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.
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