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Rank #51 in History category

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In Our Time: Science

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Rank #51 in History category

History
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Scientific principles, theory, and the role of key figures in the advancement of science.

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Scientific principles, theory, and the role of key figures in the advancement of science.

iTunes Ratings

346 Ratings
Average Ratings
287
31
10
6
12

Superb Science Information!

By F U. - Apr 18 2018
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If you’re a naturally curious person this is for you. A truly wonderful program.

Wonderful

By Junko Jones - Jan 26 2016
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Great topics, wonderful host. My favorite science podcast- the perfect binge listen!

iTunes Ratings

346 Ratings
Average Ratings
287
31
10
6
12

Superb Science Information!

By F U. - Apr 18 2018
Read more
If you’re a naturally curious person this is for you. A truly wonderful program.

Wonderful

By Junko Jones - Jan 26 2016
Read more
Great topics, wonderful host. My favorite science podcast- the perfect binge listen!
Cover image of In Our Time: Science

In Our Time: Science

Latest release on Jan 23, 2020

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Scientific principles, theory, and the role of key figures in the advancement of science.

Rank #1: Dark Matter

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Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss dark matter, the mysterious and invisible substance which is believed to make up most of the Universe. In 1932 the Dutch astronomer Jan Oort noticed that the speed at which galaxies moved was at odds with the amount of material they appeared to contain. He hypothesized that much of this 'missing' matter was simply invisible to telescopes. Today astronomers and particle physicists are still fascinated by the search for dark matter and the question of what it is.

With

Carolin Crawford
Public Astronomer at the Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge and Gresham Professor of Astronomy

Carlos Frenk
Ogden Professor of Fundamental Physics and Director of the Institute for Computational Cosmology at the University of Durham

Anne Green
Reader in Physics at the University of Nottingham

Producer: Simon Tillotson.

Mar 12 2015

45mins

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Rank #2: Black Holes

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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Black Holes. They are the dead collapsed ghosts of massive stars and they have an irresistible pull: their dark swirling, whirling, ever-hungry mass has fascinated thinkers as diverse as Edgar Allen Poe, Stephen Hawking and countless science fiction writers. When their ominous existence was first predicted by the Reverend John Mitchell in a paper to the Royal Society in 1783, nobody really knew what to make of the idea - they couldn’t be seen by any telescope. Although they were suggested by the eighteenth century Marquis de Laplace and their existence was proved on paper by the equations of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, it was not until 1970 that Cygnus X 1, the first black hole, was put on the astral map. What causes Black Holes? Do they play a role in the formation of galaxies and what have we learnt of their nature since we have found out where they are?With the Astronomer Royal - 2001 Sir Martin Rees, Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Cambridge University; Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Professor of Physics at The Open University; Professor Martin Ward, director of the X-Ray Astronomy Group at the University of Leicester.

Apr 12 2001

28mins

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Rank #3: The Physics of Time

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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the physics of time. When writing the Principia Mathematica, Isaac Newton declared his hand on most of the big questions in physics. He outlined the nature of space, explained the motions of the planets and conceived the operation of gravity. He also laid down the law on time declaring: “Absolute, true, and mathematical time, of itself and from its own nature, flows equably without relation to anything external.” For Newton time was absolute and set apart from the universe, but with the theories of Albert Einstein time became more complicated; it could be squeezed and distorted and was different in different places.Time is integral to our experience of things but we find it very difficult to think about. It may not even exist and yet seems written into the existence of absolutely everything. With Jim Al-Khalili, Professor of Theoretical Physics and Chair in the Public Engagement in Science at the University of Surrey; Monica Grady, Professor of Planetary and Space Sciences at the Open University and Ian Stewart, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Warwick.

Dec 18 2008

42mins

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Rank #4: Calculus

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Melvyn Bragg discusses the epic feud between Sir Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz over who invented an astonishingly powerful new mathematical tool - calculus. Both claimed to have conceived it independently, but the argument soon descended into a bitter battle over priority, plagiarism and philosophy. Set against the backdrop of the Hanoverian succession to the English throne and the formation of the Royal Society, the fight pitted England against Europe, geometric notation against algebra. It was fundamental to the grounding of a mathematical system which is one of the keys to the modern world, allowing us to do everything from predicting the pressure building behind a dam to tracking the position of a space shuttle.Melvyn is joined by Simon Schaffer, Professor of History of Science at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of Darwin College; Patricia Fara, Senior Tutor at Clare College, University of Cambridge; and Jackie Stedall, Departmental Lecturer in History of Mathematics at the University of Oxford.

