Discovery podcast

Discovery

Explorations in the world of science.

Explorations in the world of science.

 

#743

Unstoppable: Nzambi Matee

Dr Julia Ravey and Dr Ella Hubber both have a love of science, but it turns out there’s a lot they don’t know about some of the leading women at the front of the inventing game. In Unstoppable, Dr Julia and Dr Ella tell each other the hidden, world-shaping stories of the engineers, innovators and inventors they wish they’d known about when they were starting out as scientists. This week, the story of an engineer who turned plastic into gold, all starting from her mother’s backyard. Every day, around 500 tonnes of plastic waste is generated in the Kenyan city of Nairobi. Hardly any of it is recycled – but engineer Nzambi Matee is on a mission to change that. Frustrated by the level of pollution, in 2017 Nzambi constructed a laboratory in her mother’s backyard. It was here that she used her self-taught engineering skills to convert plastic waste into bricks that are stronger and more eco-friendly than concrete. Since then, Nzambi’s backyard operation has grown into a company – Gjenge Makers – and the bricks are widely used across Nairobi. And at only 31, Nzambi is just getting started. As Dr Julia and Dr Ella trace Nzambi’s journey, we hear from Nzambi herself about what it took to get to this point, as well as her ambitions for the future. Presenters: Dr Ella Hubber and Dr Julia Ravey Producers: Ella Hubber and Julia Ravey Assistant producer: Sophie Ormiston Editor: Holly Squire ... Read more

9 hrs Ago

26 MINS

26:32

9 hrs Ago


#742

Unstoppable: Hedy Lamarr

Dr Julia Ravey and Dr Ella Hubber both have a love of science, but it turns out there’s a lot they don’t know about some of the leading women at the front of the inventing game. In Unstoppable, Dr Julia and Dr Ella tell each other the hidden, world-shaping stories of the engineers, innovators and inventors they wish they’d known about when they were starting out as scientists. This week, the story of the Hollywood starlet whose brilliant ideas would go on to revolutionise the way we live. Known as the ‘most beautiful woman in film’ during the 1940s, Hedy Lamarr was one of the most in demand Hollywood actresses of her time. But she wasn’t just a movie star. From a young age, she also had a knack for inventing – she liked to take her toys apart just to see how they worked. And she carried this passion into her adult life – creating an invention that laid the groundwork for technology many of us couldn’t live without: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS. But it didn’t come without struggle. Dr Julia and Dr Ella take us through Hedy’s remarkable journey, and we get a first-hand look into Hedy’s life from her daughter Denise Loder-DeLuca. Presenters: Dr Ella Hubber and Dr Julia Ravey Producers: Ella Hubber and Julia Ravey Assistant producer: Sophie Ormiston Editor: Holly Squire ... Read more

13 May 2024

26 MINS

26:28

13 May 2024


#741

The Evidence: Maternal Health in Malawi

The process of childbirth can be painful yet amazing, but at times and in some places, also very dangerous. Recorded in Malawi, East Africa, Claudia Hammond is joined by a panel of maternal health experts to figure out why it is that the equivalent of a large jumbo jet full of women die every day due to pregnancy or childbirth. Together, they examine how so many women can still be at risk during this period despite a greater access to healthcare. They also look into whether an eighty-year-old drug could be a game-changer when it comes to haemorrhage. Plus, they consider a study of 1.3 million women which asked what it is that women actually want from maternal healthcare. With Owen Chikwaza from the Malawi Ministry of Health, Linda Mipando of Kamuzu University and Elimase Kamanga-Gama, Director of the White Ribbon Alliance Malawi, Claudia looks at the many challenges and successes within the field, drawing from local experiences to offer global insights. Produced by: Margaret Sessa-Hawkins Editor: Holly Squire Production Coordinator: Siobhan Maguire Presenter: Claudia Hammond Studio Engineers: Andrew Saunderson and David Sproule (Photo: Pregnant woman being examined by a doctor. Credit: Holly Squire BBC) ... Read more

