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19
OCT

Unwanted touch

Claudia Hammond explores unwanted touch and who we do and don’t mind touching us – and where. She draws on insights from the largest study that’s ever been conducted on the topic of touch – The Touch Test - commissioned by Wellcome Collection. Almost forty thousand people from all over the world chose to take part. Claudia discusses where we draw the boundaries between acceptable and unacceptable touch, at work or in the street, with Dr Amy Kavanagh, a visually impaired activist and campaigner, Joanna Bourke, Professor of History at Birkbeck, University of London and the author of “Rape - a History”, and Dr Natalie Bowling, a psychologist at the University of Greenwich who co-created the Touch Test and has been crunching the numbers. After #meToo and Covid, could unwanted touch even become a thing of the past?
12
OCT

Touch hunger

Claudia Hammond explores our experience of touch hunger, and asks if we have enough touch in our lives. Covid-19 and social distancing have changed how most people feel about touch but even before the pandemic there was a concern about the decrease of touch in society. Claudia and Professor Michael Bannissy of Goldsmiths, University of London, discuss the results of the BBC Touch Test, an online questionnaire that was completed by around 40 000 people from 112 countries. Professor Tiffany Field, Director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine, and Merle Fairhurst, Professor of Biological Psychology at Bundeswehr University Munich, reveal their findings about the impact of touch hunger and how to overcome it.

John grew up during the Second World War and endured a lack of touch in his childhood. He relates how in adult life he overcame this absence of touch and why touch remains so important to him. And left isolating in London during lock down, flatmates B and Z came up with a plan to stay healthy with a 6 o’clock hug. Hugging releases a mix of anti-stress chemicals that can lower the blood pressure, decrease anxiety and help sleep.
05
OCT

Megadrought in Chile

Drought is a massive problem for Chile. Jane Chambers has been living in the capital Santiago for more than ten years and has seen huge changes in that time. It used to rain frequently in the winter months between June and September and the Andes Mountains which run down the whole of Chile were snow-capped all year round. But that doesn’t happen anymore. Jane reports on the impact of the mega drought on the country and what is being done about it. She talks to climate scientists Sebastian Vicuna, Director of the Global Change Research Centre, at the Catholic University of Chile and to Rene Garreaud, a Professor in the Geophysics Department at University of Chile and Deputy Director of the Center for Climate and Resilience Research, about whether the megadrought is the result of natural weather patterns or of climate change. She meets farmers who are struggling to find pasture for their goats in the village of Til Til, and Francisco Meza, a Professor in the department of agriculture and forestry at the Catholic University in Santiago, who is helping agriculture adapt to low rainfall. And Jane hears about ways to increase the availability of drinking water through small-scale desalination and by capturing moisture from the air.

Picture: Flows of rivers and reservoirs have reached historic minimums in Chile. A severe drought is hitting the country's central area, making local communities more vulnerable to face the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP via Getty Images)
28
SEP

The sting in the tail

"What’s the point of wasps?" asks listener Andrew, who is fed up with being pestered. For this series, with lockdown learning in mind, Drs Rutherford and Fry are investigating scientific mysteries for students of all ages. Do wasps do anything to justify their presence as a picnic menace?

Ecologist Serian Sumner researches social wasp behaviour and champions their existence. Not only do yellow jacket wasps perform important ecological services as generalist pest controllers of aphids, caterpillars and flies in the UK, they have complex societies and may even perform pollination services, making them more like their better-loved bee cousins than many might think.

However, much remains unknown about wasps’ contribution to our ecosystem. Serian works with entomologist Adam Hart, and together they run The Big Wasp Survey each summer, a citizen science project dedicated to find out more about UK wasp species and their populations. Prof. Hart sets up an experimental picnic with Dr Rutherford to try and attract some native wasps, and discusses why they are so maligned.

But in some parts of the world UK wasp species have become a major problem. Just after World War II, having unwittingly chosen some aircraft parts destined for New Zealand as their overwintering home, some wasp queens woke up in the city of Hamilton. With no natural predators or competitors, they quickly established a growing population. Fast forward to today, and by late summer the biomass of wasps becomes greater than all the birds, rodents and stoats in the southern island’s honeydew beech forests. Multiyear nests have been discovered that are over three metres tall and contain millions of wasps. Researcher Bob Brown is digging into wasp nests back in the UK to discover which species keep wasps in check here, and whether they might work as biological control.

