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Podcast Profile: The Curious Cases of Rutherford & Fry

podcast imageTwitter: @AdamRutherford@FryRsquared (@AdamRutherford followed by 84 science writers)
Site: www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07dx75g
136 episodes
2016 to present
Average episode: 28 minutes
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Categories: Broadcast Radio Programs • Story-Style

Podcaster's summary: Science sleuths Dr Adam Rutherford and Dr Hannah Fry investigate everyday mysteries sent by listeners.

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List Updated: 2023-Mar-23 12:55 UTC. Episodes: 136. Feedback: @TrueSciPhi.

2023-Feb-14 • 42 minutes
The Impossible Number
There is a bizarre number in maths referred to simply as ‘i’. It appears to break the rules of arithmetic - but turns out to be utterly essential for applications across engineering and physics. We’re talking about the square root of -1. WHICH MAKES NO SENSE. Professor Fry waxes lyrical about the beauty and power of this so-called ‘imaginary’ number to a sceptical Dr Rutherford. Dr Michael Brooks tells the surprising story of the duelling Italian mathematicians who gave birth to this strange idea, and shar...
2023-Feb-07 • 44 minutes
The Mind Numbing Medicine
This episode will render you oblivious, conked out and blissfully unaware. It’s about anaesthetics: those potent potions that send you into a deep, deathly sleep. Listener Alicia wants to know how they work, so our sleuths call on the expertise of consultant anaesthetist Dr Fiona Donald. Fiona shares her experience from the clinical frontline, and explains what we do and don’t know about how these chemicals work their mind-numbing magic. We hear about ground-breaking research led by Professor Irene Trace...
2023-Jan-31 • 39 minutes
The Resurrection Quest
‘Can we bring back extinct species?’ wonders listener Mikko Campbell. Well, Professor Fry is pretty excited by the prospect of woolly mammoths roaming the Siberian tundra once more. And everyone is impressed with the science that might make it happen. But Dr Rutherford comes out STRONGLY against the whole thing. Can our expert guests win him over? Dr Helen Pilcher shares the tale of Celia the lonely mountain goat, and makes the case for cloning to help protect species at risk of extinction. Professor Bet...
2023-Jan-24 • 36 minutes
The Puzzle of the Pyramids
The Great Pyramids of Giza are awesome feats of engineering and precision. So who built them - and how? Was it a mysteriously super-advanced civilization now oddly extinct? Was it even aliens? Nah, course not! Rutherford and Fry investigate how these inspiring monuments were really constructed, and learn about the complex civilisation and efficient bureaucracy that made them possible. Professor Sarah Parcak busts the myth that they were built by slaves. In fact, she reveals, it was gangs of well-paid b...
2023-Jan-17 • 44 minutes
The Magnetic Mystery
Magnets are inside loads of everyday electronic kit - speakers, motors, phones and more - but listener Lucas is mystified: what, he wonders, is a magnetic field? Our sleuths set out to investigate the mysterious power of magnets, with the help of wizard / physicist Dr Felix Flicker - author of the The Magick of Matter - and materials scientist Dr Anna Ploszajski. They cover the secrets of lodestones - naturally occurring magnetic rocks - and how to levitate crystals, frogs and maybe even people. Matthe...
2023-Jan-10 • 43 minutes
The Case of the Blind Mind's Eye
Close your eyes and think of a giraffe. Can you see it? I mean, *really* see it - in rich, vivid detail? If not - you aren’t alone! We’ve had scores of messages from listeners who report having a ‘blind mind’s eye’. They don’t see mental images at all and they want to know why. Jude from Perth wants to know what makes her brain different, and Diane from Scotland wonders whether it affectes her ability to remember family holidays. Our sleuths learn that this is a condition recently termed ‘aphantasia’. ...
2023-Jan-05 • 12 minutes
Silly Studies: The Pre-Series Teaser
The new series kicks off very soon! As a little aperitif, Hannah and Adam review some surprising studies published in scientific journals. Warning: contains fruity language and grisly medical scenarios…
2022-Sep-20 • 39 minutes
The Puzzle of the Plasma Doughnut
What do you get if you smash two hydrogen nuclei together? Helium and lots of energy. That’s no joke – it's nuclear fusion! Nuclear fusion is the power source of the sun and the stars. Physicists and engineers here on earth are trying to build reactors than can harness fusion power to provide limitless clean energy. But it’s tricky... Rutherford and Fry are joined by Dr Melanie Windridge, plasma physicist and CEO of Fusion Energy Insights, who explains why the fourth state of matter – plasma – helps g...
2022-Sep-13 • 37 minutes
The Riddle of Red-Eyes and Runny-Noses
Sneezes, wheezes, runny noses and red eyes - this episode is all about allergies. An allergic reaction is when your immune system reacts to something harmless – like peanuts or pollen – as if it was a parasitic invader. It’s a case of biological mistaken identity. Professor Judith Holloway from the University of Southampton guides our sleuths through the complex immune pathways that make allergies happen and tells the scary story of when she went into anaphylactic shock from a rogue chocolate bar. ...
2022-Sep-06 • 36 minutes
The Problem of Infinite Pi(e)
Hungry for pi? Chow down on this! Pi is the ratio between a circle’s diameter and its circumference. Sounds dull – but pi turns out to have astonishing properties and crop up in places you would never expect. For a start, it goes on forever and never repeats, meaning it probably contains your name, date of birth, and the complete works of Shakespeare written in its digits. Maths comedian Matt Parker stuns Adam with his ‘pie-endulum’ experiment, in which a chicken and mushroom pie is dangled 2.45m to fo...
2022-Aug-30 • 39 minutes
The Suspicious Smell
Why are some smells so nasty and others so pleasant? Rutherford and Fry inhale the science of scent in this stinker of an episode. Our sleuths kick off with a guided tour of the airborne molecules and chemical receptors that power the sense of smell. Armed with a stack of pungent mini-flasks, Professor Matthew Cobb from the University of Manchester shows Hannah and Adam just how sensitive olfaction can be, and how our experience of some odours depends on our individual genetic make-up. Dr Ann-Sophie Ba...
2022-Aug-23 • 39 minutes
The Wild and Windy Tale
How do winds start and why do they stop? asks Georgina from the Isle of Wight. What's more, listener Chris Elshaw is suprised we get strong winds at all: why doesn't air just move smoothly between areas of high and low pressure? Why do we get sudden gusts and violent storms? To tackle this breezy mystery, our curious duo don their anoraks and get windy with some weather experts. Dr Simon Clark, a science Youtuber and author of Firmament, convinces Adam that air flow is really about the physics of fluid...
2022-Aug-16 • 37 minutes
The Case of The Missing Gorilla
DO WE HAVE YOUR ATTENTION? Good! But how does that work!? Our intrepid science sleuths explore why some things immediately catch your eye - or ear - while others slip by totally unnoticed. Even, on occasion, basketball bouncing gorillas. Professor Polly Dalton, a psychologist who leads The Attention Lab at Royal Holloway University, shares her surprising research into ‘inattentional blindness’ - when you get so absorbed in a task you can miss striking and unusual things going on right in front of you....
2022-Aug-09 • 10 minutes
Silly Studies: The Pre-Series Tease
We asked you to send us the boldest, barmiest bits of published research you could find and, dear Curios, you didn't disappoint! It’s time for some silly science.
