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Discovery podcast

Discovery

Explorations in the world of science.

Explorations in the world of science.

 

#299

Earthshot 3 - The prize winners

Over the last 2 weeks we have featured the 15 finalists in the Earthshot prize, an initiative to highlight and award projects designed to conserve and sustain natural environments, and improve our lives in ways that are sensitive to issues such as climate change and biodiversity loss. Here we discuss this year’s winning projects and what future investment could mean for them. There are five prize categories with a million pounds up for grabs in each. Protect and restore nature. Clean our air. Revive our oceans. Build a waste-free world. Fix our climate. Image: Europe, Middle East and Africa region on planet Earth from space. (Elements by NASA) Credit: Harvepino/Getty Images ... Read more

18 Oct 2021

27 MINS

27:04

18 Oct 2021


#298

Earthshot 2 – Tackling our energy crisis

Just how do we balance the growing demand for electricity worldwide with the need to reduce fossil fuel emissions to address climate change? In our second programme on the Earthshot prize Chhavi Sachdev looks at some of the solutions. From projects looking at providing green hydrogen to industry worldwide and remote communities, to village scale solar electricity networks in Bangladesh and a portable pay as you go powerpack in Nigeria. Also how to provide a livelihood for people who live in areas where conservation concerns mean they are no longer able to follow their traditional hunting practices . And we feature solutions for dealing with our wastes in their many forms from cleaning up polluted water to recycling human and agricultural organic waste – including an innovative city based system for collecting and redistributing food that would otherwise be destroyed. The Earthshot Prize is an initiative from the Royal Foundation designed to highlight and reward inspiring solutions to some of the world’s greatest challenges. There are 5 categories with a million pound prize available in each. Protect and restore nature. Clean our air. Revive our oceans. Build a waste-free world. Fix our climate. Image: Earth at night, Credit: Roydee/Getty Images ... Read more

11 Oct 2021

27 MINS

27:34

11 Oct 2021


#297

Earthshot 1

While international meetings to discuss climate change and polices that affect the world can seem rather distant to us as individuals, on a local level there are many exciting and creative initiatives all over the world where people are developing practical solutions to the environmental problems they see. The Earthshot prize highlights many of these projects, ideas and initiatives which have the potential to make a difference locally and globally. In this three part series Chhavi Sachdev looks at the practical work of the prize nominees, and profiles their solutions on a range of subjects; protecting nature, cleaning the air, ocean revival, climate change and waste. Picture: Earth floating in space, Credit: Chris Clor/Getty Images ... Read more

04 Oct 2021

27 MINS

27:36

04 Oct 2021


#296

The Evidence: To boost or not to boost?

The divide between the Covid vaccine haves and have-nots has been described as “criminal”, with only 20% of people in low and middle income countries having had one dose, compared with 80% in higher income countries. Countries with high vaccination rates have been called on to give up their place in the vaccine queue. The dual-track global vaccination programme has led to real anger, made worse by announcements of booster programmes in richer countries (despite the World Health Organisation calling for such plans to be put on hold). Claudia Hammond and her panel of global experts discuss the scale of vaccine inequity and consider whether evidence of waning vaccine immunity justifies the rollout of booster jabs, or if the soundest scientific case dictates everybody in the world should be vaccinated first. Claudia’s guests include Dr Yodi Alakija, co-chair of the African Union’s Delivery Alliance for Covid-19 in Abuja, Nigeria, Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, the World Health Organisation’s Technical Lead for Covid in Geneva, Switzerland and two world leading immunologists, Dr Peter Openshaw, Professor of Experimental Medicine at Imperial College, London, UK and Dr Akiko Iwasaki, Professor of Immunobiology and Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology at Yale University in the US. Produced by: Fiona Hill, Paula McGrath and Maria Simons Studio Engineers: Jackie Marjoram ... Read more

02 Oct 2021

50 MINS

50:05

02 Oct 2021


#295

China's great science leap

President Xi Jinping is investing seriously into his strategic vision of turning China into a nation of scientific pace-setters. China’s past contributions to modern-science have been proportionally lacklustre, but with a reinvigorated focus over the past two decades, China is fast turning from imitator to innovator. What might this increasing scientific prowess mean for the future of China’s development as well for the international scientific community? Whereas once many Chinese scientists chose to go abroad to further their careers, presenter Dr Kevin Fong hears how the government has sought to lure its brightest researchers back and what that means for both scientific collaborations and the culture of science in China and the UK. As scientific research relies on transparent information sharing, what are the challenges of collaborating with an authoritarian regime? In this second episode Kevin explores China’s booming space programme and quantum advancements; from a newly built space station to the launch of the world's first quantum satellite. Kevin speaks to Professor Jian-Wei Pan, a scientist whose illustrious career is a list of quantum firsts and hears how China is fast making inroads into quantum computing and communications. We imagine what a quantum future - with China at the forefront - might look like and whether this potentially game-changing technology will be developed in a collaborative or competitive spirit. Image: Wenchang Space Launch Centre in China's Hainan province, Credit: Photo by STR/AFP/Getty Images ... Read more

