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Science in Action



The latest science research and news stories from all over the world.
85 Episodes Play All Episodes
access_time6 days ago
Is 2018 the warmest year on record? We look at the evidence behind that claim. What part do the global oceans play in regulating the planets temperatures and what are the prospects for future extreme weather.

We look at how climate change is ocean systems affecting storms and ocean waves, and the implications this could have for those of us living in coastal regions.

And wild coffee species are facing extinction. This could affect commercial production of the coffee we drink. However rediscovering the coffee of the past might offer a solution.

(Photo: Getty images)
access_time13 days ago
As federal employees many US scientists have been affected by the US government shutdown. They are not being paid, can’t talk about their work or go to scientific conferences.
We look at how this US political stand-off is affecting scientific research. One of the casualties is the Hubble space telescope, in need of repairs, which cannot start until its federal employed engineers can get back to work.

Meanwhile, in Antarctica a US led team have extracted microbes, water and rock samples from a subglacial lake covered with kilometre thick ice. Their live samples may have evolved in the depths and dark of the lake, hidden from view for thousands of years.

And just how are we to feed the world in the future? One team of scientists have successfully increased the yield of their experimental plants by 40 percent. They are hoping to repeat the technique with food crops.
This comes at the same time as an investigation into China’s future food needs. While demand is going to increase, researchers offer an optimistic view, more efficient farming methods might mean China could be self-sufficient in food in years to come - and even use less land to grow it on than they do currently.

(Photo: Hubble Space Telescope, Credit: NASA)

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Julian Siddle
access_time20 days ago
It’s been years in the planning and involved a tiny window of opportunity. NASA’s New Horizons mission launched in 2006 has reached its far flung destination, a couple of outer space snowballs known as Ultima Thule. The mission aims to shed light on the formation of our solar system.

And just days later an unmanned Chinese mission has landed on the moon, on the far side, they’ll be examining rocks and also seeing if simple plants and animals survive in a biosphere there.

We also look at the Indonesian Anak Krakatau volcano, which has erupted recently. Just why did it collapse into the sea creating a tsunami, and why is it so difficult to predict the impact of volcanic eruptions?

And we celebrate the periodic table,150 years old this year, this chart of chemical elements found on the walls of classrooms around the world still has much to reveal.

Picture: The first high-definition picture of Ultima Thule, Credit: NASA

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Julian Siddle
access_time27 days ago
The Parker Solar Probe has flown nearer to the sun than any other mission. The probe is now sending back data on the behaviour of electromagnetic waves emitted from the coronal mass. Fluctuations in these waves can lead to solar flares ,which in turn can have a huge impact on earth, including the potential to knock out global communications.

The Japanese space agency’s Hayabusa mission successfully landed two robots on an asteroid 4 years away from earth. Next year the mission will return to mine rock samples from beneath the asteroids surface by shooting a ‘space cannon’ to blast samples from within the asteroid.

NASA has a similar mission planned again to collect rocks from an asteroid, their method is to use kind of ‘space hoover’ to suck up samples.

Picture: The surface of the sun, Credit: NASA

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Julian Siddle
access_time1 month ago
The ‘Humungous Fungus’ is older and bigger than previously thought. This enormous honey fungus has been revisited and reanalysed using scientific techniques that had yet to be invented when it was first discovered in the 1980s.
Genomic analysis and GPS show how far the fungus has spread, and surprisingly how little genetic variance it has developed in its long lifespan. The fungus is now thought to be at least 2,500 years old.
Researchers say understanding why it lacks genetic mutation might be useful in understanding cancer.

And we visit a really ‘Far out’ object. Thought to be a remnant of planet formation and now in the far reaches of our solar system, this object has been appropriately named ‘Far out’.

Looking further back we have the latest from the ALMA space telescope and its images of the birth of planets.

And not quite as far back, we hear recently discovered 50 year old tapes which detail the key moment when the US overtook the Soviet Union in the space race.

Picture: Armillaria Gallica
Credit: Getty Images

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Julian Siddle
access_time1 month ago
Investigations beneath our deep oceans have revealed an immense variety of incredibly hardy microbial life. Investigators even found life after drilling 2.5 km into the rock beneath the oceans. They found microbes that can resist immense pressure and incredible temperatures. They say it’s plausible that life itself could have developed under such conditions.

Comparisons between central and southern Africans, the latter with lighter skins, show that Eurasian genes with an impact on skin colour were introduced into the Southern African population as recently as 2000 years ago. Researchers say the connection is not a direct one, and such genes probably arrived in Africa via the Middle East many years earlier.

Working on ways to improve rice, scientists have used a gene editing technique to encourage asexual reproduction. The idea is to ensure beneficial traits such as drought resistance and high yields are passed down through generations of seeds. This research is a proof of principle, but with the potential to change the nature of the world’s cereal crops.

And how do we assess ancient levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide to compare with today? One method is to look at plant fossils, in particular the size and shape of leaf pores used to exchange gasses.

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Julian Siddle

(Picture: Hydrothermal vents, computer artwork. These type of vents are found on the seabed at faults in the tectonic plates that form the Earth's crust. Credit: Science Photo Library - SPL)
access_time2 months ago
The latest climate talks have heard that emissions this year and last have increased - they fell in the 3 years previously.
Development of electric vehicles and energy generation with renewable technologies have helped reduce emissions, but it’s not enough according to the latest analysis. The growth of conventional energy generation using fossil fuels has dwarfed reduction from using cleaner technologies.

Ammonia pollution is a serious issue for health globally. New satellite observations are able to pinpoint sources from factories to chicken farms worldwide.

Changes in laws in the Amazon designed to make the conservation of forests in private hands easier could have the opposite effect. In a strange statistical quirk, if a state is successful in its conservation efforts more private forestry could be made available for development.

And the maths of Democracy, can analytical systems developed to help understand stem cell growth or the behaviour of social insects be used to help understand the function and dysfunction of political systems?
Researchers suggest such analysis could even be used to predict a change in political direction, in the run up to elections for example.

(Picture: Wind turbine, Credit: Getty images)

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Julian Siddle
access_time2 months ago
A researcher in China claims to have modified the genes of two baby girls. His announcement at a genetics conference in Hong Kong caused outrage. Experts in the field were quick to point out the dangers of the technique he had used and questioned the ethics of doing such an experiment.

Scientists in Cambridge have successfully grown human placental tissue. This is not for transplant into humans, but to provide a model to help understand problems in early pregnancy which can affect both mother and baby.

Mercury in the Arctic is a toxic problem for people and wildlife. It’s not produced there, but comes from industrial processes around the world. Scientists have discovered about half the mercury transported to the Arctic each year comes from Russian rivers after it is released from melting permafrost

(Picture: He Jiankui. Credit: Getty images)

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Julian Siddle
access_time2 months ago
The 1960s concept of ‘Ionic Wind’ has been successfully put to the test in a new kind of electric airplane. The plane has no motors and uses the exchange of ions in the air to propel itself. Larger versions could carry goods and passengers and would produce far less pollution than conventional aircraft.

The death of the kilogram. The ancient lumps of metal that provided the standard measures. have been replaced with a mathematical formula that should not deteriorate over time.

Whale music, how Humpbacks learn new tunes.

How ancient teeth helped track the development of dairy farming. From the Vikings to the Mongols, the plaque on Bronze Age teeth reveals a milk based diet.

(Picture: The futuristic electric aircraft with no motors powered by ‘Ionic Wind’. Credit: Credit: Steven Barrett (MIT)

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Julian Siddle
access_time2 months ago
In the US mid-term elections, the Democrats gained a majority in the lower house, this means they take control of key committees – including the House Science Committee. Over recent years this once bipartisan committee has been used by Republicans to push a climate change denying agenda.
Now the democrats will regain control and the chair elect says she will be reinforcing that climate change is real and doing more to encourage participation in science at a grassroots level particularly with minorities who are currently under represented.
We ask what this and other changes to science administration mean for the future of science under Donald Trump’s presidency. Environmental policies and his generally anti science attitude are likely to come under greater scrutiny.

