Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Weird and Wonderful Halloween Special Part 3: Zombie Fungus

Ione Bingley

Breaking news: ZOMBIES exist! Zombie ants have recently been identified under the mind control of the parasotoid fungus, Ophiocordyceps unilateralis. This is truly the stuff of nightmares, the newly discovered fungus is found in the rainforests of Thailand where is survives by infecting and controlling the minds of carpenter ants. 

However bizarre this may sound, it is in fact no Halloween trick. The evil fungus sits, poised in wait, in the form of millions of microscopic spores dispersed by a mature fungus into the shadowy forest undergrowth. An unlucky carpenter ant wandering through the wrong part of the jungle becomes a welcome victim to the plotting parasite. The fungal spores stick to the carpenter ant’s body and begin to burn through its exoskeleton via the secretion of a powerful catabolic enzyme. The cursed ant continues for two days blissfully unaware of the parasite’s malicious existence; suddenly it cannot help but to obey a powerful impulse to leave the safety of its colony high in the leafy bowers and travel down to the shady underworld a foot above the forest floor where the humidity and temperature are optimal for fungal growth. The zombie-ant, now totally at the mercy of the parasite’s mind control, stumbles to the underside of a leaf, bites into the main vein, irreversibly anchoring itself to the spot, and there silently, resigned to its fate, it dies.

The fungus, however, has not finished with the ill-fated, formic creature. Using the ant’s hard exoskeleton as a refuge, it proceeds to devour its internal organs. Once satiated on its macabre meal, the tentacular main stem of the fungus erupts through the back of the ant’s head, releasing thousands of microspores onto the forest floor, and creating a 10-square foot ‘killing zone’ below the remains of its feast. A treacherous trap is set for the next unfortunate victim. Spooooky stuff….

How to make a zombie ant - David P. Hughes - Harvard University

Check out this gruesome video:

That wraps up Synapse's Halloween special, hope you enjoyed the ride!

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Weird and Wonderful Halloween Special Part 2: The Deep-Sea Devil

Ione Bingley

As we continue on with our travels down to the deepest, darkest corners of the watery underworld, we might chance upon this gruesome spectacle. No, he didn't get lost on the way to the Prometheus auditions; this terrible creature isn't just a figment of nightmares. It is, in fact, a bona fide species of deep sea fish, rarely seen less than 500m below sea level, preferring to skulk at 1km or more under the waves. It is certainly diabolical in appearance; scaleless, paper-thin black skin, giant eyes, and huge jaws with a set of razor sharp teeth. The first specimen was presented to William Orville Ayres of the Boston Society of Natural History in 1848. Will named the species Malacosteus niger (meaning soft boned and black), claiming its bones are so soft that they "can be pierced even in their hardest parts by a needle with the greatest ease". 

Although utterly monstrous to look at, the black dragonfish grows only to a mere 25cm! Do not, however, be fooled by his mediocre size, Mr Malacosteus has some pretty sneaky hunting tricks up his sleeve. He is able to hinge his head backwards at the neck allowing the lower jaw to shoot out and impale little fishies on needle-like fangs. The jaw is then withdrawn delivering his victims right into the throat via pharyngeal teeth found in the neck. 

His devilish bad looks are augmented by the presence of two large photophores, light organs, located below (suborbital) and behind (postorbital) the eyes. The postorbital photopore uses a chemical called luciferin (in keeping with the satanic theme) to emit blue light at a wavelength of 460-490nm, perfect for penetrating the dingy depths. The suborbital photopore glows red light using a protein that absorbs the blue light and emits light at a greater wavelength appearing red. M. niger uses chemicals absorbed from unlucky copepods on the menu, to enable him to see red. 

