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BBC Inside Science

BBC Inside Science

By BBC Radio 4

A weekly programme that illuminates the mysteries and challenges the controversies behind the science that's changing our world.


How will climate change affect where we can live?

Extreme weather is forcing communities to leave their homes and it's becoming a bigger and bigger issue. What can we do about it? In this edition of BBC Inside Science, Gaia Vince and her guests discuss what climate displacement means for people all over the world. We hear from Diwigdi Valiente, a member of the Guna Yala people of the San Blas Islands in Panama, where whole communities have already begun to evacuate. Closer to home the experts consider the impact of rising sea levels on British coastal communities. Guests are: Richard Betts, head of climate impacts at the UK Met Office and a professor at the University of Exeter; Lucy Easthope, professor in practice of risk and hazard at the University of Durham and a leading adviser on emergency planning and disaster recovery; Professor Guillermo Rein, an expert in fire science at Imperial College London; and Michael Szoenyi, head of flood resilience at Zurich Insurance. He explains why climate change has become such an important factor for business and individuals planning for the future – and why it’s essential we don’t leave big decisions about where we should live to the last minute. Presenter: Gaia Vince Producer: Clem Hitchcock Content Producer: Alice Lipscombe-Southwell Editor: Richard Collings
28/09/23·28m 6s

What makes a healthy river?

River health has captured the public imagination, particularly as overspills from sewers have been getting more attention in the media. But the condition of a river is so much more complicated than what flows into it from our water treatment systems. Agriculture, roads, how we use our drains, what we buy and even the medicines and drugs we take can all have an impact on our rivers and the plants and animals that call them home. So how are UK rivers doing? And what needs to happen to help those waterways that are drowning in pollution? Joining the BBC's Marnie Chesterton on stage at Green Man Festival in Wales to discuss all this is: Dave Johnston, team leader of environmental reporting at Natural Resources Wales, whose responsibility it is to monitor Welsh rivers. Joanne Cable, head of organisms and environment division at Cardiff University, whose focus is on biodiversity and what we at home can do to support our rivers. Simon Evans, chief executive of The Wye and Usk Foundation, who runs citizen science projects to support these two rivers local to the festival. Christian Dunn, wetland biologist at Bangor University, who is keen to explain the power of wetlands and has also done some surprising research into the river near Glastonbury Festival. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producers: Harrison Lewis and Hannah Robins Research: Liam Collins-Jones Studio Managers: Mike Cox and Duncan Hannant Editor: Richard Collings
21/09/23·36m 11s

Why do we want to go back to the Moon?

Two plucky spacecraft, one Russian and one Indian, are currently blasting towards the Moon’s South Pole. Both Russia’s Luna-25 and India’s Chandrayaan-3 are due to touch down next week. They’re heading to that particular region of the Moon in order to hunt for water, the presence of which could have huge implications for our further exploration of the Solar System. Victoria Gill talks to Dr Becky Smethurst, an astrophysicist at the University of Oxford, to find out more. Victoria then heads to the Lake District to witness the release of water voles into the ecosystem. Next up, Professor Lewis Griffin, a computer scientist from University College London, tells us how bad we are at distinguishing between real and deepfake voices. He then reveals what implications this might have for scams. Finally, Dr Helen Pilcher tells us all about the intriguing ways that animals can bend time. You can find out more in her book, How Nature Keeps Time. Presenter: Victoria Gill Producer: Hannah Robins Content producer: Alice Lipscombe-Southwell Research: Patrick Hughes Editor: Richard Collings
14/09/23·28m 6s

Time is still ticking for the Amazon

After decades of exploitation, time is running out for the Amazon rainforest. Eight South American nations came together this week for the first time in 14 years in an attempt to draw up a plan for a more sustainable future. The BBC’s South America correspondent Katy Watson sends us an update on the summit from Belém, Brazil. We also hear from Brazilian scientist Joice Ferreira who tells us why the Amazon is so important for the entire planet. Next up Victoria Gill finds out more about how British Sign Language is adding key scientific concepts to its dictionary in order to open up science communication to a broader community of people. There are still many words and phrases that have not yet been ‘signed’. Now did you know that the inhalers used by asthmatics emit a tiny amount of greenhouse gas with every puff? Victoria speaks to Dr Veena Aggarwal, a GP registrar and former member of Greener NHS, about whether the government’s new plan for environmentally friendly inhalers will help. Finally Victoria catches up with palaeoanthropologist Lee Berger. He’s written a book that tells a harrowing tale about his trip into a labyrinth of underground tunnels to find out more about an ancient human-like creature called Homo naledi. Presenter: Victoria Gill Producers: Hannah Robins and Harrison Lewis Content producer: Alice Lipscombe-Southwell Research: Patrick Hughes Editor: Richard Collings
07/09/23·28m 5s

Reality check: carbon capture and storage

This week the UK government announced that around 100 new oil and gas licences for the North Sea will be issued. At the same time the Prime Minister said the government would back two new carbon capture and storage plants, one in Aberdeenshire and one in the Humber. Victoria Gill speaks to Angela Knight, former chief executive of Energy UK, about what this decision means for the UK’s aim of reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050. She then discovers more about the capabilities of carbon capture and storage from Paul Fennell, a professor of clean energy at Imperial College London. Next Victoria travels to the sunnier shores of Spain where orcas have been ramming fishing boats. She speaks to one of the sailors who witnessed an attack. To find out more about the orcas’ behaviour, she interviews Dr Luke Rendell, a whale and dolphin expert from the University of St Andrews. We then move to Skomer, off the coast of West Wales. This important seabird colony has recently recorded an avian flu outbreak. Reporter Roland Pease speaks to Lisa Morgan from the Wildlife Trust for South and West Wales. To finish the show Dr Stuart Farrimond is back with the final instalment of his science of gardening series. Presenter: Victoria Gill Producers: Alice Lipscombe-Southwell, Hannah Robins Research: Patrick Hughes Editor: Richard Collings
31/08/23·28m 3s

Battles with flames

We're in the heart of summer in Europe, where extreme heat has spiralled into out-of-control wildfires across the Mediterranean, leading thousands to flee their homes. Previously on Inside Science we've looked at how and why temperatures are soaring across the globe. Now we're homing in on one of the most visible effects of that. First, BBC climate and science reporter Georgina Rannard paints a picture of the link between these fires and climate change. Next up we hear from Professor Stefan Doerr, director of the Centre for Wildfire Research at Swansea University, on whether Europe is prepared for a future where these blazes are more frequent and intense. Another effect of climate change you might have heard about this week is the potential collapse of the Gulf Stream. Georgina explains why leading researchers have reservations about the science behind that claim. We investigate a sometimes overlooked and under-reported source of pollution: particles from vehicle tyres. Dr Marc Masen from Imperial College London tells us about the impact they’re having on our health. And pollution from tyres is affecting flora and fauna too. Dr Paul Donald, senior researcher at Birdlife International, explains how vehicles on our roads have impacted wildlife in the environment. Finally, from four wheels to two wheels! Geneticist and body weight scientist Dr Giles Yeo is cycling from Land's End to John O'Groats with two glucose monitors on his arm. He tells us what he's hoping to learn. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Hannah Fisher Content producer: Alice Lipscombe-Southwell Research: Patrick Hughes Editor: Richard Collings
24/08/23·33m 58s

The wide-ranging effects of climate change

This week China hit a record high temperature, a scorching 52.2°C, while Death Valley in California measured 53.9°C. Elsewhere, Europe has been battling searing heat and raging wildfires. In previous editions of Inside Science we’ve explored the effects of heat on our health. This week we’ve zoomed out to get a wider perspective on the impacts of soaring temperatures. First up, Rebecca Tobi from the Food Foundation reveals how this weather will impact the range of foods we are used to seeing on supermarket shelves. Next we hear from Hayley Fowler, professor of climate change impacts at Newcastle University. She explains how the jet stream – which plays a large role in the UK’s weather – is affecting extreme weather patterns. Another country experiencing particularly extreme weather at the moment is China. BBC correspondent in Hong Kong, Danny Vincent, tells us how record temperatures could have wide-ranging effects beyond China’s borders. Changing heat patterns could even unlock new habitats for wildlife. Jo Lines, professor of malaria and vector biology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, says that we need to be aware of mosquito-borne diseases that could take hold in Europe. Then it’s off to Reading University, where reporter Harrison Lewis chats to meteorologist Dr Rob Thompson and senior researcher Dr Natalie Harvey, to find out more about how weather balloons can help with storm forecasting. Finally, we’re heading back to Trowbridge, near Bath, where Dr Stuart Farrimond explains exactly how our gardens can help in the battle against climate change. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Harrison Lewis Content producer: Alice Lipscombe-Southwell Assistant producer: Robbie Wojciechowski Editor: Richard Collings
17/08/23·32m 40s

How social media can affect the health of teenagers

The Threads social media app launched on 5th July. Instagram users were able to sign up with just a few clicks. It joins a plethora of other social media apps like Snapchat, Twitter and TikTok, all of which are readily accessible on our phones. With all these apps at our fingertips, it’s never been easier for us to discover new people to follow, keep in touch with our friends and stay up to date with the latest news about our favourite celebrities. But Professor Devi Sridhar, the chair of global public health at the University of Edinburgh, is concerned about the harmful effect that all these apps could potentially be having on the health of young people. She talks to Marnie Chesterton about why they should be better regulated in order to protect our children. Marnie is then joined by Professor Andrew Przybylski from the University of Oxford who says that more studies need to be carried out. Next up we find out more about phages – ‘good’ viruses that infect and destroy bacteria and could hold the key to fighting disease. Tom Ireland, author of a new book, The Good Virus, tells Marnie about the history of phages and their potentially exciting future. This week the European Court of Human Rights ruled in favour of middle-distance runner and Olympic champion Caster Semenya in a case related to testosterone levels in female athletes. Marnie speaks to developmental biologist Dr Emma Hilton about what causes differences in sexual development and the impact they can have. We also hear from Dr Stuart Farrimond who explains how the microclimates in your garden can affect the plants you can grow. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Harrison Lewis Content producer: Alice Lipscombe-Southwell Assistant producer: Robbie Wojciechowski Editor: Richard Collings
10/08/23·32m 50s

Mapping the universe

A rocket launch, super-massive black holes and ghost particles! This past week’s scientific findings are testament to how hard-at-work cosmologists and physicists have been seeking out the fundamental building blocks of our universe and the rules that govern it. Professor of Cosmology at UCL, Andrew Pontzen, joins Marnie Chesterton to discuss the lot of them. Euclid took to the stars on Saturday, carrying a wide-angle space telescope that promises the opportunity to create a far larger and accurate 3D map of the universe to anything ever seen before. Gravitational waves detected by the North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves (NANOgrav) provide insight into the role black holes play in galaxy formation. And neutrinos recorded in the remote ices of Antarctica have been detected from the centre of our Milky Way. Dr Stuart Farrimond also joins us for the next few weeks with his pitch on the science of gardening. He’ll be digging up facts and tips that will help make the most out of summer blooms. This week Stu unearths how the pH of your soil could be hindering the flowerbeds. And visit a Welsh quarry with reporter Ella Hubber to hear how a mere 462 million years ago new species were exploding onto the scene. Palaeontologists Dr Joe Botting and Dr Lucy Muir stumbled across the most abundant and rare deposit of soft bodied fossils on record, scoring an archaeological jackpot! Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Harrison Lewis Content producer: Alice Lipscombe-Southwell Assistant producer: Robbie Wojciechowski Editor: Richard Collings
02/08/23·35m 18s

Heat and health

Last summer saw intense heatwaves across the world. And already this year, global air, surface and sea temperatures have hit the highest levels on record. China, India and the US are currently experiencing heatwaves. In June, the UK’s Met Office released a health warning because of the high temperatures. In this episode Gaia Vince investigates what causes heatwaves and how hotter weather impacts our health. She finds out how we can prepare ourselves as the temperatures rise. Gaia is joined by Peter Stott at the Met Office Centre for Climate Prediction, who reveals more about the forecast and what causes heatwaves. She also speaks to Bob Ward, policy director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate and the Environment, who gives us the lowdown on the UK’s heat health warning system and says what the future could look like if we continue to miss climate targets. In addition, Dann Mitchell, professor of climate science at the University of Bristol, discusses the health impacts of extreme heat. Guillermo Rein, professor of fire science at Imperial College London, explains what sparks wildfires and how they spread. Elsewhere, Germany has launched a high-tech heat health warning system to warn people when the temperatures are rocketing. Gaia speaks to Andreas Matzarakis, from Albert Ludwig University in Freiburg, who developed the system. Presenter: Gaia Vince Producer: Harrison Lewis Content Producer: Alice Lipscombe-Southwell Assistant Producer: Robbie Wojciechowski Editor: Richard Collings
27/07/23·29m 59s

The science of sound

Scientists, conservationists and other researchers are using audio soundscapes in innovative ways to record the natural world in rich detail and help develop strategies to preserve it. Gaia Vince visits the Dear Earth exhibition at London’s Southbank Centre where she interacts with the ‘Tell It To The Birds’ artwork by Jenny Kendler. This piece transforms spoken word into birdsong, which Jenny hopes will help raise awareness of threatened species. She is joined by Dr Patricia Brekke from the Zoological Society of London who reveals more about the threats faced by birds. We then visit the Knepp Estate to meet ecologist Penny Green, who reveals more about the value of audio for her work. Gaia then speaks to Dr Alice Eldridge, an acoustics expert from the University of Sussex, who has spearheaded the Wilding Radio project at the Knepp Estate in Sussex. She was curious to find out whether the sounds in the environment would change following the introduction of beavers to the estate. In collaboration with arts cooperative Soundcamp, she built high-quality, solar-powered equipment to continuously broadcast the soundscape from above and below the water. While we can record animals which we currently share the world with, what about those that have been lost forever? Cheryl Tipp, the British Library’s curator of wildlife and environmental sounds, looks after the library’s audio collection of more than 250,000 species and habitat recordings. She shares the heartbreaking tale of a now-extinct bird and explains why sound is such a valuable resource. Finally, Dr Tim Lamont, a marine biologist from Lancaster University, tells us why a degraded coral reef sounds different from a healthy one. He explains how broadcasting the sounds of a healthy reef can help attract more marine wildlife to an area. Presenter: Gaia Vince Producer: Hannah Fisher Content Producer: Alice Lipscombe-Southwell Editor: Richard Collings
19/07/23·35m 39s

The Kakhovka dam and global food security

On Tuesday, the United Nations reported that the breach of the Nova Kakhovka dam on the Dnipro River in Ukraine will impact heavily on global food security, causing a rise in food prices and leaving many without access to clean drinking water. Nine days after the disaster Gaia looks to the future alongside Kira Rudyk, Ukrainian MP who is also leader of the opposition party Golos and Laura Wellesley, senior research fellow in the Environment and Society Programme at Chatham House. Earlier this week the three-year inquiry into COVID began, seeking ‘to examine the UK’s response to and impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and learn lessons for the future.’ Eyes are on the inquiry from many angles. Inside Science looks at what scientists hope to contribute and learn from it, with author and broadcaster Philip Ball. Also, a spike in North Atlantic sea temperatures has sparked concern among scientists. Richard Betts, head of climate impacts at the Met Office, talks through the factors that have coincided to form the anomaly. Presenter: Gaia Vince Producer: Harrison Lewis Assistant producer: Robbie Wojciechowski Editor: Richard Collings
13/07/23·27m 38s

An ocean of opportunities

For World Ocean Day, Gaia Vince finds out how the planet’s seas could help us to generate clean power, capture CO2 and feed the world. Gaia is joined in the studio by science journalist and marine biologist Olive Heffernan. She dives into the controversy regarding the potential of mining in deep oceans and discusses whether the seas could become the location for Industrial Revolution 2.0. We’re used to seeing seaweed wrapped around our sushi rolls but it’s so much more than that. As well as being a tasty addition to what we eat, seaweed plays a vital role in absorbing CO2. Gaia speaks to Vincent Doumeizel, a senior adviser on oceans to the UN Global Compact; he’s also the food programme director at the UK-based charity Lloyd’s Register Foundation. He’s confident that seaweed could enable us to sustainably feed a growing global population in the coming decades. Phytoplankton – microscopic species of algae that exist on the surface of the sea – also absorb huge amounts of carbon from the atmosphere. Sir David King, founder and chair of the Climate Crisis Advisory Group and former chief scientific adviser to the UK Government has the radical idea that artificial whale poo could boost phytoplankton growth, leading to an increase in fish stocks and, consequently, improved biodiversity in the oceans. He tells Gaia about his project and the potential it has for carbon capture. When we think of energy generation from the oceans, we tend to think of offshore technology such as wind turbines. But what about generating electricity using the water itself? Gaia speaks to Eco Wave Power’s Inna Braverman who reveals how her project harnesses the power of the waves by attaching to existing coastal structures such as piers and jetties, to provide a source of clean, renewable energy. Presenter: Gaia Vince Producer: Hannah Fisher Content Producer: Alice Lipscombe-Southwell Editor: Richard Collings
05/07/23·33m 2s

AI and human extinction

In the headlines this week eminent tech experts and public figures signed an open letter that read “Mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war.” One of the signatories was Geoffrey Hinton, the so-called ‘godfather of AI’. He’s become so concerned about the risks associated with artificial intelligence that he recently decided to quit his job at Google, where he had worked for more than a decade. But are these concerns justified, or is it overblown scaremongering? And should we start prepping for a Terminator-style takeover? To get the answers, presenter Gareth Mitchell is joined by computational linguist Prof Emily M. Bender from the University of Washington along with Dr Stephen Cave, Director at the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence (CFI). Next up, we hear from Prof Carl Sayer at UCL, along with Dr Cicely Marshall and Dr Matthew Wilkinson from the University of Cambridge, to dig into the science behind wildflower meadows and whether they can boost biodiversity and even help ease climate change. Finally, have you heard about Balto the sled dog? He was part of a life-saving mission in the 1920s and now he has the chance to be a hero once more. His DNA has been studied by the Zoonomia project, which is using databases of genomes from hundreds of mammals to build a better picture of evolution. This data could then be used help identify those animals that are at the greatest risk of extinction. Presenter: Gareth Mitchell Producer: Harrison Lewis Content Producers: Ella Hubber and Alice Lipscombe-Southwell Editor: Richard Collings
29/06/23·27m 44s

The benefits and problems of eDNA

This week, we hear from the University of Florida’s Dr David Duffy. He heads up a team of researchers who are studying sea turtles. In order to track the animals and their diseases, the scientists devised a method of collecting fragments of DNA from tanks at the university’s turtle hospital, as well as from sand and water in the local environment. While they found plenty of turtle DNA, they were surprised to uncover large amounts of high-quality human eDNA. Duffy tells us all about the study and his surprising findings, but also highlights the ethical problems this could raise. We are then joined by Dr Matt Clark from the Natural History Museum, and Sir Jonathan Montgomery from University College London, to discuss the ins and outs of eDNA – how it can be beneficial for conservation, forensics and healthcare, but could also be problematic from a privacy perspective. Muriel Rabone and Dr Adrian Glover from the Natural History Museum have compiled an extensive checklist of all the species present in the remote Clarion-Clipperton Zone, which is an area twice the size of India, five kilometres deep in the Pacific Ocean. While you might expect this part of the sea to be devoid of life, the organisms that live there are surprisingly diverse, and we still know little about them. But the region is also chock-full of in-demand rare-earth metals. And we are joined by Dr Katie King to talk over some of her favourite science stories of the week, followed up by Helen Keen, who gets the kettle on to reveal more about the surprising physics behind a cup of coffee. Milk and two sugars for us, please. Presenter: Gareth Mitchell Producer: Hannah Fisher Content Producer: Alice Lipscombe-Southwell
21/06/23·30m 51s

Science in the making

The Royal Society is the oldest scientific academy in the world. Since being established in 1660, it has painstakingly archived thousands of papers, letters, manuscripts and illustrations from some of science’s most enquiring minds. In this episode, Victoria Gill takes a trip to the society to pore over some of the most intriguing artefacts within its vaults. While there, she finds out more about the formation of the Royal Society and how science has been shaped over the centuries. Along the way, she considers the role of women in science, and asks whether their contributions have been historically overlooked. She is joined by the Royal Society’s Louisiane Ferlier and Keith Moore, along with Prof Uta Frith, a Royal Society Fellow and psychologist, and Dr Stephen Webster, a senior lecturer in science communication at Imperial College London. As part of its Science in the Making project, the Royal Society is currently digitising all of its collections, for everyone to browse through and enjoy. You can find out more on the Royal Society website. Presenter: Victoria Gill Producers: Harrison Lewis, Hannah Fisher Content Producer: Alice Lipscombe-Southwell
14/06/23·29m 35s

Can we prevent natural disasters?

Natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes and hurricanes all have the power to cause deadly destruction. One event can lead to another, causing a chain reaction of devastation that can take years to rebuild from. But do all natural events have to turn into a disaster? Is there anything we can do to mitigate their impacts? Gaia Vince speaks to Anastasios Sextos, Professor of Earthquake Engineering at the University of Bristol to find out how we can engineer buildings to withstand earthquakes, and Bruce Malamud, Executive Director of the Institute of Hazard Risk and Resilience at Durham University, to learn how we can build models to forecast the risk of a natural disaster occurring. Lucy Easthope is a leading advisor on emergency planning and disaster recovery and a Professor in Hazard and Risk at Durham University. She joins Gaia in the studio to discuss her experience of being one of the first responders to disasters and how in fact, the way they unfold is more predictable than we might think. Ilan Kelman, Professor of Disasters and Health at UCL, also joins them to discuss the importance of social resilience, long-term planning and effective alert communication in managing and mitigating the aftermath of these events. Presenter: Gaia Vince Producer: Hannah Fisher
07/06/23·31m 41s

Wild Britain

In 2020, the UK government committed to protecting at least 30% of land and sea for nature by 2030. Step seven years into the future with Gaia. The UK has achieved its biodiversity goal, but what does wild Britain look like? Richard Benwell, CEO of wildlife and Countryside Link, Meredith Whitten, a researcher and urban environment planner at LSE, Hugo Tagholm, CEO of Oceana and George Monbiot, an environmental writer whose book Regenesis explores sustainable agriculture, describe this radical new world. Presenter: Gaia Vince Producer: Harrison Lewis
31/05/23·28m 50s

70th anniversary of the discovery of DNA’s structure

James Watson and Francis Crick, who detailed the double-helix structure of DNA in 1953, are perhaps two of the most iconic scientists of the 20th Century. Yet the story of how they made their incredible discovery is perhaps equally famous, with a notorious narrative suggesting that they only identified the structure after taking the work of Rosalind Franklin and using it without her permission. Now, 70 years after the discovery of DNA’s structure, it is perhaps time to rewrite the tale. New evidence has now been unearthed, in the form of an overlooked news article and an unpublished letter, that shows that Franklin was truly an equal contributor to the discovery, and Watson and Crick were not as malicious as previously assumed. Together with Matthew Cobb of the University of Manchester, Nathaniel Comfort from Johns Hopkins University, and Angela Creager of Princeton University, Gaia Vince discusses this tantalising tale and finds out more about how this discovery could bring a whole new twist to the story of DNA. Presenter: Gaia Vince Producer: Harrison Lewis Assistant Producer: Jonathan Blackwell
24/05/23·32m 46s

Rocket Launch Pollution

Whilst the globe struggles to shift to green sustainable energy sources, one industry has its sights set solely on the stars. Space X just launched the biggest rocket the world’s ever seen, and it won’t be their last even if it did end its test flight with a bang. As we enter a new golden age of space travel, Vic asks Associate Professor in Physical Geography Dr Eloise Marais if we are paying enough attention to the environmental impacts posed by a rapidly growing space industry. Have viruses, bacteria, and microorganisms influenced humanity more than we know? Author of new book, Pathogenesis: How Germs Made History, Dr Jonathan Kennedy discusses how germs and disease have shaped human evolution, history and culture and what we can learn from the COVID pandemic. And from unconventional life in space to psychoactive spinning apes, Vic and BBC Climate Reporter Georgina Rannard bring you the best scientific stories from the past couple of weeks. Presenter: Victoria Gill Producer: Harrison Lewis Content Producer: Ella Hubber BBC Inside Science is produced in collaboration with the Open University.
17/05/23·28m 12s


When was the last time you had to use your negotiating skills? Did you walk away satisfied? This week junior doctors are half way through their 4 day walkout, with senior NHS figures suggesting the cancellation of between 250,000 and 350,000 appointments/operations. Victoria Gill is preparing to debate her way through the science of disagreement and identify what qualities make for the perfect negotiator. Associate Professor Sunny Lee, Deputy Director of Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion at University College London helps guide Victoria through the basic building blocks that help resolve conflict, with expert commentary from Camilla Born peeking behind the curtain of COP26, and finally negotiating with elephants? Dr Josh Plotnik at City University of New York suggests that some animals may be actively seeking out conflict with humans. Presenter: Victoria Gill Producer: Harrison Lewis
11/05/23·28m 12s


In this special edition of Inside Science, Vic Gill prepares to rummage through our rubbish, to peek behind the curtain of the UK's recycling habits and see how well prepared we are as a nation to further our efforts of sustainable waste management. Presenter: Vic Gill Producer: Emily Bird
04/05/23·27m 54s

Net Zero

Far away and not enough, those are criticisms of the government’s latest net zero initiative – a plan to reduce emissions . We ask Jim Watson Professor of Energy Policy and Director of the UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources for his assessment. And there’s money to be made from private health testing, the growth of Covid testing has been followed by an upsurge in private screening for cancer in particular, but how useful is it really? BBC Health correspondent Matthew Hill takes a look. Every cell in out body carries an electrical charge. In her new book, We Are Electric: The New Science of Our Body’s Electrome, Sally Adee discusses how this facet might be harnessed for the detection of illnesses, medical treatments and whether it will allow us to develop hidden powers. The World Wood Web is a concept showing how trees communicate with each other through an underground fungal network. The idea was first proposed by Suzanne Simard, Now professor of Forest Ecology at the University of British Columbia, who tells us how she came up with the concept and about her work on the hidden relationships of trees.
27/04/23·34m 48s

Covid – missing link found?

Data collated from swab samples taken in Wuhan’s market in the early days of the Covid pandemic suggest animals sold in the market were carrying the virus at the time. It’s the strongest evidence yet for an intermediate species – one which passed the virus on to humans after becoming infected by bats carrying the virus. Dr Florence Debarre from the Institute of ecology and environmental sciences, in Paris and Professor Eddie Holmes from Sydney University discuss the findings. Beethoven’s genome has been reconstructed from samples of his hair. It reveals some of his medical history, but also unexpected findings on his paternity. We discuss the ethics of such genetic analysis with Tom Booth who studies ancient DNA at the Francis Crick institute. And microbes may help us survive and thrive in space according to Astrobiologist Rosa Santomartino, not only that but their recycling capabilities could also help us on earth
20/04/23·27m 58s

Sweet Science

Researchers from London’s Francis Crick Institute have found a type of artificial sweetener is able to dampen down immune system responses - at least in mice. Karen Vousden and Fabio Zani tell us about the implications. And Ronan McCarthy from Brunel University has found a range of different artificial sweeteners have antibacterial properties. We discuss the connections between these two areas of research and the prospect of developing drug treatments from artificial sweeteners. Penny Johnes from Bristol University discusses the use of phosphorus in agriculture, it’s a key component of fertilisers, but global supplies may run out in a few years, despite this overuse of phosphorus in agriculture is also creating problems. And Chat GPT has had a makeover, a new version of the chatbot was rolled out this week. Chatbots seem to be getting a lot of press at the moment, but are they really something we will all be using in the future? Technologist and composer LJ Rich who works with the UN on artificial intelligence gives us her analysis. BBC Inside Science is produced in collaboration with the Open University.
13/04/23·40m 41s

Science superpower?

The government has launched a new 10-point plan designed, it said to “cement the UK’s place as a global science and technology superpower”. We speak with Sir Paul Nurse, director of the Francis Crick Institute, for his take on the government's plan and the findings of his own review of the UK’s research landscape. In 1963, in a now famous speech at the Labour Party conference in Scarborough, Labour leader and soon to be Prime Minister Harold Wilson promised a new Britain would be forged in the “white heat" of a "scientific revolution". Nick Thomas Symonds, Labour MP and political biographer, discusses how that idea was put into action. Scientists in Bristol have published a detailed "future flood map" of Britain - simulating the impacts of flooding as climate change takes its toll. Paul Bates from Bristol University explains how the new flood risk maps give a level of detail that could help people to plan and adapt. Vic Gill visits the Calder Valley in West Yorkshire, a place that’s suffered repeated flooding in recent years, where the community is taking matters into its own hands. New fossil findings from China have led scientists to re-evaluate their classification of tiny tentacled sea creatures from half a billion years ago and declare that they are in fact seaweeds says Martin Smith, a paleobiologist from The University of Durham. And this re-classification isn't unusual, fossils are constantly re-examined in light of new evidence and insights. Susie Maidment a paleobiologist at the Natural History Museum takes us through some of her favourite contentious fossils. Presenter: Victoria Gill Producers: Julian Siddle and Emily Bird BBC Inside Science is produced in collaboration with the Open University
06/04/23·29m 14s

Covid leaks and conspiracies

Science writer Philip Ball has followed the relationship between government and its scientific advisors throughout the pandemic. He discusses the role of scientific advisors in the light of conflicting information following the leak of a number of former Health Minister Matt Hancock’s WhatsApp messages. Phil tells us why he believes greater transpearency is needed around the advice offered to government. The head of the US FBI has suggested the Covid 19 pandemic may have been started through a leak from a laboratory. No evidence has been offered. The ‘lab leak ‘ theory is the counter idea to Covid having a natural origin. We hear from three scientists who have been to China to investigate different aspects of the virus origins story. Journalist and microbiologist Jane Qui visited the Wuhan Institute of Virology – the lab at the centre of the lab leak theory. Marion Koopmans from Erasmus University in Rotterdam was a member of the WHO mission to China to investigate the origins of Covid 19. And Eddie Holmes from the University of Sydney visited the market in Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak. Besides inflating party balloons helium gas has a vast range of industrial uses, particularly as a coolant. There’s a world shortage, and helium is only extracted with fossil fuels such as coal and methane gas. Earth scientist Anran Cheng at the University of Oxford has developed a method to look for helium deposits without the fossil fuel connection. And ever wondered how heavy all the animals in the world might be ? We have the answer thanks to Ron Milo and Lior Greenspoon from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. BBC Inside Science is produced in partnership with the Open University. Presenter: Victoria Gill Producer: Julian Siddle
30/03/23·36m 3s

Antarctic Ice Special

Sea ice coverage hit a recording-breaking low in the Antarctic this week, but what does this mean for the rest of the world? Why is the region so difficult to predict? And what could further changes in climate mean for the South Pole? Often the Arctic dominates conversations around polar warming but this week, with the help of climate modelling expert Tamsin Edwards, Kings College London, we’ll be tackling these questions and more. We’ll hear from British Antarctic Survey researcher Nadia Frontier, a marine biologist spending the summer at Rothera research base in the Antarctic. We join her as she traverses snow and ice to study the inhabitants of Adelaide island and the surrounding waters. Rachel Tilling from the Cryospheric Sciences Lab at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center helps us explore the continent from a different vantage point, explaining her work using satellite data to understand sea ice thickness. And climate reporter Georgina Rannard takes us through an artistic interpretation of polar sounds, Dr Geraint Rhys Whittaker uses underwater microphones to capture the impact of human activity on polar wildlife. Presenter: Victoria Gill Producers: Julian Siddle and Emily Bird BBC Inside Science is produced in collaboration with The Open University.
23/03/23·32m 17s

Gene Editing Ethics, Killer Whale Mummy's Boys and Ancient Hippo Butchery

Chinese biophysicist He Jiankui caused international outrage when in 2018 when he used the gene-editing tool known as CRISPR Cas-9 to edit the genomes of two human embryos. That experiment, described by the Chinese Academy of Science and Technology described as ‘abominable’, resulted in the birth of twin girls. The experiment also landed Dr He in prison for three years. Now, out of prison and working for a company in Beijing that proclaims to offer “affordable gene therapy” – He Jiankui has been speaking in public. At an open bioethics event at the University of Kent last weekend, organisers invited the scientist to present his research and to face questions about his past experiments and his future plans. We spoke to event organiser Dr Joy Zhang about the reaction to event and to Professor Robin Lovell-Badge at the Crick Institute about the implications of CRISPR-CAS9 technology. A Hippo butchery site reveals that distant human ancestors have been using stone tools far longer than researchers previously thought. This archaeological site in Kenya revealed that ancient hominins Paranthropus have probably been using stone tools to prepare food and weapons since 2.9 million years ago. Professor Tom Plummer at Queens College, City University of New York take us through the discovery and what it reveals about hominin evolution. A study released this week reveals just how much of a burden sons are on killer whale mothers. Michael Wiess, research director at the centre for whale research, fills us in on their findings which are a product of nearly 40 years studying the southern resident Orca population. This long-term Whale census project began in the 70s, championed by researcher Ken Balcomb, who was passionate about understanding and protecting killer whales and who sadly passed away late last year. We hear from Ken and his team out on the water studying the southern residents, more of which can be found in BBC Radio 4 documentary The Whale Menopause. Presenter: Victoria Gill Producer: Emily Bird BBC Inside Science is made in collaboration with the Open University
16/03/23·29m 3s

Abundant energy

This week’s programme is a thought experiment: What would the world be like if energy became superabundant and very cheap? Energy is vital for every aspect of our society, and the energy cost of extraction, processing, manufacture and transport is priced into every product we buy. Today’s energy crisis is having a huge impact, from affecting diplomatic relations between nations to the availability of food. How can our energy systems evolve and what could cheap abundant energy mean for us, our relationship to the natural world, and each other? We discuss these issues and more with; Rachel Kyte CMG, Dean of The Fletcher School at Tufts University, who has previously worked for the UN on sustainability issues. Jim Watson, Professor of Energy Policy at UCL. He’s advised government on the low carbon energy transition. And Dr Hannah Richie, Head of Research at Our World in Data, based at Oxford University, who looks at food, agriculture and energy in relation to global development trends. BBC Inside Science is produced in partnership with the Open University.
09/03/23·28m 0s

Exploring the New Environmental Improvement Plan

Defra, the department for Environment, food and Rural affairs, released its latest Environmental Improvement plan this week. Many environmental groups have criticised the plan for having vague commitments, and landowners are asking where the money is going to come from if say farmers are going to move land out of production and into conservation. For a view away from these vested interests we’ve turned to the Office of Environmental protection – the body set up after Britain left the EU to scrutinise government environmental policy. Chief Executive Dame Glenys Stacey, and Chief Insights Officer, Professor Robbie McDonald. Last week the UK passed an emergency exemption allowing sugar beet farmers to use a controversial neonicotinoid pesticide called Thiamethoxam. This is the third year in a row that the exemption has been in place and the decision came just days after the EU banned such exemptions across Europe. A discussion in parliament yesterday saw MPs criticise the move due to the impacts of neonicotinoids on already crashing Bees populations. We spoke to Dr Richard Gill at Imperial College London about exactly how these insecticides impact bees. There are volcanic islands dotted across the globe but exactly what caused their formation and how might they change in the future? Professor Ana Ferreira at University College London is a seismologist leading an ambitious study to measure deep vibrations and disturbances around volcanic islands in the Atlantic Ocean. She told us about the challenges of recording from the ocean floor and the other unexpected disturbances they detected. As humans our eyes are one of our most valuable and expressive social tools. The whites of our eyes or sclera enable us to follow each others gaze and look our for minute changes in mood, a feature that until recently was thought to be unique to humans setting us apart from animals in our ability to communicate. But Anthropologist Aaron Sandel at The University of Texas in Austin has noticed that white sclera is in fact present in one of our closest relatives; the chimpanzee. Presenter: Gaia Vince Producers: Julian Siddle and Emily Bird Inside Science is produced in Collaboration with the Open University
02/03/23·31m 14s

