The “Dirty Little Secret”* About Vaccines

Note: This originally appeared on the SciBox section of the Oxford SciBar. Check out the site, there’s a host of podcasts of talks and other articles there.   In some ways, the immune system’s like a brain: it can learn, it can adapt and, so it’s ready for the next time, it can remember. This is, perhaps, its single most important feature. The immune system has the chance to learn a unique signature on the surface of an invader every time we’re infected by something, be it virus, bacteria or even a parasite. Once it learns these signatures the body produces antibodies or ’killer cells’ to fight it. When the infection has been defeated, special cells – B-cells – remember it, for as long as a life time. If the invader returns it won’t have such an easy time: the immune system will be ready. Like most things that learn, the ...(Read More)

Space weather: Pretty, but dangerous?

We are increasingly hearing about the possible danger of ‘Space weather’, but what is it? And what harm can it cause? THE sun is no simple light bulb. Far from being a static, albeit bright, blob of burning gas the sun is dynamic and mutable. Similar to Earth it also has its own peculiar types of season: the solar cycle. This is measured by the number of spots on the sun’s surface and, like human adolescence, could mean trouble. Unlike humans, however, more spots on the sun means more activity, and a greater chance of chunks of its surface being sloughed off and hurled towards Earth. On March 9th 1989, at the height of a solar cycle, a massive burst of charged particles called a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) was released from the sun, directly towards Earth. Four days later the lights in Québec went off. This kind of event is ...(Read More)