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The Curious Cases of Rutherford & Fry

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Science sleuths Dr Adam Rutherford and Dr Hannah Fry investigate everyday mysteries sent by listeners.




The Sticky Song

Why do songs get stuck in our heads? And what makes some tunes stickier than others? Drs Rutherford and Fry investigate 'earworms', those musical refrains that infect our brains for days. Every morning 6Music DJ Shaun Keaveney asks his listeners for their earworms, and Hannah finds out which tunes keep coming back. Adam asks Dr Lauren Stewart, from Goldsmiths University, to reveal the musical features that make some songs catchier than others. And they find out why, in times of crisis, an...

Duration: 00:24:54

The Polar Opposite

No one knows why the Earth's magnetic North and South poles swap. But polar reversals have happened hundreds of times over the history of the Earth. So, asks John Turk, when is the next pole swap due and what will happen to us? Hannah turns to astronomer Lucie Green from Mullard Space Science Laboratory to discover how the earth's magnetic field protects us from the ravages of space. And Adam consults geophysicist Phil Livermore from the University of Leeds to find out if, and when, we're...

Duration: 00:19:58

The Curious Cake-Off

An investigation into the chemistry of cake, as Drs Rutherford and Fry compete to make the perfect sponge. Producer: Michelle Martin.

Duration: 00:19:45

Kate Bush's Sonic Weapon

"It started while listening to the excellent Experiment IV by Kate Bush. The premise of the song is of a band who secretly work for the military to create a 'sound that could kill someone'. Is it scientifically possible to do this?" asks Paul Goodfield. Hannah consults acoustic engineer Trevor Cox to ask if sonic weapons could kill. And Adam delves into subsonic frequencies with parapsychologist Chris French to investigate their spooky effects. You can send your everyday mysteries for the...

Duration: 00:21:14

Itchy and Scratchy

"What is an itch and how does scratching stop it? Why does scratching some itches feel so good?!" asks Xander Tarver from Wisborough Green in West Sussex. Our doctors set off to probe the mysteries of itch, and discover that this overlooked area of medicine is revealing surprising results about the human brain. From why itching is contagious to why scratching is pleasurable, we get under the skin of this medical mystery. The programme features interviews with neuroscientist Prof Francis...

Duration: 00:21:29

The Burning Question

"What is fire? Is it a solid, liquid or a gas? Why is it hot and why can you see it in the dark?" asks Hannah Norton, aged 10. Dr Fry visits the Burn Hall at The Buildings Research Establishment in Watford where they test the effects of fire on building materials. Whilst Dr Rutherford gets to grips with Michael Faraday's pioneering Christmas Lectures at the Royal Institution of Great Britain on 'The Chemical History of a Candle'. Plus, he chats to forensic chemist Niamh Nic Daeid from...

Duration: 00:18:59

The Dark Star

"What's inside a black hole and could we fly a spaceship inside?" asks Jorge Luis Alvarez from Mexico City. Some interstellar fieldwork is on the agenda in today's Curious Cases. Astrophysicist Sheila Rowan explains how we know invisible black holes actually exist. And cosmologist Andrew Pontzen is on hand to help cook one up. But which of our intrepid doctors will volunteer to fly into the heart of a black hole? You can send your Curious Cases for the team to investigate to:...

Duration: 00:23:18

The Cat Who Came Back

"How on earth do cats find their way back to their previous home when they move house?" asks Vicky Cole from Nairobi in Kenya. Our enduring love for our feline friends began when Egyptian pharaohs began to welcome domesticated moggies into their homes. Pictured reclining in baskets at the feet of royalty, pet cats soon became fashionable throughout society in Egypt. Today they are the most popular pet in the world, and home is definitely where their hearts lie. "Whereas dogs are bonded to...

Duration: 00:19:01

A Code in Blood

"Why do we have different blood types?" asks Doug from Norfolk. The average adult human has around 30 trillion red blood cells, they make up a quarter of the total number of cells in the body. We have dozens of different blood groups, but normally we're tested for just two - ABO and Rhesus factor. Adam and Hannah delve into the gory world of blood and the early history of blood transfusions, to discover why we have blood groups and what makes them so important. Featuring interviews with Dr...

Duration: 00:11:48

The Forgetful Child

"Why don't we remember the first few years of our lives?" asks David Foulger from Cheltenham. The team investigate the phenomenon of 'infant amnesia' and how memories are made with Catherine Loveday from the University of Westminster. A whopping 40% of people say they can remember back to before they were two years old, and 18% can recall being babies. But can we really trust these early memories? Martin Conway from City University discusses his latest findings, taken from data gathered...

