BBC Inside Science

By BBC Radio 4

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 Jul 25, 2018

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 Jul 19, 2018


Dr Adam Rutherford and guests illuminate the mysteries and challenge the controversies behind the science that's changing our world.

Episode Date
Capturing greenhouse gas, Beating heart failure with beetroot, Why elephants don't get cancer, Exactly - a history of precision
Researchers have found a way to produce a naturally occurring mineral, magnesite, in a lab, that can absorb CO2 from the atmosphere, offering a potential strategy for tackling climate change. They've accelerated a process that normally takes thousands of years to a matter of days, using panels made from tiny balls of polystyrene. Gareth Mitchell meets Ian Power of Trent University in Ontario who led the research. Could this be a viable technology for tackling global warming and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere? What if something as natural as beetroot - or specifically defined doses of beetroot juice - could help alleviate cardiovascular disease and improve the pumping function of failing hearts? That's the idea behind a major trial underway at the Barts Heart Hospital and Queen Mary University in London. Amrita Ahluwalia, co-Director of the William Harvey Research Institute and Christopher Primus a specialist in heart failure, are interrogating the natural nitrates in foods like beetroot and how they could be beneficial to our cardiovascular system. Cells in our bodies can go wrong and end up proliferating into cancers. Intuition might say the bigger something is, the more cells it has and thus, greater is its risk of developing cancer. But elephants have somehow re-awakened a gene that kills cells that could be cancerous before they have time to cause any damage. Vincent Lynch of the University of Chicago has been looking at the genetics that keeps these giants virtually, immune which could hold clues for tackling cancers in humans. And we hear from Simon Winchester, the next in our series of interviews with the shortlisted authors for this year's Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize. Exactly, is an intriguing history of precision, the search for ever greater engineering accuracy and how it changed the world. Presenter: Gareth Mitchell Producer: Adrian Washbourne.
Aug 16, 2018
New Horizons' next mission, Helium at 150, The Beautiful Cure, Oden arctic expedition
Astronomers this week have been warming up for an encounter as far from the Sun as ever attempted. It's the finale of the New Horizons mission which successfully passed Pluto in 2015 and is now on its way to Ultima Thule - a Kuiper belt object on the edge of the solar system. Marc Buie is just back from Senegal where he and a team of fellow astronomers have been observing this ancient rock to get a final look at its size and shape, before the momentous flyby on Jan 1st 2019. He explains why the encounter will be so valuable in unlocking key secrets in the formation of our solar system. It's the 150th birthday of the discovery of helium, which, after hydrogen is the second most abundant element in the universe. It's surprisingly rare on Earth, but it makes up much of the content of the gas giants in our local neighbourhood, Jupiter and Saturn. Adam Rutherford hears from particle physicist and Science Museum curator Harry Cliff on how it was first discovered through a telescope rather than in a lab, and Jessica Spake of Exeter University who after an 18-year search has used similar techniques to discover helium around an exoplanet 200 light-years away. We hear from scientist and author Dan Davis from the University of Manchester, the next in our preview of authors shortlisted for this year's Royal Society book prize. The Beautiful Cure, is the rollicking story of how the intricate immune system came to be understood. And there's an update from physicist Helen Czerski. She's part of a 40-strong team of field scientists on board the Oden, a Swedish ice breaker and research ship. They're set to find a suitable iceberg, and moor to get to grips with the factors that guide the arctic weather patterns. Producer: Adrian Washbourne.
Aug 09, 2018
Parker solar probe, Diversity in the lab, Royal Society book prize, Arctic circle weather
The sun still has many mysterious properties. The Parker Solar Probe, launched next week will be the closest a spacecraft has ever flown to our star. It's a mission that's been on the drawing board for decades which space scientists have only dreamt of. It will fly into the mysterious solar corona, where so much of the action at 3 million degrees centigrade takes place. Nicola Fox from Johns Hopkins University is the Parker Probe Project Scientist. Adam Rutherford speaks to her from Cape Canaveral, where they are making the final adjustments for the most ambitious journey ever, to the Sun. We meet two scientists who are making a real difference in promoting diversity and equality in the lab. Physicist Jess Wade has been chipping away at this issue, most recently in a heroic project to write up a Wikipedia entry for a scientist who is also a woman every day for the last 270 days and counting. Emma Chapman is an astrophysicist, and last month won the prestigious Royal Society Athena Prize for her work in driving policy changes about sexual harassment at universities. Today the shortlist of the most prestigious of the literary prizes for the sciences was announced - the Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize. This is the 31st prize, and previous winners are a who's who in truly great science writing. Frances Ashcroft, Professor of Physiology at Oxford is the chair of the judges and discusses the books they have selected. Physicist Helen Czerski and 40 colleagues are now aboard the Oden, a Swedish icebreaker and scientific research vessel that set sail earlier this week. They are en route to spend a month anchored to arctic sea ice to elucidate the mysterious behaviour of arctic weather. Before she set off she gave Adam Rutherford a preview of the research trip. Producer Adrian Washbourne.
Aug 02, 2018
Liquid water on Mars, Early embryo development, Earth Biogenome Project, Marine wilderness
The European Space Agency's satellite Mars Express has identified what we think is a subterranean lake of liquid near the south pole of the red planet. The question of water on Mars has been around for years, and we've known about water ice, and there's been the possibility of seasonal flowing water on Mars for a while. But if this result is right, this is the first case of a substantial stable body of liquid water on Mars. Adam Rutherford talks to Roberto Orosei of the Radio Astronomy Institute in Bologna whose team made the discovery. Where should scientists be directing their efforts next in the light of this new finding? We hear from NASA's Chief Scientist Jim Green. We've been growing embryonic cells in petri dishes for a few years now, to try to fill in the gaps in our understanding of early development, but the tissue that grows never really resembles an actual embryo. Magdalena Zernicka Goetz is a developmental biologist from Cambridge University and in a paper out this week has leapt over this hurdle in developmental biology using three types of stem cell, which - unlike previous efforts - push a ball of cells to becoming an embryo, which could help us understand why pregnancy can fail. The Earth Biogenome Project aims to sequence the DNA of all the planet's eukaryotes, some 1.5 million known species including all known plants, animals and single-celled organisms. The project will take 10 years to complete and cost an estimated $4.7 billion. Harris Lewin from UC Davis is spearheading this scheme. How will he meet his ambition to curate all the DNA of life on Earth? For the first time, scientists have assessed how much of the seas are untouched by the impact of human activity. They're referred to as Marine Wilderness, and qualify as such by being relatively untouched by things like fishing, pollution or agricultural run-off. According to the survey, published today, only 13% of the world's oceans remain as wilderness. James Watson from the University of Queensland discusss the action that needs to be taken if these precious ecological areas are to survive. Producer : Adrian Washbourne.
Jul 26, 2018
Peatbog wildfires, Coral acoustics, Magdalena Skipper, Fuelling long-term space travel
The wildfires on Saddleworth Moor may well be the most widespread in modern British history. Thanks to herculean efforts by Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service and the military, they are now extinguished, though the peat continues to smoulder. Now the longer term ecological impact is being assessed. Adam Rutherford talks to geochemist Chris Evans from the Centre for Hydrology and Ecology about what's been unleashed into the environment from the burning of the peat and lessons we've learnt in maintaining peatlands. Coral reefs are noisy places filled with the clicks, pops, chirps and chattering of numerous fish and crustaceans. But a new study conducted on Australia's Great Barrier Reef shows that this noise has been quietened in areas damaged by bleaching and cyclones. Marine biologist Tim Gordon of Exeter University has examined how the changing coral acoustics are impacting on fish communities and whether a "choral orchestra" could help reduce the decline in local reef systems. Adam Rutherford meets Magdalena Skipper, the new Editor-in-Chief of the journal Nature. It's a longstanding publication, founded in 1869 and is the cornerstone of scientific endeavour. But how will Nature evolve as the demands on research change and scientific publishing continues to undergo a revolution in the digital age? In order to go very far in space, future astronauts will need some means of creating their own air and fuel. Katharina Brinkert at California Institute of Technology has succeeded in harvesting hydrogen from water in microgravity - overcoming a huge hurdle in the weightlessness of space, that may one day lead to a way to acquire fuel during a long-distance, crewed space mission. Producer: Adrian Washbourne.
Jul 19, 2018
Out of Africa, Predicting future heatwaves, Virtual reality molecules, Life in the dark
Scientists have found the earliest known evidence of a human presence outside Africa. A set of 96 stone tools has been found in the mountains of south-east China, which is the furthest afield this type of tool has been located. The scientists who found them have put the date of these tools at 2.1 million years old, which is at least 300,000 years earlier than the current evidence for early human presence outside of Africa. John Kappelman, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Texas, discusses how we're now moving beyond a Eurocentric view of human evolution in Eurasia. Much of northern Europe has been experiencing a heatwave - notable for its intensity and duration. It's caused by "atmosphere blocking". Can we predict when these blocks will come and how long they will last? Adam Rutherford talks to Jana Sillmann, director of the Centre for International Climate Research in Oslo, Norway, author of a new study that has modelled 40 years' worth of heatwaves and blocking, and looked to the end of the century in attempting to predict blocking patterns as the climate changes. How can researchers get to grips with the shape of molecules in the digital world? Chemists have for years used ball and stick representations of the shapes their molecules come in. But when they publish, they have to flatten it all down onto a 2D a piece of paper losing crucial information. Bristol University's David Glowacki has put the power of virtual reality into the hands of the molecular magicians. Inside Science's Roland Pease went to his virtual lab, to see atoms dance in a molecular space odyssey. Given that half the world is in the dark half of the time, and the depths of the oceans are perpetually hidden from sunlight, there's lot of darkness to explore. For those of us drawn to the shadows, a new exhibition at the Natural History Museum in London does exactly that. Geoff Boxhall, professor of invertebrate biology, gives Adam Rutherford a tour of Life in the Dark. Producer Adrian Washbourne.
Jul 12, 2018
Northern white rhino preservation, Deep sea earthquake detection, Twitter's rare Heuchera discovery, Human roars
The northern white rhinoceros is the world's most endangered mammal. The death earlier this year of the last male of this rhino subspecies leaves just two females as its only living members. New research out this week has adopted new techniques in reproductive medicine as a last ditch attempt to preserve these animals. Thomas Hildebrandt from Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research and Terri Roth, Director of Conservation Research at Cincinnati Zoo, discuss the ambition, and how realistic this approach is in future animal conservation. Earthquakes are scientifically measured with seismometers, but few are present on the sea floor, where earthquakes that can cause tsunamis originate. But could communication cables traversing the oceans fill in the gaps? Giuseppi Marra from the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington, discusses his accidental discovery that fibre-optic cables might be registering the earth's vibrations. For the first time in the annals of science, a tweet was the key reference in a paper reporting on a discovery that a rare wild variety of the gardener's favourite - Heuchera, thought to be limited to a few rocky outcrops in Virginia - is actually abundantly present 100km away. It's all come about because of a picture shared on Twitter. Reporter Roland Pease retraces the tale of the tweets with the key players. Can the size of a roar be used to accurately determine physical strength?' Or can a roar deceive, and make you sound tougher than you actually are? That's what Jordan Raine from the University of Sussex decided to find out, not with lions or tigers or bears but in us. Producer Adrian Washbourne.
Jul 05, 2018
Hyabusa mission; ProtoDUNE neutrino detector; Caledonian crow skills; Koala microbiome
Yesterday a small Japanese ion-thruster spaceship arrived at its destination after a three year and half year, 2 billion mile journey. Hyabusa2 is currently floating alongside the asteroid known as 162173 Ryugu. BBC Science Correspondent Jonathan Amos dissects the aims of this audacious sample-return mission and the initial images that have just arrived back on earth. There's a plethora of neutrinos flowing through your body right now. Adam Rutherford goes inside 'protoDune', the world's latest and largest neutrino detector whose prototype is about to be filled with over 700 tonnes of liquid argon and hopefully pick up a few signals generated by interactions from these elusive particles. We hear from project leader Christos Touramanis who is a particle physicist from Liverpool University. Caledonian crows craft tools with greater sophistication than most animals, and can learn to modify their tools to make them gradually more effective. This "cultural accumulation" is commonplace amongst humans - where we pass on information socially. But it's extremely rare in other animals to see them passing on knowledge in this way. Sarah Jelbert from Cambridge University discusses her new evidence that suggests crows manage to transmit their tool designing skills from one bird to another in this sophisticated way Our gut bacteria are emerging as key determinants of our health and the microbiome may even influence our behaviour. The interaction between ubiquitous bacteria and the food wild animals eat is beginning to be studied all over the world. Could manipulating the microbiome prove a new tool for conservation in animals whose food supply is under threat? Ecologist Ben Moore from Western Sydney University has been studying the eating habits of koalas and whether faecal transplants could alter the eating habits of this highly fussy herbivore. Producer Adrian Washbourne.
Jun 28, 2018
The Large Hadron Collider Upgrade, Voltaglue, Cambridge Zoology Museum, Francis Willughby
It's been 8 years since the Large Hadron Collider went online and started smashing protons together at just below the speed of light. CERN announced this week that they're ready for a massive upgrade, and on Friday last week, there was a ceremony to break ground on what is being called the High luminosity LHC. Particle physicist Jon Butterworth from UCL discusses the next generation of particle accelerators that are undergoing early trials and what the newly announced upgrade means for particle physics. Medical surgeons routinely stitch or pin organs and blood vessels with needle and thread and secure medical devices like pacemakers with hooks. But what if you could just use glue? Material scientist Terry Steele from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore has devised Voltaglue, a flexible adhesive that works in wet environments by putting an electric current across an inert substance. He explains how this new kind of chemistry could revolutionise many medical procedures. This weekend Sir David Attenborough will reopen The Museum of Zoology at Cambridge University. It's undergone a five-year redevelopment, showcasing thousands of incredible specimens from across the animal kingdom, and exploring stories of conservation, extinction, survival, evolution and discovery. Adam Rutherford visits the new displays under the watchful eye of conservator Natalie Jones and zoologist and museum manager Jack Ashby. And Professor Tim Birkhead of the University of Sheffield discusses The Wonderful Mr Willughby - his fascinating new account of 17th century ornithologist Francis Willughby who together with the celebrated naturalist John Ray pioneered the way we think about birds in science. Producer Adrian Washbourne.
Jun 21, 2018
Antarctic melt speeds up, Antarctica's future, Cryo-acoustics, Narwhals
Adam Rutherford goes totally polar this week with news of accelerating ice melt in Antarctica, two visions of the continent's future, and the sounds of collapsing icebergs and the songs of narwhals. Two hundred billion tonnes of Antarctic ice are now being lost to the ocean every year, pushing up global sea level by 0.6 millimetres a year. This is a three fold increase since 2012. This finding comes from IMBIE, the Ice Sheet Mass Balance Intercomparison Exercise. Leeds glaciologist Andy Shepherd and Durham earth scientist Pippa Whitehouse tell Adam how the project made this startling finding and what it may mean for global sea level rise in the future. Glaciologist Martin Siegert of Imperial College London has co-authored an unusual Antarctic paper in the journal Nature this week, with other leading south polar researchers. It is a history of the frozen continent, looking back from the year 2070 and charts two different courses that we could be on today. Satellites above the Antarctic and Arctic can only tell us so much about the melting and collapse of the ice sheets. Oskar Glowacki of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography is exploring what extra insights might come from recording the underwater sounds that ice sheets make when they collapse and melt in Arctic seas. The narwhal, sometimes known as the unicorn of the sea, is one of the world's most elusive and poorly studied cetaceans, primarily because it spends much of its life underwater and under ice in the Arctic. Marine biologist Susanna Blackwell led a team which used sound recorders and satellite tags attached to several narwhals in Eastern Greenland, to follow their lives continuously for an unprecedented length of time. Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker.
Jun 18, 2018
Dinosaur auction, Who owns the genes of the ocean life, Cancer immunotherapy
A spectacular predatory dinosaur fossil was auctioned this week in Paris. It was bought by a private collector at the cost of about 2 million Euros. Academic palaeontologists are not happy about the sale. Anjali Goswami of the Natural History Museum and Steve Brussatte of Edinburgh University air their views to Adam Rutherford on the legal and illegal markets for premium vertebrate fossils. Who owns the genetic biodiversity of the oceans? One single multinational corporation - the chemicals giant BASF - has registered almost half of all known patents on genetic sequences from marine organisms. This is the headline finding of a survey of marine genetic resource ownership by David Blasiak of the Global Resilience Centre at Stockholm University. Immunotherapies for cancer have been in the news in the last week. Adam talks to cancer researchers Sophie Papa of Kings College, London and Samra Turaljik of the Royal Marsden Hospital about the principles behind immunotherapy and the different approaches in the clinic and under clinical trials. Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker
Jun 14, 2018
Hay Festival
Adam Rutherford and his guests at the Hay Festival, neurologist Dr Suzanne O'Sullivan, acoustic engineer Professor Trevor Cox and science writer Dr Philip Ball discuss what scientists learn when things go wrong. Suzanne O'Sullivan, author of Brainstorm, talks about how she helps her patients with strange and unusual forms of epilepsy; Trevor Cox, whose new book is called Now You're Talking, describes cases where our voices change, such as stammering and foreign language syndrome; and Philip Ball, who is part of Created out of Mind, a Wellcome funded project about dementia and the arts, explores what happens when our brains age.
May 31, 2018
CO2 and rice, Underground farming, Ancient interstellar asteroid, Microplastics air pollution
New research suggests that rice will be depleted in important B vitamins and minerals by rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere. Adam Rutherford to talks to Kristie Ebi of the University of Washington, one of the scientists behind the finding, and consults Marco Springmann of the Future of Food project at the University of Oxford. Is the future of farming subterranean? Marnie Chesterton visits a farm called Growing Underground for some answers. Specialising in salad and herbs, it is located beneath Clapham Common in South London in an old Second World War air-raid shelter. Has an interstellar asteroid been lurking in our solar system for more than four billions years? It's a possibility according to the astronomers who've watched and plotted its strange orbit. It travels around the Sun in the opposite direction to most of the planets, asteroids and comets. Asteroid specialist Alan Fitzsimmons of Queens University Belfast talks to Adam about this astronomical oddity and assesses the evidence for it being a traveller from the stars, captured by our solar system during its early childhood. Stephanie Wright of Kings College London explains about what we do and don't know about the abundance and health risks of microplastic particles in the air we breathe. Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker.
May 24, 2018
Face Recognition, ‘Thug’ plants, Cancer Funding Inequalities, Feynman’s 100th birthday
Facial recognition technology is on the rise and in some places used to fight crime. In the UK the police have been heavily criticised for falsely identifying people using the technology. But are their results really that bad? Professor Hassan Ugail tells Adam Rutherford that – though there is room for improvement – the results may not be as catastrophic as critics claim. Wild flowers are being outcompeted by ‘thug’ plants on our roadside verges, a study by the charity Plantlife has found. Pollution from cars and poor management practices by local councils has meant that nitrogen-loving plants outcompete wildflowers. Dr Trevor Dines explains to Adam Rutherford what actions can be taken to help our verges regain their natural biodiversity. A new study reveals that for every pound a female scientist receives for her cancer research a male scientist will get one pound and forty pence. This gender imbalance in cancer funding highlights wider issues around women in science and how funding councils operate. Adam Rutherford discusses the problem with chief scientist at Cancer Research UK, Karen Vousden, and Professor Henrietta O’Connor, who co-authored the study. This week Adam Rutherford marks the birthday of one of the greatest of all physicists: Richard Feynman. Professor Jonathan Butterworth talks about Feynman’s legacy as a scientist and science communicator but also about his highly problematic views on women.
May 17, 2018
Rat eradication; elephant talk; the rise of the dinosaurs; physics of snooker
On the remote island of South Georgia, the invasion of rats from passing ships has wreaked havoc on the local wildlife. But the South Georgia Heritage Trust announced this week that all rats have been eradicated thanks to an extensive project. Adam Rutherford speaks to chairman Professor Mike Richardson about the achievement and how the wildlife is already healing. Elephants don’t only communicate using their trunks but also their feet. A new study taps into this underground communication using seismic equipment to detect the vibrations. Dr Beth Mortimer explains how the technology may help to react in real-time to elephant distress such as panic running – for example – when being hunted by poachers. We all know how dinosaurs became extinct but how did they rise to prominence? Author of the new book “The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs” Steve Brusatte talks about how the beloved creatures came to dominate the Earth and the new technologies being used to discover even more about them. How does science help us understand snooker? From the importance of chalking cues to how physics explains extraordinary snooker shots. Adam Rutherford tries to find out how he can up his game with the help of physicist Dr Phil Sutton.
May 10, 2018
Antarctic, Kew, Paleogenomics, Sea birds
The Thwaites glacier in Western Antarctica is twice the size of the UK and accounts for about 4% of sea level rise, but what is unknown is whether the glacier will collapse as a result of environmental change. Adam Rutherford speaks to 2 scientists from a major new study who with the help of seals and Boaty McBoat face will be investigating what goes on under the glacier and what drilling into the rocks under the sea can tell us. And while the work of the new Antarctic team-up is studying the impact of the rise of sea levels, here in the UK, researchers are similarly concerned about the warming of the oceans, but on the specific effect it could have on sea birds. Inside Science's Jack Meegan reports from the Yorkshire coast. The Temperate House at Kew has undergone a 5 year restoration and now is about to open to the public, Adam goes along to get a preview. Who owns ancient DNA? A recent article in the journal Science argues that we need to think harder about the living relatives of indigenous people and not simply treat their human remains as "artifacts".
May 03, 2018
Human Consciousness: Could a brain in a dish become sentient?
As the field of neuroscience advances, scientists are increasingly growing brain tissue to study conditions like autism, Alzheimer's and Zika virus. But could it become conscious? And if so, how far away is that scenario? Wind, changing water temperatures and salt are all factors known to control ocean currents. But new research suggests there's another element in the mix. When sea monkeys amass, the thousands of swimming legs can create powerful currents that mix hundreds of meters of water. Whenever a baby is born, we ask whether it's a girl or a boy. But when it comes to puppies, the question is often about the breed, especially with mongrels. And when we think we know what it is, we make assumptions about how that dog will behave. For instance, if you think there's some golden retriever parentage, you may expect it to be good at playing fetch. But do our perceptions of dog breeds change the way it behaves? That's the question of a new citizen science project called MuttMix, which asks you to guess the ancestry of various mongrels. Finally, Charles Dickens is known as one of the best novelists of the Victorian era but a new exhibition is questioning whether he should be also known as a man of science. Dickens campaigned for paediatrics and his powers of description lead to a new conditions being medically recognised. The exhibition will be at the Charles Dickens Museum and it opens in May.
Apr 26, 2018
Plastic-eating bacteria, Foam mattresses for crops, The evolved life aquatic, The Double Helix
A breakthrough for closed loop plastic recycling? Two years ago Japanese scientists discovered a type of bacteria which has evolved to feed on PET plastic - the material from which fizzy drink bottles are made It was isolated at a local recycling centre. An international team has now characterised the structure of the plastic-degrading enzyme and accidentally improved its efficiency. John McGeehan of the University of Portmouth led the team and talks to Adam about where the discovery may lead. If you can't recycle plastic, you can re-use. Sheffield University chemist Tony Ryan is working to convert old polyurethane foam mattresses into hydroponic allotment beds so that people at a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan can grow their own crops. Roland Pease reports. How southeast Asian sea nomads evolved the life aquatic. The Double Helix, fifty years after its 1968 publication. Biologist and historian Matthew Cobb and science writer Angela Saini discuss the place of James Watson's compelling and controversial memoir in the annals of popular science writing. His account of the discovery of the DNA's structure was unlike any science book that had come before. Does it stand the test of time and what of its blantantly sexist treatment of the gifted X-ray crystallographer Rosalind Franklin? Her work was crucial to Crick and Watson's 1953 model of the DNA molecule.
Apr 19, 2018
Pesticides in British Farming
A few weeks ago, Inside Science featured an item on neonicotinoids and the negative impact these pesticides have on insects like honey bees. The discussion turned to alternatives, including organic farming. Many listeners wrote in about some issues that went unchallenged. So this week, Adam returns to the subject to get into the nuts and bolts of both organic and conventional farming. Next week sees the launch of a NASA mission called TESS. The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite is surveying the brightest stars near Earth and looking for habitable planets. Roland Pease reports. Traditionally, the move from Bronze Age to the Iron Age is estimated to be around 1200 BCE. But recent excavations of smelting sites in Uttar Pradesh in India suggest that this date might be a few centuries late and that it might even originate in Asia. Adam visits The Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire to see how a particle accelerator is revealing the details of the Indian Iron Age. Our ancestors bore a very prominent brow ridge, which scientists think was a symbol of dominance. Modern humans, however, have lost this ridge in favour of a flatter forehead. Why? Dr Penny Spikins and her colleagues think the answer lies in social interaction and in particular, the ability to raise your eyebrows.
Apr 12, 2018
Stephen Hawking Tribute
Adam Rutherford presents a special tribute to the science of Stephen Hawking. He is joined by Fay Dowker, a former PhD student of Hawking and now a professor of theoretical physics at Imperial College, Professor Carlos Frenk, a long-time colleague and friend and fellow physicist and science communicator Professor Brian Cox. They look at the scientific legacy of Stephen Hawking and the role that his work played in bringing us a step closer to a single grand theory that explains how the universe works.
Apr 05, 2018
Genes and education, John Goodenough, Caring bears and hunting
A widely reported study published last week suggests that on average children at selective schools have more gene variants associated with higher educational attainment than children at non-selective schools. It also suggests that selective schools achieve better GCSE exam results because their selection procedures favour children with those genetic variants, and not because of the teaching and facilities at private and grammar schools. Adam Rutherford talks to the senior researcher Robert Plomin of the Institute of Psychiatry in London, and Ewan Birney, director of the European Bioinformatics Institute near Cambridge. John Goodenough invented the lithium ion battery, the power pack that makes our smart phones, tablets and laptops possible. At the age of 95, in his lab at the University of Texas, he's now working with colleagues such as Portuguese physicist Helena Braga on an even better next generation battery technology: one that could transform the prospects for electric vehicles and renewable energy storage. Roland Pease meets the jovial battery pioneer and his team. Hunting regulations in Sweden are having a profound effect on the behaviour of brown bears in the country. Since the 1980s, hunters are not allowed to shoot female bears with cubs. Historically, mother bears stayed with their cubs for 1.5 years but as hunting rates increased, mothers began to keep their offspring with them for an additional year. Now more than a third of mothers look after their cubs for 2.5 years. According to Andreas Zebrosser of the University of Southeastern Norway and Joanie van der Walle of the Universitie de Sherbrooke, hunting appears to be acting as a powerful evolutionary force on the species' reproductive behaviour.
Mar 29, 2018
Data Scraping
The story of how Cambridge Analytica had scraped Facebook data in its attempt to influence voting behaviour has been reported widely this week. Andrew Steele, a medical researcher at the Crick Institute in London, explains how data mining or scraping actually works and how it is used by many scientists to find ways of improving human health. The Government Office for Science published a massive report this week, entitled the 'Future of the Sea' which sets out the UK's stall with regard to our future relationship with the seas, and to put science front and centre in that plan. Professor Ed Hill, Executive Director at the National Oceanographic Centre in Southampton, is one of the authors and tells Adam Rutherford about future exploitation of the sea. Debris in space is a huge issue - it's estimated that there are more than 170 million fragments of satellites, rockets and other stuff that we've sent up, all orbiting the Earth at ballistic speeds. All of these have the potential to lethally strike a working satellite or worse, a crewed space station. Graihagh Jackson met Professor Guglielmo Aglietti at Surrey University who's researching the best technology to safely remove space junk. Dinosaurs were incredibly successful and lived on earth for over 150 million years. Francois Therrien from the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Alberta, Canada, and colleagues explored how living crocodiles and birds, the descendants of dinosaurs, rear their eggs. Dr Therrien told Adam how their findings have suggested that dinosaurs used a variety of ways to hatch their eggs in the many environments on earth.
Mar 22, 2018
Buzz kill
As spring and Brexit loom, Adam Rutherford examines what stance the UK might take on neonicotinoids. The pesticide has been shown to harm bee populations by many scientific studies. Now, the largest report of its kind has put pressure on the EU to vote on whether three types of neonics should be banned. Will the UK follow Europe's lead if the ban is legislated? Fly tipping is a problem faced by most authorities. But conservationists at the Creekside Discovery Centre in Deptford are embracing the carpets and shopping trolleys that have washed up in their creek in south-east London. They even argue that the rubbish provides a safe haven for wildlife. Graihagh Jackson investigates. Graphene is often touted as a wonder material but now this carbon sheet could be making an unexpected appearance in your bathroom cabinet as hair dye. The world-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking has died at the age of 76. The British scientist was famed for his work with black holes and a general relativity. Inside Science examines his scientific legacy.
Mar 15, 2018
Russian Spy Poisoning
A former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter Yulia are in a serious condition after being exposed to a nerve agent on Sunday. The first police officer to attend the scene also remains in hospital. It is being treated as 'a major incident involving attempted murder.' We ask what happens next: what antidotes are available, how do they work and what's the prognosis? Today marks International Women’s Day. Its aim is to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. But there’s also a strong call for change, especially in the tech industry where women are vastly underrepresented. Discussions on how we could achieve gender equality have been ongoing for years, so why has there been so little change? And how can this bias affect the technology we all use? Scientists are warning of an infertility 'crisis' among men. Sperm counts have been falling for over 40 years and now, 1 in 20 men have low sperm counts. The cause is unknown and this week, doctors are calling for more funding to better understand the issue. The red squirrel has found an unlikely ally: the pine marten. Grey squirrels were introduced to the UK in the late 1800s from America and have since caused the native red population to diminish. However, with the reintroduction of a predator, the mal-adapted greys are being hunted and as a result, red squirrels are bouncing back.
Mar 08, 2018
Weird Weather?
With many parts of the country seeing large snowfalls we ask what's driving our current weather? What factors need to be in place to create snowfalls, and how do these differ from sleet or frozen rain? And we address the impact of climate change, while a series of weather events might show a pattern, at what point should we go looking for explanations beyond natural events? Dutch Elm Disease laid waste to millions of British Elm trees back in the 1970's, Now a new tree bacteria which mimics the effects of drought has spread from the Americas to Europe. It has already been detected in some tree imports to the UK. Unlike Dutch Elm Disease it affects a huge variety of trees and shrubs, from mighty oaks to fruit trees and Lavender bushes. New directives have just been introduced to try and halt its spread. Can we beat dementia? Research from the US amongst people in their 80's and 90's provides grounds for optimism, showing that elderly people with good memories have brain structures which can be more developed than those of people 30 years younger. And yet at the same time they may carry factors usually associated with dementia. And how violent are we? Compared with our past that is. Research from collections of gruesome medieval remains paint a picture of a violent society, where men and women commonly carried weapons and inflicting or receiving severe wounds may have been a part of daily life. And yet other studies suggest this level of violence is actually lower than that experienced in some societies today. Marnie Chesterton presents.
Mar 01, 2018
Science after Brexit
The UK is one of the largest recipients of research funding in the EU. Marnie Chesterton discusses what the future of UK science funding will look like with MP Norman Lamb, who chairs the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, and Ed Whiting, Director of Policy and Chief of Staff at the Wellcome Trust. Around 4,500 years ago, 90% of the British population was replaced by incomers known as the Beaker people. Across Europe archaeologists have uncovered elements of the Beaker culture - bell-shaped pots, copper daggers, arrowheads, stone wrist guards and distinctive perforated buttons -it's always been a mystery as to whether these finds represent a wave of mass migration or the sharing of ideas between peoples. Now ancient DNA studies show it was both, and for Britain reveal a huge population change which still resonates today. A new collaboration between an artist and a cyclone physicist commences this week.They joined forces to model Hurricane Katrina and cast its shape into six brass bells. Each bell represents a key moment from the category 5 storm, as it progressed across the Gulf of Mexico and made landfall in the United States in 2005. The finished collection will feature in a BBC Radio 4 documentary later this year. And how does the moon affect life on earth? specifically worms - we unearth a species of worm that times its mating ritual by the waxing and waning Moon.
Feb 22, 2018
Shipping air pollution; Cheddar Man; Millirobots in the body;Dog brain training
Sulphur belched out of vessels' smokestacks is a serious health problem for coastal communities around the world. Four hundred thousand premature deaths from lung cancer and cardiovascular disease and around 14 million childhood asthma cases annually are reckoned to be related to shipping emissions. The International Maritime Organisation has finally agreed to drastically reduce polluting emissions from 2020. Gareth Mitchell discusses with James Corbett of the University of Delaware the impact of the emissions reduction on health. The nearly complete skeleton of Cheddar Man was found in a cave in Somerset in 1903. He'e been in the news because experts in human face reconstruction have created an image of what he probably looked like based on new DNA evidence. Chris Stringer, Ian Barnes and Selina Brace of the Natural History Museum have all worked with Cheddar Man and they talk to Gareth about how the study of this 10 000 year old skeleton is part of a bigger project to understand how Britain became populated with waves of peoples from Europe in the Mesolithic and Neolithic eras. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems have invented a magnetically controlled soft robot only four millimetres in size that can walk, crawl or roll through uneven terrain, carry cargo, climb onto the water surface, and even swim in it. Professor Metin Sitti, Director of the Physical Intelligence Department at the Max Planck Institute, explains how it works and how he sees the future use of millirobots in medicine - in delivering drugs and targeting cancerous cells. Marnie Chesterton talks to Dr Lisa Wallis from ELTE University in Hungary about her work to improve the cognitive abilities of older dogs... using touchscreens.
Feb 15, 2018
Democracy in Space
This week a US based billionaire launched a giant space rocket and sent a car vaguely in the direction of Mars. As a space mission it was to say the least unconventional, and for those involved in promoting space science it presents a quandary. Is such a mission largely a publicity stunt or is it useful for engaging people in the potential of space exploration? Gareth Mitchell looks at one project which enables schoolchildren to programme computers on the International Space Station and he talks to the European Space Agency about why a rock concert might be a good avenue for exploring space science. As more and more of our everyday lives are conducted online we ask what are the cyber-security threats of today, and how can science be used to counter them. Do we now need new kinds of science to locate, understand and stop new kinds of threat? Can bat science help human ageing research? New findings have show that some long lived bat species do not age in the same way as other mammals. They don't even seem to posses the DNA repair enzyme most commonly found in the animal kingdom. We look at the mystery of why bats seem to have evolved in this way. And have you lost a satellite? Don't worry: a computer geek will find it for you. That's exactly what's happened - an amateur space sleuth has detected signals from a NASA satellite thought to have been 'lost' for years.
Feb 08, 2018
Scientists on Trial
In 2016 there was an attempted coup in Turkey. This led to many people who the government saw as opposition figures being sacked from their jobs and in some cases held without trial. They include prominent intellectuals, medics and scientists. In recent days there has been a similar crackdown on people voicing criticism of Turkey's current military actions in Syria. Stephen Reichter, Professor of Psychology at St Andrews University has been to Turkey to observe the trial of one of his former colleagues. He tells us what he saw and discusses the wider issues for science. It's the 60 years since the launch of Explorer 1 and the discovery of the Van Allen Belts. This was the satellite the US launched in response to Sputnik. However unlike Sputnik it did undertake scientific exploration, its findings have been significant for every space mission that followed. Using DNA sequencing scientists have found that the 'Two Brothers' mummies at the Manchester Museum have different fathers so are, in fact, half-brothers. Khnum-nakht and Nakht-ankh - date to around 1800 BC. Ever since their discovery in 1907 there has been some debate amongst Egyptologists on whether the two were actually related at all. DNA was extracted from their teeth to solve the mystery. And the science of the Archers, a current storyline involves leaks of industrial chemicals illegally buried on a farm many years ago. We'll be looking behind the scenes to see where the story came from and how the world's longest running soap opera ensures scientific accuracy. This week's programme is presented by Gareth Mitchell as Adam is away.
Feb 01, 2018
Did typhoid kill the Aztecs, DNA stored in Bitcoin, Glow-in-the-dark plants and levitating humans
What killed the Aztecs? In some areas of the Americas, as many as 95% of the indigenous population died of diseases brought in by the discoverers of the New World. Pandemics hit the population who had little immunity to diseases carried by people and livestock. One outbreak responsible for killing millions started in 1545 and was locally called 'cocoliztli'. But for the last 500 years, exactly what this deadly disease was has remained a mystery. Adam talks to Johannes Krause of the Max Planck Institute who has analysed the teeth of 10 individuals from a mass grave for pathogens and found remnants of typhoid fever DNA. Could this be, in part, responsible for the deaths of millions? Historian Caroline Dodds Pennock from the University of Sheffield discusses the difficulties of knowing for definite what killed so many millions of people. In 2015, Nick Goldman issued a challenge. If anyone could decode the information he had stored on some DNA by 21st January 2018, they could win a bitcoin. When Nick bought the bitcoin it cost about £200. To claim the bitcoin, the winner would have to sequence the DNA and then decrypt a code. In late 2017, Nick thought he would be keeping his bitcoin, now worth thousands of pounds. But PhD student Sander Wuyts got in touch with Nick to claim his prize. Marnie Chesterton follows the story. Adam talks to MIT scientist, Michael Strano about his new techniques to make plants glow in the dark. Could these plants be used as street lighting in the future? And how can sound be used to levitate humans? Professor of Ultrasonics at the University of Bristol, Bruce Drinkwater explains how his team have managed to overcome a size limit on the use of acoustic beams to trap and move objects in space. With no theoretical upper limit on the size of object which can be levitated, he explains how the technology could be used in medicine to deliver powerful drugs to a very specific place. This would leave the rest of the body unharmed or could help in the dispersal of kidney stones.
Jan 25, 2018
African swine fever, Oil spill update, CRISPR gene editing, Rat eradication in New Zealand, Chimp kin recognition
African Swine fever is deadly to pigs and is spreading west from Russia across Europe. The virus that causes it is very resilient and can stick around on clothing, hay and in infected pork products for as long as 150 days. Biosecurity is crucial to preventing its arrival in the UK. If just one pig eats some infected meat from discarded human food the disease could quickly spread causing thousands of pigs to be culled and costing the industry millions. But what is the current progress on developing a vaccine? Adam talks to virologist Professor Jonathan Ball of Nottingham University and Zoe Davies from the National Pig Association. Simon Boxall from Southampton Oceanography Centre gives an update on the sinking of the oil tanker Sanchi and its environmental impact. CRISPR is a revolutionary gene editing technique which can modify DNA and has the potential to correct genetic errors in a range of human diseases - even cancer. The technique has only been around for a few years but is already being talked about as a Nobel prize winning candidate. The market for the technology has been predicted to be worth US$ 10 billion by 2025. But stocks took a wobble last week on news that our immune system may render CRISPR useless. Is there really a big problem? Adam talks to Matt Porteus from Stanford University who did the research. 18 months ago, New Zealand announced a conservation project to exterminate all vermin that are decimating the indigenous bird population. For millions of years, the flora and fauna evolved in isolation, without predatory mammals. When humans arrived, they brought with them a host of bird-eating animals like rats, stoats and possums which now kill 25 million native birds every year. Marnie Chesterton travelled to New Zealand to report on a campaign of mass poisoning to save the kiwis and the kakapos and asks whether it’s ethical to kill one species to save another. And Cat Hobaiter from St Andrews University responds to listener questions about how chimpanzees might recognise family members.
Jan 18, 2018
Tabby's Star, Space 2018, Mosquito sounds, C diff and food additive link
Adam Rutherford talks to astronomer Tabetha Boyajian at Louisiana State University about the wierd star that's perplexed astronomers since its discovery two years ago. KIC 8462852 has the unique habit of intermittently and sometimes dramatically dimming and then brightening. Some scientists even suggested vast alien megastructures around the star might be the explanation. After twenty months of almost continuous observation, Professor Boyajian has much more information about what the star is doing. But the big mystery hasn't gone away. BBC News science correspondent Jonathan Amos joins Adam to share some highlights in space exploration for the coming 12 months. Zoologists and engineers at the University of Oxford are developing an app that identifies one species of mosquito from another by analysing the sounds their rapid wing beats make. Graihagh Jackson visits Marianne Sinka at the Zoology Department to listen to her collection of mosquito songs. Did the widespread introduction of the food additive trehalose fuel the emergence of epidemics of virulent Clostridium difficile in hospitals from the early 2000s? Microbiologist Robert Britton tells Adam about the evidence his team has gathered and published this week in the journal 'Nature'.
Jan 04, 2018
Ancient DNA and Human Evolution
Twenty years ago, a revolution in the study of human evolution began. A team in Leipzig in Germany successfully extracted DNA from the bones of a Neanderthal man who died about 40,000 years ago. Thirteen years later, the same group unveiled the first complete genome sequence of another Neanderthal individual. Last year, they announced they'd retrieved DNA from much oldest archaic human bones, more than 400,000 years old. Adam Rutherford talks to Svante Paabo, the scientist has led these remarkable achievements. Professor Paabo and his colleague Janet Kelso at the Max Planck Institute of Biological Anthropology in Leipzig discuss the genes in many European people alive today that originated in Neanderthals and were passed to modern humans when the two species interbred. Adam also speaks to Johannes Krause who worked on the Neanderthal genome project in Leipzig but is now director of the Max Planck Institute of the Science of Human History. His latest research adds a new layer of intrigue and complexity to the relationship between our species and Neanderthals in deep time. David Reich at Harvard University focuses on using ancient DNA to uncover the ancestry and movements of modern human hunter-gatherers in Eurasia from about 50,000 years to the Bronze Age, a few thousand years ago. Population movements occur on a cinematic scale, he says. (Podcast only). The revelations of ancient genetics would not be possible and meaningful without the traditional disciplines of palaeoanthropology and archaeology. Adam goes to Gibraltar to seek the perspective of Clive Finlayson who leads excavations there as director of the Gibraltar Museum. Gibraltar is the most concentrated site of Neanderthal occupation in the world. As well as remains of a young Neanderthal child last year, the Rock's caves have also recently yielded the first example of Neanderthal cave art.
