Science Hour, The

Science news and highlights of the week

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2014070520140706 (WS)

























Ancient Dna Found In Horse Bone, Cambodian Tailorbird: A Species New To Science, Russian Meteors Make Waves,20130630

Ancient horse DNA

Genetic material has been extracted from a 700,000 year old fossilised horse bone preserved in the Canadian permafrost. Older, by half a million years, than any other sequenced DNA, this opens up the possibility of extending our understanding of animal and hominin evolution to the ancient past.

Russian meteorites

Two huge cosmic impacts have made recent scientific news. Material recovered from the largest historical impact, in Siberia in 1908, is identified as meteor dust settling the nature of that event. Meanwhile, data from the sonic boom of a meteor fall over Russia earlier this year was detected as a super-low-frequency echo that travelled twice around the globe.

Solar Max

The eleven year cycle of solar activity is reaching its maximum this year. Coronal mass ejections – huge bubbles of plasma eruption from the Sun, can generate severe geomagnetic storms. In the past these have cause power outages and communications disruption. What might happen if a solar magnetic superstorm hits Earth again? Lucie Green discusses ‘severe space weather’ and the steps being taken by UK industry to minimise the risks it poses.

Image Credit: Dr Ludovic Orlando

Artificial Reefs20130825

There have been artificial reefs around Gibraltar since 1973 when tyres were tied down to the sea bed to attract marine wildlife. In 1974 sunken ships were used. Now, in 2013, a number of concrete blocks have been dropped into the sea. But what is an artificial reef? We look at how artificial reefs are made and what effect they have on the marine environment.

Classical Music and Body Language

To judge a classical music competition you might expect a good ear is essential. But did you know your eyes might be equally important? New research at University College London shows that the best predictor of a winner's musical performance was the visible passion they displayed, followed closely by their uniqueness and creativity. An artist's stage presence could be even more important when it comes to evaluating a recital. The research, published in the journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) found that people shown silent videos of piano competitions could pick out the winners more often than those who could also hear the music. It underlines the dominance of our sense of vision, scientists say.


The myth is that we all inhabit a world of high speed broadband connectivity. But is this really true? In rural areas of the UK many people still depend on their dial-ups and the connectivity is slow, unreliable and often breaks down. Gareth Mitchell and Bill Thompson travel to the north of England to hear about how life and work is hampered by poor connectivity. Fed up with the reluctance of the big telecom companies to come to their aid, some remote, rural communities are taking matters into their own hands, digging ditches and laying fibre-optic cables. B4RN is a community-based initiative for high speed connectivity which is spreading throughout rural parts of the UK.

Photo: A scientist diver discovers the flora and fauna located on artificial reefs. Credit: AFP/Getty Images.

Australian Bush Fires, Popular Science Comments Page Closure, Project To Help Roma Fasmilies20131027

Bush fires have been spreading across New South Wales, Australia, for over a week with little hope of getting them under control soon. Although bush fires are an expected part of an Australian summer, the fire season has started much earlier than usual. We look at the causes of the Australian bush fires and consider how much of them are due to human impacts on the climate.

The prominent science news website,, has recently decided to close down its comments section. The decision was taken following a deluge of potentially damaging misinformation loaded onto the comments page, which the website does not have the staff to properly police. We hear from the editor-in-chief of PopularScience about why such a radical measure was taken.

Roma children are among the most vulnerable people in Serbia. Despite access to healthcare facilities, many feel they don’t have the right to go to them or just don’t know about them. The consequences have been grave with mortality rates – particularly for young children – that are almost double those of the general population. Now a new campaign is attempting to change attitudes by training specific ‘mediators’ who can integrate the communities with mainstream healthcare provision.

(Photo credit: A firefighter hoses down the flames in New South Wales © AFP/Getty Images)

Behavioural Profiling At Airports; Babies Laughing; Cosmic Dust20140713

Behavioural profiling at airports

Airport security has been tightened recently. Passengers must be able to switch on their electronic devices to prove they don't contain explosives. We ask about the science behind spotting a potential terrorist.

Babies Laughing

Tiny babies are, from birth, active learners. They don’t wait for the world to come to them. Claudia Hammond explores the very latest research about what influences the developing mind of the new born infant. Dr Caspar Addyman from the Babylab at Birkbeck, University of London explains that babies really do get the joke.

Cosmic Dust

A new study sheds light onto where dust grains that occur in the wake of an exploding star come from. Rocky planets like our earth are big clumps of cosmic dust – the small particles we see in space and galaxies. Scientists are now trying to understand how these particles of dust get bigger and turn into rocky planets.


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.

Cassini mission to Saturn

Cassini-Huygens is an unmanned spacecraft sent to the planet Saturn. The NASA-ESA-ASI robotic spacecraft has been orbiting and studying the planet and its many natural satellites for 10 years. Adam talks to the mission's leader of the imaging science team, Carolyn Porco, about how successful it's been.

NIME Pioneering Electronic Music

NIME, New Interfaces for Musical Expression, is an extraordinary conference and festival examining the potential of electronics in music, recently on display at Goldsmiths, University of London. Gareth Mitchell and LJ Rich report on the novel ways of making music that have been demonstrated at NIME in partnership with the Beam Festival.

(Image: The supernova SN 2010jl (large white spot near top) produced cosmic dust much larger than usually found in the Milky Way © X-ray: Nasa/CXC/RCA CA/P. Chandra et al)

Bicep 2; Methane Exoplanets; Driverless Cars; Autism20140622


Scientists who claimed to have found a pattern in the sky left by the super-rapid expansion of space just fractions of a second after the Big Bang say they are now less confident of their result. The BICEP2 Collaboration used a telescope at the South Pole to detect the signal in the oldest light it is possible to observe. At the time of the group's announcement in March, the discovery was hailed as a near-certain Nobel Prize.

But the criticism since has been sharp. Rival groups have picked holes in the team's methods and analysis. On Thursday, the BICEP2 collaboration formally published its research in a peer reviewed journal - Physical Review Letters (PRL).

Polio Aunties

In 2006 India still accounted for half of all global cases of polio, but earlier this year it recorded three years without a new reported case. This achievement allowed the World Health Organization to finally declare its entire South East Asia region polio-free. This success is partly down to an army of women who, one step at a time, have criss-crossed the country on foot to give the under-fives polio vaccines. BBC Monitoring's Vikas Pandey went to the northern Indian city of Allahabad to meet some of the ‘polio aunties’, as they are affectionately known.

Methane exoplanets

We can now safely assume that planets are not unusual, since the first definitive detection in the 1990s numbers have risen steadily to about 2000. However we have yet to find a way of detecting if life exists on them. Finding water, carbon dioxide or methane would indicate the presence of extra-terrestrial life. Professor Jonathan Tennyson from the department of Physics and Astronomy at University College London explains how his team have developed a way of detecting methane in a planet’s atmosphere.

