209 episodes

The news you know, the science you don’t. Unexpected Elements looks beyond everyday narratives to discover a goldmine of scientific stories and connections from around the globe. From Afronauts, to why we argue, to a deep dive on animal lifespans: see the world in a new way.

Unexpected Elements BBC World Service

    • Science
    • 4.4 • 311 Ratings

The news you know, the science you don’t. Unexpected Elements looks beyond everyday narratives to discover a goldmine of scientific stories and connections from around the globe. From Afronauts, to why we argue, to a deep dive on animal lifespans: see the world in a new way.

    Going the distance

    Going the distance

    A scientific tribute to to the successes and potential of Kelvin Kiptum, the best marathon runner to ever take to the roads. Marnie and the team take time to reflect on the tragic loss after Kelvin's death and looks at the science behind his record breaking performances.
    Why do East African long distance runners continue to dominate the world stage? Can one group of indigenous people in the state of Chihuahua in Mexico, really run 100km without getting tired? And what makes you fall off the back of a treadmill when you just can't keep going? Is the limiting factor in endurance sports found in the body or the mind?
    We also hear how one small insect is having a mighty impact on African ecosystems, and Marnie ponders the future of AI. What happens when we are no longer able to trust our eyes and ears in a world of deepfakes.
    Presenter: Marnie Chesterton, with Philistian Mwatee and Tristan Ahtone
    Producer: Harrison Lewis, with Dan Welsh, Tom Bonnett, Katie Tomsett and Jack Lee

    • 50 min
    Not so random acts of kindness

    Not so random acts of kindness

    Ahead of international Random Acts of Kindness Day, Marnie Chesterton and an invited panel look at some of the science behind nature’s better nature.
    Are mother spiders in Africa behind the ultimate act of kindness? How are lightning and lava lamps involved in the quest for a truly random number? And the engineer trying to bring more compassion to the machines we use every day.
    We also hear about the technology helping archaeologists discover lost worlds in South America, the maths that might benefit your love life, and Marnie receives her very own random act of kindness - a surprise trip to a lab to meet some of the most extraordinary creatures on the planet.
    Presenter: Marnie Chesterton, with Andrada Fiscutean and Camilla Mota
    Producer: Dan Welsh, with Tom Bonnett, Katie Tomsett and Alex Mansfield

    • 50 min
    Deep in thought

    Deep in thought

    Brain implants have been sparking conversation about the future of humanity after Elon Musk's company Neuralink announced it has embedded a microchip in a human skull. It has fired up people's imaginations and led some to wonder whether these devices that connect to our brain could be a stepping stone towards the ideas more often found in sci-fi, and maybe even create a tool to read people's thoughts. Marnie Chesterton and the panel discuss whether our privacy is at risk or whether we are already an open book. They try to understand the concept of backing up our brains, and they meet Dr Michael Winding from the Francis Crick Institute in the UK to hear about a pioneering study to map the pathways of a brain, and you might be surprised how small that brain was.
    Plus, Katie Tomsett looks at how tattoos could be used to indicate the health of our bodies. In Under the Radar we learn how batteries could one day charge through sound, we hear the story of an alleged spy pigeon caught in India, and we highlight the wonderful tale of a beluga whale.
    Presenter: Marnie Chesterton, with Chhavi Sachdev and Kai Kupferschmidt
    Producer: Tom Bonnett, with Alex Mansfield, Dan Welsh, Katie Tomsett and Jack Lee

    • 50 min
    How plankton made mountains

    How plankton made mountains

    This week, the world’s largest cruise ship set sail from Miami. Whilst a cruise holiday may be appealing to some, there is also a long history of disease spreading around the world via ships. Marnie and the panel take a look at the reasons why and the resulting impact on public health policies.
    It’s not just humans and microbes that are hitching a ride aboard sea vessels. Animals such as mussels can cling on to ship hulls, exposing previously pristine environments to potentially invasive species. We hear how scientists are tackling this problem with novel polymer lubricants.
    And we’re not done yet with marine creatures creating big issues. Professor John Parnell tells us the huge impact microscopic phytoplankton has had on Earth’s geology, and how the stuff in your pencils could actually be the bodies of long dead plankton...
    Plus, we explore the latest developments in rhino IVF, say ‘saluton’ to our Esperanto listeners and answer a question about going grey. And as Alabama uses nitrogen to execute a prisoner, we look at the science behind death penalty drugs.

    Presenter: Marnie Chesterton, with Yangyang Cheng and Philistiah Mwatee
    Producer: Sophie Ormiston, with Margaret Sessa Hawkins, Alex Mansfield, Dan Welsh, Harrison Lewis, Katie Tomsett and Jack Lee
    Production Co-ordinator: Jonathan Harris

    • 50 min
    Populations of people, frogs and microbes

    Populations of people, frogs and microbes

    This week on the show that brings you the science behind the news, we’re looking at news that China’s population has fallen for the second year running. Worrying news for China’s economy, but would a declining population be a good thing for the planet?
    The Unexpected Elements team on three continents meet the musical frogs who are having to climb a mountain to keep their populations stable, and dig deep to explore the earth’s declining microbiome and the hope scientists have for the future.
    As the Africa Cup of Nations continues, we’ll be wondering how you might date a footballer. Not in a romantic sense… we hear about some suspiciously mature youth players and how science can help when the age on a passport isn’t reliable.
    Marnie will be wondering why Japanese men are shouting their love from a hilltop, and unpicking the recipe for a truly satisfying hug.
    All that plus a postbag bursting with multilingual puns, and the reason Portuguese speakers have trouble with English doors.
    Presented by Marnie Chesterton
    Produced by Ben Motley, with Alex Mansfield, Dan Welsh, Katy Tomsett and Jack Lee

    • 50 min
    Rulers and the rules of ageing

    Rulers and the rules of ageing

    As France's youthful new Prime Minister gets his feet under the desk, we examine how stress and strains can change the way we look. We also ask what the late nights and lack of sleep that go hand in hand with leadership can mean for the health of the human body and we hear how measuring intelligence in young people isn't as straightforward as it might seem.

    • 50 min

Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5
311 Ratings

311 Ratings

Sanjeev Keizer ,

Kumar

Hi Keizer

Dresden8 ,

Fascination Fulfilled

I always appreciate the turns this podcast takes to explore the known and bring forth the intricacy of the seemingly unknown connecting it back to relative terms. See plankton to mountains. Enjoy!

LizzBBBB ,

Unexpected Elements!

Fav podcast to listen to before sleep. After each episode I learn many interesting facts on an assortment of topics after just 1 episode!

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