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Science

BBC Inside Science

Updated about 1 month ago

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

Read more

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

iTunes Ratings

176 Ratings
Average Ratings
134
24
8
5
5

Where is Adam?

By idontwantanavatar - Apr 09 2020
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I love this podcast! Where has Adam Rutherford gone though?

All episodes

By Voles Rule - May 30 2019
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Brilliant, clear and concise, a must listen for scientists and non-scientists

iTunes Ratings

176 Ratings
Average Ratings
134
24
8
5
5

Where is Adam?

By idontwantanavatar - Apr 09 2020
Read more
I love this podcast! Where has Adam Rutherford gone though?

All episodes

By Voles Rule - May 30 2019
Read more
Brilliant, clear and concise, a must listen for scientists and non-scientists
Cover image of BBC Inside Science

BBC Inside Science

Latest release on Jul 02, 2020

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

Rank #1: First human drawing, Cycling genes, Oden Arctic expedition, Hello World

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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.

Sep 13 2018

27mins

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Rank #2: Genetics and privacy, Global plastic, Great Ape Dictionary, Ocean Discovery X Prize

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Should our genomes be private? Professors Tim Hubbard and Nils Hoppe join Adam Rutherford to discuss concerns about data security and privacy of our genetic data. Once our DNA has been extracted, sequenced and stored as a digital file, what is done with it, who gets to see it and what say do we have in all this?
Back in the 1950's at the dawn of the new plastic age, its everlasting properties were a major selling point. Now, we're dealing with escalating plastic pollution and bulging landfill. But how much plastic are we dealing with? Dr. Roland Geyer has calculated the production, use and fate of all plastics ever made.
Chimpanzees are very communicative animals: they tend to use gestures foremost with vocalisation just to emphasise the flick of a wrist or a stretch of the hand. In an attempt to get a grasp on why, and how, we humans made the shift from gesture-led communication to talking, we need to see how well we can decipher our ape relatives. A new online study called the 'Great Ape Dictionary' wants you to have a go.
The bottom of our seas remains a mysterious other world. Yet, adventuring into the deep depths of the ocean is a major challenge, which is probably why only 5% of it has ever been explored - even though it covers more than 70% of our planet. So to start learning more about our own planet, the Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE is awarding a total of $7 million to teams that develop autonomous, unmanned vehicles to map and image the bottom of the seas. Dr Jyotika Virmani tells Adam why ocean exploration is so important, and why it tends to take a backseat to adventuring into space.
Presented by Adam Rutherford

Produced by Fiona Roberts.

Jul 20 2017

32mins

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Rank #3: African swine fever, Oil spill update, CRISPR gene editing, Rat eradication in New Zealand, Chimp kin recognition

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African Swine fever is deadly to pigs and is spreading west from Russia across Europe. The virus that causes it is very resilient and can stick around on clothing, hay and in infected pork products for as long as 150 days. Biosecurity is crucial to preventing its arrival in the UK. If just one pig eats some infected meat from discarded human food the disease could quickly spread causing thousands of pigs to be culled and costing the industry millions. But what is the current progress on developing a vaccine? Adam talks to virologist Professor Jonathan Ball of Nottingham University and Zoe Davies from the National Pig Association.
Simon Boxall from Southampton Oceanography Centre gives an update on the sinking of the oil tanker Sanchi and its environmental impact.
CRISPR is a revolutionary gene editing technique which can modify DNA and has the potential to correct genetic errors in a range of human diseases - even cancer. The technique has only been around for a few years but is already being talked about as a Nobel prize winning candidate. The market for the technology has been predicted to be worth US$ 10 billion by 2025. But stocks took a wobble last week on news that our immune system may render CRISPR useless. Is there really a big problem? Adam talks to Matt Porteus from Stanford University who did the research.
18 months ago, New Zealand announced a conservation project to exterminate all vermin that are decimating the indigenous bird population. For millions of years, the flora and fauna evolved in isolation, without predatory mammals. When humans arrived, they brought with them a host of bird-eating animals like rats, stoats and possums which now kill 25 million native birds every year. Marnie Chesterton travelled to New Zealand to report on a campaign of mass poisoning to save the kiwis and the kakapos and asks whether it’s ethical to kill one species to save another.
And Cat Hobaiter from St Andrews University responds to listener questions about how chimpanzees might recognise family members.

Jan 18 2018

28mins

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Rank #4: Human Consciousness: Could a brain in a dish become sentient?

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As the field of neuroscience advances, scientists are increasingly growing brain tissue to study conditions like autism, Alzheimer's and Zika virus. But could it become conscious? And if so, how far away is that scenario?
Wind, changing water temperatures and salt are all factors known to control ocean currents. But new research suggests there's another element in the mix. When sea monkeys amass, the thousands of swimming legs can create powerful currents that mix hundreds of meters of water.
Whenever a baby is born, we ask whether it's a girl or a boy. But when it comes to puppies, the question is often about the breed, especially with mongrels. And when we think we know what it is, we make assumptions about how that dog will behave. For instance, if you think there's some golden retriever parentage, you may expect it to be good at playing fetch. But do our perceptions of dog breeds change the way it behaves? That's the question of a new citizen science project called MuttMix, which asks you to guess the ancestry of various mongrels.
Finally, Charles Dickens is known as one of the best novelists of the Victorian era but a new exhibition is questioning whether he should be also known as a man of science. Dickens campaigned for paediatrics and his powers of description lead to a new conditions being medically recognised. The exhibition will be at the Charles Dickens Museum and it opens in May.

Apr 26 2018

31mins

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Rank #5: Ancient DNA and Human Evolution

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Twenty years ago, a revolution in the study of human evolution began. A team in Leipzig in Germany successfully extracted DNA from the bones of a Neanderthal man who died about 40,000 years ago. Thirteen years later, the same group unveiled the first complete genome sequence of another Neanderthal individual. Last year, they announced they'd retrieved DNA from much oldest archaic human bones, more than 400,000 years old.

Adam Rutherford talks to Svante Paabo, the scientist has led these remarkable achievements. Professor Paabo and his colleague Janet Kelso at the Max Planck Institute of Biological Anthropology in Leipzig discuss the genes in many European people alive today that originated in Neanderthals and were passed to modern humans when the two species interbred.

Adam also speaks to Johannes Krause who worked on the Neanderthal genome project in Leipzig but is now director of the Max Planck Institute of the Science of Human History. His latest research adds a new layer of intrigue and complexity to the relationship between our species and Neanderthals in deep time.

David Reich at Harvard University focuses on using ancient DNA to uncover the ancestry and movements of modern human hunter-gatherers in Eurasia from about 50,000 years to the Bronze Age, a few thousand years ago. Population movements occur on a cinematic scale, he says. (Podcast only).

The revelations of ancient genetics would not be possible and meaningful without the traditional disciplines of palaeoanthropology and archaeology. Adam goes to Gibraltar to seek the perspective of Clive Finlayson who leads excavations there as director of the Gibraltar Museum. Gibraltar is the most concentrated site of Neanderthal occupation in the world. As well as remains of a young Neanderthal child last year, the Rock's caves have also recently yielded the first example of Neanderthal cave art.

