Posts Tagged bbc

Astonishing documentary: Secret Life – the Hidden Life of the Cell aimee whitcroft Nov 28


If there’s one thing you watch today (well, other than wall-to-wall coverage of The Hobbit* and perhaps some videos of sorting algorithms explained through folk dance), it needs to be this.

Secret Universe – The Hidden Life Of the Cell from pbbes on Vimeo.

In this astonishing hour-long BBC documentary released just a month ago, David Tennant narrates the story of what happens when our basic components – cells – come under attach from a virus (in this case, a common respiratory disease-causing virus, the adenovirus).

Not only is it brilliantly beautiful, but also educational – we don’t just see various spherical (or not) objects interacting, but the molecular details making them up. And it’s genuinely thrilling – I was more gripped watching this than I have been watching major Hollywood blockbusters. Yes, I’m a giant nerd in some ways (especially about this stuff), but it’s also really that good.

When I was doing my molecular biology degree earlier this century, we had nothing so detailed. We had to rely on diagrams and our imagination to provide an understanding of how everything interacted – I’m glad to say, I appear to have gotten it right. Happy thought :)


* For those of us in New Zealand. I managed to escape the insanity occurring in central Wellington by heading as far south for lunch as I could while remaining on the island, huzzah!

Brinicle! aimee whitcroft Nov 24


UPDATE: Please note – the picture below is a picture, not the video :)  The link to the video is later in the post…

Yep, that is, indeed, a real word.

The BBC has, for the first time ever, captured the formation of a brinicle

The BBC has, for the first time ever, captured the formation of a brinicle

The Beeb, bless their cotton socks, has released some excerpts from their new the new BBC/Attenborough series Frozen Planet.  Frozen Planet deals, as one might expect, with “the frozen wildernesses of the Arctic and Antarctic”, and while I’ve not seen it, it looks absolutely stunning.

We’d expect nothing less of them.

And the footage in particular to which this post refers shows a brinicle forming.  Brinicles – a portmanteau of brine and icicle – are the water equivalent of, well, icicles.  Brinicles are unusual, and form very differently from their atmospheric counterparts.

Previously referred to as ice stalactites, this footage is the first time the creation of one’s ever been captured, hence all the excitement.  The footage was taken at Little Razorback Island, near Antarctica’s Ross Archipelago.

How do brinicles form?

As many of you will be aware, the act of freezing water forces most of the impurites, including salt, out of it.  Not all, but most.  The salt* that’s been excluded from this freezing water then dissolves into the surrounding water, decreasing its freezing point and adding to its salinity (and hence density).

So this surrounding water sinks, creating in the process brine channels through which this supersaline, supercooled water sinks away from the ice.  If these brine channels happen to be concentrated in an area, then this supercooled supersaline water sinks through the water column (due to its higher density) in a plume, and starts to form an ice layer around it as the surrounding water freezes due to contact with the plume.

Et voila.

And brinicles are, it would appear, self-sustaining – that layer of ice forms a layer of insulation (think igloos!) which prevents the supercooled water from warming up and diffusing – indeed the opposite occurs, and brinicles grow ever deeper (well, as much as is permitted by water depth, ice growth, the water itself etc).

What happens when it reaches the seafloor?

It can freeze critters, essentially.  If a brinicle reaches the seafloor, that superdense water will, of course, continue to flow along the seafloor in whatever direction is downward (in terms of slope), and ice will form around it.  Once it’s flowed as far down as it can, it then pools – any bottom-dwelling creatures caught in that pool of ice and supercooled water will be trapped and freeze to death.

More in this BBC article.

Of couse, there’s a Wikipedia article, too (yay Wikipedia!)


And, of course, a reminder – this week’s TOSP is out, and Elf and I witter on about a large number of interesting science-related goodness.  Check the TOSP 11 post for more details!


* Oops.  The original post used ‘ice’ instead of ‘salt’ – a simple typo on my part.  Apologies for any confusion, and thanks to George for pointing out my error!

On homeopathics, and physics aimee whitcroft Jan 12


After a somewhat extended sojourn, I have returned, once more, unto the breach.  Dear friends.

Just a brief one today, as I find my stride again, comprised of two bits.


First up!  Homeopathy.  As y’all may have realised, I am most certainly not one of its proponents.  Anything but, in fact (which reminds me, I have some very interesting research regarding the placebo effect about which to blog sometime soon).

It’s a wonderful BBC Newsnight report on homeopathy in the UK, from early January of this year.

YouTube Preview Image

It’s really good to see the BBC failing absolutely to kowtow to the homeopathists.  Personally, I think that the NHS spending money which is desperately needed elsewhere for things like emergency/trauma wards, on homeopathy, is abhorrent.

I was sent the clip as a response to some comment which the SMC put out on a recent paper showing that the use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatments had been associated with adverse (and some fatal) events in children.  Particularly in cases where conventional treatment was stopped in favour of CAM treatment, without the consultation of a medical person.  Hmmm.


Secondly, something rather more lighthearted.  I came across this marvellous page, dated 1998 (gosh!), entitled ‘The Crackpot Index‘, by John Baez, detailing ‘a simple method for rating potentially revolutionary contributions to physics’.

In essence, any such contribution starts off with a -5 point starting credit. There follows a list, in order of increasing number of points, for everything from:

‘for every statement that is widely agreed on to be false’

(1 point), to

‘for claiming that when your theory is finally appreciated, present-day science will be seen for the sham it truly is. (30 more points for fantasizing about show trials in which scientists who mocked your theories will be forced to recant.)’

(40 points).

The entire list is hilarious, and I’d thoroughly recommend reading it.  Also, anyone wanna start rating their favourite mad physics papers?  If so, do share :)

Jellyfish, continued aimee whitcroft Sep 06

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The BBC’s posted this beautiful set of photographs of deep-sea jellyfish (honestly, I’m beginning to think I have a thing about these creatures).

(I couldn’t use one of the beeb’s pictures, so have put in another cool jellyfish photo.)
I think I like the small blue jelly best, just because it really does look like a graphic generated for a show such as Fringe (yes, this last link really does point to Fringepedia‘s page on the graphics used in the show). Of course, the rest of them look like something cooked up in the fevered imagination of a sci-fi/fantasy artist at the point just before the absinthe abuse of the night causes them to pass out…

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