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Rank #109 in Science category

Science

BBC Inside Science

Updated 4 days ago

Rank #109 in Science category

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.

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

iTunes Ratings

154 Ratings
Average Ratings
115
21
8
5
5

All episodes

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

@quantumentangled

By Jdw alaska - Feb 01 2019
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Great podcast. Very informative

iTunes Ratings

154 Ratings
Average Ratings
115
21
8
5
5

All episodes

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

@quantumentangled

By Jdw alaska - Feb 01 2019
Read more
Great podcast. Very informative

Listen to:

Cover image of BBC Inside Science

BBC Inside Science

Updated 4 days ago

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

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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Dinosaur extinction, Neanderthals in Gibraltar, Music appreciation, A year of New Horizons

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The dinosaurs met their end with a massive bang when, 66 million years ago, a 6 mile-wide rock crashed into the Gulf of Mexico. This was bad news for the dinosaurs, and consequently good news for the mammals left behind. Thomas Halliday is a palaeontologist, who specialises on the rise of the mammals, and his new work unpicks what happened to survivors after 75% of the species on earth died.

The Neanderthals were found in Gibraltar back in 1848. Ever since then, teams have been exploring the caves systems on that rocky outcrop of Europe. It's known as Neanderthal City and researchers think it was home to the very last of these people, some 30,000 years ago. BBC science reporter Melissa Hogenboom has just returned from Gibraltar and talks to Adam about the recent findings of abstract art, which suggest that Neanderthals are much more like us than previously thought.

We generally find the combination of notes in a consonant chord more pleasant to our ears than a dissonant one. The question is whether that reaction is learnt or simply part of our biology. It's a tricky thing to test because music is culturally ubiquitous. Neuroscientist Josh McDermott has found a way around this, by playing those tunes to members of a very remote Bolivian tribe - the Tsimane - and gauging their reactions.

One year on since the New Horizons probe zoomed past Pluto, Kathy Olkin, one of the chief scientists behind the mission talks to Adam about how the team have dealt with the new data. Noah Hammond from Brown University explains how he has used photographic data from New Horizons to examine the cracks in the surface of Pluto, and has suggested how they came to be.

Presenter: Adam Rutherford

Producer: Adrian Washbourne.

Jul 14 2016

28mins

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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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Comet landing detects organics molecules; Lunar Mission One; Biological warfare

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Philae lander detects organic molecules on Comet 67P
Rosetta scientist, Professor Monica Grady from the Open University discusses the latest news from last week's historic comet mission. Philae, the Rosetta robot probe, made history last week when she finally landed on the surface of Comet 67P. But she ended up lying on her side, and only in partial sunlight. Her batteries were on borrowed time. After around 60 hours, Philae powered down, and went into hibernation mode. However, her instruments harvested some data and now the first results are in.

UK-led crowdfunded Moon mission
Lunar Mission One aims to land a robotic spacecraft on the unexplored lunar South Pole by 2024. It's a space mission with a difference: it could be funded by you. For a small fee supporters can send a human hair to the Moon in a Blue Peter-style time capsule. And the spacecraft will drill up to 100 metres below the surface to ask questions about the Moon's origin, aiming to find out more about the minerals that exist there, several of which are potentially valuable. Our reporter Sue Nelson went to the British Interplanetary Society's Reinventing Space conference in London to hear more.

The Selfish Gene debate
As another bout of biological warfare breaks out between two scientific superpowers, Adam Rutherford gets to grips with evolutionary theory, with social insect expert Professor Adam Hart. He hears from Richard Dawkins and E.O. Wilson and finds out why, after forty years of promoting the idea of kin selection, E O Wilson now dismisses the whole idea as 'rhetoric'.
Presenter: Adam Rutherford
Producer: Anna Buckley
Assistant Producer: Jen Whyntie.

Nov 20 2014

27mins

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Intrusive memories, Silent aircraft, Nuclear fusion, Pluto

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Adam Rutherford talks to Emily Holmes from the Medical Research Council’s Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge, about two new studies on preventing intrusive memories. She discusses why stopping someone from sleeping after seeing a lab based film of traumatic events like a news reel or car crash may actually stop people from forming intrusive memories about those films. This offers an intriguing insight in to the role that sleep has in consolidating intrusive and possibly traumatic memories. She also explains how if memories of a traumatic event are laid down, why playing a computer game like Tetris could disrupt that memory and stop it from becoming intrusive.
Silent Aircraft: The Davies report recently recommended a new, third runway should be built at Heathrow airport but as flight numbers increase how quiet can planes of the future become? Adam talks to Jeremy Astley from Southampton University and Michael Carley from Bath University about where the noise in jet engines comes from, how engineering can make them quieter and will the silent aircraft initiative ever make a truly silent aircraft.
Nuclear Fusion. For decades scientists have tried to harness the power of the Sun to smash atomic nuclei together to create a clean, limitless energy source from nuclear fusion. Marnie Chesterton talks to scientists from Tokomak energy about their new design for a Tokomak machine that has already exceeded previous records. Could it be a vital step forward in the quest for nuclear fusion on Earth?
New Horizons: On 14th July 2015 the spaceship, New Horizons will complete its 10 year mission to flyby Pluto. BBC Science correspondent Jonathan Amos gives Adam a preview and tells him why he's so excited about the mission and what they hope to discover about the darker regions of our Solar System.

Jul 09 2015

27mins

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Pluto: New Horizons

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It's billed as the last great encounter in planetary exploration. For the past nine years the New Horizons spacecraft has travelled 5bn km (3bn miles) to get to Pluto On July 14th it performed its historic fly-by encounter with the dwarf planet.

Adam Rutherford examines the first images from the New Horizon's probe and hears the first interpretations from mission leaders and scientists at the NASA New Horizon's space centre as the data arrives back to earth. Expect new light to be shed on the Solar System's underworld as first impression s reveal Pluto to be a champagne coloured body with 11000 ft ice mountains and surprisingly smooth surfaces that suggests recent geological activity

For people who grew up with the idea that there were "nine planets", this is the moment they get to complete the set. Robotic probes have been to all the others, even the distant Uranus and Neptune. Pluto is the last of the "classical nine" to receive a visit. Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell discusses how this 2,300km-wide ice-covered rock was demoted in 2006 to the status of mere "dwarf planet", but as "Pluto killer" Mike Brown argues, this shouldn't dull our enthusiasm.

As Adam Rutherford reveals, nothing about this corner of the solar system has been straightforward. Little is known about Pluto's creation -but as the New Horizons probe passed Pluto for this first close up of the dwarf planet , scientists anticipate new insights into the evolution of our solar system and even earth's early history.

With contributions from mission scientists Alan Stern, Fran Bagenell, Joel Parker and astronomer Mark Showalter. Updates too as interpretations rapidly develop, from BBC correspondent Jonathan Amos and astrophysicist Chris Lintott.

Producer Adrian Washbourne.