This causes the doctors to ponder the problems of humans moving species around the planet. Accidental or even well-meaning introductions all too often become invasive. As climate change and urbanisation accelerate, wasps may become more helpful in some ways and more harmful in others.

Presenters: Hannah Fry, Adam Rutherford
Producer: Jen Whyntie
26
SEP

The Evidence: Covid lessons for safe school reopening

Claudia Hammond and experts from around the world consider the evidence behind schools, colleges and coronavirus spread. Listeners from India, Cuba, Italy, Brazil, Canada, Hong Kong, France, the USA pitch their questions to the specialists.

Research so far shows a low risk of transmission but as children and young people return to classrooms across the globe, will that remain the case?

And Claudia and the team look at that vital role of “test, trace and isolate” when it comes to SARS-CoV-2, something the World Health Organisation describes as the backbone of any Covid-19 response.

Which countries are getting this right and what can others learn from the best? New research comparing six countries from Europe, Africa and Asia highlights the successes and the failures.

Plus Kat, a nurse from Kansas City, Missouri gives a first hand account of pandemic response in the USA and then, when she moved to Germany in the summer, from Stuttgart.

On the panel are Dr Regina Osih, an infectious disease and public health specialist from the Aurum Institute in South Africa who’s working on the country’s Covid response, Dr Young June Choe, paediatrician and assistant professor at Hallym University in South Korea, Gail Davey, Professor of Global Health Epidemiology at Brighton and Sussex Medical School in England, David Heymann, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine from France and Dr Margaret Harris from the WHO in Geneva.

The Evidence is produced in association with Wellcome Collection.
Production team: Fiona Hill, Samara Linton and Maria Simons
Studio engineers: Matilda Macari and Tim Heffer
Editor: Deborah Cohen
21
SEP

The seeded cloud

"Could you make a machine to make it rain in minutes?" asks listener Alexander from Hampshire, aged 12. For this series, with lockdown learning in mind, Drs Rutherford and Fry are investigating scientific mysteries for students of all ages. Rutherford and Fry dive into the clouded story of weather modification.

First, we need to decide where and when we might deploy any rain machine. Liz Bentley, Chief Executive of the Royal Meteorological society, takes us through the science, maths and art of predicting the weather. Hannah heads down to the BBC Weather Centre to meet meteorologist Helen Willetts, who takes us through the highs and lows of forecasting.

And then for the technology itself. Mark Miodownik, scientist and author of Liquid: The Delightful and Dangerous Substances The Flow Through Our Lives, reveals that a technique called cloud seeding has almost certainly been tried in different places around the world for decades. But, whilst it’s supposed to induce showers and even clear the way for sunny spells, the results aren’t always reliable. And even if we can make it rain, Liz explains why messing with the weather may be at our peril.

Presenters: Hannah Fry, Adam Rutherford
Producer: Jen Whyntie
14
SEP

The growling stomach

"Why do our tummies rumble - and when they do, does it always mean we are hungry?" asks listener James, aged 12. For this series, with lockdown learning in mind, Drs Rutherford and Fry are investigating scientific mysteries for students of all ages. To get to the bottom of this noisy problem, the doctors tune in to our guts.

Geneticist Giles Yeo studies food intake and obesity. He explains the wavy workings of our digestive system, and how those audible rumbles are a sign that digestion is taking place – a phenomenon thought to be onomatopoeically named 'borborygmi' by the ancient Greeks, and explored further in the gruesome 19th century experiments of surgeon William Beaumont.

However, tuning in to the gut’s sounds can tell us more than whether we need a snack. Family doctor Margaret McCartney takes us through the process of how and why she and her medical colleagues may use a stethoscope to listen to your abdomen for both particular noises and silence.

Microbiologist Barry Marshall has taken medical listening one step further in his Noisy Guts Project. Inspired by microphones used to listen for termites hiding in walls, the Nobel Prize-winning scientist is trialling an acoustic belt, which could be worn to help diagnose and treat Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Presenters: Hannah Fry, Adam Rutherford
Producer: Jen Whyntie
07
SEP

