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oct 2010 issue 1

science and technology news and views magazine

your science magazine


in this slim edition:

at BSF

And a look at a few mini articles by some of you


SATNAV Slim Magazine at the University of Birmingham



Welcome to the first hard copy issue of SATNAV ever! We’ve put together this small edition called SATNAV slim to give you a taste of the magazine and let you see what we’re about. Welcome, especially if you’re a first year or just new, to the university. As you will find out, Birmingham is a great place to learn and we try and show that in our magazine. In this issue expect to find some interesting facts that you didn’t know before, including the science of falling in love, as well as the preview of our time at the British Science Festival and an introduction to our new online feature iScientist. SATNAV is released online every term so keep a look out for the autumn issue

university society is great fun and should not be missed, but getting involved with SATNAV will look great on your CV as well, and for those of you who want to go into teaching then the encroaching SATNAV school will definitely be something to keep your eye on... Watch this space! Best Regards,

Tim Hearn


Editorial British Science Festival Pheromones - A case for ditching deodorant? A brief guide to love To the heart of our solar system Solar Impulse Why are stars round? Learn about the cover image You at the British Science Festival Write science fiction for the magazine


Flickr: Nickster 2000

coming later this semester at our website; This editorial wouldn’t be complete without the plug to come and join us! SATNAV is a relatively new society and this year we’re on the lookout for new talent. We’re not just looking for scientists who want to write but for any students who want to get involved with editorial and proofing work, art, photography and layout. If that’s you then get in contact with us! If you missed the chance to sign up en masse at the societies fair then look out for our sign up stalls across campus during semester one, every Wednesday in the Physics coffee lounge and Biosciences undercroft at 13:00. Getting involved with a

Slim Issue 1 - Oct 2010

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SATNAV Slim Magazine at the University of Birmingham

British Science Festival So, the British Science Festival hit Birmingham this September, and SATNAV set off to investigate the many varied sights and sounds that it had to offer. From the rap guide to evolution to discovering just how good your ability is to text and walk. Well, I hear you ask, what’s so special about that, given that all students had the chance for a free pass. The difference is dear readers, that SATNAV was given the opportunity of the year; we got to attend as registered press! The next issue of SATNAV will contain a roundup of our experiences of the festival, but for now here’s a brief glance of the best bits. It was festival without tents and wellies, although they should possibly have been recommended. It rained a lot on Tuesday. That is my overriding memory of our first day at one of Europe’s largest science festivals. Perhaps it was fated that this would be the day we set out to do the ‘outdoors’ parts of the festival. However, with jeans plastered to our legs we soldiered on, completed the nature trail and ended up at Aston Uni, the centre of festival activity. After being inducted into the press office, and receiving the customary disbelief from the broadsheets at our presence there, we set out to

explore what our near rivals had to offer us for the week. Quite a lot it seemed. As the festival progressed we went to a varied number of talks based at Aston, we listened


to the presidential address by Lord Sainsbury and generally got to grips with the theme of the festival – ‘better lives through science’. From the amazing potential of hydrogen power (visualised in the University of Birmingham’s cars and narrow boat) to the amusing science of pulling as well as the myriad medicinal uses of cannabis, we explored a number of ideas that are helping to improve people’s lives. The week wasn’t all about talks however, we found time to check out the exhibitions of Franziska Schenk, the artist in residence at Biosciences and a pioneer of

using iridescent colours created by nanotechnology to mimic nature. What was the best part of the week? Well, a certain amount of satisfaction had to be had from watching James, our Creative Director, fail dramatically at using the interactive games in ‘searching for black holes with lasers’ to manage a project budget to find such a singularity. Let us say we made a hasty retreat and hope we control our student finances slightly better than that. But the best part of the week has to really be the atmosphere of the festival. Science festivals are amazing experiences; you hear some incredible things but you also meet some amazing people, as well as broadening your own horizons far more than you would expect to. If you ever get the chance to go then take the opportunity, as even if science doesn’t interest you might be surprised at what you discover and who you might meet. For an in depth look at our week at the festival check out SATNAV Issue 2 - Autumn 2010 coming soon.

Tim Hearn.

