Just because he’s a psychopath doesn’t mean we can’t have positive feelings about him. What about yourself, did you find yourself wondering whether you had any psychopathic traits? I’m the antithesis of a psychopath – I’m full of anxiety. I feel like there’s somebody living inside of my face just lighting up matches on my skin. That’s the opposite of psychopaths – they tend not to feel anxiety. But then I started psychopath spotting and suddenly I turned into one. In general, you couldn’t meet a less psychopathic person than me. I wish I was a bit more psychopathic sometimes, because I wouldn’t have such a mass of anxiety.

Dr Kent Kiehl is scanning prisoners’ brains to learn what makes a psychopath

Checklist – the psychometric test typically used to assess whether criminals have psychopathic tendencies. Babiak discovered that out of the 203 people he tested, one in 25 of them were classified as psychopaths, despite having no criminal background. That’s four times the number he would have expected to find in the general population. When Hare took a closer look at the data, he discovered something else. “The company’s in-house evaluations of these people often said stuff like ‘this guy/gal is a team leader – innovative, bright, can be trusted, lights up the room when they step in, and so on,’” says Hare. “In fact, the higher they tended to score on the Psychopathy Checklist the better an impression people had of them. “But when we measured their performance scores, by looking at how effective they were at furthering the company, they went right down as their checklist scores went up. In fact, when you get up at the high levels of the psychopathy scale, their performance was generally unacceptable. They should have been fired, but they weren’t because they were viewed differently by the people – they were great at managing impressions.” The psychopath test The Hare Psychopathy Checklist gauges 20 hallmark traits of psychopathic behaviour – examples include glib and superficial charm, sexual promiscuity and pathological lying. Each trait on the checklist is given a score out of two, before being added up to give the individual a score out of 40.

A score above 30 classes the person as a psychopath. Usually it’s a test that’s administered to inmates of high-security psychiatric hospitals to determine whether or not it’s safe to release them. But in this case, the personality traits had belonged to seemingly normal people. It was these characteristics, which had allowed others to kill and maim without empathy, that had enabled the people Babiak was assessing to claw their way past their peers. So what’s the difference between a corporate psychopath and a criminal psychopath? “Serial murderers are very unusual and very rare,” says Hare, “we don’t know what turns an individual into a serial killer. We don’t know why one person with many psychopathic characteristics will become a serial murderer and a thousand others won’t. It could be opportunity, chance, flukes, experimentation. We just don’t know.” Criminal minds Although it’s not clear what makes one psychopath a criminal and another a CEO, research underway at a prison in New Mexico could

“We don’t know why one person with these tendencies becomes a serial murderer and a thousand others don’t” tell us what’s inside the mind of a psychopath. The prison cells inside the Western New Mexico Correctional Facility are unlike any other in the world. Alongside photos of friends and family, inmates proudly decorate their walls with something more unusual: MRI scans of their brains. These brain scans are gifts, given to them by Dr Kent Kiehl and his researchers in return for their sitting in his MRI scanner for hours on end. While the inmates relish the welcome break from boredom and the chance to brag about the size of their brains, Kiehl – known as ‘The Doc’ to the inmates – hopes to discover exactly what it is that makes someone a psychopath. His theory is that psychopaths have a defect in an area of the brain known as the para-limbic system

Brain tissue as seen using diffusion tenser tractography

– a network of brain structures that work together to detect and understand emotion. They’re also thought to control our inhibitions and our attention. So far it seems his scans back this up. Inside the MRI scanner, when an individual classed as a psychopath is asked to weigh up a serious moral dilemma – like whether they should divert an out-of-control tram to hit a bus full of schoolchildren or one headed to a retirement home – their brain doesn’t seem to work as expected. Their amygdala – an almond-shaped brain segment that deals with raw emotions like fear and rage – should reel in horror at this hypothetical disaster. But the scans reveal that it remains relatively sedate in psychopaths. In fact, the more severe their psychopathy the less this part of the limbic system seems to react. It doesn’t seem to be just one isolated portion of the brain that’s affected either. “The Orbito-Frontal Cortex (OFC) is supposed to attach emotional salience to fear stimuli,” says Kiehl. “In other words, it helps make sense of the basic emotions formed by the amygdala. When the psychopaths were asked to rate moral violations, this circuit also demonstrated much lower levels of activity than non-psychopathic prisoners. Not only were they not picking up on the emotionally charged content, but their brains didn’t seem to be equipped to attach meaning to it either.” The result of this faulty circuitry is that they either fail to empathise or understand an emotion in the first place, or don’t know the appropriate way to react to it – something Kiehl has witnessed first hand. “A serial killer once confessed to me about a number of other crimes he’d committed that he hadn’t been convicted for,” says Kiehl. “Right after he talked to me he was charged with those murders. He told his cellmate that he thought I squealed, and that he was going to have me killed. So that person went straight to the security officer and narked on him. The police came to my home and told me that they were putting Vol. 4 Issue 3



me in protective custody until they could figure it all out. “So, I just ended up going backpacking for a weekend and when I came back, the guy had found out that it was actually somebody on his crew that had been caught on the outside, and had squealed to try and get a deal. In the 17 years I’ve worked with psychopaths, I’m really fortunate to have had nothing more serious than that happen – touch wood.”

science photo library, getty

Digging deeper While Kiehl’s MRI unit is unique, he’s not the only one mining the brains of convicted criminals to uncover the root of psychopathy. In the UK at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, Dr Michael Craig and his colleagues have gone one step further and discovered that the actual brain tissue of a psychopath is physically different. Using a new imaging technique, known as Diffusion Tenser Tractography, Craig was able to take a closer look at the brain tissue connecting the two regions identified by Kiehl – the amygdala and the OFC. “We know that sections of the brain don’t operate individually,” says Craig, “it’s the connections between them that are important. In short, we found that the integrity of the tissue connecting the two regions was reduced in people with psychopathy compared to control subjects.” In other words, the pathway of neurones connecting two brain regions vital to understanding

Is your boss a

psychopath? Have you ever thought your boss had it in for you, or found yourself wondering how they managed to get to the top? Then this questionnaire might be for you. Psychopaths are four times more likely to be found among the top brass than dwelling among the lower ranks of the company,

Does your boss have any of these traits?



Cold-blooded and remorseless – they never seem affected by the misfortune of others. NB Their lack of sympathy for the ‘headache’ on Monday morning that stopped you going into work doesn’t count.

0 1 2

0 1 2




Vol. 4 Issue 3


As far as your boss is concerned, they are convinced they’re the best employee to ever set foot in your building. They’re opinionated, cocky and love to brag. Psychopaths are arrogant, and generally believe they are superior to the rest of the human race.

They seem to have a limited range of emotions. Although they’re friendly on the surface, you actually have a very shallow relationship with them. Do you ever wonder why your boss never seems that bothered about your life outside of the office?

0 1 2

0 1 2





Does your boss delegate every boring job they’re given to you? Psychopaths often have low self-discipline when finishing dull or routine tasks. They fail to work at the same job for any serious length of time.

Behind other employees’ backs they show little empathy. They can be so cold, inconsiderate and contemptuous at times they can make The Terminator look like a Teletubby.

