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In the dusty and hot depths of northern Israel, something remarkable was recently discovered in the Zhevulun Valley by the precious stone mining company Shefa Yamim.

Geologists struck on a mineral embedded in sapphire with the extraordinary and extraterrestrial property of being harder than Diamonds – something only alien gems in outer space are known to possess. Subsequent density testings do indeed reveal that this trumps its established Diamond competitor.

The mineral was found close to Mt.Carmel which serves as the inspiration for its name ‘Carmeltazite’.  It has also been trademarked by Shefa Yamim with the name of ‘Carmel Sapphire’. Its legitimacy has been further supported by the International Mineralogical Association’s Commission on New Minerals, giving it official status as a new mineral.

This incredibly rare mineral has its origins in the era of the dinosaur when Israel was a highly volcanic area, with over a dozen volcanic vents constantly spewing out molten lava.

Carmeltazite is similar in its molecular structure to ruby and sapphire (aside from its being rarer with a higher density) and varies in colour from black, blue, green and an orange-y brown.

Unfortunately, saving up to give your loved one a Carmel Sapphire engagement ring may be out of most of our budgets, as the stone’s special properties make it more valuable than even diamonds.

Humor aside, the discovery of Carmeltazite is incredible and delving more into its structure as well as researching other new minerals could be a great way for geologists and natural scientists to have the edge at interview.

The loyal disciples of  veganism grow in their numbers with every passing year. Talks of veganuary – an annual event where individuals are encouraged to graze on a plant-based diet – are all over social media, Internet ads and Youtube pop-ups. It’s the age of the herbivore and a rebirth of social consciousness.

The latest meat-free breakthrough comes from global corporation McDonald’s who have released a McFalafel happy meal in Sweden.  Since the turn of the millenium McDonald’s has tried to ‘clean up its act’ by offering ever healthier options alongside its naughtier staples. 

Let it not be misunderstood that the cause of innovation is more likely to be attributed to the forces of supply and demand rather than an initiative of good conscience. Animal Rights Sweden reports that almost 10% of the population now follows a vegan diet – that’s obviously a huge market for McDonald’s to tuck into (pardon the pun) but at least the by-products are beneficial to animals and mother nature. 

The McFalafel come in decent sized chunks of mashed up chickpeas, parsley, garlic and cumin. You can complement your Levantine nuggets with fries, some fruit and some exclusive dips. Hungry? 

McDonald’s has recently introduced a new ‘El Veggo’ burger in Finland a new Indian-inspired vegan burger ‘McAloo Tikki’ in Chicago. Could McDonald’s in 50 years be entirely vegan? 

Students of social sciences and Economics may find the rise of veganism and vegetarianism within businesses to be something worth researching. Earth scientists and geographers may want to consider the environmental impacts that the meat industry has on the planet. 

Fuel for your all night-er to make your coursework submission deadline? A necessary pick-me-up before your French oral? Coffee for many of us is the answer. But it’s important to consider the sustainability of this beverage that has been a staple in most of our busy lives.

According to recent papers that have been published in Science Advances and Global Change Biology, a large proportion (around 75) of the world’s coffee bean species are close to extinction. Many types included are wild and have never been harvested and cultivated, but there is one variety by the name of Coffea Arabica that plays such a vital part in today’s global coffee culture, that without it the face of cafés will be altered forever. The team behind Global Change Biology estimate that the population of Arabica beans could reduce by half in 2088.

So what can be done to save the Espresso? Well, firstly, it’s important to be conscious about one’s environmental impact. Global warming and rising temperatures put pressure on coffee farmers to reach new physical heights so being aware of one’s carbon footprint is a good first step. Aiding the environment will also help wild strains whose populations tend to be concentrated in one particular environment which when destroyed by rising sea levels and dried out terrain will lead to species extinction.

Biologists might be intrigued to hear about genetic interbreeding between Arabica beans and other wild varieties. Certain wild varieties have been identified as having particular genetic traits that could be advantageous to Arabica bean populations. Breeding a more sturdier kind of bean could be essential to keeping up those Flat White orders on the daily.

So it appears that we are at a critical point with coffee. Sustainable living and making choices for the environment could be enough to turn the tide and keep our coffee consumption possible in the future.

Biologists, Geographers and social sciences students would be wise to use this story as a spring board for more in-depth research into ecological sustainability and our relationship with the environment.  

Natural Scientists and those with otherworldly interests will be in awe of man’s latest achievement in the cosmos. This all comes from China’s recent botanical miracle on the moon which has further cemented the nation’s status as a major player in space exploration. China’s Chang’e 4 Biosphere experiment has proved literally fruitful as cotton shoots have successfully sprouted and started to grow on the moon. This was confirmed by an image released by the China National Space Administration (CNSA).