Jul 16 2015

28mins

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Killer robots; Myths and superstitions and conservation; Science book prize nominee - Cordelia Fine; Taxidermy

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Once again, the ethical side of fully autonomous weapons has been raised, this time by over 100 leading robotics experts, including Elon Musk of SpaceX and Tesla, and Mustafa Suleyman of DeepMind. They have sent an open letter to the United Nations urging them to take action in order to prevent the development of "killer robots". The letter says "lethal autonomous" technology is a "Pandora's box", once opened it will be very difficult to close - they have called for a ban on the use of AI in managing weaponry. Gareth asks AI expert, Professor Peter Bentley from University College London, if this is the right approach or is this just an attempt to delay the inevitable?

When a paper titled "Fantastic Beasts and Why to Conserve Them" is printed in the journal Oryx, we had to take a closer look. Far more than a publicity stunt, this work by George Holmes, an expert in conservation and society at the University of Leeds, covers an important point. It explores the dangers of neglecting local beliefs, myths and superstitions about the natural world, and animals in particular, when trying to come up with conservation strategies.

Cordelia Fine is a professor of the history and philosophy of science at the University of Melbourne. She is the third shortlisted author of the Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize. Her book "Testosterone Rex" explores the science behind gender. She argues that testosterone isn't necessarily the basis for masculinity and that there is so much more to gender than merely our biological sex.

200 years ago, taxidermy was a crucial part of zoological teaching and research, and in the days before BBC wildlife films, often the only way that many people could see strange and exotic wildlife from other lands. Lots of those early specimens are incredibly valuable, and can still be found in museums around the world, although being so old they are often in need of urgent repair. Usually this happens out of sight behind the scenes, but not so at the Grant Museum of Zoology in London, which has been doing its conservation live in the gallery for all to see, to draw attention to the art and science of taxidermy. Some of the more serious repairs get sent to taxidermy conservator Lucie Mascord in Lancashire.
Produced by Fiona Roberts
Presented by Gareth Mitchell.

Aug 24 2017

28mins

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Earth's Earliest Life, The Benefits of Pollution, Sexuality and Science and New ideas on Evolution

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The World's oldest sedimentary rocks reveal traces of our earliest ancestors. New analysis shows life forms existed more than 3.7 billion years ago which were very similar to those found in our deepest oceans today, microbial life around hydro thermal vents.
Some pollution might be good for the world oceans. New finding from China show how iron oxide pollution from power generation and industry has been turned into a source of nutrients for phytoplankton - by interacting with other chemical pollutants. The researchers say this is increasing the ability of the ocean to lock up atmospheric carbon dioxide and so reduce the impact of man made greenhouse gasses. They query whether reducing this kind of pollution could have a negative impact.
This week The Royal Society celebrated LGBT history month and 50 years since the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales

Rory Galloway meets Sir Dermot Turing, the nephew of renowned computer scientist Alan Turing, to discuss Alan’s Legacy for LGBT scientists today, and we look at the continued impacted of homophobia in science.
And we hear about a new test for ideas in Evolution. This involves recreating the ancestors of fruit flies. The findings have overturned an established theory on genetic inheritance in these alcohol tolerant flies.

Mar 02 2017

29mins

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Invasive Species, Coral Seaview Survey, Evolution of the Brain, A New Virtual Reality

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Invasive alien species from the cursed Signal Crayfish to the scourge of gardeners, the Japanese Knotweed, are considered some of the biggest threats to biodiversity. This year the EU has launched new legislation that attempts to limit their spread. But how big a threat are they to ecosystems? Science writer Fred Pearce author of The New Wild argues that ecologists are committed to protecting pristine environments from alien invaders, when we should be embracing the changing ecology that invasive species enable. Adam Rutherford discusses the conflicting approaches to invasive species with Fred Pearce and Dr Helen Roy - a scientist at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

Corals make up only 0.1% of the ocean floors, but account for up to a quarter of all marine life. A new exhibition at The Natural History Museum is showcasing some of the work of the Catlin Seaview Survey, which is compiling a huge pictorial health check of various reefs to act as a snapshot against which all future reef changes can be compared. We hear from Dr Ken Johnson, the Museum's main coral researcher, and Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, - Chief Scientist for the Catlin Seaview Survey.

There's a big gap in understanding the evolution of our brains. But experts, from geologists to computer scientists by way of marine biologists have recently been meeting at the Royal Society, for a symposium entitled 'Origin and Evolution of the Nervous System' to assess what evidence there is. Roland Pease reports.

And we explore a new advance in virtual reality. Anil Seth, professor of Consciousness Studies at the Sackler Centre at Sussex University has been experimenting with our sense of self, and our experience of the world, by using a hi tech headset combined with 360 degree cameras to transport your whole experience to a different space. Virtual reality becomes "substitutional" reality'.

Producer Adrian Washbourne.

Mar 26 2015

27mins

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Gene-editing human embryos, Spaceman's eyes, Science book prize, Sexual selection in salmon

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Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is the heart condition that can lead to seemingly super-fit athletes collapsing with heart failure. It affects one in 500 people, and is a heritable disorder. Scientists using the precise gene-editing technique, Crispr CAS 9, have identified one of the genes responsible for the disease and 'fixed' it. This is in very early stage human embryos, prior to implantation. Dr. Fredrik Lanner at the Karolinska institute, is a leader in this field and he describes the work as purely at the experimental stages, but the team have managed to overcome various issues with the technique.
Despite the obvious benefits of being an astronaut... exploring new worlds, seeing Earth from space, and of course the glory and fame, it can take a real toll on the body. Astronauts' skeletons and muscles deteriorate in zero gravity, their immune system weakens, and they experience nasal congestion and sleep disturbance. Many symptoms persists once they're back on Earth. But, there's another to add to the list, space flight-associated neuro-ocular syndrome or SANS. Ophthalmologist at Houston Methodist Hospital, Dr Andrew Lee explains that the build-up of fluid in the brain can squeeze the eye and optic nerve and lead to visual disturbance and even vision loss.
The shortlist for the Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize 2017 has just been announced. Adam pesters judge Claudia Hammond for the name of the winner (she doesn't tell!) and discusses the criteria for this £25,000 prestigious award. The top 6 books will be featured over the next 6 weeks on BBC Inside Science.
Sexual selection - who you decide to have babies with - is usually decided at the dating stage. But the choice does not have to stop at copulation. Post-mating sexual selection is a thing. Mechanisms such as sperm competition, and cryptic female choice, can happen after sex, but before the sperm fertilises the egg. It's not just an internal thing either, it happens in 'external fertilizers', where eggs are laid, and then fertilized by the male sperm outside the female's body, like come fish do in water. Professor Neil Gemmell, at the University of Otago in Dunedin in New Zealand, has been studying just such processes in Chinook salmon. His findings are surprising and could inform us about human reproduction and fertility.
Produced by Fiona Roberts.

Aug 03 2017

35mins

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Rise of the Robots: 2. More human than human

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Adam Rutherford explores our relationship with contemporary humanoid robots

Mar 06 2017

28mins

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African genomes sequenced; Space weather; sports head injuries

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Since the human genome was first sequenced nearly 20 years ago, around a million people have had theirs decoded, giving us new insights into the links between genes, ancestry and disease. But most of the genomes studied have been in people of European descent. Now a decade-long collaboration between scientists in the UK and in Uganda has created the largest African genome dataset to date. Dr Deepti Gurdasani discusses her research with Gaia Vince.

