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The intriguing history of ghost photography

As camera tech has evolved, so too has the photography of puzzling ‘spirits’, and as Howard Timberlake discovers, they even appear in smartphone shots.

It’s February 2015 at Hampton Court Palace in London. Twelve-year-old Holly Hampsheir grabs her iPhone to take a photo of her cousin, Brook, as she …

Historical Photography

What it would feel like to fall into the Earth’s core

The best of the week’s long reads in science and technology, including what it would feel like to fall to the centre of the Earth and how you can function on a few hours’ sleep.

Cancer | I chose a life without breasts

“When in the name of health and awareness and courage do we stop lopping off our …

Sleep

How pilots suffer to get in the history books

The Solar Impulse 2’s attempt to fly around the world on solar power means cramped conditions and exhausting effort for the pilot. Stephen Dowling investigates.

Imagine having to work in an office that is long enough to stretch out in – just – but too cramped to stand up in. You have to work in it …

Aeronautics

Decoding the ‘internet of ants’

Ants have no language, yet they manage to share complex messages. Could studying this ‘anternet’ help to reveal more about how our bodies work?

Could the way ants behave help us develop the internet – or even understand how cancer spreads?

Deborah Gordon, a biologist at Stanford University, studies …

Internet

The mystery of the female orgasm

From the existence of the G-spot to the origin of multiple orgasms, female sexuality once mystified scientists. But as Linda Geddes discovers, radical experiments are finally revealing some answers.

On my washing machine, there is a lock. To activate it, you must hold down the start button for a …

Women's Health

The secret codes of British banknotes

How often have you looked at the cash in your wallet? Look closer: it’s riddled with hidden patterns designed to deter counterfeiters. Chris Baraniuk investigates.

A brand-new Xerox colour photocopier had just arrived at one of Cambridge’s industrial labs. It was the early 2000s, and word of the …

England

Why looking at the light makes us sneeze

If you find yourself sneezing when you come from the dark into the light, you’re not alone. Jason G Goldman investigates why this sudden syndrome strikes.

In 1991, a University of Manchester pathologist named Emyr Benbow wrote a letter to the editor of the British Journal of Ophthalmology. "Even …

Opinion

The myth of universal beauty

Would you have been beautiful in another era? David Robson discovers that attractiveness is more malleable and subjective than we might imagine.

The plus-sized comedian Dawn French would be unlikely to describe herself as a sex symbol, but was she simply born at the wrong time? “If I had been around …

Jon Hamm

The mesmerising performers who create sound effects

Many sounds are added to films and TV using everyday objects, and the process can be a strange and fascinating thing to watch, as this short film reveals.

The Secret World of Foley, a short film directed by Daniel Jewel, began as a project to shine a light onto one of the more obscure jobs in the …

Film (UK)

How to overthrow a Martian dictatorship

The governments we create on other worlds might turn nasty. Richard Hollingham meets a group plotting revolution in space.

Two short blocks from the London headquarters of Britain’s security service, MI6, a group of 30 men and women is plotting to overthrow the government.

Not – and I should make …

Moon Missions

Zapping your brain for self-improvement

The best of the week’s long reads in science and technology, including electrifying neuroscience and the ethics of using Nazi data.

Power | End of the miracle machines

The coal-fired Navajo Generating Station in Arizona lifts trillions of gallons of water from the Colorado River to supply distant …

The Brain

Is “de-extinction” possible?

Bringing back species that died out long ago is not impossible. What would happen if we tried it?

Will we one day walk with dinosaurs or mammoths? The idea isn't completely beyond the realms of possibility.

However, as this video from The Verge points out, it’s not quite how the Jurassic Park films …

Earth Science

Do you have ‘maths anxiety’?

Mental arithmetic can be stressful for many people, causing a lifelong fear of numbers. What makes the brain freeze up when calculating hard sums? David Robson reports.

Sweaty palms, a racing pulse, that choking feeling in the back of my throat: nothing sends fear into my heart like the need to …

Mathematics

Are you damaging your hearing without realising it?

Many of us use earphones throughout the day to drown out noise in our commutes and at work. But is it prematurely damaging our hearing? Molly Crain investigates.

It starts gradually. The guitars in your favourite song no longer seem to sound loud enough, so you crank up the volume. You struggle to …

Hearing Loss

The strange expertise of burglars

How do you break into a house without breaking a sweat? David Robson delves into the “flow state” of professional robbers – and finds how to beat them.

At first, it feels almost too easy. Against the gentle rustling of leaves, I walk through the back gate, across the lawn, and open the door, all of …

Psychology

What happens when the sea swallows a country?

