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The Science Hour

BBC

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Science, health and technology news and highlights of the week.
174 Episodes Play All Episodes
Brazil%E2%80%99s+Covid+chaos
access_time3 days ago
The number of cases of Covid -19 infections in Brazil and deaths related to the pandemic may be much higher than official figures show. Testing of the living is not widespread and there are few resources for analysing the potential role of the virus as a cause of death. Virologist Fernando Spiliki gives us his bleak assessment.

A remarkable study from South Africa shows just how easily the virus can spread around a hospital, with a single infected person infecting many. However the route of infection is not necessarily direct person to person transmission says investigator Richard Lessells from the University of KwaZulu Natal.
And from London a study in a hospital with many Covid patients at the height of the pandemic supports the South African findings; Researchers found viral particles on surfaces and in the air says Professor Wendy Barclay from Imperial College.

An early warning system for outbreaks of the virus or second waves may come from analysis of sewage, Jordan Peccia from Yale University analysed waste from his local sewage treatment works and found peaks in concentrations of the virus in the sludge occurred a few days before increases in hospital admissions.

(Image: Supporters of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro wear face masks as they demonstrate against quarantine and social distancing measures imposed by governors and mayors to combat the new coronavirus outbreak and demand military intervention.

Also this week, The kids take over. Our younger listeners are as curious as their parents, it seems, so presenter Marnie Chesterton seeks out the finest minds and attempts to answer a raft of their science questions, including why can’t you tickle yourself? Why don’t our eyebrows grow as long as the hair on our heads?

Not content with humankind, these whizz kids have been pondering deeply about other animals. Ava, 9, from the UK wants to know if any other animals kill for fun, like some humans do.

Not limited by planet Earth, these little thinkers have been contemplating even weightier questions. Joshua, 13, from Kenya wonders if our Solar System rotates around anything. And Seattle-based Michael, 10, puzzles over what would happen if a black hole collided with a wormhole.

These and other mysteries are uncovered by Marnie and her experts.



Credit: SERGIO LIMA/AFP via Getty Images)
Covid+-19+Vaccines
access_time10 days ago
There are more than 100 different Covid -19 vaccine trials currently going on. We look at which seem to be the most promising with Helen Branswell from Stat News.

And we examine a very old idea, using antibodies from one virus – in this case SARS, to counter another virus SARS- CoV-2 , which causes Covid-19. Davide Corti from Vir Biotechnology says a version of these antibodies offers potential for both vaccination and treatment.

Race and Covid -19, there seems to be a link between ethnicity and susceptibility to the virus which can’t be easily explained away by economic factors. That's the finding from a study of nearly 6 million people in the US conducted by Epidemiologist Chris Rentsch from the London School of hygiene and tropical medicine.

And social distancing in ancient times, how plagues and pandemics in the past seem to have been defeated using similar behavioural adaptations to those we are current employing. Archaeologist Shadreck Chikure has seen the evidence in sites across Africa.


(Image:Vaccine trials Credit: Getty Images)

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Julian Siddle
Loosening+lockdown
access_time17 days ago
How is Covid -19 spread? Who is most at risk and what are the circumstances under which it is most likely to be transmitted? These questions need answers for the implementation of effective and safe strategies to end lockdown. We look at what research is showing.

And if you have to go back to work what’s the best way to protect yourself, how should we be using face coverings for example? There are lessons from research on fluid dynamics.

Also key is reducing the rate of infection, the R number, Italy relaxed lockdown a few weeks ago we look at early findings on the impact.

It’s clear more widespread and effective testing will be needed to reduce transmission, A new test which should be quicker has been developed using synthetic biology and gene editing techniques.

Also despite being a universal need, talking about our toilet use and the infrastructure that aids us remains somewhat taboo. Whilst sectors like telecommunications and computing have undergone rapid transformations over the past century, the flush toilet and wastewater system have mostly remained unchanged.

CrowdScience listeners Linda and Allison wonder if flush toilets – and the clean water used to wash waste away - make economic or environmental sense. So CrowdScience presenter Marnie Chesterton looks under the toilet lid, to probe (in a sanitary fashion) whether our sewerage systems and plumbed toilets are fit for purpose. In a future where population growth and climate change are likely to affect water demands, can we continue to use clean water to dispose of our waste and should the developing world be emulating this model?

Around 2 billion people don’t have access to proper toilets or latrines, risking serious health consequences. Marnie investigates how countries without comprehensive sewerage infrastructure deal with human waste and how science is providing novel ways to dispose of - and use – human waste. Marnie speaks to a Kenyan scientist using poo-eating fly larvae to process faeces and a North American scientist who is developing a smart-toilet she hopes will monitor our health through sampling our daily movements. Are we ready to break taboos to innovate our toilet habits?






(Image: Commuters wear masks whilst travelling on a London Underground train. Credit: Tolga Akmen/Getty Images)
Covid+-19+new+hope+from+blood+tests
access_time24 days ago
Research from New York examining the blood of people who have recovered from Covid – 19 shows the majority have produced antibodies against the disease, The researchers hope to soon be able to establish whether this confers long term immunity as with more common viral infections.

And Research in Berlin and London has identified biomarkers, minute signs of the disease which may help clinicians identify who is likely to develop severe symptoms and what kind of treatment they might need.

Mutations have been much in the headlines, these are a natural processes of evolution and not just in viruses, but the term is misunderstood, two studies focusing on different aspects shed some light on what mutation in SARS-CoV-2 really means.

Also What is the smallest particle of matter? How does radiation affect our bodies? And, how is particle physics useful in our everyday lives?

We take on particle physics questions from listeners all over the world. Marnie Chesterton and Anand Jagatia get help from particle physicists from the Large Hadron Collider at CERN and medical physicist Heather Williams.


(Image: People wear face masks as they cross a street in Times Square in New York City. Credit: Kena Betancur/AFP via Getty Images)
Ebola+drug+offers+hope+for+Covid-19
access_time1 month ago
Remdesivir a drug eventually rejected as a treatment for Ebola seems to have aided recovery in a trial with more than a thousand Covid -19 patients. Researchers are cautious but hopeful; a leading health official in the US has made comparisons with the impact of game changing drugs used to treat HIV.

In contrast an organisation researching the mechanisms by which bat coronaviruses infect humans has had its funding cut following criticism from President Trump.

A scheme to help manufacture ventilators and protective equipment worldwide has seen some success with a simple ventilator they developed, now in use in hospitals.

And we look at climate change –with this year set for extreme weather

What’s the importance of zero, and how was it discovered? How do scientists calculate Pi’s infinite digits? Why do so many people find maths difficult – and what’s the most difficult thing in maths?

CrowdScience takes on a whole bunch of questions sent in by high school students in Spain. Like many children all over the world, their school is currently closed due to the coronavirus lockdown, but lessons continue at home. So how are their studies going, and can CrowdScience help out?

We attempt to answer some of their trickiest maths questions with the help of mathematics whizz Katie Steckles, Pi aficionado Matt Parker, and mathematical biologist Kit Yates.

Image Credit: Getty Images
Presidents+and+pandemics
access_time1 month ago
President Trump has repeated unfounded claims that scientists created Covid-19 in a lab. Rigorous scrutiny of the genetics of the virus reveals no evidence for such a claim.

And Brazil’s President Bolsonaro is at odds with his own health advisors – splitting public opinion and action over lockdown measures needed to control the virus.

We also look at why Covid -19 seems to be associated with so many different symptoms, from diarrheal infections to complicating kidney disease, to heart attacks

And some potentially good news from HIV research, a new target to stop that virus in its tracks, which might also be useful in the fight against other viruses.

If you're an exercise fan, you'll know that sweating is how our bodies keep us cool, but how much water we lose and which bits of us get wettest depend on a whole host of factors.

Jamaican listener Andre wants to know why he sweats in a heart-shape when he hits the gym, and we find out how everything from the clothes he wears to the moves he's doing explain his unusual perspiration patterns.

In Kenya we meet a woman whose permanently clammy hands cause her to drop her mobile phone, and sweaty feet start to stink when she spends too long in shoes.

Hyperhidrosis is a condition affecting millions of people worldwide but an expert explains some of the treatments for this mysterious condition.

