Science in Action

Science in Action Podcast

The BBC brings you all the week's science news.

Are children the biggest Covid-19 spreaders?
An analysis of Covid-19 data from South India shows children more than any other group are transmitting the virus both to other children and adults, Epidemiologist Ramanan Laxminarayan tell us the data also shows the situations in which the virus is most likely to spread, public transport is of particular concern. The WHO has launched an initiative to roll out rapid testing, particularly to countries that don’t have access to lab based tests, Catharina Boehme who leads one of the WHO’s partner organisatio...

Why Covid -19 vaccines may not stop transmission
While vaccines against Covid -19 are being developed at unprecedented speed, none of them have been tested to see if they can actually stop transmission of the virus. They are designed to stop those who are vaccinated from developing Covid -19 disease, but not becoming infected. This says Virologist Malik Peiris from Hong Kong University means while vaccinated people themselves may be protected they might also spread the virus. Cells produced in the bone marrow may be responsible for an extreme immune r...

Malaria resistance breakthrough
Some East Africans have a genetic mutation which gives them resistance to Malaria. Investigations into how it works have produced a surprising finding. As researcher Silvia Kariuki explains it’s all to do with the surface tension of the red blood cells. SARS-CoV- 2 can pass from people in the very early stages of Covid -19, before they show symptoms. New research shows identifying cases at this early stage is crucial to controlling the pandemic. And yet most testing regimes require symptoms to show before ...


Monitoring Covid-19, harvests and space junk
Roland Pease reports from the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting in Seattle. At the UK Research and Innovation’s stand in the exhibition hall, he’s joined by three scientists to discuss monitoring the Coronavirus outbreak, the locusts devastating crops in East Africa and the ever increasing amount of space junk orbiting the Earth. Professor Jeffrey Shaman of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University talks about how he is modelling the movement of Covid-19...

Covid -19 science versus politics
With the announcement in the UK of investment in rapid testing for people who may not have Covid -19 we ask why is this only happening now? For months on this programme we’ve featured scientific research suggesting such a strategy would be the quickest way to end the pandemic. We speak with Connie Cepko and Brian Rabe who have developed a rapid test and Manu Prakash who is currently rolling it out to countries in the global south. Could a huge motorcycle rally really have been the source of over a quart...

Nyiragongo - is Goma under threat?
A new survey of the volcano's activity suggests there may be an eruption in the next 4 to 7 years. It's a particular concern for the populations of Goma and Gisenyi, two cites between the volcano and lake Kivu. As we hear from the director of the Goma Volcano Observatory Katcho Karume, the city of Goma in particular has expanded so much that many people now live right next to fissures in the flank of the volcano through which any eruption would likely occur. Hurricane Laura made landfall in Louisiana's ma...


Covid-19 therapy controversy
This week Science in Action examines the evidence around the Trump Administration’s emergency use authorisation of convalescent plasma therapy for the treatment of Covid-19. Donald Trump described its US-wide roll-out as ‘historic’ but the majority of scientists and doctors disagree, questioning the scientific basis for the government’s decision. Roland Pease talks to Mayo Clinic’s Michael Joyner, the leader of the convalescent plasma therapy study on which the action was based. The Mayo Clinic trial invo...

Trouble in Greenland
Has the loss from Greenland’s vast ice sheet reached a tipping point? According to glaciologist Michalea King, the rate at which its ice flows into the sea stepped up about 15 years ago. The process of glacial retreat is outpacing the accumulation snow and ice in Greenland’s interior and the loss of Greenland’s ice to the Ocean is set to continue for many years to come. An international study of past climate changes during the last ice age reveals how fast changes to weather patterns and climate state...

Putin’s Covid-19 vaccine
Russia’s President Putin announced the registration of a vaccine for coronavirus. This was reported with widespread alarm amid concerns over safety, but as BBC Russian Service’s Sergei Goryashko, tells us the announcement was a political move to capture the headlines. Investigations by Alexandra Reynolds and Hooman Poor at New York’s Mount Sinai Medical Centre have revealed why some Covid 19 patients have low oxygen levels, but don’t have breathing difficulties. The answer came when looking for signs of st...


Counting the heat health threat from climate change
If the world does not curb its greenhouse gas emissions, by the end of this century, the number of people dying annually because of extreme heat will be greater than the current global death toll from infectious diseases - that’s all infectiousness diseases, from malaria to diarrhoeal diseases to HIV. This is the grim assessment of climate researchers and economists of the Climate Impact Lab in the largest global study to date of health and financial impacts of temperature-related deaths. Roland Pease t...

NASA rover heads for Mars ancient lake
NASA launches its new robotic mission to Mars. The rover, Perseverance, will land in a 50 kilometre wide crater which looks like it was filled by a lake about 4 billion years ago – the time when life on Earth was getting started. Mission scientist Melissa Rice explains why this is one of the most promising places on Mars to continue the search for past life on the red planet. Japanese and US scientists have revived microbes that have been buried at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean for 100 million years. ...

NASA rover heads for Mars ancient lake
NASA launches its new robotic mission to Mars. The rover, Perseverance, will land in a 50 kilometre wide crater which looks like it was filled by a lake about 4 billion years ago – the time when life on Earth was getting started. Mission scientist Melissa Rice explains why this is one of the most promising places on Mars to continue the search for past life on the red planet. Japanese and US scientists have revived microbes that have been buried at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean for 100 million years. ...


Making a Covid-19 vaccine for two billion people
There’s been encouraging news about the Oxford Covid-19 vaccine this week from a trial involving about 1,000 people. But how great is the challenge in scaling up from making a few thousand doses of the vaccine to manufacturing two billion by the end of this year? Sandy Douglas of Oxford’s Jenner Institute explains how they plan to mass-produce the vaccine safely given the speed and magnitude of the scale up. A new kind of treatment for Covid-19 may come from an unlikely source: llamas and alpacas, the ...