We’ll also look at the California fires, which seem to be increasing in frequency, is this due to climate change or other human intervention or changes in natural processes?

And new research into hurricanes suggests human activity is making them more severe than they would otherwise be. In this case the built environment has become part of the problem, with the density of buildings in cities contributing to increases in wind speeds and a reduction in drainage for floodwaters.

(Picture: Donald Trump. Credit: Getty images)

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Julian Siddle
access_time3 months ago
The junk and geology of the Anthropocene, how mankind’s influence of the planet is now producing more erosion than natural forces, and how the materials we’ve used for mining and building in the past provides a snapshot of our geological influence of the planet.

Finland’s Water shortage: Even in places where water is seemingly plentiful there can be issues, particularly caused by growing populations. In Finland to try balance the needs of rural and urban communities, authorities have introduced an online publicly accessible system of monitoring underwater aquifers, so everyone can see in real time how much water is being used and by whom.

What do rats forget? And how will that help with conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder? Researchers have discovered striking similarities between the way rats and human forget things.

Space fountains and black holes: A fountain of material, largely gasses coming from a black hole has been detected. It is as large as our own galaxy and thought to represent a way in which planets and stars could be formed. The forces involve produce stability, which slows the pace at which the material moves allowing it to cool and condense into solid masses.

(Picture: Human impact on the environment now causes more erosion than natural processes.
Credit: Getty images)

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Julian Siddle
access_time3 months ago
A Milky Way Merger
An impact with galaxy Enceladus, around 10 billion years ago filled, our home galaxy, the Milky Way’s inner surrounding halo with stars and made the galactic disk much thicker, and starrier than it ought to be.

Sniffing the Atmosphere for Ozone-Depleting Gases
Carbon tetrachloride is one of several man-made gases that contribute to the depletion of the ozone layer high in the atmosphere. Because of this, restrictions were introduced on the use of this gas under the Montreal Protocol. Concentrations of the gas in the atmosphere should be going down at a rapid rate. But it’s not, and a team of atmospheric scientists have been sniffing around to work out where the new sources of carbon tetrachloride are coming from and it’s China.

AutoNauts in Antarctica
Reporter Hannah Fisher goes to see an unmanned automated vessel, called the AutoNaut being tested in icy conditions. The remotely-operated vessel will be used to explore uncharted waters around Antarctic ice sheets to collect data on ice-melt and sea-level rise. But first it needs to have a coating that won’t ice up.

Picture, Illustration shows a stage in the predicted merger between our Milky Way galaxy Credit: Nasa

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Fiona Roberts
access_time1 year ago
The creation of a semi-synthetic organism with two unnatural molecular bases in its DNA could lead to a new form of synthetic life that is able to create new kinds of proteins. With the application of this bacterium, it’s possible that we’ll see new types of medicines and materials in the future.

Axolotl Conservation

The paradoxical plight of the axolotl: popular aquarium pet, laboratory animal and critically endangered species in the wild. This species of salamander is a wonder of nature. It's the amphibian that never grows out of its larval stage yet it's able to reproduce. Most remarkable is its ability to regrow limbs, which is of great potential interest to researchers developing regenerative medicine. There are many thousands of axolotls in labs and homes around the world. But in the wild, in their native Mexico, they are on the very edge of extinction.

Prehistoric Women and Manual Labour

What do you find when you compare fossilized female arm bones with those of Cambridge University’s best female rowers? Scientific evidence, it seems, that prehistoric women were involved in manual labour that was crucial to the development of agriculture.

Picture: Artificial DNA molecule, the concept of artificial intelligence, Credit: Iaremenko

Presenter: Roland Pease

Producer: Fiona Roberts
access_time1 year ago
Why is the interstellar asteroid ‘Oumuamua’ such a strange shape? At 10 times longer than it is wide, the space rock is one of the most elongated cosmic objects known to science. It’s also the first asteroid visitor form outside our Solar System.

Earth is Losing its Night

The news that individual households, towns and cities are switching to LED lights in order to save energy should be good news. But a new study has shown that the artificially lit surface of Earth at night increased in radiance and extent over the past 4 years by 2% annually. The concern is that any savings, using low energy LED lighting, might be lost if their neighbours install new or brighter lamps. Scientists fear that this ‘rebound effect’ might partially or totally cancel out the savings of individual lighting retrofit projects.

Radioactive Lightning

Flashes of lightning can spark natural nuclear reactions in the atmosphere over our heads. It might sound dangerous, but the fact it happens tells scientists just how extreme conditions can get when lightning strikes.

Electricity from Jelly

Scientists are exploring new materials as a substitute for expensive platinum catalysts in fuel cells. One promising compound is called iron carbide, which is abundant, naturally occurring and cheap. They use the Diamond Light Source, a synchrotron that acts like a giant microscope to help them understand what iron carbide looks like, at the atomic scale, and also its catalytic behaviour. In order to get the most surface area for reactions, they need to reduce the compound to nanoparticles. To do this they combine it with jelly, heat it to 700°C and make a cinder toffee-like substance.

Picture: Artist impression of lost interstellar asteroid enters solar system, Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser/PA Wire

Presenter: Roland Pease

Producer: Fiona Roberts
access_time1 year ago
Natural variations in the length of the day may influence the likelihood of strong earthquakes happening. The speed of the Earth's rotation can be changed by events in the core, or changes in ocean currents, so that the day grows or shrinks by just a thousandth of a second. But geologists have seen that years with longer days can also have several more strong earthquakes, and we're entering such a phase just now. One explanation they propose is that stress changes due to the speed variations might be enough to push vulnerable faults beyond their limit.

Artificial Poo

Roland Pease rolls his sleeves up and delves into the world of fake faeces. This is all part of a project to try and help reduce the 750,000 child deaths from poor sanitation.

Picture: An Iranian man looks through the damaged stairwell of a building in the town of Sarpol-e Zahab in Iran, following a 7.3-magnitude earthquake on 14th November 2017, Credit: Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images

Presenter: Roland Pease

Producer: Fiona Roberts
access_time1 year ago
Litigation and Science Publishing

News that a scientist in the US is suing a fellow scientist, and the National Academy of Sciences, for libel, is worrying the science publishing community. Will litigation spoil the normally, fair and open exchanges that drive scientific progress?

Transgenic Skin Transplant

Clinicians have created transgenic stem cells to produce replacement skin for a child with a devastatingly debilitating skin disease. The team grew enough skin to transplant 80% of the child’s body with the genetically ‘fixed’ skin.

Karlie Noon

As part of this week’s BBC 100 Women season, shining a spotlight on inspiring women in science, indigenous Australian astronomer Karlie Noon tells us about the Aboriginal astronomy knowledge she has been collecting. And her journey as an indigenous woman in physics.

Analysing the York Gospels

A medieval illuminated manuscript, over one-thousand years old, is still in used in religious ceremonies in the UK today. Like many illuminated manuscripts, the York Gospels is exquisitely decorated and bound, providing important historical and artistic value. But new bio-archaeological analysis has shone light on the biological value of the book. The team have revealed which animal skins went to make the parchment and other fascinating discoveries about the biology contained beneath its covers.

(Photo: A statue of the scales of justice. Credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Presenter: Roland Pease

Producer: Fiona Roberts
access_time1 year ago
A hidden void has been uncovered under the Great Pyramid in Giza. Using a new technique using muons which are a by-product of cosmic rays from the Universe. Explorers have visualized what they think could be a large void at least 30 metres long above the Great Gallery in the 4500 year old Pharaoh Khufu’s Pyramid.