After 7 years of orbiting the Earth and sending us important information about space weather, NASA’s Van Allen Probes are retiring. Professor Lucie Green from UCL explains how the sun can spit out superhot plasma and streams of high energy particles in our direction. We are mostly protected by the Earth’s magnetic field - but not always. The worst-case scenario is that the radiation could disrupt navigation satellites and bring down electrical power supplies. Professor Green will be keeping an eye on space weather with a new spacecraft.

Growing evidence shows that repeatedly getting your head knocked around during competitive sports can lead to long-term serious consequences. The head doesn’t necessarily need to be the target of the blow – a hard tackle can ricochet through your body giving your head a jolt. Roland Pease speaks with sports scientist Liz Williams of Swansea University about a new device to measure these impacts.

Presenter: Gaia Vince
Producers: Jen Whyntie and Louisa Field

Oct 31 2019

29mins

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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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Cells and Celluloid: Aliens on Film

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With Adam Rutherford and Francine Stock.

Mar 09 2017

57mins

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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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TB in the New World; Trusting Wikipedia; Shipwreck of the London; @LegoAcademics

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TB in the New World
Brand new work in comparative genetics is shedding light on the spread of TB. Scientists have shown that the initial spread of the deadly bacterial disease tuberculosis to the Americas didn't come with the European explorers and invaders. Skeletons of pre-Columbian Peruvians have shown signs of TB. So where did it come from? DNA samples collected from the ancient bacteria show they're closely related to the TB strain that infects seals and sea lions. So did the disease pass from humans in Africa to seals on the coast which then crossed the ocean and infected the Peruvians, 1000 years ago?

Truth, Trust and the internet
A recent YouGov poll revealed that the British public trusts the online encyclopaedia Wikipedia more than it trusts the BBC. The internet has revolutionised how we receive information and check references. But how much should we trust online facts? Adam talks to Carl Miller, from the Centre for Analysis of Social Media at think-tank Demos, about how Wikipedia entries are created and regulated. And he asks him whether the democratisation of facts - created by crowd-sourced opinion rather than individual experts - is something we should welcome?

Shipwreck of the London
The London was a 64-gun second-rate ship of the line of the English Royal Navy, launched in June 1656 and commanded by Captain John Lawson. The ship was accidentally blown up in 1665 and sank in the Thames Estuary. The wreck was rediscovered in 2008, and is considered important partly for its historical references and partly for its insight into an important period in British naval history. English Heritage and Cotswold Archaeology are examining the remains in the murky Thames estuary before they decide what to do next. Although the wreck could be at risk from increasingly acidified water and invasive shipworm, it's thought unlikely that they will raise the ship, due to a lack of museum space.

Lego Academics
Campaigns for better female scientist role-models are not new. But what is new and welcome is when industry and society listens. Plastic toy brick manufacturer, Lego, has recently come up with a new set called the 'Research Institute' and it consists of lab kit and three female scientists - a palaeontologist, an astronomer and a chemist. Real life scientist and archaeologist Donna Yates, from the University of Glasgow, has gained thousands of Twitter followers after posting photographs reflecting the daily frustrations of academic life using the Lego figures. She arranges them in academic scenarios and posts her pics to the @LegoAcademics account. It's fun and full of in-jokes, but it gives great insight into some of the real issues scientists, and in particular, female scientists face. A Lego version of Adam Rutherford conducts the interview.

Producer: Fiona Roberts.

Aug 21 2014

28mins

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Organic farming emissions; Staring at seagulls; Salt and dementia

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Switching to 100% organic food production in England and Wales would see an overall increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Although going fully organic would produce fewer direct emissions than conventional farming, researchers say it would limit food production. Making up the shortfall with imports from overseas would increase overall emissions. But is the sustainability of our food production about more than greenhouse gas emissions alone? Professor Dave Reay is Chair in Carbon Management & Education at the University of Edinburgh, and has recently acquired a smallholding in Scotland. He discusses the study and answer your questions about sustainable food and population growth.

Seagulls have become notorious food thieves in recent times as they move into towns to find new habitats and sustenance. Scientists at the University of Exeter have found that if you stare at a herring gull, it’s much less likely to steal your chips. Reporter Graihagh Jackson went to Falmouth to meet with researchers Madeleine Goumas and Neeltje Boogert to see the tactic in action.

More than 800,000 people in the UK live with dementia, which is an umbrella term for over 200 specific diagnoses that all involve some form of neurodegeneration. Epidemiological evidence has suggested that high dietary salt intake may somehow be linked to developing cognitive impairment. A study released this week shows a mechanism for how this might occur biologically in the brains of mice who were fed a high salt diet. Professor Carol Brayne is Director of the Cambridge Institute of Public Health at the University of Cambridge, and she explains how this new research fits into the field and our understanding of dementia’s causes.

Oct 24 2019

27mins

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Bird Atlas; Flywheels; Energy capture; Science lessons for MPs

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Every twenty years there's a detailed survey of the birds of the UK and Ireland and today, the 2007-2011 Bird Atlas is published. Adam Rutherford hears from Dawn Balmer from the British Trust for Ornithology about the citizen scientists, the forty thousand volunteers who collected data on a staggering 19 million birds - 502 different species - and meets their record breaking volunteer, Chris Reynolds. A 73 year old retired maths teacher, Chris took part in the previous three atlases and walked thousands of miles in all seasons across his patch in the Outer Hebrides. Dawn describes the avifaunal picture revealed in this latest Atlas.

In 2009, Williams developed a flywheel - which temporarily stores energy - for their formula 1 car. After the Research and Development was done, the F1 governing body changed the rules, and there was no longer space for a flywheel on their car. No matter, these things have other uses. Mark Smout from Smout Allen has proposed a design for the Isle of Sheppey in Kent, which uses banks of these flywheels to regulate the energy from the nearby wind farm. It also uses spare electricity to grow a sea defence for the island. Marnie Chesterton reports on this flywheel technology and Tim Fox, energy expert at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers describes to Adam other potential solutions for storing energy on the National Grid.

Professor Bill Sutherland from the University of Cambridge is a co-author on a new "cheat sheet", published in this week's Nature, to help politicians and policy makers sort the good scientific research from the bad. He talks to Adam about why it's more important and faster, to teach a scientific approach than simply to teach facts.

Producer: Fiona Hill.

Nov 21 2013

27mins

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Bacteriophages; Breath-detecting disease; Our bees electric and DNA Barcoding

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Professor Alice Roberts talks bacteriophages: viruses that infect the bacteria that infect us. With the rise of antibiotic resistance they are a potential weapon against infection.

We hear from Paul Hebert, the biologist behind the International Barcode of Life project – a global effort to classify the entire world’s species according to their DNA.