Beware divers of tomorrow of a benthic beast with flaming scarlet eyes and jagged jaws, for he is seeing red and you might be his next victim….. mwah ha ha ha

Monday, 29 October 2012

Weird and Wonderful Halloween Special Part 1: Ghosts of the Deep

Ione Bingley

Dive with me to the underworld, 3000m below the bone-chilling Antarctic Ocean, it is pitch black, and the water is below 5°C. The icy gloom is broken by a rippling nimbus of light gliding towards you, a seeming ghoulish globe of otherworldly ectoplasm. This, my friend, is just one of the many ghostly forms that the members of the Ctenophore phylum take, also known as ‘comb jellies’. They skulk in the corners of every inhospitable deep sea, stalking their unfortunate prey. The comb jelly may look like a divine messenger, but is, in fact, one of the most sinister, voracious, and destructive of the planktonic organisms.

Although these trippy Ctenophores may look like jellyfish, do not be fooled, they lack toxins and cnidocytes (explosive cells containing toxin), their weapon of choice is the colloblast. The epidermis of the Ctenophore tentacles are covered with these colloblasts, containing a super-sticky adhesive held in granules, poised for rupture on contact with their prey. Their ill-fated planktonic victims become irredeemably entangled only to be unmercifully digested with a wipe of the trapping tentacle across their captor’s mouth.

Along the bilaterally symmetrical blob of the Ctenophore are 8 evenly spaced rows of ciliary combs, covered by thousands of cilia (little hairs) which propel the glittering ghoul, making it the largest organism to move in this way. The ghostly glow of the Ctenophore comes from the production of biochemical light from canals under the comb rows and the rippling cilia produce the glimmering effect. The bioluminescent flashes are brighter than in any other organism and the colour changes with temperature… Cterrifying stuff!

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Synapse science news #4

Too busy to keep track of all the science news during the week? Don’t fear Synapse is here. Check out this week's news.

Food for thought - A paper published in PNAS explains how we owe our large brains to our ancestors’ ability to cook meat and that humans would have to spend over 9 hours a day eating to obtain enough energy from raw meat to support our big brains. Read more.

Do you sound like a whale? -  Beluga whale vocals are close to human speech. This is the first example of whale mimicry and sounds a bit like children wailing. Find out more.

The more exotic neighbourhood pet - Hyenas are coexisting with humans in northern Ethiopia. They have also found a new food type……….. domestic pets. Check it out.

Fish breaks law of physics - Silvery fish can maximize their reflectivity to help them match the light from the environment of the open ocean to avoid predators. Read more.

IVF breakthrough - Three person IVF using two female egg donors could be the answer to avoiding mitochondrial diseases being passed on. Find out more.

Trouble for Britain's ash trees - Fungus, Chalara fraxinea, causes a disease which could threaten Britain’s Ash tree population. Read more.

Feathers not for flight? - Dinosaurs developed feathers earlier than previously thought and this could have been solely for courtship. Read more.

Are scientists going gaga? - Lady Gaga gets a fern named after her because it resembles one of her outfits! Read more.

Katherine Macinnes and Saraansh Dave

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Weird and Wonderful: Bagheera kiplingi, the vegetarian spider

Jessica Towne

Around 40,000 species of spider have been discovered so far, and all of them were considered to be carnivorous. That is, until one of them was found to survive on an almost entirely vegetarian diet. Bagheera kiplingi, a jumping spider named after the panther in The Jungle Book and his creator, Rudyard Kipling, is found throughout Central America. The spider was named in the late 1800’s from a single dead specimen, and nothing was known of what it might eat.

