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.

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Episodes

Is gene therapy the future?
Jun 13 2024
Is gene therapy the future?
Last week, a girl who was born deaf had her hearing restored following gene therapy. In the US, the first commercial gene therapy for sickle cell disease has just begun. And Great Ormond Street Hospital has found great success in their trials and a gene therapy for children lacking an immune system. Gene therapy is clearly having a moment. But how do these groundbreaking therapies actually work? And will they ever be truly accessible to everyone? Geneticist Professor Robin Lovell-Badge answers all. Also this week, atmospheric scientist Laura Wilcox answers an interesting listener question about the effect volcanoes can have on the weather and sticks around to dig into the connection between aerosols and weather in different regions. The exhibition “Bees: A Story of Survival” opened at the World Museum in Liverpool this month. Part of the show explains the how honeybees communicate through vibration. Physicist Martin Bencsik, who collected and studies these vibrations, plays us a few and explains their meaning. And did you get a chance to see the auroras that covered a large part of the Northern Hemisphere last weekend? The intense solar activity that caused them has some people alarm. Jim Al-Khalili, who has written a science fiction novel based on the concept, talks what is protecting us from solar flares and what could go wrong. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producers: Ella Hubber, Sophie Ormiston and Hannah Robins Editor: Martin Smith Production Co-ordinator: Jana Bennett-Holesworth
Ugly animals and asteroid Apophis
May 30 2024
Ugly animals and asteroid Apophis
One year ago, the World Health Organisation declared that COVID-19 would no longer be categorised as a global health emergency. But the pandemic has left us with a new normal in all areas of our lives. From vaccine rollout to wastewater monitoring, we’re asking: how has COVID altered the scientific landscape? Marnie Chesterton is joined in the studio by Linda Geddes, science journalist, and Barbara Kasprzyk-Hordern, Professor in Environmental and Analytical Chemistry at the University of Bath, to discuss.Are ugly animals getting the short end of the conservation stick? Whilst a few beautiful creatures, like tigers and panda bears, get good marketing and attract the most conservation efforts, comedian and biologist Simon Watt argues that the endangered animals which are less pleasing to the eye are being forgotten.Also this week, we answer a listener’s question about the accuracy of using bug splats on cars to measure insect populations. Lead data analyst from the Kent Wildlife Trust, Lawrence Ball, gives us the details about the national citizen science survey, Bugs Matter, which sees people around the country measure insect splats on vehicle number plates as a marker of insect abundance.And science journalist Roland Pease discusses the unprecedented scientific opportunity hurtling towards Earth in the form of asteroid Apophis. It will just miss our planet – in astronomical terms at least – but its proximity has astronomers excited. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producers: Ella Hubber, Sophie Ormiston and Hannah Robins Editor: Martin Smith Production Co-ordinator: Jana Bennett-Holesworth
Do we need a new model of cosmology?
May 16 2024
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
Bird flu outbreak in cows
May 9 2024
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
Inside Your Microbiome
Apr 25 2024
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.
Our Accidental Universe
Apr 18 2024
Our Accidental Universe
Professor and presenter, Chris Lintott, talks about his new book Our Accidental Universe; a tour of chance encounters and human error in pursuit of asteroids, pulsars, radio waves, new stars and alien life. Even with incredible technological developments, the major astronomical events of the past century are largely down to plain ol’ good luck; discovered not, as you might assume, by careful experiment, but as surprises when we have been looking for something else entirely. For instance, the most promising habitat for life beyond Earth turns out to be Saturn's tiny moon Enceladus, whose oceans were revealed when NASA's Cassini probe did a drive-by and, we get the most from the Hubble Space Telescope by pointing it at absolutely nothing! A new company has launched which aims to mine Helium-3 on the moon to sell on Earth. This rare isotope is used for supercooling quantum computers and some scientists dream of using it in nuclear fusion as a new source of renewable energy. But is this ambition realistic and, if so, could it be within reach anytime soon? Planetary scientist Sara Russell of the Natural History Museum explains all. There are many moons in our solar systems, but one of the strangest is Titan; the largest moon of the Saturn system. It gets colder than -100 degrees Celsius and has a thick atmosphere that creates weather. But its biggest mystery is the enormous, coffee-coloured dunes that cover a large part of its surface. Where did they come from? Planetary scientist Bill Bottke has a cunning theory. In our universe, some stars are twins. They originate from the same molecular clouds and should be identical, but some pairs are not as similar as you’d expect. Marnie speaks to astrophysicist Yuan-Sen Ting about his new paper which illuminates how this difference might occur. His theory is that one of the stars, perhaps the evil twin, has been busy eating up vulnerable planets...  Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producers: Louise Orchard, Florian Bohr and Imaan Moin Editor: Martin Smith Production Co-ordinator: Jana Bennett-Holesworth  BBC Inside Science is produced in collaboration with the Open University.
How pure is the water from your tap?
Apr 4 2024
How pure is the water from your tap?