Bristol researchers have discovered that it is more than scent and colour that draws a bee to a flower – there is also an electric field.

Claire Turner from the Open University shows us the instrument she uses to detect disease. It can sense when a heart transplant patient is rejecting their new organ, purely through monitoring their breath.

Dec 26 2013

27mins

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Encoding memories; 350 years of the science journal; Women in science; Ceres

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How does the brain lay down memory? For decades the limits of microscopes have meant that a detailed look at the way brain cells encode particular learned skills and events has proved elusive. But in a report published this week a team of researchers has identified how changes in specific connections encode a particular behavioural response. Adam Rutherford talks to Tony Zador of Cold Spring Harbour laboratories who's become the first to crack a piece of the neural code for learning and memory which could have profound medical insights.

350 years ago this week, the world's first scientific journal was published. Philosophical Transactions began by drawing together various letters and reviews that cemented the origin of modern science by publishing Isaac Newton, Christopher Wren and other founding members of the esteemed Royal Society. Historian Dr Aileen Fyfe discusses the key moments in the journal's evolution and its legacy today.

There's a look at the ongoing representation of women in science following on from a recent report examining the Royal Society's 2014 university research fellows of which only 2 out of 43 were women. The Society's President Sir Paul Nurse discusses how the imbalance in this and in science more generally should be addressed.

NASA's Dawn spacecraft is about to arrive in the orbit around the dwarf planet Ceres and will be the first mission ever to successfully visit a dwarf planet. As the spacecraft spirals closer, images have shown numerous craters and mysterious bright spots that scientists believe could reveal how Ceres formed and offer new clues to the origins of our solar system. Adam talks to the mission's deputy scientist Carol Raymond on the latest interpretations of what's currently being observed.

Producer: Adrian Washbourne.

Mar 05 2015

28mins

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Earliest hunting scene cave painting; animal domestication syndrome

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A cave painting in Sulawesi, Indonesia, has been dated and is at least 43,900 years old. The mural portrays a group of part-human, part-animal figures (called therianthropes), hunting large mammals with spears and ropes. It is thought to be the oldest representation of a hunting scene in human history, and perhaps Homo sapiens' oldest known figurative rock art. Adam Brumm at Griffith University in Brisbane is part of an international team that has been exploring this cave complex. He speculates with Adam Rutherford about who the artists were and what they were trying to depict.

A famous Russian farm fox study has been running since the 1950’s. The researchers essentially took foxes bound for the fur trade and selected for tameness by choosing to keep and breed from the animals that showed less fear and more friendliness towards humans. After years of selection, the tamer foxes also showed physical changes (floppier ears, curlier tails, white spots, redder fur) as well as changes in breeding times. As a way to study the evolution of domestication of animals, this study is taught to students all over the world. However a chance discovery at a Fox Museum on a Canadian Island, shows the original foxes were taken from fur farms in Canada and had already been bred for tameness. Elinor Karlsson at the Broad Institute at MIT and Harvard University discusses with Adam whether we have to rethink the Animal Domestication Syndrome.

Producer - Fiona Roberts

Dec 12 2019

28mins

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Global Carbon Emissions; Parker Solar Probe and simulating swaying buildings

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Reports from the UN Climate Change Conference (COP 25) in Madrid are saying that global warming is increasing and that we're not doing enough, fast enough, to change things. The World Meteorological Organisation's provisional State of the Climate 2019 report lists atmospheric carbon dioxide reaching record levels. Global mean temperatures for Jan-Oct 2019 were 1.1+/-0.1 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The Arctic ice extent minimum in Sept 2019 was the second lowest on satellite record. Tropical cyclone Idai was the strongest cyclone known to make landfall. These are all concerning statistics. According to the Global Carbon Emissions figures that have just been released, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is still increasing: the slightly good news is that the rate of increase has slowed. Adam Rutherford talks to climate expert at the Tyndall Centre at the University of East Anglia, Corinne Le Le Quéré, to find out more.

“Safe as houses" is a cliché built on the solidity of the buildings we put up. But at Bath University engineers are working in the opposite direction. They are asking just how strong does a building have to be - especially in an age of ever taller sky-scrapers, which inevitably sway, particularly when the wind picks up. It's not that there's any danger they'll fall down - but the movement can be unsettling to the occupants. So they've developed a virtual tower - a windowless cabin not much bigger than a caravan stuck on top of a set of hydraulic pistons with virtual reality screens to mimic window views that allow psychologists to monitor volunteers' experiences of living and working in high, flexible spaces.

Our Sun is so much more than a giant ball of burning gas. Its core is a nuclear reactor which creates billions of looping and tangling magnetic fields. Its layers are puzzling variations of hot temperatures and its solar wind has some very peculiar properties. These are just some of the reasons NASA launched its Parker Solar Probe in August 2018 on a mission to get close (3.8 million miles) to our star’s surface and study its properties. The first scientific reports from the mission are out and solar expert Professor Lucie Green at UCL reveals what the car-sized, armour-plated craft has been finding out so far. She says "our Sun is more dynamic than expected and we might be getting clues to why the sun spins more slowly than theory predicts."

Producer - Fiona Roberts

Dec 05 2019

31mins

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What's the problem with palm oil and should we be supporting sustainably grown oil? Virtual reality skin

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Palm oil is now such a dirty word for household products and processed food, that it often hides behind a list of dozens of pseudonyms (from the ubiquitous sodium laureth sulphate to the slightly more obvious palm kernel oil, to the totally opaque vegetable oil). It’s becoming a major global concern, and there is on going debate between enforcing a ban or shifting to more sustainable production. It’s always complicated, but as we’ve learned so many times in the past, we have to tread carefully to avoid the unintended consequences of making snap environmental decisions. Indications that an outright ban might be more environmentally harmful because of the lower yield and more land needed by alternative vegetable oil crops, so should we be paying more attention and even championing sustainably sourced palm oil? In the UK, Chester has become the first city to source its palm oil entirely from sustainable sources. Cat Barton and Simon Dowell from Chester Zoo have recently returned from the EU where they were advising on the creation of more sustainable palm oil cities on the continent.

Alongside Indonesia, Malaysia is one of the biggest producers of palm oil. As of 2015, the country was covered in over five and a half million hectares of oil palm, nearly a third of which is found in Sabah, the north eastern state in Borneo. Sabah is home to many endangered species, like pygmy elephants and orang-utans. Many of them are found in reserves but they often need to move between these national parks to ensure they have enough food or to find new territories but also to ensure a healthy mix of genetics within populations. To do this, they need to travel through plantations, which can cause many human-wildlife conflicts, especially when they can sometimes cause thousands of dollars worth of damage in one night as they pass through. This is particularly true of elephants, who love to eat the oil palm fruit bunches, but it isn’t isolated to palm oil. Elephants can frighten people or knock down trees in softwood plantations. Graihagh Jackson reports from Sabah.

