We take your questions about life, Earth and the universe to researchers hunting for answers at the frontiers of knowledge.
Why are fish fish-shaped?
There are over 30,000 species of fish – that’s more than all the species of amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals combined. But despite the sheer diversity of life on Earth, we still tend to think of all fish in roughly the same way: with an oblong scaley body, a tail and pairs of fins. Why? And is that really the case?
Crowdscience listener and pet fish-owner Lauria asked us to dive into the depths of this aquatic world to investigate why fish are shaped the way they are. Do we just think that fish are all the same because we are land-dwelling?
Presenter Anand Jagatia makes a splash exploring the fascinating story of fish evolution, how they came to be such a different shape from mammals and even how some mammals have evolved to be more like fish.
Produced by Hannah Fisher and presented by Anand Jagatia for the BBC World Service.
Professor Frank Fish – Professor of Biology, West Chester University
Dr Carla McCabe - Lecturer in Sport & Exercise Biomechanics
Dr Andrew Knapp – postdoctoral researcher at the Natural History Museum, London
Image: School of fish in shape of fish. Credit: Getty Images
Why don’t some things burn?
CrowdScience listener Alix has a burning question - what’s actually happening inside the flames of a campfire to make it glow? And why do some materials burn easily, while others refuse to light at all?
To find out, Alex Lathbridge travels to the Fire Research Centre at the University of Edinburgh to (safely) set various things ablaze. He learns about the fundamentals of fire and why things react differently to heat. He then heads to archives of the Royal Institution of London, to see an invention from the 19th century that can stop a fireball in its tracks: the miner’s safety lamp, which saved countless lives. And he speaks to a chemist about the science of flame retardants, and how even though they can make products less flammable, they may also have unintended consequences.
Presenter: Alex Lathbridge
Producer: Anand Jagatia
Dr Rory Hadden, University of Edinburgh
Charlotte New, Royal Institution
Dan Plane, Royal Institution
Professor Richard Hull, University of Central Lancashire
Is there a language of laughter?
Laugh and the world laughs with you, or so you might think. But watch any good comedian on TV by yourself and chances are you’ll laugh a lot less than if you were sat in a lively comedy crowd watching the same comedian in the flesh.
But why is that? Do people from different cultures and corners of the world all laugh at the same things? These are questions raised by CrowdScience listener Samuel in Ghana who wonders why he’s always cracking up more easily than those around him. Presenter Caroline Steel digs into whether it’s our personality, the people around us, or the atmosphere of the room that determines how much we giggle, following neuroscience and psychology on a global trail in search of a good laugh.
Producer: Richard Walker
Presenter: Caroline Steel
[Image: Two Women laughing. Credit: Getty Images]
Can animals count?
Mathematics and our ability to describe the world in terms of number, shape and measurement may feel like a uniquely human ability. But is it really? Listener Mamadu from Sierra Leone wants to know: can animals count too?
CrowdScience presenter Marnie Chesterton goes on a hunt to uncover the numerical abilities of the animal kingdom. Can wild lions compare different numbers? Can you teach bees to recognise and choose specific amounts? And if the answer is yes, how do they do it? Marnie tries to find out just how deep the numerical rabbit hole goes… and comes across a parrot named Alex who is perhaps the most impressive example of animal counting of them all.
Brian Butterworth - emeritus professor of cognitive neuropsychology at University College London
Mai Morimoto - researcher at Queen Mary University of London
Lars Chittka - professor of sensory and behavioural ecology at Queen Mary University of London
Irene Pepperberg - comparative psychologist, and research associate at Harvard University
Lions from Karen McComb, emeritus professor at University of Sussex
Túngara frogs from Michael Ryan, professor of zoology at University of Texa at Austin
Presenter: Marnie Chesterton
Producer: Florian Bohr
What happens to insects in the winter?
When CrowdScience listener Eric spotted a few gnats flying around on a milder day in mid-winter it really surprised him - Eric had assumed they just died out with the colder weather. It got him wondering where the insects had come from, how they had survived the previous cold snap and what the implications of climate change might be for insect over-wintering behaviour? So he asked CrowdScience to do some bug investigation.
CrowdScience presenter Marnie Chesterton takes up the challenge and heads out into the British countryside – currently teeming with buzzes and eight legged tiny beasties - to learn about the quite amazing array of tactics these small creatures use to survive the arduous days of cold.
She hears how some insects change their chemical structure to enhance their frost resistance whist others hanker down in warmer microclimates or rely on their community and food stocks to keep them warm.
But cold isn’t the only climatic change insects have to endure, in the tropics the seasons tend to fluctuate more around wet and dry so what happens then? Marnie talks with a Kenyan aquatic insect expert who describes how mosquitoes utilise the rains and shares his worry climate change could have a big impact on insect populations.
Dr Erica McAlister – Entomologist and Senior Curator, Natural History Museum,
Dr Adam Hart – Entomologist and Professor of Science Communication - University of Gloucestershire
Fran Haidon – Beekeeper
Laban Njoroge – Entomologist, head of the Invertebrate Zoology – Museum of Kenya
Dr Natalia Li – Biochemist
Presenter: Marnie Chesterton
Producer: Melanie Brown
[Image: Butterfly in winter resting on snow covered branch. Credit: Getty Images]
What is white?
Have you ever wondered why waterfalls appear white when still water is transparent? Why clouds, or snow, appear white when they too are essentially just water molecules in different states? What makes something white, opaque or transparent? These are the questions CrowdScience listener Gerardo has been pondering ever since taking in the beauty of fallen water on a hiking trail in his home of Cantabria, Northern Spain. Presenter Marnie Chesterton, sets off on a quest to find out the answers to all of those questions and more. What even is white? Is it a colour, the absence of colour or all the colours of the rainbow combined? Is black really the opposite of white? And what colours do we mix to make white or black paint?
Image: White paint in pots and a paintbrush. Credit: Getty Images
Listen if you don’t need to have to.
It’s really great. But I like questions and don’t need a big reveal. Also, please stop the “it’s so nice out there…” ad. It makes my skin crawl
Fascinating and Fun!
I love this podcast. It hooks me every time. I love how they include questions from all ages and all over the world. Great podcast for the whole family.
Loaded with bias.