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BBC Inside Science

BBC Inside Science

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

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Turing on the new £50 note, Moon landing on the radio, 25 years since Shoemaker-Levy comet

Code-breaker and father of computer science, Alan Turing has been chosen to celebrate the field of science on the new £50 note. Adam Rutherford asks Chief Cashier at the Bank of England, Sarah Johns how and why he was selected and he asks Sue Black, Professor of Computer Science and Technology Evangelist at Durham University, who campaigned to save Bletchley Park, what this accolade means. In 1969, while millions watched the Apollo 11 moon landing on the television, BBC radio was providing scientific and engineering commentary throughout the day. One young scientist brought in to help interpret the lunar landscape was Lionel Wilson, at the time he had just finished his PhD on the mechanics of the Moon's surface. But after seeing evidence of ancient lava fields in the pictures beamed back to Earth, he changed the course of his career and spent the next 50 years studying volcanology on Earth and in space. 25 years ago, the planet Jupiter was peppered with over 20 cometary impacts, this had never been seen before. The comet was Shoemaker Levy 9, which had already broken into icy pieces. Its fiery death had been foretold a year earlier when calculations showed its orbit was due to cross Jupiter's. As D-day approached, July 16 1994, experts wondered whether there would be fireworks, or a fizzle, they weren't disappointed. Producer - Fiona Roberts
2019-07-18
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Earliest modern human skull, Analysing moon rocks, Viruses lurking in our genomes

A new study shows that 210,000-year-old skull found in Greece is the earliest evidence for modern humans in Eurasia. A second skull found in the same site is found to be a Neanderthal from 170,000 years ago. These findings suggest that modern humans left Africa earlier and reached further than previously thought. Analysing moon rocks The Apollo missions were scientific explorations, bringing back hundreds of kilograms of moon rock to help us understand the formation of the Moon, the Earth and life itself. We are still studying the rocks that were bought back from between 1969 and 1972. Roland Pease went to the Diamond Light Source Syncotron in Oxfordshire, where scientists are still studying these moon rocks. Viruses lurking in our genomes When it comes to our genomes, there is no such thing as 100% human. Our genetic code is a patchwork of DNA that we have picked up or lost along the way. 8% of our DNA comes from viruses. So what does this mean? Much of the viral DNA is thought to have been involved in forming our immune systems, fighting against pathogenic viruses. But it's not all good news, new work suggests that these human endogenous retroviruses or HERVs might also be the missing causative link in major 'unsolved' neurological diseases such as multiple sclerosis [MS], amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease [ALS] and schizophrenia [SCZ]. Presenter: Adam Rutherford Producer: Caroline Steel
2019-07-11
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X-Rays on Mercury, Monkey Tools, Music of Molecules, AI Drivers

The 2019 Royal Society Summer Science exhibition in London is free to enter and continues until Sunday 7th July. BBC Inside Science this week comes from the Society?s HQ in central London. BepiColombo and the X-rays from Mercury Prof Emma Bunce, has been part of the team that last year launched an x-ray telescope on a space probe to Mercury. It will be a long journey, not arriving until 2025. As Emma describes, the MIXS instrument, designed and built in the UK, will analyze the x-rays emitted by the different chemicals on the planet?s surface, and so build a map of the abundancies of different atoms across the terrifyingly hostile world. This is only possible because of the strength of the x-rays coming from the sun that strike the atoms on the surface, eliciting a distinctive signature re-emitted back into space. Capuchin Monkeys and their Tools Tomos Proffitt and colleagues announced in a recent paper in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution their study of archaeological evidence of Brazil?s capuchin monkeys using stones and anvils to smash cashew nuts for at least the last 3000 years. It is not the oldest evidence of non-human primate tool use but it is the oldest for monkeys, and suggests tantalisingly that tool use may have emerged in hominin species independently and on numerous occasions. Molecular Music Chemistry and music pupils at Ilkley Grammar School in the UK have been working together with The University of Bradford to create music specific to different molecules. As A-Level students Amelia Milner and Matthew Hodson describe to Adam, they took the distinctive frequencies of the bonds in certain molecules found in nature and transposed them onto the chromatic musical scale. Then the musicians composed pieces using only that set of notes that evoked some of the properties of the molecules. AI Drivers and Machine Learning Genovefa Kefalidou shows Adam a self-driving car circling a track at the exhibition. The technology to identify and track different objects is getting better, and machine learning algorithms can map human actions onto different scenarios to find appropriate responses, but is society ready to trust and accept the benefits they might bring? Presenter: Adam Rutherford Composers: Amelia Milner, Matthew Hodson (water, aspirin) and Daniel Burgess (cinnamic acid) Producer: Alex Mansfield
2019-07-04
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Global Food Security, Reactive Use-By Labels, Origins of the Potato

On the day that the UK government launches a year long ?food-to-Fork? review of food production in the UK, we present a food themed special edition. Global Food Security Maia Elliot is an analyst and writer for Global Food Security, who recently held a competition for young food researchers to present their work in a compelling way in less than 3 minutes. Maia and the winner, Claire Kanja of Rothamstead Research discuss with Adam the broader issues ?Food Security? seeks to address, and also how best to communicate often esoteric specialized interest to a broader audience that includes food-consuming tax-payers. A Threat to Wheat Claire?s work is looking into a threat to world wheat harvests known as Fusarium Head (or Ear) Blight. She is trying to categorize the proteins that the fungus uses firstly to evade Wheat?s defences, and then to kill the plant cells for its own food. Food Freshness Sensor Meanwhile, at Imperial College, Hannah Fisher reports on new work to make cheap-as-chips gas sensitive food labels that could detect levels of gases inside a food packet that indicate it is gone off or decayed. You could even read them with the NFC chip in most smartphones. The Origins and Adaptations of the European Potato Talking of chips, published this week is a genetic history of the cultivated European potato. Using DNA from museum specimens going back centuries, the authors describe a very complicated to-and-froing between continents that enables modern varieties to avoid certain blights and even to form decent sized potatoes when growing in different day-lengths. Sandy Knapp of the Natural History Museum in London was one of the authors. Presenter: Adam Rutherford Producer: Alex Mansfield
2019-06-27
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Rinderpest destruction, Noise and birdsong, Science as entertainment

Rinderpest ? Sequence and Destroy Last week the UK?s Pirbright Institute announced that it had destroyed its remaining stocks of the deadly cattle virus Rinderpest. This repository was one of the biggest remaining stores of it since it was announced in 2011 that vaccines had eradicated it in the wild. Dr Michael Baron, amongst others, has been arguing for years that because we can now obtain a full sequence of such viruses, we no longer need to run the risk of such scientific samples ever being released, through accident or malice. As such, for Pirbright at least, the rinderpest virus that once killed millions of cattle and starved similar numbers of humans now only exists as a digital memory. Oi, You Singin' at My Bird? The delightful song of the European Robin is actually a fierce territorial warning between males that functions to avoid costly mismatched conflict. In fact, the complexity of the song seems to represent the fitness of the singer. Gareth Arnott of Queen?s University in Belfast talks about his investigation into whether noise ? including anthropogenic noise interferes with this life-or-death conversation. It sounds like it does. Science as Entertainment All this week and next BBC2 is hosting a new programme called The Family Brain Games. The games are designed not to test merely general knowledge or conventional measures of IQ, but rather a functional, communicative sort of intelligence that competing families display amongst themselves as a team. But can this sort of nuanced science be properly communicated on TV? Host Dara Ó Briain and neuroscientist Prof Sophie Scott discuss the ins and outs of making science entertaining. Presenter: Adam Rutherford Producer: Alex Mansfield
2019-06-20
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Net-Zero carbon target, Science Policy Under Thatcher, Screen time measures

