BBC Science Focus Magazine January 2020

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
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from the editor

Last year, my resolution was to run a 5K. Not straight away, I might have died. But since people won’t stop going on about how good running is, I figured I ought to try the Couch to 5K system that’s supposed to help people like me pry themselves off the sofa. But by the time 1 January came around, I had caught a cold. Then when the office reopened, I was too busy. After that I was too tired, too cold and, let’s be honest, too lazy. When I set my resolution, I knew exactly how busy, cold and difficult it was going to be. The real problem was I lacked the willpower to see it through. Self-control, whether it’s saying no to dessert or putting some money aside, has never…

on the bbc this month...

Addicted To Painkillers? Britain’s Opioid Crisis This Horizon special with our own columnist Dr Michael Mosley investigates the use of opioids both here and in America. He meets patients with chronic pain who are on the route to an addiction, and speaks to the GPs struggling to find ways to help them. Mid-January, BBC Two Art Of Now: The Last Exposure Garry Fabian Miller has spent 30 years creating camera-less photography – using photosensitive paper, long exposures and images funnelled into shapes made by the Sun. But the solution he uses to develop his prints is no longer in production. We join him as he sets foot in a darkroom for the last time. Tuesday 14 January, 11:30am, BBC Radio 4 Einstein’s Quantum Riddle Einstein said that quantum entanglement – the theory that two once-interacting…


HAYLEY BENNETT The islands of Orkney produce more renewable energy than they can use. Science writer Hayley finds out the secret to their success. p46 JV CHAMARY JV is a science writer with a PhD in molecular evolution and genetics. This month, he gets hands-on with high street health test kits to find out if they’re any good. p68 SONIA CONTERA Nature could hold the nanoscale solution to antibiotic resistance, the cure for cancer and more effective medicines. This issue, biological physicist Sonia tells us how she hopes to find blueprints to new nanotechnologies within our own bodies. p64 STUART CLARK It’s only a matter of time before we start mining the Moon. Astronomy writer Stuart explores the consequences of a lunar gold rush. p76…

eye opener

Fungal infection SINGAPORE This is the skull of a fly that was infected by the parasitic Cordycepsfungus. Comprising over 400 species, Cordycepsfungi grow inside the body of their host, eventually killing them, before erupting out of the corpse. The usual targets are insects and arachnids. “Cordycepsis sometimes called the ‘zombie fungus’ because it can take over the host’s nervous system,” explains Dr Adam Hart, biologist and professor of science communication at the University of Gloucestershire. The fungus overrides the host’s behaviour, and induces it to climb a plant stem, with its abdomen facing upwards. “The insect eventually dies, thereby providing a great opportunity for the fungus to distribute its spores far and wide,” says Hart. “The stalks you see coming out of the skull are the fruiting bodies of the fungus – much like…

letter of the month

Cleaning for cleaning’s sake In October, you asked if there was such a thing as being too clean (p34) and if readers would give up washing. These were the wrong questions to ask. You should have asked, “How clean is clean enough?” and “Have you thought about the impact of your daily shower on the environment?” I am 79 years old. For more than half my life I lived without a shower. As a child, bath night was once a week. During the war, and post-war austerity, we had a bath with water no more than five inches deep. We weren’t dirty. I think everyone should adopt the minimum wash regime. It is not just the power used to heat the water that is damaging. The provision of clean water, and the treatment…


“DNA IS A WONDERFUL, COMPLICATED MACHINE THAT LINKS PHYSICS AND THE HISTORY OF LIFE ON EARTH TO THE ENVIRONMENT”PROF SONIA CONTERA , p64 What’s in a game? In response to ‘Heading and dementia: are footballers putting themselves at risk?’ (December, p34), I wanted to point out that in my school there was no question of consent: sports were compulsory, any threat of injury being ‘all part of the game’. I may be doing them an injustice, but I can imagine my sports teachers, and many others, being prepared to tolerate the occasional case of brain damage among their students for the sake of the game. I do not believe that this is a desirable attitude, either for the students or more generally – this country benefiting far more from another Stephen Hawking than…