Virtual Reality has come on leaps and bounds for the visual and auditory senses, but in the realms of haptics, or touch, it’s had to rely on wiring up the user with electrodes which produce vibrations to simulate sensory experiences. But now John Rogers and his team at Northwestern University have developed a wireless soft, flexible ‘skin’ which can be layered gently over the wearer’s own skin to produce a more comfortable and realistic haptic interface with applications not just for gaming, but for tactile social media applications and even for controlling prosthetics.

Producer - Fiona Roberts

Nov 28 2019

29mins

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Noise pollution and wildlife; No till farming; Cornwall's geothermal heat

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The effects of human-made noise on the natural world has been surprisingly little studied. Hanjoerg Kunc at Queen's University in Belfast has collected all experimental data on the effects of anthropogenic noise on wild animals and found it to be overwhelmingly harmful., And Cambridge University's PhD student Sophia Cooke is looking at the impact of roads, including road noise on British birds, and the impact could be huge.

Last week we spoke to Jane Rickson at Cranfield University about how healthy soils are a good defence against the effects of, and indeed the process of, flooding. Many farmer listeners emailed in to tell us about their experiences with no till and minimum disturbance agriculture. Simon Jeffery at Harper-Adams University takes Adam through some of the points raised.

Last November, drilling began in Redruth, Cornwall to see if geothermal heat could be tapped from the hot rocks below. Graihagh Jackson went to catch up with the project and met with Lucy Cotton – the project geologist for the United Downs Deep Geothermal Power project.

Producer: Fiona Roberts

Nov 21 2019

37mins

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Soils and floods, Air pollution and ultra-low emission zones, detecting the drug Spice

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The UK's soils are the first line of defence against flooding, but the condition of the soil is vital to how well it can soak up and slowly release rainwater. Jane Rickson, Professor of soil erosion and conservation at Cranfield University, explains to Adam what makes a healthy soil and what farmers can do to try to prevent floods.

"Spice" is a catch-all phrase for a large variety of psycho-active compounds - commonly called legal highs. They interact with the same receptors in the brain as cannabis does. They're commonly sold sprayed onto common herbs that users smoke, so that dose, as well as variety and purity are completely uncontrolled by the time they're taken. And that's where the problems start in A&E departments and the blue-light services, because patients can show up with severe symptoms of psychosis with little clue as to what's caused it. And until now there's been no quick and easy test. Roland Pease went to Bath University where biochemist Chris Pudney and his team have developed some portable kit using ultraviolet to throw light on the spice users are smoking.

The Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) was brought in in London in April 2019 to improve air quality in the centre of the city. In 2020 cities including Bath, Leeds and Birmingham are also bringing in ‘Clean Air Zones. Alastair Lewis is professor of atmospheric chemistry at the University of York and he explains what these schemes are targeting and whether we can measure whether they are working.

Producer: Fiona Roberts

Nov 14 2019

29mins

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Fracking moratorium; Bloodhound; Big Compost Experiment; transit of Mercury

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The Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced an indefinite moratorium this week on mining of shale gas by hydraulic fracturing, aka fracking, in the UK, citing fears of earthquakes and seismic activity caused by fracking in the past. In August this year, a 2.9 magnitude earthquake was recorded at the Preston New Road fracking site in Lancashire, which prompted an immediate shutdown, as required by the strict protocols that we have in place. Adam Rutherford talks to Dr James Verdon, a geophysicist at Bristol University and a co-author of one of the Oil & Gas Authority studies on the Preston New Road, about the science of fracking.

Bloodhound is the latest British attempt at the supersonic land speed record. All this week Wing Commander Andy Green has been burning across a dried out lake in the Kalahari Desert, as he and his team are building up to break the sound barrier at 740mph, and his own land speed record of 763 mph. BBC science correspondent Jonathan Amos reports from the trackside.

The Big Compost Experiment is a new citizen science project about the wonderful, rich, fruity and essential substance you can produce by doing not that much at all. Architect Danielle Purkiss and Mark Miodownik, material scientist at UCL tell Adam why they are launching this experiment.

The planet Mercury, messenger of the Gods, passes between us and the Sun on average just thirteen times a century. This astronomical event will be visible in the UK – weather permitting – next Monday, 11th November. Solar physicist Lucie Green explains how to see the transit of Mercury.

Nov 07 2019

28mins

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African genomes sequenced; Space weather; sports head injuries

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Since the human genome was first sequenced nearly 20 years ago, around a million people have had theirs decoded, giving us new insights into the links between genes, ancestry and disease. But most of the genomes studied have been in people of European descent. Now a decade-long collaboration between scientists in the UK and in Uganda has created the largest African genome dataset to date. Dr Deepti Gurdasani discusses her research with Gaia Vince.

After 7 years of orbiting the Earth and sending us important information about space weather, NASA’s Van Allen Probes are retiring. Professor Lucie Green from UCL explains how the sun can spit out superhot plasma and streams of high energy particles in our direction. We are mostly protected by the Earth’s magnetic field - but not always. The worst-case scenario is that the radiation could disrupt navigation satellites and bring down electrical power supplies. Professor Green will be keeping an eye on space weather with a new spacecraft.

Growing evidence shows that repeatedly getting your head knocked around during competitive sports can lead to long-term serious consequences. The head doesn’t necessarily need to be the target of the blow – a hard tackle can ricochet through your body giving your head a jolt. Roland Pease speaks with sports scientist Liz Williams of Swansea University about a new device to measure these impacts.

Presenter: Gaia Vince
Producers: Jen Whyntie and Louisa Field

Oct 31 2019

29mins

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Organic farming emissions; Staring at seagulls; Salt and dementia

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Switching to 100% organic food production in England and Wales would see an overall increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Although going fully organic would produce fewer direct emissions than conventional farming, researchers say it would limit food production. Making up the shortfall with imports from overseas would increase overall emissions. But is the sustainability of our food production about more than greenhouse gas emissions alone? Professor Dave Reay is Chair in Carbon Management & Education at the University of Edinburgh, and has recently acquired a smallholding in Scotland. He discusses the study and answer your questions about sustainable food and population growth.

Seagulls have become notorious food thieves in recent times as they move into towns to find new habitats and sustenance. Scientists at the University of Exeter have found that if you stare at a herring gull, it’s much less likely to steal your chips. Reporter Graihagh Jackson went to Falmouth to meet with researchers Madeleine Goumas and Neeltje Boogert to see the tactic in action.

More than 800,000 people in the UK live with dementia, which is an umbrella term for over 200 specific diagnoses that all involve some form of neurodegeneration. Epidemiological evidence has suggested that high dietary salt intake may somehow be linked to developing cognitive impairment. A study released this week shows a mechanism for how this might occur biologically in the brains of mice who were fed a high salt diet. Professor Carol Brayne is Director of the Cambridge Institute of Public Health at the University of Cambridge, and she explains how this new research fits into the field and our understanding of dementia’s causes.

Oct 24 2019

27mins

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Ebola model, Partula snails, Malaria origin

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Zoonotic diseases are infections that transfer from animals to people, and include killers such as bubonic plague, malaria, ebola and a whole host of others. Trying to understand how diseases make the leap from animals to humans – so called spillover – and how outbreaks occur is a crucial part of preventing them. But outbreaks are complex and dynamic, with a huge number of factors playing a role: What animal is hosting the disease, the environment in which it lives, the changing climate, human presence and impact on the local area and many other factors. Kate Jones is professor of ecology and biodiversity at University College London, and has been tracking ebola in Africa. Her team has just published a new study that models how and when spillover might happen in the future.