0 1 2

0 1 2




0 1 2




Smooth, engaging, charming, slick and verbose – your boss is never shy, selfconscious or afraid to say anything. They’re never tongue-tied and they don’t seem to be bothered about social conventions like taking turns talking.

Deceptive, sly and manipulative, your boss seems to have an answer for everything, only you’re not sure if they’re true. Also, they won’t stop going on about how they gave Chris Eubank his lisp in a bar fight.

A psychopath’s brain has trouble attaching meaning to emotionally charged events

according to new research from industrial psychologist Paul Babiak. For each of the statements below, rate how accurately each describes your boss. 0 for not at all, 1 for sometimes and 2 for definitely does apply. At the end add up the final score and consult the ratings below.


They only help when there’s a benefit to themselves. Psychopaths avoid responsibilities and will often exploit others for their own gain. Does your boss only offer to make tea when there’s a task they need your help with?

0 1 2

This test is loosely based on the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, the test used to identify psychopaths. Please note that Dr Hare does not recommend that laymen attempt to ‘diagnose’ friends and family, and suggests that only qualified psychologists with hundreds of hours of training can accurately and appropriately apply the checklist. That said, this list is intended to give you an understanding of the traits psychologists look for when trying to identify a psychopath.



Is your boss irritable, quick to anger and impatient? Do they follow this up with threats, aggression and even verbal abuse? Psychopaths struggle to control their anger, often acting hastily only to apologise later, in the hope that you’ll maintain a good impression of them.

0 1 2



Being impulsive can be a good thing, but not if it means they take half the day off to go sky-diving, leaving you with all the paperwork. Does your boss seem to find it hard to resist temptation and frustration?

0 1 2


Breathe easy, the office kettle poses more danger.


Don’t worry, you’re safe. Probably.


Hide the staplers and any sharp objects.


Results from this test cannot be used in a court of law.

Psychologists use disturbing images to identify psychopaths in the lab

emotion was ‘bumpier’ than in normal people, making it difficult for clear signals to get across – almost like a CD being scratched. This small but significant biological difference suggests that psychopathy isn’t a purely psychological condition, but one that has a physical component too. Craig hopes that this could lead to a treatment in the long-term, that might repair the damaged white matter. But he stresses that this would need to be spotted early on. Treatment is, of course, the holy grail of psychopathy research. It’s a condition that is uniquely resistant to any kind of therapy because of its very nature. The only way it seems possible currently, is to catch it early. Dr Essi Viding, a developmental psychologist at University College London, works with children at a high risk of acquiring severe antisocial disorders. She agrees that it’s practically impossible to treat a psychopath, but she does have a rather novel approach to prevention. “You can capitalise on the fact that they tend to have lower levels

of anxiety, are confident and goaloriented,” says Viding. “Think of it from the point of view of evolution. It wouldn’t do, if all of us were massively empathic and pro-social. There are situations in the organism’s life cycle where it may actually be more advantageous to look after number one, and there are reasons why these sorts of genes survive in the gene pool. If we can work on that basis, and make them use these traits positively, then perhaps we can treat it before it becomes a disorder.” It’s a sentiment that Dr Robert Hare, the father of modern psychopathy research, shares. “There are advantages of having some psychopathic traits; not in the extreme and not very many of them, but a fairly low to moderate dose might be very advantageous to many businesses. I wish I had a few more of them myself.” Daniel Bennett is a science writer based in the UK. He is the technology editor on Focus magazine Vol. 4 Issue 3


A model of an atomic reaction, showing electron orbit paths as rings – although it’s thought that electrons don’t follow defined orbits

The Big Idea

exploring life’s great mysteries Robert Matthews investigates

Standard Model After half a century of effort, physicists are about to see the completion of one of their greatest theories: the Standard Model. Despite its uninspiring name, it explains everything from radioactivity to the power source of the stars. But even as its triumphs are being toasted, theorists are pushing beyond it to something even more spectacular. devised. It explains a range of phenomena – from magnetism to radioactivity to the powersource of the stars – and has sprung a host of surprises from the existence of antimatter to the discovery of particles forever trapped within others. Its detailed predictions have been confirmed to a few parts in 100 million. Flawed genius Unsurprisingly, the Standard Model is regarded as one of the crown jewels of science. But even as it nears completion, flaws have begun to appear,

pointing to the existence of an even grander theory whose power can only be guessed at. As with so much of modern physics, the origins of the Standard Model lie in the work of a one-time tutor and patent clerk named Albert Einstein. In 1905, he published a series of papers which overturned long-standing ideas about the nature of space, time and matter. His theory of special relativity predicted that strange new phenomena would start to emerge at speeds close to that of light. He uncovered evidence for the existence of E

Science photo library, CERN

he rumours had been circulating for weeks on blogs and newswires around the world. According to the buzz, scientists at CERN, the Geneva-based European centre for particle research, had finally discovered the long-sought Higgs particle, the last piece of their grand scheme to explain the nature of the cosmos. In the event, the press conference held last December didn’t quite live up to its media billing. The scientists did not say the Higgs particle had been discovered – at least, not to their satisfaction. Instead, they said experiments carried out at CERN’s gigantic particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), had uncovered the best evidence yet for the existence of the Higgs particle, with more to come in 2012. Yet for the scientists themselves, the announcement remained hugely significant, as it meant they were just months away from seeing the completion of one of their greatest-ever creations, known somewhat prosaically as the Standard Model. Over 50 years in the making, the Standard Model is the most successful theory of particles and forces ever


Peter Higgs, immortalised by the Higgs boson, visits CERN in 2008 Vol. 4 Issue 3


The Big Idea

exploring life’s great mysteries

JARGON BUSTER Antiparticle A particle having the same mass but opposite electric charge as its ordinarymatter counterpart – for example, the positron is the positively charged antimatter partner of the electron. If they meet, they annihilate into pure energy. Spin A property of sub-atomic particles with some resemblance to the spin of a ball – although, like all quantum theoretic ideas, the analogy is far from perfect. All force-carrying particles like photons are ‘bosons’ with whole-number units of spin (0,1, 2 etc), while matter particles like electrons are ‘fermions’, with half-integer values (1/2, 3/2 etc).

Corbis x2, Science photo library, x2, Larry D Moore, cern

CP violation A breach of a so-called symmetry principle, according to which certain properties of sub-atomic particles can remain the same despite undergoing a change – rather like how a square looks the same after being flipped over. The C represents swapping a particle for its antiparticle, while the P involves swapping mirror images of the particles. Neutrinos Ghostly particles whose existence was discovered in 1956. Neutrinos have no charge and according to the Standard Model have no mass. But in 1998, scientists announced evidence of a mass around one millionth that of the electron.

TIMELINE the standard model

E atoms and showed that light itself could be thought of as a stream of energypacked bundles called quanta. These revolutionary insights had major implications – especially for electrodynamics, the laws governing electromagnetic radiation such as light. In 1928, a brilliant young British physicist named Paul Dirac unveiled the result of integrating these laws with special relativity and quantum theory. Known as Quantum Electrodynamics (QED), its equations turned out to be a treasuretrove of insights. A new view of the electromagnetic force emerged, in which light quanta – photons – flitted between charged particles, carrying the force between them. Most amazing of all, QED predicted the existence of ‘antimatter’, the exact opposite of ordinary matter.

