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Explorations in the world of science.
The Case of The Blind Man's Eye
Close your eyes and think of a giraffe. Can you see it? I mean, *really* see it - in rich, vivid detail? If not - you aren’t alone! We’ve had scores of messages from listeners who report having a ‘blind mind’s eye’. They don’t see mental images at all and they want to know why. Jude from Perth wants to know what makes her brain different, and Diane from Scotland wonders whether it affectes her ability to remember family holidays. Our sleuths learn that this is a condition recently termed...
Our Microbes and Our Health
We are a teeming mass of interconnected microbes and the impact of this microscopic universe on our health, our minds, even our moods, is profound. Made in collaboration with Wellcome Collection, Claudia Hammond and an expert panel explore one of the fastest moving areas of science and what it means for modern medicine. Recorded in front of a live audience at Wellcome’s Reading Room in London, Claudia discovers how our microbes could be harnessed to improve our mental and physical health....
Judith Bunbury: Unearthing the secrets of Ancient Egypt
Think Sahara Desert, think intense heat and drought. We see the Sahara as an unrelenting, frazzling, white place. But geo-archaeologist Dr Judith Bunbury says in the not so distant past, the region looked more like a safari park. In the more recent New Kingdom of Ancient Egypt, from around 3500 years ago (the time of some of Egypt’s most famous kings like Ahmose I, Thutmose III, Akhenaten, Tutankhamun and queens like Hatshepsut) core samples shows evidence of rainfall, huge lakes, springs,...
The Life Scientific: Clifford Johnson
Clifford Johnson's career to date has spanned some seemingly very different industries - from exploring quantum mechanics around string theory and black holes, to consulting on some of Hollywood's biggest movies; but it makes sense once you understand his ambition of making science accessible to all. A Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, Clifford's worked in the United States for decades – but was born in the UK, then...
The Life Scientific: Rebecca Kilner
A fur-stripped mouse carcase might not sound like the cosiest of homes – but that is where the burying beetle makes its nest, and where Rebecca Kilner has focused much of her research. A professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Cambridge, Rebecca’s work – initially with cuckoos, then more recently with beetles – has shed invaluable light on the relationship between social behaviours and evolution. She tells Jim al-Khalili how the beetles' helpfully swift generational churn and...
The Life Scientific: Tim Lamont
Tim Lamont is a young scientist making waves. Arriving on the Great Barrier Reef after a mass bleaching event, Tim saw his research plans disappear and was personally devastated by the destruction. But from that event he discovered a novel way to restore coral reefs. Playing the sounds of a healthy coral reef entices fish in to recolonise the wrecked reefs. Tim's emotional journey forced him to realise that environmental scientists can no longer just observe. They need to find new prisms...
Bad Blood: Newgenics
Are we entering a ‘newgenic’ age - where cutting-edge technologies and the power of personal choice could achieve the kind of genetic perfection that 20th century eugenicists were after? In 2018, a Chinese scientist illegally attempted to precision edit the genome of two embryos. It didn’t work as intended. Twin sisters - Lulu and Nana - were later born, but their identity, and the status of their health, is shrouded in secrecy. They were the first designer babies. Other technological...
Bad Blood: The curse of Mendel
In the mid-19th Century, an Augustinian friar called Gregor Mendel made a breakthrough. By breeding pea plants and observing how certain traits were passed on, Mendel realised there must be units - little packets - of information determining characteristics. He had effectively discovered the gene. His insights inspired eugenicists from the 1900s onwards. If traits were passed on by specific genes, then their policies should stop people with ‘bad’ genes from having children. Mendel’s ideas...
Bad Blood: Rassenhygiene
In the name of eugenics, the Nazi state sterilised hundreds of thousands against their will, murdered disabled children and embarked on a programme of genocide. We like to believe that Nazi atrocities were a unique aberration, a grotesque historical outlier. But it turns out that leading American eugenicists and lawmakers like Madison Grant and Harry Laughlin inspired many of the Nazi programmes, from the mass sterilisation of those deemed ‘unfit’ to the Nuremberg laws preventing the...
Bad Blood: Birth controlled
Who should be prevented from having children? And who gets to decide? Across 20th century America, there was a battle to control birth - a battle which rages on to this day. In 1907, the state of Indiana passed the first sterilisation law in the world. Government-run institutions were granted the power to sterilise those deemed degenerate - often against their will. In the same period, women are becoming more educated, empowered and sexually liberated. In the Roaring Twenties, the flappers...
