Maria Merian

A pioneering woman of science re-emerges after 300 years

Maria Sibylla Merian, a German-born woman living in the Netherlands worked as an artist, botanist, naturalist and entomologist.

24tb-merian01-superJumbo.jpgThree hundred years after her death, Merian will be celebrated at an international symposium in Amsterdam this June.


In December 2016 “Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium”, first published in 1705 was republished. It contains 60 plates and original descriptions, along with stories about Merian’s life and updated scientific descriptions.




Vertical Forests

Nanjing Vertical Forest, which is scheduled to be fully built by 2018, and will bring thousands of trees and shrubs into the highly populated Pukou District of the city, absorbing tons of CO2 and producing a wealth of oxygen at the same time.


The structure will have 1,100 large and medium-sized trees on its facades, along with 2,500 other plants and shrubs. The plants are expected to provide 60kg of oxygen per day while absorbing over 25 tons of carbon dioxide every year.

The architect M. Boeri has also designed and built similar forests in Milan, a pair of adjacent towers.

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The New York Times reports that construction began in 2009 and was completed in 2014. The Nanjing project is much larger in scale and ambition, more than doubling the number of plants as well as increasing the total height of the towers themselves.

The Guardian‘s artist has a bigger fantasy:


Dark Age

An article by S Guillet et al in this month’s Nature Geoscience relates an interval of global climate cooling to the Samalas volcanic eruption in 1257.

The Indonesian island of Lombok remains from that eruption:

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In Europe that year, text and illustrations from the Annals of Speyer record the bad weather and harvest. Grapes and other fruit were unavailable. The dark winter was even given a proper name by peasants: the munkeliar –


There was smoke and heavy cloud elsewhere and it is now thought that the event may have triggered the Little Ice Age starting in the early fourteenth century:300px-2000_Year_Temperature_Comparison.png

Impressions Down Under

London’s National Gallery’s Australia’s Impressionists exhibition last until 26 Mar 2017. The exhibition shows the global scope of impressionism in the late nineteenth century and its leading picture (below, left) is Arthur Streeton’s  Ariadne. Is there some hidden characteristic in these pictures that means they can only be landscapes of Australia?


Above, right, is A Holiday at Mentone by Charles Conder, 1888.

Australia is the lowest, flattest, and oldest continental landmass on Earth, with a relatively stable geological history. It is situated in the middle of the tectonic plate, and therefore currently has no active volcanism.


The terrain is mostly a low plateau with deserts, rangelands and a fertile plain in the southeast. Tasmania and the Australian Alps do not contain any permanent icefields or glaciers, although they may have existed in the past.



Below is John Peter Russell’s Les Terrasses de Monte Cassino. Geological forces such as tectonic uplift of mountain ranges or clashes between tectonic plates occurred mainly in Australia’s early history, when it was still a part of Gondwanaland. Its highest peak is Mount Kosciuszko at 2,228 metres (7,310 ft), which is relatively low in comparison to the highest mountains on other continents. Erosion has heavily weathered Australia’s surface.  1043875.jpg



Old Fish

A fossil of one of the first life-forms has been found in China:_93872527_xx65--269.jpg

Saccorhytus was covered with a thin, relatively flexible skin and muscles. It probably moved around by wriggling.

This electron microscope image has inspired a Cambridge artist to create a more detailed image:


In Nature magazine Simon Conway Morris et al refer the 540 million year old specimens to the Deuterostomes, common ancestors of the vertebrates (backboned animals such as fish). Saccorhytus was about a millimetre in size, and is thought to have lived between grains of sand on the sea bed.









One of the most important technological inventions is the mobile phone, complete with its photographic accessories. That science now drives art and politics.

London’s Saatchi Gallery is planning an exhibition of the early impact of The Selfie. The pictures appear to be a long way from the self-portraits of Rembrandt and van Gogh._93771688_goghrembrandtcomp.jpg

Now there are the politicians David Cameron, Helle Schmidt and Barack Obama:


(Getty Images)

the British astronaut at the International Space Station:


(Tim Peake)

and many celebrants at the Oscars:


(Bradley Cooper).

Fairy Circles

Myths and fairy-stories have explained the occurrence of circular patterns of vegetation that are found on the ground of the Namibian     th-11.jpeg

CE Tarnita et al give evidence for a scientific explanation in today’s Nature (volume 541, 398-401). They say the fairy circles are due to an intra-specific competition between territorial animals. They show the patterns of the circles’ occurrence are shaped by dynamic interactions between groups of animals that generate a self-organised distribution.

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It seems that ecosystems can generate their own kind of order.