2022-Mar-24 • 36 minutes
The Colour Conundrum
The world is full of colour! But, wonders listener Maya Crocombe, ‘how do we see colour and why are some people colour blind?’ Dr Rutherford and Professor Fry set out to understand how special light-sensitive cells in our eyes start the process of colour perception, why people sometimes have very different experiences of colour and whether, in the end, colour is really just ‘in our heads’. Dr Gabriele Jordan from Newcastle University explains why lots of men struggle to discriminate between certain colour...
2022-Mar-17 • 34 minutes
The Turn of the Tide
Mathematician Hannah Fry and geneticist Adam Rutherford investigate your everyday science queries. Today, they get stuck into two questions about tides. Lynn Godson wants to know why isn’t high tide at the same time at all points around the coast? Whilst Tim Mosedale asks, could we ever harness tidal power commercially? Did you think tides are caused by the pull of the Moon? And that they come in and out twice a day? Well, yes, that’s true but it turns out there’s so much more to it than that, especially he...
2022-Mar-10 • 34 minutes
The Shocking White Hair
Why does human hair go grey and is it ever possible for it to go white overnight from shock? Hannah and Adam explore why hair goes grey, how much stressful life events and a lack of sleep can speed up the process. They hear from the pilot whose hair turned white after a flight where all 4 of his engines failed after flying through a volcanic ash cloud - was the shock responsible? They also uncover new research which has shown it's possible for greying hair to return to its natural colour and ask if this fin...
2022-Mar-03 • 33 minutes
Surprising Symmetries
Two eyes, two arms, two legs - we’re roughly symmetrical on the outside, but inside we’re all over the place! We just have one heart, which is usually on the left, one liver on the right, one spleen and one appendix….‘Why is that?’ wonders listener Joanne. Our science sleuths discover that being symmetrical down the middle - at least on the outside - is by far the most common body plan across the animal kingdom. Professor Sebastian Shimeld from the University of Oxford takes us on a journey into the deep e...
2022-Feb-24 • 35 minutes
The Weird Waves of Wi-Fi
We use Wi-Fi every day, but do you know how it works? “Is it waves and science or just some mystical magical force?” wonders listener Abby. Well, our science sleuths are on the case. To help them navigate the strange realm of electromagnetic waves they are joined by Andrew Nix, Professor of Wireless Communication Systems from the University of Bristol. He explains why your wi-fi router won’t heat up your baked beans, but your microwave will. Andrea Goldsmith, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engine...
2022-Feb-17 • 34 minutes
The Mystery of the Teenage Brain
‘Why are teens prone to risky behaviour?’ asks Dr Mark Gallaway, ‘especially when with their friends?’ 13 year old Emma wonders why she’s chatty at school but antisocial when she gets home. And exasperated mum Michelle wants to know why her teens struggle to get out of bed in the morning. Swirling hormones and growing bodies have a lot to answer for but, as Professor of Psychology from the University of Cambridge Sarah-Jayne Blakemore explains, there’s also a profound transformation going on in the brain....
2022-Feb-11 • 7 minutes
We’re (almost) back!
Our sci-curious detectives will be investigating a menagerie of mysteries sent in by listeners - from teenage brains to the magic of Wi-Fi and our strangely symmetrical bodies.
2021-Dec-23 • 28 minutes
Rutherford and Fry on Living with AI: A Future for Humans
As huge tech companies race to develop ever more powerful AI systems, the creation of super-intelligent machines seems almost inevitable. But what happens when, one day, we set these advanced AIs loose? How can we be sure they’ll have humanity’s best interests in their cold silicon hearts? Inspired by Stuart Russell’s fourth and final Reith lecture, AI-expert Hannah Fry and AI-curious Adam Rutherford imagine how we might build an artificial mind that knows what’s good for us and always does the right thing...
2021-Dec-15 • 28 minutes
Rutherford and Fry on Living with AI: AI in the Economy
The refrain ‘robots will take your job’ is one heard with increased frequency, but how quickly is automation of the labour force really happening and would it really be such a bad thing if many jobs were powered by artificial intelligence? In this third episode, inspired by this year’s BBC Reith lectures from AI expert Stuart Russell, Adam Rutherford and Hannah Fry - together with expert guests - imagine what the future of work might look like. Will the move towards increased use of artificial intelligence...
2021-Dec-08 • 28 minutes
Rutherford and Fry on Living with AI: AI in Warfare
What if a despotic leader could programme a swarm of drones to kill a set of identified targets with just the push of a button? Due to ever expanding AI capabilities this extreme dystopian vision may not be technically unfeasible. In this second of a four part series responding to this year's BBC Reith lectures from Stuart Russell, Adam Rutherford and Hannah Fry unpick the role of AI in warfare. Joining them to help them navigate the battlefield of information is Ulrike Franke, a senior policy fellow at th...
2021-Dec-01 • 28 minutes
Rutherford and Fry on Living with AI: The Biggest Event in Human History
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is already ubiquitous in our lives. It curates our nightly TV entertainment, connects us to our friends online and navigates us, mostly successfully, to our destinations. However these uses are just the beginning, and it will likely bring societal changes we can’t yet imagine. In this year’s BBC Reith lectures, AI expert Professor Stuart Russell will be exploring how AI has been represented in popular fiction, envisaging how this technology might shape our futures and how we be...
2021-Nov-11 • 43 minutes
The Venomous Vendetta
Whilst watching a documentary about some poisonous frogs, Curio Janni in Amsterdam, started to wonder what would happen if a frog licked itself or another frog of the same species. She asks Dr Adam Rutherford and Professor Hannah Fry to investigate whether an animal would react badly to a toxin it itself produces? In essence, 'can a venomous snake kill itself by biting itself?' Of course the answer is complicated, but the sleuths know exactly who to ask. Steve Backshall, award-winning wildlife explorer, b...
2021-Nov-04 • 38 minutes
The Slippery Situation
'What is the slipperiest thing in the world?' asks 8 year old Evelyn? 'Why do my feet slip on a wet floor but when my feet are even slightly moist it's nearly impossible to put on a pair of socks without falling over and cursing the universe. What is going on here?' asks Evelyn's Dad, Sam. Hannah and Adam investigate the science of friction and lubrication - so called 'tribology' with the help of tribologists and mechanical engineers Professor Ashlie Martini from California University Merced and Professor...
2021-Oct-28 • 37 minutes
The Painless Heart
Why does my heart not ache after exercise? asks listener Keith. Rutherford and Fry explore how and why heart muscle cells are special. Dr Mitch Lomax is a sports scientist at the University of Portsmouth. She helps actual Olympic swimmers get faster. She explains how most of the muscles attached to our skeletons work: Tiny fibres use small-scale cellular energy, which, when all these fibres work in concert, turns into visible muscular movement. Mitch also explains how the dreaded Delayed Onset Muscle Soren...
2021-Oct-21 • 40 minutes
The Weirdness of Water Part 2
“I don’t really understand why water has so many properties on different scales ranging from very large and cosmic to very small quantum and quarky - Could you help by zooming in and out on water to explain what is known about it? Asks Neil Morton in Stirling. “Why does boiling water sound different to cold water?’ asks Barbara Dyson in Brittany in France Ollie Gordon, in Christchurch in New Zealand, wants to know ‘why water is essential for all life as we know it?’ And many more questions on the weir...