08 May 2024

49 MINS

49:27

08 May 2024


#740

Obsessed with the Quest: Humpback Heat Run

Underwater cameraman Roger Munns set himself and his team an incredible challenge. In 2008, they visited Tonga to film the biggest courtship ritual of the animal kingdom, the humpback heat run, for the very first time underwater and up close. In the first few days, Roger had intimate encounters with the whales but most of the time, he was sat on the back of the boat, waiting to find a heat run. After two unsuccessful weeks, he started to wonder whether they would ever see one. But a few days later somebody spotted a heat run, and everything sprang into action. Roger got in position and dove down ten meters underwater on a single breath. From then on, his job was just to wait and hold his camera ready. In a moment that seemed to stretch out time, he waited, nervously, for a group of 40-ton bus-sized whales to speed past him… And Victor Vescovo describes his adventures into the deep, diving to the deepest parts of all five oceans. Victor's longest dive was solo to the lowest point on Earth - the Challenger Deep at the bottom of the Marianas trench in the western Pacific. On reaching the bottom, some 35,853 feet below the ocean surface, should something have gone wrong, there was no hope of rescue. Victor describes his feelings before making this historic descent and on the way down. Touching down on the sea bed, he was astounded by the abundance of marine life. Victor describes how he hopes that the mapping, observations and sample collections he has made on his dives will advance scientific understanding of the deep oceans, and where his eternal quest to explore might take him next. Produced by Florian Bohr and Diane Hope Credits: Humpback whale mother and calf sounds - Acoustic Communications CNRS team & CETAMADA Humpback whale calf sounds - Lars Bejder (MMRP Hawaii), Peter T. Madsen (Aarhus University) & Simone Videsen (Aarhus University) ... Read more

06 May 2024

26 MINS

26:29

06 May 2024


#739

Obsessed with the Quest: Inside the Minds of Chimpanzees

Primatologist Catherine Hobaiter has spent more of her adult life in the rain forests of Uganda, with family bands of chimpanzees, than she has with her own human family members. For more than 20 years now she has spent 6 months every year at a remote field station, getting up before dawn every day to observe and collect behavioural data on family bands of chimps as they wake up and go about their daily lives. What is she trying to find out, that has gripped her for so long? It turns out that life in a chimpanzee troupe is every bit as gripping as a soap opera. But there are many more moments of beauty, revelation and the joy of discovery, as Catherine pursues her continuing, multi-decadal quest to understand what it means to be a chimpanzee. And when Sara Dykman set out to bicycle with the monarch butterfly migration, from the mountains of central Mexico, across the USA to Canada, she didn't think about the 10,201 miles that she would cover. Coping with headwinds, heavy rain storms, and everything from dirt roads to busy highways were not the challenge for Sara though. It was seeing how little of the Monarch's only food plant, milkweed, was left for them to feed on during their amazing, multigenerational, multinational migration. However, Sara found solace in the many conservationists and backyard butterfly gardeners she met along the way, and in the 9000 schoolchildren she gave talks to en route. The most emotional part of the journey for Sara was the last three miles - arriving successfully back at the monarch's overwintering site in Mexico. Produced by Diane Hope. Credits: Monarch butterfly recordings - Robert Mackay ... Read more

29 Apr 2024

26 MINS

26:29

29 Apr 2024


#738

Wild Inside: The sea lion

Professor Ben Garrod and Dr Jess French get under the skin (and blubber) of the California sea lion, to crack the key to its success both on land and at sea. Its ability to dive hundreds of meters down, keep warm in icy waters, and run on land, can all be explained through its unique internal anatomy. They are joined by zookeeper and sea lion trainer Mae Betts, who adds insight into the intelligence of these sleek marine mammals. Co-Presenters: Ben Garrod and Jess French Producer: Ella Hubber Editor: Martin Smith Production co-ordinator: Jana Bennett-Holesworth ... Read more

22 Apr 2024

26 MINS

26:28

22 Apr 2024


#737

Wild Inside: The aphid

The tiny sap-sucking aphid, at just a few millimetres long, is the scourge of many gardeners and crop-growers worldwide, spreading astonishingly rapidly and inflicting huge damage as it seeks to outwit many host plants’ natural defences. With insights and guidance from aphid expert George Seddon-Roberts at the John Innes Centre, Norwich, some delicate dissecting tools, and a state of the art microscope, Prof Ben Garrod and Dr Jess French delve inside this herbivorous insect to unravel the anatomy and physiology that has secured its extraordinary reproductive success, whilst offering new clues as to how we could curtail its damaging impact in the future. Co-Presenters: Ben Garrod and Jess French Executive producer: Adrian Washbourne Producer: Ella Hubber Editor: Martin Smith Production co-ordinator: Jana Bennett-Holesworth ... Read more

