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BBC World Service - Discovery

Discovery

Explorations in the world of science.

Discovery

  • Irene Tracey on pain in the brain
    Pain, as we know, is highly personal. Some can cope with huge amounts, while others reel in agony over a seemingly minor injury. Though you might feel the stab of pain in your stubbed toe or sprained ankle, it is actually processed in the brain. That is where Irene Tracey, Nuffield Professor of Anaesthetic Science at Oxford University, has been focussing her attention. Known as the Queen of Pain, she has spent the past two decades unravelling the complexities of this puzzling sensation. She goes behind the scenes, as it were, of what happens when we feel pain - scanning the brains of her research subjects while subjecting them to a fair amount of burning, prodding and poking. Her work is transforming our understanding, revealing how our emotions influence our experience of pain, how chronic pain develops and even when consciousness is present in the brain. Producer: Beth Eastwood

  • Paul Davies on the origin of life and the evolution of cancer
    Physicist Paul Davies talks to Jim al-Khalili about the origin of life, the search for aliens and the evolution of cancer. Paul Davies is interested in some of the biggest questions that we can ask. What is life? How did the universe begin? How will it end? And are we alone? His research has been broad and far-reaching, covering quantum mechanics, cosmology and black holes. In the 1980s he described the so-called Bunch-Davies vacuum - the quantum vacuum that existed just fractions of a second after the big bang - when particles were popping in and out of existence and nothing was stable. As the chair of SETI (the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) Post Detection Task Group, he’s the person responsible for announcing to the world when we make contact with aliens. He’s now Regents Professor of Physics at Arizona State University in the American south west where he runs research groups studying the evolution of cancer and the origins of life. Paul Davies talks to Jim al-Khalili about how he applies the principles of physics to these big questions and about how he has worked closely with religious thinkers. Producer: Anna Buckley

  • Can psychology boost vaccination rates?
    In the 1950s a batch of polio vaccine in the US was made badly, resulting in 10 deaths and the permanent paralysis of 164 people. Paul Offit, a paediatrician in Philadelphia, says the disaster did not turn people away from vaccines. He believes that current vaccine hesitancy needs to be tackled online - where fake news spreads quickly. The German state of Brandenburg wants to make pre-school vaccinations compulsory - like neighbouring France and Italy - because immunisation rates there dropped to 73%. But some doctors believe busy parents can instead be gently persuaded to take up vaccines. Perhaps this is where psychological research can play a role. Sander van der Linden, Director of the Cambridge Social Decision Making Lab in the UK, is working on an online game which "inoculates" people against fake news - by showing them how they can be manipulated online. He says the effects last about 6 weeks - so a "booster" may be necessary. Head of the Vaccine Confidence Project Heidi Larson applauds 18 year old American Ethan Lindenberger who decided to get vaccinated despite his own mother's anti-vax views which he says she got from reading church and internet anti-vaccination groups rather than from the medical profession. Producer: Paula McGrath Picture: A vial of measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and an information sheet, Boston Children's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts February 26, 2015. Credit: Reuters / Brian Snyder / File Photo

  • Global attitudes towards vaccines
    Global attitudes towards vaccinations are revealed in the Wellcome Trust’s Global Monitor survey. Our guide through the new data is Heidi Larson, Professor of Anthropology, Risk and Decision Science at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who also leads the Vaccines Confidence Project. She says the most vaccine-sceptical country is France – because of past scares around different vaccines. The success of vaccines means people have forgotten how measles can be fatal – and parents are now influenced by scare stories about vaccines. More than half of the 1,000 recent cases of measles in the US have been in the Orthodox Jewish community in New York city. We hear from some of the parents who still don’t vaccinate and from a family doctor about trustworthy sources of information. Things couldn’t be more different in Madagascar where more than 1200 children have died from measles and parents walk for miles to have their children immunised. Half the country’s children are malnourished – which can increase the risk of complications if they catch measles. Vitamin A supplements are being given to help the immune system to work properly. Next week on Discovery – could compulsory vaccines or a more subtle, psychological approach help to address vaccine hesitancy? Producer: Paula McGrath Photo: Children walk past a sign advising about a measles outbreak in the Brooklyn Borough of New York. Credit: Reuters)

  • Why do birds sing?
    "What happens to the human voice as we age? If I hear a voice on the radio, I can guess roughly how old they are. But singer's voices seem to stay relatively unchanged as they age. Why is this?" All these questions were sent in by Jonathan Crain from Long Island in New York. Doctors Adam Rutherford and Hannah Fry discover how the human voice is produced and listen to how our voice sounds when it emerges from our vocal cords. Acoustic engineer Trevor Cox, author of Now You're Talking, explains why German and French babies have a different accent. And neuroscientist Sophie Scott describes what happens when boys' voices break, and why a similar thing can happen to women during the menopause. Finally, our voices often change dramatically in later life, as demonstrated by comedy impressionist Duncan Wisbey. Expect cameos from David Attenborough, Dumbledore and Paul McCartney. Bird Song "Winter is finally over and the birds are all singing their hearts out at dawn. What is all the noise about? And why are some songs so elaborate?" asks Tony Fulford from Cambridgeshire in the UK. We find out how birds produce multiple notes at once, which one has the widest repertoire of songs, and why males like to show off quite so much. Plus, we talk to researcher Lauryn Benedict about the project which aims to solve the mystery of why female birds sing. Featuring interviews with RSPB president and nature presenter Miranda Krestovnikoff, and world-renowned birdsong expert and sound recordist, Don Kroodsma from the University of Massachusetts. TV archive courtesy of The One Show, BBC TV. Please send your cases for consideration for the next series to curiouscases@bbc.co.uk. Presenters: Adam Rutherford, Hannah Fry Producer: Michelle Martin. (Photo: Eurasian Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes). Credit: Getty Images)