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A case for ditching deodorant? Far from advising leaving your perfume bottle untouched the next time you venture out to Snobs, some scientists believe that masking your natural scent might actually be a hindrance in the manoeuvres of love. Although much is known about pheromones in both insects and plants, less is known about their potential effects on the interactions of humans. However, it is now thought that scent may play a critical role in sexual behaviour. For example, in women, exposure to the pheromone-like steroid androstenol, a chemical similar to testosterone, activates the part of the hypothalamus which is responsible for reproduction. In addition, studies of groups of

women show that exposure to male sweat influences both impulsivity and romantic characteristics. In animals where pheromone communication is proven, the chemicals are detected by the vomeronasal organ (VNO) a sexual organ which, through evolution, has become obsolete in humans. Recent research proposes that this process must operate through the main olfactory system instead. A lot of the research conducted into human pheromones remains tenuous. Although there have been claims of successful synthesis of a pheromone-based “love potion”, much of the evidence to support these claims is behaviourbased and therefore has limited reproducibility. Adding to this,

the financial interest in marketing products which claim to influence sexuality is appealing, when in actual fact no specific human pheromone has been isolated and therefore any potential chemical make-up is unknown. As such, the scepticism of some scientists is unsurprising. Should the mystery be solved, ethical issues concerning the use of compounds with the potential to mediate aggression, anxiety or sexual behaviour will be a matter of great contention. One thing is certain however: whoever sniffs out the answer first stands not only on a potential fortune but also an moral minefield.

Katie Reeves.

A brief guide to love I’m sure most of us can admit to being besotted by another person at some point in our lives, so you’ll understand and recognise these stages of falling in love. First up is the old student favourite; lust. When you skim the faces of the dance floor and steal a glimpse of that person that has sat in front of you in lectures this past year, they look back, and you hold each other’s gaze and


it takes all your will power not to rip their clothes off right there and then! Well all these emotions are created by sex hormones such as testosterone, oestrogen and endorphins (which make you feel happy), designed simply for finding a mate and passing on genes. Lust in some cases provides the basis for the next stage: attraction, which also describes that ‘love sick’ phase. During this time your

body releases an acute stress hormone called norepinephrine, which is what causes charming qualities such as increased heart rate, sweating and a dry mouth the second that you bump into that special someone. You’ll also be feeling the effects of dopamine, this provides you with an intense rush of pleasure which blinds you from any flaws your partner may have. This cocktail of chemicals

SATNAV Slim Magazine at the University of Birmingham can give you the same rush as a line of cocaine, resulting in increased focus, restlessness, loss of appetite and high energy. The final hormone (or lack of it) which is required for attraction is serotonin. Scientists have started recognising the similarities between the angst of a patient with OCD and a person falling in love ;both understand that their fixation on a certain something or someone is illogical, however neither have the ability to snap out of such obsessive thinking. Both OCD and the initial stages of falling in love show a dip in serotonin levels. This chemical imbalance causes you and your partner to concentrate intently on your relationship and little else.

The final stage of falling in love is attachment or commitment. After sex your body releases a hormone called oxytocin, or the cutely named ‘cuddle hormone’. This hormone deepens the bond between two people, which may also be why it’s also released when a mother breastfeeds. Although love has simply evolved in our species as a method of encouraging copulation and ultimately only lasting long enough for two people to share the commitment of caring for offspring, one should not be disheartened, for “where there is love, there is life”- Mahatma Ghandi.

Emma Houghton.

Flickr: Ninha Morandini

To the heart of our solar system NASA is currently selecting instruments to go onboard its new probe – Solar Probe Plus. This probe will fly further than any other probe before, but towards the Sun, as opposed to the edge of the Solar System. It will withstand temperatures of over 1427°c (2,600°F), and will cost nearly £120 million pounds to build. “The experiments selected for Solar Probe Plus are specifically designed to solve two key questions of solar physics: why is the Sun’s outer atmosphere so much hotter than the Sun’s visible surface, and what propels the solar wind

that affects Earth and our Solar System,” said Dick Fisher, director of Nasa’s Heliophysics Division in Washington DC. Eight weeks after launch, Solar Probe Plus hopes to arrive at the Sun to begin the first of 24 orbits using flybys of Venus to progressively shrink its distance to the Sun. Eventually, it will come as close to the Sun as about 4 million miles (inside the orbit of Mercury), and about eight times closer than any previous spacecraft. This will allow an abundance of never-before-seen data to be collected; a prodigious boon for

astrophysicists all over the world. NASA hopes to launch Solar Probe Plus sometime before 2018.

Miranda Bradshaw.