How long do Covid-19 antibodies last?
Science in Action looks at some of the latest research on the response of our immune system to infection by the coronavirus. Researchers at Kings College London find that protective antibodies appear to fade away after about three months following infection whereas a team at the Karolinska Institute has discovered that although antibodies may decline, other important players called T cells in our defences do not. Doctors Katie Doores and Marcus Buggert talk about the implications of these discoveries for th...

Rwanda’s game changing coronavirus test
African scientists have developed a reliable, quick and cheap testing method which could be used by worldwide as the basis for mass testing programmes. The method, which produces highly accurate results, is built around mathematical algorithms developed at the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences in Kigali. We speak to Neil Turok who founded the institute, Leon Mutesa Professor of human genetics on the government coronavirus task force, and Wilfred Ndifon, the mathematical biologist who devised the ...


Covid -19 and Children
Studies in Children who have been severely affected by Covid 19 in Italy, Britain and the US are showing the same thing – a range of symptoms linked to an overactive immune system. Elizabeth Whittaker from London’s Imperial College discusses the similarities in these cases and possible reasons for this syndrome with Shanna Kowalsky from Mount Sinai hospital in New York. How much should drugs for Covid 19 cost? Remdesivir which has shown promise against the virus has been priced at over $2000 for a course...

Record high temperatures – in the Arctic
A record summer temperature in Siberia is an indication of major changes in the Arctic climate. Changing weather patterns there have a knock on effect for other parts of the planet says Climatologist Steve Vavrus Chile appeared to get Covid-19 under control, but in reality the virus was spreading uncontrollably through poor areas, As we hear from our correspondent in Santiago Jane Chambers, the lockdown has tightened but cases continue to rise. And could mass testing using new saliva tests help control or...

Covid -19 hope for severe cases
A multi arm trial testing a range of drugs has shown that readily available steroids can be lifesaving for people severely ill with Covid-19. Max Parmar, head of the UK Medical Research Council’s clinical trials unit says the trial design, where many potential drugs can be tested against the same controls, is key to producing results quickly. As it spreads around the world SARS-CoV-2 is mutating. But what does this mean? These mutations are part of a natural process and some researchers are finding they ...


Food security, locusts and Covid -19
Despite the Covid-19 pandemic efforts to counter massive swarms of locusts across East Africa have continued. In many places this has been very effective, killing up to 90% of locusts. However, the threat of repeated waves of locusts remains says Cyril Ferrand, who leads the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation's Resilience Team in East Africa. Conversely West Africa is unaffected by locusts and with a block on imports local producers have seen demand grow for their produce, an unusual positive effect from...

The medical complexity of Covid -19
Autopsies show Covid 19 can affect the brain and other organs. Pathologist Mary Fowkes from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai found the signs of stroke - unusually in young people, as well as a disruption of the immune system throughout the body. And studies of heart stem cells show these can be killed by the virus. Cell Biologist Stefanie Dimmeler from the University of Frankfurt says this finding could prove useful in providing treatment and preventative medicine. A massive research project in...

Brazil’s Covid chaos
The number of cases of Covid -19 infections in Brazil and deaths related to the pandemic may be much higher than official figures show. Testing of the living is not widespread and there are few resources for analysing the potential role of the virus as a cause of death. Virologist Fernando Spiliki gives us his bleak assessment. A remarkable study from South Africa shows just how easily the virus can spread around a hospital, with a single infected person infecting many. However the route of infection is no...


Covid-19 vaccines
There are more than 100 different Covid-19 vaccine trials currently going on. We look at which seem to be the most promising with Helen Branswell from Stat News. And we examine a very old idea, using antibodies from one virus – in this case Sars, to counter another virus Sars-CoV-2 , which causes Covid-19. Davide Corti from Vir Biotechnology says a version of these antibodies offers potential for both vaccination and treatment. Race and Covid-19, there seems to be a link between ethnicity and susceptib...

Loosening lockdown
How is Covid -19 spread? Who is most at risk and what are the circumstances under which it is most likely to be transmitted? These questions need answers for the implementation of effective and safe strategies to end lockdown. We look at what research is showing. And if you have to go back to work what’s the best way to protect yourself, how should we be using face coverings for example? There are lessons from research on fluid dynamics. Also key is reducing the rate of infection, the R number, Italy rel...

Covid -19 new hope from blood tests
Research from New York examining the blood of people who have recovered from Covid – 19 shows the majority have produced antibodies against the disease, The researchers hope to soon be able to establish whether this confers long term immunity as with more common viral infections. And Research in Berlin and London has identified biomarkers, minute signs of the disease which may help clinicians identify who is likely to develop severe symptoms and what kind of treatment they might need. Mutations have been...


Ebola drug offers hope for Covid-19
Remdesivir a drug eventually rejected as a treatment for Ebola seems to have aided recovery in a trial with more than a thousand Covid -19 patients. Researchers are cautious but hopeful; a leading health official in the US has made comparisons with the impact of game changing drugs used to treat HIV. In contrast an organisation researching the mechanisms by which bat coronaviruses infect humans has had its funding cut following criticism from President Trump. A scheme to help manufacture ventilators and ...

Presidents and pandemics
President Trump has repeated unfounded claims that scientists created Covid-19 in a lab. Rigorous scrutiny of the genetics of the virus reveals no evidence for such a claim. And Brazil’s President Bolsonaro is at odds with his own health advisors – splitting public opinion and action over lockdown measures needed to control the virus. We also look at why Covid -19 seems to be associated with so many different symptoms, from diarrheal infections to complicating kidney disease, to heart attacks And some...

Italy, getting Covid-19 under control
Italy is beginning its first tentative steps towards ending its lockdown. These are small steps, opening a few shops in areas where virus transmission has seen big falls. Part of the reason for this controlled strategy is that there are real concerns over a potential resurgence of the virus, Around the world there are now hundreds of trials on drug treatments for Covid-19. Results so far are mixed, with antivirals developed for Ebola and HIV showing positive signs, but antimalarial drugs, championed by Pr...


