The Curious Cases of Rutherford & Fry

The Curious Cases of Rutherford & Fry

United Kingdom

Science sleuths Hannah Fry and Adam Rutherford investigate everyday mysteries sent by listeners

Episodes

The Lost Producer  

Why do some people have a terrible sense of direction? The team receive a mysterious message from an anonymous listener who constantly gets lost. Can they help her find the answer? This listener may, or may not, be the team's producer, Michelle. She would like to state that it's not her fault that she has been dealt a bad genetic hand which has led to faulty place cells developing in her brain. And head direction cells that appear to be pointing the wrong way. More understanding should surely be afforded to those who are navigationally challenged. Hugo Spiers from University College London, has devised a free game called 'Sea Hero Quest' which anyone can use to test their navigational skills. Plus Catherine Loveday from the University of Westminster suggests strategies to help those who tend to get lost. If you have any Curious Cases for us to solve please email curiouscases@bbc.co.uk Presenters: Adam Rutherford & Hannah Fry Producer: Michelle Martin.

The Bad Moon Rising  

'A teacher I work with swears that around the time of the full moon kids are rowdier in the classroom, and more marital disharmony in the community," says Jeff Boone from El Paso in Texas. 'Is there any biological reason why the moon's phases could affect human moods and behaviour?' Our scientific sleuths sift through the evidence to find out if the moon really does inspire lunacy. They consider Othello's testimony, a study on dog bites and homicides in Florida before coming to a conclusion based on current scientific evidence. Featuring neuroscientist Eric Chudler from the University of Washington and health broadcaster and author Claudia Hammond. If you have any Curious Cases for the team to solve please email curiouscases@bbc.co.uk Presenters: Adam Rutherford & Hannah Fry Producer: Michelle Martin.

The Hunt for Nothing, Part 2  

In the last episode the team started investigating the following inquiry, sent in to curiouscases@bbc.co.uk: 'Is there any such thing as nothing?' They discovered why quantum fluctuations and the Higgs field mean that nothing is impossible. But how about in mathematics? The story of zero is fraught with inspiration, competition and controversy. Banned in Florence and hated by the Church, zero had a rocky road to acceptance after its genesis in India. Hannah talks to author Alex Bellos and hears about his journey to India to see the birth of zero, featuring archive from 'Nirvana by Numbers' on BBC Radio 4. Plus, Adam is sent on a mission to understand calculus and enlists the help of Jeff Heys from Montana State University. If you have any Curious Cases for the team to solve please email curiouscases@bbc.co.uk Presenters: Adam Rutherford & Hannah Fry Producer: Michelle Martin.

The Hunt for Nothing, Part 1  

"Is there any such thing as nothing?" This question from Bill Keck sparked so much head scratching that we have devoted two episodes to this curious quandary. In the first programme, the team considers the philosophy and physics of nothing. As Prof Frank Close, author of "Nothing: A Very Short Introduction" explains, nothing has intrigued great thinkers for thousands of years, from the Ancient Greeks to today's particle physicists. Otto Von Geuricke, the Mayor of Magdeburg in Germany, invented the artificial vacuum pump in the 17th century and presented spectacular displays to demonstrate the awesome power of nothing. Cosmologist Andrew Pontzen helps Hannah search for nothing in the depths of space and inside the atom. However, as they find out, recent discoveries in physics involving quantum fluctuations and the Higgs field have proved that nothing is impossible. If you have any Curious Cases for the team to solve please email curiouscases@bbc.co.uk Presenters: Adam Rutherford & Hannah Fry Producer: Michelle Martin.

The Melodic Mystery  

'Why is my mother tone deaf?' asks listener Simon, 'and can I do anything to ensure my son can at least carry a tune?' Hannah Fry has a singing lesson with teacher Michael Bonshor to see if he can improve her vocal tone, although things don't quite go to plan.* We meet Martin who dislikes music intensely because he has the clinical form of tone deafness, known as amusia. Just as people with dyslexia see words differently to other people, if you have amusia you don't hear melodies in the same way. Adam talks to music psychologist Dr Vicky Williamson from Sheffield University who studies Martin, and others like him, to try and discover why their brains operate differently. Please send your Curious Cases for consideration to: curiouscases@bbc.co.uk Presenters: Adam Rutherford, Hannah Fry Producer: Michelle Martin *earmuffs may be required.

The Strongest Substance  

"What is the strongest substance in the universe? Some people say it is spiderweb, because it is stronger than steel. Is it iron? Is it flint? Is it diamond because diamond can be only be cut by diamond?" asks Françoise Michel. Adam and Hannah put a variety of materials, from biscuits to spider web, under the hammer to test their strength. In their quest to find the strongest substance they quiz materials scientist Mark Miodownik, engineer Danielle George and spidergoat creator, Dr Randy Lewis from Utah. Features archive from 'Horizon: Playing God', first broadcast in January 2012. Please send your Curious Cases for the team to investigate to curiouscases@bbc.co.uk Presenters: Adam Rutherford, Hannah Fry Producer: Michelle Martin.

