Explorations in the world of science.


London, United Kingdom




Explorations in the world of science.




Tooth and Claw: Great White Sharks

Adam Hart investigates the most famous and feared predator in all the ocean – the great white shark! With rows of large, serrated teeth, it’s often thought of as a ferocious man-eater and was the villain of the film Jaws – which frightened a generation of beachgoers. This star of the silver screen may be the subject of fascination and fright for many, but is it really the ultimate predator of the ocean as Hollywood has led us to believe? Adam hears what it’s like to see these sharks up-close and in person for the very first time. He learns more about how great whites detect and hunt their prey, as well as the challenges they’ve been facing due to another ocean predator. Contributors: Dr Alison Towner is a postdoctoral researcher at Rhodes University in South Africa. She has a PhD in white shark ecology and has been studying the displacement of great whites due to orcas (killer whales) in South Africa. Professor Gavin Naylor is Director of the Florida Program for Shark Research. He is a biologist who has specialised in evolutionary and population genetics, focusing on sharks. Presenter: Professor Adam Hart Producer: Jonathan Blackwell Editor: Holly Squire (Photo: Great White Shark, Credit: Todd Winner/Stocktrek Images via Getty Images)


Tooth and Claw: Wolverines

Adam Hart investigates the largest terrestrial member of the weasel family – the wolverine. They’re far more than just a superhero played by Hugh Jackman! With a reputation for gluttony and ferocity, these solitary killers use snowstorms to hunt much larger prey. Found in the snowy tundra and boreal forests of the Northern Hemisphere, their future looks uncertain – they've come into conflict with Scandinavian farmers by hunting their reindeer and are threatened by climate change in North America and Mongolia. But have we misunderstood wolverines? And can we learn to co-exist with them? Contributors: Rebecca Watters is founder and director of the Mongolian Wolverine Project, as well as the executive director of the Wolverine Foundation, a non-profit that’s dedicated to advancing science-based conservation of wolverines. Jenny Mattisson is a researcher at the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, who is involved in the monitoring of wolverines in Scandinavia. She has studied interactions between wolverines and Eurasian lynx, as well as their predation of reindeer. Presenter: Professor Adam Hart Producer: Jonathan Blackwell Editor: Holly Squire Production Coordinator: Jonathan Harris Studio Manager: Donald MacDonald (Photo: Wolverine, Credit: Arterra/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)


The Life Scientific: Alex Antonelli

With the world's biodiversity being lost at an alarming rate, Alexandre Antonelli, Director of Science at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, has made it his life's mission to protect it. He is a bio-geographer revealing how changes to the Earth's landscape, such as the formation of mountain ranges and rainforests, leads to the evolution of new species and causes plants, fungi and animals to move around the world. His work is a masterclass in joined-up thinking, bringing together different fields of research by starting conversations between scientists who would rarely talk to one another. Together, they paint a more holistic picture of how our planet's biodiversity has developed in the hope of informing how we can protect it in the future. Alex tells presenter Jim Al-Khalili about a life spent in the wild, beginning with his earliest memories of growing up in Brazil cataloguing life in the Atlantic Rainforest. That passion is still with him today. We've only scratched the surface of understanding what lives here on Earth, he says, more than 4,000 new species are found every year. Alex is passionate that we need to speed up the rate at which we document the richness of life, arguing if we don't identify what there is we can't protect it.


The Life Scientific: Paul Murdin

Astronomer Paul Murdin believes a good imagination is vital for scientists, since they're so often dealing with subjects outside the visible realm. Indeed, over a long and successful career his imagination has taken him on a journey through space, discovering various new and unusual celestial occurrences - notably the first successful identification of a black hole, Cygnus X-1. Paul tells Jim Al-Khalili how he spent much of his career at the Royal Greenwich Observatory, working with astronomers around the world on some of the most advanced telescopes ever built. He headed up the Astronomy section of the UK’s Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council, was Director of Science for the British National Space Centre and even has an asteroid named after him. This list of achievements is testament to the fact that Paul has never let his disability hold him back; a leg brace and walking sticks have been part of his life since contracting polio in childhood. But he maintains that as long as you have curiosity and a vibrant imagination, nothing should stand in your way. (Photo: Paul Murdin in 1971 next to the Isaac Newton Telescope at the time of the discovery with that telescope of Cygnus X-1. Credit: Paul Murdin)