27 Sep 2021

27 MINS

27:09

27 Sep 2021


#294

China's great science leap

President Xi Jinping is investing seriously into his strategic vision of turning China into a nation of scientific pace-setters. China’s past contributions to modern science have been proportionally lacklustre, but with a reinvigorated focus over the past two decades, China is fast turning from imitator to innovator. What might this increasing scientific prowess mean for the future of China’s development, as well as for the international scientific community? Whereas once many Chinese scientists chose to go abroad to further their careers, presenter Dr Kevin Fong hears how the government has sought to lure its brightest researchers back. He asks what that means for both scientific collaborations and the culture of science in China and the UK. As scientific research relies on transparent information sharing, what are the challenges of collaborating with an authoritarian regime? In this first episode, Kevin Fong hears how Chinese science has advanced over recent decades following a low point during the Chinese cultural revolution. He speaks to a Chinese bio-chemist about his career in the US and finds out why he decided to move back to China to start a biotech business. At Loughborough University, Kevin meets a team of researchers working on Artificial Intelligence tools with Chinese counterparts, to help monitor and predict air pollution. But are Western countries equal partners and beneficiaries of these academic partnerships? As China is set to become the UK’s most significant research partner, at a time of rising geopolitical tensions, we examine how the UK might navigate these choppy waters and what the risks and benefits of scientific collaboration might be. (Photo: Chinese scientist at work, Credit: Guang Niu/Getty Images) ... Read more

20 Sep 2021

27 MINS

27:34

20 Sep 2021


#293

Covid origins: The science

Presenter: Roland Pease Picture: Wuhan Residents Told Not To Leave As Coronavirus Pneumonia Spreads, Credit: Stringer/Getty Images ... Read more

13 Sep 2021

39 MINS

39:56

13 Sep 2021


#292

Future vaccines

The COVID19 pandemic has revolutionised the way vaccines are made, and underlined the inequalities in access to vaccines. But will it leave a legacy? Roland Pease explores the potential for mRNA and other revolutionary vaccines to make future health protection faster, safer and more flexible, whether 'universal' vaccines will give broader protection, and how access to vaccines can be made more equitable. Picture: Coronavirus vaccines on the production line, Credit: MikeMareen/Getty Images ... Read more

06 Sep 2021

33 MINS

33:16

06 Sep 2021


#291

Tamsin Edwards on the uncertainty in climate science

Certainty is comforting. Certainty is quick. But science is uncertain. And this is particularly true for people who are trying to understand climate change. Climate scientist, Tamsin Edwards tackles this uncertainty head on. She quantifies the uncertainty inherent in all climate change predictions to try and understand which of many possible storylines about the future of our planet are most likely to come true. How likely is it that the ice cliffs in Antarctica will collapse into the sea causing a terrifying amount of sea level rise? Even the best supercomputers in the world aren’t fast enough to do all the calculations we need to understand what might be going on, so Tamsin uses statistical tools to fill in the gaps. She joined the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2018 and is currently working on the 6th Assessment Report which will inform the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP26. She tells Jim Al-Khalili about her life and work and why she wishes more people would have the humility (and confidence) to consider the possibility that they might be wrong. ... Read more

30 Aug 2021

27 MINS

27:20

30 Aug 2021


#290

The Evidence: How will the pandemic end?

When all restrictions are lifted in a highly vaccinated country, how manageable is the coronavirus? Both Israel and UK’s experiments to do just that, have raised new worries about raising the risk of new vaccine resistant variants. Claudia Hammond and her panel of global experts consider our ability to predict how and when variants of concern are most likely to arise and how long our repertoire of vaccines can remain effective in riding out increasingly infectious waves of the virus. Also in the programme - does anyone need a third “booster” dose or is it more important to make sure the whole world gets their first two doses instead? And as more people in the world get vaccinated every day, can we get to a situation where the virus is kept in check, without the huge surges in cases that overwhelm hospitals? Listeners put their questions about coronavirus and the pandemic directly to Claudia and her panel of specialists which includes Professor Salim Abdool Karim - a clinical infectious disease epidemiologist and a Member of the African Task Force on Coronavirus; Dr Natalia Freund a leading immunologist at Sackler School of Medicine, Tel Aviv University; Adam Finn, professor of paediatrics at the Bristol Children's Vaccine Centre, University of Bristol, and a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation that advises UK health departments on immunisation, and Dr Muge Cevik, who’s a medical doctor and clinical lecturer in infectious diseases and medical virology at the University of St Andrew’s in Scotland. Producer: Adrian Washbourne Editor: Deborah Cohen Technical supervision: Steve Greenwood ... Read more

