We take your questions about life, Earth and the universe to researchers hunting for answers at the frontiers of knowledge.

We take your questions about life, Earth and the universe to researchers hunting for answers at the frontiers of knowledge.


United Kingdom




We take your questions about life, Earth and the universe to researchers hunting for answers at the frontiers of knowledge.




Where does the sand in a desert come from?

From Lawrence of Arabia to Star Wars via tales of intrepid adventurers traversing lonely sandswept landscapes, deserts have always had a powerful pull on the popular imagination. But if a desert is full of sand, where did all that sand come from in the first place? That’s what CrowdScience listener Andy wants to know, so presenter Caroline Steel heads off into the dunes to try and find out. Along the way she’ll be wondering what a desert is anyway and whether it’s always sandy, as well as...


Why do we get jealous?

When falling in love or fancying someone, one emotion can dominate over the rest: jealousy. Some may try to play it cool and act aloof, but seeing - or even thinking - of a romantic partner engaging with others can lead people to act completely out of character. The green-eyed monster can hijack thoughts for days to weeks on end, spending precious energy ruminating on situations that may never arise. So why is it that humans feel jealousy? Do people experience this emotion differently? And...


What happens to insects in the winter?

When CrowdScience listener Eric spotted a few gnats flying around on a milder day in mid-winter it really surprised him - Eric had assumed they just died out with the colder weather. It got him wondering where the insects had come from, how they had survived the previous cold snap and what the implications of climate change might be for insect over-wintering behaviour? So he asked CrowdScience to do some bug investigation. CrowdScience presenter Marnie Chesterton takes up the challenge and...


How do you balance on a bicycle?

ow do we stay up when we ride a bicycle? Lots of us can do it without even thinking about it, but probably very few of us can say exactly HOW we do it. Well, CrowdScience listener Arif and his children Maryam and Mohammed from India want to understand what’s going on in our heads when go for a cycle, and how we learn to do it in the first place. Presenter Marnie Chesterton is on the case, tracking down a neuroscientist studying how our brains and bodies work together to keep us balanced...


Bullying Parrots and Glacial Cocktails

Over the past 12 months, CrowdScience has travelled the world, from arctic glacierscapes to equatorial deserts, to answer listeners’ science queries. Sometimes, the team come across tales that don’t quite fit with the quest in hand, but still draw a laugh, or a gasp. In this show, Marnie Chesterton revisits those stories, with members of the CrowdScience crew. Alex the Parrot was a smart bird, with an impressive vocabulary and the ability to count and do basic maths. He was also intimidating...


Why are my parents so annoying?

Does your mum’s singing make you cringe with embarrassment? Do your dad’s jokes make you want to scream - and not with laughter? Or maybe you are the parent driving your offspring round the bend with rules and curfews? If so, you are not alone. CrowdScience listener Ilixo, age 11, has been wondering why it is that our parents become so annoying as we become teenagers. Is it something that is changing in his brain or are they actually becoming more annoying as they age? Presenter Marnie...


What is friction?

CrowdScience listener David was playing snooker in Thailand when he started thinking how such a smooth ball was dependent on the rough green baize of the table to bring it to a stop. Would it be possible to play snooker at all in a completely frictionless universe? Sometimes friction produces heat. Could we ever control it completely? We try to reduce friction in some cases by using lubricants, whilst at other times like braking at a traffic junction we depend upon friction entirely. Anand...


Could my house run out of air?

If your home is drafty, filling in holes and cracks can help tackle rising energy bills, and lower your carbon footprint. But is there a limit to how airtight we should make our homes? That’s what CrowdScience listeners Jeff and Angie wondered when weatherproofing their doors and sealing up cracks for the winter. Once every last gap is blocked, will enough air get in for them to breathe properly? How would they know if they’ve gone too far? With Covid-19 making us more aware than ever of the...


What gives clouds their shapes?

What are the clouds like where you are? When you look upwards can you see great tufts of cotton wool, or do they stretch off into the distance, flat like sheets. Are they dark greys and purples, bringing the promise of rain or maybe there aren’t any at all. For listener John from Lincolnshire in the UK clouds looking up at the clouds is a favourite pastime and he wants to know why they look the way they do and why they are so different from one day to the next. Join Presenter Marnie...


How do we behave in crowds?

As someone who dislikes crowds, listener Graham is curious about them. Crowds gather in all sorts of places, from train stations and football matches, to religious events and protest marches. But is there a science behind how they move and behave? To find out, Anand Jagatia speaks to some actual crowd scientists. He learns about the psychology of social identity, which influences everything from how close we stand to others to how we react in emergencies. He visits the Athens marathon, and...


