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Is there such a thing as a male or female brain? That question has fascinated us for centuries. Pennie Latin's at the Edinburgh International Science Festival for Brainwaves to discover if our gender differences are hardwired, imposed culturally or perhaps not even there at all. Joining Pennie to debate the topic are Professors Simon Baron Cohen, Polly Arnold, Richard Ribchester and Dr Gillian Brown.

04Memories Are Made Of This20160615

What are strong memories made of? Why do we remember what we remember and which memories last, quite literally, a lifetime while others just fade away? In this Brainwaves special Pennie Latin investigates how our brain makes and retrieves memories; explores how memory changes over time and why we seem to remember certain stages of our lives and particular events more sharply than others and considers the memories which remain most precious as we age.

Part of the BBC Scotland Memories and Conversations â€" New Approaches to Dementia season.


Professor June Andrews is the head of Stirling University's Dementia Services Development Centre. She talks to presenter Pennie Latin about her career in nursing, what has kept her so deeply interested in geriatric care and why we should all be more open to talk about death and dying. Plus, how good lighting is just as effective as medication when it comes to treating dementia and why June herself doesn't fear the condition.


Metal Mickey, R2D2, K9, proper walking, talking, interacting, arguing robots - the stuff of great science fiction. Up until now that's exactly where those kinds of robots have remained, between the covers of a book or credits of a film.

However, in this Brainwaves we're looking at how tantalisingly close we are to making science fiction, science fact as we look at the developments in the world of robotics here in Scotland.


1/2 Million people in Scotland are discriminated against every single day. You cannot tell how by their gender, their skin colour or their religion. But watch them write their name or use a pair of scissors and you will see that they are left handed.

Pennie Latin explores what makes us right or left handed and how our handedness affects who we are as individuals.

In the past those who were not right handed were feared or shunned and many people today will still remember being forcibly retrained to use their right hand. So to find out how handedness controls how we do almost everything, BBC Radio Scotland along with Abertay University set up a "handedness lab" to test how competent we are at some very simple tasks with our non-dominant hand.

Simple tasks are one thing. But what if, for example, you are a left handed pianist who would much prefer to play the more dexterous parts of the music with your dominant hand? Pennie, a right handed piano player, meets Christopher Seed, a left handed piano player to play the worlds very first left handed piano.

Whichever side you fall, left or right handed, this episode of Brainwaves will affect every single one of us.

0302The Flu Virus20160119

From 1918-1919 it was the cause of more deaths globally than the first world war. It's estimated that 50 million people died.

It struck again in 1957 taking over 60,000 more lives. And again in 1968 and again in 2009...and it's still out there, waiting, mutating, hunting for its next victim...that could be you. It's the flu.

In this episode of Brainwaves Pennie Latin looks down the microscope at the flu virus to discover why it is such a worldwide problem and seemingly so difficult to combat, never mind eradicate once and for all.

You can be involved in helping to combat flu because citizen science and social media are now being used to track the incidence of flu symptoms around the country, enabling scientists to discover more about the transmission of the virus.

And Pennie will seek to find the definitive answer to the highly controversial question; 'Does man flu actually exist?'.

0303Professor Peter Higgs20160126

When scientists at CERN confirmed the existence of the Higgs Boson in 2012, it made Edinburgh based theoretical physicist, Professor Peter Higgs, a household name across the globe. It was in 1964 that he first proposed a theory about the existence of a particle that explains why other particles have a mass. He says, despite the time gap, he was never in any doubt of its existence.

He was awarded the Nobel Prize for physics in 2013 and more recently the Copley Medal by The Royal Society, placing him alongside some of the world's greatest scientific minds; Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin and Benjamin Franklin.

In this episode of Brainwaves, Professor Peter Higgs talks to Pennie Latin about his life in physics, the discomfort of fame and his love of seafood.

0304Donating Your Body To Science20160202

What do you want to happen to your body when you die? Cremation? Woodland Burial? Maybe you'll have your ashes scattered at sea...perhaps you'd like to donate your body to science?

Edinburgh outlaws, Burke and Hare made a living simply because cadavers were essential to anatomical education. Today cadavers are still essential to learning and research, the difference is today donating your body to science is a very different affair.

In this edition of Brainwaves Pennie Latin looks into the who, what for and why of modern body donation. With extraordinary access to the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification at the University of Dundee, Pennie meets the medical students in the dissecting room who learn from the cadavers, the anatomists who use them for research and hears about the pioneering Thiel method of preservation that enables the cadavers to be used for a far wider range of research than traditional preservation techniques.

Asking herself if she would donate her own body, Pennie sets out to discover what would happen to it. Her journey begins in the Val McDermid mortuary.

0306Professor Lee Cronin20160216

There can be an assumption that our top scientists sailed through school. They were the star students who found it all so very easy. But when Lee Cronin was put in the special needs class he became determined to prove everyone wrong.

Now Dr Lee Cronin, Regius Chair of Chemistry at the University of Glasgow he heads up The Cronin Group, a multinational collective of over 50 research scientists revered around the globe.

His work is underpinned by the ambition to discover the beginnings of life. Talking to Pennie Latin in his research lab Lee explains how he is trying to recreate the origins of life, how he handles the inevitable criticism of his work and the joy of building a 3D printer with his children.


