BBC Inside Science
BBC Inside Science
About BBC Inside Science
A weekly programme that illuminates the mysteries and challenges the controversies behind the science that's changing our world.
Sea ice coverage hit a recording-breaking low in the Antarctic this week, but what does this mean for the rest of the world? Why is the region so difficult to predict? And what could further changes in climate mean for the South Pole? Often the Arctic dominates conversations around polar warming but this week, with the help of climate modelling expert Tamsin Edwards, Kings College London, we’ll be tackling these questions and more. We’ll hear from British Antarctic Survey researcher Nadia Frontier, a marine biologist spending the summer at Rothera research base in the Antarctic. We join her as she traverses snow and ice to study the inhabitants of Adelaide island and the surrounding waters. Rachel Tilling from the Cryospheric Sciences Lab at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center helps us explore the continent from a different vantage point, explaining her work using satellite data to understand sea ice thickness. And climate reporter Georgina Rannard takes us through an artistic interpretation of polar sounds, Dr Geraint Rhys Whittaker uses underwater microphones to capture the impact of human activity on polar wildlife. Presenter: Victoria Gill Producers: Julian Siddle and Emily Bird BBC Inside Science is produced in collaboration with The Open University.
Chinese biophysicist He Jiankui caused international outrage when in 2018 when he used the gene-editing tool known as CRISPR Cas-9 to edit the genomes of two human embryos. That experiment, described by the Chinese Academy of Science and Technology described as ‘abominable’, resulted in the birth of twin girls. The experiment also landed Dr He in prison for three years. Now, out of prison and working for a company in Beijing that proclaims to offer “affordable gene therapy” – He Jiankui has been speaking in public. At an open bioethics event at the University of Kent last weekend, organisers invited the scientist to present his research and to face questions about his past experiments and his future plans. We spoke to event organiser Dr Joy Zhang about the reaction to event and to Professor Robin Lovell-Badge at the Crick Institute about the implications of CRISPR-CAS9 technology. A Hippo butchery site reveals that distant human ancestors have been using stone tools far longer than researchers previously thought. This archaeological site in Kenya revealed that ancient hominins Paranthropus have probably been using stone tools to prepare food and weapons since 2.9 million years ago. Professor Tom Plummer at Queens College, City University of New York take us through the discovery and what it reveals about hominin evolution. A study released this week reveals just how much of a burden sons are on killer whale mothers. Michael Wiess, research director at the centre for whale research, fills us in on their findings which are a product of nearly 40 years studying the southern resident Orca population. This long-term Whale census project began in the 70s, championed by researcher Ken Balcomb, who was passionate about understanding and protecting killer whales and who sadly passed away late last year. We hear from Ken and his team out on the water studying the southern residents, more of which can be found in BBC Radio 4 documentary The Whale Menopause. Presenter: Victoria Gill Producer: Emily Bird BBC Inside Science is made in collaboration with the Open University
This week’s programme is a thought experiment: What would the world be like if energy became superabundant and very cheap? Energy is vital for every aspect of our society, and the energy cost of extraction, processing, manufacture and transport is priced into every product we buy. Today’s energy crisis is having a huge impact, from affecting diplomatic relations between nations to the availability of food. How can our energy systems evolve and what could cheap abundant energy mean for us, our relationship to the natural world, and each other? We discuss these issues and more with; Rachel Kyte CMG, Dean of The Fletcher School at Tufts University, who has previously worked for the UN on sustainability issues. Jim Watson, Professor of Energy Policy at UCL. He’s advised government on the low carbon energy transition. And Dr Hannah Richie, Head of Research at Our World in Data, based at Oxford University, who looks at food, agriculture and energy in relation to global development trends. BBC Inside Science is produced in partnership with the Open University.
