292 episodes

We take your questions about life, Earth and the universe to researchers hunting for answers at the frontiers of knowledge.

CrowdScience BBC World Service

    • Science
    • 4.9 • 514 Ratings

We take your questions about life, Earth and the universe to researchers hunting for answers at the frontiers of knowledge.

    Can we get better at accepting death?

    Can we get better at accepting death?

    Death is inevitable, though many of us would rather not dwell on it. For those with a terminal illness, however, the end of life is clearly a more pressing reality.

    CrowdScience listener Sam has known for a while that her illness is terminal, and by now she’s got used to the idea. But she finds many friends and family would rather avoid the subject at all costs; they don’t want to acknowledge what’s happening until it’s all over. She’s wondering if there’s a way to lighten up the topic of her approaching death, and create the openness she craves.

    If we could learn to be more accepting of illness and dying, the end of life could be a more positive experience for all involved. So how can we face up to the impending death of a loved one, and best support that person in the process?
    In search of answers, we talk a clinical psychologist about death anxiety, visit a death café, and learn about a scheme in India where whole communities are trained in caring for people at the end of life.

    With Dr Rachel Menzies, Abigail Griffin, Dr Suresh Kumar and Rebecca Nellis. Thanks to Lola, Juan, Leon, Qayyah, Bessy, Madhumita, Ashley, Amaru, Mila and Sheila.

    Presented by Caroline Steel
    Produced by Cathy Edwards for the BBC World Service

    [Image: A woman sitting next to her sister who has cancer. She is wearing a headscarf. Credit: Getty Images]

    • 34 min
    What is a quantum computer?

    What is a quantum computer?

    Every year, new computers are being developed that are faster and smarter than ever before. But if you really want to take things to the next level, you've got to go quantum. CrowdScience listener Atikah in Hungary likes the sound of a quantum computer but wants to know: what exactly is it, what can it do that a normal computer can't, and how soon can she get hold of one?

    The digital devices in our everyday lives - from laptop computers to smartphones - are all based on 0s and 1s: so-called ‘bits’. But quantum computers are based on ‘qubits’ - the quantum 0s and 1s that are altogether stranger, but also more powerful. With the help of quantum computing researcher Jessica Pointing and a spinning doughnut, presenter Alex Lathbridge learns how these ‘qubits’ allow computers to perform calculations millions of times faster than normal.

    While quantum computers do exist, it turns out they're not yet big enough or stable enough to be really useful. Alex visits Professor Winfried Hensinger and his prototype quantum computer at the University of Sussex to understand what they can do right now, and why it’s so incredibly difficult to scale them up. He hears from the engineers racing to overcome the obstacles and unlock the potential of these mega-powerful systems.

    But once the engineering problems are solved, what then? Professor Shohini Ghose opens our eyes to the exciting range of possible applications - from helping create new drugs, to making electric batteries much more efficient and maybe even helping farmers fertilise their crops for a fraction of the price.

    Contributors - Jessica Pointing, Professor Winfried Hensinger, Professor Shohini Ghose
    Presenter - Alex Lathbridge
    Producer - Ilan Goodman
    Sound Design - Jon Nicholls

    [Image: Winfried Hensinger in his lab at the University of Sussex, Credit: Universal Quantum]

    • 31 min
    Human v Machine

    Human v Machine

    Humans can walk for miles, solve problems and form complex relationships using the energy provided by daily meals. That is a lot of output for a fairly modest input. Listener Charlotte from the UK wants to know: how efficient are humans? How do they compare to cars, other animals and even to each other?

    Presenter Marnie Chesterton pits her energetic self against everything from cars to rabbits to find out how she shapes up.

    Marnie also explores whether humans are born equal when it comes to fuel efficiency. Does the energy from one banana get converted into the same amount of movement from person to person? Marnie gets on a treadmill to find out how efficient she really is. With contributors from Herman Pontzer, Duke University, Rhona Pearce, Loughborough University and Christian Gammelgaard Olesen from Wolturnus wheelchair manufacturing company.

    Presenter: Marnie Chesterton
    Producer: Caroline Steel

    Image credit: Getty Images

    • 31 min
    Why do bright lights make me sneeze?

    Why do bright lights make me sneeze?

