Clean Air Strategy, Fast Radio Bursts and Kuba Kingdom
With the publication of the UK Government’s Clear Air Strategy this week, Professor of atmospheric chemistry at the University of York, Alastair Lewis, discusses with Adam Rutherford about whether the guidelines go far enough.
It’s a hugely complex issue that’s been complied with unprecedented scientific input. The most obvious conclusion is that the implementation to cleaning up our air must be cohesive. One clever idea comes from Professor Barbara Maher at Lancaster University, who has been looking at how trees planted along roadsides can help clean up pollution from traffic.
Fast Radio Bursts are mysterious transient radio pulses a fraction of a millisecond long, caused by some high-energy astrophysical process billions of light years away. Astronomers have not yet identified a source for these ultra-high energy events. A team using the CHIME (Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment) radio telescope in Canada have just detected a repeating FRB and an FRB of extraordinarily low frequency. Deborah Good at the University of British Columbia, explains to Adam that every different type of FRB adds clues as to what these long-travelled signals might be.
Our genomes hold so much information. A new study shows how genetic diversity can mirror political, economic and societal organisation. Lucy Van Dorp, a researcher in UCL’s Genetics Research Institute, has been studying this in what are modern day ancestors of the Kuba Kingdom (an important 16th-18th century Democratic Republic of Congo community that welcomed outsiders.) This is a great demonstration to what genetic information can add to understanding human history.
Antarctic lake drilling, Birds and climate change, Cold snap, Holograms
Sampling from subglacial lakes under the ice in Antarctica can hopefully tell us a lot about past climates as well as reveal organisms that have evolved in extreme environment, long separated from the rest of the world. However it's not easy work, drilling kilometres into ice, in sub-zero conditions, without contaminating these pristine ecological environments. Martin Siegert, co-director of the Grantham Institute, understands just how difficult it is, as he led an expedition to Antarctica in 2012 to drill over 3km down into Lake Ellsworth. The expedition failed due to problems with the drilling, leading to the team eventually running out of fuel and time. But, as he explains to Gareth Mitchell, lessons learnt from Ellsworth have helped a US team to use the hot-water drilling technique to access Lake Mercer and bring up lots of sediment and microbial samples.
The impact of climate change on the natural world can be complex and unexpected. Pied flycatchers are birds which migrate every year from Africa to Europe in order to breed, they share the same breeding grounds as great tits. However, great tits are resident in these areas all year round, and are therefore much more flexible to any local changes in climate and the subsequent impact on important resources, like food and nesting sites, than the migratory pied flycatchers. Jelmer Samplonius, at the University of Edinburgh, explains to Gareth what impact these changes in temperature could have on the conflict between great tits and pied flycatchers.
There have been lots of rumours about a return of the ‘Beast from the East’ which caused a prolonged cold snap in our weather in early 2018. This was due to a phenomenon called ‘sudden stratospheric warming’. Laura Paterson, chief meteorologist at The Met Office, explains how unexpected warming in the stratosphere (a high layer in our atmosphere) can impact the weather down here on Earth, and that while this stratospheric warming does mean it is more likely we will experience colder weather, it does not guarantee a return visit of the ‘Beast from the East’.
Lecturers at Imperial College, London have a new star quality- they are getting the Michael Jackson treatment - being turned into holograms. The school has decided this will help connect their students around the world. Wanting a taste of the glory Roland Pease went to the college while they were testing out the system
Ultima Thule, Dry January, Periodic Table
2019 means the opportunity to explore the most distant object yet encountered in our solar system – the brilliantly named Ultima Thule as Nasa’s New Horizons spacecraft hit the headlines this week when it flew past an object 4 billion miles away, took photos and sent them back to earth. The stunning images confirmed that Ultima Thule looks a bit like a snowman, only several miles in length and orbiting somewhere much colder than any earth winter. Inside Science talked to Dr Carly Howett, a member of the New Horizon’s team and deputy principle investigator of the RALPH instrument, which will send back data on Ultima Thule’s form and structure later this year.
And For many of us, January is a time to try a bit better. And millions of us decide to give up alcohol. It’s called Dry January. But what does this alcohol break actually achieve? Has anyone scientifically researched the results of a month off the sauce? Marnie Chesterton spoke to liver specialist and senior lecturer at university college London, Dr Gautam Mehta.
And because chemists are celebrating the 150th birthday, or rather birth-year, of the Periodic Table we thought BBC Inside Science should as well. The table is that chart on every science classroom wall. It’s a grid of small boxes, each with a symbol that represents a chemical element. And elements are the fundamental substances that make up everything you can see, and quite a few things that you can’t.
We spoke to chemist Dr Eric Scerri at UCLA, who has written a book on the history and significance of the Periodic Table while Roland Pease visited the lab of Professor Andrea Sella, who is making a physical representation of the whole table, if he can find all the elements that is.
First stars, Life on Mars, Climate update, Control of CRISPR, Jamestown forensic genetics
Adam Rutherford and guests discuss 2018 in space, climate science and genetics and listeners' questions. Dr Emma Chapman of Imperial College chooses the discovery by the EDGES telescope of the first stars as her highlight of the year and answers a question from Evgeniy Osievskyi about searching for life on Mars in lava tubes. Dr Tamsin Edwards of Kings College London talks about the international approach to keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees and explains the processes going on in the ocean when it absorbs carbon dioxide in response to a query from Derek McComiskey. Pete Stokes asks if the scientific community could come up with a global and hopefully binding agreement to control CRISPR gene editing on humans. Adam and Professor Turi King of Leicester University discuss this possibility. Looking back at 2018 Turi picks the role of forensic genetics in finding the Golden State killer in the US.
Looking ahead to 2019, Emma is hoping for more insights into the very early universe and into dark matter and dark energy, Tamsin is getting ready to research the role of ice sheets in sea level rise and Turi is applying genetic genealogy to find out if a skeleton found at Jamestown, the first permanent British colony in America, is really that of the Governor of Virginia, Sir George Yeardley.
Fish Farming and Climate Change, Gigantic Fungus, Robot Swarms, Gaming in Schools, Drones
Wester Ross Fisheries says over half the salmon at one of its sites have been wiped out because of high seawater temperatures. This highlights yet another damaging effect of climate change, at a time when aquaculture is playing an ever-greater role in feeding us all. Professor of Food Security at the University of Stirling, Rachel Norman, discusses the challenges of farming fish in the age of climate change with Gareth Mitchell.
Under the ground in a forest in Michigan in the USA lives a gigantic fungus. It weighs at least 400 tonnes and is 2,500 years old. For the last thirty years of its long life, Myron Smith form Carleton University has been studying it. With modern genetic analysis he has discovered that it has remarkably stable DNA with very low rates of mutations.
In a paper in Science Robotics, biologist James Sharp and roboticist Sabine Hauert demonstrate how hundreds of tiny robots can move together as a swarm. It is not unlike the behaviour biologists see in schools of fish or flocks of birds. Dr Hauert explains how one day these robots may aid rescuers to find victims of natural disasters.
Reporter Roland Pease visits Sir Bernard Lovell Academy to meet students and teachers who are using video games in education. He speaks to Laura Hobbs of Lancaster University’s "Science Hunters" team who has been running the sessions.
The runway at Gatwick airport was closed last night as two drones were seen flying within the perimeter fence. Sussex Police have described the incident as a ‘deliberate act of disruption’. Rob Siddall, a researcher from Imperial College London, discusses the issues of drones in our airspaces with Gareth Mitchell. One solution to keeping the skies clear is to train eagles to take out drones that stray into dangerous areas.