Rank #1: 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.
Rank #2: 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.
Rank #3: Making the UK's dams safe, AI spots fake smiles, How many trees should we be planting?
When someone smiles at you, how can you tell whether that smile is genuine or fake and why would you want to know? According to Professor of visual computing at the University of Bradford, Hassan Ugail, it’s all in the eyes! Humans are notoriously bad at picking up fake smiles, because we tend to focus our vision on the upturned corners of the mouth. Focus on specific movement of the eyes and the dynamic progression of a smile, however, and that’s when a genuine smile is evident. Hassan explains how computers are over 90% successful at being able to detect fake smiles, and examines the purposes to which this facial recognition technology may be applied in our daily lives.
Inside Science listener, Thomas from New Zealand, has noticed the sudden surge in nations encouraging mass tree planting and reforestation. But how much of a difference is it all making? Professor of Agriculture, policy and development at the University of Reading Dr Martin Lukac discusses the impacts of, the soot and ash from the recent forest fires in Siberia, deforestation and even makes an educated guess at much forest you would have to plant to counteract the CO2 emissions emitted after using your family car for the year.
Producer - Fiona Roberts
Rank #4: Lovelock at 100; Hydrothermal vents and antibiotic resistance in the environment
Most hydrothermal vents are in deep water far from land, making them incredibly inaccessible to divers. But in a fjord known locally as Eyjafjörður, off the coast of Iceland, is the hydrothermal vent Strytan. It's close enough that it can be accessed by scuba divers, and the algae and animals living in the hot chemical-laden plumes can be sampled. Geoff Marsh heads out with a team of scientists from the Natural History Museum in London and the University of Southampton to collect creatures living both in the hot vent water and in the icy cold fjord. The idea is to sample the genes to see what adaptations to temperature are evolving.
We are hearing more and more about antibiotic resistance. Overuse of antibiotics has led to more and more bacteria evolving and adapting ways to survive antimicrobial treatments. But did you know that the genes coding for this resistance can also float freely in water and on surfaces in the environment? A couple of recent studies have been sampling freshwater bodies and commonly touched surfaces (like handrails and toilet seats) in and around London and the amount of antibiotic resistance genes (either freely floating or in bacteria) is quite alarming. Environmental engineer at UCL, Professor Lena Ciric, explains to Marnie Chesterton what this means and whether we should be concerned.
Producer: Fiona Roberts
Rank #5: Whales; Dark Matter; Falling; Arty brains
The International Court of Justice in the Hague recently ruled that Japan should stop whaling in the Antarctic “for scientific purposes.” They found that the primary purpose of the science programme, JARPAII, was not science. In that case, what was it for? Inside Science puts that question to whale biologist Vassili Papastavrou, and Lars Walløe, Japan’s expert witness at the ICJ.
LUX Experiment to detect dark matter
Scientists are entering a critical phase in the quest to find the one of most mysterious particles in the Universe. An experiment called LUX, in South Dakota is about to be switched on that offers the best hope yet of detecting dark matter - a substance thought to make up a quarter of the Universe, yet one that nobody has ever seen.
Falling in the elderly
As we age, we tend to fall more and the repercussions of falling are more serious But why? Even if you rule out physical reasons for why you might be more likely to fall, older people still fall more often. Professor Raymond Reynolds, at the University of Birmingham, thinks it might be something happening in their heads – the balance system could be letting them down. Tracey Logan climbs aboard the shake shack to find out.
Artists often have lifestyle that requires complete immersion into their world, now a team finds that this difference is reflected in their brains too, that is, their brains are structurally different to non-artists. Participants' brain scans revealed that artists had increased grey matter in areas relating to fine motor movements and visual imagery. Our reporter Melissa Hogenboom speaks to artists and the authors of the new research to find out what exactly is different about their brains. The study is published in NeuroImage.
Producer: Fiona Roberts
Rank #6: 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.
Rank #7: Crime, volcanoes, ghosts and how we are influenced by the genes of unrelated others
The use of DNA evidence in criminal cases has sometimes been given far more weight than it deserves. In the worst examples there have been miscarriages of justice where DNA evidence has been misinterpreted. The fiction of DNA as a 'magic bullet' pervades TV drama and films - but views of DNA evidence as infallible are also widely held amongst the public, police and lawyers. Forensic specialists explain what we can and can't find from DNA evidence.
Oxford's Bodleian library has manuscripts stretching back to medieval times depicting volcanos discovered in the 6th century. These manuscripts also contain remarkable interpretations of eruptions and associated volcanic events, often mixed with mythology. Although those recording such events did not understand what they were scientifically, some of the depictions and ideas of what was happening are surprisingly accurate. Roland Pease and Professor David Pyle take a look at this remarkable collection.