Net-Zero Carbon Target The UK is set to become the first member of the G7 industrialised nations group to legislate for net-zero emissions after Theresa May?s announcement this week. The proposed legislation would commit the UK?s greenhouse gas emissions to ?net-zero? by 2050, which would mean that after reducing emissions as much as possible, any remaining emissions would be offset through schemes such as planting trees or investing in renewable energy infrastructure. Dr Jo House, from the department of Geography at Bristol University, has spent time advising the government on previous carbon budgets and was there in the build-up to the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2016. She talks to Gareth Mitchell about the proposal, what it means for the UK?s climate future and how realistic she thinks the targets are. Science Policy Under Thatcher 30 years ago a new Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, told her officials - in a break from the norm - that she would keep a personal eye on science policy in her government. By 1987, the relationship between government, university research and industrial research would be changed utterly. Prof Jon Agar has been scouring The National Archives and a wealth of hitherto private communications that shed light on how her approach to science policy formed. His new book is out this week and he discusses the events with Prof Dame Wendy Hall, a young scientist in the 80s but now fresh to the programme from hearing announcements at the London Technology Week regarding large investment and an industrial strategy towards Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. Screen Time Measures If you are using evidence to inform your policy, you need to make sure that evidence is as robust as you think it is. David Ellis of Lancaster University tells Gareth about his team?s recent work to evaluate a certain type of self-reporting, particularly involving studies into our well-being with regards to technology use. How much time do you spend with your device? Your answer might not be completely aligned with reality, as revealed by actual screen-time data. Unfortunately, many of the headline-grabbing papers we read regarding health and screen time are based on self-reporting questionnaires, which David suggests might require more scepticism. Presenter: Gareth Mitchell Producer: Alex Mansfield
2019-06-13
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CCR5 Mutation Effects, The Surrey Earthquake Swarm, Animal Emotions

Some people have a genetic mutation in a gene called CCR5 that seems to bestow immunity to a form of HIV. This is the mutation which controversial Chinese scientist Jianqui He tried to bestow upon two baby girls last year when he edited the genes in embryos and then implanted them in a mother. A paper in the journal Nature Medicine this week uses data from the UK Biobank to look at the long term health patterns associated with this gene variant. It suggests that whilst the HIV-1 immunity may be considered a positive, having two copies of the gene also comes with a cost. It seems that it may also lower our immunity to other diseases and shows in the database as a 21% increase in mortality overall. Author Rasmus Nielsen talks about how important this gene is to evolutionary biologists trying to find signs of natural selection in humans. Adam discusses the ethical implications of the research with Dr Helen O?Neill. The Surrey Earthquake Swarm Over the last year several small earthquakes have been detected in one part of Surrey. Many have surmised that these may be caused by oil drilling taking place nearby, but it might be simpler than that. So the British Geological Survey has been monitoring the region. Roland Pease joined Imperial College seismologist Steven Hicks out in the countryside inspecting his detectors to find out more. Mama?s Last Hug Frans de Waal, one of the world?s leading primatologists talks to Adam about his latest book, and the difficulties we as human observers have with studying emotion in animals. Prof de Waal coins a neologism ?anthropodenialism? to describe the belief that emotions in animals are incommensurable with human experience. He thinks most mammals, and certainly primates, experience pretty much the same emotions as we do, for similar reasons. Feelings, however, are a different matter. Producer: Alex Mansfield
2019-06-06
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How maths underpins science

Adam Rutherford and guests at the Hay Festival discuss how maths underwrites all branches of science, and is at the foundation of the modern world. His guests are the following. Professor Steve Strogatz, of Cornell University, the author of a new book on calculus, Infinite Powers. He?s worked on all kinds of problems including some biological ones such as the shape of DNA, how fireflies create light and the grandness of small world theories. Dr Emily Shuckburgh, is a climate change scientist at University of Cambridge, who has a PhD in maths studying fluid dynamics. She is the co-author of the Ladybird book on Climate Change with Prince Charles, Sir Venki Ramakrishnan, is President of the Royal Society, and was originally a physicist, who moved into biology, to study the 3-dimensional shape of one of the most important biological structures, the ribosome, for which he won the Nobel prize winner.
2019-05-30
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New CFC emissions, Cannabis and the Environment, The Noisy Cocktail Party, Automated Face Recognition

New CFC emissions Researchers say that they have pinpointed the major sources of a mysterious recent rise in a dangerous, ozone-destroying chemical. CFC-11 was primarily used for home insulation but global production was due to be phased out in 2010. But scientists have seen a big slowdown in the rate of depletion over the past six years. This new study published in the Journal Nature says this is mostly being caused by new gas production in eastern provinces of China. Dr Matt Rigby of the University of Bristol and the BBC?s Matt McGrath, who has also been following the trail, tell Gareth about the mystery. Yeast to make cannabinoids In California, where cannabis has become a major cash crop since legalisation there, researchers are trying to evaluate the environmental impacts of large scale agricultural planting. But, as Geoff Marsh reports, other researchers are finding other ways to produce various cannabinoids for potential future sale. Can humble yeast be modified to produce the active substances that some believe to have therapeutic benefits? Hearing aids for cocktail parties One of the most impressive properties of the human auditory system is the way most of us can overhear or eavesdrop on specific voices in an otherwise crowded room. Most hearing aids can?t help with that: they can sometimes filter out noises that are not human voices, but cannot do the very human trick of sorting one voice from a sea of others. Nima Mesgarani from Columbia University reports in the journal Science Advances a proof of principle for a device that might be able to do just that. Firstly, a new algorithm can separate out one voice from another. Then brain waves from the wearer could be used to recognise which of those voices they are trying to hear. Then it?s a simple case of turning that voice up, and lowering the volume of the others, all in nearly real-time. Automatic face recognition So called Neural Network computing techniques are revolutionising our lives. They are able to perform a host of tasks that not so long ago would be the preserve of human brains, and to process huge sets of data and ?learn? very quickly. One of the things they are proving exceptional at is face recognition; being able to identify faces in a crowd, or on a street, from a set of images provided by a user. But with great computing power comes great computing responsibility. What are the implications for policing and personal privacy? Gareth discusses these issues with Stephanie Hare. Producer: Alex Mansfield
2019-05-23
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Hubble Not-So Constant, Synthetic E. Coli, The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt

The Hubble Constant The Hubble constant is the current expansion rate of the universe but it seems to have changed over time. Hiranya Peiris, Professor of Astrophysics from University College London and Adam Riess, Professor of Physics and Astronomy from Johns Hopkins University, are both using different methods to obtain a value for the Hubble constant. But there is a discrepancy in their values. It used to be that the error bars on the two values overlapped, and so cosmologists thought they would converge as the experiments got more precise. But instead, as the error bars have shrunk, the discrepancy is getting more serious, and something must be wrong. They chat to Adam about potential reasons for this difference in calculations and what it could mean for our cosmological model of the universe. Is new physics required to evolve the description of the age of the universe as we know it to be more accurate? A synthetic E. Coli genome Jason Chin and Colleagues at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge have published this week in the Journal Nature their latest work to completely synthesise a new genome of an E. coli bacteria. Not only was the genome designed and manufactured by human means, it was also recoded in a way not used by nature, involving some 18000 edits. In natural DNA, several different codes can do the same job. As Roland Pease reports, the new genome instead uses fewer of these duplicates, demonstrating all sorts of possibilities for future designs of synthetic cells. Von Humboldt Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Alexander von Humboldt was a celebrated Prussian geographer, naturalist and explorer. He influenced Darwin and was the first person to describe human-induced climate change, based on his observations from his travels. Yet he has slipped into relative obscurity, at least in the English-speaking world. Andrea Wulf is an acclaimed author who has previously written about Alexander von Humboldt and is now back with another book about the explorer: The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt. It?s a graphic novel (illustrated by Lillian Melcher) that celebrates the 250th anniversary of Humboldt?s birth and depicts his adventures on his 5 year expedition through South America. Adam Rutherford chats to Andrea about her book, why she chose to make it a graphic novel and how Humboldt?s views on the environment can be interpreted today. Producer: Alex Mansfield
2019-05-16
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Forensic science provision, optimal garden watering strategy, and a mystery knee bone

A damning House of Lords' report into the provision of forensic science in England and Wales makes for uncomfortable reading for some but is broadly welcomed by those in the field. Prof. Niamh Nic Daeid, one of many who gave evidence to the Science and Technology Committee, gives her reaction and suggests how a combination of unsatisfactory regulation, profit and austerity pressures in a uniquely commercialised sector, and some surprising gaps in the science knowledge base has lead to a sorry situation. Spring has sprung and it's probably not too late to get the tomato plants in, but should you water them little and often, or more but less often? Madeleine Finlay reports from Wisley, where The Royal Horticultural Society's Janet Manning has set up a new experiment this year to answer that question. Janet is the first Garden Water Scientist at the RHS, and hopes to demonstrate that giving plants less frequent, but more generous, bouts of hydration encourages deeper root growth, building in resilience for those periods when water is harder to come by whilst also allowing gardeners ultimately to use less. Do you have a fabella? Or maybe two fabellae? Michael Berthaume, "Anthroengineer" at Imperial College London tells us about a curiously under-studied bone that some people have in their knees. Present in certain primates and quadruped mammals, but thought to have disappeared from human anatomy, it seems to have made a bit of a comeback in certain populations around the world over the last century or so. Quite why, quite how, and quite what it's for, seems something of a mystery.
2019-05-09
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Sex, gender and sport - the Caster Semenya case and the latest Denisovan discovery