Fact of the matter The discovery in 1932 of the positron – the antimatter equivalent of the electron – in studies of cosmic rays confirmed the power of QED, prompting theorists to push the same ideas further. Among them was the Japanese theorist Hideki Yukawa, who wondered if other forces of nature could also be explained in terms of ‘exchange particles’ like photons. In 1935, he suggested that the so-called strong nuclear force, which binds together protons and neutrons in the nucleus, was transmitted via an exchange particle called a meson. He predicted its likely mass and, in 1947, the particle duly turned up in studies of cosmic rays. Yukawa’s particle duly took its place among the sub-atomic particles of key importance in nature, alongside such

familiar entities as the electron and the proton. But then something perplexing started to happen. As physicists built ever more powerful particle accelerators, they started to find ever more ‘fundamental’ particles. By the late 1950s, there were dozens of them; today the gigantic LHC E has the power to reveal the existence of literally hundreds of different types. Simple truths While experimentalists were delighted at this emerging cornucopia, theorists saw it undermining their belief in the essential oneness of nature. Their search for simplicity among this chaos prompted an unprecedented explosion of theoretical advances whose implications remain at the cutting edge of physics. The revolution that culminated in the Standard Model began in 1960, when theorists made a truly bizarre discovery. By plotting on graph paper the properties of the apparently disparate particles being found in particle accelerators, they found that hexagonal and triangular patterns emerged. Most intriguing of all, there were gaps, hinting at the existence of undiscovered particles. Over the next few years, the missing particles were found – and they had exactly the properties predicted by the geometrical patterns. Why did the patterns exist? In 1964, the American theorist Murray GellMann put forward a daring idea: locked inside many of the particles were truly fundamental entities he called ‘quarks’ (rhyming with ‘forks’). The disparate properties of particles, Gell-Mann claimed, reflected different combinations of two or three quarks within them. It was a





H British physicist Paul Dirac combines Einstein’s theory of relativity with laws of electromagnetism to create Quantum Electrodynamics, explaining the existence of spin and predicting the existence of antimatter, discovered in 1932.

H Japanese theorist Hideki Yukawa suggests a new explanation for the fundamental forces of nature, based on the idea of ‘exchange particles’ carrying the forces between other particles.

Murray Gell-Mann and George Zweig independently suggest that the huge variety of particles being found in experiments were formed from a much smaller number of constituent particles, dubbed ‘quarks’ by Gell-Mann.

E Steven Weinberg (right) and Abdus Salam invoke the idea of the Higgs particle to create the first viable theories able to unify two fundamental forces: the electromagnetic and weak nuclear forces.

British theorist Peter Higgs, among others, puts forward the idea that quarks and other particles get their mass by from an allpervasive field associated with a particle later called the Higgs boson.

The Compact Muon Solenoid, one of the two large particle detectors built on the Large Hadron Collider

big science

Why is the Large Hadron Collider so large? The Large Hadron Collider is routinely described as “the world’s largest scientific instrument”. But why does it need to be so big? The answer lies in the fact that the LHC is probing phenomena which reveal themselves only at energies comparable to those of the Big Bang itself, and reaching such energies means colliding particles at speeds close to that of light. The LHC does this using ever more powerful magnets to propel the protons to ever faster speeds. According to Einstein’s theory of relativity, as particles gain speed they become ever more massive – and

startling claim, not least because it required quarks to have properties unlike those ever observed in real particles. In 1968, physicists began searching for quarks by blasting particles through protons and neutrons, probing their interiors. The results revealed the presence of nugget-like objects inside the particles – with precisely the properties predicted for quarks. The discovery of quarks revived hopes for a unified theory of sub-atomic particles. Around the same time, further encouragement came from a unified theory of fundamental forces. As early

thus ever more reluctant to deviate from a straight line. That’s where the sheer size of the LHC helps. The bigger the circumference of an accelerator, the less

curved its tunnels are – and the easier it is for magnets to keep the protons zooming round the accelerator and being jolted to ever higher energies.

as 1938, Yukawa had found hints that two of these forces – electromagnetism and the so-called weak force – were really just different facets of a single ‘electroweak’ force. Yet attempts to prove the connection ran into a big problem: the short range of the force meant the exchange particles involved had to be relatively heavy, but the theories only produced mass-less particles like photons. During the early 1960s, a number of theorists hit upon a solution to this literally massive problem. It centred on the idea of a particle that is responsible

for creating an all-pervasive field which could imbue quarks and electrons with mass. Theorists seized on the idea, which is now known as the Higgs particle (after the English physicist Peter Higgs, one of its co-inventors). By 1968, Steven Weinberg at Harvard and Abdus Salam at Imperial College had independently devised a unified theory of the electroweak force, featuring heavy exchange particles dubbed W and Z. But was it correct? Confidence soared in 1971, when computer calculations showed the theory was free of mathematical problems that dogged previous attempts. But the real proof came in 1983, when scientists at CERN finally discovered the W and Z particles using the Super Proton Synchrotron machine, a forerunner of today’s LHC. By then, theorists had begun attempts to go beyond the unification of the electromagnetic and weak forces, bringing in the strong force as well. The resulting Grand Unified Theory forged a direct link between the various forces and particles made from quarks, which experiments had revealed were trapped inside their host particles by so-called gluons – the carriers of the strong force. Bit by bit, out of the chaos of previous E decades, the long-sought simplicity





Scientists at the Fermilab particle accelerator near Chicago announce the discovery of the top quark, the last and heaviest of the six quarks predicted to exist by the Standard Model.

H The first cracks in the Standard Model start to appear with experiments at the SuperKamiokande experiment in Japan, which reveal evidence that neutrinos have mass – defying the Standard Model.

The tau neutrino, the final particle completing the family of particles predicted by the Standard Model, is found by an international team at Fermilab, Chicago.

H The first solid evidence for the existence of the Higgs particle emerges from experiments conducted at the Large Hadron Collider based at CERN, the European centre for particle physics.

Vol. 4 Issue 3


The Big Idea

exploring life’s great mysteries

A Standard Model representation, with the Higgs boson at the centre

chemical elements

The Standard Model building blocks of the Universe

fermi national accelerator laboratory, science photo library, university of tokyo

According to the Standard Model, every chemical element in the Universe – even the myriad subatomic particles seen in particle accelerators – are ultimately made of combinations of just 12 building blocks, divided into two basic types. There are six different types of quark, just two of which – ‘up’ and ‘down’ – are needed to create the protons and neutrons of atoms. Then there are six so-called leptons, just one of which – the electron – appears in ordinary matter. Taken together with the electron neutrino, these particles make up one ‘generation’ in the Standard Model. For reasons as yet unclear, nature has generously provided two other generations of particles, such as the top and bottom quarks, and tau neutrino, whose members are only seen in special circumstances. More perplexing still, most of the matter in the Universe is made from dark matter, which doesn’t seem to be made from any of the particles included in the Standard Model.


