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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.

In a tiny town by the name of Nuanquan, not too far from the sprawling metropolis of Beijing, a curious tradition of throwing molten iron pulls in a growing crowd of tourists every Lunar New Year. The tradition is called da shuhua (树花) which has the literal translation of ‘hitting tree-flower’ and is named after a forgotten technique of shaking trees to retrieve their blossom.

When the molten iron is thrown against an icy wall, it produces an incredible explosion. The sparks in the explosion are said to resemble falling blossom in the fashion of da shuhua.

Once being dubbed the “poor man’s fireworks”, this dangerously thrilling activity comes from the creativity of its residents from centuries before, who could not afford the luxurious fireworks made from gunpowder packed into hollow bamboo stems. Thanks to Nuanquan’s enterprising nature, the town resorted to its steel works and Blacksmithing heritage to find an alternative. Hence throwing molten iron for entertainment was born and helped to forge the town’s identity. Year upon year, town dwellers would donate their scraps of iron for a spectacular fireworks show during the Lunar New Year festival.

China’s firework obsession at the time of New Year has a dubious future due to the government’s recent crackdown in banning firework displays. Fireworks release the pollutant PM2.5 into the air which contributes to some of the worst cases of pollution on the planet.

However, da shuhua shows no signs of stopping as more and more tourists flock to Nuanquan in an act of re-discovering their Chinese traditions. The shows are becoming extravaganzas in their own right with a variety of acts and music around the staple event of throwing molten iron.

Students interested in reading AMES or Oriental Studies would do well to consider the act of da shuhua in its cultural and historical context. Geographers and Human Scientists may be interested in the conflict of tradition and environmental pressures in modern China.

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.  

Fans of the hit BBC series the Bodyguard will be engrossed by the continual twists and turns of its complex narrative.  Sergeant David Budd is embroiled in a gritty drama, details of which I will not divulge to protect those that are not up to date with its latest developments.  However, what can be safely highlighted is the appropriate use of the Whittingdon, also known as the Highgate New Estate, as his place of residence. 

Designed in the 1970’s by the Hungarian Peter Tabori, the now highly sought after housing estate is a typical example of brutalist architecture that is prominent amongst inner city residential buildings.  Although not to everyone’s tastes, Prince Charles being a notable critic, the overall popularity of these brutalist homes has steadily risen over the last few years.  This can be attributed to their spacious and light design as new build homes are becoming increasingly small. 

Brutalism is generally characterised by monolithic concrete constructions.  It was first developed by the French-Swiss architect Le Corbusier in the 1950’s, predicated on ideals of community, space and light.  His development of béton brut influenced UK architecture from the 60’s to the 80’s as an effective style to utilise in the production of replacement homes for those bombed in WWII across many major cities. 

These homes were predominantly designed as social housing for those in lower income groups.  But the knock on effect of this was the creation of crime hubs, with a large proportion linked to gang culture, as tensions developed within these densely populated spaces.  The use of concrete and the lack of investment led to poor conditions; a factor that is changing as original tenants are being replaced by more prosperous owners and the listing of certain estates.

Architecture applicants can consider the ways in which brutalism can be incorporated into contemporary design whilst those applying for Geography can research the impact of population density on crime levels and the health of local community.

We’re all aware of the negative effects of human activity on the environment on Earth. But what about in space? Increasing and largely unregulated activity from various states and corporations is filling up the space around our planet with orbiting trash and threatening the future of space exploration.

The Outer Space Treaty, formulated in 1967, states among other things that bodies such as the moon and asteroids cannot be used for private development and that nations must monitor the space activity of private companies.However, the problems of this current era were not foreseen or covered by the treaty. There are now over 17,000 satellites orbiting Earth, and it is increasingly cheap and easy to get in on the game. As the space industry develops, there may well be other kinds of clutter jostling for space as well. Collisions between these objects could create a barrier of debris preventing further travel. There is as yet no way to deal with these issues, and no overarching authority to regulate activity.

However several space scientists, lawyers, and policy experts are collaborating on the first Institute for the Sustainable Development of Space. The Institute sees space as common property and therefore a common responsibility. They aim to implement long-term strategies and to find solutions to the growing problems so that people around the world can continue to explore space and to use it fruitfully but sustainably. A comparable example would be the oceans, where the cumulative actions of corporations and nations can have enormous implications for the environment and for humans around the globe.

Students interested in space travel and technology, law, international politics, or environmental issues may wish to think about what problems we may face in the future and how we can tackle them, with reference to analogous environmental or legal situations on Earth.

Studies on the behaviour and evolution of different species, both historically and in the present, has led to fascinating conclusions about how urbanisation and globalisation have impacted the animal kingdom. Phenomena such as man-made migration, changing patterns of behaviour, changing physical features, and even speciation shed light on life in these artificial ecosystems.

The first thing to note is that due to human immigration, cities have brought together species not native to that land, collected from various backgrounds. This has occurred both accidentally and deliberately, as in the case of the parakeet population of Belgium which descends from one group of birds released in 1974 by the owner of a zoo who thought they would brighten up the city of Brussels. These foreign species are fed by a variety of plants, also originating from around the globe, which we grow in our gardens and on our streets.

This is only the tip of the iceberg, however. Our urban species have started to adapt their way of life to the environments they species find themselves in, one example being the UK tits with the surprising ability to open all manner of milk bottle tops. In some cases, the pressures of urban life have been sufficient to trigger the evolution of the species. It was found, for example, that American cliff swallows, which are often found on bridges and roads, had undergone a decrease in wingspan. Correspondingly, individual birds found dead on the road had a higher than average wingspan. The conclusion was drawn that only birds with wings short enough to fly up vertically from the road were able to dodge traffic and reproduce, thus propagating the short wing gene.

