BBC Inside Science

BBC Inside Science

United Kingdom

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

Episodes

Alzheimers research, Lucy in the Scanner, Smart bandages, From supernovae to Hollywood  

Alzheimers disease is now the leading cause of death in the UK, but there are as yet no treatments to halt or reverse it. There was huge disappointment last week when the drug company Eli Lilly announced that a large, phase 3 clinical trial had failed to show any benefit to mild dementia sufferers from its antibody therapy, solenazumab. So where does this leave our basic understanding of biology of Alzheimers disease and how we might most effectively treat or cure it? Adam Rutherford talks to Alzheimers researcher Tara Spires-Jones of the University of Edinburgh. Also in the programme: The skeleton of the world's most famous fossil, Lucy, has received a body scan which revealed she spent a considerable portion of her life climbing trees. Researchers at the University of Bath are making smart bandages for burns patients which glow when their wounds become infected. Adam also talks to the astrophysicist who gave up studying exploding stars to apply his maths to Hollywood stars in the movie business.

Predator bacteria therapy, New money for UK science, Stick-on stethoscope, Taming fears in the brain scanner  

Bdellovibrio is a small bacterium which preys and kills other bacteria. A team of researchers in the UK has shown in animal experiments that injections of the predator microbe can successfully treat infections. So how close does this take us to Bdellovibrio therapy for human patients and what part might it play in tackling the growing crisis of antibiotic resistance? Adam Rutherford talks to Professor Liz Sockett of the University of Nottingham. The British government has announced that it will be spending an additional £2 billion on research and development by 2020. Commentators say it is the largest hike in public funding for science in a very long time. Dr Sarah Main of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, and Dr Arnab Basu, physicist and CEO of Kromek, discuss the new money and how it would be best used. Also in the programme, materials and electronics engineers in the US have devised a small wearable heart monitor - the size and thickness of a sticking plaster. Adam talks to its lead designer Professor John Rogers of Northwestern University in Chicago. And could phobias be cured without exposure to the thing which frightens people? Dr Ben Seymour outlines an intriguing experiment which involved reading people's thoughts in a brain scanner, which suggests ultimately it may be possible.

Does Pluto have an ocean, Antarctica's oldest ice, Meat emissions, Swifts fly ten months non-stop  

Does the distant dwarf planet Pluto have an ocean beneath its thick crust of ice? It's certainly possible, according to a group of researchers who are analysing the data from the New Horizons Pluto flyby last year. They argue that a deep ocean of water would best explain the position of the great heart shaped depression on Pluto's surface. Adam Rutherford quizzes planetary scientist Francis Nimmo about this new hypothesis. Adam also talks to glaciologist Robert Mulvaney of the British Antarctic Survey, who is now setting off for the frozen south to prospect for the oldest ice in Antarctica. He's part of a European project which aims to drill deep into the ice sheet of East Antarctica and chart the climate and atmosphere history of Antarctica back to 1.5 million years ago. Are grass-fed cattle better for the global climate than cattle fed on grain-based feeds? Dr Tara Garnett of the Food Climate Research Network at Oxford University responds to listeners comments on carbon emissions and diet. Swifts can fly for 10 months non-stop, never touching the ground. Anders Hedenstrom of Lund University discovered this remarkable fact by fitting birds with a tiny electronic backpack which recorded their location and flight activity across a whole year.

Climate change questions, Animal computer interaction, Sounds and meaning across world's languages  

Climate change is in the news this week. The international Paris agreement to curb global temperature rise has just come into effect but President Elect Donald Trump has said he would take the United States out of the process. In BBC Inside Science, Adam Rutherford puts listener's questions and views about climate change to experts, such as the emissions reduction impact of becoming a vegan to a proposed technology to remove carbon dioxide from the planet's atmosphere. Myles Allen and Peter Scarborough of the University of Oxford, and Anna Harper of the University of Exeter are consulted. The programme also visits a lab at the Open University which studies the way animals interact with computer technology. Research includes technology to enable dogs to phone the emergency services if humans get into trouble, and using dogs to detect cancer. Reporter Marnie Chesterton meets researcher Clara Mancini and dogs Ozzie and Tory. Are there commonalities across the world's languages between the sounds in particular words and the meanings of those words? The traditional thinking in linguistics says no. But new research surveying the meaning and sounds of words across 6,000 languages from the Americas, Asia, Europe and Australasia finds otherwise. The 'r' sound is used in words for the colour 'red' all around the world at frequencies much higher than by chance. The case is the same for the words for 'nose' and other parts of the body. Morten Christiansen of Cornell University talks to Adam Rutherford about the research.