2021-Oct-14 • 37 minutes
The Weirdness of Water Part 1
“I don’t really understand why water has so many properties on different scales ranging from very large and cosmic to very small quantum and quarky - Could you help by zooming in and out on water to explain what is known about it? Asks Neil Morton in Stirling. Rutherford and Fry learn about the special hydrogen bonds that makes water such an unusual liquid. Quantum physicist Professor Patricia Hunt, at the Victoria University in Wellington in New Zealand explains to Hannah the quantum properties of indivi...
2021-Oct-07 • 39 minutes
The Guiding Hound
How do guide dogs know where they're going? It's not like their handler whispers in their ear and asks to go to the pharmacy, maybe the toothpaste aisle. So how does it work? asks Charlotte, aged 42. Dogs and humans have gone paw in hand for thousands of years. Historic and genetic evidence shows we’ve shaped each other's existence over millennia. But dogs were only first trained as guides for blind people in the UK 90 years ago. What’s the biology behind this extraordinary partnership? Hannah heads to Gu...
2021-Sep-30 • 9 minutes
We’re back!
Rutherford and Fry are back in the business of solving your science queries and rooting out the quirks and conundrums of everything that is science!
2021-Feb-23 • 29 minutes
More Frytful Scares
It was a dark and stormy night. A secret message arrived addressed to Rutherford & Fry from a mysterious woman called Heidi Daugh, who demanded to know: "Why do people like to be scared? For example, going on scary amusement park rides and watching horror movies that make you jump.” What followed was an investigation, which would test our intrepid duo to their very limits. They explore the history of horror, starting with its literary origins in the Gothic fiction classic 'The Castle of Otranto'. Adam cha...
2021-Feb-16 • 30 minutes
Back to The Sinister Hand
Why are some people left-handed, whereas the majority are right handed? Rutherford and Fry revisit The Sinister Hand episodes to further investigate handedness in humans and animals. They considered cockatoos, chimpanzees and Hannah's dog, Molly, to discover that humans are unique, with just one in ten of us being left-handed. They ask if there is an evolutionary reason for just 10% of the human population being southpaws Hannah talks to primatologist Prof Linda Marchant from Miami University about Neande...
2021-Feb-09 • 41 minutes
A Weighty Matter Part 2
The doctors continue their investigation into gravity, and answer Peter Fraser’s question: is dark matter a proper theory or just a fudge to fit existing 'proper' theories to otherwise inexplicable observations? Whilst scientists are pretty convinced our understanding of gravity is largely correct, there are still some significant gaps. Namely, given the way galaxies are observed to behave, around 85% of the matter that they think should be in our universe is missing. So where – and, as importantly, what –...
2021-Feb-02 • 43 minutes
A Weighty Matter Part 1
The doctors investigate a millennia-old query, as listener Emma in New Zealand asks, ‘How does gravity pull us?’. People have been thinking about how gravity works for a very long time. Way longer than when that particular apple almost certainly didn’t fall on the head of Isaac Newton. Cosmologist Andrew Pontzen begins guiding us through our journey by taking us back to the almost entirely incorrect writings of ancient Greeks. We then fast forward past Galileo and Newton, and throw in an extra dimension. ...
2021-Jan-26 • 50 minutes
The Flying Clock and the Stopped Watch
Psychologist and presenter of All in the Mind, Claudia Hammond wrote the book ‘Time Warped – Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception’. She explains how emotion and memory are big factors in how time is perceived. She stresses how time can stretch and squeeze depending on whether you are looking backwards or forwards. And she explains how lockdown has warped time in different ways for different people. Professor David Eagleman, from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, conducted a very famous experimen...
2021-Jan-19 • 45 minutes
The Mosquito Conundrum
The doctors put mosquitoes on trial, as listener Cathy in the UK asks, ‘What is the point of mosquitoes?’ in response to our show about wasps. Mosquitoes have undeniably played a role in killing millions of people. Malaria is the single biggest cause of death in human history. But Erica McAlister, senior curator of flies and fleas at the UK’s Natural History Museum, reveals that not all mosquitoes are interested in biting us for a blood meal, or are involved in transmitting disease. Only the females of ab...
2021-Jan-12 • 50 minutes
The Scientific Exploration of Astrology
Astrology – could there be something to it? asks Dan from Australia. Rutherford and Fry investigate the science that has investigated astrology. Professor Richard Wiseman, (sceptical of all things paranormal and a Virgo) and Professor in the Public Understanding of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire, explains the long history of the scientific investigation of astrology. He has also run his own experiments to test whether astrology can help you play the stock market and to investigate if people ...
2021-Jan-05 • 48 minutes
The Noises That Make Us Cringe
Why do some people find noises like a fork scraping a plate so terrible? asks Findlay in Aberdeenshire. Rutherford and Fry endure some horrible noises to find out the answer. Warning - This episode contains some horrible sounds Trevor Cox, Professor of Acoustic Engineering at the University of Salford, has run experiments to find out the worst, most cringe-making sound. He divided horrible sounds into three categories: scraping sounds, like nails down a blackboard; disgusting sounds like a snotty sniffy n...
2020-Dec-29 • 42 minutes
The Pizza Diet
Can I make a pizza that contains my recommended daily intake of everything? asks listener Paul in Manchester. We investigate whether a pizza can meet our full dietary requirements. The optimum diet for humans has been long contested. From William the Conqueror's alcohol diet to the infamous apple cider vinegar diet, discovering the healthiest nutrition is a centuries-long work in progress. So could The Pizza Diet be the next food fad? We investigate a theory that a basic margherita pizza – with its compone...
2020-Dec-22 • 48 minutes
The Good and Bad in Fungi
"Why are some fungi helpful and others harmful?" asks Paul Glaister in Reading. Rutherford and Fry try to outdo each other with fungal top trumps to get to grips with the answer. Decomposition ecologist Lynne Boddy, Professor of Microbial Ecology at Cardiff University, helps Hannah calculate the amount of dead plant material we’d be buried in across the globe, if we didn’t have fungi to recycle it. And she describes her first fungal encounter in her student flat which was riddled with dry rot, and explains...
2020-Dec-15 • 43 minutes
The Martian Mission
What would it take for humans to live permanently on Mars? asks Martin in Weston-super-Mare, UK. The doctors dig into requirements and possibilities of a long-term Martian outpost. We know that many missions to Mars have failed, for a range of reasons – malfunctions, crashes and even a mix-up between imperial and metric units. Getting to Mars – let alone decelerating from 30,000 miles per hour to a safe landing speed in about seven minutes – is not straightforward. Aerospace engineer Anita Sengupta helped...
2020-Dec-08 • 38 minutes
The Hamster Power Hypothesis
"How many hamsters on wheels would it take to power London?" asks Judah from Virginia in the USA. Rutherford & Fry return with engineering, ethics and economics to answer this electric query. Smart grid engineer Lynne McDonald helps keep the lights on for 8.3 million homes and businesses across London at UK Power Networks. She explains how the kilowatt hours we see on our electricity bills relate to the thousands of gigawatt hours required when thinking about powering the whole of London. In theory, a hams...
2020-Dec-01 • 11 minutes
We’re back!
Rutherford and Fry are back in the business of solving your science queries and rooting out the quirks and conundrums of everything that is science!
