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BBC Inside Science podcast

BBC Inside Science

A weekly programme that illuminates the mysteries and challenges the controversies behind the science that's changing our world.

A weekly programme that illuminates the mysteries and challenges the controversies behind the science that's changing our world.

 

#300

Turtle Voices, a Pandemic Retrospective and a Nose-Picking Primate

New recordings featuring the voices of 53 species of turtle, caecilian and tuatara previously thought to be silent have illuminated the evolutionary origins of vocal communication. Gabriel Jorgevich-Cohen a PhD student at the University of Zurich has travelled the world collecting recordings and summarised his findings in Nature Communications this week. He spoke to BBC science correspondent Georgina Rannard who explains his findings, what they mean, and shows us some of her favourite turtle sounds. What was it like to advise the government during the height of the pandemic? How soon did experts realise the colossal impact Covid would have? Were mistakes made? The latest in our series of interviews with those shortlisted for the Royal Society Insight Investment Book prize, Vic sat down with co-authors Sir Jeremy Farrar and Anjana Ahuja to talk about their book Spike: the Virus vs the People. Anne-Claire Fabre Assistant Professor at the University of Bern and Curator of mammals, Natural History Museum Bern turns her scientific curiosity toward a surprising and perhaps perturbing behaviour in one of her research animals as she spoke to us about her paper published in the Journal of Zoology this week. Whilst investigating the Aye Aye, a nocturnal primate with two long thin fingers Anne-Claire witnessed the creature putting them to good use picking its nose and went on to uncover a big gap in our understanding of this icky behaviour. Presenter Victoria Gill Producer Emily Bird ... Read more

24 Nov 2022

31 MINS

31:18

24 Nov 2022


#299

The BBC at 100

Recorded in front of an audience at Bradford’s National Museum of Science and Media, we’re delving into the next 100 years of broadcasting, examining the science and technology behind what we’ll watch and listen to. And what the seismic technological shifts mean for all of us. Victoria Gill is joined on stage by four people who give us an audio tour of that media future. Lewis Pollard the curator television and broadcast at the museum. Dr Karen Thornton programme leader teaching film and television production at the University of Bradford. Bill Thompson technology commentator. Gemma Milne writer and researcher interested in how science and technology impacts all of us. And author of Smoke and Mirrors - how hype obscures the future and how to see past it. BBC Inside Science is produced in partnership with the Open University ... Read more

17 Nov 2022

50 MINS

50:30

17 Nov 2022


#298

Avian flu

Avian or bird flu is normally seasonal, disappearing as migratory birds leave for winter. However a new strain which seems to spread more easily between wild birds and into poultry has led to the deaths of far more birds than usual. David Steel, Nature Reserve Manager on the Isle of May relates his observations of the effects on seabirds. And Nicola Lewis, Director of the Worldwide Influenza Centre at the Francis Crick Institute tells us why this particular stain is so severe. Climategate was a strange kind of scandal, based entirely on misinformation pushed by climate change deniers. In his new book Hot air, shortlisted for the Royal Society Insight Investment science book prize, Climate scientist Peter Stott assess the impact of their campaign. Pong was a very basic video game developed in the 1970s, now Australian researchers have trained human brain cells in a dish to play the game, Dr Brett Kagan from Cortical Labs explains why. ... Read more

10 Nov 2022

29 MINS

29:09

10 Nov 2022


#297

Coronavirus - new variants

The virus which causes Covid 19 is continuing to evolve, but into several different closely related strains rather than more new variants such as Delta and Omicron. Ravi Gupta, Professor of Clinical Microbiology at Cambridge university gives us his assessment of the current picture, and Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Welcome Trust, comments on global efforts to counter the virus. The Nobel prizes were awarded this week. Science Journalist Philip Ball looks at the winning discoveries and the scientists behind them. And shortlisted for the Royal Society Insight Investment Science book prize, we hear from Henry Gee, author of A Very Short History of Life on Earth. ... Read more

