Episodes

  • Predictable Patterns in Earthquake Activity

    · Science in Action

    Natural variations in the length of the day may influence the likelihood of strong earthquakes happening. The speed of the Earth's rotation can be changed by events in the core, or changes in ocean currents, so that the day grows or shrinks by just a thousandth of a second. But geologists have seen that years with longer days can also have several more strong earthquakes, and we're entering such a phase just now. One explanation they propose is that stress changes due to the speed variations might be enough to push vulnerable faults beyond their limit.Unlocking The Secrets of Okinawa PotteryOkinawa in Japan is famous for its unique, colourful pottery. The secret recipes for the clay, glazes and colours have never been written down. Instead they were passed on by word of mouth from Master to student. Much of the knowledge of the old craft was lost when Okinawa was heavily bombarded during World War 2. Now scientists at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST) have teamed up with Kitagama, a pottery collective, to investigate traditional Okinawa pieces using high tech X rays and electron microscopes to always the precise composition of the clay mixes and glazes.Gene drives and ConservationGene drives change the rules of normal inheritance. They greatly increase the odds of genes being passed to the next generation. They can be naturally occurring, but the phenomenon can be modified and utilized in the laboratory. It’s a complicated process, but by combining it with the precise gene editing tool CrispR, the suggestion is that gene drives can be used to introduce things like infertility into invasive species, which rapidly gets passed on to future generations of pests like rats or disease-carrying mosquitoes, to try and control them. But new thinking on the process urges extreme caution.Artificial Poo Roland Pease rolls his sleeves up and delves into the world of fake faeces. This is all part of a project to try and help reduce the 750,000 child deaths from poor sanitation. Picture: An Iranian man looks through the damaged stairwell of a building in the town of Sarpol-e Zahab in Iran, following a 7.3-magnitude earthquake on 14th November 2017, Credit: Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty ImagesPresenter: Roland PeaseProducer: Fiona Roberts

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  • Science on Trial

    · Science in Action

    What is the danger to scientific discourse when scientists sue other scientists? News that a scientist in the US is suing a fellow scientist, and the National Academy of Sciences, for libel, is worrying the science publishing community. Will litigation spoil the usual, fair and open exchanges that drive scientific progress?Transgenic Skin TransplantClinicians have created transgenic stem cells to produce replacement skin for a child with a devastatingly debilitating skin disease. The team grew enough skin to transplant 80% of the child’s body with the genetically ‘fixed’ skin. Karlie NoonAs part of this week’s BBC 100 Women season, shining a spotlight on inspiring women in science, indigenous Australian astronomer Karlie Noon tells us about the Aboriginal astronomy knowledge she has been collecting. And her journey as an indigenous woman in physics.Analysing the York Gospels A medieval illuminated manuscript, over one-thousand years old, is still in used in religious ceremonies in the UK today. Like many illuminated manuscripts, the York Gospels is exquisitely decorated and bound, providing important historical and artistic value. But new bio-archaeological analysis has shone light on the biological value of the book. The team have revealed which animal skins went to make the parchment and other fascinating discoveries about the biology contained beneath its covers.(Photo: A statue of the scales of justice. Credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)Presenter: Roland PeaseProducer: Fiona Roberts

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  • Hidden Secrets of the Great Pyramid

    · Science in Action

    A hidden void has been uncovered under the Great Pyramid in Giza. Using a new technique using muons which are a by-product of cosmic rays from the Universe. Explorers have visualized what they think could be a large void at least 30 metres long above the Great Gallery in the 4500 year old Pharaoh Khufu’s Pyramid.Atlas of the Underworld When the Earth’s crust slides under the surface at subduction zones, you might expect that the rock melts and gets amalgamated into the Earth’s Mantle. They do – eventually - but over millions and millions of years. This means that ocean-bed rock and continental rock, from as far back as 300 million years ago, exist as lost continents and islands in the inner Earth. New work using earthquake waves has located almost 100 such structures.Pharaoh’s Serpent Some of you may remember an indoor firework trick called the ‘Pharaoh’s Serpent’. You lit an ‘egg’ with a match, stood back and watched while a snake-like substance instantly grew out of the egg, meanwhile the room was engulfed in clouds of sulphurous smoke. It’s a party trick displaying the wonder of chemistry’, that’s been around since Victorian times and videos of the remarkable reaction are having a resurgence on the internet….but what’s it all about and why are chemists now, so interested in the party trick? Chemists re-examining the chemistry of the Serpent think it may have some more practical applications in superconductors.Picture: Pyramids of Giza, Credit: stevenallan/Getty ImagesPresenter: Roland PeaseProducer: Fiona Roberts

