Discovery [world Service]

Episodes

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20101020
06/10/2010
20/10/2010
20/10/201020101021

22/09/2010
27/10/2010
29/09/2010
African Einsteins2016040420160405 (WS)

Will Einstein’s successors be African? It’s very likely - and some of them will be women

Back in 2008 South African physicist Neil Turok gave a speech in which he declared his wish that the next Einstein would be from Africa.

It was a rallying call for investment in maths and physics research in Africa. The ‘Next Einstein’ slogan became a mission for the organisation Neil Turok had founded to bring Africa into the global scientific community - through investment in maths and physics, the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences.

That search for an African Einstein now has some results, with 15 ‘Next Einstein fellows’ and 54 ‘Next Einstein Ambassadors’.

These are young African scientists, often leaders in their fields, working and studying in Africa.

This programme visits the first ‘Next Einstein Forum’ – a meeting held in March 2016 in Senegal which celebrated the Next Einstein Fellows and also make the case for greater investment in scientific research in Africa.

(Image: Rwandan President Paul Kagame answers a question during the NEF Global Gathering 2016 Presidential Panel, credit: NEF/Clément Tardif)

After Ebola2016052320160524 (WS)

Rebuilding Sierra Leone’s healthcare system

Last November Sierra Leone was declared Ebola free. By then, the epidemic had killed over 11,000 people in West Africa. The speed at which it took off highlighted the poor state of healthcare in the affected countries. Now in Sierra Leone some of the facilities created to deal with Ebola are being repurposed, to take in wider health care needs.

The capital Freetown’s main hospital now has a new accident and emergency department, developed from the facilities created there to deal with Ebola. Around the country medical laboratories set up to detect and confirm Ebola cases are now being equipped with new diagnostic machines capable of detecting nearly 50 other viral diseases.

BBC Health correspondent Matthew Hill has been to take a look and asks how useful this high-tech approach will be in the fight against disease in Sierra Leone.

(Photo: A sign warning of the dangers of ebola outside a government hospital in Freetown on August 13, 2014, Credit: Carl de Souza/AFP/Getty Images)

Ageing And The Brain2014062320140624 (WS)
20140630 (WS)

Do our mental powers really decline in old age?

Geoff Watts investigates the latest thinking about our brain power in old age. He meets researchers who argue that society has overly negative views of the mental abilities of the elderly - a dismal and fatalistic outlook which is not backed up by recent discoveries and theories. Geoff talks to professor Lorraine Tyler who leads a large study in Cambridge (CamCAN) which is comparing cognition and brain structure and function in 700 people aged between 18 and 88 years old.

He also meets scientists and participants involved in a unique study of cognition and ageing at the University of Edinburgh. It has traced hundreds of people who were given a nationwide intelligence test as children in 1932 and 1947. Since the year 2000, the study has been retesting their intelligence and mental agility in their 70s to 90s. The Lothian Birth Cohort study is revealing what we all might do in life to keep our minds fast and sharp well into old age.

One new and controversial idea holds that cognitive decline is in fact a myth. A team in Germany, led by Michael Ramscar, argues that older people perform less well in intelligence and memory tests because they know so much more than younger subjects and not because their brains are deteriorating. Simply put, their larger stores of accumulated knowledge slow their performance. Their brains take longer to retrieve the answers from their richer memory stores.

Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker

Explorations in the world of science.

An Infinite Monkey's Guide To General Relativity2016012520160126 (WS)

It is 100 years since the publication of Einstein's great theory, and arguably one of the greatest scientific theories of all time. To mark the occasion, Brian Cox takes Robin Ince on a guided tour of General Relativity. With the help of some of the world's leading cosmologists, and a comedian or two, they explore the notions of space time, falling elevators, trampolines and bowling balls, and what was wrong with Newton's apple. It is a whistle stop tour of all you will ever need to know about gravity and how a mathematical equation written 100 years ago predicted everything from black holes to the Big Bang, to our expanding universe, long before there was any proof that these extraordinary phenomena existed.

Brian Cox and Robin Ince celebrate the 100th anniversary of Einstein's great theory

An Infinite Monkey's Guide To General Relativity2016020120160202 (WS)

Brian Cox and Robin Ince explore the legacy of Einstein's great theory.

Brian Cox and Robin Ince explore the legacy of Einstein's great theory, and how a mathematical equation written 100 years ago seems to have predicted so accurately exactly how our universe works. From black holes to the expanding universe, every observation of the universe, so far, has been held up by the maths in Einstein's extraordinary work. So how was he able to predict the events and behaviour of our universe, long before the technology existed to prove he was right, and will there ever be another theory that will supersede it? Brian and Robin head up the iconic Lovell telescope at Jodrell Bank to explore Einstein's theory in action, and talk to scientists who are still probing the mysteries hidden within General Relativity.

Anaesthesia2014070720140708 (WS)
20140714 (WS)

How do general anaesthetics work in the body?

General anaesthetics which act to cause reversible loss of consciousness have been used clinically for over 150 years. Yet scientists are only now really understanding how these drugs act on the brain and the body to stop us feeling pain. Linda Geddes reports on the latest research using molecular techniques and brain scanners.

Linda visits the Anaesthesia Heritage Centre where William Harrop-Griffiths, president of the Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland, tells her about the discovery of agents that knock us out. And, as an operation takes place in the Royal United Hospital in Bath, professor Tim Cook explains the role of the anaesthetist.

Linda also talks to professor Nick Franks of Imperial College, London, about his research into how anaesthetics work at the level of the cell. Irene Tracey, professor of Anaesthetic Science at Oxford University, discusses how her fMRI scans of people as they slowly undergo anaesthesia have revealed how the brain switches off. Professor Steven Laureys, head of the Coma Science Group at Liege Universiy in Belgium, explains how understanding anaesthesia can help coma patients and what it tells us about the difficult question of human consciousness.

Linda Geddes explores the latest research into how general anaesthetics work in the body.

Linda visits the Anaesthesia Heritage Centre where William Harrop-Griffiths, President of the Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland, tells her about the discovery of agents that knock us out.

As an operation takes place in the Royal United Hospital in Bath, Professor Tim Cook explains the role of the anaesthetist.

Linda talks to Professor Nick Franks of Imperial College, London, about his research into how anaesthetics work at the level of the cell. Irene Tracey, Professor of Anaesthetic Science at Oxford University, discusses how her fMRI scans of people as they slowly undergo anaesthesia have revealed how the brain switches off. Professor Steven Laureys, Head of the Coma Science Group at Liege Universiy in Belgium, explains how understanding anaesthesia can help coma patients and what it tells us about the difficult question of human consciousness.

Antibiotic Resistance Crisis - Part One2014081820140819 (WS)
20140825 (WS)

Why our antibiotics are failing. Is this the end of modern medicine?

The discovery and harnessing of antibiotic drugs in the mid twentieth century led some medics to predict the end of infectious diseases. But the bacteria fought and continue to fight back, evolving resistance to many of the drugs that used to kill them. Public health officials warn that without new drugs, medicine will return to the days where ‘a cut finger on Monday leads to death of Friday’. Without protective antibiotics to keep infections at bay, scores of standard surgical operations and chemotherapy for cancer will become too risky.

Roland Pease looks at scientific issues behind the gathering crisis. The last new class of antibiotics was discovered in the 1980s. Are there any others in the pipeline?

Image Credit: Hospital scientist inspects an unidentified culture in the Microbiology Department of Sydney's Royal North Shore Hospital, GREG WOOD/AFP/Getty Images

The discovery and harnessing of antibiotic drugs in the mid-20th Century led some medics to predict the end of infectious diseases. But the bacteria fought and continue to fight back, evolving resistance to many of the drugs that used to kill them. Public health officials warn that without new drugs, medicine will return to the days where ‘a cut finger on Monday leads to death of Friday’. Without protective antibiotics to keep infections at bay, scores of standard surgical operations and chemotherapy for cancer will become too risky.

Antibiotic Resistance Crisis - Part Two2014082520140826 (WS)
20140901 (WS)

The world needs new antibiotics: drug companies don’t want to make them. What next?

Infectious bacteria are becoming resistant to the drugs that used to kill them. The last new class of antibiotics was discovered in the 1980s. There is little in the development pipelines of the world’s pharmaceutical industry. Drug companies got out of antibiotics as their attention switched to much more lucrative daily medicines for chronic diseases. Public funding on antibiotic research has also withered.

Now that the gathering crisis of antibiotic resistance is becoming recognised by politicians, what are the options? Roland Pease explores how business, academia and governments might work together to avert a return to the medical dark ages.

Image Credit: Hospital scientist inspects an unidentified culture in the Microbiology Department of Sydney's Royal North Shore Hospital, Greg Wood/AFP/Getty Images

The world needs new antibiotics: drug companies don’t want to make them. What to do?

Bacteria And Blood € The Curious Cases Of Rutherford And Fry20171030

How much of me is bacteria? And why do we have blood types?

Science sleuths Drs Rutherford and Fry take on everyday mysteries and solve them with the power of science. Two cases in this episode concerning the inner workings of our bodies, and not for the faint hearted!

The Broken Stool
"Science tells us that our body houses microbial organisms. Then how much our weight is really our weight? If I am overweight, is it because of my own body cells or excess microflora?" asks Ajay Mathur from Mumbai in India.

Adam bravely sends off a personal sample to the 'Map My Gut' project at St Thomas' Hospital to have his microbes mapped. Prof Tim Spector reveals the shocking results - a diet of fried breakfasts and fizzy drinks has left his guts in disarray. But help is at hand to makeover his bacterial lodgers.

Science writer Ed Yong, author of 'I Contain Multitudes', reveals how much our microbes weigh. We're just beginning to discover the vast array of vital functions they perform, from controlling our weight, immune system and perhaps even influencing our mood and behaviour.

A Code in Blood
"Why do we have different blood types?" asks Doug from Norfolk in the UK.

The average adult human has around 30 trillion red blood cells, they make up a quarter of the total number of cells in the body.

We have dozens of different blood groups, but normally we're tested for just two - ABO and Rhesus factor. Adam and Hannah delve into the gory world of blood and the early history of blood transfusions, to discover why we have blood groups and how they differ around the world.

Featuring interviews with Dr Jo Mountford, from the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service and immunologist Dr Sheena Cruikshank from the University of Manchester.

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

Image: Illustration of red blood cells in a blood vessel. Copyright: Science Photo Library

Benefits Of Bilingualism - Part One2016050920160510 (WS)

More than half of the world's people speak more than one language. Some people may have been forced to learn a language at school or had to pick up one because they moved to a new country. Others may just love learning new tongues and do so before they visit a new place. Recently, psychologists have discovered that knowing more than one language helps us in some surprising ways. The skill of bilinguals to switch focus by filtering out or inhibiting one language to concentrate on the relevant one is the one that is thought to bring wider benefits. Schools that teach in a second language have found that their students do better in tests in their original language.

Gaia Vince explores the research that shows the benefits of bilingualism.

Image: Children in an English-Mandarin dual language art class at Bohunt School, Liphook, Hampshire, credit: Gaia Vince

Gaia Vince explores the benefits of bilingualism for children

Benefits Of Bilingualism - Part Two2016051620160517 (WS)

The benefits of bilingualism: keeping our minds healthy

More than half the world speaks more than one language. New research is showing that being multilingual has some surprising advantages – it can help us keep healthier longer. Gaia Vince finds out how knowing many languages can protect our brains over our lifespan, and even stave off the appearance of some diseases, including dementia.

Gaia attempts the Flanker Task at Lancaster University and then talks to Professor Panos Athanopolous about why bilinguals do better at it than monolinguals.

She hears from Professor Ellen Bialystock from York University in Toronto and Dr Thomas Bak from University of Edinburgh who have discovered that being bilingual can slow down the appearance of Alzheimer’s disease.

Professor Jubin Abutalebi, from the Universita Vita -Saluta San Raffaele in Milan explains how speaking more than one language increases the grey matter in the brain.

And Gaia asks Alex Rawlings, who speaks 15 languages, how we can persuade monolinguals to learn another tongue.

Morag Donaldson talks to Thomas Bak of her experience of taking part in his experiment that showed just 5 days of learning Gaelic improved her cognitive reserve.

The latest research suggests the bilingualism also gives protection against other conditions, such as some stroke and memory loss, as Dr Thomas Bak and Professor Viorica Marian of Northwestern University explain.

(Photo: Welcome to Scotland sign. Credit Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Beyond The Abyss2014092220140923 (WS)
20140929 (WS)

Exploring the ocean's deepest realm - the Hadal zone, 6,000 to 11,000 metres down

Rebecca Morelle talks to explorers of deep ocean trenches, from film-maker James Cameron to biologists discovering dark realms of weird pink gelatinous fish and gigantic crustaceans.

The deepest regions of the ocean lie between 6,000 and 11,000 metres. Oceanographers term this the Hadal Zone. It exists where the floor of abyss plunges into long trough-like features, known as ocean trenches. The Hadal zone is the final frontier of exploration and ecological science on the planet.

At its most extreme, the water pressure rises to 1 tonne per square centimetre and the temperature drops to 1 degree C. Despite the challenging conditions, some animals survive and thrive in the trenches. Because the technical challenges to operating there are so high, we are only now just learning what is down there and how creatures adapt to life in the extremes.

Based at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, deep sea ecologist Alan Jamieson is one of the premier explorers of life in the Hadal zone. In the programme, he talks through some of the latest video footage he has from the depths of the Kermadec Trench in New Zealand - not by visiting in person but by dropping cameras on a deep sea probe called a hadal lander to the distant sea floor. The images were gathered on an expedition in April and May. They revealed new habits of hadal creatures.

