Podcast

Discovery

Explorations in the world of science.

Episodes

  • Corinne Le Quéré on carbon and climate

    Apr 15 2019

    Professor Corinne Le Quéré of University of East Anglia talks to Jim Al-Khalili about tracing global carbon. Throughout the history of planet Earth, the element carbon has cycled between the atmosphere, the oceans and the biosphere. This natural cycle has maintained the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and has allowed life to exist for billions of years. Corinne Le Quéré is a climate scientist who keeps track of where the carbon comes from and where it goes – all on a truly global sca...more

  • Ken Gabriel on why your smartphone is smart

    Apr 08 2019

    Jim Al-Khalili talks to Ken Gabriel, the engineer responsible for popularising many of the micro devices found in smartphones and computers. Ken explains how he was inspired by what he could do with a stick and a piece of string. This led to an engineering adventure taking in spacecraft, military guidance systems and the micro-mechanical devices we use every day in our computers and smartphones. Ken Gabriel now heads up a large non-profit engineering company, Draper, which cut its teeth buildin...more

  • Donna Strickland and extremely powerful lasers

    Apr 01 2019

    Donna Strickland tells Jim Al-Khalili why she wanted to work with lasers and what it feels like to be the first woman to win a Nobel Prize for Physics in 55 years. When the first laser was built in 1960, it was an invention looking for an application. Science fiction found uses for these phenomenally powerful beams of light long before real world applications were developed. Think Star Wars light sabres and people being sliced in half. Today lasers are used for everything from hair removal to st...more

  • Unbottling the past

    Mar 25 2019

    Imagine finding a notebook containing the secret recipes of some of the world’s most iconic perfumes? Formulas normally kept under lock and key. That’s what happened to medical research scientist and trained chemist Andrew Holding. His grandfather Charles “Rex” Holding had been Chief Perfumer at the Bourjois Chanel factory in Croydon, near London, during the 1960s. After his death, he left behind a lifetime of perfume memorabilia; bottles of Chanel perfume, rare ingredients, fragrant soaps, ...more

  • California burning

    Mar 18 2019

    When Paradise burned down last year, it made the Camp Fire the most destructive and deadly in Californian history. A few months earlier the nearby Ranch Fire was the largest. In southern California, a series of chaparral fires have brought danger to towns along the state’s coast. And the statistics show that large, dangerous fires have been increasing for decades. But the reasons are not simple. Roland Pease meets some of the experts trying to work out what is to be done. Producer: Roland Peas...more

  • ShakeAlertLA - California’s earthquake early warning system

    Mar 11 2019

    Los Angeles is a city of Angels, and of earthquakes. Deadly earthquakes in 1933, 1971 and 1994 have also made it a pioneer in earthquake protection – for example with tough engineering standards to save buildings. Since 2013, with the help of scientists at the US Geological Survey, the city has been developing a resilience plan which culminated in the release of an app that should give residents precious seconds of warning when an earthquake starts. Roland Pease meets the scientists, the Mayor a...more

  • From the Cold War to the present day

    Mar 04 2019

    For more than 100 years chemical weapons have terrorised, maimed and killed soldiers and civilians alike. As a chemist, the part his profession has played in the development of these weapons has long concerned Andrea Sella, professor of chemistry at University College London. In this programme he examines the motivation of chemists like Dr Fritz Haber, who first encouraged the German military to deploy chlorine gas in World War One for the sake of “The Fatherland” and of Dr Gerhard Schrader, w...more

  • From the Crimean War to the end of World War Two

    Feb 25 2019

    In the first of two programmes he looks back to the first attempts to ban the use of chemical weapons at the end of the 19th century. Heavily defeated in the Crimea, Russia succeeded in getting unanimous agreement at the 1899 Hague Convention that poison and poison weapons should be banned from warfare. But chemicals such as chlorine, phosgene and mustard gas were heavily used in the First World War by both sides. More substances were developed in the 1930s and 1940s but weren’t used in the batt...more

  • Tracks across time

    Feb 18 2019

    In a dry creek bed in the middle of the Australian outback is a palaeontological prize like no other: 95-million-year-old footprints stamped in a sandstone slab by three species of dinosaur. One of the beasts was a massive, lumbering sauropod that measured 18 metres from nose to tail. But the precious trackway is in danger of being damaged by the next floods, so must be moved. In the final episode of the four-part series The Chase, science journalist Belinda Smith from the ABC in Australia d...more

  • Trouble in paradise

    Feb 11 2019

    The atoll of Tetiaro is a string of tiny islands in French Polynesia, about 60km away from Tahiti. The islands – known as ‘motus’ to local Polynesians – are unique ecosystems that are crucial nesting sites for native seabirds. But invasive species threaten to disrupt these fragile environments – a fate seen across many islands in the Pacific. Rats arrived with early human settlers and have driven bird species off some of the islands. Meanwhile introduced mosquitoes have thrived in the warm con...more

  • Back from the Dead

    Feb 04 2019

    The Night Parrot was supposed to be extinct and became a legend among birdwatchers in Australia: a fat, dumpy, green parrot that lived in the desert and came out at night. The last bird seen alive was promptly shot dead in 1912. Over 90 years later, a decapitated Night Parrot was found beside a fence in outback Australia, and the hunt for a living bird was on. Ornithologists descended onto the arid plains of Australia’s vast arid interior, but it took another seven years for a single photograp...more

  • Eye in the Sky

    Jan 28 2019

    On this mission, SOFIA is setting out to study Titan, Saturn’s biggest moon, by flying into the faint shadow that it casts as it blocks the light from a faraway star. It’s a phenomenon called an occultation, and if the mission succeeds, it will reveal new details about Titan’s atmosphere. SOFIA is a very unusual observatory. It is a 747 aircraft with a hatch in the side, which opens in flight to reveal a large, custom-built telescope – carefully engineered to work inside a moving jet plane. Its...more

  • Kepler's Snowflake

    Jan 14 2019

    The Six Cornered Snowflake, a booklet written by Johannes Kepler as a New Year's gift, sought to explain the intricate and symmetrical shape of winter's tiny stars of snow. His insightful speculations about minerals and geometry were the beginning of the modern understanding of crystals. Philip Ball tells the story of how Kepler became a key figure in the scientific revolution of the 17th Century. He was a precocious mathematician who became an adviser to Emperor Rudolf II in 1600. Although he...more

  • Lucretius, Sheep and Atoms

    Jan 07 2019

    2000 years ago Lucretius composed a long poem that theorised about atoms and the natural world. Written in the first century BCE, during a chaotic and frightening time when the Roman Republic was collapsing, Lucretius encouraged people to feel free through contemplating the physics of the Universe. He said that despite living through a time of bloody civil wars and dictatorship people should not believe they were sheep who had to follow those in power. Naomi discovers that the poem is an epic,...more

  • Eddington's Eclipse and Einstein's Celebrity

    Dec 31 2018

    Philip Ball's tale is of a solar eclipse 100 years ago observed by Arthur Eddington, a British astronomer who travelled to the remote island of Principe off the coast of West Africa and saw the stars shift in the heavens. His observations supplied the crucial proof of a theory that transformed our notions of the cosmos and turned a German physicist named Albert Einstein into an international celebrity. But this is also a tale of how a Quaker tried to use science to unite countries. The reparatio...more

  • Earthrise

    Dec 24 2018

    On Christmas Eve in 1968 Bill Anders was in orbit around the moon in Apollo 8 when he took one of the most iconic photos of the last fifty years: Earthrise. The image got to be seen everywhere, from a stamp issued in 1969 to commemorate the success of Apollo 8, to posters that are still available today. Gaia Vince explores the impact of this image on the environmental movement and our understanding of our place in the universe. “Oh my God. Look at that picture over there. Here’s the earth com...more

  • The Supercalculators

    Dec 17 2018

    Alex Bellos is brilliant at all things mathematical, but even he can't hold a candle to the amazing mathematical feats of the supercalculators. Alex heads to Wolfsburg in Germany to meet the contestants at this year's Mental Calculation World Cup. These men and women are the fastest human number crunchers on the planet, able to multiply and divide large numbers with no need to reach for a smart phone, computer or calculator. So how do they do it, and is it a skill that any of us can learn? Alex ...more

  • The China Syndrome

    Dec 10 2018

    Plastic waste and pollution have become a global problem but is there any sign of a global solution? And how did we allow this to happen in the first place? Materials scientist and broadcaster, Professor Mark Miodownik, explores how we fell in love with plastic, why we've ended up with oceans of waste blighting the environment and what science and society can do about it. Programme Three: Roland Pease hears from Kenya where one of the most stringent bans on plastic bags has been in force for ...more

  • How Much Plastic Can We Recycle?

    Dec 03 2018

    Plastics are fantastically versatile materials that have changed our lives. It is what we do with them, when we no longer want them, that has resulted in the global plastic crisis. Mark Miodownik explores our love hate relationship with plastics. Programme Two: Things begin to go stale Plastic waste has been a global crisis waiting to happen. To date it's estimated that around 8.3 billion tonnes of waste plastic exists. That's 25 Empire State Buildings or 1 billion elephants. Incredibly around...more

  • Why We Fell In Love with Plastic

    Nov 26 2018

    Plastic waste and pollution have become a global problem but is there any sign of a global solution? And how did we allow this to happen in the first place? Materials scientist and broadcaster, Professor Mark Miodownik, explores how we fell in love with plastic, why we've ended up with oceans of waste blighting the environment and what science and society can do about it. Programme One: First Flush of Love We may not be on speaking terms right now. But we do have a love affair with plastic, ...more

  • Finding the Coelacanths

    Nov 19 2018

    The first Coelacanth was discovered by a woman in South Africa in 1938. The find, by the young museum curator, was the fish equivalent of discovering a T- Rex on the Serengeti, it took the Zoological world by storm. Presenter Adam Hart tells the story of this discovery, and the steps taken by Coelacanth biologists in the decades since to find more fish, in other populations, and record them for science. Adam hears personal accounts from a deep diver who swam with Coelacanths, Eve Marshall, conse...more

  • The Big Bang and Jet Streams

    Nov 12 2018

    Evidence for the big bang was initially thought to be a mistake in the recording. Jet streams in the upper atmosphere were revealed by the dust emitted by Krakatoa and a collection of interested citizen scientists. In the second three episodes about the genius of accidents in science, presenter Adam Hart explores two stories of unexpected observations. Sometimes accidental discoveries are bigger than you might expect. Picture: Moonlit Coast, Credit: shaunl/Getty Images

  • Viagra and CRISPR

    Nov 05 2018

    Viagra’s effects on men were first discovered as an unexpected side-effect during trials for a medication meant to help patients with a heart condition. CRISPR cas– 9 is now a tool that can be used to modify and replace genes – but it was first noted as a random collection of genes. In the first of three episodes about the genius of accidents in science, Professor Adam Hart explores how, sometimes, the results you’re looking for are not as important as those that appear unexpectedly. Picture...more

  • Tracking the First Animals on Earth

    Oct 29 2018

    What were the earliest animals on Earth? The origin of the animal kingdom is one of the most mysterious chapters in the evolution of life on Earth. Our animal ancestors appeared and began to diversify about half a billion years ago. What might they have looked like, and which creatures alive today can be traced to these primordial times? Answers are beginning to come with new techniques for both studying ancient fossils and for reading evolutionary history from the DNA of animals alive today. Zo...more

  • Mary Anning and Fossil Hunting

    Oct 29 2018

    Mary Anning lived in Lyme Regis on what is now known as the Jurassic Coast in the first half of the 19th century. Knowing the shore from childhood and with a remarkable eye for detection she was extremely successful in finding fossils. In 1812 she unearthed parts of an Icthyosaur and in 1823 she discovered the first skeleton of what became known as a Plesiosaurus – a long-necked, flippered creature with a tiny head. It looked a bit like an elongated turtle with no shell. Naomi Alderman tells...more

  • Cooling the City

    Oct 22 2018

    The summer of 2003 saw the largest number of deaths ever recorded in a UK heatwave - but by 2040 climate models predict the extreme summer temperatures experienced then will be normal. We will also be experiencing colder winters, and droughts and floods will become more common. Our infrastructure, housing, water, sewerage, transport and public buildings are not designed for such conditions. Gaia Vince asks how we can adapt and prepare our cities, where most people live and work, for the new ...more

  • Tourism and Transparency

    Oct 15 2018

    In the second programme exploring the Chinese approach to organ transplantation, Matthew Hill looks at what is happening today. Where are the organs coming from today? Have the Chinese overcome their traditional opposition to donating them? There is still a lack of transparency about the sources. Some critics have suggested that there is still a trade in organs and there are reports that transplant tourism is still going on. Matthew Hill talks to Chinese and international transplant doctors abou...more

  • Who To Believe?

    Oct 08 2018

    For many years the Chinese sourced organs for transplant from executed prisoners. Around a decade ago the authorities acknowledged that this practice had gone on and announced that it was to be stopped. In the first programme exploring the Chinese approach to organ transplantation Matthew Hill tells the grim story of the revelation of the source of organs, he meets a surgeon with first-hand experience of removing organs from executed prisoners. We talk to campaigners who believe the practice is ...more

  • The Long Hot Summer - Part Two

    Oct 01 2018

    This summer the Northern Hemisphere has been sweltering in unusually high temperatures. It has been hot from the Arctic to Africa. This has led to increased deaths, notably in Canada, and more wildfires, even in Lancashire and in Sweden. Can we say that this heatwave – and the extreme drought in Australia - is a result of climate change? Or is just part of the variable weather patterns we have on our planet? Roland Pease gets answers to these questions from the world’s leading climate and we...more

  • The Long Hot Summer

    Sep 24 2018

    This summer the Northern Hemisphere has been sweltering in unusually high temperatures. It’s been hot from the Arctic to Africa. This has led to increased deaths, notably in Canada, and more wildfires, even in Lancashire and in Sweden. Can we say that this heatwave – and the extreme drought in Australia – is a result of climate change? Or is just part of the variable weather patterns we have on our planet? Roland Pease gets answers to these questions from the world’s leading climate and weathe...more

  • Sodium

    Sep 17 2018

    Sophie Scott on why sodium powers everything we do, and why it might be the key to a new generation of pain killers. Putting sodium into water is one of the most memorable experiments from school chemistry lessons. It's this ability to react ferociously with water which is the starting point for sodium's key role in powering all of biology. Simply, without sodium we wouldn't exist. It helps provide the electricity that allows us to move, breathe, think. Our understanding of sodium could help ...more

  • Iron

    Sep 10 2018

    Beyond war and peace, Dr Andrew Pontzen explores how iron has shaped human biology and culture. From weapons to ploughshares, iron holds a key place as the element for the tools of the rise and destruction of human civilisations. As a grand scale shaper of our towns and ciities and our culture it is unmatched. And yet it also has a major role to play in living cells. Andrew Pontzen, Reader in Cosmology at University College London. explores iron's sometimes ambivalent history and also del...more

  • Fluorine

    Sep 03 2018

    Chemist Andrea Sella tells the story of how the feared element ended up giving us better teeth, mood and health. Many chemists have lost their lives trying to isolate the periodic table’s most chemically reactive element – hence the nickname “the tiger of chemistry”. Fluorine can react with almost all elements. As an acid, hydrofluoric acid, it will dissolve glass. Yet chemists have been able to tame the beast – creating remarkable and safe uses for it by utilising its reactive nature that le...more

  • Hypatia: The Murdered Mathematician

    Aug 20 2018

    Naomi Alderman's tale is a murder mystery, the story of Hypatia, the mathematician murdered by a mob in the learned city of Alexandria, around the year 415 CE. Hypatia was a communicator of science, tackling difficult maths and teaching it to her students. This was incredibly important work. It was enough, at the time, to make her Alexandria’s pre-eminent mathematician, and probably therefore the leading mathematician in the world. And there’s historical evidence that Hypatia made some disco...more

  • Descartes' "Daughter"

    Aug 13 2018

    There's a story told about French philosopher René Descartes and his daughter. He boards a ship for a voyage over the North Sea with a large wooden box which he insists be handled with such great care that the sea captain’s curiosity is aroused. When Descartes is out of his cabin the sea captain opens the box and is horrified to find a life sized automaton inside. He's so shocked he throws the "daughter" overboard. Descartes championed a view of nature in which everything happened because of...more

  • Making Natural Products in the Lab

    Aug 06 2018

    Philip Ball tells the science story of German chemist Friedrich Wöhler’s creation of urea, an organic substance previously thought only to be produced by living creatures. Yet in 1828 Wöhler created urea from decidedly non-living substances. It was exciting because the accidental transformation seemed to cross a boundary: from inorganic to organic, from inert matter to a product of life. It’s a key moment in the history of chemistry but like many scientific advances, this one has also been turne...more