If sea levels rise as feared, some of the world’s island nations may disappear this century. Does that mean they no longer exist as countries, asks Rachel Nuwer.

As the seaplane lifts off the water’s surface and begins to climb, paradise opens up beneath us. The deep blue ocean stretches in every …

Environment

What does a Tube driver actually do?

The Tube has been a key transport network for London for more than 150 years. We decided it was high time to explore it – by putting a GoPro on one of the drivers.

As integral to London life as it is iconic, the Tube has been in operation since 1863. In its more than 150 years, it has grown …

United Kingdom

Inside the world's largest shipyard

Classic technology meets innovation at the Hyundai Heavy Industries ship building company in South Korea. Our colleagues at Click visited the site recently to take a look around.

Technology doesn’t get much bigger than this. South Korea’s Hyundai Heavy Industries in Ulsan owns the largest shipyard …

Shipyard

The secret sounds in movies and TV

The sounds added to movies, TV and sport often have unusual origins, says William Park, from everyday objects to manipulated animals.

You might not have heard the term ‘Foley’ before, but you will possibly have witnessed it – probably in the last film or TV programme you watched – without even …

Entertainment (UK)

Could psychedelic drugs make smokers quit?

A team of scientists are giving hallucinogens to smoking addicts to help them cut the habit. Tim Maughan visited the lab where this surprising research is emerging.

Nicotine patches, chewing gum, cold turkey. Giving up cigarettes can be tough, but there are many strategies smokers can try. Matthew …

Psychedelia

How planes make jaw-dropping take-offs

Just how steeply can a plane climb off the runway? Steeper than you think, writes Stephen Dowling.

It’s a manoeuvre you might not think is possible. The crew of a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, one of the newest planes in the airliner giant’s fleet, has been filmed practising for a demonstration at this …

Aeronautics

The real reason sweet tastes sweet

You might think that the sweet taste of fruit is all down to those natural sugars. Think again, says Veronique Greenwood.

We tend to think of sugar as the supreme ruler of the sensation of sweetness. If an orange tastes sweet, it's because of the sugars it contains hit the sweet receptors in your …

Food (UK)

The superpower police now use to tackle crime

Police officers with the rare ability to recognise faces they’ve barely glimpsed are helping identify criminals: take a test to find out if you share their talent

On 28 August 2014, 14-year-old Alice Gross went missing in West London. She was last seen on CCTV walking along a canal towpath in the …

Video Surveillance

Why doctors should treat the healthy too

When you're not sick, doctors often have no idea about your health. Biologist Leroy Hood believes that needs to change.

Prevention is better than cure – but if we don’t recognise the early signs that we are ill, how can we take the steps to avoid full-blown disease? Leroy Hood, head of the Institute …

Wellness

Blue energy: How mixing water can create electricity

The intriguing chemistry that occurs where rivers meet the sea could power our homes and much more, says Phillip Ball.

It is perhaps one of the most under-exploited sources of green energy. When salt water and fresh water mix in estuaries, a chemical process occurs that can be harnessed for …

Electricity

Will we ever… build ringworlds?

Immense floating structures could become humanity’s home, harnessing the power of stars. But, Peter Ray Allison writes, building them will be a colossal challenge.

Huge ring-shaped worlds orbiting distant stars have become an iconic image of science fiction. Their pristine landscape, contained …

Science Fiction

The man who built himself an ‘impossible’ knee

After he lost his right leg in a car accident, Brian Bartlett was told high-octane sports were impossible – so he set out to prove the experts wrong. Rose Eveleth reports.

When Brian Bartlett was 24 he was hit by a car from behind so hard it ripped his right leg off. It all happened so fast. He …

Mountain Biking

Up close and personal with the Airbus A380

The Airbus A380 is the world’s biggest airliner. Jack Stewart gets a behind-the-scenes look at some of its secrets.

The Airbus A380 is the largest passenger plane in operation, and is still an awe-inspiring sight nearly a decade after it first entered regular service.

Stand at the end of the runway …

Aeronautics

The people flying balloons to North Korea

Activists are sending helium-filled balloons into the world’s most closed state, packed with propaganda-busting material on DVDs and USB sticks. Dave Lee reports from South Korea.

Can something as innocuous as a helium-filled balloon instigate regime change? North Korean-born Park Sang-hak believes …

Asia

How can you stop the worst water crisis for 1,000 years?

The best of the week’s long reads in science and technology, the water crisis in the American West and the things doctors won’t tell you about the menopause.

Extinction | Should we care if the human race goes extinct?

Let nobody say that Marginal Revolution ducks the big questions. Yes, we are OK …

Water Crisis