Vol. 4 Issue 3

E began to emerge. Theorists claimed they could account for all the properties of matter with astonishing accuracy on the basis of just a dozen building blocks F made up of quarks and particles known as leptons. As before, there were pieces missing from this impressive jigsaw and experimentalists raced to fill in the holes. In 1995, a team at the Fermilab national accelerator near Chicago found the socalled top quark, completing the family of six quarks predicted by theorists. Then in 2000, another team at Fermilab found the last of the missing leptons, known as the tau neutrino. The jigsaw of the Standard Model was now complete, save for one last piece: the Higgs particle, which gives the quarks and electrons the crucial property of mass. It now looks as if physicists could be just months away from this final piece slotting into place, almost 50 years after its existence was first mooted. Ironically, however, many theorists will have mixed feelings about this triumph. That’s because it’s clear that the Standard Model is only a part of an even bigger jigsaw puzzle. Most obviously, while it encompasses all the particles of matter, the Standard Model only includes three of the four familiar forces that act upon it and says nothing about gravity.

Critical mass But there are other concerns. The first hard evidence of the Standard Model’s failings emerged even before all of its building blocks were in place. In 1996, a joint Japanese-US team began an experiment involving a 50,000-tonne tank of highly purified water constructed thousands of metres below Mount Ikenoyama in central Japan. Known as SuperKamiokande, the experiment was looking for flashes of light given off by the passage of neutrinos – the only mass-less form of building-block encompassed by the Standard Model. After two years, the team announced that their data suggested that neutrinos also have mass – in contradiction of the basic Standard Model. Further evidence of its limitations has emerged from attempts to understand the puzzling excess of matter over antimatter in the cosmos. According to current theories of cosmology, the Big Bang led to the very early Universe containing both matter and antimatter, which should have

annihilated leaving nothing but radiation. Yet our very existence shows that something made this annihilation one-sided, leaving us with a Universe consisting almost entirely of matter. Theorists think the cause lies in an esoteric process called CP violation, which the Standard Model permits, though not at the level needed to explain the observed preponderance of matter over antimatter. Over the years, teams at various particle accelerators have been probing this question and have found hints of different types of CP violation, which the Standard Model struggles to explain. The latest evidence emerged from experiments at the LHC in November last year. More data is needed to confirm its existence, but it may be another glimpse of what lies beyond the Standard Model. Darkness invisible Perhaps most embarrassing of all, the Standard Model has nothing to say about the two most important constituents of the Universe: dark matter and dark energy. The former is known to pervade the Universe and to greatly outweigh ordinary matter. But its constituents seem to lie outside the neat and tidy set of 12 building blocks encompassed by the Standard Model. Dark energy, meanwhile, is a kind of anti-gravitational force that is currently propelling the expansion of the Universe at an accelerating rate. Again, the Standard Model is silent about its nature. Physicists hope that experiments at the LHC will shine a light on where the answers may lie. Theorists are particularly hopeful that it will find evidence for socalled supersymmetry, a way of classifying

The construction of the SuperKamiokande neutrino detector deep underground in Japan


How far is superstring theory from the elusive Theory of Everything?

Question Time Pierluigi Campana is the spokesperson for Large Hadron Collider beauty (LHCb) at CERN, an experiment set up to explore what happened after the Big Bang that allowed matter to survive and build the Universe

How did you come to work in particle physics? When I was student at high school, I had the opportunity to learn about the world of particle physics and I was fascinated. So I studied physics at university and, after many years, I’m now at CERN to study the mystery of the Standard Model and why it works so well – even when we know it is basically incomplete.

the theory of everything

Feeling gravity’s pull A glaring omission from the Standard Model is any mention of that most ubiquitous of forces: gravity. Bringing gravity into the fold requires the marriage of quantum theory with Einstein’s theory of gravity (or general relativity). This is challenging; quantum theory views forces as the result of the exchange of ‘carrier’ particles, while Einstein’s theory sees gravity as due to the warping of the very fabric of space and time itself. Since the mid-1980s, the best bet for bringing about this marriage has been something called superstring theory, in which all particles and forces – including gravity – are regarded as vibrations of multidimensional ‘strings’ far smaller than the smallest elementary particles. A major attraction of superstring theory is that Einstein’s theory of gravity

emerges from its equations quite naturally, in a form that meshes well with the quantum concept of forces. But a sticking point has been explaining how our giant three-dimensional Universe emerges out of these tiny strings, which have at least nine spatial dimensions. A team of theorists in Japan recently found a new formulation to help describe the evolution of strings since the Big Bang. It suggests a unique form of superstring theory that starts with nine spatial dimensions packed incredibly tightly together, just three of which expand to the vast size we see today. If these claims hold up, theorists may be closer to broadening the Standard Model into the long-sought Theory of Everything: a single, unified explanation of all the Universe’s particles and forces.

particles which bridges the gulf between particles which form matter, like protons and electrons, and exchange particles like photons and gluons. Supersymmetry brings with it a host of particles not predicted by the Standard Model – some of which could prove to be the basis of dark matter. There are hopes that the discovery of supersymmetry will help pave the way to the ultimate description of all the forces and particles of nature, known as the Theory of Everything. Whatever the LHC reveals, the Standard Model will take its place alongside the likes of Newton’s law of gravity – as a conception of the Universe which, for all its limitations, will always

remain one of the greatest achievements of human intellect. Robert Matthews is a science journalist and holds the position of Visiting Reader in Science at Aston University, UK.

find out more E Particle Physics: A Very Short Introduction by Frank Close (Oxford University Press, 2004) E The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene (Vintage, 2004) E A subatomic tour from the Particle Data Group of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

What is the problem with the Standard Model? The discovery of neutrino masses and their oscillations do not fit into it, and the amount of matter and antimatter present in the Universe is wrongly predicted. We have not yet found models valid from the experimental point of view that can explain these phenomena. Perhaps the most exciting evidence that the Standard Model is not the end of the story is the presence of dark matter in the Universe. The LHC is looking for the solution to this puzzle.

What are you and your colleagues currently working on? Our experiment is LHCb. Its mission is to find evidence for an effect called CP violation in places where it’s not expected, which could explain why there is so much more matter than antimatter in the Universe. Late last year, we found some evidence for unexpected levels of CP violation in the behaviour of particles known as D mesons, but it will need more evidence before we can be confident in the result.

Why should scientists do this kind of esoteric research? I believe this question could have also have been posed to the artists who were drawing animals in vivid colours on the walls of the Lascaux caves in 17,000 BC. Why did they not chase the animals instead of painting them? There is an unquenchable human will to understand nature. Furthermore, doing basic research leads to spin-offs, such as new treatments for cancer, new materials and IT like the internet, as technology also proceeds towards new higher standards.

QA &

Your questions answered

P Why can’t we see underwater without wearing goggles? p89 P What is the time zone at the North Pole? p90 P Why can’t we feel the rotation of the Earth? p91 P Will future telescopes enable us to see the Big Bang? p92



This accolade goes to NASA’s Kepler space telescope, whose job is to search for Earth-like habitable planets. Kepler has a giant digital camera mounted under an elaborate optical telescope. The light-sensitive photometer comprises an array of 42 CCDs (charge-coupled devices), all of which are about 100 times the size of the one in your digital camera. The entire array gives an image of 95 million pixels. On the optical side of things, the telescope has an impressive 95cm aperture – far bigger than the 15-20cm aperture of most amateur telescopes. However, Kepler is soon to be outshone. In 2013, the European Space Agency will be launching its so-called ‘Billion Pixel Camera’, the Gaia space telescope. With 106 CCDs, it will have over twice as many electronic light detectors as Kepler. Each will have about four times the resolution, giving 937 million pixels overall. This whopping space telescope will create three-dimensional star maps, allowing unprecedented images of the Milky Way as well as other faraway galaxies. GM


Stuart Blackman

A zoologist-turned-science writer, Stuart is a contributor to BBC Wildlife Magazine.