Vegetarian school dinners

What if all schools offered only plant-based options for 3 out of 5 lunches a week? Would that be enough to trigger a broader societal shift to eating less meat, and allow us to meet our sustainability commitments? We’re not talking about making school dinners entirely vegetarian — just 3 lunches a week. We discuss the benefits and practicalities of such a shift with : Tim Lenton, Professor of Climate change at the University of Exeter. Economist Marco Springmann Senior Researcher, Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food, University of Oxford. Nutritionist Collete Fox from Proveg international an organisation working directly with schools in the UK to encourage the provision of healthier school meals. And Henry Dimbleby founder of the Leon fast food chain is now an advisor to government, responsible for drawing up national rules on school dinners. We also visit Barrowford primary in Lancashire, which has successfully rolled out more vegetarian school dinners. BBC Inside Science is produced is partnership with the Open University.
23/02/23·31m 19s

Towards Net Zero

Former Energy Minister Chris Skidmore’s report into Net Zero calls for ambitious policies to drive energy transition, framing it as a huge economic opportunity to drive national growth. Using and conserving energy in the home is one theme the report tackles. We discuss home insulation with Colm Britchfield , policy advisor at E3G. His recent report found those in some of the worst housing , in the private rented sector could save hundreds of pounds a year if their homes were properly insulated. But what is the incentive for landlords to pay for insulation? Electric heat pumps have been heralded as an alternative to gas boilers, but they are currently more expensive and finding an installer is not easy. Rebecca Dibb-Simkin from Octopus Energy tells us how they are working to make the technology more available. And what is the role of local authorities in the strive for net zero? We hear from Polly Billington, chief executive of UK 100 – a network of local government leaders committed to sustainability policies. How do you catch a poacher? One way might be through their own mobile phone. Another is using a camera trap which sends a signal to game wardens. These are technologies developed by Tim Van Deursen and Thijs Suijten from Hack the Poacher. And we look at new findings on one of Australia’s Iconic species – Echidnas. Dr Christine Cooper at Cutin University in Western Australia, found this marsupial is actually remarkably heat tolerant, and capable of handling temperatures which were previously thought to be lethal. BBC Inside Science is produced in partnership with the Open University.
16/02/23·31m 51s

Chatbot plagiarism

ChatGPT (Generative Pre-trained Transformer) is an online conversational chatbot, launched by OpenAI in November 2022. To date it remains an online sensation, allowing users to generate poems, essays, code and images in seconds. But fear bubbles in academic circles that artificial intelligence could promote plagiarism in secondary and tertiary education. Technology writer and broadcaster Bill Thompson, and teacher of 20 years digital philosopher Rebecca Mace from University of West London suggest the news headlines may be sensationalising the impact this chatbot will have on student learning. The 1922 backbench committee on business, energy and industrial strategy is recommending free electricity for locals residing within 1 mile of onshore wind farms. Richard Black, senior associate at Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, joins Marnie to discuss whether or not there is evidence of residents requiring incentives to accept renewable developments whilst governments strive to increase the implementation of green technologies. Do you tap your toes to Paul Simon or rock out to Led Zeppelin? Even if you have two left feet, your ability to recognise rhythm is unique in the animal kingdom. To help determine the human origins of musical appreciation, Teresa Raimondi and her team at Turin University, have been researching primates. Their singing lar gibbon, appears to share similar traits to us that might shed light on where our ability to keep the beat evolved from. And finally, figures from the water regulator suggest that in England and Wales 1 trillion litres of water was lost last year to leaks. BBC Inside Science presenter, Vic Gill, goes in search of what might be a robotic solution. This programme was made in partnership with the Open University.
09/02/23·29m 53s

The UK's first satellite launch

The UK's first satellite launch faced several delays in 2022, but Virgin Orbit's Cosmic Girl is prepped for imminent take off. BBC science correspondent Jonathan Amos has been following the activity in Newquay and, alongside Melissa Thorpe head of Spaceport Cornwall, describes the potential this launch has to promote and bolster the UK's space industry. Is laziness a particularly human trait? Apparently not according to Dr Daniella Rabaiotti from the Zoological Society of London. Her research shows many animals engage in behaviour akin to laziness even within groups where others might be very active. There’s evidence for this from animals as diverse as wolves, frogs and pheasants. Dani says it’s a factor worth considering in animal behaviour studies, simply are we biased towards the more active and outgoing animals as they are the ones we tend to see? Victoria Gill speaks to the founder and CEO of Nature Metrics Dr Cat Bruce and Katie Critchlow about the tools they use to help companies measure biodiversity at their worksites. From taking water or soil samples it’s possible to detect the DNA of a multitude of organisms from large animals down to microbes. The technique should help map the biodiversity of a given area and inform decisions on development and conservation. BBC Inside Science is produced in collaboration with the Open University
02/02/23·27m 42s

Game changers

Nations are racing to protect 30% of the planet by 2030 in an attempt to halt biodiversity loss, but one novel approach may be able to safeguard species under threat of imminent extinction. Vic visited Nature’s Safe in May, a cryogenic biobank, storing the genetic information of at risk species in futuristic biological freezers. But will it serve as a viable tool to bring wildlife back from the brink if the ecosystems in which these animals reside are degraded beyond repair? The Greenland ice sheet is melting, raising global sea level at an alarming rate. Marnie took to the ice with researcher Jason Box in September, and questions how current carbon emissions will influence melting in the future. Gaia revisits UN talks from March that attempted to put in place regulations capable of protecting the marine biodiversity of the high seas. Negotiations were unsuccessful at the time, but further talks have been held since. How much progress has been made? BBC Inside Science is produced in collaboration with the Open University.
26/01/23·28m 18s

A Scientifically Superior Christmas Dinner

How many Scientists does it take to cook Christmas dinner? Marnie seeks help from a food scientist, a geneticist, a doctor and a botanist to create the perfect festive feast.
19/01/23·28m 7s

Cancer cure, Strep A research and hopes for biodiversity

Base editing is a technique for substituting the building blocks of DNA. It has only been around for a few years, so its use to apparently cure cancer was all the more remarkable, as BBC Health Correspondent James Gallagher tells us. We take a trip down the river Wye with ecologist Steve Ormerod who tells us why the river is a microcosm for some of the global issues being discussed at the UN Biodiversity summit in Montreal. BBC Environment Correspondent Victoria Gill gives us the latest on the state of negotiations there. And the current surge in infections associated with the streptococcus bacteria has led to deaths in a few cases. It is usually a seasonal infection, worse in the spring. We ask microbiologist Dr Claire Turner from Sheffield University why we seem to be seeing a surge of infections now and her research on strep vaccine targets. BBC Inside Science is produced in collaboration with the Open University.
12/01/23·27m 46s


The UN Convention on Biological Diversity summit, currently taking place in Montreal Canada, intends to develop ways of reducing the global loss of biological diversity by drawing up a series of international commitments to help humanity to live more harmoniously with nature. The scientific evidence paints a grim picture of species decline and extinction, pollution and destruction of natural habitats. The aim of the meeting is to find ways to stop and even reverse such decline. We meet leading figures involved in the negotiations, including: Elizabeth Mrema, the Executive Secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity Inger Andersen Executive Director of UN Environment Programme Indigenous leaders Viviana Figueroa and Lakpa Nuri Sherpa And scientists Professor Sandra Diaz from the University of Cordoba Dr Marla Emery Scientific Advisor with the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research. BBC Inside Science is produced in partnership with the Open University.
05/01/23·28m 1s

Killer smog

For a week at the beginning of December 1952, London was under a blanket of deadly smog. As a result, the Clean Air Act came into force a few years later banning smoky sulphurous fuels. However air pollution researchers are now concerned that rising emissions from wood burners may be undoing many of the gains from the Clean Air Act. We hear from Dr Gary Fuller, air pollution scientist at Imperial College London and author of The Invisible Killer, the Rising Global Threat of Air Pollution and How We can Fight Back. We also discuss emissions we can’t see, bacteria and even microplastics which are now present in the air. Catherine Rolph from the Open University tells us where we might find them. And we reveal the winner of the Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize. You can find interviews with all the shortlisted authors in our previous programmes. BBC Inside Science is produced in partnership with the Open University.
29/12/22·32m 2s

Science funding

The UK has the opportunity to access European science funding. However disagreements over the Northern Ireland protocol are preventing the UK from joining the multi billion pound Horizon Europe project which funds scientific partnerships between European institutions. BBC Science correspondent Pallab Ghosh has been following developments. Spending time in green spaces has been linked to mental and physical health benefits. But just how green is your nearest city centre? New research has ranked urban centres in the UK based on their ‘greenness’ and Jake Robinson, from Flinders University in Australia, revealed who came out on top. We hear about initiatives to enhance ‘greenness’ including the citizen-science led GroundsWell programme with Elly King, from the University of Liverpool, and living walls with Brenda Parker, at UCL. And from the Royal Society science book prize, we’re talking sex and gender with primatologist Frans De Waal whose new book is entitled Different: What Apes Can Teach Us About Gender.
22/12/22·29m 40s

Climate science and politics

As the COP27 environment summit draws to a close we look at some of the issues still to be resolved. BBC Environment correspondents Victoria Gill and Georgina Rannard join us from the meeting. And we head to the houses of parliament in the company of a group of teenagers who are putting their concerns over climate change to a panel of politicians. Julia Ravey went to meet them. We hear from author Nick Davidson about how the discoveries of 3 unlikely characters in the 19th century formed the basis of geological science. His book The Greywacke is shortlisted for the Royal Society Science Book Prize. And a scientific analysis of the Winchcombe meteorite gives us some clues as to the possible origins of life on earth. Natasha Stephen from Plymouth University is one of the many scientists who analysed the composition of the rock fragments.
15/12/22·27m 47s


One key issue on the agenda at the COP27 environment summit in Egypt is how to fund damage from the effects of man made climate change. Often the effects of climate change are felt the strongest in countries least responsible for creating the emissions. This year we’ve seen a range of extreme weather events including drought and flooding which scientists have attributed to man-made climate change. The idea of providing funding for such human-induced disasters has long been discussed informally at COP summits. Finally the issue is formally on the table. It's fraught with diplomatic difficulties, not least over who should pay and how much. We discuss some of the issues in getting a solution on this initiative known as ‘Loss and Damage’ with contributions from Josh Gabbatiss from the website Carbon Brief, Rachel Kyte, the Dean of Tufts University, Linnéa Norlander Assistant Professor of human rights and sustainability at the University of Copenhagen and Hyacinthe Niyitegeka, coordinator of the Loss and Damage Coalition. And we look at methane with Drew Shindell, professor of Climate science at Duke University and Author of the UN Environment Programme’s Global Methane Assessment, who tells us a reduction in methane could give us a quick fix in terms of efforts to stabilise global temperatures.
08/12/22·32m 52s


A new study published in the British Medical Journal suggests monkey pox might be passed from person to person before symptoms show. Esther Freeman, Assistant Professor of Dermatology at Harvard Medical School and Director of Global Health Dermatology at Massachusetts General Hospital, has been following the current wave of transmission and gives us her analysis of this latest finding, The COP 27 climate summit kicks off next week. To discuss some of the issues we are joined by Simon Lewis, Professor of global change science at University College London and Swenja Surminski, Professor in Practice at the Grantham Research Institute and a member of the UK's Committee on Climate Change. Mark Miodownik, the UCL Professor of Materials & Society, tell us the results of his citizen science project looking at composting plastics. And from the short list for the Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize, we hear from Professor Rose Anne Kenny on her book Age Proof: The New Science of Living a Longer and Healthier Life.
01/12/22·34m 41s

Turtle Voices, a Pandemic Retrospective and a Nose-Picking Primate

New recordings featuring the voices of 53 species of turtle, caecilian and tuatara previously thought to be silent have illuminated the evolutionary origins of vocal communication. Gabriel Jorgevich-Cohen a PhD student at the University of Zurich has travelled the world collecting recordings and summarised his findings in Nature Communications this week. He spoke to BBC science correspondent Georgina Rannard who explains his findings, what they mean, and shows us some of her favourite turtle sounds. What was it like to advise the government during the height of the pandemic? How soon did experts realise the colossal impact Covid would have? Were mistakes made? The latest in our series of interviews with those shortlisted for the Royal Society Insight Investment Book prize, Vic sat down with co-authors Sir Jeremy Farrar and Anjana Ahuja to talk about their book Spike: the Virus vs the People. Anne-Claire Fabre Assistant Professor at the University of Bern and Curator of mammals, Natural History Museum Bern turns her scientific curiosity toward a surprising and perhaps perturbing behaviour in one of her research animals as she spoke to us about her paper published in the Journal of Zoology this week. Whilst investigating the Aye Aye, a nocturnal primate with two long thin fingers Anne-Claire witnessed the creature putting them to good use picking its nose and went on to uncover a big gap in our understanding of this icky behaviour. Presenter Victoria Gill Producer Emily Bird
24/11/22·31m 18s

The BBC at 100

Recorded in front of an audience at Bradford’s National Museum of Science and Media, we’re delving into the next 100 years of broadcasting, examining the science and technology behind what we’ll watch and listen to. And what the seismic technological shifts mean for all of us. Victoria Gill is joined on stage by four people who give us an audio tour of that media future. Lewis Pollard the curator television and broadcast at the museum. Dr Karen Thornton programme leader teaching film and television production at the University of Bradford. Bill Thompson technology commentator. Gemma Milne writer and researcher interested in how science and technology impacts all of us. And author of Smoke and Mirrors - how hype obscures the future and how to see past it. BBC Inside Science is produced in partnership with the Open University
17/11/22·50m 30s

Avian flu

Avian or bird flu is normally seasonal, disappearing as migratory birds leave for winter. However a new strain which seems to spread more easily between wild birds and into poultry has led to the deaths of far more birds than usual. David Steel, Nature Reserve Manager on the Isle of May relates his observations of the effects on seabirds. And Nicola Lewis, Director of the Worldwide Influenza Centre at the Francis Crick Institute tells us why this particular stain is so severe. Climategate was a strange kind of scandal, based entirely on misinformation pushed by climate change deniers. In his new book Hot air, shortlisted for the Royal Society Insight Investment science book prize, Climate scientist Peter Stott assess the impact of their campaign. Pong was a very basic video game developed in the 1970s, now Australian researchers have trained human brain cells in a dish to play the game, Dr Brett Kagan from Cortical Labs explains why.
10/11/22·29m 9s

Coronavirus - new variants

The virus which causes Covid 19 is continuing to evolve, but into several different closely related strains rather than more new variants such as Delta and Omicron. Ravi Gupta, Professor of Clinical Microbiology at Cambridge university gives us his assessment of the current picture, and Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Welcome Trust, comments on global efforts to counter the virus. The Nobel prizes were awarded this week. Science Journalist Philip Ball looks at the winning discoveries and the scientists behind them. And shortlisted for the Royal Society Insight Investment Science book prize, we hear from Henry Gee, author of A Very Short History of Life on Earth.
03/11/22·34m 7s

Fracking Science

The government has lifted a moratorium on fracking imposed in 2019 following a series of small earthquakes caused by exploratory drilling. The British Geological Survey was asked to investigate, we speak to two of the authors of their new report into fracking and earthquakes, seismologist Brian Baptie and Geologist Ed Hough. We also look at more practical aspects of fracking in the UK with Professor Richard Davies from Newcastle University, asking how to viably extract shale gas in the UK and whether, with concerns over climate change, we should really be contemplating this at all. The production of Bitcoin consumes as much energy as a medium sized European country. Benjamin Jones from New Mexico university and Larisa Yarovaya from Southampton Business School explain why generation of the cryptocurrency has come to require such huge amounts of energy. And we hear from Maria Fitzgerald, chair of the panel for the Royal Society book prize on what makes a good science book Inside Science is produced in partnership with the Open University
27/10/22·32m 28s

Science collaborations – with Russia

The sub Arctic boreal forests stretch across the northern hemisphere. They represent a huge carbon sink , but are also vulnerable to climate change. Most of the forest is in Russia and most of what we know about its current state comes from long running international field studies. The Scott Polar Institute in the UK has been studying these forests for years in collaboration with Moscow university, but this year’s field work has been cancelled. We spoke to Olga Tutubalina and Gareth Rees who have been running the collaboration since the 1990s. Will the cost of living crisis lead to an increase in food poisoning ? it’s a concern for food researcher Ellen Evans from Cardiff Metropolitan University, in particular the potential for listeria to grow in our fridges if we don’t have the temperature low enough. And if you like maths how can you get better? Mathematician and Author Simon Singh, tells us about his new global Maths Circles initiative to connect maths enthusiasts around the world.
20/10/22·31m 59s

Is the James Webb Space Telescope too good?

The James Webb Space Telescope continues to beam exciting data back to earth from exoplanet systems, galaxies and stars further away than we’ve ever seen before. But what happens to that data when it reaches us? We spoke to Julien De Wit from MIT about how exactly we process the vast amounts of information sent back to us from the telescope and how sometimes our computing systems just can't keep up. The British Science Festival is taking place in Leicester this week, and diversity and inclusion is one of the top priorities. Many groups are still alarmingly under-represented in STEM including women, Black and Minority Ethnic people Angela Saini and Dr Kate Clancy explain how we got here and just how alienating science can feel. To explore possible solutions we spoke to the incoming president of the British Science Association and CEO of Stemettes Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE, Early career Engineer and Chairperson of Stemette Futures Youth Board Floriane Fidegnon-Edoh and Physicist Dr Jessica Wade who works in public engagement in STEM and advocacy for women in physics. Finally, are colourful birds more vulnerable? Researcher Dr Rebecca Senior from Durham University takes us through how the pet trade affects bird conservation. Presenter: Victoria Gill Producers: Emily Bird, Julian Siddle and Harrison Lewis
13/10/22·28m 53s

Ancient Amputation

The discovery of a body missing a foot in a thirty one thousand year old grave suggests our ancient ancestors may have been capable of performing complex surgery. The foot seems to have been cleanly amputated, and the patient survived for several years afterwards. Dr Tim Maloney from Australia’s Griffith University made the find and Charlotte Roberts Emeritus Professor of Archaeology at Durham University who researches the evolution of medicine gave us her analysis. Craters from meteorites aren’t always easy to find, they can look similar to other geological features. However techniques more closely associated with forensic science are helping to provide clues. it’s all in the way the incoming asteroid or meteorite burns everything in its path says Dr Ania Losiak from the Institute of Geological Sciences, Polish Academy of Science. The Greenland ice sheets are melting, a new analysis paints a concerning picture about the impact on sea levels. Researcher Jason Box takes us out onto the ice to see this process in action. And why do chimpanzees drum? Language researchers Catherine Hobaiter and Vesta Eleuteri have been following them around the jungles of Uganda to find out.
06/10/22·28m 31s

Dealing with drought

As parts of England enter drought conditions we ask what are the drivers for drought and what can we do about it? With Dr Jess Neumann, Hydrologist at Reading University, Aidan McGivern meteorologist at the Met Office and Professor Richard Betts, Chair in Climate Impacts at University of Exeter. What influence do Scientific Advisors really have on government? We explore the tricky issue with science writer Philip Ball. Are there just too many satellites now orbiting the earth? Astronomers are increasingly finding their presence is interfering with astronomical observations. Jane Chambers reports from Chile. And what is mucus actually for and how did it evolve? Omer Gokcumen, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences and Stefan Ruhl, Professor of Oral Biology at the University at Buffalo reveal its origins in our aquatic ancestors and its vital role in mouth hygiene. Presented by Alex Lathbridge Produced by Julian Siddle Assistant Producer Emily Bird
29/09/22·31m 15s

Return of the ozone hole

Research on recent extreme fire events shows they have a direct effect on the size of the seasonal ozone hole over Antarctica. Climate scientist Jim Haywood is concerned more frequent and extreme fires predicted by climate models could negate all the work done to reduce the ozone depleting chemical pollutants which became such a concern more than 30 years ago. We look at two very different approaches to marine conservation , and discuss how the combination of monitoring and surveillance technology and engaging with local people could help preserve many marine species . And it's festival time in Edinburgh , but we take a look at its more sinister side. How when the city became a centre for the study of anatomy it also developed a dark underbelly of serial killers and body snatchers. A new exhibition clears up some of the myths associated with this period. And the Royal Society has announced its annual medals, a variety of awards for leading scientists. This year there is a special award for Laboratory technicians, the unsung heroes of science experiments. We speak to the winner and also the BBC journalist who as a student destroyed one of his experiments.
22/09/22·27m 27s

A Possible Sequel to the Dinosaur Armageddon

Did the Chicxulub meteor that did for the dinosaurs have a smaller companion? Dr Uisdean Nicholson and Professor Sean Gulick talk to Vic Gill about the newly discovered Nadir Crater. Located on the other side of the Atlantic, it’s raising questions about whether Earth was bombarded with not one, but two, meteors on the day the dinosaurs were wiped out. Back in January, the Hunga-Tonga Hunga-Ha’apai volcano in Tonga erupted explosively, triggering a massive tsunami across the Pacific. Now, engineers are remotely scanning the volcano from 16,000km away in Essex. Ashley Skett from SEA-KIT International and Dr Mike Williams from NIWA describe how a robotic vessel is mapping the Tongan seabed. And we get to the bottom of the mystery surrounding a 500-million-year-old fossil…quite literally. The microscopic, fossilised beast, which has no anus, was previously thought to be our earliest known ancestor. Emily Carlisle from the University of Bristol explains how the theory was debunked. Presented by Victoria Gill Reporting by Emily Bird Produced by Alex Mansfield
15/09/22·30m 34s

Amplified Arctic Amplification and Microclot Clues to Post-Viral Disease

Professor Anna Hogg joins us on today’s programme for some polar explorations, we speak to one team recalculating arctic warming estimates and another who are storm chasing in Svalbard. Antii Lipponen from the Finnish Meterological Institute talks us through how quickly the arctic is really warming and Professor John Methven and PhD student Hannah Croad from the University of Reading send greetings from Svalbard where they’re chasing arctic storms. Also, new evidence for a possible biomarker of ME/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome - a condition associated with debilitating tiredness and brain fog similar to Long Covid. The microclots, described by Professor Doug Kell at the University of Liverpool and Professor Resia Pretorius of University of Stellenbosch, suggest a possible inflammatory cardiovascular element to the disease which might one day forge a path towards new treatments. And how can trees help us in a heatwave? Vic joined Dominik Spracklen from the University of Leeds on a stroll around a Cumbrian forest to explore the cooling potential of forests. Presented by Victoria Gill Reporter Emily Bird Produced by Alex Mansfield
08/09/22·27m 55s

Shaun The Sheep Jumps Over The Moon, Bronze Age Kissing and PPE Rubbish

ESA announce that Shaun The Sheep will fly around the moon this month aboard Artemis-1 mission. Philippe Deloo tells Gaia Vince what's in store for the woolly astronaut this month. Philippe is the team lead on the European Service Module, the part of NASA's Orion spacecraft which will be the workhorse of the new moon missions, ferrying four astronauts at a time to the moon and perhaps even beyond one day. This first Artemis mission, slated for launch 29th August, will check all the engineering bravado of the new launch and orbital systems ready for subsequent human passengers in a couple of years. Christiana Scheib, of the Universities of Cambridge and Tartu, is part of a team who seem to have pinpointed in time the moment the Herpes virus that causes cold sores first spread across human populations. By obtaining genomes of HSV1 from four individuals who died between the iron age and medieval times, their analysis suggests an initial emergence sometime in the Bronze age. The intriguing hypothesis that accompanies the discovery is that the variant's emergence was facilitated by a new trend among bronze age folk of romantic kissing. But as she describes, it's hard to be certain for "there is no gene for kissing". One way of restricting the spread of many viruses is of course various forms of PPE. The last few years have seen billions more items of PPE used on our planet, often without a clear plan for their disposal, and they get accidentally dropped and even deliberately dumped all over the world. Alex Bond of the Natural History Museum at Tring observes and catalogues rubbish affecting wildlife. He took the BBC's Victoria Gill on a walk down a canal in Salford to discuss the issues with the tissues. Presented by Gaia Vince Produced by Alex Mansfield
01/09/22·31m 28s

Heatwave: the consequences

The severity of last week's heatwave is changing the narrative. Gaia Vince talks to Simon Evans, deputy editor of the climate publication Carbon Brief, who has been following the media coverage of this heatwave, and Lorraine Whitmarsh, professor of environmental psychology at the university of Bath. What has the recent hot weather done to the plants in our gardens, and the crops in our fields? Dr Nicola Cannon from the Royal Agricultural University in Cirencester tells us the low-down. Expect your potatoes to get more expensive this autumn. The RHS want to know about how the heatwave has affected YOUR garden. You can help science by answering on this survey What if we could use all the excess heat from summer, and store it to heat our homes in winter. It's something a team in the Netherlands and Austria have been looking at, using a thermochemical battery. Wim van Helden from AEE Institute in Gleisdorf in Austria explains how they made a prototype, and what the stumbling blocks are to widespread use of their system. Is this thermal battery the holy grail of heat supply? We run it, and other options, past Michael de Podestra. An ex-measurement scientist at the National Physics Laboratory until his retirement two years ago, he has since become an expert in retrofitting his house to try and make it carbon-neutral.
25/08/22·34m 44s

Multiverses, melting glaciers and what you can tell from the noise of someone peeing

The Multiverse Laura Mersini-Houghton is an internationally renowned cosmologist and theoretical physicist and one of the world's leading experts on the multiverse and the origins of the universe. She talks to Gaia Vince about finding evidence that supports her multiverse theory as more than just a hypothetical collection of diverse universes, including the one that houses our planet. She also shares her story of growing up with the horrors of a brutal Albanian communist regime. Glacier Collapse In Italy this month eleven people were killed when Marmolada glacier collapsed. A few days later, hikers recorded another huge glacier collapse in Kyrgyzstan. Is there any way of monitoring glaciers to give us a warning of these events? Glaciologist Liam Taylor, a researcher at Leeds University explains to Gaia our options for monitoring vulnerable glaciers, and why a black spot in those observations is about to open up. Pees and queues. Lower urinary tract symptoms are common and affect an estimated 60% of men and 57% of women. These can be detected using a gadget called a uroflowmetre, but patients often face delays getting to clinics to use one. Dr Lee Han Jie and Professor Ng Lay Guat, with colleagues at Singapore General Hospital and the Singapore University of Technology and Design have developed an artificial intelligence algorithm that is trained to listen to patients pass urine. From just the noise of peeing, the AI is able to identify abnormal flows and could be a useful and cost-effective means of monitoring and managing urology patients at home. Heatwave Records Richard Betts from the Met Office explains why the official highest temperature is only 40.3C, whereas many of us have clocked temperature in the mid forties in our cars and on patios.
18/08/22·27m 34s

Deep Space and the Deep Sea - 40 years of the International Whaling Moratorium.

The James Webb Space Telescope is finally in business - what further treasures will it find? Also, the origins of the International Moratorium on Whaling, 40 years old this month. This week NASA invited President Joe Biden to help them publish the first of five images of full scientific value from the newest super telescope now operating a million miles away from us. It is capable of gazing as far deep into the sky as humans have ever gazed. That first image, an upgrade of one of the Hubble Telescope's "Deep Field" shots from some years ago, shows some of the oldest matter ever seen, including light distorted into smudges and whorls by the gravitational field of galaxies in line of sight from us, much nearer and younger than the light being bent around them. The other images show even more of what the telescope is capable of seeing. Dr. Stefanie Milam of Nasa's Goddard Space Flight Centre in Maryland, US and BBC Science correspondent Jonathan Amos talk to Gaia about this new, exciting phase in astronomy. This month marks 40 years since the International Whaling Commission decided to pursue a moratorium on commercial whaling. Many whales are still struggling, but scientists have seen several species recover since then. The moratorium followed campaigning in the 1970s by such groups as Greenpeace, and even the commercial success of audio recordings of humpback whales, released by Drs. Roger and Katy Payne. Greenpeace co-founder Rex Weyler describes to Gaia the motivations behind the original Save the Whale campaign, and some of his memories of intercepting a Russian whaling ship in 1975. Since 1982, cetacean science has come a long way, and scientists know far more about whale's behaviour, vulnerabilities and interaction with ocean climate and ecosystems than we did back then. Dr. Asha De Vos of the University of Western Australia describes the science, including some recent findings on the continued perils of anthropogenic noise to these giants of the deep. Presenter Gaia Vince Assistant Producer Joleen Goffin Produced by Alex Mansfield
11/08/22·27m 58s

Robotic Thumbs, Mending Bones with Magnets, and the State of Science this Summer

Gaia Vince takes you for a mosey around his year's Summer Science Exhibition, held by London's Royal Society. Along the way, PRS Sir Adrian Smith talks of reforming A-Levels and a sorry international science collaboration situation as many european research grants are terminated amidst a Brexit withdrawal agreement stand-offs. The Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition is on until Sunday 10th July, it is free to attend and there are many activities and events online too. Presented by Gaia Vince Produced by Alex Mansfield
04/08/22·27m 54s

10 Years of the Higgs Boson

In 1964 a theoretical physicist called Peter Higgs suggested a mechanism via which elementary particles of a new theoretical scheme could obtain mass. It had been a thorny mathematical stinker in the framework that today we now call the standard model of particle physics. Ten years ago this July, the particle this mechanism predicted, the Higgs Boson, was confirmed to exist in experiments conducted at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. Prof Frank Close, whose new book - Elusive - is published this week, is a friend of Peter's. The book describes the background to Higg's idea, and how a generation of physicists worked to test it and identify it. He and Prof Malcolm Fairbairn of King's College London discuss the significance at the time, what we we've learned since, and what we might in the future. As covid cases are on the rise again in the UK, Prof Jonathan Ball gives Marnie his observations on the current variants. Prof Trevor Cox, acoustician at Salford University describes his part in a collaboration to design a new type of DIY facemask that still allows people to see your lips moving as you speak, whilst also muffling your words far less. It was developed with collaborators at University of Manchester, and also by Salford's Maker Space, and you can download plans and a video and have a go yourself at the link from our programme page. An article in Nature food recently suggested that our estimates of food miles, the carbon footprints we assign to the foods we eat, may have been underestimated and could be 3.5 times what was previously thought. But does that change the choices we make in what we buy? Presented by Marnie Chesterton Produced by Alex Mansfield
28/07/22·35m 11s

Engineering Around Mercury, Science Festivals, and The Rise of The Mammals

How hard is it to get to Mercury and why are we going? Also, do science festivals work? And why did mammals survive when dinosaurs died? Marnie Chesterton and guests dissect. As this programme went out, scientists and engineers eagerly wait for new images of the planet Mercury to arrive, snapped from a speeding probe passing just 200km from the surface, as it desperately tries to shed some velocity on its seven-year braking journey. ESA/JAXA's BepiColombo mission to Mercury is using gravitational swing-shots (just four more to go) to lose enough energy to eventually, in Dec 2025, enter orbit around the planet closest to our sun. Dr Suzie Imber of Leicester University has skin in the game, being co-investigator on one of the instruments that will eventually be able to teach us more than we've ever known about this bizarre world. Suzie is also last year's winner of the Royal Society's Rosalind Franklyn Award, and works hard doing science outreach talks and events to help inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers. Thurs 23rd June is International Women in Engineering Day, celebrating remarkable engineering as a career option. Report Emily Bird goes along to the Great Exhibition Road Festival to see how science festivals such as this one can help raise the profile of engineering and scientific endeavours in the society of tomorrow. One thing most kids like is Space. The other is dinosaurs. But what about long-dead Mammals? Prof Steve Brusatte of Edinburgh university is a palaeontologist and author whose last book on dinosaurs even led to him being consulted for the latest film in the Jurassic Park franchise. Why then does his new book focus on furrier beings in The Rise and Reign of The Mammals? He tells Marnie of the exciting millions of years of evolution that led to us, after the dinosaurs croaked their last,. Presented by Marnie Chesterton Reporting by Emily Bird Produced by Alex Mansfield
21/07/22·30m 26s

Inside Sentience

Marnie Chesterton and guests mull over the saga of an AI engineer who believes his chatbot is sentient. Also, climate scientists propose a major leap in earth system modelling, that might cost £250m a year but would bring our predictive power from 100 km to 1km. And the story of a Malaysian Breadfruit species that turns out to be two separate strains - something locals knew all along, but that science had missed. Philp Ball's latest book, The Book of Minds, explores the work still to be done on our conception of what thinking is, and what it might mean in non-human contexts. Beth Singler is a digital ethnographer - an anthropologist who studies societal reaction to technological advancement. They discuss the story this week that a google AI engineer has been suspended on paid leave from his work with an experimental algorithm called LaMDA. He rather startlingly announced his belief that it had attained sentience, publishing some excerpts from interactions he has experienced with it. Prof Dame Julia Slingo this week has published a proposal in Nature Climate Change, co-authored with several of the world's greatest climate scientists, for a multinational investment in the next generation of climate models. Currently, models of the global climate have a resolution of something like 100km, a scale which, they suggest, misses some very fundamental physics of the way rain, clouds and storms can form. Zooming into 1km resolution, and including the smaller physical systems will allow scientist to better predict extreme events, and crucially how water interacts in a real way with rising temperatures in different climes. And can zooming in on taxonomy reveal insights in conservation and biodiversity? Researchers in the US and Malaysia have described a species of breadfruit that has hitherto been considered one species by mainstream science. Locals have long described them as different species, and the genetics proves that view correct. Can more local, granular knowledge help us get a better handle on the conservation status of our planet's biodiversity? Emily Bird Reports. Presenter Marnie Chesterton Reporter Emily Bird Producer Alex Mansfield
14/07/22·28m 10s

Miscounting Carbon, EU Funding Stalemate, and How to Make a Royal Hologram

This week on inside science Marnie Chesterton is looking at how companies measure and account for their use of renewable energy, how politics is impacting science funding in the UK and the technology behind the Queen’s holographic stand in at jubilee celebrations. Dr Anders Bjorn from Concordia university in Montreal talks us through ‘Renewable Energy Certificates’ explaining how they can sometimes be disconnected from real-life reductions in emissions. As he explains in a paper in Nature Climate Change this week, this is a problem, with businesses buying renewable energy certificates that may, even with the best of intentions, mean that corporate estimates of how much they have transferred to renewable energy could be out by as much as two-thirds. For example, in Poland, where much of the grid is powered by fossil fuels, a company can buy RECs from energy producers in Norway, where so much of the grid is de-carbonised and users feel no need to purchase such a certificate. As negotiations on the New Greenhouse Gas Protocol get underway, and delegates in Bonn discuss COP 26 progress, yet more food for thought. In the UK, some long term collaborations and research structures are under threat as the ratification of UK membership of Horizon Europe continues to be delayed. This has led to some researchers running out of funds, some having to relinquish membership, and others moving to different institutions in Member Countries. Professor Nicky Clayton at the university of Cambridge has for many years run a “Corvid Palace” where she keeps very clever birds and examines their thinking. It is threatened with closure, and she is searching for funding to keep the research going, even setting up an open letter from academics around the world in support of this globally renowned facility. Carsten Welsh, a physicist at Liverpool University has also been impacted, facing a difficult decision about whether to give up leadership of his newly funded project or leave the country to pursue it. EU Horizon is one of the most ambitious and well-funded research and international collaboration schemes in science and with every EU nation signed up and countries like Canada and Japan keen to join too, it's no wonder the UK wants to take part. Martin Smith, head of policy lab at the Wellcome Trust explains what’s getting in our way and what might happen next for British scientists who rely on Horizon to fund their research. And finally, celebrations last weekend for the celebration of Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee were seemingly led by a holographic queen riding in the Golden State Coach at the head of the pageant in London. At least, that was how it was reported. But was it really? BBC Inside Science managed to track down the leader of the team that made it – whatever it was – happen, and in a generous world exclusive, Willie Williams, head of Treatment Studio, kindly spills the magic beans on quite how you make a Royal Hologram. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Assistant Producer: Emily Bird Producer: Alex Mansfield
07/07/22·33m 29s

A Reign of Science

Society itself and the ways we live have been transformed in 70 years of science. Marnie Chesterton, Andrea Sella, and Gemma Milne take a tour of the archive to evaluate some of the biggest hits on Inside Science's jubilee list. What did we miss? Presented by Marnie Chesterton. Assistant Producer Emily Bird Produced by Alex Mansfield
30/06/22·38m 45s

