By BBC World Service

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Subscribers: 974
Reviews: 14

 Aug 12, 2020

 May 21, 2020
Very interesting and fun to listen to. Lots of topics in all the sciences are explored and explained. Easy to understand. Excellent presenters who are fun and friendly.

 Jan 6, 2020
great podcast, always interesting and informative.

 Jan 5, 2020

 Nov 19, 2019
Great show, always looking forward to the next.


We take your questions about life, Earth and the universe to researchers hunting for answers at the frontiers of knowledge.

Episode Date
Why am I embarrassed to be naked?
Why am I embarrassed to be naked? Chumbuzzo in Zambia wonders. And what would happen if we ditched our clothes and embraced nudity? Presenter Anand Jagatia and Producer Caroline Steel spend the day naked with other naturists to see if they can shift their embarrassment. Maybe there are good evolutionary reasons to cover up or perhaps we are contributing to inequality and negative body image by hiding our real selves? Marnie Chesterton explores different cultural attitudes to nudity and finds out about the science behind embarrassment. Clothes optional. Presented by Marnie Chesterton. Produced by Caroline Steel for the BBC World Service
Sep 25, 2020
Why do we like spicy food?
Many of us willingly subject ourselves to pain and irritation by eating chilli. CrowdScience listener Tina wonders what’s driving this apparent masochism: why does ‘feeling the burn’ make so many of us feel so good? It’s just one of several tasty questions we tuck into in this episode. Also on the menu is stew: why does it taste better the next day? Listener Helen’s local delicacy is Welsh cawl, a meat and vegetable concoction. Tradition dictates it should be eaten the day after it’s made, but is there any science behind this? And we finish the meal with cheese. Listener Leander asks what makes some cheeses blue, some hard and crumbly, and some run all over your fridge. How is milk transformed into such radically different end products? Presented by Marnie Chesterton and Alex Lathbridge Produced by Cathy Edwards, Marnie Chesterton and Alex Lathbridge for the BBC World Service. [Photo:Woman eating red Chilli Pepper. Credit: Getty Images]
Sep 18, 2020
Why does running water make me need the toilet?
What does science say about controlling urination, and other bodily functions? We tackle three queries about peeing triggers, pooing positions and missing sweat. This episode CrowdScience presenter Marnie Chesterton poses some of the best listener follow-up questions that have landed in our inbox to a panel of experts. Listener Samuel in Ghana is wondering why watery sounds seem to induce urination. Producer Melanie Brown heads out to survey whether this is the case for individuals in an actual crowd at a public fountain in London. And urologist and trustee of the International Continence Society Marcus Drake talks Marnie through how he uses the sound of running water during his work as a hospital doctor helping patients with common but distressing peeing issues, and the limitations of research into this question. And he’s not the only listener who wants us to dig deeper into topics we’ve explored on the show before. Anna in Tokyo also got in touch after hearing our show about toilets, to ask if there is a toilet design that is most ‘natural’ for our health. Gastroenterologist Anton Emmanuel explains why small changes in people’s posture whilst pooing can have a significant impact on their quality of life. Finally, listeners Stelle, James and Joel emailed after hearing Marnie investigate hyperhidrosis: Sweating too much. They and their relatives experience the opposite:
Sep 04, 2020
What’s the yeast doing inside my bread?
If you’re one of the millions of people who used lockdown to try something new like baking sourdough bread, you may well be wondering what’s happening chemically inside your loaf, especially if the end result keeps changing. Well, you’re not alone. Listeners Soheil and Sean are both keen bakers but want to know more about the thing that makes bread rise: yeast. What is yeast? Where does it come from and can you catch it? And how hard is it to ‘make’ yourself? Soon after lockdown took effect, commercial supplies of the stuff disappeared from supermarket shelves across the globe. The shortage also affected brewers the world over. A big fan of yeast in most of its forms, Marnie Chesterton took on the challenge of creating her own. She talks to the brewers who hunt rare strains to create the perfect beer, and hears from the biologist who says these amazing microbes, used for thousands of years, could be used to make food production more sustainable. And she discovers how this simple ingredient could be instrumental in the fight against climate change. Presented by Marnie Chesterton and Produced by Marijke Peters for the BBC World Service.
Aug 21, 2020
What is the point of slime?
Squelching into the science of slime, Chhavi Sachdev seeks to find out why it took so long for listener Helen Tyson to remove slime from her fingers, after she picked up a tiny slug while gardening. This unfortunate and hugely repulsive experience set Helen to wonder what it is about the structure of slug slime that makes it gloopy, so she sent Chhavi to meet with slug slime expert Professor Andrew Smith who reveals how the complex molecular structure of this pervasive fluid makes it so difficult to scrub off. Slime is used by all sorts of creatures including the Giant African Land snail, which invaded India by hitching a ride on imported timber. But invasive species biologist Dr TV Sajeev reveals that these snails are themselves giving a lift to another meningitis-causing parasite that can infect people. Chhavi looks for these massive molluscs in her own garden in Mumbai. Marine biologist Helen Scales describes how animals can use slime for catching food, mating, defence, or even transportation, and Chhavi speaks with Dr Adam Celiz who has been inspired by this slimy adaptability to create a tool that can provide new cells to replace damaged heart cells after a cardiac arrest. Slugs, snails and even fish keep a variety of useful chemicals in their slime. Some make them taste bitter, and others numb the mouth of predators, but they may also prevent the animals from contracting infections. Dr Sarah Pitt has investigated these compounds in the slimy mucus of a garden snail and discovered an antibiotic that is brand new to science. Slime is pretty disgusting, but it’s also completely fascinating. Presented by Chhavi Sachdev Produced by Rory Galloway (Photo: Slugs Mating. Credit: Getty Images)
Aug 14, 2020
Introducing The Bomb
Emily’s grandad worked on the bomb that fell on Hiroshima. Could another man – Leo Szilard - have stopped it? This is the new series from the BBC World Service – search for The Bomb wherever you get your podcasts.
Aug 12, 2020
Does air traffic affect our weather?
Anyone else had their flight cancelled? The COVID 19 pandemic has had a huge impact on air travel – air traffic in 2020 is expected to be down 50 per cent on last year. But beyond the obvious disruption to business and people’s lives, how might the quieter skies affect our weather and climate? One curious listener, Jeroen Wijnands, who lives next to Schiphol airport in the Netherlands, noticed how there were fewer clouds and barely any rainfall since the flights dropped off. Could airplanes affect our local weather? Also, did we learn anything from another occasion when airplanes were grounded, during the post-9/11 shutdown? How will the current period impact our future climate? Marnie Chesterton investigates this question and discovers some of the surprising effects that grounded aircraft are having: on cloud formation, forecasting and climate change. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton, Producer: Dom Byrne [Photo:Commercial airplane parking at the airport. Credit: Getty Images]
Aug 07, 2020
Why do conspiracy theories exist?
Listener Avalon from Australia wants to know why people use conspiracy theories to explain shocking events. Are we more likely to believe conspiracy theories in times of adversity? What purpose do conspiracy theories serve in society? Marnie Chesterton speaks to the scientists to explain their popularity, even in the face of seemingly irrefutable evidence. Presented by Marnie Chesterton. Produced by Caroline Steel for the BBC World Service. Image: All-seeing eye of God inside triangle pyramid. Credit: paseven, Getty Images
Jul 31, 2020
Are some soaps better than others?
These days we’re more acquainted with soap than ever before, as we lather up to help stop the spread of coronavirus. And for CrowdScience listener Sharon, this set off a steady stream of soapy questions: how does soap actually work? How was it discovered in the first place, long before anyone knew anything about germs? Are different things used for washing around the world, and are some soaps better than others? We set up a CrowdScience home laboratory to explore the soap making process with advice from science-based beauty blogger Dr Michelle Wong, and find out what it is about soap’s chemistry that gives it its germ-fighting superpowers. Soap has been around for at least 4000 years; we compare ancient soap making to modern methods, and hear about some of the soap alternatives used around the world, like the soap berries of India. And as for the question of whether some soaps are better than others? We discover why antibacterial soaps aren’t necessarily a good idea, and why putting a toy inside a bar of soap might be more important than tweaking its ingredients. Presented by Marnie Chesterton. Produced by Cathy Edwards for the BBC World Service. Image: Child with thoroughly washed hands. Credit: Getty Images.
Jul 24, 2020
How is human sound affecting sealife?
Think of the oceans and an empty and peaceful expanse relatively untouched by humankind might come to mind. But is this peace an illusion? CrowdScience listener Dani wants to know if the noise of shipping and other human activity on the oceans is impacting on sea life. To find out, Marnie Chesterton takes a deep dive to learn how marine animals have evolved to use sound; from navigating their environments to finding a mate or hiding from prey. She then speaks to a scientist who is using acoustic observatories to track the many ways human activity - like sonar and shipping - can interfere. Marnie virtually visits a German lab which tests the ears of beached whales, dolphins and seals from around the world to try and ascertain whether they suffered hearing damage, and what might have caused it. What other smaller creatures are negatively impacted by underwater noise? Marnie learns that acoustic trauma is more widespread than first thought. As human life continues to expand along ocean waters, what is being done to reduce the impact of sound? Marnie meets some of the designers at the forefront of naval architecture to see how ship design, from propellers to air bubbles and even wind powered vessels can contribute to reducing the racket in the oceans. Presented by Marnie Chesterton. Produced by Melanie Brown for the BBC World Service. Main Image: The front of a humpback whale underneath the sea in Shetland Islands, Scotland, December 2016. Credit: Richard Shucksmith / Barcroft Im / Barcroft Media via Getty Images
Jul 17, 2020
Could earthworms help transform the future of farming?
Worms are not the cutest of creatures. They’re slimy, often associated with death and tend to bring on feelings of disgust in many of us. But listener Dinesh thinks they’re underrated and wants to know whether earthworms could be the key to our planet’s future agricultural success? He’s an organic farmer in India’s Tamil Nadu province who grows these annelids to add to the soil, and he wants Crowdscience to find out exactly what they’re doing. Anand Jagatia dons his gardening gloves and digs the dirt on these remarkable creatures, discovering how they can help improve soil quality, prevent fields from becoming waterlogged, and improve microbial numbers, all of which has the potential to increase crop yield. But he also investigates the so-called ‘earthworm dilemma’ and the idea that in some parts of the world, boreal forest worms are releasing carbon back into the atmosphere, which could have dangerous consequences for climate change. (Photo:
Jul 10, 2020
Is barefoot running better?
Shoes are a surprisingly recent human invention. But running isn’t. That means for most of our time on the planet, we’ve run barefoot. Today, in most countries it’s rare to see people out in public without shoes, let alone running. But might our aversion to the free foot be causing us pain? CrowdScience mega-fan Hnin is an experienced runner, she enjoys ultra-marathons back home in Australia. But about six months ago she developed extreme foot pain, the condition ‘Plantar Fasciitis’, and this has meant she had to stop doing what she loves. She reached out to CrowdScience presenter Chhavi Sachdev, to find out if barefoot running could reduce her pain and improve her performance. Simply put, is barefoot running better? In an attempt to find Hnin some answers, Chhavi hits the ground… running. Literally throwing off her own shoes on the streets of her home city of Mumbai, India, to see how feeling the ground can change her whole gait. And with Prof. Dan Lieberman, Chhavi learns what sets the human runner apart from other species while uncovering the strange form our feet have. She speaks with the Dr Peter Francis, a researcher whose life’s work has focused on curing the pain in his own feet and learning how to help others. But performance is also important for runners. Biomechanics and shoe expert Dr Sharon Dixon explains how modifications to the sports-shoe are helping marathon runners set records, and blade-running athlete Kiran Kanojia shows Chhavi how the technology behind her two prosthetic legs let her emulate either natural walking or natural running. Presented by Chhavi Sachdev Produced by Rory Galloway (Photo: barefoot running on beach. Credit: Getty Images)
Jul 03, 2020
What’s the point of blood types?
If you put one person’s blood into another person , sometimes it’s fine and sometimes it’s a death sentence. French physician Jean-Baptiste Denis discovered this when he performed the first blood transfusion back in 1667. He put the blood of a lamb into a 15-year boy. The teenager survived but Denis’s third attempt killed the patient and led to a murder charge. In 1900, Austrian doctor Karl Landsteiner discovered the reason for this lottery – blood types. The red blood cells in our bodies are decorated with different marker molecules called antigens. These define us as A, B, AB or O blood type. And this is just one of 38 different systems for classifying our blood. CrowdScience listeners have discovered that we aren’t the only animal with blood types and want to know more. Dogs have 12 different blood groups, so how do they cope when they need a transfusion? CrowdScience meets some very good dogs who donate a pint to the pet blood bank in return for a toy and a treat. Each pint saving up to 4 other dogs’ lives. We also hear how examining our blood types can tell us more about our slinks to our ape-like cousins and how the human species spread around the world. And what about the future of blood types – can we use science, and animal blood to get around the problems of transfusions? Producer and Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Photo: Red Blood Cells. Credit: Getty Images
Jun 26, 2020
Do animals have consciousness?
What exactly it means to be conscious has long been a question of profound debate amongst philosophers, and more recently, scientists. There are no easy answers, and it gets even trickier when you start asking whether animals are conscious: how can you find out about their subjective experience when they can’t tell you about it? Never afraid to tackle the impossible, CrowdScience is looking for answers after listener Natalie got in touch. She has lived with her cat for years and has a strong sense that he has thoughts and feelings: he has his own personality, acts in complex ways, and even has ‘grumpy days’. But is this consciousness? Is there any way of scientifically testing for it? How different from our own inner world is that of a cat, an octopus, or a bumblebee? And if we can find any answers to these puzzling questions, how does that affect the way we treat animals - not just our pets, but all the animals we share our planet with? We meet Natalie and her cat, and discover how scientists have explored the minds of pigs, cows and cuttlefish. Helping us ponder the elusive question of animal consciousness are philosopher Peter Godfrey-Smith, neuroscientist Anil Seth, animal welfare expert Donald Broom, ethicist Jessica Pierce, and comparative psychologist Alex Schnell. Featuring David Seddon as the voice of Chicco the Cat. Presented by Anand Jagatia and Produced by Cathy Edwards for BBC World Service. (Photo: Black Cat. Credit: Getty Images)
Jun 19, 2020
Were my atoms once your atoms?
We were bowled over by a question from one CrowdScience listener in Australia wants to know how likely it is that the atoms in his body have been used in someone else’s body? We all like to think we are unique; no one is quite like us. But is that really true? Presenter Marnie Chesterton tackles Moshe’s question with help from every area of science. From geologists helping us work out how many atoms are on the Earth’s surface to biologists helping us work out how many atoms each body uses. Perhaps we are much less special than we think. Presented by Marnie Chesterton. Produced by Caroline Steel for the BBC World Service. (Photo:
Jun 12, 2020
Would you risk your life to save another?
Have you ever broken up a fight? Or pushed someone out the way of an oncoming vehicle, only to be hit by it yourself? Most of us probably haven’t taken as many risks as listener Alix, who has put herself in peril to save strangers on several occasions, and she wants Crowdscience to investigate why. At a time when medical professionals have to weigh up the personal dangers of working on the frontline of the Coronavirus crisis, it’s a particularly timely question. Marnie Chesterton finds out why it’s a good thing that children push the boundaries of what’s safe during playtime, because it makes them less anxious adults. And she questions the existence of the so-called bystander effect, discovering how evolution has ensured we’re a much braver species than we sometimes give ourselves credit for. But she hears from some social scientists who say there’s no such thing as a ‘hero’, however likely they are to intervene to help others. Presented by Marnie Chesterton Produced by Marijke Peters
Jun 10, 2020
Why can’t you tickle yourself?
This week the kids take over. Our younger listeners are as curious as their parents, it seems, so presenter Marnie Chesterton seeks out the finest minds and attempts to answer a raft of their science questions, including why can’t you tickle yourself? Why don’t our eyebrows grow as long as the hair on our heads? Not content with humankind, these whizz kids have been pondering deeply about other animals. Ava, 9, from the UK wants to know if any other animals kill for fun, like some humans do. Not limited by planet Earth, these little thinkers have been contemplating even weightier questions. Joshua, 13, from Kenya wonders if our Solar System rotates around anything. And Seattle-based Michael, 10, puzzles over what would happen if a black hole collided with a wormhole. These and other mysteries are uncovered by Marnie and her experts. Presenters: Marnie Chesterton & Arlo Byrne Producer: Dom Byrne [Photo: Children Tickling each other, Adorable laughter. Credit: Getty Images]
May 29, 2020
How does a language begin?
There are over 7000 living languages on earth today. These mutually unintelligible means of communication are closely associated with different groups' identities. But how does a new language start out? That’s what listener BK wants to know. BK lives on one of the islands of the Philippines, where he speaks three languages fluently and has noticed there is a different language on almost every island. Presenter Anand Jagatia finds language experts from around the world who tell him about the many different ways that languages can form. Professor Dan Everett explains that languages naturally change over centuries to the point they are mutually unintelligible, and Quentin Everett describes how his research has identified striking similarities between biological, and linguistic evolution. Sally Thomason, Professor of linguistics in the USA tells us about the more unusual ways that languages can form through contact, or purposeful distancing measures, and Anand speaks with a producer of the BBC’s Pidgin service, about how the contact language nigerian pidgin may be developing into an official language West Africa. Finally, the inventor of a constructed language from the movie Avatar, tells CrowdScience what he has learned about language by creating the fully functional Na’vi language from scratch, and what Na’vi’s adoption by speakers around the world can tell us about the importance of language for creating community. Hearing from different languages from around the world through the programme, CrowdScience get to grips with the many ways new languages can form. Presented by Anand Jagatia, Produced by Rory Galloway (Photo: Chalk board of languages, Credit: Getty Images)
May 22, 2020
Does my toilet make sense?
Despite being a universal need, talking about our toilet use and the infrastructure that aids us remains somewhat taboo. Whilst sectors like telecommunications and computing have undergone rapid transformations over the past century, the flush toilet and wastewater system have mostly remained unchanged. CrowdScience listeners Linda and Allison wonder if flush toilets – and the clean water used to wash waste away - make economic or environmental sense. So CrowdScience presenter Marnie Chesterton looks under the toilet lid, to probe (in a sanitary fashion) whether our sewerage systems and plumbed toilets are fit for purpose. In a future where population growth and climate change are likely to affect water demands, can we continue to use clean water to dispose of our waste and should the developing world be emulating this model? Around 2 billion people don’t have access to proper toilets or latrines, risking serious health consequences. Marnie investigates how countries without comprehensive sewerage infrastructure deal with human waste and how science is providing novel ways to dispose of - and use – human waste. Marnie speaks to a Kenyan scientist using poo-eating fly larvae to process faeces and a North American scientist who is developing a smart-toilet she hopes will monitor our health through sampling our daily movements. Are we ready to break taboos to innovate our toilet habits? Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Melanie Brown (Image: Man looking at toilet. Credit: Getty Images)
May 15, 2020
What is the smallest particle?
What is the smallest particle of matter? How does radiation affect our bodies? And, how is particle physics useful in our everyday lives? CrowdScience takes on particle physics questions from listeners all over the world. Marnie Chesterton and Anand Jagatia get help from particle physicists from the Large Hadron Collider at CERN and medical physicist Heather Williams. Presented by Marnie Chesterton and Anand Jagatia Produced by Cathy Edwards, Jen Whyntie and Louisa Field (Photo: Particle collider, Credit: Getty IMages)
May 08, 2020
How do I learn maths when school’s shut?
What’s the importance of zero, and how was it discovered? How do scientists calculate Pi’s infinite digits? Why do so many people find maths difficult – and what’s the most difficult thing in maths? CrowdScience takes on a whole bunch of questions sent in by high school students in Spain. Like many children all over the world, their school is currently closed due to the coronavirus lockdown, but lessons continue at home. So how are their studies going, and can CrowdScience help out? We attempt to answer some of their trickiest maths questions, with the help of mathematicians Katie Steckles and Matt Parker, and mathematical biologist Kit Yates. Presented by Marnie Chesterton. Produced by Cathy Edwards for the BBC World Service. Image Credit: Getty Images
May 01, 2020
Why do you sweat more than me?
If you're an exercise fan, you'll know that sweating is how our bodies keep us cool, but how much water we lose and which bits of us get wettest depend on a whole host of factors. Jamaican listener Andre wants to know why he sweats in a heart-shape when he hits the gym, and we find out how everything from the clothes he wears to the moves he's doing explain his unusual perspiration patterns. In Kenya we meet a woman whose permanently clammy hands cause her to drop her mobile phone, and sweaty feet start to stink when she spends too long in shoes. Hyperhidrosis is a condition affecting millions of people worldwide but an expert explains some of the treatments for this mysterious condition. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Marijke Peters Image Credit: Getty Images
Apr 24, 2020
What makes a spider spin a web?
If you have ever watched a spider as it works to build a web, spiralling inwards with a thread of silk, that intersects each glistening spoke with a precise touch of the foot, you will know that it is a remarkably complex behaviour. In this episode, presenter Geoff Marsh dives into the minds of spider-constructors as they build their webs. CrowdScience listener Daan asked us to find out how spiders can build webs without ever being taught how to do it. Are they just little robots controlled entirely by their genetic instructions? Spider silk expert Dr Beth Mortimer, describes the process of building a web in detail, while Professor Iain Couzin explains the simple modular behaviours that build up, in sequence, to create apparently complex instincts, like the huge locust swarms that are sweeping across vast areas of Africa and Arabia. Taking us deep under the exoskeletons of invertebrates, Professor Gene Robinson reveals an animal's behaviours can be altered by their genes, and the root similarity between learning and instincts. Spiders, despite their tiny size, have fascinating behaviours. Some jumping spiders can work out the best way out of a maze, and one arachnologist reveals how some social spiders can cooperate to build communal webs and capture moths that are many times their size. Geoff searches for the science that can reveal how instinct can create complex behaviour by setting up interviews at the homes of spider experts from around the world. Presented by Geoff Marsh. Produced by Rory Galloway for BBC World Service. Image: European garden spider, Araneus diadematus hanging in the web. Photo by: Michael Siluk / Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Apr 23, 2020
How can I reduce stress?
