BBC Inside Science

By BBC Radio 4

SHOW DESCRIPTION

Dr Adam Rutherford and guests illuminate the mysteries and challenge the controversies behind the science that's changing our world.


4.5

114 ratings


EPISODES LIST

Insect decline, Gut microbiome, Geomagnetic switching

A very strongly worded, meta-review paper (looking at 73 historical reports from around the world published over the past 13 years) has just been published looking at the fate of insects around the world. The researchers have collated other people’s research, including the big 27 year study from Germany, that showed 75% loss of insects by weight (biomass). The basic headlines are quite scary: 40% of insect species are declining; 33% are endangered; we’re losing a total mass of 2.5% of insects every year. The reviewers blame habitat loss by conversion to intensive agriculture as the main driver for the declines, plus agro-chemicals, invasive species and climate change adding to the burden. Adam Rutherford speaks to insect expert Professor Adam Hart from the University of Gloucestershire to discuss numbers and consequences. It’s quickly being realised that the composition of microbes in our guts is vital to our health. Scientists working on the gut microbiome have discovered and isolated more than 100 completely new species of bacteria from healthy human intestines. It’s hoped that these new techniques to isolate and grow these novel bugs, will give us insight into how our microbiome keeps us healthy. After covering the story about the Earth’s early core accretion and the clues found in rocks about the early magnetic field, listener Neil Tugwell emailed BBC Inside Science to ask for more information about geomagnetic switching. Are we heading for another flip of the magnetic poles? And what might be the impact on GPS? Adam gets the answers from Dr. Robert Wicks, lecturer in space risk in the UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction. Producer: Fiona Roberts

02.14.2019

Sea Level Rise, Equine Flu, Generator Bricks, Iberian Genes

In 2016 some scientists suggested that with climate change so much ice in Antarctica could melt that the global sea level could rise up to a metre. There would be an "ice apocalypse". Now another group has refined the models and in a paper published this week has concluded that the rise will be lower. Adam Rutherford and lead author Dr Tamsin Edwards of Kings College London discuss the latest research and how policy makers and the public should react to changing results from ice sheet studies. All race meetings in the UK have been cancelled today following the discovery that three horses have been diagnosed with equine flu, despite having been vaccinated. Expert on equine flu at the University of Nottingham, Dr Janet Daly, talks to Adam about the disease, how the outbreak has come about and the process of making a new vaccine. What if the walls of your house generated their own electricity? It may sound far-fetched, but one team in the chemistry department of King’s College London is trying to do just that. Reporter Hannah Fisher went to visit Dr Leigh Aldous to discover his invention – a brick, which is hoped to be made out of recycled plastic, that can generate its own electricity. While the project is still in its early stages, it is hoped that the brick will be able to be used in off-grid and remote locations, as well as those affected by natural disasters. Scientists have analysed DNA samples from people living on the Iberian Peninsula to determine their genetic heritage. Results revealed near vertical stripes running from the north of the peninsula to the south, indicating that at this fine resolution, Spanish people are more genetically similar from north to south as opposed to east to west. Dr Clare Bycroft of Oxford University chats to Adam more about how this fits with what we know about Spanish history.

02.07.2019

Sprinting Neanderthals, Geodynamo, Spreading Sneezes and Dying Hares

Many physical features of Neanderthals might not be for cold climate adaptation as previously thought. They may be for types of locomotion. Which, according to paleo-ecologist, John Stewart at Bournemouth University, makes the long thigh to calf ratios more likely that Neanderthals were adapted to fast, powerful sprints, as part of their hunting and survival. The clues to this lie less in the bones and more in the evidence that Neanderthals lived in wooded areas rather than tundra. Earth’s solid iron inner core, liquid outer core and interactions between the two give us our protective magnetic field and are responsible for the ‘geodynamo’ that drives this, as well as volcanism and Earth’s tectonics. But we don’t yet know when the solid core formed. It’s hard to find paleo-magnetic records from early in Earth’s history. But now a group at Rochester University in New York have discovered magnetic particles from 565 million year old Ediacaran Period rocks in Canada and they say that at the time lots of life was evolving on our planet, the geodynamo was low and wobbly. This leads them to believe the solid core formed two to three times later than previously thought. A typical sneeze will throw out 40,000 tiny droplets loaded with viruses or bacteria, which can hang in the air like a cloud until someone else comes along and inhales some. To a scientist, this suspension is an aerosol, and what goes on inside a tiny droplet can be very different from what happens in a beaker of fluid. But studying those conditions, which can alter whether a germ can survive its aerial journey is hard. Which is why at Bristol University they’ve developed an aerosol trap that can hold droplets mid-air, without contact, with an electric field. Rabbits and hares across Europe have been declining rapidly over the past few decades. There are a number of factors involved (Agricultural intensification, climate change, hunting and a whole host of infectious diseases.) Myxomatosis in rabbits, which has now jumped into hares, is fairly well known by the public, but there are other viral and bacterial diseases that are jumping between the species and the most recent one Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus 2 (RHDV2) is of particular concern right now. Very little is known about this disease in wild populations. It was seen in hares in Europe a few years back, but it’s now just been identified in the UKs native brown hare population. Biologist Diana Bell at the University of East Anglia wants the public to contact her if they see any hares that look like they’ve died from the disease. Producer - Fiona Roberts

01.31.2019

Leonardo's drawings, Super-Mendelian inheritance in mice, The Weddell Sea Expedition

In February The Royal Collection will be holding the largest exhibition of Leonardo da Vinci’s work in more than 65 years to mark the 500th anniversary of his death. Adam Rutherford gets up close and personal with some of Leonardo's drawings in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle. Curator and Leonardo expert, Martin Clayton explains how modern scientific, non-invasive, techniques have revealed some interesting insight into the great artist and scientist's mind and his creative process. The exhibition - Leonardo da Vinci: A Life in Drawing - will start exhibiting at a number of venues nationwide, before coming together, at the Queen's Gallery in Buckingham Palace and The Queen's Gallery Palace of Holyrood House in Edinburgh. In normal Mendelian inheritance, genes are inherited according to a particular pattern. Basically, you have two copies of each gene, but a sperm or egg only has one, and so there is a 50% chance of one of those genes going into one of the sex cells, sperm or egg. However there are ways of massively increasing the chance of one gene making it through to the next generation. We call these ‘gene drives’. By harnessing these naturally occurring systems, there’s been plenty of work on engineering gene drives in such a way that they could, for example eradicate malaria, by driving resistance genes into some insects, which would rapidly spread to the whole population. So far this has been limited to insects, but the genetic engineering technique CRISPR-CAS9 is changing all that. Kimberly Cooper from the University of California in San Diego explains to Adam how she and her team have taken this gene drive concept, and modified it so they can try to control how to push a particular gene into the next generation of mice, in order that it can be used as a tool for modelling diseases that have multiple genetic causes. This new technique could significantly increase the efficiency of making transgenic mice to study genetic diseases. A major international scientific expedition are exploring one of the coldest, harshest and most remote locations in the world, the Weddell Sea, off Antarctica. Using underwater robots, drones and other state-of-the-art technology the Polar scientists are studying the Larsen C iceshelf. The team led by Julian Dowdeswell, director of the Scott Polar Research Institute, are also looking for the wreck of the Endurance, Earnest Shackleton’s ship that was famously stuck in the Antarctic ice in 1915 for 10 months before it was crushed by the ice and sunk, thwarting his attempt at the South Pole. Producer: Fiona Roberts