Image: President Trump (rhs) with Brazilian President Bolsonaro (lhs). (Photo by Alex Wong / Getty Images)
Italy%2C+getting+Covid+19+under+control
access_time2 months ago
Italy is beginning its first tentative steps towards ending its lockdown. These are small steps, opening a few shops in areas where virus transmission has seen big falls. Part of the reason for this controlled strategy is that there are real concerns over a potential resurgence of the virus,

Around the world there are now hundreds of trials on drug treatments for Covid 19. Results so far are mixed, with antivirals developed for Ebola and HIV showing positive signs, but antimalarial drugs, championed by President Trump in particular have been shown to have dangerous potentially life threatening side effects.

A warning from history, more than 500 years ago suggests the western US in particular is entering an extreme drought, a ‘Megadrought’. When this last happened it led to war, depopulation and the spread of disease.

And its 10 years since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Studies of fish in the region suggest they are still affected by oil from that spill and more recent lesser known pollution events.

If you have ever watched a spider as it works to build a web, spiralling inwards with a thread of silk, that intersects each glistening spoke with a precise touch of the foot, you will know that it is a remarkably complex behaviour. In this episode, presenter Geoff Marsh dives into the minds of spider-constructors as they build their webs.

CrowdScience listener Daan asked us to find out how spiders can build webs without ever being taught how to do it. Are they just little robots controlled entirely by their genetic instructions?

Spider silk expert Dr Beth Mortimer, describes the process of building a web in detail, while Professor Iain Couzin explains the simple modular behaviours that build up, in sequence, to create apparently complex instincts, like the huge locust swarms that are sweeping across vast areas of Africa and Arabia.

Taking us deep under the exoskeletons of invertebrates, Professor Gene Robinson reveals an animal's behaviours can be altered by their genes, and the root similarity between learning and instincts. Spiders, despite their tiny size, have fascinating behaviours. Some jumping spiders can work out the best way out of a maze, and one arachnologist reveals how some social spiders can cooperate to build communal webs and capture moths that are many times their size.

Geoff searches for the science that can reveal how instinct can create complex behaviour by setting up interviews at the homes of spider experts from around the world.

(Image: Italy, shops begin to open. Credit: European Photopress Agency)
The+impossibility+of+social+distancing+and+even+handwashing+in+crowded+refugee+camps
access_time2 months ago
Massively over crowded Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos has seen numbers grow from 5 to 20 thousand in a matter of months. Hundreds of people share taps and toilets, there is little chance to implement measures designed to stop the spread of covid 19. So far the camp has not been hit by the epidemic, but aid agencies fear for the most vulnerable in the camp.

Covid 19 jumped from bats to humans, possibly via another wild animal. A study of zoonotic diseases has identified many other viruses that could do the same.

The skies are clearer, levels of pollution from traffic have dropped by up to 50 percent but how long will cleaner air remain?

And Comet Borisov makes a spectacular exit.

Listener Keith from Lincolnshire wants to know how to reduce stress as he is under extreme pressure as a firefighter. Not only does he have to cope with the stress of responding to emergency situations but he has to do it while wearing challenging breathing equipment.
We all experience times of stress, especially given the current situation, our chest starts to feel tight and our breathing becomes shallow. Claudia Hammond – presenter of BBC World Service programme Health Check – explains steps we can take to protect our mental health during this pandemic.
How should we alter our breathing to manage stress? Presenter Anand Jagatia speaks to breathing experts to find techniques to help listener Keith, and everyone else.


(Image: Moria refugee camp, Lesvos, Greece. Credit: Getty Images)
Covid+19+%E2%80%93+The+fightback+in+Africa+begins
access_time2 months ago
Nigeria has seen a small number of Covid -19 cases, largely spread amongst the most affluent, people who travel abroad, However there is concern about the potential of the virus to spread to overcrowded slum areas. In such conditions social distancing measures would be difficult to enforce. What are the alternatives?

The US now has the majority of cases of the virus, New York has been heavily hit, medics have developed an app to help understand the spread of Covid 19 in the community.

The availability of test kits is an issue worldwide, we look at a novel idea, adapting a device made from paper that could help to see whether the virus is present in wastewater.

The WHO has launched international drug trials to tackle covid 19, but none of the drugs involved were developed specifically to target this virus we look at why they might just work.

In medicine, it’s long been recognised that a placebo, a sham medicine or treatment, can have a powerful positive effect on a patient’s health. Part of that effect relies on a person’s belief that an inactive substance or treatment (for example, a sugar pill) is in fact an active drug. Placebos come in many forms and the scientific study of placebo is an active area of research.

With this in mind, CrowdScience listener Nigel got in touch to ask if can placebos be used to improve sports performance? As an amateur sports enthusiast, he’s been reading up on his sports psychology to try and improve his game but he wonders if any coaches or psychologists use placebos to improve performance? Always ready to take up a challenge, presenter Anand Jagatia explores the world of endurance sport to find out how a placebo might used to improve athletes’ performances as well as his own and look at how advances in brain science are helping us understand the unusual neurobiology of placebo.

And what of the amateur golfer or rugby or table tennis player - can placebo help? On an individual level, so called ‘verbal placebo’ is a technique that can help players with anxiety, confidence and concentration, and ultimately make them win more. And what about team sports – when, say, a new manager takes over at an ailing football club, and sparks a massive reversal in poor results, is that placebo effect in action? The CrowdScience team investigates.


(Image: Getty Images)
The+science+of+social+distancing
access_time2 months ago
The strong social distancing policies introduced by China seem to have been successful in stopping the spread of Covid 19. Without any effective drug treatments, reducing our number of contacts is the most effective way to prevent viral transmission.

We also look at the similarities been policies in Russia and the US on how best to deal with the virus. In both cases there are contradictions and disagreements between medical professionals and politicians.

And a warning from Polio, how vaccines may create problems when immunisation campaigns do not reach everyone.

And If you've ever felt the urge to shop till you drop, then you may already know about some of the clever ways retailers convince us to consume. From flash sales to so-called unbelievable offers, there are a whole range of techniques aimed at encouraging us to flash the cash. Listener Mo works in marketing, so knows more than most about the tricks of the trade - but he wants CrowdScience to investigate how neuroscience is being used to measure our behaviour and predict what we’ll buy.

Marnie Chesterton finds out how brain scans are being used to discover which specific aspect of an advertisement a person is responding to, and then she hears how this information is being used by companies who want to sell us more stuff. But there's also evidence to suggest we have less control over these decisions than we think, and that computers are getting closer to detecting our intention before we're even aware of it ourselves. And this could have huge implications for the way we shop.

(Image: Getty Images)
21%2F03%2F2020+GMT
access_time2 months ago
Science news and highlights of the week
Covid+-19+how+infectious+is+it+really%3F
access_time3 months ago
Covid- 19 cases seem to be multiplying daily and there is now a growing body of scientific evidence both on its spread and the effectiveness of measures to try and control it. We look at what’s working, what’s not and why.

And we look to the potential for coronavirus drug treatments, why despite the hype there really isn’t anything round the corner.

Australia’s recent fire season was intense; a new study looks back over 500 years of the weather pattern partly responsible, the Indian Ocean Dipole. The findings show the most extreme years occurred recently – under the influence of man-made climate change.

And we look at life deep below the sea floor, microbes which multiply slowly over centuries and eat their neighbours.

Since the outbreak of a new strain of coronavirus late last year, health workers and governments have been rushing to limit transmission by deploying containment tactics and anti-contamination campaigns. But, as the virus spreads around the world, what are scientists doing to help our bodies fight off or resist this new infectious disease?

Viruses that cause human disease can be notoriously tricky to tackle. They don’t respond to antibiotics, can spread rapidly between human hosts, and even evolve improved ways of working as they multiply. Presenter Marnie Chesterton heads to the University of Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Medicine to meet the researchers who are urgently searching for solutions. Professor Tao Dong is Director of Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences Oxford Institute, collaborating with colleagues on the ground in China to see how Chinese patients’ immune systems are responding to the virus, which could inform vaccine design. Professor Sarah Gilbert leads the Jenner Institute’s influenza vaccine and emerging pathogens programme. She’s been developing a vaccine against another strain of coronavirus that caused the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) outbreak, and is using the same technology to generate a new vaccine against the 2019 coronavirus. And, whilst that’s being developed, there is a possibility that some existing antiviral drugs may even help infected patients – Professor Peter Horby is working with colleagues in China on clinical trials to see what might work. CrowdScience goes into the laboratories using cutting edge science to combat coronavirus.