Antarctic Invasion

Antarctica is the most pristine place on Earth, having only been visited by humans in the last 200 years, and being tens of thousands of miles from the nearest land. But these days, around 40,000 tourists and hundreds of scientists visit the Antarctic every year, and with them come stowaways in the form of bugs, beetles and plants. As a result, the ice -free areas of the Antarctic are at severe risk of invasion. Is it too late to do anything about it?

Driverless Cars

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.

Autism in Girls

It’s long been known that autism spectrum disorder is diagnosed more often in boys than in girls, and at the higher-functioning end of spectrum there are ten times as many boys as girls. There are thought to be biological reasons for this, but some argue that, because it’s known to be more common in boys, some girls are not getting a diagnosis when they should – that no one is looking out for it, leaving some parents struggling to get any help. Professor David Skuse and Melanie Peeke discuss whether autism is underdiagnosed in girls.

Photo Credits: NASA:The measurements were taken using the BICEP2 instrument at the South Pole Telescope facility

Chelyabinsk Meteorite, India Space Launch, Intersex20131110

Chelyabinsk event sized meteors may strike Earth more frequently than thought

Scientists have been busy analysing the data received from the Chelyabinsk meteor strike on 15 February 2013. The explosion was equivalent to about half a million tonnes of TNT explosive – around 30 times the explosive power of the bombs that were dropped on Japan at the end of World War 2. Now, Professor Peter Brown and colleagues at Western University in Ontario, Canada, along with researchers in Russia, reveal more about the origin of the Chelyabinsk airburst event, alongside a 20-year analysis of similar-sized strikes that indicates these events may occur every 30 – 40 years rather than every 150 years as previously thought.

India launches Mars Orbiter

The Mangalyaan mission successfully blasted off this week from the Sriharikota spaceport in Andhra Pradesh, India. If it makes it to the Red Planet later next year, the probe will orbit Mars, studying the planetary surface and atmosphere, and will be a major step for the nation. However, some commentators have questioned whether a country with one of the highest rankings for childhood malnutrition in the world should be spending millions on a space programme at all. Angela Saini, author of Geek Nation: How Indian Science Is Taking Over The World, joins us to discuss the heritage and benefits of India’s Space Research Organisation.

Intersex people in Germany now have legal recognition.

We look at why it’s not possible to accurately determine the sex of 1 in 2000 newborn babies. Campaigners say a decision on determining the sex of a child should be delayed until the child is older. They welcome the German ruling as giving rights to people who do not readily fit the two genders of male and female.

(Photo credit: A man in Moscow looks at a computer screen displaying a picture reportedly taken in the Urals city of Chelyabinsk on February 15, 2013, showing the trail of a meteorite above a residential area of the city © AFP/Getty Images)

Chemical Weapons, 30,000 Year Old Virus, Maternal Health Ethiopia20140309

Chemical weapons

Disposing of Syria’s chemical weapons is a difficult task, both politically and technically. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), responsible for the decommissioning, has kitted out a special ship, the MV Cape Ray to hydrolyse "priority" toxic substances. Hamish de Bretton Gordon, a chemical weapons expert from SecureBio, explains why destroying chemical precursors on dry land is not an option and whether the job will be done on time.

Tracking turtles

Satellite tags have finally given researchers insight into the "lost years" of loggerhead turtles. After many failed attempts, researchers have worked out how to attach the tiny tags to the months-old animals during the uncertain period when they leave US coastal waters and head out into the Atlantic Ocean.

The data suggests the loggerheads can spend some time living in amongst floating mats of Sargassum seaweed, in the Sargasso Sea

Composing in Colour

The composer, Neil Harbisson, has a rare medical condition which has left him unable to distinguish colour. Instead his world is black and white. But technology has come to his aid. Through a device called an eyeborg, surgically attached to his skull, he is able to translate colours into sound. Neil Harbisson hears colours, and recently, collaborating on the Vodafone First project, he put on a first ever colour-composed concert in Barcelona. Harbisson joins Click to describe his unique talent.

(Photo: A special ship, the MV Cape Ray. Credit: Jim Watson/AFP/ Getty Images)

Decline In Antarctic Fur Seals; Face Recognition; Amnesty’s Video Validation20140727

Decline in Antarctic Fur seals & climate implications

A new paper in the journal Nature says that a shift in a dominant climate pattern has affected the supply of the Antarctic Fur seals' primary food source - krill. Three decades of data show the females of this species are being born smaller, and those that do survive to motherhood are breeding later in life. Subtle changes in their genetics are also being recorded.

Face recognition

The software that analyses images of your face, captured online or when you’re out and about, has rapidly improved. Adam Rutherford visits Amscreen, to test the cameras they deploy at supermarket checkouts to determine your age and sex, to inform advertisers of the best demographic to target. This raises ethical and privacy issues which Adam discusses with privacy expert Professor Colin Bennett and Luke Dormehl, author of “The formula, about algorithms and the algorithm culture”.

Amnesty’s Video Validation

There’s a new online tool to validate videos purporting to show human rights abuses. Amnesty International has released a website that offers ways of probing archive and videos to determine their reliability. YouTube, for instance has become an archive of human rights abuses in all kinds of conflict zones. Gareth Mitchell hears from Christoph Koettl, the Emergency Response Manager at Amnesty.

What has Happened to El Nino?

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.

Great Brain Experiment

The Great Brain Experiment is a smartphone app that helps to conduct one of the largest cognitive experiments of its kind. Players are presented with a variety of games that have names like “Am I impulsive” and “What makes me happy”? We hear how the data generated is helpful in psychology experiments.


Around one in 14 people worldwide experiences anxiety at any one time. This condition can be mild, but at the other extreme prevent people from living normal lives. Claudia Hammond discusses the issues surrounding people’s fears with author Scott Stossell and clinical psychologist Nick Gray, from the Centre for Anxiety Disorders and Trauma at the Maudesley Hospital in London.

(Image: Antarctic fur seal weaners on a rock. Credit: Dr Jaume Forcada from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS).)

Ebola Challenges; Tb In The New World; Solar Storm; Life Under The Ice; Antibiotic Resistance;20140824

Ebola challenges

Experts are already warning of a potential humanitarian crisis as health systems struggling to deal with seasonal cholera and malaria outbreaks are stretched further by Ebola. How is the Ebola outbreak in West Africa affecting the already unsatisfactory health infrastructure throughout the region?

Ebola Genomes, Memory Editing,google Drones20140831

99 Ebola virus genomes are sequenced from patients in West Africa, helping scientists

Ebola Virus Sequenced

Whilst previous outbreaks of Ebola were confined to central Africa, the 2014 outbreak began in the west African nation of Guinea, and has spread to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria. Now, researchers have sequenced 99 Ebola virus genomes from patients in West Africa, the site of the recent and largest outbreak ever recorded. Stephen Gire of Harvard University discusses new insights into how and when Ebola entered human populations in the 2014 outbreak.

Malleable Memories

Researchers from MIT have reversed the emotional association of specific memories in mice. The scientists used genetically engineered mice with fibre optic brain implants – a field known as optogenetics. They can now change the way those mice feel about a place. BBC Science reporter Jonathan Webb tells us more, along with Professor Richard Morris from the University of Edinburgh.

Stethoscope replacement

Will the stethoscope ever be replaced by high tech hand held scanning devices?

Superfast Internet

The greater the use and spread of the internet the more there is a drain on energy, and potential knock-on effect on speed of connectivity. Scientists in Denmark have been researching and testing a superfast internet with a reduction of carbon emissions and increase in speed of activity. Leif Katsuo Oxenløwe talks to Click about a future where you will be able download films in the blink of an eye.

Antibiotic resistance crisis

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.

Google drones

Science Hour gets an exclusive tour of Google’s hitherto secret air vehicle laboratory.

Photo credit: Ebola: Science Photo Library

Ebola Update20141005

The latest on the ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa. A leading charity is warning that a rate of 5 new Ebola cases an hour in Sierra Leone means healthcare demands are far outstripping supply. Save the Children says there were almost 800 new cases of Ebola reported in there last week, and that the number of cases is doubling every 20 days.

Bereavement Without a Body

For a loved one to die is devastating enough. But to lose those closest to us in war or conflict, and not to know where they are or how they died, compounds the grief and hugely complicates the grieving process. Families can not mourn fully, because they are unable to lay their loved ones to rest.

Stephen Fry's Digital Life

Stephen Fry is a writer, actor and technophile. An early adopter of technology, he has been in and out of love with Twitter but has never managed to curb his love of gadgets and is enthralled by the changes brought to his life by technology. Fry and his publisher, Penguin UK have just launched an ambitious project. They effectively aim to crowd source the future of the book. Penguin will release a chunk of free, cross media content from Stephen Fry's new memoir, More Fool Me, and will actively invite others to re-interpret the work through tech mash-ups and all kinds of online mayhem on a global scale. Fry reflects on Click how it has fundamentally changed his life.

HIV in Africa

Where exactly on the African continent did HIV begin to spread easily between humans? This is a question that scientists have debated over for some time. A new study has managed to trace the origins of HIV to Kinshasa, now the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, in the early 1920s. The scientists were also able to shed some light on how the disease spread with their research suggesting that it moved quickly through transportation networks that sprawled out of Kinshasa when it became a booming town for trade and the capital in 1923. Professor Oliver Pybus from the University of Oxford in the UK and Professor Philippe Lemey from the University of Leuven in Belgium explain how their team reconstructed the early history of HIV.

Bird Flu

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.

Is Climate Change to blame for the Californian Drought?

Research suggests increased greenhouse gases may be contributing to California's drought.

Smell Test

Now today’s most unlikely sounding research – new work suggests that measuring people's sense of smell in later life could help doctors predict how likely they are to be alive in five years' time.

Photo: Getty Images

Ebola, Paracetamol, Michael Rutter.20140803

Ebola's effect on small communities,

Tulip Mazumder reports from Guinea, where the Ebola outbreak started back in March.

Malarial Resistance

How the growth of urban areas has played a role in halting the spread of malaria


There's an online wealth of science demonstrations you can try at home with your kids. But what's sometimes lacking is the encouragement of questioning the science in these DIY experiments. Science teacher and film maker Alom Shaha has devised a series of videos with the Royal Institution showing parents experimenting with home-made lava lamps, bubbles and bottle cannons. He hopes that amidst the mess and mistakes, some scientific thinking can be nurtured.

Professor Sir Michael Rutter

Professor Sir Michael Rutter 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.


Massive Open Online Courses are free and open to anyone with access to the internet. You can study a huge range of topics from cancer and dental photography to quantum physics, and even the archaeology and history of Hadrian's Wall. Critics say these higher education courses are just a PR exercise by universities, and that it will set up a two tier system in education. But Kathryn Skelton from FutureLearn, a platform for many of these MOOCs, argues that they encourage people who would not normally extend their education to take part and the universities providing the courses can gain great insight into the changing face of teaching methods.

Back pain and paracetamol

Mark Porter investigates a new research trial which shows that paracetamol doesn't help back pain.

Drones to repair aeroplanes;

Suppose you’re an airline with a large expensive fleet to maintain. What might be a good device for helping with aircraft maintenance? One of the UK’s budget airlines is trying out small remote controlled aircraft, drones in other words

Photo: Science Photo Library: Ebola virus budding fom cell:

Eu States Restrict Neonic Pesticides Linked To Harming Bees, New Bird Flu Threat, Should Therapists Cry At Work?20130505

EU states restrict neonic pesticides linked to harming bees

Certain pesticides that are linked to causing harm in bees are now restricted in the EU. Neonicotinoid chemicals in pesticides are sprayed onto seeds and spread throughout the plant as it grows. There has been a lot of concern about this systematic approach, with some scientists arguing that it is comparable to using antibiotics prophylactically. Professor Dave Goulson from the University of Sussex and Dr. Lynn Dicks from the University of Cambridge discuss the scientific evidence currently available on these pesticides as well as the limited data available on the state of pollinating insects.

A new type of bird flu in China

A new strain of bird flu has emerged in China. The virus designated H7N9 has already proven fatal in humans, we look at how it differs from previous bird flus and ask influenza expert Professor Wendy Barclay from Imperial College London whether it presents a wider threat to humans.

Survey reveals psychologists cry while leading therapy

An in-depth survey of clinical psychologists and trainees found that almost three quarters of them had cried at some point during therapy and some cried several times a week. The results have recently been published in the journal Psychotherapy and Amy Blume-Marcovici, a clinical psychologist at Alliant International University in the United States, is the lead author.

Photo Credits: Getty Images, IBM

Free Health Care For All Americans, Volcanoes, Fairphones20131006

The United States spends more on health than any other industrialised country and yet 45 million people do not have health insurance. As a result, it is thought that as many as 1800 people a year die prematurely from inadequate medical care. In his election pledge, President Barack Obama promised to tackle this major issue and this week saw the implementation of the ‘Patient protection and affordable care act’, commonly referred to as ‘Obamacare’. In this programme we find out what this legislation means for Americans who currently don’t have medical insurance.

In the 13th Century, a large volcanic eruption caused cool summers and flooding in Europe. Sulphur and ash found in layers of ice cores in the polar regions show that a volcanic eruption was responsible. While the layers suggest that the volcano must have been situated in the tropics, no one had actually been able to find its remains. Until now. Volcanologists now think that the island of Lombok in Indonesia was the site of the eruption.

Fracking for gas is highly controversial and has even been accused of contaminating water courses and causing earthquakes. Yet, it provides a potentially essential cheap source of energy. Gaia Vince talks to scientists to find out what fracking involves and what impact it has on the environment, and she discovers what other countries can learn from the pioneers of the technology, the United States.