01.24.2019

Ultima Thule, Dry January, Periodic Table

2019 means the opportunity to explore the most distant object yet encountered in our solar system – the brilliantly named Ultima Thule as Nasa’s New Horizons spacecraft hit the headlines this week when it flew past an object 4 billion miles away, took photos and sent them back to earth. The stunning images confirmed that Ultima Thule looks a bit like a snowman, only several miles in length and orbiting somewhere much colder than any earth winter. Inside Science talked to Dr Carly Howett, a member of the New Horizon’s team and deputy principle investigator of the RALPH instrument, which will send back data on Ultima Thule’s form and structure later this year. And For many of us, January is a time to try a bit better. And millions of us decide to give up alcohol. It’s called Dry January. But what does this alcohol break actually achieve? Has anyone scientifically researched the results of a month off the sauce? Marnie Chesterton spoke to liver specialist and senior lecturer at university college London, Dr Gautam Mehta. And because chemists are celebrating the 150th birthday, or rather birth-year, of the Periodic Table we thought BBC Inside Science should as well. The table is that chart on every science classroom wall. It’s a grid of small boxes, each with a symbol that represents a chemical element. And elements are the fundamental substances that make up everything you can see, and quite a few things that you can’t. We spoke to chemist Dr Eric Scerri at UCLA, who has written a book on the history and significance of the Periodic Table while Roland Pease visited the lab of Professor Andrea Sella, who is making a physical representation of the whole table, if he can find all the elements that is.

01.04.2019

Gene-edited twins, Placenta organoids in a dish, When the last leaves drop

Claims by a Chinese scientist that he has gene-edited human embryos, transplanted them producing genetically edited twins, who will pass on these changes to their offspring, has the scientific community outraged. The work, which was carried out in secret, has not been officially published or peer reviewed, but if the claims are to be taken seriously, this work severely flaunts international ethical guidelines at many levels. BBC Health and Science Correspondent James Gallagher explains the story so far. Little is known about the placenta and how it works, despite it being absolutely essential for supporting the baby as it grows inside the mother. When it doesn’t function properly, it can result in serious problems, from pre-eclampsia to miscarriage, with immediate and lifelong consequences for both mother and child. Our knowledge of this important organ is very limited because of a lack of good experimental models. Animals are too dissimilar to humans to provide a good model of placental development and implantation, and stem cell studies have largely proved unsuccessful. But one group of University Cambridge researchers have now created ‘mini-proto placentas’ – a cellular model, growing long-term, in 3D of the early stages of the placenta – that could provide a ‘window’ into early pregnancy and help transform our understanding of reproductive disorders. The Woodland Trust want you to tell them when you notice a tree, you regularly see, loses all of its leaves. Its part of their long term phonological study, Nature's Calendar . They hope to keep track of the effect of climate change on the timings of annual tree events.

11.29.2018

Mars InSight mission, Detecting dark matter, Redefining the kilogram, Bovine TB

The Government's strategy to eradicate TB in cattle is a contentious topic. The disease is extremely complicated and lots of people have different ideas on how to manage it. Professor of Zoonotic and Emerging Disease at the University of Nottingham, Malcolm Bennett, helps Adam Rutherford understand just how complex the TB bacterium is, how difficult it is to test for infection and why the vaccine BCG does and doesn't work and answers listener's question of why don't we vaccinate cows? Citizen scientists and their smartphones are being recruited to test the supermassive particle theory of dark matter and dark energy. The CREDO (Cosmic-Ray Extremely Distributed Observatory) project utilises smartphone cameras to take 'dark photos' and hopefully capture a particle collision that could be from the cascaded decay of these early universe massive particles or WIMPS. Metrologists from across the world have just voted to update the metric system. With the redefinition of the kilogram, alongside the units for temperature, electrical current and amount of substance. For the first time, we now have a measurement system defined by fundamental constants of the universe and not physical artefacts made by humans. Reporter Henry Bennie travelled with the UK's kilogram to Paris for the vote. NASA's Mars InSight mission lander is expected to touch down on the red planet on Monday. BBC Science Correspondent, Jonathan Amos, explains to Adam just how this stationary science lab will explore Martian geology looking for signs that life could have existed at one time on our neighbour. Producer: Fiona Roberts

11.22.2018

Bovine TB and badger culling, Shrimp hoover CSI, Shark-skin and Turing

The Bovine TB Strategy Review has just been released. It contains a review of the science and offers advice and guidance to Government ministers on how to eradicate this costly and hard to manage disease in cattle. Controversially it does not include the results from the on going badger culling trials in the West of England and it states that the majority of disease transmission is from cow to cow. But it addresses the efficacy of skin TB tests and repeatedly states that the long-term aim is to end culling badgers and moving to vaccination or other non lethal methods to control the disease reservoir in wildlife. Professor Rosie Woodroffe at the Institute of Zoology, who ran the Randomised Badger Culling Trials in 2007, thinks the report is mostly a good thing. She praises the advice to find alternatives to killing British wildlife, but explains to Adam Rutherford that trialling vaccinations for badgers after culling could be problematic. Monitoring the health of estuarine and coastal water ecosystems usually relies on the expensive and time-consuming practice of catching fish to get a view on the health of entire ecosystem. New methods are starting to be used called Environmental DNA sampling, using DNA barcoding techniques. As everything sheds fragments of DNA into the environment, by sampling water or sediment, you can use High Throughput DNA analysis, using special probes to pull out and identify the species you want. It’s a lot quicker and cheaper, but you still have to deal with problems of collection, filtration and contamination. But Professor of Conservation Genetics, Stefano Mariani at the University of Salford, has found an even better way. He's recruited the European brown Shrimp, which eat everything, are found everywhere and can do all the filtering and storing of the DNA for him. All Stefano has to do is catch the shrimp and analyse their stomach contents to get a picture of what is in the environment. PhD student at Sheffield University, Rory Cooper explains to Adam how mathematical patterns that Alan Turing worked on late in his career are found in abundance in the natural world. The genetic mechanisms of switching on cellular processes that lead to feather or hair emergence have now been found in the formation of shark scales. The pattern relies on genes to switch on a function, such as feathering, but diffuse out to surrounding cells and switch the function off, leading to a uniform, spaced out pattern. As shark species split off from other vertebrates around 420 million years ago, it therefore proves that Turing’s pattern is recycled through other vertebrates. Producer: Fiona Roberts

