The Anti Vax Movement; More Dangerous Than A Disease? by Hedda Belsnes

Going to the doctors’ or the school nurse to have a needle stuck in your arm, is typically a painful childhood memory most tend to have. For those who travel or require regular flu jabs, it could even be a reoccurring memory. However, how much thought goes into the science behind those sharp needles? What are known as vaccinations are available on the NHS and can protect an individual against a multitude of diseases, including diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, polio, Hib, hepatitis B, pneumococcal, rotavirus, meningococcal, measles, mumps, rubella and HPV. Protecting against these diseases not only relieves strain on the NHS, it also saves lives. So why do some choose not to vaccinate?

In 1998, the Lancet Medical Journal published the findings of Dr Andrew Wakefield, who had conducted research that proposed a link between the MMR vaccine (protecting against measles, mumps and rubella) and autism. This sparked global panic, with a dramatic drop in MMR vaccination rates, which inevitably caused a rise in measle cases. Not only did this “doctor” conduct unnecessary, invasive tests on children, without ethical approval or appropriate qualifications, the General Medical Council discredited the entire study, due to lack of medical basis.

Despite repeated research, including an extensive review, conducted by the World Health Organisation showing no evidence for a link between autism and the MMR vaccine, the anti-vax movement remains strong. Internet propaganda spouts arguments against vaccinations, yet these arguments are mainly built upon myths. These myths include vaccines being made using aborted fetal tissue, vaccines contain mercury, and the idea that vaccinations are dangerous. Numerous and extensive academic studies and medical research have disproven these myths. This is alongside proving that any side effects from vaccinations are mild and short-lived. Any severer adverse reactions are incredibly rare; however, doctors and nurses are trained to treat these.

It could be argued that the choice to vaccinate is a personal one. The basis of this argument is flawed in many ways. The first being that the fate of a young child isn’t their personal choice, it’s down to the parent’s own belief of what they think is best. It could be argued that the child’s right to safety and good health is being stripped from them, before they are old enough and informed enough to make their own choices. By the time the child is ready to decide for themselves, it could be too late. Does this mean that parents have a moral obligation to vaccinate their children?

This is also an argument that the choice to vaccinate isn’t a personal one, because of the dangers unvaccinated individuals can pose. The common idea is that if vaccinations are so effective, others aren’t at risk if someone was to chose not to vaccinate their kids. On the contrary, there are many children who would be at risk, such as those who are currently too young to be vaccinated. This would be alongside individuals, young and old, who are unable to be vaccinated, due to immune system problems, such as cancer patients. Parents have also claimed that if they didn’t vaccinate their child, but their child became ill, they could keep them home from nursery/school, to avoid infecting others. This option is also unsuitable, as those infected are often contagious before symptoms can properly begin.

It can be easy to underestimate the importance of vaccinations, thus underestimating the dangers of the anti vax movement. Vaccination remains one of the easiest ways to stay healthy, protecting against serious illnesses, which still poses a very real threat. Vaccine-preventable diseases, such as measles, mumps and whooping cough still results in hospitalisations and death every year. This is largely because these diseases are more common in other countries, meaning children can be infected by travellers, or by travelling themselves. Ultimately, a reduction in vaccination rates could result in an epidemic, where diseases which are virtually eradicated, such as Meningitis C, can return with vengeance.

Yes, many may have their fears about the dangers of vaccinations. Yes, many may believe they are unnecessary and invasive. Yes, many may believe it’s safer not to vaccinate. Yet, you are at a far, far greater risk, by choosing not to vaccinate. Not only are you at a greater risk of severe infections, which could result in death, but you could also be neglecting your moral duties. As individuals, we all have a public health commitment to protect our families, friends and communities, and the only way to sufficiently do this, is to vaccinate.

https://www.verywellhealth.com/anti-vaccine-myths-and-misinformation-2633730

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vaccinations/

http://www.vaccineinformation.org/vaccines-save-lives/

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#WCW Maria Sibylla Merian: A Natural Artist by Maya Lucas

In 17th century Europe, women were expected to be wives, mothers, and little else. While social and economic pressures meant that most women were unable to stray far from this domestic lifestyle, Maria Sibylla Merian was able to repeatedly break convention in ways which led her to become an influential scientific and artistic figure of her time.