2020-Jul-14 • 34 minutes
The Space Burrito
Is there a point in space where the Sun could heat a burrito perfectly? asks Will. The doctors tackle this and a plethora of other conundrums from the Curious Cases inbox. Featuring expert answers from astrophysicist Samaya Nissanke, cosmologist Andrew Pontzen, and cognitive neuroscientist Sophie Scott. Presenters: Hannah Fry & Adam Rutherford Producer: Jen Whyntie
2020-Jul-07 • 41 minutes
The Zedonk Problem
‘Today I learnt that tigons and ligers are what you get when lions and tigers interbreed?!’ surprised listener Jamz G tells the doctors. ‘What determines whether species can interbreed?’ Geneticist Aoife McLysaght studies molecular evolution. She explains the modern definition of a species, built on ideas from Aristotle, Linnaeus and Darwin: a species is a group of organisms capable of interbreeding to produce fertile offspring. Hybrids – such as ligons and tigers – are usually infertile, because their co...
2020-Jun-30 • 44 minutes
The End of Everything
Everyone knows about the Big Bang being the beginning of the universe and time - but when and how is it going to end? ask brothers Raffie and Xe from Rome. For this series, with lockdown learning in mind, Drs Rutherford and Fry are investigating scientific mysteries for students of all ages. The doctors sift science from philosophy to find out. Cosmologist Jo Dunkley studies the origins and evolution of the universe. She explains how astrophysical ideas and techniques have evolved to tell us what we now kn...
2020-Jun-23 • 43 minutes
The Sting in the Tail
"What’s the point of wasps?" asks listener Andrew, who is fed up with being pestered. For this series, with lockdown learning in mind, Drs Rutherford and Fry are investigating scientific mysteries for students of all ages. Do wasps do anything to justify their presence as a picnic menace? Ecologist Seirian Sumner researches social wasp behaviour and champions their existence. Not only do yellow jacket wasps perform important ecological services as generalist pest controllers of aphids, caterpillars and fli...
2020-Jun-16 • 34 minutes
The Seeded Cloud
"Could you make a machine to make it rain in minutes?" asks listener Alexander from Hampshire, aged 12. For this series, with lockdown learning in mind, Drs Rutherford and Fry are investigating scientific mysteries for students of all ages. Rutherford and Fry dive into the clouded story of weather modification. First, we need to decide where and when we might deploy any rain machine. Liz Bentley, Chief Executive of the Royal Meteorological society, takes us through the science, maths and art of predicting...
2020-Jun-09 • 35 minutes
The Growling Stomach
"Why do our tummies rumble - and when they do, does it always mean we are hungry?" asks listener James, aged 12. For this series, with lockdown learning in mind, Drs Rutherford and Fry are investigating scientific mysteries for students of all ages. To get to the bottom of this noisy problem, the doctors tune in to our guts. Geneticist Giles Yeo studies food intake and obesity. He explains the wavy workings of our digestive system, and how those audible rumbles are a sign that digestion is taking place – a...
2020-Jun-03 • 2 minutes
We’re back!
Rutherford & Fry are back with longer duration episodes brought to you from slightly shouty socially distanced studio and bedroom settings.
2020-Mar-06 • 38 minutes
The Exotic Wormhole
"What are wormholes and do they really exist?" asks Manlee-Fidel Spence, aged 12. In this exotic episode, the doctors investigate how wormholes would work. Cosmologist Andrew Pontzen explains why wormholes could allow you to travel through time as well as space. And physicist Jim AlKhalili outlines the infinite problems this could generate. When it comes to wormholes and time travel, many science fiction stories have married solid science and successful storytelling, as Jennifer Oullette describes, but o...
2020-Feb-28 • 34 minutes
A Cold Case Part 2
Two cold callers feature in this episode. Jennifer Langston from Ontario in Canada sent this message to [email protected]: "My husband has just taken up cold water swimming and he'll swim in temperatures as low as 6 degrees Celsius. I worry that it's too cold for him, but he claims that 'swimming in cold water is good for you', which drives me bonkers. Can you tell us if there is any scientific proof behind this?” Adam takes a trip to his local lido and asks the locals why they get a kick out of a c...
2020-Feb-21 • 34 minutes
A Cold Case Part 1
“I suppose a cold is called a cold because we catch it in the winter," writes Alison Evans from St Albans. "But why is it that we get more colds in winter than in the summer?” This week's Cold Case is all about the common cold, a set of symptoms caused by hundreds of different strains of cold and flu viruses. Adam uncovers the stinky history of infectious disease with medical historian Claire Jones. Virologists Jonathan Ball and Wendy Barclay describe how spiky viruses lock on to our cells, but why many...
2020-Feb-14 • 38 minutes
The ASMRnswer
"My question is about something I became aware of at a young age," explains Samantha Richter from Cambridgeshire. "I was sitting on the carpet at school, being read a story by the teacher. My hair felt as though it was standing on end as waves of a tingly sensation washed over my head. I subsequently found certain scenes in films had this effect, when actors were talking softly, or someone was having their hair brushed." "Then, a few years ago, I discovered that there is a name for the tingles, it's calle...
2020-Feb-14 • 4 minutes
Hannah's ASMR cocktail
Hannah Fry mixes a mojito. This ASMR recording accompanies the episode of The Curious Cases of Rutherford and Fry on the science of ASMR. Listen to that first, then grab some headphones and let us know if it gives you the brain tingles by emailing [email protected]
2020-Feb-14 • 5 minutes
Adam's ASMR cocktail
Adam Rutherford concocts an Old Fashioned. First listen to our episode on ASMR, then grab some headphones and let Adam mix you a cocktail. Let us know if it gives you the brain tingles, or any other kind of reaction, by emailing [email protected]
2020-Feb-07 • 35 minutes
The Power of Love
Two questions about love and heartbreak in this episode for our Valentine's special edition. Jessica Glasco, aged 29, wrote in to ask about the power of love and how it affects our brain. Hannah tracks down Dr Helen Fisher, who conducted some of the first MRI studies on love by putting besotted couples into the brain scanner. Adam talks to broadcaster Claudia Hammond, author of Emotional Rollercoaster, to find out how psychologists have grappled with the messy business of love. And we hear why a small f...
2020-Jan-31 • 28 minutes
The Golden Secret
"How do you make gold?" asks curious listener, Paul Ruddick. Inspired by the promise of riches, Hannah and Adam embark on a mission to discover the origin of gold. It's a tale that takes them from the clandestine codes of Aristotle to the alchemy of Isaac Newton, alongside materials scientist Mark Miodownik. They boldly go into the cosmos with astronomers Lucie Green and Andrew Pontzen, to learn what happens in the most exotic areas of space. By the end one thing is for sure - you'll never look at your g...
2020-Jan-24 • 13 minutes
We’re Back!
Rutherford & Fry reveal which of your questions they’ve chosen for Series 15. Plus they select more of their favourite strange-but-true science papers, including how to use mathematics to challenge a parking fine and training tortoises to yawn.
2019-Dec-09 • 43 minutes
The End of the World
"What would become the dominant species if, or when, humans go extinct?" This cheery question leads Drs Rutherford and Fry to embark on an evolutionary thought experiment. Zoologist Matthew Cobb questions whether humans really are the dominant species. Ecologist Kate Jones explains why some species are more extinction-prone than others. Plus Phil Plait, AKA The Bad Astronomer, busts some myths about why the dinosaurs went extinct. Send your questions for future series, along with any Curio correspondenc...
