Science news and highlights of the week
COVID spreads in China
Hong Kong health expert Professor Malik Peiris relates the lessons from the devastation there earlier this year.
UK virologist Dr Tom Peacock reveals the unusual origins and evolution of omicron, and explains the risks of dangerous new variants.
New studies from China are revealing further SARS-like viruses in the wild; Professor Eddie Holmes says they underline the risk of further pandemics.
What are the clouds like where you are? When you look upwards can you see great tufts of cotton wool, or do they stretch off into the distance, flat like sheets. Are they dark greys and purples, bringing the promise of rain or maybe there aren’t any at all. For listener John from Lincolnshire in the UK clouds looking up at the clouds is a favourite pastime and he wants to know why they look the way they do and why they are so different from one day to the next.
Join Presenter Marnie Chesterton as we turn our gaze skyward to discover what gives clouds their shape. Join us for a cloud spotting mission with Gavin Pretor-Pinney, founder of the cloud appreciation society as he helps us de-code the shapes across the sky to reveal what they can tell us about our atmosphere. Dr Claire Vincent at the University of Melbourne introduces us to one of the superstars of the cloud world, Hector the Convector to explain where thunderstorms come from. And we learn how people like you can help NASA to understand the clouds better with Marilé Colón Robles project scientist at the GLOBE programme.
(Photo: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
A distant planet’s atmosphere
A distant planet's atmosphere - NASA's JWST space telescope has unpicked the chemical contents and state of the atmosphere of planet WASP-39b 700 light years away. Astronomer Hannah Wakeford explains.
Earth's atmospheric haze and global warming - meteorologist Laura Wilcox warns that atmospheric haze over China and South Asia is masking some of the effects of global warming.
Pregnancy brain fog explained - loss of memory and other mental changes during pregnancy have been traced to structural changes in the brain, possibly due to hormone effects, neuroscientist Elseline Hoekszema speculates.
Improving lab coats - every scientist has a lab coat, but how many have one actually fits? Founder of Genius Lab Gear Derek Miller explains the problem and how he's trying to fix it.
As someone who dislikes crowds, listener Graham is curious about them. Crowds gather in all sorts of places, from train stations and football matches, to religious events and protest marches. Many of these events are celebratory, but occasionally – such as in Seoul this year – they can become horrific. Is there a science behind how crowds form, move and behave?
To find out, CrowdScience presenter Anand Jagatia speaks to some actual crowd scientists. He learns about the psychology of social identity, which influences everything from how close we stand to others to how we react in emergencies. He hears about the algorithm behind the biggest marathons in the world, and how they ensure 50,000 runners move smoothly through a city on race day. And he explores how research into the spread of rioting can help to stop crowds from becoming a mob or a crush, helping us to navigate crowded spaces as safely as possible.
Image credit: Melissa Weiss/Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian
Online harassment of Covid scientists
Since the Covid-19 pandemic began, scientists studying the virus have become targets of online harassment, and more recently, death threats. Roland speaks to Dr Angela Rasmussen, virologist at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization at the University of Saskatchewan, about her experiences.
Spyros Lytras, PhD candidate at the University of Glasgow, talks Roland through the evolutionary history of the virus that causes Covid-19 and how there isn’t just one ancestor, but several.
Anti-Asian sentiment has seen a big increase since the pandemic. Dr Qian He, Postdoctoral Research Associate at Princeton University, looked into how US-China relations have influenced how Americans view Chinese today.
And we hear from scientists on board the RRS Discovery, which is currently located near St Helena and Ascension Island, surveying the health of the surrounding ocean. On board documentary filmmaker Lawrence Eagling talks to Shona Murray, pelagic ecologist from the University of Western Australia, and Gareth Flint, mechanical engineer at British Antarctic Survey, about their work and findings.
Why don’t we fall out of bed when we’re asleep? That’s the question that’s been keeping CrowdScience listener Isaac in Ghana awake, and presenter Alex Lathbridge is determined to settle down with some experts and find an answer.
Once our sleep experts are bedded in, we’ll also be wondering why some people laugh in their sleep, why others snore and how some people can remember their dreams.
And Alex takes a trip to the zoo to meet some animals that have very different sleep patterns to humans. It’s his dream assignment.
(Image credit: Getty Images)
Neurons that restore walking in paralysed patients
Researchers have identified which neurons, when electrically stimulated, can restore the ability to walk in paralysed patients. Professor Jocelyne Bloch, Associate Professor at the Université de Lausanne, tells Roland how the technology works.
Astronomers have discovered the closest black hole to Earth. Researchers led by Kareem El-Badry, astrophysicist at Harvard University, identified the celestial body when they spotted a Sun-like star orbiting a dark, dense object.
The origins of eels have been mystifying scientists for centuries. Though the Sargasso Sea has been their presumed breeding place for 100 years, there has been no direct evidence of their migration – until now. Ros Wright, Senior Fisheries Technical Specialist at the Environment Agency, shares how researchers finally pinned down these slippery creatures.
This week, a new report from the UN Environment Programme reveals that carbon dioxide emissions from building operations have reached an all-time high. Insaf Ben Othmane, architect and co-author of the report, talks through the risks and opportunities this poses for Africa and why there is still hope for the future.