  • The Real Cyrano de Bergerac

    Jul 30 2018

    Philip Ball reveals the real Cyrano de Bergerac - forget the big nosed fictional character - and his links to 17th Century space flight. Cyrano was a soldier, gambler and duellist who retired from military exploits on account of his wounds around 1639, at the grand old age of 20. But he studied at university and, to judge from the books he went on to write, he was well versed in the philosophical and scientific debates of his day. He designed spaceships to travel to the moon and to the sun. Phi...more

  • The Nun’s Salamander

    Jul 23 2018

    A convent of Mexican nuns is helping to save the one of the world's most endangered and most remarkable amphibians: the axolotl, a truly bizarre creature of serious scientific interest worldwide and an animal of deep-rooted cultural significance in Mexico. The Sisters of Immaculate Health rarely venture out of their monastery in the central Mexican town of Patzcuaro. Yet they have become the most adept and successful breeders of their local species of this aquatic salamander. Scientists marve...more

  • The Aztec Salamander

    Jul 16 2018

    Victoria Gill tells the extraordinary story of the Mexican axolotl: an amphibian that is both a cultural icon and a biomedical marvel. In its domesticated form, the aquatic salamander is a valuable laboratory animal and a popular pet around the world. But in the wild, the species is on the very edge of extinction. Victoria visits one of its last hold-outs among the polluted canals in the south of Mexico City, where she meets the scientists and farmers working to save it. Producer: Andr...more

  • Gateway to the Mind

    Jul 09 2018

    The microbiome is the strange invisible world of our non human selves. On and in all of us are hoards of microbes. Their impact on our physical health is becoming clear to science, but a controversial idea is emerging too - that gut bacteria could alter what happens in our brains. In this final episode of the series BBC Science and Health correspondent James Gallagher examines a growing body of research into the gut as a gateway to the mind and why some scientists believe we could be o the cu...more

  • Dirt and Development

    Jul 02 2018

    BBC Health and Science correspondent James Gallagher explores the latest research into how our second genome, the vast and diverse array of microbes that live on and in our bodies, is driving our metabolism and our health and how we can change it for the better. In this second episode he explores how researchers are uncovering a vital relationship between the healthy bugs we accumulate in our gut and our immune system . We have over the past 50 years done a terrific job of eliminating infecti...more

  • Manipulating Our Hidden Half

    Jun 25 2018

    Are we on the cusp of a new approach to healthy living and treating disease? BBC Health and Science correspondent James Gallagher explores the latest research into how our second genome, the vast and diverse array of microbes that live on and in our bodies, is driving our metabolism and our health. Recent DNA analysis by the Human Microbiome Project detailed the vast and diverse array of microbes in and on our body - bacteria, archaea, fungi and viruses. It has been described as our second g...more

  • Do Insects Feel Pain?

    Jun 18 2018

    Insects such as fruit flies provide important insights into human biology and medicine. But should we worry whether insects experience pain and suffering in scientists’ hands? Entomologist Adam Hart visits the Fly Facility at the University of Manchester where researcher Andreas Prokop describes the many insights that experiments on the fruit fly Drosophila have provided on aspects of human biology and health. Globally billions of these little flies have died in the pursuit of this knowledg...more

  • Killing Insects for Conservation

    Jun 11 2018

    Prof Adam Hart stirred a hornet’s nest of controversy by asking the public to kill wasps for science. He explores why scientists kill insects to save them from extinction. The work of the entomologist often involves the killing of insects in large numbers. This happens in the search for new species in the exploration of the planet’s biodiversity and in ecological research to monitor the health of wild insect populations and the impact that we are having on the environment. But the methods o...more

  • What’s the Tiniest Dinosaur?

    Jun 04 2018

    Two small creatures are at the heart of today’s questions, sent in to curiouscases@bbc.co.uk. The Tiniest Dinosaur "What is the tiniest dinosaur?" asks young listener Ellie Cook, aged 11. Our hunt takes us from the discovery of dinosaurs right up to the present day, which is being hailed as a 'golden age' for palaeontology. Currently, one new species of dinosaur is unearthed on average every single week. But what's the smallest dino? And what can size reveal about the life of extinct anim...more

  • Can Anything Travel Faster Than Light?

    May 28 2018

    Two astronomical questions today sent in to curiouscases@bbc.co.uk for Drs Hannah Fry and Adam Rutherford to answer. The Cosmic Speed Limit "We often read that the fastest thing in the Universe is the speed of light. Why do we have this limitation and can anything possibly be faster?" asks Ali Alshareef from Qatif from Saudia Arabia. The team grapples with Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity, with help from cosmologist Andrew Pontzen and a British train, travelling somewhat slower than t...more

  • Why Do We Dream?

    May 21 2018

    Adventures in Dreamland "Why do we dream and why do we repeat dreams?" asks Mila O'Dea, aged 9, from Panama. Hannah Fry and Adam Rutherford delve into the science of sleep. From a pioneering experiment on rapid eye movement sleep, to a brand new 'dream signature' found in the brain, they discover how scientists are investigating our hidden dreamworld. Featuring sociologist Bill Domhoff from the University of California Santa Cruz, sleep psychologist Mark Blagrove from the University of Swans...more

  • Can We Use Chemistry to Bake the Perfect Cake?

    May 14 2018

    Domestic science is on the agenda today, with two culinary questions sent in by listeners to curiouscases@bbc.co.uk The Curious Cake-Off Can chemistry help us bake the perfect cake? Listener Helena McGinty aged 69 from Malaga in Spain asks, "'I have always used my mother's sponge cake recipe. But is there a noticeable difference in the outcome if you vary some of the ingredients, or the method?" Hannah and Adam go head to head in a competition to create the perfect cake using the power of...more

  • Why Do Some Songs Get Stuck in Your Head?

    May 07 2018

    Two very annoying cases today sent in by listeners to curiouscases@bbc.co.uk to our scientific sleuths, mathematician Dr Hannah Fry and geneticist Dr Adam Rutherford. The Sticky Song Why do songs get stuck in our heads? And what makes some tunes stickier than others? Drs Rutherford and Fry investigate 'earworms', those musical refrains that infect our brains for days. Every morning BBC 6Music DJ Shaun Keaveny asks his listeners for their earworms, and Hannah finds out which tunes keep c...more

  • Behaving Better Online

    Apr 30 2018

    Humans have become the most successful species on earth because of our ability to cooperate. Often we help strangers when there is no obvious benefit to us as individuals. But today in the age when social media and the internet could be seen as a way of bringing people together more than ever, the opposite is happening. In this two-part series for Discovery science writer Gaia Vince meets the psychologists, evolutionary biologists and neuroscientists who are studying our built in human behaviour...more

  • The Cooperative Species

    Apr 23 2018

    People are incredibly rude to each other on social media. Much ruder than they would ever be face to face. The great potential of the internet to bring humanity together in a glorious collaborating network seems naïve – instead of embracing a massive extension of our social circles, we seem to revert to tribalism and conflict online. And while we generally conduct our real-life interactions with strangers with politeness and respect, online, we can be horrible. But it was our human ability t...more

  • Bringing Schrodinger's Cat to Life

    Apr 16 2018

    Schrodinger's cat is the one that's famously alive and dead. At the same time. Impossible! Roland Pease meets the quantum scientists hoping to bring one to life in the laboratory. Not a real cat, to be fair. But large biomolecules, viruses, even bacteria, that can exhibit the quantum duality parodied in the paradox first described by one of the fathers of quantum physics. Because if they succeed, they may learn something about the interface between the quantum world, and the human world we live ...more

  • Barbara McLintock

    Apr 09 2018

    Barbara McClintock’s work on the genetics of corn won her a Nobel prize in 1983. Her research on jumping genes challenged the over-simplified picture of chromosomes and DNA that Watson and Crick’s discovery has all too often been used to support. During the half century that she worked at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory she became something of a living legend, a pioneer in a time when women weren’t expected to take much interest in science. In that story, she made a profound discovery that her...more

  • D'Arcy Thompson

    Apr 02 2018

    One hundred years ago D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson published On Growth and Form, a book with a mission to put maths into biology. He showed how the shapes, forms and growth processes we see in the living world aren’t some arbitrary result of evolution’s blind searching, but are dictated by mathematical rules. A flower, a honeycomb, a dragonfly’s wing: it’s not sheer chance that these look the way they do. But can these processes be explained by physics? D'Arcy Thompson loved nature’s shapes and inf...more

  • The Far Future

    Mar 26 2018

    How do we prepare for the distant future? Helen Keen meets the people who try to. If our tech society continues then we can leave data for future generations in huge, mundane quantities, detailing our every tweet and Facebook 'like'. But how long could this information be stored? And if society as we know it ends, will our achievements vanish with it? How do we plan for and protect those who will be our distant descendants and yet may have hopes, fears, languages, beliefs, even religions that...more

  • Why We Cut Men

    Mar 19 2018

    Male circumcision is one of the oldest and most common surgical procedures in human history. Around the world, 1 in 3 men are cut. It’s performed as a religious rite in Islam and Judaism; in other cultures it’s part of initiation, a social norm or marker of identity. Some individuals think it’s cleaner, sexier or safer. In this documentary, anthropologist Mary-Ann Ochota explores the reasons we cut men. She meets people who passionately promote the practice – and others who protest against it. ...more

  • Iodine

    Mar 12 2018

    The phrase 'essential 'element' is often incorrectly used to describe the nutrients we need, but can aptly be applied to iodine - without it we would suffer severe developmental problems. Iodine is a key component of thyroid hormones, responsible for the regulation of our metabolism. And yet most of us have no idea how much we need, nor where it comes from. In her research, Margaret Rayman, Professor of Nutritional Medicine at Surrey University, has found pregnant women in particular are at ...more

  • Phosphorus

    Mar 05 2018

    What links trade unions with urine, Syria with semiconductors, and bones and bombs? The answer is phosphorus, UCL Inorganic Chemistry Professor Andrea Sella, who is himself engaged in researching new phosphorus based materials, looks at this often rather frightening element. We hear how the health impact of phosphorus on a group of Irish girls changed politics, how the element has been used as a weapon of war and we peer into the future, as chemists break new ground on what might be possible w...more

  • Lead

    Feb 26 2018

    From the plumbing of ancient Rome, to lead acid batteries, paint, petrol and a dangerous legacy, the metal lead has seen a myriad of uses and abuses over thousands of years. In bullets, and poisons it has killed us both quickly and slowly, and yet its malleability, low melting point and resistance to corrosion make it a fantastic material for all kinds of containers and water proofing. And it is key to one of the most commonly used, and ignored, devices on the planet, the car battery. However...more

  • The Power of Sloth

    Feb 19 2018

    Zoologist and founder of the Sloth Appreciation Society, Lucy Cooke, unleashes her inner sloth to discover why being lazy could actually be the ultimate evolutionary strategy. The explorers of the New World described sloths as ‘the lowest form of existence’, but sloths are actually some of the most enduring of all tropical mammals. They make up one third of the mammalian biomass in rainforests and have survived some 64 million years - outliving far flashier animals like sabre tooth tigers. ...more

  • Pain of Torture

    Feb 12 2018

    Does knowing that someone is inflicting pain on you deliberately make the pain worse? Professor Irene Tracey meets survivors of torture and examines the dark side of pain. Producer: Geraldine Fitzgerald (Photo: A woman mourns during the funeral procession of Abdulrassul Hujairi. Credit: Joseph Eid/AFP)

  • Controlling Pain

    Feb 05 2018

    What if your brain could naturally control pain? Professor Irene Tracey and her colleagues are trying to unlock the natural mechanisms in the brain that limit the amount of pain we feel. We hear about how children learning judo are taught special techniques and from ex-marine Chris Shirley who ran a marathon carrying a 45kg rucksack and could ignore the pain of the blisters and torn shoulder muscles. One study found that religious people feel less pain than agnostics by looking at a pic...more

  • Knowing Pain

    Jan 29 2018

    Scientists reveal why we feel pain and the consequences of life without pain. One way to understand the experience of pain is to look at unusual situations which give clues to our everyday agony. Phantom limb pain was described in ancient times but only after WWI did it gain acceptance in modern medicine. For those living with it, it can be a painful reminder of a lost limb. New studies are now unravelling why the brain generates this often unpleasant experience and how the messages can be us...more

  • Seeing Pain

    Jan 22 2018

    Mystery still surrounds the experience of pain. It is highly subjective but why do some people feel more pain than others and why does the brain appear to switch off under anaesthesia so we are unaware of the surgeon’s scalpel? Professor Irene Tracey uses brain scanners to ask if we can actually see pain in the brain. On air we hear for the first time the results of the latest research into diabetes and nerve pain. Promising new techniques means scientists are able to see regions in the brain wh...more

  • Humphry Davy

    Jan 15 2018

    In Bristol in 1799, a young man started to experiment with newly discovered gases, looking for a cure for tuberculosis. Humphry Davy, aged 20, nearly killed himself inhaling carbon monoxide. Nitrous oxide was next. It was highly pleasurable, ‘particularly in the chest and extremities’ and he began to dance around his laboratory ‘like a madman’, before passing out. By day, he gave the gas to patients, carefully noting their reactions. In the evenings, he invited his friends over to have a laugh (...more

  • Lise Meitner

    Jan 09 2018

    Philip Ball reveals the dramatic tale of Lise Meitner, the humanitarian physicist of Jewish descent, who unlocked the science of the atom bomb after a terrifying escape from Hitler's Germany. One of the most brilliant nuclear scientists working in Germany her flight from terror cost Hitler’s regime dearly. In the early 20th Century it was barely possible for women to work in science at all and yet Einstein once called Meitner Germany’s own Marie Curie. It was Meitner’s insight that began the ...more

  • The Day the Earth Moved

    Jan 01 2018

    Roland Pease tells the story of how fifty years ago geologists finally became convinced that the earth’s crust is made up of shifting plates. The idea of mobile continents, continental drift, had been talked about, for example because it looked like Africa and South America had once been joined, and were now separated by the Atlantic. But given the solidity of rocks and the vastness of continents, that idea made no sense. Until plate tectonics, as it became known, gave it a scientific basis and ...more

  • Maria Merian

    Dec 25 2017

    Maria Merian was born in 1647. At the time of her birth, Shakespeare had been dead for 30 years; Galileo had only just stood trial for arguing that the Earth moved around the Sun. And yet, here in Germany, was a child who would become an important but oft-forgotten figure of science. Aged 13, she mapped out metamorphosis, catching caterpillars from her garden and painting them in exquisite detail. At that point, most believed that caterpillars spontaneously generated from cabbages and maggots...more

  • Alcuin of York

    Dec 18 2017

    The Dark Ages are often painted as an era of scholarly decline. The Western Roman Empire was on its way out, books were few and far between, and, if you believe the stereotype, mud-splattered peasants ran around in rags. However, it was far more intellectually vibrant than you might imagine. Out of this era emerged a set of ‘problems to sharpen the young,’ including the famous river crossing puzzle that’s still taught in maths today. The presumed author of these riddles is Alcuin of York – ‘t...more

  • Cheating the Atmosphere

    Dec 11 2017

    All countries are supposed to measure and report their greenhouse gas emissions but BBC environment correspondent, Matt McGrath, reveals there are gaping holes in national inventories. He uncovers serious failings in countries’ accounts of warming gases with many not reporting at all. There are disturbing signs that some banned warming chemicals, which are supposed to have been phased out completely, are once again on the rise. And evidence that worthless carbon credits are still being traded. ...more

  • Better Brains

    Dec 04 2017

    Every three seconds someone is diagnosed with dementia, and two thirds of the cases are Alzheimer’s Disease. As the global population ages, this is becoming an epidemic, and with no cures currently available for the collection of neurodegenerative conditions that include Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Motor Neurone Disease the public and personal cost is escalating. Sue Broom reports on new efforts to find ways to stop the progress of these diseases for the first time, and to bring treatment for n...more

  • Black Hole and Sonic Weapons - Curious Cases of Rutherford and Fry

    Nov 21 2017

    Two deadly cases today sent in by listeners to curiouscases@bbc.co.uk The Dark Star "What's inside a black hole and could we fly a spaceship inside?" asks Jorge Luis Alvarez from Mexico City. Astrophysicist Sheila Rowan explains how we know invisible black holes actually exist. Plus cosmologist Andrew Pontzen is on hand to help cook one up. But which of our intrepid doctors will volunteer to fly into the heart of a black hole? Kate Bush’s Sonic Weapon "It started while listening to...more