11.15.2018
11.08.2018

Repairing potholes, Ozone hole, Internet of hives, Drugs from fingerprints

Potholes are one of the biggest frustrations to any road-user, but why do they keep occurring? Following Philip Hammond’s announcement of £420 million for councils to tackle potholes, Malcolm Simms, Director of the Mineral Products Association’s Asphalt & Pavement group, explains how potholes form and why they continue to occur. Alvaro Hernandez of Nottingham University chats to Marnie about new solutions he is investigating to improve our roads and reduce the number of potholes. Roland Pease meets John Able and Professor Simon Potts, to discuss the value of ‘big data’ – in this case, for honeybees. Using a ‘buzz box’ to detect conditions inside and out of the beehive, this data can be transmitted to the cloud and used to keep track of beehive health. This is termed the ‘internet of hives’ and provides a huge amount of high quality data to discover the key indicators of beehive health. Back in the 1980s, the world discovered that CFCs were destroying the ozone layer, which protects the earth, and us, from being fried by the sun’s rays. The 1987 Montreal Protocol banned the use of CFCs, and as we stopped emitting them, the ozone layer started to recover. But there are other gases like carbon tetrachloride that destroy the ozone layer and are also restricted. But Dr Matt Rigby, an atmospheric chemist from Bristol University, has been discovering that there are still sources of carbon tetrachloride. Testing for illicit drugs usually needs a blood or urine sample, but now it can be done from a sweaty fingerprint. And not only on a living suspect, but on a corpse. Adam Rutherford speaks to the developer of this smart chemistry , University of East Anglia’s David Russell.

11.01.2018
10.25.2018

Old Dogs and Physics in Space

How far back can we trace the ancestry of dogs? For just how long have they been following us around? The answer is for a very long time - long before humans settled down and developed societies. Scientists in France have been looking at ancient dog DNA to try and work out whether people tamed and domesticated local dogs as they migrated across the planet, or brought dogs with them. The answer tells us much about the relationship - or rather lack of it, between early farmers and the hunter gathers they replaced throughout Europe. And how many Bosons can you fit in a rocket? As they are rather small particles the answer will be quite a lot, but a team from Germany has succeeded in making a form of mater known as the Bose Einstein Condensate in a small rocket which they launched into the Earth’s upper atmosphere. Potentially the success of their experiment could lead to new ways of detecting gravitational waves in space. Back on earth a group of ‘A’ level students have been looking at or rather listening to data from space, and published a scientific paper on their observation of a solar storm. In a unique partnership with university physics researchers, information on electromagnetic waves around our planet has been turned into audible data. The keen ears of the students identified events that had not previously been detected. And how incriminating is your washing machine? Digital forensics, the unpicking of the data trails on our digital devices, from phones to TV tuners, even baby monitors and washing machines are now playing a part in criminal investigations, not just cases involving online fraud or cybercrime, but any investigation looking at what suspects were doing and when. A digital trail can act as evidence for time and place.

10.18.2018

IPCC report, Cairngorms Connect project, grass pea, the Sun exhibition at Science Museum

Adam Rutherford speaks to Dr Tamsin Edwards, a lecturer in Physical Geography at Kings College London and a lead author for the latest IPCC report. Dr Edwards describes what happens in the making of the report, including the summarising of the wealth of scientific literature available into an understandable document for the policy makers. Cairngorms National Park in Scotland is part of an ambitious project to restore the habitat to its former natural state. Four organisations have joined together as the 'Cairngorms Connect’ project – Scottish Natural Heritage, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Wildland Limited and Forest Enterprise Scotland. Graeme Prest of Forest Enterprise Scotland explains how the project team will start to restore the habitat. The grass pea is a resilient and highly nutritious legume but it contains varying level of toxins. Marnie Chesterton visits the John Innes Centre in Norwich to meet the researchers working on making the grass pea less poisonous, which could aid food security, particularly in sub-Saharan. The Sun is technically a G-type main sequence star, which means it’s a giant continuous nuclear fusion reaction plasma, spewing out extremely dangerous matter and energy in every direction, and when it hits the Earth, this can cause all sorts of problems. Adam visits the Science Museum in London to meet Harry Cliff, a physicist and curator of a new exhibition: ‘The Sun: Living With Our Star’, which explores our relationship with the closest star to earth. Adam also finds out from Professor Chris Scott of Reading University about a citizen science project called Protect our Planet from Solar Storms.

10.11.2018

Nobel Prizes - Hayabusa 2 latest - IPCC meeting - North Pole science

Adam Rutherford reviews this year's Nobel science prizes, and talks to Professor Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, a 2009 laureate and president of the Royal Society, about the experience of being tipped as a Nobel winner. This can included a stressful condition known as Pre-Nobelitis and having unidentified Scandinavians turn up in the audiences of your scientific talks. The Japanese space probe Hayabusa 2 dropped an exploratory robot onto the surface of the asteroid Rguyu early on Wednesday morning. The autonomous probe is called MASCOT. With 16 hours of battery life, it landed at one spot on the asteroid's southern hemisphere, took a slew of data and then jumped to another location for more image-taking, temperature and magnetic measurements and chemical analyses of the rocks. MASCOT project manager is Dr Tra-Mi Ho of the German Space Agency. A critical meeting of the International Panel on Climate Change is underway in South Korea. Scientists and government representatives aim to finalise a policy road map to limit global warming to a 1.5 degree C increase by the end of the century. BBC News environment correspondent Matt McGrath is reporting from the meeting and explains why 1.5 degree C and not 2 degrees is the new preferred target for many scientists and nations. But will scientists and policy makers from around the world see eye to eye? Physicist Helen Czerski provides Adam with a final report at the end of her 8 week expedition at the North Pole which aimed to explore the interactions of water, ice, atmosphere and life in shaping Arctic weather and climate. The adventure ended with a crunch and the loss of thousands of pounds worth of scientific kit. Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker

10.04.2018

Hyabusa 2 at Ryugu, deadly 1918 flu pandemic; WW2 bombing and ionosphere, teenage brain

Japan’s Hayabusa-2 spacecraft has arrived after more than a three year journey at the Ryugu asteroid which is just over half a mile long. It has successfully sent probes onto the surface and is sending pictures back to Earth. Gareth Mitchell discusses the achievement with BBC Science Correspondent Jonathan Amos. A hundred years ago, the 1918 flu pandemic killed between 50 and 100 million people worldwide and infected around half a billion. Seasonal flu accounts for about 650,000 deaths per year. As this year’s flu season approaches, there are new insights into how the influenza virus causes disease and why some strains like the 1918 one (a subtype of the avian strain H1N1) are so deadly compared with the seasonal kind. In the most serious cases, there’s an extreme immune reaction in the lungs, and people can effectively suffocate. The latest research from the universities of Cambridge and Oxford has uncovered a molecule that might be behind that immune overreaction. Dr Aartjan te Velthuis explains the findings and the implications for novel treatments. The massive bombing raids on cities in World War Two lead to terrible human tragedy, Now a historian and a physicist have been looking at how shock waves from some of the major bombing over Berlin caused the upper atmosphere above Slough to wobble. Specifically they’re interested in the layer eighty to a thousand kilometres up that reflects radio waves, the ionosphere. Historian Patrick Major and meteorology expert Christopher Scott, both professors at the University of Reading, tell Gareth about their collaboration and how monitoring changes in the ionosphere today can reveal both man made and natural explosive events. And Adam Rutherford talks to Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore of UCL about her book, Inventing Ourselves: the Secret Life of the Teenage Brain, the last on this year's shortlist for the Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize.

09.27.2018
09.20.2018

First human drawing, Cycling genes, Oden Arctic expedition, Hello World

A new discovery of abstract symbolic drawings on a rock has been found in the Blombos Cave, about 300 km east of Cape Town in South Africa. The fragment - which some say looks a bit like a hashtag - puts the date of the earliest drawing at 73,000 years ago. As archaeologist Chris Henshilwood tells Adam Rutherford, the discovery is a "a prime indicator of modern cognition" in our species. Nearly half the human genome contains genes that regulate what your organs should be doing at a specific time of day, This has enormous potential importance to the efficacy of drugs - what time of day you take them could be a real issue. John Hogenesch from Cincinnatti Children's Hospital has been studying the genes that cycle with our daily lives. His new database of cyclic genes could help plan the best timing for a host of therapeutic interventions Physicist Helen Czerski has been in the Arctic for the last five weeks, aboard the Swedish research vessel and ice breaker Oden. As the expedition comes to a close we hear about the team's attempts to elucidate the driving forces behind the unusual weather patterns around the North Pole. Inside Science has been profiling authors shortlisted for the prestigious Royal Society science book prize. This week it's mathematician Hannah Fry's new book, Hello World: How to be human in the Age of Machines. You can hear extracts from it on Book of the Week on Radio 4 all this week too. Producer Adrian Washbourne.

09.13.2018

Complexity in Biology

Adam Rutherford takes the show to Dublin this week, to wrestle with great matters of biological complexity. Trinity College Dublin has organised a mass gathering of some of the world's leading researchers in the life sciences to mark the 75th anniversary of one of the most influential series of lectures in the 20th century. The talks were delivered by the celebrated physicist Erwin Schrodinger in 1943 who applied his mind to a fundamental biological question: what is life? Some of his ideas were an influence on Francis Crick as he worked on the structure of DNA. Seventy five years on, Adam is joined by four of the many scientists delivering their own lectures this week. They tackle subjects of complexity in biology, ranging from the origin of complex life, the increasingly messy structure of life's evolutionary tree, the functioning of the human brain as a network of many component parts, and the place of neuroscience discoveries in the building of artificial intelligences. The guests are: Nick Lane, evolutionary biochemist at University College London, Beth Shapiro, evolutionary geneticist of the University of California Santa Cruz, Danielle Bassett, physicist and neuroscientist at the University of Pennsylvannia, Murray Shanahan, artificial intelligence researcher at Imperial College London and Google's DeepMind The podcast version ends with a question and answer session with the show's audience who include a surprise celebrity guest. Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker.

09.06.2018

Electronic brain probe; Rural stream biodiversity; Arctic weather research trip; Science book prize

Scientists have shown how an electronic gadget, implanted in the brain, can detect, treat and even prevent epileptic seizures. Epilepsy is usually treated using anti-epilepsy drugs, but can cause serious side-effects. Researchers at the University of Cambridge, are aiming to create something more specific to the part of the brain with the problem. Professor Malliaras tells Marnie Chesterton about the unique properties of this new implant, which could be used for a range of brain-related conditions from Parkinson’s tremors to brain tumours. Many of Britain’s cleaner urban rivers are home to levels of biodiversity not seen for decades. But rural rivers, even in places without pollution, tell a different story. Up in the hills of central Wales, just north of the Brecon Beacons, lies the Llyn Brianne observatory and its surrounding system of beautiful streams. Professor Steve Ormerod from Cardiff University has been taking stock of the dwindling number of specialist invertebrates and the subtle ways the decline is happening which points to an extinction crisis that has gone unnoticed. Marnie Chesterton checks in with bubble physicist Dr Helen Czerski. She’s part of a team of researchers aboard the icebreaker Oden research vessel, which is trying to understand arctic weather patterns and how the contents of open water between ice flows influence cloud behaviour. It’s a race against time to gather data before any water refreezes as the arctic winter approaches. Inside Science has been profiling authors shortlisted for the prestigious Royal Society science book prize. This week it’s the turn of materials scientist Mark Miadownik, His new book “Liquid: The delightful and dangerous substances that flow through our lives” is about fluids and how their particular properties allow life to flourish. Presenter Marnie Chesterton Producer: Adrian Washbourne

08.30.2018

Cavendish banana survival; Guillemot egg shape; Unexpected Truth About Animals; Tambora's rainstorm

The last banana you probably ate was a type called Cavendish. But this, our last commercially viable variety is under severe threat, as the fungus, called Tropical Race 4, is laying waste to swathes of Cavendish banana plants across China, Asia and Australia. Recently, scientists & horticulturalists gathered in Istanbul to discuss the best ways to fight the threat. Professor James Dale from the Institute of Future Environments at the University of Queensland has been conducting successful field trials in previously infected areas with impressive results. Could gene editing provide the solution? The extraordinary shape of the guillemot egg is one of ornithology’s great mysteries. This seabird lays something twice the size of a hen’s egg, which looks a bit like an obelisk, blue, speckled and weirdly elongated at one end, with almost flat sides. There have been a handful of theories to explain why it’s evolved. Professor of behaviour and evolution Tim Birkhead, at the University of Sheffield shows in his new research that the answer lies in allowing the birds to successfully breed on the steep slopes of cliff ledges. Marnie Chesterton meets the next in Inside Science’s series of writers shortlisted for the very prestigious Royal Society’s Book Prize : Lucy Cooke, zoologist, author and broadcaster discusses The Unexpected Truth About Animals which flies the flag for some of the lessons learnt from mistakes made in understanding animal behaviour. Could the Tambora volcanic eruption in April 1815 be responsible for Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo? A rain-soaked battlefield in June 1815, stopped Napoleon deploying his military might although many have questioned how a volcano could have such an effect on the weather so soon. How was it to blame for a Belgian rainstorm just several weeks after the end of the eruption? Dr Matt Genge from Imperial College, in a new paper out this week, says the answer lies in the phenomenon known as electrostatic levitation. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Adrian Washbourne