Listener Keith from Lincolnshire wants to know how to reduce stress as he is under extreme pressure as a firefighter. Not only does he have to cope with the stress of responding to emergency situations but he has to do it while wearing challenging breathing equipment. We all experience times of stress, especially given the current situation, our chest starts to feel tight and our breathing becomes shallow. Claudia Hammond – presenter of BBC World Service programme Health Check – explains steps we can take to protect our mental health during this pandemic. How should we alter our breathing to manage stress? Presenter Anand Jagatia speaks to breathing experts to find techniques to help listener Keith, and everyone else. Presented by Anand Jagatia. Produced by Caroline Steel for BBC World Service.
Apr 10, 2020
Will a placebo boost my sports performance?
In medicine, it’s long been recognised that a placebo, a sham medicine or treatment, can have a powerful positive effect on a patient’s health. Part of that effect relies on a person’s belief that an inactive substance or treatment (for example, a sugar pill) is in fact an active drug. Placebos come in many forms and the scientific study of placebo is an active area of research. With this in mind, CrowdScience listener Nigel got in touch to ask if can placebos be used to improve sports performance? As an amateur sports enthusiast, he’s been reading up on his sports psychology to try and improve his game but he wonders if any coaches or psychologists use placebos to improve performance? Always ready to take up a challenge, presenter Anand Jagatia explores the world of endurance sport to find out how a placebo might used to improve athletes’ performances as well as his own and look at how advances in brain science are helping us understand the unusual neurobiology of placebo. And what of the amateur golfer or rugby or table tennis player - can placebo help? On an individual level, so called ‘verbal placebo’ is a technique that can help players with anxiety, confidence and concentration, and ultimately make them win more. And what about team sports – when, say, a new manager takes over at an ailing football club, and sparks a massive reversal in poor results, is that placebo effect in action? The CrowdScience team investigates. Produced by Dom Byrne, Presented by Anand Jagatia.
Apr 03, 2020
Can science explain why I love shopping?
If you've ever felt the urge to shop till you drop, then you may already know about some of the clever ways retailers convince us to consume. From flash sales to so-called unbelievable offers, there are a whole range of techniques aimed at encouraging us to flash the cash. Listener Mo works in marketing, so knows more than most about the tricks of the trade - but he wants CrowdScience to investigate how neuroscience is being used to measure our behaviour and predict what we’ll buy. Marnie Chesterton finds out how brain scans are being used to discover which specific aspect of an advertisement a person is responding to, and then she hears how this information is being used by companies who want to sell us more stuff. But there's also evidence to suggest we have less control over these decisions than we think, and that computers are getting closer to detecting our intention before we're even aware of it ourselves. And this could have huge implications for the way we shop. Presented by: Marnie Chesterton Produced by: Marijke Peters (Photo:
Mar 27, 2020
Can I trust DNA ancestry tests?
Many of us are fascinated by our ancestry: knowing where our families came from can give us a sense of identity and roots. Tracing your family tree is a time-honoured tradition, but several companies now sell DNA tests that offer you insights into your heritage: so you might find out you’re 70% Nigerian, 39% Italian, or 11% South Asian, for example. There’s no doubt that genes contain clues about your family history, but how reliable are these commercial tests? That’s what CrowdScience listener Karen wondered after an update of her test results showed her going from 39% Scandinavian to 2% Norwegian. How confident can she be in her results now? And what does it actually mean to be 2% Norwegian, in terms of your family tree? Presenter Alex Lathbridge delves into his own African and European ancestry, talks to some of the companies offering these tests, and unpicks the complex relationship between genetic science and family trees. We meet a woman who found her long-lost uncle with a combination of a DNA test and old-fashioned archive research; and look to the Americas to ask whether genetic testing can restore ancestral ties erased by the inhumanity of the transatlantic slave trade. Presented by Alex Lathbridge Produced by Cathy Edwards for the BBC World Service (Photo: Elderly hands looking at old photos of self and family. Credit: Getty Images)
Mar 20, 2020
What are scientists doing about coronavirus?
Since the outbreak of a new strain of coronavirus late last year, health workers and governments have been rushing to limit transmission by deploying containment tactics and anti-contamination campaigns. But, as the virus spreads around the world, what are scientists doing to help our bodies fight off or resist this new infectious disease? Viruses that cause human disease can be notoriously tricky to tackle. They don’t respond to antibiotics, can spread rapidly between human hosts, and even evolve improved ways of working as they multiply. Presenter Marnie Chesterton heads to the University of Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Medicine to meet the researchers who are urgently searching for solutions. Professor Tao Dong is Director of Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences Oxford Institute, collaborating with colleagues on the ground in China to see how Chinese patients’ immune systems are responding to the virus, which could inform vaccine design. Professor Sarah Gilbert leads the Jenner Institute’s influenza vaccine and emerging pathogens programme. She’s been developing a vaccine against another strain of coronavirus that caused the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) outbreak, and is using the same technology to generate a new vaccine against the 2019 coronavirus. And, whilst that’s being developed, there is a possibility that some existing antiviral drugs may even help infected patients – Professor Peter Horby is working with colleagues in China on clinical trials to see what might work. CrowdScience goes into the laboratories using cutting edge science to combat coronavirus. Presented by Marnie Chesterton Produced by Jen Whyntie for the BBC World Service (Photo: Coronavirus Credit: Getty Images)
Mar 13, 2020
Introducing 13 Minutes to the Moon Season 2
Jump on-board a doomed mission to the Moon. Apollo 13: the extraordinary story, told by the people who flew it and saved it. Search for 13 Minutes to the Moon wherever you get your podcasts. #13MinutestotheMoon
Mar 09, 2020
Why are we obsessed with crime?
Why are we obsessed with crime? Kay from Hamburg, Germany asks as every Sunday evening Germans pile into their local pubs to watch Tatort, a hugely successful crime drama which has been running for 50 years. Presenter Marnie Chesterton starts with the science and speaks with psychologists to get to the bottom of where this obsession might come from. Have we evolved to have an innate obsession with danger or are we addicted to feeling fear? Or perhaps the dramatisation of crime fuels our obsession. Producer Caroline Steel visits the film set of BBC crime drama, Line of Duty. Producer Jed Mercurio explains what draws us to crime narratives and the techniques he uses to keep his audience captivated. But does the way we chose to represent crime in media match up with reality? And what is the impact of this on society and policy? (Photo: body outline. Credit: Getty Images)
Mar 06, 2020
What’s the weirdest weather?
Weather: wet, dry, cold, hot, sunny, windy or downright weird - there’s nothing quite like it as a conversation starter, from Austin to Jakarta. And judging from the large volume of emails about all things meteorological in the CrowdScience inbox, there’s plenty to talk about. What’s the weirdest weather on Earth, and how big a chance is there of it happening? Why does it always seem to rain on the days when we’re not working? And – conversely – is there any way we could make it rain when and where we need it to? Presenter Anand Jagatia finds out the answers to these questions and more by bringing together a panel of experts under the CrowdScience umbrella: Prof Liz Bentley, Royal Meteorological Society; Dr Anthony Rea, World Meteorological Organization, and Dr Rebecca Buccholz, National Centre for Atmospheric Research. Presented by Anand Jagatia. Produced by Jen Whyntie for the BBC World Service (Photo: Lenticular Cloud. Credit: Getty Images)
Feb 28, 2020
Why do insects prefer to bite certain people?
A lovely day out in the countryside can be blighted when swarms of midges or mosquitos invite themselves to the party. A CrowdScience listener in New Zealand has noticed that, when sand-flies come a-biting, she and her daughter are targeted, while her husband and other daughter escape unharmed. She wants to know why some, but not all of her family become bait for insect bites. CrowdScience delves into a world of smells, called semiochemistry, which explores the aromas one animal uses to attract or repel another. Does our attractiveness as a blood meal to insects come down to what we wear, what we’ve eaten or is it all in our genes? Host Marnie Chesterton discards the DEET and bravely offers herself up as a meal for mozzies, in a quest for answers. (Photo:Mosquito on skin. Credit: Getty Images)
Feb 21, 2020
What is cancer?
Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the world. Many of us will at some point in our lives be confronted with the disease – either by falling ill ourselves or through a family member or friend. For CrowdScience presenter Marnie Chesterton, the diagnosis would change her life. The range of cancer symptoms and mortality rates vary considerably. Not all cancers are fatal and in some cases, cancer ends up more like a chronic debilitating disease, resulting in patients eventually dying from some other condition. This has got listener Gill in Scotland wondering – why do we call all cancers, cancer? And when did doctors first realise that all cancers are part of the same problem? First described by the Egyptians thousands of years ago and later coined by the Greek physician Hippocrates as “karninos”, the Greek word for “crab”, cancer is ominously absent from medical literature until the late 19th century. Throughout history it has puzzled, infuriated and enticed doctors and scientists to push medical science to its breaking point. Archaeologists have recently discovered that the ancient Egyptians had a term for cancer and that remedies they used then contain compounds that are found in modern chemotherapy. As we uncover the science and history of cancer, presenter Marnie Chesterton takes us on a journey through her own experience of living with and beyond the diagnosis and we examine the promise of future treatments. Presented by Marnie Chesterton. Produced by Louisa Field. [Photo: Cancer Cell. Credit: Getty Images]
Feb 14, 2020
How did humans discover medicine?
Today, once-fatal diseases like the plague, sepsis, or cholera can be treated simply and quickly with a pill. These tiny tablets hold compounds that can fix illnesses, and most people don’t think twice about taking an asparin for a headache. Modern medicine looks nothing like the plants that many of them are derived from. But there must have been a moment, when the first humans decided that a particular plant, fungus, or mineral might cure them of an upset stomach, or infected wound. Right? That’s what listener Andrew Chen wondered, so he emailed CrowdScience to find answers. Presenter Anand Jagatia speaks with an archaeologist, a botanist, an ethno-pharmacologist, a zoologist and a historian to uncover the story of early human experimentation with ‘drugs’ from plants, fungi, animals and minerals. The history of humans is full of illness and poor health, and it seems we’ve always tried to fix this. Anand discovers the connection between food and medicine while making tonic water from scratch with Kim Walker at the Royal Botanic Gardens of Kew, and tastes the daisy-like Chinese herb that was first used thousands of years ago, and then – once tested - became one of the best modern drugs for treating the world’s most deadly infectious disease. Listener Andrew’s inspiration came from a previous episode of CrowdScience ‘Who were the first farmers?’ and so we return to expert anthropologist Cheryl Makerewicz who tells us about the ecological knowledge of hunter-gatherers and pastoralist communities. With Jaap de Roode, Anand discovers that conscious thought isn’t a pre-requisite of medical discovery, and historian Vivienne Lo explains how written word helped to standardise generations of medical knowledge in East Asia. Previously medical knowledge had been irrevocably linked with shamanism, magic and spirituality, but with modern medicine this changed – but today there is still much we can learn from ancient forms of knowledge, Christophe Wiart explains how his science focuses of discovering what plants tribal people in east Asia have used for centuries to cure their ailments. These early methods may help us combat new diseases today. Presented by Anand Jagatia Produced by Rory Galloway [Photo: Women using plant medicines. Credit: Getty Images]
Feb 07, 2020
Can digital technology transform West Africa?
CrowdScience heads to Freetown, Sierra Leone for a panel debate in front of a live audience to answer listener questions about how artificial intelligence is helping tackle some of the world’s most pressing issues. Anand Jagatia is joined by regional science experts to explore how robots, drones and big data are transforming sectors such as agriculture, health and governance. Could clever machines help eradicate invasive species? Will block chain IDs eventually replace physical documents? And while this technology is heralded as a force for change we’ll ask whether fears of an AI takeover are unfounded? Presented by Anand Jagatia and Produced by Marijke Peters and Mel Brown (Photo: The panel and Audience at Crowd Science live event in Sierra Leone. Credit: BBC)
Feb 01, 2020
Could we survive an extinction event?
Super-sized volcanic eruptions and giant asteroids crashing in from outer space are the stuff of disaster movies. They have listener Santosh from South Africa slightly concerned. He’d like to know what’s being done in real life to prepare for this kind of event. Although the chance of these events occurring is low, Santosh isn’t entirely wrong to be worried: Earth has a much longer history than humans do, and there’s evidence that several past extinction events millions of years ago wiped out the dominant species on the planet at the time, as we’ve heard before on CrowdScience. The kind of extraordinary geological and extra-terrestrial hazards thought to be responsible for the death of millions of lives do still exist. So is there really any way that humans could survive where the dinosaurs – and plenty of other species – have failed? Presenter Marnie Chesterton finds out by meeting experts who are already preparing for the remote but real possibility of the biggest disaster we could face. It turns out that in real life most things we can think of which could cause an extinction event are being watched closely by scientists and governmental agencies. How worried we should really be by the possibility of a sudden super-volcanic eruption at Yellowstone in the USA, or one of the other enormous volcanoes dotting our planet’s surface? Marnie heads into an underground bunker near the remote Scottish coast to find out if hiding out is a viable survival option. Now a museum, Scotland’s Secret Bunker, formerly RAF Troywood, is one of a network of nuclear shelters built by nation states during the Cold War. And she hears about one of the combined space agencies most ambitious projects yet: NASA and ESA’s Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment mission to crash an impactor into an asteroid’s moon to find out whether we could knock any potentially problematic collisions off-course well before Earth impact. Produced by Jennifer Whyntie for BBC World Service (Photo: Post apocalypse sole survivor. Credit: Getty Images)
Jan 24, 2020
What is infinity?
Is there something bigger than infinity? Does quantum mechanics affect how I think? And why can I suddenly do algebra? As ever, we’re not afraid to tackle the big questions on CrowdScience. After a previous episode about the relationship between mathematics and reality, we received a flood of profound and difficult questions, so we dive back into the world of maths, physics and philosophy to try and answer them. A panel of experts help us puzzle out whether some infinities are bigger than others - and why that matters, as well as what quantum mechanics can teach us about the workings of the brain. And we seek answers for one of our listeners who surprised himself by being able to figure out mathematics equations he previously found unfathomable. With philosopher of physics Dr Eleanor Knox, mathematician Dr Katie Steckles, and Dr Aldo Faisal, an expert in neurotechnology. Presented by Marnie Chesterton Produced by Cathy Edwards for the BBC World Service Photo:
Jan 17, 2020
How low-carbon can CrowdScience go?
Reducing climate change and global warming is one of the biggest and most urgent challenges for everyone as we enter a new decade. The CrowdScience team have been trying to figure out how to play our part in reducing our carbon footprint. So what’s the best way forward? Presenter Marnie Chesterton starts to find out by pitting three of her colleagues against each other for the first phase of our challenge. Anand Jagatia, Geoff Marsh and Melanie Brown have all been tasked with answering a listener’s question in the lowest-carbon way possible. Along the way, they must monitor and account for every emission – from their travel methods to their choice of sustenance whilst working. It turns out that the challenge is not only in acknowledging all the types of activity that produce emissions, but in working out the volume of greenhouse gases produced. Marnie judges her colleagues’ efforts, determines a winner, and dispatches the losing challenger to look further into carbon calculation, and to find out about the possibilities of legitimately offsetting the overall footprint. And we start our on-going experiment using a broadcast industry carbon calculator to find out the most carbon-efficient and sustainable ways to keep answering everyone’s questions and sharing more cutting-edge global science. Presented by Marnie Chesterton Produced by Jen Whyntie for the BBC World Service (Photo:
Jan 10, 2020
How does the Sun affect my body and mind?
Two years ago reporter Anand Jagatia travelled up beyond the Arctic Circle to meet Norwegian researchers in order to answer a question from US listener Kira on why some people function best in the mornings whilst others only come alive at night. In this episode we revisit the topic with the help of science writer and Parentland podcast presenter Linda Geddes, author of Chasing the Sun, a book which explores the science behind the Sun’s effects on our bodies and our minds. The morning sun helps to kick-start our day and our body’s biological cycle – so what happens when it barely rises above the horizon or we live for prolonged periods in artificial environments where the sun never shines? Research has suggested that some communities in northern latitudes are better protected against the mental and physical effects of reduced exposure to sunlight in the winter which might have implications for those suffering the winter blues. Presenter Anand Jagatia, Producer: Rami Tzabar (Photo: Woman basking in the sun. Credit: Getty Images)
Jan 10, 2020
What is empathy?
What is empathy? This week’s question comes from Maria in Amsterdam who has noticed that when one of her friends is in pain, she feels their pain too, literally. Maria wants to know - is she experiencing a type of ‘super’ empathy? To help find the answer, Marnie Chesterton visits the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience and gets into an MRI scanner to discover what is happening in her brain when she empathises. She talks with a pro-social psychopath to find out how psychopaths experience empathy differently and how they navigate social situations. And Marnie meets with a mediator specialising in The Israeli–Palestinian conflict, to learn the value of empathy when the stakes are at their highest. (Photo:
Jan 03, 2020
Did Crowdscience change your life?
As CrowdScience celebrates its third birthday, the team takes time to revisit some of our early episodes, and catch up with listeners to discover if the answers we uncovered changed the course of their lives? We hear from Zach, who has learned to let go of a possibly lost memory and Erin, who discovered technology could hold the key to finding the man of her dreams. And two years after he emailed to ask why he couldn’t kick his habit, we ash Sharif whether he has finally managed to stop smoking? (Photo: Man listening to podcast. Credit: Getty Images)
Dec 20, 2019
Can I save the insects?
Buzzing insects that sting and fall into your food can be annoying. But perhaps we should think twice before taking aim with the fly swatter because bug populations around the world are in rapid decline. This worries CrowdScience listener Daria; she wants to know what will happen to our food production without the help from our tiny friends – the pollinators? And what can she do, as a city-dweller, to help the bugs? The dollar value of agricultural services that insects supply – for free – is estimated to be 350 billion dollars worldwide. For scientists, a major challenge is the lack of long-term studies of insects on a global scale – in fact – entomologists worry that species are dying out faster than we can document their existence. The culprits, they believe, are climate change, invasive species, land-use and pesticides. CrowdScience speaks to the scientists who want to save the bugs; one project capitalises on the chemical signals that attract certain species of pollinators while others are building ‘bee hotels’ to encourage native bees back into our cities. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Produced by Louisa Field for BBC World Service. (Photo: Macro Insect Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) on Yellow Flowers. Credit: Getty Images)
Dec 13, 2019
Would humans exist if dinosaurs were still alive?
66 million years ago, a huge asteroid hit the earth, wiping out most of the dinosaurs that roamed the land. It would still be tens of millions of years before the first humans appeared - but what if those dinosaurs hadn’t died out? Would we ever have evolved? CrowdScience listener Sunil was struck by this thought as he passed a Jurassic fossil site: if dinosaurs were still around, would I be here now? We dive back into the past to see how our distant mammal ancestors managed to live alongside huge, fierce dinosaurs; and why the disappearance of those dinosaurs was great news for mammals. They invaded the spaces left behind, biodiversity flourished, and that led – eventually – to humans evolving. It looks like our existence depends on that big dinosaur extinction. But we explore a big ‘what if?’: if the asteroid hadn’t hit, could our primate ancestors still have found a niche – somewhere, somehow - to evolve into humans? Or would evolution have taken a radically different path: would dinosaurs have developed human levels of intelligence? Is highly intelligent life inevitable, if you give it long enough to develop? We look to modern day birds - descendants of certain small dinosaurs who survived the asteroid strike - to glean some clues. With artist Memo Kosemen, palaeontologists Elsa Panciroli and Darren Naish, palaeobiologist Anjali Goswami, and Professor of Comparative Cognition Nicola Clayton Presented by Marnie Chesterton and Anand Jagatia Produced by Cathy Edwards for the BBC World Service (Photo: Silhouette of people and Dino. Credit: Getty Images)
Dec 05, 2019
Could humans hibernate during interstellar travel?
Science fiction is full of people settling on distant planets. But even the closest stars would take millennia to reach with current speeds of travel, by the time any passengers reached an extra solar planet, they would be long dead. So CrowdScience listener Balaji asked us to find out whether humans could hibernate for interstellar travel? To uncover the science fact behind this idea, Anand Jagatia holds a tiny hibernating dormouse at the Wildwood Trust in Kent, and meets Dr Samuel Tisherman who puts his patients into suspended animation for a couple of hours, to save their lives after traumatic injuries that cause cardiac arrest. We ask if Dr Tisherman’s research could be extended to put healthy individuals to sleep for much longer periods of time? It’s a question that neuroscientist, Professor Kelly Drew is studying, in Alaska Fairbanks. She uses Ground Squirrels as a model to understand internal thermostats, and how hibernating mammals manage to reduce their core temperatures to -3 degrees Celsius. Anand speculates wildly with science fiction authors Adrian Tchaikovsky and Temi Oh whose characters in their books ‘Children of Time’ and ‘Do You Dream of Terra Two?’ traverse enormous distances between habitable planets. But is human stasis something that would actually be useful? John Bradford is the director of SpaceWorks, this company works with NASA to try to investigate human hibernation for space travel. He’s trying to make space-based human hibernation a reality, and it seems that may be closer than you’d think. (Photo: People in hibernation. Credit: Getty Images)
Nov 29, 2019
Should I stop eating palm oil?
Australian listener Lizzy is trying to reduce her footprint on this planet and is particularly interested in palm oil. It is everywhere - in shampoo, lipstick and face cream and even food stuffs like biscuits and spreads. In fact, WWF say it is used in 50% of all supermarket products so it's something most of us will come into contact with every day. Lizzy wants to know whether she should stop eating it. Because on the one hand, she sees emotive adverts depicting dying orangutans, deforestation and burning peatlands, releasing vast amounts of climate changing gases like carbon dioxide. On the other, she has read that palm oil is the most productive of the vegetable oils, using far less land than others. So would boycotting palm oil displace the problem elsewhere, she wonders? Would buying sustainable palm oil be best? For some answers, Graihagh Jackson heads to one of the biggest producers of palm oil: Malaysia. She visits small holder plantations, who collectively provide 40% of the world’s palm oil, to find out how palm oil is grown and to ask them about their perspective on a product that provides them with their livelihood. What would incentivise them to engage in greener practices? And what would that look like? For the latter question, Graihagh speaks to the largest sustainable certifier of palm oil, the RSPO and looks to science to see how we can continue to grow palm oil without having any more adverse effects on wildlife. This is part of the Crossing Divides season which runs from 18 - 24 November. Produced and presented by Graihagh Jackson with help from Marijke Peters and editor Rami Tzabar for the BBC World Service. (Photo: Woman shopping in supermarket Credit: Getty Images)
Nov 21, 2019
Can a machine read my mind?
