My wife and I stood underneath the Eiffel Tower wondering what to do next. Our kids had just completed their third ride on the carousel and we were wondering if we should call it a day. We had already walked through the streets of Paris, seen a garden, and eaten lunch at a wonderful Parisian café. Should we squeeze in one more activity? “How about we stop by the Notre Dame Cathedral on our way back to the Airbnb?” I asked my wife. After a short discussion and realizing that the kids were getting pretty worn out (and, admittedly, wanting to avoid a potential public spectacle) we decided to save Notre Dame Cathedral for the next day. Two hours later, my wife and I watched the news in shock. We sat in silence as Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was engulfed in flames. Continue reading →
The more capable a person is of feeling awe, the more likely they are to understand the true nature of science. When Helen De Cruz, senior lecturer in Philosopher at Oxford Brookes University, spoke at the Faraday Institute last month, she explained the research that has shown awe moves us to see beyond ourselves, and give us a sense of smallness and humility. We often feel overawed when we are trying to take in something our minds cannot fully grasp. Awe-inspiring experiences, such as seeing a beautiful nature documentary, help us to become more aware of the gaps in our knowledge and want to learn more. It can be hard to accept new scientific theories when you have lived with the same paradigm for years. Emotions such as awe, wonder or curiosity can help shift our attitudes and make us look at the world in different ways. Awe is good for science.
De Cruz also said that the more a person is capable of feeling awe, the more likely they are to feel a sense of oneness and spirituality, to believe in a creator God, or have spiritual experiences. Awe makes us less reliant on stereotypes and mental clichés. We are less likely to take things for granted, accept easy answers, or be open to ambiguity and new ideas. Awe is good for religion. Continue reading →
Galloping wild horses, cranes soaring overhead, beavers splashing in rivers and the howl of wolves echoing through the forest: this is a vision that has led to an explosion of interest in the topic of rewilding. George Monbiot arguably brought rewilding into the public sphere through his 2013 book Feral, capitalising on an unspoken yearning in our society to reconnect with nature. An impressionable biology undergraduate at the time, I recall feeling a thrill (yes, I’m a nerd!) as Monbiot set out a radical new vision for conservation. Fast forward to 2019, and rewilding is an integral component of ever-increasing concerns surrounding environmental sustainability; a recent petition calling for the restoration of British nature has, to date, attracted nearly 100,000 signatures.
So, what is rewilding, and how can I respond as a Christian? Is there a richer theological message from rewilding than simply environmental stewardship; a reconciliation between human beings and God’s creation that points us towards the ultimate restoration to come? Continue reading →
God found me very late in life. I had walked out of church at the age of 14, because it didn’t make sense. We arrived back from Kenya in time for me to join the local school for O-levels, and I became committed to studying science from then on. I read Natural Sciences (Physics) at Cambridge, then came to Jodrell Bank (University of Manchester) to do my PhD in Radio Astronomy. I not only found a PhD, but also a husband at Jodrell, and went with him to Caltech when he got a postdoctoral position there.
After some visa negotiations, Caltech also found funding for me, and I started doing optical astronomy with the big telescopes at Palomar. When we returned to the UK 3 years later, I obtained more funding to work on computational astrophysics, building n-body models of galaxies to see how the stars moved to make up the shapes we see. Continue reading →
Nearly the whole of my research career took place in the present ‘golden age’ for the study of DNA, genes and genomes. At the end of the 1960s scientists had indicated how useful it would be to be able to isolate individual genes in order to study their structure and function. That wish was fulfilled in the spin-offs from the invention in the early 1970s, of genetic modification (genetic engineering), a scientific milestone that marked the start of this golden age.
By the end of the 20thcentury experiments were being done, that thirty years earlier were not even dreamed of. This was certainly true in my research group’s work on the biochemistry and genetics of DNA replication, giving us the real privilege of uncovering some of the beautifully complex and intricate mechanisms used by cells in ‘managing’ and copying their genetic material. Continue reading →
I like to joke that I built a loft conversion on our house so that I could get an uninterrupted view of the sunset across the city’s rooftops from the large windows we installed. Expensive sunsets! In actual fact, the roof windows have enabled me to enjoy the delights of the sky at night more than at sundown (when I’m normally ferrying children to bed). After breastfeeding my daughter in the night, I’ll gaze at the stars for a few moments before heading back to bed. However grumpy I am about having got up, those few moments of starlit wonder reassure me that there is a much bigger picture than this interrupted night. The stars speak of a greater plan and purpose by their simple majesty. Continue reading →
I will never forget the day I saw a human brain removed from a corpse. At that moment, I was already very familiar with the human brain, having spent years imaging and studying it. Yet, this experience was different altogether.
A group of us, dressed in green robes, wearing blue plastic shoes, were in a dissection room in a medical school. The icy formality matched the cold air of the surroundings. The pungent smell of formaldehyde, used to preserve human tissue, filled our nostrils. The body of an older woman lay on the bench before us. Continue reading →