Atlas of the Underworld

When the Earth’s crust slides under the surface at subduction zones, you might expect that the rock melts and gets amalgamated into the Earth’s Mantle. They do – eventually - but over millions and millions of years. This means that ocean-bed rock and continental rock, from as far back as 300 million years ago, exist as lost continents and islands in the inner Earth. New work using earthquake waves has located almost 100 such structures.

Pharaoh’s Serpent

Some of you may remember an indoor firework trick called the ‘Pharaoh’s Serpent’. You lit an ‘egg’ with a match, stood back and watched while a snake-like substance instantly grew out of the egg, meanwhile the room was engulfed in clouds of sulphurous smoke. It’s a party trick displaying the wonder of chemistry’, that’s been around since Victorian times and videos of the remarkable reaction are having a resurgence on the internet….but what’s it all about and why are chemists now, so interested in the party trick? Chemists re-examining the chemistry of the Serpent think it may have some more practical applications in superconductors.

Picture: Pyramids of Giza, Credit: stevenallan/Getty Images

Presenter: Roland Pease

Producer: Fiona Roberts
access_time1 year ago
A few decades ago, when you drove down a country road anywhere in Europe, your car windscreen would get splattered with the squashed bodies of flying insects. It's known as the 'windscreen phenomenon'. But now, there seem to be far fewer flying insects than there used to be. Scientists have long suspected that insects are in dramatic decline, but new evidence confirms this. Research at more than 60 protected areas in Germany suggests flying insects have declined by more than 75% over the past 30 years.

Splitting the Cost of Biodiversity

Globally, $14.4 billion was spent between 1996 and 2008 to help stop the decline in the World's plants and animals. There were some overall successes, with an average reduction in biodiversity loss of 29% per country over this time. However, not all countries are doing well - with the USA (mainly Hawaii), Indonesia, Malaysia, China and India some of the poor achievers. New research has looked at the numbers for each country and at how pressures from human development goals can conflict with saving biodiversity, and has calculated what each country needs to spend to reach biodiversity targets.

Hollywood Science

In the quest for a good storyline and lots of action, Hollywood doesn't always get its science right. The science of geophysics can get mangled in the plot. In the 1997 blockbuster 'Volcano', Tommy Lee Jones fights to save residents from volcanic lava flowing through the streets of LA, however the city is located neither near a hot spot nor a subduction zone which would be needed for a volcano to emerge. But rather that worrying about this and getting angry and shouting at the screen, top geophysicist Seth Stein, at Northwestern University, says that pointing out scientific errors can be a great place to engage students in the subject and help inject the healthy scepticism needed to be a good scientist.

Durian Fruit

It smells awful, and is banned in many public places, but to many Southeast Asians its creamy flesh is delicious. Why is there such a dichotomy between the smell and taste of the 'King of Fruit'? New genetic analysis may hold the answers and may even help technologists to engineer the smell out of the durian.

Presenter: Roland Pease

Producer: Fiona Roberts

Photo: Hoverfly Credit: Dr. Paul F. Donald
access_time1 year ago
In the short window of time between the VIRGO gravitational wave detector being switched on, in Piza in Italy, and the LIGO detector, in the US, being switched off for an upgrade, the teams detected the signal they had hoped for, but dared not expect. A space-altering gravity ripple, followed by a gamma ray burst signal and when the World’s telescopes turned to the Hydra constellation they also saw an optical flash. These signals were from two neutron stars, having danced a death spiral and crashed into one another 130 million years ago. It’s been nicknamed a ‘Bling Nova’, because this massively energetic reaction, is where lots of the gold, platinum and heavy metals in the Universe come from.

Whale and Dolphin Brain-size

A large brain, relative to our size, underpins sophisticated social structure in humans. Things like language, shared goals, teaching, consensus decision-making and empathy require great intelligence. Whales and dolphins also have exceptionally large and anatomically sophisticated brains. But until recently it has been unclear whether large brain size is linked to social structure in these marine mammals. A recent study suggests that large brains might similarly have arisen to provide the capacity to learn in response to the challenges of social living.

Picture: Artist’s concept of the explosive collision of two neutron stars. Credit: Illustration by Robin Dienel courtesy of the Carnegie Institution for Science

Presenter: Roland Pease

Producer: Fiona Roberts
access_time1 year ago
By measuring how carbon moves through Earth's ecosystems we can get a grip on how human activities are altering the carbon cycle. NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) has been watching the Earth breathe from space since 2014 and the results show the impact of El Nino events, volcanic activity and forest fires and even the pollution from individual highways.

Acoustic Biodiversity

Incidental recordings of bird and insect calls before, during and after, the 2015 wildfires in Southeast Asia, reveals a clever way of assessing the damage caused by the haze from these fires to the biodiversity in Singapore.

Measuring the Power of Krakatau

The massive eruption in 1883 of the volcano Krakatau (Krakatoa) in Indonesia unleashed huge tsunamis (killing more than 36,000 people). The explosion is thought to be the loudest sound ever heard in modern history, with reports of it being heard up to 3,000 miles (4,800 km) from its point of origin. So it may be surprising to hear that there are very few remnants of the pumice rock, spewed out in huge numbers at the time. One rare sample survived and is being analysed, along with samples of dust from the deck of the boat that was nearest the volcano at the time, in order to calculate just how explosive the eruption was.

Sinking of the Anthenia

Just seven hours after Lord Chamberlain announced that Britain had joined the war against Germany in September 1939, the cruise ship The Athenia was sunk by a German U Boat off the coast of Ireland. Now, clever forensic examination of sea bed sonar scans, log books and weather charts has revealed the possible resting place of one of the first maritime casualties of World War Two.

Picture credit: NASA-JPL/Caltech

Presenter: Roland Pease

Producer: Fiona Roberts
access_time1 year ago
Three relatively easy to understand, and very well-deserved, Nobel Science Prize winning categories this year. The Nobel Prize in Physics 2017 was awarded to Rainer Weiss, Barry C. Barish and Kip S. Thorne "for decisive contributions to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves".

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2017 was awarded to Jacques Dubochet, Joachim Frank and Richard Henderson "for developing cryo-electron microscopy for the high-resolution structure determination of biomolecules in solution".

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2017 was awarded to Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young "for their discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm".

50th Anniversary of the Theory of Plate Tectonics

Scientists are celebrating 50 years of the theory of plate tectonics. This is geology’s equivalent of the ‘Theory of Evolution’ or the ‘Standard Model’ for physics. A fundamental, unifying principle that explains mountains, volcanoes, earthquakes and much, much more. Even down to why marsupials arrived in Australia. Roland gathers the key players to get the story.

Sonic weapons in Cuba?

US and Canadian diplomats in Cuba have been complaining of a whole host of symptoms, from hearing loss to feeling nauseated, over the past 10 months. This has led to speculation that some kind of new ‘sonic weapon’ is being used, where sound waves are being directed at these officials in order to do them harm. Professor of acoustics, at University of Salford, Trevor Cox explains how sound could be used as a weapon, but thinks these attacks are more likely to be explained by chemistry, psychology or politics.

Photo caption: Black Holes Colliding producing Gravitational Waves © Advanced LIGO

Presenter: Roland Pease

Producer: Fiona Roberts
access_time1 year ago
BBC World Service’s Science in Action kicks off the first day of New Scientist Live 2017.

In this special panel discussion in front of a live audience, Roland Pease is joined by leading ecologists and experts in different environments: Rob Ewers focuses on forests and their biodiversity, Jane Hill on the impacts of climate change, and Alan Jamieson on extreme marine environments.