Sep 24 2009

42mins

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Rank #5: Relativity

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Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Einstein's theories of relativity. Between 1905 and 1917 Albert Einstein formulated a theoretical framework which transformed our understanding of the Universe. The twin theories of Special and General Relativity offered insights into the nature of space, time and gravitation which changed the face of modern science. Relativity resolved apparent contradictions in physics and also predicted several new phenomena, including black holes. It's regarded today as one of the greatest intellectual achievements of the twentieth century, and had an impact far beyond the world of science.

With:

Ruth Gregory
Professor of Mathematics and Physics at Durham University

Martin Rees
Astronomer Royal and Emeritus Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics at the University of Cambridge

Roger Penrose
Emeritus Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford.
Producer: Thomas Morris.

Jun 06 2013

42mins

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Rank #6: Game Theory

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Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss game theory, the mathematical study of decision-making. First formulated in the 1940s, the discipline entails devising 'games' to simulate situations of conflict or cooperation. It allows researchers to unravel decision-making strategies, and even to establish why certain types of behaviour emerge. Some of the games studied in game theory have become well known outside academia - they include the Prisoner's Dilemma, an intriguing scenario popularised in novels and films, and which has inspired television game shows. Today game theory is seen as a vital tool in such diverse fields as evolutionary biology, economics, computing and philosophy. With:Ian StewartEmeritus Professor of Mathematics at the University of WarwickAndrew ColmanProfessor of Psychology at the University of LeicesterRichard BradleyProfessor of Philosophy at the London School of Economics and Political Science.Producer: Thomas Morris.

May 10 2012

41mins

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Rank #7: Artificial Intelligence

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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss artificial intelligence. Can machines think? It was a question posed by the mathematician and Bletchley Park code breaker Alan Turing and it is a question still being asked today. What is the difference between men and machines and what does it mean to be human? And if we can answer that question, is it possible to build a computer that can imitate the human mind? There are those who have always had robust answers to the questions that those who seek to create artificial intelligence have posed. In 1949 the eminent neurosurgeon, Professor Geoffrey Jefferson argued that the mechanical mind could never rival a human intelligence because it could never be conscious of what it did: "Not until a machine can write a sonnet or compose a concerto because of thoughts and emotions felt", he declared "and not by the chance fall of symbols, could we agree that machine equals brain - that is, not only write it but know that it had written it." Yet the quest rolled on for machines that were bigger and better at processing symbols and calculating infinite permutations. Who were the early pioneers of artificial intelligence and what drove them to imitate the operations of the human mind? Is intelligence the defining characteristic of humanity? And how has the quest for artificial intelligence been driven by warfare and conflict in the twentieth century? With Jon Agar, Lecturer in the History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge; Alison Adam, Professor of Information Systems, Salford University; Igor Aleksander, Professor of Neural Systems Engineering at Imperial College, University of London.

Dec 08 2005

40mins

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Rank #8: The Speed of Light

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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the speed of light. Scientists and thinkers have been fascinated with the speed of light for millennia. Aristotle wrongly contended that the speed of light was infinite, but it was the 17th Century before serious attempts were made to measure its actual velocity – we now know that it’s 186,000 miles per second. Then in 1905 Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity predicted that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. This then has dramatic effects on the nature of space and time. It’s been thought the speed of light is a constant in Nature, a kind of cosmic speed limit, now the scientists aren’t so sure. With John Barrow, Professor of Mathematical Sciences and Gresham Professor of Astronomy at Cambridge University; Iwan Morus, Senior Lecturer in the History of Science at The University of Wales, Aberystwyth; Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Visiting Professor of Astrophysics at Oxford University.

Nov 30 2006

42mins

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Rank #9: The Proton

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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the discovery and growing understanding of the Proton, formed from three quarks close to the Big Bang and found in the nuclei of all elements. The positive charges they emit means they attract the fundamental particles of negatively charged electrons, an attraction that leads to the creation of atoms which in turn leads to chemistry, biology and life itself. The Sun (in common with other stars) is a fusion engine that turn protons by a series of processes into helium, emitting energy in the process, with about half of the Sun's protons captured so far. Hydrogen atoms, stripped of electrons, are single protons which can be accelerated to smash other nuclei and have applications in proton therapy. Many questions remain, such as why are electrical charges for protons and electrons so perfectly balanced?

With

Frank Close
Professor Emeritus of Physics at the University of Oxford

Helen Heath
Reader in Physics at the University of Bristol

And

Simon Jolly
Lecturer in High Energy Physics at University College London

Producer: Simon Tillotson.