Covid 19 - the threat to refugees
Massively over crowded Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos has seen numbers grow from 5 to 20 thousand in a matter of months. Hundreds of people share taps and toilets, there is little chance to implement measures designed to stop the spread of covid 19. So far the camp has not been hit by the epidemic, but aid agencies fear for the most vulnerable in the camp. Covid 19 jumped from bats to humans, possibly via another wild animal. A study of zoonotic diseases has identified many other viruses...

Covid 19 – The fightback in Africa begins
Nigeria has seen a small number of Covid -19 cases, largely spread amongst the most affluent, people who travel abroad, However there is concern about the potential of the virus to spread to overcrowded slum areas. In such conditions social distancing measures would be difficult to enforce. What are the alternatives? The US now has the majority of cases of the virus, New York has been heavily hit, medics have developed an app to help understand the spread of Covid 19 in the community. The availability ...

The science of social distancing
The strong social distancing policies introduced by China seem to have been successful in stopping the spread of Covid 19. Without any effective drug treatments, reducing our number of contacts is the most effective way to prevent viral transmission. We also look at the similarities been policies in Russia and the US on how best to deal with the virus. In both cases there are contradictions and disagreements between medical professionals and politicians. And a warning from Polio, how vaccines may create ...


Covid -19, are you carrying the virus?
In Italy the entire population of a small town was tested for Covid 19. Of those infected, one in three people with no symptoms had the virus. And from China researchers found many people carried the virus – even before authorities there began tracking its spread. The findings suggest vulnerable people may contract the virus from those without symptoms. And we’ve news of a breakthrough - new tests looking at Covid 19 antibodies, These should help provide a picture of developing immunity to the virus. Ho...

Covid -19 how infectious is it really?
Covid- 19 cases seem to be multiplying daily and there is now a growing body of scientific evidence both on its spread and the effectiveness of measures to try and control it. We look at what’s working, what’s not and why. And we look to the potential for coronavirus drug treatments, why despite the hype there really isn’t anything round the corner. Australia’s recent fire season was intense; a new study looks back over 500 years of the weather pattern partly responsible, the Indian Ocean Dipole. The fin...

Covid -19 how infectious is it really?
Covid- 19 cases seem to be multiplying daily and there is now a growing body of scientific evidence both on its spread and the effectiveness of measures to try and control it. We look at what’s working, what’s not and why. And we look to the potential for coronavirus drug treatments, why despite the hype there really isn’t anything round the corner. Australia’s recent fire season was intense; a new study looks back over 500 years of the weather pattern partly responsible, the Indian Ocean Dipole. The fin...


Australia’s fires - fuelled by climate change
Attributing Australia's bush fires, a major study says man-made climate change was a big driver – making the fires at least 30% worse than they would have been if natural processes were the only factors. We look at preparations for coronavirus in Africa. Although cases there are currently lower than in much of the rest of the world a major training initiative is taking place to spread awareness amongst medics across the continent. We ask why Horseshoe bats in particular carry coronaviruses, and find a nov...

Tracking coronavirus spread
The appearance of Covid -19 in Italy and Iran surprised many this week. As the virus continues to spread we look at ways to contain it. Australia’s fires have burnt around 20 percent of the countries woodlands, what are the implications for the recovery of those ecosystems? And what is the link between the world’s super rich and deforestation? Unsurprisingly it’s money. And we hear about the unexpected cooling effects of hydroelectric dams. (Image: Tourists wearing masks tour outside the Coliseum in Ro...

Monitoring Covid-19, harvests and space junk
Roland Pease reports from the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting in Seattle. At the UK Research and Innovation’s stand in the exhibition hall, he’s joined by three scientists to discuss monitoring the Coronavirus outbreak, the locusts devastating crops in East Africa and the ever increasing amount of space junk orbiting the Earth. Professor Jeffrey Shaman of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University talks about how he is modelling the movement of Covid-19...


CoVid-19: Mapping the outbreak
Researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical medicine have developed an online map which presents the latest information on the spread of CoVid-19 and allows anyone to follow the outbreak and compare this data with the spread of Ebola and SARS. See the weblink from this page to try it for yourself. And the coming together of microbiology and big data science has led to the development of a portable device able to spot antibiotic resistant bacteria. This should help with more precise drug target...

Coronavirus, prospects for treatment?
Doctors in the US have treated a coronavirus patient with a drug developed for Ebola. That drug had never been tested on people so its use here seems an extreme move. We look at why this kind of drug developed for one virus might work on another. It’s all down to the genetic material at the centre of the virus. That raises safety concerns as human cells contain similar material. East Africa is experiencing a plague of locusts and bizarrely it’s linked to the Australian wildfires. A weather pattern across t...

Understanding the new coronavirus
Parts of China are on lockdown, a small number of cases have been reported in other countries and the past week has brought widely conflicting views on the potential danger presented by the new virus. We look at the scientific facts, analyse why it’s so difficult to predict the spread of the virus, look at the nature of virus infection and discuss why treatments such as vaccines are not available. We look at why some viruses can jump from animals to humans and examine hi-tech solutions designed to speed u...


New Coronavirus
The way in which a new virus has emerged in China is reminiscent of SARS, a highly infectious virus that spread rapidly. It’s so similar that Health officials demanded action as soon as its existence became known. And the Chinese authorities and global medical community have acted to try and stop the spread. Events were still developing, even as we were in the studio making this programme, new reports of suspected cases were coming in. The WHO was yet to give its view on the severity of the outbreak. This...

Mount Taal volcano
An experimental satellite called Aeolus, named after a Greek god of wind, which takes daily global measurements of the wind patterns throughout the depth of atmosphere has improved weather forecasts. ESA’s Anne-Greta Straume explains how it works. The dramatic eruption of the island volcano Taal in the Philippines was a spectacular picture of the plume of ejecta punching a hole in overlying cloud cover. Nearby towns have been blanketed with dust, fissures have appeared in the ground and there has been dra...

