CrowdScience podcast

CrowdScience

We take your questions about life, Earth and the universe to researchers hunting for answers at the frontiers of knowledge.

We take your questions about life, Earth and the universe to researchers hunting for answers at the frontiers of knowledge.

 

#384

Are our coastlines being washed away?

Around the world, coastlines are constantly changing due to the power of waves, currents and tides. Coastal areas are also some of the most heavily populated and developed land areas in the world. So it’s not hard to see how the natural process of coastal erosion can cause serious problems for us. It’s an issue that’s been bothering CrowdScience listener Anne in Miami Beach, Florida. She can see the beach from her window and wonders why after every storm, several trucks arrive to dump more sand on it. In this first of two programmes, CrowdScience visits Anne’s home in south Florida and finds out how erosion threatens Florida’s famous beaches. She speaks to geoscientist Dr Tiffany Roberts Briggs and hears why it’s such a problem for this tourist-reliant state. Tiffany explains the delicate balance between natural processes and human infrastructure. Meanwhile, the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico declared a state of emergency in April 2023 due to coastal erosion. Caroline witnesses the impacts of erosion first-hand, as Ruperto Chaparro shows her abandoned houses crumbling into the sea. But how can we quantify the rate of erosion? Dr Kevian Perez in the Graduate School of Planning at University of Puerto Rico explains the methods they use to monitor Puerto Rico’s coastlines, and how they are evaluating the effectiveness of different mitigation methods. However, some of the methods used to protect coastal communities from the encroaching sea have done more harm than good. So what are the best ways to tackle this problem? That’s what we’ll be exploring in next week’s programme. Presenter: Caroline Steel Producer: Hannah Fisher Editor: Cathy Edwards Production Co-ordinator: Liz Tuohy Studio Manager: Steve Greenwood and Bob Nettles Featuring: Dr Tiffany Roberts Briggs, Associate Professor at Florida Atlantic University Ruperto Chaparro, Director of Sea Grant Programme, University of Puerto Rico Anabela Fuentes Garcia, Villa Cristiana community leader Dr Kevian Perez, researcher at the Coastal Research and Planning Institute of Puerto Rico at the Graduate School of Planning (Photo: Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. Credit: Orlando Sentinel/Getty Images) ... Read more

19 Apr 2024

26 MINS

26:28

19 Apr 2024


#383

How do my ears sense direction?

How do we know where a sound is coming from? Another chance to hear this ear-opening episode, exploring a question from CrowdScience listener Chiletso. One day, he heard his son bounce a ball and instantly knew the direction it was travelling. How? Anand Jagatia sets out to discover what makes left, right, up and down sound so different. First, he gets blindfolded, so Alan Archer-Boyd, former auditory scientist and lead engineer at BBC R&D, can put his sound localisation skills to the test. It turns out that having two ears and pinnae, those flappy bits of cartilage on the side of your head, help a lot. Professor Eric Knudsen shares how the barn owl’s asymmetrical ears allow it to hunt mice, even in complete darkness. And Anand uncovers how far he can push his own spatial hearing. Blind activist and researcher Thomas Tajo teaches him how to echolocate like a bat, and Dr Lore Thaler explains what is going on in the brain of experienced echolocators. This programme was originally broadcast in March 2023. Presented by Anand Jagatia Produced by Florian Bohr for the BBC World Service Image: Boy with hands at his ears Credit: Silke Woweries/Getty Images ... Read more

12 Apr 2024

32 MINS

32:44

12 Apr 2024


#382

How many people have ever existed?

