Discovery

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Description

Explorations in the world of science.

Episode Date
David Eagleman
1667
Literature student turned neuroscientist, Prof David Eagleman, tells Jim Al-Khalili about his research on human perception and the wristband he created that enables deaf people to hear through their skin. Everything we see, taste, smell, touch and hear is created by a set of electro-chemical impulses in the dark recesses of our brain. Our brains look for patterns in these signals and attach meaning to them. So in future perhaps we could learn to ‘feel’ fluctuations in the stock market, see in infra-red or echo-locate like bats? Each brain creates its own unique truth and David believes, there are no real limits to what we humans can perceive.
Sep 26, 2022
Frances Arnold
1669
Nobel Prize winning chemist Frances Arnold left home at 15 and went to school ‘only when she felt like it’. She disagreed with her parents about the Vietnam war and drove big yellow taxis in Pittsburgh to pay the rent. Decades later, after several changes of direction (from aerospace engineer to bio-tech pioneer), she invented a radical new approach to engineering enzymes. Rather than try to design industrial enzymes from scratch (which she considered to be an impossible task), Frances decided to let Nature do the work. ‘I breed enzymes like other people breed cats and dogs’ she says. While some colleagues accused her of intellectual laziness, industry jumped on her ideas and used them in the manufacture of everything from laundry detergents to pharmaceuticals. She talks to Jim Al-Khalili about her journey from taxi driver to Nobel Prize, personal tragedy mid-life and why advising the White House is much harder than doing scientific research.
Sep 20, 2022
Sir Martin Landray
1678
Who could forget the beginning of 2020, when a ‘mysterious viral pneumonia’ emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Soon, other countries were affected and deaths around the world began to climb. Perhaps most alarmingly of all, there were no proven treatments to help prevent those deaths. As the World Health Organisation declared the Covid-19 outbreak a pandemic, and the UK and the rest of the world braced itself for what was to come, doctor and drug-trial designer Martin Landray had his mind on a solution, devising the protocol, or blueprint, for the world’s largest drug trial for Covid-19. As Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology at Oxford University, Martin was perfectly positioned to jump, delivering what became known as the RECOVERY Trial. The trial was tasked to deliver clarity amid the predicted chaos of the pandemic and galvanised every acute NHS hospital in the UK. Within its first one hundred days, it had yielded three major discoveries and it has transformed Covid-19 treatment worldwide, already saving over a million lives. Sir Martin Landray was recently knighted for this work and RECOVERY’s legacy lives on, not just for Covid. Martin plans to revolutionise drug trials for other diseases too.
Sep 12, 2022
How Covid Changed Science, part 3
1663
In the third and final part of our series How Covid Changed Science, Devi Sridhar Professor of Global Health at Edinburgh University looks at the legacy and lessons of the pandemic for scientific research. Tackling the virus became a global issue, but many have pointed out the inequality of both resources and effort in the response. Going forward do we need to be directing research more towards improving health and disease surveillance in less wealthy parts of the world, would investing there help prevent future pandemics?
Sep 05, 2022
How Covid changed science, part 2
1670
In the second of our series How Covid Changed Science, Devi Sridhar, Professor of Global Health at Edinburgh University looks at the scientific messaging. Just how do you explain to both politicians and the public that a growing global pandemic is likely to kill many people, and unprecedented measures such as a nationwide lockdown are needed to prevent even more deaths. What information should be imparted and how? Similarly how to address the clamour for information on the development of vaccines and other potential treatments when there often wasn’t clarity? And with the rise of misinformation how did individual scientists who became the subject of conspiracy theories cope with being targeted? In this programme we hear from scientists and politicians directly involved with the pandemic response. For some the experience of explaining their often highly technical research to the general public was a daunting experience. For others it became a mission to answer the publics concerns and fears.
Aug 29, 2022
How Covid changed science, part 1
1664
Until 2020 developing a new drug took at least 15 years. Scientists by and large competed with each other, were somewhat secretive about their research and only shared their data once publication was secured. And the public and the press had no interest in the various early phases of clinical trials. An incremental scientific step possibly on the road to somewhere was simply not newsworthy. Face masks were the preserves of hypochondriacs in the Far East, with no scientific evidence base for their use. Now the findings of research are published as soon as they are ready. Often they are being openly discussed in social media before they have been peer reviewed. The speed of research, collaboration between science and industry, and public perception of science are areas that have undergone incredible and likely permanent change. Devi Sridhar, Professor of Global Health at Edinburgh University hears from scientists in a variety of fields, whose working lives and practices have been affected, in some cases revolutionised by the pandemic.
Aug 22, 2022
Satellites versus the stars
1686
If you look up into the night sky, there are around 7,000 active satellites orbiting the Earth. They’re part of our daily life – essential for things like the internet, the GPS in our cars and giving us weather reports. Seven thousand might not sound a lot in the infinite expanses of space. But the reality is that most satellites are found in a small slice of the solar system - called Lower Earth Orbit - and countries and satellite companies are planning to launch hundreds of thousands more in the next decade. So things are about to get crowded. In this week’s Discovery, Jane Chambers speaks to scientists, astronomers from the ALMA Observatory in Chile, space environmentalists and satellite companies like SpaceX about the benefits of this explosion in mega satellite constellations, as well as the unintended consequences to those who value a clear and unhindered view of the stars. Picture: Radio Telescopes at ALMA Observatory in the north of Chile, Credit: Jane Chambers
Aug 15, 2022
Plant based promises, diet and health
1588
Giles Yeo learns how to make a Thai green curry with Meera Sodha. This is a recipe without meat or prawns but with tofu and lots of vegetables. If we need to eat less meat and dairy to help prevent global warming- what difference will altering our diets make to our health. For a long time now people have been urged to cut down on red meat and processed foods but if you have been eating them all your life it takes an effort to develop new habits. Plant based products that can replace for example dairy milks, cheeses, sausages, burgers and meat based dishes such as lasagne can be helpful in making this transition but are they healthier?
Aug 08, 2022
Plant based promises and sustainability
1694
In Plant Based Promises, Giles Yeo a foodie and academic at Cambridge University, asks how sustainable are commercial plant based products? This is a fast growing sector with a potential value of $162 billion by 2030. Giles travels to the Netherlands Food Valley to look at companies developing plant based alternatives and to find out what role they have to play in changing diets. And Giles designs his own plant based Yeo Deli range online but discovers that new markets are already causing shortages of alternative proteins, so what will the future look like? In 2019 the Eat Lancet Commission set up specific targets for a healthy diet and sustainable food production. The aim was to keep global warming to within 1.5 degrees and to be able to feed the world’s 10 billion people by 2050. The Commission’s recommendations are best visualised as a plate of food, half fruits, vegetables and nuts and the other half whole grains, beans, legumes and pulses, plant oils and modest amounts of meat and dairy. Is there room on the plate for Giles Yeo Deli Baloney range.
Aug 01, 2022
Plant based promises, rise of the plant based burger
1653
In Plant Based Promises, foodie, researcher and broadcaster Giles Yeo looks at the science behind plant based diets and the increasing number of plant based products appearing in supermarkets and restaurants. The market for plant based products could be worth $162 billion in the next ten years and Giles asks how sustainable and healthy the products are and the role they play in decreasing the world's carbon footprint. Globally food production accounts for about 30% of greenhouse gases. In the UK we eat over six times the amount of meat and more than twice the amount of dairy products recommended to prevent the global temperature increasing more than 1.5 degrees C, after which extreme weather events become more severe. But eating less meat and dairy means new protein sources from plants are needed and how easy or practical is it for people to change their diets? Veganuary, where people pledge to go vegan for the month of January show that people are willing to change what they eat for a variety of reasons including animal welfare, sustainability and health. In programme one Giles, an expert on food intake looks at some of the foods being developed to replace animal based foods and looks at alternatives to the iconic cheeseburger. Giles meets biochemist Professor Pat Brown founder of Impossible Burgers, a Silicon Valley start up making burgers from genetically modified yeast to replicate the taste of meat. But from high tech to the artisanal, sisters Rachel and Charlotte Stevens missed eating cheese so much they are now making cheese alternatives using traditional moulds, cultures and aging techniques while replacing dairy ingredients with nuts.
Jul 25, 2022
The mysterious particles of physics, part 3
1656
The smaller the thing you look at, the bigger the microscope you need to use. That’s why the circular Large Hadron Collider at CERN, where they discovered the Higgs boson is 27 kilometres long, and its detectors tens of metres across. But to dig deeper still into the secrets of the Universe, they’re already talking about another machine 4 times bigger, to be built by the middle of the century. Roland Pease asks if it’s worth it. Image: CMS Beampipe removal LS2 2019 (Credit: Maximilien Brice/CERN)
Jul 18, 2022
The mysterious particles of physics, part 2
2003
Episode 2: Lost in the Dark Physics is getting a good understanding of atoms, but embarrassingly they’re only a minor part of the Universe. Far more of it is made of something heavy and dark, so-called dark matter. The scientists who discovered the Higgs boson ten years ago thought they’d also create dark matter in the underground atom smasher at CERN. But they haven’t seen it yet. Roland Pease joins them as they redouble their efforts at the upgraded Large Hadron Collider, and travels to Boulby Underground Laboratory inside Britain's deepest mine, where subterranean telescopes hope to see dark matter streaming through the Galaxy. Image: CMS Beampipe removal LS2 2019 (Credit: Maximilien Brice/CERN)
Jul 11, 2022
The mysterious particles of physics, part 1
1811
The machine that discovered the Higgs Boson 10 years ago is about to restart after a massive upgrade, to dig deeper into the heart of matter and the nature of the Universe. Roland Pease returns to CERN’s 27-kilometre Large Hadron Collider (LHC) dug deeper under the Swiss-French border to meet the scientists wondering why the Universe is the way it is. He hears why the Nobel-prize winning discovery of the “Higgs Particle” remains a cornerstone of the current understanding of the nature of matter; why the search for “dark matter” – 25% of the cosmos - is proving to be so hard; and CERN’s plans for an atom smasher 4 times as big to be running by the middle of the century. Image: CMS Beampipe removal LS2 2019 (Credit: Maximilien Brice/CERN)
Jul 04, 2022
The Life Scientific: Adam Hart
1662
Ant-loving professor, Adam Hart, shares his passion for leaf cutting ants with Jim Al Khalili. Why do they put leaves in piles for other ants to pick up? Talking at the Hay Festival, Adam describes the experiments he designed to test the intelligence of the hive mind. When does a waggle dance become a tremble dance? And how do the honey bees know when this moment should be? We like the phrase ‘as busy as a bee’. In fact, bees spend a lot of time doing nothing at all, a sensible strategy from the point of view of natural selection. And where does Adam stand on insect burgers? Producer: Anna Buckley
Jun 27, 2022
The Life Scientific: Jacinta Tan
1663
When a person with severe anorexia nervosa refuses food, the very treatment they need to survive, is that refusal carefully considered and rational, as it can appear to those around them? Or is it really the illness that’s causing them to say ‘no’? This is one of the thorny ethical dilemmas that Jacinta Tan has wrestled with over the course of her career. She is deeply curious about the mind, and has spent hundreds of hours sitting with people with anorexia nervosa, not persuading them to eat, rather listening to them talk about what’s going on in their minds and how the illness influences their decisions. These rich internal worlds, that she has revealed, shape her work as a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, where she treats people with eating disorders. The views of those with the condition and their families have been central to the recent government reviews of the Eating Disorder Services that she led in Scotland and Wales. These conditions can be hugely challenging to treat. Jacinta Tan tells Jim al-Khalili how it's the art of medicine, as much as the science, that helps people recover. Producer: Beth Eastwood
Jun 20, 2022
The Life Scientific: Pete Smith
1663
Pete Smith is very down to earth. Not least because he’s interested in soil and the vital role it plays in helping us to feed the world, mitigate climate change and maintain a rich diversity of species on planet earth. He was born in a pub and failed the 11+ exam (designed to identify bright children just like him) but he became a distinguished professor nonetheless. Tackling climate change in isolation is a mistake, he says. We need to consider all the challenges facing humanity and identify strategies that deliver benefits on all fronts: food security, bio-diversity and human development goals. He tells Jim Al-Khalili about his life and work and the urgent need for our degraded peat bogs to be restored. Peat bogs that have been drained (for grazing or to plant trees) add to our carbon emissions. Healthy peat bogs, however, are carbon sinks. Producer: Anna Buckley
Jun 13, 2022
The colour conundrum
1668
The world is full of colour! But, listener Maya Crocombe wonders ‘how do we see colour and why are some people colour blind?’ Dr Rutherford and professor Fry set out to understand how special light-sensitive cells in our eyes start the process of colour perception, why people sometimes have very different experiences of colour and whether, in the end, colour is really just ‘in our heads’. Dr Gabriele Jordan from Newcastle University explains why lots of men struggle to discriminate between certain colours and why there were lots of complaints from colour-blind viewers when Wales played Ireland at rugby. Professor Anya Hurlbert, also from Newcastle University, tackles the most divisive of internet images: The Dress! Did you see it as blue-black or yellow-gold? Anya explains why people see it so differently, and why our ability to compensate for available light is so useful. To see the Dunstanborough Castle illusion as described in the episode, check out the Gallery on this page and also on the Discovery homepage.
Jun 06, 2022
The Turn of the Tide
1667
Mathematician Hannah Fry and geneticist Adam Rutherford investigate your everyday science queries. Today, they get stuck into two questions about tides. Lynn Godson wants to know why isn’t high tide at the same time at all points around the coast? Whilst Tim Mosedale asks, could we ever harness tidal power commercially? Did you think tides are caused by the pull of the Moon? And that they come in and out twice a day? Well, yes, that’s true but it turns out there’s so much more to it than that, especially here in the UK, which has the second largest tidal range in the world at the Severn Estuary near Bristol, coming in at an average of 15 metres (50ft in old money). But why should high and low tide times be so different even in places that are relatively close to each other? The answer partly lies in something called bathymetry (which has more to do with baths than you might think – well basins at any rate). As for harnessing sea power, there are some ambitious projects currently in development and predictions that wave and tidal could make up as much as 15 percent of the UK’s energy needs in future. But how realistic is this and how do you ensure that your power generators can survive the rigours of the ocean – storms, saltwater and all those pesky barnacles? To help answer these queries, Hannah and Adam are joined by Physicist and Oceanographer, Helen Czerski and Professor Deborah Greaves OBE, who heads up the COAST lab at the University of Plymouth which studies marine renewable energy technologies.
May 30, 2022
The Evidence: The nature of mental health
3008
Today The Evidence goes green as Claudia Hammond and her panel of experts discuss plant power, how nature and the natural environment affect our mental health. Produced in collaboration with Wellcome Collection and recorded in front of a live audience in the Reading Room at Wellcome Collection in London, the programme addresses that widely-held view, even intuition, that plants and nature directly impact on our emotional wellbeing. As always, Claudia and her panel of experts are interested in the evidence behind such beliefs, and as they reveal, proving this link scientifically, is fiendishly difficult. The evidence base is growing (especially studies which show being in nature improves your mood) and there is much emerging research which gives tantalising glimpses into exactly which elements in nature could help to produce that green feel-good factor (and which elements can actually make us feel worse). On stage, a 25 year old semi-professional footballer shares how he first put his hands in the soil after the Grenfell Tower fire in North Kensington in London five years ago, when 72 people lost their lives and left his community traumatised. Tayshan tells Claudia that nature saved him, and many others, as they planted seeds, re-claimed spaces and built new gardens in the aftermath of the tragedy. All children and young people, he says, should have access to the healing power of nature and he calls on the horticultural establishment to open its doors much wider to enable this to happen. Beth Collier too, believes that nature should be a meaningful part of everyday life for all. The connection with nature, she says, is fundamental to healing mental distress. A psychotherapist and ethnographer, Beth founded Wild in the City to encourage those who live in urban environments, especially people of colour, to re-connect with nature. Claudia’s other guests are Kathy Willis, former Director of Science at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, now Professor of Biodiversity at the University of Oxford and author of a soon-to-be-published book called Prescribing Nature and Birgitta Gatersleben, Professor of Environmental Psychology at the University of Surrey and a leading researcher studying the relationship between the natural environment and human wellbeing. Produced by: Fiona Hill and Maria Simons Studio Engineers: Duncan Hannant and Emma Harth (Photo: Footpath through a forest Credit: Nik Taylor/UCG/Universal Images Group/Getty Images)
May 28, 2022
The Shocking White Hair
1657
Why does human hair go grey and is it ever possible for it to go white overnight from shock? Hannah and Adam explore why hair goes grey, how much stressful life events and a lack of sleep can speed up the process. They hear from the pilot whose hair turned white after a flight where all 4 of his engines failed after flying through a volcanic ash cloud - was the shock responsible? They also uncover new research which has shown it's possible for greying hair to return to its natural colour and ask if this finding could be exploited to uncover a cosmetic way to reverse hair greying?
May 23, 2022
Surprising symmetries
1670
Two eyes, two arms, two legs - we are roughly symmetrical on the outside, but inside we are all over the place! We just have one heart, which is usually on the left, one liver on the right, one spleen and one appendix. "Why is that?" wonders listener Joanne. Our science sleuths discover that being symmetrical down the middle - at least on the outside - is by far the most common body plan across the animal kingdom. Professor Sebastian Shimeld from the University of Oxford takes us on a journey into the deep evolutionary past, to uncover how two-sided body structures first emerged in ancient worm-like creatures, and why this layout eventually proved so useful for swimming, walking and flying. Garden snails turn out to be a surprising exception – their shells coil in one direction and on just one side of their body. Professor Angus Davison from the University of Nottingham tells the tale of his international quest to find a romantic partner for Jeremy – a rare left-coiling snail who could only mate with another left-coiling snail! Dr Daniel Grimes from the University of Oregon unfolds the delicate mechanisms by which an initially symmetrical embryo starts to develop differently down one side, and everyone puzzles over the mystery of the left-handed 'mirror molecules' - so called L-amino acids - which turn out to be the building blocks of every living organism. A curious case indeed!
May 16, 2022
The weird waves of wi-fi
1658
We use wi-fi every day, but do you know how it works? “Is it waves and science or just some mystical magical force?” wonders listener Abby. Well, our science sleuths are on the case. To help them navigate the strange realm of electromagnetic waves they are joined by Andrew Nix, Professor of Wireless Communication Systems from the University of Bristol. He explains why your wi-fi router won’t heat up your baked beans, but your microwave will. Andrea Goldsmith, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Princeton University, also joins to reveal how these waves are crammed full of 0s and 1s- whether that's a pic of your pets or a video chat with pals. And finally, how do you get the best wi-fi at home? Dr Rutherford, it turns out, has made some rookie errors. Listen out for our top tips so you don't make them too!
May 09, 2022
The Mystery of the Teenage Brain
1667
‘Why are teens prone to risky behaviour?’ asks Dr Mark Gallaway, ‘especially when with their friends?’ 13 year old Emma wonders why she’s chatty at school but antisocial when she gets home. And exasperated mum Michelle wants to know why her teens struggle to get out of bed in the morning. Swirling hormones and growing bodies have a lot to answer for but, as Professor of Psychology from the University of Cambridge Sarah-Jayne Blakemore explains, there’s also a profound transformation going on in the brain. Hannah and Adam discover how the adolescent brain is maturing and rewiring at the cellular level and why evolution might have primed teens to prefer their peers over their parents. Frances Jensen, Professor of Neurology at the University of Pennsylvania, tells us how all these brain changes can impact social relationships. And Dr Rachel Sharman, a sleep researcher from the University of Oxford, reports the surprising findings from her sleep study tracking 100 teenagers around the UK.
May 02, 2022
Wild Inside: The Ocean Sunfish
1658
Ben Garrod and Jess French get under the skin of Mola mola the world's largest bony fish to unravel this bizarrely shaped predator's ability to swim to a huge range of depths. Producer Adrian Washbourne
Apr 25, 2022
Wild Inside: The Burmese Python
1646
Ben Garrod and Jess French delve deep inside the predatory Burmese Python to examine its extraordinary body plan that enables it to catch, constrict and consume huge prey whole. Producer Adrian Washbourne
Apr 18, 2022
Wild Inside: Jungle royalty - the Jaguar
1639
Wild Inside embarks on something we hardly ever witness – a look inside some of nature’s most wondrous animals. Its a rare chance to delve deep into some enigmatic and very different wild animals – from a reptile, to a mammal to a fish – unravelling the intricate internal complexity inside three of the most amazing animals ever to evolve. What makes the ultimate predator? What are the keys to successful survival in an ever-changing environment? Whilst we’ve gained a lot by observing their behaviour from the outside, to truly understand these animals, we need to look at what’s on the inside too. Ben Garrod, Professor of Evolutionary Biology and Science Engagement at the University of East Anglia, together with friend and expert veterinary surgeon Dr Jess French, open up and investigate what makes each of these animals unique. During each animal post mortem, they’re joined by experts in comparative anatomy, evolution and behaviour as they put these enigmatic animals under the knife. Along the way they reveal some unique adaptations which give each species a leg (or claw) up in surviving in the big wild world. The series begins with one of the truly exotic loaners of the cat family – which at just over two metres long, covered with beautiful gold and black rosette markings, is pure jungle royalty - the greatest of the South American big cats - the Jaguar Part 2: One of the largest predatory reptiles - the Burmese Python whose extraordinary singular body plan has enabled nearly 4000 species of snakes to succeed in inhabiting nearly every part of the planet, Part 3 : The largest bony fish you might never have heard of – the bizarre looking Oceanic Sunfish which is being spotted increasingly in UK waters Presenters: Prof Ben Garrod, Dr Jess French Producer: Adrian Washbourne
Apr 11, 2022
The Evidence: War trauma and mental health
3054
War and conflict turns lives upside down and millions of adults and children witness atrocities, lose loved ones and often lose their homes and even their countries. The psychological and emotional suffering can continue long after the immediate threat to their life has gone. One in every five people touched by war – that’s 20% - will have a mental health problem that needs help and one in twenty or 5% will be severely affected. As the humanitarian crisis deepens in the Ukraine with millions under bombardment and ten million people forced from their homes, Claudia Hammond and her guests explore the evidence behind the mental health interventions that do take place around the world: do they work and are they reaching the people who need them? Two Ukrainian psychiatrists tell Claudia about the psychological support they’re trying to coordinate for their traumatised fellow Ukrainians. Dr Iryna Frankova is also a psychologist and she’s chair of the ECNP Traumatic Stress Network and with colleagues she’s helped to launch a new downloadable chatbot which offers information and psychological first aid. Dr Orest Suvalo from the Institute of Mental Health at the Ukrainian Catholic University is in Lviv in the west of Ukraine and he’s been trying to coordinate care for fleeing citizens as they arrive at the city’s railway station. Claudia’s panel includes Bill Yule, Emeritus Professor of Applied Child Psychiatry at Kings College, London, who pioneered evidence-based interventions for children caught up in war and trauma (he’s one of the founders of the Children and War Foundation set up in the 1990s during the wars in the Balkans); Professor Emily Holmes from the department of psychology at the University of Uppsala in Sweden who uses the power of mental imagery to reduce traumatic, intrusive memories or flashbacks (she’s been using these techniques to develop treatments for refugees who have fled war and conflict) and Dr Peter Ventevogel, psychiatrist and medical anthropologist and senior mental health officer with UNHCR, the refugee agency at the United Nations. And Dr Kennedy Amone P’Olak, Professor of Psycho-traumatology at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa joins from Uganda, where he’s tracked the mental health of hundreds of the children and young people who were abducted and recruited by the Lord’s Resistance Army in Northern Uganda. Produced by: Fiona Hill and Maria Simons Studio Engineers: Phil Lander and Emma Harth
Apr 02, 2022
The Life Scientific: Steve Brusatte on the fall of dinosaurs and the rise of mammals
1644
Steve Brusatte analyses the pace of evolutionary change and tries to answer big questions. Why did the dinosaurs die out and the mammals survive? How did dinosaurs evolve into birds? If you met a Velociraptor today you’d probably mistake it for a large flightless bird, says Steve. His intense interest in T. rex, Triceratops and all the other dinosaur species developed when he was a teenager and continues to this day. More recently, however, he’s focussed on the long history of mammals. For hundreds of millions of years, our mammalian ancestors remained small. Most were mouse-sized. None were bigger than a badger. Steve studies how, when an asteroid collided with earth 66 million years ago, the mammals got lucky. All the big dinosaurs were wiped out and only the small ones with wings survived. (Birds are dinosaurs, by the way). Within half a million years, mammals of all shapes and sizes had taken over on planet earth. Sabre-toothed flesh eaters, cow-sized plant guzzlers and a host of other warm blooded placental animals evolved alongside the badger sized burrowers. Steve talks to Jim Al-Khalili about his life and work, including the recent discovery of an incredibly well-preserved Pterosaur on the Isle of Skye, a place he likes to call Scotland’s Jurassic Park. Producer: Anna Buckley
Mar 28, 2022
The Life Scientific: Shankar Balasubramanian on decoding DNA
1668
Sir Shankar Balasubramanian is responsible for a revolution in medicine. The method he invented for reading, at speed, the unique genetic code that makes each one of us who we are, is ten million times faster than the technology that was used in the human genome project at the turn of the century. What’s more, it can be done much more cheaply than before and on a desktop machine. And it’s transforming healthcare, by helping us to understand the genetic basis of many diseases (particularly cancers) and to develop new diagnostic tests, medicines and personalised treatments. ‘ DNA has never failed to keep me excited and curious’ says Shankar, winner of the highly prestigious 2022 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences. He didn’t set out to create a game-changing technology or to make a lot of money. He just wanted to understand the DNA double helix in the greatest possible detail; to reveal how it worked, molecule by molecule. And he still rides a rickety old bicycle to work in Cambridge. Image ©University of Cambridge
Mar 21, 2022
Tooth and Claw: Wolves
1638
We look at wolves and the programme is a little different, because the predator we’re talking about is very much a predator of our imaginations. Wolves are the spirit of the wilderness, but they also symbolize the darker side of human nature, and many myths and legends surround the wolf from all around the world. Our fear of the wolf may be primeval, but it is still very much alive and well. The idea that wolves could be reintroduced in Scotland led to headlines about the British Queen's pet corgis being eaten… So today, as well as hearing about the real animals, we ask why wolves occupy this special place in our imagination, and whether the real and the imaginary overlap with Dr Elizabeth Dearnley, a folklorist and writer based in Edinburgh and Dr Giulia Bombieri from the Museum of Science in Trento, Giulia works with the Life WolfAlps project, tracking and protecting Italian wolves. Presenter: Adam Hart Producer: Geraldine Fitzgerald Picture credit: Giulia Bombieri
Mar 14, 2022
Tooth and Claw: Army ant
1624
The army ant might be small enough to squash under foot but, make no mistake, it’s a formidable predator. When they club together in their thousands they are a force to be reckoned with. Picture a tiger, comprised of hundreds of thousands of tiny ant-sized units, prowling through the forest and you start to get the idea. They’ll take down anything in their path, from spiders and scorpions to chickens that can’t escape them. There are even grisly stories of African army ants attacking people. But this predator has its uses too - they can be used to stitch wounds and offer a house cleaning service too. Dr Dino Martins, Executive Director of the Mpala Research Centre in Kenya, and Lecturer at Princeton University, and Daniel Kronauer, Associate Professor studying complex social evolution and behaviour at the Rockefeller University in New York. Producer: Beth Eastwood Presenter: Professor Adam Hart Photo credit: Daniel Kronauer
Mar 08, 2022
Tooth and Claw: Venomous snakes
1623
Adam Hart discovers why rattlesnakes make good mothers and how deadly their venom is. There are over 600 different species of venomous snakes around the world with fearsome fangs delivering deadly venoms. Up to a third of the world’s population lives in fear of snakes, but are these reptiles misunderstood? And while Adam living in the UK where there are very few snakes, finds them fascinating, we shouldn’t forget that an estimated 7,400 people every day are bitten by snakes, and somewhere between 220–380 people die as a result. That’s around 2.7 million cases of venomous snake bites, and between 80,000 and 140,000 deaths a year - mostly in poorer communities in the developing world. But with habitat loss and persecution rife, do snakes have more to fear from us than we do from them. Perhaps we should change from Tooth and Claw to to fangs and scales as we dive into the world of snakes with Dr Emily Taylor, Professor of Biological Sciences at California State Polytechnic State University - she’s a specialist in rattlesnakes and their maternal skills and Hiral Naik, the Africa programme manager for Save the Snakes currently studying for a PhD on snake behaviour at University of Witwatersrand Picture credit: Hiral Naik
Feb 28, 2022
The Evidence: Drug-resistant superbugs
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Today, Claudia Hammond and her panel of experts focus on what’s been called “the silent pandemic”, the threat to modern medicine of anti-microbial resistance or AMR. Infections are increasingly resistant to live-saving drugs like antibiotics and many believe the very future of modern medicine is hanging in the balance. In a series produced in collaboration with Wellcome Collection, this edition of The Evidence is recorded in front of a live audience in the Reading Room at Wellcome in London. Just last month, a new global study covering 204 countries and territories published in The Lancet reveals the scale of AMR to human health. The number of lives lost is double previous estimates. The latest data reveals 1.3 million deaths caused directly by resistant infections in just one year, 2019, and five million more deaths were linked with AMR. The figures are shocking, especially because one in every five deaths were in children, under five years old, with the highest number of deaths in Western Sub-Saharan Africa. But this is a pandemic that threatens everybody, wherever they live. Everly Macario a public health researcher from Chicago in the United States shares her family’s story: the death of their 18 month old son, Simon, to a drug-resistant strain of the bacterial infection MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus). The loss of Simon spurred Everly to campaign against the mis-use of antibiotics, particularly in agriculture and farming, which contributes to the rise in AMR. Leaders in the global fight against AMR join Claudia to discuss the threat to human health and address the paradox that while AMR claims millions of lives, so many die each day because they can’t get access to basic, life-saving drugs like antibiotics. And Wellcome Collection’s Research Development Lead, Ross Macfarlane, delves into the archives and shares the warning from the inventor of the first antibiotic, penicillin, Alexander Fleming as he accepted his Nobel Prize in 1945, that mis-use would lead to resistance developing. The new super drug was destined to spawn the new super bug. Claudia’s guests include the UK Special Envoy on AMR, Professor Dame Sally Davies; the World Health Organisation’s Assistant Director General for Anti-Microbial Resistance, Dr Hanan Balkhy; Senior Research Manager for Drug Resistant Infections at Wellcome, Dr Janet Midega and the Director of ReAct Africa, Dr Mirfin Mpundu. Produced by: Fiona Hill, Anand Jagatia and Maria Simons Studio Engineers: Duncan Hannant and Emma Harth
Feb 26, 2022
Tooth and claw: Spotted hyena
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Cursed as a worthless scavenger and cast as villainous cowardly sidekicks in Disney’s The Lion King, the spotted hyena is one of the world’s most misunderstood of all predators. It may scavenge at night on a giant rubbish tip on the outskirts of Mekelle in Ethiopia, but it earns it’s top predator status when it takes down its prey in Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve. Adam Hart and guests polish up the spotted hyena’s tarnished reputation. Professor Kay Holekamp, a behavioural ecologist at Michigan State University, and Chinmay Sonawane, a biologist at Stanford University in California Picture: Spotted Hyena puppies and adult male with each other in Masat Mara, Credit: Manoj Shah/Getty Images Producer: Beth Eastwood Presenter: Professor Adam Hart
Feb 21, 2022
Deep sea exploration
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UCL oceanographer Helen Czerski explores life in the ocean depths with a panel of deep sea biologists. They take us to deep ocean coral gardens on sea mounts, to extraordinary hydrothermal vent ecosystems teeming with weird lifeforms fed by chemosynthetic microbes, to the remarkable biodiversity in the muds of the vast abyssal plains. Helen's guests are Adrian Glover of the Natural History Museum in London, Kerry Howell of Plymouth University and Alex Rogers, scientific director of REV Ocean. They discuss the dramatic revelations made by deep ocean explorers in just the last forty years, and the profound connections that the deep sea floor has with life at the Earth's surface. They also consider the threats to the ecosystems down there from seabed mining and climate change. Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker Picture: Black smoker hydrothermal vents, Credit: Science Photo Library
Feb 14, 2022
A new space age?
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In 2021, Captain James Kirk, aka William Shatner, popped into space for real for a couple of minutes, transported by space company Blue Origin's tourist rocket New Shepard. Elon Musk's Space X ferried more astronauts and supplies between Earth and the International Space Station, using its revolutionary reusable launchers and Dragon spacecraft. On Mars, the latest Nasa robot rover landed and released an autonomous helicopter - the first aircraft to fly on another planet. This year promises even more. Most significantly Nasa plans to launch the first mission of its Artemis programme. This will be an unmanned flight of its new deep space vehicle Orion to the Moon, propelled off the Earth by its new giant rocket, the Space Launch System. Artemis is the American space agency's project to return astronauts to the lunar surface and later establish moon bases. China also has a similar ambition. Are we at the beginning of a new space age and if so, how have we got here? When will we see boots on the Moon again? Could we even see the first people on Mars by the end of this decade? Dr Kevin Fong convenes a panel of astronautical minds to discuss the next decade or two of space exploration. He is joined by Dr Mike Barratt, one of Nasa's most senior astronauts and a medical doctor, based at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas; Dr Anita Sengupta, research associate professor in Astronautical Engineering at the University of Southern California; Oliver Morton, briefings editor at The Economist and the author of Mapping Mars and The Moon. Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker Picture: Artist concept of the SLS Block 1 configuration, Credit: NASA/MSFC
Feb 07, 2022
African science, African future
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Professor Tom Kariuki has spent his career battling for science in Africa, both as a leading immunologist and as the former director of the Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa. Now, as the world comes to grips with the coronavirus pandemic and a global movement for social justice, could this prove an opportunity for the transformation of African science? Tom talks to leading scientists in Africa about the successes they have achieved as well as the profound challenges they face, from the complexities of international funding to keeping the lights on. He asks who African science belongs to and benefits, and what needs to happen if its future is to be prosperous. (Photo: A team of scientists in a lab. Credit: Getty Images)
Jan 31, 2022
The Evidence: Africa, the pandemic and healthcare independence
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In a special edition of The Evidence, Claudia Hammond and her panel of experts focus on Africa, on how the more than fifty countries on the continent, home to 1.3 billion people and the most youthful population in the world, have fared, two years into the pandemic. African scientists have been key players in the global response, sequencing variants of the virus and sharing this vital information with the world. But there’s been huge frustration and anger on the continent about the way Africa has, yet again, found itself at the back of the global queue for life-saving tests, treatments and vaccines. The sense that the global health system isn’t set up to deliver for Africa has prompted what’s been described as unprecedented solidarity, and galvanised calls for increased healthcare independence, self-sufficiency and a new public health order for the continent. This includes plans to manufacture the vaccines, medicines and tests that Africa needs to increase its health security in Africa for Africa. In The Evidence, the head of the World Health Organisation in Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, tells Claudia it has been “extremely devastating” to watch history repeating itself (just like the HIV pandemic and the millions of African lives lost because they were unable to access life-saving antiretroviral medication) as international solidarity faltered and Africa struggled to access vital supplies. The Pasteur Institute in Dakar, Senegal (along with centres in South Africa and Rwanda) has a key role in pan-African plans for increased health sufficiency. Yellow Fever vaccines have long been made here but the plan is that later this year, mRNA vaccines for Covid-19 and eventually for other diseases like Lassa and Rift Valley fevers, will be manufactured at this and other sites. Institute head Professor Amadou Sall, a virologist and public health specialist says producing vaccines, medicines and tests will reduce the dependency of Africa on the global community and increase health security. Dr Yodi Alakija, co-chair of the African Union’s Vaccine Delivery Alliance and WHO Special Envoy to the Access to Covid Tools Accelerator, the ACT-Accelerator, says the pandemic has laid bare a failure of global political leadership, where a life in Lagos has been viewed as worth less than a life in London. The equity gaps in access to the tools needed to fight Covid-19, she says, must be closed, and there are hopes that a high level global conference, “Port to Arms: Africa Responds – Vaccine Equity, Delivery and Manufacturing”, in Abuja, Nigeria, in February, will lead to a renewed commitments to vaccinate the world and end this pandemic. Produced by: Fiona Hill and Maria Simons Studio Engineer: Donald McDonald and Tim Heffer
Jan 29, 2022
The venomous vendetta
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Whilst watching a documentary about some poisonous frogs, Curio Janni in Amsterdam, started to wonder what would happen if a frog licked itself or another frog of the same species. She asks Dr Adam Rutherford and Professor Hannah Fry to investigate whether an animal would react badly to a toxin it itself produces? In essence 'can a venomous snake kill itself by biting itself?' Of course the answer is complicated, but the sleuths know exactly who to ask. Steve Backshall, award-winning wildlife explorer, best known for his BBC series 'Deadly 60'. Author of 'Venom – Poisonous Creatures in the Natural World'. Steve has been bitten, stung and spat at by a plethora of venomous creatures during his career. He also studied the first known venomous newt - the sharp-ribbed newt - a creature that has sharpened ribs that when it's under attack, it will squeeze its body force those ribs out through its skin, coating them in venom, which is then delivered into the mouth of an attacker. Professor Nick Casewell, studies venomous snakes and their impact on humans. He works on treatments for snakebites at the Liverpool School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Snakebites have a huge impact on communities in South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa and South America. It's now been reinstated as one of the most serious neglected tropical diseases by the World Health Organisation. Traditional treatments - antivenins - can be expensive, difficult to access and don't always work - Nick is looking into alternative medicines to treat snakebite victims. Dr. Ronald Jenner is Principle Researcher in the Comparative Venomics group at the Natural History Museum's Life Sciences, Invertebrates Division and co-wrote the book ‘Venom -the secrets of nature's deadliest weapon.’ He explains the evolutionary arms race between venomous predators and their prey and poisonous prey and their predators. He explains how resistance to venom has evolved and how venom has evolved to be more or less powerful over time, answering another Curio - Scott Probert's question on the evolution of venom. Christie Wilcox wrote 'Venomous – How Earth’s Deadliest Creatures Mastered Biochemistry'. She studied the molecular basis of lionfish venom. Christie describes how venom and immunity to venom works at the molecular level.
