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The Shocking White Hair

Why does human hair go grey and is it ever possible for it to go white overnight from shock? Hannah and Adam explore why hair goes grey, how much stressful life events and a lack of sleep can speed up the process. They hear from the pilot whose hair turned white after a flight where all 4 of his engines failed after flying through a volcanic ash cloud - was the shock responsible? They also uncover new research which has shown it's possible for greying hair to return to its natural colour and ask if this finding could be exploited to uncover a cosmetic way to reverse hair greying?

Surprising symmetries

Two eyes, two arms, two legs - we are roughly symmetrical on the outside, but inside we are all over the place! We just have one heart, which is usually on the left, one liver on the right, one spleen and one appendix. "Why is that?" wonders listener Joanne.

Our science sleuths discover that being symmetrical down the middle - at least on the outside - is by far the most common body plan across the animal kingdom. Professor Sebastian Shimeld from the University of Oxford takes us on a journey into the deep evolutionary past, to uncover how two-sided body structures first emerged in ancient worm-like creatures, and why this layout eventually proved so useful for swimming, walking and flying.

Garden snails turn out to be a surprising exception – their shells coil in one direction and on just one side of their body. Professor Angus Davison from the University of Nottingham tells the tale of his international quest to find a romantic partner for Jeremy – a rare left-coiling snail who could only mate with another left-coiling snail!

Dr Daniel Grimes from the University of Oregon unfolds the delicate mechanisms by which an initially symmetrical embryo starts to develop differently down one side, and everyone puzzles over the mystery of the left-handed 'mirror molecules' - so called L-amino acids - which turn out to be the building blocks of every living organism. A curious case indeed!

The Weird Waves of Wi-Fi

We use Wi-Fi every day, but do you know how it works? “Is it waves and science or just some mystical magical force?” wonders listener Abby.

Well, our science sleuths are on the case. To help them navigate the strange realm of electromagnetic waves they are joined by Andrew Nix, Professor of Wireless Communication Systems from the University of Bristol. He explains why your wi-fi router won’t heat up your baked beans, but your microwave will.

Andrea Goldsmith, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Princeton University, also joins to reveal how these waves are crammed full of 0s and 1s- whether that's a pic of your pets or a video chat with pals.

And finally, how do you get the best Wi-Fi at home? Dr Rutherford, it turns out, has made some rookie errors... Listen out for our top tips so you don't make them too!

The Mystery of the Teenage Brain

‘Why are teens prone to risky behaviour?’ asks Dr Mark Gallaway, ‘especially when with their friends?’ 13 year old Emma wonders why she’s chatty at school but antisocial when she gets home. And exasperated mum Michelle wants to know why her teens struggle to get out of bed in the morning.

Swirling hormones and growing bodies have a lot to answer for but, as Professor of Psychology from the University of Cambridge Sarah-Jayne Blakemore explains, there’s also a profound transformation going on in the brain.

Hannah and Adam discover how the adolescent brain is maturing and rewiring at the cellular level and why evolution might have primed teens to prefer their peers over their parents. Frances Jensen, Professor of Neurology at the University of Pennsylvania, tells us how all these brain changes can impact social relationships. And Dr Rachel Sharman, a sleep researcher from the University of Oxford, reports the surprising findings from her sleep study tracking 100 teenagers around the UK.

Wild Inside: The Ocean Sunfish

Ben Garrod and Jess French get under the skin of Mola mola the world's largest bony fish to unravel this bizarrely shaped predator's ability to swim to a huge range of depths.

Producer Adrian Washbourne

Wild Inside: The Burmese Python

Ben Garrod and Jess French delve deep inside the predatory Burmese Python to examine its extraordinary body plan that enables it to catch, constrict and consume huge prey whole.

Producer Adrian Washbourne

Wild Inside: Jungle royalty - the Jaguar

Wild Inside embarks on something we hardly ever witness – a look inside some of nature’s most wondrous animals. Its a rare chance to delve deep into some enigmatic and very different wild animals – from a reptile, to a mammal to a fish – unravelling the intricate internal complexity inside three of the most amazing animals ever to evolve. What makes the ultimate predator? What are the keys to successful survival in an ever-changing environment? Whilst we’ve gained a lot by observing their behaviour from the outside, to truly understand these animals, we need to look at what’s on the inside too.

Ben Garrod, Professor of Evolutionary Biology and Science Engagement at the University of East Anglia, together with friend and expert veterinary surgeon Dr Jess French, open up and investigate what makes each of these animals unique. During each animal post mortem, they’re joined by experts in comparative anatomy, evolution and behaviour as they put these enigmatic animals under the knife. Along the way they reveal some unique adaptations which give each species a leg (or claw) up in surviving in the big wild world.

The series begins with one of the truly exotic loaners of the cat family – which at just over two metres long, covered with beautiful gold and black rosette markings, is pure jungle royalty - the greatest of the South American big cats - the Jaguar

Part 2: One of the largest predatory reptiles - the Burmese Python whose extraordinary singular body plan has enabled nearly 4000 species of snakes to succeed in inhabiting nearly every part of the planet,

Part 3 : The largest bony fish you might never have heard of – the bizarre looking Oceanic Sunfish which is being spotted increasingly in UK waters

Presenters: Prof Ben Garrod, Dr Jess French
Producer: Adrian Washbourne

The Evidence: War trauma and mental health

War and conflict turns lives upside down and millions of adults and children witness atrocities, lose loved ones and often lose their homes and even their countries. The psychological and emotional suffering can continue long after the immediate threat to their life has gone. One in every five people touched by war – that’s 20% - will have a mental health problem that needs help and one in twenty or 5% will be severely affected.