(Image: Coronavirus test. Credit: iStock / Getty Images Plus)
Australia%E2%80%99s+fires+-+fuelled+by+climate+change
access_time3 months ago
Attributing Australia's bush fires, a major study says man-made climate change was a big driver – making the fires at least 30% worse than they would have been if natural processes were the only factors.

We look at preparations for coronavirus in Africa. Although cases there are currently lower than in much of the rest of the world a major training initiative is taking place to spread awareness amongst medics across the continent.

We ask why Horseshoe bats in particular carry coronaviruses, and find a novel idea for distributing vaccines in places without refrigeration.

And why are we obsessed with crime? Kay from Hamburg, Germany asks as every Sunday evening Germans pile into their local pubs to watch Tatort, a hugely successful crime drama which has been running for 50 years.

Presenter Marnie Chesterton starts with the science and speaks with psychologists to get to the bottom of where this obsession might come from. Have we evolved to have an innate obsession with danger or are we addicted to feeling fear?

Or perhaps the dramatisation of crime fuels our obsession. Producer Caroline Steel visits the film set of BBC crime drama, Line of Duty. Producer Jed Mercurio explains what draws us to crime narratives and the techniques he uses to keep his audience captivated.

But does the way we chose to represent crime in media match up with reality? And what is the impact of this on society and policy?


(Image: Australian bushfires. Credit: Getty images/AFP)
Tracking+coronavirus+spread
access_time3 months ago
The appearance of Covid -19 in Italy and Iran surprised many this week. As the virus continues to spread we look at ways to contain it.

Australia’s fires have burnt around 20 percent of the countries woodlands, what are the implications for the recovery of those ecosystems?

And what is the link between the world’s super rich and deforestation? Unsurprisingly it’s money.

And we hear about the unexpected cooling effects of hydroelectric dams.

Weather: wet, dry, cold, hot, sunny, windy or downright weird - there’s nothing quite like it as a conversation starter, from Austin to Jakarta. And judging from the large volume of emails about all things meteorological in the CrowdScience inbox, there’s plenty to talk about.

What’s the weirdest weather on Earth, and how big a chance is there of it happening? Why does it always seem to rain on the days when we’re not working? And – conversely – is there any way we could make it rain when and where we need it to? Presenter Anand Jagatia finds out the answers to these questions and more by bringing together a panel of experts under the CrowdScience umbrella: Prof Liz Bentley, Royal Meteorological Society; Dr Anthony Rea, World Meteorological Organization, and Dr Rebecca Buccholz, National Centre for Atmospheric Research.


(Image: Tourists wearing masks tour outside the Coliseum in Rome. Credit: Getty Images)
Monitoring+Covid-19%2C+harvests+and+space+junk
access_time3 months ago
Roland Pease reports from the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting in Seattle. At the UK Research and Innovation’s stand in the exhibition hall, he’s joined by three scientists to discuss monitoring the Coronavirus outbreak, the locusts devastating crops in East Africa and the ever increasing amount of space junk orbiting the Earth.

Professor Jeffrey Shaman of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University talks about how he is modelling the movement of Covid-19 around China and beyond.

Dr Catherine Nakalembe, of the University of Maryland and East Africa Lead for NASA Harvest explains how she uses data collected by satellites to find out where crops are thriving and where they are not. She also talks about how this technology can alert countries to approaching locust swarms.

And Professor Moriba Jah of University of Texas at Austin, tells Roland why he’s concerned about the amount of space junk that’s orbiting the earth and why so little is being done about controlling satellite launch and disposal.

A lovely day out in the countryside can be blighted when swarms of midges or mosquitos invite themselves to the party. A CrowdScience listener in New Zealand has noticed that, when sand-flies come a-biting, she and her daughter are targeted, while her husband and other daughter escape unharmed. She wants to know why some, but not all of her family become bait for insect bites. CrowdScience delves into a world of smells, called semiochemistry, which explores the aromas one animal uses to attract or repel another. Does our attractiveness as a blood meal to insects come down to what we wear, what we’ve eaten or is it all in our genes? Host Marnie Chesterton discards the DEET and bravely offers herself up as a meal for mozzies, in a quest for answers.


(Image: Artist response to NASA Harvest discussion at AAAS Credit: Lorenzo Palloni)
CoVid-19%3A+Mapping+the+outbreak
access_time4 months ago
Researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical medicine have developed an online map which presents the latest information on the spread of CoVid-19 and allows anyone to follow the outbreak and compare this data with the spread of Ebola and SARS. See the weblink from this page to try it for yourself.

And the coming together of microbiology and big data science has led to the development of a portable device able to spot antibiotic resistant bacteria. This should help with more precise drug targeting and potentially save lives.

We also look at how social science is helping to improve the health of people reliant on woodstoves for cooking, and we unearth a huge impact crater hidden in plain sight.

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the world. Many of us will at some point in our lives be confronted with the disease – either by falling ill ourselves or through a family member or friend. For CrowdScience presenter Marnie Chesterton, the diagnosis would change her life.

The range of cancer symptoms and mortality rates vary considerably. Not all cancers are fatal and in some cases, cancer ends up more like a chronic debilitating disease, resulting in patients eventually dying from some other condition. This has got listener Gill in Scotland wondering – why do we call all cancers, cancer? And when did doctors first realise that all cancers are part of the same problem?

First described by the Egyptians thousands of years ago and later coined by the Greek physician Hippocrates as “karninos”, the Greek word for “crab”, cancer is ominously absent from medical literature until the late 19th century. Throughout history it has puzzled, infuriated and enticed doctors and scientists to push medical science to its breaking point. Archaeologists have recently discovered that the ancient Egyptians had a term for cancer and that remedies they used then contain compounds that are found in modern chemotherapy.

As we uncover the science and history of cancer, presenter Marnie Chesterton takes us on a journey through her own experience of living with and beyond the diagnosis and we examine the promise of future treatments.


(Image:Getty Images)
Coronavirus%2C+prospects+for+treatment%3F
access_time4 months ago
Doctors in the US have treated a coronavirus patient with a drug developed for Ebola. That drug had never been tested on people so its use here seems an extreme move. We look at why this kind of drug developed for one virus might work on another. It’s all down to the genetic material at the centre of the virus. That raises safety concerns as human cells contain similar material.

East Africa is experiencing a plague of locusts and bizarrely it’s linked to the Australian wildfires. A weather pattern across the Indian Ocean, made more extreme by climate change, links the rains in Africa with the heatwave in Australia.

New features of The Northern Lights have been discovered thanks to an analysis of photos on Facebook by physicists in Finland. Amateur sky watchers pictures reveal previously unnoticed forms in the light display.

And we look at the search for properties of sub atomic particles, why a small device might be better than the enormous ones used so far.


Today, once-fatal diseases like the plague, sepsis, or cholera can be treated simply and quickly with a pill. These tiny tablets hold compounds that can fix illnesses, and most people don’t think twice about taking an asparin for a headache.

Modern medicine looks nothing like the plants that many of them are derived from. But there must have been a moment, when the first humans decided that a particular plant, fungus, or mineral might cure them of an upset stomach, or infected wound. Right? That’s what listener Andrew Chen wondered, so he emailed CrowdScience to find answers.

Presenter Anand Jagatia speaks with an archaeologist, a botanist, an ethno-pharmacologist, a zoologist and a historian to uncover the story of early human experimentation with ‘drugs’ from plants, fungi, animals and minerals.

The history of humans is full of illness and poor health, and it seems we’ve always tried to fix this. Anand discovers the connection between food and medicine while making tonic water from scratch with Kim Walker at the Royal Botanic Gardens of Kew, and tastes the daisy-like Chinese herb that was first used thousands of years ago, and then – once tested - became one of the best modern drugs for treating the world’s most deadly infectious disease.