On the lushly forest islands of French Polynesia, there lives a very special snail. Partula are around 100 species of tiny snails who give birth to live young and feed on decomposing plants. Each species is uniquely adapted to a particular ecological niche. But in 1967, the highly edible Giant African Land Snail was introduced to the islands as a source of food. They quickly became pests, and in response, the French Polynesian government then introduced carnivorous Rosy Wolf Snails - aka Euglandina rosea - to quell the spread of the introduced Giant Land snails. Reporter Naomi Clements-Brode picks up the story with scientist Ann Clarke, along with Dave Clarke and Paul Pearce-Kelly at ZSL London Zoo.

Finally this week, malaria is, as best we can account for it, the single greatest killer in human history. The vast majority of malaria is caused by a type of single celled protozoan called Plasmodium falciparum, carried by mosquitos. But according to new research published this week, it started out around fifty thousand years ago not in us, but as a gorilla disease, and in one particularly unlucky gorilla, two simultaneous infections prompted the mutation and rise of the plasmodium parasite that would go on to kill millions. Dr Gavin Wright from the Wellcome Sanger Institute in Hinxton lead the team behind this molecular archaeology.

Oct 17 2019

27mins

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Extinction Rebellion, UK net zero emissions and climate change; Nobel Prizes

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Extinction Rebellion is in the news with its stated aim of civil disobedience and protest, and goal to compel governments around the world to act on the climate crisis. Meanwhile, the UK government this week announced that it was overruling its own Planning Inspectorate, by approving in principle new gas-fired turbines at the Drax power station in North Yorkshire. The Inspectors had advised that the new developments would undermine UK climate policies on carbon emissions. In the UK we are committed to reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050, in order to comply with our ratification of the Paris agreement, which aims to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees. So what are we to do? Are the government policies and commitments enough, and are we sticking to them? Adam Rutherford discusses these questions with Jim Skea, Professor of Sustainable Energy at Imperial College, London, and co-chair of the Working Group tackling reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

This week has been the annual jamboree and drama of the Nobel Prizes: the announcements of the biggest gongs in science. The Physiology or Medicine Prize went to William Kaelin from Harvard University, Sir Peter Ratcliffe from the Crick Institute in London and Gregg Semenza from Johns Hopkins University for their work on how the body responds to changing oxygen levels. The Physics Prize went to James Peebles of Princeton for cosmological discoveries, and Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz, then at the University of Geneva, for the 1995 discovery of the first exoplanet, 51 Pegasi b. And the Chemistry Prize was awarded for the invention of something that we utterly rely on every day, the lithium battery. The winners are John Goodenough, University of Texas at Austin, Stanley Whittingham, State University of New York, and Akira Yoshino of the Asahi Kasei Corporation in Japan. These awards offer plenty to discuss, so Adam is joined by Lisa Kaltenegger, Director of Carl Sagan Institute & Associate Professor of Astronomy, Andrew Pontzen, Professor of Astrophysics at University College, London, and reporter and presenter Marnie Chesterton, who spent some time with chemistry laureate John Goodenough.

Oct 10 2019

27mins

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HIV protective gene paper retraction, Imaging ancient Herculaneum scrolls, Bill Bryson's The Body

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In November 2018 news broke via YouTube that He Jiankui, then a professor at Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China had created the world’s first gene-edited babies from two embryos. The edited gene was CCR5 delta 32 - a gene that conferred protection against HIV. Alongside the public, most of the scientific community were horrified. There was a spate of correspondence, not just on the ethics, but also on the science. One prominent paper was by Rasmus Nielsen and Xinzhu Wei’s of the University of California, Berkeley. They published a study in June 2019 in Nature Medicine that found an increased mortality rate in people with an HIV-preventing gene variant. It was another stick used to beat Jiankiu – had he put a gene in these babies that was not just not helpful, but actually harmful? However it now turns out that the study by Nielsen and Wei has a major flaw. In a series of tweets, Nielsen was notified of an error in the UK Biobank data and his analysis. Sean Harrison at the University of Bristol tried and failed to replicate the result using the UK Biobank data. He posted his findings on Twitter and communicated with Nielsen and Wei who have now requested a retraction. UCL's Helen O'Neill is intimately acquainted with the story and she chats to Adam Rutherford about the role of social media in the scientific process of this saga.

The Herculaneum Library is perhaps the most remarkable collection of texts from the Roman era. Discovered two centuries ago in the villa of Julius Caesar’s father in law, many of the papyrus scrolls bear the writings of the house philosopher, Philodemus. Others are thought to be the works of the philosophers and poets he admired. However, the big drawback is that the villa was buried in the eruption that engulfed Pompeii, and the heat from the volcanic ash turned them all to charcoal. To make life even more difficult, the ink the scribes used was also made of carbon – think black on black. However, now a team from the University of Kentucky are hoping to decipher the texts using X-rays, and have just scanned two complete scrolls, and some fragments at the Diamond Synchrotron in near Oxford.

When renowned author Bill Bryson decided to apply his unique eye for anecdote and trivia to the human body he thought he's start at the head and work down. But as he reveals to Adam, it's a lot more complicated and interconnected than that. His book "The Body - A Guide for Occupants" is an indispensable guide to the inner workings of ourselves.

Producer: Fiona Roberts

Oct 03 2019

35mins

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Oceans, ice and climate change; Neolithic baby bottles; Caroline Criado-Perez wins RS Book Prize

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The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's special report on the oceans and cryosphere makes pretty grim reading on the state of our seas and icy places. Ocean temperatures are rising, permafrost and sea ice are melting, sea levels are rising and marine life is either moving or suffering the effects of temperature changes and acidification. Dr Phil Williamson, research fellow at the University of East Anglia, worked on the report and he explains to Adam Rutherford how the watery and icy parts of the planet connect to the atmosphere and climate.

It's a good job the small, round, spouted clay vessels found in 3000 year old baby graves in Bavaria weren't washed up very well. Crusts of food deposits have shown that these early baby bottles were used to give infants milk from ruminants such as cows, goats and sheep. This discovery, and previous discoveries of even earlier spouted vessels in Europe, indicate that settling down from hunter-gathering to agriculture in prehistoric Iron and Bronze-Age people impacted all ages. Dr Julie Dunne, organic geochemist at the University of Bristol, thinks that this more settled lifestyle with domesticated animals and cereals to supplement a baby's diet, led to earlier weaning and maybe more babies.