Apr 26 2018

49mins

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Rank #10: Chaos Theory

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Melvyn Bragg examines whether world is a fundamentally chaotic or orderly place. When Newton published his Principia Mathematica in 1687 his work was founded on one simple message: Nature has laws and we can find them. His explanation of the movements of the planets, and of gravity, was rooted in the principle that the universe functions like a machine and its patterns are predictable. Newton’s equations not only explained why night follows day but, importantly, predicted that night would continue to follow day for evermore. Three hundred years later Newton’s principles were thrown into question by a dread word that represented the antithesis of his vision of order: that word was Chaos. According to Chaos Theory, the world is far more complicated than was previously thought. Instead of the future of the universe being irredeemably fixed, we are, in fact, subject to the whims of random unpredictability. Tiny actions can change the world by setting off an infinite chain of reactions: famously, if a butterfly flaps its wings in Brazil - it could cause a tornado in Berlin. So what’s the answer? Is the universe chaotic or orderly? If it’s all so complicated, why does night still follow day? And what is going on in that most complex machine of all - the brain - to filter and construct our perception of the world? With Susan Greenfield, Senior Research Fellow, Lincoln College, Oxford University; David Papineau, Professor of the Philosophy of Science, Kings College, London; Neil Johnson,University Lecturer in Physics at Oxford University.

May 16 2002

42mins

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Rank #11: Mathematics

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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the way perceptions of the importance of mathematics have fluctuated in the 20th century, the nature of mathematical ability, and what mathematics can show us about how life began, and how it might continue. Galileo wrote “this grand book the universe… is written in the language of mathematics”. It was said before Galileo and has been said since and in the last decades of the 20th century it is being said again, most emphatically. How important is maths in relation to other sciences at the end of the twentieth century - will it ever be made redundant, or is it increasingly crucial to our understanding of the world and ourselves? What insight can it give us into the origins of life, and the functioning of our brains, and what does it mean to say that maths has become more ‘visual’?With Ian Stewart, Professor of Mathematics and Gresham Professor of Geometry, University of Warwick; Brian Butterworth, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College, London.

May 06 1999

28mins

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Rank #12: The Multiverse

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Melvyn Bragg and guests will be leaving the studio, the planet and indeed, the universe to take a tour of the Multiverse. If you look up the word ‘universe’ in the Oxford English Dictionary you will find the following definition: “The whole of created or existing things regarded collectively; all things (including the earth, the heavens, and all the phenomena of space) considered as constituting a systematic whole.” That sounds fairly comprehensive as a description of everything, but for an increasing number of physicists and cosmologists the universe is not enough. They talk of a multiverse – literally many universes – to explain aspects of their theory, the character of the universe and the riddle of our existence within it. Indeed, compared to the scope and complexity of the multiverse, the whole of our known reality may be as a speck of sand upon a beach.The idea of a multiverse is still controversial, some argue that it isn’t even science, because it is based on an idea that we may never be able to prove or even see. But what might a multiverse be like, why are physicists and cosmologists increasingly interested in it and is it really scientific to discuss the existence of universes we may never know anything With Martin Rees, President of the Royal Society and Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics at the University of Cambridge; Fay Dowker, Reader in Theoretical Physics at Imperial College; Bernard Carr, Professor of Mathematics and Astronomy at Queen Mary, University of London

Feb 21 2008

41mins

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Rank #13: Galaxies

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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the galaxies. Spread out across the voids of space like spun sugar, but harbouring in their centres super-massive black holes. Our galaxy is about 100,000 light years across, is shaped like a fried egg and we travel inside it at approximately 220 kilometres per second. The nearest one to us is much smaller and is nicknamed the Sagittarius Dwarf. But the one down the road, called Andromeda, is just as large as ours and, in 10 billion years, we'll probably crash into it. Galaxies - the vast islands in space of staggering beauty and even more staggering dimension. But galaxies are not simply there to adorn the universe; they house much of its visible matter and maintain the stars in a constant cycle of creation and destruction. But why do galaxies exist, how have they evolved and what lies at the centre of a galaxy to make the stars dance round it at such colossal speeds? With John Gribbin, Visiting Fellow in Astronomy at the University of Sussex; Carolin Crawford, Royal Society University Research Fellow at the Institute of Astronomy at Cambridge; Robert Kennicutt, Plumian Professor of Astronomy and Experimental Philosophy at the University of Cambridge.

Jun 29 2006

42mins

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Rank #14: Evolution

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Melvyn Bragg examines the future of gene therapy and advances in evolutionary biology. Are we continuing to evolve? If so, what are the signs and if not, why not? And those apes, so very very near us in genetic kinship, why are they so far away in so much else, and will they ever evolve? And is evolution necessarily progression? If so, does our apparent lack of evolution mean lack of progress? Also on the evolutionary front, could electronic devices discover the means of self-replication, and what will that mean for us? The march of the life sciences after the discovery of DNA accelerates by the year but what are the implications?With Professor John Maynard Smith evolutionary biological theorist and Emeritus Professor of Biology at the University of Sussex; Colin Tudge, writer, journalist and Research Fellow at the Centre for Philosophy.