Jan 24, 2022
The slippery situation
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'What is the slipperiest thing in the world?' asks 8 year old Evelyn? 'Why do my feet slip on a wet floor but when my feet are even slightly moist it's nearly impossible to put on a pair of socks without falling over and cursing the universe. What is going on here?' asks Evelyn's Dad, Sam. Hannah and Adam investigate the science of friction and lubrication - so called 'tribology' with the help of tribologists and mechanical engineers Professor Ashlie Martini from California University Merced and Professor Roger Lewis from the University of Sheffield. With their help Hannah and Adam find out why leaves on the line are so slippery, what happens to graphite in space and what is the slipperiest food. Professor of Materials, Mark Miodownik from University College London explains what's going on when friction stops two materials sliding past each other and wonders whether the slipperiest substance was actually discovered accidentally in a lab by scientists looking for something completely different. Also in the programme why the ability to reduce friction, even by minuscule amounts could have a huge impact for sustainability and reducing energy use. Producers: Jen Whyntie and Pamela Rutherford
Jan 17, 2022
The painless heart
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Dr Mitch Lomax is a sports scientist at the University of Portsmouth. She helps actual Olympic swimmers get faster. She explains how most of the muscles attached to our skeletons work: Tiny fibres use small-scale cellular energy, which, when all these fibres work in concert, turns into visible muscular movement. Mitch also explains how the dreaded Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS, can hit, taking a stair-wincing 48-72 hours to peak after exercise. But skeletal muscles turn out to be quite different to heart muscles, as consultant cardiologist Dr Rohin Francis explains. Heart cells are more efficient and don't get fatigued like skeletal muscle cells. They are extremely energetic and 'just want to beat'. He also explains that the sensory feedback from the heart muscles is different too. They have a different sort of nerve supply, with fewer sensory nerves, so that there is less chance of pain signals being sent to the brain. However, heart cells' incredible abilities are counterbalanced by one Achilles-like flaw: They cannot easily heal. Professor Sanjay Sinha is a British Heart Foundation (BHF) Senior Research Fellow and a Professor in Cardiovascular Regenerative Medicine at the University of Cambridge. His job is to fix broken hearts and he explains to Adam how new research into stem cells could be used to fix normally irreparable heart cells. Producer - Jennifer Whyntie and Fiona Roberts Presenters - Hannah Fry and Adam Rutherford
Jan 10, 2022
The weirdness of water, Part 2 of 2
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“I don’t really understand why water has so many properties on different scales ranging from very large and cosmic to very small quantum and quarky - Could you help by zooming in and out on water to explain what is known about it? Asks Neil Morton in Stirling. “Why does boiling water sound different to cold water?’ asks Barbara Dyson in Brittany in France Ollie Gordon, in Christchurch in New Zealand, wants to know ‘why water is essential for all life as we know it?’ And many more questions on the weirdness of water are tackled by super science sleuths Hannah and Adam helped by quantum physicist Professor Patricia Hunt, at the Victoria University in Wellington in New Zealand, science writer and author of ‘H2O – a biography of water’ Philip Ball and physicist and bubble expert in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at UCL, Dr Helen Czerski. Presenters: Hannah Fry & Adam Rutherford Producer: Fiona Roberts
Jan 03, 2022
The weirdness of water, Part 1 of 2
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“I don’t really understand why water has so many properties on different scales ranging from very large and cosmic to very small quantum and quarky - Could you help by zooming in and out on water to explain what is known about it? Asks Neil Morton in Stirling. Rutherford and Fry learn about the special hydrogen bonds that makes water such an unusual liquid. Quantum physicist Professor Patricia Hunt, at the Victoria University in Wellington in New Zealand explains to Hannah the quantum properties of individual water molecules and how they link up with other water molecules in liquid water and solid ice. She describes the hydrogen bonds that give water some of it’s weird and wonderful properties such as why ice floats, why water is able to store huge amounts of heat and why water has such a strong surface tension. Science writer and author of ‘H2O – a biography of water’ Philip Ball describes how in the 18th century it was discovered that water was not one of the classical elements, but a compound liquid of water and hydrogen and explains to Adam why there are at least 15 different types of ice. Physicist Dr. Helen Czerski sets the record straight on how ice forms in oceans and lakes and why water is at its densest at 4 degrees Centigrade and not zero. Presenters: Hannah Fry & Adam Rutherford Producer: Fiona Roberts
Dec 27, 2021
The Evidence: When will the pandemic end?
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Everybody hopes that the new super-charged Omicron variant of coronavirus will be less severe, but even if it is, it’s spreading so fast and infecting so many people, health services around the world could still buckle under the strain. Two years into the pandemic, Claudia Hammond is joined by two world-leading scientists to discuss the impact of Omicron and to review what the world has got right in its response to coronavirus, and what it has got very, very wrong. As many countries roll out and plan for booster campaigns in the face of this new variant, concerns are raised that enhancing vaccine coverage in richer countries will again monopolise scarce supplies, and leave the millions of unvaccinated in poorer countries – including three quarters of healthcare workers in Africa – exposed yet again. Dr Soumya Swaminathan, the Chief Scientist of the World Health Organisation, acknowledges the need to boost the elderly and vulnerable, but says it's good science to make sure everyone around the world gets their first vaccine doses. Only then will further deaths be prevented and new variants stalled. Director of the Wellcome Trust, Sir Jeremy Farrar agrees. Booster vaccines in rich countries, maybe even a fourth dose, are unsustainable he says, when so many people have yet to receive their first jab. It’s not just a moral and ethical argument to vaccinate the world, he says, but it makes sound scientific sense too. Produced by: Fiona Hill, Anna Buckley, Maria Simons and Emily Bird Studio Engineer: Tim Heffer and Giles Aspen
Dec 25, 2021
The guiding hound
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Dogs and humans have gone paw in hand for thousands of years. Historic and genetic evidence shows we’ve shaped each other's existence over millennia. But dogs were only first trained as guides for blind people in the UK 90 years ago. What’s the biology behind this extraordinary partnership? Hannah heads to Guide Dogs UK’s training school in Royal Leamington Spa. She meets up with expert Graham Kensett to find out what it takes to make a guide dog from nose to tail, starting from before birth and following the life course through to retirement. Hannah also meets the delightful Wendy and Wilmott, a German shepherd and a retriever cross. Despite both still growing into their ears, they show her their already extraordinary skill set, from tackling obstacle courses to safely crossing roads. Cool, calm, patient, unflappable: Guide dogs are the astronauts of the canine world. But, as trainer Jenna explains, it’s all in the partnership with the owner, who needs to do plenty of work in terms of training and learning routes to journey in harmony with their furry guide. Richard Lane has owned guide dogs for over 25 years, and confirms this first hand. He reveals just how he gets to the toothpaste aisle, and tells Adam how at its peak a partnership can navigate London Waterloo station better than some sighted people, even at rush hour. Richard also explains how deeply felt the bond that forms between owner and dog is, and describes the hardest part of guide dog ownership: Letting go at the end.
Dec 20, 2021
The James Webb Space Telescope
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The launch of the James Webb Space Telescope is only days away. Scheduled for lift off on 22 December, the largest and most complex space observatory ever built will be sent to an orbit beyond the moon. James Webb is so huge that it has had to be folded up to fit in the rocket. There will be a tense two weeks over Christmas and the New Year as the space giant unfurls and unfolds. Its design and construction has taken about 30 years under the leadership of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. With its huge 6.5 metre-wide primary mirror, the giant observatory promises to extend our view across the cosmos to the first stars to shine in the early universe. That’s a vista of Cosmic Dawn: the first small clusters of stars to form and ignite out of what had been a universe of just dark clouds of primordial gas. If the James Webb succeeds in capturing the birth of starlight, we will be looking at celestial objects more than 13.5 billion light years away. Closer to home, the telescope will also revolutionise our understanding of planets orbiting stars beyond the solar system. BBC science correspondent Jonathan Amos reports from the European Space Agency’s launch site in French Guyana from where James Webb will be sent into space. He talks to astronomers who will be using the telescope and NASA engineers who’ve built the telescope and tested it in the years leading to launch. Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker Picture: James Webb Space Telescope, Credit Northrup Grumman
Dec 13, 2021
Genetic Dreams, Genetic Nightmares
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CRISPR is the latest and most powerful technique for changing the genetic code of living things. This method of gene editing is already showing great promise in treating people with gene-based diseases, from sickle cell disease to cancer. However, in 2018 the use of CRISPR to edit the genes of two human embryos, which were subsequently born as two girls in China, caused outrage. The experiment was done in secrecy and created unintended changes to the children's genomes - changes that could be inherited by their children and their children's children. The scandal underlined the grave safety and ethical concerns around heritable genome editing, and called into doubt the ability of the scientific community to self-regulate this use of CRISPR. CRISPR gene editing might also be used to rapidly and permanently alter populations of organisms in the wild, and indeed perhaps whole ecosystems, through a technique called a gene drive. A gene drive is a way of biasing inheritance, of getting a gene (even a deleterious one) to rapidly multiply and copy itself generation after generation, sweeping exponentially through a population. In theory, this could be used to eradicate species such as agricultural pests or disease-transmitting mosquitoes, or to alter them in some way: for example, making mosquitoes unable to carry the malaria parasite. But do we know enough about the consequences of releasing a self-perpetuating genetic technology like this into the environment, even if gene drives could, for example, eradicate insects that spread a disease which claims hundreds of thousands of deaths every year? And who should decide whether gene drives should be released? Picture: DNA molecule, Credit: KTSDesign/SCIENCEPHOTOLIBRARY/Getty Images
Dec 06, 2021
Genetic dreams, genetic nightmares
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Professor Matthew Cobb looks at how genetic engineering became big business - from the first biotech company that produced human insulin in modified bacteria in the late 1970s to the companies like Monsanto which developed and then commercialised the first GM crops in the 1990s. Were the hopes and fears about these products of genetic engineering realised? Thanks to The State of Things from North Carolina Public Radio WUNC for the interview with Mary-Dell Chilton. (Picture: DNA molecule, Credit: KTSDesign/Science Photo Library/Getty Images)
Nov 29, 2021
The Evidence: Healthcare pushed out by the pandemic
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As all eyes have been on the virus, other serious killer diseases took a backseat. Resources and staff were diverted, lockdowns were common all over the world and a very real fear of Covid-19 kept people away from clinics and hospitals. Claudia Hammond and her expert panel from Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America look at the devastating impact of the pandemic on illnesses other than Covid, on global killers like tuberculosis, polio, measles and HIV/Aids. And they hear that the worldwide disruption to cancer care will inevitably lead to late diagnoses, late-stage cancer treatment and more deaths. Dr Ramya Ananthakrishnan runs REACH, which supports, cares for and organises treatment for TB patients in Chennai, India’s fourth most populous city. She tells Claudia about how hard the pandemic hit the work they do. Claudia’s guests include Dr Abeeba Kamarulzaman, Professor of Medicine and Infectious Diseases at the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and the President of the International Aids Society; Dr Lucica Ditiu, respiratory physician originally from Romania, Executive Director of the Stop TB Partnership, Geneva, Switzerland; Dr Balcha Masresha, coordinator of the measles and rubella programmes for the World Health Organisation in Brazzaville, Congo and cancer physician Dr Carlos Barrios, Director of the Latin American Clinical Oncology Research Group from Brazil. Produced by: Fiona Hill and Maria Simons Studio Engineer: Bob Nettles
Nov 27, 2021
Genetic dreams, genetic nightmares
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Biologist Matthew Cobb presents the first episode in a series which looks at the 50-year history of genetic engineering, from the concerns around the first attempts at combining the DNA of one organism with the genes of another in 1971 to today’s gene editing technique known as CRISPR. The first experiments to combine the DNA of two different organisms began at Stanford University in California in 1971. The revolutionary technique of splicing genes from one lifeform into another promised to be a powerful tool in understanding how our cells worked. It also offered the prospect of a new cheap means of manufacturing life-saving drugs – for example, by transferring the gene for human insulin into bacteria, growing those genetically engineered microbes in industrial vats and harvesting the hormone. A new industrial revolution based on biology looked possible. At the same time some scientists and the public were alarmed by disastrous scenarios that genetic engineering might unleash. What if microbes engineered with toxin genes or cancer genes escaped from the labs and spread around the world? In early 1974, responding to the public fears and their own disquiet about how fast the techniques were developing, the scientists leading this research revolution called for a global moratorium on genetic engineering experiments until the risks had been assessed. This was followed by an historic meeting of 130 scientists from around the world in February 1975 in California. Its purpose was to decide if and how the genetic engineering research could be done safely. It was a rancorous affair but the Asilomar conference is held up as an idealist if imperfect example of scientists taking responsibility as they developed a powerful new technology. (Picture: DNA molecule, Credit: KTS Design/Science Photo Library/Getty Images)
Nov 22, 2021
Listening to coral reefs
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Coral reefs are some of the most diverse ecosystems in the world, and also some of the noisiest. Up close, a healthy reef teems with trills, whoops, buzzes, hums and snaps made by the diverse lifeforms that inhabit it. But as many reefs are now degrading due to rising temperatures, their sound signatures are changing. Conservationist Rory Crawford meets marine scientists who believe these sounds could provide a new way of monitoring the health of coral reefs, and boosting their resilience. He listens in to soundscapes that have been recorded around reefs in diverse parts of the world, and hears a selection of the sometimes surprising noises that have been picked up by researchers’ hydrophones. Sounds are crucial to underwater species and a healthy-sounding reef will attract fish and other organisms to settle on it, so is it possible to use acoustics to boost the ecosystem on damaged coral? Underwater recordings courtesy of: Tim Lamont/University of Exeter, Ben Gottesman, The Centre for Global Soundscapes, and Discovery of Sound in the Sea Producer: Anne McNaught Editor: Deborah Cohen Picture: The underwater world of Philippines, Southeast Asia, Pacific Ocean, Credit: Giordano Cipriani/Getty Images
Nov 15, 2021
Geoengineering The Planet
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Geoengineering is already underway from Australia to the Arctic as scientists try to save places threatened by global heating. It’s time for a global conversation about how we research these powerful techniques, with agreements on how and where to deploy them. Global temperature today is 1.2°C hotter than preindustrial levels and it is causing climate change and sea level rise, threatening the lives and livelihoods of millions of people. Coral reef ecosystems are headed for extinction within decades; glacial melt is speeding up with runaway consequences; agriculture has been hit by drought and extreme weather…. And as our carbon emissions rise, it’s only going to get worse, because we’re headed this century for at least 3°C of temperature rise if governments meet their netzero targets. Faced with this heat emergency, scientists are acting. In Australia, they are brightening clouds to make them more reflective, hoping to save the Great Barrier Reef, and coating the waters with a thin reflective film; in the Arctic, glaciers are being covered with fine glass beads to reflect the sun’s heat and slow melting; on the Asian plains, clouds are being seeded to deliver rain over droughtlands. Beaches are being coated with rock dust to try to “react out” the air’s CO2, and where coral reefs have already been destroyed by bleaching, scientists are creating artificial coral structures inhabited by genetically modified coral organisms. No global body is overseeing any of this, but it is mostly local and small scale. As temperatures climb further, heatwaves and deadly weather events will kill even more people than today. Scientists want to look at methods of preventing catastrophic temperature rise that could help large regions – potentially cooling global temperature. They want to see if seeding stratospheric clouds with sulphates would be possible, and whether it would have any unwanted affects. But a large vocal group of environmentalists is opposed even to feasibility studies. They claim that this sort of geoengineering is “unnatural”, and instead are pressing for huge societal change that is difficult to achieve, unpopular, and could cause hardship. Planned experiments have been cancelled after pressure by these campaigners, repeatedly, over several years. Now they are trying to get a moratorium on any research into geoengineering. Many fear that even talking about geoengineering risks reducing efforts to decarbonise. Meanwhile, the temperature keeps rising. Undoubtedly, there will come a point when society will decide it is no longer acceptable for thousands of people to die from hot temperatures, and seek to deploy cooling technologies. Technologies that we haven’t properly researched. The government of India may decide to unilaterally cool the planet after a deadly heatwave; or the government of the US after an even more violent Sandy; or the government of an island nation after a typhoon that drowns the land… This is not something that should be decided by a few powerful nations, but equally, ignoring these potential lifesaving technologies because of cultural reticence would be a moral and political failure. Instead, we need to have a conversation about how geoengineering should be researched, governed, regulated and deployed. This is a programme about how we cool the planet with the latest geoengineering technologies, and the loaded cultural values and politics around the biggest planetary dilemma of our time. Picture: Rough sea, Credit: Jacob Maentz/Getty Images
Nov 08, 2021
Geoengineering The Planet
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Even with the best efforts, it will be decades before we see any change in global temperatures through our mitigation efforts. Given the pace of global heating and the time lag before our emissions reductions have any impact, scientists are exploring additional ways of reducing global temperature. Gaia Vince explores ways of actively removing carbon from the atmosphere. She discusses the idea of BECCS, biological energy with carbon capture storage, and DAC, direct air capture with Simon Evans of Climate Brief. Sir David King, Chair of the Centre for Climate Repair at Cambridge University, explains how he is planning an experiment in the Arabian Sea that will allow the oceans to take up more carbon. Professor Rachael James of the University of Southampton talks about her experiments in enhanced rock weathering, where she finds ways of speeding up the slow continual process in which carbon dioxide in the atmosphere dissolves in rainwater, forming a weak acid that reacts with the surface of rocks. She hopes this will lock up more carbon and bring benefits to farmers and mining companies. And psychologist Ben Converse of the University of Virginia considers whether we might find geoengineering a socially acceptable approach to tackling climate change. Editor: Deborah Cohen Picture: Clouds, Credit: Gary Yeowell/Getty Images
Nov 01, 2021
The Evidence: When misinformation kills
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A maelstrom of misinformation and its sinister cousin, disinformation, have been swirling all around us about Covid-19. The rumours and conspiracy theories have raced around the globe as fast as the virus itself. Untruths, half-truths, misunderstandings and deliberate mischief-making aren’t new when it comes to health of course, but a global pandemic with a novel virus means that there is much uncertainty and a lack of definite facts. In that gap, falsehoods flourish and in our super-connected world, they spread far and wide. Claudia Hammond and her panel of global experts assess the scale of misinformation and its impact and conclude that misinformation really does cost lives. Dr Brett Campbell, a physician in a dedicated Covid intensive care unit at Ascension St Thomas Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee, tells Claudia about the unvaccinated patients, many of them close to death, who still cannot accept that the virus is real. Claudia’s guests include Heidi Larson , Director of the Vaccine Confidence Project and Professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine; Dr Saad Omer, Director of the Yale Institute for Global Health and Professor of Medicine and Infectious Diseases in the USA and Robert Kanwagi, a public health specialist and a member of the Global Task Force on Vaccine Confidence and Uptake. Produced by: Fiona Hill and Maria Simons Studio Engineer: Jackie Marjoram
Oct 30, 2021
Chilean mummies
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Think of ancient mummies, and you might imagine Egyptian pharaohs in their highly decorated cases. But in actual fact, Chile has the oldest mummies in the world. Unesco recently addded the archaeological sites and the artificial mummification of the Chinchorro culture to its World Heritage List. Around 300 mummies have been excavated from three different sites in the north of the country, near the border with Peru. The nomination took decades of work, drawing on many years of different scientific studies. Jane Chambers travels to Arica in northern Chile to find out more about the Chinchorro culture and how they used mummification to remember their dead, 7000 years ago. Photo: Chilean mummy from the Chinchorro culture (Credit: Bioarchaeology lab of the University of Tarapaca)
Oct 25, 2021
Earthshot 3 - The prize winners
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Over the last 2 weeks we have featured the 15 finalists in the Earthshot prize, an initiative to highlight and award projects designed to conserve and sustain natural environments, and improve our lives in ways that are sensitive to issues such as climate change and biodiversity loss. Here we discuss this year’s winning projects and what future investment could mean for them. There are five prize categories with a million pounds up for grabs in each. Protect and restore nature. Clean our air. Revive our oceans. Build a waste-free world. Fix our climate. Image: Europe, Middle East and Africa region on planet Earth from space. (Elements by NASA) Credit: Harvepino/Getty Images
Oct 18, 2021
Earthshot 2 – Tackling our energy crisis
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Just how do we balance the growing demand for electricity worldwide with the need to reduce fossil fuel emissions to address climate change? In our second programme on the Earthshot prize Chhavi Sachdev looks at some of the solutions. From projects looking at providing green hydrogen to industry worldwide and remote communities, to village scale solar electricity networks in Bangladesh and a portable pay as you go powerpack in Nigeria. Also how to provide a livelihood for people who live in areas where conservation concerns mean they are no longer able to follow their traditional hunting practices . And we feature solutions for dealing with our wastes in their many forms from cleaning up polluted water to recycling human and agricultural organic waste – including an innovative city based system for collecting and redistributing food that would otherwise be destroyed. The Earthshot Prize is an initiative from the Royal Foundation designed to highlight and reward inspiring solutions to some of the world’s greatest challenges. There are 5 categories with a million pound prize available in each. Protect and restore nature. Clean our air. Revive our oceans. Build a waste-free world. Fix our climate. Image: Earth at night, Credit: Roydee/Getty Images
Oct 11, 2021
Earthshot 1
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While international meetings to discuss climate change and polices that affect the world can seem rather distant to us as individuals, on a local level there are many exciting and creative initiatives all over the world where people are developing practical solutions to the environmental problems they see. The Earthshot prize highlights many of these projects, ideas and initiatives which have the potential to make a difference locally and globally. In this three part series Chhavi Sachdev looks at the practical work of the prize nominees, and profiles their solutions on a range of subjects; protecting nature, cleaning the air, ocean revival, climate change and waste. Picture: Earth floating in space, Credit: Chris Clor/Getty Images
Oct 04, 2021
The Evidence: To boost or not to boost?
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The divide between the Covid vaccine haves and have-nots has been described as “criminal”, with only 20% of people in low and middle income countries having had one dose, compared with 80% in higher income countries. Countries with high vaccination rates have been called on to give up their place in the vaccine queue. The dual-track global vaccination programme has led to real anger, made worse by announcements of booster programmes in richer countries (despite the World Health Organisation calling for such plans to be put on hold). Claudia Hammond and her panel of global experts discuss the scale of vaccine inequity and consider whether evidence of waning vaccine immunity justifies the rollout of booster jabs, or if the soundest scientific case dictates everybody in the world should be vaccinated first. Claudia’s guests include Dr Yodi Alakija, co-chair of the African Union’s Delivery Alliance for Covid-19 in Abuja, Nigeria, Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, the World Health Organisation’s Technical Lead for Covid in Geneva, Switzerland and two world leading immunologists, Dr Peter Openshaw, Professor of Experimental Medicine at Imperial College, London, UK and Dr Akiko Iwasaki, Professor of Immunobiology and Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology at Yale University in the US. Produced by: Fiona Hill, Paula McGrath and Maria Simons Studio Engineers: Jackie Marjoram
Oct 02, 2021
China's great science leap
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President Xi Jinping is investing seriously into his strategic vision of turning China into a nation of scientific pace-setters. China’s past contributions to modern-science have been proportionally lacklustre, but with a reinvigorated focus over the past two decades, China is fast turning from imitator to innovator. What might this increasing scientific prowess mean for the future of China’s development as well for the international scientific community? Whereas once many Chinese scientists chose to go abroad to further their careers, presenter Dr Kevin Fong hears how the government has sought to lure its brightest researchers back and what that means for both scientific collaborations and the culture of science in China and the UK. As scientific research relies on transparent information sharing, what are the challenges of collaborating with an authoritarian regime? In this second episode Kevin explores China’s booming space programme and quantum advancements; from a newly built space station to the launch of the world's first quantum satellite. Kevin speaks to Professor Jian-Wei Pan, a scientist whose illustrious career is a list of quantum firsts and hears how China is fast making inroads into quantum computing and communications. We imagine what a quantum future - with China at the forefront - might look like and whether this potentially game-changing technology will be developed in a collaborative or competitive spirit. Image: Wenchang Space Launch Centre in China's Hainan province, Credit: Photo by STR/AFP/Getty Images
Sep 27, 2021
China's great science leap
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President Xi Jinping is investing seriously into his strategic vision of turning China into a nation of scientific pace-setters. China’s past contributions to modern science have been proportionally lacklustre, but with a reinvigorated focus over the past two decades, China is fast turning from imitator to innovator. What might this increasing scientific prowess mean for the future of China’s development, as well as for the international scientific community? Whereas once many Chinese scientists chose to go abroad to further their careers, presenter Dr Kevin Fong hears how the government has sought to lure its brightest researchers back. He asks what that means for both scientific collaborations and the culture of science in China and the UK. As scientific research relies on transparent information sharing, what are the challenges of collaborating with an authoritarian regime? In this first episode, Kevin Fong hears how Chinese science has advanced over recent decades following a low point during the Chinese cultural revolution. He speaks to a Chinese bio-chemist about his career in the US and finds out why he decided to move back to China to start a biotech business. At Loughborough University, Kevin meets a team of researchers working on Artificial Intelligence tools with Chinese counterparts, to help monitor and predict air pollution. But are Western countries equal partners and beneficiaries of these academic partnerships? As China is set to become the UK’s most significant research partner, at a time of rising geopolitical tensions, we examine how the UK might navigate these choppy waters and what the risks and benefits of scientific collaboration might be. (Photo: Chinese scientist at work, Credit: Guang Niu/Getty Images)
Sep 20, 2021
Covid origins: The science
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Presenter: Roland Pease Picture: Wuhan Residents Told Not To Leave As Coronavirus Pneumonia Spreads, Credit: Stringer/Getty Images
Sep 13, 2021
Future vaccines
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The COVID19 pandemic has revolutionised the way vaccines are made, and underlined the inequalities in access to vaccines. But will it leave a legacy? Roland Pease explores the potential for mRNA and other revolutionary vaccines to make future health protection faster, safer and more flexible, whether 'universal' vaccines will give broader protection, and how access to vaccines can be made more equitable. Picture: Coronavirus vaccines on the production line, Credit: MikeMareen/Getty Images
Sep 06, 2021
Tamsin Edwards on the uncertainty in climate science
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Certainty is comforting. Certainty is quick. But science is uncertain. And this is particularly true for people who are trying to understand climate change. Climate scientist, Tamsin Edwards tackles this uncertainty head on. She quantifies the uncertainty inherent in all climate change predictions to try and understand which of many possible storylines about the future of our planet are most likely to come true. How likely is it that the ice cliffs in Antarctica will collapse into the sea causing a terrifying amount of sea level rise? Even the best supercomputers in the world aren’t fast enough to do all the calculations we need to understand what might be going on, so Tamsin uses statistical tools to fill in the gaps. She joined the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2018 and is currently working on the 6th Assessment Report which will inform the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP26. She tells Jim Al-Khalili about her life and work and why she wishes more people would have the humility (and confidence) to consider the possibility that they might be wrong.
Aug 30, 2021
The Evidence: How will the pandemic end?
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When all restrictions are lifted in a highly vaccinated country, how manageable is the coronavirus? Both Israel and UK’s experiments to do just that, have raised new worries about raising the risk of new vaccine resistant variants. Claudia Hammond and her panel of global experts consider our ability to predict how and when variants of concern are most likely to arise and how long our repertoire of vaccines can remain effective in riding out increasingly infectious waves of the virus. Also in the programme - does anyone need a third “booster” dose or is it more important to make sure the whole world gets their first two doses instead? And as more people in the world get vaccinated every day, can we get to a situation where the virus is kept in check, without the huge surges in cases that overwhelm hospitals? Listeners put their questions about coronavirus and the pandemic directly to Claudia and her panel of specialists which includes Professor Salim Abdool Karim - a clinical infectious disease epidemiologist and a Member of the African Task Force on Coronavirus; Dr Natalia Freund a leading immunologist at Sackler School of Medicine, Tel Aviv University; Adam Finn, professor of paediatrics at the Bristol Children's Vaccine Centre, University of Bristol, and a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation that advises UK health departments on immunisation, and Dr Muge Cevik, who’s a medical doctor and clinical lecturer in infectious diseases and medical virology at the University of St Andrew’s in Scotland. Producer: Adrian Washbourne Editor: Deborah Cohen Technical supervision: Steve Greenwood
Aug 29, 2021
The Life Scientific: Professor Martin Sweeting
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When Martin Sweeting was a student, he thought it would be fun to try to build a satellite using electronic components found in some of the earliest personal computers. An amateur radio ham and space enthusiast, he wanted to create a communications satellite that could be used to talk to people on the other side of the world. It was a team effort, he insists, with friends and family pitching in and a lot of the work being done on his kitchen table. Somehow he managed to persuade NASA to let his microsatellite hitch a ride into space and, after the first message was received, spent more than a decade trying to get a good picture of planet earth. The technology that Martin pioneered underpins modern life with thousands of reprogrammable microsatellites now in orbit around the earth and thousands more due to launch in the next few years to bring internet connections to remote parts of the world. The university spin-off company, Surrey Satellite Technologies Limited (SSTL) that Martin set up in the 1980s with an initial investment of £100 sold for £50 million, a quarter of a century later. If his company had been bought by venture capitalists, he says he would probably have ended up making TVs. Instead he developed the satellite technology on which so much of modern life depends. Produce: Anna Buckley Photo Credit: SSTL
Aug 23, 2021
The Life Scientific: Dr Nira Chamberlain
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When does a crowd of people become unsafe? How well will the football team Aston Villa do next season? When is it cost-effective to replace a kitchen? The answers may seem arbitrary but, to Nira Chamberlain, they lie in mathematics. You can use maths to model virtually anything. Dr Nira Chamberlain is President of the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications, and Principal Mathematical Modeller for the multinational engineering company SNC-Lavalin Atkins. He specialises in complex engineering and industrial problems, creating mathematical models to describe a particular feature or process, and then running simulations to better understand it, and predict its behaviour. Nira is one of just a handful of esteemed mathematicians, and the first black mathematician. to be featured in ‘Who’s Who’, Britain’s book of prominent people. Since 2018, he’s made the Black Power List, which celebrates the UK’s top 100 most influential people of African or African-Caribbean heritage, ranking higher than Stormzy and Lewis Hamilton when he was first listed. Proof, he says, that maths really is for everyone.