From dense Amazonian forests to the abyss under the sea surface, why is it important to understand the living planet?

There’s no denying the impact that our human activity is having on the environment. So much so, we’re entering a geological epoch named specially for us – the Anthropocene. Recent surveys even revealed that we know more of unicorns and mermaids than of world’s most unique and irreplaceable real-life species.

But what does it mean for us to understand nature, and what’s the impact of our understanding on the plants and animals we share Earth with? How can we decide which endangered species we can and should conserve?

Picture: Roland Pease, Dr Alan Jamieson, Professor Jane Hill, Professor Rob Ewers, Credit: Silvia Lazzaris

Presenter: Roland Pease

Producers: Fiona Roberts and Samanta Oon
access_time1 year ago
This week Mexico suffered its second major Earthquake in less than 14 days. The latest earthquake registered 7.1 magnitude and has caused widespread damage in the capital Mexico City, resulting in hundreds of causalities as buildings collapsed around the city. We speak to seismologist Dr Stephen Hicks from the University of Southampton about the geological reasons Mexico is susceptible to earthquakes; why have we seen two large earthquakes in such a short period of time; why the most recent earthquake was more destructive than the last, and did the first earthquake trigger the second.

In the first few days after conception, the fertilised egg subdivides first into two cells, then four and so on. It eventually becomes a hollowed out ball made up of about 200 cells called a blastocyst. The gene for a protein called OCT4 appears to be critical in deciding how that embryonic foundation gets established.

Did our ancestors have performance spaces in caves? Bruno Fazenda gives us an introduction to the fairly new field of archaeoacoustics, and what it can tell us about where prehistoric people chose to draw or make their artwork.

Presenter: Roland Pease

Producer: Jack Meegan

Picture: Rescuers, fire-fighters, policemen, soldiers and volunteers stand near a flattened building in Mexico City, Credit: Yuri Cortez/AFP/Getty Images
access_time1 year ago
In the last few weeks, Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have been breaking records as they caused devastating damage in the Atlantic. Is there a link between global warming and these mega hurricanes? Looking at data collected over the last decade, the number of hurricanes each season may not change, but it is possible that strong storms will get even stronger.

Spurious Correlations

Understanding whether events that appear to be connected are one thing caused by the other, or just simple correlation, or patterns of trends, can be a tricky business. But it’s the key to understanding cause and coincidence. Silvia Lazzaris looks at the weird and wonderfully, spuriously correlated world we live in.

The Future of NASA

Ellen Stofan, former NASA Chief Scientist, shares her opinion on the new nominee for NASA administrator, Jim Bridenstine. She talks about the role of NASA in leading scientific enquiry and its responsibility to exploring space and in building human resilience to extreme weather events like hurricanes.

Picture: Hurricane Katia (l) Hurricane Irma (m) and Hurricane Jose (r) in the Atlantic Ocean on September 7, 2017, credit: NOAA
access_time1 year ago
What we know and don’t know about North Korea’s nuclear programme. Last week North Korea tested their sixth nuclear warhead since 2006. The bomb they detonated in an underground cave was the biggest one yet. North Korean state media claimed they have developed a hydrogen bomb. Scientists from all over the world are looking for signs and signals to help determine exactly what’s going on in the secretive state and to see how developed their nuclear weapons programme actually is. The trouble is, they don’t have much to go on. Seismic shaking and possible radioactive elements released into the atmosphere coupled with pictures put out by Korean media are adding up to a worrying picture of a possible 100 kiloton thermonuclear weapon.


Roland Pease visits Benz Kotzen at the EU Aquaponics Hub to learn how a contained system of growing fish and plants can provide a sustainable way of feeding people in developing nations.


Waste disposal is a growing concern as nations run out of space and ecosystems are increasingly polluted. How do we safely get rid of non-biodegradable plastics? Microorganisms may hold the key for turning household waste into biodegradable plastic and perhaps one day even into food.

Picture: North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un looking at a metal casing with two bulges at an undisclosed location, Credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images
access_time1 year ago
Hurricane Harvey has killed at least 31 people so far. Global collaborations enabled scientists to accurately predict Harvey four days before it hit Houston. This is a huge improvement in predictions since hurricane Katrina in 2005. How have these improvements come about and can we expect even better predictions in the future?

A flood-damaged plant near Houston has exploded and emitted chemicals. What caused the explosion and what can we expect to happen?

Two weeks from its death-plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere, the Cassini spacecraft has approached a completely unexplored region between Saturn’s rings. Data sent backs reveals that the rings are younger than expected.

New research reveals that birds may be able to sing intricate melodies thanks to their physiology rather than because of neural complexity as previously believed.

Moving beyond anecdotal knowledge, science has finally found the neural basis for contagious yawning.

The PETM was the greatest warming event in Earth’s history. New research reveals that the warming was caused by a large volcanic event. How far can we use the PETM to better our understanding of our current warming event?

Picture: Epic Flooding Inundates Houston After Hurricane Harvey, credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Presenter: Roland Pease

Producer: Caroline Steel
access_time1 year ago
Floods in South Asia have claimed the lives of over 800 people. International collaboration is required to repair rivers and coasts in order to avoid such a high toll in the future.

The first legal online rhino horn auction opened yesterday. South African rhino breeders often de-horn their animals in order to avoid poaching, they hope to legally sell these horns to raise funds for protecting rhino against poaching.

A new study urges scientists to consider cultural superstitions, legends and myths when working to conserve animals and habitats. The Amazon pink river dolphin is heralded as a shape-shifter, and in the Caribbean, owls are thought to be witches that suck out the brains of sleeping locals. These myths should be respected and understood to enable scientists to work with local people to conserve species.

A new study reports using virtual reality to study the physiology and behaviour of fish, mice and flies. These animals aren’t wearing tiny VR glasses, but instead are living in a world made up of projections.

When a dairy cow becomes infected with bacteria causing bovine mastitis, the milk must be disposed of and the cow treated with expensive antibiotics. Farmers in Chile are reducing infection rates by lining milking tanks with copper which has antibacterial properties.

(Photo caption: An Indian man wades along a flooded street during a heavy downpour in Agartala © Arindam Dey/AFP/Getty Images)

Presenter: Roland Pease

Producer: Caroline Steel
access_time1 year ago
The earliest life forms on Earth were bacteria, but three billion years ago, life was suddenly transformed. Eukaryotes - precursors to all plants and animals - took over. The evidence has only just been found in algae microfossils.

In August and September 1977, Nasa's probes Voyager 2 and Voyager 1 were launched. Since then the two spacecraft have been exploring our Solar System and interstellar space. Exceeding all expectations, the probes have taught us so much about our planets and beyond. The Voyager mission's chief scientist, Professor Ed Stone, looks back over Voyager's highlights.

Much like Europe, South Africa is experiencing an increase in the number of undocumented migrants. Who, when they die, can be hard to identify. Forensic scientists are looking at radioisotopes to try to work out the origin of migrants whose journey has tragically ended in the mortuary.

On Monday 21st of August 2017, a 70km wide stripe of the continental United States will go dark, as the Moon blocks out the Sun. It has been nearly a century since the United States experienced a total solar eclipse from coast to coast.

Presenter: Roland Pease

Producer: Caroline Steel

Main image: Algae floods in a pond (Credit: Getty Images, Alex Wong)
access_time1 year ago
Europe has been hit by a deadly heat wave with temperatures exceeding 40 degrees Celsius. The combination of high humidity and high temperatures is proving lethal. A new study has shown that between 48% and 74% of the world’s population will have to endure life-threatening heat for 20 days a year.

