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Podcast Profile: CrowdScience

podcast imageTwitter: @BBCScienceNews (followed by 74 science writers)
Site: www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04d42rc
300 episodes
2016 to present
Average episode: 32 minutes
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Categories: Broadcast Radio Programs • Story-Style

Podcaster's summary: We take your questions about life, Earth and the universe to researchers hunting for answers at the frontiers of knowledge.

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List Updated: 2022-Sep-28 12:10 UTC. Episodes: 300. Feedback: @TrueSciPhi.

Episodes
2022-Sep-23 • 28 minutes
Why don’t some things burn?
CrowdScience listener Alix has a burning question - what’s actually happening inside the flames of a campfire to make it glow? And why do some materials burn easily, while others refuse to light at all? To find out, Alex Lathbridge travels to the Fire Research Centre at the University of Edinburgh to (safely) set various things ablaze. He learns about the fundamentals of fire and why things react differently to heat. He then heads to archives of the Royal Institution of London, to see an invention from the...
2022-Sep-16 • 28 minutes
Is there a language of laughter?
Laugh and the world laughs with you, or so you might think. But watch any good comedian on TV by yourself and chances are you’ll laugh a lot less than if you were sat in a lively comedy crowd watching the same comedian in the flesh. But why is that? Do people from different cultures and corners of the world all laugh at the same things? These are questions raised by CrowdScience listener Samuel in Ghana who wonders why he’s always cracking up more easily than those around him. Presenter Caroline Steel dig...
2022-Sep-10 • 31 minutes
Can animals count?
Mathematics and our ability to describe the world in terms of number, shape and measurement may feel like a uniquely human ability. But is it really? Listener Mamadu from Sierra Leone wants to know: can animals count too? CrowdScience presenter Marnie Chesterton goes on a hunt to uncover the numerical abilities of the animal kingdom. Can wild lions compare different numbers? Can you teach bees to recognise and choose specific amounts? And if the answer is yes, how do they do it? Marnie tries to find out j...
2022-Sep-02 • 41 minutes
What happens to insects in the winter?
When CrowdScience listener Eric spotted a few gnats flying around on a milder day in mid-winter it really surprised him - Eric had assumed they just died out with the colder weather. It got him wondering where the insects had come from, how they had survived the previous cold snap and what the implications of climate change might be for insect over-wintering behaviour? So he asked CrowdScience to do some bug investigation. CrowdScience presenter Marnie Chesterton takes up the challenge and heads out into ...
2022-Aug-19 • 28 minutes
What is white?
Have you ever wondered why waterfalls appear white when still water is transparent? Why clouds, or snow, appear white when they too are essentially just water molecules in different states? What makes something white, opaque or transparent? These are the questions CrowdScience listener Gerardo has been pondering ever since taking in the beauty of fallen water on a hiking trail in his home of Cantabria, Northern Spain. Presenter Marnie Chesterton, sets off on a quest to find out the answers to all of those q...
2022-Aug-15 • 33 minutes
Can smells fill you up?
Imagine waking up to the smell of freshly baked bread. Doesn’t it make your mouth water? Now imagine the smell of a fish market on a warm day… still feeling hungry? CrowdScience listener Thanh from Vietnam is intrigued by the effects of smell on our appetite, and wants to know whether certain aromas can make us feel more full than others. Never averse to a food-based challenge, presenter Anand Jagatia takes us on a journey from the nose to the brain, where we find out what exactly happens when we get a whif...
2022-Aug-05 • 28 minutes
Are humans naturally clean and tidy?
From dumping raw sewage into rivers to littering the streets with our trash, humans don’t have a great track record when it comes to dealing with our waste. It’s something that CrowdScience listener and civil engineer Marc has noticed: he wonders if humans are particularly prone to messing up our surroundings, while other species are instinctively more hygienic and well-organised. Are we, by nature, really less clean and tidy than other animals? Farming and technology have allowed us to live more densely a...
2022-Jul-22 • 33 minutes
Why is this song stuck in my head?
You have probably experienced an ‘earworm’ - a catchy bit of music that plays round and round in your head and won’t go away – at least for a short while. But why did it pop up in the first place and how did it get stuck? CrowdScience listener Ryota in Japan wants us to dig into earworms, so presenter Datshiane Navanayagam bravely puts on her headphones to immerse herself in the world of sounds that stick. She meets with a composer of children’s songs as well as music psychologists to find out if there is ...
2022-Jul-15 • 32 minutes
Are viruses the key to fighting infections?
We are running out of ammunition against certain infections, as bacteria increasingly evade the antibiotics we’ve relied on for nearly a century. Could bacteriophages – viruses that hunt and kill bacteria – be part of the solution? In 2019, CrowdScience travelled to Georgia where bacteriophages, also known as phages, have been used for nearly a hundred years to treat illnesses ranging from a sore throat to cholera. Here we met the scientists who have kept rare phages safe for decades, and are constantly on...
2022-Jul-08 • 35 minutes
Are artistic brains different?
Artists can conjure up people, cities, landscapes and entire worlds using just a pencil or a paintbrush. But some of us struggle to draw simple stick figures or a circle that’s round. CrowdScience listener Myck is a fine artist from Malawi, and he’s been wondering if there’s something special about his brain. Myck takes Marnie Chesterton on a tour of his studio, where he paints onto huge canvases sewn from offcuts of local fabric. He’s a self-taught artist and he’s convinced he sees things differently to o...
2022-Jul-01 • 33 minutes
What is healthy hair?
Hair is an important part of our identities – straight, frizzy, long, not there at all – and our efforts to keep it styled and clean have created an $80 billion hair care industry. Many products offer to improve the life of the stuff on our heads, but isn't it all just dead protein? CrowdScience listener Toria wants to know what 'healthy' hair really means. To untangle the science behind hair, we zoom in to see how hair grows from the follicles in our scalp and explore how the hair growth process will chan...
2022-Jun-24 • 34 minutes
Can we get better at accepting death?
Death is inevitable, though many of us would rather not dwell on it. For those with a terminal illness, however, the end of life is clearly a more pressing reality. CrowdScience listener Sam has known for a while that her illness is terminal, and by now she’s got used to the idea. But she finds many friends and family would rather avoid the subject at all costs; they don’t want to acknowledge what’s happening until it’s all over. She’s wondering if there’s a way to lighten up the topic of her approaching d...
2022-Jun-17 • 32 minutes
What is a quantum computer?
Every year, new computers are being developed that are faster and smarter than ever before. But if you really want to take things to the next level, you've got to go quantum. CrowdScience listener Atikah in Hungary likes the sound of a quantum computer but wants to know: what exactly is it, what can it do that a normal computer can't, and how soon can she get hold of one? The digital devices in our everyday lives - from laptop computers to smartphones - are all based on 0s and 1s: so-called ‘bits’. But qua...
2022-Jun-10 • 31 minutes
Human v Machine
Humans can walk for miles, solve problems and form complex relationships using the energy provided by daily meals. That is a lot of output for a fairly modest input. Listener Charlotte from the UK wants to know: how efficient are humans? How do they compare to cars, other animals and even to each other? Presenter Marnie Chesterton pits her energetic self against everything from cars to rabbits to find out how she shapes up. Marnie also explores whether humans are born equal when it comes to fuel efficie...
2022-Jun-03 • 38 minutes
Why do bright lights make me sneeze?
This week’s CrowdScience is dedicated to bodily fluids – and why humans spend so much time spraying them all over the place. From snot and vomit to sweat and sneezes, listeners have been positively drenching our inbox with queries. Now presenter Marnie Chesterton and a panel of unsqueamish expert guests prepare themselves to wade through… One listener has found that as he ages, bright light seems to make him sneeze more and more – with his current record sitting at 14 sneezes in a row. He’d like to know i...
2022-May-27 • 42 minutes
Why can't I find gold in my back yard?
If you go outside with a spade and start digging, the chances are you won't find any gold. You might get lucky or just happen to live in a place where people have been finding gold for centuries. But for the most part, there'll be none. But why is that? Why do metals and minerals show up in some places and not others? It's a question that's been bothering CrowdScience listener Martijn in the Netherlands, who has noticed the physical effects of mining in various different places while on his travels. It’s a...
2022-May-20 • 30 minutes
Why does ancient stuff get buried?
Digging and excavating are bywords for archaeology. But why does history end up deep under our feet? This question struck CrowdScience listener Sunil in an underground car park. Archaeological remains found during the car park’s construction were displayed in the subterranean stairwells, getting progressively older the deeper he went. How had these treasures become covered in so much soil over the centuries? CrowdScience visits Lisbon, the capital of Portugal – and home to the above-mentioned multi-storey...
2022-May-13 • 35 minutes
Does photographic memory exist?
Most people are great at remembering key points from important events in their lives, while the finer details - such as the colour of the table cloth in your favourite restaurant or the song playing on the radio while you brushed your teeth - are forgotten. But some people seem to have the power to remember events, documents or landscapes with almost perfect recall, which is widely referred to as having a photographic memory. Crowdscience listeners Tracy and Michael want to know if photographic memory act...
2022-May-06 • 32 minutes
How far could gene editing go?
Humans now have the ability to directly change their DNA, and gene-editing tool CRISPR has led to a new era in gene-editing. CrowdScience listener ‘Bones’ wants to know how gene-editing is currently being used and what might be possible in the future. Gene-editing offers huge opportunities for the prevention and treatment of human diseases, and trials are currently underway in a wide range of diseases like sickle cell anaemia. CrowdScience presenter Caroline Steel finds out about some of the most promising...
2022-Apr-29 • 34 minutes
How do you balance on a bicycle?
How do we stay up when we ride a bicycle? Lots of us can do it without even thinking about it, but probably very few of us can say exactly HOW we do it. Well, CrowdScience listener Arif and his children Maryam and Mohammed from India want to understand what’s going on in our heads when go for a cycle, and how we learn to do it in the first place. Presenter Marnie Chesterton is on the case, tracking down a neuroscientist studying how our brains and bodies work together to keep us balanced whether we’re walk...
2022-Apr-22 • 34 minutes
Why did the ancient Maya abandon their cities?
The ancient Maya flourished in modern day Mexico and Central America for millennia. They built incredible cities and they had sophisticated knowledge of astronomy, architecture and the natural world. But although Maya culture continues to exist today, around 900 AD, many of their great settlements collapsed, and today they lie in ruins. CrowdScience listener Michael wants to know - how did the Maya sustain their populations successfully for so long? And what happened 1000 years ago that led them to abando...
2022-Apr-15 • 44 minutes
How should we measure cleverness?
The team at CrowdScience have spent years answering all sorts of listener questions, which must make them pretty smart, right? IN this week’s episode, that assumption is rigorously tested as Marnie Chesterton and the team pit their wits against a multitude of mindbending puzzles from an old TV gameshow - all in the name of answering a question from Antonia in Cyprus. She wants to know: how do we work out how clever someone is? Is IQ the best measure of cleverness? Why do we put such weight on academic per...
2022-Apr-08 • 28 minutes
How many fossils are there?
The odds of becoming a fossil are vanishingly small. And yet there seem to be an awful lot of them out there. In some parts of the world you can barely look at a rock without finding a fossil, and museum archives worldwide are stuffed with everything from ammonites to Archaeopteryx. But how many does that leave to be discovered by future fossil hunters? What’s the total number of fossils left to find? That’s what listener Anders Hegvik from Norway wants to know and what CrowdScience is off to investigate....
2022-Apr-01 • 44 minutes
Why do animals migrate? Part 2
Many animals undertake remarkable migratory journeys; travelling thousands of miles only to return to same burrow or beach they departed from. Yet, unlike humans, they don’t have digital or paper maps to guide their way, so how are they able to orientate themselves with such accuracy? In the second part of this migration story, CrowdScience’s Anand Jagatia explores how animals are able to navigate using the sun, stars, smells, landmarks and magnetism to help guide them. Anand journeys to the coast of Flori...
2022-Mar-25 • 37 minutes
Why do animals migrate? Part 1
Wherever you are in the world you are probably near an animal that has undertaken a remarkable migratory journey, be that a butterfly, bird or sea turtle. But what CrowdScience listener Moses in Kenya wants to know is why they bother making such long and precarious voyages - and how they're able to reliably navigate over hundreds and sometimes even thousands of miles. In this first of two episodes, presenter Anand Jagatia travels to the Americas to meet the scientists finding and tracking these animals in o...
2022-Mar-18 • 32 minutes
Is maths real?
Faced with one cake and eight hungry people, it’s pretty obvious how maths underpins reality. But as mathematics gets further from common sense and into seemingly abstract territory, nature still seems to obey its rules - whether in the orbit of a planet, the number of petals on a flower, or the structure of an atom. But what exactly is the relationship between mathematics and reality? That’s the impossibly difficult question CrowdScience has been set this week by our listener Sergio in Peru. It’s one that...
2022-Mar-11 • 35 minutes
Does massage work?
Massage has been used for thousands of years to soothe our aches and pains and help us relax. Today there are a wide array of styles to choose from – Swedish massage, deep tissue, hot stone, sport, Thai, the list goes on. But which techniques are backed up by evidence? CrowdScience listeners Catherine and Stacy are keen for us to untangle this knotty issue, so presenter Caroline Steel selflessly ventures from her desk to the massage table all in the name of science. Is there such thing as a muscle 'knot' ...
2022-Mar-04 • 27 minutes
How high can insects fly?
If you took a fly into a really tall elevator and let it out at the top, would it still be able to fly? And what’s the absolute highest an insect could possibly go? It’s a question that’s been bugging CrowdScience listener Chee for a while, but presenter Alex Lathbridge is on the case. He discovers that when they’re not buzzing around your lunch, insects can be routinely found flying high up in the atmosphere travelling from A to B. There are also ground-dwelling bumblebees living in the mountains of Sichua...
2022-Feb-25 • 31 minutes
How did we discover fire?
Controlling fire was a turning point in the development of human civilisation. But how did fire become part of the human toolkit? It's a question that has got Crowdscience listener Joseph wondering. He wants to know how humans first made fire and how that knowledge spread around the world, eventually developing into our industrial civilisations today. Archaeologists have many different ideas and theories about this. Did humans learn the skill millions of years ago, and carry it with them as they migrated ...
2022-Feb-18 • 32 minutes
How do you navigate in space?
How good are you at finding your way from A to B? Humans throughout history have used all sorts of tools to get us to our destination – from a trusty map and compass to the instant directions on a smartphone. But CrowdScience listener Pam from Florida wants to know what happens when we leave the surface of the Earth and try to navigate our way around space. Is there a North and South we can use to orientate ourselves? Which way is left if your nearest landmark is a million light years away? And if you can’t...
2022-Feb-11 • 35 minutes
Are we too selfish to save the planet?
Climate change and biodiversity loss are two of the biggest threats humanity has ever faced - and tackling them is going to take a whole lot of collaboration and putting others before ourselves. But are humans cut out for this level of cooperation? Or are we fundamentally too self-interested to work together for the common good? Listener Divyesh is not very hopeful about all this, so he’s asked CrowdScience if humans have a “selfish gene” that dooms us to failure when trying to meet these challenges. He's...
2022-Feb-04 • 34 minutes
Is the ‘sunshine cure’ a real thing?
Imagine spending six months of every year living in total shade. That’s what life is like for residents of the Norwegian town of Rjukan, set so low in a valley that they see no direct sunshine at all from October to March. Marnie Chesterton heads there to hear about an ingenious solution: giant mirrors that beam rays down into the town square, where locals gather to feel the reflected heat. The man behind the project was motivated by a need for winter sun – but how much difference does it really make to our...
2022-Jan-28 • 29 minutes
How does my radio work?
