Find out what’s been in our post­bag this month.

Focus-Science and Technology - - CONTENTS -

I read the editor’s let­ter in the July is­sue and I can re­late to his fears of be­ing chased by a T. rex – it’s bound to be hap­pen­ing in one mul­ti­verse or an­other. But rest as­sured any di­nosaur com­ing af­ter you from the Cre­ta­ceous pe­riod would be so out of breath that you could run rings round it. Fin­gers crossed.

Pat MacDon­nell, Ire­land

Hah. That’s a good point. These days the air lacks the kind of oxy­gen lev­els T. rex would have been ac­cus­tomed to in the Cre­ta­ceous pe­riod. In fact, if they had man­aged to build a Jurassic Park (or Jurassic World as the new films sug­gest) it’d just be full of puff­ing, wheez­ing di­nos, strug­gling to get around. Sadly, I don’t have the same ex­cuse… – Daniel Ben­nett,editor

Play­back er­ror

I was fas­ci­nated to read last month’s is­sue and to find about con­gen­i­tal aphan­ta­sia (Sum­mer, p10). Such a con­trast to those who can run back a video of events that have hap­pened to them.

Eric Mid­dle­ton, North York­shire

Do­ing the dirty

Use a dish­washer rather than use the sink? Ridicu­lous! You for­got to in­clude the en­vi­ron­men­tal cost of dish­washer raw ma­te­ri­als, con­struc­tion, trans­porta­tion and dis­posal. When hand­wash­ing the dishes I: rinse/ soak first in cold; don’t change the wa­ter; rinse off in cold; use the wa­ter on the gar­den. Please be re­al­is­tic (sci­en­tific?) in your com­par­isons!

Andy Vowles, via email I ab­so­lutely agree, it is pos­si­ble to hand­wash dishes in such a way as to use less en­ergy than a dish­washer. The com­par­i­son I drew in the ar­ti­cle comes from a study that looked at the typ­i­cal way that peo­ple wash dishes, not the op­ti­mal way. In ad­di­tion, it was based on US sur­vey data, where there seems to be more of a ten­dency to leave the tap run­ning. The fea­ture was try­ing to show ways that you can save en­ergy while be­ing lazy, but of course there are much big­ger gains to be made if we are pre­pared to put in a bit of ef­fort! – Luis

Vil­la­zon, BBC Fo­cus con­trib­u­tor

Ben­zene basher

I read your ar­ti­cle on NASA find­ing com­plex or­ganic mat­ter in Martian rock with in­ter­est, only to find out they hadn’t re­ally found com­plex or­ganic mat­ter. You men­tioned ben­zene, but this only has 12 atoms. Per­son­ally, I will get ex­cited when they find or­ganic com­pounds that con­tain over 100 atoms – now that’s start­ing to get com­plex. An­other thing you some­times hear is sci­en­tists claim­ing to find the build­ing blocks for life out­side of the Earth, but have they? Have they found an in­for­ma­tion stor­age method like RNA? Have they found some­thing re­sem­bling a cell wall? Not as far as I know. It just all seems rather ex­ag­ger­ated to me. I think we need to get things into perspective. For ex­am­ple, with re­gard to plan­ets around other stars, find­ing a planet with liq­uid wa­ter is ex­cit­ing from a dis­cov­ery point of view, but find­ing

a planet with liq­uid wa­ter and an oxy­gen at­mos­phere is ex­cit­ing from both a dis­cov­ery and an ev­i­dence for life point of view.

An­drew Cirel, via email Poor old ben­zene. – Daniel Ben­nett,editor

I’m your Venus, I’m your fire

I read the ques­tion about cli­mate change and whether Earth could be­come an­other Venus (Sum­mer, p81) and thought it worth men­tion­ing that the pres­ence of CO2 is a mi­nor­ity driver in main­tain­ing such ex­treme tem­per­a­tures as Venus suf­fers. The sheer pres­sure ex­erted by the im­mensely dense at­mos­phere is what gen­er­ates the ma­jor­ity of the heat (see Fredric Tay­lor’s fear­somely de­tailed The Sci­en­tific Ex­plo­ration Of Venus for more). Ob­vi­ously in­creased evap­o­ra­tion of the oceans could see Earth’s at­mo­spheric pres­sure rise if tem­per­a­tures were to rise very sig­nif­i­cantly, but I don’t be­lieve any mod­els show this as likely in the fore­see­able fu­ture. This let­ter isn’t in­tended to un­der­mine the fo­cus (no pun in­tended) on CO2 here on Earth, lest I be mis­un­der­stood! Si­mon Bartlett, via email

Bug­ging out

Bugs that eat oil? Has any­one thought this through? (May, p21) It sounds like the ul­ti­mate ter­ror plot to de­stroy the mod­ern world. A su­per­bug that eats our high­ways and turns the world’s oil wells, re­serves, tanks and gaso­line into muddy wa­ter would be na­ture’s ul­ti­mate re­venge. Ge­orge Robinson, Alabama, US

Have you seen the weather lately, Ge­orge? I think na­ture’s al­ready pay­ing us back. – Daniel Ben­nett,editor

Plas­tic headaches

In your June is­sue, I was re­lieved to learn that we found bac­te­ria that eats away plas­tic. But here’s what comes to mind: our main prob­lem is the plas­tic that’s pro­duced is not fully re­cy­cled. With­out proper seg­re­ga­tion and col­lec­tion schemes, plas­tic will still end up in the seas, thus ren­der­ing pos­ses­sion of an en­zyme use­less. More­over, from your pre­vi­ous is­sue, there was men­tion of only one plas­tic pol­lu­tant. But what about BPA, PFC, etc? Do we have Pac-Mans for these too? Sadly, I think a won­der en­zyme will not clean our seas yet.

Eddie Ra­coubian, Le­banon

Must… eat… editor… but… can’t… breathe

Plas­tic- eat­ing mi­crobes might not save us from pol­lu­tants, says Eddie Ra­coubian

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