The Life Scientific: Bahija Jallal

Some of the most complex medicines available today are made from living cells or organisms - these treatments are called bio-pharmaceuticals and in this episode of The Life Scientific Dr Bahija Jallal, CEO of Immunocore, shares her story of leaving her home in Casablanca, Morocco to become a world leader in developing bio-pharmaceutical cancer treatments. She tells Professor Jim Al-Khalili that she has always found herself ahead of the curve. When she began in oncology, the study of cancer, the common treatment was chemotherapy which attacked all the cells in an affected area. Her first studies into cancer treatments were looking at how certain therapies could focus in on the cancerous cells and move away from what she describes as the 'sledgehammer' of traditional chemotherapy. It was an early step in what became known as targeted cancer therapies, and it set Bahjia on course for a career dedicated to developing innovative drugs to improve cancer patients' lives. Through a deep understanding of the science and a resolute commitment to putting treatments in the hands of people who need them, she has produced astonishing results.


Chris Barratt

Reproductive science has come a long way in recent years, but there's still plenty we don't understand - particularly around male fertility. The reliability and availability of data in this field has become more of a concern in light of a study published this year, suggesting that sperm counts worldwide have dropped 62% in the past 50 years. As yet there is no clear answer as to why that is. Professor Chris Barratt is one of the scientists working to change that. He's the Head of Reproductive Medicine at Ninewells Hospital and the University of Dundee Medical School, and has dedicated his career to better understanding male infertility; driving breakthroughs in how to study sperm dysfunctions – and most recently spearheading advances in developing a male contraceptive pill. Chris talks to Professor Jim Al-Khalili about his academic struggles as a youngster, the lecture that changed his life, his research into 'head-banging sperm' and why he believes a new male contraceptive could be a game-changer.


Gideon Henderson

We’re used to hearing the stories of scientists who study the world as it is now but what about the study of the past - what can this tell us about our future? Gideon Henderson’s research focuses on trying to understand climate change by looking at what was happening on our planet thousands of years ago. His work has taken him all around the world - to the deepest oceans and the darkest caves - where he collects samples containing radioactive isotopes which he uses as “clocks” to date past ice ages and other major climate events. As a geochemist and Professor of Earth Sciences at the University of Oxford, his work deals with the biggest questions, like our impact on the carbon cycle and climate, the health of our oceans, and finding new ways to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. But in his role as Chief Scientific Adviser at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, he also very much works on the present, at the intersection between the worlds of research and policy. He has overseen the decision to allow gene-edited food to be developed commercially in England and a UK surveillance programme to spot the Covid-19 virus in our waste-water. (Photo: Gideon Henderson. Credit: Gideon Henderson)


Deborah Greaves

If you’ve ever seen the ocean during a storm, you’ll understand the extraordinary power contained in waves. On an island nation like Britain, that power could well be harnessed to produce clean energy; so why have we barely begun to tap this bountiful resource? Deborah Greaves is trying to change that. As Professor of Ocean Engineering at the University of Plymouth, she combines physical wave tanks with sophisticated computer modelling to test how well wave power devices respond to stormy seas. And as Director of the Supergen ORE Hub, she brings together researchers in offshore renewable energy to imagine a future of widespread, eco-friendly ocean power. Deborah tells Jim Al-Khalili about growing up in Plymouth fascinated by the sea, and about breaking from the norm in her arts-focused family, to pursue a degree in engineering. But she spent years as a civil engineer building tunnels for the London Underground - and going on expeditions to the Arctic with her husband - before undertaking a PhD at Oxford University, exploring what happens when waves crash into solid structures. She eventually returned to Plymouth and set up the institute’s Coastal, Ocean and Sediment Transport (COAST) Laboratory - a building with a swimming-pool-sized wave tank for testing new technologies. As Jim hears, these wave devices have an extraordinary diversity of uses - and could help to propel Britain into a greener energy future. (Photo: Deborah Greaves. Credit: Deborah Greaves)


Metamorphosis: Bee brains and the cockroach

Erica McAlister on the bee intellect and whether bigger brains are always better. Plus cockroaches may be reviled by many people, but Erica discovers the extraordinary flexibility of their simple nervous system led to the birth of neuroendocrinology. (Photo: A honey bee feeding on nectar from Echinacea purpurea. Credit: Barnaby Perkins)


The Evidence: Is the world becoming more allergic?