03 Nov 2022

34 MINS

34:07

03 Nov 2022


#296

Fracking Science

The government has lifted a moratorium on fracking imposed in 2019 following a series of small earthquakes caused by exploratory drilling. The British Geological Survey was asked to investigate, we speak to two of the authors of their new report into fracking and earthquakes, seismologist Brian Baptie and Geologist Ed Hough. We also look at more practical aspects of fracking in the UK with Professor Richard Davies from Newcastle University, asking how to viably extract shale gas in the UK and whether, with concerns over climate change, we should really be contemplating this at all. The production of Bitcoin consumes as much energy as a medium sized European country. Benjamin Jones from New Mexico university and Larisa Yarovaya from Southampton Business School explain why generation of the cryptocurrency has come to require such huge amounts of energy. And we hear from Maria Fitzgerald, chair of the panel for the Royal Society book prize on what makes a good science book Inside Science is produced in partnership with the Open University ... Read more

27 Oct 2022

32 MINS

32:28

27 Oct 2022


#295

Science collaborations – with Russia

The sub Arctic boreal forests stretch across the northern hemisphere. They represent a huge carbon sink , but are also vulnerable to climate change. Most of the forest is in Russia and most of what we know about its current state comes from long running international field studies. The Scott Polar Institute in the UK has been studying these forests for years in collaboration with Moscow university, but this year’s field work has been cancelled. We spoke to Olga Tutubalina and Gareth Rees who have been running the collaboration since the 1990s. Will the cost of living crisis lead to an increase in food poisoning ? it’s a concern for food researcher Ellen Evans from Cardiff Metropolitan University, in particular the potential for listeria to grow in our fridges if we don’t have the temperature low enough. And if you like maths how can you get better? Mathematician and Author Simon Singh, tells us about his new global Maths Circles initiative to connect maths enthusiasts around the world. ... Read more

20 Oct 2022

31 MINS

31:59

20 Oct 2022


#294

Is the James Webb Space Telescope too good?

The James Webb Space Telescope continues to beam exciting data back to earth from exoplanet systems, galaxies and stars further away than we’ve ever seen before. But what happens to that data when it reaches us? We spoke to Julien De Wit from MIT about how exactly we process the vast amounts of information sent back to us from the telescope and how sometimes our computing systems just can't keep up. The British Science Festival is taking place in Leicester this week, and diversity and inclusion is one of the top priorities. Many groups are still alarmingly under-represented in STEM including women, Black and Minority Ethnic people Angela Saini and Dr Kate Clancy explain how we got here and just how alienating science can feel. To explore possible solutions we spoke to the incoming president of the British Science Association and CEO of Stemettes Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE, Early career Engineer and Chairperson of Stemette Futures Youth Board Floriane Fidegnon-Edoh and Physicist Dr Jessica Wade who works in public engagement in STEM and advocacy for women in physics. Finally, are colourful birds more vulnerable? Researcher Dr Rebecca Senior from Durham University takes us through how the pet trade affects bird conservation. Presenter: Victoria Gill Producers: Emily Bird, Julian Siddle and Harrison Lewis ... Read more

13 Oct 2022

28 MINS

28:53

13 Oct 2022


#293

Ancient Amputation

The discovery of a body missing a foot in a thirty one thousand year old grave suggests our ancient ancestors may have been capable of performing complex surgery. The foot seems to have been cleanly amputated, and the patient survived for several years afterwards. Dr Tim Maloney from Australia’s Griffith University made the find and Charlotte Roberts Emeritus Professor of Archaeology at Durham University who researches the evolution of medicine gave us her analysis. Craters from meteorites aren’t always easy to find, they can look similar to other geological features. However techniques more closely associated with forensic science are helping to provide clues. it’s all in the way the incoming asteroid or meteorite burns everything in its path says Dr Ania Losiak from the Institute of Geological Sciences, Polish Academy of Science. The Greenland ice sheets are melting, a new analysis paints a concerning picture about the impact on sea levels. Researcher Jason Box takes us out onto the ice to see this process in action. And why do chimpanzees drum? Language researchers Catherine Hobaiter and Vesta Eleuteri have been following them around the jungles of Uganda to find out. ... Read more

