The Big Picture Little Book of Fast Facts

Issue 15 | January 2012

Blurred trees

The Big Picture Little Book of Fast Facts

Each issue of ‘Big Picture’ comes with a sprinkling of Fast Facts, fascinating snippets of information on the topic covered. We've brought together the best of the fast facts from our first 14 issues – plus a few more for good measure – in a fun little book, with over 50 Fast Facts sorted into eight themes. Use them in project work, as part of lessons or even just to astound your friends.

Order a copy or download the PDF or PowerPoint versions of our book. You can also browse all the facts in our online player below.

Fast Facts

Each issue of 'Big Picture' comes with a sprinkling of Fast Facts, fascinating snippets of information on the topic covered.

Browse through all of our Fast Facts indexed by topic

Sex and Gender

Issue 3 | January 2006

Clownfish

Sex and Gender

***Articles reviewed and updated in November 2014***

Are men more rational than women? Females more caring than males? Alleged differences between the sexes can generate heated debate. In this issue, we explore the biological basis of sex differences and the relationship between sex and gender. As well as covering the science of sex determination, we look at attitudes towards masculinity and femininity, and ask whether sex is truly a useful way of categorising people.

Browse through the individual articles, check out our image galleries and quizzes and consider our lesson ideas. This issue was first published in 2006; in 2014, all of the individual resources were reviewed and updated for accuracy and currency. Please do note, however, that the PDF of the original 2006 issue has not been updated.

The nature of sex

The X and Y of sex

In humans, whether our sex organs develop into testes or ovaries is determined largely by X and Y chromosomes

Hormones at work

It is not only sex chromosomes but also sex hormones that that determine whether we grow up as males or females

Sex determination in nature images

In humans a chromosomal mechanism determines sex, but there are many other ways to create males and females

Gender gap

Although often used interchangeably, ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ have different meanings

XYY: Stereotype of the karyotype

It is not only people with disorders of sex development/intersex conditions who experience gender-related stereotyping by society

What are disorders, differences and divergent sex development?

Find out more about these conditions, often known as DSDs

The evolution of sex

Why have sex?

Why is sex a better reproductive strategy than cloning yourself?

Unconventional reproduction

Offspring aren’t necessarily produced by one male and one female

Sexual attraction

If a species is to survive, males and females must meet and mate. What attracts us to someone – looks, physique… or even smell?

Sexual selection

In natural selection the fittest individuals survive and pass on their genes to the next generation

Generation game

In which contestants – egg and sperm – must come together to get to the next round

Gay times

The origins of homosexuality are uncertain and hotly debated. Is it biologically defined? A free choice? And, ultimately, does it matter?

Theories of sex

Why is sexual reproduction so important?

Lost in love

Is being in love a pathological condition? It certainly has some profound effects on our behaviour – and our physiology

You, me and mitochondrial ‘Eve’

Your DNA comes from three sources

Evolutionary explanations

Natural selection and Darwinian evolution are believed to be the main forces shaping life

Vive la difference?

Sex on the brain

Perhaps the most fascinating differences between the sexes – and certainly the most controversial – are those seen in the brain and behaviour

Reporting of sex differences

Nearly everyone has an opinion on sex differences. And there’s money to be made by writing about them

Gender source

Are gender differences between males and females biologically based or do they reflect cultural influences?

The brain game

Could differences in brain structure explain behavioural differences between the sexes?

Sexual dimorphism

Are males always bigger than females? Sometimes, nothing could be further from the truth…

Medical differences

Males and autism

Is autism linked to an ‘extreme male brain’, as proposed by Cambridge scientist Simon Baron-Cohen?

Sex and death

Is illness sex-blind? Sometimes, but there are clear cases of a sex bias

Implications of sex differences

If we want to improve health, should we treat males and females differently?

Sex selection

Selecting the sex of a baby is allowed in the UK for medical reasons, but should everyone be free to choose?

Health behaviours

Men and women may have different approaches when it comes to health

Blue genes?

Very little is known about differences in gene activity between males and females, or what the implications of differences might be

Doing without sex

Will there come a day when reproduction is entirely separated from the human body?

It takes three, baby

What is mitochondrial donation – a process sometimes said to create ‘three-parent babies’ – and what does it involve?

Sex and society

Male and female genomes

We inherit a complete genome from our mother and another from our father

The X factor

Why are there so few female composers? Or Nobel Prize-winning scientists? Are males superior in these areas, or have women simply been given fewer opportunities?

Opinions on sex selection

Should parents be allowed to choose a child’s sex? Listen to several different opinions on the topic

High fidelity

Are humans supposed to mate for life? What about other species? And is one sex more promiscuous than the other?

Being positive

If we think sexual equality is a good principle, should we be more active in enabling women to advance?

Is it a woman’s world?

For centuries men have dominated society, but is the pendulum swinging more towards women?

Thinking outside of the box(es)

Is sex actually that useful a way to distinguish people?

Studying sex and gender

If you’re interested in researching this area as a career, here are a few possible approaches

The facts about female genital mutilation

Some cultures mark a young woman’s sexual development by cutting her genitals in a painful process that has no health benefit

Being determined

If there are sex differences, how do we respond to them?

Is equality possible?

If men and women are different, is equality really possible?

