Simon Singh

Simon Singh is an author, journalist and TV producer, specialising in science and Mathematics. His latest book is "Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial", co-authored with Edzard Ernst, the world’s first professor of complementary medicine.

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Serendipity An explosive theory

LAST WEEK I visited the "Full Moon" exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in London, which displays just a tiny fraction of the 32,000 photographs taken by the Apollo astronauts between 1967 and 1972. It is a spectacular array of images, dismissing the myth that grey is necessarily dull. Unfortunately, the exhibition closes today, and so if you want to see it, you will have either to dash down to the South Bank this afternoon, or else buy the book, entitled Full Moon, by Michael Light.

Serendipity Enigmatic variations

HAVING just written a book on the history of cryptography, I wondered if serendipity had ever resulted in the unravelling of a secret code. Nothing came to mind immediately, but eventually I realised that one of the milestones in the history of codebreaking occurred when theologians stumbled upon a technique that destroyed a hitherto uncrackable code.

Historical Notes: 184 King's Road, Tighnabruaich

ON 9 January 1917, the German Supreme High Command held a momentous meeting. Previously, they had agreed that U-boats must surface before firing their torpedoes, a restriction that would limit accidental attacks on civilian shipping, but now German commanders were about to agree on a course of all-out U-boat aggression, which was set to begin on 1 February.

Serendipity: Breast really is best

EARLIER this year, researchers based at Lund University in Sweden made an extraordinary claim. Catharina Svanborg and her team announced that milk has the ability to kill cancerous cells, and, furthermore, they had identified the key ingredient that made it such a potent anti-cancer agent.

Search engines: Serendipity - Life on Mars

THE UNLUCKIEST dog in history died on 28 June, 1911 in the town of Nakhla, Egypt. According to onlookers, it was struck by a rock from outer space, part of a meteor shower that peppered the region. Despite the dog's death, the Nakhla meteorite was a cause for celebration, because it was to play a major role in the story of extra-terrestrial science.

Serendipity Design overkill

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Search engines: Serendipity - A living, breathing fossil

LAST WEEK I was reading A Fish Caught in Time, Samantha Weinberg's recently published account of the discovery of the coelacanth, when I came across a beautiful example of serendipity. Biologists had long been aware of the coelacanth from fossils dating back to between 70 and 400 million years, but they were shocked when a living, breathing specimen was discovered in 1938, entangled in the nets of a South African fishing boat. This was in itself a serendipitous event, but there was an equally fortuitous discovery some years later, which became a major turning point in the story of the coelacanth.

Search engines: Serendipity - Looking at the sun

WITH THE imminent arrival of the last total eclipse of the millennium, I thought that I would look for a piece of solar serendipity, and I came across a story told by JP McEvoy in his book Eclipse. In the 1830s the French philosopher Auguste Comte pessimistically predicted that sci-ence would never be able to learn about the stars: "Never by any means will we be able to study their chemical composition, their mineralogical structure, and not at all the nature of organic beings living on their surface." However, he had failed to see the potential of an analytical technique that had been developed in 1814.

search engines: Serendipity Warfare in the womb

PUDDLES of dog urine are not usually associated with great scientific discoveries, but that was exactly what provided the inspiration for the German medical researchers Oscar Minkowski and Joseph von Mering. In 1889 they had been conducting experiments on dogs, and were surprised by a swarm of flies that had congregated around a pool of urine from one of the dogs. Flies are not usually attracted to urine. Minkowski and von Mering realised that the urine must be unusually rich in sugar, and assumed that this must be the conseqeunce of an operation that they had performed on the dog - they had removed its pancreas as part of one of their experiments.

Serendipity Out of one's depth

THIS afternoon, while reading Steven Pinker's How The Mind Works, I suddenly uttered a stream of expletives. After almost a decade of failure, I had at last witnessed my first Magic-Eye image.
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