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The Science Hour


Science news and highlights of the week


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Science news and highlights of the week




Climate science activism

Climate researcher, Rose Abramoff took to the stage at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) fall meetings, not as a guest speaker but in protest. Whilst her demonstration only lasted 15 seconds, she found her employment terminated from Oak Ridge National Laboratory and research stripped from the AGU programme. She was attempting to persuade other climate scientists to ‘get out of the lab and into the street’. Whilst Rose’s protest hit the headlines in the media, potentially less attention...


Atmospheric rivers

Flood warnings in parts of California have seen some of the state’s best known celebrities flee their homes. The current weather conditions are in part the result of ‘Atmospheric rivers’ – literally fast flowing rivers of water vapor in the atmosphere. Marty Ralph from the Scripps Institute has been studying this phenomenon for years, he explains what atmospheric rivers are, and tells us how a greater understanding of the phenomenon is now informing weather forecasting and evacuation plans....


One year on from the Tonga eruption

We’re taking a look back at the January 2022 eruption of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai, which literally sent shockwaves around the world. One year on, and we’re still uncovering what made the volcano so powerful, as well as unpacking its long lasting impacts. Roland is joined by Professor Shane Cronin from the University of Auckland and Dr Marta Ribó from the Auckland University of Technology to share their findings from their latest trip to survey the volcano. The impacts of the eruption...


The James Webb Space Telescope - the first 6 months

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope has produced amazing images in its first 5 months, but amazing science as well. Roland hears from one of the leading astronomers on the JWST programme, Dr Heidi Hammel, as well as other experts on what they are already learning about the first galaxies in the Universe, the birth places of stars, the strange behaviour of some other stars, and the first view of Neptune's rings in over 30 years. Over the past 12 months, CrowdScience has travelled the world,...


Mosquito pesticide failing

Mosquito pesticide failing - prevention of dengue fever and other diseases at risk. Dangerous bird flu evolving fast - researchers are learning why bird flu is persisting and spreading fast round the world, and assess the threat to humans. Drilling for ancient ice in the Antarctic - Roland talks to one of the team drilling kilometres into an ancient, frozen record of past climate. Martian rock store opens - NASA's Mars Perseverance rover is stashing rock samples future missions could bring...


Fusion milestone

Fusion milestone - the science behind the headlines. Laser fusion expert Kate Lancaster walks us through the technology that produced energy gain at the US's National Ignition Facility NIF Whirlwinds on Mars What the sounds of a dust devil passing over NASA's Mars Perseverance Rover tells us about the Martian atmosphere 75 years of the transistor electronics revolution - where next for Moore's Law? December 16th 1947 was the day the first ever transistor device passed an electrical current....


Ancient warmth in Greenland

Two-million-year-old molecular fossils reveal flourishing woodlands and widespread animals in Greenland's pre-Ice-Age past, and give hints to the Arctic’s future under global warming. We hear from a molecular palaeontologist and a climate modeller. DNA also reveals the enduring genetic influence of our extinct Denisovan cousins on disease immunity in modern Island Southeast Asians. And the art and science of 3D-printing violins If your home is drafty, filling in holes and cracks can help...


COVID spreads in China

Hong Kong health expert Professor Malik Peiris relates the lessons from the devastation there earlier this year. UK virologist Dr Tom Peacock reveals the unusual origins and evolution of omicron, and explains the risks of dangerous new variants. New studies from China are revealing further SARS-like viruses in the wild; Professor Eddie Holmes says they underline the risk of further pandemics. What are the clouds like where you are? When you look upwards can you see great tufts of cotton...


A distant planet’s atmosphere

A distant planet's atmosphere - NASA's JWST space telescope has unpicked the chemical contents and state of the atmosphere of planet WASP-39b 700 light years away. Astronomer Hannah Wakeford explains. Earth's atmospheric haze and global warming - meteorologist Laura Wilcox warns that atmospheric haze over China and South Asia is masking some of the effects of global warming. Pregnancy brain fog explained - loss of memory and other mental changes during pregnancy have been traced to...


Online harassment of Covid scientists

Since the Covid-19 pandemic began, scientists studying the virus have become targets of online harassment, and more recently, death threats. Roland speaks to Dr Angela Rasmussen, virologist at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization at the University of Saskatchewan, about her experiences. Spyros Lytras, PhD candidate at the University of Glasgow, talks Roland through the evolutionary history of the virus that causes Covid-19 and how there isn’t just one ancestor, but several....


