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BBC Inside Science

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Technology
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

161 Ratings
Average Ratings
120
23
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

161 Ratings
Average Ratings
120
23
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
Cover image of BBC Inside Science

BBC Inside Science

Latest release on Jan 16, 2020

Read more

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

Rank #1: Ancient Human Occupation of Britain

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The ancient inhabitants of Britain; when did they get here? Who were they? And how do we know? Alice Roberts meets some of the AHOB team, who have been literally digging for answers.

The Natural History Museum's Chris Stringer, is the Director of AHOB, the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain, a project which, over the past 12 years, has brought together a large team of palaeontologists, archaeologists, geologists and geographers, to pool their expertise in order to unpick British History.

Nick Ashton from the British Museum has been in charge of the north Norfolk site of Happisburgh, where the crumbling coast line has revealed the oldest examples of human life in Britain, 400,000 years earlier than previous findings of human habitation, in Boxgrove in Sussex.

The ancient landscape had its share of exotic animals. Hippos have been dug up from Trafalgar Square, mammoths have been excavated from Fleet Street. Professor Danielle Schreve is an expert in ancient mammal fossils, and tells us what these bones reveal about the ancient climate. Less glamorous than the big fossils, the humble vole is so useful and accurate as a dating tool that it has been nicknamed "the Vole Clock."

Carbon dating has improved vastly in the past few years. Rob Dinnis, from Edinburgh University, explains why the AHOB team has been returning to old collections and redating them.

Jan 06 2014

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: 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 #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: 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 #6: Does Pluto have an ocean, Antarctica's oldest ice, Meat emissions, Swifts fly ten months non-stop

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Does the distant dwarf planet Pluto have an ocean beneath its thick crust of ice? It's certainly possible, according to a group of researchers who are analysing the data from the New Horizons Pluto flyby last year. They argue that a deep ocean of water would best explain the position of the great heart shaped depression on Pluto's surface. Adam Rutherford quizzes planetary scientist Francis Nimmo about this new hypothesis.

Adam also talks to glaciologist Robert Mulvaney of the British Antarctic Survey, who is now setting off for the frozen south to prospect for the oldest ice in Antarctica. He's part of a European project which aims to drill deep into the ice sheet of East Antarctica and chart the climate and atmosphere history of Antarctica back to 1.5 million years ago.

Are grass-fed cattle better for the global climate than cattle fed on grain-based feeds? Dr Tara Garnett of the Food Climate Research Network at Oxford University responds to listeners comments on carbon emissions and diet.

Swifts can fly for 10 months non-stop, never touching the ground. Anders Hedenstrom of Lund University discovered this remarkable fact by fitting birds with a tiny electronic backpack which recorded their location and flight activity across a whole year.

Nov 17 2016

28mins

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Rank #7: Early Humans Were Even Earlier Than We Thought

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Early human fossils from Morocco suggest our ancestors walked the earth much earlier than previously thought. Human ancestral fossils from the area were first discovered in the 1960's, but now a re-examination of these and more recent finds suggests they are from an early form of us - Homo sapiens - living in the area around 300,000 years ago.

We have news of a one in a million stellar observation: light bending around a distant star. This is the first time the phenomenon has been observed outside our solar system, and is further proof of Einstein's theory of General Relativity. It involved measurements millions of miles away and many times smaller than the width of a human hair.

Gold mining is a highly polluting process involving toxic chemicals. Marnie Chesterton visits a Scottish gold mine and looks at attempts to make the extraction of gold more environmentally friendly by replacing the toxic chemicals with ingredients more commonly found in vitamins and natural fertilisers.

And US President Trump has announced his intention to pullout of the Paris climate agreement. We look at the implications of the decision for global emissions reduction.

Jun 08 2017

28mins

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Rank #8: Bees; Whales; Pain; Gay genes

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Bees - Nearly all bees in the UK suffering serious declines. They're mostly threatened by habitat and land-use change. But disease also plays a part. Adam Rutherford talks to Professor Mark Brown about new work he's done looking at the evidence of diseases harboured by honeybees, spilling over into wild bumblebees.