However, between 2001 and 2008, Christopher Meehan of Villanova University and Eric Olson of Brandeis University independently studied the spider in Mexico and Costa Rica. Their report on the subject was published in Current Biology on 13th October 2009. Until then, the only examples of spiders consuming vegetation were the occasional pollen and nectar eating habits of a few species. They discovered that B. kiplingi lives only on acacia trees, which are also inhabited by ants. These ants have a symbiotic relationship with the trees, as the ants defend the plant from large herbivores, and are rewarded with food and shelter in the form of hollow thorns. The acacias produce nutrient rich nodules on the leaves called Beltian bodies, and these are what both the ants and spiders are after. B. kiplingi was observed “hunting” the Beltian bodies, using the techniques other jumping spiders would use to hunt live prey. Jumping spiders are well known for their acute eyesight, speed, and as their name suggests, jumping abilities. The ants aren’t keen on having the spiders around, so the spiders tend to stay on older leaves where the ants aren’t on patrol. B. kiplingi uses its agility to avoid the ants and grab all the Beltian bodies it can. In fact, the spiders have been observed using several different methods for avoiding the ants, which demonstrates the incredible cognitive abilities that all jumping spiders share. For example, the spiders will hang from a thread of silk until the ants pass, or simply leap away from danger. It has also been suggested that the spiders may also mimic the ants’ appearance and movements, which may be why their remarkable lifestyle has remained a secret for so long.

B. kiplingi is not a strict vegetarian, however. They have been observed preying on ant larvae and other small invertebrates, although in the case of the Mexican population, this only accounts for around 9% of their diet. Meehan’s and Olson’s findings were confirmed by looking at the nitrogen content of the spiders’ bodies, which tends to be higher in carnivores than in herbivores. The ratios of the isotopes N-14 and N-15 were analysed, and it was found that B. kiplingi had 5% less N-15 than other species of jumping spider.

The next mystery to be solved is how the spiders digest the Beltian bodies. Spiders digest their food externally, so solid food must be quickly broken down before it can be eaten. Beltian bodies are about 80% fibre, so how B. kiplingi manages to eat the stuff is unclear. This may mean that the spiders’ digestive systems have become specially adapted to eating vegetation. A final observation by Meehan and Olson is that mutual relationships, such as between the ants and acacias can affect, and be exploited by, other organisms. In this case, the ant-acacia relationship is exploited by the vegetarian jumping spider.

Check out B. kiplingi in action in this video

Friday, 26 October 2012

Loo for a Shrew: A Pitcher Plant with a Difference

Frances Cartwright

Most of us will be familiar with the spectacularly evolved insect-eating pitcher plants that are found around the tropics in Malaysia, Indonesia, Borneo and the Philippines. The soil in these areas is generally low in the nutrients necessary to support plant growth, so these plants have evolved to extract nutrients from surprising sources. Typically this involves trapping unsuspecting insects that are lured by nectar to the plant then slip off the rim of the pitcher and tumble into a pool of digestive juices below. Nutrients, released from the breakdown of the catch are absorbed by the plant and used for growth. There are about 140 known species of pitcher plant that trap insects using variations on this theme. They are all members of the plant genus Nepenthes

One member of this family, Nepenthes lowii, uses a strikingly different method to get extra nutrients. The design of the giant, football-sized, pitcher has evolved to be a loo for a tree shrew. The lid of the pitcher is coated in thick sweet nectar that attracts the small mammal. The shrew climbs onto the pitcher to get the sugary treat and whilst indulging, deposits some faeces into the pitcher. Once it is satisfied (and empty!) it goes on its way. The funnel shape of the plant means that the next time it rains, the faeces is washed into the bottom of the pitcher where the nutrients are absorbed by the plant. It is thought that this species of plant gets between 60 and 100% of their nitrogen from tree shrew poo!

It is likely that this mutualistic relationship has been in place for some time because the pitchers are so precisely tailored to the activities of the tree shrew. Unlike the insect-catching pitcher plants that have slippery wax coating the rim of the pitcher, for the shrew’s comfort, the rim of the lowii is wax free to provide the shrew with better grip for eating and stability to protect it from unpleasant spill from within the plant.

Find out more about the science behind this phenomenon, click here.

