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BBC Radio 4 - Inside Science

BBC Inside Science

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

BBC Inside Science

  • Blood clots, grieving and the emotion of screams
    The story of what we understand about the rare cases of blood clots associated with certain Covid-19 vaccines is constantly evolving. In today’s programme Professor Beverley Hunt looks at the emerging evidence. How have the restrictions due to Covid 19 affected how we grieve? Professor Claire White, an expert in grief and mourning, is investigating what it means to the grief process when the traditional ways of acknowledging death are changed. Sascha Fruholz has the unenviable task of listening to people scream all day, but he has made some surprising discoveries about which types of scream people are best able to identify.

  • Disobedient particles, noisy gorillas, sharks and fictional languages
    In 2016, an accelerator physics centre called Fermilab acquired a massive circular 50 foot magnet from a lab in New York. Too big for the roads, the magnet had to take a 2000km detour via New Orleans to get to its new home. This was the start of the “muon g-2” experiment. Last week, Fermilab announced some of their results, and they don’t quite add up. UK experiment lead Professor Mark Lancaster from Manchester University tells us what they have discovered about the tiny particle that is disobeying the laws that govern how our entire universe fits together. Mountain gorillas are among the most impressive and powerful primates alive today. Living in the dense forests of eastern and central Africa, they are able to communicate with other gorillas a mile away by cupping their hands and beating their chests. Primatologist Edward Wright and colleagues have been studying male silverback gorillas and explains how gorillas use chest beating to attract potential mates and suss out competitors. And Professor Corey Bradshaw from Adelaide, South Australia sheds light on a more fearsome animal: sharks. His research has investigated the likelihood of shark attacks around the Australian coast into the future, up to 2066, and asked what would happen to those figures if everyone wore an electrical emitter that interferes with the sharks electrical senses. He finds that shark attacks are remarkably low already, but these emitters could reduce bites by up to 3000 over the next 50 years. Super fans around the world have learned to speak fluent Klingon, a fictional language originating from Star Trek. In a quest to understand the science behind these languages often dismissed as gobbledygook, Gaia Vince has been speaking to some of the linguists responsible for creating these languages. It’s time for her to relax the tongue, loosen those jaw muscles and wrap her head around the scientific building blocks embedded in language and what languages like Klingon tell us about prehistoric forms of communication. Presented by Marnie Chesterton Produced by Rory Galloway

  • Science funding cuts; Mice get Covid-19; Native oyster reintroductions
    Scientists were delighted earlier this year to find they would still have access to the EU Horizon 2020 funding and collaborations. Now, it has been revealed that membership of this group, which was previously paid for through fees to the European Union, may come directly from the science budget, at a cost of about £15 billion over the next 7 years. That’s £1-2 billion a year. Marnie Chesterton speaks with Beth Thompson, head of policy at the Wellcome Trust about the implications, and Roland Pease asks scientists working around the world how the previously announced ODA cuts are affecting their work. Native oysters help to filter coastal waters of the UK of pollutants including nitrates, while also providing habitat for other species. But their numbers have declined by 95% throughout their British range. Now, the Zoological Society of London is placing thousands of mature oysters under pontoons in marinas across the UK to let them breed, and encourage the return of the species to their former numbers. And the new coronavirus mutations that are worrying us all have been found to affect mice in experimental studies at the Pasteur Institute in France. Marnie asks if this change to the infectivity of the new variants has implications for human health and our ability to combat the virus. Presented by Marnie Chesterton Produced by Rory Galloway

  • Halfway to net zero; hydrogen as a fuel; Fagradalsfjall, Iceland’s active volcano
    The UK is reportedly halfway towards meeting its 2050 target of "net zero" carbon emissions. How did we get there and how will we achieve the next stage? ‘UK greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 were 51% below 1990 levels, according to a new Carbon Brief analysis. This means the UK is now halfway to meeting its target of “net-zero” emissions by 2050.’ Simon Evans explains his predictions from the report, outlines how we define net zero and what is required from the next few decades to ensure that the UK meets its 2050 goal. Much of Europe is attempting to replace fossil fuels, transforming transport and domestic heating to run on electrical alternatives, such as batteries and heat pumps. But where electrification isn’t possible or cost effective, such as in many homes, an alternative is still needed. Natural gas is responsible for over 30% of the UK’s total carbon emissions. Hydrogen would, theoretically, appear to be the perfect alternative, as combustion only produces water as a by product. Gaia discusses the options with hydrogen strategist, Dr Jenifer Baxter, and Dr Angela Needle of Cadent explains the pilot projects the company is carrying out to introduce 20% hydrogen into gas going into our homes. Last Friday, Fragradalsfjall began erupting for the first time in 800 years. The volcanic system is located in the West of Iceland close to the capital city of Reyjkavik. Dr Evgenia Ilynskaya of Leeds University has been out measuring the gases emitted by the eruption and she describes the experience of working on an active volcanic system.

  • Human embryo research and ethics; sperm whale social learning; Antikythera mechanism
    We still know very little about exactly how the embryo forms out of a mass of dividing cells in those crucial first weeks after conception. This is also the time when many miscarriages occur, and scientists want to understand why. Couples going through IVF donate spare embryos for research and scientists are permitted to study them in a test tube, or in vitro, allowing them to grow and develop for up to 14 days. This 14 day rule is abided by globally, and it’s enshrined in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act in the UK. Thirty years ago no-one could keep these embryos alive for more than a few days but recently the techniques have moved on and they have been cultured for nearly 14 days. So should the 14 day rule be extended? Gaia Vince discusses this question with bioethicist professor Insoo Hyun of Case Western University and Harvard Medical School. There are other ways of studying this early development that don’t involve growing an actual embryo, and that’s by using just a few stem cells from it. These are cells that haven’t yet specialised into any type of body cell and so they have the potential to become any cell type. Researchers can grow these cells into structures that resemble embryos, although they could never survive inside a woman’s womb, and these artificial embryos aren’t subject to the 14 day rule. Gaia talks to Dr Naomi Moris of the Crick Institute in London about her work on what she calls gastruloids. Whaling was a huge industry in the 19th century, and populations of sperm whales plummeted, as hunters sought the oil in their heads that was used everywhere for lighting. The whalers who were hunting in the North Pacific kept meticulous records that have been recently made public. Biologists have been studying them, and picking out unexpected changes in the patterns of whale capture. Dr Luke Rendell of St Andrews University explains how he and his colleagues worked out that that the whales seemed to be learning from each other how to avoid the boats. A piece of intricate Ancient Greek engineering called the Antikythera mechanism, that was found by sponge divers in 1901 in the Mediterranean, has fascinated many people. Last week a team from University College London published the latest explanation of how the device worked. Science writer Jo Marchant herself became so obsessed with the mechanism that she published a book on it called Decoding the Universe and she talks to Gaia about the object and what the new research tells us about how the Greeks understood the cosmos two thousand years ago.