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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Adam Rutherford explores the science that is changing our world.

Dinosaur extinction, Neanderthals in Gibraltar, Music appreciation, A year of New Horizons  

The dinosaurs met their end with a massive bang when, 66 million years ago, a 6 mile-wide rock crashed into the Gulf of Mexico. This was bad news for the dinosaurs, and consequently good news for the mammals left behind. Thomas Halliday is a palaeontologist, who specialises on the rise of the mammals, and his new work unpicks what happened to survivors after 75% of the species on earth died. The Neanderthals were found in Gibraltar back in 1848. Ever since then, teams have been exploring the caves systems on that rocky outcrop of Europe. It's known as Neanderthal City and researchers think it was home to the very last of these people, some 30,000 years ago. BBC science reporter Melissa Hogenboom has just returned from Gibraltar and talks to Adam about the recent findings of abstract art, which suggest that Neanderthals are much more like us than previously thought. We generally find the combination of notes in a consonant chord more pleasant to our ears than a dissonant one. The question is whether that reaction is learnt or simply part of our biology. It's a tricky thing to test because music is culturally ubiquitous. Neuroscientist Josh McDermott has found a way around this, by playing those tunes to members of a very remote Bolivian tribe - the Tsimane - and gauging their reactions. One year on since the New Horizons probe zoomed past Pluto, Kathy Olkin, one of the chief scientists behind the mission talks to Adam about how the team have dealt with the new data. Noah Hammond from Brown University explains how he has used photographic data from New Horizons to examine the cracks in the surface of Pluto, and has suggested how they came to be. Presenter: Adam Rutherford Producer: Adrian Washbourne.


Earlier this week, the US space agency successfully put a new probe in orbit around Jupiter. The Juno satellite, which left Earth five years ago, had to fire a rocket engine in a tricky and precise manoeuvre in order to brake and become ensnared by Jupiter's gravity. Fran Baganal is a mission scientist for Juno and tells Adam Rutherford what measurements Juno is now in position to make. Space is full of junk left over from past space missions: from flecks of paint to used rockets, dead satellites, also debris from past collisions of space junk. This junk is speeding around the Earth at several thousand miles per hour. At those speeds even small pieces of rubbish just fractions of a millimetre across can damage communication satellites which are vital for the web, mobile phones, and satellite navigation on earth. The Surrey Space centre team are preparing to launch the world's first space litter-picking mission. The RemoveDebris team share their clean up designs with Adam. Researchers have had success growing body parts like windpipes and ears in the laboratory for use in transplants. A group of scientists at Barts Cancer Institute in London are making own tumours; tissues we don't want. However, it is important to study how they grow, and co-opt other cells in the body. Reporter Anand Jagatia heads to their tissue lab to see what they've grown. All animals take risky decisions all the time. The ability to assess the potential gain from the potential harm, and make the right choice, gives the animal an evolutionary advantage. A new study suggests that plants are capable of making similar calculations, despite not having brains. Alex Kacelnik at Oxford University is one of the scientists behind the experiment that suggests that pea plants are willing to gamble. Presenter: Adam Rutherford Producer: Adrian Washbourne.

Juno, Nanotech art conservation, Robots fix the city, Eel conservation  

NASA's Juno Probe arrives at Jupiter on 4th July, where it will execute a daring loop-the-loop in order to get closer to the giant planet than any other spacecraft in history. Juno is constructed like an armoured tank, because Jupiter is surrounded by a belt of very intense radiation that can quickly fry most spacecraft electronics. On July 4, Juno's engines will attempt to slow the probe down so it can be sucked into Jupiter's orbit. The slightest error could mean Juno misses this window, putting an end to the $1.1 billion mission. The man in charge is Dr Scott Bolton, and he speaks to Adam from Pasadena in California. Traditional art conservation tends to focus on paintings - how to stop paint from peeling. But contemporary art uses a much broader range of materials; plastics, rubber; pickled sharks. This means that an ever-increasing array of techniques are needed to conserve those materials. A new project is looking at the role nanotechnology can play, as Rob Thompson reports. It's National Robot Week. There is a fear that robots will replace many of the jobs done by humans. But what if robots just stuck to emptying the gutters and fixing potholes; the chores that humans find tedious? Professor Phil Purnell from Leeds University has just launched a project that aims to use robots to fix bits of the city - finding and patching tiny defects before they turn into massive sinkholes. The European eel may be mysterious, and delicious but it is also critically endangered. The only reason we know this is because of organisations like the Zoological Society of London. They do the unglamorous job of monitoring these fish caught in traps in rivers around the UK. Marnie Chesterton went along to count eels in rainy Brentford with ZSL's Joe Pecorelli, who shares his knowledge of this creature's epic life journey.