Apr 15 1999

28mins

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Rank #15: The Age of the Universe

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Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the age of the Universe.Since the 18th century, when scientists first realised that the Universe had existed for more than a few thousand years, cosmologists have debated its likely age. The discovery that the Universe was expanding allowed the first informed estimates of its age to be made by the great astronomer Edwin Hubble in the early decades of the twentieth century. Hubble's estimate of the rate at which the Universe is expanding, the so-called Hubble Constant, has been progressively improved. Today cosmologists have a variety of other methods for ageing the Universe, most recently the detailed measurements of cosmic microwave background radiation - the afterglow of the Big Bang - made in the last decade. And all these methods seem to agree on one thing: the Universe has existed for around 13.75 billion years.With:Martin ReesAstronomer Royal and Emeritus Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics at the University of CambridgeCarolin CrawfordMember of the Institute of Astronomy and Fellow of Emmanuel College at the University of CambridgeCarlos FrenkDirector of the Institute for Computational Cosmology at the University of Durham.Producer: Thomas Morris.

Mar 03 2011

42mins

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Rank #16: The Vacuum of Space

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Melvyn Bragg and guests Frank Close, Jocelyn Bell Burnell and Ruth Gregory discuss the Vacuum of Space. The idea that there is a nothingness at the heart of nature has exercised philosophers and scientists for millennia, from Thales's belief that all matter was water to Newton's concept of the Ether and Einstein's idea of Space-Time. Recently, physicists have realised that the vacuum is not as empty as we thought and that the various vacuums of nature vibrate with forces and energies, waves and particles and the mysterious phenomena of the Higgs field and dark energy.

Apr 30 2009

42mins

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Rank #17: Human Evolution

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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the story of human evolution, which stretches back over six million years. It is not the story of one species but of several diverse species, some of whom walked the Earth at the same time. From the earliest hominids to the early Homo sapiens, there was nothing inevitable about the course of human evolution. But what conditions created the opportunity for diverse human species to thrive? What environmental factors led to the survival of one human species, but contributed to the extinction of so many others? What can the fossil record and the science of genetics tell us about our ancestors? How does the brain make modern man so unique in the natural world? With Steve Jones, Professor of Genetics in the Galton Laboratory at University College London; Fred Spoor, Professor of Evolutionary Anatomy at University College London; Margaret Clegg, Honorary Research Fellow in the Department of Biological Anthropology at University College London.

Feb 16 2006

28mins

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Rank #18: Climate Change

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Melvyn Bragg discusses climate change. In 1999 the weather gave the planet’s occupants a terrible beating: 16,000 people lost their lives as a result of storms. Some 15 million people were left homeless and 10,000 died when the world’s worst cyclone swept across eastern India. Hurricane Floyd wreaked 4.3 billion pounds worth of damage in the United States, Typhoon Bart hit Japan and Typhoon York hit Hong Kong and Macau. Western Europe is unused to hurricane force winds, but since Christmas 80 people have died in France as a result of storms. And in Venezuela floods and mud slides are continuing to cause devastation on a massive scale.The climate has become political but is the science, supposedly underpinning apocalyptic and apposite millennial claims of doom, really water-tight? It might seem that the effects of global warming are already upon us, but are they - and if so how can we really hope to stop them? With Sir John Houghton, Co-Chair of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change - the United Nations’ global warming science committee; George Monbiot, environmentalist, journalist and Visiting Professor, Department of Philosophy, Bristol University.

Jan 06 2000

27mins

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Rank #19: Neuroscience

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Melvyn Bragg and guests examine the relationship between the mind and the brain as they discuss recent developments in Neuroscience. In the mid-19th century a doctor had a patient who had suffered a stroke. The patient was unable to speak save for one word. The word was ‘Tan’ which became his name. When Tan died, the doctor discovered damage to the left side of his brain and concluded that the ability to speak was housed there. This is how neuroscience used to work – by examining the dead or investigating the damaged – but now things have changed. Imaging machines and other technologies enable us to see the active brain in everyday life, to observe the activation of its cells and the mass firing of its neuron batteries. Our extraordinary new knowledge of how the brain works has challenged concepts of free will and consciousness and opened up new ways of understanding the brain. Yet these new ideas seem to conform to some old ideas such as Freudian Psychoanalysis. But what picture of the brain has emerged, how has our understanding of it changed and what are the implications for understanding that most mysterious and significant of all phenomena – the human mind?With Martin Conway, Professor of Psychology at the University of Leeds; Gemma Calvert, Professor of Applied Neuroimaging at WMG, University of Warwick and David Papineau, Professor of Philosophy of Science at King’s College London.