  • Poles and Spin

    Nov 20 2017

    The Polar Opposite No one knows why the Earth's magnetic North and South poles swap. But polar reversals have happened hundreds of times over the history of the Earth. John Turk emailed curiouscases@bbc.co.uk to ask, “when is the next pole swap due and what will happen to us?” Featuring Prof Lucie Green from Mullard Space Science Laboratory and Dr Phil Livermore from the University of Leeds. Plus, astronaut Terry Virts, author of The View from Above, describes his experiences of a strange m...more

  • Balloons and Memory - The Curious Cases of Rutherford and Fry

    Nov 13 2017

    The Astronomical Balloon "How far up can a helium balloon go? Could it go out to space?" asks Juliet Gok, aged 9. This calls for an experiment! Dr Keri Nicholl helps Adam launch a party balloon and track its ascent. But their test doesn't quite go to plan. Meanwhile, Hannah discovers where space begins by asking Public Astronomer Dr Marek Kukula, from the Royal Observatory Greenwich. Send your Curious Cases to the team: curiouscases@bbc.co.uk The Forgetful Child "Why don't we remember th...more

  • Balloon and Memory

    Nov 13 2017

    The Astronomical Balloon "How far up can a helium balloon go? Could it go out to space?" asks Juliet Gok, aged 9. This calls for an experiment! Dr Keri Nicholl helps Adam launch a party balloon and track its ascent. But their test doesn't quite go to plan. Meanwhile, Hannah discovers where space begins by asking Public Astronomer Dr Marek Kukula, from the Royal Observatory Greenwich. Send your Curious Cases to the team: curiouscases@bbc.co.uk The Forgetful Child "Why don't we remember th...more

  • Cats and Itch – The Curious Cases of Rutherford and Fry

    Nov 06 2017

    “How on earth do cats find their way back to their previous home when they move house?" asks Vicky Cole from Nairobi in Kenya. Our enduring love for our feline friends began when Egyptian pharaohs began to welcome domesticated moggies into their homes. Pictured reclining in baskets at the feet of royalty, pet cats soon became fashionable throughout society in Egypt. Today they are the most popular pet in the world, and home is definitely where their hearts lie. "Whereas dogs are bonded t...more

  • Bacteria and Blood – The Curious Cases of Rutherford and Fry

    Oct 30 2017

    Science sleuths Drs Rutherford & Fry take on everyday mysteries and solve them with the power of science. Two cases in this episode concerning the inner workings of our bodies, and not for the faint hearted! The Broken Stool "Science tells us that our body houses microbial organisms. Then how much our weight is really our weight? If I am overweight, is it because of my own body cells or excess microflora?" asks Ajay Mathur from Mumbai in India. Adam bravely sends off a personal sample to...more

  • Sydney Brenner: A Revolutionary Biologist

    Oct 23 2017

    Sydney Brenner was one of the 20th Century’s greatest biologists. Born 90 years ago in South Africa to impoverished immigrant parents, Dr Brenner became a leading figure in the biological revolution that followed the discovery of the structure of DNA by Crick and Watson, using data from Rosalind Franklin, in the 1950s. Brenner’s insights and inventive experiments laid foundation stones for new science of molecular biology and the genetic age in which we live today, from the Human Genome Projec...more

  • SOS Snail

    Oct 16 2017

    This is a big story about a little snail. Biologist Helen Scales relates an epic tale that spans the globe and involves calamity, tragedy, extinction and we hope, salvation. It stars the tiny tree-dwelling mollusc from French Polynesia, Partula, a snail that has captivated scientists for centuries. Like Charles Darwin studied finches on the Galapagos, Partula became an icon of evolution because, in the living laboratories of the Pacific islands, it had evolved into multiple species. But a calami...more

  • Indian Science – The Colonial Legacy

    Oct 09 2017

    For more than 200 years Britain ruled India, bringing many aspects of British culture to India - including European science developed during the enlightenment. However centuries earlier India had already pioneered work in astronomy, mathematics and engineering. How was India’s scientific progress affected by colonialism? Did British rule hold the country back, or did it drive it forward? Presented by Angela Saini. Picture: The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) communication satel...more

  • India's Ancient Science

    Oct 02 2017

    We go behind the scenes of a new exhibition on India at London’s Science Museum. What can historical objects tell us about India’s rich, and often hidden scientific past? We look at the influential mathematics, metallurgy and civil engineering of ancient India. The exhibition also contain artefacts from India’s time under the British Empire. We ask how the many years of colonial rule shaped the more recent scientific development of India. Science journalist Angela Saini presents. Imag...more

  • Africa’s Great Green Wall

    Sep 25 2017

    Can Africa’s Great Green Wall beat back the Sahara desert and reverse the degrading landscape? The ambitious 9 miles wide and 5000 miles long line of vegetation will stretch all the way from Dakar in the west to Djibouti in the east. Thomas Fessy is in Senegal where the wall has already begun to evolve into a series of forests and garden communities. He meets the planners, planters, ecologists and local villagers to hear how its early progress is reversing years of poor land use, turning no...more

  • Internet of Things

    Sep 18 2017

    Can we Control the Dark Side of the Internet? The Internet is the world's most widely used communications tool. It’s a fast and efficient way of delivering information. However it is also quite dumb, neutral, treating equally all the data it passes around the world. From data that forms scientific research papers, the wealth of social media to keep us all connected with friends and relatives, entertainment or material we would rather not see- from political propaganda to horrific violence, th...more

  • Dark Side of the World Wide Web

    Sep 11 2017

    With the coming of the World Wide Web in the 1990s internet access opened up to everybody, it was no longer the preserve of academics and computer hobbyists. Already prior to the Web, the burgeoning internet user groups and chat rooms had tested what was acceptable behaviour online, but access was still limited. Aleks Krotoski asks whether the Web through enabling much wider use of the internet is the villain of the piece in facilitating not just entertainment and commerce, but all aspects ...more

  • The Origin of the Internet

    Sep 04 2017

    Just how did the Internet become the most powerful communications medium on the planet, and why does it seem to be an uncontrollable medium for good and bad? With no cross border regulation the internet can act as an incredible force for connecting people and supporting human rights and yet at the same time convey the most offensive material imaginable. It has become the most useful research tool on earth but also the most effective way of delivering threats to the security of governments, the ...more

  • Silicon - The World's Building Block

    Aug 28 2017

    Silicon is literally everywhere in both the natural and built environment, from the dominance of silicate rocks in the earth crust, to ubiquitous sand in building materials and as the basis for glass. We've also harnessed silicon's properties as a semiconductor to build the modern electronics industry - without silicon personal computers and smartphones would simply not exist. Silicon is also found widely across the universe. It is formed in stars, particularly when they explode. And the ...more

  • The Day the Sun Went Dark

    Aug 21 2017

    For the first time in almost 100 years the USA is experiencing a full solar eclipse from coast to coast on August 21st 2017. Main image: Totality during the solar eclipse at Palm Cove on November 14, 2012 in Palm Cove, Australia. Credit: Ian Hitchcock / Getty Images

  • Carbon - the backbone of life

    Aug 14 2017

    Carbon is widely considered to be the key element in forming life. It's at the centre of DNA, and the molecules upon which all living things rely. Monica Grady, Professor of Planetary Science at the Open University, explores the nature of carbon, from its formation in distant stars to its uses and abuses here on earth. She looks at why it forms the scaffold upon which living organisms are built, and how the mechanisms involved have helped inform the development of new carbon based technol...more

  • And then there was Li

    Aug 07 2017

    From the origins of the universe, though batteries, glass and grease to influencing the working of our brains, neuroscientist Sophie Scott tracks the incredible power of lithium. It's 200 years ago this year that lithium was first isolated and named, but this, the lightest of all metals, had been used as a drug for centuries before. From the industrial revolution it proves its worth as a key ingredient in glass and grease, and as the major component in lithium ion batteries it powers ever...more

  • Oxygen: The breath of Life

    Aug 01 2017

    Oxygen appeared on Earth over two billion years ago and life took off. Now it makes up just over a fifth of the air. Trevor Cox, professor of acoustic engineering at the University of Salford, England, tells the story of oxygen on Earth and in space. Without oxygen, there would be no life on Earth, yet it was not discovered until late in the 18th Century. During the Great Oxidation Event, three billion years ago, cyanobacteria, thought to be the earliest forms of life on our planet, started ...more

  • Mercury - Chemistry's Jekyll and Hyde

    Jul 24 2017

    The most beautiful and shimmering of the elements, the weirdest, and yet the most reviled. Chemist Andrea Sella tell the story of Mercury, explaining the significance of this element not just for chemistry, but also the development of modern civilisation. It's been a a source of wonder for thousands of years - why is this metal a liquid? and what is its contribution to art, from the Stone Age to the Renaissance? We look at how Mercury is integral to hundreds of years of scientific dis...more

  • Eating Well in Lyon: Healthy Diets to prevent Bowel Cancer

    Jul 17 2017

    Anu Anand is in Lyon, looking at what we eat and drink and the risk of bowel cancer

  • Catching Prostate Cancer Early in Trinidad

    Jul 10 2017

    Anu Anand on detecting and treating prostate cancer in Trinidad and Tobago.

  • The USA’s Deadly Racial Divide: Black Women & Breast Cancer

    Jul 03 2017

    Anu Anand explores why more black women are more likely to die of breast cancer in the US

  • Screening and Treating Cervical Cancer in Tanzania

    Jun 26 2017

    Anu Anand on how vinegar and a head torch are used to tackle cervical cancer in Tanzania

  • Taking On Tobacco - Lung Cancer in Uruguay

    Jun 21 2017

    For more than 65 years we have known that smoking kills. So how can it be that a Mexican wave of tobacco use, disease and death is heading at breakneck speed towards the world’s poorest people? Millions will die of lung cancer and it is hard to grasp that this is a largely preventable disease. Uruguay in South America could hold the key to breaking this wave. Under a President who is a cancer specialist they introduced some of the most radical tobacco control policies in the world and attrac...more

  • Dying in Comfort in Mongolia

    Jun 16 2017

    The Mongolian matriarch who is helping people with terminal liver cancer die in comfort

  • Can Robots be Truly Intelligent?

    Jun 05 2017

    From Skynet and the Terminator franchise, through Wargames and Ava in Ex Machina, artificial intelligences pervade our cinematic experiences. But AIs are already in the real world, answering our questions on our phones and making diagnoses about our health. Adam Rutherford asks if we are ready for AI, when fiction becomes reality, and we create thinking machines.

  • Robots - More Human than Human?

    May 29 2017

    Robots are becoming present in our lives, as companions, carers and as workers. Adam Rutherford explores our relationship with these machines. Have we made them to be merely more dextrous versions of us? Why do we want to make replicas of ourselves? Should we be worried that they could replace us at work? Is it a good idea that robots are becoming carers for the elderly? Adam Rutherford meets some of the latest robots and their researchers and explores how the current reality has been influe...more

  • History of the Rise of the Robots

    May 22 2017

    The idea of robots goes back to the Ancient Greeks. In myths Hephaestus, the god of fire, created robots to assist in his workshop. In the medieval period the wealthy showed off their automata. In France in the 15th century a Duke of Burgundy had his chateau filled with automata that played practical tricks on his guests, such as spraying water at them. By the 18th century craftsmen were making life like performing robots. In 1738 in Paris people queued to see the amazing flute playing automaton...more

  • Quantum Supremacy

    May 15 2017

    IBM is giving users worldwide the chance to use a quantum computer; Google is promising "quantum supremacy" by the end of the year; Microsoft's Station Q is working on the hardware and operating system for a machine that will outpace any conventional computer. Roland Pease meets some of the experts, and explores the technology behind the next information revolution. Picture: Bright future for Quantum Computing, credit: Jonathan Home @ETH

  • Re-engineering Life

    May 08 2017

    Synthetic biology, coming to a street near you. Engineers and biologists who hack the information circuits of living cells are already getting products to the market. Roland Pease meets the experts who are transforming living systems to transform our lives. Picture: MIT spinout Synlogic is re-programming bacteria found in the gut as "living therapeutics" to treat major diseases and rare genetic disorders, courtesy of Synlogic

  • Hunting for Life on Mars

    May 01 2017

    As a small rocky planet, Mars is similar in many respects to the Earth and for that reason, many have thought it may harbour some kind of life. A hundred years ago, there was serious talk about the possibility of advanced civilisations there. Even in early 1970s, scientists mused that plant-like aliens might grow in the Martian soil. The best hope now is for something microbial. But the discovery that even simple life survives there or did some time in its history would be a profound one. We wou...more

  • Lifechangers: Charles Bolden

    Apr 24 2017

    In Lifechangers, Kevin Fong talks to people about their lives in science. Major General Charles Bolden – a former NASA administrator – talks to Kevin Fong about his extraordinary life, from childhood in racially segregated South Carolina to the first African American to command a space shuttle. He had originally hoped to join the Navy, but was unable to as an African American. Although Charles refused to take no for an answer and after much petitioning he was accepted. From there he reached f...more

  • Lifechangers: Neil deGrasse Tyson

    Apr 17 2017

    In Lifechangers, Kevin Fong talks to people about their lives in science. Astrophysicist and Director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City, Neil deGrasse Tyson is well known in the US since he presented the TV series Cosmos: a spacetime odyssey. He talks to Kevin Fong about growing up in Brooklyn, becoming obsessed with the night sky and how he became a broadcaster and writer. Image: Neil deGrasse Tyson, © Cindy Ord/Getty Images for FOX

  • Lifechangers: George Takei

    Apr 10 2017

    In the start of a new series of Lifechangers, Kevin Fong talks to three people about their lives in science. His first conversation is with a man better known for his life in science fiction, George Takei, the Japanese American actor who played Sulu in the TV series, Star Trek. They discuss the voyages of the Starship Enterprise and the ideas of other worlds featured in Star Trek. He talks about his own epic life journey – how his family was imprisoned when the US joined the Second World War ...more

  • The Bee All and End All

    Apr 06 2017

    Bees pollinate and can detect bombs and compose music. What would we do without them? The world owes a debt of gratitude to this hard working but under-appreciated insect. One third of the food we eat would not be available without bees, meaning our lives would be unimaginably different without them. Bee populations are dropping by up to 80% in some countries and the consequences are potentially catastrophic. The use of neonics pesticides in farming has been one of the main causes in the decl...more

  • Extending Embryo Research

    Mar 27 2017

    Since the birth of Louise Brown - the world’s first IVF baby - in England in 1978, many children have been born through in vitro fertilisation. IVF doesn’t work for everyone but over the last few decades basic research into human reproduction has brought about huge improvements. In the UK the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, passed in 1990, made it illegal for research on human embryos to be permitted beyond 14 days. In a dozen other countries, from Canada and Australia to Iceland and...more

  • The Split Second Decision

    Mar 20 2017

    As the pace of technology moves at ever greater speeds, how vulnerable are we when making split second decisions? Kevin Fong flies with the Helicopter Emergency Medical Service, making split-second, life-or-death decisions. He examines how we can come to terms with the growing challenge of quick and accurate front line decision making. Picture: Presenter, Kevin Fong in air ambulance, Credit: BBC

  • Human Hibernation

    Mar 13 2017

    Ever wished you could miss an entire cold dark winter like bears or dormice? Kevin Fong explores the possibilities than humans could hibernate. This ability could help us recover from serious injury or make long space flights pass in a flash. The first report on human hibernation in a medical journal was in the BMJ in 1900. It was an account of Russian peasants who, the author claimed, were able to hibernate. Existing in a state approaching "chronic famine", residents of the north-eastern Psk...more

  • Delivering Clean Air

    Mar 03 2017

    Internet shopping continues to rise worldwide. That means a lot more delivery vans on the streets of our towns and cities. Those vans and trucks, often powered by dirty diesel engines, are contributing to air pollution problems that can cause significant increases in premature death and great discomfort for people suffering from heart and lung conditions. As part of the BBC’s So I Can Breathe season Tom Heap sets out to find innovative solutions. Could drones or robots be the answer? Could we...more

  • Make Me a Cyborg

    Feb 27 2017

    Frank Swain can hear Wi-Fi. Diagnosed with early deafness aged 25, Frank decided to turn his misfortune to his advantage by modifying his hearing aids to create a new sense. He documented the start of his journey three years ago on Radio 4 in 'Hack My Hearing'. Since then, Frank has worked with sound artist Daniel Jones to detect and sonify Wi-Fi connections around him. He joins a community around the world who are extending their experience beyond human limitations. In 'Meet the Cyborg...more