Susan Blackmore

A visiting professor at the University of Plymouth, UK, Susan is an expert on psychology and evolution.

Robert Matthews

Robert is a writer and researcher. He is a Visiting Reader in Science at Aston University, UK.

Gareth Mitchell

As well as lecturing at Imperial College London, Gareth is a presenter of Click on the BBC World Service.

Nick Rennison

An editor and writer based in the UK, Nick is also a regular contributor to BBC History Magazine

Luis Villazon

Luis has an MSc in zoology from the University of Oxford. He is a freelance science journalist based in the UK.



The Socotra buzzard (Buteo socotraensis) became the most recently discovered bird of prey when it was named in 2010. The buzzard is only found in tiny islands that form the Socotra archipelago in Yemen.


Vol. 4 Issue 3

What’s the biggest camera flown in space?



s of time umber is the n e Earth is that th lightning by struck minute every



hales r of fossil w is the numbe i Al-Hitan in ad W in d foun tern Desert, Egypt’s Wes to the dating back Eocene era

It’s clear to see why goggles offer an underwater view

minute hand has travelled across two thirds of the angle between the number 12 and the first minute marker. It has rotated 4° and the hour hand by a third of a degree. Let’s pick another time. At exactly 10 minutes to two the minute and hour hand are 120° apart but the second hand is on the 12 and therefore 60° away from each of the two other hands. It turns out that the closest the three hands ever get to exactly the same separation is just before five to three, but they are never exactly 120° apart from each other. GM

Q you?

At what depth of water would the pressure kill

Every 10m you descend, the pressure increases by 1 Atmosphere. At just 3m, your diaphragm isn’t strong enough to inflate your lungs against the pressure. To counter this, scuba gear supplies air at the same pressure as the water around you. This works down to about 60m but beyond that the high-pressure oxygen becomes toxic. To go deeper, you need to reduce the oxygen concentration by replacing some of it with helium, which is inert so it doesn’t react with anything in the body and cause toxicity. It’s the problems of maintaining a safe mixture of gases to breathe at that pressure that limits the depth, rather than any direct crushing effect. Eventually the pressure would cause the enzymes in your body to change their molecular shape, which would halt all metabolic processes. The deepest recorded dive in a non-rigid diving suit is 330m but sperm whales can dive as deep as 3km. Luncheon meat is sterilised during canning by pressurising it to the equivalent of 60km depth, so a lethal pressure


Why can’t we see clearly underwater without wearing goggles?


In air, light is refracted as it passes through the cornea at the front of the eye, and then again as it travels through the lens. The lens is mainly there to provide fine adjustment because the cornea is fixed; in fact, twothirds of the focusing power of the eye is supplied by the cornea. Underwater, however, the refractive index of the cornea is virtually the same as the water in front of it, and so it loses almost all of its focusing power. The lens has a higher refractive index but it can’t compensate enough, so you become extremely longsighted. If you’re shortsighted, the effect is diminished but nobody is shortsighted enough to eliminate it completely. Goggles or a mask restore focus by putting air in front of the cornea. Light is still refracted when it enters the goggles but,

Thinkstock x3, US Air Force. Illustration by Jonty clark


as the glass or plastic is flat, it doesn’t change the focus of the image but only makes things look larger and nearer. LV


How old are the oldest diamonds?

Most of the diamonds found on Earth were formed below the Earth’s crust, in the upper mantle. This is the only place where the pressure and temperature are high enough to allow diamond to crystallise. To reach the surface, they must be carried up by the surrounding rock in deep volcanic ‘pipes’ that extend down into the mantle. This journey normally takes between 1 and 3.3 billion years, but in 2007 tiny diamonds were found embedded in a 4.25 billion-yearold piece of zircon. But even those aren’t the oldest because diamonds have been found embedded in a meteorite that’s at least 5 billion years old. That’s older than our


Solar System and means that the diamonds were formed during the death throes of another star, or in a planet that disintegrated when its star exploded. LV


Are the three hands on a watch ever 120˚ apart?

The easy, but incorrect, answer is yes. We might set our watch to, say, four o’clock and 40 seconds. But, by then, the


Vol. 4 Issue 3


QA &


Your questions answered

Did you know?

QuicKFIRE What is musical ear syndrome?

Four-and-twenty rhinos baked in a pie

This happens when people with impaired hearing experience talking, singing, or other noises such as traffic or birdsong, inside their heads. It occurs because the sensory areas of the brain need meaningful input, and without it they try to make sense of random noise by fabricating these once-familiar sounds. These aren’t true hallucinations because the person knows they’re unreal, but they can be very irritating. SB

How fast is mobile broadband compared to that at home? Mobile speeds can vary greatly. With 3G you can achieve as much as 7Mbps. In practice you’ll probably get more like 1Mbps. A Polish mobile service provider is now offering average download speeds of 6Mbps. In South Korea, super-fast mobile networks deliver IP television to cars. But roll on the future:4G (LTE) networks are promising speeds of 50Mbps. GM

A 19th-century naturalist had an arrangement with London Zoo that, after the death of an exotic animal, he would be given the opportunity to cook and eat part of it. Frank Buckland was a popular writer but his real passion was what he called ‘zoophagy’, the eating of unusual animals – a taste he had inherited from his father, geologist and palaeontologist William Buckland. Abraham Bartlett, the superintendent of London Zoo, allowed Frank to access the corpses of a number of the zoo’s late inhabitants, including an elephant, a rhinoceros and a giraffe. Buckland cooked some of the rhino in a pie, which he served to members of the audience at one of his lectures. NR

is probably between 3km and 60km. The deepest part of the ocean is 11km. LV


Why is tasting iron a sign of pregnancy?

Changes in the sense of taste generally are very common during pregnancy – one study recorded over 90 per cent – and lingering sour or metallic tastes are the most common


complaint. The medical term for these taste distortions is dysgeusia. The current hypothesis is that it’s an unfortunate side effect of altered hormone levels in the first trimester, especially oestrogen, but the exact mechanism is still unclear. LV

What time zone is it at the North Pole? 


All the world’s lines of longitude converge at the geographical North Pole. The notion of east or west is meaningless as the Pole is in all time zones at once. Most of the Arctic region uses UTC (Coordinated Universal Time). Though strictly a time standard and not a time zone, UTC is essentially the same as GMT. So, in the northern hemisphere winter, North Pole time is the same as in Britain. STATS GM


r of times is the numbe struck by is rth Ea e th at th ery minute lightning ev


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Strange but true Double vision

The sunburst diving beetle has a unique ocular ability

It is said that bifocals were dreamed up a couple of centuries ago by Benjamin Franklin. But the larva of the sunburst diving beetle (Thermonectus marmoratus), an attractive native of Mexico and the southwestern states of the US, might stake an earlier claim to the invention. It is the only animal known to have naturally bifocal vision. With 12 eyes and a fearsome array of biting and slicing mouth parts, the beetle’s hunting prowess is only matched by its ocular abilities. The magic happens in the beetle’s four largest eyes – long, tubular, forward-facing structures that allow it to focus on its mosquito prey, both when stalking it from afar and when close enough to strike. What’s more, behind each lens are two light-sensitive retinas, one positioned behind the other, which enable the beetle to focus simultaneously on both the foreground and background without having to adjust when flitting between them. This is, arguably, nature’s best-looking beetle – in more ways than one. Stuart Blackman


SUPERSTOCK, corbis, Thinkstock x3


A spin on a roundabout will make you dizzier standing on the spinning Earth

Why can’t we feel the rotation of the Earth?

