Science Hour, The [world Service]

Science news and highlights of the week



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Ancient African Genome2015101020151011 (WS)

Researchers extracted DNA from a 4,500-year-old skull discovered in Ethiopia

DNA from a 4,500 year old Ethiopian skull bone has – the first entire genome of an ancient African – when compared to that of modern Africans, has shown a huge migratory wave of West Eurasian people coming into the Horn of Africa around 3,000 years ago, bringing agriculture and a few Neanderthal genes with them.

Genome and Malaria

The largest genetic association study to date has found genetic variants associated with resistance to life threatening severe malaria. The team at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge in the UK tested the genomes of thousands of children in West Africa, some with the severe form of malaria – Malaria falciparum. They were able to zoom into regions of the genome associated with resistance to the disease and found similar variants in the genetic code in the children who did not have the malaria, yet lived in malaria prone regions of West Africa. This is the first real insight into new genes involved in resistance.

Science Nobel Prizes 2015

The world’s best known science prizes, the Nobels were announced this week. Roland Pease told Jack Stewart what the winners discovered.

Chilean Miners

Five years ago, 33 men were rescued from deep within a mine in Chile after being trapped for 69 days. Jane Chambers talks to two of the miners and experts involved in their ordeal about the psychological impact of the experience.

Counter-speech Counters Hate Speech

A new report by the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media (CASM) at Demos, supported by Facebook, maps the alarming scale of hate speech in populist, right-wing social media groups in Europe - and explores the potential for counter-speech to diffuse their messages from within.

Science Goes to Hollywood: Science Fact v Science Fiction

Brian Cox and Robin Ince take to the stage in LA. They are joined by cosmologist and science adviser on movies such as Thor and Tron Legacy, Sean Carroll, comedian Joe Rogan, The Simpsons' writer and executive producer of Futurama, David X Cohen, and Eric Idle. 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.

(Photo: The cave where ancient African DNA was discovered in Ethiopia. Credit: Kathryn and John Arthur)

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

Animals Of The Year2015122620151227 (WS)

The most amazing and noteworthy critters of 2015

Test Tube Corals

Dr Mary Hagedorn of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute tells Claudia Hammond about her work to save threatened coral species. Her approach amounts to an IVF clinic for these ecologically vital reef-building colonial creatures. But how do you collect sperm from a coral in the ocean?

Victoria Gill on how light pollution may pose a threat to corals, adding the onslaught from pollution, climate change and over-fishing at reefs.

Madagascar's Lemurs Cling to Survival

The famous lemurs of Madagascar face such severe threats to their survival that none of them may be left in the wild within 25 years. That stark warning comes from one of the world's leading specialists in the iconic animals. BBC News Science editor David Shukman hangs out with indri (the largest lemur species) and talks to Malagasy conservation scientists trying to save them.

Three Fab Fossils of 2015

Claudia and Victoria chat about three fabulous fossils announced during the year. They choose the two metre long lobster-like creature which fed like a filter-feeding whale: the feathered Velociraptor: and the snake which hugged its prey with its four tiny legs.

Peeping Ape Clue to the Origins of Speech?

Adam Rutherford talks to Zanna Clay about research into our closest relatives, the bonobos and the unique 'peep' noises they make and why they could provide clues to the evolution of human language. Plus the Chimp Edinburgh Accent Controversy.

Giant Rats help Doctors test for TB

African giant pouched rats are using their noses to help doctors in Mozambique. The company behind the diagnostic rats claim their rodents are faster than medical staff at testing patient samples for TB infection.

Amazing Birds

Victoria Gill on the feats of the bar headed goose, capable of flying at more than 7,000 metres, and how hummingbirds avoid over-heating despite flapping at 70 wing beats per second.

Is Commercial Lion Hunting Justifiable?

Earlier this year there was outrage when a dentist from the United States with a cross bow wounded a lion during a commercial hunting holiday in Zimbabwe. Mortally injured Cecil the lion was subsequently shot. While many are convinced that trophy hunting should be banned, there are others who argue that such hunting is actually necessary for conservation. The biologist, professor Adam Hart travels to Southern Africa to investigate the ethics of hunting in the light of cold economics.

Animal Personality

Individual animals have their own personalities, according to zoologists. Personality is a trait which even extends to crabs, according to Mark Briffa of Plymouth University. Some are shy, others are bold. Some are conscientious, others aren’t so attentive to detail. Can animals really be said to have individual personalities and why does Nature favour a mix of temperaments in a species?

How Parrots Mimic Human Speech

Victoria Gill on a discovery which might explain why parrots are such good mimics, with comment from Disco the chatty budgie.

The Science Hour was presented by Claudia Hammond and produced by Andrew Luck-Baker with comments from Victoria Gill, BBC Science Reporter.

(Photo: Indri Lemur in Madagascar. Credit: Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty)

Antarctic Ice Sheet Instability2015112120151122 (WS)

Scientists in England and France have collaborated to identify the key constraints which could lead to inaccuracies in previous models of potential sea-level rise from the Antarctic ice-sheet. Their updated model suggests that the rise in sea-levels by 2100 could be just 30cm as opposed to the worst case scenario calculations of 1m from previous studies. The research is published in the journal Nature and co-author Dr Tasmin Edwards, from the Open University in the UK, explains the research to Jack Stewart.


The Earth’s groundwater has been quantified. It is estimated to be 23 million cubic km (which is equivalent to the Earth's entire land surface covered in a layer some 180 metres deep). However, just 6% of the water is available for our use and to take part in the hydrogeological cycle. That small fraction is referred to as "modern" groundwater: it is extractable because it is near the surface, and can be used to supplement above-ground resources in rivers and lakes. But it is also the most sensitive to over use, climate change and to human contamination. Adam Rutherford talks to hydrologist Tom Gleeson who is the lead author of this study published in Nature Geosciences.

Female Genital Mutilation

As part of the BBC’s 100 Women season, which shines a light on the lives of women around the world, Claudia Hammond talks to the midwife Dr Comfort Momoh, a public health specialist and staunch campaigner against the practice of female genital mutilation. She currently runs the African Well Woman’s clinic at Guys and St Thomas’ hospital in London, which she founded in 1997 to help women who have been subjected to the procedure.

Google’s Autonomous Car Caught Driving Too Slowly

Google has limited the speed of its autonomous cars to 25 mph – used in specified allowable areas. But one car was too slow for a traffic cop who pulled over the driverless vehicle and contacted the remote operators. What does this mean for the state of advance of driverless cars, and how does this relate to the semi-autonomous Tesla cars whom the manufacturers, worried about drivers abusing the technology, have imposed constraints, limiting the functionality. Gareth Mitchell talks to the robotics navigation expert, John Leonard from MIT.

Problems of Developing Drugs

Patrick Vallance is Head of Research and Development at GlaxoSmithKline, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies with annual revenues in excess of 20 billion pounds and nearly a hundred thousand employees worldwide. Since he joined, from academia where he was a professor of clinical pharmacology, he has reshaped the way GSK carries out its research into drug development and has been behind several radical initiatives in global healthcare. Jim Al-Khalili and Patrick Vallance discuss how a company like GSK goes about new drug development.

History of the Gyroscope

BBC Earth journalist Melissa Hogenboom continues her exploration of the history of the future at the Science Museum in London. This week, she unravels the story of the gyroscope with the help of Curator David Rooney.

(Photo caption: Ice chunks seen in the Amundsen Sea © Clement Sabourin/AFP/Getty Images)

The Science Hour was presented by Roland Pease with comments from BBC News journalist Melissa Hogenboom

Editor: Deborah Cohen

Are sea-level rises overestimated?

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.

Atlantic Seabed Drilling2015102420151025 (WS)

RRS James Cook sails on Monday carrying teams of scientists and 100 tonnes of equipment

The Royal Research Ship James Cook, will be sailing off at 9.30 am on Monday carrying several teams of scientists and 100 tonnes of equipment. The vessel is sailing to the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, just above the Atlantis Massif, to recover rock specimens using state-of-the-art drilling technology. Scientists hope to gain insights into microbial life, chemistry, and geochemistry found there from analysing the rocks.

ExoMars landing site settled

This week the European Space Agency put forward the most likely landing spot for its ExoMars rover. The mission will be searching for hints of the sorts of life the RSS James Cook will be exploring for on earth. And another mission to the moon is also announced, delving into a deep crater on the dark side.

Readability of IPCC Report

A paper in Nature Climate change last week scored the IPCC Summary for Policy Makers report, very low for 'readability', Adam Rutherford discusses the trade-off between writing science that is right, and writing science that is understandable.

BF Skinner

Claudia Hammond explores the legacy of BF Skinner and Behaviourism. One of the most famous psychologists of the 20th century, he became one of the most controversial, by applying the theory he developed through animal studies to human learning.

Claudia is shown round his study by his daughter, Julie Vargas. Remaining much as it was when he died in 1990, it reveals another side to the man famous for his operant conditioning experiments with rats and pigeons, and infamous for his template for what some have described as a totalitarian state, in his book 'Beyond Freedom and Dignity'.

Claudia also meets his younger daughter, Deborah Buzan, and explodes the myth that she was raised in one of Skinner's experimental 'boxes'.

She hears more about the man and his work from Richard McNally at Harvard, and Gordon Bower and Lee Ross of Stanford University.

Bees and diesel

The polluting power of diesel has been getting a lot of press recently. Now, new research has shown that the volatile nitrogen oxides in diesel exhaust (NOx) are preventing bees from finding their food flowers. The diesel chemically alters some of the most common floral scent compounds, rendering them unrecognisable to bees and other insect pollinators. The effect adds to the suite of environmental factors impacting bee survival.

Howler monkeys

The deep, growling roar of the howler monkey may hide reproductive shortcomings, according to biologists. A study by an international team of scientists has revealed that the primates either develop big voices, or big testes - but not both. Scientists made the discovery while trying to understand the "evolution of the animals' incredible roars". The findings suggest such evolutionary trade-offs may be more common than previously thought.

RRS James Cook © National Oceanography Centre

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)

Back To The Future2015101720151018 (WS)

Film fans across the world are building up to Back to the Future Day

Adam Rutherford is joined by The Film Programme's Francine Stock to explore the theme of time-travel - in science, in film and as film. With studio guest, science writer Marcus Chown, they discuss time-machines - as imagined by scientists and film-makers; the grandfather of all paradoxes; the notion of the multiverse and how the pioneers of cinema created their own 'time-machines' through the art of editing. And to mark Back the Future Day, otherwise known as 21 October 2015, they talk to director Robert Zemeckis about how and why he imagined a future with hover-boards but, oddly, no smart phones.

Why Norwegian Doctors Hang onto Floppy Disks

In Norway a large number of doctors are still using floppy disks, and they are clinging to older MS DOS-based electronic journals. The resulting system that employs floppy disks works very well, is cheap and efficient. But the Norwegian government plans to shut down the floppy disk option next year. We hear from Finn Espen Gundersen why some of the old guard are unhappy.

MSF President on Lessons from the Ebola Epidemic

Claudia Hammond discusses the lessons for the world of the West African Ebola epidemic with Joanne Liu, International president of Medecins Sans Frontieres. Dr Liu says that the international community responded far too slowly and countries in the regions are still vulnerable to further epidemics.

New DNA Structure

The famous Watson-Crick double helix depicts a zoomed-in structure of DNA. For the first time scientists have obtained images of the structure of tiny circles of DNA that contain about 300 base pairs – and they have found it is much more diverse and complex than they imagined.

The Musical Potential of Mogees

Mogees transforms almost any surface into a musical instrument, giving you an entire world of new creative possibilities. When stuck to an object, the Mogees sensor captures every vibration you create as you play the object. Through its recognition technology, you specify how you want to play your instrument by recording your own gestures, such as hitting, scratching or striking it in different ways. We are joined by its co-creator, Bruno Zamborlin, for a demonstration of its musical notes.

The Science Hour was presented by Jack Stewart with comments from BBC Science Correspondent Jonathan Webb

Producer: Marnie Chesterton

Baroness Shields Mounts A Fight Against Online Abuse2016013020160131 (WS)

The UK Minister, Baroness Joanna Shields believes the internet is under siege and that there needs to be greater international co-operation to combat the threat of groups such as so-called Islamic State. Baroness Shields discusses some possible solutions.

Zika Virus – What Do We Know?

Since October 2014 almost 4,000 babies have been born in Brazil with underdeveloped brains and smaller heads. Although not proven, doctors suspect that infection with the Zika virus during pregnancy is causing these abnormalities. More details on the devastating consequences of Zika are provided by Professor Jonathan Ball and Professor Trudie Lang.

Tracking Jupiter on Clay Tablets

New research shows that Babylonians used geometry to model the pathway of Jupiter. The ability of humans to do this was previously thought to be around 1400 AD. Dr Mathieu Ossendrijver, an expert in astrophysics and the cuneiform writing system used by the Babylonians, made the discovery.

Smokeless Tobacco India

Researchers say more than a quarter of a million people die each year from using smokeless tobacco. India alone accounts for 74% of the global disease burden. Nearly three years ago Gutka, a harmful but popular mix of tobacco, catechu, slaked lime and flavourings was banned. BBC’s Suhail Haleem reports.

Anniversary of General Theory of Relativity

Brian Cox and Robin Ince explore the legacy of Einstein's great theory of General Relativity, and how a mathematical equation written 100 years ago seems to have predicted so accurately exactly how our universe works.

Penguin Watch

Scientists have used remote cameras to capture the entire Antarctic year of penguin colonies in time-lapse - revealing some of the threats to the continent's penguins. Science reporter Victoria Gill reports.

(Image caption: Conceptual computer artwork of a human eye © Science Photo Library)

The Science Hour was presented by Garth Mitchell with comments from online science and technology editor for the Economist, Jason Palmer

Producer: Colin Grant

Britain’s Baroness Shields and the tools to fight terrorism online

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

Brain In A Dish2015082220150823 (WS)

Scientists from Ohio State University claim to have grown an almost fully-formed human brain in a lab for the first time.

Their aim is to expand understanding of neurological disease.

Paleo Diet

Why the expansion of the paleolithic brain was powered by cooked carbohydrates. Gareth Mitchell talks to Professor of Evolutionary Genetics, Mark Thomas, about the difficulties of establishing what our ancestors ate.

CO poisoning

In 2011, Roland Wessling and his partner were camping in the UK and had a barbecue one evening. Once the fire was out and the coals had cooled down several hours later, they brought the small barbecue into the porch area of their tent for safe-keeping; a decision that would change their lives forever. Hazel was killed and Roland poisoned by carbon monoxide. Even though the barbeque felt cold, the centre of the coals were still burning and filling their tent with the colourless, odourless gas.

Roland was in intensive care for two weeks and was given oxygen replacement therapy in a hyperbaric chamber. More often used to help patients’ wounds to heal, to aid recovery from radiotherapy or for divers with the bends, they allow people to inhale pure oxygen at high pressure. To find out how they work, Claudia visits the London Hyperbaric Chamber at Whipps Cross Hospital in London, where she talks to consultant anaesthetist Peter Bothma, medical director of the unit.

Forensic science

Brian Cox and Robin Ince take a gruesome look at the science of death and some of the more unusual ways that forensic scientists are able to look for and gather clues and evidence. From insects that can be used to give a precise time of death, to the unusual field of forensic botany, It's not just DNA evidence that can be used to pinpoint someone to the scene of a crime. They are joined on stage by Professor Sue Black from the University of Dundee, Dr Mark Spencer, a forensic botanist at the Natural History Museum and comedian Rufus Hound.

Crop Monitoring Mobile Phones

Cameras on mobile phones could help farmers in the developing world to detect drought stress or diseases on crops. Research from the UK could help improve crop yield and reduce costs by detecting problems early.


It might seem strange to talk about time in terms of seconds, but researchers at the University of Southern California have found that if you want to avoid procrastinating, then it is better to think of your ultimate deadline in much smaller units; so talking seconds instead of minutes, or days instead of years. Daphna Oyserman, Professor of Psychology, Communication and Education tells us why we need this insight to help us finally get round to doing what we are supposed to do.

Science Hour was presented by Roland Pease with comments from Jonathan Amos.

Producer: Alexandra Feachem

(Photo; Miniature brain. Credit: Ohio State University)

Scientists claim to have grown an almost fully-formed human brain for the first time.

Brazilian Babies Born With Microcephaly2016010920160110 (WS)

Why as many as 4,000 babies in Brazil have been born with brains that are too small

Each year in Brazil approximately 150 babies are born with a serious condition called microcephaly, where the brain has not developed fully before birth. But last year there were almost 4,000 cases. The situation is so serious that some doctors are even advising women to delay trying to get pregnant in case they contract the Zika virus, which is thought to be linked to the microcephaly epidemic. UK family doctor, Ann Robinson, and Dr Regina Coeli, a paediatric infectologist at Oswaldo Cruz Hospital in Recife, talk to Claudia Hammond about microcephaly and Zika virus.

El Niño

The El Niño weather phenomenon is expected to be the most intense in nearly two decades. It is releasing vast quantities of heat normally stored in the Pacific, causing floods, droughts and fires. Roland Pease talks to Professor Sue Page from University of Leicester and Professor Martin Wooster from King’s College London who are studying the Indonesian fires exacerbated by the current El Niño event. They describe the unpleasant choking smoke they experienced on their recent visit to Indonesia.

Start of the Anthropocene

The Anthropocene is a term formulated in 2000 to denote the present age, where humans are dramatically altering many geologically important conditions. It might already have penetrated the surface of popular culture, but it is not an officially recognised term. As far as geologists are concerned, we are still in the Holocene, which begins around 11,700 years ago with the end of the last Ice Age. A working group will put its evidence and recommendations about formalising the Anthropocene before the International Commission on Stratigraphy. Jonathan Amos talks to one of the group, geologist Dr Colin Waters of the British Geological Survey, about its latest assessment of when the Anthropocene began.

Migrants Struggle in Sub-Zero Temperatures

Medics working at refugee aid camps in the Balkans say they are seeing a spike in the number of migrants falling ill because of the cold weather. The BBC's Global Health correspondent Tulip Mazumdar reports from a medical clinic in Macedonia.

Metallic Hydrogen

Scientists think they have come close to creating a metallic state of hydrogen more than 80 years after it was first predicted. Dr Ross Howie from the HPSTAR institute in Shanghai explains how he and his colleagues from Edinburgh University exerted the equivalent pressure at the centre of the Earth on a tiny amount of hydrogen to create a mixed-state form of hydrogen.

Alex the Mathematical Parrot

Alex Bellos 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 Bellos tells the amazing story of Alex, the African grey parrot, and meets Dr Irene Pepperberg who guided her feathered pupil to extraordinary mathematical achievements, together with a former labmate of Alex’s, Griffin.

Elements Added to Periodic Table

Four chemical elements have been formally added to the periodic table, completing the scheme's seventh row. They are the first to be included in the table since 2011, when elements 114 and 116 were added. The new additions were formally verified by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) on 30 December 2015. The body announced that a team of Russian and American researchers had provided sufficient evidence to claim the discovery of elements 115, 117 and 118. Andrea Sella, Professor of Inorganic Chemistry at University College London, explained to Razia Iqbal why he was so impressed by this work.

(Photo caption: A baby girl born with microcephaly has her head measured by a neurologist © AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

The Science Hour was presented by Claudia Hammond with comments from BBC Science Correspondent Jonathan Amos

Editor: Deborah Cohen

Bright Spots On Ceres2015121220151213 (WS)

Using data from the Dawn spacecraft, scientists make sense of the mysterious bright spots on surface of Ceres - the largest object in the main asteroid belt. Andreas Nathues of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research talks to BBC’s Jonathan Amos about the bright spots on the surface of Ceres. They reveal a briny ice layer underneath the planetary body’s crust. In other research scientists find ammonia on the surface - which means Ceres must have formed in the outskirts of our Solar System - far far away from its current position. Jonathan explains the findings to Jack Stewart.