The Portly Problem  

"Why do we have middle aged spread?" asks Bart Janssen from New Zealand. From obese mice to big bottoms, the duo discovers what science can tell us about fat. Why do we put on weight in middle age? And are some types of fat better than others? Hannah meets Prof Steve Bloom at Imperial College, London to discuss apples and pears. Adam talks to Dr Aaron Cypess from the National Institutes of Health in Maryland, who has created a 'fatlas' - an atlas that maps fat inside the body. Please email your Curious Cases for the team to investigate to: curiouscases@bbc.co.uk Presenters: Hannah Fry & Adam Rutherford Producer: Michelle Martin.

The Space Pirate  

Listener Paul Don asks: "I'm wondering what's the feasibility of terraforming another planet i.e. Mars and if it's possible to do the same thing with something like the moon? Or, why isn't there already a moon-base? Surely that's easier." Adam & Hannah consider moving to another planet, and discover what challenges they would need to overcome to live in space. They consult engineer Prof Danielle George from the University of Manchester and Dr Louisa Preston, UK Space Agency Aurora Research Fellow in Astrobiology. Adam also hears about attempts to recreate a Martian base on a volcano in Hawaii. He calls HI-SEAS crew member Tristan Bassingthwaighte, who has just emerged from a year of isolation. If you have any Curious Cases for the team to solve please email curiouscases@bbc.co.uk Features archive from 'Outlook' on BBC World Service, broadcast in August 2016. Presenters: Adam Rutherford & Hannah Fry Producer: Michelle Martin.

The Sinister Hand Part 2  

In the previous episode the team started investigating the following enquiry, sent in to curiouscases@bbc.co.uk: "What determines left or right handedness and why are us lefties in the minority?" They considered cockatoos, chimpanzees and Hannah's dog, Molly, to discover that humans are unique, with just one in ten of us being left-handed. Today, they look inside the left-handed brain. Some researchers point to a link between left-handedness and impairments like autism or dyslexia. Others claim that lefties are more creative and artistic. So what's the truth? The team consults Professors Sophie Scott, Chris McManus and Dorothy Bishop to find out. Presenter: Adam Rutherford & Hannah Fry Producer: Michelle Martin.

The Sinister Hand Part 1  

Neal Shepperson asks, "What determines left or right handedness and why are us lefties in the minority?" When we started investigating this question it became clear that there were just too many scientific mysteries to squeeze into one episode. So there are two whole episodes devoted to this very Curious Case. One in ten people are left-handed, but where does this ratio come from and when did it appear in our evolutionary past? Hannah talks to primatologist Prof Linda Marchant from Miami University about Neanderthal teeth and termite fishing. Adam consults handedness expert Prof Chris McManus from University College London. He's been trying to track down the genes responsible for whether we're right or left handed. If you have any Curious Cases for the team to investigate please email curiouscases@bbc.co.uk Presenter: Adam Rutherford & Hannah Fry Producer: Michelle Martin.

The Counting Horse  

"Can horses count?" asks retired primary school teacher, Lesley Marr. Our scientific sleuths consider the case of Clever Hans, with a spectacular re-enactment of a 20th century spectacle. Plus, we hear from Dr Claudia Uller who has been conducting modern studies on equine counting. Mathematician Prof Marcus Du Sautoy explains the basic concept of counting to Adam, and Hannah looks across the animal kingdom to find the cleverest mathematical creature. If you have any questions you'd like the duo to investigate, please email curiouscases@bbc.co.uk Presenters: Hannah Fry, Adam Rutherford Producer: Michelle Martin.

The Hairy Hominid  

Our science detectives answer the following perplexing problem, sent in by Hannah Monteith from Edinburgh in Scotland: "How does leg hair know it has been cut? It doesn't seem to grow continuously but if you shave it, it somehow knows to grow back." Hannah consults dermatologist Dr Susan Holmes, from the Hair Clinic at Southern General Hospital in Glasgow, to discover why the hairs on your legs don't grow as long as the hairs on your head. Adam attempts to have a serious discussion about the evolutionary purpose of pubic hair with anatomist and broadcaster Prof Alice Roberts. If you have a scientific mystery for the team to investigate, please email: curiouscases@bbc.co.uk Presenters: Hannah Fry, Adam Rutherford Producer: Michelle Martin.

A Study in Spheres  

Today the team study the heavens, thanks to listener Brian Passineau who wonders 'why everything in space tends to be circular or spherical?' Hannah gazes at Jupiter at The Royal Observatory, Greenwich with Public Astronomer, Dr Marek Kukula. Science writer, Philip Ball, explains how the astronomical obsession with celestial spheres came to an untidy end. And physicist Dr Helen Czerski helps Adam on his quest to find the perfect natural sphere. If you have a scientific mystery for the team to investigate, please email: curiouscases@bbc.co.uk Presenters: Hannah Fry, Adam Rutherford Producer: Michelle Martin.