Dec 28 2017

34mins

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Rank #6: Informed consent, El Nino, Gravitational Waves, Cloud cover

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Informed consent
Facebook has been under fire for running a controversial 'emotion manipulation' study on 689,003 Facebook users. The experiment, to find out whether emotions were contagious on the social network, involved minor changes to users' news feeds. It's contentious because the users were not informed that they were taking part in an experiment. Facebook says, check the terms and conditions, but Dr Chris Chambers at Cardiff University says that the ethical standards for science are higher, and should involve informed consent. Dan O'Connor, Head of Medical Humanities at the Wellcome Trust, gives a short history of consent in experimentation.

El Nino
According to the Met Office, the world is almost certain to be struck by the "El Nino" phenomenon this year, with the potential to induce "major climactic impacts" around the world. Roland Pease investigates this flip in the climate state of the Pacific basin, and asks the experts studying this phenomenon, whether it'll be a major event and how it might affect the climate.

Gravitational Waves
The announcement, earlier this year, that the BICEP 2 telescope at the South Pole had detected evidence that gravitational waves exist may have been premature. Gravitational waves are theoretical phenomena, based on observation of polarisation of ancient cosmic light. Finding them, adds to the evidence that the Universe is expanding. The data has now been made public, but the confidence in the numbers is being questioned.

Cloud cover
A listener asks about cloud cover and night time temperatures, and how air temperature and moisture content interact. Our expert Peter Sloss from the Met Office answers.

Producer: Fiona Roberts.

Jul 03 2014

28mins

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Rank #7: Behavioural profiling at airports; Light and colour in art; Hadrian's Wall; Cassini

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Airport security has been tightened recently. Passengers must be able to switch on their electronic devices to prove they don't contain explosives. Inside Science asks about the science behind spotting a potential terrorist. Adam asks whether behavioural profiling works. Can trained security staff tell the difference between a nervous traveller and a potential terrorist?

Light and colour in art
Pigments and paint evolved over time, and these changes are one focus of the 'Making Colour' exhibition at the National Gallery. Different paints fade and degrade in different ways; often the patina of age is what appeals when looking at art, so how do you decide which hue to use when restoring paintings? Another intriguing issue is how you light a painting. The National Gallery is moving away from tungsten lighting, to more modern, tuneable LED lights. How does this affect the way visitors view the art? An interactive experiment is helping them to unpick light perception.

Hadrian's Wall
A listener asks how did the Romans knew where to build the great defensive wall. We get the answer from Professor Ian Haynes, an archaeologist at Newcastle University, who reveals that the Romans were obsessed with measuring.

Cassini mission to Saturn
Cassini-Huygens is an unmanned spacecraft sent to the planet Saturn. The NASA-ESA-ASI robotic spacecraft has been orbiting and studying the planet and its many natural satellites for 10 years. Adam talks to the mission's leader of the imaging science team, Carolyn Porco, about how successful it's been. And he offers her a blank cheque to choose her next mission.
Producer: Fiona Roberts.

Jul 10 2014

28mins

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Rank #8: Plastic-eating bacteria, Foam mattresses for crops, The evolved life aquatic, The Double Helix

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A breakthrough for closed loop plastic recycling? Two years ago Japanese scientists discovered a type of bacteria which has evolved to feed on PET plastic - the material from which fizzy drink bottles are made It was isolated at a local recycling centre. An international team has now characterised the structure of the plastic-degrading enzyme and accidentally improved its efficiency. John McGeehan of the University of Portmouth led the team and talks to Adam about where the discovery may lead.

If you can't recycle plastic, you can re-use. Sheffield University chemist Tony Ryan is working to convert old polyurethane foam mattresses into hydroponic allotment beds so that people at a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan can grow their own crops. Roland Pease reports.

How southeast Asian sea nomads evolved the life aquatic.

The Double Helix, fifty years after its 1968 publication. Biologist and historian Matthew Cobb and science writer Angela Saini discuss the place of James Watson's compelling and controversial memoir in the annals of popular science writing. His account of the discovery of the DNA's structure was unlike any science book that had come before. Does it stand the test of time and what of its blantantly sexist treatment of the gifted X-ray crystallographer Rosalind Franklin? Her work was crucial to Crick and Watson's 1953 model of the DNA molecule.

Apr 19 2018

38mins

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Rank #9: A special programme on plants and their pollinators, poisons and pests

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Plants and bees
The relationship between flowering plants and bees is a long-evolved, complex one. Plant scientists at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew are currently conducting field trials to see how Acontium, or Monkshood, uses toxins to protect itself against nectar-thieving, short-tongued bumblebees. But how does it make sure it doesn't poison the helpful, pollinating long-tongued bumblebees?

Plants from Roots to Riches
Professor Kathy Willis, Director of Science at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew will be presenting a new series on BBC Radio 4 exploring our relationship with plants from the birth of botany through to modern day. She describes some of the series highlights.

The Azolla Event
A tiny ancient fern-like pond weed could have been responsible for changing the fate of the planet. Some scientists think that Azolla could have played a significant role in reversing an increase in the greenhouse effect that occurred 55 million years ago. The researchers claim that massive patches of Azolla growing on the (then) freshwater surface of the Arctic Ocean consumed enough carbon dioxide from the atmosphere for the global greenhouse effect to decline, eventually causing the formation of ice sheets in Antarctica and the current "Icehouse period" which we are still in.

Chomping caterpillars
Plants can hear. Well, they can sense sound-vibrations. New research from the University of Missouri shows that when the mustard-like Arabidopsis senses the chomping sounds of a caterpillar munching on leaves, it primes itself for a chemical response.

Composting low down
A listener asks why orange peel takes so long to rot down in the compost heap? Is it because it's an exotic fruit? Adam asks Kew's Head of Horticulture and 'keeper of the heap' Dave Barns.
Producer: Fiona Roberts.

Jul 17 2014

28mins

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Rank #10: Stephen Hawking Tribute

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Adam Rutherford presents a special tribute to the science of Stephen Hawking. He is joined by Fay Dowker, a former PhD student of Hawking and now a professor of theoretical physics at Imperial College, Professor Carlos Frenk, a long-time colleague and friend and fellow physicist and science communicator Professor Brian Cox. They look at the scientific legacy of Stephen Hawking and the role that his work played in bringing us a step closer to a single grand theory that explains how the universe works.

Apr 05 2018

29mins

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Rank #11: Old Dogs and Physics in Space

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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.

Oct 18 2018

28mins

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Rank #12: Russian Spy Poisoning

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A former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter Yulia are in a serious condition after being exposed to a nerve agent on Sunday. The first police officer to attend the scene also remains in hospital. It is being treated as 'a major incident involving attempted murder.' We ask what happens next: what antidotes are available, how do they work and what's the prognosis?
Today marks International Women’s Day. Its aim is to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. But there’s also a strong call for change, especially in the tech industry where women are vastly underrepresented. Discussions on how we could achieve gender equality have been ongoing for years, so why has there been so little change? And how can this bias affect the technology we all use?
Scientists are warning of an infertility 'crisis' among men. Sperm counts have been falling for over 40 years and now, 1 in 20 men have low sperm counts. The cause is unknown and this week, doctors are calling for more funding to better understand the issue.
The red squirrel has found an unlikely ally: the pine marten. Grey squirrels were introduced to the UK in the late 1800s from America and have since caused the native red population to diminish. However, with the reintroduction of a predator, the mal-adapted greys are being hunted and as a result, red squirrels are bouncing back.

Mar 08 2018

31mins

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Rank #13: Gravitational Waves Special

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The universe is silent no longer - physicists at the LIGO observatory have detected gravitational waves.

LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory, with its giant laser beam arms totalling 5 miles across the remote Hanford desert, is the largest lab on the surface of the planet. It was constructed in the Columbia Basin region of south-eastern Washington specifically to detect gravitational waves -- ripples in the fabric of space-time.

First predicted a century ago by Einstein in his theory of general relativity, gravitational waves are produced by exotic cosmic events, such as when 2 black holes collide. Scientists have hunted for them for decades with increasingly sensitive equipment. The laser beam tubes of the observatory have proved sensitive enough to detect the signal from deep space as small as a thousandth the diameter of a proton.

Tracey and studio guest Dr Andrew Pontzen from UCL examine the science of gravitational waves, and how LIGO is both an eye and an ear on the motion of distant objects. They scrutinise the cutting-edge technology, which has to be of almost unimaginable sensitivity to enable detection of some of the universe's most dramatic events.

Inside Science also shines a spotlight on the passion of individuals who have worked for nearly three decades on a single science experiment, inventing a whole new branch of physics in order to prove the last piece of Einstein's theory of general relativity, and to "hear" the universe in a whole new way.

Feb 11 2016

27mins

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Rank #14: Time Travel in Science and Cinema

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In a special programme to mark, amongst other things, the centenary of Albert Einstein's General Theory of Relativity, Adam Rutherford is joined by The Film Programme's Francine Stock to explore the theme of time-travel - in science, in film and as film. With studio guest, science writer Marcus Chown, they'll discuss time-machines - as imagined by scientists and film-makers; the grandfather of all paradoxes; the notion of the multiverse and how the pioneers of cinema created their own 'time-machines' through the art of editing. And to mark Back the Future Day, otherwise known as 21 October 2015, they talk to director Robert Zemeckis about how and why he imagined a future with hover-boards but, oddly, no smart phones.

Producers: Stephen Hughes and Rami Tzabar.

Oct 15 2015

27mins

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Rank #15: The hidden history in our DNA - Part 1 - Sex and Disease

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Our genomes are more than just an instruction manual for our bodies. They are maps, diaries, history books and medical records of our and our ancestors' lives.....if you know how to read them. In this programme and the next Adam Rutherford is joined by UCL geneticist Lucy van Dorp and other scientists who are cracking these genomic codes to tell the human story. This week they explore how sex and disease over the past few thousand years has left indelible marks on our DNA.

Dec 26 2019

33mins

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Rank #16: Jack the Ripper; Future of Scottish science

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Jack the Ripper "identified"
Some of us are morbidly fascinated by the legend of Jack the Ripper - not the world's first serial killer, but the one that coincided with the birth of mass media, and set the ghoulish tone for the 20th century's obsession with murderers. This week a shawl acquired at an auction in 2007 is in the spotlight. Claimed to be found in 1888 at the murder scene of a woman asserted to be the fourth victim of the supposed Ripper, DNA evidence from the fabric is stated to imply one of the most plausible suspects - Aaron Kosminski. However, there are many problems with this "identification" sequence - some historical, some legal, and some scientific. Adam Rutherford focuses on the science by speaking to Jari Louhelainen, a forensic geneticist at Liverpool John Moores University, who produced the forensic analysis. Jon Wetton, another forensic geneticist at the University of Leicester, offers broader insight into how DNA can be used in detecting crime.

Future of Scottish science
Scottish science has a rich history: Alexander Fleming, James Watt, Dolly the sheep and much, much more. This week, with the upcoming referendum on independence, Dr Adam Rutherford takes the opportunity to look at the future of science in Scotland. He's joined by scientists representing the Academics for Yes and Better Together campaigns. Making the case for independence are Dr Stephen Watson and Professor Mike Lean, both from the University of Glasgow. Dr Patrick Harkness, also from the University of Glasgow, and Professor Hugh Pennington, emeritus professor at the University of Aberdeen, make the case for remaining in the union.

Producer: Fiona Roberts.

Sep 11 2014

38mins

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Rank #17: Ethiopian genome, Coral nutrients, The hunt for gravitational waves, Seven Brief Lessons on Physics

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As evidence grows about the vulnerability of our ocean corals to climate change, what's often overlooked are the more subtle changes in the ocean waters that contribute to coral resilience. Adam visits Southampton's Oceanography Centre where new research is showing how an imbalance of nutrients in reef waters is increasing the vulnerability of reef corals to high water temperatures which could help direct future coastal management.

The long awaited hunt for gravitational waves gets underway as the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) in the United States begins its first observational run. The waves, generated by some of the most dramatic events in space such as the explosion of stars and the merging of two black holes, were first postulated by Einstein in 1916. So far they've never been detected but if LIGO is successful it'll not only provide proof of Einstein's Theory of Relativity but also provide the first direct evidence of the existence of black holes.

And Adam meets theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli whose new book Seven Brief Lessons on Physics examines in seven short essays how 20th century physics is shaping our world view. In Italy, it's outsold 50 Shades of Grey and the Pope's Encyclical and has now been translated into English. What's been the key to its success?

Oct 08 2015

27mins

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Rank #18: Prehistoric Strong Women, Semi-synthetic Life, Listener Feedback, Artificial Superintelligence

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More than 5,000 years of heavy agricultural labour by women can be read from the bones found in ancient cemeteries from the Neolithic to Iron Age times. Cambridge University anthropologist Alison Macintosh compared the arm bone dimensions and strength of women from these times with those of modern female athletes such as runners to rowers. Her conclusion is that average upper body strength of women through the Neolithic to the Iron age times exceeded that of today's semi-elite female rowers.

A laboratory at the Scripps Research Institute have created a semi-synthetic bacterium with two new man-made genetic letters in its DNA, in addition to the natural four A, G, T and C. What's more, the engineered microbe can use its enhanced genetic alphabet to build synthetic amino acids into the proteins it makes. Chemist Floyd Romesberg talks to Adam Rutherford about what we can learn from his team's extraordinary feat of synthetic biotechnology, what we might gain from it and why, in his opinion, we've no need to be worried.

Adam deals with some of your correspondence on axolotls by talking to laboratory salamander breeder Randal Voss at the University of Kentucky. He also notes listeners' comparisons of the recent visit by interstellar asteroid Oumuamua with the alien vessel in Arthur C Clarke's 'Rendezvous with Rama'.

Cosmologist and AI researcher Max Tegmark visits BBC Inside Science to discuss the possibility of artificial intelligence machines with super-intelligence and how humanity should be preparing for their advent.

Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker.

Nov 30 2017

38mins

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Rank #19: ExpeRimental; Rosetta; MOOCs

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ExpeRimental
There's an online wealth of science demonstrations you can try at home with your kids. But what's sometimes lacking is the encouragement of questioning the science in these DIY experiments. Science teacher and film maker Alom Shaha has devised a series of videos with the Royal Institution showing parents experimenting with home-made lava lamps, bubbles and bottle cannons. He hopes that amidst the mess and mistakes, some scientific thinking can be nurtured.

Rosetta
The European Space Agency's robotic spacecraft Rosetta is about to start its detailed study of the comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko. In the audacious and risky mission, the craft will follow the orbit of the comet as it approaches and passes the Sun. It will attempt to land a probe on the surface of the icy, rocky mass. It's hoped the mission will provide great insight into what comets are made of, how they behave as they heat up, creating its gassy coma and tail. And it's hoped Rosetta and its lander will be able to tell about where Earth's water and even some of the building blocks for life might have come from.