  • Singing and Navigating – The Curious Cases of Rutherford and Fry

    Feb 21 2017

    Two challenges for the team today involving singing and navigating. The Melodic Mystery "Why is my mother tone deaf?" asks listener Simon, "and can I do anything to ensure my son can at least carry a tune?" Hannah admits to struggling to hold a tune and has a singing lesson with teacher Michael Bonshor, although it doesn’t go quite to plan. We meet Martin who hates music because he has the clinical form of tone deafness, known as amusia. Just as people with dyslexia see words differentl...more

  • Left-handedness – The Curious Cases of Rutherford and Fry

    Feb 13 2017

    Neal Shepperson asks, "What determines left or right handedness and why are us lefties in the minority?" One in ten people are left-handed, but where does this ratio come from and when did it appear in our evolutionary past? Hannah talks to primatologist Prof Linda Marchant from Miami University about why Neanderthal teeth could hold the answer. Prof Chris McManus from University College London tells Adam about his quest to track down the genes responsible for whether we're right or lef...more

  • Moon -The Curious Cases of Rutherford and Fry

    Feb 06 2017

    Listener Paul Don asks: "I'm wondering what's the feasibility of terraforming another planet ie Mars and if it is possible to do the same thing with something like the moon? Or, why isn't there already a moon-base? Surely that is easier." Dr Adam Rutherford and Dr Hannah Fry consider moving to another planet, and discover what challenges they would need to overcome to live in space. They consult engineer Prof Danielle George from the University of Manchester and Dr Louisa Preston, UK Space Ag...more

  • Weight and Strength - The Curious Cases of Rutherford and Fry

    Jan 30 2017

    Two cases today for Drs Adam Rutherford & Hannah Fry to investigate, involving strength and weight. The Portly Problem "Why do we have middle aged spread?" asks Bart Janssen from New Zealand. In this episode we ponder the science of fat, from obese mice to big bottoms. Why do we put on weight in middle age? And are some types of fat better than others? Hannah meets Prof Steve Bloom at Imperial College, London to discuss why pears are better than apples when it comes to body shape. An...more

  • Nothing - The Curious Cases of Rutherford and Fry

    Jan 23 2017

    "Is there any such thing as nothing?" This question from Bill Keck sparked a lot of head scratching. Dr Adam Rutherford and Dr Hannah Fry first consider the philosophy and physics of nothing. As Prof Frank Close, author of Nothing: A Very Short Introduction explains, nothing has intrigued great thinkers for thousands of years, from the Ancient Greeks to today's particle physicists. Otto Von Geuricke, the Mayor of Magdeburg in Germany, invented the artificial vacuum pump in the 17th Centu...more

  • Sesame Open

    Jan 16 2017

    There's a new light of hope in the Middle East. It's a scientific experiment called SESAME - intended to do world-class science and bring together researchers from divided nations. Its members include Palestine and Israel, Pakistan and Iran, Jordan, Egypt, and more. First conceived in the late 1990s, it has just seen the first spark of electricity flow through its high-vacuum steel pipes, last week, and first science should follow soon. The BBC’s Roland Pease paid his second visit to the SESAME...more

  • The Future of the Climate Deal

    Jan 09 2017

    The incoming administration of President Trump has frightened many in the international environmental community. The result of US election in November was announced during the 2016 Marrakech UN Climate Change Conference, a meeting where most delegates were working to deliver on the promises of the previous Paris accord. Instead, a new US direction seemed to have emerged, with some in the new US cabinet going so far as to suggest the US should withdraw altogether from Paris, scrap the US’s own Cl...more

  • Science Stories: Series 3 - Mesmerism and Parapsychology

    Jan 02 2017

    Anton Mesmer was a doctor who claimed he could cure people with an unknown force of animal magnetism. He was the subject to a committee that found there was no evidence for his powers. Phil Ball tallks to Simon Shaffer, Professor of History of Science at Cambridge University, about the rise of showmanship in science at the time of Mesmer in the later 18th Century, and to Professor Richard Wiseman of Hertfordshire University about contemporary parapsychology. Image: 1784: Franz Friedrich Anton M...more

  • Science Stories: Series 3 - The Woman Who Tamed Lightning

    Dec 26 2016

    Naomi Alderman tells the story of Hertha Marks Ayrton, the first woman to be admitted to the Institution of Electrical Engineers, who improved electric arc lights. Photo: Street lamps light up a road in Colombo, credit: Ishara S.KODIKARA/AFP/Getty Images

  • Science Stories: Series 3 - Testosterone: Elixir of Masculinity

    Dec 19 2016

    Testosterone has been claimed as one of the most important drivers of human life – through the agency of sex and aggression. In the 19th century, Charles-Eduoard Brown-Séquard injected himself with extracts from ground-up animal testicles, and made startling claims for its rejuvenating properties and its ability to enhance virility. But the amount of testosterone derived from the injection was actually so small that it could only have been a placebo effect. Today synthesised testosterone is incr...more

  • Science Stories: Series 3 - Making the Earth Move

    Dec 12 2016

    Prior to 1543 it was generally believed that the earth lay static in the centre of the universe, while the Sun, moon, planets and stars revolved around it in various complex paths, some even looping back and forth, as described by the Egyptian astronomer Ptolemy over a millennium before. This Ptolemaic system sat comfortably reconciled with philosophy and biblical scripture, not to mention immediate experience and observations. In the 16th century astronomy and astrology were closely intertwine...more

  • Origins of Human Culture

    Dec 05 2016

    We humans are such a successful species. Homo sapiens have been around for only around 100 000 years and in that time we have utterly transformed the world around us. Our shelters allow us to live in all climates and from the poles to the tropics; our technology lets us communicate across the planet. We’ve created art and music and literature; and our agriculture has changed global biodiversity, shifting forever the way we feed ourselves. In other words, human culture dominates the earth. Gaia...more

  • Mind Reading

    Nov 28 2016

    Whether it's gossiping over a drink, teaching our children, or politicians debating we use words to communicate with each other and share ideas. It’s what makes us human. But what if we can’t? Could it be possible to broadcast our thoughts directly from our brains without the need for speech? Gaia Vince meets the scientists who say they are getting close to being able to read minds. For the last decade neuroscientists have been using fMRI brain scanners and EEG to try to communicate with peo...more

  • Custom of Cutting

    Nov 21 2016

    More than 200 million women and girls alive today have undergone female genital mutilation, or cutting. It is where parts or all of a girl's genitals are damaged or removed. There are no medical benefits to FGM, and people who undergo the practice can face problems in later pregnancies, infections and even death due to blood loss. FGM is recognised internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. The head of the UNFPA recently described it as child abuse. The BBC's Global H...more

  • The Inflamed Mind

    Nov 14 2016

    Depression or psychotic illness is experienced by hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people in the UK. James Gallagher talks to the psychiatrists investigating this new understanding of mental illness and to people who may benefit from treatments aimed at the immune systems rather than their brain cells. “I believe this is one of the strongest discoveries in psychiatry in the last twenty years”, says Professor Carmine Pariante of his and other research on the immune system and depres...more

  • The City that Fell into the Earth

    Nov 07 2016

    How do you move a city? Lesley Riddoch travels to Arctic Sweden to find out. Kiruna is gradually sliding into Europe's biggest iron ore mine. The city has to be rebuilt two miles away. That requires an extraordinary blend of planning, architecture, technology and stoicism. If anyone can do it then it's the Swedes.

  • The Sun King of China

    Oct 31 2016

    Meet Huang Ming, the Chinese inventor who describes himself as, 'the number one crazy solar guy in the world'. One of the prize exhibits of his museum in northern China is a vintage solar panel. It is a water heater, installed by President Jimmy Carter on the roof of the West Wing of the White House. Back in 1979 the installation was meant to symbolise a new solar-powered future for America. Instead, oil prices fell and Ronald Reagan removed the White House panels. Thirty-seven years on and ...more

  • The Mars of the Mid-Atlantic

    Oct 24 2016

    Ascension Island is a tiny scrap of British territory, marooned in the tropical mid-Atlantic roughly halfway between Brazil and Africa. It is the tip of a giant undersea volcano – rugged, remote and, up until around 150 years ago, almost completely devoid of vegetation. Peter Gibbs visits to learn how 19th Century botanist Joseph Hooker, encouraged by Charles Darwin, planted a forest on the island’s summit to trap moisture brought by the trade winds, introducing a panoply of flora from around...more

  • Creating the Crick

    Oct 17 2016

    The Francis Crick Institute, in the centre of London, is the UK’s brand new, game-changing centre for biology and medical research. Roland Pease joins the scientists as they move into the building. Sir Paul Nurse, Nobel Laureate, one of the UK’s top biologists and director of the Crick explains what makes the new institute so special. Professor Richard Treisman, who helped shape its vision, shows Roland how the building is designed to encourage collaboration. And Roland learns how cancer researc...more

  • Black Holes: A Tale of Cosmic Death and Rebirth

    Oct 10 2016

    The discovery of gravitational waves by the LIGO observatory opens up a new form of astronomy, which will allow scientists explore the ultimate fate of dead stars, Black Holes. Roland Pease reports. (Photo: Gravitational waves © Nasa)

  • The Whale Menopause

    Oct 03 2016

    Killer whales and humans are almost unique in the animal kingdom. The females of both species go through the menopause in their 40s or 50s, and then live for decades without producing any more offspring themselves. It is an extremely rare phenomenon. No other mammal does this, including other apes, monkeys and elephants, with the exception of another species of toothed whale. There are good grounds for thinking the menopause evolved for a reason, but why? BBC science reporter Victoria Gill ta...more

  • Reversing Parkinson's

    Sep 26 2016

    Parkinson’s Disease is one of the major neurodegenerative conditions. Cells die, for reasons not fully understood, causing a reduction in the production of the neurotransmitter, dopamine, and a raft of physical and behavioural problems. Although effective drug treatments are available, they wear off over time and have side effects. The highly individual nature of the condition and variation in its progression also makes dosage difficult. Sue Broom reports on two new approaches that could lead to...more

  • Space - The Curious Cases of Rutherford & Fry

    Sep 19 2016

    Two spacey cases today for doctors Rutherford and Fry to investigate, both sent in to BBC Future via Facebook. The Stellar Dustbin 'Can we shoot garbage into the sun?' asks Elisabeth Hill. The doctors embark on an astronomical thought experiment to see how much it would cost to throw Hannah's daily rubbish into our stellar dustbin. From space elevators to solar sails, they explore the various options that could be used to send litter to the Sun. Featuring space scientist Lucie Green and astr...more

  • Fainting and Counting - The Curious Cases of Rutherford & Fry

    Sep 13 2016

    Swooning maidens and clever horses feature in today's Curious Cases, sent in by listeners to curiouscases@bbc.co.uk. The Squeamish Swoon Science sleuths Hannah Fry and Adam Rutherford investigate the following question sent in by Philip Le Riche: 'Why do some people faint at the sight of blood, or a hypodermic needle, or even if they bash their funny bone? Does it serve any useful evolutionary purpose, or is just some kind of cerebral error condition?' Adam is strapped onto a hospital ...more

  • Traffic and Telephones - The Curious Cases of Rutherford & Fry

    Sep 05 2016

    How does traffic jam? And, why do some people shout into their cellphones in public places? Two subjects guaranteed to annoy even the most patient listeners. The Phantom Jam Listener Matthew Chandler wrote to us: "I travel on the motorway for work and often I find myself sitting in a traffic jam for ages, thinking there must be roadworks or an accident ahead, then suddenly the jam mysteriously disappears to reveal… nothing! There's no apparent reason whatsoever." Doctors Rutherford and Fr...more

  • Tea and Tears - The Curious Cases of Rutherford & Fry

    Aug 29 2016

    A story of sorrow and comfort today, as Doctors Adam Rutherford and Hannah Fry investigate two mysteries sent in by listeners. The Psychic Tear Edith Calman challenges our scientific sleuths to answer the following question: “What is it about extreme pain, emotional shock or the sight of a three-year-old stumbling their way through an off-key rendition of Away in a Manger that makes the brain send messages to the lacrimal glands to chuck out water?" Hannah discovers how the eye produces ...more

  • Hair - The Curious Cases of Rutherford & Fry

    Aug 22 2016

    Doctors Adam Rutherford and Hannah Fry set out to solve the following perplexing cases sent in by listeners: The Scarlet Mark Sheena Cruickshank in Manchester asks, "My eldest son is ginger but I am blonde and my husband brunette so we are constantly asked where the red came from. Further, people do say the 'ginger gene' is dying out, but how good is that maths or is it just anecdotal?" Our science sleuths set out to discover what makes gingers ginger with a tale of fancy mice, Tudor quee...more

  • China Science Rising

    Aug 15 2016

    China is super-sizing science. From building the biggest experiments the world has ever seen to rolling out the latest medical advances on a massive scale and pushing the boundaries of exploration in outer space - China’s scientific ambitions are immense. Just a few decades ago the nation barely featured in the world science rankings. Now, in terms of research spending and the number of scientific papers published, it stands only behind the US. But despite this rapid progress, China faces a ...more

  • The Power of Cute

    Aug 08 2016

    Zoologist and broadcaster Lucy Cooke explores the science behind our seeming obsession with all things adorable. There has been an explosion in interest in cuteness, particularly online, with an ever growing number of websites dedicated to pandas, kittens, puppies and of course babies. If you are feeling a bit down in the dumps, what better way to brighten your day than looking at some cute baby animal frolicking about. But what is it that makes these creatures so darn attractive to us and can y...more

  • Failing Gracefully

    Aug 01 2016

    Dr Kevin Fong concludes his exploration of the boundaries between the medical profession and other industries for valuable lessons that might be of use to us all. In this final episode, Kevin talks to people who have spent their lives investigating what it takes to make high-performance, high-reliability systems work safely when lives are on the line. Since the days of Project Apollo, People have come to rely more and more heavily upon the digital computer. Whether it’s aerospace, the au...more

  • Going Lean: Health and the Toyota Way

    Jul 25 2016

    In the third programme in the series, Dr Kevin Fong explores the concept of ‘lean’ in healthcare. He visits Toyota’s largest car assembly plant in the United States and discovers how the company’s legendary management philosophy – the Toyota Production System – is being implemented in hospitals, in an effort to improve patient care. Toyota’s philosophy of continuous improvement aims to increase quality and flow whilst decreasing cost. But whilst this may work well for the mass production of cars...more

  • “Faster, Better, Cheaper”

    Jul 18 2016

    Kevin Fong explores the success and failure of NASA’s missions to Mars

  • The Business of Failure

    Jul 12 2016

    Dr Kevin Fong flies with a US air ambulance crew and discovers why it’s seen as one of the most dangerous occupations in America.