Listener Andrew’s inspiration came from a previous episode of CrowdScience ‘Who were the first farmers?’ and so we return to expert anthropologist Cheryl Makerewicz who tells us about the ecological knowledge of hunter-gatherers and pastoralist communities. With Jaap de Roode, Anand discovers that conscious thought isn’t a pre-requisite of medical discovery, and historian Vivienne Lo explains how written word helped to standardise generations of medical knowledge in East Asia. Previously medical knowledge had been irrevocably linked with shamanism, magic and spirituality, but with modern medicine this changed – but today there is still much we can learn from ancient forms of knowledge, Christophe Wiart explains how his science focuses of discovering what plants tribal people in east Asia have used for centuries to cure their ailments. These early methods may help us combat new diseases today.

(Image: Scientists are at work as they try to find an effective treatment against the new SARS-like coronavirus, Credit: AFP/Getty Images)
Understanding+the+Wuhan+coronavirus
access_time4 months ago
Parts of China are on lockdown, a small number of cases have been reported in other countries and the past week has brought widely conflicting views on the potential danger presented by the new virus.

We look at the scientific facts, analyse why it’s so difficult to predict the spread of the virus, look at the nature of virus infection and discuss why treatments such as vaccines are not available.

We look at why some viruses can jump from animals to humans and examine hi-tech solutions designed to speed up the process of drug development.

And CrowdScience heads to Freetown, Sierra Leone for a panel debate in front of a live audience to answer listener questions about how artificial intelligence is helping tackle some of the world’s most pressing issues. Anand Jagatia is joined by regional science experts to explore how robots, drones and big data are transforming sectors such as agriculture, health and governance. Could clever machines help eradicate invasive species? Will block chain IDs eventually replace physical documents? And while this technology is heralded as a force for change we’ll ask whether fears of an AI takeover are unfounded?

(Image: Medical staff member helps a couple at a hospital in Wuhan. Credit: Feature China/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
Wuhan+Coronavirus
access_time4 months ago
The way in which a new virus has emerged in China is reminiscent of SARS, a highly infectious virus that spread rapidly. It’s so similar that Health officials demanded action as soon as its existence became known. And the Chinese authorities and global medical community have acted to try and stop the spread.
Events were still developing, even as we were in the studio making this programme, new reports of suspected cases were coming in. The WHO was yet to give its view on the severity of the outbreak. This week’s edition is very much a snapshot of what we know or knew about this virus on the afternoon of Thursday January 23rd 2020.

Super-sized volcanic eruptions and giant asteroids crashing in from outer space are the stuff of disaster movies. They have listener Santosh from South Africa slightly concerned. He’d like to know what’s being done in real life to prepare for this kind of event.

Although the chance of these events occurring is low, Santosh isn’t entirely wrong to be worried: Earth has a much longer history than humans do, and there’s evidence that several past extinction events millions of years ago wiped out the dominant species on the planet at the time, as we’ve heard before on CrowdScience. The kind of extraordinary geological and extra-terrestrial hazards thought to be responsible for the death of millions of lives do still exist. So is there really any way that humans could survive where the dinosaurs – and plenty of other species – have failed?

Presenter Marnie Chesterton finds out by meeting experts who are already preparing for the remote but real possibility of the biggest disaster we could face. It turns out that in real life most things we can think of which could cause an extinction event are being watched closely by scientists and governmental agencies. How worried we should really be by the possibility of a sudden super-volcanic eruption at Yellowstone in the USA, or one of the other enormous volcanoes dotting our planet’s surface? Marnie heads into an underground bunker near the remote Scottish coast to find out if hiding out is a viable survival option. Now a museum, Scotland’s Secret Bunker, formerly RAF Troywood, is one of a network of nuclear shelters built by nation states during the Cold War. And she hears about one of the combined space agencies most ambitious projects yet: NASA and ESA’s Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment mission to crash an impactor into an asteroid’s moon to find out whether we could knock any potentially problematic collisions off-course well before Earth impact.



(Image: Wuhan Residents wear masks to buy vegetables in the market. Credit: Getty Images)
Mount+Taal+volcano
access_time5 months ago
An experimental satellite called Aeolus, named after a Greek god of wind, which takes daily global measurements of the wind patterns throughout the depth of atmosphere has improved weather forecasts. ESA’s Anne-Greta Straume explains how it works.

The dramatic eruption of the island volcano Taal in the Philippines was a spectacular picture of the plume of ejecta punching a hole in overlying cloud cover. Nearby towns have been blanketed with dust, fissures have appeared in the ground and there has been dramatic lightning. Geologist Yannick Withoos at Leicester University is studying historic eruptions of Taal and current events have brought the purpose of her research into sharp relief.

Philipp Heck of the Field Museum in Chicago explains how he has found the oldest dust grains on earth inside a Murchison meteorite. They are millions of years older than the solar system.
And Roland Pease talks to Brian Rauch of Washington University, St ouis, who is currently in Antarctica flying detectors on balloons around the South Pole searching for cosmic rays produced in the death of stars.

Tracking climate change in the Himalaya – not up at the snow capped peaks, clearly visible from afar, but in the extensive rocky hinterland further down you occasionally see in documentaries about attempts on Everest – is difficult. Ecologist and hydrologist Karen Anderson, of Exeter University, has used satellite data to measure the changes in the vegetation in this remote area.

Is there something bigger than infinity? Does quantum mechanics affect how I think? And why can I suddenly do algebra? As ever, we’re not afraid to tackle the big questions.

After a previous episode about the relationship between mathematics and reality, we received a flood of profound and difficult questions, so we dive back into the world of maths, physics and philosophy to try and answer them.

A panel of experts help us puzzle out whether some infinities are bigger than others - and why that matters, as well as what quantum mechanics can teach us about the workings of the brain. And we seek answers for one of our listeners who surprised himself by being able to figure out mathematics equations he previously found unfathomable.

With philosopher of physics Dr Eleanor Knox, mathematician Dr Katie Steckles, and Dr Aldo Faisal, an expert in neurotechnology.

(Image: Taal Volcano, Philippines. Credit: EPA)
Australia%E2%80%99s+extreme+fire+season
access_time5 months ago
2019 was Australia’s hottest year on record, a major factor behind the bush fires which have been far worse than usual. We look at the patterns of extreme weather that have contributed to the fires but are also linked to floods in Africa. And the way in which thunderstorms have helped to spread the fires.

The armpit of Orion is changing. The star Betelgeuse is dimming some claim this is readying it for a major explosion others are more sceptical, we weight up the arguments.

And an Iron Age brain may hold some clues to modern neurodegenerative disease. Protein fragments have been extracted from the brain tissue found inside a 2,500 year old human skull.

Reducing climate change and global warming is one of the biggest and most urgent challenges for everyone as we enter a new decade. The CrowdScience team have been trying to figure out how to play our part in reducing our carbon footprint. So what’s the best way forward?

Presenter Marnie Chesterton starts to find out by pitting three of her colleagues against each other for the first phase of our challenge. Anand Jagatia, Geoff Marsh and Melanie Brown have all been tasked with answering a listener’s question in the lowest-carbon way possible. Along the way, they must monitor and account for every emission – from their travel methods to their choice of sustenance whilst working. It turns out that the challenge is not only in acknowledging all the types of activity that produce emissions, but in working out the volume of greenhouse gases produced. Marnie judges her colleagues’ efforts, determines a winner, and dispatches the losing challenger to look further into carbon calculation, and to find out about the possibilities of legitimately offsetting the overall footprint. And we start our on-going experiment using a broadcast industry carbon calculator to find out the most carbon-efficient and sustainable ways to keep answering everyone’s questions and sharing more cutting-edge global science.


(Image: Australia fires. Credit: Getty Images)
Adapting+California
access_time5 months ago
Roland Pease is joined by California based science Journalist Molly Bentley as we examine the impact of earthquakes and fires. California has experienced both in the last year - What’s it like to live with a constant threat from these extreme events? We also take a look at NASA’s plans for a new mission to Mars – to look for signs on life.

What is empathy? This week’s question comes from Maria in Amsterdam who has noticed that when one of her friends is in pain, she feels their pain too, literally. Maria wants to know - is she experiencing a type of ‘super’ empathy?

