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Hey E.T. Anyone home? Why I believe in life on other planets

When E.T. was first released back in 1982, I built myself a cardboard spaceship and told my mum that I had to go find him, but would be back soon.

I think I mainly wanted to be Drew Barrymore’s character, Gertie but I was also utterly convinced that E.T. was real and that he could “phone home”. I’m certainly not the first person to believe in life ‘out there’ As early as 218 BC, Historian Titus Livius recorded that “a spectacle of ships gleamed in the sky”. That’s more than 2,230 years ago (!) and is thought to be the first suggestion of any kind of alien appearance near Earth.

My grown-up companions all told me there were no such things as aliens and so I became less convinced about E.T.’s existence and eventually gave into to what they were telling me. Fast forward to the present-ish day, and science has yet again come to my aid and restored my faith in there being life somewhere other than on our own planet. But am I just seeing what my inner 5-year old wants to see? Here’s what we know so far.

It’s logical

One of the best lecturers I’ve ever seen, Professor Brian Green said that everything we know about how the physics and maths of space work show that it’s almost impossible for us to be the only life in the Universe. What’s more, now we have the means to see further into space we’re being inundated with images of new planets, suns and solar systems similar to our own. Surely it’s not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’ we discover life outside our solar system?

We now know that there are planets capable of supporting life

During its 9-year mission, NASA’s Kepler spacecraft discovered a whopping 2,600 planets outside our solar system, many of which could be promising places for life. Of these, a handful are in the so-called “habitable zone” – i.e. it’s not too hot and not too cold and it’s not too near to, or far from its sister sun. You could say it’s the Goldilocks Zone! The best candidate for a habitable planet was Kepler 186f (catchy!). It’s around 10% bigger than Earth and a similar distance from a large star at the centre of its solar system. Kepler 186f (not getting any catchier) is the first planet mass with Earth-like characteristics, and while there’s plenty of research still needed so we can understand more about it, scientists are very excited about this potential Earth-cousin.

Discovering intelligent life is just a matter of time

Many scientists believe that we’ve now discovered all the ingredients that make up the entire Universe. So the Universe is essentially a recipe book where each planet’s recipe is a selection of ingredients from a single list, and in a place as big as the Universe our ability to find another planet made out of the same ingredients as Earth is only limited by how far we can search. And the search is far from over.

All of this makes 5-year old me very happy and call me crazy, but I still think it would be cool if someone’s out there looking for us too. And if they’re able to read this, “I’ll totally help you phone home if you crash land in my back garden!”

hey-e.t.-anyone-home

Bang! There goes the Universe!

I never thought I’d say this but there was a time that I wanted to be Richard Hammond. I wasn’t coveting his garage full of fast cars (though I wouldn’t complain if he gave me one), rather I was envious of his other programme where he got to study the BIg Bang up close and ‘build’ planets and universes!

I’m a “see it, touch it, believe it” type and thinking about the size of our universe and how it all began makes my brain feel like exploding… A bit like my own personal big bang. So, the Hamster getting a chance to get hands-on with the science of planet building had me more than just a little green with envy.

The Big Bang Theory captures something in our imaginations. The idea of an explosion creating rather than destroying is such a contradiction and therefore so intriguing, that whoever you are, you can’t help but be the tiniest bit curious about how we came to be.

A (very) potted history of the Big Bang

The Big Bang is what scientists call the event that kick-started our universe into existence some 13 billion years ago. For reasons we don’t fully understand, (yet!) a tiny, super-hot and excitable bubble that contained mainly Hydrogen plus a dash of Helium and Lithium, burst. This enormous bang sent super-hot gases flying in every direction through space. Just like when you over-fill a balloon with water causing it to suddenly burst.

So all the stuff in the bubble flew out. Quickly at first and then slower as the gases travelled further, settling into stars and eventually galaxies including our own Milky Way, home to our beautiful solar system.

The stars acted like molecule factories, taking the original gases and turning them into the building blocks of life. Absolutely everything we see around us came from that one moment in time – Rocks, water, trees and of course creatures! Your body and mine, as well as that of the dog up the road, are all made from the same materials found in stars. Pretty mind-blowing right?

Mind-blowing enough to be unbelievable

And if not unbelievable at least questionable! How did it happen? What was there before this Big Bang? Has it only happened once?

These are excellent questions and scientists are still tackling them. There’s loads of research going on in places like CERN in Switzerland and Oxfordshire-based JET. Scientists are literally trying to recreate that first Big Bang moment by smashing hydrogen atoms together to see what other particles we might be able to see. JET is all about applying a huge amount of heat to make hydrogen atoms fuse together – basically recreating the same reaction that happens when stars are made. Now there’s another job I wouldn’t mind… Chief Star Maker!

Back to our Universe, which continues to expand. The more we understand about how this all started the easier it will be for us to predict what might happen in future. And let’s face it, It would be AMAZING to have answers to all those questions!

bang-there-goes-the-universe

Moved to Tears

The first time I saw my father cry, I was torn between great sadness and intrigue. It was like he was so sad, and that first tear was being dragged down his cheek by the weight of his woes. You can’t help but react yourself because whether it’s deep sadness or unadulterated joy, tears are the universal sign of emotion.

But why?

The reasons we cry are complex. They even stumped Darwin who couldn’t find an obvious evolutionary reason to justify the seemingly wasteful seepage of fluid through the eyes. Yet it’s clear that wherever you go on this planet, tears mean a lot to us, whether we’re the ones doing the weeping or we’re bearing witness to a literal outpouring of feeling.

Believe it or not, we humans are constantly ‘lacrimating’ (from the Latin for tear “Lacrima”) – producing fluid from our eyes. But not all forms of lacrimation are the same. Humans are thought to be the only species to shed three types of tears – basal, reflex and emotional tears.

The first two are quite easy to explain.

Basal tears are the maintenance beads of moisture that coat our eyes, keeping them free from bacteria and lubricating the surface of the eye. If you weren’t able to shed basal tears, you’d soon know about it. Your eyes would feel incredibly itchy, sore and unsurprisingly, dry!

Reflex tears kick in to protect our peepers from harm. Onions, gases or a sudden cloud of dust can cause you to tear up in an instant, flushing the eyes and washing away any those pesky and irritating particles.

And the third?

Emotional tears work in completely the opposite way. That’s to say that the trigger comes from within, rather than without!

Some scientists suggest that one of the reasons we have developed the ability to cry is as a literal release. We often talk about “feeling better after a good cry” and the science backs this up. The tears we shed as a result of intense emotion are packed with high levels of hormones like cortisol, which builds up when we’re stressed. Our tear ducts are like a little hole in a basin that lets water trickle out to avoid an inevitable deluge, and our tears act as a hormone disposal system. Which means the act of crying could be a physical process as well as psychological.

We share the ability to shed basal and reflex tears with apes, elephants and camels. But scientists have long believed that this is where the similarities end when it comes to crying, or so we thought. Scientists at the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists (animal opticians!) are setting out to prove that horses shed emotional tears too. They’ve found that horses produce more tears when they’re under stress and that the tears they produce show increased levels of the hormone cortisol in just the same way as humans.

So what are our tears made of other than water and hormones?

All tears are composed of similar ingredients – water, salts, enzymes and hormones. However, the ratio of ingredients varies between the three tear types and with each kind, tears change depending on their cause. The type and quantity of hormone can change dramatically, depending on the trigger. For example, joy or despair. So each batch of tears is entirely unique – like a fingerprint!

The make-up of a tear can give us incredible clues about the emotions that the person shedding them is feeling. I recently saw a beautiful work of art called ‘Topography of Tears’. The artist, Rose-Lynn Fisher, collected over one hundred tear samples, representing moments of regret, loss, laughter and even onion chopping, and examined them under a light microscope. Rose-Lynn was astonished to find that each sample was completely different, to the point that the ‘fingerprint’ of each tear was like its own landscape, from feathery fields to jagged mountain ranges. The irony of this art moving me to tears isn’t lost on me!

Just like Rose’s beautiful work, tears don’t just affect the crier. Tears have been found to reduce aggression. How? The blurred vision that crying results in can prevent a person from engaging in aggressive activities. Aggressive behaviour in people witnessing someone cry is also reduced so it may be an evolutionary advantage to be able to cry at moments that might otherwise end rather more messily.

Let it all out!

Tears are loaded with chemicals and laden with emotion, playing a critical role in our ability to control physiological changes in hormones when experiencing intense feelings. Just like the simple, yet powerful impact of human touch, your tears leave fingerprints wherever they’re shed. So the next time you feel that tell-tale prickle at the back of your eyeballs, it might not feel great at the time and you might be annoyed you can’t stop it from happening but trust me, your body’s knows exactly what it’s doing, so grab a hankie and just let it all out!

Why your waste might save your life!

When you’re a kid talking about poo and wee is funny, when you’re a grown-up it’s sometimes embarrassing. But at every age, the stuff that comes out of you is pretty important. At the very least you can learn a lot about yourself and at best, it’s protecting you from all manner of nasties. Yeah, it’s a bit gross (when is waste not?), but once you get past that it’s incredible how handy your own ‘garbage’ can be.

Poocheology

If you’ve got our Healthy Me box, you’ll know all about the Bristol Stool Chart – the universal scale of poop health. Well, archaeologists took poo analysis to a whole new level, studying stools from a prehistoric village in Turkey that are around 10,000 years old (known as coprolites) They found out that the people that lived in this village were infected with a very specific parasite. The fact that faeces can survive that long is pretty mind-blowing let alone the fact that it can be used to identify a parasitic infection!

Find out more

Peecycling

It’s no secret that we need to get better at how we produce enough food for everyone on our planet, and our wee could play a big part to play in this. For starters, it’s 95% water so if we were able to collect it safely, the water could be used for crops (and don’t forget astronauts drink water filtered from urine, so if we can get past the ick factor we could too). More interestingly, all urine contains phosphorus which is used in fertiliser, something we need a lot of. Again, if we could get better at collecting it, we’d be able to meet a quarter of the world’s demand, all from our pee. Oh, and if you can bear to boil it down, you could do this! 👇

Spit it out!

Saliva  – the most underrated of bodily fluids in our opinion. And not because it’s our mum’s last-minute stain remover (eeoo!). Spit is chock full of data. What’s more, it’s easy to collect and analyse. From DNA testing to figuring out if you’re at risk of heart disease. A simple swab is all you need to unearth a plethora of information, some of which might help you to take action before a disease or hereditary condition can cause you harm. How cool is that?

Here are a few more phlegmy facts for you!

Now we don’t expect or suggest you start hoarding your bio-matter, but perhaps you’ve now got a greater appreciation for your own waste. After all, if it’s good enough for Matt Damon to grown his spuds in…

lifesaving-waste

Curiosity v COVID

Engaging vulnerable children in STEM and bridging the gap created by COVID-19

The COVID pandemic is severely impacting children living in the UK’s most deprived areas. We believe that science belongs to everyone and now, more than ever, we must support vulnerable children in our society. Therefore we’ve committed to sending STEM (science, tech, engineering and maths) resources to 20,000 children in deprived areas in the UK. That represents 0.5% of children living in poverty in the UK[i].