  • Cleaning Up the Oceans

    Jul 04 2016

    More than five million tonnes of plastic waste ends up in the oceans every year. The abandoned fishing gear and bags and bottles left on beaches can smother birds and sea life. Now there is also evidence that the small particles created as the plastics are eroded by the waves and sunlight are eaten by all kinds of marine species. Roland Pease is on a beach in Devon in south-west England with professor Richard Thompson of Plymouth University finding the plastic debris before it gets into the ...more

  • Life on the East Asian Flyway - Part 4: The Arctic

    Jun 27 2016

    After flying thousands of kilometres from faraway Bangladesh and New Zealand via the Yellow Sea, the shorebirds of the East Asian Flyway complete their northward migration. They touch down in the Arctic Russia and Alaska to breed. In May and June, birds such as the endangered spoon-billed sandpiper and red knot fill the air of the Russian tundras with their mating calls and display flights. But why travel so far to raise the next generation? Presenter Ann Jones also discovers why Russia...more

  • Life on the East Asian Flyway - Part Three: Yellow Sea North

    Jun 20 2016

    Can China’s new generation of birdwatchers and North Korea’s weak economy save migratory birds from extinction? Habitat loss for shorebirds in the Yellow Sea is rapid as the mudflats on which they depend are converted to farmland, factories, ports, oil refineries and golf courses. But all is not lost on the East Asian Australasian Flyway. Ann Jones travels around the northern end of the Yellow Sea, talking to the world’s leading shorebird researchers and Chinese nature lovers about the...more

  • Life on the East Asian Flyway – Part Two: Yellow Sea South

    Jun 13 2016

    Ann Jones flies north to Shanghai as shorebirds from as far away as Australia, Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar and Bangladesh arrive on the coast of the Yellow Sea. Here she meets a traditional whistling bird hunter who used to catch shorebirds for the pot but now does it for science. Bird mimic Mr Jin Weiguo demonstrates his centuries-old technique of bird trapping - luring them into nets by copying the different calls of the many different species. Scientists can then attach ID rings and GP...more

  • Life on the East Asian Flyway

    Jun 06 2016

    One of the great wonders of the natural world is in deep trouble. Millions of shorebirds fly from Australia and Southeast Asia to the Arctic every year. They follow the planet’s most gruelling migratory route – the East Asian Australasian Flyway. Join Ann Jones as she watches wading birds such as curlews, godwits and sandpipers prepare for their epic journey. They fatten up on clams to the point of obesity, to fuel the flight. They grow bigger hearts and flight muscles. Just before d...more

  • The Neglected Sense

    May 30 2016

    We may fear going blind, deaf or dumb, but few of us worry about losing our olfactory senses. And yet more than 200,000 people in the UK are anosmic - they cannot smell. Kathy Clugston is anosmic and gives a first hand account of the condition.She sets out on a personal mission to discover why she cannot smell. She has never before researched the extent to which smell guides and shapes our lives, how we smell and what parts of the brain are affected. For example, is her 'terrible memory' conn...more

  • After Ebola

    May 23 2016

    Last November Sierra Leone was declared Ebola free. By then, the epidemic had killed over 11,000 people in West Africa. The speed at which it took off highlighted the poor state of healthcare in the affected countries. Now in Sierra Leone some of the facilities created to deal with Ebola are being repurposed, to take in wider health care needs. The capital Freetown’s main hospital now has a new accident and emergency department, developed from the facilities created there to deal with Ebola....more

  • Benefits of Bilingualism - Part Two

    May 16 2016

    More than half the world speaks more than one language. New research is showing that being multilingual has some surprising advantages – it can help us keep healthier longer. Gaia Vince finds out how knowing many languages can protect our brains over our lifespan, and even stave off the appearance of some diseases, including dementia. Gaia attempts the Flanker Task at Lancaster University and then talks to Professor Panos Athanopolous about why bilinguals do better at it than monolinguals. ...more

  • Benefits of Bilingualism - Part One

    May 09 2016

    More than half of the world's people speak more than one language. Some people may have been forced to learn a language at school or had to pick up one because they moved to a new country. Others may just love learning new tongues and do so before they visit a new place. Recently, psychologists have discovered that knowing more than one language helps us in some surprising ways. The skill of bilinguals to switch focus by filtering out or inhibiting one language to concentrate on the relevant ...more

  • Our Unnatural Selection

    May 02 2016

    Humans have been altering animals for millennia. We select the most docile livestock, the most loyal dogs, to breed the animals we need. This 'artificial selection' is intentional. But as Adam Hart discovers, our hunting, fishing and harvesting are having unintended effects on wild animals - the age of "unnatural selection". This accidental, inadvertent or unintentional selection pressure comes form almost everything we do – from hunting, fishing, harvesting and collecting to using chemicals...more

  • Science Stories: Series 2 - Margaret Cavendish

    Apr 25 2016

    In the spring of 1667 Samuel Pepys queued repeatedly with crowds of Londoners and waited for hours just to catch a glimpse of aristocrat writer and thinker Margaret Cavendish. Twice he was frustrated and could not spot her, but eventually she made a grand visit to meet the Fellows of the newly formed Royal Society. She was the first woman ever to visit. Pepys watched as they received her with gritted teeth and fake smiles. They politely showed her air pumps, magnets and microscopes, and she pol...more

  • Science Stories: Series 2 - Orgueil Meteorite

    Apr 18 2016

    In 1864 a strange type of rock fell from the sky above Orgueil in rural France. Shocked and frightened locals collected pieces of the peculiar, peaty blob from the surrounding fields, and passed them on to museums and scientists. At that time, a debate had been raging over the origin of life; Could life possibly form from mere chemicals? Or did it need some strange unidentified vital substance? Into this debate fell the Orgueil meteorite, and because it seemed remarkably similar to loamy soil...more

  • The Horn Dilemma

    Apr 11 2016

    The majority of white and black rhinoceros are found in South Africa. This stronghold for these magnificent creatures is now being threatened by poachers killing rhino for their horns. Rhino horn, traded illegally in parts of Asia, is thought to be a cooling agent in traditional Chinese medicine. It's recently been hailed as a cure for cancer, and is seen as a status symbol in Vietnam. Made from keratin, the same stuff as hair or fingernails rhino horn has negligible medical properties, yet p...more

  • African Einsteins

    Apr 01 2016

    Will Einstein’s successors be African? It’s very likely - and some of them will be women. Back in 2008 South African physicist Neil Turok gave a speech in which he declared his wish that the next Einstein would be from Africa. It was a rallying call for investment in maths and physics research in Africa. The ‘Next Einstein’ slogan became a mission for the organisation Neil Turok had founded to bring Africa into the global scientific community - through investment in maths and physics, the...more

  • Feeding the World - Part Two

    Mar 28 2016

    As the world’s population grows and the climate challenges our ability to grow crops, how can agriculture provide enough food? Can we get more from our current food crops for less? Scientists and farmers alike have been increasingly haunted by the environmental effects of high-intensity farming over the last half century. There is now an urgent need to be more mindful of the landscape and our finite ecological resources. Professor Kathy Willis, science director of Kew Gardens, looks at how...more

  • Feeding the World - Part One

    Mar 21 2016

    As the world’s population grows and the climate challenges our ability to grow crops, how can agriculture provide enough food? Can we get more from our current food crops for less? Scientists and farmers alike have been increasingly haunted by the environmental effects of high-intensity farming over the last half century. There is now an urgent need to be more mindful of the landscape and our finite ecological resources. Professor Kathy Willis, science director of Kew Gardens, looks at ho...more

  • Editing the Genome - Part Two

    Mar 14 2016

    There is a new genetic technology which promises to revolutionise agriculture and transform our influence over the natural world. Research is well underway to create pigs and chickens immune to pandemic influenza, cereals which make their own fertiliser and mosquitoes engineered to wipe out wild populations of the insects which transmit diseases to humans. These are just three examples of what we could create with CRISPR gene editing. Should we be worried about this unprecedented power over a...more

  • Editing the Genome

    Mar 07 2016

    Over the last four years, scientists have discovered a simple and powerful method for altering genes. This will have massive implications for all of us as it raises the possibility of easily changing the genetic code in animals, plants and ourselves. The potential for good is enormous. The ethical challenges are profound. Professor Matthew Cobb explores the brave new world of CRISPR gene editing. Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker Image: Model of human DNA strand, BBC Copyright

  • Science Stories: Series 1 - Einstein’s Ice Box

    Feb 29 2016

    In the late 1920s Einstein was working on a grand unified theory of the universe, having given us E=mc2, space-time and the fourth dimension. He was also working on a fridge. Perhaps motivated by a story in the Berlin newspapers about a family who died when toxic fumes leaked from their state-of the-art refrigerator, Einstein teamed up with another physicist Leo Szilard and designed a new, safer refrigerating technology. And so it was that in 1930, the man who had once famously worked in the p...more

  • Science Stories: Series 1 - Eels and Human Electricity

    Feb 22 2016

    Naomi Alderman presents an alternate history of electricity. This is not a story of power stations, motors and wires. It is a story of how the electric eel and its cousin the torpedo fish, led to the invention of the first battery; and how, in time, the shocking properties of these slippery creatures gave birth to modern neuroscience.Our fascination with electric fish and their ability to deliver an almighty shock - enough to kill a horse – goes back to ancient times. And when Alessandro Volta i...more

  • Science Stories: Series 1 - Cornelis Drebbel

    Feb 15 2016

    Philip Ball dives into the magical world of Cornelis Drebbel , inventor of the world's first submarine in 1621. How did the crew of this remarkable vessel manage to breathe underwater, completely cut off from the surface, 150 years before oxygen was officially discovered? King James I of England and thousands of his subjects lined the banks of the River Thames in London to watch the first demonstration. The strangest boat they had ever seen sank beneath the waves and stayed there for three h...more

  • El Nino

    Feb 08 2016

    Floods in South America, fires in Indonesia, famine threatened in Ethiopia, yet more drought in Southern Africa and central America. Plus, a stunning peak in global temperatures for 2015. The current El Nino, just past its peak, has a lot to answer for. Roland Pease talks to the experts who forecast, track and analyse the events in the Pacific Ocean associated with this powerful climate phenomenon. And seeks answers to some burning questions. (Photo: Indonesia forest fire burning, 2015. Credi...more

  • An Infinite Monkey's Guide to General Relativity

    Feb 01 2016

    Brian Cox and Robin Ince explore the legacy of Einstein's great theory, and how a mathematical equation written 100 years ago seems to have predicted so accurately exactly how our universe works. From black holes to the expanding universe, every observation of the universe, so far, has been held up by the maths in Einstein's extraordinary work. So how was he able to predict the events and behaviour of our universe, long before the technology existed to prove he was right, and will there ever be ...more

  • An Infinite Monkey's Guide to General Relativity

    Jan 25 2016

    It is 100 years since the publication of Einstein's great theory, and arguably one of the greatest scientific theories of all time. To mark the occasion, Brian Cox takes Robin Ince on a guided tour of General Relativity. With the help of some of the world's leading cosmologists, and a comedian or two, they explore the notions of space time, falling elevators, trampolines and bowling balls, and what was wrong with Newton's apple. It is a whistle stop tour of all you will ever need to know about g...more

  • Scotland’s Dolphins

    Jan 18 2016

    The chilly waters of north-east Scotland are home to the world’s most northerly group of bottlenose dolphins. They are protected by EU conservation laws and despite being a small population, appear to be thriving. Euan McIlwraith heads out into the Moray Firth on a research boat to discover how photo-ID techniques are used to record the dolphins’ movements around the coast, and visits the University of St Andrews to find out more about their communications underwater. As he discovers, ev...more

  • Nature's Numbers

    Jan 11 2016

    Mathematics is one of the most extraordinary things humans can do with their brains but where do our numerical abilities come from? Maths writer Alex Bellos looks for answers from a tribe in the Brazilian Amazon which has no words for numbers in its language. He also meets a budding mathematician who is only seven months old. Image credit: Edward Gibson

  • Nature's Numbers

    Jan 04 2016

    Lemurs and parrots accompany maths writer Alex Bellos as he explores the foundations of our ability to understand numbers. What are the fundamental numerical skills we share with other animals? What accounts for our species’ unique abilities to do calculations which other creatures cannot? Alex meets Teres the lemur as the Madagascan primate undergoes a maths test. He also tells the amazing story of Alex, the African grey parrot, and meets professor Irene Pepperberg who guided her feathered pupi...more

  • Future of Energy

    Dec 28 2015

    Professor Jim Skea, from the Faculty of Natural Sciences, Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial College London, joins Jack Stewart in the studio and brings his insight from the Paris climate talks. Paul Younger, the Rankine Chair of Engineering and Professor of Energy Engineering at the University of Glasgow, talks about geothermal energy and its potential as a renewable energy source, particularly in Ethiopia. Mark Jacobson, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Unive...more

  • The Power of Equations

    Dec 21 2015

    Jim al-Khalili was sitting in a physics lecture at the University of Surrey when he suddenly understood the power of equations to describe and predict the physical world. He recalls that sadly his enthusiasm was lost on many of his fellow students. Jim wants to persuade the listeners that equations have a beauty. In conversation with fellow scientists he reveals the surprising emotions they feel when describing the behaviour of matter in the universe in mathematical terms. For Carlos Fre...more

  • Enceladus: A second genesis of life at Saturn?

    Dec 14 2015

    Discovery invites you on a mission to the most intriguing body in the solar system – Saturn’s moon Enceladus. It’s a small icy world with gigantic geysers, blasting water into space at supersonic speeds. It’s also become the most promising place among the planets to search for extra-terrestrial life. These astonishing discoveries come from Nasa’s Cassini mission to Saturn launched 18 years ago and still underway. The BBC’s Jonathan Amos talks to scientists who have been at the centre of t...more

  • Humboldt - the Inventor of Nature

    Dec 07 2015

    Alexander Von Humboldt - the forgotten father of environmentalism - warned of harmful human induced climate change over 200 years ago. Explorer, nature writer and scientist he climbed the world’s highest volcanoes and delved deep into the rainforests devising his radical new ideas of nature in flux. Darwin set sail on the Beagle because of Humboldt’s books. Roland Pease talks to author Andrea Wulf, who has retraced the footsteps of this remarkable lost hero of science. (Photo credit: Wellco...more

  • Unbreathable: The Modern Problem of Air Pollution

    Nov 30 2015

    The shock news three months ago, that Volkswagen had used defeat devices to circumvent emissions tests in the United States, has brought back into the news a continuing problem of modern life - air pollution. The traces of pollutants coming out of tail pipes may seem to be little more than a nuisance, but it is actually a matter of life and death. One expert has estimated that this deception by Volkswagen has contributed to the deaths of 59 people in the States, their lives shortened by the dama...more

  • Future of Biodiversity

    Nov 23 2015

    "I'm determined to prove botany is not the 'Cinderella of science'". That is what Professor Kathy Willis, director of Science at the Royal Botanic Garden in Kew, told the Independent in 2014. In the two years since she took on the job at Kew she has been faced with a reduction in government funding. So, Kathy Willis has been rethinking the science that is to be done by the staff of the Gardens and has been criticised for her decisions. But as well as leading this transformation, Kathy has a d...more

  • Problems of Developing Drugs

    Nov 16 2015

    Patrick Vallance is something of a rare breed - a game-keeper turned poacher; an academic who has moved over into industry. And not just any industry, but the pharmaceutical industry. At the time, Patrick Vallance was professor of Clinical Pharmacology and head of the Department of Medicine at University College London. A pioneer of research into some of the body’s key regulatory systems, he had also been publicly critical of big Pharma for “funding studies more helpful to marketing than to adva...more

  • The Genetics of Intelligence

    Nov 09 2015

    Professor Robert Plomin talks to Jim al-Khalili about what makes some people smarter than others and why he is fed up with the genetics of intelligence being ignored. Born and raised in Chicago, Robert sat countless intelligence tests at his inner city Catholic school. College was an attractive option mainly because it seemed to pay well. Now he is one of the most cited psychologists in the world. He specialized in behavioural genetics in the mid '70s when the focus in mainstream psychology was ...more

  • How to Make an Awesome Surf Wave

    Nov 02 2015

    Can we make better surfing waves than the wild ocean, asks marine biologist and writer Helen Scales. Helen loves surfing but she describes it as an extreme form of delayed gratification, especially around the British coast. Nature does not make great surfing waves to order. Waiting for the perfect wave demands patience, a warm wet suit and a cool head (especially if somebody jumps the queue and steals your ride). Becoming skilful on a surf board takes years if you can only practise on wha...more

  • Lion Hunting in Africa

    Oct 26 2015

    In June 2015 the death of Cecil the lion was international news and a social media sensation. Yet trophy hunting of lions and other species is common in Africa. Foreigners pay big money to adorn their walls with heads and skins. Many find it abhorrent, angry that it exists at all. Hunters claim it is vital, providing money to fund conservation. With hunters claiming that a ban would be "catastrophic" for wildlife, what is the truth? Biologist professor Adam Hart explores this explosively controv...more

  • The Infinite Monkey Cage USA Tour: San Francisco

    Oct 19 2015

    Brian Cox and Robin Ince take to the stage in San Francisco for the last of their USA specials. They talk alien visitations, UFOs and other close encounters with astronomer Dr Seth Shostack, NASA scientist Dr Carolyn Porco and comedians Greg Proops and Paul Provenza.