Australia’s extreme fire season
2019 was Australia’s hottest year on record, a major factor behind the bush fires which have been far worse than usual. We look at the patterns of extreme weather that have contributed to the fires but are also linked to floods in Africa. And the way in which thunderstorms have helped to spread the fires. The armpit of Orion is changing. The star Betelgeuse is dimming some claim this is readying it for a major explosion others are more sceptical, we weight up the arguments. And an Iron Age brain may ho...


Adapting California
Roland Pease is joined by California based science Journalist Molly Bentley as we examine the impact of earthquakes and fires. California has experienced both in the last year - What’s it like to live with a constant threat from these extreme events? We also take a look at NASA’s plans for a new mission to Mars – to look for signs on life. Picture: Roland Pease with science journalist Molly Bentley, Credit: BBC...

Gaming climate change
The latest round of climate negotiations, COP25, have ended without agreement on many fundamental issues. We join researchers from Perdue University in the US who have developed a role-playing game to encourage climate negotiators and others to take a long-term view. Key to this research project is the concept of tipping points, where an environment changes irreversibly from one state to another. This is accompanied by the loss of ecosystems - for example, the widespread melting of Arctic sea ice, rainfores...

Understanding the Anak Krakatau eruption
We have the latest from a year long investigation into the causes of the December 2018 Indonesian Tsunami. And we get a look at the first pictures from the Mayotte undersea volcano, which emerged earlier this year off the coast of East Africa. (Anak Krakatau volcano. Credit: AFP/Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle...


White Island volcano eruption
This week’s programme comes from the world’s largest earth sciences conference, the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. Roland Pease talks with Diana Roman of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington DC about the tragic White Island volcanic eruption in which at least eight tourists died. Aurora Elmore of National Geographic and Arbindra Khadka of Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu Nepal discuss the state of Himalayan glaciers and climate change. Robert Hazen of the Carnegie Instituti...

CRISPR babies scandal – more details
Extracts from unpublished papers on the methods used by a Chinese scientist to genetically modify the embryos of two girls reveal a series of potentially dangerous problems with the procedure and ethical shortcomings. We look at the mechanism behind the formation of our facial features and how this is linked to our evolution, scrutinise the impact of current emissions on global climates and see why lithium, used in batteries and medicines, is now a potentially widespread pollutant. (Photo: He Jiankui, Ch...

New malaria target
Molecular scale investigations have identified the mechanism which confers resistance to antimalarial drugs. Researchers hope work to turn off this mechanism could mean cheaper well known antimalarials can become effective once again. We look at the threat to weather forecasting from 5G networks, discuss the origins of much of the technology in our mobile phones and ask what food we’ll be eating in the future and how the past can inform this. Image: Mosquito. Science Photo Library Presenter: Roland Pe...


New malaria target
Molecular scale investigations have identified the mechanism which confers resistance to antimalarial drugs. Researchers hope work to turn off this mechanism could mean cheaper well known antimalarials can become effective once again. We look at the threat to weather forecasting from 5G networks, discuss the origins of much of the technology in our mobile phones and ask what food we’ll be eating in the future and how the past can inform this. Image: Mosquito. Science Photo Library Presenter: Roland Pe...

Politics and Amazonia’s fires
This year’s Amazon fires have been worse than since 2010, scientists blame a government attitude which they say has encouraged deforestation. Government funded scientists have contributed anonymously to the finding – fearing for their jobs. Food crops and fungus are not normally seen as compatible, but a mutually beneficial relationship between these organisms may help reduce the need for chemical fertilisers and combat climate change. Hayabusa 2, the Japanese space mission is returning to earth after i...

Politics and Amazonia’s fires
This year’s Amazon fires have been worse than since 2010, scientists blame a government attitude which they say has encouraged deforestation. Government funded scientists have contributed anonymously to the finding – fearing for their jobs. Food crops and fungus are not normally seen as compatible, but a mutually beneficial relationship between these organisms may help reduce the need for chemical fertilisers and combat climate change. Hayabusa 2, the Japanese space mission is returning to earth after i...


Australia burning
Australia’s annual wild fires have started early this year, drought is a factor but to what extent is ‘Bush fire weather’ influenced by climate change? A two million year old fossil tooth reveals some biological answers to who its owner was. Why Climate change may have killed off the world’s first superpower And a hologram produced from sound waves. (Image: Firefighters tackle a bushfire to save a home in Taree, Australia. Credit Peter Parks/AFP via Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: ...

Australia burning
Australia’s annual wild fires have started early this year, drought is a factor but to what extent is ‘Bush fire weather’ influenced by climate change? A two million year old fossil tooth reveals some biological answers to who its owner was. Why Climate change may have killed off the world’s first superpower And a hologram produced from sound waves. (Image: Firefighters tackle a bushfire to save a home in Taree, Australia. Credit Peter Parks/AFP via Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: ...

Climate in crisis
Pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are largely unachievable says a major audit of commitments to the Paris Climate Accord. Air pollution in Delhi is so bad, breathing the toxic particles has been likened to smoking. Can a scientific assessment of the multiple causes help provide a way forward? We examine a new way of making new plastic – from old plastic. And why sending some stem cells to the international space station might help astronauts travel further. (Image: Tourists wearing masks to...


Climate in crisis
Pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are largely unachievable says a major audit of commitments to the Paris Climate Accord. Air pollution in Delhi is so bad, breathing the toxic particles has been likened to smoking. Can a scientific assessment of the multiple causes help provide a way forward? We examine a new way of making new plastic – from old plastic. And why sending some stem cells to the international space station might help astronauts travel further. (Image: Tourists wearing masks to...

Wildfires and winds in California
The Santa Ana in the south, and the Diablo in the north, are winds that are fuelling the terrible fires raging in California this week. They’re also blamed for bringing down power lines that sometimes start the fires. Roland Pease talks to Janice Coen of the National Center for Atmospheric Research NCAR who has been developing a highly detailed model to forecast how wind, mountains, and flames interact during a wildfire. The glaring gaps in human genetics are in Africa – much overlooked because the compani...

