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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Simon Singh column

Serendipity Dynamite's bloody history

Search Engines: Serendipity - A rotten bit of good luck

OVER and over again, doctors have discovered, forgotten, and then rediscovered the healing properties of maggots. Wars, in particular have brought maggot therapy to light, because military surgeons would come across soldiers with wounds that had become filled with maggots. Such wounds tended not to become infected, and were much easier to treat. In the American Civil War, Joseph Jones reported: "I have frequently seen neglected wounds filled with maggots. As far as my experience extends, these worms only destroy dead tissues, and do not injure specifically the well parts."

Science: Search Engines: Serendipity A trick of the light

THOMAS Young was one of the most remarkable scientists of the 19th century. His most famous experiment involved shining light at a partition containing two very thin parallel slits. On the other side of the slits, the light fanned out and illuminated a screen with several light and dark stripes. Young was perplexed, because he expected to see just two light stripes, projections of the slits in the partition.

Search Engines: Serendipity The benefits of giggling

HUMPHREY Davy, one of the most distinguished scientists of the 19th century, received a knighthood in 1812. One of his earliest discoveries, though, shows him in a distinctly frivolous light. At the age of 20 he began experimenting with nitrous oxide, and was the first person to note its peculiar psychological effects. In a letter to the appropriately named Mr Giddy, Davy explained that inhaling the gas "made me dance about the laboratory as a madman, and had kept my spirits in a glow ever since".

Science: Serendipity How not to fake a tax return

WITH the tax year coming to an end, I thought I would recount the tale of a serendipitous discovery which is being used by tax officials to help spot fraudulent tax returns. The story starts in 1938, when the American physicist Frank Benford was consulting a book of logarithm tables (before electronic calculators, log tables were used to perform calculations).

Serendipity The troops' tropical friend

NEXT WEEK I shall be heading off to India, which means that today I had to start taking my malaria tablets.

Search Engines: Serendipity A longer lasting blue

IN THE Seventies, a Mexican archaeologist by the name of Louis Torres became interested in the staggering Mayan ruins at Chichen-Itza. He was fascinated by the intricate murals which adorned the Temple of Warriors, and was particularly struck by a vivid blue paint, known as Maya blue, which was still brilliant, despite 1,000 years of weathering.

Serendipity: In a soldier's stomach

AT FORT Mackinac, Michigan, on 6 June 1822, Alexis St Martin found himself on the wrong end of a discharging musket. He was rushed to the army hospital, where a Dr William Beaumont noted that the abdominal wall had been perforated and that through this hole "was pouring out the food St Martin had taken for breakfast".

Serendipity: Hitting on the right note

SOME PEOPLE view serendipity as a form of divine intervention, a notion that is supported by the story of Art Fry, who worked for 3M in St Paul, Minnesota. Fry sang in the choir of his local Presbyterian church, where he was in the habit of slipping scraps of paper into his choir book so that he could find the next hymn more quickly. One Sunday in 1974, a paper marker fell from his book, and he found himself in the embarrassing position of not being ready to sing.

Search engines: On the serendipity of science

IN THE summer of 1987, a team of marine biologists stumbled upon a remarkable object. They were exploring the deeper reaches of the Pacific Ocean in a deep-sea submersible called Alvin when they found the giant skeleton of a blue whale.

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?