DOWNLOAD THE PROJECT OVERVIEW HERE

10 nature adventure ideas for families

It’s great for our physical and mental health and something grown ups and kids can enjoy together. Getting out in nature is a great way to fill our lives with wonder and joy! Here are my top 10 nature adventure ideas for families:

1. The Woodland Trust: We know it’s hard to get out and get supplies at the moment but there are so many things you can do with what you have to hand. The Woodland Trust Blog provides oodles of ideas in the home and outdoors, most of which use up waste or simple supplies like pencils and paper. I particularly love the nature pirates activity and the fairy door activity. Imagine how wonderful it would be for someone when they discover your fairy door!

2. Finding your words: Nature has long been the inspiration for many artworks and music, so why not get inspired and creative with the help of The Lost Words.  Their free downloadable Spell Songs feels like a deep, luxurious and calming breath in. Just what we all need right now.

3. Backyard Bioblitz with St. Andrews University: The diversity of creatures you can find in your local green space might surprise you. It did surprise me, the first time I did a Bioblitz! St. Andrews University is hosting a Backyard Bioblitz on the 5th and 6th of June. It’s like having an expert with you as you explore and get to know your backyard better! I could only find details on their Facebook Page

4. Skomer Island Live: Set off the Westest West part of Wales is the breathtaking Skomer Island. I visited with my family last summer and even my skatepark and computer game-mad son soon relaxed into the beauty and ruggedness of it. We would have been heading off again on Friday – this time to see the puffins, so the Skomer live feed has at least gone some way to filling the gap. Find out more about Skomer and indulge in a bit of Puffin Loving’ here

 

5. Muddy Faces: I know mud is a bit like marmite and gives some people the heebie-jeebies. If you love the cool squelch of mud, then Muddy Faces, a brilliant forest school, has got enough to get you properly covered. They also have a lovely shop with lots of tools and nature adventure kit. I particularly love the wooden construction blocks!

6. Spot baby birds: It’s fledging time! There are baby birds abound at the moment and if you can’t fall in love with nature watching a baby blue tit learning to fly then, well I’m not sure anything will! Take a look at the baby Robin on RSPB live streamed Robin nest!

Telling the difference between all the birds you might see can be tricky but the RSPB has loads of resources to help you. I particularly like their “Ask an Expert” section where you can get access to lots of top notch info, and ask questions of people who really know their warblers from their wagtails. 

7. The Great Big Bug Hunt: If you aren’t a fan of creepy crawlies then perhaps now is the time to look away. But how can anyone not love the intricate patterns, the incredible movement and sheer business of bugs? The Great Big Bug Hunt is a competition run by The Royal Entomological Society (it took me 3 goes to spell that correctly!) and The Association for Science Education 

8. Camp Out: I asked my nature-loving daughter (12) what her favourite thing has been since lockdown and she said camping in the Garden and I totally agree! This had the double advantage of giving my hubby and I some peace in the evening! I realise we are very lucky to have a garden the kids can camp in. If you don’t, then a dawn or dusk walk, where you can watch the sky changing and listen to the animals is so calming and beautiful.

9. Your Top Adventure Destination: Imagine the place you would want to go most in the whole world? What does it look like? What kind of animals live there? Does it have any unusual natural features? When you can’t get outdoors, bring the natural world indoors and go on a virtual holiday to somewhere amazing! Since lockdown began hundreds of “virtual adventures” have popped up. Some of my favourites are:

The Great Barrier Reef with David Attenborough
an African Nature reserve live streamed 
Yosemite National Park 
Madagascan Dugongs in the Seagrass 

10. Bumblebee Conservation Trust: Have I mentioned before how much I LOVE Bumblebees!? The Bumblebee Conservation Trust and their fabulous resources had to make my list of 10! I do have a bit of a confession to make. The first time I ever saw a Bumblebee I absolutely freaked out. I was 20-something and had not long arrived in the UK. We don’t have bumblebees in Australia so I had no idea they could be so HUGE! A Buff-Tailed Bumblebee came buzzing towards me and I was so scared! Anything that size in Australia flying towards you is your signal to RUN! Now I know they are harmless, their peaceful buzz in music to my ears.

Style 2

Hey E.T. Anyone home? Why I believe in life on other planets

When E.T. was first released back in 1982, I built myself a cardboard spaceship and told my mum that I had to go find him, but would be back soon.

I think I mainly wanted to be Drew Barrymore’s character, Gertie but I was also utterly convinced that E.T. was real and that he could “phone home”. I’m certainly not the first person to believe in life ‘out there’ As early as 218 BC, Historian Titus Livius recorded that “a spectacle of ships gleamed in the sky”. That’s more than 2,230 years ago (!) and is thought to be the first suggestion of any kind of alien appearance near Earth.

My grown-up companions all told me there were no such things as aliens and so I became less convinced about E.T.’s existence and eventually gave into to what they were telling me. Fast forward to the present-ish day, and science has yet again come to my aid and restored my faith in there being life somewhere other than on our own planet. But am I just seeing what my inner 5-year old wants to see? Here’s what we know so far.

It’s logical

One of the best lecturers I’ve ever seen, Professor Brian Green said that everything we know about how the physics and maths of space work show that it’s almost impossible for us to be the only life in the Universe. What’s more, now we have the means to see further into space we’re being inundated with images of new planets, suns and solar systems similar to our own. Surely it’s not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’ we discover life outside our solar system?

We now know that there are planets capable of supporting life

During its 9-year mission, NASA’s Kepler spacecraft discovered a whopping 2,600 planets outside our solar system, many of which could be promising places for life. Of these, a handful are in the so-called “habitable zone” – i.e. it’s not too hot and not too cold and it’s not too near to, or far from its sister sun. You could say it’s the Goldilocks Zone! The best candidate for a habitable planet was Kepler 186f (catchy!). It’s around 10% bigger than Earth and a similar distance from a large star at the centre of its solar system. Kepler 186f (not getting any catchier) is the first planet mass with Earth-like characteristics, and while there’s plenty of research still needed so we can understand more about it, scientists are very excited about this potential Earth-cousin.

Discovering intelligent life is just a matter of time

Many scientists believe that we’ve now discovered all the ingredients that make up the entire Universe. So the Universe is essentially a recipe book where each planet’s recipe is a selection of ingredients from a single list, and in a place as big as the Universe our ability to find another planet made out of the same ingredients as Earth is only limited by how far we can search. And the search is far from over.

All of this makes 5-year old me very happy and call me crazy, but I still think it would be cool if someone’s out there looking for us too. And if they’re able to read this, “I’ll totally help you phone home if you crash land in my back garden!”

hey-e.t.-anyone-home

Bang! There goes the Universe!

I never thought I’d say this but there was a time that I wanted to be Richard Hammond. I wasn’t coveting his garage full of fast cars (though I wouldn’t complain if he gave me one), rather I was envious of his other programme where he got to study the BIg Bang up close and ‘build’ planets and universes!

I’m a “see it, touch it, believe it” type and thinking about the size of our universe and how it all began makes my brain feel like exploding… A bit like my own personal big bang. So, the Hamster getting a chance to get hands-on with the science of planet building had me more than just a little green with envy.

The Big Bang Theory captures something in our imaginations. The idea of an explosion creating rather than destroying is such a contradiction and therefore so intriguing, that whoever you are, you can’t help but be the tiniest bit curious about how we came to be.

A (very) potted history of the Big Bang

The Big Bang is what scientists call the event that kick-started our universe into existence some 13 billion years ago. For reasons we don’t fully understand, (yet!) a tiny, super-hot and excitable bubble that contained mainly Hydrogen plus a dash of Helium and Lithium, burst. This enormous bang sent super-hot gases flying in every direction through space. Just like when you over-fill a balloon with water causing it to suddenly burst.

So all the stuff in the bubble flew out. Quickly at first and then slower as the gases travelled further, settling into stars and eventually galaxies including our own Milky Way, home to our beautiful solar system.

The stars acted like molecule factories, taking the original gases and turning them into the building blocks of life. Absolutely everything we see around us came from that one moment in time – Rocks, water, trees and of course creatures! Your body and mine, as well as that of the dog up the road, are all made from the same materials found in stars. Pretty mind-blowing right?

Mind-blowing enough to be unbelievable

And if not unbelievable at least questionable! How did it happen? What was there before this Big Bang? Has it only happened once?

These are excellent questions and scientists are still tackling them. There’s loads of research going on in places like CERN in Switzerland and Oxfordshire-based JET. Scientists are literally trying to recreate that first Big Bang moment by smashing hydrogen atoms together to see what other particles we might be able to see. JET is all about applying a huge amount of heat to make hydrogen atoms fuse together – basically recreating the same reaction that happens when stars are made. Now there’s another job I wouldn’t mind… Chief Star Maker!

Back to our Universe, which continues to expand. The more we understand about how this all started the easier it will be for us to predict what might happen in future. And let’s face it, It would be AMAZING to have answers to all those questions!

bang-there-goes-the-universe

Moved to Tears

The first time I saw my father cry, I was torn between great sadness and intrigue. It was like he was so sad, and that first tear was being dragged down his cheek by the weight of his woes. You can’t help but react yourself because whether it’s deep sadness or unadulterated joy, tears are the universal sign of emotion.

But why?

The reasons we cry are complex. They even stumped Darwin who couldn’t find an obvious evolutionary reason to justify the seemingly wasteful seepage of fluid through the eyes. Yet it’s clear that wherever you go on this planet, tears mean a lot to us, whether we’re the ones doing the weeping or we’re bearing witness to a literal outpouring of feeling.

Believe it or not, we humans are constantly ‘lacrimating’ (from the Latin for tear “Lacrima”) – producing fluid from our eyes. But not all forms of lacrimation are the same. Humans are thought to be the only species to shed three types of tears – basal, reflex and emotional tears.

The first two are quite easy to explain.

Basal tears are the maintenance beads of moisture that coat our eyes, keeping them free from bacteria and lubricating the surface of the eye. If you weren’t able to shed basal tears, you’d soon know about it. Your eyes would feel incredibly itchy, sore and unsurprisingly, dry!

Reflex tears kick in to protect our peepers from harm. Onions, gases or a sudden cloud of dust can cause you to tear up in an instant, flushing the eyes and washing away any those pesky and irritating particles.

And the third?

Emotional tears work in completely the opposite way. That’s to say that the trigger comes from within, rather than without!

Some scientists suggest that one of the reasons we have developed the ability to cry is as a literal release. We often talk about “feeling better after a good cry” and the science backs this up. The tears we shed as a result of intense emotion are packed with high levels of hormones like cortisol, which builds up when we’re stressed. Our tear ducts are like a little hole in a basin that lets water trickle out to avoid an inevitable deluge, and our tears act as a hormone disposal system. Which means the act of crying could be a physical process as well as psychological.

We share the ability to shed basal and reflex tears with apes, elephants and camels. But scientists have long believed that this is where the similarities end when it comes to crying, or so we thought. Scientists at the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists (animal opticians!) are setting out to prove that horses shed emotional tears too. They’ve found that horses produce more tears when they’re under stress and that the tears they produce show increased levels of the hormone cortisol in just the same way as humans.

So what are our tears made of other than water and hormones?

All tears are composed of similar ingredients – water, salts, enzymes and hormones. However, the ratio of ingredients varies between the three tear types and with each kind, tears change depending on their cause. The type and quantity of hormone can change dramatically, depending on the trigger. For example, joy or despair. So each batch of tears is entirely unique – like a fingerprint!