In her lifetime, Merian gained admirers from among her fellow naturalists, and even from among the royal families of Europe. She is best remembered today for her pioneering work on insect metamorphosis, particularly on the transformation of caterpillars into butterflies, which has cemented her reputation as an important figure in the history of science and led some to title her “the first ecologist”.

Maria Sibylla Merian was born in Germany on the 2nd of April 1647, as the child of the then-famous Swiss illustrator and print-maker, Matthäus Merian, and Johanna Sybilla Heyne. Though her father died when Maria was only three, her step-father, Jacob Marrel, took over his printing business and encouraged the young Maria to pursue her interest in art.

Although restricted by rules dictating what artistic media female artists were allowed to work with, Maria became skilled in the “feminine” art of watercolour painting. Her family connections in print-making allowed Maria to hone her skills and turn her passion into a career, with her first book of illustrations, the Book of Flowers printed between 1675 and 1680.

Maria’s detail-oriented artistic eye proved useful when applied to scientific observation. Her keen interest in insects, which had begun with breeding silk worms as a teenager, developed into a meticulous scientific and artistic study of insect metamorphosis (the transformations that insects undergo throughout their lifecycles). Her second published work, Caterpillars, Their Wondrous Transformation and Peculiar Nourishment from Flowers featured detailed and richly coloured illustrations of the different stages in the lifecycles of butterflies and moths, alongside their food plants.

However, Maria was not content with observations of her local flora and fauna. Though the museums of Europe held beautiful insect specimens from abroad, these dead encased creatures left could tell her nothing of the insects’ lifecycles and ecology.

Wishing to see live insects in their natural habitats, Maria sold many of her possessions and in 1699 embarked on a scientific expedition to South America, accompanied by her daughter Dorothea. Their aim was to observe and record the wildlife of the Dutch colony of Suriname, she studied and recorded the unfamiliar creatures around her, taking notes and sketches, including documenting the local names and uses of many species.

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An illustration from Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium, 1705

After two years in Suriname, Maria fell ill with malaria and returned to Europe to work on what would become arguably her most important publication: The Metamorphosis of the Insects of Suriname. This book, published in 1705 to great acclaim from the scientific community, brought the vibrant colours of South American wildlife into many European libraries for the first time. As in her previous work, she placed lifecycle stage in single images, life-like compositions alongside their preferred food plants – a style which is still used in many natural history books today.

 

The choice of illustrating her insects this way was a bold one. At this time, many still believed that insects arose from “spontaneous generation”; that they were born out of the Earth fully formed, without any need for reproduction. Having studied her own butterflies and moths extensively, Maria knew otherwise, and decided to document her observations by placing all life stages of her insects together on one page, thus making a clear statement about where she stood on the debate. Alongside her beautiful artwork, it is this contribution to the study of metamorphosis that Maria is best known for today.

After the publication of The Metamorphosis, Maria worked little, except for trading in specimens which her daughter Johanna sent back to her from Suriname. After suffering a stroke two years previously, Maria died in 1717 at the age of 70. Her fame and influence in Europe continued to grow throughout the 18th century, but over the years her impact on art and science was largely forgotten, but this is changing. In 2013, her 366th birthday was celebrated with a Google Doodle. In 2014, the Maria Sibylla Merian Society was founded to support education and investigation into her work. In 2016, her Metamorphosis was re-published. This growing recognition for Maria and her work gives hope that in a few years’ time, Maria Sibylla Merian could be a household name.