In 2018, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) introduced new eligibility regulations for female athletes with differences in sex development (DSDs). These regulations are based on the contention that women with high levels of endogenous testosterone and androgen sensitivity have a performance advantage over their peers. South African middle distance runner, Mokgadi Caster Semenya, who won two Olympic gold medals in 2012 and 2016, and Athletics South Africa, are contesting the legality of these new regulations. The basis of their objection, at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, is that there is a lack of scientific evidence showing that endogenous testosterone concentrations substantially enhance sports performance. Caster, who is DSD herself, has lost her case and Adam turns to expert in sport, exercise and genomics at Manchester Metropolitan University, Dr. Alun Williams to explain the implications. Less than a decade ago, an entirely new branch of the ancient human tree was discovered. These new hominins were named the Denisovans, after the Denisova cave in the Altai Mountains in Siberia where fragments of finger bone and teeth were discovered, and genetic sequencing of a finger bone revealed that they were a new hominin group, an extinct sister group to Neanderthals. This exciting find contained a tantalising puzzle. Traces of Denisovan DNA are found in modern-day population groups like Sherpas, Tibetans and some other neighbouring populations and this includes genetic variants which help them to survive at high altitudes where the oxygen levels are low. The original Denisovan cave is only around 700 metres, so why would such an adaptation be necessary at these altitudes? This week a new paper in Nature slots a big piece into the puzzle. Teams from the Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology have found another Denisovan fossil ? this time a mandible, a lower jawbone, still containing teeth ? from the vast Tibetan plateau in China. At 2.3 Km above sea level, it?s very high and the air is thin, and 160,000 years ago, which is when the fossil has been dated to, it would have been a very challenging place to live indeed. In fact this jawbone is the earliest known hominin fossil found on this enormous plateau. Adam calls in Professor Fred Spoor, from the Centre for Human Evolution Research at the Natural History Museum in London, to examine the facts and to see if we can work out how far and wide these hominins travelled. Producer: Fiona Roberts
2019-05-02
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Thought-to-speech machine, City Nature Challenge, Science of Storytelling

Patients who suffer neurological impairments preventing them from speaking potentially face a severely limited existence. Being able to express yourself in real time is a large part of our identity. In the journal Nature this week, scientists from the University of California, San Francisco, report a new technique for synthesising speech based on measurements of neural signals taken from the brain. Author Dr Gopala Anumanchipalli tells Adam about how this proof of principle could one day form the basis for a speech prosthesis for patients who have lost the ability to converse. Around the world this weekend (April 26th-29th 2019) people are being encouraged to participate in the City Nature Challenge, a global effort to catalogue urban wildlife using a free mobile app. Reporter Geoff Marsh travelled to the California Academy of Sciences, home of the initiative, to meet those behind it and how we might all take part. The third act in our drama is a chat with journalist and writer Will Storr about his new book - the Science of Storytelling - which explores the structure of stories with relation to our evolution and brain structure. Primeval instincts of expectation, subversion and causation intertwine with camp-fire sagas from the beginning of conversation. What can this science of storytelling contribute to the art of telling stories about science? A ripping yarn indeed. Producer: Alex Mansfield
2019-04-25
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Notre-Dame fire, Reviving pig brains, ExoMars, Evolution of faces

The horror of the blazing Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris has been slightly quenched by the fact that so much of the French landmark has been saved. But what was it about the structure of the roof, with some the beams dating from the 13th century, that meant it burned like a well-stacked bonfire? Guillermo Rein is Professor of Fire Science at Imperial College London , and he explains to Adam Rutherford how wood burns and how it was the intricate mixture of large and small beams, and very poor fire protection measures that made the iconic roof, so vulnerable. An experiment to see whether isolated dead pig brains could be preserved at the cellular level in order to study post mortem brains, had a surprising outcome. The BrainEx technology of perfusing the brains with chemicals that should have just halted the rapid degradation of cellular structure in the brain, that occurs soon after death, actually caused them to start firing neurons, reacting to drugs and generally behaving as if they were alive. Although, it has to be stressed, there was no whole-brain connectivity or consciousness achieved, it does raise ethical questions about death, if this method was to be developed for use in humans. Bioethicist at Kings College London, Silvia Camporesi explores the facts that reveal that death is a process rather than a single event and what this might mean for patients that are diagnosed as brain dead. Where is the Martian methane? This is the question Mannish Patel at the Open University has been left pondering after the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter came up empty handed in detecting the gas on Mars. Methane could be a signature of past of present life on the Red Planet, it's been measured by NASA's Curiosity rover and by telescopes on Earth, but the far more sensitive and specialised TGO has so far failed to detect the gas. It could be because methane levels in the thin Martian atmosphere is a seasonal event, we'll just have to ait for an entire Martian year of surveys to be able to solve this mystery. Our faces are incredibly important in our lives, we feed through them, they are the conduit for our sensory interaction with the universe, via smell, hearing and vision; we speak, and we convey the subtlest emotions with a raised eyebrow, a wry smile, a clenched jaw or eyes wide open. It is the central importance of these features that has meant we?ve been intensively studying the evolution of the face for decades, to work out why we look the way we do, and how much of our looks reflects adaptations that enhanced our survival, and how much is just down to quirks of evolution. Anatomist, Paul O?Higgins from York University is interested in how all that has influenced our faces. Producer: Fiona Roberts
2019-04-18
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Visualising a black hole, Homo luzonensis, Two ways to overcome antimicrobial resistance

"We have now seen the unseeable" according to scientists who are part of the Event Horizon Telescope group. The international team has released a picture of the first black hole. Data gathered from an array of over 8 radio telescopes has been crunched to create a picture of the super-hot plasma surrounding the black hole M87. It shows extremely excited photons on the brink of being swallowed up by the supermassive black hole, 500 million trillion km away. Marnie Chesterton, asks UCL cosmologist Andrew Pontzen what the glowing doughnut-shaped image can tell us about the laws of gravity and relativity. A new species of hominin has been discovered in caves at the northernmost tip of the Philippines, on the island of Luzon. The discoverers have called this creature Homo luzonensis, and it's thought to be 50,000 years or older. The teeth, hand and foot bones suggest it could have been a mixture of early modern humans - Homo sapiens- and older ancestors like the Australopithecines. Cambridge University's Leverhulme Professor of Human Evolution, Robert Foley suggests some caution with calling this a new species, and explains how populations of hominins isolated on islands could evolve to be different by a mechanism called genetic drift. The world is facing an antimicrobial crisis. The global fight against infections is looking worrying as more and more strains of bacteria emerge which are resistant to our stocks of antibiotics. Marnie visits to Tblisi, in Georgia to meet scientists who are looking at a different way to fight infections, collecting and using the microscopic phage viruses which infect the bacteria which infect us. Another way to try and beat antibiotic resistance was the focus for Susan Rosenberg at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston Texas, when she thought it might be clever to try and stop microbes evolving resistance to antibiotics . She discovered that when microbial cells are stressed, a number of them actually start to mutate at a greater rate. This means they stand a greater chance of mutating into a form that has some resistance to our drugs. But by learning about the finer details of this mechanism, and finding a drug that can halt it. She and her team hope to skew the evolutionary arms race between microbes and antibiotics and our immune systems in our favour. Producer: Fiona Roberts
2019-04-11
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Cretaceous catastrophe fossilised, LIGO and Virgo, Corals, Forensic shoeprint database