Italy's quakes, Ebola virus, Accidental rocket fuel, China in space  

In the past three months, central Italy has been shaken by several large earthquakes. The quake near Norcia on 30th October was the most powerful for decades. In late August, another struck near Amatrice, causing 300 lost lives. Adam Rutherford talks to seismologist Ross Stein about why this part of the Italian peninsula is so prone to shaking, whether there is a pattern in the recent activity and whether the scientists are getting any better at earthquake forecasting. The recent Ebola epidemic in West Africa was the largest and most deadly of its kind so far. More than 11,000 people were killed by the virus. Now two groups of virologists have discovered that early in the epidemic's course, the Ebola virus underwent a genetic change which allowed it to infect human cells more easily. Could this mutation explain the terrible scale of the outbreak of 2013 to 2016? Also in the show, the chemists who are aiming to make ammonia fertiliser production more environmentally friendly but made rocket fuel instead; and the past and future of the Chinese space programme.

27/10/2016  

Adam Rutherford meets the Australian scientist behind a radical new technique to prevent mosquitoes from spreading the zika and dengue fever viruses to people. The method involves infecting mosquitoes with a harmless bacterium. The microbe doesn't kill the mosquitoes but stops the viruses multiplying inside them and spreads rapidly through wild mosquito populations. After 15 years of research, the mosquito control method is about to be deployed in large scale trials in urban areas in South America. Also in the programme, the world's atmosphere crosses an iconic threshold as measured by the concentration of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide: scientists get their hands on the rocks at the centre of the extinction of the dinosaurs: and details emerge of why the European Space Agency's recent Mars lander crashed onto the Red Planet.

HFC Ban; Human Cell Atlas; Origin of Hunting with Dogs  

Biologists are to begin a 10 year international project to map the multitude of different kinds of cell in the human body. The average adult is built of 37 trillion cells and if you look in a text book, it will say there are about 200 distinct varieties of cells. But this is a grand underestimate. There could in fact be 10,000. The Human Cell Atlas project aims to identify every type and subtype of cell in every tissue of the body - a massive endeavour which, the cell mappers argue, will have profound benefits for medicine. Adam Rutherford also talks to zoological archaeologist Angela Perri whose research is aimed at discovering when our ancestors first started to use dogs as 'hunting' technology. Her work involves joining hunts with dogs in the modern day as well as traditional archaeological field work. He also explores the science behind exploding smart phone batteries and the new international climate agreement to rid the world of hydrofluorocarbons.

Life on Mars? Quantum Gravity. The deep origins of bird song  

Mars is about to be visited by the first space mission for 40 years which is designed to seek signs of life on the Red Planet. Adam Rutherford talks to Dr Manish Patel of the Open University, a senior scientist on the European Space Agency's ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter. Once the spacecraft starts work, it may solve the mystery of ebbs and flows of methane gas in the Martian atmosphere. It may answer whether the gas is being produced by life beneath the planet's cold dusty surface. The American space agency Nasa already has a mission well underway on the Martian surface.. For four years, Curiosity has been exploring the deep geological past of a huge Martian crater and mountain. Recently possible signs of liquid water have been seen nearby. But rather than going closer to study it, Nasa wants the rover to avoid it. Project scientist Ashwin Vasavada explains why. Carlo Rovelli is a theoretical physicist and writer. His latest book 'Reality is not what it Seems' explores the history of thought about the physical nature of the universe and one of the latest incarnations of that great quests - loop quantum gravity theory. He talks to Adam about the fine grain of space and time, and exploding black holes. Palaeontologist Julia Clarke has discovered the oldest fossil of a bird's organ of song, the syrinx. At the University of Texas, Austin the delicate structure turned up in an X ray scan of a 66 million year old bird fossil from Antarctica. The fossil syrinx is so well preserved, it is possible to say what the call of this ancient bird Vegavis would have sounded like. It's also a massive boost in the quest to discover when birds first sang and recreating the dawn chorus back in the Age of Dinosaurs.