The world is racing to be at the forefront of rechargeable battery technology. The UK has just followed France in pledging to only sell electric vehicles by 2040, with India setting the same target for 2030. However the high demand for elements such as lithium and cobalt must be met, some of which come from politically unstable areas. What alternative batteries are being developed?

Stars orbiting the supermassive black hole in the centre of our galaxy obey Einstein’s theory of General Relativity.

Penguin tail feathers are chemically analysed to reveal their migration routes.

Sea snakes near the coast of Australia lose their stripes to rid their bodies of pollutants.

The number of unidentified dead bodies in the populous Gauteng province in South Africa is rising. Part of this is due to the high number of undocumented immigrants to the region. The forensic science service is under increasing pressure to put a name to the dead. With often only skeletal remains, the scientists are resorting to ‘geo-profiling’ the bones to get an idea of who this person might be and where they came from.

Presenter: Roland Pease

Producer: Caroline Steel

Image: Heat waves. Credit: David McNew / Getty Images
access_time1 year ago
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is the heart condition that can lead to seemingly fit and healthy people collapsing with heart failure. It affects one in 500 people worldwide. It’s a heritable disorder. Scientists using the precise gene editing technique, Crispr CAS 9, have identified one of the genes responsible for the disease, and attempted to repair it in very early stage human embryos in the lab.

An app to help identify invasive Harlequin ladybirds in the UK has been mapping their spread across the globe.

All living flowers ultimately derive from a single ancestor that lived about 140 million years ago.

Pollination rates drop overnight as pollinators get confused by artificial lights.

Big data analysis on Earth’s known minerals have been used to predict that there are more than one and a half thousand more minerals yet to be discovered. This big data analysis even tells scientists what to look for and where to find them.

Presenter: Roland Pease

Producer: Caroline Steel

Image caption: Human embryo twin © Getty Images
access_time1 year ago
Biggest explosions in the Universe

An international team of scientists have captured the biggest explosions in the Universe in unprecedented detail for the first time. These Gamma Ray Bursts sometimes last for just a few milliseconds, but for that time are trillions of times brighter than our Sun. The chance of capturing one of these rare bursts, which occur just as a dying star collapses into a black hole, is just an incredible one-in-10,000.

Sight and Sound

Despite the intuitive feeling that we can listen to something whilst looking elsewhere, our visual and auditory perceptions are - from the earliest points - processed together in the brain. Sight and sound work together to build up a picture of the world around us, and when the two senses aren’t aligned our brains have to work much harder to filter out distractions. Although this relationship is largely unexplored, it could tell us more about how to aid those with hearing impairments and even what effect technology, such as smartphones, might be having on our ability to concentrate.

Old animals

We humans like to think we live long lives, some of us are lucky enough to make it into triple digits. But we can’t compare to the humble tubeworm, casually hanging around on the ocean floor and researchers have discovered that they can live up to 300 years old!

Iceland’s Molten Rock Origins

Iceland’s volcanoes are one of the country’s most famous geological features. The island sits on a volcano hot spot and straddles two tectonic plates, the Eurasian and North American plates, otherwise known as the North Atlantic Ridge - making it highly volcanically active. New research into the Volcano Hot Spot under Iceland has revealed something unusual. New measurements of the Mantle region within Earth, appears to be feeding material in the form of a plume to the surface, where Iceland is located.

Picture: Star being destroyed, Credit: Nasa

Presenter: Roland Pease

Producer: Jack Meegan
access_time2 years ago
More than 8.3 billion tons of plastic have been manufactured since the material was initially mass-produced in the 1950s. Plastic is low cost, easy to manufacture and versatile, which is why it has permeated throughout our daily lives, from shopping bags to bottles. A new global study has quantified the production and consumption of plastic over the decades. Revealing a very big problem. If our current rate of plastic waste generation continues, it’s predicted that by 2050 there will be over 13 billion tonnes of it discarded into landfills and the environment around us.

Transparent Hearts

Our hearts, as muscles, are very complex and dense, making them opaque even to our most powerful microscopes. This can be particularly problematic for creating 3D structural images of the tissue, which is important for those studying heart disease and its potential treatments. Yet, a quick and simple way to turn heart tissue transparent has recently been developed, providing scientists with an opportunity to discover more about our most complex organ.

Sex-changing Clownfish

Clownfish – made famous by the Disney film Finding Nemo – have been shown to undergo sex-changing behaviour. When the larger female in a pair dies, the male (possibly triggered by hormones) grows and becomes female, even able to breed and lay viable eggs.

Earth’s Protective Forcefield

Since 2012, NASA’s Van Allen probes have been measuring the Van Allen Belts; belts of radiation cocooning the Earth protecting it from high energy particles blasted out by solar winds and eruptions. Recent measurements have shown that there has been an anthropogenic effect on the belts. Very Low Frequency (VLF) signals, which provide a way for people on land to communicate with underwater crafts such as submarines, are interacting with electrons in the Van Allen belts. The interplay between the two is creating man-made layers that act as a barrier to the highest energy, or ‘killer’ electrons heading towards Earth.

Picture: Dirty used coloured plastic bottle pile, credit: sebasnoo

Presenter: Roland Pease

Producer: Jack Meegan
access_time2 years ago
The arms race between insects that eat plants and plants, has had millions of years to evolve some pretty amazing interactions. Not least the tomato plant that produces chemicals that make caterpillars turn cannibalistic. When the caterpillar eats another caterpillar, it’s not eating the tomato plant and it’s effectively reducing the number of other caterpillars that could attack the plant.

Arctic Iceberg

The crack in the Antarctic ice shelf, Larsen C, has completed, leading to a giant iceberg breaking free. The more than 200m-thick tabular berg will not move very far, or very fast, in the short term. But it will need to be monitored. Currents and winds might eventually push it north of the Antarctic where it could become a hazard to shipping.

Early Life

All living organisms on Earth need the compound iron-sulphur in their cells in order to live. This suggests that this chemical could have been a fundamental component of the pre-biotic soup that led to life. We know that the component iron and sulphur elements were abundant on the early Earth, but they weren’t in the correct form to make these essential iron-sulphur clusters. New work shows that when the conditions are right, the clusters can form With UV light being one of the key ingredients for the reaction. This means that the surface of our early planet could have been a good place for the spark of life to begin, not the deep sea hydrothermal vents as other people think.

Picture: Could this be a cannibalistic caterpillar? Credit Dr.P F Donald

Producer: Fiona Roberts

Presenter: Roland Pease
access_time2 years ago
Fossils from China are changing the image of dinosaurs. Rather than huge lizards, it seems that some dinosaurs might have more closely resembled massive chickens. Since the discovery of the transitional fossil Archeopteryx, a small dinosaur with broad wings, feathers and a long tail, we’ve known that birds and dinosaurs are close relatives. Now, incredibly well-preserved feathery fossils from the Liaoning province in North Eastern China are being shown in an exclusive exhibition at Wollaton Hall in Nottingham. These fossils provide a new insight into just how bird-like many dinosaurs would have appeared, revealing many familiar characteristics to our own modern birds.


Imagine having planes and cars covered in vivid, bright colours like the exotic birds and butterflies found in hot climates. It could soon be possible with metallic nano-sponges. These tiny networks of holes and tubes soak up light, rather than water. Nano-sponges mimic nature’s network-based colour structures, such as that responsible for the beautiful blue plumage of the South American plum-throated Cotinga (bird). Unlike paint, which contains coloured pigments that absorb light of a particular wavelength, structural colours arise through light interacting with a material’s surface structure. This means that nano-sponges can be simply applied as a metal coating, to produce colours from auroral greens to velvety reds.