Dec 28, 2017
Antisense RNA therapy, Fossils vs Trump, Printing mini-kidneys, Electric eel power
Promising results from a small clinical trial of Huntingdon's disease patients have led to RNA-directed therapy such as antisense RNA being hailed as possibly a turning point in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases. Adam Rutherford discusses this class of drugs with Heidi Ledford of Nature News. At the beginning of the month, Donald Trump decreed that two national monument landscapes be drastically down-sized. Strict protections against exploitation were removed from vast tracts of land bearing some of the world's most important fossil bearing strata. President of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontologists, Professor David Polly explains why his organisation is now suing Trump. At Harvard University, bioengineers are growing parts of functioning kidneys in small chips using a form of 3D printing. Jennifer Lewis' lab is doing this to learn how kidneys function and explore the possible therapeutic applications of the mini-kidneys-in-a-chip. Roland Pease visits the team at work. The electric eel can deliver a 600 volt shock, from a stack of electrically charged cells along the length of its body. Inspired by the eel's biology, Michael Mayer and his colleagues at the Universities of Fribourg and Michigan have now created their own version of its electric organ with the help of jelly babies and clever origami. In the future, it could power devices in the human body.
Dec 21, 2017
The Future of Coral Reefs, Little Foot, Arthur C Clarke
Oxford is hosting the European Coral Reef Symposium this week. Climate change is seen as the number one threat to the future of coral reefs. Adam talks to Morgan Pratchett of James Cook University about the two recent coral bleaching events that hit the Great Barrier Reef, and to Barbara Brown of Newcastle University about the potential for coral species to adapt to warmer seas. After twenty years of excavation and preparation, the most complete fossil skeleton of an Australopithecine has been unveiled to the public in South Africa. Its discoverer Ron Clarke explains its significance for understanding human evolution. December 16th is the 100th anniversary of Arthur C Clarke. Science writer Marcus Chown and cultural journalist Samira Ahmed join Adam to discuss Clarke's visions and works of science fiction.
Dec 14, 2017
Trophy hunting, Gene drives, Nuclear lightning, Peregrine falcons and drones
Trophy hunters are always after the lion with the largest darkest name and the stag with the most impressive antlers. Research by Rob Knell at Queen Mary University of London finds that removing a small proportion of these top males can drive whole populations to extinction, if their environment is changing. Gene drive is a new genetic technology that could be used to eradicate populations of species of 'pest' animals. The Roslin Institute in Edinburgh has just announced it is to begin research on gene drives to control rat and mouse populations. The Institute's Bruce Whitelaw and Simon Lillico explain how the approach would work and argue that it would be humane compared to traditional methods of vermin control. However there are concerns about its potential ecological consequences - namely the risk of female infertility in the targeted species spreading without no geographical limits. Kevin Esvelt of MIT voices his reservations. Bruce Whitelaw outlines how future research aims to bring gene drives under more control. Researchers in the USA and Japan talk about their discovery of nuclear reactions in lightning strikes, and Caroline Brighton and Graham Taylor of the University of Oxford explain why they have been attaching small cameras and GPS units to peregrine falcons and recording the birds chasing drones.
Dec 07, 2017
Prehistoric Strong Women, Semi-synthetic Life, Listener Feedback, Artificial Superintelligence
More than 5,000 years of heavy agricultural labour by women can be read from the bones found in ancient cemeteries from the Neolithic to Iron Age times. Cambridge University anthropologist Alison Macintosh compared the arm bone dimensions and strength of women from these times with those of modern female athletes such as runners to rowers. Her conclusion is that average upper body strength of women through the Neolithic to the Iron age times exceeded that of today's semi-elite female rowers. A laboratory at the Scripps Research Institute have created a semi-synthetic bacterium with two new man-made genetic letters in its DNA, in addition to the natural four A, G, T and C. What's more, the engineered microbe can use its enhanced genetic alphabet to build synthetic amino acids into the proteins it makes. Chemist Floyd Romesberg talks to Adam Rutherford about what we can learn from his team's extraordinary feat of synthetic biotechnology, what we might gain from it and why, in his opinion, we've no need to be worried. Adam deals with some of your correspondence on axolotls by talking to laboratory salamander breeder Randal Voss at the University of Kentucky. He also notes listeners' comparisons of the recent visit by interstellar asteroid Oumuamua with the alien vessel in Arthur C Clarke's 'Rendezvous with Rama'. Cosmologist and AI researcher Max Tegmark visits BBC Inside Science to discuss the possibility of artificial intelligence machines with super-intelligence and how humanity should be preparing for their advent. Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker.
Nov 30, 2017
Interstellar visitor, Svante Paabo, Synthetic biology, Plight of the Axolotl
On 19th October, a mysterious object sped through our solar system. It was first spotted by astronomers with a telescope in Hawaii. Its trajectory and speed told of its interstellar origins. It is the first body to be detected from outside our solar system. Scientists are now publishing their papers on the enigmatic visitor. They estimate that it was about 400 metres long and bizarrely elongated in shape. Adam Rutherford talks to astronomer Alan Fitzsimmons of Queens University in Belfast. Twenty years ago, geneticist Svante Paabo began a revolution in human evolution science when he extracted fragments of DNA from the 40,000 year old bone of a Neanderthal. Among other first, he went onto sequence the entire genome sequence of Homo Neanderthalenisis. Professor Paabo was in the UK this week at a conference on DNA and human evolution at the Wellcome Genome Campus to mark the anniversary. He tells Adam about one of the new directions of research for him now. What does the future hold for synthetic biology? Who will be the practitioners of this fast-growing branch of bioengineering and what will be its impact on the world - for good and possibly ill? Experts in the field have just published a horizon-scanning report in the journal eLife. One of its authors, Jenny Molloy of the University of Cambridge, talks to Adam about the nascent democratisation of the discipline and where this might lead the field and society. The paradoxical plight of the axolotl: popular aquarium pet, laboratory animal and critically endangered species in the wild. This species of salamander is a wonder of nature. It's the amphibian that never grows out of its larval stage yet it's able to reproduce. Most remarkable is its ability to regrow limbs, which is of great potential interest to researchers developing regenerative medicine. There are many thousands of axolotls in labs and homes around the world. But in the wild, in their native Mexico, they are on the very edge of extinction. Inside Science talks to conservation biologist Richard Griffiths of the University of Kent and axolotl researcher Tatiana Sandoval Guzman of the Technical University in Dresden, Germany. Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker.
Nov 23, 2017
Can we forecast earthquakes?, Britain's space race rocket Skylark, Francis Galton
What might the length of the day have to do with the likelihood of destructive earthquakes around the world? According to Professors Rebecca Bendick and Roger Bilham, there's a correlation between changes in the rate at which the Earth rotates and the incidence of earthquakes of Magnitude 7 and above. The rotation speed of the planet increases and decreases over periods of years and decades. From their research, the earth scientists say that there's an substantial increase in the number of powerful earthquakes around the world five years after the Earth attains a peak in its spin speed and enters a period of slow down. The difference in day length is tiny but it is enough, say the researchers, to trigger already stressed faults in the crust to move sooner than later. In the year that the Soviet Union launched Sputnik into orbit, the UK launched its own rocket into the Space Race. 1957 saw the launch of the first Skylark space rocket. Inside Science talks to two veterans of the Skylark programme - Professors John Zarnecki and Ken Pounds - who cut their space research teeth with some of the 440 launches. The Science Museum in London is staging a Skylark exhibition in celebration. Francis Galton was one of the UK's most influential 19th century scientists and laid important methodological foundations for genetics and other fields of science today. But he was also a racist and leading proponent of eugenics. Adam discusses Galton's legacy with historian Subhadra Das of University College London and clinical geneticist Han Brunner of the Maastricht University Medical Centre in the Netherlands. Both guests attended a meeting of the Galton Institute in London which brought together researchers of many disciplines to discuss the bad and the good in Francis Galton's legacy. Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker.
Nov 16, 2017
Boy gets New Skin, The York Gospels, Stephen Hawking's Thesis
Researchers in Italy and Germany have saved the life of a boy with a life threatening genetic skin disease, using a combination of stem cell and gene therapy. 7 year old Hassan had lost 60% of his protective epidermis because of the condition, junctional epidermolysis bullosa. The severe blistering and consequent bacterial infections put his life in imminent danger. In a final attempt to save him, the scientists took a small area of unblistered epidermis from his body, separated the constituent skin cells and then engineered them with a normal version of the gene that was malfunctioning in Hassan's body. Sheets of healthy epidermis of an area of about one square metre were then grown in culture, and then grafted onto 80% of his body. Hassan is now living a normal life, back at school, playing football. Lead researcher Michele de Luca describes the remarkable recovery and Fiona Watt, director of the Centre for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine at Kings College London, explains how the procedure worked. Scientists at the University of York are investigating medieval livestock farming through the study of the 1,000 year old York Gospels manuscript: not by reading it but by extracting proteins and DNA from its animal skin parchment pages. Inside Science listener and Middle Eastern archaeologist Melissa Sharp takes the programme to task for suggesting that anyone can now use publically available sonar and satellite data to search for shipwrecks and other archaeological sites. It opens up the world's ancient and not so ancient heritage to looters, she says. Since the University of Cambridge made Stephen Hawkings 1966 PhD thesis free to view and download last month, more than a million people have at least looked at it. Adam Rutherford talks to cosmologist Andrew Pontzen, biologist Matthew Cobb and neuroscientist Sophie Scott about the record-breaking thesis and asks whose first research project they'd like to download. Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker
Nov 09, 2017
Climate Change and Health; Moth Snow Storm Feedback; Whale Brain Evolution; Pharoah's Serpent
Adam Rutherford talks to researchers on a major global study that aimed to quantify how climate change has already damaged the health of millions of people. Hugh Montgomery is the co-chair of the Lancet Countdown report and says that climate change is the largest single threat to global health. Climate scientist Peter Cox talks about his stark findings on the increase in the number of vulnerable people exposed to heat waves between now and the turn of the century. We hear anecdotes and concerns from listeners following our item last week on the catastrophic decline in flying insects in the last quarter century and the disappearance of moth snow storms. What can the social lives and brains of whales and dolphins tell us about the evolution of our species cognitive capacities and white matter? Adam talks to Susanne Shultz of the University of Manchester. Everyone's favourite indoor firework, the Pharoah's Serpent, is under scientific scrutiny from chemists Tom Miller and Andrea Sella at University College London.
Nov 02, 2017
Insects disappearing, DNA Biosensor, Dog faces, Bandit dinosaur
The total biomass of flying insects in the environment has decreased by 75% in the last quarter of a century. That's the conclusion of research published at the end of last week in the journal PLOS One. The discovery, made in Germany, has shocked many, but should we in the UK be worried too? The answer is yes, according to Adam Rutherford's guests Dave Goulson, professor of biology at the University of Sussex, and Michael McCarthy, environmental journalist and author of 'The Moth Snow Storm.' The speed and ease of precise infection diagnosis could be transformed by synthetic biologists at Imperial College, London. Paul Freemont tells Adam about a simple DNA biosensor that turns green in the presence of a pneumonia-causing bacterium that is a particular problem for people with Cystic Fibrosis. He adds that the technology is adaptable to any kind of bacteria and may also aid efforts to curb the spread of antibiotic resistance. When dogs know you are looking at them, they ramp up the expressiveness of their faces. Marnie Chesterton visits the Dog Cognition Centre at the University of Portsmouth to talk to the researchers who made this discovery, and to meet Jimmy the Staffy. Palaeontologists at the University of Bristol have figured out the colour patterning on a dinosaur that lived 120 million years ago. Sinosauropteryx was a small feathered dinosaur. Two spectacular fossils of it were found in northeast China. The specimens are so well preserved that remnants of pigment remain in the feathers. This allows Jakob Vinter and colleagues to see that Sinosauropteryx was reddish brown in colour, with light stripes on its tail, light and dark counter-shading on its body and a dashing bandit-style face mask. Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker.
Oct 26, 2017
Colliding Neutron Stars, Krakatoa, Centigrade vs Celsius
Adam Rutherford talks to astrophysicists about the astronomical discovery of the year, if not the last couple of decades: the collision of two neutron stars and the cosmic gold-forging aftermath. The discovery of this long-hypothesized event on 17th August came from the much awaited marriage of the capabilities of the gravitational wave detectors LIGO and Virgo with those of ground-based and space-based telescopes. Samaya Nissanke of Radboud University, Sheila Rowan of the University of Glasgow and Nial Tanvir of the University of Leicester take Inside Science through the story. What made the infamous 1883 eruption of Krakatoa so devastating? Roland Pease meets the earth scientists trying to answer the question by recreating in the lab the conditions under the volcano prior to the eruption. Following a temperature-related faux pas by Adam in the last episode, Michael de Podesta of the National Physical Laboratory explains the difference between Celsius and Centigrade. Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker.
Oct 19, 2017
HiQuake, Plate Tectonics@50, Sonic Weapon Puzzle, The Chinese Typewriter
Gareth Mitchell talks to Gillian Foulger of Durham University about HiQuake, the world's largest database of human-induced earthquakes. Professor Foulger and her colleagues have so far compiled close to 750 seismic events for which there are reasonable cases to be made for anthropogenic triggers. Triggers include mining operations, fossil fuel extraction, reservoir filling, skyscraper construction and tunnelling. Among the surprises is the fact that the US state of Oklahoma is more seismically active than California because of quakes and tremors set off by the local oil and gas industry. The theory of plate tectonics is 50 years old. It's as fundamental to understanding the Earth as evolution by natural selection is to understanding life. Roland Pease meets geologists such as Dan McKenzie, John Dewey and Xavier Le Pichon who played key roles in proving the hypothesis in the late 1960s. The United States has removed more than half of its diplomats from its embassy in Havana, Cuba. A signficant number of staff have complained of ailments such as hearing loss, dizziness, headaches and nausea, and there has been speculation that some kind of sonic or acoustic weapon might be responsible. Trevor Cox, professor of acoustic engineering at the University of Salford, discusses the likelihood with Gareth. Stanford University's Tom Mullaney is the author of 'The Chinese Typewriter: A History'. He talks to Gareth about the great engineering and linguistic challenge in the 19th and 20th centuries of getting the Chinese language onto a table top machine. The survival of the ancient language or China's entry into the modern world depended on the success of numerous inventors. In fact one consequence was the development of predictive text in the Chinese IT world long before it appeared in the West. Note: In the podcast version of this programme, there is an additional item on new research on the role of the world's botanical gardens in global plant conservation. One of the scientists involved, Dr Paul Smith of Botanical Gardens Conservation International, tells Gareth that there's good news about these institutions' contributions and there are areas where there is room for improvement. Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker
Oct 05, 2017
Gravity wave breakthrough, The antibiotic pipeline, Microbial waste recycling, Fausto - an AI opera
The gravitational waves produced by two massive black holes colliding have for the first time been detected by three gravitational wave detectors. Professor Sheila Rowan of the University of Glasgow explains the importance of this new three way observation. The World Health organisation reports that there are too few new candidate antibiotics in the development pipelines to replace those becoming obsolete through the rapid spread of antibiotic resistance. Professor Willem van Shaik of the University of Birmingham and pharma-biotech analyst Dr Jack Scannell discuss where the problems and solutions might lie. Could bacteria recycle all of our waste? Waste disposal is a growing concern as nations run out of space and ecosystems are increasingly polluted. Microorganisms may hold the key for turning household waste into biodegradable plastic and perhaps one day even into food and basic chemical feedstocks. Hans Vesterhoff, Professor of Systems Biology at Amsterdam University is developing microbial networks with the aim of converting all carbon-based waste into useful or edible stuff. AI and Opera: Prof Luc Steels, an AI and language researcher at the Institute for Advanced Studies of Catalonia is also a composer. He has just had his new opera premiered. With a libretto written by a neuropsychiatrist colleague, the opera 'Fausto' is a re-telling of the Faust story. It explores the dangers and flawed thinking of silicon-based transhumanism. In the opera, the Faust character is a social media-obsessed hipster and Mephistopheles is a malevolent AI in the cloud. In a twist on the original, Fausto trades his body rather than his soul so that he can be uploaded and reunited with his lover in the cloud.
Sep 28, 2017
Cassini's finale; Science and Technology Select Committee; Crick's lecture; Cave acoustics
After last week's Inside Science's edition devoted to Cassini ended, the Cassini spaceship plunged into the atmosphere of Saturn, and became part of the planet it studied. But the project lives on, as the data and photos generated by Cassini right up until contact was lost will be studied and scrutinised for years to come. Linda Spilker is the Project Scientist for the Cassini mission. Adam Rutherford spoke to her to find out what was captured in the last few moments of Cassini's closest and fatal encounter with the ringed planet. The House of Commons has announced its Science and Technology Select Committee - the body of MPs that holds the Government to account on scientific matters, and offers advice on scientific issues of the day. Some controversy has followed, concerning the scientific credentials and the gender imbalance of the committee make-up so far. Norman Lamb, MP for North Norfolk was elected chair of the committee, and he came into the Inside Science studio to discuss the committee selection and its future ambitions. This week was the 60th anniversary of one of the greatest conceptual leaps in all biology, made by Crick at a lecture at University College London. Matthew Cobb, biologist and historian from Manchester University, who's written a new account of the lecture, discusses its fundamental significance. It has long been suggested that there's something about the acoustics of a cave that correlates with the location of motifs and sometimes paintings on the walls.Bruno Fazenda is an acoustic scientist at the University of Salford, and reveals how he went into the caves to conduct the first methodical study of this theory by listening to the past.
Sep 21, 2017
Farewell to Cassini, the epic 20 year mission to Saturn
As Cassini's epic journey to Saturn finally ends tonight, Adam Rutherford celebrates the incredible discoveries of a mission that has changed the way we see our solar system. BBC Science Correspondent Jonathan Amos is at Mission Control in Pasadena as scientists assemble to witness the final few hours of the Saturnian observations beforeCassini completes its death dive into the planet. We also hear from key scientists who've played a role in capturing and interpreting the multitude of data from the last 12 years. With contributions from Michele Dougherty, Professor of space physics at Imperial College Robert Brown, Professor Planetary surface processes Arizona University Carl Murray, Professor of Astronomy, Queen Mary,University of London Ellen Stofan, former chief NASA scientist Producer Adrian Washbourne.
Sep 14, 2017
North Korea Bomb Tests, Warming Antarctic Sea Life, the Microbiome, Cuckoo Chuckle
The Democratic People's Republic of Korea claims to have successfully tested a thermonuclear weapon, a hydrogen bomb. Tom Plant, director of Proliferation and Nuclear Policy at the Royal United Services Institute, talks to Adam Rutherford about how the boast might be proved by monitoring technology around the world. How will marine life respond to warming of the seas around Antarctica this century? Dramatically, according to the results of the most realistic attempt so far to warm the sea bed to temperatures predicted for the coming decades. The British Antarctic Survey installed gently heated panels at 12 metres depth off the West Antarctic coast to mimic rock surfaces and then over 9 months monitored how marine creatures colonised and grew on them. All creatures flourished on panels at 1 degree C above today's chilly waters and in fact grew astonishingly quickly on them. But a 2 degree increase saw some continue to flourish vigorously but many species fail. Experiment mastermind Lloyd Peck tells Adam what the findings may mean, and describes the extraordinary cold water diving skills that made the experiment a success. 'I contain Multitudes' is shortlisted for the Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize this year. Its subject is the microbiome - the trillions of benign , friendly and not so friendly bacteria which inhabit our bodies and those of all other animals. For 30 years, Cambridge University zoologists have studied the evolutionary arms race between the cuckoo and the reed warbler that rears the cheating bird's offspring. They have figured out many of the deceptions and counter-tactics adopted by the two co-evolving species. The latest revelation concerns the strange chuckling call which the female cuckoo makes after laying her egg in the warbler's nest. Jenny York describes the experiments which show that the cuckoo is mimicking a predatory sparrow hawk which distracts the warblers and makes them much more likely to not recognise her egg as something they should reject from the nest.
Sep 07, 2017
Noxious haze over south coast; In Pursuit of Memory book; technosphere; Big Wasp Survey
Last weekend a chemical ‘haze’ on the East Sussex coast saw 150 people needing hospital treatment after something in the air led to streaming eyes, sore throats and nausea. Leading theories so far include a chemical spill from shipping in the English channel, a localised spike in ozone levels and an algal bloom, where algae suddenly proliferate and release harmful gasses. Dr Simon Boxall of the National Oceanography Centre at the University of Southampton tells Gareth Mitchell why he’s favouring the algal bloom theory. We know about extinct species from fossils in rocks. But in the future there will be techno-fossils too, evidence of our civilisation. Katie Kropshofer has been finding out from Professors Jan Zalasiewicz and Sarah Gabbot of the University of Leicester what we’re leaving for the hypothetical geologists of the future. Neuroscientist Joseph Jebelli's book, In Pursuit of Memory: The Fight Against Alzheimer's, is the one of the six titles on the shortlist of the Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize. He explains to Gareth Mitchell that it was his grandfather's development of the condition that made him interested in Alzheimer’s. The Big Wasp Survey is a citizen project to trap wasps and send them off to teams at the University of Gloucester and University College London, so that scientists can then learn more about the distribution of different species around this land. One of the organisers, entomologist and professor of Science Communication at the University of Gloucester Adam Hart, talks to Gareth about why these unpopular insects are ecologically valuable.
Aug 31, 2017
Killer robots; Myths and superstitions and conservation; Science book prize nominee - Cordelia Fine; Taxidermy
Once again, the ethical side of fully autonomous weapons has been raised, this time by over 100 leading robotics experts, including Elon Musk of SpaceX and Tesla, and Mustafa Suleyman of DeepMind. They have sent an open letter to the United Nations urging them to take action in order to prevent the development of "killer robots". The letter says "lethal autonomous" technology is a "Pandora's box", once opened it will be very difficult to close - they have called for a ban on the use of AI in managing weaponry. Gareth asks AI expert, Professor Peter Bentley from University College London, if this is the right approach or is this just an attempt to delay the inevitable? When a paper titled "Fantastic Beasts and Why to Conserve Them" is printed in the journal Oryx, we had to take a closer look. Far more than a publicity stunt, this work by George Holmes, an expert in conservation and society at the University of Leeds, covers an important point. It explores the dangers of neglecting local beliefs, myths and superstitions about the natural world, and animals in particular, when trying to come up with conservation strategies. Cordelia Fine is a professor of the history and philosophy of science at the University of Melbourne. She is the third shortlisted author of the Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize. Her book "Testosterone Rex" explores the science behind gender. She argues that testosterone isn't necessarily the basis for masculinity and that there is so much more to gender than merely our biological sex. 200 years ago, taxidermy was a crucial part of zoological teaching and research, and in the days before BBC wildlife films, often the only way that many people could see strange and exotic wildlife from other lands. Lots of those early specimens are incredibly valuable, and can still be found in museums around the world, although being so old they are often in need of urgent repair. Usually this happens out of sight behind the scenes, but not so at the Grant Museum of Zoology in London, which has been doing its conservation live in the gallery for all to see, to draw attention to the art and science of taxidermy. Some of the more serious repairs get sent to taxidermy conservator Lucie Mascord in Lancashire. Produced by Fiona Roberts Presented by Gareth Mitchell.
Aug 24, 2017
Antarctica's volcanoes, science book prize nominee - Mark O'Connell, US solar eclipse and 40 years of NASA's Voyager mission
Not so much hiding in plain sight, but tucked under the ice-sheet in Antarctica are 91 volcanoes. This adds to the 47 volcanoes already known on the continent. After a graduate student posed the question,"are there any volcanoes in Western Antarctica?", Dr Robert Bingham, and colleagues, at Edinburgh University, scoured the satellite and database records to find the volcanoes. This huge region is likely to dwarf that of East Africa's volcanic ridge, which is currently the most volcano-dense region on Earth. Journalist Mark O'Connell is the second of our Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize 2017 nominees. His broad-minded, yet sceptical look at the world of 'transhumanism', "To be a Machine: Adventures Among Cyborgs, Utopians, Hackers, and the Futurists Solving the Modest Problem of Death", questions how and why some of us are looking to use technology to fundamentally change the human condition. On Monday 21st of August 2017, some of the United States will go dark. This is the first total solar eclipse, visible from coast to coast in the US for 99 years. Gareth gets excited with veteran eclipse watchers, David Baron and Jackie Beucher. On the 20th of August 1977, NASA's probe Voyager 2 launched. This was quickly followed two weeks later by the launch of Voyager 1 (which was on a faster trajectory). Since then the two spacecraft have been exploring our Solar System, the Heliosphere and interstellar space. Surpassing all expectations, the probes have taught us so much about our planets, their moons and beyond. Gareth looks back at the highlights with the Voyager mission's chief scientist, Professor Ed Stone, in a celebration of the 40 year mission. Produced by Fiona Roberts Presented by Gareth Mitchell.
Aug 17, 2017
European heatwave and climate change, Eugenia Cheng, Next generation batteries for electric cars, Joseph Hooker exhibition.
The current heat wave in Europe is proving deadly. High day and night temperatures, coupled with high humidity, can be a very dangerous combination. A new study has calculated the risk of deadly heat on a global basis, and shown that between 48% and 74% of the world's population will be subjected to life-threatening heat and humidity for at least 20 days a year. Ed Hawkins, Professor of Climate Science at the University of Reading, discusses the findings. Gareth also asks BBC weatherman, Darren Betts, whether the recent wave of climate trend animations, or gifs, doing the rounds on social media, are a helpful tool in communicating climate change risks. Professor of Mathematics, Eugenia Cheng, is one of the shortlisted authors for the Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize 2017. She talks Gareth through the inspiration for her book "Beyond Infinity: An expedition to the Outer Limits of the Mathematical Universe". The UK Government announced last week that it was aspiring to remove all petrol and diesel vehicles from roads by 2040. Current battery technology relies on lithium-ion batteries. Are lithium, and the other metals required for batteries, sustainable for a totally electric transport system? And do they have the charge capacity to make them a reliable alternative to fossil fuels? Dr Billy Wu, of the Dyson School of Design Engineering at Imperial College London, goes through the alternatives and the next generation of battery technology. To mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of one of Victorian Britain's most important scientists, Joseph Hooker (1817-1911), Kew Royal Botanic Gardens is holding an exhibition titled Joseph Dalton Hooker: Putting plants in their place. It's a fascinating selection of his photographs, journals and paintings. Gareth is taken on a tour by the curators - historian Professor Jim Endersby of the University of Sussex and Galleries and Exhibitions Leader at RBG Kew, Maria Devaney. They explain how as a tireless traveller and plant collector, Hooker was the founder of modern botanical classification and a close friend of Charles Darwin. Produced by Fiona Roberts Presented by Gareth Mitchell.
Aug 10, 2017
Gene-editing human embryos, Spaceman's eyes, Science book prize, Sexual selection in salmon
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is the heart condition that can lead to seemingly super-fit athletes collapsing with heart failure. It affects one in 500 people, and is a heritable disorder. Scientists using the precise gene-editing technique, Crispr CAS 9, have identified one of the genes responsible for the disease and 'fixed' it. This is in very early stage human embryos, prior to implantation. Dr. Fredrik Lanner at the Karolinska institute, is a leader in this field and he describes the work as purely at the experimental stages, but the team have managed to overcome various issues with the technique. Despite the obvious benefits of being an astronaut... exploring new worlds, seeing Earth from space, and of course the glory and fame, it can take a real toll on the body. Astronauts' skeletons and muscles deteriorate in zero gravity, their immune system weakens, and they experience nasal congestion and sleep disturbance. Many symptoms persists once they're back on Earth. But, there's another to add to the list, space flight-associated neuro-ocular syndrome or SANS. Ophthalmologist at Houston Methodist Hospital, Dr Andrew Lee explains that the build-up of fluid in the brain can squeeze the eye and optic nerve and lead to visual disturbance and even vision loss. The shortlist for the Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize 2017 has just been announced. Adam pesters judge Claudia Hammond for the name of the winner (she doesn't tell!) and discusses the criteria for this £25,000 prestigious award. The top 6 books will be featured over the next 6 weeks on BBC Inside Science. Sexual selection - who you decide to have babies with - is usually decided at the dating stage. But the choice does not have to stop at copulation. Post-mating sexual selection is a thing. Mechanisms such as sperm competition, and cryptic female choice, can happen after sex, but before the sperm fertilises the egg. It's not just an internal thing either, it happens in 'external fertilizers', where eggs are laid, and then fertilized by the male sperm outside the female's body, like come fish do in water. Professor Neil Gemmell, at the University of Otago in Dunedin in New Zealand, has been studying just such processes in Chinook salmon. His findings are surprising and could inform us about human reproduction and fertility. Produced by Fiona Roberts.
Aug 03, 2017
Cod fisheries, Our connection to nature, Domestic electricity and Gamma ray bursts
News that the Marine Stewardship Council has reopened the North Sea cod fishery is met by some concern from marine biologist Professor Callum Roberts at the University of York. He says, this may be good news for cod and cod fishermen, but other marine species getting caught up in the drag nets may not be so capable of bouncing back. In a report out this week, the UK Government announced they are funding £246 million for major changes to the way electricity is produced and stored. New rules will make it easier for people to generate their own power with solar panels, and store it in batteries. But do we have the technology to make it work in a cost effective way? Steven Harris, a consultant in sustainable energy, thinks we'll soon have smart domestic appliances in our homes which better manage the fluctuating supply and demand for power. Expert in energy systems, at the University of Newcastle, Professor Phil Taylor, is researching the next generation of smart appliances and domestic storage batteries. A new study reports that 69% of Brits feel they have lost touch with nature. Dr. Rachel Bragg, at the Green Exercise Research Unit at the University of Essex and Care Farming UK, unpicks the anecdotal evidence from the facts and explores why a connection with the natural world is so important, why the connection is being broken and what we need to do about it. Professor of Extragalactic Astronomy at the University of Bath, Carole Mundell, explains how she and other astronomers captured the most complete picture yet of the most powerful type of explosion in the universe - Gamma Ray Bursts. These short-lived bursts of the most energetic form of light, shine hundreds of times brighter than a supernova and trillions of times brighter than our sun.
Jul 27, 2017
Genetics and privacy, Global plastic, Great Ape Dictionary, Ocean Discovery X Prize
Should our genomes be private? Professors Tim Hubbard and Nils Hoppe join Adam Rutherford to discuss concerns about data security and privacy of our genetic data. Once our DNA has been extracted, sequenced and stored as a digital file, what is done with it, who gets to see it and what say do we have in all this? Back in the 1950's at the dawn of the new plastic age, its everlasting properties were a major selling point. Now, we're dealing with escalating plastic pollution and bulging landfill. But how much plastic are we dealing with? Dr. Roland Geyer has calculated the production, use and fate of all plastics ever made. Chimpanzees are very communicative animals: they tend to use gestures foremost with vocalisation just to emphasise the flick of a wrist or a stretch of the hand. In an attempt to get a grasp on why, and how, we humans made the shift from gesture-led communication to talking, we need to see how well we can decipher our ape relatives. A new online study called the 'Great Ape Dictionary' wants you to have a go. The bottom of our seas remains a mysterious other world. Yet, adventuring into the deep depths of the ocean is a major challenge, which is probably why only 5% of it has ever been explored - even though it covers more than 70% of our planet. So to start learning more about our own planet, the Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE is awarding a total of $7 million to teams that develop autonomous, unmanned vehicles to map and image the bottom of the seas. Dr Jyotika Virmani tells Adam why ocean exploration is so important, and why it tends to take a backseat to adventuring into space. Presented by Adam Rutherford Produced by Fiona Roberts.
Jul 20, 2017
Genetic testing; Pugs on treadmills; Frankenstein
What can genome science do for you? Chief Medical officer Dame Sally Davies recently published her annual report, issuing a plea for a revolution in the use of genetic information in the NHS. She wants DNA tests to be as routine as biopsies or blood tests. Adam chats to geneticist Ewan Birney, head of the European Bioinformatics Institute in Hinxton, about the potential uses and limitations of genetic testing. Pugs are set to become Britain's most popular breed in the next couple of years. Together with similar dogs, like bulldogs and Frenchies, they are classed 'brachycephalic', having short snouts and compact skulls which makes them susceptible to a breathing problems. Veterinary surgeon Jane Ladlow has studied 1,000 dogs to improve their health today and in future generations. Reporter Graihagh Jackson went to visit the team at Cambridge Veterinary School. To mark the forthcoming 200th anniversary of the publication of Frankenstein, a new edition has been created especially for scientists and engineers. Adam talks to editor David Guston, from Arizona State University about the lessons this cautionary tale contains for science today. Presenter: Adam Rutherford Producer: Michelle Martin.
Jul 13, 2017
Neonics dispute, Hygenic bees, Hip-hop MRI
The results of the first large-scale field study looking at neonicotinoid pesticides and their impact on bees has caused controversy. It was carried out by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) and commissioned and funded by the agricultural chemical companies Syngenta and Bayer. However, both companies have expressed dissatisfaction with the paper. Adam Rutherford talks to Dr Peter Campbell from Syngenta and Dr Ben Woodcock from CEH about the results. In a separate project, beekeepers have been trying to improve hive health by breeding 'hygienic bees'. These nifty insects love to keep their homes clean and free from disease, improving colony numbers and reducing the need to use antibiotics. Reporter Rory Galloway embarks on some fieldwork at the University of Sussex, with Luciano Scandin, Honeybee Research Facility Manager and Francis Ratnieks, Professor of Apiculture. What happens when you rap inside an MRI scanner? Neuroscientist Sophie Scott wanted to find out. She's been making movies of the internal workings of some extraordinary voice boxes, owned by beatboxers, opera singers and rappers, like biochemist Alex Lathbridge aka Thermoflynamics. Presenter: Adam Rutherford Researcher: Caroline Steel Producer: Michelle Martin.
Jul 06, 2017
Sex bias in biology, Engineering prize, Olympic bats, Angry Chef
Teams from all over the world have been looking at the differences between male and female mice. They've assessed hundreds of characteristics, from weight changes to cholesterol to blood chemistry. The surprising results show huge differences between the sexes, which have great repercussions for drug development which mostly uses male mice, and humans, for testing. Medicines may be less effective in females, or have greater side-effects, due to the extent of genetic differences being found between the sexes. Adam talks to one of the authors, Prof Judith Mank from University College London. Three global engineering technologies are in the running for this year's coveted MacRobert Award, the UK's top innovation prize. Adam Rutherford talks to judge Dr Dame Sue Ion to find out more about each of the finalists - Darktrace, Raspberry Pi and Vision RT. Urban bats are getting smart - sensors newly installed at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford are using machine learning algorithms to recognise and record the different colonies that emerge after dark. One in five mammal species are bats, and they are often used as an indicator to measure the health of our environment. BBC Science reporter Helen Briggs talks to Prof Kate Jones and the team involved in creating and installing these hi-tech bat phones. Anthony Warner is a chef. And he's angry. With a background in biochemistry he's pledged to fight fad diets, bogus nutritional advice and celebrity food nonsense wherever he finds it. From Clean Eating to the Paleo Diet, he busts some diet myths for us, and explains why we've unfairly demonised ingredients like gluten. Presenter: Adam Rutherford Assistant Producer: Caroline Steel Producer: Michelle Martin.
Jun 29, 2017
Forensics Centre in Dundee; D'Arcy Thompson centenary; Scottish science adviser; Coffee and climate
The Leverhulme Research Centre for Forensic Science at the University of Dundee has expanded to test new psychoactive substances. Adam Rutherford talks to Professors Sue Black and Niamh Nic Daeid, who jointly run the Centre, about how they can keep up with the many new illegal drugs coming onto the market and about how they intend to modernise forensics. 2017 is the centenary of the publication of On Growth and Form, the book by D'Arcy Thompson that influenced many people from mathematical biologists to architects. Adam discusses the man and the book with Matthew Jarrron in the D'Arcy Thompson Museum at the University of Dundee. Astrophysicist Sheila Rowan has been the Chief Science Adviser to the Scottish Government for just over a year. Adam asks her about the role and how she deals with controversial issues such as GM crops. And Aaron Davis of Kew Gardens explains the impact of climate change on coffee growing in Ethiopia.
Jun 22, 2017
Science in Fire Prevention
Applying scientific techniques to reduce fire risk in tall buildings. We look at practical measures to prevent building fires and also how science can improve evacuation plans. Modeling the brain with maths. new research using multidimensional models is helping researchers understand the levels of complexity in brain function. Sexism in science, its as old We look at how sex bias has influenced the outcome of scientific research throughout history. And also look at how science itself is changing as opportunities for women to pursue scientific careers increase. And a unique study which turns recordings from police body cameras into empirical data that can be used to assess and improve police interactions with the public.
Jun 15, 2017
Early Humans Were Even Earlier Than We Thought
Early human fossils from Morocco suggest our ancestors walked the earth much earlier than previously thought. Human ancestral fossils from the area were first discovered in the 1960's, but now a re-examination of these and more recent finds suggests they are from an early form of us - Homo sapiens - living in the area around 300,000 years ago. We have news of a one in a million stellar observation: light bending around a distant star. This is the first time the phenomenon has been observed outside our solar system, and is further proof of Einstein's theory of General Relativity. It involved measurements millions of miles away and many times smaller than the width of a human hair. Gold mining is a highly polluting process involving toxic chemicals. Marnie Chesterton visits a Scottish gold mine and looks at attempts to make the extraction of gold more environmentally friendly by replacing the toxic chemicals with ingredients more commonly found in vitamins and natural fertilisers. And US President Trump has announced his intention to pullout of the Paris climate agreement. We look at the implications of the decision for global emissions reduction.
Jun 08, 2017
The Importance of Basic Research
Adam Rutherford discusses the relationship between basic and applied scientific research with guests at the Hay Festival. Adam is joined by the Astronomer Royal, Lord Martin Rees, physicist Professor Robbert Dijkgraaf, the director of the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton University and author of a new essay introducing On the Usefulness of Useless Knowledge, behavioural psychologist Professor Theresa Marteau of Cambridge University and geneticist and writer Professor Steve Jones of University College London.
Jun 01, 2017
Sherpas - dolphin rescue - quantum computing - hot lavas
The superior performance of Sherpa guides on Mountain Everest is legendary. New findings reveal how their bodies make the most of low oxygen levels at high altitude. Presenter Gareth Mitchell also talks to the Mexican biologist heading a last ditch attempt to save the world's most endangered marine mammal - a small porpoise called vaquita. There are fewer than 30 animals left, all of them in the Gulf of California. The plan is to capture up to half of them and move them to a safe haven in the Gulf, away from the illegal fishing nets that have been trapping and drowning them. Key players in the plan are US Navy dolphins, trained to find and follow the vaquitas so the scientists can catch and move them. The idea is to keep the porpoises in a protected bay until the illegal fishing threat has been tackled. Also in the programme, white hot lavas and reporter Roland Pease asks whether quantum computing is finally coming of age.
May 25, 2017
Childhood cancers - Ghana telescope - Nano-listening device for cells - Ancient whales
Adam Rutherford goes the pathology archive of Great Ormond Street Hospital in London to hear how tumour samples from child patients about one hundred years ago may improve the diagnosis and treatment of very rare cancers in children today. He meets cancer geneticist Sam Behjati of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and Great Ormond Street pathologist Neil Sebire in the hospital's basement archive. Africa now has its first radio telescope outside South Africa. It is located in Ghana near the capital Accra. The telescope is in fact a defunct telecoms satellite dish which was spotted on Google Earth images and then re-purposed for cutting edge astrophysics. It is hoped the dish will be the founding instrument of a pan African network of radio telescopes scrutinising exotic celestial objects in the skies above the continent. South African science journalist Sarah Wilds tells the story of how the Ghanaian dish was found and converted. Nano-engineers in California have created a device 100 times thinner than a human hair which they have used to measure the turbulence created by swimming microbes and record the sounds of heart cells contracting. Don Sirbuly is the professor of nano-engineering at the University of California San Diego who led the team. A spectacular new whale fossil unearthed Peru is the oldest known member of the evolutionary branch which gave rise to the giant filter-feeding baleen whales of today. The 36 million year old fossil provides evidence for how ancestral whales transitioned from capturing prey with their teeth to filter-feeding with baleen fibres. They may gone through a period of sucking prey from the sea bed.
May 18, 2017
Violins - Social networks and cliques in great tits and snow monkeys - Exploring DNA and art
Classical music fans will know well the legendary violins made by the likes of Stradivarius and Guarneri in the 17th and 18th century. But new acoustical research has found that concert goers rated the music of new fiddles higher than that from old and revered Italian violins. Dr Claudia Fritz of the Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris explains how she did this study and what she found. Virtuoso soloist Tasmin Little plays her 260 year old Italian instrument for presenter Adam Rutherford and offers her thoughts on the findings. Adam also hears about personality and social cliques in great tits in Oxfordshire, and social networks and disease in Japanese snow monkeys. Adam chats with Leicester University geneticist Turi King and artists Ruth Singer and Gillian McFarland about their collaborative project to explore DNA through art.
May 11, 2017
The moral brain, stem cell developments, ancient DNA in cave dirt, mangrove forest
Adam Rutherford talks to neuroscientist Molly Crockett about moral decision-making in the brain. She combined brain scanning with a test involving money and electric shocks. Geoff Marsh reports from Japan where stem cell research appears to be bringing regenerative medicine for a common cause of blindness ever closer. A team at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology has pulled off another triumph in the study of ancient human DNA. Viviane Slon explains how they've extracted DNA of extinct species of humans from the soil in caves across Europe and Russia. Adam discusses the significance with Ian Barnes, ancient DNA specialist at the Natural History Museum in London. Dan Friess of the National University of Singapore studies mangrove forests around the coasts of tropical Pacific and Indian ocean countries. This kind of forest has turned out to store much more carbon than even rainforests, as measured by the hectare. Dr Friess talks about carbon counting in mangroves and how this research may save the forests from further destruction.
May 04, 2017
Homo naledi, First humans in America, Dark matter detector, New theory of dark matter
Controversy has followed the remains of a new species of human, Homo naledi, since it was described in 2015. Buried deep in a South African cave, its primitive features led scientists to believe it was up to three million years old. This week it's been revealed that this estimate was wrong. New dating evidence suggests the skeletons are only 200 000 to 300 000 years old and that means they may have lived alongside other homo species. Previously, humans were thought to have travelled to America via a land bridge between eastern Siberia and modern day Alaska, somewhere between 17 000 - 40 000 years ago when sea levels were lower than they are today. Researchers from the San Diego Natural History Museum now present evidence that suggests this transition could have been much earlier - nearly 100 000 years earlier. Adam talked to Chris Stringer, researcher in human evolution at the Natural History Museum in London, to unpick the evidence. Dark matter is a mystery that has evaded scientists for decades. Now the biggest and most sensitive detector is being built in South Dakota and scientists believe the Lux-Zeppelin experiment will soon be able to detect one of the candidates for dark matter, the elusive particle known as a weakly interacting massive particle (WIMP). Graihagh Jackson got a sneak peak of the key components, including the 'eyes' of the detector, before they're sent off for installation. Adam Rutherford talks to cosmologist Carlos Frenk from the University of Durham and learns of an alternative theory to describe this mysterious dark matter - a whole new dark sector. This sector contains a vast range of different dark particles, from photons to bosons, that could interact with normal particles.
