Tardigrade mysteries

What’s nearly indestructible, cute as a button, and often misunderstood? Tardigrades. These little creatures are amazing. They can go into suspended animation, which allows them to survive temperatures as high as 150C and as low as -200C, radiation that would absolutely fry any other organism’s DNA, and pretty much any other extreme environment you can think of (Including, but not limited to, actual space!) And they’re all around you. They live basically anywhere there’s water…

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A meditation of capybaras

Nature’s ottoman. Image by Charlesjsharp The world’s largest rodent. Image from Pexels Chigüires, carpinchos, Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris, the cutest darn thing you’ve seen all week. Image by Fujimoyan The capybara is known by lots of names. But whatever they’re called, their intriguing combination of dog size, rodent cuteness and chill demeanor has been occupying an embarrassingly large part of my attention this week. So what is a capybara? Native to a large swath of South America, these animals are related…

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Building for your brain

Where are you right now? It’s a pretty safe bet to say you’re in or around a building. But take a minute to really observe your surroundings. If you’re outside, how interesting are the façades of the buildings around you? Is there green space nearby? Be honest: are you lost? If you’re inside, how high are the ceilings? What colour are the walls? Are there windows nearby? What’s outside the windows? How curvy is the…

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The medium is the message

Marshall McLuhan, noted Canadian media critic and philosopher, coined this phrase in the 1960s to point out an inescapable truth of communication: It’s not just the content that matters. The way that content is delivered can be just as important. You’ve probably heard this before (which on its own makes you more likely to believe that it’s true), but the idea is borne out again and again in the social psychology literature. There are studies…

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In lemur-land, nerds are popular

With social networks on my mind this week because of recent congressional hearings in the US, I was interested to learn that, in lemurs at least, smarts are linked to popularity. So there may yet be hope for nerds everywhere. Image by Mathias Appel It’s been pretty well established that well-connected animals learn well. Fish, songbirds and sea lions (amongst other species) find more food if they have lots of friends. This makes a lot of sense…

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I’m back!

Hello dear readers. After nearly a year of neglect, I’m reactivating this blog. The Pharaoh is becoming Thoughtful again. I haven’t been totally idle these last 10 months, though. I was busy with lots of different science communication projects that I figured I should update you on! I wrote and presented videos for the Royal Institution, the final one of which you can watch here: I also presented for the Science Channel’s new show, Strange…

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How to read minds

They say eyes are windows into the soul. While you shouldn’t believe everything “they” say, that aphorism definitely has some truth. It’s pretty obvious and well-established that eyes are an important part of human interaction. And we’re starting to understand not only the psychology behind what our eyes convey, but also the genetics of it. Making eye contact with someone not only allows you to make a stronger connection with them (but not too long,…

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A letter to Carl Sagan

  Dear Carl, We never met and we never will, but I wanted to let you know how much you inspire me. Your writing is amazing. It’s both analytical and awesome; beautiful and rigorous. You famously pepper your prose with aphorisms, but what I really love is how, in the middle of a paragraph about the history of comets, you’ll drop the kind of truth bomb that makes me re-evaluate not only the phenomenon in question but…

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