For decades science fiction has been imagining the incredible ways that machines might interact directly with our minds, from enabling telepathic communication to controlling robotic suits, solely using the power of thought. Getting computers to interface directly with the human brain has proven extremely challenging, but rapidly advancing computer technology is changing the landscape. CrowdScience listener Daniel wonders if we might finally be on the cusp of enabling machines to meld with our minds. To find out, presenter Alex Lathbridge goes in search of the latest efforts to connect brains to computers. He learns how researchers are combining brain scans with machine learning and gets to test whether an fMRI machine can decode his emotions. He then meets someone with a brain implant but discovers there are many hurdles to overcome before these become mainstream in clinical practice – for example, how can scientists develop implants that won’t damage the brain? With tech companies like Facebook and Elon Musk’s Neuralink starting to invest in this sector, many experts believe it is only a matter of time before thoughts are ‘readable’. Whilst currently this technology is focussed on helping people with serious medical conditions, other potential applications for it are raising ethical considerations. Could it be possible to read someone's mind against their will? Might this be used in warfare? Listener Daniel wonders how far this technology might go, leading Alex to ask an ethicist what mind-reading technology might do to society. Presented by Alex Lathbridge Produced by Melanie Brown (Photo: Telepathic people symbols are connected, mind reading as 3D illustration. Credit; Getty Images)
Nov 15, 2019
Why do I get sleepy?
We’re all familiar with the sensation of sleepiness – heavy eye-lid, that warm, fuzzy feeling. But, one CrowdScience listener wants to know, what’s actually going on in our body and brain when tiredness takes over? Presenter Marnie Chesterton takes up the challenge and follows a trail that leads to circadian scientists working at the NASA Ames research centre in Silicon Valley. It turns out aviators and astronauts take sleepiness very seriously indeed. Marnie sends out roving reporter Anand Jagatia to investigate how our psycho-motor skills are affected by fatigue in a driving simulator. And we ask how does sleepiness change with age? Why, when tired, do adults crave a nap but children become ever more excitable? And what the hell’s going on with teenagers? We have some answers. (Photo: Tired woman taking a nap at work sitting at office desk. Credit: Getty Images)
Nov 08, 2019
Can my stutter be cured?
Most of us take the ability to speak fluently for granted, but for listener Breeda it has been a lifelong struggle. She has asked CrowdScience to investigate whether there is a cure for stuttering and, if not, what the best way to live with it is. Breeda is not alone, as stammering is a neurological condition that affects 70 million people worldwide. The CrowdScience team head to Oslo in Norway to follow a group of young people who have signed up for a highly disciplined and potentially life-changing training course. The first milestone is to learn to say their name without a stutter. For many, this is a huge challenge that triggers years of distress and anxiety. With hundreds of muscles and many parts of the brain being involved, speaking is one of the most complex tasks that humans perform. Scientists have discovered subtle differences in the insulation surrounding nerve cells, so-called myelin, between people who stutter and those who don’t. This irregularity may be the source of a tiny time delay in signals between crucial regions of the brain that need to work closely together to produce speech. In the future, it may be possible to stimulate certain brain areas to boost growth and connectivity. Presenter: Gareth Barlow Produced by Louisa Field for the BBC World Service Image: Illustration of humans with speech bubbles (Credit: Getty Images)
Nov 01, 2019
Will my salmon swim home?
Crowdscience listeners Michael and Ricky have been walking a tributary of the River Thames in London, UK. They’ve noticed that there are loads of fish, which have only returned in recent years thanks to clean water initiatives. But what about salmon, they wonder? Could they one day return too? If they popped some salmon eggs in the river, would they return to spawn later on in their lives? Marnie Chesterton heads to Norway to find out whether it’s possible. There, she follows the life cycle of salmon, from birth to death and travels to the salmon’s spawning grounds, before following their path out to sea and beyond. She explores the science behind ‘natal homing’ - returning to the place of your birth in order to reproduce. It isn’t just confined to salmon. But how does it work? Marnie also learns to fish as she joins an active research project that's evaluating if escaped farmed salmon are threatening their wild counterparts by interbreeding. Could this stop salmon swimming home? Back in the UK, Marnie finds out if all this Norwegian expertise could be transplanted to a river in London? Quite possibly, but it's not without its challenges, as the UK's Environmental Agency found out after attempting to re-introduce salmon into the River Thames. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Produced by Graihagh Jackson for the BBC World Service (Photo: The mighty Wild Atlantic salmon travelling to spawning grounds in the Scottish highlands. Credit: Getty Images)
Oct 25, 2019
Is maths real?
Faced with one cake and eight hungry people, it’s pretty obvious how maths underpins reality. But as mathematics gets further from common sense and into seemingly abstract territory, nature still seems to obey its rules - whether in the orbit of a planet, the number of petals on a flower, or the structure of an atom. But what exactly is the relationship between mathematics and reality? That’s the impossibly difficult question CrowdScience has been set this week by our listener Sergio in Peru. It’s one that’s been pondered by humans for millennia: the Greek philosopher Pythagoras believed “All is number”. Is maths a human construct to help us make sense of reality - a tool, a model, a language? Does maths create its own reality? Or is it reality itself? Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Produced by Cathy Edwards for the BBC World Service (Photo: A young woman with her eyes closed standing in front of chalkboard, working out maths formulas. Credit: Getty Images)
Oct 18, 2019
How can I live a longer life?
Human life expectancy has been increasing for decades. In many developed countries, we can now expect to live into our 80s, and it isn’t uncommon to live to 90 or even 100 years old. But eventually our bodies fail, old age is undoubtedly a clear indicator of approaching death. This fact annoyed 79 year old CrowdScience listener Bill, who emailed in to set presenter Geoff Marsh the task of seeking out the secrets to a longer, healthier life. Bill has a personal target to live to 200 years old, so can he do it? Well some people appear to age more slowly. In one part of Costa Rica, people commonly hit their hundredth birthday. CrowdScience’s Rafael Rojas visits these Central American centenarians to ask them their secrets to a longer life. Then, in interviews with the best age researchers around the world, including Professor Linda Partridge and Professor Janet Lord, Geoff reveals the science behind longer lifespans, and what people can do to live for longer, healthily. Presented by Geoff Marsh Produced by Rory Galloway (Image: A group of older men sitting together at an event, Costa Rica. Credit: Rafael Rojas)
Oct 11, 2019
Do green spaces make us healthier?
Trees and plants have been quietly growing in the background of our everyday lives for as long as we’ve existed. Now, as millions of us move into densely populated cities for work, school and healthcare, our green neighbours have been replaced by brick, concrete, steel and glass. We know that plants are vital for absorbing our waste carbon dioxide and providing us with oxygen. Would remote rural forests do that job for us, or is there more to living alongside greenery? CrowdScience listener Enrica from Italy thinks there is. She loves walking along the verdant riverbank near her home after a hard week at work. It makes her feel better, and she wants to know why. Which as it turns out, is a question that scientists across the globe are also trying to answer. The work they’ve done so far has been enough to convince governments around the world that it is worth investing taxpayer’s money in urban planting schemes. One scheme is in Milan, Italy. Home to Leonardo da Vinci’s iconic “The Last Supper” and the San Siro, home of AC Milan, Inter Milan and the largest football stadium in Italy. But city officials have been working hard to increase the city’s the green features, committing to planting 3 million trees and building twenty new parks by 2030. CrowdScience presenter Anand Jagatia visits Milan’s innovative Bosco Verticale - a vertical forest planted on two tower blocks and discovers that research is showing that greener cities could help those living there by providing spaces for daily physical activity. It’s hoped they could also provide cooling microclimates to reduce the dangers of summer heat, and improve our mental health. (Photo: Tree lined "tunnel" in the English countryside of West Sussex. Credit: Getty Images)
Oct 04, 2019
Is a vegan diet better for your health?
The number of vegans is on the rise in many parts of the world, with many people swearing by the health benefits of a plant-based lifestyle. But is a vegan diet really better for your health? Is there any evidence to show that vegans are likely to live longer? And what about the new, highly processed meat analogues becoming increasingly available in supermarkets and restaurants menus? They look, feel and taste just like meat products but what affect are they having on our health? To find out more, presenter Anand Jagatia talks to the experts and joins listener Samantha in following a vegan diet. Presenter Anand Jagatia Produced by Caroline Steel for the BBC World Service (Photo: Healthy vegan food with herbs and spices. Credit: Getty Images)
Sep 27, 2019
Could I learn to think like Sherlock Holmes?
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous fictional detective is renowned for his feats of memory, his observational capacity, tireless energy and an almost supernatural ability to solve the most perplexing crimes from seemingly unconnected facts. CrowdScience listener Asghar wants to know whether the way Sherlock Holmes solves crimes goes beyond fiction. What does science have to say about the matter? We pit fact against fiction with a leading forensic expert, a sleep scientist and presenter Marnie Chesterton puts herself to the test under the guidance of memory champion Simon Reinhard. She discovers that most humans are able to train their brain to rival the memory capacity of Sherlock Holmes. And who wouldn’t want that? Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Louisa Field (Photo: A Sherlock Holmes hat and magnifying glass on a wooden table. Credit: Getty Images)
Sep 20, 2019
Can my migraines be cured?
The World Health Organization ranks migraines as the second most disabling neurological disorder in the world and in people under the age of 50, it is the single most disabling medical condition. With stats like that, it’s no wonder that so many CrowdScience listeners have got in touch wanting help with their headaches. Peter from Germany askes what happens in his brain when he’s got a migraine, whilst Nika from Germany has found that changing lifestyle has dramatically reduced hers but she’s not sure why. What’s the link between diet, exercise and migraines, Nika wonders? Meanwhile, Judy from USA wants to know if there’s a cure, as her son gets chronic migraines and she wants to know what the future looks like for him. Anand Jagatia and migraine sufferer Graihagh Jackson take a trip into the neurology of migraines, investigating some of the latest research in headache and migraine research to find some answers. Presenters: Anand Jagatia & Graihagh Jackson Producer: Graihagh Jackson (Photo: A young man suffering from a migraine. Credit: Getty Images)
Sep 13, 2019
Are extroverts really happier?
Sociable, lively, outgoing people are highly valued in certain cultures - think of the stereotype of the hyper-confident American. And there’s even evidence that extroverts all over the world tend to be happier. But are the positive qualities that quieter types can bring to society being ignored or underappreciated? And couldn’t introverts be just as happy as extroverts, if only they lived in a more accepting culture? These are controversial areas of personality psychology into which CrowdScience strayed earlier this year when exploring the question “Why am I shy?” It prompted a whole bunch of other questions from our listeners which we tackle in this follow-up programme, with the help of psychologist and shyness expert Professor Jonathan Cheek. We probe the links between happiness, personality and culture, and find out what makes introverts happy. Presenter: Datshiane Navanayagam Producer: Cathy Edwards (Photo: A woman smiling with her arms spread out. Credit: Getty Images)
Sep 06, 2019
Do we need more space stations?
Satellites have transformed our lives, giving us digital communications, navigation and observations of Earth, and even an artificial place to live above the atmosphere: The International Space Station. CrowdScience listener Dana wants to know: would more of these satellites and stations help us get back to the Moon, as well as further into the solar system? As we discovered in a previous episode, being able to mine resources such as fuel and water in space could be handy for extra-terrestrial exploration. Asteroids could perhaps one day become self-fuelling gas stations for spaceships, as many contain ice which you could turn rocket fuel (hydrogen and oxygen). But what else would astronauts need for living beyond Earth? Marnie Chesterton asks the engineers working on the possibilities – from communications satellites that could transform lunar missions to a brand new moon-orbiting space station: The Lunar Gateway. These technologies could help humans get back to the Moon, and perhaps one day to Mars, for hopefully reduced costs – but funding missions beyond our planet still isn’t going to be cheap. Why might we need deep space-based infrastructure, and how could it help humanity back here on Earth? Presented by Marnie Chesterton Produced by Jennifer Whyntie for the BBC World Service (Photo: International Space Station, orbiting Earth. Credit: The Science Photo Library)
Aug 30, 2019
How can I motivate myself?
Many of us struggle to motivate ourselves to carry out certain tasks, from hanging out the washing to writing a job application. How can we best motivate ourselves? And how can we avoid procrastination? Listener Moses in Uganda wants to find out. Presenter Anand Jagatia puts the science to the test as he trains and participates in an open water swimming race which Marnie Chesterton has kindly volunteered him for. Presented by Anand Jagatia and Marnie Chesterton Produced by Caroline Steel for the BBC World Service (Photo: Yes you can, motivational message written on a sandy beach. Credit: Getty Images)
Aug 23, 2019
Global infertility: Could The Handmaid’s Tale become reality?
CrowdScience listeners Mark and Jess have been watching TV series, The Handmaid’s Tale. It's an adaptation of a book by Margaret Atwood and depicts a dystopian future where many have become infertile. The remaining few fertile women, known as Handmaids, are forced into child-bearing servitude. Why so many have become infertile isn’t clear but the series hints at several possible causes, from radiation to environmental pollutants. All of which got Mark and Jess wondering… What could cause mass infertility? Would we descend into a political landscape akin to Gilead? Award-winning author Margaret Atwood has left a paper trail for us to follow in the pages of her novel. There’s a ream of possible causes, and so Marnie Chesterton investigates which ring true. Presented by Marnie Chesterton. Produced by Graihagh Jackson for the BBC World Service. (Photo: Filming of the Handmaid's Tale. Credit: Getty Images)
Aug 16, 2019
Can I predict the future?
Humans have been trying to predict the future since ancient times. The Chinese had the I-Ching while the Greeks preferred to search for answers in animal entrails. These days intelligence agencies around the world mostly rely on expert opinions to forecast events. But there are ordinary people among us that routinely outperform experts when it comes to making accurate predictions about the future. Listener Cicely wants to know whether these non-experts, so-called “super-forecasters”, really exist and if so, how does it work? She has noticed that people in her family – herself included – are surprisingly good at predicting events. CrowdScience investigates and finds that there is no hocus-pocus involved. On the contrary, scientists have found that super-forecasters tend to have certain personality traits and skills. And there is more good news; researchers believe that these skills can been taught. CrowdScience presenter Graihagh Jackson takes up the challenge and tests her own predicting abilities. (Photo: A barefoot woman on a beach, showing two lucky dices in her hands. Credit: Getty Images)
Aug 05, 2019
How many fossils are there?
The odds of becoming a fossil are vanishingly small. And yet there seem to be an awful lot of them out there. In some parts of the world you can barely look at a rock without finding a fossil, and museum archives worldwide are stuffed with everything from ammonites to Archaeopteryx. But how many does that leave to be discovered by future fossil hunters? What’s the total number of fossils left to find? That’s what listener Anders Hegvik from Norway wants to know and what CrowdScience is off to investigate. Despite not having the technology or time to scan the entire planet, presenter Marnie Chesterton prepares to find a decent answer. During her quest, she meets the scientists who dig up fossils all over the world; does some very large sums; and asks, have we already found all the T-rexes out there? Presented by Marnie Chesterton and produced by Anna Lacey (Photo: Fossilized dinosaur bones and skull in the send. Credit: Getty Images)
Aug 02, 2019
Why do we pull faces when we concentrate?
Do you stick your tongue out or scowl when you concentrate? Maybe, like one of our listeners, you screw up your face when you’re playing music. Do these facial expressions actually help with the task in hand? And could they hold clues to humans’ evolutionary past? In this edition of CrowdScience we tackle the science of face-pulling, along with several more burning science questions sent in from listeners around the world. We explore why it’s almost impossible to talk without moving your hands; and why bilingual people often switch to the first language they learned when they’re counting, even if they speak another language the rest of the time. Presented by Anand Jagatia and Marnie Chesterton Produced by Cathy Edwards (Photo: A boy sits at a table, looking down in concentration as he draws in a note pad. Credit: Getty Images)
Jul 26, 2019
Where’s my time machine?
Laser swords, time machines, matter transporters - before the turn of the millennium, movies, books and television promised some extraordinary future technology. Now we’re twenty years into the next century and CrowdScience listeners are wondering: Where is it all? Marnie Chesterton delves into the sci-fi cupboard to dust off some imaginary gadgets and find out if any are finally becoming reality. How far into the future will we have to go to find a time machine as imagined by H.G. Wells in 1895? Where are the lightsabers wielded by fictional Jedi? Why are we still using cars, planes and trains when a matter transporter or a flying taxi could be so much more convenient? Marnie is joined by a panel of experts to find out if and when any of these much-longed for items are going to arrive. Presenter Marnie Chesterton. Producer Jennifer Whyntie (Photo: Dr Who, Tardis. Travelling through time and space. Credit: BBC Copyright)
Jul 19, 2019
Who were the first farmers?
Farming is a relatively recent invention for our species. For most of human history, people were hunter-gatherers. They moved around the landscape to get their food, hunting prey and gathering fruits and cereals from their environment. But then, around 10 thousand years ago, human society shifted, and the first farmers appear in archaeological records around the world. So how did this idea start? Who planted the first seed and domesticated the wild ancestors of our cows and chickens? That’s what Listener Brian wanted to know, and so CrowdScience presenter Anand Jagatia seeks out the archaeologists, geneticists and anthropologists who can give us the answers. Presenter: Anand Jagatia, Producer: Rory Galloway (Photo: A farmer working in a green cotton field with two bulls. Credit: Getty Images)
Jul 12, 2019
Why do some people eat soil?
For some people, the idea of eating soil is weird at best and at worst disgusting and dirty. But globally the practice of geophagy – or the regular and intentional consumption of earth – is more common than you might imagine. The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates described it 2500 years ago and even today, eating soil, earth and clay can be seen in a wide range of human cultures as well in hundreds of animal species. But what’s the point of it? And what’s going on in the body to drive cravings for things that aren’t bona fide food? That’s the question bothering CrowdScience listener Amy. Anna Lacey discovers the special properties of the soil people eat and the purpose geophagy might serve for our health. She also finds out the extent to which our bodies can tell us what we’re lacking and drive us to crave the substances we need to reset the balance. Produced and Presented by Anna Lacey (Photo: Hands holding some soil. Credit: Getty Images)
Jul 05, 2019
Can we prevent traffic jams?
It’s frustrating to be stuck in traffic. Listener Collins from Nairobi, Kenya, spends at least three hours a day in traffic and he counts himself lucky. Many of his friends will easily spend six hours in traffic jams to get back and forth from work. Collins wants to know whether there is hope for his hometown – has any city managed to eliminate the worst of the traffic hot spots and how did they do it? Collins is not alone in his frustration. CrowdScience finds that congestion plays a major factor in the happiness and health of urban citizens. Commuters have been measured to have stress levels equivalent to that of riot police facing angry protesters. So should our cities cater less for cars and what are the alternatives? Presenter Gareth Barlow heads to Copenhagen to meet the politicians and urban designers who have transformed the Danish capital from a city for cars to one for bikes and people. Presenter: Gareth Barlow. Produced by Louisa Field (Photo: Afternoon traffic along Likoni road in Nairobi's Kilimani susburb. Credit: Getty Images)
Jun 28, 2019
What’s the best way to breathe?
Breathing is automatic: awake or asleep, running or resting, our bodies unconsciously make sure we get enough oxygen to function. But - unlike other bodily functions such as heart rate and digestion - it’s not hard to control our breathing consciously. If you’ve ever been to an exercise, meditation or yoga class, you’re probably familiar with instructions about how and when to breathe. It was one of these instructions - “breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth” - that prompted CrowdScience listener Judi to wonder if this really was the best way to breathe during her exercise class. Is there good evidence to support the benefits of different breathing techniques - whether through the nose or mouth, fast or slow, noisy or quiet? And is consciously controlling your breath more about improving psychological focus, or optimising body mechanics? Sports scientist Mitch Lomax takes us through the biology, chemistry and physics of breathing, and shows us how to train our respiratory muscles. We meet yoga guru Hansa Yogendra in India, where the study of pranayama - literally “breath control” in Sanskrit - is thousands of years old; and find out what scientists have discovered about the effects of these ancient techniques on the body and mind. Presenter: Anand Jagatia. Produced by Cathy Edwards for BBC World Service. (Photo: A woman jogging outside, wearing sports clothes on a blue sky background. Credit: Getty Images)
Jun 21, 2019
Are there new ways to beat depression?
For decades, people suffering from chronic depression have relied on medicines that affect the levels of chemicals in the brain like serotonin, which regulate mood and emotion. But ten percent of people don’t benefit from any of the existing treatments for this devastating condition. Sisters Annie and Kathryn have both been diagnosed with long-term depression that makes it hard for them to experience pleasure as others do. But they’re interested in whether there are new solutions on the horizon that could improve their wellbeing, in particular ones that don’t necessarily involve conventional medication. Datshiane Navanayagam learns how a technique called mindfulness could strengthen neural connections in bits of the brain that communicate with each other. This, it’s said, may harness the ability of the brain to adapt and self-repair which can change people’s emotional responses to life’s ups and downs. She meets a psychologist who shows how this simple technique could improve our overall ability to process information and reverse negative thought patterns. CrowdScience also hears about cutting edge research into the use of psychedelics as potential treatment for depression and heads to the UK’s only centre for ketamine therapy, where patients say a drug once popular with partygoers, is having a profound effect on their mental health. Produced by Marijke Peters for BBC World Service. (Photo: A woman sitting on the top of a mountain and meditating. Credit: Getty Images)
Jun 14, 2019
Can singing improve our health?
Singing can lift our spirits, but research suggests it could also benefit our health, improving breathing for people with lung conditions and helping us cope with dementia. Could it even have a preventative effect? CrowdScience heads to Cheltenham Science Festival in the UK county of Gloucestershire - one of the first places to pioneer this kind of “social prescribing” - to find out. Presenter Anand Jagatia teams up with panellists Dr Daisy Fancourt, Senior Research Associate in Behavioural Science, Dr Simon Opher, family doctor and Clinical Lead for Social Prescribing, and Maggie Grady, Director of Music Therapy at charity Mindsong to learn more. They’re joined on-stage by their Breathe In Sing Out and Meaningful Music volunteer singing groups to find out what this much-loved musical pastime can do for us. Producer: Jen Whyntie (Photo: Students singing in a choir with their teacher. Credit: Getty Images)
Jun 07, 2019
How are we evolving?