Return to Mars

In February 2021, three spacecraft will arrive at Mars. One is the United Arab Emirates’ Hope orbiter - the first interplanetary probe sent by the Arab world. Tianwen-1 will be China’s first mission to reach Mars – an ambitious bid to put both a probe into orbit and a small robot on the Martian surface. But the most sophisticated of all is the United States’ Mars 2020 mission. If all goes well, it will land a car-sized robotic rover on the rocky floor of a vast crater that contained a lake more than 3.7 billion years ago. The rover, named Perseverance, will spend years surveying the geology of Jerezo crater and using a battery of new instruments to examine the rocks for any evidence that life existed in the ancient lake. It will also be the first mission to extract rock samples and package them up for eventual return to Earth, sometime in the 2030s. Andrew Luck-Baker talks to NASA’s deputy project scientist Katie Stack-Morgan and mission manager Keith Comeaux, planetary scientists Melissa Rice and Sanjeev Gupta, and astrobiologist Mark Sephton.
31
AUG

Liz Seward

Professor Jim Al-Khalili talks to Liz Seward, Senior Space Strategist for Airbus Defence and Space. Liz's young interest in Science Fiction led to a career designing spacecraft and robots for exploring our own earth, other planets, and the stars.

From a library in the US where the science fiction section stood next to the children's section, Liz took inspiration from Robert A. Heinlien and Arthur C. Clarke through a degree in Physics and Space Science at the University of Leicester to begin a career at EADS Astrium (now part of Airbus), initially as a Thermal Engineer. As Liz explains to Jim, thermal engineering lies at the heart of any successful space mission. Any metal box floating in space has to deal with the searing heat of the Sun on one side and the deep, deep freeze of the cosmos on the other. Engineering solutions to cope with these extremes means the difference between triumph and failure.

Liz has worked on several missions and international collaborations, including a design for a landing (since de-scoped) on Mercury aboard the current BepiColombo mission due to arrive at Mercury in 2025, and the experimental Aeolus satellite that currently keeps our weather forecasters up to speed on global wind dynamics.

A large part of Liz's career was spent with the ESA Martian rover, named Rosalind Franklin, which should have been on its way to the red planet this summer, but has been delayed because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Nowadays at Airbus, Liz works on the strategy of maximizing commercial potential in space, whilst abiding by issues of responsibility around exploration, pollution, and even space traffic management. What if a launch to Mars collides with a long dead weather satellite on its way there? Or that the first detection of life on Mars turns out to be a cold virus from Stevenage?

But as she explains to Jim, miniaturization and cheaper launches suggest a bright future for human activity in space. And one day, it may include vertical satellite launches from Scotland, and even passenger flights from Cornwall.
24
AUG

Professor Emma Bunce

Emma Bunce, Professor of Planetary Plasma Physics at the University of Leicester, was inspired to study the solar system as a child by a TV programme that featured Voyager 2’s flyby of Neptune. She has spent the last 20 years focusing on the magnetic fields around the outer planets, in particular that of Jupiter. The Earth’s magnetic field interacts with the solar wind to create aurorae, the spectacular Northern lights. Emma’s discovered how aurorae are also produced at Jupiter's poles.

Emma Bunce talks to Jim al-Khalili about her fascination with the gas giants, why she has to be patient to check out her theories as missions to the planets are few and far between and how she'd love to work on a spacecraft to Neptune. And in the year when the Royal Astronomical Society marks its 200th anniversary, Emma explains why she's taken on the role of its President.
17
AUG

Frank Kelly

Long before most of us gave air pollution a second thought, Frank Kelly was studying the impact of toxic particles on our lungs. In a pioneering set of experiments on human volunteers in northern Sweden, he proved that pollutants, such as nitrogen oxides and particulates, are harmful to our health. And he is the driving force behind an air quality monitoring system in London that is the envy of the world.

When in the late 1990s, the UK government was encouraging us all to buy diesel cars to help reduce our carbon emissions, he warned that while diesel engines might be less bad for the planet than petrol engines, they were more damaging to our health. Later Frank and his team provided evidence that the car manufacturers were not telling the truth about emissions from diesel vehicles.

As the chair of the Government Medical Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollution, he has worked tirelessly to try and move air pollution up the political agenda and worked closely with successive Mayors of London to improve air quality in the capital. Changing all the buses from diesel to hybrid or electric vehicles would make a huge difference, he says. But we will also need to get used to relying less on driving our cars to get us from A to B.
Presented by Jim Al-Khalili.
12
AUG

Introducing The Bomb

Emily’s grandad worked on the bomb that fell on Hiroshima. Could another man – Leo Szilard - have stopped it? This is the new series from the BBC World Service – search for The Bomb wherever you get your podcasts.

65 episodes

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