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The Science Hour

Podcast The Science Hour
Podcast The Science Hour

The Science Hour

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  • Extreme heat death risk in Latin America
    A new analysis of deaths in cities across Latin America suggests rising global temperatures could lead to large numbers of deaths in the region and elsewhere in the world. Even a 1-degree rise in extreme heat can add 6% to the risk of dying. Lead researcher Josiah Kephart at Drexel University tells Roland Pease the lessons from Latin America should apply to cities across the global south. Brazilian ecologist Andreas Meyer talks about the troubling prospects for the health of ecosystems, particularly in tropical regions, if the world does not cut its fossil fuel emissions hard and fast in the next few years. In the USA, a team of engineers and neurosurgeons are developing a radical new approach for targeted pain relief – in the first instance, for patients recovering from surgery. It’s a flexible implant that wraps around a nerve and cools it to prevent it from transmitting pain signals. What’s more, says bioengineer John Rogers, the implant is made of a material designed to have dissolved safely into the body by the time its pain-killing work is done. Geologist Bob Hazen has spent more than a decade producing a new classification system for the 5,700 minerals known to exist on the Earth. It improves on the pre-existing scheme by taking into account the myriad ways that many minerals have come into being. He tells Roland that this new way of categorising minerals lays bare a 4.5 billion-year history of remarkable chemical and biological creativity. And, Hair is an important part of our identities – straight, frizzy, long, not there at all – and our efforts to keep it styled and clean have created an $80 billion hair care industry. Many products offer to improve the life of the stuff on our heads, but isn't it all just dead protein? CrowdScience listener Toria wants to know what 'healthy' hair really means. To untangle the science behind hair, we zoom in to see how hair grows from the follicles in our scalp and explore how the hair growth process will change over our lifetimes. Changes in our hair and disorders affecting the scalp can often have emotional impacts on our lives, as presenter Marnie Chesterton learns from a dermatologist who specialises in hair issues. Having been on a journey with her own hair in recent years following chemotherapy, Marnie is ready for a new 'do and ventures to the hair salon to find out about the health of her own hair. Meanwhile, another CrowdScience listener, Lucy, wonders why humans lost hair (or fur) on most of our bodies when most other mammals are covered in the stuff. A biological anthropologist who studies not only why hair became concentrated on our heads, but also why there's so much diversity in hair types across humans unpacks the evolutionary benefits. With all these different hair types, we ask: does different hair need different care? And when it comes to shampoo, conditioner, washing, blowdrying and dyeing – what should we be doing to keep our hair structure sound? As we learn about this strange nonliving feature of our bodies, Marnie finds a new appreciation for the "dead strands of protein sticking out of our skin". And with listener Toria's help and advice, she also finds a new shade for her chemo-curled locks. (Image: Rio de Janeiro City. Credit: Pintai Suchachaisri/Getty Images)
    7/3/2022
    1:03:30
  • Monster microbe
    Researchers have discovered a species of bacteria which dwarfs all others by thousands of times. Normally you need a microscope to see single-celled bacteria, but Thiomargarita magnifica is the length and width of an eyelash. It's been found growing in mangrove swamps in the Caribbean. Roland Pease talks to Jean Marie Volland about what makes this Godzilla of the microbial world extra-special. Also in the programme, a new study published in the journal Nature has discovered that women scientists are less likely than their male peers to be credited for their contributions to research projects. Roland discusses the findings with the study leader Julia Lane of New York University and nanoscientist Shobhana Narasimhan in Bangalore. We also find out about the oldest evidence for wildfires on the planet which raged across the land 430 million years ago, with palaeobotanist Ian Glasspool. And Edinburgh University vertebrate palaeontologist Steve Brusatte talks about some of the evolutionary wonders in his new book The Rise and Reign of the Mammals. Death is inevitable, though many of us would rather not dwell on it. For those with a terminal illness, however, the end of life is clearly a more pressing reality. CrowdScience listener Sam has known for a while that her illness is terminal, and by now she’s got used to the idea. But she finds many friends and family would rather avoid the subject at all costs; they don’t want to acknowledge what’s happening until it’s all over. She’s wondering if there’s a way to lighten up the topic of her approaching death, and create the openness she craves. If we could learn to be more accepting of illness and dying, the end of life could be a more positive experience for all involved. So how can we face up to the impending death of a loved one, and best support that person in the process? In search of answers, we talk a clinical psychologist about death anxiety, visit a death café, and learn about a scheme in India where whole communities are trained in caring for people at the end of life. (Image: Thiomargarita magnifica. © The Regents of the University of California, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Andrew Luck-Baker
    6/26/2022
    1:09:01
  • Thirty years after the Earth Summit