Historical views

The good old bad old days

Throughout history, science has explored sex differences – usually attempting to reinforce the assumption of male superiority

Women’s rights

A historical look at sexual equality

Pink pigeonholes and blue boxes

Society’s views of gender have a way of reinforcing stereotypes about sex

Girls on top

The role of gender in society

Real Voices interviews

Real Voices interview: Alan Jenkins

Meet Alan, a community midwife working in London

Real Voices interview: Angela Curnick

Meet Angela Curnick, a long-serving firefighter in the London Fire Brigade

Real Voices interview: Mia

Meet Mia, a young woman with complete androgen insensitivity syndrome. She talks to Jennifer Trent Staves about finding out about her condition, what gender means to her, and why she is a bit like a flourless chocolate cake

Activities and lesson ideas

Lesson idea: Debating sex selection

We take you step by step through running a debate about sex selection in the classroom

Further resources and activities on sex and gender

The Wellcome Trust has funded other organisations to produce activities and resources that will engage and educate young people on the topic of sex and gender

Sexual dimorphism quiz

Try our special ‘sexual dimorphism’ quiz, which challenges your assumptions about what the male and female of a species should look like

Sexual antics quiz

From snails to spiders, fruit bats to spoon worms, the animal kingdom has some very interesting mating processes. Can you match creature to habit?

Fast Facts

Each issue of 'Big Picture' comes with a sprinkling of Fast Facts, fascinating snippets of information on the topic covered.

Browse through all of our Fast Facts indexed by topic

Proteins

Issue 19 | January 2014

Seeds of the caster oil plant

Proteins

Proteins are polymers of amino acids, and they do all sorts of incredible things. They give structure to living things, carry messages and molecules around our bodies, support the immune system and catalyse chemical reactions, and they are used widely in industry and medicine too. In this issue, we explore proteins and discover how they are involved in all kinds of processes in humans and other organisms.

Download the PDF, browse through the individual articles, check out our multimedia content and consider our lesson ideas. We’ve also picked out content from other issues that we think is especially relevant.

Protein basics

Probing proteins infographic

A numerical look at all things protein

DNA to protein – transcription and translation

Explore how the DNA code is used to build protein molecules

Protrump cards

Collectable cards featuring proteins from albumin to trypsin

Structure and movement

Focus protein: Collagen

How collagen keeps animals in shape

Collagen images

Collagen accounts for around one-third of all protein in vertebrates. Explore this important protein in the image gallery

Muscles and tendons images

We’ve chosen these images to put muscles and tendons under the microscope

Meaty issues

A look at different sources of protein in our diet

Important connections

Collagen mutations cause disorders

On the move

How proteins keep cells together

What’s your type?

Proteins can be separated into broad groups

Animation: Sliding filament theory

Watch or download our animation showing muscle contraction and the sliding filament theory

Transport

Focus protein: Haemoglobin

How haemoglobin carries oxygen around the body

Haemoglobin and blood images

In this image gallery, explore images relating to oxygen transport and blood clotting

Animation: Haemoglobin

Watch our animation showing how this globular protein works

Channelling failure

Why a protein problem causes cystic fibrosis

Building blood

Why we use synthetic blood

Solving structures

Why do scientists study proteins’ shapes?

Cellular signals

Why membrane receptors are important proteins

The biology behind cholera

A look at the science of the waterborne disease cholera

Defence and survival

Focus protein: Immunoglobulin

How immunoglobulins help target invaders

Stemming the flow

Why proteins are vital for blood clotting

Part of the fold

Why correct protein folding is essential

Under attack

Why scientists work to counteract some proteins’ effects

Using antibodies

Exploring antibodies as medicine and in research

Freeze!

How proteins stop fish from freezing

Haemoglobin and blood images

In this image gallery, explore images relating to oxygen transport and blood clotting

Exploring antifreeze proteins

How do molecules help organisms survive in extremely low temperatures?

Exploring storage proteins

Why living things store amino acids for later use

Killer clots: warfarin and vitamin K

A look at the role of proteins in blood clotting

Venoms and the blood

Which haemotoxins are released by organisms to defend themselves against threats or to kill prey?

Venoms and the nervous system

Which neurotoxins are released by organisms to defend themselves against threats or to kill prey?

Signalling

Focus protein: Insulin

Find out how insulin regulates glucose in the blood

Insulin images

Some different ways of illustrating insulin, including pictures relating to the pancreas and diabetes

Switching signals

How kinase proteins control cell processes

Growing up

Why we all need growth hormone – but in the right amounts

Feeling stuffed

How hormones influence our eating

Man the pumps

How drugs can overcome mutations in proteins

Pass it on

How pheromones carry messages

History of insulin

The importance of the protein insulin and its role in diabetes

Proteins in the eye

The function of some of the proteins that allow you to see the world

Weird facts about protein receptors

Find out why mint tastes cold and chillies taste hot

Catalysis

Focus protein: ATP synthase

How ATP synthase captures energy for our cells

ATP synthase images

In this gallery we look at images related to adenosine triphosphate (ATP) synthase, a nanoscale machine that is essential to life

Cunning catalysts

Enzymes are proteins, but need the right conditions to do their job

Life on the edge

‘Extremophiles’ – how organisms survive extreme conditions

Growing old too soon

How enzymes are involved in ageing

Break it down!