  • The Infinite Monkey Cage USA Tour: Chicago

    Oct 12 2015

    Brian Cox and Robin Ince take to the stage in Chicago, Illinois, to discuss fossil records and evolution. They are joined on stage by host of NPR's "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me" Peter Sagal, comedian and Saturday Night Live alumnus Julia Sweeney, palaeontologist Paul Sereno and evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne. (Photo: Robin Ince (left) and Brian Cox)

  • The Infinite Monkey Cage USA Tour: Los Angeles

    Oct 05 2015

    Brian Cox and Robin Ince continue their tour of the USA, as they take to the stage in LA, as they ask what happens when science meets Hollywood. They ask why so many movies now seem to employ a science adviser, whether scientific accuracy is really important when you are watching a film about a mythical Norse god and whether science fact can actually be far more interesting than science fiction. They are joined by cosmologist Sean Carroll, comedian Joe Rogan, executive producer of Futurama, Davi...more

  • The Infinite Monkey Cage USA Tour: New York

    Sep 26 2015

    The BBC’s award-winning radio science/comedy show The Infinite Monkey Cage has transported itself to the USA bringing its unique brand of witty, irreverent science chat to an American audience for the first time. In the first of four specials, professor Brian Cox and comedian Robin Ince take to the stage in New York, to ask the question - is science a force for good or evil? They are joined on stage by Bill Nye the Science Guy, cosmologist Janna Levin, actor Tim Daly and comedian Lisa Lampa...more

  • Life Changers - Didier Queloz

    Sep 21 2015

    One night in 1995, PhD student Didier Queloz was running a routine test on a new detector they had just built at the Observatoire de Haute Provence in France, when he noticed something strange. They had pointed the detector, almost at random, towards 51 Pegasi, a star in the constellation Pegasus, about 50 light years from Earth. But the light from that star, which should have been constant, was in fact ‘wobbling’. Naturally, he assumed that the detector was faulty but after double-checking that...more

  • Life Changers - Anita Sengupta

    Sep 14 2015

    When Anita Sengupta was a little girl, she dreamed of time travel aboard the TARDIS, along with Tom Baker, her favourite incarnation of Dr Who. It was this and watching episodes of Star Trek with her dad, which led her to study science and later still, to gain a degree in aerospace engineering from an American University. If she could not build a TARDIS, she would build the next best thing – space craft, capable of reaching other planets. A few years later, still in her 20s, Anita was put in cha...more

  • Life Changers - Venki Ramakrishnan

    Sep 07 2015

    Kevin Fong talks to Venki Ramakrishnan, Professor of structural biology in Cambridge and joint-winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2009. Celebrated for his work on the ribosome, the remarkable molecular machine at the heart of all cell biology, Ramakrishnan was knighted for services to Science in 2012 and later this year, will become the first Indian-born president of the Royal Society, the oldest and most prestigious scientific body in the world. And yet, as Kevin discovers, his educatio...more

  • Life Changers - Kathryn Maitland

    Aug 31 2015

    Kathryn Maitland is a doctor with a burning passion to transform clinical research across Africa, where she has spent most of her career. Determined to improve the outcomes for critically sick children in hospital, she spent over a decade of her life raising funds for and then carrying out, the first ever scientific trial for fluid bolus resuscitation in children with shock. Fluid replacement is a pillar of medicine but the evidence base for this particular issue is weak, even though it is sta...more

  • Women on the ‘Problem with Science’

    Aug 24 2015

    Earlier in the year, the reported remarks about 'the problem with girls' by British biologist and Nobel Laureate Professor Tim Hunt' brought the issues facing women scientists into public spotlight. Although there have been questions about the reports of what exactly happened and what was said during Hunt's talk in South Korea, the story has given female researchers the rare opportunity to air the problems of gender bias in science to a much wider audience. What are the factors holding back ...more

  • Truth about the Body Mass Index

    Aug 17 2015

    Dr Mark Porter is a family doctor in the UK and in his 50s. He’s tall and slim and thinks he’s fit and healthy – after all he goes to the gym several times a week. Mark meets experts who measure his weight, height and body fat to find out if he is as healthy as he seems. He begins by finding out his BMI, or body mass index, a term more and more people are using all over the world. It’s an indicator of whether he is too fat, too thin or just right. It’s relatively easy to work out with a cal...more

  • The Great Telescopes and Evolution

    Aug 10 2015

    Today, astronomers believe the universe is a violent, constantly changing place. But it was not always the case. At the beginning of the 19th century, many believed fervently that the celestial sky was a constant, divinely perfected, completed creation. But as telescopes got larger, the mystery of the number, origin and role of the "nebulae" - those colourful, cloud-like smudges on the sky – grew and grew. Were they really vast clouds of gas and dust as they sometimes appeared? Or were t...more

  • The Colour Purple

    Jul 27 2015

    In 1856, a teenager experimenting at home accidentally made a colour that was more gaudy and garish than anything that had gone before. William Perkin was messing about at home, trying to make the anti-malarial Quinine - but his experiment went wrong. Instead he made a purple dye that took Victorian London by storm. Philip Ball tells the story of this famous stroke of serendipity. Laurence Llewelyn- Bowen describes the fashion sensation that ensued and chemist, Andrea Sella tells how Perkin's pu...more

  • Maurice Wilkins

    Jul 20 2015

    What does it take to be remembered well? The discovery of the structure of DNA is often attributed to James Watson and Francis Crick. But a third man shared the stage with them for the 1962 Nobel Prize for medicine - Maurice Wilkins. He was a brilliant physicist who after work on the Manhattan Project was determined to move from "the science of death to the science of life". He made his mark in the fast progressing world of x-ray crystallography and in the late 1940s was the first to propose tha...more

  • James Watt and Steam Power

    Jul 13 2015

    Naomi Alderman tells the story of James Watt and the steam engine that nearly never got made. A breath of steam hits cold metal. It cools suddenly and becomes a drop of water. There an idea. But the designs for Watt’s radically more efficient steam engine laid on the shelf in his workshop for years. Watt, a depressive, cautious perfectionist had no interest in actually making engines. Had it not been for his friend, the businessmen Matthew Boulton driving him on, his engine might never have left...more

  • Sounds Of Space: Deep Space

    Jul 06 2015

    A sonic tour of the universe, with solar scientist, Dr Lucie Green. In the previous episode, we listened in to the sounds of the Solar System. This week in Discovery, we travel further out into the cosmos to bring you more Sounds of Space. Some are recorded sound, others are data – like X-rays or radio waves - that have been sonified. All of them have inspired scientists and artists to help us understand our universe. Joining Lucie Green on this sonic journey through space are: - Pr...more

  • Sounds of Space: The Solar System

    Jun 29 2015

    The previously silent world of outer space is getting noisier. In this audio tour of the Solar System, Dr Lucie Green listens in to the Sounds of Space. You may have heard the famous ‘singing comet’ – the soundscape created using measurements taken by the Rosetta spacecraft. Now, we bring you more sounds that have come from our exploration of the cosmos. Some have been recorded by microphones on-board interplanetary spacecraft. Others have been sonified from space data, from lightning on Jupi...more

  • Future of European Science

    Jun 22 2015

    A debate about the state of scientific research in Europe, recorded in Brussels on the day when the European Research Council was celebrating its 5000th grant. Since 2007 the ERC has written cheques totalling the equivalent of around 10 Billion dollars. Presenter Gareth Mitchell is joined by biologist Dr Iva Tolic of the Ruder Boskovic Institute in the Croatian capital Zagreb and the 5000th grantee, European research commissioner Carlos Moedas, Dr Veerle Huvenne, who is originally from Belgium b...more

  • The Bone Wars

    Jun 15 2015

    Tracey Logan takes us back to the wild west of America, and looks at the extraordinary feud that came to be known as the Bone Wars. This is a tale of corruption, bribery and sabotage - not by cowboys, but by two palaeontologists, Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh, who would stop at nothing in their race to find new dinosaur fossils. This was the golden age of dinosaur discovery, and their bitter war led to the discovery of some of our most iconic dinosaur species: Stegosaurus, Tricer...more

  • Stephanie Shirley: Software Pioneer

    Jun 08 2015

    As a young woman, Stephanie Shirley worked at the Dollis Hill Research Station building computers from scratch but she told young admirers that she worked for the Post Office, hoping they would think she sold stamps. In the early 60s she changed her name to Steve and started selling computer programmes to companies who had no idea what they were or what they could do, employing only mothers who worked from home writing code by hand with pen and pencil and then posted it to her. By the mid-80s he...more

  • Origins of War

    Jun 01 2015

    Is our desire to wage war something uniquely human or can its origins be traced much further back in our evolutionary past? To suggest that warfare is a regular feature of human civilization would be to state the obvious. But just how deeply rooted is our desire to kill others of our species? Is lethal aggression a fixed part of our genetic code, something that has evolved from a common ancestor – and something therefore that has adaptive value? Or is warfare – and more generally, a predilec...more

  • What the Songbird Said

    May 25 2015

    Could birdsong tell us something about the evolution of human language? Language is arguably the single thing that most defines what it is to be human and unique as a species. But its origins and its apparent sudden emergence around a hundred thousand years ago, remains mysterious and perplexing to researchers. But could something called vocal learning provide a vital clue as to how language might have evolved? T he ability to learn and imitate sounds - vocal learning - is something that huma...more

  • Shedding Light on the Brain

    May 18 2015

    Biologists are using light to explore the brain - and to alter it. Roland Pease meets some of the leading players in optogenetics, who use light-sensitive molecules to take direct control of neural systems in worms, flies, and maybe one day, humans. For some, it's a way of exploring the interplay of electricity and chemistry as neuron talks to neuron in complex brains. For others it opens the way to future therapies for conditions like motor neuron disease, in which dying nerves bring about par...more

  • Future of Solar Energy

    May 11 2015

    Roland Pease looks into perovskites - the materials enthusiasts say could transform solar power. Solar power is the fastest growing form of renewable energy. But most of it collected by panels made of silicon - the material that also goes into computer chips. But silicon is an old technology, and researchers have long sought a material that is both better at capturing sunlight. And cheaper to make. Perovskites, which first emerged into the lab just a few years ago, promise to be just that ma...more

  • Scotland's Forgotten Einstein, James Clerk Maxwell

    May 04 2015

    Dr Susie Mitchell hears the story of the 19th Century Scottish scientist James Clerk Maxwell. Maxwell's lifelong curiosity about the world and his gift for solving complicated puzzles led him to a string of discoveries. He was the first person to demonstrate a way of taking colour photographs, and he used mathematics to work out what the rings of Saturn were made of before any telescope or spacecraft was able to observe them close up. His most important achievement however was the discovery of e...more

  • Science of Stammering

    Apr 27 2015

    In this edition of Discovery, Erika Wright explores the science of Stammering, a widely misunderstood condition that occurs at the same level in all cultures, countries and languages. There is a window of opportunity in early childhood when stammering begins but is also a time of natural faltering when help may not be required, so therapists and parents have to decide when and whether to intervene. To add to the complexity many young children who stammer will recover naturally – although the...more

  • Jane Francis

    Apr 20 2015

    Just twenty years ago, the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) would not allow women to camp in Antarctica. In 2013, it appointed Jane Francis as its Director. Jane tells Jim Al-Khalili how an intimate understanding of petrified wood and fossilised leaves took her from Dorset’s Jurassic coast to this icy land mass. Camping on Antarctic ice is not for everyone but Jane is addicted, even if she does crave celery and occasionally wish that she could wash her hair. Fossils buried under the ice contain vi...more

  • The Teenage Brain: Sarah-Jayne Blakemore

    Apr 13 2015

    Until recently, it was thought that human brain development was all over by early childhood but research in the last decade has shown that the adolescent brain is still changing into early adulthood. Jim al-Khalili talks to pioneering cognitive neuroscientist professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore who is responsible for much of the research which shows that our brains continue to develop through the teenage years. She discusses why teenagers take risks and are so susceptible to influence from their pee...more

  • Matt Taylor

    Apr 06 2015

    Matt Taylor talks to Jim Al-Khalili about being in charge of the Rosetta space mission to the distant comet, 67P. It is, he says, 'the sexiest thing alive', after his wife. He describes his joy when, after travelling for ten years and covering four billion miles, the robot, Philae landed on the speeding comet 67P; and turned the image tattooed on his thigh from wishful thinking into a triumph for science. Matt's father, a builder, encouraged him to do well at school. He wanted him to get a j...more

  • John O'Keefe

    Mar 30 2015

    John O'Keefe tells Jim al-Khalili how winning the Nobel Prize was a bit of a double-edged sword, especially as he liked his life in the lab, before being made famous by the award. John won the prize for his once radical insight into how we know where we are. When he first described the idea of ‘place cells’ in the brain back in 1971, many scoffed. Today it is accepted scientific wisdom that our spatial ability depends on these highly specialised brain cells. A keen basketball player,John...more

  • Does Money Make you Mean?

    Mar 23 2015

    Can money really make a person mean? In this second and final programme, Jack heads to Hong Kong to explore whether our preoccupation with money is affecting the way we treat other people. Jack hears about the growing body of evidence indicating that we behave with less empathy, kindness and generosity when exposed to the idea of money. Most of the research so far is from the United States, but Jack stages his own psychology experiment at the City University of Hong Kong to explore how...more

  • Does Money Make you Mean?

    Mar 16 2015

    Jack Stewart heads to Los Angeles, home to many of America's rich and famous, to explore what impact wealth has on our moral behaviour. Hollywood often has plenty to say about the corrupting influence of money, but can science tell us even more. Professor Paul Piff of the University of California explains his research, which finds that the richer a person becomes the more selfish, narcissistic and less generous they tend to be. However, not everyone is convinced that the American dream is a r...more

  • Finding Your Voice

    Mar 09 2015

    Comedy performer and broadcaster Helen Keen, explores a rare condition that she herself once suffered from - selective mutism or SM. It is an anxiety disorder that develops in childhood. Those affected by SM can usually speak fluently in some situations, notably a home, but remain silent elsewhere - such as in school, with extended family members, or even parents. Their inability to speak is so severe that it has been likened to a phobia of speaking, and is often accompanied by the physical...more

  • Placebo Problem

    Mar 02 2015

    In recent years the term 'placebo effect' - the beneficial effects on health of positive expectations about a drug or some other treatment - has become familiar. It has also been shown to be a powerful aid to medicine. The nocebo effect is simply its opposite - it’s ugly sister. One difference is that its breadth and magnitude have been much less studied. Another is that it may be even more powerful than the placebo effect. It is easier to do harm than good. And this is worrisome because nocebo’...more

  • Throwaway Society 2/2

    Feb 23 2015

    How can manufacturers of the world supply the growing demand for consumer products without breaking the planet’s bank of natural resources? By the middle of the century, there will be 2 billion more people in the world. Based on current trends, there’ll be many more consumers with the money to buy cars, washing machines, mobile phones, fashion – the shopping list goes on…. Discovery looks at new ideas and technologies to enable companies to make more stuff at an affordable environmental cos...more

  • Throwaway Society

    Feb 16 2015

    Hundreds of millions of computers, mobile phones and televisions are thrown away every year around the world. In this week’s Discovery Gaia Vince will be looking at the reasons behind this rapidly growing mountain of electronic waste and asking, who is responsible? The manufacturers or the consumers? When our gadgets break, maybe we should just be repairing them. And Gaia attends a party where people are fixing stuff for themselves. (Photo: Discarded laptops.)

  • The Science of Smell

    Feb 09 2015

    Pamela Rutherford explores our neglected sense of smell. How is the brain able to detect and tell apart the countless number of smells it comes across and what happens when the system goes wrong? She finds out how people can lose their sense of smell and why it’s the very strong associations between smell and memory that allow your sense of smell to come back. Not only can people lose their sense of smell and become ‘anosmic’ but in rare cases they can hallucinate smells, so called phantosmia....more

  • The Life Scientific: Richard Fortey

    Feb 02 2015

    Richard Fortey found his first trilobite fossil when he was 14 years old and he spent the rest of his career discovering hundreds more, previously unknown to science. He is a Professor of Palaeontology at the Natural History Museum and talks to Jim al-Khalili about why these arthropods, joint-legged creatures which look a bit like woodlice and roamed the ancient oceans for almost 300 million years, are so important for helping us to understand the evolution of life on our planet. These new tr...more

  • The Life Scientific: Margaret Boden on Artificial Intelligence

    Jan 26 2015

    Maggie Boden is a world authority in the field of artificial intelligence – she even has a robot named in her honour. As research professor of Cognitive Science at the University of Sussex, Maggie has spent a lifetime attempting to answer philosophical questions about the nature of the human mind, but from a computational viewpoint. “Tin cans”, as she sometimes calls computers, are information processing systems, the perfect vehicle, she believes, to help us understand, explore and analyse the m...more

  • Hot Gossip - Part Two

    Jan 19 2015

    In the second of two programmes, Geoff Watts continues to explore the science, history and cultural implications of gossip. Gossip has a bad reputation and for the most part, and deservedly so. Yet, on-going research appears to suggest that gossip does serve a useful purpose. Not least because our brains may be hard wired for it. Researchers in Boston have used a technique known as binocular rivalry (showing different images to left and right eye at the same time) to suggest that gossip acts...more

  • Hot Gossip - Part One

    Jan 12 2015

    If language elevates us above other animals, why does human society seem to spend so much time gossiping? Perhaps it's because without gossip there would be no society and language would be much less interesting. In the first of two programmes, Geoff Watts explores our fascination with small talk and chit chat. Where did gossip come from, why did it evolve and how has it changed (and changed us) in the digital age? If your guilty pleasure is rifling through gossip magazines, then here's a rea...more

  • Virtual Therapy

    Jan 05 2015

    E-Therapy has come a long way since the (slightly tongue in cheek) days of Eliza, a very early attempt at computer based psychotherapy. Eliza was little more than an algorithm that spotted patterns in words and returned empty, yet meaningful-sounding questions back at the user. All sorts of e-therapies are now available to help low-moderate level mental health issues. But could Virtual Reality technology bring the next great leap in our understanding of mental processes, and, in turn, be...more

  • Animal Personality

    Dec 29 2014

    Professor Adam Hart explores the newest area in the science of animal behaviour – the study of personality within species as diverse as chimpanzees, song birds, sharks and sea anenomes. What can this fresh field of zoology tells us about the variety of personality among humans? We are all familiar with the variety of temperament and character in the dog, Canis lupus familiaris, but this is the product of selective breeding by humans over generations. A more surprising revelation is that up a...more

  • Can Maths Combat Terrorism?

    Dec 22 2014

    Dr Hannah Fry investigates the hidden patterns behind terrorism and asks whether mathematics could be used to predict the next 9/11. When computer scientists decided to study the severity and frequency of 30,000 terrorist attacks worldwide, they found an distinctive pattern hiding in the data. Even though the events spanned 5,000 cities in 187 countries over 40 years, every single attack fitted neatly onto a curve, described by an equation known as a 'power law'. Now this pattern is helping ...more

  • New Space to Fly

    Dec 15 2014

    As our skies become more crowded Jack Stewart examines the long awaited modernisation of air traffic control. With traffic predicted to reach 17 million by 2030 more flights will mean more delays. For many a new approach to controlling flights is long overdue since aircraft still follow old and often indirect routes around the globe, communication between the ground and air is still by VHF radio, and any flexibility is heavily constrained by a fragmented airspace operated by many national author...more

  • Vagus Nerve

    Dec 08 2014

    Many people are living with chronic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel conditions in which the body attacks itself. Although drug treatments have improved over recent years they do not work for everyone and can have serious side effects. Now researchers such as neurologist Dr Kevin Tracey of the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, and rheumatologist professor Paul-Peter Tak of Amsterdam University, are trying a new approach to improving the lives of these pati...more

  • Elspeth Garman

    Dec 01 2014

    Jim al-Khalili talks to professor Elspeth Garman about a technique that has led to 28 Nobel Prizes in the last century. X- ray crystallography, now celebrating its 100th anniversary, is used to study the internal structure of matter. It may sound rather arcane but it is the reason we now know the structure of hugely important molecules, like penicillin, insulin and DNA. But while other scientists scoop up prizes for cracking chemical structures, Elspeth works away behind the scenes, (more cam...more

  • Painful Medicine

    Nov 24 2014

    Addictions researcher, Dr Sally Marlow, investigates fears that easy access to powerful painkillers could be creating a large, but hidden problem of addiction. Painkillers are widely available over the counter, and combinations containing codeine, which is addictive, can be purchased from pharmacists and on the internet. Teenager, Alice, tells Sally about secretly buying huge numbers of painkillers on her way to school while she was wearing her school uniform. She used her lunch money to buy ...more

  • Chris Toumazou

    Nov 17 2014

    European Inventor of the Year, Chris Toumazou, reveals how his personal life and early research lie at the heart of his inventions. As chief scientist at the Institute of Biomedical Engineering at Imperial College London, Chris inspires engineers, doctors and other scientists to create medical devices for the 21st Century. Applying silicon chip technology, more commonly found inside mobile phones, he tackles seemingly insurmountable problems in medicine to create devices that bridge the ...more

  • The Making of the Moon

    Nov 10 2014

    It is the nearest and most dominant object in our night sky, and has inspired artists, astronauts and astronomers. But fundamental questions remain about our only natural satellite. Where does the Moon come from? Although humans first walked on the Moon over four decades ago, we still know surprisingly little about the lunar body's origin. Samples returned by the Apollo missions have somewhat confounded scientists' ideas about how the Moon was formed. Its presence is thought to be due to ano...more

  • Trauma at War

    Nov 03 2014

    They call them 'The Unexpected Survivors'. The casualties from the war in Afghanistan whose injuries were so severe that they were not expected to survive, but who survived nevertheless. In October, after 13 years Britain and the United States officially brought their combat operations in Helmand Afghanistan to an end. Camp Bastion, the coalition stronghold – once one of the largest military bases in the world – has been dismantled leaving a handful of buildings that will now be handed over to t...more

  • Trauma: The Fight for Life

    Oct 27 2014

    Dr Kevin Fong explores the development of modern trauma medicine and discovers how the lessons from conflict and catastrophe have equipped us to deal with even the worst disasters, providing a system that could save lives that would otherwise have been lost. First of two programmes.

  • Brian Cox

    Oct 20 2014

    Professor Brian Cox of Manchester University describes how he gave up appearing on Top of the Pops to study quarks, quasars and quantum mechanics. Although he describes himself as a simple-minded Northern bloke, he has acquired an almost God-like status on our TV screens, while the ‘Cox effect’ is thought to explain the significant boost to university admissions to read physics. He talks to Jim al-Khalili about learning to be famous, his passion for physics and how he sometimes has difficult...more

  • Urine Trouble: What’s in our Water

    Oct 13 2014

    You have a headache and take a pill. The headache is gone, but what about the pill? What we flush away makes its way through sewers, treatment works, rivers and streams and finally back to your tap. Along the way most of the drugs we take are removed but the tiny amounts that remain are having effects. Feminised fish in our rivers, starlings feeding on Prozac-rich worms, and bacteria developing antibiotic resistance - scientists are just beginning to understand how the drugs we take are leaving ...more

  • Patients Doing It for Themselves

    Oct 06 2014

    Patient power is on the rise. But is it rising too far? Frustrated by the time it takes to develop new drugs, the ethical barriers to obtaining clinical data or the indifference of the medical profession to obscure diseases, patients are setting up their own clinical trials and overturning the norms of clinical research. A DIY clinical trial sounds like a joke – and a dangerous one at that. But as Vivienne Parry discovers, it's real and on the rise as greater access to medical data allows mo...more

  • Preventing Disease in Animals

    Sep 29 2014

    Diseases devastate livestock around the world. In chickens for example the deadly strain of bird flu and the lesser known bacterial infection Campylobacter, not only harms the chickens but is also a real threat to human health. Melissa Hogenboom visits one of the world’s leading genetics institutions, the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh in the UK and hears about new genetic techniques to combat diseases in our livestock. In chickens, professor Helen Sang uses a subtle form of genetic modificat...more

  • Beyond the Abyss

    Sep 22 2014

    Rebecca Morelle talks to explorers of deep ocean trenches, from film-maker James Cameron to biologists discovering dark realms of weird pink gelatinous fish and gigantic crustaceans. The deepest regions of the ocean lie between 6,000 and 11,000 metres. Oceanographers term this the Hadal Zone. It exists where the floor of abyss plunges into long trough-like features, known as ocean trenches. The Hadal zone is the final frontier of exploration and ecological science on the planet. At its m...more

  • Power Transmission

    Sep 15 2014

    Gaia Vince looks at the future of power transmission. As power generation becomes increasingly mixed and demand increases, what does the grid of the future look like?

  • Biosafety

    Sep 08 2014

    Accidents happen in science labs all over the world, but when you’re working with deadly pathogens the consequences can be disastrous. The reputation of America’s ‘gold standard’ The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in Georgia has recently become tarnished as news emerged that 80 workers were inadvertently exposed to live anthrax, and a deadly strain of flu was accidentally sent to another lab. Further reports of tick-box safety culture, lethal samples sent in ziplock plastic bags and ...more

  • Mum and Dad and Mum

    Sep 01 2014

    Alana Saarinen is a 13-year-old girl who lives with her mum and dad in Michigan, USA. She loves playing golf and the piano, listening to music and hanging out with friends. In those respects, she's like many teenagers around the world. Except she's not, because Alana is one of a handful of people in the world who have DNA from three people. The BBC's Science Correspondent Rebecca Morelle explores how more children like Alana could be born. The UK is looking to legalise a new technique which ...more

  • Antibiotic Resistance Crisis - Part Two

    Aug 25 2014

    Infectious bacteria are becoming resistant to the drugs that used to kill them. The last new class of antibiotics was discovered in the 1980s. There is little in the development pipelines of the world’s pharmaceutical industry. Drug companies got out of antibiotics as their attention switched to much more lucrative daily medicines for chronic diseases. Public funding on antibiotic research has also withered. Now that the gathering crisis of antibiotic resistance is becoming recognised b...more

  • Antibiotic Resistance Crisis - Part One

    Aug 18 2014

    The discovery and harnessing of antibiotic drugs in the mid-20th Century led some medics to predict the end of infectious diseases. But the bacteria fought and continue to fight back, evolving resistance to many of the drugs that used to kill them. Public health officials warn that without new drugs, medicine will return to the days where ‘a cut finger on Monday leads to death of Friday’. Without protective antibiotics to keep infections at bay, scores of standard surgical operations and chem...more

  • Cosmology

    Aug 11 2014

    In March astronomers in the BICEP2 collaboration announced they had found gravitational waves from the Big Bang. But now the evidence is being questioned by other scientists. Dr Lucie Green reports on the debate and asks if scientists can ever know what happened billions of years ago when the universe was formed. Image copyright: Steffen Richter, Harvard University

  • Rosetta Mission Arriving At Comet

    Aug 04 2014

    On 6th August, the space probe Rosetta ends its 10 year journey and arrives at Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. If all goes well, Rosetta will be the first spacecraft to go into orbit around a comet. The European Space Agency probe will then accompany the comet until December 2015, studying the 4 kilometre-wide lump of ice and rock dust at a level of detail far surpassing any previous comet flyby. In the words of Rosetta scientist Joel Parker, “Previous comet missions have been one-night s...more

  • Professor Sir Michael Rutter

    Jul 28 2014

    Professor Sir Michael Rutter has been described as the most illustrious and influential psychiatric scientist of his generation. His international reputation has been achieved despite the fact that as a young doctor, he had no intention of becoming a researcher, nor interest in becoming a child psychiatrist. In fact he became a world leader as both. His career has spanned more than five decades and is marked by a remarkable body of high-impact research and landmark studies. The theme running...more

  • What has Happened to El Nino?

    Jul 21 2014

    At the start of 2014 meteorologists warned of a possible El Nino event this year. The portents were persuasive – a warming of the central Pacific much like that which preceded the powerful El Nino event of 1997. But since then the Pacific climate system seems to have stalled. What’s going on? What are the prospects for an El Nino to develop later this year? What impacts might it have? Roland Pease delves below the Pacific surface to find out what drives El Nino cycles, the most powerful single c...more

  • Swarming Robots

    Jul 14 2014

    Adam Hart looks at how new developments in understanding insect behaviour, plant cell growth and sub cellular organisation are influencing research into developing robot swarms. Biological systems have evolved elegant ways for large numbers of autonomous agents to govern themselves. Staggering colonies built by ants and termites emerge from a decentralized, self-governing system: swarm intelligence. Now, taking inspiration from termites, marine animals and even plants, European researchers a...more

  • Anaesthesia

    Jul 07 2014

    General anaesthetics which act to cause reversible loss of consciousness have been used clinically for over 150 years. Yet scientists are only now really understanding how these drugs act on the brain and the body to stop us feeling pain. Linda Geddes reports on the latest research using molecular techniques and brain scanners. Linda visits the Anaesthesia Heritage Centre where William Harrop-Griffiths, president of the Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland, tells her abo...more

  • Janet Hemingway

    Jun 30 2014

    Janet Hemingway, the youngest woman to ever to become a full professor in the UK, talks about her career at the frontline of the war on malaria. Whilst many researchers look for vaccines and treatments to this global killer, Janet's approach, as a trained entomologist, has been to fight the mosquito - the vector - which transmits the malaria parasite. Image: Janet Hemingway, BBC Copyright

  • Ageing and the Brain

    Jun 23 2014

    Geoff Watts investigates the latest thinking about our brain power in old age. He meets researchers who argue that society has overly negative views of the mental abilities of the elderly - a dismal and fatalistic outlook which is not backed up by recent discoveries and theories. Geoff talks to professor Lorraine Tyler who leads a large study in Cambridge (CamCAN) which is comparing cognition and brain structure and function in 700 people aged between 18 and 88 years old. He also meets scien...more

  • Driverless Cars

    Jun 16 2014

    Jack Stewart meets the engineers who are building vehicles that drive themselves. He has a ride in Google's driverless car, which has no steering wheel and no pedals. Google's Chris Urmson explains the company's approach to autonomous vehicles. Jack visits Stanford University's driverless car project where professor Chris Gerdes shows him Shelley, an automated Audi that races around a track at speed as well as a human driver. Chris is collaborating with a philosopher to explore some of the d...more

  • Driverless Cars

    Jun 09 2014

    Most traffic accidents are caused by human error. Engineers are designing vehicles with built in sensors that send messages to other cars, trucks, bikes and even pedestrians, to prevent collisions happening. The idea is to make the vehicles react to whatever's going on faster than the human drivers. Jack Stewart drives around the university town of Ann Arbor, in Michigan, in some of the many vehicles that are fitted with experimental devices in the world's largest connected vehicles project....more

  • Taming the Sun

    Jun 02 2014

    ITER is the most complex experiment ever attempted on this planet. Its aim, to demonstrate that nuclear fusion, the power of the Sun, can give us pollution free energy that we can use for millions of years. But at the moment, it's still largely a vast building site in the Haut Provence of southern France, with little prospect of any nuclear reactions there for another decade. A recent management report made damning criticisms of the way ITER is run, of the relations between the central organisat...more

  • Beauty and the Brain

    May 26 2014

    Dr Tiffany Jenkins asks what our brains can tell us about art. Can there ever be a recipe for beauty? Or are the great works beyond the powers of neuroscience? She talks to Professor Semir Zeki of University College London, the first person to coin the term, neuroaesthetics, about what happens in the brain when people in a scanner see paintings or hear music. Professor Gabi Starr at New York University tells Tiffany Jenkins why she thinks there are parts of the brain that light up when w...more

  • Alf Adams

    May 19 2014

    Alf Adams FRS, physicist at the University of Surrey, had an idea on a beach in the mid-eighties that made the modern internet, CD and DVD players, and even bar-code readers possible. You probably have half a dozen 'strained-layer quantum well lasers' in your home. Image credit: Alf Adams, BBC Copyright

  • Mark Miodownik

    May 12 2014

    Mark Miodownik's chronic interest in materials began in rather unhappy circumstances. He was stabbed in the back, with a razor, on his way to school. When he saw the tiny piece of steel that had caused him so much harm, he became obsessed with how it could it be so sharp and so strong. And he's been materials-mad ever since. Working at a nuclear weapons laboratory in the US, he enjoyed huge budgets and the freedom to make the most amazing materials. But he gave that up to work with artists a...more

  • Sue Black

    May 05 2014

    Forensic anthropologist professor Sue Black began her career with a Saturday job working in a butcher's shop. At the time she didn't realise that this would be the start of a lifelong fascination with anatomy. Her job has taken her to some extreme and challenging locations to identify human bodies, such as Kosovo, where she uncovered evidence used in the UN's War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague. Back home, Sue has been integral in solving many high-profile criminal cases, including cracking Sco...more

  • Whatever Happened to Biofuels - Part Two

    Apr 28 2014

    Whatever happened to biofuels? They were seen as the replacement for fossil fuels until it was realised they were being grown on land that should have been used for food crops. But now there is serious research into new ways of producing biofuels, from waste materials, from algae and from bacteria. Gaia Vince takes to the water of Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland where Professor Matthew Dring and Dr Karen Mooney from Queens University, Belfast, are experimenting in growing algae that cou...more

  • Whatever Happened to Biofuels?

