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BBC Science Focus Magazine

BBC Science Focus Magazine October 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

This month, we’re taking a close look at the idea of mental resilience. It was an idea inspired by a conversation I had with Prof Richard Wiseman on our podcast (go and subscribe!). We were discussing luck. Earlier in his career, Richard invited thousands of people who considered themselves lucky or unlucky to his lab. Over the course of a decade, he and his team studied these people closely. Of course, they found that there was nothing magical about the ‘lucky’ individuals, but there was something different about how these people saw the world. It seemed they had a different set of psychological processes shaping their perception and the way they made decisions. In a sense, these people made their own luck. As well as creating better opportunities for themselves, these…

on the bbc this month...

The Touch Test Psychologist and All In The Mind presenter Claudia Hammond reveals the results of the Touch Test, a questionnaire put to the British public exploring people’s changing attitudes towards touch. BBC Radio 4, 5 October Why Do Some Planets Spin? Could Earth be flung off-balance? Why do we only ever see one side of the Moon? The CrowdScience team reveals the answers to listeners’ cosmic questions. BBC World Service, 9 October, 8:30pm Mountain Vets The vets of Mourne mountains – the idyllic rural area in the east of Northern Ireland, where animals outnumber citizens 10 to 1 – return to our screens this month with six new episodes. BBC Two, Fridays at 8:30pm COVER: MAGIC TORCH THIS PAGE: BBC, GETTY IMAGES X2…


JULES HOWARD Science writer Jules so enjoyed writing about slime moulds that he subsequently bought one as a pet. Discover their squidgy charms for yourself. →p52 VERITY BURNS Verity has been tuning home cinema setups and testing hi-fis for over a decade. She takes us through the latest soundbars you can use to give your TV an upgrade. →p40 DR MIGUEL FARIAS Meditation is huge business these days, but does it work for everyone? Miguel’s review of research suggests that for some it could actually be harmful. →p34 AMY FLEMING Heart rate variability (HRV) can reveal if you’re at your most resilient or succumbing to stress. Health writer Amy finds out more about this metric. →p64 Which of our senses evolved first? → p79 CONTACT US → Advertising sam.jones@immediate.co.uk 0117 300 8145 → Letters for publication reply@sciencefocus.com → Editorial enquiries editorialenquiries@sciencefocus.com 0117 300 8755 → Subscriptions buysubscriptions.com/contactus…

eye opener

Toxic beauty HUELVA, SPAIN No, this isn’t an extreme close-up of a leaf. It’s a toxic, radioactive pond filled with industrial waste in Huelva, southern Spain. The patterns are caused by crystallisation of phosphogypsum, a radioactive by-product of manufacturing fertilisers. For over 40 years, these marshes were used as a dumping ground for 120 million tonnes of the stuff, and it’s the largest landfill of its kind in Europe. But the dams that prevent the toxic residue from swamping the town are leaking. “The dams leak around 7.8 tonnes of arsenic and 1.8 tonnes of cadmium per year into the Rio Tinto river,” says geochemist Dr Rafael Perez-Lopez. It doesn’t help that the dams are built over swamps, so the race is on to stabilise them. Proposals to treat the site include ‘capping’…

letter of the month

Dear descendant… After reading your article on faster-than-light travel (July, p33), it got me thinking about how when we look at distant, potentially habitable planets we are looking at them thousands of years in the past. Therefore, if humans eventually travel many light-years away from Earth and then look back, they will see Earth as it was in the past. Does this mean that, right now, there could be future humans looking down on us and watching me eat my porridge?! I imagine they would also study and record us - which could end up being a future beamed-into-the-brain VR series for people to eat popcorn to. I don’t know about you, but I’m staying inside for a bit longer to avoid our voyeuristic descendants!…


Rooster tooter In response to a reader’s question ‘Do birds fart?’ (bit.ly/birds-fart) Charlotte Corney wrote that there is no known evidence of birds farting. Obviously, chicken owners weren’t included in the research. Our chickens fart a lot, sometimes wet, sometimes dry. Either way they are not subtle in sound nor smell! William Cowan Cycle fast Dr Michael Mosley has previously written of the benefits of time-restricted eating (TRE). I’ve been on a TRE regime for some time now, giving myself a four-hour eating window per day. Next year I’ll be cycling from Land’s End to John o’Groats, and I’m wondering if there have been any studies done on TRE and endurance events like this? I know the general advice seems to be a steady intake of food (for example, a banana every 30 minutes) but…