Our Climate in Crisis

In December 2015 the member states of the United Nations agreed to limit the global average temperature increase to well below 2.0° Celsius above pre-industrial levels. This agreement signed in Paris formed the basis of UK policy to meet at least 15% of its energy needs using renewable sources by the year 2020. In the same meeting, it was decided that all parties should also aim to limit global warming to 1.5°C. This was (and still is) an ambitious goal, but the importance of keeping temperature rise to a minimum has become shockingly clear in the UN’s most recent report.

CrisisIf global warming reaches 2.0°C sea levels will be ten centimetres higher than if we are able to limit the temperature rise to 1.5°C, causing more widespread flooding. It would also result in a near-total destruction of the world’s coral reefs. The effects of global warming on human lives are being felt already, with extreme weather such as heat waves and hurricanes becoming more common. The consequences of failing to tackle climate change have been laid out clearly by the UN.

The report came with a statement from UN Chief António Guterres, and a summary for politicians and governments. These make it clear that limiting global warming to 1.5˚C will require “rapid and far-reaching” action but that it is not impossible. To save lives, money, and animal species every country must do as much as they can to limit the damage that climate change is wreaking on our planet.

The Kilogram Is Getting a Makeover

The metric system was born in France during the French Revolution to allow easier international trade and to reduce fraud. The idea of having a common standard of measurements was so simple and powerful that conventions from the 18th Century are still used today. The kilogram was first defined as the weight of a litre of water; an equal mass was then set cast as a block of platinum in 1799. Today a copy of this, known as the International Prototype Kilogram (IPK), (a very precise lump of platinum and iridium) sits in a triple-locked vault in Sèvres, France at the International Bureau of Weights and Measurements.

scaleWhat this means is that every set of kitchen scales you have ever used is based on a piece of metal on the other side of the channel. This requires the UK to send off their copies of the IPK for comparison approximately every 30 years. However, it has been found that measurements of the IPK against its clones are drifting further apart over time, possibly due to contamination of the IPK. This has prompted scientists to look for an alternative to relying on a specimen that all measurements are linked to.

The need for change applies not just to the kilogram, but to all units that we use to measure the properties of our universe. On 16th November 2018, a vote will take place at the 26th General Conference on Weights and Measurements to decide whether we change to a system that defines these units in terms of fundamental constants of nature. If the change comes to pass scientists will be able to rely on units that can be calculated regardless of location, instead of sending off your kilograms for a regular check-up. Just think of how much they’ll save on postage and packaging.

Why Do We Dream?

The reason that humans dream while sleeping has long been the subject of scientific interest and debate. Contemporary research suggests that sleeping and dreaming play complex roles in the cataloguing of memories, emotional response, and in brain development. Most of the public know that sleep is important but we’re gradually getting closer to a reason why.

dreamRecent research conducted at the University of Bonn in Germany suggests that while we are asleep our brains are replaying recent memories. This doesn’t mean that we’re learning while we nap, but that we are unconsciously going over information that we may not be able to recall the next day while awake. If this information is associated with memorisation mechanisms in the brain, then it is more likely to be recalled the day after first seeing it. This new insight into the way the sleeping and waking mind processes memories provides new avenues of research for scientists to explore. We soon may be able to answer questions such as: “How do we do trigger these memorisation mechanisms?” and  “Is it possible to increase the brains memorisation efficiency during sleep?”

Written by Dave Ayland

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