How is a small budget pocket radio able to recreate all the atmosphere and sounds of a football match? CrowdScience listener Andy wants to know about the science enabling his radio listening, so presenter CrowdScience Geoff Marsh sets off - microphone in hand - to follow the journey of sound on the radio. Starting with the microphone, Geoff learns how acoustic energy is converted into electrical signals. Then BBC World Service presenter Gareth takes Geoff to a little-known room in the BBC called the Radio...
2022-Jan-21 • 30 minutes
Does dark matter still matter?
Scientists have been searching for dark matter for decades, and think there’s six times more of it in the universe than the stuff we can actually see, like stars and planets. But they still don’t know what it is. So how can we be sure dark matter really exists? And why does it matter, anyway? Back in 2018, armed with a boiler suit, hard hat and ear defenders, Marnie Chesterton travelled over a kilometre underground into a hot and sweaty mine to see how scientists are valiantly trying to catch some elusi...
2022-Jan-14 • 28 minutes
Are big-heads smarter?
We live in a world where bigger is often seen as better - and the size of someone's brain is no exception. But a listener in Nairobi wants to know, does size really matter when it comes to grey matter? CrowdScience presenter Marnie Chesterton is on a mission to find out if the physical attributes of our head and brain can tell us anything about what's going on inside. We certainly thought so in the past. In the 1800s, phrenology – determining someone’s characteristics by their skull shape – was very fash...
2022-Jan-07 • 30 minutes
Why do we get bored?
“I’m bored!” We can all relate to the uncomfortable - and at times unbearable - feeling of boredom. But what is it? Why does it happen? And could this frustrating, thumb-twiddling experience actually serve some evolutionary purpose? CrowdScience listener Brian started wondering this over a particularly uninspiring bowl of washing up, and it’s ended with Marnie Chesterton going on a blessedly un-boring tour through the science and psychology of tedium. She finds out why some people are more affected than oth...
2021-Dec-31 • 41 minutes
How do you like your eggs in the morning?
Should you wash your eggs? Well believe it or not, there is quite an international debate about this question from CrowdScience listener Susan. In Canada, where Susan grew up, commercially sold eggs are washed before they reach stores, whereas in the UK where she is now living they are not. So what is best to avoid contamination? It’s one of a number of egg-themed questions that CrowdScience tries to crack in this episode. One of our presenters, Marnie Chesterton, heads over to Susan’s home in London to co...
2021-Dec-24 • 32 minutes
CrowdScience Christmas bonanza
Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens – CrowdScience has covered a lot this year. And what better way to see out 2021 than to look back at a few of our (and your!) favourite things? Great questions are right at the top of the team’s list – especially with the way that for every one we answer, five more appear in our inbox! So for a festive treat, Marnie asks the crew to answer three of them. What's the sun's role in our sense of direction? Why are we so uncomfortable with other people’s sadness? And ...
2021-Dec-17 • 33 minutes
How can I keep fruit & veg fresh for longer?
As many of us gear up for the annual Christmas feast, some of you may be wondering how to eat everything before it goes off. It’s a great question, as the UN puts global food waste at a whopping 1.3 billion tonnes a year – that’s one third of all edible produce being thrown in the bin. So this week the team investigates listener Peter’s query about what makes some fruit and vegetables rot faster than others. Preserving food used to be about ensuring nomadic populations could keep moving without going hung...
2021-Dec-10 • 36 minutes
What's the best way to make a decision?
Life is full of choices, from the mundane (like what to wear today) to the critical (how should we deal with the pandemic?). So how can we make the best decisions? That’s what listener David wants to know. To investigate, Caroline Steel learns how being smarter doesn’t necessarily make you a good decision maker. She speaks to researchers about the importance of ‘gut feelings’ – and how certain people with no intuition whatsoever can struggle to make choices. She also learns why it’s easier to give advice t...
2021-Dec-03 • 33 minutes
What makes stuff sticky?
What makes things sticky? Listener Mitch from the USA began wondering while he was taking down some very sticky wallpaper. Our world would quite literally fall apart without adhesives. They are almost everywhere – in our buildings, in our cars and in our smartphones. But how do they hold things together? To find out, presenter Marnie Chesterton visits a luthier, Anette Fajardo, who uses animal glues every day in her job making violins. These glues have been used since the ancient Egyptians –but adhesives ...
2021-Nov-26 • 32 minutes
Which is better: Optimism or pessimism?
In most cultures, the soundtrack to our lives is one of optimism. We are told to aim for the stars, dream big and believe that tomorrow will definitely be a better day. But why do so many people subscribe to the cult of 'glass half full' when life’s hardships should make any reasonable person a bit more wary? Listener Hannah from Germany - a self-described pessimist - is intrigued as to whether the optimistic way of life is really the best way to be. Taking on the challenge is Marnie Chesterton, who finds...
2021-Nov-19 • 31 minutes
Would my cat survive in the wild?
Cats started hanging out with humans thousands of years ago, and nowadays these fluffy, lovable pets are found in many of our homes. But there is no doubt lots of them still have keen hunting instincts - witness all the birds and small mammals they kill each year. CrowdScience listener Rachel started wondering whether her cat Eva could fend for herself while watching her uncoordinated swipes at a toy on a string, and seeing her fall off the sofa. Even though Eva was once a stray, she now lives entirely ind...
2021-Nov-12 • 26 minutes
Can we recycle concrete?
Concrete is the most widely used substance on earth after water. It’s quite literally the foundation of the modern world, and no wonder - it’s strong, cheap, and mouldable into nearly any shape. But these benefits come at a cost: concrete production is responsible for around 8% of global CO2 emissions - that’s around three times more than the aviation industry. Concrete might not look pretty, but given its carbon footprint, should we be more careful about how we use it? And rather than throwing waste int...
2021-Nov-05 • 40 minutes
Can COP26 deliver on climate change?
The science is unequivocal: human-made climate change is leading the world into an environmental crisis, and time is running out to prevent permanent damage to ecosystems and make the planet uninhabitable for many of us humans. As communities around the world increasingly experience the devastating effects of global warming, world leaders, policy makers and scientists from all over the globe are attending COP26, the United Nation’s major climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland. Each nation will be frantically...
2021-Oct-29 • 35 minutes
Could we completely switch to renewable energy?
As the world slowly moves away from using fossil fuels for electricity, one tiny Scottish island has proved it’s possible to rely almost entirely on renewables. The inner Hebridean isle of Eigg used to get its power from diesel generators. But in 2008 its residents launched the world’s first electricity system powered by nature, and the Crowdscience team wants to know exactly how they did it, and whether such a model could work in other places with no national grid? Marnie discovers that the community is k...
2021-Oct-22 • 36 minutes
Should I have kids?
"To be or not to be” was never your decision. No one alive today is an “exister” by consent - your parents made that call for you. But who can blame them? Animals are hardwired with strong impulses towards their procreative goals, and we humans, by and large, are no different. But for some conscientious people alive today, this most fundamental of biological impulses is butting up against a rational pessimism about the future... With apocalyptic scenes of natural disasters, rising sea levels and global pan...
2021-Oct-15 • 36 minutes
Can we grow a conscious brain?
Philosophers have long pondered the concept of a brain in a jar, hooked up to a simulated world. Though this has largely remained a thought experiment, CrowdScience listener JP wants to know if it might become reality in the not-too-distant future, with advances in stem cell research. In the two decades since stem cell research began, scientists have learned how to use these cells to create the myriad of cell types in our bodies, including those in our brains, offering researchers ways to study neurologica...
2021-Oct-08 • 35 minutes
Does the planet need snails?
Snails are a major enemy of gardeners around the world, invading vegetable patches and gobbling prize plants. CrowdScience listener Alexandre reckons he’s removed thousands of them from his garden, which got him wondering: apart from eating his garden to the core, what’s their wider role in nature? Would anyone or anything miss them if they suddenly disappeared? And for that matter, what about other creatures? We all know how complex biodiversity is, but it seems that some animals are more important than o...
2021-Oct-01 • 32 minutes
Do plants have immune systems?
In the past 18 months we have heard lots about the human immune system, as we all learn about how our bodies fight off Covid-19 and how the vaccine helps protect us. But this got listener John, in Alberta, Canada, thinking about how trees and plants respond to diseases and threats. Do they have immune systems and if so, how do they work? Do they have memories that mean they can remember diseases or stressful events 5 months, or 5 years down the line, to be better prepared if they encounter the same threats ...
2021-Sep-24 • 33 minutes
How do flowers know when to bloom?
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 dif...
2021-Sep-17 • 35 minutes
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 ...
2021-Sep-10 • 34 minutes
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 ...
2021-Sep-03 • 32 minutes
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 ...
2021-Aug-27 • 27 minutes
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 ou...
2021-Aug-21 • 34 minutes
Why is human skin so rubbish?
If you’ve ever fallen over and grazed your skin, maybe you wished it were made of stronger stuff. The tough hide of a rhinoceros or the protective armour of a stag beetle would do a better job. It’s a thought that’s been bothering CrowdScience listener Paul, who points out that our skin also suffers from acne, eczema and hives; it dries out; it bruises. In fact, human hide is so vulnerable that we cover our feet in other animals’ skin and our bodies in clothes just to make life more comfortable. Is this re...
2021-Aug-13 • 38 minutes
How can smart tech tackle climate change?
Humans are responsible for emitting over 40 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year – and we all know that we need to reduce that figure to prevent devastating climate change. Listener Saugat wonders whether smart technology and artificial intelligence can help us do this more quickly? Green energy will go a long way to tackling the problem, but integrating wind and solar into our current electricity grid is complicated. CrowdScience hears how AI is being used at a wind farm on the ...
2021-Aug-06 • 34 minutes
Can video games help me or harm me?
Today, up to 3 billion people around the world play video games, from candy based mobile puzzles to virtual battlegrounds filled with weapons. Many people have turned to gaming during the pandemic as a way of staying connected – but what does science really say about the impact of gaming? Does playing violent video games lead to violence in the real world? Do brain training apps really work? How much gaming is too much – can videogames really be addictive? And how can videogames help us to explore difficu...
2021-Jul-30 • 32 minutes
Do I really have to clean my recycling?
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. It’s a well-known phrase that we all try and follow in our day to day lives. But are our current recycling habits the best they can be? It’s a hot topic at Crowdscience - multiple listeners have contacted Crowdscience with questions about the ins and outs of recycling. We follow one listener’s food waste to a processing plant to investigate whether or not it could be processed in our own homes. But aside from the food waste, what about the containers it comes in? We investigate if ...
2021-Jul-23 • 36 minutes
Am I a psychopath?
One CrowdScience listener finds herself unconcerned about much of the world’s problems, it leaves her wondering: am I a psychopath? Inspired by a previous episode on empathy, this listener asked is it true that psychopaths don’t empathise and what are the character traits of psychopathy? Marnie Chesterton talks with a diagnosed pro-social psychopath to find out. She also pays a visit to the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience and gets into an MRI scanner to discover what is happening in her brain wh...
2021-Jul-16 • 32 minutes
Why do my cables keep getting tangled?
Anyone who has ever taken the Christmas lights out of the cupboard, only to discover they’re hopelessly tangled, will sympathise with this week’s listener Eric. He has a 45m garden hose that always seems to snarl up and snag when he waters his garden, and he wonders what he’s doing wrong? Marnie starts by discovering the important difference between tangles and knots, as she scales a cliff with an experienced climber who explains the way you tie rope is a matter of life and death. Physicists are also fa...
2021-Jul-09 • 30 minutes
Why is standing more tiring than walking?
Standing takes less energy than walking, so why does it feel more tiring? At least, it does for CrowdScience listener Nina. She can march for hours without getting tired, but her legs and feet get achy after just a short time standing still. It’s one of three walking-themed questions CrowdScience is tackling this week. Taking inspiration from our active listeners, Marnie Chesterton walks up a hill with Caroline Williams, author of a new book about why humans are designed to move. We find out how our whole ...
2021-Jul-02 • 36 minutes
Why do I feel hungry?
Food. For all of us it is a basic necessity and for those lucky enough, it is something we spend a lot of time planning and enjoying. CrowdScience listeners certainly have a lot of food related questions; in this buffet of an episode Marnie Chesterton opens the fridge door to pick the tastiest. Starting with the seemingly simple question of what makes us feel hungry, and ending in outer-space, Marnie investigates flavour, nutrition and digestion. After a year when watching TV has become a core activity ...
2021-Jun-25 • 27 minutes
What happened to my sense of smell?
It took a while before it was officially recognised as a major symptom of Covid-19, but loss of smell has affected up to 60 percent of people who have had the virus. And for a significant portion, smell continues to be an issue for weeks or months after their recovery. So what’s going on and how can you get your sense of smell back? We tend to think of our sense of smell as something universal – if it smells bad to me, it probably does to you but that is not the case for CrowdScience listener Annabel, who...
2021-Jun-18 • 37 minutes
Does my equator look big in this?
Scales don’t come planet-sized, so answering a question from David in Ghana may require some ingenuity, after all, calculating the weight of the Earth is a huge task. Using a set of weighing scales and a 400 year-old equation, Marnie Chesterton attempts to find out just how much the Earth weighs and is it getting heavier or lighter over time? But how would a planet gain or lose mass? Which tips the scales: meteorites falling from space or gases constantly escaping from our atmosphere? And does the answer h...
2021-Jun-11 • 38 minutes
Why do I have such a sweet tooth?
They say life is sweet. Well that’s certainly the case for CrowdScience listener Trevor in Poland who wonders why he can’t stop reaching for the cookie jar. He grew up drinking fruit juice with added sugar but wonders whether his genes could be as important as his environment when it comes to his sweet tooth, especially since his wife seem to be satisfied with mainly savoury snacks. The World Health Organisation says added sugar should constitute a maximum of 5% of our daily energy intake because it can co...
2021-Jun-04 • 40 minutes
What is the point of menstruation?
It's a topic that's taboo in many cultures, yet it's also something nearly every woman experiences – on average upwards of 400 times throughout her life: menstruation. Responding to a flood of questions from our CrowdScience listeners, Marnie Chesterton seeks to unpack how periods affect women physically, mentally and societally. Why did humans evolve to have periods when fewer than two percent of mammals share our experience of menstrual cycles? Is it really a good use of our limited energy reserves? W...
2021-May-28 • 28 minutes
Is my neighbour’s noise harming my health?
As millions more of us move to live in densely populated cities, we almost inevitably face living in closer proximity to our neighbours. Neighbour noise can certainly be a source of annoyance – but could it even be damaging to our health? Increasing evidence suggests that unwanted noise can cause sleep deprivation, distraction and annoyance, as presenter Anand Jagatia finds out. He discovers that noise annoyance has a small but significant impact on our wider health – including our cardiovascular system –...
2021-May-21 • 37 minutes
How old are the elements?
You are a star. Literally. You are a carbon-based life form and those atoms of carbon in the molecules that make up your cells were formed by a nuclear fusion reaction at the heart of long dead stars. That goes for the oxygen in your lungs too. And the red blood cells that carry that oxygen to your tissues? They contain haemoglobin, and nestled at the heart of each molecule is an element (iron) formed by a supernova - the fiery explosion at the death of a star. Your body is a walking, thinking museum of s...
2021-May-14 • 28 minutes
Could we turn poisonous plants into edible crops?
There are over 400,000 species of plant on earth, they’re on every continent including Antarctica. But humans only regularly eat about 200 species globally, with the vast majority of our nutrition coming from just three species. Many of the fruits, leaves and tubers that other plants grow are packed full of toxins that are poisonous to us, and would make us very ill if we ate them. But could we take out the poisons and create new, edible crops? That’s what CrowdScience listener Marija wants to know. Crowd...
2021-May-07 • 36 minutes
Why is learning stuff harder as you get older?
