Naked Scientists Special Editions Podcast

Naked Scientists Special Editions Podcast


Probing the weird, wacky and spectacular, the Naked Scientists Special Editions are special one-off scientific reports, investigations and interviews on cutting-edge topics by the Naked Scientists team.


The secrets of Ceres  

NASA's space probe Dawn has been orbiting the dwarf planet Ceres, which sits between Jupiter and Mars, for the past eighteen months. The probe is sending back data on this small body, which we previously knew almost nothing about. Last week, a whole constellation of papers detailing Dawn's discoveries were published in the journal Science. Laura Brooks asked David Rothery, Professor of Planetary Geosciences at the Open University, to take her through the results...

See-through rats bare their brains  

Scientists often study disease by examining thin sections of biological tissue under a microscope - a bit like watching a film in 2D. That's fine for some, but an organ like the brain is really complex, with neurons crisscrossing left, right and centre. Cutting it into thin sections to study diseases like dementia means you lose all that complexity. In an ideal world then, scientists would be able to don 3D glasses and see the intact brain. Fortunately, Ali Ertuerk and his team at LMU Munich's Acute Brain Injury Research Group have found how to make a whole rat see-through, and image its brain. Laura Brooks caught up with Ali to find out how it works

Meet the Octobot - the soft robot octopus  

Imagine a robot. I'm guessing, after decades of droids and terminators, that the machine you're picturing is something metal, rigid and human-shaped. But this type of robot can only do so much. What we need are soft-skinned robots and this is precisely what a team of Harvard University researchers have built: an autonomous, 3D printed octopus-shaped soft robot nicknamed "octobot." Lucka Bibic spoke with Michael Wehner about their latest invention

Empathy speeds up learning  

Although empathy is often associated with traits like helpfulness and generosity, not a lot is known about how helpful behaviour and empathy might be linked in the brain. Now, scientists have pinpointed part of the brain thought to drive us to learn how to be more helpful. The findings also suggest that people with higher levels of empathy are quicker to learn what they need to do to help. Patricia Lockwood and her team measured participants' brain activity in an MRI scanner while they tried to win money - either for themselves, or for another person, as she explained to Laura Brooks...

Why female fertility falls with age?  

It's a well-known fact that, as a woman ages her chances of falling pregnant drop. And this seems to be driven by a fall in the quality of the eggs that she produces. Why this happens though in an otherwise healthy individual is a mystery. But now Francesca Duncan, who studies female fertility at Northwestern University, has discovered that older ovaries contain large amounts of fibrous tissue produced by inflammation, and this appears to be harming the ability of the ovary to nurture healthy eggs

Sunflowers dance to their own beat  

It's summertime and fields are filled with sunflowers, devotedly following the rising sun. But why do they do it? This is a question that scientists at the University of California, Davis, have striven to answer and Dr Stacey Harmer thinks she has the answer as she explained to Lucka Bibic...

Dinosaurs stuggled with arthritis  

For the first time, scientists have found a type of arthritis in dinosaurs and this is important because these creatures have an amazing ability to heal themselves from diseases that would normally kill you and me. So, if we can look to animals like this, we might come up with a way to aide and abet healing in groups such as our own, the mammals. Graihagh Jackson caught up with Dr Jennifer Ann, who made the discovery

Zika vaccine breakthrough  

Cases of Zika virus infection in Florida are continuing to rise, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued travel advice urging pregnant women not to travel to certain parts of the country. The good news is that scientists testing three new types of Zika vaccine have found that they all work safely and rapidly in monkeys. One of the vaccines is made from killed virus grown in culture, another is based on a small piece of DNA containing the genetic information coding for the outer coat of Zika, and the third is made by adding part of that same outer coat to a common cold adeno virus. Trials on humans are the next step, as Chris Smith finds out from Dan Barouch who is leading the effort at Harvard Medical School

Great Red Spot storm warms up Jupiter  

Jupiter is the largest planet in our Solar System - a massive 318 times heavier than Earth - and it has been quite the 'hot spot' for news recently. NASA's Juno probe entered into orbit around Jupiter at the beginning of July, while in a new finding, it appears the famous 'Great Red Spot' is kicking up a bigger storm than first imagined. Telescope in hand, Claire Armstrong sought to catch a glimpse of the gas giant in the night sky, as explained by NASA's Jack Connerney and David Rothery from the Open University.