Nov 13 2008

41mins

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Rank #20: The Brain and Consciousness

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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how our increased knowledge of the functioning of the brain and the mechanisms of memory in the 20th century has changed our feelings about our own natures, and our approach to the behaviour and treatment of others.Many questions have been thrown up this century by our growing knowledge about how the brain and the mind function. How easy is it to establish the relationship between the two, and what light can this relationship throw on our understanding of our own and others natures? With Steven Rose, Professor of Biology and Director of the Brain and Behaviour Research Group, Open University, Dan Robinson, Distinguished Research Professor, Georgetown University and visiting lecturer in Philosophy and Senior Member of Linacre College, Oxford University.

Nov 19 1998

27mins

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Solar Wind

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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the flow of particles from the outer region of the Sun which we observe in the Northern and Southern Lights, interacting with Earth's magnetosphere, and in comet tails that stream away from the Sun regardless of their own direction. One way of defining the boundary of the solar system is where the pressure from the solar wind is balanced by that from the region between the stars, the interstellar medium. Its existence was suggested from the C19th and Eugene Parker developed the theory of it in the 1950s and it has been examined and tested by a series of probes in C20th up to today, with more planned.

With

Andrew Coates
Professor of Physics and Deputy Director in charge of the Solar System at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory, University College London

Helen Mason OBE
Reader in Solar Physics at the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, University of Cambridge, Fellow at St Edmund's College

And

Tim Horbury
Professor of Physics at Imperial College London

Producer: Simon Tillotson

Jan 23 2020

55mins

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Hybrids

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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss what happens when parents from different species have offspring, despite their genetic differences. In some cases, such as the zebra/donkey hybrid in the image above, the offspring are usually infertile but in others the genetic change can lead to new species with evolutionary advantages. Hybrids can occur naturally, yet most arise from human manipulation and Darwin's study of plant and animal domestication informed his ideas on natural selection.

With

Sandra Knapp
Tropical Botanist at the Natural History Museum

Nicola Nadeau
Lecturer in Evolutionary Biology at the University of Sheffield

And

Steve Jones
Senior Research Fellow in Genetics at University College London

Producer: Simon Tillotson

Oct 31 2019

50mins

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Dorothy Hodgkin

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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the work and ideas of Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin (1910-1994), awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1964 for revealing the structures of vitamin B12 and penicillin and who later determined the structure of insulin. She was one of the pioneers of X-ray crystallography and described by a colleague as 'a crystallographers' crystallographer'. She remains the only British woman to have won a Nobel in science, yet rejected the idea that she was a role model for other women, or that her career was held back because she was a woman. She was also the first woman since Florence Nightingale to receive the Order of Merit, and was given the Lenin Peace Prize in recognition of her efforts to bring together scientists from the East and West in pursuit of nuclear disarmament.

With

Georgina Ferry
Science writer and biographer of Dorothy Hodgkin

Judith Howard
Professor of Chemistry at Durham University

and

Patricia Fara
Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge

Producer: Simon Tillotson

Oct 03 2019

52mins

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Kinetic Theory

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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how scientists sought to understand the properties of gases and the relationship between pressure and volume, and what that search unlocked. Newton theorised that there were static particles in gases that pushed against each other all the harder when volume decreased, hence the increase in pressure. Those who argued that molecules moved, and hit each other, were discredited until James Maxwell and Ludwig Boltzmann used statistics to support this kinetic theory. Ideas about atoms developed in tandem with this, and it came as a surprise to scientists in C20th that the molecules underpinning the theory actually existed and were not simply thought experiments.

The image above is of Ludwig Boltzmann from a lithograph by Rudolf Fenzl, 1898

With

Steven Bramwell
Professor of Physics at University College London

Isobel Falconer
Reader in History of Mathematics at the University of St Andrews

and

Ted Forgan
Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of Birmingham

Producer: Simon Tillotson

May 23 2019

51mins

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The Evolution of Teeth

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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss theories about the origins of teeth in vertebrates, and what we can learn from sharks in particular and their ancestors. Great white sharks can produce up to 100,000 teeth in their lifetimes. For humans, it is closer to a mere 50 and most of those have to last from childhood. Looking back half a billion years, though, the ancestors of sharks and humans had no teeth in their mouths at all, nor jaws. They were armoured fish, sucking in their food. The theory is that either their tooth-like scales began to appear in mouths as teeth, or some of their taste buds became harder. If we knew more about that, and why sharks can regenerate their teeth, then we might learn how humans could grow new teeth in later lives.