Monkeypox, Pompeii aDNA, and Elephant Mourning Videos

Why are non-African monkeypox cases causing concern? Also, the first complete human genome from a Pompeiian cadaver, and how YouTube is aiding animal behaviourists. As cases of monkeypox appear strangely dispersed around Europe and elsewhere in the world outside of Africa, BBC health and science correspondent James Gallagher outlines to Vic the symptoms and some of the mysterious elements of this outbreak. In Pompeii, scientists have for the first time managed to sequence the whole genome of an individual killed by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79AD. Serena Viva of the University of Salento describes the site of two individual's tragic demise all that time ago, one female aged around 50 years, and a younger male, both leaning on a couch in a dining room. Geneticist Gabriele Scorrano describes how the ancient DNA (aDNA) was preserved and extracted, and how the male individual's genome was so well preserved it could be sequenced in full. As they suggest this week in Nature, there weren’t too many surprises in what they found, but the ability to do this sort of science opens up a new era of Pompeiian archaeological treasure. Faced with covid lockdowns and unable to observe in the wild, elephant conservationists Nachiketha Sharma and Sanjeeta Sharma Pocharel decided to see if videos uploaded to YouTube could enlighten science on rare behaviours of Asian elephants. African Elephants are known to have a strange fascination, even respect, for the death of other elephant individuals, especially those near to their families such as calves and parents. Asian elephants’ thanatological (death related) behaviour is less well observed however. But the researchers turned to videos of strange grieving-like behaviour to begin a catalogue of the different reactions such as carrying dead calves, standing guard, or vocalizing. They dedicate their work, published by the Royal Society, to the elephants involved. This sort of research, using video observations captured and shared by members of the public are proving rather useful to zoologists and animal behaviourists. Ximena Nelson of the University of Canterbury in New Zealand was one of the first scientists to suggest the usefulness of trawling the internet for odd video of animals and explains a bit more to Vic. Presented by Victoria Gill Produced by Alex Mansfield
23/06/22·35m 8s

Buried Mars Landers, Freezing Species, and Low-Tide Archaeology

Since 2018, Nasa's InSight Mars lander has been sitting on the surface listening to the seismic rumbles of the red planet's deep interior. But this week, plans were announced to finally phase down its activity, as martian dust obscures too much of its solar panels to power it through the forthcoming winter. Jon Amos tells Vic Gill of some of its many successes, and quite why it didn't fly with a duster on board. 50 years of observations across Australia's northern tropical forests suggest yet more bad news for the climate. Trees’ mortality has, it seems, doubled since the 1980s. As Oxford University's David Bauman tells Vic, it seems to be linked to a drying of the air as temperatures rise, and if the trend is also true across the world's other moist tropical forests, they could rapidly slip from being carbon sinks, to carbon sources. Conservationists say we’re losing animal species faster today than at any point in the last 10 million years of Earth’s history. And one approach aims to save as many of those lost animals as possible – after they’ve died. Biobanking – saving frozen tissue from dead animals for future cloning or other reproductive technologies could buy us time to prevent extinction - or even reverse it. Vic visits Nature's Safe, where technology used in pedigree breeding is being deployed to preserve the cells and tissue of endangered species when individuals die or are euthanised, for possible research in the future, or even cloning. Meanwhile, 2.5 miles off the coast of Jersey, archaeologists are holing up in a medieval fortress waiting for the few lowest tides of the year to give them access to the Violet Bank - an area of reef thought once to have been home to Neanderthal populations, but which now is for most of the year submerged by the sea. Marnie Chesterton has been talking to UCL’s Matt Pope between the ebbs and flows. Presented by Victoria Gill Reporters: Marnie Chesterton and Jonathan Amos Produced by Alex Mansfield
16/06/22·28m 3s

Running Rings Around Matter

Astronomers have captured the first image of Sagittarius A*, the gargantuan black hole at the centre of our galaxy. Dr Ziri Younsi, University College London, shares what it took to capture a picture of a supermassive black hole that is 26,000 light-years away and from which (almost) nothing, not even light, can escape. The world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider, is restarting after three years of upgrades. Roland Pease visits the European Particle Physics Laboratory, CERN, to see how things are going, and looks back on some of the team's past successes. Also, how do you investigate the mysterious deaths of the world’s biggest fish when their bodies sink without trace? That’s the quandary facing marine scientists who’ve been trying to figure out what exactly is killing whale sharks. Freya Womersley, UK Marine Biological Association, shares how satellite tracking technology is helping us solve the mystery. And finally, what’s in a name? As our inventory of Earth’s biodiversity progresses, the number of species given a Latin name is also growing. So, where do scientists find their naming inspiration? In Royal Society Proceedings B this week, an analysis of nearly 3,000 parasitic worm species uncovered some intriguing patterns and worrying biases. Samara Linton reports. Presenter Victoria Gill Produced by Alex Mansfield and Samara Linton
09/06/22·28m 10s

Precious Metals, Earlier Eggs, and Meaningful Meteorites

With the cost of living spiralling, many are probably thinking more about the price of food than lithium, titanium, copper or platinum. But the volatility in the global market for these materials - partly because of the pandemic and geopolitical unrest - is causing 'chaos' in the technology supply chain. Elizabeth Ratcliffe, Royal Society of Chemistry, tells Vic that many of us are unwittingly stockpiling these precious metals in our homes, in our old phones and defunct computers, because we don't know what to do with them. Reporter Samara Linton visits N2S, a company in Bury St Edmunds which has found a way to recycle the precious metals and other scarce elements in discarded circuit boards using bacteria. This week more evidence that spring is springing earlier, as Vic heads to what might be the most studied woodland in the world: Wytham Woods in Oxfordshire. Ella Cole, Oxford University, explains how climate change is causing birds to lay eggs three weeks earlier than they did in the 1940s. And Chris Perrins, of Oxford University, shares his thoughts on the changing woodland. And from new life to the very stuff of life. Could the building blocks of DNA have first been delivered to earth on a meteorite? In a paper in Nature Communications, scientists announce the discovery of the last two of the five key nucleobases locked in meteorites dating to the formation of the solar system. Samples of the Murchison Meteorite, a specific type of soft, loamy rock (CM2 carbonaceous chondrite) that fell to earth in 1969, have been re-examined, and the confirmation extends the ongoing debate around the nature and composition of terrestrial life's original crucible. Sara Russell, Professor of Planetary Sciences at London's Natural History Museum, helps Vic unravel the complicated and surprisingly controversial history of space rocks and primordial soup. Presented by Vic Gill Producer: Alex Mansfield Reporter: Samara Linton
02/06/22·32m 22s

The Ebb and Flow of the Tidal Power Revolution

This week, we begin with a disturbing medical mystery. Since the start of the year, almost 200 children worldwide have fallen ill with hepatitis—or liver inflammation—without any apparent cause. Most of the children are under five, and nearly half of the cases were in the UK. Vic Gill asks clinical epidemiologist Deepti Gurdasani, Queen Mary University of London, what we do and don't know about these rare cases. Also on the programme, with a huge tidal range, Wales and the west coast of England have become the focal point for a new generation of tidal power plans. So, is the tidal energy revolution finally happening? Roger Falconer, Emeritus Professor of Water and Environmental Engineering at Cardiff University, and Andrew Scott, CEO of Orbital Marine Power, which has demonstrated a working tidal stream turbine - called O2 - off Orkney, share their insights. And fancy eating an insect burger? Or how about adding seaweed smoothies or mycoprotein meatballs to your diet? Fellow BBC science correspondent Helen Briggs shares how lab-grown proteins could make our diets much kinder to the planet. And a recent study has found that a fifth of reptile species are at risk of extinction. Conservation scientist and study co-author Monika Bohm, Indianapolis Zoo in the US, tells us how, despite the gloomy findings, she remains hopeful. Presented by Victoria Gill Produced by Alex Mansfield and Samara Linton
26/05/22·43m 50s

Building Better Engagement

Victoria Gill and guests ask why does scientific communication matters in society and how it might be done better, with Sam Illingworth, Berry Billingsley and Ozmala Ismail. The climate crisis and Covid-19 have shown over the recent years the importance of reliable, relatable, transparent and trusted science communication. But just like science itself, it comes in different forms and takes different approaches. Always keen to keep you up to date, BBC Inside Science takes a moment to discuss good practice and how it might be done better. Dr Oz Ismail is a dementia researcher who also finds time to do stand-up, public engagement and a podcast called Why Aren’t You A Doctor Yet? Sam Illingworth is an Associate Professor at Edinburgh Napier University who investigates science and communication between disciplines. He is also a poet and writer, and has a podcast called The Poetry of Science. And Berry Billingsley is Professor in Science Education at Canterbury Christchurch University. Erstwhile science broadcaster, she looks at ways science education could be enhanced through building what her team call Epistemic Insight - transforming the nature of science education in society's younger members. Presented by Victoria Gill Produced by Alex Mansfield and Samara Linton
19/05/22·34m 5s

A Trip-Switch for Depression?

Could magic mushrooms be the key to a revolution in treating depression? Professor David Nutt, director of the Imperial Centre for Psychedelic Research, thinks so. He tells Vic Gill about recent research suggesting that psilocybin - the psychedelic compound found in magic mushrooms - triggers rewiring of the brain in people with treatment-resistant depression. Vic Gill speaks with trial participant Steve Shorney who was diagnosed with depression 30 years ago. Nanobodies. That's the name scientists have given to the tiny antibodies found in the blood of camelids like llamas, alpacas and camels. Reporter Samara Linton heads to Berkshire to meet the llamas whose nanobodies were recently found to neutralise the Covid-19 virus. We hear from Professor Gary Stephens, University of Reading, who is responsible for the llamas' safety and well-being, and Professor James Naismith, director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute which is carrying out the pioneering research with engineered nanobodies. And just as the James Webb Space Telescope is poised to peer deep into the universe, we look at a recent image captured by its great predecessor, Hubble, which has thrown down a telescopic gauntlet. Astronomer Dr Emma Chapman, author of the book “First Light” guides us through these incredible pictures of the furthest, faintest, most ancient of stars yet seen. Presented by Victoria Gill Reporter: Samara Linton Producer: Alex Mansfield
12/05/22·35m 25s

Declining Data, Climate Deadlines and the Day the Dinosaurs Died

Covid-19 infections in the UK are at an all-time high. But most people in England can no longer access free Covid-19 tests, and the REACT-1 study, which has been testing more than 100,000 individuals since the pandemic began, ended last week after its funding stopped. Martin Mckee, Prof of European Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, shares his insights on what these changes might mean for ambitions to 'live with the virus'. This week, the UN's latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report has unveiled a to-do list of ways to save the planet from climate catastrophe. How do scientists reach a global consensus on climate change amid war, an energy crisis, and a pandemic? Vic Gill speaks to report co-author Jo House, University of Bristol, and Ukrainian climate scientist Svitlana Krakovska who took part in signing off every line of the report while sheltering from the war in Kyiv. And from our planet's present and future to its ancient past. Scientists working on the Tanis fossil site in North Dakota in the US have dug up a dinosaur's leg, complete with skin and scales. Is this 66-million-year-old fossil, alongside similar nearby victims, the key to unveiling those transformative minutes after the infamous Chicxulub asteroid struck the earth and ended the era of the dinosaurs? BBC science correspondent Jonathan Amos has seen the fossil and speaks with Paul Barrett of London's Natural History Museum about the significance of this un-reviewed new finds. And from earth to Mars. After a year of analysing audio recordings from NASA's Perseverance rover, scientists have found not one but two speeds of sound on Mars. Trevor Cox, Professor of Acoustic Engineering at the University of Salford, guides us through this sonic wonder, and how sound may become a key tool for exploring distant worlds. Mars audio credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/CNRS/ISAE-Supaéro
05/05/22·36m 14s

How can the UK get to zero carbon?

Energy is essential: every living thing needs energy to survive, and today’s industrialised societies consume enormous quantities of it. At the moment, the vast majority of this comes from burning fossil fuels that emit carbon. But the government is committed to reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Meanwhile, oil and gas prices are rocketing, exacerbated by the ongoing war in Ukraine. And the energy price cap is being raised on April 1st, hitting millions of householders in the UK. While we await the government’s energy strategy, Inside Science looks at how to solve the problem, finding the best possible ways to meet our energy needs while slashing our carbon emissions. Joining us to discuss this are Alice Bell, co-director of the climate charity Possible, and Jan Rosenow, director at the Regulatory Assistance Project. We also hear from Chris Stark of the Climate Change Commission on how the government might meet its decarbonisation targets, visit a Cornish field that might be a rich source of homegrown lithium for batteries, and talk to Jonathan Atkinson from People Powered Retrofit about how to make our homes greener and warmer.
28/04/22·27m 46s

Racial inequality in UK science

This month the Royal Society of Chemistry released a shocking report on racial inequality at all stages of academia, from research funding to career progression. Black scientists in particular are unfairly disadvantaged when it comes to funding allocation. This is bad for them, bad for science, and bad for society. So how do we change things? Dr Diego Baptista from the Wellcome Trust, Professor Melanie Welham from the UKRI, and Dr Addy Adelaine, from the non-profit organisation Ladders4Action, join us to discuss the issue. Both of Earth’s poles were hit by heatwaves this week. The Arctic was 30 degrees above average for this time of year, and the Antarctic was an unprecedented 40 degrees above average. We are seeing more extreme temperatures everywhere on earth, but for both poles to experience such heatwaves at the same time is highly unusual. Ed Blockley of the Met Office’s Polar Climate Group explains what’s going on. One of the simplest ways to improve your local environment is to plant a hedge, which not only helps wildlife but can reduce flooding and pollution. But what kind of hedge should you plant? Scientists at the University of Reading and the Royal Horticultural Society are beginning a two year experiment to see which combinations of hedges bring the most benefits. Dr Tijana Blanusa tells us why planting hedges and generally greening our gardens is so important in the current climate. Presented by Gaia Vince Producer Cathy Edwards Assistant Producer Emily Bird
21/04/22·32m 16s

Global food security during Ukraine conflict

The Russian conflict in Ukraine is already causing hunger there, and as Ukraine and Russia are huge grain exporters, the crisis will be far reaching. Food prices everywhere are expected to rise, and there’s fear that the war could affect food supplies in some of the poorest parts of the world. Tim Lang, Emeritus Professor of Food Policy at City University of London, and Dr Hannah Ritchie, Head of Research at the website Our World in Data, join us to discuss food security. Lead is highly toxic to humans and other animals. One source of lead in the environment is the bullets and shot used to hunt wild game, and new research shows that lead shot has a significant effect on birds of prey such as eagles, buzzards and vultures across the whole of Europe. One of the study’s authors, Professor Debbie Pain, explains the research. Many of us have spent the past two years anxiously following Covid graphs, but from next month the government is cutting funding to several surveillance programmes. Mass free testing will also end, though the Office for National Statistics survey will continue. Given that case numbers are rising, is reduced monitoring wise? Professor Adam Kucharski from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine discusses how important surveillance has been in the pandemic. The last crewed mission to the Moon was half a century ago, and no one has made that one small step since. But a new NASA programme aims to change that, and tonight is the rollout of Artemis I, the first stage on a journey to return humans to the moon, including the first woman on the moon and the first person of colour on the moon. BBC science correspondent Jon Amos paints a picture of what we’ll see tonight.
14/04/22·28m 54s

High Seas treaty talks and discoveries from the deep

The High Seas make up most of our oceans but belong to no-one and are largely unregulated, leaving them at risk of plunder. UN talks start afresh this week with the aim of protecting the marine biodiversity of these vast swathes of living ocean. Covid-19 can shrink our brains and lead to cognitive decline, even in mild cases, according to a new study out this week. Professor Gwenaëlle Douaud, who led the research, explains how they used hundreds of brain scans to discover the effects of Covid infection. A completely different discovery this week was made at the bottom of the sea; we hear how, after 107 years, scientists have finally found The Endurance, the lost shipwreck of Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton. How might the Russian invasion of Ukraine affect international space exploration? After a Twitter spat between a former NASA astronaut and the Russian space chief, we’re joined by BBC science correspondent Jonathan Amos and BBC Russian’s Nikolay Voronin to discuss how science in Russia and the rest of the world may be impacted by the current conflict. And finally, the stunning discovery of a 330 million-year-old vampyropod fossil, the earliest known relative of modern-day octopuses and vampire squids, gives us an opportunity to imagine the world it inhabited, a third of a billion years ago.
07/04/22·28m 37s

Cyber frontlines in Ukraine

As conflict continues in Ukraine, there are invisible ‘cyber frontlines’ running in parallel to the physical fighting. We hear how the country’s tech scene is responding to the Russian invasion, as Mike Sapiton, Tech Editor at Forbes Ukraine gives us a view from the ground, and Professor Madeline Carr explains why cyber warfare can be particularly dangerous. A major report published this week speaks to a different kind of crisis: climate change. There are stark warnings for humanity and the planet, with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessing the impacts of global heating on people and places, as well as how we can adapt to a drastically changed world. One of its lead authors, Professor Richard Betts, reflects on the report. Russia is one of the world's biggest producers of coal, gas and oil, so what might their invasion of Ukraine, and the ensuing sanctions, mean for global energy supplies? Simon Evans, deputy editor of the climate website Carbon Brief, discusses whether we're more likely to see a push towards renewables and energy efficiency, or further reliance on fossil fuels.
31/03/22·28m 6s

Inside Science is now first on BBC Sounds

Looking for the latest episode? New episodes of Inside Science will now be available first on BBC Sounds for four weeks before other podcast apps. If you haven’t already, you can download the BBC Sounds app to listen to the Inside Science podcast first. BBC Sounds is also available in lots of other places. Find us on your voice device or smart speaker, on your connected TV, in your car, or at The latest episode is available on BBC Sounds right now. BBC Sounds – you can find exclusive music mixes, live BBC radio and more podcasts like this one.
04/03/22·1m 0s

World’s largest Jurassic pterosaur found on Skye

In a week of exciting fossils finds we get up close to a 170 million year old pterosaur, found on the Isle of Skye. And over in the States, some fossilised fish hold the clue to what time of year the dinosaurs, along with three quarters of life on Earth, met their end. We hear from researcher Melanie During who tells us how growth patterns in sturgeons' bones reveal the season of this mass extinction. Predictions for how our climate will change over the coming years are essential in setting and meeting emissions targets, however human behaviour is usually left out of climate model equations. Fran Moore and Katherine Lacasse explain why and how they factor public opinion, habits and political trends into their climate model. And finally, why is it so important we clean up after our pets? Dog poo is incredibly nutrient rich, and Professor Pieter de Frenne has been looking into the surprising negative effect any waste left behind can have on woodland and nature reserves. Presented by Marnie Chesterton Producer Cathy Edwards Assistant Producer Emily Bird Made in association with The Open University
24/02/22·28m 56s

COVID-19: Beginnings... and endings?

With the prime minister proposing an end to self-isolation requirements as early as the end of the month, we thought we would check in with all things pandemic-related this week. We hear from mathematical biologist Dr Kit Yates from the University of Bath and UCL’s Professor Christina Pagel, who, like many scientists, are concerned about the consequences of relaxing protective measures. However, epidemiologist Professor Irene Petersen tells us why she feels it is the right time to loosen restrictions. A new omicron sub-variant has been making headlines this week. Professor David Male takes us through what we know about omicron BA.2 so far. And from possible endings to the pandemic’s origin story. Roland Pease spoke to Beijing-based journalist Jane Qiu who’s gained unprecedented access to the Wuhan scientist at the centre of lab leak theories. Presented by Marnie Chesterton Producer Samara Linton Assistant Producer Emily Bird Made in association with The Open University
17/02/22·32m 41s

Fusion energy smashes world record

This week the UK-based JET Laboratory broke its 25-year-old record for energy extracted by nuclear fusion - the process that powers the stars. Using temperatures 10 times hotter than the sun, nuclear fusion has the potential to provide vast amounts of energy at a very low carbon cost. But re-creating the power of the stars here on earth is no easy feat, and Roland Pease has been in Culham, speaking to the scientists at the forefront of this breakthrough. We discuss the Advanced Research and Invention Agency ( ARIA. The ARIA bill is about to go through the final stages of parliamentary approval and will have a budget of £800 million to play with over four years. But it’s not without its critics. Many in the science community have questioned ARIA’s transparency and accountability to the public, because the government have decided to exempt ARIA from Freedom of Information Requests. We hear from UKRI head Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser and Professor of Research Policy James Wilsdon. And from blue skies research to blue seas research, scientists have found a surprising seabed community that lives in the cold nutrient-sparse waters under the central arctic ocean: giant sponges. And it turns out these resourceful organisms have been feasting on the thousand-year-old remains of now-extinct worms. We hear from Teresa Maria Morganti from the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology and Autun Perser from the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Center for Polar and Marine Research.
10/02/22·28m 42s

The Continuing Story of the Nuclear Waste Bill

Whilst energy prices are shooting up due to gas demand, in the UK the plans for the next generation nuclear reactors are moving ahead. The costs of eventually decommissioning these, and the spent fuel products they will create is all part of the new contract. But what is to be done, and how far have we got with the 70 years of legacy waste piling up in the UK? Claire Corkhill of Sheffield university helps advise the government about nuclear waste disposal. As she tells Marnie, it's a long-term problem that must be dealt with some day, and even future nuclear fusion plants will have radioactive parts when they need replacing. You may feel that spring seems to come earlier each year. Ulf Buntgen and colleagues at the University of Cambridge have been using data from "Nature's Catalogue", a database of observations going back as far as the c18 to determine the dates each year that certain species of UK native plants first flower. And they have found a clear signal that plants are indeed flowering earlier due to climate change, some as much as a month earlier, on average, since the pre-1986 average. Aaron Rice of Cornell University speaks fish. But not fluently. His field of marine bioacoustics is growing fast. The oceans are, it seems, babbling with fish and other animal chatter. But does everything down there make a noise? In a paper published recently his team have traced evolutionary patterns in the ray-finned fish (which means nearly all the things most people would think of as a fish) and found that the ability to produce fishy sounds, be it bone vibrations, swim bladder vibrations or various other techniques, has likely emerged 33 times in this clade alone. Such convergent evolutionary history clearly suggests a strong selective pressure to do so. Aaron describes how much work there is to be done listening to fish, and how it can be used to help find out how life works, and how it may help us preserve it. Presented by Marnie Chesterton Producer Alex Mansfield Assistant Producer Emily Bird Made in association with The Open University
03/02/22·36m 55s

Predicting Long Covid, and the Global Toll of Antimicrobial Resistance

Prof Onur Boyman, Director of department of Immunology at University Hospital, Zurich, this week published a paper in the journal Nature Communications that presents a way of quantifying the risk of a Covid patient going on to develop Long Covid (or PACS as some call it) based on certain symptoms, but crucially also two key biomarkers in the blood. As he explains to Gaia, combining the levels in the blood of two key immunoglobulins (IgM and IgG3) with other pointers, first identified last year, allowed him and his team to make successful predictions as to the relative likelihood his sample group of patients might go on to still be exhibiting symptoms beyond four weeks after infection. Asthma is of particular interest to these researchers, partly because it can share this blood signal of Ig markers. Might it even also shed any light on things such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome? Dr Claire Steves, of Kings College London, whose previous work on symptom gathering Onur's team have built upon, agrees this is a promising bit of work, and also discusses some other potential clues to the Long Covid mystery. But Covid of course is not the the only major cause of death in the world today. A major paper in the Lancet recently is one of the first deep estimates of the global health burden of Antibiotic Microbial Resistance. And it suggests that 1.25 million people died in the world in 2019 because many bacteria are evolving a resistance to our favourite antibiotics. As Prof Chris Murray, Director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington who led the massive collaboration explains. The surprisingly huge number points to a massive and growing problem that political and health leaders around the world must address. And finally, the genetics of fingerprints might be a bit better understood thanks to work published in Cell recently. Dr Denis Headon of the Roslyn Institute at the University of Edinburgh talks to Gaia about a huge survey he and colleagues have done looking at the hints certain genes can give as to the types of fingerprints you grow. The genes that seem to govern the general form of your prints are the ones that shape your limb development, rather than skin patterns as perhaps might be expected. And a pro-tip if you want to search the literature for more info on this: use the word "dermatoglyph" rather than the overused and progressively meaningless word "fingerprint". Presented by Gaia Vince Producer Alex Mansfield Assistant Producer Emily Bird Made in Association with The Open University.
27/01/22·36m 17s

The 'perfect' depth for a destructive eruption

Why was the blast from the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha'apai volcano so explosive? Where are we on the global climatic thermostat? And how you can get involved in the Big Repair Project. Gaia Vince speaks with Auckland University volcanologist Prof Shane Cronin, one of the few human beings to have visited the now-disappeared volcanic land bridge that stretched until last week between the islands of Hunga-Tonga and Hunga-Ha'apai. It was destroyed in the disastrous eruption of the volcano beneath it last week that has wrought such devastation to the nation of Tonga, and whose effects were felt in the Americas and detectable all around the world. Why was this submarine eruption quite so explosive, given that the eruption itself was not one of the biggest or longest in living memory? Previous eruptions - notably Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991 - released huge amounts of particles and sulphates into the stratosphere such that they had a cooling effect on the atmosphere globally, lasting 2-3 years. Prof Richard Betts, Head of Climate Impacts at the UKs Met Office tells Gaia how current estimates of the recent eruption's emissions suggest it will not have such an affect, their being around ten times less than the 1991 event. Richard was one of the contributors to the UK Government’s Climate Risk Assessment 2022 which was published this week. He describes to Gaia some of the modelling that went into it, and the urgency of cutting CO2 and similar emissions it describes. Last year Prof Mark Miodownik, head of the Institute of Making at UCL made a series for Radio 4 called Dare to Repair, looking at the vanishing art and practice of repairing our old and malfunctioning consumer devices, rather than binning them and buying new ones as most of us do these days. At the end of 2021 Mark, together with representatives from manufacturers, consumers, and other groups, took part in a round-table meeting to discuss possible challenges and measures to increase the so-called Right to Repair, towards building a circular economy in the UK for recycling plastic and metals. In this week's show he launches a new citizen science project aimed at gathering granular data on UK citizens views and practices when it comes to "disposable" electronic devices. To take part in The Big Repair Project, to record successes and failures, even to share how impossible it can be sometimes to change a battery, follow the link on the BBC Inside Science homepage. Presenter Gaia Vince Producer Alex Mansfield Assistant Producer Emily Bird Made in Association with The Open University
20/01/22·37m 17s

The Rutland ‘Sea Dragon’, An Astronomer's Christmas and some Animal Magic

After 20 years of planning, preparation and a nail-biting build up fraught by delays The James Webb Space telescope finally launched on Christmas day 2021. Anxious astronomers across the globe looked on as the JWST then completed even riskier manoeuvres to unfurl the 18 hexagonal components that make up its 6.5 meter diameter primary mirror. Cosmologist Dr Sheona Urquhart from the Open University tells us about the astronomical community’s tense Christmas day. Fresh from a TV spot on BBC Two’s Digging for Britain this week, Dr Dean Lomax and PhD candidate Emily Swaby share their excitement unearthing Rutland’s ‘Sea Dragon’ and explore what this find could tell us about Ichthyosaurs. At over 10 meters long this ancient ocean predator is the largest complete fossil of its kind to be discovered in the UK. Ichthyosaurs are commonly associated with Dorset and Yorkshire coastlines where fossils are often revealed as surrounding rock is eroded by the elements. Finding an ichthyosaur fossil inland is unusual but not unexpected as the higher sea levels 200 million years ago would put the east midlands underwater. And whilst the palaeontologists have been struggling through the Jurassic mud, cognition researchers at the University of Cambridge have been wowing their birds with magic tricks. Professor Nicky Clayton FRS, Professor of Comparative Cognition, explains what we can learn about the way jays think by assessing their reaction to different sleight-of-hand tricks. Corvids, the family to which these feathered friends belong, have long interested researchers due to their impressive cognitive abilities and Nicky’s team has shown that their Jays are not fooled by all of the same mis-directions as we are, but are fooled by some. And it could be down to not being able to tell the difference between a finger and a feather. Presented by Marnie Chesterton Produced by Alex Mansfield Assistant Producer Emily Bird Made in association with The Open University
13/01/22·28m 2s

Deep ocean exploration

UCL oceanographer Helen Czerski explores life in the ocean depths with a panel of deep sea biologists. They take us to deep ocean coral gardens on sea mounts, to extraordinary hydrothermal vent ecosystems teeming with weird lifeforms fed by chemosynthetic microbes, to the remarkable biodiversity in the muds of the vast abyssal plains. Helen's guests are Adrian Glover of the Natural History Museum in London, Kerry Howell of Plymouth University and Alex Rogers, scientific director of REV Ocean. They discuss the dramatic revelations made by deep ocean explorers in just the last forty years, and the profound connections that the deep sea floor has with life at the Earth's surface. They also consider the threats to the ecosystems down there from seabed mining and climate change. Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker BBC Inside Science is made in association with the Open University.
06/01/22·37m 16s

A new space age?

Dr Kevin Fong convenes a panel of astronautical minds to discuss the next decade or two of space exploration. 2021 was an eventful year in space. Captain James Kirk a.k.a William Shatner popped into space for real for a couple of minutes, transported by space company Blue Origin's tourist rocket New Shepard. Elon Musk's Space X ferried more astronauts and supplies between Earth and the International Space Station, using its revolutionary resuable launchers and Dragon spacecraft. On Mars, the latest NASA robot rover landed and released an autonomous helicopter - the first aircraft to fly on another planet. 2022 promises even more. Most significantly NASA plans to launch the first mission of its Artemis programme. This will be an uncrewed flight of its new deep space vehicle Orion to the Moon, propelled off the Earth by its new giant rocket, the Space Launch System. Artemis is the American space agency's project to return astronauts to the lunar surface and later establish moon bases. China has a similar ambition. Are we at the beginning of a new space age and if so, how have we got here? When will we see boots on the Moon again? Could we even see the first people on Mars by the end of this decade? Even in cautious NASA, some are optimistic about this. Kevin's three guests are: Dr Mike Barratt, one of NASA's most senior astronauts and a medical doctor, based at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas Dr Anita Sengupta, Research Associate Professor in Astronautical Engineering at the University of Southern California Oliver Morton, Briefings editor at The Economist and the author of 'Mapping Mars' and 'The Moon' Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker BBC Inside Science is made in association with the Open University
30/12/21·41m 56s

The Origin of Celtic Culture in Britain?

Victoria Gill hears of ancient DNA evidence for an unrecognised mass migration from continental Europe 3,000 years ago that may even have brought the Celtic languages with it. In a paper in the journal Nature, an international team of researchers have gathered hundreds of middle-late Bronze Age DNA samples to identify a moment in pre-history when half the ancestry of people living in southern Britain became continental European. Sometime around 1000 BC, continental Europeans living in Kent spread rapidly into what is now England and Wales. As Prof Ian Armit tells Vic, the spread need not have been one event, and likely spanned around 200 years, but by the start of the Iron Age, Britons' DNA was 50% changed. The researchers suggest further that this may have been the time when Celtic languages spread from the continent into the islands too. Data are starting to be published that suggest the Omicron variant of SARS CoV-2 may be a little less awful than was first feared, though it clearly is still a lethal foe. Prof Penny Moore, one of the scientists in South Africa who helped alert the world to the new virus is very tentatively relieved that death and hospitalisation numbers there and in the UK are beginning to show clinically some of the resilience that earlier strains and vaccines may have bestowed on populations. Three "Glimpses of Spike", either through prior infection and survival or vaccination and boosting seem to be accompanied by improved survival rates. Gaia Vince has been to the Arctic Circle to talk climate change and reindeer. Sami language and culture in Lapland is under strain as climate change rapidly changes alters the predatory threats reindeer farmers face, increasing numbers of wolves and even sea-eagles that prey on young reindeer calves. And over at UCSC in California, recordings of elephant seal pups have been played to maternal harems to ascertain how well mothers recognize their own. Caroline Casey and colleagues report in Royal Society journal Biology Letters, how they can spot their own offspring from their call alone in as little as two days after birth. But if they can do that, why then do so many lactating females feed pups that aren’t their own? Elephant seal mothers fast throughout lactation and lose a huge percentage of their own body weight, quite what the evolutionary driver is for this behaviour remains uncertain, but it can’t now be a case of mistaken identity. Presenter Victoria Gill Producer Alex Mansfield Assistant Producer Emily Bird Made in Association with The Open University
23/12/21·38m 15s

The James Webb Space Telescope

The launch of the James Webb Space Telescope is only days away. Scheduled for lift off on 24 December, the largest and most complex space observatory ever built will be sent to an orbit beyond the moon. James Webb is so huge that it has had to be folded up to fit in the rocket. There will be a tense two weeks over Christmas and the New Year as the space giant unfurls and unfolds. Its design and construction has taken about 30 years under the leadership of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. With its huge 6.5 metre-wide primary mirror, the giant observatory promises to extend our view across the cosmos to the first stars to shine in the early universe. That’s a vista of Cosmic Dawn: the first small clusters of stars to form and ignite out of what had been a universe of just dark clouds of primordial gas. If the James Webb succeeds in capturing the birth of starlight, we will be looking at celestial objects more than 13.5 billion light years away. Closer to home, the telescope will also revolutionise our understanding of planets orbiting stars beyond the solar system. BBC science correspondent Jonathan Amos reports from the European Space Agency’s launch site in French Guyana from where James Webb will be sent into space. He talks to astronomers who will be using the telescope and NASA engineers who’ve built the telescope and tested it in the years leading to launch. Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker BBC Inside Science is made in association with the Open University. Image: James Webb Space Telescope. Credit: Adriana Manrique Gutierrez, NASA animator
16/12/21·33m 49s

Initial Omicron Lab Data, Creative Naps, and Fishy Sounds.

T-Cells in vaccinated people may be holding the fort, or at least fighting serious illness, against the latest SARS CoV2 variant. Also, how the briefest of sleeps aids creativity. Prof Penny Moore, of South Africa’s National Centre for Infectious Disease and Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg, joins us again this week to give us an update from the front line of scientists trying to get the data we need to try to predict the seriousness of the omicron variant. These early data, published as pre-prints and not yet peer-reviewed, seem to suggest that for those in the world lucky enough to have "seen a spike" three times (double vaccination plus booster, or double vaccination plus recovered from infection) the chances of serious illness remain similar to earlier variants. One chink of hope continues to be the fascinating response of the "killer" T-Cells. Prof Danny Altmann of Imperial College London attempts to give us a T-Cell 101 course. This other division of the body’s defences, besides the binding antibodies of which we hear so much, may be more resilient to the sorts of mutations the virus has shown so far, and also perhaps have a slower waning in their ability to recognize it at all. What did Salvador Dali and Thomas Edison have in common? A fondness for the occasional creative nap. And this week scientists suggest they weren't wrong. Delphine Oudiette, a sleep researcher at the L’Institut du Cerveau et de la Moelle épinière in Paris, has been experimenting with the idea that just a small nap, where you doze off for a few seconds but don't fall into deep sleep statistically helps you solve creative or mathematical problems. Her results are published in the journal Science Advances. Meanwhile, in shallow seas off Indonesia, attempts to regrow coral reefs previously pounded to rubble by fishing with explosives, really sound like they are recovering. How do scientists know? By swimming about with microphones of course. Dr Tim Lamont, a marine Biologist at the University of Exeter has been listening to thousands of recordings of fish and other marine animal noises and talks Vic through some of the odder ones that so far can't be recognized. He says the sheer number and frequency of the odd sounds point to an ecosystem beginning to thrive. The coral rebuilding strategy there won't work for all the world's dwindling corals, but this new way of monitoring success or failure makes for a great listen. Presenter: Victoria Gill Producer: Alex Mansfield Assistant Producer: Emily Bird Made in Association with The Open University
09/12/21·30m 42s

When Pandemics Collide

As virologists around the world race to investigate the latest SARS CoV2 variant of concern, the UN’s World AIDS Day this week reminds us of the other global pandemic raging for some 40 years. Much of the work achieved over the last two years on SARS CoV2 has been achieved because of the investment made into, and the understanding gained from, HIV research over the last two decades. But to what further extent do they overlap in the population? There is a theory that the omicron variant, displaying so very many mutations compared to previous variants, might well have been incubated in a person suffering from a compromised immune system, possibly due to HIV, in whom the covid virus was able to linger longer than in fitter individuals. Prof. Penny Moore, of South Africa’s National Centre for Infectious Disease and Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg, is one of many virologists who transferred from HIV to coronavirus research, and hers, like hundreds of labs around the world, is racing to clone the parts of the omicron virus to enable research into its transmissibility and severity as soon as possible. She describes to Vic what we yet know and what we don’t about it, and also how it is high time to bring the same sense of urgency back to HIV research. Nottingham University’s Prof. Jonathan Ball is another virologist who suddenly transferred experience over to coronaviruses early on. He outlines something of what is really happening when viruses mutate, and how the arms race between host and invader can play out. Our regular Inside Science listener will be interested to know that this week Merlin Sheldrake was awarded the Royal Society’s Science Book Prize, sponsored by Insight Investment, and the hefty cheque that accompanies it, for his book Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds and Shape Our Futures. Merlin is one of several high profile advisors to something called the Society for the Protection of Underground Networks - SPUN. They have received funding recently to begin an international mission to map the world’s subterranean fungal mycelial networks, including the infamous Wood Wide Web. SPUN Co-Founder Prof. Toby Kiers of VU University in Amsterdam tells Vic about the need to preserve, map and cherish this unseen yet essential part of the global ecosystem. And could rising sea levels paradoxically be used to help fight climate change? Researchers up in St Andrews took Vic for a squelch about the salt marshes reclaimed recently by the sea in an estuary near Grangemouth, where flora and fauna are thriving just a few years since the seas were allowed back in. Finally, you may have thought that wasps eat meat whereas bees eat honey and nectar. But this week we learned that some bees eat meat, preserving it in honeycombs to feed young and augment their own nutrition. Intrepid field entomologist Laura Figueroa of Cornell University describes to Vic her work in the jungle with Vulture Bees, social bees that over evolutionary time seem to have rescinded their vegetarian instincts and now are happy to enjoy a bit of “chicken on the side”. Laura found that they can digest their flesh because of big adjustments to their gut microbes, including acid-loving bacteria also found in other carnivorous animals. Presented by Victoria Gill Produced by Alex Mansfield Assistant Producer, Emily Bird Made in Association with The Open University
02/12/21·41m 7s

Malaria: what's in it for the mosquito?