Today there are over eight billion people on Earth. That’s an awe-inspiring figure… but how does it compare to the vast numbers who came before us? Listener Alpha wants to know how many people have ever existed, so CrowdScience sets out to do a historical headcount. The Population Reference Bureau in the USA estimated this number back in the 90s, and have been updating their calculations ever since. Demographer Toshiko Kaneda explains how their model works, the assumptions it makes – and the huge uncertainties around the number it comes out with. We first need a date for when ‘humans’ first began, so Caroline travels to the Natural History Museum in London to meet human evolution expert Chris Stringer, and marvel at his collection of replica fossil skulls. Chris demonstrates how to distinguish our species, Homo sapiens, from other species like Neanderthals. When did these species first appear - and which of them count as human? And once you know where to start the clock, how do you estimate the numbers of people alive at different points in history? For a population demographer like Walter Scheidel, it helps that some ancient civilisations kept detailed censuses, a few of which have survived to the present day. Caroline and Walter pour over one of these census fragments, and learn how to combine them with other archaeological clues to get some very rough numbers. And finally: what does the future of our population look like? Poonam Muttreja from the Population Foundation of India discusses developments in the world’s most populous country, as well as the big demographic trends ahead for humanity. Presenter: Caroline Steel Producer: Phil Sansom Additional Recording: Umaru Fofana Editor: Cathy Edwards Production Co-ordinator: Connor Morgans Studio Manager: Sue Maillot Featuring: Toshiko Kaneda, Technical Director of Demographic Research, Population Reference Bureau Chris Stringer, Research Leader in Human Evolution, Natural History Museum London Walter Scheidel, Professor of Classics and History, Stanford University Poonam Muttreja, Executive Director, Population Foundation of India ... Read more

05 Apr 2024

26 MINS

26:28

05 Apr 2024


#381

Could climate change lead to more volcanic eruptions?

We spend a lot of our time thinking about climate change, but listener Paul has a question that isn’t usually part of the conversation. He wants to know whether a hotter atmosphere will affect how often volcanoes erupt, or make them more explosive when they do. CrowdScience travels to New Zealand to search for answers, exploring volcanic craters and discovering traditional Maori knowledge about volcanoes. Contributors: Geoff Kilgour, Volcanologist, Geological and Nuclear Sciences Taupo, New Zealand Heather Handley, Volcanologist, University of Twente, The Netherlands Pouroto Ngaropo, Historian and Matauranga Māori expert, Rotorua, New Zealand Presenter: Caroline Steel Producer: Emily Bird Editor: Cathy Edwards Production Co-Ordinator: Connor Morgans Sound Engineer: Steve Greenwood (Photo: Icelandic volcano. Credit: KRISTINN MAGNUSSON/Getty Images) ... Read more

29 Mar 2024

27 MINS

27:01

29 Mar 2024


#380

Do animals have anxious habits like us?

Many of us have habits that calm us down in times of stress. Things we find deeply comforting, like sucking our thumb or biting our nails. We might not even be aware we’re doing them, but they play a fundamental role in helping us regulate our emotions. Our question this week comes from CrowdScience listener and nail-biter, Ash. He wants to know where these habits come from. And since his pet dog is also a nail-biter: do we share these traits with other animals? Recently, a video of a mouse cleaning up a man’s shed took the internet by storm. Was this a house-proud mouse, or was it the animal's way of making sense of a frenetic environment? An emerging field of scientists focusing on animal behaviour and emotions help us shed some light on such questions. Along the way we meet a dog training specialist, learn what a sniffari is, go for playtime with a thumb-sucking otter, and visit an OCD clinic. We’ll also be getting tips on how to give your pets the best home environment, and meet an animal enrichment officer in South Africa, who knows how to spot the signs of an unhelpful habit developing. Contributors: Karolina Westlund, Ethologist, Stockholm University and ILLIS Ben Terry, CBT Therapist, Priory Hospital North London Karin Pienaar, Animal Behaviourist, COAPE International Candice Ward, Animal Behaviourist, Johannesburg Zoo Jaak Panksepp clip: The science of emotions: Jaak Panksepp at TEDxRainier Producer: Robbie Wojciechowski Presenter: Alex Lathbridge Editor: Cathy Edwards Production co-ordinator: Connor Morgans Additional recording by Elna Schutz (Photo: Portrait of border collie puppy biting a curtain. Credit: Rawlstock/Getty Images) ... Read more

22 Mar 2024

27 MINS

27:29

22 Mar 2024


#379

Is the BMI fatphobic?

Crowd Science listener Maik wants to know what the BMI is and what his BMI score says about his body. He trains dogs for a living and wonders if, like different breeds of dog, we simply have different body types? Marnie Chesterton comes up with some answers, talking to doctors about how the BMI is used and misused in clinical practice, and looks at some alternative methods for measuring our body composition. She also sits down with philosopher Kate Manne to discuss the realities of living in a fat-phobic world. We hear from Tonga in the South Pacific, where high BMI scores have labelled the country highly obese. But this is not necessarily how Tongans see themselves. And Marnie finds out if the BMI will continue to be used across the world as an important health marker or whether it is destined for the scrap heap of medical history. Contributors: Professor Kate Manne Dr Francesco Rubino Dr Naveed Sattar Professor Brendon Noble Technician Leah Siegel Fononga Pulu Sela Latailakepa Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Richard Walker Editor: Cathy Edwards Production co-ordinator: Connor Morgans Studio manager: Emma Harth ... Read more

15 Mar 2024

29 MINS

29:15

15 Mar 2024


#378

Do we all see the same colour?