Medical intervention has disrupted natural selection in humans as many more children survive into adulthood than did a few centuries ago. And as our DNA continues to evolve, in order to adapt to our environment, how might human beings of the future be different from us? Anand Jagatia explores how some humans, over just a few thousand years, have adapted genetically to live at high altitudes of the Tibetan Himalayas or in the cold climates of Inuit Greenland. Several Crowdscience listeners got in touch to ask about the ways in which humans might evolve in future but understanding how we’re adapting to modern ways of living is much harder to measure. So what adaptions do evolutionary biologists expect for the human race? How will IVF, gene-editing, mass migration and our constantly changing culture affect how we evolve? Presenter: Anand Jagatia. Produced by Dom Byrne and Melanie Brown for BBC World Service (Image: People in a crowded street. Credit: Getty Images)
May 31, 2019
Could our household microbes help or harm us?
As scientists keep finding ever more fascinating facts about the invisible housemates that share our homes, we dust off our episode on what might be lurking in quiet household corners or under our beds. Marnie Chesterton reminds us how dust can contain all sorts of secrets about our habits and everyday lives, and Anand Jagatia bravely ventures into parts of our homes that are usually overlooked. He heads out on a microbial safari with expert tour guide Dr Jamie Lorimer from the University of Oxford to find out what kind of creatures are living in our kitchens, bathrooms and gardens - from bacteria normally found in undersea vents popping up in a kettle, to microbes quietly producing tiny nuggets of gold. For so long this hidden world has been one that we’ve routinely exterminated - but should we be exploring it too? Presenters: Marnie Chesterton and Anand Jagatia. Produced by Jen Whyntie for BBC World Service. (Photo: A woman using a damp sponge to clean dust collected on a window sill. Credit: Getty Images)
May 24, 2019
Bonus: 13 Minutes to the Moon
Introducing the new podcast about how humans reached the moon. Theme music by Hans Zimmer. Search for 13 Minutes to the Moon or go to #13MinutestotheMoon
May 20, 2019
Could dark matter harbour dark life?
Where the conditions are right, life can arise. But what might the ‘right’ conditions be? Could the dark sector of our Universe be inhabited? That’s what Gautam from Delhi, India has been wondering. He points out that dark matter and dark energy make up around 95% of the Universe and the remaining segment is normal matter - the stuff we’re all made up of. Given that there’s so much of this dark material, could dark life have evolved? Marnie Chesterton investigates with Dr Matt Middleton, Dr Burçin Mutlu-Pakdil and Dr Renato Costa. Together, they unpick what dark matter and dark energy are and test out some listener theories as to what these mysterious mediums might be. For instance, Yoseph from Ogden, USA questions whether black holes could account for the missing matter and it turns out, he might just be on to something… Presented by Marnie Chesterton. Produced by Graihagh Jackson for BBC World Service. (Photo: Arrangement of Nebula, Stars and a colourful galaxy. Credit: Getty Images)
May 17, 2019
How does a single cell become me?
Our bodies are made of cells, tens of trillions of cells. They all have particular roles and functions in the body, from digesting food, to producing hair, to hunting down pathogens. But all of this incredible complexity started as just a single cell. Gila, from Israel, asked CrowdScience to find out how the development of incredible structures, and systems in the body are coordinated by the cells. Are cells communicating? How do cells know what they should be doing? To find out, Geoff Marsh meets a Cambridge researcher uncovering the first cell division in our lives, and peers into a fertile chicken egg to see the developing embryo as it grows a limb. CrowdScience finds out why scientists like Dr Megan Davey use chickens to understand the development of human fingers and investigates how individual cells with the same DNA manage to choreograph a dance of cell replication, movement and communication to create our bodies in all of their complexity. Presenter: Geoff Marsh Producer: Rory Galloway (Photo: Cells grouped together. Credit: Getty Images)
May 10, 2019
Did cooking make us human?
Many of us enjoy cooking – but when did we switch from eating our food raw, to heating it? Listener Logan enjoys his beef burgers rare, but wants to know why he still feels compelled to grill them? Presenter Anand Jagatia travels to a remote South African cave where our ancestors first used fire at least a million years ago, which one man says could help prove when our species started cooking. And he talks to a scientist who shows how the composition of food changes when it’s cooked, to allow us more access to give us more access to calories - and hears how a completely raw food diet could have disastrous consequences for health. Producer: Marijke Peters Presenter Anand Jagatia (Image: A large pan held over an open fire. Credit: Getty Images)
May 04, 2019
Could viruses help fight super-bugs?
We are slowly running out of ammunition to fight antibiotic resistant bacteria. Listener Peter wants to know whether a therapy that he’d heard about in the 1980s could be revived to help us where antibiotics falls short. CrowdScience travels to Georgia where “phages”, viruses that hunt and kill bacteria, have been used for nearly 100 years to treat illnesses ranging from a sore throat to cholera. Phages are fussy eaters – a specific phage will happily chew on one bug but ignore another. In Georgia, scientists have kept rare phages safe for decades and are constantly on the look-out for new ones. CrowdScience presenter Marnie Chesterton speaks to the scientists and doctors who are pioneering phage-therapy as well as overseas patients who have travelled thousands of miles in hope of finding a cure. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Louisa Field (Photo: Bacteriophage infecting bacterium. Credit: Getty Images)
Apr 26, 2019
Will we ever know what the universe is made of?
We are all made of particles – but what are particles made of? It’s a question that’s been perplexing scientists for centuries - for so long, in fact, that listener Doug in Canada wants to know if there’s a limit to how much they can ever discover. CrowdScience heads out to CERN, in Switzerland, to find out. Birthplace of the internet, home to the Large Hadron Collider, and the site of the Higgs Boson’s discovery – the fundamental particle that is thought to give all other particles their mass, and one of the most important scientific finds of the 21st Century. But that revelation wasn’t an end to the quest – in fact, it has raised many more questions for the physicists and engineers involved. Dr David Barney, CMS, and Dr Tara Nanut, LHCb, tell us why. And now they have announced that they are considering building a new, larger particle collider to find answers. The Future Circular Collider would be a hundred kilometres long and sited partly under Lake Geneva, smashing together sub-atomic particles at unprecedented energies in the hope of revealing the fundamental building blocks of all matter in the Universe. But any outcomes are by no means certain, and it could cost up to €29 billion. Perhaps physicists need to think completely differently about how to unpick what makes our universe – we see how one research team at Rutherford Appleton Laboratory near Oxford is doing just that, as they’re developing a collider that is not kilometres but centimetres long. Dr Charlotte Palmer, University of Oxford, tells us how. However these fundamental questions are tackled, critics say that the money could be better spent on other research areas such as combating climate change. But supporters argue that its discoveries could uncover new technologies that will benefit future generations in ways we can’t predict. Anand Jagatia meets the scientists responsible to making this next giant leap into the quantum unknown. (Photo: CMS experiment at CERN, Switzerland. Photo credit: CERN)
Apr 19, 2019
Why do we find things beautiful?
Humans seem programmed to appreciate beauty - whether that’s an attractive face, a glorious sunset, or a stirring piece of music. Of course, our individual tastes are all different, and culture plays a huge part too - but why are we so struck by whatever it is we find beautiful? What is that pleasurable sensation we get when we see or hear something we like? And has the ability to appreciate beauty given us any evolutionary advantages? In a special edition of CrowdScience from the International Science Festival in Gothenburg, Sweden, we are joined by a panel of experts to explore how far science can explain the mystery of beauty. We look to biology, the brain, art and mathematics, to see how patterns, rhythms and symmetry contribute to our experience of beauty. And we ask whether machines can recognise or ‘appreciate’ beauty – and to what extent artificial intelligence is starting to confuse or influence what we think of as beautiful. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Cathy Edwards Photo: A peacock. Credit: Getty Images/bobbieo
Apr 12, 2019
What are dreams for?
There are very good reasons to sleep: to regulate the body’s metabolism, blood pressure and other aspects of health. But do we actually need to dream? Is there an evolutionary reason for it? Marnie Chesterton takes her dream diary to a dream lab to explore this very popular preoccupation of many CrowdScience listeners. What would happen if we didn’t dream? What purpose do dreams serve? Can we really interpret them meaningfully, or are they merely random signals from the brain? The latest research says talking about them could be more important than we realise. And what about controlling our dreams? Marnie finds herself a willing participant in a study on lucid dreaming – of which sleep scientists are only just starting to understand the psychological benefits. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Dominic Byrne (Image: Woman dreaming on a cloud up in the sky. Credit: Getty Images)
Apr 05, 2019
Which milk is best for me and the planet?
Swapping dairy milk for a plant-based milk is a growing trend that promises environmental benefits. But what is the best milk considering both our health and the planet’s? Scottish listener Nancy asks CrowdScience to unpick the pros and cons of plant-based milks. Presenter Graihagh Jackson digs into the research and finds that if the whole world were willing to swap dairy for soy, we would free up a land mass the size of Australia and reduce greenhouse gas emissions dramatically. So in theory the planet would be happier – but would we? Milk is packed with calcium and other nutrients that we humans need in our diet. And the ability to digest the sugar in dairy called ‘lactose’ is, according to evolutionary geneticist Mark Thomas, the most advantageous genetic mutation in human history. So can we live without it? Presenter: Graihagh Jackson Producer: Louisa Field (Image: A family enjoying milk at breakfast. Credit: Getty Images)
Mar 29, 2019
Why do we like some animals and hate others?
Cute isn't exactly a scientific term but we all know what we mean by it, don't we? Endearing, adorable, lovable and sweet. So what makes us fawn over a puppy, but run away from rats? Why do we spend millions on trying to keep Giant Pandas alive but spend even more on pushing endangered species like blue-fin Tuna to the brink of extinction by eating them? And if we changed what we classified as cute or ugly, how might that change the battle to protect the Earth's fragile biodiversity? CrowdScience listener Oliksey, from the Ukraine, wanted to know if cuteness is universal and what drives it? Seeking the answers, Marnie Chesterton cuddles puppies and enters a cramped spider nursery, seeking the science of cute, and exploring the evolutionary reasons for fear and disgust. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Rory Galloway (Image: A cute and scary spider sitting on a green leaf. Credit: Getty Images)
Mar 22, 2019
When will an African visit Mars?
Crowdscience heads to Africa's biggest science festival for a panel debate in front of a live audience that takes us into space then back down to earth to solve listeners' questions. Marnie Chesterton and Anand Jagatia are joined by aspiring extra-terrestrial, Dr Adriana Marais, who hopes to travel to Mars, along with cosmologist Palesa Nombula and sustainable energy expert Dr Sampson Mamphweli. They all explain how solving challenges on the ground will eventually help us set up home in space. Producers: Marijke Peters and Mel Brown Presenters: Marnie Chesterton and Anand Jagatia (Photo: Astronaut walking on Mars. Credit Getty Images)
Mar 15, 2019
Why am I shy?
A racing heart, blushing, feeling sick - most people experience symptoms of shyness in certain situations. But some of us are much shyer than others, and if it gets on top of you, shyness can really limit what you get out of life. That’s why this week’s listener got in touch with CrowdScience. He wants to know why he’s shy: is it genetic, or more to do with his upbringing? Is there anything he can do to overcome his shyness – and on the other hand, could being shy actually have some benefits? We find out how much shyness is down to our genes, and why ‘shy types’ might have evolved the first place. A psychologist gives us her top tips for dealing with social anxiety, and we take part in some drama therapy designed to help people break out of their shell. And we ask if quieter, more introverted types are disadvantaged in modern society, where outgoing, extraverted behaviour can bring more tangible rewards. (Photo: Shy young man hiding behind one eye. Credit: Getty Images)
Mar 08, 2019
What do clouds feel like?
This week we turn our gaze skywards to tackle three questions about what’s going on above us. Three year old Zac from the UK wants to know what clouds feel like – if they’re supposedly like steam, then how are they cold? Presenter Graihagh Jackson meets a meteorologist who can not only tell us but show us the answer, as we attempt to make a tiny cloud at ground level in the studio. Listener Agnese is looking beyond the cloud base and up to our nearest neighbour. She’d like to know why it is that we can see the Moon during the day. And Graihagh heads out to one of the longest-running and largest steerable telescopes in the world: The 76-metre Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank Observatory in the UK. Here, she finds out the answer to Sandeep from India’s extra-terrestrial question: Could aliens find us? (Image: Clouds in a blue sky. Credit: Getty Images)
Mar 01, 2019
Does brain size matter?
The size of brains in the animal kingdom is wildly different, from melon-sized in blue whales to pea-sized in shrews. But does a bigger brain mean a more powerful one? CrowdScience listener Bob wondered just this as he watched various sized dogs running amok in his local park: the Great Dane has a much larger brain than a Chihuahua’s, yet the job of ‘being a dog’ surely requires the same brain power. So why have a big brain if a small one would do? A search for the answer takes Geoff Marsh to dog agility trials, behind the scenes at London’s Natural History Museum and a laboratory that studies bumble bees. It turns out that size does matter, but not in the way you might think. Presenter: Geoff Marsh Producer: Dom Byrne (Photo: Great Dane HARLEQUIN and a chihuahua Getty Images)
Feb 22, 2019
Where was the last place humans made home?
Our species started in Africa, but what was the last habitable landmass we reached? CrowdScience presenters Marnie Chesterton and Geoff Marsh team up to investigate how and when our species journeyed around the world and settled its most far flung landmasses. Geoff heads to some ancient caves in Israel to investigate the ‘false starts’ humans made out of Africa, and Marnie speaks with Professor Lisa Matisoo-Smith in New Zealand, uncovering the development of Polynesian sailing canoes and how they enabled the last landmasses to be found by people. This is a story spanning over seventy thousand years, huge changes in culture and technology, and the repeated remodelling of the earth thanks to the ice ages. Produced by Rory Galloway (Photo: Polynesian canoeists at sunset. Credit: Richmatts/Getty Images)
Feb 15, 2019
Could a ‘zombie’ virus kill us all?
It’s the sort of plot you would expect from a classic sci-fi movie; what if there are viruses trapped deep in Antarctic ice that could wreak havoc on humans? Crowdscience presenter Alex Lathbridge puts on warm gloves and meets the scientists venturing into the icy wilds. He wants to answer listener Tony’s question - can viral life exist in such inhospitable climes and if so, might it pose us a danger? Alex meets teams who venture to the Antarctic to find out about how their work to understand climate change leads them to drilling and analysing ice cores that are tens of thousands of years old. He then visits a dynamic husband and wife duo in France who are extracting viruses from 30,000 year old Siberian permafrost and bringing them back to life. He discovers that - rather than killing us all, - their findings of novel giant viruses might contribute to medicine and our understanding of evolution. (Photo: Scientists working in a laboratory. Credit: Getty Images)
Feb 08, 2019
Is Recycling All Our Waste at Home Possible?
Waste, trash, garbage – whatever you call it, unwanted materials have become a major presence in many of our lives and our environment. Every year it is estimated that humans around the world produce 2 billion metric tonnes of waste. Listener Clare from Devon in the UK wants to start tackling this herself. She would like to know if she can not just sort but process all her own recycling at home. Presenter Marnie Chesterton attempts to find out by asking the professionals. She heads out to an industrial-scale recycling plant to see if any of their gear could work in our homes, hears from reporter Chhavi Sachdev how waste collectors in Mumbai, India have to balance thrift with risk, and asks environmental engineer Jenna Jambeck whether she thinks solely domestic recycling is possible. (Image: Garbage bags with various bits of recycling, iron, paper and plastic. Credit: Getty Images)
Feb 01, 2019
Why Do We Bury Our Dead?
The ritual of burying the dead stretches back to the obscure beginnings of human history - and perhaps beyond, with archaeologists uncovering evidence of burials that pre-date our own species. But why do we bury our dead? How important is it, and how did the practice evolve? CrowdScience listener Moses from Uganda began pondering these questions after attending a close relative’s funeral. We search for clues in some of the earliest known burial sites, compare other methods for dealing with human remains, and explore how the funeral practices around the world today compare to those of our ancestors. Did these rituals originally develop for reasons of simple hygiene, or are religious and symbolic aspects the real key to understanding them? Presented by Anand Jagatia Produced by Cathy Edwards for the BBC World Service (Photo: A bereaved young woman in black, taking flowers to a grave. Credit: Getty Images)
Jan 25, 2019
Why Can’t I Remember My Accident?
When CrowdScience listener, Grady, crashed violently on his motorbike in the desert, he thought he was going to die. Years later he still can’t remember the dramatic seconds just before the impact. Where did the memory disappear to? Did the hard hit to the head knock his memories out or are they still in his brain somewhere? CrowdScience turns to brain science to find out if those last few seconds are lost for good or if the brain tells a different story. Under normal circumstances our brains like to hold onto memories that are emotionally important to us. We can remember our wedding day but not yesterday’s breakfast. But scientists have discovered that during near-death experiences, our brains are flooded with chemicals that disrupt our ability to remember. Grady may never recall how he was able to keep his motorbike steady as he drove off the road because – maybe – the memory was never created in the first place. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producers: Melanie Brown and Louisa Field Sound design: Eleni Hassabis (Image: A biker helmet lies on street near to a motorcycle accident. Credit: Getty Images)
Jan 18, 2019
Can Volcanoes Power the World?
Magma is the hot, molten rock found beneath the Earth’s crust. It’s so plentiful that it got Greek listener Dimitrios wondering whether we could harness this heat. Could we drill directly into the magma and use it to power our homes, he asks presenter Marnie Chesterton? And from Ghana, Madock also got in touch with CrowdScience to ask why there are lots of volcanoes in some areas of the world, but then none in others? Marnie dispatches Anand Jagatia to Kenya, a country that is one of the biggest providers of geothermal energy in the world and home to the East African Rift system. At 4,000 miles long, a string of volcanoes sits along this fault line. Anand hikes up one of these to find out why volcanism is so active here. Anand then travels to a geothermal power plant to get to grips with how conventional geothermal energy works, before turning to Iceland, where they’ve drilled directly into magma - albeit by accident. What they discovered was supercritical steam. It’s neither a liquid nor a gas but holds up to 10 times more energy than both. And to find it naturally occurring is the ‘holy grail’ of geothermal power. But can our equipment stand such temperatures? Presenter: Anand Jagatia and Marnie Chesterton Producer: Graihagh Jackson (Image: A volcano erupts. Credit Getty Images)
Jan 11, 2019
How Bird-Like Were Dinosaurs?
Birds are dinosaurs, but did their extinct relatives move, look, or even sing like their avian relatives? From revealing the hidden information within fossilised dinosaur footprints, to reading the messages left by muscle attachments on fossil bones and seeing how modern palaeo-artists have started to draw fluffy feathered Tyranosaurs, presenter Geoff Marsh starts to reimagine dinosaurs as living animals. Beginning with CrowdScience listener Malcolm asking about hopping dinosaurs while on a fossil finding mission with world expert Dr Peter Falkingham, Geoff explores the vaults of the Natural History Museum with Dr Susie Maidment and meets palaeoartist Dr Mark Witton’s pet dinosaurs in his living room studio. Producer: Rory Galloway (Image: A Velociraptor dinosaur. Credit to Mark Witton)
Jan 04, 2019
What is the future of space travel?
CrowdScience goes interstellar this week to answer listeners’ questions about the future of space travel. Marnie Chesterton heads to Nasa’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, where she hears about the engineering challenges of creating a spacecraft that could eventually take us all the way to Mars. Then there are the challenges of engineering the humans for that momentous journey. In space, no-one can hear you scream, which is probably a good thing if you’re going to be trapped in a metal box for two years with the same people, as you cruise through the void on your way to the red planet. So how do astronauts prepare for the physical and psychological impacts of long-term space travel? We also discover how space travel can be made greener and cleaner as the European Space Agency implement the next phase of their plan to tackle the millions of pieces of space debris floating around our planet that potentially, could impact a mission before it even leaves Earth orbit. (Image: An astronaut in outer space. Credit: Getty Images)
Dec 28, 2018
How Much Energy Can I Burn by Thinking?
Wouldn’t it be great if you could lose weight and stay fit just by exercising your brain? Trouble is everything takes so much effort - from burning off excess weight to powering our cars. But why? Presenter Marnie Chesterton rummages through the CrowdScience inbox to tackle all your energy-expending queries. Is the entire universe spinning? How much energy do we expend when sleeping? Can I think myself thinner? Scientists Helen Czerski, Andrew Pontzen and Andrea Sella join listeners from around the world to discover how effort and energy affect our lives. (Image: A young boy sits at an office desk searching for successful ideas using a homemade thinking cap with a lit up light bulb. Credit: Getty Images)
Dec 24, 2018
Is There a Logic to Romantic Love?
Loving someone who doesn’t love you in return makes us feel wretched – can science explain why we must suffer? Parental love makes perfect evolutionary sense but romance just seems to have it in for us time after time. CrowdScience listener Leja wants to know why we fall in and out of love. Marnie Chesterton discovers the irrational things, the impulsive things and the financially ruinous things BBC World Service listeners have done in the name of love and meet the rapper who turned herself into a science subject in an effort to flush out thoughts of her ex-boyfriend. We delve into our ancestral past and into our brains to find out why romantic love is so central to the human experience. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Louisa Field (Image: A loving couple hugging each other, the woman holding a rose. Credit: Getty Images)
Dec 14, 2018
Why do Women Live Longer than Men?
From Russia to Rwanda, women live longer than men and have done so for over 100 years. But why? Is it encoded in our genes or is it something to do with the way we live? This is something CrowdScience listener Michelle from England has been wondering about. From cradle to grave, Marnie Chesterton examines the complex web of factors that are involved in how men and women age differently. It seems that, right from the word go, male embryos are already in the firing line because of their genetics. Marnie hears how women’s genetics are configured so that they have a backup copy of some of their genes, whereas men only have one copy. Not only does this make male embryos less resilient (and therefore more likely to miscarry), men are also at risk of a set of genetic diseases later in life like haemophilia. Puberty is an important component in this story too when a surge of hormones changes girls' and boys’ bodies into adults. But something in the way a boy develops sets them up for diseases late in life. They may be fitter, faster and stronger - all traits that were evolutionary important to make a man the alpha of the group - but this comes at a cost. For instance, the way that a man’s cardiovascular system is ‘configured’ means that they’re far more likely to have a heart attack than women. But it’s not just this, behaviour is also a really important factor and it’s why the gender gap in mortality differs from country to country. In Russia, the gap is nearly 13 years (the highest in the world) and it’s thought that a culture of heavy drinking and smoking is why women outlive men by more than a decade. ...which got Marnie thinking - could men change their destiny and outlive women? Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Graihagh Jackson (Photo: A group of ladies having coffee in modern café. Credit: Getty Images)
Dec 07, 2018
Is Soil The Secret to Slowing Climate Change?