What are allergies and what is the purpose of them? What can we do to try and prevent them? And what are the best ways of accurately and safely diagnosing them?


Metamorphosis: Soldier fly and desert beetle

Erica McAlister on the innocuous wasp-like black soldier fly, a crown jewel of a fast-growing insect farming industry that's addressing the urgent need to find cheap clean protein. And how Namib Desert beetles have evolved in a very special environment, where the only source of water exists in the air. (Image: Desert beetle in Namib desert. Credit: Martin Harvey/Getty Images)


Metamorphosis: Blowflies and dazzling disguise

Blowflies may be some of the most reviled insects on the planet, but as Erica McAlister discovers, they are central to the surprisingly long tradition of forensic entomology and how there's more than meets the eye in the distinctive structural colour of the morpho butterfly wing, whose dazzling sheen is a key for camouflage and commerce. (Photo: A fly on a leaf. Credit: Christina Bollen/Getty Images)


Metamorphosis: Drosophila melanogaster, hoverfly

Dr Erica McAlister uncovers a treasure trove of remarkable insights from the insect world including the innocuous flies that are Drosophila melanogaster. More is known about these flies than any other animal on the planet, as a model for human genetics. And the hoverfly that arguably undergoes the biggest transformation of any animal and how insect metamorphosis could be a tool to track future climate change. Producer: Adrian Washbourne Presenter: Dr Erica McAlister (Photo: Drosophila melanogaster. Credit: nechaev-kon/Getty Images)


Metamorphosis: Jumping fleas and mighty mouthparts

Dr Erica McAlister uncovers a treasure trove of remarkable insects from the humble flea whose jump enables them to fly without wings and the mystery of the hawkmoth’s tongue, whose varying length has offered the simplest and most effective proof of Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection in action. Producer: Dr Adrian Washbourne Presenter: Dr Erica McAlister (Photo: Dr Erica McAlister. Credit: Dr Erica McAlister)


The Life Scientific: Harald Haas

Imagine a world in which your laptop or mobile device accesses the internet, not via radio waves – or WiFi – as it does today but by using light instead: LiFi. Well, that world may not be as far away as you might think. In fact, the technology is already here; and it’s thanks in large part to the engineering ingenuity of Harald Haas, Distinguished Professor of Mobile Communications and Director of the Li-Fi Research and Development Centre at the University of Strathclyde. He tells Jim Al-Khalili about the two decades he has spent researching optical wireless communications, building up to his LiFi breakthrough in 2011, where he made waves in the scientific community and beyond by showing how a simple desk lamp could be used to stream a video. Harald’s research could well have a very real impact on people’s lives, reinventing the way we connect online – but, as Jim hears, his early life was dogged by a very real fear he may have the same devastating disease that took his mother's life at an early age; an experience that shaped his early years and which has driven him to succeed in his own life and career. (Image: Harald Haas. Credit: Harald Haas)


The Life Scientific: Anne-Marie Imafidon

Anne-Marie Imafidon passed her computing A-Level at the age of 11 and by 16, was accepted to the University of Oxford to study Maths and Computer Science. She's used to the 'child prodigy' label that's followed her throughout her career, but that doesn't mean she's had an easy ride. It was a combination of personal experience and the discovery that the number of women working in the STEM sectors - Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics - was in free-fall that inspired Anne-Marie to found Stemettes: a not-for-profit social enterprise introducing girls to STEM ideas and careers in fun and accessible ways. It's now in its tenth year and still growing, while Anne-Marie has received an MBE, enjoyed a successful stint as the numbers guru on the TV series Countdown, and is the current President of the British Science Association. In conversation in front of an audience at the UK's 2023 Cheltenham Science Festival, she tells Jim Al-Khalili about her quest for equality and diversity across the scientific community - and explains why she thinks everyone has the potential to be a 'child prodigy', given the right opportunity... (Image: Anne-Marie Imafidon. Credit: Anne-Marie Imafidon)