CrowdScience listener Gregory wants to know what affects the way we see the colours of the world. He was looking at a blue summer sky with a friend and they got to wondering whether they both see the same colour blue. So what does influence our vision of the colours that surround us? Could eye colour have anything to do with it? And can we ever really know if your blue sky is the same as mine? Caroline Steel comes up with some answers, talking to colour scientists about their research into the multiple factors that enable us to see in multi colours, from the intricate biology of our eye to the changing environment around us. She also investigates her own colour vision and solves a personal mystery, discovering why the world has always looked a slightly different colour from each eye. Contributors: Professor Jay Neitz, Department of Opthalmology, University of Washington, US Professor Hannah Smithson, Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford Dr Juan Perea García, researcher, Department of Cognitive Psychology, University of Leiden Dr Lauren Welbourne, researcher, Department of Psychology, University of York Dr Adam Bibbey, lecturer in sport, Department of Sport, Oxford Brookes University Presenter: Caroline Steel Producer: Jo Glanville Editor: Cathy Edwards Production co-ordinator: Connor Morgans Studio manager: Jackie Margerum (Photo: LWA) ... Read more

08 Mar 2024

29 MINS

29:10

08 Mar 2024


#377

How bad is our data for the planet?

Storing your data in ‘the cloud’ might sound like an ethereal, intangible place, but it’s actually a physical location - a data centre. CrowdScience listener Art is worried about how much energy and water data centres are consuming. He’s from Ireland, where data centres are gobbling up almost 20% of the national electricity supply and that’s growing, fast. So how much energy and water are data centres using globally? And how can they become more sustainable? To answer Art’s question CrowdScience heads to chilly western Norway to visit a data centre hidden deep within a mountain, that’s said to be one of the most efficient in the world. And we hear how a data centre in South Africa is saving water and dealing with crippling power cuts by generating its own renewable energy. Do we just need to stream less TV and reduce our email inbox? With the help of carbon footprint expert Mike Berners-Lee, we crunch the numbers to find out. Featuring: Svein Atle Hagaseth, CEO of Green Mountain data centres in Norway Mike Berners-Lee, Professor at Lancaster University’s Environment Centre and consultant at Small World Consulting Thulani Ncube, Group Energy Lead at Africa Data Centres Presenter: Anand Jagatia Producer: Sophie Eastaugh Editor: Cathy Edwards Studio Manager: Donald MacDonald Production: Jonathan Harris & Connor Morgans Additional Recording by: Kobus van Niekerk ... Read more

01 Mar 2024

27 MINS

27:20

01 Mar 2024


#376

Why do we have wisdom teeth?

Why do humans have wisdom teeth if so many of them get removed soon after they appear? Wisdom teeth, the third molars in the back of our mouths, are so called because they normally appear in late teenage, early adulthood – the time in life we supposedly have learned some wisdom. But around 25% of people don’t develop all four. Of those that do emerge, it is not uncommon for them to appear at nasty angles, jutting into the tooth next door causing potentially dangerous infections and pain. Because of this, for decades many people have them surgically removed. Listener Khaleel was preparing to have his remaining wisdom teeth removed when he wrote to CrowdScience to ask about them. Given that they can seem to cause more harm than good, why has evolution resulted in these troublesome teeth? But many people have perfectly uneventful relationships with their wisdom teeth, so have we perhaps removed more than we needed to over the years? Anand Jagatia chews it over with the help of surgeons and dentists to try to extract the truth – why DO we have wisdom teeth? Featuring: Tanya M Smith, Professor in the Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution at Griffith University, Australia Patrick Magennis, Consultant Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeon at University Hospitals Aintree, Liverpool UK Verena Toedtling, Dentist and Specialist Oral Surgeon, UK Presented by Anand Jagatia Produced by Alex Mansfield ... Read more

23 Feb 2024

28 MINS

28:53

23 Feb 2024


#375

What time was the first clock set to?