Malaria, a disease that infects hundreds of millions of people and kills hundreds of thousands each year. It is caused after a plasmodium parasite is passed from a blood-feeding mosquito into a human host. Subject to much research over hundreds of years, of both host and parasite, one of the evolutionary mysteries has been why the plasmodium so prospers in the mosquito populations in infected areas. Why haven’t mosquitoes’ immune systems learned to fight back for example? In short, what’s in it for the mozzies? Ann Carr, working with Laurence Zwiebel at Vanderbuilt University, reports in the journal Nature Scientific Reports how they managed to discover a mutual symbiotic relationship between the plasmodium and the mosquito. Using advanced sequencing technology they discovered that the infected insects can live longer, and have enhanced sensing (olfaction) and egg positioning than their uninfected brethren. This, in turn, could help them finds meals better, bestowing higher numbers of infection opportunities for the parasite, and benefitting both. NASA this week successfully launched its DART mission, which will next year attempt to nudge an asteroid in its orbit by smashing a mass into it. Could this method allow future humans, endangered by an impending collision push an asteroid out of the way to save the planet? It is billed as human’s first ever “earth-defence mission”, but as relieved-sounding mission leads Nancy Chabot and Andy Rivkin of Johns Hopkins University told the BBC, it is perhaps finally time to stop talking about these sorts of things and have a go. Less relieved perhaps are astronomers around the world, as the James Webb Space Telescope team announce a further small delay to its launch to sometime after December 22nd. The BBC’s John Amos a few weeks ago stood in the presence of the telescope before it was coupled to the launch vehicle, and spoke with ESA’s Peter Jensen about its cost and complexity. BBC Inside Science is planning a special episode devoted to the instrument to accompany the launch of this successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. Watch, as they say, this space... And finally an insight perhaps into the origin of words and language. Apart from onomatopoeia, where a word can sound like the noise of a noise-making thing, can a word sound like other properties, such as for example its shape? In the late 1920s psychologists found that different people would match certain made-up words with the same abstract shapes. This “Bouba/ Kiki” effect has been studied since, where the word “Bouba” is associated with rounded blobby shapes, and “Kiki” with spikier, angular forms. But there wasn’t so much evidence whether or not the effect worked across different languages or different written alphabets, until now. Aleksandra Ćwiek of Leibniz-Zentrum Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft in Berlin tells Gaia of her international study (published in Royal Society Phil. Trans. B) looking at the effect in 25 different languages and cultures. The effect is robust across the different writing systems and locations, so the link is not simply about the shape of a letter b or letter k when written in a latinate alphabet, but could allude to something much deeper. Presented by Gaia Vince Produced by Alex Mansfield Assistant Producer, Emily Bird Made in Association with The Open University.
25/11/21·36m 11s

Yet More Space Junk; COP-up or COP-out; The End of Bias.

Earlier in the week the current ISS crew had to prepare to evacuate after Russia tested an anti-satellite weapon, spreading thousands of high velocity shards of ex-satellite into a reasonably low-earth orbit and potentially endangering many other earth observation and communication satellites of all nations. How can we clear this and all the other debris? BBC Space Correspondent Jonathan Amos tells Gaia Vince about the Russian test and of efforts to de-orbit some other deceased orbital vehicles. Simon Evans, deputy editor of the website Carbon Brief, was one of many attending the COP26 summit which ended at the weekend. How do all the declarations, promises and the "Glasgow Pact" itself add up in the great carbon ledger we all need to worry about? And the last of BBC Inside Science's Royal Society book prize nominees, Jessica Nordell talks to Gaia about writing her book "The End of Bias: A Beginning: The Science and Practice of Overcoming Unconscious Bias". Her investigation into the science of all of our preconceptions and unacknowledged prejudices surprized even herself. Presented by Gaia Vince Produced by Alex Mansfield Studio production by Anna Buckley and Bob Nettles Made in Association with The Open University
18/11/21·37m 25s

Propane: Keeping Your Cool as the World Warms Around You

How propane might prevent air conditioning and refrigeration becoming an even bigger burden as our planet warms. Also, covid antiviral pills, and how we forgot to breathe properly. The Montreal Protocol is famous for reducing CFC emissions to help protect the Ozone Layer. We only started using things like CFCs as refrigerants in our fridges and air-conditioning because they weren't as flammable as many alternatives. They were mainly replaced by HFCs, though these are also on the way out. The reason? Their huge greenhouse warming potential (or GWP). Propane has long been thought to be an alternative because of its comparatively tiny GPW, but the safety standards haven't been in place in much of the world for many of the types of application that would make the big difference. Sophie Geoghegan, Climate Campaigner at the Environmental Investigation Agency, and Asbjørn Vonsild who has been working on some of the new standards, due to become normal in Europe next year tell Gaia what greenhouse savings there are to be made, both in terms of efficiency and the contents of the systems themselves. If public opinion and consumer choice can drive the transition as our cities heat up. This week two new Anti-viral pills that are designed to fight SARS CoV2 infections have made headlines in the UK. Professor Penny Ward is Chair of the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Medicine’s Policy Expert Group, and explains how they work, how they were developed, and when they will be properly available. And in the penultimate of our 2021 Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize shortlisted authors, science journalist James Nestor describes his book, Breath: The new science of a lost art. The book documents James’s journey around the world investigating traditional eastern practices, the latest pulmonology research, and learning from the palaeontology of ancient skulls, and he attempts to cure himself with better breathing habits. Presented by Gaia Vince Produced by Alex Mansfield Made in association with The Open University
11/11/21·38m 30s

How Whales Farmed For Food, COP progress, and The Last Stargazers

Gaia Vince hears how blue whales' huge appetites and energetic eating behaviours helped generate more food for themselves. Also, an update from COP26, and Emily Levesque on The Last Stargazers. New research published this week in the journal Nature reveals new insights into blue whales eating habits. Matthew Savoca and colleagues suggest these biggest of marine animals actually eat up to three times the mass of krill previously estimated. And they do this by finding the blooms of krill and using a spectacular lunging approach to open their massive mouths and filter the gulp of seawater for tonnes of food. But how come, since the near destruction of their population by commercial whaling in the twentieth century, are current krill populations lower than when the voracious whales themselves were far more numerous? Shouldn't there be more krill now than then? The answer, as Victor Smetacek, of the Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research in Bremerhaven, describes to Gaia is that whales themselves help to keep iron in the upper waters of the southern oceans, re-fertilizing it for the lower ecosystem member like phytoplankton, and their powerful diving lunges and defecation effectively plough the waters, akin to herds of bison treading manure into prehistoric grass plains. Former GSO David King, of the Centre For Climate Repair at Cambridge University, is beginning experiments next year that seek to mimic this whale-defecation effect to bring about eventual repopulation of whales and fish to allow the oceans to restart this historical cycle. From Glasgow, above the hubbub of delegates and dignitaries CarbonBrief's deputy editor Simon Evans talks to Gaia about his perceptions of progress so far at the COP26 climate summit. Amongst the flurry of declarations so far this week, what are the details and how do they add up towards our eventual recovery back down to the 1.5C rise everybody is talking about? And in the latest of Inside Science's interviews with shortlisted finalists of this year's Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize, Prof Emily Levesque, an astronomer at Washington State University tells Marnie Chesterton of her adventures and astronomical anecdotes at some of the world's most famous observatories. Researching her book, "The Last Stargazers: The Enduring Story of Astronomy’s Vanishing Explorers", she interviewed hundreds of practicing and practical astronomers, many of whose jobs, she suggests, will soon be transformed as the act of observation becomes more remote, automated, and data-heavy. Presented by Gaia Vince Produced by Alex Mansfield Made in Association with The Open University
04/11/21·34m 21s

Atmospheric Pollutants and Where to Find Them

This week London's Ultra Low Emission Zone was extended to 18 times its previous size. In an effort to cut levels of various nitrogen oxides and other gases dangerous to humans from urban air, cities encouraging lower emission vehicles is a trend soon stretching across the UK and other European countries. But some are sceptical as to their efficacy. Dr Gary Fuller of Imperial College London is author of The Invisible Killer, and has been studying the air in London and elsewhere since these zones began. As COP26 begins in Glasgow, a wealth of climate science is being published and publicised. Victoria Gill describes a couple of stories this week that point out quite how complex the science is, let alone the diplomacy and economics. Whilst the world's forests taken as a whole undoubtedly still capture more CO2 than they release, research this week shows that ten of Unesco's World Heritage Forests - making up for an area twice the size of Germany - have in the last ten years actually moved from being a carbon sink to a carbon source. There are several reasons, land use pressure being one of them, but also extreme climate events like wildfires (and even a hurricane in one instance) have tipped the balance, and show what how sharp the knife edge is for natural resilience. Meanwhile, the Financial Times reports that scientists have found an unexpected outflow of methane into the atmosphere from a site very close to the COP26 conference centre in Glasgow, highlighting just how great a challenge net zero will be. Alongside some of humans' most earth-changing achievements, the domestication of the horse stands as something outstanding in human history. Without it, war, traded and culture would be unrecognizable. But quite when and where the modern horse originated has been something of a mystery. In Nature this week, researchers have published an extensive study into ancient DNA that seems to pinpoint finally a moment and a place where this happened, 4,200 years ago. Geoff Marsh takes Marnie for a canter through the mystery. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Alex Mansfield Made in association with The Open University
28/10/21·33m 31s

The Possible Impact of false-negative PCR Tests

As many as 43,000 PCR tests for people living in and around the South West of England could have been wrongly returned as negative recently, thanks to a seemingly unknown error, or errors, at a laboratory near Wolverhampton. For an extraordinarily long time the mistakes went undetected, and every day many hundreds of people who really had Covid, were told they hadn't. To discuss the numbers and difficulty in calculating the full tragic consequences of the events, Marnie Chesterton speaks to Dr Deepti Gordasani of Queen Mary, University of London, and Dr Kit Yates, of Bath University. How many people may have died as a result of this? BBC Inside Science's back-of-the-envelope suggests 500-1000 preventable deaths, and counting.. As accusations of fossil fuel lobbying begin to encircle the pre-negotiations of the COP26 negotiations, we heard last week of the sad death of Dutch climate scientist Geert Jan van Oldenborgh. Listeners to BBC Science programmes will recognise his work from earlier this year, as flash floods and heatwaves ravished Europe and North America, when he and his colleagues at the World Weather Attribution Initiative were able to say unambiguously that these events could only have happened because of anthropogenic climate change. Roland Pease looks at Geert Jan's work and legacy. And the latest of the Royal Society Book Prize finalists to speak to BBC Inside Science is Stuart Ritchie, a psychologist at Kings College London. His book explores the murkier corners of science as a process. Certainly the so-called replication crisis has dogged psychological sciences for several years, but in "Science Fictions: How Fraud, Bias, Negligence, and Hype Undermine the Search for Truth" Stuart outlines quite how deep some of the flaws in the modern experimental reporting and publishing model go, and in almost all fields. However, as he explains to Marnie, there may be ways of rescuing the great achievement of the scientific method by tweaking some of our peer-review norms. Presented by Marnie Chesterton Produced by Alex Mansfield Made in association with The Open University
21/10/21·38m 53s

Early Alzheimer's Alert

Marnie Chesterton hears of a simple test for the earliest signs of Alzheimer's disease. She finds out about UK scientists using robots to map radiation at Chernobyl, and talks to Merlin Sheldrake about fungi. Roland Pease travels to Bath University to meet scientists who may have developed a way to diagnose Alzheimer's in the earliest stages of the disease. Dr George Stothart, has led the team in the development of this simple 2 minute test. Prof Thomas Scott of Bristol University and team develop robotic techniques to scan areas of high radiation that would otherwise be unsafe for humans to enter. Their rolling, quadruped or even flying robots have recently been deployed in and around the reactor building at the Chernobyl disaster site. Authorities there have recently been licensed to begin disassembling remains inside the vast concrete shield, but as they do so, areas of intense radiation are likely to shift from day to day. Being able to map these changes in 3D at the end of each working shift should enable workers to avoid the areas of biggest danger. Dr Merlin Sheldrake is one of the nominees for this years Royal Society Insight Investment Book Prize. "Entangled Life - How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, & Shape Our Futures" is a rich tale of interconnectedness and subtle intrusion and extrusion between different living things, and particularly fungi's huge influence on human existence, from beer, bread and psychedelia to the whole history of life on earth. Presented by Marnie Chesterton Produced by Alex Mansfield Made in Association with The Open University
14/10/21·32m 4s

Surprising choice for Nobel prizes in a pandemic?

This week saw the announcement of the Nobel prizes for physiology or medicine, chemistry and physics. None of them reward research connected with Covid. Roland Pease, science journalist and Nobel watcher, and Gaia Vince discuss the decisions, which some have said are controversial in this pandemic year. The BepiColombo space craft, a joint European and Japanese mission, has just completed its first fly-by of Mercury, after a three year journey. Professor Dave Rothery, a planetary geologist at the Open University, who’s been involved since the early days of the mission in the 1990s, talks about what Mercury's cameras have seen and what the mission aims to find out when it finally gets into orbit around the planet in 2026. Plants remove carbon from the air during photosynthesis, and forests will be a key part of meeting our climate goals. But there’s a lot of uncertainty about how forests will react as temperatures and CO2 rise. Now researchers at University of Birmingham have bathed ancient oak trees in the sort of carbon dioxide concentrations we expect in 2050, and measured the impact. Anna Gardner led the research from a forest in Staffordshire. The shortlist for the Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize for 2021 was announced last week. Inside Science will be featuring the six authors. The first is The Sleeping Beauties: And Other Stories of Mystery Illness by Suzanne O’Sullivan. She's a consultant neurologist at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London, who’s been described as “a detective of the mind”. Suzanne O’Sullivan specialises in epilepsy but this leads her to see a number of patients with symptoms such as unexplained paralysis or blindness. For The Sleeping Beauties, she travelled around the world investigating what is often referred to as psychosomatic illness. Sometimes whole groups of people have been affected in mysterious ways. Claudia Hammond spoke to her about the strange case of refugee children in Sweden who fell asleep for years at a time.
07/10/21·31m 37s

Covid vaccine boosters; why we don't have a tail; cassowary domestication; Royal Society Science book prize shortlist

Booster vaccines are now being offered to people in England most at risk of Covid, who had their second jab at least 6 months ago. Most people are getting an mRNA vaccine as a booster, mainly the Pfizer one. Dr Andrew Ustianowski, national clinical lead for the UK COVID Vaccine Research Programme, and infectious diseases consultant in Manchester, explains why people are not being offered new vaccines, specifically tweaked to prevent the current highly transmissible delta variant. And he talks about a trial with a new vaccine that works against more than just the spike protein. Why don’t we have a tail? We share that absence with our primate cousins, the great apes. What made the difference genetically speaking has eluded scientists, until now. Professor Jef Boeke of NYU Langone Health tells Gaia Vince why it was a change in just one gene that caused us to lose our tail. New research just published in PNAS pushes back the origins of farming by thousands of years. Professor Kristina Douglass of Penn State University and team studied 18 000 year old eggshells of cassowaries, found in human shelters in New Guinea. She explains how the finds suggest that these Pleistocene people had domesticated these large flight less birds. And six authors this week learned that their books have made the shortlist of the Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize for 2021. Chair of the judges, Luke O’Neill, Professor of Biochemistry at Trinity College Dublin, tells Gaia how the panel made their choices from the 350 books entered.
30/09/21·33m 13s

La Palma volcano; wind energy in the UK; origins of SARS-Cov2; Formula 1 safety

Thousands of people have been forced to flee the path of the lava that has been spewing from the Cumbre Vieja volcano on La Palma since Sunday 18th September. Dr Rebecca Williams of Hull University is an expert on the geology of the Canary Islands and tells Gaia Vince that eruptions are regular events on the islands. There's been much discussion about where we are going to get our energy from in the UK. Gas prices are soaring, a fire has knocked out a key power cable, and the weather has affected the amount of power that can be generated from our wind turbines. And to meet our climate targets we're going to become ever more dependent on renewable, and variable, sources. Tom Butcher from the Met Office talks about wind forecasting. He says that the winds have been between 10% and 20% lower in intensity this summer. Professor Deborah Greaves, of Plymouth University and Head of the Supergen Offshore Renewable Energy Hub, explains how the UK is planning to increase the number of wind turbines, moving into deeper waters. A team from the Institut Pasteur in Paris, investigating bats in caves in Northern Laos, has found bats that are infected with a coronavirus that’s genetically almost identical to the one now causing Covid in humans. Lead researcher Dr Marc Eloit discusses what they have discovered and how coronaviruses could move from bats to humans. Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen had what looked like a very serious crash at their recent Formula 1 race in Italy. Max Verstappen’s car landed on top of Lewis Hamilton’s, but amazingly Hamilton got out unscathed. The safety features on these cars which can travel at more than 200 mph, are very sophisticated. Nick Wirth, a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering who has many years experience of engineering in the F1 world, describes the Halo which saved Lewis Hamilton's life.
23/09/21·31m 56s

Perseverance drills on Mars; space tourism; Australian fire debris and algal blooms; DNA vaccines against Covid

NASA's Perseverance rover has been trundling around the Jezero crater since it landed successfully in February 2021. A few weeks ago it made its first attempt at collecting a sample of rock. Unfortunately the rock turned out to be so crumbly it disintegrated away. But Perseverance lives up to its name and has been drilling elsewhere and has now collected two samples. The rover has stored them in special canisters for later collection. Katie Stack-Morgan, Deputy Project Scientist of the Mars 2020 mission at NASA, tells Gaia Vince what they've found out so far. The Inspiration 4 mission has just blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center with 4 civilian astronauts on board. Unlike previous billionaire space flights, which have shot up far enough to officially cross into space before immediately returning, these four are going further out than the International Space Station, where they will orbit the earth for three days. BBC Science Correspondent Jonathan Amos talks about the recent boom in space tourism, and about the Chinese rover on Mars. The terrible Australian wildfires of the summer of 2019/20 had a devastating impact, burning across more than 18 million hectares and causing loss of life and livelihoods.. Now, it turns out the impacts stretched far beyond Australia. Climate scientists have been looking at satellite images of the vast Southern Ocean, which plays a major role in controlling the global climate, and found massive algal blooms, fertilised by debris blown thousands of kilometres from the fires. Gaia discusses the observations with Nicolas Cassar of Duke University, one of the authors on a recent Nature paper, and what they tell us about geoengineering to cool down the earth. This month India licensed the world’s first DNA vaccine against Covid. Jonathan Ball, Professor of Virology at the University of Nottingham, is involved with a DNA vaccine that is just starting in clinical trials. He explains the pros and cons of this kind of vaccine. It could be of benefit to those who are needle phobic.
16/09/21·31m 20s

Climate change and oil and gas exploration; cutting methane emissions; African wild dog populations; freezing eggs and sperm

We’re just weeks away from the big international climate talks in Glasgow, where governments will be trying to figure out a workable plan for how to keep global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees. Gaia Vince explores a couple of strategies to tackle climate change. By far the biggest source of the rise comes from the release of greenhouse gases when we burn fossil fuels, like coal, oil and gas. So it’s no surprise that we need to cut back on this habit - but much of the discussions are over how much of our reserves countries can continue to burn. Earlier this year, a landmark report from the International Energy Agency said there must be an immediate end to new fossil fuel exploration, and that current production must drop by 75% by 2050 if we are to stay within emissions targets. Daniel Welsby from UCL talks to Gaia about his just published massive analysis of fuel reserves and extraction. His study doesn’t go as far as the IEA’s, but still says that 60% of the remaining oil and gas, and 90% of coal reserves must stay underground if we are to keep below that 1.5C temperature rise. Natural gas, or methane, has a much stronger effect on temperature than carbon dioxide, but because it doesn’t last very long in the atmosphere before converting into carbon dioxide, it’s been a bit overlooked by governments. Two recent reports, from the IPCC and the UN, have pointed out that cutting methane emissions would be a quick win in reducing global heating. Most of our methane emissions are because of leaks from the oil and gas industry, or from landfill sites and agriculture. Gaia discusses tackling methane with Drew Shindell, of Duke University in North Carolina, the author of the Global Methane Assessment from the UN Environment Programme. Climate change is already having an impact on life everywhere. We’ve all seen the powerful pictures of polar bears on melting ice, but global warming is also causing problems for species in the tropics. Dani Rabaiotti of the Zoological Society of London explains how climate change is having an impact on African wild dogs, a species which is already endangered. This week the Human Fertilisation and Embryo Authority A recommended that the time limit for using frozen eggs, sperm and embryos, should be extended from 10 years to 55 years. Shahnaz Akbar, a fertility expert at Luton and Dunstable Hospital, explains what has changed in the science of preserving eggs from when the law was originally passed.
09/09/21·29m 14s

Rugby and the brain

Victoria Gill talks to Professor Damian Bailey who's leading research at the University of South Wales into the potential risks to brain health in contact sports players, from impacts to the head and body sustained during play. His latest study found that over the course of a 31 game season, the brains of members of a professional rugby union team underwent measurable changes, particularly the forward players who sustained most tackles, knocks and falls. The findings may help to identify why professional players of some contact sports are at an increased risk of dementia later in life. Also in the programme: How food waste may help with the development of a more sustainable generation of batteries, with Imperial College chemist Magda Titirici. Professor Titirici was awarded this year's Kavli Medal by the Royal Society for her research on new sustainable energy materials. The bones of people who died in 79 AD during the eruption of Vesuvius have revealed in extraordinary detail what the citizens of Herculaneum ate, and how the diets of men differed from those of women in the town. With bioarchaeologist Oliver Craig of the University of York. How the babbling of baby bats is comparable to babbling in human babies. Both are about learning the skills of communication, according to zoologist Ahana Fernandez of the Museum of Natural History in Berlin.
02/09/21·29m 21s

Window to solve pandemic origins closing

Virologist Marion Koopmans is one of the independent researchers appointed by the World Health Organisation to investigate the origins of the coronavirus pandemic. The team visited China in January this year as a first step to answer how, when and where SARS-Cov-2 first infected humans. Professor Koopmans tells Victoria Gill that time is beginning to run out to launch the next phase of studies, to trace the first people in China to be exposed and identify the animals from which the virus jumped the species barrier. Also in the programme: Is the practise of feeding the birds in our gardens creating losers as well as winners, and causing the numbers of some woodland birds to decline? Conservation biologist Alexander Lees visits Victoria in her garden to discuss the question, and reveal the truly dark side of the Great Tit. A new study of the impact of street lighting on nocturnal insects shows that the local impacts on moths can be dramatic. According to entomologist Douglas Boyes, street lights deter female moths from laying their eggs and make them more vulnerable to predation by bats. He's found that artificially illuminated areas are home to half the number of moth caterpillars compared to dark areas.
26/08/21·28m 51s

Mammoth Journey

A 17,000 year old tusk contains a remarkable story of the lifetime travels of a woolly mammoth which roamed the grasslands of Ice Age Alaska. The animal travelled 70,000 kilometres over the course of three decades before his premature death north of the Arctic Circle. The University of Alaska's Matthew Wooller tells Victoria Gill how his team pieced together the mammoth's life from isotopic clues captured in the tusk. Also in the programme: The search for storage capacity underground for all the hydrogen we'll need for a net zero carbon economy, with geoscientists Katriona Edlmann and Eike Thaysen of the University of Edinburgh. How the 1987 Montreal Protocol (which phased out CFCs) saved us from an even worse climate crisis than the one we're facing, with climate scientist Paul Young of the University of Lancester. Probiotics may protect corals from death by bleaching, with marine biologist Raquel Peixoto of King Abdullah University in Saudi Arabia.
19/08/21·30m 20s

IPCC report - extreme weather events

Victoria Gill talks to climate scientist Friedericke Otto about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's new landmark report. The report this week states that the evidence for humanity's role in changing global change is now unequivocal. Dr Otto was a lead author on the chapter on extreme weather events and explains how human influence can be attributed to the increasing incidence and intensity of heat waves and heavy rainfall events. Also in the programme: Immunological evidence to support a covid vaccine booster programme in the UK, with virologist Jonathan Ball of the University of Nottingham. Faecal transplants that rejuvenated the memory and the brains of elderly mice, with neuroscientist John Cryan of University College Cork. A website for the public to report their sightings and upload their videos of ball lightning, with electrical engineer Karl Stephan of Texas State University, San Marcos.
12/08/21·30m 4s

Bees and multiple pesticide exposure

Victoria Gill looks at the latest stories from the world of science. In this week's episode: the threat to bees from multiple pesticide exposure, how bee colonies can evolve defences against the varroa parasite, more problems for the Starliner space capsule, and what may be the oldest fossil animals yet found.
05/08/21·31m 45s

Covid 19 – reaching the unvaccinated

In the UK we have seen a recent fall in Covid 19 cases. Good news, but we don’t know yet if this will be sustained. The virus is now thought to be spreading predominantly amongst the under 30s, most of whom remain unvaccinated. Young adults are the demographic most likely to be vaccine hesitant or vaccine averse. Kavita Vedhara from Nottingham University discusses the delicate balancing act of managing personal choice and collective responsibility needed to persuade people to get vaccinated to help stop the spread of the virus. Forget lab rats, how about lab cats? Leslie Lyons from the University of Missouri says we’ve long neglected the genetic similarities between cats and humans. And that understanding how the diseases we share in common affect our feline friends will help with treatments for ourselves. If you take lots of medicines wouldn’t it be great to have them all in one pill? That’s the aim of Ricky Wildman’s project at Nottingham University – a personalised pill that can be 3D printed to order, And we look at the life of Nobel prize winning physicist Steven Weinberg, famed for his beautifully simple explanations of complex science and also his love of a good argument.
29/07/21·30m 12s

A life-changing database

Proteomes, the sequences of protein within the DNA of every living thing, are notoriously difficult to model. The usual chemical methods can take months, but a new computational model using the ability of artificial intelligence to learn the complex sequences is able to predict structures within a matter of hours. Thousands of protein structure predictions are now available on a public database for anyone to access. Understanding such proteins is seen as key to treating nearly all disease. It also hold the potential for improvements in fields as diverse as increasing crop resilience to climate change and biodegrading plastic on an industrial scale. Marnie Chesterton speaks with Demis Hassabis from Deepmind which developed the protein structure prediction system, and Janet Thornton from the European Bioinformatics Institute which holds the database. Genetic engineering, the promise and perils, is the subject of a new series with Matthew Cobb on Radio 4, called Genetic Dreams, Genetic Nightmares. He tells us about the dilemmas now faced by researchers who on the one hand have the potential to send terminator genes into malaria spreading mosquitoes – but who are also aware of the huge unknowns surrounding the release of such technology. Extreme weather events are becoming more frequent. Hayley Fowler has been researching the links between weather systems, climate change and the heat and floods we are currently experiencing. And could we reduce the incidence of SARS-Cov2 with a different vaccination strategy? Julia Gog has modelled different scenarios, as the number of infections continues to rise. A strategy to target those who are mixing the most, whether socially or through their employment, may be more effective than one targeting the most vulnerable.
22/07/21·32m 51s

Covid19 - should we test everybody ?

Epidemiologist Julian Peto is advocating mass testing as the key part of a plan to stop the virus spreading. Studies where everyone has been tested have picked up asymptomatic cases. With the addition of isolation and contact tracing this method of testing has been able to massively reduce the spread of the virus. The hope is such a coordinated scheme implemented nationally could help bring the numbers down. There’s a question over which type of test is best to use for mass testing. At the moment many of us do lateral flow tests at home. Although they give instant results their accuracy has been shown to be strongly linked to how well the tests are conducted - hence the need to back up any positive findings with the more accurate PCR test. PCR takes longer and needs sophisticated lab equipment. However a compromise could be to use RT Lamp tests, they are accurate, give results in around 20 minutes, do require a very basic lab, but without the expensive equipment of PCR. A number of RT lamp tests have now been developed for SARS-Cov2. Kevin Fong has been to see the developers of one of them, the OxLAMP test. And with the lifting of restrictions how are you going to judge your own personal risk from Covid? It’s a question that interests philosopher of science Eleanor Knox. She says government mandates on mask wearing and social distancing have allowed us to avoid tricky questions around our own potential risk from the virus and risks our own behaviour might pose to loved ones. Now there’s a lot more to think about in terms of balancing our desires to return to some semblance of normality while levels of Covid infection continue to rise. One area that’s come into sharp focus over lockdown is exercise. Some people have been unable to exercise due to Covid restrictions while others have discovered a whole new interest in moving more. A new book ‘Move’ by Caroline Williams explores the links between brain function, evolution and movement. She says staying active is a fundamental part of what makes us human.
15/07/21·28m 8s

Covid and our ancient ancestors

A global project looking at the genomes of over 2 million people has found a number of distinct genetic markers which seem to either make Covid infection more likely or the symptoms more severe. Some of these markers are known to be associated with susceptibility to cancer and lung disease. However the researchers say on their own these genetic factors are not determinants of how sick people will become. Underlying health, age and sex and a range of environmental and social factors are likely more important says Andrea Ganna from Finland’s Institute of Molecular Medicine who crunched the numbers. The Royal Society Summer Exhibition has just opened. And this year its an opportunity for more people to get involved than ever before – the event is taking place online. There are a number of workshops and interactive games. We speak to a couple of the participants. Caroline Orr from Teesside University talks about research using supercomputers to make microbes produce a range of biofuels that could replace petrol and diesel, and Tony Peyton from Manchester University tells us how the electromagnetic properties of materials are bring harnessed to improve mine clearance in former war zones. And we go to another exhibition, the Royal College of Art graduate show, and ask the age old question - is it art ? Students Kukbong Kim and Bahareh Saboktakin show us their work with recycled concrete and 3d printing - which looks more like science to us.
08/07/21·28m 1s

Gene editing gets real

For the first time the gene editing technique CRISPR has been used by injecting the CRISPR instructions into the bloodstream rather than directly into the affected organ. In a trial, six adult patients showed improvements after the treatment was used to prevent the expression of deformed proteins associated with a genetic disease. The hope is this method could treat a range of other genetic diseases, says Megan Molteni from Stat News. In the near future domestic gas boilers may be replaced by heat pumps. However, a district heating system in London is already installing the pumps in a scheme which should see 50% reductions in their carbon emissions. We visited the Citigen site to see how the plan would work, and discussed the potential for domestic heat pump roll out with Simon Evans from Carbon Brief. And why watermelons, wildflowers and pollinating insects can benefit from less attention. Evidence from Florida on how reducing methods associated with intensive farming chime with initiatives here in Britain to replace grass verges with banks of wildflowers. Researcher John Ternest picks up the story.
01/07/21·31m 57s

UK science policy shake-up; Ivermectin & Covid; black fungus in Indian Covid patients; many hominins in Siberian cave

The Prime Minister has announced his desire for the UK to become a 'science superpower'. A new office within the cabinet to look at science will work alongside existing science strategy and funding structures. So far it's unclear where the responsibilities between the various science policy bodies lie. James Wilsdon, Professor of Research Policy at the University of Sheffield, helps Gaia Vince pick her way through the spaghetti of overlapping organisations and Dame Ottoline Leyser, UKRI Chief Executive, gives her her take of the impact of the reorganisation. A major new trial has been announced into the effectiveness of the drug Ivermectin for the treatment of Covid-19. There's controversy surrounding the drug, which was designed to kill parasitic worms. It showed some promise against the virus in very limited lab studies. For many reluctant to vaccinate these studies seemed to suggest an alternative way to treat the virus. However, regulatory bodies disagree. It's hoped the new study and a range of other wide scale trials will give a more rounded view on the potential if any for Ivermectin as a Covid 19 treatment. Jack Goodman from the BBC News Misinformation Unit has been looking at the controversy surrounding Ivermectin. Scientists researching it have been subject to abuse and in some countries it has been rolled out as a treatment despite the lack of evidence on its effectiveness. There have been reports of a number of cases of Black Fungus in patients with Covid-19 in India. What exactly is this unusual but life threatening fungal growth? Dr Nitin Gupta, Assistant Professor in Infectious Diseases at Kasturba Medical College in Manipal, South West India, explains why this previously rare infection is now on the rise.. Gaia Vince talks to Elena Zavala of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany about how she and her team have managed to extract DNA from samples of earth from the Denisovan cave in Siberia. Some years ago fragments of bone recovered from the cave revealed a new hominin species, called the Denisovans. Now DNA analysis of the layers of earth built up over hundreds of thousands of years are painting a picture of the vast variety of early people who used the cave, which included Neanderthals and early humans as well as Denisovans.
24/06/21·34m 21s

Cov-Boost trial; SARS-Cov 2 infection in action; sapling guards; why tadpoles are dying

Scientists are now looking at the question of third doses of vaccines against SARS-Cov2, and this week the Cov-Boost trial was launched. It’s being run from University of Southampton and is going to be using seven different vaccines, some at half doses, in people over the age of 30 who were early recipients of their two doses. The Chief Investigator, immunologist Professor Saul Faust explains the aims of the trial. Once we've breathed the coronavirus into our lungs, how does it spread through our bodies, despite our immune defences? Remarkably, scientists have managed to film the virus in the act of infecting lung cells and spreading between them. They then added some antibodies and watched what happened. Alex Sigal of the Africa Health Research Institute tells Gaia Vince what they saw. The UK government has pledged to plant some 2 billion trees to help get us to net zero – and that’s an awful lot of plastic casing to be littering the countryside with. A team at the Institute of Making at UCL decided to look at the overall environmental impact of these tree protectors. This is quite a complicated calculation as it involves looking at the entire life cycle of the trees and the plastic, including the carbon and water and energy used. Gaia finds out from Charnette Chau, the life cycle assessment expert on the team, and Professor Mark Miodownik what they found. Across the US, people have been reporting ponds full of dead tadpoles: mass mortality events. It seems that a parasitic infection previously associated with disease in marine oyster populations, may be to blame: severe Perkinsea Infection. The big fear is that it will spread further, to places like Panama in Central America, which has seen such a drastic decline in frog populations that researchers have begun captive breeding some species as “assurance populations” to protect them from extinctions. Tom Richards, Professor of Evolutionary Genomics at the University of Oxford, reports on what he discovered when he went to Panama to see if the infection had reached its precious hoppers.
17/06/21·30m 22s

Covid vaccines in children; preventing dengue; algal blooms; supersonic flight

Should we be vaccinating children in the UK against SARS-Cov 2? Children are rarely seriously ill if they catch Covid but infections mean missed school, and they can pass it onto older vulnerable people. The US, Canada, Israel and Dubai are some places that are already vaccinating the under 18s and Pfizer has recently published data from a trial of its mRNA vaccine in just over 2000 12-15 year olds, showing no safety concerns. Gaia Vince discusses the issue with Professor Beate Kampmann, consultant paediatrician and Director of the Vaccine Centre at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Dengue fever is a widespread tropical disease caused by a virus spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. Until now, there’s also been no way of preventing dengue aside from trying to get rid of mosquitoes, which is pretty tricky. Gaia hears from the World Mosquito Programme’s Dr Katie Anders about some positive news from a large trial in Yogyakarta in Indonesia, where mosquitoes infected with a harmless bacteria called Wollbachia, were deliberately released. The researchers found a 77% drop in cases of dengue in the areas where the infected mosquitoes were released. Hospitalisations were 84% lower. This week the first attempt to map algal blooms globally has been released, and it also charts how blooms have changed over the last thirty years. And the news isn’t good. Henrik Enevoldsen of the UN who’s based at the University of Copenhagen, has spent thirty years studying these phenomena and he explains how the growth in aquaculture has had an impact on the rise of algal blooms in some parts of the world. Nearly twenty years after Concorde last flew, a company called Boom is promising to bring back supersonic passenger flights in the next few years. They say it’ll all be environmentally sustainable. The company has sold some new jets to the US airline United. Gaia talks to Dr Guy Gratton, an engineer and pilot at Cranfield University, about how green supersonic flight can be.
10/06/21·31m 34s

Lab origin theory of SARS-Cov2; gene for obesity; dark matter map; rock art in Scotland

Sars Cov2, as the Covid19 coronavirus is called, probably began as the vast majority of new diseases do, when an animal virus infected a person – perhaps in a market or farm. There’s a large animal market in the city of Wuhan that sold wild as well as farmed animals, and studies have shown that different species of animals can infect each other with coronaviruses on their journey to market. But there’s also a possibility that the virus originated in one of two government laboratories in Wuhan. After all, we know that other viruses have escaped from labs, including the original Sars virus, which escaped multiple times from different Asian labs. Jonathan Ball, Professor of Virology at the University of Nottingham, discusses with Gaia Vince why the lab leak theory is again in the news. We know that obesity runs in families but because parents and children live in the same environment and eat the same food it is difficult to tease out how much of this relationship is inherited genetically. Researchers at Cambridge University have been working with the Children of the 90s cohort of people based in Bristol, and they’ve have found that a mutation in a single gene drives obesity in some families. The gene in question is called MC4R. Professor Stephen O’Rahilly, who is one of the researchers, explains that the mutation is remarkably common and has a significant impact on individuals, from an early age. Last week, researchers released the biggest and most detailed map of how matter and dark matter have spread across the universe since the Big Bang. The problem, is that the dark matter is more smoothly distributed than expected according to Einstein’s theory. Some are now saying physics is broken. Was Einstein wrong? Astrophysicist Catherine Heymans, who is a Dark Universe expert, and has just been appointed Astronomer Royal for Scotland, the first woman to hold the role, talks about the implications of the new map of dark matter and her plans to encourage the public to appreciate the night sky. For the first time figurative rock art over 4000 years old has been discovered in Scotland. Up till now all that’s been found have been marks such as cups and rings. The new images are detailed portraits of deer, with antlers, on a capstone of a burial mound, or cairn, in Kilmartin Glen on the west coast. It’s a well-studied archaeological site but the rock art hadn’t been spotted before. Gaia asked Tertia Barnett, Principal Investigator for Scotland’s Rock Art Project at Historic Environment Scotland, about who may have produced this art.
03/06/21·31m 54s

Human use of plants beyond the limits of history.

