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.
Jul 20 2017
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.
Sep 13 2018
Rank #3: TB in the New World; Trusting Wikipedia; Shipwreck of the London; @LegoAcademics
Brand new work in comparative genetics is shedding light on the spread of TB. Scientists have shown that the initial spread of the deadly bacterial disease tuberculosis to the Americas didn't come with the European explorers and invaders. Skeletons of pre-Columbian Peruvians have shown signs of TB. So where did it come from? DNA samples collected from the ancient bacteria show they're closely related to the TB strain that infects seals and sea lions. So did the disease pass from humans in Africa to seals on the coast which then crossed the ocean and infected the Peruvians, 1000 years ago?
Truth, Trust and the internet
A recent YouGov poll revealed that the British public trusts the online encyclopaedia Wikipedia more than it trusts the BBC. The internet has revolutionised how we receive information and check references. But how much should we trust online facts? Adam talks to Carl Miller, from the Centre for Analysis of Social Media at think-tank Demos, about how Wikipedia entries are created and regulated. And he asks him whether the democratisation of facts - created by crowd-sourced opinion rather than individual experts - is something we should welcome?
Shipwreck of the London
The London was a 64-gun second-rate ship of the line of the English Royal Navy, launched in June 1656 and commanded by Captain John Lawson. The ship was accidentally blown up in 1665 and sank in the Thames Estuary. The wreck was rediscovered in 2008, and is considered important partly for its historical references and partly for its insight into an important period in British naval history. English Heritage and Cotswold Archaeology are examining the remains in the murky Thames estuary before they decide what to do next. Although the wreck could be at risk from increasingly acidified water and invasive shipworm, it's thought unlikely that they will raise the ship, due to a lack of museum space.
Campaigns for better female scientist role-models are not new. But what is new and welcome is when industry and society listens. Plastic toy brick manufacturer, Lego, has recently come up with a new set called the 'Research Institute' and it consists of lab kit and three female scientists - a palaeontologist, an astronomer and a chemist. Real life scientist and archaeologist Donna Yates, from the University of Glasgow, has gained thousands of Twitter followers after posting photographs reflecting the daily frustrations of academic life using the Lego figures. She arranges them in academic scenarios and posts her pics to the @LegoAcademics account. It's fun and full of in-jokes, but it gives great insight into some of the real issues scientists, and in particular, female scientists face. A Lego version of Adam Rutherford conducts the interview.
Producer: Fiona Roberts.
Aug 21 2014
Rank #4: 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 #5: 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 #6: Anaesthesia; Chilean earthquakes; Strange weather; Jellyfish
General anaesthetic is an essential part of modern medicine. Millions of surgical procedures, many life-saving, simply could not be performed without rendering the patient unconscious with one of a long list of drugs that induce anaesthesia. But, we don't know how they work.
Part of this mystery is because we're not entirely sure what we mean when we say unconscious. But part of it is that there's a whole fleet of different molecules than can work as an anaesthetic, so there's no well-known pathway we can study. Neuroscientist, Luca Turin at the Alexander Fleming Research Center in Greece thinks that the answer to how they work, could lie, not at the chemical level, but at the quantum level.
2014 Iquique Earthquake in Chile
Before the massive 8.1-8.2 Magnitude earthquake struck Iquique in Chile, in April, this year, there were a series foreshocks at the fault line. Adam Rutherford asks Roland Pease if these creaks could be a way of warning us about an imminent big quake in the future. They also discuss whether the stress released by the megathrust quake means the region will be seismically inactive for a while. The experts think not.
We are obsessed with the weather. It is a powerful, shared daily experience, offering us an immediate talking point. Yet when we talk about climate change the sense of guilt or powerlessness can often be enough to kill the conversation. A new exhibition at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin aims to engage conversations about both weather and climate in a playful, provocative way. By bringing together works by artists, designers, scientists, meteorologists and engineers STRANGE WEATHER asks questions such as: Should human culture be reshaped to fit strange weather or should we reshape weather to fit our strange culture? Who is going to take advantage of climate chaos and how will strange weather benefit me? How will you choose to work, celebrate, live and die when weather gets weird?
Strange Weather runs at Science Gallery, Trinity College Dublin from 18th July to 5th October 2014
A listener writes in to ask if we will ever run out of room in our Universe for the trillions and trillions of neutrinos being created. Malcolm Fairbairn at Kings College London does the maths.
Last year was a record for jellyfish sightings off the UK coast. We know very little about our jellyfish, and experts at the Marine Conservation Society want to know more. They're set up a survey, complete with photographic guides and reporting forms for you to send in your sightings of these coastal visitors.
Producer: Fiona Roberts.