Rebecca does talk to two people who have ventured in person to the far limit of the Hadal zone: US Navy Lieutenant Don Walsh who went down to the bottom of Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench in 1960, and Hollywood director James Cameron who, 52 years later, repeated Walsh's voyage to 11,000 metres.

(Photo: Supergiant amphipod at 6200 metres. Credit: Oceanlab, University of Aberdeen)

Explorations in the world of science.

Biosafety2014090820140909 (WS)
20140915 (WS)

As mistakes involving deadly pathogens come to light, what lessons will be learnt?

Bio-safety: the days of unlocked refrigerators and Ziplock bags are over.

Accidents happen in science labs all over the world, but when you’re working with deadly pathogens the consequences can be disastrous. The reputation of America’s ‘gold standard’ The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in Georgia has recently become tarnished as news emerged that 80 workers were inadvertently exposed to live anthrax, and a deadly strain of flu was accidentally sent to another lab. Further reports of tick-box safety culture, lethal samples sent in ziplock plastic bags and vials of smallpox from the 1950s being found in the back of a fridge have increased calls for a review of the work being done on some of the world’s most dangerous pathogens.

Andrew Luck-Baker looks at the impact of these recent bio-safety lapses for BBC WS Discovery. Some scientists are now arguing for the reduction of laboratories working with deadly viruses and the closing down of research which is potentially risky. But does the benefit of the work outweigh its potential risks to the public? And how can human error be eliminated?

(Photo: Bio hazard warning symbol. Credit: Getty Images)

Black Holes: A Tale Of Cosmic Death And Rebirth20161010

The discovery of gravitational waves by the LIGO observatory opens up a new form of astronomy, which will allow scientists explore the ultimate fate of dead stars, Black Holes.

Roland Pease reports.

Image: © NASA

China Science Rising2016081520160816 (WS)

Rebecca Morelle reports on China's science ambitions.

China is super-sizing science. From building the biggest experiments the world has ever seen to rolling out the latest medical advances on a massive scale and pushing the boundaries of exploration in outer space - China’s scientific ambitions are immense.

Just a few decades ago the nation barely featured in the world science rankings. Now, in terms of research spending and the number of scientific papers published, it stands only behind the US. But despite this rapid progress, China faces a number of challenges. Rebecca Morelle discusses China's science with Charlotte Liu, Nature Springer publishers.

Image: Artist impression of completed Fast radio telescope, China © BBC

Presenter: Rebecca Morelle

Producer: Paula McGrath

Chris Toumazou2014111720141118 (WS)

European Inventor of the Year, Chris Toumazou, on the science of invention

European Inventor of the Year, Chris Toumazou, reveals how his personal life and early research lie at the heart of his inventions.

As chief scientist at the Institute of Biomedical Engineering at Imperial College London, Chris inspires engineers, doctors and other scientists to create medical devices for the 21st Century.

Applying silicon chip technology, more commonly found inside mobile phones, he tackles seemingly insurmountable problems in medicine to create devices that bridge the electronic and biological worlds - from a digital plaster that monitors a patient's vital signs to an artificial pancreas to treat diabetes.

His latest creation, coined a 'lab on a chip', analyses a person's DNA within minutes outside the laboratory. The hand-held device can identify genetic differences which dictate a person's susceptibility to hereditary diseases and how they will react to a drug like warfarin, used to treat blood clots.

(Photo: Chris Toumazou, BBC copyright)

Cleaning Up The Oceans2016070420160705 (WS)

Roland Pease asks what damage plastic waste is doing in the oceans

More than five million tonnes of plastic waste ends up in the oceans every year. The abandoned fishing gear and bags and bottles left on beaches can smother birds and sea life. Now there is also evidence that the small particles created as the plastics are eroded by the waves and sunlight are eaten by all kinds of marine species.

Roland Pease is on a beach in Devon in south-west England with professor Richard Thompson of Plymouth University finding the plastic debris before it gets into the sea. Professor of Ecotoxicology at Exeter University, Tamara Galloway, talks about her discoveries of microplastics in plankton and other species. Professor Tony Andrady of North Carolina University in the US, describes his paper that estimated the amount of plastic waste that is finding its way into the marine environment, and Dr Nancy Wallace of the US Marine Debris Program explains how they organise beach clean ups and raise awareness of the problem amongst the public.

Photo: Tyres, plastic bottles and general rubbish washed up by the sea, litter the beaches in Prestwick, Scotland. Credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Cornelis Drebbel2016021520160216 (WS)

The magical world of Cornelis Drebbel, inventor of the first submarine in 1621

Philip Ball dives into the magical world of Cornelis Drebbel , inventor of the world's first submarine in 1621.

How did the crew of this remarkable vessel manage to breathe underwater, completely cut off from the surface, 150 years before oxygen was officially discovered?

King James I of England and thousands of his subjects lined the banks of the River Thames in London to watch the first demonstration. The strangest boat they had ever seen sank beneath the waves and stayed there for three hours.

Did Drebbel know how to make oxygen? Historian Andrew Szydlow reveals that Drebbel did have secret knowledge of how to keep the air fresh.

In his day, Drebbel was a pioneer of exploring uninhabitable places. Today's equivalent is to make oxygen on the Moon and as scientists grapple with this ultimate challenge, Monica Grady explains their work is being used under the waves where Drebbel began.

Image: Early Submarine, A design for a wooden submarine from around 1650. It would surface and submerge with the inflation and deflation of rows of goatskin airbags attached to the floor of the vessel. (Photo by Henry Guttmann/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Cosmology2014081120140812 (WS)
20140818 (WS)

Have astronomers really found gravitational waves from the Big Bang?

In March astronomers in the BICEP2 collaboration announced they had found gravitational waves from the Big Bang. But now the evidence is being questioned by other scientists.

Dr Lucie Green reports on the debate and asks if scientists can ever know what happened billions of years ago when the universe was formed.

Image copyright: Steffen Richter, Harvard University

Have astronomers really found gravitational waves from the Big Bang as announced in March?

In March astronomers in the BICEP2 collaboration announced they had found gravitational waves from the Big Bang. But now the evidence is being questioned by other scientists. Dr Lucie Green reports on the debate and asks if scientists can ever know what happened billions of years ago when the universe was formed.

Creating The Crick20161017

The Francis Crick Institute, in the centre of London, is the UK’s brand new, game-changing centre for biology and medical research. Roland Pease joins the scientists as they move into the building. Sir Paul Nurse, Nobel Laureate, one of the UK’s top biologists and director of the Crick explains what makes the new institute so special. Professor Richard Treisman, who helped shape its vision, shows Roland how the building is designed to encourage collaboration. And Roland learns how cancer researcher Dr Caroline Hill is packing up and moving her experimental subjects – thousands of fish.

Named for Francis Crick – the British scientist who unravelled the structure of DNA and how it codes the design of the molecules of life – this central London Institute is set to be the heart of British biomedical science – bringing together experts from 3 other world famous institutes, from three of London’s great universities, and from industry.

Picture: Scientists Move Into The Newly-built Francis Crick Institute in King's Cross on August 25, 2016, credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Presenter: Roland Pease

Editor: Deborah Cohen

Custom Of Cutting2016112120161122 (WS)

An investigation into female genital mutilation in East and West Africa

More than 200 million women and girls alive today have undergone female genital mutilation, or cutting. It is where parts or all of a girl's genitals are damaged or removed. There are no medical benefits to FGM, and people who undergo the practice can face problems in later pregnancies, infections and even death due to blood loss. FGM is recognised internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. The head of the UNFPA recently described it as child abuse. The BBC's Global Health correspondent Tulip Mazumdar has travelled to East and West Africa to investigate efforts to end the practice and ask why this extremely harmful tradition, is proving so difficult to stamp out.

(Picture: Women in Narekuni © Krisztina Satori)

Driverless Cars2014060920140616 (WS)

Most traffic accidents are caused by human error. Engineers are designing vehicles with built in sensors that send messages to other cars, trucks, bikes and even pedestrians, to prevent collisions happening. The idea is to make the vehicles react to whatever's going on faster than the human drivers.

Jack Stewart drives around the university town of Ann Arbor, in Michigan, in some of the many vehicles that are fitted with experimental devices in the world's largest connected vehicles project. He finds out how the system works from researchers at UMTRI, the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute, including the director, professor Peter Sweatman and human factors expert Dr Jim Sayer, Kirk Steudle, Director, Michigan Department of Transportation and a resident who has had her car fitted with an experimental device.

(Photo: Right hand wing mirror, Nevada, USA, BBC copyright)

Driverless Cars2014061620140617 (WS)
20140623 (WS)

The engineers inventing vehicles that drive themselves

Jack Stewart meets the engineers who are building vehicles that drive themselves. He has a ride in Google's driverless car, which has no steering wheel and no pedals. Google's Chris Urmson explains the company's approach to autonomous vehicles.

Jack visits Stanford University's driverless car project where professor Chris Gerdes shows him Shelley, an automated Audi that races around a track at speed as well as a human driver. Chris is collaborating with a philosopher to explore some of the difficult questions around autonomous vehicles, such as who is liable if there's an accident. Is it the human or the car? And ,Jack meets Josh Swirtes whose company, Peloton, is linking trucks together with the idea that they should have fewer accidents.

(Photo: Jack Stewart in Stanford's University X1)

Jack Stewart meets the engineers inventing vehicles that drive themselves.

Jack Stewart meets the engineers who are building vehicles that drive themselves.

He has a ride in Google's driverless car which has no steering wheel and no pedals. Google's Chris Urmson explains the company's approach to autonomous vehicles.

Jack visits Stanford University's driverless car project where Professor Chris Gerdes shows him Shelley, an automated Audi that races around a track at speed as well as a human driver. Chris is collaborating with a philosopher to explore some of the difficult questions around autonomous vehicles, such as who's liable if there's an accident. Is it the human or the car?

And Jack meets Josh Swirtes who’s company, Peleton, is linking trucks together with the idea that they should have fewer accidents.

Image: Jack Stewart in Stamford's University X1

Editing The Genome2016030720160308 (WS)

We have a powerful new tool to alter DNA. What medical uses should be off limits?

Over the last four years, scientists have discovered a simple and powerful method for altering genes. This will have massive implications for all of us as it raises the possibility of easily changing the genetic code in animals, plants and ourselves. The potential for good is enormous. The ethical challenges are profound. Professor Matthew Cobb explores the brave new world of CRISPR gene editing.

Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker

Image: Model of human DNA strand, BBC Copyright

Editing The Genome - Part Two2016031420160315 (WS)

There is a new genetic technology which promises to revolutionise agriculture and transform our influence over the natural world. Research is well underway to create pigs and chickens immune to pandemic influenza, cereals which make their own fertiliser and mosquitoes engineered to wipe out wild populations of the insects which transmit diseases to humans. These are just three examples of what we could create with CRISPR gene editing.

Should we be worried about this unprecedented power over animals and plants? The potential for good is enormous. The ethical challenges are profound. Professor Matthew Cobb of the University of Manchester explores the brave new world of CRISPR gene editing.

(Photo: Pigs at the Roslin Institute that have been gene-edited with the goal of making them resistant to African Swine Fever virus)

Should we try to wipe out mosquitoes? With CRISPR, it may now be possible.

Einstein’s Ice Box2016022920160301 (WS)

What happened when Einstein decided to fix the fridge?

In the late 1920s Einstein was working on a grand unified theory of the universe, having given us E=mc2, space-time and the fourth dimension. He was also working on a fridge.

Perhaps motivated by a story in the Berlin newspapers about a family who died when toxic fumes leaked from their state-of the-art refrigerator, Einstein teamed up with another physicist Leo Szilard and designed a new, safer refrigerating technology. And so it was that in 1930, the man who had once famously worked in the patent office in Bern was granted a patent of his own. Number: 1, 781, 541. Title: refrigeration.

Phillip Ball explores this little known period of Einstein's life to try and find out why he turned his extraordinary mind to making fridges safer.

Despite considerable commercial interest in the patent, Einstein's fridge didn't get built in his lifetime. The Great Depression forced AEG and others to close down their refrigeration research. But in 2008 a team of British scientists decided to give it a go. Their verdict : Einstein's fridge doesn't work.

(Photo: Refridgerators stand in rows. Credit: Keystone/Getty Images)

El Nino2016020820160209 (WS)

Floods in South America, fires in Indonesia, famine threatened in Ethiopia, yet more drought in Southern Africa and central America. Plus, a stunning peak in global temperatures for 2015. The current El Nino, just past its peak, has a lot to answer for. Roland Pease talks to the experts who forecast, track and analyse the events in the Pacific Ocean associated with this powerful climate phenomenon. And seeks answers to some burning questions.

(Photo: Indonesia forest fire burning, 2015. Credit: Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images)

in the Pacific is in full swing, threatening with flood, fire and famine

Enceladus: A Second Genesis Of Life At Saturn?2015121420151215 (WS)

The best place to search for extra-terrestrial life among the planets.

Discovery invites you on a mission to the most intriguing body in the solar system – Saturn’s moon Enceladus. It’s a small icy world with gigantic geysers, blasting water into space at supersonic speeds. It’s also become the most promising place among the planets to search for extra-terrestrial life. These astonishing discoveries come from Nasa’s Cassini mission to Saturn launched 18 years ago and still underway. The BBC’s Jonathan Amos talks to scientists who have been at the centre of the unfolding story of Enceladus and those who want to return to answer the great question which it poses.