15 Apr 2024

26 MINS

26:28

15 Apr 2024


#736

Wild Inside: The Bearded Vulture

Ominously called the lamb vulture, there are many myths and misconceptions surrounding the bearded vulture. Flying the mountainous ranges across central Asia and eastern Africa, with a wingspan of almost three meters, the bearded vulture is am impressive Old World vulture. Prof Ben Garrod and Dr Jess French are looking past the beautifully coloured plumage, and delving deep inside to learn what this bird of prey really eats and what keeps its great wings aloft. ... Read more

08 Apr 2024

26 MINS

26:28

08 Apr 2024


#735

Wild Inside: The Red Kangaroo

Wild Inside returns for a new series to take a look at some of our planet’s most exceptional and unusual creatures from an entirely new perspective: the inside. Whilst we can learn a lot from observing the outside, the secrets to the success of any animal – whether they swim, fly, or hop – lies in their complex internal anatomy. How do these wild animals survive and thrive in harsh and changing environments? To truly understand we need to delve inside. Professor Ben Garrod, evolutionary biologist from the University of East Anglia, and expert veterinary surgeon Dr Jess French, open up and investigate what makes each of these animals unique, in terms of their extraordinary anatomy, behaviour and their evolutionary history. Along the way, they reveal some unique adaptations which give each species a leg (or claw) up in surviving in the big, wild world. The series begins with an icon of the outback – known best for its hopping, boxing, and cosy pouch – the red kangaroo. Despite the immense heat and lack of water, these marsupials dominate Australia, with their evolutionary history driving them to success. From the powerful legs which allow them to hop up to 40km an hour, to an unexpected reproductive system that keeps their populations plentiful, Ben, Jess and marsupial expert Dr Jack Ashby reveal a mammalian anatomy which holds many surprises. ... Read more

02 Apr 2024

26 MINS

26:28

02 Apr 2024


#734

Uncharted: Access denied

Hannah Fry explores two tales of data and discovery. A young researcher gains access to a secretive data set and discovers a system causing harm to the very people it is supposed to help. One day a student makes a discovery which, if true, could shake the intellectual foundations of a global movement, and undermine politicians around the world. Producer: Lauren Armstrong Carter ... Read more

25 Mar 2024

27 MINS

27:25

25 Mar 2024


#733

The Evidence: The science of the menopause

Millions of women around the world experience the menopause each year; it’s an important milestone, which marks the end of their reproductive years. But every individual's experience of it is personal and unique. In some cultures, there's a stigma about this life stage – it's viewed with trepidation and as something to be dreaded. In other cultures, it's considered to be a fresh start - a time of greater freedom when women no longer have to worry about their menstrual cycles. In this edition, recorded at Northern Ireland Science Festival in Belfast, Claudia Hammond and her expert panel take a global look at the science of the menopause and debunk some myths along the way. As Claudia and her guests navigate their way through the menopause maze, they look at the most recent academic research in this area. They also discuss the physical and psychological symptoms, the lifestyle changes women can make and the different treatments available, including Hormone Replacement Therapy. Claudia also speaks to the American biological anthropologist who has dedicated an impressive 35 years of her life to studying the average age of the menopause in different countries - and finds out how hot flushes vary in different cultures. She also speaks to a doctor who is working hard to make women’s health less of a taboo subject in the community where she works. And she hears from a Professor of Reproductive Science who is setting up the UK's first menopause school. Producer: Sarah Parfitt Co-ordinator: Siobhan Maguire Editor: Holly Squire Sound engineers: Andrew Saunderson and Bill Maul Mix engineer: Bob Nettles Image used with permission of the Northern Ireland Science Festival ... Read more

21 Mar 2024

49 MINS

49:26

21 Mar 2024


#732

Uncharted: The gossip mill

Hannah Fry explores two more tales of data and discovery. Gossip and rumour are plaguing a tile manufacturing company. The chatter is pulling morale to new lows, and amid it all, a question hangs in the air: who is spreading it? Can the science of networks find out? And, what is the secret to ageing well? One man believes he may have found the beginnings of an answer, and it is hiding in a convent. Produced by: Ilan Goodman and Lauren Armstrong Carter ... Read more

18 Mar 2024

27 MINS

27:19

18 Mar 2024


#731

Uncharted: The happiness curve

Hannah Fry explores two tales of data and discovery. Do orangutans - or humans - experience a midlife crisis? Hidden deep in the data, two economists have found a surprising pattern: happiness is U shaped. And, John Carter has a terrible choice to make. One path offers glory, the other to death. His decision hinges on one graph, but can it help him take the right road? Produced by: Ilan Goodman and Lauren Armstrong Carter ... Read more

