After 41 Indian miners were happily rescued last week, Unexpected Elements takes a look at how our futures might lie below the surface.As climate change suggests more of our infrastructures need to be buried safely, and even living spaces could be cooler down there, we discuss future technologies for digging tunnels more safely and cleanly. But tunnelling and boring could go back a long way - more evidence suggests species of dinosaurs used to to live semi-subterranean lives.Tunnelling also happens at the very smallest scales and lowest temperatures, as observed this year by physicists at Innsbruck University. Dr Robert Wild of Innsbruck University in Austria describes quantum tunnelling - a crucial process that belies most chemistry and even the fusion of hydrogen in the sun, and which is increasingly becoming part of our electronic devices.Also, a new technique for monitoring the rapid evolution of the malaria parasite, your correspondence including obs
07/12/2023 • 50 minutes 24 seconds
Meetings with intelligent worms
This week on the show that brings you the science behind the news, inspired by COP28, we’re talking about meetings. Honestly, it’s way more interesting than it sounds. Come to hear about blackworm blobs – a wormy meeting that only happens in stressful situations - and how scientists are taking inspiration from it to design robots. Stay for the stories from nature where species are missing crucial pollination meetings thanks to that global stressful situation that is climate change. And what’s better for the planet, a big meeting that everyone flies to or a telephone conference with no video? In ‘Ask the Unexpected’ we answer a listener’s question about antibiotics - if there are good bacteria in the body, how do they know which ones to attack?Also, OMG it’s the OMG particle – we hear about the tiny but powerful particles that pound the planet from time to time. All that plus your emails about toilets and the rules of Cricket.Presented by Marnie Che
30/11/2023 • 50 minutes 28 seconds
All about cricket(s)
The cricket world cup has us looking at the science of spitting on cricket balls, particle accelerators, and insect sound engineers.
Also on the program, how AI is breaking into e-commerce, why do we get in the middle of the night, and is a fat flightless parrot the world's greatest bird?
23/11/2023 • 50 minutes 21 seconds
Why we need to talk toilets
To mark UN World Toilet Day on Nov 19th, Alex Lathbridge discusses all things toilet related with Andrada Fiscutean and Tristan Ahtone, as they attempt to lift the lid on our collective taboo of discussing sanitary matters.
In 2020, 3.6 billion people – nearly half the global population – lacked access to safely managed sanitation. Diseases such as cholera, typhoid, dysentery, and diarrhoea can spread amongst populations who still practice open defecation.
And lack of access to a functioning toilet disproportionately affects women.
But even if you do have access to a flushing toilet, do you always close the lid? Researchers have measured the invisible aerosol plumes that rise up from the pan of an uncovered toilet flush, potentially spreading other communicable diseases including respiratory infections including even SARS-CoV2.
But flushing toilets are resource heavy. A normal flush can use 5l of water. Could they be re-conceived?
Prof Shannon Yee of Georgia Tech swings my to giv
16/11/2023 • 50 minutes 18 seconds
Working 70 hours a week
This week on the show with the science behind the news, we’re looking at a story that has sparked a debate in India about a 70-hour work week.
In an interview, the billionaire NR Narayana Murthy said that young people should be ready to work 70 hours a week to help the country's development, suggesting that unless productivity improved, India would not be able to compete with other countries.
But if you work twice as long, do you get twice as much done? The Unexpected Elements team on three continents look at research that sheds light on whether a 70 hour working week is actually as productive as Mr Murthy suggests.
And if you’re working all the time there’s less time for sleep – we hear about the marine mammals that manage on 2 hours a day, and the Inuit hunters in northern Canada who follow a similar pattern.
We’re also joined by Environmental Economist Matthew Agarwala, wondering whether traditional notions of productivity ignore the issues of the climate and well-being.
09/11/2023 • 50 minutes 12 seconds
In the week where many celebrated Halloween we are wondering about that tingle down your spine, the dryness in your mouth, the racing pulse - might it actually be good for you?
We also look into a special frequency of sound, just below our human hearing range, that might cause rational people to start feeling spooky.
And we explore Cryptids and the zoology of creatures that don’t really exist.
Plus, if you’re bilingual, do you really have a first and second language?
We also explore why driving a taxi is a workout for your brain and look at the benefits and pitfalls of cycling around the world.
Presenter: Marnie Chesterton, with Camilla Mota and Godfred Boafo.
Producer: Margaret Sessa-Hawkins, with Alex Mansfield, Tom Bonnett and Ben Motley
02/11/2023 • 50 minutes 16 seconds
Fashion to dye for
Lagos Fashion Week makes some unexpected connections to vegan wool, 1920s car marketing, and Right to Repair legislation. If we consider our obsession with the clothes we wear to be some result of sexual selection, do any other animals evolve their self-expression with such frequency?
Dr Ellen Garland of St Andrew’s University tells how male humpback whales change their song with surprisingly infectious rapidity, and talks us through some recent hits.
Also, some catalytic promise for wastewater management, and how choosing a language in which to think changes your decision making.
Plus, this week’s messages from you, and can poetry help science?
Presenter: Caroline Steel, with Chhavi Sachdev and Godfred Boafo
Producer: Alex Mansfield, with Tom Bonnet and Margaret Sessa-Hawkins
26/10/2023 • 50 minutes 16 seconds
Putting Madonna to the test
According to the pop icon Madonna, music makes the people come together. But can we prove that using science?
As Madonna embarks on her greatest hits world tour, the Unexpected Elements team on three continents take some of those hits and examine the science behind them.
Like a Virgin take us on an excursion into parthenogenesis, and the Komodo Dragons that can reproduce without the inconvenience of having to find a mate.
Madonna sung about travelling ‘quicker than a ray of light’, but is that actually possible? We take a very fast trip through the strange world of warp bubbles.
And we Get Into the Groove with the physicist who created a record so tiny it fits into one of the grooves of a normal record.
We also hear about the “find your ancestry” kits that have the capacity to solve so-called cold cases, identifying unknown human remains often decades old.
With the eyes of the world on events in Gaza, we discover how tech can help make sure that any reportage – video or photos –
19/10/2023 • 50 minutes 13 seconds
How bedbugs took over the world
How did bedbugs become a global concern? We examine why their unconventional reproduction methods are so successful, how bedbugs and humans even crossed paths in the first place and what public health has to do with nation building.
Also on the show, we look at why there's no human version of dog food, how conspiracy theories take hold, and the legal wranglings over an old Canadian oil pipeline.
12/10/2023 • 53 minutes 12 seconds
How would it feel wake up years later? After the US narrowly avoided a government shutdown, we look at how complicated systems - such as living things - can just press pause.
Could humans ever hibernate like bears and squirrels? Or even like simpler animals that can be revived after 46,000 years.
Also, which way does antimatter fall under gravity? And how might IVF save a functionally extinct species of rhino?
Presenter: Caroline Steel, with Chhavi Sachdev and Philistiah Mwatee.
Producer: Alex Mansfield, with Margaret Sessa-Hawkins, Ben Motley and Sophie Ormiston
05/10/2023 • 50 minutes 13 seconds
How inflation affects the entire cosmos
This week on the show that brings you the science behind the news, there are lots of stories about inflation in economies across the world. When inflation happens your money doesn’t go as far, so what does psychology say about how much money you really need to make you happy?
We humans aren’t the only ones experiencing inflation either, trees are suffering from it too. We find out what happens when the balance of supply and demand of nutrients between trees and fungi is disrupted by climate change.
And then we take a look at the bigger picture - the much bigger picture - as cosmologist Ghazal Geshnizjani tells us about how the entire universe once existed in a space smaller than a marble.
Plus, are Romanian bear populations inflating? We probe a scientist about spider webs – why do they look the way they do? And we look at vaping – it’s illegal in some countries while smokers in other countries are encouraged to take it up.
All that plus your emails, WhatsApps and some unexpected
28/09/2023 • 50 minutes 13 seconds
Can technology read our mind?
How does our brain process language? We speak to an expert who is using technology to turn narrative thoughts into text. Also on the show, what is happening in our brains when we switch languages? And what are the positives and perils of technology and translation?
Also on the show, we look at internet connectivity in incredibly remote areas, whether carbon capture is realistic, and we continue to explore different foods from around the world.
21/09/2023 • 50 minutes 44 seconds
Forgetful fish, telescopic worms and bad air days
In a week where global heat records have melted, we find out how that can make fish life-threateningly stupid. We also dive a little deeper to find the part of the ocean where a little heat proves life-enhancing.
And we bring you boring science… no, not in that way. Find out what tree rings can tell us about ancient civilizations and past climates. Also, a new Japanese mission aims to park nice and neatly on the moon – how different is that from the famous first effort from the Apollo 11 team?
We hear about an unwelcome Delhi resident that’s taking years off locals lives – air pollution. And what is a “supervolcano” and how likely is it that one ruins our run as dominant species on this planet?
Presented by Marnie Chesterton
With Chhavi Sachdev and Tristan Ahtone
Producers: Alex Mansfield, Ben Motley, Sophie Ormiston, Emily Bird and Patrick Hughes
14/09/2023 • 50 minutes 18 seconds
Zombies, cows and coups
Following recent coups in Niger and Gabon, and with seven African coups in the last three years, some political commentators are suggesting that there might be an epidemic of coups. But are coups really contagious, and what does the political science say?
Caroline Steel and the Unexpected Elements team across three different continents go on a quest to find the science lurking behind the news.
We find out what trees in Chile can tell us about coups and we meet the wasp that performs a coup on a poor unsuspecting cockroach, turning it into a zombie and eating it alive.
There’s light relief in the form of cows listening to classical music, the answer to a listener question about carbon capture and reflections on efforts to rid the world of plastic bags.
All that plus your emails, whatsapps, and more fruit chat than you can shake a banana skin at.
Presented by Caroline Steel
Produced by Ben Motley, with Margaret Sessa Hawkins and Sophie Ormiston
07/09/2023 • 53 minutes 22 seconds
Protecting the Moon
India's successful moon landing has the Unexpected Elements team engaging in some serious lunacy. We look at where the moon even came from, how it helps us navigate, and whether it has a cultural and ecological heritage.
Also on the show, is Dr. TikTok leading to a raft of self-diagnoses, should we be eating banana peels and worms, and we go back to the moon to see if it has any effect on our sleep.
31/08/2023 • 50 minutes 17 seconds
The man who couldn’t lie
This week, we start off by digging into conspiracy theories. What’s behind their enduring allure? And have they always been around? Marnie and the panel investigate.
Many conspiracy theories are based off of misinformation… but what’s actually going on in our brains when we lie? We look into the case of the man who was physically unable of spreading tall tales.
Sometimes, the truth is there, but is difficult to uncover. Delving for this deeper meaning is something particle physicists like Dr Harry Cliff have been doing for decades. Harry tells us where we are in the ongoing quest to understand our Universe.
Also, we hear the ingenious way Costa Rican scientists are dealing with pineapple waste, and we answer a South African listener’s question about evolution.
Presenter: Marnie Chesterton
Producer: Sophie Ormiston, with Margaret Sessa Hawkins and Alex Mansfield
24/08/2023 • 50 minutes 21 seconds
Corrupted thinking and cancerous co-option
The conversation this week starts off on corruption. There are allegations of political or corporate malfeasance in the news regularly throughout the world. But can science bring anything to the investigators? We look at some efforts to bring empirical rigour to the fight.
But corruption of sorts is also a big thing in our online lives. Algorithms can deliver duff results, maybe because they are poorly conceived, or perhaps because they are fed corrupt data.
So when our cellular biological algorithms are corrupted, our health is affected. Can cancerous tumours be considered corrupt organs, co-opting healthy cells to assist in their nefarious ends? Dr Ilaria Malanchi of the Crick Institute in London muses on the commonalities.
Also, a look at the politicisation of pre-human palaeontology and how our stories of human origins have been, and in some ways still are, connected with nationalist geographical identities that mainstream science doesn't recognize.
Presenter: Caroline Ste
17/08/2023 • 50 minutes 16 seconds
Some of our universe is missing
This week on the show that looks for the science behind the news, Marnie Chesterton investigates mystery after mystery. Where is Yevegeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner Group, and could science help to trace him? Which animals would do best at a game of hide and seek? And we hear about the time when half the stuff in the universe went missing, and how cosmologists found it again.
We continue our endless quest to identify the Coolest Science in the World. This week’s contender studies the murky side of the genome – dark DNA. Plus the low-down on the indefinite doctor’s strike in Nigeria, we look behind the latest news about our warming oceans and have you ever felt someone else’s pain? You might be the 1 in 50 people known as mirror touch synaesthetes.
All that plus your emails, whatsapps and even more fruit chat.
Presented by Marnie Chesterton
Produced by Ben Motley, with Margaret Sessa Hawkins, Alex Mansfield, Sophie Ormiston, Katie Tomsett and Florence Thompson.
10/08/2023 • 53 minutes 40 seconds
The World Cup and hallucinogenic bananas
The World Cup has us looking at why women get more ACL injuries, how to avoid cracking under pressure, and why some animals play dead.
Also on the program we consider the pros and cons of Artificial Intelligence in Africa, whether the continent is turning to nuclear power, and if banana skins are hallucinogenic.
03/08/2023 • 50 minutes 28 seconds
As Netflix cracks down on password sharing around the world - something it once encouraged - we wondered why people like to share passwords to other things, such as phones, email accounts and logins.
Passwords and encryption exist as ways of protecting us from hostile agents in most aspects of life. But timing is everything. Nature has been doing it for years of course. But climate change is upsetting some of the ecological match-ups of locks and keys, migration and feeding that have evolved over the millennia. We hear how the shifting patterns of weather and food availability is affecting cuckoos in Europe and India.
Another aspect of natural subterfuge is camouflage. Whilst physicists have been trying to make optical invisibility cloaks from ingenious new "metamaterials", Marc Holderied and team have been looking at how certain moths have used metamaterial properties in the structure of their wings to effectively hide from bats. They are acoustically invisible. Could similar mate
27/07/2023 • 50 minutes 22 seconds
Barbie in Space
Unexpected Elements looks for the science behind the news, and this week the news is glittery and pink with the release of the Barbie movie.
The movie has very pink aesthetic, so we get philosophical about the colour pink – does it actually exist and if so, how come it isn’t in the rainbow?
We also discover how this iconic doll has performed some actual valuable science, helping cryogenic researchers design space suit technology to help future missions to the moon.
In Ask the Unexpected this week we’ve got dog science as we answer the age old joke: how does my dog smell? Terrible, obviously, but it also depends on something called the vomeronasal organ..
And there are newcomers in Germany and they’re troublemakers. We hear how an unpleasant mosquito borne virus has arrived in northern Europe and consider whether climate change might be to blame.
All that plus your emails and WhatsApps, language pedantry and an ewaste dating service.
Presented by Marnie Chesterton
Produced by Ben
20/07/2023 • 50 minutes 15 seconds
NATO and the Left-Handed Universe
As NATO meets, we look at what science says about consensus decision-making, whether the universe is left-handed, and what chemistry can tell us about our ancient past.
Also, we examine windfarms potentially blocking reindeer herding, our quest for the coolest science in the world continues with Beth the bee queen, and Caroline contemplates the long road that got us to a malaria vaccine.
13/07/2023 • 50 minutes 11 seconds
Unexpected elements on the sea bed
This week time is up for the UN to come up with rules about how to mine the ocean bed. We hear about the mysterious potato shaped objects on the sea floor that contain lots of valuable minerals that are essential for electronics like mobile phones.
Our team on three different continents compare how recycling of precious metals is going in their parts of world, and we hear why early Lithium batteries kept catching fire.
We also speak to an expert on hydroelectric power who tells us how small scale hydro is a massively untapped resource, possibly even in your own back garden.
This week’s Under the Radar story is a personal tale of floods and landslides in the Himalayas, and what science tells us about the huge cloudburst that caused them.
Our search to discover The Coolest Science in the World continues with a fascinating look at sonification with a researcher who straddles science and music, and we dive into the fact that human use of underground water has redistributed the weight of
06/07/2023 • 50 minutes 21 seconds
Predictions from the sky and murderous fish
Muslims around the world are celebrating Eid, but how to pick a date for your festivities?
The Islamic calendar says look to the moon, but haven’t we always chosen to order life on earth by using the planets, moons and stars?
We hear about the Mayans who tracked Venus and the astronomer who proved that comets weren’t bad omens.
Having looked at the outsourcing of decisions to the sky, we wonder why we can’t just trust our brains and wonder what neuroscience has to say about it.
And now that AI is able to make decisions for us, we hear about the computer-predicted proteins doing work that would otherwise take millions of years of evolution.
Our ‘Under the Radar’ story this week comes from Brazil, where we meet the Lionfish – hear how these kings of the coral reef are upsetting the ecosystem by eating most of it.
In our ongoing quest to find The Coolest Science in the World, we hear from a scientist doing amazing things with immersive audio.
And Marnie learns about the engineer
29/06/2023 • 50 minutes 12 seconds
Hayfever, paleobotany and snot palaces
A look at some unexpected elements of congestion: Why does pollen make so many of us wheezy, and sneezy? What can it tell us about the distant past? Plus, we take a look at what we can learn from the construction and engineering behind aquatic snot palaces.
Plus your enemy’s enemy can be your friend – hear about the tiny viruses that invade certain bacteria. Speaking of bacteria, we look at the latest place to hunt for new antibiotics – the fur of a certain animal, and with reports of famine emerging from North Korea, we hear about the scientist who is said to have saved more lives than any other person who has ever lived.