06/10/2016  

Adam Rutherford looks at new evidence on what controls our preference for high fat food. There's a genetic detective story of giants in Northern Ireland. Adam also talks to one of the astrophysicists hoping to capture the first image of the event horizon of a black hole with a telescope that's the size of the Earth, and he hears about the patent battle over the revolutionary gene editing technology known as CRISPR-cas9.

Rosetta's comet touchdown finale  

The European Space Agency's Rosetta mission to a comet is about to end. Adam Rutherford discusses its discoveries and looks ahead to its imminent controlled slow-motion crash landing on comet 67P. Also in the programme - the marine excavation of human remains on a 2000 year old ship that sank with the extraordinary Antikythera mechanism: why most human evolution researchers don't rate the aquatic or waterside ape hypothesis: and H.G Wells, the science communicator.

What's Left to Explore?  

Adam Rutherford is joined by astronaut Tim Peake, astrobiologist Zita Martins and oceanographer Helen Czerski for a special edition in front of an audience at ExCel, London on the opening day of the New Scientist Live Festival . From encounters in near space to the mysteries of the cosmos and the least explored area that we know of -the deep oceans on earth, the panel discuss what's left for us to explore. Producer: Adrian Washbourne.

Embryos from non egg cells, Gaia galaxy census, Stratolites, Female and male body clocks  

Scientists have shown for the first time that mice embryos can be made from non egg cells. They've succeeded in creating healthy baby mice by tricking sperm into believing they were fertilising normal eggs. Adam Rutherford talks to lead researcher Tony Perry from Bath University. Might it one day be possible to achieve a similar result in humans using cells that are not from eggs? The spaceship Gaia launched in 2013 to create the most accurate 3D map of the Milky Way ever. Yesterday, we got back Gaia's first data dump that contains mysteries yet unexplored, and new information on more than a billion stars. Gerry Gilmore from Cambridge University is the mission boss. What has Gaia has been up to in its first 1000 days in space? Many of us would love to go into space but, almost 60 years after the dawn of the space age, very few can afford it. But there might soon be a cheaper option. BBC Future Space Correspondent, Richard Hollingham, reports from Tucson, Arizona, where a balloon company is planning to fly tourists high into the stratosphere and also take on services provided by satellites - such as communications and weather forecasting - with 'stratolites'. Research suggests that women on average are less alert late at night, and are far more prone to insomnia than men. We're not sure why these differences exist, largely because women are underrepresented in sleep research. Diane Boivin from McGill University in Montreal discusses her new research that has specifically attempted to address this historical shortfall with surprising outcomes. Producer Adrian Washbourne.

Microbead impact, Remote animal logging, Royal Society book prize, Surgewatch  

The government has announced that tiny pieces of plastic in personal beauty products that end up in the oceans will be banned from sale in the UK. But given their size how much of a problem are minuscule bits of plastic to marine life? Gareth Mitchell meets Professor Richard Thompson of Plymouth University to uncover the marine biology concerns that have led to the micro bead ban. However much we watch animals in the wild we can't really know what they get up to. Rory Wilson, Professor of Zoology at Swansea University, has found a way to eavesdrop on animals that live in remote parts of the world and he's revealed some of his latest discoveries at the British Science Festival in Swansea today. He's developed a logging device that collects a whopping amount of data - 400 items each second. His daily diary collects amongst other measurements, location, magnetic field, temperature, and pressure. Before his talk, Adam Rutherford went along to Rory Wilson's lab and found out which animals he's attached the logger to and discovered their secret life. In the final entry of this year's shortlist for the Royal Society book prize Jo Marchant discusses Cure - which examines how the mind plays a crucial role in health. Our thoughts, emotions and beliefs, it seems, can ease pain, heal wounds, fend off infection and heart disease and even slow the progression of AIDS and some cancers. So what is the potential of the mind to heal - and what are its limits? As many as 530 key infrastructure sites across England are still vulnerable to flooding, according to a government review out today. Southampton University researchers want to understand better how floods happen and how to predict them. Beyond burst river banks and breached defences, they're building up a more detailed picture, house by house, and street by street of what happens when water levels rise. For that they need data, lots of it going back as far as possible. Ivan Haigh at the National Oceanography Centre and his colleagues are pulling all kinds of photos and records together in an interactive multi-purpose online shared database called Surgewatch. Presenter Gareth Mitchell Producer Adrian Washbourne.