(Photo: Enceladus. Credit: NASA/JPL/SSI)

Feeding The World - Part One2016032120160322 (WS)

Kathy Willis meets scientists seeking the genetic diversity to future-proof our crops

As the world’s population grows and the climate challenges our ability to grow crops, how can agriculture provide enough food? Can we get more from our current food crops for less?

Scientists and farmers alike have been increasingly haunted by the environmental effects of high-intensity farming over the last half century. There is now an urgent need to be more mindful of the landscape and our finite ecological resources.

Professor Kathy Willis, science director of Kew Gardens, looks at how we can breed better-adapted and more efficient crops by exploiting the wealth of natural diversity in our so-called crop wild relatives. They are the species from which all our current crops originally evolved. Many researchers now believe that these ancient relatives hold the key to future crop improvement.

She finds out how the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines is breeding new varieties that can cope with droughts and floods at unpredictable times. Storm surges make farmland in coastal areas too salty for most crops to grow. Pathogens and pests evolve so rice varieties are losing resistance to new strains of pathogens or insects.

Kathy Willis meets the scientists who are reassessing our crops ancient ancestors that hold the genetic diversity that is needed to give the resilience we need to cope with the extremes of climate predicted for the coming decades.

(Photo: Workers on a rice plantation. Credit: Nick Wood)

Feeding The World - Part Two2016032820160329 (WS)

How to future proof our crops above and below ground, to endure climate change

As the world’s population grows and the climate challenges our ability to grow crops, how can agriculture provide enough food? Can we get more from our current food crops for less?

Scientists and farmers alike have been increasingly haunted by the environmental effects of high-intensity farming over the last half century. There is now an urgent need to be more mindful of the landscape and our finite ecological resources.

Professor Kathy Willis, science director of Kew Gardens, looks at how we can breed better-adapted and more efficient crops. Rice is a staple food for more than half the world’s population. To maintain this in the face of population growth and land-loss to urbanisation, rice yields will have to increase by over 50% by 2050. Kathy Willis examines an ambitious plan to turbocharge photosynthesis in rice – improving the way it captures sunlight, to produce sugar and oxygen from carbon dioxide and water in hotter dryer climates.

New technology to imaging plant roots below ground is also having a profound impact on plant root architecture that breeding programmes hope to capitalise on in order to improve any crop’s ability to forage for water and nutrients. But can we achieve the necessary varieties in time? Should we re-evaluate some of the highly resilient crops we have tended to undervalue such as sorghum and cassava?

(Photo: Farm workers harvesting rice. Credit: Nick Wood)

Future Of Biodiversity2015112320151124 (WS)

Kathy Willis, Director of Science Kew Gardens, discusses biodiversity with Jim al-Khalili

"I'm determined to prove botany is not the 'Cinderella of science'". That is what Professor Kathy Willis, director of Science at the Royal Botanic Garden in Kew, told the Independent in 2014. In the two years since she took on the job at Kew she has been faced with a reduction in government funding. So, Kathy Willis has been rethinking the science that is to be done by the staff of the Gardens and has been criticised for her decisions.

But as well as leading this transformation, Kathy has a distinguished academic career in biodiversity. She is currently a professor at Oxford University and, during her research career, she has studied plants and their environments all over the world, from the New Forest, when she was a student in Southampton, to the Galapagos Islands where she studied the impact of the removal of the giant tortoises on the vegetation there.

(Photo: A Galapagos turtle walks in the Primicias farm in Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos Archipelago, Ecuador, Credit: AFP/Getty Images)

Future Of Energy2015122820151229 (WS)

Professor Jim Skea, from the Faculty of Natural Sciences, Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial College London, joins Jack Stewart in the studio and brings his insight from the Paris climate talks. Paul Younger, the Rankine Chair of Engineering and Professor of Energy Engineering at the University of Glasgow, talks about geothermal energy and its potential as a renewable energy source, particularly in Ethiopia.

Mark Jacobson, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Stanford, argues for a 100% switch to renewable energy sources.

Tadj Orzesczyn, Professor of Energy and Environment at University College London, talks to us from the perspective of energy demand. If we can reduce this, then we can reduce the amount of energy we need to produce in the first place.

(Photo: Ferrybridge C power station, near Knottingley 2015. Credit: OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images)

Jack Stewart looks at the future of the supply, demand, and viability of energy sources

How To Make An Awesome Surf Wave2015110220151103 (WS)

Surfer Helen Scales goes in search of the perfect man-made wave

Can we make better surfing waves than the wild ocean, asks marine biologist and writer Helen Scales.

Helen loves surfing but she describes it as an extreme form of delayed gratification, especially around the British coast. Nature does not make great surfing waves to order. Waiting for the perfect wave demands patience, a warm wet suit and a cool head (especially if somebody jumps the queue and steals your ride). Becoming skilful on a surf board takes years if you can only practise on what the wild sea provides and even longer if you don’t live anywhere near the sea.

Helen goes in search of short cuts: aquatic engineering to make more and better ‘breaks’. Her quest takes her to Boscombe, a seaside suburb of the English coastal town of Bournemouth. The council spent £3.2 million on an artificial surf reef, which was designed to boost the wave height: lengthen the ride duration: and magnify Boscombe as a surfer dude magnet. It was already a spot known to the surfing folk of the Dorset coast but the artificial reef was going to make Boscombe a national surf destination. Unfortunately in 2010, the underwater construction of gigantic sausages of sand – covering the area of a football field - failed to do the job and the surfing is, if anything, now worse where the reef lies. Helen talks to the surfing scientist who diagnosed the reef’s ills with a GPS receiver down the back of his wetsuit, and to local surfers for their take on the Boscombe reef.

But Helen has to travel to the Basque Country in northern Spain to find what she’s been looking for. She has the most exciting surf ride of her life in a man-made lagoon, the Wavegarden, in the foothills of the Cantabrian mountains, kilometres from the ocean. Over the last decade a company formed of surfing engineers has invented a machine which summons up two sizes of perfect surf waves every minute. “That was a bigger wave, a faster wave, than I have ever contemplated surfing in the ocean,? she says in the programme after two rides in the Wavegarden (recorded with a double-bagged radio mic for the programme).

Wavegarden engineering has been exported to an abandoned slate quarry in North Wales where the world’s first surf park opened at the beginning of August. Other surf parks will follow in Texas in the United States, the Middle East and Australia, using the technology. This particular brand of artificial wave engineering might also allow surfing to graduate as an Olympic sport.

But is surfing an artificial wave in a land-locked lagoon the real thing? Surfing veterans have mixed feelings and share their thoughts on why riding the ocean is all-consuming.

Image: BBC Copyright

Humboldt - The Inventor Of Nature2015120720151208 (WS)

Retracing the footsteps Alexander Von Humboldt - the forgotten father of environmentalism

Alexander Von Humboldt - the forgotten father of environmentalism - warned of harmful human induced climate change over 200 years ago.

Explorer, nature writer and scientist he climbed the world’s highest volcanoes and delved deep into the rainforests devising his radical new ideas of nature in flux. Darwin set sail on the Beagle because of Humboldt’s books.

Roland Pease talks to author Andrea Wulf, who has retraced the footsteps of this remarkable lost hero of science.

(Photo credit: Wellcome Library, London)

Janet Hemingway2014063020140701 (WS)
20140707 (WS)

on malaria and the coming of insecticide resistance with Jim Al-Khalili

Janet Hemingway, the youngest woman to ever to become a full professor in the UK, talks about her career at the frontline of the war on malaria. Whilst many researchers look for vaccines and treatments to this global killer, Janet's approach, as a trained entomologist, has been to fight the mosquito - the vector - which transmits the malaria parasite.

Image: Janet Hemingway, BBC Copyright

Explorations in the world of science.

Life Changers - Anita Sengupta2015091420150915 (WS)

When Anita Sengupta was a little girl, she dreamed of time travel aboard the TARDIS, along with Tom Baker, her favourite incarnation of Dr Who. It was this and watching episodes of Star Trek with her dad, which led her to study science and later still, to gain a degree in aerospace engineering from an American University. If she could not build a TARDIS, she would build the next best thing – space craft, capable of reaching other planets. A few years later, still in her 20s, Anita was put in charge of a team at JPL, Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. Her mission was to design and develop the supersonic parachute which helped put Nasa’s Curiosity Rover onto the surface of Mars in 2012. It was the most sophisticated lander ever built and the plan to get it safely down the surface of the red planet was little short of crazy. Her team’s motto was 'Dare Mighty Things'.

Kevin Fong talks to Anita about her work, her passion and about the lessons one must learn from failure as well as success in order to explore the unknown. She tells Kevin why Mars has revived Nasa’s fortunes and transformed how we think about our place in the Universe.

(Photo: Anita Sengupta. Credit: Nasa)

Nasa engineer Anita Sengupta on landing a rover on Mars

Life Changers - Didier Queloz2015092120150922 (WS)

One night in 1995, PhD student Didier Queloz was running a routine test on a new detector they had just built at the Observatoire de Haute Provence in France, when he noticed something strange. They had pointed the detector, almost at random, towards 51 Pegasi, a star in the constellation Pegasus, about 50 light years from Earth. But the light from that star, which should have been constant, was in fact ‘wobbling’. Naturally, he assumed that the detector was faulty but after double-checking that it was working correctly, he and his colleagues eventually came to the only logical conclusion they could - that the light from the star was distorted by the presence of a very large object – and it was happening at regular intervals. What Queloz had discovered was the first planet outside of our solar system orbiting a sun-like star. What is more, it was massive – half the size of Jupiter, but with an orbit lasting only 4 days and with surface temperatures exceeding a 1000 degrees centigrade.

This shouldn’t be possible according to our best theories of planetary formation, and yet here it was. With their discovery published Queloz and his supervisor, Michel Mayor, had rewritten the astronomy text books and opened to floodgates. In the 20 years since that night, nearly 1800 confirmed exoplanets have been discovered, and since the launch of Nasa's Kepler Observatory in 2009, several hundred Earth-like planets have been confirmed, orbiting suns at a distance that could potentially support life. In the last of the current series of Life Changers, Kevin Fong talks to Didier Queloz about that remarkable night, its impact on science and our quest to answer perhaps the most fundamental question of all - are we alone in the Universe?

(Photo: Didier Queloz. Credit: University of Geneva)

Kevin Fong talks to astrophysicist and planet hunter Didier Queloz.

Life Changers - Kathryn Maitland2015083120150901 (WS)

Kathryn Maitland is a doctor with a burning passion to transform clinical research across Africa, where she has spent most of her career. Determined to improve the outcomes for critically sick children in hospital, she spent over a decade of her life raising funds for and then carrying out, the first ever scientific trial for fluid bolus resuscitation in children with shock. Fluid replacement is a pillar of medicine but the evidence base for this particular issue is weak, even though it is standard practice for hospitals in high-income countries. The results were totally unexpected, creating a shockwave in the medical community that is yet to settle down. Kathryn believes the results could save tens of thousands of lives every year in Africa alone yet the experience very nearly ended her research career. She tells her life-changing story to Kevin Fong, himself a critical care doctor, who wonders if his own current practice of treating sick children should now change.

(Image: presenter Kevin Fong with Kathryn Maitland)

Kathryn Maitland has a burning passion to transform clinical research across Africa.

Life Changers - Venki Ramakrishnan2015090720150908 (WS)

Kevin Fong talks to Venki Ramakrishnan, Professor of structural biology in Cambridge and joint-winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2009. Celebrated for his work on the ribosome, the remarkable molecular machine at the heart of all cell biology, Ramakrishnan was knighted for services to Science in 2012 and later this year, will become the first Indian-born president of the Royal Society, the oldest and most prestigious scientific body in the world. And yet, as Kevin discovers, his education and early academic career was anything but predictable or conventional and included being rejected from both Indian and US Universities multiple times.

Image: presenter Kevin Fong with Venki Ramakrishnan, BBC Copyright

Kevin Fong talks to the Indian-born Nobel Laureate Professor Venki Ramakrishnan

Life On The East Asian Flyway2016060620160607 (WS)

The world’s greatest migration - countless birds fly north from Australia to the Arctic

One of the great wonders of the natural world is in deep trouble.

Millions of shorebirds fly from Australia and Southeast Asia to the Arctic every year. They follow the planet’s most gruelling migratory route – the East Asian Australasian Flyway.

Join Ann Jones as she watches wading birds such as curlews, godwits and sandpipers prepare for their epic journey. They fatten up on clams to the point of obesity, to fuel the flight. They grow bigger hearts and flight muscles. Just before departure, they shrink their digestive organs to become the most efficient flying machines for their first 7 day non-stop flight.

The birds’ lives are full of danger and the most serious threats are man-made. The flyway is in peril with many species plummeting towards extinction. As you’ll hear, it’s enough to make a grown man cry.

The series is a co-production from the BBC World Service and Australian ABC Radio National.

Image: Waders readying to migrate north at Roebuck Bay, Western Australia, Copyright: Ann Jones

Life On The East Asian Flyway - Part 4: The Arctic2016062720160628 (WS)

New life, new dangers and new hopes for the endangered shorebirds on the tundra

After flying thousands of kilometres from faraway Bangladesh and New Zealand via the Yellow Sea, the shorebirds of the East Asian Flyway complete their northward migration. They touch down in the Arctic Russia and Alaska to breed.

In May and June, birds such as the endangered spoon-billed sandpiper and red knot fill the air of the Russian tundras with their mating calls and display flights. But why travel so far to raise the next generation?

Presenter Ann Jones also discovers why Russian and British conservationists are taking eggs from the nests of the spoon-billed sandpiper, the most endangered shorebirds in the world, in a last ditch effort to save the species from extinction.

Finally, with the mating season finished and a new generation ready to migrate for the first time, we follow the incredible non-stop flight of nine days by the bar-tailed godwit, as it migrates south from Alaska all the way to New Zealand. The record-breaking species is helped by somehow being able to sense the weather patterns across the entire Pacific Ocean.

The series is a co-production from the BBC World Service and Australian ABC Radio National. The sound recordings from Russia and Alaska were provided by the Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

(Photo: Spoon-billed sandpiper chick in Chukotka, NE Russia. Credit: Nicky Hiscock)

Life On The East Asian Flyway - Part Three: Yellow Sea North2016062020160621 (WS)

Can China’s new generation of birdwatchers and North Korea’s weak economy save migratory birds from extinction?

Habitat loss for shorebirds in the Yellow Sea is rapid as the mudflats on which they depend are converted to farmland, factories, ports, oil refineries and golf courses. But all is not lost on the East Asian Australasian Flyway.

Ann Jones travels around the northern end of the Yellow Sea, talking to the world’s leading shorebird researchers and Chinese nature lovers about their concerns for the Flyway’s future. They discuss their feelings for the long distance migration champions of the natural world, like the Eastern curlew and bar-tailed godwit. Ann also meets the New Zealand conservationists who have just emerged from North Korea with good news about the birds.

The series is a co-production from the BBC World Service and Australian ABC Radio National. Additional recordings were provided by the Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Produced by Andrew Luck-Baker and Ann Jones.

The series is a co-production from the BBC World Service and Australian ABC Radio National.

Additional recordings were provided by the Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Curlew sandpipers coming to one of the few feeding sites left for them along the coast of Bohai Bay in northern China.

Credit: Ann Jones

Can China’s birdwatchers and North Korea’s economy save migratory birds from extinction?

Life On The East Asian Flyway € Part Two: Yellow Sea South2016061320160614 (WS)

Hear the calls of the Chinese bird hunter turned conservationist

Ann Jones flies north to Shanghai as shorebirds from as far away as Australia, Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar and Bangladesh arrive on the coast of the Yellow Sea.

Here she meets a traditional whistling bird hunter who used to catch shorebirds for the pot but now does it for science. Bird mimic Mr Jin Weiguo demonstrates his centuries-old technique of bird trapping - luring them into nets by copying the different calls of the many different species. Scientists can then attach ID rings and GPS transmitters to follow their migration and estimate their declining numbers. In ten years as a conservation trapper, Mr Jin has caught more than 10,000 birds.

In Jiangsu province to the north of Shanghai, Ann also spots the world’s smallest and most endangered shorebird – the remarkable spoon-billed sandpiper. This species is regarded as the Panda of migratory shorebirds – a charismatic flagship species for the protection of the rapidly disappearing mudflats on which all the migratory shorebirds and local fisher folk depend.

Ann meets the Shanghai birders who set up an NGO to save the most important surviving locations for this bird’s crucial spring and autumn breaks in the Yellow Sea. One 7km stretch of coast, known as Tiaozini, hosts at least 50% of the world’s spoon-billed sandpiper population, which after a precipitous decline now numbers about 200 breeding pairs. Tiaozini is now recognised worldwide as a critical place for the species’ survival. The provincial government has advanced plans to convert Tiaozini into dry land within five years.

Additional recordings in this programme were provided by the Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker

The series is a co-production from the BBC World Service and Australian ABC Radio National.

Image: Waders readying to migrate north at Roebuck Bay, Western Australia, copyright: Ann Jones

Lion Hunting In Africa2015102620151027 (WS)

In June 2015 the death of Cecil the lion was international news and a social media sensation. Yet trophy hunting of lions and other species is common in Africa. Foreigners pay big money to adorn their walls with heads and skins. Many find it abhorrent, angry that it exists at all. Hunters claim it is vital, providing money to fund conservation. With hunters claiming that a ban would be "catastrophic" for wildlife, what is the truth? Biologist professor Adam Hart explores this explosively controversial subject, talking to hunters, conservationists, lion experts and those opposed to hunting.

Trophy hunting does work in places where regular tourists are few and far between. It works too in South Africa. Private ownership and fencing, which protects wildlife from people and people from wildlife, mean that hunting and tourism generate the cash needed to maintain huge numbers of animals. Wildlife thrives because "it pays it stays".

But in Tanzania lion populations are rapidly declining. Craig Packer, a world expert on lions, says "it takes $2000 annually to maintain 1km2 of lion habitat; 300000km2 of hunting blocks need $600million. Trophy hunting pays $20million with 10-15% used for conservation". It's the only source of income but it is far too little, only slightly slowing the inevitable.

Hunting pitches emotion against evidence and sentimentality against practicality. Adam's travels reveal a complex and sometimes unpalatable tale of economics, ecology and conservation with implications that affect everyone that cares about African wildlife.

(Photo: A lion sitting on a rock)

Can trophy hunting lions be good for conservation?

Making The Earth Move2016121220161213 (WS)

Prior to 1543 it was generally believed that the earth lay static in the centre of the universe, while the Sun, moon, planets and stars revolved around it in various complex paths, some even looping back and forth, as described by the Egyptian astronomer Ptolemy over a millennium before. This Ptolemaic system sat comfortably reconciled with philosophy and biblical scripture, not to mention immediate experience and observations.

In the 16th century astronomy and astrology were closely intertwined, as the art of predicting where the small dots of light on the night sky would appear had consequences if you were the sort of person who based your actions on horoscopes. But astronomers didn't have the right to start telling philosophers and theologians how the universe was actually constructed - what its mechanisms were - they merely observed the moving dots of light and used mathematics to predict where they would be the next night, week or month. This was an essential function for the Catholic church too - as the all-important date of Easter is based around a complicated lunar pattern.

But also at that time in northern Europe, Martin Luther and others had begun a protestant revolution, fundamentally questioning the authority of the Pope and Vatican.

It was an auspicious time for a fairly middle ranking Catholic cleric, Nicolaus Copernicus, working in a remote corner of northern Poland to drop a note around telling other astronomers that he'd worked out a new system that made for better astronomical calculations by making the moon travel round a spinning earth, and the earth and all the planets travel around the Sun.

If that were the true shape of the universe, the bible could no longer be literally true.

It took 30 years, but eventually a keen young Austrian mathematician convinced him to publish his book.

So a German radical protestant published a book by a mild-mannered Polish Catholic cleric, a book that allegedly simplified the cosmos, rightfully placing the Sun at the centre of our local universe, kicking off the scientific revolution and leading to the European enlightenment.

But as Phil Ball explains, the real story of 'De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium' - 'On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres' - is not quite as straight forward as all that.

Image: © BBC

How a dying man's book demoted the earth and reconstructed the universe.

Explorations in the world of science.

Margaret Cavendish2016042520160426 (WS)

In the spring of 1667 Samuel Pepys queued repeatedly with crowds of Londoners and waited for hours just to catch a glimpse of aristocrat writer and thinker Margaret Cavendish. Twice he was frustrated and could not spot her, but eventually she made a grand visit to meet the Fellows of the newly formed Royal Society. She was the first woman ever to visit.

Pepys watched as they received her with gritted teeth and fake smiles. They politely showed her air pumps, magnets and microscopes, and she politely professed her amazement, then left in her grand carriage.

Naomi Alderman asks what it was it about this celebrity poet, playwright, author, and thinker that so fascinated and yet also infuriated these men of the Restoration elite? Part of the answer strikes right at the core of what we now call the scientific method.

(Photo: Book cover of Grounds of Natural Philosophy, courtesy of Chemical Heritage Foundation)

Aristocrat writer and thinker Margaret Cavendish and the birth of the scientific method

Mark Miodownik2014051220140513 (WS)

talks nuclear weapons, 3D printers and smart materials with Jim Al-Khalili.

's chronic interest in materials began in rather unhappy circumstances. He was stabbed in the back, with a razor, on his way to school. When he saw the tiny piece of steel that had caused him so much harm, he became obsessed with how it could it be so sharp and so strong. And he's been materials-mad ever since.

Working at a nuclear weapons laboratory in the US, he enjoyed huge budgets and the freedom to make the most amazing materials. But he gave that up to work with artists and designers because he believes that if you ignore the sensual aspects of materials, you end up with materials that people don't want.

For Mark, making is as important as reading and writing. It's an expression of who we are, like music or literature, and 'everyone should be doing it'. To this end, he wants our public libraries to be converted into public workshops, with laser cutters and 3 D printers in place of books.

Image: Mark Miodownik, BBC Copyright

Mind Reading2016112820161129 (WS)

Gaia Vince explores how scientists are trying to read others' minds.

Whether it's gossiping over a drink, teaching our children, or politicians debating we use words to communicate with each other and share ideas. It’s what makes us human. But what if we can’t? Could it be possible to broadcast our thoughts directly from our brains without the need for speech? Gaia Vince meets the scientists who say they are getting close to being able to read minds.

For the last decade neuroscientists have been using fMRI brain scanners and EEG to try to communicate with people who’d been diagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state. They have woken up following a coma but although their eyes are open and they have spontaneous movements, they have no cognitive function and are not capable of higher level thought. Dr Damian Cruse, of Birmingham University, tells Gaia about the results of these experiments.

People with other medical conditions that lead to a loss of speech, such as motor neurone disease, can already communicate with technology. We hear from Sarah Ezekiel, who has had MND since 2000 and whose life has been transformed by being able to talk artificially with eyegaze software on a computer.

Neurologist Dr Kai Miller at Stanford University explains how he is using electrodes already implanted in the brains of people with severe epilepsy to determine what they are seeing.

And Gaia explores the ethical problems that follow from technology that captures thoughts with cognitive scientist and philosopher Dr Adina Roskies of Dartmouth College in the US and Professor Geraint Rees, the editor of a recent collection of essays called "I know what you're thinking: brain imaging and mental privacy". She looks at the controversial privacy issues raised by the technology, such as could someone put thoughts into another's mind?

Image: Fortune teller gazing into a crystal ball, © Creatas

Mum And Dad And Mum2014090120140902 (WS)
20140908 (WS)

Alana Saarinen is a 13-year-old girl who lives with her mum and dad in Michigan, USA. She loves playing golf and the piano, listening to music and hanging out with friends. In those respects, she's like many teenagers around the world. Except she's not, because Alana is one of a handful of people in the world who have DNA from three people.

The BBC's Science Correspondent Rebecca Morelle explores how more children like Alana could be born. The UK is looking to legalise a new technique which would mean more children with DNA from three people could be born. This irreversibly changes the human genetic code, and would also eliminate debilitating genetic diseases.

This programme examines the safety and health implications of this new science.

For some it is controversial. For those who have these specific genetic diseases, it is the way to have their own healthy child. The UK is playing a pioneering role in developing the technique, called mitochondrial replacement, and Parliament are expected to vote on legalising it soon. If that happened, the UK would be the first place in the world to make the process legal.

But despite that, there are a small number of children in the world, like Alana Saarinen, who have DNA from three people already. Although a small sample, they could answer some of the questions people have, such as will they be healthy, do they feel like they have three parents and would they like to trace the donor one day in the future?

Producer: Charlotte Pritchard.

Rebecca Morelle examines how children could be born with DNA from three people.

Alana Saarinen is a thirteen year old girl who lives with her mum and dad in Michigan, USA. She loves playing golf and the piano, listening to music and hanging out with friends. In those respects, she's like many teenagers around the world. Except she's not, because every cell in Alana's body isn't like mine and yours; Alana is one of a handful of people in the world who have DNA from three people. The BBC's Science Correspondent Rebecca Morelle explores how more children like Alana could be born. The UK is looking to legalise a new technique which would mean more children with DNA from three people could be born. This irreversibly changes the human genetic code, and would also eliminate debilitating genetic diseases. This programme examines the safety and health implications of this new science. For some it is controversial. For those who have these specific genetic diseases, it is the way they could have their own healthy child. The UK is playing a pioneering role in developing the technique, called mitochondrial replacement, and Parliament are expected to vote on legalising it soon. If that happened, the UK would be the first place in the world to make the process legal. But despite that, there are a small number of children in the world, like Alana Saarinen, who have DNA from three people already. Although a small sample, they could answer some of the questions people have, such as will they be healthy, do they feel like they have three parents and would they like to trace the donor one day in the future?

Nature's Numbers2016010420160105 (WS)

What can animals tell us about the origins of our numerical abilities?

Lemurs and parrots accompany maths writer Alex Bellos as he explores the foundations of our ability to understand numbers. What are the fundamental numerical skills we share with other animals? What accounts for our species’ unique abilities to do calculations which other creatures cannot? Alex meets Teres the lemur as the Madagascan primate undergoes a maths test. He also tells the amazing story of Alex, the African grey parrot, and meets professor Irene Pepperberg who guided her feathered pupil to extraordinary mathematical achievements.

(Photo: Lemurs. Credit: Andrew Luck-Baker)

Nature's Numbers2016011120160112 (WS)

What can babies and an Amazonian tribe tell us about the origins of mathematics?

Mathematics is one of the most extraordinary things humans can do with their brains but where do our numerical abilities come from? Maths writer Alex Bellos looks for answers from a tribe in the Brazilian Amazon which has no words for numbers in its language. He also meets a budding mathematician who is only seven months old.