22/06/2023 • 50 minutes 54 seconds
Wildfires and wild animals
The show that brings you the science behind the news, with Marnie Chesterton and an inter-continental team.
This week we take the headlines of the wildfires in North America, pull out the science and run with it. We explore what’s actually in smoke-polluted air, looking at the part the El Nino weather system plays in starting fires, and discover why a surprising element of air pollution is helping conservation biologists to track animals.
We look at how tobacco is not just bad for your lungs – it’s bad for some of the farmers who grow it too. We get the Kenyan perspective on farmers trying to move away from tobacco production.
We continue our quest to find The Coolest Science in the World with a researcher who studies grasshoppers that are the noisiest on the planet, but might not actually be noisy enough.
And as Ukraine struggles with the devastation caused by the destruction of the Kherson dam, we look at dam building along the Mekong river and ask why a lack of flood water might
15/06/2023 • 50 minutes 16 seconds
Collapsing pensions and civilisations
As French citizens protest against the raising of the state pension age, we look at the figures – are we really living longer? And if so, why? We take notes from the naked mole rat - it’s born looking wrinkled but this rodent is apparently ageless. And moving on from mere creatures, we’re asking if every state, society or civilisation has a lifespan, and if we can prevent it ending on our watch.
Also, as South Africans battle to live their best lives against almost daily power cuts, we look at load shedding – why is their power being switched off and is there a light at the end of the tunnel? We continue our quest to find The Coolest Science in the World with a man using tiny microbes for big problems, and the launch of a new BBC World Service drama about Fukushima gets us thinking about the consequences.
All that plus your emails and whatsapps, a team in three different countries and the decadence of Marnie’s footwear choices.
Presented by Marnie Chesterton
Produced by Margaret Ses
08/06/2023 • 50 minutes 29 seconds
Human migration is in the headlines again – India and Australia have announced a new migration deal, in the US a Covid-inspired policy that allowed migrants to be quickly expelled has come to an end, and in the UK new measures were announced to stop foreign students bringing families with them, in a bid to reduce migration figures.
But what does science tell us about migration? With a team across three continents, we’re looking at the origins of human migration and exploring some of the greatest migrations in the animal kingdom. We discover that migrating birds are more like migrating humans than you might think, and learn how even the ground beneath our feet is trying to move somewhere else.
We’re also introduced to the real life people labelling images that inform the algorithms behind AI, a researcher with a wall of wind makes a bid for The Coolest Science in the World, we find out why tiles are colder than carpets and we dig deeper into the news that a company founded by Elon Mus
01/06/2023 • 49 minutes 46 seconds
Signals, seaweed and space
On the anniversary of the first telegraph being sent, the team discover how the telegraph was used as a colonial tool in Ghana, and how an eccentric Brazilian emperor helped spark a communications revolution.
They also reveal how tiny worms have helped scientists work out how our hearing works, and how bioelectricity might help focus your mind and heal your wounds.
There’s a tale of evil seaweed causing havoc for coastal communities, a scientist studying misophonia makes a pitch for The Coolest Science in the World, and there’s a listener question about how chickens fly.
And Marnie delves into a lesser known history of space flight, with the tale of a Zambian man who dreamt of being an astronaut.
25/05/2023 • 50 minutes 33 seconds
Co-operation and cohesion
After the elections in Thailand and Turkey, we explore the forces that shape how you decide to vote. Clue: a lot of it comes down to us being social animals. We getting stuck into various sticky subjects – the glue that holds together animal societies, the cells in our bodies and even the International Space Station.
We also looking at how the blueprint of the human genome just got a whole load better. Also, join our mission to find the coolest science in the world, with the scientist who explores ocean gases. We have your correspondence and questions, including "How do birds know which perch will work?", and we take a peek inside a world of silicon as we hear how South Korea reacted to the global chip shortage.
18/05/2023 • 53 minutes 51 seconds
Unexpected Elements is all about finding surprising stories and nuggets of science in everyday news. Each week we start by taking a news story that’s floating around and use that as a launchpad for three other science stories that become increasingly unexpected.
This week, the team squints at the recent lavish ceremony and ritual of the British King’s coronation and asks: What does it all mean? Why is ritual so important to us humans, and why does it always seem to involve precious objects?
That’s where we start - but in this show, our global panel of science journalists can take us to all sorts of places. We’ll be touring the ocean floors with the scientist who wants to map all of them, soaring in the skies of India to discover why one of the country’s biggest birds might be in trouble, and we’re even going off planet to find out about an asteroid with enough gold in it to build a nice shiny house out of the stuff – for every human on Earth.
11/05/2023 • 50 minutes 49 seconds
Return of Cyclone Freddy
34 days after it first formed at the far end of the Indian Ocean, record-breaking Cyclone Freddy made a repeat landfall on Mozambique as well as passing over Malawi, causing extensive damage and loss of life. Climate scientists Liz Stephens and Izidine Pinto join Roland to give an update on the destruction and explain how Cyclone Freddy kept going for an exceptionally long time.
At the Third International Human Genome Summit in London last week, Professor Katsuhiko Hayashi announced he had created baby mice from eggs formed by male mouse cells. Dr Nitzan Gonen explains the underlying science, whilst Professor Hank Greely discusses the ethics and future prospects.
And from one rodent story to another, SARS-CoV-2 has been detected in brown rats scurrying around New York sewers. Dr Thomas DeLiberto from the US Department of Agriculture gives Roland the details.
When imagining a robot, a hard-edged, boxy, humanoid figure may spring to mind. But that is about to change.
19/03/2023 • 1 hour 1 minute 36 seconds
Human genome editing: Promise and Peril
We meet experts at the Human Genome Editing Summit in London, seeking to cure genetic disease and ensure that it is safe and available to all.
Roland Pease hears from Victoria Gray, the first person to be cured of the debilitating and life-shortening disease sickle cell anaemia by gene editing, and from the scientists making it possible.
Also, the prospect of work to attempt gene rescue in fetuses before they are born. But the technology is expensive and complex. The question troubling the participants is to ensure people across the world can benefit from it, not just the rich and privileged.
And what are the limitations of gene editing? Can it be made more effective, safer? And what of gene edits that will be inherited by future generations?
12/03/2023 • 1 hour 1 minute 54 seconds
Drought worsens in East Africa
The long rains of East Africa are forecast to fail again, for the third year running, precipitating a food crisis affecting millions. Science In Action explores the science of the drought, hears about new methods improving forecasts, and what is unusual about the region that makes it so vulnerable.
When we think of helium, for many of us balloons and squeaky voices come to mind. But the noble gas is critical for many aspects of modern life – and we’re facing a global shortage. Dr Annie Cheng and her colleagues at the University of Oxford are attempting to solve this by creating a model that has the potential to locate previously untapped reservoirs.
CrowdScience listener Eric, in New Zealand, has noticed his wisteria growing towards a neighbouring tree. He thinks that it actually knows where it’s going. But how can a plant have a sense of direction?
Plants don’t have the advantage of brains or eyes, but that doesn’t seem to stop them from being clever enough to find out from their e
05/03/2023 • 59 minutes 18 seconds
Animals at the Wuhan Market
DNA has revealed potential animal COVID carriers at the Wuhan market, but what does that tell us about the start of the pandemic? Roland talks to two of the experts behind the new analysis: Dr Florence Débarre and Professor Eddie Holmes.
Also, we look into Europe’s grand new space ambitions. ESA director general Josef Aschbacher gives Roland the details of the space agency’s out-of-this-world plans.
And Beethoven's last DNA: a hairy story of his family and genetic afflictions. Dr Tristan Begg shares how the composer’s tresses unlocked new information about his life and death.
Inside our gut lives an entire ecosystem of bacteria and microbes, called the microbiome. In fact, the human body contains trillions of microorganisms, which outnumber our cells by ten to one. This means that technically, we are more microbe than human. But not only do these microbes rely on us to survive, we also rely on them too for vital bodily functions. So what impact do these trillions of microbes have on
26/02/2023 • 1 hour 17 minutes 21 seconds
Cyclone Freddy batters Madagascar
Cyclone Freddy has made landfall on Madagascar, leaving destruction in its wake. At the time this edition of Science In Action is going to air, Freddy is on course to reach Mozambique and South Africa.
Freddy, which has been gaining strength since it originally formed on the 30th of January, is the most powerful southern hemisphere cyclone on record. Professor Francois Engelbrecht provides the science behind the storm system. In the centre of our galaxy, an enormous cloud is heading towards the Milky Way’s supermassive black hole. Dr Anna Ciurlo tells us that this is a unique opportunity to study the influence of the black hole on the cloud’s shape and properties. We’ve heard a lot about balloons floating above Earth recently… but what about sending balloons to Venus?
That’s exactly what Dr Siddharth Krishnamoorthy is proposing in order to study Venus’s seismic activity. Recorders on a “floatilla” above the planet’s surface could listen into Venus-quakes and reveal Venus’s mysterio
26/02/2023 • 1 hour 4 minutes 59 seconds
CRISPR & bioethics
In the decade since the genome editing capabilities of CRISPR-Cas9 emerged, research into novel medicines has boomed – but alongside progress comes new ethical considerations. Controversy erupted in 2018, when Chinese scientist He Jiankui created the first babies with edited genomes. After leaving prison last year, he’s now back in the lab trying to raise support for new research but refuses to discuss the ethical implications of his work. Dr Joy Zhang recently arranged a bioethics seminar and invited He Jiankui, it was the first time he’d agreed to engage with a global cohort of CRISPR scientists since returning to his research.
Going back in time from cutting-edge to ancient technology, some of the oldest stone tools ever used by human ancestors have been unearthed at a fossil site in Kenya. Professor Tom Plummer talks us through the findings and how important the tools were in our evolution.
And we immerse ourselves in the mysterious sounds of the Arctic and Antarctic, from singin
19/02/2023 • 55 minutes 17 seconds
In the early hours of Monday, a powerful earthquake hit Kahramanmaras in Turkey. Nine hours later another struck. When this edition of Science in Action first aired, 19,000 people were reported to have died, but that number was expected to rise.
Back in 2016, Professor Asli Garagon and her colleagues accurately predicted that an earthquake of this size was coming. Using GPS, they were monitoring the East Anatolian fault to calculate energy building between the plates. With such accurate insight could Turkey have been better prepared?
Ross Stein, seismologist and founder of Temblor, a Californian consultancy that specialises in assessing hazard risk, estimates the plates moved at 5,000 mph. The movement of the plates may have built up pressure in other parts of the country.
And finally, Tiziana Rossetto, a civil engineer at University College London, knows better than most that earthquakes do not kill, buildings do. She tells Roland how the combination of earthquakes and subsequent
11/02/2023 • 53 minutes 32 seconds
Science on ice
Pull on an extra layer and stay toasty whilst Science in Action braces for a deep freeze. Whilst we know plenty about the ice on the Earth’s poles, Roland is on a chilling journey to see what can be found in deep space.
Professor Christoph Salzmann and Professor Andrea Sella at University College London have produced a new phase of ice. Roland heads to the laboratory to see how the usual crystalline ice, found in ice cubes and icebergs, can be broken down and arranged into a new structure.
The James Webb Space Telescope has detected the coldest ices to date, deep within a molecular cloud in outer space. Professor Melissa McClure describes how these clouds harbour a variety of different molecules potentially capable of forming the basic building blocks for life.
From the edges of the universe to something a little closer to home, Professor Geoff Collins and colleagues have discovered odd tectonic plate activity on icy Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons.
We generate a huge amount of n
05/02/2023 • 53 minutes 27 seconds
Bird flu (H5N1) outbreak in mink
An outbreak of pathogenic bird flu, H5N1, in a Spanish mink farm could be a cause for concern. Some experts fear the virus may now spill over to other mammals without strict surveillance. Marion Koopmans, professor of virology at Erasmus Medical Centre, talks Roland through the potential risks.
India’s caste system affects all aspects of society, but how does the hierarchy influence representation of marginalised groups in academia? Science journalist Ankur Paliwal believes that, despite efforts to combat discrimination, not enough is being done, and he has the data to prove it.
Imagine a robot... Is it hard, metallic and humanoid? Professor Carmel Majidi from Carnegie Mellon University and his colleagues are thinking outside the robotics box. Their new material, magnetic in nature, can shift between solid and liquid states. It’s even capable of breaking out of robotic jail...
From Lawrence of Arabia to Star Wars via tales of intrepid adventurers traversing lonely sandswept landscap
29/01/2023 • 51 minutes 5 seconds
Climate science activism
Climate researcher, Rose Abramoff took to the stage at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) fall meetings, not as a guest speaker but in protest. Whilst her demonstration only lasted 15 seconds, she found her employment terminated from Oak Ridge National Laboratory and research stripped from the AGU programme. She was attempting to persuade other climate scientists to ‘get out of the lab and into the street’. Whilst Rose’s protest hit the headlines in the media, potentially less attention was paid to the session that was taking place at the conference, hosted by Mika Tosca, climate scientist-turn-artist, Associate Professor of Liberal Arts at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Ronald brings the two together to discuss the event and how climate scientists should approach activism.
Although there is no one solution to the climate crisis, Roland loves a brainstorm on Science in Action. Climate activist Stuart Capstick, a Cardiff University psychologist specialising in public att
22/01/2023 • 53 minutes 42 seconds
Flood warnings in parts of California have seen some of the state’s best known celebrities flee their homes. The current weather conditions are in part the result of ‘Atmospheric rivers’ – literally fast flowing rivers of water vapor in the atmosphere. Marty Ralph from the Scripps Institute has been studying this phenomenon for years, he explains what atmospheric rivers are, and tells us how a greater understanding of the phenomenon is now informing weather forecasting and evacuation plans.
Over the past year several million people have fled Ukraine, amongst them many scientists. Nataliya Shulga from the Ukraine Science Club is working on a wide ranging initiative to attract them back. She tells us of plans not just to reconstruct Ukrainian science facilities after the war, but to offer a philosophical change which breaks with the Soviet past - a more global, collaborative environment for scientists returning to the Ukraine.
Last December the Afghan Taliban banned women from attendin
15/01/2023 • 1 hour 30 seconds
One year on from the Tonga eruption
We’re taking a look back at the January 2022 eruption of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai, which literally sent shockwaves around the world. One year on, and we’re still uncovering what made the volcano so powerful, as well as unpacking its long lasting impacts.
Roland is joined by Professor Shane Cronin from the University of Auckland and Dr Marta Ribó from the Auckland University of Technology to share their findings from their latest trip to survey the volcano.
The impacts of the eruption weren’t just felt on Earth – they also reached all the way to space. Physicist Claire Gasque from the University of California, Berkeley, has been analysing how the eruption affected space weather.
Amongst all the material ejected by Hunga Tonga was a huge amount of water. The massive water vapour cloud is still present in our atmosphere, as Professor Simon Carn from the Michigan Technological University tells us.
The volcano also triggered tsunamis worldwide. Disaster sociologist Dr Sara McBride from
08/01/2023 • 56 minutes 42 seconds
The James Webb Space Telescope - the first 6 months
NASA's James Webb Space Telescope has produced amazing images in its first 5 months, but amazing science as well. Roland hears from one of the leading astronomers on the JWST programme, Dr Heidi Hammel, as well as other experts on what they are already learning about the first galaxies in the Universe, the birth places of stars, the strange behaviour of some other stars, and the first view of Neptune's rings in over 30 years.
Over the past 12 months, CrowdScience has travelled the world, from arctic glacierscapes to equatorial deserts, to answer listeners’ science queries. Sometimes, the team come across tales that don’t quite fit with the quest in hand, but still draw a laugh, or a gasp. In this show, Marnie Chesterton revisits those stories, with members of the CrowdScience crew.
Alex the Parrot was a smart bird, with an impressive vocabulary and the ability to count and do basic maths. He was also intimidating and mean to a younger parrot, Griffin, who didn’t have the same grasp o
01/01/2023 • 1 hour 3 minutes 30 seconds
Mosquito pesticide failing
Mosquito pesticide failing - prevention of dengue fever and other diseases at risk.
Dangerous bird flu evolving fast - researchers are learning why bird flu is persisting and spreading fast round the world, and assess the threat to humans.
Drilling for ancient ice in the Antarctic - Roland talks to one of the team drilling kilometres into an ancient, frozen record of past climate.
Martian rock store opens - NASA's Mars Perseverance rover is stashing rock samples future missions could bring back to Earth.
Does your mum’s singing make you cringe with embarrassment? Do your dad’s jokes make you want to scream - and not with laughter? Or maybe you are the parent driving your offspring round the bend with rules and curfews?
If so, you are not alone. CrowdScience listener Ilixo, age 11, has been wondering why it is that our parents become so annoying as we become teenagers. Is it something that is changing in his brain or are they actually becoming more annoying as they age? Presen
25/12/2022 • 59 minutes 24 seconds
Fusion milestone - the science behind the headlines.
Laser fusion expert Kate Lancaster walks us through the technology that produced energy gain at the US's National Ignition Facility NIF
Whirlwinds on Mars
What the sounds of a dust devil passing over NASA's Mars Perseverance Rover tells us about the Martian atmosphere
75 years of the transistor electronics revolution - where next for Moore's Law?