The make-up of a tear can give us incredible clues about the emotions that the person shedding them is feeling. I recently saw a beautiful work of art called ‘Topography of Tears’. The artist, Rose-Lynn Fisher, collected over one hundred tear samples, representing moments of regret, loss, laughter and even onion chopping, and examined them under a light microscope. Rose-Lynn was astonished to find that each sample was completely different, to the point that the ‘fingerprint’ of each tear was like its own landscape, from feathery fields to jagged mountain ranges. The irony of this art moving me to tears isn’t lost on me!

Just like Rose’s beautiful work, tears don’t just affect the crier. Tears have been found to reduce aggression. How? The blurred vision that crying results in can prevent a person from engaging in aggressive activities. Aggressive behaviour in people witnessing someone cry is also reduced so it may be an evolutionary advantage to be able to cry at moments that might otherwise end rather more messily.

Let it all out!

Tears are loaded with chemicals and laden with emotion, playing a critical role in our ability to control physiological changes in hormones when experiencing intense feelings. Just like the simple, yet powerful impact of human touch, your tears leave fingerprints wherever they’re shed. So the next time you feel that tell-tale prickle at the back of your eyeballs, it might not feel great at the time and you might be annoyed you can’t stop it from happening but trust me, your body’s knows exactly what it’s doing, so grab a hankie and just let it all out!

Why your waste might save your life!

When you’re a kid talking about poo and wee is funny, when you’re a grown-up it’s sometimes embarrassing. But at every age, the stuff that comes out of you is pretty important. At the very least you can learn a lot about yourself and at best, it’s protecting you from all manner of nasties. Yeah, it’s a bit gross (when is waste not?), but once you get past that it’s incredible how handy your own ‘garbage’ can be.

Poocheology

If you’ve got our Healthy Me box, you’ll know all about the Bristol Stool Chart – the universal scale of poop health. Well, archaeologists took poo analysis to a whole new level, studying stools from a prehistoric village in Turkey that are around 10,000 years old (known as coprolites) They found out that the people that lived in this village were infected with a very specific parasite. The fact that faeces can survive that long is pretty mind-blowing let alone the fact that it can be used to identify a parasitic infection!

Find out more

Peecycling

It’s no secret that we need to get better at how we produce enough food for everyone on our planet, and our wee could play a big part to play in this. For starters, it’s 95% water so if we were able to collect it safely, the water could be used for crops (and don’t forget astronauts drink water filtered from urine, so if we can get past the ick factor we could too). More interestingly, all urine contains phosphorus which is used in fertiliser, something we need a lot of. Again, if we could get better at collecting it, we’d be able to meet a quarter of the world’s demand, all from our pee. Oh, and if you can bear to boil it down, you could do this! 👇

Spit it out!

Saliva  – the most underrated of bodily fluids in our opinion. And not because it’s our mum’s last-minute stain remover (eeoo!). Spit is chock full of data. What’s more, it’s easy to collect and analyse. From DNA testing to figuring out if you’re at risk of heart disease. A simple swab is all you need to unearth a plethora of information, some of which might help you to take action before a disease or hereditary condition can cause you harm. How cool is that?

Here are a few more phlegmy facts for you!

Now we don’t expect or suggest you start hoarding your bio-matter, but perhaps you’ve now got a greater appreciation for your own waste. After all, if it’s good enough for Matt Damon to grown his spuds in…

lifesaving-waste

Curiosity v COVID

Engaging vulnerable children in STEM and bridging the gap created by COVID-19

The COVID pandemic is severely impacting children living in the UK’s most deprived areas. We believe that science belongs to everyone and now, more than ever, we must support vulnerable children in our society. Therefore we’ve committed to sending STEM (science, tech, engineering and maths) resources to 20,000 children in deprived areas in the UK. That represents 0.5% of children living in poverty in the UK[i].

DOWNLOAD THE PROJECT OVERVIEW HERE

10 nature adventure ideas for families

It’s great for our physical and mental health and something grown ups and kids can enjoy together. Getting out in nature is a great way to fill our lives with wonder and joy! Here are my top 10 nature adventure ideas for families:

1. The Woodland Trust: We know it’s hard to get out and get supplies at the moment but there are so many things you can do with what you have to hand. The Woodland Trust Blog provides oodles of ideas in the home and outdoors, most of which use up waste or simple supplies like pencils and paper. I particularly love the nature pirates activity and the fairy door activity. Imagine how wonderful it would be for someone when they discover your fairy door!

2. Finding your words: Nature has long been the inspiration for many artworks and music, so why not get inspired and creative with the help of The Lost Words.  Their free downloadable Spell Songs feels like a deep, luxurious and calming breath in. Just what we all need right now.

3. Backyard Bioblitz with St. Andrews University: The diversity of creatures you can find in your local green space might surprise you. It did surprise me, the first time I did a Bioblitz! St. Andrews University is hosting a Backyard Bioblitz on the 5th and 6th of June. It’s like having an expert with you as you explore and get to know your backyard better! I could only find details on their Facebook Page

4. Skomer Island Live: Set off the Westest West part of Wales is the breathtaking Skomer Island. I visited with my family last summer and even my skatepark and computer game-mad son soon relaxed into the beauty and ruggedness of it. We would have been heading off again on Friday – this time to see the puffins, so the Skomer live feed has at least gone some way to filling the gap. Find out more about Skomer and indulge in a bit of Puffin Loving’ here

 

5. Muddy Faces: I know mud is a bit like marmite and gives some people the heebie-jeebies. If you love the cool squelch of mud, then Muddy Faces, a brilliant forest school, has got enough to get you properly covered. They also have a lovely shop with lots of tools and nature adventure kit. I particularly love the wooden construction blocks!

6. Spot baby birds: It’s fledging time! There are baby birds abound at the moment and if you can’t fall in love with nature watching a baby blue tit learning to fly then, well I’m not sure anything will! Take a look at the baby Robin on RSPB live streamed Robin nest!

Telling the difference between all the birds you might see can be tricky but the RSPB has loads of resources to help you. I particularly like their “Ask an Expert” section where you can get access to lots of top notch info, and ask questions of people who really know their warblers from their wagtails. 

7. The Great Big Bug Hunt: If you aren’t a fan of creepy crawlies then perhaps now is the time to look away. But how can anyone not love the intricate patterns, the incredible movement and sheer business of bugs? The Great Big Bug Hunt is a competition run by The Royal Entomological Society (it took me 3 goes to spell that correctly!) and The Association for Science Education 

8. Camp Out: I asked my nature-loving daughter (12) what her favourite thing has been since lockdown and she said camping in the Garden and I totally agree! This had the double advantage of giving my hubby and I some peace in the evening! I realise we are very lucky to have a garden the kids can camp in. If you don’t, then a dawn or dusk walk, where you can watch the sky changing and listen to the animals is so calming and beautiful.

9. Your Top Adventure Destination: Imagine the place you would want to go most in the whole world? What does it look like? What kind of animals live there? Does it have any unusual natural features? When you can’t get outdoors, bring the natural world indoors and go on a virtual holiday to somewhere amazing! Since lockdown began hundreds of “virtual adventures” have popped up. Some of my favourites are:

The Great Barrier Reef with David Attenborough
an African Nature reserve live streamed 
Yosemite National Park 
Madagascan Dugongs in the Seagrass 

10. Bumblebee Conservation Trust: Have I mentioned before how much I LOVE Bumblebees!? The Bumblebee Conservation Trust and their fabulous resources had to make my list of 10! I do have a bit of a confession to make. The first time I ever saw a Bumblebee I absolutely freaked out. I was 20-something and had not long arrived in the UK. We don’t have bumblebees in Australia so I had no idea they could be so HUGE! A Buff-Tailed Bumblebee came buzzing towards me and I was so scared! Anything that size in Australia flying towards you is your signal to RUN! Now I know they are harmless, their peaceful buzz in music to my ears.

Style 3

Hey E.T. Anyone home? Why I believe in life on other planets

When E.T. was first released back in 1982, I built myself a cardboard spaceship and told my mum that I had to go find him, but would be back soon.

I think I mainly wanted to be Drew Barrymore’s character, Gertie but I was also utterly convinced that E.T. was real and that he could “phone home”. I’m certainly not the first person to believe in life ‘out there’ As early as 218 BC, Historian Titus Livius recorded that “a spectacle of ships gleamed in the sky”. That’s more than 2,230 years ago (!) and is thought to be the first suggestion of any kind of alien appearance near Earth.

My grown-up companions all told me there were no such things as aliens and so I became less convinced about E.T.’s existence and eventually gave into to what they were telling me. Fast forward to the present-ish day, and science has yet again come to my aid and restored my faith in there being life somewhere other than on our own planet. But am I just seeing what my inner 5-year old wants to see? Here’s what we know so far.

It’s logical

One of the best lecturers I’ve ever seen, Professor Brian Green said that everything we know about how the physics and maths of space work show that it’s almost impossible for us to be the only life in the Universe. What’s more, now we have the means to see further into space we’re being inundated with images of new planets, suns and solar systems similar to our own. Surely it’s not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’ we discover life outside our solar system?

We now know that there are planets capable of supporting life

During its 9-year mission, NASA’s Kepler spacecraft discovered a whopping 2,600 planets outside our solar system, many of which could be promising places for life. Of these, a handful are in the so-called “habitable zone” – i.e. it’s not too hot and not too cold and it’s not too near to, or far from its sister sun. You could say it’s the Goldilocks Zone! The best candidate for a habitable planet was Kepler 186f (catchy!). It’s around 10% bigger than Earth and a similar distance from a large star at the centre of its solar system. Kepler 186f (not getting any catchier) is the first planet mass with Earth-like characteristics, and while there’s plenty of research still needed so we can understand more about it, scientists are very excited about this potential Earth-cousin.

Discovering intelligent life is just a matter of time

Many scientists believe that we’ve now discovered all the ingredients that make up the entire Universe. So the Universe is essentially a recipe book where each planet’s recipe is a selection of ingredients from a single list, and in a place as big as the Universe our ability to find another planet made out of the same ingredients as Earth is only limited by how far we can search. And the search is far from over.

All of this makes 5-year old me very happy and call me crazy, but I still think it would be cool if someone’s out there looking for us too. And if they’re able to read this, “I’ll totally help you phone home if you crash land in my back garden!”

hey-e.t.-anyone-home

Bang! There goes the Universe!

I never thought I’d say this but there was a time that I wanted to be Richard Hammond. I wasn’t coveting his garage full of fast cars (though I wouldn’t complain if he gave me one), rather I was envious of his other programme where he got to study the BIg Bang up close and ‘build’ planets and universes!

I’m a “see it, touch it, believe it” type and thinking about the size of our universe and how it all began makes my brain feel like exploding… A bit like my own personal big bang. So, the Hamster getting a chance to get hands-on with the science of planet building had me more than just a little green with envy.

The Big Bang Theory captures something in our imaginations. The idea of an explosion creating rather than destroying is such a contradiction and therefore so intriguing, that whoever you are, you can’t help but be the tiniest bit curious about how we came to be.

A (very) potted history of the Big Bang

The Big Bang is what scientists call the event that kick-started our universe into existence some 13 billion years ago. For reasons we don’t fully understand, (yet!) a tiny, super-hot and excitable bubble that contained mainly Hydrogen plus a dash of Helium and Lithium, burst. This enormous bang sent super-hot gases flying in every direction through space. Just like when you over-fill a balloon with water causing it to suddenly burst.

So all the stuff in the bubble flew out. Quickly at first and then slower as the gases travelled further, settling into stars and eventually galaxies including our own Milky Way, home to our beautiful solar system.