Human impact on planet earth’s plant life might be detectable several thousand years back in fossil pollen cores taken from mud columns around the world. As Suzette Flantua and Ondrej Mottl describe in a paper published in the journal Science, a rapid acceleration in the changes in pollen species goes back further than we might have expected. This matters particularly when it comes to decisions around re-wilding and re-planting areas today in the name of conservation. As they hope to build on in future work, learning more about the state of ecosystems further back into the past might prevent us making the mistake of simply recreating different types of post-agricultural situations which might not solve the problem we are trying to fix. One of the biggest impacts on the earth’s flora today is of course influenced by our meat consumption. The BBC’s Melanie Abbott has been to see a new exhibition opening at Oxford University’s Musuem of Natural History. Produced in association with the University’s Livestock, Environment and People research programme, this exhibition “Meat the Future”, seeks to raise awareness of the issues for health and the environment around eating – or not eating meat - and is open until January 2022. At the same time, a travelling interactive experience called Meat Your Persona will be moving around the UK, starting in Cardiff. And there's an online interactive questionnaire you can try from home. See the links at the bottom of the BBC Inside Science programme page. Researchers in the US are working on devices that might be able to connect with people’s brains to allow them to manipulate robotic or digital devices to regain abilities lost to disease or injury. As Dr Frank Willett and Prof Krishna Shenoy - both at Stanford University’s neural prosthetics translational laboratory - describe in the journal Nature, they have managed to create a device that allows one patient to create text using just thought. Rather than trying to guide a cursor over a keyboard, their technique works by learning which letter the patient is thinking of drawing by hand, despite being unable to wield a pen. And Jacob Dunn, associate professor at Anglia Ruskin University describes his team’s work which finds that tamarin monkeys will use the “accent” of another species when they enter its territory to help them better understand one another and potentially avoid conflict. His paper, published in the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, describes findings in the Amazon rainforest near Manaus where a species that ordinarily use quite distinct long distance calls subtly change their call to sound more like a neighbouring species’ equivalent call when they are sharing the same area of forest. Not so much an aggressive intrusion as a polite lingua franca, it may be that the shared understanding reduces unnecessary and costly territorial fights between the two species. Presented by Victoria Gill Produced by Alex Mansfield
27/05/21·35m 42s

Blood Clot Cure, Synthetic Fuels and Coal Mine Heat Pumps

Vic Gill talks to scientists who have cured a vaccine-induced blood clot patient, and meets a former top F1 chief engineer who wants to transform the fuel industry. Scientists in Vienna have been continuing to look at the rare blood clots associated with the AZ Covid-19 vaccination. Paul Knoebl describes to Vic his paper describing the diagnosis and successful treatment of a patient who developed a fever whilst skiing six days after taking it. Whilst the side effect is still condsidered incredibly rare, Paul tells Vic that a relatively simple cure - after early diagnosis - should remove any lingering hesitancy of taking a vaccine. The Science Museum reopened this week with a new exhibition looking at the science of Carbon Capture. Inside Science took former Formula One technical champ Paddy Lowe to have a look round. He is interested in Carbon Capture because he has started a new company - Zero Petroleum - that aims to do nothing less than kick start a synthetic (hydrocarbon) fuel revolution. Using carbon dioxide captured from the atmosphere, he and colleague Prof Nilay Shah believe they can use renewable electricity and other feedstocks to tranform captured carbon into fuels, and create a whole new petrochemical supply that could close the loop on the industrial revolution - especially for those energy uses where batteries could not currently work, such as jet engines and heavy remote machinery. Meanwhile, up in the north east of England, Charlotte Adams of the UK's Coal Authority describes progress on measures to convert disued Coal mines to geothermal heatpumps, providing reliable steady heating for new-build homes across many parts of the UK, and taking strain off the elictircal grid. Presenter Victoria Gill Producer Alex Mansfield
20/05/21·42m 55s

Microplastics in UK river beds

Untreated wastewater "routinely released into UK rivers" is creating microplastic hotspots on riverbeds. That is the conclusion of a study in Greater Manchester, which revealed high concentrations of plastic immediately downstream of treatment works. The team behind the research concluded: untreated wastewater was the key source of river microplastic. Jamie Woodward takes Vic Gill wading in the River Tame in Greater Manchester to show some of the sites they studied, while co-author Rachel Hurley talks from Norway on the wider global questions of where microplastics get into our environment and what harm they do. The origin and location of the radioactive pollution that so devastated the lives and livelihoods of those affected by the Chernobyl disaster 35 years ago is not a mystery. But recently it has become apparent that in one small inaccessible room within the massive sarcophagus at the ill-fated power station, the nuclear fission still happening is getting slightly faster. As Neil Hyatt describes to Vic, the reason may be because the new concrete shell, unlike its predecessor, is doing a better job at keeping the rain out, and nothing to worry about for the time being. Meanwhile, Jim Smith and colleagues have been trying to demonstrate that agricultural products could help the besieged economy of surrounding areas. Using apples grown in regions where investment is illegal, they have developed a spirit drink - called Atomik - with which they hope to demonstrate a viable market outside of the Ukraine, perhaps providing jobs and export business, and maybe even useful profit with which to help the area. And finally, Dr Kim Dienes describes from Swansea the health and psychological benefits of something so many hundreds of millions of people in the world have been missing this year: a nice hug. Presenter: Vic Gill Producer: Alex Mansfield Assistant Producer: Samara Linton.
13/05/21·35m 49s

Early burials, diversity in Tudor England, a malaria vaccine, and rogue brain waves

Despite being home to our early ancestors, attempts to find evidence of early burials in Africa have proved unsuccessful. That is until now. Professor María Martinón-Torres explains how findings from a 78,000-year-old Kenyan grave shed light on how our ancestors related to the dead. In keeping with the theme of clues from the past, Cardiff University academics have been studying the remains of crew who drowned on King Henry VIII’s favourite ship, the Mary Rose. As it turns out, Tudor England was more ethnically diverse than we previously thought. Victoria Gill speaks with University of Oxford researcher Dr Mehreen Datoo about a promising new malaria vaccine which was shown to be 77% effective in early trials. And Dr Nir Grossman, explains how his team at Imperial College London has been synchronising electrical pulses with rogue brain waves to treat tremors.
06/05/21·27m 58s

Dragonfly on Titan, Retreating Glaciers, Surge Testing, Acoustic lighthouses

Now that NASA engineers have successfully flown a helicopter remotely on Mars planetary scientists are exploring how to use the technology elsewhere. Marnie Chesterton talks to Elizabeth "Zibi" Turtle, from Johns Hopkins University who is working on a mission to fly a drone, called Dragonfly, above Titan, one of Saturn's moons. A new report that has measured the state of over 200 000 of the world's glaciers has just been published. Bob McNabb of the University of Ulster explains why it's not good news as glaciers are melting at a faster pace than before. He says it could have a particular impact on people who live in low lying areas. At the start of April cases of the South African variant of SARS-Cov 2 were found in a number of London boroughs. In order to stop the further spread of these variants, a programme of surge testing was announced. It’s just come to an end and Marnie finds out from Public Health England’s regional director for London, Professor Kevin Fenton, how it worked. Birds aren’t very good at adapting to human additions to the landscape, particularly tall buildings. Could extra sonic elements - so-called acoustic lighthouses - help? From William and Mary University in Virginia, Timothy Boycott and John Swaddle joined Marnie to explain how these can make a difference.
29/04/21·32m 0s

Coronavirus variants and vaccines, climate change resistant coffee, dare to repair and how to get rid of moths

This week has seen a huge surge in Covid- 19 in India leading to concern of a "double mutant" variant, but what do we know about this B.1.617 as it is otherwise known. It was first described in October and is now in other countries including the UK. Virologist Dr Muge Cevik looks at the emerging evidence around vaccines and new variants. Climate change threatens coffee crops so it's exciting to know that researchers have found an ancient coffee variety that is drought resistant and can tolerate higher temperatures than the highly prized Arabica coffee used to make your latte - but it wasn't easy to find. In Sierra Leone Daniel Sarmu spent 4 years searching for it and Dr Aaron Davis from Kew helped to track it down using historic samples from the Herbarium at the Royal Botanic Gardens. Clothes moths do enormous damage to our jumpers and carpets, Marnie finds out how best to protect your clothes. And we hear from Mark Miodownik about the right to repair.
22/04/21·28m 32s

Blood clots, grieving and the emotion of screams

The story of what we understand about the rare cases of blood clots associated with certain Covid-19 vaccines is constantly evolving. In today’s programme Professor Beverley Hunt looks at the emerging evidence. How have the restrictions due to Covid 19 affected how we grieve? Professor Claire White, an expert in grief and mourning, is investigating what it means to the grief process when the traditional ways of acknowledging death are changed. Sascha Fruholz has the unenviable task of listening to people scream all day, but he has made some surprising discoveries about which types of scream people are best able to identify.
15/04/21·28m 27s

Disobedient particles, noisy gorillas, sharks and fictional languages

In 2016, an accelerator physics centre called Fermilab acquired a massive circular 50 foot magnet from a lab in New York. Too big for the roads, the magnet had to take a 2000km detour via New Orleans to get to its new home. This was the start of the “muon g-2” experiment. Last week, Fermilab announced some of their results, and they don’t quite add up. UK experiment lead Professor Mark Lancaster from Manchester University tells us what they have discovered about the tiny particle that is disobeying the laws that govern how our entire universe fits together. Mountain gorillas are among the most impressive and powerful primates alive today. Living in the dense forests of eastern and central Africa, they are able to communicate with other gorillas a mile away by cupping their hands and beating their chests. Primatologist Edward Wright and colleagues have been studying male silverback gorillas and explains how gorillas use chest beating to attract potential mates and suss out competitors. And Professor Corey Bradshaw from Adelaide, South Australia sheds light on a more fearsome animal: sharks. His research has investigated the likelihood of shark attacks around the Australian coast into the future, up to 2066, and asked what would happen to those figures if everyone wore an electrical emitter that interferes with the sharks electrical senses. He finds that shark attacks are remarkably low already, but these emitters could reduce bites by up to 3000 over the next 50 years. Super fans around the world have learned to speak fluent Klingon, a fictional language originating from Star Trek. In a quest to understand the science behind these languages often dismissed as gobbledygook, Gaia Vince has been speaking to some of the linguists responsible for creating these languages. It’s time for her to relax the tongue, loosen those jaw muscles and wrap her head around the scientific building blocks embedded in language and what languages like Klingon tell us about prehistoric forms of communication. Presented by Marnie Chesterton Produced by Rory Galloway
08/04/21·30m 59s

Science funding cuts; Mice get Covid-19; Native oyster reintroductions

Scientists were delighted earlier this year to find they would still have access to the EU Horizon 2020 funding and collaborations. Now, it has been revealed that membership of this group, which was previously paid for through fees to the European Union, may come directly from the science budget, at a cost of about £15 billion over the next 7 years. That’s £1-2 billion a year. Marnie Chesterton speaks with Beth Thompson, head of policy at the Wellcome Trust about the implications, and Roland Pease asks scientists working around the world how the previously announced ODA cuts are affecting their work. Native oysters help to filter coastal waters of the UK of pollutants including nitrates, while also providing habitat for other species. But their numbers have declined by 95% throughout their British range. Now, the Zoological Society of London is placing thousands of mature oysters under pontoons in marinas across the UK to let them breed, and encourage the return of the species to their former numbers. And the new coronavirus mutations that are worrying us all have been found to affect mice in experimental studies at the Pasteur Institute in France. Marnie asks if this change to the infectivity of the new variants has implications for human health and our ability to combat the virus. Presented by Marnie Chesterton Produced by Rory Galloway
01/04/21·28m 58s

Halfway to net zero; hydrogen as a fuel; Fagradalsfjall, Iceland’s active volcano

The UK is reportedly halfway towards meeting its 2050 target of "net zero" carbon emissions. How did we get there and how will we achieve the next stage? ‘UK greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 were 51% below 1990 levels, according to a new Carbon Brief analysis. This means the UK is now halfway to meeting its target of “net-zero” emissions by 2050.’ Simon Evans explains his predictions from the report, outlines how we define net zero and what is required from the next few decades to ensure that the UK meets its 2050 goal. Much of Europe is attempting to replace fossil fuels, transforming transport and domestic heating to run on electrical alternatives, such as batteries and heat pumps. But where electrification isn’t possible or cost effective, such as in many homes, an alternative is still needed. Natural gas is responsible for over 30% of the UK’s total carbon emissions. Hydrogen would, theoretically, appear to be the perfect alternative, as combustion only produces water as a by product. Gaia discusses the options with hydrogen strategist, Dr Jenifer Baxter, and Dr Angela Needle of Cadent explains the pilot projects the company is carrying out to introduce 20% hydrogen into gas going into our homes. Last Friday, Fragradalsfjall began erupting for the first time in 800 years. The volcanic system is located in the West of Iceland close to the capital city of Reyjkavik. Dr Evgenia Ilynskaya of Leeds University has been out measuring the gases emitted by the eruption and she describes the experience of working on an active volcanic system.
25/03/21·32m 20s

Human embryo research and ethics; sperm whale social learning; Antikythera mechanism

We still know very little about exactly how the embryo forms out of a mass of dividing cells in those crucial first weeks after conception. This is also the time when many miscarriages occur, and scientists want to understand why. Couples going through IVF donate spare embryos for research and scientists are permitted to study them in a test tube, or in vitro, allowing them to grow and develop for up to 14 days. This 14 day rule is abided by globally, and it’s enshrined in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act in the UK. Thirty years ago no-one could keep these embryos alive for more than a few days but recently the techniques have moved on and they have been cultured for nearly 14 days. So should the 14 day rule be extended? Gaia Vince discusses this question with bioethicist professor Insoo Hyun of Case Western University and Harvard Medical School. There are other ways of studying this early development that don’t involve growing an actual embryo, and that’s by using just a few stem cells from it. These are cells that haven’t yet specialised into any type of body cell and so they have the potential to become any cell type. Researchers can grow these cells into structures that resemble embryos, although they could never survive inside a woman’s womb, and these artificial embryos aren’t subject to the 14 day rule. Gaia talks to Dr Naomi Moris of the Crick Institute in London about her work on what she calls gastruloids. Whaling was a huge industry in the 19th century, and populations of sperm whales plummeted, as hunters sought the oil in their heads that was used everywhere for lighting. The whalers who were hunting in the North Pacific kept meticulous records that have been recently made public. Biologists have been studying them, and picking out unexpected changes in the patterns of whale capture. Dr Luke Rendell of St Andrews University explains how he and his colleagues worked out that that the whales seemed to be learning from each other how to avoid the boats. A piece of intricate Ancient Greek engineering called the Antikythera mechanism, that was found by sponge divers in 1901 in the Mediterranean, has fascinated many people. Last week a team from University College London published the latest explanation of how the device worked. Science writer Jo Marchant herself became so obsessed with the mechanism that she published a book on it called Decoding the Universe and she talks to Gaia about the object and what the new research tells us about how the Greeks understood the cosmos two thousand years ago.
18/03/21·31m 54s

China's green growth plan

On Friday 5th March China published a draft for its 14th five-year plan in Beijing. The document acts as a national economic blueprint and was expected to provide an outline as to how the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions planned on tackling its target of reaching net zero emissions by 2060, put forward by President Xi Jinping last September. It appears that greenhouse emissions could continue to increase by 1% or more each year up until 2021. Sam Geal, acting CEO at China dialogue, explains how influential Chinese efforts are when combatting climate change. Since the late 1980s conservationists have used captive breeding to prevent the extinction of North America’s only native ferret species, the black footed ferret (Mustela nigripes). Now, an individual called WIlla, who died without leaving any offspring over 30 years ago has been cloned. Her genes represent 300% of the current genetic diversity of the species, and could help boost the chances of these animals. Dr Bridget Baumgartner works with one of the teams that took part in the successful cloning project, she describes how this novel process could bolster and prop up the genetic diversity of the dwindling population. How does one get a closer look at nutrient cycling and water temperature in marine Antarctic conditions? You could always recruit some of the local inhabitants, elephant seals! That’s exactly what Yixi Zheng at the University of East Anglia did. Her furry research assistants have revealed that surface water temperatures around the ice shelves and glaciers of Antarctica are warmer than expected in winter, and this holds implications for nutrient cycling and the productivity of the southern ocean. And finally, after an ancient rock seized the attention of the residents of Winchcombe in Gloucestershire, Professor Sara Russel discusses the rarity of finding meteors here on earth, let alone finding one early in the morning sat on your driveway. We hear what the nearly 400g of space rock that's been found this week could reveal about the origins of our solar system. Presented by Gaia Vince Produced by Rory Galloway This programme was made in association with the Open University.
11/03/21·27m 59s

Blue carbon; inside Little Foot's skull; reading locked letters

With global warming continuing to increase at an alarming rate, we need all the help we can get to lock up the carbon that we’ve released into the atmosphere. Fortunately, plants have evolved to do just this, but there’s a whole class of plants that often get forgotten: the mangroves and seagrasses that grow between land and sea, which are among the planet’s most effective carbon sinks. Gaia Vince talks to Fanny Douvere, head of the marine programme at UNESCO, about its new report that shows the importance of blue carbon locked up in its marine World Heritage Sites. And Professor Hilary Kennedy, of Bangor University, explains why seagrasses are so effective at locking up carbon. Roland Pease reports on the secret journey made by one of the most valuable of human fossils, Little Foot, from Johannesburg to Oxfordshire, where it was scanned at the Diamond Light Source facility – one of the most powerful X-ray machines in the world. He talks to some of the main players about the hush hush voyage, and what they’re hoping to discover. There are few things more intriguing than an unopened letter, but what about one from 300 years ago? The Brienne Collection is a Postmaster's trunk containing more than 2000 letters sent to the Hague between 1680 and 1706, and more than 600 are still unopened. In the days before envelopes, people used elaborate folding techniques to secure letters, even tearing off a bit of paper and using that to sew the letter shut, effectively locking it. It makes reading those letters very tricky indeed, especially as antiquarians don't want to risk opening them. Instead, researchers hatched a plan to scan the letters in their untouched, still folded state, and generate a 3D image of their insides of such detail it could be used by an algorithm to unfold it virtually. David Mills from Queen Mary University London tells Gaia about how he used a microtomography scanner to peek inside the unopened letters. Presented by Gaia Vince.
04/03/21·30m 35s

Good COP Bad COP, Shotgun Lead Persistence, and Featherdown Adaptation

On Thursday, The UN Environmental Programme published a report called Making Peace With Nature. It attempts to synthesise vast amounts of scientific knowledge and communicate “how climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution can be tackled jointly within the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals”. But it also offers clear and digestible messages that governments, institutions, businesses and individuals can act upon. Concluding BBC Inside Science’s month-long look at some of the challenges ahead of COP26 in Glasgow later this year, and its sister biodiversity meeting in China, Vic speaks with the report’s co-lead Prof Sir Robert Watson FRS and the Tyndall Centre’s Prof Rachel Warren, also a contributing author. Can all the ills of the natural world really be tackled at once? Game-shooting, for sport and food, has traditionally used the toxic metal lead for ammunition. In other parts of the world its use has been banned for the dangers to the human food chain and to the pollution in natural environments, and even deaths of wildfowl from poisoning. But not so in the UK. A year ago, as reported on Inside Science at the time, the shooting community announced a voluntary five year transition period to alternative shot materials. But researchers including profs Rhys Green and Debbie Pain from Cambridge University have discovered that a year on, little seems to have changed. Gathering game sold for food across the UK, they found that all but one bird in their sample of 180 contained lead shot. Meanwhile, up in the Himalayas, Smithsonian scientist Dr Sahas Barva was enjoying the scenery on a cold day off in 2014 when he saw and heard a tiny Goldcrest, thriving in temperatures of -10C. Wondering how such a tiny thing could keep its body insulated, he decided to investigate feathers, and utilizing the huge numbers of specimens in the Smithsonian’s collection he found some striking commonalities in the thermal properties and adaptations of birds everywhere. The higher up they live, the fluffier their coats. Presented by Victoria Gill Produced by Alex Mansfield Made in association with The Open University.
25/02/21·30m 18s

Nasa's Perseverance - will it pay off? And spotting likely hosts for future pandemics.

On Thursday 18th Feb 2020 Nasa’s Perseverance Rover is due to touch down – gently and accurately – in the Jezero crater on Mars. Using similar nail-biting Sky Crane technology as its predecessor Curiosity, if successful it will amongst many other things attempt to fly the first helicopter in the thin Martian atmosphere, and leave small parcels of interesting samples for future missions to collect and return to earth. Unlike previous Martian landings of course, there are no mass-landing parties to be held because of Covid. So Vic Gill invites you to join her and current Curiosity and future Rosalind Franklin (ESA’s 2023 Rover) team scientists in nervously awaiting the signal of success. Dr Susanne Schwenzer was so tense during Curiosity’s final approach in 2012 that she managed to draw blood from her own hand from clutching her mobile phone too hard. BBC Inside Science expects nothing less this time round. Dr Peter Fawdon has been part of the team seand examining the landing site for ESA’s Martian lander and Rover, currently slated to launch in 2022. The project has had a complicated history, having been delayed several times. But with so much at stake, it’s worth getting right. Meanwhile, at Liverpool University, computer scientist Dr Maya Wardeh and virologist Dr Marcus Blagrove have been collaborating to see if Machine Learning and AI can help predict which mammalian species are more likely to harbour the next big coronavirus. Pitting traits and genomes, species similarities, lifestyles and ecosystems of mammals and viruses, they highlight in a paper published in Nature Communications some of the potentially most potent combinations where different coronaviruses could meet and spawn a new breakout. Not just looking for the more quotidian viral mutations the world is increasingly and unfortunately aware of, they have been looking instead for those species where something called homologous recombination between two different viruses, producing a third completely novel type, may occur. It turns out there are many possibilities beyond just bats, which are highly suspected of being the crucible in which SARS-CoV2 was smelted. To spot whatever comes next we should keep an eye on camels, rabbits, palm civets and even hedgehogs, according to the algorithm. Presented by Victoria Gill Produced by Alex Mansfield Made in Association with the Open University.
18/02/21·49m 55s

Meeting Mars, Melting Ice, Ozone on the Mend Again, and A Sea Cacophany

Victoria Gill and guests discuss the signs and symptoms of melting ice and anthropogenic climate warming, illicit CFC production and the racket we make in the seas. As two robotic missions from UAE and China arrive at Mars , and a third from NASA arrives next week, UK astronaut Tim Peake talks of the international collaboration in Mars research that is to come. And continuing BBC Inside Science's look at some of the issues facing COP26 delegates to Glasgow this autumn, Victoria is joined by cryosphere scientist Dr Anna Hogg, Anna studies – sometimes from space - how polar and Greenland ice sheets are melting and shifting as our climate warms. But those giant volumes of ice and concomitant rising sea levels might not be the only threat to people’s lives. It may be that the recent deadly flash flood in India was a result of a swiftly melting Himalayan glacier. The Montreal treaty - prohibiting the production of CFCs to allow the man-made polar hole in the Ozone layer identified back in the 1980s to repair - has long been cited as the classic example of an effective international agreement to protect earth's environment. But just a few years ago in 2018 Luke Western and colleagues identified not just that CFC production was suddenly and unexpectedly rising, but that it was mainly emanating from an area in eastern China. It was speculated then that their use in foams for buildings was happening illicitly on a large scale. This week, they happily announce that those emissions seem to have ceased, and that the target of a healthy ozone layer is back on track. The oceans are, since man first took to the waves, a noisy place. In a comprehensive paper published last week in the journal Science Carlos Duarte and colleagues describe how huge an impact the many anthropogenic noises that echo for miles across the sea beds have on virtually all aquatic life. He argues that it is one stressor, rather like CFCs, that we could and should take swift and effective action to address, that the time for that is ripe, and that doing so will see a swift rebound in many aquatic ecosystems. Humans are not naturally adapted to hear the noise underwater, but to illustrate the point, co-author digital artist Jana Winderen has made an acoustic demonstration for your benefit, of quite how noisy neighbours we are Also, for listeners on BBC Sounds, the BBC's Roland Pease gives an update on where and how scientists think the covid-19 epidemic began, after a WHO team of scientists report on their recent mission to Wuhan and the infamous market. As Roland and WHO delegate Peter Daszak surmise, we still don't quite know, but it wasn't in a lab. Presented by Victoria Gill Produced by Alex Mansfield Made in Association with The Open University.
11/02/21·41m 9s

Putting a number on biodiversity

Ahead of the COP summit in Glasgow at the end of the year, this week an important study was published that attempts to enumerate the value of biodiversity in the economics of humankind. Prof Sir Partha Dasgupta's review makes it clear how essential and yet vulnerable it is. Trees play a large part in the biosystems of the planet, and replanting them is often touted as a solution to many of the carbon challeneges of the next century. But a paper and forthcoming conference hosted by Kew points out just how carefully reforestation - let alone afforestation - must be conducted. Kew tree expert Kate Hardwick tells Victoria about their 10 golden rules of planting trees. In a forest in Borneo, trees have been planted that will extract the high levels of Nickel from the local soil. It is hoped that the biomass from the trees can then be used to harvest the nickel. It is an attempt to commercialize successfully the dreams of "phytomining" - finding specific crops or traits in plants that can act to "hyperaccumulate" minerals and metals from soils. BBC Inside Science's Harrison Lewis reports how, after some intrepid botany, the idea might just now be bearing heavy fruit. But finding the plants that do some of what you want them to does not mean they should be planted just anywhere. Lulu Zhang from United Nations University in Dresden, Germany tells Victoria about the Chinese experience of a few decades ago when the Black Lotus tree seemed to be just the ticket for newly foresting huge areas of China to stabilize and neutralize soils. Unfortunately, nobody realized how thirsty the monocultured forest would be, and the thirsty trees deprived the area of much of the rainwater from humans and agriculture. Meanwhile this week scientists have published work looking at how even the noise from traffic on the roads can disrupt animal behaviour. Chris Templeton of Pacific University in Oregon has been studying how some bird's cognititve abilities can be affected. And Adam Bent describes work at Anglia Ruskin University into how crickets' mating choices can be adversely affected by recordings of the A14 near Cambridge. Presented by Victoria Gill Produced by Alex Mansfield Made in association with The Open University
04/02/21·41m 35s

Next Gen Covid Vaccines; Man's Oldest Bestest Friend; Bilingual Brain Development

A year after the first SARS-Cov2 sequences were received in the vaccine labs, Dr Alex Lathbridge and guests look into ongoing development and what next year's booster shots might be like. Prof Robin Shattock's team at Imperial College are still working on their vaccine technology - called 'Self Amplifying RNA' or saRNA. A little bit behind their well financed corporate colleagues, this week they announced that instead of pressing ahead with a phase III trial, they will instead look to developing possible boosters and alternative targets just in case more and more serious mutations happen. But as Prof Anna Blakney explains from her lab at University of British Columbia, the possibilities of saRNA don't stop with coronaviruses. Researchers in the journal PNAS report this week a new theory as to when and where dogs were first domesticated by humans, and suggest that they accompanied the first humans across the Bering straight into America. Inside Science's Geoff Marsh has a sniff around. And Dr Dean D'Souza from Anglia Ruskin University describes in Science Advances work he has done looking at certain kinds of development in children who grow up in bilingual households. His work suggests a slightly faster and keener observation of detailed changes in visual cues, and that this seems to be a trait that survives into adulthood. Presented by Alex Lathbridge Produced by Alex Mansfield Made in Association with The Open University
28/01/21·35m 54s

Vaccine Hesitancy and Ethnicity; The Joy of catnip; Lake Heatwaves

Reports this week talk of some BAME ethnic minorities being significantly less likely to take a covid vaccine if offered. Vittal Katikireddi and Tolullah Oni both sit on the SAGE ethnicity subgroup, and they discuss with Alex Lathbridge where the figures come from and quite what they might mean. Some of these same groups have suffered some of the worst outcomes from infection. Addressing any underlying problems that bely the figures will take a nuanced approach. Researchers in Japan and Liverpool have been investigating cat's prediliction for the herbs Catnip and Silver Vine. It turns out that there may well be a deep evolutionary reason they have evolved to love rubbing it in their fur so much: a key ingredient is a good mosquito repellent. As Professors Masao Miyazaki and Jane Hurst describe. It could help keep the mozzies away but you might end up being tailed by cats. And researcher Iestyn Woolway of the European Space Agency Climate Group, at Didcot UK, describes his work modelling the world's lakes' reaction to a warming climate over coming decades. It's not very comforting, with increased duration and intensity of what he calls "Lake Heatwaves". Presented by Alex Lathbridge Produced by Alex Mansfield Made in associataion with the Open University. Note: This podcast has been edited since the original broadcast to prevent any possible inference that the Tuskegee syphilis study involved the deliberate infection of subjects. In the Tuskegee study, African American patients who were already infected with syphilis had diagnosis and treatment deliberately withheld from them in order to observe the progression of the lethal disease over several decades (even after a perfectly simple treatment - penicillin - became available).
21/01/21·30m 54s

UK Science post Brexit; GMOs vs Gene Editing regulation; Identical Twins That Aren't Indentical

In the new EU-UK deal, the UK is to be an associate member of the latest EU research funding round, known as Horizon Europe. Costing around £2bn to take part, what can UK scientists now do and what has changed? UKRI CEO Otteline Leyser and the Wellcome Trust EU specialist Beth Thompson discuss ways in which UK researchers are breathing a sigh of relief. Of all the ways the UK can now diverge from the EU, DEFRA is currently holding an open consultation on whether to tweak the current GMO regulations so as not to include CRISPR-style Genetic Editing. The EU is coincidentally looking at the same issue. John Innes Centre's Janneke Balk works on making strains of wheat that have a higher level of iron for nutritional fortification. Interim head of the Roslin Institute in Scotland Bruce Whitelaw thinks developing disease resistance in farm animals is a potentially profitable area. Both agree the GMO regulations should be more tightly specified to bring clarity and opportunity for innovation. In Iceland, Kari Stefansson's company Decode Genetics analyze the genetic codes of most of the population of Iceland. This has allowed them to look at the parents, siblings, and offspring of identical twins, and identify how early genetic differences between them develop. And it's very early indeed. Given that identical twins studies are so often used to address issues surrounding the so-called Nature-vs-Nurture debate, the findings, published in the Journal Nature, are striking. Presenter by Marnie Chesterton Produced by Alex Mansfield Made in association with the Open University.
14/01/21·32m 55s

Vaccine Dosing and Biodiversity Soundscape Monitoring

After the decision by the UK government last week to change the spacing between dosings of vaccine from the recommended 3 weeks to 12 weeks, immunologists around the world have been discussing with some urgency the wisdom of such a move. The FDA and the WHO are deeply sceptical, and the manufacturers have distanced themselves to some extent, by cautioning not to deviate from the regime tested in last year's phase III trials. The thinking behind the move is to get more people injected with a single dose in a shorter time, and that the longer wait for the second shot is worth the risk, if it means more people receive some level of protection in the short term. Clinical Epidemiologist Dr Deepthi Gurdasani and Immunoligist Prof Danny Altmann of Imperial College describe to Marnie how evidence, experience and hunch are combining in the face of the covid crisis, and quite what we know, what we don't and what we could, about this nationwide experiment. Increasingly, ecologists wanting to monitor remote areas are relying on such things as solar powered audio recorders to measure biodiversity in the sounds of the wild. But how to scrutinize years and years worth of 24 hour, multi-site recordings? Sarab Sethi and colleagues have not only been leaving solar-powered Raspberry Pi recorders out in the jungles of Borneo, they've been using machine learning techniques to look out for species and biodiversity changes from afar. You can listen to some of the Borneo work at the SAFE acoustic website (link on BBC page below). Presented by Marnie Chesterton Produced by Alex Mansfield Made in collaboration with the Open University.
07/01/21·38m 50s

Brian Cox and Alice Roberts on a decade of extraordinary science

As a new decade ticks over, Dr Adam Rutherford, Professor Alice Roberts and Professor Brian Cox look back on a decade of science that has transformed perceptions of our medicine, our history and our universe. From advances in genetics that have brought personalized medicine to reality, and revealed the ghosts of ancestral human species never before identified, to quantum computing lessons that hint at the nature of existence and causation throughout the universe, it has been an interesting time. New observational technologies have revealed fresh windows in time and space. And all of it has been reported by BBC Inside Science. But what of the next decade? Programme may contain traces of informed speculation, but (almost) no references to Covid. Presented by Adam Rutherford Produced by Melanie Brown Made in association with The Open University.
31/12/20·38m 50s

