Drink a Toast to James Prescott Joule!

October 6, 2020

Joule soon became interested in the fundamental principles of physics rather than the practical considerations of brewing beer. Throughout his career he exchanged ideas with his renowned contemporary John Thomson, better known as Lord Kelvin. Together they worked to understand the connections between energy, work, heat and temperature, a subject known as thermodynamics. Joule’s investigations led to one of the most important principles in physics— the conservation of energy.

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Hell Creek Apocalypse

September 27, 2020

Four decades of detective work by geologists, nuclear physicists, palaeontologists and geochronologists has given us an incredibly detailed and compelling picture of what happened one dramatic day just over sixty-six million years ago—the day that sealed the fate of the dinosaurs.

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A Goddess Spurned and the Fate of the Sun

September 25, 2020

So how will the Sun evolve and what is its ultimate fate?
Within the Sun’s core hydrogen nuclei are gradually fusing to form helium nuclei, releasing a steady stream of energy. The flow of thermal energy from the nuclear furnace supports the Sun against its tendency to collapse under gravity. For as long as the nuclear fuel holds out this balance will be maintained. In the case of the Sun this is around ten billion years. Currently, the Sun is nearly half way through its allotted time span.

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An Exceptionally Cold Case

September 19, 2020

Much has been learnt about Ötzi the Iceman. High levels of copper and arsenic were found in his body, which suggests that he may have been involved in the smelting of copper. He was about 45 years old and he suffered from a number of ailments. He had parasitic worms in his gut, gallstones, arthritic joints, hardened arteries and rotting teeth. He also had numerous tattoos produced by rubbing charcoal into lesions in the skin. From the contents of Ötzi’s stomach it seems that his last meal included fatty ibex meat and einkorn grain. The radiocarbon dating of Ötzi’s remains reveal that he lived some time around 5300 years ago.

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Frederick Soddy and the World Set Free

September 13, 2020

In the novel Holsten discovers a new element named carolinium that could be induced to release the energy locked within its atoms. This opened the door to military applications, bombs of hitherto inconceivable destructive power, atomic bombs, as Wells calls them in the first ever use of this term. Although Wells’s method of delivery for the new weapons was of its time—they were lobbed over the side of aircraft by intrepid airmen, as depicted on the front cover of the American edition—the novel would prove uncannily accurate about future developments of nuclear weapons and their military consequences.

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Waltzing with Magic Numbers

September 10, 2020

Goeppert-Mayer published her explanation of nuclear magic numbers in 1949. Later that year an identical model was published by three German physicists Johannes Hans Jensen, Otto Haxel, and Hans Suess. In 1963 Goeppert-Mayer became the second woman to win the Nobel Prize for Physics, sharing half the prize with Jensen.

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Nuclear Time Shift

September 3, 2020

In 1995 the Oxford Archaeological Unit decided to see whether Optical Stimulated Luminescence Dating would settle the debate about the White Horse of Uffington. The horse has been cleaned and maintained by many generations of local people, so samples were taken from the lowest disturbed layers of the chalk.

When the results came back they were a surprise to everyone. The white horse is much older than had been imagined. The laboratory analysis revealed that the chalk horse was originally dug some time between 1400 BC and 600 BC, so 3000 years ago plus or minus 400 years. This places its construction some time in the late Bronze Age or early Iron Age, making it easily the oldest chalk figure in England.

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Rutherford this is Transmutation!

August 26, 2020

Soddy discovered that no sooner had he removed the radon gas from his thorium sample that the radon would reappear. It was as though thorium was continually giving birth to the emanation as it emitted radiation. Then he found that the emanation was generating another new radioactive substance that was deposited on the walls of the glass vessel in which it was being collected. Soddy was stunned when he understood what was was happening: Rutherford, this is transmutation!

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William Ramsay’s Noble Quest

August 21, 2020

Ramsay had not just discovered one or two new elements, he had appended an entire new Group to the Periodic Table. In 1904 Ramsay became the first Briton to receive a Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

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Beyond the Alchemists’ Wildest Dreams

August 15, 2020

All this alchemical magic produces a potion that is more valuable than gold and has saved more lives than the philosopher’s stone or the elixir of life.

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