Picture credit: President Barack Obama on ‘Obamacare’. Win McNamee (photographer), Getty Images.

India Mars, Eoplanets. Ebola Update20140928

India Mars

India has successfully put a satellite into orbit around Mars, becoming the fourth nation or geo-bloc to do so. It is the first time a maiden voyage to Mars has entered orbit successfully and it is the cheapest. Nasa's latest Maven mission cost almost 10 times as much.


HAT-P-11b, as it is engagingly called, was for a short while the smallest exoplanet known, about a quarter the size of Neptune, or 5 times the radius of the Earth. It’s lost that record, but now it is the smallest exoplanet known to have water.

Ebola update

According to the latest figures, Ebola has killed more than 3,000 people, and cases are predicted to soar in the coming months. Helen Briggs has been speaking to scientists at a meeting of UK experts in London.

Talad Israel

In Israel it is illegal to stop or ‘withdraw’ a ventilator from a patient whose life depends on it - even if that patient is clearly dying. But what if a patient is suffering and doesn’t want their life prolonged? A compromise could be on the horizon…

BICEP - gravitational waves and dust

One of the biggest scientific claims of 2014 has received another set-back. In March this year, the BICEP2 research team claimed it had found a swirling pattern in the sky left by the rapid expansion of space just fractions of a second after the Big Bang. This announcement was quickly criticised by others, who thought the group had underestimated the confounding effects of dust in our own galaxy. And now, new analysis from the European Space Agency's Planck satellite suggests dust found in our own galaxy may have confounded what was thought to be a universal revelation.

Facial Epressions

She’s a forty three year old female and she looks angry. That’s what a new facial expression recognition system can tell you about a person. It has been trained up using a repertoire of known facial expressions:

Hadal Zone

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.

TV Obesity

Adults and children should consider having TV-free days or limiting viewing to no more than two hours a day under new proposals to tackle obesity from the UK body the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.

Science of language

Professor Steven Pinker talks to Adam Rutherford about the language of scientists and the science of language. He has a new book out, "The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century", discussing how the latest research on linguistics and cognitive science can improve writing.

Kepler 186f Sperm And Egg, Facebook, Russian Science;peter Higgs; Alcoholics20140420

Kepler 186F

NASA announce a new discovery made by its planet-hunting mission, the Kepler Space Telescope

How sperm recognises the egg

The discovery of a protein on mammalian sperm almost a decade ago, sparked the search for the corresponding receptor on the egg. Now researchers, in the UK, have found this receptor in mouse egg cells. They propose to call it Juno, after the Roman Goddess of fertility and marriage. The finding indicates that these two proteins need to interact for normal fertilisation to occur. And in humans, it could lead to early screening of couple to decide which appropriate fertility treatment they require.

Automatic Facebook

Keeping up with your online social network of 'friends' on Facebook can sometimes be time consuming and arduous. Now artificial intelligence expert, Boris Galitsky has invented a robot to do the bulk of his social interactions online. But how realistic is it? And does it fool his cyber pals?

Peter Higgs

Peter Higgs opens up to Jim Al-Khalili, admitting that he failed to realise the full significance of the Higgs boson and to link it to the much celebrated Standard Model of Physics. An oversight he puts down to a string of missed opportunities, including one night at physics summer camp when, most regrettably, he went to bed early.

Photo Credits: Artist’s impression of Kepler 186F

Credit NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-CalTech

Living Independently With Dementia20140525

Longitude Challenge - Dementia

How can we help people with dementia to live independently for longer? Dr Kevin Fong is the champion for this Longitude Challenge, arguing that we all use technology to support our lifestyles, but that people with dementia need extra technology. Marnie Chesterton visits Designability, a Bath-based design charity that works with people with dementia to develop new technologies. Their Day Clock shows that a simple design can produce radical results.

Matter from Light

In 12 months' time, researchers say they will be able to make matter from light. Three physicists were sitting in a tiny office at Imperial College London and while drinking coffee they found what they call a fairly simple way to prove a theory first suggested by scientists 80 years ago: to convert photons - ie particles of light - into electrons (particles of matter) and positrons (antimatter). Adam discusses the work with theoretical physicist Professor Steven Rose from Imperial College London and science writer Philip Ball.

Insign for Deaf People

There have been large strides made in the development of technology to assist those who are deaf. One scheme, Insign, is technology that translates sign language, allowing deaf people to communicate with their elected representatives. Democracy has suffered because key information is available in lots of languages, but not sign language. Jemina Napier explains how Insign opens up access to the political process for deaf people.

Indigenous People and Climate Change

With a global desire to reduce deforestation, are the needs and rights of Panama's indigenous people being ignored? Reporter Ruxandra Guidi finds out how the Kuna people are leading the way for other indigenous groups.

Egyptian Mummies

The British Museum has carried out scans on eight Egyptian mummies, revealing unprecedented details about these people. It is enabling scientists for the first time to tell their age of the mummies, what they ate, the diseases they suffered from, and how they died.

Alf Adams

Alf Adams FRS, physicist at the University of Surrey, had an idea on a beach in the mid-1980s that made the modern internet, CD and DVD players, and even bar-code readers possible. You probably have half a dozen 'strained-layer quantum well lasers' in your home.

Illegible Indian Prescriptions

A doctor's prescription in India can quite often literally mean different things to different people. It is not uncommon for prescriptions to be written in an illegible hand, and not contain adequate information on dosage and strength of medicines. This can sometimes lead to the wrong drugs being dispensed to patients. The situation was so bad that the federal government and the Medical Council of India had to step in; and finally they have come out with one simple remedy: As a first step, all prescriptions will have to be written in capital letters. BBC Urdu's Suhail Haleem has been finding out more.

Mapping The Ocean Floor; Colorado River; Beauty And The Brain; Footballers Heat20140601

Mapping the ocean floor

We really do know less about the ocean floor on Earth than we do about the surface of Mars, Venus and the Moon. In the case of the Red Planet, the maps are about 250 times better. This gap in our home-planet knowledge has recently been highlighted by the search for the missing Malaysia airlines plane MH370. The suspected search area in a remote part of the Indian Ocean is so poorly mapped, it's not even clear how deep the deepest parts are. Ocean floor mapping can be done by ship board echo-sounders, bouncing sound waves off the sea floor. But this is very expensive. A new cheaper, quicker way is to use a satellite to measure fluctuations in the sea surface caused by gravitational perturbations caused by underwater topography.

Colorado River

The world over, the issue of water supply is being highlighted as large dam projects threaten to limit flow down-river. The Colorado River, one of the major waterways in the United States, provides some potentially important lessons. It runs through the Grand Canyon and has the Hoover Dam on it. For the last 16 years or so, it has not reached the sea. So much water is taken out to irrigate crops or to be used for drinking by the large population in that part of the US and Mexico that there is literally nothing left. Conservationists have been campaigning for the delta of the Colorado River, in the north of Mexico, to be flooded again and that has finally just happened in a one-off experiment. Jennifer Pitt of the Environmental Defense Fund explains why getting the river to flow to the sea again is important.