Is quantum supremacy ‘garbage’?
A quantum computer has performed a calculation considered impossible for conventional computers, but how meaningful is the result? As our guest reveals, this quantum state can be hugely significant and garbage – at the same time. Also we look at a new method of gene editing, which avoids cutting up DNA, get to grips with where the worlds worms live and watch elements being created in distant solar collisions. (Photo: A quantum circuit from Google's Sycamore computer. Credit: Google) Presenter: Rol...


Malaria's origins and a potential new treatment
A variety of malarial parasites have existed amongst the great apes for millennia. How did one of them jump species and why did humans became its preferred host? And from Antarctica we hear about a potential new treatment for malaria found in a deep sea sponge. Also, why improved monitoring is changing our perceptions of earthquakes and the story of an endangered Polynesian snail. Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Julian Siddle (Photo: Gorilla. Credit: Hermes Images/AGF/Universal Images Group via Getty ...

From batteries to distant worlds
Nobel prizes this week went to a range of discoveries that you might be familiar with, in fact you might be using one of them right now – the lithium ion battery. The scientists credited with its Invention got the chemistry prize. And the tantalising prospect of life on other planets plays into the physics prize win. And we also see what salamanders have to offer in the treatment of arthritis (Picture: Illustration of the Earth-like exoplanet Kepler-452b and its parent star Kepler-452. Credit: NASA/Ames...

Drought likely to follow India’s floods
India has experienced some of the worse monsoon weather in years, but despite the extreme rainfall climate models suggest a drought may be on the way, with higher than average temperatures predicted for the months following the monsoon season. We also hear warnings over the state of the world’s aquifers, with water levels in many places already low enough to affect ecosystems. We examine the consequences of two historic eruptions. How Indonesian volcano Tambora changed global weather and why papyrus scrol...


Drought likely to follow India’s floods
India has experienced some of the worse monsoon weather in years, but despite the extreme rainfall climate models suggest a drought may be on the way, with higher than average temperatures predicted for the months following the monsoon season. We also hear warnings over the state of the world’s aquifers, with water levels in many places already low enough to affect ecosystems. We examine the consequences of two historic eruptions. How Indonesian volcano Tambora changed global weather and why papyrus scrol...

Global climate inaction
This week’s IPCC report on the state of the world’s climate looks very much like their earlier reports on the subject. The document cautiously expresses a picture of a future with greater climate extremes. Activists are frustrated by the lack of action. We look at why the scientific message is often hampered by politics. Fish could provide micronutrients to the world poor, but as we’ll hear this would need a major shift in commercial fishing practices globally. Baby bottles from thousands of years ago su...

South East Asia choking - again
Staying indoors might seem a good way to avoid air pollution, but scientists studying the fires in Indonesia have found there is little difference between the air quality in their hotel room and the atmosphere outside. Both levels are high enough to be considered dangerous for human health. To add to the problem, fires continue to burn underground in the peaty soil long after they were started. In the Arctic ice melt this summer has been particularly severe, however the picture in complicated by climatic ...


South East Asia choking - again
Staying indoors might seem a good way to avoid air pollution, but scientists studying the fires in Indonesia have found there is little difference between the air quality in their hotel room and the atmosphere outside. Both levels are high enough to be considered dangerous for human health. To add to the problem, fires continue to burn underground in the peaty soil long after they were started. In the Arctic ice melt this summer has been particularly severe, however the picture in complicated by climatic ...

Embryoids from stem cells
Scientists know very little about the first few days of the life of a human embryo, once it's been implanted in the womb. Yet this is when the majority of pregnancies fail. Professor Magdalena Zernika-Goetz at Cambridge University is a leader in the field of making 'model embryos' in both mice and humans. Model embryos until now have been grown in the lab from donated fertilised eggs, but these are hard to come by and governed by strict laws and ethical guidelines. Now researchers in the University of Michi...

New evidence of nuclear reactor explosion
An isotopic fingerprint is reported of a nuclear explosion in Russia last month. Researchers ask people living in the area or nearby to send them samples of dust or soil before the radioactive clues therein decay beyond recognition. Also, a near miss between an ESA satellite and a SpaceX/Starlink module in crowded near space strengthens the case for some sort of international Space Traffic Management treaty, whilst in the arctic circle, melting permafrost is disinterring the graves of long-dead whalers. (P...


Nanotube computer says hello
A computer processor made of carbon nanotubes is unveiled to the world. Also, the continuing quest for nuclear fusion energy, and the stats on crocodile attacks since the 1960s. (The world's first 16 bit microprocessor made of carbon nanotubes. Credit: Max Shulaker)...

Amazonian fires likely to worsen
As fires across the amazon basin continue to burn, we speak to the researchers watching from space and from the ground. Also, new pictures back from the surface of asteroid Ryugu thanks to Germany’s MASCOT lander, part of the Japanese Hyabusa2 mission, give insights into the clay from which the solar system was originally formed, and Greenland’s top geologist gives his valuation of his native island for prospective purchasers. Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Alex Mansfield (Photo: Wildfires in Amazo...

Cracking the case of the Krakatoa volcano collapse
Scientists this week are on expedition around the volcano Anak Krakatoa, which erupted and collapsed in 2018 leading to the loss of some 400 lives on the island of Java. The scientists, including David Tappin and Michael Cassidy, are hoping that their survey of the seafloor and tsunami debris will allow them to piece together the sequence of events, and maybe find signs to look out for in the future. Wyoming Dinosaur trove The BBC got a secret visit to a newly discovered fossil site somewhere in the US wh...


