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The Science Hour


Science, health and technology news and highlights of the week.

Science, health and technology news and highlights of the week.
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Science, health and technology news and highlights of the week.




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...


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 human such skills or behaviours are displayed less and may be replaced...


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...


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...


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...


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...


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...


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...


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...


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...


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 will be examining rocks and also seeing if simple plants and animals survive in a biosphere there. We also look...


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...


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...


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...


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...


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...


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,...


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...


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...


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. 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. Concentrations of the gas in the atmosphere should be...