Defra, the department for Environment, food and Rural affairs, released its latest Environmental Improvement plan this week. Many environmental groups have criticised the plan for having vague commitments, and landowners are asking where the money is going to come from if say farmers are going to move land out of production and into conservation. For a view away from these vested interests we’ve turned to the Office of Environmental protection – the body set up after Britain left the EU to scrutinise government environmental policy. Chief Executive Dame Glenys Stacey, and Chief Insights Officer, Professor Robbie McDonald. Last week the UK passed an emergency exemption allowing sugar beet farmers to use a controversial neonicotinoid pesticide called Thiamethoxam. This is the third year in a row that the exemption has been in place and the decision came just days after the EU banned such exemptions across Europe. A discussion in parliament yesterday saw MPs criticise the move due to the impacts of neonicotinoids on already crashing Bees populations. We spoke to Dr Richard Gill at Imperial College London about exactly how these insecticides impact bees. There are volcanic islands dotted across the globe but exactly what caused their formation and how might they change in the future? Professor Ana Ferreira at University College London is a seismologist leading an ambitious study to measure deep vibrations and disturbances around volcanic islands in the Atlantic Ocean. She told us about the challenges of recording from the ocean floor and the other unexpected disturbances they detected. As humans our eyes are one of our most valuable and expressive social tools. The whites of our eyes or sclera enable us to follow each others gaze and look our for minute changes in mood, a feature that until recently was thought to be unique to humans setting us apart from animals in our ability to communicate. But Anthropologist Aaron Sandel at The University of Texas in Austin has noticed that white sclera is in fact present in one of our closest relatives; the chimpanzee. Presenter: Gaia Vince Producers: Julian Siddle and Emily Bird Inside Science is produced in Collaboration with the Open University
What if all schools offered only plant-based options for 3 out of 5 lunches a week? Would that be enough to trigger a broader societal shift to eating less meat, and allow us to meet our sustainability commitments? We’re not talking about making school dinners entirely vegetarian — just 3 lunches a week. We discuss the benefits and practicalities of such a shift with : Tim Lenton, Professor of Climate change at the University of Exeter. Economist Marco Springmann Senior Researcher, Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food, University of Oxford. Nutritionist Collete Fox from Proveg international an organisation working directly with schools in the UK to encourage the provision of healthier school meals. And Henry Dimbleby founder of the Leon fast food chain is now an advisor to government, responsible for drawing up national rules on school dinners. We also visit Barrowford primary in Lancashire, which has successfully rolled out more vegetarian school dinners. BBC Inside Science is produced is partnership with the Open University.
Former Energy Minister Chris Skidmore’s report into Net Zero calls for ambitious policies to drive energy transition, framing it as a huge economic opportunity to drive national growth. Using and conserving energy in the home is one theme the report tackles. We discuss home insulation with Colm Britchfield , policy advisor at E3G. His recent report found those in some of the worst housing , in the private rented sector could save hundreds of pounds a year if their homes were properly insulated. But what is the incentive for landlords to pay for insulation? Electric heat pumps have been heralded as an alternative to gas boilers, but they are currently more expensive and finding an installer is not easy. Rebecca Dibb-Simkin from Octopus Energy tells us how they are working to make the technology more available. And what is the role of local authorities in the strive for net zero? We hear from Polly Billington, chief executive of UK 100 – a network of local government leaders committed to sustainability policies. How do you catch a poacher? One way might be through their own mobile phone. Another is using a camera trap which sends a signal to game wardens. These are technologies developed by Tim Van Deursen and Thijs Suijten from Hack the Poacher. And we look at new findings on one of Australia’s Iconic species – Echidnas. Dr Christine Cooper at Cutin University in Western Australia, found this marsupial is actually remarkably heat tolerant, and capable of handling temperatures which were previously thought to be lethal. BBC Inside Science is produced in partnership with the Open University.
ChatGPT (Generative Pre-trained Transformer) is an online conversational chatbot, launched by OpenAI in November 2022. To date it remains an online sensation, allowing users to generate poems, essays, code and images in seconds. But fear bubbles in academic circles that artificial intelligence could promote plagiarism in secondary and tertiary education. Technology writer and broadcaster Bill Thompson, and teacher of 20 years digital philosopher Rebecca Mace from University of West London suggest the news headlines may be sensationalising the impact this chatbot will have on student learning. The 1922 backbench committee on business, energy and industrial strategy is recommending free electricity for locals residing within 1 mile of onshore wind farms. Richard Black, senior associate at Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, joins Marnie to discuss whether or not there is evidence of residents requiring incentives to accept renewable developments whilst governments strive to increase the implementation of green technologies. Do you tap your toes to Paul Simon or rock out to Led Zeppelin? Even if you have two left feet, your ability to recognise rhythm is unique in the animal kingdom. To help determine the human origins of musical appreciation, Teresa Raimondi and her team at Turin University, have been researching primates. Their singing lar gibbon, appears to share similar traits to us that might shed light on where our ability to keep the beat evolved from. And finally, figures from the water regulator suggest that in England and Wales 1 trillion litres of water was lost last year to leaks. BBC Inside Science presenter, Vic Gill, goes in search of what might be a robotic solution. This programme was made in partnership with the Open University.