The stars acted like molecule factories, taking the original gases and turning them into the building blocks of life. Absolutely everything we see around us came from that one moment in time – Rocks, water, trees and of course creatures! Your body and mine, as well as that of the dog up the road, are all made from the same materials found in stars. Pretty mind-blowing right?

Mind-blowing enough to be unbelievable

And if not unbelievable at least questionable! How did it happen? What was there before this Big Bang? Has it only happened once?

These are excellent questions and scientists are still tackling them. There’s loads of research going on in places like CERN in Switzerland and Oxfordshire-based JET. Scientists are literally trying to recreate that first Big Bang moment by smashing hydrogen atoms together to see what other particles we might be able to see. JET is all about applying a huge amount of heat to make hydrogen atoms fuse together – basically recreating the same reaction that happens when stars are made. Now there’s another job I wouldn’t mind… Chief Star Maker!

Back to our Universe, which continues to expand. The more we understand about how this all started the easier it will be for us to predict what might happen in future. And let’s face it, It would be AMAZING to have answers to all those questions!

bang-there-goes-the-universe

Moved to Tears

The first time I saw my father cry, I was torn between great sadness and intrigue. It was like he was so sad, and that first tear was being dragged down his cheek by the weight of his woes. You can’t help but react yourself because whether it’s deep sadness or unadulterated joy, tears are the universal sign of emotion.

But why?

The reasons we cry are complex. They even stumped Darwin who couldn’t find an obvious evolutionary reason to justify the seemingly wasteful seepage of fluid through the eyes. Yet it’s clear that wherever you go on this planet, tears mean a lot to us, whether we’re the ones doing the weeping or we’re bearing witness to a literal outpouring of feeling.

Believe it or not, we humans are constantly ‘lacrimating’ (from the Latin for tear “Lacrima”) – producing fluid from our eyes. But not all forms of lacrimation are the same. Humans are thought to be the only species to shed three types of tears – basal, reflex and emotional tears.

The first two are quite easy to explain.

Basal tears are the maintenance beads of moisture that coat our eyes, keeping them free from bacteria and lubricating the surface of the eye. If you weren’t able to shed basal tears, you’d soon know about it. Your eyes would feel incredibly itchy, sore and unsurprisingly, dry!

Reflex tears kick in to protect our peepers from harm. Onions, gases or a sudden cloud of dust can cause you to tear up in an instant, flushing the eyes and washing away any those pesky and irritating particles.

And the third?

Emotional tears work in completely the opposite way. That’s to say that the trigger comes from within, rather than without!

Some scientists suggest that one of the reasons we have developed the ability to cry is as a literal release. We often talk about “feeling better after a good cry” and the science backs this up. The tears we shed as a result of intense emotion are packed with high levels of hormones like cortisol, which builds up when we’re stressed. Our tear ducts are like a little hole in a basin that lets water trickle out to avoid an inevitable deluge, and our tears act as a hormone disposal system. Which means the act of crying could be a physical process as well as psychological.

We share the ability to shed basal and reflex tears with apes, elephants and camels. But scientists have long believed that this is where the similarities end when it comes to crying, or so we thought. Scientists at the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists (animal opticians!) are setting out to prove that horses shed emotional tears too. They’ve found that horses produce more tears when they’re under stress and that the tears they produce show increased levels of the hormone cortisol in just the same way as humans.

So what are our tears made of other than water and hormones?

All tears are composed of similar ingredients – water, salts, enzymes and hormones. However, the ratio of ingredients varies between the three tear types and with each kind, tears change depending on their cause. The type and quantity of hormone can change dramatically, depending on the trigger. For example, joy or despair. So each batch of tears is entirely unique – like a fingerprint!

The make-up of a tear can give us incredible clues about the emotions that the person shedding them is feeling. I recently saw a beautiful work of art called ‘Topography of Tears’. The artist, Rose-Lynn Fisher, collected over one hundred tear samples, representing moments of regret, loss, laughter and even onion chopping, and examined them under a light microscope. Rose-Lynn was astonished to find that each sample was completely different, to the point that the ‘fingerprint’ of each tear was like its own landscape, from feathery fields to jagged mountain ranges. The irony of this art moving me to tears isn’t lost on me!

Just like Rose’s beautiful work, tears don’t just affect the crier. Tears have been found to reduce aggression. How? The blurred vision that crying results in can prevent a person from engaging in aggressive activities. Aggressive behaviour in people witnessing someone cry is also reduced so it may be an evolutionary advantage to be able to cry at moments that might otherwise end rather more messily.

Let it all out!

Tears are loaded with chemicals and laden with emotion, playing a critical role in our ability to control physiological changes in hormones when experiencing intense feelings. Just like the simple, yet powerful impact of human touch, your tears leave fingerprints wherever they’re shed. So the next time you feel that tell-tale prickle at the back of your eyeballs, it might not feel great at the time and you might be annoyed you can’t stop it from happening but trust me, your body’s knows exactly what it’s doing, so grab a hankie and just let it all out!

Why your waste might save your life!

When you’re a kid talking about poo and wee is funny, when you’re a grown-up it’s sometimes embarrassing. But at every age, the stuff that comes out of you is pretty important. At the very least you can learn a lot about yourself and at best, it’s protecting you from all manner of nasties. Yeah, it’s a bit gross (when is waste not?), but once you get past that it’s incredible how handy your own ‘garbage’ can be.

Poocheology

If you’ve got our Healthy Me box, you’ll know all about the Bristol Stool Chart – the universal scale of poop health. Well, archaeologists took poo analysis to a whole new level, studying stools from a prehistoric village in Turkey that are around 10,000 years old (known as coprolites) They found out that the people that lived in this village were infected with a very specific parasite. The fact that faeces can survive that long is pretty mind-blowing let alone the fact that it can be used to identify a parasitic infection!

Find out more

Peecycling

It’s no secret that we need to get better at how we produce enough food for everyone on our planet, and our wee could play a big part to play in this. For starters, it’s 95% water so if we were able to collect it safely, the water could be used for crops (and don’t forget astronauts drink water filtered from urine, so if we can get past the ick factor we could too). More interestingly, all urine contains phosphorus which is used in fertiliser, something we need a lot of. Again, if we could get better at collecting it, we’d be able to meet a quarter of the world’s demand, all from our pee. Oh, and if you can bear to boil it down, you could do this! 👇

Spit it out!

Saliva  – the most underrated of bodily fluids in our opinion. And not because it’s our mum’s last-minute stain remover (eeoo!). Spit is chock full of data. What’s more, it’s easy to collect and analyse. From DNA testing to figuring out if you’re at risk of heart disease. A simple swab is all you need to unearth a plethora of information, some of which might help you to take action before a disease or hereditary condition can cause you harm. How cool is that?

Here are a few more phlegmy facts for you!

Now we don’t expect or suggest you start hoarding your bio-matter, but perhaps you’ve now got a greater appreciation for your own waste. After all, if it’s good enough for Matt Damon to grown his spuds in…

lifesaving-waste

Curiosity v COVID

Engaging vulnerable children in STEM and bridging the gap created by COVID-19

The COVID pandemic is severely impacting children living in the UK’s most deprived areas. We believe that science belongs to everyone and now, more than ever, we must support vulnerable children in our society. Therefore we’ve committed to sending STEM (science, tech, engineering and maths) resources to 20,000 children in deprived areas in the UK. That represents 0.5% of children living in poverty in the UK[i].

DOWNLOAD THE PROJECT OVERVIEW HERE

10 nature adventure ideas for families

It’s great for our physical and mental health and something grown ups and kids can enjoy together. Getting out in nature is a great way to fill our lives with wonder and joy! Here are my top 10 nature adventure ideas for families:

1. The Woodland Trust: We know it’s hard to get out and get supplies at the moment but there are so many things you can do with what you have to hand. The Woodland Trust Blog provides oodles of ideas in the home and outdoors, most of which use up waste or simple supplies like pencils and paper. I particularly love the nature pirates activity and the fairy door activity. Imagine how wonderful it would be for someone when they discover your fairy door!

2. Finding your words: Nature has long been the inspiration for many artworks and music, so why not get inspired and creative with the help of The Lost Words.  Their free downloadable Spell Songs feels like a deep, luxurious and calming breath in. Just what we all need right now.

3. Backyard Bioblitz with St. Andrews University: The diversity of creatures you can find in your local green space might surprise you. It did surprise me, the first time I did a Bioblitz! St. Andrews University is hosting a Backyard Bioblitz on the 5th and 6th of June. It’s like having an expert with you as you explore and get to know your backyard better! I could only find details on their Facebook Page

4. Skomer Island Live: Set off the Westest West part of Wales is the breathtaking Skomer Island. I visited with my family last summer and even my skatepark and computer game-mad son soon relaxed into the beauty and ruggedness of it. We would have been heading off again on Friday – this time to see the puffins, so the Skomer live feed has at least gone some way to filling the gap. Find out more about Skomer and indulge in a bit of Puffin Loving’ here

 

5. Muddy Faces: I know mud is a bit like marmite and gives some people the heebie-jeebies. If you love the cool squelch of mud, then Muddy Faces, a brilliant forest school, has got enough to get you properly covered. They also have a lovely shop with lots of tools and nature adventure kit. I particularly love the wooden construction blocks!

6. Spot baby birds: It’s fledging time! There are baby birds abound at the moment and if you can’t fall in love with nature watching a baby blue tit learning to fly then, well I’m not sure anything will! Take a look at the baby Robin on RSPB live streamed Robin nest!

Telling the difference between all the birds you might see can be tricky but the RSPB has loads of resources to help you. I particularly like their “Ask an Expert” section where you can get access to lots of top notch info, and ask questions of people who really know their warblers from their wagtails. 

7. The Great Big Bug Hunt: If you aren’t a fan of creepy crawlies then perhaps now is the time to look away. But how can anyone not love the intricate patterns, the incredible movement and sheer business of bugs? The Great Big Bug Hunt is a competition run by The Royal Entomological Society (it took me 3 goes to spell that correctly!) and The Association for Science Education 

8. Camp Out: I asked my nature-loving daughter (12) what her favourite thing has been since lockdown and she said camping in the Garden and I totally agree! This had the double advantage of giving my hubby and I some peace in the evening! I realise we are very lucky to have a garden the kids can camp in. If you don’t, then a dawn or dusk walk, where you can watch the sky changing and listen to the animals is so calming and beautiful.

9. Your Top Adventure Destination: Imagine the place you would want to go most in the whole world? What does it look like? What kind of animals live there? Does it have any unusual natural features? When you can’t get outdoors, bring the natural world indoors and go on a virtual holiday to somewhere amazing! Since lockdown began hundreds of “virtual adventures” have popped up. Some of my favourites are:

The Great Barrier Reef with David Attenborough
an African Nature reserve live streamed 
Yosemite National Park 
Madagascan Dugongs in the Seagrass 

10. Bumblebee Conservation Trust: Have I mentioned before how much I LOVE Bumblebees!? The Bumblebee Conservation Trust and their fabulous resources had to make my list of 10! I do have a bit of a confession to make. The first time I ever saw a Bumblebee I absolutely freaked out. I was 20-something and had not long arrived in the UK. We don’t have bumblebees in Australia so I had no idea they could be so HUGE! A Buff-Tailed Bumblebee came buzzing towards me and I was so scared! Anything that size in Australia flying towards you is your signal to RUN! Now I know they are harmless, their peaceful buzz in music to my ears.

