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Oxford Sparks Big Questions

'Will my bacon sandwich kill me?', 'Is vaping better than smoking?', 'How do you become an astronaut?' - just some of the Big Questions we ask some of the brightest minds behind Oxford science. Join us in each podcast as we explore a different area of science.

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What does Hollywood get right and wrong when science is in the storyline?

What does hollywood get right?

12mins

2 Jun 2017

Rank #1

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What is antimatter?

What is antimatter? Antimatter was one of the most exciting physics discoveries of the 20th century, and has since been picked up by fiction writers such as Dan Brown. But what exactly is it? Antimatter has fuelled many a supernatural tale, but it's also fascinating all by itself. Many people think of it as an "out there" theoretical idea, unaware that it is actually being produced every day. What's more, research on antimatter is actually helping us to understand how the universe works! To find out more we visited Donal Hill, particle physicist from the University of Oxford Department of Physics to ask: What is antimatter? Listen here to find out…

13mins

17 May 2018

Rank #2

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What's under Lapland?

We know it as the home of Father Christmas, but why is Lapland of interest to geologists? In this festive episode of the Big Questions podcast we ask Anna Bidgood from the University of Oxford's Department of Earth Sciences "What's under Lapland?". Join us as we find out why the minerals found in the region are important, and what it's like to be a field scientist in the frozen north...

13mins

11 Dec 2019

Rank #3

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How do you mend a broken heart?

In this episode of the Oxford Sparks Big Questions podcast we visited Cardiovascular Biologist, Nicola Smart, from the department of physiology, anatomy and genetics to ask: How do you mend a broken heart? lub-dub, lub-dub, lub-dub is the sound of your heart beating in your chest. This is how we know we are alive. But what happens if it stops? Of course, if there's doctors and nurses around they can get it started again - but does this mean your heart is truly fixed? In this episode of the Oxford Sparks Big Questions podcast we visited Cardiovascular Biologist, Nicola Smart, from the department of physiology, anatomy and genetics to ask: How do you mend a broken heart?

13mins

23 Mar 2018

Rank #4

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Does love have a scent?

In this episode of the Oxford Sparks Big Questions podcast we are looking at the science behind love at first smell and asking does love have a scent? Love is in the air - or is it? Companies are advertising that they can find you love through the power of scent! But are pheromones a chemical way to find your true love? Or is it just a myth? In this episode of the Oxford Sparks Big Questions podcast we are looking at the science behind love at first smell and asking does love have a scent? We visited Dr Tristram Wyatt, Senior Research Fellow, Department of Zoology at The University of Oxford to find out…

13mins

6 Feb 2018

Rank #5

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Why are athletes using ketones?

It’s considered one of the hardest athletic challenges. 21 day-long stages covering around 3,500 kilometres (2,200 miles) - it’s the Tour De France. A Tour de France rider will burn enough calories during a six-hour mountain stage to fuel an average person's activity for two to four days. So how do these athletes compete day in, day out? On this episode of the Big Questions podcast we are asking the question: Why are athletes using ketones? This week we visited Kieran Clarke, Biochemist at the University of Oxford to find out…

13mins

19 Jun 2019

Rank #6

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Why should we cuddle?

Who doesn’t love a cuddle? Whether it is from a pet or a person they just make us feel good. But, would you believe wrapping your arms around someone else can actually improve your gut health? In this episode of the Oxford Sparks 'Big Questions' podcast we are looking at lemurs and asking: Why should we cuddle? To find out we went to the Department of Zoology at the University of Oxford to speak to Aura Raulo who is studying the importance of cuddling.

13mins

13 Feb 2019

Rank #7

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Should I be a vegan?

If you have been in a supermarket recently you will have noticed it, all of a sudden all of the shelves have become more vegan friendly. With a New Year upon us and resolutions being made – is it time to take the plunge and say good bye to meat and dairy? In this episode of the Big Questions podcast we are asking: Should I be a vegan? To find out we visited Dr Christina Potter who is a health behaviours researcher working on the Livestock, Environment and People (LEAP) project.

12mins

2 Jan 2019

Rank #8

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Can a machine pick a perfect Christmas gift?

It is that time a year again where our relationships are tested to find that perfect Christmas gift! Wouldn’t it be nice if there was an algorithm that could do it for you? In this episode of the Big Questions podcast we ask the question: Can a machine pick a perfect Christmas gift? To find out we went to the Department of Computer Science to speak to Senior Researcher Helena Webb, Research Associate Menisha Patel, PhD researchers William Seymour and PHD researcher, Ross Gales…

15mins

12 Dec 2018

Rank #9

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Should I take a selfie with a wild animal?

Travel companies around the world profit from some of the cruellest types of wildlife tourist attractions on earth. Travel companies around the world profit from some of the cruellest types of wildlife tourist attractions on earth. Whether it is riding elephants, taking selfies with tigers, or performing dolphin shows, these activities can cause lifelong suffering for wild animals. In the latest edition of the Oxford Sparks Big Questions podcast, we visit Conservation Ecologist Dr Tom Moorhouse to ask: should I take a selfie with a wild animal?