Duration: 00:16:18

The Astronomical Balloon

"How far up can a helium balloon go? Could it go out to space?" asks Juliet Gok, aged 9. This calls for some fieldwork! Adam travels to the Meteorology Department at the University of Reading where Dr Keri Nicholl helps him launch a party balloon and track its ascent. But this experiment doesn't quite go to plan. Meanwhile, Hannah consults Public Astronomer Dr Marek Kukula, from the Royal Observatory Greenwich, to discover where space begins. And she decides to take matters into her own...

Duration: 00:15:03

The World That Turns

"Why does the Earth spin?" asks Joe Wills from Accra in Ghana. Hannah quizzes cosmologist Andrew Pontzen about the birth of the Solar System and why everything in space seems to spin. Is there anything in the Universe that doesn't revolve? BBC weatherman John Hammond explain to Adam how the rotation of the Earth creates our weather systems and the strange things that would happen if we spun the opposite way. Send your Curious Cases for consideration to: Presenters:...

Duration: 00:15:19

The Broken Stool

"Science tells us that our body houses microbial organisms. Then how much our weight is really our weight? If I am overweight, is it because of my own body cells or excess microflora?" asks Ajay Mathur from Mumbai in India. Adam bravely sends off a sample to the 'Map My Gut' project at St Thomas' Hospital to have his microbes mapped. Prof Tim Spector reveals the shocking results - a diet of fried breakfasts and fizzy drinks has left his guts in disarray. But help is at hand to makeover his...

Duration: 00:17:06

The Lost Producer

Why do some people have a terrible sense of direction? The team receive a mysterious message from an anonymous listener who constantly gets lost. Can they help her find the answer? This listener may, or may not, be the team's producer, Michelle. She would like to state that it's not her fault that she has been dealt a bad genetic hand which has led to faulty place cells developing in her brain. And head direction cells that appear to be pointing the wrong way. More understanding should...

Duration: 00:18:25

The Bad Moon Rising

'A teacher I work with swears that around the time of the full moon kids are rowdier in the classroom, and more marital disharmony in the community," says Jeff Boone from El Paso in Texas. 'Is there any biological reason why the moon's phases could affect human moods and behaviour?' Our scientific sleuths sift through the evidence to find out if the moon really does inspire lunacy. They consider Othello's testimony, a study on dog bites and homicides in Florida before coming to a...

Duration: 00:14:48

The Hunt for Nothing, Part 2

In the last episode the team started investigating the following inquiry, sent in to 'Is there any such thing as nothing?' They discovered why quantum fluctuations and the Higgs field mean that nothing is impossible. But how about in mathematics? The story of zero is fraught with inspiration, competition and controversy. Banned in Florence and hated by the Church, zero had a rocky road to acceptance after its genesis in India. Hannah talks to author Alex Bellos and...

Duration: 00:13:44

The Hunt for Nothing, Part 1

"Is there any such thing as nothing?" This question from Bill Keck sparked so much head scratching that we have devoted two episodes to this curious quandary. In the first programme, the team considers the philosophy and physics of nothing. As Prof Frank Close, author of "Nothing: A Very Short Introduction" explains, nothing has intrigued great thinkers for thousands of years, from the Ancient Greeks to today's particle physicists. Otto Von Geuricke, the Mayor of Magdeburg in Germany,...

Duration: 00:14:48

The Melodic Mystery

'Why is my mother tone deaf?' asks listener Simon, 'and can I do anything to ensure my son can at least carry a tune?' Hannah Fry has a singing lesson with teacher Michael Bonshor to see if he can improve her vocal tone, although things don't quite go to plan.* We meet Martin who dislikes music intensely because he has the clinical form of tone deafness, known as amusia. Just as people with dyslexia see words differently to other people, if you have amusia you don't hear melodies in the...

Duration: 00:15:09

The Strongest Substance

"What is the strongest substance in the universe? Some people say it is spiderweb, because it is stronger than steel. Is it iron? Is it flint? Is it diamond because diamond can be only be cut by diamond?" asks Françoise Michel. Adam and Hannah put a variety of materials, from biscuits to spider web, under the hammer to test their strength. In their quest to find the strongest substance they quiz materials scientist Mark Miodownik, engineer Danielle George and spidergoat creator, Dr Randy...

Duration: 00:15:34

The Space Pirate

Listener Paul Don asks: "I'm wondering what's the feasibility of terraforming another planet i.e. Mars and if it's possible to do the same thing with something like the moon? Or, why isn't there already a moon-base? Surely that's easier." Adam & Hannah consider moving to another planet, and discover what challenges they would need to overcome to live in space. They consult engineer Prof Danielle George from the University of Manchester and Dr Louisa Preston, UK Space Agency Aurora Research...

Duration: 00:15:12

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