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25
FEB

From the Crimean to the End of World War Two

In the first of two programmes he looks back to the first attempts to ban the use of chemical weapons at the end of the 19th century. Heavily defeated in the Crimea, Russia succeeded in getting unanimous agreement at the 1899 Hague Convention that poison and poison weapons should be banned from warfare. But chemicals such as chlorine, phosgene and mustard gas were heavily used in the First World War by both sides. More substances were developed in the 1930s and 1940s but weren’t used in the Second World War. Andrea Sella tells the stories of the chemists behind these developments.

Picture: GB Army soldiers train for biological and chemical warfare, Credit: BBC
18
FEB

Tracks across time

In a dry creek bed in the middle of the Australian outback is a palaeontological prize like no other: 95-million-year-old footprints stamped in a sandstone slab by three species of dinosaur.

One of the beasts was a massive, lumbering sauropod that measured 18 metres from nose to tail. But the precious trackway is in danger of being damaged by the next floods, so must be moved.

In the final episode of the four-part series The Chase, science journalist Belinda Smith from the ABC in Australia discovers what footprints can tell us about the ancient beasts that once roamed this land, and follows a team racing against time and the elements to save this once-in-a-lifetime find.

Because even though these tracks have lasted the best part of 100 million years, they may not survive another one.

Picture: Footprints made by a sauropod as it walked across a mudflat 95 million years ago, Credit: Australian Broadcasting Corporation/Belinda Smith
28
JAN

Eye in the Sky

Science isn't just about pursuing knowledge. Some researchers literally chase down their findings across land, sea and sky. This four-part series of immersive radio documentaries, made for the BBC World Service by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, is where science meets adventure.

Each story follows a different group of scientists on a fascinating, high-stakes journey. The audience will travel deep into the outback and far across the Pacific Ocean.

This is science on the run.

The four documentaries are presented by four of Australia's best young science journalists. Each one takes the listener somewhere they would never otherwise get to visit, in the company of memorable characters – from Indigenous elders and researchers to retired air-force pilots and fossil-loving farmers.

Programme One: Eye in the Sky

SOFIA is a very unusual observatory.

It’s a 747 aircraft with a hatch in the side, which opens in flight to reveal a large, custom-built telescope – carefully engineered to work inside a moving jet plane.

Its full name is the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, and it’s a joint project of NASA and the German space agency, DLR.

On this mission, SOFIA is setting out to study Titan, Saturn’s biggest moon, by flying into the faint shadow that it casts as it blocks the light from a faraway star. It’s a phenomenon called an occultation, and if the mission succeeds, it will reveal new details about Titan’s atmosphere.

The catch? That shadow is moving across the earth at 22 kilometres per second.

Join Dr Jonathan Webb from the ABC in Australia for episode one of The Chase: a special four-part series about science on the run.

Picture: SOFIA is a heavily modified 747SP which was acquired by NASA in the mid-1990s after spending 20 years as a passenger jet. (Credit: Wayne Williams)
14
JAN

Kepler's Snowflake

The Six Cornered Snowflake, a booklet written by Johannes Kepler as a New Year's gift, sought to explain the intricate and symmetrical shape of winter's tiny stars of snow. His insightful speculations about minerals and geometry were the beginning of the modern understanding of crystals.

Philip Ball tells the story of how Kepler became a key figure in the scientific revolution of the 17th Century. He was a precocious mathematician who became an adviser to Emperor Rudolf II in 1600. Although he contributed to the idea that the sun, not the earth, was the centre of the solar system, his role at the court was to be an astrologer.

Philip brings the story of the shape of the snowflakes up to date. It was only 20 years ago with the development of the maths of fractals that we got to understand the formation of the myriad patterns of snowflakes.
07
JAN

Lucretius, Sheep and Atoms

2000 years ago Lucretius composed a long poem that theorised about atoms and the natural world. Written in the first century BCE, during a chaotic and frightening time when the Roman Republic was collapsing, Lucretius encouraged people to feel free through contemplating the physics of the Universe. He said that despite living through a time of bloody civil wars and dictatorship people should not believe they were sheep who had to follow those in power.