    Apr 21 2014

    Biofuels were hailed as the environmental solution to fossil fuels not that long ago. Made from living crops they take up carbon dioxide as they grow. So burning them shouldn’t disturb the balance of warming gases in the atmosphere. But for the last few years the publicity about biofuels has been mainly negative. And for good reason – biofuels are made from crops such as oil palm - grown in place of food crops or even rainforests. In some cases using these crops actually produces more CO2 th...more

  • Peter Higgs

    Apr 14 2014

    An extended interview with the Nobel prize laureate. Peter Higgs tells Jim Al-Khalili that he failed to realise the full significance of the Higgs boson and to link it to the much celebrated Standard Model of Physics. He puts the oversight down to a string of missed opportunities, including one night at a physics summer camp when he chose to go to bed early. Working alone in Edinburgh in the 1960s, Peter Higgs says he was considered "a bit of a crank... No-one wanted to work with me". In 196...more

  • Vikram Patel

    Apr 07 2014

    Jim al-Khalili talks to psychiatrist Vikram Patel about the global campaign he is leading to tackle mental health. He reflects on his early career working in Zimbabwe, when he doubted any western diagnosis or treatments for peoples' distress would be of much use. However, his subsequent research made him question this and come to the realisation that some conditions, like depression and psychosis, could be tackled universally. Now based in India, Vikram's research guides the public health approa...more

  • Inside the Shark's Mind

    Mar 31 2014

    Fatal shark attacks on humans have been on the increase in Australia. For Discovery, marine biologist Dr Helen Scales finds out how scientists are exploring new, humane ways to reduce this number. At the start of this year, the state government of Western Australia decided to undertake the culling of sharks longer than three metres, after what they called an “unprecedented number of attacks”. In February, thousands of Australians protested against the cull, with conservationists claiming th...more

  • The Biology of Freedom

    Mar 24 2014

    Is free will unique to humans or a biological trait that evolved over time and across species? Whilst the existence and nature of free will has been hotly debated by philosophers through the centuries, the basic idea that we determine our own destiny is fundamental to human experience. We can even decide to act in ways which may threaten our very existence. Biology underpins how we behave but it is the human mind that decides to act. Recently, however, this idea has come under attack from n...more

  • Fructose: the Bittersweet Sugar

    Mar 17 2014

    If you believe the headlines fructose is 'addictive as cocaine', a 'toxic additive' or a 'metabolic danger'. So how has a simple sugar in fruit and honey got such a bad name and is there any evidence behind the accusations that it has caused the obesity epidemic? Meanwhile, a new health claim approved by the European Food Safety Authority for foods or drinks substituting fructose for other sugars, comes into force. Dr Mark Porter talks to leading world experts to sift through the evidence in...more

  • Hack my Hearing

    Mar 10 2014

    Audiologists are concerned there may be a rising tide of 'hidden hearing loss' among young people. As electronic prices have fallen, sound systems have become cheaper and more powerful. At the same time, live music events and personal music players are more popular than ever, resulting in an increase in noise-related hearing damage. Aged 32, science writer Frank Swain is losing his hearing. In this programme, he asks what the future holds for people like him, part of a tech-savvy generation ...more

  • Show me the Way to Go Home

    Mar 03 2014

    Gardening grandmother Ruth Brooks, also known as 'the snail lady', was chosen as the BBC's Amateur Scientist of the Year in 2010. She noticed that despite repeatedly throwing her snails over the garden fence, her gastropods would return home to decimate her petunias. From her Radio 4 experiments, designed by mentor Dr Dave Hodgson, from the University of Exeter, they showed that snails do have a homing instinct, returning from distances of over 10 metres. In this documentary, Ruth sets out t...more

  • Saving the Oceans - Part Four

    Feb 24 2014

    In part four of Saving the Oceans, Joel finds out how knowledge of the seas from Australia’s Aboriginal communities can feed into modern ocean science. And at Seasim - the world’s largest marine research laboratory - he looks at the ways human fertilisation treatments are being applied to help conserve coral. This includes techniques from human sperm banks being applied to coral. He also speaks to the scientists unlocking coral genetics in an attempt to help them survive rising sea temperatures....more

  • Saving the Oceans - Part Three

    Feb 17 2014

    We look at the impact of climate change, overfishing and pollution on marine eco-systems and examine the scientific solutions to some of those issues. Presented by Joel Werner from the Australian broadcaster ABC Radio National, the series focuses on the improvements both for marine life and the people who depend on oceans for their livelihoods. In the third programme Joel looks at how data analysis has helped reduce deaths of seabirds caught up in commercial fishing operations. He hears how t...more

  • Saving the Oceans - Part Two

    Feb 10 2014

    The second episode in our four-part series Saving the Ocean in which we look at the impact of climate change, overfishing and pollution on ocean environments, and examine the scientific solutions to some of those issues. Presented by Joel Werner from the Australian broadcaster ABC Radio National, the series focuses on the improvements both for marine life and the people who depend on oceans for their livelihoods. In this second programme Joel looks at plans to help conserve sharks in the wat...more

  • Saving the Oceans - Part One

    Feb 03 2014

    Saving the Ocean looks at the impact of climate change, overfishing and pollution - and examines the scientific solutions to some of those issues. In the first programme Joel Werner visits Kiribati – an isolated Pacific island group threatened by rising sea levels. They are also facing a range of more immediate problems - a high human population and a shortage of land puts pressure on natural resources. Joel meets the scientists working to keep the population afloat on these tiny coral atolls. H...more

  • Fixing Nitrogen

    Jan 27 2014

    Today, 3.5 billion people are alive because of a single chemical process. The Haber-Bosch process takes nitrogen from the air and makes ammonia, from which synthetic fertilizers allow farmers to feed our massive population. Ammonia is a source of highly reactive nitrogen, suitable not just for fertilizer, but also as an ingredient in bomb making and thousands of other applications. We make around 100 million tonnes of ammonia annually - and spread most of it on our fields. But this is a very...more

  • Chronotypes

    Jan 20 2014

    Are you a lark or an owl? Are you at your best in the morning or the evening? Linda Geddes meets the scientists who are exploring the differences between larks and owls. At the University of Surrey's Sleep Research Centre she talks to its director, professor Derk-Jan Dijk, and finds out her own chronotype by filling in a questionnaire. Linda discovers why we have circadian rhythms and why they do not all run at the same rate. Dr Louis Ptacek from the University of California, San Francisco, ...more

  • Geoengineering

    Jan 13 2014

    Geoengineering is a controversial approach to dealing with climate change. Gaia Vince explores the process of putting chemicals in the stratosphere to stop solar energy reaching the earth. When volcanoes erupt they put sulphur in the stratosphere. The particles reflect solar rays back into space and the planet cools down. Scientists are suggesting that it could be possible to put sulphur into the stratosphere using specialised aircraft or a very long pipe. But if this was implemented there c...more

  • The Return To Mawson's Antarctica - Part Four

    Jan 06 2014

    The Australasian Antarctic Expedition has been retracing the steps of the first expedition to East Antarctica, a century ago. Its leader was Douglas Mawson, one of the great figures of the heroic age of exploration of the frozen continent. In the last of the programmes from the Antarctic, Andrew Luck-Baker reports on the 10 days the scientists, tourists and crew of the ship, the Academik Shokalskiy, spent locked in the ice and their eventual release via helicopters from a Chinese ice breaker t...more

  • The Return to Mawson's Antarctica - Part Three

    Dec 30 2013

    Alok Jha and Andrew Luck-Baker continue to follow the scientists on the ongoing Australasian Antarctic Expedition 2013. They go out on fieldwork trips with the researchers studying how the wildlife that lives in this inhospitable environment is responding to climate change. Zoologist Tracy Rogers searches for leopard seals with underwater microphones. From a safe distance she takes a small sample from a Weddell seal to find out what it’s been eating. Ornithologist Kerry-Jayne Wilson discovers t...more

  • The Return to Mawson's Antarctica - Part Two

    Dec 23 2013

    Alok Jha and Andrew Luck-Baker continue to follow the scientists on the ongoing Australasian Antarctic Expedition 2013. Ice, the oceans and climate change are the themes this week as one of the expedition scientists makes a troubling finding. Moored in Commonwealth Bay in East Antarctic, the expedition’s oceanographer Erik van Sibble discovers a stunning difference in the nature of the water beneath the sea ice. Although it is a preliminary finding, the consequences for the motions of the world...more

  • The Return to Mawson's Antarctica - Part One

    Dec 16 2013

    Join the scientists of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition 2013, as they go about their experiments and seek adventure at the windiest place on earth.This location was named the Land of Blizzard by Douglas Mawson, the Antarctic pioneer who was the first to explore this remote and desolate place 100 years ago. Between 1911 and 1914, Douglas Mawson explored a fiercely harsh part of Antarctica while the more celebrated Scott and Amundsen raced to the South Pole, elsewhere on the frozen contine...more

  • Self-Healing Materials

    Dec 09 2013

    Quentin Cooper takes a look at the new materials that can mend themselves. Researchers are currently developing bacteria in concrete which, once awakened, excrete lime to fill any cracks. In South America you can choose a car paint that heals its own scratches. And there are even gold atoms which can migrate to mend tiny breaks in jet turbine blades. Engineers normally design things so the likelihood of breaking is minimised. But by embracing the inevitability of breakage, a new class of mate...more

  • The Power of the Unconscious

    Dec 02 2013

    We like to think that we are in control of our lives, of what we do, think and feel. But, as Geoff Watts discovers, scientists are now revealing that this is just an illusion. A simple magic trick reveals just how limited our conscious awareness of the world is, and how easy it is to fool us. So if our conscious brain can cope with so little, what is responsible for the rest? Science is starting to reveal the crucial role of a silent partner inside our heads, that we are completely unaware o...more

  • Gut Microbiota

    Nov 25 2013

    The human gut has around 100 trillion bacterial cells from up to 1,000 different species. Every person's microbiota (the body's bacterial make-up) is different as a result of the effects of diet and lifestyle, and the childhood source of bacteria. What is it about the microbes in our guts that can have such an impact on our lives? Scientists are learning more and more about the importance of these bacteria, as well as the viruses, fungi and other microbes that live in our gastrointestinal tr...more

  • Nirvana by Numbers

    Nov 18 2013

    Journalist and numbers obsessive Alex Bellos travels around India to explore the fundamental numerical gifts which early Indian mathematicians gave to the world and asks whether the great religions of ancient India - Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism - had any part in their origins. The number system which the world uses today originated in India in the early centuries of the first millennium AD. It is usually called the Arabic numeral system, but in the Middle East the scheme employing the sym...more

  • Jenny Graves

    Nov 11 2013

    Australian geneticist Jenny Graves discusses her life pursuing sex genes in her country's weird but wonderful fauna, the end of men and singing to her students in lectures. (Image: Jenny Graves, BBC copyright)

  • Mike Benton

    Nov 04 2013

    Life on earth has gone through a series of mass extinctions. Mike Benton talks about his fascination with ancient life on the planet and his work on the Bristol Dinosaur Project. Image: Mike Benton BBC Copyright

  • Joanna Haigh

    Oct 28 2013

    Joanna Haigh, Professor of Atmospheric Physics at Imperial College, London, studies the influence of the sun on the Earth's climate using data collected by satellites. She talks to Jim al-Khalili about how she got started on her career in climate physics: she can trace her interest in it back to her childhood when she built herself a home weather station. Jo Haigh explains why we need to know how the sun affects the climate: it's so scientists can work out what contribution to warming is the...more

  • Russell Foster

    Oct 21 2013

    Russell Foster, professor of circadian neuroscience at Oxford University, is obsessed with biological clocks. He talks to Jim al-Khalili about how light controls our wellbeing from jet lag to serious mental health problems. Professor Foster explains how he moved from being a poor student at school to the scientist who discovered a new way in which animals detect light. Image: Russell Foster Copyright: BBC

  • Ashes to Ashes

    Oct 14 2013

    Adam Hart investigates yet another threat to the ash trees of Europe. In the last programme he found out about the latest research developments to save ash trees from ash dieback, a disease that has already devastated trees across Europe, but now it seems that another threat could be on its way from Russia – the emerald ash borer. This beetle already targets ash trees in the USA and kills 99% of the trees it infests. But, what is it, how great is the threat and is there any way to stopping it s...more

  • Ashes to Ashes

    Oct 07 2013

    Professor Adam Hart looks at the disease that has devastated ash trees in Europe – ash dieback. Over the last 20 years the fungus that causes ash dieback has been spreading westwards across the continent and last year it was found in the UK for the first time. At the moment there is no cure for the disease and only a tiny fraction of trees seem to be able to survive it. In this programme, he investigates the very latest scientific research into this deadly disease and asks if it will be enough t...more

  • Fracking for Shale Gas

    Sep 30 2013

    Fracking for gas is highly controversial in the US and the UK as it has been accused of contaminating water courses and causing earthquakes. Yet it provides a cheap source of energy. Beneath England there are thought to be considerable amounts of shale gas and the UK government is considering whether to allow fracking in these areas. Already there is opposition from residents, concerned about pollution and earth tremors. Gaia Vince talks to scientists to find out what fracking involves and what ...more

  • The Future of Navigation

    Sep 23 2013

    We all rely on GPS – the Global Positioning System network of satellites – whether we want to or not. From shipping to taxis to mobile phones, the goods we consume and the technology with which we run our lives depend upon a low-power, weak and vulnerable signal beamed from a few tonnes of electronics orbiting above our heads. This dependence is a new Achilles' heel for the world's financial, commercial and military establishments. From North Korea's concerted disruption of South Korea's mar...more

  • Deep Down Inside

    Sep 16 2013

    Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is a brain surgery technique involving electrodes being inserted to reach targets deep inside the brain. Those targets are then stimulated via the electrodes which are connected to a battery powered pacemaker surgically placed under the person's collar bone. Geoff Watts finds out how the technique has been used successfully for treating the movement disorders of Parkinson's disease, in patients with severe, intractable depression, in chronic pain and how it's als...more

  • E-cigarettes

    Sep 09 2013

    Lorna Stewart reports on the new and growing phenomenon of electronic cigarettes and asks if they really help smokers to stop smoking and if they are as safe as their manufacturers suggest. One billion people smoke worldwide and tobacco shortens the lives of half of all users. With consumption of tobacco products increasing globally, finding a way to help smokers to quit is vital. Electronic cigarettes, which contain nicotine in water vapour, are one new approach, but there is very little r...more

  • Raising Allosaurus

    Sep 02 2013

    In the 20 years since the release of the film Jurassic Park, DNA cloning technologies have advanced dramatically. Professor Adam Hart asks whether we could and should start bringing extinct animals back from the dead. The fossilised remains of dinosaurs are too degraded to hold any viable DNA, so Jurassic Park is unlikely to be a reality. But what about Pleistocene Park? Deep frozen remains of Arctic animals like the woolly mammoth or the Irish elk, have been shown to contain DNA - but is it...more

  • CERN and Science in Africa

    Aug 26 2013

    Earlier this year the BBC organised a ‘science festival’ in Uganda. One of the practical outcomes of this was to put physics teachers in East Africa in touch with physicists involved in the Higgs boson discovery at CERN. As a result, several teachers from the region visited CERN and took part in their international teacher programmes. In Discovery this week we look at the impact of their visit and ask how international ‘big science’ projects such as CERN can offer practical development help...more

  • The Story of SARS, Part Two

    Aug 19 2013

    Dr Kevin Fong concludes a two-part special looking back at the extraordinary events which unfolded a decade ago when the disease known as SARS first emerged onto an unsuspecting world. In a matter of days SARS had travelled around the globe from a hotel room in Hong Kong, and would go on to infect thousands of people, in dozens of countries. But standing between us and the virus were hundreds of healthcare workers who risked their lives to fight against and contain this unknown deadly diseas...more

  • The Story of SARS, Part One

    Aug 12 2013

    Dr Kevin Fong begins a two-part special looking back at the extraordinary events which unfolded a decade ago when the disease known as SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) first emerged onto an unsuspecting world. In a matter of days SARS had travelled around the globe from a hotel room in Hong Kong - and would go on to infect thousands of people, in dozens of countries. But standing between us and the virus were hundreds of healthcare workers who risked their lives to fight against and c...more

  • Crossrail: Tunnelling under London

    Aug 05 2013

    Tracey Logan goes underground to find out how Crossrail is using the latest engineering techniques to create 26 miles of tunnels below London's tube network, sewers and foundations - and through its erratic, sometimes unpredictable geology. She finds out about the latest science being used in Europe's biggest engineering project. London sits on a varied geology of deposits of fine-grained sand, flint gravel beds, mottled clay, shelly beds which are sometimes mixed with pockets of water. This...more

  • Oxytocin

    Jul 29 2013

    The hormone oxytocin is involved in mother and baby bonding and in creating trust. Linda Geddes finds out if taking oxytocin can help people with autism become more sociable. Larry Young, professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Emory University in Atlanta, talks about the work in voles that demonstrated the role of oxytocin in pair bonding. Professor Markus Heinrichs, of Freiburg University in Germany, tells Linda Geddes about doing the first research on oxytocin in human subjects. ...more

  • Forecasting Earthquakes

    Jul 22 2013

    Earthquakes can't be predicted. But millions of dollars are spent trying to forecast them - warning the public which regions are dangerous, what the chances are of a quake in the next number of years and how strong the shaking might be. But following the failures of the Japanese system to identify the danger on the north-east coast, struck by a giant tsunami in 2011, many experts are saying that the dream of hazard assessment is an illusion. We may never know enough about the mechanisms of the...more