Rank #1: First human drawing, Cycling genes, Oden Arctic expedition, Hello World
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
Rank #2: Homo naledi, First humans in America, Dark matter detector, New theory of dark matter
Previously, humans were thought to have travelled to America via a land bridge between eastern Siberia and modern day Alaska, somewhere between 17 000 - 40 000 years ago when sea levels were lower than they are today. Researchers from the San Diego Natural History Museum now present evidence that suggests this transition could have been much earlier - nearly 100 000 years earlier. Adam talked to Chris Stringer, researcher in human evolution at the Natural History Museum in London, to unpick the evidence.
Dark matter is a mystery that has evaded scientists for decades. Now the biggest and most sensitive detector is being built in South Dakota and scientists believe the Lux-Zeppelin experiment will soon be able to detect one of the candidates for dark matter, the elusive particle known as a weakly interacting massive particle (WIMP). Graihagh Jackson got a sneak peak of the key components, including the 'eyes' of the detector, before they're sent off for installation.
Adam Rutherford talks to cosmologist Carlos Frenk from the University of Durham and learns of an alternative theory to describe this mysterious dark matter - a whole new dark sector. This sector contains a vast range of different dark particles, from photons to bosons, that could interact with normal particles.
Apr 27 2017
Rank #3: Climate change and extreme weather; Primate brain size; Earthquake forecasting; Planet 9
How has intelligence evolved? For over 2 decades the idea has prevailed that primate brain size and intelligence has been driven mainly by complex social hierarchies. But a new study by Alex DeCascien of New York University suggests that diet is a better predictor of brain size.
This month is the 6th anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated much of Japan's coastline. Roland Pease reports on new research that aims to embrace uncertainty to improve quake forecasting
And we hear how you can join in the search for the missing mysterious 9th planet of our solar system. Adam Rutherford hears from astronomer Brad Tucker on Walkabout at the Mount Stromlo Observatory in New South Wales
Producer: Adrian Washbourne.
Mar 30 2017
Rank #4: Time Travel in Science and Cinema
Producers: Stephen Hughes and Rami Tzabar.
Oct 15 2015
Rank #5: Y chromosome; Everest avalanche; Aphid survey; Longitude
We learn from a young age that if a fertilised egg carries XX chromosomes it will be a girl, but with XY it will be a boy. This male Y sex chromosome has lost many genes along its evolution over the past 180 million years and now only about 20 genes remain. Now two new studies in Nature journal have given clues into how the Y chromosome evolved into its current state by looking at the genetic make up of 15 species the team built an archaeological record of all the mutations that occurred over time - to trace the timing of how the Y originated.... Professor Henrik Kaessmann from the University of Lausanne in Switzerland explains that the genes that remain play a more important role than previously believed.
Last week the biggest single loss-of-life event occurred on Everest: a huge avalanche killed 16 Sherpa guides. All were so-called "icefall doctors", possibly the riskiest job of all, which involves finding a route through the broken mass of icefall, and then securing ladders and ropes for mountaineer tourists to follow.
The Himalayan Sherpas have abandoned the climbing season out of respect for the fallen. There are many questions about health and safety, but we want to know what could be done to help? BBC Science Reporter Victoria Gill has been looking at the science behind avalanches, Are avalanches predictable? And will global warming in the Himalayan region make them more common?
This month the Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire's Insect Survey will have been monitoring national aphid populations for fifty years. Aphids, such as greenfly and blackfly, can cause extensive damage to plants and crops. The aphid season - as many gardeners will know - is just about to start. But how has the recent mild, wet winter affected their numbers?
An Inside Science listener emailed in to ask about lichens - what are they and how do they live. We called in plant ecologist Professor Howard Griffiths, at the University of Cambridge to fill us in on these hardy, pioneering organisms.
300 years ago there was no way of knowing the position of a ship out on the high seas. The greatest scientific challenge of the age was navigation. Britain's response was to offer a large prize fund for the solution to the problem of Longitude. Richard Dunn, curator and head of science and technology at Royal Museums Greenwich tells Marnie Chesterton the story of John Harrison, a clockmaker and carpenter, who solved this seemingly impossible problem.
Producer: Fiona Roberts.
Apr 24 2014
Rank #6: African swine fever, Oil spill update, CRISPR gene editing, Rat eradication in New Zealand, Chimp kin recognition
Simon Boxall from Southampton Oceanography Centre gives an update on the sinking of the oil tanker Sanchi and its environmental impact.
CRISPR is a revolutionary gene editing technique which can modify DNA and has the potential to correct genetic errors in a range of human diseases - even cancer. The technique has only been around for a few years but is already being talked about as a Nobel prize winning candidate. The market for the technology has been predicted to be worth US$ 10 billion by 2025. But stocks took a wobble last week on news that our immune system may render CRISPR useless. Is there really a big problem? Adam talks to Matt Porteus from Stanford University who did the research.