Style 4

hey-e.t.-anyone-home

Hey E.T. Anyone home? Why I believe in life on other planets

When E.T. was first released back in 1982, I built myself a cardboard spaceship and told my mum that I had to go find him, but would be back soon.

I think I mainly wanted to be Drew Barrymore’s character, Gertie but I was also utterly convinced that E.T. was real and that he could “phone home”. I’m certainly not the first person to believe in life ‘out there’ As early as 218 BC, Historian Titus Livius recorded that “a spectacle of ships gleamed in the sky”. That’s more than 2,230 years ago (!) and is thought to be the first suggestion of any kind of alien appearance near Earth.

My grown-up companions all told me there were no such things as aliens and so I became less convinced about E.T.’s existence and eventually gave into to what they were telling me. Fast forward to the present-ish day, and science has yet again come to my aid and restored my faith in there being life somewhere other than on our own planet. But am I just seeing what my inner 5-year old wants to see? Here’s what we know so far.

It’s logical

One of the best lecturers I’ve ever seen, Professor Brian Green said that everything we know about how the physics and maths of space work show that it’s almost impossible for us to be the only life in the Universe. What’s more, now we have the means to see further into space we’re being inundated with images of new planets, suns and solar systems similar to our own. Surely it’s not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’ we discover life outside our solar system?

We now know that there are planets capable of supporting life

During its 9-year mission, NASA’s Kepler spacecraft discovered a whopping 2,600 planets outside our solar system, many of which could be promising places for life. Of these, a handful are in the so-called “habitable zone” – i.e. it’s not too hot and not too cold and it’s not too near to, or far from its sister sun. You could say it’s the Goldilocks Zone! The best candidate for a habitable planet was Kepler 186f (catchy!). It’s around 10% bigger than Earth and a similar distance from a large star at the centre of its solar system. Kepler 186f (not getting any catchier) is the first planet mass with Earth-like characteristics, and while there’s plenty of research still needed so we can understand more about it, scientists are very excited about this potential Earth-cousin.

Discovering intelligent life is just a matter of time

Many scientists believe that we’ve now discovered all the ingredients that make up the entire Universe. So the Universe is essentially a recipe book where each planet’s recipe is a selection of ingredients from a single list, and in a place as big as the Universe our ability to find another planet made out of the same ingredients as Earth is only limited by how far we can search. And the search is far from over.

All of this makes 5-year old me very happy and call me crazy, but I still think it would be cool if someone’s out there looking for us too. And if they’re able to read this, “I’ll totally help you phone home if you crash land in my back garden!”

bang-there-goes-the-universe

Bang! There goes the Universe!

I never thought I’d say this but there was a time that I wanted to be Richard Hammond. I wasn’t coveting his garage full of fast cars (though I wouldn’t complain if he gave me one), rather I was envious of his other programme where he got to study the BIg Bang up close and ‘build’ planets and universes!

I’m a “see it, touch it, believe it” type and thinking about the size of our universe and how it all began makes my brain feel like exploding… A bit like my own personal big bang. So, the Hamster getting a chance to get hands-on with the science of planet building had me more than just a little green with envy.

The Big Bang Theory captures something in our imaginations. The idea of an explosion creating rather than destroying is such a contradiction and therefore so intriguing, that whoever you are, you can’t help but be the tiniest bit curious about how we came to be.

A (very) potted history of the Big Bang

The Big Bang is what scientists call the event that kick-started our universe into existence some 13 billion years ago. For reasons we don’t fully understand, (yet!) a tiny, super-hot and excitable bubble that contained mainly Hydrogen plus a dash of Helium and Lithium, burst. This enormous bang sent super-hot gases flying in every direction through space. Just like when you over-fill a balloon with water causing it to suddenly burst.

So all the stuff in the bubble flew out. Quickly at first and then slower as the gases travelled further, settling into stars and eventually galaxies including our own Milky Way, home to our beautiful solar system.

The stars acted like molecule factories, taking the original gases and turning them into the building blocks of life. Absolutely everything we see around us came from that one moment in time – Rocks, water, trees and of course creatures! Your body and mine, as well as that of the dog up the road, are all made from the same materials found in stars. Pretty mind-blowing right?

Mind-blowing enough to be unbelievable

And if not unbelievable at least questionable! How did it happen? What was there before this Big Bang? Has it only happened once?

These are excellent questions and scientists are still tackling them. There’s loads of research going on in places like CERN in Switzerland and Oxfordshire-based JET. Scientists are literally trying to recreate that first Big Bang moment by smashing hydrogen atoms together to see what other particles we might be able to see. JET is all about applying a huge amount of heat to make hydrogen atoms fuse together – basically recreating the same reaction that happens when stars are made. Now there’s another job I wouldn’t mind… Chief Star Maker!

Back to our Universe, which continues to expand. The more we understand about how this all started the easier it will be for us to predict what might happen in future. And let’s face it, It would be AMAZING to have answers to all those questions!

Moved to Tears

The first time I saw my father cry, I was torn between great sadness and intrigue. It was like he was so sad, and that first tear was being dragged down his cheek by the weight of his woes. You can’t help but react yourself because whether it’s deep sadness or unadulterated joy, tears are the universal sign of emotion.

But why?

The reasons we cry are complex. They even stumped Darwin who couldn’t find an obvious evolutionary reason to justify the seemingly wasteful seepage of fluid through the eyes. Yet it’s clear that wherever you go on this planet, tears mean a lot to us, whether we’re the ones doing the weeping or we’re bearing witness to a literal outpouring of feeling.

Believe it or not, we humans are constantly ‘lacrimating’ (from the Latin for tear “Lacrima”) – producing fluid from our eyes. But not all forms of lacrimation are the same. Humans are thought to be the only species to shed three types of tears – basal, reflex and emotional tears.

The first two are quite easy to explain.

Basal tears are the maintenance beads of moisture that coat our eyes, keeping them free from bacteria and lubricating the surface of the eye. If you weren’t able to shed basal tears, you’d soon know about it. Your eyes would feel incredibly itchy, sore and unsurprisingly, dry!

Reflex tears kick in to protect our peepers from harm. Onions, gases or a sudden cloud of dust can cause you to tear up in an instant, flushing the eyes and washing away any those pesky and irritating particles.

And the third?

Emotional tears work in completely the opposite way. That’s to say that the trigger comes from within, rather than without!

Some scientists suggest that one of the reasons we have developed the ability to cry is as a literal release. We often talk about “feeling better after a good cry” and the science backs this up. The tears we shed as a result of intense emotion are packed with high levels of hormones like cortisol, which builds up when we’re stressed. Our tear ducts are like a little hole in a basin that lets water trickle out to avoid an inevitable deluge, and our tears act as a hormone disposal system. Which means the act of crying could be a physical process as well as psychological.

We share the ability to shed basal and reflex tears with apes, elephants and camels. But scientists have long believed that this is where the similarities end when it comes to crying, or so we thought. Scientists at the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists (animal opticians!) are setting out to prove that horses shed emotional tears too. They’ve found that horses produce more tears when they’re under stress and that the tears they produce show increased levels of the hormone cortisol in just the same way as humans.

So what are our tears made of other than water and hormones?

All tears are composed of similar ingredients – water, salts, enzymes and hormones. However, the ratio of ingredients varies between the three tear types and with each kind, tears change depending on their cause. The type and quantity of hormone can change dramatically, depending on the trigger. For example, joy or despair. So each batch of tears is entirely unique – like a fingerprint!

The make-up of a tear can give us incredible clues about the emotions that the person shedding them is feeling. I recently saw a beautiful work of art called ‘Topography of Tears’. The artist, Rose-Lynn Fisher, collected over one hundred tear samples, representing moments of regret, loss, laughter and even onion chopping, and examined them under a light microscope. Rose-Lynn was astonished to find that each sample was completely different, to the point that the ‘fingerprint’ of each tear was like its own landscape, from feathery fields to jagged mountain ranges. The irony of this art moving me to tears isn’t lost on me!

Just like Rose’s beautiful work, tears don’t just affect the crier. Tears have been found to reduce aggression. How? The blurred vision that crying results in can prevent a person from engaging in aggressive activities. Aggressive behaviour in people witnessing someone cry is also reduced so it may be an evolutionary advantage to be able to cry at moments that might otherwise end rather more messily.

Let it all out!

Tears are loaded with chemicals and laden with emotion, playing a critical role in our ability to control physiological changes in hormones when experiencing intense feelings. Just like the simple, yet powerful impact of human touch, your tears leave fingerprints wherever they’re shed. So the next time you feel that tell-tale prickle at the back of your eyeballs, it might not feel great at the time and you might be annoyed you can’t stop it from happening but trust me, your body’s knows exactly what it’s doing, so grab a hankie and just let it all out!

lifesaving-waste

Why your waste might save your life!

When you’re a kid talking about poo and wee is funny, when you’re a grown-up it’s sometimes embarrassing. But at every age, the stuff that comes out of you is pretty important. At the very least you can learn a lot about yourself and at best, it’s protecting you from all manner of nasties. Yeah, it’s a bit gross (when is waste not?), but once you get past that it’s incredible how handy your own ‘garbage’ can be.

Poocheology

If you’ve got our Healthy Me box, you’ll know all about the Bristol Stool Chart – the universal scale of poop health. Well, archaeologists took poo analysis to a whole new level, studying stools from a prehistoric village in Turkey that are around 10,000 years old (known as coprolites) They found out that the people that lived in this village were infected with a very specific parasite. The fact that faeces can survive that long is pretty mind-blowing let alone the fact that it can be used to identify a parasitic infection!

Find out more

Peecycling

It’s no secret that we need to get better at how we produce enough food for everyone on our planet, and our wee could play a big part to play in this. For starters, it’s 95% water so if we were able to collect it safely, the water could be used for crops (and don’t forget astronauts drink water filtered from urine, so if we can get past the ick factor we could too). More interestingly, all urine contains phosphorus which is used in fertiliser, something we need a lot of. Again, if we could get better at collecting it, we’d be able to meet a quarter of the world’s demand, all from our pee. Oh, and if you can bear to boil it down, you could do this! 👇

Spit it out!

Saliva  – the most underrated of bodily fluids in our opinion. And not because it’s our mum’s last-minute stain remover (eeoo!). Spit is chock full of data. What’s more, it’s easy to collect and analyse. From DNA testing to figuring out if you’re at risk of heart disease. A simple swab is all you need to unearth a plethora of information, some of which might help you to take action before a disease or hereditary condition can cause you harm. How cool is that?

Here are a few more phlegmy facts for you!

Now we don’t expect or suggest you start hoarding your bio-matter, but perhaps you’ve now got a greater appreciation for your own waste. After all, if it’s good enough for Matt Damon to grown his spuds in…

Curiosity v COVID

Engaging vulnerable children in STEM and bridging the gap created by COVID-19

The COVID pandemic is severely impacting children living in the UK’s most deprived areas. We believe that science belongs to everyone and now, more than ever, we must support vulnerable children in our society. Therefore we’ve committed to sending STEM (science, tech, engineering and maths) resources to 20,000 children in deprived areas in the UK. That represents 0.5% of children living in poverty in the UK[i].

