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BBC Radio 4 - Inside Science

BBC Inside Science

Dr Adam Rutherford and guests illuminate the mysteries and challenge the controversies behind the science that's changing our world.

BBC Inside Science

  • Can we forecast earthquakes?, Britain's space race rocket Skylark, Francis Galton
    What might the length of the day have to do with the likelihood of destructive earthquakes around the world? According to Professors Rebecca Bendick and Roger Bilham, there's a correlation between changes in the rate at which the Earth rotates and the incidence of earthquakes of Magnitude 7 and above. The rotation speed of the planet increases and decreases over periods of years and decades. From their research, the earth scientists say that there's an substantial increase in the number of powerful earthquakes around the world five years after the Earth attains a peak in its spin speed and enters a period of slow down. The difference in day length is tiny but it is enough, say the researchers, to trigger already stressed faults in the crust to move sooner than later. In the year that the Soviet Union launched Sputnik into orbit, the UK launched its own rocket into the Space Race. 1957 saw the launch of the first Skylark space rocket. Inside Science talks to two veterans of the Skylark programme - Professors John Zarnecki and Ken Pounds - who cut their space research teeth with some of the 440 launches. The Science Museum in London is staging a Skylark exhibition in celebration. Francis Galton was one of the UK's most influential 19th century scientists and laid important methodological foundations for genetics and other fields of science today. But he was also a racist and leading proponent of eugenics. Adam discusses Galton's legacy with historian Subhadra Das of University College London and clinical geneticist Han Brunner of the Maastricht University Medical Centre in the Netherlands. Both guests attended a meeting of the Galton Institute in London which brought together researchers of many disciplines to discuss the bad and the good in Francis Galton's legacy. Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker.

  • Boy gets New Skin, The York Gospels, Stephen Hawking's Thesis
    Researchers in Italy and Germany have saved the life of a boy with a life threatening genetic skin disease, using a combination of stem cell and gene therapy. 7 year old Hassan had lost 60% of his protective epidermis because of the condition, junctional epidermolysis bullosa. The severe blistering and consequent bacterial infections put his life in imminent danger. In a final attempt to save him, the scientists took a small area of unblistered epidermis from his body, separated the constituent skin cells and then engineered them with a normal version of the gene that was malfunctioning in Hassan's body. Sheets of healthy epidermis of an area of about one square metre were then grown in culture, and then grafted onto 80% of his body. Hassan is now living a normal life, back at school, playing football. Lead researcher Michele de Luca describes the remarkable recovery and Fiona Watt, director of the Centre for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine at Kings College London, explains how the procedure worked. Scientists at the University of York are investigating medieval livestock farming through the study of the 1,000 year old York Gospels manuscript: not by reading it but by extracting proteins and DNA from its animal skin parchment pages. Inside Science listener and Middle Eastern archaeologist Melissa Sharp takes the programme to task for suggesting that anyone can now use publically available sonar and satellite data to search for shipwrecks and other archaeological sites. It opens up the world's ancient and not so ancient heritage to looters, she says. Since the University of Cambridge made Stephen Hawkings 1966 PhD thesis free to view and download last month, more than a million people have at least looked at it. Adam Rutherford talks to cosmologist Andrew Pontzen, biologist Matthew Cobb and neuroscientist Sophie Scott about the record-breaking thesis and asks whose first research project they'd like to download. Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker

  • Climate Change and Health; Moth Snow Storm Feedback; Whale Brain Evolution; Pharoah's Serpent
    Adam Rutherford talks to researchers on a major global study that aimed to quantify how climate change has already damaged the health of millions of people. Hugh Montgomery is the co-chair of the Lancet Countdown report and says that climate change is the largest single threat to global health. Climate scientist Peter Cox talks about his stark findings on the increase in the number of vulnerable people exposed to heat waves between now and the turn of the century. We hear anecdotes and concerns from listeners following our item last week on the catastrophic decline in flying insects in the last quarter century and the disappearance of moth snow storms. What can the social lives and brains of whales and dolphins tell us about the evolution of our species cognitive capacities and white matter? Adam talks to Susanne Shultz of the University of Manchester. Everyone's favourite indoor firework, the Pharoah's Serpent, is under scientific scrutiny from chemists Tom Miller and Andrea Sella at University College London.

  • Insects disappearing, DNA Biosensor, Dog faces, Bandit dinosaur
    The total biomass of flying insects in the environment has decreased by 75% in the last quarter of a century. That's the conclusion of research published at the end of last week in the journal PLOS One. The discovery, made in Germany, has shocked many, but should we in the UK be worried too? The answer is yes, according to Adam Rutherford's guests Dave Goulson, professor of biology at the University of Sussex, and Michael McCarthy, environmental journalist and author of 'The Moth Snow Storm.' The speed and ease of precise infection diagnosis could be transformed by synthetic biologists at Imperial College, London. Paul Freemont tells Adam about a simple DNA biosensor that turns green in the presence of a pneumonia-causing bacterium that is a particular problem for people with Cystic Fibrosis. He adds that the technology is adaptable to any kind of bacteria and may also aid efforts to curb the spread of antibiotic resistance. When dogs know you are looking at them, they ramp up the expressiveness of their faces. Marnie Chesterton visits the Dog Cognition Centre at the University of Portsmouth to talk to the researchers who made this discovery, and to meet Jimmy the Staffy. Palaeontologists at the University of Bristol have figured out the colour patterning on a dinosaur that lived 120 million years ago. Sinosauropteryx was a small feathered dinosaur. Two spectacular fossils of it were found in northeast China. The specimens are so well preserved that remnants of pigment remain in the feathers. This allows Jakob Vinter and colleagues to see that Sinosauropteryx was reddish brown in colour, with light stripes on its tail, light and dark counter-shading on its body and a dashing bandit-style face mask. Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker.

  • Colliding Neutron Stars, Krakatoa, Centigrade vs Celsius
    Adam Rutherford talks to astrophysicists about the astronomical discovery of the year, if not the last couple of decades: the collision of two neutron stars and the cosmic gold-forging aftermath. The discovery of this long-hypothesized event on 17th August came from the much awaited marriage of the capabilities of the gravitational wave detectors LIGO and Virgo with those of ground-based and space-based telescopes. Samaya Nissanke of Radboud University, Sheila Rowan of the University of Glasgow and Nial Tanvir of the University of Leicester take Inside Science through the story. What made the infamous 1883 eruption of Krakatoa so devastating? Roland Pease meets the earth scientists trying to answer the question by recreating in the lab the conditions under the volcano prior to the eruption. Following a temperature-related faux pas by Adam in the last episode, Michael de Podesta of the National Physical Laboratory explains the difference between Celsius and Centigrade. Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker.