Once upon a time, scholars tended to wear long robes, live in monasteries and focus on botany.
Some of these medieval scientists recorded their extensive knowledge of medicinal plants; today, researchers are using these manuscripts to inspire and develop modern medicines.
Although efficient in some cases, these early treatments could not combat the rampant epidemics of the time, such as the plague, which constantly re-emerged because humans and animals lived in such close proximity. Unfortunately, history repeats itself, and we are once again struggling with the threat of zoonoses: animal diseases that cross to humans.
Modern genetics, too, owes a debt to monastic botany, and more specifically to Gregor Mendel, whose laws of heredity underlie the theory of evolution and are still taught in biology classes. To explain – literally – the nuts and bolts of evolution, why not use everyday materials to construct your own phylogenetic trees in the classroom?
Plants clearly provide inspiration in many scientific fields. Did you know, for example, that iodine was originally discovered in seaweed? Although at the time, the chemists involved were actually trying to make gunpowder.
More violent and infinitely more destructive than the firing of a gun are volcanic eruptions. To better understand volcanoes, an international team of scientists are using tiny particles – muons – to see inside.
On an even bigger, hotter and more destructive scale, the supernova explosion of a dying star can result in a black hole – sucking into it all surrounding matter. Black holes may be difficult to grasp conceptually, but they can be easily demonstrated in the classroom using simple equipment.
From medieval herbal remedies to monitoring volcanoes with cosmic particles: this issue should make your heart beat fast with excitement. So why not take the opportunity to simulate this with a gruesome, hands-on activity to investigate how the heart pumps?