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BBC Science Focus Magazine

BBC Science Focus Magazine March 2020

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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.

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United Kingdom
Immediate Media Company London Limited
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from the editor

I have to admit, I don’t like Twitter. As someone who works on a magazine, this feels like a bit of a confession, since the social media site is abuzz with journalists and editors keeping their audiences up-to-date on the stories that matter. I want to like it and I can see the point, but to me the medium feels broken. The trouble is that the things that make the site great – brevity, trending hashtags and anonymity – also give rise to its worst facets. 280 characters means that complex debates become simplistic; trends mean that everyone has to have an opinion on everything; and anonymity has a habit of turning people sour. Ultimately the medium rewards those with the most polarising views, which usually means any attempt at debate…

on the bbc this month...

Dangerous Visions: Body Horror Developed through the Wellcome Trust Experimental stories scheme, this three-part series is part of BBC Radio 4’s Dangerous Visions season, and presents radio dramas that discuss dystopian versions of our future. Begins 11 March, 14:15 Religion in the Digital Age This four-part series asks how technology has changed the practise of religion. BBC World Service, Sundays at 9:30am Comedy Club Extra: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is 42 Celebrate the phenomena that redefined the sci-fi genre – and is funny to boot – in this five-hour special. BBC Radio 4 Extra, 8 March, from 8pm COVER: GETTY IMAGES/MAGIC TORCH THIS PAGE: GETTY IMAGES X3, STEVE SAYERS…


DR EMILY LEVESQUE Could the Betelgeuse star be about to explode? We asked University of Washington astronomer Emily, who studies the physics of supergiant stars. P34 MARK MIODOWNIK Is biodegradable plastic a waste of time? Materials scientist Mark Miodownik, one of the team behind the Big Compost Experiment explains why plastics aren’t always a bad thing. P32 BEN HOARE Some animals have evolved to look like fresh faeces. To find out why, wildlife writer Ben journeys into the poo-niverse… p48 DR CAMILLA PANG Scientists are teaching machines to learn like us. But what can computers teach us about ourselves? Camilla tells us how science helped her create a guide to living with autism. P60…

eye opener

Oh, beehive GOOSEFELD,GERMANY This buff-tailed bumblebee is nature’s Uber, carrying Parasitellus mites from nest to flower and back again. While the mites have no effect on the wellbeing of their host, the relationship isn’t all that friendly. “The mites are mostly kleptoparasitic. They steal pollen from the bees, and get shelter in the bee’s nest,” explains Professor Paul Schmid-Hempel, experimental ecologist and researcher into parasites and diseases of social insects at ETH Zürich, university for science and technology. “They use the bee as a transport vehicle from one nest to another. They can also ‘jump off’ onto flowers that are visited by their carrier bee, then wait – up to maybe one day – for their next ‘taxi’ to jump on,” he explains. It’s common to see large numbers of mites clinging to a single…

letter of the month

Finding solace in nature The Horizonsinterview with Dr Alan Teo (February, p24) about hikikomoriand social isolation was interesting. My question is, could it be a reaction of some more sensitive individuals to the overcrowding that we constantly experience, especially in cities? I have no desire to be in social isolation and I prefer to communicate in person rather than by phone, but I find it increasingly difficult to cope with crowded environments such as shopping centres and railway stations. So much so that I gave up going on overseas holidays in favour of quiet walks in the local countryside where one can see more animals than people. Elena Holden, via email Some individuals have anxiety, such as agoraphobia, where there is avoidance of these types of crowds and situations. That can undoubtedly contribute to social…


Deadly serious In the Christmas issue, I read about the possibility of having babies without pregnancy (p56) and that death could be reversible (p57). These concepts taken together could raise a distinctly difficult scenario in the future. Given the current population growth potential, could we ultimately reach a point where a future birth can only be justified by a death? K Cherry, Nuneaton, via email On the fly Your photograph of the dead fly’s unhappy encounter with the Cordycepsfungus (January, p6) should never have been published in a family magazine. The shock of it sent me into a dead faint, from which I recovered only after the administration of smelling salts and a necessarily generous glass of medicinal whisky. I shall probably need counselling, but I am sure that, one day, I shall eventually recover from this…