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.

 

#554

Are implanted brain chips the future?

Elon Musk’s implanted brain chip, Neuralink, is coming to the UK for clinical trials. Is controlling computers with our minds a future reality or is it all hype? Neuroscientists Dean Burnett and Christina Maher weigh in. Zoologist Jules Howard ponders the strange effects drugs in our sewage have on frogs from his garden pond. How do we measure the distance to distant galaxies? Astrophysicist Edward Gomez answers a listener's burning question. And a 101 on blood groups from Dr Lise Estcourt. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producers: Ella Hubber, Gerry Holt, Sophie Ormiston Editor: Martin Smith Production Co-ordinator: Jana Bennett-Holesworth BBC Inside Science is produced in collaboration with the Open University. ... Read more

11 Jul 2024

28 MINS

28:02

11 Jul 2024


#553

How do we solve antibiotic resistance?

The looming danger of antibiotic resistance may have fallen out of the public consciousness but is still very much in the mind of those in public healthcare and research. As promising new research is published, the University of Birmingham’s Laura Piddock and GP Margaret McCartney get to the bottom of why antibiotic resistance is still so difficult to tackle. Marine biologist Helen Scales joins us in the studio to talk about her new book “What the Wild Sea Could Be” which uses changes in the Earth’s past to predict what we can expect to happen to our oceans in the coming years. Cosmologist Andrew Pontzen speculates on what happens in and around the extreme environment of a black hole as news of the first observations of the “plunging zone” comes to light. And as the EU head to ban smoky flavoured crisps we ask what the science behind this decision is with Food scientist Stuart Farrimond. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producers: Ella Hubber and Hannah Robins Researcher: Caitlin Kennedy Editor: Martin Smith Production Co-ordinator: Jana Bennett-Holesworth ... Read more

04 Jul 2024

28 MINS

28:02

04 Jul 2024


#552

Why do we sleep?

Guest presented by Liz Bonnin. We all instinctively know that sleep is incredibly important but science doesn’t actually have a satisfying answer for why we need to sleep. There are multiple theories, but now, new research from Imperial College London has suggested that the leading idea might actually be incorrect. Science journalist Ginny Smith explains. Nearly 80 years ago, one of the rarest elements in the world, promethium, was first discovered, but it’s properties have only now been revealed. Andrea Sella, Professor of Chemistry at University College London, tells us what this means. What’s the scariest animal on the planet? Lions, crocodiles, or maybe tigers might come to mind. Yet a recent study has found that animals around the globe fear our voices far more than sounds of any other predators. Professor Liana Zanette explains how her research could help conservation efforts. Finally, we answer one of your questions. Listener Mary Evans got in touch to ask: ‘do you think it's likely that people who are widely travelled and used to eating local food and drinking tap water would have more diverse bacteria in their gut?’ Expert on all things microbiome, Megan Rossi, joins us in the studio to answer Mary’s query. If you have any questions you think we can tackle, you can always email us at insidescience@bbc.co.uk. Presenter: Liz Bonnin Producers: Hannah Robins, Ella Hubber, Sophie Ormiston Researcher: Caitlin Kennedy Editor: Martin Smith ... Read more

27 Jun 2024

28 MINS

28:20

27 Jun 2024


#551

Micro Nuclear Reactors

Guest presented by Liz Bonnin. As the UK strives to achieve net zero by 2050, nuclear energy is looking more and more likely as a key player in reaching this goal. But it’s not just massive power plants like Hinkley point C - there’s are newer smaller reactors on the scene: small and micro modular reactors. 100 to 1000 times smaller than a conventional reactor, faster to build, and put together entirely in a factory before being shipped out, theoretically, anywhere: are micro modular reactors the future of nuclear energy or too good to be true? Dean of Engineering at the University of Liverpool, Eann Patterson, has just published a paper proposing a fleet of micro modular reactors to bear the burden of our energy load and he joins us to discuss the reality. What came first, the chicken or the egg? Science writer, broadcaster and now egg expert Jules Howard joins us to answer this age old question. His book Infinite Life tells the story of how the egg propelled evolution – whether it’s bird, insect, or mammal. This month, scientist Alexandra Freeman’s appointment to the House of Lords was announced. With a background in risk and evidence communication, Alexandra tells us why she applied, what she hopes to achieve, and how the public can get involved. Presenter: Liz Bonnin Producers: Hannah Robins, Ella Hubber, Sophie Ormiston Editor: Martin Smith Production Co-ordinator: Jana Bennett-Holesworth ... Read more

20 Jun 2024

28 MINS

28:15

20 Jun 2024


#550

Is gene therapy the future?

Last week, a girl who was born deaf had her hearing restored following gene therapy. In the US, the first commercial gene therapy for sickle cell disease has just begun. And Great Ormond Street Hospital has found great success in their trials and a gene therapy for children lacking an immune system. Gene therapy is clearly having a moment. But how do these groundbreaking therapies actually work? And will they ever be truly accessible to everyone? Geneticist Professor Robin Lovell-Badge answers all. Also this week, atmospheric scientist Laura Wilcox answers an interesting listener question about the effect volcanoes can have on the weather and sticks around to dig into the connection between aerosols and weather in different regions. The exhibition “Bees: A Story of Survival” opened at the World Museum in Liverpool this month. Part of the show explains the how honeybees communicate through vibration. Physicist Martin Bencsik, who collected and studies these vibrations, plays us a few and explains their meaning. And did you get a chance to see the auroras that covered a large part of the Northern Hemisphere last weekend? The intense solar activity that caused them has some people alarm. Jim Al-Khalili, who has written a science fiction novel based on the concept, talks what is protecting us from solar flares and what could go wrong. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producers: Ella Hubber, Sophie Ormiston and Hannah Robins Editor: Martin Smith Production Co-ordinator: Jana Bennett-Holesworth ... Read more

13 Jun 2024

28 MINS

28:09

13 Jun 2024


#549

Is treated sewage worse for the environment than raw?

There has been increasing public outrage at raw sewage discharges into our rivers and seas, but new research at Lake Windermere suggests that treated sewage is as much to blame. Wastewater experts Simon Evans and Ali Morse get into the nitty gritty of sewage treatment and why it might be causing so many problems. Last week, the Sumatran orangutan Rakus made headlines when he was spotted by researchers treating a wound with a medicinal plant. A first for a wild animal. But he’s not the only animal to show self-medicating behaviour. Biologist and author of Wild Health, Cindy Engel, talks healing in the wild and what we can learn from the animals that do it. And it’s that time of year again: the Eurovision Song Contest. In fact, this year marks the 50th Anniversary since ABBA won the 1974 contest with the iconic track Waterloo. Psychology and behavioural researcher Harry Witchel tells us what gives songs at Eurovision a winning edge and tries to predict a winner based on his criteria. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producers: Hannah Robins, Ella Hubber, Sophie Ormiston Researcher: Caitlin Kennedy Editor: Martin Smith Production Co-ordinator: Jana Bennett-Holesworth ... Read more