About 66 million years ago an asteroid at least 6 miles wide crashed into the Earth, in the shallow sea that is now the Yucatan Peninsular in Mexico. It gouged the Chicxulub crater 18 miles deep; threw 25 trillion tonnes of debris into the atmosphere, much of which was hotter than the Sun, created huge seismic waves and massive tsunamis churning the Gulf of Mexico, tearing up coastlines and peeling up 100?s of metres of rock. 75% of the Earth?s forest burned. Debris was thrown out across the Solar System and North America was showered by a fan of glassy molten rock droplets. This geological event marked the end of the Cretaceous period and the start of the Palaeogene. Most people accept that this massive event caused the last great extinction, the end of the dinosaurs and a period of intense cold. Many fossil finds back this theory up. But very little fossil evidence showing the impact of the actual event has been found. Until now. Hundreds of miles from Chicxulub in a fossil site called Tanis, in North Dakota, part of the vast Hell Creek formation, is a fossil find that depicts the turmoil 10's of minutes after the asteroid hit. Marine and freshwater fish are found tangled together with these glassy droplets crammed in their gills, Charred trees are mixed up with hundreds of mangled animal bones, amber perfectly preserving drops of what was molten Earth. It's got palaeontologists including Professor Phil Manning at Manchester University very excited. The gravitational wave detectors LIGO and VIRGO have been recently upgraded and made more sensitive to the miniscule signals that denote ripples in gravity - gravitational waves. Professor Sheila Rowan of the University of Glasgow explains to Gareth Mitchell that she hopes that with this third run of the detectors, they will be finding not just one or two signals that provide evidence of massive events in our universe, but hundreds, maybe even thousands. In the quest to understand how corals are affected by rising sea temperatures we need to understand the symbiotic relationship they have with dinoflagellates, the single-celled algae that live in, and use photosynthesis to make food for the coral. When coral gets too hot and undergoes 'bleaching', this is the algae leaving the coral. Yixian Zheng at the Carnegie Institution of Washington takes Roland Pease on a tour of her coral tanks and explains that she's hunting for a model coral organism to study this process at the genetic and molecular level. A crime has been committed in the studio. Gareth's tea has been drunk and his biscuits have been nibbled. Luckily evidence was left at the scene of the crime - a shoeprint with distinctive wear patterns. One quick phone call and the director of the Leverhulme Research Centre for Forensic Science at the University of Dundee, Professor Niamh Nic Daeid is on the case. She's asking the public to help build up a database of footwear prints. The project is the largest ever study into the variation in footwear marks made by the same shoes across different surfaces and activities so that the variation observed can be used to explore links between the shoe and the mark it makes. In order to do this, she's asking thousands of individuals to take part in a large-scale citizen science project by taking pictures of their footwear and the marks they make. This will help the Dundee team build a substantial database for use in their research to aid the scientific validation of footwear marks as evidence for use in the criminal justice system. Producer (and biscuit thief) - Fiona Roberts
2019-04-04
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UK pollinating insect numbers, Tracking whales using barnacles, Sleep signals

One of the longest running insect pollinator surveys in the world, shows that a few generalist pollinators are on the increase, whereas specialist insects are declining. Using data collected by volunteers across Great Britain to map the spatial loss of pollinator insect species, the study by the CEH (Centre for Ecology and Hydrology) measured 353 wild bee and hoverfly species across the country. The results showed that on average, each 1km2 survey patch lost an average of 11 species from 1980-2013. CEH's Professor Helen Roy and Dr Claire Carvell explain to Marnie Chesterton how volunteers can take part in the next survey. Want to know where a whale has been? Just ask the barnacles on its head! Barnacles hitchhike on whales, and they?ve been doing this for millions of years. When barnacles grow they add to their carbonate shells using compounds from their surroundings. As the whales migrate, the barnacles take up compounds from the different oceanic locations. A bit like filling in a travel diary, or collecting passport stamps. If you can decipher the chemical code laid down in the barnacle shells, you can work out where the whale has been on its oceanic migrations. This is what researcher Larry Taylor, at University of California Berkeley, has been doing and he says that the information can even be found in fossilised whales (and barnacles.) The patterns signals in our brain make when we are falling asleep are quite hard to study. But thanks to a few people who manage to fall asleep in an FMRi scanner, we now know there are multiple stages of sleep. Professor Morton Kringlebach, a professor of neuroscience at the University of Oxford likens the pattern of brain activity, as it enters the various sleep stages, to the choreography of a dance. His friend, Dr. Milton Mermikides at the University of Surrey, goes one further. As a composer and academic expert in jazz, he thought the pattern of brain activity was like chord changes in jazz music. So he put the sleepy brain to music. Marnie listens to the soporific tones and asks if people with disordered sleep, such as insomnia or restless leg syndrome would make different music? Producer: Fiona Roberts
2019-03-28
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Where next World Wide Web? Space rocks and worms

30 years ago Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web as a way to let physicists share their papers and data on a distributed network. It's changed a lot since then and not all for the better. Dominant technology companies monopolise our data and many, including Berners-Lee are worried about the growth of state sponsored hacking, misinformation and scamming. One solution is to re-decentralise the web, giving us more control of our information and what is done with it, but at what cost? Founder and director of Redecentralize.org, Irina Bolychevsky and technology guru Bill Thompson discuss the future. BBC Space Correspondent Jonathan Amos has news on some space rocks this week. Ultima and Thule, make up a bi-lobe comet out in the far reaches of the Solar System in the Kuiper Belt. Ultima-Thule was visited by the New Horizons mission in January. More data is being analysed and giving scientists insight into how these two planetary building blocks collided and merged and also on how it got its strange flattened shape. Another rock seems to be a rubble pile. The asteroid Ryugu is currently hosting the Japanese Space Agency's Hayabusa 2 spacecraft and landers. Jonathan explains to Gareth what stage the missions' audacious sample collect and return is now at. And there's a shock discovery by spacecraft OSIRIS-REx from asteroid Bennu. The NASA spacecraft analysing the asteroid has observed it shooting out plumes of dust that surround it in a dusty haze. It's a phenomenon never seen in an asteroid before. Back down on Earth and under the surface of the earth are the earthworms. As any savvy gardener will know, earthworms make a big difference to the health of soil and plants. What isn?t as well understood is how changes to the soil - like climate change and the intensification of agricultural practices - have impacted on the all-important worm population. In fact, scientists don?t even know what?s down there, wriggling underneath the surface. To find out, farmers recently undertook to the first worm survey in the UK. Finding that 42% of fields had very few or completely lacked key types of earthworm, the results suggest that over-cultivation has led to poor soil health in significant amounts of farmland. Producer: Fiona Roberts
2019-03-21
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Rules and ethics of genome editing, Gender, sex and sport, Hog roasts at Stonehenge

When the news broke last December that Chinese biophysicist He Jiankui had successfully edited the genomes of twin girls using the technique known as CRISPR-Cas9, scientists and the public were rightly outraged that such a procedure had taken place. Jiankui is currently being investigated by Chinese authorities for breaking legal and ethical guidelines on human genome editing. This week, in the journal Nature, several top scientists have called for a global moratorium on gene editing in the clinic. Which might be surprising, because we thought these rules were already in place. Dr. Helen O?Neill, a Lecturer in Reproductive and Molecular Genetics at UCL explains to Adam Rutherford what the current rules are, and they debate whether we need a ?voluntary moratorium?. It?s hard to miss the current discussions on sex, gender, and biology. One arena where debates are getting quite heated is sport. In 2016, the International Olympic Committee announced that male-to-female transgender athletes will be allowed to compete in the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, without having gender reassignment surgery. They do have to demonstrate reduced blood testosterone levels (usually achieved through hormone therapy). Female-to-male transgender athletes can compete ?without restriction?. Gerard Conway, Professor of Reproductive Endocrinology at the Institute for Women?s Health at University College London, joins Adam to help us understand many of the issues concerning testosterone and its putative effect on athletic performance. The festival hog roast has been happening for more than four and a half thousand years. Hundreds of pig bones have been unearthed from henge sites including Durrington Walls near Stonehenge in Wiltshire ? and these have helped put together a picture of life in Neolithic Britain, especially when people came together from all over the country, and brought pigs with them for big feasts. Dr. Richard Madgewick at Cardiff University carried out isotopic analysis on the pig bones to work out just how far people travelled with their pigs to attend these social events. Producer: Fiona Roberts
2019-03-14
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A cure for HIV? Sleepy flies, Secrets of the Fukushima disaster, Science fact checking