Space Rocks, Aquatic Dinosaurs and Global Temperatures; 2020 science reviewed

Nobody could have failed to notice the one story dominating the science news this year - but what about the discoveries that have been overshadowed in 2020? This week, Dr Adam Rutherford eschews all mentions of the pandemic as he invites dinosaur researcher Dr Susie Maidment, climate scientist Dr Tamsin Edwards and astrophysicist Dr Emma Chapman to share their science highlights of the year. We journey to the moon and beyond to discuss the many missions that have been blasting and grabbing bits of space rock to bring back to earth and tackle the ongoing debate about whether signs of life have been found on Venus. Back down on earth, this year could be one of, if not the, hottest years on record, with particularly high temperatures in the Arctic Circle. What might a warming world mean for ice-shelf collapse in Antarctica and how are governments responding? We discuss Joe Biden’s presidency, UK carbon emissions and what China’s recent announcements of net zero by 2060 might mean for the future of the planet. And despite limitations on travel this past year, exciting discoveries in the dinosaur world have nonetheless continued with what is believed to be the first aquatic dinosaur. The detection of soft shell eggs is also changing understandings of how dinosaurs reared their offspring. And if that wasn’t enough, Dr Adam Rutherford challenges our experts to predict what big science stories might lie on the horizon in 2021.
24/12/20·32m 12s

Covid mutation; On the facial expression of emotions; A mystery object

Dr Alex Lathbridge with your peek at the week in science. This week in the House of Commons Matt Hancock announced a new variant in the Covid virus, discovered to be spreading through the south east of the UK. As Professor Jonathan Ball of the University of Nottingham describes, there have been many slight mutations and changes to the DNA in the virus since it first emerged, and most are of no added danger. But it is important that new ones - and new combinations of them - are tracked through collaborations and networks such as COG-UK, who provide an almost real-time track of the spread of new mutations. The new one this week is of some interest as it involves a slight change to the protein of the binding area on the virus, but much lab work remains to be done, Is an angry face always an angry face? A paper in the Journal Nature this week uses Machine Learning to scan millions of videos of faces on YouTube to shed light on an old problem - the universality of facial expressions in people. The authors - working with Google - suggest that broadly speaking, in a number of contexts such as weddings and sporting events, people in much of the world tend to pull the same faces. But as Lisa Feldman Barrett - who wrote an accompanying commentary in the same journal - suggests, the way Machine Learning approaches in this area require very human perceptions to train the algorithm in the first place, means care must be taken before inferring too much. This year BBC Inside Science has been showcasing some of the mystery objects the Science Museum has uncovered in the course of moving its collections to a new home in Wroughton, Wiltshire. Jessica Bradford talks to Alex about our next one. If you have any ideas what it might be for, you can let them know by dropping a note or memory to Presented by Alex Lathbridge Produced by Alex Mansfield Made in Association with The Open University
17/12/20·33m 15s

Future risk planning; Millennium Seed Bank; Urban trees

Dr Alex Lathbridge brings you the week in science. As the first COVID vaccines are delivered this week hastening the first glimmers of a return to normal life, is it too soon to be thinking about other future threats to humanity? James Arbuthnot, chair of a House of Lords select committee tasked to look at risk planning, and fellow committee member Martin Rees discuss their meeting this week and the assessment of the scientists invited to share their interpretations of future threats like AI, solar flares and volcanic eruptions. They are inviting evidence submissions until January 28th 2021. The Millennium Seed Bank was setup as a safety net to protect and conserve rare, threatened and useful wild plants for generations to come. As it celebrates 20 years of operation it can claim to host 16 per cent of the world’s bankable flora in its sturdy underground vaults. Alex heads down to the Royal Botanic Gardens in Wakehurst, Sussex, and meets the team coaxing seeds to life to check their viability or using cryopreserving on those seeds less convivial to being preserved. One key project is protecting farmed crops that have lost genetic diversity over time and are at risk from climate change. Through collecting and researching the wild ‘cousins’ of our modern day crops Wakehurst, Kew Gardens and its partners are researching and harnessing the resilient traits found in these less pampered crop relatives. is a citizen science project designed to increase understanding of all the urban tress in the UK. Scientists, together with the public, are getting their tape measures out and cataloguing the trees to better ascertain how they influence the environment in towns and cities across the UK, to map their ages, species, sizes and health, and to help future planners to put the knowledge to work. Kate Hand is a researcher at the Open University who is looking at ways to increase our knowledge of the values trees bring to our urban environments – specifically through the lens of Milton Keynes which, it transpires, is quite the urban arboretum.
10/12/20·36m 46s

Protein folding; Hyabusa sample return; Holiday Covid testing

Has one of the biggest problems in biology been solved by AI? Dr Alex Lathbridge brings you the week in science. This week google's Deep Mind team presented results of their latest efforts at cracking the 50 year old problem of Protein Folding. AlphaFold has built on previous success at predicting the 3D structures of biological proteins from just knowing the sequence of amino acids of which it is made. It is a computational problem that thousands of researchers around the world have been trying to solve for decades. There are millions of different proteins doing all the work in living cells, but simply knowing what their constituent chemicals are is not enough to understand how they are shaped, and therefore how they work. Scientists are optimistic that solving the problem will herald a new era in medicine, agriculture and even sustainable recycling. Prof John Moult, founding chair of CASP - the international body that monitors progress in the field, tells of the remarkable breakthrough being discussed this week. Whilst China is trying to bring back samples of the moon this week, a much longer-lived space mission to an asteroid hopes this weekend to return samples of the earliest bits of the solar system to earth. Hyabusa 2 will complete a 6 year mission, Japanese scientists hope, this weekend when a small package of asteroid sample drops into the atmosphere above Australia on Sunday morning. And as students across the UK prepare to make their ways home for the holidays, GP Margaret McCartney and Kavita Vedhara of Nottingham University discuss some of the challenges of fast mass covid testing and false negatives. Presented by Alex Lathbridge Produced by Alex Mansfield and Melanie Brown.
03/12/20·36m 52s


Last weekend a joint European-US satellite blasted into space to begin its mission - monitoring the oceans back here on earth. Sentinel 6 Michael Freilich is one of a long line of satellites and has a striking design – appearing like a bright gold farmyard barn with a big pitched roof. Anand Jagatia speaks to Dr Ralph Cordey at Airbus Space and Defence about the latest design iteration and the technology on-board. Oceanographer Professor Penny Holiday from the National Oceanography Centre explains how Sentinel 6’s readings will enhance understanding of sea-level rises and give more detail about the currents in our oceans. We journey back to the cosmic ‘Dark Ages’, a period of time that we know hardly anything about. Dr Emma Chapman is an astrophysicist at Imperial College London who has written a book ‘First Light: Switching on Stars at the Dawn of Time’ to throw light on this illusive chapter in the history of our universe. How close are scientists to finding the first stars? With ambitious new government targets to end the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2030 how ready are electric cars to fill the gap? One key area many companies are trying to improve are the batteries powering electric vehicles. Peter Bruce, professor of materials science from Oxford University and chief scientist at the Faraday Institution has been working on rechargeable lithium ion energy storage since the 1990s. He speaks with Anand about the current limitations and the most recent developments in battery research and development. Presented by Anand Jagatia Produced by Melanie Brown
26/11/20·30m 18s

COVID Operation Moonshot; Big Compost Experiment; Gulf of Mexico meteorite and new life

Earlier this month, the government rolled out a pilot in Liverpool for ‘Operation Moonshot’, their proposal to spend £100 billion pounds to regularly test the entire UK population for SARS CoV 2. Anand Jagatia speaks to screening expert Dr Angela Raffle and medical test evaluator Professor Jon Deeks from the University of Birmingham. They share their concerns about the scheme and the benefits it may bring. A year ago, BBC Inside Science helped launch the Big Compost Experiment, a citizen science project run by a team at UCL. They asked the public to get involved by providing information about the matter that’s rotting in compost piles around the UK. What do people think about biodegradable plastics and what actually happens to them – do they break down like they are supposed to? Anand finds out about the results so far .from Mark Miodownik, one of the creators of this project, We travel back in time to 66 million years ago, when a massive meteorite smacked into the Gulf of Mexico bringing the reign of the dinosaurs to a cataclysmic conclusion. It was also the beginning of a new chapter in the history of life on Earth. The impact may have caused an apocalypse of earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and the darkness of a nuclear winter; but it may also have created a haven for new life forms to emerge. Roland Pease has been talking to two geologists, David Kring and Tim Bralower, who have found evidence for the return of life in the crater after the carnage of the meteorite strike. Presented by Anand Jagatia Produced by Melanie Brown
19/11/20·30m 31s

mRNA vaccinations; bacterial space miners; Artemis accords

Scientists this week announced hopeful results in two of the big COVID-19 vaccination trials. Trudie Lang, Professor of Global Health at the Nuffield Department of Medicine, Oxford, describes some of the methodology used, what the efficacy statistic means, and how the novel approach of inserting mRNA rather than deactivated virus parts, is so exciting. Prof Charles Cockell has been investigating how bacteria might be grown in space on lumps of asteroid to extract precious minerals, and as Kim McAllister reports, his lab is itself in orbit. And it is just a few weeks since the UK, and several other countries, signed up to a set of bilateral agreements with the US called the Artemis Accords. These are an attempt to update previous outer space treaties on how countries - and indeed companies - might mine and use resources in space, given that no-one can currently legally claim sovereignty. As Dr Thomas Cheney of the Open University and Prof Jill Stuart of the LSE describe, the Accords have been greeted in certain quarters with some discord. Presented by Marnie Chesterton Produced by Alex Mansfield Made in collaboration with The Open University.
12/11/20·36m 8s

COVID in families; earthquake under Aegean Sea; Camilla Pang wins science book prize

We know that children can catch the SarsCov2 virus, even though adverse side effects are incredibly rare. But what isn't clear is how likely they are to transmit the virus? If you’re a parent, are you in danger of catching the virus, maybe brought home from school by your child? A large study, using the anonymised health experiences of around 12 million adults registered with GPs in England, has just been published that explores that question. Dr Laurie Tomlinson, of London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, explains the findings. On October 30th a magnitude 7 earthquake under the Aegean Sea created devastation when it struck Turkish city of Izmir. Marnie discusses the nature of the earthquake and why this area is so seismically active with Dr Laura Gregory, a geologist at Leeds University who has studied the rocks in the region. Professor Tiziana Rossetto, an expert in earthquake engineering at UCL, talks about a recent survey and intervention she carried out with the residents of Izmir to help them prepare for earthquakes. In the last of our interviews with the authors shortlisted for the Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize 2020 Adam Rutherford meets the winner, Dr Camilla Pang. At the age of eight she was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Struggling to understand the world around her, she went in search of a blueprint or a manual that would help her navigate the curious world of human social customs. Nearly two decades on, Camilla has produced one herself, entitled: Explaining Humans: What Science Can Teach Us about Life, Love and Relationships. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Editor: Deborah Cohen
05/11/20·30m 58s

A new saliva gland, Bill Bryson on the Human Body, and the return of the Dust Bowl

Marnie Chesterton presents an update on the week's science. Behind your eyes, above your mouth but below the brain, two 3cm saliva glands have been hiding since anatomy began. So reports a new study by Matthijs Valstar and Wouter Vogel of The Netherlands Cancer Institute. They describe to Marnie how they found these hitherto unnoticed glands, and importantly how knowledge of these will help people treated for head and neck cancers to get on with their lives in the future. It may be that radiotherapies have been inadvertantly destroying the glands in the past, leading to difficulties eating and breathing. Bill Bryson is the latest in BBC Inside Science's flick through 2020's Royal Society Book Prize shortlisted authors. He talks to Adam Rutherford about his work, The Body: A Guide for Occupants, and his continuing awe at its complexity. And Roland Pease reports on evidence of a return to the Dust Bowl conditions that so devastated agriculture and livelihoods in the US mid-west during the 1930s. This time, we can see the dust storms gathering from space. But that doesn't mean that intensive agriculture, extreme weather and climate change aren't combining to do what might be a re-run of some of the disastrous issues from those years. Presented by Marnie Chesterton Produced by Alex Mansfield Produced in collaboration with The Open University.
29/10/20·34m 18s

COVID reinfections, Susannah Cahalan questions psychiatry and sense of smell and COVID

If you contracted COVID will you then be protected from further infections and illness from SARS-CoV-2 in the future? We’re starting to hear about cases of people being infected by the novel coronavirus for a second time. A handful of these cases have been published in peer reviewed journals. Nottingham University’s Professor of Virology Jonathan Ball discusses how big the problem of reinfection might be. Is it likely to be a common event which could hamper efforts to bring the pandemic under control? In the latest in our series interviewing the shortlisted authors from this year’s Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize, Susannah Cahalan talks to Adam Rutherford about her investigative journalism into the scientific mystery that is mental illness. Her book ‘The Great Pretender - The Undercover Mission that Changed our Understanding of Madness’ focuses on a fundamental experiment carried out in the 1970s by renowned Stanford University Professor of Psychology David Rosenhan. His famous study was published in Science under the title ‘Being Sane in Insane Places’ and describes using ‘pseudo-patients’ to test whether they would be spotted presenting at psychiatric institutions in the US. They weren’t! His findings proceeded to shape modern psychology and psychiatry. It has been a study that Susannah, has come to find rather mysterious, with elaborate descriptions that don’t always seem to add up. Mental illness and applied neuroscience remain tricky disciplines to navigate, but Susannah has had personal experience with her own misdiagnosis of schizophrenia when she has an autoimmune brain disease. COVID does funny things to your sense of smell: Adam got a heightened sense of smell, producer Fi totally lost her sense of smell, and Inside Science reporter, Geoff Marsh – well… his sense of smell just got weird. To find out why, Geoff called in Professors Mathew Cobb, an expert on smell at the University of Manchester, and Tim Spector from Kings College London whose symptom tracker app was instrumental in getting changes to sense of smell on the symptom list for COVID. Presenter – Adam Rutherford Producers– Fiona Roberts and Andrew Luck-Baker Produced in collaboration with the Open University
22/10/20·34m 4s

Test and trace - how the UK compares to the rest of the world; Linda Scott's book The Double X Economy

From the very start of the COVID pandemic, test and trace has been the mantra. But here in the UK it was started, then abandoned as the number of cases rose too high to manage. It’s now been reintroduced and we’re all being encouraged to download the ‘NHS COVID-19’ phone app which can detect whether you’ve been near an infected person using Bluetooth technology. How have other countries around the world been managing to find, test, trace, isolate and support (FTTIS) their COVID patients? And what lessons can we learn from them? Professor Michael Hopkins at the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU), University of Sussex Business School is part of an international team of experts in science policy, social science, medicine, epidemiology and global health that has analysed and compared national testing systems in 6 countries: Spain, South Korea, South Africa, Ireland, Germany and us, in June, July and August. Michael Hopkins told Marnie Chesterton that we all have something to learn. Over the last few weeks, we’ve been stealing a glimpse into this year’s shortlisted contenders for the annual Royal Society’s Insight Investment Science Book Prize. Linda Scott is an Emeritus Professor from the University of Oxford and a consultant to the World Bank Group on gender economics. Her book, The ‘Double X Economy - The Epic Potential of Empowering Women ’ analyses the economics of gender inequality and the hidden economics which is foundational to the more recognised and acknowledged global economics, that is, the work - much of it unpaid - done by women. Presenter – Adam Rutherford Producer – Fiona Roberts Produced in collaboration with the Open University
15/10/20·39m 42s


Claudia Hammond looks at the neuroscience behind our sense of touch. Why does a gentle touch from a loved one make us feel good? This is a question that neuroscientists have been exploring since the late 1990's, following the discovery of a special class of nerve fibres in the skin. There seems to be a neurological system dedicated to sensing and processing the gentle stroking you might receive from a parent or lover or friend, or that a monkey might receive from another grooming it. Claudia talks to neuroscientists Victoria Abraira, Rebecca Bohme, Katerina Fotopoulou and Francis McGlone who all investigate our sense of emotional touch, and she hears from Ian Waterman who lost his sense of touch at the age of eighteen. Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker
08/10/20·34m 5s

Brian May's Cosmic Clouds 3-D; How fish move between waterbodies and Jim Al-Khalili's take on physics

There are few images as awe-inspiring as those of the deep cosmos. Photos of the stars, galaxies, constellations and cosmic nebulae are difficult to improve on, but a new book might have done just that, by making them stereoscopic. David Eicher, Editor-in-Chief of Astronomy Magazine teamed up with astro-photographer J. P. Metsavainio, all engineered by astrophysicist and stereoscope enthusiast Dr Brian May, and they’ve created the first ever book on nebulae in 3-D, It’s called ‘Cosmic Clouds 3-D’, and is published by The London Stereoscopic Company. Have you ever thought about how fish arrive in a new pond or lake? Birds fly, other animals walk, or crawl, but fish are somewhat restricted to watery routes, and new lakes don’t necessarily have watery routes that fish can swim down. This question has been puzzling biologists for centuries. Andy Green, professor at the Doñana Biological Station in Spain has finally come up with the answer – a small number of fish eggs can survive in the guts of birds such as ducks. The Royal Society’s Insight Investment Science Book Prize shortlist was announced last week. And as every year, Inside Science is previewing each of the books, and talking to the six authors in line for this most prestigious literary prize. This week, physicist and Radio 4 brethren Jim Al-Khalili talks to Adam about how his book The World According to Physics shines a light on the most profound insights revealed by modern physics. Presenter – Adam Rutherford Producer – Fiona Roberts Produced in partnership with The Open University
01/10/20·36m 59s

Royal Society Science Book Prize - Gaia Vince; Biodiversity loss and Science Museum mystery object

The Royal Society’s Insight Investment Science Book Prize’s shortlist has just been announced. Over the next few weeks, Marnie and Adam will be chatting to the six authors in line for the prestigious prize. They’ll be getting a guided tour of ‘The Body – a Guide for Occupants’ with Bill Bryson; Discussing ‘Life According to Physics’ with Jim Al Khalili; Explaining Humans: Discovering ‘What Science Can Teach Us about Life, Love and Relationships’ with Camilla Pang; Linda Scott will be exploring ‘The Epic Potential of Empowering Women’ in her book ‘The Double X Economy’ and Susannah Cahalan will grapple with the definition of mental illness and what counts as insanity in ‘The Great Pretender: The Undercover Mission That Changed Our Understanding of Madness’. This week Gaia Vince discusses her shortlisted book Transcendence - How Humans Evolved through Fire, Language, Beauty, and Time. Last week the non-COVID news was all about how we’d failed yet again to halt the rate of biodiversity loss. The 2020 Living Planet Report showed that across the globe, the populations of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles have declined on average by 68% since 1970. These declines, and the less well-documented loss of abundance of many plants and invertebrates, mean that our ecosystems are less diverse, less resilient and less able to provide the ecosystem services that we rely upon. Add to this that The Convention on Biological Diversity’s Fifth Global Biodiversity Outlook reports that we have failed to meet in full any of the 20 ‘Aichi Targets’ adopted by the world’s governments a decade ago. We haven’t reduced the loss of biodiversity, addressed the pressures, adequately tackled the underlying drivers or effectively facilitated the enabling conditions. We are not currently on track to meet the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)’s Vision of a world living in harmony with nature by 2050. If all this is making you feel depressed and despondent, be reassured that it's is not all doom and gloom, as there are still plenty of reasons for hope and optimism, according to Dr. Stuart Butchart, chief scientist at Birdlife International. The Science Museum group look after over 7.3 million items. As with most museums, the collection you see on display when you visit is only the tip of the iceberg of the entire collection. Up until now, many of the remainder (300,000 objects) has been stored in Blythe House in London. But now the collection is being moved to a purpose-built warehouse in Wiltshire. The move is a perfect opportunity for curators to see what’s there, re-catalogue long hidden gems and to conserve and care for their treasures. But during the process they have discovered a number of unidentified items that have been mislabelled or not catalogued properly in the past and some of them are just so mysterious, or esoteric, that the Science Museum needs the aid of the public to help identify them, and their uses. This week, Jessica Bradford, the keeper of collection engagement at the Science Museum is asking Inside Science listeners if they recognise, or can shed light on the possible use of the brass object with a folding fan at the end’ in the picture above. Send suggestions to Email: or Presenter - Marnie Chesterton Producer - Fiona Roberts
24/09/20·34m 59s

COVID-19 in Winter, Acoustics of Stonehenge and Dog years

As it starts to get colder and we crank up the central heating in our homes, what will the effect be on the SARs-CoV-2 virus? As a respiratory virus like the common cold and influenza, will the coronavirus have a distinct season and will the incidence of COVID get worse in the winter? A pre-print study of over 7000 hospitalised patients across Europe and China during the early days of the pandemic plotted severity of the disease with outside temperature. In European countries as we came out of winter, into spring and then summer, Professor Gordan Lauc, lead researcher on the study, found that the severity decreased as it got warmer outside. He took outside temperature as a proxy for indoor humidity (as it gets colder, we turn on our heating, stay indoors more and the humidity in our homes, and especially our bedrooms drops). He explains to Marnie Chesterton that the subsequent drying out of our mucosal membranes in our noses and throats could be the reason we might expect things to get worse over the winter. We learn a lot about what our ancestors got up to by visualising a scene. Take Stonehenge for example, years of detective work has ascertained that 4,000 years ago, Stonehenge was made up of an outer circle of 30 standing stones called ‘sarsens’, which surrounded five huge stone arches in a horseshoe shape. There were also two circles made of smaller ‘bluestones’ – one inside the outer circle and one inside the horseshoe. But what did it sound like if you were in the middle of all these stones in prehistoric times? Last year, acoustic engineer at the University of Salford, Trevor Cox, and his team built and measured a 1:12 acoustic scale model of Stonehenge to find out. They've now completed the full analysis of those first measurements and Trevor caught up with Adam Rutherford to find out whether knowing the acoustics of a monument can tell us anything about how it might have been used. If you own a dog and like to calculate the equivalent human age of your pup, you might think that every year of your dog’s age equals 7 years in humans. So a one year old hound is 7 years old. Not so! As Geoff Marsh investigates - it’s much more complicated than that. Of course it is! Presenter – Marnie Chesterton Producer – Fiona Roberts
17/09/20·30m 57s

Coronavirus: The types of vaccine; How the UK is scaling up vaccine production

Vaccination has eradicated smallpox, a disease that decimated populations through the 20th century. Polio is almost gone too, and measles is no longer the pervasive childhood threat it once was. It’s clear that vaccination is our best tool to halt the threat of SARS CoV 2, and allow the return to a less restricted way of life. But it takes time to develop and test vaccines although the technologies used to create them have moved on significantly over the last few decades. Professor Jonathan Ball, a virologist at Nottingham University, talks Adam Rutherford through the several types of vaccine that are being explored in the effort to stop the coronavirus pandemic, and how they work. These include live attenuated virus vaccines that are genetically modified to appear to be SARS CoV 2 to the immune system, and RNA subunit vaccines that trick the body into recognising the virus. He discusses the way different vaccines work against disease, and how they trigger different types of immune response. Before a vaccine is approved for general use it has to pass through three trial phases, and Jonathan discusses the vaccines that are already going through phase 2 and 3 in the UK. If and when a vaccine gets approved, it needs to be produced to exacting standards and in quantities great enough to immunise the whole population. The UK Vaccine Manufacturing Taskforce was set up in May to coordinate the effort to make a vaccine. Steve Bagshaw, part of the Taskforce, explains that some vaccines have already been produced around the UK, prior to clinical approval in an effort to ensure that any approved vaccine is ready to be distributed as fast as possible to those at risk. This is unprecedented, and means the pathway to vaccine distribution could be faster than any that have gone before. Presented by Adam Rutherford Produced by Fiona Roberts and Rory Galloway
10/09/20·29m 3s

Bird and dinosaur skull evolution; the wonders of yeast and Science Museum mystery object

Skulls give researchers a great deal of insight into how an animal might have evolved, and skulls can be sensibly compared between species and groups of animals. The 10,000 species of bird around the world are what’s left of an even more diverse group, the dinosaurs. But research on their skulls has revealed that despite the birds’ exceptional diversity, they evolve far more slowly than their dinosaur relatives ever did. This is one of the findings of a huge skull mapping project at the Natural History Museum led by Anjali Goswami. Marnie Chesterton delights Adam Rutherford with what she has recently learned about the single-celled fungus that is yeast. She recently visited the National Collection of Yeast Cultures in Norwich, which stores hundreds of thousands of strains of yeast. She discovered that yeast is not only responsible for the production and subtle flavours of bread, yeast and chocolate, but also that some species of yeast can actually clean carbon dioxide from the air and can be used to feed livestock. The Science Museum Group looks after over 7.3 million items. As with most museums, the objects you see on display when you visit is only the tip of the iceberg of the entire collection. Up until now, many of the remainder (300,000 objects) has been stored in Blythe House in London. But now the collection is being moved to a purpose-built warehouse in Wiltshire. The move is a perfect opportunity for curators to see what’s there, re-catalogue long hidden gems and to conserve and care for their treasures. But during the process they have discovered a number of unidentified items that have been mislabelled or not catalogued properly in the past and some of them are just so mysterious, or esoteric, that the Science Museum needs the aid of the public to help identify them, and their uses. This week, Jessica Bradford, the keeper of collection engagement at the Science Museum is asking Inside Science listeners if they recognise, or can shed light on the possible use of the ‘glassware’ in the picture above. Send suggestions to Email: or Presenter – Adam Rutherford Producers – Fiona Roberts & Rory Galloway
03/09/20·28m 6s

What does the science say about the COVID risks of schools reopening? Dolphin ear autopsy

Over the next couple of weeks almost all children in the UK will be back to school. But the pandemic hasn’t ended, and we are far from having a complete understanding of how this virus works, including how it is transmitted and how it affects younger people. Pretty much everyone is in agreement that kids need to be back at school, as the costs of not being physically in classrooms are great - for the education of kids, for their mental health, and for the finances of parents needing to work. But what does the science say about the risks for schools reopening? Will we see a rise in infections in younger people, and hot-spots for the wider community? Adam Rutherford discusses these issues with Paul Hunter, Professor of Medicine at Norwich Medical School, and he finds out from Professor Tim Spector if his Kings College COVID symptom tracker app can shed any more light on whether children display the same COVID symptoms as adults, or could we be missing infections in the young? Marnie Chesterton eavesdrops on an aquatic autopsy. We pollute the oceans with noise that has some serious effects on marine life. Remotely via video link up, Marnie witnesses a complex autopsy on the inner ear of a dolphin. She discovers how accurately the death of the sensory hair cells in a cetacean’s ear records the time of damage. Presenter – Adam Rutherford Producer – Fiona Roberts
27/08/20·31m 53s

Smart bricks, The Royal Academy of Engineering awards for pandemic engineering solutions and detecting SARS-Cov-2 in sewage

Red clay bricks are among the most ubiquitous building materials worldwide. Julio D'Arcy, a chemist at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, describes to Adam Rutherford how he and his team have turned ordinary house bricks into energy storage units that can power home electronic devices – thanks to the red iron oxide (rust) pigment and a conductive plastic nano-material infused into the bricks These new ‘smart bricks’ can be charged to hold electricity a bit like a battery. As the pandemic continues, we continue to try to find ways to manage it, treat the disease, detect it and cure it. As necessity is the mother of invention, we're currently witnessing some of the most intense periods of scientific innovation in the 21st century. And there have been some incredible discoveries, innovations and inventions in just the last 6 months. The Royal Academy of Engineering announced a special round of awards this week, to recognise the heroics of engineers, designers and scientists to help tackle this pandemic. Professor Raffaella Oconé is Chair of the Awards Committee at the Royal Academy of Engineering, and she told Adam about the range of much needed inventions to tackle COVID19. The current mantra of 'test, track and trace has so far had limited success in the UK. In part because of the difficulty of testing enough people, tracking their movements and tracing the spread of the virus. By the time someone is displaying symptoms and then being one of the few people to then get a test, they may have spread the virus to many people. But scientists across the UK and abroad are beginning to realise that maybe there might be a cheaper alternative, that gives even earlier warning of a spike in infection - by detecting the virus in sewage. Presenter: Adam Rutherford Producers: Fiona Roberts and Beth Eastwood
20/08/20·28m 5s

Land use and zoonoses, California's earthquake risk and the Tuatara genome

COVID19 is a chilling reminder of how pathogens from animals can jump into humans. But it’s not the first time. SARS, Ebola, West Nile virus and bubonic plague are all serious infectious diseases that sat in a host species before crossing to us. But what causes this to happen? Individual case studies suggest that we are partly to blame in the way we use the land, either through urbanisation or agriculture. But how widespread is this, and do our global patterns of land use systematically put us at risk? Adam talks to environmental biologist David Redding from the Zoological Society of London, and his team, whose new study suggests they do. Jessica Bradford, the Keeper of Collection Engagement at the Science Museum, asks for your help with another mystery object that they’ve uncovered during their recent collection move. Roland Pease reports on the chain of interconnected faults which has stimulated Los Angeles' preparation for “the big one”, after southern California was hit by one of the biggest earthquakes in the area for decades. Adam also asks Neil Gemmell from the University of Otago in New Zealand about the weird and wonderful Tuatara, whose colossal genome he’s just sequenced. Presenter: Adam Rutherford Producer: Beth Eastwood
13/08/20·27m 51s

How sperm swim, the theory of soil & the Big Compost Experiment update

Adam reveals new research which overturns received wisdom about how sperm swim. More than three centuries after Antonie van Leeuwenhoek peered down his early microscope to observe human sperm or ‘animalcules’ swimming with a ‘snakelike movement, like eels in water’, high-tech observations now reveal that this was, in fact, an optical illusion. Hermes Gadelha from Bristol University used 3D microscopy, a high-speed camera and mathematics, to reconstruct the true movement of the sperm tail. Much to his amazement, sperm have a highly sophisticated way of rolling as they swim. They do this to counter the numerous irregularities in their morphology which would otherwise send them swimming in circles. In doing so, they are able to propel themselves forwards. This highly complex set of movements, seen in 3D, is obscured in 2D when sperm appear to use a symmetrical eel-like motion to swim. Also on the programme, Adam gets an update from Mark Miodownik on the Big Compost Experiment, the citizen science project that wants to know what you compost, how you do it and, most importantly, how quickly the stuff breaks down. Mark reveals how confused participants are, about what they can compost, and explains why items marked ‘compostable’ or biodegradable’ won’t compost at home. Staying with soil, healthy soil is being lost at an alarming rate due to intensive agricultural practices. In England and Wales, a recent survey found that nearly forty percent of arable soils were degraded. Inside Science reporter Madeleine Findlay visits Andrew Neil from Rothamsted Research who has devised a new way of thinking about soil. They’ve solved the mystery of why adding carbon through organic material, like compost, improves soil health. PRODUCERS: Beth Eastwood & Fiona Roberts
06/08/20·28m 13s

Science Museum mystery objects; home security camera security and Rosalind Franklin at 100

The Science Museum Group looks after over 7.3 million items. As with most museums, the objects you see on display when you visit are only the tip of the iceberg of the entire collection. Up until now, many of the remaining 300,000 objects have been stored in Blythe House in London. But now the collection is being moved to a purpose-built warehouse in Wiltshire. The move is a perfect opportunity for curators to see what’s there, re-catalogue long hidden gems and to conserve and care for their treasures. But during the process they have discovered a number of unidentified items that have been mislabelled or not catalogued properly in the past and some of them are just so mysterious, or esoteric, that the Science Museum needs the aid of the public to help identify them, and their uses. We’ll be showcasing items over the next weeks and months, but this week, Jessica Bradford, the keeper of collection engagement at the Science Museum is asking Inside Science listeners if they recognise, or can shed light on the possible use of the ‘scoop’ in the picture above. Send suggestions to Email: or People install and use home security cameras for peace of mind. But the very behaviour of the commonly used IP home security cameras (internet-connected security cameras) could be giving away important information about your household to potential burglars. Gareth Tyson, at Queen Mary University London, has been working with researchers in China to explore how we use these home security camera systems and to look for flaws in the security of security cameras. Last Saturday, 25th July, was a hundred years since the birth of chemist Rosalind Franklin. She is perhaps most famous for her work using X-ray crystallography which helped lead to the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA, a contribution for which she was not credited at the time. But there’s so much more to the scientific story of her life than just being the wronged woman in the DNA story, who died tragically young at the age of just 37. She pioneered work in the coal industry and on the structure of viruses, including the polio virus. And Franklin’s work has resonance today, in this era of COVID-19. Baroness Nicola Blackwood, chair of Genomics England thinks Rosalind Franklin’s legacy is something we should be very proud of today. Presenter - Gareth Mitchell Producers - Fiona Roberts and Beth Eastwood
30/07/20·31m 46s

Pre-prints over peer review during the COVID pandemic and roads and birds

A pre-print is a way for scientists to get their work out quickly for other scientists to comment on and debate. But pre-prints are not peer reviewed; they have not undergone the scrutiny of reviewers and journal editors. They're generally seen as a good thing, but are just a step on the way for science to be verified and published. But it's important to note that the science can be wrong or sloppy in pre-prints, so they have never really been part of the process by which science is disseminated to the general public. That is, until the COVID pandemic. The speed at which the science can be shared has led to pre-prints becoming more and more scrutinised by journalists and used to inform the public about this terrible disease. Fiona Fox, CEO of the Science Media Centre, which is an independent press office for the scientific community, discusses the potential pitfalls of using pre-prints with Adam Rutherford and with Dr Jonathan Read from Lancaster University, who himself got caught up in a pre-print firestorm at the start of the pandemic. The UK has the 12th highest road density in the world, but very little is known about the impact of roads on our wildlife. Now conservation scientists are starting to look at their effects on our bird populations. They call it ‘road exposure’ because they can’t directly measure the impact of road noise, but the noise pollution aspect is very much to the fore. Cambridge University's Sophia Cook has found that roads have a mostly negative effect on most birds in Great Britain. And with that negative effect being stronger in rarer birds this could be adding to the 'simplification' of bird populations and a reduction in biodiversity. Presenter - Adam Rutherford Producers - Fiona Roberts and Beth Eastwood #bbcinsidescience
23/07/20·31m 33s

Science Fraud & Bias, Immunity to COVID-19

Science is all about self-reflection. Scientists constantly check themselves, share their work, and check each other’s data. But how robust is the science upon which civilisation is built, the science which has mapped genomes, cured diseases, split atoms and sent people to the moon? Adam talks to Stuart Ritchie, a psychologist from Kings College London, about his new book Science Fictions which explores everything from biases and human fallibility, to outright fraud. He also talks to microbiologist turned image sleuth, Elisabeth Bik, whose work is revealing that manipulated images appear in scientific papers shockingly often. Now we are several months into the COVID pandemic, scientists are beginning to share their first insights into whether people retain immunity to SARS-CoV-2 after they've had the disease COVID-19. At Kings College London, Senior Lecturer in Infectious Diseases, Katie Doores and her team tracked the antibody levels over the first months after infection with COVID-19. Their first preprint findings suggest a worrying pattern – antibodies against the virus begin to wane within months of being infected. However it is too early to say if and when a person who’s had COVID-19 could be vulnerable to reinfection. Early findings from Marcus Buggert, at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, suggest that another part of the immune system, the memory T-cells, are active in those who have had the disease, even if they lack antibodies against the virus. Producers: Beth Eastwood & Fiona Roberts
16/07/20·28m 4s

Satellite navigation in the UK; the science of the World Wide Web and Neolithic genomics

Is the UK losing its way when it comes to satellite navigation? There's GPS from the US, but other countries and regions, including Russia, China, India and Japan, either have, or are building, satellite navigation systems of their own. The EU has Galileo, but with Brexit, Britain is no longer involved. The Government has announced that it’s just acquired a satellite technology company called OneWeb. It’s primary role is enhanced broadband, but there’s talk of adding in a navigation function to the constellation of satellites. But how feasible will that be? In an era of cyber-crime, misinformation, disinformation, state-sponsored attacks on rival countries’ infrastructure, government-imposed internet shutdowns in places like Eritrea and Kashmir, the World Wide Web is an increasingly dark and troubled place. Making sense of how the internet has changed from the democratic, sharing, open platform it was designed to be, and predicting what’s next, are the web scientists. Professor Dame Wendy Hall, Regius Professor of Computer Science at the University of Southampton, and a co-founder of the whole field of web science, is hosting an online, annual conference this week. The theme this year is 'Making the web human-centric'. Communal burial sites tend to suggest an egalitarian society, where everyone is considered equal. And this is what we expected the Neolithic societies that spread across Europe with the birth of agriculture around 6000 years ago would be. But DNA evidence from a single human, NG10, buried in 3200 B.C.E in the vast tomb of Newgrange, 25 miles north of Dublin, in Ireland, shows very strong inbreeding. Couple this with the fact the body was buried and not cremated and placed in a highly adorned chamber. Does this indicate an elite ruling class where marrying one’s close kin was the order of the day? Dr. Lara Cassidy, palaeogeneticist at Trinity College Dublin, decoded NG10’s DNA and she tells Adam Rutherford the story. Presenter - Gareth Mitchell Producers - Fiona Roberts and Beth Eastwood
09/07/20·33m 45s

Preventing pandemics, invading alien species, blood types & COVID-19.