08.23.2018

Capturing greenhouse gas, Beating heart failure with beetroot, Why elephants don't get cancer, Exactly - a history of precision

Researchers have found a way to produce a naturally occurring mineral, magnesite, in a lab, that can absorb CO2 from the atmosphere, offering a potential strategy for tackling climate change. They've accelerated a process that normally takes thousands of years to a matter of days, using panels made from tiny balls of polystyrene. Gareth Mitchell meets Ian Power of Trent University in Ontario who led the research. Could this be a viable technology for tackling global warming and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere? What if something as natural as beetroot - or specifically defined doses of beetroot juice - could help alleviate cardiovascular disease and improve the pumping function of failing hearts? That's the idea behind a major trial underway at the Barts Heart Hospital and Queen Mary University in London. Amrita Ahluwalia, co-Director of the William Harvey Research Institute and Christopher Primus a specialist in heart failure, are interrogating the natural nitrates in foods like beetroot and how they could be beneficial to our cardiovascular system. Cells in our bodies can go wrong and end up proliferating into cancers. Intuition might say the bigger something is, the more cells it has and thus, greater is its risk of developing cancer. But elephants have somehow re-awakened a gene that kills cells that could be cancerous before they have time to cause any damage. Vincent Lynch of the University of Chicago has been looking at the genetics that keeps these giants virtually, immune which could hold clues for tackling cancers in humans. And we hear from Simon Winchester, the next in our series of interviews with the shortlisted authors for this year's Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize. Exactly, is an intriguing history of precision, the search for ever greater engineering accuracy and how it changed the world. Presenter: Gareth Mitchell Producer: Adrian Washbourne.

08.16.2018

New Horizons' next mission, Helium at 150, The Beautiful Cure, Oden arctic expedition

Astronomers this week have been warming up for an encounter as far from the Sun as ever attempted. It's the finale of the New Horizons mission which successfully passed Pluto in 2015 and is now on its way to Ultima Thule - a Kuiper belt object on the edge of the solar system. Marc Buie is just back from Senegal where he and a team of fellow astronomers have been observing this ancient rock to get a final look at its size and shape, before the momentous flyby on Jan 1st 2019. He explains why the encounter will be so valuable in unlocking key secrets in the formation of our solar system. It's the 150th birthday of the discovery of helium, which, after hydrogen is the second most abundant element in the universe. It's surprisingly rare on Earth, but it makes up much of the content of the gas giants in our local neighbourhood, Jupiter and Saturn. Adam Rutherford hears from particle physicist and Science Museum curator Harry Cliff on how it was first discovered through a telescope rather than in a lab, and Jessica Spake of Exeter University who after an 18-year search has used similar techniques to discover helium around an exoplanet 200 light-years away. We hear from scientist and author Dan Davis from the University of Manchester, the next in our preview of authors shortlisted for this year's Royal Society book prize. The Beautiful Cure, is the rollicking story of how the intricate immune system came to be understood. And there's an update from physicist Helen Czerski. She's part of a 40-strong team of field scientists on board the Oden, a Swedish ice breaker and research ship. They're set to find a suitable iceberg, and moor to get to grips with the factors that guide the arctic weather patterns. Producer: Adrian Washbourne.

08.09.2018

Parker solar probe, Diversity in the lab, Royal Society book prize, Arctic circle weather

The sun still has many mysterious properties. The Parker Solar Probe, launched next week will be the closest a spacecraft has ever flown to our star. It's a mission that's been on the drawing board for decades which space scientists have only dreamt of. It will fly into the mysterious solar corona, where so much of the action at 3 million degrees centigrade takes place. Nicola Fox from Johns Hopkins University is the Parker Probe Project Scientist. Adam Rutherford speaks to her from Cape Canaveral, where they are making the final adjustments for the most ambitious journey ever, to the Sun. We meet two scientists who are making a real difference in promoting diversity and equality in the lab. Physicist Jess Wade has been chipping away at this issue, most recently in a heroic project to write up a Wikipedia entry for a scientist who is also a woman every day for the last 270 days and counting. Emma Chapman is an astrophysicist, and last month won the prestigious Royal Society Athena Prize for her work in driving policy changes about sexual harassment at universities. Today the shortlist of the most prestigious of the literary prizes for the sciences was announced - the Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize. This is the 31st prize, and previous winners are a who's who in truly great science writing. Frances Ashcroft, Professor of Physiology at Oxford is the chair of the judges and discusses the books they have selected. Physicist Helen Czerski and 40 colleagues are now aboard the Oden, a Swedish icebreaker and scientific research vessel that set sail earlier this week. They are en route to spend a month anchored to arctic sea ice to elucidate the mysterious behaviour of arctic weather. Before she set off she gave Adam Rutherford a preview of the research trip. Producer Adrian Washbourne.

08.02.2018

Liquid water on Mars, Early embryo development, Earth Biogenome Project, Marine wilderness

The European Space Agency's satellite Mars Express has identified what we think is a subterranean lake of liquid near the south pole of the red planet. The question of water on Mars has been around for years, and we've known about water ice, and there's been the possibility of seasonal flowing water on Mars for a while. But if this result is right, this is the first case of a substantial stable body of liquid water on Mars. Adam Rutherford talks to Roberto Orosei of the Radio Astronomy Institute in Bologna whose team made the discovery. Where should scientists be directing their efforts next in the light of this new finding? We hear from NASA's Chief Scientist Jim Green. We've been growing embryonic cells in petri dishes for a few years now, to try to fill in the gaps in our understanding of early development, but the tissue that grows never really resembles an actual embryo. Magdalena Zernicka Goetz is a developmental biologist from Cambridge University and in a paper out this week has leapt over this hurdle in developmental biology using three types of stem cell, which - unlike previous efforts - push a ball of cells to becoming an embryo, which could help us understand why pregnancy can fail. The Earth Biogenome Project aims to sequence the DNA of all the planet's eukaryotes, some 1.5 million known species including all known plants, animals and single-celled organisms. The project will take 10 years to complete and cost an estimated $4.7 billion. Harris Lewin from UC Davis is spearheading this scheme. How will he meet his ambition to curate all the DNA of life on Earth? For the first time, scientists have assessed how much of the seas are untouched by the impact of human activity. They're referred to as Marine Wilderness, and qualify as such by being relatively untouched by things like fishing, pollution or agricultural run-off. According to the survey, published today, only 13% of the world's oceans remain as wilderness. James Watson from the University of Queensland discusss the action that needs to be taken if these precious ecological areas are to survive. Producer : Adrian Washbourne.