With the Earth spinning at almost 1700km/h (1056mph) at the equator, you’d think everybody would be feeling queasy – after all, imagine a playground roundabout doing that sort of speed. But it’s not speed that affects us, it’s acceleration – as anyone who’s done a racing start in a sports car will tell you. And the ‘leisurely’ spin of the Earth means it produces an acceleration around 100 times lower than that experienced on a roundabout. Even so, the rotation of the Earth can still make its presence felt via a phenomenon called the Coriolis Effect, named after 19thcentury French mathematician

Gaspard-Gustave Coriolis. Anything that moves across a rotating object will appear to anyone standing on the object to be nudged off-course by a mysterious ‘force from nowhere’. For example, a person on a spinning roundabout who tries to throw a ball into a bucket on the other side of the roundabout will find the ball is constantly deflected off-course. The ‘force’ doesn’t really exist. Anyone watching the scene from nearby will see it’s simply the result of the bucket moving round while the ball is in the air. But to those on the spinning object, it seems real enough – and its effects have to be taken into account in calculating the paths of moving objects ranging from missiles to hurricanes. RM Vol. 4 Issue 3


QA &


Your questions answered

Why does poo float sometimes?

It’s not the fat content. Fat is a valuable nutrient and the pancreatic lipase enzyme will break down almost all the fat in your intestine so it can be absorbed. Floating poo contains bubbles of trapped gas. This is produced by your gut bacteria and normally escapes as farts but sometimes small bubbles will remain behind and reduce the overall density of your poo. LV




How does night vision work?

There are two main types of night-vision equipment. One variety uses light in the visible and near-infrared parts of the spectrum. A lens focuses the light onto a tube containing a photocathode. This converts photons of light into a stream of electrons that are aligned corresponding to the pattern of the


Which animal has the biggest brain? 

incoming photons. A secondary device then amplifies the flow of the electrons and fires them at a phosphor screen. When these charged particles hit the screen, the phosphor gives off green light, replicating the image. The other type of night vision operates in the infrared range further down the spectrum. It uses thermal imaging, relying on the fact that all objects give off heat. A heat-sensitive detector in the nightvision goggles creates a thermal map of the scene being viewed. This is converted into an electrical signal that refreshes up to 30 times per second. The resulting image is digitally enhanced and then viewed on a pair of small displays within the eyepieces. GM


Could we terraform Mars or Venus? 

Mars is too cold and has an atmosphere that’s too thin. If we used CFCs, which are powerful greenhouse gases, it would take about 39 million tonnes to raise the temperature enough to melt the CO2 glaciers at the poles. Firing enough rockets to transport compressed CFCs to Mars isn’t practical but it might be possible to manufacture them locally from Martian minerals. Venus has the opposite problem – it’s 460ºC (860ºF) at the surface and 93 times the atmospheric pressure of Earth. To lower the pressure you could bombard the surface with refined magnesium to react with the CO2 atmosphere and create magnesium carbonate rocks. But you would need five hundred thousand trillion tonnes of magnesium to remove enough CO2 to bring the greenhouse effect under control. And you’d still need to add oxygen to both planets. There isn’t enough water on either to make splitting it into oxygen and hydrogen practical. LV


Ask the Experts? Ever wondered… well, anything? Email editorial-bbcknowledge@ We’re sorry, but we cannot reply to questions individually.

The sperm whale with its 8kg (18.6lb) brain. An elephant’s weighs around 5kg (11lb), a bottlenose dolphin’s is 1.5-1.7kg (3.3-3.7lb) and a human’s is 1.3-1.5kg (2.9-3.3lb). But although brain size correlates with intelligence, neither absolute size nor size relative to the body predicts an animal’s intelligence. Some crows and African grey parrots are very intelligent but have tiny brains – around 6g and 9g (0.2 and 0.3oz) respectively. SB

Will future telescopes enable us to see the Big Bang? The Big Bang took place around 13.7 billion years ago, and since then the Universe has been expanding. As a result, not only is the light from events back then incredibly faint, it’s also been stretched by the cosmic expansion to ever longer wavelengths, putting it forever beyond detection by conventional light telescopes. RM

What makes things cute? It’s in the way our minds are designed. In order to pass on our genes we must care for our young, so evolution has given us an automatic emotional reaction to things that look like our babies. Critical features include big, forward-pointing eyes, a large head relative to the body, soft hair or fur and little fingers and toes. SB


A feast for the mind

British women won the right to vote on equal terms as men in 1928

How the West was won The continuing story of the rise and rise of democracy Of the People by the People: a new history of democracy


By Roger Osborne Bodley Head, 336 pages

K With his 2006 book Civilization, Roger Osborne established a reputation as an author who could deliver a very big subject in a relatively short book. He repeats the trick in this new history of democracy, a narrative which begins in ancient Athens and ends with the ‘Arab Spring’ of last year. Within a mere 300 pages, Osborne not only manages to cover the more familiar moments in the history of democracy – the republics of ancient Greece and Rome, the Putney debates, the American and French revolutions

– but also less familiar episodes such as the emergence of democratic government in the Swiss canton of Graubünden in the 16th century. The book is a brilliant example of authorial brevity, the writing neither hurried nor baldly functional. Of course, telling such a complex story in one smallish volume does bring with it some problems. In his introduction, Osborne makes it clear that he is not offering an essay on the history of political thought. The book is not an exploration of democracy as a concept but an investigation of how democratic governments emerged from “practical experience and continual human interaction”. This approach certainly has its benefits – not least that, in

focusing on the actual experience of democratic government rather than ideas about democracy, Osborne is able to remind us that we are not on some irreversible trajectory towards a liberal, democratic utopia. Democracies have come and gone throughout history. Indeed, as Osborne points out, in moving towards modern mass democracies based around the exercise of the vote, we have lost many of the participatory elements (service to the community, the parish, the borough) that were a feature of premodern ‘democracy’. However, in places Osborne’s practical approach leads to a rather unnecessary antipathy to political theory. Also, for a book

that is interested in the actual operation of democratic government rather than in ideal types, Osborne shows relatively little interest in those left out of the democratic process. For example, he does not comment on the fact that the citizens of democratic Graubünden were perfectly happy to exercise undemocratic lordly authority over other parts of the surrounding region. Glaringly, women, largely excluded from ‘democracy’ for much of western history, are mainly dealt with in a single paragraph on the female suffrage movement. However, these criticisms do not detract from Osborne’s impressive achievement here. To retell the history of democracy so vividly and yet so concisely is no mean feat. His work serves as an important reminder that the price of democratic freedom is eternal vigilance. Edward Vallance is author of A Radical History of Britain (Abacus, 2010) Vol. 4 Issue 3