December 16th 1947 was the day the first ever transistor device passed an electrical current. Trillions are made every day these days, powering our interconnected world. Roland recalls meeting some of the pioneers for the 50th anniversary, including Gordon Moore, and hears from Berkeley Dean of engineering Tsu-Jae King Liu how the revolution will continue for another 25 years.
CrowdScience listener David was sanding down a door frame when he began wondering: Why it was that a rough thing like sandpaper is used to make another thing smoother? And furthermore, why does the process produce s
18/12/2022 • 1 hour 8 minutes 8 seconds
Ancient warmth in Greenland
Two-million-year-old molecular fossils reveal flourishing woodlands and widespread animals in Greenland's pre-Ice-Age past, and give hints to the Arctic’s future under global warming. We hear from a molecular palaeontologist and a climate modeller.
DNA also reveals the enduring genetic influence of our extinct Denisovan cousins on disease immunity in modern Island Southeast Asians.
And the art and science of 3D-printing violins
If your home is drafty, filling in holes and cracks can help tackle rising energy bills, and lower your carbon footprint. But is there a limit to how airtight we should make our homes? That’s what CrowdScience listeners Jeff and Angie wondered when weatherproofing their doors and sealing up cracks for the winter. Once every last gap is blocked, will enough air get in for them to breathe properly? How would they know if they’ve gone too far?
With Covid-19 making us more aware than ever of the importance of good ventilation, CrowdScience investigates how to ma
11/12/2022 • 1 hour 2 minutes 44 seconds
COVID spreads in China
Hong Kong health expert Professor Malik Peiris relates the lessons from the devastation there earlier this year.
UK virologist Dr Tom Peacock reveals the unusual origins and evolution of omicron, and explains the risks of dangerous new variants.
New studies from China are revealing further SARS-like viruses in the wild; Professor Eddie Holmes says they underline the risk of further pandemics.
What are the clouds like where you are? When you look upwards can you see great tufts of cotton wool, or do they stretch off into the distance, flat like sheets. Are they dark greys and purples, bringing the promise of rain or maybe there aren’t any at all. For listener John from Lincolnshire in the UK clouds looking up at the clouds is a favourite pastime and he wants to know why they look the way they do and why they are so different from one day to the next.
Join Presenter Marnie Chesterton as we turn our gaze skyward to discover what gives clouds their shape. Join us for a cloud spottin
04/12/2022 • 1 hour 5 minutes 4 seconds
A distant planet’s atmosphere
A distant planet's atmosphere - NASA's JWST space telescope has unpicked the chemical contents and state of the atmosphere of planet WASP-39b 700 light years away. Astronomer Hannah Wakeford explains.
Earth's atmospheric haze and global warming - meteorologist Laura Wilcox warns that atmospheric haze over China and South Asia is masking some of the effects of global warming.
Pregnancy brain fog explained - loss of memory and other mental changes during pregnancy have been traced to structural changes in the brain, possibly due to hormone effects, neuroscientist Elseline Hoekszema speculates.
Improving lab coats - every scientist has a lab coat, but how many have one actually fits? Founder of Genius Lab Gear Derek Miller explains the problem and how he's trying to fix it.
As someone who dislikes crowds, listener Graham is curious about them. Crowds gather in all sorts of places, from train stations and football matches, to religious events and protest marches. Many of these events a
27/11/2022 • 55 minutes 15 seconds
Online harassment of Covid scientists
Since the Covid-19 pandemic began, scientists studying the virus have become targets of online harassment, and more recently, death threats. Roland speaks to Dr Angela Rasmussen, virologist at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization at the University of Saskatchewan, about her experiences.
Spyros Lytras, PhD candidate at the University of Glasgow, talks Roland through the evolutionary history of the virus that causes Covid-19 and how there isn’t just one ancestor, but several.
Anti-Asian sentiment has seen a big increase since the pandemic. Dr Qian He, Postdoctoral Research Associate at Princeton University, looked into how US-China relations have influenced how Americans view Chinese today.
And we hear from scientists on board the RRS Discovery, which is currently located near St Helena and Ascension Island, surveying the health of the surrounding ocean. On board documentary filmmaker Lawrence Eagling talks to Shona Murray, pelagic ecologist from the University of Western
20/11/2022 • 1 hour 1 minute 43 seconds
Neurons that restore walking in paralysed patients
Researchers have identified which neurons, when electrically stimulated, can restore the ability to walk in paralysed patients. Professor Jocelyne Bloch, Associate Professor at the Université de Lausanne, tells Roland how the technology works.
Astronomers have discovered the closest black hole to Earth. Researchers led by Kareem El-Badry, astrophysicist at Harvard University, identified the celestial body when they spotted a Sun-like star orbiting a dark, dense object.
The origins of eels have been mystifying scientists for centuries. Though the Sargasso Sea has been their presumed breeding place for 100 years, there has been no direct evidence of their migration – until now. Ros Wright, Senior Fisheries Technical Specialist at the Environment Agency, shares how researchers finally pinned down these slippery creatures.
This week, a new report from the UN Environment Programme reveals that carbon dioxide emissions from building operations have reached an all-time high. Insaf Ben Othm
13/11/2022 • 1 hour 8 minutes 13 seconds
What peat can tell us about our future
The Congo Basin is home to the world’s largest peatland. Simon Lewis, Professor of Global Change Science at UCL and the University of Leeds, tells Roland how peatlands all around the world are showing early alarm bells of change. From the boreal Arctic forests to the Amazon, Simon helps us understand how they could action huge change in the climate. Simon is joined by Dr Ifo Averti, Associate Professor in Forest Ecology at Universite Marien Ngouabi in the Congo who helps us understand what this landscape is like.
Hurricane Ian, which recently caused devastating damage to Cuba and the United States, may signify a growing trend of increasingly powerful storms. Karthik Balaguru, climate and data scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, explains how climate change is causing hurricanes to rapidly intensify, making them faster and wetter.
On Sunday 6th November, COP27 will begin in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. Dr Debbie Rosen, Science and Policy Manager at CONSTRAIN, breaks dow
06/11/2022 • 53 minutes 36 seconds
Seismic events on Mars
The latest observations from Nasa’s InSight Mars Lander and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) have revealed new information on Mars’ interior structure. Dr Anna Horleston, Senior Research Associate in Planetary Seismology at the University of Bristol, talks us through the mars-quakes that provided this data.
On the 30th of October, Brazilians will head to the polls to elect their next president. Jeff Tollefson, Senior Reporter at Nature, tells Roland what approach the two candidates – Jair Bolsonaro and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva – might take towards science and the potential local and global impacts this could have.
Humans aren’t the only animals to pick their noses… it turns out primates engage in this habit too. Anne-Claire Fabre, Curator of Mammals at the Duke Lemur Center, tells reporter Vic Gill about the long-fingered aye-ayes having a dig around their noses, and how more research is needed to unpick the reasons behind this behaviour.
And producer Robbie Wojciechowski heads to
30/10/2022 • 54 minutes 10 seconds
The most powerful explosion ever recorded
It’s been an unusual week for astronomers, with telescopes swivelled off course to observe GRB221009A, the brightest gamma ray burst ever recorded. Gamma ray bursts aren’t unusual, the by-product of some supernovae are recorded weekly. Whilst the afterglow of these bursts usually lasts hours or days, the aftermath of, what has been dubbed ‘BOAT’, brightest of all time, is expected to linger for years to come. Harvard University’s Edo Berger and Yvette Cendas believe there’s lots to be learnt in the coming months.
Back in the primordial oceans, tiny, wriggling worms and shimmering jellyfish invented ever better ways to strip resources from their environment deep in the murky depths. The ability to efficiently take up oxygen from a marine environment acted as a gateway for a dramatic explosion in species diversity. But according to Michael Sackville, Postdoctoral Fellow University of Cambridge and Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory, when the gills first appeared they may have carr
23/10/2022 • 53 minutes 38 seconds
Inserting human neurons into the brains of rats
Sergiu Pasca, Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University has left the petri dish in the drawer and grown human neurons inside the brains of juvenile rats. Successful connectivity and brain function may allow for more rigorous testing and understanding of neurological conditions, that have until now remained difficult to localise and treat.
It’s been a few weeks since NASA’s DART mission smashed into an asteroid in an attempt to budge it off course, kickstarting Earth’s first planetary defence system. Scientists are starting to pour through the data to determine whether or not it worked. Dr Toney Minter, Head of Operations at Green Bank Observatory has been using Green Bank’s radio telescope to keep us updated and track the celestial system.
John Ryan, a Senior Research Specialist at Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute has spent the last three years studying the distinct vocal calls of blue whales. It’s part of a body of work that is unlocking the secretive existence of this
16/10/2022 • 58 minutes 31 seconds
Nobel Prize 2022: The science behind the winners
For the scientific community, the Nobel Prize announcements are an important part of the yearly science calendar. The award is one of the most widely celebrated and gives us a moment to reflect on some of the leading scientific work taking place around the world.
This year’s winners include Alain Aspect, John F. Clauser, and Anton Zeilinger for their work on quantum entanglement. Carolyn R. Bertozzi, Morten Meldal, and K. Barry Sharpless for their work on click chemistry. And Svante Pääbo for his work on sequencing Neanderthal DNA.
To understand the science behind the award winners better, we’ve invited a variety of speakers to help us understand their work better. Award winner, Carolyn R. Bertozzi, Professor of Chemistry at Stanford, explains the basics behind click chemistry, a practice that has helped us to study molecules and their interactions in living things without interfering with natural biological processes.
Mateja Hajdinjak, Postdoctoral Training Fellow at the Max Pl
09/10/2022 • 57 minutes 18 seconds
The final moments of DART
NASA’s latest mission, DART hit the headlines this week after the space agency’s satellite successfully collided with a far off asteroid. The mission acts as a demonstration of Earth’s first planetary defence system. Jon Amos, one of BBC’s Science correspondents, talks Roland through the final moments of the DART satellite. Although the collision was a success, we may have to wait a little longer before we know if the asteroid’s trajectory has been altered…
Simone Pirrotta, project manager at the Italian Space Agency, has more to add. His nifty camera system broke away 10 days before DART’s collision, ensuring its own survival. This celestial drive by is guaranteed to provide scientific data to get excited about.
Also this week, we visit the China Kadoorie Biobank. Twenty years in the making, it houses a collection of over half a million genetic samples, which might help identify links between our own genetic compositions and illness. Roland Pease visited them in Oxford to find out m
01/10/2022 • 53 minutes 42 seconds
Should we mine the deep sea?
The first license of its kind has been granted for deep-sea mining. It will be used to run early tests to see whether the seabed could be good place to harvest rare earth materials in the future. These earth minerals are what powers much of our modern technology, and the demand is growing year on year.
The license raises ethical questions about whether anyone has ownership over the seabed, and whether we could be disrupting ecosystems under the sea in doing so. We have two experts joining us to discuss the scientific implications. They are marine biologist, Dr Helen Scales and Bramley Murton from the National Oceanographic Centre, Southampton University.
Also on the programme, we build on last week’s discussion about growing opportunities for researchers on the African continent. We look at how programmes of genomic sequencing are offering opportunities for Africa-based researchers, that haven’t been available before.
We talk to Thilo Kreuger, a PhD student at Curtin University, Wes
24/09/2022 • 53 minutes 37 seconds
Science and the causes behind Pakistan’s floods
A new report by the World Weather Attribution consortium demonstrates the impact of global warming on flooding in Pakistan. The consortium are helping to assess the link between humanitarian disasters and global change, faster than ever before.
The work, conducted by a team of statisticians, climate experts, and local weather experts, is part of an emerging field in science called Extreme Event Attribution, and can reliably provide assessments in the immediate aftermath of an extreme weather event
The report follows widescale flooding in Pakistan that has disrupted the lives of over 33 million people. Dr. Friederike Otto from the Grantham Institute for Climate Change explains some of the network’s conclusions as to the causes behind this devastating flood. Can it all be down to climate change?
Also this week, we speak to Prof Oyewale Tomori of the African Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases, who writes in this week’s journal Science about what he believes Africa
18/09/2022 • 57 minutes 2 seconds
The genetics of human intelligence
Early humans and Neanderthals had similar-sized brains but around 6 million years ago something happened that gave us the intellectual edge. The answer may lie in a tiny mutation in a single gene that meant more neurons could develop in a crucial part of the brain. Post-doctoral research scientist at the Max Plank Institute of Molecular Biology and Genetics, Anneline Pinson, did the heavy lifting on the research under the supervision of Wieland Huttner. They discuss with Roland how this finding offers a major development in our understanding of the evolutionary expansion of the all-important neocortex area of the brain.
A central aspect of what it is to be human and how we use our intelligence is to care for one another. A burial site in Borneo from tens of thousands of years ago gives us fresh insights into how advanced our capacity to care was, millennia before the establishment of stable communities and agricultural life. Remains uncovered by a team of archaeologists from Austra
11/09/2022 • 1 hour 2 minutes 58 seconds
The China Heatwave and the New Normal
Hot on the tail of China’s heatwave comes the other side of the extreme coin – tragic flooding. Also, a coming global shortage of sulfur, while scientists produce useful oxygen on Mars in the MOXIE experiment.
Prof Chunzai Wang is the Director of the State Key Laboratory of Tropical Oceanography in Guangzhou, China. He tells Roland about the surprising nature of the extreme temperatures and droughts much of China has been experiencing, and how they are connected to so many of the record-breaking weather events around the northern hemisphere this summer, including the tragic flooding in Pakistan.
Some people of course saw this coming. Richard Betts of the UK Met Office talks of a paper by one of his predecessors published 50 years ago exactly that pretty much predicted the greenhouse gas-induced climate change more or less exactly.
Clearly, the world needs to cut carbon emissions, and oil and coal would be sensible places to start. But as Prof Mark Maslin points out, this will com
04/09/2022 • 55 minutes 26 seconds
Surprises from a Martian Lake Bed
The Jezero Crater on Mars was targeted by Nasa’s Perseverence rover because from orbit, there was strong evidence it had at some point contained a lake. When the Mars 2020 mission landed, it didn’t take long to spot rocks protruding from the bottom that looked for all the world like sedimentary rocks – implying they were laid down from the liquid water and maybe perhaps even contain signs of past life. This week, the science team have published some of their analysis from the first 9 months of the mission. And, as Principal Scientist Kenneth Farley of Caltech tells Science In Action, the geology is clearly more complex, as it turns out they are igneous, perhaps resulting from subsequent volcanic activity.
Back on earth, Shane Cronin of the University of Auckland has been digging into the legend of the Kuwea volcano in Vanuatu. Folk tales have long talked of an inhabited island that once disappeared beneath the sea. Over the years some have linked these and the submarine caldera with a
28/08/2022 • 53 minutes 36 seconds
East Africa has endured more than two years on continuous drought. The latest predictions suggest the drought is not likely to end any time soon. We look at why climate change and weather patterns in the Pacific and Indian oceans are largely to blame.
Andrea Taschetto, chief investigator at the Centre on Climate Extremes at the University of New South Wales discusses the latest predictions Drought has also been an issue in Europe, comparable with events nearly 500 years ago.
Chantal Camenisch at the Institute of History at Bern University in Switzerland has been delving into European drought history and says despite the vast differences in living conditions there are many parallels with today. When a dinosaur killing asteroid hit the earth did it have company? A suspected impact crater discovered off the coast of West Africa may have been caused at around the same time . Heriot Watt University geostratigrapher Uisdean Nicholson and University of Texas geologist Sean Gulick have bee
20/08/2022 • 55 minutes 7 seconds
Icelandic volcano erupts again
We talk to volcano scientist Ed Marshall in Iceland about working at the volcano which has burst into life spectacularly again after a year of quiet.
Also in the programme, we'll be following migrating moths across Europe in light aircraft to discover the remarkable secrets of their powers of navigation, and hearing how synthetic biology promises to create smarter and more adaptable genetically engineered crops.
Imagine waking up to the smell of freshly baked bread. Doesn’t it make your mouth water? Now imagine the smell of a fish market on a warm day… still feeling hungry? CrowdScience listener Thanh from Vietnam is intrigued by the effects of smell on our appetite, and wants to know whether certain aromas can make us feel more full than others. Never averse to a food-based challenge, presenter Anand Jagatia takes us on a journey from the nose to the brain, where we find out what exactly happens when we get a whiff of various foods. He discovers how the digestive system prepare
14/08/2022 • 54 minutes 36 seconds
Synthetic mouse embryos with brains and hearts
This week two research groups announced that they have made synthetic mouse embryos that developed brains and beating hearts in the test tube, starting only with embryonic stem cells. No sperm and eggs were involved. Previously, embryos created this way have never got beyond the stage of being a tiny ball of cells. These embryos grew and developed organs through 8 days – more than a third of the way through the gestation period for a mouse. Roland Pease talks to the leader of one of the teams, developmental biologist Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz of Cambridge University and Caltech about how and why they did this, and the ethical issues around this research.
Also in the programme: the latest research on how we spread the SARS-CoV-2 virus when we breathe. Infectious disease researcher Kristen Coleman of the University of Maryland tells us about her experiments that have measured the amounts of virus in the tiny aerosol particles emanating from the airways of recently infected peopl
07/08/2022 • 56 minutes 40 seconds
The first galaxies at the universe's dawn
In the last week, teams of astronomers have rushed to report ever deeper views of the universe thanks to the James Webb Space Telescope. These are galaxies of stars more than 13.5 billion light years from us and we see them as they were when the universe was in its infancy, less than 300 million years after the Big Bang. As University of Texas astronomer Steve Finkelstein tell us, there are some real surprises in these glimpses of the cosmic dawn. The super-distant galaxy that Steve's group has identified is named after his daughter Maisie.