A look at proteins that dispose of proteins

Well digested

Why digestive enzymes can be useful

Investigating immobilised enzymes

Immobilised enzymes – find out what these catalysts are used for

Historical aspects

History of insulin

The importance of the protein insulin and its role in diabetes

The biology behind cholera

A look at the science of the waterborne disease cholera

Ethical questions

Video: Bugs or burgers?

Watch or download our video exploring edible protein

Meaty issues

A look at different sources of protein in our diet

Eating animals: a meaty problem?

Can we establish new directions for food policy based on sustainable development?

Real Voices interviews

Real Voices interview: Jack Andraka

Meet Jack, a high school student and scientist

Real Voices interview: Samantha Renke

Meet Samantha, an actress living with brittle bone syndrome

Real Voices interview: Hannah Powell

Meet Hannah, an Olympic weightlifter

Real Voices interview: Martin MacDonald

Meet Martin, a clinical performance nutritionist

Activities and lesson ideas

Lesson ideas for ‘Big Picture: Proteins’

Explore our ideas for using this issue in the classroom

Lesson ideas for ‘Eating animals: a meaty problem?’

Discuss this food policy issue from ‘Big Picture: Food and Diet’ in the classroom

Further resources and activities on proteins

The Wellcome Trust has funded many organisations to produce activities and resources to engage and educate young people on the topic of proteins

Fast Facts

Each issue of 'Big Picture' comes with a sprinkling of Fast Facts, fascinating snippets of information on the topic covered.

Browse through all of our Fast Facts indexed by topic

Populations

Issue 20 | June 2014

Lichens are not a single organism, but populations of fungi and algae living in symbiosis.

Populations

What’s the first thing that pops into your mind when you read the word population? Most likely it’s the ever-increasing human population on earth. The term population isn’t just used to describe humans; it includes other animals, plants and microbes too. In this issue, we learn more about how populations grow, change and move, and why understanding them is so important.

Download the PDF, browse through the individual articles, check out our multimedia content and consider our lesson ideas. We’ve also picked out content from other issues that we think is especially relevant.

Foundations of populations

First things first

Our primer explains why it’s important to study populations

Populations picture infographic

A snapshot of populations around the world

Ecology and the environment

Studying populations in place

Demography dynamics

Using statistics to study populations

Time for a check-up

Epidemiology looks at a population’s health

Gene pool

Studying populations through genetics

Extreme locations

Finding life where you least expect it

Hindsight is 20/20

Fields of scientific study often overlap, and population studies are a case in point

Changes big and small

Supersized

The implications of persistent population growth

Malthus vs Boserup

Humans, like members of all populations of plants and animals, are in competition with one another for the Earth’s resources

Behind the scenes

Abiotic and biotic factors influence ecosystem and population change

Evolutionary forces

What’s Darwin got to do with it?

Movers and shakers

The role of migration and travel in population change

An uneasy relationship

How are populations and disease intertwined?

Complex networks

The game of life

Organisms must compete for survival

Cooperation

Some species are natural partners, or even bedfellows

Conservation

What efforts are humans making to preserve biodiversity?

Populations images

It’s said every picture tells a story, and these images of different populations are a case in point

Sources of sustenance

How do humans and plant populations interact?

Talk talk

Bacteria communicate with each other using quorum sensing

Fight to the finish

Understanding host–pathogen interactions

Herd mentality

Childhood vaccination against infectious diseases has saved countless lives. The main beneficiary, of course, is the child who gets vaccinated

Find out for yourself

Video: What’s up, buttercup?

Watch or download our video on population sampling techniques

Animation: Surveying populations

Watch or download our animation, which demonstrates the range of methods that can be used to investigate different populations in a woodland ecosystem

How to set up a population study

Set up your own population study with our short guide

Presentation is key

Help the data you collect to reach their full potential

Beating bias

How researchers try to reduce bias

Grand designs

Why the design of your experiment will depend on the question you’re asking

Citizen science

This approach to science involves members of the public – from schoolchildren to birdwatchers and fishermen – taking part in scientific research

Ecology and geography fieldwork techniques

Excellent resources on practical fieldwork, be it a handy how-to guide or a bit of advice on investigating specific animals or habitats

Bacterial basics

What are the challenges of investigating bacterial populations?

Treasure hunt

Using data on human populations

Population problems

Cervical cancer vaccinations case study

In the UK 12-year-old girls are offered the vaccine – why? Read on and decide what you think about this population problem

Antibiotic resistance case study

Why are our antibiotics not working? What will happen if this continues? Debate and discuss this issue

Birth control case study

How do you cope with the combination of soaring populations and ageing populations? 

Genetic modification case study

Are genetically modified crops a good or a bad thing? Decide what you think

The ethics of population studies

A population study is a scientific investigation that looks at a group of individual plants or animals of the same species living in a given area or habitat

Real Voices interviews

Real Voices interview: Rupert Houghton

Meet Rupert, a PhD student at the University of Aberdeen studying crayfish populations

Real Voices interview: Philip Taylor

Meet Philip, an apple farmer from Chelmsford, Essex

Real Voices interview: Tejovathi and Gopal Rao

Meet Tejovathi and Gopal, a married couple living in Chandanagar, Hyderabad, India

Activities and lesson ideas

Lesson ideas for ‘Big Picture: Populations’

Suggestions for using this issue in the classroom

Further resources and activities on populations

The Wellcome Trust has funded many organisations to produce activities and resources to engage and educate young people on the topic of populations

Fast Facts

Each issue of 'Big Picture' comes with a sprinkling of Fast Facts, fascinating snippets of information on the topic covered.