When the first person set the very first clock, how did they know what time to set it to? This question, from listener Chris in the UK, sends CrowdScience off on a quest into the history of timekeeping. From sundials to water clocks, from uneven hours to precision seconds determined by the vibration of an atom, we examine how we came to measure time. We visit possibly the oldest working mechanical clock in the world to discover how its time was originally set; and hear how the time we go by today is not quite the same as it was in the past. Will all this be enough to solve Chris' question, or has he stumped the team? Featuring: Ian Westworth, Clock Mechanic Dr. Chad Orzel, Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Union College Anna Rolls, Curator of Clocks, Clockmakers’ Museum Peter, Guide, Salisbury Cathedral Dr. Jun Ye, Physicist at NIST (National Institutes of Standards and Technology) and The University of Colorado, Boulder. Presenter: Caroline Steel Producer: Margaret Sessa-Hawkins Editor: Cathy Edwards Production Co-ordinator: Jonathan Harris Studio Manager: Jackie Margerum (Photo:Stopwatch on red background. Credit: Martin Poole / Getty Images). ... Read more

16 Feb 2024

27 MINS

27:01

16 Feb 2024


#374

When will the next earthquake hit?

In 2011, CrowdScience listener Amanda survived the devastating earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand. It arrived unannounced - as all earthquakes do - leaving her with no time to prepare a response. So Amanda wants to know whether science will ever be able to give us advance warning of quakes. To explore her question CrowdScience heads to New Zealand to meet listener Amanda, as well as the brains behind the country’s earthquake forecasting models. We dig in a field for thousand-year-old tectonic clues that could help us understand when the next earthquake might strike. But even if we could get a head start against a quake, would we respond in the right way? Please note: earthquake response advice varies by location. Please check local guidance and individual building procedures. Featuring: Nicola Litchfield, Principal Scientist in Paleoseismology at GNS, Wellington, New Zealand Matt Gerstenberger, Seismologist and leader of the National Seismic Hazard Model, GNS, Wellington, New Zealand Andy Howell, University of Canterbury, New Zealand Lauren Vinnell, Lecturer in Emergency Management at the Joint Centre for Disaster Research at Massey University Presenter: Caroline Steel Producer: Emily Bird Editor: Cathy Edwards Production: Jonathan Harris, Jana Holesworth Sound Engineer: Steve Greenwood (Photo: Earthquake damage in Christchurch. Credit: John Crux Photography) ... Read more

09 Feb 2024

27 MINS

27:27

09 Feb 2024


#373

Why do we daydream?

Have you ever been through a romantic break up, unable to shift the ex from your thoughts? You are, obviously, not alone… Listener Elkin, experienced just that. But rather than wallowing in self-pity, he sought out an explanation. Where better to get it, than from CrowdScience. Now, Alex Lathbridge is putting on his thinking cap to find out why we daydream? Presenter: Alex Lathbridge Producer: Harrison Lewis Editor: Martin Smith Production: Jonathan Harris Featuring: Giulia Poerio, Lecturer in Psychology, University of Sussex. Kalina Christoff, Professor of Psychology, University of British Columbia. Eli Sommer, Israeli Professor of Clinical Psychology, University of Haifa. Sophie Forster, Reader in Psychology, University of Sussex (Photo: Man daydreaming surrounded by clouds. Credit: jacquesdurocher / Getty Images) ... Read more

02 Feb 2024

30 MINS

30:52

02 Feb 2024


#372

How should we measure cleverness?

Presenter Marnie Chesterton and the team pit their wits against a multitude of mind-bending puzzles from an old TV gameshow - all in the name of answering a question from Antonia in Cyprus: how do we work out how clever someone is? Is IQ the best measure of cleverness? Why do we put such weight on academic performance? And where does emotional intelligence fit into it all? In the search for answers Marnie and the team are locked in rooms to battle mental, physical, mystery and skill-based challenges, all against the clock. Unpicking their efforts in the studio are a global team of cleverness researchers: Dr Stuart Ritchie from Kings College London, Prof Sophie von Stumm from York University and Dr Alex Burgoyne from Georgia Institute of Technology in the US. They are challenged to face the toughest questions in their field: Why do men and women tend to perform differently in these tests? Is our smartness in our genes? And what about the Flynn Effect – where IQs appear to have risen, decade after decade, around the world. Producer/presenter: Marnie Chesterton Editor: Richard Collings Production co-ordinator: Jonathan Harris (Photo Man doing puzzle. Credit: Getty Images) ... Read more

26 Jan 2024

26 MINS

26:27

26 Jan 2024


#371

Were humans ever semi-aquatic?