06 Oct 2022

28 MINS

28:31

06 Oct 2022


#292

Dealing with drought

As parts of England enter drought conditions we ask what are the drivers for drought and what can we do about it? With Dr Jess Neumann, Hydrologist at Reading University, Aidan McGivern meteorologist at the Met Office and Professor Richard Betts, Chair in Climate Impacts at University of Exeter. What influence do Scientific Advisors really have on government? We explore the tricky issue with science writer Philip Ball. Are there just too many satellites now orbiting the earth? Astronomers are increasingly finding their presence is interfering with astronomical observations. Jane Chambers reports from Chile. And what is mucus actually for and how did it evolve? Omer Gokcumen, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences and Stefan Ruhl, Professor of Oral Biology at the University at Buffalo reveal its origins in our aquatic ancestors and its vital role in mouth hygiene. Presented by Alex Lathbridge Produced by Julian Siddle Assistant Producer Emily Bird ... Read more

29 Sep 2022

31 MINS

31:15

29 Sep 2022


#291

Return of the ozone hole

Research on recent extreme fire events shows they have a direct effect on the size of the seasonal ozone hole over Antarctica. Climate scientist Jim Haywood is concerned more frequent and extreme fires predicted by climate models could negate all the work done to reduce the ozone depleting chemical pollutants which became such a concern more than 30 years ago. We look at two very different approaches to marine conservation , and discuss how the combination of monitoring and surveillance technology and engaging with local people could help preserve many marine species . And it's festival time in Edinburgh , but we take a look at its more sinister side. How when the city became a centre for the study of anatomy it also developed a dark underbelly of serial killers and body snatchers. A new exhibition clears up some of the myths associated with this period. And the Royal Society has announced its annual medals, a variety of awards for leading scientists. This year there is a special award for Laboratory technicians, the unsung heroes of science experiments. We speak to the winner and also the BBC journalist who as a student destroyed one of his experiments. ... Read more

22 Sep 2022

27 MINS

27:27

22 Sep 2022


#290

A Possible Sequel to the Dinosaur Armageddon

Did the Chicxulub meteor that did for the dinosaurs have a smaller companion? Dr Uisdean Nicholson and Professor Sean Gulick talk to Vic Gill about the newly discovered Nadir Crater. Located on the other side of the Atlantic, it’s raising questions about whether Earth was bombarded with not one, but two, meteors on the day the dinosaurs were wiped out. Back in January, the Hunga-Tonga Hunga-Ha’apai volcano in Tonga erupted explosively, triggering a massive tsunami across the Pacific. Now, engineers are remotely scanning the volcano from 16,000km away in Essex. Ashley Skett from SEA-KIT International and Dr Mike Williams from NIWA describe how a robotic vessel is mapping the Tongan seabed. And we get to the bottom of the mystery surrounding a 500-million-year-old fossil…quite literally. The microscopic, fossilised beast, which has no anus, was previously thought to be our earliest known ancestor. Emily Carlisle from the University of Bristol explains how the theory was debunked. Presented by Victoria Gill Reporting by Emily Bird Produced by Alex Mansfield ... Read more

15 Sep 2022

30 MINS

30:34

15 Sep 2022


#289

Amplified Arctic Amplification and Microclot Clues to Post-Viral Disease

Professor Anna Hogg joins us on today’s programme for some polar explorations, we speak to one team recalculating arctic warming estimates and another who are storm chasing in Svalbard. Antii Lipponen from the Finnish Meterological Institute talks us through how quickly the arctic is really warming and Professor John Methven and PhD student Hannah Croad from the University of Reading send greetings from Svalbard where they’re chasing arctic storms. Also, new evidence for a possible biomarker of ME/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome - a condition associated with debilitating tiredness and brain fog similar to Long Covid. The microclots, described by Professor Doug Kell at the University of Liverpool and Professor Resia Pretorius of University of Stellenbosch, suggest a possible inflammatory cardiovascular element to the disease which might one day forge a path towards new treatments. And how can trees help us in a heatwave? Vic joined Dominik Spracklen from the University of Leeds on a stroll around a Cumbrian forest to explore the cooling potential of forests. Presented by Victoria Gill Reporter Emily Bird Produced by Alex Mansfield ... Read more