Check out this video

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Weird and Wonderful: The Giant Squid, some food for thought

Tom Ridler

Did you know that the brain of a giant squid can be found surrounding its oesophagus? That’s right; the gut pipe of this animal goes straight through its brain, meaning food has to pass through the brain on the way to the stomach! The brain is tiny, weighing as little as 100g with as much as 80% devoted to visual cortex. As squid evolved into carnivores they needed to be faster and smarter to hunt effectively. This already strange shape developed large optic lobes and tentacles that could be controlled independently from the brain. As nervous systems go, this is perhaps as weird and wonderful as they come.

Check out this video for more information

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

The AI Lab: Can Machines Finally Think?

Alfred Omachar

When English Mathematician Alan Turing first questioned the ability of machines to think back in the 1950’s, the idea of building such computers looked difficult but possible. The computer would have to process language, learn from the conversation, remember what has been said, respond to the human and display common sense. 
Alan Turing

Turing went on to evaluate this possibility by proposing a method that would come to be known as 'the turing test' and was based on an imitation game. Assuming that a computer can sufficiently imitate a human to the point where a suspicious judge cannot tell the difference between an intelligent human and a machine, has actually shown that machines can think. Over the past 60 years, the test has proved to be quite influential to AI researchers resulting to the development of a multitude of AI programs all in an attempt to pass it.

Recently, software called 'Cleverbot', created by AI scientist Rollo Carpenter, was claimed to have passed the Turing test. Cleverbot uses an AI algorithm to chat with humans by searching through previous record conversations and providing an appropriate response. The Cleverbot test took place at the Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati, India where a group of participants conducted a conversation with an unknown respondent. Half of the participants were communicating with a human while the other half were communicating with Cleverbot. The software was voted 59% human, scoring higher than any previous Turing test, while the humans themselves were voted 69% human. A score of 50% or higher is considered a pass grade. Therefore, Cleverbot is undoubtedly intelligent but whether it can really think still remains debatable.

Here's a part of my conversation with Cleverbot from its website. Clearly it didn't end well!

User: So cleverbot, are you human or machine?
Cleverbot: Human.

User: Boy or girl?
Cleverbot: Girl.

User: Do you like going out?
Cleverbot: Sometimes.

User: Me too. Want to meet sometime?
Cleverbot: No.

User: But why?
Cleverbot: Because I don't know you.

So can Cleverbot think?
Well, some researchers have argued that passing the test only implies the ability to 'imitate intelligence' and does not mean that a program is actually 'thinking'. Nonetheless, it is not just a matter of the test, but valid proof that the evolution of intelligence programs is no where near its endpoint. 

Want to chat with Cleverbot?
Have a chat with Cleverbot by clicking here, you will be surprised by the results!

Monday, 22 October 2012

Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2012

Naomi Farren

Here are some highlights from this year’s Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the year competition, check out these stunning images.

‘Bubble-jetting emperors’ Paul Nicklen 
This fantastic underwater shot was taken when photographer Paul Nicklen submerged himself under the Antarctic ice into the Ross Sea, remaining motionless so as not to disturb the imminent arrival of the emperor penguins. The colony soon emerged from the depths of the ocean in order to catch food for their young, creating this beautiful image. In fact, it is believed that the emperor penguin can dive up to 875 feet to catch their dinner! 

‘Ice Matters’ Anna Henly 
The winner of ‘The World in Our Hands’ topic, Anna Henly, has captured an image which powerfully portrays the devastating effects of the anthropogenic influences on our natural environment. The use of the fisheye lens makes the polar bear appear insignificant and vulnerable, as it seemingly tiptoes across the broken ice in an attempt to find food. The polar bear’s distress is a result of rising sea temperatures, reducing the amount of time the bears have to hunt for food. 

‘Life in the border zone’ Vladimir Medvedev 
Vladimir Medvedev was in Jasper National Park, Canada, when he spotted the silhouette of a deer and quickly pulled over his car. He was hoping to ‘show how the natural world often exists so close to us, yet is so often unseen.’ The shutter speed was set low, hoping that the stag would stay still enough and the car headlights would leave behind a long light trail. 