A feast for the mind

Staying alive

The bombardier beetle protects itself by ejecting a boiling, noxious chemical spray

Not becoming dinner is the key to survival How Not to be Eaten: the insects fight back By Gilbert Waldbauer University of California Press, 240 pages

K Insects are the most numerous, most diverse and most bizarrely adapted creatures on the planet. So how on Earth do you offer a taster to a subject as vast as insect biodiversity? The usual approach is to look at ways that insects live – especially what they eat – and

whether they represent a problem for humans. However, in his latest book, entomologist Gilbert Waldbauer turns this around. He offers a tour not through where each species lives and what it eats, but how it manages to remain uneaten so that it survives to live and feed – and mate and lay eggs – another day. Across its 10 chapters, How Not to be Eaten covers some of the great biological themes that have shaped insect behaviour, ecology and evolution – camouflage, stings, bodily poisons, warning colours, mimicry, death-feigning, evasive flight patterns, mass

emergence (safety in numbers), stealth and furtiveness. All of these are governed by avoiding being eaten rather than the need to feed and grow. Waldbauer’s prose is clear and entertaining, whether he is describing a bombardier beetle’s anal ejection of scalding spray, or a blue jay vomiting up

a swallowtail caterpillar. In short, this is an ideal general introduction to the world of insects. Although it is not, perhaps, one to be read at the dinner table. Richard Jones is a Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society and author of Extreme Insects (Collins, 2010)

A matter of facts The story of maths told via 17 equations 17 Equations that Changed the World

thinkstock x2, Getty,

By Ian Stewart Profile, 288 pages

K Ian Stewart is a master of mathematical exposition, and this book gives a broad overview of the way maths has been applied over the centuries. Each chapter starts with an equation, but the exposition that follows is remarkably free of any mathematical notation. Having said which, it’s not 94

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without sophistication, dealing in detail with subjects like waves, electromagnetism and the famous Second Law of Thermodynamics. An enormous historical panorama is laid out before the reader. When dealing with Einstein’s theory of relativity, for example, Stewart makes it clear what the theory is and isn’t about (his irritation at people who think Einstein’s relativity is the same as Newtonian relativity is palpable). He explains how Einstein’s E=mc2 equation comes out of special relativity, before moving on to how gravity is incorporated into

Einstein’s famous formula is one of 17 equations that have shaped the world

general relativity. This then leads on to recent ideas about inflationary universes and dark energy. After relativity comes an excellent discussion of Schrödinger’s cat, followed by a look at the applications of quantum theory.

This book has something for all those interested in the applications of maths, while offering historical perspective on a wide variety of topics. Mark Ronan is a Honorary Professor of Mathematics at University College London

Look on the bright side What keeps us getting up in the morning? The Optimism Bias: a tour of the irrationally positive brain By Tali Sharot Robinson/Pantheon, 272 pages

K Life is littered with so many pitfalls, from illness to spurned love, that it’s amazing we ever get out of bed. That we do is thanks to a mental distortion known as the ‘optimism bias’. It means most of us think tragedy is something that befalls others, and that good fortune is more likely than it really is. Tali Sharot is a psychologist who studies the basis of optimism in the brain. In this book, she provides lucid accounts of her often ingenious experiments. In one, Sharot had subjects enter a brain scanner and then ponder holiday destinations before choosing one. Once selected, thoughts of the chosen destination suddenly had a far more powerful effect on the subjects’ neural reward pathways. So it seems we don’t just choose what we like – we also automatically like what we’ve chosen. Sharot’s book is fascinating and fun to read, but there are some curious omissions. She doesn’t discuss the ‘negativity bias’, our sensitivity to threat and loss. She also mentions research linking hope with survival from illness without acknowledging that these findings have been challenged, most forcefully by Barbara Ehrenreich in the book Smile Or Die (Granta, 2009). Even so, I predict you’ll enjoy this book – and I don’t think I’m being overly optimistic. Christian Jarrett is the author of The Rough Guide To Psychology (Rough Guides, 2011)

There’s something inside that compels us to be positive

A woman in the 1920s uses a vibrating belt to trim her hips

You’re in great shape Why do people feel the need to diet? Calories and Corsets: a history of dieting over 2000 years By Louise Foxcroft Profile, 240/320 pages

K This book is a welcome addition to the fields of food and body histories. It is an engaging synthesis of existing research and delves into a number of health, beauty and slimming advice books published from the 16th-20th centuries. There is some substantial scholarship here; for instance, an interesting account of the ‘dawning age of slenderness’ in the 1920s. Foxcroft also has a light touch and a sense of humour. Yet Calories and Corsets is a curiosity in terms of style. It feels like the work of a serious historian who has grafted on self-consciously chatty language in order to achieve a broad appeal. Thus we are informed that “everyone was getting in on the diet act during the 19th century”. Given that many ordinary working people in Britain were short of calories right through the 19th century, and that as late as the 1930s one-third were said to be malnourished, this is loose wording. Obesity was relatively rare in Europe before the fresswelle (eating wave) that in the 1950s swept over those countries that had been short of food during World War II. Perhaps a reference to the feminist advocates of ‘fat studies’ at the end of the book might have proved a helpful corrective to the stereotyping of women’s attitudes to dieting. In essence, these advocates argue that obesity has been over-medicalised and that one reason for dieting is therefore undermined. Although Foxcroft’s book is an easily digested and informative read, it seems that we still await the definitive history of eating habits and bodily form that is long overdue. Peter Atkins is a joint editor of The Rise of Obesity in Europe (Ashgate, 2009) Vol. 4 Issue 3


Time Out Q4 A right angle; a circle; ¾ of a circle with a right angle; a straight line; ¾ of a circle. Put it all together and what do you get?

T, H, T, TT, HT, _ ?

Q5 What letter should go in the blank so that the longest word possible can be read around this circle?

Q2 Which famous historical event is most closely associated with the year shown here?

Q7 In this Hitori puzzle, sufficient squares must be shaded so that no row or column contains the same digit twice. The shaded squares can’t be next to each other horizontally or vertically, but can touch at the corners. Once complete, all the unshaded squares remain connected so it’s possible to travel from one unshaded square to any other by horizontal and vertical moves.

6 5 4 8 7 5 3 7

Q3 A rope has been hidden under three discs at the points where it crosses over itself. What is the probability that the rope makes a knot? Q6 The standard version of which common object, found in the majority of households, contains 42 eyes?

Alamy, Thinkstock. illustration by jonty clark

“The world cares very little about what a man or woman knows; it is what a man or woman is able to do that counts.” Booker T Washington (1856-1915), American educator, writer and orator.

6 5 7 2 8 2 6 5

2 4 8 5 4 6 1 7

5 1 3 2 6 7 4 8

4 6 2 3 2 1 4 2

5 5 4 6 2 2 7 3

Charles A Hewins of Boston, MA, took what is thought to be the first ever photograph of a truly wild animal in 1870. It was of a European white stork (Ciconia ciconia) at the nest.