MOOCs
Massive Open Online Courses are free and open to anyone with access to the internet. You can study a huge range of topics from cancer and dental photography to quantum physics, and even the archaeology and history of Hadrian's Wall. Critics say these higher education courses are just a PR exercise by universities, and that it will set up a two tier system in education. But Kathryn Skelton from FutureLearn, a platform for many of these MOOCs, argues that they encourage people who would not normally extend their education to take part and the universities providing the courses can gain great insight into the changing face of teaching methods.

Evolutionary Psychology
Last week Adam Rutherford and Alice Roberts had a robust discussion on the biologising of the human condition, with Professor David Canter. Listeners wrote in to complain that we didn't give an evolutionary psychologist a right to reply, so this week, listener and evolutionary psychologist Rob Burriss has his say.
Producer: Fiona Roberts.

Jul 31 2014

27mins

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Rank #20: Science's fascination with the face

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Face recognition
The software that analyses images of your face, captured online or when you're out and about, has rapidly improved. Adam visits Amscreen, to test the cameras they deploy at supermarket checkouts to determine your age and sex, to inform advertisers of the best demographic to target. This raises ethical and privacy issues which Adam discusses with privacy expert Professor Colin Bennett and author of "The formula, about algorithms and the algorithm culture", Luke Dormehl.

Quantifying expressions
Is a look of contempt, or a smile, a universal expression or do they vary across cultures? Marnie Chesterton visits Glasgow University's Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology, where the scientists are building a huge database of faces, in order to unpick and quantify our expressions. Dr Oliver Garrod from the Generative Face Grammar Group demonstrates how they can capture your face, and animate it.

Evolutionary psychology
There is a long list of evolutionary explanations for the human condition. Mostly these are quite trivial. Teen boys develop acne on their faces to deter females from fertile but psychologically immature mates. Babies cry at night to prevent parents further procreating, resulting in potential sibling rivals. At the other end of the scale, these sorts of explanations have been used to suggest deeply problematic ideas, such as rape being an evolutionary strategy.

Professor David Canter, a psychologist from University of Huddersfield has railed against this fashion for 'biologising' our behaviour. And evolutionary biologist Professor Alice Roberts is also critical of 'adaptionism' - the idea that everything has evolved for an optimal purpose.

Producer: Fiona Roberts.

Jul 24 2014

27mins

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Preventing pandemics, invading alien species, blood types & COVID-19.

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As we’re beginning to understand more about SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, we’re hopefully starting to get some clues on how to deal with the next viral pandemics, and even look at ways of stopping them from happening. To do this, we have to go back to where the virus jumped from its animal host into humans. Like this current coronavirus, many of the pandemic viruses (SARS, MERS HIV, Ebola…to name a few) are zoonotic diseases. They start in wild animals and evolve to jump to humans (sometimes via another animal species). It’s not the animal’s fault. It’s evolution. But has our tangled, often exploitative relationship with wild animals made it harder to stop future pandemics? A paper just published asks these questions and tries to figure out how to prevent future zoonotic epidemics. Dr. Silviu Petrovan (Researcher in the Department of Zoology in Cambridge) and Associate Professor Alice Hughes (Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of Sciences) highlight some of the 161 possible actions we should be taking to protect ourselves from the next pandemic.

The current pandemic may have curtailed a lot of holiday plans but we are still more global than ever before. Food is coming to the UK from all over the world. With movement comes the opportunity for unwelcome hitchhikers to tag along. A new study, published in Biological Reviews, by a team of researchers from 13 different countries warns that alien species invasions are on the rise. Professor Tim Blackburn from University College London talks to Marnie about this increasing threat.

Also on the programme, inspired by a listener question, Marnie asks whether there's any truth behind the idea that susceptibility to COVID-19 could be linked to blood type. Associate Professor of Venom Pharmacology at Reading University, Dr Sakthivel Vaiyapuri, explains what the science says so far.

Producers: Fiona Roberts & Beth Eastwood

Jul 02 2020

28mins

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The Human Genome Project's 20th Anniversary

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Adam Rutherford is back to celebrate the 20th anniversary of one of the most ambitious and revolutionary scientific endeavours of all time - the Human Genome Project.

Its scope and scale was breath-taking, set up to read every one of the 3 billion nucleotides, or letters of genetic information, contained within the DNA in every cell of the human body. It took seven years, hundreds of scientists, cost almost $3 billion and, amazingly, came in under budget and on time.

Adam reflects back on that momentous time with Ewan Birney, Director of the European Bio-informatics Institute, part of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory. Twenty years ago, he was a PhD student working on the project, in the months leading up to the first draft.

The Human Genome Project underpins many branches of science, from human evolution and synthetic biology to forensic genetics and ancestry testing. But a key motivation for the project was to alleviate human suffering. While the ‘cures’, hyped by the media back in 2000, were not realistic our understanding of disease has been revolutionised.

Adam talks to Cancer Research UK Scientist, Dr Serena Nik-Zainal, from Cambridge University, who explains why the sequencing of the human genome has been so crucial to the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. The Human Genome Project is also playing a crucial role in the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr Kenneth Baillie has been treating critically ill patients at Edinburgh’s Royal Infirmary since the pandemic started. As the Lead on GenOMICC, a global collaboration on genetics and critical illness, he has joined forces with Genomics England and the NHS, to pinpoint genetic signals in these patients to help identify the best treatments.

Producers: Beth Eastwood & Fiona Roberts

Jun 25 2020

32mins

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Coronavirus conspiracy, Listeners' mask questions, Solar Orbiter gets close to the Sun

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Throughout the pandemic, we've seen an explosion in information about the science of the virus, SARS-CoV-2, and the disease it causes, COVID-19. An article online, or a text forwarded, could be true and sounds about right, but how do you know that it's accurate? When scrolling through your social feed, how do you decipher fact from fiction? A new report, by Kings College London and Ipsos MORI, reveals that those of us who get our news from social media are more likely to believe misinformation about the pandemic.

Marnie talks to Jack Goodman of the Anti-Disinformation Unit at BBC Online, a new team set up to tackle the problem. She finds out how science fact turns to science fiction online, and what the team is doing to try to counter this.

Now that wearing face masks are now mandatory in a number of situations, a lot of us are making our own. BBC Inside Science listeners sent in lots of ideas about the design, maintenance and durability of face masks, and other ways to protect against spreading the coronavirus. We asked Professor of Materials & Society at UCL Mark Miodownik in to comment.

In February this year, the European Space Agency’s Solar Orbiter, SolO, successfully launched, escaping this planet before most of us went into lock-down.
Professor Lucie Green from the Mullard Space Science Lab at University College London, is a solar scientist and part of the team that will be using a telescope to take images of the Sun in extreme ultraviolet light. The orbiter is now in it’s ‘Cruise Phase’ which means most of its instruments have now been tested and calibrated, but aren’t yet up and running. One instrument that has been operational since just after launch is the magnetometer, which will collect data on the Sun’s complex and dynamic magnetic field.

Presenter - Marnie Chesterton
Producers - Fiona Roberts and Beth Eastwood

Jun 18 2020

40mins

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Engineering out of lockdown and should we castrate male dogs?

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As the UK gradually begins to ease out of lockdown, Marnie explores how engineers are hoping to reduce the spread of Covid-19. We’ve learned how infected people exhale droplets and aerosols, containing the virus, and how we can then either inhale them, or transfer them to our faces by touching contaminated surfaces. Many shops already have screens and physical barriers, while schools and offices are re-configuring desks and walkways.