Apr 27, 2017
Cassini’s death, scrapping diesel, weather balloon, satellites monitoring volcanos
The Cassini-Huygens mission has been monumental for science. For thirteen years the probe has gathered data on Saturn, revealing more about the gas giant than we have ever known before. But now, Cassini is running out of fuel. Adam Rutherford talks to Professor Michele Dougherty of Imperial College about the plans for Cassini's spectacular end, which will be to burn up in Saturn's atmosphere later this year. The descent begins this week and Cassini will collect exciting new data until the end. Next week, Theresa May will unveil her plans to kerb air pollution and it is believed that some diesel drivers could be paid up to £2,000 to trade in their vehicles. Diesel cars emit nitrogen oxides - a pollutant that has been linked to nearly 12,000 UK deaths in 2013. This is the second highest in Europe after Italy. However, this isn't the first scrappage scheme to be brought in. Philippa Oldham from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and Adam discuss the merits and pitfalls of an initiative like this. Thousands of balloons are launched every day to measure temperature, pressure and humidity of the air. Kerri Nicoll from the University of Reading wants to add cheap, volcanic ash sensors to these balloons which are going up anyway. This could vastly improve the limited information we currently have on volcanic eruptions, allowing us to quickly see rises in ash particles and therefore improve ash cloud forecasting. Many of the world's volcanoes aren't monitored but a new technology from the University of Leeds should mean that scientists can keep track of all 1,500 them by the end of the year. The technology involves monitoring changes in ground deformation from satellites in space, which will give clues as to whether a volcano is about to erupt. For those living near unmonitored volcanoes, this could provide an early warning system and save their lives.
Apr 20, 2017
23andMe Genetic Sequencing, Human Knockout genes, Coral Bleaching
23andMe is one of the biggest providers of home genetic testing kits and if you live in the UK, it's the only one that also includes various genetic analyses relevant not just to ancestry, but also to health. After a previous ban, the Food and Drug Administration for the first time approved marketing of the 23andMe Genetic Health Risk tests for diseases in the US. Adam Rutherford talks to geneticist Professor Matthew Cobb of the University of Manchester and to medical ethicist Dr Sarah Chan of the University of Edinburgh about how useful this genetic information can be and about who owns the data. New research published this week has revealed something really quite bizarre about our own genomes: that we can survive normally with a considerable number of dysfunctional genes. We've got around 20,000 genes, and you might think that you need them all, as when they don't work, they could lead to a serious health condition. But from a study of more than 10,000 people from Pakistan more than 1300 mutations were found to have no effect on their health. Geneticist Robert Plenge explains the research. The Great Barrier Reef has taken another huge hit with a mass bleaching event occurring a second year in a row. Over two thirds of the reef is now seriously damaged. Professor Jorg Wiedenmann of the University of Southampton explains that if bleaching events continue to happen at this rate, the world's largest coral reef will never recover.
Apr 13, 2017
Creation of island Britain, Sleep gene, Mary Kelly forensics, Global Tree Search survey
Adam Rutherford examines a new study published this week which reveals how a megaflood and giant waterfalls severed our connection to what is now France, resulting in the creation of island Britain and the watery moat of the English Channel. Jenny Collier of Imperial College London uncovers the ancient evidence dating back 450 000 years ago. The dream of unbroken sleep is a complex interaction between our environment and our genes, and new research is a step towards understanding the genetics of sleeping patterns. Jason Gerstner of Washington State University discusses his isolation of a gene that seems to play a crucial role in sleep across a number of species including humans. Turi King played a pivotal role in the identification of Richard III from bones discovered in a Leicester car park She's now involved in another infamous cold case - that of Jack the Ripper. Her interest is in the last of his five canonical victims, known as Mary Kelly, and she's authored a commissioned report on the possibility of identifying the body of Mary Kelly using DNA. And Paul Smith from Gardens Conservation International discusses the new Global Tree Survey - the biggest and the most comprehensive database of all the trees in the world - accumulated from 500 papers, and nearly four centuries of dendrology. Producer Adrian Washbourne.
Apr 06, 2017
Climate change and extreme weather; Primate brain size; Earthquake forecasting; Planet 9
Following yesterday's US House Committee on Science,Space,and Technology's controversial hearing on scientific method and climate change, Adam Rutherford meets atmospheric scientist Professor Michael Mann after he emerged from the heated debate and who's just published a new paper suggesting a direct link between extreme weather and greenhouse gases via a particular behaviour of the jet stream across the northern hemisphere How has intelligence evolved? For over 2 decades the idea has prevailed that primate brain size and intelligence has been driven mainly by complex social hierarchies. But a new study by Alex DeCascien of New York University suggests that diet is a better predictor of brain size. This month is the 6th anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated much of Japan's coastline. Roland Pease reports on new research that aims to embrace uncertainty to improve quake forecasting And we hear how you can join in the search for the missing mysterious 9th planet of our solar system. Adam Rutherford hears from astronomer Brad Tucker on Walkabout at the Mount Stromlo Observatory in New South Wales Producer: Adrian Washbourne.
Mar 30, 2017
Comet 67P images; Etna eruption; Brain navigation; Octopus intelligence
The recent Rosetta mission to image and land a probe on a comet was an astounding achievement. Rosetta took thousands of photos mapping the entire surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko , as it dramatically changed over 2 years. This week analysis of 18000 67P pictures are out of the shade and into the sunlight. Adam Rutherford talks to study leader Raamy El Maary on the intriguing insights and what they suggests about the evolution of comets as they pass through our solar system. And while no-one has any doubt that volcanoes are extremely dangerous forces of nature, Science correspondent Rebecca Morelle was caught in an unusual and terrifying eruption last week. She tells BBC Inside Science the perils of reporting up close from the side of Etna and the rare kind of eruptions that are unique to snowy volcanoes. What are our brains doing when we're navigating through towns and cities? A new study from a team at University College London has made detailed maps of brain activity when negotiating the very windy London streets of Soho and compared it to what our brains are up to when we're simply following a sat nav. Hugo Spiers discusses the results and how this kind of neuroscience has a role to play in the future design of new street networks and cities. And we feature the private life of the octopus - a seemingly alien intelligence right here on Earth as philosopher Peter Godfrey-Smith discusses his new book "Other Minds: The Octopus and the Evolution of Intelligent Life", in which he literally dives into the oceans and delves in to the workings of the octopus mind Producer Adrian Washbourne.
Mar 23, 2017
Boaty McBoatface in Antarctica, Aeroplane biofuels, Bakhshali manuscript, Goldilocks zones
The submarine famously named Boaty McBoatface is deployed this week for its first mission to examine a narrow submarine gap in the South Atlantic. Mike Meredith of the British Antarctic Survey tells Adam Rutherford how this research into the behaviour of deep water at this crucial point in the oceans will help us answer key questions about global ocean temperature flows. Some close-quarter flying in the wake of a jet has provided new insights on reducing aircraft pollution. Richard Moore at NASA Langley in Virginia describes how he's taken to the skies to measure gasses emitted by new biofuels to assess their impact in reducing carbon soot particles, aircraft contrails and climate-changing cloud formations across the sky Angela Saini visits the Bodleian Library in Oxford where the Bakhshali manuscript which contains possibly the very first graphical representation of the number zero is finally being carbon dated so we can better understand its scientific importance And the habitable zones around stars in our the universe just got a whole lot bigger. Lisa Kaltenegger of the Carl Sagan Institute reveals how the presence of volcanoes pumping out hydrogen has a significant warming effect on planets, and increases the range of the so called Goldilocks Zone Producer: Adrian Washbourne.
Mar 16, 2017
Rise of the Robots: 3. Where is my mind?
From Skynet and the Terminator franchise, through Wargames and Ava in Ex Machina, artificial intelligences pervade our cinematic experiences. But AIs are already in the real world, answering our questions on our phones and making diagnoses about our health. Adam Rutherford asks if we are ready for AI, when fiction becomes reality, and we create thinking machines.
Mar 15, 2017
Cells and Celluloid: Aliens on Film
With Adam Rutherford and Francine Stock.
Mar 09, 2017
Rise of the Robots: 2. More human than human
Adam Rutherford explores our relationship with contemporary humanoid robots
Mar 06, 2017
Rise of the Robots: 1. The history of things to come
The idea of robots goes back to the Ancient Greeks. In myths Hephaestus, the god of fire, created robots to assist in his workshop. In the medieval period the wealthy showed off their automata. In France in the 15th century a Duke of Burgundy had his chateau filled with automata that played practical tricks on his guests, such as spraying water at them. By the 18th century craftsmen were making life like performing robots. In 1738 in Paris people queued to see the amazing flute playing automaton, designed and built by Jacques Vaucanson. With the industrial revolution the idea of automata became intertwined with that of human workers. The word robot first appears in a 1921 play, Rossum's Universal Robots, by Czech author Carel Chapek. Drawing on examples from fact and fiction, Adam Rutherford explores the role of robots in past societies and discovers they were nearly always made in our image, and inspired both fear and wonder in their audiences. He talks to Dr Elly Truitt of Bryn Mawr College in the US about ancient and medieval robots, to Simon Shaffer, Professor of History of Science at Cambridge University and to Dr Andrew Nahum of the Science Museum about !8th century automata, and to Dr Ben Russell of the Science Museum about robots and workers in the 20th century. And Matthew Sweet provides the cultural context. Show less
Mar 03, 2017
Earth's Earliest Life, The Benefits of Pollution, Sexuality and Science and New ideas on Evolution
The World's oldest sedimentary rocks reveal traces of our earliest ancestors. New analysis shows life forms existed more than 3.7 billion years ago which were very similar to those found in our deepest oceans today, microbial life around hydro thermal vents. Some pollution might be good for the world oceans. New finding from China show how iron oxide pollution from power generation and industry has been turned into a source of nutrients for phytoplankton - by interacting with other chemical pollutants. The researchers say this is increasing the ability of the ocean to lock up atmospheric carbon dioxide and so reduce the impact of man made greenhouse gasses. They query whether reducing this kind of pollution could have a negative impact. This week The Royal Society celebrated LGBT history month and 50 years since the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales Rory Galloway meets Sir Dermot Turing, the nephew of renowned computer scientist Alan Turing, to discuss Alan’s Legacy for LGBT scientists today, and we look at the continued impacted of homophobia in science. And we hear about a new test for ideas in Evolution. This involves recreating the ancestors of fruit flies. The findings have overturned an established theory on genetic inheritance in these alcohol tolerant flies.
Mar 02, 2017
The perils of fake science news, The neanderthal inside us, What The Beatles really sang - statistically speaking
A woolly story about resurrecting mammoths raises serious questions for medical ethics. News of a scientist's plan to resurrect mammoths has spread around the world. However the story is largely untrue. We look at how this kind of 'fake science news' story can impact on perceptions of real medical research - some times with negative consequences. Almost all Europeans and Asians carry Neanderthal genes. Until recently these were thought to have little impact on us today, but new research shows they may be involved with determining height and aspects of both our physical and mental health. And what were Lennon and McCartney really thinking when they wrote their hit songs? Thanks to the number crunching power of computer algorithms the emotional content of 23 years worth of their compositions have been analysed. The results are both startling and for Beatles fans perhaps a little unsurprising.
Feb 23, 2017
Science and cyber security, Dinosaur babies, Winston Churchill and level crossings
Testing cyber security with science. The UK now has a new National Cyber Security Centre. However there is very little scientific evidence against which to test the detection of cyber attacks and effectiveness of measures to prevent them. We ask what is needed to turn cyber security into a more scientific discipline. Winston Churchill and Aliens. Throughout his life Churchill maintained a strong interest in scientific developments and wrote widely on subjects from quantum mechanics to nuclear energy. Newly discovered papers show he also had an interest in the potential for life on other planets. Dinosaurs and egg laying. A new fossil find revealing a dinosaur with an unborn baby suggests live births may have occurred many years earlier than previously thought. Turn off at level crossings. New research suggests personal messages about the impact of engine fumes on health may be the most effective way of persuading drivers to switch off their engines at level crossings.
Feb 16, 2017
Measuring human impact on earth, Awards for engineers, Sounds of space junk.
Quantifying the impact of humanity on the earth's natural systems. Why human activity now has a larger effect on our planet than the forces of nature. We look at how mathematical equations can now be used to compare historical natural processes with contemporary man made changes. And we ask where current developments will take us in years to come. The Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering has been awarded to the inventors of digital imaging sensors. First invented in the 1970's, many of us use this technology everyday. These sensor can be found inside every digital camera ever made, from the devices used on space probes to collect distant images from the far reaches of the universe to the ubiquitous pocket cameras in our mobile phones. The earth is surrounded by junk - space junk. Many thousand of pieces of junk orbit the planet, left over from the history of everything we've ever sent into space. A new project has given a voice to this junk, and created a machine which plays simulated sounds of the junk as it passes overhead. Producer: Julian Siddle Presenter: Gareth Mitchell
Feb 09, 2017
Wildlife trafficking, New quantum computers, Ancient bird beaks, Glassblowing.
Conservation and conflict. A year long BBC investigation has exposed an illegal animal trafficking network stretching from West Africa to the Middle East and Asia. Traffickers have used fake permits to undermine international conservation efforts. New developments in Quantum computing. Sussex University are building a new type of modular Quantum computer. We attempt to explain what Quantum computing is. A Massive citizen science project to map bird beak evolution- using records from the Natural History Museum. And the last scientific Glassblower at Imperial College gives us a demonstration of his craft.
Feb 02, 2017
Crime, volcanoes, ghosts and how we are influenced by the genes of unrelated others
The genes of unrelated others can influence our health and behaviour. New research suggests the genetic make up of our partners can have a profound influence on our lives. Scientists have quantified genetic influence , in mice at present but the plan is to try to extend this to human interactions. If accepted this has potentially far reaching consequences for studying heritability and also perhaps modern medicine as the findings suggest an illness can in part be influenced by those we live with. The use of DNA evidence in criminal cases has sometimes been given far more weight than it deserves. In the worst examples there have been miscarriages of justice where DNA evidence has been misinterpreted. The fiction of DNA as a 'magic bullet' pervades TV drama and films - but views of DNA evidence as infallible are also widely held amongst the public, police and lawyers. Forensic specialists explain what we can and can't find from DNA evidence. Oxford's Bodleian library has manuscripts stretching back to medieval times depicting volcanos discovered in the 6th century. These manuscripts also contain remarkable interpretations of eruptions and associated volcanic events, often mixed with mythology. Although those recording such events did not understand what they were scientifically, some of the depictions and ideas of what was happening are surprisingly accurate. Roland Pease and Professor David Pyle take a look at this remarkable collection. Nearly a hundred years ago, Oliver Lodge, eminent physicist and the first to demonstrate radio waves, published a book about life after death. It was entitled 'Raymond' after his son who was killed in the First World War. Lodge was a believer in ghosts and telepathy, and conducted experiments to test their existence. Adam Rutherford and Samira Ahmed look at how Oliver Lodge squared his scientific and spiritualist beliefs - and how the latter led to him, as Britain's most well know scientist of his time, being written out of scientific history.
Jan 26, 2017
Antarctic science rescue, Killing cancer with viruses, Measuring wind from space and the Last man on the moon
Why the British Antarctic science base is being temporarily abandoned. New cracks have appeared in the Ice shelf on which the Halley research station sits. The promise of viro-therapy for treating cancer. Scientists have successfully used a virus to kill cancer cells. They say this could form the basis for a vaccine that could be injected to destroy tumours. The limitations of mouse models. Many animals are used for testing treatments intended for humans, we explain why the results of such experiments can't always be applied to people. Measuring wind speeds from space. A new satellite will lead to more accurate weather forecasts. Gene Cernan, the last man on the moon. We celebrate the charismatic astronaut who has died aged 82.
Jan 19, 2017
The perils of explaining science, Living to 500, What's good for your teeth and The future of stargazing
Why the simplest explanations are not always the best when it comes to science. Where you read about a scientific subject can affect not just what you learn but also how much you think you know about the subject. Quahogs are a kind of clam and they can live for hundreds of years. Analysis of their shells provides a record of historical climate change. Researchers studying their shells have found big differences between the drivers of climate change now and in the pre-industrial era. Trips to the dentist may become less frequent if an experimental treatment with stem cells becomes widespread. The treatment involves regrowing damaged dentine, bringing about a natural tooth repair. Radio telescopes have brought us signals from the far reaches of the known universe and listened in on the space race. Now a new generation will take us further than ever before. Producer Julian Siddle.
Jan 12, 2017
RIP Granny the oldest Orca - Graphene + Silly Putty - Moving a Giant Magnet - Space in 2017
The world's oldest known killer whale is presumed dead. At an estimated age of 100 years, 'Granny' was last seen with her family in October. The scientists who've followed her and her pod for four decades announced that they believe she has died somewhere in the North American Pacific. Adam Rutherford talks to evolutionary biologist Darren Croft of the University of Exeter about this remarkable animal and the insights that Granny and her clan have provided on killer whale social life and the evolution of the menopause. Adam also hears how a 'kitchen' experiment with Silly Putty and the form of carbon known as graphene led to the creation of an ultra-sensitive electro-mechanical sensing material. G-putty may provide the basis for a continuous and wearable blood pressure monitor. It can also detect the footsteps of spiders. Professor Jonathan Coleman of Trinity College, Dublin explains how its properties arise from mixing the two materials. Reporter Marnie Chesterton tells how a 700 tonne magnet was moved 3,000 miles by road and river across the United States, inciting both conspiracy theories and adulation. Now homed at Fermilab - the US's premier particle physics lab - the magnet is about to start probing the laws of the Universe in the Muon g-2 experiment. BBC science correspondents Rebecca Morelle and Jonathan Amos pick their space and astronomy highlights for the coming year. Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker.
Jan 05, 2017
Listeners' Questions
Adam Rutherford puts listeners' science questions to his team of experts: physicist Helen Czerski, cosmologist Andrew Pontzen and biologist Yan Wong. Queries include gravity on sci-fi space ships, how animals would evolve on the low gravitational field of the Moon, gravitational waves, mimicry in parrots, sea level rise, the accelerating universe, dinosaur intelligence, the Higgs field and concerns about oxygen levels in the atmosphere. Further questions are answered in the podcast version of the show. They cover Antarctic dinosaurs, reducing CO2 levels in the atmosphere by trapping it as limestone, and Neanderthal DNA.
Dec 29, 2016
Inuits and Denisovans, Sex and woodlice, Peace through particle physics, Caspar the octopus in peril?
Can Inuit people survive the Arctic cold thanks to deep past liaisons with another species? Adam Rutherford talks to geneticist Rasmus Nielsen who says that's part of the answer. His team's research has identified a particular section of the Inuit people's genome which looks as though it originally came from a long extinct population of humans who lived in Siberia 50,000 years ago. The genes concerned are involved in physiological processes advantageous to adapting to the cold. The conclusion is that at some point, the ancestors of Inuits interbred with members of this other species of human (known as the Denisovans) before people arrived in Greenland. Also in the programme: The woodlice which are made either female or male because of a gene that once belonged a bacterium. The gene came from a dead microbe and was incorporated by chance into the woodlouse genome. This is the first known instance of the invention of an animal sex chromosome through bacterial donation. We talk to Richard Cordaux of the University of Poitiers and Nick Lane of University College London about the discovery. Peace through particle physics. Roland Pease visits SESAME in Jordan - the Middle East's first synchrotron facility is about to start operating. The experiment brings together scientists from all over the Middle East in common cause, with for example Israeli, Palestinian, Iranian, Egyptian and Turkish scientists working side by side. Marine ecologist Autun Purser tells Adam about his European team's discovery of ghostly octopods living at 4,000 metres on the dark, cold sea bed of the Pacific ocean. Autun's camera has caught extraordinary egg brooding behaviour by this new kind of octopus. It lays its eggs half way up the stalks of dead sponges and then guards them for several years until they hatch. Unfortunately, the sponges only grow on lumps of metal-rich rock called manganese nodules which form slowly on the deep sea floor. Several companies are now exploring the possibility of extracting vast quantities of these nodules in deep sea mining, threatening the existence of the sponges and the octopods depending on them.
Dec 22, 2016
Rock traces of life on Mars, Desert fireball network, Gut microbes and Parkinson's Disease, Science Museum's maths exhibition
Could rocks studied by the Mars rover Spirit in Gusev Crater in 2007 contain the hallmarks of ancient life? Geologist Steve Ruff of Arizona State University talks about what he found in hot springs in Chile which begs that question. He says the evidence is intriguing enough for NASA to send its next and more sophisticated Mars robot back to the same spot on the Red Planet in 2020. Adam also talks to Phil Bland of Curtin University in Australia - one of the creators of the Desert Fireball Network - an array of automated cameras across Australia, built to locate where shooting stars land as meteorites and also pinpoint from where they came in the solar system. Boosting the chances of collecting these meteorites and knowing their space origins should helps us to better understand how the Earth and other planets formed 4.5 billion years ago. There's new compelling evidence that microbes in the gut play a role in the development of Parkinson's disease. Tim Sampson of Caltech in the US outlines his experiments which raise this possibility and Patrick Lewis, another Parkinson's researcher at the University of Reading, puts the new findings into a wider context. Adam takes a tour of the spectacular new mathematics gallery at the Science Museum in London. The Winton Gallery's exhibited objects and design by the celebrated architect Zaha Hadid focusses on mathematics in the real world. Adam's guide is lead curator David Rooney.
Dec 08, 2016
Alzheimers research, Lucy in the Scanner, Smart bandages, From supernovae to Hollywood
Alzheimers disease is now the leading cause of death in the UK, but there are as yet no treatments to halt or reverse it. There was huge disappointment last week when the drug company Eli Lilly announced that a large, phase 3 clinical trial had failed to show any benefit to mild dementia sufferers from its antibody therapy, solanezumab. So where does this leave our basic understanding of biology of Alzheimers disease and how we might most effectively treat or cure it? Adam Rutherford talks to Alzheimers researcher Tara Spires-Jones of the University of Edinburgh. Also in the programme: The skeleton of the world's most famous fossil, Lucy, has received a body scan which revealed she spent a considerable portion of her life climbing trees. Researchers at the University of Bath are making smart bandages for burns patients which glow when their wounds become infected. Adam also talks to the astrophysicist who gave up studying exploding stars to apply his maths to Hollywood stars in the movie business.
Dec 01, 2016
Predator bacteria therapy, New money for UK science, Stick-on stethoscope, Taming fears in the brain scanner
Bdellovibrio is a small bacterium which preys and kills other bacteria. A team of researchers in the UK has shown in animal experiments that injections of the predator microbe can successfully treat infections. So how close does this take us to Bdellovibrio therapy for human patients and what part might it play in tackling the growing crisis of antibiotic resistance? Adam Rutherford talks to Professor Liz Sockett of the University of Nottingham. The British government has announced that it will be spending an additional £2 billion on research and development by 2020. Commentators say it is the largest hike in public funding for science in a very long time. Dr Sarah Main of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, and Dr Arnab Basu, physicist and CEO of Kromek, discuss the new money and how it would be best used. Also in the programme, materials and electronics engineers in the US have devised a small wearable heart monitor - the size and thickness of a sticking plaster. Adam talks to its lead designer Professor John Rogers of Northwestern University in Chicago. And could phobias be cured without exposure to the thing which frightens people? Dr Ben Seymour outlines an intriguing experiment which involved reading people's thoughts in a brain scanner, which suggests ultimately it may be possible.
Nov 24, 2016
Does Pluto have an ocean, Antarctica's oldest ice, Meat emissions, Swifts fly ten months non-stop
Does the distant dwarf planet Pluto have an ocean beneath its thick crust of ice? It's certainly possible, according to a group of researchers who are analysing the data from the New Horizons Pluto flyby last year. They argue that a deep ocean of water would best explain the position of the great heart shaped depression on Pluto's surface. Adam Rutherford quizzes planetary scientist Francis Nimmo about this new hypothesis. Adam also talks to glaciologist Robert Mulvaney of the British Antarctic Survey, who is now setting off for the frozen south to prospect for the oldest ice in Antarctica. He's part of a European project which aims to drill deep into the ice sheet of East Antarctica and chart the climate and atmosphere history of Antarctica back to 1.5 million years ago. Are grass-fed cattle better for the global climate than cattle fed on grain-based feeds? Dr Tara Garnett of the Food Climate Research Network at Oxford University responds to listeners comments on carbon emissions and diet. Swifts can fly for 10 months non-stop, never touching the ground. Anders Hedenstrom of Lund University discovered this remarkable fact by fitting birds with a tiny electronic backpack which recorded their location and flight activity across a whole year.
Nov 17, 2016
Climate change questions, Animal computer interaction, Sounds and meaning across world's languages
Climate change is in the news this week. The international Paris agreement to curb global temperature rise has just come into effect but President Elect Donald Trump has said he would take the United States out of the process. In BBC Inside Science, Adam Rutherford puts listener's questions and views about climate change to experts, such as the emissions reduction impact of becoming a vegan to a proposed technology to remove carbon dioxide from the planet's atmosphere. Myles Allen and Peter Scarborough of the University of Oxford, and Anna Harper of the University of Exeter are consulted. The programme also visits a lab at the Open University which studies the way animals interact with computer technology. Research includes technology to enable dogs to phone the emergency services if humans get into trouble, and using dogs to detect cancer. Reporter Marnie Chesterton meets researcher Clara Mancini and dogs Ozzie and Tory. Are there commonalities across the world's languages between the sounds in particular words and the meanings of those words? The traditional thinking in linguistics says no. But new research surveying the meaning and sounds of words across 6,000 languages from the Americas, Asia, Europe and Australasia finds otherwise. The 'r' sound is used in words for the colour 'red' all around the world at frequencies much higher than by chance. The case is the same for the words for 'nose' and other parts of the body. Morten Christiansen of Cornell University talks to Adam Rutherford about the research.
Nov 10, 2016
Italy's quakes, Ebola virus, Accidental rocket fuel, China in space
In the past three months, central Italy has been shaken by several large earthquakes. The quake near Norcia on 30th October was the most powerful for decades. In late August, another struck near Amatrice, causing 300 lost lives. Adam Rutherford talks to seismologist Ross Stein about why this part of the Italian peninsula is so prone to shaking, whether there is a pattern in the recent activity and whether the scientists are getting any better at earthquake forecasting. The recent Ebola epidemic in West Africa was the largest and most deadly of its kind so far. More than 11,000 people were killed by the virus. Now two groups of virologists have discovered that early in the epidemic's course, the Ebola virus underwent a genetic change which allowed it to infect human cells more easily. Could this mutation explain the terrible scale of the outbreak of 2013 to 2016? Also in the show, the chemists who are aiming to make ammonia fertiliser production more environmentally friendly but made rocket fuel instead; and the past and future of the Chinese space programme.
Nov 03, 2016
Making mozzies safe with a microbe, CO2 at 400 ppm, Chixculub crater rocks, Why Mars Lander failed
Adam Rutherford meets the Australian scientist behind a radical new technique to prevent mosquitoes from spreading the zika and dengue fever viruses to people. The method involves infecting mosquitoes with a harmless bacterium. The microbe doesn't kill the mosquitoes but stops the viruses multiplying inside them and spreads rapidly through wild mosquito populations. After 15 years of research, the mosquito control method is about to be deployed in large scale trials in urban areas in South America. Also in the programme, the world's atmosphere crosses an iconic threshold as measured by the concentration of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide: scientists get their hands on the rocks at the centre of the extinction of the dinosaurs: and details emerge of why the European Space Agency's recent Mars lander crashed onto the Red Planet.
Oct 27, 2016
HFC Ban; Human Cell Atlas; Origin of Hunting with Dogs
Biologists are to begin a 10 year international project to map the multitude of different kinds of cell in the human body. The average adult is built of 37 trillion cells and if you look in a text book, it will say there are about 200 distinct varieties of cells. But this is a grand underestimate. There could in fact be 10,000. The Human Cell Atlas project aims to identify every type and subtype of cell in every tissue of the body - a massive endeavour which, the cell mappers argue, will have profound benefits for medicine. Adam Rutherford also talks to zoological archaeologist Angela Perri whose research is aimed at discovering when our ancestors first started to use dogs as 'hunting' technology. Her work involves joining hunts with dogs in the modern day as well as traditional archaeological field work. He also explores the science behind exploding smart phone batteries and the new international climate agreement to rid the world of hydrofluorocarbons.
Oct 20, 2016
Life on Mars? Quantum Gravity. The deep origins of bird song
Mars is about to be visited by the first space mission for 40 years which is designed to seek signs of life on the Red Planet. Adam Rutherford talks to Dr Manish Patel of the Open University, a senior scientist on the European Space Agency's ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter. Once the spacecraft starts work, it may solve the mystery of ebbs and flows of methane gas in the Martian atmosphere. It may answer whether the gas is being produced by life beneath the planet's cold dusty surface. The American space agency Nasa already has a mission well underway on the Martian surface.. For four years, Curiosity has been exploring the deep geological past of a huge Martian crater and mountain. Recently possible signs of liquid water have been seen nearby. But rather than going closer to study it, Nasa wants the rover to avoid it. Project scientist Ashwin Vasavada explains why. Carlo Rovelli is a theoretical physicist and writer. His latest book 'Reality is not what it Seems' explores the history of thought about the physical nature of the universe and one of the latest incarnations of that great quests - loop quantum gravity theory. He talks to Adam about the fine grain of space and time, and exploding black holes. Palaeontologist Julia Clarke has discovered the oldest fossil of a bird's organ of song, the syrinx. At the University of Texas, Austin the delicate structure turned up in an X ray scan of a 66 million year old bird fossil from Antarctica. The fossil syrinx is so well preserved, it is possible to say what the call of this ancient bird Vegavis would have sounded like. It's also a massive boost in the quest to discover when birds first sang and recreating the dawn chorus back in the Age of Dinosaurs.
Oct 13, 2016
Microbead impact, Remote animal logging, Royal Society book prize, Surgewatch
The government has announced that tiny pieces of plastic in personal beauty products that end up in the oceans will be banned from sale in the UK. But given their size how much of a problem are minuscule bits of plastic to marine life? Gareth Mitchell meets Professor Richard Thompson of Plymouth University to uncover the marine biology concerns that have led to the micro bead ban. However much we watch animals in the wild we can't really know what they get up to. Rory Wilson, Professor of Zoology at Swansea University, has found a way to eavesdrop on animals that live in remote parts of the world and he's revealed some of his latest discoveries at the British Science Festival in Swansea today. He's developed a logging device that collects a whopping amount of data - 400 items each second. His daily diary collects amongst other measurements, location, magnetic field, temperature, and pressure. Before his talk, Adam Rutherford went along to Rory Wilson's lab and found out which animals he's attached the logger to and discovered their secret life. In the final entry of this year's shortlist for the Royal Society book prize Jo Marchant discusses Cure - which examines how the mind plays a crucial role in health. Our thoughts, emotions and beliefs, it seems, can ease pain, heal wounds, fend off infection and heart disease and even slow the progression of AIDS and some cancers. So what is the potential of the mind to heal - and what are its limits? As many as 530 key infrastructure sites across England are still vulnerable to flooding, according to a government review out today. Southampton University researchers want to understand better how floods happen and how to predict them. Beyond burst river banks and breached defences, they're building up a more detailed picture, house by house, and street by street of what happens when water levels rise. For that they need data, lots of it going back as far as possible. Ivan Haigh at the National Oceanography Centre and his colleagues are pulling all kinds of photos and records together in an interactive multi-purpose online shared database called Surgewatch. Presenter Gareth Mitchell Producer Adrian Washbourne.
Sep 08, 2016
Proxima b exoplanet, The Hunt for Vulcan, East Antarctic lakes, Deep sea shark hunting
The nearest habitable world beyond our Solar System might be right on our doorstep . Scientists say their investigations of our closest star, Proxima Centauri, show it to have an Earth-sized planet orbiting about it. What's more, it is moving in a zone that would make liquid water on its surface a possibility. Gareth Mitchell hears from Guillem Anglada-Escudé whose "Pale Red Dot" team made the discovery and discusses what the "earth- like" claims actually mean. The planet hunters of today search for worlds beyond our Solar System. The planet hunters of a century or so ago, were still going crazy trying to find one more planet orbiting this sun. In The Hunt for Vulcan shortlisted for this year's Royal Society Book Prize, Prof.Thomas Levenson examines the craze known as Vulcan -mania, in the desperate search for another planet in an attempt to explain the odd orbit of the planet Mercury. But why did the phantom planet theory survive for so long? We examine observations from space of fleeting blue lakes in East Antarctica. They come and go with the seasons, forming during the warmer months of the south pole summer. As Amber Leeson of Lancaster University explains, many of the lakes then drain away, an effect already been found in Greenland but never, until now, in this part of the Antarctic. And their effect is cause for concern. Deep sea sharks are nearly impossible to track around the planet, however they inherit the chemistry of the things they eat. Researchers at Southampton University have worked backwards and by examining the chemistry of the sharks, they've been able to determine what things a shark has been eating but also where in the world it has been feeding. Chris Bird and Clive Trueman discuss how they're building up the first accurate pattern of their extraordinary movements. Presenter: Gareth Mitchell Producer: Adrian Washbourne.
Aug 25, 2016
Autonomous cars, Bees and neonicotinoids, Marden Henge, Royal Society Book Prize
Ford has just announced that by 2021 it's going to have a driverless car on the road with no steering wheel. It sounds ambitious, since it is the intermediate stop on the road to full autonomy that's raising some of the big research questions at the moment. How can drivers enjoy the reduced workload of automation whilst still being alert enough to take control if something goes wrong? For a drive of the future, Gareth Mitchell went to Southampton University's simulator facility for automated vehicles to meet Professor of Human Factors in Transport, Neville Stanton. Neonicotinoid pesticides have been used widely in protecting the UK's vast acreage of oil seed rape. Research out this week claims there is a link between 'neonics' as they're known, and waning numbers of bees - with the worst affected populations declining by a third. The study has grabbed the headlines because of its scope - 18 years' worth of observations in the countryside. But how much is the link a cause for concern? Researchers Ben Woodcock and Nick Isaac of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology discuss the results. Nestled in the Vale of Pewsey, Marden Henge is an artificial mound considered by archaeologists to be one of the best of the area's neolithic monuments. It represents the missing link between the stone circles at Stone Henge and Avebury. Teams from Reading, Historic England, and other volunteers, have been digging there this summer. Roland Pease has been along to meet them. And we've the next nomination in this year's Royal Society Science Book prize shortlist: Tim Birkhead's new book, The Most Perfect Thing, all about bird eggs. It covers how they are made, why they are the shape they are, where their patterns come from and much more. Producer Adrian Washbourne.
Aug 18, 2016
Blow to the LHC "bump", Crow intelligence, Robot mudskippers, Royal Society book prize
New results have squashed the hope that the hints of a new particle detected by the Large Hadron Collider would confirm the existence of something extremely exotic, such as a new Higgs, or even the theoretical Graviton. Instead, the intriguing data 'bump' turns out to be nothing more than a statistical fluctuation. Physicist Jonathan Butterworth of UCL discusses whether this false alarm affects the LHC's chances of finding something else. Crows, ravens and other members of the bird family we call Corvids are well known to have sophisticated skills in tool use and problem solving. Research out this week reports ravens bending wire to help forage for their food. But what constitutes intelligence in bird brains? Adam Rutherford visits the Tower of London where ravens have been permanent residents since the 16th Century, and so quite a good spot for scientists to go and put bird brains to the test. He meets Sophie Hamnett and Nathan Emery from Queen Mary, University of London. Animals evolved in the seas, but by about 400 million years ago, some fishy creatures had evolved to begin walking on terra firma. Nowadays we look at creatures like mudskippers, that can swim and wade, to see how those first crawlers might have crept up the beach. A new study has gone one step further: Jonathan Webb went to Georgia Tech in Atlanta to meet the robot mudskippers. We're profiling each of the shortlisted books for the Royal Society book prize this year, and this week it is the turn of oncologist Siddartha Muhkerjee. He has turned his attention to trying to understand the root of all cancers, and the mental health issues his own family endure. His new book, The Gene, details the central concept in inheritance. Producer Adrian Washbourne.
Aug 11, 2016
Signs of life on planets, Royal Society Book Prize, Queen Bee control, Galactic Prom 29
What should we be looking for when searching for life on other planets beyond our solar system? Scientists urgently need to come to a consensus on this as a new suite of telescopes soon begins detecting. The space agency NASA has put together a virtual institute called The Nexus for Exoplanet System Science, and they've just met to work out how we should be looking for bio signatures - on the burgeoning catalogue of worlds beyond the Solar System. Adam Rutherford hears from Sarah Rugheimer, an astrobiologist from the University of St Andrews, on why the world's astrobiologists have decided to lay down the law. The Royal Society Insight Investment Book Prize celebrates some of the best science published each year. Today the judges announced their shortlist: The Cure by Jo Marchant; The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee; The Hunt for Vulcan by Thomas Levenson; The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf; The Most Perfect Thing by Tim Birkhead; The Planet Remade by Oliver Morton. We're talking to all the authors over the next 6 weeks before the winner is announced on the 19th of September. The first is Oliver Morton's The Planet Remade: How Geoengineering Could Change the World. Bee hives have evolved to have a complex, fascinating social hierarchy, and although we know about Royal Jelly and pheromones, how exactly does the queen bee control the fertility of the rest of the hive? A team of New Zealand geneticists, Peter Dearden and Elizabeth Duncan, has finally worked it out. This Saturday's evening BBC Prom is set in space. The National Youth Orchestra performs The Planets by Holst, and Richard Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra. But the concert begins with a piece inspired by this year's detection of Gravitational Waves by LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory. Gravitational Waves composer Iris Ter Schiphorst discusses how she went galactic. Producer: Adrian Washbourne.
Aug 04, 2016
Dinosaur extinction, Neanderthals in Gibraltar, Music appreciation, A year of New Horizons
The dinosaurs met their end with a massive bang when, 66 million years ago, a 6 mile-wide rock crashed into the Gulf of Mexico. This was bad news for the dinosaurs, and consequently good news for the mammals left behind. Thomas Halliday is a palaeontologist, who specialises on the rise of the mammals, and his new work unpicks what happened to survivors after 75% of the species on earth died. The Neanderthals were found in Gibraltar back in 1848. Ever since then, teams have been exploring the caves systems on that rocky outcrop of Europe. It's known as Neanderthal City and researchers think it was home to the very last of these people, some 30,000 years ago. BBC science reporter Melissa Hogenboom has just returned from Gibraltar and talks to Adam about the recent findings of abstract art, which suggest that Neanderthals are much more like us than previously thought. We generally find the combination of notes in a consonant chord more pleasant to our ears than a dissonant one. The question is whether that reaction is learnt or simply part of our biology. It's a tricky thing to test because music is culturally ubiquitous. Neuroscientist Josh McDermott has found a way around this, by playing those tunes to members of a very remote Bolivian tribe - the Tsimane - and gauging their reactions. One year on since the New Horizons probe zoomed past Pluto, Kathy Olkin, one of the chief scientists behind the mission talks to Adam about how the team have dealt with the new data. Noah Hammond from Brown University explains how he has used photographic data from New Horizons to examine the cracks in the surface of Pluto, and has suggested how they came to be. Presenter: Adam Rutherford Producer: Adrian Washbourne.
Jul 14, 2016
Juno, Space debris, Fake tumours, Risky plants
Earlier this week, the US space agency successfully put a new probe in orbit around Jupiter. The Juno satellite, which left Earth five years ago, had to fire a rocket engine in a tricky and precise manoeuvre in order to brake and become ensnared by Jupiter's gravity. Fran Baganal is a mission scientist for Juno and tells Adam Rutherford what measurements Juno is now in position to make. Space is full of junk left over from past space missions: from flecks of paint to used rockets, dead satellites, also debris from past collisions of space junk. This junk is speeding around the Earth at several thousand miles per hour. At those speeds even small pieces of rubbish just fractions of a millimetre across can damage communication satellites which are vital for the web, mobile phones, and satellite navigation on earth. The Surrey Space centre team are preparing to launch the world's first space litter-picking mission. The RemoveDebris team share their clean up designs with Adam. Researchers have had success growing body parts like windpipes and ears in the laboratory for use in transplants. A group of scientists at Barts Cancer Institute in London are making own tumours; tissues we don't want. However, it is important to study how they grow, and co-opt other cells in the body. Reporter Anand Jagatia heads to their tissue lab to see what they've grown. All animals take risky decisions all the time. The ability to assess the potential gain from the potential harm, and make the right choice, gives the animal an evolutionary advantage. A new study suggests that plants are capable of making similar calculations, despite not having brains. Alex Kacelnik at Oxford University is one of the scientists behind the experiment that suggests that pea plants are willing to gamble. Presenter: Adam Rutherford Producer: Adrian Washbourne.
Jul 07, 2016
Juno, Nanotech art conservation, Robots fix the city, Eel conservation
NASA's Juno Probe arrives at Jupiter on 4th July, where it will execute a daring loop-the-loop in order to get closer to the giant planet than any other spacecraft in history. Juno is constructed like an armoured tank, because Jupiter is surrounded by a belt of very intense radiation that can quickly fry most spacecraft electronics. On July 4, Juno's engines will attempt to slow the probe down so it can be sucked into Jupiter's orbit. The slightest error could mean Juno misses this window, putting an end to the $1.1 billion mission. The man in charge is Dr Scott Bolton, and he speaks to Adam from Pasadena in California. Traditional art conservation tends to focus on paintings - how to stop paint from peeling. But contemporary art uses a much broader range of materials; plastics, rubber; pickled sharks. This means that an ever-increasing array of techniques are needed to conserve those materials. A new project is looking at the role nanotechnology can play, as Rob Thompson reports. It's National Robot Week. There is a fear that robots will replace many of the jobs done by humans. But what if robots just stuck to emptying the gutters and fixing potholes; the chores that humans find tedious? Professor Phil Purnell from Leeds University has just launched a project that aims to use robots to fix bits of the city - finding and patching tiny defects before they turn into massive sinkholes. The European eel may be mysterious, and delicious but it is also critically endangered. The only reason we know this is because of organisations like the Zoological Society of London. They do the unglamorous job of monitoring these fish caught in traps in rivers around the UK. Marnie Chesterton went along to count eels in rainy Brentford with ZSL's Joe Pecorelli, who shares his knowledge of this creature's epic life journey.
