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

Forensics Centre in Dundee; D'Arcy Thompson centenary; Scottish science adviser; Coffee and climate  

The Leverhulme Research Centre for Forensic Science at the University of Dundee has expanded to test new psychoactive substances. Adam Rutherford talks to Professors Sue Black and Niamh Nic Daeid, who jointly run the Centre, about how they can keep up with the many new illegal drugs coming onto the market and about how they intend to modernise forensics. 2017 is the centenary of the publication of On Growth and Form, the book by D'Arcy Thompson that influenced many people from mathematical biologists to architects. Adam discusses the man and the book with Matthew Jarrron in the D'Arcy Thompson Museum at the University of Dundee. Astrophysicist Sheila Rowan has been the Chief Science Adviser to the Scottish Government for just over a year. Adam asks her about the role and how she deals with controversial issues such as GM crops. And Aaron Davis of Kew Gardens explains the impact of climate change on coffee growing in Ethiopia.

Science in Fire Prevention  

Applying scientific techniques to reduce fire risk in tall buildings. We look at practical measures to prevent building fires and also how science can improve evacuation plans. Modeling the brain with maths. new research using multidimensional models is helping researchers understand the levels of complexity in brain function. Sexism in science, its as old as...science. We look at how sex bias has influenced the outcome of scientific research throughout history. And also look at how science itself is changing as opportunities for women to pursue scientific careers increase. And a unique study which turns recordings from police body cameras into empirical data that can be used to assess and improve police interactions with the public.

Early Humans Were Even Earlier Than We Thought  

Early human fossils from Morocco suggest our ancestors walked the earth much earlier than previously thought. Human ancestral fossils from the area were first discovered in the 1960's, but now a re-examination of these and more recent finds suggests they are from an early form of us - Homo sapiens - living in the area around 300,000 years ago. We have news of a one in a million stellar observation: light bending around a distant star. This is the first time the phenomenon has been observed outside our solar system, and is further proof of Einstein's theory of General Relativity. It involved measurements millions of miles away and many times smaller than the width of a human hair. Gold mining is a highly polluting process involving toxic chemicals. Marnie Chesterton visits a Scottish gold mine and looks at attempts to make the extraction of gold more environmentally friendly by replacing the toxic chemicals with ingredients more commonly found in vitamins and natural fertilisers. And US President Trump has announced his intention to pullout of the Paris climate agreement. We look at the implications of the decision for global emissions reduction.

The Importance of Basic Research  

Adam Rutherford discusses the relationship between basic and applied scientific research with guests at the Hay Festival. Adam is joined by the Astronomer Royal, Lord Martin Rees, physicist Professor Robbert Dijkgraaf, the director of the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton University and author of a new essay introducing On the Usefulness of Useless Knowledge, behavioural psychologist Professor Theresa Marteau of Cambridge University and geneticist and writer Professor Steve Jones of University College London.

Sherpas - dolphin rescue - quantum computing - hot lavas  

The superior performance of Sherpa guides on Mountain Everest is legendary. New findings reveal how their bodies make the most of low oxygen levels at high altitude. Presenter Gareth Mitchell also talks to the Mexican biologist heading a last ditch attempt to save the world's most endangered marine mammal - a small porpoise called vaquita. There are fewer than 30 animals left, all of them in the Gulf of California. The plan is to capture up to half of them and move them to a safe haven in the Gulf, away from the illegal fishing nets that have been trapping and drowning them. Key players in the plan are US Navy dolphins, trained to find and follow the vaquitas so the scientists can catch and move them. The idea is to keep the porpoises in a protected bay until the illegal fishing threat has been tackled. Also in the programme, white hot lavas and reporter Roland Pease asks whether quantum computing is finally coming of age.

Childhood cancers - Ghana telescope - Nano-listening device for cells - Ancient whales  

Adam Rutherford goes the pathology archive of Great Ormond Street Hospital in London to hear how tumour samples from child patients about one hundred years ago may improve the diagnosis and treatment of very rare cancers in children today. He meets cancer geneticist Sam Behjati of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and Great Ormond Street pathologist Neil Sebire in the hospital's basement archive. Africa now has its first radio telescope outside South Africa. It is located in Ghana near the capital Accra. The telescope is in fact a defunct telecoms satellite dish which was spotted on Google Earth images and then re-purposed for cutting edge astrophysics. It is hoped the dish will be the founding instrument of a pan African network of radio telescopes scrutinising exotic celestial objects in the skies above the continent. South African science journalist Sarah Wilds tells the story of how the Ghanaian dish was found and converted. Nano-engineers in California have created a device 100 times thinner than a human hair which they have used to measure the turbulence created by swimming microbes and record the sounds of heart cells contracting. Don Sirbuly is the professor of nano-engineering at the University of California San Diego who led the team. A spectacular new whale fossil unearthed Peru is the oldest known member of the evolutionary branch which gave rise to the giant filter-feeding baleen whales of today. The 36 million year old fossil provides evidence for how ancestral whales transitioned from capturing prey with their teeth to filter-feeding with baleen fibres. They may gone through a period of sucking prey from the sea bed.

