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: Genetics and privacy, Global plastic, Great Ape Dictionary, Ocean Discovery X Prize
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 $7 million to teams that develop autonomous, unmanned vehicles to map and image the bottom of the seas. Dr Jyotika Virmani tells Adam why ocean exploration is so important, and why it tends to take a backseat to adventuring into space.
Presented by Adam Rutherford
Produced by Fiona Roberts.
Jul 20 2017
Rank #3: African swine fever, Oil spill update, CRISPR gene editing, Rat eradication in New Zealand, Chimp kin recognition
Simon Boxall from Southampton Oceanography Centre gives an update on the sinking of the oil tanker Sanchi and its environmental impact.
CRISPR is a revolutionary gene editing technique which can modify DNA and has the potential to correct genetic errors in a range of human diseases - even cancer. The technique has only been around for a few years but is already being talked about as a Nobel prize winning candidate. The market for the technology has been predicted to be worth US$ 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 #4: 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 #5: 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 #6: Informed consent, El Nino, Gravitational Waves, Cloud cover
Facebook has been under fire for running a controversial 'emotion manipulation' study on 689,003 Facebook users. The experiment, to find out whether emotions were contagious on the social network, involved minor changes to users' news feeds. It's contentious because the users were not informed that they were taking part in an experiment. Facebook says, check the terms and conditions, but Dr Chris Chambers at Cardiff University says that the ethical standards for science are higher, and should involve informed consent. Dan O'Connor, Head of Medical Humanities at the Wellcome Trust, gives a short history of consent in experimentation.
According to the Met Office, the world is almost certain to be struck by the "El Nino" phenomenon this year, with the potential to induce "major climactic impacts" around the world. Roland Pease investigates this flip in the climate state of the Pacific basin, and asks the experts studying this phenomenon, whether it'll be a major event and how it might affect the climate.
The announcement, earlier this year, that the BICEP 2 telescope at the South Pole had detected evidence that gravitational waves exist may have been premature. Gravitational waves are theoretical phenomena, based on observation of polarisation of ancient cosmic light. Finding them, adds to the evidence that the Universe is expanding. The data has now been made public, but the confidence in the numbers is being questioned.
A listener asks about cloud cover and night time temperatures, and how air temperature and moisture content interact. Our expert Peter Sloss from the Met Office answers.
Producer: Fiona Roberts.
Jul 03 2014
Rank #7: Behavioural profiling at airports; Light and colour in art; Hadrian's Wall; Cassini
Light and colour in art
Pigments and paint evolved over time, and these changes are one focus of the 'Making Colour' exhibition at the National Gallery. Different paints fade and degrade in different ways; often the patina of age is what appeals when looking at art, so how do you decide which hue to use when restoring paintings? Another intriguing issue is how you light a painting. The National Gallery is moving away from tungsten lighting, to more modern, tuneable LED lights. How does this affect the way visitors view the art? An interactive experiment is helping them to unpick light perception.
A listener asks how did the Romans knew where to build the great defensive wall. We get the answer from Professor Ian Haynes, an archaeologist at Newcastle University, who reveals that the Romans were obsessed with measuring.
Cassini mission to Saturn
Cassini-Huygens is an unmanned spacecraft sent to the planet Saturn. The NASA-ESA-ASI robotic spacecraft has been orbiting and studying the planet and its many natural satellites for 10 years. Adam talks to the mission's leader of the imaging science team, Carolyn Porco, about how successful it's been. And he offers her a blank cheque to choose her next mission.
Producer: Fiona Roberts.
Jul 10 2014
Rank #8: Plastic-eating bacteria, Foam mattresses for crops, The evolved life aquatic, The Double Helix
If you can't recycle plastic, you can re-use. Sheffield University chemist Tony Ryan is working to convert old polyurethane foam mattresses into hydroponic allotment beds so that people at a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan can grow their own crops. Roland Pease reports.
How southeast Asian sea nomads evolved the life aquatic.
The Double Helix, fifty years after its 1968 publication. Biologist and historian Matthew Cobb and science writer Angela Saini discuss the place of James Watson's compelling and controversial memoir in the annals of popular science writing. His account of the discovery of the DNA's structure was unlike any science book that had come before. Does it stand the test of time and what of its blantantly sexist treatment of the gifted X-ray crystallographer Rosalind Franklin? Her work was crucial to Crick and Watson's 1953 model of the DNA molecule.
