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24
MAR

Adrian Owen

Neuroscientist Adrian Owen has spent much of his career exploring what he calls ‘the grey zone’, a realm of consciousness inhabited by people with severe brain injuries, who are aware yet unable to respond to those around them. It's this inability to respond which has led doctors to conclude that they are unaware.

In the late 1990's, Adrian started to question the assumption that they lacked awareness and a chance discovery set him on a novel path of enquiry - could some of these patients be conscious or aware even though they don’t appear to be?

His research has revealed that some are, and he’s pioneered techniques to help them to communicate with the outside world.
This emerging field of science has implications, not only for patients but, for philosophy and the law.

A British scientist, Adrian now runs a research programme at the Brain and Mind Institute at Western University in Canada, dedicated to reaching people in this ‘grey zone’.

Picture: Adrian Owen, BBC Copyright
21
MAR

The Evidence: Coronavirus Special

A panel of international experts take a global look at the science of Covid-19. We hear about vaccines, treatments, strategies to contain the virus and the role of big data.
10
MAR

Demis Hassabis

Jim Al-Khalili finds out why Demis Hassabis wants to create artificial intelligence and use it to help humanity.

Thinking about how to win at chess when he was a boy got Demis thinking about the process of thinking itself. Being able to program his first computer (a Sinclair Spectrum) felt miraculous. In computer chess, his two passions were combined. And a lifelong ambition to create artificial intelligence was born.

Demis studied computer science at Cambridge and then worked in the computer games industry for many years. Games, he says, are the ideal testing ground for AI. Then, thinking memory and imagination were aspects of the human mind that would be a necessary part of any artificially intelligent system, he studied neuroscience for a PhD.

He set up DeepMind in 2010 and pioneered a new approach to creating artificial intelligence, based on deep learning and built-in rewards for making good decisions. Four years later, DeepMind was sold to Google for £400 million. The company’s landmark creation, Alpha Go stunned the world when it defeated the world Go champion in South Korea in 2016. Their AI system, AlphaZero taught itself to play chess from scratch. After playing against itself for just four hours, it was the best chess computer in the world. (Humans had been defeated long ago).

Many fear both the supreme intelligence and the stupidity of AI. Demis imagines a future in which computers and humans put their brains together to try and understand the world. His algorithms have inspired humans to raise their game, when playing Go and chess. Now, he hopes that AI might do the same for scientific research. Perhaps the next Nobel Prize will be shared between a human and AI?
24
FEB

Science Stories - Sophia Jex-Blake

Naomi Alderman tells the science story of Sophia Jex-Blake, who led a group known as the Edinburgh Seven in their bid to become the first women to graduate as doctors from a British university. Her campaign was long and ultimately personally unsuccessful as she had to go to Switzerland to gain her qualification. Although Edinburgh University allowed the Seven to attend some lectures, they had to be taught apart from the male students. There was great antipathy to the women which culminated in 1870 with a riot as they tried to take an exam.

Naomi discusses Sophia Jex-Blake's life and times with Dr Kristin Hussey who curated an exhibition at the Royal College of Physicians about women in medicine.

And Dr Fizzah Ali from the Medical Women's Federation talks about women's careers in medicine today.

Image: Sophia Jex-Blake, aged 25. Credit: From a portrait by Samuel Laurence. (Photo by Hulton Archive / Getty Images)
10
FEB

Stem Cells: Hope and hype

Lesley Curwen reports on the magical aura that has been drawing so many people around the world to pay for “regenerative” therapies which harness the healing power of stem cells. In this programme, she reports on the battle of regulators in the USA and in Australia to stop unproven and risky therapies harming patients.

Featuring: Texas lawyer Hartley Hampton; Galen Dinning; stem cell researcher and host of The Niche blog, Professor Paul Knoepfler from the University of California, Davis School of Medicine; Dr Sean Morrison, Professor of Paediatrics at the University of Texas South Western and former president of the global body representing stem cell researchers the ISSCR; Laura Biel, host of the Wondery podcast, Bad Batch; Peter Marks of the Food and Drug Administration, the FDA; Professor Megan Munsie from Stem Cell Australia and chair of the ISSCR Ethics Committee; Dr Sarah Chan from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland.

(Picture: Stem cells are undifferentiated cells that can specialized through mitosis to many other cell types of multicellular organisms. Credit: selvanegra/Getty Images)
03
FEB

Stem cell hard sell

Stem cells are cells with superpowers. They can become many different types of cells in our bodies, from muscle cells to brain cells, and some can even repair tissue. But the remarkable promise of this exciting new field of medicine has led to a new booming market of private clinics, which offer to treat a range of conditions (from arthritis to autism) using regenerative therapies which they claim harness the healing powers of stem cells. In this first of two programmes, Lesley Curwen investigates this expanding industry in the UK and Europe and discovers that these treatments are often unproven, unregulated and can cause harm.

She reports on disturbing cases of UK patients who have suffered infection, blood clots and even sight loss and hears from orthopaedic surgeons concerned that these so called stem cell therapies are jumping ahead of the science. And Lesley finds out how these procedures, which often cost thousands of dollars for each treatment, are operating under a loophole in EU Directives which govern the law in this area. There’s an exemption and the actual stem cell material being injected into you, may not be regulated at all.

Picture: Stem cells are undifferentiated cells that can specialized through mitosis to many other cell types of multicellular organisms, Credit: selvanegra/Getty Images
27
JAN

The road to Glasgow

Climate change is upon us. In 2018 the IPCC published a report with the most significant warning about the impact of climate change in 20 years. Unless the world keeps warming to below 1.5% the impacts on the climate will be severe. Sea levels will rise, leading to flooding, and extremes of temperature will become more common. The UK Met Office has forecast that the global average surface temperature for the five-year period to 2023 is predicted to be around 1.0 °C above pre-industrial levels.