The UK's first satellite launch faced several delays in 2022, but Virgin Orbit's Cosmic Girl is prepped for imminent take off. BBC science correspondent Jonathan Amos has been following the activity in Newquay and, alongside Melissa Thorpe head of Spaceport Cornwall, describes the potential this launch has to promote and bolster the UK's space industry. Is laziness a particularly human trait? Apparently not according to Dr Daniella Rabaiotti from the Zoological Society of London. Her research shows many animals engage in behaviour akin to laziness even within groups where others might be very active. There’s evidence for this from animals as diverse as wolves, frogs and pheasants. Dani says it’s a factor worth considering in animal behaviour studies, simply are we biased towards the more active and outgoing animals as they are the ones we tend to see? Victoria Gill speaks to the founder and CEO of Nature Metrics Dr Cat Bruce and Katie Critchlow about the tools they use to help companies measure biodiversity at their worksites. From taking water or soil samples it’s possible to detect the DNA of a multitude of organisms from large animals down to microbes. The technique should help map the biodiversity of a given area and inform decisions on development and conservation. BBC Inside Science is produced in collaboration with the Open University
Nations are racing to protect 30% of the planet by 2030 in an attempt to halt biodiversity loss, but one novel approach may be able to safeguard species under threat of imminent extinction. Vic visited Nature’s Safe in May, a cryogenic biobank, storing the genetic information of at risk species in futuristic biological freezers. But will it serve as a viable tool to bring wildlife back from the brink if the ecosystems in which these animals reside are degraded beyond repair? The Greenland ice sheet is melting, raising global sea level at an alarming rate. Marnie took to the ice with researcher Jason Box in September, and questions how current carbon emissions will influence melting in the future. Gaia revisits UN talks from March that attempted to put in place regulations capable of protecting the marine biodiversity of the high seas. Negotiations were unsuccessful at the time, but further talks have been held since. How much progress has been made? BBC Inside Science is produced in collaboration with the Open University.
Base editing is a technique for substituting the building blocks of DNA. It has only been around for a few years, so its use to apparently cure cancer was all the more remarkable, as BBC Health Correspondent James Gallagher tells us. We take a trip down the river Wye with ecologist Steve Ormerod who tells us why the river is a microcosm for some of the global issues being discussed at the UN Biodiversity summit in Montreal. BBC Environment Correspondent Victoria Gill gives us the latest on the state of negotiations there. And the current surge in infections associated with the streptococcus bacteria has led to deaths in a few cases. It is usually a seasonal infection, worse in the spring. We ask microbiologist Dr Claire Turner from Sheffield University why we seem to be seeing a surge of infections now and her research on strep vaccine targets. BBC Inside Science is produced in collaboration with the Open University.
The UN Convention on Biological Diversity summit, currently taking place in Montreal Canada, intends to develop ways of reducing the global loss of biological diversity by drawing up a series of international commitments to help humanity to live more harmoniously with nature. The scientific evidence paints a grim picture of species decline and extinction, pollution and destruction of natural habitats. The aim of the meeting is to find ways to stop and even reverse such decline. We meet leading figures involved in the negotiations, including: Elizabeth Mrema, the Executive Secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity Inger Andersen Executive Director of UN Environment Programme Indigenous leaders Viviana Figueroa and Lakpa Nuri Sherpa And scientists Professor Sandra Diaz from the University of Cordoba Dr Marla Emery Scientific Advisor with the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research. BBC Inside Science is produced in partnership with the Open University.
For a week at the beginning of December 1952, London was under a blanket of deadly smog. As a result, the Clean Air Act came into force a few years later banning smoky sulphurous fuels. However air pollution researchers are now concerned that rising emissions from wood burners may be undoing many of the gains from the Clean Air Act. We hear from Dr Gary Fuller, air pollution scientist at Imperial College London and author of The Invisible Killer, the Rising Global Threat of Air Pollution and How We can Fight Back. We also discuss emissions we can’t see, bacteria and even microplastics which are now present in the air. Catherine Rolph from the Open University tells us where we might find them. And we reveal the winner of the Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize. You can find interviews with all the shortlisted authors in our previous programmes. BBC Inside Science is produced in partnership with the Open University.
The UK has the opportunity to access European science funding. However disagreements over the Northern Ireland protocol are preventing the UK from joining the multi billion pound Horizon Europe project which funds scientific partnerships between European institutions. BBC Science correspondent Pallab Ghosh has been following developments. Spending time in green spaces has been linked to mental and physical health benefits. But just how green is your nearest city centre? New research has ranked urban centres in the UK based on their ‘greenness’ and Jake Robinson, from Flinders University in Australia, revealed who came out on top. We hear about initiatives to enhance ‘greenness’ including the citizen-science led GroundsWell programme with Elly King, from the University of Liverpool, and living walls with Brenda Parker, at UCL. And from the Royal Society science book prize, we’re talking sex and gender with primatologist Frans De Waal whose new book is entitled Different: What Apes Can Teach Us About Gender.
As the COP27 environment summit draws to a close we look at some of the issues still to be resolved. BBC Environment correspondents Victoria Gill and Georgina Rannard join us from the meeting. And we head to the houses of parliament in the company of a group of teenagers who are putting their concerns over climate change to a panel of politicians. Julia Ravey went to meet them. We hear from author Nick Davidson about how the discoveries of 3 unlikely characters in the 19th century formed the basis of geological science. His book The Greywacke is shortlisted for the Royal Society Science Book Prize. And a scientific analysis of the Winchcombe meteorite gives us some clues as to the possible origins of life on earth. Natasha Stephen from Plymouth University is one of the many scientists who analysed the composition of the rock fragments.