As we’re beginning to understand more about SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, we’re hopefully starting to get some clues on how to deal with the next viral pandemics, and even look at ways of stopping them from happening. To do this, we have to go back to where the virus jumped from its animal host into humans. Like this current coronavirus, many of the pandemic viruses (SARS, MERS HIV, Ebola…to name a few) are zoonotic diseases. They start in wild animals and evolve to jump to humans (sometimes via another animal species). It’s not the animal’s fault. It’s evolution. But has our tangled, often exploitative relationship with wild animals made it harder to stop future pandemics? A paper just published asks these questions and tries to figure out how to prevent future zoonotic epidemics. Dr. Silviu Petrovan (Researcher in the Department of Zoology in Cambridge) and Associate Professor Alice Hughes (Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of Sciences) highlight some of the 161 possible actions we should be taking to protect ourselves from the next pandemic. The current pandemic may have curtailed a lot of holiday plans but we are still more global than ever before. Food is coming to the UK from all over the world. With movement comes the opportunity for unwelcome hitchhikers to tag along. A new study, published in Biological Reviews, by a team of researchers from 13 different countries warns that alien species invasions are on the rise. Professor Tim Blackburn from University College London talks to Marnie about this increasing threat. Also on the programme, inspired by a listener question, Marnie asks whether there's any truth behind the idea that susceptibility to COVID-19 could be linked to blood type. Associate Professor of Venom Pharmacology at Reading University, Dr Sakthivel Vaiyapuri, explains what the science says so far. Producers: Fiona Roberts & Beth Eastwood
02/07/20·28m 14s

The Human Genome Project's 20th Anniversary

Adam Rutherford is back to celebrate the 20th anniversary of one of the most ambitious and revolutionary scientific endeavours of all time - the Human Genome Project. Its scope and scale was breath-taking, set up to read every one of the 3 billion nucleotides, or letters of genetic information, contained within the DNA in every cell of the human body. It took seven years, hundreds of scientists, cost almost $3 billion and, amazingly, came in under budget and on time. Adam reflects back on that momentous time with Ewan Birney, Director of the European Bio-informatics Institute, part of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory. Twenty years ago, he was a PhD student working on the project, in the months leading up to the first draft. The Human Genome Project underpins many branches of science, from human evolution and synthetic biology to forensic genetics and ancestry testing. But a key motivation for the project was to alleviate human suffering. While the ‘cures’, hyped by the media back in 2000, were not realistic our understanding of disease has been revolutionised. Adam talks to Cancer Research UK Scientist, Dr Serena Nik-Zainal, from Cambridge University, who explains why the sequencing of the human genome has been so crucial to the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. The Human Genome Project is also playing a crucial role in the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr Kenneth Baillie has been treating critically ill patients at Edinburgh’s Royal Infirmary since the pandemic started. As the Lead on GenOMICC, a global collaboration on genetics and critical illness, he has joined forces with Genomics England and the NHS, to pinpoint genetic signals in these patients to help identify the best treatments. Producers: Beth Eastwood & Fiona Roberts
25/06/20·32m 2s

Coronavirus conspiracy, Listeners' mask questions, Solar Orbiter gets close to the Sun

Throughout the pandemic, we've seen an explosion in information about the science of the virus, SARS-CoV-2, and the disease it causes, COVID-19. An article online, or a text forwarded, could be true and sounds about right, but how do you know that it's accurate? When scrolling through your social feed, how do you decipher fact from fiction? A new report, by Kings College London and Ipsos MORI, reveals that those of us who get our news from social media are more likely to believe misinformation about the pandemic. Marnie talks to Jack Goodman of the Anti-Disinformation Unit at BBC Online, a new team set up to tackle the problem. She finds out how science fact turns to science fiction online, and what the team is doing to try to counter this. Now that wearing face masks are now mandatory in a number of situations, a lot of us are making our own. BBC Inside Science listeners sent in lots of ideas about the design, maintenance and durability of face masks, and other ways to protect against spreading the coronavirus. We asked Professor of Materials & Society at UCL Mark Miodownik in to comment. In February this year, the European Space Agency’s Solar Orbiter, SolO, successfully launched, escaping this planet before most of us went into lock-down. Professor Lucie Green from the Mullard Space Science Lab at University College London, is a solar scientist and part of the team that will be using a telescope to take images of the Sun in extreme ultraviolet light. The orbiter is now in it’s ‘Cruise Phase’ which means most of its instruments have now been tested and calibrated, but aren’t yet up and running. One instrument that has been operational since just after launch is the magnetometer, which will collect data on the Sun’s complex and dynamic magnetic field. Presenter - Marnie Chesterton Producers - Fiona Roberts and Beth Eastwood
18/06/20·40m 58s

Engineering out of lockdown and should we castrate male dogs?

As the UK gradually begins to ease out of lockdown, Marnie explores how engineers are hoping to reduce the spread of Covid-19. We’ve learned how infected people exhale droplets and aerosols, containing the virus, and how we can then either inhale them, or transfer them to our faces by touching contaminated surfaces. Many shops already have screens and physical barriers, while schools and offices are re-configuring desks and walkways. What role does the environment play in our overall risk of becoming infected and what can we do about it? This is the focus of the SAGE Environmental Working Group. Marnie talks to its Chair, Catherine Noakes, Professor of Environmental Engineering for Buildings at Leeds University. Minimising the risks that contaminated surfaces pose is a key challenge that engineers are now trying to address. Marnie asks Birmingham University Research Scientist, Felicity de Cogan, about the surface she created which kills bacteria in seconds. She's now re-purposing the technology to kill the virus that causes Covid-19. If her laboratory studies prove that it kills the virus as quickly, as she hopes, the technology could be used to create antiviral PPE that can be re-used rather than thrown away. Epidemiology has been thrust into the spotlight in recent months, helping us track the viral threat facing all of us. But companion animal epidemiology - which studies disease in pet populations - is a much younger field. It’s one that’s starting to search for the answers to another puppy-related conundrum that’s been puzzling BBC Inside Science reporter Geoff Marsh - should he get puppy Kevin castrated? Neutering has become a cultural norm in the UK. But the health risks to neutered male dogs include cancers and joint disorders in some breeds. The operation and anaesthetic carries some risk as does the age of the dog when the operation is carried out. The risk of dog populations exploding with hundreds of un-neutered dogs is low, because most owners control their dogs to such a degree the chance of unplanned mating doesn't come up. But neutering can help with some behavioural problems in pet dogs. So what is the answer? Will Kevin remain intact? Presenter - Marnie Chesterton Producers - Beth Eastwood and Fiona Roberts
11/06/20·28m 0s

Back to School and Covid-19 and Ordnance Survey and the pandemic

As the lockdown eases and some children, in preschool and primary years, start heading back to school, what impact will this have on the pandemic, how will we know and is there anything we can do about it? Marnie Chesterton talks to Professor of Mathematical Biology at Cambridge University, Julia Gog, who co-chaired the group that advised the government on the impact of easing school closures. She explains why the limited opening of schools provides a golden opportunity to learn about its impact on the pandemic, and inform what happens in September when the new school year begins. Marnie also talks to Tim Spector, Professor of Genetic Epidemiology at King’s College London, to find out what parents can do to help control the spread of the virus in their communities. He runs the COVID Symptom Study, a huge citizen science project that’s pinpointing the symptoms most closely associated with Covid-19. Millions of British adults have downloaded the app, to take part in the study, logging how they feel each day and adding symptoms when they feel unwell. The breakthrough that losing your sense of smell, or anosmia, is a common symptom in Covid-19, arose from this app. While children with Covid-19 tend to have mild or no symptoms, Tim Spector believes that some cases are being missed because many of the symptoms we’re told to look out for in adults, such as fever, are transient or absent in children. Tim explains which symptoms parents should look out for in children, including anosmia and a range of rashes such as ‘covid toe’. If parents log their children’s symptoms each day, the hope is he’ll have enough data to further refine the symptoms most closely associated with Covid-19 in children. Parents will then be better placed to spot them, if they occur, and keep their children at home. You might be forgiven for thinking that Ordnance Survey (OS), the national mapping agency for Great Britain, would be having a quiet time during the lockdown. But its online OS Map apps have seen a 300% increase in use, with users not only checking out new places and walks in their local area, but using the virtual maps to plan and imagine themselves on walks in more remote and far flung parts of Great Britain. But Ordnance Survey is so much more than just leisure maps. It runs the Master Map of Great Britain, a massive, interactive, geospatial database which can be interrogated by anyone in the public sector with questions on geography, planning, logistics, addresses and more. The list is long. And during the coronavirus pandemic, the Mapping for Emergencies service has been busy helping the NHS find places for blood testing facilities and PPE storage; working out which walkways are wide enough to allow social distancing, working out where the nearest pharmacies to vulnerable people are and much more. Presenter - Marnie Chesterton Producers - Beth Eastwood and Fiona Roberts
04/06/20·27m 44s

Testing & Tracing the coronavirus, and the traces our movements leave behind

Inside Science this week is all about our information - the stuff we volunteer and the traces our everyday movements leave behind. With the launch of NHS Test and Trace across England, if you start to feel unwell with suspected Covid-19 and call a new NHS hotline 119, you’ll be tested for the virus. Your close contacts will be traced and, if you test positive, you'll be asked to self-isolate for 7 days, and your contacts asked to quarantine for 14 days. The route to those close contacts is currently through manual tracing - you have to give the details of everyone with whom you’ve been in close contact. But in the coming weeks, the plan is to integrate the NHSX app, currently being trialled on the Isle of Wight. This will pick up close contacts with people you don't know, on public transport, for example, provided they also have the app. It’s a new way to fight a pandemic, but the pioneers here are the residents of the English town of Haslemere in Surrey who, back in 2017, were tackling a terrifyingly contagious and, thankfully, hypothetical virus spread by ‘patient zero’ Hannah Fry. Created for the BBC4 documentary: Contagion, it was an experiment to see how we could fight the next pandemic. The BBC built an app, which residents downloaded and, crucially, it created a data-set. Evolutionary Biologist Dr Lewis Spurgin, from University of East Anglia, has used this data-set to explore the impact that different control strategies could have on the spread of the virus that causes Covid-19. In a different case of tracking and tracing, involving some policing by members of the public and journalists, Dominic Cummings’ comings and goings have consumed the nation this week. Just how much are our everyday movements being clocked, monitored and recorded? What traces do our phones, cars and even our faces leave behind? And who gets to see this information? Marnie talks to researcher and broadcaster Stephanie Hare, author of the forthcoming book Technology Ethics. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producers: Beth Eastwood & Fiona Roberts
28/05/20·30m 39s

Coronavirus-free science, the impact of lockdown on climate change and the odds of both life and intelligent life existing.

In response to listeners who have expressed coronavirus fatigue in recent weeks, Marnie Chesterton brings us up to date on some of the best and brightest breaking science we might have missed, with BBC’s Non-Covid-19 Science Correspondent Jonathan Amos. Inching back to pandemic news, Marnie investigates the fallout of the lockdown from a climate perspective. In many countries, citizens have been asked to stay at home and not to travel unless it’s strictly necessary. As a result, the hubbub of normal life has slowed to a trickle. What impact has this had on levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere? Corinne Le Quéré, the Royal Society Professor of Climate Change Science at the University of East Anglia, explains just how dramatically these emissions have been affected around the world. And the chances that intelligent life exists on other planets. David Kipping, Assistant Professor of Astronomy at Columbia University in the US, has calculated the odds of both life and intelligent life existing if he were to re-run earth’s history. Presenter - Marnie Chesterton Producer - Beth Eastwood
21/05/20·28m 7s

Coronavirus R number, genome study of Covid-19 survivors and using aircraft messages to assess aviation

R seems to have found its way into the newspapers and on Radio 4 as if it’s a word, or a letter, that we should all be familiar with and understand. As part of the government’s briefing on Sunday, it appeared in a pseudo-equation, the infographic - 'COVID alert level = R + number of infections' - the Government called R the 'Rate of Infection', but it is commonly known as the 'Reproduction Number'. So what exactly is R, and what does it do? Mathematical Biologist, Kit Yates, from the University of Bath, clears up the confusion, and explains how R was first calculated for covid-19. And one of the scientists tracking R in the UK is Petra Klepac, who is Assistant Professor in Infectious Disease Modelling at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. She explains how crucial R is in tracking the pandemic and how it’s now being used to shape the way we get out of lockdown. There are so many variables about who will survive Covid-19 and who, unfortunately, will not. Many people will only experience mild symptoms, but a minority will have a severe or even life-threatening response. Whilst some of the difference can be explained by age, or underlying health conditions, the reasons why men and some ethnic minorities and a number of apparently fit younger people become so ill, is one of the great puzzles of this pandemic. Some of the uncertainly is down to environmental effects. But a lot of the variability could be down to our genomes. To try and find out, this week Genomics England announced funding for a study - The GenOMICC - COVID Genomics UK (CoG-UK) Partnership for Severely Ill Patients to sequence the whole genomes of 20,000 severely ill and 15,000 asymptomatic or very mild patients. Led by Genomics England, these genomes will be compared with those held in the 100,000 Genomes Project dataset. The coronavirus pandemic is really highlighting the need for fast, accurate ways to analyse data on a global and national scale. Be that data on the number of people dying or track and trace data from various apps. But do we realise how much data we leave about ourselves online even in normal times? This is something Professors Tobias Preis and Suzy Moat in the Data Science Lab, at the Warwick Business School get very excited about. They use rapid analysis of big data to try and understand our behaviour as a way to rapidly inform economists and policy makers on how the world works. They have been looking at alternative data sources to give us quicker estimates of what’s happening in the world – travel patterns, economic indicators, how many people have a given disease. This is going to become invaluable both during and in the aftermath of the pandemic, when understanding the economic fallout will be key to helping the economy recover. Take their latest work – where they’re gathering much quicker estimates on the contributions of air travel to the UK’s GDP. Presenter – Marnie Chesterton Producers – Fiona Roberts and Beth Eastwood
14/05/20·32m 35s

Should the public wear face masks? Did SARS-Cov-2 escape from a laboratory in Wuhan?

Advice about whether the public should wear face masks, to protect against infection by the coronavirus, differs around the world. In Europe, policy recommendations are mostly geared towards homemade masks. As this country waits to find out how we’ll venture out of lock down, should we be wearing face masks out in public too? The government’s mantra throughout the pandemic has been “follow the science” but on this issue there is ongoing debate, with strongly held and differing views. The Royal Society’s DELVE Initiative (Data Evaluation and Learning for Viral Epidemics) put out a report this week to try to bring some clarity to the issue. Marnie Chesterton asks Professor of Primary Care Health Sciences at Oxford University, Trisha Greenhalgh, and microbiologist and Professor of Environmental Healthcare at the University of Southampton, William Keevil, why there is so little science to inform the policy-makers. If the government recommends that we all wear cloth masks, we'll be wearing them for the common good - they’re better at stopping the wearer from spreading the virus than protecting him or her from catching it. Choosing one that fits, made from the right material, and keeping it clean is also crucial. If you’re not really up to making your own mask, Professor Mark Miadownik at UCL’s Institute of Making warns against the single-use surgical masks, now a common addition to the litter scene and a bane to the environment. As the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 continues to spread at an alarming rate in the United States, with well over a million confirmed cases and over 70,000 deaths, attention in the White House has been turning to suggestions that the virus originated in the Institute of Virology Laboratory in Wuhan, China and not in the wild where bats are the ultimate suspected source. For years, a group there led by “bat woman” Jungli Shi, have been collecting virus samples and studying them to see if they could infect us humans. This is standard virology, trying to understand where the next pandemic viral threat might come from. But conspiracy theorists have been suggesting that there’s more going on, such as deliberate genetic manipulation of the viruses, weaponising them, or just unsafe management. These ideas have been taken up by President Trump and his team. BBC Inside Science reporter Roland Pease asks the experts what they think. Is there any place for this sort of politics in the pandemic? Presenter - Marnie Chesterton Producers - Fiona Roberts and Beth Eastwood
07/05/20·29m 15s

Testing for immunity to COVID-19 and Citizen science on BBC Radio past and present

This week, the Government’s target to be testing 100,000 a day for COVID-19 looks like it won’t be met. But we’ve heard about many people who experienced the virus mildly, or who’ve tested positive with no symptoms at all. If you really want to know who has had the virus, the only way to tell for certain is with an antibody, or serology, test. Describing how they work is Professor of Virology at Nottingham University, Jonathan Ball. Eleanor Riley, Professor of Immunology and Infectious Disease at Edinburgh University, explains why its so important to get the specificity and sensitivity of these tests right, and reveals what they can and can't tell us about individual and population-wide exposure to the virus. We like citizen science on BBC Inside Science, it’s an opportunity for anyone and everyone to try their hand at some scientific projects, learn about the scientific process and help researchers crunch through masses of data. Professor Chris Lintott co-founded Zooniverse, the biggest citizen science platform over a decade ago. He’s a regular on the programme telling us about the latest Muon-hunting, Penguin-counting, galaxy-searching opportunities they offer. But they’re not the only ones, Butterfly Conservation want you to help them track the timing of butterfly emergence in the UK and are asking people to play their protein folding online game to help them find a possible cure for Covid-19. But back in the 1930’s BBC radio producer Mary Adams was running a series called ‘Science in the Making’, where listeners were invited to participate in, what would now be called ‘citizen science’ experiments. With topics as diverse as charting the timing of blackbird egg laying and deciphering the meaning of dreams, a scientist would explain their hypothesis and ask the audience for help. Allan Jones, a senior lecturer in computing and communications from the Open University has been digging into the BBC’s earliest public science experiments, and the woman who decided to broadcast them. Presenter – Marnie Chesterton Producers – Fiona Roberts and Beth Eastwood
30/04/20·31m 24s

Understanding Covid-19 death rates; Contact tracing apps; Whale sharks and atomic bombs

Every death is a tragedy for grief-stricken families, but every set of statistics is an opportunity to understand the virus and the disease Covid-19 a bit more. In fact gathering these data, quickly and accurately, is a priority at the moment, up there with developing a vaccine and rolling out widespread testing. Gareth Mitchell discusses, with, David Spiegelhalter, who is the Winton Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk in the Statistical Laboratory at the University of Cambridge, why it’s so hard to measure coronavirus fatalities. The Covid-19 pandemic is unprecedented in modern times. There will no doubt be years of debating over who managed the outbreak the best, which tools and actions were implemented at the right time and in the right way. One small, but important part of dealing with the viral outbreak is contact tracing – discovering who is infected and who they might have come into contact with. This has to be done quickly, so the people an infected person had contact with, can be found and informed to isolate, before they themselves spread the virus further. Some countries used this early on in the pandemic (Singapore and South Korea, have successfully used it to contain their outbreaks, while Germany, which has a far lower case and death rate than the UK, has also worked hard on contact tracing.) Others are hoping to implement contact tracing as a means of easing social distancing or coming out of lockdown. To do this public health agencies will have to start aggressively contact tracing and at a much higher level than they were a few months ago. The UK started using contact tracing then stopped, they are now looking to restart it. A plausible way of doing this is to make use of the fact that a lot of people carry a mobile phone, so apps that can help are being developed and used. There are biological factors that need to be taken into account (reliable, accessible testing in the first place) but also logistical, practical and security issues… who are we giving our data to? And what are they doing with it? Could it be used to restrict my freedom in ways other than just managing the spread of the virus? Timandra Harkness author of Big Data, Does Size Matter? and Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society, and a member of their working group on Data Ethics helps answer these questions. Finally, a small bit of good that’s come out of another dark time in our recent history. Atomic bomb tests during the Cold War. The nuclear fallout, doubled the amount of an isotope called carbon-14 in the atmosphere. And that has turned out to be very useful for scientists working on a crucial conservation effort – to age and safeguard the world’s largest fish - the Whale Shark. Presenter - Gareth Mitchell Producer - Fiona Roberts
23/04/20·42m 11s

Lockdown lessons for climate change and the carbon neutral Cumbrian coal mine

While the world is dealing with the coronavirus outbreak, those who are concerned about the environment are saying that an arguably bigger crisis is being side-lined. Climate change, or climate breakdown, is still happening. Just like the Covid-19 pandemic, it will be the poorest people in the poorest countries that pay the highest price for the breakdown in our climate. But can we learn something from the current lockdown that can be applied to climate change? Can it provide the impetus for us to do things differently. Writer and environmentalist George Monbiot thinks so. He recently wrote that coronavirus is ‘a wake-up call for a complacent civilisation’, and he discusses with Marnie Chesterton whether there is some hope that can be taken from the current crisis. Last year, it was announced that a new coal mine in Cumbria was given backing in parliament. The Woodhouse colliery would be Britain’s first new deep coal mine in 30 years, bringing much needed jobs to the community. The colliery, along the coast from Whitehaven, is planned to be producing coking coal for the steel industry. Cumbria County Council claimed the mine, which aims to process 2.5m tonnes of coking coal a year, would be carbon neutral, as locally produced coal, negates the need to ship it in from as far afield as the US, Canada, Russia and Colombia. It’s perhaps unsurprising that climate campaigners think this is a huge step back and that the mine is unnecessary and incompatible with UK climate ambitions and that it will hold back the development of low-carbon steelmaking. BBC Inside Science sent reporter Geoff Marsh to explore the story that highlights the difficulties of balancing carbon costs and accounting, with employment and self-sufficiency. Presenter - Marnie Chesterton Producer - Fiona Roberts
16/04/20·28m 7s

Testing for asymptomatic coronavirus carriers, Human Cell Atlas, and invasive parakeets

You can’t build up a picture of Covid-19’s spread throughout the UK without testing those who might have it and those who might have already had it. Britain currently is only testing people who are hospitalised, some healthcare workers and a handful of exceptions. The upshot is that we don't have reliable numbers on how many people in the community have, or have had, Covid-19. Even self-reporting doesn’t pick up those who carry the virus, but do not show any symptoms. Professor Mike Bonsall is part of a team at Oxford University running a new project that seeks to change that. They want to estimate how common the coronavirus causing disease is in the UK, using a new diagnostic tool called nanopore sequencing. If you want to take part, have not had any symptoms and live in the Oxford area - You probably think you know your body like the back of your hand, but given that it’s made up of an average of about 37 trillion cells, some sort of guide book might be helpful. This is what the Human Cell Atlas, an international project, is doing. By providing a map of human cell types, aims to help researchers fight diseases, from cancer to covid19. Although every cell in our bodies has the same genetic code – the same DNA; the differences between, for example, muscles cells, brain cells, and fat cells – come down to which bits of the DNA each cell uses - which genes are switched on and off. This gives cell types their different characteristics. The Atlas not only helps scientists understand the precise nature of each cell type but also how they interact with other cells in the body. There are a lot of myths surrounding the source of the rose-necked parakeets in south east England. The introduction of these noisy green alien invaders have been attributed to Jimi Hendrix, George Michael and even Humphrey Bogart. But where did they really come from? Presenter - Marnie Chesterton Producer - Fiona Roberts
09/04/20·28m 49s

Coronavirus: Models & being ‘led by the science’; Mars500 isolation tips; Kids’ science - singing glasses

Marnie Chesterton reveals how important the models and graphs are in informing government strategies for the Covid-19 pandemic. Christl Donnelly, Professor of Statistical Epidemiology at Imperial College London and Professor of Applied Statistics at the University of Oxford, and Dr Kit Yates, Senior Lecturer in Mathematical Biology at the University of Bath and author of 'The Maths of Life and Death', explain what epidemiological models can and can’t tell us about the progression of the disease, infection rates and death rates, and how testing will provide the essential data to make these models more accurate. They also give their take on the current inundation of social media with graphs and infographics created by non-epidemiologists - the ‘epidemic of armchair epidemiologists’. The European Space Agency’s Diego Urbina was one of the Mars500 participants. He spent 520 days in a human mission to Mars, shut up in a fake spacecraft with his fellow astronauts. So who better to get tips for home isolation from? Are you stuck in with the kids and want to try some science experiments that you can do at home? The Royal Institution is about to launch ExpeRimental Live - a live stream of home science experiments, designed to educate, entertain and inform your children with some cheap and easy science. And its existing ExpeRimental series of short films for parents are already available online. They were produced and directed by science teacher and writer Alom Shaha, who helps BBC Inside Science producer Jennifer Whyntie to have a go at making singing wine glasses with her children. Producers - Fiona Roberts and Jennifer Whyntie
02/04/20·32m 21s

Coronavirus - Lockdown efficacy; viral testing; surface survival; dog walking safety

Last week, we promised we’d tackle your coronavirus and associated Covid 19 questions and you came up trumps. So this week we’re be talking about the latest from the lockdown, why there are bottlenecks in the testing system, how long the virus lives on your door handles and whether your dog can spread coronavirus. Joining us to answer your questions are Jonathan Ball, Professor of Virology at the University of Nottingham, and BBC Radio Science presenter and reporter Roland Pease. On Monday evening, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the British people to ‘stay at home’. How stringent is the UK’s lockdown compared to other countries, and is it likely to be effective? The only real way we can know about the incidence and prevalence of the coronavirus is to test. Listener Andrew in Didcot wants to know more about testing and when antibodies appear in us. We discuss how the current testing system works, and why there are limitations on testing. One question that lots of scientists have been asking is: can people with mild or no symptoms spread the coronavirus? And so we delve into the evidence for asymptomatic spreading. Listeners Eleanor and Andy have been wondering about passing the virus from person to surface to person. Roland Pease looks into the virus’ survival on surfaces and elsewhere, and asks how that might be affecting spread. Finally, reporter Geoff Marsh tackles a quandary facing dog owners: Is it safe to walk your pet? Can dogs spread the virus? Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producers: Fiona Roberts and Jennifer Whyntie
26/03/20·42m 53s

TB vaccination to replace culling in badgers; Neil Shubin on the wonders of evolution

The government have announced that the controversial cull of badgers across England will begin to be phased out in the next few years. It will be replaced by vaccinating badgers for bovine TB. The cull is intended to cut tuberculosis in cattle and has killed at least 100,000 badgers since 2013. TB in cattle is a severe problem for farmers and taxpayers, leading to the compulsory slaughter of 30,000 cattle and a cost of £150m every year. However culling is thought to have failed because frequent trading of cattle and poor biosecurity on farms severely hampering efforts to tackle the crisis. Expert and ecologist Rosie Woodroffe at the Institute of Zoology, the research division of the Zoological Society of London, who has been trialling vaccinations for the past few years in Cornwall explains to Marnie Chesterton why it is highly desirable to move from culling to vaccination of badgers. Plus they discuss the parallels between this and the coronavirus outbreak in humans. Evolutionary biologist Neil Shubin at the University of Chicago, is also the author of the best-selling book on evolution – ‘Your Inner Fish’. In his new book, out this week, ‘Some Assembly Required – Decoding four billion years of life from ancient fossils to DNA’, Neil revisits the topic of evolutionary development and explains to Adam how we have now arrived at a remarkable moment—prehistoric fossils coupled with new DNA technology have given us the tools to answer some of the basic questions of our existence: How do big changes in evolution happen? Is our presence on Earth the product of mere chance? This new science reveals a multi-billion-year evolutionary history filled with twists and turns, trial and error, accident and invention. Presenter - Marnie Chesterton Producer – Fiona Roberts
19/03/20·28m 45s

Biology of the new coronavirus

Adam Rutherford explores what makes the new coronavirus so effective at making us ill. Jonathan Ball, Professor of Virology at Nottingham University, explains the structure of the virus and how it gets into our lungs. Evolutionary virologist at Cambridge University, Dr Charlotte Houldcroft talks to Adam about how labs are detecting the virus and how they are studying the way it mutates to understand how it's moving around the world. Kate Jones, Professor of Ecology at UCL, tells Adam how bats live with coronaviruses, but they don't get sick. She says the reason they have moved from bats to humans is because we have taken them out of their natural habitat into places like the wet markets of East Asia. Sarah Gilbert at Oxford University explains how her team is developing vaccines, and Jonathan Ball looks at work to repurpose existing drugs that may be used as treatment for Covid-19.
12/03/20·27m 55s

Banning lead shot for hunting; UK Fireball Network and Extremely thin gold

We have known for centuries about the toxic properties of lead, and we have known since at least 1876 that birds die of lead poisoning when they eat lead gunshot (which they do, thinking its grit). To address this, in 1999, the use of lead ammunition in England was restricted. These Regulations prohibit the use of lead ammunition in certain habitat (predominately wetlands) and for the shooting of all ducks and geese, coot and moorhen. However compliance with these Regulations is low. And what about other animals (game birds and game animals) hunted with lead ammunition? It’s only been since 2008 that it’s been demonstrated that that animals shot with lead were a risk to the health of people who ate them. Tiny particles of the toxic metal remain in the meat and are consumed. Children are especially vulnerable to lead toxicity, which causes problems with brain development. Leading Cambridge conservation scientist Professor Debbie Pain, has been studying lead in the environment for her entire career. So it’s good news to her that, 8 of the main UK shooting organisations have voluntarily agreed to ban lead shot for all live quarry by 2025. But is a voluntary ban is enough? And what are the Department of Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) doing to monitor and manage the problem? It can be a real treat to watch a meteor shower in the night sky and you can consider yourself lucky if you get to witness a fireball streaking through the atmosphere. But what the scientists in the Global Fireball Observatory really want is to find these fist-sized extra-terrestrial meteoroids where they land on Earth. One of the Fireball UK Network’s leaders, Luke Daly at the University of Glasgow, explains how, if we know where in the Solar system these rocks came from and we can analyse their make-up, we can learn a lot about how our Solar System was made. However surprising few of the 5000 tonnes of meteorites that land on our planet every year are retrieved. Most are sand-sized grains and many fall in the sea. But even tracking down these precious rocks on land is extremely difficult. So the Network has a suite of cameras watching the sky, and together with some clever number-crunching algorithms, they can track these events and narrow down where to search. But they still need the good citizens of Britain to help find them. If you want to get involved (and this is a good one for schools to take part in) email or follow @fireballsUK on Twitter. We are fast learning that elements at the nanoscale have vastly different properties than they do in the form we can observe them. It’s proving to be a rich field for changing the properties of materials, and inventing new substances that might be of use in medicines, in electronics, and much more. Inside Science’s Maddie Finlay went to meet Stephen Evans from the University of Leeds, where they have been tinkering with a substance that definitely doesn’t glister even though it’s gold. Producer: Fiona Roberts
05/03/20·33m 35s

The Big Compost Experiment; Using AI to screen for new antibiotics; Science of slapstick

Composters - we need you! Or rather materials scientists at UCL, Mark Miodownik and Danielle Purkiss, need you to take part in their Big Compost Experiment. Launched back in November, the team asked members of the public to fill in an online questionnaire about their composting and recycling habits. With special reference to plastic packaging labelled as 'compostable', they want you to see whether your compost bin at home can break down these products. Despite starting in the coldest season, where compost production really slows down, they've had some success. To take part, go to One particular infectious disease (Covid-19) is dominating the headlines, but it's by no means the only one we should be concerned about. There's an infectious disease crisis that is longstanding, and one of the most significant threats to global health. It’s the on-going antibiotic resistant crisis. Antibiotics kill bacteria, but bacteria evolve resistance very quickly, and because of overuse of antibiotics, we’ve effectively driven the evolution of many disease causing bacteria to be resistant to our best antibiotics, thus rendering them redundant as drugs. On top of that, we haven’t found any new classes of antibiotics for many years. And the cost of developing new drugs is very high – billions, and the financial incentive for developing antibiotics is low. So this is a perfect storm. A new study this week shows a glimmer of light in the quest to find new antibiotics, via artificial intelligence. Lena Ciric, a microbiologist at University College London, explains how the new drug Halicin was found and the promise it holds as a new antibiotic. Slapstick is one of the most universally appreciated comedy styles. The physical comedy that made Charlie Chaplin, Laurel & Hardy and even Mr Bean so popular has transfixed and entertained generations. But how has it endured the test of time? Why do we enjoy seeing characters in pain? Or is it something deeper rooted that it tells us about the human condition? Laughter is a social action – we do it to show we understand a joke and to signal to people that we get along with them. 'Told By An Idiot' is a theatre company exploring the divide between comedy and tragedy who are currently performing a slapstick style show about the relationship between Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel, who had been his understudy. Hannah Fisher has been to see the show. Producer - Fiona Roberts
27/02/20·28m 21s

Coronavirus questions; HMS Challenger and ocean acidification; Sean Carroll's quantum world

Adam Rutherford is joined by Professor of Virology at Nottingham University, Jonathan Ball, to help answer some of your questions on the latest coronavirus outbreak. Will it become endemic, and once infected and recovered how long are we resistant to the virus? And can face masks and alcohol hand gels help prevent infection? In the 1870's the scientific research ship, HMS Challenger, sailed all the world's oceans measuring sea temperatures, ocean depths and sampling the geology of the seabed. But it's the seawater samples, containing microscopic zooplankton, preserved for 130 years which intrigued climate scientist Dr. Lyndsey Fox. She has been measuring the thickness of the shells of Foraminifera - tiny single-celled organisms - as a way of measuring how much the ocean has acidified over time. The shells are made of calcium carbonate, that is much harder to accrete when the pH drops. Theoretical physicist Sean M. Carroll is very good at explaining the unexplainable. He chats to Adam about his latest book - Something Deeply Hidden: Quantum Worlds and the Emergence of Spacetime. Producer: Fiona Roberts
20/02/20·42m 23s

Ordnance Survey - Britain's 220-year-old tech company; Launching synthetic voices and personality test

For the past 220 years, Ordnance Survey have been mapping Great Britain with extraordinary accuracy. But as Gareth discovers when he visits their HQ in Southampton, GB's master map is not a static printed document. It's a 2 petabyte database which is updated up to 20,000 times a day. This adds up to 360 million updates a year. Since the development of the theodolite and the first detailed map in 1801 of the county of Kent, Ordnance Survey have used cutting edge technology, not only to map our lands, but to manipulate, understand and ask questions of the geography of our natural landscapes and built environment. Voices on the train, public address announcements at the station, automated telephone banking, Alexa and Siri. We are surrounded by electronic voices. But very little research has been done of how we respond to synthetic speech. To investigate the impact of artificially generated voices in our lives, BBC R&D together with our favourite acoustic engineer, Professor Trevor Cox of the University of Salford, has just launched a study. The Synthetic Voices and Personality Test, is an online test we want you to take part in. Please go to and have a listen Presenter Gareth Mitchell Producer - Fiona Roberts
13/02/20·40m 39s

Solar Orbiter launch; Mutational signatures in cancer; paleo-oncology

The latest space mission to the Sun is due to launch on Sunday. SolO, the European Space Agency's Solar Orbiter, will loop around our star in an elliptical orbit, sling-shotting around Venus. Professor Richard Harrison at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory has been on the mission from its conception, he details the instruments and what they're hoping to discover about the Sun and its impact on space weather back here on Earth. If chemicals in cigarette smoke or exposure to UV light played a role in causing a cancerous tumour, we can now see this evidence in the DNA. These and other causes of cancer are being catalogued by a huge international study revealing the genetic fingerprints of DNA-damaging processes that drive cancer development. Professor Mike Stratton, is director of the Wellcome Sanger Institute and author of one of many papers released in Nature and associated journals this week that detail the results of the Pan-Cancer of Whole Genomes Consortium. Cancer is not a modern disease. Evidence in bones and remains reveal our ancient ancestors also suffered. Dr. Kate Hunt is a paleo-pathologist studying paleo-oncology, a very specific, very recent branch of archaeology, looking through ancient burial sites, artefacts and literature for signs of cancer. Presenter - Marnie Chesterton Producer - Fiona Roberts
06/02/20·28m 7s

Coronavirus update, Typhoid Mary and 200th anniversary of the first sighting of Antarctica