Removing carbon dioxide from our atmosphere - and stopping it getting up there in the first place - is becoming increasingly urgent if we want to prevent catastrophic climate change. There are some seriously high tech machines being developed to try and tackle this problem, but could an equally powerful solution be found in the dirt under our feet? Prompted by New Zealand farmer and CrowdScience listener Kem, we dig deep to see how effectively plants and soils soak up CO2 from the air; and what that means for how we should farm the land around the world. And we visit a Scottish forest to find out how the ancient art of making charcoal is staging a comeback in the fight against climate change. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Cathy Edwards for BBC World Service (Photo: A young plant in soil, in the morning light. Credit: Getty Images)
Nov 30, 2018
Do You Smell What I Smell?
We may take our ability to smell for granted but it’s a far more complex sense than many people realise. Listener Annabel wants Crowdscience to investigate why perfume makes her queasy, so Anand Jagatia sets out to discover why we can’t all agree when we follow our noses. He gets a whiff of the world’s stinkiest flower - and finds some people enjoy it – then asks what’s happening in the brain when we love or hate a scent. But could our different perceptions about this under-appreciated sense actually come down to a lack of words to describe it? He hears about one culture which has developed its own language for smell. Presenter: Anand Jagatia Producer: Marijke Peters (Image: A woman smelling roses. Credit: Getty Images)
Nov 23, 2018
Which Language is Most Efficient?
Communicating quickly, accurately and, ideally, in a way that's well-received is no easy feat, wherever you live in the world. For this week's listener, who lives and works in several different countries as a member of the armed forces, good communication can be a matter of life or death. And this doesn’t just affect military life – anyone who flies on aeroplanes may be interested to hear how clear use of language is crucial for airline safety. But what do we mean by an efficient language – it is the fastest and most accurate speech, or most widely understood in multiple countries? Maybe there’s even some technology – a machine out there that can do the communicating more efficiently than we can? Presenter Marnie Chesterton attempts to apply science and evidence to the art of speech, in a quest to discover what language is the most efficient on Earth. Produced by Jen Whyntie (Image: A group of people holding up speech bubbles sitting on a bench. Credit: Getty Images)
Nov 16, 2018
Can We Make an Artificial Womb?
From IVF to premature babies we explore what science we would need to make a baby outside the body in a pursuit to answer a question from Nigerian listener, Aminu asking: Can we make an artificial womb? To find out, presenter Nastaran Tavakoli-Far gets very close to a uterus transplant operation, peers at the earliest cells of a placenta, and sees a disembodied womb being kept alive in a box full of artificial blood. She asks how close current reproductive medicine brings us to gestating babies in a lab. Producer: Rory Galloway (Photo: A human fetus. Credit: Getty Images)
Nov 09, 2018
How Do We Deal with Nuclear Waste?
How should we tackle the biggest clean-up job in history? Listener Michelle from Ireland sends CrowdScience to investigate what to do with years’ worth of spent nuclear fuel. Most of the highly toxic waste is a by-product from nuclear power production and the stockpiles across the world continue to grow. “Could we blast it into the sun? Dilute it across the continent? Or should we bury it?” Michelle asks. We travel deep into the Finnish bedrock to visit what could be its final resting place and speak to the scientists who are securing the facility many ice-ages into the future. The nastiest stuff in the waste soup needs to stay put for thousands of years before it becomes safe. No man-made structure has ever before lasted so long. The Finnish solution is not easy to replicate in other countries as communities oppose nuclear waste being permanently buried in their backyard. Presenter Marnie Chesterton discovers that scientists have come up with solutions that could let us recycle the spent fuel more effectively, but it costs more than the industry is willing to spend. The clean-up job of the century comes down to dollars and not science. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Louisa Field (Photo: a man in protective workwear in waste factory. Credit: Getty Images)
Nov 02, 2018
Could Bionic Eyes Help Me See Again?
Mohammed is from India and he’s blind. He emailed CrowdScience because he wanted to know more about new technologies that could help him see again. Specifically, he was interested in artificial vision - what is it and what does it look like? Bobbie Lakhera travels to Germany to find out. There, she meets a blind patient called Manuel. He’s about to have a major operation. A computer chip will be implanted into his eye and his surgeon, Florian Gekeler, believes that it will restore some of Manuel’s sight. But what happens if you have no eyes for a chip like this to be inserted into? Bobbie speaks to Dr Nader Pouratian about his brain prosthesis. Because the implant is attached directly to the visual cortex of the brain, it means you could have no eyes or no optic nerve and you could still see with this type of therapy. Whilst both these technologies are limited to black and white vision, Bobbie asks whether one day we may be able to develop systems that give those living with blindness 20/20 vision. Presenter: Bobbie Lakhera Producer: Graihagh Jackson (Photo: A female iris, bionic eye concept. Credit: Getty Images)
Oct 26, 2018
What are the Limits of Human Endurance?
When it comes to speed, humans have got nothing on cheetahs - or greyhounds, kangaroos or zebras for that matter. It’s over long distances we really come into our own: when running for hours or even days, our body structure and excellent sweating skills make us able to outpace much faster mammals. But what are the limits of human endurance? Can we run ever further and faster, and what’s the best diet to fuel such ambitions? This week’s questions come from two CrowdScience listeners in Japan who already know a fair bit about stamina, having run several marathons and long-distance triathlons between them. We head to Greece, legendary birthplace of the marathon, to witness an even more arduous challenge: hundreds of athletes following in the footsteps of the ancient Greek messenger Pheidippides, to run an astonishing 246km across the country. The ever-so-slightly less fit CrowdScience team do our best to keep up, and try to discover the secrets of these runners’ incredible endurance. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Cathy Edwards (Photo: a runner in the Spartathlon ultramarathon, with kind permission from the International Spartathlon Association)
Oct 19, 2018
What Makes Us Superstitious?
Would you willingly break a mirror, walk under a ladder or cut up an image of someone you love - or might you be worried about tempting fate – even if you don’t believe in supernatural forces? Anand Jagatia enters the world of magical thinking on behalf of CrowdScience listeners to explore why - even in this era of scientific rationalism – superstition, magic and belief in concepts like the evil eye and luck appear deeply entrenched in our cultures and psyche. Meeting historians and psychologists, Anand sets out to reveal the enduring lure of superstition and explore the biological factors that can influence us, like how our brains have evolved to look for connections and find patterns in seemingly random events. Is it possible that some people are ‘lucky’ and can we enhance our own ‘luck’? Experimental evidence is thin on the ground but finger’s crossed, CrowdScience can find some. Presenter: Anand Jagatia Producer: Melanie Brown (Image: A handmade Voodoo Doll with pins. Getty Images)
Oct 12, 2018
Can We Prevent Hurricanes?
As the US reaches the end of another hurricane season listener Kelly wants to know if it’s possible to prevent these devastating storms? She lives in Florida, the hurricane capital of the world, and has survived 100mph winds whipping through her home. But could science hold the solution to these extreme weather events? Marnie Chesterton had the unique opportunity to fly into hurricane Florence with the weather scientists gathering data that helped forecasters predict its path, and reports from on board a plane near the eye of the storm. She hears from one researcher who wants to ‘whiten’ clouds to lower sea temperatures and reduce hurricane formation but learns others fear interventions like this could have unintended consequences elsewhere. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Marijke Peters (Photo: Hurricane between Florida and Cuba. Credit to: NASA and Getty Images)
Oct 09, 2018
Does Asking Questions Improve Your Memory?
As the show that takes your questions and turns them into audio adventures reaches its 100th episode, Marnie Chesterton revisits a few of our most liked, talked-about, and inbox-filling programmes to find out how science is getting on with the answers. Marnie heads to a place where important queries have been tackled for hundreds of years - the University of Cambridge in the UK - to chase down some burning follow-ups on topics that have piqued your interest. She finds out what the future holds for the next generation of batteries as they're expected to power everything from smart phones to your car and even your house. Then she scrubs up to tackle your tough questions on the best ways to keep clean. Finally, Marnie visits a memory laboratory at Cambridge University to discover whether the very process of asking questions might be one way to help us remember more. (Photo: A woman from a group raises her hand to ask a question. Credit: Getty Images)
Sep 28, 2018
What’s The Point of Laughter?
This violent and repetitive involuntary constriction of the chest muscles is highly infectious, and can result in convulsions, profuse tears and a reddening of the face. People are known to clutch their chests or roll around on the floor during the more intense bouts. Buy why? It seems a particularly odd thing to do and that’s why CrowdScientists, Erin from Australia, Geraldine from Switzerland, and Musweu from Zambia wanted to find out more about laughter. In pursuit of an understanding of what laughter is, and why we do it, Geoff Marsh attempts to distinguish the sounds of friends from strangers laughing together, and explores the earliest origins of this rib-rending behaviour. In the process he discovers that we’re not alone in laughing, and uncovers the importance of this ability for making and maintaining friendships. Presenter: Geoff Marsh Producer: Rory Galloway (Photo: Two young girls eating an ice-cream and Laughing. Credit: Getty Images)
Sep 21, 2018
Is Vaping Bad for your Health?
E-cigarettes and vaping may only have been around for a decade or so but it's estimated more than 35 million people globally have taken it up. Marnie Chesterton heads to a vape show to discover why these gadgets are proving so popular, and hears from one expert who warns they could be damaging lung immune cells. She examines the research behind claims that e-cigarettes can help smokers quit, and finds conflicting evidence about how good they are at giving people the nicotine hit they crave. It's a research field that's in its infancy and with vaping technology constantly changing, it's little wonder some scientists say it's a struggle to keep up. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Presenter: Marijke Peters (Photo: A woman smoking an e-cigarette. Credit: Getty Images)
Sep 14, 2018
Why Do Drivers Zone Out?
Have you ever been out driving and noticed your mind… wandering? CrowdScience listener Sian Gardiner has. When travelling to visit her parents she has to cross a very large, very obvious bridge. But there are times when she finds herself on the other side with no memory of having gone over it. How is that even possible? Presenter Geoff Marsh buckles up to find out. He travels through the science of how driving becomes second nature, brakes sharply when he realises he’s not necessarily in conscious control at 70mph, and tries to refocus when he discovers why drivers don’t always see things that are staring them in the face. He also asks what’s happening when our mind drifts away from the road, and what can be done to help drivers pay more attention and reduce accidents. Presenter: Geoff Marsh Producer: Anna Lacey Sound design: Peregrine Andrews (Photo: A woman sits in her car, looking through window glass with rain drops. Credit: Getty Images)
Sep 07, 2018
Why Do Some Animals Change Sex?
In humans if you have two X chromosomes you are female and if you have an X and a Y then you are male. It is textbook science. But CrowdScience listener Du in Singapore has done some extra homework and found a piece of intriguing fish research which suggests a different outcome, at least for one species – tilapia, a popular fish on restaurant menus worldwide and as it happens, the first fish to visit space. Whilst humans couldn’t exist without an X-chromosome, tilapia apparently, can. In fact, they are happy with just two Y chromosomes. The existence of this odd breed comes down to the tilapia fish’s ability to change from male to female. Nature has come up with an array of bizarre solutions when it comes to sex determination and what sets you on one genetic path or another. And like with the tilapia fish, the decision isn't always for life. Some species of fish, lizards and even birds sidestep the chromosome system and morph between the sexes to survive a changing environment. How can they have both genetic sex pathways latent within them? And why can’t humans do the same trick? Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Louisa Field (Photo: A male Asian sheepshead wrasse courting a female featured in BBC’s Blue Planet II. Credit: Getty Images)
Aug 31, 2018
Is there life on Mars?
It’s the central question for the current generation of Mars missions. Since the first close-up pictures of the red planet back in 1965, decades of space missions have revealed our neighbouring planet to be cold, rocky and sterile. But there are hints of a more dramatic past; of raging volcanoes and flash floods. Could this be a planet where life existed? Could life still exist under the surface? And could humans live there, or even travel the distance to get there safely, at some point in the coming decades? CrowdScience listeners from Australia, Ghana and Canada have been musing on all sorts of Martian matters. Presenter Marnie Chesterton visits a corner of Stevenage, UK, with a distinctly unearthly appearance and takes a virtual tour of the Martian atmosphere. She also puts listeners’ questions to the scientists designing the spacecraft and instruments they hope will unlock the secrets of Mars. (Image: illustration of Mars shot from space. Credit: Getty Images)
Aug 24, 2018
Could humans live in underwater cities?
The idea of creating underwater habitats has captured the imagination of writers, thinkers and scientists for decades. However, despite numerous grand visions these dreams of aquatic metropolises have not yet come to fruition. Crowdscience listener and scuba enthusiast Jack, wonders whether - given improved technology and the growing environmental pressures facing humans on land - it is time to reconsider the ocean as an alternative permanent living space for humans? Marnie Chesterton, dons her flippers for Crowdscience in search of the oceanographers and architects who have dedicated their lives to designing vessels, labs and underwater habitats. She explores whether oceanic cities remain a sci-fi dream or a realistic solution to some of our modern challenges. Can the oceans’ largely unexplored resources be harnessed to support living underwater? (Photo: Illustration of a modern city under the sea. Credit: Getty Images)
Aug 18, 2018
Can We Trap Light in a Box?
What is light and can we trap it in a box? On this edition of CrowdScience, Marnie Chesterton brings you a kaleidoscope of colourful questions from listeners around the world, from Kampala to Chicago. Shireen asks why people have a favourite colour and whether other animals show colour preferences too. Marnie heads to the zoo to see what the birds, bees and butterflies think. There, she meets a colour-changing chameleon to find out how and why it does because of a question from Dramadri in Uganda. Meanwhile, Paul in Melbourne is interested to know more about colour blindness. And finally, Feroze asks why we only see a portion of the electromagnetic spectrum and wants to know if we might, one day, hack our vision to see beyond the seven colours of the rainbow. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Graihagh Jackson (Photo: Stardust and magic in a woman hands on a dark background. Credit: Getty Images)
Aug 10, 2018
How Do You Stop a Hedgehog Invasion?
Hedgehogs are the UK’s favourite British mammal. They have cute furry faces, a snuffly nose and the ability to gobble up garden slugs. What’s not to like? Answer: quite a lot if you live in the Outer Hebrides. Hedgehogs were introduced to South Uist in the 1970s as garden pest controllers, but are now serious pests in their own right – munching their way through the eggs and chicks of globally important wading bird populations. This emblem of cuteness is really a killer. So what’s to be done? That’s the quandary facing this week’s CrowdScience thanks to a question from Juan Carlos in Cuba. He wants to know how different parts of the world are dealing with invasive species – one of the biggest threats to global biodiversity. Presenter Anand Jagatia heads to the Uists to hear how having an invader that’s loved by millions can cause a whole host of problems. He also discovers how various warring parties eventually came together to solve this very prickly problem. Also in the programme, Anand travels to South Africa to find out how researchers are coping with invasive trees by introducing another non-native species. While in the Caribbean, we hear how people are dealing with invasive fish by eating them. Presenter: Anand Jagatia Producer: Anna Lacey (Photo: A European hedgehog. Credit: Getty Images)
Aug 03, 2018
Why Does History Repeat Itself?
Teenagers are known for ignoring their parents’ advice, but is this reputation for rebellion well-founded? If so, is rejecting the advice of previous generations and treading our own path an important part of what it means to be human? Are we successful as a species precisely because of our questioning natures? Listener Hans started pondering these questions after his own adolescent children repeatedly ignored his nagging. Many animals simply follow in their parents’ footsteps – so what makes human children different? Marnie Chesterton and a panel of experts look at the science of taking advice and making decisions, finding out how human curiosity and exploration compare to other animals, learning the best ways to give and take advice, and seeing whether we’re more likely to trust artificial intelligence than the wisdom of our elders. Finally, we give listener Hans some expert advice on whether or not to keep nagging his kids. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Cathy Edwards (Image: A father and son having communication issues. Credit: Getty Images)
Jul 27, 2018
How Do Magnets Work?
This deceptively simple question from listeners Andy, Mike and James is actually one of the hardest questions CrowdScience has ever tackled. Why? Because even scientists struggle to explain the true nature of the magnetic force and to do so in a way that even presenter Marnie Chesterton can understand is a serious challenge. What is a magnet? And just what is going on when magnets exert a force? With the help of Melanie Windridge, Sean Giblin, Steve Bramwell, Charlotte New and Peter Morris we attempt to navigate the oddities of one of the most fundamental phenomena in the universe. (Image: A horseshoe magnet attracting some hammer nails. Credit: Getty Images)
Jul 20, 2018
Why do Humans have Different Coloured Skin?
Anand Jagatia heads to the rainbow nation of South Africa, to answer listener Lucy’s deceptively simple question. He follows the path of early human migration to understand the relationship between light skin and latitude, and find out how the world become more multi-coloured as people ventured further away from the equator. And he learns how our genes have helped us adapt to less sunny environments, hearing from the remote KhoeSan tribe in the Kalahari desert, who took part in a massive study aimed at giving scientists a better understanding of pigmentation. Producer: Marijke Peters Presenter: Anand Jagatia (Image: Four diverse women’s arms holding each others wrists in a circle. Credit: Getty Images)
Jul 13, 2018
Where Do All Our Vegetables Come From?
Listener Pogo wants to know why there aren’t any cabbages – or any of the other vegetables – in his local forest. Where did they all come from? And could they someday disappear? Presenter Gareth Barlow goes hunting for wild snacks in a city park and unearths the evolution of our most beloved greens. The vegetables on our supermarket shelves today were not always nicely wrapped and tasty. Humans have been selecting for specific genes in plants for thousands of years by choosing to grow those we liked the most. Tomatoes have been transformed from a small prickly desert plant in Peru into a water guzzler with round, juicy, sweet fruits. But with breeding – and sometimes cloning – of plants we have also created genetic bottlenecks in many of the crops we rely heavily on. This has left many of our vegetables across the world vulnerable to shifts in climate, natural disasters, wars and diseases. To find solutions to this massive breach in food security, CrowdScience heads to the Millennium Seed-bank in England. By collecting and storing our most precious seeds in vaults beneath the ground, scientists are protecting the genetic diversity that we will need to overcome the challenges ahead. Presenter: Gareth Barlow Producer: Louisa Field Picture: Man holding basket of vegetables Credit: Getty Images/valentinrussanov
Jul 06, 2018
Do Plants Talk about Sex?
Sex – for most organisms - is about meeting the right partner. But what if you and your mate are stuck far apart with no ability to travel? This dilemma could put a bit of a downer on your sex life, but is faced by plants everywhere. Presenter Anand Jagatia uncovers the happy fact that not only have plants overcome this problem, they positively excel at it. From hay fever to honey, the sexual strategies of plants affect us daily, and we couldn’t live without their success. In this episode, CrowdScience is answering the questions you sent after a previous episode entitled ‘Can plants talk?’ which explored the way plants and trees use a fungal network to communicate. This time, we explore how plants ‘feel’ bees as they fly past, and more complex communication involving the ‘wood wide web’. Presenter Anand Jagatia Producer: Rory Galloway (Image: A yellow dandelion flower attracts a pollinator in the evening sunlight. Credit: Getty Images)
Jun 28, 2018
Will We Run Out of Groundwater?
Some of the biggest reserves of freshwater are right under our feet and they're really important for farming as well as providing us with water to drink. However, in some areas of the world, groundwater is being slurped up quicker than it can be replenished. In fact, about 1.7 billion people live in regions where groundwater is under stress, 60% of them in India and China. This figure is set to rise as the climate changes and as the population grows. CrowdScience listener Waheed from Afghanistan wants to know if we will run out of groundwater and what the repercussions might be. Marnie Chesterton trots around the globe to find out, starting with a row on the River Thames before hearing from Afghanistan to understand what’s happening where Waheed lives. She learns of what has happened to London, Mexico and Malta when they over pumped their aquifers. Finally, Marnie looks to Bangalore where the population is booming to understand how they’re coping with increasing demands on water. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Graihagh Jackson (Image: Children holding their hands up - asking for drinking water. Credit: Getty Images)
Jun 22, 2018
What Shapes Our Musical Taste?
What sounds heavenly to one person might sound like boring noise to another - but why are our musical preferences so different? Is it all down to what we hear growing up, or are other factors at play? CrowdScience listener and music lover Jocelyne from Canada wants to know why she has a different song for every mood, and why she likes different music from her friends and family. Meanwhile in Italy, composer Elisabetta Brusa asks us whether the rules of harmony align with the laws of science, and should therefore not be broken. We talk to both musicians and neuroscientists to explore the truth about harmony and discord. We find out how age, personality and experience all affect whether we find certain songs pleasing or offensive, and learn why the search for the true universals of music pleasure is a race against time. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Cathy Edwards (Image: A couple laying in the grass listening to music on headphones. Credit: Getty Images)
Jun 15, 2018
Is Hypnosis a Real Thing?
Hypnosis has a long and controversial history, with its roots in animal magnetism or mesmerism, the theory developed by 18th Century German doctor Franz Mesmer. He believed he had discovered an invisible natural force possessed by all living things, and that he could channel this force for healing purposes. Popularity of hypnosis has since waxed and waned, but was largely denounced as quackery until the 20th Century, when it began to be studied scientifically. However it is only in the last twenty years or so that is has become incorporated into mainstream science and medicine. But is it a real phenomenon, asks listener Gratian from Poland; and Anton from Ireland wants to know how it works and what happens to people’s brains and bodies under hypnosis? CrowdScience speaks to Dr Quinton Deeley, consultant psychiatrist and senior lecturer at the Institute of Psychiatry, who has used it in practice for many years, and Dr Amir Raz, a magician-turned-neuroscientist who is shedding light on how hypnosis works. To see how hypnosis is being used clinically, CrowdScience visits the Berkeley Clinic in Glasgow, Scotland, to witness a hypnotised patient having a tooth extracted with very little anaesthesia. Meanwhile, presenter and self-confessed arachnophobe Nastaran Tavakoli-Far takes part in the Friendly Spider programme at London Zoo, an afternoon event that uses hypnotherapy and group therapy to ease or eliminate the fear of spiders. Presenter: Nastaran Tavakoli-Far Producer: Helena Selby (Image: A silver pocket watch swinging on a chain on a black background to hypnotize. Credit: Getty Images)
Jun 08, 2018
How Green Are Electric Vehicles?