Is there a 6th sense? Since the 1960s, it has been generally accepted that animals have a sense of magnetism. This may help explain how some birds are able to migrate huge distances. However, ever since this discovery, the mechanism behind the reception of the Earth's magnetic field has remained a mystery. Scientists do not know which components are responsible for detecting the magnetism, hence the search for 'a biological compass'. The quest has united people from a range of disciplines such as animal behaviourists, chemists and quantum biologists. But are scientists getting any closer to finding the biological compass? Adam Rutherford discusses this question with Oxford University chemist Professor Peter Hore - and neurobiologist at the UK Institute for Molecular Pathology, David Keays.

The Quipu Project

An innovative interactive documentary provides a platform for people who underwent involuntary sterilization in a campaign devised by the then Peruvian President Fujimori in the 1990s. Gareth Mitchell talks to one of the key people behind the project, Rosemarie Lerner. The launch of the project coincides with International Human Rights Day.

Tackling Climate Change with Psychology

As the United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP 21, comes to an end in Paris, Claudia Hammond talks to Dr Sander van der Linden, Director of the Social and Environmental Decision Making Lab at Princeton University, about how psychological science can help policy makers to communicate about climate change.

Humboldt - the Inventor of Nature

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.

What is a Scientific Model?

Adam Rutherford talks to astronomers Dr Andrew Pontzen and Dr Carole Haswell and ornithologist Dr Paul Donald about what they mean when they say they "modelled the data". He explores the strengths and weaknesses of using models to represent things as diverse as the spin of planets and field choice of skylarks.

The Science Hour was presented by Gareth Mitchell with comments from the BBC Radio Science Producer, Fiona Roberts

Editor: Deborah Cohen

(Image caption: This representation of Ceres' Occator Crater in false colours shows differences in the surface composition © NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA)

Detailed observations from the surface of Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt

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)


Thirty years ago this week an explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear plant. A fire raged for 10 days, spewing radioactive materials on the surrounding area and was detected throughout much of a continent. Yet, so many decades on, why is it so difficult to accurately measure the impacts on human health? Richard Wakeford of the University of Manchester is an epidemiologist who has looked at the research done over the years, and he explains to Adam Rutherford why making definitive connections between the Chernobyl explosion and long-term illnesses or premature deaths is so very difficult.

Dealing with Resistance to Bt Crops

Genetically modified Bt crops have been hailed as one of the success stories of GM crops. Cotton, maize and soybeans which have the ‘insecticide gene inserted’ are thought to be responsible for increases in global agricultural productivity of US$78 between 1996 and 2013. But now farmers are starting to see crop pests developing resistance to the Bacillus thuringiensis toxin. It is one of the evolutionary arms races that nature is so famous for. But now scientists at Harvard University are harnessing evolution in the lab to fast-track themselves to a new generation of the insecticidal toxin. Jack Stewart talks to Professor David Liu who is one of the authors of the paper published in the journal Nature.

Virtual Reality Gets Real

Virtual reality and 360 degree immersive film technology heralds the next revolution visual communication, potentially as dramatic a change into how we view the world as that which came about with the introduction of cinema. But if we have been here before with virtual reality, this time it looks set to stay. In a special programme recorded in front of an audience in the BBC’s Radio Theatre, experts, including VR film-makers, performers and philosophers debated the transformative power of virtual reality. Gareth Mitchell talks to one of these experts, Sandy Smolan, who is an award-winning film director based in Los Angeles.


Scientists at CERN have also been trying to sort out the wheat from the chaff, continuing their efforts to understand a blip in their data identified and scrutinised over the last few months. Jon Butterworth of UCL and CERN dons the Cloak of Speculation and talks to Adam Rutherford about the possible implications for physics if it does indeed turn out to be a new, unpredicted, particle.

Los Angeles Wildlife

The city may have a reputation as a concrete jungle, devoid of wild areas, but a team of scientists in the city say appearances are deceptive. They have opened an Urban Nature Research Centre to co-ordinate, what the director of the city’s Natural History Museum, is calling the world’s largest urban study of biodiversity. As the BBC’s Los Angeles Correspondent James Cook reports they are only able to do so with the help of an army of citizen scientists.

Glaciers with a Flotilla of 'Ice Sails'

Rare and somewhat esoteric, these are the huge pyramids of ice that stand proud of the surface on some glaciers. To date, the phenomenon has only really been seen around the Karakoram mountain region of Pakistan. The Baltoro glacier, which begins life at the very summit of K2, has some particularly fine examples. Up to 25m in height and with widths of up to 90m, their triangular shapes when viewed from a distance give the impression of a flotilla of sail boats. Now, scientists are getting a handle on how these giant "ice sails" form and wither over time, and how the processes involved depend on the special conditions that exist in the Karakoram region.

Spot Squeezing

There seems to be an online trend for watching online videos of huge spots being squeezed. Sites such as Dr Pimple Popper attract hundreds of thousands of viewers. Claudia Hammond discussed this fascination with Daniel Kelly from the Department of Philosophy at Purdue University, who is the author of a book on disgust called Yuck! and Dr Nisith Sheth, Consultant Dermatologist for the British Skin Foundation.

(Photo caption: A view of a housing project in the ghost town of Pripyat near Chernobyl's nuclear power plant © Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images )

The Science Hour was presented by Roland Pease with comments from BBC Science Correspondent Jonathan Amos

Editor: Deborah Cohen

Could There Be A Ninth Planet?2016012320160124 (WS)

Tantalising evidence of an undiscovered ninth planet on the edge of our solar system

American astronomers say they have strong evidence that there is a ninth planet in our Solar System orbiting far beyond even the dwarf world Pluto. The team, from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), has no direct observations to confirm its presence just yet. Rather, the scientists make the claim based on the way other far-flung objects are seen to move. But if proven, the putative planet would have ten times the mass of Earth. The Caltech astronomers have a vague idea where it ought to be on the sky, and their work is sure to fire a campaign to try to track it down.

Space Farming

Scientists at the University of Arizona are trying to mimic conditions in Space and grow fruit and vegetables. Professor Robert Furfaro, Director of Space Systems Engineering at the University of Arizona, is the Technical Principal Investigator and shows Jack Stewart around a cylindrical plastic greenhouse with some beautiful green crops growing inside under artificial light.

New Bird Species in India

Scientists have described a new species of bird in northern India and China, called the Himalayan forest thrush. During fieldwork in the mountains, researchers noticed that thrushes in the forests sang much more musically than those on the rocky peaks. They then discovered physical and genetic differences as well, and have now declared the known "plain-backed thrush" to be two distinct species. The mountain-dwelling variety has been re-christened the "alpine thrush".

The Europeana Sounds Project

The Europeana Sounds project gathers sound files (speech, radio programmes, environmental sounds) to make them more widely available. One way of doing this is to release them under Creative Commons licenses, uploading them to Wikimedia and holding editathons where participants learn how to add these audio files to Wikipedia pages. Julia Lorke reports.

Global Fish Catches Under-Reported

Estimates of global fish catches over the past sixty years have been vastly underestimated, according to a new study in the journal Nature Communications. In certain cases it was found that previous estimates may have been over 50% too low. Scientists at the University of British Columbia, along with many collaborators across the world, found this out by using an approach called ‘catch reconstruction’ where they use local knowledge to fill in missing gaps in global data sets. Professor Daniel Pauly, one of the lead authors of the paper, talks to Jack Stewart about the findings and the reliability of the available data.

Scotland’s Dolphins

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.

Concorde's 40th Anniversary

Concorde flew its first commercial flight on the 21st January 1976. To mark its 40th birthday, Concorde engineer Dr Christopher ‘Kit’ Mitchell and Concorde pilot David Rowland talk to Adam Rutherford about the extraordinary aeroplane's scientific and engineering legacy.

(Photo caption: Artist's rendering of distant view from "Planet Nine" back towards the sun © Hurt/Caltech/IPAC/Handout via Reuters)

The Science Hour was presented by Jack Stewart with comments from BBC Science reporter Jonathan Webb

Producer: Alex Mansfield

Cryovolcanoes On Pluto2015111420151115 (WS)

The latest observations beamed back from the New Horizons mission to Pluto show possible volcanic-type structures made from ice. The mountains have what appear to be caldera-like depressions in the top. Unlike volcanoes on Earth, that erupt molten rock, the suspected volcanoes on Pluto, would likely erupt an icy slush of substances such as water, nitrogen, ammonia or methane.

Venus Twin

Even further afield, but not too far, scientists have discovered a rocky exoplanet orbiting a star just 39 light-years away, meaning that our best telescopes may be able to probe the composition of its atmosphere. Likely more similar to Venus than to Earth, it has nevertheless been called the most important exoplanet yet discovered.

Arsonist Psychology

Every week in the UK 65 people are killed or injured in arson attacks and worldwide there are hundreds of millions of dollars of damage caused every week. So a psychologist at the University of Kent is trying to understand more about the psychology of arsonists and why some people are drawn to the idea of setting fire to things. Based on interviews with large numbers of convicted arsonists, Theresa Gannon has been developing a treatment that she hopes will stop people offending again.

Early Apiarists

Humans have been exploiting honeybees for almost 9,000 years, according to archaeological evidence. Traces of beeswax found on ancient pottery from Europe, the Near East and North Africa suggest the first farmers kept bees. The research, published in Nature, shows our links with the honeybee date back to the dawn of agriculture.

The Genetics of Intelligence

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.

Ant Superorganism

Ants behave as a superorganism when under predation threat - complex chemical communication in rock ants are key to how they behave as a unit to different threats. And fire ants take this further and are of interest even to materials scientists for the way they can hold onto each other and form structures.

History of the Future

BBC News journalist Melissa Hogenboom continues her exploration of the history of the future at the Science Museum in London. This week, she looks at the development of the disposable plastic hypodermic syringe.

(Image caption: Wright Mons is located south of Sputnik Planum on Pluto © NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)

The Science Hour was presented by Jack Stewart with comments from BBC Science reporter Helen Briggs

Producer: Alex Mansfield

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

Decline in Antarctic Fur seals and 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).)

Drilling The €dinosaur Crater’20161015

Scientists have obtained remarkable new insights into the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. They have been examining rock drilled from the Chicxulub Crater, made by a 15km-wide asteroid, dug out of what is now the Gulf of Mexico some 66 million years ago.

The Deep Origins of Bird Song

Palaeontologist Julia Clarke has discovered the oldest fossil of a bird's organ of song, the syrinx. At the University of Texas, Austin, the delicate structure turned up in an X ray scan of a 66 million year old bird fossil from Antarctica. The fossil syrinx is so well preserved it is possible to say what the call of this ancient bird, Vegavis, would have sounded like. It is also a massive boost in the quest to discover when birds first sang and recreating the dawn chorus back in the Age of Dinosaurs.

Poverty Fuels Disease in Rich Countries

Despite progress in reaching global health targets a number of neglected tropical diseases are now spreading in richer countries – causing disability and hardship. One American expert says that eradicating them could help to stimulate economic prosperity as well as end suffering.


The inability to recognise voices – even those of family members or well-known celebrities – is known as phonagnosia. A psychologist in California has been examining the condition using a test with celebrity voices. One woman who volunteered to take part cannot even recognise her own mother’s voice on the phone.

Life on Mars?

Mars is about to be visited by the first space mission for 40 years which is designed to seek signs of life on the Red Planet. Adam Rutherford talks to Dr Manish Patel of the Open University, a senior scientist on the European Space Agency's ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter. Once the spacecraft starts work, it may solve the mystery of ebbs and flows of methane gas in the Martian atmosphere. It may answer whether the gas is being produced by life beneath the planet's cold dusty surface.

Meanwhile, down on the surface, NASA’s Curiosity rover has reached the foot of Mount Sharp. It is a promising place to search for life as there is some evidence for liquid water being present. Paradoxically however, Curiosity is going to keep a safe distance so as to avoid the possibility of contaminating the region with any microbial stowaways carried there from earth deep inside the rover’s chassis.

Wooden Skyscrapers

New ways to engineer and build with wood, a huge demand for housing and concerns about the high carbon cost of steel and concrete mean architects and engineers are looking to sustainable wood to build our high rise buildings.

(Photo caption: Geophysicist Sean Gulick and the expedition to drill into the Chicxulub Crater, created after an asteroid crashed 66 million years ago © Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images)

The Science Hour was presented by Claudia Hammond with comments from BBC News science reporter Victoria Gill

Editor: Deborah Cohen

Drug Abuse In Athletes20160730

Much of the Rio Olympics build-up in the last few weeks has centred round drug abuse. The recent report from the World Anti-doping Agency has resulted in 67 Russian athletes being barred, as well as bans for swimming, canoeing, and sailing. Adam Rutherford visits the Drugs Control Lab at King’s College London to meet its director David Cowan. He ran the drugs testing lab at the London Olympics four years ago and discusses how science is addressing new methods to evade detection.

Helping Athletes Avoid Infections

Elite athletes are particularly vulnerable to common infections during intensive training and competitions - and any illness means time off training and, potentially, the difference between winning and losing an Olympic medal. Dr Anita Biswas, senior sports physician at the English Institute of Sport, explains to Dr Graham Easton how she helps athletes avoid infections.


Do you still need your mouse to click or could you just use your eyes to select a command or chose a webpage? This could be the next big thing after touch screens? Roland Pease has been testing out "actigaze" software that could make eyeballing web pages more natural.

Cancer Found in Ancient Human Ancestor's Foot

The earliest evidence of cancer in the human fossil record has been discovered in a cave in South Africa. The aggressive tumour was found in a 1.7 million-year-old toe from an ancient human ancestor. The toe belonged to one of the early hominins, either Homo ergaster or Paranthropus robustus. The researchers said the findings clearly show cancer is not a disease of modern society, as some people claim. The new discovery was made in a toe bone from Swartkrans cave in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site near Johannesburg. Data, published in the South African Journal of Science, showed the metatarsal had osteosarcoma - a rare and deadly form of bone cancer.

Going Lean: Health and the Toyota Way

Dr Kevin Fong explores the concept of ‘lean’ in healthcare. He visits Toyota’s largest car assembly plant in the United States and discovers how the company’s legendary management philosophy – the Toyota Production System – is being implemented in hospitals, in an effort to improve patient care. Toyota’s philosophy of continuous improvement aims to increase quality and flow whilst decreasing cost. But whilst this may work well for the mass production of cars, can it really improve the care of individual patients?

Cloned Sisters of Dolly

Dolly the cloned sheep had a number of health problems. Professor Kevin Sinclair of Nottingham University and colleagues has now cloned sisters of Dolly to see if they have the same issues. He has been talking about it to BBC’s Science correspondent Jonathan Amos.

(Photo image: A urine sample being tested for drugs at Drug Control Centre at King’s College London © Press Association)

The Science Hour was presented by Gareth Mitchell with comments by James Gallagher, Science Reporter, BBC News online

Editor: Deborah Cohen

Earth-sized Planet Found20160827

Life on other planets might feel like the stuff of science fiction. But could the hunt for extra-terrestrial life be one step closer thanks to the discovery an earth-sized planet

orbiting our nearest star, Proxima Centauri?

The Hunt for Vulcan

The planet hunters of today search for worlds beyond our Solar System. The planet hunters of a century or so ago were still trying to find a planet orbiting our own sun. In The Hunt for Vulcan – which is shortlisted for this year's Royal Society Book Prize - Professor Thomas Levenson examines the craze known as Vulcan-mania. This search for a phantom planet persisted as it might have explained the odd orbit of the planet Mercury, as Professor Levenson explained to Gareth Mitchell.

Trump’s Wall and Wildlife

US presidential candidate, Donald Trump’s proposed plan to build a wall across the entire US-Mexican border would be bad news for the fragile ecosystem of this important wildlife area. The border area is home to a diverse population of mammals, birds and plants—including a number of rare species. Freedom of movement across the border is crucial for habitat connectivity and genetic diversity. According to experts a number of species, including Desert bighorn sheep, black bears and the iconic roadrunner, would be at risk from the proposed construction.

Hidden in a Name

The names we give things in the natural world often contain clues about what they look like, how they behave or where they come from. But with thousands of human languages approaching extinction, important plant knowledge may die with them. Cathy Edwards reports.


Adam Rutherford attempts to have a serious discussion about the evolutionary purpose of pubic hair with anatomist and broadcaster Professor Alice Roberts – and with Dr Hannah Fry about how leg hair knows to grow back when it’s been shaved.

Retirement in Sport

Claudia Hammond looks at what happens when elite sportspeople retire from competition. Life becomes very different when they stop striving for those medals, and they no longer have an identity as an athlete. After years of being told how to become a champion - when to train, what to eat and when to sleep – they have to return to making decisions for themselves. For some it can put people at risk of depression, alcohol abuse or even suicide. Claudia Hammond talks to former swimmer Sharron Davies about how she has redefined her life, post-retirement. Footballer Clarke Carlisle now works with a mental health charity, but admits that he was not prepared for his own loss of identity after retirement. Paul Wylleman, Professor of Sports Psychology at the Free University of Brussels, and performance manager to the Dutch Olympics team, tells her how some countries’ Olympic organisations prepare their stars for the future outside sport.

Penguin’s Rebooted by 3D Printer

3D printing has helped to create bespoke footwear for an injured penguin in the United States. Purps the Penguin lives in the Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut. She damaged a tendon in her ankle, fighting with another bird. The plastic boot which helped her to walk up until now was heavy and bulky. So some children from a local school who had recently acquired a 3D printer to help with their studies, designed and printed a new, better fitting, more comfortable boot for Purps. Nicholas Gondek, who is the Director of Additive Manufacturing at ACT group, a firm specialising in 3D printing services, was impressed by the skills of the pupils at Mystic Middle School.

(Photo caption: Artists impression showing a view of the surface of the planet Proxima b orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri © ESO/M. Kornmesser/PA Wire)

The Science Hour was presented by Claudia Hammond with comments from BBC Science reporter Jonathan Webb

Producer: Paula McGrath

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:

Elephant Anti-poaching Patrol2016031920160320 (WS)

What can be done to stop the decline in the number of African elephants and the slaughter of thousands of animals each year for their ivory? This week in London 40 companies such as shipping firms and airlines signed a declaration aimed at closing illegal wildlife trafficking routes. Southern Tanzania has lost more than 60% of its African elephants in the last 5 years. In Central Africa, the figures are worse. The BBC’s Africa correspondent Alastair Leithead reports from the Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Mosul Dam Warning

The largest dam in Iraq, the Mosul Dam, is in danger of collapsing according to a number of reports. It has been plagued with problems from the start as the dam was built on layers of limestone and gypsum - not only are these soluble but cavities form between the layers. The dam therefore needs constant grouting – the filling in of these cavities with a mixture of cement, clay and silicon – to stop it from collapsing. When the Islamic State group took control of the dam they destroyed much of this grouting equipment and many staff did not return once local forces had regained control of the dam. Professor Nadhir Al-Ansari from the Lulea Technical University in Sweden explains to Jack Stewart what could happen if the dam collapses.

