When the physicist Russell Cowburn reached the end of his PhD studies, he had a choice to make. Having become a Christian at the age of eighteen, he thought deciding between a job in science or the church was choosing between the spiritual and the material. Several decades into his career as a scientist, he isn’t quite so sure difference between the two options was as stark as he thought at the time. Continue reading
No animal or plant group can quite match the insects for their diversity, profusion (in numbers of species as well as numbers of individuals), adaptability, mobility – or in a word, their ‘evolvability’. Albert Schweitzer, the great organist, theologian and humanitarian, said about the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, the apotheosis of the Baroque style, if not music as a whole: “…Bach is… a terminal point. Nothing comes from him; everything merely leads up to him”. Something similar could also be said of insects. Whether swarming, creeping, burrowing, swimming; armoured, slimy, spiky, fury; green, brown, transparent or iridescent; insects fill and adorn our planet like Continue reading
This year’s Wellcome Image Awards are truly awe-inspiring, and a reminder for me to look for moments of wonder and worship in my everyday routine. The online winners’ gallery includes a stunning map-like image of a mouse’s retina, a close-up of a human lens implant, and a teardrop-shaped bundle of DNA being pulled into a brand new cell. A non-scientist might not understand exactly what is being shown in these pictures, but with their bold colors, shapes, and textures, anyone can appreciate their beauty.
My field of biology has always been a very visual subject, and today that visual element can be expressed in stunning high-resolution color photographs. Wafer-thin sections of tissue can be stained with specialist dyes, showing where cell division might be going out of control in the first stages of cancer. Living cells are labeled with fluorescent tags, highlighting where a certain type of molecule is needed. Even in whole organisms, these natural fluorescent dyes can be used to track the development of a specific organ.
For some scientists, these experiences of awe and wonder point to something beyond science. Read more
What happens when you do science in one of the country’s most spectacular church buildings? This summer, Rev Dr Vicky Johnson got to find the answer to that question. Her doctorate in biochemistry equipped her to tackle the science, so when she started work as a Canon at Ely cathedral, she set about organising a month-long science festival as part of her work overseeing outreach and congregational growth. In this month’s podcast I found out the results (abbreviated transcript below).
Life may be ubiquitous in the universe, forms and structures may crop up independently in very similar forms, but at the moment it seems as if human life is unique on our planet. The Cambridge Palaeobiologist Professor Simon Conway Morris made a name for himself by studying the Burgess shale, which is one of the earliest records of soft-bodied animal forms. From this work, he developed an interest in convergent evolution – the idea that independent evolutionary processes hit on the similar solutions again and again. Now that convergence has blossomed into a field of its own, Simon has turned his attention to human and animal intelligence. At this year’s Faraday Institute summer course he described some of his findings so far, which I will summarise here in my own words. Continue reading
What help can people of faith receive from neuroscience? This was the question that Revd Dr Alasdair Coles asked in his lecture at the Faraday Institute last week. Alasdair works at Addenbrookes hospital, Cambridge, both as a neurologist and as a hospital chaplain. He brought both these perspectives to his talk, which I will summarise here in my own words. Continue reading
What is our place in the world? In his seminar at the Faraday Institute last month, Dr Jonathan Moo described the current movement towards ecomodernism, which involves a separation from nature. If you want to understand this trend in more depth you can listen to the recording of Jonathan’s talk. In this post I will focus on the last part of the seminar, where Jonathan presented his own ideas about how limits can help us to flourish. Continue reading