DOWNLOAD THE PROJECT OVERVIEW HERE

10 nature adventure ideas for families

It’s great for our physical and mental health and something grown ups and kids can enjoy together. Getting out in nature is a great way to fill our lives with wonder and joy! Here are my top 10 nature adventure ideas for families:

1. The Woodland Trust: We know it’s hard to get out and get supplies at the moment but there are so many things you can do with what you have to hand. The Woodland Trust Blog provides oodles of ideas in the home and outdoors, most of which use up waste or simple supplies like pencils and paper. I particularly love the nature pirates activity and the fairy door activity. Imagine how wonderful it would be for someone when they discover your fairy door!

2. Finding your words: Nature has long been the inspiration for many artworks and music, so why not get inspired and creative with the help of The Lost Words.  Their free downloadable Spell Songs feels like a deep, luxurious and calming breath in. Just what we all need right now.

3. Backyard Bioblitz with St. Andrews University: The diversity of creatures you can find in your local green space might surprise you. It did surprise me, the first time I did a Bioblitz! St. Andrews University is hosting a Backyard Bioblitz on the 5th and 6th of June. It’s like having an expert with you as you explore and get to know your backyard better! I could only find details on their Facebook Page

4. Skomer Island Live: Set off the Westest West part of Wales is the breathtaking Skomer Island. I visited with my family last summer and even my skatepark and computer game-mad son soon relaxed into the beauty and ruggedness of it. We would have been heading off again on Friday – this time to see the puffins, so the Skomer live feed has at least gone some way to filling the gap. Find out more about Skomer and indulge in a bit of Puffin Loving’ here

 

5. Muddy Faces: I know mud is a bit like marmite and gives some people the heebie-jeebies. If you love the cool squelch of mud, then Muddy Faces, a brilliant forest school, has got enough to get you properly covered. They also have a lovely shop with lots of tools and nature adventure kit. I particularly love the wooden construction blocks!

6. Spot baby birds: It’s fledging time! There are baby birds abound at the moment and if you can’t fall in love with nature watching a baby blue tit learning to fly then, well I’m not sure anything will! Take a look at the baby Robin on RSPB live streamed Robin nest!

Telling the difference between all the birds you might see can be tricky but the RSPB has loads of resources to help you. I particularly like their “Ask an Expert” section where you can get access to lots of top notch info, and ask questions of people who really know their warblers from their wagtails. 

7. The Great Big Bug Hunt: If you aren’t a fan of creepy crawlies then perhaps now is the time to look away. But how can anyone not love the intricate patterns, the incredible movement and sheer business of bugs? The Great Big Bug Hunt is a competition run by The Royal Entomological Society (it took me 3 goes to spell that correctly!) and The Association for Science Education 

8. Camp Out: I asked my nature-loving daughter (12) what her favourite thing has been since lockdown and she said camping in the Garden and I totally agree! This had the double advantage of giving my hubby and I some peace in the evening! I realise we are very lucky to have a garden the kids can camp in. If you don’t, then a dawn or dusk walk, where you can watch the sky changing and listen to the animals is so calming and beautiful.

9. Your Top Adventure Destination: Imagine the place you would want to go most in the whole world? What does it look like? What kind of animals live there? Does it have any unusual natural features? When you can’t get outdoors, bring the natural world indoors and go on a virtual holiday to somewhere amazing! Since lockdown began hundreds of “virtual adventures” have popped up. Some of my favourites are:

The Great Barrier Reef with David Attenborough
an African Nature reserve live streamed 
Yosemite National Park 
Madagascan Dugongs in the Seagrass 

10. Bumblebee Conservation Trust: Have I mentioned before how much I LOVE Bumblebees!? The Bumblebee Conservation Trust and their fabulous resources had to make my list of 10! I do have a bit of a confession to make. The first time I ever saw a Bumblebee I absolutely freaked out. I was 20-something and had not long arrived in the UK. We don’t have bumblebees in Australia so I had no idea they could be so HUGE! A Buff-Tailed Bumblebee came buzzing towards me and I was so scared! Anything that size in Australia flying towards you is your signal to RUN! Now I know they are harmless, their peaceful buzz in music to my ears.

Style 5

Hey E.T. Anyone home? Why I believe in life on other planets

When E.T. was first released back in 1982, I built myself a cardboard spaceship and told my mum that I had to go find him, but would be back soon.

I think I mainly wanted to be Drew Barrymore’s character, Gertie but I was also utterly convinced that E.T. was real and that he could “phone home”. I’m certainly not the first person to believe in life ‘out there’ As early as 218 BC, Historian Titus Livius recorded that “a spectacle of ships gleamed in the sky”. That’s more than 2,230 years ago (!) and is thought to be the first suggestion of any kind of alien appearance near Earth.

My grown-up companions all told me there were no such things as aliens and so I became less convinced about E.T.’s existence and eventually gave into to what they were telling me. Fast forward to the present-ish day, and science has yet again come to my aid and restored my faith in there being life somewhere other than on our own planet. But am I just seeing what my inner 5-year old wants to see? Here’s what we know so far.

It’s logical

One of the best lecturers I’ve ever seen, Professor Brian Green said that everything we know about how the physics and maths of space work show that it’s almost impossible for us to be the only life in the Universe. What’s more, now we have the means to see further into space we’re being inundated with images of new planets, suns and solar systems similar to our own. Surely it’s not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’ we discover life outside our solar system?

We now know that there are planets capable of supporting life

During its 9-year mission, NASA’s Kepler spacecraft discovered a whopping 2,600 planets outside our solar system, many of which could be promising places for life. Of these, a handful are in the so-called “habitable zone” – i.e. it’s not too hot and not too cold and it’s not too near to, or far from its sister sun. You could say it’s the Goldilocks Zone! The best candidate for a habitable planet was Kepler 186f (catchy!). It’s around 10% bigger than Earth and a similar distance from a large star at the centre of its solar system. Kepler 186f (not getting any catchier) is the first planet mass with Earth-like characteristics, and while there’s plenty of research still needed so we can understand more about it, scientists are very excited about this potential Earth-cousin.

Discovering intelligent life is just a matter of time

Many scientists believe that we’ve now discovered all the ingredients that make up the entire Universe. So the Universe is essentially a recipe book where each planet’s recipe is a selection of ingredients from a single list, and in a place as big as the Universe our ability to find another planet made out of the same ingredients as Earth is only limited by how far we can search. And the search is far from over.

All of this makes 5-year old me very happy and call me crazy, but I still think it would be cool if someone’s out there looking for us too. And if they’re able to read this, “I’ll totally help you phone home if you crash land in my back garden!”

hey-e.t.-anyone-home

Bang! There goes the Universe!

I never thought I’d say this but there was a time that I wanted to be Richard Hammond. I wasn’t coveting his garage full of fast cars (though I wouldn’t complain if he gave me one), rather I was envious of his other programme where he got to study the BIg Bang up close and ‘build’ planets and universes!

I’m a “see it, touch it, believe it” type and thinking about the size of our universe and how it all began makes my brain feel like exploding… A bit like my own personal big bang. So, the Hamster getting a chance to get hands-on with the science of planet building had me more than just a little green with envy.

The Big Bang Theory captures something in our imaginations. The idea of an explosion creating rather than destroying is such a contradiction and therefore so intriguing, that whoever you are, you can’t help but be the tiniest bit curious about how we came to be.

A (very) potted history of the Big Bang

The Big Bang is what scientists call the event that kick-started our universe into existence some 13 billion years ago. For reasons we don’t fully understand, (yet!) a tiny, super-hot and excitable bubble that contained mainly Hydrogen plus a dash of Helium and Lithium, burst. This enormous bang sent super-hot gases flying in every direction through space. Just like when you over-fill a balloon with water causing it to suddenly burst.

So all the stuff in the bubble flew out. Quickly at first and then slower as the gases travelled further, settling into stars and eventually galaxies including our own Milky Way, home to our beautiful solar system.

The stars acted like molecule factories, taking the original gases and turning them into the building blocks of life. Absolutely everything we see around us came from that one moment in time – Rocks, water, trees and of course creatures! Your body and mine, as well as that of the dog up the road, are all made from the same materials found in stars. Pretty mind-blowing right?

Mind-blowing enough to be unbelievable

And if not unbelievable at least questionable! How did it happen? What was there before this Big Bang? Has it only happened once?

These are excellent questions and scientists are still tackling them. There’s loads of research going on in places like CERN in Switzerland and Oxfordshire-based JET. Scientists are literally trying to recreate that first Big Bang moment by smashing hydrogen atoms together to see what other particles we might be able to see. JET is all about applying a huge amount of heat to make hydrogen atoms fuse together – basically recreating the same reaction that happens when stars are made. Now there’s another job I wouldn’t mind… Chief Star Maker!

Back to our Universe, which continues to expand. The more we understand about how this all started the easier it will be for us to predict what might happen in future. And let’s face it, It would be AMAZING to have answers to all those questions!

bang-there-goes-the-universe

Moved to Tears

The first time I saw my father cry, I was torn between great sadness and intrigue. It was like he was so sad, and that first tear was being dragged down his cheek by the weight of his woes. You can’t help but react yourself because whether it’s deep sadness or unadulterated joy, tears are the universal sign of emotion.

But why?

The reasons we cry are complex. They even stumped Darwin who couldn’t find an obvious evolutionary reason to justify the seemingly wasteful seepage of fluid through the eyes. Yet it’s clear that wherever you go on this planet, tears mean a lot to us, whether we’re the ones doing the weeping or we’re bearing witness to a literal outpouring of feeling.

Believe it or not, we humans are constantly ‘lacrimating’ (from the Latin for tear “Lacrima”) – producing fluid from our eyes. But not all forms of lacrimation are the same. Humans are thought to be the only species to shed three types of tears – basal, reflex and emotional tears.

The first two are quite easy to explain.

Basal tears are the maintenance beads of moisture that coat our eyes, keeping them free from bacteria and lubricating the surface of the eye. If you weren’t able to shed basal tears, you’d soon know about it. Your eyes would feel incredibly itchy, sore and unsurprisingly, dry!

Reflex tears kick in to protect our peepers from harm. Onions, gases or a sudden cloud of dust can cause you to tear up in an instant, flushing the eyes and washing away any those pesky and irritating particles.

And the third?

Emotional tears work in completely the opposite way. That’s to say that the trigger comes from within, rather than without!

Some scientists suggest that one of the reasons we have developed the ability to cry is as a literal release. We often talk about “feeling better after a good cry” and the science backs this up. The tears we shed as a result of intense emotion are packed with high levels of hormones like cortisol, which builds up when we’re stressed. Our tear ducts are like a little hole in a basin that lets water trickle out to avoid an inevitable deluge, and our tears act as a hormone disposal system. Which means the act of crying could be a physical process as well as psychological.

We share the ability to shed basal and reflex tears with apes, elephants and camels. But scientists have long believed that this is where the similarities end when it comes to crying, or so we thought. Scientists at the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists (animal opticians!) are setting out to prove that horses shed emotional tears too. They’ve found that horses produce more tears when they’re under stress and that the tears they produce show increased levels of the hormone cortisol in just the same way as humans.

So what are our tears made of other than water and hormones?

All tears are composed of similar ingredients – water, salts, enzymes and hormones. However, the ratio of ingredients varies between the three tear types and with each kind, tears change depending on their cause. The type and quantity of hormone can change dramatically, depending on the trigger. For example, joy or despair. So each batch of tears is entirely unique – like a fingerprint!