Aug 16, 2021
Lost for words
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Struggling to find words might be one of the first things we notice when someone develops dementia, while more advanced speech loss can make it really challenging to communicate with loved ones. And understanding what’s behind these changes may help us overcome communication barriers when caring for someone living with the condition. When Ebrahim developed Alzheimer’s Disease, for example, he’d been living in the UK for many years. Gradually his fluent English faded and he reverted to his mother tongue, Farsi - which made things tricky for his English-speaking family who were caring for him. Two decades on, his son, the journalist and author David Shariatmadari, seeks answers to his father’s experience of language loss. What can neuroscience reveal about dementia, ageing, and language changes? Why are some aspects of language more vulnerable than others - and, importantly, what are the best approaches to communicating with someone living with dementia? David reflects on archive recordings of his dad, and speaks to a family in a similar situation to theirs, to compare the ways they tried to keep communication alive. And he discovers there are actually clear benefits to bilingualism when it comes to dementia: juggling two or more languages can delay the onset of symptoms by around four years. So while losing one of his languages posed practical difficulties for Ebrahim, it’s possible that by speaking two languages in the first place, he was able to spend more valuable lucid years with his family. Presented by David Shariatmadari and produced by Cathy Edwards
Aug 09, 2021
Introducing: Season 2 of 30 Animals That Made Us Smarter
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How animals make us smarter – we thought you might like to hear our brand new episode. It’s about a robotic arm inspired by an elephant’s trunk. For more, search for 30 Animals That Made Us Smarter wherever you get your podcasts. #30Animals
Aug 06, 2021
A sense of music
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Music can make us feel happy and sad. It can compel us to move in time with it, or sing along to a melody. It taps into some integral sense of musicality that binds us together. But music is regimented, organised. That same 'sense' that lets us lean into Beethoven makes a bad note or a missed beat instantly recognisable. But does that same thing happen in the minds of animals? Can a monkey feel moved by Mozart? Will a bird bop to a beat? Do animals share our 'Sense of Music'? Charles Darwin himself thought that the basic building blocks of an appreciation for music were shared across the animal kingdom. But over decades of scientific investigation, evidence for this has been vanishingly rare. Fresh from his revelation that animals' experience of time can be vastly different to our own, in the award-winning programme 'A Sense of Time', presenter Geoff Marsh delves once more into the minds of different species. This time he explores three key aspects of musicality: rhythm, melody and emotional sensitivity. Geoff finds rhythm is lacking in our closest relatives, the chimpanzees. But it's abundantly clear in a dancing Cockatoo, and internet sensation, named Snowball. He speaks with scientists who have revealed that birds enjoy their own music, but may be listening for something completely different to melody. And Geoff listens to music composed for tamarin monkeys, that apparently they find remarkably relaxing, but which sets us on edge. In 'A Sense of Music', discover what happens when music meets the animal mind. Produced by Rory Galloway Presented by Geoff Marsh
Aug 02, 2021
Whatever happened to…those Covid-19 stories
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Whatever happened to those sniffer dogs who were seeking out any passengers infected with Covid-19 at Helsinki airport? And did plans to sample sewage to spot outbreaks early prove successful? This week on The Evidence, we have listeners’ questions about some of the clever ideas which were in the news early on in the pandemic but we haven’t heard about for a while. Trials of treatments like the cheap steroid dexamethasone proved successful – but what about the anti-parasite medication, ivermectin, which has sparked fierce debate on social media? Because of its role in our body’s immune system, researchers wondered if Vitamin D might be useful in preventing Covid infections or treating people in hospital. We hear about some of the flaws in those studies – and the role which genetics plays in how much Vitamin D there is in our bodies. Nasal sprays have been used for colds and flu to help shorten how long you are ill for and reduce the symptoms – can we achieve the same result for Covid infections by using a spray which contains seaweed? Vaccination is key to ending the pandemic – but have all of the vaccines bought by countries like the United States been used? And what will happen to any which are left over, can they be given to countries which desperately need them? Once enough people are vaccinated or have immunity from being infected we should reach the magical “herd immunity” level where there aren’t enough people vulnerable to infection for Covid-19 to spread. We hear how new variants of the virus could mean that number will grow – making it more difficult to bring the pandemic to an end. Claudia Hammond’s panel of experts will guide you through some of the ideas which have been tested like nasal sprays and nicotine patches – to separate the duds from the winners – as well as highlight others which could still prove to be promising. Claudia’s expert panel includes global health epidemiologist from the University of Boston, Professor Matthew Fox; from The Netherlands Professor Marion Koopmans who’s Head of the Erasmus MC Department of Viroscience in Rotterdam, who was a member of the WHO’s mission to Wuhan in China earlier this year to investigate the origins of Covid-19; Vice Dean of the Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine Dr Danny Bryden, who’s a Consultant at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals; medical journalist Clare Wilson from New Scientist Magazine. Produced by: Paula McGrath, Samara Linton and Maria Simons Studio Engineers: Jo Longton
Jul 31, 2021
Dare to repair: Fixing the future
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Mark Miodownik, explores the environmental consequences of the throwaway society we have become and reveals that recycling electronic waste comes second to repairing broken electronics. He asks what we can learn from repair cultures around the world , he looks at manufacturers who are designing in repair-ability, and discovers the resources available to encourage and train the next generation of repairers. Producer: Fiona Roberts (Photo: Teen boy solders wires to build robot, Credit: SDI Productions/Getty Images)
Jul 26, 2021
Dare to repair: The fight for the right to repair
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Many electronics manufacturers are making it harder for us, to fix our broken kit. There are claims that programmed obsolescence is alive and well, with mobile phone batteries designed to wear out after just 400 charges. They claim it's for safety or security reasons, but it pushes constant replacement and upgrades. But people are starting to fight back. Mark Miodownik talks to the fixers and repairers who are heading up the Right to Repair movement which is forcing governments to act, and making sustainability and value for money part of the consumer equation. Producer: Fiona Roberts (Photo: A pile of discarded computer circuit board. Credit: Tara Moore/Getty Images)
Jul 19, 2021
Dare to Repair: How we broke the future
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Materials engineer Professor Mark Miodownik looks back to the start of the electronics revolution to find out why our electronic gadgets and household goods are less durable and harder to repair now. As he attempts to fix his digital clock radio, he reveals that the drive for cheaper stuff and advances in design and manufacturing have left us with a culture of throwaway technology and mountains of electronic waste. Image: Apron housewife at kitchen dish washer, Credit: George Marks/Getty Images Producer: Fiona Roberts
Jul 12, 2021
Tooth and claw: Tigers
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“As it charges towards you, you can actually feel the drumbeat of its feet falling to the ground”. Nothing quite says fear more than standing before a charging tiger. Yet so often it’s also the poster-predator for conservation. The tiger truly is the ‘prince of the jungle’.. The good news (to some) is that after a century of decline, wild tiger populations have increased recently. But with this comes the increase in human fatalities – there are almost daily attacks on the rural poor across India. A world without wild tigers is not a world we want, but how do we balance the needs of people and the needs of tigers? Adam finds out more about tigers and the people that live around them by speaking with Indian tiger expert Rajeev Matthews and conservation biologist Samantha Helle, who is based in the US and works with communities and tigers in Nepal. Producer: Rami Tzabar and Beth Eastwood Presenter: Professor Adam Hart (Photo: A crouching tiger, Credit: Yudik Pradnyana/Getty Images)
Jul 05, 2021
Tooth and claw: Bears
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Teddy bears might be popular with children but real bears are anything but cuddly. Brown, Black and Grizzly bears are the most well-known and have a well-deserved fearsome reputation. But for most part, bear attacks are not nearly as common as you might think. They are solitary, curious and you are unlikely to see one unless you are really lucky – or unlucky depending on your point of view. So what should you do if you find yourself facing one in a forest? To learn more about these fascinating creatures, which can spend the winter months in a deep state of biological hibernation, professor Adam Hart speaks to Dr Clayton Lamb from the University of British Columbia in Canada and Dr Giulia Bombieri from the Science Museum in Trento, Italy, about their work and experiences of these amazing beasts, whose numbers are increasing in some parts of the world, leading to an increase of defensive attacks on people. Producedr: Rami Tzabar and Beth Eastwood Presenter: Professor Adam Hart. Picture: Brown bear, Credit: Szabo Ervin-Edward/EyeEm/Getty Images
Jun 28, 2021
The Evidence: How Covid damages the human body
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A year and a half in, and in many ways Covid-19 is still an enigma. All over the world, doctors and scientists are still struggling to understand exactly how this new virus undermines our defences and then damages, even destroys, our bodies, in so many different ways. And why are some people completely unaffected? In this edition of The Evidence, Claudia Hammond and her panel of experts chart the remarkable journey to understand this chameleon-like virus, including the long tail of the pandemic, Long Covid. Millions the world over are suffering under the dark shadow of post-Covid, with a multitude of symptoms months after the infection. Some of them, listeners to the programme, share their experiences. And, the background story of the world famous RECOVERY trial, set up at record speed in the UK (but now international) to test which treatments could save the lives of the sickest Covid patients. So far 10 treatments for Covid have been randomised and tested on thousands of patients and the results have shown that six, including the widely used and promoted hydroxychloroquine, make no difference to chances of surviving a hospital stay. While evidence that the cheap, widely-available steroid, dexamethasone, does work, and has so far saved more than a million lives world-wide. Joint chief investigator of RECOVERY, Sir Martin Landray, Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology at the University of Oxford, admits to Claudia that he’s been asked to include bee pollen and snake venom in the trial, but so far he’s resisted. Claudia’s expert panel also includes Professor K. Srinath Reddy, cardiologist and epidemiologist and President of the Public Health Institute of India; Dr Sherry Chou, intensivist and neurologist from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine who heads the Global Consortium Study on Neurological Dysfunction in Covid-19 (GCS-NeuroCOVID) and Dr Melissa Heightman, respiratory consultant and Clinical Lead for post-COVID services at University College London Hospitals. Produced by: Fiona Hill, Hannah Fisher and Maria Simons Studio Engineers: Donald MacDonald and Matilda Macari
Jun 26, 2021
Tooth and claw: Lions
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From Aslan to Simba, from the Wizard of Oz to heraldry, children in the West probably recognise this king of beasts before they can name the animals in their own back yards. But what about people who have lions roaming in their back yards literally? To find out more about the archetypal ‘man-eater; and how our increasingly complex relationship with them is playing out in Africa, Professor Adam Hart talks to two female researchers who have spent much of their lives working and living in lion country, helping to manage the wildlife conflicts that are becoming a threat to both humans and beasts. Dr Moreangels Mbizah is the Founding Director of Wildlife Conservation Action in Zimbabwe, and Dr Amy Dickman heads up the Ruaha Carnivore Project in Tanzania. Producer: Rami Tzabar and Beth Eastwood Presenter: Professor Adam Hart. (Photo: Lion, Credit: Nicholas Hodges/Getty Images)
Jun 21, 2021
Tooth and claw: Crocodiles
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We have a morbid fascination with predators. And we've had it since the very first people carved figures or painted on cave walls thousands of years ago. Predators are still revered as gods in many cultures. Our cultural fascination is equalled only by our biological fear, hardwired into our primate brains, because if you are not a predator, you ARE the prey. In this series, Professor Adam Hart and explores our complex, challenging and ambiguous relationship with Earth’s greatest predators by talking to the women and men who know them best, researchers who have spent their lives tracking them, protecting them and, sometimes, narrowly escaping them. Today it’s the crocodile, part of the group known as crocodilians which also includes alligators and gharials, which first appeared 95 million years ago during the Late Cretaceous period. Much like Tigers, they don’t stalk their prey but lie in wait – often just below the surface of the water, ready to leap out and snap those ferocious jaws on just about anything – including other predators. But as we’ll discover, there is a very different side to these much maligned creatures, who can be nurturing and cooperative. Adam speaks to Dr Marisa Tellez, Co-Founder of the Crocodile Research Coalition in Belize, Central America and Dr Alan Britton is a Zoologist and crocodile specialist in Darwin, Australia, who has a 5-metre croc named Smaug living in his back garden pond. Produced by Rami Tzabar and Beth Eastwood Picture: Caiman Crocodile's eye, close up, Credit: Jonathan Knowles/Getty Images
Jun 14, 2021
Peter Goadsby on migraine
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neurological condition is far more common than you might think, affecting more people than diabetes, epilepsy and asthma combined. While medications, to help relieve the symptoms of migraine, have been around for some time, they haven’t worked for everyone. And what happens in the brain during a migraine attack was, until recently, poorly understood. Peter Goadsby is Professor of Neurology at King's College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience and is a true pioneer in the field of migraine. Over the course of his career, he has unravelled what happens in the brain during a migraine attack and his insights are already benefiting patients - in the form of new medications that can not only treat a migraine, but also prevent it from occurring. Peter shares this year’s Brain Prize, the world's largest prize for brain research, with three other internationally renowned scientists in the field. Producer: Beth Eastwood Picture: Woman with head in hands, Credit: Ivan Nanita/EyeEm/Getty Images
Jun 07, 2021
The Evidence: Sharing Vaccines – what’s gone wrong?
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The lofty ambition of the global community was that across the globe, those with the highest risk of losing their lives to this virus should be vaccinated first. With 99% of deaths coming in the over fifties, the plan was that everybody in this age group should be inoculated. But that’s not what has happened. Vaccine supply is in crisis and in Africa, a continent of over 1.2 billion people, only around 20 million Africans have been vaccinated, with only 35 million vaccines landing so far on the continent. It’s been called “vaccine apartheid” and “a moral outrage” but as South Asia, South America find themselves again, in the eye of the virus storm, largely unvaccinated Africa fears the next wave is heading for them. Can vaccine nationalism be overcome and scare supply be fairly distributed? It’s a question that very much concerns Claudia Hammond’s expert panel: Gagandeep Kang, Professor of Microbiology at the Christian Medical College in Vellore, India, Dr Yodi Alakija, co-chair of the African Union’s Vaccine Delivery Alliance for Covid-19, Professor Andy Pollard from the Oxford Vaccine Group who led the clinical trials for the Oxford/Astra Zeneca (or Covishield) Vaccine and Professor Peter Hotez, Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine in Houston and co-director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Centre for Vaccine Development in the USA. Produced by: Fiona Hill, Hannah Fisher and Maria Simons Studio Engineers: Jackie Marjoram and Tim Heffer
May 29, 2021
Patient zero: Back from the brink
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A six-year old boy in Papua New Guinea woke up one day in 2018 and was suddenly unable to stand up. Less than a year later, children in three other Asia Pacific nations were experiencing the same alarming symptoms. A disease that had been thought to have been eradicated from this region 18 years before was back -- and it appeared to be spreading. Olivia Willis tells the story of how doctors discovered that these children who developed paralysis had in fact contracted polio. Producers: Jane Lee, Cheyne Anderson Senior Producer: Carl Smith Executive Producer: Joel Werner Sound Design: Tim Jenkins An ABC Science Unit. ABC Radio National and BBC World Service co-production. Picture: Child receiving a polio vaccination from health worker at a mobile clinic on a street in Mount Hagen in the Western Highlands, Credit: Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images
May 24, 2021
The noises that make us cringe
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Why do some people find noises like a fork scraping a plate so terrible? asks Findlay in Aberdeenshire. Rutherford and Fry endure some horrible noises to find out the answer. Warning - This episode contains some horrible sounds Trevor Cox, Professor of Acoustic Engineering at the University of Salford, has run experiments to find out the worst, most cringe-making sound. He divided horrible sounds into three categories: scraping sounds, like nails down a blackboard; disgusting sounds like a snotty sniffy nose; and sounds that make us cringe because of what we associate them with, like the dentist’s drill. All horrible sounds have some sort of association whether it’s a primal scream or fear of catching a disease, and they’re dealt with in the ancient part of the brain – the amygdala. Professor Tim Griffiths is a Cognitive Neurologist at Newcastle University’s Auditory Cognition Group. He has been studying people with misophonia, a condition where ordinary, everyday sounds, such as someone eating or breathing causes a severe anxiety and anger response. Misophonia may affect around 15% of the population and Tim thinks that different parts of the brain – the insula and the motor cortex - are involved in this fight or flight response to seemingly innocuous sounds. Cat Thomas’s job is to make horrible sounds. She is a foley artist at Boompost. If you watch Call the Midwife or Peaky Blinders, all the incidental sounds are created by Cat and her team. She also created some of the sounds for the horror film Camilla, which involved evisceration and disembowelling with the aid of some squishy oranges and bananas. Adam Rutherford and Hannah Fry try their own horror sounds when they chop off a finger with the aid of some large pasta shells, an orange and a knife. Presenters: Hannah Fry & Adam Rutherford Producer: Fiona Roberts
May 03, 2021
The Hamster Power Hypothesis
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"How many hamsters on wheels would it take to power London?" asks Judah from Virginia in the USA. Rutherford & Fry return with engineering, ethics and economics to answer this electric query. Smart grid engineer Lynne McDonald helps keep the lights on for 8.3 million homes and businesses across London at UK Power Networks. She explains how the kilowatt hours we see on our electricity bills relate to the thousands of gigawatt hours required when thinking about powering the whole of London. In theory, a hamster in a wheel might be able to produce about half a watt of power – enough to run a small LED light bulb. Whilst the doctors argue the case on the resultant practicalities and ethics of even considering such a scenario – as, for example, the required cubic kilometre stack of hamster habitats would cover Canary Wharf – Royal Veterinary College researcher Zoe Davies points out some biological and anatomical home truths. As an expert in biomechanics currently investigating athletic performance in racehorses, she walks Adam through the impossibilities of using pretty much any animal, bird or insect as a source of power. There may be one exception though: humans. Veteran lecturer of undergraduate chemistry for biologists and cycling enthusiast, Andrea Sella discusses whether human power might realistically work. We consider what this or other more realistic sources of renewable energy could mean for the future of our national grid.
Apr 26, 2021
The Martian Mission
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What would it take for humans to live permanently on Mars? asks Martin in Weston-super-Mare, UK. The doctors dig into requirements and possibilities of a long-term Martian outpost. We know that many missions to Mars have failed, for a range of reasons – malfunctions, crashes and even a mix-up between imperial and metric units. Getting to Mars – let alone decelerating from 30,000 miles per hour to a safe landing speed in about seven minutes – is not straightforward. Aerospace engineer Anita Sengupta helped land NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars. She knows first-hand the challenges of putting a robot on the red planet. But getting robots to Mars is an easier proposition than doing the same for humans. Even if we work out how to survive the radiation exposure on the eight-month journey and the pulverising descent, Mars’ surface isn’t easily habitable. Principal investigator for NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN) Bruce Jakosky describes the conditions on Mars: Freezing, with an atmosphere containing mostly carbon dioxide and very little water, and subject to annual global dust storms. However, this isn’t deterring space agencies and private companies from researching the challenge. The European Space Agency and Russian Institute for Biomedical Problems focussed on finding out the physiological and psychological tolls by selecting six candidates to spend 520 days in a simulated spacecraft and landing module. Diego Urbina explains the personal challenge of taking part in the Mars500 experiment. Some private company owners have gone even further. As well as making technology based on the current physical conditions, could those constraints themselves be altered? Could Mars be terraformed, or warmed, for easier human survival? Bruce Jakosky shares just what that would take – and compares these requirements with what’s actually available.
Apr 19, 2021
The equal rights stuff
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In 1976, Nasa launched a campaign to help recruit the next generation of Astronauts. It was fronted by African-American actress Nichelle Nichols, Star Trek’s Lt. Uhura, as part of an effort to ensure the astronaut corps represented the diversity of the United States. When they were revealed to the press, the 35 members of the new astronaut group included six women, three African American men and one Asian American man. All were appointed on merit. The selection of the first women caused quite a stir. As the ‘first mom in space’, Anna Fisher was asked by the press whether she was worried about her child (none of the fathers were asked). There were also jibes about separate restrooms and whether the women would ‘weep’ if something went wrong. Meanwhile, Nasa’s engineers suggested developing a zero-g makeup kit and the first US woman in space, Sally Ride, was issued with a long string of tampons (joined together like sausages) for a six-day mission. To mark the 40th anniversary of the first Shuttle launch in April 1981, astronaut Nicole Stott speaks to some of these pioneers and hears how Nasa has since aimed to become a beacon for diversity. Contributors also include astronaut Charles Bolden, the first African American to head the space agency and – as Nasa prepares to land the first woman on the Moon – its new head of human spaceflight, Kathy Lueders. (Image: Sally Ride. Credit: Nasa) Producer: Richard Hollingham
Apr 12, 2021
Lithium: Chile’s white gold
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The Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2019 was awarded to John Goodenough, Stanley Whittingham and Akira Yoshino "for the development of lithium-ion batteries." These rechargeable batteries are in our phones, and in our laptops. And they will be the batteries powering electric vehicles which we are being urged to use in place of ones fuelled by gasoline and diesel. Jane Chambers finds out how the element lithium has become so important in the world today. She lives in Chile, where lithium is called the country’s white gold, as it is the source of much of the world’s supply. Jane travels to the Atacama Desert and visits the SQM mine where lithium is evaporated out of huge brine lakes. She talks to Professor Clare Grey of Cambridge University about her research into improving the efficiency of lithium ion batteries. And Dr Paul Anderson of Birmingham University explains what needs to be done for more lithium to be recycled. Editor: Deborah Cohen Picture: Lithium plant in Atacama Desert, Chile, Credit: SQM
Apr 05, 2021
The Evidence: Mental health and the pandemic
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Year two of the pandemic, and in tandem with rising rates of illness, death, acute economic shock and restrictions on everyday life, mental health problems have risen too. Claudia Hammond and her panel of global experts answer listeners’ questions about the pandemic of mental illness and distress, and find out which groups have been hardest hit. Children and young people were at low risk from the virus itself, but their lives have been upended as societies have locked down. Older people too have suffered loneliness and isolation as they have tried to keep themselves safe. What does the evidence show about the true scale of suffering, and what can we learn from other countries about the best way to support those in real distress and bolster resilience within communities? Claudia hears from Giulia in Brazil about her struggles with anxiety and from Mohsen in Tehran, Iran, about the techniques he is using to cope with anxiety and depression following the serious illness of himself and his family from the virus. Her global panel of experts includes Dr Lola Kola, a mental health specialist and Assistant Director at the WHO Collaborating Centre at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria, one of the authors of a major review of the mental health impacts of the pandemic in low and medium income countries published last month in Lancet Psychiatry; Andrew Steptoe, Professor of Psychology and Epidemiology at University College London in the UK, leading the UK Social Study, the world’s largest study into the mental health impact of the pandemic during the longest enforced isolation in living history; Cathy Creswell, Professor of Developmental Clinical Psychology at the University of Oxford in the UK, is head of the Co-Space Study, tracking how parents and children are coping during this pandemic; and Steven Taylor is a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. Steven specialises in anxiety disorders, and just before the pandemic, he published a book, called The Psychology of Pandemics. Production team: Fiona Hill, Samara Linton and Maria Simons Editor: Deborah Cohen Technical support: Giles Aspen and Bob Nettles Picture: Young men wearing protective mask to protect against Covid-19 (Credit: Visoot Uthairam/Getty Images)
Mar 27, 2021
The Life Scientific: Jane Hurst
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Mice, like humans, prefer to be treated with a little dignity, and that extends to how they are handled. Pick a mouse up by its tail, as was the norm in laboratories for decades, and it gets anxious. Make a mouse anxious and it can skew the results of the research it’s being used for. What mice like, and how they behave, is the focus of Professor Jane Hurst’s research. Much of that behaviour, she’s discovered, can be revealed by following what they do with their noses - where they take them and what’s contained in the scent marks they sniff. Now William Prescott Professor of Animal Science at the University of Liverpool, Jane has unravelled a complex array of scent signals that underpin the way mice communicate, and how each selects a mate. Within this heady mix of male scent, she’s identified one particular pheromone that is so alluring to females that she named it Darcin, after Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. Producer: Beth Eastwood
Mar 08, 2021
The Life Scientific: Cath Noakes
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Professor Cath Noakes studies how air moves and the infection risk associated with different ventilation systems. Early in the pandemic, she was invited to join the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, SAGE and asked to study the transmission routes for Covid-19. In July, together with many other scientists, she urged governments around the world and the World Health Organisation to recognise that Covid-19 could be transmitted in tiny particles in the air, even if the risk of getting infected in this way was much smaller than the risk from larger particles that travel less far. Her research highlights the importance of good ventilation as a way to stop the spread of infection in indoor environments. Being in a well ventilated space can reduce the risk of inhaling tiny airborne pathogens by 70%. Cath talks to Jim Al-Khalili about her journey from studying industrial processes to infection risk, her work on the airborne transmission of diseases and the challenge of designing buildings that are both well ventilated and energy efficient. Producer: Anna Buckley Photo credit: University of Leeds
Mar 01, 2021
The Evidence: Keeping out Covid-19
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From flight bans and entry bans to compulsory quarantine and virus testing, most countries have introduced travel restrictions in an effort to control the spread of the virus. But for a virus that knows no borders, do cross-border health measures actually work? Claudia Hammond and her panel of global experts answer listeners’ questions and discuss the very latest science about the use of border controls in this pandemic. The countries we can all learn from, researchers say, include Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand and South Korea. Their border policies are said to be consistent and, crucially, integrated with strong domestic public health measures. So while we wait for vaccinations, it seems an international vaccination passport will be rolled out very soon, maybe as early as Spring. A digital passport – a golden ticket to travel – could give privileged access to those who have been inoculated. But what are the ethical and scientific concerns of such a move? The panel with the answers include Kelley Lee, Professor of Public Health at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada who is leading an international project to assess cross border health measures, Pandemics and Borders, Dr Voo Teck Chuan, Assistant Professor at the University of Singapore Centre for Biomedical Ethics and a member of the WHO Working Group on Ethics and Covid-19, Dr Birger Forsberg, Associate Professor of International Health at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden and senior physician and health planner at the regional health authority of Stockholm and Marc Lipsitch, Professor of Epidemiology at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and Director of the Centre for Communicable Disease Dynamics in the USA. Produced by: Fiona Hill, Samara Linton and Maria Simons Editor: Deborah Cohen Technical Support: Sarah Hockley
Feb 27, 2021
The Life Scientific: Giles Yeo
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Professor Jim Al-Khalili talks to leading scientists about their life and work.
Feb 22, 2021
The power of night
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Lucy Cooke meets some of the animal kingdom’s nocturnal inhabitants to understand why it pays to stir once the sun goes down. She examines some of the extraordinary nocturnal adaptations from the largest group of mammals, the bats, to the mysterious long fingered lemur, the Aye Aye, to hear why the dark has proved evolutionarily advantageous. In an increasingly crowded planet, could future survival for many diurnal animals depend on a nightlife? Producer Adrian Washbourne Picture: Honey Badger, Credit: Cindernatalie/Getty Images
Feb 15, 2021
The power of one
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We humans are a supremely social species, but the coronavirus pandemic has forced many of us into solitary confinement. It feels like an unnatural, regressive move, that goes against our collective nature. So why do some species embrace the power of one? And how do they make a success of a solo existence? Lucy Cooke meets some of the animal kingdom’s biggest loners - from the Komodo Dragon, to the Okapi and the Black Rhino - to explore the lure of solitude. Producer: Beth Eastwood Picture: Okapi (Okapia johnstoni), forest giraffe or zebra giraffe, Credit: Jiri Hrebicek/Getty Images
Feb 08, 2021
The power of celibacy
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You might think that sex is essential for life, but you'd be wrong! Lucy Cooke travels to the Hawaiian island of Oahu to meet a community of mourning geckos - self-cloning sisters who have done away with males altogether. An array of reptiles, amphibians and fish, along with a host of spineless wonders, from snails to spiders, can reproduce without sex. It's what biologists call parthenogenesis, from the Greek meaning “virgin birth”. Many, like the mourning gecko, make great “weed” species. They're explosive opportunists capable of rapidly colonising new territory, as they don’t need to waste energy finding a mate. But without the mixing up of genes, that sex with a male provides, they are less able to adapt and change. So sex pays if you don’t want to go extinct. Yet there is one self-cloning sister that defies that theory - the Bdelloid Rotifer. Living for millions of years and comprising over 450 species, these microscopic water dwelling creatures have conquered the planet. They get around the drawbacks of no sex, by stealing genes, and escape disease by desiccating and then coming back to life. Producer: Beth Eastwood Picture: Female Komodo dragon at London Zoo, Credit: Matthew Fearn/PA
Feb 01, 2021
The Evidence: The Shapeshifting Virus
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News that at least three new variants of SARS-CoV-2 have emerged in three separate continents have sent a chill throughout the scientific community. All viruses mutate but the speed and scale of the changes and the fact they occurred independently, is seen as a wake-up call. Genetic sequencing in South Africa first raised the alarm about the version of the virus that was racing through populations in the Eastern and then Western Cape. Scientists at the country’s KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform, KRISP, were struck by the sheer number of genetic mutations, many of which were on the all-important spike protein. This is where the virus binds to human cells and where neutralising antibodies, our immune system’s defences, also mount their defence. Any changes there, researchers knew, could be bad news. Genetic sequencers in the UK also identified a new lineage which shares just some of the mutations in the South African variant. Named B.1.1.7 this version tore through populations in the South East of England and is now the dominant strain throughout the country and beyond. Latest estimates suggest is between 30 and 50% more infectious, although exactly how it is more transmissible is still being worked out. In Brazil too, news earlier this month of another troubling variant, the P.1. tearing through populations in Manaus, the capital of Brazil’s Amazonas state, where so many were infected in the first wave of the pandemic. Like the version identified in South Africa, this variant also has mutation called E484K on the all-important spike protein. This could make the virus better at evading antibodies, with huge implications for re-infection rates and the new vaccines. Claudia Hammond and her expert panel consider what the new shapeshifting virus means for the global goal of herd immunity and an end to the pandemic. And they answer your questions. Please do keep your virus queries coming in to the.evidence@bbc.co.uk and your question could be included in the next programme. Claudia’s guests include Dr Richard Lessells, infectious diseases specialist from the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa and part of the team that identified the South African variant; Dr Muge Cevik, clinical lecturer in infectious diseases and medical virology at the University of St Andrews in Scotland and a member of the UK’s expert committee NERVTAG (New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group); Dr Shane Crotty, Professor for Infectious Disease and Vaccine Research at la Jolla Institute for Immunology, University of California San Diego in the USA and Dr Margaret Harris from the World Health Organisation in Geneva. Produced by: Fiona Hill, Samara Linton and Maria Simons Editor: Deborah Cohen Technical Support: Donald McDonald and Tim Heffer
Jan 30, 2021
Science Trumped
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When US health expert sighed last week that science could now speak again, his sense of relief was shared by many scientists. Since the start of the Trump administration, experts inside the US government's science agencies, and those outside working with them have felt their efforts sidelined. From the coronavirus effort to international relations and the border wall, Roland Pease hears from some of those who have felt shut out of the nation's science conversation these past four years. Presenter: Roland Pease Picture: U.S. President Donald Trump references a map held by acting Homeland Security, credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Jan 25, 2021
Plant scientist Dale Sanders
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Professor Dale Sanders has spent much of his life studying plants, seeking to understand why some thrive in a particular environment while others struggle. His ground breaking research on their molecular machinery showed how plants extract nutrients from the soil and store essential elements. Since plants can’t move, their survival depends on these responses. In 2020, after 27 years at the University of York, he became the Director of the John Innes Centre in Norwich, one of the premier plant research institutions in the world. Meeting the food needs of a growing global population as the climate changes is a major challenge. And, Dale says, it’s not only about maximising yields. We need crops that are more resilient and more nutritious. Drought resistant crop varieties, for example. And zinc-rich white rice. Dale talks to Jim about how plant science is helping to feed the world in a sustainable way and why plant scientists don’t always get the recognition they deserve. Producer: Anna Buckley
Jan 18, 2021
Astrophysicist Andy Fabian
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Professor Andrew Fabian from Cambridge's Institute of Astronomy has spent his career trying to unravel the mystery of how some of the most dramatic events in the universe can profoundly influence its evolution. For over 50 years he’s been examining our universe using X-ray satellites orbiting way above earth’s atmosphere . He’s built up compelling evidence that supermassive black holes at the heart of galaxies are the engines that drive the movement of energy through the universe and provide the building blocks for the formation of new galaxies. They're extraordinary insights, for which he’s now been awarded the 2020 Kavli Prize in Astrophysics, one of the world's most prestigious science prizes. Jim Al-Khalili hears how Andy gets to capture epic galactic events in motion to build up a picture of this vast ecosystem - and also how he earned a place in the Guinness Book of Records for discovering the deepest note in the universe – a B flat , 57 octaves below middle C. Producer Adrian Washbourne
Jan 11, 2021
Marine conservationist Heather Koldewey
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Professor Heather Koldewey wants to protect our oceans from over-fishing and plastic pollution. An academic who is not content to sit back and let the science speak for itself, she wants to turn science into action and has found conservation allies in some unexpected places. Working with a carpet manufacturer, she created Net-Works, a business that turns old fishing nets into high-end carpet tiles and she has collaborated with Selfridges department store to give marine conservation a make-over. A research career that began studying the genetics of brown trout in Welsh rivers took her to the Philippines to save seahorses and a job running the aquarium at London Zoo. In 2018, she was made a National Geographic Fellow. Heather tells Jim Al-Khalili why, despite all the challenges to marine life, she remains an ‘ocean optimist’ and how she learned to drop her ‘scientific seriousness’.
Jan 04, 2021
Climate meltdown
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The year 2020 started with wildfires raging across parts of Australia, exceptional floods in East Africa, and a heatwave in the Arctic. Extremes persisted through the year in the north - where wild fires consumed record areas in Siberia, and the Arctic ice reached record lows. Death Valley saw the highest reliable temperature yet recorded on the planet, while the Atlantic saw the most active hurricane season on record. An extreme year by many measures, and one that could end up as the hottest on record globally. Roland Pease asks what it tells us about global warming. Picture credit: Wegener Institute / Steffen Graupner
Dec 28, 2020
Hopes and fears for Covid-19 vaccines
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Less than a year in, and the first vaccines are already being rolled out, with many more in the pipeline. It is an unprecedented scientific response to the global pandemic and researchers around the world have provided the first hope against one of the most formidable challenges facing humanity in a century. Claudia Hammond and her expert panel of guests consider the scale of this herculean effort and answer listeners' questions about vaccine safety, trust, immunity, and long term protection. The World Health Organisation has repeatedly said that no-one is safe until we are all safe, so the threat of vaccine nationalism and the purchase of millions of the first vaccine doses by rich countries is something that is concerning everybody worried about equitable vaccine distribution. How will the COVAX facility, which is designed to boost vaccine purchasing power for the world's poorest countries, fare in the face of nationalistic purchasing - and will surplus doses be shared so that all seven point five billion of us can get protection? And, finally, the scale of the threat from vaccine hesitancy. Any vaccine is only as good as the number of people who will take it to achieve herd immunity. The numbers of those suspicious about a potential Covid-19 vaccine have grown over the course of the pandemic, causing real concern for governments around the world. How can people be reassured that vaccines are safe? This month, Claudia's guests include Professor Peter Hotez, Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and co-director of the Texas Children's Hospital Centre for Vaccine Development in the USA, Professor Helen Rees, founder and executive director of the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute, the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa, Kalipso Chalkidou, Professor of Practice in Global Health at Imperial College, London and Director of Global Health Policy at the Centre for Global Development and Dr Ève Dubé, a medical anthropologist from the Institute of Public Health in Quebec, Canada. Produced by: Fiona Hill, Samara Linton and Maria Simons Editor: Deborah Cohen Technical Support: Tim Heffer and Giles Aspen Picture: Covid-19 Vaccination Clinics Open In Surrey, UK, Credit: Leon Neal/Getty Images
Dec 26, 2020
Evolutionary biologist Alice Roberts
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It’s amazing what we can learn from a pile of old bones. Having worked as a paediatric surgeon for several years (often doing the ward round on roller blades), Alice Roberts spent a decade teaching anatomy to medical students and studying human remains. A niche interest in the collar bone and how it has changed since we evolved from the common ancestor we share with other apes 6 million years ago, led her to some of the biggest questions in science. Who are we? And where do we come from? She is the presenter of several landmark TV series on human evolution and archaeology, such as The Incredible Human Journey and Digging for Britain. And in 2019 she became President of the British Science Association. In conversation with Jim Al Khalili, Alice shares her passion for the bones of our ancient ancestors and of the freshly dead, and describes her own incredible journey from a basement full of medieval bones to an eminent science communicator and public figure. Producer: Anna Buckley
Dec 21, 2020
Steve Haake
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Steve Haake has spent much of his career using technology to help elite sports people get better, faster and break records. He has turned his hand to the engineering behind most sports, from studying how golf balls land, to designing new tennis racquets and changing the materials in ice skates. He’s now Professor of Sports Engineering at Sheffield Hallam University and was the Founding Director of the Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre there. Since the 2012 London Olympics, Steve has also been working to improve the health and wellbeing of all of us. As Chair of the Parkrun Research Board he’s heavily involved in this international phenomenon in which thousands of people have sprinted, jogged and stumbled around a 5-kilometre course on Saturday mornings, which he’s shown really does encourage people to be generally more active. Jim al-Khalili talks to Steve Haake about how he got from a physics degree to being one of the leading sports engineers in the world, and how we can all improve our health by moving more.
Dec 14, 2020
The Space Burrito
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Is there a point in space where the Sun could heat a burrito perfectly? asks Will. The doctors tackle this and a plethora of other conundrums from the Curious Cases inbox. Featuring expert answers from astrophysicist Samaya Nissanke, cosmologist Andrew Pontzen, and cognitive neuroscientist Sophie Scott. Presenters: Hannah Fry & Adam Rutherford Producer: Jen Whyntie
Dec 07, 2020
The Zedonk Problem
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Today I learnt that tigons and ligers are what you get when lions and tigers interbreed?!’ surprised listener Jamz G tells the doctors. ‘What determines whether species can interbreed?’ Geneticist Aoife McLysaght studies molecular evolution. She explains the modern definition of a species, built on ideas from Aristotle, Linnaeus and Darwin: a species is a group of organisms capable of interbreeding to produce fertile offspring. Hybrids – such as ligons and tigers – are usually infertile, because their common ancestors long ago diverged into the lions and tigers we know today. However, this definition isn’t absolute, and there are many ways a new species can be formed. Hybrids also offer rich study subjects for scientists. Mathematical biologist Kit Yates discusses why he’s been reading research papers about hebras and zorses (horse x zebra) as their patterns offer insights into how cells spread and develop into organisms, building on a prediction made by codebreaking mathematician Alan Turing. And it turns out that these hybrids are even more intriguing. As speciation and evolution expert Joana Meier explains, hybrids are not always infertile. Hybridisation can lead to successful new species arising, such as in Lake Victoria’s cichlid fish, who it seems have been having a wild evolutionary party for the last 15,000 years. And the picture gets even murkier when we discover that modern genetics reveals our human ancestors successfully mated with Neanderthals. Presenters: Hannah Fry & Adam Rutherford Producer: Jen Whyntie
Nov 30, 2020
The Evidence: Pandemic rules: follower or flouter?
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Millions of us, across the world, are subject to curfews, stay-at-home orders and lockdowns but what makes us stick to the rules, bend them or ignore them altogether? Claudia Hammond and her expert panel of guests consider the psychology of following the rules. Leading social psychologists share research which show that higher levels of trust in leadership translates to more pandemic guidance followed. A sense of “We” not “I”, a shared identity, makes a difference too, as well as identification with the whole of humankind, not just your immediate family. But there is danger too, from a “narrative of blame”, where individuals are demonised if they break the rules. Such an approach, Claudia hears, is corrosive to the all-important sense of shared identity and alienates some groups, while making others complacent. Also in the programme, what impact can rapid “have you got it” antigen tests which give results in minutes, rather than days, have on the virus? Claudia hears from the Cameroon in Central, West Africa, one of the first countries in the world to try mass testing using these rapid diagnostic tests. And she talks to scientists at the forefront of evaluating and modelling how their use could affect transmission of the virus, and daily life for all of us, until a vaccine is available. This month, Claudia’s panel of specialists answers BBC World Service listeners’ questions and includes Professor Michael Mina, Assistant Professor of Epidemiology Immunology and Infectious Diseases at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health in USA, Dr Margaret Harris, from the World Health Organisation in Geneva, Switzerland, Steve Reicher, Professor of Social Psychology at St Andrews University in Scotland, Professor Rolf Van Dick, social psychologist and Vice President of the Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany and Dr Jilian Sacks, senior scientific officer for Pandemic Preparedness for FIND, the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics in Geneva.