See some more winners here.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Synapse science news #3

Too busy to keep track of all the science news during the week? Don’t fear Synapse is here. Check out this week's news.

Tatooine eat your heart out - A planet 5000 light years away and 6 times the size of Earth has been identified by volunteers to be illuminated by four suns. Find out more.

Old fella breaks sounds barrier Chuck Yeager, aged 89, breaks sound barrier flying an F-15 Eagle above California the same day as Felix Baumgartner breaks sound record by skydiving 24 miles. Read the full story.

Prevention better than cure? -  Studies planned to investigate how experimental drugs may prevent the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Find out more.

Girl Power - Ada Lovelace recognised as a pioneer of computing theory. Read more. 

Curious activitiesCuriosity Rover takes first Martian dust sample. Check it out.

Tyrant smuggler - Florida man arrested for smuggling dinosaur skeletons from Mongolia and China. Find out more.

What does your handshake say about you? - Offering your hand is always the best option. Read more.

Transporting tigers - In an attempt to save a critically endangered species, London zoo gets another Sumatran tiger. See the video.

Mary Melville and Felicity Russell

Ignorance is Bliss: Sound Barrier Damaged Beyond Repair as Thrill-Seeker Goes Supersonic

Ryan Hamnett

In what is believed to be the first case of its kind, Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner has been charged with extravehicular speeding after jumping from the edge of space, sources confirmed last Sunday. Extravehicular speeding, or, speeding without the use of a motorised vehicle, is an offence previously reserved for comic books, Jamaican sprinters, and Lance Armstrong going downhill at peak “fitness”. Therefore, it was believed that the judge would be lenient with his sentencing, given the obscure nature of the crime. However, the thrill-seeking skydiver, who was unlucky to be caught by an orbiting meteorological satellite, was able to deal some considerable damage on the joyride, breaking the sound barrier which he claims he “didn’t even see” as he smashed through it at 834 mph, or Mach 1.24.

"Baumgartner's new Facebook profile picture, with an estimated 3 likes"
In a strange echo of a previous highest dive, achieved by Chelsea striker Adrian Mutu in 2004, the case took a turn for the worse for Baumgartner when a blood test revealed dangerous amounts of stimulants in his body at the time of the jump, primarily caffeine. When reached for a comment, Baumgartner claimed “I was under the impression it would give me wings.”Clearly he did not realise that the limited atmosphere at his height would render wings useless.

Although falling from a height of 128,100 feet, 39,400 metres, 24.2 miles, or “a bit further than Paula Radcliff can generally run” may seem impressive, many have questioned the skill actually required. NASA, currently believed to be at the forefront of balloon technology, are apparently delighted with the result of sending a man into space and actually returning. However, sources close to the balloon itself suggest it is not happy with the lack of limelight it is receiving: “Any idiot can fall. I’d like to have seen him get up there without me.” Diver and British sportsman Tom Daley has criticized Baumgartner as well. “While the sheer height and number of flips were impressive, he wouldn't have got many points for technique or water entrance, although admittedly there was no splash,” added the bronze medallist.

Members of the public have also stated their lack of awe at the stunt. “I once dived off the high board at Riverside,” said one American, speaking of his local pool. “And I didn't even need all that safety equipment.” Upon seeing the fall, some seemingly uni-ocular members of the public asked “Is it a bird? Is it a plane?”, evidently having no clear sense of depth perception. Meanwhile, Rangers FC are apparently annoyed that their recent free-fall record was broken so soon, having fallen four tiers in the Scottish Football League in the summer of 2012.

                Is it too late to change my mind?

Thursday, 18 October 2012

The Diamond Planet

Hannah Bruce Macdonald

While it may sound like it’s drawn from science-fiction, scientists have shown that the imaginatively named planet, 55 Cancri e, may consist of up to a third diamond. Initially, when first discovered in 2004, it was considered to be Earth-like and it was believed that the surface of 55 Cancri e was covered with supercritical fluids (a gas with fluid properties at high-pressure) flowing from its rocks. However, further calculations on its density have allowed scientists at Yale University to establish that the planet is mainly carbon-based. This carbon is present in both diamond and graphite forms, with the other constituents of this rocky planet including silicates, silicon carbides and iron.