Also in the programme: a 550 million year old fossil which is much the oldest representative of a large group of animals still with us today. The early jellyfish relative lived at a time known as the Ediacaran period when all other known complex organisms were weird, alien-looking lifeforms with no surviving descendants. Roland Pease talks palaeontologist Frankie Dunn at the University of Oxford who's led the study of Auroralumina attenboroughii.
30/07/2022 • 54 minutes 59 seconds
Heat waves in the Northern Hemisphere
The extreme heat wave in western Europe over the last couple of weeks is just one of many in the Northern Hemisphere in 2022. How is global warming changing the atmosphere to make heat waves more frequent and more intense? We talk to climatologists Hannah Cloke, Friederike Otto and Efi Rousi.
If we want to stabilise global warming to two degrees by the end of the century, how are we going to do that? One novel idea is to harness the world's vast railway infrastructure and equip freight and passenger trains with an additional special wagon or two. These extra cars would be designed to suck carbon dioxide out of the air, liquify it and transport it to sequestration sites. Critically all the energy to capture the carbon dioxide comes free from regenerative braking on the trains. University of Toronto chemist Geoff Ozin and Eric Bachman, founder of the start-up CO2 Rail, explain the vision.
On the 40th anniversary of the International Whaling Commissions announcing an end to commercial w
23/07/2022 • 56 minutes 24 seconds
First images from the James Webb Space Telescope
Roland Pease talks to two astronomers who began working on the James Webb Space Telescope more than two decades ago and have now seen the first spectacular results of their labours. Marcia Rieke of the University of Arizona and JWST's senior project scientist John Mather discuss the highlights of the first four images.
Also in the programme, geologists discover precisely where on the Red Planet the most ancient Martian meteorite came from - we speak to Anthony Lagain whose detective work identified the crater from which the rock was ejected into space. And what causes vast areas of the Indian Ocean to glow with strange light - a rare and mysterious phenomenon known as 'milky seas'? The world is a step closer to understanding this centuries' old maritime enigma thanks to the crew of a yacht sailing south of Java, atmospheric scientist Steven Miller and marine microbiologist Kenneth Nealson.
We are running out of ammunition against certain infections, as bacteria increasingly evade the
16/07/2022 • 1 hour 3 minutes 10 seconds
Long Covid ‘brain fog’
Following a bout of Covid-19, a significant number of people suffer with weeks or months of 'brain fog' - poor concentration, forgetfulness, and confusion. This is one of the manifestations of Long Covid. A team of scientists in the United States has now discovered that infection in the lung can trigger an inflammatory response which then causes patterns of abnormal brain cell activity. It’s the kind of brain cell dysregulation also seen in people who experience cognitive problems following chemotherapy for cancer.
Also in the programme, the latest discoveries about the asteroid Bennu from the Osiris Rex mission, how Malayasian farmers led US researchers to a botanical discovery, and a new explanation for why dinosaurs took over the world 200 million years ago.
Artists can conjure up people, cities, landscapes and entire worlds using just a pencil or a paintbrush. But some of us struggle to draw simple stick figures or a circle that’s actually round. CrowdScience listener Myck is
11/07/2022 • 1 hour 4 minutes 50 seconds
Extreme heat death risk in Latin America
Audio for this episode was updated on 8th July.
A new analysis of deaths in cities across Latin America suggests rising global temperatures could lead to large numbers of deaths in the region and elsewhere in the world. Even a 1-degree rise in extreme heat can add 6% to the risk of dying. Lead researcher Josiah Kephart at Drexel University tells Roland Pease the lessons from Latin America should apply to cities across the global south.
Brazilian ecologist Andreas Meyer talks about the troubling prospects for the health of ecosystems, particularly in tropical regions, if the world does not cut its fossil fuel emissions hard and fast in the next few years.
In the USA, a team of engineers and neurosurgeons are developing a radical new approach for targeted pain relief – in the first instance, for patients recovering from surgery. It’s a flexible implant that wraps around a nerve and cools it to prevent it from transmitting pain signals. What’s more, says bioengineer John Rogers, the im
03/07/2022 • 59 minutes 7 seconds
Researchers have discovered a species of bacteria which dwarfs all others by thousands of times. Normally you need a microscope to see single-celled bacteria, but Thiomargarita magnifica is the length and width of an eyelash. It's been found growing in mangrove swamps in the Caribbean. Roland Pease talks to Jean Marie Volland about what makes this Godzilla of the microbial world extra-special.
Also in the programme, a new study published in the journal Nature has discovered that women scientists are less likely than their male peers to be credited for their contributions to research projects. Roland discusses the findings with the study leader Julia Lane of New York University and nanoscientist Shobhana Narasimhan in Bangalore. We also find out about the oldest evidence for wildfires on the planet which raged across the land 430 million years ago, with palaeobotanist Ian Glasspool. And Edinburgh University vertebrate palaeontologist Steve Brusatte talks about some of the evolu
26/06/2022 • 1 hour 9 minutes 1 second
Thirty years after the Earth Summit
Thirty years ago, world leaders met at the United Nations Earth Summit in Rio and appeared to commit to action to tackle two of the world's greatest environmental threats. The Earth Summit launched the UN Climate Change Convention and the Convention on Biological Diversity. Science in Action assesses their success by talking to atmospheric scientist Sir Bob Watson, a former chair of the International Panel of Climate Change, and to Tom Oliver, professor of applied ecology at the University of Reading.
Arctic zoologist Kristin Laidre tells us about the identification of an unique population of polar bears in Southeast Greenland. The bears’ unusual habitat and means of survival may make them more resilient to the loss of sea ice as the Arctic region continues to warm. Finally, archaeo-geneticist Maria Spyrou talks about her team’s detective work which points to an area of Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia as the likely source of the 14th Century Black Death pandemic.
What is a quantum comp
19/06/2022 • 1 hour 1 minute 7 seconds
Body scan reveals HIV's hideouts
Researchers have developed a medical imaging technique which reveals where in the body HIV lies hidden, even when people have their infection well controlled by antiviral drugs. The team at the University of California, San Francisco hope this will lead to better treatments and even cures for HIV. As Timothy Henrich told us, they are also going to use the technique to investigate the notion that Long Covid is caused by the coronavirus persisting deep in the body's tissues.
Also in the programme, Roland Pease reports from the vast particle accelerator in Switzerland where the famous Higgs particle was discovered ten years ago. The scientists there are preparing to begin experiments with an upgraded Large Hadron Collider to learn more about the particle and the fundamental nature of the Universe.
Roland also talks to Frank Close, physicist and author of 'Elusive' - a new biography of Peter Higgs, a scientist as elusive as the particle named after him.
Finally an international team of
11/06/2022 • 1 hour 47 seconds
Should we worry about the latest Omicron subvariants?
Should we worry about the most recent Omicron subvariants, BA 4 and BA5? They are the subtypes of the Covid-19 virus now dominant in southern Africa and spreading elsewhere. New research suggests that they are better at evading our antibody defences than other forms of the virus. Columbia University virologist David Ho explains the findings and what they means for us.
Also, reducing air pollution makes agricultural crops grow better, how large wildfires warm the upper atmosphere, and the dolphins in the Red Sea which use secretions from corals and sponges as preventative medicines.
This week’s CrowdScience is dedicated to bodily fluids – and why humans spend so much time spraying them all over the place. From snot and vomit to sweat and sneezes, listeners have been positively drenching our inbox with queries. Now presenter Marnie Chesterton and a panel of unsqueamish expert guests prepare themselves to wade through…
One listener has found that as he ages, bright light seems t
04/06/2022 • 56 minutes 49 seconds
Heat death by volcano and other stories
This week Science in Action comes from a vast gathering of earth scientists in Vienna, at the general assembly of the European Geosciences Union.
Roland Pease hears the latest insights into the cataclysmic eruption of Hunga Tonga in the Pacific ocean from volcanologist Shane Cronin of the University of Auckland. He also talks to NASA's Michael Way about how the planet Venus might have acquired its hellish super-greenhouse atmosphere, and how the same thing could happen to planet Earth. There’s intriguing research from geologist John Tarduno of the University of Rochester that hints of a link between the ups and downs of the Earth’s magnetic field and the evolutionary history of animals. Fraser Lott of the UK's Hadley Centre explains his ideas for calculating an individual person's responsibility for climate change-driven extreme weather events.
On Crowd Science, why can't I find gold in my back yard?
If you go outside with a spade and start digging, the chances are you
29/05/2022 • 56 minutes 47 seconds
Death in the rainforest
Tree mortality in tropical moist forests in Australia has been increasing since the mid 1980s. The death rate of trees appears to have doubled over that time period. According to an international team of researchers, the primary cause is drier air in these forests, the consequence of human-induced climate change. According to ecologist David Bauman, a similar process is likely underway in tropical forests on other continents.
Also in the programme: the outbreaks of monkeypox in Europe and North America… Could SARS-CoV-2 infection lingering in the gut be a cause of Long Covid? News of a vaccine against Epstein Barr virus, the cause of mononucleosis, various cancers and multiple sclerosis.
Digging and excavating are bywords for archaeology. But why does history end up deep under our feet?
This question struck CrowdScience listener Sunil in an underground car park. Archaeological remains found during the car park’s construction were displayed in the subterranean stairwells, g
21/05/2022 • 58 minutes 42 seconds
Portrait of the monster black hole at our galaxy’s heart
The heaviest thing in the Galaxy has now been imaged by the biggest telescope on Earth. This is Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the centre of our Galaxy – a gas and star-consuming object, a 4 million times the mass of the Sun. The Event Horizon Telescope is not one device but a consortium of radio telescopes ranging from the South Pole to the Arctic Circle. Their combined data allowed astronomers to focus in on this extreme object for the first time. Astronomer Ziri Younsi from University College London talks to Roland Pease about the orange doughnut image causing all the excitement.
Also in the programme…
Climatologist Chris Funk talks about the role of La Niña and climate change in the record-breaking two year drought that continues to threaten the lives and livelihoods of millions of people in East Africa.
Was a pig virus to blame for the death of the first patient to receive a pig heart transplant? We talk to the surgeon and scientist at the University of Maryland
15/05/2022 • 1 hour 4 minutes 36 seconds
Mekong Delta will sink beneath the sea by 2100
The Mekong Delta is home to 17 million people and is Vietnam’s most productive agricultural region. An international group of scientists warn this week that almost all of the low lying delta will have sunk beneath the sea within 80 years without international action. Its disappearance is the result of both sea level rise and developments such as dams and sand mining, as Matt Kondolf of the University of California, Berkeley explains to Roland Pease.
Also in the programme:
Seismologist Laura Emert on using the rumbling of traffic in Mexico City to monitor earthquake hazards.
Mars-shaking Marsquakes – recent record-breaking quakes on Mars explained by seismologist Anna Horleston of Bristol University.
A record-breaking high jumping robot designed by mechanical engineer and roboticist Elliot Hawkes which is so light it can access any terrain, perhaps even the moon.
And gene editing….
Humans now have the ability to directly change their DNA and gene-editing tool CRISPR has led to a
08/05/2022 • 1 hour 1 minute 6 seconds
The Indian subcontinent’s record-breaking heatwave
Deadly heat has been building over the Indian sub-continent for weeks and this week reached crisis levels. India experienced its hottest March on record and temperatures over 40 degrees Celsius (and in some places approaching 50 degrees) are making it almost impossible for 1.4 billion people to work. It’s damaging crops and it’s just what climate scientists have been warning about. Roland Pease talks to Vimal Mishra of the Indian Institute of Technology in Gandhinagar about the impact and causes of the unprecedented heatwave.
What could be behind the incidence of hepatitis in young children around the world in recent months? Ordinarily, liver disease in childhood is extremely rare. Could a virus normally associated with colds be responsible or is the Covid virus involved? Roland Pease talks to virologist William Irving of Nottingham University.
Also in the programme:
How climate change is increasing the likelihood of animal viruses jumping the species barrier to humans with glob
01/05/2022 • 1 hour 5 minutes 55 seconds
Climate techno-fix would worsen global malaria burden
As a series of UN climate reports have warned recently, drastic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions – a halving over the next decade – are needed if we are to keep global warming down to manageable levels. No sign of that happening.
An emergency measure to buy time that’s sometimes discussed is solar geoengineering – creating an atmospheric sunscreen that reduces incoming solar heat. Sulphate compounds in volcanic gases or in industrial fumes attract water vapour to make a fine haze and have that effect. The difference would be starting a deliberate programme of injecting sulphate particles into the stratosphere.
There are a host of arguments against it, including a revulsion against adding another pollutant to the atmosphere to offset the one, carbon dioxide, that’s giving us problems in the first place. Another objection, outlined this week, is that it could set back the global fight against malaria - a major killer in its own right. University of Cape Town ecologist Chris Tri
24/04/2022 • 1 hour 7 minutes 40 seconds
How ‘magic mushroom’ chemical treats depression
Brain scanning experiments reveal how psilocybin works to relieve severe depression. Psilocybin is the psychedelic substance in 'magic mushrooms'. The psychoactive chemical is currently in clinical trials in the UK and US as a potential treatment for depression and other mental illnesses. Professor David Nutt of Imperial College London tells Roland about the research
Also in the show, worrying findings about the increase in premature deaths because of air pollution in growing cities in tropical Africa and Asia. An international group of climatologists has found that the tropical storms which struck Mozambique, Malawi and Madagascar in early 2022 had been made more intense by human-induced climate change. And astronomer David Jewitt used the Hubble telescope to measure the largest known comet in the solar system - it's huge at about 120 kilometres across.
The team at CrowdScience has spent years answering all sorts of listener questions, which must make them pretty smart, r
17/04/2022 • 1 hour 14 minutes 31 seconds
Tsunami detective in Tonga
Just over two months ago, the undersea volcano of Hunga Tonga erupted catastrophically, generating huge tsunamis and covering the islands of Tonga in ash. University of Auckland geologist Shane Cronin is now in Tonga, trying to piece together the sequence of violent events.
Edinburgh University palaeontologist Ornella Bertrand tells us about her studies of the ancient mammals that inherited the Earth after the dinosaurs were wiped out. To her surprise, in the first 10 million years after the giant meteorite struck, natural selection favoured larger-bodied mammals, not smarter ones.
At the University of Bristol, a team of engineers is developing skin for robots, designed to give future bots a fine sense of touch. Roland shakes hands with a prototype.
A global satellite survey of the world’s largest coastal cities finds that most of them contain areas that are subsiding faster than the rate that the sea level is rising. Some cities are sinking more than ten times faster, putting many
10/04/2022 • 1 hour 1 minute 52 seconds
Radioactive Red Forest
Russian forces in the forested exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear site may be receiving potentially dangerous levels of radiation. After the nuclear accident trees were felled and radioactive material was buried across the site. As the forest regrew its took up much of that radiation - making it the most radioactive forest in the world according to Tom Scott from Bristol University who studies radiation levels in the region. The troop's activities, from digging trenches to lighting fires as missiles are fired, may be releasing radiation. Its unclear how dangerous this is, but those with the greatest and most immediate exposure risk are the troops themselves.
Australia’s iconic Great Barrier Reef has suffered a mass bleaching event – where coral can be killed by rising temperatures. This is the latest in a series of such events which also affect other reefs. Kate Quigley from The Australian Institute of Marine Science is working to breed corals that can be more heat tolerant.
03/04/2022 • 58 minutes 9 seconds
Covid in the sewers
Analysis of wastewater from sewage systems has provided an early warning system for the presence of Covid19 in communities – showing up in the water samples before people test positive. It’s also possible to identify the variants and even specific genetic mutations. Davida Smyth of Texas A&M University has been using this technique in New York and found intriguing results -forms of the virus not present in humans. The suggestion is that mutated forms may be infecting other animals, possibly those present in the sewers. An analysis of long Covid, symptoms of fatigue, and ‘brain fog’ which occur long after initial infection, show that around a quarter of those infected develop these symptoms. Lucy Cheke of Cambridge University discusses the implications.
The war in Ukraine has highlighted the importance of the region in supplying raw materials and energy to other countries, gas, cereal crops, and fertilisers in particular. As crop scientist John Hammond from Reading University explains
20/03/2022 • 58 minutes 48 seconds
Why are Covid19 cases rising in Hong Kong?
Hong Kong had been very successful at preventing the spread of Coivd19. Testing and isolation measures were very effective. However, vaccine uptake was low amongst elderly people and that says virologist Malik Peiris has now left them vulnerable to the highly infectious Omicron variant.
The bombing of a scientific institute in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv has echoes of the Stalinist purges says physicist and historical Mikhail Shifman. He tells us how the institute developed as a leading centre for physics in the 1930s, but scientists there fled or were murdered after being targeted by Stalin’s regime.
Economic sanctions and other measures designed to isolate Russia are likely to have an impact on Russian participation in international scientific collaborations. Nikolay Voronin from the BBC’s Russian Service gives us his assessment of the immediate impact and, if the conflict continues long term, the potential for Russian science to retreat the kind of isolation last seen during th
13/03/2022 • 1 hour 4 minutes 14 seconds
Covid -19 origins
Wuhan's Huanan Seafood Market is associated with many of the first cases or Covid- 19, but data on precisely how and from where the virus might have first spread has been difficult to find.
