Category: New Scientist

Your Computer Needs You

Aristides Human_computersis a typical 13-year-old boy. He plays basketball after school, is learning the clarinet, and in the evening sits in front of his computer playing games. There is one game that he is especially keen on, however, which marks him out from his peers. Every day he logs on to, where, under the nickname “Cheese”, he plays a game that involves twisting, pulling and wiggling a 3D structure that looks a bit like a tree’s root system. He manipulates different lengths of these snaking green tubes until they fit into the smallest volume possible. It may sound like a rather bizarre game – a distant 3D relative of Tetris, perhaps – but it is in fact a brilliant disguise for one of the toughest conundrums facing biologists today: how do proteins fold?

Life’s a beach on planet Earth

Life-beachDid life on Earth begin on a radioactive beach? That’s the claim of one astrobiologist, who says that life’s ingredients could have emerged from the radioactive sand grains of a primordial beach laced with heavy metals and pounded by powerful tides.

Martian Death Rays

Crusader-1069440117_LOWRESWhen I tell people that I spend my days testing the possibility of life on Mars they usually reply in one of two ways. ‘No seriously, what do you do?’ is only slightly more common than the wittier ‘So you’re not holding out for much fieldwork, then?’ Astrobiology is a bright young discipline, aiming to answer some of the most fascinating questions within science and dinner-table conversation alike. Does life exist ‘out there’ among the pinpricks of light in the heavens, or are we alone in the cosmos? No current scientific field fires people’s fascination more than the quest for extraterrestrial life, and a large proportion of students have cited the reason for continuing science is their interest in astrobiology. For now many astrobiologists’ money is on Mars, our planetary neighbour, as it was once a lot like Earth.

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