Image credit: Edward Gibson

Orgueil Meteorite2016041820160419 (WS)

The riddle of the 19th century French meteorite that carried a secret for 100 years.

In 1864 a strange type of rock fell from the sky above Orgueil in rural France. Shocked and frightened locals collected pieces of the peculiar, peaty blob from the surrounding fields, and passed them on to museums and scientists.

At that time, a debate had been raging over the origin of life; Could life possibly form from mere chemicals? Or did it need some strange unidentified vital substance?

Into this debate fell the Orgueil meteorite, and because it seemed remarkably similar to loamy soil, some wondered whether it may hint at the existence of extra-terrestrial life.

The great Pasteur allegedly investigated, but disappointingly found no such thing. Nevertheless, the mere possibility prompted later ideas that the origin of life on earth indeed lay elsewhere in the universe, ideas that were greeted with varying degrees of scepticism over ensuing decades.

As Phil Ball narrates, given how much was at stake, and how bitterly scientists argued on either side, the most remarkable thing about the story is the extraordinary secret the meteorite kept to itself until exactly 100 years later.

Producer: Alex Mansfield

Image: These faint shapes found in meteorite AH844001 found in Antarctica were, until quite recently, thought by some to be alien fossils. But thoughts of extra-terrestrial life being carried in such meteorites goes back at least as far as 19th century France. BBC Copyright

Origins Of Human Culture2016120520161206 (WS)

What’s special about human culture

We humans are such a successful species. Homo sapiens have been around for only around 100 000 years and in that time we have utterly transformed the world around us. Our shelters allow us to live in all climates and from the poles to the tropics; our technology lets us communicate across the planet. We’ve created art and music and literature; and our agriculture has changed global biodiversity, shifting forever the way we feed ourselves. In other words, human culture dominates the earth. Gaia Vince finds out what has given us the cultural edge over other animals. This includes our closest relatives – the great apes – with whom we share over 95% of our genes.

She meets researchers at Birmingham University comparing the abilities of chimps and human children, and has a go at making a prehistoric stone hand axe by flint knapping.

Photo credit: William West/AFP/Getty Images

Our Unnatural Selection2016050220160503 (WS)

Humans have been altering animals for millennia. We select the most docile livestock, the most loyal dogs, to breed the animals we need. This 'artificial selection' is intentional. But as Adam Hart discovers, our hunting, fishing and harvesting are having unintended effects on wild animals - the age of "unnatural selection".

This accidental, inadvertent or unintentional selection pressure comes form almost everything we do – from hunting, fishing, harvesting and collecting to using chemicals like pesticides and herbicides; then pollution; urbanisation and habitat change, as well as using medicines. All these activities are putting evolutionary pressures on the creatures we share our planet with.

Commercial fishing selects the biggest fish in the oceans, the biggest fish in a population, like Atlantic cod, are also the slowest to reach breeding maturity. When these are caught and taken out of the equation, the genes for slow maturity and ‘bigness’ are taken out of the gene pool. Over decades, this relentless predation has led to the Atlantic cod evolving to be vastly smaller and faster to mature.

Trophy hunting is another example of unnatural selection. Predators in the wild tend to pick off the easiest to catch, smallest, youngest or oldest, ailing prey. But human hunters want the biggest animals with the biggest antlers or horns. Big Horn Sheep in Canada have evolved to have 25% smaller horns due to hunting pressures.

Probably the best understood examples of unnatural selection are the evolution of antibiotic resistance in bacteria. By using antibiotics we are inadvertently selecting the bacteria that have resistance to the drugs. The same goes for agricultural pesticides and herbicides.

Even pollution in Victorian times led to the Peppered moth to change its colour.

Adam discovers that our influence is universal; often counter to natural selective pressures and is rarely easy to reverse. He explores the impact on entire environments and asks whether we could or should be doing something to mitigate our evolutionary effects.

(Photo: Boxes full of fish at Billingsgate fish market)

How humans are inadvertently driving the evolution of other species

Patients Doing It For Themselves2014100620141007 (WS)
20141013 (WS)

How patients are taking control of their own treatment and their own clinical trials

Patient power is on the rise. But is it rising too far? Frustrated by the time it takes to develop new drugs, the ethical barriers to obtaining clinical data or the indifference of the medical profession to obscure diseases, patients are setting up their own clinical trials and overturning the norms of clinical research.

A DIY clinical trial sounds like a joke – and a dangerous one at that. But as Vivienne Parry discovers, it's real and on the rise as greater access to medical data allows more patients to play research scientists and medics at their own game.

Patients lie at the very heart of clinical research – without them there is none. Yet they come way down the food chain when it comes to transparency about their own health, blinded as they usually are to what pills they are taking and whether they are actually doing them any good. Even after the trial is published they are left with little understanding of whether the treatment could work for them and licensing is usually years away. So it is perhaps hardly surprising that patient networks have sprung up to redress the balance. Much of this current patient led research now takes place through online communities, with activists and the articulate ill demanding more say in their treament.

Vivienne Parry looks at some examples of patient led research which have challenged the medical establishment. She also asks how far can this go: should patients be prevented from experimenting with proceedures or drugs that might kill them?

(Photo: Medicinal pills)

Vivienne Parry explores how patients are taking control of their own treatment.

Patients lie at the very heart of clinical research – without them there is none. Yet they come way down the food chain when it comes to transparency about their own health, blinded as they usually are to what pills they're taking and whether they are actually doing them any good. Even after the trial is published they're left with little understanding of whether the treatment could work for them and licensing is usually years away. So it's perhaps hardly surprising that patient networks have sprung up to redress the balance. Much of this current patient led research now takes place through online communities, with activists and the articulate ill demanding more say in their treament.

Image: BBC Copyright

Power Transmission2014091520140916 (WS)
20140922 (WS)

Could super grids supplying DC electricity be the solution to rising demand for energy?

Gaia Vince looks at the future of power transmission. As power generation becomes increasingly mixed and demand increases, what does the grid of the future look like?

Explorations in the world of science.

Preventing Disease In Animals2014092920140930 (WS)
20141006 (WS)

The pioneering genetic techniques to combat disease in our livestock

Diseases devastate livestock around the world. In chickens for example the deadly strain of bird flu and the lesser known bacterial infection Campylobacter, not only harms the chickens but is also a real threat to human health.

Melissa Hogenboom visits one of the world’s leading genetics institutions, the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh in the UK and hears about new genetic techniques to combat diseases in our livestock. In chickens, professor Helen Sang uses a subtle form of genetic modification, called genome editing. Her team is trying to find the genetic components of natural resistance in a wide group of chicken breeds, which they can then insert into the genome of livestock fowl in the hope of breeding healthier, safer chickens. They are close to making disease resistant birds but they are aware that GM animals are still a long way from entering the market in Europe.

Similar research is going on in cows for TB resistance, but here instead of genetically modifying they are cross-breeding which may take ten or more generations to complete. Melissa hears from Professor Liz Glass who studies the genetics of disease resistance in cattle. Her work has applications in the design of better vaccines for infectious diseases and understanding how disease spreads.

Melissa also hears about a team creating a frozen bio-bank of bird stem cells - cryopreserving them so that they could one day resurrect entire breeds. This technique could provide hope against losing these valuable genes forever.

Producer and presenter: Melissa Hogenboom

(Photo: Chickens. BBC copyright)

Melissa Hogenboom hears about new genetic techniques to combat disease in our livestock

Diseases devastate livestock around the world. The deadly strain of bird flu for example continues to devastate livestock around the world and remains a threat to human health, especially in developing countries.

Scientists at one of the world’s leading genetics institutions - the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, are using a cutting edge technique called genome editing, which they say could soon bring disease resistant animals to market - and quickly. They are close to making disease resistant birds but they are aware that GM animals are still a long way from entering the market in Europe.

Similar research is going on in cows for TB resistance, but here instead of genetically modifying they are cross-breeding which may take ten or more generations to complete.

Image: BBC Copyright

Problems Of Developing Drugs2015111620151117 (WS)

Patrick Vallance is something of a rare breed - a game-keeper turned poacher; an academic who has moved over into industry. And not just any industry, but the pharmaceutical industry. At the time, Patrick Vallance was professor of Clinical Pharmacology and head of the Department of Medicine at University College London. A pioneer of research into some of the body’s key regulatory systems, he had also been publicly critical of big Pharma for “funding studies more helpful to marketing than to advancing clinical care? So what made him go over to "the other side"?

His involvement with the industry was limited until one evening in 2006 when he was asked a question over a dinner, a question that would be pivotal to his life and career.

Today, Patrick is head of research and development at GlaxoSmithKline, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies with annual revenues in excess of £20 billion and nearly a 100,000 employees worldwide. Whilst GSK is no stranger to scandal, since he joined, Patrick has attempted to tackle the culture of secrecy that pervades the industry. He has since reshaped the way GSK carries out its research and has been behind several radical initiatives in global healthcare, to produce a more collaborative approach to tackling major diseases like malaria.

(Photo: Coloured pills)

Jim al-Khalili meets Patrick Vallance heading drug development at a pharmaceutical company

Professor Sir Michael Rutter2014072820140729 (WS)
20140804 (WS)

has been described as the most illustrious and influential psychiatric scientist of his generation. His international reputation has been achieved despite the fact that as a young doctor, he had no intention of becoming a researcher, nor interest in becoming a child psychiatrist. In fact he became a world leader as both.

His career has spanned more than five decades and is marked by a remarkable body of high-impact research and landmark studies. The theme running through all his work has been child development, on the subtle interplay between nature and nurture and on the factors that make the difference between a child flourishing, or floundering.

Evacuated during World War Two, to a Quaker family in the USA, Mike Rutter tells Jim al-Khalili about the impact this move, aged seven, had on him. He describes the inspirational teachers who persuaded him that research and clinical work as a child and adolescent psychiatrist, was for him, and he admits that an early mentor insisted he mustn't receive any formal training in child psychiatry, something he hasn't received to this day!

He was awarded this country's first ever professorship in child psychiatry in 1973 and he's credited with founding the field of developmental psychopathology. This involves the study, over time, of normal and abnormal child development. He's currently Professor of Developmental Psychopathology at King's College, London and still a practicing child psychiatrist.

An early breakthrough was his discovery that autism, or inifantile psychosis as it was then known, had a genetic basis, something barely suspected at the time.

Beautifully designed studies of populations over time followed, many of them landmark studies still cited today. They established the framework for studying and investigating mental illness in the community. The Isle of Wight Studies (1964-74) surveyed the mental health of children living on the island and for the first time in such research, children themselves were directly interviewed and questioned. Before this, Mike Rutter tells Jim, the assumption had been that what children thought and said didn't really matter.

In the 1970s, the Fifteen Thousand Hours study, delivered ground-breaking evidence about the combination of factors that affected the performance and behaviour of children in inner city secondary schools. Findings from this study were included by both the Labour and Conservative parties in their 1979 election manifestos.

"Maternal Deprivation Reassessed" was Mike Rutter's challenge to John Bowlby's hugely influential theory of maternal attachment. It was described as "a classic in the field of childcare" and it transformed the debate about the relationships that help babies to flourish.

His fascination with the underlying reasons why and how children vary in their ability to weather and cope with adversity, led to the growth of resilience science. For more than 40 years Mike Rutter, "the intellectual father", has led this field of study.

His name is particularly associated with "natural experiments" and one of the best known is the English Romanian Adoptees study that he set up in the early 1990s and still runs today. The children being followed are those rescued from the orphanages of Nicolai Ceausescu and adopted by families in this country. Because of the appalling conditions many of these babies and toddlers experienced in Romanian institutions, Professor Rutter understood that tracking and studying them as they grew up in loving homes here, would provide important insights into how early deprivation affects childrens' development.

Producer: Fiona Hill

Image: Professor Sir Michael Rutter, BBC Copyright

Child psychiatrist Sir Michael Rutter influenced understanding of autism and behaviour

Rosetta Mission Arriving At Comet2014080420140805 (WS)
20140811 (WS)

On 6th August, the space probe Rosetta ends its 10 year journey and arrives at Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. If all goes well, Rosetta will be the first spacecraft to go into orbit around a comet. The European Space Agency probe will then accompany the comet until December 2015, studying the 4 kilometre-wide lump of ice and rock dust at a level of detail far surpassing any previous comet flyby.

In the words of Rosetta scientist Joel Parker, “Previous comet missions have been one-night stands, Rosetta will be there for a long term relationship.?

Rosetta will stay with 67P as it heads towards and around the other side of the Sun. Rosetta will be watching everything at close quarters as the comet heats up and produces the classic gas and dust comet tail.

In the final weeks of approach, the Rosetta team have realised this is going to be an even more interesting mission than they had supposed. In the middle of July, the probe’s camera revealed the bizzare shape of the comet’s nucleus. It appears to be formed of two objects joined together. Some have described it as having the shape of a toy duck.

In November, Rosetta will send a small robot lander, Philae, down onto the comet’s surface – another hugely ambitious feat, given the feeble gravitational pull of the comet and its complex shape. Philae could bounce off into the void if its trajectory is not quite true and its on-board harpoons fail to secure it to the comet’s icy surface.

Discovery looks ahead to the mission’s key moments and big science questions with planetary scientists and members of the Rosetta science team:

Professor Ian Wright - principal investigator (PI) for the lander’s Ptolemy instrument,

Professor Monica Grady - planetary scientist at the Open University, UK.