    This week’s CrowdScience is dedicated to bodily fluids – and why humans spend so much time spraying them all over the place. From snot and vomit to sweat and sneezes, listeners have been positively drenching our inbox with queries. Now presenter Marnie Chesterton and a panel of unsqueamish expert guests prepare themselves to wade through…

    One listener has found that as he ages, bright light seems to make him sneeze more and more – with his current record sitting at 14 sneezes in a row. He’d like to know if light has the same effect on other people and why?

    Sticking with nasal fluids, another listener wants to know why she’s always reaching for a tissue to blow her endlessly dripping nose and yet her family seem to produce hardly any snot at all. Could it be because she moved from a hotter climate to a colder one?

    CrowdScience reveals the answers to these and other sticky questions… if you can find the stomach to listen.

    Produced by Melanie Brown
    Jagdish Chaturvedi – ENT Surgeon
    Åsmund Eikenes – Author
    Prof. Lydia Bourouiba - Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, MIT
    Rubiaya Hussain – PhD student, optics and photonics, ICFO

    [Image: Woman sneezing. Credit: Getty Images]

    • 37 min
    Why can't I find gold in my back yard?

    Why can't I find gold in my back yard?

    If you go outside with a spade and start digging, the chances are you won't find any gold. You might get lucky or just happen to live in a place where people have been finding gold for centuries. But for the most part, there'll be none. But why is that? Why do metals and minerals show up in some places and not others?

    It's a question that's been bothering CrowdScience listener Martijn in the Netherlands, who has noticed the physical effects of mining in various different places while on his travels. It’s also a really important question for the future – specific elements are crucial to modern technology and renewable energy, and we need to find them somewhere.

    Marnie Chesterton heads off on a hunt for answers, starting in a Scottish river where gold can sometimes be found. But why is it there, and how did it get there? Marnie goes on a journey through the inner workings of Earth's geology and the upheaval that happens beneath our feet to produce a deposit that’s worth mining.

    On the way she discovers shimmering pools of lithium amongst the arid beauty of the Atacama Desert, meets researchers who are blasting rocks with lasers and melting them with a flame that’s hotter than the surface of the sun, and heads to the bottom of the ocean to encounter strange potato-sized lumps containing every single element on Earth.

    And maybe, just maybe, she’ll also find gold.

    Leon Kirk, gold panning expert
    Holly Elliott, University of Derby
    Jamie Wilkinson, Natural History Museum, London
    Corrado Tore, SQM, Chile
    Yannick Buret, Natural History Museum, London
    Andrea Koschinsky, Jacobs University, Bremen

    Presented by Marnie Chesterton
    Report by Jane Chambers
    Produced by Ben Motley for the BBC World Service

    [Image: Hands holding Gold Nuggets. Credit: Getty Images]

    • 42 min
    Why does ancient stuff get buried?

    Why does ancient stuff get buried?

    Digging and excavating are bywords for archaeology. But why does history end up deep under our feet?

    This question struck CrowdScience listener Sunil in an underground car park. Archaeological remains found during the car park’s construction were displayed in the subterranean stairwells, getting progressively older the deeper he went. How had these treasures become covered in so much soil over the centuries?

    CrowdScience visits Lisbon, the capital of Portugal – and home to the above-mentioned multi-storey car park. The city has evidence of human habitation stretching back into prehistory, with remnants of successive civilisations embedded and jumbled up below today’s street level. Why did it all end up like this?

    Human behaviour is one factor, but natural processes are at work too. Over at Butser Ancient Farm, an experimental archaeology site in the UK, we explore the myriad forces of nature that cover up – or expose - ancient buildings and artefacts over time.


    Dr Mariana Nabais, University of Lisbon
    Carolina Grilo, Lisbon Museum of the Roman Theatre
    Dr Matt Pope, University College London

    Presented by Marnie Chesterton, Produced by Cathy Edwards for the BBC World Service.

    IMAGE: Getty Images

    • 29 min

Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5
514 Ratings

514 Ratings

RB1001 ,

Interesting and enjoyable

Interesting subjects, well explained. A good podcast.

Gooberatglencoe ,


Episodes are well structured and take care to explain topic well.

tuts91 ,


This show give me a headache every time I listen to it but love it

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