With

Gareth Fraser
Assistant Professor in Biology at the University of Florida

Zerina Johanson
Merit Researcher in the Department of Earth Sciences at the Natural History Museum

and

Philip Donoghue
Professor of Palaeobiology at the University of Bristol

Producer: Simon Tillotson

Apr 11 2019

49mins

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Pheromones

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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how members of the same species send each other invisible chemical signals to influence the way they behave. Pheromones are used by species across the animal kingdom in a variety of ways, such as laying trails to be followed, to raise the alarm, to scatter from predators, to signal dominance and to enhance attractiveness and, in honey bees, even direct development into queen or worker.

The image above is of male and female ladybirds that have clustered together in response to pheromones.

With

Tristram Wyatt
Senior Research Fellow at the Department of Zoology at the University of Oxford

Jane Hurst
William Prescott Professor of Animal Science at the University of Liverpool

and

Francis Ratnieks
Professor of Apiculture and Head of the Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects at the University of Sussex

Producer: Simon Tillotson

Feb 21 2019

49mins

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Aristotle's Biology

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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the remarkable achievement of Aristotle (384-322BC) in the realm of biological investigation, for which he has been called the originator of the scientific study of life. Known mainly as a philosopher and the tutor for Alexander the Great, who reportedly sent him animal specimens from his conquests, Aristotle examined a wide range of life forms while by the Sea of Marmara and then on the island of Lesbos. Some ideas, such as the the spontaneous generation of flies, did not survive later scrutiny, yet his influence was extraordinary and his work was unequalled until the early modern period.

The image above is of the egg and embryo of a dogfish, one of the animals Aristotle described accurately as he recorded their development.

With

Armand Leroi
Professor of Evolutionary Development Biology at Imperial College London

Myrto Hatzimichali
Lecturer in Classics at the University of Cambridge

And

Sophia Connell
Lecturer in Philosophy at Birkbeck, University of London

Producer: Simon Tillotson

Feb 07 2019

50mins

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Emmy Noether

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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the ideas and life of one of the greatest mathematicians of the 20th century, Emmy Noether. Noether’s Theorem is regarded as one of the most important mathematical theorems, influencing the evolution of modern physics. Born in 1882 in Bavaria, Noether studied mathematics at a time when women were generally denied the chance to pursue academic careers and, to get round objections, she spent four years lecturing under a male colleague’s name. In the 1930s she faced further objections to her teaching, as she was Jewish, and she left for the USA when the Nazis came to power. Her innovative ideas were to become widely recognised and she is now considered to be one of the founders of modern algebra.

With

Colva Roney Dougal
Professor of Pure Mathematics at the University of St Andrews

David Berman
Professor in Theoretical Physics at Queen Mary, University of London

Elizabeth Mansfield
Professor of Mathematics at the University of Kent

Producer: Simon Tillotson

Jan 24 2019

48mins

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Venus

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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the planet Venus which is both the morning star and the evening star, rotates backwards at walking speed and has a day which is longer than its year. It has long been called Earth’s twin, yet the differences are more striking than the similarities. Once imagined covered with steaming jungles and oceans, we now know the surface of Venus is 450 degrees celsius, and the pressure there is 90 times greater than on Earth, enough to crush an astronaut. The more we learn of it, though, the more we learn of our own planet, such as whether Earth could become more like Venus in some ways, over time.

With

Carolin Crawford
Public Astronomer at the Institute of Astronomy and Fellow of Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge

Colin Wilson
Senior Research Fellow in Planetary Science at the University of Oxford

And

Andrew Coates
Professor of Physics at Mullard Space Science Laboratory, University College London

Produced by: Simon Tillotson and Julia Johnson

Dec 27 2018

50mins

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Free Radicals

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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the properties of atoms or molecules with a single unpaired electron, which tend to be more reactive, keen to seize an electron to make it a pair. In the atmosphere, they are linked to reactions such as rusting. Free radicals came to prominence in the 1950s with the discovery that radiation poisoning operates through free radicals, as it splits water molecules and produces a very reactive hydroxyl radical which damages DNA and other molecules in the cell. There is also an argument that free radicals are a byproduct of normal respiration and over time they cause an accumulation of damage that is effectively the process of ageing. For all their negative associations, free radicals play an important role in signalling and are also linked with driving cell division, both cancer and normal cell division, even if they tend to become damaging when there are too many of them.