What evidence is there for a semi-aquatic period in human evolutionary history? That’s the question that’s been bothering listener Dave in Thailand. He thinks our lack of hair and love of water might indicate that, at some point, we were more water-based than we are now. But what does science have to say on the matter? The theory that our ape ancestors returned to the water for a phase in our evolutionary history is a controversial idea that most scientists disagree with. Anand Jagatia chats to Dr Melissa Ilardo, assistant professor at the University of Utah, about our dive reflex - a physiological response we display when submerged underwater, which helps direct oxygen towards vital organs. But this is not a response that is unique to humans - it is found in all mammals. Experts say it developed long before all apes split off in the evolutionary tree. To find out more about the theory itself Anand hears from John Langdon, emeritus professor at the University of Indianapolis. He explains why the aquatic ape theory is not generally accepted by anthropologists, what the fossil record can tell us about our evolutionary path and why evolution is much more complex than the aquatic ape hypothesis suggests. While there may be little evidence of a semi-aquatic period in our evolutionary past, there are some communities around the world that have adapted to utilising their watery environments in more recent evolutionary history. Anand speaks to Dr Nicole Smith-Guzman at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute who has found evidence that ancient populations in Panama were habitually diving in the sea for shells and seafood. She explains how she can piece together evidence from different sources to detect the activity of ancient populations. And Dr Melissa Ilardo explains how evolutionary pressure can cause physical changes in isolated communities, as our bodies ultimately adapt to help us thrive in more watery environments. Producer: Hannah Fisher Presenter: Anand Jagatia Editor: Richard Collings Production co-ordinator: Jonathan Harris Sound engineer: Jackie Margerum (Photo: Woman swimming underwater. Credit: Petrelos/Getty Images) ... Read more

19 Jan 2024

26 MINS

26:50

19 Jan 2024


#370

Can planting trees solve the climate crisis?

Our question this week comes from a father and his two young boys. They want to know whether it’s possible to plant enough trees to soak up all the extra carbon we are putting into the atmosphere? The quest to find answers takes us to a remote reforestation project in the Carpathian Mountains in Romania which could be a model for other projects looking to tackle the climate crisis through reforestation. We speak to experts to find out how much tree planting and reforestation can do in helping combat the climate crisis. Presenter: Caroline Steel Producer: Margaret Sessa-Hawkins Editor: Richard Collings ... Read more

12 Jan 2024

26 MINS

26:29

12 Jan 2024


#369

Will electric cars help solve noise pollution?

Noise pollution from vehicles in the public space has a huge impact on human health. But as the world switches to quieter electric-powered means of transport there’s a debate about whether we will actually see any noticeable improvement to our quality of life. Discovering more than just engineering solutions to the problem, CrowdScience visits one of the world’s loudest cities, Mumbai in India. It is a place where noise has become a way of life. But is that all about to change? Presenter: Alex Lathbridge Producer: Richard Walker Editor: Richard Collings ... Read more