Keeping tabs on nuclear weapons
The US has withdrawn from a historic nuclear disarmament treaty. However the verification of such treaties has been under scrutiny for some time as they don’t actually reveal the size of nuclear stockpiles. New methods of verification and encryption should allow all sides to be more confident on who has what in terms of nuclear stockpiles. Can carbon capture and storage technology help reduce atmospheric Co2 levels? The answer seems to be yes, but at a considerable cost. And we go for a cold swim around ...

The snowball effect of Arctic fires
Wildfires are an annual phenomenon across the arctic region, but this year they are far more intense than usual, we look at the drivers for these extreme fires and the consequences, in particular long term environmental change across the region. We visit Naples which is built on a super volcano. A new analysis is designed to help predict when it might erupt. We hear from young scientists around the world on their hopes for the future and hear about the discovery of a new potentially earth like planet. ...

The human danger – for sharks
A global project tracking sharks through the deep oceans has found they are increasingly facing danger from fishing fleets. Sharks used to be caught accidentally, but now there is a well-established trade in shark meat and fins, which the researchers say is reducing their numbers. We look at how tourists might be a useful source for conservation data, And we meet one of the planets smallest predators, is it a plant is it an animal? Well actually it’s a bit of both. (Photo: Tiger shark. Credit: Barcroft...


The moon landing and another big space anniversary
It’s 50 years since the moon landing and 25 years since Shoemaker - Levy 9 crashed into Jupiter. The Apollo missions returned to earth with cargos of moon rocks and the comet crash showed us what happens when celestial bodies collide. We look at the significance of both this week, and also contemplate a return to the moon. What will the next generation of moonwalking astronauts do there? One thing’s for sure, they’ll be examining moon rocks once more – though this time with a range of scientific tools ...

'Free' water and electricity for the world?
Researchers in Saudi Arabia have developed a prototype solar panel which generates electricity and purifies water at the same time. The device uses waste heat from the electricity generating process to distil water. An individual panel for home use could produce around 4 litres and hour. The researchers suggest use of such panels would help alleviate water shortages. A long running study of gorilla behaviour in the DRC has found they exhibit social traits previously thought to only be present in humans. Th...

Analysing the European heatwave
The recent European heatwave broke records, but how severe was it really and what were the underlying causes? Having run the numbers, climate scientists say global warming played a large part, and makes heatwaves in general more likely. And we look at what seems an incredibly simple idea to counter the effects of global warming – plant more trees, but where and how many? (Photo: People cool themselves down in the fountain of the Trocadero esplanade in Paris. Credit: AFP/Getty Images) Presenter: Roland P...


Is climate change driving Europe’s current heatwave?
As Europe experiences another record breaking heatwave, we look at the science of attribution. Usually it’s a long time after extreme weather events that scientists gather enough data to make a judgement on the influence of anthropogenic forces, such as man-made climate change. However climate experts at a meeting Toulouse France, experiencing the worst of the heatwave, are crunching the data right now, to see if they can quantify the influence of climate change on this heatwave as it happens. Also we f...

Iran’s nuclear plans
Iran’s nuclear programme is at the centre of a political row, with the country suggesting it could increase uranium production to above the levels permitted under an international agreement. We look beyond the rhetoric, discuss Iran’s covert history of nuclear development and ask scientifically what this latest move involves. Fish are no respecter of international borders and when it comes to spawning, research reveals up to $10bn worth of potential fish stocks move between different political territories...

South Asia heatwave and climate change
South Asia has experienced a heatwave where the monsoon has been delayed and temperatures have reached over 50 degrees. Despite this the extreme heat has led to far fewer fatalities than previous heatwaves; we look at why that is. Research into the origins of almonds shows they were domesticated in Asia before spreading worldwide. It’s a bitter sweet story, with sweet varieties being selected over bitter ones. In fact the bitter ones contain poisons which can kill.. As with almonds cannabis as a drug se...


US foetal tissue research ban
The US has withdrawn funding for scientific research involving foetal tissue. Scientists point to the lack of feasible alternatives to using foetal tissue – which comes from embryos donated to scientific research via abortion clinics. They say the move to halt this kind of research will have a negative impact on the ability of US medical institutions to develop new treatments for a range of diseases from diabetes to cancer. More controversy from the ‘Crispr babies ‘ scandal – with a new analysis showing...

The eclipse that made Einstein famous
One hundred years ago, a solar eclipse proved Einstein’s theory of general relativity was onto something. Known as the Eddington expedition, in 1919 two teams of astronomers set forth to witness a total solar eclipse from either side of the Atlantic. The photographs, once developed, showed that the background stars, made visible by the moon shading the sun, appeared to be a tiny bit closer towards the sun’s disc than they normally appeared in the night sky. The triumphal announcement was the first new evide...

The birth of a new volcano
A new undersea volcano has appeared off the coast of East Africa. The sea floor between Madagascar and Mozambique has become increasingly seismically active in the last year. As well as the appearance of this active volcano, local islands are now experiencing frequent earthquakes. The causes of Indonesia's Palu Bay tsunami last year are being examined thanks to social media. Videos taken as the tsunami hit have been analysed to determine wave heights and speeds and suggest possible causes. Scientists at...


The World Wood Web
The World Wood web is a global map of two different types of underground fungi, microscopic organisms living in and around tree roots. The presence of these fungi is a key indicator of the health and variety of above ground life in the forests where they are found. They have key roles in our planets natural carbon cycle and are useful indicators of the impact of climate change and policies to deal with it. Synthetic Biology, new techniques opening the way for designer organisms for use in fields from energ...

Biodiversity in crisis
This week’s UN biodiversity assessment paints a grim picture for species loss worldwide. However scientists are looking at ways to ensure conservation can be done in a way that works with economic development. We focus on examples from Africa. Africa is well known for its conservation work with large animals – but what about peat bogs? Recently discovered in the Congo region is a bog containing 3 times the amount of carbon emitted by the entire world in a year. And from Australia how some farmers are tu...