Pain and epigenetics - Marnie Chesterton goes to Kings College, London to watch identical twins being tested for pain tolerance. The study is to gain insight into the genetic components of pain perception. One area which is fascinating researchers like Professor Tim Spector is the role of epigenetics in how we process pain. Our epigenome is a system that changes the way our DNA is interpreted. Genes can be dialled up or down, like a dimmer switch, by adding little chemical tags to the DNA. These chemical tags, unlike DNA, are changeable, in response to the changing environment. So could the way we live affect the pain we feel?

Whales from Space - More listeners' questions, this time, asking whether surveys using images from satellites to see whales underwater, could be hijacked by whale hunters? Peter Fretwell from the British Antarctic Survey has the answer.

Genetics of sexual preference - The media is all of a twitter this week over unpublished work recently revealed on research looking for genes related to homosexuality. We hear from Professor Tim Spector on the topic, and Adam talks to Professor Steve Jones about the science.

Producer: Fiona Roberts.

Feb 20 2014

27mins

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Rank #9: Whales from space; Flood emails; SUYI JET Lasers; CERN's new tunnel; Discoveries exhibition

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Whales from Space. Scientists have demonstrated how new satellite technology can be used to count whales, and ultimately estimate their population size. Using Very High Resolution (VHR) satellite imagery, alongside image processing software, they were able to automatically detect and count whales breeding in part of the Golfo Nuevo, Peninsula Valdes in Argentina.

The new method could revolutionise how whale population size is estimated. Marine mammals are extremely difficult to count on a large scale and traditional methods are costly, inaccurate and dangerous; several whales researchers have died in light aircraft accidents.
How long will the floods last? Is this a trend caused by climate change? Should I turn on the kitchen taps so that house is at least flooded with clean water? We put listeners' flood questions to experts from the Centre of Ecology and Hydrology and the British Geological Survey.

The instrument we're shown this week is from JET (Joint European Torus) in Culham,. It's the world's largest 'tokamak' - a type of nuclear fusion reactor. The hope is that in a few decades it could be supplying much of the world's electricity. It works by fusing nuclei of hydrogen together to produce helium and a lot of excess energy. It's the power source of the Universe, as all stars run on fusion energy. But on Earth we have to go to much more extreme conditions to achieve it. Upwards of 100 million degrees Celsius, which is around ten times hotter than the Sun. Joanne Flannagan, shows us her lasers which measure the hot fusion plasma inside JET.

CERN wants a new tunnel. The 27km long, Large Hadron Collider in Geneva found evidence of the Higgs boson recently. But if we want to know more about this elusive particle and others that make up our universe, the physicists say they're going to have to go bigger. With a 100km long tunnel, in fact. Talks are afoot as to where and how they will build it. But Lucie asks reporter Roland Pease whether it'll be worth it?

The current Discoveries exhibition at Two Temple Place, on the banks of the Thames, brings together treasures from eight University of Cambridge museums, in a beautiful period building, built by Waldorf Astor. The show combines objects from science and arts collections to explore the theme of 'Discoveries'. Curator Professor Nick Thomas gives Lucie Green a tour.

Producer: Fiona Roberts.

Feb 13 2014

28mins

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Rank #10: 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 #11: Antarctica's volcanoes, science book prize nominee - Mark O'Connell, US solar eclipse and 40 years of NASA's Voyager mission

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Not so much hiding in plain sight, but tucked under the ice-sheet in Antarctica are 91 volcanoes. This adds to the 47 volcanoes already known on the continent. After a graduate student posed the question,"are there any volcanoes in Western Antarctica?", Dr Robert Bingham, and colleagues, at Edinburgh University, scoured the satellite and database records to find the volcanoes. This huge region is likely to dwarf that of East Africa's volcanic ridge, which is currently the most volcano-dense region on Earth.

