Explorations in the world of science.
Covid origins: The science
Presenter: Roland Pease
Picture: Wuhan Residents Told Not To Leave As Coronavirus Pneumonia Spreads, Credit: Stringer/Getty Images
The COVID19 pandemic has revolutionised the way vaccines are made, and underlined the inequalities in access to vaccines. But will it leave a legacy? Roland Pease explores the potential for mRNA and other revolutionary vaccines to make future health protection faster, safer and more flexible, whether 'universal' vaccines will give broader protection, and how access to vaccines can be made more equitable.
Picture: Coronavirus vaccines on the production line, Credit: MikeMareen/Getty Images
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.
The Evidence: How will the pandemic end?
When all restrictions are lifted in a highly vaccinated country, how manageable is the coronavirus? Both Israel and UK’s experiments to do just that, have raised new worries about raising the risk of new vaccine resistant variants. Claudia Hammond and her panel of global experts consider our ability to predict how and when variants of concern are most likely to arise and how long our repertoire of vaccines can remain effective in riding out increasingly infectious waves of the virus.
Also in the programme - does anyone need a third “booster” dose or is it more important to make sure the whole world gets their first two doses instead? And as more people in the world get vaccinated every day, can we get to a situation where the virus is kept in check, without the huge surges in cases that overwhelm hospitals?
Listeners put their questions about coronavirus and the pandemic directly to Claudia and her panel of specialists which includes Professor Salim Abdool Karim - a clinical infectious disease epidemiologist and a Member of the African Task Force on Coronavirus; Dr Natalia Freund a leading immunologist at Sackler School of Medicine, Tel Aviv University; Adam Finn, professor of paediatrics at the Bristol Children's Vaccine Centre, University of Bristol, and a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation that advises UK health departments on immunisation, and Dr Muge Cevik, who’s a medical doctor and clinical lecturer in infectious diseases and medical virology at the University of St Andrew’s in Scotland.
Producer: Adrian Washbourne
Editor: Deborah Cohen
Technical supervision: Steve Greenwood
The Life Scientific: Professor Martin Sweeting
When Martin Sweeting was a student, he thought it would be fun to try to build a satellite using electronic components found in some of the earliest personal computers. An amateur radio ham and space enthusiast, he wanted to create a communications satellite that could be used to talk to people on the other side of the world. It was a team effort, he insists, with friends and family pitching in and a lot of the work being done on his kitchen table. Somehow he managed to persuade NASA to let his microsatellite hitch a ride into space and, after the first message was received, spent more than a decade trying to get a good picture of planet earth. The technology that Martin pioneered underpins modern life with thousands of reprogrammable microsatellites now in orbit around the earth and thousands more due to launch in the next few years to bring internet connections to remote parts of the world. The university spin-off company, Surrey Satellite Technologies Limited (SSTL) that Martin set up in the 1980s with an initial investment of £100 sold for £50 million, a quarter of a century later. If his company had been bought by venture capitalists, he says he would probably have ended up making TVs. Instead he developed the satellite technology on which so much of modern life depends.
Produce: Anna Buckley
Photo Credit: SSTL
The Life Scientific: Dr Nira Chamberlain
When does a crowd of people become unsafe? How well will the football team 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.