Electric cars are labelled as ‘zero emissions’ vehicles – but what does that really mean? Jack Stewart puts your questions about EVs to the experts. According to a new report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, just how green your EV is compared to a petrol or diesel vehicle, depends on how the electricity powering the battery was produced, as well as how cleanly the battery itself was manufactured. Jack also explores what could be a compelling alternative to plugging in – filing up with Hydrogen, and creating nothing but water as exhaust. Presenter: Jack Stewart Producer: Rami Tzabar (Image: Electric cars on charge. Credit: Getty Images)
Jun 01, 2018
Is Fasting Healthy?
For some it's a way to get closer to God, for others a tried and tested way to lose weight - but listener Amine wants to know if fasting has any other, unexpected health benefits? So presenter Marnie Chesterton cuts down on cookies and investigates the science behind low-calorie or time-restricted eating. She hears how some cells regenerate when we're deprived of food, which one researcher says could reduce breast cancer rates. And she finds out what happens in our brains when our bodies rely on our own fat reserves for fuel. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Marijke Peters (Image: Clock on an empty plate. Credit: Getty Images)
May 25, 2018
How is Your Brain Better Than a Computer?
Why is it that computers are so much faster than brains at some tasks? Or could human brains one day be used to better effect? Listener Praveen from India was wondering how it can be that supercomputers are so very powerful compared to the human minds that created them. So CrowdScience, with the help of a small voice-activated guest presenter, is off to discover how the first computers remembered what they were told, how a million processors are being connected together to mimic a small percentage of a human brain, and how the mind-boggling speeds of modern computing is enabling the current leaps in artificial intelligence. Producer: Alex Mansfield Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Speakers: Sarah Baines, David Lewis - Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester James Sumner, Steve Furber - University of Manchester Aldo Faisal - Imperial College, London. (Photo: 3D transparent human head and brain image. Credit: Getty images)
May 18, 2018
Why Do Humans Dance?
Kenyan listener Docktor can’t help himself. When music is playing he must move to the beat and he wants to know why. What role does dance play in human evolution? And what does dance mean to us? To help answer the many twists and turns in Docktor’s questions, the CrowdScience team heads to one of the most vibrant and diverse dance scenes in the World, Havana in Cuba. For Cubans dancing is at the heart of their cultural identity. They tell stories, bond with others, practice religion and celebrate their African ancestry through dance ¬– which came to Cuba with the slave trade. For all humans, dancing is intimately connected to our love of music and is likely to be one of our oldest cultural practices. But why would our ancestors have wasted energy on what superficially seems to serve no survival benefits? Evolutionary anthropologist Bronwyn Tarr tells us that one clue lies in the brain. When we dance with others our brains reward us with a cocktail of feel-good hormones and this likely leads to profound social effects. Presenter Anand Jagatia gets challenged on the dance floor, discovers how deeply rooted dance is in Cuban society and why we should dance more. Presenter: Anand Jagatia Producer: Louisa Field (Image: Dancers in Cuba)
May 11, 2018
Why Don’t We All Like The Same Food?
Humans have the potential to eat pretty much anything – but the reality is we don’t. Wherever we live in the world, we eat just a small fraction of the foodstuffs available and show strong preferences for certain foods over others. Those preferences can change dramatically from person to person, or as the saying goes – one man’s meat is another man’s poison. Then at the extreme end of the spectrum you get so-called ‘fussy eaters’ who reject so many foods that they are confined to beige diets of crisps, crackers and cereal. So why do we show such different preferences for food? And why are some people fussier than others? That’s what CrowdScience listeners Orante Andrijauskaite in Germany and Anna Nicolaou in Belgium would like to know, and what Datshiane Navanayagam is off to find out. She discovers how both biology and culture shape whether a food is disgusting or delicious and learns why we should stop giving children a hard time about finishing their dinner. She also learns how global cuisines evolved and what that can teach us about helping fussy eaters to overcome their food fears. Presenter: Datshiane Navanayagam Producer: Anna Lacey (Photo: Fried Bugs in Bangkok night market. Credit: Getty Images)
May 04, 2018
Can Sucking CO2 Out of the Air Solve Climate Change?
Carbon dioxide levels are far higher than at any other point in human history, thanks to our reliance on burning fossil fuels. But having pumped huge amounts of CO2 into the air, are there ways to get it back out again? If so, where would we put it all? And the big question: can that help solve our climate change problem, or is it a distraction from the urgent task of reducing our emissions? When CrowdScience delved into ancient carbon dioxide levels last year, it sparked a flurry of emails from our listeners asking these questions and more, so this week we investigate our options for restoring equilibrium to our atmosphere. Since the CO2 came from deep underground - in the form of coal, oil and gas - can we put it back there? We travel to Iceland where they’re capturing carbon dioxide directly from the air - and turning it into rock. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Cathy Edwards (Photo: Nesjavellir geothermal power plant in Iceland. Credit: Getty Images)
Apr 27, 2018
Are Screens Bad For My Child’s Eyes?
Short-sightedness is reaching epidemic proportions around the world. The way things are progressing, one-third of the world’s population – 2.5 billion people - could need glasses by the end of the decade. And scientists are beginning to understand why: children spend too much time indoors, bent over screens and books. Marnie Chesterton travels to Singapore, where rates of myopia are one of the highest in the world and to see how the government is curbing the condition with an array of tools, from eye-drops to sunshine remedies. She does so in the hope of better understanding whether screens are bad for children’s eyes, a question raised by a concerned Mexican father, Fernando, about his two-year old daughter. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Graihagh Jackson (Photo: A little girl wearing headphones while using a digital tablet at home. Credit: Getty Images)
Apr 20, 2018
Why Do Insects Fly Towards Lights?
Will gravity on earth ever change? Why do insects fly towards the light? Is the plasma in a TV the same as plasma in a fusion reactor? Why are mosquito bites so itchy? What does the Higgs boson do for the Universe? In a Q+A special, Marnie Chesterton is joined by scientists Malcolm Fairbairn, Kate Lancaster and Erica McAlister to tackle a selection of questions from the CrowdScience inbox. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Alex Mansfield (Photo: Alates insects light bulb and night. Credit: Getty Images)
Apr 13, 2018
Can We Find a Cure for Dementia?
Dementia affects nearly 50 million people worldwide – but doctors are still struggling to find a cure. CrowdScience investigates why this particular group of brain diseases are so hard to treat, from the difficulties around diagnosis to why the drugs just don’t currently work. In the absence of a medical solution is it time to take a new approach? As geneticists develop tests to predict who might develop brain disease, there are others focusing on better care for those who already have it. Presenter Bobbie Lakhera visits a village in the Netherlands helping sufferers live longer independently, and hears how music projects improve non-verbal communication. Presenter: Bobbie Lakhera Producer: Marijke Peters (Photo: Neurology research examining the neurons of a human head to heal memory loss or cells due to dementia. Credit: Getty Images)
Apr 06, 2018
Is The Future of Food a Pill?
Since the end of the 19th century, scientists have been predicting we would be eating a meal in a pill, but is it a serious answer to the world’s food problems? That’s what Australian listener Bridget is wondering and whether it’s possible to produce an artificial food source that can provide all the nutrients for healthy human life. With increasing urbanisation, diets are changing and estimates suggest food production will have to increase some 60 percent by 2050 to keep up with demand. But can we provide all that extra food with limited natural resources and traditional farming methods? First, Marnie Chesterton finds out what artificial food is currently available and whether the existing products are healthy. And while a meal in a pill might sustain our bodies, will it sustain our minds? The experience of eating involves so much more than simply taking in the right nutrients, as Marnie discovers at the Gastrophysics Chef’s Table, a restaurant and multi-sensory dining experience. On the menu is jellyfish, a possible alternative source of food for the future. It’s in plentiful supply in our oceans, but like eating insects, the thought of it may be disgusting to some, so Marnie explores how sensory-driven strategies can be used to make these food sources more appealing. CrowdScience also visits the future of farming: A hydroponic vertical farm called Growing Underground, which is built in World War Two air-raid shelters under London. Using LED lighting instead of sunlight, leafy vegetables grow very quickly and need very little space. With higher crop yields per square metre than traditional farming, vertical farms allow fresh produce to be grown in urban centres with less impact on the environment. Hydroponic farming is something the European Space Agency is also experimenting with as part of Project Melissa, which is developing a closed loop ecological system - using rats instead of astronauts - aimed at one day helping us grow fruit and vegetables on Mars. Listen to the podcast version of the programme to hear this interview. Producer: Helena Selby (Photo: Pills on a plate. Credit: Getty Images)
Mar 30, 2018
Does Anything Stand Still?
Listener Nikolai sends CrowdScience hunting through space and time with his deceptively simple question. Can we find perfect stillness? You are probably reading this sentence whilst standing or sitting still. So is it a daft question? We discover that there are no simple answers as we unravel the science of motion, which tells us that we cannot always trust our senses to tell us ‘the truth’ about the natural world. The ancient Greeks believed it was the sun that rises and sets each day and this idea remained until the 16th century astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus showed us that this an illusion – that we are the ones in motion, orbiting the Sun. Later, through the work of Isaac Newton and then Albert Einstein, scientists came to the conclusion that nothing in the universe can ever be truly still. Except perhaps, the fastest thing in the universe – light. Confused? Don’t worry, so is Marnie Chesterton who sets out to explore not just the science of stillness but also the physics of stopping. To satisfy listener Nikolai’s curiosity about motion in space, CrowdScience also travels to ESA’s European Space Research and Technology Centre in the Netherlands. Here we find out how you stop a space craft and hear the story of when things got prickly for astronaut Tim Peake and his crew when docking at the International Space Station. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Louisa Field (Photo: Astronaut wearing pressure suit against a space background. Credit: Getty Images)
Mar 24, 2018
Why Do We Follow the Crowd?
Are you the master of your own decisions? Independent-minded? A free spirit? Like it or not, the answer is probably no - as we are profoundly influenced by the people around us. But why do humans follow the crowd? CrowdScience listener Cath Danes wants to know and this week we are going to be giving her answers at the BBC’s Free Thinking Festival in Gateshead. Marnie Chesterton is joined by a crack team of neuroscientists and psychologists, who reveal the secrets behind our inner sheep. We also run an experiment to find out whether you should trust the wisdom of the crowds with life’s big decisions. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Anna Lacey (Photo: A flock of sheep being herded in a pasture. Credit: Getty Images)
Mar 16, 2018
Is Nuclear Fusion Coming Anytime Soon?
Unlike nuclear fission power stations, which leave harmful radioactive waste to be stored or disposed of for thousands of years, a nuclear fusion power plant would create precious little burden on future generations. The fuel source would be seawater, and the energy created limitless. Back in the 1950s, the technology to “tame the hydrogen bomb” seemed just a few decades away from practical deployment, and governments across the divide of the cold war shared the challenges, costs and laboratories. But to the outsider, it might look like progress has been slow. In 1997 the Joint European Torus at Culham in the UK set the world record for energy released from a controlled fusion reaction, but even that was less than the energy was put in. Keeping the plasma – the super-hot atoms of exotic types of hydrogen – at temperatures many times the temperature of the sun safely in place inside a magnetic field is not a trivial task. Last year construction of the International Experimental Thermonuclear Reactor, ITER, reached its halfway point at its huge home in France, and if all goes to plan it should produce its first plasma by 2025. The hope is that operational fusion reactions will take place within a decade after that, paving the way for its successor DEMO - which would actually generate electricity - to be built sometime before 2050. But in parallel with the big intergovernmental roadmap, in recent years a number of small commercial startups have joined the race to achieve commercial fusion energy. With their various different approaches and more ambitious timelines, will the private sector beat the publicly funded science to the goal? Presenter: Bobbie Lakhera Producer: Alex Mansfield (Photo of ITER Organization, with permission)
Mar 09, 2018
Could Bees Take Over From Sniffer Dogs?
Humans have used dogs' excellent sniffing talents ever since our ancestors figured out that canine companions could help them track down their next meal. But what about other animals? Can they take us beyond the limits of our own senses? That's what CrowdScience listener Beth wants to know, so we obligingly try to sniff out some answers. After immersing ourselves in the world of insect senses at our local zoo, we visit an insect lab in Germany to find out whether sniffer bees could take over from sniffer dogs. And could ants help us fly the drones of the future? We meet the scientists trying to turn ant vision into computer code, to send robots into places GPS can't reach. Presenter: Nastaran Tavakoli-Far Producer: Cathy Edwards (Photo: A bee on a human finger. Credit: Getty Images)
Mar 02, 2018
Do Animals Have Accents?
A cacophony of singing and screaming creatures’ accents are explored to answer: Can animals of the same species from different places communicate with each other? Presenter Geoff Marsh tries to identify how different these calls really sound for CrowdScience. From wolves to birds to whales and chimpanzees, most animals use sound to communicate, but if groups in different places vocalise in different ways, they may not be able to communicate with others. CrowdScience questioner, Kitty, sets us on an exploration of the vast and varied world of animal communication with inspiration from her dog Monty. Presenter: Geoff Marsh Producer: Rory Galloway (Photo: Three wolves howling on a cold day. Credit: Getty Images)
Feb 23, 2018
How does the Moon affect life on Earth?
From worms who time their mating ritual with an inner lunar calendar, to how full moons could cause cows to give birth early. Listener Andreas sends CrowdScience on a mission to separate fact from fiction. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Marijke Peters Picture: The moon rises over Kadam mountain in Uganda, on January 31, 2018, during the lunar phenomenon referred to as the 'super blue blood moon'. Credit: Yasuyoshi Chiba / AFP / Getty Images
Feb 16, 2018
Why Does Dark Matter, Matter?
Scientists have been searching for dark matter for 80 years, so CrowdScience wondered whether they could find it faster. Armed with a boiler suit, hard hat and ear defenders, Marnie Chesterton travels over a kilometre underground into a hot and sweaty mine to see how we could catch dark matter in action. She investigates various theories as to what it might be with popping candy and gazes at galaxies to determine how we know it exists in the first place. But most importantly, she questions whether it really matters. And, as our Singaporean listener Koon-Hou askes, what impact would finding it have on our everyday lives? Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Graihagh Jackson (Photo: Finding dark matter could have galactic implications. Credit: Getty Images)
Feb 09, 2018
Must Life be Carbon-Based?
Carbon is special, but is it necessarily the unique building block of life in the universe? Science fiction has long speculated on non-carbon biochemistries existing in the universe – notably in the work of authors such as Isaac Asimov as well as in the popular American TV series Star Trek, which once featured a rock-munching, silicon-based life form called ‘Horta’. Marnie Chesterton explores the real science behind this intriguing idea and wonders whether in the current search for Earth-like planets elsewhere in the galaxy, we should be looking at completely different possible sets of rules when it comes to the hunt for life? Producer Alex Mansfield Presenter Marnie Chesterton (Photo: Saturn viewed from Titan moon. Credit: Getty Images)
Feb 02, 2018
How Far Can I See?
How far can you see? A few kilometres down the road? Or do you struggle to see past the end of your own nose? Well one listener thinks he might be able to see 15 quintillion miles away... but can he really? Marnie Chesterton and Bobbie Lakhera are on the case for this week’s multi-question human body special. As well as delving into the power of vision, they also discover why male mammals have nipples despite not needing to breastfeed, and Marnie puts herself in a giant refrigerator in the name of finding out why some people feel the cold more than others. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Anna Lacey
Jan 26, 2018
Are Crunchy Caterpillars the Food of the Future?
Meet the entrepreneurs turning bugs into food and get top tips on how to cook them. In this week’s episode we return to the topic of edible insects and the story of Kahitouo Hein’s caterpillar factory in Burkina Faso, West Africa. Kahitouo is trying to turn a traditional food like the shea caterpillar, available for just a few weeks a year, into a year-long sustainable staple for the whole population. We also put your questions about edible insects directly to the researchers in Burkino Faso. Discover the best way to cook a bug, explore the curious effects of hornet venom and find out whether eating insects is better for the environment then eating red meat. Do you have a question we can turn into a programme? Email us at Presenter: Anand Jagatia Producer: Louisa Field (Photo: Worker at Kahit’s factory cooking caterpillars)
Jan 19, 2018
When Does Speech Become Music?
Most of us instinctively know when someone’s singing and when they’re talking. But since music and speech are both just sounds, how do our brains tell them apart? This week’s question comes from Eugene, a music teacher in Northern Ireland, who often hears music in people’s speech, and wonders why. Step forward, the ‘speech-to-song illusion’. This curious phenomenon means that when certain spoken phrases are repeated, they turn into music as if by magic. We talk to the Diana Deutsch, the scientist who discovered this illusion, and find out what it reveals about how the brain is adapted to understand both music and speech. But are some languages more musical than others? Many people around the world speak tone languages, where the pitch of a word affects its meaning. One such language is Dinka, spoken in South Sudan; we meet a Dinka speaker and hear how respecting the melody of the language is essential when writing songs. Presenter: Datshiane Navanayagam Producer: Cathy Edwards Dinka recordings courtesy of Elizabeth Achol and Anyang Malual (Photo:Young woman listening to music on yellow headphones. Credit Getty Images)
Jan 12, 2018
Why Does My Dog Love Me?
Dogs have been living and working with humans for thousands of years. But they’re much more than just pets. As any dog owner will tell you, the bond we have with our canine friends is often so strong that they feel more like family. So how is it that dogs have come to fit so seamlessly into human life? That’s what CrowdScience listener Peter Jagger in the UK wants to know, and Marnie Chesterton is off to sniff out some answers. She starts by revisiting a previous episode of CrowdScience based in Sweden, where she saw the dog-human bond come alive during a moose hunt. She then heads to the Dog Cognition Centre in Portsmouth to discover how a unique and often unconscious communication system helps our dogs to understand us. Finally, Marnie finds out about the fate of dogs that are no longer wanted by their humans. After thousands of years of domestication, can they ever live without us? Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Anna Lacey (Photo: Image of young girl with her dog, alaskan malamute. Credit: Getty Images)
Jan 05, 2018
Could our faces replace passports as ID?
Crowdscience revisits the evidence on the best forms of biometric identification. Earlier in the year we explored digital fingerprints, gait (walking style) recognition and iris scanners. Today presenter Anand Jagatia looks at systems which use your face and your voice to identify you. One airline is currently testing facial recognition in airports as a means of replacing your passport. Meanwhile, Anand tries to fool a speech recognition system that measures over a thousand characteristics of your voice in order to protect your identity. But will it be able to cope if you have a cold? Presented by Anand Jagatia Produced by Marijke Peters. Picture: Facial Recognition Credit: Getty Images
Dec 29, 2017
Rudolph castrated: what you didn’t hear this year
Reindeer castration, plants get chatty and more quirky science revealed in this Christmas special of CrowdScience where we will also be hearing from the people that make this series possible. That’s you – our listeners. CrowdScience has been on air for just over a year which means we’ve had over 60 adventures. Every time we put a show together there’s a heart-breaking process where amazing facts we wanted to share end up on the cutting-room floor. To celebrate the holidays we’ve gone scavenging for the best untold stories, edgy science facts and incidents from behind the scene. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Louisa Field Picture: Reindeer in Snow Credit: Getty Images
Dec 22, 2017
What is dust?
It lurks behind sofas and collects in corners, apparently appearing from nowhere. But what is household dust? And should we bother sweeping it away? That’s what Australian listener Moshe wants to know and what Marnie Chesterton is off to find out for this week’s CrowdScience. She embarks on a mission to discover not only what dust is made of, but whether it poses any health risks. Although most people sweep it away without a thought, dust contains all sorts of secrets about our habits and everyday lives. Marnie finds out how dust can reveal the pets you keep, the chemicals in your surroundings, the location of your house and how fecal bacteria can uncover whether more men or women live in your home. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Anna Lacey (Image: Woman Vacuuming Up Dust. Credit: Getty Images)
Dec 19, 2017
From Oldest to Strongest Living Thing
Trees are old – they transcend human generations – but are they the oldest living things on Earth? This story began in June 2017 when we explored a question sent in from CrowdScience listener William. Many of you got in touch after the programme with questions of your own. So we’re revisiting our trees programme but also exploring another question from listener James, who wants to know what, pound for pound or gram for gram, is the strongest animal alive on Earth today? Marnie Chesterton wrestles with one of them and – spoiler alert – it’s not a gorilla. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producers: Jen Whyntie (Photo: Kumbuka, a 15-year-old western lowland gorilla. Credit: Oli Scarff/Getty Images)
Dec 08, 2017
Can We Revive Extinct Species Like the Dodo?
Dodos are dead, but are they gone forever? Reviving extinct species is a trope of science fiction, but real-life scientists are working on every stage of the problem today. Meeting scientists focused on uncovering ancient animal genomes, or reviving individual cells to conserve species still around, Marnie Chesterton seeks out whether new technologies might, just possibly, bring back the iconic dodo. But what would it take to bring back that most iconic of extinct species? Following listener Rachel’s question, CrowdScience gets to grips with the dodo’s past, and finds out what’s left of this iconic bird, meeting the scientists inadvertently piecing it back together. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Rory Galloway Picture: An accurate reconstruction of nesting Dodos Photo Credit: Dr Julian Hume
Dec 01, 2017
Does Technology Change How we Fall in Love?
How does technology affect how we fall in love? Crowdscience travels to India to answer listener Erin’s questions about the impact of the internet on our search for soulmates. We meet the traditional matchmaker who says her service provides security in an era of digital fraud. And ask whether computer algorithms are the best way to help people make permanent romantic connections? Presenter: Chhavi Sachdev Producer: Marijke Peters (Photo: A couple kiss while taking a selfie. Credit: Getty Images)
Nov 27, 2017
Why are There Morning People and Night People?
Some of us want to be up with the larks, while others are more like night owls. But is our preference down to our genes, or more to do with habits and surroundings? We set out to find the answers, inspired by a question from Kira, a night owl CrowdScience listener in Philadelphia, USA. Our daily, or circadian, body clocks are a hot topic of discussion at the moment - this year’s Nobel Prize for Medicine went to three scientists who discovered the gene that makes these clocks tick. To answer our listener’s question, we need to know why different clocks tick at different rates, so we visit a specialist sleep centre to see how having a slow-ticking clock makes it hard for you to leap out of bed in the morning. And the morning sun helps all of us regulate our daily rhythm, so what happens when it doesn’t rise at all? We travel to Tromsø, in the far north of Norway, to see how morning and evening types fare during the long polar nights - and meet the reindeer who seem to be able to switch off their daily clocks altogether. Meanwhile down near the equator, we hear about the hunter-gatherer community in Tanzania where there’s nearly always someone awake. Sami song, the joik of Ráikku-Ánte, is performed by Ken Even Berg Do you have a question we can turn into a programme? Email us at Presenter: Anand Jagatia Producer: Cathy Edwards (Image: L - Women smiling on a run R - Women DJ. Credit: Getty Images)
Nov 17, 2017
How Can I Remember More?