New anti-cancer patch  

One in 20 people develop colorectal cancer in their lifetime, making it the second-most common form cancer in Europe. Surgery is an option for treatment, but this can result in incomplete removal of the tumour. Now, researchers from MIT have developed a hydrogen patch with three types of therapy applied directly to the tumour itself. Their anti-cancer patch was tested on lab mice and caused the cancer to go into complete remission. Lucka Bibic attempted to uncover some of the patch's secrets from researcher Dr Natalie Artzi from MIT...

Chewing robot lives on a paleodiet  

Researchers at the University of Helsinki have developed a chewing robot to study the tie between tooth wear and the dietary patterns of animals. Their shiny stainless-steel chewing machine with 3D printed parts can now show how the paleodiet of the animals and their tooth wear rate affected their lifespan as Aleksis Karme explained to Lucka Bibic.

Power of positive thought  

People who feel well tend to live well. They have a better immunity against infections and lower susceptibility to ill-health. Stress and depression, on the other hand, are linked to poorer functioning of the immune system, weaker responses to vaccination and, overall, higher rates of morbidity. But how a healthy mind makes for a healthy body wasn't known. Now, by artificially stimulating the reward circuitry in the brains of mice, scientists in Israel have shown that one of the nerve pathways in the body - called the sympathetic nervous system - can directly manipulate the immune system. Claire Armstrong spoke to Dr Asya Rolls to hear how...

Electronic nose senses pesticides and terrorism threats  

The most sensitive "electronic nose" ever has been built by scientists in Belgium. The portable "E-nose" uses spongy structures called metal-organic frameworks to pick up minute traces of molecules including harmful nerve gases. Lucka Bibic spoke to inventor Rob Ameloot...

Royal Society Summer Exhibition  

It's summertime again and along with ice cream, sunburn and our other favourite British traditions, it's time for the Royal Society's Summer Science Exhibition, in London. We've been to see what's been going on

Cyborg Cardiac Patch  

A system for growing heart cells on a microscopic silicon grid that can eavesdrop on their electrical behaviour is giving scientists a much clearer picture of how the heart works and providing a way to test new drugs much more safely. Long term it could lead to the creation of a cardiac repair patch that could be "pasted in" to replace or control damaged heart tissue. The work's taking place in the lab of Harvard's Charles Lieber and he told Chris Smith about what they've been up to...

Getting every last drop  

Days of squeezing the last drop from your shampoo bottles are over! Thanks to researchers from the US, we now have a material which allows sticky liquids to flow freely AND this has big implications for recycling, as Philip Brown explained to Lucka Bibic...

Life-saving helium discovery  

Helium is the stuff that goes into party balloons and is also an essential ingredient in hospital MRI scanners. Most people have heard of helium but not many realise that we're in danger of running out of it. Luckily, Jon Gluyas from Durham University, has come up with a new way of finding it. Claire Armstrong spoke to him to hear how...

Juno probe plunges into Jupiter  

Today, NASA's Juno spacecraft has plunged into uncharted territory, flying closer to Jupiter than we've ever been before. Graihagh Jackson spoke to co-investigator of the Mission, Professor Stan Cowley from Leceister University...

Two Zika vaccine candidates discovered  

Back in February the World Health Organisation declared the zika virus epidemic in Brazil to be a public health emergency of international concern. At the top of the list was the link between Zika infection and babies being born with microcephaly or an abnormally small head. Now scientists in the US have taken the first steps towards developing a much-needed vaccine, which they've so far tested successfully on mice. Dan Barouch from Harvard University spoke to Chris Smith...

Mini-guts for testing cystic fibrosis theraphy  

Cells collected from the intestines of patients with the disease cystic fibrosis can be grown in the laboratory dish to produce balls of cells that scientists are calling mini guts. These can be used to test a series of new cystic fibrosis drugs that are now entering the clinic. But because these agents don't work on everyone, finding out who will benefit can mean a laborious trial for the patient. Mini guts on the other hand take just a few weeks to grow and give results in just days or hours. Jeffrey Beekman, from the Wilhelmina Children's Hospital, Utrecht, invented the technique...

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