05 Jan 2024

28 MINS

28:03

05 Jan 2024


#368

2023 Year End Extravaganza, Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of our year-end extravaganza and the final episode of 2023! We’ve had a brilliant year hunting down the answers to your science questions - on everything from food and phobias to friction and flying - and in this episode presenter Anand Jagatia is revisiting some of the best stories we covered. We’re bringing you some extra juicy bonus content that we couldn’t fit in to those shows first time round. Hannah Fisher joins Anand to revisit an episode she produced about the microbiome, the community of tiny organisms living both on and inside us. During that show Hannah took presenter Caroline Steel to a microbiome museum in the Netherlands called Micropia. And one thing from Micropia that never got aired was the kiss-o-meter, a device that measures how many microbes you exchange when you kiss! Micropia curator Jasper Buikx explains the science behind the kiss-o-meter, and then Caroline Steel tries it for herself! Microbes aren’t just living on and in humans and animals - they’re pretty much everywhere in our environment. And to illustrate this CrowdScience producer Marijke Peters brings Anand a bonus interview with a professional surfer who’s also a bioscientist. Cliff Kapono undertook a scientific project travelling around the world to take microbiome samples from surfers in different countries. He discovered a fascinating global connection. Surfers are linked together by microbes on their skin that they get from the water around them. Intriguingly, he describes how this might affect our perception of who we are as humans. Caroline Steel updates us on an interview she did with indigenous Australian astronomer Peter Swanton. Peter appeared on CrowdScience telling an ancient Australian folktale about a man who sacrificed himself to save his brother. The story, which has been handed down through several generations, provides possible evidence for an early observation of a supernova. You can hear that story in the episode “Why is the sun at the centre?” Today we hear two extra stories that originally got cut from the broadcast due to time constraints. They are beautiful and poignant tales that reveal the depth of indigenous scientific achievement and the extraordinary significance of the night sky. Presenter: Anand Jagatia Producer: Phil Sansom Editor: Richard Collings Production Co-ordinator: Jonathan Harris Studio Managers: Tim Heffer and Cath McGee Featuring: Jasper Buikx, scientific curator & spokesperson, ARTIS-Micropia Prof. Cliff Kapono, surfer & molecular bioscientist, School of Ocean Futures at Arizona State University Peter Swanton, indigenous research associate, Australian National University ... Read more

29 Dec 2023

26 MINS

26:31

29 Dec 2023


#367

2023 Year-End Extravaganza, Part 1

Welcome to Part 1 of CrowdScience’s year-end extravaganza! It’s an extra-festive episode this week. For those who celebrate it, Christmas is the perfect time to pause and look back at the year just gone. Here on CrowdScience we’ve had a great 2023: we answered dozens of listener questions, ranging from climbing plants and ostriches to panic attacks and the weight of the internet. This week presenter Anand Jagatia magically appears with a Santa’s sack full of special features. We’re catching up with some of our favourite guests from the past year and answering some of the extra questions that we never got the chance to cover. First up we hear from presenter Tim Clare who we first heard in the episode “Why do some people have panic attacks?” He takes Anand through his new book – it's about board games: why we play them, how they’ve existed throughout history and what he’s learned about himself in the process of writing it. Then it’s time for a bonus question. The CrowdScience team often get questions about noise pollution. One listener got in touch to ask whether the transition to electric vehicles will reduce this noise. Acoustic scientist Kurt Fristrup and epidemiologist Erica Walker give their perspectives on this question, and how sound and noise can sometimes be very different things. CrowdScience listener Marie - who originally starred in an episode about why she doesn’t have any sense of time - returns. Since the programme she has been speaking to psychologists about her problem and tells Anand what more she’s learnt. We received another bonus question after a show in 2023 about AI: why can’t artificial intelligence be designed to explain it’s decisions? Producer Phil returns to data scientist Briana Brownell from the original episode to ask her why AI decision making is so very complex. Finally, as it’s the season for holiday music, we’re asking what makes the genre so distinctive? Composer Jane Watkins - who originally created the sound of a panic attack for a CrowdScience episode - brings in her musical keyboard to demonstrate what makes a Christmas song so specifically ‘a Christmas song’. It’s all topped-off with the premiere of a happy and heart-warming song performed by the CrowdScience Christmas Choir – a little gift for our loyal listeners. Presenter: Anand Jagatia Producer: Phil Sansom Editor: Richard Collings Production Co-ordinator: Jonathan Harris Studio Managers: Tim Heffer and Cath McGhee Featuring: Tim Clare, author/poet/podcaster Dr. Kurt Fristrup, acoustic scientist, Colorado State University Prof. Erica Walker, RGSS Assistant Professor of Epidemiology, Brown University School of Public Health Marie Bergholtz Briana Brownell, data scientist Jane Watkins, composer ... Read more

22 Dec 2023

35 MINS

35:59

22 Dec 2023


#366

Are seeds alive?

