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Science news digest Festival Special - 16th September 2013

This week, the British Science Festival took Newcastle by storm with over 200 events and thousands of visitors. Here’s a selection of the biggest stories from the Festival:

Blobfish voted world’s ugliest animal and mascot of Ugly Animal Preservation Society

The Ugly Animal Preservation Society announced this week that the blobfish has been voted their new mascot after a global online public vote.

Working in partnership with the National Science + Engineering Competition, the Society’s campaign videos have clocked-up nearly 100,000 views, and thousands have voted. Comedians celebrated 11 of Mother Nature’s most aesthetically-challenged beasts, with celebrities such as Stephen Fry and Simon Pegg tweeting their support for their favourite unsightly animals.

The Huxley Debate: the truth about epigenetics

Sparks flew at British Science Festival last night as Tim Spector, Professor of Genetic Epidemiology at Kings College, London and George Davey-Smith, Professor of Clinical Epidemiology at the University of Bristol, participated in the inaugural Huxley Debate on the science of epigenetics.

Tim explained that from his point of view, epigenetics is the field that will explain many of the mysteries of genetics that have bemused scientists up until now. For example, did you know that most genetically identical twins actually die from different causes? In fact, if one identical twin suffers from heart disease, the chances of their twin suffering the same issue are still less than 50/50. This clearly suggests that, despite what people have believed for many years “genes are not our destiny”, and, as Tim said, “something else has to be there”. He believes that this something else is epigenetics.

Death match dinosaurs frozen in time help solve T. rex identity crisis

The discovery of an exciting new dinosaur fossil has helped to solve one of the greatest mysteries of the Late Cretaceous era, the existence of Nanotyrannus lancensis. Until now, Nanotyrannus has been suffering an identity crisis: previous fossils and relics have given hints to its existence, but there’s been no clear evidence that this is a distinct species, rather than simply a developmental growth stage of that great and well-known Cretaceous predator, the Tyrannosaurus rex.

Now, however, new evidence has come to light, in the form of two duelling dinosaurs, predator and prey, locked in immortal combat. The two fossils, consisting of a triceratops and its predator, were discovered in Montana, USA and have been preserved in what appears to be a battle for their lives. However, what is so important about this discovery is not simply the battle taking place, nor even the fact that these are incredibly complete and well-preserved fossil specimens. One of the most exciting things about this discovery is the predator fossil specimen itself.

Take off your shoes and run…

The idea is simple. Our ancestors ran without shoes, relying on their ability to do so to feed and clothe themselves. So why do we need the latest cushion-soled, ankle-supporting, pound-sucking creations from the top sports-shoe brands to do what they did with none?

Barefoot running first came into the spotlight when, in 1960, Ethiopian runner Abebe Bikila ran unshod through the cobbled streets of Rome, on his way to an Olympic gold medal and a new world record. In recent years it has become increasingly popular with those who say it is a better, more natural way to run, and that running without shoes prevents injuries and increases performance.

Dying stars can help in the fight against climate change

Dying stars on the other side of the universe could help us deal with climate change on Earth, Professor Jon Gluyas, Professor of Geoenergy Carbon Capture Storage at Durham University told the British Science Festival today.

When stars collapse, they emit cosmic rays that shoot across the universe. Our atmosphere is constantly being bombarded with these cosmic rays, and if they happen to bump into an atom of oxygen or nitrogen in the upper atmosphere, the resulting collision produces a muon. This happens more frequently than you might imagine: in an area the size of my thumbnail, approximately one muon passes through every minute. Our planet is effectively being showered by muons.

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