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The Science Hour

The Science Hour

Podcast The Science Hour
Podcast The Science Hour

The Science Hour


Available Episodes

5 of 92
  • New evidence for SARS-CoV-2’s origin in bats
    Researchers studying bats in Northern Laos have found evidence that brings us closer than ever to understanding the origin of Covid-19. Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic scientists have tried to pin-point the exact origin of SARS-CoV-2. But recent evidence from the Institut Pasteur has identified several novel coronaviruses with similarities to the current coronavirus in bats. Professor Marc Eliot spoke to Roland Pease about how this research could give us a better idea where Covid-19 came from. Could an oral COVID treatment be available soon? Daria Hazuda, responsible for infectious disease and bacteria research at MSD tells us about their clinical trials for an oral antiviral drug that could combat Covid-19: Molnupiravir. Early Diagnosis of Alzheimer's Roland Pease travels to Bath to meet scientists who may have developed a way to diagnose Alzheimer's in the earlier stages of the disease. Dr George Stothart, has led the team from Bath university in the development of this simple 2 minute test. Inducing Earthquakes Scientists are experimenting with artificially managing earthquakes by injecting fluid into fault lines. Professor Derek Elsworth at Pennsylvania state university explains his research into how these induced earthquakes can be more tightly controlled. 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. (Image credit: Getty Images)
  • Ebola can remain dormant for five years
    An international team of researchers has discovered that an outbreak of Ebola in Guinea in February this year was the result of re-activated Ebola virus in someone who’d been infected at least five years ago during the earlier large Ebola epidemic that swept through Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. This means the virus can remain dormant in some Ebola survivors for five years or more. Virologists Alpha Kabinet Keita and Robert Garry talk to Roland Pease about the research and its implications. Also in the programme: The eruption of lavas from Iceland’s newest volcano Fagradalsfjall continues six months on. Geochemist Ed Marshall tells us how he gets up close to sample the molten rock with a long scoop and a bucket of water, and what he’s learning about this remarkable eruption. NASA’s Katie Stack Morgan updates Science in Action on the Perseverance rover’s successful sampling of rocks from Jezero crater on the planet Mars. When the specimens are eventually returned to Earth, she says they may turn out to contain tiny samples of Mars’ water and atmosphere from early in the Red Planet’s history. Also...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. (Image credit: Getty Images)
  • Keep most fossil fuel in ground to meet 1.5 degree goal
    For the world to have a decent chance of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees, 90 per cent of remaining coal reserves and 60% of unexploited oil and gas have to stay in the ground. These are the stark findings of carbon budget research by scientists at University College London. Dan Welsby spells out the details to Roland Pease. Virologist Ravi Gupta of the University of Cambridge describes his latest research that explains why the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 is much more infectious and more able to evade our immune systems and covid vaccines than other variants. When dense fog rises from the Pacific ocean into the foothills of the Andes, oases of floral colour bloom for a few weeks or months. When the fog goes, the plants die and disappear for another year or maybe another decade. The true extent of these unique ecosystems (known as fog oases or Lomas) has now been revealed by researchers at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in the UK, working with colleagues in Peru and Chile. They’ve discovered that the Lomas are much more extensive than suspected. Ecologist Carolina Tovar tells Roland why the fog oases are threatened and need to be protected. A species of duck can now be added to the list of birds such as parrots and starlings that mimic human speech and other sounds in their environment. Listen to Ripper, the Australian musk duck who was hand-reared on a nature reserve where he learnt to imitate his keeper say ‘You bloody fool’ and imitate the sound of an aviary door closing. Animal behaviour researcher Carel ten Cate of Leiden University says that Ripper is not the only mimicking musk duck mimic but why this duck species has evolved this trick remains a mystery. Pioneering physicist Nikolas Tesla had a dream of connecting the world up through wireless communication and power. And whilst at the start of the 20th Century Tesla demonstrated that electricity could be transmitted wirelessly very short distances, the amount of power that was needed to do this made it an unfeasible venture and the idea has since lain mostly forgotten. CrowdScience listener, George from Ghana, has asked the team whether it is once again time to reconsider this means of power generation. In countries where rugged landscapes make laying traditional power lines difficult, could wireless electricity help connect those currently reliant on costly and polluting generators? CrowdScience gets talking to various scientists who are now using state of the art technology to reimagine Tesla’s dream. We speak to a team in New Zealand developing ‘beamable’ electricity and hear 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. We learn how a town in the USA is turning its bus fleet electric 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. (Image credit: Getty Images)