This extra-solar planet, orbiting the sun-like star 55 Cancri A, has a diameter around twice that of the Earth and its mass is 7.8 times larger. A third of this planet is made of diamond, which is equal to 2.5 times the mass of our Earth. Our relatively carbon redundant Earth only mines 26,000 kg annually! 

While it sounds like an ideal source of wedding ring stones, and mining may seem like a promising venture, this ‘Super-Earth’ is 40 light years away; a distance of 8,968,390,660,000 marathons, within the constellation of Cancer. Its ‘year’ lasts only 18 hours and it is so close to its star, that it can reach 2,1000 Celsius! To add to the impossible heat there is predicted to be little water and that any life would be unsustainable in this environment. So if you’re after your own Star of Africa, you will probably have more luck stealing the crown jewels than reaching this diamond in the sky.

Check out this video:

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Weird and Wonderful: Star-nosed mole, the sniffer extraordinaire

Ione Bingley

Ever wondered what seaweed smells like? Ask a star-nosed mole, the sniffer extraordinaire of the animal kingdom. It has a ‘handy’ sensory organ that is made up of 22 fleshy, mobile appendages surrounding the nostrils and gives these sensitive fellows their name. You can sniff out Condylura cristata, in the wetlands of North America where they can be found in a network of underground tunnels foraging for insects, worms and molluscs. They also forage underwater, blowing air bubbles out of their nostrils and inhaling them again to sniff out their quarry. 

The nose is shown at a size proportional to the amount
 of the brain dedicated to its sensory information

In the gloomy, underworld labyrinth of the mole, light is scarce, so, like other species of mole, they have poorly developed eyes and are nearly blind. The rays of the mole’s starry nose, however, form a highly specialised, touch-sensitive organ that enables it to form a tactile map of the world, and to detect and identify prey at lightning speed. It can identify and take into its mouth up to 10 pieces of earthworm in 2.3 seconds making it the world’s fastest forager! Its little nose, only 0.5 inches in diameter, holds 25,000 mechanoreceptors called Eimer’s organs, making it 6 times more sensitive than the human hand, and the most sensitive organ in the entire animal kingdom. The nosey mole can explore up to 13 patches of substrate a second, neurons in the mole’s somatosensory cortex of the brain respond to touch within 12ms and it only takes a further 5ms for commands to be relayed back to the nose, it takes us sluggish humans 100ms just to blink! About half of the brain is dedicated to the sensory feedback from the nose; this represents the importance of this schtunning schnoz to the lifestyle of the mole. And on that note I’ll say….smell ya later.

For more wonderful science, click here

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Website review - Codecademy

by Jonathan Smith

Being able to code is quickly becoming a useful skill to have, whether you want to write web programs or would just like to expand your CV! For many without a background in computer science, learning to code in a programming language can be extremely intimidating. For those who want to learn, there are many resources available on the web that offer to teach you how to write code in whichever programming language you want. In this review, the focus will be on Codecademy, a cool site that contains many free courses in an ever-expanding range of programming languages.

Codecademy is run by a group of hackers and programmers that aim to improve programming education worldwide without cost to the learner. It is an engaging and interactive site with a simple interface for easy use. The variety of examples offered is impressive – from learning HTML code to coding a game of Blackjack in Javascript! Courses exist for complete beginners that take you through the basics of writing code, step by step. The courses are made up of exercises that get you to input code into the browser in order to complete the exercise. By doing this, you progress to the next exercise and earn points for correct answers. This can get very addictive!