Presenter: Roland Pease

Producer: Fiona Roberts
access_time2 years ago
The first large-scale, field studies looking at the impact of neonicotinoid pesticides on bees show largely negative effects. It’s been suspected for a number of years now, that the systemic, seed-coating, pesticides affect the survival and reproductive success of honeybees and wild bees. But testing this in the field, where other factors have to be ruled out, has so far proved very difficult. Now, the results from trials in the UK, Hungary and Germany, as well as separate trials in Canada, are affirming these concerns. The picture is still complicated, and it seems other factors, such as diet, disease and stress also play a role. But perhaps most concerning is the persistence and spread of these chemicals in the environment.

Antarctic Terrestrial Biodiversity

You might be surprised at just how many plants and animals live on Antarctica. Aside from penguins and seasonally nesting seabirds, the icy continent is home to grasses, mosses, lichens, springtails and other invertebrates. They survive in ice-free patches. 1% of the continent is thought to be permanently ice-free, in places such as the coast, on the steep sides and tops of mountains and in dry valleys. You’d think that with global warming predicted to increase these ice-free areas by 25% over the next 100 years, it would be a good thing – more habitat and a less harsh climate. But concerns about an increase in invasive species could threaten the survival of this terrestrial Antarctic biodiversity.

‘Celestial Sleuth’ Identifies Lord Byron’s ‘Single Star’

Exactly 200 years ago, poet Lord Byron was so impressed by a night’s sky that he wrote about it in his seminal narrative poem “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage”. The problem was, when he spoke of “The Moon is up ” as he wrote in the fourth canto, published in 1818, “…A Single Star is at her side.” He got it wrong! Celestial sleuth and Texas State University astronomer and physicist, Professor Donald Olson, has deduced the exact night, in August 1818, that Byron recalls, and the star was in fact not a star, but the planet Jupiter. However, the magnificent twilight colours of which he also waxes lyrical “of all colours seem to be melted to one vast Iris of the west…” is a correct observation, as the dust from the massive 1815 eruption of the Tambora volcano in Indonesia would have been creating some spectacular sunsets at that time.

Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Canto IV

Stanza XXVII.

The Moon is up, and yet it is not Night -

Sunset divides the sky with her -- a Sea

Of Glory streams along the Alpine height

Of blue Friuli’s mountains; Heaven is free

From clouds, but of all colours seems to be

Melted to one vast Iris of the West,

Where the Day joins the past Eternity;

While, on the other hand, meek Dian’s crest

Floats through the azure air -- an island of the blest!

Stanza XXVIII.

A Single Star is at her side, and reigns

With her o’er half the lovely heaven; but still

Yon sunny Sea heaves brightly, and remains

Rolled o’er the peak of the far Rhaetian hill,

As Day and Night contending were, until

Nature reclaimed her order -- gently flows

The deep-dyed Brenta, where their hues instil

The odorous Purple of a new-born rose,

Which streams upon her stream, and glassed within it glows,

Stanza XXIX.

Filled with the face of Heaven, which, from afar,

Comes down upon the waters; all its hues,

From the rich sunset to the rising star,

Their magical variety diffuse:

And now they change; a paler Shadow strews

Its mantle o’er the mountains; parting Day

Dies like the Dolphin, whom each pang imbues

With a new colour as it gasps away -

The last still loveliest -- till -- ‘tis gone -- and All is gray.

Photo: Honey bee, credit: Paul F Donald

Presenter: Roland Pease

Producer: Fiona Roberts
access_time2 years ago
Bird’s eggs are not all shaped like a chicken’s egg, there is a huge diversity in the shape of bird’s eggs. From the almost spherical eggs of owls, to the conical guillemot egg and the zeppelin-shaped Mallee fowl eggs. It seems that the flying ability of a bird species is a major evolutionary driving force to what shape eggs they lay.

Making Heart Valves

Replacement heart valves are not a new thing. There are plastic ones and you can use animal heart valves. The main problem is these are all one fixed size. What if a growing child needs a new heart valve? This is where the new technique of engineering these vital valves comes in. Researchers at Harvard University have come up with a way to create heart valves that grow with the body. And one of the bits of kit they use is a bit like a souped-up candyfloss machine!

Measuring Underground Water Reserves in Bengal

Water stored under the ground in the Bengal Basin in North India is a vital source of fresh water for over 100 million people. The usual way to measure how much water is in these deep ancient porous sedimentary reservoirs is to measure the water level in a borehole. But new work has shown that when it rains (as in the monsoon), the increased weight of surface water from rainfall, lakes, rivers and flooding press down on the surface of the earth, increasing the pressure of water underground and thus giving a false reading of how much groundwater is there.

New Mining Technologies in Chile

Mining for copper, gold and other metals is big business in Chile. But prospecting for good sites in rugged and remote locations can be dangerous. Two new prospecting techniques, one using drones and the other measuring micro earthquakes are helping to find the best sites to mine safely and remotely.

Picture: Shaping of eggs, credit: Science/PA Wire

Presenter: Roland Pease

Producer: Fiona Roberts
access_time2 years ago
New technology from Stanford University could allow wireless chargers to ‘beam’ energy directly into the electrical devices at a distance. Roland looks into the future of wireless technology, and whether it will rid us of the plague of cables.

Women Misjudged By Science

Science has too often helped to enhance false stereotypes of women as the ‘inferior’ sex according to author Angela Saini. She tells Roland how scientific investigations into sex can be too easily influenced by the internalised biases of the experimenter.

Bloody Computers

Computers, like the brains of animals, need energy to operate, but they’re pretty difficult to keep cool. Blood provides both energy and cooling for brains, but computers use wires and fans. Roland Pease meets an IBM researcher seeking to solve the problem with “electronic blood”.

Presenter: Roland Pease

Producer: Louisa Field
access_time2 years ago
The oldest fossils of Homo sapiens have been unearthed in Morocco. They are over 100,000 years older than the next oldest H.sapiens fossils, and show subtle differences in brain size and appearance from modern man. We were thought to have originated in an East African “garden of Eden” but this find, thousands of miles away, shakes up what we thought we knew about human evolution and migration.

Is Cooperation a Selfish Act?

Is cooperation driven by a selfless concern for others, or by a strategic – if selfish – desire to increase personal returns in the future? Roland speaks with Oxford researcher Maxwell Burton-Chellew about his team’s evidence that there needs to be a tangible future benefit for some humans to cooperate with each other.

The Paris Agreement: What now?

What impact could the US’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement have on the global climate? Climate experts dissect President Trump’s speech on the topic, and discuss what this will mean for world politics.

Picture: The oldest Homo sapiens skull showing subtle differences in brain size and the prominence of the brow ridge compared with modern man, Credit: Philipp Gunz, MPI EVA Leipzig

Presenter: Roland Pease

Producer: Louisa Field
access_time2 years ago
The first detection of gravitational waves, announced February 2016, was a milestone in physics and astronomy, it was quickly followed by another find. Now teams working on the LIGO detector have just announced their third new detection. Gravitational waves are 'ripples' in the fabric of space-time caused by some of the most violent and energetic processes in the Universe. All three signals are thought to be caused by two black holes merging. This time the spin might give clues as to where the original stars formed.

Safer Gold Extraction

Many gold mines separate the precious metal dust from the rock using toxic substances like cyanide and mercury, but scientists at the University of Leicester have used rock samples from a gold mine in Scotland to prove they can do the job a different way, using a mixture of vitamin B4 and urea.

Genetics of Ancient Egyptian Mummies

Ancient Egyptian mummies give up their genetic secrets. Mitochondrial DNA from mummified remains show how much ancient Egyptians interbred with populations from Asia, Africa and Europe.

Picture: Nasa’s depiction of gravitational waves emerging from a black hole. Credit: Nasa

Presenter: Roland Pease

Producer: Fiona Roberts
access_time2 years ago
The first analysis of the observations of Jupiter from NASA’s Juno mission, this includes cyclones clustered at the poles and a massive mega-magnetosphere.

