Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Why Constable's Rainbow May Carry a Hidden Message

A mystery surrounding one of John Constable's most emotionally-charged landscapes may finally have been solved – by a meteorologist.

I always enjoy writing about art and science, and this feature for BBC Britain was particularly fun. Who knew that Constable was really into rainbow science? That rainbows are a bit like sun dials? And that Constable was plagued by self-doubt and never felt anything he painted was quite good enough?

I also liked this quote from Professor Thornes, the meteorologist, on Constable's passion for science, which will probably resonate with a lot of artists (and scientists):

“Constable said we see nothing truly until we understand it. And the rainbow is a case in point. You don't see a rainbow properly until you understand how it's formed."

Friday, 13 January 2017

Populism Explained (by a Neuroscientist)

I interviewed Dr. Molly Crockett, a behavioural psychologist, on the destructive, addictive urge to punish - a phenomenon known as "costly punishment" - and how it's linked to the rise of populism. The bad news is that each act of retribution makes it more likely that the person will do it again... that's the addictive part.

Also, "one speculation is that this destructive impulse to punish may be even stronger when people are under chronic stress, for example during an economic recession."

Obviously her research doesn't fully explain why people voted for Brexit and Trump, but it offers some interesting new angles. Here's another quote:

"Populist messaging has been very effective in channelling retributive impulses into votes. Around the world populist movements are wreaking economic destruction and social turmoil in the name of moral principles. That may be the story people are telling themselves and others, but it's likely not the only motive."

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Growing human bones from stem cells

Nina Tandon is one of the scientists working on growing human bones from stem cells - a new technique that could replace synthetic implants and conventional grafts. I interviewed her for the World Economic Forum's blog series on ten leading female scientists.

"I'd like to be able to say that if you're born with congenital defects, you don't have to be consigned to a lifetime of disfigurement, that you can have your face restored," she told me. "More broadly, I love the idea that we can look at our own body as a source of healing, as opposed to pills and machines."

How your garden could power your wifi

This is another science Q&A I did for for the World Economic Forum - on how you can tap the roots of growing plants to generate power.

"Our approach doesn't force you to decide between growing food and growing fuel," says Marjolein Helder, one of the researchers working on this. "For example, you could use the same paddy to grow rice and produce electricity."

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Black Holes Explained

This was such a treat - my interview on black holes and gravitational waves with Nergis Mavalvala, an astrophysicist at MIT. Her team finally observed the "ripples in spacetime" predicted by Albert Einstein a hundred years ago. Apart from being a brilliant scientist, Nergis is also a very funny and eloquent speaker on women's rights and minority rights.

The interview is part of a series of ten Q&As with outstanding female scientists around the world (for the World Economic Forum). Will post more soon!

Monday, 14 March 2016

Secret London

Another BBC Culture story - this time on one of my favourite places in London, a hidden study room at the British Museum that houses one of the world's largest collections of prints and drawings:

Friday, 4 March 2016

Unseen City

This interview with Martin Parr about Unseen City, his current exhibition at the Guildhall Art Gallery, was a lot of fun. I've long admired his work - it's witty and warm and somehow very British. Go and see his show, you'll find out all sorts of fascinating things about London's medieval guilds and ancient traditions like swan upping. (Yes, it's a thing!)