BBC Inside Science

A weekly programme that illuminates the mysteries and challenges the controversies behind the science that's changing our world.

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Last Episode : November 30, 2023 12:00pm

Last Scanned : 19 minutes ago


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Confirmed 5
Metal Mines
Long abandoned metal mines are having a huge impact on rivers across the UK. BBC Inside Science reporter Patrick Hughes visits Cwmystwyth in Wales, where he finds lead, zinc and cadmium seeping into waterways. It’s the costly legacy left after hundreds of years of mining. Roma Agrawal breaks down our modern world into seven essential basic inventions in her book Nuts and Bolts which has been shortlisted for the Royal Society Science Book Prize. She talks to Marnie about the surprising history behind some of these inventions.  And, as a cryogenic tank of bull semen is stolen from a farm in County Tyrone in Northern Ireland, it got us thinking: how can selective breeding help reduce carbon and methane emissions from cattle? Professor Eileen Wall from Scotland’s Rural College tells us more. Presenter:  Marnie Chesterton Producers: Harrison Lewis, Hannah Robins and Patrick Hughes Editor: Richard Collings Production Co-ordinator: Jana Bennett-Holesworth BBC Inside Science is produced in Cardiff by BBC Wales and West in collaboration with the Open University.
Expires in 41 hours
Published Thursday
Forever chemicals
PFAS chemicals, also known as forever chemicals, don’t break down in the environment. They can accumulate in the body and are found to have an array of harmful effects on human health. A major mapping project has revealed worryingly high levels of PFAS across thousands of sites in the UK. Experts are concerned that not enough is being done to reduce these chemicals from drinking water. They’re urging the government to re-evaluate current regulation. This week we dive into the properties of these chemicals: how dangerous are they and what can be done to protect public health? Professor Crispin Halsall, an environmental chemist from Lancaster University, tells us more. As charges are brought against four people for stealing and selling on US$1 million of dinosaur bones, we find out about the illegal – and legal – trade in fossils from palaeontologist Professor Steve Brusatte. New research has discovered the Moon is 40 million years older than we previously thought. Professor Sara Russell, a cosmic mineralogist and planetary scientist from the Natural History Museum, tells us more. And is there something we can we learn from animals about how to age better? Nicklas Brendborg discusses his book, Jellyfish Age Backwards: Nature’s Secrets to Longevity, which has been shortlisted for the Royal Society Trivedi Science Book Prize. Presenter:  Victoria Gill Producers: Hannah Robins, Harrison Lewis and Alice Lipscombe-Southwell Editor: Richard Collings Production Co-ordinator: Jana Bennett-Holesworth BBC Inside Science is produced in collaboration with the Open University.
Published 11/23
White phosphorus
White phosphorous is an incendiary material and if it were to be used in any built-up civilian areas, the practice would violate international law. We find out what makes white phosphorus so dangerous, and we ask how easy is it to identify? Andrea Sella, professor of chemistry at University College London, grants access to his laboratory and conducts an experiment with this highly flammable and volatile substance. Whole words and phrases from crushed and carbonised scrolls can be read for the first time in almost two thousand years. The documents, uncovered from Herculaneum, an ancient Roman town close to Pompeii which was buried under volcanic ash, have been made legible thanks to 3D scans and artificial intelligence. Dr. Federica Nicolardi, a papyrologist at the University of Naples, tells us more about this exciting discovery. Kate Zernike discusses her book The Exceptions, which tells the story of a group of 16 women who used their scientific know-how to inspire radical change. It’s been shortlisted for this year’s Royal Society Science Book Prize. And finally, this month marks exactly a year since beavers became a protected species in England. BBC Inside Science goes to Devon in search of these charismatic animals and we ask what effect they have been having on the countryside. Presenter:  Victoria Gill Producers: Hannah Robins, Harrison Lewis, Alice Lipscombe-Southwell and Patrick Hughes Editor: Richard Collings Production Co-ordinator: Jana Bennett-Holesworth BBC Inside Science is produced in collaboration with the Open University.
Published 11/16
Tumbling down the rabbit hole of assembly theory
A paper recently published in the journal Nature claimed that assembly theory could help explain and quantify selection and evolution. But what exactly is assembly theory? In this episode Marnie Chesterton speaks to science writer Philip Ball and zoologist and writer Professor Matthew Cobb. They dig into the science behind this tricky concept and figure out why it makes people so angry. A sample recovered by NASA from the Bennu asteroid hurtled back to earth recently. This week we saw what’s been retrieved from 200 million miles away. Studies on the dust and rock are just getting underway. Professor Tom Zega, one of the mission scientists, reveals why this sample will be important for many years to come. We also hear from Ed Yong who has been shortlisted for the Royal Society Trivedi Science Book Prize. He tells us about his book, An Immense World, where he encourages us to think beyond the confines of our fleshy bodies. People experience the world in many different ways. It all comes down to perception. We speak to Professor Fiona Macpherson who, along with neuroscientist Professor Anil Seth, are co-leads of The Perception Census which aims to document the differences. Fiona reveals how this could help shine a light on consciousness and what it means to be human. The census closes at the end of the month and everyone’s welcome. You can take part here:   Presenter:  Marnie Chesterton Producers: Harrison Lewis and Alice Lipscombe-Southwell Editor: Richard Collings Production Co-ordinator: Jana Bennett-Holesworth BBC Inside Science is produced in collaboration with the Open University.