Gravitational wave detection, Exo-Mars landing, Royal Society book prize, Gait biometrics  

It's nearly a year since researchers turned on their new, souped-up LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory, which led to the momentous detection of mysterious ripples in space generated from the collision of two black holes. Since then, LIGO has been further improved and is about to turn back on, and an European equivalent VIRGO is in the final stages of its own upgrade. Astronomers are meeting in Paris this week to discuss the next stage, and claim this network of new detectors heralds a completely new era in studying the cosmos. Roland Pease discusses what the future holds in gravitational wave research. The 2020 Exo-Mars mission has one key objective, to find signs of life. But where should it land? New research offers a hitchhiker's guide to an area called Arabia Terra, part of the Arum Dorsum river plain where lots of water once flowed. Gareth Mitchell meets Dr Matt Balme of the Open University and student Joel Davis whose new research is also reassessing the prevailing view that ancient Mars was cold and dry. The latest stop on BBC Inside Science's journey through the shortlist of this year's Royal Society book prize is The Invention of Nature - Andrea Wulf's account of the extraordinary life of Alexander von Humboldt. Spanning the mid eighteenth to nineteenth centuries, von Humboldt was prolific, studying glaciers, climate, zoology and much more. Andrea Wulf discusses her 4 year journey as she followed in the footsteps of this pioneering naturalist. The way we walk, like our iris, fingerprints or voice is something unique to each individual. But unlike those other biometrics, we don't need to be close to, or in contact with a scanner, camera or microphone. Prof Mark Nixon of the Department of Electronics and Computer Science at Southampton University discusses how our gait is an effective new approach to personal identification that can reach the parts others can't reach. Presenter Gareth Mitchell Producer Adrian Washbourne.

Proxima b exoplanet, The Hunt for Vulcan, East Antarctic lakes, Deep sea shark hunting  

The nearest habitable world beyond our Solar System might be right on our doorstep . Scientists say their investigations of our closest star, Proxima Centauri, show it to have an Earth-sized planet orbiting about it. What's more, it is moving in a zone that would make liquid water on its surface a possibility. Gareth Mitchell hears from Guillem Anglada-Escudé whose "Pale Red Dot" team made the discovery and discusses what the "earth- like" claims actually mean. The planet hunters of today search for worlds beyond our Solar System. The planet hunters of a century or so ago, were still going crazy trying to find one more planet orbiting this sun. In The Hunt for Vulcan shortlisted for this year's Royal Society Book Prize, Prof.Thomas Levenson examines the craze known as Vulcan -mania, in the desperate search for another planet in an attempt to explain the odd orbit of the planet Mercury. But why did the phantom planet theory survive for so long? We examine observations from space of fleeting blue lakes in East Antarctica. They come and go with the seasons, forming during the warmer months of the south pole summer. As Amber Leeson of Lancaster University explains, many of the lakes then drain away, an effect already been found in Greenland but never, until now, in this part of the Antarctic. And their effect is cause for concern. Deep sea sharks are nearly impossible to track around the planet, however they inherit the chemistry of the things they eat. Researchers at Southampton University have worked backwards and by examining the chemistry of the sharks, they've been able to determine what things a shark has been eating but also where in the world it has been feeding. Chris Bird and Clive Trueman discuss how they're building up the first accurate pattern of their extraordinary movements. Presenter: Gareth Mitchell Producer: Adrian Washbourne.