13mins

2 Jun 2017

Rank #10

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How do you turn a plastic bag into fuel?

There are a lot of plastic bags out there. Every year we get through 1 trillion plastic bags worldwide. Quick math, that means we are using 1 million bags per minute. But wouldn’t it be nice if we could turn this plastic into something useful? Like fuel for your car? On this episode of the Big Questions podcast, we are looking at the world of waste and asking: how do you turn a plastic bag into fuel? To find out we visited the Centre for Innovation and Enterprise (CIE) to meet Ben Williams, CEO for Sustainable Fuels, a new spin out from The University of Oxford, to find out...

13mins

10 Apr 2019

Rank #11

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Are bats superheroes or villains?

The Big Questions podcast is back with a new series, and we start with a special Halloween edition! Join University of Oxford evolutionary virologist Emilia Skirmuntt as we learn all about the weird and wonderful world of bats, and ask the question 'Are bats villains or superheroes?'

11mins

30 Oct 2019

Rank #12

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Why does Uranus smell like farts?

Uranus, the seventh planet from the sun, has the poetic name of the Greek god of the heavens. In the English language, it is, unfortunately, the literal butt of every astronomy joke. And last year the new discovery about the seventh planet’s odour – or, more precisely, the chemical composition of its atmosphere – has not helped the comic element. In this week’s Big Questions podcast we visited Professor Patrick Irwin from the Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics, from the University of Oxford to ask: Why does Uranus smell like farts?

13mins

30 Jan 2019

Rank #13

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How did Mary Somerville get on the Scottish 10 Pound note?

In this episode of the Big Questions podcast we are asking: How did Mary Somerville get on the Scottish 10 Pound note? Who is Mary Somerville? If you immediately thought 'she was a scientist!' you would be right! But she is so much more than that! Somerville college right here in Oxford was named in her honour. In this episode of the Big Questions podcast we are asking: How did Mary Somerville get on the Scottish 10 Pound note? To find out we visited Brigitte Stenhouse who is doing her PhD at the Open University on the Mathematics of Mary Somerville.

11mins

13 Mar 2018

Rank #14

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How do you bake a cake in a microwave?

Bakers spend years perfecting their skill to make amazing cakes! But can you do it in minutes within a microwave? To find out we look into the science of baking and met up with Luke Jew, astronomer from the department of Oxford Physics, University of Oxford to find out...

13mins

31 Oct 2018

Rank #15

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What did Hollywood get right and wrong in these movies?

King Kong, PI, Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind and Superman III. What do these 4 films have in common? SCIENCE! They caught attention of one film fan Edwin Davies. On this episode of the Big Questions podcast we are separating the fact and fiction and asking the question: What did Hollywood get right and wrong in these movies?

20mins

27 Mar 2019

Rank #16

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Can you hack an aeroplane?

35 million flights will take off and land this year. Each flight is tracked on the ground by air traffic control and there’s technology on the plane. But what is stopping a hacker from sitting in front of their computer and disrupting the computer system? That is what a team of the University of Oxford are trying to work out. In this week’s Big Question podcast we are visiting Dr. Martin Strohmeier researcher in systems security in the Department of Computer Science asking: Can you hack an aeroplane?

11mins

28 Nov 2018

Rank #17

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How do you become an astronaut?

Millions dream of being an astronaut, but how many of us have what it takes? In this episode of the Oxford Sparks Big Question's podcast, we visit Merritt Moore, quantum physicist from The University of Oxford, to ask: How do you become an astronaut? How do you become an astronaut? Within the next few decades, humans could be leaving their footprints on the Red Planet! That's the plan, as NASA continues to prepare to expand human exploration in the solar system. But what we want to know is: How do you become an astronaut? To find out we visited Merritt Moore, quantum physicist from The University of Oxford, to ask: How do you become an astronaut?

13mins

13 Mar 2018

Rank #18

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Where is my hoverboard?

According to the much-loved 'Back to the Future' franchise, we should all be zipping around on hoverboards by now. As we come to terms with our disappointment that they STILL haven't hit the shelves, Dr Clara Barker from Oxford University's Materials Science department discusses the technology that would be required to build one, and we learn all about superconductors along the way.

13mins

27 Nov 2019

Rank #19

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What happens in the field?

Field work. It sounds like a lot of fun! Scientists get to travel the world visiting exotic locations seeing and experiencing incredible things. But in reality they can find themselves outside the comforts of their lab with some interesting things happening to them! This podcast episode is a little different to our usual Big Question series, as we hear from three scientists who took to the stage as part of the Oxford Ideas Festival. In front of a live audience we asked them the Big Question: What happens in the field? Listen here to hear stories from Dr Amy Dickman, Dr Becky Smethurst and Dr Cedric Tan…

20mins

16 Jan 2019

Rank #20