Professor Jim Al-Khalili talks to leading scientists about their life and work, finding out what inspires them and asking what their discoveries might do for us in the future.
Tamsin Edwards on the uncertainty in climate science
Certainty is comforting. Certainty is quick. But science is uncertain. And this is particularly true for people who are trying to understand climate change.
Climate scientist, Tamsin Edwards tackles this uncertainty head on. She quantifies the uncertainty inherent in all climate change predictions to try and understand which of many possible storylines about the future of our planet are most likely to come true. How likely is it that the ice cliffs in Antarctica will collapse into the sea causing a terrifying amount of sea level rise?
Even the best supercomputers in the world aren’t fast enough to do all the calculations we need to understand what might be going on, so Tamsin uses statistical tools to fill in the gaps.
She joined the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2018 and is currently working on the 6th Assessment Report which will inform the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP26.
She tells Jim Al-Khalili about her life and work and why she wishes more people would have the humility (and confidence) to consider the possibility that they might be wrong.
Producer: Anna Buckley
Mike Tipton on how our bodies respond to extreme conditions
As the craze for cold water swimming continues, Jim Al Khalili talks to triathlete and Professor of Extreme Physiology, Mike Tipton. Is it as good for our mental and physical health as many enthusiasts claim? And do the benefits go beyond a rush of adrenaline causing feel good endorphins to be released in our brains?
Mike studies why people drown. He wants to understand the precise physiological changes that occur when we expose ourselves to extreme environments and to use that information to help save lives. (Shivering and sweating will only get you so far when it comes to temperature control).
Most deaths at sea are caused by the initial cold water shock response, not hypothermia. People gasp for air and swallow lethal quantities of water.
So is it a case of kill or cure for cold water swimmers?
What does the scientific evidence say about the idea that repeated cold water immersion can boost our immunity and have an anti-inflammatory effect?
Mike tells Jim how he came to specialise in this area of science and why he believes we should all be challenging our bodies more.
Producer: Anna Buckley
Nira Chamberlain on how mathematics can solve real-world problems
When does a crowd of people become unsafe? How well will Aston Villa do next season? When is it cost-effective to replace a kitchen?
The answers may seem arbitrary but, to Nira Chamberlain, they lie in mathematics. You can use maths to model virtually anything.
Dr Nira Chamberlain is President of the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications, and Principal Mathematical Modeller for the multinational engineering company SNC-Lavalin Atkins.
He specialises in complex engineering and industrial problems, creating mathematical models to describe a particular feature or process, and then running simulations to better understand it, and predict its behaviour.
Nira is one of just a handful of esteemed mathematicians, and the first black mathematician. to be featured in ‘Who’s Who’, Britain’s book of prominent people.
Since 2018, he’s made the Black Power List, which celebrates the UK’s top 100 most influential people of African or African-Caribbean heritage, ranking higher than Stormzy and Lewis Hamilton when he was first listed. Proof, he says, that maths really is for everyone.
PRODUCER: Beth Eastwood
Helen Scales on marine conservation
Luminescent bone-eating worms, giant squid and a sea cucumber commonly known as the headless chicken monster: some extraordinary creatures live at the bottom of the sea. For a long time almost everyone agreed the pressure was too intense for any life to exist. Now, it seems, the more we look the more new species we find. But, many fear, marine life would be threatened if plans to extract precious metals from the potato-sized metallic nodules that grow on the seabed are allowed to go ahead.
Metals such as copper, manganese and cobalt are in high demand in the manufacture of mobile phones and renewable energy technologies, such as batteries for electric cars, wind turbines and solar panels. Deep sea mining companies argue that we will need these metals to create a carbon Net Zero economy. Meantime, the World Wildlife Fund is pushing for a moratorium on deep sea mining. And several companies agree: including Google, BMW, Volvo and Samsung. Do we need to choose between green and blue? Or is there a third way that protects both the planet and all the riches in our oceans?
Marine biologist, Helen Scales talks to Jim Al-Khalili about her life and work: fish watching off an atoll in the South China Sea to assess the extinction risks to the Humphead Wrasse and a research expedition to explore the brilliant abyss. And she warns of the environmental devastation that could be caused if plans to mine the metals on the bottom of the ocean were to be allowed to go ahead.
Producer: Anna Buckley
Peter Goadsby on migraine
Throbbing head, nausea, dizziness, disturbed vision – just some of the disabling symptoms that can strike during a migraine attack. This neurological condition is far more common than you might think, affecting more people than diabetes, epilepsy and asthma combined.
While medications, to help relieve the symptoms of migraine, have been around for some time, they haven’t worked for everyone. And what happens in the brain during a migraine attack was, until recently, poorly understood.
Peter Goadsby is Professor of Neurology at King's College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience and is a true pioneer in the field of migraine.
Over the course of his career, he has unravelled what happens in the brain during a migraine attack and his insights are already benefiting patients - in the form of new medications that can not only treat a migraine, but also prevent it from occurring.
Peter shares this year’s Brain Prize, the world's largest prize for brain research, with three other internationally renowned scientists in the field.
Producer: Beth Eastwood
Jane Clarke on Protein Folding
Professor Jane Clarke has had a fascinating double career. Having been a science teacher for many years, she didn’t start her research career until she was 40. Today she is a world-leading expert in molecular biophysics and, in particular, in how protein molecules in the body fold up into elaborate 3D structures, that only then enables them to carry out their roles. How they do this has been one of the fundamental questions in biology and the key to combating some of our most challenging diseases, caused by the misfolding of proteins.
Jane talks about her journey, from Tottenham schoolteacher to Cambridge Professor and Fellow of the Royal Society, and how, despite the obstacles she’s encountered along the way, she’s always been driven by her passion to understand the mystery of the machinery of life.
Producer: Adrian Washbourne
I've enjoyed so many of these shows! After picking all the scientists I'd heard of, I've started listening to all of them and they're all great. The interviewer is genuinely interested and manages to draw out the real person behind the brilliant career. Please keep them coming!
Very enjoyable, varied guests, good science, and an insight into the habits and motivations of the guests. Highly recommended.
Great show more please
Wonderful interesting and well presented. Hope we can get some more.