Naomi discovers that the poem is an epic, beautiful and persuasive piece of work. It begins with a discussion of atoms. Lucretius, like Epicurus, followed the Greek tradition in believing that the universe is composed of tiny, indivisible particles. De Rerum Natura asks us to consider that all that really exists in the universe are these atoms and the void between them. Atoms are indestructible, the number of atoms in the universe is infinite and so is the void in which the atoms move. What Lucretius is saying here was revolutionary then – and still has the power to surprise. He’s saying that there are no supernatural forces controlling our lives, no fate pulling the strings, if there are gods they’re made of atoms just like everything else. There is nothing else.

Naomi discusses the life of Lucretius and his poem with classicist Dr Emma Woolerton of Durham University. And she talks to particle physicist Professor Jonathan Butterworth of UCL about which of his theories still holds water today.

Picture: Gathered sheep, Credit: Chris Strickland, Getty Images
31
DEC
2018

Eddington's Eclipse and Einstein's Celebrity

Philip Ball's tale is of a solar eclipse 100 years ago observed by Arthur Eddington, a British astronomer who travelled to the remote island of Principe off the coast of West Africa and saw the stars shift in the heavens. His observations supplied the crucial proof of a theory that transformed our notions of the cosmos and turned a German physicist named Albert Einstein into an international celebrity. But this is also a tale of how a Quaker tried to use science to unite countries. The reparations imposed on Germany after the war extended into science too as many in Great Britain and other Allied nations felt that German science should be ostracised from the international community. As a Quaker, Eddington wanted just the opposite: to see peaceful cooperation restored among nations.

Picture: Image of the 1919 Solar eclipse taken by Arthur Eddington (1882-1944), Credit: Science Photo Library

Producer: Erika Wright
24
DEC
2018

Earthrise

On Christmas Eve in 1968 Bill Anders was in orbit around the moon in Apollo 8 when he took one of the most iconic photos of the last fifty years: Earthrise. The image got to be seen everywhere, from a stamp issued in 1969 to commemorate the success of Apollo 8, to posters that are still available today. Gaia Vince explores the impact of this image on the environmental movement and our understanding of our place in the universe.

“Oh my God. Look at that picture over there. Here’s the earth coming up. Wow, isn’t that pretty.”

Bill Anders was on the fourth of the ten orbits of the moon on Apollo 8, along with James Lovell and Frank Borman. Bill had spotted the earth through one of the hatch windows and grabbed his camera to take a black and white photo. But just in time, he picked up another camera with a colour film loaded, and the rest is history. When they returned from space – the first mission to orbit the moon – Nasa used Bill Anders’ image of Earthrise in its publicity. Nasa had understood there was an added value of going into space: taking pictures of our home planet.

Stewart Brand was part of both the counterculture and the environmental movement; he’d hung out with Ken Kesey and his merry pranksters and put on happenings. He went on to found the Whole Earth Catalog, which brought together all kinds of alternative thinkers. Stewart Brand put the Earthrise photo on the front cover of one of the editions of the Whole Earth Catalog.

Gaia Vince talks to Stewart Brand, and to scientists and artists, about the continuing importance of seeing Earth from above.

Picture: Earthrise - The rising Earth is about five degrees above the lunar horizon in this telephoto view taken from the Apollo 8 spacecraft on December 24th 1968, Credit: Nasa

Presenter: Gaia Vince
Producer: Deborah Cohen
17
DEC
2018

The Supercalculators

Alex Bellos is brilliant at all things mathematical, but even he can't hold a candle to the amazing mathematical feats of the supercalculators. Alex heads to Wolfsburg in Germany to meet the contestants at this year's Mental Calculation World Cup. These men and women are the fastest human number crunchers on the planet, able to multiply and divide large numbers with no need to reach for a smart phone, computer or calculator. So how do they do it, and is it a skill that any of us can learn? Alex talks to Robert Fountain, the UK's two-time winner of this prestigious prize, about his hopes for this year's competition and the mathematical magicians of the past who have inspired him. He also meets Rachel Riley, Countdown's number queen, to find out what it takes to beat the countdown clock.