 

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An engraving of Maria by Jacobus Houbraken (1717)

Sources:

http://www.themariasibyllameriansociety.humanities.uva.nl/

https://www.theguardian.com/science/grrlscientist/2013/apr/02/maria-sibylla-merian-artist-insects-science

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Maria-Sibylla-Merian

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Nfj5ecfKu4

The Chemical Quest for Love by Sophie Ball

With Valentine’s day just passing, everyone’s emotions have been tested; whether that means you were one of the lucky bunch that had the romantic company of your significant other or you were someone who shared brunch with their ‘galantines’ to make themselves feel a bit better. So what actually is the chemistry behind that fuzzy feeling?

In history, there have been many suggestions to how and why we fall in love. One scientist from Germany even suggested that relationships are affinity reactions and can be measured through browsing tables. More recently, although not completely understood, different chemicals within the body are thought to control the feelings of love.

When you bump into someone that takes your fancy, you tend to find your palms go sweaty, you stutter and your heart feeling likes it’s physically pumping out of your chest, so no wonder love was thought to come from the heart. However, *spoiler alert* love isn’t actually found in the blood-pumping organ but rather is just the brain (how unromantic!) making the rest of your body go a bit mad.

This feeling of lust is driven by the sex hormones, testosterone and oestrogen, from our evolutionary need to reproduce. Both hormones increase in both men and women when you see features that you desire – a symmetrical face and/or proportional body dimensions. This properly explains why the majority of people say they believe in love at first sight.

Next, follows attraction – being ‘star struck’. Once the initial butterflies have settled, the ‘reward pathway’ kicks in. When doing things that feel good such as spending time with your partner or having sexy time (whitwooo), dopamine and norepinephrine neurotransmitters are released. This initiates the feelings of excitement and making you feel giddy when thinking about that special someone. Wow, doesn’t that play on your heart strings (wait sorry, *chemical reactions).

Attraction can also cause a decrease in serotonin hormones, involved in the response for appetite and mood. Scientists have found a similar pattern in those who have OCD suggesting this is what causes the brain to constantly fixate on your love and nothing else.

Finally, to keep out of that annoying friend zone, attachment is the final contributor in falling in love. Attachment is also involved in friendships, mother-baby bonding and other relationships but the addition of lust and attraction factors separate relationships from these other intimacies (well those who don’t have their own problems to deal with).

Oxytocin, known as the ‘cuddle hormone’, is released to make us feel this attraction and want to be close to our other half. It is stimulated by touch and trust – from feeling supported to an orgasm. This increase in oxytocin over time builds a cycle of social trust.

Given these oxytocin attachments’ powerful nature, they are hard to break causing severe heartbreak when losing a loved one. This is why falling in love is seen to follow similar behaviour to drug addictions (although much healthier than recreational drugs, of course). Similarly, endorphin is stimulated by physical pain to reduce its effect and trigger a positive feeling. If it’s a loved one that stimulates this hormone, the brain can learn to associate the pain with a better feeling, allowing people to tolerate painful relationships.

So although there is no particular ‘formula’ for love, it’s understanding is being improved. Love can be one of the best things and worst things that happens to you but everyone is capable of it – it’s just a bit of hormone fluctuation!

Hopefully, you will find that chemistry soon if you haven’t already, happy belated Valentine’s!

 

References

https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/your-neurochemical-self/201802/the-neurochemistry-love

http://www.eoht.info/m/page/Love+the+chemical+reaction

http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2017/love-actually-science-behind-lust-attraction-companionship/

Brexit’s influence on Science by Tevy Kuch

The consequences of June 23rd’s Brexit campaign, although still unclear, will likely become a setback in the British scientific community, despite claims that it is safeguarding British interest.

As of recently, scientific progressions have seen a plateau in the UK. This concern arises not from the lack of research but suffers from the transition from theory to real world application. For example, Clatterbridge Cancer Center in Lancashire developed the proton beam therapy in 1989, yet it was only launched in the UK 30 years afterward alongside the existence of 60 facilities worldwide. With the lack of financial grounding due to Brexit, this will strain future scientific endeavors.