07.26.2018

Peatbog wildfires, Coral acoustics, Magdalena Skipper, Fuelling long-term space travel

The wildfires on Saddleworth Moor may well be the most widespread in modern British history. Thanks to herculean efforts by Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service and the military, they are now extinguished, though the peat continues to smoulder. Now the longer term ecological impact is being assessed. Adam Rutherford talks to geochemist Chris Evans from the Centre for Hydrology and Ecology about what's been unleashed into the environment from the burning of the peat and lessons we've learnt in maintaining peatlands. Coral reefs are noisy places filled with the clicks, pops, chirps and chattering of numerous fish and crustaceans. But a new study conducted on Australia's Great Barrier Reef shows that this noise has been quietened in areas damaged by bleaching and cyclones. Marine biologist Tim Gordon of Exeter University has examined how the changing coral acoustics are impacting on fish communities and whether a "choral orchestra" could help reduce the decline in local reef systems. Adam Rutherford meets Magdalena Skipper, the new Editor-in-Chief of the journal Nature. It's a longstanding publication, founded in 1869 and is the cornerstone of scientific endeavour. But how will Nature evolve as the demands on research change and scientific publishing continues to undergo a revolution in the digital age? In order to go very far in space, future astronauts will need some means of creating their own air and fuel. Katharina Brinkert at California Institute of Technology has succeeded in harvesting hydrogen from water in microgravity - overcoming a huge hurdle in the weightlessness of space, that may one day lead to a way to acquire fuel during a long-distance, crewed space mission. Producer: Adrian Washbourne.

07.19.2018

Out of Africa, Predicting future heatwaves, Virtual reality molecules, Life in the dark

Scientists have found the earliest known evidence of a human presence outside Africa. A set of 96 stone tools has been found in the mountains of south-east China, which is the furthest afield this type of tool has been located. The scientists who found them have put the date of these tools at 2.1 million years old, which is at least 300,000 years earlier than the current evidence for early human presence outside of Africa. John Kappelman, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Texas, discusses how we're now moving beyond a Eurocentric view of human evolution in Eurasia. Much of northern Europe has been experiencing a heatwave - notable for its intensity and duration. It's caused by "atmosphere blocking". Can we predict when these blocks will come and how long they will last? Adam Rutherford talks to Jana Sillmann, director of the Centre for International Climate Research in Oslo, Norway, author of a new study that has modelled 40 years' worth of heatwaves and blocking, and looked to the end of the century in attempting to predict blocking patterns as the climate changes. How can researchers get to grips with the shape of molecules in the digital world? Chemists have for years used ball and stick representations of the shapes their molecules come in. But when they publish, they have to flatten it all down onto a 2D a piece of paper losing crucial information. Bristol University's David Glowacki has put the power of virtual reality into the hands of the molecular magicians. Inside Science's Roland Pease went to his virtual lab, to see atoms dance in a molecular space odyssey. Given that half the world is in the dark half of the time, and the depths of the oceans are perpetually hidden from sunlight, there's lot of darkness to explore. For those of us drawn to the shadows, a new exhibition at the Natural History Museum in London does exactly that. Geoff Boxhall, professor of invertebrate biology, gives Adam Rutherford a tour of Life in the Dark. Producer Adrian Washbourne.

07.12.2018

Northern white rhino preservation, Deep sea earthquake detection, Twitter's rare Heuchera discovery, Human roars

The northern white rhinoceros is the world's most endangered mammal. The death earlier this year of the last male of this rhino subspecies leaves just two females as its only living members. New research out this week has adopted new techniques in reproductive medicine as a last ditch attempt to preserve these animals. Thomas Hildebrandt from Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research and Terri Roth, Director of Conservation Research at Cincinnati Zoo, discuss the ambition, and how realistic this approach is in future animal conservation. Earthquakes are scientifically measured with seismometers, but few are present on the sea floor, where earthquakes that can cause tsunamis originate. But could communication cables traversing the oceans fill in the gaps? Giuseppi Marra from the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington, discusses his accidental discovery that fibre-optic cables might be registering the earth's vibrations. For the first time in the annals of science, a tweet was the key reference in a paper reporting on a discovery that a rare wild variety of the gardener's favourite - Heuchera, thought to be limited to a few rocky outcrops in Virginia - is actually abundantly present 100km away. It's all come about because of a picture shared on Twitter. Reporter Roland Pease retraces the tale of the tweets with the key players. Can the size of a roar be used to accurately determine physical strength?' Or can a roar deceive, and make you sound tougher than you actually are? That's what Jordan Raine from the University of Sussex decided to find out, not with lions or tigers or bears but in us. Producer Adrian Washbourne.

07.05.2018

Hyabusa mission; ProtoDUNE neutrino detector; Caledonian crow skills; Koala microbiome

Yesterday a small Japanese ion-thruster spaceship arrived at its destination after a three year and half year, 2 billion mile journey. Hyabusa2 is currently floating alongside the asteroid known as 162173 Ryugu. BBC Science Correspondent Jonathan Amos dissects the aims of this audacious sample-return mission and the initial images that have just arrived back on earth. There's a plethora of neutrinos flowing through your body right now. Adam Rutherford goes inside 'protoDune', the world's latest and largest neutrino detector whose prototype is about to be filled with over 700 tonnes of liquid argon and hopefully pick up a few signals generated by interactions from these elusive particles. We hear from project leader Christos Touramanis who is a particle physicist from Liverpool University. Caledonian crows craft tools with greater sophistication than most animals, and can learn to modify their tools to make them gradually more effective. This "cultural accumulation" is commonplace amongst humans - where we pass on information socially. But it's extremely rare in other animals to see them passing on knowledge in this way. Sarah Jelbert from Cambridge University discusses her new evidence that suggests crows manage to transmit their tool designing skills from one bird to another in this sophisticated way Our gut bacteria are emerging as key determinants of our health and the microbiome may even influence our behaviour. The interaction between ubiquitous bacteria and the food wild animals eat is beginning to be studied all over the world. Could manipulating the microbiome prove a new tool for conservation in animals whose food supply is under threat? Ecologist Ben Moore from Western Sydney University has been studying the eating habits of koalas and whether faecal transplants could alter the eating habits of this highly fussy herbivore. Producer Adrian Washbourne.