What role does the environment play in our overall risk of becoming infected and what can we do about it? This is the focus of the SAGE Environmental Working Group. Marnie talks to its Chair, Catherine Noakes, Professor of Environmental Engineering for Buildings at Leeds University. Minimising the risks that contaminated surfaces pose is a key challenge that engineers are now trying to address. Marnie asks Birmingham University Research Scientist, Felicity de Cogan, about the surface she created which kills bacteria in seconds. She's now re-purposing the technology to kill the virus that causes Covid-19. If her laboratory studies prove that it kills the virus as quickly, as she hopes, the technology could be used to create antiviral PPE that can be re-used rather than thrown away.

Epidemiology has been thrust into the spotlight in recent months, helping us track the viral threat facing all of us. But companion animal epidemiology - which studies disease in pet populations - is a much younger field. It’s one that’s starting to search for the answers to another puppy-related conundrum that’s been puzzling BBC Inside Science reporter Geoff Marsh - should he get puppy Kevin castrated? Neutering has become a cultural norm in the UK. But the health risks to neutered male dogs include cancers and joint disorders in some breeds. The operation and anaesthetic carries some risk as does the age of the dog when the operation is carried out. The risk of dog populations exploding with hundreds of un-neutered dogs is low, because most owners control their dogs to such a degree the chance of unplanned mating doesn't come up. But neutering can help with some behavioural problems in pet dogs. So what is the answer? Will Kevin remain intact?

Presenter - Marnie Chesterton
Producers - Beth Eastwood and Fiona Roberts

Jun 11 2020

28mins

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Back to School and Covid-19 and Ordnance Survey and the pandemic

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As the lockdown eases and some children, in preschool and primary years, start heading back to school, what impact will this have on the pandemic, how will we know and is there anything we can do about it?

Marnie Chesterton talks to Professor of Mathematical Biology at Cambridge University, Julia Gog, who co-chaired the group that advised the government on the impact of easing school closures. She explains why the limited opening of schools provides a golden opportunity to learn about its impact on the pandemic, and inform what happens in September when the new school year begins.

Marnie also talks to Tim Spector, Professor of Genetic Epidemiology at King’s College London, to find out what parents can do to help control the spread of the virus in their communities. He runs the COVID Symptom Study, a huge citizen science project that’s pinpointing the symptoms most closely associated with Covid-19. Millions of British adults have downloaded the app, to take part in the study, logging how they feel each day and adding symptoms when they feel unwell. The breakthrough that losing your sense of smell, or anosmia, is a common symptom in Covid-19, arose from this app.

While children with Covid-19 tend to have mild or no symptoms, Tim Spector believes that some cases are being missed because many of the symptoms we’re told to look out for in adults, such as fever, are transient or absent in children. Tim explains which symptoms parents should look out for in children, including anosmia and a range of rashes such as ‘covid toe’. If parents log their children’s symptoms each day, the hope is he’ll have enough data to further refine the symptoms most closely associated with Covid-19 in children. Parents will then be better placed to spot them, if they occur, and keep their children at home.

You might be forgiven for thinking that Ordnance Survey (OS), the national mapping agency for Great Britain, would be having a quiet time during the lockdown. But its online OS Map apps have seen a 300% increase in use, with users not only checking out new places and walks in their local area, but using the virtual maps to plan and imagine themselves on walks in more remote and far flung parts of Great Britain. But Ordnance Survey is so much more than just leisure maps. It runs the Master Map of Great Britain, a massive, interactive, geospatial database which can be interrogated by anyone in the public sector with questions on geography, planning, logistics, addresses and more. The list is long. And during the coronavirus pandemic, the Mapping for Emergencies service has been busy helping the NHS find places for blood testing facilities and PPE storage; working out which walkways are wide enough to allow social distancing, working out where the nearest pharmacies to vulnerable people are and much more.

Presenter - Marnie Chesterton
Producers - Beth Eastwood and Fiona Roberts

Jun 04 2020

27mins

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Testing & Tracing the coronavirus, and the traces our movements leave behind

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Inside Science this week is all about our information - the stuff we volunteer and the traces our everyday movements leave behind.

With the launch of NHS Test and Trace across England, if you start to feel unwell with suspected Covid-19 and call a new NHS hotline 119, you’ll be tested for the virus. Your close contacts will be traced and, if you test positive, you'll be asked to self-isolate for 7 days, and your contacts asked to quarantine for 14 days.

The route to those close contacts is currently through manual tracing - you have to give the details of everyone with whom you’ve been in close contact. But in the coming weeks, the plan is to integrate the NHSX app, currently being trialled on the Isle of Wight. This will pick up close contacts with people you don't know, on public transport, for example, provided they also have the app.

It’s a new way to fight a pandemic, but the pioneers here are the residents of the English town of Haslemere in Surrey who, back in 2017, were tackling a terrifyingly contagious and, thankfully, hypothetical virus spread by ‘patient zero’ Hannah Fry. Created for the BBC4 documentary: Contagion, it was an experiment to see how we could fight the next pandemic. The BBC built an app, which residents downloaded and, crucially, it created a data-set. Evolutionary Biologist Dr Lewis Spurgin, from University of East Anglia, has used this data-set to explore the impact that different control strategies could have on the spread of the virus that causes Covid-19.

In a different case of tracking and tracing, involving some policing by members of the public and journalists, Dominic Cummings’ comings and goings have consumed the nation this week. Just how much are our everyday movements being clocked, monitored and recorded? What traces do our phones, cars and even our faces leave behind? And who gets to see this information? Marnie talks to researcher and broadcaster Stephanie Hare, author of the forthcoming book Technology Ethics.

Presenter: Marnie Chesterton
Producers: Beth Eastwood & Fiona Roberts

May 28 2020

30mins

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Coronavirus-free science, the impact of lockdown on climate change and the odds of both life and intelligent life existing.

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In response to listeners who have expressed coronavirus fatigue in recent weeks, Marnie Chesterton brings us up to date on some of the best and brightest breaking science we might have missed, with BBC’s Non-Covid-19 Science Correspondent Jonathan Amos.

Inching back to pandemic news, Marnie investigates the fallout of the lockdown from a climate perspective. In many countries, citizens have been asked to stay at home and not to travel unless it’s strictly necessary. As a result, the hubbub of normal life has slowed to a trickle. What impact has this had on levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere? Corinne Le Quéré, the Royal Society Professor of Climate Change Science at the University of East Anglia, explains just how dramatically these emissions have been affected around the world.

And the chances that intelligent life exists on other planets. David Kipping, Assistant Professor of Astronomy at Columbia University in the US, has calculated the odds of both life and intelligent life existing if he were to re-run earth’s history.
Presenter - Marnie Chesterton
Producer - Beth Eastwood

May 21 2020

28mins

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Coronavirus R number, genome study of Covid-19 survivors and using aircraft messages to assess aviation

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R seems to have found its way into the newspapers and on Radio 4 as if it’s a word, or a letter, that we should all be familiar with and understand. As part of the government’s briefing on Sunday, it appeared in a pseudo-equation, the infographic - 'COVID alert level = R + number of infections' - the Government called R the 'Rate of Infection', but it is commonly known as the 'Reproduction Number'. So what exactly is R, and what does it do?
Mathematical Biologist, Kit Yates, from the University of Bath, clears up the confusion, and explains how R was first calculated for covid-19. And one of the scientists tracking R in the UK is Petra Klepac, who is Assistant Professor in Infectious Disease Modelling at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. She explains how crucial R is in tracking the pandemic and how it’s now being used to shape the way we get out of lockdown.
There are so many variables about who will survive Covid-19 and who, unfortunately, will not. Many people will only experience mild symptoms, but a minority will have a severe or even life-threatening response. Whilst some of the difference can be explained by age, or underlying health conditions, the reasons why men and some ethnic minorities and a number of apparently fit younger people become so ill, is one of the great puzzles of this pandemic. Some of the uncertainly is down to environmental effects. But a lot of the variability could be down to our genomes.
To try and find out, this week Genomics England announced funding for a study - The GenOMICC - COVID Genomics UK (CoG-UK) Partnership for Severely Ill Patients to sequence the whole genomes of 20,000 severely ill and 15,000 asymptomatic or very mild patients. Led by Genomics England, these genomes will be compared with those held in the 100,000 Genomes Project dataset.

