Reconstructing the Tree of Life

Sunday September 23 2018. There was a time back in the 1990s when science fiction seemed to lead science fact. This was when it looked as though we could be able to reconstruct dinosaurs from their DNA just as Michael Crichton had speculated in his book Jurassic Park. Alas, it was not to be and the idea sank almost without trace. Something similar appears to be happening to the science of molecular clocks as measures of evolutionary rates. I am on the trail and hope to be writing a feature on it soon. Watch this Space`

Monday June 4 2018. Next year is a huge anniversary for space travel – 50 years since NASA landed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the Moon. I have written extensively around the subject at Astrobiology Magazine. Click here to read my stuff.

Cusp – A Christmas Ghost Story


A cautionary tale for Christmas Eve Pub-Goers

I met Dennis one afternoon during the wettest December for seventy-eight years. Some would say ‘Global Warming’, but I would riposte, ‘Grant Application’. I knew as well as most, and better than many, that science in the 2010’s was the era of the expedient proposal. The EP, as I had come to call them, were proposals that we dreamt up over pints in the Eagle  back at the Fen Poly. The outline took maybe thirty minutes and after that it was back to the Department for the usual three weeks of costings and administrative constipation.

Dennis sat by himself in the chair by the bar. Everybody else would have used a stool but Dennis was not intimidated by his low perch.

His personality was too big for that.

I sat opposite him and pretended to read. It was an mediocre thriller by an indifferent scientist, and before long I began to think that I was reviewing one of the eponymous ‘EP’s’ alluded to above. At length I laid the book down and, temporarily forgetting that molten torrents start from tiny lava seeps, I engaged the bespectacled stranger in conversation.

“It beats me how he can sell that.”

Dennis looked startled for a second. Engagingly like a Roe deer I had once met en route to a early morning deal on the Portobello Road. He looked left and then right with a winning smile adulterated by a pinch of hesitation that I soon learned was caused by childhood deafness. Eventually his eye caught mine and his smile intensified to a effulgent radiance I previously had only associated with Bible stories.

“What was that?” He lent forward and cupped a hand around his ear in the time honoured tradition of the aurally challenged.

“I said, ‘It beats me how he can sell that’.”

He looked at me speculatively for a moment and lowered three inches of IPA with a slurp redolent of satisfaction.

“You could do better?.”

His benevolent expression belied offence.

“On a good day. Perhaps. It’s all a question of time”. With a glance at his vacant jug I asked, “Can I get you another?”

He glanced at his in the same direction and then, with a peculiar dual gesture, simultaneously answered in the affirmative and invited me to join him.  “Ah, time, yes indeed.” He seemed to find something amusing.

Bringing his pint and my own refill I lowered myself onto a stool that tottered in front of his chair. Raising his glass, he offered a silent toast, and then re-engaged his palate with relish. He looked at me, his eyes bright, as I took a more cautious sip. I wondered in that instant how old he was. Fifty, maybe sixty? Seldom had I seen a more ageless man.

“We’re all dead here, you know.”

I stared at him, startled, and at an infrequent loss for words.

He sighed breezily. “Oh yes. Didn’t the villager’s tell you?”

I hesitated. The truth was that the locals up the hill had recommended the pub to me, and that was why I had made the thirty minute walk through precipitation that, in a bygone age, would have been called ‘stair-rod’. The villagers had also said that the pub was unusually well preserved for its age and advised me to look out for ‘local colour’ at the bar.

“How do you mean?”

It was his turn to stare at me. “You require amplification?”

I nodded. “Much like you.”

“Well,” he said, and transfixed me with a gimlet stare. “You have the time.”

His glass was again dangerously low and I refilled it without request. With a low murmur of thanks he ordered his thoughts.

He looked at me thoughtfully. “Ever heard Hotel California?”

“The song?”


I nodded.

“You know that line, ‘You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave?”

I nodded again.

“Look outside.”

The words were delivered with a flat finality that somehow shook me. I stood and made my way to the low oak-beamed door that sagged tiredly in the corner beside the notice board.

I looked back at him and he nodded once; imperceptibly.

I swung the door open and looked into infinity. Where before the tiny village of Muxborough had slumbered in the winter rainfall, now there was only a swirling void of painful white radiance dappled with speeding black flecks.

I whirled back to him. He nodded gravely and with a certain, not un-inebriated satisfaction, said, “Bit of bother over at Hinkley Point, some years back.”


“Hinkley Point. You know, our local, nuclear,” the words were smeared with contempt, “power station.”

“I don’t get it.”

“And why should you my dear chap? Why should you? The simple fact is that we appear to have left our local portion of the time-space continuum. You see,” he lent forward earnestly, “as that fellow down there has told us,” he nodded to where a tired man sagged, white-faced against the Lilliputian bar, “ we’re on a cusp”

“A cusp?”

