Shellfish and the human revolution

About 50,000 years ago, modern humans left Africa and began occupying the rest of the world. The common thought is that a sudden growth in population caused the so-called “human revolution”, which gave birth to language, art, and culture as we know it today. Now, based on something that’s not obviously related to human culture—the size of shellfish fossils—researchers have challenged that model.

Shellfish size may disprove cause of ‘human revolution’. The Conversation, 27 June 2013. Also published on Ars Technica.

Image credit: Breville

Smells of hell

In 1991 a volcanic eruption occurred on the island of Luzon, near the Philippines. In a short period of time Mount Pinatubo had injected into the atmosphere 10 billion tonnes of magma and 20 million tonnes of sulfur dioxide. In the months that followed, global temperature had fallen by 0.5 °C. The cooling occurred because of the formation of a thin layer of sulfuric acid that reflected the sun’s radiation.

Sulfur: Smells of hellIonic Magazine, 1 December 2012.

Illustration by Carlos D Toledo-Suárez.

The good, the bad and the ugly

A simple molecule with two bromine atoms in it caused a whole generation of kings and priests to treat purple-dyed textiles as status symbols. Making that molecule in the 4th century wasn’t an easy task, though. The only thing that could do it then was a sea snail, and each snail could produce only a small amount. As many as 12,000 needed to be crushed to extract enough dye to colour the trim of a single garment. Since then we’ve understood a lot about this element, and making indigo, the royal dye, is no longer a big deal.

Bromine: The good, the bad and the uglyIonic Magazine, 3 September 2012.

Illustration by Rachel Allen.