An HIV-1 sufferer, who had developed aggressive cancer, and underwent a revolutionary stem cell transplant, has been declared HIV resistant. It's been 18 months since the 'London patient' underwent a stem cell transplant of donated HIV resistant cells. This has only happened once before, in the case of the ?Berlin Patient' ? who, after two transplants, has now been HIV and cancer free for 10 years. Professor Ravindra Gupta at Cambridge University is careful not to say the work carried out at UCL has ?cured? the patient, but it?s very promising. They say they have made the patient?s cells ?resistant? to infection by the HIV virus. There are no animals that do not need sleep, yet we're still not sure why we need to sleep. Giorgio Gilestro at Imperial College has been trying to find out more about whether lack of sleep shortens lifespan, by bothering fruit flies and stopping them dropping off. In a carefully designed experiment, he has devised a way of shaking the flies as soon as it looks like they are dropping off. He tells Gareth Mitchell that he's 98% certain the flies were kept awake day after day and discovered that there was no life-shortening effect due to lack of sleep. He cannot rule out the benefit of micro-sleep, but it provides tantalising results which could point us in the direction of finally discovering whether we need those 8 precious hours a night. Eight years ago, on 11th March 2011, three of the nuclear reactors overheated and exploded at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan. This was following the tsunami that killed around 19,000 people. The essentials are known ? the reactors overheated when the cooling circuits failed. The overheated steam then broke down into hydrogen and oxygen, which then caught fire and blew the reactor vessels apart. But the details aren?t known. And there?s no way of getting inside the reactors to learn them. So instead researchers are doing a forensic analysis of the radioactive debris scattered around the reactor sites ? some of it at the Diamond X-ray facility just outside Oxford. Roland Pease was waiting in the experimental area as one grain of Fukushima dust was brought in from safe storage. Concerned about a growing number of spurious scientific claims on products and campaigns against vaccinations and the shape of our planet, climate scientist Ben McNeil decided to do something about it. He has come up with a website where anyone can pose a question for scientists to answer. MetaFact.io is just starting up, but Ben's hope is to put the public in direct contact with the scientists with some, if not all, of the answers.
2019-03-07
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Falling carbon and rising methane; Unsung heroes at the Crick

Efforts to cut emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and tackle climate change in many developed economies are beginning to pay off, according to research led by Corinne Le Quere at the Tyndall Centre at the University of East Anglia. The study suggests that policies supporting renewable energy and energy efficiency are helping to reduce emissions in 18 developed economies. The group of countries represents 28% of global emissions, and includes the UK, US, France and Germany. The research team analysed the various reasons behind changes in CO2 emissions in countries where they had declined significantly between 2005 and 2015. They show that the fall in CO2 emissions was mainly due to renewable energy replacing fossil fuels and to decreasing energy use. Methane is many times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. However, it breaks down much more quickly than CO2 and is found at much lower levels in the atmosphere. During much of the 20th century levels of methane, mostly from fossil fuel sources like coal and gas, increased in the atmosphere but, by the beginning of the 21st century, they had stabilised. Then, surprisingly, levels starting rising in 2007. That increase began to accelerate after 2014 and fast growth has continued. Studies suggest these increases are more likely to be mainly biological in origin. However, the exact cause remains unclear. Some researchers believe the spread of intense farming in Africa may be involved, in particular in tropical regions where conditions are becoming warmer and wetter because of climate change. Rising numbers of cattle ? as well as wetter and warmer swamps ? are producing more and more methane. This idea is now being studied in detail by a consortium led by Professor Euan Nisbet, at Royal Holloway, University of London. Another, more worrying source for the increase in methane could be that it?s not been broken down in the atmosphere as efficiently. Natural chemicals in the atmosphere, which help to break down methane, may be changing because of temperature rises, causing them to lose their ability to deal with the gas. The Francis Crick Institute is a biomedical discovery institute researching the biology underlying human health. This vital research is carried out by some of the best scientists in their field. However, many, many more people are involved behind the scenes. ?Craft and Graft? is a new exhibition at the Francis Crick Institute celebrating these ?unsung heroes?, and opens on 1 March, focusing the spotlight on the technicians, engineers and support staff that are vital in supporting the scientists and their work by ensuring the glassware is washed, the equipment runs smoothly and the cells are all looked after and categorised correctly. Hannah Fisher was granted special access behind the scenes to meet some of the people who inspired the exhibition. Producer: Fiona Roberts
2019-02-28
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Mars - rovers v humans? Forests and carbon, Ethiopian bush crow

Nasa have called time on the 14 year mission with the Mars Opportunity rover. Curiosity is still there. But what's next for our exploration of the Red planet? Adam asks Senior Strategist in Space Systems at Airbus, Liz Seward and BBC space correspondent, Jonathan Amos. Airbus are working with the European and Russian Space Agencies on the next rover, part of the Exomars mission. This new rover is called the Rosalind Franklin, after the UK scientist and when it hopefully lands in 2021, it'll be drilling down, deep into the surface of Mars to look for evidence of past life. We know that trees help mitigate the effects of greenhouse gases on climate change by sucking up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. In fact forests are estimated to lock up 2 of every 10 carbon molecules released. But which forests do it best? Tom Pugh at the University of Birmingham has been looking at the age of forests to try and see if this is a factor. It turns out the pristine, ancient tropical forests like the Amazon, although doing a good job, just aren't as good as the younger, regrowth forests of the Boreal and Temperate zones in the northern hemisphere. It's all down to demographics and the balance between new trees and dying trees. We keep hearing that this, or that, species is being threatened by climate change, but often the mechanisms are not that obvious. One particularly intriguing example comes in the form of the Ethiopian bush crow. An intelligent, seemingly adaptable bird, living in what seems like a general, widespread habitat in Southern Ethiopia, eating a wide and varied diet. Yet it's range is restricted to tiny pockets of land in a huge area of, what seems like a similar habitat. Ecologist, Andrew Bladon at Cambridge University thinks he has the answer to what's restricting this bird's range and how is a warming climate pushing this bird to extinction. Producer: Fiona Roberts
2019-02-21
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Insect decline, Gut microbiome, Geomagnetic switching

A very strongly worded, meta-review paper (looking at 73 historical reports from around the world published over the past 13 years) has just been published looking at the fate of insects around the world. The researchers have collated other people?s research, including the big 27 year study from Germany, that showed 75% loss of insects by weight (biomass). The basic headlines are quite scary: 40% of insect species are declining; 33% are endangered; we?re losing a total mass of 2.5% of insects every year. The reviewers blame habitat loss by conversion to intensive agriculture as the main driver for the declines, plus agro-chemicals, invasive species and climate change adding to the burden. Adam Rutherford speaks to insect expert Professor Adam Hart from the University of Gloucestershire to discuss numbers and consequences. It?s quickly being realised that the composition of microbes in our guts is vital to our health. Scientists working on the gut microbiome have discovered and isolated more than 100 completely new species of bacteria from healthy human intestines. It?s hoped that these new techniques to isolate and grow these novel bugs, will give us insight into how our microbiome keeps us healthy. After covering the story about the Earth?s early core accretion and the clues found in rocks about the early magnetic field, listener Neil Tugwell emailed BBC Inside Science to ask for more information about geomagnetic switching. Are we heading for another flip of the magnetic poles? And what might be the impact on GPS? Adam gets the answers from Dr. Robert Wicks, lecturer in space risk in the UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction. Producer: Fiona Roberts
2019-02-14
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Sea Level Rise, Equine Flu, Generator Bricks, Iberian Genes

In 2016 some scientists suggested that with climate change so much ice in Antarctica could melt that the global sea level could rise up to a metre. There would be an "ice apocalypse". Now another group has refined the models and in a paper published this week has concluded that the rise will be lower. Adam Rutherford and lead author Dr Tamsin Edwards of Kings College London discuss the latest research and how policy makers and the public should react to changing results from ice sheet studies. All race meetings in the UK have been cancelled today following the discovery that three horses have been diagnosed with equine flu, despite having been vaccinated. Expert on equine flu at the University of Nottingham, Dr Janet Daly, talks to Adam about the disease, how the outbreak has come about and the process of making a new vaccine. What if the walls of your house generated their own electricity? It may sound far-fetched, but one team in the chemistry department of King?s College London is trying to do just that. Reporter Hannah Fisher went to visit Dr Leigh Aldous to discover his invention ? a brick, which is hoped to be made out of recycled plastic, that can generate its own electricity. While the project is still in its early stages, it is hoped that the brick will be able to be used in off-grid and remote locations, as well as those affected by natural disasters. Scientists have analysed DNA samples from people living on the Iberian Peninsula to determine their genetic heritage. Results revealed near vertical stripes running from the north of the peninsula to the south, indicating that at this fine resolution, Spanish people are more genetically similar from north to south as opposed to east to west. Dr Clare Bycroft of Oxford University chats to Adam more about how this fits with what we know about Spanish history.
2019-02-07
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Sprinting Neanderthals, Geodynamo, Spreading Sneezes and Dying Hares