Matt Taylor, project scientist on Rosetta

Dr Joel Parker - deputy PI for Rosetta’s Alice spectrometer

Dr Holger Sierks - principal investigator for Rosetta’s Osiris camera

Dr Stephan Ulamec - project scientist for the lander Philae (German Space Agency)

The big questions for Rosetta include: did comets bring water and the essential ingredients for life to the early Earth?

Presented and produced by Andrew Luck-Baker

Image Credit: Rosetta and Philae at Comet, European Space Agency

Orbiting and landing on a comet. The most daring science space mission ever?

Scotland’s Dolphins2016011820160119 (WS)

The chilly waters of north-east Scotland are home to the world’s most northerly group of bottlenose dolphins. They are protected by EU conservation laws and despite being a small population, appear to be thriving.

Euan McIlwraith heads out into the Moray Firth on a research boat to discover how photo-ID techniques are used to record the dolphins’ movements around the coast, and visits the University of St Andrews to find out more about their communications underwater.

As he discovers, every bottlenose dolphin creates a unique signature whistle for itself early in life. These are like a call-signs, used to communicate to the rest of the group, and recent research has shown they can mimic the calls of other dolphins, and that they respond when they hear their own whistle played back to them.

(Photo: Bottlenose dolphins. Credit: Charlie Phillips/WDC)

How photo-ID techniques are tracking protected bottlenose dolphins

Sue Black2014050520140512 (WS)

Forensic scientist Sue Black on the clues she uses to identify human bodies

Forensic anthropologist professor Sue Black began her career with a Saturday job working in a butcher's shop. At the time she didn't realise that this would be the start of a lifelong fascination with anatomy. Her job has taken her to some extreme and challenging locations to identify human bodies, such as Kosovo, where she uncovered evidence used in the UN's War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague.

Back home, Sue has been integral in solving many high-profile criminal cases, including cracking Scotland's biggest paedophile ring in 2009.

In The Life Scientific, Jim al-Khalili asks how she deals with the emotional pressures of the job, and why she is so fascinated by the inner workings of the human body.

In her spare time, Sue Black also advises crime fiction authors like Val McDermid, providing inspiration for new plotlines and characters. In return, Val and a group of writers have offered to help with Sue's latest challenge - fundraising for a mortuary. This facility will use new techniques to embalm bodies and promises to revolutionise the way surgeons are trained.

(Photo: Sue Black, BBC copyright)

Swarming Robots2014071420140715 (WS)
20140721 (WS)

Adam Hart looks at how new developments in understanding insect behaviour, plant cell growth and sub cellular organisation are influencing research into developing robot swarms.

Biological systems have evolved elegant ways for large numbers of autonomous agents to govern themselves. Staggering colonies built by ants and termites emerge from a decentralized, self-governing system: swarm intelligence. Now, taking inspiration from termites, marine animals and even plants, European researchers are developing autonomous robot swarms, setting them increasingly difficult challenges, such as navigating a maze, searching for an object or surveying an area. At the same time, an American team has announced that its group of robots can autonomously build towers, castles and even a pyramid.

Adam Hart reports on the latest developments in controlling groups of robots, and asks why models taken from the behaviour of social insects such as bees, ants and termites may be far more complex than previously thought. He also delves deep into the cells of plants looking at how the physical and chemical triggers for plant growth might be useful in robot design.

Image: Presenter Adam Hart with ‘Swarmbots’ at Britain’s Surrey University, BBC Copyright

Adam Hart on how insect and cell structure research is helping develop swarming robots

Sydney Brenner: A Revolutionary Biologist20171023

Sydney Brenner talks about his part in the DNA revolution between the 1950s and 1980s

Sydney Brenner was one of the 20th Century’s greatest biologists. Born 90 years ago in South Africa to impoverished immigrant parents, Dr Brenner became a leading figure in the biological revolution that followed the discovery of the structure of DNA by Crick and Watson, using data from Rosalind Franklin, in the 1950s. Brenner’s insights and inventive experiments laid foundation stones for new science of molecular biology and the genetic age in which we live today, from the Human Genome Project to gene editing.

Sydney Brenner talks to biologist and historian Matthew Cobb of the University of Manchester about this thrilling period in biological science, and Dr Brenner’s 20 year-long collaboration with DNA pioneer Francis Crick: a friendship which generated some of their most creative research.

Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker

Picture: Sydney Brenner, Credit: Cold Spring Harbor Lab Archive

Testosterone: Elixir Of Masculinity2016121920161220 (WS)

How testosterone has been used and abused in history

Testosterone has been claimed as one of the most important drivers of human life – through the agency of sex and aggression. In the 19th century, Charles-Eduoard Brown-Séquard injected himself with extracts from ground-up animal testicles, and made startling claims for its rejuvenating properties and its ability to enhance virility. But the amount of testosterone derived from the injection was actually so small that it could only have been a placebo effect. Today synthesised testosterone is increasingly prescribed for the so-called ‘male menopause’; it’s also regularly used for trans men as they transition, as well as for some women with low libido. In ‘How Much Testosterone Makes You a Man’, Naomi Alderman explores how testosterone had been used and abused in the past. She considers the credits and deficits of its story, and asks what it can tell us about identity and masculinity.

Image: Stick men, BBC Copyright

The City That Fell Into The Earth2016110720161108 (WS)

How do you move a city? Lesley Riddoch travels to Arctic Sweden to find out

How do you move a city? Lesley Riddoch travels to Arctic Sweden to find out. Kiruna is gradually sliding into Europe's biggest iron ore mine. The city has to be rebuilt two miles away. That requires an extraordinary blend of planning, architecture, technology and stoicism. If anyone can do it then it's the Swedes.

Kiruna is gradually sliding into Europe's biggest iron ore mine. The city has to be rebuilt two miles away. That requires an extraordinary blend of planning, architecture, technology and stoicism. If anyone can do it then it's the Swedes.

The Genetics Of Intelligence2015110920151110 (WS)

Professor Robert Plomin talks to Jim al-Khalili about what makes some people smarter than others and why he is fed up with the genetics of intelligence being ignored. Born and raised in Chicago, Robert sat countless intelligence tests at his inner city Catholic school. College was an attractive option mainly because it seemed to pay well. Now he is one of the most cited psychologists in the world. He specialized in behavioural genetics in the mid '70s when the focus in mainstream psychology was very much on our nurture rather than our nature, and genetics was virtually taboo. But he persisted conducting several large adoption studies and later twin studies. In 1995 he launched the biggest longitudinal twin study in the UK, the TED study of 10,000 pairs of twins which continues to this day. In this study and in his other work, he has shown consistently that genetic influences on intelligence are highly significant, much more so than what school you go to, your teachers or home environment. If only the genetic differences between children were fully acknowledged, he believes education could be transformed and parents might stop giving themselves such a hard time.

(Photo: Children in classroom)

Professor Robert Plomin talks to Jim al-Khalili about the genetics of intelligence

The Great Telescopes And Evolution2015081020150811 (WS)

Today, astronomers believe the universe is a violent, constantly changing place. But it was not always the case.

At the beginning of the 19th century, many believed fervently that the celestial sky was a constant, divinely perfected, completed creation.

But as telescopes got larger, the mystery of the number, origin and role of the "nebulae" - those colourful, cloud-like smudges on the sky – grew and grew. Were they really vast clouds of gas and dust as they sometimes appeared? Or were they merely closely packed, very distant clusters of stars, as some of them allegedly appeared when magnified through the great reflecting telescopes?

When some astronomers and writers suggested they were in fact a vision of creation in action, matter condensing to form stars and planets like our own, some establishment religious figures cried foul, fearing the social implications.

Could bigger telescopes resolve the crisis?

For most of the 19th century, the biggest telescope in the world was in Birr, Ireland, then known as Parsonstown. It was built by an Anglo-Irish nobleman, Willam Parsons, Earl of Rosse, in the midst of the Irish famine. 50 feet long, 6 feet in diameter, the monster instrument was dubbed "The Leviathan".

But even thus equipped, in the days before photography and spectroscopy, observers could only describe and sketch what they saw, and it was hard to be objective.

As Simon Schaffer, James Bennet, and Chris Lintott narrate, the debate as to the truth of the "Nebular Hypothesis", and the concern as to whether the Irish astronomers really saw what they claimed to see, paved the way for the Darwinian debates in the coming decades.

Producer: Alex Mansfield

(Photo: NASA Hubble Space Telescope image released 25 April, 2005 shows the spiral galaxy M51 also known as the Whirlpool Galaxy. Credit: NASA via AFP/Getty Images)

Simon Schaffer tells of the astronomers who grappled with evolution long before Darwin.

The Horn Dilemma2016041120160412 (WS)

Will the sale of harvested rhino horn help to stop poaching?

The majority of white and black rhinoceros are found in South Africa. This stronghold for these magnificent creatures is now being threatened by poachers killing rhino for their horns.

Rhino horn, traded illegally in parts of Asia, is thought to be a cooling agent in traditional Chinese medicine. It's recently been hailed as a cure for cancer, and is seen as a status symbol in Vietnam. Made from keratin, the same stuff as hair or fingernails rhino horn has negligible medical properties, yet people are willing to pay up to £40,000 a kilogramme for it.

International trade in rhino horn has been banned under CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) since the 1990s. Trade in horn was banned within South Africa in 2009. Since then, poaching has increased exponentially, reaching more than 1300 rhino poached in 2015.

Protecting the rhino in National and Provincial parks and privately owned reserves is a very dangerous and expensive undertaking. The government-run parks, such as Kruger National Park have about 75% of the South African rhino and are losing the most animals to poachers. The best protected rhino tend to be in the privately owned farms.

Many private rhino owners want the ban on the sale of rhino horn to be lifted.

This is because, unlike elephant ivory, pangolin scales and the bones from lions, rhinos can be dehorned without harming the animal. Many rhino owners are already removing the horns from their animals to stop them attracting poachers. So they are sitting on stockpiles of harvested horn.

With education and demand-reduction schemes not working quickly enough, rhino owners hope to satisfy the demand by legally selling their harvested horn. Some just want to trade within South Africa, while others want CITES to allow a trade agreement between South Africa and China or Vietnam. They say they would use the money earned to put back into conserving and protecting rhino.

Others worry that this would just increase demand for horn and that by making trade legal, you are encouraging people to think that it has an actual medical benefit.

It's a huge dilemma.

Producer: Fiona Roberts

Image: baby Ruby, credit Fiona Roberts

The Infinite Monkey Cage Usa Tour: Chicago2015101220151013 (WS)

Brian Cox and Robin Ince take to the stage in Chicago, to discuss fossils and evolution

Brian Cox and Robin Ince take to the stage in Chicago, Illinois, to discuss fossil records and evolution. They are joined on stage by host of NPR's "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me" Peter Sagal, comedian and Saturday Night Live alumnus Julia Sweeney, palaeontologist Paul Sereno and evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne.

(Photo: Robin Ince (left) and Brian Cox)

The Infinite Monkey Cage Usa Tour: Los Angeles2015100520151006 (WS)

What happens when science meets Hollywood?

Brian Cox and Robin Ince continue their tour of the USA, as they take to the stage in LA, as they ask what happens when science meets Hollywood. They ask why so many movies now seem to employ a science adviser, whether scientific accuracy is really important when you are watching a film about a mythical Norse god and whether science fact can actually be far more interesting than science fiction. They are joined by cosmologist Sean Carroll, comedian Joe Rogan, executive producer of Futurama, David X Cohen, and Eric Idle.

(Photo: (left) Robin Ince and (right) Brian Cox)

The Infinite Monkey Cage Usa Tour: New York2015092820150929 (WS)

The BBC’s award-winning radio science/comedy show The Infinite Monkey Cage has transported itself to the USA bringing its unique brand of witty, irreverent science chat to an American audience for the first time.

In the first of four specials, professor Brian Cox and comedian Robin Ince take to the stage in New York, to ask the question - is science a force for good or evil? They are joined on stage by Bill Nye the Science Guy, cosmologist Janna Levin, actor Tim Daly and comedian Lisa Lampanelli.

Is science a force for good or evil? Professor Brian Cox, Robin Ince and guests discuss

The Infinite Monkey Cage Usa Tour: San Francisco2015101920151020 (WS)

Brian Cox and Robin Ince take to the stage in San Francisco to talk alien visitations

Brian Cox and Robin Ince take to the stage in San Francisco for the last of their USA specials. They talk alien visitations, UFOs and other close encounters with astronomer Dr Seth Shostack, NASA scientist Dr Carolyn Porco and comedians Greg Proops and Paul Provenza.

The Inflamed Mind2016111420161115 (WS)

Can your immune system make you psychotic or depressed?

depression or psychotic illness experienced by hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people in the UK. James talks to the psychiatrists investigating this new understanding of mental illness and to people who may benefit from treatments aimed at the immune systems rather than their brain cells.

“I believe this is one of the strongest discoveries in psychiatry in the last twenty years?, says Professor Carmine Pariante of his and other research on the immune system and depression. "It allows us to understand depression no longer as just a disorder of the mind and not even a disorder of the brain, but a disorder of the whole body. It shifts conceptually what we understand about depression."

James also talks to New York journalist Susannah Cahalan. She began to experience paranoid delusions and florid hallucinations when her immune system made damaging antibodies against part of the molecular circuitry in her brain. Treatment to eliminate the antibodies prevented her committal to psychiatric hospital. Psychiatrist Professor Belinda Lennox at the University of Oxford says she has evidence that a significant proportion of people presenting for the first time with psychotic symptoms are victims of a similar autoimmune problem.