Journalist Mark O'Connell is the second of our Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize 2017 nominees. His broad-minded, yet sceptical look at the world of 'transhumanism', "To be a Machine: Adventures Among Cyborgs, Utopians, Hackers, and the Futurists Solving the Modest Problem of Death", questions how and why some of us are looking to use technology to fundamentally change the human condition.

On Monday 21st of August 2017, some of the United States will go dark. This is the first total solar eclipse, visible from coast to coast in the US for 99 years. Gareth gets excited with veteran eclipse watchers, David Baron and Jackie Beucher.

On the 20th of August 1977, NASA's probe Voyager 2 launched. This was quickly followed two weeks later by the launch of Voyager 1 (which was on a faster trajectory). Since then the two spacecraft have been exploring our Solar System, the Heliosphere and interstellar space. Surpassing all expectations, the probes have taught us so much about our planets, their moons and beyond. Gareth looks back at the highlights with the Voyager mission's chief scientist, Professor Ed Stone, in a celebration of the 40 year mission.

Produced by Fiona Roberts
Presented by Gareth Mitchell.

Aug 17 2017

28mins

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Rank #12: Science and cyber security, Dinosaur babies, Winston Churchill and level crossings

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Testing cyber security with science. The UK now has a new National Cyber Security Centre. However there is very little scientific evidence against which to test the detection of cyber attacks and effectiveness of measures to prevent them. We ask what is needed to turn cyber security into a more scientific discipline.

Winston Churchill and Aliens. Throughout his life Churchill maintained a strong interest in scientific developments and wrote widely on subjects from quantum mechanics to nuclear energy. Newly discovered papers show he also had an interest in the potential for life on other planets.

Dinosaurs and egg laying. A new fossil find revealing a dinosaur with an unborn baby suggests live births may have occurred many years earlier than previously thought.

Turn off at level crossings. New research suggests personal messages about the impact of engine fumes on health may be the most effective way of persuading drivers to switch off their engines at level crossings.

Feb 16 2017

28mins

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Rank #13: Alzheimers research, Lucy in the Scanner, Smart bandages, From supernovae to Hollywood

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Alzheimers disease is now the leading cause of death in the UK, but there are as yet no treatments to halt or reverse it. There was huge disappointment last week when the drug company Eli Lilly announced that a large, phase 3 clinical trial had failed to show any benefit to mild dementia sufferers from its antibody therapy, solanezumab. So where does this leave our basic understanding of biology of Alzheimers disease and how we might most effectively treat or cure it? Adam Rutherford talks to Alzheimers researcher Tara Spires-Jones of the University of Edinburgh.
Also in the programme: The skeleton of the world's most famous fossil, Lucy, has received a body scan which revealed she spent a considerable portion of her life climbing trees. Researchers at the University of Bath are making smart bandages for burns patients which glow when their wounds become infected. Adam also talks to the astrophysicist who gave up studying exploding stars to apply his maths to Hollywood stars in the movie business.

Dec 01 2016

33mins

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Rank #14: Interstellar visitor, Svante Paabo, Synthetic biology, Plight of the Axolotl

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On 19th October, a mysterious object sped through our solar system. It was first spotted by astronomers with a telescope in Hawaii. Its trajectory and speed told of its interstellar origins. It is the first body to be detected from outside our solar system. Scientists are now publishing their papers on the enigmatic visitor. They estimate that it was about 400 metres long and bizarrely elongated in shape. Adam Rutherford talks to astronomer Alan Fitzsimmons of Queens University in Belfast.

Twenty years ago, geneticist Svante Paabo began a revolution in human evolution science when he extracted fragments of DNA from the 40,000 year old bone of a Neanderthal. Among other first, he went onto sequence the entire genome sequence of Homo Neanderthalenisis. Professor Paabo was in the UK this week at a conference on DNA and human evolution at the Wellcome Genome Campus to mark the anniversary. He tells Adam about one of the new directions of research for him now.