Have you taken classes to learn a new sport or musical instrument or a language? It’s hard work! Why is it that as children we effortlessly absorb new skills and we don’t as adults? That’s what 50-something listener Gary Grief wondered about playing guitar. Do you need to play more frequently as an adult to attain the same level of expertise? Does the 10,000-hours theory still apply? Presenter and budding tabla-player Anand Jagatia embarks on a musical journey to discover what neuroscience can tell us ...
2021-Apr-30 • 34 minutes
Why are seeds such different sizes?
When eating a blackberry one day, CrowdScience listener Charles got a tiny seed stuck in his teeth. That got him wondering: why are seeds the size they are? Why does a blackberry have dozens of tiny pips, while a peach has one huge stone right in the middle? Plant seeds have been around for hundreds of millions of years, so they’ve had plenty of time to shapeshift into wildly different forms: from dust-like orchid seeds to giant coconuts. This evolution has been a long and intricate dance with wind, water ...
2021-Apr-23 • 38 minutes
What can we learn from wastewater?
Most of us don’t like to dwell on our toilet habits, but this week Crowdscience has gone down the drain to discover what wastewater can tell us about our health. It’s been more than a year since scientists across the globe started to track the spread of Covid-19, with help from home test results and hospital data. Marnie Chesterton investigates the latest tool in their arsenal: sewage. Listener Kevin has heard how human waste can be monitored to check for virus levels, and wants to know if it can also be u...
2021-Apr-16 • 37 minutes
Why does grief leave me feeling this way?
Grief is universal. It is something almost all of us will go through at some point. And it is something that the people we love will experience when we die. Grief can be all consuming, it can make everyday tasks like getting out of bed, feel impossible. Which makes listener Oliver from Australia wonder - what is the point? It doesn’t bring what we lost, back. Why have we evolved to be so affected by loss? Be it the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship or the loss of a job. Does it serve any pur...
2021-Apr-09 • 37 minutes
Why do we gossip?
Gossip often has negative connotations, but does it get a bad rap? Might it serve a useful function and should we think of gossiping as an advanced social skill rather than a personality defect? CrowdScience listener Jayogi thinks it might be useful, and has asked CrowdScience to dig into the reasons why we find it so hard to resist salacious stories. Presenter Datshiane Navanayagam meets a scientist who views gossip as a key evolutionary adaption - as humans started to live in bigger cooperative groups, g...
2021-Apr-02 • 40 minutes
If a tree falls in a forest does it make a sound?
If a tree falls in a forest, and no-one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? This is an age-old debate that listener Richard and his family have been arguing about for years. Can CrowdScience settle it once and for all? Caroline Steel speaks to experts in hearing, biology, philosophy, physics and sound design, which takes her to some unexpected places. Professor Stefan Bleek is an expert in psychoacoustics who says that sounds only exist in our heads. Dr Eleanor Knox and Dr Bryan Roberts are philo...
2021-Mar-26 • 30 minutes
Do animals use medicine?
Animals experience all the colds, stomach pains, headaches, parasites, and general illnesses that humans do. But unlike us, animals can’t just grab a painkiller off the shelf at the supermarket to cure it. They don’t have a pharmacy to browse… or at least, not the sort that we’d recognise. Listener Andrew Chen got in touch to ask whether animals use any kind of medicine themselves. After all, our own drugs largely come from the plants and minerals found in wild habitats. So perhaps animals themselves are ...
2021-Mar-19 • 40 minutes
Can space exploration be environmentally friendly?
The space industry, with its fuel-burning rockets, requirements for mined metals and inevitable production of space junk, is not currently renowned for its environmental credentials. Can space exploration ever be truly environmentally friendly? Presenter Marnie Chesterton answers a selection of listeners’ questions on the topic of space environmentalism. She starts by examining the carbon footprint of spaceship manufacturing here on Earth, and asking whether reusable rocket ships such as Space X or Virgin G...
2021-Mar-12 • 40 minutes
How does my mind talk to my body?
This week CrowdScience investigates the information superhighway connecting mind with body. The Vagus nerve is part of our parasympathetic nervous system, delivering information from all our major organs to the brain stem, and stimulating it can help us switch off our fight or flight response and calm us down. But listener Mags wants to know what science says about its impact on our general wellbeing? Marnie Chesterton learns some deep breathing techniques and discovers how the length of our exhale is close...
2021-Mar-05 • 33 minutes
Why does it feel so good to swear?
The sudden agony of stubbing a toe or burning a finger can make even the most polite among us swear our heads off. It’s like a reflex, a quick-release valve for the shock. But why do expletives give us such a sense of relief? Why does it sometimes feel so good to swear? We set out to explore the science of swearing, prompted by a question from our listener Gadi. Psychological studies have shown bad language can relieve pain, or even make us stronger; we test out these theories for ourselves, and try to fig...
2021-Feb-26 • 38 minutes
Why do men rule the world?
Listener Paula from Kenya is a computer scientist, she can’t help but notice the inequality in her workplace. With only 1 in 10 countries having female heads of state, there is no doubt that men are in charge. Paula wants to know if there is any scientific underpinning to this inequality? Perhaps it can be explained by our brains and bodies? Or does evolution weigh in? Or maybe it is all down to society and the way we raise our boys and girls. The toys and ideals we give our children must surely have...
2021-Feb-19 • 33 minutes
Can we build houses from living trees?
It’s the stuff of fairy tales – a beautiful cottage, with windows, chimney and floorboards … and supported by a living growing tree. CrowdScience listener Jack wants to know why living houses aren’t a common sight when they could contribute to leafier cities with cleaner air. The UK has an impressive collection of treehouses, but they remain in the realm of novelty, for good reasons. Architects are used to materials like concrete and steel changing over time, but a house built around a living tree needs ano...
2021-Feb-12 • 40 minutes
Can I improve my sense of direction?
Do you find your bearings quickly or are you easily disorientated? Do your friends trust you with the directions in a new city? Finding our way in the physical world – whether that’s around a building or a city - is an important everyday capability, one that has been integral to human survival. This week CrowdScience listeners want to know whether some people are ‘naturally’ better at navigating, so presenter Marnie Chesterton sets her compass and journeys into the human brain. Accompanied by psychologist...
2021-Feb-05 • 40 minutes
Can being happy help me fight infection?
Could being happier help us fight infectious disease? As the world embarks on a mass vaccination programme to protect populations from Covid-19, Crowdscience asks whether our mood has any impact on our immune systems. In other words, could being happier help us fight infectious diseases? Marnie Chesterton explores how our mental wellbeing can impact our physical health and hears that stress and anxiety make it harder for our natural defence systems to kick in – a field known as psychoneuroimmunology. Profe...
2021-Jan-29 • 36 minutes
Will giving up alcohol improve my sperm count?
When planning to have a baby, women are expected to give up everything from smoking to alcohol, even soft cheese. But the other half of fertility comes from the sperm, usually provided by a man. So should men also give up their vices to improve the quality of their sperm, and their chances of conception? That’s what Listener Stuart in Australia wants to know. He emailed CrowdScience after he and his wife had been trying to have a second child for two years. He gave up alcohol, and coffee, but wants to know...
2021-Jan-22 • 33 minutes
Are there downsides to deep cleaning?
Covid-19 has prompted a cleaning frenzy. CrowdScience listener William works as a personal trainer in a gym, and while cleaning’s always been part of his job, it’s now taken over much of his working day. He’s constantly wiping down equipment and doing regular deep cleans, and he reckons he can sanitize his hands 40 times in one shift. This kind of routine might strike a chord with many of us, and it’s certainly vital to take hygiene seriously during times of pandemic. But could there be any downsides to a...
2021-Jan-15 • 34 minutes
What are the limits of human endurance?
When it comes to speed, humans have got nothing on cheetahs - or greyhounds, kangaroos or zebras for that matter. It’s over long distances we really come into our own: when running for hours or even days, our body structure and excellent sweating skills make us able to outpace much faster mammals. But what are the limits of human endurance? Can we run ever further and faster, and what’s the best diet to fuel such ambitions? This week’s questions come from two CrowdScience listeners in Japan who already kn...
2021-Jan-08 • 33 minutes
Do green spaces make us healthier?
One of the more surprising consequences of the pandemic has been the trend for people wanting to move out of cities and back to the countryside. Not everyone has that privilege of course, but undoubtedly for some living in urban areas during lockdown, the lack of access to green spaces took its toll on their mental health and physical well-being. Now, with renewed hope of a global vaccine roll-out, ensuring more people have better access to nature is more important than ever, especially in cities of glass, ...
2021-Jan-01 • 29 minutes
Is a fungus intelligent?
As regular listeners may recall, CrowdScience has delved into the strange world of fungi before, as we dug down into the forest floor to reveal how plants and trees are connected to the vast mycelial network known as the “wood wide web”. But what makes this network possible and how might it have evolved? Fungi are incredibly clever, or at least , it appears that they’re capable of displaying complex behaviour that gives them the appearance of intelligence. In this episode, we speak to fungal ecologist and a...
2020-Dec-25 • 38 minutes
Do animals exercise?
At Christmas, is there a better gift than knowledge? CrowdScience has cooked up its own version of 'secret Santa', with members of the team setting one another the challenge of answering surprising questions from all over the world. Are humans the only animals to exercise? Can you get colder than absolute zero? Why are sounds louder at night? When it comes to food dropped on the floor, is there such thing as the "three second rule"? And, does honey really have healing properties? Producers and presenter...
2020-Dec-18 • 36 minutes
Was I born clumsy?
CrowdScience listener Simon has a problem. He’s always bumping into things, dropping tools and knocking stuff over. And he’s sick of it. He wants to know what is going on. Was he born like this? Or is it contagious? And most importantly, can he do anything about it, or is he going to be the proverbial ‘bull in a china shop’ for the rest of his life? Host Anand Jagatia gets on the case, investigating the complex coordination needed for the simplest movements, like throwing a ball and catching it. With help ...
2020-Dec-11 • 28 minutes
Will our spacecraft ever reach the stars?
The space between stars is usually measured in light years, but this makes it less easy to acknowledge the true scale of the distance. Even the closest star system to Earth, Proxima Centauri, is 4.2 light years or 40.13 trillion kilometres from Earth. If we are ever going to bridge the gap between the stars, we will have to have some very fast spaceships, with extremely reliable, long-lasting technology on board. So does science allow for these spacecraft to exist? That’s what listener Allan wants to know...
2020-Dec-04 • 32 minutes
Are humans naturally clean and tidy?
From dumping raw sewage into rivers to littering the streets with our trash, humans don’t have a great track record when it comes to dealing with our waste. It’s something that CrowdScience listener and civil engineer Marc has noticed: he wonders if humans are particularly prone to messing up our surroundings, while other species are instinctively more hygienic and well-organised. Are we, by nature, really less clean and tidy than other animals? Farming and technology have allowed us to live more densely a...
2020-Nov-27 • 32 minutes
Can we prevent wildfires?
This year, dramatic wildfires wreaked havoc across the globe from Australia to Siberia. CrowdScience listener Melissa wants to know the extent to which climate change is a factor in blazes that appear to be increasing in both frequency and intensity. Presenter Anand Jagatia hears how scientists use alternative worlds in computer models, to understand the role that global warming plays. After Siberia’s hottest ever year on record, he discovers the impact of increasing temperatures on boreal forests – and ho...
2020-Nov-20 • 28 minutes
How does a breeze become a gale?
Every year, Western Afghanistan is hit with a fierce 120-day wind, and listener Hamid wants to know what causes this phenomenon? He’s from the city of Herat, where what starts as a gentle breeze in the morning can pick up to become a dangerous gale just a few hours later, devastating buildings and causing power outages. The BBC’s Abdullah Elham in Kabul tells us the country has plenty of other ‘friendly’ wind but this one is considered ‘fierce’. CrowdScience talks to Professor Amir Aghakouchak to discover...
2020-Nov-13 • 39 minutes
How can I beat pain?
We all feel pain on a regular basis; when we stub a toe, break a bone or even experience heartbreak. Bebeto from Cameroon wants to know how to cope with a pain in his wrist that just won’t go away. Does a positive mindset help? Or perhaps meditation? Marnie Chesterton speaks to psychologists and neuroscientists to find the answers. We hear from two people with very different experiences of pain. Lucy has fibromyalgia and experiences pain all over her body every day. While Stephen has a rare genetic condit...
2020-Nov-06 • 31 minutes
Why are elephants so big?
CrowdScience listeners come in all shapes, sizes and ages. This episode is dedicated to our younger listeners who, as we’ve learned before, are experts at asking those superficially obvious questions that for parents, are anything but easy to answer. To start off with, Sylvia, asks why elephants are so big? As we hear from our expert – mammals were at one time, much larger – so perhaps the question should be, why aren’t they bigger? We investigate what drives body size in the animal kingdom. Presenter Marn...
2020-Oct-30 • 33 minutes
Can I learn to sing in tune?
We’ve probably all got a friend who sings along wildly out of tune - or maybe you are that person. But why are some of us apparently tone deaf, while others can hold a melody? Can you train yourself to sing in tune, or is it mostly down to raw talent? These musical questions, from CrowdScience listeners Jenny and Anastasia, certainly struck a chord with us. Anastasia loves to sing but her friends tell her she’s off-key - or that “a bear trod on her ear,” as they say in her native Russia. Is it possible for...
2020-Oct-23 • 29 minutes
Am I related to a virus?
All living things are related to each other, from elephants to algae, e-coli to humans like us. Within our cells we hold genetic information in the form of DNA or RNA. But despite viruses sharing these molecules, many scientists don't consider them to be 'life'. Viruses cannot reproduce on their own, but some can insert their DNA into a host to pass genes sideways through the branching tree of life. As a result, viruses’ relationship with life is.... complex. Two of our listeners had viruses on the mind,...
2020-Oct-16 • 32 minutes
Why do I blush?
Curious CrowdScience listeners have suddenly been struck by the oddity of their behaviours. Elise ponders why she blushes. Thankfully, listener David is a vascular surgeon and knows a thing or two about blushing, as he performs operations on people debilitated by constant red-dening. He has some answers for us, but asks why did blushing evolve? In the past, red cheeks have been linked to necrophilia, repressed cannibalism, and even a de-sire for men to experience menstruation! Thankfully, research has come...
2020-Oct-09 • 33 minutes
Why do planets spin?
Crowdscience solves a range of listeners’ cosmic mysteries, from the reason we only ever see one side of the moon, to why planets spin, and discover the answer can be found in the formation of the solar system. We talk to astronomer Dr Carolin Crawford to understand how stars are made, and investigate the art of astronomy with journalist Jo Marchant, hearing how the ancient Greeks came up with a zodiac long before the invention of a telescope, revealing an intimate relationship between humans and the night ...
2020-Sep-25 • 33 minutes
Why am I embarrassed to be naked?
Why am I embarrassed to be naked? Chumbuzzo in Zambia wonders. And what would happen if we ditched our clothes and embraced nudity? Presenter Anand Jagatia and Producer Caroline Steel spend the day naked with other naturists to see if they can shift their embarrassment. Maybe there are good evolutionary reasons to cover up or perhaps we are contributing to inequality and negative body image by hiding our real selves? Marnie Chesterton explores different cultural attitudes to nudity and finds out about t...
2020-Sep-18 • 35 minutes
Why do we like spicy food?
Many of us willingly subject ourselves to pain and irritation by eating chilli. CrowdScience listener Tina wonders what’s driving this apparent masochism: why does ‘feeling the burn’ make so many of us feel so good? It’s just one of several tasty questions we tuck into in this episode. Also on the menu is stew: why does it taste better the next day? Listener Helen’s local delicacy is Welsh cawl, a meat and vegetable concoction. Tradition dictates it should be eaten the day after it’s made, but is there any...