Producer: Rachael Buchanan and Andrew Luck-Baker

Picture: Brain Cells © Science Photo Library

The Mars Of The Mid-atlantic2016102420161030 (WS)

Peter Gibbs explores Ascension Island, a barren Atlantic rock made fertile by man

Ascension Island is a tiny scrap of British territory, marooned in the tropical mid-Atlantic roughly halfway between Brazil and Africa. It is the tip of a giant undersea volcano – rugged, remote and, up until around 150 years ago, almost completely devoid of vegetation.

Peter Gibbs visits to learn how 19th Century botanist Joseph Hooker, encouraged by Charles Darwin, planted a forest on the island’s summit to trap moisture brought by the trade winds, introducing a panoply of flora from around the world - ginger, guava, bamboo, ficus and dozens more.

But is Ascension’s cloud forest all it appears? He talks to conservationists struggling to cope with invasive species running riot, hears about the rescue of Ascension’s tiny endemic ferns, encounters nesting turtles on the beaches and ventures among the chattering ‘wideawakes’ on the sweltering lava plains by the coast.

(Photo: Ascension Island. Credit: Matthew Teller)

Ascension Island is a tiny scrap of British territory, marooned in the tropical mid-Atlantic roughly halfway between Brazil and Africa. It’s the tip of a giant undersea volcano – rugged, remote and, up until around 150 years ago, almost completely devoid of vegetation.

Image, Ascension Island, credit: Matthew Teller

Presenter: Peter Gibbs

Producer: Alasdair Cross

The Neglected Sense2016053020160531 (WS)

We may fear going blind, deaf or dumb, but few of us worry about losing our olfactory senses. And yet more than 200,000 people in the UK are anosmic - they cannot smell.

Kathy Clugston is anosmic and gives a first hand account of the condition.She sets out on a personal mission to discover why she cannot smell. She has never before researched the extent to which smell guides and shapes our lives, how we smell and what parts of the brain are affected. For example, is her 'terrible memory' connected to the condition?

Referred to by the experts as the forgotten or neglected sense, we reveal the seriousness of not being able to smell.

Anosmia can be caused by a virus or a head injury, allergies, polyps, or a brain tumour, but for many, including Kathy, it is something that is missing from birth. Sanguine as she is, Kathy knows she is vulnerable - “I’ve left the gas on, fallen asleep with a pot on the stove?

She adds, "As I got older I began to realise how much I miss out on. People say "Oh, you can't smell B.O.! Lucky you!" but then it dawns on them that I can't smell freshly brewed coffee, newly cut grass, a baby's head, my partner's hair, a rose. I can't catch a whiff of something and be instantly transported back to my grandma's kitchen or an exotic holiday. It's as if life has a missing layer."

(Photo: A nose)

Kathy Clugston is anosmic - she has no sense of smell and sets out to discover why

The Power Of Cute2016080820160809 (WS)

Zoologist and broadcaster Lucy Cooke explores the science behind our seeming obsession with all things adorable. There has been an explosion in interest in cuteness, particularly online, with an ever growing number of websites dedicated to pandas, kittens, puppies and of course babies. If you are feeling a bit down in the dumps, what better way to brighten your day than looking at some cute baby animal frolicking about. But what is it that makes these creatures so darn attractive to us and can you be addicted to cute? Lucy investigates the latest scientific research looking at just what makes babies cute, and what looking at them does to our brain, with some surprising results. She visits London Zoo to visit her number one cute creature of choice, the sloth, to find out why sloths hit the top of the cute charts, but the Chinese giant salamander definitely doesn't, and why in terms of conservation, that matters.

Image: Hoffmann"s Two-Toed Sloth, credit: Science Photo Library

Lucy Cooke explores our seeming obsession with all things cute.

The Power Of Equations2015122120151222 (WS)

Jim al-Khalili was sitting in a physics lecture at the University of Surrey when he suddenly understood the power of equations to describe and predict the physical world. He recalls that sadly his enthusiasm was lost on many of his fellow students.

Jim wants to persuade the listeners that equations have a beauty. In conversation with fellow scientists he reveals the surprising emotions they feel when describing the behaviour of matter in the universe in mathematical terms.

For Carlos Frenk, professor of Computational Cosmology at Durham University, one of the most beautiful equations is the one that is at the heart of Einstein's theory of general relativity. A century ago, Einstein wrote down his now famous field equations that linked the shape of the universe to the matter in it.

Jim and Graham Farmelo, the author of a biography of Paul Dirac called The Strangest Man, discuss why the Dirac equation is not as well known as Einstein's but, in their opinion, should be.

Dr Patricia Fara of Cambridge University, and Vice-President of the British Society for the History of Science, explains that although mathematics goes back centuries it was only in the 17th Century that it was applied to the real world.

Jeff Forshaw, Professor of Particle Physics at the University of Manchester, talks about when he first realised the power of equations and about why, surprisngly, maths is so effective at describing the real world.

Science writer Philip Ball questions whether the beauty that scientists see in equations is really the same as we see in art.

And physics A Level students in Dr White's class at Hammersmith Academy in London reveal that they already appreciate equations.

(Photo: Jim al-Khalili)

Jim al-Khalili and fellow physicists on the beauty and power of equations

The Power Of Sloth
The Power of Sloth

Zoologist and founder of the Sloth Appreciation Society, Lucy Cooke, unleashes her inner sloth to discover why being lazy could actually be the ultimate evolutionary strategy.

The explorers of the New World described sloths as ‘the lowest form of existence’, but sloths are actually some of the most enduring of all tropical mammals. They make up one third of the mammalian biomass in rainforests and have survived some 64 million years - outliving far flashier animals like sabre tooth tigers.

The secret to the sloth’s success is their slothful nature and their suite of energy-saving adaptations. In fact slothfulness is such a successful strategy, that there are examples all over the animal kingdom, including, surprisingly, worker ants. Recent studies in humans have shown the many health benefits of adopting a slower pace of life. Sleep itself is universal amongst the animal kingdom. All animals do it, but why remains a mystery. What is clear though, is that unleashing your inner couch potato is no bad thing, be you sloth or human.

Lucy discovers the genius behind the sloths laid back attitude and fights the corner for laziness.

Producer: Alexandra Feachem

Picture: A young two-toed sloth sits in a bucket, September 2017. Credit: Klaus-Dietmar Gabbert / AFP / Getty Images

The Sun King Of China2016103120161101 (WS)

Meet the undisputed leader of China's booming solar industry

Meet Huang Ming, the Chinese inventor who describes himself as, 'the number one crazy solar guy in the world'. One of the prize exhibits of his museum in northern China is a vintage solar panel. It is a water heater, installed by President Jimmy Carter on the roof of the West Wing of the White House. Back in 1979 the installation was meant to symbolise a new solar-powered future for America. Instead, oil prices fell and Ronald Reagan removed the White House panels.

Thirty-seven years on and it is China, not the US that is embracing the idea of a solar-powered economy. Huang Ming, an engineer, prominent political figure and businessman is leading the way with his foundation of Solar Valley. In 800 acres of land south of Beijing he employs 3000 people in solar research, development and manufacture.

Peter Hadfield visits Solar Valley to see the fruits of the sun, from a solar-powered yurt to the world's biggest solar-powered building. He asks if Huang Ming can persuade his nation to turn its back on coal and oil and angle its face toward the sun.

The Vaccine Detectives - Part Two

The Whale Menopause2016100320161004 (WS)

What do killer whales tell us about the human menopause?

Killer whales and humans are almost unique in the animal kingdom. The females of both species go through the menopause in their 40s or 50s, and then live for decades without producing any more offspring themselves. It is an extremely rare phenomenon. No other mammal does this, including other apes, monkeys and elephants, with the exception of another species of toothed whale. There are good grounds for thinking the menopause evolved for a reason, but why?

BBC science reporter Victoria Gill takes to the sea off the north-west coast of the USA with scientists who believe the killer whales in this part of the world can explain why the menopause evolved in both orca whales and our own species.

Victoria encounters 'Granny', the world's oldest known orca - a matriarch killer whale who is estimated to be between 80 and 105 years old. 'Granny' has not had a calf for at least 40 years and is still very much the leader of her family group.

(Photo: An Orca whale jumps out of the water © Jane Cogan)

The Woman Who Tamed Lightning2016122620161227 (WS)

Hertha Ayrton was the first woman admitted to the Institution of Electrical Engineers

Naomi Alderman tells the story of Hertha Marks Ayrton, the first woman to be admitted to the Institution of Electrical Engineers, who improved electric arc lights.

Photo: Street lamps light up a road in Colombo, credit: Ishara S.KODIKARA/AFP/Getty Images

Trauma At War2014110320141104 (WS)

Explorations in the world of science.

Trauma: The Fight For Life2014102720141028 (WS)

How modern trauma medicine evolved from conflict and catastrophe to help save lives

Dr Kevin Fong explores the development of modern trauma medicine and discovers how the lessons from conflict and catastrophe have equipped us to deal with even the worst disasters, providing a system that could save lives that would otherwise have been lost. First of two programmes.

Truth About The Body Mass Index2015081720150818 (WS)

Dr Mark Porter is a family doctor in the UK and in his 50s. He’s tall and slim and thinks he’s fit and healthy – after all he goes to the gym several times a week. Mark meets experts who measure his weight, height and body fat to find out if he is as healthy as he seems.

He begins by finding out his BMI, or body mass index, a term more and more people are using all over the world. It’s an indicator of whether he is too fat, too thin or just right. It’s relatively easy to work out with a calculator – he divides his weight in kilograms by the square of his height in metres.

Mark compares his BMI against two other ways of measuring body fat, the true test of whether he is overweight or not. Is his BMI as accurate as the results of body fat calculations derived by measuring skin folds and an ultra accurate DEXA scan?

(Photo: Overweight man measuring his waist. Credit: Science Photo Library)

As Dr Mark Porter's waistline increases he puts his body mass index, or BMI, to the test.

Unbreathable: The Modern Problem Of Air Pollution2015113020151201 (WS)

The shock news three months ago, that Volkswagen had used defeat devices to circumvent emissions tests in the United States, has brought back into the news a continuing problem of modern life - air pollution. The traces of pollutants coming out of tail pipes may seem to be little more than a nuisance, but it is actually a matter of life and death. One expert has estimated that this deception by Volkswagen has contributed to the deaths of 59 people in the States, their lives shortened by the damage nitrogen oxides have done to their bodies. A further 130 lives are at risk over the lifetime of the vehicles if nothing is done.

And air pollution comes from other sources as well as vehicles, such as fires and agriculture. Roland Pease looks into what can be done to clean up the air we breathe.

(Photo: Fumes blowing out from a car exhaust pipe)

Roland Pease looks into the 3.3 million people killed each year by polluted air

Urine Trouble: What’s In Our Water2014101320141014 (WS)
20141020 (WS)

What happens to the medicines we take after they leave our body? Andrea Sella finds out.

You have a headache and take a pill. The headache is gone, but what about the pill?

What we flush away makes its way through sewers, treatment works, rivers and streams and finally back to your tap. Along the way most of the drugs we take are removed but the tiny amounts that remain are having effects. Feminised fish in our rivers, starlings feeding on Prozac-rich worms, and bacteria developing antibiotic resistance; scientists are just beginning to understand how the drugs we take are leaving their mark on the environment.

The compounds we excrete are also telling tales on us. Professor of Chemistry, Andrea Sella, gets up close and personal with music festival toilets to find out what the revellers are swallowing, and hears from scientists who are sampling our rivers to learn about our health.

Producer: Lorna Stewart

Image: Laboratory technician, testing a urine sample for traces of any banned substances or stimulants. BBC Copyright

What Has Happened To El Nino?2014072120140722 (WS)
20140728 (WS)

What is making this year’s predicted El Nino so hard to forecast?

At the start of 2014 meteorologists warned of a possible El Nino event this year. The portents were persuasive – a warming of the central Pacific much like that which preceded the powerful El Nino event of 1997. But since then the Pacific climate system seems to have stalled. What’s going on? What are the prospects for an El Nino to develop later this year? What impacts might it have? Roland Pease delves below the Pacific surface to find out what drives El Nino cycles, the most powerful single climate fluctuation on the planet, and asks the experts why it is so hard to forecast. “The year started with a bang,? one expert tells Discovery - will it end with a whimper?

(Photo: Burned swamp forest in Kalimantan. Credit: Florian Siegert, RSS GmbH)

Why We Cut Men

Male circumcision is one of the oldest and most common surgical procedures in human history. Around the world, 1 in 3 men are cut. It’s performed as a religious rite in Islam and Judaism; in other cultures it’s part of initiation, a social norm or marker of identity. Some individuals think it’s cleaner, sexier or safer. In this documentary, anthropologist Mary-Ann Ochota explores the reasons we cut men. She meets people who passionately promote the practice – and others who protest against it.

Across sub-Saharan Africa, medical circumcision is endorsed in the fight against HIV – research shows it reduces the risk of a man getting infected if he has sex with an HIV-positive woman. More than 10 million men and boys have been circumcised so far; officials plan to reach another 25 million by 2020.

In rural Uganda, Mary-Ann visits a mobile clinic to watch 21-year-old Wajuli undergo the operation. She meets another young man in Kampala who reveals his regret about getting cut.

The United States is the only western country where most boys are circumcised for non-religious reasons – $270 million a year is spent on infant circumcision. In downtown New York, Mary-Ann meets ‘Intact-ivists’ who believe male circumcision is genital mutilation. She speaks to members of the public confronted with the protest, and interviews a leading US paediatrician who reflects on the reasons US doctors keep cutting.

