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


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




Can robots be soft?

When imagining a robot, a hard-edged, boxy, humanoid figure may spring to mind. But that is about to change. CrowdScience presenter Alex Lathbridge is on a mission to meet the robots that bend the rules of conventionality. Inspired by how creatures like us have evolved to move, some roboticists are looking to nature to design the next generation of machines. And that means making them softer. But just how soft can a robot really be? Join Alex as he goes on a wild adventure to answer this...


Do climbing plants know where they’re going?

CrowdScience listener Eric, in New Zealand, has noticed his wisteria growing towards a neighbouring tree. He thinks that it actually knows where it’s going. But how can a plant have a sense of direction? Plants don’t have the advantage of brains or eyes, but that doesn’t seem to stop them from being clever enough to find out from their environment where to move and how to get there – all while being rooted to the spot. Marnie Chesterton visits the Natural History Museum and Kew Gardens in...


Where does our fat go when we exercise?

If, like this week’s Crowdscience listener Lili, you’re an avid gymgoer, you may well have wondered where your fat disappears to when you exercise? Well, the short answer is that we convert it to energy that powers a whole range of physical processes, from breathing to walking as well as lying down and doing nothing. But the science behind energy expenditure is a little more complicated than that. Presenter Anand Jagatia pops on an exercise bike to have his metabolism measured, and learns...


Are yoga claims bogus claims?

Yoga benefits our health in many ways, say the yogis, but which claims are backed up by science? Can yoga actually alleviate depression, fix lower-back pain or even reduce cardiovascular disease? Presenter Marnie Chesterton gets into her Lotus (position) and finds out first-hand at a class. Whilst in warrior one, she discusses the potential physical and mental health benefits of this ancient art of stretching, balance and movement with her class teacher. Returning from mat to studio, Marnie...


Who’s afraid of public speaking?

Why does the thought of giving a talk to an audience fill so many of us with sheer terror? Marnie Chesterton investigates for listener Nhial, who has seen his fellow students in Morocco become panic stricken at the prospect and wants to know the reason for our anxiety. According to one study, 77 per cent of us share that fear. Marnie finds out about the relationship between stress, our brains and our voices from research associate Dr Maria Dietrich at the University Hospital, Bonn...


How bad is our noise problem?

We generate a huge amount of noise, whether it’s our rumbling roads, pumping parties, or talkative tourists. And the topic of noise also generates a lot of questions from our listeners. In this episode we explore three of them, with the help of acoustic scientist Kurt Fristrup and neuropsychologist Catherine Loveday. Listener Dominique finds it hard to experience even one minute of a natural soundscape without some intrusion of human-made noise. He wonders how noise pollution is affecting...


Where does the sand in a desert come from?

From Lawrence of Arabia to Star Wars via tales of intrepid adventurers traversing lonely sand-swept 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 is what CrowdScience listener Andy wants to know, so presenter Caroline Steel heads off into the dunes to find out. She begins by finding out what a desert is anyway and whether it is always sandy, as well as tracing the...


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...