Science, Nature and Tech

What is the Orionid Meteor Shower?

This October Earth will be passing through the tail of Halley’s comet, which will mean a shower of meteors flashing across the night sky. Our science editor Sam Gouldson explains.

What is Halley’s Comet?

A comet is a lump of rocky particles, ice and dust all bound together like a dirty snowball. When the comet nears a star, its surface transforms from a solid to a gas. The star’s light shines through these gases and makes them visible to observers as a fuzzy cloud around the comet’s centre, and a tail streaming out behind.

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School & Career, Written By You

Social Hierarchy in Schools – Vive le Petit Revolution! – Written By You

What does ‘social hierarchy in schools’ mean? It means the status of each person in the school.
You know how some kids are the ‘cool kids’ and some are the ‘nerds’ or the ‘geeks’. The hierarchy means the levels of ‘cool’. Our contributor Madeleine decided it was time to shake things up a bit.

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Art & History, Science, Nature and Tech

The Clifton suspension bridge: designed by a woman, built by Brunel

One of the best known landmarks in Bristol, UK, the Clifton suspension bridge first opened in 1864. It was built by the famous British engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, but it has recently become public knowledge that it was designed by a woman. Our science editor Sam Gouldson explains who she was and why her work isn’t more widely known.

Who really designed the bridge?

The Clifton suspension bridge was designed by a woman called Sarah Guppy. She was born Sarah Beach in 1770, but when she married her husband Samuel Guppy she took his name. She was one of the great British inventors of her time and the bridge isn’t the only thing she came up with.

What else did she design?

The invention that earned Sarah the most money was her device to prevent barnacles forming on the hulls of ships. Without barnacles the ships would be able to cut better through water and travel more quickly, and the Royal Navy paid her £40,000 for it. That may not sound like much for such a valuable design, but today it would be more than £2.3 million. Her other inventions included a kettle that not only boiled water for tea but could cook an egg and keep toast warm, a candle holder that could keep candles alight for longer and a way of treating boats so that they were more watertight. She also came up with the idea of planting willow and poplar trees on the embankments of new railways, to hold the earth together and prevent landslides.

Why isn’t she more famous?

Sarah lived during the Georgian and Victorian eras. In those times married women weren’t allowed to own property in their own name, and intellectual property such as Sarah’s inventions were no different. Her husband had to file the patents on her behalf, as the property of the Guppy family. The patent for her method of piling bridge foundations in order to create a new kind of bridge was filed in 1811, but she refused to charge others to use the idea because she felt it was for the benefit of the public. Thomas Telford, a civil engineer, used her design to build the Menai bridge in 1826, and when the competition to design the Clifton bridge was announced Sarah gave her work to Brunel. When she wrote to him to suggest the use of willow and poplar trees to reinforce railway embankments, she explained that she didn’t want the credit for her idea because she felt that women “must not be boastful”.

 

Featured image: Sage Solar/Flikr

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Science, Nature and Tech

CURIOUS CREATURES 2 – The Stag Beetle

 

The strangest creatures are, to me,

The ones I love the best.

The creepy, crawly and the odd

Are cooler than the rest…

 

These magnificent beasties are the armoured vehicles of the insect population and the largest terrestrial-dwelling beetles in the UK. Their common name is a reference – unsurprisingly – to their antler-shaped “mandibles” or jaws, which they use to fight over territory, but not, perhaps surprisingly, to win the respect of female Stag Beetles..!

 

These Curious Creatures have intrigued me ever since I found an expired female stag beetle (see below ) in a south-west France many years ago. I drew it next to a blackbird’s feather, captivated by the different tones of black, the textural contrasts and inky depths of colour. I found it – and still find them all as a species – fascinating and beautiful, particularly the males, with their extraordinary maroon-red mandibles.

 

 

 

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