What does the future hold for synthetic biology? Who will be the practitioners of this fast-growing branch of bioengineering and what will be its impact on the world - for good and possibly ill? Experts in the field have just published a horizon-scanning report in the journal eLife. One of its authors, Jenny Molloy of the University of Cambridge, talks to Adam about the nascent democratisation of the discipline and where this might lead the field and society.

The paradoxical plight of the axolotl: popular aquarium pet, laboratory animal and critically endangered species in the wild. This species of salamander is a wonder of nature. It's the amphibian that never grows out of its larval stage yet it's able to reproduce. Most remarkable is its ability to regrow limbs, which is of great potential interest to researchers developing regenerative medicine. There are many thousands of axolotls in labs and homes around the world. But in the wild, in their native Mexico, they are on the very edge of extinction. Inside Science talks to conservation biologist Richard Griffiths of the University of Kent and axolotl researcher Tatiana Sandoval Guzman of the Technical University in Dresden, Germany.

Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker.

Nov 23 2017

34mins

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Rank #15: Tracking planes; Peer review; Mega-virus; Astronaut

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Are black boxes outdated technology? With GPS widely available in everyday gadgets like mobile phones, how could Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 just disappear? Adam Rutherford speaks to Dr Matt Greaves, a Lecturer in Accident Investigation at Cranfield University, about how we track aircraft.

Earlier this year, a new study from Japan announced a curiously easy way to make stem cells, by placing them in a mild acid bath. It seemed too good to be true, and according to recent critics, it is. One of the authors has declared that the paper should be withdrawn, that he has 'lost faith in it'.

Ivan Oransky runs the site RetractionWatch, dedicated to scrutinizing irregular research. He talks to Adam about the value of post-publication peer review, and public scrutiny of science on the internet.

A 30,000 year old killer, buried 100 feet under the Siberian permafrost, has risen from the dead. It's a mega virus, with the largest genome of any known virus, and, happily, only infects amoebae. Virologist Professor Jonathan Ball, of the University of Nottingham, explains the implications of reanimating dead viruses.

And actual spaceman, retired NASA pilot Captain Jon McBride, came into the studio to share his out-of-this-world memories and prediction that the next generation of astronauts will be chosen on brains not brawn.

Producer: Fiona Roberts.

Mar 13 2014

28mins

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Rank #16: Alzheimer's Disease, False Memory, Diamond Light Source, Twins in Space

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Alzheimer's disease is becoming increasingly common as the global population ages. It is estimated that currently 44 million victims of Alzheimer's dementia exist in the world and that this will grow to more than 100 million cases by 2050. The announcement this week of the creation of the Drug Discovery Alliance - a network of labs to fast track dementia treatment aims to address the urgent need to identify drugs that prevent, slow the progression, or improve the symptoms of Alzheimer's. But what are the scientific hurdles and what's missing in our knowledge in fuelling an ambition to achieve a disease modifying therapy for dementia? Adam Rutherford speaks to Cambridge University neuroscientist Rick Livesey, and to Eric Karran, Director of Research at Alzheimer's UK

How is it possible to remember something initially and then change your account of the experience later on? Possibly, giant swathes of your own personal history are partially fictional if not completely false. The problem isn't that our memory is bad, but that we believe it isn't. Adam talks to forensic psychologist Julia Shaw whose astonishing new research examines the ability to implant completely made-up rich false memories into ordinary people in a lab setting and points to circumstances under which police officers can extract false confessions.

There's a visit to the UK's synchrotron light source at Harwell in Oxfordshire which since it started operations in 2007 has illuminating research on subjects ranging from Egyptology to virology and this year is opening its doors to the public

Adam meets Mark Kelly, one of NASA's twin astronauts taking part in a year-long space experiment to examine the impact of space travel using identical twins as subjects. With one twin orbiting on the International Space Station whilst the other remains confined to Earth, the aim is to examine how individuals with the same genetic profile respond to radically different environments - in particular the genomics of humans as they prepare to move away from their home planet.