Sometimes our memory fails us and we wish facts would just stick better. Listener Mothibi is a student and has spent three years trying to remember as much as possible for his exams. He wants to know how he can train his brain to better to remember things – and does the brain have a limit on how much stuff we can cram into it? To find the answers presenter Marnie Chesterton seeks help from memory magician, Simon, at the European Memory Championship. Using the loci technique she accomplishes a memory feat she didn’t think possible. Thought to have been developed by the Greeks, the loci method is a technique that enables the brain to remember extraordinary amounts of information. It turns out, we all have the right wiring to remember more and better, but we need to train our brains. Also, CrowdScience heads to Cambridge University where Marnie Chesterton lands herself in a study. The scientists scan her brain while she exercises her memory muscles and we discover why sometimes memories get muddled up. Do you have a question we can turn into a programme? Email us at Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Louisa Field (Image: Woman scratching head, thinking brain melting into lines. Credit: Getty Images)
Nov 10, 2017
How Did Life Get onto Land?
People often talk about being descended from apes. But go back a bit further and we have a more unlikely ancestor – fish. Improbable as it may sound, the creature that gave rise to every bird, reptile and mammal on Earth today lived a fully aquatic life. So how did it switch to life on land? And how hard was it to swap swimming for walking and breathing fresh air? That’s what CrowdScience listener Pierre in France wants to know, and what Marnie Chesterton is in Scotland to find out. She goes fossil hunting with members of the TW:eed Project team, as they try to uncover remains of creatures that are crucial in helping solve the puzzle of terrestrial life. She also discovers the landscape these early ancestors walked into – an alien and relatively empty world completely different to what we see today - where grass and flowers were yet to evolve. But not everything in this story is preserved in rock. Marnie goes to see a living relic of this period of evolution, and finds out what it can tell us about possibly the most important event in the history of our species. Do you have a question we can turn into a programme? Email us at Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Anna Lacey (Image: Artists impression of underwater environment of Carboniferous swamp depicting a rhizodont; a large predatory fish. Credit: Mark Witton)
Nov 03, 2017
How Can We Fight Unwanted Noise?
Unpleasant man-made noise is something that disturbs many of us and even damages our health. But as millions more people move into crowded cities around the world, it's a cacophony that we almost unavoidably create ourselves. CrowdScience listener Diana from New York City in the USA got in touch to ask how we can temper the din and live a more peaceful life. Presenter Anand Jagatia heads to an acoustics lab at the University of Salford in Manchester, UK, to meet the researchers and engineers investigating the best ways to make cities more pleasant for our ears whilst still maintaining the ‘buzz’ of city life. And reporter Chhavi Sachdev takes us to Mumbai in India, where we discover how sound mapping is being deployed on the city’s streets as the first step to improve the life and health of its citizens. Do you have a question we can turn into a programme? Email us at Presenter: Anand Jagatia Producer: Jen Whyntie (Image: Children cover their ears as the truck convoy front passes. Credit: Getty Images)
Oct 31, 2017
Is There Proof of Life After Death?
Is there any scientific proof of an afterlife? Six months ago, CrowdScience tackled a question from a listener who wanted to know whether there was life after death. But following more listener emails, presenter Marnie Chesterton returns to the subject to investigate the world of ghosts, souls and parapsychology. She meets Professor Susan Blackmore, who studies out-of-body experiences and has spent decades hunting for scientific proof of life after death. And she visits the woman who, despite dying in the 1950s, is alive and thriving on a cellular level and helping scientists find cures for cancer, Parkinson’s and other diseases, in laboratories across the world … Do you have a question we can turn into a programme? Email us at Produced and Presented by Marnie Chesterton (Image: Four people sitting around a table having a Seance. Credit: Getty Images)
Oct 20, 2017
Can We Worm Our Way Into Better Health?
We test the science behind parasitic therapy to answer listener Michael’s question about whether intestinal worms can help us stay healthy, and visit a deworming programme in a rural Ugandan village. Do you have a question we can turn into a programme? Email us at Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Marijke Peters (Picture: Tapeworm in human intestine, Credit: selvanegra/Getty Images)
Oct 13, 2017
Is Carbon Dioxide Higher Than Ever?
Carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere today are higher than at any point in human existence. But going back further into Earth’s history, when do we find concentrations as high as they are now - and what was the planet like back then? CrowdScience sets out to answer our listener Thomas’s question, travelling back through time with the help of Antarctic ice cores, ancient plant fossils, and microscopic popcorn-shaped organisms called foraminifera, all of which hold clues to past climates. Enlisting the help of chemists, botanists and palaeontologists, we find out about the huge swings in atmospheric carbon dioxide from prehistoric times to the present day, and ask the all-important question: can this help us understand what's happening to our climate now? Do you have a question we can turn into a programme? Email us at Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Cathy Edwards (Image: Polar bear on an ice floe. Credit: Getty Images)
Oct 06, 2017
Can We Make Artificial Organs?
Human Organs are in short supply. But what if you could grow new ones in the lab? And if you donate your body parts to help others, where might they end up? That's what Sarah Gray wanted to know after making the difficult decision to donate the body of her son, Thomas, to medical science after he died from an incurable disease shortly after being born. Sarah then contacted the scientists whose research has been made possible by Thomas’ donation and discovered just how he is contributing to research which, may one day mean that organ donation is no longer necessary. Presenter Bobbie Lakhera talks to Sarah about her decision and meets some of the scientists working to create biological artificial lab-grown organs, tissues and even bones. Do you have a question we can turn into a programme? Email us at Presenter: Bobbie Lakhera Producer: Louisa Field (Image: A doctor taking or delivering a bag containing a human organ for transplant. Credit: Getty Images)
Sep 29, 2017
Should We Kill One Species to Save Another?
Is it fair to kill invasive species which humans have introduced? When people move around the world, many of their favourite – and not so favourite - animals tag along for the ride. From cane toads through to rats, cats and crayfish, so-called ‘invasive species’ can destroy ecosystems and kill off native wildlife. CrowdScience listener Jude Kirkham wants to know if eradicating these invaders is justified. One country determined to do something about invasive species is New Zealand, where rats, stoats and possums are causing irreparable damage to the country’s unique bird life. If nothing is done, the iconic Kiwi could be extinct within 50 years. The government and volunteer groups across the country have responded with a plan to eradicate predatory mammals from New Zealand by 2050. But is all the time, energy and money needed to do this really justified? And is it morally right to kill off an animal species that humans introduced in the first place? Do you have a question we can turn into a programme? Email us at Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Anna Lacey (Image: Headshot of a Possum Credit: Getty Images)
Sep 22, 2017
Could All Cars Be Electric?
Just one per cent of vehicles are powered by electricity, but CrowdScience listener Randall from Lac du Bonnet in Canada wants to know how quickly that might change, and whether one day all cars could be electric. Marnie Chesterton begins her journey in an electric car, stuck in traffic on a Los Angeles freeway. It was in California where the modern electric car revival began in the late 1990s with the EV1 – popular with Hollywood celebrities like Mel Gibson and Danny DeVito. More than two decades on, several countries have pledged to go all-electric in future. The latest is China, who currently lead the world in the number of electric vehicles on the road. But is the planet’s power infrastructure even capable of supporting this global electric dream? Marnie talks to experts about the practicalities of power supply and charging, takes a ride in an electric prototype with enough acceleration to impress even the most cynical petrol head and discovers an extraordinary vision for the future of personalised urban transport. Do you have a question we can turn into a programme? Email us at Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Jennifer Whyntie (Image: Electric power cord plugged in and recharging the electric vehicle Credit: Getty Images)
Sep 15, 2017
How Could Humanity Become Extinct?
Nuclear weapons and mega asteroids: what would the aftermath look like? CrowdScience explores past extinction events and future dystopias. In a past episode, CrowdScience headed to Denmark to find out whether humans could go the way of the dinosaurs – mass extinction triggered by a large asteroid impact 66 million years ago. Although no killer rocks are on route to Earth any time soon, we do not have to look far for other dystopias. “Do we have enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world?”, listener Ronald from Uganda asks CrowdScience. It turns out there is a web app which can help answer this question. Together with its maker nuclear historian Alex Wellerstein, presenter Anand Jagatia tests hypothetical nuclear disaster scenarios and uncovers the nature of nuclear destruction in interviewees with climate scientist Alan Robock. Do you have a question we can turn into a programme? Email us at Presenter: Anand Jagatia Producer: Louisa Field (Image: Explosion of a nuclear bomb Credit: Getty Images)
Sep 08, 2017
Spider Silk and Super Fly Senses
CrowdScience is uncovering the super-powers of spiders, flies and the most irritating mosquitos. Anand Jagatia meets spider specialist Jamie Mitchells at London Zoo to find out how spiders create such vast webs and speaks to researchers in Sweden about how they are trying and succeeding in recreating spider’s silk. Rory Galloway heads to Cambridge University’s Fly Lab to find out how their tiny brains process the world up to four times faster than humans. And Bobbie Lakhera is at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine to find out how attractive she is to mosquitos and how they use their super-senses to home-in on our blood. Do you have a question we can turn into a programme? Email us at Presenter: Anand Jagatia Producer: Laura Hyde (Image: Close-up of a Jumping Spider. Credit: Getty Images
Sep 01, 2017
Trees v Air Pollution - the Rematch
CrowdScience dives back into a debate about trees and their ability to tackle air pollution. Growing trees take in carbon dioxide and emit oxygen, but their leaves also attract tiny particles, which can get into our lungs and brains. So how good are they at cleaning our clogged up skies? Following on from our original programme, CrowdScience was contacted by a team of researchers in the UK who claim tress may be as much as 50 times better than previously thought at mopping up particles, and learn that hedges may help us stay healthy on roads. Also in the programme, we discover what pollutants are doing to our brains and reveal research which shows that keeping house plants can significantly reduce pollution inside the home. Do you have a question we can turn into a programme? Email us at Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Marijke Peters
Aug 25, 2017
Sydney Science Festival, Australia
CrowdScience heads to the Sydney Science Festival in Australia where, from a special event at The Powerhouse Museum, we reveal answers to questions listeners have been sending in such as: What living thing has the most toxic venom? What is déjà vu? And why do our fingers wrinkle in the bath? To tackle our listeners’ questions about life, Earth and the universe, presenter Marnie Chesterton is joined by four special guests who will bring the good, weird and bemusing from the world of science to the stage. Prof Shari Forbes, Professor in Forensic Science at the University of Technology Sydney,aims to help police and forensic teams establish a more precise time of death in missing person and homicide cases. Dr Katie Mack is an astrophysicist at the University of Melbourne. Her work focuses on finding new ways to learn about the early universe and fundamental physics using astronomical observations. Dr Jonathan Webb runs the science unit at ABC RN. He is also a former neuroscientist and a former science reporter for BBC News in London. Dr Alice Williamson is a chemistry lecturer and researcher at The University of Sydney. She hosts a weekly science segment, Up and Atom on FBi Radio in Sydney, co-hosts RN’s Dear Science, and is a regular guest on Dr Karl's Shirtloads of Science podcast. Do you have a question we can turn into a programme? Email us at Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Marijke Peter and Jen Whyntie (Image: Koala in tree Credit: Getty Images)
Aug 18, 2017
Lightning Strikes Again
Is it possible to get power from lightning? This was the first CrowdScience question posed by listener John Emochu in Kampala, Uganda, in November 2016. We revisit John’s story as presenter Marnie Chesterton goes hunting for answers at a lightning lab in Cardiff, Wales, where she discovers just what lightning lab is, and how to make a tiny – but very loud – lightning bolt. And we tackle the best of the many questions that came into our inbox about thunderstorms after the original broadcast – from how many types of lightning exist to whether antennae in the clouds could gather electricity. Finally, we head to Kampala to meet listener John to hear just what he thought of the programme and what life is really like in one of the lightning capitals of the world. Do you have a question we can turn into a programme? Email us at Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Jen Whyntie (Image: Artist impression of lightning inside a conical flask. Credit: Getty Images)
Aug 11, 2017
Can Animals Commit Murder?
** Contains some upsetting scenes ** As a species, we humans can be uniquely horrible to our own kind. But are we the only animal to commit murder? Listener Michelle’s question sends CrowdScience trekking – and getting lost - in the Budongo rainforest in Uganda in search of one of Man’s closest relatives, the chimpanzee. We hear from the scientists, who only days before the team’s arrival at the camp, witnessed a gang of chimps brutally killing another adult. But does chimpanzee lethal aggression pass muster as murder? We head to the capital Kampala for some legal advice and take a look at the grim history of putting animals on trial. Do you have a question we can turn into a programme? Email us at Presenter: Geoff Marsh Producer: Louisa Field (Image: Closeup of angry chimpanzee Credit: Getty Images)
Aug 04, 2017
What Do Our Accents Say About Us?
How do we end up speaking the way we do? What's happening in our brains and mouths to make us sound so different from each other - even when we’re speaking the same language? This week on CrowdScience we return to our listener Amanda’s question of why there are so many accents, and discover more about what our accents say about us. We visit Glasgow in Scotland, home to one of the most distinctive dialects of English, to see how social status and age affect the way we speak; and investigate another of our listeners’ questions: is there really such a thing as a ‘political accent’? But how do babies pick up accents in the first place – and is it impossible to learn new sounds later in life? Presenter Nastaran Tavakoli-Far discovers something unexpected about her own accent, visits a voice coach to try and sound Texan, and uses ultrasound to try and get her tongue round new sounds. And you can find out how much of an accent expert you are, by taking part in our online quiz. Do you have a question we can turn into a programme? Email us at Presenter: Nastaran Tavakoli-Far Producer: Cathy Edwards (Image: Woman holds hand near ear and listens carefully alphabet letters flying in. Credit: Getty Images)
Jul 28, 2017
Could a Computer Judge My Crime?
People said they’d never catch on. Mobile phones, the internet and even robot assembly lines all once seemed like niche technologies. But today they are at the heart of the modern world. But just how far can technology go? Could machines start to compete with humans in making complex and life-changing decisions, like those made by lawyers and judges? That’s what CrowdScience listener Zackery Snaidman from Orlando in the US wants to know and presenter Marnie Chesterton has set out to find answers. She starts at a hackathon in London, where she witnesses the birth and design of the UK’s new online court. And in Uganda, she hears how technology and social media is filling a crucial gap left by a shortage of human lawyers. Marnie is also surprised to discover a simple algorithm that regularly out-performs human judges in making bail decisions. But could technology bring as many problems as it solves? Could seemingly ‘unbiased’ computers hide the prejudices of their makers? And more fundamentally: With our future liberty at stake, is the world ready to leave their fate in the hands of machines? Do you have a question we can turn into a programme? Email us at Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Anna Lacey (Image: Digitized Lady Justice. Credit: Getty Images)
Jul 21, 2017
Why is it so Hard to Quit Smoking?
A billion people across the world smoke cigarettes, and many would agree it’s the hardest habit to quit. One such smoker, listener Sharif, emailed CrowdScience from Uzbekistan to ask if we could find out why giving up is so difficult. Marnie Chesterton travels to San Francisco to meet addiction experts and discovers how nicotine tricks smokers into thinking tobacco’s good for them. And we meet ex-smokers at a weekly therapy session aimed at retraining the brain. Do you have a question we can turn into a programme? Email us at Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Marijke Peters (Image: Lit cigarette. Credit: Getty Images)
Jul 14, 2017
Does Time really Exist?
Earlier this year Crowdscience explored the question of time. Back then we were on a mission to uncover what the real time is and how we're able to measure time to ever greater degrees of accuracy. But as ever, the programme uncovered more questions than answers so presenter Anand Jagatia is back to try and find out where time comes from, why it runs forwards and not backwards, what happens to time in a black hole and does time even exist beyond our experience of it? We speak to Claudia Hammond, author of a book that reveals the mysteries of time perception and the man who defined time for the online Encyclopaedia Britannica, tells us if time really exists or not. Do you have a question we can turn into a programme? Email us at Presenter: Anand Jagatia Producer: Rami Tzabar (Image: Abstract clock image. Credit: Getty Images)
Jul 07, 2017
Do We Think in Words?
We're always up for a challenge on CrowdScience but this week’s question, which comes from an artist, tests our limits as we investigate the nature of thought itself – something that has puzzled scientists and philosophers since ancient times. Undeterred, presenter Nastaran Tavakoli-Far heads off to the Spanish island of Ibiza to visit listener Romanie in her painting studio and attempt to peer into the workings of her mind. As we explore the relationship between thought and language, why not join in with our experiments to discover if you’re thinking visually or verbally? We find out how language can affect thinking in surprising ways – why German speakers might see a bridge differently from Spanish speakers, how being bilingual can make you a better driver and even why some languages give their speakers a remarkable sense of direction. Do you have a question we can turn into a programme? Email us at Presenter: Nastaran Tavakoli-Far Producer: Cathy Edwards (Image: The Thinker a bronze sculpture by Auguste Rodin. Credit: Getty Images)
Jun 30, 2017
Can Plants Talk?
David in Bogota might have raised a few eyebrows in the CrowdScience office with his questions – can plants talk? And can they hear us talking to them? But actually scientists now know that plants do have the ability to communicate with the world around them to a much greater extent than previously thought. Some scientists even talk about plants being able to “hear” a hungry caterpillar or the sound of running water, while others argue that we should not anthropomorphise plants. One underground communication network, affectionately dubbed the Wood Wide Web by scientists, is made of fungi that grow off the roots of plants. The network lets plants forge alliances, friendships and business partners. But as we learn nothing is free in nature. In return for their haulage services, the fungi which make up the network siphons off some of the sugar produced during photosynthesis by the plants. Presenter Anand Jagatia goes foraging for answers in the woods together with fungal ecologists. Do you have a question we can turn into a programme? Email us at Presenter: Anand Jagatia Producer: Louisa Field (Image: Misty path running through woodland. Credit: Getty Images)
Jun 23, 2017
Can Your Lifestyle Be Passed on to Future Generations?
Back when Charles Darwin presented his theory of evolution by natural selection, French biologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck suggested something different - that the changes you are exposed to during your lifetime can be passed on to future generations. By this theory, giraffes have long necks because, over generations, they have stretched them, reaching for leaves. This theory became laughable when genes were discovered as the means of heredity. Lifestyle choices cannot be passed down in your DNA, or so we thought….But recently this idea has returned and a new field of biology has emerged called epigenetics – which looks at how the genes we inherit from our parents are controlled and modified by their life experience and the choices they made. Marnie Chesterton meets the survivors of the Dutch Famine of World War Two, whose grandchildren show health effects from that event despite being born three generations after the starvation of 1944. As the new field of epigenetics develops, does this mean Lamarck was right all along? Can your lifestyle be passed on to future generations and does this mean we need to rethink our traditional view of evolution? Do you have a question we can turn into a programme? Email us at Presented and Produced by Marnie Chesterton (Image: Grandmother, Mother and Daughter in a kitchen. Credit: Getty Images)
Jun 16, 2017
Why Does It Always Rain on Me?
Listener Ros Allen wondered why it always seems to rain on her village but not the one a mile away. It’s all down to microclimates. CrowdScience explores the impact of microclimates on our lives, discovers how more rain can help an English tea plantation and reveals the deadly effect of the urban heat island. Marnie Chesterton also talks to a local project in New York City, the Cool Roofs Program, that aims to reduce the urban heat effect, helping to mitigate the impacts of climate change. But just how much of a difference can measures like this really make? Do you have a question we can turn into a programme? Email us at Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Marijke Peters (Image: Women standing on the edge of a forest with an umbrella. Credit: Getty Images)
Jun 09, 2017
What’s the Oldest Living Thing?
Trees transcend human generations – but are they the oldest living things on Earth? CrowdScience listener William from London, UK, got in touch to ask what the oldest tree or other organism on our planet is. Presenter Marnie Chesterton heads out to meet one of our older arboreal cousins to see how we can work out its age - without cutting it down to count the rings. But whilst certain individual trees can live for thousands of years, some that live in colonies can survive for much longer – perhaps up to 80,000 years old. Along the way, Marnie asks what other organisms contend for this title, what the word ‘oldest’ really means, and even ponders whether some creatures could actually be immortal. Do you have a question we can turn into a programme? Email us at Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Jen Whyntie (Image: Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. Credit: Getty Images)
Jun 02, 2017
Why do Human Faces Look so Different?
You don’t have to be a “super-recogniser” to know that human facial features are extremely varied. Just look around you. Yet look at a most other animals and you’d find it hard to tell individuals apart. So why are human faces so diverse? We’ll also be finding out why salt tastes salty (warning: lots of spitting and gargling ahead) and one listener wants to know what would happen if one of the key ocean current systems, the North Atlantic Conveyer, slowed down or stopped altogether. Presenter Marnie Chesterton heads to the beaches on the West Coast of Scotland in search of answer. Do you have a question we can turn into a programme? Email us at Presenters: Marnie Chesterton and Geoff Marsh Producers: Laura Hyde and Jennifer Whyntie
May 26, 2017
Why is Childbirth Painful?
Childbirth is different for everyone. Depending on who you ask, it’s one of life’s greatest and worst experiences - and can be anything from traumatic and excruciating to life-affirming and spiritual. But what pretty much every mother will agree on is that it hurts. But why is such a fundamental aspect of life so painful? And why do some women find it worse than others? Presenter Gareth Barlow – who doesn’t expect to be giving birth ever – goes on a quest to understand the experience of female labour pain and why evolution hasn’t given women an easier ride. He discovers the latest research into the nature and experience of pain and whether the idea of male/female pain thresholds, is a real thing. We also hear from CrowdScience listeners about their own experiences, and find out if having a supportive birth partner can help bringing new life into the world that little bit easier. Do you have a question we can turn into a programme? Email us at Presenter: Gareth Barlow Producer: Anna Lacey (Image: New born baby with mother. Credit: Getty Images)
May 19, 2017
Where’s my Ejector Seat?