A recent study on how to get rid of microplastics in water sparked presenter Marnie Chesterton’s curiosity. When she turns on the tap in her kitchen each day, what comes out is drinkable, clean water. But where did it come from, and what’s in it? Dr Stewart Husband from Sheffield University answers this and more, including listener questions from around the UK. Is water sterile? Should I use a filter? And why does my water smell like chlorine? Also, new research indicates that bumblebees can show each other how to solve puzzles too complex for them to learn on their own. Professor Lars Chittka put these clever insects to the test and found that they could learn through social interaction. How exactly did the experiment work, and what does this mean for our understanding of social insects? Reporter Hannah Fisher visits the bee lab at Queen Mary University in London. And finally, more than 20 million years ago, our branch of the tree of life lost its tail. At that point in time, apes split from another animal group, monkeys. Now, geneticist Dr Bo Xia at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard thinks he may have found the specific mutation that took our tails. Marnie speaks with evolutionary biologist Dr Tom Stubbs from the Open University about why being tail-less could be beneficial. What would a hypothetical parallel universe look like where humans roam the earth, tails intact? And what would these tails look like? Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producers: Louise Orchard, Florian Bohr, Jonathan Blackwell, Imaan Moin Editor: Martin Smith Production Co-ordinator: Jana Bennett-Holesworth  BBC Inside Science is produced in collaboration with the Open University.
Dimming the Sun
Mar 28 2024
Dimming the Sun
Switzerland has submitted a proposal to create a United Nations expert group on solar geoengineering to inform governments and stakeholders. The idea was discussed at the UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya, this week. Professor Aarti Gupta shares how, after tense negotiations, the different member states could not agree, and the proposal was withdrawn. Why is solar geoengineering a controversial issue? How would dimming the sun even work? And should we consider it a genuine option in our fight against climate change? Dr Pete Irvine and Professor Joanna Haigh join presenter Marnie Chesterton in the studio to discuss. Animal welfare charities have been celebrating a ban on donkey skin trade, agreed to this month by 55 African countries. This will make it illegal to slaughter donkeys for their skin across the continent, where around two thirds of the world’s 53 million donkeys live. Victoria Gill tells Marnie that the demand for the animals' skins is fuelled by the popularity of an ancient Chinese medicine called Ejiao, believed to have health-enhancing and youth-preserving properties and traditionally made from donkey hides. Lastly, Dr Jess Wade, physicist and science communicator at Imperial College London, discusses Breaking Through: My Life in Science. It’s the memoir of Nobel Prize-winning biochemist Dr Katalin Karikó, whose passion and dedication to mRNA research led to the development of the life-changing COVID mRNA vaccines. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producers: Florian Bohr, Louise Orchard Assistant Producer: Imaan Moin Editor: Martin Smith Production Co-ordinator: Jana Bennett-HolesworthBBC Inside Science is produced in collaboration with the Open University.
The Gulf Stream’s tipping point
Mar 14 2024
The Gulf Stream’s tipping point
The Gulf Stream, also known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), is essential to stable global climate, and the reason we have moderate temperatures in Northern Europe. Now, a new modelling study suggests that this circulation could, at some point, be at a tipping point and collapse. We hear from one of the minds behind the model, post-doctoral researcher René van Westen from Utrecht University. But how likely is it that this will actually happen in the real world? Presenter Victoria Gill speaks to Jonathan Bamber who cautions that a gulf stream collapse is not imminent, and that it may just weaken slowly over time. Every summer in the Hudson Bay, on the Eastern side of Arctic Canada, the sea ice melts and the region’s polar bears head inland. But that ice-free season is getting longer, depriving the bears of that frozen platform that they use to pounce on their favourite prey – seals. So what do the bears do all summer? Research Wildlife Biologist Karyn Rode shares how she and her colleagues put a collar with video cameras on 20 polar bears, and what it revealed about their lives. Is CERN finally going to get a gigantic new particle accelerator? Almost exactly one decade ago, Roland Pease reported from Switzerland about the very first meeting about the successor of the Large Hadron Collider which was used to discover the Higgs Boson. Now there’s an update to the story. Roland is back to tell Vic how far along CERN is with their plans, and how much more time and money it will take to build the Future Circular Collider. Lovers of certain famous, creamy French cheeses could be in for a bit of a shock. Camembert and Brie are facing extinction as we know them! The Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) in Paris has stated that, over the last 100 years, the food and farming industry has placed too much pressure on the production of these types of cheeses. Now, the fungus traditionally used to grow the famous, fluffy white rinds has been cloned to a point where the lack of diversity in its genetic makeup means it can no longer be reproduced. Turophiles must learn to appreciate more diversity of tastes, colours and textures to protect the cheeses’ future. Presenter: Victoria Gill Producers: Florian Bohr, Louise Orchard, Alice Lipscombe-Southwell  Editor: Martin Smith Production Co-ordinator: Jana Bennett-Holesworth  BBC Inside Science is produced in collaboration with the Open University.