2020-Sep-04 • 30 minutes
Why does running water make me need the toilet?
What does science say about controlling urination, and other bodily functions? We tackle three queries about peeing triggers, pooing positions and missing sweat. This episode CrowdScience presenter Marnie Chesterton poses some of the best listener follow-up questions that have landed in our inbox to a panel of experts. Listener Samuel in Ghana is wondering why watery sounds seem to induce urination. Producer Melanie Brown heads out to survey whether this is the case for individuals in an actual crowd at a ...
2020-Aug-21 • 33 minutes
What’s the yeast doing inside my bread?
If you’re one of the millions of people who used lockdown to try something new like baking sourdough bread, you may well be wondering what’s happening chemically inside your loaf, especially if the end result keeps changing. Well, you’re not alone. Listeners Soheil and Sean are both keen bakers but want to know more about the thing that makes bread rise: yeast. What is yeast? Where does it come from and can you catch it? And how hard is it to ‘make’ yourself? Soon after lockdown took effect, commercial supp...
2020-Aug-14 • 34 minutes
What is the point of slime?
Squelching into the science of slime, Chhavi Sachdev seeks to find out why it took so long for listener Helen Tyson to remove slime from her fingers, after she picked up a tiny slug while gardening. This unfortunate and hugely repulsive experience set Helen to wonder what it is about the structure of slug slime that makes it gloopy, so she sent Chhavi to meet with slug slime expert Professor Andrew Smith who reveals how the complex molecular structure of this pervasive fluid makes it so difficult to scrub...
2020-Aug-07 • 34 minutes
Does air traffic affect our weather?
Anyone else had their flight cancelled? The COVID 19 pandemic has had a huge impact on air travel – air traffic in 2020 is expected to be down 50 per cent on last year. But beyond the obvious disruption to business and people’s lives, how might the quieter skies affect our weather and climate? One curious listener, Jeroen Wijnands, who lives next to Schiphol airport in the Netherlands, noticed how there were fewer clouds and barely any rainfall since the flights dropped off. Could airplanes affect our loc...
2020-Jul-31 • 39 minutes
Why do conspiracy theories exist?
Listener Avalon from Australia wants to know why people use conspiracy theories to explain shocking events. Are we more likely to believe conspiracy theories in times of adversity? What purpose do conspiracy theories serve in society? Marnie Chesterton speaks to the scientists to explain their popularity, even in the face of seemingly irrefutable evidence. Presented by Marnie Chesterton. Produced by Caroline Steel for the BBC World Service. Image: All-seeing eye of God inside triangle pyramid. Cred...
2020-Jul-24 • 34 minutes
Are some soaps better than others?
These days we’re more acquainted with soap than ever before, as we lather up to help stop the spread of coronavirus. And for CrowdScience listener Sharon, this set off a steady stream of soapy questions: how does soap actually work? How was it discovered in the first place, long before anyone knew anything about germs? Are different things used for washing around the world, and are some soaps better than others? We set up a CrowdScience home laboratory to explore the soap making process with advice from sc...
2020-Jul-17 • 38 minutes
How is human sound affecting sealife?
Think of the oceans and an empty and peaceful expanse relatively untouched by humankind might come to mind. But is this peace an illusion? CrowdScience listener Dani wants to know if the noise of shipping and other human activity on the oceans is impacting on sea life. To find out, Marnie Chesterton takes a deep dive to learn how marine animals have evolved to use sound; from navigating their environments to finding a mate or hiding from prey. She then speaks to a scientist who is using acoustic observator...
2020-Jul-10 • 37 minutes
Could earthworms help transform the future of farming?
Worms are not the cutest of creatures. They’re slimy, often associated with death and tend to bring on feelings of disgust in many of us. But listener Dinesh thinks they’re underrated and wants to know whether earthworms could be the key to our planet’s future agricultural success? He’s an organic farmer in India’s Tamil Nadu province who grows these annelids to add to the soil, and he wants Crowdscience to find out exactly what they’re doing. Anand Jagatia dons his gardening gloves and digs the dirt on t...
2020-Jul-03 • 31 minutes
Is barefoot running better?
Shoes are a surprisingly recent human invention. But running isn’t. That means for most of our time on the planet, we’ve run barefoot. Today, in most countries it’s rare to see people out in public without shoes, let alone running. But might our aversion to the free foot be causing us pain? CrowdScience mega-fan Hnin is an experienced runner, she enjoys ultra-marathons back home in Australia. But about six months ago she developed extreme foot pain, the condition ‘Plantar Fasciitis’, and this has meant sh...
2020-Jun-26 • 36 minutes
What’s the point of blood types?
If you put one person’s blood into another person , sometimes it’s fine and sometimes it’s a death sentence. French physician Jean-Baptiste Denis discovered this when he performed the first blood transfusion back in 1667. He put the blood of a lamb into a 15-year boy. The teenager survived but Denis’s third attempt killed the patient and led to a murder charge. In 1900, Austrian doctor Karl Landsteiner discovered the reason for this lottery – blood types. The red blood cells in our bodies are decorated ...
2020-Jun-19 • 37 minutes
Do animals have consciousness?
What exactly it means to be conscious has long been a question of profound debate amongst philosophers, and more recently, scientists. There are no easy answers, and it gets even trickier when you start asking whether animals are conscious: how can you find out about their subjective experience when they can’t tell you about it? Never afraid to tackle the impossible, CrowdScience is looking for answers after listener Natalie got in touch. She has lived with her cat for years and has a strong sense that he ...
2020-Jun-12 • 37 minutes
Were my atoms once your atoms?
We were bowled over by a question from one CrowdScience listener in Australia wants to know how likely it is that the atoms in his body have been used in someone else’s body? We all like to think we are unique; no one is quite like us. But is that really true? Presenter Marnie Chesterton tackles Moshe’s question with help from every area of science. From geologists helping us work out how many atoms are on the Earth’s surface to biologists helping us work out how many atoms each body uses. Perhaps we are m...
2020-Jun-10 • 33 minutes
Would you risk your life to save another?
Have you ever broken up a fight? Or pushed someone out the way of an oncoming vehicle, only to be hit by it yourself? Most of us probably haven’t taken as many risks as listener Alix, who has put herself in peril to save strangers on several occasions, and she wants Crowdscience to investigate why. At a time when medical professionals have to weigh up the personal dangers of working on the frontline of the Coronavirus crisis, it’s a particularly timely question. Marnie Chesterton finds out why it’s a good t...
2020-May-29 • 45 minutes
Why can’t you tickle yourself?
This week the kids take over. Our younger listeners are as curious as their parents, it seems, so presenter Marnie Chesterton seeks out the finest minds and attempts to answer a raft of their science questions, including why can’t you tickle yourself? Why don’t our eyebrows grow as long as the hair on our heads? Not content with humankind, these whizz kids have been pondering deeply about other animals. Ava, 9, from the UK wants to know if any other animals kill for fun, like some humans do. Not limite...
2020-May-22 • 31 minutes
How does a language begin?
There are over 7000 living languages on earth today. These mutually unintelligible means of communication are closely associated with different groups' identities. But how does a new language start out? That’s what listener BK wants to know. BK lives on one of the islands of the Philippines, where he speaks three languages fluently and has noticed there is a different language on almost every island. Presenter Anand Jagatia finds language experts from around the world who tell him about the many different ...
2020-May-15 • 40 minutes
Does my toilet make sense?
Despite being a universal need, talking about our toilet use and the infrastructure that aids us remains somewhat taboo. Whilst sectors like telecommunications and computing have undergone rapid transformations over the past century, the flush toilet and wastewater system have mostly remained unchanged. CrowdScience listeners Linda and Allison wonder if flush toilets – and the clean water used to wash waste away - make economic or environmental sense. So CrowdScience presenter Marnie Chesterton looks unde...
2020-May-08 • 31 minutes
What is the smallest particle?
What is the smallest particle of matter? How does radiation affect our bodies? And, how is particle physics useful in our everyday lives? CrowdScience takes on particle physics questions from listeners all over the world. Marnie Chesterton and Anand Jagatia get help from particle physicists from the Large Hadron Collider at CERN and medical physicist Heather Williams. Presented by Marnie Chesterton and Anand Jagatia Produced by Cathy Edwards, Jen Whyntie and Louisa Field (Photo: Particle collider, Cr...
2020-May-01 • 35 minutes
How do I learn maths when school’s shut?
What’s the importance of zero, and how was it discovered? How do scientists calculate Pi’s infinite digits? Why do so many people find maths difficult – and what’s the most difficult thing in maths? CrowdScience takes on a whole bunch of questions sent in by high school students in Spain. Like many children all over the world, their school is currently closed due to the coronavirus lockdown, but lessons continue at home. So how are their studies going, and can CrowdScience help out? We attempt to answer s...
2020-Apr-24 • 33 minutes
Why do you sweat more than me?
If you're an exercise fan, you'll know that sweating is how our bodies keep us cool, but how much water we lose and which bits of us get wettest depend on a whole host of factors. Jamaican listener Andre wants to know why he sweats in a heart-shape when he hits the gym, and we find out how everything from the clothes he wears to the moves he's doing explain his unusual perspiration patterns. In Kenya we meet a woman whose permanently clammy hands cause her to drop her mobile phone, and sweaty feet start...
2020-Apr-23 • 27 minutes
What makes a spider spin a web?
If you have ever watched a spider as it works to build a web, spiralling inwards with a thread of silk, that intersects each glistening spoke with a precise touch of the foot, you will know that it is a remarkably complex behaviour. In this episode, presenter Geoff Marsh dives into the minds of spider-constructors as they build their webs. CrowdScience listener Daan asked us to find out how spiders can build webs without ever being taught how to do it. Are they just little robots controlled entirely by th...
2020-Apr-10 • 27 minutes
How can I reduce stress?
Listener Keith from Lincolnshire wants to know how to reduce stress as he is under extreme pressure as a firefighter. Not only does he have to cope with the stress of responding to emergency situations but he has to do it while wearing challenging breathing equipment. We all experience times of stress, especially given the current situation, our chest starts to feel tight and our breathing becomes shallow. Claudia Hammond – presenter of BBC World Service programme Health Check – explains steps we can tak...
2020-Apr-03 • 26 minutes
Will a placebo boost my sports performance?
In medicine, it’s long been recognised that a placebo, a sham medicine or treatment, can have a powerful positive effect on a patient’s health. Part of that effect relies on a person’s belief that an inactive substance or treatment (for example, a sugar pill) is in fact an active drug. Placebos come in many forms, and the scientific study of placebo is an active area of research. With this in mind, CrowdScience listener Nigel got in touch to ask if can placebos be used to improve sports performance. As an...
2020-Mar-27 • 37 minutes
Can science explain why I love shopping?
If you've ever felt the urge to shop till you drop, then you may already know about some of the clever ways retailers convince us to consume. From flash sales to so-called unbelievable offers, there are a whole range of techniques aimed at encouraging us to flash the cash. Listener Mo works in marketing, so knows more than most about the tricks of the trade - but he wants CrowdScience to investigate how neuroscience is being used to measure our behaviour and predict what we’ll buy. Marnie Chesterton finds o...
2020-Mar-20 • 33 minutes
Can I trust DNA ancestry tests?
Many of us are fascinated by our ancestry: knowing where our families came from can give us a sense of identity and roots. Tracing your family tree is a time-honoured tradition, but several companies now sell DNA tests that offer you insights into your heritage: so you might find out you’re 70% Nigerian, 39% Italian, or 11% South Asian, for example. There’s no doubt that genes contain clues about your family history, but how reliable are these commercial tests? That’s what CrowdScience listener Karen wonde...
2020-Mar-13 • 30 minutes
What are scientists doing about coronavirus?
Since the outbreak of a new strain of coronavirus late last year, health workers and governments have been rushing to limit transmission by deploying containment tactics and anti-contamination campaigns. But, as the virus spreads around the world, what are scientists doing to help our bodies fight off or resist this new infectious disease? Viruses that cause human disease can be notoriously tricky to tackle. They don’t respond to antibiotics, can spread rapidly between human hosts, and even evolve improve...
2020-Mar-09 • 4 minutes
Introducing 13 Minutes to the Moon Season 2
Jump on-board a doomed mission to the Moon. Apollo 13: the extraordinary story, told by the people who flew it and saved it. Search for 13 Minutes to the Moon wherever you get your podcasts. #13MinutestotheMoon
2020-Mar-06 • 32 minutes
Why are we obsessed with crime?
Why are we obsessed with crime? Kay from Hamburg, Germany asks as every Sunday evening Germans pile into their local pubs to watch Tatort, a hugely successful crime drama which has been running for 50 years. Presenter Marnie Chesterton starts with the science and speaks with psychologists to get to the bottom of where this obsession might come from. Have we evolved to have an innate obsession with danger or are we addicted to feeling fear? Or perhaps the dramatisation of crime fuel...
2020-Feb-28 • 37 minutes
What’s the weirdest weather?
Weather: wet, dry, cold, hot, sunny, windy or downright weird - there’s nothing quite like it as a conversation starter, from Austin to Jakarta. And judging from the large volume of emails about all things meteorological in the CrowdScience inbox, there’s plenty to talk about. What’s the weirdest weather on Earth, and how big a chance is there of it happening? Why does it always seem to rain on the days when we’re not working? And – conversely – is there any way we could make it rain when and where we ne...
2020-Feb-21 • 36 minutes
Why do insects prefer to bite certain people?
A lovely day out in the countryside can be blighted when swarms of midges or mosquitos invite themselves to the party. A CrowdScience listener in New Zealand has noticed that, when sand-flies come a-biting, she and her daughter are targeted, while her husband and other daughter escape unharmed. She wants to know why some, but not all of her family become bait for insect bites. CrowdScience delves into a world of smells, called semiochemistry, which explores the aromas one animal uses to attract or repel ano...
2020-Feb-14 • 38 minutes
What is cancer?
Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the world. Many of us will at some point in our lives be confronted with the disease – either by falling ill ourselves or through a family member or friend. For CrowdScience presenter Marnie Chesterton, the diagnosis would change her life. The range of cancer symptoms and mortality rates vary considerably. Not all cancers are fatal and in some cases, cancer ends up more like a chronic debilitating disease, resulting in patients eventually dying from some oth...
2020-Feb-07 • 31 minutes
How did humans discover medicine?
Today, once-fatal diseases like the plague, sepsis, or cholera can be treated simply and quickly with a pill. These tiny tablets hold compounds that can fix illnesses, and most people don’t think twice about taking an asparin for a headache. Modern medicine looks nothing like the plants that many of them are derived from. But there must have been a moment, when the first humans decided that a particular plant, fungus, or mineral might cure them of an upset stomach, or infected wound. Right? That’s what ...
2020-Feb-01 • 32 minutes
Can digital technology transform West Africa?
CrowdScience heads to Freetown, Sierra Leone for a panel debate in front of a live audience to answer listener questions about how artificial intelligence is helping tackle some of the world’s most pressing issues. Anand Jagatia is joined by regional science experts to explore how robots, drones and big data are transforming sectors such as agriculture, health and governance. Could clever machines help eradicate invasive species? Will block chain IDs eventually replace physical documents? And while this te...
2020-Jan-24 • 38 minutes
Could we survive an extinction event?
Super-sized volcanic eruptions and giant asteroids crashing in from outer space are the stuff of disaster movies. They have listener Santosh from South Africa slightly concerned. He’d like to know what’s being done in real life to prepare for this kind of event. Although the chance of these events occurring is low, Santosh isn’t entirely wrong to be worried: Earth has a much longer history than humans do, and there’s evidence that several past extinction events millions of years ago wiped out the domina...