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  • Catastrophic Decline in Flying Insects

    · Science in Action

    A few decades ago, when you drove down a country road anywhere in Europe, your car windscreen would get splattered with the squashed bodies of flying insects. It's known as the 'windscreen phenomenon'. But now, there seem to be far fewer flying insects than there used to be. Scientists have long suspected that insects are in dramatic decline, but new evidence confirms this. Research at more than 60 protected areas in Germany suggests flying insects have declined by more than 75% over the past 30 years.Splitting the Cost of BiodiversityGlobally, $14.4 billion was spent between 1996 and 2008 to help stop the decline in the World's plants and animals. There were some overall successes, with an average reduction in biodiversity loss of 29% per country over this time. However, not all countries are doing well - with the USA (mainly Hawaii), Indonesia, Malaysia, China and India some of the poor achievers. New research has looked at the numbers for each country and at how pressures from human development goals can conflict with saving biodiversity, and has calculated what each country needs to spend to reach biodiversity targets.Hollywood Science In the quest for a good storyline and lots of action, Hollywood doesn't always get its science right. The science of geophysics can get mangled in the plot. In the 1997 blockbuster 'Volcano', Tommy Lee Jones fights to save residents from volcanic lava flowing through the streets of LA, however the city is located neither near a hot spot nor a subduction zone which would be needed for a volcano to emerge. But rather than worrying about this and getting angry and shouting at the screen, top geophysicist Seth Stein, at Northwestern University, says that pointing out scientific errors can be a great place to engage students in the subject and help inject the healthy scepticism needed to be a good scientist.Durian Fruit It smells awful, and is banned in many public places, but to many Southeast Asians its creamy flesh is delicious. Why is there such a dichotomy between the smell and taste of the 'King of Fruit'? New genetic analysis may hold the answers and may even help technologists to engineer the smell out of the durian.Presenter: Roland PeaseProducer: Fiona RobertsPhoto: Hoverfly Credit: Dr. Paul F. Donald

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  • The Biggest Explosions in the Universe

    · Science in Action

    An international team of scientists have captured the biggest explosions in the Universe in unprecedented detail for the first time. These Gamma Ray Bursts sometimes last for just a few milliseconds, but for that time are trillions of times brighter than our Sun. The chance of capturing one of these rare bursts, which occur just as a dying star collapses into a black hole, is just an incredible one-in-10,000.Sight and SoundDespite the intuitive feeling that we can listen to something whilst looking elsewhere, our visual and auditory perceptions are - from the earliest points - processed together in the brain. Sight and sound work together to build up a picture of the world around us, and when the two senses aren’t aligned our brains have to work much harder to filter out distractions. Although this relationship is largely unexplored, it could tell us more about how to aid those with hearing impairments and even what effect technology, such as smartphones, might be having on our ability to concentrate. Old animalsWe humans like to think we live long lives, some of us are lucky enough to make it into triple digits. But we can’t compare to the humble tubeworm, casually hanging around on the ocean floor and researchers have discovered that they can live up to 300 years old!Iceland’s Molten Rock OriginsIceland’s volcanoes are one of the country’s most famous geological features. The island sits on a volcano hot spot and straddles two tectonic plates, the Eurasian and North American plates, otherwise known as the North Atlantic Ridge - making it highly volcanically active. New research into the Volcano Hot Spot under Iceland has revealed something unusual. New measurements of the Mantle region within Earth, appears to be feeding material in the form of a plume to the surface, where Iceland is located.Picture: Star being destroyed, Credit: NasaPresenter: Roland PeaseProducer: Jack Meegan

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