‘Bloomsbury Scientists’

This is the 300th blog at scienceandartblog.com, a series of ideas that I began over three years ago. And I’m pleased that this one is to announce the publication today of the book that I’ve been writing through those same three years.

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Bloomsbury Scientists: science and art in the wake of Darwin is published by UCL Press and is available through their website as well as amazon.co.uk ,  blackwells.co.uk  , and bookshops. It is free as an e-book, £15.00 paperback and £30 hardback.

Here are portraits of some of the characters in my story. To confirm their identity you have to read the book.

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On September 7th Nature magazine said the book: ‘paints a group picture of biologist energised by Darwinism, including Ray Lankester and Marie Stopes, rubbing shoulders with cross-disciplinary intellects such as Roger Fry and H.G. Wells. Although marred by the intrusion of eugenics, this heady era saw the rise of fields from ecology to genetics.’

Transport de Ervas Aromaticas (TEA)

In 1662 Catherine of Braganza (daughter of Portugal’s King John IV) married King Charles II. Her dowry included money, spices, treasures and the lucrative ports of Tangiers and Bombay. From there, she began to drink the loose-leaf tea, known then as Transporte de Ervas Aromaticas, or T.E.A.

Upon marrying England’s King Charles II, Portugal’s Catherine of Braganza carried on sipping tea as part of her daily routine (Credit: Credit: DEA/G. DAGLI ORTI/Getty Images)

 (Credit: DEA/G. DAGLI ORTI/Getty Images)

 

When Catherine arrived in England, tea was being consumed there only as a medicine to invigorate the body and keep the spleen free of obstructions. But the young queen extended that habit and made it popular as a social beverage as well as a health tonic. The poet Edmund Waller wrote to her shortly after her arrival in London with a poem that linked the queen and Portugal with the fashionable status of tea in England.

“The best of Queens, and best of herbs, we owe
To that bold nation, which the way did show
To the fair region where the sun doth rise,
Whose rich productions we so justly prize.”

Ladies flocked to be part of Catherine’s circle, quickly copying her tea-drinking habit (Credit: Credit: Culture Club/Getty Images)

Tea was very expensive because it came from China and it was taxed very heavily,

Because England had no direct trade with China, tea was an expensive commodity (Credit: Credit: Blake Kent/Design Pics/Getty Images)

 

and only the most rich members of society could afford it. So tea became associated with elite women’s sociability around the royal court.

When the leaves of tea plants are dried, flavonoid-type polyphenols remain. It is these that produce the characteristic colour and taste.

 

Catechin

Theaflavin

The tea polyphenols have been reported in various research to exhibit antioxidant properties. Antioxidants have been touted as having a range of health benefits, but the scientific evidence for these is still a little vague in parts. Studies have shown that antioxidants can protect cells from damage as a result of free radicals – molecules with an unpaired electron – but the results of some longer term trials have been inconclusive as to their efficacy, particularly in cancer treatments.

Crying

 

In July 2017’s journal ACS Chemical Biology, M Golczak and J Silvaroli show what happens when you cut an onion.

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A so-called Lachrymatory Factor (LF) is formed by the release of two chemicals that are released by the cutting of cell walls. One is a sulfenic acid precursor. The other is an enzyme called alliinase which is normally contained within the cells’ vacuoles. Upon release the two react to form something like tear gas.

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garlic, an alliinase enzyme acts on the chemical alliin converting it into allicin. The process involves two stages: elimination of 2-propenesulfenic acid from the amino acid unit (with α-aminoacrylic acid as a byproduct), and then condensation of two of the sulfenic acid molecules.

Reaction scheme for the conversion: cysteine → alliin → allicin

There are a range of similar enzymes that can react with the cysteine-derived sulfoxides present in different species. In onions, an isomer of alliin, isoalliin, is converted to 1-propenesulfenic acid. A separate enzyme, the lachrymatory factor synthase or LFS, then converts this chemical to a potent LF.

But none of this mattered to Roy Orbison

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Mass or Weight?

Mass, by J. Baggott, was published in June 2017 by Oxford University Press.

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The Ancient Greeks visualised geometric atoms and now we have quantum physics.

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This book tells the history, from atomist Leucippus, through Newton to Einstein.

But the fundamental structure of physical reality remains difficult to follow. The book shows how this stuff of the universe is proving more elusive and uncertain than we ever imagined, whether we will ever reconcile the inner structures of the weight and mass of atoms.

 

Ghost Town

Just 75 miles from Las Vegas, in Utah, was the gold-mining town called Gold Butte. Now its few remaining relics are breaking down and some local people are realising that Obama was right to seek legal protection of the delicate site.

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Some of the sandstone near Moab, Utah, has petrographs of big-horn sheep caravans.

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Who were these artists? What were they saying? When were they active? What was their life-style?

Wake up America.

Nature Printing

Pulse, the Linnean Society’s newsletter 34, June 2017, has an article entitled Lampblack and Lead,  by E. Rollinson.

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It tells how G. Cardano gave instructions back in 1550: ‘A fresh leaf is rubbed with verdigris and carbon; soaked in the right amount of colour it is printed on one of two large sheets of paper, so that an almost life-like image remains.’ (De Subtitilitate, Book XIII). Earlier, a physician named Conrad von Butzbach, in his 1425 Codex Auratus, coated paper with oil and used soot from a candle flame to make an impression of a plant specimen.

A Tumbler of Island Water

The Nobel poet Derek Walcott died last month. He wrote about the Caribbean, its harsh legacy of colonialism. In particular, they considered his island of St. Lucia, its opulent vegetation, the white beaches and its tangled multicultural heritages.

His 1962 collection “In a Green Night” included the poem “Islands”:

I seek,
As climate seeks its style, to write
Verse crisp as sand, clear as sunlight,
Cold as the curled wave, ordinary
As a tumbler of island water.

In 1990, he told The Economist: “The sea is always present. It’s always visible. All the roads lead to it. I consider the sound of the sea to be part of my body. And if you say in patois, ‘The boats are coming back,’ the beat of that line, its metrical space, has to do with the sound and rhythm of the sea itself.”

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Walcott was also an accomplished watercolorist and illustrated many of his books:.

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His 2004 work, “The Prodigal”, had a distinctly elegiac undercurrent and offered a glimpse of the author’s restless travels to Italy, Colombia, France and Mexico.

“Prodigal, what were your wanderings about?”

“The smoke of homecoming, the smoke of departure.”

“There can be virtues in deprivation.”

“For every poet, it is always morning in the world. History is a forgotten, insomniac night. History and elemental awe are always our early beginning, because the fate of poetry is to fall in love with the world, in spite of History.”