The UK is currently part of the Horizon 2020 scheme, however, once it expires in 2021 after Britain’s withdrawal, funds will strain. The UK has demonstrated a willingness to pay for participation in the future but can only exert informal influence if associated. Nevertheless, these existing schemes can only provide a short-term solution that is microscopic in comparison to the support today.

Association with Horizon 2020 requires countries to conform to guidelines. Countries should be a member of the European Free Trade Area or the European Neighbourhood Policy or show the willingness to be apart of the EU. Brexit’s campaign would outline uncertainty for future membership.

This concern has been vaguely reassured by politicians- Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Priti Patel that there is “more than enough money” to support institutions currently being funded by the EU as well as ensuring that there is money to be “spent on [their] priorities”.

Implications of Migration Policies

Researchers who spearhead science soon will face inhibitions in settling in the UK. This raises concerns about hindering diversity in expertise and experience as well as reducing competitive and critical approaches to knowledge. Although it isn’t certain how foreigners will be affected, Post-Brexit’s Leave campaign against immigration is a stark yet telling indicator of the future of science

UK’s science sector owes much from the abundance of European Union resources and collaboration. The Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest particle accelerator,  was an international collaboration that demand further adjustments and cooperation in the next 15 years, that come with a hefty price-tag.

A survey conducted by New Scientists found that two-thirds of managers believe that Brexit will hinder potential talent from the EU and employment of current staff. Jennifer Rohn, cell biologist at University College London, said

“Even if people are allowed to stay, they quite rightly feel a sense of uneasiness at the idea they are not wanted and don’t want to be in a place that’s closing its doors to the rest of the world.”

The majority of the scientific community’s attitudes towards the referendum has been unfavorable. 78% acknowledged how harmful departure would result in, whilst on 9% believed the UK would benefit. This concern is underscored by the result of the Nature’s poll of 907 where 83% voted to remain.

The Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee responded by launching an immediate risk analysis report on the impacts of Brexit, as part of damage control. The Chair, Nicola Blackwood MP, stated:

“ If we left, our life sciences sector would still have to follow EU regulations to sell in the single market. But Britain wouldn’t get a say in setting those rules, putting us at a competitive disadvantage.”

“The Swiss experience, in particular, should be a cautionary tale. When the Swiss voted to curtail free movement of people, the EU revoked access science funding and collaboration, undermining the country’s science sector” Blackwood, MP, added.

‘The overwhelming balance of opinion made known to this Committee from the UK science community valued greatly the UK’s membership of the European Union. Science is a major component of the UK’s membership of the EU. The ease with which talented researchers can move between EU Member States and the UK, the EU’s fertile environment for research collaboration, harmonised regulations, access to EU research facilities and the availability of substantial funding for research, combine to make EU membership a highly prized feature of the research ecosystem in the UK. Furthermore, the UK plays a leading role in the development of EU policies and decision-making processes that relate to science and research’.

However, efforts are being undermined by shocking images in favour of Leave, depicting immigrants overrunning islands over scientific investigation. The idea has already seen effects as foreign researchers feel uncomfortable with the market, threatening not just the UK science community but future collaborations.

https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/research/perspective/science-and-brexit.aspx

https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg23731720-800-brexit-batters-science-job-market/

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-05305-8

Does sunbathing in February feel right to you? by Libby Pool

The last week of February saw temperatures soar across the UK. Everywhere, people took to the parks, ice creams in hand, to bask under bright blue skies and glorious sunshine.

No one can deny that temperatures this high are unheard of this early in the year: the UK’s record for February was set in 1998, when temperatures in Greenwich reached 19.7 °C. But, on the 25th February 2019, a high of 20.6 °C was recorded in Trawsgoed, Wales, marking the first time temperatures have topped 20 °C in winter.