18/08/2016  

Ford has just announced that by 2021 it's going to have a driverless car on the road with no steering wheel. It sounds ambitious, since it is the intermediate stop on the road to full autonomy that's raising some of the big research questions at the moment. How can drivers enjoy the reduced workload of automation whilst still being alert enough to take control if something goes wrong? For a drive of the future, Gareth Mitchell went to Southampton University's simulator facility for automated vehicles to meet Professor of Human Factors in Transport, Neville Stanton. Neonicotinoid pesticides have been used widely in protecting the UK's vast acreage of oil seed rape. Research out this week claims there is a link between 'neonics' as they're known, and waning numbers of bees - with the worst affected populations declining by a third. The study has grabbed the headlines because of its scope - 18 years' worth of observations in the countryside. But how much is the link a cause for concern? Researchers Ben Woodcock and Nick Isaac of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology discuss the results. Nestled in the Vale of Pewsey, Marden Henge is an artificial mound considered by archaeologists to be one of the best of the area's neolithic monuments. It represents the missing link between the stone circles at Stone Henge and Avebury. Teams from Reading, Historic England, and other volunteers, have been digging there this summer. Roland Pease has been along to meet them. And we've the next nomination in this year's Royal Society Science Book prize shortlist: Tim Birkhead's new book, The Most Perfect Thing, all about bird eggs. It covers how they are made, why they are the shape they are, where their patterns come from and much more. Producer Adrian Washbourne.

Blow to the LHC "bump", Crow intelligence, Robot mudskippers, Royal Society book prize  

New results have squashed the hope that the hints of a new particle detected by the Large Hadron Collider would confirm the existence of something extremely exotic, such as a new Higgs, or even the theoretical Graviton. Instead, the intriguing data 'bump' turns out to be nothing more than a statistical fluctuation. Physicist Jonathan Butterworth of UCL discusses whether this false alarm affects the LHC's chances of finding something else. Crows, ravens and other members of the bird family we call Corvids are well known to have sophisticated skills in tool use and problem solving. Research out this week reports ravens bending wire to help forage for their food. But what constitutes intelligence in bird brains? Adam Rutherford visits the Tower of London where ravens have been permanent residents since the 16th Century, and so quite a good spot for scientists to go and put bird brains to the test. He meets Sophie Hamnett and Nathan Emery from Queen Mary, University of London. Animals evolved in the seas, but by about 400 million years ago, some fishy creatures had evolved to begin walking on terra firma. Nowadays we look at creatures like mudskippers, that can swim and wade, to see how those first crawlers might have crept up the beach. A new study has gone one step further: Jonathan Webb went to Georgia Tech in Atlanta to meet the robot mudskippers. We're profiling each of the shortlisted books for the Royal Society book prize this year, and this week it is the turn of oncologist Siddartha Muhkerjee. He has turned his attention to trying to understand the root of all cancers, and the mental health issues his own family endure. His new book, The Gene, details the central concept in inheritance. Producer Adrian Washbourne.

04/08/2016  

Adam Rutherford explores the science that is changing our world.

Drug abuse in athletes, Last Common Ancestor, Lichens and Beatrix Potter, Philae farewell  

Much of the Rio Olympics build-up in the last few weeks has centred around drug abuse. The recent report from World Anti-doping Agency has resulted in 67 Russian athletes being barred, as well as bans for swimming, canoeing, and sailing. Adam Rutherford visits the Drugs Control Lab at Kings College London to meet its director David Cowan. He ran the drugs testing lab at the London Olympics four years ago and discusses how science is addressing new methods to evade detection. Many scientists think life first emerged not in a primeval soup, but in hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the ocean. But we don't have much of an idea of what that life would have been like. We call it LUCA - the 'last universal common ancestor' - basically the root of all life on Earth. Professor of Biochemistry Bill Martin has used the genomes of living organisms to piece together the first ever profile of LUCA. Lichens cover gravestones and rocks and trees all over the planet. But they're scientifically fascinating because a lichen is not one organism at all. Lichens have been described as "dual organisms", one an alga and the other a fungus living in symbiotic harmony. But as researcher Toby Spribille reveals, we've been wrong about that for more than a century. Lichen is not one organism, or two, but a very comfortable ménage a trois. Who can forget the joy we all felt when the Rosetta Mission deployed its solar-powered lander Philae onto the surface of the comet 67p in November 2014. Yesterday, the European Space Agency switched off the Electrical Support System Processor Unit on-board the Rosetta orbiter, meaning that communications with the Philae lander are at an end. Project scientist Matt Taylor bids farewell to Philae Producer Adrian Washbourne.

21/07/2016  

Adam Rutherford explores the science that is changing our world.

0:00/0:00
Video player is in betaClose