Even if you spent your entire life on a plane, the chances are you’d never crash – commercial air travel is remarkably safe. But after hearing about a recent air tragedy, two brothers in Kampala wondered if commercial airplanes could ever have ejector seats – like fighter jets do - to give passengers a last option for escape. We meet 98-year-old John Oliver “Jo” Lancaster, one of the first people ever to eject out of a plane, and discover the seemingly insurmountable barriers to fitting ejector seats into passenger jets. And we find out that an awful lot of work goes into making flying as safe as it is, as we visit an air accident investigation lab, practise an emergency exit from a passenger cabin and deal with a multiple engine failure …in a plane simulator. But are any safety ideas as radical as ejector seats on the horizon? We assess a controversial design that would parachute the entire passenger cabin down to earth should the worst happen. Do you have a question we can turn into a programme? Email us at Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Cathy Edwards (Image: Person blasting out of a plane cockpit on an ejection seat Credit: Martin-Baker Aircraft Company Ltd)
May 12, 2017
Why Do We Have Males and Females?
Sex is responsible for the large variety of life on earth. Without the two sexes there is no sexual reproduction which means no shuffling of the genetic make-up – and no survival in a changing environment. But why do we have two sexes in the first place and does nature determine your sex? It’s with these questions and more that listener Du from Singapore persuaded the CrowdScience team to investigate the weird and wonderful world of sex. You might think that Nature would have standardised something as important as ensuring the continuation of the species. Far from it – species do sex in many different ways – some stranger than others. Presenter Marnie Chesterton unpicks the zoological oddities of sex and along the way learns about her own sex chromosomes. We also meet an unlikely bird keeper, who is the proud owner of a female duck that is morphing into a male. Will her boyfriend, a male mandarin duck, mind the change? Do you have a question we can turn into a programme? Email us at Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Louisa Field (Image: Male and female mandarin ducks. Credit: Getty Images)
May 05, 2017
Are Fingerprints the Best Form of ID?
Biometrics are being used everywhere to recognise us. On this edition of CrowdScience we try out the tech that tells us apart. We find out just how unique our irises are and meet a man who can pick people out from a crowd of thousands just by analysing the way they walk. Do you have a question we can turn into a programme? Email us at Presenter: Anand Jagatia Producer: Marijke Peters (Image: Fingerprints being looked at under a magnifying glass. Credit: Getty Images)
Apr 28, 2017
How Many People Can Earth Support?
Our planet is getting rather cosy. In just over 200 years, the global population has grown from 1 billion to almost 7.5 billion – and the best estimates suggest it’s going to keep on increasing. But just how far can it go? When will we reach ‘peak human’? That’s what CrowdScience listeners Alan Donaldson and Francoise Brindle want to know: what’s the latest estimate for how many people the Earth can support? It’s a question that’s been bothering some of the world’s greatest thinkers for hundreds of years, and now presenter Marnie Chesterton goes on her own quest for answers. Her journey takes her through the technology and innovation that keeps our growing population alive, and she looks to Dhaka, Bangladesh, to find out what a more densely populated world might feel like. But are there signs that things are already levelling off? And could improving photosynthesis allow populations to grow without destroying the environment? Do you have a question we can turn into a programme? Email us at Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Anna Lacey (Image: People on busy street. Credit: Getty Images)
Apr 21, 2017
Space Mining
Mining asteroids, moons or even other planets has remained firmly within the realm of science fiction. But as certain elements become increasingly scarce on Earth, private companies and even nation states are looking to make extra-terrestrial mining a reality. Presenter Marnie Chesterton heads to an Earth-based mine in Scotland to see just how tricky space mining could be, and what possibilities it holds. On the way she discovers what laws govern this new far frontier, and hears from a space prospector who already has designs on key sites for exploration. Could our solar system's asteroids really become self-fuelling gas stations for spaceships? Do you have a question we can turn into a programme? Email us at Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Jen Whyntie (Image: Double the Rubble Artist Concept. Credit: NASA)
Apr 14, 2017
Should we eat Insects?
For most people the idea of chewing on a caterpillar or tucking into a tarantula is pretty unpalatable. Yet according to the United Nations, some two billion people around the world consume insects regularly. This prompted World Service listener Saman from Pakistan to ask the BBC CrowdScience team “are insects a serious food source?” To tackle this question, we head to Burkina Faso in West Africa where shea caterpillars are an important part of the local diet in a place where food security is low and malnutrition is high. Here we follow scientist Charlotte Payne as she tries to crack the tricky science behind the caterpillar’s life cycle and see how local entrepreneur Kahitouo Hien is trying to change lives and reduce malnutrition with edible caterpillars. Do you have a question we can turn into a programme? Email us at Presenter: Anand Jagatia Producer: Louisa Field (Image: Bowl of cooked Caterpillars. Credit: BBC/Anand Jagatia)
Apr 07, 2017
Why Do We Have So Many Accents?
Why do we have so many accents - even when we’re speaking the same language? What's happening in our brains and mouths to make us sound so different from each other? This week’s question from listener Amanda takes CrowdScience to Glasgow in Scotland: home to one of the most studied - and distinctive - accents of English. Along the way we visit a voice coach to try and learn a Texan accent, use ultrasound to see what different sounds look like inside our mouths and find out how a brand new dialect was formed when many accents collided in New Zealand. Do you have a question we can turn into a programme? Email us at Presenter: Nastaran Tavakoli-Far Producer: Cathy Edwards New Zealand Mobile Unit recordings courtesy of Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision (Image: A mouth screaming white letters. Credit: Thinkstock)
Mar 31, 2017
Does Weather Affect our Health?
Do your joints ache when it's raining? Are you blighted with headaches when the wind picks up? If the answer’s yes then you're definitely not alone. People have been linking their heath to the weather since the time of the Ancient Greeks - but is the effect real? CrowdScience heads for the hills and gets closer to the clouds to have a go at answering this 2,500 year old question. People who believe they’re sensitive to the weather aren’t always taken seriously. But presenter Datshiane Navanayagam hears about the latest ground-breaking experiments that show there's a lot more to it than folklore. And if you've ever wondered why you're particularly prone to aches and pains in the winter, the answer could all be in your genes. Do you have a question we can turn into a programme? Email us at Presenter: Datshiane Navanayagam Producer: Anna Lacey (Image: Man looking up to grey clouds. Credit: Thinkstock)
Mar 25, 2017
Science at the Movies
Can we really live on Mars? Or exist in a virtual world? And why does movie science sometimes have us shouting at the screen? Our panel of scientists and sci-fi experts reveal all in this special edition of CrowdScience recorded live at the South by Southwest Conference & Festivals in Austin, Texas, USA. To tackle all of our listeners’ questions about science in film, presenter Marnie Chesterton is joined by a team of specialists. Prof Polina Anikeeva is an MIT materials scientist and engineer whose research focuses on developing devices that work directly with the human nervous system. A sci-fi fan, Prof Anikeeva knows just how realistic brain-computer interface movies such as Avatar and The Matrix are. Former NASA astronaut Dr Mae Jemison is a medical doctor, engineer, educator and entrepreneur, and the first African-American woman to go into space aboard the shuttle Endeavour in 1992. She is leading the 100 Year Starship Project, which aims to take humans beyond our solar system by 2112. Prof Clifford Johnson is a theoretical physicist at USC whose work leads him to think about space-time, black holes, and extra dimensions, making him a regular contributor to documentaries about science and sci-fi films. Rick Loverd is Program Director of The Science & Entertainment Exchange at the National Academy of Sciences, which inspires better science in Hollywood by introducing entertainment professionals to scientists and engineers. The Exchange has consulted on movies including Star Trek: Into Darkness, Iron Man 2 and Thor. Do you have a question we can turn into a programme? Email us at Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Jen Whyntie Audio clip from Gravity Warner Bros. Pictures Director: Alfonso Cuarón Audio clip from Interstellar Warner Bros. Pictures and Paramount Pictures Director: Christopher Nolan (Image: Matt Damon in The Martian. Credit: Getty Images) (Image: Zoe Saldana in Avatar. Credit: Getty Images) (Image: Matthew McConaughey in Gravity. Getty Images)
Mar 18, 2017
Is Being Fat a Choice?
The human race is getting fatter. But is it our fault? There are a whole host of factors influencing our weight - how many of them can we control? CrowdScience discovers how factors like our environment and our genes can tip the scales in the wrong direction. We visit an apartment complex originally designed for Olympic athletes, to see if people can get fitter just by living there. And from a brand new menu plan for overweight Mumbai police, to hormone injections that stop you getting hungry, CrowdScience asks the experts what we can do if we’ve been dealt a bad hand when it comes to our weight. Do you have a question we can turn into a programme? Email us at Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Cathy Edwards (Image: Women and a Man standing next to each other holding hands. Credit: ThinkStock.)
Mar 14, 2017
Can Trees Help us Fight Air Pollution?
Trees take in carbon dioxide but they also convert some of the toxic gases in our air. How much help can trees give us in fighting air pollution and could where we plant them make an even bigger difference? Crowdscience reports from the side of some busy roads on how canopy coverage may be part of the answer. At a lab in Louisiana one scientist is putting oak leaves through their paces to find out how effective they are at cleaning our air. Do you have a question we can turn into a programme? Email us at Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Marijke Peters (Image: Trees in a forest Credit: Julian Stratenschulte/Getty Images)
Mar 04, 2017
Could a Robot be your Doctor?
Our listener Joseph’s question might sound more sci-fi than science show. But as Marnie Chesterton discovers, robots have already entered the realm of medicine and are likely to become more important in the future. A visit to the operating theatre at the University College Hospital in London together with surgeon Caroline Moore reveals that robots take the scalpels out of surgery by letting surgeons treat patients with prostate cancer without having to make a single cut. And chatting to Molly the robot alongside Dr. Praminda Caleb-Sully at Bristol Robotics Laboratory, Marnie discovers that robots could be the helping hand we need to look after a growing elderly population. Machines win when it comes to data-processing. But what about empathy and intuition? Such characteristics would require machines to reach a level of artificial intelligence (AI) which critics say is decades away. The sceptics insist humans will always play a key role in healthcare. But others suggest that not only will AI change everything – but technology will one day eliminate the need for us to go to the doctor ever again. Do you have a question we can turn into a programme? Email us at (Image: Three Robots on Display at the Science Museum in London. Credit: Carl Court/Getty Images) Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Louisa Field
Feb 25, 2017
Why are Cats Loners?
A few weeks ago, CrowdScience asked if it pays to be nice. We found that the answer is yes – if you’re a human. But if being social is so great, why aren’t all animals doing it? That’s what our US listener Tony wants to know. After listening to ‘Does it Pay to be Nice?’ he rightly pointed out that cats lead mostly solitary lives - but don’t seem any worse off for it. So why have they taken this path? And are they any less advanced than a social species as a result? Presenter and naturalist Tim Cockerill heads to the rainforests of Madagascar in search of answers. After lots of trekking through the undergrowth, he finds out why so many animals choose group living and what’s different about cats to make them go it alone. But does it matter which way of life an animal takes? Tim discovers that for humans at least, being social has given us much more than we imagine. Do you have a question we can turn into a programme? Email us at Presenter: Tim Cockerill Producer: Anna Lacey (Photo: Cat lying on floor. Credit: Getty Images)
Feb 18, 2017
Is There Life After Death?
Death is one of life’s few certainties – or is it? To answer listener Pratibha’s question from New Delhi, India, presenter Marnie Chesterton asks medical and scientific experts if there is any evidence that humans could somehow come back into existence after their demise. We start at the end, by asking just what death is – and it turns out to be perhaps surprisingly complicated, especially if cold temperatures are involved. As another listener, Camilla, from Washington DC, USA points out, there are some animals that can become totally frozen over winter and return to life in spring. How does this happen, and could it have implications for the idea of deep-freezing humans – known as cryogenic preservation? Alternatively, if entire bodies might prove difficult to save, could we download our brains’ contents for later reboot instead? It sounds like science fiction, but a global network of scientists are pursuing the goal of cybernetic immortality: uploading our minds to an artificial brain in a robot avatar. Marnie heads to a brain-computer interface lab where she gets wired up to control a computer game by thinking, and discovers just how difficult it is to export thought, and how much we still have to learn about our brains. Could the way to cheat death ever be digital? Do you have a question we can turn into a programme? Email us at Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Jen Whyntie
Feb 11, 2017
Should we Use Ships to Transport Fresh Water?
Earth’s surface may be 70 percent water but many places are struggling to access it. We look at a range of water supply options including delivering it by tanker. In Malta we meet a man trying to solve its water problems, with a clever contraption to recycle sewage. Do you have a question we can turn into a programme? Email us at Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Produders: Cathy Edwards and Marijke Peters (Image: Tanker ship. Credit: Getty)
Feb 04, 2017
What is the Real Time?
It sounds like a simple question – what is the time? But look closer and you realise time is a slippery concept that scientists still do not fully understand. Even though we now have atomic clocks that can keep time to one second in 15 billion years, this astonishing level of accuracy may not be enough. The complexity of computer-controlled systems, such as high-frequency financial trading or self-driving cars which rely on the pinpoint accuracy of GPS, could in future require clocks that are even more accurate to ensure everything runs ‘on time’. But what does that even mean? As Anand Jagatia discovers, time is a very strange thing. He visits the origins of modern time-keeping at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich and meets scientists at the National Physical Laboratory who have been counting and labelling every second since the 1950s. He meets Demetrios Matsakis, the man who defined time and visits the real-life ‘Time Lords’, at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM) in Paris to find out how they co-ordinate the world’s time and why the leap second is ‘dangerous’. Do you have a question we can turn into a programme? Email us at
Jan 29, 2017
Why are Dogs so Different?
From Chihuahuas to Great Danes, Mexican Hairless to Afghan Hounds, dogs are the most diverse mammal on the planet. There are currently over 500 recognised breeds worldwide with almost every conceivable combination of size, shape, coat, colour and behaviour. But why are there so many different kinds of dog? That's what listener Simon St-Onge in Quebec, Canada wants to know – and CrowdScience has taken up the challenge. Presenter Marnie Chesterton heads to Sweden, a world-class centre of canine research, to sniff around for answers. She finds out how the grey wolf morphed into the vast variety of dogs we have today, and heads out on a moose hunt with one of Scandinavia's most ancient breeds. But are dogs really as different as they seem on the surface? The dog genome is revealing more about man's best friend than ever before – and could now be the answer to understanding both dog and human health. Do you have a question we can turn into a programme? Email us at (Image: Tika, the Russian-European Laika)
Jan 21, 2017
Is there micro-life on Mars?
Modern Martian hunting involves looking for the tiniest evidence of life. But when presenter Marnie Chesterton found out that a scientist she was meant to be chatting to about cleanliness had previously worked for NASA, the topic of space bugs turned out to be too intriguing to ignore, especially when a CrowdScience listener asked us a question on a similar theme. Could Earth's microbes hitch a ride on our missions to Mars and colonise the Martian soil? As the European Space Agency's ExoMars venture gears up to launch a rover in 2020 that aims to find out whether there is, or has ever been, life on Mars, we head to the programme's clean rooms and Mars Yard - a giant planet-simulating sandpit - to find out. Marnie meets space engineers whose job is to prevent microbial contamination of Mars whilst creating robots that can find signs of life on the Red Planet. And she discovers that planetary protection is not all about remote aliens: Could tiny Martians have already arrived here on Earth via a meteoric hitch hike? Do you have a question we can turn into a programme? Email us at Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Jen Whyntie (Picture: Mars from the Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: NASA)
Jan 14, 2017
Can we be too clean?
To be healthy you need to be clean – or so we’ve thought throughout human history. The dazzling array of antibacterial products that exploded onto the scene in the 20th century took things to the next level, with their promises of eliminating 99.9% of germs. But could an obsession with cleanliness actually be bad for us? There’s a whole world of microbes out there: some make us sick, but others are essential for our health. How do we tell the difference? Listener Younes’s question gives CrowdScience the chance to sift the good dirt from the bad, with the help of hygiene expert Professor Sally Bloomfield. Along the way we soap up our hands with schoolchildren in Mumbai, get knee deep in mud on an English farm, and find out why snuggling up to a cow might be a good idea. Do you have a question we can turn into a programme? Email us at Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Cathy Edwards and Marijke Peters
Jan 07, 2017
Could Humanity be Wiped out Like the Dinosaurs?
Is there a killer asteroid with Earth’s name on it? The dinosaurs ruled for many millions of years before coming to their violent end. Will humanity prevail or are we doomed to succumb like the dinosaurs? It’s a question that will keep you up at night. No wonder our listeners Zarin and Pablo wanted to know more. To find out, Anand Jaggtia heads to Denmark to see first-hand the evidence for a giant asteroid impact, written into the rocks at Stevns Klint. And we will hear from scientists at Nasa who are keeping a careful eye out for asteroids on collision course with Earth. Also, we discover that asteroids have a lot to answer for, maybe even our own existence. Do you have a question we can turn into a programme? Email us at
Dec 31, 2016
Wave Power
Why can't we use energy from the waves of the sea to create all the electricity that we need? Listener Michael in Kingston, Jamaica wants to know. Living on a Caribbean island means he’s never far from the might of the ocean – so could it power his house? Presenter Greg Foot heads to one of the world’s leading wave energy test locations, the coast of Cornwall in the UK, to find out. There, he witnesses the challenges of the marine environment, from metre high waves in a giant indoor test tank to being buffeted on a beach where a 25km cable runs beneath his feet to a grid-connected offshore test site. And find out if Greg’s plan to feel the power of the waves first-hand on a research boat works out – in the middle of winter, in the northern hemisphere. Do you have a question we can turn into a programme? Email us at Picture: Waves, Credit: Oli Scarff/Getty Images
Dec 24, 2016
Does it Pay to be Nice?
Most of us want to be nice. But is it all it's cracked up to be? It's a question that's been nagging at listener Tony in Illinois, USA, for over 25 years. While studying at university, the lecturer asked him whether competing or co-operating was the best strategy for success – essentially, does it pay to work together or should we sharpen our elbows and look after number one? Nastaran Tavakoli-Far goes in search of answers. She talks to a local hero about why he puts his life on the line for others, and visits a neuroscientist to find out what happens in the brain when we help others. Her quest also leads her to question whether women really are the more co-operative sex and how an animal called a kudu might reveal how human co-operation evolved in the first place. Do you have a question we can turn into a programme? Email us at (Image: John Cook from Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service. Credit: Anna Lacey / BBC)
Dec 17, 2016
The Fourth Dimension
How would a fourth dimensional being appear to humans? "It would look just weird" is one way to answer the question 'How would a fourth dimensional being appear to humans?' But it's more complicated than that - theoretical cosmologist Andrew Pontzen describes how objects are viewed from one dimension to another, and how it might affect parking spaces. Also on the programme: our panel of experts discuss bubble experiments, a theory that the Black Death was a virus, space elevators, algae as a biomass fuel, what affects the speed of digestion in our gut, a short definition of dark energy and the question is it true our DNA has alien properties? With Helen Czerski, department of mechanical engineering, University College London; virologist Jonathan Ball, University of Nottingham; and cosmologist Andrew Pontzen, University College London. Do you have a question we can turn into a programme? Email us at (Image: Stripes and points of light, one guess what a 4th dimension might look like, Credit: Thinkstock)
Dec 10, 2016
How Bad is Flying for the Planet?
What effect does air travel have on the climate? That is the question listener Neil sent CrowdScience from New Zealand. If you have ever looked up at the sky and seen the wispy white streaks that airplanes leave behind, then you are looking at one of the major environmental impacts of air transport – contrails. To find out more, Anand Jagatia goes on a journey through the rugged, lava-ridden Icelandic landscape with earth scientist Thor and discovers how both natural events like volcanic eruptions as well as man-made acts of terror can shed light on the environmental impact of aircraft. Plus, we meet a man who tailgates 737 airliners to measure their emissions. Do you have a question we can turn into a programme? Email us at
Dec 05, 2016
The Origin of Viruses
Where did the first viruses come from? They have the potential to wipe out life on Earth. But could life on Earth itself have evolved from the first viruses? Like the chicken and the egg, there are fierce arguments about which came first and rival scientists get quite cross about it all. We take a dip into the primordial soup of creation and try to answer listener Ian's excellent question. Along the way, we revisit medieval plagues, travel to Texas to the largest urban bat colony in the world and take a walk through the dense mosquito-infested Ugandan forest that gave its name to the Zika virus. Plus, we reveal how a virus is responsible for the placenta. No virus, no placenta; no placenta, no humans? Do you have a question we can turn into a programme? Email us at This programme has been edited since broadcast to remove a brief reference to ‘bubonic plague’ being included in a list of viral diseases. (Photo: HIV viruses attacking a Cell. Credit: ThinkStock)
Nov 28, 2016
Home Power Storage
How much electric energy storage would it take to run the average home for 24 hours? Also: When will it be economical to locally store several days of electric energy for our home? Listener Gus in Texas, USA, wants to know – especially because he’s one of many people around the world who sometimes face lengthy power cuts. Presenter Marnie Chesterton takes Gus’s question to energy experts. She heads to two national research facilities: The National Grid Scale Energy Storage Lab at University College London, and the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research at Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago – which originated from the early stages of the Manhattan Project. On the way, Marnie finds out where the word ‘battery’ came from, discovers why our mobile phone batteries gradually die with age, and hears how the next generation of power storage could change the world. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Jen Whyntie (Picture: Isolated cabin at night Credit: Ed Jones/AFP/GettyImages)
Nov 19, 2016
The Edge of Space
What do scientists think is outside our universe? Asks Rebecca Standridge from San Francisco in the US. It’s a question which goes right to the limits of human understanding. We look for the answer using balloons, bubbles and the world’s oldest radio telescope. If you have a question about science that you'd like us to investigate email Photo: Lovell telescope Jodrell Bank
Nov 12, 2016
Electricity from Lightning
Is it possible to get power from lightning? This was the first CrowdScience question posed by listener John Emochu in Kampala, Uganda. Presenter Marnie Chesterton goes hunting for the answer at a lightning lab in Cardiff, Wales. What is a lightning lab? And how was she able to make a tiny – but very loud – lightning bolt? Marnie also discovers humanity's early history with lightning, how aeroplanes are protected from lightning strikes, and where the greatest number of thunderstorms occur in the world. With contributions from John Emochu, Rhys Phillips, Chris Stone, Rachel Albrecht, Shaaron Jimenez and Manu Haddad. Picture: Photograph of lightning from the US Environmental Protection Agency. Credit: Eric Vance, EPA
Nov 07, 2016