06.28.2018

The Large Hadron Collider Upgrade, Voltaglue, Cambridge Zoology Museum, Francis Willughby

It's been 8 years since the Large Hadron Collider went online and started smashing protons together at just below the speed of light. CERN announced this week that they're ready for a massive upgrade, and on Friday last week, there was a ceremony to break ground on what is being called the High luminosity LHC. Particle physicist Jon Butterworth from UCL discusses the next generation of particle accelerators that are undergoing early trials and what the newly announced upgrade means for particle physics. Medical surgeons routinely stitch or pin organs and blood vessels with needle and thread and secure medical devices like pacemakers with hooks. But what if you could just use glue? Material scientist Terry Steele from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore has devised Voltaglue, a flexible adhesive that works in wet environments by putting an electric current across an inert substance. He explains how this new kind of chemistry could revolutionise many medical procedures. This weekend Sir David Attenborough will reopen The Museum of Zoology at Cambridge University. It's undergone a five-year redevelopment, showcasing thousands of incredible specimens from across the animal kingdom, and exploring stories of conservation, extinction, survival, evolution and discovery. Adam Rutherford visits the new displays under the watchful eye of conservator Natalie Jones and zoologist and museum manager Jack Ashby. And Professor Tim Birkhead of the University of Sheffield discusses The Wonderful Mr Willughby - his fascinating new account of 17th century ornithologist Francis Willughby who together with the celebrated naturalist John Ray pioneered the way we think about birds in science. Producer Adrian Washbourne.

06.21.2018

Antarctic melt speeds up, Antarctica's future, Cryo-acoustics, Narwhals

Adam Rutherford goes totally polar this week with news of accelerating ice melt in Antarctica, two visions of the continent's future, and the sounds of collapsing icebergs and the songs of narwhals. Two hundred billion tonnes of Antarctic ice are now being lost to the ocean every year, pushing up global sea level by 0.6 millimetres a year. This is a three fold increase since 2012. This finding comes from IMBIE, the Ice Sheet Mass Balance Intercomparison Exercise. Leeds glaciologist Andy Shepherd and Durham earth scientist Pippa Whitehouse tell Adam how the project made this startling finding and what it may mean for global sea level rise in the future. Glaciologist Martin Siegert of Imperial College London has co-authored an unusual Antarctic paper in the journal Nature this week, with other leading south polar researchers. It is a history of the frozen continent, looking back from the year 2070 and charts two different courses that we could be on today. Satellites above the Antarctic and Arctic can only tell us so much about the melting and collapse of the ice sheets. Oskar Glowacki of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography is exploring what extra insights might come from recording the underwater sounds that ice sheets make when they collapse and melt in Arctic seas. The narwhal, sometimes known as the unicorn of the sea, is one of the world's most elusive and poorly studied cetaceans, primarily because it spends much of its life underwater and under ice in the Arctic. Marine biologist Susanna Blackwell led a team which used sound recorders and satellite tags attached to several narwhals in Eastern Greenland, to follow their lives continuously for an unprecedented length of time. Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker.

06.18.2018
06.14.2018
05.31.2018
05.24.2018

Face Recognition, ‘Thug’ plants, Cancer Funding Inequalities, Feynman’s 100th birthday

Facial recognition technology is on the rise and in some places used to fight crime. In the UK the police have been heavily criticised for falsely identifying people using the technology. But are their results really that bad? Professor Hassan Ugail tells Adam Rutherford that – though there is room for improvement – the results may not be as catastrophic as critics claim. Wild flowers are being outcompeted by ‘thug’ plants on our roadside verges, a study by the charity Plantlife has found. Pollution from cars and poor management practices by local councils has meant that nitrogen-loving plants outcompete wildflowers. Dr Trevor Dines explains to Adam Rutherford what actions can be taken to help our verges regain their natural biodiversity. A new study reveals that for every pound a female scientist receives for her cancer research a male scientist will get one pound and forty pence. This gender imbalance in cancer funding highlights wider issues around women in science and how funding councils operate. Adam Rutherford discusses the problem with chief scientist at Cancer Research UK, Karen Vousden, and Professor Henrietta O’Connor, who co-authored the study. This week Adam Rutherford marks the birthday of one of the greatest of all physicists: Richard Feynman. Professor Jonathan Butterworth talks about Feynman’s legacy as a scientist and science communicator but also about his highly problematic views on women.

05.17.2018
05.10.2018
05.03.2018
04.26.2018
04.19.2018
04.12.2018
04.05.2018

Genes and education, John Goodenough, Caring bears and hunting

A widely reported study published last week suggests that on average children at selective schools have more gene variants associated with higher educational attainment than children at non-selective schools. It also suggests that selective schools achieve better GCSE exam results because their selection procedures favour children with those genetic variants, and not because of the teaching and facilities at private and grammar schools. Adam Rutherford talks to the senior researcher Robert Plomin of the Institute of Psychiatry in London, and Ewan Birney, director of the European Bioinformatics Institute near Cambridge. John Goodenough invented the lithium ion battery, the power pack that makes our smart phones, tablets and laptops possible. At the age of 95, in his lab at the University of Texas, he's now working with colleagues such as Portuguese physicist Helena Braga on an even better next generation battery technology: one that could transform the prospects for electric vehicles and renewable energy storage. Roland Pease meets the jovial battery pioneer and his team. Hunting regulations in Sweden are having a profound effect on the behaviour of brown bears in the country. Since the 1980s, hunters are not allowed to shoot female bears with cubs. Historically, mother bears stayed with their cubs for 1.5 years but as hunting rates increased, mothers began to keep their offspring with them for an additional year. Now more than a third of mothers look after their cubs for 2.5 years. According to Andreas Zebrosser of the University of Southeastern Norway and Joanie van der Walle of the Universitie de Sherbrooke, hunting appears to be acting as a powerful evolutionary force on the species' reproductive behaviour.