2019-Nov-22 • 35 minutes
The Trouble Sum Weather
"Why is it so difficult to predict the weather?" asks Isabella Webber, aged 21 from Vienna. "I am sure there are many intelligent meteorologists and it seems rather straight forward to calculate wind speed, look at the clouds, and data from the past to make accurate predictions, but yet it’s not possible." Adam delves into the history of forecasting with author Andrew Blum, beginning with the mystery of a lost hot air balloon full of Arctic explorers. Hannah visits the BBC Weather Centre to talk to mete...
2019-Nov-15 • 32 minutes
The Heart of the Antimatter
"How do you make antimatter?' asks Scott Matheson, aged 21 from Utah. The team takes charge of this question with a spin through the history of antimatter. Adam talks to physicist Frank Close, author of 'Antimatter', about its origins in the equations of Dirac to its manufacture in the first particle accelerator, the Bevatron. Cosmologist Andrew Pontzen tells Hannah why physicists today are busy pondering the mystery of the missing antimatter. Anyone who discovers why the Universe is made of matter, rath...
2019-Nov-08 • 36 minutes
Stephen Fry's Identity Crisis
Stephen Fry (no relation) asks Adam and Hannah to investigate the following question: "All my life I have been mildly plagued by the fact that I have a quite appalling ability to remember faces. I cut people I should know well dead in the street, or at least fail to recognise them in a way which must often be hurtful. At a party I can talk to someone for ten minutes and then see them again twenty later and have no idea who they are unless I’ve made an effort to fix some accessory or item of their dress i...
2019-Nov-01 • 33 minutes
A Frytful Scare Part 2
Rutherford and Fry delve into the history of roller coasters in the second instalment of their investigation into why we enjoy being scared. Amelie Xenakis asks: "Why do people enjoy rollercoasters? I am a thrill-seeker and I am always terrified before riding a roller coaster but I enjoy the ride itself. (I would like BOTH of you to ride a roller coaster if possible)." Never ones to shy away from a challenge, the pair attempt to channel their inner adrenaline junkies with a trip on one the UK's scariest ...
2019-Oct-25 • 31 minutes
A Frytful Scare Part 1
It was a dark and stormy night around the time of Halloween. A secret message arrived addressed to Rutherford & Fry from a mysterious woman called Heidi Daugh, who demanded to know: "Why do people like to be scared? For example, going on scary amusement park rides and watching horror movies that make you jump.” What followed was an investigation over two chapters, which would test our intrepid duo to their very limits. In this first instalment, they explore the history of horror, starting with its literary...
2019-Oct-18 • 14 minutes
Curious Cases Returns
Rutherford and Fry are back with Series 14. In an extended podcast trailer they discuss their favourite strange-but-true scientific studies, from jetlagged hamsters to flatulent snakes. Presenters: Hannah Fry, Adam Rutherford Producer: Michelle Martin
2019-May-03 • 37 minutes
Jurassic Squawk
"Is there is any way of knowing what noises, if any, dinosaurs would have made?" asks Freddie Quinn, aged 8 from Cambridge in New Zealand. From Jurassic Park to Walking with Dinosaurs, the roars of gigantic dinosaurs like T.Rex are designed to evoke fear and terror. But did dinosaurs actually roar? And how do paleontologists investigate what noises these extinct animals may have produced? Hannah and Adam talk to dinosaur experts Steve Brusatte and Julia Clarke to find out. Plus Jurassic World sound desi...
2019-Apr-26 • 29 minutes
The Lunar Land Pt2
In the second installment of our double episode on the Moon we ask what life would be like if we had more than one Moon. From the tides to the seasons, the Moon shapes our world in ways that often go unnoticed. And, as we'll find out, it played a vital role in the creation of life itself. This week we celebrate the many ways the Moon and the Earth are linked. If one Moon is so great, why not have two? We discover why multiple moons could spell disaster for our planet, from giant volcanoes to cataclysmic c...
2019-Apr-19 • 30 minutes
The Lunar Land Pt 1
A double episode to mark the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, and the first humans to walk on the Moon in 1969. Harley Day emailed [email protected] to ask “Why do we only have one Moon and what would life on Earth be like if we had more? I'll be over the moon if you can help me solve this mystery.” In this first episode, Hannah and Adam look at how the Moon was formed and why we only have one. Featuring Maggie Aderin-Pocock space scientist and author of 'The Book of the Moon' and cosmic mineralogist S...
2019-Apr-12 • 39 minutes
An Instrumental Case
“We play many musical instruments in our family. Lots of them produce the same pitch of notes, but the instruments all sound different. Why is this?” asks Natasha Cook aged 11, and her Dad Jeremy from Guelph in Ontario, Canada. For this instrumental case Hannah and Adam are joined by the Curious Cases band - Matt Chandler and Wayne Urquhart - to play with today's question. Bringing the science we have acoustic engineer and saxophone player Trevor Cox. Plus materials expert Zoe Laughlin demonstrates a sele...
2019-Apr-05 • 28 minutes
The Periodic Problem
"Will the periodic table ever be complete?" asks Philip Craven on Twitter. In 2016 four new chemical elements were given the official stamp of approval - nihonium, moscovium, tennessine, and oganesson. And 2019 was named by the UN as the International Year of the Periodic Table. In this episode, Hannah and Adam dive into the test tubes of history to hear why the first element was discovered in boiled urine, why chips don't explode and how a cancelled trip to a cheese factory resulted in the creation of th...
2019-Mar-29 • 35 minutes
The Mesmerist
“Is hypnosis real, and if so how does it work? Does it have any practical uses and which of Hannah and Adam is most susceptible?” This question came from two Curios, Peter Jordan aged 24 from Manchester and Arran Kinnear aged 13 from Bristol. Arch sceptics Hannah and Adam visit stage hypnotist Ben Dali to find out if they are susceptible to the power of suggestion. One of them will be successfully hypnotised, but who will it be? Along the way we hear about the history of hypnosis from Wendy Moore author...
2019-Mar-22 • 4 minutes
Coming Soon – More Curious Cases
Hannah and Adam return to crack open the Curious Cases they’ll be examining during the coming series, from the sound of musical instruments to the science of hypnosis. Please send your questions for future episodes and entries for Curio of the Week to: [email protected] Presenters: Hannah Fry, Adam Rutherford Producer: Michelle Martin
2018-Dec-21 • 31 minutes
The Horrible Hangover
"My name is Ava and I've never had a hangover," writes Ava Karuso. "I'm a 25 year-old Australian and I enjoy going out for drinks. However, the next day when everyone else sleeps in and licks their wounds, I get up early and get right back to my normal routine.” Drs Rutherford and Fry investigate the ancient origins of alcohol, from Sumerians drinking beer through straws, to Aristotle's teachings ‘On Intoxication’. But what can modern science tell us about how alcohol affects our brains? What causes the ...
2018-Dec-14 • 26 minutes
The Good Bad Food
“Why does bad food taste so good?” asks Alan Fouracre from Tauranga, New Zealand. "And by ‘bad’ food, I mean the things we are told to hold back on like sausage, chips and chocolate." From sugar to salt and fat, we investigate why our body derives pleasure from the very foods we're often told to avoid. Adam discovers why retronasal smelling makes bacon taste delicious on a trip to the BBC canteen with materials scientist, Mark Miodownik. Hannah consults food scientist Linda Bartoshuk on her fizzy pop ha...