Aug 14 2014
Rank #7: Farewell to Cassini, the epic 20 year mission to Saturn
With contributions from Michele Dougherty, Professor of space physics at Imperial College
Robert Brown, Professor Planetary surface processes Arizona University
Carl Murray, Professor of Astronomy, Queen Mary,University of London
Ellen Stofan, former chief NASA scientist
Producer Adrian Washbourne.
Sep 14 2017
Rank #8: Oceans, ice and climate change; Neolithic baby bottles; Caroline Criado-Perez wins RS Book Prize
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
Rank #9: Science after Brexit
Around 4,500 years ago, 90% of the British population was replaced by incomers known as the Beaker people. Across Europe archaeologists have uncovered elements of the Beaker culture - bell-shaped pots, copper daggers, arrowheads, stone wrist guards and distinctive perforated buttons -it's always been a mystery as to whether these finds represent a wave of mass migration or the sharing of ideas between peoples. Now ancient DNA studies show it was both, and for Britain reveal a huge population change which still resonates today.
A new collaboration between an artist and a cyclone physicist commences this week.They joined forces to model Hurricane Katrina and cast its shape into six brass bells. Each bell represents a key moment from the category 5 storm, as it progressed across the Gulf of Mexico and made landfall in the United States in 2005. The finished collection will feature in a BBC Radio 4 documentary later this year.
And how does the moon affect life on earth? specifically worms - we unearth a species of worm that times its mating ritual by the waxing and waning Moon.
Feb 22 2018
Rank #10: HIV protective gene paper retraction, Imaging ancient Herculaneum scrolls, Bill Bryson's The Body
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
Rank #11: Antarctica's volcanoes, science book prize nominee - Mark O'Connell, US solar eclipse and 40 years of NASA's Voyager mission
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
Rank #12: 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 #13: 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 #14: Longitude Prize 2014; Dementia; Matter from light; Coastal deposition
The Longitude Prize offers a £10 million prize pot to help find the solution to one of the greatest issues of our age. Votes from the British public will decide what that issue will be. This week, the six shortlisted challenges have been unveiled. They cover flight, food, antibiotics, paralysis, water and dementia. Alice Roberts talks to Adam about why we need an X-factor for science. Over the next month, Inside Science will profile each of these challenges and explain how you can cast your vote.
Matter from Light
In 12 months' time, researchers say they will be able to make matter from light. Three physicists were sitting in a tiny office at Imperial College London and while drinking coffee they found what they call a fairly simple way to prove a theory first suggested by scientists 80 years ago: to convert photons - i.e. particles of light - into electrons (particles of matter) and positrons (antimatter). Adam discusses the work with theoretical physicist Professor Steven Rose from Imperial College London and science writer Philip Ball.
Longitude challenge - Dementia
How can we help people with dementia to live independently for longer? Dr Kevin Fong is the champion for this Longitude Challenge, arguing that we all use technology to support our lifestyles but that people with dementia need extra tech. Marnie Chesterton visits Designability, a Bath-based design charity that works with people with dementia to develop new technologies. Their Day Clock shows that a simple design can produce radical results.
The destructive winter storms that hit the UK caused were flooded by the worst tidal surge on the east coast in 60 years.
Sand dunes play an important defensive role on our coastline but little is known about their resilience or recovery rate. So after the December 5th storm, scientists sprang into action in Lincolnshire with a new project that officially began in February. The aim is to help future coastal management by researching the effects of storm surges on sand dunes.
Producer: Fiona Roberts.
May 22 2014
Rank #15: Science of ageing; Microneedles; Firelab; Rosetta; Scientific authorship
In 1900, the global average life expectancy was 31, today it's 70, and the number of people over 85 in the UK is predicted to double in the next 20 years. How has ageing evolved, and do we know what is happening in our cells as we age? Professor Richard Faragher, University of Brighton, explains.
Sticking plaster-like needle replacement
Microneedles on a sticking-plaster-like patch may be the painless and safe way doctors will test for drugs and infections, and give vaccinations in the future. Roland Pease tries an alternative to the traditional injection at Queen's University Belfast with Dr Ryan Donnelly.
Science of fire
It's November, and these are the days when you may well have a smouldering bonfire in your back garden. Marnie Chesterton meets scientists whose lives are devoted to the behaviour of fire.
Comet landing mission nears
The Rosetta Mission is entering the final stages before landing on a comet. By this time next week, we will know if the European Space Agency has successfully achieved what could be an extraordinary feat. Paolo Ferri, Head of Mission Operations at the European Space Agency, outlines the challenge.
Dr Stronzo and other cases
Dr Stronzo Bestiale made his debut in the world of scientific publications in 1987, authoring a paper entitled 'Diffusion in a periodic Lorentz gas', in the Journal of Statistical Physics. However, he doesn't exist. This phantom physicist is not an isolated incident: Mike Holderness at New Scientist has been tracking scientific author apparitions for some time.
