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.


Science and cyber security, Dinosaur babies, Winston Churchill and level crossings  

Testing cyber security with science. The UK now has a new National Cyber Security Centre. However there is very little scientific evidence against which to test the detection of cyber attacks and effectiveness of measures to prevent them. We ask what is needed to turn cyber security into a more scientific discipline. Winston Churchill and Aliens. Throughout his life Churchill maintained a strong interest in scientific developments and wrote widely on subjects from quantum mechanics to nuclear energy. Newly discovered papers show he also had an interest in the potential for life on other planets. Dinosaurs and egg laying. A new fossil find revealing a dinosaur with an unborn baby suggests live births may have occurred many years earlier than previously thought. Turn off at level crossings. New research suggests personal messages about the impact of engine fumes on health may be the most effective way of persuading drivers to switch off their engines at level crossings.

Measuring human impact on earth, Awards for engineers, Sounds of space junk.  

Quantifying the impact of humanity on the earth's natural systems. Why human activity now has a larger effect on our planet than the forces of nature. We look at how mathematical equations can now be used to compare historical natural processes with contemporary man made changes. And we ask where current developments will take us in years to come. The Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering has been awarded to the inventors of digital imaging sensors. First invented in the 1970's, many of us use this technology everyday. These sensor can be found inside every digital camera ever made, from the devices used on space probes to collect distant images from the far reaches of the universe to the ubiquitous pocket cameras in our mobile phones. The earth is surrounded by junk - space junk. Many thousand of pieces of junk orbit the planet, left over from the history of everything we've ever sent into space. A new project has given a voice to this junk, and created a machine which plays simulated sounds of the junk as it passes overhead. Producer: Julian Siddle Presenter: Gareth Mitchell

Wildlife trafficking, New quantum computers, Ancient bird beaks, Glassblowing.  

Conservation and conflict. A year long BBC investigation has exposed an illegal animal trafficking network stretching from West Africa to the Middle East and Asia. Traffickers have used fake permits to undermine international conservation efforts. New developments in Quantum computing. Sussex University are building a new type of modular Quantum computer. We attempt to explain what Quantum computing is. A Massive citizen science project to map bird beak evolution- using records from the Natural History Museum. And the last scientific Glassblower at Imperial College gives us a demonstration of his craft.

Crime, volcanoes, ghosts and how we are influenced by the genes of unrelated others  

The genes of unrelated others can influence our health and behaviour. New research suggests the genetic make up of our partners can have a profound influence on our lives. Scientists have quantified genetic influence , in mice at present but the plan is to try to extend this to human interactions. If accepted this has potentially far reaching consequences for studying heritability and also perhaps modern medicine as the findings suggest an illness can in part be influenced by those we live with. The use of DNA evidence in criminal cases has sometimes been given far more weight than it deserves. In the worst examples there have been miscarriages of justice where DNA evidence has been misinterpreted. The fiction of DNA as a 'magic bullet' pervades TV drama and films - but views of DNA evidence as infallible are also widely held amongst the public, police and lawyers. Forensic specialists explain what we can and can't find from DNA evidence. Oxford's Bodleian library has manuscripts stretching back to medieval times depicting volcanos discovered in the 6th century. These manuscripts also contain remarkable interpretations of eruptions and associated volcanic events, often mixed with mythology. Although those recording such events did not understand what they were scientifically, some of the depictions and ideas of what was happening are surprisingly accurate. Roland Pease and Professor David Pyle take a look at this remarkable collection. Nearly a hundred years ago, Oliver Lodge, eminent physicist and the first to demonstrate radio waves, published a book about life after death. It was entitled 'Raymond' after his son who was killed in the First World War. Lodge was a believer in ghosts and telepathy, and conducted experiments to test their existence. Adam Rutherford and Samira Ahmed look at how Oliver Lodge squared his scientific and spiritualist beliefs - and how the latter led to him, as Britain's most well know scientist of his time, being written out of scientific history.

Antarctic science rescue, killing cancer with viruses, measuring wind from space and the last man on the moon.  

Why the British Antarctic science base is being temporarily abandoned. New cracks have appeared in the Ice shelf on which the Halley research station sits. The promise of viro-therapy for treating cancer. Scientists have successfully used a virus to kill cancer cells. They say this could form the basis for a vaccine that could be injected to destroy tumours. The limitations of mouse models. Many animals are used for testing treatments intended for humans, we explain why the results of such experiments can't always be applied to people. Measuring wind speeds from space. A new satellite will lead to more accurate weather forecasts. Gene Cernan, the last man on the moon. We celebrate the charismatic astronaut who has died aged 82.

The perils of explaining science, living to 500, what's good for your teeth and the future of stargazing  

Why the simplest explanations are not always the best when it comes to science. Where you read about a scientific subject can affect not just what you learn but also how much you think you know about the subject. Quahogs are a kind of clam and they can live for hundreds of years. Analysis of their shells provides a record of historical climate change. Researchers studying their shells have found big differences between the drivers of climate change now and in the pre-industrial era. Trips to the dentist may become less frequent if an experimental treatment with stem cells becomes widespread. The treatment involves regrowing damaged dentine, bringing about a natural tooth repair. Radio telescopes have brought us signals from the far reaches of the known universe and listened in on the space race. Now a new generation will take us further than ever before. Producer Julian Siddle.