However a re-examination of the earliest samples collected from the market seem to pinpoint where the virus first showed itself. Sydney University virologist Eddie Holmes says this evidence will be crucial in determining which animals may have initially passed the virus to humans.
Humans are known to have passed the Sars-Cov-2 virus to other animals, including cats, mink and deer. Canadian researchers have recorded the first incident of a modified form of the virus passing back from deer to humans. Virologist Samira Mubareka from the University of Toronto explains the implications.
Chernobyl, the site of the worlds worst nuclear accident is back in the news as the Russian invasion of Ukraine led to a stirring up of nuclear material when troops entered the site. Ukraine has a number of nuclear reac
06/03/2022 • 57 minutes 32 seconds
Reforming the 'China Initiative'
A scheme in the US designed to prevent industrial espionage and the theft of intellectual property, is to be refocused after it was accused of unfairly targeting Chinese American scientists. We speak to Gang Chen, a professor from MIT who was falsely accused of financial crimes, and Holden Thorp Editor in Chief of the Journal Science who tells us why the ‘China Initiative’ is at odds with the reality of international scientific collaboration.
And a huge study of farmed animals in China, from raccoon dogs to porcupines and Asian badgers, reveals that they carry a wide range of pathogens, including forms of avian flu and coronaviruses. Virologist Eddie Holmes from the University of Sydney, who was involved in the analysis, says these viruses may have the potential to jump species and infect humans – possibly leading to another pandemic.
Controlling fire was a turning point in the development of human civilisation. But how did fire become part of the human toolkit? It’s a question that
27/02/2022 • 58 minutes 21 seconds
Bone repair from Covid-19 vaccine technology
Messenger RNA-based vaccines have been used successfully to kick start the antibody production needed to fight Covid-19. Now the technology has been successfully used to encourage the growth of new bones to heal severe fractures. The technique seems to work far better than the current alternatives says Maastricht University’s Elizabeth Rosado Balmayor.
Ivory smuggling continues to be a lucrative business for international criminal gangs, however, DNA techniques to trace where ivory seized by law enforcement authorities originates are now so accurate that individual animals can be pinpointed to within a few hundred miles. This says Samuel Wasser at the University of Washington, can be used as evidence against those ivory trafficking gangs.
And we look at development in attempts to detect and weigh neutrinos, elusive subatomic particles essential to our understanding of the makeup of the universe. Physicist Diana Parno from Carnegie Mellon University takes us through the latest finding
20/02/2022 • 1 hour 4 minutes 21 seconds
Inside Wuhan's coronavirus lab
The Wuhan Institute of Virology has been at the centre of a controversy surrounding the origins of the virus which caused the Covid-19 pandemic. The work of the lab's previously obscure division looking at bat coronaviruses has been the subject of massive speculation and misinformation campaigns. Journalist and former biomedical scientist Jane Qui has gained unique access to the lab. She has interviewed the staff there extensively and tells us what she found on her visits.
And Tyler Starr from the Fred Hutchinson Institute in Seattle, has looked at a range of bat coronaviruses from around the world, looking to see whether they might have the capability to jump to humans in the future. He found many more than previously thought that either have or are potentially just a few mutations away from developing this ability.
Nuclear fusion researchers at the 40-year-old Joint European Torus facility near Oxford in the Uk for just the 3rd time in its long history, put fully-fledged nuclear fu
13/02/2022 • 1 hour 5 minutes 15 seconds
Identifying a more infectious HIV variant
We’re 40 years into the AIDS pandemic, and even with massive public health campaigns, still, 1 ½ million become infected with HIV each year; about half that number die of its ravages. And a study just out shows that this well-understood virus can still take on more worrying forms as a new variant has been uncovered. Although the total number of cases involved is small, and the new variant is as treatable as earlier strains, the finding underlines that viruses can become more infectious and more virulent.
Back in October 2020, before we had effective vaccines, 36 plucky volunteers agreed to be deliberately infected with SARS-CoV-2 in order to better understand the infection process and outcomes in what’s known as a human “challenge” trial. Dr. Chris Chiu from Imperial College reveals what they’ve learned now the results of the study are in. We’ll hear about a new plastic that’s stronger than steel and as many gardeners have long suspected, – spring-flowering has over many years been
06/02/2022 • 1 hour 3 minutes 30 seconds
The roots of Long Covid
There are now a number of biological indicators for the potential development of long covid. Immunologist Onur Boyman of Zurich University Hospital and Claire Steves, Clinical Senior Lecturer at King’s College London strives to tell us how pinpointing these factors is now helping in the development of strategies to predict the syndrome and prepare treatment.
The James Webb telescope has reached its final orbit. The years of planning, preparation and rehearsal seem to have paid off. The telescope is now ready to begin its mission of looking back into the early universe. BBC Science correspondent Jonathan Amos has followed the mission.
The widely held view that human development was propelled by our ancestors developing a taste for meat is being questioned by a new analysis of the fossil record. Paleoanthropologist Andrew Barr of George Washington University suggests part of the reason for this assumption is the sampling method, actively looking for evidence to support the hypothesis.
30/01/2022 • 56 minutes 41 seconds
Tonga eruption – how it happened
The effects of the Tonga eruption could be felt around the world, many heard the boom of a sonic shock, and tsunami waves travelled far and wide. Volcanologist Shane Cronin from the University of Auckland in New Zealand is one of only a handful of people to have landed on the tiny islands above the volcano where the eruption took place. Those islands have now sunk beneath the waves but Shane tells us what he found when he went there and how his findings could inform what happens next.
Stephan Grilli from the School of Ocean Engineering at the University of Rhode Island joins us from Toulon in France where he felt the effects of the shockwave and Tsunami. He says the force of the shockwave drove those waves worldwide.
The oceans have continued to warm, producing continuous record temperature rises for several years now. That’s the finding of Michael Mann of the University of Pennsylvania and author of The New Climate Wars. He says warming occurred last year despite the presence of glo
23/01/2022 • 59 minutes 42 seconds
Have we got it wrong on Omicron?
Studies using swabs from coronavirus patients seem to contradict earlier findings from cell cultures which showed Omicon replicated faster than earlier variants. As Benjamin Meyer from the centre for Vaccinology at the University of Geneva, explains there may be other reasons why omicron is spreading faster not just how quickly it reproduces.
Predicting how the pandemic will develop is not possible, however predicting what individual mutations in the virus may develop and the impact they might have individually and collectively is getting closer,
Cyrus Maher and Amalio Telenti of the biotech company Vir, have developed a way to model potential future viral mutations which they hope will now be used by many scientists worldwide looking to understand the virus.
There are concerns that other viruses may be on the rise, bird flu in particular, which as Nicola Lewis of the Royal Veterinary College explains is now spreading to part of the world where it is not usually seen, and infecting o
16/01/2022 • 57 minutes 34 seconds
CORBEVAX – A vaccine for the world?
Now being produced in India CORBEVAX is grown in yeast in a similar way to several other widely available vaccines. The technology used to make it is far simpler and much more readily available than that used to produce mRNA vaccines. In theory, CORBEVAX could be produced cheaply in large quantities and go a long way to addressing the problems of Covid19 vaccine availability globally. It was developed by a team from Baylor College of Medicine in Texas including Maria Elena Bottazzi.
Antibiotic-resistant superbugs are thought to have emerged in repose to the use of antibiotics, however, the discovery of a superbug living on the skin of hedgehogs has challenged this view. The superbug is thought to have been living with hedgehogs long before antibiotics were discovered. Jesper and Anders Larsen at the Danish State Serum Institute in Copenhagen explain.
Modifying viruses, using them to infect or kill pest organisms is an attractive proposition. However, there are concerns over what migh
09/01/2022 • 57 minutes 32 seconds
Omicron – mild or monster?
Studies from South Africa and the UK suggest Omicron may be a mild infection for the majority of people. Hospital admissions are down when compared with other variants. However, the virus is replicating at a much faster rate than earlier variants and is able to overcome vaccines to some extent. Cases studies so far have mainly been in young people. There is concern over what will now happen as Omicron spreads across Europe and the US where there are older unvaccinated populations.
Anne von Gottberg from South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases tells us what early results from studies there show and discusses the implications.
Typhoon Rai in the Philippines led to the loss of many lives and even destroyed buildings designed to resist such extreme weather events. Could more have been done either to predict the ferocity of the typhoon or to prepare for its impact?
Liz Stephens, Associate Professor in Climate Risks and Resilience from the University of Reading discus
26/12/2021 • 1 hour 49 seconds
Omicron’s rapid replication rate
A study from Hong Kong university shows Omicron replicates 70 times faster than two earlier variants of the SARS-Cov-2 virus. Virologist Malik Peiris, explains how tests using cells from the wind pipe showed the dramatic difference, which supports observations of increased transmission. In contrast Omicron replicated less well than other variants on cells from dep in thre lung – offering some possibility that it may produce mild infections.
Tornados in the US do not normally occur in December. The one which swept across Kentucky and 3 other states was fuelled by weather patterns likely to have been influenced by long term climate change says Geographer James Elsner of Florida State University.
The Parker Solar probe continues its mission of flying closer and closer to the sun. Results just published show what the data the probe picked up when it dipped into the surrounding plasma. NASA’s Nicky Fox is our guide.
And how many legs does a millipede have? Until now not as many as you mi
19/12/2021 • 1 hour 3 minutes 10 seconds
Can the weather trigger a volcano?
Which came first the volcano or the rain? Volcanic eruptions are known to influence global climate systems, even leading to the cooling of the planet. However local weather conditions can also influence the timing and ferocity of volcanic eruptions. As volcanologist Jenni Barclay explains rainwater can contribute to volcanic instability and even increase the explosiveness of eruptions.
Syria has been experiencing civil war for more than 10 years. Many people have left including many of the country's scientists. We speak with 3 exiled Syrian scientists Shaher Abdullateef, Abdulkader Rashwani, and Abdul Hafez about their current work, which involves working with other academics and students in Syria sometimes remotely and sometimes directly.
New findings from Chile reveal an unknown Tsunami emanating from an earthquake there in the 1700s. Historical records mention other ones, but not this one. Geoscientist Emma Hocking found the evidence in layers of sand.
And we discuss the developm
12/12/2021 • 1 hour 9 minutes 33 seconds
Omicron, racism and trust
South Africa announced their discovery of the Omicron variant to the world as quickly as they could. The response from many nations was panic and the closure of transport links with southern Africa. Tulio de Oliveira who made the initial announcement and leads South Africa’s Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation tells us this is now having a negative effect on the country, with cases rising but vital supplies needed to tackle the virus not arriving thanks to the blockade.
Omicron contains many more mutations than previous variants. However scientists have produced models in the past which can help us understand what these mutations do. Rockefeller University virologist Theodora Hatziioannou produced one very similar to Omicron and she tells us why the similarities are cause for concern.
Science sleuth Elisabeth Bik and Mohammad Razai, professor of Primary Care in St George’s University in London have just been awarded the John Maddox Prize for their campaigning investigations i
05/12/2021 • 1 hour 2 minutes 38 seconds
Deliberately doomed dart
Science in Action
DART is a space mission designed to hit a distant asteroid and knock it slightly out of orbit. It’s a test mission, a pilot project for a way of potentially protecting the earth from a stray asteroid. We hear from mission coordinators Nancy Chabot and Andy Rivkin, both from the Applied Physics Labs, APL, of Johns Hopkins University.
A new kind of Covid-19 vaccine has successfully undergone preliminary tests. Tuebingen University’s Juliane Walz tells us about how it hopes to stimulate a longer lasting protective effect against the virus than current vaccines.
And Haley Randolph of Chicago University sheds light on how our ancient ancestors’ exposure to viruses influences our susceptibility today.
Historian Robert Schulmann gives us an insight into the significance of research notes by Albert Einstein and Michele Besso. Sold at auction in France the notes give an insight into the collaboration between the two scientists which led to much of what we now unders
28/11/2021 • 1 hour 2 minutes 57 seconds
The end for coal power?
The political message from the COP meeting was a fudge over coal, but what does the science say? Surprisingly India seems to be on track to switch away from coal to renewables. We explore the apparent contradiction with Lauri Myllyvirta of the thinktank Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air.
Also a synchrotron for Africa, how such a project would give a boost to scientific development across the continent, with Marielle Agbahoungbata from the X-tech Lab in Seme City in Benin.
Moriba Jah, who leads the Computational Astronautical Sciences and Technologies Group, at the University of Texas, in Austin, tells us what he saw when an exploding Russian satellite sent a shower of debris into the path of the International Space Station.
And the animals that carry SARS-Cov-2, an analysis from Barbara Han of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in New York shows there are many more than previously thought.
Image: A coal-fired power station in Nanjing in east China
21/11/2021 • 57 minutes 38 seconds
Bambi got Covid
Up to 8 percent of deer sampled in studies in the US were found to be infected with the SARS-Cov-2 Virus. Suresh Kuchipudi from the Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences at Penn State University in the US says what they are seeing is a mixture of human to deer and deer to deer transmission of the virus. There is concern that its presence in animal reservoirs could lead to a new form of the virus emerging.
Tropical forests and spread of zoonotic diseases And as the Cop26 meeting in Glasgow draws to a close we ask how global policy on climate will impact the spread of zoonotic disease. Spill over of possible pandemic pathogens from animals to humans occurs with the destruction of tropical forests in particular and can expose people to previously unknown zoonotic diseases such as Covid 19.
Aaron Bernstein from the Coalition to Prevent Pandemics at the Source says healthcare initiatives designed to reduce the potential spread of such diseases need to be designed to work in ta
14/11/2021 • 53 minutes 28 seconds
Jet fuel from thin air
Scientists in Switzerland have developed a system which uses solar energy to extract gases such as hydrogen and carbon dioxide from the air and turns them into fuels for transport. So far they have only made small quantities in experimental reactors, however they say with the right investment their alternatives to fossil fuels could be scaled up to provide a climate friendly way to power transport, particularly aviation and shipping. We speak to Aldo Steinfeld and Tony Patt from ETH Zurich and Johan Lilliestam from the University of Potsdam.
And what will rises in global temperature mean where you live? An interactive model developed by Bristol University’s Seb Steinig shows how an average global rise of say 1.5C affects different regions, with some potentially seeing much higher temperatures than others. Dan Lunt – one of the contributing authors to this year’s IPCC report discusses the implications.
We also look at racism in science, with problems caused by decisions on the naming
07/11/2021 • 1 hour 13 minutes 4 seconds
Can we still avoid climate catastrophe?
Just a few days before COP26 opens in Glasgow, the World Meteorological Organisation reported record greenhouse gas levels, despite a fall in CO2 due to pandemic restrictions.
The UN Environment Programme’s Emissions Gap Report also revealed that current country pledges will only take 7.5% off predicted greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, well below the 55% needed to limit global warming to 1.5C. Worse still, many large emission producers are not on track to meet their countries’ pledges. Rachel Warren, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, tells us the 1.5C limit is still achievable if we work in tandem with nature.
Research by Sara Mikaloff-Fletcher, National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), illustrates this. Her contribution to the WMO Greenhouse Bulletin revealed that New Zealand’s indigenous forests play a bigger role in absorbing carbon from the atmosphere than previously thought. Also on the programme, Abinash Mohanty, Council on Energy, Environment an
31/10/2021 • 1 hour 2 minutes 4 seconds
Red blood cells’ surprising immune function
We’ve talked a huge amount the past 18 months, for obvious reasons, about the way that white blood cells protect us from infection. But red blood cells – it’s probably among the earliest things I learned in human biology that they’re simple bags for carrying oxygen around the body. But over recent years, immunologist Nilam Mangalmurti, University of Pennsylvania, has been finding several clues to challenge that dogma – including molecules on the surface of red blood cells known from other parts of the immune system.
The Last Ice Area, home to the oldest and thickest ice in the Arctic, is expected to act as the last refuge for ice-dependent wildlife as the rest of the Arctic melts. Kent Moore, University of Toronto-Mississauga, tells us that the formation of a 3,000 square kilometre rift in the area means the ice is not as resilient as we once thought.
Also on the programme, an obituary for the renowned Dutch climate scientist and physicist Geert Jan van Oldenborgh (October 22, 1961
24/10/2021 • 53 minutes 24 seconds
Wetlands under attack
Since its introduction four decades ago, Spartina alterniflora, a salt-water cordgrass from the USA, has been spreading along China’s coasts.
Today, it covers nearly half of the country’s salt marshes. As the UN Biodiversity Conference COP 15 kicks off in China, we look at how this invasive plant species threatens native species in protected coastal wetlands. Featuring Yuan Lin, East China Normal University, and Qiang He, Fudan University.
In January 2020, Barney Graham and Jason McLellan teamed up to engineer a coronavirus spike protein that now powers the COVID-19 vaccines for Moderna, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Novavax. They discuss their work, a next-generation vaccine using chicken eggs, and the future of pandemic preparedness. Also, a recent Nature survey reveals the extent of abuse against scientists who speak about COVID-19 publicly. Deepti Gurdasani, Queen Mary University of London, shares her experiences of trolling and online abuse and discusses the implications for a
15/10/2021 • 58 minutes 50 seconds
Youngest rock samples from the moon
n December 2020, China's Chang'e-5 mission returned to earth carrying rock samples collected from the moon – the first lunar samples to be collected since the American Apollo and Luna missions to the moon in the 1970s.