Nearly a hundred years ago, Oliver Lodge, eminent physicist and the first to demonstrate radio waves, published a book about life after death. It was entitled 'Raymond' after his son who was killed in the First World War. Lodge was a believer in ghosts and telepathy, and conducted experiments to test their existence. Adam Rutherford and Samira Ahmed look at how Oliver Lodge squared his scientific and spiritualist beliefs - and how the latter led to him, as Britain's most well know scientist of his time, being written out of scientific history.
Rank #8: 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.
Rank #9: Wildlife trafficking, New quantum computers, Ancient bird beaks, Glassblowing.
New developments in Quantum computing. Sussex University are building a new type of modular Quantum computer. We attempt to explain what Quantum computing is.
A Massive citizen science project to map bird beak evolution- using records from the Natural History Museum.
And the last scientific Glassblower at Imperial College gives us a demonstration of his craft.
Rank #10: 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.
Rank #11: Measuring human impact on earth, Awards for engineers, Sounds of space junk.
The Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering has been awarded to the inventors of digital imaging sensors. First invented in the 1970's, many of us use this technology everyday. These sensor can be found inside every digital camera ever made, from the devices used on space probes to collect distant images from the far reaches of the universe to the ubiquitous pocket cameras in our mobile phones.
The earth is surrounded by junk - space junk. Many thousand of pieces of junk orbit the planet, left over from the history of everything we've ever sent into space. A new project has given a voice to this junk, and created a machine which plays simulated sounds of the junk as it passes overhead.
Producer: Julian Siddle
Presenter: Gareth Mitchell
Rank #12: 23andMe Genetic Sequencing, Human Knockout genes, Coral Bleaching
New research published this week has revealed something really quite bizarre about our own genomes: that we can survive normally with a considerable number of dysfunctional genes. We've got around 20,000 genes, and you might think that you need them all, as when they don't work, they could lead to a serious health condition. But from a study of more than 10,000 people from Pakistan more than 1300 mutations were found to have no effect on their health. Geneticist Robert Plenge explains the research.
The Great Barrier Reef has taken another huge hit with a mass bleaching event occurring a second year in a row. Over two thirds of the reef is now seriously damaged. Professor Jorg Wiedenmann of the University of Southampton explains that if bleaching events continue to happen at this rate, the world's largest coral reef will never recover.
Rank #13: Science and cyber security, Dinosaur babies, Winston Churchill and level crossings
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.
Rank #14: 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.
Rank #15: Time Travel in Science and Cinema
Producers: Stephen Hughes and Rami Tzabar.
Rank #16: Comet 67P images; Etna eruption; Brain navigation; Octopus intelligence
And while no-one has any doubt that volcanoes are extremely dangerous forces of nature, Science correspondent Rebecca Morelle was caught in an unusual and terrifying eruption last week. She tells BBC Inside Science the perils of reporting up close from the side of Etna and the rare kind of eruptions that are unique to snowy volcanoes.
What are our brains doing when we're navigating through towns and cities? A new study from a team at University College London has made detailed maps of brain activity when negotiating the very windy London streets of Soho and compared it to what our brains are up to when we're simply following a sat nav. Hugo Spiers discusses the results and how this kind of neuroscience has a role to play in the future design of new street networks and cities.
And we feature the private life of the octopus - a seemingly alien intelligence right here on Earth as philosopher Peter Godfrey-Smith discusses his new book "Other Minds: The Octopus and the Evolution of Intelligent Life", in which he literally dives into the oceans and delves in to the workings of the octopus mind
Producer Adrian Washbourne.
Rank #17: 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.
Rank #18: False positives in genetic test kits, Impact of fishing on ocean sharks, Sex-change fish
Deep sea pelagic sharks, like the great white, silky, tiger, porbeagle and blue are much more vulnerable than their scary reputation suggests. In fact, many shark species are in decline as a result of industrial fishing rapidly encroaching upon their territories, and an increased value of the sharks themselves. The oceans are big and sharks range far and wide, so understanding these movements is not easy. Professor David Sims, from the Marine Biological Association of the UK and the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, is part of a huge international consortium of marine biologists who have been tracking 11 species of shark all over the high seas using satellite technology. We’ve been fishing for more than 40,000 years, but our exploitation of the seas got serious in the last 50 years.
In nature, sex can be quite fluid, and in some species, sex changes are just a normal part of every day life. Especially in fish. This type of behaviour is called sequential hermaphroditism, and is common in fish. It's been known about for years, but the underlying genetic mechanisms are mysterious, which is strange for such a radical transformation. In the Blueheaded wrasse, when a dominant male is lost from the shoal, the largest female will immediately begin transforming into a male. Neil Gemmell from the University of Otago in New Zealand has lead a study which for the first time has uncovered the genetics of how the sex change happens.
Producer: Fiona Roberts
Rank #19: 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.
Rank #20: Ancient Human Occupation of Britain
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.