Browse through all of our Fast Facts indexed by topic

Obesity

Issue 1 | January 2005

Scanning electron micrograph of adipose tissue, showing lobules rich in adipocytes

Obesity

***This issue has been archived***

This is the era of the expanding waistline. Over the past few decades we have been steadily piling on the pounds. Newspapers warm of an ‘obesity timebomb’, but why is obesity such a problem? And who should be doing something about it? In this issue, we investigate the interplay between science, medicine and society, and people, institutions and politics.

‘Obesity’ was the first issue of ‘Big Picture’. Though still topical, the issue’s scientific content is now out of date, particularly regarding treatment options for obesity. While our original PDF is still available for reference, we strongly recommend that you use content from our ‘Food and Diet’ issue, updated in August 2016, and our issue on ‘Fat’, which we published in January 2016.

Fast Facts

Each issue of 'Big Picture' comes with a sprinkling of Fast Facts, fascinating snippets of information on the topic covered.

Browse through all of our Fast Facts indexed by topic

Number Crunching

Issue 18 | June 2013

Commercially-grown plants

Number Crunching

Statistics can seem daunting, but don’t panic! This issue shows how we can use maths to understand more about the world around us. Join us as we explore how to use stats to summarise data, see whether our figures are significant and put our findings into context, so we can make decisions based on evidence rather than opinion.

Download the PDF, browse through the individual articles, check out our multimedia content and consider our lesson ideas. We’ve also picked out content from other issues that we think is especially relevant.

How science works

Beating bias

How researchers try to reduce bias

The null hypothesis

Why scientists need to show the null hypothesis is false to show a scientific hypothesis is true

Sturdy studies

How to recognise good research

Look at the evidence

Why evidence is central to science

Grand designs

Why the design of your experiment will depend on the question you’re asking

Types of medical study

Find out about the different types of study and analysis used in medical research

Making sense of stats

Just about average

Find out about the different types of average

Defining data

Find out about the different ways researchers define data

Graphically thinking

Using graphs and diagrams to show data

A number of significance

Why significance has a special meaning in stats

What is normal?

Many datasets about everyday biological examples follow a normal distribution

Choose your method

Explore different statistical tests

Jumping to conclusions

Why it’s important to take care with correlation

Risky business

Take a chance

Nobody lives a risk-free life

Living the (micro) life

Micromorts allow us to quantify the risk of different life events

Life-changing findings?

Why people respond to risk in different ways

Are you absolutely sure?

Why risk should be reported responsibly

Calculate your odds

Why our gut reactions to probability aren’t always correct

Stats Q&A

Lottery numbers

Understanding the stats: you can’t increase your chance of winning the Lottery, but you might increase the amount you win

Absolute truth

Understanding the stats: ‘truth’ in science

Natural causes: carrot juice

Understanding the stats: how bias can skew reports of medical ‘successes’

Driving discounts

Understanding the stats: women drivers and insurance discounts

Smoking gun

Understanding the stats: why you can’t get meaningful data from a small sample size

Probably positive

Understanding the stats: no medical test is 100 per cent accurate

When stats go bad

Take care with your wording

“Just 100 cod left in North Sea” – why it’s important to be precise with your vocabulary

Take care with your calculations

“Chance of cot deaths in brothers ‘1 in 73 million'” – how the misuse of statistics in court can have profound consequences

Take care with your claims

“Lifescan, like an MOT for your body” – why claims in adverts can be misleading

Take care with your sample

“Recommended by 93% of Red readers” – why the way data is collected matters

Why risk should be reported responsibly

Is it ever morally acceptable to ‘spin’ information about risk to try to influence people’s behaviour?

Practical help

Video: Chi-squared test

Our video investigates what types of fingerprints people have

Different statistical tests

Why the type of data you’re dealing with will determine the best statistical test to use

Representing data visually

Links to websites with useful information, guides and videos on different ways to represent data visually

Real Voices interviews

Real Voices interview: Vicky Peterkin

Vicky Peterkin is a senior biostatistician at a pharmaceutical company

Real Voices interview: Dr David Colthurst

Dr David Colthurst is a biology teacher leading a project to do scientific research in schools

Real Voices interview: Dr Anthony Underwood

Dr Anthony Underwood is a bioinformatician at Public Health England

Activities and lesson ideas

Video: Chi-squared test

Our video investigates what types of fingerprints people have

Lesson ideas for ‘Big Picture: Number Crunching’

Suggestions for how to use this issue of ‘Big Picture’ in your classroom

Ideas for further research

Suggestions for how students doing the Extended Project Qualification can take statistics to the next level

Further resources and activities on statistics in science

The Wellcome Trust has funded other organisations that produce activities and resources to engage and educate young people about using and understanding data

Fast Facts

Each issue of 'Big Picture' comes with a sprinkling of Fast Facts, fascinating snippets of information on the topic covered.