Nov 28, 2020
The end of everything
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Everyone knows about the Big Bang being the beginning of the universe and time - but when and how is it going to end? ask brothers Raffie and Xe from Rome. For this series, with lockdown learning in mind, Drs Rutherford and Fry are investigating scientific mysteries for students of all ages. The doctors sift science from philosophy to find out. Cosmologist Jo Dunkley studies the origins and evolution of the universe. She explains how astrophysical ideas and techniques have evolved to tell us what we now know about our galaxy and far beyond, from the elegant parallax technique to standard candles. This particular distance measure, which uses stars of a known brightness to work out how far away other objects in the universe are, was discovered by American astronomer Henrietta Swan Leavitt in 1912, who worked at the Harvard University as one of several “computers” – women who processed and calculated data and made significant contributions to astronomy. Curious Cases’ universal guru Andrew Pontzen puts this into context. Because the universe is so enormous, it turns out that these measurements are just the first steps on the cosmic distance ladder – a suite of tools that astrophysicists use to determine distances to celestial objects. Scientists know that objects are moving away from us because the wavelengths of light from them get stretched and appear redder in our telescopes – the so-called red shift effect. But having a handle on the distances to and between those objects allows cosmologists to monitor what’s happening to them over time. And it turns out that not only are they getting further apart, indicating that the universe is expanding, but that this process is accelerating. So what might happen in the end? Expansion and then collapse – a big crunch? Expansion into the void – a big freeze, or a big rip? Or what if there is more than one universe – might a new one bubble up with totally different laws of physics that would cause our own to cease existing? It turns out that when dealing with predictions for something involving infinite space and time, the possibilities are largely limited by human imagination alone. Ideas are where science starts, but experiments are required to build evidence confirming or rejecting them as fact. The doctors discuss how gravitational wave detectors and quantum computers might one day provide this. Presenters: Hannah Fry & Adam Rutherford Producer: Jen Whyntie
Nov 23, 2020
Broad spectrum
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Autism is a lifelong condition, often seen as particularly ‘male’. Yet a growing number of women, and those assigned female at birth, are being diagnosed as autistic in their 30s, 40s, 50s, and beyond. Writer and performer Helen Keen is one of them, and she’s found this diagnosis has helped her make sense of many aspects of her life, from growing up with selective mutism, to struggling to fit in as a young adult. In this programme Helen asks why she, like a growing number of others, had to wait till she was well into adulthood before finding her place on the autistic spectrum. She discovers that for many years psychologists believed that autism was rarely seen in women and non-binary people. Now it is accepted that people often display autistic traits in different way - for example, they may learn to ‘camouflage’ and behave in a neurotypical way - but at what cost? Helen talks to others like her who have had late diagnoses, and finds out if knowing they are on the autistic spectrum has given them insight into how they can navigate the pressures on them from contemporary society. She also explores how we can value and celebrate neurodiversity. Helen also talks to psychologists Professor Francesca Happé, of the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience in London, and Dr Steven Stagg of Anglia Ruskin University about their research into autism. Picture: Geometric camouflage pattern, Credit: Yuri Parmenov/Getty Images
Nov 16, 2020
Birds: singing for survival
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As large areas of the world have locked down this year, many of us have become more aware of the birdsong around us. The relative silence has allowed us to listen in. But scientists have known for several years that the birds themselves have been responding to human noise too, by pitching their songs and other calls higher, to be heard over the rumble of our urban life. There are several ways in which birds can adapt how they communicate in the face of environmental pressures, but what are the limits to these adaptations? And what can this tell us about how to maximise conservation efforts in the future? Rory Crawford talks to ornithologists and animal behaviourists studying bird species around the world. He finds out how the advance of technology is helping researchers explore birds’ preferences and behaviours in the wild, and hears how one particular bird changed its song, and the new version rapidly spread across North America – “the most viral tweet of all time”, as it’s been called! Picture: A Robin [Erithacus rubecula], Credit: Gary Chalker/Getty Images
Nov 09, 2020
Digital touch
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Claudia Hammond asks if touch can be replicated digitally? What devices exist already and how likely are we to use them? Michael Banissy, co-creator of the Touch Test, neuroscientist David Eagleman and researcher Carey Jewitt look at the possibilities for touch technologies in the future. David has developed a wristband that translates sound into touch for deaf people, Carey looks at the ethics of digital touch and Michael reveals the attitudes from the Touch Test towards digital technologies. If we could replicate the feeling of holding a loved one's hand in hospital would it really be the same? And dancer Lisa May Thomas talks about her experience of extending touch into space and through virtual reality.
Nov 02, 2020
The Evidence: Are national lockdowns evidence of policy failure?
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As a surge of cases risks overwhelming health services in parts of Europe, Claudia Hammond and experts from around the world examine the evidence behind using lockdowns to supress the virus. Lockdowns describe a huge range of actions that many governments took in the first wave of the pandemic when so little was known about where the virus was circulating. But full lockdowns are seen as very blunt tools, a last resort because they can have enormous social and economic consequences. Instead a more targeted, localised, smarter response to slow down transmission is recommended, where data about virus circulation informs focussed interventions. Also in the programme, The Great Barrington Declaration earlier this month called for an end to current lockdown policies and appealed for the vulnerable to receive “focussed protection” while everybody else “should immediately be allowed to resume life as normal”. The goal, the group of scientists said, should be to minimise deaths and social harm, until herd immunity, or population immunity, is reached. The World Health Organisation has described such a strategy as dangerous and counterproductive. Claudia’s guests discuss the scientific and ethical issues raised and consider the scale of global exposure to this novel virus. So far only around 10% of the world’s population have been infected so what would a policy of herd immunity in the absence of a vaccine mean for the remaining 90%? Listeners put their questions about coronavirus and the pandemic directly to Claudia and her panel of specialists, which this month includes Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, Technical Lead for the World Health Organisation’s Covid-19 Response; Professor Salim Abdool Karim, a clinical infectious diseases epidemiologist and Chair of South Africa’s Ministerial Advisory Committee for Covid-19; Martin McKee, Professor of European Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and one of the signatories to the John Snow Memorandum; epidemiologist Tove Fall, Professor at Uppsala University in Sweden running the Covid-19 symptom app and virologist Professor Steven Van Gucht, from Sciensano, the Belgian national institute for public and animal health. The Evidence is produced in association with Wellcome Collection. Production team: Fiona Hill and Maria Simons Studio engineer: Jackie Margerum Editor: Deborah Cohen
Oct 31, 2020
Affectionate touch
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Claudia Hammond looks at the neuroscience behind our sense of touch. Why does a gentle touch from a loved one make us feel good? This is a question that neuroscientists have been exploring since the late 1990's, following the discovery of a special class of nerve fibres in the skin. There seems to be a neurological system dedicated to sensing and processing the gentle stroking you might receive from a parent or lover or friend, or that a monkey might receive from another grooming it. Claudia talks to neuroscientists Victoria Abraira, Rebecca Bohme, Katerina Fotopoulou and Francis McGlone who all investigate our sense of emotional touch, and she hears from Ian Waterman who lost his sense of touch at the age of eighteen.
Oct 26, 2020
Unwanted touch
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Claudia Hammond explores unwanted touch and who we do and don’t mind touching us – and where. She draws on insights from the largest study that’s ever been conducted on the topic of touch – The Touch Test - commissioned by Wellcome Collection. Almost forty thousand people from all over the world chose to take part. Claudia discusses where we draw the boundaries between acceptable and unacceptable touch, at work or in the street, with Dr Amy Kavanagh, a visually impaired activist and campaigner, Joanna Bourke, Professor of History at Birkbeck, University of London and the author of “Rape - a History”, and Dr Natalie Bowling, a psychologist at the University of Greenwich who co-created the Touch Test and has been crunching the numbers. After #meToo and Covid, could unwanted touch even become a thing of the past?
Oct 19, 2020
Touch hunger
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Claudia Hammond explores our experience of touch hunger, and asks if we have enough touch in our lives. Covid-19 and social distancing have changed how most people feel about touch but even before the pandemic there was a concern about the decrease of touch in society. Claudia and Professor Michael Bannissy of Goldsmiths, University of London, discuss the results of the BBC Touch Test, an online questionnaire that was completed by around 40 000 people from 112 countries. Professor Tiffany Field, Director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine, and Merle Fairhurst, Professor of Biological Psychology at Bundeswehr University Munich, reveal their findings about the impact of touch hunger and how to overcome it. John grew up during the Second World War and endured a lack of touch in his childhood. He relates how in adult life he overcame this absence of touch and why touch remains so important to him. And left isolating in London during lock down, flatmates B and Z came up with a plan to stay healthy with a 6 o’clock hug. Hugging releases a mix of anti-stress chemicals that can lower the blood pressure, decrease anxiety and help sleep.
Oct 12, 2020
Megadrought in Chile
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Drought is a massive problem for Chile. Jane Chambers has been living in the capital Santiago for more than ten years and has seen huge changes in that time. It used to rain frequently in the winter months between June and September and the Andes Mountains which run down the whole of Chile were snow-capped all year round. But that doesn’t happen anymore. Jane reports on the impact of the mega drought on the country and what is being done about it. She talks to climate scientists Sebastian Vicuna, Director of the Global Change Research Centre, at the Catholic University of Chile and to Rene Garreaud, a Professor in the Geophysics Department at University of Chile and Deputy Director of the Center for Climate and Resilience Research, about whether the megadrought is the result of natural weather patterns or of climate change. She meets farmers who are struggling to find pasture for their goats in the village of Til Til, and Francisco Meza, a Professor in the department of agriculture and forestry at the Catholic University in Santiago, who is helping agriculture adapt to low rainfall. And Jane hears about ways to increase the availability of drinking water through small-scale desalination and by capturing moisture from the air. Picture: Flows of rivers and reservoirs have reached historic minimums in Chile. A severe drought is hitting the country's central area, making local communities more vulnerable to face the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP via Getty Images)
Oct 05, 2020
The sting in the tail
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"What’s the point of wasps?" asks listener Andrew, who is fed up with being pestered. For this series, with lockdown learning in mind, Drs Rutherford and Fry are investigating scientific mysteries for students of all ages. Do wasps do anything to justify their presence as a picnic menace? Ecologist Seirian Sumner researches social wasp behaviour and champions their existence. Not only do yellow jacket wasps perform important ecological services as generalist pest controllers of aphids, caterpillars and flies in the UK, they have complex societies and may even perform pollination services, making them more like their better-loved bee cousins than many might think. However, much remains unknown about wasps’ contribution to our ecosystem. Seirian works with entomologist Adam Hart, and together they run The Big Wasp Survey each summer, a citizen science project dedicated to find out more about UK wasp species and their populations. Prof. Hart sets up an experimental picnic with Dr Rutherford to try and attract some native wasps, and discusses why they are so maligned. But in some parts of the world UK wasp species have become a major problem. Just after World War II, having unwittingly chosen some aircraft parts destined for New Zealand as their overwintering home, some wasp queens woke up in the city of Hamilton. With no natural predators or competitors, they quickly established a growing population. Fast forward to today, and by late summer the biomass of wasps becomes greater than all the birds, rodents and stoats in the southern island’s honeydew beech forests. Multiyear nests have been discovered that are over three metres tall and contain millions of wasps. Researcher Bob Brown is digging into wasp nests back in the UK to discover which species keep wasps in check here, and whether they might work as biological control. This causes the doctors to ponder the problems of humans moving species around the planet. Accidental or even well-meaning introductions all too often become invasive. As climate change and urbanisation accelerate, wasps may become more helpful in some ways and more harmful in others. Presenters: Hannah Fry, Adam Rutherford Producer: Jen Whyntie
Sep 28, 2020
The Evidence: Covid lessons for safe school reopening
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Claudia Hammond and experts from around the world consider the evidence behind schools, colleges and coronavirus spread. Listeners from India, Cuba, Italy, Brazil, Canada, Hong Kong, France, the USA pitch their questions to the specialists. Research so far shows a low risk of transmission but as children and young people return to classrooms across the globe, will that remain the case? And Claudia and the team look at that vital role of “test, trace and isolate” when it comes to SARS-CoV-2, something the World Health Organisation describes as the backbone of any Covid-19 response. Which countries are getting this right and what can others learn from the best? New research comparing six countries from Europe, Africa and Asia highlights the successes and the failures. Plus Kat, a nurse from Kansas City, Missouri gives a first hand account of pandemic response in the USA and then, when she moved to Germany in the summer, from Stuttgart. On the panel are Dr Regina Osih, an infectious disease and public health specialist from the Aurum Institute in South Africa who’s working on the country’s Covid response, Dr Young June Choe, paediatrician and assistant professor at Hallym University in South Korea, Gail Davey, Professor of Global Health Epidemiology at Brighton and Sussex Medical School in England, David Heymann, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine from France and Dr Margaret Harris from the WHO in Geneva. The Evidence is produced in association with Wellcome Collection. Production team: Fiona Hill, Samara Linton and Maria Simons Studio engineers: Matilda Macari and Tim Heffer Editor: Deborah Cohen
Sep 26, 2020
The seeded cloud
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"Could you make a machine to make it rain in minutes?" asks listener Alexander from Hampshire, aged 12. For this series, with lockdown learning in mind, Drs Rutherford and Fry are investigating scientific mysteries for students of all ages. Rutherford and Fry dive into the clouded story of weather modification. First, we need to decide where and when we might deploy any rain machine. Liz Bentley, Chief Executive of the Royal Meteorological society, takes us through the science, maths and art of predicting the weather. Hannah heads down to the BBC Weather Centre to meet meteorologist Helen Willetts, who takes us through the highs and lows of forecasting. And then for the technology itself. Mark Miodownik, scientist and author of Liquid: The Delightful and Dangerous Substances The Flow Through Our Lives, reveals that a technique called cloud seeding has almost certainly been tried in different places around the world for decades. But, whilst it’s supposed to induce showers and even clear the way for sunny spells, the results aren’t always reliable. And even if we can make it rain, Liz explains why messing with the weather may be at our peril. Presenters: Hannah Fry, Adam Rutherford Producer: Jen Whyntie
Sep 21, 2020
The growling stomach
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"Why do our tummies rumble - and when they do, does it always mean we are hungry?" asks listener James, aged 12. For this series, with lockdown learning in mind, Drs Rutherford and Fry are investigating scientific mysteries for students of all ages. To get to the bottom of this noisy problem, the doctors tune in to our guts. Geneticist Giles Yeo studies food intake and obesity. He explains the wavy workings of our digestive system, and how those audible rumbles are a sign that digestion is taking place – a phenomenon thought to be onomatopoeically named 'borborygmi' by the ancient Greeks, and explored further in the gruesome 19th century experiments of surgeon William Beaumont. However, tuning in to the gut’s sounds can tell us more than whether we need a snack. Family doctor Margaret McCartney takes us through the process of how and why she and her medical colleagues may use a stethoscope to listen to your abdomen for both particular noises and silence. Microbiologist Barry Marshall has taken medical listening one step further in his Noisy Guts Project. Inspired by microphones used to listen for termites hiding in walls, the Nobel Prize-winning scientist is trialling an acoustic belt, which could be worn to help diagnose and treat Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Presenters: Hannah Fry, Adam Rutherford Producer: Jen Whyntie
Sep 14, 2020
Return to Mars
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In February 2021, three spacecraft will arrive at Mars. One is the United Arab Emirates’ Hope orbiter - the first interplanetary probe sent by the Arab world. Tianwen-1 will be China’s first mission to reach Mars – an ambitious bid to put both a probe into orbit and a small robot on the Martian surface. But the most sophisticated of all is the United States’ Mars 2020 mission. If all goes well, it will land a car-sized robotic rover on the rocky floor of a vast crater that contained a lake more than 3.7 billion years ago. The rover, named Perseverance, will spend years surveying the geology of Jerezo crater and using a battery of new instruments to examine the rocks for any evidence that life existed in the ancient lake. It will also be the first mission to extract rock samples and package them up for eventual return to Earth, sometime in the 2030s. Andrew Luck-Baker talks to NASA’s deputy project scientist Katie Stack-Morgan and mission manager Keith Comeaux, planetary scientists Melissa Rice and Sanjeev Gupta, and astrobiologist Mark Sephton.
Sep 07, 2020
Liz Seward
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Professor Jim Al-Khalili talks to Liz Seward, Senior Space Strategist for Airbus Defence and Space. Liz's young interest in Science Fiction led to a career designing spacecraft and robots for exploring our own earth, other planets, and the stars. From a library in the US where the science fiction section stood next to the children's section, Liz took inspiration from Robert A. Heinlien and Arthur C. Clarke through a degree in Physics and Space Science at the University of Leicester to begin a career at EADS Astrium (now part of Airbus), initially as a Thermal Engineer. As Liz explains to Jim, thermal engineering lies at the heart of any successful space mission. Any metal box floating in space has to deal with the searing heat of the Sun on one side and the deep, deep freeze of the cosmos on the other. Engineering solutions to cope with these extremes means the difference between triumph and failure. Liz has worked on several missions and international collaborations, including a design for a landing (since de-scoped) on Mercury aboard the current BepiColombo mission due to arrive at Mercury in 2025, and the experimental Aeolus satellite that currently keeps our weather forecasters up to speed on global wind dynamics. A large part of Liz's career was spent with the ESA Martian rover, named Rosalind Franklin, which should have been on its way to the red planet this summer, but has been delayed because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Nowadays at Airbus, Liz works on the strategy of maximizing commercial potential in space, whilst abiding by issues of responsibility around exploration, pollution, and even space traffic management. What if a launch to Mars collides with a long dead weather satellite on its way there? Or that the first detection of life on Mars turns out to be a cold virus from Stevenage? But as she explains to Jim, miniaturization and cheaper launches suggest a bright future for human activity in space. And one day, it may include vertical satellite launches from Scotland, and even passenger flights from Cornwall.
Aug 31, 2020
Professor Emma Bunce
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Emma Bunce, Professor of Planetary Plasma Physics at the University of Leicester, was inspired to study the solar system as a child by a TV programme that featured Voyager 2’s flyby of Neptune. She has spent the last 20 years focusing on the magnetic fields around the outer planets, in particular that of Jupiter. The Earth’s magnetic field interacts with the solar wind to create aurorae, the spectacular Northern lights. Emma’s discovered how aurorae are also produced at Jupiter's poles. Emma Bunce talks to Jim al-Khalili about her fascination with the gas giants, why she has to be patient to check out her theories as missions to the planets are few and far between and how she'd love to work on a spacecraft to Neptune. And in the year when the Royal Astronomical Society marks its 200th anniversary, Emma explains why she's taken on the role of its President.
Aug 24, 2020
Frank Kelly
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Long before most of us gave air pollution a second thought, Frank Kelly was studying the impact of toxic particles on our lungs. In a pioneering set of experiments on human volunteers in northern Sweden, he proved that pollutants, such as nitrogen oxides and particulates, are harmful to our health. And he is the driving force behind an air quality monitoring system in London that is the envy of the world. When in the late 1990s, the UK government was encouraging us all to buy diesel cars to help reduce our carbon emissions, he warned that while diesel engines might be less bad for the planet than petrol engines, they were more damaging to our health. Later Frank and his team provided evidence that the car manufacturers were not telling the truth about emissions from diesel vehicles. As the chair of the Government Medical Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollution, he has worked tirelessly to try and move air pollution up the political agenda and worked closely with successive Mayors of London to improve air quality in the capital. Changing all the buses from diesel to hybrid or electric vehicles would make a huge difference, he says. But we will also need to get used to relying less on driving our cars to get us from A to B. Presented by Jim Al-Khalili.
Aug 17, 2020
On the menu
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Shark, bear and crocodile attacks tend to make the headlines but humans fall prey to a much wider variety of predators every year, from big cats and snakes, to wolves, hyenas and even eagles that’ve been known to snatch the odd child. The details can be grim and gory as many predators have developed specific techniques for hunting us humans down. But it was always so, as biologist Professor Adam Hart discovers. Archaeological evidence suggests early hominins in Africa were more hunted than hunter, spending much of their lives scavenging for food and fending off attacks from the likes of sabre-tooth-cats and giant hyenas. Much more recently, legends abound about some of the more infamous serial killers of the animal kingdom, such as the 'man-eaters' of Tsavo and Njombe - the latter, a pride of about 15 lions in Tanzania who, it is claimed were responsible for an astonishing 1500 deaths between 1932 and 1947. Today, estimates and sources vary but most suggest carnivorous predators are responsible for hundreds if not thousands of human deaths every year. But how much of this is active predation and how much is mistaken identity or sheer bad luck? Adam speaks to experts in human-wildlife conflict dedicated to reducing attacks on both humans and predators in Africa and India, where the tensions between protecting agricultural interests and preserving predator habitats are most problematic. He discovers the grim reality for many poor rural populations dealing with the sharp end of living in close proximity to large carnivores and discusses the potential solutions for driving down attacks on both humans and predators that are caught up in the struggle for survival. Closer to home, Adam meets a wolf-tracker, who helps to monitor wild wolf populations that have spread up through Italy and France, attacking livestock with increasing confidence. Could humans be on the menu next? Producer: Rami Tzabar (Picture credit: Evgeny555/Getty Images)
Aug 10, 2020
Human Genome Project's 20th Anniversary
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Adam Rutherford celebrates the 20th anniversary of one of the most ambitious and revolutionary scientific endeavours of all time - the Human Genome Project. Its scope and scale was breath-taking, set up to read every one of the 3 billion nucleotides, or letters of genetic information, contained within the DNA in every cell of the human body. It took seven years, hundreds of scientists, cost almost $3 billion and, amazingly, came in under budget and on time. Adam reflects back on that momentous time with Ewan Birney, Director of the European Bio-informatics Institute, part of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory. Twenty years ago, he was a PhD student working on the project, in the months leading up to the first draft. The Human Genome Project underpins many branches of science, from human evolution and synthetic biology to forensic genetics and ancestry testing. But a key motivation for the project was to alleviate human suffering. While the ‘cures’, hyped by the media back in 2000, were not realistic our understanding of disease has been revolutionised. Adam talks to Cancer Research UK Scientist, Dr Serena Nik-Zainal, from Cambridge University, who explains why the sequencing of the human genome has been so crucial to the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. The Human Genome Project is also playing a crucial role in the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr Kenneth Baillie has been treating critically ill patients at Edinburgh’s Royal Infirmary since the pandemic started. As the Lead on GenOMICC, a global collaboration on genetics and critical illness, he has joined forces with Genomics England and the NHS, to pinpoint genetic signals in these patients to help identify the best treatments. Producers: Beth Eastwood & Fiona Roberts Picture: DNA Genetic Code Colorful Genome, Credit: ktsimage/Getty Images
Aug 03, 2020
Brian Greene
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Brian Greene studies the universe at the largest and smallest scales imaginable. When he was just twelve years old, Brian wandered round Columbia University in New York looking for someone to teach him mathematics, with a letter of recommendation from his school teacher. While his mother wanted him to make money, his father encouraged Brian to pursue his passion, which was trying to understand the nature of the universe. He studied physics at Harvard University and won a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University. While at Oxford he learnt about a bold new Theory of Everything which predicts that the universe is made not of particles but rather tiny strings which vibrate in multiple dimensions. Now a Professor at Columbia University, he has worked on string theory ever since. He talks to Jim Al-Khalili about the rise and fall of string and superstring theory and why when he first started to think about what would happen to the universe at the end of time, he experienced a feeling of ‘hollow dread’.
Jul 27, 2020
Jane Goodall
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Jane Goodall, aged 86, reflects on the years she spent living with the wild chimpanzees in Gombe in eastern Tanzania and tells Jim Al Khalili why she believes the best way to bring about change is to ‘creep into people’s hearts’. Jane shot to fame when she appeared on the cover of National Geographic magazine in 1963 and appeared in a documentary film directed by Orson Welles. Her ground breaking observations introduced us to the social and emotional lives of wild chimpanzees and changed our view of what it is to be human. Images of her younger self play wrestling with baby chimps make Jane feel slightly apprehensive now but at the time she didn’t give it a second thought. However, she did take care to protect her young son. Seeing distressing footage of chimps who were living in captivity, she gave up fieldwork to become an activist, working to liberate chimpanzees that were being used for medical research or sold for meat or as pets, and setting up chimp sanctuaries for animals that were no longer able to live in the wild. For the last thirty years, she has campaigned gently but relentlessly to protect wild animals and wild places, touring the world and performing on stage in front of huge audiences. Her global youth programme, Roots and Shoots has inspired and empowered millions of people to understand and respect nature, leading some to call her ‘the mother Theresa of the environment’. A label she dislikes. Producer: Anna Buckley Photo credit: the Jane Goodall Institute / By Bill Wallauer
Jul 20, 2020
Bed
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After a long journey, there’s nothing nicer for Katy than climbing into her own bed. It’s often the first major purchase we make when we grow up and leave home. Its significance was not lost on our ancestors. The bed was often the place where societal attitudes to sleep, superstition, sex, and status were played out, sometimes in dramatic form. So where did the bed come from, and what can this everyday object tell us about ourselves? A sleeper in early modern times believed that sleep was akin to death, with the devil waiting to pounce after darkness. So bed-time rituals were performed at the bedside and wolves’ teeth were often hung around the sleeper’s neck. Iron daggers were dangled over the cradles of infants at night to prevent them from being changed into demon babies. While we may have outgrown a fear of the devil, sleep expert and neuroscientist Prof Russell Foster fears the modern-day obsession that’s disrupting our sleep – our mobile devices. His advice? Prepare your bed for a good night’s sleep and defend it with a passion. Also featuring resident public historian Greg Jenner, and Prof Sasha Handley, expert on Early Modern History and sleep during this time. Producer: Beth Eastwood. Picture: Bed, Credit: Igor Vershinsky/Getty Images
Jul 13, 2020
Covid-19: Recovery
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Claudia Hammond and a panel of international experts look at the latest research into Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus which is sweeping through the world. Our panel of experts discuss how many people make full recoveries but others are finding that life hasn’t yet returned to normal months after infection. In India and Sweden, clinics are being set up to follow survivors of the virus and doctors are discovering that people are having difficulties assimilating what happened to them. And we hear about how three generations of one Spanish family all survived and how they are all recovering differently, including the 96 year old grandmother. On the panel are Seema Shah, Professor of Medical Ethics at North Western University, Professor David Heymann, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Professor Soo Aleman from the Karolinska University Hospital in Sweden, Dr David Collier, Clinical director of the William Harvey Clinical Research Centre, Queen Mary University of London and Dr Netravathi M, Professor of Neurology at the National Institute for Mental Health and Neuroscience in Bangalore in India. The Evidence is produced in association with Wellcome Collection. Producers: Geraldine Fitzgerald and Caroline Steel Editor: Deborah Cohen
Jul 11, 2020
Toilet
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You may call it the toilet, the loo, the privy, the potty, the can or even the bathroom, but whatever you call it, this everyday object has its roots in Bronze Age Pakistan. It even had a seat! But how did the toilet come to be? Given one third of the world’s population still live without one, how much is our embarrassment around toilet habits to blame? And what scientific developments are underway to help make them truly universal? Water and Sanitation Expert, Alison Parker, from Cranfield University believes part of the solution lies in a waterless toilet which creates ash, water from the waste it receives, and the energy it needs to operate, from the waste it receives. Even in the UK, we don’t always have access to a toilet when we need one. Over the past decade, the number of public conveniences has dropped by a half, leaving older people and the disabled, who may need easy access, unable to leave their homes. Raymond Martin, Managing Director of the British Toilet Association, hopes to stop our public conveniences going down the pan. Also featuring resident public historian Greg Jenner. Producer: Beth Eastwood Picture: Bathroom/Getty Images
Jul 06, 2020
Wine glass
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Have you got one of those wine glasses that can hold an entire bottle of wine? Katy Brand does and she’s even used it for wine - albeit because of a sprained ankle, which would have stopped her from hobbling back and forth to the kitchen for refills. But if we skip back a few hundred years, the wine glass was tiny. Footmen brought their masters what was essentially a shot glass. They quaffed back their wine in one. So how did we go from those dinky little things to the gargantuan goblets we have today? Is it because letting the wine breathe in a bigger glass makes it smell and taste better? Or is it a reflection of our drinking habits? Join Katy and the show's resident public historian, Greg Jenner, is glass expert Russell Hand from Sheffield University and Barry Smith, Director for the Study of the Senses at London University. Producer: Graihagh Jackson Picture: Wine glass, Credit: Albina Kosenko/Getty Images
Jun 29, 2020
The Evidence: Covid 19: vaccines and after lockdown
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Claudia Hammond and a panel of international experts look at the latest research into Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus which is sweeping through the world. We look at vaccines to stop the spread of the coronavirus. And as travel opens up in many countries and visiting family and friends is allowed, how do we navigate this new world while avoiding catching the virus. On the panel are Dr George Hu, clinical psychologist & Section Chief of Mental Health at Shanghai United Family Pudong Hospital in China, Vaccine expert - Professor Gagandeep Kang Executive Director of the Translational Health Science Technology Institute in Faridabad India, Dr Jenny Rohn is an expert in microbiology and viruses at University College London and Dr Margaret Harris, a Spokesperson at the World Health Organisation. The Evidence is produced in association with Wellcome Collection. Producers: Geraldine Fitzgerald and Caroline Steel Editor: Deborah Cohen
Jun 27, 2020
Fork
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The fork is essential. Even camping without one is a false economy, in Katy’s experience. Even a spork - with a spoon at one end and a fork at the other, with a knife formed along one prong - just won’t do. You need both - a fork to steady the meat and a knife to cut it with. So how did the fork come to be so indispensable? We didn’t always love the fork. Public historian, Greg Jenner, reveals how it was abandoned for the chopstick in Ancient China, and greeted with scorn in Western Europe when a Byzantine princess ate with a golden double-pronged one. It was only after the traveller, Thomas Coryat, in 1608, celebrated its use by pasta-loving Italians that the English started to take note. By the mid-19th century, there was a fork for every culinary challenge – from the pickle and the berry, to ice-cream and the terrapin. The utensil transformed the dining experience, bringing the pocket knife onto the table in a blunt, round-tipped form, and ushering in British table manners. So is there a perfect version of the fork? With the help of tomato, milkshake and mango, Katy discovers that the material a fork is made from can drastically alter a food’s taste. Featuring material scientist, Zoe Laughlin, and food writer and historian, Bee Wilson. Picture: a fork, Credit: BBC
Jun 22, 2020
High heel
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Katy Brand loves a high heel. Once known by friends and family for her ‘shoe fetish’, her dad even gave her a ceramic heel that could hold a wine bottle at a jaunty angle. These days, Katy’s cherished heels from her torture days live in her cupboard. She has traded the pain for the statement trainer. But their art, history and construction still fascinate her. So what is it about the high heel that has made it stand the test of time? With the help of resident public historian, Greg Jenner, Katy explores the heel’s fascinating passage through time, finding a place on the feet of men, as well as women, in high and low places. Heels donned the feet of men on horseback in 17th century Persia, were adored by King Louis XIV, and gained an erotic currency with the invention of photography. But how has science and engineering ensured the high heel’s survival? Footwear Technologist, Mike George, shows us how the high heel is engineered, and how he can test if a particular design is teetering on the edge of safety. Social scientist, Heather Morgan, reveals the perceived benefits of wearing heels, as well as the risks when she fell foul to when fell in heels and broke her ankle. Producer: Beth Eastwood Picture: High heels, Credit: European Photopress Agency
Jun 15, 2020
The Evidence: Covid 19: Transmission and South America
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Claudia Hammond and a panel of international experts look at the latest research into Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus which is sweeping through the world. As the disease spreads how is South America handling the pandemic? How are the indigenous people of the Amazon protecting themselves? We also look at the aerodynamics of infection - if the air in an ITU room is changed 12 times and the virus still lingers what hope do offices have? On the panel are Professor Lydia Bourouiba, Associate Professor at the Fluid Dynamics of Disease Transmission Laboratory at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr Adam Kucharski from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Professor Holgar Schunemann, co-director of the World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Centre for Infectious Diseases, Dr David Collier, Clinical Director at Queen Mary University London and Barbara Fraser, health journalist in the Peruvian capital Lima. The Evidence is produced in association with Wellcome Collection. Producers: Geraldine Fitzgerald and Caroline Steel Editor: Deborah Cohen
Jun 13, 2020
Toothbrush
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What is the most personal item you own - one you don’t want anyone else using? For Katy Brand it’s her toothbrush. So how did the toothbrush become one of life’s essentials? With the help of resident public historian of Horrible Histories fame, Greg Jenner, Katy goes back to ancient times, when the toothbrush was merely a stick. But the brush, as we know it, only came into being much later when a convict spied a broom in his cell and had a bright idea. But how has ingenuity and innovation shaped the toothbrush and ensured its place in our lives? And given most are plastic, how environmentally friendly is the toothbrush’s legacy? Featuring designer and toothbrush collector, Sophie Thomas, and advocate for clean teeth, Peter Dyer, Chair of Hospital Dentists at the British Dental Association. Producer: Beth Eastwood Picture: Toothbrush BBC Copyright
Jun 08, 2020
Helium
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Andrea Sella, Professor of Inorganic Chemistry at University College London, celebrates the art and science of the chemical elements. Today he looks at helium. Helium is a finite resource here on Earth and many branches of science need it. Doctors need it to run MRI machines to diagnose tumours and engineers test rockets for leaks with it. The story of helium starts with a solar eclipse in 1868. The event had many astronomers' eyes fixed on the sun. Two astronomers, nearly simultaneous and independently, made the same observation; a strange light with an unusual wavelength coming from the sun. It turned out to be the first sighting of extra-terrestrial helium. It would take decades for helium to be discovered on Earth and longer still for its worth to be recognised. As its ability to make things float and inability to burn became apparent, the US military started hoarding it for their floating blimps. But they soon realised that it is very hard to store an element that is so light that it can escape the Earth's gravitational pull. As we empty our last reserves of the periodic table's most notorious escape artist – is the future of helium balloons, often used to mark special events, up in the air?