After learning how long it will take the Earth's ice sheets to melt in the previous episode, we continue our journey in Greenland. As world leaders gather in Egypt for the annual UN climate conference, listener Johan isn't too optimistic about governments' ability to curb greenhouse gas emissions and get a handle on climate change. So from his coastal perch in Denmark, he's asked where we should live when the poles have melted away and coastlines creep inland.
Along with the help of BBC correspondents around the world, Marnie Chesterton scours the globe for the best option for listener Johan's new home. From high-up, cold desert regions to manmade islands, Marnie's on a mission to find a climate-proof destination. But as we hear from climate scientists, we might not be the only ones on the move, and waters aren't going to rise evenly around the world. Can Marnie find a place to go, away from the expanding seas?
(Image: Patient with complete spinal cord injury (left) and incomplete spinal cord injury (right) walking in Lausanne. Credit: Jimmy Ravier/NeuroRestore)
What peat can tell us about our future
The Congo Basin is home to the world’s largest peatland. Simon Lewis, Professor of Global Change Science at UCL and the University of Leeds, tells Roland how peatlands all around the world are showing early alarm bells of change. From the boreal Arctic forests to the Amazon, Simon helps us understand how they could action huge change in the climate. Simon is joined by Dr Ifo Averti, Associate Professor in Forest Ecology at Universite Marien Ngouabi in the Congo who helps us understand what this landscape is like.
Hurricane Ian, which recently caused devastating damage to Cuba and the United States, may signify a growing trend of increasingly powerful storms. Karthik Balaguru, climate and data scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, explains how climate change is causing hurricanes to rapidly intensify, making them faster and wetter.
On Sunday 6th November, COP27 will begin in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. Dr Debbie Rosen, Science and Policy Manager at CONSTRAIN, breaks down some of the jargon we might hear throughout the conference.
We know the Earth's atmosphere is warming and it's thanks to us and our taste for fossil fuels. But how quickly is this melting the ice sheets, ice caps, and glaciers that remain on our planet? That's what listener David wants to know.
With the help of a team of climate scientists in Greenland, Marnie Chesterton goes to find the answer, in an icy landscape that's ground zero in the story of thawing. She discovers how Greenland’s ice sheet is sliding faster off land, and sees that the tiniest of creatures are darkening the ice surface and accelerating its melt.
CrowdScience explores what we're in store for when it comes to melting ice. In the lead-up to yet another UN climate conference, we unpack what is contributing to sea level rise – from ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, to melting mountain glaciers and warming oceans. There's a lot of ice at the poles. The question is: how much of it will still be there in the future?
Research Professor and climate scientist Jason Box from the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland shows us how much ice Greenland we've already committed ourselves to losing, even if we stopped burning all fossil fuels today. His team, including Jakob Jakobsen, show us how these scientists collect all this data that helps feed climate models and helps us all to understand how quickly the seas might rise.
Professor Martyn Trantor from Aarhus University helps us understand why a darkening Greenland ice sheet would only add to the problem of melting. And climate scientist Ruth Mottram from the Danish Meteorological Institute breaks down how the ice is breaking down in Antarctica and other glaciers around the world.
Image credit: Getty Images
Seismic events on Mars
The latest observations from Nasa’s InSight Mars Lander and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) have revealed new information on Mars’ interior structure. Dr Anna Horleston, Senior Research Associate in Planetary Seismology at the University of Bristol, talks us through the mars-quakes that provided this data.
On the 30th of October, Brazilians will head to the polls to elect their next president. Jeff Tollefson, Senior Reporter at Nature, tells Roland what approach the two candidates – Jair Bolsonaro and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva – might take towards science and the potential local and global impacts this could have.
Humans aren’t the only animals to pick their noses… it turns out primates engage in this habit too. Anne-Claire Fabre, Curator of Mammals at the Duke Lemur Center, tells reporter Vic Gill about the long-fingered aye-ayes having a dig around their noses, and how more research is needed to unpick the reasons behind this behaviour.
And producer Robbie Wojciechowski heads to the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton to capture the launch of the RRS Discovery mission to Ascension Island and St Helena. Science In Action will be following the mission over the next 6 weeks as it uncovers new specimens from the deep ocean, as well as surveying the overall health and wellbeing of the ocean around the British Overseas Territory.
Record-breaking heatwaves swept across the Earth’s northern hemisphere this summer, with continental Europe, China, the UK and parts of the US all experiencing exceptional temperatures. Listener Geoff in Australia wants to know: Is climate change really responsible or could it just be weather?
Marnie Chesterton goes to Kenya, where certain areas of Amboseli have experienced intense drought over the past 5 years. There she meets members of the Masai community who have been farmers for generations. They describe how seasonal rains have successively failed to appear when expected, and explain how this has affected their lives. Marnie asks local people, meteorologists and climate scientists for their take on the year’s hottest debate.
(Image: Impression of a rover on the surface of Mars. Credit: Getty Images)
Covid and climate change
Useful for keeping up to date on Covid and climate change but that’s about all. Good content but repetitive.
A must-listen podcast
A must-listen every week. Love this show. I enjoy this show and learn so much every episode. Thank you.
One request please spell Maasai the way the people themselves spell Maasai. Thank you, Asante and Ashe.
Show for children?
Or people with child like intelligence? Or just produced by people like that?