The coronavirus pandemic is really highlighting the need for fast, accurate ways to analyse data on a global and national scale. Be that data on the number of people dying or track and trace data from various apps. But do we realise how much data we leave about ourselves online even in normal times? This is something Professors Tobias Preis and Suzy Moat in the Data Science Lab, at the Warwick Business School get very excited about. They use rapid analysis of big data to try and understand our behaviour as a way to rapidly inform economists and policy makers on how the world works.
They have been looking at alternative data sources to give us quicker estimates of what’s happening in the world – travel patterns, economic indicators, how many people have a given disease.

This is going to become invaluable both during and in the aftermath of the pandemic, when understanding the economic fallout will be key to helping the economy recover. Take their latest work – where they’re gathering much quicker estimates on the contributions of air travel to the UK’s GDP.

Presenter – Marnie Chesterton

Producers – Fiona Roberts and Beth Eastwood

May 14 2020

32mins

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Should the public wear face masks? Did SARS-Cov-2 escape from a laboratory in Wuhan?

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Advice about whether the public should wear face masks, to protect against infection by the coronavirus, differs around the world. In Europe, policy recommendations are mostly geared towards homemade masks. As this country waits to find out how we’ll venture out of lock down, should we be wearing face masks out in public too? The government’s mantra throughout the pandemic has been “follow the science” but on this issue there is ongoing debate, with strongly held and differing views. The Royal Society’s DELVE Initiative (Data Evaluation and Learning for Viral Epidemics) put out a report this week to try to bring some clarity to the issue.

Marnie Chesterton asks Professor of Primary Care Health Sciences at Oxford University, Trisha Greenhalgh, and microbiologist and Professor of Environmental Healthcare at the University of Southampton, William Keevil, why there is so little science to inform the policy-makers. If the government recommends that we all wear cloth masks, we'll be wearing them for the common good - they’re better at stopping the wearer from spreading the virus than protecting him or her from catching it. Choosing one that fits, made from the right material, and keeping it clean is also crucial. If you’re not really up to making your own mask, Professor Mark Miadownik at UCL’s Institute of Making warns against the single-use surgical masks, now a common addition to the litter scene and a bane to the environment.

As the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 continues to spread at an alarming rate in the United States, with well over a million confirmed cases and over 70,000 deaths, attention in the White House has been turning to suggestions that the virus originated in the Institute of Virology Laboratory in Wuhan, China and not in the wild where bats are the ultimate suspected source. For years, a group there led by “bat woman” Jungli Shi, have been collecting virus samples and studying them to see if they could infect us humans. This is standard virology, trying to understand where the next pandemic viral threat might come from. But conspiracy theorists have been suggesting that there’s more going on, such as deliberate genetic manipulation of the viruses, weaponising them, or just unsafe management. These ideas have been taken up by President Trump and his team. BBC Inside Science reporter Roland Pease asks the experts what they think. Is there any place for this sort of politics in the pandemic?

Presenter - Marnie Chesterton

Producers - Fiona Roberts and Beth Eastwood

May 07 2020

29mins

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Testing for immunity to COVID-19 and Citizen science on BBC Radio past and present

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This week, the Government’s target to be testing 100,000 a day for COVID-19 looks like it won’t be met. But we’ve heard about many people who experienced the virus mildly, or who’ve tested positive with no symptoms at all. If you really want to know who has had the virus, the only way to tell for certain is with an antibody, or serology, test. Describing how they work is Professor of Virology at Nottingham University, Jonathan Ball. Eleanor Riley, Professor of Immunology and Infectious Disease at Edinburgh University, explains why its so important to get the specificity and sensitivity of these tests right, and reveals what they can and can't tell us about individual and population-wide exposure to the virus.

We like citizen science on BBC Inside Science, it’s an opportunity for anyone and everyone to try their hand at some scientific projects, learn about the scientific process and help researchers crunch through masses of data. Professor Chris Lintott co-founded Zooniverse, the biggest citizen science platform over a decade ago. He’s a regular on the programme telling us about the latest Muon-hunting, Penguin-counting, galaxy-searching opportunities they offer. But they’re not the only ones, Butterfly Conservation want you to help them track the timing of butterfly emergence in the UK and Fold.it are asking people to play their protein folding online game to help them find a possible cure for Covid-19. But back in the 1930’s BBC radio producer Mary Adams was running a series called ‘Science in the Making’, where listeners were invited to participate in, what would now be called ‘citizen science’ experiments. With topics as diverse as charting the timing of blackbird egg laying and deciphering the meaning of dreams, a scientist would explain their hypothesis and ask the audience for help. Allan Jones, a senior lecturer in computing and communications from the Open University has been digging into the BBC’s earliest public science experiments, and the woman who decided to broadcast them.

Presenter – Marnie Chesterton
Producers – Fiona Roberts and Beth Eastwood

Apr 30 2020

31mins

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Understanding Covid-19 death rates; Contact tracing apps; Whale sharks and atomic bombs

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Every death is a tragedy for grief-stricken families, but every set of statistics is an opportunity to understand the virus and the disease Covid-19 a bit more. In fact gathering these data, quickly and accurately, is a priority at the moment, up there with developing a vaccine and rolling out widespread testing. Gareth Mitchell discusses, with, David Spiegelhalter, who is the Winton Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk in the Statistical Laboratory at the University of Cambridge, why it’s so hard to measure coronavirus fatalities.

The Covid-19 pandemic is unprecedented in modern times. There will no doubt be years of debating over who managed the outbreak the best, which tools and actions were implemented at the right time and in the right way. One small, but important part of dealing with the viral outbreak is contact tracing – discovering who is infected and who they might have come into contact with. This has to be done quickly, so the people an infected person had contact with, can be found and informed to isolate, before they themselves spread the virus further. Some countries used this early on in the pandemic (Singapore and South Korea, have successfully used it to contain their outbreaks, while Germany, which has a far lower case and death rate than the UK, has also worked hard on contact tracing.) Others are hoping to implement contact tracing as a means of easing social distancing or coming out of lockdown. To do this public health agencies will have to start aggressively contact tracing and at a much higher level than they were a few months ago. The UK started using contact tracing then stopped, they are now looking to restart it.

A plausible way of doing this is to make use of the fact that a lot of people carry a mobile phone, so apps that can help are being developed and used. There are biological factors that need to be taken into account (reliable, accessible testing in the first place) but also logistical, practical and security issues… who are we giving our data to? And what are they doing with it? Could it be used to restrict my freedom in ways other than just managing the spread of the virus?
Timandra Harkness author of Big Data, Does Size Matter? and Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society, and a member of their working group on Data Ethics helps answer these questions.