Laboratory analysis has revealed that these are the youngest samples of rocks to be collected from the moon. Lunar geologist Katherine Joy explains what this tells us about the moon’s volcanic past. Also on the programme, a recent study reveals that the hepatitis B virus has been infecting humans for at least 10,000 years.
Denise Kühnert from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History shares what the evolution of the virus tells us about human evolution, as well as the rise and fall of civilisations. In the wake of Cyclone Shaheen, we also speak to Princeton University’s Ning Lin about how climate modelling can help us predict tropical storms in the Arabian Sea, and Fredi Otto joins us to discuss the 2021 Nobel Prizes for Science.
Snails are a major
10/10/2021 • 1 hour 3 minutes 56 seconds
Drug resistant malaria found in East Africa
Since their discovery in the 1970s, artemisinin-based drugs have become the mainstay of treatment for malaria caused by the Plasmodium falciparum parasite. Researchers have identified artemisinin-resistant malaria parasites in Southeast Asia since the early 2000s, but now, there is evidence of resistance in Rwanda and Uganda. Dr Betty Balikagala of Juntendo University tells us how this resistance developed and what it means for managing malaria in Africa, which carries the greatest burden of malaria cases and deaths worldwide.
We hear from some of the scientists from COVID Moonshot, a non-profit, open-science consortium which has just received key funding to develop affordable antivirals to stop SARS-CoV-2 in its tracks.
Also on the programme, Dr Rakesh Ghosh from the University of California, San Francisco tells us how air pollution is contributing to 6 million preterm births globally each year, and Dr Catherine Nakalembe of the University of Maryland and Africa Lead for NASA Harves
03/10/2021 • 1 hour 1 minute 48 seconds
New evidence for SARS-CoV-2’s origin in bats
Researchers studying bats in Northern Laos have found evidence that brings us closer than ever to understanding the origin of Covid-19. Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic scientists have tried to pin-point the exact origin of SARS-CoV-2. But recent evidence from the Institut Pasteur has identified several novel coronaviruses with similarities to the current coronavirus in bats. Professor Marc Eliot spoke to Roland Pease about how this research could give us a better idea where Covid-19 came from.
Could an oral COVID treatment be available soon?
Daria Hazuda, responsible for infectious disease and bacteria research at MSD tells us about their clinical trials for an oral antiviral drug that could combat Covid-19: Molnupiravir.
Early Diagnosis of Alzheimer's
Roland Pease travels to Bath to meet scientists who may have developed a way to diagnose Alzheimer's in the earlier stages of the disease. Dr George Stothart, has led the team from Bath university in the development of
26/09/2021 • 1 hour 3 minutes 45 seconds
Ebola can remain dormant for five years
An international team of researchers has discovered that an outbreak of Ebola in Guinea in February this year was the result of re-activated Ebola virus in someone who’d been infected at least five years ago during the earlier large Ebola epidemic that swept through Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. This means the virus can remain dormant in some Ebola survivors for five years or more.
Virologists Alpha Kabinet Keita and Robert Garry talk to Roland Pease about the research and its implications. Also in the programme: The eruption of lavas from Iceland’s newest volcano Fagradalsfjall continues six months on. Geochemist Ed Marshall tells us how he gets up close to sample the molten rock with a long scoop and a bucket of water, and what he’s learning about this remarkable eruption. NASA’s Katie Stack Morgan updates Science in Action on the Perseverance rover’s successful sampling of rocks from Jezero crater on the planet Mars. When the specimens are eventually returned to Earth, she say
19/09/2021 • 1 hour 3 minutes 59 seconds
Keep most fossil fuel in ground to meet 1.5 degree goal
For the world to have a decent chance of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees, 90 per cent of remaining coal reserves and 60% of unexploited oil and gas have to stay in the ground. These are the stark findings of carbon budget research by scientists at University College London. Dan Welsby spells out the details to Roland Pease.
Virologist Ravi Gupta of the University of Cambridge describes his latest research that explains why the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 is much more infectious and more able to evade our immune systems and covid vaccines than other variants.
When dense fog rises from the Pacific ocean into the foothills of the Andes, oases of floral colour bloom for a few weeks or months. When the fog goes, the plants die and disappear for another year or maybe another decade. The true extent of these unique ecosystems (known as fog oases or Lomas) has now been revealed by researchers at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in the UK, working with colleagues in Peru and C
12/09/2021 • 53 minutes 44 seconds
Methane - a climate solution?
The latest IPCC assessment raised alarm about the rate at which manmade emissions are contributing to climate change. Much of the focus for action is on reducing levels of carbon dioxide, however there is a more potent greenhouse gas, methane, produced by natural and industrial processes which, as Roland Pease tells Drew Shindell of Duke University and lead author on the Global Methane Assessment, is relatively easy to target for reduction.
Gut microbes and behaviour
Roland speaks to neuroscientist John Cryan of University College, Cork in Ireland who is interested in the effects our gut microbes can have on our behaviour. It’s an unusual connection and one which he’s been experimenting on in mice. By feeding the faeces of younger mice to older ones he has found that the older ones’ took on some of the younger ones’ behaviour.
Ball lightning is the stuff of legend and the supernatural. And yet there are many reported sightings of this phenomenon. Texas State University
15/08/2021 • 1 hour 7 minutes 48 seconds
July 2021 saw temperatures in the western US and Canada smash previous records by 5 degrees. And that’s what we should expect, according to a study prepared much earlier but published, coincidentally, just a few days later. A hallmark of rapid climate change, says author Erich Fischer of ETH Zurich, will be an accelerating number of record-shattering, and socially disruptive, events.
A large new study on communications and hierarchy across a large range of our ape and monkey relatives has just been published. Lead author Katie Slocombe of the University of York explains the findings: like us, the primates live socially in groups, and there are leaders, but the more tolerant ones are also the more communicative ones. In species with ‘despotic’ leaders, order seems to be maintained with more menacing silence.
The double helix of all DNA on earth twists in one direction. But researchers at Tsinghua University in China have made some important steps towards making mirror life, in which
08/08/2021 • 1 hour 5 minutes 4 seconds
Insects in incredible detail
The Natural History Museum in London holds a massive collection of insects. It asked researchers at the Diamond light source, a facility near Oxford, to develop a high throughput X-ray microscope to take 3D scans of them all. Roland Pease has been to see the new technology in action.
Many people seeking compensation for the impacts of climate change are turning to the law courts. Successes so far have been few. Oxford University’s Friederike Otto, who specialises in connecting weather extremes to the greenhouse effect, has just published a paper looking at the challenge in bringing successful climate lawsuits.
Spacecraft will be returning to Venus in the next decade with the recent approval of two NASA missions to the planet, and one from the European Space Agency, ESA. Philippa Mason of Imperial College is a planetary geologist on that mission, Envision. She plans to use radar to peer through that dense and interesting atmosphere to follow up evidence of volcanic activity and tecton
04/07/2021 • 1 hour 9 minutes 44 seconds
The latest Nyiragongo eruption was not entirely unexpected, the volcano’s lava lake inside the crater had been building up for years. Local volcanologists say it was only a matter of time before an eruption occurred. The big concern was where the flank of the volcano would be breached as the city of Goma rests under the volcano and there are potential fissures even within the town.
However there are still questions over the effectiveness of seismic monitoring in the area, North Kivu. The Goma observatory has been unable to carry out this work due to a lack of funding. And monitoring is further complicated by the region’s long running civil war, with rebel groups often camped around the volcano.
We hear from Dario Tadesco and Cindy Ebinger. Who have both been monitoring developments.
Cyclone Yass was the second Cyclone to hit India within a week. Are these events becoming more common and are they related to rises in global temperatures? Climatologist Roxy Koll has been monitoring t
29/05/2021 • 54 minutes 56 seconds
A brain-computer interface allows a severely paralysed patient not only to move and use a robotic arm, but also to feel the sensations as the mechanical hand clasps objects . We hear from Jennifer Collinger at Pittsburgh University’s Rehab Neural Engineering Labs. And Nathan Copeland, who has been controlling the robotic arm with his thoughts via a series of brain implants.
Ralph Baric of the University of North Carolina tells us about the development of a multi-component vaccine that would be effective not just against the current coronavirus outbreak and its variants, but also future outbreaks from SARS-like coronaviruses that we don’t even know about yet.
Blood clots, thromboses, have been a problem for a small number of people following Covid vaccination Paul Knöbl, and a team of medics in Vienna have worked out the link between vaccination and clot development. They now have a method to treat such clots – so they should not be fatal.
And how did fungi and plants come to live to
23/05/2021 • 1 hour 12 minutes 21 seconds
Covid and clean air
We wouldn’t drink dirty water so why do we put up with polluted air? Researchers are calling for a major rethink on our attitude to air quality. Professor Lidia Morawska, from the Queensland University of Technology, says attention to air quality during the Covid pandemic has shown how levels of airborne disease can be reduced.
Sam Wilson from the UK Medical Research Council, University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research has been investigating genetic mechanisms associated with susceptibility to Covid infection. His team has identified a molecule that detects SARS-COV-2 when it starts to replicate in our cells. However, not all humans have this protective mechanism, which may help explain why some people become very ill with Covid and others have little if any symptoms.
Many Europeans lack this protective molecule, whereas the vast majority of Africans have it. The difference can be seen in cell cultures. However, the lack of diversity in the cells used in experiments worldwide ca
16/05/2021 • 59 minutes 35 seconds
Africa’s oldest burial
Analysis of the 78,0000-year-old fossil of a Kenyan boy reveals he was likely buried with care and attention, the body wrapped and laid to rest supported on a pillow. Maria Martinon-Torres, of the National Research Centre on Human Evolution in Burgos, Spain, and a team from Kenya and Germany used techniques from paleontology and forensic science to reveal his story from the fragile remains.
A promising malaria vaccine is to enter trials which could lead to it being used globally to vaccinate children. Merheen Datoo, Oxford University’s Jenner Institute, explains malaria vaccines have been in development for 100 years. Research from these helped covid vaccine development and the success of covid vaccines may now help to speed up the rollout of malaria vaccines.
Covid vaccines may also help to treat those who have symptoms of long covid – a range of immune system issues that develop sometimes months after the initial infection. Yale University immunologist Akiko Kawasaki is embarking o
09/05/2021 • 1 hour 5 minutes 30 seconds
Uncovering history with Little Foot's skull
One of our most complete ancient ancestor’s fossils has been transported to the UK from South Africa in order to be scanned at the Diamond Light Source. Roland Pease investigates what these scans could reveal about the human story.
Professor Corinne Le Quéré explains how she managed to look past the 7% reduction in human emissions caused by the pandemic in 2020 to reveal the impact of the Paris Climate agreements, and explains what more needs to be done. Roland speaks with anthropologist Dr. Rolf Quam, who has studied the inner ears of fossilised Neanderthal skulls to reveal they may have evolved the ability to hear the complex sounds of spoken language separately to our own species. Dr. Emma Hodcroft discusses the Brazilian P1 COVID 19 variant that is spreading around the world.
And, The sudden agony of stubbing a toe or burning a finger can make even the most polite among us swear our heads off. It’s like a reflex, a quick-release valve for the shock. But why do expletives give us
07/03/2021 • 54 minutes 13 seconds
Waste not, want not
Although vaccines will go a long way to reducing the number of cases of Covid, there’s still a need for other approaches. One of these could be an engineered biomolecule, designed by virologists Anne Moscona and Matteo Porotto, that blocks SARS-CoV-2 precisely at the moment it tries to enter cells in the nose and upper airways. Roland Pease talks to Anne Moscona about this “molecular mask”.
We’re already beginning to see really encouraging analyses showing that Covid vaccines are performing as well in the real world as was promised by last year’s trials. Shane Crotty of the La Jolla Institute for Immunology discusses progress so far and the question of one dose or two with Roland.
Lives can be saved if there’s an early warning system for earthquakes and tsunamis. Seismologist Zhongwen Zhan at CalTech has been experimenting with a newly installed 10,000 km cable laid along the Pacific coasts of north and south America by Google, all the way from Los Angeles to Santiago. What he was
28/02/2021 • 1 hour 10 minutes 13 seconds
A paper in the BMJ shows that deaths from Covid 9 are being massively overlooked in Zambia. The new data come from post-mortem tests at the University Hospital mortuary in Lusaka, showing that at least 1 in 6 deaths there are due to the coronavirus; many of the victims had also been suffering from tuberculosis. Chris Gill of Boston University’s Department of Global Health, and Lawrence Mwananyanda, chief scientific officer of Right to Care, Zambia, discuss their findings with Roland Pease.
New variants of concern continue to be reported, such as the one labelled B 1 1 7 in the UK, or B 1 351 identified in South Africa. Geneticist Emma Hodcroft, of the University of Bern, talks about seven variants that have been found in the US. Although all these variants are evolving from different starting points, certain individual mutations keep recurring – which suggests they have specific advantages for the virus.
Her co-author Jeremy Kamil, of Louisiana State University Health Sciences Cente
21/02/2021 • 1 hour 6 minutes 18 seconds
Perseverance approaches Mars
On 18th February the Perseverance rover should land on Mars. Katie Stack-Morgan of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab tells Roland Pease about the technological advances that mean that the spacecraft should be able to land in Jezero Crater. Imperial College geologist Sanjeev Gupta discusses what this crater can reveal about the history of life on the red planet.
After months of negotiations, and weeks of work on the ground, a team brought together by the World Health Organisation has just concluded its first attempts to find out the origins of SARS-Cov2 in Wuhan. Peter Daszak, who has worked closely with Chinese virologists in the past, briefed Roland Pease on what had been discovered.
The South African government has announced that it will not be rolling out the Astra Zeneca Covid vaccine as it appears it is not very effective against the dominant strain in the country. Helen Rees, of Witwatersrand University and a member of South Africa’s Health Products Regulatory Authority, explains th
14/02/2021 • 1 hour 12 minutes 46 seconds
Mixing Covid vaccines
A new trial is about to start in the UK, seeing if different vaccines can be mixed and matched in a two-dose schedule, and whether the timing matters. Governments want to know the answer as vaccines are in short supply. Oxford University’s Matthew Snape takes Roland Pease through the thinking.
Despite the numbers of vaccines being approved for use we still need treatments for Covid-19. A team at the University of North Carolina is upgrading the kind of manufactured antibodies that have been used to treat patients during the pandemic, monoclonal antibodies. Lisa Gralinski explains how they are designing souped-up antibodies that’ll neutralise not just SARS-CoV-2, but a whole range of coronaviruses.
Before global warming, the big ecological worry that exercised environmentalists was acid rain. We’d routinely see pictures of forests across the world dying because of the acid soaking they’d had poisoning the soil. In a way, this has been one of environmental activism’s success stories.
07/02/2021 • 1 hour 9 minutes 31 seconds
Saving the Northern White Rhino
Northern white rhinos are extinct in the wild and there are just two females in captivity in Kenya. Conservationists are working on an artificial breeding programme, using eggs from the females and sperm from a deceased male. Now five embryos have been created. Thomas Hildebrandt of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin explained the research.
President Biden’s first executive order was what’s being called the hundred-day mask mandate. The day before the inauguration a massive analysis of mask-wearing and COVID rates demonstrated a clear, if small, benefit. Epidemiologist Ben Rader told Roland Pease that it got over 300,000 opinions by using the online questionnaire, SurveyMonkey.
After the alarming series of record-breaking heatwaves last year, global warming is causing specific problems in the innumerable lakes around the world. Lakes are ecologically particularly vulnerable to extremes. The European Space Agency’s Yestyn Woolway has been analysing past tren
24/01/2021 • 1 hour 1 minute 37 seconds
Gravitational waves and black holes
After collecting data for more than twelve years the North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves (NANOGrav) announced it may have detected new kinds of gravitational waves caused by colliding supermassive black holes. Professor Chiara Mingarelli of the University of Connecticut tells Roland Pease why this is such an exciting discovery.
Supermassive black holes are at the heart of galaxies and they are the engines of quasars, the brightest light sources in the heavens that can be seen across the expanse of the Universe. A team including Professor Xiaohui Fan of the University of Arizona has identified the oldest quasar in the universe.
The SARS-CoV-2 virus looks much like bat coronaviruses, but the mostly likely route into humans involved some other infected animal. Roland talks to Dr Dalan Bailey of The Pirbright Institute about how he has been looking for possible intermediaries.
A new study that looks into the genetics of twins and their families in Iceland shows
17/01/2021 • 1 hour 3 minutes 4 seconds
New variants of SARS-Cov2
Mutant strains of SARS-Cov2 have been identified not only in the UK, where it was first identified, but also in at least 30 other countries. And to complicate matters, another alarming variant, with some similar mutations, has arisen in South Africa. Roland Pease talks to Ravi Gupta, a virologist at Cambridge University and Tulio de Oliveira of the University of KwaZulu Natal about these new strains.
There’s only so much that can be learned about the virus by looking at the patients it infects. Thanks to techniques developed to study HIV, Ebola, flu and other viruses in the past, researchers have methods for growing key parts of viral structures in the lab and watching closely how they behave in cell cultures. Jeremy Luban of the University of Massachusetts and Alli Greaney at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center talk to Roland about how they are studying the biology of the mutations to discover how the new strains might respond to vaccines.
