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BBC World Service - Science in Action

Science in Action

The BBC brings you all the week's science news.

Science in Action

  • Predictable Patterns in Earthquake Activity
    Natural variations in the length of the day may influence the likelihood of strong earthquakes happening. The speed of the Earth's rotation can be changed by events in the core, or changes in ocean currents, so that the day grows or shrinks by just a thousandth of a second. But geologists have seen that years with longer days can also have several more strong earthquakes, and we're entering such a phase just now. One explanation they propose is that stress changes due to the speed variations might be enough to push vulnerable faults beyond their limit. Unlocking The Secrets of Okinawa Pottery Okinawa in Japan is famous for its unique, colourful pottery. The secret recipes for the clay, glazes and colours have never been written down. Instead they were passed on by word of mouth from Master to student. Much of the knowledge of the old craft was lost when Okinawa was heavily bombarded during World War 2. Now scientists at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST) have teamed up with Kitagama, a pottery collective, to investigate traditional Okinawa pieces using high tech X rays and electron microscopes to always the precise composition of the clay mixes and glazes. Gene drives and Conservation Gene drives change the rules of normal inheritance. They greatly increase the odds of genes being passed to the next generation. They can be naturally occurring, but the phenomenon can be modified and utilized in the laboratory. It’s a complicated process, but by combining it with the precise gene editing tool CrispR, the suggestion is that gene drives can be used to introduce things like infertility into invasive species, which rapidly gets passed on to future generations of pests like rats or disease-carrying mosquitoes, to try and control them. But new thinking on the process urges extreme caution. Artificial Poo Roland Pease rolls his sleeves up and delves into the world of fake faeces. This is all part of a project to try and help reduce the 750,000 child deaths from poor sanitation. Picture: An Iranian man looks through the damaged stairwell of a building in the town of Sarpol-e Zahab in Iran, following a 7.3-magnitude earthquake on 14th November 2017, Credit: Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Fiona Roberts

  • Science on Trial
    What is the danger to scientific discourse when scientists sue other scientists? News that a scientist in the US is suing a fellow scientist, and the National Academy of Sciences, for libel, is worrying the science publishing community. Will litigation spoil the usual, fair and open exchanges that drive scientific progress? Transgenic Skin Transplant Clinicians have created transgenic stem cells to produce replacement skin for a child with a devastatingly debilitating skin disease. The team grew enough skin to transplant 80% of the child’s body with the genetically ‘fixed’ skin. Karlie Noon As part of this week’s BBC 100 Women season, shining a spotlight on inspiring women in science, indigenous Australian astronomer Karlie Noon tells us about the Aboriginal astronomy knowledge she has been collecting. And her journey as an indigenous woman in physics. Analysing the York Gospels A medieval illuminated manuscript, over one-thousand years old, is still in used in religious ceremonies in the UK today. Like many illuminated manuscripts, the York Gospels is exquisitely decorated and bound, providing important historical and artistic value. But new bio-archaeological analysis has shone light on the biological value of the book. The team have revealed which animal skins went to make the parchment and other fascinating discoveries about the biology contained beneath its covers. (Photo: A statue of the scales of justice. Credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Fiona Roberts

  • Hidden Secrets of the Great Pyramid
    A hidden void has been uncovered under the Great Pyramid in Giza. Using a new technique using muons which are a by-product of cosmic rays from the Universe. Explorers have visualized what they think could be a large void at least 30 metres long above the Great Gallery in the 4500 year old Pharaoh Khufu’s Pyramid. Atlas of the Underworld When the Earth’s crust slides under the surface at subduction zones, you might expect that the rock melts and gets amalgamated into the Earth’s Mantle. They do – eventually - but over millions and millions of years. This means that ocean-bed rock and continental rock, from as far back as 300 million years ago, exist as lost continents and islands in the inner Earth. New work using earthquake waves has located almost 100 such structures. Pharaoh’s Serpent Some of you may remember an indoor firework trick called the ‘Pharaoh’s Serpent’. You lit an ‘egg’ with a match, stood back and watched while a snake-like substance instantly grew out of the egg, meanwhile the room was engulfed in clouds of sulphurous smoke. It’s a party trick displaying the wonder of chemistry’, that’s been around since Victorian times and videos of the remarkable reaction are having a resurgence on the internet….but what’s it all about and why are chemists now, so interested in the party trick? Chemists re-examining the chemistry of the Serpent think it may have some more practical applications in superconductors. Picture: Pyramids of Giza, Credit: stevenallan/Getty Images Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Fiona Roberts

  • Catastrophic Decline in Flying Insects
    A few decades ago, when you drove down a country road anywhere in Europe, your car windscreen would get splattered with the squashed bodies of flying insects. It's known as the 'windscreen phenomenon'. But now, there seem to be far fewer flying insects than there used to be. Scientists have long suspected that insects are in dramatic decline, but new evidence confirms this. Research at more than 60 protected areas in Germany suggests flying insects have declined by more than 75% over the past 30 years. Splitting the Cost of Biodiversity Globally, $14.4 billion was spent between 1996 and 2008 to help stop the decline in the World's plants and animals. There were some overall successes, with an average reduction in biodiversity loss of 29% per country over this time. However, not all countries are doing well - with the USA (mainly Hawaii), Indonesia, Malaysia, China and India some of the poor achievers. New research has looked at the numbers for each country and at how pressures from human development goals can conflict with saving biodiversity, and has calculated what each country needs to spend to reach biodiversity targets. Hollywood Science In the quest for a good storyline and lots of action, Hollywood doesn't always get its science right. The science of geophysics can get mangled in the plot. In the 1997 blockbuster 'Volcano', Tommy Lee Jones fights to save residents from volcanic lava flowing through the streets of LA, however the city is located neither near a hot spot nor a subduction zone which would be needed for a volcano to emerge. But rather than worrying about this and getting angry and shouting at the screen, top geophysicist Seth Stein, at Northwestern University, says that pointing out scientific errors can be a great place to engage students in the subject and help inject the healthy scepticism needed to be a good scientist. Durian Fruit It smells awful, and is banned in many public places, but to many Southeast Asians its creamy flesh is delicious. Why is there such a dichotomy between the smell and taste of the 'King of Fruit'? New genetic analysis may hold the answers and may even help technologists to engineer the smell out of the durian. Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Fiona Roberts Photo: Hoverfly Credit: Dr. Paul F. Donald

  • Detecting a ‘Bling Nova’
    In the short window of time between the VIRGO gravitational wave detector being switched on, in Pisa in Italy, and the LIGO detector, in the US, being switched off for an upgrade, the teams detected the signal they had hoped for, but dared not expect. A space-altering gravity ripple, followed by a gamma ray burst signal and when the World’s telescopes turned to the Hydra constellation they also saw an optical flash. These signals were from two neutron stars, having danced a death spiral and crashed into one another 130 million years ago. It’s been nicknamed a ‘Bling Nova’, because this massively energetic reaction, is where lots of the gold, platinum and heavy metals in the Universe come from. Whale and Dolphin Brain-size A large brain, relative to our size, underpins sophisticated social structure in humans. Things like language, shared goals, teaching, consensus decision-making and empathy require great intelligence. Whales and dolphins also have exceptionally large and anatomically sophisticated brains. But until recently it has been unclear whether large brain size is linked to social structure in these marine mammals. A recent study suggests that large brains might similarly have arisen to provide the capacity to learn in response to the challenges of social living. Picture: Artist’s concept of the explosive collision of two neutron stars. Credit: Illustration by Robin Dienel courtesy of the Carnegie Institution for Science Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Fiona Roberts