06 Jun 2024

27 MINS

27:31

06 Jun 2024


#548

Ugly animals and asteroid Apophis

One year ago, the World Health Organisation declared that COVID-19 would no longer be categorised as a global health emergency. But the pandemic has left us with a new normal in all areas of our lives. From vaccine rollout to wastewater monitoring, we’re asking: how has COVID altered the scientific landscape? Marnie Chesterton is joined in the studio by Linda Geddes, science journalist, and Barbara Kasprzyk-Hordern, Professor in Environmental and Analytical Chemistry at the University of Bath, to discuss. Are ugly animals getting the short end of the conservation stick? Whilst a few beautiful creatures, like tigers and panda bears, get good marketing and attract the most conservation efforts, comedian and biologist Simon Watt argues that the endangered animals which are less pleasing to the eye are being forgotten. Also this week, we answer a listener’s question about the accuracy of using bug splats on cars to measure insect populations. Lead data analyst from the Kent Wildlife Trust, Lawrence Ball, gives us the details about the national citizen science survey, Bugs Matter, which sees people around the country measure insect splats on vehicle number plates as a marker of insect abundance. And science journalist Roland Pease discusses the unprecedented scientific opportunity hurtling towards Earth in the form of asteroid Apophis. It will just miss our planet – in astronomical terms at least – but its proximity has astronomers excited. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producers: Ella Hubber, Sophie Ormiston and Hannah Robins Editor: Martin Smith Production Co-ordinator: Jana Bennett-Holesworth ... Read more

30 May 2024

28 MINS

28:00

30 May 2024


#547

Can we get plastic waste under control?

As the UN tries to get a global agreement on plastic waste we hear from two delegates at the conference in Ottawa; John Chweya, a Kenyan waste picker, and plastics scientist, Steve Fletcher, discuss the impacts of plastic pollution and the possible solutions. Taylor Swift’s new album, The Tortured Poets Department, exposes the pain a break up can cause. Heartbreak is a common theme in music and art – but what does science have to say about it? Florence Williams, science journalist and author of Heartbreak: A Personal and Scientific Journey, talks us through the research on what actually happens in our bodies when we go through a break-up. The nomadic Avar empire ruled over eastern and central Europe from the sixth to the ninth century but very little was known about them – until now. From studying ancient DNA, researchers have discovered a wealth of information about how the Avars lived. Dr Lara Cassidy, Assistant Professor in Genetics at Trinity College Dublin, explains the findings, and how it’s even possible to learn so much from ancient DNA. We all know how bees great are – but what about all the other pollinators? Dr Erica McAlister from the Natural History Museum in London speaks out in defence of the fly. Presenter: Victoria Gill Producers: Hannah Robins and Sophie Ormiston Editor: Martin Smith ... Read more

23 May 2024

27 MINS

27:44

23 May 2024


#546

Do we need a new model of cosmology?

Earlier this week, some of the world's leading astrophysicists came together at The Royal Society to question the very nature of our Universe. Does the Lambda Cold Dark Matter model, which explains the evolution of the cosmos and the Big Bang, need a rethink? Dr Chris North, an astrophysicist from the University of Cardiff, joins us in the studio to explain what this model says, and why it might need to be changed. The last few weeks seem to have been a non-stop cycle of depressing climate stories, with floods in Pakistan, mass coral bleaching and last month being the hottest March ever recorded. It's perhaps no surprise that many people are anxious about the news. Vic Gill is joined by Prof Lorraine Whitmarsh, an environmental psychologist at the University of Bath, and Tom Rivett Carnac, an author, political strategist and co-host of the podcast Outrage + Optimism. Together they discuss climate anxiety, and how to stay engaged with the news without feeling overwhelmed. And with all this wet weather, how are our precious insects faring? It turns out, bumblebees might have a trick up their fuzzy sleeves when the ground gets flooded - at least according to a new experiment led by Sabrina Rondeau from the University of Ottawa. We also get bumblebee expert Dave Goulson on the line to tell us more about these charismatic insects. Presenter: Victoria Gill Producers: Alice Lipscombe-Southwell, Ella Hubber and Hannah Robins Editor: Martin Smith Production Co-ordinator: Jana Bennett-Holesworth ... Read more