29 Aug 2021

48 MINS

48:22

29 Aug 2021


#289

The Life Scientific: Professor Martin Sweeting

When Martin Sweeting was a student, he thought it would be fun to try to build a satellite using electronic components found in some of the earliest personal computers. An amateur radio ham and space enthusiast, he wanted to create a communications satellite that could be used to talk to people on the other side of the world. It was a team effort, he insists, with friends and family pitching in and a lot of the work being done on his kitchen table. Somehow he managed to persuade NASA to let his microsatellite hitch a ride into space and, after the first message was received, spent more than a decade trying to get a good picture of planet earth. The technology that Martin pioneered underpins modern life with thousands of reprogrammable microsatellites now in orbit around the earth and thousands more due to launch in the next few years to bring internet connections to remote parts of the world. The university spin-off company, Surrey Satellite Technologies Limited (SSTL) that Martin set up in the 1980s with an initial investment of £100 sold for £50 million, a quarter of a century later. If his company had been bought by venture capitalists, he says he would probably have ended up making TVs. Instead he developed the satellite technology on which so much of modern life depends. Produce: Anna Buckley Photo Credit: SSTL ... Read more

23 Aug 2021

27 MINS

27:25

23 Aug 2021


#288

The Life Scientific: Dr Nira Chamberlain

When does a crowd of people become unsafe? How well will the football team Aston Villa do next season? When is it cost-effective to replace a kitchen? The answers may seem arbitrary but, to Nira Chamberlain, they lie in mathematics. You can use maths to model virtually anything. Dr Nira Chamberlain is President of the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications, and Principal Mathematical Modeller for the multinational engineering company SNC-Lavalin Atkins. He specialises in complex engineering and industrial problems, creating mathematical models to describe a particular feature or process, and then running simulations to better understand it, and predict its behaviour. Nira is one of just a handful of esteemed mathematicians, and the first black mathematician. to be featured in ‘Who’s Who’, Britain’s book of prominent people. Since 2018, he’s made the Black Power List, which celebrates the UK’s top 100 most influential people of African or African-Caribbean heritage, ranking higher than Stormzy and Lewis Hamilton when he was first listed. Proof, he says, that maths really is for everyone. ... Read more

16 Aug 2021

27 MINS

27:21

16 Aug 2021


#287

Lost for words

Struggling to find words might be one of the first things we notice when someone develops dementia, while more advanced speech loss can make it really challenging to communicate with loved ones. And understanding what’s behind these changes may help us overcome communication barriers when caring for someone living with the condition. When Ebrahim developed Alzheimer’s Disease, for example, he’d been living in the UK for many years. Gradually his fluent English faded and he reverted to his mother tongue, Farsi - which made things tricky for his English-speaking family who were caring for him. Two decades on, his son, the journalist and author David Shariatmadari, seeks answers to his father’s experience of language loss. What can neuroscience reveal about dementia, ageing, and language changes? Why are some aspects of language more vulnerable than others - and, importantly, what are the best approaches to communicating with someone living with dementia? David reflects on archive recordings of his dad, and speaks to a family in a similar situation to theirs, to compare the ways they tried to keep communication alive. And he discovers there are actually clear benefits to bilingualism when it comes to dementia: juggling two or more languages can delay the onset of symptoms by around four years. So while losing one of his languages posed practical difficulties for Ebrahim, it’s possible that by speaking two languages in the first place, he was able to spend more valuable lucid years with his family. Presented by David Shariatmadari and produced by Cathy Edwards ... Read more

09 Aug 2021

27 MINS

27:05

09 Aug 2021


#286

Introducing: Season 2 of 30 Animals That Made Us Smarter

How animals make us smarter – we thought you might like to hear our brand new episode. It’s about a robotic arm inspired by an elephant’s trunk. For more, search for 30 Animals That Made Us Smarter wherever you get your podcasts. #30Animals ... Read more