Finally, a small bit of good that’s come out of another dark time in our recent history. Atomic bomb tests during the Cold War. The nuclear fallout, doubled the amount of an isotope called carbon-14 in the atmosphere. And that has turned out to be very useful for scientists working on a crucial conservation effort – to age and safeguard the world’s largest fish - the Whale Shark.

Presenter - Gareth Mitchell
Producer - Fiona Roberts

Apr 23 2020

42mins

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Lockdown lessons for climate change and the carbon neutral Cumbrian coal mine

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While the world is dealing with the coronavirus outbreak, those who are concerned about the environment are saying that an arguably bigger crisis is being side-lined. Climate change, or climate breakdown, is still happening. Just like the Covid-19 pandemic, it will be the poorest people in the poorest countries that pay the highest price for the breakdown in our climate. But can we learn something from the current lockdown that can be applied to climate change? Can it provide the impetus for us to do things differently. Writer and environmentalist George Monbiot thinks so. He recently wrote that coronavirus is ‘a wake-up call for a complacent civilisation’, and he discusses with Marnie Chesterton whether there is some hope that can be taken from the current crisis.

Last year, it was announced that a new coal mine in Cumbria was given backing in parliament. The Woodhouse colliery would be Britain’s first new deep coal mine in 30 years, bringing much needed jobs to the community. The colliery, along the coast from Whitehaven, is planned to be producing coking coal for the steel industry. Cumbria County Council claimed the mine, which aims to process 2.5m tonnes of coking coal a year, would be carbon neutral, as locally produced coal, negates the need to ship it in from as far afield as the US, Canada, Russia and Colombia. It’s perhaps unsurprising that climate campaigners think this is a huge step back and that the mine is unnecessary and incompatible with UK climate ambitions and that it will hold back the development of low-carbon steelmaking. BBC Inside Science sent reporter Geoff Marsh to explore the story that highlights the difficulties of balancing carbon costs and accounting, with employment and self-sufficiency.

Presenter - Marnie Chesterton
Producer - Fiona Roberts

Apr 16 2020

28mins

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Testing for asymptomatic coronavirus carriers, Human Cell Atlas, and invasive parakeets

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You can’t build up a picture of Covid-19’s spread throughout the UK without testing those who might have it and those who might have already had it. Britain currently is only testing people who are hospitalised, some healthcare workers and a handful of exceptions. The upshot is that we don't have reliable numbers on how many people in the community have, or have had, Covid-19. Even self-reporting doesn’t pick up those who carry the virus, but do not show any symptoms.
Professor Mike Bonsall is part of a team at Oxford University running a new project that seeks to change that. They want to estimate how common the coronavirus causing disease is in the UK, using a new diagnostic tool called nanopore sequencing. If you want to take part, have not had any symptoms and live in the Oxford area - https://covidstudy.zoo.ox.ac.uk/

You probably think you know your body like the back of your hand, but given that it’s made up of an average of about 37 trillion cells, some sort of guide book might be helpful. This is what the Human Cell Atlas, an international project, is doing. By providing a map of human cell types, aims to help researchers fight diseases, from cancer to covid19.
Although every cell in our bodies has the same genetic code – the same DNA; the differences between, for example, muscles cells, brain cells, and fat cells – come down to which bits of the DNA each cell uses - which genes are switched on and off. This gives cell types their different characteristics. The Atlas not only helps scientists understand the precise nature of each cell type but also how they interact with other cells in the body.

There are a lot of myths surrounding the source of the rose-necked parakeets in south east England. The introduction of these noisy green alien invaders have been attributed to Jimi Hendrix, George Michael and even Humphrey Bogart. But where did they really come from?

Presenter - Marnie Chesterton
Producer - Fiona Roberts

Apr 09 2020

28mins

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Coronavirus: Models & being ‘led by the science’; Mars500 isolation tips; Kids’ science - singing glasses

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Marnie Chesterton reveals how important the models and graphs are in informing government strategies for the Covid-19 pandemic. Christl Donnelly, Professor of Statistical Epidemiology at Imperial College London and Professor of Applied Statistics at the University of Oxford, and Dr Kit Yates, Senior Lecturer in Mathematical Biology at the University of Bath and author of 'The Maths of Life and Death', explain what epidemiological models can and can’t tell us about the progression of the disease, infection rates and death rates, and how testing will provide the essential data to make these models more accurate. They also give their take on the current inundation of social media with graphs and infographics created by non-epidemiologists - the ‘epidemic of armchair epidemiologists’.

The European Space Agency’s Diego Urbina was one of the Mars500 participants. He spent 520 days in a human mission to Mars, shut up in a fake spacecraft with his fellow astronauts. So who better to get tips for home isolation from?

Are you stuck in with the kids and want to try some science experiments that you can do at home? The Royal Institution is about to launch ExpeRimental Live - a live stream of home science experiments, designed to educate, entertain and inform your children with some cheap and easy science. And its existing ExpeRimental series of short films for parents are already available online. They were produced and directed by science teacher and writer Alom Shaha, who helps BBC Inside Science producer Jennifer Whyntie to have a go at making singing wine glasses with her children.

Producers - Fiona Roberts and Jennifer Whyntie

Apr 02 2020

32mins

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Coronavirus - Lockdown efficacy; viral testing; surface survival; dog walking safety

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Last week, we promised we’d tackle your coronavirus and associated Covid 19 questions and you came up trumps. So this week we’re be talking about the latest from the lockdown, why there are bottlenecks in the testing system, how long the virus lives on your door handles and whether your dog can spread coronavirus. Joining us to answer your questions are Jonathan Ball, Professor of Virology at the University of Nottingham, and BBC Radio Science presenter and reporter Roland Pease.

On Monday evening, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the British people to ‘stay at home’. How stringent is the UK’s lockdown compared to other countries, and is it likely to be effective?

The only real way we can know about the incidence and prevalence of the coronavirus is to test. Listener Andrew in Didcot wants to know more about testing and when antibodies appear in us. We discuss how the current testing system works, and why there are limitations on testing.

One question that lots of scientists have been asking is: can people with mild or no symptoms spread the coronavirus? And so we delve into the evidence for asymptomatic spreading.

Listeners Eleanor and Andy have been wondering about passing the virus from person to surface to person. Roland Pease looks into the virus’ survival on surfaces and elsewhere, and asks how that might be affecting spread.

Finally, reporter Geoff Marsh tackles a quandary facing dog owners: Is it safe to walk your pet? Can dogs spread the virus?

Presenter: Marnie Chesterton
Producers: Fiona Roberts and Jennifer Whyntie

Mar 26 2020

42mins

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TB vaccination to replace culling in badgers; Neil Shubin on the wonders of evolution

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The government have announced that the controversial cull of badgers across England will begin to be phased out in the next few years. It will be replaced by vaccinating badgers for bovine TB. The cull is intended to cut tuberculosis in cattle and has killed at least 100,000 badgers since 2013. TB in cattle is a severe problem for farmers and taxpayers, leading to the compulsory slaughter of 30,000 cattle and a cost of £150m every year.
However culling is thought to have failed because frequent trading of cattle and poor biosecurity on farms severely hampering efforts to tackle the crisis. Expert and ecologist Rosie Woodroffe at the Institute of Zoology, the research division of the Zoological Society of London, who has been trialling vaccinations for the past few years in Cornwall explains to Marnie Chesterton why it is highly desirable to move from culling to vaccination of badgers. Plus they discuss the parallels between this and the coronavirus outbreak in humans.