Jun 01, 2020
The Evidence: Covid 19: Sub-Saharan Africa and Testing
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Claudia Hammond and a panel of international experts look at the latest research into Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus which is sweeping through the world. As the disease spreads how is sub-Saharan Africa handling the pandemic? We also look at tests – how accurate are they? Should we be testing ourselves at home? On the panel are Folasade Ogunsola, Professor of Clinical Microbiology at the University of Lagos in Nigeria, Ravi Gupta, Professor of Microbiology at the University of Cambridge’s Department of Medicine, Matthew Fox, Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health at Boston University and Dr Margaret Harris, a Spokesperson at the World Health Organisation. The Evidence is produced in association with Wellcome Collection. Producers: Geraldine Fitzgerald and Caroline Steel Editor: Deborah Cohen
May 30, 2020
Aluminium and strontium
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Andrea Sella, Professor of Inorganic Chemistry at University College London, celebrates the art and science of the chemical elements. Today he looks at aluminium and strontium, elements that give us visual treats. At the time of Emperor Napoleon the Third in 19th century France aluminium was more valuable than gold and silver. The Emperor liked the metal so much he had his cutlery made out of it. But once a cheaper way was discovered to extract aluminium it began to be used for all kinds of objects, from aeroplanes to coffee pots. Andrea talks to Professor Mark Miodownik at the Institute of Making at UCL about why aluminium is such a useful material, from keeping crisps crisp to the tinsel on our Christmas trees. And he talks about the lightness of bicycles made from aluminium with Keith Noronha, of Reynolds Technology. Strontium is the 15th most common element in the earth yet we really only come into contact with it in fireworks. It gives us the deep red colour we admire in a pyrotechnics display. Andrea meets Mike Sansom of Brighton Fireworks who explains how a firework is constructed and reveals the chemical mix that creates the bright red flashes. Professor Thomas Klapötke of the Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich talks about his search for a substitute for strontium in fireworks and about how the element can get into our bones. Rupert Cole at the Science Museum in London shows Andrea how Humphry Davy was the first to extract strontium from rocks found in Scotland. And Janet Montgomery, Professor of Archaeology at Durham University, explains how strontium traces have revealed that our Neolithic ancestors moved around much more than was previously thought. Nearly half the people buried around Stonehenge in Southern England were born in places with different rocks from those under Salisbury Plain in Southern England. Picture: Fireworks, credit: rzelich/Getty Images
May 25, 2020
Gold and silver
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Andrea Sella, Professor of Inorganic Chemistry at University College London, celebrates the art and science of chemical elements. In this episode he looks at two elements we have valued for millennia – gold and silver. Nina Gilbey at the London Jewellery Workshop teaches him how to work the metal and make a silver ring, and Rupert Cole, Curator of Chemistry at the Science Museum, shows him the handiwork of silversmiths who fashioned an elaborate microscope for King George the Third and a silver thimble that was used (with some zinc and a few drops of an acid) to generate an electric current that was sent through a transatlantic telegraph cable in 1866. And Andrea finds out about silver's anti-bacterial properties from Jean-Yves Maillard, Professor of Pharmaceutical Microbiology at Cardiff University. For the Egyptians gold was the ultimate symbol of wealth, power and eternal life. For this reason they buried their Pharaohs with extraordinary amounts of gold artefacts. As a noble metal, gold doesn’t tarnish which added to its status and association with the sun god Ra and the afterlife. Andrea talks to Professor Marcos Martinon-Torres of Cambridge University at an exhibition of Tutankhamun’s riches, and to Professor Lynne Macaskie of Birmingham University about ways to recycle gold from our electronic waste using bacteria. The method offers a greener way to satisfy our lust for gold. Picture: Gold and silver bracelets, Credit: krfletch/Getty Images
May 18, 2020
The Evidence: Covid 19: ending lockdowns
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Claudia Hammond and her panel of scientists and doctors analyse the latest science on the coronavirus and answer the audience’s questions on the impact of the pandemic. Dr Lucy van Dorp of UCL explores the genetics of the virus and what they can tell us about how far it’s spread and how is it evolving. Can we be sure that vaccines being developed now will still work in the future? Professor Guy Thwaites of the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit in Vietnam explains how the country has succeeding in keeping its cases so low. Professor David Heymann of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Professor Ngaire Woods, of the Blavatnik School of Government at Oxford University, tackle the question that people all around the world are wondering right now – how does a country safely emerge from lockdown without seeing a surge in cases? And Professor Lisa Cooper of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and family doctor and Director of the Shuri Network, Dr Shera Chok, discuss why black and other ethnic minorities in the US and UK seem to be so disproportionately impacted by Covid 19. The Evidence is produced in association with Wellcome Collection. Producers: Geraldine Fitzgerald and Caroline Steel Editor: Deborah Cohen
May 16, 2020
Science of Dad
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Whilst most men become fathers, and men make up roughly half the parental population, the vast majority of scientific research has focused on the mother. But studies have started to reveal the impact of fatherhood on both dads themselves and on their children. We're seeing how fathers play a crucial role in children's behaviour, happiness, and even cognitive skills. Oscar Duke, a doctor, new dad and author of How To Be A Dad, discovers how pregnancy, birth and childcare affect the father, bringing about profound physiological and hormonal changes. Only 5% of mammal fathers invest in their offspring, and human males have evolved to undergo key changes when their children are born. Involved fathers can expect their levels of the 'love hormone' oxytocin to rise, nature's way of helping parents bond with their children. At birth, a dad's testosterone levels dramatically fall, increasing affection and responsiveness, and discouraging polygamy. With more fathers taking on a hands-on role in bringing up their children, how can these new discoveries about the science of dad help support them, and inform social and healthcare policies? Presented by Dr Oscar Duke and produced by Melanie Brown and Cathy Edwards
May 13, 2020
Ignaz Semmelweiss: The hand washer
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Lindsey Fitzharris tells the story of Ignaz Semmelweiss, the hand washer. In a world that had no understanding of germs, he tried to apply science to halt the spread of infection. Ignaz Semmelweis observed that many young medical students at his hospital in Vienna went directly from an autopsy, still covered in contaminated dead flesh, to attend pregnant women. Could this be the reason for such high maternal mortality rates from conditions like puerperal fever? Believing that the disease was caused by “infective material” from a dead body, Semmelweiss set up a basin filled with chlorinated lime solution in his hospital and began saving women’s lives with three simple words: ‘wash your hands’. He was demonised by his colleagues for his efforts, but today, he is known as the “Saviour of Mothers.” Lindsey Fitzharris discusses some of the common myths surrounding the story of Semmelweiss with Dr Barron H. Lerner of New York University Langone School of Medicine. And she talks to Professor Val Curtis, Director of the Environmental Health Group at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who has studied the amount of hand washing by medical staff in hospitals today. Picture: Victorian boy washing his hands in a stream, Credit: whitemay
May 04, 2020
The Evidence: Mental health and Covid 19
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Now that more than half the population of the world has been living for a time in lockdown, Claudia Hammond and her panel of psychologists and psychiatrists answer the audience’s questions on the impact of the pandemic on our mental health. Dr George Hu, clinical psychologist & Section Chief of Mental Health at Shanghai United Family Pudong Hospital, tells us what he’s seen in China, as it comes out of lockdown. Professor Vikram Patel gives us a picture of mental health in India, which went very suddenly into lockdown. Manuela Baretto, Professor of Psychology at Exeter University, explains what research tells us about how isolation and loneliness affects us. Dr Jo Daniels, a psychology at the University of Bath in the UK, talks about who is susceptible to long term health anxiety following the pandemic. And Professor Sir Simon Wessley, psychiatrist and Director of the Kings Centre for Military Research in London, answers questions on whether we can learn about the likely psychological consequences from previous pandemics and other global upheavals. The Evidence is produced in association with Wellcome Collection. Producer: Caroline Steel Editor: Deborah Cohen
May 02, 2020
Desert locust swarms
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The pictures coming in from East Africa are apocalyptic. Billions of locusts hatching out of the wet ground, marching destructively through crops, and launching into flight in search of new terrains. "This is certainly the worst situation we have seen in the last 15 years," FAO locust specialist Keith Cressman tells Discovery. And in East Africa there has been nothing like this for 70 years. As the region braces itself for another cycle of egg laying and hatching, Roland Pease hears from the scientists using satellite technology, mobile phones and big data to protect the crops just starting to grow. (Photo: Desert Locust Swarms, Credit: FAO/Sven Torfinn)
Apr 27, 2020
Anne Magurran
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Anne Magurran started her career as an ecologist counting moths in an ancient woodland in northern Ireland in the 1970s, when the study of biological diversity was a very young science. Later she studied piranas in a flooded forest in the Amazon. Turning descriptions of the natural world into meaningful statistics is a challenge and Anne has pioneered the measurement of bio-diversity. It’s like an optical illusion, she says. The more you think about bio-diversity the more difficult it is to define. After a bout of meningitis in 2007, she set up BioTime, a global open access database to monitor changes in biodiversity over time and is concerned about ‘the shopping mall effect’. Just as high streets are losing their distinctive shops and becoming dominated by the same chain stores, so biological communities in different parts of the world that once looked very different are now starting to look the same.
Apr 20, 2020
The Evidence: Young people, lifting lockdowns, USA and Kenya updates
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Claudia Hammond and a panel of international experts look at the latest research into Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus which is sweeping through the world. As the disease spreads, younger people have perhaps not been getting the attention they deserve. How will this pandemic impact young people and do they feel included in government messaging? As lockdowns are lifted in China – how can they prepare for what comes next? And country updates on the USA and Kenya. On the panel are Professor Tom Kariuki, Director of Programmes of the African Academy of Sciences, Dr Christina Atchison, Senior Clinical Teaching Fellow in Public Health Education at Imperial College London and Dr. Michael Mina, Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. The Evidence is made in collaboration with the Wellcome Collection. Presenter: Claudia Hammond Producer: Geraldine Fitzgerald
Apr 18, 2020
Richard Wiseman
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How do you tell if someone is lying? When Richard Wiseman, Professor of the Public Understanding of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire, conducted a nationwide experiment to identify the tell-tale signs, the results were surprising. If you want to spot a liar, don’t look at them. Listen to what they say and how they say it. in If you want to distinguish fact from fiction, radio, not TV or video is your friend. Visual cues distract us from what is being said and good liars can control their body language more easily than their voice. Depressingly, Richard has also shown that our nearest and dearest are the most able to deceive us. Richard is a rare breed: a scientist who is also a practising magician. By the age of 17 he was performing magic tricks at children’s parties and a member of the exclusive Magic Circle. He chose to study psychology to try and understand why we believe the unbelievable and spent many years doing research on the paranormal: studying séances, haunted places and extra sensory perception. Could a belief in the paranormal be the price we pay for scientific discovery, he wonders? Jim Al-Khalili talks to Richard about his magical Life Scientific and finds out more about his work on lying, ESP and luck. Are some people born lucky or is it a mind-set that can be learnt? Producer: Anna Buckley
Apr 13, 2020
Professor Saiful Islam
1619
Not so long ago, all batteries were single use. And solar power was an emerging and expensive technology. Now, thanks to rechargeable batteries, we have mobile phones, laptops, electronic toys, cordless power tools and other portable electronic devices. And solar power is reducing our reliance on carbon-based fossil fuels. None of this would have been possible without a deep understanding of the chemistry of materials that have particular properties – the ability to turn sunlight into energy for example. Professor Saiful Islam of the University of Bath tells Jim Al-Khalili how ‘the Woodstock of physics’ got him excited about material science and how his research on the properties of materials is helping to power the 21st century with renewable energy and could dramatically reduce the cost of making solar panels. Producer: Anna Buckley
Apr 06, 2020
The Evidence: Taiwan, Vaccines, Africa Preparedness
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International experts discuss the latest research into Covid-19
Apr 04, 2020
Elizabeth Fisher: Chromosomes in mice and men
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Elizabeth Fisher, Professor of Neurogenetics at University College London, spent 13 years getting her idea – finding a new way of studying genetic disorders – to work. She began her research career at a time, in the 1980s, when there was an explosion of interest and effort in finding out what genes did what, and which of them were responsible for giving rise to the symptoms of various neurodegenerative conditions. Elizabeth has been particularly interested in those in which there are chromosomal abnormalities, like Down syndrome and Turner syndrome, as distinct from specific genetic disorders. Her work has helped in the understanding of what’s different about the genetic make-up of people with these conditions, and what new therapies might be developed in the future. Lizzie Fisher talks to Jim al-Khalili about how she was inspired to study genetics while standing on the red carpet, how she kept going during the 13 years it took to introduce human chromosomes into mice and why she's starting the process all over again.
Mar 30, 2020
Adrian Owen
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Neuroscientist Adrian Owen has spent much of his career exploring what he calls ‘the grey zone’, a realm of consciousness inhabited by people with severe brain injuries, who are aware yet unable to respond to those around them. It's this inability to respond which has led doctors to conclude that they are unaware. In the late 1990's, Adrian started to question the assumption that they lacked awareness and a chance discovery set him on a novel path of enquiry - could some of these patients be conscious or aware even though they don’t appear to be? His research has revealed that some are, and he’s pioneered techniques to help them to communicate with the outside world. This emerging field of science has implications, not only for patients but, for philosophy and the law. A British scientist, Adrian now runs a research programme at the Brain and Mind Institute at Western University in Canada, dedicated to reaching people in this ‘grey zone’. Picture: Adrian Owen, BBC Copyright
Mar 24, 2020
The Evidence: Coronavirus Special
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A panel of international experts take a global look at the science of Covid-19. We hear about vaccines, treatments, strategies to contain the virus and the role of big data.
Mar 21, 2020
Professor Martha Clokie
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Professor Martha Clokie tells Jim Al-Khalili how she found viruses that destroy antibiotic-resistant bugs by looking in stool samples, her son's nappies and estuary mud. Could viruses improve our health where antibiotics have failed? As a child, Martha Clokie spent a lot of time collecting seaweed on Scottish beaches. She loves plants and studied botany for many years. But mid-career, she learnt about all the viruses that exist in nature. We tend to focus on the viruses that make us ill but there are trillions of viruses on earth and in the ocean and most of them eat bacteria. When a virus destroys a bacteria that attacks our bodies, then it could be just what the doctor ordered. Our enemy’s enemy is our friend. Martha became interested in how these viruses - or bacteriophages as they’re known - might be used to treat disease. Before long, Martha had moved from studying African violets in Uganda to looking at stool samples under the microscope and asking fellow parents to donate their babies’ dirty nappies to her research. She spent many years looking for phages that attack the superbug C. difficile, which is responsible for a particularly nasty form of diarrhoea and results in tens of thousands of deaths every year. And she has shown, in animal models at least, that these phages could succeed where antibiotics have failed.
Mar 16, 2020
Demis Hassabis
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Jim Al-Khalili finds out why Demis Hassabis wants to create artificial intelligence and use it to help humanity. Thinking about how to win at chess when he was a boy got Demis thinking about the process of thinking itself. Being able to program his first computer (a Sinclair Spectrum) felt miraculous. In computer chess, his two passions were combined. And a lifelong ambition to create artificial intelligence was born. Demis studied computer science at Cambridge and then worked in the computer games industry for many years. Games, he says, are the ideal testing ground for AI. Then, thinking memory and imagination were aspects of the human mind that would be a necessary part of any artificially intelligent system, he studied neuroscience for a PhD. He set up DeepMind in 2010 and pioneered a new approach to creating artificial intelligence, based on deep learning and built-in rewards for making good decisions. Four years later, DeepMind was sold to Google for £400 million. The company’s landmark creation, Alpha Go stunned the world when it defeated the world Go champion in South Korea in 2016. Their AI system, AlphaZero taught itself to play chess from scratch. After playing against itself for just four hours, it was the best chess computer in the world. (Humans had been defeated long ago). Many fear both the supreme intelligence and the stupidity of AI. Demis imagines a future in which computers and humans put their brains together to try and understand the world. His algorithms have inspired humans to raise their game, when playing Go and chess. Now, he hopes that AI might do the same for scientific research. Perhaps the next Nobel Prize will be shared between a human and AI?
Mar 10, 2020
Isaac Newton and the story of the apple
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The story of how Newton came up with his gravitational theory is one of the most familiar in the history of science. He was sitting in the orchard at Woolsthorpe, thinking deep thoughts, when an apple fell from a tree. And all at once, Newton realised that the force of gravity pulling the apple down to the ground must be the same as the force that holds the moon in orbit around the earth. But was that really how he came up with his great idea? These days, historians of science don’t fall for cosy eureka stories like this. Rather they say that new understanding comes slowly, through hard graft, false trails, and failed ideas. Philip Ball tells the story of the life and ideas of Isaac Newton, who was born on Christmas Day in 1642. Philip discusses with historian of science Anna Marie Roos of the University of Lincoln, just 30 miles north of Woolsthorpe, how Newton developed his theory of gravity . And he talks to Tom McLeish of the University of York, the author of a book about creativity in science and art, about his observation that many scientists today do think they have had eureka moments. (Image: Isaac Newton under his apple-tree. Credit: API/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images)
Mar 02, 2020
Science Stories - Sophia Jex-Blake
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Naomi Alderman tells the science story of Sophia Jex-Blake, who led a group known as the Edinburgh Seven in their bid to become the first women to graduate as doctors from a British university. Her campaign was long and ultimately personally unsuccessful as she had to go to Switzerland to gain her qualification. Although Edinburgh University allowed the Seven to attend some lectures, they had to be taught apart from the male students. There was great antipathy to the women which culminated in 1870 with a riot as they tried to take an exam. Naomi discusses Sophia Jex-Blake's life and times with Dr Kristin Hussey who curated an exhibition at the Royal College of Physicians about women in medicine. And Dr Fizzah Ali from the Medical Women's Federation talks about women's careers in medicine today. Image: Sophia Jex-Blake, aged 25. Credit: From a portrait by Samuel Laurence. (Photo by Hulton Archive / Getty Images)
Feb 24, 2020
Science Stories - Mary Somerville, pioneer of popular science writing
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Mary Somerville was a self-taught genius who wrote best-selling books translating, explaining and drawing together different scientific fields and who was named the nineteenth century's "queen of science". Born Mary Fairfax in 1780, she was an unlikely scientific hero. Her parents and her first husband did not support her scientific pursuits and it was only when she became a widow at 28 with two small children that she began to do novel mathematics. With her second husband, William Somerville, she entered the intellectual life of the times in Edinburgh and London and met all the great scientific thinkers. Naomi Alderman tells the story of Mary Somerville's long life - she lived till she was 92. She discusses how Mary came to be a writer about science with her biographer, Professor Kathryn Neeley of the University of Virginia, and the state of popular science writing books with writer Jon Turney. Main Image: Mary Fairfax, Mrs William Somerville, 1780 - 1872. Writer on science, by Thomas Phillips, 1834. Oil on canvas. (Photo by National Galleries Of Scotland / Getty Images)
Feb 17, 2020
Stem cells: Hope and hype
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Lesley Curwen reports on the magical aura that has been drawing so many people around the world to pay for “regenerative” therapies which harness the healing power of stem cells. In this programme, she reports on the battle of regulators in the USA and in Australia to stop unproven and risky therapies harming patients. Featuring: Texas lawyer Hartley Hampton; Galen Dinning; stem cell researcher and host of The Niche blog, Professor Paul Knoepfler from the University of California, Davis School of Medicine; Dr Sean Morrison, Professor of Paediatrics at the University of Texas South Western and former president of the global body representing stem cell researchers the ISSCR; Laura Beil, host of the Wondery podcast, Bad Batch; Peter Marks of the Food and Drug Administration, the FDA; Professor Megan Munsie from Stem Cell Australia and chair of the ISSCR Ethics Committee; Dr Sarah Chan from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. (Picture: Stem cells are undifferentiated cells that can specialized through mitosis to many other cell types of multicellular organisms. Credit: selvanegra/Getty Images)
Feb 10, 2020
Stem cell hard sell
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Stem cells are cells with superpowers. They can become many different types of cells in our bodies, from muscle cells to brain cells, and some can even repair tissue. But the remarkable promise of this exciting new field of medicine has led to a new booming market of private clinics, which offer to treat a range of conditions (from arthritis to autism) using regenerative therapies which they claim harness the healing powers of stem cells. In this first of two programmes, Lesley Curwen investigates this expanding industry in the UK and Europe and discovers that these treatments are often unproven, unregulated and can cause harm. She reports on disturbing cases of UK patients who have suffered infection, blood clots and even sight loss and hears from orthopaedic surgeons concerned that these so called stem cell therapies are jumping ahead of the science. And Lesley finds out how these procedures, which often cost thousands of dollars for each treatment, are operating under a loophole in EU Directives which govern the law in this area. There’s an exemption and the actual stem cell material being injected into you, may not be regulated at all. Picture: Stem cells are undifferentiated cells that can specialized through mitosis to many other cell types of multicellular organisms, Credit: selvanegra/Getty Images
Feb 03, 2020
The road to Glasgow
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Climate change is upon us. In 2018 the IPCC published a report with the most significant warning about the impact of climate change in 20 years. Unless the world keeps warming to below 1.5% degrees Celsius the impact on the climate will be severe. Sea levels will rise, leading to flooding, and extremes of temperature will become more common. The UK Met Office has forecast that the global average surface temperature for the five-year period to 2023 is predicted to be around 1.0 °C above pre-industrial levels. Just before Christmas the COP 25 meeting in Madrid ended with a compromise deal. All countries will need to put new climate pledges on the table by the time of the next major conference in Glasgow at the end of 2020. But there were no decisions on the future of carbon trading and big players such as US, India, China and Brazil opposed calls to be more ambitious in our pledges to reduce man made global warming. Across 2020 in Discovery Matt McGrath will be reporting on what is happening to save the planet. In this first programme he takes stock after Madrid and finds out what the world’s key players say has to be done before the meeting in Glasgow. (Photo: Man with placards and amplifier on global strike for climate change. Credit: Halfpoint/Getty Images)
Jan 27, 2020
Ecological grief
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As the Earth experiences more extreme weather, and wildlife is dying, from corals, to insects, to tropical forests, more people are experiencing ecological anxiety and grief. Science journalist Gaia Vince has been reporting on the growing crisis across our planet’s ecosystems, and has met many who are shocked and saddened by the enormity of the environmental changes taking place. She talks to scientists and medics working at the frontline of environmental change, and hears that, despite being expected to distance themselves from what’s happening, they are affected emotionally. Ashlee Consulo, of Memorial University on the Canadian island of Labrador, and Courtney Howard, a doctor in Yellowknife, tell Gaia about their experiences of living and working with indigenous peoples in areas where temperatures are rising rapidly and the ice is melting. Steve Simpson of Exeter University and Andy Radford of Bristol University are both professors of biology who have watched coral reefs become devastated by climate change. Recently they wrote a letter to the journal Science headlined Grieving environmental scientists need support to raise awareness of the issues researchers are facing. And Gaia visits the aquarium at the Horniman Museum in London, where Jamie Craggs is trying to breed corals for future generations. Image: Greenland Inuit hunter (Credit: Earl Grad/Getty Images)
Jan 20, 2020
The misinformation virus
1649
In this online age, the internet is a global megaphone, billions of messages amplified and shared, even when they're false. Fake science spreads faster than the truth ever could, unhindered by national boundaries. Mainstream scientists are struggling to respond. The science journalist and writer, Angela Saini, is fascinated by how bad ideas spread and in this programme she investigates the very real impact of online scientific misinformation. From the dangerous anti-vaccination campaigns to those who deny the reality of climate change, she assesses the scale and extent of the threat we face. And she discovers the sinister world of deliberate disinformation where an army of bots and trolls work to sow dissent and confusion in the online space. Producer: Fiona Hill
Jan 13, 2020
The silence of the genes
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In summer of 2019 NICE approved the use of a completely new class of drugs: the gene silencers. These compounds are transforming the lives of families who have rare debilitating – and sometimes fatal - diseases such as amyloidosis and porphyria. James Gallagher, BBC Health and Science Correspondent, reveals the ups and downs in the story of how a Nobel prize winning discovery of RNA interference has become a useful drug in less than a quarter of a century. Professor Craig Mello, one of the winners of the Nobel Prize in 2006 for revealing the mechanism of RNA interference, and Professor Mark Kay of Stanford University, look back at the discovery. Sue Burrell, who has acute intermittent porphyria, explains how a gene silencing drug has reversed her symptoms of extreme pain. Dr Carlos Heras-Palou, an orthopaedic surgeon at Royal Derby Hospital, who has hereditary transthyretin-mediated amyloidosis has had his career saved by taking another gene silencing drug, patisaran. It has restored the feeling in his hands he had lost and means that he can continue to carry out operations. Professor Philip Hawkins, of the National Amyloidosis Centre at the Royal Free Hospital, tells James about how his team showed that this drug reverses some of the symptoms caused by the disease. As well as treating these rare conditions James discovers that this approach is being tried in untreatable neurodegenerative conditions. He talks to Professor Sarah Tabrizi of UCL about her research into stopping Huntington's disease, which is currently inevitably fatal. Akshay Vaishnaw of the biotech company Alnylam talks to James about the ups and downs of developing effective RNAi drugs. And Professor John Kastelein of Amsterdam University discusses the findings of a study into finding out if gene silencing could help prevent one of the biggest global killers; bad cholesterol that causes heart attacks and stroke. Picture: DNA molecules, structure of the genetic code, 3d rendering,conceptual image, Credit: Andy/GettyImages
Jan 06, 2020
Alexis Carrel and the immortal chicken heart
1639
Philip Ball tells the story of Alexis Carrel, the French surgeon who worked to preserve life outside the body and create an immortal chicken heart in a dish. His quest was to renew ageing flesh, repair and rebuild our bodies and keep them healthy far beyond the usual human lifespan. In the early twentieth century his science was pioneering but his mission to achieve eternal life was underpinned by a dark and terrifying agenda. Carrel was a racist who advocated eugenics to preserve the superior civilisation of the West. Philip Ball discusses the history and cultural impact of the tissue culture techniques developed by Carrel with social historian Professor Hannah Landecker of the University of California at Los Angeles. And he finds out about the legacy of Carrel's research from Dr Madeline Lancaster of Cambridge University, one of the pioneers of the growth of brain organoids from stem cells; small clusters of neurons and other cells, rather like mini organs no bigger than a dried pea. Picture: Raw chicken heart, Credit: Arina_Bogachyova/Getty Images
Dec 30, 2019
Ramon Llull: Medieval prophet of computer science
1638
Philip Ball tells the story of Ramon Llull, the medieval prophet of computer science. During the time of the Crusades Llull argued that truth could be automated and used logic over force to prove the existence of the Christian God. It was a dangerous idea that got him thrown into prison and threatened with execution but today he is hailed, not as a prophet of the Christian faith, but of computer science. Philip Ball talks to historian Pamela Beattie of the University of Louisville in Kentucky about Ramon Llull's life and times in 13th century Catalonia, and to mathematician and Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University, Marcus du Sautoy, about the legacy of Llull's ideas in combinatorics, a branch of mathematics that explores how we can arrange a set of objects. Note: Many thanks to Carter Marsh & Co for the recording of mechanical sounds. Picture: Ramon Llull, Credit: SebastianHamm/Getty Images
Dec 23, 2019
Ignaz Semmelweiss: The hand washer
1635
Lindsey Fitzharris tells the story of Ignaz Semmelweiss, the hand washer. In a world that had no understanding of germs, he tried to apply science to halt the spread of infection. Ignaz Semmelweis observed that many young medical students at his hospital in Vienna went directly from an autopsy, still covered in contaminated dead flesh, to attend pregnant women. Could this be the reason for such high maternal mortality rates from conditions like puerperal fever? Believing that the disease was caused by “infective material” from a dead body, Semmelweiss set up a basin filled with chlorinated lime solution in his hospital and began saving women’s lives with three simple words: ‘wash your hands’. He was demonised by his colleagues for his efforts, but today, he is known as the “Saviour of Mothers.” Lindsey Fitzharris discusses some of the common myths surrounding the story of Semmelweiss with Dr Barron H. Lerner of New York University Langone School of Medicine. And she talks to Professor Val Curtis, Director of the Environmental Health Group at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who has studied the amount of hand washing by medical staff in hospitals today. Picture: Victorian boy washing his hands in a stream, Credit: whitemay
Dec 16, 2019
Madame Lavoisier's Translation of Oxygen
1624
Philip Ball tells the story of Madame Lavoisier; translator of oxygen. At a time when science was almost a closed book to women, Madame Marie Anne Lavoisier’s skills were indispensable. A translator, illustrator and critic of scientific papers, she learnt chemistry herself and helped her husband Antoine Lavoisier develop his theory of the role played by oxygen in combustion. As modern science was taking shape it lacked any universal language, so communication in many tongues was vital to stay ahead of the game. Even today there is debate as to who can really be considered the discoverer of oxygen, but Madame Lavoisier’s gift for translation helped her husband compete against English rivals and banish their theories. Come the French Revolution however, Anton was branded a traitor to the state and sentenced to death. By a cruel twist of fate Marie lost both husband and father to the guillotine on the same day. Philip Ball talks to Patricia Fara at the University of Cambridge, about the largely unrecognised contribution that women like Marie Anne Lavoisier made to the early days of modern science, and to Michael Gordin of Princeton University about the importance of scientific translation in the past and how it features today, Picture: French chemist Antoine Laurent Lavoisier, Credit: Getty Images
Dec 09, 2019
Galileo's lost letter
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Galileo famously insisted in the early 17th Century that the Earth goes round the Sun and not vice versa – an idea that got him into deep trouble with the Catholic Church. In 1633 Galileo was put on trial for heresy by the Inquisition, and was threatened with imprisonment, or worse, if he did not recant. Galileo spent the rest of his days under house arrest and is now seen by some as a near-martyr to science in the face of unyielding religious doctrine. But the discovery of a letter questions the received version of events. Philip Ball tells the story of the relationship between Galileo, the church and his fellow professors. Philip talks to science historians professor Paula Findlen of Stanford University and professor Mary Jane Rubenstein of Wesleyan University about Galileo's time and about the history of the relationship between science and religion. (Picture: Galileo demonstrating his telescope. Credit: Getty Images)
Dec 02, 2019
Robin Dunbar
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Maintaining friendships is one of the most cognitively demanding things we do, according to Professor of Evolutionary Psychology Robin Dunbar. So why do we bother? Robin has spent his life trying to answer this deceptively simple question. For most of his twenties, he lived with a herd of five hundred gelada monkeys in the Ethiopian highlands. He studied their social behaviour and concluded that an ability to get on with each other was just as important as finding food, for the survival of the species. Animals that live in large groups are less likely to get eaten by predators. When funding for animal studies dried up in the 1980s, he turned his attention to humans. and discovered there’s an upper limit to the number of real friends we can have, both in the real world and on social media.
Nov 25, 2019
Katherine Joy
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Katherine Joy studies moon rock. She has studied lunar samples that were brought to earth by the Apollo missions (382kg in total) and hunted for lunar meteorites in Antarctica, camping on ice for weeks on end and travelling around on a skidoo. Working at the forefront of the second wave of lunar exploration, she studied remote sensing data from Europe’s first mission to the moon, Smart 1 which launched in 2003 and data from many subsequent missions. She tells Jim Al-Khalili why she believes the moon is the most exciting destination in our solar system and explains what it can tell us about the long history of planet earth. Beneath the magnificent desolation of the moon’s surface, multicoloured rocks contain vital clues about the history of our solar system. Every crater on the moon is evidence of a collision and the chemistry of these rocks tells us when these collisions took place. Katherine’s research supports the idea that a period known as the late heavy bombardment was a particularly turbulent time. Could the late heavy bombardment explain the origin of life on earth?
Nov 18, 2019
Sir Gregory Winter
1588
In an astonishing story of a scientific discovery, Greg Winter tells Jim Al-Khalili how decades of curiosity-driven research led to a revolution in medicine. Forced to temporarily abandon his work in the lab when a road rage incident left him with a paralysed right arm, Greg Winter spent several months looking at the structure of proteins. Looking at the stunning computer graphics made the pain in his arm go away. It also led him to a Nobel Prize winning idea: to ‘humanise’ mouse antibodies. A visit to an old lady in hospital made Greg determined to put his research to good use. He fought hard to ensure open access to the technology he invented and set up a start up company to encourage the development of therapeutic drugs. It took years to persuade anyone to fund his Nobel Prize winning idea that led to the creation of an entirely new class of drugs, known as monoclonal antibodies. In 2018, the market for these drugs, which include Humira for rheumatoid arthritis and Herceptin for breast cancer, was worth $70 billion.
Nov 11, 2019
Turi King: Solving the mystery of Richard III through DNA
1627
When a skeleton was unearthed in 2012 from under the tarmac of a car park in Leicester in the English East Midlands, Turi King needed to gather irrefutable evidence to prove that this really was the body of Richard III, England's infamous medieval monarch. Under the microscope was not only the king's genetic identity, but his entire reputation. Was Richard a ruthless villain, as depicted by Shakespeare? Or did the incoming Tudors spread 'fake news' to besmirch his name? As presenter Jim al-Khalili discovers, clues in his skeletal remains have helped to solve some of these mysteries, and reveal the real Richard III. When she was young, Turi King wanted to be the next Indiana Jones. Her love of archaeology led her to study genetics so she could use ancient DNA to solve historic mysteries. She tells Jim how genetic testing, of both the dead skeleton and his living relatives, provided the vital evidence they needed to identify Richard III. But first, she had to extract his DNA, by pulling out one of his teeth. Main Image: Turi King Credit: Jonathan Sisson
Nov 04, 2019
Plastic pollution with Richard Thompson
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A Professor of Marine Biology who was not particularly academic at school, Richard Thompson went to university after running his own business selling greetings cards for seven years. When the rest of the world was waking up to the harm caused to marine life by larger plastic items, such as plastic bags, he searched for tiny fragments of plastic, some no bigger than a human hair; and found them in oceans and on beaches all over the world. He has spent decades studying the harm these micro-plastics might cause to marine life and is concerned. His work on plastics in cosmetics led to a UK ban on micro-beads in shower gels and exfoliating scrubs. And he advised government to ban single use plastic bags from supermarkets. Rather than demonize plastic, however, he believes we need to learn to love it more. Often plastic it is the best material for the job. Now we need to make sure that all plastic products are designed so that they can be easily recycled at the end of their useful life. Picture: Plastic water bottles pollution in ocean, credit: chaiyapruek2520/Getty Images
Oct 28, 2019
Protecting heads in sports
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The death last week of boxer Patrick Day, four days after he was stretchered out of the ring in a coma, is the latest reminder of how vulnerable sportsmen and women are to traumatic brain injury. During the latest Ashes series the Australian batsman Steve Smith was temporarily retired for one test after being struck on the helmet by a bouncer. The current World Cup Rugby has been affected too, with Welsh fly half Dan Biggar withdrawn from a game against Uruguay having received head injuries in two previous matches. In this edition of Discovery, Roland Pease talks to engineers at Imperial College and Loughborough University using the latest techniques to understand the dynamics of blows to the head, and to improve helmet protection. And to experts and Rugby players at Swansea University seeking to make precision measurements of real-life head movements with the help of gum shields stuffed with electronics. Picture credit: Mazdak Ghajari
Oct 21, 2019
Early diagnosis and research
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James Parkinson described a condition known as the “shaking palsy” over 200 years ago. Today there are many things that scientists still don’t understand explaining why diagnosis, halting the progression or finding a cure for Parkinson’s can seem elusive. But how close are researchers to developing better treatments? Better understanding seems to suggest that Parkinson’s is not one condition but several, with different causes and symptoms in different people. Many researchers think that early diagnosis and greater recognition of the non motor symptoms such as loss of smell, sleep disorders and depression is to be encouraged, while others say without effective treatments then there are ethical issues to consider. Jane visits a brain bank and sees the changes in a Parkinson’s brain that causes many of the symptoms and she takes a test which examines the sense of smell. Could this be a new tool to identify early stages of the condition? Plus repurposing of existing drugs, i.e. drugs that have been developed for one condition but being tested in another are having promising results in Parkinson’s and genetic studies are leading to a greater understanding of the mechanisms involved in PD which in turn is leading to new therapies. (Photo: Man smelling hops in his hands. Credit: Ales-A/Getty Images)
Oct 14, 2019
Exercise
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Can exercise help people living with Parkinson’s, a neurodegenerative condition, with symptoms such as loss of balance, difficulty walking and stiffness in the arms and legs. Jane Hill travels to the Netherlands to meet Mariëtte Robijn and Wim Rozenberg, coaches at Rock Steady Boxing Het Gooi and co-founders of ParkinsonSport.nl, a unique sports club ran 100% by and for people with Parkinson’s. It doesn’t take long before a transformation begins to take place in the gym. Boxing is popular in the US as well, says Professor Lisa Shulman, Director of the Parkinson’s Centre at the University of Maryland. She has been encouraging her patients to exercise for the last 25 years. Results from over 200 studies suggest that exercise is a good way to empower people as well as having physical benefits such as delaying disability. In Ghana many people receive a late diagnosis. Sheila Klufio a physiotherapist at Korle Bu Hospital in Accra works with people to help them deal with some of the more common symptoms such as freezing when walking so they feel more confident to go out. And it seems all types of exercise can help, Alan Alda and Michael J Fox both box, ballet dancing is popular, walking, cycling and Tai Chi have benefits and it’s never too late to start. Picture credit: Wim Rozenberg at Wimages.nl
Oct 07, 2019
Living with Parkinson's
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BBC newsreader Jane Hill knows all about Parkinson’s. Her father was diagnosed in t1980s and lived with the condition for ten years — her uncle had it, too. She’s spoken about the dreadful experience of watching helplessly as the two men were engulfed by the degenerative disease, losing their independence and the ability to do the things that they once enjoyed. “I remember feeling how cruel Parkinson’s is. The number of people living with Parkinson’s disease is set to double over the next few decades as we all live longer; it is the only long-term neurological condition that is increasing globally. In this series Jane Hill looks at what it means to be given a diagnosis of Parkinson’s and the reality of living with the condition. She and her cousin Steve remember how their fathers adopted a British stiff upper lip at a time when there was little awareness. In contrast she meets highly successful comedy writer Paul Mayhew Archer, whose reaction to his diagnosis was to create a one-man show exploring the lighter side of living with Parkinson’s. Actors Michael J Fox and Alan Alda both discuss the early symptoms of the disease and their diagnosis. Most people are diagnosed in their sixties but Dutch blogger Mariette Robijn talks about accepting a life changing diagnosis in her forties. Picture: Dopaminergic neuron, 3D illustration. Degeneration of this brain cells is responsible for development of Parkinson's disease, Credit: Dr Microbe Presenter: Jane Hill Producer: Geraldine Fitzgerald
Sep 30, 2019
Preventing pesticide poisoning
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Thanks to a ban on several hazardous pesticides Sri Lanka has seen a massive reduction in deaths from pesticide poisoning, and the World Health Organisation is recommending other countries should follow this example. As Health Correspondent Matthew Hill discovers, hospitals which used to deal with many pesticide related deaths are now seeing fewer cases, and more survivors. However, a lack of mental health services means, for many in rural communities, taking pesticides is still a way of drawing attention to a variety of personal issues - sometimes with tragic consequences. Image: Rural pesticide shop, Sri Lanka (Credit: BBC)
Sep 23, 2019
The power of peace
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“Nature red in tooth and claw”. “Dog eat dog”. “Fighting for survival". You may well think that the natural world is one dangerous, violent, lawless place, with every creature out for itself. And it can be, but it can also be peaceful, democratic and compassionate. Lucy Cooke seeks out the animal communities that adopt a more peaceful and democratic way of life and asks why it works for them. Despite being fierce predators, African wild dogs are cooperative and compassionate within their packs, and they actually hold democratic votes on hunting decisions – one sneeze for yes, two sneezes for no! They are among the most effective predators in the world. They use extraordinary cooperation and teamwork to pursue, overhaul and bring down their prey. As a result 80% of their hunts end successfully, compared to lions' at 10%. This is nearly all a result of their pack coordination. They are also surprisingly non-aggressive; they don’t fight over food but instead beg to indicate their wish to eat. Adults will allow younger pack members to eat before them. And the African wild dogs are not alone: such societies are also common in insects, other mammals, and birds, but exist even in simple species like amoebas. But what is the evolutionary advantage of this group cohesion? Why when nature selects for not just the individual but for the selfish gene, does it pay to be part of a complex social group? Lucy discovers that when the benefits of group-living outweigh the costs, it’s very much advantageous – when 10 pairs of eyes are better at spotting predators and pack strategies mean far more successful kills in a hunt, or when grooming not only strengthens bonds, but it also gets rid of your ticks and fleas. She also explores the different strategies of the highly complex social animals – the Great Apes – and asks whether Bonobos are truly the lovers and Chimpanzees the fighters? This all touches on the complex social interactions we have as humans. We can be peaceful and we can be violent and war-like, and like every species, individual variation and circumstances can tip the balance of our behaviour. But anthropologist Agustin Fuentes questions the belief that humans are at their core violent, aggressive, and oversexed. Are these behaviours part of our genetic heritage? What can biology, evolution, and behaviour tell us about peace and aggression in everyday life? Picture: African Hunting Dogs by Paul F Donald
Sep 16, 2019
The power of petite
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Bigger is better, right? An ancient lore in biology, Cope's rule, states that animals have a tendency to get bigger as they evolve. Evolution has cranked out some absolutely huge animals. But most of these giants are long gone. And those that remain are amongst the most threatened with extinction. Scientists now believe that while evolution favours larger creatures, extinction seems to favour the small. If you look at mammals, at the time of the dinosaurs, they were confined to rodent-sized scavengers living on the periphery. But 66 million years ago, the dinosaurs went and allowed the mammals to evolve into some really big creatures - 30 metre long blue whales, the ten tonne steppe mammoth and a giant ground sloth that looked a bit like a hamster but was the size of an elephant with enormous hooks for hands. Now, only the blue whale remains and these have been shown to have shrunk to half the size of their Pleistocene ancestors. So is it better to be small? Smaller animals need fewer resources and smaller territories. With the planet in such peril - are more animals going to start shrinking? Well, perhaps...new research shows that in 200 years' time, the largest mammal might be the domestic cow. And of course the most successful organisms, in terms of biomass, on the planet are the smallest. Zoologist, Lucy Cooke examines the science of being small, and why size matters. Producer: Fiona Roberts (Photo: Honeybee sitting on a flower. Credit: Dr Paul F Donald)
Sep 09, 2019
The power of deceit
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Lucy Cooke sets out to discover why honesty is almost certainly not the best policy, be you chicken, chimp or human being. It turns out that underhand behaviour is rife throughout the animal kingdom, and can be a winning evolutionary strategy. From sneaky squid, to cheating cuckoos, some species will resort to truly incredible levels of deception and deviousness to win that mate, or get more food. And when it comes to social animals like we humans, it turns out that lying, or at least those little white lies, may be the social glue that binds us all together. Lucy heads to the RSPB cliffs at Bempton, with Professor Tim Birkhead to discover why so many bird species appear to be such proficient deceivers, as well as visiting the very crafty ravens at The Tower of London. She speaks to psychologist Richard Wiseman about how to spot when someone is lying, and finds out whether she is any good at it. In fact, can we trust any of what she says in this documentary at all? Presenter Lucy Cooke Producer Alexandra Feachem Main image: Raven Credit: Dr Paul F Donald
Sep 02, 2019
Patient Undone
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Professor Deborah Bowman reveals how a diagnosis of cancer has transformed her view of medical ethics and what it means to be a patient. As Professor of Ethics and Law at St George's, University of London, Deborah has spent the past two decades teaching and writing about medical ethics, the moral principles that apply to medicine. It's taken her down countless hospital corridors, to the clinics and the wards where medical ethics plays out in practice, behind closed doors, supporting healthcare practitioners and their patients to negotiate uncertainty and conflict. This is the field of clinical ethics and, each time, the 'patient' has been central to her response. Yet in the autumn of 2017, everything changed. Deborah was diagnosed with breast cancer and it signalled the beginning of her undoing, not just personally but professionally too, playing havoc with what she thought she knew about clinical ethics. Patient autonomy - literally 'self-rule'- is one of its cornerstones - a patient's right to make decisions about their healthcare. So what does autonomy mean if the 'self', she thought she knew, was so changeable and confusing? Deborah returns to the Royal Marsden Hospital where she is a patient, to explore this - with both her personal and professional hats on. Producer: Beth Eastwood Main Image: Deborah Bowman. Copyright: Deborah Bowman
Aug 26, 2019
The Great Science Publishing Scandal
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Matthew Cobb, Professor of Zoology at the University of Manchester, explores the hidden world of prestige, profits and piracy that lurks behind scientific journals. Each year, hundreds of thousands of articles on the findings on research are published, forming the official record of science. This has been going on since the 17th century, but recently a kind of war has broken out over the cost of journals to the universities and research institutions where scientists work, and to anyone else who wants to access the research, such as policy makers, patient support groups and the general public. Traditionally journals charge their readers a subscription, but since the start of the 21st century there's been a move to what's called open access, where the authors pay to get their articles published but anyone can read them, without charge. In Europe Plan S has called for all research funded by the public purse to be open access, by 2021. If and when this is implemented it could have downsides on learned societies who depend on income from journal subscriptions to support young researchers and on scientists in the less developed world. Some universities, and even countries, have recently refused to pay the subscriptions charged by some of the big science publishers. This has led to some scientists using a service run by a Russian hacker, which has effectively stolen the whole of the scientific literature and gives it away, free, on the internet. Matthew Cobb looks back at how the scientific publishing industry got to its current state and asks how it could change. He argues that scientists themselves need to break their addiction to wanting their articles to appear in a few well known journals, and instead concentrate on the quality of their research.