08 Sep 2022

27 MINS

27:55

08 Sep 2022


#288

Shaun The Sheep Jumps Over The Moon, Bronze Age Kissing and PPE Rubbish

ESA announce that Shaun The Sheep will fly around the moon this month aboard Artemis-1 mission. Philippe Deloo tells Gaia Vince what's in store for the woolly astronaut this month. Philippe is the team lead on the European Service Module, the part of NASA's Orion spacecraft which will be the workhorse of the new moon missions, ferrying four astronauts at a time to the moon and perhaps even beyond one day. This first Artemis mission, slated for launch 29th August, will check all the engineering bravado of the new launch and orbital systems ready for subsequent human passengers in a couple of years. Christiana Scheib, of the Universities of Cambridge and Tartu, is part of a team who seem to have pinpointed in time the moment the Herpes virus that causes cold sores first spread across human populations. By obtaining genomes of HSV1 from four individuals who died between the iron age and medieval times, their analysis suggests an initial emergence sometime in the Bronze age. The intriguing hypothesis that accompanies the discovery is that the variant's emergence was facilitated by a new trend among bronze age folk of romantic kissing. But as she describes, it's hard to be certain for "there is no gene for kissing". One way of restricting the spread of many viruses is of course various forms of PPE. The last few years have seen billions more items of PPE used on our planet, often without a clear plan for their disposal, and they get accidentally dropped and even deliberately dumped all over the world. Alex Bond of the Natural History Museum at Tring observes and catalogues rubbish affecting wildlife. He took the BBC's Victoria Gill on a walk down a canal in Salford to discuss the issues with the tissues. Presented by Gaia Vince Produced by Alex Mansfield ... Read more

01 Sep 2022

31 MINS

31:28

01 Sep 2022


#287

Heatwave: the consequences

The severity of last week's heatwave is changing the narrative. Gaia Vince talks to Simon Evans, deputy editor of the climate publication Carbon Brief, who has been following the media coverage of this heatwave, and Lorraine Whitmarsh, professor of environmental psychology at the university of Bath. What has the recent hot weather done to the plants in our gardens, and the crops in our fields? Dr Nicola Cannon from the Royal Agricultural University in Cirencester tells us the low-down. Expect your potatoes to get more expensive this autumn. The RHS want to know about how the heatwave has affected YOUR garden. You can help science by answering on this survey https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/NVNH5FN What if we could use all the excess heat from summer, and store it to heat our homes in winter. It's something a team in the Netherlands and Austria have been looking at, using a thermochemical battery. Wim van Helden from AEE Institute in Gleisdorf in Austria explains how they made a prototype, and what the stumbling blocks are to widespread use of their system. Is this thermal battery the holy grail of heat supply? We run it, and other options, past Michael de Podestra. An ex-measurement scientist at the National Physics Laboratory until his retirement two years ago, he has since become an expert in retrofitting his house to try and make it carbon-neutral. ... Read more

25 Aug 2022

34 MINS

34:44

25 Aug 2022


#286

Multiverses, melting glaciers and what you can tell from the noise of someone peeing

The Multiverse Laura Mersini-Houghton is an internationally renowned cosmologist and theoretical physicist and one of the world's leading experts on the multiverse and the origins of the universe. She talks to Gaia Vince about finding evidence that supports her multiverse theory as more than just a hypothetical collection of diverse universes, including the one that houses our planet. She also shares her story of growing up with the horrors of a brutal Albanian communist regime. Glacier Collapse In Italy this month eleven people were killed when Marmolada glacier collapsed. A few days later, hikers recorded another huge glacier collapse in Kyrgyzstan. Is there any way of monitoring glaciers to give us a warning of these events? Glaciologist Liam Taylor, a researcher at Leeds University explains to Gaia our options for monitoring vulnerable glaciers, and why a black spot in those observations is about to open up. Pees and queues. Lower urinary tract symptoms are common and affect an estimated 60% of men and 57% of women. These can be detected using a gadget called a uroflowmetre, but patients often face delays getting to clinics to use one. Dr Lee Han Jie and Professor Ng Lay Guat, with colleagues at Singapore General Hospital and the Singapore University of Technology and Design have developed an artificial intelligence algorithm that is trained to listen to patients pass urine. From just the noise of peeing, the AI is able to identify abnormal flows and could be a useful and cost-effective means of monitoring and managing urology patients at home. Heatwave Records Richard Betts from the Met Office explains why the official highest temperature is only 40.3C, whereas many of us have clocked temperature in the mid forties in our cars and on patios. ... Read more

