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

🎶…and a partridge in a pear tree. Image by ; CCO.

The 12 Days of Christmas has been described as the — bah, humbug!
The song may or may not be a 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:

Roughly the shape and size of a brick, the energy storage blocks developed by Australian research start-up can be stacked and scaled to store millions of kilowatt hours of energy. The company has partnered 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.

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


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

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, . 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 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…


Cover of the .

The new translation of the USSR’s State Pharmacopoeia gives English speakers insights into Russia’s traditional herbal remedies, while sparking pharmacological research into adaptogens, writes Larissa Fedunik.

There’s an old Russian proverb that goes something like this: “nettles are born stinging, but boil down in cabbage soup.” [1] It hints at the Russian ability to transform unexpected vegetation into a hearty meal — or a herbal remedy.

These wild plants form the bridge between food and traditional medicine, as documented in the USSR’s State Pharmacopoeia, an extensive compilation of medicinal drugs. Only recently translated into English, this previously untapped resource gives us a growing insight into Russia’s food and cultural heritage, a field of research known as ethnobotany. The Pharmacopoeia is even providing inspiration for ethnopharmaceuticals, in…


Organic wine may be served with claims of greater health benefits and fewer toxins, but the research says otherwise, writes Larissa Fedunik.

Australian Certified Organic Tamburlaine Sauvignon Blanc (Photo credit: )

claim that by drinking organic wine, consumers can avoid toxins and enjoy the benefits of higher levels of antioxidants. However, several recent studies comparing organic and conventionally produced wines suggest that the health benefits are more hype than substance.

The organic wine market is relatively small, but consumer and retailer interest is growing by the year. The total domestic retail and export value of Australian organic wine grapes and wine has in the last 10 years.

The theory that can be avoided by choosing organic has also been steadily gaining in…

Larissa Fedunik-Hofman

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

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