Aug 19, 2019
Erica McAlister
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Dr Erica McAlister, of London's Natural History Museum, talks to Jim Al-Khalili about the beautiful world of flies and the 2.5 million specimens for which she is jointly responsible. According to Erica, a world without flies would be full of faeces and dead bodies. Unlike, for example, butterflies and moths, whose caterpillars spend their time devouring our crops and plants, fly larvae tend to help rid the world of waste materials and then, as adults, perform essential work as pollinators. Yet they are rather unloved by humans who tend to regard them as pests at best and disease vectors at worst. 2019 is international Year of the Fly, and dipterists and entomologists around the world are working to raise the profile of the many thousands of species so far known to science. Erica tells Jim about her work in the museum, cataloguing and identifying new species either sent in from other researchers or discovered by her and her colleagues on swashbuckling trips around the world. Modern gene sequencing techniques are revealing new chapters in the life histories of species, and her collection of 300 year old dead flies continues to expand our knowledge of how the world works. Perhaps in the future, she argues, we will all be eating pasta and bread made from fly-larvae protein, or using small tea-bag like packets of maggots in our wounds to clean out gangrenous infection.
Aug 12, 2019
Richard Peto
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When Sir Richard Peto began work with the late Richard Doll fifty years ago, the UK had the worst death rates from smoking in the world. Smoking was the cause of more than half of all premature deaths of British men. The fact that this country now boasts the biggest decrease in tobacco-linked mortality is in no doubt partly due to Doll and Peto's thirty year collaboration. Professor of Medical Statistics and Epidemiology at the University of Oxford and until last year co-director of the Clinical Trial Service Unit with Professor Sir Rory Collins, Richard Peto pioneered "big data", setting up enormous randomised clinical trials and then, in a novel approach, combining results in what became known as meta-analyses, amassing unequivocal evidence about how early death could be avoided. He showed how asprin could prevent heart attacks and how the oestrogen-blocking drug tamoxifen really did affect survival rates for breast cancer patients. Results on paper saves lives in the real world, he says, and he's famous for catchphrases like: "death in old age is inevitable, but death before old age is not" and "you can avoid more deaths by a moderate reduction of a big cause, than by a big reduction in a small cause" as well as "take the big numbers seriously". One of the world's leading epidemiologists, Richard Peto's landmark study with Alan Lopez at the World Health Organisation predicted that a billion people would die from diseases associated with tobacco this century, compared to a hundred million killed by tobacco in the 20th century. The chilling message galvanised governments around the world to adopt anti-smoking policies. And Professor Peto's studies about smoking cessation ("smoking kills, stopping works") provided the public health evidence needed to encourage smokers that, however long they had smoked for, it was always worth quitting.
Aug 05, 2019
Lovelock at 100: Gaia on Gaia
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James Lovelock is one of the most influential thinkers on the environment of the last half century. His grand theory of planet earth, Gaia, the idea that from the bottom of the earth's crust to the upper reaches of the atmosphere, planet earth is one giant inter-connected and self-regulating system, has had an impact way beyond the world of science. As James Lovelock, celebrates his hundredth birthday (he was born on 26th July 1919) he talks to science writer Gaia Vince about the freedom and frustrations of fifty years spent working outside the scientific establishment. While working at the National Institute for Medical Research he invented the Electron Capture Detector - an exquisitely sensitive device for detecting the presence of the tiniest quantities of gases in the atmosphere and led to a global ban on CFCs. It also took him to NASA and via designing a detector to look for life on Mars gave him the idea of Gaia. Public interest in Gaia proliferated after the publication of his first book Gaia: a new look at life on earth in 1979; but the scientific community remained highly sceptical. For decades Gaia was ignored, dismissed and even ridiculed as a scientific theory. To this day, evolutionary biologists, in particular, take issue with the notion of a self-regulating planet though some are coming round to the idea. Gaia Vince talks to earth system scientists Professor Andrew Watson and Professor Tim Lenton of Exeter University who have both championed the Gaia theory, and to Professor Ford Doolittle of Dalhousie University, an evolutionary biologist who has changed his mind about the theory. Producer: Deborah Cohen Picture: British scientist James Lovelock poses on March 17, 2009 in Paris. Credit: Jacques Demarthon / AFP / Getty Images.
Jul 29, 2019
What next for the Moon?
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The Moon rush is back on. And this time it’s a global race. The USA has promised boots on the lunar surface by 2024. But China already has a rover exploring the farside. India is on the point of sending one too. Europe and Russia are cooperating to deliver more robots. And that’s not to mention the private companies also getting into the competition. Roland Pease looks at the prospects and challenges for all the participants. (Image caption: Chinese lunar probe and rover lands on the far side of moon. Credit: CNSA via EPA)
Jul 22, 2019
Irene Tracey on pain in the brain
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Pain, as we know, is highly personal. Some can cope with huge amounts, while others reel in agony over a seemingly minor injury. Though you might feel the stab of pain in your stubbed toe or sprained ankle, it is actually processed in the brain. That is where Irene Tracey, Nuffield Professor of Anaesthetic Science at Oxford University, has been focussing her attention. Known as the Queen of Pain, she has spent the past two decades unravelling the complexities of this puzzling sensation. She goes behind the scenes, as it were, of what happens when we feel pain - scanning the brains of her research subjects while subjecting them to a fair amount of burning, prodding and poking. Her work is transforming our understanding, revealing how our emotions influence our experience of pain, how chronic pain develops and even when consciousness is present in the brain. Producer: Beth Eastwood
Jul 15, 2019
Paul Davies on the origin of life and the evolution of cancer
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Physicist Paul Davies talks to Jim al-Khalili about the origin of life, the search for aliens and the evolution of cancer. Paul Davies is interested in some of the biggest questions that we can ask. What is life? How did the universe begin? How will it end? And are we alone? His research has been broad and far-reaching, covering quantum mechanics, cosmology and black holes. In the 1980s he described the so-called Bunch-Davies vacuum - the quantum vacuum that existed just fractions of a second after the big bang - when particles were popping in and out of existence and nothing was stable. As the chair of SETI (the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) Post Detection Task Group, he’s the person responsible for announcing to the world when we make contact with aliens. He’s now Regents Professor of Physics at Arizona State University in the American south west where he runs research groups studying the evolution of cancer and the origins of life. Paul Davies talks to Jim al-Khalili about how he applies the principles of physics to these big questions and about how he has worked closely with religious thinkers. Producer: Anna Buckley
Jul 08, 2019
Can psychology boost vaccination rates?
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In the 1950s a batch of polio vaccine in the US was made badly, resulting in 10 deaths and the permanent paralysis of 164 people. Paul Offit, a paediatrician in Philadelphia, says the disaster did not turn people away from vaccines. He believes that current vaccine hesitancy needs to be tackled online - where fake news spreads quickly. The German state of Brandenburg wants to make pre-school vaccinations compulsory - like neighbouring France and Italy - because immunisation rates there dropped to 73%. But some doctors believe busy parents can instead be gently persuaded to take up vaccines. Perhaps this is where psychological research can play a role. Sander van der Linden, Director of the Cambridge Social Decision Making Lab in the UK, is working on an online game which "inoculates" people against fake news - by showing them how they can be manipulated online. He says the effects last about 6 weeks - so a "booster" may be necessary. Head of the Vaccine Confidence Project Heidi Larson applauds 18 year old American Ethan Lindenberger who decided to get vaccinated despite his own mother's anti-vax views which he says she got from reading church and internet anti-vaccination groups rather than from the medical profession. Producer: Paula McGrath Picture: A vial of measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and an information sheet, Boston Children's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts February 26, 2015. Credit: Reuters / Brian Snyder / File Photo
Jul 01, 2019
Global attitudes towards vaccines
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Global attitudes towards vaccinations are revealed in the Wellcome Trust’s Global Monitor survey. Our guide through the new data is Heidi Larson, Professor of Anthropology, Risk and Decision Science at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who also leads the Vaccines Confidence Project. She says the most vaccine-sceptical country is France – because of past scares around different vaccines. The success of vaccines means people have forgotten how measles can be fatal – and parents are now influenced by scare stories about vaccines. More than half of the 1,000 recent cases of measles in the US have been in the Orthodox Jewish community in New York city. We hear from some of the parents who still don’t vaccinate and from a family doctor about trustworthy sources of information. Things couldn’t be more different in Madagascar where more than 1200 children have died from measles and parents walk for miles to have their children immunised. Half the country’s children are malnourished – which can increase the risk of complications if they catch measles. Vitamin A supplements are being given to help the immune system to work properly. Next week on Discovery – could compulsory vaccines or a more subtle, psychological approach help to address vaccine hesitancy? Producer: Paula McGrath Photo: Children walk past a sign advising about a measles outbreak in the Brooklyn Borough of New York. Credit: Reuters)
Jun 24, 2019
Why do birds sing?
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"What happens to the human voice as we age? If I hear a voice on the radio, I can guess roughly how old they are. But singer's voices seem to stay relatively unchanged as they age. Why is this?" All these questions were sent in by Jonathan Crain from Long Island in New York. Doctors Adam Rutherford and Hannah Fry discover how the human voice is produced and listen to how our voice sounds when it emerges from our vocal cords. Acoustic engineer Trevor Cox, author of Now You're Talking, explains why German and French babies have a different accent. And neuroscientist Sophie Scott describes what happens when boys' voices break, and why a similar thing can happen to women during the menopause. Finally, our voices often change dramatically in later life, as demonstrated by comedy impressionist Duncan Wisbey. Expect cameos from David Attenborough, Dumbledore and Paul McCartney. Bird Song "Winter is finally over and the birds are all singing their hearts out at dawn. What is all the noise about? And why are some songs so elaborate?" asks Tony Fulford from Cambridgeshire in the UK. We find out how birds produce multiple notes at once, which one has the widest repertoire of songs, and why males like to show off quite so much. Plus, we talk to researcher Lauryn Benedict about the project which aims to solve the mystery of why female birds sing. Featuring interviews with RSPB president and nature presenter Miranda Krestovnikoff, and world-renowned birdsong expert and sound recordist, Don Kroodsma from the University of Massachusetts. TV archive courtesy of The One Show, BBC TV. Please send your cases for consideration for the next series to curiouscases@bbc.co.uk. Presenters: Adam Rutherford, Hannah Fry Producer: Michelle Martin. (Photo: Eurasian Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes). Credit: Getty Images)
Jun 17, 2019
Does infinity exist?
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“Is anything in the Universe truly infinite, or is infinity something that only exists in mathematics?” This question came from father and son duo from Edinburgh in Scotland, Tom and Sorely Watson. First, we investigate the concept of infinity in mathematics with a story of mathematics, music and murder from Steven Strogatz from the Cornell University. Did you know that there are some infinities that are bigger than others? We discuss the mind-bending nature of infinity with mathematician Eugenia Cheng, author of Beyond Infinity. Next we turn to physics to see if we can find something in the Universe that is truly infinite. Theoretical physicist Sean Carroll from Caltech University discusses the infinitely small inside subatomic particles. Plus cosmologist Andrew Pontzen from University College London travels into the heart of a black hole to see if we can find a something that is infinitely dense. But if we’re looking for something that is infinite, how about the Universe itself? We find out how physicists measure the shape of the Universe, with the help of an orange and a game of Asteroids. However, if the Universe is not infinite, and it has an edge, what is on the other side? Presenters: Hannah Fry, Adam Rutherford Producer: Michelle Martin (Photo: The Infinity symbol in an exploding cloud of data. Credit: Wigglestick/Getty Images)
Jun 10, 2019
Why do we get déjà vu?
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4/6 Part 1: Déjà vu "Do we know what causes déjà vu?" asks Floyd Kitchen from Queenstown in New Zealand. Drs Rutherford and Fry investigate this familiar feeling by speaking to world-leading reseacher Chris Moulin from the University of Grenoble in France and memory expert Catherine Loveday from Westminster University. Plus, they find out why early investigations classed déjà vu as a type of paranormal phenomenon. For most of us, it's a fleetingly strange experience, but for some people it can become a serious problem. Lisa from Hulme in Manchester started experiencing déjà vu when she was 22 with episodes that could last all day. The origin of her déjà vu has been the key to helping psychologists investigate its cause. Part 2: Randomness "Is anything truly random, or is everything predetermined?" asks Darren Spalding from Market Harborough. Hannah and Adam go in search of random events, from dice throws to lava lamps. Can we predict the outcome of any event? "How do computers manage to pick random numbers?" asks Jim Rennie from Mackinaw in Illinois. Random numbers are vital for things like cyber security and banking. But true randomness is surprisingly hard to produce, as the team discover. Joining them for this case we have a random selection of experts: mathematician Colva Roney-Dougal, technology journalist Bill Thompson, Science Museum Curator Tilly Blyth and quantum physicist Jim AlKhalili. Presenters: Hannah Fry, Adam Rutherford Producer: Michelle Martin Main Image: A fan of the New York Yankees holds up a sign which reads "It's Deja Vu" at the Yankee Stadium, New York City 29 Oct 2009. Credit: Jed Jacobsohn / Getty Images
Jun 03, 2019
Will we ever find alien life?
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3/6 In this instalment of The Curious Cases of Rutherford & Fry, Hannah and Adam boldly go in search of scientists who are hunting for ET, spurred on by questions sent in by listeners across the globe, from Australia to Columbia. They start by asking how we define life and why we are obsessed with finding it on Mars. Should we be looking further out in the Solar System, and could we find space squid on the icy moon Europa? When it comes to intelligent life we may have to scout even further into the Universe. But what are the chances of finding complex life in the cosmos? And where might it live? Featuring astronomer Seth Shostak from the SETI Institute in California, planetary scientist Monica Grady from the Open University, exoplanet hunter Sara Rugheimer from the University of St Andrews and zoologist Matthew Cobb from Manchester University. Send your Curious Cases for consideration in to curiouscases@bbc.co.uk Presenters: Hannah Fry, Adam Rutherford Producer: Michelle Martin. Main Image: This image obtained from NASA on November 25, 2013 shows several images that were taken by the Hubble Space Telescope of the spiral NGC 4921 from the Coma Cluster of Galaxies. Copyright: NASA / Hubble / ESA / Handout
May 27, 2019
Why people have different pain thresholds
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2/6 "How fast can a human run and would we be faster as quadrapeds?" This question flew in via Twitter from Greg Jenner. Is there a limit to human sprinting performance? In this episode we investigate the biomechanics of running, statistical trends in human performance and which kind of monkey runs the fastest. But first, an experiment. Due to some spurious and possibly fictional injuries, neither Hannah nor Adam are fit enough to take part in a sprint trial at the University of Bath. So long-suffering Producer Michelle steps up to the challenge and into the starting blocks. Not known for her love of athletics, or exercise of any sort, how will she fair in the ultimate speed test? Biomechanist Peter Weyand from Texas discusses the role of different muscle types in speed versus endurance. Sports scientist Polly McGuigan reveals why Usain Lightning Bolt is still the fastest man in the world. And Prof of Sports Engineering Steve Haake reveals how fast a man can run like a monkey. "Why do people experience pain differently when they go through the same event?" asks Claire Jenkins from Cwmbran in Wales. Professor of Pain Research, Irene Tracey, welcomes Adam in to the room she calls her 'Torture Chamber'. Burning, electrocuting, lasering and piercing are all on the menu, but which will hurt the most? Hannah speaks to Steve Pete from Washington who has a rare genetic condition which means he does not feel pain. For chronic sufferers, this sounds like heaven, but a life without pain has brought untold suffering to him and his family, including the tragic story of his brother, Chris. We look at how the body creates pain, why some people feel it more than others, and how this knowledge could help scientists treat pain more effectively in the future. Presenters: Hannah Fry, Adam Rutherford Producer: Michelle Martin (Photo: A runner beats the pain to make it over the finishing line in the Hong Kong Marathon 12 February 2006. Credit: Martin Chan/South China Morning Post/Getty Images)
May 20, 2019
How do instruments make music?
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1/6 "We play many musical instruments in our family. Lots of them produce the same pitch of notes, but the instruments all sound different. Why is this?" asks Natasha Cook aged 11, and her Dad Jeremy from Guelph in Ontario, Canada. In this new series of The Curious Cases of Rutherford and Fry, Hannah and Adam are joined by the Curious Cases band - Matt Chandler and Wayne Urquhart - to play with today's question. Bringing the science we have acoustic engineer and saxophone player Trevor Cox. Plus materials expert Zoe Laughlin demonstrates a selection of her unusual musical creations, including a lead bugle, a glass bell and a spruce tuning fork. Presenters: Adam Rutherford, Hannah Fry Producer: Michelle Martin Main image: 1-25 Wind instruments, 26-34 percussion instruments, Egypt, engraving by Duhamel from Description of Egypt, or the collection of observations and researches which were made in Egypt during the expedition of the French Army), Etat moderne, Planches, Volume II, Plate PlCC, Imprimerie Imperiale, 1817, Paris. Credit: De Agostini Editorial / Getty Images
May 13, 2019
A sense of time
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Our senses create the world we experience. But do animals have a ‘sense’ of time, and does that differ between species, or between us and other animals? We know that animal senses reveal a wealth of information that humans can't access. Birds can see in ultra violet, and some fish can 'feel' electricity. So perhaps their sense of time is similar. If you've ever tried to swat flies, you'll know that they seem to have super-powered reactions that let them escape before you can blink. Presenter Geoff Marsh asks whether flies have some sort of super-power to see the world in slow motion. Are they watching your hand come down at what might appear a leisurely pace? Science reveals a window into the minds of different species and their temporal perceptions. Some birds have such fast vision that they can see and react to movement at twice the speed you can, and our vision works at more than six times the speed of one species of deep sea fish. This programme delves into each moment of experience to ask 'what is time, biologically?' When birds have to dodge through forests and catch flies on the wing, or when flies have to avoid those birds, it would seem that a faster temporal resolution would be a huge advantage. Geoff meets physicist Carlo Rovelli and asks him to jump outside of physics to answer questions on biology and philosophy. Geoff explores the mind of a bat with Professor Yossi Yovel in Israel, and dissects birdsong at super slow speeds with BBC wildlife sound recordist, Chris Watson. Getting deep into the minds of animals he questions whether our seconds feel like swordfish seconds, or a beetles' or birds' or bats..? Presenter: Geoff Marsh Producer: Rory Galloway Picture: Violaceous Euphonia (Euphonia violacea) male flying from branch, Itanhaem, Brazil Credit: Getty images
May 06, 2019
Cat Hobaiter on communication in apes
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Dr Catherine Hobaiter studies how apes communicate with each other. Although she is based at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, she spends a lot of her time in the forests of Uganda, at the Budongo Research Centre. There, she is endlessly fascinated by the behaviour of great apes. Cat Hobaiter tells Jim al-Khalili about the difficulties of carrying out research on chimps in the wild. It can take years to win the trust of the apes. She says that her approach is to adopt the attitude of a moody teenager. Look bored and the chimps will ignore her, but at the same time she is watching them closely. Her particular research area is in understanding not the sounds that apes make, but their gestures. From her observations she has found that they use around 80 different gestures - many of which are common, in the sense that they have the same meaning, across different species like chimps and bonobos. One thing she and her team hope to learn from these studies is how we humans have evolved spoken language. (Photo: Dr Catherine Hobaiter)
Apr 29, 2019
Carlo Rovelli on rethinking the nature of time
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Carlo Rovelli is a theoretical physicist who became a household name when his book Seven Brief Lessons on Physics became an unexpected international bestseller. His concise, and poetic, introduction to the laws and beauty of physics has sold more than a million copies. He’s also a pioneer of one of the most exciting and profound ideas in modern physics, called loop quantum gravity. Carlo Rovelli tells Jim al-Khalili how he first became interested in the nature of time when he took LSD as a young man. Later he became curious about the world of the almost absurdly small, where time has no meaning and space is grainy. He took seven years to complete his undergraduate degree, having spent a lot of time protesting against the political establishment, falling in love and travelling. All this rebelling taught him the value of seeing the world in a different way and the benefits of challenging the status quo. In the end he concluded it was easier, and more meaningful, to challenge Einstein’s understanding of time, than it was to overthrow the government. Picture: Carlo Rovelli. Credit: BBC Producer: Anna Buckley
Apr 22, 2019
Corinne Le Quéré on carbon and climate
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Professor Corinne Le Quéré of University of East Anglia talks to Jim Al-Khalili about tracing global carbon. Throughout the history of planet Earth, the element carbon has cycled between the atmosphere, the oceans and the biosphere. This natural cycle has maintained the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and has allowed life to exist for billions of years. Corinne Le Quéré is a climate scientist who keeps track of where the carbon comes from and where it goes – all on a truly global scale. Corinne Le Quéré is the founder of the Global Carbon Budget, which each year reports on where carbon dioxide is being emitted and where it is being absorbed around the world. More specifically, she studies the relationship between the carbon cycle and the earth’s climate, and how it is changing.
Apr 15, 2019
Ken Gabriel on why your smartphone is smart
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Jim Al-Khalili talks to Ken Gabriel, the engineer responsible for popularising many of the micro devices found in smartphones and computers. Ken explains how he was inspired by what he could do with a stick and a piece of string. This led to an engineering adventure taking in spacecraft, military guidance systems and the micro-mechanical devices we use every day in our computers and smartphones. Ken Gabriel now heads up a large non-profit engineering company, Draper, which cut its teeth building the guidance systems for the Apollo space missions, and is now involved in developing both driverless cars and drug production systems for personalised medicine. Ken himself has a career in what he terms ‘disruptive engineering’. His research married digital electronics with acoustics - and produced the microphones in our phones and computers. He has also worked for Google, taking some of the military research methods into a civilian start up. This led to the development of a new type of modular mobile phone which has yet to go into production. Producer: Julian Siddle
Apr 08, 2019
Donna Strickland and extremely powerful lasers
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Donna Strickland tells Jim Al-Khalili why she wanted to work with lasers and what it feels like to be the first woman to win a Nobel Prize for Physics in 55 years. When the first laser was built in 1960, it was an invention looking for an application. Science fiction found uses for these phenomenally powerful beams of light long before real world applications were developed. Think Star Wars light sabres and people being sliced in half. Today lasers are used for everything from hair removal to state of the art weapons. Working with her supervisor Gerard Mourou in the 1980s, the Canadian physicist, Donna Strickland found a way to make laser pulses that were thousands of times more powerful than anything that had been made before. These rapid bursts of intense light energy have revolutionised laser eye surgery and, it's hoped, could open the doors to an exciting range of new applications from pushing old satellites out of earth's orbit to treatments for deep brain tumours. Producer: Anna Buckley
Apr 01, 2019
Unbottling the past
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Imagine finding a notebook containing the secret recipes of some of the world’s most iconic perfumes? Formulas normally kept under lock and key. That’s what happened to medical research scientist and trained chemist Andrew Holding. His grandfather Charles “Rex” Holding had been Chief Perfumer at the Bourjois Chanel factory in Croydon, near London, during the 1960s. After his death, he left behind a lifetime of perfume memorabilia; bottles of Chanel perfume, rare ingredients, fragrant soaps, and in amongst his things, the most fascinating of finds – a notebook with handwritten formulas, including one for Soir de Paris, written by one of the greatest of all perfumery biochemists – Constantin Weriguine. Can Andrew recreate this almost one hundred year old fragrance? He travels to Versaille’s Osmotheque, the world’s only perfume archive, to smell the original 1928 scent. It’s where top perfumers – all chemists themselves - grant him access to the world’s rarest and sometimes now-forbidden perfume ingredients, and teach him how to mix a scent. And in constructing Soir de Paris, he learns about Constantin Weriguine, his grandfather ‘Rex’, and discovers if his skills as a chemist are enough to turn him into a top perfumer, or is fragrance more of an art than a science? Presenter: Andrew Holding Producer: Katy Takatsuki. Image: Patricia de Nicolaï
Mar 25, 2019
California burning
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When Paradise burned down last year, it made the Camp Fire the most destructive and deadly in Californian history. A few months earlier the nearby Ranch Fire was the largest. In southern California, a series of chaparral fires have brought danger to towns along the state’s coast. And the statistics show that large, dangerous fires have been increasing for decades. But the reasons are not simple. Roland Pease meets some of the experts trying to work out what is to be done. Producer: Roland Pease Image: A man watches the Thomas Fire above Carpinteria, California, Credit: Getty Images
Mar 18, 2019
ShakeAlertLA - California’s earthquake early warning system
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Los Angeles is a city of Angels, and of earthquakes. Deadly earthquakes in 1933, 1971 and 1994 have also made it a pioneer in earthquake protection – for example with tough engineering standards to save buildings. Since 2013, with the help of scientists at the US Geological Survey, the city has been developing a resilience plan which culminated in the release of an app that should give residents precious seconds of warning when an earthquake starts. Roland Pease meets the scientists, the Mayor and the officials making the system work. Picture: An apartment after the Northridge earthquake in 1994 Credit: Getty Images
Mar 11, 2019
From the Cold War to the present day
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For more than 100 years chemical weapons have terrorised, maimed and killed soldiers and civilians alike. As a chemist, the part his profession has played in the development of these weapons has long concerned Andrea Sella, professor of chemistry at University College London. In this programme he examines the motivation of chemists like Dr Fritz Haber, who first encouraged the German military to deploy chlorine gas in World War One for the sake of “The Fatherland” and of Dr Gerhard Schrader, who, in his hunt for an effective pesticide, accidentally discovered a new class of lethal nerve agents for Nazi Germany. From chlorine, phosgene and the mustard gases, to tabun, sarin, soman, VX and the novichok agents used to target former Soviet agent Sergei Skipal in England, Andrea weaves archive with interviews with key figures in the ongoing campaign to control and ban the use of such weapons and he asks how science educators can prepare young chemists for the moral hazard posed by this particular class of weapon. (Photo: Mock up of Novichok agent (A-234), Credit: WoodyAlec/Getty Images)
Mar 04, 2019
From the Crimean War to the end of World War Two
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In the first of two programmes he looks back to the first attempts to ban the use of chemical weapons at the end of the 19th century. Heavily defeated in the Crimea, Russia succeeded in getting unanimous agreement at the 1899 Hague Convention that poison and poison weapons should be banned from warfare. But chemicals such as chlorine, phosgene and mustard gas were heavily used in the First World War by both sides. More substances were developed in the 1930s and 1940s but weren’t used in the battlefield in World War 2. Andrea Sella tells the stories of the chemists behind these developments. Picture: GB Army soldiers train for biological and chemical warfare, Credit: BBC
Feb 25, 2019
Tracks across time
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In a dry creek bed in the middle of the Australian outback is a palaeontological prize like no other: 95-million-year-old footprints stamped in a sandstone slab by three species of dinosaur. One of the beasts was a massive, lumbering sauropod that measured 18 metres from nose to tail. But the precious trackway is in danger of being damaged by the next floods, so must be moved. In the final episode of the four-part series The Chase, science journalist Belinda Smith from the ABC in Australia discovers what footprints can tell us about the ancient beasts that once roamed this land, and follows a team racing against time and the elements to save this once-in-a-lifetime find. Because even though these tracks have lasted the best part of 100 million years, they may not survive another one. Picture: Footprints made by a sauropod as it walked across a mudflat 95 million years ago, Credit: Australian Broadcasting Corporation/Belinda Smith
Feb 18, 2019
Trouble in paradise
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The atoll of Tetiaro is a string of tiny islands in French Polynesia, about 60km away from Tahiti. The islands – known as ‘motus’ to local Polynesians – are unique ecosystems that are crucial nesting sites for native seabirds. But invasive species threaten to disrupt these fragile environments – a fate seen across many islands in the Pacific. Rats arrived with early human settlers and have driven bird species off some of the islands. Meanwhile introduced mosquitoes have thrived in the warm conditions, and now act as vectors for diseases such as the Zika virus. Rat eradication experts have travelled to one of the uninhabited islands in the atoll, called Reiono, to attempt an experimental eradication of thousands of rats with one mammoth poison bait drop. They’re also using this as an opportunity to better understand why eradication attempts have been less effective on tropical islands. At the same time, on another island in the chain called Onetahi, researchers are releasing swarms of sterilised male mosquitoes to try to rid this motu of the disease-carrying pest. Join Carl Smith from ABC Australia for the third episode of The Chase: a special four-part series about science on the run. Picture: The Pacific rat (Rattus exulans) is smaller than many other invasive rat species, but it’s still been linked to localised extinctions of island birds, Credit: Carl Smith
Feb 11, 2019
Back from the Dead
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The Night Parrot was supposed to be extinct and became a legend among birdwatchers in Australia: a fat, dumpy, green parrot that lived in the desert and came out at night. The last bird seen alive was promptly shot dead in 1912. Over 90 years later, a decapitated Night Parrot was found beside a fence in outback Australia, and the hunt for a living bird was on. Ornithologists descended onto the arid plains of Australia’s vast arid interior, but it took another seven years for a single photograph of a live bird. Incredibly, a population of night parrots had survived. Their exact location is kept secret, and people are still looking for more – or more precisely, listening for more, using acoustic traps to identify calls. Dr Ann Jones from ABC Australia takes a huge microphone for a spin in the desert to join the hunt for the legendary Night Parrot. (Photo: Ullala Boss is a Birriliburu Indigenous Ranger, Elder and Traditional Owner and knows the dreaming stories of the Night Parrot. Credit: Dr Ann Jones)
Feb 04, 2019
Eye in the Sky
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On this mission, SOFIA is setting out to study Titan, Saturn’s biggest moon, by flying into the faint shadow that it casts as it blocks the light from a faraway star. It’s a phenomenon called an occultation, and if the mission succeeds, it will reveal new details about Titan’s atmosphere. SOFIA is a very unusual observatory. It is a 747 aircraft with a hatch in the side, which opens in flight to reveal a large, custom-built telescope – carefully engineered to work inside a moving jet plane. Its full name is the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, and it’s a joint project of Nasa and the German space agency, DLR. The catch? That shadow is moving across the earth at 22 kilometres per second. Join Dr Jonathan Webb from the ABC in Australia for episode one of The Chase - a special four-part series about science on the run. (Photo: SOFIA is a heavily modified 747SP which was acquired by Nasa in the mid-1990s after spending 20 years as a passenger jet. (Credit: Wayne Williams)
Jan 28, 2019
Kepler's Snowflake
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The Six Cornered Snowflake, a booklet written by Johannes Kepler as a New Year's gift, sought to explain the intricate and symmetrical shape of winter's tiny stars of snow. His insightful speculations about minerals and geometry were the beginning of the modern understanding of crystals. Philip Ball tells the story of how Kepler became a key figure in the scientific revolution of the 17th Century. He was a precocious mathematician who became an adviser to Emperor Rudolf II in 1600. Although he contributed to the idea that the sun, not the earth, was the centre of the solar system, his role at the court was to be an astrologer. Philip brings the story of the shape of the snowflakes up to date. It was only 20 years ago with the development of the maths of fractals that we got to understand the formation of the myriad patterns of snowflakes.