Caroline Criado Perez’s ground-breaking gender bias exposé wins the 2019 Royal Society Science Book Prize. 'Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men' by writer, broadcaster and feminist campaigner Caroline Criado Perez, becomes the 32nd winner of the prestigious Royal Society Insight Investment Science Books Prize. Caroline explains to Adam how a range of case studies, stories and new research highlights ways in which women are ‘forgotten’ on a daily basis. From government policy and medical research to technology, media and workplaces, she exposes the lack of gender-specific data that has unintentionally created a world biased against women

Producer - Fiona Roberts

Sep 26 2019

35mins

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MOSAiC Arctic super-expedition, Likely extinction of the Bahama nuthatch, Tim Smedley's book on air pollution

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On Friday, 20 September, a powerful icebreaker called The Polarstern will set sail from Tromsø, Norway, with the aim of getting stuck into the polar ice. The plan is for the ship to spend the next year drifting past the North Pole, and this should enable scientists to collect unprecedented data on the Arctic. The Polarstern is the ‘mothership’ of a substantial international collaboration called the Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate (or project MOSAiC). Scientists from over seventy research institutions across 19 different countries are involved, and a total of six hundred experts will be aboard throughout the expedition. They plan to construct a ‘research city’ around the vessel with different neighbourhoods, each focused on a particular scientific area including: ecosystem, bio-geo-chemistry, ocean, atmosphere and sea ice. Adam spoke to UCL’s Professor Julienne Stroeve, who will be aboard The Polarstern for two months during the Arctic winter, looking at the depth and density of snow in order to improve our understanding of the Arctic, and enhance our ability to predict effects of global climate change.

The residents of the Bahamas are still struggling to come to terms with the devastation of Hurricane Dorian (which hit 2 weeks ago) and also with the additional impact of Tropical Storm Humberto which reached the islands on Friday night, bringing more heavy rain and more strong winds. But the human population is resilient and they will eventually rebuild and resume their lives on the Caribbean islands. But for the Bahama nuthatch, it’s thought that Dorian was the final straw. The endemic bird, is (or was) one of the rarest birds in the western hemisphere, in fact it was already thought extinct (after the damage wrought by Hurricane Mathew in June 2016) until last year when Professor Diana Bell and her team of conservationists from the University of East Anglia rediscovered it. But now, after the hurricane it is feared lost forever, and it may not be the only irreversible ecological loss for the Bahamas.

Tim Smedley's book 'Cleaning the Air: The Beginning and End of Air Pollution' is shortlisted for the Royal Society's science book prize. Tim tells the full story of air pollution: what it is, which pollutants are harmful, and where they come from. It's scary stuff, but there is good news that air pollution can be avoided and drastically reduced with sensible measures.

Producer - Fiona Roberts

Sep 19 2019

30mins

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Model embryos from stem cells, Paul Steinhardt's book on impossible crystals, Mother Thames

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One of the most fundamental developmental stages we humans go through is extremely poorly understood. The first few days of the embryo, once it's been implanted in the womb is incredibly hard to study. Yet it's the time when the majority of pregnancies fail. Professor Magdalena Zernika-Goetz at Cambridge University is a leader in the field of making 'model embryos' in both mice and humans. Model embryos until now have been grown in the lab from donated fertilised eggs, but these are hard to come by and governed by strict laws and ethical guidelines. Now researchers in the University of Michigan have used human pluripotent stem cell lines (originally isolated from embryos, but kept and nurtured as clumps of dividing cells in petri-dishes for many years) to make a model embryo that has shown signs of development and organisation in the crucial 7-10 day window. Magdalena and Gaia Vince discuss how helpful these will be to understanding crucial early stage pregnancies and as a tool to test drugs, treatments and disease processes. The ethical side of growing human embryos from stem cells is addressed by Stanford University ethicist Professor Hank Greely.

Physicist Paul Steinhardt has spent a great deal of his career trying to understand crystals with seemingly impossible five fold symmetries. Most of this was with pen and pencil in his Princeton laboratory. But in his Royal Society Science Book Prize shortlisted book, 'The Second Kind of Impossible', he documents his adventurous quest for these 'quasicrystals' in the wilds of Russia's Kamchatka Peninsular.

In 1957 the River Thames was so polluted it was declared ecologically dead. But since then The Zoological Society of London in partnership with over 30 conservation and research organisations have been working to improve the health of the River Thames and bring back the plethora of life and biodiversity. They are set to publish the first complete analysis of the river in over 60 years this Autumn. They're calling it 'Mother Thames' in recognition of the now nurturing nature of one of Britain's biggest rivers.

Presenter - Gaia Vince
Producer - Fiona Roberts

Sep 12 2019

35mins

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Inventing GPS, Carbon nanotube computer, Steven Strogatz and Monty Lyman discuss calculus and skin

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Global Positioning System, or GPS is perhaps the best known of the satellite navigation systems, helping us find our way every day. Back in the 1970's Bradford Parkinson and Hugo Fruehauf were two of the inventors who miniaturised atomic clocks and launched them in Earth orbit satellites. This was part of the US Department of Defense's plan to track ships and aircraft and guide targeted missiles. In the intervening years, Brad and Hugo had no idea just how far the civilian applications of GPS would go. Alongside Richard Schwartz and James Spilker, they have just been awarded the prestigious the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering.

The age of silicon chip based computing could be coming to an end. Difficulties in shrinking silicon transistors, or switches, into ever smaller processors led researchers at MIT to search for alternative semiconducting materials to replace them. Cue carbon nanotubes, tubes of carbon atoms many tens of thousands of times narrower than a human hair. Electrical engineer Max Shulaker and his team have overcome spaghetti-like tangles of CNTs and varying levels of conductivity to create a 16bit processor. He says that rather than a straight forward replacement to silicon, the initial hope is that CNT chip technology can be added to existing silicon wafers.

Steven Strogatz and Monty Lyman have been shortlisted for the Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize this year.
In "Infinite Powers", Professor of applied maths at Cornell University, Steven Strogatz tells Adam Rutherford the story of calculus and why his book has a warning saying "this book is dangerous, it will make you love mathematics!" And in "The Remarkable Life of the Skin" Dr. Monty Lyman takes Claudia Hammond on an intimate journey across our surface. They discuss advances in skin treatments, new research on the importance of our diet and our skin and the vital role our largest organ plays in our lives.

Producer - Fiona Roberts
Presenter - Gareth Mitchell

Sep 05 2019

30mins

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Amazon fires, Royal Society Book Prize shortlist announced, John Gribben on quantum physics

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Satellite data has shown an 85% increase in the number of fires across Brazil this year. There are more than 2,500 fires active across the Amazon region. This represents the most active number of fires since 2010. The increase in fires has been attributed to deliberate deforestation and clearing for agriculture or mining. The new president of Brazil, Jair Bolsanaro, supports the commercialisation of the Amazon forest and this is said to have encouraged the wide scale burning. Professor of Earth System Science at the University of California Irvine, Jim Randerson and Luiz Aragão of Brazil’s National Institute of Space Research are just two scientists concerned about the destruction and carbon emissions from the extensive burning.