The make-up of a tear can give us incredible clues about the emotions that the person shedding them is feeling. I recently saw a beautiful work of art called ‘Topography of Tears’. The artist, Rose-Lynn Fisher, collected over one hundred tear samples, representing moments of regret, loss, laughter and even onion chopping, and examined them under a light microscope. Rose-Lynn was astonished to find that each sample was completely different, to the point that the ‘fingerprint’ of each tear was like its own landscape, from feathery fields to jagged mountain ranges. The irony of this art moving me to tears isn’t lost on me!

Just like Rose’s beautiful work, tears don’t just affect the crier. Tears have been found to reduce aggression. How? The blurred vision that crying results in can prevent a person from engaging in aggressive activities. Aggressive behaviour in people witnessing someone cry is also reduced so it may be an evolutionary advantage to be able to cry at moments that might otherwise end rather more messily.

Let it all out!

Tears are loaded with chemicals and laden with emotion, playing a critical role in our ability to control physiological changes in hormones when experiencing intense feelings. Just like the simple, yet powerful impact of human touch, your tears leave fingerprints wherever they’re shed. So the next time you feel that tell-tale prickle at the back of your eyeballs, it might not feel great at the time and you might be annoyed you can’t stop it from happening but trust me, your body’s knows exactly what it’s doing, so grab a hankie and just let it all out!

Why your waste might save your life!

When you’re a kid talking about poo and wee is funny, when you’re a grown-up it’s sometimes embarrassing. But at every age, the stuff that comes out of you is pretty important. At the very least you can learn a lot about yourself and at best, it’s protecting you from all manner of nasties. Yeah, it’s a bit gross (when is waste not?), but once you get past that it’s incredible how handy your own ‘garbage’ can be.

Poocheology

If you’ve got our Healthy Me box, you’ll know all about the Bristol Stool Chart – the universal scale of poop health. Well, archaeologists took poo analysis to a whole new level, studying stools from a prehistoric village in Turkey that are around 10,000 years old (known as coprolites) They found out that the people that lived in this village were infected with a very specific parasite. The fact that faeces can survive that long is pretty mind-blowing let alone the fact that it can be used to identify a parasitic infection!

Find out more

Peecycling

It’s no secret that we need to get better at how we produce enough food for everyone on our planet, and our wee could play a big part to play in this. For starters, it’s 95% water so if we were able to collect it safely, the water could be used for crops (and don’t forget astronauts drink water filtered from urine, so if we can get past the ick factor we could too). More interestingly, all urine contains phosphorus which is used in fertiliser, something we need a lot of. Again, if we could get better at collecting it, we’d be able to meet a quarter of the world’s demand, all from our pee. Oh, and if you can bear to boil it down, you could do this! 👇

Spit it out!

Saliva  – the most underrated of bodily fluids in our opinion. And not because it’s our mum’s last-minute stain remover (eeoo!). Spit is chock full of data. What’s more, it’s easy to collect and analyse. From DNA testing to figuring out if you’re at risk of heart disease. A simple swab is all you need to unearth a plethora of information, some of which might help you to take action before a disease or hereditary condition can cause you harm. How cool is that?

Here are a few more phlegmy facts for you!

Now we don’t expect or suggest you start hoarding your bio-matter, but perhaps you’ve now got a greater appreciation for your own waste. After all, if it’s good enough for Matt Damon to grown his spuds in…

lifesaving-waste

Curiosity v COVID

Engaging vulnerable children in STEM and bridging the gap created by COVID-19

The COVID pandemic is severely impacting children living in the UK’s most deprived areas. We believe that science belongs to everyone and now, more than ever, we must support vulnerable children in our society. Therefore we’ve committed to sending STEM (science, tech, engineering and maths) resources to 20,000 children in deprived areas in the UK. That represents 0.5% of children living in poverty in the UK[i].

DOWNLOAD THE PROJECT OVERVIEW HERE

10 nature adventure ideas for families

It’s great for our physical and mental health and something grown ups and kids can enjoy together. Getting out in nature is a great way to fill our lives with wonder and joy! Here are my top 10 nature adventure ideas for families:

1. The Woodland Trust: We know it’s hard to get out and get supplies at the moment but there are so many things you can do with what you have to hand. The Woodland Trust Blog provides oodles of ideas in the home and outdoors, most of which use up waste or simple supplies like pencils and paper. I particularly love the nature pirates activity and the fairy door activity. Imagine how wonderful it would be for someone when they discover your fairy door!

2. Finding your words: Nature has long been the inspiration for many artworks and music, so why not get inspired and creative with the help of The Lost Words.  Their free downloadable Spell Songs feels like a deep, luxurious and calming breath in. Just what we all need right now.

3. Backyard Bioblitz with St. Andrews University: The diversity of creatures you can find in your local green space might surprise you. It did surprise me, the first time I did a Bioblitz! St. Andrews University is hosting a Backyard Bioblitz on the 5th and 6th of June. It’s like having an expert with you as you explore and get to know your backyard better! I could only find details on their Facebook Page

4. Skomer Island Live: Set off the Westest West part of Wales is the breathtaking Skomer Island. I visited with my family last summer and even my skatepark and computer game-mad son soon relaxed into the beauty and ruggedness of it. We would have been heading off again on Friday – this time to see the puffins, so the Skomer live feed has at least gone some way to filling the gap. Find out more about Skomer and indulge in a bit of Puffin Loving’ here

 

5. Muddy Faces: I know mud is a bit like marmite and gives some people the heebie-jeebies. If you love the cool squelch of mud, then Muddy Faces, a brilliant forest school, has got enough to get you properly covered. They also have a lovely shop with lots of tools and nature adventure kit. I particularly love the wooden construction blocks!

6. Spot baby birds: It’s fledging time! There are baby birds abound at the moment and if you can’t fall in love with nature watching a baby blue tit learning to fly then, well I’m not sure anything will! Take a look at the baby Robin on RSPB live streamed Robin nest!

Telling the difference between all the birds you might see can be tricky but the RSPB has loads of resources to help you. I particularly like their “Ask an Expert” section where you can get access to lots of top notch info, and ask questions of people who really know their warblers from their wagtails. 

7. The Great Big Bug Hunt: If you aren’t a fan of creepy crawlies then perhaps now is the time to look away. But how can anyone not love the intricate patterns, the incredible movement and sheer business of bugs? The Great Big Bug Hunt is a competition run by The Royal Entomological Society (it took me 3 goes to spell that correctly!) and The Association for Science Education 

8. Camp Out: I asked my nature-loving daughter (12) what her favourite thing has been since lockdown and she said camping in the Garden and I totally agree! This had the double advantage of giving my hubby and I some peace in the evening! I realise we are very lucky to have a garden the kids can camp in. If you don’t, then a dawn or dusk walk, where you can watch the sky changing and listen to the animals is so calming and beautiful.

9. Your Top Adventure Destination: Imagine the place you would want to go most in the whole world? What does it look like? What kind of animals live there? Does it have any unusual natural features? When you can’t get outdoors, bring the natural world indoors and go on a virtual holiday to somewhere amazing! Since lockdown began hundreds of “virtual adventures” have popped up. Some of my favourites are:

The Great Barrier Reef with David Attenborough
an African Nature reserve live streamed 
Yosemite National Park 
Madagascan Dugongs in the Seagrass 

10. Bumblebee Conservation Trust: Have I mentioned before how much I LOVE Bumblebees!? The Bumblebee Conservation Trust and their fabulous resources had to make my list of 10! I do have a bit of a confession to make. The first time I ever saw a Bumblebee I absolutely freaked out. I was 20-something and had not long arrived in the UK. We don’t have bumblebees in Australia so I had no idea they could be so HUGE! A Buff-Tailed Bumblebee came buzzing towards me and I was so scared! Anything that size in Australia flying towards you is your signal to RUN! Now I know they are harmless, their peaceful buzz in music to my ears.

Style 6

Hey E.T. Anyone home? Why I believe in life on other planets

When E.T. was first released back in 1982, I built myself a cardboard spaceship and told my mum that I had to go find him, but would be back soon.

I think I mainly wanted to be Drew Barrymore’s character, Gertie but I was also utterly convinced that E.T. was real and that he could “phone home”. I’m certainly not the first person to believe in life ‘out there’ As early as 218 BC, Historian Titus Livius recorded that “a spectacle of ships gleamed in the sky”. That’s more than 2,230 years ago (!) and is thought to be the first suggestion of any kind of alien appearance near Earth.

My grown-up companions all told me there were no such things as aliens and so I became less convinced about E.T.’s existence and eventually gave into to what they were telling me. Fast forward to the present-ish day, and science has yet again come to my aid and restored my faith in there being life somewhere other than on our own planet. But am I just seeing what my inner 5-year old wants to see? Here’s what we know so far.

It’s logical

One of the best lecturers I’ve ever seen, Professor Brian Green said that everything we know about how the physics and maths of space work show that it’s almost impossible for us to be the only life in the Universe. What’s more, now we have the means to see further into space we’re being inundated with images of new planets, suns and solar systems similar to our own. Surely it’s not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’ we discover life outside our solar system?

We now know that there are planets capable of supporting life

During its 9-year mission, NASA’s Kepler spacecraft discovered a whopping 2,600 planets outside our solar system, many of which could be promising places for life. Of these, a handful are in the so-called “habitable zone” – i.e. it’s not too hot and not too cold and it’s not too near to, or far from its sister sun. You could say it’s the Goldilocks Zone! The best candidate for a habitable planet was Kepler 186f (catchy!). It’s around 10% bigger than Earth and a similar distance from a large star at the centre of its solar system. Kepler 186f (not getting any catchier) is the first planet mass with Earth-like characteristics, and while there’s plenty of research still needed so we can understand more about it, scientists are very excited about this potential Earth-cousin.

Discovering intelligent life is just a matter of time

Many scientists believe that we’ve now discovered all the ingredients that make up the entire Universe. So the Universe is essentially a recipe book where each planet’s recipe is a selection of ingredients from a single list, and in a place as big as the Universe our ability to find another planet made out of the same ingredients as Earth is only limited by how far we can search. And the search is far from over.

All of this makes 5-year old me very happy and call me crazy, but I still think it would be cool if someone’s out there looking for us too. And if they’re able to read this, “I’ll totally help you phone home if you crash land in my back garden!”

hey-e.t.-anyone-home

Bang! There goes the Universe!

I never thought I’d say this but there was a time that I wanted to be Richard Hammond. I wasn’t coveting his garage full of fast cars (though I wouldn’t complain if he gave me one), rather I was envious of his other programme where he got to study the BIg Bang up close and ‘build’ planets and universes!

I’m a “see it, touch it, believe it” type and thinking about the size of our universe and how it all began makes my brain feel like exploding… A bit like my own personal big bang. So, the Hamster getting a chance to get hands-on with the science of planet building had me more than just a little green with envy.

The Big Bang Theory captures something in our imaginations. The idea of an explosion creating rather than destroying is such a contradiction and therefore so intriguing, that whoever you are, you can’t help but be the tiniest bit curious about how we came to be.

A (very) potted history of the Big Bang

The Big Bang is what scientists call the event that kick-started our universe into existence some 13 billion years ago. For reasons we don’t fully understand, (yet!) a tiny, super-hot and excitable bubble that contained mainly Hydrogen plus a dash of Helium and Lithium, burst. This enormous bang sent super-hot gases flying in every direction through space. Just like when you over-fill a balloon with water causing it to suddenly burst.

So all the stuff in the bubble flew out. Quickly at first and then slower as the gases travelled further, settling into stars and eventually galaxies including our own Milky Way, home to our beautiful solar system.