Just before Christmas the COP 25 meeting in Madrid ended with a compromise deal. All countries will need to put new climate pledges on the table by the time of the next major conference in Glasgow at the end of 2020. But there were no decisions on the future of carbon trading and big players such as US, India, China and Brazil opposed calls to be more ambitious in our pledges to reduce man made global warming.
Across 2020 in Discovery Matt McGrath will be reporting on what is happening to save the planet.

In this first programme he takes stock after Madrid and finds out what the world’s key players say has to be done before the meeting in Glasgow.

(Photo: Man with placards and amplifier on global strike for climate change. Credit: Halfpoint/Getty Images)
20
JAN

Ecological grief

As the earth experiences more extreme weather, and wildlife is dying, from corals, to insects to tropical forests, more people are experiencing ecological anxiety and grief. Science journalist Gaia Vince has been reporting on the growing crisis across our planet’s ecosystems and has met many who are shocked and saddened by the enormity of the environmental changes taking place. She talks to scientists and medics working at the frontline of environmental change and hears that despite being expected to distance themselves from what’s happening they are affected emotionally.

Ashlee Consulo of Memorial University on the Canadian island of Labrador and Courtney Howard, a doctor in Yellowknife, tell Gaia about their experiences of living and working with indigenous peoples in areas where temperatures are rising rapidly and the ice is melting.

Steve Simpson of Exeter University and Andy Radford of Bristol University are both professors of biology who have watched coral reefs become devastated by climate change. Recently they wrote a letter to the journal Science headlined Grieving environmental scientists need support to raise awareness of the issues researchers are facing.

And Gaia visits the aquarium at the Horniman Museum in London where Jamie Craggs is trying to breed corals for future generations.

Picture: Greenland Inuit hunter, Credit: Earl Grad/Getty Images
30
DEC
2019

Alexis Carrel and the immortal chicken heart

Philip Ball tells the story of Alexis Carrel, the French surgeon who worked to preserve life outside the body and create an immortal chicken heart in a dish. His quest was to renew ageing flesh, repair and rebuild our bodies and keep them healthy far beyond the usual human lifespan. In the early twentieth century his science was pioneering but his mission to achieve eternal life was underpinned by a dark and terrifying agenda. Carrel was a racist who advocated eugenics to preserve the superior civilisation of the West.

Philip Ball discusses the history and cultural impact of the tissue culture techniques developed by Carrel with social historian Professor Hannah Landecker of the University of California at Los Angeles. And he finds out about the legacy of Carrel's research from Dr Madeline Lancaster of Cambridge University, one of the pioneers of the growth of brain organoids from stem cells; small clusters of neurons and other cells, rather like mini organs no bigger than a dried pea.

Picture: Raw chicken heart, Credit: Arina_Bogachyova/Getty Images
16
DEC
2019

Ignaz Semmelweiss: The hand washer

Lindsey Fitzharris tells the story of Ignaz Semmelweiss, the hand washer. In a world that had no understanding of germs, he tried to apply science to halt the spread of infection. Ignaz Semmelweis observed that many young medical students at his hospital in Vienna went directly from an autopsy, still covered in contaminated dead flesh, to attend pregnant women. Could this be the reason for such high maternal mortality rates from conditions like puerperal fever? Believing that the disease was caused by “infective material” from a dead body, Semmelweiss set up a basin filled with chlorinated lime solution in his hospital and began saving women’s lives with three simple words: ‘wash your hands’. He was demonised by his colleagues for his efforts, but today, he is known as the “Saviour of Mothers.”

Lindsey Fitzharris discusses some of the common myths surrounding the story of Semmelweiss with Dr Barron H. Lerner of New York University Langone School of Medicine. And she talks to Professor Val Curtis, Director of the Environmental Health Group at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who has studied the amount of hand washing by medical staff in hospitals today.

Picture: Victorian boy washing his hands in a stream, Credit: whitemay
25
NOV
2019

Robin Dunbar

Maintaining friendships is one of the most cognitively demanding things we do, according to Professor of Evolutionary Psychology Robin Dunbar. So why do we bother?

Robin has spent his life trying to answer this deceptively simple question. For most of his twenties, he lived with a herd of five hundred gelada monkeys in the Ethiopian highlands. He studied their social behaviour and concluded that an ability to get on with each other was just as important as finding food, for the survival of the species. Animals that live in large groups are less likely to get eaten by predators. When funding for animal studies dried up in the 1980s, he turned his attention to humans. and discovered there’s an upper limit to the number of real friends we can have, both in the real world and on social media.
18
NOV
2019

Katherine Joy

Katherine Joy studies moon rock. She has studied lunar samples that were brought to earth by the Apollo missions (382kg in total) and hunted for lunar meteorites in Antarctica, camping on ice for weeks on end and travelling around on a skidoo.

Working at the forefront of the second wave of lunar exploration, she studied remote sensing data from Europe’s first mission to the moon, Smart 1 which launched in 2003 and data from many subsequent missions. She tells Jim Al-Khalili why she believes the moon is the most exciting destination in our solar system and explains what it can tell us about the long history of planet earth.

Beneath the magnificent desolation of the moon’s surface, multicoloured rocks contain vital clues about the history of our solar system. Every crater on the moon is evidence of a collision and the chemistry of these rocks tells us when these collisions took place. Katherine’s research supports the idea that a period known as the late heavy bombardment was a particularly turbulent time. Could the late heavy bombardment explain the origin of life on earth?

37 episodes

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