2018-Dec-07 • 31 minutes
Two Infinities and Beyond - part 2
In the second part of our eternal quest to investigate infinity, inspired by this question from father and son duo Sorley and Tom Watson from Edinburgh: “Is anything in the Universe truly infinite, or is infinity something that only exists in mathematics?” Hannah and Adam try and find something that is truly infinite, from the infinitely small particles that live in the subatomic world to the infinitely dense heart of a black hole. But how about the Universe itself? We find out how physicists go about mea...
2018-Nov-30 • 32 minutes
Two Infinities and Beyond - part 1
“Is anything in the Universe truly infinite, or is infinity something that only exists in mathematics?” This momentous question came from father and son duo from Edinburgh Sorley aged 10 and Tom, aged adult. It's a subject so big, that we've devoted two episodes to our never-ending quest to investigate infinity. The first installment is a story of mathematics, music and murder. We'll find out why the ancient Pythagoreans decided that infinity was evil, and why some infinities are bigger than others. Fea...
2018-Nov-23 • 33 minutes
The Stressful Scone
"How do accents start and where did they come from?” asks Sachin Bahal from Toronto in Canada. Hannah is schooled in speaking Geordie by top accent coach Marina Tyndall. And Adam talks to author and acoustics expert Trevor Cox about how accents evolved and why they persist. We meet Debie who has Foreign Accent Syndrome - an extremely rare condition in which your accent can change overnight. After a severe bout of flu, which got progressively worse, Debie's Brummie accent suddenly transformed into somethin...
2018-Nov-16 • 26 minutes
The Viking Code
"Is it true all British people can trace their ancestry to Vikings and how do ancestry DNA tests work?" asks Chloe Mann from Worthing. Genetic ancestry tests promise to reveal your ancestral origins and map your global heritage, but do they? Rutherford and Fry are here to bust some myths. Adam takes a trip through Norse history with Viking historian Janina Ramirez, whilst flying over the Medieval town of Ludwig. Meanwhile Hannah discovers how DNA ancestry tests work with evolutionary geneticist Mark Tho...
2018-Sep-07 • 34 minutes
A World of Pain
"Why do people experience pain differently when they go through the same event?" asks Claire Jenkins from Cwmbran in Wales. Professor of Pain Research, Irene Tracey, welcomes Adam in to the room she calls her 'Torture Chamber'. Burning, electrocuting, lasering and piercing are all on the menu, but which will hurt the most? Hannah speaks to Steve Pete from Washington who has a rare genetic condition which means he doesn't feel pain. For chronic sufferers, this sounds like heaven, but a life without pain ha...
2018-Aug-31 • 26 minutes
The Random Request
Two random questions in this episode. "Is anything truly random, or is everything predetermined?" asks Darren Spalding from Market Harborough. Hannah and Adam go in search of random events, from dice throws to lava lamps. Can we predict the outcome of any event? And "how do computers manage to pick random numbers?", asks Jim Rennie from Mackinaw in Illinois. Joining them are a random selection of experts: mathematician Colva Roney-Dougal, technology journalist Bill Thompson, Science Museum Curator Tilly B...
2018-Aug-24 • 38 minutes
The Running Joke
"How fast can a human run and would we be faster as quadrapeds?" This question flew in via Twitter from historian Greg Jenner. Is there a limit to human sprinting performance? In this episode we investigate the biomechanics of running, statistical trends in human performance and which kind of monkey runs the fastest. But first, an experiment. Due to some spurious and possibly fictional injuries, neither Hannah nor Adam are fit enough to take part in a sprint trial at the University of Bath. So long-suffe...
2018-Aug-17 • 25 minutes
The Alien Enterprise Part 2
Do alien civilisations exist? When will ET phone home? In the second part of our alien double bill, Hannah and Adam boldly go in search of intelligence. They may be some time. What will aliens look like? Where should we look for them? And what are the chances of finding complex life in the cosmos? Featuring astronomer Seth Shostak from the SETI Institute in California, exoplanet hunter Sara Rugheimer from the University of St Andrews and zoologist Matthew Cobb from Manchester University, Presenters: Ha...
2018-Aug-10 • 26 minutes
The Alien Enterprise Part 1
Mike Holcombe from Largs in Scotland asks, "How do we look for alien life and what are we expecting to find?" In the first of two episodes on the search for ET, Hannah and Adam look for life inside the Solar System. How do we define life and why we obsessed with finding it on Mars? Or should we be looking for space squid on Europa instead? Features interviews with planetary scientist Monica Grady from the Open University, senior astronomer Seth Shostak from SETI and zoologist Matthew Cobb from the Univers...
2018-Jun-01 • 27 minutes
The Dawn Chorus
"Winter is finally over and the birds are all singing their hearts out at dawn. What's all the noise about? And why are some songs so elaborate?" asks Tony Fulford from Ely in Cambridgeshire. We find out how birds produce multiple notes at once, which one has the widest repertoire of songs, and why males like to show off quite so much. Plus, we talk to researcher Lauryn Benedict about the project which aims to solve the mystery of why female birds sing - www.femalebirdsong.org. Featuring interviews with ...
2018-May-25 • 25 minutes
The Lucky Number
"My boss insists that if you choose the same numbers in the lottery each time your probability of winning will increase. Is this true?" asks Vince Scott from Edinburgh. National lotteries are played in more than 80 countries worldwide, but can you increase your chances of winning? Hannah consults statistician Jen Rogers to discover the best way to select your lucky numbers. Adam talks chance and luck with David Spiegelhalter and hears how the field of probability began with a philandering gambling polym...
2018-May-18 • 26 minutes
The Déjà Vu
"Do we know what causes déjà vu?" asks Floyd Kitchen from Queenstown in New Zealand. Drs Rutherford and Fry investigate this familiar feeling by speaking to world-leading reseacher Chris Moulin from the University of Grenoble in France and memory expert Catherine Loveday from Westminster University. Plus, they find out why early investigations classed déjà vu as a type of paranormal phenomenon. For most of us, it's a fleetingly strange experience, but for some people it can become a serious problem. Lisa...
2018-May-11 • 28 minutes
The Human Instrument
"What happens to the human voice as we age? If I hear a voice on the radio, I can guess roughly how old they are. But singer's voices seem to stay relatively unchanged as they age. Why is this?" All these questions were sent to [email protected] by Jonathan Crain from Long Island in New York. The Doctors discover how the human voice is produced and listen to how our voice sounds when it emerges from our vocal cords. Acoustic engineer Trevor Cox, author of 'Now You're Talking', explains why German and ...
2018-May-04 • 27 minutes
The Fifth Dimension
"What is the fifth dimension?" asks Lena Komaier-Peeters from East Sussex. Proving the existence of extra dimensions, beyond our 3D universe, is one of the most exciting and controversial areas in modern physics. Hannah and Adam head to CERN, the scientific cathedral for quantum weirdness, to try and find them. Theoretical physicist Rakhi Mahbubani explains why we think that dimensions beyond our own might exist. Adam meets Sam Harper, who has spent 14 years hunting for an elusive particle called the 'gra...
2018-Mar-02 • 31 minutes
The Cosmic Egg
"How do we measure the age of the Universe?" asks Simon Whitehead. A hundred years ago this wouldn't even have been considered a valid question, because we didn't think the Universe had a beginning at all. Even Einstein thought that space was eternal and unchanging. This is the tale of how we discovered that the Universe had a beginning, and why calculating its age has been one of the greatest challenges in modern astronomy. We also uncover the mysterious dark energy that pervades the cosmos and discove...
2018-Feb-28 • 24 minutes
The Atomic Blade
"What makes things sharp? Why are thinner knives sharper? What happens on the molecular level when you cut something?" All these questions came from Joshua Schwartz in New York City. The ability to create sharp tools allowed us to fashion clothing, make shelters and hunt for food, all essential for the development of human civilisation, according to materials scientist Mark Miodownik. We hear from IBM scientist Chris Lutz, who has used one of the sharpest blades in the world to slice up individual atoms. ...
2018-Feb-23 • 29 minutes
The Tiniest Dinosaur
"What is the tiniest dinosaur?" asks younger listener Ellie Cook, aged 11. Today's hunt takes us from the discovery of dinosaurs right up to the present day, which is being hailed as a 'golden age' for palaeontology. One new species of dinosaur is currently being unearthed on average every single week. But what's the smallest dino? And what can size reveal about the life of extinct animals? Hannah goes underground at the Natural History Museum to look through their vaults in search of the tiniest dinos...
2018-Feb-16 • 23 minutes
The Enigma of Sex, Part 2
The second instalment in our double bill on the science of sex, answering this question from Robert Turner, a Curio from Leeds: "Why do we only have two sexes?" Drs Rutherford and Fry look for anomalies in the animal kingdom that go beyond the traditional mechanics of human reproduction. Biologist and author Carin Bondar describes some of the wild and somewhat disturbing ways other animals like to do it. Take the hermaphrodite sea slug who races to stab its penis into its partner's brain during sex, or t...
2018-Feb-09 • 25 minutes
The Enigma of Sex, Part 1
"Why do we only have two sexes and are there any anomalies in the animal kingdom?" asks Robert Turner from Leeds. From reptilian virgin births to hermaphrodite sea slugs, over the next two episodes Drs Rutherford and Fry examine the weird ways other creatures reproduce. In this first instalment, they tackle what's been called 'the hardest problem in evolutionary biology' - why does sex exist? Why aren't we all one single sex that clone ourselves to produce offspring? It makes perfect evolutionary sense...
2018-Jan-12 • 24 minutes
Goldfinger's Moon Laser
"The other day I was watching the James Bond film Goldfinger. He boasts a laser powerful enough to project a spot on the Moon. Is this possible? If so, just how powerful would such a laser need to be?" This curious question was sent to [email protected] by Eddie Griffith from Hinckley in Leicestershire. Adam visits one of the most powerful lasers in the world, the Gemini Super Intense Laser at the aptly named Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Didcot, Oxfordshire. Plasma physicist Ceri Brenner gives hi...
2018-Jan-05 • 26 minutes
The Curious Face Off
"Are machines better than humans at identifying faces?" asks the excellently named Carl Vandal. Today's Face Off leads our intrepid detectives to investigate why we see Jesus on toast, Hitler in houses and Kate Middleton on a jelly bean. Face perception psychologist Rob Jenkins from the University of York explains why we're so good at spotting familiar faces, like celebrities. Plus, Franziska Knolle from the University of Cambridge discusses her face recognition study involving Barack Obama and a group of...
2017-Dec-29 • 23 minutes
The Cosmic Speed Limit
"We often read that the fastest thing in the Universe is the speed of light. Why do we have this limitation and can anything possibly be faster?" Ali Alshareef from Qatif in Saudia Arabia emailed [email protected] with this puzzling problem. The team grapples with Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity, with help from cosmologist Andrew Pontzen and a British train, travelling somewhat slower than the speed of light. Plus physicist and presenter Jim Al-Khalili describes how he nearly lost his boxer s...
2017-Dec-22 • 30 minutes
The Dreadful Vegetable
"Why don't children like vegetables?" asks Penny Young from Croydon, and every parent ever. This week Rutherford and Fry dig into the science of taste and discover that there may be more to this question than meets the eye. Children and adults have a different taste experience when they eat the same foods. When you're young, foods can taste saltier and more bitter. What's more, as Jackie Blisset, Professor of Childhood Eating Behaviour explains, there are even evolutionary reasons why toddlers avoid vege...
2017-Dec-15 • 25 minutes
The Baffled Bat
"Why don't thousands of bats in a cave get confused? How do they differentiate their own location echoes from those of other bats?" This puzzling problem was sent in to [email protected] by Tim Beard from Hamburg in Germany. Since ecolocation was first discovered, this question has perplexed biologists. Hannah turns bat detective to try and track down these elusive creatures at The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in East London. This is where zoologist Kate Jones from University College London is using a...
2017-Sep-29 • 24 minutes
Adventures in Dreamland
"Why do we dream and why do we repeat dreams?" asks Mila O'Dea, aged 9, from Panama. Hannah and Adam delve into the science of sleep. From a pioneering experiment on rapid eye movement sleep, to a brand new 'dream signature' found in the brain, they discover how scientists are investigating our hidden dreamworld. Featuring sociologist Bill Domhoff from the University of California Santa Cruz, sleep psychologist Mark Blagrove from the University of Swansea, and neurologist Francesca Siclari from the Univer...
2017-Sep-22 • 29 minutes
The Shocking Surprise
Why do we get static shocks? Jose Chavez Mendez from Guatemala asks, "Some years ago, in the dry season, I used to be very susceptible to static electricity. I want to know - why do static shocks happen?" The team uncover some slightly unethical science experiments on static electricity from the 1700s. Hannah Fry uses a Leyden Jar to demonstrate how static electricity works with help from her glamorous assistant, Adam Rutherford. Spoiler Alert: it doesn't end well for Adam. They discover what makes some...
2017-Sep-15 • 25 minutes
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 earworm may j...
2017-Sep-08 • 20 minutes
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 facing a global ...
2017-Sep-01 • 20 minutes
The Curious Cake-Off
Can chemistry help us bake the perfect cake? Listener Helena McGinty aged 69 from Malaga in Spain asks, "'I have always used my mother's sponge cake recipe. But is there a noticeable difference in the outcome if you vary some of the ingredients, or the method?" In this episode Hannah and Adam go head to head in a competition to create the perfect cake using the power of science. They are aided by materials scientist Mark Miodownik, from University College London, with tips on how to combine the ideal i...
2017-Jun-16 • 21 minutes
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 team to investig...
2017-Jun-15 • 21 minutes
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 McGlone from Liver...
2017-Jun-14 • 19 minutes
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 Dundee University ab...
2017-Jun-02 • 23 minutes
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: [email protected] Pres...
2017-May-19 • 19 minutes
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 people, cats a...
2017-Mar-15 • 12 minutes
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 Jo Mountford,...
2017-Mar-10 • 16 minutes
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 during 'The Memo...
2017-Mar-10 • 15 minutes
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 hands, with the ...
2017-Mar-10 • 15 minutes
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: [email protected] Presenters: Hannah Fry, Ad...
2017-Mar-10 • 17 minutes
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 bacterial lodger...
2016-Dec-02 • 18 minutes
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 surely be afforded t...
2016-Dec-02 • 15 minutes
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 conclusion based on curren...
2016-Dec-02 • 14 minutes
The Hunt for Nothing, Part 2
In the last episode the team started investigating the following inquiry, sent in to [email protected]: '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 hears about his...
2016-Dec-02 • 15 minutes
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, invented the artific...
2016-Dec-02 • 15 minutes
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 same way. Adam ta...
2016-Oct-07 • 16 minutes
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 Lewis from Utah. ...
2016-Oct-05 • 15 minutes
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 Fellow in Astr...
2016-Oct-05 • 14 minutes
The Portly Problem
"Why do we have middle aged spread?" asks Bart Janssen from New Zealand. From obese mice to big bottoms, the duo discovers what science can tell us about fat. Why do we put on weight in middle age? And are some types of fat better than others? Hannah meets Prof Steve Bloom at Imperial College, London to discuss apples and pears. Adam talks to Dr Aaron Cypess from the National Institutes of Health in Maryland, who has created a 'fatlas' - an atlas that maps fat inside the body. Please email your Curio...
2016-Oct-04 • 14 minutes
The Sinister Hand Part 2
In the previous episode the team started investigating the following enquiry, sent in to [email protected]: "What determines left or right handedness and why are us lefties in the minority?" They considered cockatoos, chimpanzees and Hannah's dog, Molly, to discover that humans are unique, with just one in ten of us being left-handed. Today, they look inside the left-handed brain. Some researchers point to a link between left-handedness and impairments like autism or dyslexia. Others claim that lefti...
2016-Oct-03 • 14 minutes
The Sinister Hand Part 1
Neal Shepperson asks, "What determines left or right handedness and why are us lefties in the minority?" When we started investigating this question it became clear that there were just too many scientific mysteries to squeeze into one episode. So there are two whole episodes devoted to this very Curious Case. One in ten people are left-handed, but where does this ratio come from and when did it appear in our evolutionary past? Hannah talks to primatologist Prof Linda Marchant from Miami University about...
2016-Jun-02 • 16 minutes
The Counting Horse
"Can horses count?" asks retired primary school teacher, Lesley Marr. Our scientific sleuths consider the case of Clever Hans, with a spectacular re-enactment of a 20th century spectacle. Plus, we hear from Dr Claudia Uller who has been conducting modern studies on equine counting. Mathematician Prof Marcus Du Sautoy explains the basic concept of counting to Adam, and Hannah looks across the animal kingdom to find the cleverest mathematical creature. If you have any questions you'd like the duo to invest...
2016-May-30 • 17 minutes
The Hairy Hominid
Our science detectives answer the following perplexing problem, sent in by Hannah Monteith from Edinburgh in Scotland: "How does leg hair know it has been cut? It doesn't seem to grow continuously but if you shave it, it somehow knows to grow back." Hannah consults dermatologist Dr Susan Holmes, from the Hair Clinic at Southern General Hospital in Glasgow, to discover why the hairs on your legs don't grow as long as the hairs on your head. Adam attempts to have a serious discussion about the evolutionary...
2016-May-26 • 16 minutes
A Study in Spheres
Today the team study the heavens, thanks to listener Brian Passineau who wonders 'why everything in space tends to be circular or spherical?' Hannah gazes at Jupiter at The Royal Observatory, Greenwich with Public Astronomer, Dr Marek Kukula. Science writer, Philip Ball, explains how the astronomical obsession with celestial spheres came to an untidy end. And physicist Dr Helen Czerski helps Adam on his quest to find the perfect natural sphere. If you have a scientific mystery for the team to investiga...
2016-May-26 • 15 minutes
The Psychic Tear
Listener Edith Calman challenges our scientific sleuths to investigate the following conundrum: 'What is it about extreme pain, emotional shock or the sight of a three year old stumbling their way through an off-key rendition of 'Away in a Manger' that makes the brain send messages to the lacrimal glands to chuck out water?" Hannah discovers how the eye produces tears, with the help of Dr Nick Knight. Broadcaster Claudia Hammond, author of 'Emotional Rollercoaster', explains why Darwin experimented on h...
2016-May-26 • 19 minutes
The Tea Leaf Mystery
Today the team examine the chemistry of tea, in answer to the following question sent in by Fred Rickaby from North Carolina: "When we are preparing a cup of tea and the cup contains nothing but hot, brewed tea we need to add milk and sugar. My wife always adds the sugar first, stirs the cup to make sure it is dissolved and then add the milk. So, is that an optimum strategy for adding milk and sugar to a cup of tea?” Adam consults Prof Andrea Sella from University College London about the perfect formula...
2016-Feb-18 • 14 minutes
The Stellar Dustbin
An unusual case today for science sleuths Hannah Fry and Adam Rutherford sent by Elisabeth Hill: 'Can we shoot garbage into the sun?' The duo embark on an astronomical thought experiment to see how much it would cost to throw Hannah's daily rubbish into our stellar dustbin. From space elevators to solar sails, they explore the various options that could be used to send litter to the Sun. Featuring space scientist Lucie Green and astrophysicist Andrew Pontzen. If you have any everyday mysteries for the ...
2016-Feb-11 • 13 minutes
The Squeamish Swoon
Science sleuths Hannah Fry and Adam Rutherford investigate the following question sent in by Philip Le Riche: 'Why do some people faint at the sight of blood, or a hypodermic needle, or even if they bash their funny bone? Does it serve any useful evolutionary purpose, or is just some kind of cerebral error condition?' Adam is strapped onto a hospital tilt table in an attempt to make him blackout and Hannah receives an aromatic surprise. Featuring consultant cardiologists Dr Nicholas Gall and Dr Adam Fitz...
2016-Feb-11 • 12 minutes
The Aural Voyeur
Drs Rutherford and Fry tackle a vexing case sent in by Daniel Sarano from New Jersey, who asks why people shout on their mobile phones in public. Our science sleuths find the answer by delving into the inner workings of telephony with a tale of engineering rivalry, Victorian etiquette and early otolaryngology. Featuring acoustic technologist Nick Zakarov and historian Greg Jenner, author of 'A Million Years in a Day: A Curious History of Daily Life.' If you have any scientific cases for the team to inves...
2016-Feb-11 • 13 minutes
The Phantom Jam
Drs Rutherford and Fry set out to discover what makes traffic jam. Adam ventures on to the M25 in search of a tailback, and Hannah looks at projects around the world that have attempted to solve the scourge of the traffic jam. Featuring Neal Harwood from the Transport Research Laboratory and BBC technology reporter, Jane Wakefield. And Masdar City man. If you have any scientific cases for the team to investigate please email: [email protected] Presenters: Hannah Fry & Adam Rutherford Producer: Miche...
2016-Feb-11 • 14 minutes
The Scarlet Mark
Drs Adam Rutherford and Hannah Fry are on hand to solve everyday mysteries sent in by listeners. For the last few weeks they've been collecting cases to investigate using the power of science - from why people shout on their mobile phones to what causes traffic jams. In the first episode, called 'The Scarlet Mark', they get to the root of the following conundrum, posed by Sheena Cruickshank in Manchester: 'My eldest son is ginger but I am blonde and my husband brunette so we are constantly asked where t...