The 6 shortlisted books have been announced in the Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize this year. Judges Professor Sir Nigel Shadbolt, a computer scientist and best-selling author Dorothy Koomson run through the list:
Infinite Powers – Steven Strogatz
The Remarkable Life of the Skin – Monty Lyman
Clearing the Air – Tim Smedley
Invisible Women – Caroline Criado Perez
The Second Kind of Impossible – Paul Steinhardt
Six Impossible Things – John Gribbin

Science writer and journalist John Gribben takes Gareth through the world of quantum physics when he discusses his book "Six Impossible Things - The Quanta of Solace and the Mysteries of the Subatomic World"

Producer - Fiona Roberts

Aug 29 2019

28mins

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UK's black squirrels' genetic heritage; nuclear fusion in the UK and the Royal Society's science book prize

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Perhaps you’ve been lucky enough to spot the uncommon black grey squirrel in the UK. The bizarre mutation that causes a change in fur colour has finally divulged its historic evolution. Dr Helen McRobie at Anglia Ruskin University studies the black version of the introduced grey squirrel. She explains to Gareth Mitchell how the grey squirrel might have got the genetic mutation for black fur back when it was in North America. She describes how she stumbled across a finding that questions how we define a species.

Nuclear fusion – it’s the energy source of the future, and always will be! Yes, it’s one of those technologies that was about thirty years away in the 1980s when they built a massive fusion lab in Culham in Oxfordshire. And, thirty years on, they’re still trying to crack it. Part of the challenge is building containers that can handle some of the hottest, and trickiest, matter known to humans – plasma. At the Joint European Torus (or JET), they’ve been busy revamping their thirty-five-year-old kit. It’s to keep the fusion research going whilst the scientists wait for a shiny new facility to open up in Southern France. It’s all about working on reactions like those that fuel the Sun – squashing atoms together rather than pulling them apart. A brand new series of landmark tests at JET is kicking off in the months ahead. Roland Pease went to the labs to find out just where the UK is in fusion right now.

The 2019 Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize winner will be announced in late September. The shortlisted authors will be announced next week but before then Adam Rutherford chats to two of the judges, Professor Sir Nigel Shadbolt, and best selling fiction author, Dorothy Koomson, about what makes a great popular science book and what in particular the judges are looking for in this year’s competition.

Producer - Fiona Roberts

Aug 22 2019

28mins

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UK power cut, Huge dinosaur find in Wyoming, Micro-plastics in Arctic snow

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Following the simultaneous outages of two UK power plants last Friday, affecting nearly 1 million people across the country, we at Inside Science wanted to get back to the basics of electricity and get our heads round how the National Grid keeps the nation running. Keith Bell explains the difference between AC and DC (Alternating and Direct current), and why it's essential to keep the frequency of the grid steady at 50Hz.

They’re calling it ‘Mission Jurassic’. A site so full of dinosaur bones that it would most probably keep a thousand palaeontologists happy and enormously busy for a thousand years. The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis (TCMI) has signed a 20 year exploration lease on a parcel of the Wyoming dinosaur site, calling on the help of UK associates from the University of Manchester and London’s Natural History Museum (NHM) to assist with the excavations. BBC science correspondent Jonathan Amos was invited to the top secret location to take part in what is arguably the country’s biggest dino dig in decades.

There's now good evidence that micro-plastics are present in our oceans and are accumulating in our food chains, but surely they aren’t present in the last pristine environment on Earth? Melanie Bergmann and her team based in Germany compared snow samples from two dozen locations, ranging from the Arctic ice floes and the Norwegian archipelago Svalbard to the north of Germany. Surprisingly, they found 10,000 plastic particles per litre in Arctic snow. But how is the plastic getting there? Melanie provides insight into her ground breaking research unearthing how micro-plastics are capable of travelling such great distances.

Producer: Fiona Roberts

Aug 15 2019

33mins

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Making the UK's dams safe, AI spots fake smiles, How many trees should we be planting?

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In the light of the evacuation of the Derbyshire town of Whaley Bridge due to damage to the Todbrook reservoir dam and the threat of a catastrophic collapse, questions inevitably arise as to how ‘future proofed’ UK dams are? This is doubly worrying in light of climate change and the increasing likelihood of extreme weather events. With the average age of UK dams being over 100 years and the UK climate forecast to become wetter and warmer, should we be concerned? Gareth Mitchell speaks to Rachel Pether from the British Dam Society and Craig Goff, Technical Lead, Dams and Reservoirs from HR Wallingford, who explain the science and engineering involved in monitoring and safely managing UK dams in a changing climate.

When someone smiles at you, how can you tell whether that smile is genuine or fake and why would you want to know? According to Professor of visual computing at the University of Bradford, Hassan Ugail, it’s all in the eyes! Humans are notoriously bad at picking up fake smiles, because we tend to focus our vision on the upturned corners of the mouth. Focus on specific movement of the eyes and the dynamic progression of a smile, however, and that’s when a genuine smile is evident. Hassan explains how computers are over 90% successful at being able to detect fake smiles, and examines the purposes to which this facial recognition technology may be applied in our daily lives.

Inside Science listener, Thomas from New Zealand, has noticed the sudden surge in nations encouraging mass tree planting and reforestation. But how much of a difference is it all making? Professor of Agriculture, policy and development at the University of Reading Dr Martin Lukac discusses the impacts of, the soot and ash from the recent forest fires in Siberia, deforestation and even makes an educated guess at much forest you would have to plant to counteract the CO2 emissions emitted after using your family car for the year.

Producer - Fiona Roberts

Aug 08 2019

28mins

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Lovelock at 100; Hydrothermal vents and antibiotic resistance in the environment

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James Lovelock is one of the most influential thinkers on the environment of the last half century. His grand theory of planet Earth - Gaia, which is the idea that from the bottom of the Earth's crust to the upper reaches of the atmosphere, Earth is one giant inter-connected and self-regulating system, has had an impact way beyond the world of science. As Lovelock celebrates his hundredth birthday (he was born on 26th July 1919) he is still writing books and thinking about science. Science writer Gaia Vince spoke to him about his work and how he came to his famous but controversial theory.

Most hydrothermal vents are in deep water far from land, making them incredibly inaccessible to divers. But in a fjord known locally as Eyjafjörður, off the coast of Iceland, is the hydrothermal vent Strytan. It's close enough that it can be accessed by scuba divers, and the algae and animals living in the hot chemical-laden plumes can be sampled. Geoff Marsh heads out with a team of scientists from the Natural History Museum in London and the University of Southampton to collect creatures living both in the hot vent water and in the icy cold fjord. The idea is to sample the genes to see what adaptations to temperature are evolving.

We are hearing more and more about antibiotic resistance. Overuse of antibiotics has led to more and more bacteria evolving and adapting ways to survive antimicrobial treatments. But did you know that the genes coding for this resistance can also float freely in water and on surfaces in the environment? A couple of recent studies have been sampling freshwater bodies and commonly touched surfaces (like handrails and toilet seats) in and around London and the amount of antibiotic resistance genes (either freely floating or in bacteria) is quite alarming. Environmental engineer at UCL, Professor Lena Ciric, explains to Marnie Chesterton what this means and whether we should be concerned.

Producer: Fiona Roberts

Aug 01 2019

30mins

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