Madder Red: A Story of Art and Science

Imagine for a moment that you could travel four thousand years into the past, to a marketplace in Egypt. Not just any marketplace. You are in Thebes, in Upper Egypt. In the year 2000 BC. The pharaoh Mentuhotep II has recently died, but in the course of his reign Egypt was reunified and Thebes is now the capital. Thebes is growing into a powerful city. And where there is power, there is colour. You come across an archer’s quiver, and marvel at its intricate woven design. But it’s the colour that impresses… Read More

The war, the mouse, the protein and the lovers: the curious tale of the search for a common cold vaccine

  “Would you like 10 days free holiday and travel expenses paid?” The advertisements were enticing. They turned up regularly across England for decades. Posters. Newspaper ads. Leaflets. They offered time away in the countryside near Salisbury. Fresh air. Relaxation. Free meals. Not only that, you would be paid for your time. Sound lovely? Married couples were welcome.  Singles were invited, too.  There was even the prospect of romance, provided that those interested in courting remain at least thirty feet apart at all times.  It wasn’t that the organisers were prudish, they… Read More

The Mysterious Colour Purple

A little while ago, I wrote an article for Cosmos Magazine on the weird and wonderful history of the earliest known purple pigment. The story begins ancient China, makes a stop in ancient Egypt, finds its way into modern superconductors and winds up in the hands of quantum physicists.  There’s also a little bit of Taoism along the way. It’s a strange tale indeed, and still one of my favourites.  I hope you enjoy! The Mysterious Colour Purple Tphoto credit:  Sharon Drummond  creative commons BY-ND 2.0