A mixture of plants, fungi and insects including rapeseed, potato, arabidopsis, yeast and fruit fly eggs have all been transported and  carefully selected to make up a self-sustaining micro-ecosystem. Despite risks of contamination of the moon, these biological stuffs are sealed in an air-tight canister that has been meticulously constructed by a collection of Chinese universities.

The experiments findings will help scientists understand how to grow various flora in the harsh extra-terrestrial environments where there is low gravity. To be able to harness this will be hugely beneficial to astronauts going on long-term missions as well as more distant goals such as terraforming the moon and mars for future humans to migrate to.

Man’s future in space is a fantastic application of scientific knowledge and one that scientists of all persuasions should consider for their personal statements. I don’t know about you – but I’ll be twiddling my thumbs waiting for those fruit fly eggs to hatch!

Stephen Vavrus of the University of Wisconsin recently said that “had it not been for early agriculture, (the) Earth’s climate would be significantly cooler today”.  Farming from over a millennia ago, such as planting wheat, raising livestock and creating rice paddies, led to a rise in emissions that fundamentally altered the earth’s climate.

These findings are based on sophisticated climate models that compared the current geologic time period, the Holocene, to MIS19, a similar period around 800,000 years ago.  It showed that MIS19 was around 1.3 degrees Celsius colder globally than the equivalent point in the Holocene, around 1850.  The effect would have been more pronounced in the Arctic, around 5.5 °C cooler.  Climate reconstructions show the geological periods starting with similar carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) concentrations, with the MIS19 showing a steady drop whilst the Holocene showed a rise in levels around 5,000 years ago, hitting a peak in 1850; researchers stopped the model at the start of the Industrial Revolution due to the sudden increase in emissions.

These observations are placed within the larger natural phenomenon of the Milankovitch cycle where periodic changes in the shape of the Earth’s orbit affect its climate, leading to glacial and interglacial periods.  Interglacial periods usually start with higher levels of CO2 and CH4 that gradually drop leading to cooler conditions.  But William Ruddiman found this processed reversed around 7,000 years ago, during research into trapped gas in Antarctic ice.  Ruddiman commented, “the only explanation I could come up with is early agriculture”.  Climate systems have been matched with geological evidence to show that without this increase in emissions the Holocene would by now likely have followed MIS19 and other interglacial periods into another glacial period.  The reality is a fundamental alteration to our global climate that leaves us in uncharted territory.

Applicants for Earth Sciences can discover more about the climate models used in this research and try to suggest other natural occurrences that may have contributed to the observed increase in greenhouse emissions.      

Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS), hailed as the ‘Get Out of Jail (CO2) Free’ technology for traditional fossil fuel energy, is threatening to stage a repeat of the $885bn – nil defeat that Norway’s Sovereign Wealth Fund inflicted on the UK. Beginning in the early 1980’s, Norway’s state operated Statoil contributed to a national piggy bank, which today can comfortably mop up the cost of looking after its aging population of 5m, whilst the UK’s stake in the North Sea paid into no such scheme.

CCS comprises a range of technologies that holds the potential of locking up to 90% of CO2 emissions from point sources underground. Once CO2 has been captured at point of emission, liquefied and transported via a vast array of pipelines, it is locked underground in suitable geological formations, saline aquifers or exhausted oil fields where it gradually mineralises through chemical reactions with the host rocks.

Whilst much of the required infrastructure for utilising disused North Sea oil fields and their connecting pipelines remains in place, the UK government must strike whilst the iron is hot. Scottish Carbon Sequestration and Capture, the UK’s largest CCS research group has recently announced that by 2022 the UK could be pumping 2m tonnes of CO2 underneath the North Sea per year. But after dropping its £1bn grant scheme in 2015, the UK government needs to follow the lead of the Scottish Government’s September announcement to fund more CCS feasibility studies in order to capitalise on the North Sea opportunities before Norway does, again.

Students considering Engineering and Earth Science disciplines might be wise to look at CO2 trapping methods at point sources and the chemistry of COmineralisation in depleted oil fields, saline aquifers, and mafic and ultra mafic formations.  

A list of the world’s most impressive animals would likely consist of those famed for their strength, like the gorilla or the grizzly bear; those with the ability to live in extreme temperatures, such as the camel or the penguin; and maybe even – given the current global political situation – those that could withstand nuclear radiation, like the cockroach or the Braconidae wasp. Imagine then a creature that fits into all of the above categories, and can survive being boiled, frozen, and dehydrated, as well as radiation and even the vacuum of space. Tardigrades, also known as water bears, are one of nature’s most remarkable creatures, and finally the secrets to their unrivaled survival abilities are being revealed.