Browse through all of our Fast Facts indexed by topic

Nanoscience

Issue 2 | June 2005

Nanoscience

***Articles reviewed and updated in August 2014***

Dealing with things smaller than 100 nanometres (for comparison, a human hair is 80,000 nm wide), nanotechnologies are an exciting prospect. Yet while many agree they are the future, questions about safety still remain for some nanotechnologies. From nano-hype to nano-nonsense, this issue sifts sense from speculation.

Nanotechnology is a field that is advancing at a remarkable pace. This issue was first published in 2005; in 2014, all of the individual resources were reviewed and updated for accuracy and currency. Please do note, however, that the PDF of the original 2005 issue has not been updated from its original form.

Navigating the nanoworld

Introduction to nanotechnology

So what exactly is nanoscience? And why the excitement?

How new are nanotechnologies?

Nanotechnology may not be as new as you thought

Life at nanoscales

Nanoparticles might not behave how we expect them to

Viewing nature

Nanotechnology has transformed our ability to see the very small

Nanoscience potential

Inventive materials: buckyballs

Inspiration for invention can come from anywhere

Inventive materials: carbon nanotubes

Lightweight, strong and versatile, carbon nanotubes could revolutionise almost any material

Inventive materials: nanoparticles

Nanoparticles have great potential, but concern over their safety continues

Inventive materials: graphene

Even the most simple methods can produce astonishing results

Inventive materials: nanowires

Nanowires are just one of many new technologies that could revolutionise electronic devices

Inventive materials: self-assembled nanostructures

The ability of structures to self-assemble could change how we think about manufacturing

Nanobots: fact or fantasy

Emerging technologies can generate fear of the unknown among the public

Moore of the same?

Computers continue to grow more and more powerful. Can this continue forever?

Nanotechnology in medicine

The medical potential of nanotechnologies is huge

Nanotechnology detects bacteria

Nanotechnology could be used to detect the presence of bacteria

Too much information?

Nanosensors and enhanced data storage could help us keep tabs on our health status in real time. Is that always going to be a good thing?

The downside

Safety first

Nanoparticles and nanotubes might be harmful, but we don’t really know

Green or black?

Do new nanotechnologies pose a risk to our environment?

Civil liberties

Information, information everywhere: will it become even harder to keep personal information to ourselves?

Who benefits?

Will nanotechnologies lead to a nano-divide between rich and poor?

Hello, post-humans

Could nanotechnology bring humans and machines closer than ever before?

Risky business

Phone for help

In a risky world, how do we work out what’s safe?

Assessing risk

In an uncertain world, working out the risk that’s acceptable is very hard

Tibbs and the precautionary principle

When a course of action might have a potentially serious impact, one approach is to adopt the precautionary principle

Listening to the people

Should the public be involved in discussions about the risks of new technologies?

What do the public think of nano?

Questions have certainly been raised about nanotechnology, but what do the public think?

Tricky innovation

From idea to application

Will nanotechnologies take the world by storm? The road from idea to application is long and rocky

DDT: angel or devil?

What can we learn from previous cases where a technology has faced widespread public criticism?

GM: a not-so-great debate?

What can we learn from previous cases where a technology has faced widespread public criticism?

Where now for nano?

Exciting technology: light fantastic

New developments in digital display are down to nanotechnology

Exciting technology: detective agencies

A highly promising use of nanotechnologies is in diagnosis of disease

Exciting technology: great strides forward

Even some of the clothes we wear make use of nano

Exciting technology: bionano – or nanobio?

Some scientists are looking to nature for inspiration for new uses of nanotechnology

Chips with everything

Lab-on-a-chip technology could reduce a room full of equipment to the size of a microchip

Replacement parts: medical implants

Illnesses that require longer scale treatment may benefit greatly from nanotechnology

Biobarcode

Nanoparticles can be engineered to recognise a specific disease

Real Voices Interviews

Real Voices interview: Doug Parr and Mark Welland

Meet Doug and Mark, two people for whom nanotechnology is a big part of their working lives

Activities and lesson ideas

People power

Look at both sides of the argument over the degree of public involvement in discussing how new technologies are used. What side are you on?

Fast Facts

Each issue of 'Big Picture' comes with a sprinkling of Fast Facts, fascinating snippets of information on the topic covered.

Browse through all of our Fast Facts indexed by topic

Music, Mind and Medicine

Issue 10 | June 2009

Cochlea of the inner ear

Music, Mind and Medicine

***Articles reviewed and updated in July 2014***

It is hard to imagine a world without music. Most of us hear some form of music every day, and it is a powerful trigger of emotional memories. Even so, music remains one of life’s great mysteries. How can it have such a powerful impact? And what exactly is music?

Browse through our articles and interviews, listen to the audio library and check out our lesson ideas to find out more. This issue was first published in 2009; in 2014, all of the individual resources were reviewed and updated for accuracy and currency. Please do note, however, that the PDF of the original 2009 issue has not been updated from its original form.

 

What is music?

What is music?

The different elements of music and what they mean

Music audio library

Listen to our clips to hear examples of pitch, timbre and other elements of music

Harmony in my head

How do we hear?