2020-Jan-17 • 34 minutes
What is infinity?
Is there something bigger than infinity? Does quantum mechanics affect how I think? And why can I suddenly do algebra? As ever, we’re not afraid to tackle the big questions on CrowdScience. After a previous episode about the relationship between mathematics and reality, we received a flood of profound and difficult questions, so we dive back into the world of maths, physics and philosophy to try and answer them. A panel of experts help us puzzle out whether some infinities are bigger than others - and why t...
2020-Jan-10 • 41 minutes
How low-carbon can CrowdScience go?
Reducing climate change and global warming is one of the biggest and most urgent challenges for everyone as we enter a new decade. The CrowdScience team have been trying to figure out how to play our part in reducing our carbon footprint. So what’s the best way forward? Presenter Marnie Chesterton starts to find out by pitting three of her colleagues against each other for the first phase of our challenge. Anand Jagatia, Geoff Marsh and Melanie Brown have all been tasked with answering a listener’s questi...
2020-Jan-10 • 34 minutes
How does the Sun affect my body and mind?
Two years ago reporter Anand Jagatia travelled up beyond the Arctic Circle to meet Norwegian researchers in order to answer a question from US listener Kira on why some people function best in the mornings whilst others only come alive at night. In this episode we revisit the topic with the help of science writer and Parentland podcast presenter Linda Geddes, author of Chasing the Sun, a book which explores the science behind the Sun’s effects on our bodies and our minds. The morning sun helps to kick-star...
2020-Jan-03 • 38 minutes
What is empathy?
What is empathy? This week’s question comes from Maria in Amsterdam who has noticed that when one of her friends is in pain, she feels their pain too, literally. Maria wants to know - is she experiencing a type of ‘super’ empathy? To help find the answer, Marnie Chesterton visits the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience and gets into an MRI scanner to discover what is happening in her brain when she empathises. She talks with a pro-social psychopath to find out how psychopaths experience empathy diffe...
2019-Dec-20 • 27 minutes
Did Crowdscience change your life?
As CrowdScience celebrates its third birthday, the team takes time to revisit some of our early episodes, and catch up with listeners to discover if the answers we uncovered changed the course of their lives? We hear from Zach, who has learned to let go of a possibly lost memory and Erin, who discovered technology could hold the key to finding the man of her dreams. And two years after he emailed to ask why he couldn’t kick his habit, we ash Sharif whether he has finally managed to stop smoking? (Photo: M...
2019-Dec-13 • 29 minutes
Can I save the insects?
Buzzing insects that sting and fall into your food can be annoying. But perhaps we should think twice before taking aim with the fly swatter because bug populations around the world are in rapid decline. This worries CrowdScience listener Daria; she wants to know what will happen to our food production without the help from our tiny friends – the pollinators? And what can she do, as a city-dweller, to help the bugs? The dollar value of agricultural services that insects supply – for free – is estimated to ...
2019-Dec-05 • 35 minutes
Would humans exist if dinosaurs were still alive?
66 million years ago, a huge asteroid hit the earth, wiping out most of the dinosaurs that roamed the land. It would still be tens of millions of years before the first humans appeared - but what if those dinosaurs hadn’t died out? Would we ever have evolved? CrowdScience listener Sunil was struck by this thought as he passed a Jurassic fossil site: if dinosaurs were still around, would I be here now? We dive back into the past to see how our distant mammal ancestors managed to live alongside huge, fierce ...
2019-Nov-29 • 36 minutes
Could humans hibernate during interstellar travel?
Science fiction is full of people settling on distant planets. But even the closest stars would take millennia to reach with current speeds of travel, by the time any passengers reached an extra solar planet, they would be long dead. So CrowdScience listener Balaji asked us to find out whether humans could hibernate for interstellar travel? To uncover the science fact behind this idea, Anand Jagatia holds a tiny hibernating dormouse at the Wildwood Trust in Kent, and meets Dr Samuel Tisherman who puts hi...
2019-Nov-21 • 36 minutes
Should I stop eating palm oil?
Australian listener Lizzy is trying to reduce her footprint on this planet and is particularly interested in palm oil. It is everywhere - in shampoo, lipstick and face cream and even food stuffs like biscuits and spreads. In fact, WWF say it is used in 50% of all supermarket products so it's something most of us will come into contact with every day. Lizzy wants to know whether she should stop eating it. Because on the one hand, she sees emotive adverts depicting dying orangutans, deforestation and burning...
2019-Nov-15 • 43 minutes
Can a machine read my mind?
For decades science fiction has been imagining the incredible ways that machines might interact directly with our minds, from enabling telepathic communication to controlling robotic suits, solely using the power of thought. Getting computers to interface directly with the human brain has proven extremely challenging, but rapidly advancing computer technology is changing the landscape. CrowdScience listener Daniel wonders if we might finally be on the cusp of enabling machines to meld with our minds. To f...
2019-Nov-08 • 30 minutes
Why do I get sleepy?
We’re all familiar with the sensation of sleepiness – heavy eye-lid, that warm, fuzzy feeling. But, one CrowdScience listener wants to know, what’s actually going on in our body and brain when tiredness takes over? Presenter Marnie Chesterton takes up the challenge and follows a trail that leads to circadian scientists working at the NASA Ames research centre in Silicon Valley. It turns out aviators and astronauts take sleepiness very seriously indeed. Marnie sends out roving reporter Anand Jagatia to inv...
2019-Nov-01 • 34 minutes
Can my stutter be cured?
Most of us take the ability to speak fluently for granted, but for listener Breeda it has been a lifelong struggle. She has asked CrowdScience to investigate whether there is a cure for stuttering and, if not, what the best way to live with it is. Breeda is not alone, as stammering is a neurological condition that affects 70 million people worldwide. The CrowdScience team head to Oslo in Norway to follow a group of young people who have signed up for a highly disciplined and potentially life-changing trai...
2019-Oct-25 • 35 minutes
Will my salmon swim home?
Crowdscience listeners Michael and Ricky have been walking a tributary of the River Thames in London, UK. They’ve noticed that there are loads of fish, which have only returned in recent years thanks to clean water initiatives. But what about salmon, they wonder? Could they one day return too? If they popped some salmon eggs in the river, would they return to spawn later on in their lives? Marnie Chesterton heads to Norway to find out whether it’s possible. There, she follows the life cycle of salmon, fro...
2019-Oct-18 • 32 minutes
Is maths real?
Faced with one cake and eight hungry people, it’s pretty obvious how maths underpins reality. But as mathematics gets further from common sense and into seemingly abstract territory, nature still seems to obey its rules - whether in the orbit of a planet, the number of petals on a flower, or the structure of an atom. But what exactly is the relationship between mathematics and reality? That’s the impossibly difficult question CrowdScience has been set this week by our listener Sergio in Peru. It’s one tha...
2019-Oct-11 • 26 minutes
How can I live a longer life?
Human life expectancy has been increasing for decades. In many developed countries, we can now expect to live into our 80s, and it isn’t uncommon to live to 90 or even 100 years old. But eventually our bodies fail, old age is undoubtedly a clear indicator of approaching death. This fact annoyed 79 year old CrowdScience listener Bill, who emailed in to set presenter Geoff Marsh the task of seeking out the secrets to a longer, healthier life. Bill has a personal target to live to 200 years old, so can he do...
2019-Sep-27 • 34 minutes
Is a vegan diet better for your health?
The number of vegans is on the rise in many parts of the world, with many people swearing by the health benefits of a plant-based lifestyle. But is a vegan diet really better for your health? Is there any evidence to show that vegans are likely to live longer? And what about the new, highly processed meat analogues becoming increasingly available in supermarkets and restaurants menus? They look, feel and taste just like meat products but what affect are they having on our health? To find out more, presenter...
2019-Sep-20 • 34 minutes
Could I learn to think like Sherlock Holmes?
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous fictional detective is renowned for his feats of memory, his observational capacity, tireless energy and an almost supernatural ability to solve the most perplexing crimes from seemingly unconnected facts. CrowdScience listener Asghar wants to know whether the way Sherlock Holmes solves crimes goes beyond fiction. What does science have to say about the matter? We pit fact against fiction with a leading forensic expert, a sleep scientist and presenter Marnie Chesterton puts ...
2019-Sep-13 • 34 minutes
Can my migraines be cured?
The World Health Organization ranks migraines as the second most disabling neurological disorder in the world and in people under the age of 50, it is the single most disabling medical condition. With stats like that, it’s no wonder that so many CrowdScience listeners have got in touch wanting help with their headaches. Peter from Germany askes what happens in his brain when he’s got a migraine, whilst Nika from Germany has found that changing lifestyle has dramatically reduced hers but she’s not sure why...
2019-Sep-06 • 27 minutes
Are extroverts really happier?
Sociable, lively, outgoing people are highly valued in certain cultures - think of the stereotype of the hyper-confident American. And there’s even evidence that extroverts all over the world tend to be happier. But are the positive qualities that quieter types can bring to society being ignored or underappreciated? And couldn’t introverts be just as happy as extroverts, if only they lived in a more accepting culture? These are controversial areas of personality psychology into which CrowdScience strayed...
2019-Aug-30 • 32 minutes
Do we need more space stations?
Satellites have transformed our lives, giving us digital communications, navigation and observations of Earth, and even an artificial place to live above the atmosphere: The International Space Station. CrowdScience listener Dana wants to know: would more of these satellites and stations help us get back to the Moon, as well as further into the solar system? As we discovered in a previous episode, being able to mine resources such as fuel and water in space could be handy for extra-terrestrial exploration...
2019-Aug-23 • 38 minutes
How can I motivate myself?
Many of us struggle to motivate ourselves to carry out certain tasks, from hanging out the washing to writing a job application. How can we best motivate ourselves? And how can we avoid procrastination? Listener Moses in Uganda wants to find out. Presenter Anand Jagatia puts the science to the test as he trains and participates in an open water swimming race which Marnie Chesterton has kindly volunteered him for. Presented by Anand Jagatia and Marnie Chesterton Produced by Caroline Steel for the BBC World...
2019-Aug-16 • 40 minutes
Global infertility: Could The Handmaid’s Tale become reality?
CrowdScience listeners Mark and Jess have been watching TV series, The Handmaid’s Tale. It's an adaptation of a book by Margaret Atwood and depicts a dystopian future where many have become infertile. The remaining few fertile women, known as Handmaids, are forced into child-bearing servitude. Why so many have become infertile isn’t clear but the series hints at several possible causes, from radiation to environmental pollutants. All of which got Mark and Jess wondering… What could cause mass infertility?...
2019-Aug-05 • 36 minutes
Can I predict the future?
Humans have been trying to predict the future since ancient times. The Chinese had the I-Ching while the Greeks preferred to search for answers in animal entrails. These days intelligence agencies around the world mostly rely on expert opinions to forecast events. But there are ordinary people among us that routinely outperform experts when it comes to making accurate predictions about the future. Listener Cicely wants to know whether these non-experts, so-called “super-forecasters”, really exist and if s...
2019-Aug-02 • 30 minutes
How many fossils are there?
The odds of becoming a fossil are vanishingly small. And yet there seem to be an awful lot of them out there. In some parts of the world you can barely look at a rock without finding a fossil, and museum archives worldwide are stuffed with everything from ammonites to Archaeopteryx. But how many does that leave to be discovered by future fossil hunters? What’s the total number of fossils left to find? That’s what listener Anders Hegvik from Norway wants to know and what CrowdScience is off to investigate....
2019-Jul-26 • 33 minutes
Why do we pull faces when we concentrate?
Do you stick your tongue out or scowl when you concentrate? Maybe, like one of our listeners, you screw up your face when you’re playing music. Do these facial expressions actually help with the task in hand? And could they hold clues to humans’ evolutionary past? In this edition of CrowdScience we tackle the science of face-pulling, along with several more burning science questions sent in from listeners around the world. We explore why it’s almost impossible to talk without moving your hands; and why b...
2019-Jul-19 • 43 minutes
Where’s my time machine?
Laser swords, time machines, matter transporters - before the turn of the millennium, movies, books and television promised some extraordinary future technology. Now we’re twenty years into the next century and CrowdScience listeners are wondering: Where is it all? Marnie Chesterton delves into the sci-fi cupboard to dust off some imaginary gadgets and find out if any are finally becoming reality. How far into the future will we have to go to find a time machine as imagined by H.G. Wells in 1895? Where are...
2019-Jul-12 • 29 minutes
Who were the first farmers?
Farming is a relatively recent invention for our species. For most of human history, people were hunter-gatherers. They moved around the landscape to get their food, hunting prey and gathering fruits and cereals from their environment. But then, around 10 thousand years ago, human society shifted, and the first farmers appear in archaeological records around the world. So how did this idea start? Who planted the first seed and domesticated the wild ancestors of our cows and chickens? That’s what Listener B...
2019-Jul-05 • 33 minutes
Why do some people eat soil?
For some people, the idea of eating soil is weird at best and at worst disgusting and dirty. But globally the practice of geophagy – or the regular and intentional consumption of earth – is more common than you might imagine. The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates described it 2500 years ago and even today, eating soil, earth and clay can be seen in a wide range of human cultures as well in hundreds of animal species. But what’s the point of it? And what’s going on in the body to drive cravings for things...
2019-Jun-28 • 35 minutes
Can we prevent traffic jams?
It’s frustrating to be stuck in traffic. Listener Collins from Nairobi, Kenya, spends at least three hours a day in traffic and he counts himself lucky. Many of his friends will easily spend six hours in traffic jams to get back and forth from work. Collins wants to know whether there is hope for his hometown – has any city managed to eliminate the worst of the traffic hot spots and how did they do it? Collins is not alone in his frustration. CrowdScience finds that congestion plays a major factor in the ...
2019-Jun-21 • 31 minutes
What’s the best way to breathe?
Breathing is automatic: awake or asleep, running or resting, our bodies unconsciously make sure we get enough oxygen to function. But - unlike other bodily functions such as heart rate and digestion - it’s not hard to control our breathing consciously. If you’ve ever been to an exercise, meditation or yoga class, you’re probably familiar with instructions about how and when to breathe. It was one of these instructions - “breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth” - that prompted CrowdScience ...
2019-Jun-14 • 26 minutes
Are there new ways to beat depression?
For decades, people suffering from chronic depression have relied on medicines that affect the levels of chemicals in the brain like serotonin, which regulate mood and emotion. But ten percent of people don’t benefit from any of the existing treatments for this devastating condition. Sisters Annie and Kathryn have both been diagnosed with long-term depression that makes it hard for them to experience pleasure as others do. But they’re interested in whether there are new solutions on the horizon that coul...
2019-Jun-07 • 33 minutes
Can singing improve our health?
Singing can lift our spirits, but research suggests it could also benefit our health, improving breathing for people with lung conditions and helping us cope with dementia. Could it even have a preventative effect? CrowdScience heads to Cheltenham Science Festival in the UK county of Gloucestershire - one of the first places to pioneer this kind of “social prescribing” - to find out. Presenter Anand Jagatia teams up with panellists Dr Daisy Fancourt, Senior Research Associate in Behavioural Science, Dr Si...
2019-May-31 • 34 minutes
How are we evolving?
Medical intervention has disrupted natural selection in humans as many more children survive into adulthood than did a few centuries ago. And as our DNA continues to evolve, in order to adapt to our environment, how might human beings of the future be different from us? Anand Jagatia explores how some humans, over just a few thousand years, have adapted genetically to live at high altitudes of the Tibetan Himalayas or in the cold climates of Inuit Greenland. Several Crowdscience listeners got in touch to ...
2019-May-24 • 32 minutes
Could our household microbes help or harm us?
As scientists keep finding ever more fascinating facts about the invisible housemates that share our homes, we dust off our episode on what might be lurking in quiet household corners or under our beds. Marnie Chesterton reminds us how dust can contain all sorts of secrets about our habits and everyday lives, and Anand Jagatia bravely ventures into parts of our homes that are usually overlooked. He heads out on a microbial safari with expert tour guide Dr Jamie Lorimer from the University of Oxford to fin...
2019-May-17 • 31 minutes
Could dark matter harbour dark life?
Where the conditions are right, life can arise. But what might the ‘right’ conditions be? Could the dark sector of our Universe be inhabited? That’s what Gautam from Delhi, India has been wondering. He points out that dark matter and dark energy make up around 95% of the Universe and the remaining segment is normal matter - the stuff we’re all made up of. Given that there’s so much of this dark material, could dark life have evolved? Marnie Chesterton investigates with Dr Matt Middleton, Dr Burçin Mutlu-Pak...
2019-May-10 • 28 minutes
How does a single cell become me?
Our bodies are made of cells, tens of trillions of cells. They all have particular roles and functions in the body, from digesting food, to producing hair, to hunting down pathogens. But all of this incredible complexity started as just a single cell. Gila, from Israel, asked CrowdScience to find out how the development of incredible structures, and systems in the body are coordinated by the cells. Are cells communicating? How do cells know what they should be doing? To find out, Geoff Marsh meets a Camb...
2019-May-04 • 31 minutes
Did cooking make us human?
Many of us enjoy cooking – but when did we switch from eating our food raw, to heating it? Listener Logan enjoys his beef burgers rare, but wants to know why he still feels compelled to grill them? Presenter Anand Jagatia travels to a remote South African cave where our ancestors first used fire at least a million years ago, which one man says could help prove when our species started cooking. And he talks to a scientist who shows how the composition of food changes when it’s cooked, to allow us more acce...
2019-Apr-26 • 31 minutes
Could viruses help fight super-bugs?
We are slowly running out of ammunition to fight antibiotic resistant bacteria. Listener Peter wants to know whether a therapy that he’d heard about in the 1980s could be revived to help us where antibiotics falls short. CrowdScience travels to Georgia where “phages”, viruses that hunt and kill bacteria, have been used for nearly 100 years to treat illnesses ranging from a sore throat to cholera. Phages are fussy eaters – a specific phage will happily chew on one bug but ignore another. In Georgia, scienti...
2019-Apr-19 • 35 minutes
Will we ever know what the universe is made of?
We are all made of particles – but what are particles made of? It’s a question that’s been perplexing scientists for centuries - for so long, in fact, that listener Doug in Canada wants to know if there’s a limit to how much they can ever discover. CrowdScience heads out to CERN, in Switzerland, to find out. Birthplace of the internet, home to the Large Hadron Collider, and the site of the Higgs Boson’s discovery – the fundamental particle that is thought to give all other particles their mass, and one of...
2019-Apr-12 • 30 minutes
Why do we find things beautiful?
Humans seem programmed to appreciate beauty - whether that’s an attractive face, a glorious sunset, or a stirring piece of music. Of course, our individual tastes are all different, and culture plays a huge part too - but why are we so struck by whatever it is we find beautiful? What is that pleasurable sensation we get when we see or hear something we like? And has the ability to appreciate beauty given us any evolutionary advantages? In a special edition of CrowdScience from the International Science Fes...
2019-Apr-05 • 29 minutes
What are dreams for?
There are very good reasons to sleep: to regulate the body’s metabolism, blood pressure and other aspects of health. But do we actually need to dream? Is there an evolutionary reason for it? Marnie Chesterton takes her dream diary to a dream lab to explore this very popular preoccupation of many CrowdScience listeners. What would happen if we didn’t dream? What purpose do dreams serve? Can we really interpret them meaningfully, or are they merely random signals from the brain? The latest research says tal...
2019-Mar-29 • 32 minutes
Which milk is best for me and the planet?
Swapping dairy milk for a plant-based milk is a growing trend that promises environmental benefits. But what is the best milk considering both our health and the planet’s? Scottish listener Nancy asks CrowdScience to unpick the pros and cons of plant-based milks. Presenter Graihagh Jackson digs into the research and finds that if the whole world were willing to swap dairy for soy, we would free up a land mass the size of Australia and reduce greenhouse gas emissions dramatically. So in theory the planet wou...
2019-Mar-22 • 31 minutes
Why do we like some animals and hate others?
Cute isn't exactly a scientific term but we all know what we mean by it, don't we? Endearing, adorable, lovable and sweet. So what makes us fawn over a puppy, but run away from rats? Why do we spend millions on trying to keep Giant Pandas alive but spend even more on pushing endangered species like blue-fin Tuna to the brink of extinction by eating them? And if we changed what we classified as cute or ugly, how might that change the battle to protect the Earth's fragile biodiversity? CrowdScience listener ...
2019-Mar-15 • 33 minutes
When will an African visit Mars?
Crowdscience heads to Africa's biggest science festival for a panel debate in front of a live audience that takes us into space then back down to earth to solve listeners' questions. Marnie Chesterton and Anand Jagatia are joined by aspiring extra-terrestrial, Dr Adriana Marais, who hopes to travel to Mars, along with cosmologist Palesa Nombula and sustainable energy expert Dr Sampson Mamphweli. They all explain how solving challenges on the ground will eventually help us set up home in space. Producers: ...
2019-Mar-08 • 32 minutes
Why am I shy?
A racing heart, blushing, feeling sick - most people experience symptoms of shyness in certain situations. But some of us are much shyer than others, and if it gets on top of you, shyness can really limit what you get out of life. That’s why this week’s listener got in touch with CrowdScience. He wants to know why he’s shy: is it genetic, or more to do with his upbringing? Is there anything he can do to overcome his shyness – and on the other hand, could being shy actually have some benefits? We find out ...
2019-Mar-01 • 33 minutes
What do clouds feel like?
This week we turn our gaze skywards to tackle three questions about what’s going on above us. Three year old Zac from the UK wants to know what clouds feel like – if they’re supposedly like steam, then how are they cold? Presenter Graihagh Jackson meets a meteorologist who can not only tell us but show us the answer, as we attempt to make a tiny cloud at ground level in the studio. Listener Agnese is looking beyond the cloud base and up to our nearest neighbour. She’d like to know why it is that we can se...
2019-Feb-22 • 28 minutes
Does brain size matter?
The size of brains in the animal kingdom is wildly different, from melon-sized in blue whales to pea-sized in shrews. But does a bigger brain mean a more powerful one? CrowdScience listener Bob wondered just this as he watched various sized dogs running amok in his local park: the Great Dane has a much larger brain than a Chihuahua’s, yet the job of ‘being a dog’ surely requires the same brain power. So why have a big brain if a small one would do? A search for the answer takes Geoff Marsh to dog agilit...
2019-Feb-15 • 30 minutes
Where was the last place humans made home?
Our species started in Africa, but what was the last habitable landmass we reached? CrowdScience presenters Marnie Chesterton and Geoff Marsh team up to investigate how and when our species journeyed around the world and settled its most far flung landmasses. Geoff heads to some ancient caves in Israel to investigate the ‘false starts’ humans made out of Africa, and Marnie speaks with Professor Lisa Matisoo-Smith in New Zealand, uncovering the development of Polynesian sailing canoes and how they enabled t...
2019-Feb-08 • 32 minutes
Could a ‘zombie’ virus kill us all?
It’s the sort of plot you would expect from a classic sci-fi movie; what if there are viruses trapped deep in Antarctic ice that could wreak havoc on humans? Crowdscience presenter Alex Lathbridge puts on warm gloves and meets the scientists venturing into the icy wilds. He wants to answer listener Tony’s question - can viral life exist in such inhospitable climes and if so, might it pose us a danger? Alex meets teams who venture to the Antarctic to find out about how their work to understand climate ch...
2019-Feb-01 • 31 minutes
Is Recycling All Our Waste at Home Possible?
Waste, trash, garbage – whatever you call it, unwanted materials have become a major presence in many of our lives and our environment. Every year it is estimated that humans around the world produce 2 billion metric tonnes of waste. Listener Clare from Devon in the UK wants to start tackling this herself. She would like to know if she can not just sort but process all her own recycling at home. Presenter Marnie Chesterton attempts to find out by asking the professionals. She heads out to an industrial-sca...
2019-Jan-25 • 29 minutes
Why Do We Bury Our Dead?
The ritual of burying the dead stretches back to the obscure beginnings of human history - and perhaps beyond, with archaeologists uncovering evidence of burials that pre-date our own species. But why do we bury our dead? How important is it, and how did the practice evolve? CrowdScience listener Moses from Uganda began pondering these questions after attending a close relative’s funeral. We search for clues in some of the earliest known burial sites, compare other methods for dealing with human remains, a...
2019-Jan-18 • 34 minutes
Why can’t I remember my accident?
When CrowdScience listener, Grady, crashed violently on his motorbike in the desert, he thought he was going to die. Years later he still can’t remember the dramatic seconds just before the impact. Where did the memory disappear to? Did the hard hit to the head knock his memories out or are they still in his brain somewhere? CrowdScience turns to brain science to find out if those last few seconds are lost for good or if the brain tells a different story. Under normal circumstances our brains like to hold...
2019-Jan-11 • 33 minutes
Can Volcanoes Power the World?
Magma is the hot, molten rock found beneath the Earth’s crust. It’s so plentiful that it got Greek listener Dimitrios wondering whether we could harness this heat. Could we drill directly into the magma and use it to power our homes, he asks presenter Marnie Chesterton? And from Ghana, Madock also got in touch with CrowdScience to ask why there are lots of volcanoes in some areas of the world, but then none in others? Marnie dispatches Anand Jagatia to Kenya, a country that is one of the biggest providers ...
2019-Jan-04 • 27 minutes
How Bird-Like Were Dinosaurs?
Birds are dinosaurs, but did their extinct relatives move, look, or even sing like their avian relatives? From revealing the hidden information within fossilised dinosaur footprints, to reading the messages left by muscle attachments on fossil bones and seeing how modern palaeo-artists have started to draw fluffy feathered Tyranosaurs, presenter Geoff Marsh starts to reimagine dinosaurs as living animals. Beginning with CrowdScience listener Malcolm asking about hopping dinosaurs while on a fossil findin...
2018-Dec-28 • 28 minutes
What is the future of space travel?
CrowdScience goes interstellar this week to answer listeners’ questions about the future of space travel. Marnie Chesterton heads to Nasa’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, where she hears about the engineering challenges of creating a spacecraft that could eventually take us all the way to Mars. Then there are the challenges of engineering the humans for that momentous journey. In space, no-one can hear you scream, which is probably a good thing if you’re going to be trapped in a metal box for two years...
2018-Dec-24 • 26 minutes
How Much Energy Can I Burn by Thinking?
Wouldn’t it be great if you could lose weight and stay fit just by exercising your brain? Trouble is everything takes so much effort - from burning off excess weight to powering our cars. But why? Presenter Marnie Chesterton rummages through the CrowdScience inbox to tackle all your energy-expending queries. Is the entire universe spinning? How much energy do we expend when sleeping? Can I think myself thinner? Scientists Helen Czerski, Andrew Pontzen and Andrea Sella join listeners from around the wor...
2018-Dec-14 • 34 minutes
Is There a Logic to Romantic Love?
Loving someone who doesn’t love you in return makes us feel wretched – can science explain why we must suffer? Parental love makes perfect evolutionary sense but romance just seems to have it in for us time after time. CrowdScience listener Leja wants to know why we fall in and out of love. Marnie Chesterton discovers the irrational things, the impulsive things and the financially ruinous things BBC World Service listeners have done in the name of love and meet the rapper who turned herself into a science...
2018-Dec-07 • 30 minutes
Why do Women Live Longer than Men?
From Russia to Rwanda, women live longer than men and have done so for over 100 years. But why? Is it encoded in our genes or is it something to do with the way we live? This is something CrowdScience listener Michelle from England has been wondering about. From cradle to grave, Marnie Chesterton examines the complex web of factors that are involved in how men and women age differently. It seems that, right from the word go, male embryos are already in the firing line because of their genetics. Marnie hea...
2018-Nov-30 • 29 minutes
Is Soil The Secret to Slowing Climate Change?
Removing carbon dioxide from our atmosphere - and stopping it getting up there in the first place - is becoming increasingly urgent if we want to prevent catastrophic climate change. There are some seriously high tech machines being developed to try and tackle this problem, but could an equally powerful solution be found in the dirt under our feet? Prompted by New Zealand farmer and CrowdScience listener Kem, we dig deep to see how effectively plants and soils soak up CO2 from the air; and what that means f...
2018-Nov-23 • 31 minutes
Do You Smell What I Smell?
We may take our ability to smell for granted but it’s a far more complex sense than many people realise. Listener Annabel wants Crowdscience to investigate why perfume makes her queasy, so Anand Jagatia sets out to discover why we can’t all agree when we follow our noses. He gets a whiff of the world’s stinkiest flower - and finds some people enjoy it – then asks what’s happening in the brain when we love or hate a scent. But could our different perceptions about this under-appreciated sense actually come d...
2018-Nov-16 • 34 minutes
Which Language is Most Efficient?
Communicating quickly, accurately and, ideally, in a way that's well-received is no easy feat, wherever you live in the world. For this week's listener, who lives and works in several different countries as a member of the armed forces, good communication can be a matter of life or death. And this doesn’t just affect military life – anyone who flies on aeroplanes may be interested to hear how clear use of language is crucial for airline safety. But what do we mean by an efficient language – it is the faste...
2018-Nov-09 • 28 minutes
Can We Make an Artificial Womb?
From IVF to premature babies we explore what science we would need to make a baby outside the body in a pursuit to answer a question from Nigerian listener, Aminu asking: Can we make an artificial womb? To find out, presenter Nastaran Tavakoli-Far gets very close to a uterus transplant operation, peers at the earliest cells of a placenta, and sees a disembodied womb being kept alive in a box full of artificial blood. She asks how close current reproductive medicine brings us to gestating babies in a lab. ...
2018-Nov-02 • 35 minutes
How Do We Deal with Nuclear Waste?
How should we tackle the biggest clean-up job in history? Listener Michelle from Ireland sends CrowdScience to investigate what to do with years’ worth of spent nuclear fuel. Most of the highly toxic waste is a by-product from nuclear power production and the stockpiles across the world continue to grow. “Could we blast it into the sun? Dilute it across the continent? Or should we bury it?” Michelle asks. We travel deep into the Finnish bedrock to visit what could be its final resting place and speak to th...
2018-Oct-26 • 29 minutes
Could Bionic Eyes Help Me See Again?
Mohammed is from India and he’s blind. He emailed CrowdScience because he wanted to know more about new technologies that could help him see again. Specifically, he was interested in artificial vision - what is it and what does it look like? Bobbie Lakhera travels to Germany to find out. There, she meets a blind patient called Manuel. He’s about to have a major operation. A computer chip will be implanted into his eye and his surgeon, Florian Gekeler, believes that it will restore some of Manuel’s sight. ...
2018-Oct-19 • 32 minutes
What are the limits of human endurance?
When it comes to speed, humans have got nothing on cheetahs - or greyhounds, kangaroos or zebras for that matter. It’s over long distances we really come into our own: when running for hours or even days, our body structure and excellent sweating skills make us able to outpace much faster mammals. But what are the limits of human endurance? Can we run ever further and faster, and what’s the best diet to fuel such ambitions? This week’s questions come from two CrowdScience listeners in Japan who already k...
2018-Oct-12 • 38 minutes
What Makes Us Superstitious?