White Networks

TV white spaces, the unused portions of wireless spectrum in the frequency bands used for television, are well-suited for delivering low-cost broadband access to rural and other unserved communities. Radio signals in the TV bands travel over longer distances and penetrate more obstacles than other types of radio signals requiring fewer base stations. Microsoft is unrolling a new pilot project in Ghana that aims to exploit TV whites spaces covering entire campuses at All Nations University College as part of the company’s 4Afrika Initiative. Click hears from Microsoft’s Frank McCosker and the university’s Carlene Kyeremeh.

Low Density Supersonic Decelerator

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California is planning to test a better way of landing spacecraft. It looks like a flying saucer, and is officially known as a Low Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD). It was built in the same giant sterile environment where the Curiosity Rover was assembled. After the necessary precautions against dust and contaminants that could cause malfunctions in the experiment, Jack Stewart had the privilege of being shown the LDSD.

Beauty and the Brain

Dr Tiffany Jenkins asks what our brains can tell us about art. Can there ever be a recipe for beauty? Or are the great works beyond the powers of neuroscience?

She talks to Professor Semir Zeki of University College London, the first person to coin the term, neuroaesthetics, about what happens in the brain when people in a scanner see paintings or hear music.

Professor Gabi Starr at New York University tells Tiffany Jenkins why she thinks there are parts of the brain that light up when we like an art work.

Tiffany visits Christie's auction house to explore whether the best art always commands the best prices.

She also talks to Martin Kemp, Emeritus Professor of Art History at Oxford University, about our different responses to authentic paintings and to fakes.

And Tiffany discusses with art critic JJ Charlesworth why neuroscience is having an influence in some areas of art appreciation.

Footballers Heat

In some of the World Cup locations in Brazil, temperatures will reach 30 degrees Celsius with very high levels of humidity. To find out what sort of physiological challenges this is going to present for the players, consultant anaesthetist Kevin Fong took part in an experiment in an environmental chamber which replicated conditions in Brazil. As part of this he was required to run for half an hour at 30 degrees in 80% humidity. Kevin, who is the author of Extremes: Life, Death and Limits of the Human Body, joins Claudia in the Health Check studio to tell her how he got on.

Photo Credits: Getty Images

Mers Coronavirus Outbreak, Irritating Currency, When The Applause Dies Down20130623

Forensic entomology

We all know that dead bodies attract flies, but did you know that this can be pivotal in piecing together the time of death? Amoret Whitaker discusses some of the challenges faced by forensic entomologists.


Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus virus or MERS has claimed four more victims, making the global total of deaths to over thirty, most of them in Saudi Arabia. This new virus, spreads from person to person, and seems to be more deadly than SARS. Research published this week looking at its genetics sheds light on where it might have come from, the thinking is it is sporadically transmitting from animals to humans.

Views from Cassini

BBC Science correspondent explains what the spacecraft Cassini will be doing on its mission to photograph Saturn. Apparently the large composite picture of Saturn’s famous rings will include a very distant blue dot – planet Earth.

Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images

Monkey Conversation; Human Evolution; Hpv Vaccine In Laos20131020

A recent study has revealed that Marmoset monkeys have conversational patterns and etiquettes are remarkably similar to our own. It has long been known that primates use verbal communication in disputes or mating calls, but this is the first time we have seen any primate taking turns to 'speak' and glean so much information from verbal communication. They engage in chit chat for up to 30 minutes, just like we do.

It has long been thought that several different early human species existed 2 million years ago. But research published this week suggests that may need re-thinking, and that many of the species we thought were separate were actually all part of the same one.

Women in Laos are among the first in the developing world to receive a new vaccine against the virus that causes cervical cancer. The vaccine prevents the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus which causes 70% of cervical cancer cases. Laos is one of nearly a dozen countries to benefit from a programme to ensure that poorer countries also receive the latest vaccines.

(Photo credit: Marmoset monkey - © Leszek Leszczynski)

Marmoset monkey conversation is remarkably similar to ours.

Moving Mountains; Endangered World Cup Football Mascot; Taming The Sun20140608

Moving Mountains

Removing the tops off mountains was common practice in the eastern United States to strip mine for coal. Critics have previously called for it to be banned because of the health risks. But in China, the same thing is now happening but on a much larger scale, all to create new land for people to live on. In a comment piece in this week's Nature journal, Chinese scientists call this unprecedented geo-engineering "folly", and liken the practice to "performing major surgery on Earth's crust". Dr Adam Rutherford talks to Dr Emily Bernhardt from Duke University in the US about the potential risks of the Chinese mountain moving.

Endangered World Cup Football Mascot

The mascot for the upcoming World Cup football tournament in Brazil is a fun-looking yellow creature, based on the three-banded armadillo, which rolls into an almost perfect, armoured ball when it is threatened. This iconic creature is listed as a vulnerable species as its habitat is threatened, and now conservationists like Professor Enrico Bernard from the Federal University of Pernambuco are challenging football’s governing body, FIFA, and the Brazilian government, to do more to protect it – particularly as the mascot will feature on millions of dollars’ worth of merchandise and souvenirs. Professor Claudio Sillero, a conservation biologist at the University of Oxford and a self-confessed armadillo enthusiast tells us more about some of the other armadillo species in South America and if they too face similar threats as the World Cup mascot.

Privacy or Freedom of Speech?

The case of Mario Costeja Gonzalez, a Spaniard whose home was put up for auction 16 years ago because he was suffering financial difficulties, has just led to a ruling in the Court of Justice of the European Union forcing search engines to remove certain links from search results. Mr Gonzalez's request to have the details of his past deleted has led to a debate about the balance between the right to privacy and freedom of speech. Google has set up an expert committee to discuss how to deal with this thorny issue. Luciano Floridi, professor of Philosophy and Ethics of Information at the Oxford Internet Institute in England discusses how the committee should find a solution.

Dengue Fever Brazil

If you are lucky enough to be heading to Brazil for this year's World Cup, you are recommended to have a Yellow Fever vaccination, and for some venues, consider taking malaria pills. But there is another disease carried by mosquitoes in many parts of Brazil for which there is currently no vaccine - dengue fever. Fortunately for visiting fans, most of Brazil's cities will be low-risk for this disease during the World Cup, but some experts say host cities in the north-east of Brazil could present a genuine risk of infection. One of the likeliest to be high-risk is Natal, from where the BBC’s Ben Tavener reports.

Tree-hugging Koalas

Hugging trees helps koalas to keep cool, a study has revealed. In a study published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters, scientists used thermal cameras to reveal that, in hotter weather, the animals moved to the lower, cooler parts of the trees. They also pressed their bodies even closer to the trunks.