If you get hellishly stuck on an exercise, the creators do not step in. Instead, forums related to the exercise are easily available so you can find help from the community of users that are in the exact same boat. This works surprisingly well as users are always willing to help out. Speaking of users, you are encouraged to learn as a group as you can pool ideas. With this in mind, there is a 'follow' function that lets you link with other users and keep track of their progress. So if you and a friend want to learn together, then have fun! 

There are one or two issues that I would like to see improved in this site. Firstly, while it is beneficial to troubleshoot your own problems, it would be nice to see more feedback inside exercises as to where you went wrong. There is always the problematic exercise that fails because of a typo! Secondly, the obvious observation is that bugs still exist in some tasks though these are very rare and are sorted out very quickly when brought to the staff's attention.

In summary, Codecademy offers free, interactive courses designed to help you learn to code with lots of help from the community and I recommend giving it a try - that is if you can spare the time from your already busy university schedule!

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Wonderful World of Wi-Fi

Cities are filled with hidden landscapes of data. Wi-Fi signals surround us at all times, but they remain invisible, until now. A group of Norwegians have developed a method for visually representing Wi-Fi signals around us. They achieved this by building a four metre Wi-Fi measuring rod with lights that represent the power of the signal. When the rod is fully lit it means the signal is at full strength. Long exposure photography shows how the signal varies as you move; they tested the device in Oslo, Norway. Check out the stunning results in the video below. 

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Synapse science news #2

Too busy to keep track of all the science news during the week? Don’t fear Synapse is here. Check out this week's news.

Curious rock discovered on Mars - The Mars Curiosity rover has been hard at work. This week it discovered a rock with an exceptional composition, never before discovered on the planet. Read more here.

Billions needed to save nature - The world is currently going through a biodiversity crisis. At this week’s Convention on Biological Diversity scientists concluded that $76 billion dollars a year is required to reduce the risk of extinction for threatened species, by establishing protected areas. Tough choices face policy makers. Is it worth it? What do you think? Find out more.

Failure to launch! - On Tuesday (9/10/2012) Austrian adventurer Felix Baumgartner prepared to go supersonic and travel faster than sound by skydiving from a helium balloon. Unfortunately, after entering his capsule and getting fully prepared the dive was cancelled due to high winds. A second attempt was planned for Thursday, but this was also called off. The balloon carrying Baumgartner plans to travel to 120,000ft (36.5km), making it the highest skydive ever. A third attempt is likely to take place on Sunday (14/10/12). Keep up to date with the latest news on the mission here and read more about the mission here. 

Nobel Prize winner was written off at school - John Gurdon always wanted to be a scientist but his school master said this was ‘quite ridiculous’ and a 'sheer waste of time'. This week, the now ‘Sir’ John Gurdon, was awarded the Nobel Prize in physiology/medicine for his work proving that adult cells can be reprogramed and grown into different tissues in the body. I guess teachers are not always correct! Read more here.

The diamond planet - A new rocky planet has been discovered. Scientists believe it is similar to Earth, but with one major difference; this planet’s outer crust is largely composed of solid carbon crystals, meaning much of its surface is coated in diamonds! The diamond planet is orbiting a distant star named 55 Cancri, around 40 light years away from Earth. Read more here.

David Blaine does Tesla proud - OK it’s not really science, but this week American illusionist David Blaine spent 72 hours channeling one million volts of electricity while wearing a 20-pound chain-mail suit. Check it out.

The most unpleasant sounds - Scientists have identified the most unpleasant sounds for the human auditory system. Can you guess any? Well here are a few from the top 10: chalk on a blackboard, fork on a glass and a female scream. Check the full list here. When we hear sounds such as these there are increased interactions between the brain region that processes sound, the auditory cortex, and the amygdala, that relates negative emotions.

Eco-Friendly Optics - Spider silk is an extraordinary natural material. Now it is believed it could be used to catch and manipulate light, making it an eco-friendly alternative to more traditional ways of manipulating light, such as through glass or plastic fiber optic cables. Read more.

Tom Stubbs and Felicity Russell