Violins - Social networks and cliques in great tits and snow monkeys - Exploring DNA and art  

Classical music fans will know well the legendary violins made by the likes of Stradivarius and Guarneri in the 17th and 18th century. But new acoustical research has found that concert goers rated the music of new fiddles higher than that from old and revered Italian violins. Dr Claudia Fritz of the Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris explains how she did this study and what she found. Virtuoso soloist Tasmin Little plays her 260 year old Italian instrument for presenter Adam Rutherford and offers her thoughts on the findings. Adam also hears about personality and social cliques in great tits in Oxfordshire, and social networks and disease in Japanese snow monkeys. Adam chats with Leicester University geneticist Turi King and artists Ruth Singer and Gillian McFarland about their collaborative project to explore DNA through art.

The moral brain, stem cell developments, ancient DNA in cave dirt, mangrove forest  

Adam Rutherford talks to neuroscientist Molly Crockett about moral decision-making in the brain. She combined brain scanning with a test involving money and electric shocks. Geoff Marsh reports from Japan where stem cell research appears to be bringing regenerative medicine for a common cause of blindness ever closer. A team at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology has pulled off another triumph in the study of ancient human DNA. Viviane Slon explains how they've extracted DNA of extinct species of humans from the soil in caves across Europe and Russia. Adam discusses the significance with Ian Barnes, ancient DNA specialist at the Natural History Museum in London. Dan Friess of the National University of Singapore studies mangrove forests around the coasts of tropical Pacific and Indian ocean countries. This kind of forest has turned out to store much more carbon than even rainforests, as measured by the hectare. Dr Friess talks about carbon counting in mangroves and how this research may save the forests from further destruction.

Homo naledi, First humans in America, Dark matter detector, New theory of dark matter  

Controversy has followed the remains of a new species of human, Homo naledi, since it was described in 2015. Buried deep in a South African cave, its primitive features led scientists to believe it was up to three million years old. This week it's been revealed that this estimate was wrong. New dating evidence suggests the skeletons are only 200 000 to 300 000 years old and that means they may have lived alongside other homo species. Previously, humans were thought to have travelled to America via a land bridge between eastern Siberia and modern day Alaska, somewhere between 17 000 - 40 000 years ago when sea levels were lower than they are today. Researchers from the San Diego Natural History Museum now present evidence that suggests this transition could have been much earlier - nearly 100 000 years earlier. Adam talked to Chris Stringer, researcher in human evolution at the Natural History Museum in London, to unpick the evidence. Dark matter is a mystery that has evaded scientists for decades. Now the biggest and most sensitive detector is being built in South Dakota and scientists believe the Lux-Zeppelin experiment will soon be able to detect one of the candidates for dark matter, the elusive particle known as a weakly interacting massive particle (WIMP). Graihagh Jackson got a sneak peak of the key components, including the 'eyes' of the detector, before they're sent off for installation. Adam Rutherford talks to cosmologist Carlos Frenk from the University of Durham and learns of an alternative theory to describe this mysterious dark matter - a whole new dark sector. This sector contains a vast range of different dark particles, from photons to bosons, that could interact with normal particles.

Cassini’s death, scrapping diesel, weather balloon, satellites monitoring volcanos  

The Cassini-Huygens mission has been monumental for science. For thirteen years the probe has gathered data on Saturn, revealing more about the gas giant than we have ever known before. But now, Cassini is running out of fuel. Adam Rutherford talks to Professor Michele Dougherty of Imperial College about the plans for Cassini's spectacular end, which will be to burn up in Saturn's atmosphere later this year. The descent begins this week and Cassini will collect exciting new data until the end. Next week, Theresa May will unveil her plans to kerb air pollution and it is believed that some diesel drivers could be paid up to £2,000 to trade in their vehicles. Diesel cars emit nitrogen oxides - a pollutant that has been linked to nearly 12,000 UK deaths in 2013. This is the second highest in Europe after Italy. However, this isn't the first scrappage scheme to be brought in. Philippa Oldham from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and Adam discuss the merits and pitfalls of an initiative like this. Thousands of balloons are launched every day to measure temperature, pressure and humidity of the air. Kerri Nicoll from the University of Reading wants to add cheap, volcanic ash sensors to these balloons which are going up anyway. This could vastly improve the limited information we currently have on volcanic eruptions, allowing us to quickly see rises in ash particles and therefore improve ash cloud forecasting. Many of the world's volcanoes aren't monitored but a new technology from the University of Leeds should mean that scientists can keep track of all 1,500 them by the end of the year. The technology involves monitoring changes in ground deformation from satellites in space, which will give clues as to whether a volcano is about to erupt. For those living near unmonitored volcanoes, this could provide an early warning system and save their lives.