16 May 2024

31 MINS

31:39

16 May 2024


#545

Bird flu outbreak in cows

A strain of highly pathogenic bird flu, H5N1, has been spreading unchecked through wild bird, and some mammal, populations for the past few years. Last week, news of a large number of dairy cows in the USA being infected with bird flu has alarmed the public and virologists alike. One farm worker has also picked up the virus and although they are not seriously ill, the jump between cattle and humans raises serious concerns over how the virus is moving and adapting. Virologist Dr Tom Peacock has the details. Also this week, thousands of eyes across America were turned to the skies to catch a glimpse of the total solar eclipse. But this event isn’t just a spectacle for the eyes – it’s a real scientific opportunity. Space physicist and electrical engineer Dr Nathaniel Frissell reveals his unusual approach to studying the eclipse via radio. And BBC reporter Georgina Rannard, who has been following the eclipse this week, tells Vic what other research scientists investigated during the four-minute window of darkness. And don’t turn your eyes away from the sky just yet, as another celestial spectacle is set to occur. About 3,000 light-years away, a pair of orbiting stars called T Coronae Borealis are not normally visible from Earth. But every 80 years or so, one of the stars in the binary system explodes, creating a ‘new’ star in our night sky. But you’ll only have a day or two to spot it. Astrophysicist Dr Rebecca Smethurst joins Vic in the studio to talk about this once-in-a-lifetime star explosion. And to close the show, the life and work of a legend. Nobel Prize-winning physicist Peter Higgs has died at the age of 94. Higgs’s biographer Professor Frank Close tells us how Higgs predicted the existence of a particle that’s fundamental to our understanding of the Universe and reveals the legacy he’s left behind. Presenter: Victoria Gill Producers: Alice Lipscombe-Southwell and Ella Hubber Editor: Martin Smith Production Co-ordinator: Jana Bennett-Holesworth ... Read more

09 May 2024

31 MINS

31:41

09 May 2024


#544

200 years of dinosaur science

In 1824, 200 years ago, Megalosaurus was the first dinosaur to ever be described in a scientific paper. William Buckland studied fossils from Stonesfield in Oxfordshire in order to describe the animal. In this episode, Victoria Gill visits palaeontologist Dr Emma Nicholls at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, who shows her those very fossils that launched the new science of palaeontology. Danielle Czerkaszyn then opens the archives to reveal the scientific illustrations of Megalosaurus by Mary Morland, which helped shape Buckland's description. But this was just the beginning. Over the coming decades, remains kept being discovered and scientists were gripped with dinosaur mania, racing to find species. Now, in 2024, we're finding new dinosaurs all the time. Victoria travels to the University of Edinburgh to meet Professor Steve Brusatte and Dr Tom Challands as they start extracting a dinosaur bone from a piece of Jurassic rock - could this be a new species? Together, they reflect on how palaeontology has changed over the last 200 years and ponder the ongoing mysteries of these charismatic animals. Presenter: Victoria Gill Producers: Alice Lipscombe-Southwell and Hannah Robins Production Co-ordinator: Jana Bennett-Holesworth  Editor: Martin Smith ... Read more

02 May 2024

27 MINS

27:52

02 May 2024


#543

Inside Your Microbiome

Microbiomes are a multi-million-pound industry. Every week, many people send off poop samples to be examined so we can learn about our own ecosystems of bacteria, virus and fungi that live in our guts, with a view to improving health. But how accurate are these tests? Microbiologist Prof Jacques Ravel is calling for better controls in what is currently an unregulated industry. He joins us along with Prof Tim Spector, scientific co-founder of personalised nutrition app ZOE, to discuss the areas of concern, and potential benefits, of this direct-to-consumer model. Nobel prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman has died at the age of 90. Widely acknowledged as one of the world's most influential psychologists, his many years of study centred on how and why we make the decisions we do. In 2011, his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, which summarizes much of his research, was published and became a best seller. We’re joined by presenter and author Claudia Hammond to unpick his legacy. The price of lab monkeys has plummeted. Used for drug development and testing, their value skyrocketed during the vaccine development period of the pandemic. But when the boom for vaccines died, the demand for (and value of) these monkeys plunged. Journalist Eleanor Olcott provides the full picture.  Are there alternatives to animal testing? Marnie visits a lab in Cambridge to find out about neural organoids, cellular clumps grown from stem cells made to replicate the brain. Developmental biologist Prof Madeline Lancaster shows her around and Dr Sarah Chan from the University of Edinburgh digs into the ethics of this cutting-edge branch of science. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producers: Florian Bohr, Hannah Robins, Louise Orchard and Imaan Moin Editor: Martin Smith Production Co-ordinator: Jana Bennett-Holesworth  BBC Inside Science is produced in collaboration with the Open University. ... Read more