After the chilly winter months, I enjoyed the warmth as much as the next person – but, there was a sense of uneasiness impossible to ignore. This time last year, ‘the Beast from the East’ was raging across the UK. Temperatures were sub-zero, and snow covered the landscape. People took to the internet to post pictures of the same locations taken in February 2018 and 2019 side by side. We are experiencing more extreme weather events year on year…but why? Are these one-off, freak events or evidence of long-term trend climate change?

High pressure air and the Foehn effect:

The Met Office attributes the warm weather of February 2019 to two things. The first is unusually high pressure across continental Europe. This brought warm air from the Canary Islands and North Africa across the continent, warming the UK in the process. Secondly, the Foehn effect is thought to have boosted temperatures. High humidity winds flow over mountains, condense, and forms clouds. Heavy rain occurs on one side of the mountain, while the air gets warmer and drier as it sinks on the other side. This played a part in creating the sunny conditions seen in the last week of February.

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While these climatic processes explain the unusual heat of February 2019, we need to think about why climatic interactions themselves are changing. Meteorologists are now studying how much of this heat can be attributed to man-made climate change.

What do the experts say?

Geert Jan van Oldenborgh, a climate researcher at Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, conducted a preliminary study on UK temperature data and found February’s high temperatures to be “at least a one in 200-year event.” Temperatures deviated so far from the normal, current climate models couldn’t account for the change. Professor James Screen, a climate scientist from the University of Exeter, claims “it’s very hard to say that a couple of days of good weather is because of climate change.” However, he confirms we are seeing an increase in extreme heat events due to increasing mean global temperatures, as shown in the past decades. For example, around 500 years of temperature data shows that the five coldest years range from 1695 to 1902. The five hottest years all occurred since 2005. While experts are not yet sure the events of February 2019 are fully accounted for by climate change, there is no doubt it played a part.

Why should we care?

The sun is shining, the last thing you want to think about is the impending threat of extreme heat events. However, in 2003, a heatwave across Europe caused 70,000 deaths. Climate studies showed this extreme heat was attributable to anthropogenic warming. Carbon emissions are severely impacting human wellbeing: we have already caused a 1 °C increase in global temperatures and according to a major UN report we have ‘locked in’ an additional 0.5 °C warming. If we reach 2 °C warming, it is predicted that 411 million people will suffer from water shortages.

As an ecology student, I’m concerned with how extreme events impact wildlife. The early heat has seen species such as hedgehogs, bats and dormice coming out of hibernation too early. This puts them at risk as they use fat stores they need to reserve. They also wake up before their primary plant food sources have bloomed so they suffer food shortages, a process known as ‘trophic mismatch.’

Final thoughts

We really need to ‘sober up’ to the realities of our impact on the climate – a thought shared by Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas. The government is going backwards on climate action, unsurprising when you hear the first climate debate in parliament for two years was barely attended by MPs. In the wake of issues like Brexit, climate action seems to be low on the government’s priority list. However, Lucas claims she finds, “huge hope from the rising tide of activism” after students took to the streets to demand climate action last month. Public acknowledgment of climate change pressures the government to change legislation so, in Lucas’ words: “if sunbathing in February doesn’t feel right to you, get out on the streets instead.”

 

What a difference a year makes…check out these photos comparing February 2018 to February 2019:

Sources:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-47360952

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/newsbeat-47371648

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/mar/02/uk-temperature-jump-february-incredible-climate-weather-carbon

https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/uk-weather-heatwave-climate-change-global-warming-february-met-office-a8797136.html

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/02/25/uk-weather-hottest-february-day-record-britain-temperature-reaches/

Lecture by Professor Gareth Pheonix, University of Sheffield, 2018.

Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin by Fatima Sheriff

For this year’s International Women’s Day, I introduce Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin. She was the first British woman to win the Nobel Prize for Chemistry (1964) for “determination by x-ray techniques of the structures of important biochemical structures” and the second woman to win the Order of Merit after Florence Nightingale.