Storks and Junk Food

New research shows that white storks in Portugal appear to be addicted to junk food and have stopped migrating to Africa for the winter. Dr Aldina Franco from the University of East Anglia has found that since the 1980’s a population of white storks in Portugal has foregone migration as they can get all the food they need from open landfill sites in the south of the country. This means they can repair their nests and be ready to rear young much earlier than their migratory counterparts. The population has now exploded to about 14,000 birds. However new European Union regulations will soon mean the end of open landfill sites, as countries will have to recycle their food waste. How this might affect the storks is unknown and Dr Franco does not know if the new non-migratory generations will be able to make their way back to Africa if the need arises.

Artificial Intelligence

At the Cambridge Science Festival, Gareth brings together a panel of experts including Professor Barbara Sahakian and Astronomer Royal, Professor Martin Rees to discuss the limits of artificial intelligence, and its presence in space.

CRISPR Gene Drives

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 chickens immune to pandemic influenza and mosquitoes engineered to wipe out wild populations of the insects which transmit diseases to humans. These are just two 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.

Neanderthal Genome

What does the DNA of our closest ancestors tell us about ourselves? Professor Svante Pääbo is director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and led the project to sequence the Neanderthal genome. He tells Robin Ince about the comparatively small number of changes in the genes between us and Neanderthals including changes in the brain. Could these differences explain what makes us human?

(Photo caption: An elephant © Daniel Hayduk/AFP/Getty Images)

The Science Hour was presented by Jack Stewart with comments from Melissa Hogenboom of BBC Earth

Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker

Hunting elephant poachers in Democratic Republic of Congo

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

Fast Storage Of Co2 In Volcanic Rock20160611

Last year in Paris the world made commitments to rein in CO2 emissions, but there’s precious little evidence from the past that we’re very good at that. CO2 levels are increasing all the time, and may now have permanently passed the iconic 400 parts per million in the atmosphere. If we don’t reduce the amount of CO2 we create, one option, for the short-term at least – is to dispose of the combustion waste more carefully, like we have to with other waste products. It’s called carbon capture and storage, or CCS. Catch the CO2 before it reaches the atmosphere and store it somewhere safe, in the rocks under our feet for example. This week saw the first results from an experiment called CarbFix, which started 5 years ago in Iceland and effectively turns the CO2 into chalk, far underground.

Noisy ICUs

The noise of alarms on some hospital wards can reach 60 decibels – the equivalent to a busy restaurant – not the ideal environment for sick patients. In the UK, researchers at Oxford University have analysed interviews with patients for the Health Talk website and found that alarms came up again and again as a problem for patients. Julie Darbyshire who researches noise in hospitals and Lisa Hinton from the Health Experiences Research Group are both acutely aware of the stress which a noisy environment causes for patients.

Digital discrimination

Are we seeing digital discrimination in the sharing economy? A study from Harvard Business School in the US has found that the colour of your skin might affect the rents you can receive when you share your property online, or even your chances of renting an apartment at all. Benjamin Edelman, Associate Professor at Harvard Business School explains his findings.

Algal Blooms In Chile

On the Chilean coast, fisheries have been knocked sideways by an outbreak of red tide – a toxic algal bloom that’s wiping out fish stocks along 2000 km of the shore line. Millions of salmon and other fish, clams and other shellfish species have died, and Chilean livelihoods are endangered. But the widespread poisoning has been followed by a blame game – with the recent El Nino, pollution and fish farming all called into question. Jane Chambers reports.

Coral Bleaching in Chagos

The UK's largest tropical reef has been devastated in the global bleaching event now under way. Up to 85% of the corals in the Chagos Marine Reserve of the British Indian Ocean Territory are estimated to have been damaged or killed in the event. Scientists say the conditions there are worse than in 1998 - the last major bleaching occurrence.

Hobbit Ancestor

Scientists have discovered the 700,000-year-old ancestor of the tiny primitive human known as "the Hobbit". Its fossils indicate that the normal-sized primitive humans who first set foot on the Indonesian island of Flores shrank "rapidly" to become Hobbit-sized. The remains are of at least one adult and two children, who are all just as small as their descendants. A paper in the journal Nature details the latest findings.

East Asian Flyway

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. It covers 22 countries. Ann Jones has been following the birds on their extraordinary migration and she’s been hearing that the birds’ lives are full of danger, the most serious threats coming from humans. The flyway is now in peril and many species are plummeting towards extinction.

Depressed Cake Shop

Depression is one of those topics that many people still find very difficult to discuss openly. But around the world all sorts of groups of people have come up with unusual ways of opening up a discussion about it, including at the Depressed Cake Shop where the cakes may be grey in colour, but get all sorts of colourful conversations going. There is online support too. Claudia Hammond went to Glasgow in Scotland to meet Jules who’s experienced first-hand what a difference the Depressed Cake shop can make.

The Science Hour was presented by Tracey Logan with comments from BBC Science Correspondent Jonathan Amos, and produced by Alex Mansfield.

(Image: CarbFix pilot CO2 injection site during CO2 injection in March 2011. Credit: Martin Stute)

Fighting Poverty With Data20160820

A tin roof and a paved road can be a sign of an area coming out of poverty in parts of Africa. Identifying poor regions in Africa using satellite data could save massive survey efforts and help identify regions where help is needed most.

Chinese Massive Radio Telescope

China, fast becoming a dominant player in science and technology, is about to open a monster radio telescope, a deep dish 500 m across nestled in a mountaintop in the country’s remote South West. Rebecca Morelle struggled up the mountain side for an early view.

“Smart? Surgical Stitches

Surgical thread used in operations which can send a text message to medical staff that an infection is brewing could revolutionise healthcare. Researchers at Tufts University in Boston have coated threads with nano-scale sensors to detect temperature, pH changes and whether stitches are under strain inside a wound. They say that the technology could also be used for surgical implants, “smart? bandages and even hip replacements. So far the threads have been tested in animals, but the researchers are now looking for volunteers to trial the stitching at skin level.

Wristbands That Monitor Pesticide Exposure

By providing silicon wristbands to famers in West Africa, scientists at the University of Oregon State have been able to monitor their exposure to toxic pesticide. In the future these bands could also be used to detect exposure to other organic chemicals.

Autonomous Cars

Ford has just announced that by 2021 it's going to have a driverless car on the road with no steering wheel. It sounds ambitious, since it is the intermediate stop on the road to full autonomy that's raising some of the big research questions at the moment. How can drivers enjoy the reduced workload of automation whilst still being alert enough to take control if something goes wrong? For a drive of the future, Gareth Mitchell went to Southampton University's simulator facility for automated vehicles to meet Professor of Human Factors in Transport, Neville Stanton.

Footballers Fear of the Penalty

Why is it that for athletes at the peak of their performance, sometimes it can all go wrong – very wrong. Just think of the England football team which has on many occasions missed penalties at a crucial time. To find out what happens in the mind at these all-important moments Claudia Hammond has been to talk to Professor Geir Jourdet at the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences. He explains how he helps footballers deal with performance stress.

(Photo caption: Satellite image of earth at night © NASA)

The Science Hour was presented by Roland Pease with comments from BBC Science reporter Jonathan Webb

Editor: Deborah Cohen

Floods And Border Politics20160910

A lack of cross border information on melting glaciers may be worsening flood damage in India and Nepal. Many countries in Asia share the rivers that start their course high in the Tibetan plateau. Their source is melting glacial ice. In July the town of Liang in Nepal was almost washed away when floodwaters hit the region. Authorities in Nepal say to help them plan flood alleviation they need more information on the state of glaciers and rivers in Chinese controlled territories, from which this flood water flows.

Air Pollution and Brain Function

This week saw the publication of results of study looking at air pollution and brain function. Particles from pollutants have been found in the brains of people sampled for the study. It raises a serious question for mental health researchers, on whether there could be link between these polluting particles and degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease

Remote Animal Logging

Rory Wilson, Professor of Zoology at Swansea University, has found a way to eavesdrop on animals that live in remote parts of the world. He has developed a logging device that collects a whopping amount of data - 400 items each second. He explains how the device has been used to work out how Albatross catch squid at night using bioluminescence.

Alpine Ice Begins Antarctic Voyage

More than 400 pieces of Alpine ice have been moved to a giant freezer - a first step in their journey to Antarctica. The seemingly strange plan to send ice to the coldest place on Earth is part of a scientific mission to "rescue" some of the world's melting glacial ice. Bubbles in old, deep glacial ice are frozen records of our past atmosphere.

Raising a Bump on Flat Screens

Computer scientist Professor Matt Jones from Swansea University looks into the future of screen technology. He and his team have been exploring displays that mutate to create virtual 3D controls.

Phantom Traffic Jams

Doctors Rutherford and Fry discover the cause of phantom traffic 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.

(Photo caption: A general view shows the Nepalese village of Lamo Sanghu by the Sukoshi river, some 80 kms northeast of Kathmandu © Prakash Mathema/AFP/Getty Images)

Flowing Water On Mars2015100320151004 (WS)

Dark streaks on crater slopes on Mars have been identified as salt deposits. The presence of salt could be the strongest evidence of liquid water on the surface of the Red Planet. While Martian surface temperatures range between zero and -100C, the high salt content of the water could act as an anti-freeze, keeping the water liquid.

Cuba Health Tourism

Cuba is becoming a popular destination for international health tourists. Will Grant reports from one of the country’s hotel-hospitals.

The Infinite Monkey Cage USA Tour:

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.

Seedbank in Syria

We are never more reminded that we live in a truly global village than when we look at a plate of food. There could be potatoes and tomatoes that evolved in South America, bread made with wheat which started in the Middle East, cassava, now an African staple, originated in Brazil. Crop diversity is of increasing importance and if we want to have this variety of food in the future, with a growing population and a changing climate, we need to look after the hundreds and thousands of genetic varieties of the food plants we grow and eat. And this is where seedbanks come in. Seedbanks are one of the planet’s insurance policies to ensure we can access crop varieties to help improve our crops. But seedbanks are not static ‘museums’ of crop seeds and plant material. Plant breeders, farmers and scientists can, and do, request access to seeds in national collections all the time. But this is the first time an international collection has requested a seed withdrawal from the ultimate seed back up bank – the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Due to the civil war in the region, ICARDA - International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas that was housed in Aleppo in Syria is moving and it needs its seed deposit back.

Project Isizwe

In South Africa, mobile phones may be common but data is expensive. And yet it is important for education. Project Isizwe co-founder James Devine talks about spreading free wi-fi in South Africa.

Science Hour was presented by Gareth Mitchell with comments from Jonathan Webb

(Photo: Dark, narrow streaks on Martian slopes such as these at Hale Crater are inferred to be formed by seasonal flow of water on contemporary Mars © NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona)

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.

Gaia Galaxy Census20160917

The space camera Gaia was launched in 2013 to create the most accurate 3D map of the Milky Way ever. This week we got back Gaia's first data. What has Gaia found in its first 1000 days in space?

Could it be possible to make babies without an egg? Scientists have succeeded in creating healthy baby mice by tricking sperm into believing they were fertilising normal eggs. Instead, they used “pseudo-embryos.? These "fake" embryos share much in common with ordinary cells, such as skin cells, in the way they divide and control their DNA.

A bird so rare that it is now extinct in the wild has joined a clever animal elite - the Hawaiian crow naturally uses tools to reach food. The bird now joins just one other corvid - the New Caledonian crow - in this exclusive evolutionary niche.

American presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton was forced to disclose the fact that she has pneumonia, after appearing to collapse on the campaign trail this week. But should she have to reveal all about her health? World leaders with other more serious health problems appear to have not been held back. British politician Lord David Owen, in his book “In Sickness and In Power? ponders over the question of whether all world leaders, in business and in politics, should be more open about their health.

This summer a fully automated DNA-making facility began operation in Scotland. Scientists at the Edinburgh Genome Foundry are teaching robots how to do manual laboratory tasks in order to be able to produce DNA much faster than before.

And can animals count? We hear the stories of chicks, monkeys, parrots and a horse which appear to have some kind of mathematical ability.

(Image caption: Artist's impression of Gaia mapping the stars of the Milky Way © ESA/ATG medialab: background: ESO/S. Brunier)

The Science Hour was presented by Jonathan Webb with comments from BBC Science Correspondent Jonathan Amos

Producer: Julian Siddle

Gain Of Function2016031220160313 (WS)

This week in the US, public discussions are taking place into controversial Gain of Function research. Who should decide the limits of studies where scientists make new, deadlier viruses in the laboratory? Dr Filippa Lentzos, biosecurity expert from Kings College, London, lists a litany of accidental security breaches from the past. Should we stop this kind of dangerous research, or encourage it, in the interests of national security? Virologist Professor John Oxford of Queen Mary University in London argues that we need this research.

Plastic Eating Bacteria

About 311 million tonnes of plastics are produced every year and 90% of these are derived from petrol. Most of this is used for packaging and only about 14% is recycled. As the plastics are made to be durable and stable, they remain as waste in the environment. A solution would be to produce plastics that are degradable from renewable resources. This now maybe possible thanks to a discovery by a team of Japanese scientists who have found a bacterium that can fully degrade a widely used plastic. Professor Uwe Bornscheuer from the University of Greifswald explains why this finding is so significant.

Easter Rising: Voice of a Rebel

Anglo-Irish history is being taken on by the powers of virtual reality spatial storytelling. At its heart is a remarkable eye-witness account from the centre of the Easter Rising, as those on both sides of the Irish Sea mark the rebellion's 100th anniversary. Gareth Mitchell talks to the VR producer, Catherine Allen on the eve of the launch of Easter Rising: Voice of a Rebel


Sheep farmer Tim Barritt, from the Barossa Valley in South Australia, has written and published 81 adverts designed to get people talking about emotional health issues, to make them feel less alone and avoid suicide. In every advert he encourages people to seek help and provides information about how to do so. He tells Claudia what prompted him to launch his campaign and what keeps him motivated to continue.

What is the evidence that this type of intervention is successful? Professor Keith Hawton, consultant psychiatrist and director of the Centre for Suicide Research at Oxford University, explains what works when it comes to suicide prevention.

Editing The Genome

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.

Slithering Snakes

For the first time scientists in the US have monitored how snakes move. They've found that they have a specific stereotyped waveform movement across sand. Johnathan Webb has been to investigate

The Science Hour was presented by Claudia Hammond, with comments from BBC Science Reporter Jonathan Webb.

Producer: Deborah Cohen

MAIN IMAGE: The H5N1 or 'bird flu' virus as seen through a microscope. Credit: AFP / Getty Images

: is some science just too dangerous?

Gene Barcoding20160528

Scientists using the new gene editing technique called CRISPR have been able to mark and track the development of a zebrafish embryo from the very early stages to adulthood. This technique allows individual cells to be tagged, and they can then be tracked as they divide and multiply and specialise into all the cells of the adult body. This holds huge implications for understanding embryo development and stem cell activity, and not just in zebrafish. Roland speaks to Professor Jay Shendure, geneticist at the University of Washington in Seattle, who has been working on this for some time.

GM Plants

The topic of GM plants raises strong opinions and many questions. This week, the UK’s Royal Society published answers to some of those questions and the US National academy of Science has also published a report. Adam Rutherford speaks to Professor Ottoline Leyser, plant science expert and Head of the Sainsbury Lab in Cambridge. She was involved in writing the responses in the RS Q+A, and Adam Rutherford quizzes her on the possible issues with GM crops.

Millennium Technology Prize

US engineer Frances Arnold has won the Millennium Technology Prize for pioneering "directed evolution". By driving a sped-up version of natural selection in the lab, the method has created new enzymes for industrial catalysts, household detergents, and even to make rocket fuel from sugar. The €1m (£0.8m) prize is awarded biennially and Prof Arnold is the first female winner in its 12-year history. It recognises developments that "change people's lives for the better". The Technology Academy Finland, which presents the prize, said the deliberations began in November 2015 but that "there was only one outstanding candidate".

After Ebola

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.

New Shorter Treatment Offers Hope to TB Patients

Up until now the only treatment for drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis was a gruelling regime of up to twenty pills a day plus several big injections - for up to two years. And even then it was only effective in half the patients who endured it. But a shorter treatment lasting only nine months has been tried out in countries like Ethiopia, South Africa, Vietnam and Mongolia using a slightly different combination of antibiotics. Claudia Hammond talks to Dr David Lister who is the Co-ordinator of the short-term regimen for the charity MSF in Uzbekistan and who says it is effective in many more people than the previous option and has now been endorsed by the World Health Organization.

Svalbard Global Seed Vault

Marnie Chesterton travels to Spitzbergen inside the Arctic Circle to get a rare view inside the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. The seedbank is receiving vital deposits from seed banks in Pakistan, New Zealand, Taiwan, Germany and Thailand – helping to preserve their national crop varieties against war and natural disaster, and guarantee future world food supplies.

(Image caption: Zebrafish embryo – used with the kind permission of Kate Turner/UCL/

The Science Hour was presented by Roland Pease with comments from BBC Science reporter Jonathan Webb

Producer: Alex Mansfield

Genetics And Educational Attainment2016051420160515 (WS)

The biggest study of the relationship between genes and educational attainment – in this case, basically the measure of how long you stay in education – has been published this week. A huge number of environmental factors influence this trait, but genes also play a small role. In the new study, a large team of researchers looked at over 300,000 people and identified 74 genetic variants, slight differences in our DNA, that do seem to associate with how long those individuals stayed in formal education. Author Dan Benjamin, University of Southern California, talks of the caution with which we should treat such findings.

Fizzy Rocks Yield Clues to Early Earth’s Atmosphere

Bubbles in rocks formed when lava was fizzing before it solidified are clues to Earth’s early atmosphere. The orientation and size of bubbles of gas (captured when molten lava sets) can tell geologists how thick our atmosphere was 2.7 billion years ago and give clues as to its composition. From this we can make inferences about life forms on the early Earth.

AI and Satellites Fighting Wildfires

The wildfire in Alberta, Canada, seems to be diminishing and residents should be able to return to the city of Fort McMurray over the next two weeks. The fire had appeared to be out of control just a few days ago but thanks to favourable weather conditions appears under control, though hundreds of firefighters are still battling the flames. The weather has played a huge part, but what about technology? AI, drones and satellites have all been used. Dr Guillermo Rein, from Imperial College, London and Editor-in-Chief of the journal Fire Technology explains how tech is now incorporated in fire management.

Camel DNA

A study of one of the world's most important domesticated animals - the dromedary camel - has revealed how its genetic diversity has been shaped by ancient trade routes.

Scientists examined DNA samples from more than 1,000 one-humped camels. Despite populations being hundreds of miles apart, they were genetically very similar. Scientists explained that centuries of cross-continental trade had led to this "blurring" of genetics. The findings are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and one of the authors, Olivier Hanotte from Nottingham University in England told the BBC why this could mean camel milk appearing in European supermarkets in the future.

Benefits of Bilingualism

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.

Coral Fish Behaviour

An international team of scientists studying coral reefs off Australia's east coast have found that damaged reefs dull the senses of some marine animals. Researchers discovered that on dead coral, young fish were unable to detect the scent of a predator. Oona Lonstedt’s findings are published in the Royal Society journal Proceedings B.

Red Knots and Climate Change

The shorebird, the red knot, is shrinking due to warming in the Arctic, and because its beak is getting shorter, it is struggling to find food in its tropical wintering grounds. The subspecies being studied has declined by 50% in the past 33 years of study. It is all to do with the careful balance of nature being shifted - a ‘trophic mismatch’ – when the snow melts and the food insects erupt before the chicks have hatched and can eat them.

(Photo caption: Pupils taking an exam © Ben Birchall/Press Association)

The Science Hour was presented by Gareth Mitchell with comments from BBC News science reporter Victoria Gill

Producer: Alex Mansfield

A small but possibly significant link between genetics and educational attainment

Genetics Of Obesity2015082920150830 (WS)

Can we switch obesity off with the flick of a genetic switch?