With

Nick Lane
Professor of Evolutionary Biochemistry at University College London

Anna Croft
Associate Professor at the Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering at the University of Nottingham

And

Mike Murphy
Professor of Mitochondrial Redox Biology at Cambridge University

Producer: Simon Tillotson

Nov 01 2018

51mins

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Automata

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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of real and imagined machines that appear to be living, and the questions they raise about life and creation. Even in myth they are made by humans, not born. The classical Greeks built some and designed others, but the knowledge of how to make automata and the principles behind them was lost in the Latin Christian West, remaining in the Greek-speaking and Arabic-speaking world. Western travellers to those regions struggled to explain what they saw, attributing magical powers. The advance of clockwork raised further questions about what was distinctly human, prompting Hobbes to argue that humans were sophisticated machines, an argument explored in the Enlightenment and beyond.

The image above is Jacques de Vaucanson's mechanical duck (1739), which picked up grain, digested and expelled it. If it looks like a duck...

with

Simon Schaffer
Professor of History of Science at Cambridge University

Elly Truitt
Associate Professor of Medieval History at Bryn Mawr College

And

Franziska Kohlt
Doctoral Researcher in English Literature and the History of Science at the University of Oxford

Producer: Simon Tillotson

Sep 20 2018

52mins

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Echolocation

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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how some bats, dolphins and other animals emit sounds at high frequencies to explore their environments, rather than sight. This was such an unlikely possibility, to natural historians from C18th onwards, that discoveries were met with disbelief even into the C20th; it was assumed that bats found their way in the dark by touch. Not all bats use echolocation, but those that do have a range of frequencies for different purposes and techniques for preventing themselves becoming deafened by their own sounds. Some prey have evolved ways of detecting when bats are emitting high frequencies in their direction, and some fish have adapted to detect the sounds dolphins use to find them.

With

Kate Jones
Professor of Ecology and Biodiversity at University College London

Gareth Jones
Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of Bristol

And

Dean Waters
Lecturer in the Environment Department at the University of York

Producer: Simon Tillotson.

Jun 21 2018

51mins

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The Proton

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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the discovery and growing understanding of the Proton, formed from three quarks close to the Big Bang and found in the nuclei of all elements. The positive charges they emit means they attract the fundamental particles of negatively charged electrons, an attraction that leads to the creation of atoms which in turn leads to chemistry, biology and life itself. The Sun (in common with other stars) is a fusion engine that turn protons by a series of processes into helium, emitting energy in the process, with about half of the Sun's protons captured so far. Hydrogen atoms, stripped of electrons, are single protons which can be accelerated to smash other nuclei and have applications in proton therapy. Many questions remain, such as why are electrical charges for protons and electrons so perfectly balanced?

With

Frank Close
Professor Emeritus of Physics at the University of Oxford

Helen Heath
Reader in Physics at the University of Bristol

And

Simon Jolly
Lecturer in High Energy Physics at University College London

Producer: Simon Tillotson.

Apr 26 2018

49mins

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George and Robert Stephenson

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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the contribution of George Stephenson (1781-1848) and his son Robert (1803-59) to the development of the railways in C19th. George became known as The Father of Railways and yet arguably Robert's contribution was even greater, with his engineering work going far beyond their collaboration.

Robert is credited with the main role in the design of their locomotives. George had worked on stationary colliery steam engines and, with Robert, developed the moving steam engine Locomotion No1 for the Stockton and Darlington Railway in 1825. They produced the Rocket for the Rainhill Trials on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway in 1829. From there, the success of their designs and engineering led to the expansion of railways across Britain and around the world.

with

Dr Michael Bailey
Railway historian and editor of the most recent biography of Robert Stephenson

Julia Elton
Past President of the Newcomen Society for the History of Engineering and Technology

and

Colin Divall
Professor Emeritus of Railway Studies at the University of York

Producer: Simon Tillotson.

Apr 12 2018

50mins

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Rosalind Franklin

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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the pioneering scientist Rosalind Franklin (1920 - 1958). During her distinguished career, Franklin carried out ground-breaking research into coal and viruses but she is perhaps best remembered for her investigations in the field of DNA. In 1952 her research generated a famous image that became known as Photograph 51. When the Cambridge scientists Francis Crick and James Watson saw this image, it enabled them the following year to work out that DNA has a double-helix structure, one of the most important discoveries of modern science. Watson, Crick and Franklin's colleague Maurice Wilkins received a Nobel Prize in 1962 for this achievement but Franklin did not and today many people believe that Franklin has not received enough recognition for her work.
With:

Patricia Fara
President of the British Society for the History of Science

Jim Naismith
Interim lead of the Rosalind Franklin Institute, Director of the Research Complex at Harwell and Professor at the University of Oxford

Judith Howard
Professor of Chemistry at Durham University

Producer: Victoria Brignell.

Feb 22 2018

49mins

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Fungi

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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss fungi. These organisms are not plants or animals but a kingdom of their own. Millions of species of fungi live on the Earth and they play a crucial role in ecosystems, enabling plants to obtain nutrients and causing material to decay. Without fungi, life as we know it simply would not exist. They are also a significant part of our daily life, making possible the production of bread, wine and certain antibiotics. Although fungi brought about the colonisation of the planet by plants about 450 million years ago, some species can kill humans and devastate trees.