  • Hurricane season intensifies
    When hurricane Ida struck the coast of Louisiana last weekend, almost to the day that Katrina did 16 years ago, comparisons between the two events were soon to follow. As the latest storm continues to wreak havoc and death further north in the US, Suzana Camargo of Columbia university talks to Roland Pease about the similarities and differences, the better forecasting available now, and the grim reality that climate change suggests for this and future hurricane seasons. A couple of weeks ago, Science in Action looked at the carbon accounting of Blue Hydrogen (hydrogen manufactured from fossil fuels). Listener Nick Arndt got in touch to say we were wrong when we stated that hydrogen can’t be piped out of the ground from natural sources. His company, Sisprobe, plans to use its passive seismic prospecting technology to work with an international consortium that aims to unlock a new “hydrogen rush” – commercialising what they suspect to be a near-ubiquitous source of genuinely carbon-free fuel - to supply the world economy of the near future. Viacheslav Zgonnik - CEO of start-up Natural Hydrogen Energy LLC - has been working on hydrogen for 10 years, has written a recent review of the science, and tells Roland about current and future studies into finding the best way to tap this simplest of molecules before it escapes into space. In Chile, the recent megadrought has led to fears that hydroelectric damns may become so drained that power-outs may occur in the coming months. This will not help Chile to achieve its target of carbon-neutrality by 2050. Apt, then, that a new Concentrated Solar Power plant (CSP) is now up and running in the north of the country. Reporter Jane Chambers has been to visit Cerro Dominador – the spectacular new array of 10,600 mirrors that focus sunshine onto a molten salt target, heating it up to 560C, and generating up to 210 MW electricity. Meanwhile archaeologists have been doing a molecular analysis of a protein found to survive in the bones of unfortunate victims of the mount Vesuvius eruption that destroyed Pompeii. Despite the searing heat that killed inhabitants of nearby Herculaneum, Oliver Criag of York University has been able to examine the different isotopes in amino acids still recoverable from their bones to help identify what sorts of things these people ate during their tragically foreshortened lifetimes. A whole lot of cereals generally, but more interestingly, the men tended to eat more fish while the women seem to have consumed more meat and dairy. 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. (Image credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images)
  • World’s first DNA Covid-Vaccine
    Indian authorities have approved the world’s first DNA-based Covid vaccine for emergency use. Not all the data that has led to the opening of the phase 3 trials is yet publicly available, but as public health policy expert Chandrakant Lahariya explains to presenter Roland Pease, it could be a real help in India’s, and the world’s, fight to get things under control. WHO Wuhan expedition The origins of the Covid virus were investigated last winter by a WHO team sent to Wuhan – where the first cases were discovered – earlier this year. Their work has since become the subject of intense political scrutiny and some criticism. This week, members of the team including Marian Koopmans have written a rebuttal, setting out the original terms of the investigation and urging the continuation of the process, as she explains to Victoria Gill. Decolonise Science Most of the science written by people from or about the African continent is written in English. Many local African languages do not currently have a meaningful vocabulary for many of the scientific terms and concepts researchers use. This week a team of scientists, journalists, and translators are completing the launch of a project called Decolonise Science, which will take 180 nominated papers posted on the website AfricaArxiv, translate them into 6 African languages including isiZulu, Sothu, and Hausa, and then use Machine Learning methods to build resources for science communication and education in people’s home languages. Project partner Sibusiso Byela explains the thinking. Royal Society Africa Prize winner This week the UK’s Royal Society announced its annual awards. Kenya’s George Warimwe has taken the Africa Award for his work creating vaccines for a virus that creates disease in livestock and humans – Rift Valley Fever. His promising approach stems from years of working with adenovirus technology akin to the AstraZeneca Covid virus. But as he explains, his One Health approach is to learn from the immune response in humans and apply it to animals, and vice-versa. The grant associated with the award should also help him and his team pick- up on research left-off before the coronavirus pandemic. 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. (Image: Getty Images) Presenters: Roland Pease and Datshiane Navanayagam Producers: Alex Mansfield and Alexandra Feachem

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