'Will my bacon sandwich kill me?', 'Is vaping better than smoking?', 'How do you become an astronaut?' - just some of the Big Questions we ask some of the brightest minds behind Oxford science. Join us in each podcast as we explore a different area of science.
How were new craters on Mars discovered?
When a space rock smashes into the surface of a planet, a hole - or crater - is formed. New craters might be relatively straightforward to identify on Earth, but what about on other planets, such as Mars? In this episode we hear from Dr Ben Fernando, a researcher from Oxford's Department of Physics and a scientist on NASA's InSight mission, about the techniques used to discover new craters on the red planet.
What makes the human brain so special?
We often hear that we're remarkably similar to our primate relatives, both in terms of our genetics and our behaviour. We're social beings. We use tools. But only humans have come to dominate the planet - why? Could the answer lie in the small differences between the human brain and that of other primates? In this episode of the Oxford Sparks Big Questions Podcast, we talk to neuroscientist Dr Rogier Mars about what makes the human brain so special.
Please note that Dr Rogier Mars and his team work on the brains of non-human primates that have died of natural causes, and have subsequently been donated for research purposes.
Why is the UK still in a drought?
Here in the UK, we have a reputation for grey, drizzly weather. But there's no denying that this summer was HOT and this summer was DRY. With soaring temperatures and little to no rain for weeks on end, it was no surprise that we found ourselves in a drought, with a ban on hosepipes declared and careful use of water encouraged. But, did you know that we're still in that drought? In this episode of the Big Questions Podcast we chat to Dr Anna Murgatroyd to find out what characterises a drought, why we're still in one, and - faced with a changing climate - how we can maintain access to a safe and reliable water source into the future.
Why is the James Webb Space Telescope a big deal?
Are we alone in the Universe? What exactly lies at the centre of our galaxy? Just like our podcast, the James Webb Space Telescope aims to answer some *very big questions*. Launched on Christmas Day 2021 and hurtling towards an orbit 1.5 million miles from the Earth, the JWST (as it's known to those in the business!) is a follow-up to the Hubble Space Telescope - and it's three times bigger. Decades in the making, the JWST will begin collecting and transmitting scientific data in July 2022, making this a really exciting time for astrophysicists such as Dr Becky Smethurst. We catch up with her to find out more.
What is green steel?
Steel has become an essential commodity in modern society - used in everything from our cars and our buildings to the cutlery we use to eat our dinner. Unfortunately, the process used to traditionally produce steel (mining iron ore and combining it with carbon in a blast oxygen furnace) releases a huge amount of CO2. So, is there a cleaner way of producing steel? In this episode, we chat to Prof Barbara Rossi about 'green steel', and how it could improve the sustainability and resilience of the construction industry.
How do you create autonomous robots that can investigate under the sea?
How do you retrieve data from sensors embedded in underwater settings - such as those monitoring ecosystem change, for example? Well, when human divers aren't an option (which is often the case) it's over to the autonomous robots! In this episode of the Big Questions Podcast we speak to Prof Nick Hawes from the Oxford Robotics Institute about the challenges - and possibilities - that such robots bring to the field.