Science in Action

By BBC World Service

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The BBC brings you all the week's science news.

Episode Date
Hazard Mapping the Guatemalan Volcano
Volcanologist Eliza Calder explains why the eruption of Volcán de Fuego in Guatemala on 3rd June was so devastating. It left at least 110 people dead and over 200 people missing. It’s thought that the local populations were so acclimatised to the rumblings and explosions of the ‘persistently active’ volcano, that they were slow to take action when it violently erupted. Electric Fog Nets Nets strung up to capture water droplets in the form of fog and mist are an old technology for getting fresh water in dry parts of the world. But they are ‘passive’ they rely on the water droplets in the air randomly coming into contact with the net. But new work by MIT engineer Kripa Varanasi has shown that if you apply an electrostatic force to the net, it ‘actively’ attracts the charged water droplets to it. Thereby increasing the amount of water collected. Fishing for DNA Bacteria have the remarkable ability to take up DNA from their surroundings and incorporate it into their genomes. This ability allows the organisms to introduce variation and traits into their genetic code – traits such as antibiotic resistance or virulence. The trouble is, microbiologists knew little about how they performed this important procedure known as ‘natural transformation’. But now a group of scientists in the US have filmed (under very high magnification) the moment a bacterium reaches out with a special filament appendage (called a pilus) to snatch a piece of free floating DNA from its surroundings. And it looks a lot like going fishing! Regulating Research on Cannabis Using cannabis and other illegal drugs in science – do regulations of illegal drugs hinder legitimate medical research? Picture: Fuego Volcano aftermath, Credit: European Photopress Agency Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Fiona Roberts
Jun 21, 2018
Antarctic Ice Melt and Sea Level Rise
Antarctic ice melt and sea level rise – The rate of sea level rise from melting ice sheets and ice shelves in Antarctica has trebled in the past 5 years, due to global warming. Satellite data is showing that ice loss from Antarctica has increased global sea levels by 7.6mm since 1992 and could reach 15 cm the end of the century. Earthquake Prediction Global earthquake models pass stress test. Combining GPS and seismic data gives us the best earthquake forecasts yet. Undersea fibre optic data cables that carry the world’s telecommunications data can also be used to detect seismic signals from earthquakes. This is particularly useful for picking up signals from remote undersea tectonically active regions which are not very well covered by land-based seismic recorders. Picture: Summer clouds swirl in around the Staccato Peaks of Alexander Island, Antarctic Peninsula. High snowfall and strong weather gradients in this mountainous area make assessment of glacier mass balance particularly challenging. Credit: Hamish Pritchard, BAS Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Fiona Roberts
Jun 14, 2018
Selling Dinosaurs to Private Collectors
This week an auction of a 70% complete dinosaur skeleton took place in Paris. The Therapod species, dating from the late Jurassic (155m years ago) is scientifically very interesting. It’s an unknown predator which, argues the Society of Vertebrate Palaeontologists, is why it should not be owned by the highest bidder, but made available to palaeontologists for more scientific study. Category 6 Hurricanes The 1st of June marks the start of the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season. Leading climate scientists debate whether we will see fewer or more tropical cyclones in the Atlantic as a consequence of anthropogenic climate change. There is a mounting consensus, however, that we will see more intense hurricanes. So do we need to add a more severe Category 6 to the Saffir-Simpson hurricane intensity scale. Listening to Ice Melt If you listen carefully to ice sheets in the Arctic, you can hear the glaciers calving and even the bubbles bursting as the ice melts. Scientists are attempting to calibrate these sounds with the extent of ice-melt in order to remotely monitor the state of the polar ice. Bacterial Lending Library More than 3000 medically relevant bacteria, including some of those responsible for the deadliest diseases (plague, dysentery and cholera) have had their genomes decoded. This brings the 100 year old national collection bang up to date. The collection is an invaluable resource for researchers wanting to understand how bacterial antibiotic resistance evolved over time and to help make detection of disease outbreaks now more accurate. Picture: A dinosaur skeleton, sold to a private buyer at an auction in Paris for €1.6m (£1.4m; $2m), Credit: AFP/Getty Images Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Fiona Roberts
Jun 07, 2018
The Dunes of Pluto
When the New Horizons space probe flew past Pluto three years ago, it revealed an expectedly exotic little world. The latest revelation from the data is that dunes creep across its surface. But as John Spencer of the South West Research Institute explains, these dunes are not made of sand grain, but tiny particles of frozen methane. Then again, it is minus 240 degrees Celsius on Pluto. A 10 kilometre wide asteroid wiped out 75% of life (including the dinosaurs) 66 million years ago. So it has been a shock to discover this week that life rapidly returned, flourished and diversified at very place where the asteroid crashed into the Earth. Sean Gulick and Chris Lowery of the University of Texas in Austin talks about their discoveries and how they relate to today’s mass extinction crisis. Bioengineer Kit Parker of Harvard University talks about the latest big step towards building an artificial cell from scratch. His work with South Korean scientists involved taking different molecules from spinach and bacteria to build a synthetic cell element to switch the activities of cells on and off. Ultimately cells made from scratch could be super-efficient drug factories. The coldest place in the universe will be created shortly on the International Space Station. This will be in a box called the Cold Atom Lab installed on the station earlier this week. Lasers and magnets will cool a strange cloud of atoms to within a few fractions of a billionth of a degree above absolute zero. The Lab’s creator is physicist Rob Thompson of Nasa’s JPL in Pasadena. Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker (Photo: Pluto as seen by the New Horizons spacecraft, 14 July 2015. Credit: Nasa)
May 31, 2018
The Biggest Explosions in the Universe
An international team of scientists have captured the biggest explosions in the Universe in unprecedented detail for the first time. These Gamma Ray Bursts sometimes last for just a few milliseconds, but for that time are trillions of times brighter than our Sun. The chance of capturing one of these rare bursts, which occur just as a dying star collapses into a black hole, is just an incredible one-in-10,000. Sight and Sound Despite the intuitive feeling that we can listen to something whilst looking elsewhere, our visual and auditory perceptions are - from the earliest points - processed together in the brain. Sight and sound work together to build up a picture of the world around us, and when the two senses aren’t aligned our brains have to work much harder to filter out distractions. Although this relationship is largely unexplored, it could tell us more about how to aid those with hearing impairments and even what effect technology, such as smartphones, might be having on our ability to concentrate. Old animals We humans like to think we live long lives, some of us are lucky enough to make it into triple digits. But we can’t compare to the humble tubeworm, casually hanging around on the ocean floor and researchers have discovered that they can live up to 300 years old! Iceland’s Molten Rock Origins Iceland’s volcanoes are one of the country’s most famous geological features. The island sits on a volcano hot spot and straddles two tectonic plates, the Eurasian and North American plates, otherwise known as the North Atlantic Ridge - making it highly volcanically active. New research into the Volcano Hot Spot under Iceland has revealed something unusual. New measurements of the Mantle region within Earth, appears to be feeding material in the form of a plume to the surface, where Iceland is located. Picture: Star being destroyed, Credit: Nasa Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Jack Meegan
Jul 27, 2017