Many physical features of Neanderthals might not be for cold climate adaptation as previously thought. They may be for types of locomotion. Which, according to paleo-ecologist, John Stewart at Bournemouth University, makes the long thigh to calf ratios more likely that Neanderthals were adapted to fast, powerful sprints, as part of their hunting and survival. The clues to this lie less in the bones and more in the evidence that Neanderthals lived in wooded areas rather than tundra. Earth?s solid iron inner core, liquid outer core and interactions between the two give us our protective magnetic field and are responsible for the ?geodynamo? that drives this, as well as volcanism and Earth?s tectonics. But we don?t yet know when the solid core formed. It?s hard to find paleo-magnetic records from early in Earth?s history. But now a group at Rochester University in New York have discovered magnetic particles from 565 million year old Ediacaran Period rocks in Canada and they say that at the time lots of life was evolving on our planet, the geodynamo was low and wobbly. This leads them to believe the solid core formed two to three times later than previously thought. A typical sneeze will throw out 40,000 tiny droplets loaded with viruses or bacteria, which can hang in the air like a cloud until someone else comes along and inhales some. To a scientist, this suspension is an aerosol, and what goes on inside a tiny droplet can be very different from what happens in a beaker of fluid. But studying those conditions, which can alter whether a germ can survive its aerial journey is hard. Which is why at Bristol University they?ve developed an aerosol trap that can hold droplets mid-air, without contact, with an electric field. Rabbits and hares across Europe have been declining rapidly over the past few decades. There are a number of factors involved (Agricultural intensification, climate change, hunting and a whole host of infectious diseases.) Myxomatosis in rabbits, which has now jumped into hares, is fairly well known by the public, but there are other viral and bacterial diseases that are jumping between the species and the most recent one Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus 2 (RHDV2) is of particular concern right now. Very little is known about this disease in wild populations. It was seen in hares in Europe a few years back, but it?s now just been identified in the UKs native brown hare population. Biologist Diana Bell at the University of East Anglia wants the public to contact her if they see any hares that look like they?ve died from the disease. Producer - Fiona Roberts
2019-01-31
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Ultima Thule, Dry January, Periodic Table

2019 means the opportunity to explore the most distant object yet encountered in our solar system ? the brilliantly named Ultima Thule as Nasa?s New Horizons spacecraft hit the headlines this week when it flew past an object 4 billion miles away, took photos and sent them back to earth. The stunning images confirmed that Ultima Thule looks a bit like a snowman, only several miles in length and orbiting somewhere much colder than any earth winter. Inside Science talked to Dr Carly Howett, a member of the New Horizon?s team and deputy principle investigator of the RALPH instrument, which will send back data on Ultima Thule?s form and structure later this year. And For many of us, January is a time to try a bit better. And millions of us decide to give up alcohol. It?s called Dry January. But what does this alcohol break actually achieve? Has anyone scientifically researched the results of a month off the sauce? Marnie Chesterton spoke to liver specialist and senior lecturer at university college London, Dr Gautam Mehta. And because chemists are celebrating the 150th birthday, or rather birth-year, of the Periodic Table we thought BBC Inside Science should as well. The table is that chart on every science classroom wall. It?s a grid of small boxes, each with a symbol that represents a chemical element. And elements are the fundamental substances that make up everything you can see, and quite a few things that you can?t. We spoke to chemist Dr Eric Scerri at UCLA, who has written a book on the history and significance of the Periodic Table while Roland Pease visited the lab of Professor Andrea Sella, who is making a physical representation of the whole table, if he can find all the elements that is.
2019-01-04
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Gene-edited twins, Placenta organoids in a dish, When the last leaves drop

Claims by a Chinese scientist that he has gene-edited human embryos, transplanted them producing genetically edited twins, who will pass on these changes to their offspring, has the scientific community outraged. The work, which was carried out in secret, has not been officially published or peer reviewed, but if the claims are to be taken seriously, this work severely flaunts international ethical guidelines at many levels. BBC Health and Science Correspondent James Gallagher explains the story so far. Little is known about the placenta and how it works, despite it being absolutely essential for supporting the baby as it grows inside the mother. When it doesn?t function properly, it can result in serious problems, from pre-eclampsia to miscarriage, with immediate and lifelong consequences for both mother and child. Our knowledge of this important organ is very limited because of a lack of good experimental models. Animals are too dissimilar to humans to provide a good model of placental development and implantation, and stem cell studies have largely proved unsuccessful. But one group of University Cambridge researchers have now created ?mini-proto placentas? ? a cellular model, growing long-term, in 3D of the early stages of the placenta ? that could provide a ?window? into early pregnancy and help transform our understanding of reproductive disorders. The Woodland Trust want you to tell them when you notice a tree, you regularly see, loses all of its leaves. Its part of their long term phonological study, Nature's Calendar . They hope to keep track of the effect of climate change on the timings of annual tree events.
2018-11-29
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Mars InSight mission, Detecting dark matter, Redefining the kilogram, Bovine TB

The Government's strategy to eradicate TB in cattle is a contentious topic. The disease is extremely complicated and lots of people have different ideas on how to manage it. Professor of Zoonotic and Emerging Disease at the University of Nottingham, Malcolm Bennett, helps Adam Rutherford understand just how complex the TB bacterium is, how difficult it is to test for infection and why the vaccine BCG does and doesn't work and answers listener's question of why don't we vaccinate cows? Citizen scientists and their smartphones are being recruited to test the supermassive particle theory of dark matter and dark energy. The CREDO (Cosmic-Ray Extremely Distributed Observatory) project utilises smartphone cameras to take 'dark photos' and hopefully capture a particle collision that could be from the cascaded decay of these early universe massive particles or WIMPS. Metrologists from across the world have just voted to update the metric system. With the redefinition of the kilogram, alongside the units for temperature, electrical current and amount of substance. For the first time, we now have a measurement system defined by fundamental constants of the universe and not physical artefacts made by humans. Reporter Henry Bennie travelled with the UK's kilogram to Paris for the vote. NASA's Mars InSight mission lander is expected to touch down on the red planet on Monday. BBC Science Correspondent, Jonathan Amos, explains to Adam just how this stationary science lab will explore Martian geology looking for signs that life could have existed at one time on our neighbour. Producer: Fiona Roberts
2018-11-22
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Bovine TB and badger culling, Shrimp hoover CSI, Shark-skin and Turing

The Bovine TB Strategy Review has just been released. It contains a review of the science and offers advice and guidance to Government ministers on how to eradicate this costly and hard to manage disease in cattle. Controversially it does not include the results from the on going badger culling trials in the West of England and it states that the majority of disease transmission is from cow to cow. But it addresses the efficacy of skin TB tests and repeatedly states that the long-term aim is to end culling badgers and moving to vaccination or other non lethal methods to control the disease reservoir in wildlife. Professor Rosie Woodroffe at the Institute of Zoology, who ran the Randomised Badger Culling Trials in 2007, thinks the report is mostly a good thing. She praises the advice to find alternatives to killing British wildlife, but explains to Adam Rutherford that trialling vaccinations for badgers after culling could be problematic. Monitoring the health of estuarine and coastal water ecosystems usually relies on the expensive and time-consuming practice of catching fish to get a view on the health of entire ecosystem. New methods are starting to be used called Environmental DNA sampling, using DNA barcoding techniques. As everything sheds fragments of DNA into the environment, by sampling water or sediment, you can use High Throughput DNA analysis, using special probes to pull out and identify the species you want. It?s a lot quicker and cheaper, but you still have to deal with problems of collection, filtration and contamination. But Professor of Conservation Genetics, Stefano Mariani at the University of Salford, has found an even better way. He's recruited the European brown Shrimp, which eat everything, are found everywhere and can do all the filtering and storing of the DNA for him. All Stefano has to do is catch the shrimp and analyse their stomach contents to get a picture of what is in the environment. PhD student at Sheffield University, Rory Cooper explains to Adam how mathematical patterns that Alan Turing worked on late in his career are found in abundance in the natural world. The genetic mechanisms of switching on cellular processes that lead to feather or hair emergence have now been found in the formation of shark scales. The pattern relies on genes to switch on a function, such as feathering, but diffuse out to surrounding cells and switch the function off, leading to a uniform, spaced out pattern. As shark species split off from other vertebrates around 420 million years ago, it therefore proves that Turing?s pattern is recycled through other vertebrates. Producer: Fiona Roberts
2018-11-15
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Oldest cave picture; the Anthropocene under London; a new scientist for the £50 note