18 Aug 2022

27 MINS

27:34

18 Aug 2022


#285

Deep Space and the Deep Sea - 40 years of the International Whaling Moratorium.

The James Webb Space Telescope is finally in business - what further treasures will it find? Also, the origins of the International Moratorium on Whaling, 40 years old this month. This week NASA invited President Joe Biden to help them publish the first of five images of full scientific value from the newest super telescope now operating a million miles away from us. It is capable of gazing as far deep into the sky as humans have ever gazed. That first image, an upgrade of one of the Hubble Telescope's "Deep Field" shots from some years ago, shows some of the oldest matter ever seen, including light distorted into smudges and whorls by the gravitational field of galaxies in line of sight from us, much nearer and younger than the light being bent around them. The other images show even more of what the telescope is capable of seeing. Dr. Stefanie Milam of Nasa's Goddard Space Flight Centre in Maryland, US and BBC Science correspondent Jonathan Amos talk to Gaia about this new, exciting phase in astronomy. This month marks 40 years since the International Whaling Commission decided to pursue a moratorium on commercial whaling. Many whales are still struggling, but scientists have seen several species recover since then. The moratorium followed campaigning in the 1970s by such groups as Greenpeace, and even the commercial success of audio recordings of humpback whales, released by Drs. Roger and Katy Payne. Greenpeace co-founder Rex Weyler describes to Gaia the motivations behind the original Save the Whale campaign, and some of his memories of intercepting a Russian whaling ship in 1975. Since 1982, cetacean science has come a long way, and scientists know far more about whale's behaviour, vulnerabilities and interaction with ocean climate and ecosystems than we did back then. Dr. Asha De Vos of the University of Western Australia describes the science, including some recent findings on the continued perils of anthropogenic noise to these giants of the deep. Presenter Gaia Vince Assistant Producer Joleen Goffin Produced by Alex Mansfield ... Read more

11 Aug 2022

27 MINS

27:58

11 Aug 2022


#284

Robotic Thumbs, Mending Bones with Magnets, and the State of Science this Summer

Gaia Vince takes you for a mosey around his year's Summer Science Exhibition, held by London's Royal Society. Along the way, PRS Sir Adrian Smith talks of reforming A-Levels and a sorry international science collaboration situation as many european research grants are terminated amidst a Brexit withdrawal agreement stand-offs. The Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition is on until Sunday 10th July, it is free to attend and there are many activities and events online too. Presented by Gaia Vince Produced by Alex Mansfield ... Read more

04 Aug 2022

27 MINS

27:54

04 Aug 2022


#283

10 Years of the Higgs Boson

In 1964 a theoretical physicist called Peter Higgs suggested a mechanism via which elementary particles of a new theoretical scheme could obtain mass. It had been a thorny mathematical stinker in the framework that today we now call the standard model of particle physics. Ten years ago this July, the particle this mechanism predicted, the Higgs Boson, was confirmed to exist in experiments conducted at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. Prof Frank Close, whose new book - Elusive - is published this week, is a friend of Peter's. The book describes the background to Higg's idea, and how a generation of physicists worked to test it and identify it. He and Prof Malcolm Fairbairn of King's College London discuss the significance at the time, what we we've learned since, and what we might in the future. As covid cases are on the rise again in the UK, Prof Jonathan Ball gives Marnie his observations on the current variants. Prof Trevor Cox, acoustician at Salford University describes his part in a collaboration to design a new type of DIY facemask that still allows people to see your lips moving as you speak, whilst also muffling your words far less. It was developed with collaborators at University of Manchester, and also by Salford's Maker Space, and you can download plans and a video and have a go yourself at the link from our programme page. An article in Nature food recently suggested that our estimates of food miles, the carbon footprints we assign to the foods we eat, may have been underestimated and could be 3.5 times what was previously thought. But does that change the choices we make in what we buy? Presented by Marnie Chesterton Produced by Alex Mansfield ... Read more

