Nature’s toughest surprises again

Research into life elsewhere in the universe must begin with life on our own planet. For in finding life in extremely harsh and inhospitable conditions here, scientists can determine how likely it is to find life on planets both suitable for life, and also those planets that at first glance, are not. The latest search for life has led scientists to the Antarctic coast where a new species of Tardigrade has been discovered.

The Tardigrade is nature’s most resilient animal; it can live in the ocean’s deepest recesses, or on the plains of the most arid of deserts. Being only a quarter of a millimeter long, these animals are invisible to the naked eye. But, their size and unique physical attributes means they can survive conditions of extremes; in boiling water, in ice, and even in space.

The new discovery is part of the Tardigrade family, however with a different hair pattern, and with extra pads of a reddish colour behind its claws it is a different species, called Mopsechinicus franciscae. Being a different species means its discovery in Antarctica is also very significant in learning of its evolutionary past. Scientists hope to use the information on the new species of Tardigrade to research further into life’s origins in Antarctica, which was once part of the super continent Gondwana. The findings were published in the Polar Biology journal.

Article written for Science Nutshell


With walls of stone and a heart of art

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This week marks the 65th anniversary for the Dubrovnik Summer Festival, one of Europe’s five most distinguished cultural festivals. It is a month of tradition and modernity, classical arts combined and working with contemporary projects and practices. The program is rich with fantastic theatre, musical performances, opera and ballet, and is set in and amongst one of the world’s most scholarly and truly poetic cities.

Last year the opening ceremony was a feast for the eyes with hundreds of musicians and dancers taking part outside the church of St. Blaise. The rumble of drums on the outset, the sight of stilted men carrying Libertas flags followed by a traditional dance surrounding a single Lijercia player in the center of the square. This year aiming to build upon the last; a stunning beginning to a very exciting few weeks predicted for the city.

The city has been hosting the summer festival since the early 1950′s of which was a golden age of music and theatre in Europe, the decade saw a rapid growth of events and festivals beginning to take shape in many cities around the continent. The Dubrovnik Summer Festival though has seen some of the most success, being awarded the Gold International Trophy for Quality in 2007. This noted quality is a result of a combination of many things, one of them being its elegant setting in the old city on the south coast of Croatia.

In 1979 the old city of Dubrovnik joined the UNESCO list of world heritage sites, and it is easy to see why. The city is incredibly beautiful, boasting a throng of old buildings and settings including the oldest arboretum in the world, dating to 1492, and home to a host of rare flora and fauna, including two Oriental Plane trees, each over 500 years old. The city is situated on a peninsula, jutting out into the shimmering Adriatic Sea. Its old harbour, streets and churches all holding a baroque style with a unique sophisticated character.

The festival has presented a wide array of theatrical performances since its beginning in the 1950s, including those of Croatian playwrights such as Marin Držić and other internationally admired writers and librettists such as Goldoni, Moliere and Goethe. Historically the plays are set and staged in some of the city’s most attractive settings, including the old city harbour and the Rector’s Palace. This year Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is being staged in the beautiful 16th century renaissance castle of Skocibuha between the 25th and the 28th of July.

Other parts of the festival’s program include symphony orchestras, pianists, jazz, films, poetry readings, ballet and opera performances. It is the festival’s ability to offer classical and contemporary acts in both quantity and quality, ranging from high energy dances, to harmonious musical compositions that have visitors returning and critics holding the festival in very high regard. Lado, the National Folk Dance Ensemble of Croatia, performing on the 27th of July tie together these elements so intricately, with beautiful authentic national costumes combined with modern musical and choreographic details.

It is easy to be inspired by what is on offer; a truly international program relying on the city’s heritage and strong Croatian tradition. Dubrovnik already is a center for culture in Croatia, and with the festival it becomes a standing beacon of creative freedom and expression in the world. ‘Walls of Stone, Heart of Art’ was last year’s festival motto; these words seem to capture the festival’s creative core, and the city’s external beauty so well.

Article written for

Snippets of Vietnam

Taking the train is often seen as the best way to travel through a country, and Vietnam offers so much to this experience. The North – South reunification line, a tracked artery from the exotic city of Hanoi to the buzzing metropolis of Saigon is a fantastic chance to destination hop. The line traverses 1072 miles of stunning coastline, through well known areas of beauty such as Hải Vân Pass, with its backdrop of lush green forest and clear, island dotted sea. The hardy high speed trains canter through rural Vietnam, driving past small towns and fishing villages with the iconic scene of a graceful swing of a farming scythe among a rice field and a sole tree peaceful and swaying in the light rain. The journey from north to south is over thirty hours combined, but with its regular stops, it can be transformed into weeks or months of exploration.

In the city of Hanoi, amongst the blended streets of old and new, is the Temple of Literature. The site of Vietnam’s first university which was established in 1076, dedicated to Confucianism, and was open to students studying the principles of literature and poetry for over seven centuries. The temple is made up of traditional bold Vietnamese architecture, with the interior buildings very well preserved. A fantastic great gate leads to several pathways, courtyards, statues, and delightful ancient trees. The temple’s tranquillity seems to fit so well in the city of Hanoi, as its variety and vibrancy radiates down every street. The modern city with its shops, bars, and the emerging bustle of city life growing and evolving around the classic Vietnam.

The Poetry of Science – Carl Sagan

“You are alive right this second. That is an amazing thing,” they told me. When you consider the nearly infinite number of forks in the road that lead to any single person being born, they said, you must be grateful that you’re you at this very second. Think of the enormous number of potential alternate universes where, for example, your great-great-grandparents never meet and you never come to be. Moreover, you have the pleasure of living on a planet where you have evolved to breathe the air, drink the water, and love the warmth of the closest star. You’re connected to the generations through DNA — and, even farther back, to the universe, because every cell in your body was cooked in the hearts of stars. We are star stuff, my dad famously said, and he made me feel that way.