18 months ago, New Zealand announced a conservation project to exterminate all vermin that are decimating the indigenous bird population. For millions of years, the flora and fauna evolved in isolation, without predatory mammals. When humans arrived, they brought with them a host of bird-eating animals like rats, stoats and possums which now kill 25 million native birds every year. Marnie Chesterton travelled to New Zealand to report on a campaign of mass poisoning to save the kiwis and the kakapos and asks whether it’s ethical to kill one species to save another.
And Cat Hobaiter from St Andrews University responds to listener questions about how chimpanzees might recognise family members.
Jan 18 2018
Rank #7: Ethiopian genome, Coral nutrients, The hunt for gravitational waves, Seven Brief Lessons on Physics
The long awaited hunt for gravitational waves gets underway as the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) in the United States begins its first observational run. The waves, generated by some of the most dramatic events in space such as the explosion of stars and the merging of two black holes, were first postulated by Einstein in 1916. So far they've never been detected but if LIGO is successful it'll not only provide proof of Einstein's Theory of Relativity but also provide the first direct evidence of the existence of black holes.
And Adam meets theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli whose new book Seven Brief Lessons on Physics examines in seven short essays how 20th century physics is shaping our world view. In Italy, it's outsold 50 Shades of Grey and the Pope's Encyclical and has now been translated into English. What's been the key to its success?
Oct 08 2015
Rank #8: Ancient DNA and Human Evolution
Adam Rutherford talks to Svante Paabo, the scientist has led these remarkable achievements. Professor Paabo and his colleague Janet Kelso at the Max Planck Institute of Biological Anthropology in Leipzig discuss the genes in many European people alive today that originated in Neanderthals and were passed to modern humans when the two species interbred.
Adam also speaks to Johannes Krause who worked on the Neanderthal genome project in Leipzig but is now director of the Max Planck Institute of the Science of Human History. His latest research adds a new layer of intrigue and complexity to the relationship between our species and Neanderthals in deep time.
David Reich at Harvard University focuses on using ancient DNA to uncover the ancestry and movements of modern human hunter-gatherers in Eurasia from about 50,000 years to the Bronze Age, a few thousand years ago. Population movements occur on a cinematic scale, he says. (Podcast only).
The revelations of ancient genetics would not be possible and meaningful without the traditional disciplines of palaeoanthropology and archaeology. Adam goes to Gibraltar to seek the perspective of Clive Finlayson who leads excavations there as director of the Gibraltar Museum. Gibraltar is the most concentrated site of Neanderthal occupation in the world. As well as remains of a young Neanderthal child last year, the Rock's caves have also recently yielded the first example of Neanderthal cave art.
Dec 28 2017
Rank #9: Human Consciousness: Could a brain in a dish become sentient?
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
Rank #10: Homo Naledi, New spacesuit, Quantum biology, A possible cure for motion sickness
Sep 10 2015
Rank #11: The moral brain, stem cell developments, ancient DNA in cave dirt, mangrove forest
Geoff Marsh reports from Japan where stem cell research appears to be bringing regenerative medicine for a common cause of blindness ever closer.
A team at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology has pulled off another triumph in the study of ancient human DNA. Viviane Slon explains how they've extracted DNA of extinct species of humans from the soil in caves across Europe and Russia. Adam discusses the significance with Ian Barnes, ancient DNA specialist at the Natural History Museum in London.
Dan Friess of the National University of Singapore studies mangrove forests around the coasts of tropical Pacific and Indian ocean countries. This kind of forest has turned out to store much more carbon than even rainforests, as measured by the hectare. Dr Friess talks about carbon counting in mangroves and how this research may save the forests from further destruction.
May 04 2017
Rank #12: Old Dogs and Physics in Space
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
Rank #13: Colin Pillinger; Fire? Artificial DNA
DNA is the molecule of life, conserved across all living species for 4 billion years. But now scientists have made a new, artificial version, by introducing two extra letters, not found in nature, into the genetic code of a common microbe.
The E. coli bacteria are able to grow and replicate as normal despite these artificial additions.
In future, this research might create organisms that can make new proteins, which could offer new drugs and vaccines.
What is fire?
A listener wrote in to ask about fire – what is it? And what is the difference between a super-hot gas and plasma? We went straight to Dr. Guillermo Rein, Mechanical Engineer at Imperial College and Editor-in-Chief of the journal Fire Technology. It turns out, they’re great questions and even the experts can’t quite agree on the answers.
