This year has been a weird one for UK gardeners – unpredictable spring temperatures meant flowers failed to bloom and throughout the rainy summer, slugs have been savaging salad crops. But why and when plants blossom is about more than just early cold spells and wet weather, and a listener in California has asked Crowdscience to investigate.
Flowering is vital to both plants and us. Without it, they wouldn’t be able to evolve and survive (and we wouldn’t have anything to eat). Anand Jagatia hears that different species have developed different strategies for doing this based on all sorts of things, from where they’re located to how big they are to what kind of insects are around to pollinate them. The famously stinky Titan Arum, or corpse flower, for example, blooms for a single day once every decade or so before collapsing on itself and becoming dormant again.
This gives it the best chance of attracting carrion beetles in the steamy Sumatran jungle. But other plants open their petals much more regularly, which is a process regulated by a clever internal clock that can sense daylight and night. It’s even possible to trick some of them into producing flowers out of season. Cold is also a vital step for some brassicas and trees, and scientists are starting to understand the genes involved. But as climate change makes winters in parts of the world warmer and shorter, there are worrying knock on effects for our food supply.
Produced by Marijke Peters for BBC World Service.
Guy Barter, RHS
Professor Judy Jernstedt, UC Davis
Professor Dame Caroline Dean, John Innes Centre
Professor Ove Nilsson, Umea Plant Science Centre
(Photo credit: Getty Images)
How did eyes evolve?
Look into my eyes. What do you see? Pupil, lens, retina… an intricate set of special tissues and mechanisms all working seamlessly together, so that I can see the world around me. Charles Darwin called the eye an ‘organ of extreme perfection’ and he’s not wrong!
But if the eye is so complex and intricate, how did it evolve? One listener, Aloyce from Tanzania, got in touch to pose this difficult question. It’s a question that taxed Darwin himself, but CrowdScience is always up for a challenge!
The problem is that eyes weren’t ever designed - they were cobbled together over millions and millions of years, formed gradually by the tweaks and adaptations of evolution. How do you get from the basic detection of light to the wonderful complexity - and diversity – of visual systems we find throughout the animal kingdom?
CrowdScience sent Marnie Chesterton on an 800 million year journey to trace how the different elements that make up the human eye gradually came into being; from the emergence of the first light-sensitive proteins to crude eye-cups, from deep sea creatures with simple pinhole eyes to the first light-focusing lenses, all the way to the technicolour detail of the present day.
Produced by Ilan Goodman for the BBC World Service.
With contributions from: Dr Adam Rutherford, Dr Megan Porter, Professor Dan Nilsson, Dr Samantha Strong
(Photo Credit: Getty Images)
Can we transfer electricity wirelessly?
Pioneering physicist and inventor Nikolas Tesla dreamt of connecting the world up through wireless communication and power. Despite demonstrating he could transfer power short distances his longer distance experiments were considerably less successful. But CrowdScience listener, George from Ghana, wants to know if now - more than one hundred years after Tesla’s demonstrations - his dream of wireless power is closer to becoming a reality.
In countries where rugged landscapes make laying traditional power lines difficult and costly, could wireless electricity help connect those communities who are without mains power?
CrowdScience presenter Melanie Brown beams to reporters around the world who visit scientists now using state of the art technology to reimagine Tesla’s dream.
Alex Lathbridge is in Ghana and after meeting listener George he gently doorsteps a local electrical engineering lecturer to find out how electricity can ‘jump’ between two coils.
Reporter Stacy Knott visits start-up company EMROD in New Zealand who are developing ‘beamable’ electricity. She hears an electric guitar being powered from 36 metres away with no wires and finds out how they are using lasers to make sure they don’t harm any wildlife that might wander into the beam.
We then hear how wireless electricity could help fulfil the power demands of a growing electric vehicle market. Reporter John Ryan visits the town of Wenatchee where it has been electrifying its’ bus fleet and putting wireless chargers into the tarmac at bus-stops so that the busses can trickle charge as passengers get on and off.
Finally, we ask whether one day, the tangled knot of wires spilling out of our electronic devices will be but a thing of the past.
Presented and Produced by Melanie Brown with additional reporting from; Alex Lathbridge, John Ryan and Stacey Knott
With contributions from; Prof. Bernard Carlson, Dr Samuel Afoakwa, Ray Simkin, Greg Kushnier, Andy Daga and Richard DeRock
(Photo credit: Getty Images)
Can we save our night skies?
Our connection to the night sky spans cultures and millennia: observing the stars and planets helped our ancestors navigate the world, tell stories about the constellations, and understand our place in the universe. But these days, for the vast majority of us, seeing the stars is getting harder. 80% of people live under light polluted skies, and in many cities you’re lucky to see a handful of stars at night.
This state of affairs is bothering CrowdScience listener and keen stargazer Mo from Salt Lake City in the USA, who wonders if there’s anything we can do about light pollution. Of course, we could simply turn out all the lights, but that’s unrealistic. So what are smarter ways of lighting our communities to preserve our view of the cosmos?
Increasingly worried by the effect of artificial lighting on the ability to observe stars, astronomer Dr Jason Pun set up a series of monitoring stations to continuously measure ‘sky glow’. By comparing sky glow across the world, he wants to figure out which approaches work best.
One community taking an active approach is the South Downs National Park in South East England, one of a number of Dark Sky Reserves around the word. We visit the park and speak to the Dark Skies Officer there, to find out how people are coming together to turn down their lights and keep the night dark.
And it’s not just stargazing that’s threatened by light pollution. Artificial light at night disrupts the circadian rhythms of wildlife. We visit a project in rural Germany looking into the benefits of dark-sky-friendly lighting on insect populations there.
With contributions from Dr Jason Pun, Paulina Villalobos, Dan Oakley, Doug Jones, Dr Sibylle Schroer and Sophia Dehn.
Presented by Anand Jagatia with additional reporting by Felix Franz
Produced by Cathy Edwards
[Image credit: Getty Images]
How did our ancestors sleep?
How we sleep is a topic of endless fascination and for some can, ironically be quite exhausting. Modern life has allowed us to invade the night, and those pesky late night work emails, social media and TV all conspire to limit our sleep or simply prevent us from a truly restful night. But if we travel back in time, did our ancestors master sleep any better? No air-con or electric fan for them on hot humid nights, and only smoky fires to keep them warm on cold, snowy nights. What if we go way back into our pre-history, to our ancient human ancestors? No interruption for them from an unwanted work email, however perhaps a ravenous lion gave them more reason for those night time worries.
CrowdScience listener Tom asks our sleep deprived presenter Datshiane Navanayagam to investigate how our sleep has changed over history and pre-history. She talks to Professor Russell Foster, Head of the Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute at the University of Oxford and Neanderthal expert Dr Rebecca Wragg Sykes about slumber habits in days of yore, and in doing so, she uncovers some top tips from our ancestors that may give us all a better nights rest.
Presented by Datshiane Navanayagam and Produced by Alexandra Feachem
(Woman sitting in bed and yawning. Credit: JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images)