How Sherpas Cope with Low Oxygen

Experiments from the ‘Xtreme Everest 2’ mission uncovers the physiological mechanisms that have evolved in Sherpas to help them adapt to high altitude living. The manner in which they cope with the low oxygen environment of the Himalayas, may help treat hypoxic (low blood oxygen) patients in intensive care.

Saving the Vaquita

Conservationists using US Navy-trained bottlenose dolphins to find the incredibly rare and endangered Vaquita porpoise in the Gulf of California. With fewer than 30 individuals left in the wild, the conservationist's last resort is to try and catch these beautiful, tiny cetaceans and house them in a protected zone.

Fruit Labels

"Bring out the lasers!" Marks and Spencer and other European supermarkets are trying to reduce the waste and environmental burden of having to label every piece of produce by marking them with a very clever laser label.

Picture credit: NASA

Presenter: Roland Pease

Producer: Fiona Roberts
access_time2 years ago
Africa has a new telescope. The second radio telescope on the African continent has been built in Ghana. Using old, decommissioned telecommunications dishes, they hope to erect more of these telescopes, which can form an array, getting a better reading of things like distant pulsars in the southern skies.

Severe Rainfall and Climate Change

Severe rainfall and climate change – it’s almost become a mantra of climate change – “More severe weather, such as rainfall, in more unpredictable patterns”. Researchers have been looking at ways to predict severe precipitation events around the world. It was already understood that a warmer atmosphere holds more water, but new work is showing that it’s the increased turbulence in the atmosphere creates conditions for more extreme rain storms.

Waterlogged Land

And the worst effect of severe rainfall is when it falls on already saturated ground. This is when flooding can occur. The latest land surveying satellites can measure the waterlogged-ness of the ground and help pinpoint regions of likely flooding.

Why Humans Don’t Have a Penis Bone, But Chimps Do?

The evolution of the penis bone or baculum is an interesting story. Only mammals have one and not all of them at that. The size of the penis bone varies greatly between species and it’s bigger in some animals than others, but why? Apparently it has got something to do with monogamy.

Picture: Men working on Ghana radio telescope. Photo courtesy SKA SA

Presenter: Roland Pease

Producer: Fiona Roberts
access_time2 years ago
A good way of finding out about how our solar system formed is to look at other star systems and their planets. From the exoplanets so far examined in detail, a general correlation has emerged between the amount of elements heavier than helium and hydrogen, in the atmosphere, and the mass of the planet. It’s complicated, but this gives us clues to the size and composition of the planet as well as how and when it formed. But new observations of planet HAT-P-26b, 437 light years away, do not fit this trend. So what’s going on?

More Trees

Researchers have looked at tree cover in dryland regions and found that previous estimates were out by 40-47%. Using Google Earth’s very high resolution satellite images and local students and scientists to analyse the images, the team discovered there is as much forest cover in drylands (such as parts of Latin America, Africa, Australia and Southern Europe) as there are in tropical habitats. This increases the area of tree cover over the whole planet by 9%. The findings are important when putting in numbers into the big calculations about carbon cycles and climate change.


Dan Friess of the National University of Singapore studies mangrove forests around the coasts of tropical Pacific and Indian ocean countries. This kind of forest has turned out to store much more carbon than even rainforests, as measured by the hectare.

Snake-skin Inspiration

Given that the natural world has had millions of years to evolve the solutions to many problems, its little surprise that materials scientists often look to nature for solutions to our human problems. Inspiration from snakes shedding old skins has been applied to super-waterproof nanomaterials. This will hopefully improve on the lotus leaf effect, which involves special waxes and a textured surface, that means water beads up and runs off them, taking the dirt with it. When a coating based on the lotus gets damaged, the whole lot is compromised. But a group in Germany have looked at making materials that shed a layer when it gets damaged in a way similar to snakes shedding their skins.

Picture: A planet transits its star, credit: STAN HONDA/AFP/GettyImages

Presenter: Bobbie Lakhera

Producer: Fiona Roberts
access_time2 years ago
For the first time conservationists can monitor and count birds from space. Using the next-generation Earth observation satellites, scientists count Northern Royal Albatrosses on their breeding grounds on the remote Chatham Islands, off New Zealand. Many of these large, majestic seabirds are threatened, not least by long-line fishing. But they are rarely on land, and often nest in difficult to get to places. But because they’re big and white, high-resolution satellite images can spot them.

Insect Flight

With wings that flap up to 600 times per second, watching the precise movements of mosquitos in flight is impossible for the human eye. Somehow, these and other tiny insects are able to fly through the heavy turbulence of wind and rain. Research out this month has uncovered unexpected aerodynamic techniques that keep the miniscule creatures airborne, the understanding of which can aid the development of smaller and better drone technology. But how do you film a 4mm mosquito’s individual wing beats in slow motion?

Cassini Reveals Saturn’s Secrets

20 years ago the Cassini-Huygens mission set off to Saturn, the gas giant with its iconic rings. Since its arrival in 2004, Saturn, its moons and its rings have been revealing their secrets to NASA-ESA’s ‘Discovery Machine’ which bristles with instruments and scientific equipment. Among the main discoveries are ice-plumes erupting from the moon Enceladus, and the identification of rain, rivers, lakes and oceans on the Earth-like Titan. From its launch to its bitter-sweet grand finale, the Cassini-Huygens mission will have racked up a remarkable list of achievements.

Image: Bobbie Lakhera © BBC

Presenter: Bobbie Lakhera

Producer: Fiona Roberts
access_time2 years ago
Evidence of human inhabitation of North America is quite sparse and quite contentious. So far the oldest indigenous Americans are thought to have migrated to the continent via the Beringia land bridge between Siberia and Alaska 40,000 – 17,000 years ago. But new analysis of Mastodon bones, tusks and teeth, as well as large stones, found in California, could be revealing hominin activity 130,000 years ago. The discovery of what looks like man-made breaks in the bones, and stones being brought in to be used as hammers and anvils, tied in with new dating techniques is intriguing paleoanthropologists around the world.

Plastic-Eating Caterpillars

Polythene from plastic bags and bottles is polluting every corner of the Earth, from the deepest deep sea trenches to the tops of mountains. This non-biodegradable substance is a growing environmental problem. So when scientists discovered a moth caterpillar can ‘eat’ plastic, they wanted to find out more. The wax moth larvae like to live in bee hives, where they’re known to eat beeswax. Beeswax has a chemical structure similar to polythene. So when a researcher noticed that the plastic bags she’d stored her beeswax in overwinter, had been chewed by wax moth caterpillars, she and a team of scientists investigated. It’s still not known whether it's the bacteria in the guts of the larvae, or enzymes produced by the larva itself, that breakdown plastic. But whatever it is, it could be a useful tool in dealing with the growing problem of plastic pollution.

Homo naledi

The recent discovery and naming of a new human species, Homo naledi, found in deep caves in South Africa was very exciting. At the time, it was thought that this strange creature was 1-2 million years old. Homo naledi walked upright, was about 5ft tall, with some features – notably the hands and feet – more like human species, and some, the head and upper body more like earlier ape-like people. But news has broken this week that naledi is much, much younger, a contemporary of our own recent ancestors, living only 200-300,000 years ago.

Picture: A view of two mastodon femur balls, one faced up and once faced down. Neural spine of a vertebra exposed (lower right) and a broken rib (lower left). Credit: San Diego Natural History Museum

Presenter: Adam Hart

Producer: Fiona Roberts
access_time2 years ago
The naked mole-rat never ceases to amaze. A new study shows that when it gets stuffy in their underground burrows, this mouse-sized wrinkly mammal is able to metabolise fructose - just as plants do - and by this bypass the need for oxygen for up to 18 minutes.