HIDDEN HISTORICALS Woodrow Wilson (wood-row-will-sun), 28th President of the United States. Q5 I (giving the word ANTIOXIDANT). Q6 A pack of cards. Q7 See illustration (right).

6 5 4 8 7 5 3 7

1 8 5 7 6 3 2 6

1 3 3 4 1 8 5 1

6 5 7 2 8 2 6 5

2 4 8 5 4 6 1 7


5 1 3 2 6 7 4 8

4 6 2 3 2 1 4 2

5 5 4 6 2 2 7 3 Solution to Crossword

Vol. 4 Issue 3

1 3 3 4 1 8 5 1

Wild life

Words of wisdom


1 8 5 7 6 3 2 6


Q1 Which letter continues this logical sequence:

Set by David J Bodycombe

IN THE KNOW Q1 M for million (Ten, Hundred, Thousand, etc). Q2 The year is 1815, the Battle of Waterloo. The lower beads near the central bar count as 1, the upper beads count as 5. Q3 25 per cent (or 1 in 4, or 3/1). At each of the three crossover points, the rope can go under or over itself, giving eight possibilities. Of these, two make a knot. Q4 The word ‘LOGIC’.

In the know


Compiled by Agent Starling

How it’s done

The puzzle will be familiar to crossword enthusiasts already, although the British style may be unusual as crossword grids vary in appearance from country to country. Novices should note that the idea is to fill the white squares with letters to make words determined by the sometimes cryptic clues to the right. The numbers after each clue tell you how many letters are in the answer. There are no prizes for completing the crossword but do let us know how you got on. All spellings are US. Good luck!

Hidden historicals

E Across

E Down

9 Old toes broke on the way to appropriate doctor (9) 10 A true rep forces an opening (8) 12 Diagonal line causes prejudice (4) 13 Manage to reset old hi-fi (6) 14 Minute aquatic multicellular invertebrate (7) 15 Ran a blade over a red star (9) 17 Not dissolving, like a fiendish clue (9) 18 Aquatic mammal is alone, sadly (3,4) 20 A cat in charge of type of energy (6) 21 Repeat in the choir (4) 24 Records artist turning to herb (8) 26 Snug tent fashioned out of metal (8) 28 Scrape a knee round the summit (4) 29 Construction game (6) 31 Academic failed orals about church (7) 34 Sell coral in order to get generator (5,4) 36 Bull turns aid into rust (9) 38 Austrian physicist who had an effect on sound (7) 39 Virginia left one with hesitation for a sedative (6) 40 Rode roughshod over European river (4) 41 Insectivore negotiated neat rate (8) 42 Unreal order gives soldier a pain (9)

1 Officers on the highest money (3,5) 2 Abandon at the beach (6) 3 It’s hard to get press to follow actors (4-4) 4 Ferryman throws out anchor (6) 5 Main pool damaged by a horse (8) 6 Trough causes despair (10) 7 Dignified as California, say (7) 8 Parking umpire and sailor at ready-made house (6) 11 Liberty from having sent back girl (7) 16 Bishop gets insignificant disease (6) 19 Devise a rota for vital supplier (5) 20 Creature of the masses (3) 22 Carbon spool in a basket (5) 23 A maths problem caused breathing difficulty (6) 25 Organize rave better, so that it’s not spineless (10) 26 The lowest digit (3) 27 Chapter on pie does change (7) 30 Consignment from obstetrics (8) 31 I must send student to America as incentive (8) 32 Call or return keys on the way round (4,4) 33 Shrinking lake as a real alternative (4,3) 35 Flower, to a point, is like a wolf (6) 36 Former pupil to yearn to get into shape (6) 37 I saw dingo changing color (6)



Who is the famous politician found in this sequence of pictures? Can you work out who is hidden in the symbols? Vol. 4 Issue 3



last word

John Horgan on why, despite everything, we’ve never had it so good

“My optimism is based on how much humankind has achieved already” oomsaying is rampant these days – and with good reason. No-one can have missed the fact that the world’s economic woes have spawned widespread social unrest, as manifested by the Occupy Wall Street movement. Environmentalists are warning that global warming may trigger catastrophic water shortages and famine unless we take drastic measures to curb it, and maybe even if we do. Then there are the perennial problems of our surging population (now at over 7 billion), pandemics such as AIDS (more than 25 million killed so far) and armed conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan and other hotspots.

Skye Horgan. Illustration by Chris MAdden


Faith of a father The British philosopher John Gray fears that we are headed toward a Malthusian future of savage fighting over our dwindling resources: “We may well look back on the 20th century as a time of peace.” As the father of two teenagers, I’m certainly concerned about the future. And yet I have faith that we can overcome our problems. Actually, ‘belief ’ is a better term, because my optimism that we’re headed toward a brighter future is based on how much humankind has achieved already, according to four key measures of human well-being. Consider these basic facts. For almost all of human history, only a minuscule 98

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elite – chiefs, kings, emperors and others at the top of their societies – lived in material comfort. The vast majority of humanity endured a hand-tomouth existence, just a drought or insect infestation away from starvation. But over the past few centuries, average standards of living have surged – first in Europe, cradle of the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions, and then elsewhere – as a result of innovations in agriculture, transportation, communication and other key industries. We’ve become healthier as well as wealthier. By examining ancient skeletons, anthropologists have deduced that, for much of human evolution, humans could expect to live about 30 years. Many infants and mothers died during or shortly after birth. This remained the case until the

20th century, when advances in medicine and public health ranging from sterile surgery, vaccines and antibiotics to improved treatment of water and sewage boosted average life spans around the world to almost 70 years. Freedom calls Human freedom has soared, too. In 1900, only 12 per cent of humanity lived under democratic rule. By 1950, that had inched up to 31 per cent. Today, almost two-thirds of the world’s population lives in nations that are defined as either ‘free’ (87 nations) or ‘partly free’ (60 nations) by the think tank Freedom House, which charts the ebbs and flows of democracy world-wide. According to Freedom House, people are ‘not free’ in China, North Korea and 45 other

countries, home to 34 percent of the global population. Finally, our era is quite peaceful by historical standards, and especially compared to the blood-soaked 20th century. War killed fewer people in the first decade of the 21st century than in any decade in the previous 100 years. Since 2000, according to one estimate, annual combat casualties have averaged about 55,000 – or 250,000 if you count civilians killed by war-related disease, famine and exposure. In contrast, war claimed almost 4 million lives per year during the cataclysmic first half of the 20th century and almost a million a year during the second half. Yes, we still face enormous problems, and continued progress is far from guaranteed. But given how far we’ve come already, we will surely avoid the nightmarish scenarios foreseen by John Gray and other pessimists. My children, and their children, will live to see a world that is even wealthier, healthier, freer and more peaceful than today’s. John Horgan’s latest book is The End of War, recently published by McSweeney’s

What do you think? Does the future look bright or are the pessimists right about what’s in store?

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BBC Knowledge Magazine Asia Edition (Volume 4 Issue 3)  

BBC Knowledge Magazine Asia Edition is the magazine for the curious mind! Every issue is packed with fascinating images, thought provoking a...

BBC Knowledge Magazine Asia Edition (Volume 4 Issue 3)  

BBC Knowledge Magazine Asia Edition is the magazine for the curious mind! Every issue is packed with fascinating images, thought provoking a...