Rose essential oil or (−)-cis-rose-oxide and beta-damascenone: which would you prefer in your skincare?

“Nothing is black and white when it comes to fragrances…of course, synthetic fragrances are bad. Fragrances derived from essential oils can be wonderful. Fragrance isn’t categorically bad. I would really implore you guys to not be afraid of essential oil-derived fragrances.”

That’s Brooke DeVard of the delightful Naked Beauty Podcast, recorded in April 2020. While things are rarely black and white when it comes to fragrance, the science is unequivocally clear about fragrances derived from essential oils. They are neither wonderful nor categorically good.

In other words, be concerned — very concerned — about essential oils (and all fragrances, natural…

Image: Pixabay

Travel and adventure go hand in hand (although most of us are only dreaming of travelling right now).

In literature, plenty of travel and adventure novels describe a journey or quest through unfamiliar territory: The Odyssey*, Don Quixote, Gulliver’s Travels, The Hobbit, On the Road (just to name a few)

*The Odyssey is written in prose, so not strictly a novel, but is still one of the oldest and most celebrated adventures of all time.

For anyone going on a trip, exciting times are par for the course. Seeking out new experiences is seen as a rite of passage, and…

Image from Pixabay

Let’s talk emotions.

Unhappiness. Anger. Envy. Guilt.

Joy. Gratitude. Fulfilment.

Do you categorise the first group as negative, and the second group as positive?

Do you aim to maximise positive emotions, and minimise negative ones? Do you express them equally? Is happiness something you strive for?

It’s a veritable Pandora’s box. How do you even define happiness, anyway?

But we have to start somewhere, and the ancient Greeks are a good a source as any.

Socrates (469–299 BC) has a unique place in the history of happiness, being the first known figure in the West to argue that humans could…

Shop Until You Drop by Banksy, in London.

Innovation. Must-have. Revolution. These are words that get thrown about a lot in the tech sphere, and the land of internet-connected devices (aka the Internet of Things, or IoT) is no exception. But what happens when connectivity adds approximately zero value?

Redundancy doesn’t seem to be barrier for the manufacturers of useless IoT. In an article on The Conversation, David Glance, director of the University of Western Australia’s Centre for Software Practice, writes that:

“Technology for technology’s sake has become a marketing strategy aimed at people who identify as being affluent, connected, innovative, and technologically fluent […There are] a long…

Image from Pexels.

The past decade has seen an explosion in research into how we can maximise our downtime to improve our wellbeing, reduce stress and even increase our productivity.

In the spirit of scientific self-improvement, here’s a (relaxing) stroll through some established and emerging areas of research into downtime.

Downtime: getting down to business?

Mental downtime isn’t just a (well-earned) slacking off period, it’s actually vital for productivity and health. There are plenty of studies to back up the theory that downtime fosters creativity and restores attention and motivation, as well as reducing stress.

Our brains are actually designed to take regular rest periods during the waking…

A compilation of science stories of 2020 (very) loosely inspired by the carol.

🎶…and a partridge in a pear tree. Image by Xavier Romero-Frias; CCO.

The 12 Days of Christmas has been described as the holiday’s most annoying carol — bah, humbug!
The song may or may not be a coded, Catholic mnemonic that could be sung around Protestants without fear of persecution — an enticing, but disputed history.
In the spirit of Christmas, what about a new take on the tune? Here’s a compilation of several science stories of 2020 inspired (no matter how tenuously) by the carol.

12 drummers drumming: Rock chimps

Wild chimps might prefer a rock-themed Christmas compilation CD to your traditional carols. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute have observed that groups of wild chimps…

Retrofitting coal-fired power plants with MGA thermal storage could be the key to repurposing existing infrastructure to run emissions-free. Image: jplenio/Pixabay

Roughly the shape and size of a brick, the energy storage blocks developed by Australian research start-up MGA Thermal can be stacked and scaled to store millions of kilowatt hours of energy. The company has partnered with Swiss company E2S Power AG on a pilot demonstration to retrofit coal-fired plants in Europe with MGA storage, which could see coal plants running fossil-fuel free.

The MGA solid metal storage system is a large-scale solution to enable reliable renewable baseload power and transition away from coal-fired power generation. …

Does anyone really know how hyaluronic acid works?

If you grew up reading fashion and beauty magazines in the 1990s like I did, you’ll be familiar with print advertisements that looked a little something like this:

Advertisement for Peralia skin preparation from 1909. Wellcome Images, 2018

Yes, alright, this particular advertisement is from 1909, but the marketing strategies of the 1990s and early 2000s were often just as retro. …

Antoine Lavoisier conducting an experiment related to combustion generated by amplified sun light. Source: History of Science

Chemistry is often accredited with fostering the development of civilizations. Early chemists were responsible for developing the fields of metallurgy, pharmacology and that obsolete brand of science, alchemy. In fact, a distinction between chemistry and alchemy was only established in the 17th century, when Robert Boyle described chemistry as applying scientific methods, while alchemy retained its focus on the esoteric. The Chemical Revolution, which took place between the 17th and 18th centuries, is frequently described as the turning point between ancient and modern chemistry and is often attributed to Antoine Lavoisier, the eponymous father of modern chemistry. But many of…

Alchemists were doomed from the start in their impossible pursuit to transform base metals into gold. Luckily, they left their mark in the realms of lighting, explosives, beauty products, kitchenware and distilled spirits.

Der Alchimist by Franz Carl Spitzweg (1808–1885), oil on canvas. The Yorck Project (2002) 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei (DVD-ROM), distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH)

Mary the Jewess or Miriam the Prophetess

What little we do know about Mary comes second-hand from the works of the Gnostic Christian writer Zosimos of Panopolis, but she is considered by many to be the first true alchemist of the Western world. Mary, who probably lived in ancient Egypt between the first and third centuries A.D., is believed to have invented several chemical instruments and to have been the first to identify hydrochloric…

Larissa Fedunik-Hofman

Science communicator and freelance writer based in Sydney, Australia. PhD in Chemistry.

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