Seeds are crucial to human existence – we eat them, we grow them and then we eat what they become. But what is a seed and how come it can sit there doing nothing for ages and then suddenly, when the conditions are right, burst into a plant? That’s what CrowdScience listener Anke has been wondering. She runs an aquaponic salad farm near Stockholm in Sweden and she germinates thousands of seeds every week. With a bit of moisture and light, seeds that have been dormant for months can become leafy greens in just a few weeks. So are seeds alive, are they on some kind of life support, or is something else going on? Presenter Caroline Steel sets off to Sweden to meet Anke, before heading for the Nordgen seed bank near Malmö. There she discovers how seeds being stored for future generations are tested for viability, and wonders what’s going on inside a seed that allows it to remain asleep before suddenly coming to life. How does a seed decide that the time is right? We hear about one of the world’s longest running science experiments - a real-life treasure hunt that takes place every twenty years in Michigan, USA. Plant biologists tramp through the snow looking for bottles of seeds that were buried nearly a century and a half ago. Once found they try to germinate them. What superpowers does a seed need to be able to last that long? Caroline also meets the woman who tried to grow date seeds that had been discarded at the palace of Herod the Great 2000 years ago, and ended up with previously extinct trees that produce delicious fruit. Surely a seed can’t have been alive for that long. Or can it? Contributors: Anke Johanna van Lenteren, Johannas Stadsodlingar, Sweden Johan Axelsson, Nordic Genetic Resource Center, Sweden Prof George Bassel, University of Warwick, UK Dr Grace Fleming, Michigan State University, USA Dr Sarah Sallon, Hadassah Medical Center, Israel Presenter: Caroline Steel Producer: Ben Motley Editor: Richard Collings Production Coordinator: Jonathan Harris (Photo: Hands holding spinach seeds. Credit: Vince Streano / Getty Images) ... Read more

15 Dec 2023

27 MINS

27:19

15 Dec 2023


#365

Where does our fat go when we exercise?

If, like this week’s Crowdscience listener Lili, you enjoy working out in the gym, you may have wondered where your fat disappears to when you exercise? The short answer is that we convert it to energy that powers a whole range of physical processes - from breathing to walking as well as lying down and doing nothing. But the science behind energy expenditure is a little more complicated than that. Presenter Anand Jagatia jumps on an exercise bike to have his metabolism measured and learns that he may be relying on an entirely different source of fuel as he works up a sweat. Is all that hard work worth the effort it involves? Recent research suggests there is a limit to the number of calories humans can burn and that engaging in physical activity is not always a sure-fire way to keep trim. So if working out is not the best way to lose weight, how about harnessing our own fat to tackle the complications of obesity? It used to be thought brown fat was exclusive to babies (and bears) but we now know adults have some of it too. Anand discovers that it appears to play a vital role in combatting a range of chronic diseases including hypertension and diabetes. Presenter: Anand Jagatia Producer: Marijke Peters Editor: Richard Collings Production co-ordinator: Jonathan Harris (Photo: Person squeezing their tummy. Credit: Getty Images) ... Read more

08 Dec 2023

26 MINS

26:27

08 Dec 2023


#364

What is brainwashing?

*Warning* This episode includes references to suicide. When listener Ben heard about a Kenyan “starvation cult” in the news, he wondered whether the members of this group had been brainwashed. Is it possible to control someone’s mind? In this episode presenter Caroline Steel learns how easily people can be influenced. She hears what it’s like to be part of a cult, and gets to the bottom of a decades-long debate: does brainwashing exist? And, if so, how does it work? Presenter: Caroline Steel Producer: Florian Bohr Editor: Richard Collings Production Co-ordinator: Jonathan Harris Studio Managers: Donald McDonald and Emma Harth Featuring: Anthony Pratkanis, Emeritus Professor of Psychology, University of California, Santa Cruz Alexandra Stein, Honorary Research Fellow, University of Sussex Eileen Barker, Professor Emeritus of Sociology, London School of Economics (Image: Washing a brain. Credit: Cemile Bingol / Getty Images). ... Read more

01 Dec 2023

36 MINS

36:56

01 Dec 2023


#363

What’s the difference between reading and listening to books?

CrowdScience listener Michael wants to know whether the brain responds differently if we listen to books instead of reading them. Do we retain information in the same way? And is there a difference between fiction and non-fiction? Anand Jagatia finds out whether curling up with a good book is better than putting on his headphones. She is speaks to Prof Fatma Deniz from the Technical University of Berlin; Prof Naomi Baron from American University, Washington DC; Prof Patrick Nunn from the University of Sunshine Coast, Queensland and The Guesthouse Storytellers. Presenter: Anand Jagatia Producer: Jo Glanville Editor: Richard Collings Production co-ordinator: Jonathan Harrison Sound engineer: Andrew Garratt (Photo: Senior man wearing headphones listening to an audiobook. Credit: pixdeluxe/Getty Images) ... Read more

24 Nov 2023

27 MINS

27:45

24 Nov 2023


#362

Why do we lie?

