Explorations in the world of science.
Astrophysicist Andy Fabian
Professor Andrew Fabian from Cambridge's Institute of Astronomy has spent his career trying to unravel the mystery of how some of the most dramatic events in the universe can profoundly influence its evolution. For over 50 years he’s been examining our universe using X-ray satellites orbiting way above earth’s atmosphere . He’s built up compelling evidence that supermassive black holes at the heart of galaxies are the engines that drive the movement of energy through the universe and provide the building blocks for the formation of new galaxies. They're extraordinary insights, for which he’s now been awarded the 2020 Kavli Prize in Astrophysics, one of the world's most prestigious science prizes.
Jim Al-Khalili hears how Andy gets to capture epic galactic events in motion to build up a picture of this vast ecosystem - and also how he earned a place in the Guinness Book of Records for discovering the deepest note in the universe – a B flat , 57 octaves below middle C.
Producer Adrian Washbourne
Marine conservationist Heather Koldewey
Professor Heather Koldewey wants to protect our oceans from over-fishing and plastic pollution. An academic who is not content to sit back and let the science speak for itself, she wants to turn science into action and has found conservation allies in some unexpected places. Working with a carpet manufacturer, she created Net-Works, a business that turns old fishing nets into high-end carpet tiles and she has collaborated with Selfridges department store to give marine conservation a make-over. A research career that began studying the genetics of brown trout in Welsh rivers took her to the Philippines to save seahorses and a job running the aquarium at London Zoo. In 2018, she was made a National Geographic Fellow. Heather tells Jim Al-Khalili why, despite all the challenges to marine life, she remains an ‘ocean optimist’ and how she learned to drop her ‘scientific seriousness’.
The year 2020 started with wildfires raging across parts of Australia, exceptional floods in East Africa, and a heatwave in the Arctic. Extremes persisted through the year in the north - where wild fires consumed record areas in Siberia, and the Arctic ice reached record lows. Death Valley saw the highest reliable temperature yet recorded on the planet, while the Atlantic saw the most active hurricane season on record. An extreme year by many measures, and one that could end up as the hottest on record globally. Roland Pease asks what it tells us about global warming.
Picture credit: Wegener Institute / Steffen Graupner
Hopes and fears for Covid-19 vaccines
Less than a year in, and the first vaccines are already being rolled out, with many more in the pipeline. It is an unprecedented scientific response to the global pandemic and researchers around the world have provided the first hope against one of the most formidable challenges facing humanity in a century.
Claudia Hammond and her expert panel of guests consider the scale of this herculean effort and answer listeners' questions about vaccine safety, trust, immunity, and long term protection.
The World Health Organisation has repeatedly said that no-one is safe until we are all safe, so the threat of vaccine nationalism and the purchase of millions of the first vaccine doses by rich countries is something that is concerning everybody worried about equitable vaccine distribution.
How will the COVAX facility, which is designed to boost vaccine purchasing power for the world's poorest countries, fare in the face of nationalistic purchasing - and will surplus doses be shared so that all seven point five billion of us can get protection?
And, finally, the scale of the threat from vaccine hesitancy. Any vaccine is only as good as the number of people who will take it to achieve herd immunity. The numbers of those suspicious about a potential Covid-19 vaccine have grown over the course of the pandemic, causing real concern for governments around the world. How can people be reassured that vaccines are safe?
This month, Claudia's guests include Professor Peter Hotez, Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and co-director of the Texas Children's Hospital Centre for Vaccine Development in the USA, Professor Helen Rees, founder and executive director of the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute, the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa, Kalipso Chalkidou, Professor of Practice in Global Health at Imperial College, London and Director of Global Health Policy at the Centre for Global Development and Dr Ève Dubé, a medical anthropologist from the Institute of Public Health in Quebec, Canada.
Produced by: Fiona Hill, Samara Linton and Maria Simons
Editor: Deborah Cohen
Technical Support: Tim Heffer and Giles Aspen
Picture: Covid-19 Vaccination Clinics Open In Surrey, UK, Credit: Leon Neal/Getty Images
Evolutionary biologist Alice Roberts
It’s amazing what we can learn from a pile of old bones. Having worked as a paediatric surgeon for several years (often doing the ward round on roller blades), Alice Roberts spent a decade teaching anatomy to medical students and studying human remains. A niche interest in the collar bone and how it has changed since we evolved from the common ancestor we share with other apes 6 million years ago, led her to some of the biggest questions in science. Who are we? And where do we come from? She is the presenter of several landmark TV series on human evolution and archaeology, such as The Incredible Human Journey and Digging for Britain. And in 2019 she became President of the British Science Association. In conversation with Jim Al Khalili, Alice shares her passion for the bones of our ancient ancestors and of the freshly dead, and describes her own incredible journey from a basement full of medieval bones to an eminent science communicator and public figure.
Producer: Anna Buckley
Steve Haake has spent much of his career using technology to help elite sports people get better, faster and break records. He has turned his hand to the engineering behind most sports, from studying how golf balls land, to designing new tennis racquets and changing the materials in ice skates. He’s now Professor of Sports Engineering at Sheffield Hallam University and was the Founding Director of the Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre there.
Since the 2012 London Olympics, Steve has also been working to improve the health and wellbeing of all of us. As Chair of the Parkrun Research Board he’s heavily involved in this international phenomenon in which thousands of people have sprinted, jogged and stumbled around a 5-kilometre course on Saturday mornings, which he’s shown really does encourage people to be generally more active.
Jim al-Khalili talks to Steve Haake about how he got from a physics degree to being one of the leading sports engineers in the world, and how we can all improve our health by moving more.
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