With:

Lynne Boddy
Professor of Fungal Ecology at Cardiff University

Sarah Gurr
Professor of Food Security in the Biosciences Department at the University of Exeter

David Johnson
N8 Chair in Microbial Ecology at the University of Manchester

Producer: Victoria Brignell.

Feb 15 2018

48mins

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Cephalopods

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The octopus, the squid, the nautilus and the cuttlefish are some of the most extraordinary creatures on this planet, intelligent and yet apparently unlike other life forms. They are cephalopods and are part of the mollusc family like snails and clams, and they have some characteristics in common with those. What sets them apart is the way members of their group can change colour, camouflage themselves, recognise people, solve problems, squirt ink, power themselves with jet propulsion and survive both on land, briefly, and in the deepest, coldest oceans. And, without bones or shells, they grow so rapidly they can outstrip their rivals when habitats change, making them the great survivors and adaptors of the animal world.

With

Louise Allcock
Lecturer in Zoology at the National University of Ireland, Galway

Paul Rodhouse
Emeritus Fellow of the British Antarctic Survey

and

Jonathan Ablett
Senior Curator of Molluscs at the Natural History Museum

Producer: Simon Tillotson.

Feb 01 2018

47mins

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Carl Friedrich Gauss

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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Gauss (1777-1855), widely viewed as one of the greatest mathematicians of all time. He was a child prodigy, correcting his father's accounts before he was 3, dumbfounding his teachers with the speed of his mental arithmetic, and gaining a wealthy patron who supported his education. He wrote on number theory when he was 21, with his Disquisitiones Arithmeticae, which has influenced developments since. Among his achievements, he was the first to work out how to make a 17-sided polygon, he predicted the orbit of the minor planet Ceres, rediscovering it, he found a way of sending signals along a wire, using electromagnetism, the first electromagnetic telegraph, and he advanced the understanding of parallel lines on curved surfaces.

With

Marcus du Sautoy
Professor of Mathematics and Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at the University of Oxford

Colva Roney-Dougal
Reader in Pure Mathematics at the University of St Andrews

And

Nick Evans
Professor of Theoretical Physics at the University of Southampton

Producer: Simon Tillotson.

Nov 30 2017

49mins

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Feathered Dinosaurs

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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the development of theories about dinosaur feathers, following discoveries of fossils which show evidence of feathers. All dinosaurs were originally thought to be related to lizards - the word 'dinosaur' was created from the Greek for 'terrible lizard' - but that now appears false. In the last century, discoveries of fossils with feathers established that at least some dinosaurs were feathered and that some of those survived the great extinctions and evolved into the birds we see today. There are still many outstanding areas for study, such as what sorts of feathers they were, where on the body they were found, what their purpose was and which dinosaurs had them.

With

Mike Benton
Professor of Vertebrate Palaeontology at the University of Bristol

Steve Brusatte
Reader and Chancellor's Fellow in Vertebrate Palaeontology at the University of Edinburgh

and

Maria McNamara
Senior Lecturer in Geology at University College, Cork
Producer: Simon Tillotson.

Oct 26 2017

48mins

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Bird Migration

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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss why some birds migrate and others do not, how they select their destinations and how they navigate the great distances, often over oceans. For millennia, humans set their calendars to birds' annual arrivals, and speculated about what happened when they departed, perhaps moving deep under water, or turning into fish or shellfish, or hibernating while clinging to trees upside down. Ideas about migration developed in C19th when, in Germany, a stork was noticed with an African spear in its neck, indicating where it had been over the winter and how far it had flown. Today there are many ideas about how birds use their senses of sight and smell, and magnetic fields, to find their way, and about why and how birds choose their destinations and many questions. Why do some scatter and some flock together, how much is instinctive and how much is learned, and how far do the benefits the migrating birds gain outweigh the risks they face?

With

Barbara Helm
Reader at the Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine at the University of Glasgow

Tim Guilford
Professor of Animal Behaviour and Tutorial Fellow of Zoology at Merton College, Oxford

and

Richard Holland
Senior Lecturer in Animal Cognition at Bangor University

Producer: Simon Tillotson.

Jul 06 2017

51mins

Play

iTunes Ratings

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Average Ratings
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Superb Science Information!

By F U. - Apr 18 2018
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If you’re a naturally curious person this is for you. A truly wonderful program.

Wonderful

By Junko Jones - Jan 26 2016
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Great topics, wonderful host. My favorite science podcast- the perfect binge listen!