Programme exploring new ideas in science and meeting the scientists and researchers responsible for them, as well as hearing from their critics
"e-Therapy" has come a long way since the (slightly tongue in cheek) days of ELIZA, a very early attempt at computer based psychotherapy. ELIZA was little more than an algorithm that spotted patterns in words and returned empty, yet meaningful-sounding questions back at the user.
All sorts of e-therapies are now available to help low-moderate level mental health issues.
But could Virtual Reality technology bring the next great leap in our understanding of mental processes, and, in turn, be the basis of future psychotherapies? Quentin Cooper meets some of the researchers trying to find out.
Can Maths Combat Terrorism?
Dr Hannah Fry investigates the hidden patterns behind terrorism and asks whether mathematics could be used to predict the next 9/11.
When computer scientists decided to study the severity and frequency of 30,000 terrorist attacks worldwide, they found an distinctive pattern hiding in the data.
Even though the events spanned 5,000 cities in 187 countries over 40 years, every single attack fitted neatly onto a curve, described by an equation known as a 'power law'.
Now this pattern is helping mathematicians and social scientists understand the mechanisms underlying global terrorism.
Could these modelling techniques be used to predict if, and when, another attack the size of 9/11 will occur?
Producer: Michelle Martin.
Professor Adam Hart explores the newest area in the science of animal behaviour - the study of personality variation within species as diverse as chimpanzees, wandering albatrosses, sharks and sea anemones. What can this fresh field of zoology tells us about the variety of personality among humans?
We are all familiar with the variety of temperament and character in the dog, Canis lupus familiaris, but this is the product of selective breeding by humans over generations.
A more surprising revelation is that up and down the animal kingdom, Nature favours a mix of personality types within a species. Oxford ornithologists working in nearby Wytham Woods have discovered that in a small bird species such as the Great tit, both bold and shy individuals prosper in different ways. The same applies to hermit crabs and sea anemones in the rock pools along the South Devon coast. In these creatures, scientists see a stripped down equivalent of the Extraversion-Introversion dimension of human personality. In sharks, researchers have discovered that there are sociable individuals and others who prefer their own company.
Human personality is generally tested with questionnaires. Animals have to be assessed by more indirect, arguably more objective methods. Techniques range from squirting rock pool creatures with syringes of water to pushing a blue spacehopper with a stick towards a nesting Wandering Albatross.
The commonest personality trait identified so far in non-human animals is Extraversion-Introversion. In primates, personality variation is more multidimensional. Psychologists have agreed on five fundamental dimensions of human personality - Extraversion, Openness, Agreeableness, Neuroticism and Conscientiousness. Among different monkey and ape species, primatologists have documented variation in 3 or more of these traits. In fact, in chimpanzees, they have discovered the Big Five plus an additional personality dimension which we humans lack, fortunately.
Adam Hart asks if how relevant the recent discoveries in animal personality research are to understanding the nature of personality in people, and whether this is an aspect of human nature which is still undergoing evolution.
Adam Hart is an evolutionary ecologist and Professor of science communication at the University of Gloucestershire.
Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker.
Image credit: Nicole Milligan
Many people are living with chronic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel conditions in which the body attacks itself. Although drug treatments have improved over recent years they do not work for everyone and can have serious side effects.
Now researchers such as neurologist Dr Kevin Tracey of the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, and rheumatologist Professor Paul-Peter Tak of Amsterdam University, are trying a new approach to improving the lives of these patients. They are firing electrical pulses along the vagus nerve, a major nerve that connects the brain with all the organs. The technology to do this has been around for some decades as stimulating the vagus nerve has been used to help people who have epilepsy that isn't controlled with drugs since the 1990s.
Gaia Vince talks to these pioneers of this new field of research. And she hears how there may be ways of improving the tone of the vagal nerve using meditation.
New Space to Fly
As our skies become more crowded Jack Stewart examines the long awaited modernisation of air traffic control. With traffic predicted to reach 17 million by 2030 more flights will mean more delays. For many a new approach to controlling flights is long overdue since aircraft still follow old and often indirect routes around the globe, communication between the ground and air is still by VHF radio, and any flexibility is heavily constrained by a fragmented airspace operated by many national authorities.
Jack Stewart examines how aviation technologists have come up with a radical solution: it enables pilots once airborne, to choose their own route. "Free Routing ", it's argued, will allow more direct flights, no planes to be caught up in holding patterns, reduced fuel emissions and flights departing and arriving on time. Crucially, free routing will enable a tripling of flights than currently we're capable of controlling.
But will the ability of pilots to choose their own routes increase the risk of collision? Researchers argue it will in fact produce even safer skies. Jack Stewart visits NATS air traffic control centre that annually looks after the safety of over 2 million over British airspace to hear how such a system could evolve.
Jack finds out how free routing could work from the engineers at Indra UK - who're trialling such a system in airspace controlled by the NATS Prestwick air traffic control centre. In a new approach they're turning "reactive" air traffic control into a more strategic approach with computer designed flight trajectories utilizing much of the currently underused satellite navigation that is fitted on modern aircraft. It will enable aircraft to be safely spaced closer together and at the same time predict potential "conflicts" of spacing much further ahead of the routes being taken, leaving less room for human error.
And as automation begins to play a greater role in all aspects of flight planning and control is the era of pilotless planes moving a step closer?
Producer: Adrian Washbourne
The Rosetta Mission
The European Space Agency's Rosetta mission to 67P/Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko reached its most dramatic moment on 12th November. BBC News correspondent Jonathan Amos has covered the event for a special edition of Radio 4's 'Frontiers' programme.
In August, the Rosetta spacecraft was the first to go into orbit around a comet; its images of the extraordinarily rugged landscape of this 4 kilometre space mountain of ice and space dust have already left everyone awestruck. Previous missions have been fleeting fly-bys.
On the day of the landing the orbiting mothercraft released a small robotic probe, named Philae, to fall and land on the cometary surface. It will be the first to sample and analyse directly the make-up of a comet, and photograph a comet's landscape from an explorer's eyeview.
Jonathan Amos presents 'Frontiers' from mission control at the European Space Operations Centre in Germany on the day of the landing.
The probe's deployment is not the final stage of the Rosetta mission. The mothercraft will accompany Comet C-G for the next year as both approach the Sun and then turn back out into deep space. Rosetta will be making measurements all the way as the comet's icy nucleus heats up and produces its great tail of gas and dust. Flying Rosetta as the comet becomes florid will also be a tricky business.
Comets are widely believed to be made of material unchanged since the planets came into existence, 4.5 billion years ago. They represent the original stuff of which planets were built. The Rosetta orbiter's and lander's findings may well tell us whether comets brought water and life's chemical ingredients to get life started on Earth. Jonathan talks to mission scientists and other comet experts about why they want to study comets in such detail and what Rosetta should tell us about comets in their own right as the most spectacular and most enigmatic objects in the solar system.
Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker.