Language Evolution

Evolution occurs in culture as well as in the natural world. One example of this is language evolution.

Fossils

Fossils record the history of life on Earth in rocks. But how can we learn about evolution, origination of new species and mass extinctions from fossils?

Is your computer more intelligent than you?

We have so far been looking at evolution from the perspective of Biology and Geology, but the principles of evolution can help us understand other kinds of change as well. For example, evolution can tell us a lot about how computers and artificial intelligence are developing now, and where they may be going in the future.

Algebraic reasoning

Applying algebraic reasoning to solve numerical problems in a real life situation is a key concept in mathematics… Practice your algebraic reasoning with these questions, perfect for GCSE students.

Hydroelectric power

How do we harness the potential energy of water? These questions are suitable for GCSE and A-Level students.

Dr Harry’s Questions

Dr Harry’s Questions are a mixture of Physics-oriented questions, puzzles and brainteasers designed to challenge anyone and everyone interested in studying Physics.

Reading the runes

In Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth, a volcano in Iceland proves to be the way to enter the depths of the Earth… but how do the protagonists of this story figure this out from a complex encoded text? Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1864) tells the story…

Determining the size of a volcanic eruption using only maths

If I told you that to determine the size of a volcanic eruption all you needed were three important measurements, you’d most likely think I’d lost the plot. Well, there’s a little more to it – aka some amazingly simple maths, but that is exactly how it’s done. Suppose you were given the daunting task…

Did volcanoes kill the dinosaurs?

Scroll to the bottom of the page for today’s task! It’s the age-old question – how did the dinosaurs die out? What if volcanic activity was responsible for their extinction? And are we heading for another mass extinction today? Step back 66 million years and try to uncover the answers to these questions and the…

What’s the price on your head?

How much would you spend to save a life? How do you make that decision? It’s much more complicated than you think… Read on to discover the difficult implications of putting a monetary value on saving lives. When Nevado del Ruiz erupted in Colombia in 1985, about 23,000 people died as a result. If you…

What we can learn from the archive of a Pompeian banker family

One result of the eruption of Vesuvius is that we have an excellently preserved snapshot of Roman life in AD 79, meaning historians can build an amazing picture of what life at this time was really like! Discover how even the tiniest of details uncovered by historians can give us a fascinating insight into the…

What is the power of a volcano?

Volcanoes aren’t always about eruptions and the catastrophic natural disasters we often see in the news. Many people live close to volcanoes and face other hardships and issues even aside from the possibility of an eruption – so what is life like for them?  Think for a moment about a volcanic eruption you have studied…

Telling the time with volcanoes

Scroll to the bottom of the page for today’s task! It’s not all gushing lava and pyroclastic flows – sometimes the excitement of volcanoes lasts long after they erupt, in the form of radioactive rocks! Find out how radioactive decay and preserved ash can be used to date volcanic eruptions… Dating volcanic eruptions For geographers…

The power of Vesuvius in the ancient world

Scroll to the bottom of the page for today’s task! The eruption of Vesuvius has led to an interesting combination of destruction and preservation… Although the volcano buried the towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum, this means they are very well preserved. But recently they’ve come under threat from more destruction thanks to human activity. So…

Eruptions and transformations: volcanoes in poetry and songs

Scroll to the bottom of the page for today’s task! Volcanoes, plate tectonics and Roman gods – not necessarily your standard subjects for poems or songs… Read on to discover where the word ‘volcano’ comes from, and what volcanoes have come to signify in literature and music – and have a go at writing your…

The power of volcanoes in art

What can volcanoes signify in art? Sometimes the aim is just to show volcanoes informatively, some artists want to explore their cultural significance, whilst on some occasions they’ve even been used symbolically. Volcanoes aren’t always just there to look spectacular – delve into their deeper meanings, and you might never look at them in the…

Evolution, ecology and volcanoes

There are many questions one can ask that link evolution and ecology to volcanoes… Let’s start at a small scale in both space and time. Are plants and animals growing on and near active volcanoes different from those growing elsewhere? Yes, they are! Volcanic soils are rich in certain minerals, and plants like coffee grow…

The Physics of Sandcastles and Ladders

We invite any aspiring physicists to try their hand at these physics problems dealing with light, atoms and force: Estimate the number of visible photons leaving a 60W light bulb per second. How big would a sandcastle be if you made it from the same number of grains of sand as there are atoms in…

LINGO: Where words are a matter of life and death

Learning a language is very much like playing a game: you need to be strategic, know how to identify what’s important and what’s not so essential. You must assess probability and take risks. Sometimes you must make do with little (your word bank, your range of structures) but you must also try to be accurate….