What is behind the Indian Ocean Cyclones?
First there was cyclone Idai, then cyclone Kenneth and now cyclone Fani. As we go to air Fani is still developing, but the earlier two were unprecedented, occurring in a manner rarely if ever seen before. What is behind these extreme events? We look at the current state of weather patterns in the region and the influence of climate change. And from Tibet a jawbone from an ancient giant provides new insight into the development of humanity. Astronomers join forces to search for evidence of a black hole s...


Turning brain waves into speech
Neuroscientists have recorded the brain activity of patients while talking and used this to develop computer programmes that can simulate speech. The neural activity they monitored is associated with the muscle movements needed to talk and form words rather than the meaning of the words themselves. They say a refined version of the system should be able to generate speech for people who cannot talk. Data collected from a long running study of plankton is proving useful for research into historic ocean p...

The Zombie Pig Brain
What are the ethical concerns behind the so-called “Zombie Pig Brain”? Also, the Crick African Network; Searching for the Californian earthquakes; Neolithic animal husbandry. On Science in Action this week we look at the ethical concerns behind the so-called “Zombie Pigs”. Using a machine called BrainEx a team from Yale University part-revived pig brains hours after they had been removed from the body. The researchers are hoping it could lead to advancements in brain restoration but the NIH Brain Ini...

Black Holes: The heart of darkness
The first EVER picture of a Black Hole has been captured by a network of telescopes, known as the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT). The picture shows a bright ring of fire surrounding a circular dark hole. The Black Hole has been described as a “monster” and is located in the M87 galaxy, 500 million trillion miles from Earth. As remarkable and spectacular as the picture is, it also provides scientists and researchers valuable scientific information about these behemoths of the universe. A team from the Nationa...


The day the dinosaurs died
A remarkable new fossil find shows a record of events in the minutes and the hours that followed the impact of a 10km wide asteroid. The fossils show how plants and animals were thrown up into the atmosphere before crashing down again. Early whales came from India and Pakistan and migrated from Asia to the Americas – but at the time they looked more like dogs or giant otters. A legged fossil find from Peru shows an intermediate stage before they evolved into fully marine mammals. Wood is used extensively...

What are Saturn’s moons made of?
New data revealed from the Cassini mission to Saturn suggests the planets’ tiny moons are made of the same material as its enigmatic rings. Material from the rings is building up around the circumference of the moons - in effect making them grow. Looking into the far reaches of deep space scientists are narrowing down the number of planets they think could be habitable. New developments with space and ground telescopes will give us a chance to examine the chemical signature of earth like exoplanets for te...

Cyclone Idai
It has been called the worst natural disaster on record by the UN. However Cyclone Idai was predicted. What were the factors which contributed to the intensity of this extreme weather event? Fossils from China – a river bed has revealed a number of ancient animals previously unknown to science. And space rocks, news from asteroids Ryugu and Bennu have thrown into question theories on how our own planet formed. We also travel to Antarctica to look at the Thwaites glacier, the state of this mass of ice is...


Volcanic activity in the Comoros Islands
Since last May the Comoros islands in the Indian Ocean have been experiencing earthquake tremors and the island of Mayotte has sunk by more than 10cm. French geologists have set up monitoring equipment on land and the seabed to try to assess the extent of the continuing seismic activity. Our diet influences our language according to a new study on the evolution of the way we bite. Softer foods, eaten more commonly as we developed cooking and agriculture meant our teeth wore in different ways and over tim...

How humans are changing chimpanzee behaviour
The world’s largest study of chimpanzee behaviour has come to the rather negative conclusion that interactions with humans decrease the range of chimpanzee behaviours and may interfere with the way in which chimp parents pass skills to their offspring. Chimps learn skills from swimming to digging for insects with sticks and exhibit a wide range of vocal communications. In environments where they may be living near humans such skills or behaviours are displayed less and may be replaced altogether with more ...

Rising methane levels impact climate change
By the year 2000, methane levels in the atmosphere were thought to have stabilised. But just a few years later, in 2007, these levels suddenly started to rise. Research suggests that the spread of intense farming in Africa may be involved, in particular in tropical regions, where conditions are becoming warmer and wetter because of climate change. The awe-inspiring Japanese Hayabusa 2 space mission achieved another milestone on the other side of the Sun. This remarkable craft touched down on the asteroid...


Race and racism in science teaching
This week’s programme comes from the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual conference, in Washington DC. With over 9,000 attendees it’s the largest gathering of scientists in the world. We look at the issue of race and racism in science. The mapping of the human genome showed there was no significant genetic difference between people around the world. However cultural ideas with a racial dimension continue to influence the way science is taught and hence, many argue, the outcomes of sc...

Detecting earthquakes with Fibre Optics
Los Angeles is famously earthquake prone, but it is also known for its technological advancement, being close to the heart of the computer industry. Seismologists have developed a new system which uses redundant capacity on fibre optic networks across the city to detect earthquakes. Also in the programme the end of Opportunity – the legacy of the Mars Rover designed to have a working life of just 3 months, which continued to explore the Martian surface for 14 years. And we look at fish and coral. How ...

Why Speed Matters in Earthquakes
Last September’s earthquake in Indonesia hit the Sulawesi city Palu and caused a tsunami – yet conventional analysis suggests it simply wasn’t powerful enough to cause the damage it did. A new analysis shows that the quake was fast, about 4 times the speed of sound and unusually wasn’t slowed down by the objects in its way. The narrow shape of the Palu bay also contributed to the tsunami, amplifying its effects. Researchers in France and Australia have taught honey bees to do simple addition and subtractio...


Brazil’s Mining Disaster
A ‘tailings dam’ collapse in Brazil has killed many people, burying them alive. We ask why and how such dangerous structures are built and discuss the humanitarian and environmental risk they pose. Denisovans, a Siberian cave is revealing more about this early human species, a range of dating techniques show evidence that ancient tools and jewellery found there go back to the era before modern humans dominated the earth. And going back further, 550 million years to a moment in time when the earth’s magn...