Picture: The Supercalculators, Credit: Alex Bellos
10
DEC
2018

The China Syndrome

Plastic waste and pollution have become a global problem but is there any sign of a global solution? And how did we allow this to happen in the first place?

Materials scientist and broadcaster, Professor Mark Miodownik, explores how we fell in love with plastic, why we've ended up with oceans of waste blighting the environment and what science and society can do about it.

Programme Three:
Roland Pease hears from Kenya where one of the most stringent bans on plastic bags has been in force for nearly two years, from the US where the reuseable cup has taken off and from Sweden where reverse vending machines give you money back when you return your plastic bottles. And he looks at places where plastic is the best material for the job.

Picture: Bike loaded with empty plastic bottles. Shanghai China, Credit: typhoonski/Getty Images
03
DEC
2018

How Much Plastic Can We Recycle?

Plastics are fantastically versatile materials that have changed our lives. It is what we do with them, when we no longer want them, that has resulted in the global plastic crisis. Mark Miodownik explores our love hate relationship with plastics.

Programme Two: Things begin to go stale
Plastic waste has been a global crisis waiting to happen. To date it's estimated that around 8.3 billion tonnes of waste plastic exists. That's 25 Empire State Buildings or 1 billion elephants. Incredibly around half of this has been generated in just the last 14 years, despite mass production having begun in the 1950s.

Events such as China's recent refusal to take any more "foreign rubbish" from the west and Sir David Attenborough's graphic portrayal of the devastation that plastic waste is causing in our oceans, has prompted political and media discussion like never before. We are at a critical moment where, if we're to turn the tide on plastic pollution, it will require science and society to come together to create real change. But it won't be easy. One major area that needs an overhaul is recycling. In the UK only 14% of plastic collected is recycled. Europe tends to burn our waste for energy, and plastic has a calorific value similar to that of coal. But proponents of the circular economy say we should never consider plastic as waste at all and we should think of it as 'Buried Sunshine' - a resource that needs conserving - by reusing and recycling again and again.

Picture: Production line for the processing of plastic waste in the factory, Credit: Getty Images
26
NOV
2018

Why We Fell In Love with Plastic

Plastic waste and pollution have become a global problem but is there any sign of a global solution? And how did we allow this to happen in the first place?

Materials scientist and broadcaster, Professor Mark Miodownik, explores how we fell in love with plastic, why we've ended up with oceans of waste blighting the environment and what science and society can do about it.

Programme One: First Flush of Love
We may not be on speaking terms right now. But we do have a love affair with plastic, in fact it can be all consuming. Adaptable, lightweight, cheap and hygienic - fantastic plastics started to win our affection back in the late 19th century. Bakelite was an early plastic invented to replace expensive wood. Celluloid was one of the earliest plastics, failing to replace ivory in billiard balls, but revolutionising the world as movie film.

Plastic really did change our world. Plastic radar insulation played a role in helping the Allied forces win the Second World War and after the conflict, factories start to churn out cheap, mass-produced goods in the new synthetic polymers. But some of the key virtues of plastic may now have paradoxically poisoned the relationship. Being virtually indestructible, has led to a build-up of toxic micro-plastic in the oceans and environment. We've grown to regard many plastics as cheap and disposable, we take it for granted, rely on it too much, value it too little and are too ready to cast it aside after one single use.

Producer: Fiona Roberts

Picture: The Bakelite Museum, Credit: Getty Images
19
NOV
2018

Finding the Coelacanths

The first Coelacanth was discovered by a woman in South Africa in 1938. The find, by the young museum curator, was the fish equivalent of discovering a T- Rex on the Serengeti, it took the Zoological world by storm. Presenter Adam Hart tells the story of this discovery, and the steps taken by Coelacanth biologists in the decades since to find more fish, in other populations, and record them for science. Adam hears personal accounts from a deep diver who swam with Coelacanths, Eve Marshall, conservationist Dr Mark Erdman, and geneticist Professor Axel Meyer.

Picture: 3 Coelacanths at 116 metres depth in Sodwana Bay, South Africa, Credit: Eve Marshall

Producer: Rory Galloway

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