How to earn billions by giving something away for free

Few people can have escaped the massive success of Fortnite: Battle Royale. Launched in late 2017, the game had 250 million players by March 2019. In 2018 Fortnite made more money than any other game in history:  $2.4 billion.  While creativity and technology are essential to the success of a video game, economic decisions can…

Momentum and Energy

We invite any aspiring physicists to try their hand at these physics problems dealing with the concepts of momentum and energy: Martial arts such as Judo, Aikido and Japanese Jiu Jitsu teach dynamic throws. These are explained to students as redirecting their attacker’s momentum. Can you explain this by separately considering the linear motion of…

Crime Scene Investigation

Test out your Chemistry (and detective) skills with this conundrum from St John’s Chemistry Tutor Professor Richard Compton and his research group. Q: In some movies, the crime scene investigators spray chemicals to find traces of blood even if most of them have been cleaned or removed. Fluorescent blue light is normally shown in the place with…

Chemistry through time

Put your knowledge of Chemistry to the test with these history-themed questions from St John’s Chemistry Tutor Professor Richard Compton and his research group. Q: The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford is one of the renowned museums owned by Oxford University. Here you can see galleries full of paintings and sculptures made of white marble or blackened bronze, from…

Kitchen Chemistry

Test your chemistry knowledge with these kitchen-themed questions from St John’s Chemistry Tutor Professor Richard Compton and his research group. Q: How radioactive is a banana? Q: What is the main process happening when cooking or frying fish? And what other method, without applying heat, would give a decent meal? Q: Brew kettles are made from…

Using Language to Build Characters and Worlds

Designing an immersive world is all about getting the details right. In a video game, the world consists of a number of elements, including the visual space, the characters that navigate it and the soundscape (music, sound effects and speech). It is in the finer details of these elements that the most immersive and fascinating…

Human powered helicopter

Try your hand at some physics problems based on gravity set by St John’s Physics tutor Professor Tony Weidberg… Q: Many proposals have been made for a human powered helicopter. Consider the case of such a machine with a rotor 10 metres in diameter. Could a human create enough power to overcome gravity? The density…

Heating and cooling

Try your hand at some physics problems based on heating and cooling set by St John’s Physics tutor Professor Tony Weidberg… Q: You want to heat a cold room using a simple electric bar heater. This consists of one conducting wire connected to the mains via a plug. In order to maximise the power, should you…

The physics of making a cup of tea

St John’s Physics Tutor Professor Tony Weidberg loves a good cup of tea, so why not make yourself a brew and have a go at his physics brainteasers… Q: At the interval during a football world cup game, some people watching at home make a cup of tea using electric kettles. Make a reasoned order of…

Thick and sticky fluids

Viscosity is a property of a fluid on the molecular scale and is a measure of the strength of the internal friction between fluid particles. What this means in practice is that the thicker and stickier the fluid, the higher its viscosity. The task that you have been set by St John’s Maths Tutor Dr…

Chemistry Brainteasers

Test your chemistry knowledge with these brainteasers from St John’s Chemistry Tutor Professor Richard Compton and his research group. 1. How could you charge your phone using lemons as the energy source? 2. How can you measure the size of a molecule? 3. Can you estimate the minimum mass of graphene required to cover the entire surface of…

Fun with Bubbles

Bubbles are undoubtedly great fun, but do you know the chemistry behind some of their most famous behaviours? See if you can answer the questions below from St John’s Chemistry Tutor Professor Richard Compton and his research group. Q: There are plenty of videos online where people trigger explosions by adding Mentos to Coke. How…

Through the looking glass

Have a go at the questions below relating to glass courtesy of St John’s Chemistry Tutor Professor Richard Compton and his research group. Q: How long does it take for glass to flow appreciably? Q: Linking science and art, how could people many years ago create the stained glass windows seen in cathedrals and churches?

Learn to programme

Turtle Academy is a simple-to-use website providing free lessons in basic computer programming. Using the LOGO language you can create amazing shapes and patterns in next to no time – give it a try and see what you can come up with!

A Tetris puzzle

If you fancy yourself as a Tetris whizz, try your hand at this puzzle set by St John’s Maths Tutor Dr David Seifert… One of the most successful video games of all time is Tetris. There are seven different Tetris pieces: the long piece, the square, the T-piece, two L-pieces and two Z-pieces. Each piece…

A good story is key

The most successful kind of plot for computer games – and indeed for all kinds of other stories, from international folk-tale, to medieval romance, to the great fantasy works of the twentieth- and twenty-first centuries, is the quest. The hero sets out from home on a quest to find something or with a mission to…

Make your own video game

Using the free website https://flowlab.io/ we want you to create your very own video game! It’s simple to use and doesn’t require any coding: simply drag and drop the game pieces into position and build your own virtual world. The tutorial is a great place to start.

The Game of Life

The Game of Life is one of the simplest video games ever to exist, and yet is one of the most addictive! It’s known as a zero player game as you simply choose your initial layout of black and white squares and then leave the game to evolve over time following a set of four…

What can we learn from video games?

What’s the point of a historical video game? What do you get from setting a battle in ancient Rome or on the battlefields of the Second World War, rather than in space, the far distant future, or an imaginary world? From a historian’s perspective, we might gain a number of new insights by playing through…

Why are video games addictive?

Psychologist Amy Orben discusses whether or not video games are addictive, and whether or not this should be considered a mental disorder.

Physics Brainteasers

Try your hand at some fun Physics brainteasers set by St John’s Physics Tutor Professor Tony Weidberg… Q: Explain how many high tides would be observed per day at a given point on the Earth. Q: In a popular science article on nuclear fusion it was claimed that two parallel electron beams could attract each…

Magic money tree

See if you can answer the question below set by St John’s Economics Tutor Dr Kate Doornik… You have been given some magic money.  If you plant the money then it will grow into a magic money tree, which will grow more money for you to pick the following year. To be precise, if you…

Mathematicians through history

Try out these fun puzzles on the topic of maths history set by St John’s Maths Tutor Dr Tom Crawford… Puzzle 1 Can you place the (extremely) famous mathematicians below in order of the year that they were born, earliest first? Bonus points for telling me what they studied. Puzzle 2 Below are portraits of…