In a new study scientists have created an artificial retina. The retina is a light-sensitive layer of the eye which is essential for sight. The artificial retinas are able to mimic the abilities of living tissue, reacting to light and electrical signals. In the future, scientists hope that these retinas could save the sight of many.

Virtual reality (VR) is not only a fun gimmick for gamers, but could be used to train dentists in dental surgery. Our reporter Marnie Chesterton visits the VR World Congress in Bristol in the United Kingdom and tries out the technology and discovers first-hand the all too real experience of dental surgery.

Lastly, with 800 million people living near a volcano, spotting eruptions in advance can be crucial. We talk to the scientists working on the technology that allows us to spot them from space with satellites. And, reporter Anand Jagatia heads to Iceland which homes the volcano Eyjafjallajökull, which caused disruption to the air space back in 2010.

Picture: Naked mole-rats in the laboratory of Thomas Park at the University of Illinois at Chicago. [Credit: Thomas Park / UIC]

Presenter: Adam Hart

Producer: Louisa Field
access_time2 years ago
Hydrogen is a favourite food for some microorganisms, so finding it on one of Saturn’s moons, Enceladus, increases the potential for to it to have life. During its deepest-ever dive through the jets of water vapour and other materials bursting from cracks in the ice-covered surface of Enceladus, the Cassini spacecraft has detected enough hydrogen to sustain microbes much as it does in dark undersea environments on Earth.

And, while fish swim they shed DNA from their skin and faeces into the water. For the first time, scientists have been able to use this DNA to record fish moving through the rivers of New York. By doing this the scientists avoid the disturbance, and expense, of collecting fish from trawlers. Such ‘wildlife forensics’ is likely to spread to more and more corners of diversity surveying.

Lastly, we tackle one of the greatest disputes between science and religion – the theory of evolution. We explore how religious groups reconcile evolution with their beliefs and learn how the Muslim world is embracing – and rejecting – evolution depending on who holds political power.

Presenter: Adam Hart

Producer: Louisa Field

Image: The view looking toward the anti-Saturn hemisphere of Enceladus, 27 Nov 2016. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
access_time2 years ago
Britain was in the grip of an ice age 450,000 years ago. It has long been thought that Britain’s separation from Europe resulted from spill over from a lake formed in front of the ice sheet but until now it has not been proved. New research shows that this is correct - 450,000 years ago Britain geologically separated from Europe in two stages – a spill-over from a giant lake, followed by catastrophic flooding.

Tallying up the Number of Tree Species

Until recently, no one knew how many tree species there are in the world. But this week the Botanic Gardens Conservation International, have published a comprehensive global list of all our tree species. Out of the 60,065 different species world-wide, an astonishing 58% exist in just one country.

Why Aeroplanes Survive a Bolt of Lightning?

An aeroplane struck by lightning, might sound like the stuff of horror films. But thanks to the Faraday cage effect, planes are completely safe from damage when flying through a electrical storm. Caroline Steel wanted to test this for herself when she visited Manchester University’s High Voltage Lab. She even got to press the big red button!

Viruses that Protect Koalas

Koala populations in the north of Australia have been hit hard by a number of bacterial and viral diseases. But the koalas in the south, even though they’re exposed, they aren’t developing the symptoms. It turns out that a retrovirus which has embedded itself in the koala’s genome and then mutated, is granting them some immunity.

(Photo: Artist’s illustration of ancient ice age land bridge connecting Britain with France. Credit: Imperial College London/Chase Stone)

Presenter: Adam Hart

Producer: Fiona Roberts
access_time2 years ago
If you were to stand on the surface of Mars you would see a cold dry dessert with a thin atmosphere and not enough oxygen to breathe. But the atmosphere on Mars hasn’t always been this way. The MAVEN (The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution) mission to monitor Mars’ atmosphere has finally concluded that the Martian atmosphere has indeed been depleted from its carbon dioxide rich, thick blanket to a thin, weak covering because of the action of solar wind.

Groundwater and Crops

A huge global study of how much groundwater is depleted by crop plants has revealed that we have lost almost a quarter of the un-replenished stored water reserved in the past 10 years. USA, Pakistan and Mexico have come out as the worst offenders. We ask how can we reduce this loss in the future and who should be paying for it – the producing countries or the consuming countries?

Extreme Weather and Climate Change Link

Eminent US climate change scientist Michael Mann, at Pennsylvania State University, has shown scientifically that the warming climate is disturbing the jet stream high in the atmosphere, affecting how it wobbles and locking it in place. This causes certain extreme weather events, such as the 2011 Texas drought, and torrential rainfall to be more severe and longer lasting.

IPS Cells in Clinical Use for the First Time

When they were discovered back in 2006, Induced Pluripotent Stem cells, or IPS cells were hailed as the ethically-sound future of regenerative medicine. These are cells from adult skin or blood, they are not embryonic cells. They are treated such that they turn back their developmental clock, and can then become many different cell types in the body. But the past ten years has shown little evidence of these cells being used in the clinical setting. However, back in the Kyoto lab where the initial discovery was made, lines of stem cells from ‘super-donors’ are being produced that are currently being used to treat patients with macular degeneration, which affects the eyes. It seems, stem cell compatibility works in a similar way to blood types, making some people more suitable as donors to match a large proportion of the population.

Image: Water on Mars © Kees Veenenbox/Science Photo Library

Presenter: Adam Hart

Producer: Fiona Roberts
access_time2 years ago
In a clever experiment in which participants navigated through virtual busy London streets whilst in an fMRI scanner. Researchers pinpointed the parts of the brain involved in finding your way. If you rely on your sat nav, you may be surprised to hear that your hippocampus is almost entirely inactive. If you’re navigating without a sat nav, the more options you have at each junction, the more active your hippocampus is. But when faced with a detour, it’s your prefrontal cortex that takes control.

Social Networking for Japanese Macaques

Many of us spend a lot of time on social networks, allowing us to interact within our social circles. Our primate relatives may not have Facebook but they too move in social circles. For Japanese Macaques, these social circles dictate who grooms who and who catches fleas from whom. New research ties in these monkeys’ social networks with the spread of diseases and parasites. The findings could also be applied to the spread of disease in humans.

Presenter: Adam Hart

Producer: Fiona Roberts
access_time2 years ago
Hunting for habitable exoplanets has just got easier as many exoplanets which have previously been considered too icy may have been falsely dismissed. Exoplanets with volcanos which pump hydrogen into the atmosphere may be warmer than we previously thought. Hydrogen gas absorbs outgoing radiation which warms the atmosphere and melts inhospitable ice, providing an environment which may support life. This greenhouse warming effect could expand the habitable zone around distant stars by 30-60%.

New Model Improves Offshore Earthquake Forecasting

The 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami far exceeded experts’ expectations, destroying defences and killing thousands of people. A new model called CRUST is the first to simulate all events caused by an offshore earthquake: tsunamis, landslides and aftershocks. It is hoped that it will improve hazard forecasting and strengthen emergency planning to help avoid huge fatalities from disasters like the 2011 Japanese tsunami.

Biofuels Reduce Damage Caused by Plane Contrails

With the aviation industry rapidly growing, a lot of research has been done to better understand the impact of carbon dioxide emissions. But until recently the impact of the soot found in plane contrails has been overlooked. Contrails may look beautiful and harmless but like carbon dioxide, they too contribute to global warming. By using a 50:50 biofuel conventional fuel hybrid, we may be able to reduce the impact of contrails by 50-70%. This provides a glimmer of hope for climate change as the effect of replacing conventional fuel with biofuel would be seen immediately.

Picture credit: Cornell University

Presenter: Adam Hart

Producer: Fiona Roberts

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