Can we switch obesity off with the flick of a genetic switch? New research published in the New England Journal of Medicine has been looking at how there may be genes that control whether we burn fat or store it. But could this research end up being used in the clinic? Gareth talks to professor of metabolism and medicine, Sadaf Farooqi about the research and its potential.

Stephen Hawking and Black Holes

Physicist Stephen Hawking has announced a breakthrough on black holes at a conference at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden. Rebecca Morelle explains.

Open Defecation in India

Open defecation is a practice where people relieve themselves in fields, forests or other open spaces rather than using a toilet. Despite efforts to improve sanitation, India accounts for almost 60% of the 1.1 billion people in the world who continue to defecate in the open. It poses a serious threat to health, particularly for children, spreading disease that causes sickness, malnutrition and death. The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has pledged to end the habit by 2019; an ambitious target. But schemes like the one taking place in the state of Gujarat may help, as the BBC’s Suranjana Tewari reports.

House Dust

There are thousands of bacteria and fungi in the dust in your house. Most are unknown to science but is this huge diversity of microbes a problem? Gareth talks to Noah Fierer who has analysed the dust in homes across America who says while there may be huge diversity most of it is harmless and could even be doing us some good.

Women in Science

Claudia Hammond asks what is holding back women in science? She hears from women in India, Nigeria and the United States who have made it despite the barriers. Claudia asks if most of us biased against women without even realising it and if we need more role models? Can we get 50 50 men and women in science?

Citizen Science on Safari

Fiona Roberts talks to Professor Craig Packer about the success of his citizen-science project Snapshot Serengeti and what future projects might be on the horizon.

Science Hour was presented by Claudia Hammond with comments from BBC Science Correspondent Rebecca Morelle.

Producer: Deborah Cohen

(Photo credit: BBC)

Global Tree Count Growing2015090520150906 (WS)

There is a global increase in trees

There are just over three trillion trees on Earth, according to a new assessment. This is eight times as many as the previous best estimate, which counted perhaps 400 billion at most. The more refined number will now form a baseline for a wide range of research applications - everything from studies that consider animal and plant habitats for biodiversity reasons, to new models of the climate, because it is trees of course that play an important role in removing the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Drones planting trees

Drones, unmanned aerial vehicles, have been put to use by various military bodies around the world as silent harbingers of death and destruction. But they might also be put to use for good causes: deployed in rescue operations, for example, or accurately dropping seeds to aid reforestation.

Birds and Plastic

A study from Dr Erik van Sebille from Imperial College London says that the majority of seabirds are now swallowing plastic waste.

Phantom Road

Dr Heidi Ware of Boise State University and colleagues created a “phantom road? using speakers to simulate the effects of traffic noise on the local bird populations. Almost one third of the bird community avoided the noise altogether, while those that remained showed a decline in body condition. Their findings suggest that noise pollution could have serious implications for the conservation of migratory birds.

El Nino

Roland Pease reports on recent warnings that we're heading for one of the most severe El Ninos on record which could distort weather patterns around the world.

Food on the Go Bad for Your Health?

If you are in the habit of eating your breakfast or lunch on the go, you might be ruining your chances of losing weight. Research at the University of Surrey in the UK suggests people who eat while they are walking are more likely eat more later in the day. But how big a contribution to obesity risk is this?

Drone Orchestra

Innovator Liam Young has teamed up with the musician John Cale formerly of the Velvet Underground to form the Drone Orchestra – a show where Cale’s music combines with acrobatic manoeuvres where the multi-propeller craft dance above the audience’s heads. Liam Young showed the audience some of his ornately adorned aircraft in the BBC’s Radio Theatre in London. And poet Salena Gooden read a new poem inspired by a drone.

The Science Hour was presented by Gareth Mitchell with comments from Jonathan Amos.

Producer: Deborah Cohen

Photo: Sunlight breaking through misty forest

Credit: Thomas Northcut/Thinkstock

Gravitational Waves20160618

, ripples in the curvature of space time predicted by Einstein in his General Theory of Relativity, have been detected for a second time. Professor Sheila Rowan, Director at the Institute for Gravitational Research, explains what is new about these latest gravitational waves.

El Niño

Forecasts from the UK Met Office say carbon dioxide levels have seen a surge in recent months as a result of the El Niño climate phenomenon, which has warmed and dried the tropics. Professor Richard Betts explains.

Zoonotic Diseases

Infectious diseases such as Zika originate in animals. Another is Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome which originates in camels. Researchers have just highlighted which animals are harbouring them.

The Selfish Gene

40 years ago, The Selfish Gene, by Richard Dawkins was published. In it, Dawkins explains that the gene is the unit of natural selection. Adam Rutherford discusses the impact of The Selfish Gene with Richard Dawkins and Yan Wong.

Mapping the Ocean Floor

We know more about the surface of the moon than we know about the ocean floor. Roland Pease reports on the latest meeting of cartographers in Monte Carlo to discuss plans to map the ocean floor by 2030.

T-rays and Chips

Terahertz radiation, or T-rays, which can be used to scan for tumours and weapons and can even see though solid objects were thought to have limitations with high imaging resolutions. Researchers have developed a new terahertz camera that can see at a microscopic level.

Saving China’s Birds

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. She reports on efforts to save the birds.

(Photo caption: The LIGO labs fire lasers through long tunnels to sense passing gravitational waves © NSF/LIGO)

The Science Hour was presented by Gareth Mitchell with comments from BBC Science Correspondent Jonathan Amos

Producer: Colin Grant

Gravitational Waves Detected2016021320160214 (WS)

The universe is silent no longer - physicists at the LIGO observatory have detected gravitational waves.

LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory, with its giant laser beam arms totalling 5 miles across the remote Hanford desert, is the largest lab on the surface of the planet. It was constructed in the Columbia Basin region of south-eastern Washington specifically to detect gravitational waves - ripples in the fabric of space-time along with its sister detector in Louisiana.

First predicted a century ago by Einstein in his theory of general relativity, gravitational waves are produced by exotic cosmic events, such as when two black holes collide. Scientists have hunted for them for decades with increasingly sensitive equipment. The laser beam tubes of the observatory have now proved sensitive enough to detect the signal from deep space as small as a thousandth the diameter of a proton.

Claudia Hammond examines this week’s momentous discovery and we hear in detail from Aleem Maqbool who travelled to LIGO in Hanford just before the switch on last September to scrutinise the cutting-edge technology and aspirations of this “new ear on the universe? which has to be of almost unimaginable sensitivity to enable detection of some of the universe's most dramatic events and hear the universe in a whole new way.

(Photo caption: Inspecting LIGO's optics for contaminants © Advanced LIGO)

The Science Hour was presented by Claudia Hammond

Producer: Adrian Washbourne

– scientists prove Einstein right after 100 years

Health Advice For Gay Men When Homosexuality Is Illegal20160521

How do you get health information out to gay men in countries where homosexuality is illegal? To mark the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia this week, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine has mapped the efforts made in four countries - Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. It is too dangerous to use health information leaflets or other mass media, so one of the authors of the report, Dr Adam Bourne, explains what other options are available.

Climate Change Confusion

Climate change will affect everyone, and every living thing. How do we stay informed, and more importantly how can actions to help alleviate the effects of climate change be informed by evidence when the science is really technical. Adam Rutherford has been asking how anyone can make sense of the deluge of climate change data that is almost continually published. He talks to climate change expert Dr Tamsin Edwards of the Open University.

State of the World’s Plants

Recently a major new report on the State of the World’s Plants was unveiled at Kew Gardens in London. It is a comprehensive assessment of the diversity of plants on Earth, the global threats they are under, and the policies for dealing with them. The report states that there are some 391,000 vascular plants known to science – that is ones with vessels, xylem and phloem and those types of thing - and over 2000 were discovered last year alone. But just over a fifth of all plants are estimated to be threatened with extinction and global climate change forms part of this threat. Reporter Cathy Edwards met Professor Kathy Willis, Director of Science at Kew, to find out how plants are responding to the changing climate.

Telephone Metadata

A paper out this week looks into exactly what the act of making a phone call can reveal. The study, in PNAS, which was led by Patrick Mutchler and Jonathan Mayer at Stanford University in the States, is the culmination of work looking into what metadata really can show - you may have seen reports of some of their findings, as they've been revealing them in the public interest since 2013. They collected metadata volunteered by 823 participants, in total, more than 250,000 calls, and 1 million text messages. Stephen Murdoch from the Information Security Research Group at University College London joins Roland Pease to put this into context.

Benefits of Bilingualism

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.

Post Ebola

Last November Sierra Leone was declared free of Ebola, the epidemic which killed more than eleven thousand people in West Africa. The speed at which it took off highlighted the poor state of healthcare in the affected countries. The international focus on the disease led to the creation of facilities to deal with the outbreak. And now the crisis has lessened, the main hospital in Freetown has made an accident and emergency department for the first time, using the clinic set up to deal with Ebola. The BBC’s Health correspondent Matthew Hill has been to take a look.

(Photo caption: A community health worker screening a patient in Kenya © Simon Maina/AFP/Getty Images)

The Science Hour was presented by Claudia Hammond with comments from Jason Palmer of The Economist

Editor: Deborah Cohen

History Of Everyday Technology2016010220160103 (WS)

History of technologies that have changed our lives

Gareth Mitchell tells the remarkable stories of some of the technologies and devices that touch our lives every day. Melissa Hogenboom picks six technologies and finds out how they developed with the help of objects and curators at the Science Museum in London. Tilly Blyth, keeper of Technologies and Engineering at the Science Museum, talks to Gareth about the process of technological innovation.


Selina Hurley, associate curator of Medicine, tells the story of how we’ve worked out how to get drugs in and blood out of our bodies. The story goes from the eight century, via lancets and the origins of immunisation to the modern syringe.


In front of the Science Museum’s collection, Helen Peavitt, curator of Consumer Technology, talks about the development of the fridge from American ice boxes to modern fridge freezers.


Once a gyroscope starts spinning it stays upright. David Rooney, curator of Navigation, explains how the gyroscope is behind the navigation of ships and spacecraft, although the gyrocar, the brain child of inventor Louis Brennan at the start of the 20th Century did not take off.

Brain Scanners

Seeing inside the brain with scanners has helped to diagnose injuries and disease. In front of the first CAT scanner, Katie Dabin, curator of Medicine, explains how it was invented by Godfrey Hounsfield, then an engineer at the electrical company EMI, better known for putting out The Beatles records.


Tilly Blyth traces the history of computers from Charles Babbage’s difference engine, through the Pilot Ace of the 1950s to the BBC Micro in the 1980s.

3D Printing

James Watt is known for his work on the steam engine but in his old age he built machines to reproduce busts and other objects. In front of Watt’s workshop, which has been recreated in the Science Museum, Curator of Mechanical Engineering, Ben Russell, discusses this forerunner of 3D printing with Melissa Hogenboom.

The Science Hour is presented by Gareth Mitchell with comments from Melissa Hogenboom.

(Photo: Phrenology Heads. © Science Museum)

How Sound Waves Lift Objects2015103120151101 (WS)

Researchers in the UK have built the world’s first sonic tractor beam that can lift and move objects using sound waves. The researchers used high-amplitude sound waves to generate an acoustic hologram which can pick up and move small objects. It might yield interesting applications such as a sonic production line to transport delicate objects without physical contact says one of the team, professor Bruce Drinkwater.

New research shows how eels use their self-generated electricity as a sophisticated remote control system. Ken Catania and his team at Vanderbilt University in the United States have used video and sound recordings to paint a detailed picture of the sequence and timing and of an eel’s attack. Catania especially focuses on the behaviour of the eel in curling its body to sandwich the prey.

Film is powerful and is something that a group of health advocates, doctors, patients and film-makers want to tap into more to spread public health messages. They believe that film is the ideal medium to communicate stories, to inspire and encourage people about their health; even address health inequalities round the world. They have organised the first Global Health Film Festival at the Royal Society of Medicine in London. Dr Joseph Fitchett is a clinical research fellow at Harvard School of Public Health and a co-founder of the Global Health Film Initiative, the partnership behind the festival.

When data revealed from the Rosetta spacecraft that oxygen was found on Comet 67P in 2014, it so surprised scientists that they carefully explored the findings and took a year before they were convinced it was true. Dr Andre Bieler describes why this is ‘the most surprising discovery about the comet so far’.

Earlier this year there was outrage when a dentist with a cross bow wounded a lion which then had to be humanely killed. But while many are convinced that trophy hunting should be banned there are others who argue that such hunting is actually necessary for conservation. The biologist, professor Adam Hart travels to Southern Africa to investigate the ethics of hunting in the light of cold economics.

Michael Kaloki reports from the streets of Nairobi on board a matatu bus trying out the Digital Matatus app. The app now benefits from a collaboration with Google Maps and aims to help commuters navigate the hundreds of matatu minibus routes.

(Photo: Holograms are three-dimensional light-fields that can be projected from a two-dimensional surface. Researchers have created acoustic holograms with shapes such as tweezers, twisters and cages that exert forces on particles to levitate and manipulate them. Image courtesy of Asier Marzo, Bruce Drinkwater and Sriram Subramanian © 2015)

Researchers have built the first sonic tractor beam that lifts objects using sound waves

Human Embryos20160507

In a major advance in the field of embryology, scientists this week have kept human embryos alive in petri dishes for record amounts of time. The legal limit for keeping fertilised human embryos in the lab is 14 days, a cut-off point set in 1979. Back then, scientists were able to keep embryos alive for only a few days, meaning the limit was only a theoretical one. Advances mean that this week, in two papers, researchers have reached that limit. Professor Ali Brivanlou, Robert and Harriet Heilbrunn Professor of Stem Cell biology and molecular embryology at Rockefeller University is lead author on one of the papers, and Professor Bobbie Farsides is a clinical and biomedical ethicist at Brighton and Sussex Medical School. They join Adam Rutherford to discuss the next steps for embryology. Should this limit curtail research?

Edible Bale Wrapping

Did you know that hay, straw and silage bales are often bound in plastic? This needs to be removed before the bales can be used for livestock food and bedding. The process is arduous, and the waste, non-biodegradable - plastic ends up in a landfill. The plastic is also potentially harmful, or fatal, to livestock, if accidentally ingested. It is a problem a group of young chemists at Imperial College London set their minds to and they have come up with an ingenious and secret formula for edible hay bale wrapping.

Are Inspirational Managers Bad For Our Health?

Having an inspirational boss can help to encourage employees to succeed. A new study on Danish postal workers found that people who work for so-called transformational managers actually take more time off sick in the long-term. The Danish postal service is looking to diversify – as fewer letters are sent they want to find other local jobs for their postmen and women. But staff seem so keen to please their bosses or not to let the rest of the team down that they apparently go to work when they are ill. Karina Neilsen, who is Professor of Work and Organisational Psychology at the University of East Anglia led the study. She says that managers should be thinking about their workers’ health and wellbeing as well as trying to improve productivity – to protect their long-term health.

Fat Labradors

Most dog lovers will know that Labradors are particularly keen to eat anything, all the time, at any time. As a result, some are a bit corpulent, even obese. The cause is likely to be in their genes. A new study in the current issue of Cell Metabolism has identified that genetic basis for the perpetual hunger. Eleanor Raffan from Cambridge University, geneticist and vet, led the study. She explains to Adam Rutherford how she gathered a cohort of dogs.

Unnatural Selection

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. Welcome to the age of "unnatural selection".

Activity Tracker Stops Hospital Admission

Doctors in an ER in New Jersey in the US have used a patient’s Fitbit activity tracker to decide on treatment. The patient had Atrial Fibrillation, the condition where you have an irregular and often racing heartbeat. Emergency physician Alfred Sacchetti and his team needed to know when the problem had come on. But the patient had no idea, which was tricky because knowing when the heartbeat went awry determines whether or not the team administers an electric shock to reset the heart or if the patient needs weeks of treatment and hospital admission. Fortunately one of the nurses found the patient was wearing a Fitbit tracker and the data on his phone allowed doctors to reset his heart rhythm and send him home. Alfred Sacchetti explains more to Gareth Mitchell

(Image caption: This microscope photo provided by The Rockefeller University shows a human embryo 12 days after fertilization in vitro, with different cell types marked by separate colours © Gist Croft, Alessia Deglincerti, Ali H. Brivanlou/The Rockefeller University via AP)

The Science Hour was presented by Claudia Hammond with comments from Melissa Hogenboom of BBC Earth

Producer: Rami Tzabar

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.

Invasive Species From The Suez Canal2015081520150816 (WS)

With the recent expansion of the Suez Canal, ecologists have voiced worries about the possible increase in the number of invasive species that travel between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean, which already impact tourism, fishing and even power production in the region. But what can be done about them?

Kenya SokoText

SokoText is a smart solution with a big idea: to make food affordable for everyone. We use the power of text messaging to aggregate demand for food and unlock wholesale prices for small entrepreneurs in urban slums. Gareth Mitchell talks to the co-founder, Suraj Gudka.

Can social media improve food hygiene?

Dr Elaine Nsoesie of the University of Washington, Seattle, talks about her work on real-time tracking and tracing of restaurant food poisoning outbreaks by using people’s tweets and web reviews.

Keeping PAWS on pests

New Zealand is heavily reliant on agricultural exports so the introduction of an invasive pest or disease could be devastating for the local economy. Pests have already caused havoc with native flora and fauna and many species are now under threat, including the flightless bird, the kiwi. But a new system called PAWS, which stands for print acquisition and wildlife surveillance, can monitor pests remotely, and even be used to alert border protection agencies to threats in real time. Simon Morton reports from the outskirts of Christchurch.

The Great Telescopes and Evolution

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 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? Or were they merely closely packed, very distant clusters of stars, as some of them appeared when magnified through the great reflecting telescopes?

Raw music therapy

Claudia Hammond visits Raw Sounds – a community music project in South London aimed at exploiting the therapeutic power of making music for people with mental health problems.

The Science Hour was presented by Gareth Mitchell with comments from Melissa Hogenboom.

Producer: Colin Grant

(Photo Credit: A picture taken on July 29, 2015 shows a general view of the new Suez Canal in the Egyptian port city of Ismailia, east of Cairo. Credit: Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images)

Ecological alarm at invasive species entering the extended Suez Canal.

Juno Arrives20160709

There was great excitement this week, as Nasa’s Juno Probe arrives at Jupiter. The daring mission to get close to the giant planet has taken more than five years to reach the point of orbit. Juno is constructed like an armoured tank, to protect it from Jupiter’s intense radiation which could disrupt most spacecraft electronics. We hear from the BBC’s Jonathan Amos who was there to watch it and Roland Pease talks to the Chief Mission Scientist, Fran Baganal.

Cutting-edge Medicine from the RS

The Royal Society Summer Exhibition is the place to see some of the latest technology transforming medicine. Insect repellent should, of course, deter mosquitoes - but on the other hand they need to be in contact with it for long enough to get the right dose of insecticide. Researchers from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine are using infrared cameras to track the movements of malaria-carrying mosquitoes as they bounce around mosquito nets – to make sure they are landing on them for just the right amount of time. The team has also developed a video game where you capture and test mosquitoes, to help train local teams in mosquito control.

Dolly the Sheep

To mark the 20th anniversary of the birth of Dolly the sheep at the Roslin Institute, University of Edinburgh, BBC’s Sarah Montague talks to Dolly’s creator, Professor Sir Ian Wilmut.

Spoon-Billed Sandpiper Setback

Efforts to breed in captivity the endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper suffered a double blow this week. Two chicks, hatched within a few hours of each other, died unexpectedly setting back the RSPB’s project to try to save the tiny birds from extinction.

