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.
After 41 Indian miners were happily rescued last week, Unexpected Elements takes a look at how our futures might lie below the surface.
As climate change suggests more of our infrastructures need to be buried safely, and even living spaces could be cooler down there, we discuss future technologies for digging tunnels more safely and cleanly.
But tunnelling and boring could go back a long way - more evidence suggests species of dinosaurs used to to live semi-subterranean lives.
Tunnelling also happens at the very smallest scales and lowest temperatures, as observed this year by physicists at Innsbruck University. Dr Robert Wild of Innsbruck University in Austria describes quantum tunnelling - a crucial process that belies most chemistry and even the fusion of hydrogen in the sun, and which is increasingly becoming part of our electronic devices.
Also, a new technique for monitoring the rapid evolution of the malaria parasite, your correspondence including obscure sports and asteroid fantasies, and a discussion of the difficulties of hiring a panda.
Presenter: Caroline Steel, with Philistiah Mwatee and Alex Lathbridge
Meetings with intelligent worms
This week on the show that brings you the science behind the news, inspired by COP28, we’re talking about meetings. Honestly, it’s way more interesting than it sounds.
Come to hear about blackworm blobs – a wormy meeting that only happens in stressful situations - and how scientists are taking inspiration from it to design robots. Stay for the stories from nature where species are missing crucial pollination meetings thanks to that global stressful situation that is climate change. And what’s better for the planet, a big meeting that everyone flies to or a telephone conference with no video?
In ‘Ask the Unexpected’ we answer a listener’s question about antibiotics - if there are good bacteria in the body, how do they know which ones to attack?
Also, OMG it’s the OMG particle – we hear about the tiny but powerful particles that pound the planet from time to time.
All that plus your emails about toilets and the rules of Cricket.
Presented by Marnie Chesterton, with Chhavi Sachdev and Tristan Ahtone.
Produced by Ben Motley, with Alex Mansfield and Dan Welsh.
All about cricket(s)
The cricket world cup has us looking at the science of spitting on cricket balls, particle accelerators, and insect sound engineers.
Also on the program, how AI is breaking into e-commerce, why do we get in the middle of the night, and is a fat flightless parrot the world's greatest bird?
Why we need to talk toilets
To mark UN World Toilet Day on 19 Nov, Alex Lathbridge discusses all things toilet related with Andrada Fiscutean and Tristan Ahtone, as they attempt to lift the lid on our collective taboo of discussing sanitary matters.
In 2020, 3.6 billion people – nearly half the global population – lacked access to safely managed sanitation. Diseases such as cholera, typhoid, dysentery, and diarrhoea can spread amongst populations who still practice open defecation.
And lack of access to a functioning toilet disproportionately affects women.
But even if you do have access to a flushing toilet, do you always close the lid? Researchers have measured the invisible aerosol plumes that rise up from the pan of an uncovered toilet flush, potentially spreading other communicable diseases including respiratory infections including even SARS-CoV2.
But flushing toilets are resource heavy. A normal flush can use 5l of water. Could they be re-conceived?
Prof Shannon Yee of Georgia Tech swings my to give us the latest on the “Reinventing the Toilet” project. Next March they hope to unveil the production model of the second generation reinvented toilet (“G2RT”). Much like other household appliances, it could run from a domestic power source, yet turn a family’s faecal matter and urine into clean water and a small amount of ash, with out the need for the grand and expensive sewage infrastructure required by more normal flushing cisterns.
In the black sea meanwhile, AI is being deployed to track the dwindling populations of the beluga sturgeon, from whom the luxury food caviar is harvested.
We discuss sightings of cryptids (mythical or scarcely believable animals) you have sent us, and after the announcement of the rediscovery of a rare echidna species in Indonesia, we look at how conservation and natural history expeditions have changed over the course of the broadcasting career of Sir David Attenborough.
Presenter: Alex Lathbridge, with Andrada Fiscutean and Tristan Ahtone
Producer: Alex Mansfield, with Margaret Sessa Hawkins, Dan Welsh and Ben Motley
Working 70 hours a week
This week on the show with the science behind the news, we’re looking at a story that has sparked a debate in India about a 70-hour work week.
In an interview, the billionaire NR Narayana Murthy said that young people should be ready to work 70 hours a week to help the country's development, suggesting that unless productivity improved, India would not be able to compete with other countries.
But if you work twice as long, do you get twice as much done? The Unexpected Elements team on three continents look at research that sheds light on whether a 70 hour working week is actually as productive as Mr Murthy suggests.
And if you’re working all the time there’s less time for sleep – we hear about the marine mammals that manage on 2 hours a day, and the Inuit hunters in northern Canada who follow a similar pattern.
We’re also joined by Environmental Economist Matthew Agarwala, wondering whether traditional notions of productivity ignore the issues of the climate and well-being.
Our ‘Under the Radar’ story this week is from Kenya, where Trachoma - a bacterial infection – is still causing people to become blind. It’s one of a group of a diseases known as ‘neglected tropical diseases’, but why are they neglected, and what can we do about it?
In ‘Ask the Unexpected’ a listener wonders why eating makes some pregnant women sick and not others. We ask an expert for the answer, and we discover that the menopause is not as unique to humans as we used to think.
All that plus your emails and messages, including a listener who left a cult as a result of learning another language, and the mystery of the Eastern Australian Panther.
Presented by Marnie Chesterton, with Phillys Mwatee and Meral Jamal.
Produced by Ben Motley, with Alex Mansfield and Tom Bonnett.
In the week where many celebrated Halloween we are wondering about that tingle down your spine, the dryness in your mouth, the racing pulse - might it actually be good for you?
We also look into a special frequency of sound, just below our human hearing range, that might cause rational people to start feeling spooky.
And we explore Cryptids and the zoology of creatures that don’t really exist.
Plus, if you’re bilingual, do you really have a first and second language?
We also explore why driving a taxi is a workout for your brain and look at the benefits and pitfalls of cycling around the world.
Presenter: Marnie Chesterton, with Camilla Mota and Godfred Boafo.
Producer: Margaret Sessa-Hawkins, with Alex Mansfield, Tom Bonnett and Ben Motley
Fav podcast to listen to before sleep. After each episode I learn many interesting facts on an assortment of topics after just 1 episode!
Could be a good show but the BBC’s neo-Marxism constantly shines through. They are more interested about how science interacts with social justice and the relationship between historical oppressor/oppressed. Typical neo Marxist agenda - the presenters are probably so indoctrinated they don’t even realize.