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Science Stories

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Science
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Surprising stories from the history of science told by Naomi Alderman and Philip Ball.

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Surprising stories from the history of science told by Naomi Alderman and Philip Ball.

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13 Ratings
Average Ratings
11
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1
0
0

How we see, and Smallpox experiment

By Radical Linguist - Jul 14 2019
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Remember when science used to be part of the discovery of the world? It was keenly related to exactly what Everyone knee about real life, and the key experimenters were so obviously real people, pursuing questions that everyone had? Remember when science was engaging, and when it made us feel more enlightened about the past and more hopeful about the future? The BBC has done it again! “Science Stories” are a lovely antidote to a million sci-fi fantasies about science as the Doomsday machine dragging us down to Hell.

iTunes Ratings

13 Ratings
Average Ratings
11
1
1
0
0

How we see, and Smallpox experiment

By Radical Linguist - Jul 14 2019
Read more
Remember when science used to be part of the discovery of the world? It was keenly related to exactly what Everyone knee about real life, and the key experimenters were so obviously real people, pursuing questions that everyone had? Remember when science was engaging, and when it made us feel more enlightened about the past and more hopeful about the future? The BBC has done it again! “Science Stories” are a lovely antidote to a million sci-fi fantasies about science as the Doomsday machine dragging us down to Hell.

Best weekly hand curated episodes for learning

Cover image of Science Stories

Science Stories

Latest release on Sep 10, 2019

Best weekly hand curated episodes for learning

The Best Episodes Ranked Using User Listens

Updated by OwlTail 2 days ago

Rank #1: Einstein's Fridge

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What do you do when you've described the nature of the universe?

In the late 1920s Einstein was working on a grand unified theory of the universe, having given us E=mc2, space-time and the fourth dimension. He was also working on a fridge.

Perhaps motivated by a story in the Berlin newspapers about a family who died when toxic fumes leaked from their state-of the-art refrigerator, Einstein teamed up with another physicist Leo Szilard and designed a new, safer refrigerating technology. And so it was that in 1930, the man who had once famously worked in the patent office in Bern was granted a patent of his own. Number: 1, 781, 541. Title: refrigeration.

Phillip Ball explores this little known period of Einstein's life to try and find out why he turned his extraordinary mind to making fridges safer.

Despite considerable commercial interest in the patent, Einstein's fridge didn't get built in his lifetime.The Great Depression forced AEG and others to close down their refrigeration research. But in 2008 a team of British scientists decided to give it a go.Their verdict : Einstein's fridge doesn't work.

Producer: Anna Buckley

Apr 01 2016

27mins

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Rank #2: The meteorite and the hidden hoax

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In 1864 a strange type of rock fell from the sky above Orgueil in rural France. Shocked and frightened locals collected pieces of the peculiar, peaty blob from the surrounding fields, and passed them on to museums and scientists.

At that time, a debate had been raging over the origin of life; Could life possibly form from mere chemicals? Or did it need some strange unidentified vital substance?

Into this debate fell the Orgueil meteorite, and because it seemed remarkably similar to loamy soil, some wondered whether it may hint at the existence of extra-terrestrial life.

The great Pasteur allegedly investigated, but disappointingly found no such thing. Nevertheless, the mere possibility prompted later ideas that the origin of life on earth indeed lay elsewhere in the universe, ideas that were greeted with varying degrees of skepticism over ensuing decades.

As Phil Ball narrates, given how much was at stake, and how bitterly scientists argued on either side, the most remarkable thing about the story is the extraordinary secret the meteorite kept to itself until exactly 100 years later.

Producer: Alex Mansfield

Jan 20 2016

27mins

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Rank #3: The duchess who gatecrashed science

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In the spring of 1667 Samuel Pepys queued repeatedly with crowds of Londoners and waited for hours just to catch a glimpse of aristocrat writer and thinker Margaret Cavendish.

Twice he was frustrated and couldn't spot her, but eventually she made a grand visit to meet the Fellows of the newly formed Royal Society. She was the first woman ever to visit.

Pepys watched as they received her with gritted teeth and fake smiles.

They politely showed her air pumps, magnets and microscopes, and she politely professed her amazement, then left in her grand carriage.

Naomi Alderman asks what it was it about this celebrity poet, playwright, author, and thinker that so fascinated and yet also infuriated these men of the Restoration elite?

Part of the answer strikes right at the core of what we now call the scientific method.

Producer: Alex Mansfield

Jan 27 2016

27mins

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Rank #4: Hypatia: The Murdered Mathematician

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Naomi Alderman's tale is a murder mystery, the story of Hypatia, the mathematician murdered by a mob in the learned city of Alexandria, around the year 415 CE. Hypatia was a communicator of science, tackling difficult maths and teaching it to her students. This was incredibly important work. It was enough, at the time, to make her Alexandria's pre-eminent mathematician, and probably therefore the leading mathematician in the world.

And there's historical evidence that Hypatia made some discoveries and innovations of her own. She invented a new and more efficient method of long division. In a time before electronic calculators, the actual business of doing sums was an arduous part of engineering or astronomy, and any improvement in efficiency was very welcome.

All quite innocent science, so why did Hypatia end up being murdered by a mob? Natalie Haynes presenter of "Natalie Haynes Stands Up For The Classics" tells the inside story to Naomi Alderman. And Professor Edith Hall discusses Hypatia's legacy.

Jul 04 2018

27mins

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Rank #5: Mary Anning and Fossil Hunting

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Mary Anning lived in Lyme Regis on what is now known as the Jurassic Coast in the first half of the 19th century. Knowing the shore from childhood and with a remarkable eye for detection she was extremely successful in finding fossils. In 1812 she unearthed parts of an Icthyosaur and in 1823 she discovered the first skeleton of what became known as a Plesiosaurus - a long-necked, flippered creature with a tiny head. It looked a bit like an elongated turtle with no shell.