23andMe Genetic Sequencing, Human Knockout genes, Coral Bleaching  

23andMe is one of the biggest providers of home genetic testing kits and if you live in the UK, it's the only one that also includes various genetic analyses relevant not just to ancestry, but also to health. After a previous ban, the Food and Drug Administration for the first time approved marketing of the 23andMe Genetic Health Risk tests for diseases in the US. Adam Rutherford talks to geneticist Professor Matthew Cobb of the University of Manchester and to medical ethicist Dr Sarah Chan of the University of Edinburgh about how useful this genetic information can be and about who owns the data. New research published this week has revealed something really quite bizarre about our own genomes: that we can survive normally with a considerable number of dysfunctional genes. We've got around 20,000 genes, and you might think that you need them all, as when they don't work, they could lead to a serious health condition. But from a study of more than 10,000 people from Pakistan more than 1300 mutations were found to have no effect on their health. Geneticist Robert Plenge explains the research. The Great Barrier Reef has taken another huge hit with a mass bleaching event occurring a second year in a row. Over two thirds of the reef is now seriously damaged. Professor Jorg Wiedenmann of the University of Southampton explains that if bleaching events continue to happen at this rate, the world's largest coral reef will never recover.

Creation of island Britain, Sleep gene, Mary Kelly forensics, Global Tree Search survey  

Adam Rutherford examines a new study published this week which reveals how a megaflood and giant waterfalls severed our connection to what is now France, resulting in the creation of island Britain and the watery moat of the English Channel. Jenny Collier of Imperial College London uncovers the ancient evidence dating back 450 000 years ago. The dream of unbroken sleep is a complex interaction between our environment and our genes, and new research is a step towards understanding the genetics of sleeping patterns. Jason Gerstner of Washington State University discusses his isolation of a gene that seems to play a crucial role in sleep across a number of species including humans. Turi King played a pivotal role in the identification of Richard III from bones discovered in a Leicester car park She's now involved in another infamous cold case - that of Jack the Ripper. Her interest is in the last of his five canonical victims, known as Mary Kelly, and she's authored a commissioned report on the possibility of identifying the body of Mary Kelly using DNA. And Paul Smith from Gardens Conservation International discusses the new Global Tree Survey - the biggest and the most comprehensive database of all the trees in the world - accumulated from 500 papers, and nearly four centuries of dendrology. Producer Adrian Washbourne.

Climate change and extreme weather; Primate brain size; Earthquake forecasting; Planet 9  

Following yesterday's US House Committee on Science,Space,and Technology's controversial hearing on scientific method and climate change, Adam Rutherford meets atmospheric scientist Professor Michael Mann after he emerged from the heated debate and who's just published a new paper suggesting a direct link between extreme weather and greenhouse gases via a particular behaviour of the jet stream across the northern hemisphere How has intelligence evolved? For over 2 decades the idea has prevailed that primate brain size and intelligence has been driven mainly by complex social hierarchies. But a new study by Alex DeCascien of New York University suggests that diet is a better predictor of brain size. This month is the 6th anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated much of Japan's coastline. Roland Pease reports on new research that aims to embrace uncertainty to improve quake forecasting And we hear how you can join in the search for the missing mysterious 9th planet of our solar system. Adam Rutherford hears from astronomer Brad Tucker on Walkabout at the Mount Stromlo Observatory in New South Wales Producer: Adrian Washbourne.

Comet 67P images; Etna eruption; Brain navigation; Octopus intelligence  

The recent Rosetta mission to image and land a probe on a comet was an astounding achievement. Rosetta took thousands of photos mapping the entire surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko , as it dramatically changed over 2 years. This week analysis of 18000 67P pictures are out of the shade and into the sunlight. Adam Rutherford talks to study leader Raamy El Maary on the intriguing insights and what they suggests about the evolution of comets as they pass through our solar system. And while no-one has any doubt that volcanoes are extremely dangerous forces of nature, Science correspondent Rebecca Morelle was caught in an unusual and terrifying eruption last week. She tells BBC Inside Science the perils of reporting up close from the side of Etna and the rare kind of eruptions that are unique to snowy volcanoes. What are our brains doing when we're navigating through towns and cities? A new study from a team at University College London has made detailed maps of brain activity when negotiating the very windy London streets of Soho and compared it to what our brains are up to when we're simply following a sat nav. Hugo Spiers discusses the results and how this kind of neuroscience has a role to play in the future design of new street networks and cities. And we feature the private life of the octopus - a seemingly alien intelligence right here on Earth as philosopher Peter Godfrey-Smith discusses his new book "Other Minds: The Octopus and the Evolution of Intelligent Life", in which he literally dives into the oceans and delves in to the workings of the octopus mind Producer Adrian Washbourne.