Jun 30, 2016
National Insect Week, Venus' electric field, Green mining, Wimbledon grass science
This week is National Insect Week. Almost all animals on Earth are insects, and entomologist Adam Hart told us why we're celebrating and studying them in such detail - particularly diamondback moths, which have recently arrived the UK in large numbers. On the first official (and rather rainy) day of summer, we went down to Butterfly Paradise at London Zoo for the event launch. Entomologist Adam Hart tells us what the Week is all about. New research out this week suggests that a so called "electric wind" has stripped all the water away from the surface of Venus. Space scientist Glyn Collinson at NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre has led this electrical field study. Wales has 1300 rivers with illegal levels of heavy metals. Toxic metals like lead, zinc and copper are a legacy left over from when the area was heavily mined. Natural Resources Wales and Innovate UK set a competition to look for technology that would clean up these rivers. One of the winners was Steve Skill from Swansea University, who has come up with some biotechnology that uses algae to suck the poison out of the rivers. The Championships at Wimbledon start next week, and whatever the weather, the grass has to be perfect. Adam Rutherford headed to London's SW19 to find out how the ground staff are using scientific evidence to cultivate the courts. Producers: Marnie Chesterton & Jen Whyntie.
Jun 23, 2016
More gravitational waves; Ocean floor mapping; Selfish Gene 40th; Spoonies
Gravitational waves have been detected for a second time. These waves are ripples in the curvature of space time, predicted by Einstein in his General Theory of Relativity in 1916. Back in February, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (better known as LIGO) announced that they had detected the signal of gravitational waves from the collisions of two big black holes. The detection in February was the first observation of these waves, and confirmed General Relativity. This week, LIGO confirm a second detection. BBC Science Correspondent Jonathan Amos explains what is new about these new gravitational waves. We know more about the surface of the moon than we know about the ocean floor. Admittedly, the sea is much more dynamic, the scene of many chemical and biological processes, about which scientists would like to learn more. This week, cartographers meet in Monte Carlo, to discuss their plan to map the ocean floor by 2030. Roland Pease reports on the ocean-mapping options. 40 years ago, The Selfish Gene, by Richard Dawkins was published. Since then, it has been a perpetual bestseller. In it, Dawkins explains that the gene is the unit of natural selection, an idea that has become central to all biology. Adam Rutherford speaks to Richard Dawkins, and his co-author on ‘The Ancestor’s Tale’ Yan Wong, at the Cheltenham Science Festival, to discuss the impact of The Selfish Gene. The spoonbilled sandpiper is standing on the edge of extinction, but in good news, Adam hears about of a clutch of eggs laid not in their native Russia but in Slimbridge in Gloucestershire. BBC producer Andrew Luck-Baker visited the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust’s population back in April, and describes these birds to Adam.
Jun 16, 2016
Fighting Antimicrobial Resistance
This week we're dedicating the whole programme to one of the biggest threats to humanity. We're already at 700,000 preventable deaths per year as a result of antibiotic resistance, and the O'Neill Report suggests that this will rise to 10 million people per year by 2050. Today, we're focussing on the attempts to discover new antibiotics, and alternative therapies for combating bacterial infection. Firstly, we wanted to know why new antibiotics aren't being produced. Dr Jack Scannell, an expert on the drug development economics, told Adam Rutherford why money has been the main barrier. Most of the antibiotics we use were discovered in the mid-20th century, but as the threat of drug resistant infections increases, the race is on to find new organisms that make novel medicines. We have only identified a tiny fraction of the microbes living on Earth and are "bioprospecting" for useful ones in wildly different locations. Microbiologist Matt Hutchings has been looking to the oldest farmers in the world - leaf cutter ants. From exotic locations to under your fridge: Dr Adam Roberts runs a scheme called Swab and Send. It's a citizen science project that asks members of the public to swab a surface and send the sample to him – he'll analyse them to look for the presence of new antibiotic-producing bacteria. We joined in the hunt by swabbing spots around the BBC: Adam's microphone, the Today programme presenters' mics, our tea kitchen's sponge, the revolving entryway doormat, and lastly, the Dalek standing on guard outside the BBC Radio Theatre. Antibiotics are not the only weapon in the war against bacteria. A hundred years ago, a class of virus that infect and destroy bacteria were discovered. They're called bacteriophages. Phage therapies were used throughout the era of Soviet Russia, and still are in some countries, including Georgia. Phage researcher Prof Martha Clokie told us whether phage therapy might be coming to the UK.
Jun 09, 2016
Fixing the Future
We face many global problems, such as drought, flooding and climate change. All of these issues are rooted in science. It'll take politics and people and business to fix them, or for us to manage them, but none of that can happen without a solid scientific base. In front of an audience at the Hay Festival, Adam Rutherford is joined by Steve Jones, Professor of Genetics at University College London, Marcus du Sautoy, the Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at the University of Oxford, and science journalist, Gaia Vince, to discuss what the future holds for humanity and the planet, what we can know, what we can predict, and what is to come. Adam Rutherford talks to Gaia Vince about the new age of man, the Anthropocene, and the impact it is having on peoples' lives, to Marcus du Sautoy about chaotic systems and when maths can and cannot predict the future, and to Steve Jones about forecasting human population growth and how we are still evolving.
Jun 02, 2016
GM plants; Svalbard Seed Vault; Directed Evolution; Dolphin Snot
The topic of GM plants raises strong opinions and many questions. This week, the Royal Society published answers to some of those questions. Adam speaks to Professor Ottoline Leyser, plant science expert and Head of the Sainsbury Lab in Cambridge. She was involved in writing the responses and Adam quizzes her on the possible issues with GM crops. Institutes from around the world made deposits to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault this week. More than 8,000 varieties of crops from Germany, Thailand, New Zealand, and the World Vegetable Center arrived at the Vault, located on a remote Norwegian archipelago, to be stored deep within the permafrost. Reporter Marnie Chesterton was there to see it happen, and take a tour of this normally inaccessible place. The Vault is located within the Arctic Circle, and helps to protect the biodiversity of some of the world’s most important crops against climate change, war and natural disaster. This week Professor Frances Arnold was awarded the Millennium Technology Prize; the Finnish version of the Nobel Prize. Her work is a process called Directed Evolution, and involves creating batches of mutant proteins to see if the mutations make them better at certain functions. Dolphins use ultrasound to echolocate. Until recently, scientists did not quite know how. Making ultrasonic noises normally requires some hard surfaces such as metal, and dolphins don’t have metal in their blowholes. Acoustic scientists Aaron Thode at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in San Diego thinks he’s solved this conundrum, and it involves snot. Producer: Jen Whyntie
May 26, 2016
Climate Change, State of the World's Plants, Antibiotic Resistance, Telephone Metadata, Bat Detective
Today we're asking how anyone can make sense of the deluge of climate change data that is almost continually published. By the end of last month, nearly 200 countries had signed up to the Paris climate change agreement, and in doing so they were nominally committing to keep global temperatures "well below" 2C. So now comes the tricky bit: How best to do that - and what is the scientific evidence for policymakers to decide? Climate change expert Dr Tamsin Edwards of the Open University joins Adam Rutherford to help us unpick the research. Last week a major new report on the State of the World's Plants was unveiled at Kew Gardens in London. There are some 391,000 vascular plants known to science - that's ones with vessels, xylem and phloem - and over 2000 were discovered last year alone. But just over a fifth of all plants are estimated to be threatened with extinction - and global climate change forms part of this threat. Our reporter Cathy Edwards met Professor Kathy Willis, Director of Science at Kew, to find out how plants are responding to the changing climate, and also spoke to Professor Yadvinder Malhi, Oxford University, and Kay Havens, Chicago Botanic Garden. The Review on Antimicrobial Resistance, headed by economist Jim O'Neill, was published today. Molecular microbiologist Professor Matt Hutchings from the University of East Anglia, gave us a brief summary. A new paper out this week looks into exactly what the act of making a phone call can reveal. The study, which was led by Patrick Mutchler and Jonathan Mayer at Stanford University in the States, is the culmination of work looking into what metadata really can show - you may have seen reports of some of their findings, as they've been revealing them in the public interest since 2013. They collected metadata volunteered by 823 participants, in total, more than 250,000 calls, and 1 million text messages. Steven Murdoch from the Information Security Research Group at University College London joined us to put this into context. As part of the BBC's Do Something Great season celebrating volunteers, Adam joined Professor Kate Jones from University College London on a Hampstead Heath bat watch, part of the citizen science project Bat Detective. Producers: Marnie Chesterton & Jen Whyntie.
May 19, 2016
Genetics and education, Eyam plague, Pint of science, Labradors and chocolate
The biggest study of the relationship between genes and educational attainment - in this case, basically the measure of how long you stay in education - has been published this week. A huge number of environmental factors influence this trait, but genes also play a small role. In the new study, a large team of researchers looked at over 300,000 people and identified 74 genetic variants, slight differences in our DNA, that do seem to associate with how long those individuals stayed in formal education. Senior author Dan Benjamin, University of Southern California, and social genetics researcher Eva Krapohl from Kings College London helped steer us through this complex quagmire. The Derbyshire village of Eyam is famous amongst Plague historians because when the disease arrived in a bale of cloth in 1665, the local vicar took a bold step and quarantined the whole village. 260 villagers died, but the sacrifice is thought to have saved surrounding populations. This noted event yielded a rich data set, which Eyam residents Francine Clifford and her late husband John meticulously mined over the last few decades. When epidemiologist Xavier Didelot of Imperial College London visited the local museum whilst on holiday, he couldn't resist investigating. Later this month, in pubs around Britain, and bars in 11 other countries, audiences will gather to hear about everything from black holes to cancer treatments - all part of a phenomenon called 'Pint of Science'. Marnie Chesterton went to The Castle in Farringdon to hear more. Finally, last week we met Poppy, one of the Labradors likely to have a newly discovered genetic reason for eating her owners out of house and home. Poppy's most notable devouring was of a large birthday cake, resulting in a trip to the vet's to get her stomach pumped. A fellow cake-eating-Lab-owning listener got in touch to ask why this procedure was necessary. It all comes down to the flavour of the cake: Chocolate. Producers: Marnie Chesterton & Jen Whyntie.
May 12, 2016
Human embryos, Transit of Mercury, Fishackathon, Fat labradors
In a major advance in the field of embryology, scientists this week have kept human embryos alive in petri dishes for record amounts of time. The legal limit for keeping fertilised human embryos in the lab is 14 days, a cut-off point set in 1979. Back then, scientists were able to keep embryos alive for only a few days, meaning the limit was only a theoretical one. Advances mean that this week, in 2 papers, researchers have reached that limit. Professor Ali Brivanlou, Robert and Harriet Heilbrunn Professor of Stem Cell biology and molecular embryology at Rockefeller University is lead author on one of the papers, and Professor Bobbie Farsides is a clinical and biomedical ethicist at Brighton and Sussex Medical School. They join Adam to discuss the next steps for embryology. Should this limit curtail research? Next Monday is the transit of Mercury. 13 times a century, Mercury passes directly between us and the Sun, and creates a pinprick shadow, a pixel of black for about 8 hours. This strange planet has no atmosphere, but a lot explosive volcanic activity. It has an eccentric orbit - meaning its distance from the sun fluctuates wildly. A Mercury year is 88 Earth days, but a Mercury day lasts almost two mercury years. David Rothery is a professor of Planetary Sciences at the Open University. He reveals how scientists study this planet and explains how, and how not to view the transit of Mercury. Overfishing is one of the biggest threats to the health of our oceans. According to the UN, up to a third of the world's fisheries are overexploited or depleted. It is a huge complex problem with many inputs and outputs to compute. So who better to tackle it than a team of hackers? Recently, coders around the globe gathered to take on the challenge, in a 48-hour Fishackathon. Reporter Anand Jagatia went along and reports back to Adam Most dog lovers will know that Labradors are particularly keen to eat anything, all the time, at any time. As a result, some are a bit corpulent, even obese. The cause is likely to be in their genes. A new study in the current issue of Cell Metabolism has identified that genetic basis for the perpetual hunger. Eleanor Raffan from Cambridge University, geneticist and vet, led the study. She explains to Adam how she gathered a cohort of dogs.
May 05, 2016
Chernobyl, Drones, Tree crickets, Cern
30 years ago this week an explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear plant. A fire raged for 10 days, spewing radioactive materials on the surrounding area and was detected throughout much of a continent. Yet, so many decades on, why is it so difficult to accurately measure the impacts on human health? Richard Wakeford of the University of Manchester is an epidemiologist who has looked at the research done over the years, and he explains why making definitive connections between the Chernobyl explosion and long-term illnesses or premature deaths is so very difficult. In the last few days there have been reports that a drone hit a plane on its way into Heathrow. Investigators say there is so little evidence either way it is not possible to say whether it really was a drone, but either way, the story has raised concerns. BBC Inside science spoke to Dr Sue Wolfe of ARPAS, to find out how our increasingly crowded air space is regulated. And Adam goes drone flying with BBC innovations producer, Derrik Evans, to see how easy these things are to use. If the hum of drones is annoying, imagine the constant din of the rain forest, especially tricky if you're a cricket and you're trying to find a mate. We have a listen to the strategies they use to be heard above the cacophony in the company of Dr Tim Cockerill. Scientists at CERN have also been trying to sort out the wheat from the chaff, continuing their efforts to understand a blip in their data identified and scrutinised over the last few months. Jon Butterworth of UCL and CERN dons the Cloak of Speculation and talks about the possible implications for physics if it does indeed turn out to be a new, unpredicted, particle.
Apr 28, 2016
EU membership and UK science, Quantum games, Fixing genes
The UK science community draws vital benefits from EU membership and could lose influence in the event of an exit, says a House of Lords report out this week. UK researchers placed a high value on collaboration opportunities afforded by EU membership. A number also believe the UK would lose its ability to influence EU science policy in the event of leaving - something that's disputed by pro-Brexit campaigners. To debate the ins and outs of being in or out of the EU, Adam is joined by Viscount Matt Ridley, a member of the committee, and Professor Paul Boyle, the Vice Chancellor of Leicester University and former president of Science Europe. Scientists at Aarhus University in Denmark are developing a quantum computer. To help them solve a particular problem, they have turned to human brain power, harnessing our ability to play computer games. The team have designed video games, such as Quantum Moves - that are helping them to understand the problem of 'slosh'- that atoms move about, when moved, like water sloshing in a cup. Many diseases are caused by a particular type of DNA error called a 'point mutation'. In our genomes, the substitution of a single letter of genetic code can be the root cause of diseases such as Alzheimer's, sickle cell anaemia, and a whole range of cancers. Recently, a new technique for editing DNA, called CRISPR, a precise genetic engineering tool, was developed, which might help combat these diseases. The problem is that the cell often reacts to this editing; trying to mend what it perceives as damage to its DNA. This week, David Liu, from Harvard University, published new research showing how his team have managed to switch out a single letter, a base pair, whilst tricking the cell into not correcting this edit.
Apr 21, 2016
Breakthrough Starshot, Moon mining, QB50, Solar Q&A
This week Russian internet billionaire Yuri Milner announced a project to send tiny spaceships to Alpha Centauri. Milner, alongside Stephen Hawking, announced a $100 million project to develop and launch a cloud of spaceships with sails. They'll be powered by giant lasers based on earth, and will fly at one fifth the speed of light. The Breakthrough Starshot project sounds like science fiction - Adam is joined by Professor Andrew Coates from UCL's Mullard Space Science Laboratory to sort the feasible from the fantasy. Space travel is expensive. Scientists and engineers met recently to discuss a way of making it cheaper. Sending men back to the moon to mine it may sound like a hugely costly process, but as reporter Roland Pease discovers, when it comes to future space missions, it might become an essential part of the process. Closer to home than the moon is a section of the atmosphere called the thermosphere that is poorly understood. A European project called QB50 plans to change this, by sending 50 small satellites, known as CubeSats, into orbit this summer. Most of them will sport sensors that can probe the properties of the upper atmosphere. The group building these sensors is led by UCL's Mullard Space Science Laboratory, which will build 14 spectrometers. These will analyse the relative proportions of different types of particles in the thermosphere. Marnie Chesterton finds out how scientists cope with the challenge of building their gadgets smaller and lighter. Many listeners wrote in after a recent piece on solar panels. We had queries about how to store the electricity, and whether PV panels are worth the energetic cost of producing them and what units to use. We put all these questions to Jenny Nelson, Professor of Physics at Imperial College and author of 'The Physics of Solar Cells.'.
Apr 14, 2016
Air pollution monitoring, Britain breathing, Tracking Hannibal
This week a "Faraday Discussion" - a unique way of presenting and sharing cutting edge science - is underway at the Royal Society of Chemistry in London looking specifically at Chemistry in the Urban Atmosphere. As Prof Ally Lewis of York University tells Adam Rutherford, atmospheric chemistry is so complex, and detector standards so variable - in particular the cheaper commercial brands - that it can be hard to check whether our environmental policies are working. Whilst local and national governments spend precious public money checking for compliance with a number of common pollutants, atmospheric chemists would like a more investigative approach, looking at the chemistry in action, rather than the end products. Do you suffer in the spring and summer? Allergies are on the increase in the UK. And scientists don't know why. But the environment, and what we breathe from it, is thought to be key. A new app for smartphones called Britain Breathing has been developed by scientists at Manchester University working with allergy sufferers. Hay fever affects millions of Britons but is under-reported and poorly understood. Combining large numbers of reports of symptoms with their location and time could lead to valuable insights. Last December, BBC Inside Science reported on the mothballing of several Carbon Capture and Storage pilot schemes, following withdrawal of government funding. But some work continues. Doug Connelly of the National Oceanographic Centre in Southampton tells Adam about a scheme currently trialling carbon storage in the North Sea, to see whether disused oil and gas fields can be used to store our dangerous emissions. A little over 2200 years ago, Carthaginian general Hannibal Barca infamously led a huge army of elephants and horses across the Alps, almost to the gates of Rome. It has been celebrated as one of the most audacious military campaigns in history, but his exact route has always been subject to debate. This week further results from a consortium of disparate scientists have been published, supporting their preferred route taken by the grand army. Microbiologist Chris Allen from Queen's University talks Adam Rutherford through the "deposition of data", marking the passage of thousands of animals. What is the new evidence? A microbially recalcitrant, precisely dated, phylogenetically relevant layer of euphemism.
Apr 07, 2016
Solar farm, Gravity machine, Kakapo
The world's second largest floating solar farm has just started generating power. Built on the Queen Elizabeth II reservoir in West London, it's the size of eight football pitches and can provides enough power for 1,800 homes. Its construction was a race against time, because the UK government cuts subsidies for new solar farms from April. Adam Rutherford talks to Leev Harder from Lightsource Renewable Energy about the project. Dr Iain Staffel is a sustainable energy expert at Imperial College London and he explains the main issue with solar: the difficulties in storing the electricity produced until it's needed. A team from Glasgow University has invented a portable gravity detector. Volcanologist Hazel Rymer from the Open University discusses how this cheap and portable device can detect tiny changes in gravity in the ground. She hopes to use this kind of device to monitor what's happening inside volcanoes soon. In New Zealand, the near-extinct kakapo will become the first species to have the genome of every single member sequenced, thanks to a crowd-funded conservation project. Adam Rutherford meets geneticist Peter Dearden, in the Zealandia conservation area in Wellington, to chat about these charming but daft birds, and efforts to save them from extinction. Producers: Marnie Chesterton and Jen Whyntie.
Mar 31, 2016
Flu, Coffee yeasts, Wave machine, Cochlear implants
The flu season is running later this year. And it has been unusually virulent. Professor Wendy Barclay, virologist at Imperial College London, tells Tracey Logan about the constant race to keep up with flu mutations in order to build an effective vaccine. Wine has a microbial terroir which is thought to affect its taste. A new paper suggests coffee and chocolate might do too. Aimee Dudley from the Pacific Northwest Diabetes Research Institute in Seattle has studied global populations of yeast found on cacao and coffee beans. She explains that these yeast varieties are genetically diverse. Tracey Logan travels to coffee supplier Union, to meet scientist-turned-coffee-buyer, Steve Macatonia, and unpick the flavours of coffee. In Delft, the world's biggest artificial waves are pitted against a new kind of super-strong sea wall. The Delta Flume team, led by Mark Klein Breteler, has created a giant concrete channel with a wave generator. Reporter Roland Pease turns up in time to see the team testing their artificial waves against a 10 metre dyke. People with cochlear implants hear a degraded version of speech. Using subtitles helps train the brain to understand it faster. Matt Davis and Ed Sohoglu from the Medical Research Council's Cognition and Brain Science Unit in Cambridge suggest that this feeds into a model of how the brain learns called Perception Learning.
Mar 24, 2016
Recovering lost memories, Storks eat junk food, Oldest pine fossil, Spring flowering
Research in Nature this week shows that lost memories in mice can be rescued by reactivating a group of memory cells in the brain called 'engram' cells. The team suggests that their research might prove useful for Alzheimer's patients in the future. Professor John Hardy, neuroscientist at University College London and Dr Prerana Shrestha from the Center for Neural Science at New York University discuss the work with Tracey. The migrating white stork is well-known in folklore as the bringer of babies. In recent years, large numbers of them have decided to stop flying to Africa for winter, and live all year round, feasting on food from landfills in Portugal. Dr Aldina Franco from the University of East Anglia has been studying these birds and talks to Tracey about these adapting birds. A scientist at Royal Holloway University in London has discovered the oldest-known fossil of a pine tree. Howard Falcon-Lang discovered the fossils in Nova Scotia, Canada, and brought some back to his office. 5 years later, he dissolved a sample of what looked like charcoal in acid and discovered charred pine twigs. These date back 140 million years to a time when fires raged across large tracts of land. Reporter Roland Pease visits his lab to look at the samples close up. The research suggests the tree's evolution was shaped in the fiery landscape of the Cretaceous, where oxygen levels were much higher than today, fuelling intense and frequent wildfires. UK Gardeners may have noticed summer flowers blooming at unusual times this winter. Tracey meets up with seed scientist Steve Penfield and crop geneticist Judith Irwin in a greenhouse at the John Innes Centre. They explain how seeds and flowering times are affected temperature changes.
Mar 17, 2016
Gain-of-function research, Mindfulness, Women in science, Snake locomotion
This week in the US, public discussions are taking place into controversial Gain of Function research. Who should decide the limits of studies where scientists make new, deadlier viruses in the laboratory? Dr Filippa Lentzos, biosecurity expert from King's College, London, lists a litany of accidental security breaches from the past. Should we stop this kind of dangerous research, or encourage it, in the interests of national security? Mindfulness is a hot topic at the moment. As part of BBC School Report, students from Connaught School for Girls in Leytonstone have tested themselves to see whether meditation helps with their studies. Tracey Logan discusses the scientific research underpinning this trend with psychologist Claudia Hammond. The Royal Society released a report this week entitled "Parent, Carer, Scientist." The idea is to encourage an environment in research institutions where scientists can have a life as well as a vocation. Professor Ottoline Leyser, Professor of Plant Development and Director of Cambridge University's Sainsbury Laboratory, discusses what needs to change to ensure more female scientists to stay in science. How do snakes move across sand? BBC science reporter Jonathan Webb meets Perrin Schiebel, at the Georgia Institute of Technology. A physicist, she works with a giant sand pit and high-speed cameras, putting snakes through their paces to unpick how they can push their bodies off the sand without sinking into it.
Mar 10, 2016
UK's longest-running cohort study, The Brain prize, Hairy genetics
This week is birthday time for the 3000-strong group of 70 year olds who might qualify for the title of longest-serving science guinea pigs. Participants in The National Survey for Health and Development cohort study have been closely monitored since their birth in 1946. Joining Adam Rutherford to discuss how this and other similar studies have influenced our lives, and what data we should collect on today's babies, are the Head of the National Survey for Health and Development at MRC's Unit for Lifelong Health and Ageing at University College London, Professor Diana Kuh, and Professor Debbie Lawlor, programme lead at the Medical Research Council's epidemiology unit at Bristol University. A team of British team has picked up £1 million from The Brain Prize, which is issued by a Danish Charity annually. Tim Bliss, Graham Collingridge and Richard Morris have won for their work on how memories are formed. BBC science reporter Jonathan Webb is a former neuroscientist and brings us up-to-date with the latest thinking on how we remember. Finally, grey hair and mono-brows have been all over the news this week with some follicular genetics. A team from UCL assessed the hair types of several thousand Latin Americans and cross-referenced this with their genomes to see what bits of DNA are associated with those characteristics. They found a set of gene variants - or alleles - some known to us, some new, that appear to be part of the reason we have straight hair or curly, bushy brows or mono-brows. Dr Kaustubh Adhikari from UCL is the lead author on the study. Producer: Jen Whyntie.
Mar 03, 2016
UK science and the EU, Sex of organs, Artificial colon, Gorillas call when eating
Britain faces a referendum on whether to leave Europe. Science, and scientists, often cross borders in collaborations, so what would the implications be for a British exit from the EU? The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee have an ongoing inquiry into how EU membership influences British science. Inside Science condenses the pertinent points. The stem cells that make up our organs 'know' whether they are 'male' or 'female', and that this sexual identity could influence how they grow and behave. Dr Irene Miguel-Aliaga, at the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre at Imperial College London, wanted to ask a very basic question: whether it is just the cells of the sex organs of a fully developed organism that 'know' their sexual identity, or whether this is true of cells in other organs too - and whether that matters. It was previously thought that non-reproductive organs are the same in both sexes, and function differently because of the differences in circulating hormones, but her new research suggests that cells know their sex. At Birmingham University, chemical engineers have built a working prototype of an artificial human colon, the first of its kind. The colon does the last bit of moving your food out of your body, mixing it, squeezing the last few nutrients and excess water out of it. The team want to use it to measure drug delivery to the colon. Talking with your mouth full is an unattractive trait, but for other, non-human, great apes it is a normal part of meal time. The noises recorded by a team at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology are from the silverback Western lowland Gorilla. Primatologist Eva Luef explains that this humming and singing during meal time is a way of signalling without wasting valuable eating time.
Feb 25, 2016
Gravitational Waves, UK Spaceport, Big Brains and Extinction Risk, Conservation in Papua New Guinea
Gravitational waves were announced last week, in what may be the science discovery of the decade. The Ligo detector, the most sensitive instrument on the surface of the planet, detected the ripples given off by the collision of two black holes. Adam Rutherford puts a selection of listener questions to UCL cosmologist Dr Andrew Pontzen. In March 2015, Campbeltown, Glasgow Prestwick, Stornoway, Newquay, Llanbedr and Leuchars were shortlisted by the government as possible sites for a "cosmodrome" or spaceport. With the UK space industry worth an estimated £40 billion by 2030, various stakeholders met for the UK spaceport conference at the Royal Aeronautical Society in London to discuss the progress of the project. What would the impact be for scientists, industry and the public? Big brains have traditionally been considered an advantage. Animals with larger brains are better at using tools, working as a social group and assessing how to react to predators. But when Dr Eric Abelson cross referenced relative brain size against the mammals on the endangered list, he found something surprising. Many animals with the bigger brains are threatened within extinction. He talks to Adam about why that may be. Tim Cockerill, ecologist and adventurer, returns from Papua New Guinea to discuss how one group of indigenous people have decided to work with scientists in order to conserve and study their local environment.
Feb 18, 2016
Gravitational Waves Special
The universe is silent no longer - physicists at the LIGO observatory have detected gravitational waves. LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory, with its giant laser beam arms totalling 5 miles across the remote Hanford desert, is the largest lab on the surface of the planet. It was constructed in the Columbia Basin region of south-eastern Washington specifically to detect gravitational waves -- ripples in the fabric of space-time. First predicted a century ago by Einstein in his theory of general relativity, gravitational waves are produced by exotic cosmic events, such as when 2 black holes collide. Scientists have hunted for them for decades with increasingly sensitive equipment. The laser beam tubes of the observatory have proved sensitive enough to detect the signal from deep space as small as a thousandth the diameter of a proton. Tracey and studio guest Dr Andrew Pontzen from UCL examine the science of gravitational waves, and how LIGO is both an eye and an ear on the motion of distant objects. They scrutinise the cutting-edge technology, which has to be of almost unimaginable sensitivity to enable detection of some of the universe's most dramatic events. Inside Science also shines a spotlight on the passion of individuals who have worked for nearly three decades on a single science experiment, inventing a whole new branch of physics in order to prove the last piece of Einstein's theory of general relativity, and to "hear" the universe in a whole new way.
Feb 11, 2016
UK pollinators' food, Brain implant, Holograms, Lunar 9
Some much-needed good news for our troubled bees and other pollinators: between 1998 and 2007, the amount of nectar produced from Britain's flowering plants rose by 25%. A new study suggests this may be due to reductions in atmospheric pollution. But researchers looked at records spanning over 80 years, and also found that the UK flowers which provide nectar suffered substantial losses during the 20th century. Considering the services that nectar-feeding pollinators perform for agriculture and our ecosystems, this is something worth knowing. Professor Jane Memmott, ecologist at the University of Bristol, explains how bad things really are for Britain's pollinators and what lessons conservation could learn from her team's latest findings about nectar. In 2014, neuroscientist Dr Phil Kennedy flew to Belize and paid a surgeon to insert electrodes into his otherwise healthy brain, in order to experiment on himself. His aim was to unpick the electrical signals given from his brain during speech. BBC science reporter Jonathan Webb went to his lab in Georgia, US to meet the maverick. Jonathan and Tracey discuss the motivation, scientific outcome and ethics behind Dr Kennedy's highly unusual experiment. The aim of hologram technology, according to Birmingham University researchers, is to make it cheaper, faster and better. Holographic tattoos are a solution they are developing. Currently, holograms are made with lasers and mirrors. Roland Pease went to visit researchers Dr Haider Butt, Bader Al Qattan and Rajib Ahmed in order to make his very own hologram. On 4th February 50 years ago, the Soviet lander Lunar 9 sent a signal back from the moon. Scientists at Jodrell Bank intercepted this and realised that it sounded like a picture image. Professor of Astrophysics at Manchester University Tim O'Brien explains how, with the help of a fax machine borrowed from the Daily Express, British scientists scooped the first pictures of the moon's surface.
Feb 04, 2016
Zika, Penguins, Erratum, Fossil fish
The Zika virus is dominating the news this week. The latest data says it's been found in 21 countries so far. The symptoms are generally mild, but the possibility of a link to microcephaly has been raised in Brazil. Microcephaly is a serious condition where children are born with abnormally small heads and sometimes incomplete brain development. Trudie Lang, Professor of Global Health at Oxford University, and virologist Professor Jonathan Ball from Nottingham University discuss what we know so far. All the way from Antarctica our reporter Victoria Gill brings us the latest news about the citizen science project 'Penguin Watch'. Victoria installed new cameras with Dr Tom Hart and collected guano with Hila Levy. Gemma Clucas (Oxford and Southampton University) gives an update on what will happen with the collected data. Back in October we featured a major paper by a team of scientists lead by Dr Andrea Manica from Cambridge University. By comparing the 4500 year-old genome of a prehistoric man called Mota to other genomes from living Africans they had mapped a migration of Middle Eastern farmers back into the whole African continent. This week, colleagues identified an error in the way the original team had processed the data, thus overturning one of the key results. But the rest of the findings remain intact. Andrea talks to us about how and why science must make corrections along the path of progress. Heard a few stories about giant dinosaur fossils lately? Usually the giant A-list superstar fossils get all the attention. But according to curator Mark Carnall, about 90% of the collections are mainly uninteresting specimens. Marnie Chesterton went out to meet Mark at the Museum of Natural History in Oxford. He celebrates fragmentary fossils in his blog 'Underwhelming Fossil Fish of the Month'. Warning: Lower your expectations! Producer: Jen Whyntie Assistant Producer: Julia Lorke.
Jan 28, 2016
Ancient Britons' DNA, Concorde's 40th Anniversary, Giant dinosaur, New planet?
Our ability to extract DNA from old bones is improving, giving us a much clearer picture of who our ancestors were, and what they did. Two new papers out this week in Nature Communications are filling in some gaps in our knowledge of the history of Britain. One of the pieces of research - led by Professor Dan Bradley from Trinity College Dublin - examines DNA from individuals who died in northeast England at the beginning of the first millennium of the current era. The other paper analyses the genomes of East Anglian people who lived at a similar and slightly later time, and the lead author is Dr Stephan Schiffels. He worked at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute near Cambridge at the time of this research, and is now based at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. Professor Mark Thomas from University College London is a co-author on Dan Bradley's paper and joins Adam Rutherford to discuss this research in the context of its rapidly changing field. Concorde flew its first commercial flight on the 21st January 1976. To mark its 40th birthday, Concorde engineer Christopher Mitchell and Concorde pilot David Rowland talk about the extraordinary aeroplane's scientific and engineering legacy. What looked like an innocent rocky outcrop in the Argentinian desert turned out to be something completely different: An eight foot long femur, belonging to the world's largest dinosaur. Ben Garrod is one of the team who has put together this as yet unnamed behemoth. He talks us through the extraordinary discovery and journey to investigate a new species - and it's only just beginning. The work has been documented as part of the TV programme 'Attenborough & the Giant Dinosaur', due to air at 6.30pm this Sunday 24th Jan on BBC One. Finally, today's headlines indicate that we might have been missing something fairly substantial in our very own solar system: A new ninth planet. However, as BBC Science Correspondent Jonathan Amos tells us, this isn't yet confirmed. With Dr Ellen Stofan, NASA Chief Scientist. Producer: Jen Whyntie.
Jan 21, 2016
The 100,000 Genome Project, Stem cell doping, Nuclear waste, Dinosaur sex
The 100,000 Genome Project aims to sequence the DNA of 100,000 patients. One of those patients is four-year-old Georgia Walburn-Green. Her symptoms did not fit into any known disease category. Prof Maria Bitner-Glindzicz at University College London used early results from the 100,000 Genome project to diagnose Georgia's condition. Roland Pease reports on helping stem cells survive using a kind of 'blood paint'. By dipping the cells in myoglobin, researchers at Bristol University have found a way to improve both the vigour and survival of stem cells. The expanding nuclear programme in the UK will continue to produce nuclear waste - in lower volumes than previously produced, but we already have a large stockpile that has already been produced over the last 50 years. Countries around the world are facing a similar challenge: What do we do with the waste? Dame Sue Ion, engineer and expert advisor to the nuclear industry, discusses common practices and alternative approaches to nuclear waste disposal. Many dinosaurs had big, iconic features like frills, plates, horns and spines that may have been tools or weapons, but Dr David Hone's (Queen Mary University of London) research on the small, herbivorous dinosaur Protoceratops andrewsi reveals that they may also serve another purpose in the dinosaur society: sexual selection. Could these features be what attracts one dinosaur to another? Producer: Deborah Cohen and Jen Whyntie Assistant Producer: Julia Lorke.
Jan 14, 2016
El Nino Special
El Niño is releasing vast quantities of heat normally stored in the Pacific, causing floods, droughts and fires. Adam Rutherford discusses the latest with our El Niño expert Roland Pease. This weather event arrives every 2-7 years but it's hard to work out how profound it will be. Back in May last year, the Met Office climate scientist Adam Scaife correctly predicted an El Niño. He returns to give an overview of this phenomenon. How does an altered weather pattern in the Pacific end up altering the weather in Cumbria. Tim Stockdale at the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts and Richard Allan at Reading University explain the science behind the current events. The rains are coming to drought-ridden California as a result of El Niño. Jack Stewart explains why this is not entirely a good thing. Professor Sue Page from Leicester University and Professor Martin Wooster from KCL study the Indonesian fires exacerbated by an El Niño event. They describe the devastating effects of these fires. An estimated 15,000 death can be attributed to the previous El Niño burning and it has added 300 million tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.
Jan 07, 2016
Adam Rutherford and guests oceanographer Dr Helen Czerski, astrophysicist Chris Lintott and zoologist Dr Tim Cockerill share their highlights of the science year and answer listeners' science questions. Producer: Adrian Washbourn.
Dec 31, 2015
New Horizons Pluto update; friendly predatory bacteria; Christmas in the lab; human ancestry
Since the epic flyby of Pluto in July, NASA has been regularly downloading staggering images from the New Horizons mission. Pluto is not a dead rock, but a geologically active dwarf planet, with tectonic movements, ice plains, glaciers, dunes and cryo-volcanoes. For an end of year update on the observations and outstanding mysteries, Adam meets Alan Stern, the Principal Investigator on New Horizons, who is still marvelling at the success of this humble craft. Scientists have discovered how a potentially useful predatory bacterium called Bdellovibrio protects itself against its own weapons when it invades other bacteria. Professor Liz Sockett discusses how the work offers insights into early steps in the evolution of bacterial predators and how this will help to inform new ways to fight antimicrobial resistance Science stops for no one .So how are researchers nurturing their experiments over the festive period? Marnie Chesterton has gone on the hunt for scientists for whom Christmas Day will be yet another day in the lab. This year there's has been an explosion of papers of using DNA to reconstruct human history. We've invented new techniques for extracting DNA from the long dead, and for analysing ancient genomes. Professor Matthew Cobb from the University of Manchester assesses recent key developments in reconstructing the lives and population structures of ancient civilisations. Producer Adrian Washbourne
Dec 24, 2015
Tim Peake's mission to the ISS, Spaceman Chris Hadfield, AGU round-up, Air pollution, Human Evolution at the NHM
Two times shuttle captain, and with 6 months on the ISS, Commander Chris Hadfield is best qualified to pass on his advice to Major Tim Peake about the science and life in general on the International Space Station. Polar bears walk further Polar bears are having to walk further to stay in the same place. As ice melts in the Arctic, the thin ice is blown around by the wind, making it harder for polar bears to stick to their traditional hunting grounds. Elephant Deterrent By combining a seismic element to the infrasound of recordings of elephant alarm calls, researchers hope to finally develop an audio deterrent to keep marauding elephants from destroying farmland in Africa. Tracking air pollution from space The US space agency satellite, Aura has been tracking trends in emissions of nitrogen oxides for over a decade. It's seen big falls in the pollutant in the US and Europe, while at the same time recording significant increases in some developing nations, such as China and Bangladesh. Air pollution Even if the air pollution trends are getting better in the West, the picture is still very complicated. Not least in London, where nitrogen oxides are still at dangerous levels. Added to this is a rise in smoke pollution from the increasing number of wood burning stoves in the city. Human Evolution Gallery at the Natural History Museum A new gallery of Human Evolution at the Natural History Museum opens on Friday 18th December. Adam gets a sneak preview with Professor Chris Stringer and Dr Louise Humphrey. Spanning 7 million years of evolution, the gallery brings together key fossils and recent evidence such as a reconstructed skull and hand of Homo naledi. It builds up a picture of where we come from and what makes us human. And the picture is far more complex than previously thought, with multiple species living at the same time.
Dec 17, 2015
Flooding, Scientific modelling, Magnetoreception, Escalators
Flood modelling As parts of Cumbria and Somerset remain on flood alert, Adam looks at the science that predicts floods. Are our flood defences good enough and is climate change behind the recent cluster of '1 in 100 year' floods? Flood modeller Nick Reynard from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology explains. What is a scientific model? Prompted by a listener's question, Adam asks scientists what they mean when they say they "modelled the data". He explores the strengths and weaknesses of using models to represent things as diverse as the spin of planets and field choice of skylarks. Magneto-reception Is there a 6th sense? Since the 1960s, it has been generally accepted that animals have a sense of magnetism. This may help explain how some birds are able to migrate huge distances. However, ever since this discovery, the mechanism behind the reception of the Earth's magnetic field has remained a mystery. Scientists don't know which components are responsible for detecting the magnetism, hence the search for 'a biological compass'. The quest has united people from a range of disciplines such as animal behaviourists, chemists and quantum biologists. Are scientists getting any closer to finding the biological compass? Escalator experiment Regular commuters on the London Underground know instinctively to 'stand on the right and walk up on the left' when using the many escalators on the Tube. But in a three week trial at one of the busiest stations - Holborn - Transport for London staff are asking travellers to stand on both sides. The idea is to regulate the flow of traffic. Will it work? Producer: Fiona Roberts.
Dec 10, 2015
Science funding, Carbon capture storage, Graphene
Science Funding Review In the Comprehensive Spending Review last week, the Government announced its commitment to protect the science budget in 'real terms'. After five years of declining spending on science, this has been welcomed by many in the research community. But a lot of the detail is still to emerge. Adam asks Minister for Universities and Science, Jo Johnson where the extra funds are coming from? Is it a case of money being moved around, between departments or is there really an extra £1.5 billion, over the next 5 years, in the science research pot? Carbon Capture Storage Five years ago, amid much fanfare, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, committed £1 billion to the development of carbon capture and storage - the technology to extract carbon dioxide from the exhaust streams of power stations, and bury it underground. This technology is one strategy for reducing our impact on the climate while keeping coal, oil and gas as options for generating energy. Given the discussions going on right now over in Paris at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP 21, this might seem like a suitable commitment for the UK's plans to address global warming. But in the recent Comprehensive Spending Review, the Government have withdrawn the money, effectively ending the current CCS research in the UK. Graphene In contrast, one of the many recent success stories in UK science, graphene, is set to be a focus of research in the Government's plans. Graphene is the world's first truly two dimensional material; incredibly strong, very light and extremely flexible. It is also capable of conducting heat and electricity, so it is a material exciting scientists and industry alike. Since the isolation of graphene in Manchester in 2004 the UK has been at the forefront in graphene research. This year the National Graphene Institute in Manchester was opened, with a remit to link basic, fundamental research to graphene commerce and industry. Producer: Fiona Roberts.
Dec 03, 2015
Ancient farmers' genomes, Alice at Cern, Astrophysics questions
Ancient farmers' genomes New research looking at the DNA of people who lived in Europe as early as 8500 years ago shows signs of evolution, of natural selection, and of how farming has changed Europe in the last few millennia. The huge sample of 230 ancient individuals includes 26 Neolithic people from Anatolia thought to be the very first farmers. Cern's ALICE Experiment Adam visits CERN in Geneva, to see ALICE (A Large Ion Collision Experiment). ALICE is designed to investigate one of the four fundamental forces in the Universe. The strong nuclear force is the most powerful, but only over a very short distance. It is what holds quarks together, and quarks stuck together in the right conformation make neutrons and protons. Protons and neutrons stuck together plus electrons make up atoms, which is what everything is made of. Listeners Questions on Astrophysics Space physicists, Dr. Carole Haswell from the Open University and Dr Andrew Pontzen from UCL answer your questions about the force of gravity, the size of stars, the volume of matter and more. Producer: Fiona Roberts.