Producer: Marnie Chesterton
Assistant Producer: Jen Whyntie.
Nov 06 2014
Rank #16: Gene-editing human embryos, Spaceman's eyes, Science book prize, Sexual selection in salmon
Despite the obvious benefits of being an astronaut... exploring new worlds, seeing Earth from space, and of course the glory and fame, it can take a real toll on the body. Astronauts' skeletons and muscles deteriorate in zero gravity, their immune system weakens, and they experience nasal congestion and sleep disturbance. Many symptoms persists once they're back on Earth. But, there's another to add to the list, space flight-associated neuro-ocular syndrome or SANS. Ophthalmologist at Houston Methodist Hospital, Dr Andrew Lee explains that the build-up of fluid in the brain can squeeze the eye and optic nerve and lead to visual disturbance and even vision loss.
The shortlist for the Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize 2017 has just been announced. Adam pesters judge Claudia Hammond for the name of the winner (she doesn't tell!) and discusses the criteria for this £25,000 prestigious award. The top 6 books will be featured over the next 6 weeks on BBC Inside Science.
Sexual selection - who you decide to have babies with - is usually decided at the dating stage. But the choice does not have to stop at copulation. Post-mating sexual selection is a thing. Mechanisms such as sperm competition, and cryptic female choice, can happen after sex, but before the sperm fertilises the egg. It's not just an internal thing either, it happens in 'external fertilizers', where eggs are laid, and then fertilized by the male sperm outside the female's body, like come fish do in water. Professor Neil Gemmell, at the University of Otago in Dunedin in New Zealand, has been studying just such processes in Chinook salmon. His findings are surprising and could inform us about human reproduction and fertility.
Produced by Fiona Roberts.
Aug 03 2017
Rank #17: Time Travel in Science and Cinema
Producers: Stephen Hughes and Rami Tzabar.
Oct 15 2015
Rank #18: 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 #19: Pesticides in British Farming
Next week sees the launch of a NASA mission called TESS. The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite is surveying the brightest stars near Earth and looking for habitable planets. Roland Pease reports.
Traditionally, the move from Bronze Age to the Iron Age is estimated to be around 1200 BCE. But recent excavations of smelting sites in Uttar Pradesh in India suggest that this date might be a few centuries late and that it might even originate in Asia. Adam visits The Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire to see how a particle accelerator is revealing the details of the Indian Iron Age.
Our ancestors bore a very prominent brow ridge, which scientists think was a symbol of dominance. Modern humans, however, have lost this ridge in favour of a flatter forehead. Why? Dr Penny Spikins and her colleagues think the answer lies in social interaction and in particular, the ability to raise your eyebrows.
Apr 12 2018
Rank #20: Rosetta; Thought-controlled genes; Biophonic Life; Arecibo message 40 years on
After a nail-biting, bumpy, bouncy landing, European Space Agency's Rosetta probe - 'Philae' -lands on the comet 67P. It's already collecting data and beaming back some very impressive images of this dusty, icy space projectile. BBC Space correspondent Jonathan Amos fills us in on the latest news.
Brainwaves from human participants activated a light, which in turn switches on specific genes in mice. In this proof of concept study, Professor Martin Fussenegger hopes that one day this technology could be used to control pain, pre-empt epileptic seizures, or in fact communicate with people who have locked in syndrome. It's another example of two very exciting techniques - brain machine interfacing and optogenetics.
Arecibo Message Anniversary
40 years ago, on 16 Nov 1974, a message designed to inform intelligent alien civilisations about human existence was beamed into space. Whilst Frank Drake's binary picture message was primarily put together to show the capabilities of the upgraded Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico, it has inspired interest and enthusiasm around the world. Veteran of subsequent space message projects Dr Carolyn Porco joins Adam to talk about how space science has progressed in the interim decades, and what these ventures mean to humankind.
Sound installation "The Sounds of Others: A Biophonic Line", by artist Marcus Coates is currently delighting visitors to Manchester's Museum of Science and Industry. It explores the sounds of animals, from field crickets to humpback whales. By speeding and slowing each sound, his work reveals unimagined connections between species, and unearths common patterns and forms that would normally be beyond the reach of the human ear. The Sounds of Others looks for commonality between the human and non-human worlds, through sound. Marcus Coates, and collaborator wildlife sound-recordist Geoff Sample talk Adam through some of the surprising sounds of nature. Can you tell a pack of children from red deer? Or Marcus from a Lion? And is there a reason for these connections?
Producer: Fiona Roberts.
Nov 13 2014