To help find the answer, Marnie Chesterton visits the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience and gets into an MRI scanner to discover what is happening in her brain when she empathises.

She talks with a pro-social psychopath to find out how psychopaths experience empathy differently and how they navigate social situations.

And Marnie meets with a mediator specialising in The Israeli–Palestinian conflict, to learn the value of empathy when the stakes are at their highest.




Picture: Roland Pease with science journalist Molly Bentley, Credit: BBC
Gaming+climate+change
access_time5 months ago
The latest round of climate negotiations, COP25 have ended without agreement on many fundamental issues. We join researchers from Perdue University in the US who have developed a role playing game to encourage climate negotiators and others to take a long term view. Key to this research project is the concept of tipping points, where an environment changes irreversibly from one state to another. This is accompanied by the loss of ecosystems, for example the widespread melting of arctic sea ice, rainforest burning or coral bleaching.
The idea is that such tipping points provide a more meaning full focus for the implication of climate change than abstract concepts like temperature rise.

Two years ago reporter Anand Jagatia travelled up beyond the Arctic Circle to meet Norwegian researchers in order to answer a question from US listener Kira on why some people function best in the mornings whilst others only come alive at night. In this episode we revisit the topic with the help of science writer and Parentland podcast presenter Linda Geddes, author of Chasing the Sun, a book which explores the science behind the Sun’s effects on our bodies and our minds.

The morning sun helps to kick-start our day and our body’s biological cycle – so what happens when it barely rises above the horizon or we live for prolonged periods in artificial environments where the sun never shines? Research has suggested that some communities in northern latitudes are better protected against the mental and physical effects of reduced exposure to sunlight in the winter which might have implications for those suffering the winter blues.


(Image: Polar Bear in the Arctic Sea, Credit: Coldimages/Getty)
Understanding+the+Anak+Krakatau+eruption
access_time5 months ago
We have the latest from a year long investigation into the causes of the December 2018 Indonesian Tsunami. And we get a look at the first pictures from the Mayotte undersea volcano, which emerged earlier this year off the coast of East Africa.

As CrowdScience celebrates its third birthday, the team takes time to revisit some of our early episodes, and catch up with listeners to discover if the answers we uncovered changed the course of their lives? We hear from Zach, who has learned to let go of a possibly lost memory and Erin, who discovered technology could hold the key to finding the man of her dreams. And two years after he emailed to ask why he couldn’t kick his habit, we ash Sharif whether he has finally managed to stop smoking?




(Anak Krakatau volcano. Credit: AFP/Getty Images)
White+Island+volcano+eruption
access_time6 months ago
From the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, Roland Pease talks with Diana Roman of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington DC about the tragic White Island volcanic eruption in which at least eight tourists died.

Aurora Elmore of National Geographic and Arbindra Khadka of Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu Nepal discuss the state of Himalayan glaciers and climate change.

Robert Hazen of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington DC tells Roland about the research area called geobiochemistry and Hilairy Hartnett of Arizona State University explains why it may not be easy to find life on extra solar planets.

Buzzing insects that sting and fall into your food can be annoying. But perhaps we should think twice before taking aim with the fly swatter because bug populations around the world are in rapid decline. This worries CrowdScience listener Daria; she wants to know what will happen to our food production without the help from our tiny friends – the pollinators? And what can she do, as a city-dweller, to help the bugs?

The dollar value of agricultural services that insects supply – for free – is estimated to be 350 billion dollars worldwide. For scientists, a major challenge is the lack of long-term studies of insects on a global scale – in fact – entomologists worry that species are dying out faster than we can document their existence. The culprits, they believe, are climate change, invasive species, land-use and pesticides.

CrowdScience speaks to the scientists who want to save the bugs; one project capitalises on the chemical signals that attract certain species of pollinators while others are building ‘bee hotels’ to encourage native bees back into our cities.


(Image: Smoke from the volcanic eruption of Whakaari, also known as White Island. Credit: Reuters)
CRISPR+babies+scandal+%E2%80%93+more+details
access_time6 months ago
Extracts from unpublished papers on the methods used by a Chinese scientist to genetically modify the embryos of two girls reveal a series of potentially dangerous problems with the procedure and ethical shortcomings.

We look at the mechanism behind the formation of our facial features and how this is linked to our evolution, scrutinise the impact of current emissions on global climates and see why lithium, used in batteries and medicines, is now a potentially widespread pollutant.

66 million years ago, a huge asteroid hit the earth, wiping out most of the dinosaurs that roamed the land. It would still be tens of millions of years before the first humans appeared - but what if those dinosaurs hadn’t died out? Would we ever have evolved?

CrowdScience listener Sunil was struck by this thought as he passed a Jurassic fossil site: if dinosaurs were still around, would I be here now?
We dive back into the past to see how our distant mammal ancestors managed to live alongside huge, fierce dinosaurs; and why the disappearance of those dinosaurs was great news for mammals. They invaded the spaces left behind, biodiversity flourished, and that led – eventually – to humans evolving. It looks like our existence depends on that big dinosaur extinction.

But we explore a big ‘what if?’: if the asteroid hadn’t hit, could our primate ancestors still have found a niche – somewhere, somehow - to evolve into humans? Or would evolution have taken a radically different path: would dinosaurs have developed human levels of intelligence? Is highly intelligent life inevitable, if you give it long enough to develop? We look to modern day birds - descendants of certain small dinosaurs who survived the asteroid strike - to glean some clues.

(Photo: He Jiankui, Chinese scientist and professor at Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen. Credit:Reuters)
New+Malaria+target
access_time6 months ago
First item does not need a headline. About a paragraph for first item. Then couple of sentences for each item following…
Molecular scale investigations have identified the mechanism which confers resistance to antimalarial drugs. Researchers hope work to turn off this mechanism could mean cheaper well known antimalarials can become effective once again.

We look at the threat to weather forecasting from 5G networks, discuss the origins of much of the technology in our mobile phones and ask what food we’ll be eating in the future and how the past can inform this.


Image: Mosquito. Science Photo Library

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Julian Siddle
Australia+burning
access_time6 months ago
Australia’s annual wild fires have started early this year, drought is a factor but to what extent is ‘Bush fire weather’ influenced by climate change?

A two million year old fossil tooth reveals some biological answers to who its owner was.

Why Climate change may have killed off the world’s first superpower

And a hologram produced from sound waves.

Australian listener Lizzy is trying to reduce her footprint on this planet and is particularly interested in palm oil. It is everywhere - in shampoo, lipstick and face cream and even food stuffs like biscuits and spreads. In fact, WWF say it is used in 50% of all supermarket products so it's something most of us will come into contact with every day.

Lizzy wants to know whether she should stop eating it. Because on the one hand, she sees emotive adverts depicting dying orangutans, deforestation and burning peatlands, releasing vast amounts of climate changing gases like carbon dioxide. On the other, she has read that palm oil is the most productive of the vegetable oils, using far less land than others. So would boycotting palm oil displace the problem elsewhere, she wonders? Would buying sustainable palm oil be best?

For some answers, Graihagh Jackson heads to one of the biggest producers of palm oil: Malaysia. She visits small holder plantations, who collectively provide 40% of the world’s palm oil, to find out how palm oil is grown and to ask them about their perspective on a product that provides them with their livelihood. What would incentivise them to engage in greener practices? And what would that look like? For the latter question, Graihagh speaks to the largest sustainable certifier of palm oil, the RSPO and looks to science to see how we can continue to grow palm oil without having any more adverse effects on wildlife.

(Image: Firefighters tackle a bushfire to save a home in Taree, Australia. Credit Peter Parks/AFP via Getty Images)
Australia+burning
access_time7 months ago
Australia’s annual wild fires have started early this year, drought is a factor but to what extent is ‘Bush fire weather’ influenced by climate change?

A two million year old fossil tooth reveals some biological answers to who its owner was.

Why Climate change may have killed off the world’s first superpower

And a hologram produced from sound waves.

Can machines read our minds? We go in search of the latest efforts to connect brains to computers. We learn how researchers are combining brain scans with machine learning to generate large amounts of information. We explore how this technology might be used to help people with serious medical conditions like locked-in syndrome. And discover there are many hurdles to overcome along the way – for example how can scientist develop implants that can access the brain without causing long-term damage? Our listener Daniel wants to know whether we might finally be on the cusp of enabling machines to meld with our minds.