Wired for sound

The brain has a complex interconnected set of pathways for processing music

Always on my mind

Our brains recognise octaves as special

Abacab

A short history of music

Talking loud and clear

How are music and language related?

Effects on mind and body

Second that emotion

Emotion is fundamental to the musical experience

Heartbeat

Music can trigger powerful physiological responses

You shook me all night long

As any Hollywood soundtrack composer knows, music can be used to manipulate people’s state of mind

Good vibrations

What is quality music?

Like a rolling stone

What does your musical taste say about your personality?

What makes a good musician?

Day after day

Could anyone, given the opportunity, become a concert pianist, or are there a select few with the potential to excel?

I can make you feel good

What role is there for music in modern medicine?

Simply the best

What does it take to be musically gifted?

Rock me Amadeus

Does music make you smarter?

I feel fine

Music has a long history in the healing arts

Crazy

Tarantism is a peculiar chapter in the story of music and health

Musical scientists

Scientists are increasingly turning to music and dance

Musicians’ dreams

Can musical inspiration strike in dreams?

Ailing musicians

Musicians experience a range of maladies, including carpal tunnel syndrome, musculoskeletal complaints and allergic reactions

What is the point of music?

I heard it through the grapevine

Why did music evolve?

She bangs the drums

When did music first appear?

All around the world

Music, like language, shows much regional variation

House of the rising sun

Can animals make music?

Leader of the pack

Music can be a powerful bonding agent

Pleasure and pain

Music plays a central role in the healing and medicine of the Circassian (or Adyghe) people of eastern Europe

Unusual perceptions

Bring the noise

Not everyone can hold a perfect tune, but some can’t actually tell they are out of tune

I can’t get you out of my head

Imagine having a song on permanent play in your head – that’s what people with musical hallucinations have to contend with

Now you’re gone

Loss of hearing is an occupational hazard for musicians – and a problem for those who listen to them

Red red whine

People with synaesthesia may experience music in radically different ways

Say hello, wave goodbye

Musical interests can fade away – or suddenly appear

Backwards messages

Are bands corrupting young people by burying subliminal messages in music, audible only when played backwards?

Music and creativity

She blinded me with science

What is this thing we call creativity and how does it apply to music?

You drive me crazy

Musical geniuses: are they all mad?

Ailing musicians

Musicians experience a range of maladies, including carpal tunnel syndrome, musculoskeletal complaints and allergic reactions

Music and autism

Is there a special relationship between autism and music?

Rhythm is a dancer

Music is commonly accompanied by dance – indeed, the two may have evolved together

Kick over the statues

Music has been used both to suppress and to promote dissension

Real Voices interviews

Real Voices interview: Troi ‘DJ Chinaman’ Lee

Troi, who was born deaf, is the head organiser of Deaf Rave, a music party for deaf people

Real Voices interview: Dr Adrian North

Meet Adrian, a music psychologist based in Edinburgh

Activities and lesson ideas

Melodic Marvels lesson idea

Explore the nature of auditory illusion and hallucination, the effect of music on our minds and bodies, and the potential for music in medicine

Music audio library

Listen to our clips to hear examples of pitch, timbre and other elements of music

Further resources and activities on music and the mind

The Wellcome Trust has funded organisations to produce the following activities and resources that will engage young people on the topic of music and the mind

Fast Facts

Each issue of 'Big Picture' comes with a sprinkling of Fast Facts, fascinating snippets of information on the topic covered.

Browse through all of our Fast Facts indexed by topic

Inside the Brain

Issue 17 | January 2013

CT scans of the human brain

Inside the Brain

***Articles reviewed and updated in November 2017***

The brain is one of our most fascinating organs. Developments in technology and medicine mean that doctors and scientists can examine our brains in more ways and more detail than ever before, all without having to open up the body. In this issue, we find out more about how imaging research has changed the way we can look inside the human brain.

Download the PDF, browse through the individual articles, check out our multimedia content and consider our lesson ideas. We’ve also picked out content from other issues that we think is especially relevant. This issue was first published in 2013; in 2017, all of the individual resources were reviewed and updated for accuracy and currency. Please do note, however, that the PDFs of the original 2013 issue, infographic and poster have not been updated.

Understanding the brain

Neurons by numbers infographic

Vital statistics about brains and brain imaging

Inside the brain poster

Go inside the brain with our classroom poster, free to download 

You and your brain

Your brain underpins who you are. It stores your knowledge and memories, gives you the capacity for thought and emotion, and enables you to control your body

In the system

Like other systems in the body, the nervous system consists of tissue that is made of collections of cells

White and grey

The brain is made of grey and white matter. Grey matter contains the cell bodies of neurons (nerve cells) and their local connections to each other

Finding your way around

Simple and complex psychological functions are mediated by multiple brain regions, but at the same time, one brain area may control many psychological functions

Animation: Action potential

Watch or download our animation about the action potential

The chemicals of the brain

Beneath every thought, dream or action lies a remarkable chemical dance

The neuron

A quick PDF guide from Wellcome on these highly specialised cells that conduct and process information in animals

Primate brains: how do humans compare?

