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Future vaccines

The COVID19 pandemic has revolutionised the way vaccines are made, and underlined the inequalities in access to vaccines. But will it leave a legacy? Roland Pease explores the potential for mRNA and other revolutionary vaccines to make future health protection faster, safer and more flexible, whether 'universal' vaccines will give broader protection, and how access to vaccines can be made more equitable.

Picture: Coronavirus vaccines on the production line, Credit: MikeMareen/Getty Images

Tamsin Edwards on the uncertainty in climate science

Certainty is comforting. Certainty is quick. But science is uncertain. And this is particularly true for people who are trying to understand climate change.

Climate scientist, Tamsin Edwards tackles this uncertainty head on. She quantifies the uncertainty inherent in all climate change predictions to try and understand which of many possible storylines about the future of our planet are most likely to come true. How likely is it that the ice cliffs in Antarctica will collapse into the sea causing a terrifying amount of sea level rise? Even the best supercomputers in the world aren’t fast enough to do all the calculations we need to understand what might be going on, so Tamsin uses statistical tools to fill in the gaps.

She joined the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2018 and is currently working on the 6th Assessment Report which will inform the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP26. She tells Jim Al-Khalili about her life and work and why she wishes more people would have the humility (and confidence) to consider the possibility that they might be wrong.

The Evidence: How will the pandemic end?

When all restrictions are lifted in a highly vaccinated country, how manageable is the coronavirus? Both Israel and UK’s experiments to do just that, have raised new worries about raising the risk of new vaccine resistant variants. Claudia Hammond and her panel of global experts consider our ability to predict how and when variants of concern are most likely to arise and how long our repertoire of vaccines can remain effective in riding out increasingly infectious waves of the virus.

Also in the programme - does anyone need a third “booster” dose or is it more important to make sure the whole world gets their first two doses instead? And as more people in the world get vaccinated every day, can we get to a situation where the virus is kept in check, without the huge surges in cases that overwhelm hospitals?

Listeners put their questions about coronavirus and the pandemic directly to Claudia and her panel of specialists which includes Professor Salim Abdool Karim - a clinical infectious disease epidemiologist and a Member of the African Task Force on Coronavirus; Dr Natalia Freund a leading immunologist at Sackler School of Medicine, Tel Aviv University; Adam Finn, professor of paediatrics at the Bristol Children's Vaccine Centre, University of Bristol, and a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation that advises UK health departments on immunisation, and Dr Muge Cevik, who’s a medical doctor and clinical lecturer in infectious diseases and medical virology at the University of St Andrew’s in Scotland.

Producer: Adrian Washbourne
Editor: Deborah Cohen
Technical supervision: Steve Greenwood

The Life Scientific: Professor Martin Sweeting

When Martin Sweeting was a student, he thought it would be fun to try to build a satellite using electronic components found in some of the earliest personal computers. An amateur radio ham and space enthusiast, he wanted to create a communications satellite that could be used to talk to people on the other side of the world. It was a team effort, he insists, with friends and family pitching in and a lot of the work being done on his kitchen table. Somehow he managed to persuade NASA to let his microsatellite hitch a ride into space and, after the first message was received, spent more than a decade trying to get a good picture of planet earth. The technology that Martin pioneered underpins modern life with thousands of reprogrammable microsatellites now in orbit around the earth and thousands more due to launch in the next few years to bring internet connections to remote parts of the world. The university spin-off company, Surrey Satellite Technologies Limited (SSTL) that Martin set up in the 1980s with an initial investment of £100 sold for £50 million, a quarter of a century later. If his company had been bought by venture capitalists, he says he would probably have ended up making TVs. Instead he developed the satellite technology on which so much of modern life depends.

Produce: Anna Buckley

Photo Credit: SSTL

The Life Scientific: Dr Nira Chamberlain

When does a crowd of people become unsafe? How well will the football team Aston Villa do next season? When is it cost-effective to replace a kitchen? The answers may seem arbitrary but, to Nira Chamberlain, they lie in mathematics. You can use maths to model virtually anything.

Dr Nira Chamberlain is President of the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications, and Principal Mathematical Modeller for the multinational engineering company SNC-Lavalin Atkins.

He specialises in complex engineering and industrial problems, creating mathematical models to describe a particular feature or process, and then running simulations to better understand it, and predict its behaviour. Nira is one of just a handful of esteemed mathematicians, and the first black mathematician. to be featured in ‘Who’s Who’, Britain’s book of prominent people.

Since 2018, he’s made the Black Power List, which celebrates the UK’s top 100 most influential people of African or African-Caribbean heritage, ranking higher than Stormzy and Lewis Hamilton when he was first listed. Proof, he says, that maths really is for everyone.

Lost for words

Struggling to find words might be one of the first things we notice when someone develops dementia, while more advanced speech loss can make it really challenging to communicate with loved ones. And understanding what’s behind these changes may help us overcome communication barriers when caring for someone living with the condition.