Why don’t we fall out of bed when we’re asleep?

Why don’t we fall out of bed when we’re asleep? That’s the question that’s been keeping CrowdScience listener Isaac in Ghana awake, so presenter Alex Lathbridge snuggles up with some experts to find the answer. We get a lot of emails about sleep, so we’ve gathered together some of our favourite questions and put them to academics working on the science of snoozing. We’re wondering why some people laugh in their sleep, why some people remember their dreams and not others, and why we need to...


Where do we go when the seas rise?

After learning how long it will take the Earth's ice sheets to melt in the previous episode, we continue our journey in Greenland. As world leaders gather in Egypt for the annual UN climate conference, listener Johan isn't too optimistic about governments' ability to curb greenhouse gas emissions and get a handle on climate change. So from his coastal perch in Denmark, he has asked where we should live when the poles have melted away and coastlines creep inland. Along with the help of BBC...


How long before all the ice melts?

We know the Earth's atmosphere is warming and it's thanks to us and our taste for fossil fuels. But how quickly is this melting the ice sheets, ice caps, and glaciers that remain on our planet? That's what listener David wants to know. With the help of a team of climate scientists in Greenland, Marnie Chesterton goes to find the answer, in an icy landscape that's ground zero in the story of thawing. She discovers how Greenland’s ice sheet is sliding faster off land, and sees that the tiniest...


When does weather change become climate change?

Record-breaking heatwaves swept across the Earth’s northern hemisphere this summer, while Australia experienced flooding and East Africa is enduring its worst drought in decades. Listener Geoff in Australia wants to know: Is climate change really responsible, or could it just be weather? Presenter Marnie Chesterton goes to Kenya, where the traditional Maasai way of life is at risk following a series of failed rainy seasons. She meets members of the Maasai community who have herded cattle for...


Why can't I change my accent?

Why do some people pick up accents without even trying, while others can live in another country for decades without ever losing the sound of their mother tongue? It’s a question that's been bothering CrowdScience listener Monica who, despite 45 years of living in the US, is still answering questions about where her accent is from. Presenter Marnie Chesterton sets off to discover why learning a new language is possible but perfecting the accent is so much harder. Marnie speaks to a linguist...


How is mental health being supported in Africa?

One in every eight people live with a mental health disorder, so if that’s not you, it’s likely to be a close friend or family member. Despite there being a variety of known treatments, globally the majority of people suffering do not receive any medical support. To see how the discussion around mental health is playing out across the African continent, CrowdScience visits Nairobi, Kenya. Presenter Marnie Chesterton is joined by a live audience and panel of experts - psychiatrist David...


Why am I gay?

Human sexuality comes in many forms, from exclusively heterosexual to exclusively homosexual. But seeing as homosexuality creates apparent reproductive and evolutionary disadvantages, listener Ahmed from Oslo wants to know: why are some people gay? CrowdScience presenter Caroline Steel examines what science can - and can't - tell us about the role of nature, nurture and evolution in human sexual attraction. She asks a geneticist what we know of the oft-debated 'gay gene', as well as looking...


Why are fish fish-shaped?

There are over 30,000 species of fish – that’s more than all the species of amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals combined. But despite the sheer diversity of life on Earth, we still tend to think of all fish in roughly the same way: with an oblong scaley body, a tail and pairs of fins. Why? And is that really the case? Crowdscience listener and pet fish-owner Lauria asked us to dive into the depths of this aquatic world to investigate why fish are shaped the way they are. Do we just think...


Why don’t some things burn?

CrowdScience listener Alix has a burning question - what’s actually happening inside the flames of a campfire to make it glow? And why do some materials burn easily, while others refuse to light at all? To find out, Alex Lathbridge travels to the Fire Research Centre at the University of Edinburgh to (safely) set various things ablaze. He learns about the fundamentals of fire and why things react differently to heat. He then heads to archives of the Royal Institution of London, to see an...


Is there a language of laughter?

Laugh and the world laughs with you, or so you might think. But watch any good comedian on TV by yourself and chances are you’ll laugh a lot less than if you were sat in a lively comedy crowd watching the same comedian in the flesh. But why is that? Do people from different cultures and corners of the world all laugh at the same things? These are questions raised by CrowdScience listener Samuel in Ghana who wonders why he’s always cracking up more easily than those around him. Presenter...