As the humanitarian crisis deepens in the Ukraine with millions under bombardment and ten million people forced from their homes, Claudia Hammond and her guests explore the evidence behind the mental health interventions that do take place around the world: do they work and are they reaching the people who need them?

Two Ukrainian psychiatrists tell Claudia about the psychological support they’re trying to coordinate for their traumatised fellow Ukrainians. Dr Iryna Frankova is also a psychologist and she’s chair of the ECNP Traumatic Stress Network and with colleagues she’s helped to launch a new downloadable chatbot which offers information and psychological first aid. Dr Orest Suvalo from the Institute of Mental Health at the Ukrainian Catholic University is in Lviv in the west of Ukraine and he’s been trying to coordinate care for fleeing citizens as they arrive at the city’s railway station.

Claudia’s panel includes Bill Yule, Emeritus Professor of Applied Child Psychiatry at Kings College, London, who pioneered evidence-based interventions for children caught up in war and trauma (he’s one of the founders of the Children and War Foundation set up in the 1990s during the wars in the Balkans); Professor Emily Holmes from the department of psychology at the University of Uppsala in Sweden who uses the power of mental imagery to reduce traumatic, intrusive memories or flashbacks (she’s been using these techniques to develop treatments for refugees who have fled war and conflict) and Dr Peter Ventevogel, psychiatrist and medical anthropologist and senior mental health officer with UNHCR, the refugee agency at the United Nations.

And Dr Kennedy Amone P’Olak, Professor of Psycho-traumatology at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa joins from Uganda, where he’s tracked the mental health of hundreds of the children and young people who were abducted and recruited by the Lord’s Resistance Army in Northern Uganda.

Produced by: Fiona Hill and Maria Simons
Studio Engineers: Phil Lander and Emma Harth

The Life Scientific: Steve Brusatte on the fall of dinosaurs and the rise of mammals

Steve Brusatte analyses the pace of evolutionary change and tries to answer big questions. Why did the dinosaurs die out and the mammals survive? How did dinosaurs evolve into birds? If you met a Velociraptor today you’d probably mistake it for a large flightless bird, says Steve. His intense interest in T. rex, Triceratops and all the other dinosaur species developed when he was a teenager and continues to this day. More recently, however, he’s focussed on the long history of mammals.

For hundreds of millions of years, our mammalian ancestors remained small. Most were mouse-sized. None were bigger than a badger. Steve studies how, when an asteroid collided with earth 66 million years ago, the mammals got lucky. All the big dinosaurs were wiped out and only the small ones with wings survived. (Birds are dinosaurs, by the way). Within half a million years, mammals of all shapes and sizes had taken over on planet earth. Sabre-toothed flesh eaters, cow-sized plant guzzlers and a host of other warm blooded placental animals evolved alongside the badger sized burrowers.

Steve talks to Jim Al-Khalili about his life and work, including the recent discovery of an incredibly well-preserved Pterosaur on the Isle of Skye, a place he likes to call Scotland’s Jurassic Park.
Producer: Anna Buckley

The Life Scientific: Shankar Balasubramanian on decoding DNA

Sir Shankar Balasubramanian is responsible for a revolution in medicine. The method he invented for reading, at speed, the unique genetic code that makes each one of us who we are, is ten million times faster than the technology that was used in the human genome project at the turn of the century. What’s more, it can be done much more cheaply than before and on a desktop machine. And it’s transforming healthcare, by helping us to understand the genetic basis of many diseases (particularly cancers) and to develop new diagnostic tests, medicines and personalised treatments.

DNA has never failed to keep me excited and curious’ says Shankar, winner of the highly prestigious 2022 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences. He didn’t set out to create a game-changing technology or to make a lot of money. He just wanted to understand the DNA double helix in the greatest possible detail; to reveal how it worked, molecule by molecule. And he still rides a rickety old bicycle to work in Cambridge.

Image ©University of Cambridge

Tooth and Claw: Wolves

We look at wolves and the programme is a little different, because the predator we’re talking about is very much a predator of our imaginations. Wolves are the spirit of the wilderness, but they also symbolize the darker side of human nature, and many myths and legends surround the wolf from all around the world.

Our fear of the wolf may be primeval, but it is still very much alive and well. The idea that wolves could be reintroduced in Scotland led to headlines about the British Queen's pet corgis being eaten…

So today, as well as hearing about the real animals, we ask why wolves occupy this special place in our imagination, and whether the real and the imaginary overlap with Dr Elizabeth Dearnley, a folklorist and writer based in Edinburgh and Dr Giulia Bombieri from the MUSE - Science Museum in Trento, Giulia works with the LIFE WolfAlps EU project, tracking and protecting Italian wolves.

Presenter: Adam Hart
Producer: Geraldine Fitzgerald

Picture credit: Francesco Panuello

Tooth and Claw: Army ant

The army ant might be small enough to squash under foot but, make no mistake, it’s a formidable predator. When they club together in their thousands they are a force to be reckoned with. Picture a tiger, comprised of hundreds of thousands of tiny ant-sized units, prowling through the forest and you start to get the idea. They’ll take down anything in their path, from spiders and scorpions to chickens that can’t escape them. There are even grisly stories of African army ants attacking people. But this predator has its uses too - they can be used to stitch wounds and offer a house cleaning service too.

Dr Dino Martins, Executive Director of the Mpala Research Centre in Kenya, and Lecturer at Princeton University, and Daniel Kronauer, Associate Professor studying complex social evolution and behaviour at the Rockefeller University in New York.

Producer: Beth Eastwood
Presenter: Professor Adam Hart

Photo credit: Daniel Kronauer

177 episodes

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