Natalie Hunter investigates what our brains have in common with those of our closest living relatives, non-human primates

Structural imaging

In your head

We can image, or ‘scan’, the brain to examine its structure and function in living people and other animals

Spot the difference

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) vs computerised tomography (CT)

Magnetic resonance imaging

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is well-suited to visualising soft tissues such as the brain. It relies on the magnetic properties of atoms to produce images

Brain imaging images

Some of the types of imaging used to explore the brain and understand the effects things like stroke, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s can have

Check the volume

Voxel-based morphometry (VBM) is a type of analysis applied to MRI images that occur in neurological and psychiatric conditions

Well-connected

Neuroscientists see the brain as consisting of hundreds of specialised areas organised into multiple interconnected networks

Video: Steve gets a brain scan

What is it like to have your brain scanned?

Functional imaging

EEG and MEG

Electro-encephalography and magneto-encephalography are imaging methods used to measure brain activity directly and non-invasively from outside the head

BOLD thinking

The most common form of fMRI is blood-oxygenation-level-dependent (BOLD) fMRI

Functional MRI

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is used to image the parts of the brain that become active during different mental processes

Know your neurotransmitters

Imaging is used to measure the levels of a neurotransmitter, its receptors and its transporters (which remove neurotransmitters from the synapse after release

Other ways to image

When neurons fire, the concentration of calcium ions inside them increases – and this can be used to image them

Quick guide to positron emission tomography (PET)

What is a PET scan and how does it work? Nancy Wilkinson finds out

Brain imaging images

Some of the types of imaging used to explore the brain and understand the effects things like stroke, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s can have

Brain Stimulation

Hands-on research

Researchers can alter your brain function using electric and magnetic stimulation

Optogenetics

Natalie Hunter investigates a cutting-edge technique that is helping researchers better understand how the brain works

Diseases and conditions

Video: Scanning stroke

Watch or download our video of young person who experienced a stroke as she looks inside her brain

A “remarkable lesion”: the causes and effects of demyelinating diseases

Find out more about the causes and effects of these debilitating diseases

Mythbusting

Do we only use 10 per cent of our brains?

Many people think that we only use 10 per cent of our brains and that we can harness the rest to boost our mental abilities

Is there a Jennifer Aniston neuron?

It is unlikely that single neurons map directly and uniquely onto single people or objects

Is a bigger brain a cleverer brain?

Brain size and intelligence are definitely linked, but we still don’t know exactly how

Are we born with all the brain cells we’ll ever have?

Neuroscientists had always believed that the adult brain could not produce new cells and that we are born with all the neurons we will ever have

Can abuse and love change the brain?

There is plenty of evidence that childhood neglect and abuse can cause changes in the brain that have long-lasting effects

Do the sides of our brain do different things?

Another popular myth about the brain is that the left hemisphere is ‘logical’ and the right hemisphere is ‘artistic’

Can learning physically alter the brain?

Neuroscientists believe that learning and memory change the physical structure of the brain

Do we each have a ‘learning style’?

There is no neuroscientific evidence for the visual-auditory-kinesthetic model of learning styles, despite how popular the idea has become

Ethical questions

Big Picture Debates the Brain app

Explore social and ethical questions about the brain

Incidental findings

Imagine your friend is doing a PhD and you have volunteered to participate in a brain-scanning study as part of her research

Unlocking consciousness

Researchers have devised a clever way of using fMRI to try to communicate with patients diagnosed as being in a vegetative state

Brains to blame

Brain injuries often affect a person’s behaviour and personality, causing them to do things that they may not otherwise do

Self-improvement

New techniques and developments in brain imaging can raise tricky ethical questions

Exploring forensic medical imaging

Medical imaging techniques are not just used for diagnosing disease and assessing treatment; they can also be used as evidence in court

fMRI in court: a pack of lies?

Brain imaging’s role in lie detection

Historical aspects

History of understanding the brain images

How did we try and understand the brain before things like magnetic resonance imaging and computed tomography were developed?

Brain case study: Patient HM

Patient HM was an important case study for neurological research in the 20th century

Brain case study: Phineas Gage

Phineas Gage (1823–1860) was the victim of a terrible accident in 1848

Phrenology

Around 200 years ago, phrenology – the study of the connection between the shape of the skull and the characteristics of the mind – emerged

Trepanning

Trepanning – the practice of drilling or scraping a hole into a human skull – is one of the oldest surgical procedures known

Alois Alzheimer and Auguste Deter

Nancy Wilkinson looks into the story of how Alzheimer’s disease was discovered and named

Camillo Golgi

Camillo Golgi (1843–1926) was a doctor and researcher who discovered a new technique for staining tissue samples

Sir Alan Hodgkin and Sir Andrew Huxley

Two neuroscientists made some ground-breaking discoveries that would not have been possible without the help of a few molluscs

Rita Levi-Montalcini

Nancy Wilkinson finds out more about this neurologist, who was the first female winner of the Nobel Prize in Medicine

Santiago Ramón y Cajal

Santiago Ramón y Cajal is often called the founder of modern neuroscience

Sir Charles Sherrington

Nancy Wilkinson finds out more about the man who discovered the synapse

Thomas Willis

Nancy Wilkinson investigates Thomas Willis (1621–1675), a pioneer of research into the brain almost 400 years ago

The brain in popular culture

Wellcome Collection’s guide to ‘Brains’