Naomi Alderman tells the science story of how Mary Anning, a poor and relatively uneducated young woman, became the supplier of the best fossils to the gentlemen geologists who were beginning to understand that the earth was very old and had been inhabited by strange extinct creatures. Naomi talks to Tracy Chevalier, author of Remarkable Creatures, a novel about Mary Anning, about her life and relationship with the geologists of the time, and to Dr Susannah Maidment, Curator of Dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum, about fossil hunting today.

Jul 11 2018

27mins

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Rank #6: Descartes' Daughter

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There's a story told about French philosopher René Descartes and his daughter. He boards a ship for a voyage over the North Sea with a large wooden box which he insists be handled with such great care that the sea captain's curiosity is aroused. When Descartes is out of his cabin the sea captain opens the box and is horrified to find a life sized automaton inside. He's so shocked he throws the "daughter" overboard.

Descartes championed a view of nature in which everything happened because of the physical forces acting between its constituent parts: nature as a machine. It was a coolly rational vision that caught the scientific spirit of the seventeenth century. He was fascinated by automata and what they tell us about what it is to be human.

Philip Ball tells the story of Descartes and his "daughter" and his writings about humans and machines. He finds out more about the thirst for mechanical wonders and what it said about theories of the human body in Descartes' time, from historian of science Simon Schaffer of Cambridge University. And Kanta Dihar of the Centre for the Future of Intelligence also at Cambridge University talks about current research into AIs, driven purely by some mechanism of formal logic, that can mimic the capabilities of the human mind, and how contemporary culture explores our fears about them.

Jun 27 2018

28mins

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Rank #7: Urea and the Wohler Myth

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Philip Ball tells the story of German chemist Friedrich Wöhler's creation of urea, an organic substance previously thought only to be produced by living creatures. Yet in 1828 Wöhler created urea from decidedly non-living substances. It was exciting because the accidental transformation seemed to cross a boundary: from inorganic to organic, from inert matter to a product of life. It's a key moment in the history of chemistry but like many scientific advances, this one has also been turned into something of a myth. To read some accounts, this humble act of chemical synthesis sounds almost akin to the 'vital spark of being' described by Mary Shelley in her book published ten years previously, when Victor Frankenstein brought dead flesh back to life.

Philip Ball sorts out fact from fiction in what Wöhler really achieved in conversation with Peter Ramberg of Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri, and he finds out about chemical synthesis of natural products today from Professor Sarah O'Connor of the John Innes Centre in Norwich.

Producer: Erika Wright.

Jun 20 2018

27mins

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Rank #8: 17th-Century Space Flight: The Real Cyrano de Bergerac

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Philip Ball reveals the real Cyrano de Bergerac - forget the big nosed fictional character - and his links to 17th Century space flight.
Cyrano was a soldier, gambler and duellist who retired from military exploits on account of his wounds around 1639, at the grand old age of 20. But he studied at university and, to judge from the books he went on to write, he was well versed in the philosophical and scientific debates of his day.
He wrote two books, called The States and Empires of the Moon and its sequel, The States and Empires of the Sun. And he designed spaceships to travel to the moon and to the sun. Philip discusses the life and times of Cyrano with Mary Baine Campbell of Brandeis University in Massachusetts.

Journeys to the New World in the seventeenth century were voyages of trade - and ultimately of colonisation. What those travellers wanted were minerals, spices, gold, rare and precious objects that could fetch a fortune in the Old World. Today, the profit motive has returned to space travel. Efforts to develop spacecraft and to send people into space are increasingly being conducted not just by government agencies but by private companies, in search again of land and minerals. The use of resources on the moon and the planets is in principle governed by the Outer Space Treaty. Philip discusses the control of exploitation of space with Patricia Lewis of ICAN, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.

Jun 13 2018

27mins

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Rank #9: Eddington's Eclipse and Einstein's Celebrity

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Eddington's Eclipse and Einstein's Celebrity

Philip Ball's tale is of a solar eclipse 100 years ago observed by Arthur Eddington, a British astronomer who travelled to the remote island of Principe off the coast of West Africa and saw the stars shift in the heavens. His observations supplied the crucial proof of a theory that transformed our notions of the cosmos and turned a German physicist named Albert Einstein into an international celebrity. But this is also a tale of how a Quaker tried to use science to unite countries. The reparations imposed on Germany after the war extended into science too as many in Great Britain and other Allied nations felt that German science should be ostracised from the international community. As a Quaker, Eddington wanted just the opposite: to see peaceful cooperation restored among nations.

Producer: Erika Wright

Dec 12 2018

27mins

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Rank #10: Alexis Carrel and the immortal chicken heart

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Philip Ball tells the story of Alexis Carrel, the French surgeon who worked to preserve life outside the body and create an immortal chicken heart in a dish. His quest was to renew ageing flesh, repair and rebuild our bodies and keep them healthy far beyond the usual human lifespan. In the early twentieth century his science was pioneering but his mission to achieve eternal life was underpinned by a dark and terrifying agenda. Carrel was a racist who advocated eugenics to preserve the superior civilisation of the West.

Philip Ball discusses the history and cultural impact of the tissue culture techniques developed by Carrel with social historian Professor Hannah Landecker of the University of California at Los Angeles. And he finds out about the legacy of Carrel's research from Dr Madeline Lancaster of Cambridge University, one of the pioneers of the growth of brain organoids from stem cells; small clusters of neurons and other cells, rather like mini organs no bigger than a dried pea.

Sep 10 2019

27mins

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