Jan 14, 2019
Lucretius, Sheep and Atoms
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2000 years ago Lucretius composed a long poem that theorised about atoms and the natural world. Written in the first century BCE, during a chaotic and frightening time when the Roman Republic was collapsing, Lucretius encouraged people to feel free through contemplating the physics of the Universe. He said that despite living through a time of bloody civil wars and dictatorship people should not believe they were sheep who had to follow those in power. Naomi discovers that the poem is an epic, beautiful and persuasive piece of work. It begins with a discussion of atoms. Lucretius, like Epicurus, followed the Greek tradition in believing that the universe is composed of tiny, indivisible particles. De Rerum Natura asks us to consider that all that really exists in the universe are these atoms and the void between them. Atoms are indestructible, the number of atoms in the universe is infinite and so is the void in which the atoms move. What Lucretius is saying here was revolutionary then – and still has the power to surprise. He’s saying that there are no supernatural forces controlling our lives, no fate pulling the strings, if there are gods they’re made of atoms just like everything else. There is nothing else. Naomi discusses the life of Lucretius and his poem with classicist Dr Emma Woolerton of Durham University. And she talks to particle physicist Professor Jonathan Butterworth of UCL about which of his theories still holds water today. Picture: Gathered sheep, Credit: Chris Strickland, Getty Images
Jan 07, 2019
Eddington's eclipse and Einstein's celebrity
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Philip Ball's tale is of a solar eclipse 100 years ago observed by Arthur Eddington, a British astronomer who travelled to the remote island of Principe off the coast of West Africa and saw the stars shift in the heavens. His observations supplied the crucial proof of a theory that transformed our notions of the cosmos and turned a German physicist named Albert Einstein into an international celebrity. But this is also a tale of how a Quaker tried to use science to unite countries. The reparations imposed on Germany after the war extended into science too as many in Great Britain and other Allied nations felt that German science should be ostracised from the international community. As a Quaker, Eddington wanted just the opposite: to see peaceful cooperation restored among nations. Picture: Image of the 1919 Solar eclipse taken by Arthur Eddington (1882-1944), Credit: Science Photo Library Producer: Erika Wright
Dec 31, 2018
Earthrise
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On Christmas Eve in 1968 Bill Anders was in orbit around the moon in Apollo 8 when he took one of the most iconic photos of the last fifty years: Earthrise. The image got to be seen everywhere, from a stamp issued in 1969 to commemorate the success of Apollo 8, to posters that are still available today. Gaia Vince explores the impact of this image on the environmental movement and our understanding of our place in the universe. “Oh my God. Look at that picture over there. Here’s the earth coming up. Wow, isn’t that pretty.” Bill Anders was on the fourth of the ten orbits of the moon on Apollo 8, along with James Lovell and Frank Borman. Bill had spotted the earth through one of the hatch windows and grabbed his camera to take a black and white photo. But just in time, he picked up another camera with a colour film loaded, and the rest is history. When they returned from space – the first mission to orbit the moon – Nasa used Bill Anders’ image of Earthrise in its publicity. Nasa had understood there was an added value of going into space: taking pictures of our home planet. Stewart Brand was part of both the counterculture and the environmental movement; he’d hung out with Ken Kesey and his merry pranksters and put on happenings. He went on to found the Whole Earth Catalog, which brought together all kinds of alternative thinkers. Stewart Brand put the Earthrise photo on the front cover of one of the editions of the Whole Earth Catalog. Gaia Vince talks to Stewart Brand, and to scientists and artists, about the continuing importance of seeing Earth from above. Picture: Earthrise - The rising Earth is about five degrees above the lunar horizon in this telephoto view taken from the Apollo 8 spacecraft on December 24th 1968, Credit: Nasa Presenter: Gaia Vince Producer: Deborah Cohen
Dec 24, 2018
The Supercalculators
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Alex Bellos is brilliant at all things mathematical, but even he can't hold a candle to the amazing mathematical feats of the supercalculators. Alex heads to Wolfsburg in Germany to meet the contestants at this year's Mental Calculation World Cup. These men and women are the fastest human number crunchers on the planet, able to multiply and divide large numbers with no need to reach for a smart phone, computer or calculator. So how do they do it, and is it a skill that any of us can learn? Alex talks to Robert Fountain, the UK's two-time winner of this prestigious prize, about his hopes for this year's competition and the mathematical magicians of the past who have inspired him. He also meets Rachel Riley, Countdown's number queen, to find out what it takes to beat the countdown clock. Picture: The Supercalculators, Credit: Alex Bellos
Dec 17, 2018
The China Syndrome
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Plastic waste and pollution have become a global problem but is there any sign of a global solution? And how did we allow this to happen in the first place? Materials scientist and broadcaster, Professor Mark Miodownik, explores how we fell in love with plastic, why we've ended up with oceans of waste blighting the environment and what science and society can do about it. Programme Three: Roland Pease hears from Kenya where one of the most stringent bans on plastic bags has been in force for nearly two years, from the US where the reuseable cup has taken off and from Sweden where reverse vending machines give you money back when you return your plastic bottles. And he looks at places where plastic is the best material for the job. Picture: Bike loaded with empty plastic bottles. Shanghai China, Credit: typhoonski/Getty Images
Dec 10, 2018
How Much Plastic Can We Recycle?
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Plastics are fantastically versatile materials that have changed our lives. It is what we do with them, when we no longer want them, that has resulted in the global plastic crisis. Mark Miodownik explores our love hate relationship with plastics. Programme Two: Things begin to go stale Plastic waste has been a global crisis waiting to happen. To date it's estimated that around 8.3 billion tonnes of waste plastic exists. That's 25 Empire State Buildings or 1 billion elephants. Incredibly around half of this has been generated in just the last 14 years, despite mass production having begun in the 1950s. Events such as China's recent refusal to take any more "foreign rubbish" from the west and Sir David Attenborough's graphic portrayal of the devastation that plastic waste is causing in our oceans, has prompted political and media discussion like never before. We are at a critical moment where, if we're to turn the tide on plastic pollution, it will require science and society to come together to create real change. But it won't be easy. One major area that needs an overhaul is recycling. In the UK only 14% of plastic collected is recycled. Europe tends to burn our waste for energy, and plastic has a calorific value similar to that of coal. But proponents of the circular economy say we should never consider plastic as waste at all and we should think of it as 'Buried Sunshine' - a resource that needs conserving - by reusing and recycling again and again. Picture: Production line for the processing of plastic waste in the factory, Credit: Getty Images
Dec 03, 2018
Why We Fell In Love with Plastic
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Plastic waste and pollution have become a global problem but is there any sign of a global solution? And how did we allow this to happen in the first place? Materials scientist and broadcaster, Professor Mark Miodownik, explores how we fell in love with plastic, why we've ended up with oceans of waste blighting the environment and what science and society can do about it. Programme One: First Flush of Love We may not be on speaking terms right now. But we do have a love affair with plastic, in fact it can be all consuming. Adaptable, lightweight, cheap and hygienic - fantastic plastics started to win our affection back in the late 19th century. Bakelite was an early plastic invented to replace expensive wood. Celluloid was one of the earliest plastics, failing to replace ivory in billiard balls, but revolutionising the world as movie film. Plastic really did change our world. Plastic radar insulation played a role in helping the Allied forces win the Second World War and after the conflict, factories start to churn out cheap, mass-produced goods in the new synthetic polymers. But some of the key virtues of plastic may now have paradoxically poisoned the relationship. Being virtually indestructible, has led to a build-up of toxic micro-plastic in the oceans and environment. We've grown to regard many plastics as cheap and disposable, we take it for granted, rely on it too much, value it too little and are too ready to cast it aside after one single use. Producer: Fiona Roberts Picture: The Bakelite Museum, Credit: Getty Images
Nov 26, 2018
Finding the Coelacanths
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The first Coelacanth was discovered by a woman in South Africa in 1938. The find, by the young museum curator, was the fish equivalent of discovering a T- Rex on the Serengeti, it took the Zoological world by storm. Presenter Adam Hart tells the story of this discovery, and the steps taken by Coelacanth biologists in the decades since to find more fish, in other populations, and record them for science. Adam hears personal accounts from a deep diver who swam with Coelacanths, Eve Marshall, conservationist Dr Mark Erdman, and geneticist Professor Axel Meyer. Picture: 3 Coelacanths at 116 metres depth in Sodwana Bay, South Africa, Credit: Eve Marshall Producer: Rory Galloway
Nov 19, 2018
The Big Bang and Jet Streams
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Evidence for the big bang was initially thought to be a mistake in the recording. Jet streams in the upper atmosphere were revealed by the dust emitted by Krakatoa and a collection of interested citizen scientists. In the second three episodes about the genius of accidents in science, presenter Adam Hart explores two stories of unexpected observations. Sometimes accidental discoveries are bigger than you might expect. Picture: Moonlit Coast, Credit: shaunl/Getty Images
Nov 12, 2018
Viagra and CRISPR
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Viagra’s effects on men were first discovered as an unexpected side-effect during trials for a medication meant to help patients with a heart condition. CRISPR cas– 9 is now a tool that can be used to modify and replace genes – but it was first noted as a random collection of genes. In the first of three episodes about the genius of accidents in science, Professor Adam Hart explores how, sometimes, the results you’re looking for are not as important as those that appear unexpectedly. Picture: Test Tubes, Credit: Grafner/Getty Images Producer: Rory Galloway
Nov 05, 2018
Tracking the First Animals on Earth
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What were the earliest animals on Earth? The origin of the animal kingdom is one of the most mysterious chapters in the evolution of life on Earth. Our animal ancestors appeared and began to diversify about half a billion years ago. What might they have looked like, and which creatures alive today can be traced to these primordial times? Answers are beginning to come with new techniques for both studying ancient fossils and for reading evolutionary history from the DNA of animals alive today. Zoologist Professor Matthew Cobb explores the latest discoveries and controversies with the researchers on the trail of the Earth’s first animals. Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker Picture: Artists impression of Dickinsonia, Credit: Nasa
Oct 29, 2018
Mary Anning and Fossil Hunting
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Mary Anning lived in Lyme Regis on what is now known as the Jurassic Coast in the first half of the 19th century. Knowing the shore from childhood and with a remarkable eye for detection she was extremely successful in finding fossils. In 1812 she unearthed parts of an Icthyosaur and in 1823 she discovered the first skeleton of what became known as a Plesiosaurus – a long-necked, flippered creature with a tiny head. It looked a bit like an elongated turtle with no shell. Naomi Alderman tells the science story of how Mary Anning, a poor and relatively uneducated young woman, became the supplier of the best fossils to the gentlemen geologists who were beginning to understand that the earth was very old and had been inhabited by strange extinct creatures. Naomi talks to Tracy Chevalier, author of Remarkable Creatures, a novel about Mary Anning, about her life and relationship with the geologists of the time, and to Dr Susannah Maidment, Curator of Dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum, about fossil hunting today. Image: Lyme Regis, from Charmouth, Dorset 1814-1825 by William Daniell (Credit: Historica Graphica Collection/Heritage Images/Getty Images)
Oct 29, 2018
Cooling the City
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The summer of 2003 saw the largest number of deaths ever recorded in a UK heatwave - but by 2040 climate models predict the extreme summer temperatures experienced then will be normal. We will also be experiencing colder winters, and droughts and floods will become more common. Our infrastructure, housing, water, sewerage, transport and public buildings are not designed for such conditions. Gaia Vince asks how we can adapt and prepare our cities, where most people live and work, for the new normal weather conditions. New buildings in temperate climates are now designed with keeping us warm in mind, better insulation, more efficient heating and airtight glazing. However when it comes to overheating these measures designed to keep out the cold can be part of the problem. Can we adapt solutions from other countries where extreme heat is a more usual seasonal event? Will we simply have to change the way we organise our day to keep out of the heat? Is the real answer for mad dogs and Englishmen to take a siesta? Picture: Wood thermometer, Credit: Ugurhan/Getty Images
Oct 22, 2018
Tourism and Transparency
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In the second programme exploring the Chinese approach to organ transplantation, Matthew Hill looks at what is happening today. Where are the organs coming from today? Have the Chinese overcome their traditional opposition to donating them? There is still a lack of transparency about the sources. Some critics have suggested that there is still a trade in organs and there are reports that transplant tourism is still going on. Matthew Hill talks to Chinese and international transplant doctors about the current situation. Picture: Asian surgeons in the operating room, Shanghai, China, Credit: Asia-Pacific Images Studio/Getty Images
Oct 15, 2018
Who To Believe?
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For many years the Chinese sourced organs for transplant from executed prisoners. Around a decade ago the authorities acknowledged that this practice had gone on and announced that it was to be stopped. In the first programme exploring the Chinese approach to organ transplantation Matthew Hill tells the grim story of the revelation of the source of organs, he meets a surgeon with first-hand experience of removing organs from executed prisoners. We talk to campaigners who believe the practice is still going on, they allege religious and ethnic minority groups in China are now a source for an illicit trade in human organs. Officially the practice of using organs for transplant from executed Prisoners ceased in 2015, China now has an organ donation registry and say the majority of organs come from people who die in intensive care units, however questions remain over whether this source is sufficient for the number of transplants performed. Picture: Asian surgeons in the operating room, Shanghai, China, Credit: Asia-Pacific Images Studio/Getty Images
Oct 08, 2018
The Long Hot Summer - Part Two
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This summer the Northern Hemisphere has been sweltering in unusually high temperatures. It has been hot from the Arctic to Africa. This has led to increased deaths, notably in Canada, and more wildfires, even in Lancashire and in Sweden. Can we say that this heatwave – and the extreme drought in Australia - is a result of climate change? Or is just part of the variable weather patterns we have on our planet? Roland Pease gets answers to these questions from the world’s leading climate and weather scientists. He picks apart the influences of the jet stream, El Niño and the Atlantic decadal oscillation from that of global warming. (Photo: Arctic Pack Ice near Svalbard, Norway. Credit: Bkamprath/Getty Images)
Oct 01, 2018
The Long Hot Summer
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This summer the Northern Hemisphere has been sweltering in unusually high temperatures. It’s been hot from the Arctic to Africa. This has led to increased deaths, notably in Canada, and more wildfires, even in Lancashire and in Sweden. Can we say that this heatwave – and the extreme drought in Australia – is a result of climate change? Or is just part of the variable weather patterns we have on our planet? Roland Pease gets answers to these questions from the world’s leading climate and weather scientists. He picks apart the influences of the jet stream, the El Nina and the Atlantic decadal oscillation from that of global warming. Picture: Sacramento River and valley lit by the Delta Fire in California, 2018, Credit: Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images
Sep 24, 2018
Sodium
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Sophie Scott on why sodium powers everything we do, and why it might be the key to a new generation of pain killers. Putting sodium into water is one of the most memorable experiments from school chemistry lessons. It's this ability to react ferociously with water which is the starting point for sodium's key role in powering all of biology. Simply, without sodium we wouldn't exist. It helps provide the electricity that allows us to move, breathe, think. Our understanding of sodium could help in the search for analgesics with few side effects for severe pain. Recent discoveries of families who feel searing pain with mild warmth, or those who feel no pain at all even in childbirth, have opened up new avenues in pain research. Their rare genetic mutations change the way sodium works in their bodies: from this new knowledge neuroscientists are developing drugs that could give rise to a much needed new generation of pain killers. Image: Traditional glass salt cellar (Credit: Getty Images)
Sep 17, 2018
Iron
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Beyond war and peace, Dr Andrew Pontzen explores how iron has shaped human biology and culture. From weapons to ploughshares, iron holds a key place as the element for the tools of the rise and destruction of human civilisations. As a grand scale shaper of our towns and ciities and our culture it is unmatched. And yet it also has a major role to play in living cells. Andrew Pontzen, Reader in Cosmology at University College London. explores iron's sometimes ambivalent history and also delves deep inside ourselves to understand how iron is key to keeping us all alive. Dr Kate Maguire, astrophysicist at Queens University, Belfast, explains how the iron on earth was formed in distant exploding stars. Andrew talks to Professor Marcos Martinón-Torres about how our ancestors first used this metal. And Dr Caroline Shenton-Taylor, of the University of Surrey, discusses one of iron’s greatest and most mysterious properties – magnetism. In blood and bodies what does iron actually do - could any other element perform its life giving functions? Andrew finds out from Chris Cooper, Emeritus Professor of Biochemistry at Essex University, how iron is the key atom in haemoglobin that transports oxygen. And Dr Kathryn Robson, from Oxford University’s Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine, describes the condition haemochromatosis,, in which people have too much iron. which runs in Andrew's family. Picture: Rusty screws, Credit: Getty Images/hudiemm
Sep 10, 2018
Fluorine
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Chemist Andrea Sella tells the story of how the feared element ended up giving us better teeth, mood and health. Many chemists have lost their lives trying to isolate the periodic table’s most chemically reactive element – hence the nickname “the tiger of chemistry”. Fluorine can react with almost all elements. As an acid, hydrofluoric acid, it will dissolve glass. Yet chemists have been able to tame the beast – creating remarkable and safe uses for it by utilising its reactive nature that lets it make strong bonds with other chemicals. One in five medicines contain fluorine atoms, including one of the most widely used antidepressants Prozac, fluorinated anaesthetic, cancer medication, the cholesterol regulating drug Lipitor and the antibacterial Cipro. Though perhaps it is most famous for being added to toothpaste in the form of fluoride and in some places, drinking water. Fluoride protects our teeth from decay. But despite the benefits, it has a history of receiving a bad press. During the cold war, false allegations were made that adding fluoride to the water supply was a communist plot designed to weaken the American people. Stanley Kubrick satirised these fears in the film Dr. Strangelove in 1964. The suspicion around fluoride has not gone away and many people feel negatively towards any tinkering with something as fundamental as our water supply. Professor Andrea Sella from University College London examines the effects of fluorine and looks to current and future uses of the element that chemists clearly respect – but no longer fear. Picture: Toothpaste, Credit: artisteer/Getty Images
Sep 03, 2018
Hypatia: The Murdered Mathematician
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Naomi Alderman's tale is a murder mystery, the story of Hypatia, the mathematician murdered by a mob in the learned city of Alexandria, around the year 415 CE. Hypatia was a communicator of science, tackling difficult maths and teaching it to her students. This was incredibly important work. It was enough, at the time, to make her Alexandria’s pre-eminent mathematician, and probably therefore the leading mathematician in the world. And there’s historical evidence that Hypatia made some discoveries and innovations of her own. She invented a new and more efficient method of long division. In a time before electronic calculators, the actual business of doing sums was an arduous part of engineering or astronomy, and any improvement in efficiency was very welcome. All quite innocent science, so why did Hypatia end up being murdered by a mob? Natalie Haynes tells the inside story to Naomi Alderman. And Professor Edith Hall discusses Hypatia's legacy. Picture: Death of Hypatia of Alexandria (c 370 CE - March 415 AD), Credit: Nastasic/Getty Images
Aug 20, 2018
Descartes' "Daughter"
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There's a story told about French philosopher René Descartes and his daughter. He boards a ship for a voyage over the North Sea with a large wooden box which he insists be handled with such great care that the sea captain’s curiosity is aroused. When Descartes is out of his cabin the sea captain opens the box and is horrified to find a life sized automaton inside. He's so shocked he throws the "daughter" overboard. Descartes championed a view of nature in which everything happened because of the physical forces acting between its constituent parts: nature as a machine. It was a coolly rational vision that caught the scientific spirit of the seventeenth century. He was fascinated by automata and what they tell us about what it is to be human. Philip Ball tells the story of Descartes and his "daughter" and his writings about humans and machines. He finds out more about the thirst for mechanical wonders and what it said about theories of the human body in Descartes’ time, from historian of science Simon Schaffer of Cambridge University. And Kanta Dihar of the Centre for the Future of Intelligence also at Cambridge University talks about current research into AIs, driven purely by some mechanism of formal logic, that can mimic the capabilities of the human mind, and how contemporary culture explores our fears about them. Picture: People And Robots Modern Human And Artificial Intelligence Futuristic Mechanism Technology, Credit: Getty Images
Aug 13, 2018
Making Natural Products in the Lab
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Philip Ball tells the science story of German chemist Friedrich Wöhler’s creation of urea, an organic substance previously thought only to be produced by living creatures. Yet in 1828 Wöhler created urea from decidedly non-living substances. It was exciting because the accidental transformation seemed to cross a boundary: from inorganic to organic, from inert matter to a product of life. It’s a key moment in the history of chemistry but like many scientific advances, this one has also been turned into something of a myth. To read some accounts, this humble act of chemical synthesis sounds almost akin to the 'vital spark of being' described by Mary Shelley in her book published ten years previously, when Victor Frankenstein brought dead flesh back to life. Philip Ball sorts out fact from fiction in what Wohler really achieved in conversation with Peter Ramberg of Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri, and finds out about chemical synthesis of natural products today from Professor Sarah O’Connor of the John Innes Centre. Producer: Erika Wright (Image: Friedrich Wohler, c 1850. Photogravure after a drawing by Hoffman, c 1850. From a collection of portraits of scientists published by Photographische Gesellschaft, Berlin, c 1910. Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
Aug 06, 2018
The Real Cyrano de Bergerac
1601
Philip Ball reveals the real Cyrano de Bergerac - forget the big nosed fictional character - and his links to 17th Century space flight. Cyrano was a soldier, gambler and duellist who retired from military exploits on account of his wounds around 1639, at the grand old age of 20. But he studied at university and, to judge from the books he went on to write, he was well versed in the philosophical and scientific debates of his day. He designed spaceships to travel to the moon and to the sun. Philip discusses the life and times of Cyrano with Mary Baine Campbell of Brandeis University in Massachusetts. Journeys to the New World in the seventeenth century were voyages of trade - and ultimately of colonisation. Today, the profit motive has returned to space travel. Efforts to develop spacecraft and to send people into space are increasingly being conducted not just by government agencies but by private companies, in search again of land and minerals. Philip discusses the control of exploitation of space with Patricia Lewis of ICAN, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. Producer: Erika Wright Picture: To the moon by rocket-propelled box, 1640 as foreseen by Cyrano de Bergerac (1619-1655). Photo by: Universal History Archive / UIG via Getty Images)
Jul 30, 2018
The Nun’s Salamander
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A convent of Mexican nuns is helping to save the one of the world's most endangered and most remarkable amphibians: the axolotl, a truly bizarre creature of serious scientific interest worldwide and an animal of deep-rooted cultural significance in Mexico. The Sisters of Immaculate Health rarely venture out of their monastery in the central Mexican town of Patzcuaro. Yet they have become the most adept and successful breeders of their local species of this aquatic salamander. Scientists marvel at their axolotl-breeding talents and are now working with them to save the animal from extinction. BBC News science correspondent Victoria Gill is allowed into the convent to discover at least some of the nun's secrets. Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker Picture: Lake Patzcuaro axolotl Credit: Credit the picture Will Condliffe, Chester Zoo
Jul 23, 2018
The Aztec Salamander
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Victoria Gill tells the extraordinary story of the Mexican axolotl: an amphibian that is both a cultural icon and a biomedical marvel. In its domesticated form, the aquatic salamander is a valuable laboratory animal and a popular pet around the world. But in the wild, the species is on the very edge of extinction. Victoria visits one of its last hold-outs among the polluted canals in the south of Mexico City, where she meets the scientists and farmers working to save it. Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker Picture: Street Art, Credit: BBC
Jul 16, 2018
Gateway to the Mind
1612
The microbiome is the strange invisible world of our non human selves. On and in all of us are hoards of microbes. Their impact on our physical health is becoming clear to science, but a controversial idea is emerging too - that gut bacteria could alter what happens in our brains. In this final episode of the series BBC Science and Health correspondent James Gallagher examines a growing body of research into the gut as a gateway to the mind and why some scientists believe we could be o the cusp of a revolution in psychiatry that uses microbes to improve mental health. Illustration by Katie Horwich Producer: Adrian Washbourne
Jul 09, 2018
Dirt and Development
1612
BBC Health and Science correspondent James Gallagher explores the latest research into how our second genome, the vast and diverse array of microbes that live on and in our bodies, is driving our metabolism and our health and how we can change it for the better. In this second episode he explores how researchers are uncovering a vital relationship between the healthy bugs we accumulate in our gut and our immune system . We have over the past 50 years done a terrific job of eliminating infectious disease. But in we've also done the same to many good bacteria and as a result we're seeing an enormous and terrifying increase in autoimmune disease and in allergy. Could correcting our encounters with bugs at birth, and in the first few month of life set us on a path of good health? And in if in later life the delicate balance between our body and bugs gets skewed, leading to inflammatory diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome or frailty in old age, how can this be rectified? Illustration by Katie Horwich Producer: Adrian Washbourne
Jul 02, 2018
Manipulating Our Hidden Half
1613
Are we on the cusp of a new approach to healthy living and treating disease? BBC Health and Science correspondent James Gallagher explores the latest research into how our second genome, the vast and diverse array of microbes that live on and in our bodies, is driving our metabolism and our health. Recent DNA analysis by the Human Microbiome Project detailed the vast and diverse array of microbes in and on our body - bacteria, archaea, fungi and viruses. It has been described as our second genome - a source of huge genetic diversity, a modifier of disease, an essential component of immunity, and an "organ" that influences not just our metabolism but also our mental health. Unlike the human genome which is fixed at birth, this "second genome" can be manipulated in many ways. Researchers have suggested that our gut microbiome has a major role in the development of chronic conditions such as obesity, inflammatory bowel disease and asthma. Now the work has moved onto detailed analysis of the microbes in people with specific problems and measures to change the microbiome. In this major three-part series, James Gallagher investigates the key research shaping our ability not just to read our microbiome and look at predispositions, but to change it for the better. From the ability to manipulate it to stem chronic disease, to the role it plays in determining our health from birth, to its surprising influence on our brain and behaviour - should we now think of ourselves not as self-sufficient organisms, but as complex ecosystems colonized by numerous competing and health-giving microbes? Picture: Probiotic bacteria Lactobacillus, Credit: Dr Microbe/Getty Images Producer: Adrian Washbourne
Jun 25, 2018
Do Insects Feel Pain?
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Insects such as fruit flies provide important insights into human biology and medicine. But should we worry whether insects experience pain and suffering in scientists’ hands? Entomologist Adam Hart visits the Fly Facility at the University of Manchester where researcher Andreas Prokop describes the many insights that experiments on the fruit fly Drosophila have provided on aspects of human biology and health. Globally billions of these little flies have died in the pursuit of this knowledge. Should we give a second thought about the deaths of these creatures? Do insects have the capacity for pain and the experience of suffering? It depends which scientist you ask. Lars Chittka of Queen Mary University of London says his work on bumble bees suggests that we can’t assume they do not. Shelley Adamo of Dalhousie University in Canada is not convinced by existing arguments for insect consciousness. Photo: Robber Fly Asilidae Diptera Insect, Credit: Nechaev-kon/Getty Images Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker
Jun 18, 2018
Killing Insects for Conservation
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Prof Adam Hart stirred a hornet’s nest of controversy by asking the public to kill wasps for science. He explores why scientists kill insects to save them from extinction. The work of the entomologist often involves the killing of insects in large numbers. This happens in the search for new species in the exploration of the planet’s biodiversity and in ecological research to monitor the health of wild insect populations and the impact that we are having on the environment. But the methods of insects scientists have come under criticism. Last year presenter and entomologist Adam Hart was involved in a citizen science project aimed at surveying the abundance of various species of British wasp around the country. The survey entailed members of the public setting up lethal wasp traps in their gardens and sending the dead insects to the lab running the survey. Many people took part but the study also generated negative newspaper coverage and stinging criticism on social media. How can you save insects by killing them? Next week, do insects experience pain and suffering? Picture: Broad-Bellied Chaser, Credit: BBC Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker
Jun 11, 2018
What’s the Tiniest Dinosaur?
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Two small creatures are at the heart of today’s questions, sent in to curiouscases@bbc.co.uk. The Tiniest Dinosaur "What is the tiniest dinosaur?" asks young listener Ellie Cook, aged 11. Our hunt takes us from the discovery of dinosaurs right up to the present day, which is being hailed as a 'golden age' for palaeontology. Currently, one new species of dinosaur is unearthed on average every single week. But what's the smallest dino? And what can size reveal about the life of extinct animals? Hannah Fry goes underground at the Natural History Museum in London to look through their vaults in search of the tiniest dinosaur with palaeontologist Susie Maidment. Meanwhile Adam Rutherford chats to dinosaur expert Steve Brusatte from Edinburgh University about why size really does matter, especially when it comes to fossils. The Baffled Bat "Why don't thousands of bats in a cave get confused? How do they differentiate their own location echoes from those of other bats?" This puzzling problem was sent in by Tim Beard from Hamburg in Germany. Since eco-location was first discovered, this question has perplexed biologists. Hannah turns bat detective to try and track down these elusive creatures at The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in East London. This is where zoologist Kate Jones from University College London is using a network of smart sensors to find, identify and track wild bats. Bat researcher and impressionist John Ratcliffe from Toronto University explains how bats use sonar to find their way around, and the clever tricks they’ve developed along the way. It's an unlikely tale involving gruesome early experiments, cunning electric fish and some surprising bat maths. (Image: Dinosaurs and a meteor falling from the sky in back background. Credit: ugurhan/Getty Images) Producer: Michelle Martin
Jun 04, 2018
Can Anything Travel Faster Than Light?
1609
Two astronomical questions today sent in to curiouscases@bbc.co.uk for Drs Hannah Fry and Adam Rutherford to answer. The Cosmic Speed Limit "We often read that the fastest thing in the Universe is the speed of light. Why do we have this limitation and can anything possibly be faster?" asks Ali Alshareef from Qatif from Saudia Arabia. The team grapples with Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity, with help from cosmologist Andrew Pontzen and a British train, travelling somewhat slower than the speed of light. Plus physicist and presenter Jim Al-Khalili describes how he nearly lost his boxer shorts in a daring bet concerning the speed of subatomic particles. The Cosmic Egg "How do we measure the age of the Universe?" asks Simon Whitehead. A hundred years ago this wouldn't even have been considered a valid question, because we didn't think the Universe had a beginning at all. Even Einstein thought that space was eternal and unchanging. This is the tale of how we discovered that the Universe had a beginning, and why calculating its age has been one of the greatest challenges in modern astronomy. We also uncover the mysterious dark energy that pervades the cosmos and discover why it's been putting a scientific spanner in the works. Helping to unravel today's question are physicists Andrew Pontzen, Jo Dunkley and Jim Al-Khalili. Picture: Star sun supernova galaxy gold, Credit: Eastern Lightcraft/Getty Images Producer: Michelle Martin
May 28, 2018
Why Do We Dream?
1608
Adventures in Dreamland "Why do we dream and why do we repeat dreams?" asks Mila O'Dea, aged 9, from Panama. Hannah Fry and Adam Rutherford delve into the science of sleep. From a pioneering experiment on rapid eye movement sleep, to a brand new 'dream signature' found in the brain, they discover how scientists are investigating our hidden dreamworld. Featuring sociologist Bill Domhoff from the University of California Santa Cruz, sleep psychologist Mark Blagrove from the University of Swansea, and neurologist Francesca Siclari from the University of Lausanne. The Curious Face-Off "Are machines better than humans at identifying faces?" asks the excellently named Carl Vandal. Today’s Face Off leads our intrepid detectives to investigate why we see Jesus on toast, Hitler in houses and Kate Middleton on a jelly bean. Face perception psychologist Rob Jenkins from the University of York explains why we're so good at spotting familiar faces, like celebrities. Plus, Franziska Knolle from the University of Cambridge discusses her face recognition study involving Barack Obama and a group of highly-trained sheep. But are we outwitted by artificial intelligence when it comes to face ID? BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones gives us the low-down on the pros and cons of current technology. Picture: Child sleeping, Credit: Quintanilla/Getty Images Producer: Michelle Martin
May 21, 2018
Can We Use Chemistry to Bake the Perfect Cake?
1610
Domestic science is on the agenda today, with two culinary questions sent in by listeners to curiouscases@bbc.co.uk The Curious Cake-Off Can chemistry help us bake the perfect cake? Listener Helena McGinty aged 69 from Malaga in Spain asks, "'I have always used my mother's sponge cake recipe. But is there a noticeable difference in the outcome if you vary some of the ingredients, or the method?" Hannah and Adam go head to head in a competition to create the perfect cake using the power of science. They are aided by materials scientist Mark Miodownik, from University College London, with tips on how to combine the ideal ingredients and trusted techniques to construct a structurally sound sponge. Food critic Jay Rayner is on hand to judge the results. But who will emerge victorious in this messy baking battle? The Atomic Blade "What makes things sharp? Why are thinner knives sharper? What happens on the molecular level when you cut something?" All these questions came from Joshua Schwartz in New York City. The ability to create sharp tools allowed us to fashion clothing, make shelters and hunt for food, all essential for the development of human civilisation. And, more importantly today they allow us to prepare dinner. So what makes kitchen knives sharp? We hear from IBM scientist Chris Lutz, who has used one of the sharpest blades in the world to slice up individual atoms. Plus palaeoarchaeologist Becky Wragg Sykes reveals the sharpest natural object in the world, a volcanic glass used by the Aztecs called ‘obsidian’. Picture: Colourful Cupcakes, Credit: RuthBlack/Getty Images Producer: Michelle Martin
May 14, 2018
Why Do Some Songs Get Stuck in Your Head?