Robotic Ray

The latest soft-bodied robot mimics marine life: a ray, built from a gold skeleton with a layer of heart cells. The cardiac cells, originating from a mouse, have their DNA engineered to be responsive to light. Specific wavelengths are able to trigger the heart cells to contract, leading to forward thrust and spin. The robot is able to be guided through a small obstacle course. It is the result of a multi-disciplinary project involving optogenetics, robotics, biomaterials and art. This robot aims to better understand the ability of cardiac cells to act on fluids like blood. Roland Pease talks to Kit Parker.

Plastics in Body

Elsewhere at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition, a stand looks at the latest generation of plastic body implants – including pins and screws that hold broken bones together as they heal, and then melt away when they have done their job. There are even some plastics being developed that can deliver drugs inside the body in a similar way. Claudia talks to Davide De Focatiis.

Cleaning Up 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. 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 caption: Members of the Juno team celebrate at a press conference after they received confirmation from the Juno spacecraft that it had completed the engine burn and successfully entered into orbit around Jupiter, July 4, 2016 in Pasadena, CA © NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)

The Science Hour was presented by Claudia Hammond with comments from BBC News science reporter Victoria Gill

Producer: Alex Mansfield

Juno Space Mission Approaches Jupiter20160702

Nasa's Juno Probe arrives at Jupiter on 4th July, where it will execute a daring loop-the-loop in order to get closer to the giant planet than any other spacecraft in history. Juno is constructed like an armoured tank, because Jupiter is surrounded by a belt of very intense radiation that can quickly fry most spacecraft electronics. On July 4, Juno's engines will attempt to slow the probe down so it can be sucked into Jupiter's orbit. The slightest error could mean Juno misses this window, putting an end to the $1.1 billion mission. The man in charge is Dr Scott Bolton, and he speaks to Adam Rutherford from Pasadena in California.

Irritable Bonobos

Female bonobos are a feisty bunch. They have dominant, high-status roles within bonobo society, in stark contrast to the more marginalised role that females play in chimpanzee groups. It might therefore not surprise you to find that female bonobos show higher levels of irritability than male bonobos, who in turn are more introverted. These are among the findings of a detailed personality test on bonobos. It is the first time such a test has been undertaken in the wild.

Sex Life of Animals

Increasingly, scientists are starting to re-evaluate the gender behaviours in different species of animals. The thinking is that because Charles Darwin lived in a world of nineteenth century propriety, his thinking on sexual selection may have been shaped by his perception of human society at that time. Increasingly, it seems that animals of different species, even those previously thought of as archetypes of monogamy, seem to lead much more complicated social and sexual lives.

Celebratory Gunfire

Today some victims of gunshot wounds are far from a battlefield. In countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, parts of India and Latin America, so-called “celebratory? gunfire involves firing weapons up into the air in order to mark a positive event. They are often considered to be a harmless show of strength or bravado, but Hugo Goodridge reports from the Lebanese capital Beirut, where a number of people have been killed or injured by guns fired in the city. It is illegal to discharge a gun in a public place in Lebanon and the police have used social media to try and change attitudes towards celebratory gunfire.

Life on the East Asian Flyway

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 Russian Arctic and Alaska to breed. One species conservationists are particularly concerned about is the endangered spoon bill sandpiper that reaches the Arctic in May and June. Ann Jones has been finding out how they are helping to encourage the survival of the spoon-billed sandpiper.

Antarctic Ozone Hole Is Finally Closing

Thirty years ago researchers linked the Ozone Hole in Antarctica with the use of chlorine- and bromine-based sprays. There followed an immediate worldwide ban. Scientists only very recently detected the slow healing process in the Ozone layer at the South Pole. However, external factors, such as atmospheric particles resulting from recent volcanic eruptions, are disrupting this recovery.

Helium Discovery

Scientists have discovered a large helium gas field in Tanzania. With world supplies running out, the find is a "game-changer", say geologists at Durham and Oxford universities. Helium is used in hospitals in MRI scanners as well as in spacecraft, telescopes and radiation monitors. Until now, the precious gas has been discovered only in small quantities during oil and gas drilling. Using a new exploration approach, researchers found large quantities of helium within the Tanzanian East African Rift Valley. They say resources in just one part of the Rift valley are enough to fill more than a million medical MRI scanners. Helen Briggs reports on this find.

Nanotechnology in Art

Dr Rob Thompson explores science being applied in art conservation. Meeting up with members of the European NanoRestArt project Rob learns how experimental materials have led to modern art being some of the most vulnerable pieces of our cultural heritage. Could science and nanotechnology come to the rescue and should they?

(Image caption: This illustration depicts Nasa’s Juno spacecraft at Jupiter, with its solar arrays and main antenna pointed toward the distant sun and Earth © Nasa/JPL-Caltech)

The Science Hour was presented by Tracey Logan with comments from Melissa Hogenboom and David Robson

Producer: Alex Mansfield

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

Ketamine - An Essential Anaesthetic And A Party Drug20160409

China wants greater global restrictions on the drug ketamine, where it is used as a club drug, leading in extreme cases to serious problems such as kidney failure, and even bladder removal. But ketamine also has perfectly legitimate uses as an anaesthetic all around the world, and low income countries in particular are reliant on it. Dr Bisola Onajin-Obembe, the President of the Nigerian Society of Anaesthetists, talks to Claudia Hammond about the consequences to surgery in her country if ketamine becomes a controlled substance.

Tracking Hannibal

A little over 2,200 years ago, Carthaginian general Hannibal Barca infamously led a huge army of elephants and horses across the Alps, almost to the gates of Rome. It has been celebrated as one of the most audacious military campaigns in history, but his exact route has always been subject to debate. This week further results from a consortium of disparate scientists have been published, supporting their preferred route taken by the grand army. Microbiologist Chris Allen from Queen's University Belfast talks Adam Rutherford through the analysis of animal faeces, which mark the passage of thousands of animals.

The Man Who Knew Infinity

A new film about the untrained Indian maths genius Srinivasa Ramanujan and his relationship with the Cambridge mathematician, G H Hardy, is about to be released worldwide. Ania Lichtarowicz discusses his life and work with Fields Medal winner Professor Manjul Bhargava of Princeton University.

Coral Bleaching

The Great Barrier Reef in Australia is the largest natural living structure on earth and home to more than one thousand five hundred species of fish. But rising sea temperatures and this year’s powerful El Niño have caused the worst mass bleaching event the reef has ever seen. A recent survey of its northern and most pristine section found that 95% of the top corals are now severely bleached. Scientists are still trying to find out where the south boundary of the bleaching even is. Laura Hampton is on Lizard Island, a research station two hundred kilometres north of Cairns, to see first-hand how bad the situation really is.

The Next Einstein

Will Einstein’s successors be African? It is 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. Julian Siddle reports from the ‘Next Einstein Forum’ – a meeting held in March 2016 in Senegal which celebrated the Next Einstein Fellows.

Sweeteners vs. Sugar

Are low-calorie sweeteners the guilt-free way to allow ourselves foods that taste sweet? Some argue that they help us to cut calories and lose weight. But others insist they do just the opposite. James Gallagher has been looking at the evidence with the help of Susan Swithers, Professor of Psychological Sciences at Purdue University in the US, and Peter Rogers, Professor of Biological Psychology at the University of Bristol in the UK.

(Photo caption: A man wounded by gunshot is undergoing surgery © Sia Kambou/AFP/Getty Images)

The Science Hour was presented by Claudia Hammond with comments from BBC Science reporter Jonathan Webb on an expedition to drill into the Chicxulub Crater off the coast of Mexico and how sugars are made in space.

Editor: Deborah Cohen

Life On The Iss2015121920151220 (WS)

Many people in the UK were watching British astronaut, Flight Engineer Tim Peake of ESA, blast off for a six month mission to the International Space Station (ISS). The Soyuz successfully launched, and with a little bit of extra drama due to a manual docking, reached the ISS. Tim, together with Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko and Tim Kopra of Nasa, join the three team members already there, orbiting the Earth 16 times a day. To find out what life for them actually involves on a daily basis, Adam Rutherford spoke to Commander Chris Hadfield, a veteran of - two shuttle missions, 6 months on the ISS, and famously the man who played David Bowie covers from space.

New Skinsuit Worn on the ISS

In September the European Space Agency astronaut Andreas Mogensen became the first Dane in space when he went to the International Space Station (ISS). He was also the first to test a new skinsuit developed by scientists at King’s College in London. The skinsuit aims to protect astronauts from the harmful effects of microgravity, such as back problems experienced by some as a result of the body elongating by as much as seven centimetres in space. Tracey Logan meets Dr David A.Green, one of the developers of the suit, and Claudia Hammond talks to Andreas Mogensen about what it was like to wear it on the ISS.


A report in the journal Science suggests that an effective vaccine to protect against the Middle East respiratory virus is a step closer. It was able to protect camels, the animal reservoir for the virus, from developing Mers symptoms. Jonathan Ball, Professor of Molecular Virology at Nottingham University in the UK explains more.

American Geophysical Union

Jonathan Amos, BBC Science Reporter, brings us the latest stories from the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco, California. This is a huge event attended by scientists from all over the world – nearly 24 000 of them. Jonathan tells Jack Stewart about a new study of the recent Nepal earthquake, the impact of climate change on polar bears and the effects of sound on elephants.

Enceladus: A Second Genesis of Life at Saturn?

The most intriguing body in the solar system is Saturn’s moon Enceladus. It is a small icy world with gigantic geysers, blasting water into space at supersonic speeds. It has 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 to those who want to return to answer the great question which it poses.

Modelling Mars in Antarctica

One way of working out how people might cope both physically and psychologically on a trip to Mars, which would take about eight months each way, is to study humans who are isolated on earth - at one end of the earth to be precise. Alexander Kumar spent nine months as the doctor at the Antarctic station Concordia, which is so other worldly he calls it White Mars. The team there endured temperatures as low as minus 80 degrees and very low oxygen levels. For four long, dark months in winter no one could come and go and the team of twelve were completely reliant on each other. For the European Space Agency Dr Kumar conducted various physiological and psychology tests to see how his team mates were coping. He tells Claudia Hammond his findings.


Every day we are invited to sign up, to subscribe to new digital technologies, but it does not seem to be so easy to unsubscribe. Even when you get round to it, there seem to be myriad hurdles. Why is this so? Why are so many companies brilliant at signing you up but useless at letting you go? Colin Grant talks to the interactive designer and tech innovator, Joe McLeod about closure experiences.

(Photo caption: Expedition 46 Soyuz approaches space station for docking © Nasa)

The Science Hour was presented by Jack Stewart

Producers: Erika Wright and Fiona Roberts

Editor: Deborah Cohen

Astronaut Chris Hadfield describes what life for the ISS crew involves

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

Mini Meter To Measure Gravity20160402

UK researchers have built a small device that measures tiny fluctuations in gravity, and could be used to monitor volcanoes or search for oil. Such gravimeters already exist but compared to this postage stamp-sized gadget, they are bulky and pricy. The new design is based on the little accelerometers found in smartphones. To begin with, the team - from the University of Glasgow - tested it by measuring the Earth's tides over a period of several days. Tidal forces, caused by the interacting pull of the Sun and Moon, not only drag the oceans up and down but slightly squash the Earth's diameter.

Hobbit Older Than First Thought

The human species Homo floresiensis, nicknamed ‘the Hobbit’ is older than previously thought. A new analysis published in the journal Nature shows the species probably went extinct about 50,000 years ago, and not 12,000 years ago as the original analysis suggested.


In New Zealand, the near-extinct k?k?p? will become the first species to have the genome of every single member sequenced, thanks to a crowd-funded conservation project. Adam Rutherford meets geneticist Peter Dearden, in the Zealandia conservation area in Wellington, to chat about these charming but daft birds, and efforts to save them from extinction.

The Crunch Effect: Why We Should Listen as We Eat

A Colorado State University study has found that hearing yourself eating food makes a difference to how much you eat – which means TV dinners might lead you to eat more. One of the authors, Dr Gina Mohr, told Claudia Hammond about how she did the study - with pretzels - and why we should listen to what our what food sounds like.

Beyond the Taste Buds

Claudia Hammond tickles her taste buds and looks at the science of taste. Scientists are now discovering that our perception of taste and flavour does not just come from the tongue, but our eyes, nose and even our ears all play a crucial role. She also discovers how the top scientists in the field can make her like the food she hates.

Cassava, the New Super Crop?

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 caption: Gravimeter © Dr Giles Hammond, University of Glasgow)

The Science Hour was presented by Roland Pease with comments from BBC Science reporter Jonathan Webb

Producer: Alexandra Feachem

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

Nepal Earthquake Explained2016011620160117 (WS)

Nepal earthquake – what happened beneath the surface?

An international team of scientists has discovered what caused the Nepal Earthquake of 2015, which killed almost 9000 people. The study, published in Nature Geoscience, also explains why the highest mountains in the Himalayas appear to grow between quakes. Using satellite data the scientists have determined that quake activity was spread across what they term a "hinge point" (a kink in the fault lines), where the main fault in the region transitions from being fairly straight to being sharply angled into the Earth. This, they say, explains why the ground around Kathmandu rose up about 1m during the quake, yet dropped by about 60cm in the northern mountains. Jack Stewart talks to Dr John Elliott from the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Oxford.

The 100,000 Genome Project

The 100,000 Genome Project aims to sequence the DNA of 100,000 patients. One of those patients is four-year-old Georgia Walburn-Green. Her symptoms did not fit into any known disease category. Professor Maria Bitner-Glindzicz at University College London used early results from the 100,000 Genome project to diagnose Georgia’s condition.

Video Game Music: the Young People’s Soundtrack

Gareth Mitchell talks to the composer, Grant Kirkhope, one of the leading composers of music for video games, about how and why such music is often more sophisticated than the music produced for films scores for Hollywood blockbusters.

Scientist Makes Case to Edit Embryos

A scientist has been making her case to be the first in the UK to be allowed to genetically modify human embryos. Dr Kathy Niakan said the experiments would provide a deeper understanding of the earliest moments of human life and could reduce miscarriages. The regulator, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), will consider her application on Thursday. If Dr Niakan is given approval then the first such embryos could be created by the summer.

Super Supernova

Astronomers have seen what could possibly be the most powerful supernova ever seen. The ball of hot gas, billions of light years away, is radiating the energy of hundreds of billions of our sun. Estimated to be ten miles across it is found in a very unusually active galaxy and it outshines all other supernovae currently published in the literature by at least a factor of two. The object could be a very rare type of star called a Magnetar – but if it is, it pushes the energy limits allowed by physics to the extreme. Professor Christopher Kochanek of the Ohio State University explains to Jack Stewart how they found it and how time using the Hubble Space Telescope next month should help determine exactly what this object may be.

Societies Without Numbers

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.

What Makes a Healthy Breakfast?

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day – it is a great start and good for you. It stops you snacking, boosts metabolism and keeps you thin. Well, that is what we have been all been told. But some scientists argue this is all a myth - and that just because we keep repeating it does not make it true. So should we bother with breakfast? The biggest clinical trial, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, told 300 overweight or obese people to skip or eat breakfast for four months. James Gallagher talks to Professor David Allison, who conducted that trial at the University of Alabama. He also talks to nutrition scientist Professor Susan Jebb, from the University of Oxford, about what you should eat if you are going to eat breakfast and want it to be as healthy as possible.

(Photo caption: Villagers standing on their destroyed house in the village of Barpak in north central Nepal, nine days after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the Himalayan nation © Nicolas Asfouri/AFP/Getty Images)

The Science Hour was presented by Roland Pease with comments from James Gallagher, the BBC’s Health editor, News online

Editor: Deborah Cohen

Nerve Recovery In Brain Machine Interface Patients20160813

According to a study published in Nature a very small sample of paraplegic patients, who have spent years paralyzed from spinal cord injuries, have regained partial sensation and muscle control in their lower limbs after training with brain-controlled robotics. The key researcher is Miguel Nicolelis, of the Duke University Medical Centre in the United States.

Dark Matter

Scientists still don’t know what dark matter (that glues the Universe together) is made of. One contender is the sterile neutrino particle. But after CERN reported no evidence for this has been found, IceCube in the North Pole concurred. Marnie Chesterton reports.

Olympic Minds

As the Rio 2016 Olympic Games play out, Claudia Hammond asks young sportspeople how lifetime psychological foundations can best be laid. Claudia travels to the Academia Sánchez-Casal in Spain, where psychological training is offered to their young players.

Dementia Citizens Project

The charity Nesta is piloting two new apps - Book of You and Playlist for Life - for people with dementia and their carers to enjoy shared activities such as listening to music or creating a digital photo story book. Nesta’s John Loder explains more.

The Power of Cute

Zoologist and broadcaster Lucy Cooke explores the science behind our seeming obsession with all things adorable, following an explosion in interest in cuteness, particularly online.

Clever Ravens

The ravens at the Tower of London are helping research into bird intelligence. Ravens are corvids, known to have big, neuron packed, brains, especially for their body size. Adam Rutherford travels to the Tower to investigate.

(Photo caption: Patient using the exoskeleton © AASDAP/Lente Viva Filmes)

The Science Hour was presented by Gareth Mitchell with comments from BBC Science reporter Jonathan Webb

Producer: Colin Grant

New Global Health Check20160924

Trying to improve the health of everyone on the planet is the aim of the Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs, which last year replaced the Millennium Development Goals. The first analysis of the SDGs has put places like Iceland and Singapore at the top and war-torn Syria and South Sudan at the bottom. Devi Sridhar, Professor of Global Public Health at the University of Edinburgh, says the targets provide a good basis for planning where to invest scarce resources.

The Antikythera Mechanism and the Ship Wreck

It may sound like the plot of a bad thriller, but it’s a fascinating tale of a 2000 year old shipwreck off the Greek island of Antikythera. Archaeologists have already discovered what they think is the earliest proto- computer – the Antikythera Mechanism – a clockwork device that modelled the motion of the Sun. Other than this, very little is known about the ship and its contents. Now divers have found a leg bone of one of the ship’s passengers. They hope DNA analysis will shed more light on the mystery.

Kuwait’s Controversial DNA Law

Last year, after a terrorist attack, Kuwait passed a law requiring all its citizens, residents and visitors to provide DNA samples, for a National Database. The law is about to be enforced in November, and scientists and human rights advocates argue that there needs to be more clarification and legislation checks and measures to avoid any abuse of an individual’s privacy.

Next Steps for Human Space Exploration

Adam Rutherford talks to astronaut Tim Peake, recently back from the ISS, on where humans should go next in the solar system.

A Study in Spheres

Doctors Adam Rutherford and Hannah Fry investigate ‘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.

Why Can Sad Films Raise Your Pain Threshold?

Having a “good cry? can make us feel better - but what other impact can watching a weepy film have on our bodies? A new study by researchers from Oxford University suggests it also increases our pain threshold. People who watched a sad film had a 13% increase in their tolerance to pain – and they felt more bonded with their fellow audience members.

(Picture: Female doctor showing globe on her hand, Credit: Thinkstock)

The Science Hour was presented by Claudia Hammond with comments from BBC News science reporter Victoria Gill

Editor: Deborah Cohen

New Human-like Species Discovered2015091220150913 (WS)

The Rising Star cave system in South Africa has yielded a haul of early human bones.