Taming the Sun

ITER is the most complex experiment ever attempted on this planet. Its aim, to demonstrate that nuclear fusion, the power of the Sun, can give us pollution free energy that we can use for millions of years. But at the moment, it's still largely a vast building site in the Haut Provence of southern France, with little prospect of any nuclear reactions there for another decade. A recent management report made damning criticisms of the way ITER is run, of the relations between the central organisations, and the seven partners (USA, Russia, Japan, China, South Korea, India and Europe) contributing to the project. Roland Pease has been to Cadarache to see how work is progressing, and to hear of the hopes of the scientists who have dedicated their working lives to the dream.

Computer power for cancer diagnosis

She is only 19 but has already experimented with neural networks, built prototype software to help doctors diagnose breast cancer, won a $50,000 college scholarship from Google and been invited to the White House to showcase her research. And her ambition doesn't stop there. Brittany Wenger wants a dual career as a paediatric oncologist and research scientist. The teenager from Sarasota, Florida, became interested in neural networks - a form of artificial intelligence that continuously learns and mimics the human brain - in high school.

When her cousin was diagnosed with breast cancer, she was inspired to put her talents to medical use and came up with the idea of creating an artificial intelligence software program to analyse data from a breast tissue biopsy.

Photo: Digital Gobe: Satellite images of western Shiyan between 2010 (L) and 2012 (R) show that several peaks have been flattened

No Methane On Mars, Cilantro Cleans Drinking Water, Chemical Weapons20130922

Mars rover Curiosity records no evidence of methane on Mars. Is there no life on Mars?

Nobel Prize, Ebola Predictions, Genetics And Diabetes20141012

Nobel Prize

This year’s Nobel Prize winners have been announced. Professor John O’Keefe of UCL shared the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for the discovery n 1971 of systems in the brain that tell us where we are. He talks to us about his journey to this discovery. The next award was for advancements in Physics and was given to three Japanese Professors, Isamu Akasaki, Hiorshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura who developed blue LEDs in the 1990s. Professor Sir Colin Humphreys from the University of Cambridge comments on their achievement. Finally, the Nobel Prize for Chemistry was split between three scientists, Dr Eric Betzig, Professor Stefan W. Hell and Professor William Moerner. They surpassed the limits of optical microscopy by developing super-resolved fluorescence technology.

Ebola predictions

The Centres for Disease control in the United States recently forecast that the number of Ebola cases could reach 1.4 million people by January 2015. How are estimates like this reached and are they accurate or useful? Claudia talks to Jimmy Whitworth from the Wellcome Trust in London and Adam Kurchaski from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical medicine.

Slo Mo Guys

The Slo Mo Guys are an example of how YouTube stars have become more popular than some mainstream celebrities. Their short, five minute videos have garnered millions of views. Gareth Mitchell volunteers for one of their projects to be smacked in the head with a football filled with water – with startling results when filmed with a high-end slow motion camera.

Genetics and Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is globally the fastest growing chronic disease. The World Health Organisation estimates more than 300 million people are currently afflicted, rising to more than half a billion by 2030. It might seem on the surface to be a disease with a simple cause – eat too much & exercise too little – and the basic foundation is a relative lack of the hormone insulin. But as with most illnesses, it’s much more complicated, not least because a large number of disease processes are happening all at once. In 2010, a particular gene variant was associated with around 40% of Type 2 diabetics – not directly causal, but this so-called ‘risk variant’ increases the chance of developing the condition if you have the wrong lifestyle. Research published in the journal Science Translational Medicine this week identifies a drug called yohimbine as a potential treatment to help Type 2 diabetics, one that targets this specific genetic make-up.

Patients Doing It for Themselves

Science journalist Vivienne Parry explores how patients are taking control of their own treatment - and asks if people should be allowed to experiment with procedures that might kill them

Burkina Faso Radio

Can health messages delivered by mass media help improve health of a country? The BBC’s Tamasin Ford reports from villages around Burkina Faso about a radio campaign that’s helping to reduce their child mortality rate.

(Photo caption: Nobel Prize winner Professor John O'Keefe stands in his laboratory at University College London on October 6, 2014 in London, England © Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

Nobel Prizes; Correlation Vs. Causation; Healthy Obesity20131013

Roland Pease provides a rundown of this year’s Nobel Prize winners and their work.

After studies this week linked cardiovascular disease to aircraft noise, Kevin McConway, Professor of Applied Statistics at the UK’s Open University quantifies the risks of complex science being distorted by simple headlines.

The US government shutdown is inflicting wide-reaching effects on the scientific community and their work.

And a brief sniff of “ChatPerf”, the app for smartphones that allegedly enables users to send a smell to their friends via SMS.

Image: Nobel Physics Prize - The Higgs Boson - 8th Octpber 2013

Image credit: JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images

Rosetta Comet Mission20141116

This week, the European Space Agency made history. A ten year trip brought the Rosetta spacecraft into the orbit of Comet 67P Churyumov Gerasimenko in August and this week Rosetta sent the Philae probe to the comet’s treacherous surface. After a nail-biting 7-hour descent, the hall at the European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany, erupted with cheers of jubilation and cries of joy and relief – they had done it, the European space scientists and engineers had landed a small robot probe on a comet. But the days that followed this victorious moment have taken ESA, and everyone who has been following Rosetta’s journey, on a turbulent rollercoaster ride. Philae has bounced off the comet twice and though now settled back on the surface, its exact location is yet to be determined. BBC producer and presenter, Andrew Luck-Baker and BBC Science Correspondent Jonathan Amos have just got back from their trip to Space Operations Centre in Germany. In this week’s Science Hour they look back on this incredible week of history-making and nerve-wracking moments, bring the latest on Rosetta and Philae’s developments and discuss hopes for what this mission could achieve in both the near and distant future.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Rosetta Probe To Comet Awakes20140126

Rosetta Probe Awakes

The Rosetta space probe, which aims to land a robot on a distant comet and ride it, rodeo-style, around the sun, awakes from a 31-month sleep to begin its final approach. Jon Amos reports on the electric atmosphere at the European Space Agency when the probe responded after an agonising wait.

Mind Wandering

Some people find their minds wander more than others, but until the last decade, this attention to our own thoughts was not studied much. Now new research led by Sophie Forster, a lecturer in Psychology at Sussex University in the UK, has found that those people whose minds wander the most are also the most easily distracted by other things going on around them. They are also less happy than other people. Her research has been published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology.

Fungi and Biodiversity

Fungi, not viewed favourably by gardeners, can be good for rainforest biodiversity. Dr Owen Lewis from Oxford University tells Melissa Hogenboom that plots sprayed with fungicide soon become dominated by a few species at the expense of many others, leading to a marked drop in diversity.

Virtual Fitting Room

A growing number of people are shopping for their clothes online. But an absence of virtual fitting rooms means that often many off-the-peg items do not fit the customers when they eventually get to try them on. It has been said that almost a quarter of all garments that are bought online are returned. The majority are returned because they do not fit. A number of companies have taken note and with new technologies are designing virtual fitting rooms and bespoke tailoring for their online customers. Rich Preston reports on this growing trend.