Producer: Adrian Washbourne.

Feb 19 2015

27mins

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Rank #17: Colliding Neutron Stars, Krakatoa, Centigrade vs Celsius

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Adam Rutherford talks to astrophysicists about the astronomical discovery of the year, if not the last couple of decades: the collision of two neutron stars and the cosmic gold-forging aftermath. The discovery of this long-hypothesized event on 17th August came from the much awaited marriage of the capabilities of the gravitational wave detectors LIGO and Virgo with those of ground-based and space-based telescopes. Samaya Nissanke of Radboud University, Sheila Rowan of the University of Glasgow and Nial Tanvir of the University of Leicester take Inside Science through the story.

What made the infamous 1883 eruption of Krakatoa so devastating? Roland Pease meets the earth scientists trying to answer the question by recreating in the lab the conditions under the volcano prior to the eruption.

Following a temperature-related faux pas by Adam in the last episode, Michael de Podesta of the National Physical Laboratory explains the difference between Celsius and Centigrade.

Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker.

Oct 19 2017

34mins

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Rank #18: The Making of the Moon

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It's the nearest and most dominant object in our night sky, and has inspired artists, astronauts and astronomers. But fundamental questions remain about our only natural satellite.

Where does the Moon come from?
Although humans first walked on the Moon over four decades ago, we still know surprisingly little about the lunar body's origin. Samples returned by the Apollo missions have somewhat confounded scientists' ideas about how the Moon was formed. Its presence is thought to be due to another planet colliding with the early Earth, causing an extraordinary giant impact, and in the process, forming the Moon. But, analysing chemicals in Apollo's rock samples has revealed that the Moon could be much more similar to Earth itself than any potential impactor. Geochemist Professor Alex Halliday of the University of Oxford, and Dr Jeff Andrews-Hanna, Colorado School of Mines - who is analysing the results from NASA's Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) lunar mission - discuss the theories and evidence to-date.

Are we going back?
Settling the question of the Moon's origin seems likely to require more data - which, in turn, requires more missions. BBC Science correspondent Jonathan Amos tells us about the rationale and future prospects for a return to the Moon, including the Google Lunar XPrize.

As the Moon's commercial prospects are considered, who controls conservation of our only natural satellite?
If commerce is driving a return to the Moon, who owns any resources that may be found in the lunar regolith? Dr Saskia Vermeylen of the Environment Centre at Lancaster University is researching the legality of claiming this extra-terrestrial frontier.

Producer: Jen Whyntie.

Oct 30 2014

28mins

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Rank #19: Genetic Map of the British Isles, Drones for Conservation, Lab Photosynthesis, Solar Eclipse

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The Romans, Vikings and Normans ruled Britain for many years, but few left their genetic calling cards behind in the DNA of today's mainland Caucasian population. That's one of the insights from the most comprehensive analysis yet of the genetic make-up of the UK's white British population. As the study's lead author Peter Donnelly explains it's produced some big surprises, not least how in contrast, the Anglo Saxons invasion was to account for up to 40% of the genetic mix in much of southern Britain. Much of Britain's current historical information is from a relatively small subset of people, but a genetic study like this sheds light on the history of the masses.

The Royal Botanical Gardens Kew is currently at the forefront of trialling drone technology to map and locate remote vegetation The aim is to examine plant health and deforestation in detail, particularly in inaccessible areas around the globe. The team led by Justin Moat and Oliver Whaley have recently returned from Peru, where they've examined the fragile ecosystem threatened by mining in the Lomas region. BBC Inside Science's Sue Nelson was deployed to join the Kew team for a Drone test run.

As our energy needs become greater, the impetus to tap the sun's energy directly becomes ever more urgent. A new paper published this month has cracked one of the barriers to efficient conversion of water into oxygen and hydrogen, which plants of course do naturally. Adam Rutherford speaks to Nathan Lewis at California's Institute of Technology who has developed an electrically conductive film that could enable devises to harness sunlight to split water into hydrogen. Chemist Andrea Sella assesses how close we are to achieving artificial photosynthesis and solar fuels.