11 Mar 2024

15 MINS

15:19

11 Mar 2024


#730

Uncharted: The doctor will see you now

Hannah Fry explores two tales of data and discovery. Two couples are brought together by a tragedy and a tatty piece of paper, which reveals a serial murderer hiding in plain sight. And, across the world in Singapore, a metro system is misbehaving wildly. The rail engineers and company officials are flummoxed. Can data save the day? Produced by: Ilan Goodman and Lauren Armstrong Carter ... Read more

04 Mar 2024

27 MINS

27:25

04 Mar 2024


#729

Uncharted: The returning soldier

Hannah Fry explores two tales of data and discovery. In a few specific years across the 20th Century, the proportion of boys born, mysteriously spiked. We follow one researcher’s obsessive quest to find out why. And next, a tale of science and skulduggery. Michael Mann was a respected climate scientist, unknown outside of a small academic circle, until he produced a graph that shocked the world and changed his life forever. Producer: Ilan Goodman ... Read more

26 Feb 2024

27 MINS

27:25

26 Feb 2024


#728

The Life Scientific: Michael Wooldridge

Humans have a long-held fascination with the idea of Artificial Intelligence (AI) as a dystopian threat - from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, through to the Terminator movies. But somehow, we still often think of this technology as 'futuristic', whereas in fact, it's already woven into the fabric of our daily lives, from facial recognition software to translator apps. And if we get too caught up in the entertaining sci-fi narrative around AI and the potential threat from machines, there is a more pressing danger that we overlook real and present concerns - from deep fakes to electoral disinformation. Michael Wooldridge is determined to demystify AI and explain how it can improve our lives, in a whole host of different ways. A professor of Computer Science at the University of Oxford, and the director of Foundational AI Research at the Alan Turing Institute, Mike believes the most common fears around this technology are "misplaced". In a special 300th edition of The Life Scientific, recorded in front of an audience at London's Royal Institution (RI), Mike tells Jim al-Khalili how he will use this year's prestigious RI Christmas Lectures to lift the lid on modern AI technology and discuss how far it could go in future. Mike also reminiscences about the days when sending an email was a thrilling novelty, discusses why people love talking to him about the Terminator at parties, and is even challenged to think up a novel future use of AI by ChatGPT. Presenter: Jim al-Khalili Producer: Lucy Taylor Audio editor: Sophie Ormiston Production co-ordinator: Jonathan Harris ... Read more

19 Feb 2024

27 MINS

27:20

19 Feb 2024


#727

The Life Scientific: Mercedes Maroto-Valer

How do you solve a problem like CO2? As the curtain closes on the world’s most important climate summit, we talk to a scientist who was at COP 28 and is working to solve our carbon dioxide problem. Professor Mercedes Maroto-Valer thinks saving the planet is still Mission Possible - but key to success is turning excess of the climate-busting gas, carbon dioxide, into something useful. And as Director of the Research Centre for Carbon Solutions at Heriot-Watt University and the UK’s Decarbonisation Champion, she has lots of innovative ideas on how to do this. She also has a great climate-themed suggestion for what you should say when someone asks your age… Presenter: Jim Al-Khalili Producer: Gerry Holt Audio editor: Sophie Ormiston Production Co-ordinator: Jonathan Harris ... Read more

12 Feb 2024

27 MINS

27:23

12 Feb 2024


#726

The Life Scientific: Sir Harry Bhadeshia

The Life Scientific zooms in to explore the intricate atomic make-up of metal alloys, with complex crystalline arrangements that can literally make or break structures integral to our everyday lives. Professor Sir Harry Bhadeshia is Professor of Metallurgy at Queen Mary University of London and Emeritus Tata Steel Professor of Metallurgy at the University of Cambridge. He’s been described as a ‘steel innovator’ – developing multiple new alloys with a host of real-world applications, from rail tracks to military armour. Harry’s prolific work in the field has earned him widespread recognition and a Knighthood; but it's not always been an easy ride... From his childhood in Kenya and an enforced move to the UK as a teenager, to the years standing up to those seeking to discredit the new path he was forging in steel research - Jim Al-Khalili discovers that Harry's achievements have required significant determination, as well as hard work. Presenter: Jim Al-Khalili Producer: Lucy Taylor Audio editor: Sophie Ormiston Production Co-ordinator: Jonathan Harris ... Read more