With contributions from Uganda’s national VMMC coordinator Dr Barbara Nanteza, Dr Marc Cendron (Boston Children’s Hospital) and Georganne Chapin, Intact America.

Picture: Intactivist van in Union Square, New York, Credit: Nick Minter

Why We Cut Men20180319

Male circumcision is one of the oldest and most common surgical procedures in human history. Around the world, 1 in 3 men are cut. It’s performed as a religious rite in Islam and Judaism; in other cultures it’s part of initiation, a social norm or marker of identity. Some individuals think it’s cleaner, sexier or safer. In this documentary, anthropologist Mary-Ann Ochota explores the reasons we cut men. She meets people who passionately promote the practice – and others who protest against it.

Across sub-Saharan Africa, medical circumcision is endorsed in the fight against HIV – research shows it reduces the risk of a man getting infected if he has sex with an HIV-positive woman. More than 10 million men and boys have been circumcised so far; officials plan to reach another 25 million by 2020.

In rural Uganda, Mary-Ann visits a mobile clinic to watch 21-year-old Wajuli undergo the operation. She meets another young man in Kampala who reveals his regret about getting cut.

The United States is the only western country where most boys are circumcised for non-religious reasons – $270 million a year is spent on infant circumcision. In downtown New York, Mary-Ann meets ‘Intact-ivists’ who believe male circumcision is genital mutilation. She speaks to members of the public confronted with the protest, and interviews a leading US paediatrician who reflects on the reasons US doctors keep cutting.

With contributions from Uganda’s national VMMC coordinator Dr Barbara Nanteza, Dr Marc Cendron (Boston Children’s Hospital) and Georganne Chapin, Intact America.

Picture: Intactivist van in Union Square, New York, Credit: Nick Minter

Women On The €problem With Science’2015082420150825 (WS)

Earlier in the year, the reported remarks about 'the problem with girls' by British biologist and Nobel Laureate Professor Tim Hunt' brought the issues facing women scientists into public spotlight. Although there have been questions about the reports of what exactly happened and what was said during Hunt's talk in South Korea, the story has given female researchers the rare opportunity to air the problems of gender bias in science to a much wider audience.

What are the factors holding back women in science? What can be done to improve gender equality in the lab? Claudia Hammond talks to women scientists in India, Nigeria, Bolivia, the US and the UK about their experiences and views.

The programme features: ecologist Monica Moraes at the Universidad Mayor de San Andres in Bolivia; neuroscientist Jennifer Raymond in Stanford, California; psychologist Uta Frith at UCL in London; chemist Paul Walton of the University of York; and physicists Rabia Salihu Sa'id at Bayero University in northern Nigeria and Shobhana Narasimhan of the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research in Bangalore.

Professor Narasimhan also organises career development workshops for women physicists in low-income countries at the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics.

Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker

A global perspective on the barriers to women in science.

01Muscle Wastage

01The Curious Cases Of Rutherford & Fry: Hair2016082220160823 (WS)

What makes gingers ginger? And, what is the point of body hair?

Doctors Adam Rutherford and Hannah Fry set out to solve the following perplexing cases sent in by listeners:

The Scarlet Mark

Sheena Cruickshank in Manchester asks, "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, who discovered the ginger gene.

The Hairy Hominid

"How does leg hair know it has been cut? It does not seem to grow continuously but if you shave it, it somehow knows to grow back," asks Hannah Monteith from Edinburgh in Scotland.

Hannah Fry consults dermatologist Dr Susan Holmes, from the Hair Clinic at Southern General Hospital in Glasgow, to discover why the hairs on your legs do not 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

Producer: Michelle Martin

(Photo: Dr Adam Rutherford and Dr Hannah Fry)

02The Curious Cases Of Rutherford & Fry: Tea & Tears2016082920160830 (WS)

Why do we cry? The solution is clearly a hot cup of tea, but how do you make it properly?

A story of sorrow and comfort today, as Doctors Adam Rutherford and Hannah Fry investigate two mysteries sent in by listeners.

The Psychic Tear

Edith Calman challenges our scientific sleuths to answer the following question:

“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, describes why Darwin experimented on his children until they cried. And, Adam watches a tearjerker to take part in a psychological study, but ends up getting angry instead.

The Tea Leaf Mystery

The team examine how to make the perfect cup of British tea, in response to 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 chemistry of tea. Hannah visits a tea factory in Kent where Master Blender Alex Probyn teaches her an unusual method for tasting tea.

They conclude with the most important question: should you add the milk first or last? And, can tea professionals really tell the difference?

If you have any everyday mysteries for the team to investigate using the power of science, please email curiouscases@bbc.co.uk

Producer: Michelle Martin

(Photo: Dr Adam Rutherford and Dr Hannah Fry)

03The Curious Cases Of Rutherford & Fry: Traffic & Telephones2016090520160906 (WS)

What causes traffic jams? And why do people shout on their cellphones?

How does traffic jam? And, why do some people shout into their cellphones in public places? Two subjects guaranteed to annoy even the most patient listeners.

The Phantom Jam

Listener Matthew Chandler wrote to us: "I travel on the motorway for work and often I find myself sitting in a traffic jam for ages, thinking there must be roadworks or an accident ahead, then suddenly the jam mysteriously disappears to reveal… nothing! There's no apparent reason whatsoever."

Doctors Rutherford and Fry discover the cause of these phantom jams. Adam ventures on to the M25 in search of a tailback, and Hannah looks at projects around the world designed to thwart traffic tailbacks.

This case features Neal Harwood from the Transport Research Laboratory and BBC technology reporter, Jane Wakefield. Plus a special guest appearance from Greg Marston, aka 'Masdar City Man'.

The Aural Voyeur

Listener Daniel Sarano, from New Jersey, asks why people shout on their mobile phones in public: "I have no interest in hearing about people’s private lives. I don’t enjoy the aural voyeurism. If people want to say 'honey I’m running late, be home in 5'. That’s OK, but discussing business or, worse, personal details…. I hate it. The whole idea would have seemed an anathema to older generations. I think they would have considered it rude to talk loudly in public. No sense of that in the 21st Century.?

We discover the answer to this annoying modern habit by delving into the inner workings of telephony. What follows is a tale of engineering rivalry, Victorian etiquette and early otolaryngology. Providing the answers are 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 everyday mysteries for the team to investigate using the power of science, please email curiouscases@bbc.co.uk

Producer: Michelle Martin

(Photo: Dr Adam Rutherford and Dr Hannah Fry)

04Graphene - The New Wonder Material

04The Anatomy Of Pain, Pain Of Torture
04The Anatomy Of Pain, Pain Of Torture20180212

Does knowing that someone is inflicting pain on you deliberately make the pain worse? Professor Irene Tracey meets survivors of torture and examines the dark side of pain.

Producer: Geraldine Fitzgerald

(Photo: A woman mourns during the funeral procession of Abdulrassul Hujairi. Credit: Joseph Eid/AFP)

04The Curious Cases Of Rutherford And Fry: Fainting And Counting20160913

Why do we faint and what evolutionary purpose does it serve? And, can animals count?

Swooning maidens and clever horses feature in today's Curious Cases, sent in by listeners to curiouscases@bbc.co.uk.

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.

The Counting Horse

Our second case was sent in by retired primary school teacher Lesley Marr, who asks:

"Can horses count? I think they can. Any ideas about which animals can count and which can't??

The team considers the case of Clever Hans, and hears 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

(Photo: Dr Adam Rutherford and Dr Hannah Fry)

05The Curious Cases Of Rutherford And Fry: Space2016091920160920 (WS)

Two spacey cases today for doctors Rutherford and Fry to investigate, both sent in to BBC Future via Facebook.

The Stellar Dustbin

'Can we shoot garbage into the sun?' asks Elisabeth Hill. The doctors 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.

A Study in Spheres

Another stellar question comes from 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 any everyday mysteries for the team to investigate using the power of science, please email: curiouscases@bbc.co.uk

(Photo: Dr Adam Rutherford (L) and Dr Hannah Fry)

Can we send our litter into space? And why is everything in space round?

05The Power Of Sloth20180219

Zoologist and founder of the Sloth Appreciation Society, Lucy Cooke, unleashes her inner sloth to discover why being lazy could actually be the ultimate evolutionary strategy.

The explorers of the New World described sloths as ‘the lowest form of existence’, but sloths are actually some of the most enduring of all tropical mammals. They make up one third of the mammalian biomass in rainforests and have survived some 64 million years - outliving far flashier animals like sabre tooth tigers.

The secret to the sloth’s success is their slothful nature and their suite of energy-saving adaptations. In fact slothfulness is such a successful strategy, that there are examples all over the animal kingdom, including, surprisingly, worker ants. Recent studies in humans have shown the many health benefits of adopting a slower pace of life. Sleep itself is universal amongst the animal kingdom. All animals do it, but why remains a mystery. What is clear though, is that unleashing your inner couch potato is no bad thing, be you sloth or human.

Lucy discovers the genius behind the sloths laid back attitude and fights the corner for laziness.

Producer: Alexandra Feachem

Picture: A young two-toed sloth sits in a bucket, September 2017. Credit: Klaus-Dietmar Gabbert / AFP / Getty Images

06In Their Element, Lead
06In Their Element, Lead

From the plumbing of ancient Rome, to lead acid batteries, paint, petrol and a dangerous legacy, the metal lead has seen a myriad of uses and abuses over thousands of years. In bullets, and poisons it has killed us both quickly and slowly, and yet its malleability, low melting point and resistance to corrosion make it a fantastic material for all kinds of containers and water proofing. And it is key to one of the most commonly used, and ignored, devices on the planet, the car battery.

However it's only recently that the serious impact of lead poisoning on the development of children's brains has come to light.
Uta Frith, Emeritus Professor of Cognitive Development at University College London, who studied the impact of lead poisoning in the 1970s and 80s, journeys with lead from the iron age to the present day delving into the history and scandal associated with this often overlooked element.

Photo: BBC Copyright

06In Their Element, Lead20180226

From the plumbing of ancient Rome, to lead acid batteries, paint, petrol and a dangerous legacy, the metal lead has seen a myriad of uses and abuses over thousands of years. In bullets, and poisons it has killed us both quickly and slowly, and yet its malleability, low melting point and resistance to corrosion make it a fantastic material for all kinds of containers and water proofing. And it is key to one of the most commonly used, and ignored, devices on the planet, the car battery.

However it's only recently that the serious impact of lead poisoning on the development of children's brains has come to light.
Uta Frith, Emeritus Professor of Cognitive Development at University College London, who studied the impact of lead poisoning in the 1970s and 80s, journeys with lead from the iron age to the present day delving into the history and scandal associated with this often overlooked element.

Photo: BBC Copyright

07In Their Element, Phosphorus
07In Their Element, Phosphorus

What links trade unions with urine, Syria with semiconductors, and bones and bombs? The answer is phosphorus, UCL Inorganic Chemistry Professor Andrea Sella, who is himself engaged in researching new phosphorus based materials, looks at this often rather frightening element.
We hear how the health impact of phosphorus on a group of Irish girls changed politics, how the element has been used as a weapon of war and we peer into the future, as chemists break new ground on what might be possible with phosphorus and nanotechnology.

Photo: BBC Copyright

07In Their Element, Phosphorus20180305

What links trade unions with urine, Syria with semiconductors, and bones and bombs? The answer is phosphorus, UCL Inorganic Chemistry Professor Andrea Sella, who is himself engaged in researching new phosphorus based materials, looks at this often rather frightening element.
We hear how the health impact of phosphorus on a group of Irish girls changed politics, how the element has been used as a weapon of war and we peer into the future, as chemists break new ground on what might be possible with phosphorus and nanotechnology.

Photo: BBC Copyright

08In Their Element, Iodine

The phrase 'essential 'element' is often incorrectly used to describe the nutrients we need, but can aptly be applied to iodine - without it we would suffer severe developmental problems. Iodine is a key component of thyroid hormones, responsible for the regulation of our metabolism. And yet most of us have no idea how much we need, nor where it comes from.

In her research, Margaret Rayman, Professor of Nutritional Medicine at Surrey University, has found pregnant women in particular are at risk of iodine deficiency - and there's a lack of iodine in what many consider healthy diets.

As well as looking at contemporary issues with iodine, Margaret explores the legacy of past iodine deficiency - the word cretin, was coined to describe someone living in the Alps with such a condition. We learn why you might find iodine in British milk - but not necessarily elsewhere in the world, and we discuss the consequences of exposure to radioactive iodine isotopes - both good and bad.

Picture: Pregnant woman with milk, Credit: Arief-Juwono/Getty Images

08In Their Element, Iodine20180312

The phrase 'essential 'element' is often incorrectly used to describe the nutrients we need, but can aptly be applied to iodine - without it we would suffer severe developmental problems. Iodine is a key component of thyroid hormones, responsible for the regulation of our metabolism. And yet most of us have no idea how much we need, nor where it comes from.

In her research, Margaret Rayman, Professor of Nutritional Medicine at Surrey University, has found pregnant women in particular are at risk of iodine deficiency - and there's a lack of iodine in what many consider healthy diets.

As well as looking at contemporary issues with iodine, Margaret explores the legacy of past iodine deficiency - the word cretin, was coined to describe someone living in the Alps with such a condition. We learn why you might find iodine in British milk - but not necessarily elsewhere in the world, and we discuss the consequences of exposure to radioactive iodine isotopes - both good and bad.

Picture: Pregnant woman with milk, Credit: Arief-Juwono/Getty Images