Nicola Davison is a British freelance writer and editor based in London.
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The 22-year-old trying to clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

The 22-year-old trying to clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Boyan Slat was 16 when he came up with a way to rid the world’s oceans of plastic. He has recounted his epiphany so many times that he can no longer tell the tale without a degree of self-reflexivity. “You probably know the story, I’ve said it 1,000 times,” the 22-year-old told me recently. “I...
Invasive species: the battle to beat the bugs

Invasive species: the battle to beat the bugs

The best time to annihilate oak processionary caterpillars is when they are young, just a few millimetres long and still high up in the trees. At this stage, their appetite for oak is rapacious, so dousing the leaves in a biocontrol agent like Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is one way to get the caterpillars to ingest...
Live fast, design young: the architects who dared

Live fast, design young: the architects who dared

It is a sunny morning in Toxteth, Liverpool, and Fran Edgerley is wrestling with a metal fence. Beyond the fence are two red-brick Victorian terrace houses that, like many homes in the area, are empty and shuttered. Edgerley slips through the fence, removing a wooden bar from across the door and then the door itself....
Ideas worth floating: architects adapt to rising sea levels

Ideas worth floating: architects adapt to rising sea levels

King Canute is not famous for his fears about climate change, but review the histories of the 12th century and the Viking despot can seem farsighted. In Historia Anglorum (c1129) Henry of Huntingdon records that, having requested his throne be carried down to the shore, Canute ordered the waves “not to flow over my land, nor presume...
Scientist David Nutt on the medical benefits of psychedelic drugs

Scientist David Nutt on the medical benefits of psychedelic drugs

We have been in professor David Nutt’s house for two minutes when he asks if I would like a cup of tea, a coffee, or perhaps a glass of alcosynth? The psychopharmacologist, widely known in the UK as the former government drugs adviser who was sacked for saying that ecstasy was safer than horse riding,...
Where to buy in Shanghai, the global city with old-world charm

Where to buy in Shanghai, the global city with old-world charm

Between 1843 and 1935, when Shanghai was ceded to the British following the first opium war, the city’s population grew from about 500,000 to 4m. The city was transformed into a bustling international port and as trade thrived westerners poured in. The city was carved into foreign “concessions” — districts of imported architectural styles —...
London’s Battersea: why buyers should look beyond its new towers

London’s Battersea: why buyers should look beyond its new towers

As you pass the construction site of Battersea Power Station — with its fleet of cranes along the Thames and intense security — it is difficult to imagine how this part of south-west London might be transformed when the redevelopment is complete. Fortunately there are snippets of text on a fence protecting the site that...
Designs for life: architecture in the disaster zone

Designs for life: architecture in the disaster zone

When a natural disaster happens somewhere in the world, it does not take long for Shigeru Ban’s inbox to light up. So he was not surprised when, soon after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake ravaged Nepal on April 25, he received a flood of messages from people both known to him and strange: NGOs, investors, tourists and...
Revealed: the extreme revision measures taken by Chinese university hopefuls

Revealed: the extreme revision measures taken by Chinese university hopefuls

Every day during her final year, 17-year-old Shi Wan woke at 5.30am to an alarm booming through the dormitory at Hengshui High School. Shi would fold her quilt, grab her notebooks and race outside for the mandatory 5.40am run. On good days she got to the track at 5.34am, leaving six minutes to recite a...
The former Chinese army colonel turned sex-change dance star

The former Chinese army colonel turned sex-change dance star

Jin Xing’s sitting room comprises two distinct halves. One side, with stiff leather armchairs and a large television, is considered the “male” corner, explains Jin’s husband Heinz-Gerd Oidtmann, as we wait for her to arrive. The other, “female” side contains a chaise longue in deep plum, scatter cushions, an antique wooden bed with elaborately carved...
Micro-flats gain favour as the answer to big city urban density

Micro-flats gain favour as the answer to big city urban density

The striking thing about architect Gary Chang’s flat in Hong Kong is not its size, though at 32 sq metres the place is by most standards teeny. Rather, it is the hazy golden light that permeates the place, the result of yellow filters tacked over the single window. This light bounces off the black lacquer-like...
Universal flu vaccine closer to reality after Chinese-Australian scientific breakthrough

Universal flu vaccine closer to reality after Chinese-Australian scientific breakthrough

A single vaccine that immunises against all types of influenza has come closer to being a reality, after scientists in Australia and China discovered how the body’s immunity cells remember flu viruses. By studying patients infected with a deadly bird flu virus in China in 2013, scientists from the University of Melbourne and Fudan University...