Nov 26, 2015
Antarctic ice sheet instability, Groundwater, Accents, Fluorescent coral
Antarctic ice-sheet instability A new study models how the ice sheets in Antarctica will react if greenhouse gases rise at a medium to high rate. They predict the most likely outcome is a rise in global sea level of about 10cm by 2100. Previous research had put this figure at 30cm: this has not been ruled out by the new research, but it's been ruled much less likely. Groundwater The Earth's groundwater has been quantified - it's estimated to be 23 million cubic km. (which is equivalent to the Earth's entire land surface covered in a layer some 180m deep.) However, just 6% of the water is available for our use and to take part in the hydrogeological cycle. That small fraction is referred to as "modern" groundwater: it is extractable because it is near the surface, and can be used to supplement above-ground resources in rivers and lakes. But it's also the most sensitive to over use, climate change and to human contamination. Fluorescent coral Adam visits the National Oceanographic Centre in Southampton to see some fluorescent corals and asks how they can be utilised for medical imaging. Accents How are our accents changing? A three year study at University of Glasgow has found that Scottish accents haven't changed as much as English accents (which have become much more homogenised over the past 100 years). By listening to recordings from first World War Scottish prisoners of war, the Sounds of the City project has noticed that changes to Glaswegian accents have occurred over a much longer time frame than previously thought. But these changes have occurred locally - not in the same way or to the extent that it is thought English accents have evolved. Producer: Fiona Roberts.
Nov 19, 2015
Sex-change tree, Pluto's cryovolcanoes, Sellafield's plutonium, Ant super-organisms
Britain's oldest tree changes sex - The science behind the headlines - this week it was reported that the Fortingall Yew in Perthshire (known to be a male tree, over 2-5000 years old) had started to produce berries (female) on one of its branches. Dr. Max Coleman from the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh explains that sexuality in plants is more fluid than in animals. Cryo-volcanoes on Pluto The latest observations from the New Horizons mission to Pluto show possible volcanic-type structures made from ice. The mountains have what appear to be caldera-like depressions in the top. Unlike volcanoes on Earth, that erupt molten rock, the suspected volcanoes on Pluto, would likely erupt an icy slush of substances such as water, nitrogen, ammonia or methane. Sellafield's plutonium The nuclear reprocessing plant in Cumbria has amassed around 140 tonnes of plutonium on site. This is the largest stockpile of civil plutonium in the world. For now it is being stored without a long-term plan, which is costly and insecure. At some point a decision will need to be taken on how it is dealt with. The estimated clean-up costs are between £90-250 billion, which means the pressure to make the right decision is massive. Should we convert it into useable fuel or get rid of it? And how secure is it in its current state? Ant super-organisms Ants behave as a super-organism when under predation threat - complex chemical communication in rock ants are key to how they behave as a unit to different threats. Producer: Fiona Roberts.
Nov 12, 2015
Grid cells and time, Boole, How your brain shapes your life
Grid cells and time Animals navigate by calculating their current position based on how long and how far they have travelled and a new study on treadmill-running rats reveals how this happens. Neurons called grid cells collate the information about time and distance to support memory and spatial navigation, even in the absence of visual landmarks. New research by Howard Eichenbaum at Boston University has managed to separate the space and time aspects in these cells challenging currently held views of the role of grid cells in the brain. Boole It's the 200th anniversary of the birth of George Boole. We speak to Professor Des MacHale, his biographer at Cork University, and Dr Mark Hocknull, historian of science at University of Lincoln, where he was born, to uncover Boole's unlikely rise to Professor of Mathematics, given his lack of formal academic training. We discuss the impact of his work at the time, and his legacy for the modern digital age. How your brain shapes your life It weighs 3lbs, takes 25 years to reach maturity and, unique to bits of our bodies, damage to your brain is likely to change who you are. Neuroscientist David Eagleman's new book, The Brain: The Story of You, explores the field of brain research. New technology is providing a flood of data. But what we don't have, according to Eagleman, is the theoretical scaffolding on which to hang this. Why do brains sleep and dream? What is intelligence? What is consciousness? Producer: Fiona Roberts.
Nov 05, 2015
Oxygen on comet 67P; Bees and antimicrobial drugs; Reproducibility of science experiments; Reintroduction of beavers
Oxygen on comet 67P Molecular oxygen (O2) detected on comet Churymov-Gerasimenko 67P, has scientists baffled. Current models of the formation of our Solar System do not predict conditions that would allow for O2. Bees and antimicrobial drugs The antibacterial properties of honey have been exploited for thousands of years, but now scientists at the University of Cardiff are using honeybees to collect and identify plant-derived drugs which could be used to treat antibiotic resistant hospital pathogens. By screening honey for these plant compounds and identifying the plant through the pollen grains in the honey, researchers can narrow down the active ingredients and even exploit this to get bees to make medicinal honey. Reproducibility of science experiments A lot of science experiments, when redone, produce different result. Professor Dorothy Bishop chaired a report, out this week, on reproducibility in science. She explains why reproducibility is important, why failures are due to many factors beyond fraud, and how measures, such as pre-registration and collaboration on large expensive experiments, can help make science more robust and repeatable. Reintroduction of beavers In National Mammal Week and the Mammal Society UK is giving a whole day of its national conference at Exeter University over to the reintroduction of European beavers. In February last year a group of beavers were spotted apparently having been living and breeding on the River Otter in Devon for quite some time. By March this year an attempt by DEFRA to remove them had been challenged by local campaigners and now a 5 year watch period has been set up over which time the effects of the beavers on the ecosystem will be monitored. But how might the renegade rodents have been influencing the ecosystem? And with another project currently underway to reintroduce the Pine Marten, a large relative of the weasel, to Wales is there a new public focus on mammal reintroductions in the UK? Producer: Fiona Roberts
Oct 29, 2015
Animal experiments, Bees and diesel, Sense Ocean, Readability of IPCC report
Animal experiments Scientists are changing the way they measure animals used in research. The most recent Home Office report not only shows the numbers of animals used, it also grades how much each animal suffered. Dr Sara Wells from MRC talks to Adam about this new measure, and also the fact that the overall number of animals used in 2014 has declined for the first time in years. Bees and diesel The polluting power of diesel has been getting a lot of press recently. Now, new research has shown that the volatile nitrogen oxides in diesel exhaust (NOx) are preventing bees from finding their food flowers. The diesel chemically alters some of the most common floral scent compounds, rendering them unrecognisable to bees and other insect pollinators. The effect adds to the suite of environmental factors impacting bee survival. Sense Ocean Adam visits the National oceanography Centre in Southampton where they are working on Sense Ocean - A big Europe-wide project which is monitoring what is in the world's oceans. Professor Matt Mowlem, is Head of the Ocean Technology and engineering group, and he is in charge of making sensors, which measure the chemical and biological nature of sea water from small platforms and vehicles. Readability of IPCC Report A paper in Nature Climate change last week scored the IPCC Summary for Policy Makers report, very low for 'readability', Adam discusses the trade-off between writing science that is right, and writing science that is understandable. Producer: Fiona Roberts.
Oct 22, 2015
Time Travel in Science and Cinema
In a special programme to mark, amongst other things, the centenary of Albert Einstein's General Theory of Relativity, Adam Rutherford is joined by The Film Programme's Francine Stock to explore the theme of time-travel - in science, in film and as film. With studio guest, science writer Marcus Chown, they'll discuss time-machines - as imagined by scientists and film-makers; the grandfather of all paradoxes; the notion of the multiverse and how the pioneers of cinema created their own 'time-machines' through the art of editing. And to mark Back the Future Day, otherwise known as 21 October 2015, they talk to director Robert Zemeckis about how and why he imagined a future with hover-boards but, oddly, no smart phones. Producers: Stephen Hughes and Rami Tzabar.
Oct 15, 2015
Ethiopian genome, Coral nutrients, The hunt for gravitational waves, Seven Brief Lessons on Physics
As evidence grows about the vulnerability of our ocean corals to climate change, what's often overlooked are the more subtle changes in the ocean waters that contribute to coral resilience. Adam visits Southampton's Oceanography Centre where new research is showing how an imbalance of nutrients in reef waters is increasing the vulnerability of reef corals to high water temperatures which could help direct future coastal management. The long awaited hunt for gravitational waves gets underway as the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) in the United States begins its first observational run. The waves, generated by some of the most dramatic events in space such as the explosion of stars and the merging of two black holes, were first postulated by Einstein in 1916. So far they've never been detected but if LIGO is successful it'll not only provide proof of Einstein's Theory of Relativity but also provide the first direct evidence of the existence of black holes. And Adam meets theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli whose new book Seven Brief Lessons on Physics examines in seven short essays how 20th century physics is shaping our world view. In Italy, it's outsold 50 Shades of Grey and the Pope's Encyclical and has now been translated into English. What's been the key to its success?
Oct 08, 2015
Write on Kew festival at Kew Gardens, Preserving global biodiversity
A special edition recorded in front of an audience at Write on Kew, the Royal Botanical Garden's new literary festival. Adam Rutherford examines the science behind the global challenges and innovative solutions to preserving the essential biodiversity of the planet. From new perspectives on how plant populations can be made more resilient, to the remarkable genetic diversity of plants just being revealed by new analytical techniques, to coffee - and how one of our most prolific yet threatened commodities be protected from a changing climate . Do we need a radical new approach - are the large scale climate fixes offered by geoengineering the right solution? Adam Rutherford is joined by panellists: Kew's Director of Science, Kathy Willis; evolutionary botanist, Ilia Leitch, Kew's research leader in plant resources, Aaron Davis and author Oliver Morton. Producer: Adrian Washbourne.
Oct 01, 2015
Listeners' Science Questions
Adam Rutherford and panellists Helen Czerski, Andrew Pontzen and Nick Crumpton answer listeners' science questions: What's the best way to become fossilised when you die? What are the most genetically different animals than can breed, either in the wild or in captivity? Why are there no animals with green fur? If one of the fundamental constants, like the speed of light, was 50% faster how would it affect our universe and would the universe even exist? Can we infer where the edge of our expanding universe is from its age - is that even a sensible question? Would you experience zero gravity at the centre of the Earth? At a busy airport are the chances of meeting and finding each other better if one person stays put in a space while the other person searches, or if both parties wander around searching? Find out the answers to these and more.
Sep 24, 2015
Pluto images, Space elevator, Insect migration, Imagination app
This summer, the spaceship New Horizons sped past Pluto at 30,000mph, snapping photographs as it went. The pictures sent back this week have transformed our view of this former planet. It isn't a dead rock; it is geologically active, with ice volcanoes and plenty of terrestrial movement. Dr Cathy Olkin from the mission explains what has got her team so excited. The space elevator, first dreamt up in the 19th century, is a tower tall enough to reach space. The sci-fi concept took a step towards reality recently, when the Canadian engineering company Thoth were granted a patent for an inflatable tower 20 kilometres high. Adam speaks to Thoth's Chief Engineer Ben Quine about the viability and possibilities of this project. It's the season when 30 million European songbirds fly south for the winter. Lower profile and harder to study are the billions of insects that take a similar journey. Dr Jason Chapman from Rothamsted Research tells Adam how to study animals that are too small to tag Can you measure imagination? A team from the Hungry Mind Lab at Goldsmiths University in London thinks you can. The goal of their two year project is to produce an app that can improve imagination by training it. To improve it, first they need to reliably measure it. Adam tries out their new test.
Sep 17, 2015
Homo Naledi, New spacesuit, Quantum biology, A possible cure for motion sickness
Tracey Logan talks to Professor Chris Stringer about the discovery a new human ancestor, Homo Naledi. With ape and human like features its age isn't known yet but could it be evidence of the origin of the genus homo? Astronauts' spines can elongate as much as 7 centimetres in space because of the loss of gravity potentially causing severe back problems. Tracey talks to David Green from Kings College, London about a new elastic suit he has helped develop to mimic the effects of gravity. What exactly is quantum biology? Marnie Chesterton talks to Jim Al Khalili and Johnjoe McFadden authors of 'Life on the Edge, The coming of age of Quantum Biology which is short-listed for the Royal Society Winton Book prize. Tracey meets Dr Qadeer Arshad at Charing Cross hospital to try a new potential cure for sea sickness. By applying an electric current to the scalp is it possible to prevent the symptoms of nausea? A limited number of tickets for Write on Kew are available by emailing with BBC Inside Science in the subject line.
Sep 10, 2015
El Nino, Sphagnum moss and peatlands, Inside Cern, Measuring air pollution with iPhones
Tracey Logan investigates the latest science news. Roland Pease reports on recent warnings that we're heading for one of the most severe El Ninos on record which could distort weather patterns around the world. Spongey sphagnum moss provides a protective layer to peat lands but in the bogs of the Peak District industrial and urban air pollution has killed nearly all the moss. This means the peat lands can erode releasing tonnes of ancient carbon. Tracey talks to horticultural ecologist, Neal Wright about his technique for creating tiny gel beads of sphagnum moss to spray on the moors to help restore their peat lands back to health. Marnie Chesterton talks to John Butterworth about his book, 'Smashing Physics' which is another short-listed entry for the Royal Society Winton book prize. He talks about the highs and lows of the discovery of the Higgs Boson and why CERN might soon be creating dark matter. Tracey talks to Toby Shannon, from the Institute of Physics about the International Year of Light citizen science project to measure air pollution using an iPhone. Details on how to take part here:
Sep 03, 2015
Why the expansion of the paleolithic brain was powered by cooked carbohydrates. Gareth Mitchell talks to Professor of Evolutionary Genetics, Mark Thomas, about the difficulties of establishing what our ancestors ate. More than half the world's corals grow in deep, cold waters, many around the shores of the British Isles. But a new study shows they are under severe threat from ocean acidification caused by increased levels of carbon dioxide. Gareth talks to Professor of Marine Biology, Murray Roberts, from Heriot Watt University about why these corals could all be gone by the end of the 21st century. This week's short-listed Royal Society Winton Prize book is Life's Greatest Secret: The Race to Crack the Genetic Code. Marnie Chesterton talks to the author Matthew Cobb. BBC Science and environment reporter, Jonathan Webb, joins Gareth from the American Chemical Society meeting in Boston to talk about why the grime on buildings could be a new source of air pollution and why carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could be used to make carbon fibres.
Aug 20, 2015
Scottish GM ban, Earth's magnetic field, OCD, Birth of a new galaxy
As Scotland announces it ban on GM crops and with the current post of chief scientific adviser for Scotland vacant, Adam talks to the previous post holder, Professor Muffy Calder about the role of science advice to government and her reaction to news of the ban. The Earth's magnetic field is weakening which could be a sign that the magnetic poles are soon due to flip. Daniel Lathrop and team at Maryland University are trying to model the Earth's magnetic field using a large molten globe of sodium. Should we be worried if a flip is on the cards? Royal Society Winton book prize short-list: Science writer, David Adam, author of 'The Man Who Couldn't Stop' talks to Marnie Chesterton about his experience of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Adam hears about the birth of a new galaxy seen for the very first time. He talks to Chris Martin from Caltech about his latest galactic research published in Nature.
Aug 13, 2015
Pluto's surface, Increased Arctic ice in 2013, Linking brains together, Signals of fertility
The New Horizons probe is now millions of miles past Pluto, journeying throgh the Kuiper Belt, but still sending back gigabytes of data coming in via the Deep Space Network. Its latest image of Pluto's surface was released by NASA on Wednesday, of huge mountains emerging from an otherwise flat plain, Dr John Spencer one of the lead scientists on New Horizons, a planetary geologist, discusses what's to be read into the surface images captured over the last week A new paper just published in Nature Geoscience shows that in 2013, which was a slightly cooler summer than average, arctic ice had grown, by 41% on the previous year. The study, uses data from ESA's Cryosat 2, which incorporates not just the surface area of ice, but the all-important number - the volume Adam examines the results with Rachel Tilling from University College London. Computing has taken a Sci fI step forward this month. Professor Miguel Nicollelis of Duke University, a specialist in brain machine interface experiments, has linked together the brains of four individual rats in order to use the computational power of their brains to carry out tasks including image processing, data retrieval, and even weather predictions. But could this have a therapeutic use in brain damage? Professor Andrew Jackson from Newcastle University, an expert in called 'neural prosthetics' examines the potential. Across the animal kingdom, signals advertising when females are at their most fertile can be pretty striking. Humans are more subtle, though plenty of studies have shown that female behaviour and physiology does change during the menstrual cycle. A new study by Dr Robert Burriss from Northumbria University suggests that faces may be advertising a woman's most fertile time of the month. But are the traits too subtle for most people to notice? Producer Adrian Washbourne.
Jul 23, 2015
Pluto: New Horizons
It's billed as the last great encounter in planetary exploration. For the past nine years the New Horizons spacecraft has travelled 5bn km (3bn miles) to get to Pluto On July 14th it performed its historic fly-by encounter with the dwarf planet. Adam Rutherford examines the first images from the New Horizon's probe and hears the first interpretations from mission leaders and scientists at the NASA New Horizon's space centre as the data arrives back to earth. Expect new light to be shed on the Solar System's underworld as first impression s reveal Pluto to be a champagne coloured body with 11000 ft ice mountains and surprisingly smooth surfaces that suggests recent geological activity For people who grew up with the idea that there were "nine planets", this is the moment they get to complete the set. Robotic probes have been to all the others, even the distant Uranus and Neptune. Pluto is the last of the "classical nine" to receive a visit. Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell discusses how this 2,300km-wide ice-covered rock was demoted in 2006 to the status of mere "dwarf planet", but as "Pluto killer" Mike Brown argues, this shouldn't dull our enthusiasm. As Adam Rutherford reveals, nothing about this corner of the solar system has been straightforward. Little is known about Pluto's creation -but as the New Horizons probe passed Pluto for this first close up of the dwarf planet , scientists anticipate new insights into the evolution of our solar system and even earth's early history. With contributions from mission scientists Alan Stern, Fran Bagenell, Joel Parker and astronomer Mark Showalter. Updates too as interpretations rapidly develop, from BBC correspondent Jonathan Amos and astrophysicist Chris Lintott. Producer Adrian Washbourne.
Jul 16, 2015
Intrusive memories, Silent aircraft, Nuclear fusion, Pluto
Adam Rutherford talks to Emily Holmes from the Medical Research Council’s Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge, about two new studies on preventing intrusive memories. She discusses why stopping someone from sleeping after seeing a lab based film of traumatic events like a news reel or car crash may actually stop people from forming intrusive memories about those films. This offers an intriguing insight in to the role that sleep has in consolidating intrusive and possibly traumatic memories. She also explains how if memories of a traumatic event are laid down, why playing a computer game like Tetris could disrupt that memory and stop it from becoming intrusive. Silent Aircraft: The Davies report recently recommended a new, third runway should be built at Heathrow airport but as flight numbers increase how quiet can planes of the future become? Adam talks to Jeremy Astley from Southampton University and Michael Carley from Bath University about where the noise in jet engines comes from, how engineering can make them quieter and will the silent aircraft initiative ever make a truly silent aircraft. Nuclear Fusion. For decades scientists have tried to harness the power of the Sun to smash atomic nuclei together to create a clean, limitless energy source from nuclear fusion. Marnie Chesterton talks to scientists from Tokomak energy about their new design for a Tokomak machine that has already exceeded previous records. Could it be a vital step forward in the quest for nuclear fusion on Earth? New Horizons: On 14th July 2015 the spaceship, New Horizons will complete its 10 year mission to flyby Pluto. BBC Science correspondent Jonathan Amos gives Adam a preview and tells him why he's so excited about the mission and what they hope to discover about the darker regions of our Solar System.
Jul 09, 2015
Aphid-repelling wheat, National Institute for Bioscience, Global map of smell, Parrot mimics
Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire has just finished trials of a new way to repel aphids from wheat. It's a clever system, that takes a gene for a pheromone, called E beta farnesene, from peppermint, and inserts it into wheat. Aphids let off E Beta Farnesene when they are under attack or when a dead bug is detected, and idea was to have the wheat produce the chemical alarm itself. In the lab, the plants had driven aphids away in their droves. But in the field, where controlled lab conditions are not present, there was no measurable reduction. So what's gone wrong? Adam speaks to spoke to plant geneticist to Dr Gia Aradottir who worked on the Rothamsted trial and Professor Mike Bevan of the John Innes Institute. Top biologists have recently met to launch the National Institutes for Bioscience, the N.I.B, a star-studded partnership of eight great British biological Institutes, such as the Roslin- former home of Dolly the Sheep - and the world's longest running agricultural research station Rothamsted Research. George Freeman MP, Britain's first Minister for Life Sciences, provided a bit of glamour to mark the occasion. Tracey Logan was there to meet the key scientists and to ask the Minister about the ambition and role of the N.I.B. A team of scientists has just revealed how they've used genetics to scan the peoples of the world - and amazingly of extinct people from prehistory - to see who can smell what. They've used one particular olfactory receptor, called OR7D4, to build up a global map of what people can smell. Adam Rutherford speaks to Professor Matthew Cobb, from Manchester University to discuss how the different peoples of the world - including long extinct humans - smell different things. Why are parrots such good copycats? A team in Duke University in the US thinks that they have uncovered the exact spot in the brain that gives the parrot this ability. Professor Erich Jarvis studies the genes involved in the structure of bird-brains, and discusses some ideas about how those neurons have developed through a combination of behaviour and genetics.
Jul 02, 2015
Malaria drug, Listener feedback, Imaging the singing voice, Classifying human species
Malaria is the single greatest cause of death that humankind has ever experienced, and continues to be a colossal burden on the health of people all over the world. We've had various treatments over the years, but all of them have been weakened when Plasmodium - the parasite that causes the disease - evolves resistance. So the hunt is perpetually on for novel antimalarial drugs. This month, a new one is published in the journal Nature. Adam Rutherford talks to Professor Ian Gilbert from the Drug Discovery Unit at Dundee University to discuss with him how the new compound attacks the plasmodium parasite to prove effective. Radio 3 is currently in the midst of a season focusing on all aspects of the Classical Voice. Science is playing a growing insightful role in understanding how to get the best out of the singing voice. Many singers base their careers on a particular quality of voice, and that sometimes can sound as though we're imposing a lot of strain on our vocal cords. We hear from Julian McGlashan, an Ear Nose and Throat specialist at Nottingham University Hospitals who has taken singers and placed a video endoscope down each of their throats to observe how their vocal tracts behave differently according to the style they sing. And David Howard head of the Audio Lab at York University, discusses how new technology is helping us understand how it's possible for a singer's voice to cut above the sound of an orchestra and still be heard at the back of a vast auditorium. Species might seem like an obvious way to classify organisms, and one way we define species is by reproductive isolation - If you can't breed with it, it's another species. If we successfully bred with Neanderthals, and produced fertile offspring, surely that means that they must be the same species as us? Adam talks to Professor of evolutionary genetics from UCL Mark Thomas to navigate through the messy world of human species. Producer Adrian Washbourne.
Jun 25, 2015
Stars, Fracking, Ice Cores, Drunken Chimps
The ALMA telescope array in the Atacama Desert is one of the most sensitive earth based telescopes. It has now captured images of the very first galaxies. Adam talks to Dr Mark Swinbank of Durham University who's part of the team who've unleashed data this week from that universal hinterland that's set to fill in the missing gaps in our understanding of the evolution of the universe. The European Parliament voted this week to place a moratorium on new licences for member states to frack for shale gas until proven safe for the environment. But how dangerous is fracking? A set of articles out this week in the journal Seismological Research Letters attempts to address and dispel some of the myths and misconceptions about fracking, and to get to the root of the very real, increasing frequency of seismic activity. US Geologist Justin Rubinstein and University of Strathclyde geologist Zoe Shipton discuss the evidence As global temperatures increase Ice Core scientists searching for clues to Earth's past climatic history face a ticking clock to gather enough core samples before they melt. Only a tiny amount of mountain glacial ice has ever been collected and studied, and in 2016 ice cores from the Alps will be moved to safer storage in Nature's freezer - a giant vault in Antarctica. Marnie Chesterton meets Ice Core researchers from British Antarctic Survey to find out why they need this archive. A new paper shows the first recorded instances of alcohol drinking in wild chimpanzees. Tanya Humle from the University of Kent describes the novel behaviour. With anthropologist Professor Catherine Hill, Dr Humle discusses whether "wild" chimp research is even possible in an age when human and chimp habitats overlap. Producer Adrian Washbourne.
Jun 11, 2015
Origins of life, Earthquakes in London, Frog plague, Ancient pollen
Think of earthquake cities and places like San Francisco or Los Angeles spring to mind. But London is also seismically active. 200 years ago, there was an earthquake under Trafalgar Square. Dr Richard Ghail from Imperial College London meets Adam Rutherford on the banks of the Thames to discuss the fault lines under their feet and what engineering challenges this poses. In the beginning, there were chemicals. A geological blink of the eye later, there was LUCA, the last universal common ancestor; a complex cell. How the chemistry became biology is one of the biggest mysteries in science. New studies from University of North Carolina researchers chips away at this unknown, offering evidence on how the genetic code developed in two stages. Adam meets Dr Matt Powner, a chemist at University College London studying the origins of life, to find out how researchers try to answer this fundamental question. How do we know what our landscape used to landscape? Pollen, from buried mud layers, offers a picture of sorts. By gathering tiny pollen grains, and identifying the plant species at different ages, Dr Ralph Fyfe from Plymouth University builds up a picture of European landscapes thousands of years ago. Peak deforestation happened several thousand years ago, as our pyromaniacal ancestors started forest fires to clear land for agriculture. Roland Pease reports. A plague is killing thousands of common frogs in ponds across the UK. Ranavirus causes ulcers on the skin and haemorrhaging. A team at Exeter University has noticed that ponds with fish are more likely to have an outbreak of this virus. Amber Griffiths urges Radio 4 listeners to leave their ponds to the wildlife, and keep frogs and goldfish apart.
Jun 04, 2015
Self-adapting robots, Artificial intelligence in medicine, Ageing healthily
We're becoming more reliant on robots to assist in hostile zones from extinguishing forest fires to bomb disposal to decontaminating nuclear facilities. But whereas humans can quickly adapt to injuries, current robots cannot 'think outside the box' to find a new behaviour when they get damaged. Tracey Logan speaks to computer scientist Jeff Clune who's developed a new way to allow robots to adapt to damage in less than two minutes. It will enable more robust, effective, autonomous robots, and may shed light on the principles that animals use to adapt to injury.
May 28, 2015
El Nino, Echolocation, Seasons, Snakes
El Nino is a weather event that happens every 5 years. It leaves Europe largely unscathed but causes havoc around the southern hemisphere. El Nino causes droughts, floods and has even been linked to an increased incidence of war. And yet it is surprisingly hard to predict. Adam speaks to Professor Adam Scaife, from the Met Office, about unpicking the science from weather chaos. Echolocation is the ability to sense objects using reflected sound. A handful of animal species do this - most bats, some whales and even a few humans. Some blind people use echolocation to navigate the world they can't see. Some make a clicking sound as they walk. Others use the sound of their footfall. In fact, all humans, sighted and unsighted, do it. Adam meets BBC's Damon Rose, who is blind, and they compare skills. Marnie Chesterton travels to Southampton University's Institute of Sound and Vibration Research to meet Daniel Rowan. His team have recently isolated some of the factors necessary to echolocate. The work involved an anechoic chamber - the quietest place on earth and the sound equivalent of nothing. Last week Adam gave the incorrect reason for why we have seasons. Dr Laura Rogers, a physics teacher, puts him right. Dr Rhys Jones, star of BBC TV's Wildlife Patrol talks to Adam about the origin of snakes. A recent paper from a team in Yale hypothesises a common ancestor with tiny hind legs and nocturnal habits. Adam questions why 3400 species of snake have evolved to not have legs, when millions of other animals find them so useful.
May 21, 2015
Seasonal Variation in Immunity, Chemosynthesis, Role of the ISS, Storing Digital Data in DNA
Many diseases strike harder and more often in the winter, including major inflammatory conditions such as Type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. New research out this week has uncovered the reasons why: it turns out that our immune responses are heavily influenced by the seasons. Professor John Todd who led this new global study discusses the results and how this could influence the way we administer medicines in future. Organisms generate energy in all sorts of ways and it can happen in all sorts of weird places, such as deep sea hydrothermal vents, where bacteria takes nasty stuff such as Hydrogen Sulphide, and turn it into useful stuff such as amino acids. This is called chemosynthesis. But it turns out that it doesn't just happen in dark corners of the ocean. As tubeworm expert Nick Higgs explains we are learning that chemosynthesis is everywhere. Major Tim Peake begins his six-month mission to the International Space Station in November,. Ever since its inception, the question of 'what the ISS is for?' has been asked.. So, what sort of science does it deliver? Richard Hollingham reports from Alabama, in a secret NASA research bunker. Two years ago, a team led by Nick Goldman at the European Bioinformatics Institute in Cambridge successfully took a collection of important cultural artefacts, encoded them digitally, and then wrote them in DNA. These included Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech, and all the Shakespearean sonnets. He's now collaborated with artist Charlotte Jarvis to encode a new musical composition which will also form a new art installation Music of the Spheres. DNA's ability to store complex digital data appears close to a reality. Could it hold the key to permanent long term storage for anything? Producer Adrian Washbourne.
May 14, 2015
Listeners' Science Questions
Adam Rutherford investigates the news in science and science in the news.
May 07, 2015
Nepalese Earthquake, Monkey Hands, Maritime Light Pollution, Light in Bacteria
Nepalese Earthquake The earthquake that struck central Nepal last weekend measured 7.8 in magnitude and has affected up to 1.4 million people. Inside Science reporter Roland Pease joins Adam to discuss the topography of Nepal, and its vulnerability to earthquakes. We hear from Roger Bilham, a seismologist at University of Colorado, and Alex Densmore from Earthquakes without Frontiers on seismic activity in the Himalayas and the difficulty in measuring the scale of the disaster. Monkey Nuts Capuchin monkeys use stone tools to crack open nuts they want to eat. New research by Madhur Mangalam and Dorothy Fragaszy has shown that they moderate the force they use to open these nuts based on whether the nut shows any cracks from previous strikes. This motor skill demonstrates their dexterity as they are picking the optimal way to complete their task. Scientists hope these findings could help to explain the differences in cognitive processes between non-human primates and hominids who learnt to shape stone tools. Maritime light pollution Around a fifth of the world's coasts are illuminated at night by lights and as LEDs grow in popularity we can expect to see these areas get brighter. But until recently the effects of this light on the marine ecology was a relatively unknown and understudied phenomenon. Adam talks to Thomas Davies whose research published this week has highlighted how light is affecting marine organisms; attracting organisms like keel worms whilst repelling others. Wellcome Collection & Bacteria Light Artists, microbiologists, doctors and geneticists will gather at the Wellcome Collection in London this weekend for the Bacteria Light Lab, an event exploring how light is providing the tools for discovering more about bacteria and infections, part of the 'On Light' weekend at Wellcome Collection. Inside Science went along to meet artist Anna Dumitriu and Dr Nicola Fawcett and view- what appear at first glance - somewhat esoteric looking pieces of art which are actually shedding light on the hidden kingdom of microbiology. Producer: Adrian Washbourne.
Apr 30, 2015
Healthy Guts; Future High Speed Trading; Body Clocks and Colour; William Smith's Geology Map
The Yanomami people are Amerindians thought to have been completely isolated since their ancestors arrived in South America after the last ice-age. Now a multinational team of scientists has more than made contact with them - it's persuaded them to donate samples of their faeces hoping to find good bacteria and useful genes that people living Western lifestyles are thought to have lost. Maria-Gloria Dominguez-Bello, a microbiologist at the New York University School of Medicine, explains how this could provide valuable insight into causes and treatment of escalating metabolic and inflammatory diseases in the western world. With news this week of a British financier's arrest over alleged involvement in the Flash Crash of 2010, what are the pros and cons of the next new era of superfast computer-led trading? It's now set to happen even faster thanks to a higher speed, transatlantic communications cable that goes live this summer. Tracey Logan discusses new technological developments that get close to trading at the speed of light with science writer Mark Buchanan and hedge fund scientist Matthew Killeya. It's thought that light and dark are the main factors influencing our body clock, but in new research published this week the blue colour of twilight could be the major factor that keeps our clocks entrained to the 24 hour world around us. Tim Brown of Manchester University discusses why it's quality rather than quantity of light that's important. And there's a visit to the Geological Society in London to mark the 200th anniversary of the first geological map of England, Wales and Southern Scotland. It was compiled by the humble canal surveyor William Smith - but as geological historians Tom Sharp and Hugh Torrens reveal, Smith's ingenuity was to revolutionise mineral prospecting and help shape the scientific and economic development of Britain in the midst of industrialisation. Producer Adrian Washbourne.
Apr 23, 2015
Hubble Space Telescope at 25
On 25th April 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) was released into space from the Discovery space shuttle. Though off to a famously bumpy start - the first images sent by Hubble were blurry due to a flaw with one of the mirrors - it has been collecting data that has been contributing towards shaping our understanding of the cosmos and it continues to do so. The HST is operated by the Space Telescope Science Institute located at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. Tracey Logan speaks to Mario Livio, an astrophysicist at the institute, who shares his perspective on the Hubble mission for the last 25 years and talks about ongoing Hubble projects. At the cutting edge of cosmology research, data recorded by Hubble is used to improve our understanding of such things as the universe's rate of expansion and theories about the hitherto elusive dark matter. A team led by University of Arizona astronomer Peter Milne has found hints that cast a new light on the currently accepted view that the universe is expanding at an increasingly faster rate. Could it be that a particular type of supernova - type 1A - is not the perfect cosmological "Standard Candle" we've thus far thought it to be? Another group of astronomers, led by Dr Richard Massey at the University of Durham, used data from Hubble in their attempt to unravel the elusive nature of dark matter. Dr Massey talks to Tracey Logan about how having a particular angle on a collision between galaxies some 1.4 billion light years away has allowed for potentially the first ever observation of dark matter colliding with itself. We still don't know what the nature of dark matter is, but this could be our first knowledge of it interacting with anything, possibly implying "Dark Forces" at work. This new research is put into perspective by Dr Malcom Fairbairn, who has revived the neglected telescope on the roof of King's College London. He talks to Tracey Logan about how these recent findings could herald genuinely new areas of physics. Meanwhile, closer to earth rocks, what could or should be done about the danger of asteroid impact? This week in Frascati, Italy, the European Space Agency hosts the 2015 Planetary Defence Conference. Detlef Koschny, head of ESA's Near Earth Object section, speaks to Tracey Logan about coordinating global efforts. Producer: Marnie Chesterton.
Apr 16, 2015
Legacy of Messenger, Computer Touch, AI and Traumatic Forgetting, Stained Glass Restoration
This month sees the end of NASA's MESSENGER mission to Mercury. It's been the first mission to the sun's closest planet since Mariner 10 flew by in the mid-1970s. Lucie Green speaks to geologist Professor Pete Schultz of Brown University about the orbiter's 4 year surveillance and how new observations of this under explored world are shedding light on the planet's mysterious dark cratered surface. Virtual experiences are coming closer and closer to reality as both sound and vision, and even smell, become convincing. But without the sense of touch you'll never have the full experience. A team at Bristol University has now managed to generate the feeling of pressure projected directly onto your bare, empty hands. Its system enables you to feel invisible interfaces, textures and virtual objects through the use of ultrasound. Roland Pease gets a hands on experience. One of the biggest challenges in artificial intelligence is conquering a computer's so-called "catastrophic forgetting": as soon as a new skill is learned others get crowded out, which makes artificial computer brains one trick ponies. Jeff Clune of Wyoming University directs the Evolving Artificial Intelligence Lab and has tested the idea that computer brains could evolve to work in the same way as human brains - in a modular fashion. He shows how by doing so, it's possible to learn more and forget less. And there's a visit to the Ion Beam Centre at University of Surrey where, in conjunction with a project to restore the Rosslyn chapel near Edinburgh, scientists have provided a new development in stained glass conservation - scrutinising the glass contents at the subatomic level using a narrow beam of accelerated charged particles, to literally decode the exquisite features lost to the naked eye. Lucie Green caught up with the Centre's director, Roger Webb. Producer Adrian Washbourne.
Apr 09, 2015
Invasive Species, Coral Seaview Survey, Evolution of the Brain, A New Virtual Reality
Invasive alien species from the cursed Signal Crayfish to the scourge of gardeners, the Japanese Knotweed, are considered some of the biggest threats to biodiversity. This year the EU has launched new legislation that attempts to limit their spread. But how big a threat are they to ecosystems? Science writer Fred Pearce author of The New Wild argues that ecologists are committed to protecting pristine environments from alien invaders, when we should be embracing the changing ecology that invasive species enable. Adam Rutherford discusses the conflicting approaches to invasive species with Fred Pearce and Dr Helen Roy - a scientist at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. Corals make up only 0.1% of the ocean floors, but account for up to a quarter of all marine life. A new exhibition at The Natural History Museum is showcasing some of the work of the Catlin Seaview Survey, which is compiling a huge pictorial health check of various reefs to act as a snapshot against which all future reef changes can be compared. We hear from Dr Ken Johnson, the Museum's main coral researcher, and Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, - Chief Scientist for the Catlin Seaview Survey. There's a big gap in understanding the evolution of our brains. But experts, from geologists to computer scientists by way of marine biologists have recently been meeting at the Royal Society, for a symposium entitled 'Origin and Evolution of the Nervous System' to assess what evidence there is. Roland Pease reports. And we explore a new advance in virtual reality. Anil Seth, professor of Consciousness Studies at the Sackler Centre at Sussex University has been experimenting with our sense of self, and our experience of the world, by using a hi tech headset combined with 360 degree cameras to transport your whole experience to a different space. Virtual reality becomes "substitutional" reality'. Producer Adrian Washbourne.
Mar 26, 2015
Genetic Map of the British Isles, Drones for Conservation, Lab Photosynthesis, Solar Eclipse
The Romans, Vikings and Normans ruled Britain for many years, but few left their genetic calling cards behind in the DNA of today's mainland Caucasian population. That's one of the insights from the most comprehensive analysis yet of the genetic make-up of the UK's white British population. As the study's lead author Peter Donnelly explains it's produced some big surprises, not least how in contrast, the Anglo Saxons invasion was to account for up to 40% of the genetic mix in much of southern Britain. Much of Britain's current historical information is from a relatively small subset of people, but a genetic study like this sheds light on the history of the masses. The Royal Botanical Gardens Kew is currently at the forefront of trialling drone technology to map and locate remote vegetation The aim is to examine plant health and deforestation in detail, particularly in inaccessible areas around the globe. The team led by Justin Moat and Oliver Whaley have recently returned from Peru, where they've examined the fragile ecosystem threatened by mining in the Lomas region. BBC Inside Science's Sue Nelson was deployed to join the Kew team for a Drone test run. As our energy needs become greater, the impetus to tap the sun's energy directly becomes ever more urgent. A new paper published this month has cracked one of the barriers to efficient conversion of water into oxygen and hydrogen, which plants of course do naturally. Adam Rutherford speaks to Nathan Lewis at California's Institute of Technology who has developed an electrically conductive film that could enable devises to harness sunlight to split water into hydrogen. Chemist Andrea Sella assesses how close we are to achieving artificial photosynthesis and solar fuels. And ahead of tomorrow's solar eclipse, Adam speaks to solar scientist Dr Huw Morgan from the University of Aberystwyth, who together with his colleagues in Svalbard is going to use those precious seconds to answer one of the great enduring mysteries of the sun: why is the corona, the fiery crown around the orb, is a great deal hotter than the sun itself? Producer Adrian Washbourne.
Mar 19, 2015
Large Hadron Collider Run Two, Flooding, Nasa's Biggest Rocket, Violin Evolution
Today CERN announced that on 23rd March the largest single machine the world has ever seen gets plugged in, switched on, and rebooted after a 2 year rest. The Large Hadron Collider was crashing particles at energies just off the speed of light, and in doing so, simulating the universe in its neonatal form. It will be shortly achieving energies twice as great as before and as Adam Rutherford hears from particle physicists Tara Shears and Malcolm Fairbairn, vast new opportunities for discovery will open up In The Archers, the current devastation caused by the rising of the River Am is a stark reminder of the impact of last year's floods and the unpredictable nature of river channels. But a new study argues that if we're to get a better grip on the hazard posed by a river - and even predict the likelihood it will flood - an overlooked factor needs to be embraced. Louise Slater from Queen Mary University of London discusses the missing piece in the puzzle NASA's Space Launch System, or SLS, will be capable of taking astronauts beyond low Earth orbit for the first time since the end of the Apollo era in 1972.Its first - unmanned - launch is due in 2018 and yesterday the first ground test on two of the massive boosters was successfully completed . BBC Future Space Correspondent, Richard Hollingham, reports from NASA's assembly facility to get the measure of this interstellar behemoth. The golden age of violin making was dominated by master violinmaking families from the 17th and 18th centuries but what accounts for their revered acoustic power? Adam speaks to violin virtuoso Tasmin Little and hears of a new study by acoustician Nicholas Makris from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who's scanned, measured and documented the violin's changing dimensions to try and account for the unique fullness of sound during this era. Producer Adrian Washbourne.
Mar 12, 2015
Encoding memories; 350 years of the science journal; Women in science; Ceres
How does the brain lay down memory? For decades the limits of microscopes have meant that a detailed look at the way brain cells encode particular learned skills and events has proved elusive. But in a report published this week a team of researchers has identified how changes in specific connections encode a particular behavioural response. Adam Rutherford talks to Tony Zador of Cold Spring Harbour laboratories who's become the first to crack a piece of the neural code for learning and memory which could have profound medical insights. 350 years ago this week, the world's first scientific journal was published. Philosophical Transactions began by drawing together various letters and reviews that cemented the origin of modern science by publishing Isaac Newton, Christopher Wren and other founding members of the esteemed Royal Society. Historian Dr Aileen Fyfe discusses the key moments in the journal's evolution and its legacy today. There's a look at the ongoing representation of women in science following on from a recent report examining the Royal Society's 2014 university research fellows of which only 2 out of 43 were women. The Society's President Sir Paul Nurse discusses how the imbalance in this and in science more generally should be addressed. NASA's Dawn spacecraft is about to arrive in the orbit around the dwarf planet Ceres and will be the first mission ever to successfully visit a dwarf planet. As the spacecraft spirals closer, images have shown numerous craters and mysterious bright spots that scientists believe could reveal how Ceres formed and offer new clues to the origins of our solar system. Adam talks to the mission's deputy scientist Carol Raymond on the latest interpretations of what's currently being observed. Producer: Adrian Washbourne.