And ahead of tomorrow's solar eclipse, Adam speaks to solar scientist Dr Huw Morgan from the University of Aberystwyth, who together with his colleagues in Svalbard is going to use those precious seconds to answer one of the great enduring mysteries of the sun: why is the corona, the fiery crown around the orb, is a great deal hotter than the sun itself?

Producer Adrian Washbourne.

Mar 19 2015

28mins

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Rank #20: Cosmic inflation; LISA; Photonic radar; Bird stress camera; Water research; Taxidermy

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Cosmic Inflation and Gravity waves
Scientists in the BICEP 2 Group say they've found the earliest rumbles of the Big Bang. Theory predicts how the universe first expanded. Now we have the first observation of the phenomenon behind it. The universe was kick-started by a so called 'inflation' - vigorous growth within a fraction of a second of the Big Bang going bang. To confirm inflation you need to detect ripples in the fabric of space called gravitational waves. And to find those, you need to look for twists and kinks in this stuff. The BICEP 2 radio telescope, at the South Pole, has been measuring the direction of twists of light from the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation - which is a form of primordial light, a remnant of the Big Bang. The signals have been released that show distortions in that light that can only have been caused by gravitational waves. They could only be there if there was inflation. In other words, these observations have shored up one of the most important theories in cosmology. Gareth Mitchell discusses what this means with BBC Science Correspondent Jonathan Amos and Astronomer at UCL Dr. Hiranya Peiris.

Photonic Radar
As the search closes in on missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH 370, radar technology has been in the spotlight. At the same time, new research published in this week's Nature journal reports on field trials of the next generation of radars - photonics based. Lead-author Paolo Ghelfi, from the National Laboratory of Photonics networks in Pisa, Italy explains their methods. Professor David Stupples, a radar expert from City University, London, explain that this cheaper, more accurate technology could end up in your car.

Show Us Your Instrument - Infrared camera
Infrared cameras detect heat, and process this as a colourful image. Dominic McCafferty, from Glasgow University, uses this kit to study stress levels in birds. When an animal is stressed, blood is drawn away from its skin and routed to the essential organs. This 'fight or flight' reflex means the temperature of certain parts of the animal drops. The infrared camera measures this, providing a non-invasive way of testing an animal's stress level. Current projects include one to test chickens, aiming to improve their welfare.

Water research
When listener Dave Conway emailed in to ask about what research is being done on water, if any - we went straight to materials scientist Professor Mark Miodownik at UCL to find out.

Taxidermy
Is taxidermy a dying art? Not for the chattering classes of New York apparently. There's been a rise in demand for people to attend classes where they learn to stuff and mount animals, and often dress them up in costumes. But what is the value of the stuffed animals in museums? In the multimedia age of interactive displays, 3D printing and computer models - do we still need the stuffed and stitched creatures in glass cases?

Producer: Fiona Roberts.

Mar 20 2014

28mins

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Reproducibility crisis in science; Aeolus wind-measuring satellite; electric cars

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Science is built upon the idea that results can be verified by others. Scientists do their experiments and write up their methods and results and submit them to a journal that sends them to other scientists, who check them and if they pass muster, the study gets published for further scrutiny. One of the keystones of this process is that results can be reproduced. If your results can’t be replicated, something is amiss. Over the last few years, particularly in the field of psychology, many high profile findings have not been reproduced. Now, the same problems that have plagued psychology are spilling over into other areas. This week, a study showed that ocean acidification does not significantly alter fish behaviour, as had been reported several times before. Adam Rutherford discusses the crisis with Matthew Cobb, Professor of Zoology at Manchester University.