She elucidated the structure of penicillin in 1946, proposing a model containing a beta-lactam ring. This was so contrary to the belief that nitrogen would be too unstable, chemist John Cornforth stated “If that’s the formula… I’ll give up chemistry and grow mushrooms”. (Though wrong, he didn’t make good on his promise, probably for the best as he later won the 1975 Nobel Prize.)

In 1956, Hodgkin cracked the structure of vitamin B12. As the most complex vitamin, this discovery was said to be as significant as “breaking the sound barrier” according to Lawrence Bragg. 35 years from her first attempt, she also discovered the structure of insulin in 1969. She was proactive in raising awareness of the hormone and was critical in educating doctors as to what it meant for the treatment of diabetes.

Working closely with John Bernal, she was part of the emerging community of crystallographers in the 1930s, a new field made more accessible to women due to outbreak of the Second World War. Notably amongst her pupils was Margaret Roberts (later Thatcher) who gave her a tremendous amount of respect, putting up a portrait of her in Downing Street, though they were polar opposites politically.

Hodgkin was the longest running president of Pugwash, a high-profile socialist committee formed to reduce dangers raised by new scientific research. For 13 years, she oversaw campaigns mainly concerning prevention of nuclear war. Her husband was a communist, so she was banned from the US and in 1987 she was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize for her anti-nuclear efforts.

She truly let nothing get in her way; she once nonchalantly presented a paper to The Royal Society when she was 8 months pregnant and was the first woman to get paid maternity leave from the University of Oxford. Despite a diagnosis of early onset rheumatoid arthritis at 24, she remained scientifically active for most of her life, though wheelchair bound later in her career. “[my doctor] thinks I should take a month off work but of course I’m not going to do that”. She even attended a conference of the International Union of Crystallography at 83, a year before she passed away.

Dorothy seemed like an empathetic character, one who fought for a safer world and helped encourage many women within her field – Clara Shoemaker, Rita Cornforth, Barbara Low and Cecily Darwin Littleton to name a few. In 2010, she was the only woman commemorated in a series of stamps for the 350th anniversary of the Royal Society, in the honourable company of Edward Jenner, Joseph Lister and other scientific pioneers. Though dubbed merely as ‘the Oxford housewife’ by newspapers at the time of her achievements, her legacy is illustrious and incredible.

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Sources:

http://www.rsc.org/diversity/175-faces/all-faces/dorothy-hodgkin-om-frs/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dorothy_Hodgkin

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/only-in-britain/who-was-biochemist-dorothy-hodgkin/

https://www.theguardian.com/science/political-science/2014/aug/13/margaret-thatchers-surprising-relationship-with-dorothy-hodgkin

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/obituary-professor-dorothy-hodgkin-1373624.html

https://www.theguardian.com/science/occams-corner/2014/jan/14/dorothy-hodgkin-year-of-crystallography

How to Survive a Nuclear Apocalypse – Fiona McBride

With global tensions increasing by the day and some of the world’s largest nuclear weapon stores seemingly presided over by five-year-olds, there’s no time like the present to work out your survival plan. Here are some tips:

  • Keep an eye on the news, especially with regards to anywhere that has nuclear missiles. Watch out for signs that an attack may be likely such as threats, rising global tension, or a lack of resolution to problematic events. If you seriously think that a nuclear attack is imminent, GET AS FAR AWAY AS POSSIBLE. Avoid anywhere likely to get involved in the missile frenzy. Stay away from likely targets, such as capital cities, military bases, and areas with large populations or strategic importance. Another celestial body might be preferable, although inhospitable (and the USA did once develop a plan to nuke the moon, so it’s not entirely out of the question).

 

  • Plan somewhere safe to shelter. If it seems tensions are rising but you’re not quite ready to grab your bags and head for the wilderness/jungle/Mars, or you have no way of getting there, having a shield from the radiation could be the difference between your future and imminent death. Go for somewhere with as much stuff between you and the outside world as possible – basements and places with thick concrete walls are best. Stash plenty of food, blankets and first aid supplies inside, because you could be there a while. A means of communicating with the outside world, such as a fully charged non-smart phone of the kind that have battery life that lasts for several days, is also a good idea, so that you can keep an ear out for what’s going on. Ideally, your shelter would be in a spot that you can get to quickly, such as your home or workplace.