06 Aug 2021

18 MINS

18:02

06 Aug 2021


#285

A sense of music

Music can make us feel happy and sad. It can compel us to move in time with it, or sing along to a melody. It taps into some integral sense of musicality that binds us together. But music is regimented, organised. That same 'sense' that lets us lean into Beethoven makes a bad note or a missed beat instantly recognisable. But does that same thing happen in the minds of animals? Can a monkey feel moved by Mozart? Will a bird bop to a beat? Do animals share our 'Sense of Music'? Charles Darwin himself thought that the basic building blocks of an appreciation for music were shared across the animal kingdom. But over decades of scientific investigation, evidence for this has been vanishingly rare. Fresh from his revelation that animals' experience of time can be vastly different to our own, in the award-winning programme 'A Sense of Time', presenter Geoff Marsh delves once more into the minds of different species. This time he explores three key aspects of musicality: rhythm, melody and emotional sensitivity. Geoff finds rhythm is lacking in our closest relatives, the chimpanzees. But it's abundantly clear in a dancing Cockatoo, and internet sensation, named Snowball. He speaks with scientists who have revealed that birds enjoy their own music, but may be listening for something completely different to melody. And Geoff listens to music composed for tamarin monkeys, that apparently they find remarkably relaxing, but which sets us on edge. In 'A Sense of Music', discover what happens when music meets the animal mind. Produced by Rory Galloway Presented by Geoff Marsh ... Read more

02 Aug 2021

27 MINS

27:14

02 Aug 2021


#284

Whatever happened to…those Covid-19 stories

Whatever happened to those sniffer dogs who were seeking out any passengers infected with Covid-19 at Helsinki airport? And did plans to sample sewage to spot outbreaks early prove successful? This week on The Evidence, we have listeners’ questions about some of the clever ideas which were in the news early on in the pandemic but we haven’t heard about for a while. Trials of treatments like the cheap steroid dexamethasone proved successful – but what about the anti-parasite medication, ivermectin, which has sparked fierce debate on social media? Because of its role in our body’s immune system, researchers wondered if Vitamin D might be useful in preventing Covid infections or treating people in hospital. We hear about some of the flaws in those studies – and the role which genetics plays in how much Vitamin D there is in our bodies. Nasal sprays have been used for colds and flu to help shorten how long you are ill for and reduce the symptoms – can we achieve the same result for Covid infections by using a spray which contains seaweed? Vaccination is key to ending the pandemic – but have all of the vaccines bought by countries like the United States been used? And what will happen to any which are left over, can they be given to countries which desperately need them? Once enough people are vaccinated or have immunity from being infected we should reach the magical “herd immunity” level where there aren’t enough people vulnerable to infection for Covid-19 to spread. We hear how new variants of the virus could mean that number will grow – making it more difficult to bring the pandemic to an end. Claudia Hammond’s panel of experts will guide you through some of the ideas which have been tested like nasal sprays and nicotine patches – to separate the duds from the winners – as well as highlight others which could still prove to be promising. Claudia’s expert panel includes global health epidemiologist from the University of Boston, Professor Matthew Fox; from The Netherlands Professor Marion Koopmans who’s Head of the Erasmus MC Department of Viroscience in Rotterdam, who was a member of the WHO’s mission to Wuhan in China earlier this year to investigate the origins of Covid-19; Vice Dean of the Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine Dr Danny Bryden, who’s a Consultant at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals; medical journalist Clare Wilson from New Scientist Magazine. Produced by: Paula McGrath, Samara Linton and Maria Simons Studio Engineers: Jo Longton ... Read more

31 Jul 2021

53 MINS

53:28

31 Jul 2021


#283

Dare to repair: Fixing the future

Mark Miodownik, explores the environmental consequences of the throwaway society we have become and reveals that recycling electronic waste comes second to repairing broken electronics. He asks what we can learn from repair cultures around the world , he looks at manufacturers who are designing in repair-ability, and discovers the resources available to encourage and train the next generation of repairers. Producer: Fiona Roberts (Photo: Teen boy solders wires to build robot, Credit: SDI Productions/Getty Images) ... Read more

26 Jul 2021

27 MINS

27:15

26 Jul 2021


#282

Dare to repair: The fight for the right to repair

Many electronics manufacturers are making it harder for us, to fix our broken kit. There are claims that programmed obsolescence is alive and well, with mobile phone batteries designed to wear out after just 400 charges. They claim it's for safety or security reasons, but it pushes constant replacement and upgrades. But people are starting to fight back. Mark Miodownik talks to the fixers and repairers who are heading up the Right to Repair movement which is forcing governments to act, and making sustainability and value for money part of the consumer equation. Producer: Fiona Roberts (Photo: A pile of discarded computer circuit board. Credit: Tara Moore/Getty Images) ... Read more

19 Jul 2021

27 MINS

27:19

19 Jul 2021


#281

Dare to Repair: How we broke the future

Materials engineer Professor Mark Miodownik looks back to the start of the electronics revolution to find out why our electronic gadgets and household goods are less durable and harder to repair now. As he attempts to fix his digital clock radio, he reveals that the drive for cheaper stuff and advances in design and manufacturing have left us with a culture of throwaway technology and mountains of electronic waste. Image: Apron housewife at kitchen dish washer, Credit: George Marks/Getty Images Producer: Fiona Roberts ... Read more

12 Jul 2021

27 MINS

27:15

12 Jul 2021