It used to be that fingerprints were the key to identification, then it was your DNA. Today voice recognition, iris scanning and vein mapping are just some of the biometric parameters used for identification. Your biometric information is the most personal data that you will ever possess. It defines you, it protects you and it can be the key to discovering your future.

But we are slowly and sometimes unwittingly releasing this most of personal information.

Biometrics are widely used to unlock smartphones, they are linked to your passport, they buy your children's school meals, banks want to use them to authourise transactions and facial recognition software is scanning the CCTV network. Biometrics are already part of our lives.

But how easy are they forge? And more importantly how careful should we be about protecting this information? Can it ever be safe that you use your heartbeat as your signature?

This episode of Brainwaves explores the very personal world of our biometric data.

0308Professor Dame Anne Glover20160301

In 2009 to a wave of great acclaim in the scientific community a new role was created in Europe - the post of Chief Scientific Adviser to the European Commission, reporting directly to the President of the EC. The role was given to a prominent Scottish biochemist - the then Chief Scientific Adviser to the Scottish Government, Professor (now Dame) Anne Glover.

However, it was a post that only lasted for 3 years.

A long time ambassador of women in science, Professor Dame Anne Glover talks to Pennie Latin about her passion for communicating science to the mass audience, be they politicians, policy makers or prospective students.

A keen sailor, who's ideal first date would be at one of Scotland's 5 interactive science centres she is now the Vice Principal of External Affairs at Aberdeen University, charged with communicating the University's work across the globe.

0309The Queensferry Crossing20160308

How many times have you turned on Radio Scotland only to hear that the Kessock, Skye and Dornoch bridges are closed to high sided vehicles and that there are speed restrictions on the Forth Road Bridge? The Scottish weather has a dramatic impact on Scotland's bridges, but if the scientists and engineers have got their sums right, that is about to change.

The Queensferry Crossing will be the longest three-tower, cable-stayed bridge in the world, it will be the highest bridge in the UK and with height comes wind. But the "weatherproofing" design of this bridge means that there shouldn't be any closures and restrictions due to weather.

Due to open in 2016 during Scotland's year of Innovation, architecture and design, The Queensferry Crossing is combination of all three of these elements.

In this episode of Brainwaves Pennie Latin meets the bridge designers and engineers to discover the science that is going into Scotland's latest feat of engineering.

0310Professor Andrew Morris20160315

With access to our personal healthcare data, Professor Andrew Morris's research into diabetes informatics has already led to a reduction of diabetes related amputations by 50%. He aspires to see a year in his lifetime when there are no diabetes related amputations in Scotland.

Our personal data is hugely valuable. Not just to us but to scientists, researchers and healthcare providers around the world. With access to vast amounts of information about us and our health, scientists like Andrew are able to examine population wide healthcare issues.

By turning that vast amount of information into knowledge says Andrew you can improve healthcare provision across the entire country and make it more efficient at the same time.

But with access to that information comes responsibility and a need for trust. In this episode of Brainwaves Pennie Latin meets Professor Andrew Morris, Director of The Farr Institute, Scotland to look at how data science and informatics are improving the health of Scotland.

0311Hydrogen Power20160329

Surf n' Turf is a new pilot project on the Orkney island of Eday that aims to harness excess renewably generated electricity; store it as hydrogen and then make it available again as electricity to charge the inter-island ferries berthed overnight, in the soon to be developed hydrogen port at Kirkwall.

The idea of using hydrogen as a source of power isn't new. Commercial scale electrolysis has been around for a couple of hundred years. Today there are already hydrogen cars and buses on our roads, prototype ships at sea and plans on paper for introducing it into aircraft, all powered by the most abundant element in the universe.

However it is widely known that one of the biggest problems with renewable power is the intermittency of it, yet our demand for energy is constant. In this episode of Brainwaves, Pennie Latin explores whether hydrogen might overcome that intermittent problem and be the power source we all turn to in future.

0312Professor Geoff Palmer20160405

Born in Jamaica in 1940 Geoff Palmer arrived in the UK aged 14 years and 11 months with little formal education. Declared educationally sub-normal it was his ability on the cricket field that got him into a grammar school and started his scientific education that would eventually bring him to Heriot-Watt University and become the UK's first professor of Brewing and Distilling and Scotland's first black professor.

His research into the grains and cereals, in particular the malting process changed the brewing industry and saved it millions of pounds.

In the lecture theatre he took great delight in telling his students that they should be tasting beer as well as learning about how to make it.

Now retired, it is with a sense of great pride that he can look at craft beers from across the world and taste the hard work of his former students.

0313Rank And Hierarchy20160412

They say that power is seductive and that giving it up can be incredibly hard to do. But that is what David Erdal did when he turned his family run business into an employee owned company.

He says the consequences for him were embarrassing, emotional, hugely psychologically complex but overall satisfying. He went from being the boss to being just the same as everyone else in the company.

In this episode of Brainwaves, Pennie Latin looks at the role of rank and hierarchy in our society. She asks how much does it actually matter to us and what can we learn about ourselves by looking at rank and hierarchy in some of our nearest evolutionary neighbours, chimpanzees.