After Higgs

The Higgs boson has been discovered, providing the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle for the Standard Model of particle physics, a description of how the universe works. But what physicists haven't found yet, which they should have, are supersymmetry or SUSY particles. Roland Pease attended a recent meeting of top physicists, and shares with Adam Rutherford the latest discussions about where to look next.

Larks and Owls

Are you a lark or an owl? Are you at your best in the morning or the evening? Linda Geddes meets the scientists who are exploring the differences between larks and owls. At the University of Surrey's Sleep Research Centre she talks to its director, Professor Derk-Jan Dijk, and finds out her own chronotype by filling in a questionnaire.

Linda discovers why we have circadian rhythms and why they don't all run at the same rate. Dr Louis Ptacek from the University of California, San Francisco, explains his investigation of the genes of families whose members get up very early in the morning and of those who get up very late.

Dance and Cognition

Learning complicated dance steps can be challenging, as the celebrities on the popular BBC programme Strictly Come Dancing discover every week. But one technique used by dancers known as marking, can improve performance, as illustrated in a new study conducted by Professor Margaret Wilson, a psychologist at University of California Santa Cruz. Claudia Hammond discusses this and challenges her two left feet with British Strictly Come Dancing star Robin Windsor.

(Image: Artist's impression of the European Space Agency (ESA) probe Rosetta with Mars in the background ©AFP/Getty Images)

Sacrifice - The Story Of Sars - Part 220130818

Dr Kevin Fong concludes a two-part special looking back at the extraordinary events which unfolded a decade ago when the disease known as SARS first emerged onto an unsuspecting world.

In a matter of days SARS had travelled around the globe from a hotel room in Hong Kong, and would go on to infect thousands of people, in dozens of countries. But standing between us and the virus were hundreds of healthcare workers who risked their lives to fight against and contain this unknown deadly disease, some of whom paid the ultimate price. Kevin travels to Hong Kong and Toronto to meet the survivors. With concerns rising over H7N9 and MERS, Kevin asks what lessons have we learned since the first SARS outbreak and would those who stepped up to protect us back then, do so again?

Scientists Make €laboratory-grown’ Kidney, Russia Alcohol Crackdown, Stopping Fish Becoming Extinct20130421

Scientists make ‘laboratory-grown’ kidney

Globally, at least 200,000 people are on waiting lists for replacement kidneys. Now a US team have taken the first steps towards creating usable artificial kidneys. Prof Martin Birchall, University College London, explains that a kidney "grown" in the laboratory has been transplanted into animals and started to produce urine. BBC Health and science reporter James Gallagher joins us to discuss this development.

Iran earthquake

The most powerful earthquake in Iran for half a century happened this week. More than 60 times the energy was released compared to the one nearby ten years ago which destroyed much of the city of Bam, killing 26,000 people. Yet so far the death toll from Tuesday's earthquake is considerably lower. To explain this and more Dr Roger Musson from the British Geological Survey joins Quentin Cooper.

Robot wars

Prof Noel Sharkey fell in love with artificial intelligence in the 1980s, celebrated when he programmed his first robot to move in a straight line down the corridor and, for many years, judged Robot Wars on TV. Now, as using drones in real-life robot wars becomes a reality, Noel explains why he thinks AI is a dangerous dream.

3-D printed house

In a short story by Jorge Luis Borges a fastidious cartographer begins to unfold an enormous map of a region which he has drawn to the exact 1:1 dimensions of that region. Borges's story comes to mind when you stand in front of the giant 3-D printer in Amsterdam that is going to print a house. The KamerMaker 3-D printer is fashioned from the carcass of a shipping container and is six metres tall. Gareth Mitchell travels to Amsterdam to interview the DUS architects behind this project, Hedwig Heinsman and Hans Vermeulen.

Photo Credits: 1. Ott Lab, Center for Regenerative Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital. 2. AFP/Getty Images. 3. Courtesy of John Manderson

Solitary Confinement20140105

is a form of torture that undermines identity and mental health. Claudia Hammond talks to ex political prisoners about their experiences and how they dealt with living in such inhumane conditions. She hears advice from Professor Craig Heaney who works with prisoners in Supermax prisons in the US and psychiatrist Professor David Alexander who has worked with many hostages.

In Japan hundreds of thousands of young people withdraw from society for years or even decades. They are known as hikikomori and Claudia Hammond travels to Tokyo to discover more about this mysterious condition and why it is so prevalent in Japan.

(Photo: Solitary Confinement. Credit: Getty Images.)

Stem Cells Questioned; Black Box; Ultrathin Sensors20140316

Stem cells questioned

Earlier this year, a new study from Japan announced a curiously easy way to make stem cells, by placing them in an acid bath. It seemed too good to be true, and according to recent critics, is. One of the authors has declared that the paper should be withdrawn, that he has ‘lost faith in it’. Ivan Oransky runs the site RetractionWatch, dedicated to scrutinizing irregular research. He talks us through the many criticisms, from anomalies in the data, to other scientists’ inability to reproduce the results.

Black box recorders

Are black boxes outdated technology? With GPS widely available in everyday gadgets like mobile phones, how could Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 just disappear? Adam Rutherford speaks to Dr Matt Greaves, a Lecturer in Accident Investigation about how we track aircraft.

Ultrathin Sensors

Researchers in Australia have been developing ultrathin nanowires that are flexible and will enable the future development of electronic devices which you can press and stretch – to be transferred and possibly wrapped around your skin. They make for skin-like pressure sensors that are sensitive enough to measure your pulse. One of the researchers, Wenlong Cheng, from Monash University discusses how they work and their potential applications.

Hack my hearing

Aged 32, science writer Frank Swain is losing his hearing. Audiologists are concerned there may be a rising tide of 'hidden hearing loss' among young people. More of us use headphones for long periods of time resulting in an increase in noise-related hearing damage. Frank asks what the future holds for people like him, part of a tech-savvy generation who want to hack their hearing aids to tune in to invisible data in the world around them.

Elephants Recognise Human Voices

Elephants in eastern Africa regularly come into conflict with livestock-herding Masai people. A PNAS study suggests the animals are trying to adapt to this threat. Researchers played different human voice recordings to elephants and observed their reactions. They responded more fearfully to the voice of a Masai man, than to those of a Kamba man who pursue an agricultural lifestyle. The reactions triggered by voices of women and boys were also less defensive. Lead researcher Professor Karen McComb concludes that the animals can differentiate human ethnicities, gender and age.

A blood test for Alzheimer’s disease?

A blood test can accurately predict the onset of Alzheimer's disease, according to US researchers. They showed that testing levels of 10 fats in the blood could predict - with 90% accuracy - the risk of the disease coming on in the next three years. James Gallagher discusses the findings, with input from Dr Simon Ridley, head of research at Alzheimer's Research UK.