Mar 05, 2015
Artificial Intelligence, Desalination, History of Forensics, Music from Cells
A computer system has taught itself how to play dozens of video games. AI researchers claim this is a significant step toward machine intelligence, because the learning process is similar to how humans learn. The program, labelled DQN by its creators at Google DeepMind, performed as well as or better than humans at assorted Atari video games, such as Breakout, and Pong. This style of "Deep learning" is useful because it can be more readily applied to real world scenarios. As Adam Rutherford discovers,it's a short step from mastering a driving simulation game to self-driving cars. Desalination to produce fresh drinking water is on the rise, but the bi-products of the process - acidic brine and carbon dioxide, are a growing environmental problem Adam Rutherford talks to Dr Philip Davies who's devised a new idea for treating brine from desalination plants that could help curb carbon dioxide emissions and go a long way towards addressing acidification of our oceans. Plymouth music festival, Biomusic, features a new work by composer Eduardo Miranda, inspired by a fungus mould. Roland Pease meets the musical pioneer who finds music in biological tissues A new exhibition at the Wellcome Foundation explores the history, science and art of forensic medicine, from the crime scene to the courtroom. Adam heads down to 'Forensics: the anatomy of crime' for a tour with forensic scientist Dr Angela Gallop, who worked on high profile cases including the murders of both Damilola Taylor and Stephen Lawrence, and also meets exhibition curator Lucy Shanahan.
Feb 26, 2015
Alzheimer's Disease, False Memory, Diamond Light Source, Twins in Space
Alzheimer's disease is becoming increasingly common as the global population ages. It is estimated that currently 44 million victims of Alzheimer's dementia exist in the world and that this will grow to more than 100 million cases by 2050. The announcement this week of the creation of the Drug Discovery Alliance - a network of labs to fast track dementia treatment aims to address the urgent need to identify drugs that prevent, slow the progression, or improve the symptoms of Alzheimer's. But what are the scientific hurdles and what's missing in our knowledge in fuelling an ambition to achieve a disease modifying therapy for dementia? Adam Rutherford speaks to Cambridge University neuroscientist Rick Livesey, and to Eric Karran, Director of Research at Alzheimer's UK How is it possible to remember something initially and then change your account of the experience later on? Possibly, giant swathes of your own personal history are partially fictional if not completely false. The problem isn't that our memory is bad, but that we believe it isn't. Adam talks to forensic psychologist Julia Shaw whose astonishing new research examines the ability to implant completely made-up rich false memories into ordinary people in a lab setting and points to circumstances under which police officers can extract false confessions. There's a visit to the UK's synchrotron light source at Harwell in Oxfordshire which since it started operations in 2007 has illuminating research on subjects ranging from Egyptology to virology and this year is opening its doors to the public Adam meets Mark Kelly, one of NASA's twin astronauts taking part in a year-long space experiment to examine the impact of space travel using identical twins as subjects. With one twin orbiting on the International Space Station whilst the other remains confined to Earth, the aim is to examine how individuals with the same genetic profile respond to radically different environments - in particular the genomics of humans as they prepare to move away from their home planet. Producer: Adrian Washbourne.
Feb 19, 2015
Earth's Core; What Can Chemistry Do for Us?; Ocean Acidification; Darwin Day
Adam Rutherford explores new insights into what lies at the very centre of the Earth. New research from China and the US suggests that the innermost core of our planet, far from being a homogenous iron structure has another, distinct region at its centre. He talks to the study's lead researcher Xiangdong Song and to geophysicist Simon Redfern about what this inner-inner core could tell us about the very long history of the Earth and the long suspected swings in the earth's magnetic field. Professor Andrea Sella, from University College London is a recipient of the Royal Society's Michael Faraday Prize, in recognition, like Faraday himself, of exemplary science communication to the lay public. Andrea gave his prize lecture this week, describing chemistry as one of the 'crowning intellectual achievements of our age'. How justified is the claim? What have chemists ever done for us? The sea forms the basis of ecosystems and industries, and so even subtle changes to the waters could have serious knock on effects. Dr Susan Fitzer from the University of Glasgow has been wading into Scottish lochs to study shelled creatures; they form a vital basis for marine ecosystems and the global food industry. But what effects could ocean acidification have on this vital organism? And to mark Darwin Day Adam Rutherford examines the origins of Creationism and its most recent variation Intelligent Design. Why do opinion polls in the US routinely find that about half of the population denies the truth of Darwin's theory and believes instead that humans were created supernaturally by God at some point within the last few thousand years? He hears from historian Thomas Dixon, and from Eugenie Scott, former director of the National Centre for Science Education - a US organisation committed to keeping evolution (and now climate change) in the US schools' curriculum. Producer: Adrian Washbourne.
Feb 12, 2015
Goshawk, Cosmic Renaissance, Carl Djerassi and Charles Townes
As Helen MacDonald's "H is for Hawk" secures 2014's Book of the Year at the Costa Awards, a paper appears describing the hunting tactics of the Northern Goshawk, quite literally, from a birds' eye view. Suzanne Amador Kane of Haverford College in the US describes her work analyzing footage from tiny cameras mounted on the head of the predatory raptor. The Planck Consortium releases yet more findings from the very beginning of the universe. A new age for the very first stars confirms our best models of the universe. But analysis of the dust in our own galaxy edges out the possibility that last year's BICEP2 announcement did in fact represent evidence of inflation and the first observed primordial gravitational waves. And in the last two weeks, two giants of the twentieth century passed away. Science writer Philip Ball shares his thoughts on the lives of Carl Djerassi, father (he preferred mother) of the contraceptive pill, and Charles Townes, known as father of the Laser. Producer Alex Mansfield.
Feb 05, 2015
Climate change belief; Anthropocene era; Eyes on the sea; Origins of multicellular life
We all remember the floods across much of central and southern England this time last year, and the devastating effect they had on people's lives and livelihoods. Today, a group of researchers at Cardiff University published a report on how people's perception of climate change has evolved in the wake of the floods. To what extent has our belief in man-made climate change altered? Do we now regard last year's events as a sign of things to come? Adam Rutherford talks to Nick Pidgeon from Cardiff University's School of Psychology who led this UK wide study Earlier this week an international group of climate scientists, geographers and ecologists met at the Stockholm Resilience Centre in Sweden to wrangle how we can practically make the best of the Anthropocene - the new geological epoch that many consider that we now find ourselves in. Gaia Vince author of Adventures in the Anthropocene, reports from the Stockholm meeting At the UK's Satellite Application Catapult in Harwell, a project has been unveiled that seeks to offer real time data on the world's fishing fleet to help governments police illegal fishing. Pulling together data from shipping registers, satellite images, radar and ships' own transponders, Eyes on the Sea automatically scans for suspicious activity and can alert human users and allow them to see what ships are up to. The Pew Charitable Trusts hope that vessels carrying illegal cargoes can then be tracked across the ocean, and any port receiving them would know where they had been and what they had been up to. How complex cells evolved is a mystery. Current theories on the evolutionary jump, between 1 and 2 billion years ago, from life forms based on a simple prokaryote cell to the complex multiple eukaryote cells with a cell nucleus and a host of complex internal machinery, fails to explain much of what we see within animal, plant and fungi cells today. Adam talks to Buzz Baum a cell biologist at University College London who has devised a new testable model which appears to explain one of biology's most basic questions. Producer: Adrian Washbourne.
Jan 29, 2015
GMOs; International Year of Light; Coral health
It is likely that scientists will soon engineer strains of "friendly" bacteria which are genetically recoded to be better than the ones we currently use in food production. The sorts of bacteria we use in cheese or yoghurt could soon be made to be resistant to all viruses, for example. But what if the GM bacteria were to escape into the wild? Researchers writing in the Journal Nature propose this week a mechanism by which GMO's could be made to be dependent on substances that do not occur in nature. That way, if they escaped, they would perish and die. George Church, of Harvard Medical School, tells Adam Rutherford about the way bacteria - and possibly eventually plant and animal cells - could be engineered to have such a "failsafe" included, thus allowing us to deploy GM in a range of applications outside of high security laboratories. Adam reports from this week's launch in Paris of the International Year of Light marking 100 years since Einstein's Theory of General Relativity. Amongst the cultural and scientific events at UNESCO in Paris, Nobel Prize winner Bill Philips explains how using lasers can achieve the most accurate atomic clocks imaginable and we hear how Google X is embracing new ways to manipulate light to ignite some of the team's futuristic technologies And as the global decline in coral reefs continues as a result of human activity, Adam talks to Hawaii based biologist Mary Hagedorn who is using unusual techniques normally adopted for fertility clinics, to store and regrow coral species that are in danger Producer: Adrian Washbourne.
Jan 22, 2015
International Year of Soils
This year is the Food and Agriculture Organisation's International Year of Soils. Adam Rutherford, ably assisted by Manchester University's Richard Bardgett, takes a look at new research seeking to further our understanding of soil behaviour that determines much of our existence. A handful of soil contains many tens of thousands of different species of microbial life, all competing to the death with each other for nutrients and resources. Yet most of those species are very poorly understood, because hitherto scientists have only been able to grow a small percentage of them in the lab. Last week's announcement of a new class of antibiotic - teixobactin - owes a lot to soil; Two buckets of it from the back garden of one of the researchers. Kim Lewis of Northeastern University in the US describes the new technique that could open up the whole biodiversity of a clump of soil to future medicines. Meanwhile, Monsanto, Novozyme and Morrone Bio in the US are just some of the big agricultural corporations exploring what useful microbes could be spread on seeds and crops to increase yields and reduce the needs for fertilizers. Soils, apart from feeding us and helping us fight disease, also have a crucial regulatory role in our climate. Sue Nelson reports on a new soil moisture monitoring network being set up in the UK that uses cosmic rays to measure the water content. The Cosmic-ray Soil Moisture Observing System, COSMOS-UK, is being set up by the CEH, based out of Edinburgh. On a global scale, soils are a hugely important reservoir of carbon. Iain Hartley of the University of Exeter talks about the vast amounts of carbon - more than all the carbon in all the trees and air - held in frozen soils in the far northern reaches of the earth. If these vast plains of permafrost were to melt in a warming world, the positive feedback loop caused by the resulting methane and CO2 released could be a bigger problem than many of our climate models allow for. But could we manage the soils beneath our feet better? David Manning of Newcastle University suggests that minerals could be added to brownfield (urban) soils to help them capture and sequester staggering amounts of CO2 from the air to help us offset anthropogenic emissions. Producer Adrian Washbourne.
Jan 15, 2015
Venus mission, Science highlights for 2015, Sonotweezers, Tsunami 10 years on
Adam Rutherford investigates the news in science and science in the news. This week's announcement of the discovery of 8 planets lying within the habitable zones of their stars has again raised the prospect of an earth like planet existing outside our solar system, But if we're to understand how "earth like" these exoplanets really are, we need to gain vital clues from earth's "evil twin" Venus argues environmental engineer Richard Ghail. Adam Rutherford hears about his proposed new mission to Venus - a planet orbiter to examine the surface and atmosphere that will allow us to understand why Venus has evolved so differently from earth despite their apparent sisterlike characteristics In the more immediate future science correspondent Jonathan Amos looks ahead to some of the highlights in astronomy and physics we can expect in 2015 - from the switch on of the newly energised Large Hadron Collider, and the imminent results of the successful Rosetta mission to the comet 67P, to the long awaited flyby this summer to capture images of Pluto. Roland Pease reports on a revolutionary method of controlling microscopic objects using sonics. As we move further into nanoscale technologies - electronic, mechanical and biological, and often a combination of all three - this could potentially offer a solution to manipulating structures, many of which are quite fragile at this scale. And ten years on from the shock of the South East Asian Tsunami that was to cost the lives of over 220 000 people Adam Rutherford speaks to Dave Tappin of the British Geological Survey, one of the first marine geologists who went to assess the cause of this seismic event. What have we learned in the intervening years? Producer Adrian Washbourne.
Jan 08, 2015
Listeners' Science Questions
Adam Rutherford and guests oceanographer Dr Helen Czerski, cosmologist Dr Andrew Pontzen and zoologist Dr Tim Cockerill answer the listeners' science questions. Producer: Adrian Washbourne.
Jan 01, 2015
Microplastics; Holey Ice; Vesalius; Overeating
Microplastics For the first time, scientists have studied the abundance of microplastics in deep sea sediments They have found that tiny fibres of plastic are everywhere and that levels found in the ocean sediments are 4 times higher than in contaminated sea-surface waters. Marine debris, mostly consisting of plastic, is a global problem, negatively impacting wildlife, tourism and shipping. However, despite the durability of plastic, and the exponential increase in its production, there was a considerable proportion of the manufactured plastic that was unaccounted for. But now scientists have found that deep-sea sediments are a likely sink for microplastics. Holey Ice You'd have thought, given how much water and ice there is around, that we'd know pretty much all there is to know about them. Among the notable facts is that ice is less dense than water - which is why it floats on your pond rather than sinking to the bottom. But like carbon - which exists in two distinct forms, diamond and graphite - the molecules in solid H2O can be packed in many different ways. And this week, scientists have found another completely different form of ice, which is perhaps stranger than all the others. Overeating Why do some people overeat? In order to find out, brave scientists tucked into 9000 calorie meals. Vesalius Andreas Vesalius, the founder of the modern science of anatomy was born 500 years ago, on the 31st December 1514. He was a proponent of, and yet, a strong critic of the ancient Greek physician Galen, who implied human anatomy from animal dissections. Vesalius challenged physicians and medical scholars to get their hands dirty and carry out dissections themselves. Producer: Fiona Roberts.
Dec 18, 2014
Water on Comets; DNA in Space; Sounds of the Ocean; Science in Fashion
Where does the Earth's water come from? It's thought that it arrived from space, carried by comets. But recent research suggests otherwise. Professor Katrin Altwegg is principal investigator in charge of Rosina - the tool on the recent Rosetta mission that is charged with answering this mystery. DNA can survive a trip into space, according to a recent experiment. Dr Lewis Dartnell, an astrobiologist from Leicester University, explains the implications. What sounds do the oceans make? Anand Jagatia reports. Dr Julius Piercy from the University of Essex listens to coral reefs. And his recent work could help us harness sounds to help restore damaged and dying coral reefs. This week, the new Nobel laureates head to Stockholm to pick up their medals. Among them is Norwegian neuroscientist Professor May-Britt Moser. The question on nobody's lips; what was she wearing? Which is a shame because she wore a Matthew Hubble dress featuring Grid Cells - our brain's positioning system. Discovering these grid cells won May Britt her Nobel prize. Polymer scientist Professor Tony Ryan from University of Sheffield talks fashion and science with Adam Rutherford. Producer: Beth Eastwood.
Dec 11, 2014
Orion Launch; Fake Mars trip; XDNA; Richard the Third's skeleton
A NASA space capsule, Orion, that could transport humans to Mars is due to make its maiden flight. Given that this is a first outing, there will be no people aboard. The capsule will orbit the earth twice in four and a half hours, before splashing down in the Pacific. BBC correspondent Jonathan Amos is on location at Cape Canaveral and gives Adam the latest news. This is a step towards a crewed mission to Mars. But how do humans cope with being confined for the 8 months it takes to get there? The European Space Agency studied this question in 2010. 6 volunteers were shut up in a replica space shuttle for over a year. Engineer Diego Urbina was one of them. He shares his thoughts on taking part in a fake Mars mission. Philip Holliger from the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge heads the team that two years ago built XNA, a set of genetic molecules that behave just like DNA, but are man-made. Like DNA, those XNAs didn't actually do that much, but this week, the team has published a paper where they have got them working. These are the first synthetic enzymes on Earth. Back in 2012, a shallow grave was uncovered underneath a car park in Leicester. Evidence suggested the skeleton in it was King Richard the Third. Finally this week, the DNA confirmation by geneticist Turi King is in. And something is rotten in the state of his lineage. Kevin Schurer, historian, and Richard Buckley, the lead archaeologist on the dig, talk us through the DNA anomaly that hints at infidelity in the royal line.
Dec 04, 2014
Campylobacter in Chicken; Artificial Intelligence Guru Demis Hassabis; Sexology; Lucy
Food Standards Agency report reveals 70% of supermarket chicken contaminated. Chicken: It's the nation's favourite meat. But today, a report released by the Food Standards Agency has revealed that around three quarters of that chicken is infected by campylobacter - a family of bacteria, 12 species of which are known to cause food poisoning. The estimated cost to the UK economy is £900 million per year. All supermarkets are implicated and all supply chains too. It doesn't cause outbreaks and thorough cooking kills all the bugs. Professor Hugh Pennington tells Dr Adam Rutherford why campylobacter is such a tough bug to crack. Can machines think? Neuroscientist, chess master and world-champion gamer, Demis Hassabis is this week's winner of the Royal Society's Mullard Award. In 2011, he founded an AI company, Deep Mind which was acquired by Google earlier this year for £400million.He tells Adam why he believes one of the best tests for artificial intelligence is an ability to learn how to play computer games. Why scientists study sex Sex between humans has long been something of a taboo for scientists. But the Institute of Sexology is tackling it head-on. It's a new exhibition at London's Wellcome Collection, a frank exploration of sex and the scientists who've studied it for the past century or so. Tracey Logan went to preview the display, and asked: Why do scientists study sex? Australopithecus discovery 40 years on 23rd November 2014 was a significant 40th birthday. Or, to be a bit more precise, it was a 3 million, 200 thousand and 40th birthday. On that day in 1974, Donald Johanson and his team in Ethiopia discovered the fossilised remains of AL 288-1, who became universally known as Lucy. Don talks to Adam Rutherford about the young woman who changed his life. Producer: Anna Buckley & Fiona Roberts Assistant Producer: Jen Whyntie.
Nov 27, 2014
Comet landing detects organics molecules; Lunar Mission One; Biological warfare
Philae lander detects organic molecules on Comet 67P Rosetta scientist, Professor Monica Grady from the Open University discusses the latest news from last week's historic comet mission. Philae, the Rosetta robot probe, made history last week when she finally landed on the surface of Comet 67P. But she ended up lying on her side, and only in partial sunlight. Her batteries were on borrowed time. After around 60 hours, Philae powered down, and went into hibernation mode. However, her instruments harvested some data and now the first results are in. UK-led crowdfunded Moon mission Lunar Mission One aims to land a robotic spacecraft on the unexplored lunar South Pole by 2024. It's a space mission with a difference: it could be funded by you. For a small fee supporters can send a human hair to the Moon in a Blue Peter-style time capsule. And the spacecraft will drill up to 100 metres below the surface to ask questions about the Moon's origin, aiming to find out more about the minerals that exist there, several of which are potentially valuable. Our reporter Sue Nelson went to the British Interplanetary Society's Reinventing Space conference in London to hear more. The Selfish Gene debate As another bout of biological warfare breaks out between two scientific superpowers, Adam Rutherford gets to grips with evolutionary theory, with social insect expert Professor Adam Hart. He hears from Richard Dawkins and E.O. Wilson and finds out why, after forty years of promoting the idea of kin selection, E O Wilson now dismisses the whole idea as 'rhetoric'. Presenter: Adam Rutherford Producer: Anna Buckley Assistant Producer: Jen Whyntie.
Nov 20, 2014
Rosetta; Thought-controlled genes; Biophonic Life; Arecibo message 40 years on
Rosetta After a nail-biting, bumpy, bouncy landing, European Space Agency's Rosetta probe - 'Philae' -lands on the comet 67P. It's already collecting data and beaming back some very impressive images of this dusty, icy space projectile. BBC Space correspondent Jonathan Amos fills us in on the latest news. Thought-controlled genes Brainwaves from human participants activated a light, which in turn switches on specific genes in mice. In this proof of concept study, Professor Martin Fussenegger hopes that one day this technology could be used to control pain, pre-empt epileptic seizures, or in fact communicate with people who have locked in syndrome. It's another example of two very exciting techniques - brain machine interfacing and optogenetics. Arecibo Message Anniversary 40 years ago, on 16 Nov 1974, a message designed to inform intelligent alien civilisations about human existence was beamed into space. Whilst Frank Drake's binary picture message was primarily put together to show the capabilities of the upgraded Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico, it has inspired interest and enthusiasm around the world. Veteran of subsequent space message projects Dr Carolyn Porco joins Adam to talk about how space science has progressed in the interim decades, and what these ventures mean to humankind. Biophonic Life Sound installation "The Sounds of Others: A Biophonic Line", by artist Marcus Coates is currently delighting visitors to Manchester's Museum of Science and Industry. It explores the sounds of animals, from field crickets to humpback whales. By speeding and slowing each sound, his work reveals unimagined connections between species, and unearths common patterns and forms that would normally be beyond the reach of the human ear. The Sounds of Others looks for commonality between the human and non-human worlds, through sound. Marcus Coates, and collaborator wildlife sound-recordist Geoff Sample talk Adam through some of the surprising sounds of nature. Can you tell a pack of children from red deer? Or Marcus from a Lion? And is there a reason for these connections? Producer: Fiona Roberts.
Nov 13, 2014
Science of ageing; Microneedles; Firelab; Rosetta; Scientific authorship
What is ageing? In 1900, the global average life expectancy was 31, today it's 70, and the number of people over 85 in the UK is predicted to double in the next 20 years. How has ageing evolved, and do we know what is happening in our cells as we age? Professor Richard Faragher, University of Brighton, explains. Sticking plaster-like needle replacement Microneedles on a sticking-plaster-like patch may be the painless and safe way doctors will test for drugs and infections, and give vaccinations in the future. Roland Pease tries an alternative to the traditional injection at Queen's University Belfast with Dr Ryan Donnelly. Science of fire It's November, and these are the days when you may well have a smouldering bonfire in your back garden. Marnie Chesterton meets scientists whose lives are devoted to the behaviour of fire. Comet landing mission nears The Rosetta Mission is entering the final stages before landing on a comet. By this time next week, we will know if the European Space Agency has successfully achieved what could be an extraordinary feat. Paolo Ferri, Head of Mission Operations at the European Space Agency, outlines the challenge. Dr Stronzo and other cases Dr Stronzo Bestiale made his debut in the world of scientific publications in 1987, authoring a paper entitled 'Diffusion in a periodic Lorentz gas', in the Journal of Statistical Physics. However, he doesn't exist. This phantom physicist is not an isolated incident: Mike Holderness at New Scientist has been tracking scientific author apparitions for some time. Producer: Marnie Chesterton Assistant Producer: Jen Whyntie.
Nov 06, 2014
The Making of the Moon
It's the nearest and most dominant object in our night sky, and has inspired artists, astronauts and astronomers. But fundamental questions remain about our only natural satellite. Where does the Moon come from? Although humans first walked on the Moon over four decades ago, we still know surprisingly little about the lunar body's origin. Samples returned by the Apollo missions have somewhat confounded scientists' ideas about how the Moon was formed. Its presence is thought to be due to another planet colliding with the early Earth, causing an extraordinary giant impact, and in the process, forming the Moon. But, analysing chemicals in Apollo's rock samples has revealed that the Moon could be much more similar to Earth itself than any potential impactor. Geochemist Professor Alex Halliday of the University of Oxford, and Dr Jeff Andrews-Hanna, Colorado School of Mines - who is analysing the results from NASA's Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) lunar mission - discuss the theories and evidence to-date. Are we going back? Settling the question of the Moon's origin seems likely to require more data - which, in turn, requires more missions. BBC Science correspondent Jonathan Amos tells us about the rationale and future prospects for a return to the Moon, including the Google Lunar XPrize. As the Moon's commercial prospects are considered, who controls conservation of our only natural satellite? If commerce is driving a return to the Moon, who owns any resources that may be found in the lunar regolith? Dr Saskia Vermeylen of the Environment Centre at Lancaster University is researching the legality of claiming this extra-terrestrial frontier. Producer: Jen Whyntie.
Oct 30, 2014
Hobbit; Genetics of height; Solar science; Snails
It's 10 Years since an unusual skeleton was unearthed on the island of Flores. This species, Homo floresiensis, dubbed 'the Hobbit' because of its short stature, offered a whole new picture of human evolution and has been causing divisions among scientists ever since. Lucie visits Professor Chris Stringer in the Natural History Museum to pick over the bones of a controversial find. Tall parents tend to have tall children. We already know that height is genetic. Less well known is how various genes control the growing process. Recent research from the University of Exeter found nearly 700 genetic variants that play a role in influencing a person's height. Professor Tim Frayling, a lead author, explains how the work, which involve scanning more than a quarter of a million genomes, could help with disease, forensics and predicting a child's adult height. Great ball of fire. The Sun throws out more than just light and heat; for solar scientists, it is also a source of many mysteries. Why is the surface of the sun less hot than its corona, or outer atmosphere? New research using the NASA satellite telescope, IRIS, or the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph is providing new insights. Earlier this month, a group of more than 100 snail experts (malacologists) from across Europe gathered in Cambridge to discuss the latest research into molluscs - the group of animals that includes everything from squid and octopus in the seas to slugs and snails on land. After three days of lectures, the malacologists were let loose in the Cambridge Botanic Gardens. Reporter Helen Scales went with them on a snail hunt. Producer - Fiona Roberts.
Oct 23, 2014
Ebola; Ada Lovelace Day; Space Weather
Ebola Outbreak As the World Health Organisation announces that the situation in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone is deteriorating, with widespread and persistent transmission of Ebola Virus Disease, the UK has introduced screening measures at Heathrow airport for passengers arriving from Ebola-affected countries. How has this particular outbreak become so widespread, and where did it start? Lucie Green discusses the source, spread and science of Ebola with Jonathan Ball, Professor of Molecular Virology at the University of Nottingham. Ada Lovelace Day Leading the charge in inspiring and celebrating women scientists, technologists and mathematicians is 19th century computer programmer Ada Lovelace. Daughter of poet Lord Byron, collaborator with inventor Charles Babbage, and accomplished mathematician herself, October 14th has been set aside for Ada Lovelace Day. Event founder Suw Charman-Anderson tells us more. Space Weather The Met Office Space Weather Operations Centre is designed to protect the UK from severe problems caused by space weather. It's been known since 1859 that weather in space can cause problems on Earth, but scientists say our growing dependence on technology puts us at greater risk. Our satellites, power grids and radio signals are all vulnerable to damage from extreme space weather events. Lucie Green heads down to the new space weather centre in Exeter, to see how they monitor the sun's activity, and how that translates into an extra-terrestrial forecast. Producers: Fiona Roberts & Marnie Chesterton Assistant Producer: Jen Whyntie.
Oct 16, 2014
Nobel Prizes 2014; Gauge; Genetics and Diabetes; UK Fungus Day
Nobel Prizes 2014 The annual Nobel Prizes for Physiology or Medicine, Physics and Chemistry were announced this week. The Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine has been awarded to UK-based researcher Prof John O'Keefe as well as May-Britt Moser and Edvard Moser who discovered the brain's "GPS system". They discovered how the brain knows where we are and is able to navigate from one place to another. Their findings may help to explain why Alzheimer's disease patients cannot recognise their surroundings. The 2014 Nobel Prize for physics has been awarded to Professors Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura in Japan and the US, for the invention of blue light emitting diodes (LEDs). This enabled a new generation of bright, energy-efficient white lamps, as well as colour LED screens. The 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded to Eric Betzig, Stefan Hell and William Moerner for improving the resolution of optical microscopes. This type of microscope had previously been held back by the presumed limitation that obtaining a better resolution than half the wavelength of light would be impossible. But the laureates used fluorescence to extend the limits of the light microscope, allowing scientists to see things at much higher levels of resolution. GAUGE The UK has a database for the amount of greenhouse gases we emit each year - usually measured in Gigatonnes of carbon. It's compiled by adding up emissions from various individual sources - be it a coal-fired power station or a wetland bog. This amount is used worldwide, but it is an estimate. A project called Greenhouse gas UK and Global Emissions, or GAUGE, is - for the first time - verifying these estimates by measuring what's in the atmosphere on a much larger scale. Genetics and Diabetes Type 2 diabetes is globally the fastest growing chronic disease. The World Health Organisation estimates more than 300 million people are currently afflicted, rising to more than half a billion by 2030. It might seem on the surface to be a disease with a simple cause - eat too much & exercise too little - and the basic foundation is a relative lack of the hormone insulin. But as with most illnesses, it's much more complicated, not least because a large number of disease processes are happening all at once. In 2010, a particular gene variant was associated with around 40% of Type 2 diabetics - not directly causal, but this so-called 'risk variant' increases the chance of developing the condition if you have the wrong lifestyle. Research published in the journal Science Translational Medicine this week identifies a drug called yohimbine as a potential treatment to help Type 2 diabetics, one that targets this specific genetic make-up. UK Fungus Day October 12th is UK Fungus Day, a chance for us to celebrate these cryptic, often microscopic, but essential organisms. Usually hidden away inside plants or in soil (or if you're unlucky, in between your toes), fungi have largely been growing below scientists' radars for centuries. Mycologists still don't know anything close to the true number of fungi that exist on the planet. About a hundred thousand have been formally identified, but it's estimated that anywhere from half a million to ten million species may exist. This dwarfs, by several orders of magnitude, how many mammals there are on Earth. And, increasingly, we're realising quite how crucial fungi are to the functioning of our ecosystems. Head of Mycology at The Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, Bryn Dentinger, explains how valuable fungi really are. Producer: Fiona Roberts Assistant Producer: Jen Whyntie.
Oct 09, 2014
Women, Science and the Royal Society; Open Access Research
Royal Society investigates the decline in their awards to female scientists Last week, the UK's national science academy, the Royal Society, announced its latest round of University Research Fellows (URFs). And they are almost all fellows - in the male sense of the word. Out of 43 new posts, only two of them are women. These positions are for early-career, post-doctoral researchers. But, at the top of the tree, fewer than one in ten science professors are women, and one of the top UK scientific accolades - a Royal Society Fellowship - is held by only one in twenty. To their credit, The Royal Society were "horrified" by this latest round, and their president, Sir Paul Nurse, immediately called for a full investigation into how this happened, saying "this sends out a bad message to young female scientists". Our reporter Tracey Logan asks why Royal Society grants are so important to young scientists, and whether this year's number of female recipients is a sign of gender bias on the awarding committees, or just a statistical blip in a fair process? And Adam Rutherford meets Professor Julia Higgins to hear the latest just after participating in a diversity working group meeting at the Royal Society in London. Getting science out from behind paywalls You pay for science research via your taxes, but you may not get to see the results unless you pay again to read the journals that publish them. With two major UK science publishers, the Royal Society publishing and Nature, announcing one apiece of their journals are going fully open access -broadly, free for anyone to read online - we're discussing the way science makes it from the lab to the public, via the ever controversial system of publishing and peer review. Adam is joined by Fiona Godlee, Editor of the British Medical Journal; Lesley Anson, Chief Editor of Nature Communications; and Chris Lintott, Professor of Astrophysics and Citizen Science Lead at the University of Oxford. Producer: Fiona Roberts Assistant Producer: Jen Whyntie.
Oct 02, 2014
Cosmic inflation latest; Indian space success; Science and language; Wax Venus
BICEP - gravitational waves and dust One of the biggest scientific claims of 2014 has received another set-back. In March this year, the BICEP2 research team claimed it had found a swirling pattern in the sky left by the rapid expansion of space just fractions of a second after the Big Bang. This announcement was quickly criticised by others, who thought the group had underestimated the confounding effects of dust in our own galaxy. And now, new analysis from the European Space Agency's Planck satellite suggests dust found in our own galaxy may have confounded what was thought to be a universal revelation. India's Mars satellite enters orbit India has successfully put a satellite into orbit around Mars, becoming the fourth nation or geo-bloc to do so. Following a few teething troubles with a planned engine burn shortly after launch on 5 November 2013, and a long journey, the Mangalyaan probe has started sending back images of the Red Planet. It is the first time a maiden voyage to Mars has entered orbit successfully and it is the cheapest mission to-date. Science of language Professor Steven Pinker talks to Adam Rutherford about the language of scientists and the science of language. He has a new book out, "The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century", discussing how the latest research on linguistics and cognitive science can improve writing. The Anatomical Venus Adam visits the Wellcome Collection to see an 18th-Century Florentine Wax Venus - complete with removable abdominal organs. He discusses our preoccupation with death, with Joanna Ebenstein. And finds out if these beautiful, if slightly unnerving, statues were the cutting edge of anatomical learning, or a gory sideshow. Producer: Fiona Roberts Assistant Producer: Jen Whyntie.
Sep 25, 2014
European ancestry; Cern is 60; Graphene plasters; Penguins
European Ancestry New genetic investigation of ancient human remains, combined with archaeological evidence, is shedding new light on the origins of the early European populations. The international team has provided a detailed analysis of waves of immigration from the near east into Europe, and the emerging agricultural practices that came with it, which has come to dominate the traditional practices of indigenous residents. CERN - Artificial retina The human eye and the parts of the brain that process images are second to none when it comes to pattern recognition and concentrating on the important images and ignoring the rest. They have inspired physicists to create a processor that can analyse particle collisions 400 times faster than any other device. In these collisions, protons, that is, ordinary matter, are smashed against protons at close to the speed of light. These processes may produce new particles and help scientists understand matter's mirror - antimatter. Professor Tara Shears, a particle physicist at the University of Liverpool, explains how this algorithm could help sift through data from collisions at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. Graphene plaster Since it was discovered 10 years ago, the wonder material graphene has taken the world by storm. What's not to like about it? A sheet of carbon one-atom thick, it was the first two-dimensional material discovered. It's stronger than steel, conducts electricity better than copper. We are told it will be used in touch screens of the future. It may be the secret to miniaturising electronics when current chip technology runs out of steam. But at the other end of the technology market a team at Surrey University has found it useful to blend graphene with rubber bands to make cheap effective bio-sensors. Penguins In a new citizen science project, 'penguinologists' are asking the public to classify images of penguin colonies in Antarctica, to help the team monitor their health. Thousands of images taken by remote cameras monitoring over 30 colonies around the Southern Ocean are being posted online. We hear why penguins are at risk from habitat and climate change and what the public can do to help. Producer: Fiona Roberts.
Sep 18, 2014
Jack the Ripper; Future of Scottish science
Jack the Ripper "identified" Some of us are morbidly fascinated by the legend of Jack the Ripper - not the world's first serial killer, but the one that coincided with the birth of mass media, and set the ghoulish tone for the 20th century's obsession with murderers. This week a shawl acquired at an auction in 2007 is in the spotlight. Claimed to be found in 1888 at the murder scene of a woman asserted to be the fourth victim of the supposed Ripper, DNA evidence from the fabric is stated to imply one of the most plausible suspects - Aaron Kosminski. However, there are many problems with this "identification" sequence - some historical, some legal, and some scientific. Adam Rutherford focuses on the science by speaking to Jari Louhelainen, a forensic geneticist at Liverpool John Moores University, who produced the forensic analysis. Jon Wetton, another forensic geneticist at the University of Leicester, offers broader insight into how DNA can be used in detecting crime. Future of Scottish science Scottish science has a rich history: Alexander Fleming, James Watt, Dolly the sheep and much, much more. This week, with the upcoming referendum on independence, Dr Adam Rutherford takes the opportunity to look at the future of science in Scotland. He's joined by scientists representing the Academics for Yes and Better Together campaigns. Making the case for independence are Dr Stephen Watson and Professor Mike Lean, both from the University of Glasgow. Dr Patrick Harkness, also from the University of Glasgow, and Professor Hugh Pennington, emeritus professor at the University of Aberdeen, make the case for remaining in the union. Producer: Fiona Roberts.
Sep 11, 2014
Bardarbunga volcano; Geology in Minecraft; Synthesising opioids; Ammonia
Bardarbunga A group of earth scientists was in Iceland performing annual maintenance of its equipment, when the volcano Bardarbunga erupted. Professor Simon Redfern has now joined them and speaks to Adam Rutherford from the slopes of neighbouring volcano Askja. He explains how all this recent volcanic activity is the expression of Europe's tectonic drift away from America. And rather than this being a smooth, continuous process, the plates move at the surface in a jerky way - causing these earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Geology in Minecraft The British Geological Survey has built a full version of the geology of Britain into the online game Minecraft. Minecraft is a so-called 'sandbox' game, meaning there are no specific objectives, but players are free to explore existing worlds or collaborate to build their own with a range of virtual building blocks. The game is a huge phenomenon, with over a 100 million registered users, mostly under the age of 30. By adding an extra layer of geological features, the BGS hopes to encourage interest and add a further dimension to the game. Synthesising opioids Opiates such as morphine are commonly used in pain-relief medicines, but their chemical complexity means that commercial production is limited and the pharmaceutical industry has to rely on extracting them from poppies. However, researchers at Stanford University are working on a synthetic-biology system using yeast to produce opiates like morphine, and the pharmacologically more attractive opioids like hydrocodone and oxycodone. They haven't got all the steps in the pathway in place yet. But they're not far off. Ammonia In recent years there's been renewed interest in ammonia, as a fuel. It could work as a replacement for petrol and diesel in cars with very little engine change. In fact it was used as such during the Second World War in Belgium. Producer: Fiona Roberts.
Sep 04, 2014
Manipulating mouse memory; London pollution; Nature of knowing; Snail fur
Manipulating mouse memory Optogenetics allows researchers to use light to turn the genes involved in memory, in the brain, off and on. It's a powerful tool for seeing exactly where specific types of memory are formed and processed. Researchers at MIT have been using the technique to manipulate fearful or pleasurable memories associated with a particular location, in mice. This is so they can see how memories are overwritten in the brain's processing regions. London pollution Cities in Britain have moved on a great deal from air pollution events, like the London smog of 1952, where 4000 people died in a week. But a recent report has put London air pollution levels as bad as some of the worst in the world, on a level with Mexico City and Beijing. Pollution is a mixture of gases and tiny particulate matter (or PM) -particles too small to be filtered out by our noses, and which end up going straight into our lungs. Dr Rossa Brugha and reporter Marnie Chesterton take a bicycle ride through London's busy streets and parks with an air pollution monitor. Back in the studio, Rossa and Adam talk through the results... Nature of knowing Philip Ball, the programme's on-call polymath and author of 'Invisible, the Dangerous Allure of the Unseen', comes into the studio to answer a listener's question about how science can possibly understand the unseeable, if it is supposed to be dealing with the observable universe. Snail fur and how to grow a new head Why is it that some animals can regrow lost body parts and others, like us, can't? Even some closely related species, for instance salamanders, can regrow a lost tail, but fellow amphibians, the frogs, can't regrow lost legs? One of the best-studied 're-generators' is the sea creature - Hydractinia, or Snail fur, because it grows like fur on the back of the snail-shell homes of hermit crabs. By studying Hydractinia's regenerative powers at the cellular level, researchers think that most animals, including us, may have the potential to regrow lost limbs using stem cell systems lying dormant within us. Producer: Fiona Roberts.
Aug 28, 2014
TB in the New World; Trusting Wikipedia; Shipwreck of the London; @LegoAcademics
TB in the New World Brand new work in comparative genetics is shedding light on the spread of TB. Scientists have shown that the initial spread of the deadly bacterial disease tuberculosis to the Americas didn't come with the European explorers and invaders. Skeletons of pre-Columbian Peruvians have shown signs of TB. So where did it come from? DNA samples collected from the ancient bacteria show they're closely related to the TB strain that infects seals and sea lions. So did the disease pass from humans in Africa to seals on the coast which then crossed the ocean and infected the Peruvians, 1000 years ago? Truth, Trust and the internet A recent YouGov poll revealed that the British public trusts the online encyclopaedia Wikipedia more than it trusts the BBC. The internet has revolutionised how we receive information and check references. But how much should we trust online facts? Adam talks to Carl Miller, from the Centre for Analysis of Social Media at think-tank Demos, about how Wikipedia entries are created and regulated. And he asks him whether the democratisation of facts - created by crowd-sourced opinion rather than individual experts - is something we should welcome? Shipwreck of the London The London was a 64-gun second-rate ship of the line of the English Royal Navy, launched in June 1656 and commanded by Captain John Lawson. The ship was accidentally blown up in 1665 and sank in the Thames Estuary. The wreck was rediscovered in 2008, and is considered important partly for its historical references and partly for its insight into an important period in British naval history. English Heritage and Cotswold Archaeology are examining the remains in the murky Thames estuary before they decide what to do next. Although the wreck could be at risk from increasingly acidified water and invasive shipworm, it's thought unlikely that they will raise the ship, due to a lack of museum space. Lego Academics Campaigns for better female scientist role-models are not new. But what is new and welcome is when industry and society listens. Plastic toy brick manufacturer, Lego, has recently come up with a new set called the 'Research Institute' and it consists of lab kit and three female scientists - a palaeontologist, an astronomer and a chemist. Real life scientist and archaeologist Donna Yates, from the University of Glasgow, has gained thousands of Twitter followers after posting photographs reflecting the daily frustrations of academic life using the Lego figures. She arranges them in academic scenarios and posts her pics to the @LegoAcademics account. It's fun and full of in-jokes, but it gives great insight into some of the real issues scientists, and in particular, female scientists face. A Lego version of Adam Rutherford conducts the interview. Producer: Fiona Roberts.
Aug 21, 2014
Anaesthesia; Chilean earthquakes; Strange weather; Jellyfish
Anaesthetics. General anaesthetic is an essential part of modern medicine. Millions of surgical procedures, many life-saving, simply could not be performed without rendering the patient unconscious with one of a long list of drugs that induce anaesthesia. But, we don't know how they work. Part of this mystery is because we're not entirely sure what we mean when we say unconscious. But part of it is that there's a whole fleet of different molecules than can work as an anaesthetic, so there's no well-known pathway we can study. Neuroscientist, Luca Turin at the Alexander Fleming Research Center in Greece thinks that the answer to how they work, could lie, not at the chemical level, but at the quantum level. 2014 Iquique Earthquake in Chile Before the massive 8.1-8.2 Magnitude earthquake struck Iquique in Chile, in April, this year, there were a series foreshocks at the fault line. Adam Rutherford asks Roland Pease if these creaks could be a way of warning us about an imminent big quake in the future. They also discuss whether the stress released by the megathrust quake means the region will be seismically inactive for a while. The experts think not. Strange Weather We are obsessed with the weather. It is a powerful, shared daily experience, offering us an immediate talking point. Yet when we talk about climate change the sense of guilt or powerlessness can often be enough to kill the conversation. A new exhibition at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin aims to engage conversations about both weather and climate in a playful, provocative way. By bringing together works by artists, designers, scientists, meteorologists and engineers STRANGE WEATHER asks questions such as: Should human culture be reshaped to fit strange weather or should we reshape weather to fit our strange culture? Who is going to take advantage of climate chaos and how will strange weather benefit me? How will you choose to work, celebrate, live and die when weather gets weird? Strange Weather runs at Science Gallery, Trinity College Dublin from 18th July to 5th October 2014 Neutrinos A listener writes in to ask if we will ever run out of room in our Universe for the trillions and trillions of neutrinos being created. Malcolm Fairbairn at Kings College London does the maths. Jellyfish Last year was a record for jellyfish sightings off the UK coast. We know very little about our jellyfish, and experts at the Marine Conservation Society want to know more. They're set up a survey, complete with photographic guides and reporting forms for you to send in your sightings of these coastal visitors. Producer: Fiona Roberts.