    Thirty years ago, world leaders met at the United Nations Earth Summit in Rio and appeared to commit to action to tackle two of the world's greatest environmental threats. The Earth Summit launched the UN Climate Change Convention and the Convention on Biological Diversity. Science in Action assesses their success by talking to atmospheric scientist Sir Bob Watson, a former chair of the International Panel of Climate Change, and to Tom Oliver, professor of applied ecology at the University of Reading. Arctic zoologist Kristin Laidre tells us about the identification of an unique population of polar bears in Southeast Greenland. The bears’ unusual habitat and means of survival may make them more resilient to the loss of sea ice as the Arctic region continues to warm. Finally, archaeo-geneticist Maria Spyrou talks about her team’s detective work which points to an area of Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia as the likely source of the 14th Century Black Death pandemic. What is a quantum computer? Every year, new computers are being developed that are faster and smarter than ever before. But if you really want to take things to the next level, you have got to go quantum. CrowdScience listener Atikah in Hungary likes the sound of a quantum computer but wants to know what exactly is it, what can it do that a normal computer cannot, and how soon can he get hold of one? The digital devices in our everyday lives - from laptop computers to smartphones - are all based on 0s and 1s: so-called ‘bits’. But quantum computers are based on ‘qubits’ - the quantum 0s and 1s that are altogether stranger, but also more powerful. CrowdScience presenter Alex Lathbridge picks the brains of quantum scientists to find out how these ‘qubits’ allow computers to perform calculations millions of times faster than normal - and discovers how much of the theory is being used in reality. While quantum computers do exist, they are not yet big enough or stable enough to be really useful. Alex visits a working quantum computer to understand what they can do right now, and why it’s so incredibly difficult to scale them up. He hears from the engineers racing to overcome the obstacles and unlock the potential of these mega-powerful systems. But once the engineering problems are solved, what then? What should we do when the first really powerful quantum computer comes online? We explore the exciting range of possible applications - from helping create new drugs, to making electric batteries much more efficient and maybe even helping farmers fertilize their crops for a fraction of the price. Presenters: Roland Pease and Alex Lathbridge Producers: Andrew Luck-Baker and Cathy Edwards (Photo: Earth Summit In Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, 2 June, 1992 Credit: Antonio Ribeiro/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images)
    6/19/2022
    1:01:07
  • Body scan reveals HIV's hideouts
    Researchers have developed a medical imaging technique which reveals where in the body HIV lies hidden, even when people have their infection well controlled by antiviral drugs. The team at the University of California, San Francisco hope this will lead to better treatments and even cures for HIV. As Timothy Henrich told us, they are also going to use the technique to investigate the notion that Long Covid is caused by the coronavirus persisting deep in the body's tissues. Also in the programme, Roland Pease reports from the vast particle accelerator in Switzerland where the famous Higgs particle was discovered ten years ago. The scientists there are preparing to begin experiments with an upgraded Large Hadron Collider to learn more about the particle and the fundamental nature of the Universe. Roland also talks to Frank Close, physicist and author of 'Elusive' - a new biography of Peter Higgs, a scientist as elusive as the particle named after him. Finally an international team of archaeologists have revised the ancient history of the chicken, with a new programme of radiocarbon dating and analysis of buried bird bones. Humanity's relationship with the bird began much more recently than some researchers have suggested. Naomi Sykes of Exeter University and Greger Larson of Oxford University tell Roland when, where and how the domestication began and how the birds spread from Southeast Asia to the rest of the world. And, Humans can walk for miles, solve problems and form complex relationships on the energy provided by three meals a day. That's a lot of output for a fairly modest input. Listener Charlotte from the UK wants to know: how are we so efficient? And how does human efficiency compare to that of machines? CrowdScience presenter Marnie Chesterton pits her energetic wits against everything from cars to wheelchairs to find out how she shapes up. Cars can travel many hundreds of kilometres a day if you give them a couple of tanks of fuel. But the only fuel Marnie needs to walk to work is a cup of coffee. She gets experts to help her work out who does the most efficient job. Marnie also explores whether humans are born equal when it comes to fuel efficiency. Does the energy from one banana get converted into the same amount of movement from person to person? And how does she compare to an Olympic athlete? Marnie gets put through her paces to find out how efficient she really is. Image: VRCPET body scan reveals HIV's hideouts Credit: Timothy Henrich / University of California, San Francisco
    6/11/2022
    1:00:47
  • Should we worry about the latest Omicron subvariants?
    Should we worry about the most recent Omicron subvariants, BA 4 and BA5? They are the subtypes of the Covid-19 virus now dominant in southern Africa and spreading elsewhere. New research suggests that they are better at evading our antibody defences than other forms of the virus. Columbia University virologist David Ho explains the findings and what they means for us. Also, reducing air pollution makes agricultural crops grow better, how large wildfires warm the upper atmosphere, and the dolphins in the Red Sea which use secretions from corals and sponges as preventative medicines. This week’s CrowdScience is dedicated to bodily fluids – and why humans spend so much time spraying them all over the place. From snot and vomit to sweat and sneezes, listeners have been positively drenching our inbox with queries. Now presenter Marnie Chesterton and a panel of unsqueamish expert guests prepare themselves to wade through… One listener has found that as he ages, bright light seems to make him sneeze more and more – with his current record sitting at 14 sneezes in a row. He’d like to know if light has the same effect on other people and why? Sticking with nasal fluids, another listener wants to know why she’s always reaching for a tissue to blow her endlessly dripping nose and yet her family seem to produce hardly any snot at all. Could it be because she moved from a hotter climate to a colder one? CrowdScience reveals the answers to these and other sticky questions… if you can find the stomach to listen. Image Description: Coronavirus COVID-19 virus Credit: Getty Images
    6/4/2022
    56:49

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