Would you willingly break a mirror, walk under a ladder or cut up an image of someone you love - or might you be worried about tempting fate – even if you don’t believe in supernatural forces? Anand Jagatia enters the world of magical thinking on behalf of CrowdScience listeners to explore why - even in this era of scientific rationalism – superstition, magic and belief in concepts like the evil eye and luck appear deeply entrenched in our cultures and psyche. Meeting historians and psychologists, Anan...
2018-Oct-09 • 36 minutes
Can We Prevent Hurricanes?
As the US reaches the end of another hurricane season listener Kelly wants to know if it’s possible to prevent these devastating storms? She lives in Florida, the hurricane capital of the world, and has survived 100mph winds whipping through her home. But could science hold the solution to these extreme weather events? Marnie Chesterton had the unique opportunity to fly into hurricane Florence with the weather scientists gathering data that helped forecasters predict its path, and reports from on board a p...
2018-Sep-28 • 29 minutes
Does Asking Questions Improve Your Memory?
As the show that takes your questions and turns them into audio adventures reaches its 100th episode, Marnie Chesterton revisits a few of our most liked, talked-about, and inbox-filling programmes to find out how science is getting on with the answers. Marnie heads to a place where important queries have been tackled for hundreds of years - the University of Cambridge in the UK - to chase down some burning follow-ups on topics that have piqued your interest. She finds out what the future holds for the next ...
2018-Sep-21 • 28 minutes
What’s The Point of Laughter?
This violent and repetitive involuntary constriction of the chest muscles is highly infectious, and can result in convulsions, profuse tears and a reddening of the face. People are known to clutch their chests or roll around on the floor during the more intense bouts. Buy why? It seems a particularly odd thing to do and that’s why CrowdScientists, Erin from Australia, Geraldine from Switzerland, and Musweu from Zambia wanted to find out more about laughter. In pursuit of an understanding of what laughter is...
2018-Sep-14 • 27 minutes
Is Vaping Bad for your Health?
E-cigarettes and vaping may only have been around for a decade or so but it's estimated more than 35 million people globally have taken it up. Marnie Chesterton heads to a vape show to discover why these gadgets are proving so popular, and hears from one expert who warns they could be damaging lung immune cells. She examines the research behind claims that e-cigarettes can help smokers quit, and finds conflicting evidence about how good they are at giving people the nicotine hit they crave. It's a research ...
2018-Sep-07 • 27 minutes
Why Do Drivers Zone Out?
Have you ever been out driving and noticed your mind… wandering? CrowdScience listener Sian Gardiner has. When travelling to visit her parents she has to cross a very large, very obvious bridge. But there are times when she finds herself on the other side with no memory of having gone over it. How is that even possible? Presenter Geoff Marsh buckles up to find out. He travels through the science of how driving becomes second nature, brakes sharply when he realises he’s not necessarily in conscious control ...
2018-Aug-31 • 28 minutes
Why Do Some Animals Change Sex?
In humans if you have two X chromosomes you are female and if you have an X and a Y then you are male. It is textbook science. But CrowdScience listener Du in Singapore has done some extra homework and found a piece of intriguing fish research which suggests a different outcome, at least for one species – tilapia, a popular fish on restaurant menus worldwide and as it happens, the first fish to visit space. Whilst humans couldn’t exist without an X-chromosome, tilapia apparently, can. In fact, they are happ...
2018-Aug-24 • 28 minutes
Is there life on Mars?
It’s the central question for the current generation of Mars missions. Since the first close-up pictures of the red planet back in 1965, decades of space missions have revealed our neighbouring planet to be cold, rocky and sterile. But there are hints of a more dramatic past; of raging volcanoes and flash floods. Could this be a planet where life existed? Could life still exist under the surface? And could humans live there, or even travel the distance to get there safely, at some point in the coming decade...
2018-Aug-18 • 33 minutes
Could humans live in underwater cities?
The idea of creating underwater habitats has captured the imagination of writers, thinkers and scientists for decades. However, despite numerous grand visions, these dreams of aquatic metropolises have not yet come to fruition. Crowdscience listener and scuba enthusiast Jack wonders whether - given improved technology and the growing environmental pressures facing humans on land - it is time to reconsider the ocean as an alternative permanent living space for humans. Marnie Chesterton dons her flippers for...
2018-Aug-10 • 30 minutes
Can we trap light in a box?
What is light and can we trap it in a box? On this edition of CrowdScience, Marnie Chesterton brings you a kaleidoscope of colourful questions from listeners around the world, from Kampala to Chicago. Shireen asks why people have a favourite colour and whether other animals show colour preferences too. Marnie heads to the zoo to see what the birds, bees and butterflies think. There, she meets a colour-changing chameleon to find out how and why it does because of a question from Dramadri in Uganda. Meanwhi...
2018-Aug-03 • 32 minutes
How Do You Stop a Hedgehog Invasion?
Hedgehogs are the UK’s favourite British mammal. They have cute furry faces, a snuffly nose and the ability to gobble up garden slugs. What’s not to like? Answer: quite a lot if you live in the Outer Hebrides. Hedgehogs were introduced to South Uist in the 1970s as garden pest controllers, but are now serious pests in their own right – munching their way through the eggs and chicks of globally important wading bird populations. This emblem of cuteness is really a killer. So what’s to be done? That’s the ...
2018-Jul-27 • 31 minutes
Why Does History Repeat Itself?
Teenagers are known for ignoring their parents’ advice, but is this reputation for rebellion well-founded? If so, is rejecting the advice of previous generations and treading our own path an important part of what it means to be human? Are we successful as a species precisely because of our questioning natures? Listener Hans started pondering these questions after his own adolescent children repeatedly ignored his nagging. Many animals simply follow in their parents’ footsteps – so what makes human childr...
2018-Jul-20 • 35 minutes
How Do Magnets Work?
This deceptively simple question from listeners Andy, Mike and James is actually one of the hardest questions CrowdScience has ever tackled. Why? Because even scientists struggle to explain the true nature of the magnetic force and to do so in a way that even presenter Marnie Chesterton can understand is a serious challenge. What is a magnet? And just what is going on when magnets exert a force? With the help of Melanie Windridge, Sean Giblin, Steve Bramwell, Charlotte New and Peter Morris we attempt to na...
2018-Jul-13 • 29 minutes
Why do Humans have Different Coloured Skin?
Anand Jagatia heads to the rainbow nation of South Africa, to answer listener Lucy’s deceptively simple question. He follows the path of early human migration to understand the relationship between light skin and latitude, and find out how the world become more multi-coloured as people ventured further away from the equator. And he learns how our genes have helped us adapt to less sunny environments, hearing from the remote KhoeSan tribe in the Kalahari desert, who took part in a massive study aimed at givi...
2018-Jul-06 • 31 minutes
Where Do All Our Vegetables Come From?
Listener Pogo wants to know why there aren’t any cabbages – or any of the other vegetables – in his local forest. Where did they all come from? And could they someday disappear? Presenter Gareth Barlow goes hunting for wild snacks in a city park and unearths the evolution of our most beloved greens. The vegetables on our supermarket shelves today were not always nicely wrapped and tasty. Humans have been selecting for specific genes in plants for thousands of years by choosing to grow those we liked the mos...
2018-Jun-28 • 26 minutes
Do Plants Talk about Sex?
Sex – for most organisms - is about meeting the right partner. But what if you and your mate are stuck far apart with no ability to travel? This dilemma could put a bit of a downer on your sex life, but is faced by plants everywhere. Presenter Anand Jagatia uncovers the happy fact that not only have plants overcome this problem, they positively excel at it. From hay fever to honey, the sexual strategies of plants affect us daily, and we couldn’t live without their success. In this episode, CrowdScience is a...
2018-Jun-22 • 30 minutes
Will We Run Out of Groundwater?
Some of the biggest reserves of freshwater are right under our feet and they're really important for farming as well as providing us with water to drink. However, in some areas of the world, groundwater is being slurped up quicker than it can be replenished. In fact, about 1.7 billion people live in regions where groundwater is under stress, 60% of them in India and China. This figure is set to rise as the climate changes and as the population grows. CrowdScience listener Waheed from Afghanistan wants to k...
2018-Jun-15 • 32 minutes
What Shapes Our Musical Taste?
What sounds heavenly to one person might sound like boring noise to another - but why are our musical preferences so different? Is it all down to what we hear growing up, or are other factors at play? CrowdScience listener and music lover Jocelyne from Canada wants to know why she has a different song for every mood, and why she likes different music from her friends and family. Meanwhile in Italy, composer Elisabetta Brusa asks us whether the rules of harmony align with the laws of science, and should t...
2018-Jun-08 • 30 minutes
Is Hypnosis a Real Thing?
Hypnosis has a long and controversial history, with its roots in animal magnetism or mesmerism, the theory developed by 18th Century German doctor Franz Mesmer. He believed he had discovered an invisible natural force possessed by all living things, and that he could channel this force for healing purposes. Popularity of hypnosis has since waxed and waned, but was largely denounced as quackery until the 20th Century, when it began to be studied scientifically. However it is only in the last twenty years o...
2018-Jun-01 • 29 minutes
How Green Are Electric Vehicles?
Electric cars are labelled as ‘zero emissions’ vehicles – but what does that really mean? Jack Stewart puts your questions about EVs to the experts. According to a new report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, just how green your EV is compared to a petrol or diesel vehicle, depends on how the electricity powering the battery was produced, as well as how cleanly the battery itself was manufactured. Jack also explores what could be a compelling alternative to plugging in – filing up with Hydrogen, and cre...
2018-May-25 • 31 minutes
Is Fasting Healthy?
For some it's a way to get closer to God, for others a tried and tested way to lose weight - but listener Amine wants to know if fasting has any other, unexpected health benefits? So presenter Marnie Chesterton cuts down on cookies and investigates the science behind low-calorie or time-restricted eating. She hears how some cells regenerate when we're deprived of food, which one researcher says could reduce breast cancer rates. And she finds out what happens in our brains when our bodies rely on our own fat...
2018-May-18 • 32 minutes
How is Your Brain Better Than a Computer?
Why is it that computers are so much faster than brains at some tasks? Or could human brains one day be used to better effect? Listener Praveen from India was wondering how it can be that supercomputers are so very powerful compared to the human minds that created them. So CrowdScience, with the help of a small voice-activated guest presenter, is off to discover how the first computers remembered what they were told, how a million processors are being connected together to mimic a small percentage of a hu...
2018-May-11 • 34 minutes
Why Do Humans Dance?
Kenyan listener Docktor can’t help himself. When music is playing he must move to the beat and he wants to know why. What role does dance play in human evolution? And what does dance mean to us? To help answer the many twists and turns in Docktor’s questions, the CrowdScience team heads to one of the most vibrant and diverse dance scenes in the World, Havana in Cuba. For Cubans dancing is at the heart of their cultural identity. They tell stories, bond with others, practice religion and celebrate their Afri...
2018-May-04 • 31 minutes
Why Don’t We All Like The Same Food?
Humans have the potential to eat pretty much anything – but the reality is we don’t. Wherever we live in the world, we eat just a small fraction of the foodstuffs available and show strong preferences for certain foods over others. Those preferences can change dramatically from person to person, or as the saying goes – one man’s meat is another man’s poison. Then at the extreme end of the spectrum you get so-called ‘fussy eaters’ who reject so many foods that they are confined to beige diets of crisps, crac...
2018-Apr-27 • 30 minutes
Can Sucking CO2 Out of the Air Solve Climate Change?
Carbon dioxide levels are far higher than at any other point in human history, thanks to our reliance on burning fossil fuels. But having pumped huge amounts of CO2 into the air, are there ways to get it back out again? If so, where would we put it all? And the big question: can that help solve our climate change problem, or is it a distraction from the urgent task of reducing our emissions? When CrowdScience delved into ancient carbon dioxide levels last year, it sparked a flurry of emails from our listen...
2018-Apr-20 • 29 minutes
Are Screens Bad For My Child’s Eyes?
Short-sightedness is reaching epidemic proportions around the world. The way things are progressing, one-third of the world’s population – 2.5 billion people - could need glasses by the end of the decade. And scientists are beginning to understand why: children spend too much time indoors, bent over screens and books. Marnie Chesterton travels to Singapore, where rates of myopia are one of the highest in the world and to see how the government is curbing the condition with an array of tools, from eye-drops ...
2018-Apr-13 • 28 minutes
Why Do Insects Fly Towards Lights?
Will gravity on earth ever change? Why do insects fly towards the light? Is the plasma in a TV the same as plasma in a fusion reactor? Why are mosquito bites so itchy? What does the Higgs boson do for the Universe? In a Q+A special, Marnie Chesterton is joined by scientists Malcolm Fairbairn, Kate Lancaster and Erica McAlister to tackle a selection of questions from the CrowdScience inbox. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Alex Mansfield (Photo: Alates insects light bulb and night. Credit: Getty Ima...
2018-Apr-06 • 29 minutes
Can We Find a Cure for Dementia?
Dementia affects nearly 50 million people worldwide – but doctors are still struggling to find a cure. CrowdScience investigates why this particular group of brain diseases are so hard to treat, from the difficulties around diagnosis to why the drugs just don’t currently work. In the absence of a medical solution is it time to take a new approach? As geneticists develop tests to predict who might develop brain disease, there are others focusing on better care for those who already have it. Presenter Bobbie...
2018-Mar-30 • 35 minutes
Is The Future of Food a Pill?
Since the end of the 19th century, scientists have been predicting we would be eating a meal in a pill, but is it a serious answer to the world’s food problems? That’s what Australian listener Bridget is wondering and whether it’s possible to produce an artificial food source that can provide all the nutrients for healthy human life. With increasing urbanisation, diets are changing and estimates suggest food production will have to increase some 60 percent by 2050 to keep up with demand. But can we provide...
2018-Mar-24 • 30 minutes
Does Anything Stand Still?
Listener Nikolai sends CrowdScience hunting through space and time with his deceptively simple question. Can we find perfect stillness? You are probably reading this sentence whilst standing or sitting still. So is it a daft question? We discover that there are no simple answers as we unravel the science of motion, which tells us that we cannot always trust our senses to tell us ‘the truth’ about the natural world. The ancient Greeks believed it was the sun that rises and sets each day and this idea remai...
2018-Mar-16 • 34 minutes
Why Do We Follow the Crowd?
Are you the master of your own decisions? Independent-minded? A free spirit? Like it or not, the answer is probably no - as we are profoundly influenced by the people around us. But why do humans follow the crowd? CrowdScience listener Cath Danes wants to know and this week we are going to be giving her answers at the BBC’s Free Thinking Festival in Gateshead. Marnie Chesterton is joined by a crack team of neuroscientists and psychologists, who reveal the secrets behind our inner sheep. We also run an exp...
2018-Mar-09 • 37 minutes
Is Nuclear Fusion Coming Anytime Soon?
Unlike nuclear fission power stations, which leave harmful radioactive waste to be stored or disposed of for thousands of years, a nuclear fusion power plant would create precious little burden on future generations. The fuel source would be seawater, and the energy created limitless. Back in the 1950s, the technology to “tame the hydrogen bomb” seemed just a few decades away from practical deployment, and governments across the divide of the cold war shared the challenges, costs and laboratories. Bu...
2018-Mar-02 • 29 minutes
Could Bees Take Over From Sniffer Dogs?
Humans have used dogs' excellent sniffing talents ever since our ancestors figured out that canine companions could help them track down their next meal. But what about other animals? Can they take us beyond the limits of our own senses? That's what CrowdScience listener Beth wants to know, so we obligingly try to sniff out some answers. After immersing ourselves in the world of insect senses at our local zoo, we visit an insect lab in Germany to find out whether sniffer bees could take over from sniffer ...
2018-Feb-23 • 35 minutes
Do Animals Have Accents?