The stars acted like molecule factories, taking the original gases and turning them into the building blocks of life. Absolutely everything we see around us came from that one moment in time – Rocks, water, trees and of course creatures! Your body and mine, as well as that of the dog up the road, are all made from the same materials found in stars. Pretty mind-blowing right?

Mind-blowing enough to be unbelievable

And if not unbelievable at least questionable! How did it happen? What was there before this Big Bang? Has it only happened once?

These are excellent questions and scientists are still tackling them. There’s loads of research going on in places like CERN in Switzerland and Oxfordshire-based JET. Scientists are literally trying to recreate that first Big Bang moment by smashing hydrogen atoms together to see what other particles we might be able to see. JET is all about applying a huge amount of heat to make hydrogen atoms fuse together – basically recreating the same reaction that happens when stars are made. Now there’s another job I wouldn’t mind… Chief Star Maker!

Back to our Universe, which continues to expand. The more we understand about how this all started the easier it will be for us to predict what might happen in future. And let’s face it, It would be AMAZING to have answers to all those questions!

bang-there-goes-the-universe

Moved to Tears

The first time I saw my father cry, I was torn between great sadness and intrigue. It was like he was so sad, and that first tear was being dragged down his cheek by the weight of his woes. You can’t help but react yourself because whether it’s deep sadness or unadulterated joy, tears are the universal sign of emotion.

But why?

The reasons we cry are complex. They even stumped Darwin who couldn’t find an obvious evolutionary reason to justify the seemingly wasteful seepage of fluid through the eyes. Yet it’s clear that wherever you go on this planet, tears mean a lot to us, whether we’re the ones doing the weeping or we’re bearing witness to a literal outpouring of feeling.

Believe it or not, we humans are constantly ‘lacrimating’ (from the Latin for tear “Lacrima”) – producing fluid from our eyes. But not all forms of lacrimation are the same. Humans are thought to be the only species to shed three types of tears – basal, reflex and emotional tears.

The first two are quite easy to explain.

Basal tears are the maintenance beads of moisture that coat our eyes, keeping them free from bacteria and lubricating the surface of the eye. If you weren’t able to shed basal tears, you’d soon know about it. Your eyes would feel incredibly itchy, sore and unsurprisingly, dry!

Reflex tears kick in to protect our peepers from harm. Onions, gases or a sudden cloud of dust can cause you to tear up in an instant, flushing the eyes and washing away any those pesky and irritating particles.

And the third?

Emotional tears work in completely the opposite way. That’s to say that the trigger comes from within, rather than without!

Some scientists suggest that one of the reasons we have developed the ability to cry is as a literal release. We often talk about “feeling better after a good cry” and the science backs this up. The tears we shed as a result of intense emotion are packed with high levels of hormones like cortisol, which builds up when we’re stressed. Our tear ducts are like a little hole in a basin that lets water trickle out to avoid an inevitable deluge, and our tears act as a hormone disposal system. Which means the act of crying could be a physical process as well as psychological.

We share the ability to shed basal and reflex tears with apes, elephants and camels. But scientists have long believed that this is where the similarities end when it comes to crying, or so we thought. Scientists at the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists (animal opticians!) are setting out to prove that horses shed emotional tears too. They’ve found that horses produce more tears when they’re under stress and that the tears they produce show increased levels of the hormone cortisol in just the same way as humans.

So what are our tears made of other than water and hormones?

All tears are composed of similar ingredients – water, salts, enzymes and hormones. However, the ratio of ingredients varies between the three tear types and with each kind, tears change depending on their cause. The type and quantity of hormone can change dramatically, depending on the trigger. For example, joy or despair. So each batch of tears is entirely unique – like a fingerprint!

The make-up of a tear can give us incredible clues about the emotions that the person shedding them is feeling. I recently saw a beautiful work of art called ‘Topography of Tears’. The artist, Rose-Lynn Fisher, collected over one hundred tear samples, representing moments of regret, loss, laughter and even onion chopping, and examined them under a light microscope. Rose-Lynn was astonished to find that each sample was completely different, to the point that the ‘fingerprint’ of each tear was like its own landscape, from feathery fields to jagged mountain ranges. The irony of this art moving me to tears isn’t lost on me!

Just like Rose’s beautiful work, tears don’t just affect the crier. Tears have been found to reduce aggression. How? The blurred vision that crying results in can prevent a person from engaging in aggressive activities. Aggressive behaviour in people witnessing someone cry is also reduced so it may be an evolutionary advantage to be able to cry at moments that might otherwise end rather more messily.

Let it all out!

Tears are loaded with chemicals and laden with emotion, playing a critical role in our ability to control physiological changes in hormones when experiencing intense feelings. Just like the simple, yet powerful impact of human touch, your tears leave fingerprints wherever they’re shed. So the next time you feel that tell-tale prickle at the back of your eyeballs, it might not feel great at the time and you might be annoyed you can’t stop it from happening but trust me, your body’s knows exactly what it’s doing, so grab a hankie and just let it all out!

Why your waste might save your life!

When you’re a kid talking about poo and wee is funny, when you’re a grown-up it’s sometimes embarrassing. But at every age, the stuff that comes out of you is pretty important. At the very least you can learn a lot about yourself and at best, it’s protecting you from all manner of nasties. Yeah, it’s a bit gross (when is waste not?), but once you get past that it’s incredible how handy your own ‘garbage’ can be.

Poocheology

If you’ve got our Healthy Me box, you’ll know all about the Bristol Stool Chart – the universal scale of poop health. Well, archaeologists took poo analysis to a whole new level, studying stools from a prehistoric village in Turkey that are around 10,000 years old (known as coprolites) They found out that the people that lived in this village were infected with a very specific parasite. The fact that faeces can survive that long is pretty mind-blowing let alone the fact that it can be used to identify a parasitic infection!

Find out more

Peecycling

It’s no secret that we need to get better at how we produce enough food for everyone on our planet, and our wee could play a big part to play in this. For starters, it’s 95% water so if we were able to collect it safely, the water could be used for crops (and don’t forget astronauts drink water filtered from urine, so if we can get past the ick factor we could too). More interestingly, all urine contains phosphorus which is used in fertiliser, something we need a lot of. Again, if we could get better at collecting it, we’d be able to meet a quarter of the world’s demand, all from our pee. Oh, and if you can bear to boil it down, you could do this! 👇

Spit it out!

Saliva  – the most underrated of bodily fluids in our opinion. And not because it’s our mum’s last-minute stain remover (eeoo!). Spit is chock full of data. What’s more, it’s easy to collect and analyse. From DNA testing to figuring out if you’re at risk of heart disease. A simple swab is all you need to unearth a plethora of information, some of which might help you to take action before a disease or hereditary condition can cause you harm. How cool is that?

Here are a few more phlegmy facts for you!

Now we don’t expect or suggest you start hoarding your bio-matter, but perhaps you’ve now got a greater appreciation for your own waste. After all, if it’s good enough for Matt Damon to grown his spuds in…

lifesaving-waste

Curiosity v COVID

Engaging vulnerable children in STEM and bridging the gap created by COVID-19

The COVID pandemic is severely impacting children living in the UK’s most deprived areas. We believe that science belongs to everyone and now, more than ever, we must support vulnerable children in our society. Therefore we’ve committed to sending STEM (science, tech, engineering and maths) resources to 20,000 children in deprived areas in the UK. That represents 0.5% of children living in poverty in the UK[i].

DOWNLOAD THE PROJECT OVERVIEW HERE

10 nature adventure ideas for families

It’s great for our physical and mental health and something grown ups and kids can enjoy together. Getting out in nature is a great way to fill our lives with wonder and joy! Here are my top 10 nature adventure ideas for families:

1. The Woodland Trust: We know it’s hard to get out and get supplies at the moment but there are so many things you can do with what you have to hand. The Woodland Trust Blog provides oodles of ideas in the home and outdoors, most of which use up waste or simple supplies like pencils and paper. I particularly love the nature pirates activity and the fairy door activity. Imagine how wonderful it would be for someone when they discover your fairy door!

2. Finding your words: Nature has long been the inspiration for many artworks and music, so why not get inspired and creative with the help of The Lost Words.  Their free downloadable Spell Songs feels like a deep, luxurious and calming breath in. Just what we all need right now.

3. Backyard Bioblitz with St. Andrews University: The diversity of creatures you can find in your local green space might surprise you. It did surprise me, the first time I did a Bioblitz! St. Andrews University is hosting a Backyard Bioblitz on the 5th and 6th of June. It’s like having an expert with you as you explore and get to know your backyard better! I could only find details on their Facebook Page

4. Skomer Island Live: Set off the Westest West part of Wales is the breathtaking Skomer Island. I visited with my family last summer and even my skatepark and computer game-mad son soon relaxed into the beauty and ruggedness of it. We would have been heading off again on Friday – this time to see the puffins, so the Skomer live feed has at least gone some way to filling the gap. Find out more about Skomer and indulge in a bit of Puffin Loving’ here

 

5. Muddy Faces: I know mud is a bit like marmite and gives some people the heebie-jeebies. If you love the cool squelch of mud, then Muddy Faces, a brilliant forest school, has got enough to get you properly covered. They also have a lovely shop with lots of tools and nature adventure kit. I particularly love the wooden construction blocks!

6. Spot baby birds: It’s fledging time! There are baby birds abound at the moment and if you can’t fall in love with nature watching a baby blue tit learning to fly then, well I’m not sure anything will! Take a look at the baby Robin on RSPB live streamed Robin nest!

Telling the difference between all the birds you might see can be tricky but the RSPB has loads of resources to help you. I particularly like their “Ask an Expert” section where you can get access to lots of top notch info, and ask questions of people who really know their warblers from their wagtails. 

7. The Great Big Bug Hunt: If you aren’t a fan of creepy crawlies then perhaps now is the time to look away. But how can anyone not love the intricate patterns, the incredible movement and sheer business of bugs? The Great Big Bug Hunt is a competition run by The Royal Entomological Society (it took me 3 goes to spell that correctly!) and The Association for Science Education 

8. Camp Out: I asked my nature-loving daughter (12) what her favourite thing has been since lockdown and she said camping in the Garden and I totally agree! This had the double advantage of giving my hubby and I some peace in the evening! I realise we are very lucky to have a garden the kids can camp in. If you don’t, then a dawn or dusk walk, where you can watch the sky changing and listen to the animals is so calming and beautiful.

9. Your Top Adventure Destination: Imagine the place you would want to go most in the whole world? What does it look like? What kind of animals live there? Does it have any unusual natural features? When you can’t get outdoors, bring the natural world indoors and go on a virtual holiday to somewhere amazing! Since lockdown began hundreds of “virtual adventures” have popped up. Some of my favourites are:

The Great Barrier Reef with David Attenborough
an African Nature reserve live streamed 
Yosemite National Park 
Madagascan Dugongs in the Seagrass 

10. Bumblebee Conservation Trust: Have I mentioned before how much I LOVE Bumblebees!? The Bumblebee Conservation Trust and their fabulous resources had to make my list of 10! I do have a bit of a confession to make. The first time I ever saw a Bumblebee I absolutely freaked out. I was 20-something and had not long arrived in the UK. We don’t have bumblebees in Australia so I had no idea they could be so HUGE! A Buff-Tailed Bumblebee came buzzing towards me and I was so scared! Anything that size in Australia flying towards you is your signal to RUN! Now I know they are harmless, their peaceful buzz in music to my ears.

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