RIP Granny the oldest Orca - Graphene + Silly Putty - Moving a Giant Magnet - Space in 2017  

The world's oldest known killer whale is presumed dead. At an estimated age of 100 years, 'Granny' was last seen with her family in October. The scientists who've followed her and her pod for four decades announced that they believe she has died somewhere in the North American Pacific. Adam Rutherford talks to evolutionary biologist Darren Croft of the University of Exeter about this remarkable animal and the insights that Granny and her clan have provided on killer whale social life and the evolution of the menopause. Adam also hears how a 'kitchen' experiment with Silly Putty and the form of carbon known as graphene led to the creation of an ultra-sensitive electro-mechanical sensing material. G-putty may provide the basis for a continuous and wearable blood pressure monitor. It can also detect the footsteps of spiders. Professor Jonathan Coleman of Trinity College, Dublin explains how its properties arise from mixing the two materials. Reporter Marnie Chesterton tells how a 700 tonne magnet was moved 3,000 miles by road and river across the United States, inciting both conspiracy theories and adulation. Now homed at Fermilab - the US's premier particle physics lab - the magnet is about to start probing the laws of the Universe in the Muon g-2 experiment. BBC science correspondents Rebecca Morelle and Jonathan Amos pick their space and astronomy highlights for the coming year.

Listeners' Questions  

Adam Rutherford puts listeners' science questions to his team of experts: physicist Helen Czerski, cosmologist Andrew Pontzen and biology Yan Wong. Queries include gravity on sci-fi space ships, how animals would evolve on the low gravitational field of the Moon, gravitational waves, mimicry in parrots, sea level rise, the accelerating university, dinosaur intelligence, the Higgs field and concerns about oxygen levels in the atmosphere. Further questions are answered in the podcast version of the show. They cover Antarctic dinosaurs, reducing CO2 levels in the atmosphere by trapping it as limestone, and Neanderthal DNA.

Inuits and Denisovans, Sex and woodlice, Peace through particle physics, Caspar the octopus in peril?  

Can Inuit people survive the Arctic cold thanks to deep past liaisons with another species? Adam Rutherford talks to geneticist Rasmus Nielsen who says that's part of the answer. His team's research has identified a particular section of the Inuit people's genome which looks as though it originally came from a long extinct population of humans who lived in Siberia 50,000 years ago. The genes concerned are involved in physiological processes advantageous to adapting to the cold. The conclusion is that at some point, the ancestors of Inuits interbred with members of this other species of human (known as the Denisovans) before people arrived in Greenland. Also in the programme: The woodlice which are made either female or male because of a gene that once belonged a bacterium. The gene came from a dead microbe and was incorporated by chance into the woodlouse genome. This is the first known instance of the invention of an animal sex chromosome through bacterial donation. We talk to Richard Cordaux of the University of Poitiers and Nick Lane of University College London about the discovery. Peace through particle physics. Roland Pease visits SESAME in Jordan - the Middle East's first synchrotron facility is about to start operating. The experiment brings together scientists from all over the Middle East in common cause, with for example Israeli, Palestinian, Iranian, Egyptian and Turkish scientists working side by side. Marine ecologist Autun Purser tells Adam about his European team's discovery of ghostly octopods living at 4,000 metres on the dark, cold sea bed of the Pacific ocean. Autun's camera has caught extraordinary egg brooding behaviour by this new kind of octopus. It lays its eggs half way up the stalks of dead sponges and then guards them for several years until they hatch. Unfortunately, the sponges only grow on lumps of metal-rich rock called manganese nodules which form slowly on the deep sea floor. Several companies are now exploring the possibility of extracting vast quantities of these nodules in deep sea mining, threatening the existence of the sponges and the octopods depending on them.


British astrophysicists have used a space telescope to detect the weather conditions on a planet, one thousand light years away. They've pieced together their climate picture from minute changes in the light reflected from the distant planet's atmosphere. Apparently the winds there can blow at speeds of thousands of kilometres per hour and the clouds are probably made of the same stuff as rubies. Also in the programme: Researchers at the University of Bristol are using nuclear waste to make diamonds for tiny long lasting batteries. You may have ideas on uses for their invention. BBC science correspondent Jonathan Amos reports from the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco: the latest finds from the project that drilled into the dinosaur extinction impact crater - smart boulders that tracked a gigantic undersea avalanche - and tracking the unstable glaciers of West Antarctica. Would sending millions of tonnes of fine limestone dust high into the atmosphere every year deal with the problem of climate change? Would it be safe? Should we even research the questions?

Rock traces of life on Mars, Desert fireball network, Gut microbes and Parkinson's Disease, Science Museum's maths exhibition  

Could rocks studied by the Mars rover Spirit in Gusev Crater in 2007 contain the hallmarks of ancient life? Geologist Steve Ruff of Arizona State University talks about what he found in hot springs in Chile which begs that question. He says the evidence is intriguing enough for NASA to send its next and more sophisticated Mars robot back to the same spot on the Red Planet in 2020. Adam also talks to Phil Bland of Curtin University in Australia - one of the creators of the Desert Fireball Network - an array of automated cameras across Australia, built to locate where shooting stars land as meteorites and also pinpoint from where they came in the solar system. Boosting the chances of collecting these meteorites and knowing their space origins should helps us to better understand how the Earth and other planets formed 4.5 billion years ago. There's new compelling evidence that microbes in the gut play a role in the development of Parkinson's disease. Tim Sampson of Caltech in the US outlines his experiments which raise this possibility and Patrick Lewis, another Parkinson's researcher at the University of Reading, puts the new findings into a wider context. Adam takes a tour of the spectacular new mathematics gallery at the Science Museum in London. The Winton Gallery's exhibited objects and design by the celebrated architect Zaha Hadid focusses on mathematics in the real world. Adam's guide is lead curator David Rooney.

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.


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.


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.

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