Apr 19 2018
Rank #9: A special programme on plants and their pollinators, poisons and pests
The relationship between flowering plants and bees is a long-evolved, complex one. Plant scientists at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew are currently conducting field trials to see how Acontium, or Monkshood, uses toxins to protect itself against nectar-thieving, short-tongued bumblebees. But how does it make sure it doesn't poison the helpful, pollinating long-tongued bumblebees?
Plants from Roots to Riches
Professor Kathy Willis, Director of Science at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew will be presenting a new series on BBC Radio 4 exploring our relationship with plants from the birth of botany through to modern day. She describes some of the series highlights.
The Azolla Event
A tiny ancient fern-like pond weed could have been responsible for changing the fate of the planet. Some scientists think that Azolla could have played a significant role in reversing an increase in the greenhouse effect that occurred 55 million years ago. The researchers claim that massive patches of Azolla growing on the (then) freshwater surface of the Arctic Ocean consumed enough carbon dioxide from the atmosphere for the global greenhouse effect to decline, eventually causing the formation of ice sheets in Antarctica and the current "Icehouse period" which we are still in.
Plants can hear. Well, they can sense sound-vibrations. New research from the University of Missouri shows that when the mustard-like Arabidopsis senses the chomping sounds of a caterpillar munching on leaves, it primes itself for a chemical response.
Composting low down
A listener asks why orange peel takes so long to rot down in the compost heap? Is it because it's an exotic fruit? Adam asks Kew's Head of Horticulture and 'keeper of the heap' Dave Barns.
Producer: Fiona Roberts.
Jul 17 2014
Rank #10: Stephen Hawking Tribute
Apr 05 2018
Rank #11: 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 #12: Russian Spy Poisoning
Today marks International Women’s Day. Its aim is to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. But there’s also a strong call for change, especially in the tech industry where women are vastly underrepresented. Discussions on how we could achieve gender equality have been ongoing for years, so why has there been so little change? And how can this bias affect the technology we all use?
Scientists are warning of an infertility 'crisis' among men. Sperm counts have been falling for over 40 years and now, 1 in 20 men have low sperm counts. The cause is unknown and this week, doctors are calling for more funding to better understand the issue.
The red squirrel has found an unlikely ally: the pine marten. Grey squirrels were introduced to the UK in the late 1800s from America and have since caused the native red population to diminish. However, with the reintroduction of a predator, the mal-adapted greys are being hunted and as a result, red squirrels are bouncing back.
Mar 08 2018
Rank #13: 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 #14: Time Travel in Science and Cinema
Producers: Stephen Hughes and Rami Tzabar.
Oct 15 2015
Rank #15: The hidden history in our DNA - Part 1 - Sex and Disease
Dec 26 2019
Rank #16: Jack the Ripper; Future of Scottish science
Some of us are morbidly fascinated by the legend of Jack the Ripper - not the world's first serial killer, but the one that coincided with the birth of mass media, and set the ghoulish tone for the 20th century's obsession with murderers. This week a shawl acquired at an auction in 2007 is in the spotlight. Claimed to be found in 1888 at the murder scene of a woman asserted to be the fourth victim of the supposed Ripper, DNA evidence from the fabric is stated to imply one of the most plausible suspects - Aaron Kosminski. However, there are many problems with this "identification" sequence - some historical, some legal, and some scientific. Adam Rutherford focuses on the science by speaking to Jari Louhelainen, a forensic geneticist at Liverpool John Moores University, who produced the forensic analysis. Jon Wetton, another forensic geneticist at the University of Leicester, offers broader insight into how DNA can be used in detecting crime.
Future of Scottish science
Scottish science has a rich history: Alexander Fleming, James Watt, Dolly the sheep and much, much more. This week, with the upcoming referendum on independence, Dr Adam Rutherford takes the opportunity to look at the future of science in Scotland. He's joined by scientists representing the Academics for Yes and Better Together campaigns. Making the case for independence are Dr Stephen Watson and Professor Mike Lean, both from the University of Glasgow. Dr Patrick Harkness, also from the University of Glasgow, and Professor Hugh Pennington, emeritus professor at the University of Aberdeen, make the case for remaining in the union.