ESA’s Aeolus mission was launched in August 2018. It’s one of the European Space Agency’s Earth Explorer satellites. The Aeolus satellite uses lasers to monitor the wind by firing an ultraviolet laser beam into the atmosphere and catching the light’s reflection as it scatters off molecules and particles carried along in the air. It was planned to be very much a proof of principle mission, testing the science, with longer-term plans for a whole constellation of wind monitoring satellites. But Aeolus has performed so well in the tests that, unusually for meteorological science, the results are now considered robust enough to be inputted into the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts models.

The UK is aiming to phase out conventional combustion engines in favour of more energy-efficient, less polluting electric vehicles by 2040. In response to a listener’s question on the cleanliness of these machines, BBC Inside Science reporter, Tristan Varela, conducts an investigation in the streets, garages, and laboratories of London. He finds that electric cars are relatively clean in the UK, where energy generation from renewable sources has recently overtaken fossil fuels. However, sales of new electric cars are still heavily outweighed by large, fossil fuel hungry, SUVs. But some people are instead converting existing cars to make their vehicles more environmentally-friendly.

Producer - Fiona Roberts

Jan 16 2020

30mins

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Australian bush fires; Veganuary and LIGO

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2019 was the hottest and driest year on record in Australia. The Indian Ocean Dipole and the Southern Annular Mode weather systems, plus existing drought conditions, all primed the continent for the horrific fire season currently raging in the east and south east of the country. Climate scientist at the University of New South Wales Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick is in no doubt global warming played a role in making these the worst fires in recent history. Making matters even worse is that the ferocity of the bush-fires is creating its own weather. Nicholas McCarthy at the University of Queensland studies fire-induced weather and he explains how this can help spread the fires further.

January is also Veganuary, a chance for you to try being vegan for 31 days. The reasons for giving up animal products in your diet are varied, from reducing your carbon footprint to not eating animals and getting healthy. Reporter Geoff Marsh is interested in the evidence in favour for and against a vegan diet.

A signal in April 2019 picked up by the LIGO Livingston Observatory has been confirmed as the gravitational ripples from a collision of two neutron stars. LIGO Livingston is part of a gravitational-wave network that includes LIGO (the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory), and the European Virgo detector.

Producer - Fiona Roberts

Jan 09 2020

31mins

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The hidden history in our DNA - Part 2 - Travel and Culture

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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 ancestor's lives...if you know how to read them. In the second part of BBC Inside Science's special, series, Adam Rutherford, UCL geneticist Lucy van Dorp and other scientists discover how travel and even culture of our ancestors can be decoded in our DNA today.

Jan 02 2020

27mins

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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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Ten years of Zooniverse; what happened to volcano Anak Krakatau and visualising maths

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Adam Rutherford talks to Chris Lintott about the citizen science platform he set up ten years ago. Zooniverse is a place where the public can help scientists analyse huge swathes of data. Projects such as spotting distant galaxies, counting penguins and tagging WW2 diaries have all has a huge boost thanks to the people-power of the Zooniverse.

The Indonesian volcano Anak Krakatau, which means 'Son of Krakatoa', was born out of the ashes of the mega volcano which erupted and collapsed in the 1880s. Last year the island volcano Anak collapsed, causing a tsunami which killed 400 people. The collapse of millions of tonnes of rock into the ocean has now been mapped and chunks of rock, the size of office blocks, have been found tossed kilometres from the island. It really brings home how dangerous these volcanoes can be.

BBC Inside Science producer Fi is always scribbling and doodling during interviews. It turns out she is a visual thinker and she compulsively draws the science being discussed. She is not alone: many scientists working in fields involving complex maths and physics resort to pictures to illustrate what's happening. But not everything in science can be reduced down to a 2D sketch and not everyone needs a visual aid. Marnie Chesterton finds the scientists who can look at an equation, and 'see' in their heads, the graph it describes. Others get intensely annoyed at analogies that just aren't quite right - like spacetime being a ball on a rubber sheet. She asks a physicist, a philosopher and a mathematician about the relationship they have between maths, reality and our senses.

Producer - Fiona Roberts

Dec 19 2019

30mins

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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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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