1606
Two very annoying cases today sent in by listeners to curiouscases@bbc.co.uk to our scientific sleuths, mathematician Dr Hannah Fry and geneticist Dr Adam Rutherford. The Sticky Song Why do songs get stuck in our heads? And what makes some tunes stickier than others? Drs Rutherford and Fry investigate 'earworms', those musical refrains that infect our brains for days. Every morning BBC 6Music DJ Shaun Keaveny asks his listeners for their earworms, and Hannah finds out which tunes keep coming back. Adam asks Dr Lauren Stewart, from Goldsmiths University, to reveal the musical features that make some songs catchier than others. And they find out why, in times of crisis, an earworm may just save your life. The Shocking Surprise Jose Chavez Mendez from Guatemala asks, "Some years ago, in the dry season, I used to be very susceptible to static electricity. I want to know - why do static shocks happen?" The team uncover some slightly unethical science experiments on static electricity from the 1700s. Hannah Fry uses a Leyden Jar to demonstrate how static electricity works with help from her glamorous assistant, Adam Rutherford. Spoiler Alert: it doesn't end well for Adam. They discover what makes some people more susceptible to static shocks, and how bees and spiders have harnessed the awesome power of electricity. Featuring electromagnetism scientist Rhys Phillips and physicist Helen Czerski, author of 'Storm in a Teacup: The Physics of Everyday Life'. Picture: Human Ear, Credit: Techin24/Getty Images Producer: Michelle Martin
May 07, 2018
Behaving Better Online
1613
Humans have become the most successful species on earth because of our ability to cooperate. Often we help strangers when there is no obvious benefit to us as individuals. But today in the age when social media and the internet could be seen as a way of bringing people together more than ever, the opposite is happening. In this two-part series for Discovery science writer Gaia Vince meets the psychologists, evolutionary biologists and neuroscientists who are studying our built in human behaviour in groups and asks how their discoveries can guide projects to increase cooperation. (Photo: Support button on keyboard, Credit: Abdoudz/Getty Images)
Apr 30, 2018
The Cooperative Species
1613
People are incredibly rude to each other on social media. Much ruder than they would ever be face to face. The great potential of the internet to bring humanity together in a glorious collaborating network seems naïve – instead of embracing a massive extension of our social circles, we seem to revert to tribalism and conflict online. And while we generally conduct our real-life interactions with strangers with politeness and respect, online, we can be horrible. But it was our human ability to communicate ideas across networks of people that enabled us to so successfully solve life’s challenges and to build the modern world. Gaia Vince travels to Yale University to meet the researchers who are studying how we cooperate today and why it can go wrong when we communicate online. Part of the Crossing Divides season. (Photo: Row of children hugging Credit: Kieferpix/Getty Images)
Apr 23, 2018
Bringing Schrodinger's Cat to Life
1616
Schrodinger's cat is the one that's famously alive and dead. At the same time. Impossible! Roland Pease meets the quantum scientists hoping to bring one to life in the laboratory. Not a real cat, to be fair. But large biomolecules, viruses, even bacteria, that can exhibit the quantum duality parodied in the paradox first described by one of the fathers of quantum physics. Because if they succeed, they may learn something about the interface between the quantum world, and the human world we live in. Presenter/Producer: Roland Pease Credit: Harald Ritsch/Science Photo Library
Apr 16, 2018
Barbara McLintock
1612
Barbara McClintock’s work on the genetics of corn won her a Nobel prize in 1983. Her research on jumping genes challenged the over-simplified picture of chromosomes and DNA that Watson and Crick’s discovery has all too often been used to support. During the half century that she worked at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory she became something of a living legend, a pioneer in a time when women weren’t expected to take much interest in science. In that story, she made a profound discovery that her male colleagues dismissed for years, leaving her out in the cold until they finally realized that it was true and granted her a belated Nobel Prize. Philip Ball tells the story of Barbara McLintock's life and work, from her early preference for sports, for solitude, and for intellectual life, that disturbed her parents, to her meticulous research on corn. In conversation with her recent biographer, Dr Nathaniel Comfort of Johns Hopkins University, he explores the facts and the fictions that grew up around her. Philip Ball talks about the legacy of her discovery of jumping genes with Professor Greg Hannon of the Cancer Research UK Institute at Cambridge University, who spent 25 years working in the McLintock Laboratory at Cold Spring Harbor. Picture Corn Cobs, Credit: Philippe Huguen/AFP/GettyImages)
Apr 09, 2018
D'Arcy Thompson
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One hundred years ago D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson published On Growth and Form, a book with a mission to put maths into biology. He showed how the shapes, forms and growth processes we see in the living world aren’t some arbitrary result of evolution’s blind searching, but are dictated by mathematical rules. A flower, a honeycomb, a dragonfly’s wing: it’s not sheer chance that these look the way they do. But can these processes be explained by physics? D'Arcy Thompson loved nature’s shapes and influenced a whole new field of systems biology, architects, designers and artists, including Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. Presented by Phillip Ball. Picture: Corn shell, Getty Images
Apr 02, 2018
The Far Future
1613
How do we prepare for the distant future? Helen Keen meets the people who try to. If our tech society continues then we can leave data for future generations in huge, mundane quantities, detailing our every tweet and Facebook 'like'. But how long could this information be stored? And if society as we know it ends, will our achievements vanish with it? How do we plan for and protect those who will be our distant descendants and yet may have hopes, fears, languages, beliefs, even religions that we simply cannot predict? What if anything can we, should we, pass on? Picture: Filing cabinets, Credit: fotofrog
Mar 26, 2018
Why We Cut Men
1588
Male circumcision is one of the oldest and most common surgical procedures in human history. Around the world, 1 in 3 men are cut. It’s performed as a religious rite in Islam and Judaism; in other cultures it’s part of initiation, a social norm or marker of identity. Some individuals think it’s cleaner, sexier or safer. In this documentary, anthropologist Mary-Ann Ochota explores the reasons we cut men. She meets people who passionately promote the practice – and others who protest against it. Across sub-Saharan Africa, medical circumcision is endorsed in the fight against HIV – research shows it reduces the risk of a man getting infected if he has sex with an HIV-positive woman. More than 10 million men and boys have been circumcised so far; officials plan to reach another 25 million by 2020. In rural Uganda, Mary-Ann visits a mobile clinic to watch 21-year-old Wajuli undergo the operation. She meets another young man in Kampala who reveals his regret about getting cut. The United States is the only western country where most boys are circumcised for non-religious reasons – $270 million a year is spent on infant circumcision. In downtown New York, Mary-Ann meets ‘Intact-ivists’ who believe male circumcision is genital mutilation. She speaks to members of the public confronted with the protest, and interviews a leading US paediatrician who reflects on the reasons US doctors keep cutting. With contributions from Uganda’s national VMMC coordinator Dr Barbara Nanteza, Dr Marc Cendron (Boston Children’s Hospital) and Georganne Chapin, Intact America. Picture: Intactivist van in Union Square, New York, Credit: Nick Minter
Mar 19, 2018
Iodine
1593
The phrase 'essential 'element' is often incorrectly used to describe the nutrients we need, but can aptly be applied to iodine - without it we would suffer severe developmental problems. Iodine is a key component of thyroid hormones, responsible for the regulation of our metabolism. And yet most of us have no idea how much we need, nor where it comes from. In her research, Margaret Rayman, Professor of Nutritional Medicine at Surrey University, has found pregnant women in particular are at risk of iodine deficiency - and there's a lack of iodine in what many consider healthy diets. As well as looking at contemporary issues with iodine, Margaret explores the legacy of past iodine deficiency - the word cretin, was coined to describe someone living in the Alps with such a condition. We learn why you might find iodine in British milk - but not necessarily elsewhere in the world, and we discuss the consequences of exposure to radioactive iodine isotopes - both good and bad. Picture: Pregnant woman with milk, Credit: Arief-Juwono/Getty Images
Mar 12, 2018
Phosphorus
1591
What links trade unions with urine, Syria with semiconductors, and bones and bombs? The answer is phosphorus, UCL Inorganic Chemistry Professor Andrea Sella, who is himself engaged in researching new phosphorus based materials, looks at this often rather frightening element. We hear how the health impact of phosphorus on a group of Irish girls changed politics, how the element has been used as a weapon of war and we peer into the future, as chemists break new ground on what might be possible with phosphorus and nanotechnology. Photo: BBC Copyright
Mar 05, 2018
Lead
1632
From the plumbing of ancient Rome, to lead acid batteries, paint, petrol and a dangerous legacy, the metal lead has seen a myriad of uses and abuses over thousands of years. In bullets, and poisons it has killed us both quickly and slowly, and yet its malleability, low melting point and resistance to corrosion make it a fantastic material for all kinds of containers and water proofing. And it is key to one of the most commonly used, and ignored, devices on the planet, the car battery. However it's only recently that the serious impact of lead poisoning on the development of children's brains has come to light. Uta Frith, Emeritus Professor of Cognitive Development at University College London, who studied the impact of lead poisoning in the 1970s and 80s, journeys with lead from the iron age to the present day delving into the history and scandal associated with this often overlooked element. Photo: BBC Copyright
Feb 26, 2018
The Power of Sloth
1588
Zoologist and founder of the Sloth Appreciation Society, Lucy Cooke, unleashes her inner sloth to discover why being lazy could actually be the ultimate evolutionary strategy. The explorers of the New World described sloths as ‘the lowest form of existence’, but sloths are actually some of the most enduring of all tropical mammals. They make up one third of the mammalian biomass in rainforests and have survived some 64 million years - outliving far flashier animals like sabre tooth tigers. The secret to the sloth’s success is their slothful nature and their suite of energy-saving adaptations. In fact slothfulness is such a successful strategy, that there are examples all over the animal kingdom, including, surprisingly, worker ants. Recent studies in humans have shown the many health benefits of adopting a slower pace of life. Sleep itself is universal amongst the animal kingdom. All animals do it, but why remains a mystery. What is clear though, is that unleashing your inner couch potato is no bad thing, be you sloth or human. Lucy discovers the genius behind the sloths laid back attitude and fights the corner for laziness. Producer: Alexandra Feachem Picture: A young two-toed sloth sits in a bucket, September 2017. Credit: Klaus-Dietmar Gabbert / AFP / Getty Images
Feb 19, 2018
Pain of Torture
1608
Does knowing that someone is inflicting pain on you deliberately make the pain worse? Professor Irene Tracey meets survivors of torture and examines the dark side of pain. Producer: Geraldine Fitzgerald (Photo: A woman mourns during the funeral procession of Abdulrassul Hujairi. Credit: Joseph Eid/AFP)
Feb 12, 2018
Controlling Pain
1607
What if your brain could naturally control pain? Professor Irene Tracey and her colleagues are trying to unlock the natural mechanisms in the brain that limit the amount of pain we feel. We hear about how children learning judo are taught special techniques and from ex-marine Chris Shirley who ran a marathon carrying a 45kg rucksack and could ignore the pain of the blisters and torn shoulder muscles. One study found that religious people feel less pain than agnostics by looking at a picture of the Virgin Mary. Neuroscientists and psychologists are beginning to understand how this is possible, how the brain can block out pain in the right circumstances, so is this something we could all benefit from? Picture: The statue of the Virgin Mary, Credit: Francisco Leong/AFP/Getty Images Producer Geraldine Fitzgerald
Feb 05, 2018
Knowing Pain
1610
Scientists reveal why we feel pain and the consequences of life without pain. One way to understand the experience of pain is to look at unusual situations which give clues to our everyday agony. Phantom limb pain was described in ancient times but only after WWI did it gain acceptance in modern medicine. For those living with it, it can be a painful reminder of a lost limb. New studies are now unravelling why the brain generates this often unpleasant experience and how the messages can be used positively. Its only since the 1980s that doctors agreed that babies are able to feel pain but we still don’t know how the developing brain processes information and how premature babies can be protected from the many invasive tests they have to go through. New research aims to provide appropriate pain relief that could have long term consequences. Picture: Nerve cells, computer artwork, Credit: Science Photo Library
Jan 29, 2018
Seeing Pain
1609
Mystery still surrounds the experience of pain. It is highly subjective but why do some people feel more pain than others and why does the brain appear to switch off under anaesthesia so we are unaware of the surgeon’s scalpel? Professor Irene Tracey uses brain scanners to ask if we can actually see pain in the brain. On air we hear for the first time the results of the latest research into diabetes and nerve pain. Promising new techniques means scientists are able to see regions in the brain which effectively turn up the pain in some people and not others. Anaesthetics prevent pain during surgery but how the brain disengages is only just beginning to be understood, which could in the future lead to personalised doses of anaesthetics leading to faster recovery times. Picture: Graphic of neurons firing in the of the neural network within the Brain, Credit: Science Photo Library
Jan 22, 2018
Humphry Davy
1592
In Bristol in 1799, a young man started to experiment with newly discovered gases, looking for a cure for tuberculosis. Humphry Davy, aged 20, nearly killed himself inhaling carbon monoxide. Nitrous oxide was next. It was highly pleasurable, ‘particularly in the chest and extremities’ and he began to dance around his laboratory ‘like a madman’, before passing out. By day, he gave the gas to patients, carefully noting their reactions. In the evenings, he invited his friends over to have a laugh (with assistants on standby to revive them with oxygen, as needed). The Romantic poets, Robert Southey and Samuel Taylor Coleridge could barely contain their excitement. During one session, Davy noted that the gas numbed his toothache and suggested that it could perhaps be used during surgical operations. But it was another fifty years before nitrous oxide was used by doctors. Throughout the 20th century, it was widely used during dentistry and to numb the pain of childbirth. (Nitrous oxide is the gas in ‘gas and air’: the ‘air’ is oxygen) .And it still is today, but less so. (It’s a potent greenhouse gas that damages the ozone layer, it’s difficult to store and there are side-effects). But, just as medical use is diminishing, recreational use is on the rise. A new generation of pleasure seekers have started experimenting, just as Davy did, despite the associated risks of injuries caused by fainting and death by suffocation. Naomi Alderman tells how a gas that created ‘ecstatic lunatics’ came to be used as an anaesthetic, with help from biographer, Richard Holmes and anaesthetist, Kevin Fong. Picture: Humphry Davy and Anaesthesia, Credit: Science Photo Library
Jan 15, 2018
Lise Meitner
1592
Philip Ball reveals the dramatic tale of Lise Meitner, the humanitarian physicist of Jewish descent, who unlocked the science of the atom bomb after a terrifying escape from Hitler's Germany. One of the most brilliant nuclear scientists working in Germany her flight from terror cost Hitler’s regime dearly. In the early 20th Century it was barely possible for women to work in science at all and yet Einstein once called Meitner Germany’s own Marie Curie. It was Meitner’s insight that began the nuclear age and her story remains ever relevant, as the threat of nuclear conflict lies once again over the world. Philip Ball talks to historian Dr Patricia Fara about Lise Meitner and her research and to Patricia Lewis of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons or ICAN, based in Geneva, which this year was awarded the Nobel Peace prize for its work in trying to reverse nuclear proliferation, about Meitner’s legacy today. Picture: Lise Meitner, Credit: Central Press/Getty Images
Jan 09, 2018
The Day the Earth Moved
1593
Roland Pease tells the story of how fifty years ago geologists finally became convinced that the earth’s crust is made up of shifting plates. The idea of mobile continents, continental drift, had been talked about, for example because it looked like Africa and South America had once been joined, and were now separated by the Atlantic. But given the solidity of rocks and the vastness of continents, that idea made no sense. Until plate tectonics, as it became known, gave it a scientific basis and rebuilt it into a mechanism that explained earthquakes, mountain belts, chains of volcanic islands and many other geological phenomena. Roland Pease talks to many of the key researchers in the story, now in their 70s and 80s, and finds out how their work transformed our understanding of the earth. Picture: Tectonic plates of planet earth - map with names of major and minor plates, Credit: PeterHermesFurian Presenter: Roland Pease
Jan 01, 2018
Maria Merian
1588
Maria Merian was born in 1647. At the time of her birth, Shakespeare had been dead for 30 years; Galileo had only just stood trial for arguing that the Earth moved around the Sun. And yet, here in Germany, was a child who would become an important but oft-forgotten figure of science. Aged 13, she mapped out metamorphosis, catching caterpillars from her garden and painting them in exquisite detail. At that point, most believed that caterpillars spontaneously generated from cabbages and maggots materialised from rotten meat. She later voyaged to Suriname in South America to pursue pupae further, discovering not just new species but also the conditions needed for their survival. Some call her the first field ecologist; others admire her for her eloquent brushwork. However, her studies will help today’s biologists plot which insects lived where. These data are invaluable because this could help scientists predict what species will survive climate change. Naomi Alderman discusses the life and legacy of Maria Merian with biologist and historian Kay Etheridge from Gettysburg College, Pennsylvania and biologist Kathy Willis from Kew Gardens. Picture: Belly-ache bush (Jatropha gossypifolia) with metamorphosis of a giant sphinx moth (Cocytius antaeus), created by Maria Sibylla Merian and Joseph Mulder, Credit: GRI Digital Collections Producer: Graihagh Jackson
Dec 25, 2017
Alcuin of York
1588
The Dark Ages are often painted as an era of scholarly decline. The Western Roman Empire was on its way out, books were few and far between, and, if you believe the stereotype, mud-splattered peasants ran around in rags. However, it was far more intellectually vibrant than you might imagine. Out of this era emerged a set of ‘problems to sharpen the young,’ including the famous river crossing puzzle that’s still taught in maths today. The presumed author of these riddles is Alcuin of York – ‘the most learned man in the world.’ And it was this monk and his puzzles that laid the foundations for a branch of mathematics called combinatorics – the thinking behind today’s computer coding and cryptography. Philip Ball speaks to historian Mary Garrison from the University of York to learn of Alcuin's character and how he encouraged his students to learn for the sake of learning, as opposed to salvation. And University College London mathematician Hannah Fry shows Philip just how much of a role combinatorics plays in today’s world. Picture: White horned goat chewing a cabbage leaf, Credit: Oxana Medvedeva Producer: Graihagh Jackson
Dec 18, 2017
Cheating the Atmosphere
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All countries are supposed to measure and report their greenhouse gas emissions but BBC environment correspondent, Matt McGrath, reveals there are gaping holes in national inventories. He uncovers serious failings in countries’ accounts of warming gases with many not reporting at all. There are disturbing signs that some banned warming chemicals, which are supposed to have been phased out completely, are once again on the rise. And evidence that worthless carbon credits are still being traded. Meanwhile scientists are growing increasingly frustrated by the refusal of countries to gather and share accurate data in the face of this planetary emergency (Photo: The Jungfraujoch Air Monitoring Station in Switzerland. Credit: Jungfraujoch)
Dec 11, 2017
Better Brains
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Every three seconds someone is diagnosed with dementia, and two thirds of the cases are Alzheimer’s Disease. As the global population ages, this is becoming an epidemic, and with no cures currently available for the collection of neurodegenerative conditions that include Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Motor Neurone Disease the public and personal cost is escalating. Sue Broom reports on new efforts to find ways to stop the progress of these diseases for the first time, and to bring treatment for neurodegenerative conditions in line with those of cancer and heart disease. Picture: Human head, Credit: Science Photo Library Presenter: Sue Broom
Dec 04, 2017
What would happen if you fell into a black hole?
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Two deadly cases today sent in by listeners to curiouscases@bbc.co.uk The Dark Star "What's inside a black hole and could we fly a spaceship inside?" asks Jorge Luis Alvarez from Mexico City. Astrophysicist Sheila Rowan explains how we know invisible black holes actually exist. Plus cosmologist Andrew Pontzen is on hand to help cook one up. But which of our intrepid doctors will volunteer to fly into the heart of a black hole? Kate Bush’s Sonic Weapon "It started while listening to the excellent Experiment IV by Kate Bush. The premise of the song is of a band who secretly work for the military to create a 'sound that could kill someone'. Is it scientifically possible to do this?" asks Paul Goodfield. Hannah consults acoustic engineer Trevor Cox to ask if sonic weapons could kill. And Adam delves into subsonic frequencies with parapsychologist Chris French to investigate their spooky effects. Plus the team investigates the Curious Case of the Embassy in Cuba – could a sonic weapon really be responsible for the wide-ranging symptoms reported by American diplomats in Havana? You can send your scientific mysteries for the team to investigate to: curiouscases@bbc.co.uk Picture: A computer-generated image of a rich star field with a Black Hole in front of it which distorts starlight into a brilliant ring around itself, Credit: BBC Producer: Michelle Martin
Nov 21, 2017
What will happen when the Earth’s poles swap?
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The Polar Opposite No one knows why the Earth's magnetic North and South poles swap. But polar reversals have happened hundreds of times over the history of the Earth. John Turk emailed curiouscases@bbc.co.uk to ask, “when is the next pole swap due and what will happen to us?” Featuring Prof Lucie Green from Mullard Space Science Laboratory and Dr Phil Livermore from the University of Leeds. Plus, astronaut Terry Virts, author of The View from Above, describes his experiences of a strange magnetic glitch in the earth's magnetic field, known as The Bermuda Triangle of Space. The World That Turns "Why does the Earth spin?" asks Joe Wills from Accra in Ghana. Hannah quizzes cosmologist Andrew Pontzen about the birth of the Solar System. BBC weatherman John Hammond describes the curious things that would happen if the Earth spun the opposite way. Send your questions to: curiouscases@bbc.co.uk Picture: The Earth reflecting light from the sun whilst aboard the International Space Station, Credit: Alexander Gerst / ESA via Getty Images Producer: Michelle Martin
Nov 20, 2017
Why can’t we remember being a baby?
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The Astronomical Balloon "How far up can a helium balloon go? Could it go out to space?" asks Juliet Gok, aged 9. This calls for an experiment! Dr Keri Nicholl helps Adam launch a party balloon and track its ascent. But their test doesn't quite go to plan. Meanwhile, Hannah discovers where space begins by asking Public Astronomer Dr Marek Kukula, from the Royal Observatory Greenwich. Send your Curious Cases to the team: curiouscases@bbc.co.uk The Forgetful Child "Why don't we remember the first few years of our lives?" asks David Foulger from Cheltenham. The team investigate the phenomenon of 'infant amnesia' with Catherine Loveday from the University of Westminster. 40% of us claim to remember being under two years old and 18% recall being babies. But can we really trust these early memories? Martin Conway from City University thinks not. Picture: A baby contemplates the sole of its foot, circa 1950, Credit: H. Armstrong Roberts/Retrofile/Hulton Archive/Getty Images Producer: Michelle Martin.
Nov 13, 2017
Why can’t we remember being a baby?
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The Astronomical Balloon "How far up can a helium balloon go? Could it go out to space?" asks Juliet Gok, aged 9. This calls for an experiment! Dr Keri Nicholl helps Adam launch a party balloon and track its ascent. But their test doesn't quite go to plan. Meanwhile, Hannah discovers where space begins by asking Public Astronomer Dr Marek Kukula, from the Royal Observatory Greenwich. Send your Curious Cases to the team: curiouscases@bbc.co.uk The Forgetful Child "Why don't we remember the first few years of our lives?" asks David Foulger from Cheltenham. The team investigate the phenomenon of 'infant amnesia' with Catherine Loveday from the University of Westminster. 40% of us claim to remember being under two years old and 18% recall being babies. But can we really trust these early memories? Martin Conway from City University thinks not. Picture: Baby Foot, Credit H. Armstrong Roberts/Retrofile/Hulton Archive/Getty Images Producer: Michelle Martin.
Nov 13, 2017
How do cats find their way home?
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“How on earth do cats find their way back to their previous home when they move house?" asks Vicky Cole from Nairobi in Kenya. Our enduring love for our feline friends began when Egyptian pharaohs began to welcome domesticated moggies into their homes. Pictured reclining in baskets at the feet of royalty, pet cats soon became fashionable throughout society in Egypt. Today they are the most popular pet in the world, and home is definitely where their hearts lie. "Whereas dogs are bonded to people, cats are bonded to place," explains zoologist Dr John Bradshaw. "It's very typical for them to try and find their way back to their old house when you move." But how do they do it? And if their navigational skills are so good, why do they get lost? Prof Matthew Cobb reveals the super-senses that cats possess, and how to spot when your pet is deploying them. Itchy and Scratchy "What is an itch and how does scratching stop it? Why does scratching some itches feel so good?!" asks Xander Tarver from West Sussex in England. Our doctors set off to probe the mysteries of itch, and discover that this overlooked area of medicine is revealing surprising results about the human brain. From why itching is contagious to why scratching is pleasurable, we get under the skin of this medical mystery. The programme features interviews with neuroscientist Prof Francis McGlone from Liverpool John Moores University and dermatologist Dr Brian Kim from the Center for the Study of Itch at Washington University. Yes, that is a real place. If you have any Curious Cases for the team to solve please email curiouscases@bbc.co.uk. Presenters: Adam Rutherford, Hannah Fry Producer: Michelle Martin (Photo: Cat, Credit: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)
Nov 06, 2017
How much of my body is bacteria?
1588
Science sleuths Drs Rutherford & Fry take on everyday mysteries and solve them with the power of science. Two cases in this episode concerning the inner workings of our bodies, and not for the faint hearted! The Broken Stool "Science tells us that our body houses microbial organisms. Then how much our weight is really our weight? If I am overweight, is it because of my own body cells or excess microflora?" asks Ajay Mathur from Mumbai in India. Adam bravely sends off a personal sample to the 'Map My Gut' project at St Thomas' Hospital to have his microbes mapped. Prof Tim Spector reveals the shocking results - a diet of fried breakfasts and fizzy drinks has left his guts in disarray. But help is at hand to makeover his bacterial lodgers. Science writer Ed Yong, author of 'I Contain Multitudes', reveals how much our microbes weigh. We're just beginning to discover the vast array of vital functions they perform, from controlling our weight, immune system and perhaps even influencing our mood and behaviour. A Code in Blood "Why do we have different blood types?" asks Doug from Norfolk in the UK. The average adult human has around 30 trillion red blood cells, they make up a quarter of the total number of cells in the body. We have dozens of different blood groups, but normally we're tested for just two - ABO and Rhesus factor. Adam and Hannah delve into the gory world of blood and the early history of blood transfusions, to discover why we have blood groups and how they differ around the world. Featuring interviews with Dr Jo Mountford, from the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service and immunologist Dr Sheena Cruikshank from the University of Manchester. If you have any Curious Cases for the team to solve please email curiouscases@bbc.co.uk. Presenters: Adam Rutherford, Hannah Fry Producer: Michelle Martin Image: Illustration of red blood cells in a blood vessel. Copyright: Science Photo Library
Oct 30, 2017
Sydney Brenner: A Revolutionary Biologist
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Sydney Brenner was one of the 20th Century’s greatest biologists. Born 90 years ago in South Africa to impoverished immigrant parents, Dr Brenner became a leading figure in the biological revolution that followed the discovery of the structure of DNA by Crick and Watson, using data from Rosalind Franklin, in the 1950s. Brenner’s insights and inventive experiments laid foundation stones for new science of molecular biology and the genetic age in which we live today, from the Human Genome Project to gene editing. Sydney Brenner talks to biologist and historian Matthew Cobb of the University of Manchester about this thrilling period in biological science, and Dr Brenner’s 20 year-long collaboration with DNA pioneer Francis Crick: a friendship which generated some of their most creative research. Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker Picture: Sydney Brenner, Credit: Cold Spring Harbor Lab Archive
Oct 23, 2017
SOS Snail
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This is a big story about a little snail. Biologist Helen Scales relates an epic tale that spans the globe and involves calamity, tragedy, extinction and we hope, salvation. It stars the tiny tree-dwelling mollusc from French Polynesia, Partula, a snail that has captivated scientists for centuries. Like Charles Darwin studied finches on the Galapagos, Partula became an icon of evolution because, in the living laboratories of the Pacific islands, it had evolved into multiple species. But a calamity drove Partula to extinction, when a botched biological control, the predatory Rosy Wolf Snail, was introduced. It was supposed to eat another problem mollusc, but in a cruel twist, devoured tiny Partula instead. An international rescue mission was scrambled to save a species and from just one or two rescued individuals, populations of this snail species have been built up over thirty years in captive breeding programmes in zoos around the world. And now, in the nailbiting sequel, we track Partula’s journey home. Picture: Reintroduced Partula dispersing on Moorea in French Polynesia, Credit: ZSL Presenter: Helen Scales Producer: Fiona Hill
Oct 16, 2017
Indian Science – The Colonial Legacy
1588
For more than 200 years Britain ruled India, bringing many aspects of British culture to India - including European science developed during the enlightenment. However centuries earlier India had already pioneered work in astronomy, mathematics and engineering. How was India’s scientific progress affected by colonialism? Did British rule hold the country back, or did it drive it forward? Presented by Angela Saini. Picture: The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) communication satellite GSAT-19, carried onboard the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV-mark III ), launches at Sriharikota on June 5, 2017, Credit: ARUN SANKAR/AFP/Getty Images
Oct 09, 2017
India's Ancient Science
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We go behind the scenes of a new exhibition on India at London’s Science Museum. What can historical objects tell us about India’s rich, and often hidden scientific past? We look at the influential mathematics, metallurgy and civil engineering of ancient India. The exhibition also contain artefacts from India’s time under the British Empire. We ask how the many years of colonial rule shaped the more recent scientific development of India. Science journalist Angela Saini presents. Image: Bakhshali manuscript, Credit: Bodleian Library
Oct 02, 2017
Africa’s Great Green Wall
1588
Can Africa’s Great Green Wall beat back the Sahara desert and reverse the degrading landscape? The ambitious 9 miles wide and 5000 miles long line of vegetation will stretch all the way from Dakar in the west to Djibouti in the east. Thomas Fessy is in Senegal where the wall has already begun to evolve into a series of forests and garden communities. He meets the planners, planters, ecologists and local villagers to hear how its early progress is reversing years of poor land use, turning nomads back to farmers, empowering women and creating healthy ecosystems for rain fed agriculture. But can it meet its ambition to stabilize an unstable region, reverse the growing trend of migration, fight the effects of climate change and ensure this big African dream doesn’t die in the sand? Picture: The Great Green Wall, credit: BBC Producer Adrian Washbourne
Sep 25, 2017
Internet of Things
1618
Can we Control the Dark Side of the Internet? The Internet is the world's most widely used communications tool. It’s a fast and efficient way of delivering information. However it is also quite dumb, neutral, treating equally all the data it passes around the world. From data that forms scientific research papers, the wealth of social media to keep us all connected with friends and relatives, entertainment or material we would rather not see- from political propaganda to horrific violence, the Internet makes no distinction. Is it time to change that? And can we? In this programme Aleks Krotoski looks at whether it’s possible to use technological fixes to regulate the internet or whether a more political approach is needed to governance of this vital but flawed communications medium. Picture: Human Hand Using Application on Mobile Phone, Credit: Onfokus
Sep 18, 2017
Dark Side of the World Wide Web
1619
With the coming of the World Wide Web in the 1990s internet access opened up to everybody, it was no longer the preserve of academics and computer hobbyists. Already prior to the Web, the burgeoning internet user groups and chat rooms had tested what was acceptable behaviour online, but access was still limited. Aleks Krotoski asks whether the Web through enabling much wider use of the internet is the villain of the piece in facilitating not just entertainment and commerce, but all aspects of the darker side, from malicious computer hacking attacks, worms and viruses, to new channels for criminality, online extortion and identity theft. (Photo: Internet sign. Credit: code6d)
Sep 11, 2017
The Origin of the Internet
1618
Just how did the Internet become the most powerful communications medium on the planet, and why does it seem to be an uncontrollable medium for good and bad? With no cross border regulation the internet can act as an incredible force for connecting people and supporting human rights and yet at the same time convey the most offensive material imaginable. It has become the most useful research tool on earth but also the most effective way of delivering threats to the security of governments, the health service and on a personal level our own identities. In this series Aleks Krotoski unravels the complexity of the internet, meeting the people who really invented it, looking behind the myths and cultural constructs to explain what it actually is and how it came to exist outside of conventional regulation. We’ll ask whether the nature of the net itself really is cause for concern - and if so what can be done to reign in the negatives of the internet without restricting the positives? In this first episode we go back to the days before the internet to look at the cultural and technological landscape from which it grew, and unravel some of the key moments - now lost in time and obscured by technology folklore, which mark when the internet lost its innocence. Picture: Mechanical computer keyboard blurred, credit: OSchaumann/Getty
Sep 04, 2017
Silicon - The World's Building Block
1617
Silicon is literally everywhere in both the natural and built environment, from the dominance of silicate rocks in the earth crust, to ubiquitous sand in building materials and as the basis for glass. We've also harnessed silicon's properties as a semiconductor to build the modern electronics industry - without silicon personal computers and smartphones would simply not exist. Silicon is also found widely across the universe. It is formed in stars, particularly when they explode. And the similarities between how silicon and carbon form chemical bonds has led many to wonder whether there could be silicon based life elsewhere - perhaps in some far flung part of the galaxy where carbon is not as abundant as here on earth. As well as discussing the potential for silicon based life on other planets, Birkbeck University astrobiologist Dr Louisa Preston considers the varied uses of silicon here on earth, from its dominance in our built environment to its driving role in artificial intelligence and its ability to harness the sun's energy. Image: Lump of silicon on solar panels Credit: wloven/Getty Images
Aug 28, 2017
The Day the Sun Went Dark
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For the first time in almost 100 years the USA is experiencing a full solar eclipse from coast to coast on August 21st 2017. Main image: Totality during the solar eclipse at Palm Cove on November 14, 2012 in Palm Cove, Australia. Credit: Ian Hitchcock / Getty Images
Aug 21, 2017
Carbon - the backbone of life
1618
Carbon is widely considered to be the key element in forming life. It's at the centre of DNA, and the molecules upon which all living things rely. Monica Grady, Professor of Planetary Science at the Open University, explores the nature of carbon, from its formation in distant stars to its uses and abuses here on earth. She looks at why it forms the scaffold upon which living organisms are built, and how the mechanisms involved have helped inform the development of new carbon based technology, and products - from telephones to tennis rackets. One form of carbon is graphene which offers great promise in improving solar cells and batteries, and introducing a whole new range of cheaper more flexible electronics. Carbon is also the key component of greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane. To counter some of the effects of man-made climate change, Scientists are now developing novel ways to speed up this mechanism - using waste materials created from mining and industry. Monica Grady also looks to space, and the significance of carbon in the far reaches of the universe. There is lots of carbon in space, some in forms we might recognise as the precursors to molecules. As elemental carbon seems to be everywhere what are the chances of carbon based life elsewhere? Image: Steam and exhaust rise from the chemical company Oxea (front) and the coking plant January 6, 2017 in Oberhausen, Germany. Photo by Lukas Schulze Getty Images
Aug 14, 2017
And then there was Li
1619
From the origins of the universe, though batteries, glass and grease to influencing the working of our brains, neuroscientist Sophie Scott tracks the incredible power of lithium. It's 200 years ago this year that lithium was first isolated and named, but this, the lightest of all metals, had been used as a drug for centuries before. From the industrial revolution it proves its worth as a key ingredient in glass and grease, and as the major component in lithium ion batteries it powers every smartphone on the planet. In mental health lithium has proved one of the most effective treatments. And its use to treat physical ailments is now making a comeback. We explore how the chemistry of lithium links all these apparently unrelated uses together. Main Image: Lights from mobile phones in Bucharest on February, 2017. Credit: ANDREI PUNGOVSCHI / AFP / Getty Images )
Aug 07, 2017
Oxygen: The breath of Life
1617
Oxygen appeared on Earth over two billion years ago and life took off. Now it makes up just over a fifth of the air. Trevor Cox, professor of acoustic engineering at the University of Salford, England, tells the story of oxygen on Earth and in space. Without oxygen, there would be no life on Earth, yet it was not discovered until late in the 18th Century. During the Great Oxidation Event, three billion years ago, cyanobacteria, thought to be the earliest forms of life on our planet, started to photosynthesise and these tiny creatures were responsible for putting the oxygen into our atmosphere, so we can breathe today. But it is not just for breathing. Ozone is three atoms of oxygen, and when it is in the stratosphere it stops harmful UVB rays from the sun reaching us. And if we are ever to leave our home planet, we will need to find a way to generate enough oxygen to keep us alive. Trevor visits the Science Museum in London, to discover how astronauts on the space station get their oxygen. Trevor Cox is not only an acoustic engineer, he also plays the saxophone. When he finds out the role that oxygen, in the air, has on the sound of his playing he gets a surprise. (Photo: Hovering clouds near Nagqu, approx 4,500 meters above sea level, north of Lhasa on the Tibetan plateau. Credit: Frederic J Brown/ AFP/Getty Images)
Aug 01, 2017
Mercury - Chemistry's Jekyll and Hyde
1832
The most beautiful and shimmering of the elements, the weirdest, and yet the most reviled. Chemist Andrea Sella tell the story of Mercury, explaining the significance of this element not just for chemistry, but also the development of modern civilisation. It's been a a source of wonder for thousands of years - why is this metal a liquid? and what is its contribution to art, from the Stone Age to the Renaissance? We look at how Mercury is integral to hundreds of years of scientific discoveries, from weather forecasting to steam engines and the detection of atomic particles it has a key role. However Mercury is highly toxic in certain forms and ironically the industrial processes it helped create have led to global pollution which now threatens fish, wildlife and ourselves. We ask is it time to say goodbye to Mercury? Picture: Hg, mercury metal drops, credit: AlexeyVS/Getty Images
Jul 24, 2017
Eating Well in Lyon: Healthy Diets to prevent Bowel Cancer
1611
Anu Anand is in Lyon, looking at what we eat and drink and the risk of bowel cancer
Jul 17, 2017
Catching Prostate Cancer Early in Trinidad
1602
Anu Anand on detecting and treating prostate cancer in Trinidad and Tobago.
Jul 10, 2017
The USA’s Deadly Racial Divide: Black Women & Breast Cancer
1584
Anu Anand explores why more black women are more likely to die of breast cancer in the US
Jul 03, 2017
Screening and Treating Cervical Cancer in Tanzania
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Anu Anand on how vinegar and a head torch are used to tackle cervical cancer in Tanzania
Jun 26, 2017
Taking On Tobacco - Lung Cancer in Uruguay
1582
For more than 65 years we have known that smoking kills. So how can it be that a Mexican wave of tobacco use, disease and death is heading at breakneck speed towards the world’s poorest people? Millions will die of lung cancer and it is hard to grasp that this is a largely preventable disease. Uruguay in South America could hold the key to breaking this wave. Under a President who is a cancer specialist they introduced some of the most radical tobacco control policies in the world and attracted the wrath of corporate tobacco giant, Philip Morris, in the process. Anu Anand reports on Uruguay’s crusade to save its citizens. Image: Roberto, life long smoker who has lung cancer Credit: Anu Anand
Jun 21, 2017
Dying in Comfort in Mongolia
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The Mongolian matriarch who is helping people with terminal liver cancer die in comfort
Jun 16, 2017