Published 11/09
Life beyond Earth
Under the mighty radio Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank, Victoria Gill brings together some of the UK’s leading experts who were visiting the recent ‘bluedot’ science and music festival. They discussed the ongoing hunt for extraterrestrial life. We hear from Karen Olsson-Francis, a microbiologist who focuses on the tiny living things that have managed to occupy Earth's most hostile environments. Her research is helping shape space missions that are looking for evidence of life elsewhere in our solar system. Also on the panel is Libby Jackson, head of space exploration at the UK Space Agency, who specialises in preparing humans for the extremes of interplanetary travel. Finally, we hear from Tim O'Brien, associate director of the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics. He’s explored parts of the Universe that no human can travel to by making the most of the radio telescopes based at Jodrell Bank. Get the latest ‘inside’ scoop on how the UK is assisting with the search for life beyond Earth. Presenter:  Victoria Gill Producers:  Alice Lipscombe-Southwell, Harrison Lewis Editor: Richard Collings Production Co-ordinator: Jana Bennett-Holesworth BBC Inside Science is produced in collaboration with the Open University.
Published 11/02
The state of nature in the UK
In this week’s episode Victoria Gill speaks to Nida al-Fulaij, conservation research manager at the People’s Trust for Endangered Species, about the UK’s new State of Nature report. Climate change, habitat loss and intensive agricultural practices have been blamed for the decline in species. But all is not lost. Victoria pays a visit to an eco-friendly farm and finds out how innovative agricultural practices can boost wildlife in the UK’s fields. We’re kicking off our series of programmes covering The Royal Society Trivedi Science Book Prize. Chair of the judges is Alain Goriely, Professor of Mathematical Modelling at the University of Oxford. He gives us a rundown of this year’s shortlisted entries. This week, scientists at CERN in Switzerland announced they have observed how antimatter behaves in the presence of gravity. Particle physicist Jeffrey Hangst, who led the Alpha experiment, tells us why this is a big deal. We also have the latest on OSIRIS-REx mission, the first NASA mission to return a sample of an asteroid to Earth. The capsule parachuted down into the Utah desert this week. It contained a precious cargo of rock and dust samples taken from an asteroid named Bennu. Jon Amos, the BBC’s science correspondent is in Utah and witnessed the return. He tells Victoria all about it. BBC Inside Science is produced in collaboration with the Open University.Presenter:  Victoria Gill Producers: Hannah Robins, Harrison Lewis, Alice Lipscombe-Southwell Editor: Richard Collings    Production Co-ordinator: Jana Bennett-Holesworth
Published 10/26
Why is Prime Minister Rishi Sunak rowing back on climate pledges?
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak gave a hastily arranged press conference this week in which he confirmed he would be rowing back on some previously made government commitments regarding net zero - the point at which we remove as much carbon from the atmosphere as we put in. The reaction has been mixed, ranging from endorsements from fellow politicians in the Conservative Party to criticism from opposition parties and environmental groups. The business community is also split. So why has Mr Sunak changed his policies on climate change - and why now? Gaia Vince speaks to Ian Dunt, editor of We hear about an astonishing finding by archaeologists who have discovered expertly manufactured interlocking wooden structural parts that are half a million years old. What do they tell us about our early human ancestors in Africa? Gaia speaks to Professor of Archaeology Laurence Barham and Professor of Geography Geoff Duller about their extraordinary discovery. Approximately two billion tonnes of dust is lifted into the Earth’s atmosphere each year and it is both dangerous to human life and essential to the oxidisation of our oceans and rivers. We relentlessly attempt to rid our homes of dust but it always seems to come back. Why do we hardly ever discuss dust? A new book by Jay Owens, ‘Dust: The Modern World in a Trillion Particles’ does just that. Jay talks to Gaia about why we should we be as fascinated as she is by tiny airborne particles. As we emit CO2 into the atmosphere, a significant amount - around a third - is taken in by the oceans. With growing interest in carbon removal interventions, ocean scientist Dr David T. Ho tells Gaia about undertaking an exciting experiment. Listen to this bonus content in the podcast. Presenter: Gaia Vince Producers: Laura Northedge and Emily Bird Research: Patrick Hughes Production co-ordinator: Jana Bennett-Holesworth Editor: Richard Collings
Published 10/19
The halfway point for sustainable development
In 2015 the UN adopted 17 sustainable development goals aiming to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure people everywhere enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030. Ahead of a summit next week in New York marking the half way point, presenter Gaia Vince speaks to Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh, and Olive Heffernan, a science author and journalist focused on oceans and climate to find out how the world is doing.In July, a new chair was elected to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which is the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change. Professor Jim Skea is a leading figure in the global push to decarbonise, adapt and innovate our way to net zero, and previously led Scotland’s Just Transition Commission. He speaks to Gaia about his new role and the importance of the IPCC.And this week we mark the death of renowned embryologist Professor Sir Ian Wilmut, who led the team that created Dolly the sheep in 1996. Gaia is joined by Roger Highfield, Science Director of the Science Museum Group, to discuss the scientific and cultural impact of the world’s first cloned mammal from an adult animal cell. Presenter: Gaia Vince Producers: Laura Northedge, Hannah Robins, Alice Lipscombe-Southwell and Emily Bird. Research: Patrick Hughes
Published 10/12
What’s the cost of invasive species?