A very deep, hard to access, cave in the Rising Star cave system in South Africa has yielded a massive and important haul of fossilised early human bones. The bones have been assembled into 15 partial skeletons, of what have been called Homo Naledi – a new hominin species, which could either be one of the earliest Homo species and a precursor to modern humans. Or it could be like the Hobbit - Homo floresiensis, a redundant branch on the human evolutionary tree. The bones have yet to be dated, but the anthropological features suggest a small-brained, human-like creature. The most intriguing thing is where they were found and why in such numbers? Some think it could be a burial chamber and if these Naledis are very ancient, this could be one of the earliest examples of ritualistic behaviour in humans.

Can we Zap Sea-sickness?

Claudia Hammond tries out a new kind of experimental treatment for motion sickness.

Whale Culture

It used to be thought that the thing that made humans so special was that we had language and culture. But more and more examples of possible ‘culture’ in animals is being discovered. When we talk about culture we mean – it is something, such as a behaviour, that is socially learned and that it is a group behaviour. We know that whales are social and vocal creatures, so it stands to reason that scientists at Dalhousie University in Canada would want to see if they exhibit some form of culture. They studied large groups of female Sperm whales and found that even those that were unrelated in the group used the same patterns of calls. Similar to dialects in human language, different groups of whales used different patterns of clicks, or codas, to communicate things like where food is or look out for predators and to bond with each other. Clever modelling has ruled out any genetic or geographical reasons for the shared language, which leaves a form of cultural learning as the obvious reason.

Space suit

Astronauts' spines can elongate as much as 7 centimetres in space because of the loss of gravity potentially causing severe back problems. Tracey Logan talks to David Green from Kings College, London about a new elastic suit he has helped develop to mimic the effects of gravity.

Venki Ramakrishnan

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.

Toxic Mercury Cycling in Sea Creatures

It has long been known that heavy metals, such as mercury are very difficult to get rid of once they enter the marine ecosystem. They are ‘biomagnified’ or ‘bio-accumulate’ up the food chain. Mercury typically starts out from man-made processes like coal burning or mining, or naturally from forest fires. It is rapidly converted to a toxic organic compound - methyl mercury - by bacteria in the environment. From this, the mercury then gets into the food chain, so the microscopic zooplankton have tiny amounts of the neurotoxin, but they are eaten in quantity by the little fish, increasing the concentration of the metal, which is stored in the body. Then the bigger fish eat the little fish and the pattern continues right up to the top ocean predators like swordfish, sharks, seals and sea lions. And because it is a toxin it is an issue for us and other animals when it is eaten. Through this fascinating process, the concentration of mercury can be biomagnified 1–10 million fold. But a new study in the journal PNAS this week shows that the route of the poisonous Mercury is not just bottom up, it is top down as well. Hair moulted off in huge quantities by colonies of seals, could be returning the mercury back into the marine ecosystem.

The Science Hour was presented by Claudia Hammond with comments from BBC Science Correspondent Victoria Gill

Producer: Deborah Cohen

(Photo caption: The skeleton of Homo naledi, a newly discovered human ancestor is displayed during the unveiling of the discovery on September 10, 2015 in Maropeng © Stefan Heunis/AFP/Getty Images)

New Pictures Of Pluto2015091920150920 (WS)

The Latest Pictures of Pluto

Ever more spectacular pictures of Pluto are being downloaded and analysed from Nasa’s New Horizons mission to the outer reaches of the Solar system. The latest batch show strange ‘dune like’ features which could indicate wind erosion in the dwarf planet’s distant past.

Ocean on Enceladus 'must be global'

Scientists have determined that the sub-surface body of water on the Saturnian moon Enceladus must be far more extensive than first thought. The discovery makes the icy moon an even more enticing place to explore for extraterrestrial life one day.

Malaria in Africa Halved Since 2000

Claudia Hammond looks at new research revealing a dramatic halving of malaria cases across Africa since the year 2000. The widespread introduction of insecticide-treated nets to communities has made much the biggest impact. But what needs to be done to make sure progress continues? Claudia talks to Dr Samir Bhatt of the University of Oxford.

Measuring imagination

Psychology project to more fully measure people’s imaginations

Pluto’s glaciers, weird ice dunes and chaotic mountains.

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 and 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

Oldest Antarctic Ice Found2016062520160626 (WS)

The importance of analysing the trapped past atmospheres contained in bubbles in ice cores is invaluable to our understanding of our climate. Until now, ice cores drilled in Antarctica only go back to 800,000 years old. But geologists exploring a little known valley, high up in the Trans-Antarctic Mountain chain, have discovered ice that is more than a million years old. And they did not have to use expensive drills to get it, just a shovel! The ice was under a thin layer of debris, pushed up from the deep.

Imitation in Babies

If you stick your tongue out at a baby they might do it back to you. This is called imitation - a behaviour which psychologists have used to demonstrate which skills we are born with and which we learn over time. A landmark study of babies from the 1970s suggested we entered the world with an ability to copy others’ facial expressions. But could new research mean that the textbooks need rewriting? A study published in the journal Current Biology by Janine Ooestenbrook from York University, with the help of 109 babies, appears to suggest that they learn to imitate.

Wimbledon Grass Science

The Championships at Wimbledon start next week, and whatever the weather, the grass has to be perfect. Adam Rutherford headed to London's SW19 to find out how the ground staff are using scientific evidence to cultivate the courts.

Dating Extinction

How can you say when a species went extinct when there are so many gaps in the fossil record? And why does it matter?

Bad News, Good News on the East Asian Flyway

Can North Korea’s economy save migratory birds from extinction? Habitat loss for shorebirds in the Yellow Sea is rapid but all is not lost on the Flyway.

VR Conservation

A new virtual reality film called Valen’s Reef has been launched this week at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. The title comes from eight-year-old Valen, the son of a west Papuan fisherman who has become a coral reef scientist. The film shows you the variety of life on the reef and then the colourful thriving reef gives way to an underwater wasteland of bleached, dead coral. The team behind the work hope it will highlight the risks corals in the region are facing.

(Photo caption: View of a mountain in Antarctica © Vanderlei Almeida/AFP/Getty Images)

The Science Hour was presented by Roland Pease with comments from BBC News science reporter Victoria Gill

Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker

Million year old ice found under metre-thick debris layer in Antarctica

Oldest Known Land Fossil2016030520160306 (WS)

It is smaller than a human hair, resembles a mushroom, and is thought to be the earliest fossil of a land-dwelling organism. The fungus, which dates back 440 million years, spent its life under the ground rotting down matter. Even the scientist who analysed it - Dr Martin Smith - admits it is a ''humble little fungus''. But the pioneer, known as Tortotubus, could help explain how early life colonised the rocky barren Earth. Most scientists agree that life moved from the sea to the land between 500 and 450 million years ago. But in order for plants and animals to gain a foothold on terra firma there needed to be nutrients and soil to support them. Fungi kick-started this process, by getting nitrogen and oxygen into the rudimentary soil.

Hubble Sets New Cosmic Distance Record

The Hubble Space Telescope has spied the most distant galaxy yet. It is so far away that the light from this extremely faint collection of stars, catalogued as GN-z11, has taken some 13.4 billion years to reach us. Or to put that another way - Hubble sees the galaxy as it was just 400 million years after the Big Bang. Astronomers say they are confident about the measurement because they have been able to tease apart and analyse the object's light. Such spectroscopic assessments are difficult to perform on the most far-flung sources, but if it can be done it produces the most reliable distance estimates. The details of the discovery appear in an edition of the Astrophysical Journal.

Treating Severe Head Injury

Treating severe head injury and why a commonly used intervention used in intensive care units across the world is being questioned. Professor Peter Andrews is the man behind a new trial looking at the outcomes of inducing hypothermia, or cooling people with head trauma to prevent damage. The trial was stopped because early evidence suggested harm from this hitherto commonly used practice. Dr Mark Porter discusses the implications for critical care medicine across the world with Peter Andrews and Professor John Myburgh who is at the University of New South Wales in Sydney.

Flying Robots Aid Farmers

At the University of Pennsylvania in the US, a variety of flying robots are being developed which have the potential to help famers monitor crops, help rescue crews deliver aid after disasters, and even help doctors guide drugs around our bodies. Jack Stewart visits the labs to find out more.

Einstein's Ice Box

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 refrigerator. 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. Phil 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 did not get built in his lifetime.

The Brain Prize

A team of British scientists has picked up 1 million euros from The Brain Prize, which is issued by a Danish Charity annually. Tim Bliss, Graham Collingridge and Richard Morris have won for their work on how memories are formed.

Zika Virus

New experimental evidence bolsters the notion that Zika virus is the cause of an outbreak of underdeveloped brains (microcephaly) in newborns in South America.

Grey Hair Gene Discovered by Scientists

Grey hair and mono-brows have been all over the news this week with some follicular genetics. A team from UCL assessed the hair types of several thousand Latin Americans and their genomes to see what bits of DNA are associated with those characteristics. They found a set of gene variants that appear to explain, in part, grey hair, straight and curly hair, bushy beards and mono-brows. Lead researcher Dr Kaustubh Adhikari discusses the implications.

(Image caption: 440 million year old fossil - credit: Martin R. Smith/Cambridge University/PA Wire)

The Science Hour was presented by Roland Pease with comments from BBC News science reporter Victoria Gill

Producer: Alex Mansfield

'Humble little fungus' is oldest known land fossil

Paris Climate Talks: Good Cop Or Bad Cop?2015112820151129 (WS)

On the eve of the COP21 meeting in Paris, a look at the challenges of climate consensus


It is the 21st Conference of the Parties, the annual meeting of nations to agree on action to avoid climate change. As reporters and ministers begin to arrive in France, we take a look at the challenges facing them this time.

CERN’s ALICE Experiment

Adam Rutherford visits CERN in Geneva, to see ALICE (A Large Ion Collision Experiment). ALICE is designed to investigate one of the four fundamental forces in the Universe. The strong nuclear force is the most powerful, but only over a very short distance. It is what holds quarks together, and quarks stuck together in the right conformation make neutrons and protons. Protons and neutrons stuck together plus electrons make up atoms, which is what everything is made of.

Einstein at 100

Einstein’s general theory of relativity turned 100 this week. Scientists around the world celebrated the landmark leaving many of the rest of us, as usual, to wonder quite what the theory is. Toby Wiseman from Imperial College London offers a beginner’s guide to the theory.

Future of Biodiversity

"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, London, told the Independent in 2014. In the two years since she took on the job 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.

Tardigrade Genome

Tardigrade pretty much defines ‘diverse’. It is a rare beast that can survive at temperatures nearly down to zero, by that absolute zero - as cold as it gets in the Universe. And it is a rare beast also that can handle being dried out, going for a whole decade without water. Tardigrades, also known as water bears are about a tenth of a millimetre in size, they are tiny but so often full of big surprises for researchers. This week new research states that the animals get big chunks of their DNA from other animals.

Tarantula’s Eight Ways to Blue

Scientists looking at the genetic history of the Blue colouring in several species of tarantula have concluded that it evolved separately in history, maybe as often as eight discrete occasions. But quite why these strange repeated instances of convergent evolution occurred is far from clear.

Ultrasound Captures Rat Brain in Microscopic 3D

Scientists in France have developed an ultrasound technique that can rapidly build up a 3D view of a network of blood vessels, in microscopic detail. They used it to scan the blood vessels throughout the brain of a live rat. Within a few years, the researchers say their system could reach the clinic and help with cancer and stroke diagnosis. For the procedure, published in Nature, the rat was injected with millions of very tiny bubbles, which reflect sound waves much better than blood vessels.

(Photo caption: The Eiffel Tower is partially covered by an early morning fog in Paris, France, as the capital will host COP21 © Reuters/Philippe Wojazer)

The Science Hour was presented by Gareth Mitchell with comments from BBC Science Reporter Dr Jonathan Webb

Producer: Alex Mansfield

Predator Bacteria Therapy20161126

Bdellovibrio is a small bacterium which preys and kills other bacteria. A team of researchers from the University of Nottingham in the UK has shown in animal experiments that injections of the predator microbe can successfully treat infections. So how close does this take us to Bdellovibrio therapy for human patients and what part might it play in tackling the growing crisis of antibiotic resistance? Adam Rutherford hears from Professor Elizabeth Sockett.

Libraries - Good for Your Health as Well as for Books?

In Philadelphia libraries are not just being used to study and borrow books. Public health researchers are training library staff to help point vulnerable people in the direction of resources to help them – like drug and alcohol services and homeless shelters. Librarian Renee Pokorny says Philadelphians feel safe there and turn to staff when they have a crisis.

500 Women Scientists

In the wake of the election of Donald Trump to be the next President of the United States, five hundred women scientists have written an open letters demanding that women and minorities have equality in science. Dr Franciska De Vries of Manchester University explains why she is a signatory.

Silicon-Carbon Life

Life on Earth is carbon-based, that means the major chemical building block is carbon. Why is it not silicon? They are very similar and sit together on the periodic table. Yet silicon-based molecules in nature are unheard of. Now researchers at Caltech, in the US, have directed the evolution of proteins that can now act as enzymes or catalysts to make compounds of carbon and silicon bond together in nature. It could spell a whole new field of synthetic biology with a different kind of chemistry.

Custom of Cutting

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 women 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.

It’s All in the Poop

Dung beetles that live on cow pats have been shown to help stop the lifecycle of parasitic worms that infects cows. Experiments using artificially-made cow pats, some with and some without dung beetles, have shown that the industrious insects clear up 30% of parasite infections, as Roland Pease has found out from the University of Bristol’s Bryony Sands.

(Photo caption: Zebrafish (Danio rerio) aquarium fish © kazakovmaksim)

The Science Hour was presented by Claudia Hammond with comments from BBC News science reporter Victoria Gill

Editor: Deborah Cohen

Rigging Car Emission Tests2015092620150927 (WS)

VW admits that more than 11m cars could be affected by rigging emission tests in the US

The car manufacturer VW has admitted that more than eleven million diesel cars could be affected by the company rigging car emission tests in the US. Calls for testing of VW diesel cars outside the US are growing, with Italy, France and South Korea opening investigations. But can current technology accurately test real world driving emissions? Professor Chris Brace from the University of Bath explains what can be done now.

Antarctic Seabed Life Captures Carbon as Ice Melts

As climate change warms our planet some areas of the West Antarctic ice sheet are melting, causing rising sea levels and reducing the amount of heat reflected by the bright white ice sheets. In an unexpected twist a new study has found that as the ice retreats, tiny organisms on the ocean floor are thriving, and their increased growth could play a significant role in capturing and locking away carbon. Given the vast number of these miniature marine creatures their flourishing activity could play a major role in counteracting climate change.

The Psychology of Praise

Claudia Hammond talks to Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck who has identified that individuals tend towards a fixed or growth mindset, regarding what they can learn and achieve. Her research has also shown that a fixed mindset can be changed, and that once a child or adult adopts a growth mindset, they can achieve more. Professor Dweck’s ideas have spread around the world and increasing numbers of schools are adopting her approaches to praise, learning and encouragement.

A New Ear on the Universe

Visions of the universe exert an eerie silence. But as Aleem Maqbool reveals in A New Ear on the Universe all this is set to change. Physicists are racing to develop a cosmic hearing aid which will bring us the Universe’s equivalent of sound - gravitational waves.

Didier Queloz

Kevin Fong meets a scientist who made an incredible discovery - astronomer Didier Queloz refused to believe what he had found – the first planet outside our solar system orbiting a sun-like star. That was 20 years ago. Today nearly there are some 2000 confirmed exo-planets and the race to pinpoint ones that could support life is on.

Listeners' Science Questions

Adam Rutherford and panellists Helen Czerski, Andrew Pontzen and Nick Crumpton answer listeners' science questions: What's the best way to become fossilised when you die? Why are there no animals with green fur?

The Science Hour was presented by Roland Pease with comments from BBC Science Correspondent Jonathan Amos.

(Photo: Shattered Volkswagen logo. Credit: 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

Sex Of Organs2016022720160228 (WS)

What sex are internal organs?

The stem cells that make up our organs ‘know’ whether they are ‘male’ or ‘female’, and that this sexual identity could influence how they grow and behave. Dr Irene Miguel-Aliaga, Head of the Gut Signalling and Metabolism Group at the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre, wanted to ask a very basic question: whether it is just the cells of the sex organs of a fully developed organism that ‘know’ their sexual identity, or whether this is true of cells in other organs too - and whether that matters. It was previously thought that non-reproductive organs are the same in both sexes, and function differently because of the differences in circulating hormones, but this new research suggests otherwise. Adam Rutherford finds out more.

PARO the Therapeutic Robot

PARO the seal-like robot is on trial in a hospital and dementia day centre in New Zealand as a comforter for elderly residents. Simon Morton visits a home and talks to some of the residents, carers and a health psychologist from the University of Auckland.

Cockroaches Inspire Search and Rescue Robot

Cockroaches are not the most popular of insects and most people prefer not seeing them scuttling around their homes. However, the way they scuttle makes them extremely interesting for science. Researchers at Berkeley University have been studying the way cockroaches run, jump, crawl and slither for decades and found that the bugs can run at speeds 50 times their body length per second. New research now shows how American cockroaches manage to compress their bodies and squeeze through horizontal crevices that are a fraction of their usual standing height. Professor Robert Full tells Jack Stewart how a soft-bodied, legged robot inspired by the creepy-crawlies might help locate earthquake survivors trapped in rubble.

High or Low Fat Diet?

The advice to cut fat has been used by health bodies for decades, but was the message to reduce fat oversimplified in a drive to get us to eat less saturated fat? Fat now seems to be making something of a comeback with some arguing that a high carbohydrate diet is actually what is causing our obesity epidemic, a major contributor to heart disease and the driving force behind insulin resistance and diabetes. However are we simply trading one form of blame for another? James Gallagher has been investigating.

Electric Eels and the Battery

Naomi Alderman presents an alternate history of electricity. This is not a story of power stations, motors and wires. It is a story of how the electric eel and its cousin the torpedo fish, led to the invention of the first battery; and how, in time, the shocking properties of these slippery creatures gave birth to modern neuroscience. Our fascination with electric fish and their ability to deliver an almighty shock - enough to kill a horse – goes back to ancient times. And when Alessandro Volta invented the first battery in 1800, the electric eel was a vital source of inspiration. In inventing the battery, Volta claimed to have disproved the idea of ‘animal electricity’ but 200 years later, scientists studying our brains revealed that it is thanks to the electricity in our nerve cells that we are able to move, think and feel. So, it seems, an idea that was pushed out of science and into fiction, when Mary Shelley invented Frankenstein, is now alive and well and delivering insight once again into what it means to be alive.

Food-Associated Calling in Gorillas

Talking with your mouth full is an unattractive trait, but for other, non-human, great apes, it is an normal part of meal time. The noises recorded by a team at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology are from the silverback Western lowland Gorilla. Primatologist Eva Luef explains to Adam Rutherford that this humming and singing during meal time is a way of signalling without wasting valuable eating time.

(Image caption: Artwork of the human digestive system (male) © Science Photo Library)

The Science Hour was presented by Gareth Mitchell with comments from BBC Science reporter Jonathan Webb

Producer: Fiona Roberts

Smashing Into The Moon2016072320160724 (WS)

The Moon’s pock marked face is testimony to the violence of its history – pounded by huge lumps of space rock that have carved out deep craters in its surface. The most impressive is the Mare Imbrium which is a huge black basin that takes up around a tenth of the face we see. According to the paper Nature this week, the impact that created it was even bigger than previously realised. The geologist who worked that out, Peter Schulz of Brown University, talks to Roland Pease.

Brain Mapping

A new brain map, based on multiple scans of more than 400 individuals, has carved the "cortex" into 180 different compartments - 97 of which are new. This crumpled outer layer of the brain is home to our advanced cognition, perception and movement. It has been mapped in various ways for centuries, but this new effort is a landmark attempt at a definitive, modern atlas for neuroscientists. The work is reported in Nature and the data is available to scientists online.