28 Jul 2022

35 MINS

35:11

28 Jul 2022


#282

Engineering Around Mercury, Science Festivals, and The Rise of The Mammals

How hard is it to get to Mercury and why are we going? Also, do science festivals work? And why did mammals survive when dinosaurs died? Marnie Chesterton and guests dissect. As this programme went out, scientists and engineers eagerly wait for new images of the planet Mercury to arrive, snapped from a speeding probe passing just 200km from the surface, as it desperately tries to shed some velocity on its seven-year braking journey. ESA/JAXA's BepiColombo mission to Mercury is using gravitational swing-shots (just four more to go) to lose enough energy to eventually, in Dec 2025, enter orbit around the planet closest to our sun. Dr Suzie Imber of Leicester University has skin in the game, being co-investigator on one of the instruments that will eventually be able to teach us more than we've ever known about this bizarre world. Suzie is also last year's winner of the Royal Society's Rosalind Franklyn Award, and works hard doing science outreach talks and events to help inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers. Thurs 23rd June is International Women in Engineering Day, celebrating remarkable engineering as a career option. Report Emily Bird goes along to the Great Exhibition Road Festival to see how science festivals such as this one can help raise the profile of engineering and scientific endeavours in the society of tomorrow. One thing most kids like is Space. The other is dinosaurs. But what about long-dead Mammals? Prof Steve Brusatte of Edinburgh university is a palaeontologist and author whose last book on dinosaurs even led to him being consulted for the latest film in the Jurassic Park franchise. Why then does his new book focus on furrier beings in The Rise and Reign of The Mammals? He tells Marnie of the exciting millions of years of evolution that led to us, after the dinosaurs croaked their last,. Presented by Marnie Chesterton Reporting by Emily Bird Produced by Alex Mansfield ... Read more

21 Jul 2022

30 MINS

30:26

21 Jul 2022


#281

Inside Sentience

Marnie Chesterton and guests mull over the saga of an AI engineer who believes his chatbot is sentient. Also, climate scientists propose a major leap in earth system modelling, that might cost £250m a year but would bring our predictive power from 100 km to 1km. And the story of a Malaysian Breadfruit species that turns out to be two separate strains - something locals knew all along, but that science had missed. Philp Ball's latest book, The Book of Minds, explores the work still to be done on our conception of what thinking is, and what it might mean in non-human contexts. Beth Singler is a digital ethnographer - an anthropologist who studies societal reaction to technological advancement. They discuss the story this week that a google AI engineer has been suspended on paid leave from his work with an experimental algorithm called LaMDA. He rather startlingly announced his belief that it had attained sentience, publishing some excerpts from interactions he has experienced with it. Prof Dame Julia Slingo this week has published a proposal in Nature Climate Change, co-authored with several of the world's greatest climate scientists, for a multinational investment in the next generation of climate models. Currently, models of the global climate have a resolution of something like 100km, a scale which, they suggest, misses some very fundamental physics of the way rain, clouds and storms can form. Zooming into 1km resolution, and including the smaller physical systems will allow scientist to better predict extreme events, and crucially how water interacts in a real way with rising temperatures in different climes. And can zooming in on taxonomy reveal insights in conservation and biodiversity? Researchers in the US and Malaysia have described a species of breadfruit that has hitherto been considered one species by mainstream science. Locals have long described them as different species, and the genetics proves that view correct. Can more local, granular knowledge help us get a better handle on the conservation status of our planet's biodiversity? Emily Bird Reports. Presenter Marnie Chesterton Reporter Emily Bird Producer Alex Mansfield ... Read more

14 Jul 2022

28 MINS

28:10

14 Jul 2022