A Path to Malaria Eradication
Through a country wide programme involving education, drug treatment and the mass distribution of bednets and insecticides, Zambia has reduced malaria infections by 96 percent. However getting down to zero is proving elusive. We look at how mosquitos have adapted to thwart efforts and how visitors to Zambia might now be part of the problem. And we learn how new information from the human genome is challenging widely held views on older mothers. The study shows that genetic mutations are more likely to be ...

Is 2018 the Warmest Year on Record?
Is 2018 the warmest year on record? We look at the evidence behind that claim. What part do the global oceans play in regulating the planets temperatures and what are the prospects for future extreme weather. We look at how climate change is ocean systems affecting storms and ocean waves, and the implications this could have for those of us living in coastal regions. And wild coffee species are facing extinction. This could affect commercial production of the coffee we drink. However rediscovering the co...


Trump’s Hubble Trouble
As federal employees many US scientists have been affected by the US government shutdown. They are not being paid, can’t talk about their work or go to scientific conferences. We look at how this US political stand-off is affecting scientific research. One of the casualties is the Hubble space telescope, in need of repairs, which cannot start until its federal employed engineers can get back to work. Meanwhile, in Antarctica a US led team have extracted microbes, water and rock samples from a subglacial ...

Beyond the Planets
It has been years in the planning and involved a tiny window of opportunity. Nasa’s New Horizons mission launched in 2006 has reached its far flung destination, a couple of outer space snowballs known as Ultima Thule. The mission aims to shed light on the formation of our solar system. And just days later an unmanned Chinese mission has landed on the moon, on the far side, they’ll be examining rocks and also seeing if simple plants and animals survive in a biosphere there. We also look at the Indonesian...

A Year of Space Firsts
The Parker Solar Probe has flown nearer to the sun than any other mission. The probe is now sending back data on the behaviour of electromagnetic waves emitted from the coronal mass. Fluctuations in these waves can lead to solar flares ,which in turn can have a huge impact on earth, including the potential to knock out global communications. The Japanese space agency’s Hayabusa mission successfully landed two robots on an asteroid 4 years away from earth. Next year the mission will return to mine rock samp...


Is This Fungus the World’s Biggest Organism?
The ‘Humungous Fungus’ is older and bigger than previously thought. This enormous honey fungus has been revisited and reanalysed using scientific techniques that had yet to be invented when it was first discovered in the 1980s. Genomic analysis and GPS show how far the fungus has spread, and surprisingly how little genetic variance it has developed in its long lifespan. The fungus is now thought to be at least 2,500 years old. Researchers say understanding why it lacks genetic mutation might be useful in u...

Mega Microbes
Investigations beneath our deep oceans have revealed an immense variety of incredibly hardy microbial life. Investigators even found life after drilling 2.5 km into the rock beneath the oceans. They found microbes that can resist immense pressure and incredible temperatures. They say it’s plausible that life itself could have developed under such conditions. Comparisons between central and southern Africans, the latter with lighter skins, show that Eurasian genes with an impact on skin colour were introduc...

Climate Change Missing Target
The latest climate talks have heard that emissions this year and last have increased - they fell in the 3 years previously. Development of electric vehicles and energy generation with renewable technologies have helped reduce emissions, but it’s not enough according to the latest analysis. The growth of conventional energy generation using fossil fuels has dwarfed reduction from using cleaner technologies. Ammonia pollution is a serious issue for health globally. New satellite observations are able to pin...


Gene Editing Controversy
A researcher in China claims to have modified the genes of two baby girls. His announcement at a genetics conference in Hong Kong caused outrage. Experts in the field were quick to point out the dangers of the technique he had used and questioned the ethics of doing such an experiment. Scientists in Cambridge have successfully grown human placental tissue. This is not for transplant into humans, but to provide a model to help understand problems in early pregnancy which can affect both mother and baby. M...

Goodbye Jet Engine?
The 1960s concept of ‘Ionic Wind’ has been successfully put to the test in a new kind of electric airplane. The plane has no motors and uses the exchange of ions in the air to propel itself. Larger versions could carry goods and passengers and would produce far less pollution than conventional aircraft. The death of the kilogram. The ancient lumps of metal that provided the standard measures. have been replaced with a mathematical formula that should not deteriorate over time. Whale music, how Humpbacks...

Science in Trump’s America
In the US mid-term elections, the Democrats gained a majority in the lower house, this means they take control of key committees – including the House Science Committee. Over recent years this once bipartisan committee has been used by Republicans to push a climate change denying agenda. Now the democrats will regain control and the chair elect says she will be reinforcing that climate change is real and doing more to encourage participation in science at a grassroots level particularly with minorities who ...


Our Geological Junk
The junk and geology of the Anthropocene, how mankind’s influence of the planet is now producing more erosion than natural forces, and how the materials we’ve used for mining and building in the past provides a snapshot of our geological influence of the planet. Finland’s Water shortage: Even in places where water is seemingly plentiful there can be issues, particularly caused by growing populations. In Finland to try balance the needs of rural and urban communities, authorities have introduced an online ...

A Milky Way Merger
A Milky Way Merger An impact with galaxy Enceladus, around 10 billion years ago filled, our home galaxy, the Milky Way’s inner surrounding halo with stars and made the galactic disk much thicker, and starrier than it ought to be. Sniffing the Atmosphere for Ozone-Depleting Gases Carbon tetrachloride is one of several man-made gases that contribute to the depletion of the ozone layer high in the atmosphere. Because of this, restrictions were introduced on the use of this gas under the Montreal Protocol. C...

Why Free Movement is Crucial for Science
Two reports out this week are looking at internationalism and movement of scientists. The first is close to home in the form of a letter signed by a number of leading UK-based scientists (including 27 Nobel Laureates) to the UK Prime Minister and Jean-Claude Junker, President of the European Commission, citing grave concerns over Brexit becoming a barrier to scientific research, movement of scientists and collaboration. The second report is on the publication of results of a survey for the, Together Science...