Obituary - Colin Pillinger
British planetary scientist Professor Colin Pillinger, best known for his 2003 attempt to land a spacecraft on Mars, has died aged 70. .
Oxford Maths Institute
The new Maths Institute at Oxford University is named the Andrew Wiles Building, after the mathematician, who solved Fermat’s Last Theorem. The Institute includes some nods to other mathematical theories included in the design. From the never-ending Penrose paving at the entrance to lighting based on solving complex equations and mathematical illusions build into the construction. The architects hope the building will inspire the next generation of mathematicians.
Professor Carlos Frenk, astronomer at Durham University has just joined the ranks of Steven Hawking, Edwin Hubble and Albert Einstein by winning the Royal Astronomical Society’s Gold Medal for Astronomy.
Producer: Fiona Roberts
May 08 2014
Rank #14: Out of Africa, Predicting future heatwaves, Virtual reality molecules, Life in the dark
Much of northern Europe has been experiencing a heatwave - notable for its intensity and duration. It's caused by "atmosphere blocking". Can we predict when these blocks will come and how long they will last? Adam Rutherford talks to Jana Sillmann, director of the Centre for International Climate Research in Oslo, Norway, author of a new study that has modelled 40 years' worth of heatwaves and blocking, and looked to the end of the century in attempting to predict blocking patterns as the climate changes.
How can researchers get to grips with the shape of molecules in the digital world? Chemists have for years used ball and stick representations of the shapes their molecules come in. But when they publish, they have to flatten it all down onto a 2D a piece of paper losing crucial information. Bristol University's David Glowacki has put the power of virtual reality into the hands of the molecular magicians. Inside Science's Roland Pease went to his virtual lab, to see atoms dance in a molecular space odyssey.
Given that half the world is in the dark half of the time, and the depths of the oceans are perpetually hidden from sunlight, there's lot of darkness to explore. For those of us drawn to the shadows, a new exhibition at the Natural History Museum in London does exactly that. Geoff Boxhall, professor of invertebrate biology, gives Adam Rutherford a tour of Life in the Dark.
Producer Adrian Washbourne.
Jul 12 2018
Rank #15: Earth's Core; What Can Chemistry Do for Us?; Ocean Acidification; Darwin Day
Professor Andrea Sella, from University College London is a recipient of the Royal Society's Michael Faraday Prize, in recognition, like Faraday himself, of exemplary science communication to the lay public. Andrea gave his prize lecture this week, describing chemistry as one of the 'crowning intellectual achievements of our age'. How justified is the claim? What have chemists ever done for us?
The sea forms the basis of ecosystems and industries, and so even subtle changes to the waters could have serious knock on effects. Dr Susan Fitzer from the University of Glasgow has been wading into Scottish lochs to study shelled creatures; they form a vital basis for marine ecosystems and the global food industry. But what effects could ocean acidification have on this vital organism?
And to mark Darwin Day Adam Rutherford examines the origins of Creationism and its most recent variation Intelligent Design. Why do opinion polls in the US routinely find that about half of the population denies the truth of Darwin's theory and believes instead that humans were created supernaturally by God at some point within the last few thousand years? He hears from historian Thomas Dixon, and from Eugenie Scott, former director of the National Centre for Science Education - a US organisation committed to keeping evolution (and now climate change) in the US schools' curriculum.
Producer: Adrian Washbourne.
Feb 12 2015
Rank #16: Dinosaur extinction, Neanderthals in Gibraltar, Music appreciation, A year of New Horizons
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
Rank #17: Mice & Men; Fuel from CO2; fRMI; Insect calls
How do you get jet fuel from thin air? Just add water, carbon dioxide and a large amount of concentrated sunlight. A team from the European Solar Jet Project has, for the first time, proved that you can make 'green' or carbon neutral paraffin, the hydrocarbon used in jet fuel. It's feasible; the next step is to try and make this process commercially viable.
Neuroscience is a fast growing and popular field, so naturally there are an abundance of stories reported in the press often illustrated with a beautiful picture of the brain. But despite the advances, when an area of the brain 'lights up" it does not tell us as much as we'd like about the inner workings of the mind. Adam Rutherford speaks to neuroscientists to get to the bottom of what brain imaging can be useful for and when over-interpretation is an issue.
Our resident zoologist Dr Tim Cockerill recently found himself filming animals deep in the jungles of Borneo. Before he left, we gave him an audio recorder to see what he could discover about the animal communities there, just by listening to them. It seems you can set your watch by some of their calls.
Producer: Marnie Chesterton.
May 01 2014
Rank #18: Early Humans Were Even Earlier Than We Thought
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
Rank #19: Gravitational Waves Special
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
Rank #20: Rise of the Robots: 2. More human than human
Mar 06 2017