Mobile phone autopsies

As many as two thirds of deaths that occur in the world go unrecorded. In Malawi, there is no official record of deaths that occur outside a medical facility, making it difficult to plan and budget for health services. But a new system of using mobile phones to conduct what are known as “verbal autopsies” is going to create the country’s first database of deaths and causes. The BBC’s Anne Soy reports from the district of Mchinji in central Malawi.

(Photo caption: Working on stem cells © Getty Images)

Subglacial Lakes, Stem Cells, Discrimination In Parkinson’s20130915

Scientists on a mission to get to a subglacial lake in one the remotest places on Earth

The Impact Of War On Syrian Children20131229

It's a common misconception that children, unlike adults, are so resilient that they can bounce back from the emotional and psychological impact of war and conflict. The evidence contradicts this and world experts in the field warn that, while some children do recover fully from exposure to the horrors of war, others experience long-term mental health problems.

As the war and fighting in Syria continues to claim more lives and destroy many others, Claudia Hammond reports from Jordan on how this latest conflict is exposing yet another generation to the traumatic impact of violence, killing and loss. She investigates what actually helps to alleviate the suffering of these children and prevent a life-time of recurring emotional distress.

The date 22 July 2011 has been described as the day Norway cried. After detonating a car bomb in Oslo, killing eight and injuring many more, Anders Breivik took a ferry to the island of Utoya. There, dressed as a policeman, he began a murderous spree, hunting down and indiscriminately shooting young people on the island who were attending a youth camp. Seventy-seven people were killed in total, many of them teenagers, and hundreds were injured.

This was the worst mass murder in Norwegian post-war history and the whole country was in shock. But Norway used this national tragedy to pioneer new ways of caring for their citizens. Claudia Hammond reports on the ground-breaking new ways Norway has been delivering psychological and mental health support to those who survived, and to those who lost relatives and friends.

(Photo: The Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, 18 July 2013. Photo credit: Getty Images.)

The Temperature Pause, Henry Molaison, Ethics Of Genomic Sequencing.20130901

Deep Life…

2.5 km below the ocean floor that is millions of years old, scientists are finding bacteria living at slow-motion pace. Reproductively doubling only once every 10,000 years, these bacteria colonise the depths all over the world. New research, announced at the Goldschmidt Conference in Florence, suggests that not only are there bacteria living in these depths, but they are joined by viruses and fungi as well.. But how do they survive such challenging conditions? And are the even alive? And how did they get there?

Life on Mars

If life is surviving 2.5km underneath sea beds, in rocks millions of years old, could they have originated from Mars? Indeed could life itself have originated from Mars? Scientists have been studying how the biological soup of life would have best been prepared in conditions similar to those found on Mars. The researchers looked at how biological molecules like RNA assemble and found that conditions on Earth would not have suited them at the time it would have needed to. At the Goldschmidt Conference in Florence this week, scientists suggested that the primeval RNA would have required minerals to coat it, and at the time life began, these minerals would have been more abundant on Mars than on Earth.

Henry Molaison

Imagine you have epilepsy and a cure is suggested whereby a small part of your brain is sucked out through your nose with a silver straw? This is the treatment that Henry Molaison, the most famous neurological patient in the world, received. Although it cured him of epilepsy, it lost him the ability to form new memories. This accident revolutionised our understanding of the mechanics of memory. In her new book, The Permanent Present Tense, Professor Suzanne Corkin remembers Henry in an account of her 46 year-long study of his brain.

Photo: Waves break off Sunset Beach, California. Credit: Getty Images

Typhoon Haiyan20131117

According to the United Nation as many as 11 million people in the Philippines have been affected by the typhoon, some of whom are still waiting for help to reach them. There has been discussion about the need to bury dead bodies and the fear of disease spreading, but Dr Richard Brennan of the WHO explains that the risks are actually not quite as might be expected.

Forensic DNA matching could help identify victims of Typhoon Haiyan.

Dr Thomas Parsons, Director of Forensics at the International Commission for Missing Persons, and his team have been called in to help in the Philippines. Forensic DNA matching techniques could be used to identify unnamed bodies in the weeks and months to come, helping surviving family members searching for missing relatives.

(Photo credit: A woman holds a child surrounded by debris in an area devastated by Typhoon Haiyan on November 12, 2013 in Leyte, Philippines ©Getty Images)

Unemployment 'health Time Bomb'; Alzheimers Genes; Sugary Drinks Tax20131103

Unemployment 'health time bomb'

The World Health Organization (WHO) has launched a new campaign to encourage European governments to focus on health rather than economic indicators. They say youth unemployment has great consequences for the health of those affected, leading to depression and even suicide. In a wide-ranging report linking health to economic factors they say attention needs to be paid to education in childhood and addressing the needs of socially vulnerable people.

Alzheimer's genes

Eleven new genes have been discovered to be linked to Alzheimer's, bringing the total up to 21 genes. But genes are just one factor - environment could also play a big role. We look at what this research means for our understanding of Alzheimer's and how it could influence treatments.

Sugary drinks tax

Mexico is planning to introduce a 10% tax on soft drinks. Local research suggests Mexico has the largest consumption of soft drinks per head of population in the world. The consumption of high sugar drinks is associated with diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. Mexico considers the medical threat of these so great that it plans to tax soft drinks and - in a related measure - junk food.

Photo Credit: People looking for work in a Jobcentre Plus - Jeff Overs, BBC

Why unemployment is a health issue according to a new report from the WHO.

Universe Model; Carlos Frenk; Colin Pillinger; Downing Fishermen;20140511

Early Universe Model

Illustris is the latest Universe model to emerge from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Science in Action speaks to Professor Michael Boylan-Kolchin from the University of Maryland on how this simulation can reproduce the early processes of the cosmos thanks to its superior computing power.

Carlos Frenk

Professor Carlos Frenk, astronomer at Durham University has just joined the ranks of Steven Hawking, Edwin Hubble and Albert Einstein by winning the Royal Astronomical Society’s Gold Medal for Astronomy

Obituary - Colin Pillinger

British planetary scientist Professor Colin Pillinger, best known for his 2003 attempt to land a spacecraft on Mars, has died aged 70.

Drowning Fishermen

The accidental drownings of thousands of locals and fisherman in the Great Lakes of East Africa

Synthetic Biology

DNA is the molecule of life, conserved across all living species for 4 billion years. But now scientists have made a new, artificial version, by introducing two extra letters, not found in nature, into the genetic code of a common microbe. The E. coli bacteria are able to grow and replicate as normal despite these artificial additions. In future, this research might create organisms that can make new proteins, which could offer new drugs and vaccines.

Jamaica farm crime tech

Jamaican farmers are turning to information technology to protect their produce. Agricultural theft has gone way beyond the pinching of an occasional odd goat, to something far more widespread and systematic.