Danny Birchall gives us a guide to some of the most notable objects, drawings and photographs featured in Wellcome Collection’s ‘Brains’ exhibition

Axon game

Try out this game, which Wellcome Collection created especially for the ‘Brains’ exhibition

Books on the brain

Teachers, scientists and people at Wellcome recommend books about the brain they couldn’t live without

Real Voices interviews

Real Voices interview: Jessica Collis

Meet Jessica, who was recently diagnosed with the condition obsessive–compulsive disorder, and her mum Diane

Real Voices interview: Conor Mallucci

Meet Conor, a paediatric neurosurgeon at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, Liverpool

Real Voices interview: Dr Marius Kwint

Meet Marius, a cultural historian and curator of Wellcome Collection’s ‘Brains’ exhibition

Activities and lesson ideas

Lesson ideas for ‘Big Picture: Inside the Brain’

‘Big Picture: Inside the Brain’ explores how imaging research has changed the way we look inside one of our most fascinating organs, the brain

Further resources and activities on the brain

Wellcome has funded many other organisations to produce activities and resources to engage and educate young people about the brain

Fast Facts

Each issue of 'Big Picture' comes with a sprinkling of Fast Facts, fascinating snippets of information on the topic covered.

Browse through all of our Fast Facts indexed by topic

Influenza special issue

Issue 9 | October 2009

Influenza viruses attaching to the cells of the upper respiratory tract.

Influenza special issue

***Articles reviewed and updated in January 2015***

This special issue, first published at the height of the H1N1 swine flu epidemic, looks at the nature of influenza today, drugs and vaccines that can fight it, how it compares to previous strains, and what international and national bodies are doing about it. Half the length of a regular ‘Big Picture’, it is packed full of interesting information and topical features.

Browse through our articles and check out our activities and lesson ideas. This issue was first published in 2009; in 2014 all of the individual resources were reviewed and updated for accuracy and currency. Please do note, however, that the PDF of the original 2009 issue has not been updated.

Flu in focus

A flu primer

Influenza is a potentially serious respiratory disease caused by a family of viruses

The virus unmasked

The influenza A virus is deceptively simple – at its core are eight short single strands of RNA, the coding material for up to 14 proteins

Out of control?

Influenza epidemics are almost impossible to contain; the priority quickly becomes minimising their impact

Drugs for influenza

Influenza can be tackled with antiviral drugs, though they have their limitations

Vaccines for influenza

Vaccines are a good option for controlling influenza – but it is a constant battle keeping up with an ever-changing virus

Pandemic influenza phases

Through its global monitoring, the World Health Organization can track emerging outbreaks and has the authority to declare the existence of a pandemic

Flu pandemics: five key questions

What you need to know

Past pandemics

1918 flu virus reborn

The 1918 Spanish flu virus has been reconstructed – and is helping to explain why flu can be so deadly

Flu through history

Pandemics have occurred periodically over the past 150 years

The 1976 swine flu outbreak

The peculiar pandemic that never was

Flu (seasonal, swine, avian and Spanish) and SARS compared

Do you notice any marked similarities or differences?

It’s good to talk

The 2009 swine flu pandemic was characterised by open communication – unlike previous pandemics

The origins of influenza viruses

Influenza virus genomes are a patchwork quilt of genes from different sources

The postwar killer

Spanish flu ravaged a continent already devastated by World War I

Avian flu: beyond H5N1

Will H5N1 avian flu seed the next human pandemic? Or could another form of bird flu turn out to be the one that goes global?

Ebola and influenza compared

The 2014 Ebola outbreak has been the subject of intense global scrutiny. How does it compare with influenza?

Further inside influenza

Virus genomes: shift and drift

The influenza genome is in constant flux

The way in: how influenza viruses infect cells

Why are some influenza viruses transmitted so easily between people while others are still restricted mainly to birds?

How the flu virus affects the body

What happens when the influenza virus invades?

Applying science to flu pandemics

Are we better prepared for flu pandemics than we were in the past?

The merits of ferrets

Many insights into flu transmission have come from research on an unusual model organism – the ferret

The dynamics of outbreaks and pandemics

Seasonal cycles, natural selection and the success of control efforts all play a role

Ethical questions

Loss of liberty

Do human rights go out of the window when a pandemic strikes?

The aftermath of the swine flu pandemic

Did the world, and the UK, overreact to the 2009 swine flu pandemic?

Flu vaccine and young people

Older people have traditionally been the target of flu vaccination campaigns, but it may be wise to vaccinate young people too

Who gets the medicine?

If there is not enough medicine to go round, who should be first in line – and who should decide?

A matter of preparedness

Are we ready for the next pandemic?

Activities and lesson ideas

Sneeze game

Find out how quickly viruses can spread through populations in this free online game.

Quiz: Flu and you

How well do you understand the flu? Test your knowledge with our quick 10-question quiz

Drugs for influenza

Influenza can be tackled with antiviral drugs, though they have their limitations

Further resources and activities on influenza

The Wellcome Trust has funded other organisations to produce activities and resources that will engage and educate young people on the topic of influenza

Fast Facts

Each issue of 'Big Picture' comes with a sprinkling of Fast Facts, fascinating snippets of information on the topic covered.

Browse through all of our Fast Facts indexed by topic

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