With the recent coronavirus outbreak spreading around the world, and concerns about people being infectious before they exhibit any symptoms. Professor of Virology at Nottingham University Jonathan Ball explains infection rates, quarantines and why he's worried about it spreading to the developing world. 'Alice in Typhoidland' is a new exhibition in Oxford recording how that city dealt with typhoid. It’s called that after one of its 19th century residents, Alice Liddell (the girl after whom Alice in Wonderland was named). Her father Henry Liddell was the Dean of Christchurch College and together with his friend Henry Ackland was instrumental in closing off Oxford's open sewers and thereby combating some of the causes of the disease. The exhibition also explores the fate of Typhoid Mary – one of the most famous asymptomatic disease carriers in history. Exactly 200 years ago, 30th January 1820, at 3:30 local time, the continent of Antarctica was spotted for the first time by a British expedition captained by Edward Bransfield, on the Merchant Ship The Williams. But they weren’t the very first: 3 days earlier - on 27 January - a Russian expedition led by Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen and Mikhail Lazarev spotted what is now known as the Fimbul Ice Shelf. The UK Antarctic Heritage Trust is spearheading celebrations. Camilla Nichol is its CEO and she describes the history of the icy continent and how it's become the protected scientific reserve it is now. Producer - Fiona Roberts
30/01/20·36m 41s

Coronavirus outbreak in China; Genetic diseases in Amish communities and getting an Egyptian mummy to speak

With news reports moving as quickly as the virus may be spreading, the latest coronavirus outbreak which is thought to have started in Wuhan in central China is fast becoming a global health concern. Adam Rutherford speaks to BBC Inside Science's resident virologist Professor Jonathan Ball from Nottingham University, who says one of the most urgent things to do is to find out where the virus came from, and what animal it jumped to humans from. The Anabaptist Amish communities are some of the fastest growing populations on the planet. They came to the US from the Swiss-German border in the 18th and 19th centuries and have maintained their plain, simple community-minded way of life. Partly because they all descended from the same geographical area and partly because they tend to marry within their own communities, they can suffer from a particular spectrum of genetic disorders. Professor Andrew Crosby and Dr. Emma Baple from Exeter University have been studying these diseases, including a number new to medicine, and in return they are helping the Amish to understand and treat some of these debilitating diseases. He may currently sound more like a sheep baa-ing, but in a proof of concept experiment, Professor David Howard, an electrical engineer at Royal Holloway University of London, has been able to scan, 3D print and electronically reanimate the vocal tract of Nesyamum, a 3000 year old Egyptian mummy. The eventual hope is to recreate his tongue and try to get him to sing. Producer - Fiona Roberts
23/01/20·31m 13s

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

Science is built upon the idea that results can be verified by others. Scientists do their experiments and write up their methods and results and submit them to a journal that sends them to other scientists, who check them and if they pass muster, the study gets published for further scrutiny. One of the keystones of this process is that results can be reproduced. If your results can’t be replicated, something is amiss. Over the last few years, particularly in the field of psychology, many high profile findings have not been reproduced. Now, the same problems that have plagued psychology are spilling over into other areas. This week, a study showed that ocean acidification does not significantly alter fish behaviour, as had been reported several times before. Adam Rutherford discusses the crisis with Matthew Cobb, Professor of Zoology at Manchester University. ESA’s Aeolus mission was launched in August 2018. It’s one of the European Space Agency’s Earth Explorer satellites. The Aeolus satellite uses lasers to monitor the wind by firing an ultraviolet laser beam into the atmosphere and catching the light’s reflection as it scatters off molecules and particles carried along in the air. It was planned to be very much a proof of principle mission, testing the science, with longer-term plans for a whole constellation of wind monitoring satellites. But Aeolus has performed so well in the tests that, unusually for meteorological science, the results are now considered robust enough to be inputted into the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts models. The UK is aiming to phase out conventional combustion engines in favour of more energy-efficient, less polluting electric vehicles by 2040. In response to a listener’s question on the cleanliness of these machines, BBC Inside Science reporter, Tristan Varela, conducts an investigation in the streets, garages, and laboratories of London. He finds that electric cars are relatively clean in the UK, where energy generation from renewable sources has recently overtaken fossil fuels. However, sales of new electric cars are still heavily outweighed by large, fossil fuel hungry, SUVs. But some people are instead converting existing cars to make their vehicles more environmentally-friendly. Producer - Fiona Roberts
16/01/20·30m 11s

Australian bush fires; Veganuary and LIGO

2019 was the hottest and driest year on record in Australia. The Indian Ocean Dipole and the Southern Annular Mode weather systems, plus existing drought conditions, all primed the continent for the horrific fire season currently raging in the east and south east of the country. Climate scientist at the University of New South Wales Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick is in no doubt global warming played a role in making these the worst fires in recent history. Making matters even worse is that the ferocity of the bush-fires is creating its own weather. Nicholas McCarthy at the University of Queensland studies fire-induced weather and he explains how this can help spread the fires further. January is also Veganuary, a chance for you to try being vegan for 31 days. The reasons for giving up animal products in your diet are varied, from reducing your carbon footprint to not eating animals and getting healthy. Reporter Geoff Marsh is interested in the evidence in favour for and against a vegan diet. A signal in April 2019 picked up by the LIGO Livingston Observatory has been confirmed as the gravitational ripples from a collision of two neutron stars. LIGO Livingston is part of a gravitational-wave network that includes LIGO (the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory), and the European Virgo detector. Producer - Fiona Roberts
09/01/20·31m 51s

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

Our genomes are more than just an instruction manual for our bodies. They are maps, diaries, history books and medical records of our and our ancestor's lives...if you know how to read them. In the second part of BBC Inside Science's special, series, Adam Rutherford, UCL geneticist Lucy van Dorp and other scientists discover how travel and even culture of our ancestors can be decoded in our DNA today.
02/01/20·27m 58s

The hidden history in our DNA - Part 1 - Sex and Disease

Our genomes are more than just an instruction manual for our bodies. They are maps, diaries, history books and medical records of our and our ancestors' lives.....if you know how to read them. In this programme and the next Adam Rutherford is joined by UCL geneticist Lucy van Dorp and other scientists who are cracking these genomic codes to tell the human story. This week they explore how sex and disease over the past few thousand years has left indelible marks on our DNA.
26/12/19·33m 13s

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

Adam Rutherford talks to Chris Lintott about the citizen science platform he set up ten years ago. Zooniverse is a place where the public can help scientists analyse huge swathes of data. Projects such as spotting distant galaxies, counting penguins and tagging WW2 diaries have all has a huge boost thanks to the people-power of the Zooniverse. The Indonesian volcano Anak Krakatau, which means 'Son of Krakatoa', was born out of the ashes of the mega volcano which erupted and collapsed in the 1880s. Last year the island volcano Anak collapsed, causing a tsunami which killed 400 people. The collapse of millions of tonnes of rock into the ocean has now been mapped and chunks of rock, the size of office blocks, have been found tossed kilometres from the island. It really brings home how dangerous these volcanoes can be. BBC Inside Science producer Fi is always scribbling and doodling during interviews. It turns out she is a visual thinker and she compulsively draws the science being discussed. She is not alone: many scientists working in fields involving complex maths and physics resort to pictures to illustrate what's happening. But not everything in science can be reduced down to a 2D sketch and not everyone needs a visual aid. Marnie Chesterton finds the scientists who can look at an equation, and 'see' in their heads, the graph it describes. Others get intensely annoyed at analogies that just aren't quite right - like spacetime being a ball on a rubber sheet. She asks a physicist, a philosopher and a mathematician about the relationship they have between maths, reality and our senses. Producer - Fiona Roberts
19/12/19·30m 17s

Earliest hunting scene cave painting; animal domestication syndrome

A cave painting in Sulawesi, Indonesia, has been dated and is at least 43,900 years old. The mural portrays a group of part-human, part-animal figures (called therianthropes), hunting large mammals with spears and ropes. It is thought to be the oldest representation of a hunting scene in human history, and perhaps Homo sapiens' oldest known figurative rock art. Adam Brumm at Griffith University in Brisbane is part of an international team that has been exploring this cave complex. He speculates with Adam Rutherford about who the artists were and what they were trying to depict. A famous Russian farm fox study has been running since the 1950’s. The researchers essentially took foxes bound for the fur trade and selected for tameness by choosing to keep and breed from the animals that showed less fear and more friendliness towards humans. After years of selection, the tamer foxes also showed physical changes (floppier ears, curlier tails, white spots, redder fur) as well as changes in breeding times. As a way to study the evolution of domestication of animals, this study is taught to students all over the world. However a chance discovery at a Fox Museum on a Canadian Island, shows the original foxes were taken from fur farms in Canada and had already been bred for tameness. Elinor Karlsson at the Broad Institute at MIT and Harvard University discusses with Adam whether we have to rethink the Animal Domestication Syndrome. Producer - Fiona Roberts
12/12/19·28m 4s

Global Carbon Emissions; Parker Solar Probe and simulating swaying buildings

Reports from the UN Climate Change Conference (COP 25) in Madrid are saying that global warming is increasing and that we're not doing enough, fast enough, to change things. The World Meteorological Organisation's provisional State of the Climate 2019 report lists atmospheric carbon dioxide reaching record levels. Global mean temperatures for Jan-Oct 2019 were 1.1+/-0.1 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The Arctic ice extent minimum in Sept 2019 was the second lowest on satellite record. Tropical cyclone Idai was the strongest cyclone known to make landfall. These are all concerning statistics. According to the Global Carbon Emissions figures that have just been released, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is still increasing: the slightly good news is that the rate of increase has slowed. Adam Rutherford talks to climate expert at the Tyndall Centre at the University of East Anglia, Corinne Le Le Quéré, to find out more. “Safe as houses" is a cliché built on the solidity of the buildings we put up. But at Bath University engineers are working in the opposite direction. They are asking just how strong does a building have to be - especially in an age of ever taller sky-scrapers, which inevitably sway, particularly when the wind picks up. It's not that there's any danger they'll fall down - but the movement can be unsettling to the occupants. So they've developed a virtual tower - a windowless cabin not much bigger than a caravan stuck on top of a set of hydraulic pistons with virtual reality screens to mimic window views that allow psychologists to monitor volunteers' experiences of living and working in high, flexible spaces. Our Sun is so much more than a giant ball of burning gas. Its core is a nuclear reactor which creates billions of looping and tangling magnetic fields. Its layers are puzzling variations of hot temperatures and its solar wind has some very peculiar properties. These are just some of the reasons NASA launched its Parker Solar Probe in August 2018 on a mission to get close (3.8 million miles) to our star’s surface and study its properties. The first scientific reports from the mission are out and solar expert Professor Lucie Green at UCL reveals what the car-sized, armour-plated craft has been finding out so far. She says "our Sun is more dynamic than expected and we might be getting clues to why the sun spins more slowly than theory predicts." Producer - Fiona Roberts
05/12/19·31m 54s

What's the problem with palm oil and should we be supporting sustainably grown oil? Virtual reality skin

Palm oil is now such a dirty word for household products and processed food, that it often hides behind a list of dozens of pseudonyms (from the ubiquitous sodium laureth sulphate to the slightly more obvious palm kernel oil, to the totally opaque vegetable oil). It’s becoming a major global concern, and there is on going debate between enforcing a ban or shifting to more sustainable production. It’s always complicated, but as we’ve learned so many times in the past, we have to tread carefully to avoid the unintended consequences of making snap environmental decisions. Indications that an outright ban might be more environmentally harmful because of the lower yield and more land needed by alternative vegetable oil crops, so should we be paying more attention and even championing sustainably sourced palm oil? In the UK, Chester has become the first city to source its palm oil entirely from sustainable sources. Cat Barton and Simon Dowell from Chester Zoo have recently returned from the EU where they were advising on the creation of more sustainable palm oil cities on the continent. Alongside Indonesia, Malaysia is one of the biggest producers of palm oil. As of 2015, the country was covered in over five and a half million hectares of oil palm, nearly a third of which is found in Sabah, the north eastern state in Borneo. Sabah is home to many endangered species, like pygmy elephants and orang-utans. Many of them are found in reserves but they often need to move between these national parks to ensure they have enough food or to find new territories but also to ensure a healthy mix of genetics within populations. To do this, they need to travel through plantations, which can cause many human-wildlife conflicts, especially when they can sometimes cause thousands of dollars worth of damage in one night as they pass through. This is particularly true of elephants, who love to eat the oil palm fruit bunches, but it isn’t isolated to palm oil. Elephants can frighten people or knock down trees in softwood plantations. Graihagh Jackson reports from Sabah. Virtual Reality has come on leaps and bounds for the visual and auditory senses, but in the realms of haptics, or touch, it’s had to rely on wiring up the user with electrodes which produce vibrations to simulate sensory experiences. But now John Rogers and his team at Northwestern University have developed a wireless soft, flexible ‘skin’ which can be layered gently over the wearer’s own skin to produce a more comfortable and realistic haptic interface with applications not just for gaming, but for tactile social media applications and even for controlling prosthetics. Producer - Fiona Roberts
28/11/19·29m 57s

Noise pollution and wildlife; No till farming; Cornwall's geothermal heat

The effects of human-made noise on the natural world has been surprisingly little studied. Hanjoerg Kunc at Queen's University in Belfast has collected all experimental data on the effects of anthropogenic noise on wild animals and found it to be overwhelmingly harmful., And Cambridge University's PhD student Sophia Cooke is looking at the impact of roads, including road noise on British birds, and the impact could be huge. Last week we spoke to Jane Rickson at Cranfield University about how healthy soils are a good defence against the effects of, and indeed the process of, flooding. Many farmer listeners emailed in to tell us about their experiences with no till and minimum disturbance agriculture. Simon Jeffery at Harper-Adams University takes Adam through some of the points raised. Last November, drilling began in Redruth, Cornwall to see if geothermal heat could be tapped from the hot rocks below. Graihagh Jackson went to catch up with the project and met with Lucy Cotton – the project geologist for the United Downs Deep Geothermal Power project. Producer: Fiona Roberts
21/11/19·37m 3s

Soils and floods, Air pollution and ultra-low emission zones, detecting the drug Spice

The UK's soils are the first line of defence against flooding, but the condition of the soil is vital to how well it can soak up and slowly release rainwater. Jane Rickson, Professor of soil erosion and conservation at Cranfield University, explains to Adam what makes a healthy soil and what farmers can do to try to prevent floods. "Spice" is a catch-all phrase for a large variety of psycho-active compounds - commonly called legal highs. They interact with the same receptors in the brain as cannabis does. They're commonly sold sprayed onto common herbs that users smoke, so that dose, as well as variety and purity are completely uncontrolled by the time they're taken. And that's where the problems start in A&E departments and the blue-light services, because patients can show up with severe symptoms of psychosis with little clue as to what's caused it. And until now there's been no quick and easy test. Roland Pease went to Bath University where biochemist Chris Pudney and his team have developed some portable kit using ultraviolet to throw light on the spice users are smoking. The Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) was brought in in London in April 2019 to improve air quality in the centre of the city. In 2020 cities including Bath, Leeds and Birmingham are also bringing in ‘Clean Air Zones. Alastair Lewis is professor of atmospheric chemistry at the University of York and he explains what these schemes are targeting and whether we can measure whether they are working. Producer: Fiona Roberts
14/11/19·29m 12s

Fracking moratorium; Bloodhound; Big Compost Experiment; transit of Mercury

The Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced an indefinite moratorium this week on mining of shale gas by hydraulic fracturing, aka fracking, in the UK, citing fears of earthquakes and seismic activity caused by fracking in the past. In August this year, a 2.9 magnitude earthquake was recorded at the Preston New Road fracking site in Lancashire, which prompted an immediate shutdown, as required by the strict protocols that we have in place. Adam Rutherford talks to Dr James Verdon, a geophysicist at Bristol University and a co-author of one of the Oil & Gas Authority studies on the Preston New Road, about the science of fracking. Bloodhound is the latest British attempt at the supersonic land speed record. All this week Wing Commander Andy Green has been burning across a dried out lake in the Kalahari Desert, as he and his team are building up to break the sound barrier at 740mph, and his own land speed record of 763 mph. BBC science correspondent Jonathan Amos reports from the trackside. The Big Compost Experiment is a new citizen science project about the wonderful, rich, fruity and essential substance you can produce by doing not that much at all. Architect Danielle Purkiss and Mark Miodownik, material scientist at UCL tell Adam why they are launching this experiment. The planet Mercury, messenger of the Gods, passes between us and the Sun on average just thirteen times a century. This astronomical event will be visible in the UK – weather permitting – next Monday, 11th November. Solar physicist Lucie Green explains how to see the transit of Mercury.
07/11/19·28m 4s

African genomes sequenced; Space weather; sports head injuries

Since the human genome was first sequenced nearly 20 years ago, around a million people have had theirs decoded, giving us new insights into the links between genes, ancestry and disease. But most of the genomes studied have been in people of European descent. Now a decade-long collaboration between scientists in the UK and in Uganda has created the largest African genome dataset to date. Dr Deepti Gurdasani discusses her research with Gaia Vince. After 7 years of orbiting the Earth and sending us important information about space weather, NASA’s Van Allen Probes are retiring. Professor Lucie Green from UCL explains how the sun can spit out superhot plasma and streams of high energy particles in our direction. We are mostly protected by the Earth’s magnetic field - but not always. The worst-case scenario is that the radiation could disrupt navigation satellites and bring down electrical power supplies. Professor Green will be keeping an eye on space weather with a new spacecraft. Growing evidence shows that repeatedly getting your head knocked around during competitive sports can lead to long-term serious consequences. The head doesn’t necessarily need to be the target of the blow – a hard tackle can ricochet through your body giving your head a jolt. Roland Pease speaks with sports scientist Liz Williams of Swansea University about a new device to measure these impacts. Presenter: Gaia Vince Producers: Jen Whyntie and Louisa Field
31/10/19·29m 0s

Organic farming emissions; Staring at seagulls; Salt and dementia

Switching to 100% organic food production in England and Wales would see an overall increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Although going fully organic would produce fewer direct emissions than conventional farming, researchers say it would limit food production. Making up the shortfall with imports from overseas would increase overall emissions. But is the sustainability of our food production about more than greenhouse gas emissions alone? Professor Dave Reay is Chair in Carbon Management & Education at the University of Edinburgh, and has recently acquired a smallholding in Scotland. He discusses the study and answer your questions about sustainable food and population growth. Seagulls have become notorious food thieves in recent times as they move into towns to find new habitats and sustenance. Scientists at the University of Exeter have found that if you stare at a herring gull, it’s much less likely to steal your chips. Reporter Graihagh Jackson went to Falmouth to meet with researchers Madeleine Goumas and Neeltje Boogert to see the tactic in action. More than 800,000 people in the UK live with dementia, which is an umbrella term for over 200 specific diagnoses that all involve some form of neurodegeneration. Epidemiological evidence has suggested that high dietary salt intake may somehow be linked to developing cognitive impairment. A study released this week shows a mechanism for how this might occur biologically in the brains of mice who were fed a high salt diet. Professor Carol Brayne is Director of the Cambridge Institute of Public Health at the University of Cambridge, and she explains how this new research fits into the field and our understanding of dementia’s causes.
24/10/19·27m 59s

Ebola model, Partula snails, Malaria origin

Zoonotic diseases are infections that transfer from animals to people, and include killers such as bubonic plague, malaria, ebola and a whole host of others. Trying to understand how diseases make the leap from animals to humans – so called spillover – and how outbreaks occur is a crucial part of preventing them. But outbreaks are complex and dynamic, with a huge number of factors playing a role: What animal is hosting the disease, the environment in which it lives, the changing climate, human presence and impact on the local area and many other factors. Kate Jones is professor of ecology and biodiversity at University College London, and has been tracking ebola in Africa. Her team has just published a new study that models how and when spillover might happen in the future. On the lushly forest islands of French Polynesia, there lives a very special snail. Partula are around 100 species of tiny snails who give birth to live young and feed on decomposing plants. Each species is uniquely adapted to a particular ecological niche. But in 1967, the highly edible Giant African Land Snail was introduced to the islands as a source of food. They quickly became pests, and in response, the French Polynesian government then introduced carnivorous Rosy Wolf Snails - aka Euglandina rosea - to quell the spread of the introduced Giant Land snails. Reporter Naomi Clements-Brode picks up the story with scientist Ann Clarke, along with Dave Clarke and Paul Pearce-Kelly at ZSL London Zoo. Finally this week, malaria is, as best we can account for it, the single greatest killer in human history. The vast majority of malaria is caused by a type of single celled protozoan called Plasmodium falciparum, carried by mosquitos. But according to new research published this week, it started out around fifty thousand years ago not in us, but as a gorilla disease, and in one particularly unlucky gorilla, two simultaneous infections prompted the mutation and rise of the plasmodium parasite that would go on to kill millions. Dr Gavin Wright from the Wellcome Sanger Institute in Hinxton lead the team behind this molecular archaeology.
17/10/19·27m 56s

Extinction Rebellion, UK net zero emissions and climate change; Nobel Prizes

Extinction Rebellion is in the news with its stated aim of civil disobedience and protest, and goal to compel governments around the world to act on the climate crisis. Meanwhile, the UK government this week announced that it was overruling its own Planning Inspectorate, by approving in principle new gas-fired turbines at the Drax power station in North Yorkshire. The Inspectors had advised that the new developments would undermine UK climate policies on carbon emissions. In the UK we are committed to reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050, in order to comply with our ratification of the Paris agreement, which aims to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees. So what are we to do? Are the government policies and commitments enough, and are we sticking to them? Adam Rutherford discusses these questions with Jim Skea, Professor of Sustainable Energy at Imperial College, London, and co-chair of the Working Group tackling reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This week has been the annual jamboree and drama of the Nobel Prizes: the announcements of the biggest gongs in science. The Physiology or Medicine Prize went to William Kaelin from Harvard University, Sir Peter Ratcliffe from the Crick Institute in London and Gregg Semenza from Johns Hopkins University for their work on how the body responds to changing oxygen levels. The Physics Prize went to James Peebles of Princeton for cosmological discoveries, and Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz, then at the University of Geneva, for the 1995 discovery of the first exoplanet, 51 Pegasi b. And the Chemistry Prize was awarded for the invention of something that we utterly rely on every day, the lithium battery. The winners are John Goodenough, University of Texas at Austin, Stanley Whittingham, State University of New York, and Akira Yoshino of the Asahi Kasei Corporation in Japan. These awards offer plenty to discuss, so Adam is joined by Lisa Kaltenegger, Director of Carl Sagan Institute & Associate Professor of Astronomy, Andrew Pontzen, Professor of Astrophysics at University College, London, and reporter and presenter Marnie Chesterton, who spent some time with chemistry laureate John Goodenough.
10/10/19·27m 52s

HIV protective gene paper retraction, Imaging ancient Herculaneum scrolls, Bill Bryson's The Body

In November 2018 news broke via YouTube that He Jiankui, then a professor at Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China had created the world’s first gene-edited babies from two embryos. The edited gene was CCR5 delta 32 - a gene that conferred protection against HIV. Alongside the public, most of the scientific community were horrified. There was a spate of correspondence, not just on the ethics, but also on the science. One prominent paper was by Rasmus Nielsen and Xinzhu Wei’s of the University of California, Berkeley. They published a study in June 2019 in Nature Medicine that found an increased mortality rate in people with an HIV-preventing gene variant. It was another stick used to beat Jiankiu – had he put a gene in these babies that was not just not helpful, but actually harmful? However it now turns out that the study by Nielsen and Wei has a major flaw. In a series of tweets, Nielsen was notified of an error in the UK Biobank data and his analysis. Sean Harrison at the University of Bristol tried and failed to replicate the result using the UK Biobank data. He posted his findings on Twitter and communicated with Nielsen and Wei who have now requested a retraction. UCL's Helen O'Neill is intimately acquainted with the story and she chats to Adam Rutherford about the role of social media in the scientific process of this saga. The Herculaneum Library is perhaps the most remarkable collection of texts from the Roman era. Discovered two centuries ago in the villa of Julius Caesar’s father in law, many of the papyrus scrolls bear the writings of the house philosopher, Philodemus. Others are thought to be the works of the philosophers and poets he admired. However, the big drawback is that the villa was buried in the eruption that engulfed Pompeii, and the heat from the volcanic ash turned them all to charcoal. To make life even more difficult, the ink the scribes used was also made of carbon – think black on black. However, now a team from the University of Kentucky are hoping to decipher the texts using X-rays, and have just scanned two complete scrolls, and some fragments at the Diamond Synchrotron in near Oxford. When renowned author Bill Bryson decided to apply his unique eye for anecdote and trivia to the human body he thought he's start at the head and work down. But as he reveals to Adam, it's a lot more complicated and interconnected than that. His book "The Body - A Guide for Occupants" is an indispensable guide to the inner workings of ourselves. Producer: Fiona Roberts
03/10/19·35m 37s

Oceans, ice and climate change; Neolithic baby bottles; Caroline Criado-Perez wins RS Book Prize

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's special report on the oceans and cryosphere makes pretty grim reading on the state of our seas and icy places. Ocean temperatures are rising, permafrost and sea ice are melting, sea levels are rising and marine life is either moving or suffering the effects of temperature changes and acidification. Dr Phil Williamson, research fellow at the University of East Anglia, worked on the report and he explains to Adam Rutherford how the watery and icy parts of the planet connect to the atmosphere and climate. It's a good job the small, round, spouted clay vessels found in 3000 year old baby graves in Bavaria weren't washed up very well. Crusts of food deposits have shown that these early baby bottles were used to give infants milk from ruminants such as cows, goats and sheep. This discovery, and previous discoveries of even earlier spouted vessels in Europe, indicate that settling down from hunter-gathering to agriculture in prehistoric Iron and Bronze-Age people impacted all ages. Dr Julie Dunne, organic geochemist at the University of Bristol, thinks that this more settled lifestyle with domesticated animals and cereals to supplement a baby's diet, led to earlier weaning and maybe more babies. Caroline Criado Perez’s ground-breaking gender bias exposé wins the 2019 Royal Society Science Book Prize. 'Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men' by writer, broadcaster and feminist campaigner Caroline Criado Perez, becomes the 32nd winner of the prestigious Royal Society Insight Investment Science Books Prize. Caroline explains to Adam how a range of case studies, stories and new research highlights ways in which women are ‘forgotten’ on a daily basis. From government policy and medical research to technology, media and workplaces, she exposes the lack of gender-specific data that has unintentionally created a world biased against women Producer - Fiona Roberts
26/09/19·35m 17s

MOSAiC Arctic super-expedition, Likely extinction of the Bahama nuthatch, Tim Smedley's book on air pollution

On Friday, 20 September, a powerful icebreaker called The Polarstern will set sail from Tromsø, Norway, with the aim of getting stuck into the polar ice. The plan is for the ship to spend the next year drifting past the North Pole, and this should enable scientists to collect unprecedented data on the Arctic. The Polarstern is the ‘mothership’ of a substantial international collaboration called the Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate (or project MOSAiC). Scientists from over seventy research institutions across 19 different countries are involved, and a total of six hundred experts will be aboard throughout the expedition. They plan to construct a ‘research city’ around the vessel with different neighbourhoods, each focused on a particular scientific area including: ecosystem, bio-geo-chemistry, ocean, atmosphere and sea ice. Adam spoke to UCL’s Professor Julienne Stroeve, who will be aboard The Polarstern for two months during the Arctic winter, looking at the depth and density of snow in order to improve our understanding of the Arctic, and enhance our ability to predict effects of global climate change. The residents of the Bahamas are still struggling to come to terms with the devastation of Hurricane Dorian (which hit 2 weeks ago) and also with the additional impact of Tropical Storm Humberto which reached the islands on Friday night, bringing more heavy rain and more strong winds. But the human population is resilient and they will eventually rebuild and resume their lives on the Caribbean islands. But for the Bahama nuthatch, it’s thought that Dorian was the final straw. The endemic bird, is (or was) one of the rarest birds in the western hemisphere, in fact it was already thought extinct (after the damage wrought by Hurricane Mathew in June 2016) until last year when Professor Diana Bell and her team of conservationists from the University of East Anglia rediscovered it. But now, after the hurricane it is feared lost forever, and it may not be the only irreversible ecological loss for the Bahamas. Tim Smedley's book 'Cleaning the Air: The Beginning and End of Air Pollution' is shortlisted for the Royal Society's science book prize. Tim tells the full story of air pollution: what it is, which pollutants are harmful, and where they come from. It's scary stuff, but there is good news that air pollution can be avoided and drastically reduced with sensible measures. Producer - Fiona Roberts
19/09/19·30m 47s

Model embryos from stem cells, Paul Steinhardt's book on impossible crystals, Mother Thames

One of the most fundamental developmental stages we humans go through is extremely poorly understood. The first few days of the embryo, once it's been implanted in the womb is incredibly hard to study. Yet it's the time when the majority of pregnancies fail. Professor Magdalena Zernika-Goetz at Cambridge University is a leader in the field of making 'model embryos' in both mice and humans. Model embryos until now have been grown in the lab from donated fertilised eggs, but these are hard to come by and governed by strict laws and ethical guidelines. Now researchers in the University of Michigan have used human pluripotent stem cell lines (originally isolated from embryos, but kept and nurtured as clumps of dividing cells in petri-dishes for many years) to make a model embryo that has shown signs of development and organisation in the crucial 7-10 day window. Magdalena and Gaia Vince discuss how helpful these will be to understanding crucial early stage pregnancies and as a tool to test drugs, treatments and disease processes. The ethical side of growing human embryos from stem cells is addressed by Stanford University ethicist Professor Hank Greely. Physicist Paul Steinhardt has spent a great deal of his career trying to understand crystals with seemingly impossible five fold symmetries. Most of this was with pen and pencil in his Princeton laboratory. But in his Royal Society Science Book Prize shortlisted book, 'The Second Kind of Impossible', he documents his adventurous quest for these 'quasicrystals' in the wilds of Russia's Kamchatka Peninsular. In 1957 the River Thames was so polluted it was declared ecologically dead. But since then The Zoological Society of London in partnership with over 30 conservation and research organisations have been working to improve the health of the River Thames and bring back the plethora of life and biodiversity. They are set to publish the first complete analysis of the river in over 60 years this Autumn. They're calling it 'Mother Thames' in recognition of the now nurturing nature of one of Britain's biggest rivers. Presenter - Gaia Vince Producer - Fiona Roberts
12/09/19·35m 56s

Inventing GPS, Carbon nanotube computer, Steven Strogatz and Monty Lyman discuss calculus and skin

Global Positioning System, or GPS is perhaps the best known of the satellite navigation systems, helping us find our way every day. Back in the 1970's Bradford Parkinson and Hugo Fruehauf were two of the inventors who miniaturised atomic clocks and launched them in Earth orbit satellites. This was part of the US Department of Defense's plan to track ships and aircraft and guide targeted missiles. In the intervening years, Brad and Hugo had no idea just how far the civilian applications of GPS would go. Alongside Richard Schwartz and James Spilker, they have just been awarded the prestigious the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering. The age of silicon chip based computing could be coming to an end. Difficulties in shrinking silicon transistors, or switches, into ever smaller processors led researchers at MIT to search for alternative semiconducting materials to replace them. Cue carbon nanotubes, tubes of carbon atoms many tens of thousands of times narrower than a human hair. Electrical engineer Max Shulaker and his team have overcome spaghetti-like tangles of CNTs and varying levels of conductivity to create a 16bit processor. He says that rather than a straight forward replacement to silicon, the initial hope is that CNT chip technology can be added to existing silicon wafers. Steven Strogatz and Monty Lyman have been shortlisted for the Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize this year. In "Infinite Powers", Professor of applied maths at Cornell University, Steven Strogatz tells Adam Rutherford the story of calculus and why his book has a warning saying "this book is dangerous, it will make you love mathematics!" And in "The Remarkable Life of the Skin" Dr. Monty Lyman takes Claudia Hammond on an intimate journey across our surface. They discuss advances in skin treatments, new research on the importance of our diet and our skin and the vital role our largest organ plays in our lives. Producer - Fiona Roberts Presenter - Gareth Mitchell
05/09/19·30m 27s

Amazon fires, Royal Society Book Prize shortlist announced, John Gribben on quantum physics

Satellite data has shown an 85% increase in the number of fires across Brazil this year. There are more than 2,500 fires active across the Amazon region. This represents the most active number of fires since 2010. The increase in fires has been attributed to deliberate deforestation and clearing for agriculture or mining. The new president of Brazil, Jair Bolsanaro, supports the commercialisation of the Amazon forest and this is said to have encouraged the wide scale burning. Professor of Earth System Science at the University of California Irvine, Jim Randerson and Luiz Aragão of Brazil’s National Institute of Space Research are just two scientists concerned about the destruction and carbon emissions from the extensive burning. The 6 shortlisted books have been announced in the Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize this year. Judges Professor Sir Nigel Shadbolt, a computer scientist and best-selling author Dorothy Koomson run through the list: Infinite Powers – Steven Strogatz The Remarkable Life of the Skin – Monty Lyman Clearing the Air – Tim Smedley Invisible Women – Caroline Criado Perez The Second Kind of Impossible – Paul Steinhardt Six Impossible Things – John Gribbin Science writer and journalist John Gribben takes Gareth through the world of quantum physics when he discusses his book "Six Impossible Things - The Quanta of Solace and the Mysteries of the Subatomic World" Producer - Fiona Roberts
29/08/19·28m 14s

UK's black squirrels' genetic heritage; nuclear fusion in the UK and the Royal Society's science book prize

Perhaps you’ve been lucky enough to spot the uncommon black grey squirrel in the UK. The bizarre mutation that causes a change in fur colour has finally divulged its historic evolution. Dr Helen McRobie at Anglia Ruskin University studies the black version of the introduced grey squirrel. She explains to Gareth Mitchell how the grey squirrel might have got the genetic mutation for black fur back when it was in North America. She describes how she stumbled across a finding that questions how we define a species. Nuclear fusion – it’s the energy source of the future, and always will be! Yes, it’s one of those technologies that was about thirty years away in the 1980s when they built a massive fusion lab in Culham in Oxfordshire. And, thirty years on, they’re still trying to crack it. Part of the challenge is building containers that can handle some of the hottest, and trickiest, matter known to humans – plasma. At the Joint European Torus (or JET), they’ve been busy revamping their thirty-five-year-old kit. It’s to keep the fusion research going whilst the scientists wait for a shiny new facility to open up in Southern France. It’s all about working on reactions like those that fuel the Sun – squashing atoms together rather than pulling them apart. A brand new series of landmark tests at JET is kicking off in the months ahead. Roland Pease went to the labs to find out just where the UK is in fusion right now. The 2019 Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize winner will be announced in late September. The shortlisted authors will be announced next week but before then Adam Rutherford chats to two of the judges, Professor Sir Nigel Shadbolt, and best selling fiction author, Dorothy Koomson, about what makes a great popular science book and what in particular the judges are looking for in this year’s competition. Producer - Fiona Roberts
22/08/19·28m 9s

UK power cut, Huge dinosaur find in Wyoming, Micro-plastics in Arctic snow

Following the simultaneous outages of two UK power plants last Friday, affecting nearly 1 million people across the country, we at Inside Science wanted to get back to the basics of electricity and get our heads round how the National Grid keeps the nation running. Keith Bell explains the difference between AC and DC (Alternating and Direct current), and why it's essential to keep the frequency of the grid steady at 50Hz. They’re calling it ‘Mission Jurassic’. A site so full of dinosaur bones that it would most probably keep a thousand palaeontologists happy and enormously busy for a thousand years. The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis (TCMI) has signed a 20 year exploration lease on a parcel of the Wyoming dinosaur site, calling on the help of UK associates from the University of Manchester and London’s Natural History Museum (NHM) to assist with the excavations. BBC science correspondent Jonathan Amos was invited to the top secret location to take part in what is arguably the country’s biggest dino dig in decades. There's now good evidence that micro-plastics are present in our oceans and are accumulating in our food chains, but surely they aren’t present in the last pristine environment on Earth? Melanie Bergmann and her team based in Germany compared snow samples from two dozen locations, ranging from the Arctic ice floes and the Norwegian archipelago Svalbard to the north of Germany. Surprisingly, they found 10,000 plastic particles per litre in Arctic snow. But how is the plastic getting there? Melanie provides insight into her ground breaking research unearthing how micro-plastics are capable of travelling such great distances. Producer: Fiona Roberts
15/08/19·33m 42s

Making the UK's dams safe, AI spots fake smiles, How many trees should we be planting?

In the light of the evacuation of the Derbyshire town of Whaley Bridge due to damage to the Todbrook reservoir dam and the threat of a catastrophic collapse, questions inevitably arise as to how ‘future proofed’ UK dams are? This is doubly worrying in light of climate change and the increasing likelihood of extreme weather events. With the average age of UK dams being over 100 years an