Producer: Fiona Roberts.
Sep 11 2014
Rank #17: 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 #18: Prehistoric Strong Women, Semi-synthetic Life, Listener Feedback, Artificial Superintelligence
A laboratory at the Scripps Research Institute have created a semi-synthetic bacterium with two new man-made genetic letters in its DNA, in addition to the natural four A, G, T and C. What's more, the engineered microbe can use its enhanced genetic alphabet to build synthetic amino acids into the proteins it makes. Chemist Floyd Romesberg talks to Adam Rutherford about what we can learn from his team's extraordinary feat of synthetic biotechnology, what we might gain from it and why, in his opinion, we've no need to be worried.
Adam deals with some of your correspondence on axolotls by talking to laboratory salamander breeder Randal Voss at the University of Kentucky. He also notes listeners' comparisons of the recent visit by interstellar asteroid Oumuamua with the alien vessel in Arthur C Clarke's 'Rendezvous with Rama'.
Cosmologist and AI researcher Max Tegmark visits BBC Inside Science to discuss the possibility of artificial intelligence machines with super-intelligence and how humanity should be preparing for their advent.
Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker.
Nov 30 2017
Rank #19: ExpeRimental; Rosetta; MOOCs
There's an online wealth of science demonstrations you can try at home with your kids. But what's sometimes lacking is the encouragement of questioning the science in these DIY experiments. Science teacher and film maker Alom Shaha has devised a series of videos with the Royal Institution showing parents experimenting with home-made lava lamps, bubbles and bottle cannons. He hopes that amidst the mess and mistakes, some scientific thinking can be nurtured.
The European Space Agency's robotic spacecraft Rosetta is about to start its detailed study of the comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko. In the audacious and risky mission, the craft will follow the orbit of the comet as it approaches and passes the Sun. It will attempt to land a probe on the surface of the icy, rocky mass. It's hoped the mission will provide great insight into what comets are made of, how they behave as they heat up, creating its gassy coma and tail. And it's hoped Rosetta and its lander will be able to tell about where Earth's water and even some of the building blocks for life might have come from.
Massive Open Online Courses are free and open to anyone with access to the internet. You can study a huge range of topics from cancer and dental photography to quantum physics, and even the archaeology and history of Hadrian's Wall. Critics say these higher education courses are just a PR exercise by universities, and that it will set up a two tier system in education. But Kathryn Skelton from FutureLearn, a platform for many of these MOOCs, argues that they encourage people who would not normally extend their education to take part and the universities providing the courses can gain great insight into the changing face of teaching methods.
Last week Adam Rutherford and Alice Roberts had a robust discussion on the biologising of the human condition, with Professor David Canter. Listeners wrote in to complain that we didn't give an evolutionary psychologist a right to reply, so this week, listener and evolutionary psychologist Rob Burriss has his say.
Producer: Fiona Roberts.
Jul 31 2014
Rank #20: Science's fascination with the face
The software that analyses images of your face, captured online or when you're out and about, has rapidly improved. Adam visits Amscreen, to test the cameras they deploy at supermarket checkouts to determine your age and sex, to inform advertisers of the best demographic to target. This raises ethical and privacy issues which Adam discusses with privacy expert Professor Colin Bennett and author of "The formula, about algorithms and the algorithm culture", Luke Dormehl.
Is a look of contempt, or a smile, a universal expression or do they vary across cultures? Marnie Chesterton visits Glasgow University's Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology, where the scientists are building a huge database of faces, in order to unpick and quantify our expressions. Dr Oliver Garrod from the Generative Face Grammar Group demonstrates how they can capture your face, and animate it.
There is a long list of evolutionary explanations for the human condition. Mostly these are quite trivial. Teen boys develop acne on their faces to deter females from fertile but psychologically immature mates. Babies cry at night to prevent parents further procreating, resulting in potential sibling rivals. At the other end of the scale, these sorts of explanations have been used to suggest deeply problematic ideas, such as rape being an evolutionary strategy.
Professor David Canter, a psychologist from University of Huddersfield has railed against this fashion for 'biologising' our behaviour. And evolutionary biologist Professor Alice Roberts is also critical of 'adaptionism' - the idea that everything has evolved for an optimal purpose.
Producer: Fiona Roberts.
Jul 24 2014