(Image: Firefighters tackle a bushfire to save a home in Taree, Australia. Credit Peter Parks/AFP via Getty Images)
Climate+in+crisis
access_time7 months ago
Pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are largely unachievable says a major audit of commitments to the Paris Climate Accord. Air pollution in Delhi is so bad, breathing the toxic particles has been likened to smoking. Can a scientific assessment of the multiple causes help provide a way forward? We examine a new way of making new plastic – from old plastic. And why sending some stem cells to the international space station might help astronauts travel further.
We’re all familiar with the sensation of sleepiness – heavy eye-lid, that warm, fuzzy feeling. But, one listener wants to know, what’s actually going on in our body and brain when tiredness takes over?

We investigate how our psycho-motor skills are affected by fatigue in a driving simulator. And we ask how does sleepiness change with age? Why, when tired, do adults crave a nap but children become ever more excitable? And what the hell’s going on with teenagers? We have some answers.

(Image: Tourists wearing masks to protect themselves from smog in New Delhi, India. Credit: Sushil Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
Wildfires+and+winds+in+California
access_time7 months ago
The Santa Ana in the south, and the Diablo in the north, are winds that are fuelling the terrible fires raging in California this week. They’re also blamed for bringing down power lines that sometimes start the fires. Roland Pease talks to Janice Coen of the National Center for Atmospheric Research NCAR who has been developing a highly detailed model to forecast how wind, mountains, and flames interact during a wildfire. The glaring gaps in human genetics are in Africa – much overlooked because the companies and universities sequencing DNA are mostly based in Europe, the US and other advanced economies. A ten-year attempt to fill in some of those gaps came to fruition this week, with the release of a study covering thousands of individuals from rural Uganda. Deepti Gurdasani, of Queen Mary University London, explains the data reveal both new medical stories, and the scale of past migration within Africa. There are also gaps in the climate record from Africa. Knowing past climates could help massively in understanding the prospects for climate change in coming years on the continent. Journalist Linda Nordling has just published an article in Nature that shows that the records exist – old weather data collected since the 19th Century. It’s just they’re scattered, unexamined, in vaults and collections across Africa.

Most of us take the ability to speak fluently for granted but for listener Breeda it has been a lifelong struggle. She has asked us to investigate whether there is a cure for stuttering and if not, what is the best way to live with it is. Breeda is not alone as stammering is a neurological condition that affects 70 million people worldwide.

(Image: A firefighter sets a back fire along a hillside during firefighting operations to battle the Kincade Fire in Healdsburg, California. Credit: Philip Pacheco/ /AFP via Getty Images)
Is+quantum+supremacy+%E2%80%98garbage%E2%80%99%3F
access_time7 months ago
A quantum computer has performed a calculation considered impossible for conventional computers, but how meaningful is the result? As our guest reveals, this quantum state can be hugely significant and garbage – at the same time.

Also we look at a new method of gene editing, which avoids cutting up DNA, get to grips with where the worlds worms live and watch elements being created in distant solar collisions.

Listeners Michael and Ricky have been walking a tributary of the River Thames in London, UK. They’ve noticed that there are loads of fish, which have only returned in recent years thanks to clean water initiatives. But what about salmon, they wonder? Could they one day return too? If they popped some salmon eggs in the river, would they return to spawn later on in their lives?

We head to Norway to find out whether it’s possible. There, we follow the life cycle of salmon, from birth to death and travels to the salmon’s spawning grounds, before following their path out to sea and beyond. We explore the science behind ‘natal homing’ - returning to the place of your birth in order to reproduce. It isn’t just confined to salmon. But how does it work?

(Photo: A quantum circuit from Google's Sycamore computer. Credit: Google)
Malaria%2C+origins+and+a+potential+new+treatment
access_time8 months ago
A variety of malarial parasites have existed amongst the great apes for millennia, we look at how one of them jumped species and why humans became its preferred host.
And from Antarctica we hear about a potential new treatment for malaria found in a deep sea sponge.

We also look at why improved monitoring is changing our perceptions of earthquakes and follow the story of an endangered Polynesian snail.

What exactly is the relationship between mathematics and reality? That’s the impossibly difficult question we have been set this week by our listener Sergio in Peru. It’s one that’s been pondered by humans for millennia: the Greek philosopher Pythagoras believed “All is number”.

Is maths a human construct to help us make sense of reality - a tool, a model, a language? Does maths create its own reality? Or is it reality itself?

(Photo: A young gorilla. Credit: Hermes Images/AGF/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
From+batteries+to+distant+worlds
access_time8 months ago
Nobel prizes this week went to a range of discoveries that you might be familiar with, in fact you might be using one of them right now – the lithium ion battery. The scientists credited with its Invention got the chemistry prize. And the tantalising prospect of life on other planets plays into the physics prize win.

We see what salamanders have to offer in the treatment of arthritis.

Human life expectancy has been increasing for decades. In many developed countries, we can now expect to live into our 80s, and it isn’t uncommon to live to 90 or even 100 years old. But eventually our bodies fail, old age is undoubtedly a clear indicator of approaching death. This fact annoyed 79 year old listener Bill, who emailed in to set us the task of seeking out the secrets to a longer, healthier life. Bill has a personal target to live to 200 years old, so can he do it?
Global+climate+inaction
access_time8 months ago
This week’s IPCC report on the state of the world’s climate looks very much like their earlier reports on the subject. The document cautiously expresses a picture of a future with greater climate extremes. Activists are frustrated by the lack of action. We look at why the scientific message is often hampered by politics.

Fish could provide micronutrients to the world poor, but as we’ll hear this would need a major shift in commercial fishing practices globally.

Baby bottles from thousands of years ago suggest Neolithic people gave animal milk to their children.

And when did the Sahara develop? New findings in deposits from volcanic islands provides some evidence.

The number of vegans is on the rise in many parts of the world, with many people swearing by the health benefits of a plant-based lifestyle. But is a vegan diet really better for your health? Is there any evidence to show that vegans are likely to live longer?

And what about the new, highly processed meat analogues becoming increasingly available in supermarkets and restaurants menus? They look, feel and taste just like meat products but what affect are they having on our health? To find out more, we talk to the experts and join listener Samantha in following a vegan diet.

(Image: Greta Thunberg. Credit: AFP/Getty Image)
South+East+Asia+choking+-+again
access_time8 months ago
Staying indoors might seem a good way to avoid air pollution, but scientists studying the fires in Indonesia have found there is little difference between the air quality in their hotel room and the atmosphere outside. Both levels are high enough to be considered dangerous for human health. To add to the problem, fires continue to burn underground in the peaty soil long after they were started.

In the Arctic ice melt this summer has been particularly severe, however the picture in complicated by climatic conditions. A new mission to the region involving trapping a ship in ice over winter hopes to provide answers.

Nearly 500 million of year ago the earth’s sky was darkened by a massive asteroid explosion, blotting out the sun. New data on this event may provide an insight into contemporary climate change.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous fictional detective is renowned for his feats of memory, his observational capacity, tireless energy and an almost supernatural ability to solve the most perplexing crimes from seemingly unconnected facts. But what does science have to say about the matter? We pit fact against fiction with a leading forensic expert, a sleep scientist, and we discover that most humans are able to train their brain to rival the memory capacity of Sherlock Holmes. And who wouldn’t want that?

(Image: Researcher Mark Grovener from Kings College London, measures air quality in Indonesia. Credit Marlin Wooster KCL)
Embryoids+from+stem+cells
access_time9 months ago
Scientists know very little about the first few days of the life of a human embryo, once it's been implanted in the womb. Yet this is when the majority of pregnancies fail. Professor Magdalena Zernika-Goetz at Cambridge University is a leader in the field of making 'model embryos' in both mice and humans. Model embryos until now have been grown in the lab from donated fertilised eggs, but these are hard to come by and governed by strict laws and ethical guidelines. Now researchers in the University of Michigan have used human pluripotent stem cell lines (originally isolated from embryos, but kept and nurtured as clumps of dividing cells in petri-dishes for many years) to make a model embryo that has shown signs of development and organisation in the crucial 7-10 day window. We discuss how helpful these will be to understanding crucial early stage pregnancies and as a tool to test drugs, treatments and disease processes. The ethical side of growing human embryos from stem cells is addressed by Stanford University ethicist Professor Hank Greely.

