Samantha Rolfe

Astronomy and Astrobiology

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Forensics: A Review

We the public have a greater understanding of crime scene investigation than ever before along with the science that supports investigations. This is due to the numerous popular television shows, and even in Hollywood, that present the forensic process. However, to keep audiences gripped, some technologies and techniques are exaggerated, which can cause confusion as to the extent of the reach of current scientific forensic contributions to court cases.

To balance this, the true crime and popular science book Forensics, The Anatomy of Crime (320 pages) puts all the current forensic techniques under the microscope (ha) and explores the history and evolution of each with details of trials and pioneers of the techniques as case studies backed by current experts.

Those interested in the current form of forensic science and its power to help solve otherwise unsolvable crimes with fair insight into the limitations, would devour this book going in at any knowledge level, no prerequisites required. As it is an overarching study of the whole field it would also serve as a perfect springboard for those beginning to study in these areas or looking to apply their knowledge of biology, chemistry, computing or problem solving to name but a few cross‑discipline applications.

This comprehensive work was expertly researched and constructed by Val McDermid, a seasoned crime fiction writer who uses authentic scientific techniques throughout her novels and has known many of the experts she interviewed for years. However, a warning – some of the details are not for the faint-hearted, a discussion of forensic techniques easily leads to case studies of heinous crimes that were solved due to improving forensics.

Available at your local, independent or otherwise bookshop or online retailer ISBN: 9781781251706.


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Gut: A Review

Book Review

It is my gut feeling that few of us think that our gut feeling is as important as what our heads or hearts feel. Classically they conflict, we should follow our heads or our hearts, but you really really should trust your gut.

Giulia Enders weaves a funny and informative narrative about all things to do with our largest organ, I must insist you STOP WHAT YOU ARE DOING, go buy this book…

Available at your local, independent or commercial bookshop or online various, including: Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ 


Now that you’ve read it, I don’t need to review it and I am sure you will agree that you have learned more about your body in those ~250 pages than you have since school.

In case you didn’t read it (why not?! I thought the above prose was pretty damn convincing), I will put down a few things here that I hope will make you want to read it.

Firstly, this book is so easy to read, it is a joy to learn about how you should be pooing (yes, you’ve been doing it wrong all these years), about how your gut thinks independently of your brain and the illustrations are just so quaint, yet highly informative!

Secondly, despite having a gut feeling for millennia, it is literally in the past decade (and even then, barely that long) that science is finally waking up to the idea that our gut actually has something to say and we should be damn well listening!

Only someone as passionate about poo as Giulia can make you give a shit about yours.

Did you know that babies in the womb are totally sterile!? As soon as they enter the birth canal or are born by caesarean section, they start acquiring the microbes that will shape their gut flora for the rest of their lives.

There is a brain/gut link, though the gut can do it’s own thinking, sometimes it has to demand that the brain listen (and vice versa). This includes times of stress (and hence, stress-related gut pains/stomach ulcers/constipation etc…), otherwise the gut just gets on with things without us realising as it is made of unconsciously controlled ‘smooth muscle’.

Furthermore, our gut flora (the many billions, trillions? of microbes that live in our gut and on average contribute 2 kg to our overall weight) can also affect our mood, with links to depression and anxiety. Simply (not simply) – happy gut, happy brain – the link between the gut, diet (and hygiene, i.e. contact with bad bacteria), and hence our gut flora, and depression is becoming clearer with each new study.

A healthy gut flora (good bacteria) leaves less and less room for any bad bacteria that we may encounter to latch on and make us feel unwell.

How’s your poo looking? Check out the Bristol Stool Scale to check how you are doing. For info on how to achieve the perfect poo, get this book!

Tend to your gut garden and introduce good flora such as Lactobacillus acidophilusLactobacillus rhamnosus and Lactobacillus casei Shirota by eating natural yogurts or yogurt drinks that contain live cultures. (A favourite breakfast of mine: cornflakes/muesli (~15g), flaked almonds and/or seed mix (~10g) and natural yogurt (~100g) with a sprinkle of cinnamon (total: ~225 kcal).)

Ever wondered why being unwell can be made so much worse by an unfortunate “shart”? Or why long distance runners “shouldn’t trust a fart after X miles of running”? I’ll let Giulia explain at her award winning Science Slam talk, where only someone as passionate about poo as her can make you give a shit about yours. Get talking about your gut and you’ll realise that “the anus [and this review] is only the tip of the iceberg”.

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Review – BBC 1, “The Truth About…”, Episode One: Sugar

Available on BBC iPlayer, (as of posting) for 18 days

I heard bits and pieces about this programme at work as we chatted over lunch, so caught up on iPlayer. The main thing from the show that came out of our lunchtime discussion was the idea that all sugars were processed by your body the same – e.g. that brown sugar is just as bad for you as white – having heard in the past that brown is better for you than white, choosing brown sugar at the coffee shop was pointless it turns out… though I do prefer the taste. These types of myths, busted! (“Everything in moderation!”, my colleague would declare, that’s her motto).

As someone who has fairly recently, in the past two years, been attempting to get fit and healthier, my relationship with sugar is not one I had considered too closely. To lose weight I initially cut down my fat intake, but of course sugar is converted to fat if you don’t move about! So, though I reduced sugary snacks, I never considered the sugar in the other foods I was eating, i.e. mainly “savoury” items! And “healthy” options like cereal bars too would seem to be packing high levels of sugar!

How much sugar are you eating? – the World Health Organisation (WHO) says 12 teaspoons a day is ok, but has begun to recommend that we try to keep this to six! (1 *level* teaspoon = 4 g).

I use the app MyFitnessPal and it recommends that my base rate intake of sugar (which would increase according to the level of exercise I do that day) is 11.25 teaspoons of sugar (WHO, you’ve done it again!).

According to “The Truth About” sugars that are in fruits don’t count towards your recommended daily allowance, so this is where MyFitnessPal falls down slightly because it doesn’t/can’t differentiate between fruits and other sugars when you input items (perhaps something for the future…?)

What I liked about this programme was that it really made you think about all the sources of sugar in our diets. We were up searching through our cupboards, looking at our regularly consumed items to see how much sugar was in them before the programme was even halfway through.

It combined “ask the audience” – out on the street, getting the public to guess how much sugar they thought would be in certain everyday items (always hideously underestimating! Really made it obvious that we, generally, still have no idea what we are eating!); “case studies” – four volunteers had their diets laid bare, how much sugar they consumed per day, tests to see how it has affected their health and a challenge to cut down and hopefully improve their long term health by avoiding health issues such as obesity and diabetes; and “ask the scientist” – various scientists from different fields in the area discussed different aspects of sugar and our diets. All very interesting! Especially the bit about food packaging, there is so much information on packets now, but if you don’t know how to use it then it is no good. If an item of food has 22.5 g of sugar per 100 g then that is a high sugar content. Check the back of the packet, not just the portioned version of the sugar content on the front, e.g. a 30 g portion of x contains y g of sugar, that’s not that helpful in understanding the overall sugar content compared to other items which may have different portion sizes. Skittles 90.3 g per 100 g… just so you know.

Take the six teaspoon challenge! Can you cut your sugar intake down to six teaspoons (24 g) or less a day?

Nonetheless, while watching said programme I munched on two cookies. Which had 13 g of sugar per cookie!!!! Whoops. Challenge starts *now*!

I’m looking forward to the second episode: The Truth About…. Calories, especially since I’ve been watching them rack up on MyFitnessPal for almost a year now!

Enjoy! And good luck!