When Ebrahim developed Alzheimer’s Disease, for example, he’d been living in the UK for many years. Gradually his fluent English faded and he reverted to his mother tongue, Farsi - which made things tricky for his English-speaking family who were caring for him. Two decades on, his son, the journalist and author David Shariatmadari, seeks answers to his father’s experience of language loss. What can neuroscience reveal about dementia, ageing, and language changes? Why are some aspects of language more vulnerable than others - and, importantly, what are the best approaches to communicating with someone living with dementia?

David reflects on archive recordings of his dad, and speaks to a family in a similar situation to theirs, to compare the ways they tried to keep communication alive. And he discovers there are actually clear benefits to bilingualism when it comes to dementia: juggling two or more languages can delay the onset of symptoms by around four years. So while losing one of his languages posed practical difficulties for Ebrahim, it’s possible that by speaking two languages in the first place, he was able to spend more valuable lucid years with his family.

Presented by David Shariatmadari and produced by Cathy Edwards

A sense of music

Music can make us feel happy and sad. It can compel us to move in time with it, or sing along to a melody. It taps into some integral sense of musicality that binds us together. But music is regimented, organised. That same 'sense' that lets us lean into Beethoven makes a bad note or a missed beat instantly recognisable. But does that same thing happen in the minds of animals? Can a monkey feel moved by Mozart? Will a bird bop to a beat?

Do animals share our 'Sense of Music'?

Charles Darwin himself thought that the basic building blocks of an appreciation for music were shared across the animal kingdom. But over decades of scientific investigation, evidence for this has been vanishingly rare.

Fresh from his revelation that animals' experience of time can be vastly different to our own, in the award-winning programme 'A Sense of Time', presenter Geoff Marsh delves once more into the minds of different species. This time he explores three key aspects of musicality: rhythm, melody and emotional sensitivity.

Geoff finds rhythm is lacking in our closest relatives, the chimpanzees. But it's abundantly clear in a dancing Cockatoo, and internet sensation, named Snowball. He speaks with scientists who have revealed that birds enjoy their own music, but may be listening for something completely different to melody. And Geoff listens to music composed for tamarin monkeys, that apparently they find remarkably relaxing, but which sets us on edge.

In 'A Sense of Music', discover what happens when music meets the animal mind.

Produced by Rory Galloway
Presented by Geoff Marsh

Whatever happened to…those Covid-19 stories

Whatever happened to those sniffer dogs who were seeking out any passengers infected with Covid-19 at Helsinki airport? And did plans to sample sewage to spot outbreaks early prove successful? This week on The Evidence, we have listeners’ questions about some of the clever ideas which were in the news early on in the pandemic but we haven’t heard about for a while.

Trials of treatments like the cheap steroid dexamethasone proved successful – but what about the anti-parasite medication, ivermectin, which has sparked fierce debate on social media?

Because of its role in our body’s immune system, researchers wondered if Vitamin D might be useful in preventing Covid infections or treating people in hospital. We hear about some of the flaws in those studies – and the role which genetics plays in how much Vitamin D there is in our bodies.
Nasal sprays have been used for colds and flu to help shorten how long you are ill for and reduce the symptoms – can we achieve the same result for Covid infections by using a spray which contains seaweed?

Vaccination is key to ending the pandemic – but have all of the vaccines bought by countries like the United States been used? And what will happen to any which are left over, can they be given to countries which desperately need them? Once enough people are vaccinated or have immunity from being infected we should reach the magical “herd immunity” level where there aren’t enough people vulnerable to infection for Covid-19 to spread. We hear how new variants of the virus could mean that number will grow – making it more difficult to bring the pandemic to an end.

Claudia Hammond’s panel of experts will guide you through some of the ideas which have been tested like nasal sprays and nicotine patches – to separate the duds from the winners – as well as highlight others which could still prove to be promising.

Claudia’s expert panel includes global health epidemiologist from the University of Boston, Professor Matthew Fox; from The Netherlands Professor Marion Koopmans who’s Head of the Erasmus MC Department of Viroscience in Rotterdam, who was a member of the WHO’s mission to Wuhan in China earlier this year to investigate the origins of Covid-19; Vice Dean of the Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine Dr Danny Bryden, who’s a Consultant at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals; medical journalist Clare ...

Dare To Repair: Fixing the future

Mark Miodownik, explores the environmental consequences of the throwaway society we have become and reveals that recycling electronic waste comes second to repairing broken electronics. He asks what we can learn from repair cultures around the world , he looks at manufacturers who are designing in repair-ability, and discovers the resources available to encourage and train the next generation of repairers.

Image: Teen boy solders wires to build robot, Credit: SDI Productions/Getty Images

Producer: Fiona Roberts

Dare to repair: The fight for the right to repair

Many electronics manufacturers are making it harder for us, to fix our broken kit. There are claims that programmed obsolescence is alive and well, with mobile phone batteries designed to wear out after just 400 charges. They claim it's for safety or security reasons, but it pushes constant replacement and upgrades. But people are starting to fight back. Mark Miodownik talks to the fixers and repairers who are heading up the Right to Repair movement which is forcing governments to act, and making sustainability and value for money part of the consumer equation.

Producer: Fiona Roberts

(Photo: A pile of discarded computer circuit board. Credit: Tara Moore/Getty Images)

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