05 Feb 2024

28 MINS

28:52

05 Feb 2024


#725

The Life Scientific: Cathie Sudlow

“Big data” and “data science” are terms we hear more and more these days. The idea that we can use these vast amounts of information to understand and analyse phenomena, and find solutions to problems, is gaining prominence, both in business and academia. Cathie Sudlow, Professor of Neurology and Clinical Epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, has been at the forefront of enabling health-related research using ever-increasing datasets. She tells presenter Jim Al-Khalili why this type of research matters and how the COVID-19 pandemic changed attitudes towards data in healthcare. Over the course of her career, Cathie has held a variety of roles at different organisations, and she is currently Chief Scientist and Deputy Director at Health Data Research UK. She believes that there is no room for prima donnas in science, and wants her field to be open and collaborative, to have the most impact on patients’ lives. Presenter: Jim Al-Khalili Producer: Florian Bohr Production Co-ordinator: Jonathan Harris ... Read more

29 Jan 2024

27 MINS

27:32

29 Jan 2024


#724

The Life Scientific: Sir Michael Berry

Professor Jim Al-Khalili meets one of Britain's greatest physicists, Sir Michael Berry. His work uncovers 'the arcane in the mundane', revealing the science that underpins phenomena in the world around us such as rainbows, and through his popular science lectures he joyfully explains the role of quantum mechanics in phones, computers and the technology that shapes the modern world. He is famed for the 'Berry phase' which is a key concept in quantum mechanics and one Sir Michael likes to explain through an analogy of holding a cat upside down and dropping it, or parallel parking a car. Presenter: Jim Al-Khalili Studio Producer: Tom Bonnett Audio Editor: Gerry Holt Production Co-ordinator: Jonathan Harris ... Read more

22 Jan 2024

27 MINS

27:17

22 Jan 2024


#723

The Life Scientific: Sarah Harper

People around the world are living longer and, on the whole, having fewer children. What does this mean for future populations? Sarah Harper CBE, Professor in Gerontology at the University of Oxford, tells presenter Jim Al-Khalili how it could affect pensions, why it might mean we work for longer, and discusses the ways modern life is changing global attitudes to when we have children, and whether we have them at all. Fertility and ageing have been Sarah's life's work and she tells her story of giving up a career in the media to carry out in-depth research, and going on to study population change in the UK and China, setting up the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing and later becoming a Scientific Advisor to UK Government. Presenter: Jim Al-Khalili Producer: Tom Bonnett Production Co-ordinator: Jonathan Harris ... Read more

15 Jan 2024

27 MINS

27:20

15 Jan 2024


#722

The Life Scientific: Sarah Blaffer Hrdy

Our primate cousins fascinate us, with their uncanny similarities to us. Studying other apes and monkeys also helps us figure out the evolutionary puzzle of what makes us uniquely human. Sarah Blaffer Hrdy’s work brings a female perspective to this puzzle, correcting sexist stereotypes like the aggressive, philandering male and the coy, passive female. Sarah is professor emerita of anthropology at the University of California, Davis, and studies female primate behaviour to create a richer picture of our evolutionary history, as well as what it means to be a woman or a parent today. Her overarching aim is to understand the human condition, a goal she initially planned to pursue by writing novels. Instead, she found her way into science: her ground-breaking study of infanticide among langur monkeys in northern India overturned assumptions about these monkeys’ murderous motivations. Later in her career, she looked into reproductive and parenting strategies across species. We humans are primed by evolution, she believes, to need a lot of support raising our children. And that is a concern she found reflected in her own life, juggling family commitments with her career ambitions as a field researcher, teacher, and science writer. ... Read more

08 Jan 2024

26 MINS

26:28

08 Jan 2024


#721

The Life Scientific: Edward Witten

The Life Scientific returns with a special episode from the USA; Princeton, New Jersey, to be precise. Here, the Institute for Advanced Study has hosted some of the greatest scientific minds of our time - Einstein was one of its first professors, J. Robert Oppenheimer its longest-serving director - and today's guest counts among them. Edward Witten is professor emeritus at the institute and the physicist behind M-Theory, a leading contender for what is commonly referred to as ‘the theory of everything’, uniting quantum mechanics and Einstein’s theory of gravity. He talks to Jim al-Khalili about a career that’s spanned some of the most exciting periods in modern theoretical physics - and about one particular problem that has obsessed and eluded him since his days as a student. Producer: Lucy Taylor ... Read more

01 Jan 2024

26 MINS

26:28

01 Jan 2024