Evolutionary biologist Neil Shubin at the University of Chicago, is also the author of the best-selling book on evolution – ‘Your Inner Fish’. In his new book, out this week, ‘Some Assembly Required – Decoding four billion years of life from ancient fossils to DNA’, Neil revisits the topic of evolutionary development and explains to Adam how we have now arrived at a remarkable moment—prehistoric fossils coupled with new DNA technology have given us the tools to answer some of the basic questions of our existence: How do big changes in evolution happen? Is our presence on Earth the product of mere chance? This new science reveals a multi-billion-year evolutionary history filled with twists and turns, trial and error, accident and invention.

Presenter - Marnie Chesterton
Producer – Fiona Roberts

Mar 19 2020

28mins

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Biology of the new coronavirus

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Adam Rutherford explores what makes the new coronavirus so effective at making us ill.
Jonathan Ball, Professor of Virology at Nottingham University, explains the structure of the virus and how it gets into our lungs. Evolutionary virologist at Cambridge University, Dr Charlotte Houldcroft talks to Adam about how labs are detecting the virus and how they are studying the way it mutates to understand how it's moving around the world. Kate Jones, Professor of Ecology at UCL, tells Adam how bats live with coronaviruses, but they don't get sick. She says the reason they have moved from bats to humans is because we have taken them out of their natural habitat into places like the wet markets of East Asia. Sarah Gilbert at Oxford University explains how her team is developing vaccines, and Jonathan Ball looks at work to repurpose existing drugs that may be used as treatment for Covid-19.

Mar 12 2020

27mins

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Banning lead shot for hunting; UK Fireball Network and Extremely thin gold

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We have known for centuries about the toxic properties of lead, and we have known since at least 1876 that birds die of lead poisoning when they eat lead gunshot (which they do, thinking its grit). To address this, in 1999, the use of lead ammunition in England was restricted. These Regulations prohibit the use of lead ammunition in certain habitat (predominately wetlands) and for the shooting of all ducks and geese, coot and moorhen. However compliance with these Regulations is low. And what about other animals (game birds and game animals) hunted with lead ammunition? It’s only been since 2008 that it’s been demonstrated that that animals shot with lead were a risk to the health of people who ate them. Tiny particles of the toxic metal remain in the meat and are consumed. Children are especially vulnerable to lead toxicity, which causes problems with brain development. Leading Cambridge conservation scientist Professor Debbie Pain, has been studying lead in the environment for her entire career. So it’s good news to her that, 8 of the main UK shooting organisations have voluntarily agreed to ban lead shot for all live quarry by 2025. But is a voluntary ban is enough? And what are the Department of Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) doing to monitor and manage the problem?

It can be a real treat to watch a meteor shower in the night sky and you can consider yourself lucky if you get to witness a fireball streaking through the atmosphere. But what the scientists in the Global Fireball Observatory really want is to find these fist-sized extra-terrestrial meteoroids where they land on Earth. One of the Fireball UK Network’s leaders, Luke Daly at the University of Glasgow, explains how, if we know where in the Solar system these rocks came from and we can analyse their make-up, we can learn a lot about how our Solar System was made. However surprising few of the 5000 tonnes of meteorites that land on our planet every year are retrieved. Most are sand-sized grains and many fall in the sea. But even tracking down these precious rocks on land is extremely difficult. So the Network has a suite of cameras watching the sky, and together with some clever number-crunching algorithms, they can track these events and narrow down where to search. But they still need the good citizens of Britain to help find them. If you want to get involved (and this is a good one for schools to take part in) email UKFM@Imperial.ac.uk or follow @fireballsUK on Twitter.

We are fast learning that elements at the nanoscale have vastly different properties than they do in the form we can observe them. It’s proving to be a rich field for changing the properties of materials, and inventing new substances that might be of use in medicines, in electronics, and much more. Inside Science’s Maddie Finlay went to meet Stephen Evans from the University of Leeds, where they have been tinkering with a substance that definitely doesn’t glister even though it’s gold.

Producer: Fiona Roberts

Mar 05 2020

33mins

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The Big Compost Experiment; Using AI to screen for new antibiotics; Science of slapstick

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Composters - we need you! Or rather materials scientists at UCL, Mark Miodownik and Danielle Purkiss, need you to take part in their Big Compost Experiment. Launched back in November, the team asked members of the public to fill in an online questionnaire about their composting and recycling habits. With special reference to plastic packaging labelled as 'compostable', they want you to see whether your compost bin at home can break down these products. Despite starting in the coldest season, where compost production really slows down, they've had some success. To take part, go to https://www.bigcompostexperiment.org.uk/

One particular infectious disease (Covid-19) is dominating the headlines, but it's by no means the only one we should be concerned about. There's an infectious disease crisis that is longstanding, and one of the most significant threats to global health. It’s the on-going antibiotic resistant crisis. Antibiotics kill bacteria, but bacteria evolve resistance very quickly, and because of overuse of antibiotics, we’ve effectively driven the evolution of many disease causing bacteria to be resistant to our best antibiotics, thus rendering them redundant as drugs. On top of that, we haven’t found any new classes of antibiotics for many years. And the cost of developing new drugs is very high – billions, and the financial incentive for developing antibiotics is low. So this is a perfect storm. A new study this week shows a glimmer of light in the quest to find new antibiotics, via artificial intelligence. Lena Ciric, a microbiologist at University College London, explains how the new drug Halicin was found and the promise it holds as a new antibiotic.

Slapstick is one of the most universally appreciated comedy styles. The physical comedy that made Charlie Chaplin, Laurel & Hardy and even Mr Bean so popular has transfixed and entertained generations. But how has it endured the test of time? Why do we enjoy seeing characters in pain? Or is it something deeper rooted that it tells us about the human condition? Laughter is a social action – we do it to show we understand a joke and to signal to people that we get along with them. 'Told By An Idiot' is a theatre company exploring the divide between comedy and tragedy who are currently performing a slapstick style show about the relationship between Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel, who had been his understudy. Hannah Fisher has been to see the show.

Producer - Fiona Roberts

Feb 27 2020

28mins

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Coronavirus questions; HMS Challenger and ocean acidification; Sean Carroll's quantum world

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Adam Rutherford is joined by Professor of Virology at Nottingham University, Jonathan Ball, to help answer some of your questions on the latest coronavirus outbreak. Will it become endemic, and once infected and recovered how long are we resistant to the virus? And can face masks and alcohol hand gels help prevent infection?

In the 1870's the scientific research ship, HMS Challenger, sailed all the world's oceans measuring sea temperatures, ocean depths and sampling the geology of the seabed. But it's the seawater samples, containing microscopic zooplankton, preserved for 130 years which intrigued climate scientist Dr. Lyndsey Fox. She has been measuring the thickness of the shells of Foraminifera - tiny single-celled organisms - as a way of measuring how much the ocean has acidified over time. The shells are made of calcium carbonate, that is much harder to accrete when the pH drops.

Theoretical physicist Sean M. Carroll is very good at explaining the unexplainable. He chats to Adam about his latest book - Something Deeply Hidden: Quantum Worlds and the Emergence of Spacetime.

Producer: Fiona Roberts

Feb 20 2020

42mins

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Where is Adam?

By idontwantanavatar - Apr 09 2020
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I love this podcast! Where has Adam Rutherford gone though?

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By Voles Rule - May 30 2019
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Brilliant, clear and concise, a must listen for scientists and non-scientists