Neurons that restore walking in paralysed patients

Researchers have identified which neurons, when electrically stimulated, can restore the ability to walk in paralysed patients. Professor Jocelyne Bloch, Associate Professor at the Université de Lausanne, tells Roland how the technology works. Astronomers have discovered the closest black hole to Earth. Researchers led by Kareem El-Badry, astrophysicist at Harvard University, identified the celestial body when they spotted a Sun-like star orbiting a dark, dense object. The origins of eels...


What peat can tell us about our future

The Congo Basin is home to the world’s largest peatland. Simon Lewis, Professor of Global Change Science at UCL and the University of Leeds, tells Roland how peatlands all around the world are showing early alarm bells of change. From the boreal Arctic forests to the Amazon, Simon helps us understand how they could action huge change in the climate. Simon is joined by Dr Ifo Averti, Associate Professor in Forest Ecology at Universite Marien Ngouabi in the Congo who helps us understand what...


Seismic events on Mars

The latest observations from Nasa’s InSight Mars Lander and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) have revealed new information on Mars’ interior structure. Dr Anna Horleston, Senior Research Associate in Planetary Seismology at the University of Bristol, talks us through the mars-quakes that provided this data. On the 30th of October, Brazilians will head to the polls to elect their next president. Jeff Tollefson, Senior Reporter at Nature, tells Roland what approach the two candidates – Jair...


The most powerful explosion ever recorded

It’s been an unusual week for astronomers, with telescopes swivelled off course to observe GRB221009A, the brightest gamma ray burst ever recorded. Gamma ray bursts aren’t unusual, the by-product of some supernovae are recorded weekly. Whilst the afterglow of these bursts usually lasts hours or days, the aftermath of, what has been dubbed ‘BOAT’, brightest of all time, is expected to linger for years to come. Harvard University’s Edo Berger and Yvette Cendas believe there’s lots to be learnt...


Inserting human neurons into the brains of rats

Sergiu Pasca, Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University has left the petri dish in the drawer and grown human neurons inside the brains of juvenile rats. Successful connectivity and brain function may allow for more rigorous testing and understanding of neurological conditions, that have until now remained difficult to localise and treat. It’s been a few weeks since NASA’s DART mission smashed into an asteroid in an attempt to budge it off course, kickstarting Earth’s first planetary...


Nobel Prize 2022: The science behind the winners

For the scientific community, the Nobel Prize announcements are an important part of the yearly science calendar. The award is one of the most widely celebrated and gives us a moment to reflect on some of the leading scientific work taking place around the world. This year’s winners include Alain Aspect, John F. Clauser, and Anton Zeilinger for their work on quantum entanglement. Carolyn R. Bertozzi, Morten Meldal, and K. Barry Sharpless for their work on click chemistry. And Svante Pääbo...


The final moments of DART

NASA’s latest mission, DART hit the headlines this week after the space agency’s satellite successfully collided with a far off asteroid. The mission acts as a demonstration of Earth’s first planetary defence system. Jon Amos, one of BBC’s Science correspondents, talks Roland through the final moments of the DART satellite. Although the collision was a success, we may have to wait a little longer before we know if the asteroid’s trajectory has been altered… Simone Pirrotta, project manager...


Should we mine the deep sea?

The first license of its kind has been granted for deep-sea mining. It will be used to run early tests to see whether the seabed could be good place to harvest rare earth materials in the future. These earth minerals are what powers much of our modern technology, and the demand is growing year on year. The license raises ethical questions about whether anyone has ownership over the seabed, and whether we could be disrupting ecosystems under the sea in doing so. We have two experts joining us...


Science and the causes behind Pakistan’s floods

A new report by the World Weather Attribution consortium demonstrates the impact of global warming on flooding in Pakistan. The consortium are helping to assess the link between humanitarian disasters and global change, faster than ever before. The work, conducted by a team of statisticians, climate experts, and local weather experts, is part of an emerging field in science called Extreme Event Attribution, and can reliably provide assessments in the immediate aftermath of an extreme weather...


The genetics of human intelligence

Early humans and Neanderthals had similar-sized brains but around 6 million years ago something happened that gave us the intellectual edge. The answer may lie in a tiny mutation in a single gene that meant more neurons could develop in a crucial part of the brain. Post-doctoral research scientist at the Max Plank Institute of Molecular Biology and Genetics, Anneline Pinson, did the heavy lifting on the research under the supervision of Wieland Huttner. They discuss with Roland how this...