National Insect Week, Venus' electric field, Green mining, Wimbledon grass science  

This week is National Insect Week. Almost all animals on Earth are insects, and entomologist Adam Hart told us why we're celebrating and studying them in such detail - particularly diamondback moths, which have recently arrived the UK in large numbers. On the first official (and rather rainy) day of summer, we went down to Butterfly Paradise at London Zoo for the event launch. Entomologist Adam Hart tells us what the Week is all about. New research out this week suggests that a so called "electric wind" has stripped all the water away from the surface of Venus. Space scientist Glyn Collinson at NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre has led this electrical field study. Wales has 1300 rivers with illegal levels of heavy metals. Toxic metals like lead, zinc and copper are a legacy left over from when the area was heavily mined. Natural Resources Wales and Innovate UK set a competition to look for technology that would clean up these rivers. One of the winners was Steve Skill from Swansea University, who has come up with some biotechnology that uses algae to suck the poison out of the rivers. The Championships at Wimbledon start next week, and whatever the weather, the grass has to be perfect. Adam Rutherford headed to London's SW19 to find out how the ground staff are using scientific evidence to cultivate the courts. Producers: Marnie Chesterton & Jen Whyntie.

More gravitational waves; Ocean floor mapping; Selfish Gene 40th; Spoonies  

Gravitational waves have been detected for a second time. These waves are ripples in the curvature of space time, predicted by Einstein in his General Theory of Relativity in 1916. Back in February, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (better known as LIGO) announced that they had detected the signal of gravitational waves from the collisions of two big black holes. The detection in February was the first observation of these waves, and confirmed General Relativity. This week, LIGO confirm a second detection. BBC Science Correspondent Jonathan Amos explains what is new about these new gravitational waves. We know more about the surface of the moon than we know about the ocean floor. Admittedly, the sea is much more dynamic, the scene of many chemical and biological processes, about which scientists would like to learn more. This week, cartographers meet in Monte Carlo, to discuss their plan to map the ocean floor by 2030. Roland Pease reports on the ocean-mapping options. 40 years ago, The Selfish Gene, by Richard Dawkins was published. Since then, it has been a perpetual bestseller. In it, Dawkins explains that the gene is the unit of natural selection, an idea that has become central to all biology. Adam Rutherford speaks to Richard Dawkins, and his co-author on ‘The Ancestor’s Tale’ Yan Wong, at the Cheltenham Science Festival, to discuss the impact of The Selfish Gene. The spoonbilled sandpiper is standing on the edge of extinction, but in good news, Adam hears about of a clutch of eggs laid not in their native Russia but in Slimbridge in Gloucestershire. BBC producer Andrew Luck-Baker visited the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust’s population back in April, and describes these birds to Adam.

Fighting Antimicrobial Resistance  

This week we're dedicating the whole programme to one of the biggest threats to humanity. We're already at 700,000 preventable deaths per year as a result of antibiotic resistance, and the O'Neill Report suggests that this will rise to 10 million people per year by 2050. Today, we're focussing on the attempts to discover new antibiotics, and alternative therapies for combating bacterial infection. Firstly, we wanted to know why new antibiotics aren't being produced. Dr Jack Scannell, an expert on the drug development economics, told Adam Rutherford why money has been the main barrier. Most of the antibiotics we use were discovered in the mid-20th century, but as the threat of drug resistant infections increases, the race is on to find new organisms that make novel medicines. We have only identified a tiny fraction of the microbes living on Earth and are "bioprospecting" for useful ones in wildly different locations. Microbiologist Matt Hutchings has been looking to the oldest farmers in the world - leaf cutter ants. From exotic locations to under your fridge: Dr Adam Roberts runs a scheme called Swab and Send. It's a citizen science project that asks members of the public to swab a surface and send the sample to him – he'll analyse them to look for the presence of new antibiotic-producing bacteria. We joined in the hunt by swabbing spots around the BBC: Adam's microphone, the Today programme presenters' mics, our tea kitchen's sponge, the revolving entryway doormat, and lastly, the Dalek standing on guard outside the BBC Radio Theatre. Antibiotics are not the only weapon in the war against bacteria. A hundred years ago, a class of virus that infect and destroy bacteria were discovered. They're called bacteriophages. Phage therapies were used throughout the era of Soviet Russia, and still are in some countries, including Georgia. Phage researcher Prof Martha Clokie told us whether phage therapy might be coming to the UK.

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