And, one of the more surprising con
10/01/2021 • 53 minutes 30 seconds
Coping with Covid
This has been an incredible year for scientific advance and collaboration, epitomised by the roll out of vaccines that didn’t exist a year ago, against a virus that no one had ever heard of .
And yet at the same time its been a year of incredible frustration. We are stil largely using the same methods to counter the virus that were used in past pandemics, going back a hundred years.
Here we look back at key the findings on who is most susceptible and why, and ask how to improve the strategies for reducing transmission.
As regular listeners may recall, CrowdScience has delved into the strange world of fungi before, as we dug down into the forest floor to reveal how plants and trees are connected to the vast mycelial network known as the “wood wide web”. But what makes this network possible and how might it have evolved? Fungi are incredible clever, or at least , it appears that they’re capable of displaying complex behaviour that gives them the appearance of intelligence. In this ep
03/01/2021 • 52 minutes 32 seconds
2021 the year of variants
In our first programme of the year, we gathered a group of scientific experts directly involved in analysing the structure and impact of the SARS- Cov-2 coronavirus. There were concerns over the emergence of two new variants, Alfa and Beta, especially whether these variants might spread more quickly or outmanoeuvre the suite of new vaccines that were about to be rolled out.
And now with Omicron, the same questions are being asked about this variant’s ability to spread and overcome our defences.
We’ve invited the same scientists back to give us their assessment of our journey with Covid 19 over the past year and discuss their findings on Omicron.
Ravi Gupta Professor of Clinical Microbiology at the University of Cambridge
Tulio De Oliveria Professor on Bioinformatics, Stellenbosch University, South Africa
Dr. Allie Greaney From the Medical Scientist Training Program at the University of Washington School of Medicine
And Professor Jeremy Luban from the Broad Institute of
02/01/2021 • 1 hour 7 minutes 48 seconds
A year with Covid -19
It was the end of December 2019 when reports of a new flu like infection first came out of China. Within weeks millions of people were in lockdown as the virus took hold around the world.
In this programme we look back and revisit the scientists who were ready, those who had been studying bat coronaviruses and warning of their pandemic potential.
The scientific response was immediate. The coronavirus tests now used across the world were being developed within a few hours of news of the outbreak in China, and the vaccines we now have licenced for use began to be formulated just a few days later.
At Christmas, is there a better gift than knowledge? CrowdScience has cooked up its own version of 'secret Santa', with members of the team setting one another the challenge of answering surprising questions from all over the world.
Are humans the only animals to exercise? Can you get colder than absolute zero? Why are sounds louder at night? When it comes to food dropped on the floor, is t
27/12/2020 • 53 minutes 56 seconds
Covid -19 – Mutations are normal
This week the UK Health secretary raised concerns over a new variant of SARS- CoV-2 currently spreading across Europe. Viruses mutate all the time so it’s no surprise that a new form of the one causing Covid -19 would emerge. However, virologist Ravi Gupta who analysed the new strain says we need to be weary in case future strains mutate in ways that could overcome vaccines.
Immunologist Akiko Iwasaki is part of a team looking at the impact of Covid -19 on our immune system. Her research has uncovered autoantibodies linked to infection with the virus. These are responsible for a number of autoimmune diseases. The finding goes some way to explaining the symptoms seen by some people long after a Covid -19 infection.
And how clever are ravens? According to behavioural scientist Simone Pika at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in many ways they are up there with chimps or young children. She found they performed well in tests designed for primates.
Following the dinosaur destroyi
20/12/2020 • 1 hour 7 minutes 45 seconds
The unchecked spread of Covid-19 in Manaus
Pictures of coffins and mass graves seen by satellites showed that Manaus has been badly affected by Covid- 19. Now analysis of blood samples shows the extent to which the virus took hold in the Amazon city earlier this year. Investigators Ester Sabino and Lewis Buss from Brazil’s University of Sao Paulo discuss how and why the virus spread.
Humanity has been modifying the environment for millennia, but have we now reached a point where it’s all too much? An analysis by Emily Elhacham from Tel Aviv University shows the amount of stuff produced by humanity, from plastics to buildings now has a greater mass than all natural biomass on the planet.
And China has been to the moon. Space watcher Andrew Jones tells us how the robotic mission mimics the manned missions of the 1960s and 70s.
The space between stars is usually measured in light years, but this makes it less easy to acknowledge the true scale of the distance. Even the closest star system to Earth, Proxima Centauri, is 4.2 lig
13/12/2020 • 55 minutes 49 seconds
Freak weather getting even freakier
This year’s Atlantic hurricane season has seen a new record for severe storms says Climatologist Michael Mann. He says warming oceans are one of the drivers.
And Australia has seen spring temperatures hit new highs. Climate scientist Sarah Perkins – Kirkpatrick says it’s all the more remarkable as weather patterns are currently in a cycle associated with cooler temperatures.
Where exactly did SARS- COV-2 emerge from? That’s one of the questions for a WHO fact-finding mission to China looking into the origins of the Virus. Peter Daszak has worked with Chinese scientists for many years, looking for bat viruses with the potential to jump to humans. He tells us how the mission hopes to map out the event which led to the initial spread of the virus.
And the Japanese Hayabusa2 space probe is due to return to earth. Masaki Fujimoto
Deputy director of the Japanese Space Agency JAXA, tell us what to expect when a cargo of material from a distant asteroid lands in the Australian desert.
08/12/2020 • 1 hour 6 minutes 54 seconds
Vaccines – the Covid confusion
While developing new treatments drug companies usually release little useful information on how the clinical trials are progressing. However with the world’s attention on potential vaccines against Covid -19, the usually dull data on the progression of each trial step is subject to huge scrutiny. It doesn’t help to clarify things says epidemiologist Nicole Basta when that data raises questions about the rigour of the trial itself. This seems to be what happened with the latest Astra Zeneca, and Oxford University trial – where the best results were reportedly due to a mistake.
The link between locust plagues and extreme weather was demonstrated once again when cyclone Gati hit Somalia – dumping 2 years worth of rain in just a few days. This creates a perfect environment for locusts to breed to plague proportions. And this will be the third time in as many years that cyclones will trigger such an effect says Keith Cressman from the UNFAO. However thanks to the previous recent locust pl
29/11/2020 • 1 hour 4 minutes 23 seconds
Covid- 19 – Good news on immunity
Tests on patients for up to 8 months following their infection with SARS- CoV-2 suggests an immune response can persist. Alessandro Sette and Daniela Weiskopf at the La Jolla Institute in California are optimistic this could mean vaccines would also confer long lasting immunity.
An analysis of samples from Kenya’s blood banks by Sophie Uyoga at the KEMRI-Wellcome Research Programme reveals far more people in Kenya contracted the virus than was previously know. The figures mean Kenya has similar levels of infection to many European countries.
And a study of mosquitoes by Louis Lambrechts of the Pasteur Institute in Paris reveals why Zika, a virus originating in Africa is much more prevalent in other parts of the world.
We also look at the future of the Nile. Ethiopia is building a massive Dam which will have consequences for Sudan and Egypt who are reliant on the Nile’s waters says hydrologist Hisham Eldardiry from the University of Washington, Seattle.
Every year, Western Afghanist
22/11/2020 • 1 hour 3 minutes 42 seconds
Covid-19 defeats US Marines
The WHO is working with China to try and pinpoint the source of SARS- COV-2. Sian Griffiths, Emeritus Professor of Public Health at the Chinese University of Hong Kong says there are lessons we can learn from the investigation she led into the original SARS outbreak back in 2003. That inquiry revealed how SARS had spread from bats to humans via civet cats.
A Covid-19 vaccine claims to be 90% effective. It uses genetic material, messenger RNA. Daniel Anderson of Harvard MIT Health Science tells us about the huge potential of mRNA to provide treatments for many medical conditions.
However, rolling out such a vaccine globally faces a huge range of economic and practical obstacles as ethicist Nicole Hassoun of Binghamton University explains.
And a unique experiment shows despite a vast range of precautions including being isolated US Marines have contracted Covid -19. Stuart Sealfon, Professor of Neurology at Mount Sinai Hospitals says this study shows we need testing to be integrated
15/11/2020 • 1 hour 6 minutes 17 seconds
Coronavirus spreads from mink to humans
All the farmed mink in Denmark are to be killed. Around 17 million. This is because they have SARS COV-2 coronavirus circulating among them and some humans have contracted a new strain from the animals. The scientific detail is sketchy, but Emma Hodcroft at Basel University pieces together a picture of what this means for tackling the virus.
Typhoon Goni and hurricane Eta are two very powerful tropical cyclones. But the way these storms are recorded differs by geographical location and recording style. We speak with Kerry Emanuel, a professor at MIT in Boston, USA.
The magnitude 7 earthquake that hit the Mediterranean last Friday (30/10/20) was 70 miles away from the city of Izmir, but despite this, there was devastating loss of life due to collapsed buildings. Earthquake engineer Eser Çaktı from the Turkish University of Boğaziçi, and Tiziana Rossetto from University College London talk us through the damage.
Migratory arctic animals are a weathervane for how the world is coping
08/11/2020 • 59 minutes 18 seconds
Osiris Rex stows asteroid material
Last week NASA’s Osiris-Rex mission successfully touched down on asteroid Bennu’s crumbly surface. But the spacecraft collected so much material that the canister wouldn’t close. NASA systems engineer Estelle Church tells Roland Pease how she and the team back on Earth performed clever manoeuvres to remotely successfully shut the lid.
As winter draws on in the North, and people spend more time indoors, there’s considerable debate about the conditions in which SARS-Cov2 is more likely to spread. Princeton University’s Dylan Morris has just published research exploring the coronavirus’s survival in different humidities and temperatures.
Indian agriculture in some areas uses vast amounts of water. Dr Vimal Mishra of the Indian Institute of Technology in Gandhinagar has discovered that this irrigation, plus very high temperatures, is causing not just extreme discomfort amongst the population but also more deaths.
In the 1930s serious dust storms over several years ruined crops and liv
01/11/2020 • 1 hour 3 minutes 32 seconds
Nasa probe Osiris Rex lands on asteroid
Science in Action talks to Nasa researcher Hannah Kaplan who is part of the team for the space agency’s sampling mission to the asteroid Bennu. Mission scientists were overjoyed this week when the probe Osiris Rex momentarily touched the asteroid and sucked up some of the sand and grit on its surface.
What might we learn when the sample is returned to Earth in three years' time? There is some not-such-good news about a theory about immunity to the pandemic coronavirus, and medical researchers in the UK announce the world’s first study that will deliberately infect volunteers with the novel coronavirus. The so-called challenge study is planned to begin in London in January. The purpose is to speed up the quest for effective Covid-19 vaccines but will it be safe for the participants? And there’s a new green chemistry breakthrough for tackling the world’s plastic waste crisis.
And All living things are related to each other, from elephants to algae, e-coli to humans like us. Within ou
25/10/2020 • 1 hour 58 seconds
Covid -19 mortality
Why is there such a range in the number of deaths from Covid -19 between countries? A study of the data across 21 industrialised countries reveals a wide discrepancy. Preparedness and the point at which countries went into lockdown were key factors says Epidemiologist Jonny Pearson- Stuttard
Recurring illnesses which show up sometimes months after a Covid -19 infections are being more commonly reported. The Uk’s National Institute for Health research has launched a major initiative to better understand this long term effect of the disease, Candace Imison tells us more.
And another reported case of Covid 19 reinfection raises questions about widely held beliefs on immunity Microbiologist Sarah Pitt helps us separate the science from the fiction.
We also take a look at a black hole as it swallows up a star or at least at what’s detectable. Katy Alexander has trained radio telescopes at this distant event.
Curious CrowdScience listeners have suddenly been struck by the oddity of their
18/10/2020 • 1 hour 8 minutes 28 seconds
Do Covid–19 mutations matter?
Data from clinical investigations has suggested that a specific mutation in the SARS-Cov -2 virus has made it more transmissible. This finding is now supported by molecular biology work. Ralph Baric from the University of North Carolina led a team comparing the form of the virus which first emerged from China with the mutated type now prevalent word wide.
Bats are known to carry many different types of viruses, horseshow bats specifically carry coronaviruses, apparently without any ill effects to themselves. However some viruses do affect or even kill bats. Daniel Streicker from the University of Glasgow says more research in this area may help find those bat viruses most likely to jump to humans.
Malaria is no stranger to Africa, but largely keeps out of urban centres as it’s difficult for the mosquitoes which carry the parasites to survive there. However an Asian mosquito which is better adapted to life in the city is now threatening to move in. Entomologist Marianne Sinka
11/10/2020 • 1 hour 10 minutes 46 seconds
Are children the biggest Covid-19 spreaders?
An analysis of Covid-19 data from South India shows children more than any other group are transmitting the virus both to other children and adults, Epidemiologist Ramanan Laxminarayan tell us the data also shows the situations in which the virus is most likely to spread, public transport is of particular concern.
The WHO has launched an initiative to roll out rapid testing, particularly to countries that don’t have access to lab based tests, Catharina Boehme who leads one of the WHO’s partner organisation in the project tells us the test, which looks similar to home pregnancy tests should give results within fifteen minutes.
Andrea Crisanti led a ground-breaking testing initiative in Italy which eliminated Covid-19 in a small town in a matter of weeks. We look to the lessons learned.
And in California residents have been in a kind of self- enforced lockdown, not because of Covid – 19 but due to wildfires fires. Molly Bentley from the Seti Institute podcast ‘ Big Picture Science’
04/10/2020 • 1 hour 10 minutes 41 seconds
Why Covid -19 vaccines may not stop transmission
While vaccines against Covid -19 are being developed at unprecedented speed, none of them have been tested to see if they can actually stop transmission of the virus. They are designed to stop those who are vaccinated from developing Covid -19 disease, but not becoming infected.
This says Virologist Malik Peiris from Hong Kong University means while vaccinated people themselves may be protected they might also spread the virus.
Cells produced in the bone marrow may be responsible for an extreme immune response to Covid 19 in some people. Immunologist Lizzie Mann from Manchester University says this finding may help predict who will develop serious disease symptoms, and also provide a target for future treatments.
Extreme ice melt in the Arctic this summer may have a long term impact on the region says glaciologist Julienne Stroeve. She spent the winter in the Arctic and tells us about the environment she encountered.
And climate change is also impacting the tropics, research in
27/09/2020 • 1 hour 15 minutes 35 seconds
Malaria resistance breakthrough
Some East Africans have a genetic mutation which gives them resistance to Malaria. Investigations into how it works have produced a surprising finding. As researcher Silvia Kariuki explains it’s all to do with the surface tension of the red blood cells.
SARS-CoV- 2 can pass from people in the very early stages of Covid -19, before they show symptoms. New research shows identifying cases at this early stage is crucial to controlling the pandemic. And yet most testing regimes require symptoms to show before testing. Luca Ferretti did this latest analysis.
And how about getting up close with virus? That’s what Camille Ehre has done, using an electron microscope to produce remarkable pictures of the virus as it attacks lung tissue.
Carl Wunsch tells us of a technique he developed in the 1970s to measure changes in global ocean temperatures using sound waves. Revisiting this method may give us insight into the impact of climate change on the deep ocean.
And Many of us willingly subjec
20/09/2020 • 55 minutes 48 seconds
Covid -19 science versus politics
With the announcement in the UK of investment in rapid testing for people who may not have Covid -19 we ask why is this only happening now? For months on this programme we’ve featured scientific research suggesting such a strategy would be the quickest way to end the pandemic.
We speak with Connie Cepko and Brian Rabe who have developed a rapid test and Manu Prakash who is currently rolling it out to countries in the global south.
Could a huge motorcycle rally really have been the source of over a quarter of a million Covid -19 infections? That’s the finding of a study by economist Andrew Friedson he tells us how mobile phone data helped to determine that figure.
And the politics of vaccines, Many health officials in the US have spoken out against president Trumps claim that a vaccine may be ready before the November presidential election. Helen Branswell from Stat news tells us why there is so much concern over political attempts to manipulate science.
And Many of us enjoy cook
13/09/2020 • 1 hour 9 minutes 34 seconds
Nyiragongo - is Goma under threat?
A new survey of the volcano's activity suggests there may be an eruption in the next 4 to 7 years. It's a particular concern for the populations of Goma and Gisenyi, two cites between the volcano and lake Kivu. As we hear from the director of the Goma Volcano Observatory Katcho Karume, the city of Goma in particular has expanded so much that many people now live right next to fissures in the flank of the volcano through which any eruption would likely occur.
Hurricane Laura made landfall in Louisiana's main area of swamp land, missing big urban areas to either side. It was a lucky escape for many, but as hurricane historian Jill Trepanier tells us such extreme weather events do seem to be more frequent and potentially more destructive.
And wildfires ravaging California and other Western US states may have been intensified by changes to global weather systems . Climate scientist Bill Lau says those weather systems in turn have been modified by man-made climate change.