25 Apr 2024

28 MINS

28:10

25 Apr 2024


#542

Our Accidental Universe

Professor and presenter, Chris Lintott, talks about his new book Our Accidental Universe; a tour of chance encounters and human error in pursuit of asteroids, pulsars, radio waves, new stars and alien life. Even with incredible technological developments, the major astronomical events of the past century are largely down to plain ol’ good luck; discovered not, as you might assume, by careful experiment, but as surprises when we have been looking for something else entirely. For instance, the most promising habitat for life beyond Earth turns out to be Saturn's tiny moon Enceladus, whose oceans were revealed when NASA's Cassini probe did a drive-by and, we get the most from the Hubble Space Telescope by pointing it at absolutely nothing! A new company has launched which aims to mine Helium-3 on the moon to sell on Earth. This rare isotope is used for supercooling quantum computers and some scientists dream of using it in nuclear fusion as a new source of renewable energy. But is this ambition realistic and, if so, could it be within reach anytime soon? Planetary scientist Sara Russell of the Natural History Museum explains all. There are many moons in our solar systems, but one of the strangest is Titan; the largest moon of the Saturn system. It gets colder than -100 degrees Celsius and has a thick atmosphere that creates weather. But its biggest mystery is the enormous, coffee-coloured dunes that cover a large part of its surface. Where did they come from? Planetary scientist Bill Bottke has a cunning theory. In our universe, some stars are twins. They originate from the same molecular clouds and should be identical, but some pairs are not as similar as you’d expect. Marnie speaks to astrophysicist Yuan-Sen Ting about his new paper which illuminates how this difference might occur. His theory is that one of the stars, perhaps the evil twin, has been busy eating up vulnerable planets...  Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producers: Louise Orchard, Florian Bohr and Imaan Moin Editor: Martin Smith Production Co-ordinator: Jana Bennett-Holesworth  BBC Inside Science is produced in collaboration with the Open University. ... Read more

18 Apr 2024

36 MINS

36:14

18 Apr 2024


#541

World’s oldest forest fossils

The world’s oldest fossilised forest was uncovered in Somerset last week. We head to palaeobotanist, Dr Christopher Berry’s, lab at Cardiff University to learn about these cladoxylopsids. They lived 390 million years ago and although they are not the ancestors of today’s trees, they reveal some extraordinary evolutionary secrets. Also, Marnie speaks to Dr Chris Thorogood of the University of Oxford Botanic Gardens about his new book Pathless Forest: The Quest to Save the World’s Largest Flowers. Called “Rafflesia” plants and found in the remotest parts of South East Asia, their flowers burst from the rain forest floor the size of pumpkins and are critically endangered. Chris talks of his world of extreme fieldwork and hair-raising expeditions, braving leeches, lizards and lethal forest swamps, to discover the rarest of rare blooms. Plus, the Wildlife Trust’s Making Friends with Molluscs campaign starts today, and I’m sure many gardeners will declare this an impossible task! We visit some allotments in Bristol to find out how people are managing slug and snail populations. And chat to Brian Eversham from the Trust of Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire, who explains why these garden creatures should be considered our friends, not foes. And finally, Dr Stewart Husband from last week’s programme returns to answer more of your burning questions about your tap water. ... Read more

11 Apr 2024

28 MINS

28:14

11 Apr 2024