 

  • If a nuclear strike is imminent – as in, the bomb is currently on its way, HEAD TO YOUR SHELTER POINT. If you’re unlikely to be able to get there before destruction strikes, find the nearest available shelter. The same basic principles apply as the spot you planned to shelter in: the more physical material between you and the outside world, the better. Nuclear strikes deposit a very large amount of energy onto a small area that then spreads very quickly through the surroundings, so more material between you and the strike point means more other stuff to absorb this energy – in the forms of both nuclear radiation and extreme heat, as well as objects displaced by the blast – before it gets to you. There’s a reason structures such as nuclear power stations and Margaret Thatcher’s Secret Nuclear Bunker are made of very thick concrete: it’s great at absorbing large amounts of energy without becoming structurally compromised or catching fire.

 

  • After the strike: stay put for an absolute minimum of 48 hours. The longer the better: radioactive isotopes decay with time, so more waiting equals fewer radioactive particles out there to harm you. The most dangerous product of a nuclear attack, Iodine, has a half-life of 8-9 days – meaning that after that time has elapsed, there will be half as many deadly iodine particles out there waiting for you. However, that’s still quite a few, and there are other highly dangerous explosion products that will still be out there. When you do venture back out into the world, cover up as much skin as possible to minimise contact with the radioactive particles and prevent burns. Limit your time outside to be as short as possible, to minimise your exposure to radiation. When collecting supplies, anything packaged is safe to eat as long as the container is intact. Plants are safe, especially those where the edible part is underground, such as carrots. Water is likely to have been contaminated by small radioactive particles, so only use water from underground sources or sealed tanks or the pipework of buildings. However you get your food and water, ration it out carefully so that your supplies last as long as possible: who knows when more will become available.

 

  • First aid: radiation sickness is non-contagious, so it’s perfectly safe to treat those who have sustained burns or sickness from the attack. Do not pop blisters or rip off cloth that is stuck to skin as this will slow healing and increase risk of infection – just disinfect as far as possible, and cover open wounds with a burn dressing or clingfilm.

 

  • Future attacks are likely to occur, although probably not in the same city. Pay attention to any news you can get hold of, and be prepared for another attack any day. Even if you weren’t personally in the city that was hit, if you’re in or near a major centre of population or area of strategic importance in that country or any of the allies of any nation involved, you’re at major risk.

 

In addition to these practical tips, it’s good to have some idea of what different radiation levels mean. There are three types of radiation:

  • Alpha particles: these are tiny particles which, although very dangerous if inhaled, can only travel a couple of meters through air, and are stopped by a single sheet of paper. Wearing a dust mask and normal clothing will keep you safe from these.
  • Beta particles: these can travel faster and further than alpha particles, and have an effect similar to bad sunburn.
  • Gamma radiation: this is literally a wave of energy that can travel through air and most materials. Gamma radiation causes the DNA in living cells to mutate, leading to radiation sickness and cancer. Gamma rays themselves can travel around a mile through air (although the further away you are from the source, the less energy they have by the time they reach you, so the less significant the damage), but also spread as radiation-emitting particles are blown by the wind or carried by water sources.

 

Radiation is measured in Grays (Gy). Exposure to 1 Gy of radiation leads to a noticeable decrease in red blood cells and antibody production in humans but is survivable without medical treatment; 50% of humans exposed to 4 Gy will be dead within a month, and the rest will have severe symptoms of radiation sickness. Being aware of the scale of effect of different amounts of radiation may help you to decide where and when it is safe to move to.

 

Above all, watch out for signs that an attack may be imminent, and stay indoors. If you find yourself in the presence of someone with access to any Big Red Buttons, for the sake of all our futures, do not antagonise them!