The Psychic Tear  

Listener Edith Calman challenges our scientific sleuths to investigate the following conundrum: 'What is it about extreme pain, emotional shock or the sight of a three year old stumbling their way through an off-key rendition of 'Away in a Manger' that makes the brain send messages to the lacrimal glands to chuck out water?" Hannah discovers how the eye produces tears, with the help of Dr Nick Knight. Broadcaster Claudia Hammond, author of 'Emotional Rollercoaster', explains why Darwin experimented on his children until they cried. Adam watches a tearjerker to take part in a psychological study, but ends up getting quite angry instead. If you have any everyday mysteries you'd like the team to solve email: curiouscases@bbc.co.uk Presenters: Hannah Fry, Adam Rutherford Producer: Michelle Martin.

The Tea Leaf Mystery  

Today the team examine the chemistry of tea, in answer to the following question sent in by Fred Rickaby from North Carolina: "When we are preparing a cup of tea and the cup contains nothing but hot, brewed tea we need to add milk and sugar. My wife always adds the sugar first, stirs the cup to make sure it is dissolved and then add the milk. So, is that an optimum strategy for adding milk and sugar to a cup of tea?" Adam consults Prof Andrea Sella from University College London about the perfect formula for a cup of tea. Inside his tea factory in Kent, Master Blender Alex Probyn teaches Hannah an unusual method for tasting tea. Most importantly, the duo discovers whether you should add milk first or last. But can tea professionals really tell the difference? If you have any questions for Drs Rutherford & Fry to investigate send them to curiouscases@bbc.co.uk Presenters: Hannah Fry, Adam Rutherford Producer: Michelle Martin.

The Stellar Dustbin  

An unusual case today for science sleuths Hannah Fry and Adam Rutherford sent by Elisabeth Hill: 'Can we shoot garbage into the sun?' The duo embark on an astronomical thought experiment to see how much it would cost to throw Hannah's daily rubbish into our stellar dustbin. From space elevators to solar sails, they explore the various options that could be used to send litter to the Sun. Featuring space scientist Lucie Green and astrophysicist Andrew Pontzen. If you have any everyday mysteries for the team to investigate using the power of science, please email: curiouscases@bbc.co.uk Presenters: Hannah Fry & Adam Rutherford Producer: Michelle Martin.

The Squeamish Swoon  

Science sleuths Hannah Fry and Adam Rutherford investigate the following question sent in by Philip Le Riche: 'Why do some people faint at the sight of blood, or a hypodermic needle, or even if they bash their funny bone? Does it serve any useful evolutionary purpose, or is just some kind of cerebral error condition?' Adam is strapped onto a hospital tilt table in an attempt to make him blackout and Hannah receives an aromatic surprise. Featuring consultant cardiologists Dr Nicholas Gall and Dr Adam Fitzpatrick and cardiac physiologist Shelley Dougherty. If you have any scientific cases for the team to investigate please email: curiouscases@bbc.co.uk Presenters: Hannah Fry & Adam Rutherford Producer: Michelle Martin.

The Aural Voyeur  

Drs Rutherford and Fry tackle a vexing case sent in by Daniel Sarano from New Jersey, who asks why people shout on their mobile phones in public. Our science sleuths find the answer by delving into the inner workings of telephony with a tale of engineering rivalry, Victorian etiquette and early otolaryngology. Featuring acoustic technologist Nick Zakarov and historian Greg Jenner, author of 'A Million Years in a Day: A Curious History of Daily Life.' If you have any scientific cases for the team to investigate please email: curiouscases@bbc.co.uk Presenters: Hannah Fry & Adam Rutherford Producer: Michelle Martin.

The Phantom Jam  

Drs Rutherford and Fry set out to discover what makes traffic jam. Adam ventures on to the M25 in search of a tailback, and Hannah looks at projects around the world that have attempted to solve the scourge of the traffic jam. Featuring Neal Harwood from the Transport Research Laboratory and BBC technology reporter, Jane Wakefield. And Masdar City man. If you have any scientific cases for the team to investigate please email: curiouscases@bbc.co.uk Presenters: Hannah Fry & Adam Rutherford Producer: Michelle Martin.

The Scarlet Mark  

Drs Adam Rutherford and Hannah Fry are on hand to solve everyday mysteries sent in by listeners. For the last few weeks they've been collecting cases to investigate using the power of science - from why people shout on their mobile phones to what causes traffic jams. In the first episode, called 'The Scarlet Mark', they get to the root of the following conundrum, posed by Sheena Cruickshank in Manchester: 'My eldest son is ginger but I am blonde and my husband brunette so we are constantly asked where the red came from. Further, people do say the "ginger gene" is dying out, but how good is that maths or is it just anecdotal?' Our science sleuths set out to discover what makes gingers ginger with a tale of fancy mice, Tudor queens and ginger beards. Featuring historian and author Kate Williams and Jonathan Rees from the University of Edinburgh, one of the team who discovered the ginger gene. If you have any scientific cases for the team to investigate please email: curiouscases@bbc.co.uk Presenters: Hannah Fry & Adam Rutherford Producer: Michelle Martin.

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