New Antibiotics

Most of the antibiotics we use were discovered in the mid-20th century, but as the threat of drug resistant infections increases, the race is on to find new organisms that make novel medicines. We have only identified a tiny fraction of the microbes living on Earth and are "bioprospecting" for useful ones in wildly different locations. Microbiologist Matt Hutchings from the University of East Anglia in England, has been looking to the oldest farmers in the world - leaf cutter ants, and Adam Rutherford asked him how ants can culture antibiotics.

Preserving the Taste of Local French Cheese

The taste, smell and appearance of a cheese come from the native bacteria in the initial raw milk. Due to increasing regulations for milk pasteurization, cheeses are losing their particular flavours and authenticity. In Normandy, in France, cheesemakers started working with researchers to set up a microbial bank in order to save the microorganisms responsible for the cheesy flavours.

Will Apple's New Patent Push Delete on Ability to Record Police?

Apple has patented a tool which may be able to use a laser to block smart phones from recording footage. Might this be used by police forces in the future to stop citizens from recording overzealous policemen carrying out arrests and using force beyond that which is reasonably required? Gareth Mitchell hears from Nicole Ozer from the American Civil Liberties Union.

Faster, Better, Cheaper Space

Dr Kevin Fong recounts the ups and downs of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The story begins in the early 1990’s, when NASA was in a very different place from the glory days of the Apollo era. Still dealing with the fall-out from the Challenger accident and other problems with its unmanned missions, the agency’s budget was significantly cut back. Its new administrator, Daniel Goldin, was forced to adopt a very different and riskier approach to space exploration, one that was in many ways anathema to the NASA’s engineers and scientists: it was dubbed: Faster, Better, Cheaper. But this approach came at a price and would lead to nearly a decade of failures as the cost-cutting took its toll. Kevin talks to NASA experts, including Robert Manning, chief engineer of arguably, the most ambitious and successful of all their planetary missions, Mars Science Laboratory, which landed the Curiosity rover on the surface of the red planet in 2012. How did they overcome repeated failures to achieve this remarkable success? And what can that experience teach us about delivering better healthcare?

Viking 1 on Mars

Forty years ago this week, Viking 1 touched down on Mars, humankind's first lasting presence on another planet. We talk to the mission scientists past and present on exploring Mars, and what it means for life on Earth, and beyond.


It is known that the bird the Greater honeyguide works with local African villagers to show them where to find wild bee nests and their honey stores. But new research has shown that the birds respond more, and are more likely to find a hive when the human honey-hunters use a special call.

London Pavement Geology

Dr Ruth Siddall from UCL and London Pavement Geology takes Roland Pease on a whistle stop tour around London. They check out some geological sites, and there is not a mountain, river bed or quarry in sight. They see granite that has been impacted by comets, 400 million year old squid fossils on the steps of St Paul’s, a Jurassic beach right here at the BBC and finish with a geological pub stop.

(Image caption: ‘The Man in the Moon’ - open eye is Mare Imbrium crater © BBC)

The Science Hour was presented by Roland Pease with comments from BBC Science reporter Jonathan Webb

Producer: Robert Thompson

Space ballistics explain one of the Moon’s huge craters

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.)

Star Trek - The Undiscovered Future20161231

The first episode of Star Trek aired half a century ago, on 8 September 1966. Space medic and broadcaster Kevin Fong asks what happened to the progressive and optimistic vision of future that the iconic television series promised him?

In 1964, Star Trek producer Gene Roddenberry repeatedly failed to convince US television studios and networks to buy his idea for a new kind of science fiction series. Eventually he sold NBC the concept of a sci-fi story in which the human race explored space, united in racial harmony and with benign global purpose.

This was the era of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the western world; mutual nuclear annihilation had almost happened in 1963. The US and USSR were engaged in the Space race. Yet in Star Trek, American captain James Kirk had a Russian, Pavel Chekov, in charge of the Enterprise's weapon systems.

The battle for civil rights in the United States was also gaining momentum. Gene Roddenberry cast a black woman as fourth in command of the Enterprise - Lieutenant Uhura, the ship's communications officer.

The Vietnam War was ramping up and relations between Mao's China and the United States were at a low. Yet another senior figure on the Enterprise's bridge was Mr Sulu, who Roddenberry wanted as a representative of Asia.

How far have we voyaged towards Star Trek's vision of the future and what of it is likely to be fulfilled or remain undiscovered in the next 50 years?

Kevin Fong presents archive material of the likes of Leonard Nimoy (Spock) and Nichelle Nichols (Lieutenant Uhura) talking about the inception and filming of the original Star Trek series, and their thoughts about Roddenberry's vision of the future and its impact in the United States at the time.

For example, Nichols relates how she had a chance encounter with Martin Luther King the day after she had told Roddenberry that she intended to leave Star Trek after the first series. King told her he was her number one fan and almost demanded that she did not give up the role of Uhura, because she was a uniquely empowering role model on American television at the time.

For a perspective from today, Kevin also talks to George Takei who played Mr Sulu. Takei laments the ethnically divisive politics of the United States in 2016.

He meets Charles Bolden - the first African-American to both command a shuttle mission and lead Nasa as its chief administrator. In the age of the International Space Station, he compares himself to the 'Admiral of Star Fleet'. But the former astronaut also talks about the anger he first felt in 1994 when he was asked to fly the first Russian cosmonaut ever to board an American space shuttle.

Kevin also talks to cultural broadcaster and Star Trek fan Samira Ahmed about the sexual and racial politics of the original series. And, Rod Roddenberry, the television producer son of Gene Roddenberry, tells Kevin about his father, his father's politics and creative vision.

(Photo: Star Trek cast visiting Nasa Dryden (now Armstrong) circa 1976 © Nasa)

(Audio clip(s) from Star Trek – courtesy of CBS Television Studios)

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)

Stephen Hawking’s Tiny Spaceship2016041620160417 (WS)

Why a microchip-sized spacecraft might open up other worlds for human exploration

Stephen Hawking is backing a project to send tiny spacecraft to another star system within a generation. A $100m (£70m) research programme to develop the computer chip-sized "starships" has been launched by the billionaire Yuri Milner, supported by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

Zika and Pregnancy

We look at new research that shows the Zika virus can significantly damage the developing brain. Researchers found small samples of human brain tissue infected with the Zika virus died within days, while 40% of more mature brain models showed reduced growth. And related work shows the Zika virus can affect many different stage of embryonic brain development.

Yellow Fever Outbreak in Angola Worsens Vaccine Shortage

The outbreak of yellow fever in the African state of Angola – where 242 people have died - has now spread to neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo. There is an effective vaccine that prevents yellow fever and a huge vaccination programme in Angola has already inoculated six million people. With just four facilities in the world producing the vaccine we ask whether supply can keep up with demand.

Return to the Moon

Space travel is expensive. Scientists and engineers met recently to discuss a way of making it cheaper. Sending men back to the moon to mine it may sound like a hugely costly process, but as reporter Roland Pease discovers, when it comes to future space missions, especially those aimed at reaching distant planets, it might become an essential part of the process.


How can you keep tabs on thousands of penguins when they live in one of the remotest places on Earth? Victoria Gill has been to Antarctica to look at how scientists use a network of cameras to study penguins all year round.

Great Monarch Butterfly Migration Mystery Solved

Monarch butterflies migrate from Canada to Mexico. They are the only insects to migrate such a vast distance. A team of biologists and mathematicians have recreated the internal compass the butterflies use to navigate on that journey. They say this mechanism, which is linked to the position of the sun, could have applications for human navigation and even replace GPS.

Selling Rhino Horn

Should Rhino horn be sold to help protect rhinos from poaching? This is a live issue in South Africa where poaching has increased massively since a ban on the sale of rhino horn was introduced in 2009. Adam Hart, looks at the pros and cons, he meets rhino breeders who would like to use money earned from horn sales to fund conservation and protection of rhinos. Others worry such a move would increase demand for horn and not reduce poaching.

(Photo caption: Stephen Hawking at a press conference to announce Breakthrough Starshot, a new space exploration initiative © Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Breakthrough Prize Foundation)

The Science Hour was presented by Jack Stewart with comments from BBC News science reporter Victoria Gill

Producer: Julian Siddle

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

Sun-tracking Sunflowers20160806

By manipulating young plants, scientists have finally worked out the mechanism by which sunflowers move their stems and leaves to face the sun. Starting in the east in the morning, tracking the sun through the sky, the plants make sure they get the most sunlight all day. And it is all thanks to their internal clocks, their circadian rhythm. Marnie Chesterton talks to Stacey Harmer, Professor of Plant Biology at University of California, Davis and who is the author of the paper just published in the journal Science this week.

Queen Bee Control

Bee hives have evolved to have a complex, fascinating social hierarchy, and although we know about Royal Jelly and pheromones, how exactly does the queen bee control the fertility of the rest of the hive? Adam Rutherford talks to New Zealand geneticists, Peter Dearden and Elizabeth Duncan, who has finally worked it out.

Olympic Access

Getting around the city of Rio de Janeiro for the Olympic and Paralympic Games is still tricky for disabled athletes and spectators – in spite of improvements carried out. Money has been invested into making public transport accessible since the city won the right to host the Games. But wheelchair users and other disabled tourists face a number of obstacles when exploring the city because of badly maintained pavements and a lack of ramps to make crossing the roads easier.


About 400 million years ago, life on Earth looked rather different. The seas were teeming with creatures big and small, but only plants – plus the odd millipede and scorpion – had made it onto land. Imagine you were one of the very first adventurous amphibians. How would you haul yourself out of the shallows? BBC Science reporter Jonathan Webb has been talking through the possibilities with scientists in Atlanta in the United States.

Technology and Human Failure

In the search for better ways to deliver healthcare, Dr Kevin Fong has been asking what medicine can learn from how other fields where lives are also on the line make high performance systems work safely and reliably. One organisation that might have valuable lessons for medicine is NASA, where the history of human space exploration has proven to be the scene of both its greatest triumphs, such as the Apollo Moon landings, as well as its greatest disasters, such as the Challenger and Columbia Shuttle explosions. Kevin hears about the technological and human roles in both those momentous events and what can be learned from them.

How Whales Hear

Whales use more than just their ears to hear. Since their early ancestors first walked back into the water, the evolution of whale hearing and sound production has been fascinating, Dr Ben Garrod regales Marnie Chesterton with facts about whale communication and evolution, including why toothed-whales have asymmetric jaws and can stun their prey with ultrasonic sound.

(Photo credit: The sun shines down on a sunflower © Jens Schlueter/AFP/Getty Images)

The Science Hour was presented by Claudia Hammond with comments from David Robson of BBC Future

Producer: Rami Tzabar

Synthetic Biology Solutions For Diabetes20161210

Scientists have designed synthetic cells that can sense glucose levels in blood and produce insulin when it is needed. The cells have been demonstrated in mice. If human trials are successful, it could mean a four-monthly implant could stop the symptoms of types 1 and some type 2 diabetes.

Psychosis and the Inflamed Brain

We are all familiar with the idea the immune system can attack the body by mistake. Type 1 diabetes is the classic example. But now a group of researchers believe a rogue immune system could cause some people's mental health disorders. It is controversial and yet it could be the most significant finding in the field for decades. BBC Health and Science reporter James Gallagher explains.

Do Martian Rocks Contain Signs of Life?

When the Mars rover Spirit recorded rocks in the Gusev crater back in 2007. It detected small lighter-coloured lumps. Geologists think these could be fossilized stromatolites in the form of opal. Back on Earth, these structures are made by films of blue-green algae and other microbes. Now, a decade later, geologists have found very similar features in the highland deserts of northern Chile, which have bacterial structures in them, all of which make compelling reasons to go back to the Martian crater in 2010.

How Memories are Made and Lost

How are memories made? Claudia Hammond joins an audience at London’s Royal Institution this week to hear from three prize-winning neuroscientists about their cutting-edge research on the brain. Earlier this year Tim Bliss, Graham Collingridge and Richard Morris won the 1m Euro Lundbeck Foundation Brain Prize – the world’s biggest prize for neuroscience. They worked out how the brain remembers, how it strengthens connections between different brain cells and why it sometimes forgets.

Origins of 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 have 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 investigates 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.

100 Women

As part of BBC 100 Women 2016 we’re asking the question is the internet sexist? Only 15% of Wikipedia editors are women and less than 15% of notable profiles are of women. Half of the BBC’s 100 women over 3 years still do not have a Wikipedia page. Science in Action reporter, Tracey Logan, has a go at editing Wikipedia pages for notable female scientists – Frances Micklethwait and Rachel McKendry - as part of a Wiki Editathon.

(Picture caption: A medical assistant holds an insulin pen administered to diabetes patients © Sajjad Hussain/AFP/Getty Images)

The Science Hour was presented by Roland Pease with comments by James Gallagher, Science Reporter, BBC News online

Producer: Alex Mansfield

The Essential Guide To Zika2016020620160207 (WS)

The latest science about Zika; its impact on mothers and how science can help

The BBC’s Julia Carneiro meets some worried expectant mothers and women in Brazil who have to make the difficult decision about whether it is safe to become pregnant. And questions on Zika are answered by experts in the studio in London and on the ground in Brazil; including virologist Professor Paulo Zanotto, from the University of Sao Paulo, who provides his expertise on the Zika virus.

Virus Test in a Suitcase

Zika has been officially declared a global public health emergency, just three weeks after the World Health Organization announced the Ebola epidemic in West Africa to be over. Reported cases of Zika infections are on the rise. The virus is thought to be linked to an increase in the number of cases of microcephaly – babies born with abnormally small heads. The WHO is calling on scientists to coordinate their efforts to find out more about the virus. Being able to diagnose and monitor the disease quickly is crucial. The best results come from genome sequencing, which can be used to identify any type of pathogen. Dr Nick Loman tells us about a portable lab that has been tested with Ebola, which fits comfortably into a suitcase.

Moon Fax Pictures

On 4th February 50 years ago, the Soviet lander Lunar 9 sent a signal back from the moon. Scientists at Jodrell Bank intercepted this and realised that it sounded like a picture image. Professor of Astrophysics at Manchester University, Tim O'Brien, explains to Tracey Logan how, with the help of a fax machine borrowed from the newspaper the Daily Express, British scientists scooped the first pictures of the moon's surface.

Reproducing a Human Brain

Scientists have reproduced the wrinkled shape of a human brain using a simple gel model with two layers. They made a solid replica of a foetal brain, still smooth and unfolded, and coated it with a second layer which expanded when dunked into a solvent. That expansion produced a network of furrows that was remarkably similar to the pattern seen in a real human brain. This suggests that brain folds are caused by physics: the outer part grows faster than the rest, and crumples.

Brain Hacking

In 2014, neuroscientist Dr Phil Kennedy flew to Belize and paid a surgeon to insert electrodes into his otherwise healthy brain, in order to experiment on himself. His aim was to unpick the electrical signals given from his brain during speech. BBC science reporter Jonathan Webb went to his lab in Georgia, US to meet the maverick.

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.

Black Holes

Astronomers have published new images of a bright jet of material, long enough to cross the Milky Way three times, fired into space by the black hole at the heart of a distant galaxy. The observations confirm the existence of a second jet, blasting in the opposite direction. The study uses this galaxy, Pictor A, to test ideas about what makes jets like these emit very bright X-rays.

Hologram Technology

The aim of hologram technology, according to Birmingham University researchers, is to make it cheaper, faster and better. Holographic tattoos are a solution they are developing. Currently, holograms are made with lasers and mirrors. Roland Pease went to visit researchers Dr Haider Butt, Bader Al Qattan and Rajib Ahmed in order to make his very own hologram.

(Photo caption: a Aedes Aegypti mosquito which transmits the Zika, Chikungunya, Dengue and Yellow Fever viruses © Luis Robayo/AFP/Getty Images)

The Science Hour was presented by Roland Pease with comments from BBC Science reporter Jonathan Webb

Producer: Marnie Chesterton

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 Latest Science From Biosphere 22015120520151206 (WS)

The latest climate change science from Biosphere 2, an earth science lab in Arizona

Biosphere 2 is an Earth systems science research facility; a mini model of the Earth where scientists can carry out controlled experiments in different environments. It is located in Oracle, Arizona and is now part of the University of Arizona. Originally it was built to house an experiment designed to see if humans could survive on another planet. The experiment attracted much media attention and involved eight volunteers locked away in the sealed environment for two years, relying entirely on it for their survival. But this grand experiment did not go quite according to plan, so now Biosphere 2 is instead being used to model different ecosystems; scientists are carrying out controlled experiments to see how our planet – Biosphere 1 – might respond to a changing climate. Jack Stewart visits the facility to witness the science taking place.

Unbreathable: The Modern Problem of Air Pollution

The shock news three months ago that Volkswagen had used defeat devices to circumvent emissions tests in the United States, has again highlighted the continuing environmental problem of air pollution. Traces of pollutants coming out of tail pipes may seem to be little more than a nuisance, but it can actually be 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 US; their lives shortened by the damage nitrogen oxides have done to their bodies. And a further 130 lives are at risk over the lifetime of the vehicles if nothing is done about it. As well as from vehicles, air pollution also comes from other sources, such as fires and agriculture. Roland Pease looks into what can be done to clean up the air we breathe.

Gene Editing

Should scientists be allowed to alter the genes in embryos? New techniques now exist to edit embryonic genes, but the implications of this research has been ringing alarm bells and this week hundreds of scientists and bioethicists have gathered in Washington for an international summit on how far this technique should be permitted. The BBC’s medical correspondent Fergus Walsh reports from the meeting.

Biosphere 2 - Landscape Evolution Observatory

Jack Stewart takes a look at another Biosphere 2 experiment. It is called LEO or the Landscape Evolution Observatory. This is a new addition to the earth’s science laboratory, not something that dates from the time of the Biospherians. Dr Luke Pangle, a hydrologist at the University of Arizona, is his guide.

Health in Cuba: Prevention Better Than Cure

Cuba is not a rich country but it has free, universal healthcare and some impressive health statistics. In the first of two, special Health Check programmes from Havana, Claudia Hammond investigates how despite spending just 4% of what the United States spends on their healthcare, Cuba manages to have lower rates of infant mortality and similar life expectancy. Is it the focus on prevention that is the key? And could other countries learn from the Cuban experience?

Memory and Art

How good are you at picturing a work of art in your mind? If it is the Mona Lisa or Monet’s Water Lilies then perhaps it is easy. But if you go to an exhibition of unfamiliar paintings how much do you really remember afterwards? A new exhibition called An Imagined Museum, at Liverpool Tate, is asking visitors to imagine what would happen if art was destroyed and is also challenging them to memorise the works in the exhibition. Claudia Hammond went to have a go herself and to meet the curator of the exhibition, Darren Pih and Dr Luca Ticini, who is a cognitive neuroscientist from Manchester University.

(Photo caption: Biosphere 2 Research Facility in Oracle, Arizona © Jack Stewart)

The Science Hour was presented by Claudia Hammond with comments from Smitha Mundasad, Health reporter, BBC News

Producer: Deborah Cohen/Helena Selby

The Medical Scandal Engulfing Top Swedish University2016022020160221 (WS)

The “Macchiarini Affair? which involved ground-breaking surgery with artificial windpipes

Back in 2008 the surgeon Paolo Macchiarini stunned everyone when he carried out the world’s first tissue-engineered whole organ transplant and saved a woman’s life with a windpipe transplant. When he followed this up by implanting the first artificial trachea into a patient at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm in 2011, this was celebrated as a huge medical breakthrough. Since then, the surgery has been performed on seven other patients there, but today, six of these eight patients are now dead. The management of the Karolinska Institute is deeply implicated in the case, which is rapidly growing into a veritable research scandal. Both the secretary-general of the Nobel Committee and the head of the Karolinska institute have now resigned. Claudia Hammond asks James Gallagher, editor of the BBC Health News website, why this operation in Spain was so special and of the fallout of the scandal. We also hear a report from Christine Westerhaus in Sweden on what exactly has been going on.