“A cusp. You see, we were all here some years back, a Thursday evening it was, when there was a bit of a bang. We felt a jolt and then nothing, and thought no more of it. Until we tried to  leave of course.”

“What happened then?”

He paused and looked meaningfully at another empty glass. I refilled it without demure. “Well, when young Derek opened the door to go home, he found himself staring into the white void that you yourself have seen. But he walked out anyway.” He shrugged.


“And what?” He looked slightly irritated.

“What happened?”

He looked momentarily confused. “We never saw him again.”

I sat back and sank some of my own beer. “ So where did he go?”

“No idea. Although that man there,” He nodded in the general direction of the harassed gentleman at the bar, “thinks that he knows. Says we’re suffering from ‘cross-talk’ and that poor Derek’s trapped in Hilbert Space. Still, there is one happy consequence; we never seem to run out of beer.”

My interest was engaged. I sidled up to ‘the fellow’ and looked into red-rimmed eyes. I did not dissemble. “What’s going on?”

He knew instantly to what I was referring. Quietly, he said, “You hear that tune?”

It was Hotel California again.  I nodded.

“In this case it happens to be true. When Hinkley Point blew it knocked us up onto a Hilbert cusp.”

I nodded in Dennis’s direction. “He keeps on about cusps. Could you be a little more specific?”

“Of course. We were moved up out of our space-time continuum onto a cusp. A bit like the ridge between grooves on a gramophone record. Neither one place nor the other. Hence: A cusp.”

“What does that mean?”

“Well the maths is a little involved but I’ll see if I can’t keep it simple. You know what a Mobius strip is?”

“Yes. It’s a strip of paper with a twist in it.”

He looked impressed. “Exactly. It’s a strip of paper which through a trick of topology has only one side and one edge. An unusual arrangement, as I think you’ll agree.”

I was beginning to get a headache but he continued remorselessly. “A Mobius strip is a distorted expression of Hilbert space. A place where the laws of physics don’t operate as they do in our world. The cusps between universes are in Hilbert Space. And that’s where we are now.”


“Meaning we are neither in once place or another. We’re poised between alternate universes. We can’t leave because there is no exit. Like a Mobius strip which has only one side, Hilbert space has no entrance – or exit.”

“What about Derek? The man who left to go home?”

He shrugged. “Never saw him again”

“How long ago was that?”

He smiled then, a narrow smile full of unfulfilled and unfulfillable longing. I glanced down the bar toward Dennis. He too was smiling, but in his eyes I could see now a yearning expression which impaled me with terror.  I glanced back to the physicist.

Suddenly his smile had turned sad. “About twenty years” he said.


Copyright reserved. Richard Corfield

To learn how to make your own Mobius Strip Click HERE

Thank you NHS!

Monday December 11 2017.   It is no particular secret that I have spent much of 2017 in and out of Doctor’s surgeries and the John Radcliffe Hospital. I am now well on my way to recovery but that would not have been possible without the help of the most amazing medical team. So thank you, Elle, Neil, Jeremy, Jane, Silvia, Chloe and Suan (to name just a few). You are all amazing! Viva the NHS!

The Lost Soldiers of Fromelles Monday 31 July 2017

Tonight on Rock On with Dok Corfield we will be talking about the Battle of Fromelles July 19-July 20th 1916. Here are some images from that terrible battle.

German contemporary map of Battlefield of Fromelles

The German (top) and Allied (Bottom) fronet lines

The Sugarloaf Salient have the Germans a commanding advantgae

Contemporary German Aerial Photo of the mass graves for the Allied Dead


Location of Fromelles

Tonight on Rock on with Dok Corfield (3rd July)

We’ll be discussing how life on Earth got started. One of the things that we are going to need to get our heads around is the vastness of geological time. Here is an easy to understand graphic which scales geological time into a twenty-four hour clock.

Here is a picture from our special correspondent showing what the Earth at the time life got started looked like.

Below is an original drawing of the Miller and Urey apparatus used to show that the organic building blocks of life (complex carbon containing molecules)

And here is the young Stanley Miller performing his experiment.

Rock on with Dok Corfield – Mondays 8-9pm

Dear Friends, My new show on Witney Radio (99.9 FM starts this coming Monday at 8pm. There will be a mixture of music, sci-fi and science themed around the question “How Life on Earth Began.” Although I will be able to respond to a limited number of tweets and Facebook questions while on air, if you have any specific questions that you would like me to address please email me at beforehand.

Subjects for other shows will include, Mining the Sea Bed, The Moons of Jupiter, Operation Paperclip, The Voyage of HMS Challenger and many more.

Hope you can join me for what promises to be a fun show this coming Monday (3rd July) at 8pm.

Rock on, All best, Dok