The Life Scientific: Anne Ferguson-Smith

Our genes can tell us so much about us, from why we look the way we look, think the way we think, even what kind of diseases we might be likely to suffer from. But our genes aren't the whole story. There are other, complex and intriguing systems within every cell in our bodies which control which of our tens-of-thousands of genes are switched on, or off, in different parts of the body, and under different circumstances. Welcome to the fascinating world of 'epigenetics', which our guest, the molecular geneticist Anne Ferguson-Smith, describes as 'genetics with knobs on'. Anne, now Arthur Balfour Professor of Genetics and Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research at the University of Cambridge, tells Jim Al-Khalili about her life and work. She's spent her professional life at the cutting edge: from a degree in a brand new field of Molecular Biology, to post-grad working on brand new genetic structures, through to a lifetime of discoveries and breakthroughs which have changed our understanding of the genome. Yet she wasn't always destined to be a scientist. She says she was a 'bad student' for a lot of her early life, and believes that embracing failure is an essential part of being a working scientist. (Image: Anne Ferguson Smith. Credit: Anne Ferguson Smith)


The Life Scientific: Bruce Malamud

From landslides and wildfires to floods and tornadoes, Bruce Malamud has spent his career travelling the world and studying natural hazards. Today, he is Wilson Chair of Hazard and Risk and executive director of the Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resilience at Durham University - but as he tells Jim al-Khalili, a lifelong passion for discovery has taken Bruce from volunteering with the Peace Corps in West Africa and a Fulbright Fellowship in Argentina, to fieldwork in India; not only studying hazards themselves, but also the people they affect - and building up the character and resilience to overcome personal tragedy along the way. Over the years, his work in the field has opened up new ways of understanding such events: from statistical modelling to show how groups of hazards occur, to examining the cascading relationships between multiple hazards. And today, his focus is on projects that can bring tangible benefits to people at serious risk from environmental hazards - finding innovative ways to help them to better manage that threat. (Photo: Bruce Malamud. Credit: Bruce Malamud)


The Life Scientific: Andre Geim

The world around us is three-dimensional. Yet, there are materials that can be regarded as two-dimensional. They are only one layer of atoms thick and have remarkable properties that are different from their three-dimensional counterparts. Sir Andre Geim created the first-ever man-made 2D material, by isolating graphene, and is one of the pioneers in this line of research. Even beyond his Nobel Prize-winning work on graphene, he has explored new ideas in many different areas of physics throughout his career. Andre tells Jim al-Khalili about his time growing up in the Soviet Union, being rejected from university based on his German ethnicity, his move to Western Europe, and levitating frogs. (Photo: 2010 Nobel Physics laureate Andre Geim during 2019 China Science Fiction Convention, Beijing, 3 November, 2019. Credit: VCG/Getty Images)


In search of stardust

Norwegian jazz musician Jon Larsen was having breakfast one clear spring morning when he noticed a tiny black speck land on his clean, white table. With no wind, birds or planes in sight, he wondered if it fell from space. Dust from space is not as fanciful as it sounds. Billions of microscopic meteorites, dating back to the birth of our solar system, fall onto Earth every year. But they are so tiny, hidden among the copious dust of everyday life, that scientists believe they are impossible to find outside ultra clean environments like Antarctica. But this doesn’t deter Jon, who, against the advice of all experts, decides he is going to be the first person to find an urban micrometeorite. He takes presenter Caroline Steel and planetary scientist Dr Matthew Genge up onto some roofs, in search of the elusive particles. Can we find stardust on the top of the BBC? Featuring Jon Larsen, Dr Matthew Genge and Svein Aarbostad. Presenter: Caroline Steel (Image: Cygnus Nebulosity and Starclouds Credit: VW Pics / Contributor | Getty Images)