One key issue on the agenda at the COP27 environment summit in Egypt is how to fund damage from the effects of man made climate change. Often the effects of climate change are felt the strongest in countries least responsible for creating the emissions. This year we’ve seen a range of extreme weather events including drought and flooding which scientists have attributed to man-made climate change. The idea of providing funding for such human-induced disasters has long been discussed informally at COP summits. Finally the issue is formally on the table. It's fraught with diplomatic difficulties, not least over who should pay and how much. We discuss some of the issues in getting a solution on this initiative known as ‘Loss and Damage’ with contributions from Josh Gabbatiss from the website Carbon Brief, Rachel Kyte, the Dean of Tufts University, Linnéa Norlander Assistant Professor of human rights and sustainability at the University of Copenhagen and Hyacinthe Niyitegeka, coordinator of the Loss and Damage Coalition. And we look at methane with Drew Shindell, professor of Climate science at Duke University and Author of the UN Environment Programme’s Global Methane Assessment, who tells us a reduction in methane could give us a quick fix in terms of efforts to stabilise global temperatures.
A new study published in the British Medical Journal suggests monkey pox might be passed from person to person before symptoms show. Esther Freeman, Assistant Professor of Dermatology at Harvard Medical School and Director of Global Health Dermatology at Massachusetts General Hospital, has been following the current wave of transmission and gives us her analysis of this latest finding, The COP 27 climate summit kicks off next week. To discuss some of the issues we are joined by Simon Lewis, Professor of global change science at University College London and Swenja Surminski, Professor in Practice at the Grantham Research Institute and a member of the UK's Committee on Climate Change. Mark Miodownik, the UCL Professor of Materials & Society, tell us the results of his citizen science project looking at composting plastics. And from the short list for the Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize, we hear from Professor Rose Anne Kenny on her book Age Proof: The New Science of Living a Longer and Healthier Life.
New recordings featuring the voices of 53 species of turtle, caecilian and tuatara previously thought to be silent have illuminated the evolutionary origins of vocal communication. Gabriel Jorgevich-Cohen a PhD student at the University of Zurich has travelled the world collecting recordings and summarised his findings in Nature Communications this week. He spoke to BBC science correspondent Georgina Rannard who explains his findings, what they mean, and shows us some of her favourite turtle sounds. What was it like to advise the government during the height of the pandemic? How soon did experts realise the colossal impact Covid would have? Were mistakes made? The latest in our series of interviews with those shortlisted for the Royal Society Insight Investment Book prize, Vic sat down with co-authors Sir Jeremy Farrar and Anjana Ahuja to talk about their book Spike: the Virus vs the People. Anne-Claire Fabre Assistant Professor at the University of Bern and Curator of mammals, Natural History Museum Bern turns her scientific curiosity toward a surprising and perhaps perturbing behaviour in one of her research animals as she spoke to us about her paper published in the Journal of Zoology this week. Whilst investigating the Aye Aye, a nocturnal primate with two long thin fingers Anne-Claire witnessed the creature putting them to good use picking its nose and went on to uncover a big gap in our understanding of this icky behaviour. Presenter Victoria Gill Producer Emily Bird
Recorded in front of an audience at Bradford’s National Museum of Science and Media, we’re delving into the next 100 years of broadcasting, examining the science and technology behind what we’ll watch and listen to. And what the seismic technological shifts mean for all of us. Victoria Gill is joined on stage by four people who give us an audio tour of that media future. Lewis Pollard the curator television and broadcast at the museum. Dr Karen Thornton programme leader teaching film and television production at the University of Bradford. Bill Thompson technology commentator. Gemma Milne writer and researcher interested in how science and technology impacts all of us. And author of Smoke and Mirrors - how hype obscures the future and how to see past it. BBC Inside Science is produced in partnership with the Open University
Avian or bird flu is normally seasonal, disappearing as migratory birds leave for winter. However a new strain which seems to spread more easily between wild birds and into poultry has led to the deaths of far more birds than usual. David Steel, Nature Reserve Manager on the Isle of May relates his observations of the effects on seabirds. And Nicola Lewis, Director of the Worldwide Influenza Centre at the Francis Crick Institute tells us why this particular stain is so severe. Climategate was a strange kind of scandal, based entirely on misinformation pushed by climate change deniers. In his new book Hot air, shortlisted for the Royal Society Insight Investment science book prize, Climate scientist Peter Stott assess the impact of their campaign. Pong was a very basic video game developed in the 1970s, now Australian researchers have trained human brain cells in a dish to play the game, Dr Brett Kagan from Cortical Labs explains why.
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