Humans have introduced more than 37,000 alien species to places they do not naturally occur. A report launched this week by the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services revealed the shocking extent of the damage. Gaia Vince speaks to one of the report’s chairs, Helen Roy. Also this week, the UK has now rejoined Horizon Europe, the EU’s £85bn flagship research funding programme. Gaia caught up with the Royal Society’s vice-president Linda Partridge to find out what this means. Early this week, the Indian space agency, ISRO, launched its solar mission to study space weather. But in addition, its lunar mission, Chandrayaan-3, also powered down. Gaia speaks to Mahesh Anand, a planetary scientist at the Open University, to find out more about India’s space ambitions. Meanwhile, here on Earth, many of us have been sweltering in heatwave conditions and communicating weather dangers have become a key focus for forecasters. Helen Roberts, the Met Office’s first ever sociometeorologist, explores how cognitive biases affect our responses to warnings. Presenter: Gaia Vince Producers: Hannah Robins, Laura Northedge, Alice Lipscombe-Southwell Research: Patrick Hughes Editor: Martin Smith
Published 10/05
How will climate change affect where we can live?
Extreme weather is forcing communities to leave their homes and it's becoming a bigger and bigger issue. What can we do about it? In this edition of BBC Inside Science, Gaia Vince and her guests discuss what climate displacement means for people all over the world. We hear from Diwigdi Valiente, a member of the Guna Yala people of the San Blas Islands in Panama, where whole communities have already begun to evacuate. Closer to home the experts consider the impact of rising sea levels on British coastal communities. Guests are: Richard Betts, head of climate impacts at the UK Met Office and a professor at the University of Exeter; Lucy Easthope, professor in practice of risk and hazard at the University of Durham and a leading adviser on emergency planning and disaster recovery; Professor Guillermo Rein, an expert in fire science at Imperial College London; and Michael Szoenyi, head of flood resilience at Zurich Insurance. He explains why climate change has become such an important factor for business and individuals planning for the future – and why it’s essential we don’t leave big decisions about where we should live to the last minute. Presenter: Gaia Vince Producer: Clem Hitchcock Content Producer: Alice Lipscombe-Southwell Editor: Richard Collings
Published 09/28
What makes a healthy river?
River health has captured the public imagination, particularly as overspills from sewers have been getting more attention in the media. But the condition of a river is so much more complicated than what flows into it from our water treatment systems. Agriculture, roads, how we use our drains, what we buy and even the medicines and drugs we take can all have an impact on our rivers and the plants and animals that call them home. So how are UK rivers doing? And what needs to happen to help those waterways that are drowning in pollution? Joining the BBC's Marnie Chesterton on stage at Green Man Festival in Wales to discuss all this is: Dave Johnston, team leader of environmental reporting at Natural Resources Wales, whose responsibility it is to monitor Welsh rivers. Joanne Cable, head of organisms and environment division at Cardiff University, whose focus is on biodiversity and what we at home can do to support our rivers. Simon Evans, chief executive of The Wye and Usk Foundation, who runs citizen science projects to support these two rivers local to the festival. Christian Dunn, wetland biologist at Bangor University, who is keen to explain the power of wetlands and has also done some surprising research into the river near Glastonbury Festival. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producers: Harrison Lewis and Hannah Robins Research: Liam Collins-Jones Studio Managers: Mike Cox and Duncan Hannant Editor: Richard Collings
Published 09/21
Why do we want to go back to the Moon?
Two plucky spacecraft, one Russian and one Indian, are currently blasting towards the Moon’s South Pole. Both Russia’s Luna-25 and India’s Chandrayaan-3 are due to touch down next week. They’re heading to that particular region of the Moon in order to hunt for water, the presence of which could have huge implications for our further exploration of the Solar System. Victoria Gill talks to Dr Becky Smethurst, an astrophysicist at the University of Oxford, to find out more. Victoria then heads to the Lake District to witness the release of water voles into the ecosystem. Next up, Professor Lewis Griffin, a computer scientist from University College London, tells us how bad we are at distinguishing between real and deepfake voices. He then reveals what implications this might have for scams. Finally, Dr Helen Pilcher tells us all about the intriguing ways that animals can bend time. You can find out more in her book, How Nature Keeps Time. Presenter: Victoria Gill Producer: Hannah Robins Content producer: Alice Lipscombe-Southwell Research: Patrick Hughes Editor: Richard Collings
Published 09/14