Astronomers have detected water vapour in the atmosphere of a planet called K2-18b orbiting within the habitable zone of a distant star. The lead scientist, Professor Giovanna Tinetti of University College London, talks about the discovery and what she hopes to explore when a satellite telescope called ARIEL is launched by ESA in around a decade.

The World Health Organization ranks migraines as the second most disabling neurological disorder in the world and in people under the age of 50, it is the single most disabling medical condition. With stats like that, it’s no wonder that so many listeners have got in touch wanting help with their headaches. Peter from Germany askes what happens in his brain when he’s got a migraine, whilst Nika from Germany has found that changing lifestyle has dramatically reduced hers but she’s not sure why. What’s the link between diet, exercise and migraines, Nika wonders? Meanwhile, Judy from USA wants to know if there’s a cure, as her son gets chronic migraines and she wants to know what the future looks like for him. We investigate some of the latest research in headache and migraine research to find some answers.

(Photo: A set of five embryo-like structures in a microfluidic device developed in the lab of Jianping Fu. Image credit: Fu Lab, Michigan Engineering)
New+evidence+of+nuclear+reactor+explosion
access_time9 months ago
An isotopic fingerprint is reported of a nuclear explosion in Russia last month. Researchers ask people living in the area or nearby to send them samples of dust or soil before the radioactive clues therein decay beyond recognition. Also, a near miss between an ESA satellite and a SpaceX Starlink module in crowded near space strengthens the case for some sort of international Space Traffic Management treaty, whilst in the arctic circle, melting permafrost is disinterring the graves of long-dead whalers.

Sociable, lively, outgoing people are highly valued in certain cultures - think of the stereotype of the hyper-confident American. And there’s even evidence that extroverts all over the world tend to be happier. But are the positive qualities that quieter types can bring to society being ignored or under-appreciated? And couldn’t introverts be just as happy as extroverts, if only they lived in a more accepting culture? We probe the links between happiness, personality and culture, and find out what makes introverts happy.


(Photo:Tell-tale radioactive isotopes could still be in dust on cars near the site of the blast. Credit: Humonia/iStock / Getty Images Plus)
Nanotube+computer+says+hello
access_time9 months ago
A computer processor made of carbon nanotubes is unveiled to the world. Also, the continuing quest for nuclear fusion energy, and the stats on crocodile attacks since the 1960s.

Satellites have transformed our lives, giving us digital communications, navigation and observations of Earth, and even an artificial place to live above the atmosphere: The International Space Station. But, would more of these satellites and stations help us get back to the Moon, as well as further into the solar system? What else would astronauts need for living beyond Earth? We ask the engineers working on the possibilities – from communications satellites that could transform lunar missions to a brand new moon-orbiting space station: The Lunar Gateway.

These technologies could help humans get back to the Moon, and perhaps one day to Mars, for hopefully reduced costs – but funding missions beyond our planet still isn’t going to be cheap. Why might we need deep space-based infrastructure, and how could it help humanity back here on Earth?

(Photo: The world's first 16 bit microprocessor made of carbon nanotubes. Credit: Max Shulaker)
Amazonian+fires+likely+to+worsen
access_time9 months ago
As fires across the amazon basin continue to burn, we speak to the researchers watching from space and from the ground. Also, new pictures back from the surface of asteroid Ryugu thanks to Germany’s MASCOT lander, part of the Japanese Hyabusa2 mission, give insights into the clay from which the solar system was originally formed, and Greenland’s top geologist gives his valuation of his native island for prospective purchasers.

Many of us struggle to motivate ourselves to carry out certain tasks, from hanging out the washing to writing a job application. How can we best motivate ourselves? And how can we avoid procrastination? Listener Moses in Uganda wants to find out. Anand Jagatia puts science to the test as he trains and participates in an open water swimming race which Marnie Chesterton has kindly volunteered him for.

(Photo: Wildfires in Amazon rainforest. Credit: REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino)
Cracking+the+case+of+the+Krakatoa+volcano+collapse
access_time10 months ago
Scientists this week are on expedition around the volcano Anak Krakatoa, which erupted and collapsed in 2018 leading to the loss of some 400 lives on the island of Java. The scientists, including David Tappin and Michael Cassidy, are hoping that their survey of the seafloor and tsunami debris will allow them to piece together the sequence of events, and maybe find signs to look out for in the future.

Wyoming Dinosaur trove
The BBC got a secret visit to a newly discovered fossil site somewhere in the US which scientists reckon could keep them busy for many years. Jon Amos got to have a tour and even found out a tasty technique to tell a fossil from a rock.

Bioflourescent Aliens
Researchers at Cornell University’s Carla Sagan Institute report their work thinking about detecting alien life on distant planets orbiting other stars. Around 75% of stars are of a type that emits far more dangerous UV than our own sun. What, they argue, would a type of life that could survive that look like to us? Well, just maybe it would act like some of our own terrestrial corals, who can protect their symbiotic algae from UV, and in doing so, emit visible light. Could such an emission be detectable, in sync with dangerous emergent UV flares around distant suns? The next generation of large telescopes maybe could…

Exopants
Jinsoo Kim and David Perry of Harvard University tell reporter Giulia Barbareschi about their new design for a soft exosuit that helps users to walk and, crucially also to run. They suggest the metabolic savings the suit could offer have numerous future applications for work and play.

Listeners Mark and Jess have been watching TV series, The Handmaid’s Tale. It's an adaptation of a book by Margaret Atwood and depicts a dystopian future where many have become infertile. The remaining few fertile women, known as Handmaids, are forced into child-bearing servitude. Why so many have become infertile isn’t clear but the series hints at several possible causes, from radiation to environmental pollutants.

All of which got Mark and Jess wondering… What could cause mass infertility? Would we descend into a political landscape akin to Gilead? Award-winning author Margaret Atwood has left a paper trail for us to follow in the pages of her novel. There’s a ream of possible causes, and so Marnie Chesterton investigates which ring true.

(Photo: Volcano Anak Krakatoa. Credit: Drone Pilot, Muhammad Edo Marshal, ITB university in Bandung, Indonesia)
Keeping+tabs+on+nuclear+weapons
access_time10 months ago
The US has withdrawn from a historic nuclear disarmament treaty. However the verification of such treaties has been under scrutiny for some time as they don’t actually reveal the size of nuclear stockpiles.

New methods of verification and encryption should allow all sides to be more confident on who has what in terms of nuclear stockpiles.

Can carbon capture and storage technology help reduce atmospheric Co2 levels? The answer seems to be yes, but at a considerable cost.

Humans have been trying to predict the future since ancient times. The Chinese had the I-Ching while the Greeks preferred to search for answers in animal entrails. These days intelligence agencies around the world mostly rely on expert opinions to forecast events. But there are ordinary people among us that routinely outperform experts when it comes to making accurate predictions about the future.

Listener Cicely wants to know whether these non-experts, so-called “super-forecasters”, really exist and if so, how does it work? She has noticed that people in her family – herself included – are surprisingly good at predicting events.

(Photo: U.S. President Donald Trump and Russia President Vladimir Putin. Credit: Sputnik/Reuters)
The+snowball+effect+of+Arctic+fires
access_time10 months ago
Wildfires are an annual phenomenon across the arctic region, but this year they are far more intense than usual, we look at the drivers for these extreme fires and the consequences, in particular long term environmental change across the region.

We visit Naples which is built on a super volcano. A new analysis is designed to help predict when it might erupt.

We hear from young scientists around the world on their hopes for the future and hear about the discovery of a new potentially earth like planet.

In some parts of the world you can barely look at a rock without finding a fossil, and museum archives worldwide are stuffed with everything from ammonites to Archaeopteryx. But how many does that leave to be discovered by future fossil hunters? What’s the total number of fossils left to find?

