BBC Science Focus Magazine February 2021

With accessible features illustrated with the world’s best photography, BBC Focus Magazine explains the theory behind scientific phenomena and really brings science to life. In every issue you’ll find news of the latest major scientific developments, a lively Q&A section plus exclusive and astonishing photographic reports that range from the breathtaking to the downright odd.

United Kingdom
Immediate Media Company London Limited
13 Issues

in this issue

1 min
from the editor

Forgive us if we indulge in a little escapism this month. After a soggy, concrete-grey January cooped up inside, we decided to go with something otherworldly for this issue: ghost stars. If you’ve subscribed to us for a while, you’ll know that scientists are on the hunt for dark matter, an elusive but all-pervasive material that seems to hold our Universe together. Though we can’t see it, interact with it, or — most crucially — detect it with our most sensitive instruments, we can see that something is holding galaxies together, keeping the stars inside from spinning further out into space. This might seem inconsequential, but our best calculations estimate that this dark material seems to outweigh normal matter by a factor of six to one. It’s clear to see why…

1 min
on the bbc this month…

Life In Colour A new David Attenborough series feels like what we all need right now. This series reveals the ingenious ways that creatures rely on colour to navigate the perils of the natural world. BBC Two, 28 Feb The DNA Clinic What can our DNA reveal about our family tree? How far back can we trace our relatives using it? And how good are over-the-counter DNA tests? These questions and more will be answered by a new series this month. BBC Two, check Radio Times for details The Jump COVID-19 isn’t the first time a disease has jumped species. This three-part series explores how we might prevent another pandemic before it has a chance to start. BBC Radio 4, 10, 17 and 24 March…

1 min

LOIS KING Lois is a researcher at the Global Health Unit on Respiratory Health in Asia at the University of Edinburgh. She looks at how we could beat COVID in 2022. →p36 DR LISA FELDMAN BARRETT Lisa is one of the most cited neuroscientists on the planet. She explores how brains create reality, and what happens when things go wrong. →p54 DR LARA MARTIN Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just speak naturally to your smart speaker to get it do what you want? That’s exactly the problem Lara is attempting to solve. →p66 COLIN STUART Colin has an asteroid named after him in recognition of his popularisation of astronomy. Who better to help us understand the mysterious world of dark bosons? →p70 CONTACT US → Advertising 0117 300 8145 → Letters for publication → Editorial enquiries…

1 min
future farm

SAN FRANCISCO, US San Francisco agricultural start-up, Plenty, hopes to tackle rising food demands at its innovative vertical farm. As it is indoors, pesticides can be limited and the crops are not damaged by weather extremes. Artificial intelligence controls planting, temperature, moisture and light, and learns how to improve crop production. Plenty claims it uses 99 per cent less land than typical farms. LettUs Grow in Bristol, UK, also uses software in its indoor vertical farms. “Looking ahead, vertical farming will enable us to control the shape and fragrance of crops, creating opportunities to engineer and cultivate biopharmaceuticals like vaccines in plants,” says Dr Antony Dodd, a scientist at LettUs Grow. Currently, temperature and lighting systems limit the environmental credentials of vertical farms. However, both Plenty and LettUs Grow aim to integrate renewable…

1 min
all aboard!

LEIDEN, THE NETHERLANDS Researchers at Leiden University 3D-printed this boat that’s invisible to the naked eye. At 30 microns, the tiny vessel is close in size to a human skin cell. The team studies ‘microswimmers’, which are biological or synthetic particles that move through fluids. They built microswimmers of various designs and observed their movements using an electron microscope, noting that spiral shapes made faster swimmers. After 3D-printing the boat, a layer of platinum was applied. “It works as a catalyst and breaks down hydrogen peroxide or water [in the fluid it travels through] as a fuel to propel itself,” says researcher Dr Rachel Doherty. Microswimmers could one day be used in diagnostics or drug delivery. “Understanding the influence of shape on motion will help in future applications,” says Doherty. “The idea is to…

1 min
put your face on

TOKYO, JAPAN Shuhei Okawara has taken face masks to the next level by creating these hyper-realistic, 3D-printed designs. While they’re not medically approved, these masks will reach a niche market when they go on sale this year. They are set to sell for 98,000 yen (almost £700) each in Okawara’s Tokyo store Kamenya Omote. Inspired by fantasy stories, Okawara used advanced 3D-printing technology to create the masks from models’ photos. When he launched the project last year, more than 100 applicants sent him headshots, expressing their interest in modelling for the masks. He plans to expand the range of faces after the initial launch, so there will be a choice of which mask to wear. We are yet to learn more about the engineering behind this specific project, but Okawara is working closely…