Boaty McBoatface in Antarctica, Aeroplane biofuels, Bakhshali manuscript, Goldilocks zones  

The submarine famously named Boaty McBoatface is deployed this week for its first mission to examine a narrow submarine gap in the South Atlantic. Mike Meredith of the British Antarctic Survey tells Adam Rutherford how this research into the behaviour of deep water at this crucial point in the oceans will help us answer key questions about global ocean temperature flows. Some close-quarter flying in the wake of a jet has provided new insights on reducing aircraft pollution. Richard Moore at NASA Langley in Virginia describes how he's taken to the skies to measure gasses emitted by new biofuels to assess their impact in reducing carbon soot particles, aircraft contrails and climate-changing cloud formations across the sky Angela Saini visits the Bodleian Library in Oxford where the Bakhshali manuscript which contains possibly the very first graphical representation of the number zero is finally being carbon dated so we can better understand its scientific importance And the habitable zones around stars in our the universe just got a whole lot bigger. Lisa Kaltenegger of the Carl Sagan Institute reveals how the presence of volcanoes pumping out hydrogen has a significant warming effect on planets, and increases the range of the so called Goldilocks Zone Producer: Adrian Washbourne.

Rise of the Robots: 3. Where is my mind?  

From Skynet and the Terminator franchise, through Wargames and Ava in Ex Machina, artificial intelligences pervade our cinematic experiences. But AIs are already in the real world, answering our questions on our phones and making diagnoses about our health. Adam Rutherford asks if we are ready for AI, when fiction becomes reality, and we create thinking machines.

Cells and Celluloid: Aliens on Film  

With Adam Rutherford and Francine Stock.

Rise of the Robots: 2. More human than human  

Adam Rutherford explores our relationship with contemporary humanoid robots

Rise of the Robots: 1. The history of things to come  

The idea of robots goes back to the Ancient Greeks. In myths Hephaestus, the god of fire, created robots to assist in his workshop. In the medieval period the wealthy showed off their automata. In France in the 15th century a Duke of Burgundy had his chateau filled with automata that played practical tricks on his guests, such as spraying water at them. By the 18th century craftsmen were making life like performing robots. In 1738 in Paris people queued to see the amazing flute playing automaton, designed and built by Jacques Vaucanson. With the industrial revolution the idea of automata became intertwined with that of human workers. The word robot first appears in a 1921 play, Rossum's Universal Robots, by Czech author Carel Chapek. Drawing on examples from fact and fiction, Adam Rutherford explores the role of robots in past societies and discovers they were nearly always made in our image, and inspired both fear and wonder in their audiences. He talks to Dr Elly Truitt of Bryn Mawr College in the US about ancient and medieval robots, to Simon Shaffer, Professor of History of Science at Cambridge University and to Dr Andrew Nahum of the Science Museum about !8th century automata, and to Dr Ben Russell of the Science Museum about robots and workers in the 20th century. And Matthew Sweet provides the cultural context. Show less

Rise of the Robots  

The idea of robots goes back to the Ancient Greeks. In myths Hephaestus, the god of fire, created robots to assist in his workshop. In the medieval period the wealthy showed off their automata. In France in the 15th century a Duke of Burgundy had his chateau filled with automata that played practical tricks on his guests, such as spraying water at them. By the 18th century craftsmen were making life like performing robots. In 1738 in Paris people queued to see the amazing flute playing automaton, designed and built by Jacques Vaucanson. With the industrial revolution the idea of automata became intertwined with that of human workers. The word robot first appears in a 1921 play, Rossum's Universal Robots, by Czech author Carel Chapek. Drawing on examples from fact and fiction, Adam Rutherford explores the role of robots in past societies and discovers they were nearly always made in our image, and inspired both fear and wonder in their audiences. He talks to Dr Elly Truitt of Bryn Mawr College in the US about ancient and medieval robots, to Simon Shaffer, Professor of History of Science at Cambridge University and to Dr Andrew Nahum of the Science Museum about !8th century automata, and to Dr Ben Russell of the Science Museum about robots and workers in the 20th century. And Matthew Sweet provides the cultural context.

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