Bad Blood: You will not replace us
"You will not replace us" was the battle cry of white supremacists at a rally in Charlottesville in 2017. They were expressing an old fear - the idea that immigrants and people of colour will out-breed and replace the dominant white 'race'. Exactly the same idea suffused American culture in the first decades of the 1900s, as millions of immigrants arrived at Ellis island from southern and eastern Europe. The 'old-stock' Americans - the white elite who ruled industry and government - latched...
Bad Blood: You've got good genes
We follow the story of eugenics from its origins in the middle-class salons of Victorian Britain, through the Fitter Family competitions and sterilisation laws of Gilded Age USA, to the full genocidal horrors of Nazi Germany. Eugenics is born in Victorian Britain, christened by the eccentric gentleman-scientist Sir Francis Galton. It’s a movement to breed better humans, fusing new biological ideas with the politics of empire, and the inflexible snobbery of the middle-classes. The movement...
Tooth and Claw: Cougar
Hiding in the shadows across the American continents lives a big cat with many names. From puma to mountain lion to panther to cougar, this animal is carnivorous, cunning and uses stealth to silently ambush its prey. Its elusiveness and brutal attacking style has earnt it the reputation of a cold-hearted killer. But behind this façade, hidden camera footage has revealed the cougar is all about caring for their family. And its silent whispering amongst the trees could actually be saving human...
Tooth and Claw: Wasps
Why do wasps exist? While many see them as unfriendly bees who sting out of spite, their aggression could be interpreted as a fierce form of family protection. They are hugely understudied and even more underappreciated, with hundreds of thousands of different species carrying out jobs in our ecosystems. Some live together in nests whereas others hunt solo, paralysing prey with antibiotic-laden venom. In abundance, they can destroy environments - outcompeting most creatures and taking...
Tooth and Claw: African Wild Dog
As a great African predator and a hot-spot on safari, it is hard to believe that only last century, the African wild dog was considered vermin. It's beautiful coat of painted strokes makes it undeniably distinctive. Yet out in the field, this animal is hard to find. Yes, it camouflages easily against the landscape, but years of persecution, bounties and unintentional trappings means it's now one of the most endangered mammals on the planet. Revelations about its reliance on the pack for...
Preparing for the next pandemic
Infectious diseases which cause epidemics and pandemics are on the rise. Claudia Hammond is joined by an eminent panel of disease detectives, who spell out why the risks are increasing and most importantly, what we can do to predict, prepare and protect ourselves against potentially devastating new outbreaks. Will the next infectious disease to wreak havoc across the globe again jump from animals, a zoonotic jump across species? Think SARS, HIV, MERS, Zika, Nipah Virus, Lassa Fever, Ebola,...
Tooth and Claw: Komodo dragon
With nicknames like ‘prehistoric monster’ and ‘living dinosaur’, the Komodo dragon has been well and truly judged by its cover. Its gigantic size, razor sharp teeth and deadly attacking power has earned it a vicious reputation. But beneath the scales of this solitary beast are fascinating tales of rapid healing, decoy nests, and virgin births. And as climate change threatens its native Indonesia, can this hostile reptile adapt to living in closer quarters? Adam Hart and guests dig into how a...
Wild Inside: The Alpaca
Alpacas may have been domesticated for thousands of years but their native lands are the steep hostile mountains of South America where they continue to thrive far from the modern luxuries of animal husbandry. Prof Ben Garrod and Dr Jess French delve deep inside this hardy herbivore to unravel the anatomy and physiology that’s secured the success of this extraordinary member of the camelid family of camels, llamas and vicugna.
Wild inside: The Harbour Porpoise
Prof Ben Garrod and Dr Jess French get under the skin of the harbour porpoise to unravel this enigmatic and shy aquatic mammal’s extraordinary survival skills - from it’s ability to dive for long periods to accurately echolocating its fast moving prey. They join Rob Deaville, project leader for the Cetacean’s Stranding Investigations Programme at ZSL (Zoological Society of London) to open up and examine what makes this animal unique in terms of its anatomy, behaviour and evolutionary history.
Wild inside: Great Grey Owl
One of the world’s large owls by length, the Great Grey Owl is an enigmatic predator of coniferous forests close to the Arctic tundra. It's most often seen hunting around dawn and dusk, when it perches silently at the edges of clearings. But as Prof Ben Garrod and Dr Jess French delve deep inside to understand its true secret to survival, they find the deep feathery coat belies a deceptively small head and body that‘s evolved unbelievably powerful abilities to silently detect and ambush...