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BBC Inside Science

BBC Inside Science

BBC Radio 4

A weekly programme that illuminates the mysteries and challenges the controversies behind the science that's changing our world.

912 - Can we get plastic waste under control?
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  • 912 - Can we get plastic waste under control?

    As the UN tries to get a global agreement on plastic waste we hear from two delegates at the conference in Ottawa; John Chweya, a Kenyan waste picker, and plastics scientist, Steve Fletcher, discuss the impacts of plastic pollution and the possible solutions.

    Taylor Swift’s new album, The Tortured Poets Department, exposes the pain a break up can cause. Heartbreak is a common theme in music and art – but what does science have to say about it? Florence Williams, science journalist and author of Heartbreak: A Personal and Scientific Journey, talks us through the research on what actually happens in our bodies when we go through a break-up.

    The nomadic Avar empire ruled over eastern and central Europe from the sixth to the ninth century but very little was known about them – until now. From studying ancient DNA, researchers have discovered a wealth of information about how the Avars lived. Dr Lara Cassidy, Assistant Professor in Genetics at Trinity College Dublin, explains the findings, and how it’s even possible to learn so much from ancient DNA.

    We all know how bees great are – but what about all the other pollinators? Dr Erica McAlister from the Natural History Museum in London speaks out in defence of the fly.

    Presenter: Victoria Gill Producers: Hannah Robins and Sophie Ormiston Editor: Martin Smith

    Thu, 23 May 2024
  • 911 - Do we need a new model of cosmology?

    Earlier this week, some of the world's leading astrophysicists came together at The Royal Society to question the very nature of our Universe. Does the Lambda Cold Dark Matter model, which explains the evolution of the cosmos and the Big Bang, need a rethink? Dr Chris North, an astrophysicist from the University of Cardiff, joins us in the studio to explain what this model says, and why it might need to be changed.

    The last few weeks seem to have been a non-stop cycle of depressing climate stories, with floods in Pakistan, mass coral bleaching and last month being the hottest March ever recorded. It's perhaps no surprise that many people are anxious about the news. Vic Gill is joined by Prof Lorraine Whitmarsh, an environmental psychologist at the University of Bath, and Tom Rivett Carnac, an author, political strategist and co-host of the podcast Outrage + Optimism. Together they discuss climate anxiety, and how to stay engaged with the news without feeling overwhelmed.

    And with all this wet weather, how are our precious insects faring? It turns out, bumblebees might have a trick up their fuzzy sleeves when the ground gets flooded - at least according to a new experiment led by Sabrina Rondeau from the University of Ottawa. We also get bumblebee expert Dave Goulson on the line to tell us more about these charismatic insects.

    Presenter: Victoria Gill Producers: Alice Lipscombe-Southwell, Ella Hubber and Hannah Robins Editor: Martin Smith Production Co-ordinator: Jana Bennett-Holesworth

    Thu, 16 May 2024
  • 910 - Bird flu outbreak in cows

    A strain of highly pathogenic bird flu, H5N1, has been spreading unchecked through wild bird, and some mammal, populations for the past few years. Last week, news of a large number of dairy cows in the USA being infected with bird flu has alarmed the public and virologists alike. One farm worker has also picked up the virus and although they are not seriously ill, the jump between cattle and humans raises serious concerns over how the virus is moving and adapting. Virologist Dr Tom Peacock has the details.

    Also this week, thousands of eyes across America were turned to the skies to catch a glimpse of the total solar eclipse. But this event isn’t just a spectacle for the eyes – it’s a real scientific opportunity. Space physicist and electrical engineer Dr Nathaniel Frissell reveals his unusual approach to studying the eclipse via radio. And BBC reporter Georgina Rannard, who has been following the eclipse this week, tells Vic what other research scientists investigated during the four-minute window of darkness.

    And don’t turn your eyes away from the sky just yet, as another celestial spectacle is set to occur. About 3,000 light-years away, a pair of orbiting stars called T Coronae Borealis are not normally visible from Earth. But every 80 years or so, one of the stars in the binary system explodes, creating a ‘new’ star in our night sky. But you’ll only have a day or two to spot it. Astrophysicist Dr Rebecca Smethurst joins Vic in the studio to talk about this once-in-a-lifetime star explosion.

    And to close the show, the life and work of a legend. Nobel Prize-winning physicist Peter Higgs has died at the age of 94. Higgs’s biographer Professor Frank Close tells us how Higgs predicted the existence of a particle that’s fundamental to our understanding of the Universe and reveals the legacy he’s left behind.

    Presenter: Victoria Gill Producers: Alice Lipscombe-Southwell and Ella Hubber Editor: Martin Smith Production Co-ordinator: Jana Bennett-Holesworth

    Thu, 09 May 2024
  • 909 - 200 years of dinosaur science

    In 1824, 200 years ago, Megalosaurus was the first dinosaur to ever be described in a scientific paper. William Buckland studied fossils from Stonesfield in Oxfordshire in order to describe the animal.

    In this episode, Victoria Gill visits palaeontologist Dr Emma Nicholls at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, who shows her those very fossils that launched the new science of palaeontology. Danielle Czerkaszyn then opens the archives to reveal the scientific illustrations of Megalosaurus by Mary Morland, which helped shape Buckland's description.

    But this was just the beginning. Over the coming decades, remains kept being discovered and scientists were gripped with dinosaur mania, racing to find species. Now, in 2024, we're finding new dinosaurs all the time. Victoria travels to the University of Edinburgh to meet Professor Steve Brusatte and Dr Tom Challands as they start extracting a dinosaur bone from a piece of Jurassic rock - could this be a new species? Together, they reflect on how palaeontology has changed over the last 200 years and ponder the ongoing mysteries of these charismatic animals.

    Presenter: Victoria Gill Producers: Alice Lipscombe-Southwell and Hannah Robins Production Co-ordinator: Jana Bennett-Holesworth Editor: Martin Smith

    Thu, 02 May 2024
  • 908 - Inside Your Microbiome

    Microbiomes are a multi-million-pound industry. Every week, many people send off poop samples to be examined so we can learn about our own ecosystems of bacteria, virus and fungi that live in our guts, with a view to improving health. But how accurate are these tests? Microbiologist Prof Jacques Ravel is calling for better controls in what is currently an unregulated industry. He joins us along with Prof Tim Spector, scientific co-founder of personalised nutrition app ZOE, to discuss the areas of concern, and potential benefits, of this direct-to-consumer model.

    Nobel prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman has died at the age of 90. Widely acknowledged as one of the world's most influential psychologists, his many years of study centred on how and why we make the decisions we do. In 2011, his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, which summarizes much of his research, was published and became a best seller. We’re joined by presenter and author Claudia Hammond to unpick his legacy.

    The price of lab monkeys has plummeted. Used for drug development and testing, their value skyrocketed during the vaccine development period of the pandemic. But when the boom for vaccines died, the demand for (and value of) these monkeys plunged. Journalist Eleanor Olcott provides the full picture.

    Are there alternatives to animal testing? Marnie visits a lab in Cambridge to find out about neural organoids, cellular clumps grown from stem cells made to replicate the brain. Developmental biologist Prof Madeline Lancaster shows her around and Dr Sarah Chan from the University of Edinburgh digs into the ethics of this cutting-edge branch of science.

    Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producers: Florian Bohr, Hannah Robins, Louise Orchard and Imaan Moin Editor: Martin Smith Production Co-ordinator: Jana Bennett-Holesworth

    BBC Inside Science is produced in collaboration with the Open University.

    Thu, 25 Apr 2024
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