Lying is something all humans do. We find it in every culture around the world. It’s in the world of work, in our relationships and online. It’s all pervasive and hard to escape. Our question this week is from listener Anthony from Cambodia. He asked us to find out why we lie, and wants to know how conscious we are of the lies that we tell? CrowdScience’s Caroline Steel is in the hot seat, on a journey where she will attempt to untangle the complex story behind lying. It’s a subject scientists and psychologists have been studying for a long time. It’s also something writers, philosophers and theologists have been interpreting for thousands of years. But we’re only now really starting to get to grips with how it works as a human behaviour. There are lies in our folklore, lies in the media and also lies in everyday conversation. It’s something we’ve all had to learn to navigate at some point in our lives. In this episode the CrowdScience team unravels the mysteries surrounding the behaviour and the art of lying. Our journey will take us to meet the world’s ‘second best liar’, an award she picked up at West Virginia’s Liar Contest. We’ll also meet a comedian who’s proud of the down-to-earth plain honesty of Dutch people. An academic who has studied thousands of children’s brains will explain when we first start learning to lie. And we’ll hear about new research using magnetic resonance imaging, commonly known as MRI scans, which is helping to show how the more we actually lie, the less our brain reacts telling us not to. Caroline looks at how lying changes from culture to culture. Do we really all lie? And do we lie in the same way? The surprising and intriguing answer is found in how early it develops in us as a human behaviour. Contributors: Prof Kang Lee, Professor in Applied Psychology and Human Development at Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto Prof Tali Sharot, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London Ian Leslie, journalist and author of ‘Born Liars’ Ariana Kincaid, Champion Liar at West Virginia Liars Contest Derek Scott Mitchell, actor and comedian | @letsdoubledutch on Instagram Readings by Kitty O'Sullivan Presenter: Caroline Steel Producer: Robbie Wojciechowski Editor: Richard Collings Production Co-ordinator: Jonathan Harris Studio Managers: Emma Harth, Donald MacDonald, Andrew Garratt (Photo: Young Businessman Interviews for new job. Credit: Andrew Rich/ Getty Images) ... Read more

17 Nov 2023

26 MINS

26:55

17 Nov 2023


#361

What will 1.5° of warming look like?

Our planet is quickly approaching 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). Scientists say we might cross this milestone in just six years. Listener Julian wants to know what life will look like on the other side of that threshold. With the help of climate scientists, the BBC’s Anand Jagatia dives into the worlds of virtual climate models. From heatwaves to higher humidity indices to extreme precipitation and drought, he gets a picture of what's to come. We also venture to places that are warming both faster and more slowly than the global average. In a remote village in Alaska residents are already dealing with life-changing permafrost thaw and ground that's melting beneath their feet. Permafrost expert Sue Natali tells us what this unexpected thawing ground means for the planet as it releases carbon and methane we weren't necessarily counting on. In Indian cities, temperatures were already high, but they're not rising as quickly as climate scientists had initially predicted. We hear why this is and why it might be a big problem in the not- too-distant future. Anand also speaks to television series writer Dorothy Fortenberry about how science informed plotlines in her new show Extrapolations. This episode is not just about what climate change will bring -- but what it will feel like. Presenter: Anand Jagatia Producer: Sam Baker Reporters: Sunni Bean & Chhavi Sachdev Editor: Richard Collings Production Co-ordinator: Jonathan Harris Studio Manager: Tim Heffer Featuring: Dorothy Fortenberry, Extrapolations, Apple TV Tom Matthews, Department of Geography, King's College London Sue Natali, Woodwell Climate Research Center Morris Alexie, Tribal Liaison, Alaska Native village of Nunapicuaq (Nunapitchuk) Rakesh Kumar, India’s Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (Photo: Two children look out at floating sea ice. Credit: StutterStockX / Getty Images) ... Read more

10 Nov 2023

39 MINS

39:48

10 Nov 2023