Image: NASA 5

SATNAV Slim Magazine at the University of Birmingham

Solar Impulse A solar-powered plane, the ‘Solar Impulse’, completed its first 26-hour flight on 8th July. During its flight the plane reached a height of 8,700 m (28,543 ft). This is the longest and highest recorded flight ever of a solar-powered plane. It was designed by a team of engineers led by experienced pilots Andre Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard (the man who made the first non-stop, round-the-world

flight in a balloon). With their Solar Impulse team they plan to create a plane that can be used for highly efficient transport, with the smallest amount of greenhouse emissions. Using the Sun as the power source, 12,000 solar cells are arranged across the 63m (207ft) wingspan in order to collect enough energy for the flight. Batteries are used to store the

Images: Deutsche Bank AG

energy once the Sun has gone down, which still had three hours of flight remaining when the plane landed at the Payerne airport, near Bern, Switzerland, after its 26-hour journey. The Solar Impulse team are now planning a more advanced model, to fly for even longer, and aim to circumnavigate the globe by 2013.

Why are stars round? When I was little, my Dad told me that stars come in all shapes and sizes. So I was sorely disappointed to find, once I was old enough to research things for myself, that stars are only ever really spherical. Stars (and planets) are spherical in shape because of gravity. The larger the object, the stronger the gravitational force


upon the object. This means that large objects such as stars have very strong gravitational forces acting upon them. Gravity is an attractive force, and so pulls all matter towards the centre of mass of the object, where gravitational forces are strongest. A sphere has the highest surface area/volume ratio, allowing

the most amount of mass to be closest to the centre as possible. If a star was triangular or cubeshaped, the corners at the edge of the star would be further from the centre. Gravity would act to draw these towards the centre, so the star would end up being spherical eventually anyway.

Miranda Bradshaw.

SATNAV Slim Magazine at the University of Birmingham

FLICKR: ryantron

Ever wondered exactly what it was like to do research? Have you considered it as a career but were unsure as to what it takes? Or are you just curious to see what scientists get up to in the lab? Then follow our ‘iScientist’, a series of podcasts following the progress of PhD students from a variety of disciplines as they go about their time at Birmingham. Find out what they’re up to, what they’re researching, how their time is spent out of the lab and how they think they’re helping to make a difference. If you’re unsure about

SPOTLIGHT Cover Image ‘Shining Light on Mustard Cress’ by Dr Juliet Coates takes a winning place in the Snapshots of Science 2010 Photographic Juliet Coates Competition. ‘Shining Light on Mustard Cress’ The cell structure in mustard cress revealed by a high resolution laser-based microscope which can Did you visit the UK science distinguish structural components festival in Birmingham this (green) from those used by the summer? What were your most cells as their energy source (red). memorable moments? Give us your

Science Festival

Flickr: EricMagnus

PG study then check these out during the year to see if you could pull off what these guys do. Logs will be updated every month so keep coming back to pick up the stories. To start us off we have Tess Livermore, a Bioscience PhD student with Dr Jeremy Pritchard, one of SATNAV’s academic supporters, check out her views on science and the media in SATNAV issue 2 coming this term; we think she’ll go a long way! Tess’ first log entry is available online at; keep a look out for entries from other students over the coming weeks.

thoughts on this year’s national event and the best views will be published in the next issue of SATNAV.

Science Fiction We are continuing with our true science fiction hunt (see page 40 of SATNAV issue 1) so if you feel you’ve got the talent to put a theory into literature then get writing and see if you can produce something to satisfy our judges and get yourself published. 7

 This year is the global year of Biodiversity. It is the year that the world failed to meet the targets the UN set 18 years ago. We take a look at the dangers biodiversity faces in the 21st century, why preserving it is so important and what the world may look like to future generations if we fail again. Issue 2 will have feature content on the topic for you to read.

science and technology news and views magazine


Part two of the Science of Bees by Tom Jeavons, explosing the very different chemical potency of pheromones, and venom. The start of a new series explaining the purposes and aims of CERN, what exactly a large hadron collider does, and why the world isn’t going to explode. Plus: reviews on the latest gadgets, a bounty of scientific articles, science fiction, more careers information, and even competitions and puzzles!

ACTIVITES. Not just a Events. magazine. SKILLS. Sign up dates online ROLES.


This is our special hard copy Slim edition. Be sure to check out the main magazine, with massive content from students including answers to your questions and chances to win science prizes.

PASS ON this magazine!

Extra special Slim thanks to: Miranda Bradshaw, Emma Houghton, Kate Wilkinson, Katie Reeves, James Young, Tim Hearn.

SATNAV Slim Issue 1  
SATNAV Slim Issue 1  

This was the first printed mini-magazine that was produced by SATNAV Society at the Guild of Students, University of Birmingham. 250 copies...