An even more interesting observation for researchers has been the signs of speciation, the process by which evolution forms multiple distinct species. One example of this is the blackbird, originally a forest-dwelling animal which is now a common sight in cities. Research from blackbird populations of various countries indicates that the urban blackbird is on the cusp of developing into a distinct species, due to the evolutionary influences of their particular environment.

Applicants for Biology, Natural Sciences, or Geography and those interested in environmental issues may wish to familiarise themselves with the phenomena observed among species in urban environments, and should think more generally about the impact of human lifestyles on other species.

Today the BBC released the towns and cities across the UK that are about to exceed or have already surpassed the air pollution limits set by the World Health Organization.  In total, there are 47 locations across the UK that fit this criteria, according to the WHO’s new report.  When broken down, the data shows that the majority (32 areas) are over the air pollution limit of 10 micrograms per cubic metre, whilst only 15 are at the limit. 

These UK cities cannot compare with the baffling levels of air pollution found globally, including Pasakha, Delhi and greater Cairo.  Although under revision, the WHO’s most polluted city in 2015, Muzaffarpur in India, had an astonishing 197 micrograms per cubic metre.  Although it’s no surprise that areas such as Manchester and London have exceeded the limit, it may be unexpected that they are in fact below many other locations, such as Port Talbot in Wales, displaying the worst levels of pollution at 18 micrograms per cubic metre.  London’s figure has in fact fallen in the last few years from 17 in 2013 to 11 in 2015, and this trend has occurred in other cities.  It is worth considering, however, how this data is extracted and, with cities such as London whose geographic parameters are often questionable, how such factors are measured.

The Chief Executive of the British Heart Foundation, Simon Gillespie, has raised his serious concerns about the environmental state of the UK, encouraging the government to adopt WHO air quality guidelines to help improve national health.  Polluted air can cause long term diseases, increase mortality rates and trap people in their houses.  Globally, it is estimated that 7 million people die per annum from such exposure, with the majority in countries in Asia and Africa.  Even though the levels of pollution in some of these LEDCs may figure lower than those in MEDCs, the quality of health care is far poorer.

The UK government has a £3.5bn plan to improve air quality, reduce emissions that cause debilitating diseases such as heart disease and lung cancer.  A spokesman from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs mentioned a comprehensive Clean Air Strategy plan to be implemented later this year.  Students considering Geography and Land Economy in particular should consider the impact of rising air pollution and how the government could implement an effective and successful plan to improve the impact such levels are currently having on the UK and across the world.

The concept of the ‘MIB’ or message in a bottle has been around for centuries. These bobbing glassy containers have been used for a variety of different, unusual purposes over the years, from sending love letters and distress messages, to transporting human ashes! In fact, Queen Elizabeth I appointed her own bottle un-corker to try to intercept enemy messages, and even issued the death penalty to anyone else who opened a message.

The first known use of the bottle to transport a message was in a 310 BC study, by the philosopher Theophrastus, which as designed to investigate water currents. Bottles were used for this purpose up until the 1800s and similar devices called CTDs (Conductivity, Temperature and Depth instruments) are used today to monitor currents, however, unlike a bottle, these tools sink below the water’s surface.

One of these 19th Century water current monitoring bottles washed up this week on the shores of a West Australian beach, nearly 132 years after it was tossed overboard into the Indian Ocean. This is the first message of its kind to be discovered with its bottle still intact and is now the world’s oldest, beating the previous record holding bottle by 24 years. The glass gin bottle was found by a local family, and the damp scroll inside the removed and dried in a household oven. The faded paper revealed that the bottle was launched from a German sailing ship called the ‘Paula’ in 1886.

This bottle, and those like it, were part of an almost 70-year study to find faster shipping routes. Each parchment would also have contained the coordinates of the ship at the time the bottle was jettisoned and the craft’s home port. We can almost think of this as one of the first crowdsourcing attempts, as the discoverer would then return the slip of paper to the German Naval Observatory in Hamburg or the nearest German consulate for further study.

Crowdsourcing in the monitoring of water currents, and other ocean sciences, is still a hot topic today. Aspiring Oxbridge Geographers may wish to study ‘message in a bottle’ experiments further to better understand global ocean currents. Future Art Historians and Historian might be interested in investigating how we can better upskill the general public on preserving newly found artefacts and artworks.

Australia is famously known for its profusion of dangerous animals that can cause harm to human life in a vast variety of forms, from deadly poisonings to vicious bites. There is one subset of creatures that have, until now, gone under the radar when it comes to being a threat to mankind.

Birds of prey, including falcons and kites, have recently been found to employ a tactic for catching prey that can also has a significant impact on human life. These large wild birds have been observed whilst stealing smoldering twigs and dropping these in dry bush areas to smoke out small birds, rodents, frogs, lizards and insects to capture and eat. Birds are thought to work both alone making either single or multiple attempts, or together in small groups. These flaming areas of arid ground can quickly grow into uncontrollable wildfires. It is now thought that these birds are the third biggest cause of bushfires, behind man and lightning.

The indigenous people of Australia have long believed in the power of predatory birds to spread fire, but it is only now that scientists have obtained evidence of this myth. The principle ornithologist working on this avian practice is, Bob Gosford, who has conducted research into this behaviour on three different continents, collecting eyewitness reports from farmers, scientists and firemen. The habits of these birds are now being factored into rangers’ fire management tactics and controlled experiments.

To date, these birds are the only creatures, other than humans that have been discovered to harness the power of fire.

Students aspiring to study Biological Science should investigate ways in which animals use natural and man-made resources to their benefit. Wannabe Anthropologists should consider the potential basis in fact of mythology.

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