In November 2
06/09/2020 • 1 hour 2 minutes 26 seconds
Covid-19 Therapy Controversy
This week Science in Action examines the evidence around the Trump Administration’s emergency use authorisation of convalescent plasma therapy for the treatment of Covid-19. Donald Trump described its US-wide roll-out as ‘historic’ but the majority of scientists and doctors disagree, questioning the scientific basis for the government’s decision. Roland Pease talks to Mayo Clinic’s Michael Joyner, the leader of the convalescent plasma therapy study on which the action was based. The Mayo Clinic trial involved a large number of patients but none of them were compared to Covid-19 patients who were not treated with convalescent plasma. Trials that incorporate that comparison are the only way to properly assess the therapy’s effectiveness. Roland talks to Martin Landray of the University of Oxford who is testing convalescent plasma therapy in the UK’s Recovery randomised control trial, and to medical ethicist Alison Bateman-House of the New York University Grossman School of Medicin
29/08/2020 • 1 hour 5 minutes 36 seconds
Trouble in Greenland
Has the loss from Greenland’s vast ice sheet reached a tipping point? According to glaciologist Michalea King, the rate at which its ice flows into the sea stepped up about 15 years ago. The process of glacial retreat is outpacing the accumulation snow and ice in Greenland’s interior and the loss of Greenland’s ice to the Ocean is set to continue for many years to come.
An international study of past climate changes during the last ice age reveals how fast changes to weather patterns and climate states can reverberate around the world. During the last ice age, when temperatures rose suddenly in Greenland a series of changes to the climate in Europe and the monsoons in Asia and South America occurred almost simultaneously - within decades of each other. Climate scientists Eric Wolff and Ellen Corrick have discovered this through studies of stalagmites from caves around the world. It’s a demonstration of how rapidly and dramatically the Earth’s atmospheric system can change when it’s p
23/08/2020 • 59 minutes 37 seconds
Putin’s Covid-19 vaccine
Russia’s President Putin announced the registration of a vaccine for coronavirus. This was reported with widespread alarm amid concerns over safety, but as BBC Russian Service’s Sergei Goryashko, tells us the announcement was a political move to capture the headlines.
Investigations by Alexandra Reynolds and Hooman Poor at New York’s Mount Sinai Medical Centre have revealed why some Covid 19 patients have low oxygen levels, but don’t have breathing difficulties. The answer came when looking for signs of stroke in the brain.
Nisreen Alwan, a specialist in public health at Southampton University is concerned about the quality of life of people who have had a Covid -19 infection. Being classed as recovered is not enough she says and we need to look more at recurring health problems associated with the disease.
And Cardiff University’s Haley Gomez has news of a tantalising discovery. The detection of a neutron star hidden in a dust cloud for more than 30 years.
Squelching into the scie
16/08/2020 • 1 hour 12 minutes 13 seconds
Counting the heat health threat from climate change
If the world does not curb its greenhouse gas emissions, by the end of this century, the number of people dying annually because of extreme heat will be greater than the current global death toll from infectious diseases - that’s all infectiousness diseases, from malaria to diarrhoeal diseases to HIV. This is the grim assessment of climate researchers and economists of the Climate Impact Lab in the largest global study to date of health and financial impacts of temperature-related deaths. Roland Pease talks to Solomon Hsiang of the University of California, Berkeley.
UK ecologists have new insights about how diseases jump the species barrier from wildlife to humans. With a global survey of land use and biodiversity, they’ve discovered that when natural habitats are converted to farmland or urbanised, the animal species that survive the change in greatest number are those species which carry viruses and bacteria with the potential to spread to us. This is particularly the case, says Ro
09/08/2020 • 1 hour 22 seconds
NASA rover heads for Mars ancient lake
NASA launches its new robotic mission to Mars. The rover, Perseverance, will land in a 50 kilometre wide crater which looks like it was filled by a lake about 4 billion years ago - the time when life on Earth was getting started. Mission scientist Melissa Rice explains why this is one of the most promising places on Mars to continue the search for past life on the red planet.
Japanese and US scientists have revived microbes that have been buried at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean for 100 million years. Sampled from compacted mud 70 metres below the seafloor and beneath 6 kilometre of water, Yuki Morono and Steve D'Hondt admit they struggle to understand how the bacteria have survived for so long.
Science in Action celebrates the little unknown oceanographer Marie Tharp who in the late 1950s discovered the mid-Atlantic ridge which helped to launch the plate tectonics revolution in earth sciences. It would be Tharp's 100th birthday this week.
New research this week suggests tha
02/08/2020 • 1 hour 2 minutes 14 seconds
Making a Covid-19 vaccine for two billion people
There's been encouraging news about the Oxford Covid-19 vaccine this week from a trial involving about 1,000 people. But how great is the challenge in scaling up from making a few thousand doses of the vaccine to manufacturing two billion by the end of this year? Sandy Douglas of Oxford's Jenner Institute explains how they plan to mass-produce the vaccine safely given the speed and magnitude of the scale up.
A new kind of treatment for Covid-19 may come from an unlikely source: llamas and alpacas, the South American relatives of the camel. Camelids produce unusually small and simple antibodies against viruses, including the coronavirus. This feature may make these molecules an effective Covid-19 therapy. Jane Chambers reports on research in Chile and the UK.
Also in the programme: what has made just a few mosquito species evolve a preference for biting humans, and the theory that 800 million years ago the Moon and the Earth were bombarded by a shower of asteroids which plunged
26/07/2020 • 1 hour 1 minute 45 seconds
How long do Covid-19 antibodies last?
Science in Action looks at some of the latest research on how response of our immune system to infection by the coronavirus. Researchers at Kings College London find that protective antibodies appear to fade away after about three months following infection whereas a team at the Karolinska Institute has discovered that although antibodies may decline, other important players called T cells in our defences do not. Dr’s Katie Doores and Marcus Buggert talk about the implications of these discoveries for the quest for a vaccine against the coronavirus.
Roland Pease also talks to Dr Barney Graham of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the United States about the results from the Phase 1 trial of novel type of vaccine against the virus. NIAID have partnered with biotech company Moderna to produce the first mRNA vaccine in the Institute’s pandemic preparedness program.
Biologist Dr Sonja Wild tells Roland about the remarkable fishing strategy devised by
18/07/2020 • 53 minutes 30 seconds
Rwanda’s game changing coronavirus test
African scientists have developed a reliable, quick and cheap testing method which could be used by worldwide as the basis for mass testing programmes.
The method, which produces highly accurate results, is built around mathematical algorithms developed at the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences in Kigali. We speak to Neil Turok who founded the institute, Leon Mutesa Professor of human genetics on the government coronavirus task force, and Wilfred Ndifon, the mathematical biologist who devised the algorithm.
The virus is mutating as it spreads, but what does this mean? There is particular concern over changes to the spike protein, part of the virus needed to enter human cells. Jeremy Luban has been analysing this mechanism. So far he says ongoing genetic changes seem unlikely to impact on the effectiveness of treatments for Covid -19.
And Heatwaves are increasing, particularly in tropical regions, that’s the finding of a new analysis by climate scientist Sarah Perkins – Kir
11/07/2020 • 1 hour 8 minutes 6 seconds
Covid-19 and children
Studies in children who have been severely affected by Covid-19 in Italy, Britain and the US are showing the same thing – a range of symptoms linked to an overactive immune system. Elizabeth Whittaker from London’s Imperial College discusses the similarities in these cases and possible reasons for this syndrome with Shanna Kowalsky from Mount Sinai hospital in New York.
How much should drugs for Covid-19 cost? Remdesivir, which has shown promise against the virus, has been priced at over $2000 for a course of treatment, but drug price analyst Andrew Hill says the cost of production is actually below $10.
And how about some really alternative energy? Marion Cromb at Glasgow University has run an experiment to simulate a spinning black hole. In theory, a rocket sent to an equivalent real black hole could use its rotation as a power source.
Shoes are a surprisingly recent human invention. But running isn’t. That means for most of our time on the planet, we’ve run barefoot. Today, in m
05/07/2020 • 1 hour 3 minutes 42 seconds
Record high temperatures – in the Arctic
A record summer temperature in Siberia is an indication of major changes in the Arctic climate. Changing weather patterns there have a knock on effect for other parts of the planet says Climatologist Steve Vavrus
Chile appeared to get Covid-19 under control, but in reality the virus was spreading uncontrollably through poor areas, As we hear from our correspondent in Santiago Jane Chambers, the lockdown has tightened but cases continue to rise.
And could mass testing using new saliva tests help control or even end the epidemic? Epidemiologist Julian Peto tells us about his plan which is designed to contain the virus within individual households and stop community spread.
Experiments to investigate dark matter have produced some tantalising results, Physicist Laura Manenti says it’s not confirmation of detection, but potentially close.
If you put one person’s blood into another person , sometimes it’s fine and sometimes it’s a death sentence.
French physician Jean-Baptiste Denis
28/06/2020 • 1 hour 7 minutes 23 seconds
Covid -19 hope for severe cases
A multi arm trial testing a range of drugs has shown that readily available steroids can be lifesaving for people severely ill with Covid-19. Max Parmar, head of the UK Medical Research Council’s clinical trials unit says the trial design, where many potential drugs can be tested against the same controls, is key to producing results quickly.
As it spreads around the world SARS-CoV-2 is mutating. But what does this mean? These mutations are part of a natural process and some researchers are finding they make no real difference to patient outcomes so far, but others are concerned the virus may become more dangerous. Neville Sanjana from New York University has been running lab tests on the mutant virus.
Measles mutated from an animal virus, developing the ability to jump from cattle to human around 2,500 years ago. Sebastien Calvignac-Spencer from Germany’s Robert Koch Institute tracked its origins using preserved lung samples from centuries old measles victims.
Covid -19 has becom
21/06/2020 • 1 hour 11 minutes 36 seconds
Food security, locusts and Covid -19
Despite the Covid-19 pandemic efforts to counter massive swarms of locusts across East Africa have continued. In many places this has been very effective, killing up to 90% of locusts. However, the threat of repeated waves of locusts remains says Cyril Ferrand, who leads the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation's Resilience Team in East Africa.
Conversely West Africa is unaffected by locusts and with a block on imports local producers have seen demand grow for their produce, an unusual positive effect from the pandemic according to Sandrine Dury from the French agricultural research agency CIRAD.
We examine the potential for a second wave of coronavirus as many countries relax lockdown measures, businesses reopen and mass protests take to the streets. Epidemiologist Carl Bergstrom is interested in working out which of these movements is likely to have the most impact.
And from South Africa, how radio telescope engineers there have turned their hands to developing new ventilators app
14/06/2020 • 1 hour 4 minutes 1 second
The medical complexity of Covid -19
Autopsies show Covid 19 can affect the brain and other organs. Pathologist Mary Fowkes from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai found the signs of stroke - unusually in young people, as well as a disruption of the immune system throughout the body.
And studies of heart stem cells show these can be killed by the virus. Cell Biologist Stefanie Dimmeler from the University of Frankfurt says this finding could prove useful in providing treatment and preventative medicine.
A massive research project in China has identified over 700 different types of coronavirus carried by bats, some of these obscure virus sequences are thought to have already jumped from bats to human and animals such as pigs. In a similar way to SARS-CoV-2 they present a potential threat as a source of future pandemics says Peter Daszak from the EcoHeath Alliance which conducted the research in collaboration with Chinese scientists.
And is there racism in the way people with Covid -19 infections are categorise
07/06/2020 • 1 hour 5 minutes 15 seconds
Brazil’s Covid chaos
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
31/05/2020 • 1 hour 17 minutes 47 seconds
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 ove
17/05/2020 • 1 hour 18 minutes 14 seconds
Covid -19 new hope from blood tests
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 hel
10/05/2020 • 1 hour 15 minutes 23 seconds
Ebola drug offers hope for Covid-19
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 m
03/05/2020 • 1 hour 24 minutes 19 seconds
Presidents and pandemics
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 th
26/04/2020 • 1 hour 17 minutes 8 seconds
Italy, getting Covid 19 under control
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
19/04/2020 • 49 minutes 40 seconds
The impossibility of social distancing and even handwashing in crowded refugee camps
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 t
12/04/2020 • 53 minutes 47 seconds
Covid 19 – The fightback in Africa begins
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 hea
05/04/2020 • 58 minutes 21 seconds
The science of social distancing
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 b
29/03/2020 • 1 hour 7 minutes 3 seconds
Covid -19, are you carrying the virus?
In Italy the entire population of a small town was tested for Covid 19. Of those infected, one in three people with no symptoms had the virus. And from China researchers found many people carried the virus – even before authorities there began tracking its spread. The findings suggest vulnerable people may contract the virus from those without symptoms.
And we’ve news of a breakthrough - new tests looking at Covid 19 antibodies, These should help provide a picture of developing immunity to the virus.
However as growing numbers of people fall ill there are concerns over a potential shortage of hospital ventilators globally, These are needed to treat the most severe cases. However a crowdsourcing project has been set up to try and kick start the manufacturing of a variety of different types of ventilator that could be built around the world. If you have knowledge of ventilators or their use and would like to get involved more information is available here. http://bit.ly/frontiertech4CO
22/03/2020 • 1 hour 6 minutes 39 seconds
Covid -19 how infectious is it really?
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 scienti
15/03/2020 • 1 hour 7 minutes 54 seconds
Australia’s fires - fuelled by climate change
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
08/03/2020 • 1 hour 2 minutes 24 seconds
Tracking coronavirus spread
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
01/03/2020 • 1 hour 7 minutes 52 seconds
Monitoring Covid-19, harvests and space junk
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 littl
23/02/2020 • 59 minutes 45 seconds
CoVid-19: Mapping the outbreak
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
16/02/2020 • 1 hour 5 minutes 1 second
Coronavirus, prospects for treatment?
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 dise
09/02/2020 • 1 hour 2 minutes 2 seconds
Understanding the Wuhan coronavirus
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 c
02/02/2020 • 1 hour 6 minutes 31 seconds
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 worri
26/01/2020 • 1 hour 6 minutes 47 seconds
Mount Taal volcano
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 de
19/01/2020 • 1 hour 56 seconds
Australia’s extreme fire season
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
12/01/2020 • 1 hour 8 minutes 29 seconds
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
05/01/2020 • 1 hour 1 minute 23 seconds
Gaming climate change
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 scie
29/12/2019 • 53 minutes 31 seconds
Understanding the Anak Krakatau eruption
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)
22/12/2019 • 53 minutes 34 seconds
White Island volcano eruption
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 polli
15/12/2019 • 56 minutes 13 seconds
CRISPR babies scandal – more details
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
08/12/2019 • 1 hour 11 minutes 13 seconds
New Malaria target
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.
Science fiction is full of people settling on distant planets. But even the closest stars would take millennia to reach with current speeds of travel, by the time any passengers reached an extra solar planet, they would be long dead.
So CrowdScience listener Balaji asked us to find out whether humans could hibernate for interstellar travel?
To uncover the science fact behind this idea, Anand Jagatia holds a tiny hibernating dormouse at the Wildwood Trust in Kent, and meets Dr Samuel Tisherman who puts his patients into suspended animation fo
02/12/2019 • 56 minutes 22 seconds
Politics and Amazonia’s fires
This year’s Amazon fires have been worse than since 2010, scientists blame a government attitude which they say has encouraged deforestation. Government funded scientists have contributed anonymously to the finding – fearing for their jobs.
Food crops and fungus are not normally seen as compatible, but a mutually beneficial relationship between these organisms may help reduce the need for chemical fertilisers and combat climate change.
Hayabusa 2, the Japanese space mission is returning to earth after its mission to blast a crater in a distant asteroid.
And how the chemistry of protein analysis is helping psychiatrists and emergency medics deal with the effects of the street drug spice.
(Image: A Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) fire brigade member is seen as he attempts to control hot points during a fire. Credit: Reuters/Bruno Kelly)
24/11/2019 • 1 hour 4 minutes 33 seconds
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.
17/11/2019 • 56 minutes 38 seconds
Climate in crisis
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 prot
10/11/2019 • 1 hour 1 second
Wildfires and winds in California
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
03/11/2019 • 1 hour 2 minutes 47 seconds
Is quantum supremacy ‘garbage’?
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 an
27/10/2019 • 1 hour 12 minutes 28 seconds
Malaria, origins and a potential new treatment
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)
20/10/2019 • 1 hour 1 minute 59 seconds
From batteries to distant worlds
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?
13/10/2019 • 56 minutes 49 seconds
Global climate inaction
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 beco
29/09/2019 • 1 hour 4 minutes 29 seconds
South East Asia choking - again
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
25/09/2019 • 1 hour 6 minutes 8 seconds
Embryoids from stem cells
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 addre
15/09/2019 • 1 hour 5 seconds
New evidence of nuclear reactor explosion
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
07/09/2019 • 1 hour 2 minutes 57 seconds
Nanotube computer says hello
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
31/08/2019 • 1 hour 3 minutes 19 seconds
Amazonian fires likely to worsen
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)
24/08/2019 • 1 hour 8 minutes 25 seconds
Cracking the case of the Krakatoa volcano collapse
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.
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 t
18/08/2019 • 1 hour 13 minutes 55 seconds
The birth of a new volcano
A new undersea volcano has appeared off the coast of East Africa. The sea floor between Madagascar and Mozambique has become increasingly seismically active in the last year. As well as the appearance of this active volcano, local islands are now experiencing frequent earthquakes.
The causes of Indonesia’s Palu Bay tsunami last year are being examined thanks to social media. Videos taken as the tsunami hit have been analysed to determine wave heights and speeds and suggest possible causes.
Scientists at a massive underground physics research facility in Italy are to stand trial over safety risks. The facility uses poisonous chemicals. There are concerns these could leak into drinking water supplies in the event of an earthquake.
As scientists keep finding ever more fascinating facts about the invisible housemates that share our homes, we investigate what might be lurking in quiet household corners or under our beds.
We head out on a microbial safari with expert tour guide Dr Ja