Aug 14, 2014
New dinosaur; GM chickens; Lightning; Rosetta; Diatoms
Dinosaur A jumble of bones found in Venezuela belong to a group of very early dinosaurs, that could have been herd animals. Paul Barrett from the Natural History Museum explains to Professor Alice Roberts how a jumble of bones found in a 'bone bed' belong to a number of individual Laquintasaura venezuelae dinosaurs. They are an ancient, small, omnivorous dinosaur, which could have survived the Tertiary/Jurassic extinction event 200 million years ago. Genetically Editing Chickens Diseases devastate livestock around the world. In chickens for example the deadly strain of bird flu and the lesser known bacterial infection Campylobacter, does not only harm the chickens but is also a real threat to human health and welfare. Scientists are continually trying to develop vaccines, but the strains of bacteria keep evolving resistance to them. One of the solutions being explored at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, is genetic. Using a subtle form of genetic modification, called genome editing. The team are trying to find the genetic components of natural resistance in a wide group of chicken breeds, which they can then insert into the genome of livestock fowl in the hope of breeding healthier, safer chickens. Lightning A listener asks why lightning is jagged. Rhys Phillips from Airbus Group in Cardiff makes lightning in a lab. He has the answer. Rosetta The European Space Agency's robotic spacecraft Rosetta has reached the orbit of the comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko, and is about to start its detailed study. In the audacious and risky mission, the craft will follow the orbit of the comet as it approaches and passes the Sun. It will attempt to land a probe on the surface of the icy, rocky mass. It's hoped the mission will provide great insight into what comets are made of, how they behave as they heat up, creating its gassy coma and tail. And it's hoped Rosetta and its lander will be able to tell about where Earth's water and even some of the building blocks for life might have come from. Diatoms A type of phytoplankton, found in water, called Diatoms build hard silicon-based cell walls. Researchers, at the University of Galway, have shown it's possible to chemically transform the shells of living diatoms so they could carry drugs into our bodies in entirely new ways. Producer: Fiona Roberts.
Aug 07, 2014
ExpeRimental; Rosetta; MOOCs
ExpeRimental There's an online wealth of science demonstrations you can try at home with your kids. But what's sometimes lacking is the encouragement of questioning the science in these DIY experiments. Science teacher and film maker Alom Shaha has devised a series of videos with the Royal Institution showing parents experimenting with home-made lava lamps, bubbles and bottle cannons. He hopes that amidst the mess and mistakes, some scientific thinking can be nurtured. Rosetta The European Space Agency's robotic spacecraft Rosetta is about to start its detailed study of the comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko. In the audacious and risky mission, the craft will follow the orbit of the comet as it approaches and passes the Sun. It will attempt to land a probe on the surface of the icy, rocky mass. It's hoped the mission will provide great insight into what comets are made of, how they behave as they heat up, creating its gassy coma and tail. And it's hoped Rosetta and its lander will be able to tell about where Earth's water and even some of the building blocks for life might have come from. MOOCs Massive Open Online Courses are free and open to anyone with access to the internet. You can study a huge range of topics from cancer and dental photography to quantum physics, and even the archaeology and history of Hadrian's Wall. Critics say these higher education courses are just a PR exercise by universities, and that it will set up a two tier system in education. But Kathryn Skelton from FutureLearn, a platform for many of these MOOCs, argues that they encourage people who would not normally extend their education to take part and the universities providing the courses can gain great insight into the changing face of teaching methods. Evolutionary Psychology Last week Adam Rutherford and Alice Roberts had a robust discussion on the biologising of the human condition, with Professor David Canter. Listeners wrote in to complain that we didn't give an evolutionary psychologist a right to reply, so this week, listener and evolutionary psychologist Rob Burriss has his say. Producer: Fiona Roberts.
Jul 31, 2014
Science's fascination with the face
Face recognition The software that analyses images of your face, captured online or when you're out and about, has rapidly improved. Adam visits Amscreen, to test the cameras they deploy at supermarket checkouts to determine your age and sex, to inform advertisers of the best demographic to target. This raises ethical and privacy issues which Adam discusses with privacy expert Professor Colin Bennett and author of "The formula, about algorithms and the algorithm culture", Luke Dormehl. Quantifying expressions Is a look of contempt, or a smile, a universal expression or do they vary across cultures? Marnie Chesterton visits Glasgow University's Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology, where the scientists are building a huge database of faces, in order to unpick and quantify our expressions. Dr Oliver Garrod from the Generative Face Grammar Group demonstrates how they can capture your face, and animate it. Evolutionary psychology There is a long list of evolutionary explanations for the human condition. Mostly these are quite trivial. Teen boys develop acne on their faces to deter females from fertile but psychologically immature mates. Babies cry at night to prevent parents further procreating, resulting in potential sibling rivals. At the other end of the scale, these sorts of explanations have been used to suggest deeply problematic ideas, such as rape being an evolutionary strategy. Professor David Canter, a psychologist from University of Huddersfield has railed against this fashion for 'biologising' our behaviour. And evolutionary biologist Professor Alice Roberts is also critical of 'adaptionism' - the idea that everything has evolved for an optimal purpose. Producer: Fiona Roberts.
Jul 24, 2014
A special programme on plants and their pollinators, poisons and pests
Plants and bees The relationship between flowering plants and bees is a long-evolved, complex one. Plant scientists at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew are currently conducting field trials to see how Acontium, or Monkshood, uses toxins to protect itself against nectar-thieving, short-tongued bumblebees. But how does it make sure it doesn't poison the helpful, pollinating long-tongued bumblebees? Plants from Roots to Riches Professor Kathy Willis, Director of Science at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew will be presenting a new series on BBC Radio 4 exploring our relationship with plants from the birth of botany through to modern day. She describes some of the series highlights. The Azolla Event A tiny ancient fern-like pond weed could have been responsible for changing the fate of the planet. Some scientists think that Azolla could have played a significant role in reversing an increase in the greenhouse effect that occurred 55 million years ago. The researchers claim that massive patches of Azolla growing on the (then) freshwater surface of the Arctic Ocean consumed enough carbon dioxide from the atmosphere for the global greenhouse effect to decline, eventually causing the formation of ice sheets in Antarctica and the current "Icehouse period" which we are still in. Chomping caterpillars Plants can hear. Well, they can sense sound-vibrations. New research from the University of Missouri shows that when the mustard-like Arabidopsis senses the chomping sounds of a caterpillar munching on leaves, it primes itself for a chemical response. Composting low down A listener asks why orange peel takes so long to rot down in the compost heap? Is it because it's an exotic fruit? Adam asks Kew's Head of Horticulture and 'keeper of the heap' Dave Barns. Producer: Fiona Roberts.
Jul 17, 2014
Behavioural profiling at airports; Light and colour in art; Hadrian's Wall; Cassini
Airport security has been tightened recently. Passengers must be able to switch on their electronic devices to prove they don't contain explosives. Inside Science asks about the science behind spotting a potential terrorist. Adam asks whether behavioural profiling works. Can trained security staff tell the difference between a nervous traveller and a potential terrorist? Light and colour in art Pigments and paint evolved over time, and these changes are one focus of the 'Making Colour' exhibition at the National Gallery. Different paints fade and degrade in different ways; often the patina of age is what appeals when looking at art, so how do you decide which hue to use when restoring paintings? Another intriguing issue is how you light a painting. The National Gallery is moving away from tungsten lighting, to more modern, tuneable LED lights. How does this affect the way visitors view the art? An interactive experiment is helping them to unpick light perception. Hadrian's Wall A listener asks how did the Romans knew where to build the great defensive wall. We get the answer from Professor Ian Haynes, an archaeologist at Newcastle University, who reveals that the Romans were obsessed with measuring. Cassini mission to Saturn Cassini-Huygens is an unmanned spacecraft sent to the planet Saturn. The NASA-ESA-ASI robotic spacecraft has been orbiting and studying the planet and its many natural satellites for 10 years. Adam talks to the mission's leader of the imaging science team, Carolyn Porco, about how successful it's been. And he offers her a blank cheque to choose her next mission. Producer: Fiona Roberts.
Jul 10, 2014
Informed consent, El Nino, Gravitational Waves, Cloud cover
Informed consent Facebook has been under fire for running a controversial 'emotion manipulation' study on 689,003 Facebook users. The experiment, to find out whether emotions were contagious on the social network, involved minor changes to users' news feeds. It's contentious because the users were not informed that they were taking part in an experiment. Facebook says, check the terms and conditions, but Dr Chris Chambers at Cardiff University says that the ethical standards for science are higher, and should involve informed consent. Dan O'Connor, Head of Medical Humanities at the Wellcome Trust, gives a short history of consent in experimentation. El Nino According to the Met Office, the world is almost certain to be struck by the "El Nino" phenomenon this year, with the potential to induce "major climactic impacts" around the world. Roland Pease investigates this flip in the climate state of the Pacific basin, and asks the experts studying this phenomenon, whether it'll be a major event and how it might affect the climate. Gravitational Waves The announcement, earlier this year, that the BICEP 2 telescope at the South Pole had detected evidence that gravitational waves exist may have been premature. Gravitational waves are theoretical phenomena, based on observation of polarisation of ancient cosmic light. Finding them, adds to the evidence that the Universe is expanding. The data has now been made public, but the confidence in the numbers is being questioned. Cloud cover A listener asks about cloud cover and night time temperatures, and how air temperature and moisture content interact. Our expert Peter Sloss from the Met Office answers. Producer: Fiona Roberts.
Jul 03, 2014
Longitude Prize Winner; Solar cells; New species; Fiji fisherwomen; Physics questions
Longitude Prize 2014 Winning Challenge Antibiotics resistance has been selected as the focus for the £10m prize. The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned of a "post-antibiotic era" where key drugs no longer work and people die from previously treatable infections. The next step in the challenge is to tackle this resistance, by developing a simple, cheap, quick test that allows you to tell whether an infection is bacterial or not. This will conserve the 50% of antibiotics that are currently given in situations where they have no effect. Solar Cells A popular form of photovoltaic, or solar, cells is made using a harmful and expensive chemical called cadmium chloride. Now a team has found a new, cheaper, safer way of making solar cells by replacing the toxic element in the process with a material found in bath salts, magnesium chloride, and these are just as efficient. Professor Ken Durose from Liverpool University explains how it could reduce the cost of solar energy. New Species How easy is it to find a new species for science? Whilst in the Bornean jungle, Dr Tim Cockerill discovered that it was relatively easy - one fell in his cup of tea! It was a tiny parasitic wasp. Another new species, of the same type of parasitic wasp, was recently discovered in a school playground in the UK. So new insects seem to be quite easy to find, but what about a new mammal or bird? Tim reveals that finding the creature is just the start of a lot of work needed to get his finding published and accepted. Fijian Fisherwomen More and more conservationists are turning to local knowledge to work out the best way to save ecosystems. A great illustration of this grass-roots approach is underway in Fiji. They use a traditional system where villages will close an area of fishing grounds for a few months for fish stocks to recover. Conservationists are now learning about this system, known as 'tambu', to see if it can be used on a longer-term basis to help give fish stocks, that have become seriously depleted in the last few decades, a chance to recover. Physics questions University College London cosmologist, Andrew Pontzen answers questions sent in by listeners about why, given the immense heat at the Big Bang, is there so much hydrogen in the universe, and not more of the larger atoms, which are forged under conditions of great heat? And are black holes responsible for the missing matter in the universe? Producer: Fiona Roberts.
Jun 26, 2014
Antarctic Invaders; Patents; Longitude Challenges for Water and Antibiotics
Antarctic Invasion Antarctica is the most pristine place on Earth, having only been visited by humans in the last 200 years, and being tens of thousands of miles from the nearest land. But these days, around 40,000 tourists and hundreds of scientists visit the Antarctic every year, and with them come stowaways in the form of bugs, beetles and plants. As a result, the ice -free areas of the Antarctic are at severe risk of invasion. Is it too late to do anything about it? Longitude Prize: Water How can we ensure everyone can have access to safe and clean water? Water is becoming an increasingly scarce resource. 44 per cent of the world's population and 28 per cent of the world's agriculture are in regions where water is scarce. The challenge is to alleviate the growing pressure on the planet's fresh water by creating a cheap, environmentally sustainable desalination technology. London's Becton desalination plant is expensive to run, and so used for emergencies only. Marnie Chesterton meets some Danish chemists using membranes from nature which could help make salt water drinkable, without the energy requirement of current technology. Patents in science European Inventor Award winner Christofer Toumazou explains his invention - a USB microchip that reads a patient's DNA. He tells Adam Rutherford how the patent system has protected his ideas. Longitude Prize: Antibiotics Dame Sally Davies explains why, in an era of growing antibiotic resistance, it's important to have a cheap, easy-to-use test to identify bacteria. Muna Anjum from the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency is working on identifying those resistance genes in certain bacteria. Paul Freemont's team at Imperial College is using synthetic biology to build a device that can detect specific bacteria - precisely the sort of work that might answer the Longitude Prize's challenge. Producer: Fiona Roberts.
Jun 19, 2014
Turing test; World Cup exo-skeleton; Plant cyborgs; Music hooks
The first ball kick of the opening ceremony of the 2014 World Cup is taken by a young paraplegic Brazilian, wearing a robotic exo-skeleton, controlled using his mind. Adam hears from Miguel Nicolelis, the neurophysiologist behind the high profile science stunt. Closer to home Sophie Morgan, paralysed for a decade, demonstrates her robot exo-skeleton, or REX, which allows her to walk and stand. This week, scientists at the University of Reading claim to have created a computer that has successfully duped humans into thinking it was a 13-year-old boy. This has been widely reported as the first computer to pass the Turing test, but is it? Is this a leap forward in artificial intelligence or a case of moving the goalposts. Anil Seth from the University of Sussex, gives us his opinion. Forget the Internet of things, welcome, the internet of vegetables. An EU-wide project has developed "cyborg plants" with in-built sensors. These allow the plant to "talk" to scientists, giving them updates on water and nitrogen levels. Koushik Maharatna from the University of Southampton explains the benefits of being able to talk to plants. We are surprisingly good at remembering songs we haven't heard for many years, but what is it about a song that makes it so memorable? Is there a perfect formula? Scientists hope that a new game will find out. A citizen science project plans to analyse thousands of results from the songs best remembered by the public. Adam Rutherford sings along and asks Dr Ashley Burgoyne, a computational musicologist from the University of Amsterdam, why some songs are more memorable than others. Producer: Fiona Hill.
Jun 12, 2014
Moving Mountains; Invasive Species; Football Stickers
Moving Mountains Removing the tops off mountains was common practice in the eastern United States to strip mine for coal. Critics have previously called for it to be banned because of the health risks. But in China, the same thing is now happening but on a much larger scale, all to create new land for people to live on. In a comment piece in this week's Nature journal, Chinese scientists call this unprecedented geo-engineering "folly", and liken the practice to "performing major surgery on Earth's crust". Dr Adam Rutherford talks to Dr Emily Bernhardt from Duke University in the US about the potential risks of the Chinese mountain moving. Alien Invader Species Inside Science bug man, Tim Cockerill, responds to headlines that alien killer snakes, capable of killing dogs, cats and even children, are on the loose in Britain. He goes to look for the supposedly terrifying reptiles, and finds out instead, about a colony of aesculapian snakes, whose biggest meal might be a rat. In search of more danger, he goes on to Sheerness in Kent, to hunt for the "alien" yellow-tailed scorpion. These arachnids don't prove much of a threat either, he discovers. As long as you keep your trousers tucked in your socks. Longitude Prize: Zero Carbon Flight If our use of air travel continues to rise at the current rate, by 2050, it'll make up 15 per cent of global warming from human activities. If the Longitude Prize topic chosen is flight, the challenge will be to design and build a zero or close-to-zero-carbon aeroplane that is capable of flying from London to Edinburgh, at comparable speed to today's aircraft. Marnie Chesterton speaks to physicist Helen Czerski and Professor Callum Thomas, from Manchester Metropolitan's Centre for Aviation, Transport and the Environment, about the possible options. Football Stickers "Got, Got, Got, Need!". With the football World Cup upon us, footy-mad kids barter to fill their world cup sticker books. Adam talks to mathematician Professor Yvan Velenik from the University of Geneva, about the myth that some stickers are rarer than others, and shares his statistical analysis about how many stickers you would need to buy, to fill the book. Producer: Fiona Hill.
Jun 05, 2014
Women scientists; Mapping the ocean floor; Amplituhedron
Women of science London's Royal Society was buzzing last week as historians and scientists chewed over the lives of iconic women scientists. But at a time when far more women go into science, the percentage who make it to professor is still alarmingly low compared to men. Last week's Revealing Lives event by The Royal Society was also about learning lessons from history which are of benefit to women working in science today. Mapping the ocean floor We really do know less about the ocean floor on Earth than we do about the surface of Mars, Venus and the Moon. In the case of the Red Planet, the maps are about 250 times better. This gap in our home-planet knowledge has recently been highlighted by the search for the missing Malaysia airlines plane MH370. The suspected search area in a remote part of the Indian Ocean is so poorly mapped, it's not even clear how deep the deepest parts are. Ocean floor mapping can be done by ship board echo-sounders, bouncing sound waves off the sea floor. But this is very expensive. A new cheaper, quicker way is to use a satellite to measure fluctuations in the sea surface caused by gravitational perturbations caused by underwater topography. Longitude Challenge 2014 - Food security By 2050 there will be an estimated 9.1 billion people on the planet. In the face of limited resources and climate change, how can we feed the world with less? Michael Moseley thinks eating insects is a start whilst Marnie Chesterton checks out a field of self-fertilising crops. And the issue that it's not always the amount of food, but the right food is highlighted in a report from the Metropolitan Manila area of the Philippines where a portion of fries and a burger is cheaper than a kilo of carrots. Amplituhedron Particle physicists have discovered a mysterious jewel-like object that exists in higher dimensions in mathematical space. This multifaceted object, The Amplituhedron, greatly simplifies the complex calculations that explain what happens during particle collisions - the kind of collisions studied at particle accelerators, like the Large Hadron Collider. No one's entirely sure exactly what this object is, or how important it might turn out to be - there's some suggestion it may challenge the very notion that space-time is a fundamental property of our universe. Joel Werner caught up with the man who discovered this jewel, Nima Arkani-Hamed, at the Institute for Advanced Study in the United States to try and unravel exactly what this mysterious object is. Producer: Fiona Roberts.
May 29, 2014
Longitude Prize 2014; Dementia; Matter from light; Coastal deposition
Longitude Prize 2014 The Longitude Prize offers a £10 million prize pot to help find the solution to one of the greatest issues of our age. Votes from the British public will decide what that issue will be. This week, the six shortlisted challenges have been unveiled. They cover flight, food, antibiotics, paralysis, water and dementia. Alice Roberts talks to Adam about why we need an X-factor for science. Over the next month, Inside Science will profile each of these challenges and explain how you can cast your vote. Matter from Light In 12 months' time, researchers say they will be able to make matter from light. Three physicists were sitting in a tiny office at Imperial College London and while drinking coffee they found what they call a fairly simple way to prove a theory first suggested by scientists 80 years ago: to convert photons - i.e. particles of light - into electrons (particles of matter) and positrons (antimatter). Adam discusses the work with theoretical physicist Professor Steven Rose from Imperial College London and science writer Philip Ball. Longitude challenge - Dementia How can we help people with dementia to live independently for longer? Dr Kevin Fong is the champion for this Longitude Challenge, arguing that we all use technology to support our lifestyles but that people with dementia need extra tech. Marnie Chesterton visits Designability, a Bath-based design charity that works with people with dementia to develop new technologies. Their Day Clock shows that a simple design can produce radical results. Coastal deposition The destructive winter storms that hit the UK caused were flooded by the worst tidal surge on the east coast in 60 years. Sand dunes play an important defensive role on our coastline but little is known about their resilience or recovery rate. So after the December 5th storm, scientists sprang into action in Lincolnshire with a new project that officially began in February. The aim is to help future coastal management by researching the effects of storm surges on sand dunes. Producer: Fiona Roberts.
May 22, 2014
Antarctic melt; brain enhancing devices, atomic clocks and anti-bat moth sounds
Melting Antarctic Ice Shelf Nothing can stop the collapse of the Antarctic Western Ice shelf. That’s according to NASA this week. Key glaciers in Antarctica are irreversibly retreating, and according to the scientists studying this region they’ve reached a state of irreversible retreat - the point of no return. Brain enhancing devices If given the option, would you think faster or increase your attention span? Neuroscientists now say that non-invasive brain stimulation using electrical currents could do just that. The technology is still fairly new but is now being sold by commercial companies often marketed to gamers suggesting that it could increase your attention and make you think faster. But do they actually work? Inside Science sent Melissa Hogenboom to Oxford try one out and to discuss the science behind the hype. Black holes How big can black holes get? A listener asks and Professor Andy Fabien, Director of the Institute of Astronomy at Cambridge University answers. Optical and atomic clocks At this week’s ‘Quantum Timing, Navigation and Sensing’ Showcase at the National Physical Laboratory, researchers are working on sensors that allow us to see through walls; super-accurate atomic clocks the size of matchboxes; and GPS trackers that can elude an enemy jamming the signal. We sent Inside Science reporter Tracey Logan to work on her time management. Bat jamming moth noises and other insects that go bump, chirrup, squeak in the night Inside Science’s resident entomologist, Dr. Tim Cockerill has been exploring a whole soundscape that’s hidden from our limited hearing range. Including, eavesdropping on a secret sonic arms race between echo-locating bats and bat-jamming acoustics created by the genitals of a hawkmoth. Producer: Fiona Roberts
May 15, 2014
Colin Pillinger; Fire? Artificial DNA
Artificial DNA DNA is the molecule of life, conserved across all living species for 4 billion years. But now scientists have made a new, artificial version, by introducing two extra letters, not found in nature, into the genetic code of a common microbe. The E. coli bacteria are able to grow and replicate as normal despite these artificial additions. In future, this research might create organisms that can make new proteins, which could offer new drugs and vaccines. What is fire? A listener wrote in to ask about fire – what is it? And what is the difference between a super-hot gas and plasma? We went straight to Dr. Guillermo Rein, Mechanical Engineer at Imperial College and Editor-in-Chief of the journal Fire Technology. It turns out, they’re great questions and even the experts can’t quite agree on the answers. Obituary - Colin Pillinger British planetary scientist Professor Colin Pillinger, best known for his 2003 attempt to land a spacecraft on Mars, has died aged 70. . Oxford Maths Institute The new Maths Institute at Oxford University is named the Andrew Wiles Building, after the mathematician, who solved Fermat’s Last Theorem. The Institute includes some nods to other mathematical theories included in the design. From the never-ending Penrose paving at the entrance to lighting based on solving complex equations and mathematical illusions build into the construction. The architects hope the building will inspire the next generation of mathematicians. Carlos Frenk Professor Carlos Frenk, astronomer at Durham University has just joined the ranks of Steven Hawking, Edwin Hubble and Albert Einstein by winning the Royal Astronomical Society’s Gold Medal for Astronomy. Producer: Fiona Roberts
May 08, 2014
Mice & Men; Fuel from CO2; fRMI; Insect calls
A recent paper demonstrated that mice show elevated stress levels in the presence of male hormones. What implications does this have for future mouse research? Adam Rutherford heads to University College London to speak to Dr Clare Stanford, who works with mice and men. How do you get jet fuel from thin air? Just add water, carbon dioxide and a large amount of concentrated sunlight. A team from the European Solar Jet Project has, for the first time, proved that you can make 'green' or carbon neutral paraffin, the hydrocarbon used in jet fuel. It's feasible; the next step is to try and make this process commercially viable. Neuroscience is a fast growing and popular field, so naturally there are an abundance of stories reported in the press often illustrated with a beautiful picture of the brain. But despite the advances, when an area of the brain 'lights up" it does not tell us as much as we'd like about the inner workings of the mind. Adam Rutherford speaks to neuroscientists to get to the bottom of what brain imaging can be useful for and when over-interpretation is an issue. Our resident zoologist Dr Tim Cockerill recently found himself filming animals deep in the jungles of Borneo. Before he left, we gave him an audio recorder to see what he could discover about the animal communities there, just by listening to them. It seems you can set your watch by some of their calls. Producer: Marnie Chesterton.
May 01, 2014
Y chromosome; Everest avalanche; Aphid survey; Longitude
Y Chromosome We learn from a young age that if a fertilised egg carries XX chromosomes it will be a girl, but with XY it will be a boy. This male Y sex chromosome has lost many genes along its evolution over the past 180 million years and now only about 20 genes remain. Now two new studies in Nature journal have given clues into how the Y chromosome evolved into its current state by looking at the genetic make up of 15 species the team built an archaeological record of all the mutations that occurred over time - to trace the timing of how the Y originated.... Professor Henrik Kaessmann from the University of Lausanne in Switzerland explains that the genes that remain play a more important role than previously believed. Everest Avalanche Last week the biggest single loss-of-life event occurred on Everest: a huge avalanche killed 16 Sherpa guides. All were so-called "icefall doctors", possibly the riskiest job of all, which involves finding a route through the broken mass of icefall, and then securing ladders and ropes for mountaineer tourists to follow. The Himalayan Sherpas have abandoned the climbing season out of respect for the fallen. There are many questions about health and safety, but we want to know what could be done to help? BBC Science Reporter Victoria Gill has been looking at the science behind avalanches, Are avalanches predictable? And will global warming in the Himalayan region make them more common? Aphid Survey This month the Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire's Insect Survey will have been monitoring national aphid populations for fifty years. Aphids, such as greenfly and blackfly, can cause extensive damage to plants and crops. The aphid season - as many gardeners will know - is just about to start. But how has the recent mild, wet winter affected their numbers? Lichens An Inside Science listener emailed in to ask about lichens - what are they and how do they live. We called in plant ecologist Professor Howard Griffiths, at the University of Cambridge to fill us in on these hardy, pioneering organisms. Longitude 300 years ago there was no way of knowing the position of a ship out on the high seas. The greatest scientific challenge of the age was navigation. Britain's response was to offer a large prize fund for the solution to the problem of Longitude. Richard Dunn, curator and head of science and technology at Royal Museums Greenwich tells Marnie Chesterton the story of John Harrison, a clockmaker and carpenter, who solved this seemingly impossible problem. Producer: Fiona Roberts.
Apr 24, 2014
Sperm and egg; Dogs; Automatic Facebook; Invasive species
How sperm recognises the egg The discovery of a protein on mammalian sperm almost a decade ago, sparked the search for the corresponding receptor on the egg. Now researchers in the UK have found this receptor in mouse egg cells. They propose to call it Juno, after the Roman Goddess of fertility and marriage. The finding indicates that these two proteins need to interact for normal fertilisation to occur. And in humans, it could lead to early screening of couple to decide which appropriate fertility treatment they require. Dogs as clinical models Dogs play an important companion role in society, but man's best friend can suffer from hundreds of different diseases. Surprisingly, many of these are very similar to human diseases, including cancer and autoimmune conditions. Research into a range of naturally occurring canine conditions has the potential to lead to some ground-breaking medical advances and improve human health. Automatic Facebook Keeping up with your online social network of 'friends' on Facebook can sometimes be time consuming and arduous. Now artificial intelligence expert, Boris Galitsky, has invented a robot to do the bulk of his social interactions online. But how realistic is it? And does it fool his cyber pals? Artistic brains feedback Last week we ran an item showing that researchers have found that artists' brains were structurally different from those of non-artists. This sparked a lot of listener feedback and debate on what is the difference between being an artist and being creative? Is it nature or nurture, or both? We attempt to get your points across! Invasive Alien Species The European Parliament has approved new legislation which hopes to contain the spread of invasive species of plants and animals in Europe. It has proposed bans on the possession, transport, selling or growing of restricted species. The list, which includes plants like Japanese knotweed and Himalayan balsam and animals like the "killer" shrimp, which can wreak havoc when they spread, was restricted to just 50 species. But now it will be open-ended, so when new alien invasive species arise, they can be dealt with more easily. But in the UK, what constitutes an 'alien' species and how do you decide whether it's invasive? And what about all the 'alien' plants we already grow in our gardens? Producer: Fiona Roberts.
Apr 17, 2014
Whales; Dark Matter; Falling; Arty brains
Whaling The International Court of Justice in the Hague recently ruled that Japan should stop whaling in the Antarctic “for scientific purposes.” They found that the primary purpose of the science programme, JARPAII, was not science. In that case, what was it for? Inside Science puts that question to whale biologist Vassili Papastavrou, and Lars Walløe, Japan’s expert witness at the ICJ. LUX Experiment to detect dark matter Scientists are entering a critical phase in the quest to find the one of most mysterious particles in the Universe. An experiment called LUX, in South Dakota is about to be switched on that offers the best hope yet of detecting dark matter - a substance thought to make up a quarter of the Universe, yet one that nobody has ever seen. Falling in the elderly As we age, we tend to fall more and the repercussions of falling are more serious But why? Even if you rule out physical reasons for why you might be more likely to fall, older people still fall more often. Professor Raymond Reynolds, at the University of Birmingham, thinks it might be something happening in their heads – the balance system could be letting them down. Tracey Logan climbs aboard the shake shack to find out. Arty Brains Artists often have lifestyle that requires complete immersion into their world, now a team finds that this difference is reflected in their brains too, that is, their brains are structurally different to non-artists. Participants' brain scans revealed that artists had increased grey matter in areas relating to fine motor movements and visual imagery. Our reporter Melissa Hogenboom speaks to artists and the authors of the new research to find out what exactly is different about their brains. The study is published in NeuroImage. Producer: Fiona Roberts
Apr 10, 2014
Calorie Restriction; Moon Age; Mars Yard; IPCC.
Calorie restriction Careful restriction of the number of calories eaten, without causing malnutrition, extends the lifespan of numerous organisms – from worms to mice – but whether it works in monkeys is controversial. Building on results from a long-running primate experiment, a team at the University of Wisconsin show a reduction in mortality, in response to caloric restriction. So there seem to be some benefits, but Tracey Logan asks if this can be applied to humans? And would we want to live longer on a tightly controlled diet? Dating the Moon New work by planetary scientists from France, Germany and the USA, has given the most accurate date yet for the birth of the moon. The Moon is believed to have formed out of debris from a massive collision with another Mars-sized planet. The date of this event has always been controversial as radioactive decay readings have produced wildly different results. But this clock uses a different approach, and rules out an early-forming moon. The later the moon formed, the less time for life to evolve. Mars Yard In 2016 Europe launches a mission to mars. ESA’s robotic rover will land on Mars in 2019, and in the meantime, needs to practice. To test it, scientists have recreated the surface of Mars, with 300 tonnes of sand. Reporter Sue Nelson went to Stevenage to play in the sandpit, for science. IPCC This week sees the most recent report from The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC. And the message is the same: the climate is changing as we continue to add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. Should we concentrate on adapting to climate change, rather than stopping it? Professor of Coastal Engineering at Southampton University, Robert Nicholls and Dr Rachel Warren of the UEA’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research discuss adaptation plans. Producer: Fiona Roberts
Apr 03, 2014
Fracking; Purple GM tomatoes; Bionic humans; Shark attacks
School Report on Fracking This week, Inside Science is taken over by BBC School Reporters and Melissa Hogenboom eavesdrops on a school in Lancashire, preparing their report on fracking. They discuss the issues very local to them, as well as the wider international angles and how best to present the story. Purple GM tomatoes The chemical that gives blackberries, blackcurrants, blueberries and some red grape varieties their distinctive purple colour is Anthocyanin. It’s been shown to have some possible anti-cancer properties as well as some protection against cardiovascular disease. So scientists at the John Innes Centre have inserted the ‘purple gene’ into tomatoes to try and boost their health-giving properties. This step is relatively easy, compared to navigating the rules and regulations of getting to the stage of producing purple ketchup. Gareth Mitchell asks the School reporters what they think about Genetic Modification of food crops. Artificial humans With progress in 3D printing of organs, brain-machine interfaces and even artificial skin. Materials scientist at University College London, Professor Mark Miodownik, thinks that the future really could be bionic. Would the School Reporters want to become half human, half machine? And would these technological advances just be used for repairing people who have been injured or really need it, or will it mean that those with enough money could enhance themselves to superhuman states? Shark Attacks Potentially dangerous sharks are being culled off the coast of Western Australia. The government claim it’s as a result of a rise in the number of deaths by shark attack. Many people are outraged by the killings. Shark attacks are still really rare compared to car accidents or even deaths from bee stings – so do the School Reporters think this is a good idea? Or do they think listening to what the scientists studying shark behaviour and developing shark deterrents say, is a better way to go?
Mar 27, 2014
Cosmic inflation; LISA; Photonic radar; Bird stress camera; Water research; Taxidermy
Cosmic Inflation and Gravity waves Scientists in the BICEP 2 Group say they've found the earliest rumbles of the Big Bang. Theory predicts how the universe first expanded. Now we have the first observation of the phenomenon behind it. The universe was kick-started by a so called 'inflation' - vigorous growth within a fraction of a second of the Big Bang going bang. To confirm inflation you need to detect ripples in the fabric of space called gravitational waves. And to find those, you need to look for twists and kinks in this stuff. The BICEP 2 radio telescope, at the South Pole, has been measuring the direction of twists of light from the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation - which is a form of primordial light, a remnant of the Big Bang. The signals have been released that show distortions in that light that can only have been caused by gravitational waves. They could only be there if there was inflation. In other words, these observations have shored up one of the most important theories in cosmology. Gareth Mitchell discusses what this means with BBC Science Correspondent Jonathan Amos and Astronomer at UCL Dr. Hiranya Peiris. Photonic Radar As the search closes in on missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH 370, radar technology has been in the spotlight. At the same time, new research published in this week's Nature journal reports on field trials of the next generation of radars - photonics based. Lead-author Paolo Ghelfi, from the National Laboratory of Photonics networks in Pisa, Italy explains their methods. Professor David Stupples, a radar expert from City University, London, explain that this cheaper, more accurate technology could end up in your car. Show Us Your Instrument - Infrared camera Infrared cameras detect heat, and process this as a colourful image. Dominic McCafferty, from Glasgow University, uses this kit to study stress levels in birds. When an animal is stressed, blood is drawn away from its skin and routed to the essential organs. This 'fight or flight' reflex means the temperature of certain parts of the animal drops. The infrared camera measures this, providing a non-invasive way of testing an animal's stress level. Current projects include one to test chickens, aiming to improve their welfare. Water research When listener Dave Conway emailed in to ask about what research is being done on water, if any - we went straight to materials scientist Professor Mark Miodownik at UCL to find out. Taxidermy Is taxidermy a dying art? Not for the chattering classes of New York apparently. There's been a rise in demand for people to attend classes where they learn to stuff and mount animals, and often dress them up in costumes. But what is the value of the stuffed animals in museums? In the multimedia age of interactive displays, 3D printing and computer models - do we still need the stuffed and stitched creatures in glass cases? Producer: Fiona Roberts.
Mar 20, 2014
Tracking planes; Peer review; Mega-virus; Astronaut
Are black boxes outdated technology? With GPS widely available in everyday gadgets like mobile phones, how could Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 just disappear? Adam Rutherford speaks to Dr Matt Greaves, a Lecturer in Accident Investigation at Cranfield University, about how we track aircraft. Earlier this year, a new study from Japan announced a curiously easy way to make stem cells, by placing them in a mild acid bath. It seemed too good to be true, and according to recent critics, it is. One of the authors has declared that the paper should be withdrawn, that he has 'lost faith in it'. Ivan Oransky runs the site RetractionWatch, dedicated to scrutinizing irregular research. He talks to Adam about the value of post-publication peer review, and public scrutiny of science on the internet. A 30,000 year old killer, buried 100 feet under the Siberian permafrost, has risen from the dead. It's a mega virus, with the largest genome of any known virus, and, happily, only infects amoebae. Virologist Professor Jonathan Ball, of the University of Nottingham, explains the implications of reanimating dead viruses. And actual spaceman, retired NASA pilot Captain Jon McBride, came into the studio to share his out-of-this-world memories and prediction that the next generation of astronauts will be chosen on brains not brawn. Producer: Fiona Roberts.
Mar 13, 2014
LG - Chemical weapons, Turtles, Tech for wildlife, Climate
Chemical weapons Disposing of Syria's chemical weapons is a difficult task, both politically and technically. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), responsible for the decommissioning, has kitted out a special ship, the MV Cape Ray to hydrolyse "priority" toxic substances. Hamish de Bretton Gordon, a chemical weapons expert from SecureBio, explains why destroying chemical precursors on dry land is not an option and whether the job will be done on time. Tracking turtles Satellite tags have finally given researchers insight into the "lost years" of loggerhead turtles. After many failed attempts, researchers have worked out how to attach the tiny tags to the months-old animals during the uncertain period when they leave US coastal waters and head out into the Atlantic Ocean. The data suggests the loggerheads can spend some time living in amongst floating mats of Sargassum seaweed, in the Sargasso Sea. Technology for Nature The tools and gadgets available to remotely track animals and monitor populations and their habitats are getting better and more mechanised. Cameras mounted on birds can record where they fly; audio recordings capture bat calls; satellite images monitoring habitat change. However all this digital data needs to be analysed. Professor Kate Jones, an expert on biodiversity at University College London, thinks that this is where more technological advances are needed. She wants image recognition programmes to scan through millions of remote camera images, or sound recognition of hundreds of thousands of bat calls to be developed. Climate The recent extreme rainfall has left many asking, is this weather linked to climate change? A new project 'weather@home' 2014, aims to use a large citizen science experiment to answer this question. Myles Allen, Professor of Geosystems Science at the School of Geography and the Environment, and Dr Nathalie Schaller, both of Oxford University, explain that they aim to run two sets of weather simulations. One will represent conditions and "possible weather" in the winter 2014, and the second will represent the weather in a "world that might have been" if human behaviour had not changed the composition of the atmosphere through greenhouse gas emissions. By comparing the numbers of extreme rainfall events in the two ensembles, 'Weather@Home' will work out if the risk of a wet winter has increased, decreased or been unaffected by human influence on climate. Producer: Fiona Roberts.
Mar 06, 2014
Brain Machine Interfaces; Question on Gay Genes; Studying Drinking Behaviour
Neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis is one of the world's leading researchers into using the mind to control machines. He is involved in the "Walk Again Project" which aims to build a suit that a paraplegic person can wear and control so that he or she can kick a football at the opening ceremony of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Adam is joined by biomedical engineer, Professor Christopher James from Warwick University, who puts the field of Brain Machine Interfaces in context. Work published last week by Professor Ziv Williams looks at the possibility of rewiring the body. Paralysis is normally confined to spinal cord damage, not the limbs themselves. Ziv Williams' work aims to use implanted chips to bypass the injury and have the individual control their own paralysed arms. Listeners ask if there is a gene for fundamentalist intolerance. We put the question to Professor Tim Spector, author of Identically Different. Adam Rutherford heads down to the psychology department at London's South Bank University... for a pint. Dr Tony Moss has built a fake pub, complete with lighting, music and even a fruit machine, to make drinkers feel that they are in a real bar. He says the venue treads a middle ground between a sterile lab, and an actual pub, where there are too many variables to reliably study behaviour. Professor John Shepherd from Cardiff studies alcohol and behaviour from the other end - the drunken nights out that end up in A&E. A few simple initiatives have helped reduce violence levels by 40% Producer: Fiona Roberts.
Feb 27, 2014
Bees; Whales; Pain; Gay genes
Bees - Nearly all bees in the UK suffering serious declines. They're mostly threatened by habitat and land-use change. But disease also plays a part. Adam Rutherford talks to Professor Mark Brown about new work he's done looking at the evidence of diseases harboured by honeybees, spilling over into wild bumblebees. Pain and epigenetics - Marnie Chesterton goes to Kings College, London to watch identical twins being tested for pain tolerance. The study is to gain insight into the genetic components of pain perception. One area which is fascinating researchers like Professor Tim Spector is the role of epigenetics in how we process pain. Our epigenome is a system that changes the way our DNA is interpreted. Genes can be dialled up or down, like a dimmer switch, by adding little chemical tags to the DNA. These chemical tags, unlike DNA, are changeable, in response to the changing environment. So could the way we live affect the pain we feel? Whales from Space - More listeners' questions, this time, asking whether surveys using images from satellites to see whales underwater, could be hijacked by whale hunters? Peter Fretwell from the British Antarctic Survey has the answer. Genetics of sexual preference - The media is all of a twitter this week over unpublished work recently revealed on research looking for genes related to homosexuality. We hear from Professor Tim Spector on the topic, and Adam talks to Professor Steve Jones about the science. Producer: Fiona Roberts.
Feb 20, 2014
Whales from space; Flood emails; SUYI JET Lasers; CERN's new tunnel; Discoveries exhibition
Whales from Space. Scientists have demonstrated how new satellite technology can be used to count whales, and ultimately estimate their population size. Using Very High Resolution (VHR) satellite imagery, alongside image processing software, they were able to automatically detect and count whales breeding in part of the Golfo Nuevo, Peninsula Valdes in Argentina. The new method could revolutionise how whale population size is estimated. Marine mammals are extremely difficult to count on a large scale and traditional methods are costly, inaccurate and dangerous; several whales researchers have died in light aircraft accidents. How long will the floods last? Is this a trend caused by climate change? Should I turn on the kitchen taps so that house is at least flooded with clean water? We put listeners' flood questions to experts from the Centre of Ecology and Hydrology and the British Geological Survey. The instrument we're shown this week is from JET (Joint European Torus) in Culham,. It's the world's largest 'tokamak' - a type of nuclear fusion reactor. The hope is that in a few decades it could be supplying much of the world's electricity. It works by fusing nuclei of hydrogen together to produce helium and a lot of excess energy. It's the power source of the Universe, as all stars run on fusion energy. But on Earth we have to go to much more extreme conditions to achieve it. Upwards of 100 million degrees Celsius, which is around ten times hotter than the Sun. Joanne Flannagan, shows us her lasers which measure the hot fusion plasma inside JET. CERN wants a new tunnel. The 27km long, Large Hadron Collider in Geneva found evidence of the Higgs boson recently. But if we want to know more about this elusive particle and others that make up our universe, the physicists say they're going to have to go bigger. With a 100km long tunnel, in fact. Talks are afoot as to where and how they will build it. But Lucie asks reporter Roland Pease whether it'll be worth it? The current Discoveries exhibition at Two Temple Place, on the banks of the Thames, brings together treasures from eight University of Cambridge museums, in a beautiful period building, built by Waldorf Astor. The show combines objects from science and arts collections to explore the theme of 'Discoveries'. Curator Professor Nick Thomas gives Lucie Green a tour. Producer: Fiona Roberts.