(Photo: Arctic wildfires: Credit: Getty Images)
The+human+danger+%E2%80%93+for+sharks
access_time10 months ago
A global project tracking sharks through the deep oceans has found they are increasingly facing danger from fishing fleets. Sharks used to be caught accidentally, but now there is a well-established trade in shark meat and fins, which the researchers say is reducing their numbers.

We look at how tourists might be a useful source for conservation data, And we meet one of the planets smallest predators, is it a plant is it an animal? Well actually it’s a bit of both.

Do you stick your tongue out or scowl when you concentrate? Maybe, like one of our listeners, you screw up your face when you’re playing music. Do these facial expressions actually help with the task in hand? And could they hold clues to humans’ evolutionary past?

We tackle the science of face-pulling, along with several more burning science questions sent in from listeners around the world.

(Photo: Tiger shark. Credit: Barcroft Media / Getty Images)
The+moon+landing+and+another+big+space+anniversary
access_time11 months ago
Its 50 years since the moon landing and 25 years since Shoemaker - Levy 9 crashed into Jupiter. The Apollo missions returned to earth with cargos of moon rocks and the comet crash showed us what happens when celestial bodies collide.

We look at the significance of both this week, and also contemplate a return to the moon. What will the next generation of moonwalking astronauts do there?

One thing’s for sure, they’ll be examining moon rocks once more – though this time with a range of scientific tools which hadn’t been invented when the Apollo missions ceased.

Laser swords, time machines, matter transporters - before the turn of the millennium, movies, books and television promised some extraordinary future technology. How far into the future will we have to go to find a time machine as imagined by H.G. Wells in 1895? Where are the lightsabers wielded by fictional Jedi? Why are we still using cars, planes and trains when a matter transporter or a flying taxi could be so much more convenient? We are joined by a panel of experts to find out if and when any of these much-longed for items are going to arrive.

(Photo: Shoemaker – Levy 9 Comet Impact Marks on Jupiter. Credit: Getty Images)
%27Free%27+water+and+electricity+for+the+world
access_time11 months ago
Researchers in Saudi Arabia have developed a prototype solar panel which generates electricity and purifies water at the same time. The device uses waste heat from the electricity generating process to distil water. An individual panel for home use could produce around 4 litres and hour. The researchers suggest use of such panels would help alleviate water shortages.

A long running study of gorilla behaviour in the DRC has found they exhibit social traits previously thought to only be present in humans. This suggests such traits could have developed in the prehistory of both species.

More than 500 fish species can change sex. Analysis of the underlying mechanism shows how sex determination is heavily influenced by environmental and in the case of one species social factors.

Farming is a relatively recent invention for our species. For most of human history, people were hunter-gatherers. They moved around the landscape to get their food, hunting prey and gathering fruits and cereals from their environment.

But then, around 10 thousand years ago, human society shifted, and the first farmers appear in archaeological records around the world. So how did this idea start? Who planted the first seed and domesticated the wild ancestors of our cows and chickens?

(Photo: Future PV farm: not just generating electricity, but also producing fresh water. Credit: Wenbin Wang)
Analysing+the+European+Heatwave
access_time11 months ago
The recent European heatwave broke records, but how severe was it really and what were the underlying causes? Having run the numbers, climate scientists say global warming played a large part, and makes heatwaves in general more likely.

And we look at what seems an incredibly simple idea to counter the effects of global warming – plant more trees, but where and how many?

For some people, the idea of eating soil is weird at best and at worst disgusting and dirty. But globally the practice of geophagy – or the regular and intentional consumption of earth – is more common than you might imagine. The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates described it 2500 years ago and even today, eating soil, earth and clay can be seen in a wide range of human cultures as well in hundreds of animal species. But what’s the point of it? And what’s going on in the body to drive cravings for things that aren’t bona fide food?

(Photo: People cool themselves down in the fountain of the Trocadero esplanade in Paris. Credit: AFP/Getty Images)
Is+climate+change+driving+Europe%E2%80%99s+current+heatwave%3F
access_time11 months ago
As Europe experiences another record breaking heatwave, we look at the science of attribution. Usually it’s a long time after extreme weather events that scientists gather enough data to make a judgement on the influence of anthropogenic forces, such as man-made climate change.

However climate experts at a meeting Toulouse France, experiencing the worst of the heatwave, are crunching the data right now, to see if they can quantify the influence of climate change on this heatwave as it happens.

Also we find lakes of fresh water hidden – under the sea, find that Neanderthals went west and discover how spiralling laser light may be used to control a new generation of microelectronics.

It’s frustrating to be stuck in traffic. Listener Collins from Nairobi, Kenya, spends at least three hours a day in traffic and he counts himself lucky. Many of his friends will easily spend six hours in traffic jams to get back and forth from work. Collins wants to know whether there is hope for his hometown – has any city managed to eliminate the worst of the traffic hot spots and how did they do it?

Collins is not alone in his frustration. Congestion plays a major factor in the happiness and health of urban citizens. Commuters have been measured to have stress levels equivalent to that of riot police facing angry protesters.

So should our cities cater less for cars and what are the alternatives? We head to Copenhagen to meet the politicians and urban designers who have transformed the Danish capital from a city for cars to one for bikes and people.

(Photo: Heatwave in Paris. Credit: European Photopress Agency)
Iran%E2%80%99s+nuclear+plans
access_time12 months ago
Iran’s nuclear programme is at the centre of a political row, with the country suggesting it could increase uranium production to above the levels permitted under an international agreement. We look beyond the rhetoric, discuss Iran’s covert history of nuclear development and ask scientifically what this latest move involves.

Fish are no respecter of international borders and when it comes to spawning, research reveals up to $10bn worth of potential fish stocks move between different political territories.

Ancient trees in the Eastern US are yielding clues to the climate going back more than 2000 years, they reveal there has been more rain recently.

Breathing is automatic: awake or asleep, running or resting, our bodies unconsciously make sure we get enough oxygen to function. But - unlike other bodily functions such as heart rate and digestion - it’s not hard to control our breathing consciously. If you’ve ever been to an exercise, meditation or yoga class, you’re probably familiar with instructions about how and when to breathe.

Sports scientist Mitch Lomax takes us through the biology, chemistry and physics of breathing, and shows us how to train our respiratory muscles. We meet yoga guru Hansa Yogendra in India, where the study of pranayama - literally “breath control” in Sanskrit - is thousands of years old; and find out what scientists have discovered about the effects of these ancient techniques on the body and mind.

(Photo: President Hassan Rouhani and the head of Iran nuclear technology organization Ali Akbar Salehi inspecting nuclear technology. Credit: Office of Islamic Republic President via EPA)
South+Asia+heatwave+and+climate+change
access_time12 months ago
South Asia has experienced a heatwave where the monsoon has been delayed and temperatures have reached over 50 degrees. Despite this the extreme heat has led to far fewer fatalities than previous heatwaves; we look at why that is.

Research into the origins of almonds shows they were domesticated in Asia before spreading worldwide. It’s a bitter sweet story, with sweet varieties being selected over bitter ones. In fact the bitter ones contain poisons which can kill..

As with almonds cannabis as a drug seems to have spread via silk routes. The discovery of ancient burnt wooded bowls suggests it was smoked millennia ago in China – as part of funeral rituals.

For decades, people suffering from chronic depression have relied on medicines that affect the levels of chemicals in the brain like serotonin, which regulate mood and emotion. But ten percent of people don’t benefit from any of the existing treatments for this devastating condition.

Sisters Annie and Kathryn have both been diagnosed with long-term depression that makes it hard for them to experience pleasure as others do. But they’re interested in whether there are new solutions on the horizon that could improve their wellbeing, in particular ones that don’t necessarily involve conventional medication.

Datshiane Navanayagam learns how a technique called mindfulness could strengthen neural connections in bits of the brain that communicate with each other. This, it’s said, may harness the ability of the brain to adapt and self-repair which can change people’s emotional responses to life’s ups and downs. She hears about cutting edge research into the use of psychedelics as potential treatment for depression and heads to the UK’s only centre for ketamine therapy, where patients say a drug once popular with partygoers, is having a profound effect on their mental health.

(Photo: Indian boatman walks amid boats on the dried bed of a lake at Nalsarovar Bird Sanctuary. Credit: Sam Panthaky/AFP/Getty Images)
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