A recent study published in the journal PLOS Biology establishes that genetics is the key to the tardigrade’s survival. The tiny creature – fully grown at 0.5mm – has genes which allow it to change its body to survive difficult conditions. For example, in extremely dry conditions, tardigrades will produce proteins to replace the missing water in their cells. This allows them to last without water for years. The scientists also discovered a different set of proteins which can protect tardigrade DNA, possibly explaining how the creatures can survive radiation.

Biomedical Sciences and Medicine applicants should consider how the incredible survival ability of tardigrades could have benefits for humans, such as allowing live vaccines to be transported around the world and stored without refrigeration. Biology students might wish to look further into the genetic make-up of the tardigrade, including its similarities to insects, arachnids, and worms; which of these is it most closely related to? Earth Sciences and Geography applicants could undertake research into the wide range of habitats in which tardigrades live, from mountain peaks to the depths of the ocean, humid rainforests to the icy tundra.

For centuries, experts have been baffled by the mystery of how Prehistoric Britons transported the bluestones of Stonehenge 140 miles from the Presili Mountains in Wales, to their current arrangement on Salisbury Plain.

A recent experiment by University College London has shown that in fact it may have been achieved by around 20 people per stone. Researches build a sycamore sleigh, similar to those used by pre-industrial societies like the Maram Naga in India, and by the Chinese to build the Forbidden City. The experiment needed 10 people to pull a 1 tonne stone, which moved at around 10 feet every 5 seconds – faster than one mile per hour if pulled continually. Although these stones are smaller than those found at Stonehenge, which are approximately double the weight, researchers believe that the experiment shows that each stone could have been used by a ground of just 20 people.

Recently, archaeologists have found the quarries that produced the stones, confirming that they can only have come from Wales. The formation of the rocks at these quarries would have allowed the prehistoric quarry workers to detach the stones with minimum effort. Professor Mike Parker-Pearson of UCL believes that the Stonehenge stones were once part of a monument in Wales, which was then dismantled and moved to Wiltshire.

Applicants for Archaeology and Anthropology should look more into the history of Stonehenge and the archaeological discoveries over the last few years. History and HSPS students should explore the society of prehistoric Britain and how it is linked to later societies and societies today. Those interested in Earth Science or Geography should investigate how we can establish where specific rocks originate from and what their formation can tell us about the past. Engineering and Physics applicants should examine how the mechanism of the sleigh meant it successfully moved the stones.

Is it a bird, is it a plane? No, it’s a supermoon.

Astronomers and Physics applicants have been enjoying this week’s lunar activity as the moon will be at its “perigee” or closest point to the earth over the weekend. The bbc reported, however, on the debate surrounding this so called “supermoon”. As Dr Massey points out, “the definition is to some extent a moveable feast compared with an eclipse, where the timing can be measured precisely.”

What is particularly exciting is that this movement of the moon closer to the earth coincides with an eclipse. This lunar eclipse gives the moon a rust colour – hence the name “blood moon”. This is because the Earth’s atmosphere scatters blue light more strongly than red light, and it is this red light that reaches the lunar surface Archaeology and Anthropology applicants may wish to explore the importance of the moon in various cultures, particularly the Incas. 

Earth Sciences and Geography applicants may wish to think about how the earth’s orbit tells us more about the make up of the planet itself. Dr Massey notes that the moon may appear up to 7-8% bigger, not to be confused, however, with a moon illusion. Natural Sciences (Physical) applicants may want to think about how this illusion works and indeed other real world applications of these phenomena. 

All this astronomical excitement comes in a week where NASA has made the stunning announcement that it believes liquid water to be present on Mars today. Scientists identified waterlogged molecules — salts of a type known as perchlorates — on the surface in readings from orbit, indicating the presence of water. Such news clearly ties in with last week’s story on the discovery of a potentially habitable exoplanet, and the likelihood of finding life elsewhere in the universe. 

The BBC has recently reported that the UK is set to invest in a number of ash detectors, which will be installed throughout the country. This comes after problems caused to aviation services in 2010 when the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajokull erupted. The ash cloud led to a loss of £1 billion for airlines after they were forced to cancel flights for a number of days, and had significant wider impacts on the economy.

The new systems use Lidar technology to calculate the density of ash in the air, which will then fall into three categories: low, medium and high. Physics applicants should read up on the wider uses of this technology. For example, the technology has revolutionised many forms of mapping, and periodic re-scanning allows for exploration of the ‘fourth dimension’.

Airlines will submit which categories their planes can fly in to the Civil Aviation Authority, who will then determine and forewarn which airlines are safe to fly. This process will help to prepare airlines and minimalise the uncertainty and disruption which characterised the events of 2010. 

Geography and Earth Sciences applicants should consider how these advances in technology limit the severity of the effects of volcanic activity. They, along with Economists, should also consider the part economic development plays in a country’s ability to invest in, and afford, such technologies. 

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