Feb 13, 2014
Engineering for floods; Neanderthal genes; Switching senses; Genes in Space game
The warning that floods are likely to become more common, or more severe, won't be a high priority for those with homes currently deluged. But it is something architects, engineers and planners have been taking very seriously. Dr. Adam Rutherford finds out about some of the innovations, both in UK and abroad, being designed for homes in areas prone to flooding - from simple door guards and waterproofing which can be retrofitted to existing houses - to entire city re-landscaping, or 'waterscaping' which aims to make room for the river, rather than fighting against it. Last week Adam talked about research showing that most people of European or East Asian descent carry a small percentage of Neanderthal DNA - about 2%. He examined some of the physical characteristics we may have got from the genes of our ancient cousins. This week Inside Science addresses some of the questions this fascinating work prompted. A new study in the journal Neuron this week, looks at what happens in the brain when one of the senses is dulled. Dr. Patrick Kanold, from the University of Maryland in the States, and his colleagues simulated blindness in mice by keeping them in the dark for a week, to see what happened to the parts of their brains involved in hearing. The found that the mouse's hearing improved. We sometimes talk about the brain being 'hardwired': all the neurons locked in place from early childhood. It was assumed that there was only a short, finite period when the brain was still capable of changing, but the new research shows parts of the brain still has room to manoeuvre. A recurring problem in science is that we are far better at collecting vast amounts of scientific data than we are at actually analysing them. To combat this problem, the charity Cancer Research UK have just launched a mobile phone game, 'Genes In Space', that farms statistical analysis out to the masses. Under the guise of flying a spaceship through a meteor storm, game players actually navigate their way through genetic sequence data from breast cancer patients. The information on the virtual path they take is automatically uploaded to the database and fed back into the scientific process. Producer: Fiona Roberts.
Feb 06, 2014
Neanderthals; Plague; Wind Tunnel; Music Timing; Stem Cells
We now know that Neanderthals and our ancestors interbred over 40,000 years ago. Recent research has shown that most people of European or East Asian descent carry a small percentage of Neanderthal DNA - about 2%. But two new papers this week examine some of the physical characteristics we may have got from the genes of our ancient cousins. They include some disease susceptibilities and hair and skin characteristics, which may have helped our forebears survive in northern climes. There have been many sensationalist headlines in the news this week suggesting that the deadly bubonic plague could return, when really, it never went away. And while it can still be deadly, it can be treated early with antibiotics. In the Middle Ages the Black Death is thought to have killed up to half of the European population and so too did the Justinian Plague 800 years earlier. Now scientists have compared these two plague genomes to find that they were both caused by distinct strains of the same bacterium, Yersinia Pestis. Knowing how the pathogen evolved in the past is crucial to our understanding of possible future strains of plague. Lead author Dr David Wagner from the University of Arizona tells Dr Adam Rutherford that it's very unlikely the plague will return on a mass scale. It's a windy Show Us Your Instrument this week - Prof Konstantinos ('Kostas') Kontis, Professor of Aerospace Engineering shows us around his wind tunnel. It's used to help develop more effective plane wings, helicopter rotors, and wind turbine blades, but cyclist Sir Chris Hoy has also been a test sample. Glasgow University is currently building a hypersonic wind tunnel, which can test air flow at speeds of up to Mach 10. We all unconsciously synchronise our movements and researchers at the University of Birmingham have shown how professional musicians make tiny adjustments in their playing to keep time with their colleagues. Alan Wing, Professor of Human Movement in Psychology tells Adam how this research about minute synchronisation is helping to inform how robots can be designed to interact with humans. Stem cells can become any other cell in the body from nerve to bone to skin, and they are touted as the future of medicine. Embryos are one, often ethically charged, source of stem cells and in 2006 Nobel prize winning research showed that skin cells could be "genetically reprogrammed" to become stem cells. These were called induced pluripotent stem cells. Scientists in Japan have now shown, in mice, that this previous painstaking method of making the versatile cells can be replaced by little more than a short dip in acid. Professor Chris Mason from University College London tells Adam that this major breakthrough could be faster, cheaper and possibly safer than other cell reprogramming technologies. Producer: Fiona Hill.
Jan 30, 2014
Higgs Boson; Neutrinos; Antarctic echo locator; Rainforest fungi; Alabama rot
The Higgs boson has been discovered, providing the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle for the Standard Model of particle physics, a description of how the universe works. But what physicists haven't found yet, which they should have, are supersymmetry or SUSY particles. Roland Pease attended a recent meeting of top physicists, and shares with Adam Rutherford the latest discussions about where to look next. The history of neutrinos is littered with interesting characters. It was Wolfgang Pauli who first suggested their existence. Pauli was so unsettled by his proposal that he bet a case of champagne against anyone being able to discover these "pathologically shy" particles. Since then, scientists have built ever more elaborate experiments to try and detect these particles. Ray Jayawardhana, Professor of Astrophysics and author of a new book "The Neutrino Hunters" explains more about the most abundant particle in the universe. This week's Show Us Your Instrument is a tool used to help scientists measure the glaciers in the Antarctic. Julian Dowdeswell, a glaciologist from the University of Cambridge, uses an echo-locator to look at the dynamics of large ice masses and their response to climate change. Fungi, not viewed favourably by gardeners, can be good for rainforest biodiversity. Dr Owen Lewis from Oxford University tells Melissa Hogenboom that plots sprayed with fungicide soon become dominated by a few species at the expense of many others, leading to a marked drop in diversity. A mysterious illness killing dogs has been in the headlines this week. David Walker a veterinary specialist, says that although it's not clear what's causing the disease, people should not panic.
Jan 23, 2014
Personal genetics kits; Persister cells; Earthquake mapping; Scorpions
For a couple of hundred quid, one of many companies will send you a kit for sampling your own genome, and most will tell you your genetic risk for some diseases. In December the US Food and Drug Administration imposed a ban on one of these companies, 23andme. The reasoning was that if the organisation is offering medical advice, it needs to be medically regulated. Geneticist Professor Robert Green from Harvard Medical School argues that people can cope responsibly with their genetic information and that the FDA is being over-cautious. Most people are familiar with recurrent infections caused by bacteria such as tonsillitis and bladder infections, where you pick up an infection, get treated with antibiotics and then after a few weeks or months the infection reappears and you need another course of antibiotics; this is a problem that can go on for many years, and is a major healthcare burden world-wide. Marnie Chesterton met a team from Imperial College studying the elusive persister cells responsible for these relapses. Earthquakes usually occur in subduction zones, where one tectonic plate plunges beneath another. Now a team at University of Aberdeen has analysed a large earthquake database and developed a global map giving clues to which areas could be capable of causing giant earthquakes. Professor Nicholas Rawlinson explains the difficulties of predicting. The venom of scorpions contains neurotoxins, which attack the nervous system of animals - it's one of the reasons why it's not a good idea to be stung by a scorpion. The structure of these toxins very closely resembles the structure of a group of proteins with a completely different purpose, called defensins. Professor Jan Tytgat from KU Leauven suggests that venom evolved from these defensins.
Jan 16, 2014
Antarctica weather and climate change; GM Fish Oils; Melanin Fossils; Time Travel
Scientists following in the footsteps of Edwardian explorer, Douglas Mawson, have been trapped in pack ice in the Antarctic. The Chinese vessel that came to their rescue also became "beset" in the ice. The BBC's Andrew Luck Baker talks to Adam Rutherford about the catacylsmic event that caused multi-year ice to break away and trap the Academik Shokalskiy and Professor John Turner of the British Antarctic Survey underlines the importance of differentiating between extreme weather events and the impact of climate change. A team at Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire has succeeded in genetically engineering plant seeds to contain the Omega-3 oil usually found in oily fish. Seeds from Camelina sativa (false flax) plants were modified using genes from microalgae - the primary organisms that produce these beneficial fatty acids.The oil has now been incorporated into salmon feed to assess whether it's a viable alternative to wild fish oil. Dr Johnathan Napier tells Melissa Hogenboom that he hopes the plants will provide a sustainable source of long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids. From fossils we know an awful lot about the animals that walked on the Earth, swam in the sea and flew in the air. But fossils have never been good at revealing the colour of these animals. With increasingly sophisticated sampling techniques however, scientists are starting to get a much better, technicolour glimpse into these extinct fauna. And it turns out that colour played a much more important role than just camouflage and decoration. Johan Lindgren form Lund University in Sweden has been finding out how the pigment, melanin, allowed ancient marine reptiles to travel all over the oceanic globe. Show Us Your Instrument: Dr Andrew Polaszek, Head of Terrestrial Invertebrates at the Natural History Museum reveals his compound microscope (with Nomarski Differential Interference Contrast) which he uses to discover "hidden biodiversity", particularly in parasitoid wasps. Stephen Hawking threw a party for time travellers and issued the invitation after the event. Astrophysicists after a long poker game decided to use Twitter instead, to flush out the time travellers in our midst. Professor Robert Nemiroff from Michigan Tech University and his students mined social media for references to the Comet ISON and the naming of the new Pope Francis, before both those events had actually happened. Producer: Fiona Hill.
Jan 09, 2014
Ancient Human Occupation of Britain
The ancient inhabitants of Britain; when did they get here? Who were they? And how do we know? Alice Roberts meets some of the AHOB team, who have been literally digging for answers. The Natural History Museum's Chris Stringer, is the Director of AHOB, the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain, a project which, over the past 12 years, has brought together a large team of palaeontologists, archaeologists, geologists and geographers, to pool their expertise in order to unpick British History. Nick Ashton from the British Museum has been in charge of the north Norfolk site of Happisburgh, where the crumbling coast line has revealed the oldest examples of human life in Britain, 400,000 years earlier than previous findings of human habitation, in Boxgrove in Sussex. The ancient landscape had its share of exotic animals. Hippos have been dug up from Trafalgar Square, mammoths have been excavated from Fleet Street. Professor Danielle Schreve is an expert in ancient mammal fossils, and tells us what these bones reveal about the ancient climate. Less glamorous than the big fossils, the humble vole is so useful and accurate as a dating tool that it has been nicknamed "the Vole Clock." Carbon dating has improved vastly in the past few years. Rob Dinnis, from Edinburgh University, explains why the AHOB team has been returning to old collections and redating them.
Jan 06, 2014
Bacteriophages; Breath-detecting disease; Our bees electric and DNA Barcoding
Professor Alice Roberts talks bacteriophages: viruses that infect the bacteria that infect us. With the rise of antibiotic resistance they are a potential weapon against infection. We hear from Paul Hebert, the biologist behind the International Barcode of Life project – a global effort to classify the entire world’s species according to their DNA. Bristol researchers have discovered that it is more than scent and colour that draws a bee to a flower – there is also an electric field. Claire Turner from the Open University shows us the instrument she uses to detect disease. It can sense when a heart transplant patient is rejecting their new organ, purely through monitoring their breath.
Dec 26, 2013
Antimicrobial soap; GAIA; Stone-age jellybones; Antarctica
Antibacterial soaps and body washes make up an industry worth millions of pounds, but in the USA, producers have been told that they have just over a year to prove their products are safe, or, re-label or reformulate them. Many believe that using antimicrobial soaps, which often include the chemicals triclosan or triclocarban, keeps you clean and reduces the chance of getting ill or passing on germs to others. But the Food and Drug Administration in the USA says it's the job of manufacturers to demonstrate the benefits, to balance any potential risks. Professor Jodi Lindsay, expert in microbial pathogenesis from St Georges, University of London, tells Dr Adam Rutherford where this leaves British and European consumers. The world's most powerful satellite camera was launched today into space. Its mission, to map the billion stars in our galaxy. Professor Gerry Gilmore, Principal Investigator for GAIA, tells Inside Science about the planned "walk through the Milky Way" and BBC Science Correspondent, Jonathan Amos, spells out how GAIA could help detect future asteroids, like the one that wiped out the dinosaurs on earth. Just after the Second World War in a site in North Yorkshire, the discovery of a flint blade triggered the discovery of one of the world's most important Mesolithic or Stone Age sites. What makes Star Carr so special is that organic artefacts, bone harpoons, deer headdresses and even homesteads, were preserved in the peat 11000 years ago. But these precious artefacts are in trouble. Changing acidic conditions are turning the Mesolithic remains to jelly. Sue Nelson reports from the Vale of Pickering on how archaeologists are working with chemists to try to pinpoint exactly why the Stone Age remains are deteriorating so quickly. And Professor Chris Turney talks to Adam from his research ship in Commonwealth Bay in the Antarctic, where he is leading a team of scientists to recreate the journey made by Douglas Mawson, 100 years ago, on the Australasian Antarctic Expedition. Producer: Fiona Hill.
Dec 19, 2013
Horsemeat; NanoSims; Early bacteria; Crystallography
Food crime is now big business that criss crosses national boundaries, according to today's report into the safety and authenticity of our food. Public Analyst, Dr Duncan Campbell tells Dr Adam Rutherford that he and his colleagues are hampered by lack of funding and the lack of a national plan for a sustainable laboratory infrastructure. While report author, Professor Chris Elliott, the director of the Global Institute for Food Security at Queen's University, Belfast describes how he wants the UK's scientific infrastructure to be strengthened to avoid yet another serious food scandal. Show Us Your Instrument: Cosmic Scientist Dr Natalie Starkey from the School of Planetary and Space Sciences at the Open University reveals the NanoSims instrument. Thousands of miles apart the same species of microbes seem to crop up deep beneath the earth's surface in cracks of hard rock. Yet nobody seems to quite know how they spread so widely. Scientists now believe they may have survived completely isolated from the surface for what could be billions of years. Dr Matt Shrenk from Michigan State University explains that the biosphere as we know it is far more extensive than we previously thought. Crystallography... as it sounds is the study of crystals, but it's not quite as simple as that. It underpins many scientific fields and yet it remains a relatively unknown subject area. Scores of Nobel prizes have been won, the first almost 100 years ago and we wouldn't understand the structure of DNA without it. The United Nations has declared 2014 as the International Year of Crystallography and emeritus Professor Mike Glazer from Oxford University says he hopes it will help bring the subject out of the shadows. Producer: Fiona Hill.
Dec 12, 2013
Badger culls; Douglas Mawson; Plastics; Uptalk
Badger culls in England have ended and Professor Roland Kao from the University of Glasgow discusses with Dr Adam Rutherford the scientific options remaining to tackle the spread of bovine tuberculosis. Field trials of the TB cattle vaccine are due to start next year and Professor Kao hopes that their success in sequencing the genome of Mycobactrium bovis will also provide a greater understanding about how this devastating disease spreads. The name of Douglas Mawson isn't discussed along with the famous triumvirate, Scott, Amundsen and Shackleton, but one hundred years ago, he led the first science-only Australasian Antarctic Expedition. A century later, Professor Chris Turney is co-leading a repeat expedition, where scientists will repeat many of the measurements of the Mawson trip. Rising inflexion at the end of your sentences is known as "uptalk" or "valleygirl speak" and it's usually associated with young Californian females. But now a new study shows that uptalk is expanding to men. Professor Amalia Arvaniti explains that uptalk has negative connotations which makes men less likely to admit to using it, but it was clear was that this pattern of speech is like totally spreading. Waste plastic makes its way into many areas of the environment which can threaten wildlife. Small particles of plastic can also be ingested by organisms and as they act almost like sponges the plastics attract other chemicals onto their surface. Despite this their hazard ranking is the same as scraps of food or grass clippings. Dr Mark Browne from the National Centre for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, USA, describes his new research in the journal, Current Biology, which shows that these microplastics have toxic concentrations of pollutants in which can harm biodiversity. He also explains how these microplastics transfer toxic pollutants and chemicals into the guts of lugworms. These worms have been nicknamed "eco-engineers" because they eat organic matter from the sediment and prevent the build-up of silt. Producer: Fiona Hill.
Dec 05, 2013
Therapeutic hypothermia; Cameras on Gaia; Methane; Wine microbiota
Therapeutic hypothermia is standard treatment for cardiac arrest patients to protect against the damaging or deadly repercussions of a beatless heart. But this global practice has been called into question after research in the New England Journal of Medicine reported no difference in survival rates between patients chilled to 33 degrees and those cooled to just below normal body temperature to 36 degrees. Dr Jerry Nolan, vice chair of the European Resuscitation Council tells Dr Adam Rutherford how doctors worldwide are reacting to this new study and Dr Kevin Fong, author of "Extremes, Life, Death and the Limits of the Human Body" describes how medicine has historically harnessed hypothermic states to heal. Show Us Your Instrument: The European Space Agency's GAIA mission is due to launch just before Christmas. It will spend the next 5 years recording space, using a billion pixel camera. This camera is made up of charge-couple devices, similar to the ones you'd find in your smart phone. These are damaged by space radiation. Dr Ross Burgon damages them in his lab first, to tell whether the images coming back from space are real stars or planets, or the digital equivalent of a smudge on the lens. Methane is the second most important greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide because it's 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at trapping the sun's rays. And it doesn't hang around as long either, ten years as opposed to a 100. So tackling methane is seen by many countries as a useful way of reducing greenhouse gases, quickly. But that depends on knowing how much there is. A new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reveals that United States could be underestimating its methane emissions by as much as fifty per cent. Dr Vincent Gauci Head of Ecosystems and Biodiversity at the Open University explains how the Americans got their sums so wrong, and considers whether the British calculations are similarly suspect. The fuzzy concept of "terroir" for wine fans has always been difficult to pin down. Climate, soil, geology and individual wine-making practice don't make it easy to identify what makes particular wines unique. But Dr David Mills, Professor in the Department of Viticulture and Enology at University of California, Davis, has used DNA sequencing to study the microbial ecology of individual grapes. And he concludes bacteria and fungi could explain "microbial terroir". Producer: Fiona Hill.
Nov 28, 2013
Bird Atlas; Flywheels; Energy capture; Science lessons for MPs
Every twenty years there's a detailed survey of the birds of the UK and Ireland and today, the 2007-2011 Bird Atlas is published. Adam Rutherford hears from Dawn Balmer from the British Trust for Ornithology about the citizen scientists, the forty thousand volunteers who collected data on a staggering 19 million birds - 502 different species - and meets their record breaking volunteer, Chris Reynolds. A 73 year old retired maths teacher, Chris took part in the previous three atlases and walked thousands of miles in all seasons across his patch in the Outer Hebrides. Dawn describes the avifaunal picture revealed in this latest Atlas. In 2009, Williams developed a flywheel - which temporarily stores energy - for their formula 1 car. After the Research and Development was done, the F1 governing body changed the rules, and there was no longer space for a flywheel on their car. No matter, these things have other uses. Mark Smout from Smout Allen has proposed a design for the Isle of Sheppey in Kent, which uses banks of these flywheels to regulate the energy from the nearby wind farm. It also uses spare electricity to grow a sea defence for the island. Marnie Chesterton reports on this flywheel technology and Tim Fox, energy expert at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers describes to Adam other potential solutions for storing energy on the National Grid. Professor Bill Sutherland from the University of Cambridge is a co-author on a new "cheat sheet", published in this week's Nature, to help politicians and policy makers sort the good scientific research from the bad. He talks to Adam about why it's more important and faster, to teach a scientific approach than simply to teach facts. Producer: Fiona Hill.
Nov 21, 2013
DNA to ID typhoon victims; Volcanic ash; Hope for red squirrels; Robogut
Global experts in DNA identification are flying to the Philippines to assess whether they can help families to determine, beyond doubt, which of the hundreds of victims of Typhoon Haiyan are their relatives. The International Commission on Missing Persons in Sarajevo used DNA matching to identify the thousands killed in the former Yugoslavia and has since helped in conflict zones around the world. Now, working with Interpol, scientists from the ICMP are called on to assist in victim identification after natural disasters as well, and head of forensic services, Dr Thomas Parsons, tells Adam Rutherford that a team will be sent to the Philippines on Monday. The enormous ash cloud following the 2010 eruption of the Icelandic volcano, Eyjafjallajokell, grounded aircraft across Europe for more than a week and caused unprecedented disruption. Dr Fred Prata has invented a weather radar for ash, and off the Bay of Biscay, his AVOID infra red camera system, the Airborne Volcanic Object Imaging Detector, has just been tested after a ton of Icelandic volcanic ash was dropped by aeroplane into the sky. From France, Dr Prata describes the experiment and Dr Sue Loughlin, Head of Volcanology at the British Geological Survey in Edinburgh, tells Adam how Iceland has become the scientific "supersite" for seismic research. Show Us Your Instrument: Dr Glenn Gibson at the University of Reading with his Robo gut, a full-working model of the human large intestine. Liverpool University's Dr Julian Chantrey, and his PhD student have spent the past 4 years monitoring red squirrels in the Sefton area. Out of the 93 they trapped and blood tested, 5 had antibodies for the normally-deadly squirrel pox, suggesting they had contracted the pox and survived. It's early days but this could mean that reds are developing a level of resistance to the squirrel pox, like rabbits have to myxomatosis. We could be seeing evolution by natural selection in action. Producer: Fiona Hill.
Nov 14, 2013
Personal genome; Solar cells and music; Asteroids; Alfred Russel Wallace
A hundred thousand Britons are being asked to donate their sequenced DNA, their personal genome, to a vast database on the internet, so scientists can use the information for medical and genetic research. The Personal Genome Project-UK was launched today and participants are being warned, as part of the screening process, that their anonymity won't be guaranteed. Stephan Beck, Professor of Medical Genomics at University College London's Cancer Institute and the Director of PGP-UK, tells Dr Lucie Green that anonymised genetic databases aren't impregnable, and that it is already possible for an individual's identity to be established using jigsaw identification. This new "open access" approach, he says, will rely on altruistic early-adopters who are comfortable with having their genetic data, their medical history and their personal details freely available as a tool for research. Jane Kaye, Director of the Centre for Law, Health and Emerging Technologies at the University of Oxford, describes the rigorous selection procedure for would-be volunteers. Scientists at Queen Mary University London and Imperial have created Good Vibrations by playing pop songs to solar panels. Exposing zinc oxide PV cells to noise alongside light generated up to 50% more current than just light alone. Pop and rock music had the most effect, while classical was the least effective genre. Thanks to the Russians' enthusiasm for dash-cams in their cars, the twenty metre asteroid that came crashing into the atmosphere above the town of Chelyabinsk, East of the Urals in February this year, was the most filmed and photographed event of its kind. Mobile phones and cameras captured the meteor, moving at 19 kilometres a second (that's 60 times the speed of sound) and the enormous damage caused by the airblast. The plethora of footage allowed researchers to shed light on our understanding of asteroid impacts and in a new study, published in Nature, Professor Peter Brown from the University of Western Ontario in Canada questions whether using nuclear explosions is an appropriate way to model these airbursts and whether telescopes could underestimate the frequency of these events. Seventh November this year is the hundredth anniversary of the death of Alfred Russel Wallace. As the Natural History Museum in London unveils the first statue of him, we ask why, as co-discoverer of the theory of evolution by natural selection, Wallace doesn't share Charles Darwin's spotlight. Dr George Beccaloni, from the NHM, explains to Lucie why Wallace deserves both glory and commemoration. Producer: Fiona Hill.
Nov 07, 2013
Moon dust; Electro-ceuticals; Soil and climate change; Dogs' tails
A NASA spacecraft the size of a sofa is currently orbiting the Moon, gathering information about the toxic perils of moon dust. Dirt from the moon is sharp, spiky and sticky and it caused enormous problems for early astronauts as Professor Sara Russell from the Natural History Museum tells Dr Lucie Green. Joining Lucie from NASA HQ in Washington DC, Sarah Noble, programme scientist on the LADEE Mission, tells her that understanding the make-up and movement of lunar dust is vital to ensure humans can work on the Moon in the future. Electroceuticals is the new research area for medicine, tapping into the electricity transmitted through the vast network of nerves that run throughout our bodies. Kerri Smith reports on how the body's natural wiring could become a valuable tool for treating organs affected by disease. Glaxo Smith Kline has just invested £30 million into electroceuticals and researchers in labs around the world are working on devices that could "plug" into troubled organs and correct the electrical signals that have gone awry. The impact of man-made climate change tends to focus on the things we can see, like shrinking glaciers or the weather. But a study published in Nature this week by a team in Spain, focuses on the impact underground, on the make up of the soil in a sizeable part of the earth's land, the drylands. The impact of increasing aridity is dramatic, affecting the delicate balance between nitrogen, carbon and phosphorus, with serious implications for soil fertility. David Wardle, Professor of Soil and Plant Ecology at the Swedish Institute of Agriculture, tells Lucie Green that this important new study spells out the risks when delicate chemical balances are upset. Oceanographer, Helen Czerski, revealed her instrument, a giant buoy, on Inside Science's Show Us Your Instrument slot in the summer. This week, Helen is launching the buoy into the stormy seas South of Greenland, and Inside Science listeners are being called on to come up with a name ! Bob anyone ? Or Lucie's suggestion, Buoyonce ? Dogs wag their tails more to the right when they're happy and relaxed; more to the left when they're anxious. Georgio Vallortigara, Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Trento in Italy has now shown that asymmetrical tail wagging actually means something to other dogs. Producer: Fiona Hill.
Oct 31, 2013
Nuclear Waste; Exoplanets; BBC time and pips, Synthetic Biology Olympics
Britain's legacy of nuclear waste dates back 60 plus years and a long term solution to deal with it hasn't yet been found. After this week's announcement that the UK will have a new nuclear power station, Hinkley C in Somerset, Dr Adam Rutherford asks Professor Sue Ion, former Director of Technology at British Nuclear Fuels and Chair of the European Commission's Science and Technology Committee, Euratom, how much extra waste this new plant will add to the radioactive stockpile. Eighteen years ago the first planet outside of our solar system was discovered, "51 Pegasi b". This week the tally of exoplanets passed one thousand, and as astronomer Dr Stuart Clark tells Adam, an earth twin isn't part of the planetary list.....yet. Show Us Your Instrument: Public Astronomer Dr Marek Kukula introduces the original Six Pip Masterclock at the Greenwich Observatory. This clock was used in the 1920s to send the time signals down a telephone line to the BBC, for transmission to the whole country over the radio. That's not the case now, and Adam goes down into the basement of Broadcasting House in London in search of the atomic clock that's now used to generate the Greenwich Time Signal and the famous BBC pips. iGEM is a global biology competition that allows students to build their own organisms. The UK has two teams going to the grand final next week. Adam goes to meet the team from Imperial College London, who have made a bacterium which produces plastic. Producer: Fiona Hill.
Oct 24, 2013
Genetics and education; Golden Rice inventor; Chimp Chatter and Lightning Lab
The link between genetics and a child's academic performance hit the headlines this week when Education Secretary, Michael Gove's outgoing special advisor, Dominic Cummings, called for education policy to incorporate the science behind genes and cognitive development. Mr Cummings cited the Professor of Behavioural Genetics, Robert Plomin, as a major source, and Professor Plomin tells Dr Adam Rutherford what he thinks about the way his research has been interpreted. Steve Jones, Emeritus Professor of Genetics from University College London says why he believes genetics and education is such a controversial subject. Fifty years ago, researchers tried, and failed, to teach chimpanzees English. They concluded that chimp noises were merely basic expressions of fear or pleasure. Dr Katie Slocombe from York University has shown that chimp language is far more tactical, machiavellian even, than that. The inventor of Golden Rice, the genetically modified crop, tells Adam Rutherford that he agrees with Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, that those who attack GM crops are "wicked". Professor Ingo Potrykus from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich developed Golden Rice enriched with Vitamin A in 1999 and believes that opposition to GM foods has prevented the crop being grown and widely planted. But, nearly 80 years old, Professor Potrykus tells Inside Science that he still believes Golden Rice will be grown and eaten throughout the world during his lifetime. Rhys Phillips makes lightning at a Cardiff laboratory for this week's Show Us Your Instrument. It's used to test aeroplane parts. Less metal in an aircraft makes it lighter but too little and the lightning may damage the plane. The safest way to test is to make your own lightning, at ground level. Producer: Fiona Hill.
Oct 17, 2013
US shutdown; Nobels; New climate science; Airport heart attack headlines
The US has shut down government science with potentially devastating results for American and international science projects. Many individual scientists are banned from talking but Matt Hourihan from the American Association for the Advancement of Science tells Dr Adam Rutherford about the serious consequences of the political squabble.Roland Pease gives the low down on this week's Nobel Prizes including the much anticipated Physics gong for Peter Higgs' for his eponymous boson.Marnie Chesterton reports on the new iCollections at the Natural History Museum where butterflies collected 150 years ago are shedding new light on the changing British climate. And after studies this week linked cardiovascular disease to aircraft noise, Kevin McConway, Professor of Applied Statistics at the Open University quantifies the risks of complex science being distorted by simple headlines.Producer: Fiona Hill.
Oct 10, 2013
Menopause; IPCC; Fracking feedback; Particle accelerator; Zombie chemicals
Dr Adam Rutherford and guests explore the scientific mysteries of the menopause after scientists in the US and Japan successfully induced pregnancy in post-menopausal women. Also in the programme, we hear from decision scientist Baruch Fischhoff on the difficulties of trying to communicate uncertainty in science in the wake of the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Following on from last week's Fracking report, one listener, Professor Kevin Anderson of the University of Manchester, raises his concerns about the consequences of exploiting shale gas for UK carbon emissions. This week's show us your instrument comes from the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire, where Dan Faircloth tends to the ISIS particle accelerator.
Oct 03, 2013
Fracking FAQs; Fingerprint feedback; Lipstick forensics; Snake hook
Fracking is touted as a technology that will lower UK energy bills. It's a controversial technique which unlocks natural gas from shale rock. But it raises many environmental concerns. So what does the science say? Adam Rutherford sorts science fact from science fiction, putting your frack FAQs to four experts. Reporter Gaia Vince travels to a gas well site in Warrington to discover the various techniques used to extract gas onshore in the UK. Also on the programme, your feedback to last week's story on new fingerprint technology. Lipstick forensics: Professor Michael Went at the University of Kent has developed a new method for unpicking the make-up of make up left at crime scenes. And this week's Show Us Your Instrument comes from Cardiff University, as we showcase herpetologist Dr Rhys Jones's snake hook. It's a low-tech but vital piece of kit for handling snakes. It's also useful for scrumping.
Sep 26, 2013
Chemical weapons; Crowd-sourcing weather; Fingerprint ID; Dino drill
As Syria agrees to destroying its chemical weapon stocks, Adam Rutherford looks at how you solve a problem like Sarin. Dr Joanna Kidd from King's College London gives us a potted history of chemical weaponry. Environmental toxicologist, Prof Alastair Hay, from Leeds University has worked on chemical warfare issues for four decades. In the 1990s, he identified mustard gas and sarin residues from soil samples in Iraq, confirming their use by Saddam Hussein. He talks to Adam about the challenges of destroying chemical weapons in Syria. Reporter Roland Pease looks at a new phone app, OpenSignal, which uses your smartphone's sensors to help improve weather models. Today, London Underground workers are starting to boycott a new clock-in system, which uses their fingerprint for identification. Meanwhile, Apple fans are camping outside stores waiting to buy the new iPhone, which features a fingerprint scanner. Adam talks to Dr Farzin Deravi from the University of Kent about how fingerprint identification works and whether it can be fooled with a gummy bear. Plus he asks technology journalist Kate Bevan if we should worry about the security issues surrounding biometric passwords. Finally this week, Dr Pedro Viegas shows us his instrument - a dino drill. It's being used to uncover the Bristol dinosaur, a 210 million year old Thecodontosaurus.
Sep 19, 2013
Stem cell news; Science practicals; Phantom head; Sewage power
As Spanish researchers unveil new stem cell research, Dr Adam Rutherford talks to Professor of Regenerative Medicine Fiona Watt. They look back at the history of stem cell research and what the future holds for regenerative medicine. Last week's discussion on science practicals generated huge amounts of feedback. Some listeners consider school practicals the secret to their success, others remember nothing more than breaking test tubes and blowing things up. Professor Robin Millar researches the best ways to teach science practicals; we ask him to respond to some of the points you raised. We unveil the mystery of the phantom head. Not an 18-rated horror film, but a dentists' training tool. This week's Show Us Your Instrument comes from Newcastle University's School of Dental Sciences. And, where there's muck, there's brass. In Newcastle, they're looking to sewage as a renewable alternative energy supply. It's flushed down the drains, but Northumbrian Water have taken a 'waste not want not' approach to our biological effluent. They are going to great efforts to recover energy from sewage and pump it back into the National Grid.
Sep 12, 2013
Fukushima ice wall; Martian menus; Science practicals; Eye tracker
Dr Adam Rutherford asks whether the proposed ice wall around the Fukushima nuclear plant will finally halt the radioactive leaks they've suffered since the tsunami in 2011. BBC Tokyo correspondent Rupert Wingfield-Hayes gives an insider's view on the current crisis and public reaction to the £300m rescue plan announced this week. Plus, Prof Neil Hyatt from Sheffield University describes the challenges ahead in building the ice wall, and decontaminating the water used to cool the crippled nuclear reactors. Amongst the many challenges of sending a manned mission to Mars is the problem of 'menu fatigue'. Eating the same ready meals for several years could send anyone over the edge. NASA recently completed a four month Mars simulation on a barren volcano in Hawaii, their mission was to invent dishes to recreate on the Red Planet. Cooking doesn't get tougher than this. School practicals may be popular with students and teachers but recent research suggests that they might not be a useful way to teach science. Is the aim to train up the technicians of the future, or teach children how to think scientifically? Science teacher and writer Alom Shaha and Prof Jim Iley, from the Royal Society of Chemistry, discuss how to make science demo more effective. And the best way to make cheese on toast. Finally, Dr Pete Etchells from the University of Bath shows us his instrument - an eye-tracker used in psychology experiments. Recent applications include discovering why professional cricketers are better than amateurs, and whether horses are conscious.
Sep 05, 2013
Research bias; Sniffer dogs; Lasers; Roadkill
Science is supposed to be objective. Research by Professor John Ioannidis suggests the reality is falling short of the ideal. He talks to Alice Roberts about bias in softer science disciplines, and how having an American on the team leads to more exaggerated claims for the results. Is this due to the extra pressures they face to come up with new and exciting findings? Bomb-detection dogs are currently taught each new explosive, one at a time. It's time consuming, A team at Lincoln University are investigating a new approach, categorisation. It's known that dogs can visually recognise groups of items, but can they do this with a different sense, smell? Reporter Marnie Chesterton went to Lincoln to see the team at work. This week's Show Us Your Instrument comes from The Rutherford Appleton Lab. Dr Ceri Brenner shows us the high energy Gemini laser. It can be used to research the conditions inside stars. A team at Cardiff University are harnessing the power of social media to measure, for the first time, the kinds of wildlife being killed on Britain's roads. Gruesome, yes, but assessing the problem is the first step towards conservation solutions. Seen a roadkill blackspot near you? Become a splatter spotter and do your bit for science.
Aug 29, 2013
Artificial reefs; Scanning beehives; Ape feet; NMR
Prof Alice Roberts goes Inside Science this week to discuss the science behind artificial reefs. The 70 concrete blocks around Gibraltar are currently causing a diplomatic controversy as the Spanish government claim they restrict commercial fishing. We look at how artificial reefs are made and what effect they have on the marine environment. Bees have faced multiple dangers in recent years, from pesticides to parasites. Reporter Roland Pease visits a team at the University of Bath who are putting beehives into a CAT scanner to discover whether they can help breed bees that are more resistant to disease. Humans are special; our uniquely evolved feet testify to that, allowing us to walk upright. At least, that's what anatomy students have been taught for the past 70 years. Research published his week by a team at the University of Liverpool shows that our feet are much more ape-like than we thought. And some of us may have more 'apey' feet than others. Finally, this week Prof Andrea Sella from University College London shows us his instrument - an NMR spectrometer. This magnetic beast determines not only the chemical composition of molecules, but also their 3D structure.
Aug 22, 2013
Universal flu vaccine; Science games; AllTrials; Penguin camera
Influenza causes up to five million cases of severe illness and half a million deaths globally every year. Yet, as Adam Rutherford finds out, our current vaccination strategy is a seasonal game of chance, based on guessing the strain that will appear next. Research published this week in Science Translational Medicine, by a team from Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, offers hope for a universal flu vaccine, based on newly discovered antibodies. Earlier this week, a game to help combat ash dieback was launched on Facebook, called Fraxinus. Reporter Gaia Vince looks at the growing trend for using games to solve scientific problems. Is this new way of gathering and analysing data changing the way science is done? Currently half of all clinical trials are not published worldwide. Adam talks to Ben Goldacre, author of Bad Pharma, about his new campaign 'AllTrials', which aims to change that. Finally this week, physicist Peter Barham shows us his instrument - a spy camera system that he's designed to recognise penguins.
Aug 15, 2013
Lab-grown leather; Goal line technology; Bacteria outrage; Marine buoy
Cultured meat was on the menu earlier this week, but Mark Post's public tasting of his lab-grown burger marks the culmination of decades of research on producing artificial meat. Adam Rutherford talks to one of the other major players in the world of manmade animal products, Gabor Forgacs. However, his company, Modern Meadow, is concentrating on launching a different product first - cultured leather. The football season is about to start, and for the first time electronic Goal Line Technology will be introduced. This year will see the Hawk-Eye system deployed at all Premier League grounds in an attempt to help referees make more informed decisions. But how will it work, and how accurate can it be? Inside Science speaks with the inventor, Paul Hawkins, and the engineers who are testing it to international standards. A bacteria or a bacterium? We sparked a controversy on last week's programme by using bacteria to describe a singular microbe. Adam talks to evolutionary biologist Mark Pagel about how words evolve and whether scientists can halt their adaptation. This week on 'Show Us Your Instrument', oceanographer Helen Czerski introduces her giant marine buoy. She'll be sailing into the eye of a storm just off the south coast of Greenland later this year, where the buoy will measure bubbles to help refine climate models.
Aug 08, 2013
Crash risk; Mary Rose bacteria; History of Science; Greenwich telescope
July has seen train crashes in Canada, Pakistan, France, Spain and Switzerland. Inside Science asks if this is a trend or just a coincidence. Professor David Spiegelhalter, an expert in the public perception of risk, explains whether there is such a thing as a 'crash season'. Microbiologists working on the Mary Rose in Portsmouth have discovered a new type of metal-eating bacteria which is damaging the ship's wooden timbers. Reporter Gaia Vince goes behind the scenes at Portsmouth's Historic Dockyards to find out how conservation scientists have saved the ship. Last week Manchester hosted the 2013 International Congress of History of Science Technology and Medicine, the biggest ever meeting of historians of science from around the world. The keynote speech was given by Prof Hasok Chang of the University of Cambridge, urging his colleagues to put "Science back in History of Science". Inside Science asked him if there should also be more history in the practice of science... Finally, Dr Marek Kukula Public Astronomer at the Greenwich Observatory shows us his instrument - the 28inch refracting telescope which historians at the time likened to a Spanish onion, or the Taj Mahal.
Aug 01, 2013
2D supermaterials; Inside an MRI; Antarctic architecture
Nobel Prize and - as of this week, Copley Medal - winner Andre Geim outlined in Nature today his vision for the next generation of super-materials. Chemist Prof Andrea Sella joins Adam to explain how the discovery of graphene may have been the start of a remarkable new class of tailor made materials technically known as 'Van der Waals heterostructures'. This week on Show Us Your Instrument, Prof Sophie Scott introduces the MRI machine and explains why you never press the 'quench' button, unless you want to blow the roof off. Finally, an exhibition on Antarctic architecture opens on Friday 26th July in Glasgow, commissioned by the British Council and curated by The Arts Catalyst. We talk to Hugh Broughton who designed the new Halley VI base, a Thunderbirds inspired building, perched on top of stilts, on top of skis. Plus, Adam calls the current Halley Base Commander, Agnieszka Fryckowska, to find out what it's like to live and work during three months of darkness. Producer: Michelle Martin.
Jul 25, 2013
Animal research; Astronaut selection; Show us your instrument
This week saw the publication of the annual government statistics on scientific research on animals. Overall, it again shows an increase, but does that tell the whole story? Wendy Jarrett of the organisation Understanding Animal Research shares her thoughts. We hear from amateur and professional would-be astronauts about their training regime and selection process from Major Tim Peake, the UK’s next astronaut, to science broadcaster, Sue Nelson. Plus, the first in our new series ‘Show Us Your Instrument’. Material scientist Mark Miodownik introduces the wonders of the Transmission Electron Microscope, with music composed by the New Radiophonic Workshop.
Jul 18, 2013
Bioscience to bioweapons; Synthetic diamonds; Stem cell transplants
Scientists investigate viruses in order to save lives. But could that same knowledge also help other people create dangerous viruses to use as weapons of terror? This Thursday evening, a public debate is being held by the Society of Biology around these issues of "Dual Use" research. In an age of synthetic biology, mail order genes, and open access publication, what are the pros and cons of sharing virology research? Also this week, a new centre for research into synthetic diamonds was opened by UK Science Minister David Willetts. Inside Science reporter Marnie Chesterton took a tour of the new facility to find out how diamonds might be a quantum computer's best friend. Plus, the first formal trial of a stem cell based organ transplant is happening in the UK. Martin Birchall from University College London is working on replacing the larynx. But if a patient receives a new voicebox from a donor, whose voice will they have?
Jul 11, 2013
Bovine TB; Coral sunscreen; Space junk
Today the government announced a plan to rid England of bovine TB within 25 years. Adam Rutherford looks back at how this issue has evolved and the extent to which scientific evidence has informed the eradication strategies, from culling badgers to vaccination programs. Pharmacognosy is the study of medicines found in nature. Reporter Gaia Vince travels to the seaside to find out how corals could save us from sunburn in summers to come. There are an estimated 23,000 pieces of space junk around the size of a tennis ball floating above us. But there are millions of smaller bits of flotsam and jetsam, from the exploded rocket debris to fleck of paints. Even a 1cm bit of space debris could deliver the same energy as a car impacting on a concrete wall at 30 miles per hour.
Jul 04, 2013