What could be the oldest figurative cave paintings in the world have been found in a cave complex in remote Borneo. A reddish orange depiction of an animal that could be a Banteng (wild cattle found in the region) is at least 40,000 years old. Humans are now the greatest force in shaping the surface of the Earth. We now move more than 24 times as much rock, rubble and sediment than all the world?s rivers. Dr Anthony Cooper of the British Geological Society has been weighing this anthropogenic global force. Closer to home, Adam Rutherford speaks to Professor Colin Waters at the University of Leicester, about the weight of human-created rubble he?s found under the City of London. When the new polymer £50 note is introduced in around a year?s time, it?ll have a scientist on the reverse. Industrialist Matthew Boulton and engineer James Watt will step aside for a British scientist nominated by the public. Sarah John, Chief Cashier at the Bank of England, explains the rules to Adam and science experts, Emily Grossman and Alice Bell debate the merits of some of the more popular front runners.
2018-11-08
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Repairing potholes, Ozone hole, Internet of hives, Drugs from fingerprints

Potholes are one of the biggest frustrations to any road-user, but why do they keep occurring? Following Philip Hammond?s announcement of £420 million for councils to tackle potholes, Malcolm Simms, Director of the Mineral Products Association?s Asphalt & Pavement group, explains how potholes form and why they continue to occur. Alvaro Hernandez of Nottingham University chats to Marnie about new solutions he is investigating to improve our roads and reduce the number of potholes. Roland Pease meets John Able and Professor Simon Potts, to discuss the value of ?big data? ? in this case, for honeybees. Using a ?buzz box? to detect conditions inside and out of the beehive, this data can be transmitted to the cloud and used to keep track of beehive health. This is termed the ?internet of hives? and provides a huge amount of high quality data to discover the key indicators of beehive health. Back in the 1980s, the world discovered that CFCs were destroying the ozone layer, which protects the earth, and us, from being fried by the sun?s rays. The 1987 Montreal Protocol banned the use of CFCs, and as we stopped emitting them, the ozone layer started to recover. But there are other gases like carbon tetrachloride that destroy the ozone layer and are also restricted. But Dr Matt Rigby, an atmospheric chemist from Bristol University, has been discovering that there are still sources of carbon tetrachloride. Testing for illicit drugs usually needs a blood or urine sample, but now it can be done from a sweaty fingerprint. And not only on a living suspect, but on a corpse. Adam Rutherford speaks to the developer of this smart chemistry , University of East Anglia?s David Russell.
2018-11-01
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Science and Brexit, Antibiotic livestock growth promoters, Bepicolombo goes to Mercury

How might Brexit affect UK Science? Why is feeding a 'last resort' antibiotic to farm animals not a good idea? Why is space probe Bepicolombo going to Mercury? Adam Rutherford is your host. This week, leading British and European scientists wrote to the British Prime Minister and European Commission President. They expressed their concerns about the potential impact if there is a no-deal departure by the UK from the European Union. We hear from one of the signatories Professor Venki Ramakrishnan, President of the Royal Society and from UK Science Minister Sam Gyimah. Roland Pease reports on the use of the medically valuable last-resort antibiotic, colistin, as a growth promoting substance in agricultural livestock feed in India. He speaks to infectious disease consultant Abdul Ghafur in Chennai, India and microbiologist Tim Walsh at Cardiff University. The space probe Bepicolombo has begun its 7 year voyage to the planet Mercury. Suzie Imber of the University of Leicester and David Rothery of the Open University tell Adam why the journey will take so long and why Mercury is such an intriguing planet, worthy of exploration by this new probe.
2018-10-25
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Old Dogs and Physics in Space

How far back can we trace the ancestry of dogs? For just how long have they been following us around? The answer is for a very long time - long before humans settled down and developed societies. Scientists in France have been looking at ancient dog DNA to try and work out whether people tamed and domesticated local dogs as they migrated across the planet, or brought dogs with them. The answer tells us much about the relationship - or rather lack of it, between early farmers and the hunter gathers they replaced throughout Europe. And how many Bosons can you fit in a rocket? As they are rather small particles the answer will be quite a lot, but a team from Germany has succeeded in making a form of mater known as the Bose Einstein Condensate in a small rocket which they launched into the Earth?s upper atmosphere. Potentially the success of their experiment could lead to new ways of detecting gravitational waves in space. Back on earth a group of ?A? level students have been looking at or rather listening to data from space, and published a scientific paper on their observation of a solar storm. In a unique partnership with university physics researchers, information on electromagnetic waves around our planet has been turned into audible data. The keen ears of the students identified events that had not previously been detected. And how incriminating is your washing machine? Digital forensics, the unpicking of the data trails on our digital devices, from phones to TV tuners, even baby monitors and washing machines are now playing a part in criminal investigations, not just cases involving online fraud or cybercrime, but any investigation looking at what suspects were doing and when. A digital trail can act as evidence for time and place.
2018-10-18
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IPCC report, Cairngorms Connect project, grass pea, the Sun exhibition at Science Museum

Adam Rutherford speaks to Dr Tamsin Edwards, a lecturer in Physical Geography at Kings College London and a lead author for the latest IPCC report. Dr Edwards describes what happens in the making of the report, including the summarising of the wealth of scientific literature available into an understandable document for the policy makers. Cairngorms National Park in Scotland is part of an ambitious project to restore the habitat to its former natural state. Four organisations have joined together as the 'Cairngorms Connect? project ? Scottish Natural Heritage, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Wildland Limited and Forest Enterprise Scotland. Graeme Prest of Forest Enterprise Scotland explains how the project team will start to restore the habitat. The grass pea is a resilient and highly nutritious legume but it contains varying level of toxins. Marnie Chesterton visits the John Innes Centre in Norwich to meet the researchers working on making the grass pea less poisonous, which could aid food security, particularly in sub-Saharan. The Sun is technically a G-type main sequence star, which means it?s a giant continuous nuclear fusion reaction plasma, spewing out extremely dangerous matter and energy in every direction, and when it hits the Earth, this can cause all sorts of problems. Adam visits the Science Museum in London to meet Harry Cliff, a physicist and curator of a new exhibition: ?The Sun: Living With Our Star?, which explores our relationship with the closest star to earth. Adam also finds out from Professor Chris Scott of Reading University about a citizen science project called Protect our Planet from Solar Storms.
2018-10-11
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Nobel Prizes - Hayabusa 2 latest - IPCC meeting - North Pole science

Adam Rutherford reviews this year's Nobel science prizes, and talks to Professor Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, a 2009 laureate and president of the Royal Society, about the experience of being tipped as a Nobel winner. This can included a stressful condition known as Pre-Nobelitis and having unidentified Scandinavians turn up in the audiences of your scientific talks. The Japanese space probe Hayabusa 2 dropped an exploratory robot onto the surface of the asteroid Rguyu early on Wednesday morning. The autonomous probe is called MASCOT. With 16 hours of battery life, it landed at one spot on the asteroid's southern hemisphere, took a slew of data and then jumped to another location for more image-taking, temperature and magnetic measurements and chemical analyses of the rocks. MASCOT project manager is Dr Tra-Mi Ho of the German Space Agency. A critical meeting of the International Panel on Climate Change is underway in South Korea. Scientists and government representatives aim to finalise a policy road map to limit global warming to a 1.5 degree C increase by the end of the century. BBC News environment correspondent Matt McGrath is reporting from the meeting and explains why 1.5 degree C and not 2 degrees is the new preferred target for many scientists and nations. But will scientists and policy makers from around the world see eye to eye? Physicist Helen Czerski provides Adam with a final report at the end of her 8 week expedition at the North Pole which aimed to explore the interactions of water, ice, atmosphere and life in shaping Arctic weather and climate. The adventure ended with a crunch and the loss of thousands of pounds worth of scientific kit. Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker
2018-10-04
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Hyabusa 2 at Ryugu, deadly 1918 flu pandemic; WW2 bombing and ionosphere, teenage brain