Gravitational Waves

Last week was the big announcement of the discovery of gravitational waves by the LIGO detector. It was front page news around the world, deservedly so, as it filled in a missing piece of cosmology, and showed Einstein’s great idea, the general theory of relativity. There is still plenty to discuss – and there will be for years to come. Adam Rutherford had dozens of emails from listeners with questions about gravitational waves and asked cosmologist Andrew Pontzen from University College London to go through them.

Predicting the Next Financial Crisis

Why do financial crises occur – and when will the next one come? In the past, economic theory has failed to answer these questions. In this week’s Science Journal Perspectives, economists, physicists, epidemiologists, climate scientists and ecologists call to establish a new early warning system to avoid future global financial crises. They argue that the methods used by scientists to predict weather, traffic or disease epidemics should be used to simulate the financial systems, which could help to avoid the failures we have seen in the past. Professor Doyne tells Jack how the analysis of complex networks could and should be applied to the economy.

Zika vector - Aedes Aegypti Mosquito

To find out more about the Aedes aegypti, the main vector spreading the Zika virus, Claudia Hammond speaks to Professor Uriel Kitron, chair of the department of Environmental Studies at Emory University in the United States. He gives a guide to everything you ever wanted to know about the mosquito.

Cornelis Drebbel

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.

Digital Historians

In the digital age what will the archive of the future look like and how will historians access it? With so much political activity conducted online what now is to be stored and who will be responsible for its future access? Lauren Hutchinson reports from a conference at Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office – a gathering of historians, policy makers, and archivists – on the shift towards digitalisation of history.

(Photo caption: Artificial trachea © UCL)

The Science Hour was presented by Jack Stewart with comments from online science and technology editor for the Economist, Jason Palmer

Producer: Fiona Roberts

The Simplest Synthetic Life Form Yet?2016032620160327 (WS)

Scientists design and build a microbe containing a “minimal? number of genes

Researchers have for some years been trying to create a synthetic life form, consisting of the minimum number of genes possible. Such a life could allow them to investigate the functions of other genes, by carefully adding them onto the genome, and seeing what they do. In research published this week in the journal Science, Dr Craig Venter and colleagues announce the design and creation simplest form yet created, but surprisingly, the function of around of a third of its genes remains unknown.

Flood Defences

In Delft, the world’s biggest artificial waves are pitted against a new kind of super-strong sea wall. The Delta Flume team, led by Mark Klein Breteler, have created a giant concrete channel with a wave generator. Reporter Roland Pease turns up in time to see the team testing their artificial waves against a 10 metre dyke.

Moon Used to Spin 'On Different Axis'

The Moon used to spin on a different axis and show a slightly different face to the Earth, a new study suggests. Using data collected by Nasa's Lunar Prospector mission in the late 1990s, scientists spotted two hydrogen-rich regions near the Moon's poles, probably indicating the presence of water ice. The icy patches are opposite each other - the line between them passes through the middle of the Moon - so it appears that this used to be its spin axis. The work appears in the journal Nature.

Red Light for Red Lights

Cars are becoming increasingly wirelessly connected, with the ability to communicate with each other and the infrastructure around them. So much so, say a team of researchers at MIT in the USA that traffic lights may become an unnecessary impediment in getting through road junctions. The Science Hour talks to MIT’s Carlo Ratti.

Feeding the World

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. Professor 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.

Cochlear Implants

People with cochlear implants hear a degraded version of speech. Using subtitles helps train the brain to understand it faster. Matt Davis from the Medical Research Council’s Cognition and Brain Science Unit in Cambridge suggest that this feeds into a model of how the brain learns called Perception Learning.

Human Brain Project Platforms

The Human Brain Project is developing six information and communications technology platforms to enable large-scale collaboration, data sharing, and reconstruction of the brain at different biological scales. SpiNNaker (Spiking Neural Network Architecture) is intimately involved with the project as it attempts to build a new kind of computer that directly mimics the workings of the human brain. Gareth Mitchell talks to its key designer Professor Steve Furber.

(Image caption: Researchers have designed and synthesized a minimal bacterial genome, containing only the genes necessary for life © C. Bickel/Science 2016)

The Science Hour was presented by Gareth Mitchell with comments from BBC Science reporter Jonathan Webb

Producer: Alex Mansfield

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

Three Parent Babies20161217

Babies made from two women and one man have been approved by the UK's fertility regulator. The historic and controversial move is to prevent children being born with deadly genetic diseases. Doctors in Newcastle - who developed the advanced form of IVF - are expected to be the first to offer the procedure and have already appealed for donor eggs. James Gallagher explains which rare mitochondrial diseases could be prevented and how the process works.

News from AGU 2016

BBC Science Correspondents Jonathan Amos and Rebecca Morelle report from this year’s Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union being held in San Francisco. They discuss monitoring the melting of glaciers from space and from spy planes, and a remarkable close-up encounter with a gigantic underwater avalanche. It is the first time researchers have had instruments in place to monitor so large a flow of sediment as it careered down-slope. The event occurred in Monterey Canyon off the coast of California in January. The mass of sand and rock kept moving for more than 50km, as it slipped from a point less than 300m below the sea surface to a depth of over 1,800m. Speeds during the descent reached over 8m per second. An international team running the Coordinated Canyon Experiment (CCE) is now sitting on a wealth of data.

Weather on Distant Planet

Scientists have been describing the weather on an exoplanet – in other words a planet orbiting a sun other than our own – called HAT-P-7-b. The observations come from the Kepler space telescope. David Armstrong of the University of Warwick in England has been telling Gareth Mitchell more about this distant hot windy planet, a thousand light years away.

Energy from Volcanoes

Geologists say they are close to creating the hottest borehole in the world. They are drilling into the heart of a volcano in the south-west of Iceland and should reach 5km down, where temperatures are expected to exceed 500C (932F), in the next couple of weeks. The researchers want to bring steam from the deep well back up to the surface to provide an important source of energy. Rebecca Morelle visited the site.

Europe’s Coldest Decade

In the midst of the Little Ice Age, winter temperatures plummeted even lower in the extraordinary decade of 1430-1440. Rivers, lakes and coastlines froze over year after year. Seeds perished, flocks dwindled, famine ensued, and soon minorities and witches were being blamed for the miserable conditions. Roland Pease hears more from historian Chantal Camenisch and Kathrin Keller of Bern University who looked into what may have been the worst decade in European weather in almost a millennium.

Digital Traces

Researchers at Lancaster University in the UK suggest that iPhone users are younger and more extraverted than people who use Android phones. Gareth Mitchell talks to the psychologist, David Ellis, about the research that flags up how people choose technology.

(Photo credit: A new born baby - three days old © BBC)

The Science Hour was presented by Gareth Mitchell with comments from BBC Science Correspondents Jonathan Amos and Rebecca Morelle

Editor: Deborah Cohen

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.

What Does Rest Mean To You?20151107

A major global survey on rest has been launched. Dr Felicity Callard from Durham University is the director of Hubbub, a group of people including Claudia Hammond, who come from disciplines as diverse as neuroscience, poetry and art. They are in residence at the Wellcome Collection in London, studying the topic of rest and what we do when we rest.

As part of a collaboration between the BBC and Hubbub, the Rest Test is designed to get a snapshot of the world’s resting habits. The survey is online and in order to fully understand rest, the scientists and artists on the project need you to take part. With the help of BBC listeners we hope this will be the world’s largest ever investigation into the topic of rest. And, as well as the detailed results which we will feature on the World Service in 2016, if you take the Rest Test, you get immediate feedback about what everyone else is saying about rest as soon as you finish the survey. To take part, click the link to the Rest Test on the right hand side of the Science Hour page.

Parasitic Worms

BBC Health News Website editor, James Gallagher, reports on two remarkable stories involving parasitic worms.

In the first case, non-human cancerous cells were discovered in the body of a 41 year old Columbian man who had HIV. Scientists were amazed when a molecular test revealed high levels of tapeworm DNA and international experts identified cancerous parasitic worm tissue growing in his organs.

The patient died, in Medellin, three days after the worm DNA was discovered.

In the second case, a man from California is recovering after he had a live tapeworm removed from his brain during emergency surgery. The neurosurgeon who discovered the larva of the tapeworm told Luis Ortiz that he had about thirty minutes to live.

Worst SE Asian Haze for 20 Years

The annual devastating and deadly haze across South-East Asia caused by smoke from forest and peatland fires has been the strongest for the past 20 years. These fires are deliberately started to clear land for plantations and the haze they cause spread to Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and The Philippines, causing an environmental and health disaster. Susan Minnemayer from the World Resources Institute explains why the haze is so much worse than other years.

Genetic editing

The first person in the world to receive a pioneering genetic therapy has had her cancer reversed at London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital. One-year-old Layla Richards had incurable aggressive leukaemia and doctors used "designer immune cells" to fight the cancer. They say her improvement is "almost a miracle" and BBC Health News website editor, James Gallagher, tells Claudia that although it is too soon to know if she has been cured, her progress marks an important advance in gene editing.

How to make an awesome surf 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, because nature does not make great surfing waves to order. So she goes in search of short cuts: aquatic engineering to make better ‘breaks’. She reports from the Basque Country in northern Spain where 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 and Helen gets up on her board to test it out.

Human Rights and Cyber Security

Front Line Defenders hosted a meeting in Dublin of human rights campaigners and activists who are all at risk because of their work. Gareth Mitchell asks what the digital risks are for activists and talks to Polish information security consultant, Wojtek Bogusz, a speaker at the gathering, about cyber security strategies.

How your brain shapes your life

It weighs 3lbs, takes 25 years to reach maturity and, unique to bits of our bodies, damage to your brain is likely to change who you are. Neuroscientist David Eagleman's new book, The Brain: The Story of You, explores the field of brain research. New technology is providing a flood of data. But what we don't have, according to Eagleman, is the theoretical scaffolding on which to hang this. Why do brains sleep and dream? What is intelligence? What is consciousness? He gives Tracey Logan some answers.

The Science Hour was presented by Claudia Hammond with comments from BBC Science Correspondent James Gallagher.

Producer: Fiona Hill

(Photo: Sloth at rest. Credit: Thinkstock)

What's The Future For Gravitational Wave Detection?20160903

About to be switched back on, LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory, led to the momentous detection of gravitational waves. These are mysterious ripples in space generated from the collision of two black holes. The European equivalent - VIRGO is also being upgraded. And there is still talk of LISA – a gravitational wave detector in space. So what does the future hold in gravitational wave research?

Social Media and Depression

Could the photos you post on the social media app Instagram reveal early warning signs that you may be at risk of depression? Post-graduate researcher Andrew Reece from Harvard University thinks they might. He persuaded 166 people with a history of depression to give him access to the 43,000 photos on their Instagram feeds. Then he developed a computer programme to analyse the pictures and found they did differ from the photos other people posted. Whilst he does not think it could ever replace a doctor’s medical diagnosis, Reece believes with more work, this could provide users and medical staff with a useful tool to help predict who might be at risk of developing depression. Claudia Hammond finds out more.

Lucy Fell from Tree

Lucy was a hominin - Australopithecus afarensis - an early human species, who died over 3 million years ago. With 40% of her fossilised bones recovered, scientists have been examining them to learn more about her life and death. A recent, highly detailed, CT scan has revealed some surprising results, Lucy could have died from falling out of a tree. Professor John Kappelman, from the University of Texas at Austin talks to Marnie Chesterton.

The Oldest Life on Earth

Snow on Isua Supercrustal Belt in Greenland has melted to reveal something quite unexpected. Scientists think the uncovered rock could contain signs of very early life, dating back to as far as 3.7 billion years ago. The evidence is thought to represent stromatolite fossils, the longest-lived lifeforms made up of sediment and bacterial growths. The work suggests that life might have formed 200 million years earlier than we previously thought. Geologist Professor Martin Van Kranendonk talks to Marnie Chesterton.

The Psychic Tear

Drs Adam Rutherford and Hannah Fry answer the question, why do we cry. Hannah discovers how the eye produces tears, with the help of Dr Nick Knight. We hear how Charles Darwin experimented on his children until they cried. And Adam watches a tearjerker to take part in a psychological study, but it does not reduce him to tears.

Moment Allows Navigation on Your Skin

Moment is a wristband that traces your GPS direction on your skin. Instead of having to rely on your smartphone for navigation, it suggests the direction to take via a signal on your wrist. Gareth Mitchell talks to the key researcher of the gadget, Shantanu Bala.

(Photo caption: In this undated handout photo provided by the European Space Agency, an artist's impression shows the LISA Pathfinder orbiting over the Earth © ESA via Getty Images)

The Science Hour was presented by Roland Pease with comments from BBC Science Correspondent Jonathan Amos

Editor: Deborah Cohen

Why Birds Survived Dinosaur Extinction20160423

It seems that early dinosaur precursors to birds that had beaks rather than teeth gave them the advantage to survive the meteor crash almost 66 million years ago. Jack Stewart talks to palaeontologist, Derek Larson, from the Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum, in Alberta Canada.

Quantum Games

Scientists in Copenhagen are developing a quantum computer. To help them solve a particular problem, they have turned to human brain power, harnessing our ability to play computer games. Adam Rutherford talks to Jacob Sherson from Aarhus University in Copenhagen.


A European project called QB50 plans to gain greater insight into a section of the atmosphere called the thermosphere, by sending 50 small satellites, known as CubeSats, into orbit this summer. Marnie Chesterton talks to scientists at UCL’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory in southern England.

Concussion Test

American doctors say they’re just five years away from a pitch-side blood test to spot concussion – which is an injury caused for example by a bang to the head. Claudia Hammond discusses with Dr Linda Papa the work by researchers at the Orlando Regional Medical Centre in Florida who have detected two substances which are released into the blood stream after a brain injury which may help to develop a simple blood test.

Orgueil Meteorite

In 1864 the Orgueil meteorite fell in rural France at a time when arguments raged over the origin of life. Could life possibly form from mere chemicals? Phil Ball describes how the meteorite galvanised the debate.

Click – Identity Day

How is technology increasingly shaping our identities? As part of the BBC Identity Season Neil Harbisson, who was born colour-blind, describes how an electronic eye implanted allows him to hear colours.

(Image caption: Evidence of seed eating dinosaurs © Danielle Dufault/PA Wire)

The Science Hour was presented by Gareth Mitchell with comments from the BBC Technology presenter LJ Rich

Producer: Colin Grant

Wildfires2016071620160717 (WS)

have been hitting the headlines this year. But is the frequency and intensity of wildfires on the increase? Can science and mapping be used more globally to mitigate the devastation and understand the causes and effects? And will a warming climate mean bigger risk? Roland Pease talks to Marc-André Parisien, a researcher with the Canadian Forest Service and Professor Andrew Scott from Royal Holloway, University of London.

GATEway Project

Self-driving, autonomous cars are on their way and the first fatality occurred just recently, causing worry for those behind the technology. But the hope is that they will one day make our journeys safer, faster and more environmentally friendly. But how will other drivers, cyclists and pedestrians react to a car that is driving its self? Will they be wary, or perhaps more pushy, knowing that in the end the driverless car will do everything it can to avoid a collision? The first UK trials that the public can take part in are just starting in an outdoor lab in London. The GATEway Project offers people the chance to ride in an autonomous car. Claudia Hammond got into the driver’s seat in a vehicle simulator at the Transport Research Laboratory in the south of England, to meet the chief scientist Dr Alan Stevens.

Musical Dissonance

We generally find the combination of notes in a consonant chord more pleasant to our ears than a dissonant one. The question is whether that reaction is learnt or simply part of our biology. It's a tricky thing to test because music is culturally ubiquitous. Neuroscientist Josh McDermott, who has found a way around this, by playing those tunes to members of a very remote Bolivian tribe - the Tsimane - and gauging their reactions. Adam Rutherford finds out more.

Past and Future of Zika Virus

The Zika virus outbreak in Latin America and the Caribbean has been raging for over a year, and some scientists are thinking that the outbreak might have hit its peak. But what will happen in the future, will this be an end to the outbreak or will Zika continue to cause problems in the area for decades to come. Understanding where the virus came from and knowledge of how related viruses, like dengue and Yellow Fever, behaved when they were introduced into the Americas may provide some important insights. We hear from University of Nottingham’s Professor of Molecular Virology, Jonathan Ball, Dr Ann Powers from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Dr Scott Weaver from the University of Texas Medical Branch.

The Business of Failure

Dr Kevin Fong flies with a US air ambulance crew and discovers why it is seen as one of the most dangerous occupations in America. He talks to Mike Abernethy, Professor of Emergency Medicine and Med Flight’s chief physician, about the fatal accident.

"Silent" Red Hair Gene and Sun-Related Skin Cancer

People can carry a "silent" red hair gene that raises their risk of sun-related skin cancer, experts warn. The Sanger Institute team estimate one in every four UK people is a carrier. The gene's effect is comparable to two decades of sun exposure in terms of cancerous changes, they say. While people with two copies of the gene will have ginger hair, freckles and pale skin and probably know to take extra care in the sun, those with one copy may not realise they are at risk.

Pokemon Go

Pokemon Go, a mobile game that has become a global phenomenon, has been released in the UK. It was already available in the US, Australia and Germany but some UK gamers found ways around the country restriction to get early access. The app lets players roam a map using their phone's GPS location data and catch Pokemon to train and battle.

(Photo: Flames from the Rocky Fire approach a house in Lower Lake, California © Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

– what can science tell us about them?

Wolbachia To Eliminate Dengue20161029
Wolbachia To Eliminate Dengue2016102920161030 (WS)

Trials using Wolbachia to control mosquito-transmitted diseases

Adam Rutherford meets the Australian scientist Scott O’Neill, who is leader of the Eliminate Dengue project which is developing a new approach using Wolbachia to control mosquito-transmitted diseases.


Blindsquare is an innovative smart app that helps blind people to navigate indoors and outdoors. Simon Morton reports on its use in New Zealand.

CO2 at Record Levels

2016 is the first year that carbon dioxide has been consistently above 400 parts per million globally, according to the World Meteorological Organisation. Adam Rutherford spoke to Richard Betts, Head of Climate Impacts Research at the Met Office Hadley Centre, who told him about the significance of 400 parts per million.

Tasers and Memory

Professor Rob Kane from Drexel University in the US tasered students and then found they had serious deficits in their ability to recall facts in the hours after being tasered. Some of the victims performed so poorly in cognitive tests that they could be diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. Claudia Hammond asks what implications these new findings have for the timing of police interviews after somebody has been tasered.

Ascension Island Vegetation

Ascension Island is 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 it was transformed into a forest by 19th Century botanist Joseph Hooker, encouraged by Charles Darwin, and what is being done about it now by conservationist Sam Webber.


Spiders are remarkable creatures. We have all heard about how incredibly strong their silk is. But it is the water spider’s diving bell that is currently intriguing scientists. The spiders spin a bubble of silk with a unique protein-gel coating, which has special gas-permeable properties, allowing the air-breathing spider to spend time underwater. Could this be a new kind of silk that could be copied in the lab?

(Photo: The body of a female mosquito fills up and balloons as she sucks blood from a hand © Tom Ervin/Getty Images)