03.29.2018

Data Scraping

The story of how Cambridge Analytica had scraped Facebook data in its attempt to influence voting behaviour has been reported widely this week. Andrew Steele, a medical researcher at the Crick Institute in London, explains how data mining or scraping actually works and how it is used by many scientists to find ways of improving human health. The Government Office for Science published a massive report this week, entitled the 'Future of the Sea' which sets out the UK's stall with regard to our future relationship with the seas, and to put science front and centre in that plan. Professor Ed Hill, Executive Director at the National Oceanographic Centre in Southampton, is one of the authors and tells Adam Rutherford about future exploitation of the sea. Debris in space is a huge issue - it's estimated that there are more than 170 million fragments of satellites, rockets and other stuff that we've sent up, all orbiting the Earth at ballistic speeds. All of these have the potential to lethally strike a working satellite or worse, a crewed space station. Graihagh Jackson met Professor Guglielmo Aglietti at Surrey University who's researching the best technology to safely remove space junk. Dinosaurs were incredibly successful and lived on earth for over 150 million years. Francois Therrien from the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Alberta, Canada, and colleagues explored how living crocodiles and birds, the descendants of dinosaurs, rear their eggs. Dr Therrien told Adam how their findings have suggested that dinosaurs used a variety of ways to hatch their eggs in the many environments on earth.

03.22.2018
03.15.2018
03.08.2018

Weird Weather?

With many parts of the country seeing large snowfalls we ask what's driving our current weather? What factors need to be in place to create snowfalls, and how do these differ from sleet or frozen rain? And we address the impact of climate change, while a series of weather events might show a pattern, at what point should we go looking for explanations beyond natural events? Dutch Elm Disease laid waste to millions of British Elm trees back in the 1970's, Now a new tree bacteria which mimics the effects of drought has spread from the Americas to Europe. It has already been detected in some tree imports to the UK. Unlike Dutch Elm Disease it affects a huge variety of trees and shrubs, from mighty oaks to fruit trees and Lavender bushes. New directives have just been introduced to try and halt its spread. Can we beat dementia? Research from the US amongst people in their 80's and 90's provides grounds for optimism, showing that elderly people with good memories have brain structures which can be more developed than those of people 30 years younger. And yet at the same time they may carry factors usually associated with dementia. And how violent are we? Compared with our past that is. Research from collections of gruesome medieval remains paint a picture of a violent society, where men and women commonly carried weapons and inflicting or receiving severe wounds may have been a part of daily life. And yet other studies suggest this level of violence is actually lower than that experienced in some societies today. Marnie Chesterton presents.

03.01.2018
02.22.2018

Shipping air pollution; Cheddar Man; Millirobots in the body;Dog brain training

Sulphur belched out of vessels' smokestacks is a serious health problem for coastal communities around the world. Four hundred thousand premature deaths from lung cancer and cardiovascular disease and around 14 million childhood asthma cases annually are reckoned to be related to shipping emissions. The International Maritime Organisation has finally agreed to drastically reduce polluting emissions from 2020. Gareth Mitchell discusses with James Corbett of the University of Delaware the impact of the emissions reduction on health. The nearly complete skeleton of Cheddar Man was found in a cave in Somerset in 1903. He'e been in the news because experts in human face reconstruction have created an image of what he probably looked like based on new DNA evidence. Chris Stringer, Ian Barnes and Selina Brace of the Natural History Museum have all worked with Cheddar Man and they talk to Gareth about how the study of this 10 000 year old skeleton is part of a bigger project to understand how Britain became populated with waves of peoples from Europe in the Mesolithic and Neolithic eras. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems have invented a magnetically controlled soft robot only four millimetres in size that can walk, crawl or roll through uneven terrain, carry cargo, climb onto the water surface, and even swim in it. Professor Metin Sitti, Director of the Physical Intelligence Department at the Max Planck Institute, explains how it works and how he sees the future use of millirobots in medicine - in delivering drugs and targeting cancerous cells. Marnie Chesterton talks to Dr Lisa Wallis from ELTE University in Hungary about her work to improve the cognitive abilities of older dogs... using touchscreens.

02.15.2018
02.08.2018

Scientists on Trial

In 2016 there was an attempted coup in Turkey. This led to many people who the government saw as opposition figures being sacked from their jobs and in some cases held without trial. They include prominent intellectuals, medics and scientists. In recent days there has been a similar crackdown on people voicing criticism of Turkey's current military actions in Syria. Stephen Reichter, Professor of Psychology at St Andrews University has been to Turkey to observe the trial of one of his former colleagues. He tells us what he saw and discusses the wider issues for science. It's the 60 years since the launch of Explorer 1 and the discovery of the Van Allen Belts. This was the satellite the US launched in response to Sputnik. However unlike Sputnik it did undertake scientific exploration, its findings have been significant for every space mission that followed. Using DNA sequencing scientists have found that the 'Two Brothers' mummies at the Manchester Museum have different fathers so are, in fact, half-brothers. Khnum-nakht and Nakht-ankh - date to around 1800 BC. Ever since their discovery in 1907 there has been some debate amongst Egyptologists on whether the two were actually related at all. DNA was extracted from their teeth to solve the mystery. And the science of the Archers, a current storyline involves leaks of industrial chemicals illegally buried on a farm many years ago. We'll be looking behind the scenes to see where the story came from and how the world's longest running soap opera ensures scientific accuracy. This week's programme is presented by Gareth Mitchell as Adam is away.

02.01.2018

Did typhoid kill the Aztecs, DNA stored in Bitcoin, Glow-in-the-dark plants and levitating humans

What killed the Aztecs? In some areas of the Americas, as many as 95% of the indigenous population died of diseases brought in by the discoverers of the New World. Pandemics hit the population who had little immunity to diseases carried by people and livestock. One outbreak responsible for killing millions started in 1545 and was locally called 'cocoliztli'. But for the last 500 years, exactly what this deadly disease was has remained a mystery. Adam talks to Johannes Krause of the Max Planck Institute who has analysed the teeth of 10 individuals from a mass grave for pathogens and found remnants of typhoid fever DNA. Could this be, in part, responsible for the deaths of millions? Historian Caroline Dodds Pennock from the University of Sheffield discusses the difficulties of knowing for definite what killed so many millions of people. In 2015, Nick Goldman issued a challenge. If anyone could decode the information he had stored on some DNA by 21st January 2018, they could win a bitcoin. When Nick bought the bitcoin it cost about £200. To claim the bitcoin, the winner would have to sequence the DNA and then decrypt a code. In late 2017, Nick thought he would be keeping his bitcoin, now worth thousands of pounds. But PhD student Sander Wuyts got in touch with Nick to claim his prize. Marnie Chesterton follows the story. Adam talks to MIT scientist, Michael Strano about his new techniques to make plants glow in the dark. Could these plants be used as street lighting in the future? And how can sound be used to levitate humans? Professor of Ultrasonics at the University of Bristol, Bruce Drinkwater explains how his team have managed to overcome a size limit on the use of acoustic beams to trap and move objects in space. With no theoretical upper limit on the size of object which can be levitated, he explains how the technology could be used in medicine to deliver powerful drugs to a very specific place. This would leave the rest of the body unharmed or could help in the dispersal of kidney stones.

01.25.2018
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