Japan?s Hayabusa-2 spacecraft has arrived after more than a three year journey at the Ryugu asteroid which is just over half a mile long. It has successfully sent probes onto the surface and is sending pictures back to Earth. Gareth Mitchell discusses the achievement with BBC Science Correspondent Jonathan Amos. A hundred years ago, the 1918 flu pandemic killed between 50 and 100 million people worldwide and infected around half a billion. Seasonal flu accounts for about 650,000 deaths per year. As this year?s flu season approaches, there are new insights into how the influenza virus causes disease and why some strains like the 1918 one (a subtype of the avian strain H1N1) are so deadly compared with the seasonal kind. In the most serious cases, there?s an extreme immune reaction in the lungs, and people can effectively suffocate. The latest research from the universities of Cambridge and Oxford has uncovered a molecule that might be behind that immune overreaction. Dr Aartjan te Velthuis explains the findings and the implications for novel treatments. The massive bombing raids on cities in World War Two lead to terrible human tragedy, Now a historian and a physicist have been looking at how shock waves from some of the major bombing over Berlin caused the upper atmosphere above Slough to wobble. Specifically they?re interested in the layer eighty to a thousand kilometres up that reflects radio waves, the ionosphere. Historian Patrick Major and meteorology expert Christopher Scott, both professors at the University of Reading, tell Gareth about their collaboration and how monitoring changes in the ionosphere today can reveal both man made and natural explosive events. And Adam Rutherford talks to Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore of UCL about her book, Inventing Ourselves: the Secret Life of the Teenage Brain, the last on this year's shortlist for the Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize.
2018-09-27
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Science of Addiction

The Science Gallery London at Kings College London, right under the Shard, is a brand new venue for the collision of art, science and culture, and its opening exhibition is called Hooked, a series of installations and works by people who have experienced addiction. Adam Rutherford explores the neuroscience, the psychology and the epidemiology of addiction; what the latest research says about what addiction is, and how that can help us treat people experiencing addiction. He discusses these questions with psychologist Dr Sally Marlow and neurologist Professor Mitul Mehta who are both at Kings College and have been involved in the exhibition, and Dr Suzi Gage from Liverpool University who studies the epidemiology of addiction. He also talks to the curator of Hooked, Hannah Redler Hawes, and to two of the Science Gallery Young Leaders, Elly Magson and Mandeep Singh, who show him a couple of the exhibits.
2018-09-20
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First human drawing, Cycling genes, Oden Arctic expedition, Hello World

A new discovery of abstract symbolic drawings on a rock has been found in the Blombos Cave, about 300 km east of Cape Town in South Africa. The fragment - which some say looks a bit like a hashtag - puts the date of the earliest drawing at 73,000 years ago. As archaeologist Chris Henshilwood tells Adam Rutherford, the discovery is a "a prime indicator of modern cognition" in our species. Nearly half the human genome contains genes that regulate what your organs should be doing at a specific time of day, This has enormous potential importance to the efficacy of drugs - what time of day you take them could be a real issue. John Hogenesch from Cincinnatti Children's Hospital has been studying the genes that cycle with our daily lives. His new database of cyclic genes could help plan the best timing for a host of therapeutic interventions Physicist Helen Czerski has been in the Arctic for the last five weeks, aboard the Swedish research vessel and ice breaker Oden. As the expedition comes to a close we hear about the team's attempts to elucidate the driving forces behind the unusual weather patterns around the North Pole. Inside Science has been profiling authors shortlisted for the prestigious Royal Society science book prize. This week it's mathematician Hannah Fry's new book, Hello World: How to be human in the Age of Machines. You can hear extracts from it on Book of the Week on Radio 4 all this week too. Producer Adrian Washbourne.
2018-09-13
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Complexity in Biology

Adam Rutherford takes the show to Dublin this week, to wrestle with great matters of biological complexity. Trinity College Dublin has organised a mass gathering of some of the world's leading researchers in the life sciences to mark the 75th anniversary of one of the most influential series of lectures in the 20th century. The talks were delivered by the celebrated physicist Erwin Schrodinger in 1943 who applied his mind to a fundamental biological question: what is life? Some of his ideas were an influence on Francis Crick as he worked on the structure of DNA. Seventy five years on, Adam is joined by four of the many scientists delivering their own lectures this week. They tackle subjects of complexity in biology, ranging from the origin of complex life, the increasingly messy structure of life's evolutionary tree, the functioning of the human brain as a network of many component parts, and the place of neuroscience discoveries in the building of artificial intelligences. The guests are: Nick Lane, evolutionary biochemist at University College London, Beth Shapiro, evolutionary geneticist of the University of California Santa Cruz, Danielle Bassett, physicist and neuroscientist at the University of Pennsylvannia, Murray Shanahan, artificial intelligence researcher at Imperial College London and Google's DeepMind The podcast version ends with a question and answer session with the show's audience who include a surprise celebrity guest. Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker.
2018-09-06
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Electronic brain probe; Rural stream biodiversity; Arctic weather research trip; Science book prize

Scientists have shown how an electronic gadget, implanted in the brain, can detect, treat and even prevent epileptic seizures. Epilepsy is usually treated using anti-epilepsy drugs, but can cause serious side-effects. Researchers at the University of Cambridge, are aiming to create something more specific to the part of the brain with the problem. Professor Malliaras tells Marnie Chesterton about the unique properties of this new implant, which could be used for a range of brain-related conditions from Parkinson?s tremors to brain tumours. Many of Britain?s cleaner urban rivers are home to levels of biodiversity not seen for decades. But rural rivers, even in places without pollution, tell a different story. Up in the hills of central Wales, just north of the Brecon Beacons, lies the Llyn Brianne observatory and its surrounding system of beautiful streams. Professor Steve Ormerod from Cardiff University has been taking stock of the dwindling number of specialist invertebrates and the subtle ways the decline is happening which points to an extinction crisis that has gone unnoticed. Marnie Chesterton checks in with bubble physicist Dr Helen Czerski. She?s part of a team of researchers aboard the icebreaker Oden research vessel, which is trying to understand arctic weather patterns and how the contents of open water between ice flows influence cloud behaviour. It?s a race against time to gather data before any water refreezes as the arctic winter approaches. Inside Science has been profiling authors shortlisted for the prestigious Royal Society science book prize. This week it?s the turn of materials scientist Mark Miadownik, His new book ?Liquid: The delightful and dangerous substances that flow through our lives? is about fluids and how their particular properties allow life to flourish. Presenter Marnie Chesterton Producer: Adrian Washbourne
2018-08-30
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Cavendish banana survival; Guillemot egg shape; Unexpected Truth About Animals; Tambora's rainstorm

The last banana you probably ate was a type called Cavendish. But this, our last commercially viable variety is under severe threat, as the fungus, called Tropical Race 4, is laying waste to swathes of Cavendish banana plants across China, Asia and Australia. Recently, scientists & horticulturalists gathered in Istanbul to discuss the best ways to fight the threat. Professor James Dale from the Institute of Future Environments at the University of Queensland has been conducting successful field trials in previously infected areas with impressive results. Could gene editing provide the solution? The extraordinary shape of the guillemot egg is one of ornithology?s great mysteries. This seabird lays something twice the size of a hen?s egg, which looks a bit like an obelisk, blue, speckled and weirdly elongated at one end, with almost flat sides. There have been a handful of theories to explain why it?s evolved. Professor of behaviour and evolution Tim Birkhead, at the University of Sheffield shows in his new research that the answer lies in allowing the birds to successfully breed on the steep slopes of cliff ledges. Marnie Chesterton meets the next in Inside Science?s series of writers shortlisted for the very prestigious Royal Society?s Book Prize : Lucy Cooke, zoologist, author and broadcaster discusses The Unexpected Truth About Animals which flies the flag for some of the lessons learnt from mistakes made in understanding animal behaviour. Could the Tambora volcanic eruption in April 1815 be responsible for Napoleon?s defeat at Waterloo? A rain-soaked battlefield in June 1815, stopped Napoleon deploying his military might although many have questioned how a volcano could have such an effect on the weather so soon. How was it to blame for a Belgian rainstorm just several weeks after the end of the eruption? Dr Matt Genge from Imperial College, in a new paper out this week, says the answer lies in the phenomenon known as electrostatic levitation. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Adrian Washbourne
2018-08-23
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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.
2018-08-16
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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.
2018-08-09
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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.
2018-08-02
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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.
2018-07-26
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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.
2018-07-19
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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.
2018-07-12
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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.
2018-07-05
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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.
2018-06-28
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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.
2018-06-21
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