A cacophony of singing and screaming creatures’ accents are explored to answer: Can animals of the same species from different places communicate with each other? Presenter Geoff Marsh tries to identify how different these calls really sound for CrowdScience. From wolves to birds to whales and chimpanzees, most animals use sound to communicate, but if groups in different places vocalise in different ways, they may not be able to communicate with others. CrowdScience questioner, Kitty, sets us on an e...
2018-Feb-16 • 33 minutes
How does the Moon affect life on Earth?
From worms who time their mating ritual with an inner lunar calendar, to how full moons could cause cows to give birth early. Listener Andreas sends CrowdScience on a mission to separate fact from fiction. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Marijke Peters Picture: The moon rises over Kadam mountain in Uganda, on January 31, 2018, during the lunar phenomenon referred to as the 'super blue blood moon'. Credit: Yasuyoshi Chiba / AFP / Getty Images
2018-Feb-09 • 31 minutes
Why Does Dark Matter, Matter?
Scientists have been searching for dark matter for 80 years, so CrowdScience wondered whether they could find it faster. Armed with a boiler suit, hard hat and ear defenders, Marnie Chesterton travels over a kilometre underground into a hot and sweaty mine to see how we could catch dark matter in action. She investigates various theories as to what it might be with popping candy and gazes at galaxies to determine how we know it exists in the first place. But most importantly, she questions whether it really...
2018-Feb-02 • 31 minutes
Must Life be Carbon-Based?
Carbon is special, but is it necessarily the unique building block of life in the universe? Science fiction has long speculated on non-carbon biochemistries existing in the universe – notably in the work of authors such as Isaac Asimov as well as in the popular American TV series Star Trek, which once featured a rock-munching, silicon-based life form called ‘Horta’. Marnie Chesterton explores the real science behind this intriguing idea and wonders whether in the current search for Earth-like planets el...
2018-Jan-26 • 26 minutes
How Far Can I See?
How far can you see? A few kilometres down the road? Or do you struggle to see past the end of your own nose? Well one listener thinks he might be able to see 15 quintillion miles away... but can he really? Marnie Chesterton and Bobbie Lakhera are on the case for this week’s multi-question human body special. As well as delving into the power of vision, they also discover why male mammals have nipples despite not needing to breastfeed, and Marnie puts herself in a giant refrigerator in the name of finding o...
2018-Jan-19 • 29 minutes
Are Crunchy Caterpillars the Food of the Future?
Meet the entrepreneurs turning bugs into food and get top tips on how to cook them. In this week’s episode we return to the topic of edible insects and the story of Kahitouo Hein’s caterpillar factory in Burkina Faso, West Africa. Kahitouo is trying to turn a traditional food like the shea caterpillar, available for just a few weeks a year, into a year-long sustainable staple for the whole population. We also put your questions about edible insects directly to the researchers in Burkino Faso. Discover the...
2018-Jan-12 • 30 minutes
When Does Speech Become Music?
Most of us instinctively know when someone’s singing and when they’re talking. But since music and speech are both just sounds, how do our brains tell them apart? This week’s question comes from Eugene, a music teacher in Northern Ireland, who often hears music in people’s speech, and wonders why. Step forward, the ‘speech-to-song illusion’. This curious phenomenon means that when certain spoken phrases are repeated, they turn into music as if by magic. We talk to the Diana Deutsch, the scientist who dis...
2018-Jan-05 • 29 minutes
Why Does My Dog Love Me?
Dogs have been living and working with humans for thousands of years. But they’re much more than just pets. As any dog owner will tell you, the bond we have with our canine friends is often so strong that they feel more like family. So how is it that dogs have come to fit so seamlessly into human life? That’s what CrowdScience listener Peter Jagger in the UK wants to know, and Marnie Chesterton is off to sniff out some answers. She starts by revisiting a previous episode of CrowdScience based in Sweden,...
2017-Dec-29 • 31 minutes
Could our faces replace passports as ID?
Crowdscience revisits the evidence on the best forms of biometric identification. Earlier in the year we explored digital fingerprints, gait (walking style) recognition and iris scanners. Today presenter Anand Jagatia looks at systems which use your face and your voice to identify you. One airline is currently testing facial recognition in airports as a means of replacing your passport. Meanwhile, Anand tries to fool a speech recognition system that measures over a thousand characteristics of your voice in ...
2017-Dec-22 • 31 minutes
Rudolph castrated: what you didn’t hear this year
Reindeer castration, plants get chatty and more quirky science revealed in this Christmas special of CrowdScience where we will also be hearing from the people that make this series possible. That’s you – our listeners. CrowdScience has been on air for just over a year which means we’ve had over 60 adventures. Every time we put a show together there’s a heart-breaking process where amazing facts we wanted to share end up on the cutting-room floor. To celebrate the holidays we’ve gone scavenging for the be...
2017-Dec-19 • 30 minutes
What is dust?
It lurks behind sofas and collects in corners, apparently appearing from nowhere. But what is household dust? And should we bother sweeping it away? That’s what Australian listener Moshe wants to know and what Marnie Chesterton is off to find out for this week’s CrowdScience. She embarks on a mission to discover not only what dust is made of, but whether it poses any health risks. Although most people sweep it away without a thought, dust contains all sorts of secrets about our habits and everyday lives. Ma...
2017-Dec-08 • 28 minutes
From Oldest to Strongest Living Thing
Trees are old – they transcend human generations – but are they the oldest living things on Earth? This story began in June 2017 when we explored a question sent in from CrowdScience listener William. Many of you got in touch after the programme with questions of your own. So we’re revisiting our trees programme but also exploring another question from listener James, who wants to know what, pound for pound or gram for gram, is the strongest animal alive on Earth today? Marnie Chesterton wrestles with one ...
2017-Dec-01 • 33 minutes
Can We Revive Extinct Species Like the Dodo?
Dodos are dead, but are they gone forever? Reviving extinct species is a trope of science fiction, but real-life scientists are working on every stage of the problem today. Meeting scientists focused on uncovering ancient animal genomes, or reviving individual cells to conserve species still around, Marnie Chesterton seeks out whether new technologies might, just possibly, bring back the iconic dodo. But what would it take to bring back that most iconic of extinct species? Following listener Rachel’s ...
2017-Nov-27 • 30 minutes
Does Technology Change How we Fall in Love?
How does technology affect how we fall in love? Crowdscience travels to India to answer listener Erin’s questions about the impact of the internet on our search for soulmates. We meet the traditional matchmaker who says her service provides security in an era of digital fraud. And ask whether computer algorithms are the best way to help people make permanent romantic connections? Presenter: Chhavi Sachdev Producer: Marijke Peters (Photo: A couple kiss while taking a selfie. Credit: Getty Images)
2017-Nov-17 • 28 minutes
Why are There Morning People and Night People?
Some of us want to be up with the larks, while others are more like night owls. But is our preference down to our genes, or more to do with habits and surroundings? We set out to find the answers, inspired by a question from Kira, a night owl CrowdScience listener in Philadelphia, USA. Our daily, or circadian, body clocks are a hot topic of discussion at the moment - this year’s Nobel Prize for Medicine went to three scientists who discovered the gene that makes these clocks tick. To answer our listener’s ...
2017-Nov-10 • 33 minutes
How Can I Remember More?
Sometimes our memory fails us and we wish facts would just stick better. Listener Mothibi is a student and has spent three years trying to remember as much as possible for his exams. He wants to know how he can train his brain to better to remember things – and does the brain have a limit on how much stuff we can cram into it? To find the answers presenter Marnie Chesterton seeks help from memory magician, Simon, at the European Memory Championship. Using the loci technique she accomplishes a memory feat ...
2017-Nov-03 • 29 minutes
How Did Life Get onto Land?
People often talk about being descended from apes. But go back a bit further and we have a more unlikely ancestor – fish. Improbable as it may sound, the creature that gave rise to every bird, reptile and mammal on Earth today lived a fully aquatic life. So how did it switch to life on land? And how hard was it to swap swimming for walking and breathing fresh air? That’s what CrowdScience listener Pierre in France wants to know, and what Marnie Chesterton is in Scotland to find out. She goes fossil huntin...
2017-Oct-31 • 37 minutes
How Can We Fight Unwanted Noise?
Unpleasant man-made noise is something that disturbs many of us and even damages our health. But as millions more people move into crowded cities around the world, it's a cacophony that we almost unavoidably create ourselves. CrowdScience listener Diana from New York City in the USA got in touch to ask how we can temper the din and live a more peaceful life. Presenter Anand Jagatia heads to an acoustics lab at the University of Salford in Manchester, UK, to meet the researchers and engineers investigating t...
2017-Oct-20 • 28 minutes
Is There Proof of Life After Death?
Is there any scientific proof of an afterlife? Six months ago, CrowdScience tackled a question from a listener who wanted to know whether there was life after death. But following more listener emails, presenter Marnie Chesterton returns to the subject to investigate the world of ghosts, souls and parapsychology. She meets Professor Susan Blackmore, who studies out-of-body experiences and has spent decades hunting for scientific proof of life after death. And she visits the woman who, despite dying in the 1...
2017-Oct-13 • 27 minutes
Can We Worm Our Way Into Better Health?
We test the science behind parasitic therapy to answer listener Michael’s question about whether intestinal worms can help us stay healthy, and visit a deworming programme in a rural Ugandan village. Do you have a question we can turn into a programme? Email us at [email protected] Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Marijke Peters (Picture: Tapeworm in human intestine, Credit: selvanegra/Getty Images)
2017-Oct-06 • 27 minutes
Is Carbon Dioxide Higher Than Ever?
Carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere today are higher than at any point in human existence. But going back further into Earth’s history, when do we find concentrations as high as they are now - and what was the planet like back then? CrowdScience sets out to answer our listener Thomas’s question, travelling back through time with the help of Antarctic ice cores, ancient plant fossils, and microscopic popcorn-shaped organisms called foraminifera, all of which hold clues to past climates. Enlisting the h...
2017-Sep-29 • 27 minutes
Can We Make Artificial Organs?
Human Organs are in short supply. But what if you could grow new ones in the lab? And if you donate your body parts to help others, where might they end up? That's what Sarah Gray wanted to know after making the difficult decision to donate the body of her son, Thomas, to medical science after he died from an incurable disease shortly after being born. Sarah then contacted the scientists whose research has been made possible by Thomas’ donation and discovered just how he is contributing to research which,...
2017-Sep-22 • 32 minutes
Should We Kill One Species to Save Another?
Is it fair to kill invasive species which humans have introduced? When people move around the world, many of their favourite – and not so favourite - animals tag along for the ride. From cane toads through to rats, cats and crayfish, so-called ‘invasive species’ can destroy ecosystems and kill off native wildlife. CrowdScience listener Jude Kirkham wants to know if eradicating these invaders is justified. One country determined to do something about invasive species is New Zealand, where rats, stoats and p...
2017-Sep-15 • 29 minutes
Could All Cars Be Electric?
Just one per cent of vehicles are powered by electricity, but CrowdScience listener Randall from Lac du Bonnet in Canada wants to know how quickly that might change, and whether one day all cars could be electric. Marnie Chesterton begins her journey in an electric car, stuck in traffic on a Los Angeles freeway. It was in California where the modern electric car revival began in the late 1990s with the EV1 – popular with Hollywood celebrities like Mel Gibson and Danny DeVito. More than two decades on, sev...
2017-Sep-08 • 29 minutes
How Could Humanity Become Extinct?
Nuclear weapons and mega asteroids: what would the aftermath look like? CrowdScience explores past extinction events and future dystopias. In a past episode, CrowdScience headed to Denmark to find out whether humans could go the way of the dinosaurs – mass extinction triggered by a large asteroid impact 66 million years ago. Although no killer rocks are on route to Earth any time soon, we do not have to look far for other dystopias. “Do we have enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world?”, listener Ron...
2017-Sep-01 • 27 minutes
Spider Silk and Super Fly Senses
CrowdScience is uncovering the super-powers of spiders, flies and the most irritating mosquitos. Anand Jagatia meets spider specialist Jamie Mitchells at London Zoo to find out how spiders create such vast webs and speaks to researchers in Sweden about how they are trying and succeeding in recreating spider’s silk. Rory Galloway heads to Cambridge University’s Fly Lab to find out how their tiny brains process the world up to four times faster than humans. And Bobbie Lakhera is at the London School of ...
2017-Aug-25 • 28 minutes
Trees v Air Pollution - the Rematch
CrowdScience dives back into a debate about trees and their ability to tackle air pollution. Growing trees take in carbon dioxide and emit oxygen, but their leaves also attract tiny particles, which can get into our lungs and brains. So how good are they at cleaning our clogged up skies? Following on from our original programme, CrowdScience was contacted by a team of researchers in the UK who claim tress may be as much as 50 times better than previously thought at mopping up particles, and learn that hedge...
2017-Aug-18 • 32 minutes
Sydney Science Festival, Australia
CrowdScience heads to the Sydney Science Festival in Australia where, from a special event at The Powerhouse Museum, we reveal answers to questions listeners have been sending in such as: What living thing has the most toxic venom? What is déjà vu? And why do our fingers wrinkle in the bath? To tackle our listeners’ questions about life, Earth and the universe, presenter Marnie Chesterton is joined by four special guests who will bring the good, weird and bemusing from the world of science to the stage. ...
2017-Aug-11 • 35 minutes
Lightning Strikes Again
Is it possible to get power from lightning? This was the first CrowdScience question posed by listener John Emochu in Kampala, Uganda, in November 2016. We revisit John’s story as presenter Marnie Chesterton goes hunting for answers at a lightning lab in Cardiff, Wales, where she discovers just what lightning lab is, and how to make a tiny – but very loud – lightning bolt. And we tackle the best of the many questions that came into our inbox about thunderstorms after the original broadcast – from how many t...
2017-Aug-04 • 29 minutes
Can Animals Commit Murder?
** Contains some upsetting scenes ** As a species, we humans can be uniquely horrible to our own kind. But are we the only animal to commit murder? Listener Michelle’s question sends CrowdScience trekking – and getting lost - in the Budongo rainforest in Uganda in search of one of Man’s closest relatives, the chimpanzee. We hear from the scientists, who only days before the team’s arrival at the camp, witnessed a gang of chimps brutally killing another adult. But does chimpanzee lethal aggression pass mu...
2017-Jul-28 • 27 minutes
What Do Our Accents Say About Us?
How do we end up speaking the way we do? What's happening in our brains and mouths to make us sound so different from each other - even when we’re speaking the same language? This week on CrowdScience we return to our listener Amanda’s question of why there are so many accents, and discover more about what our accents say about us. We visit Glasgow in Scotland, home to one of the most distinctive dialects of English, to see how social status and age affect the way we speak; and investigate another of our...
2017-Jul-21 • 27 minutes
Could a Computer Judge My Crime?
People said they’d never catch on. Mobile phones, the internet and even robot assembly lines all once seemed like niche technologies. But today they are at the heart of the modern world. But just how far can technology go? Could machines start to compete with humans in making complex and life-changing decisions, like those made by lawyers and judges? That’s what CrowdScience listener Zackery Snaidman from Orlando in the US wants to know and presenter Marnie Chesterton has set out to find answers. She sta...
2017-Jul-14 • 29 minutes
Why is it so Hard to Quit Smoking?
A billion people across the world smoke cigarettes, and many would agree it’s the hardest habit to quit. One such smoker, listener Sharif, emailed CrowdScience from Uzbekistan to ask if we could find out why giving up is so difficult. Marnie Chesterton travels to San Francisco to meet addiction experts and discovers how nicotine tricks smokers into thinking tobacco’s good for them. And we meet ex-smokers at a weekly therapy session aimed at retraining the brain. Do you have a question we can turn into a pr...
2017-Jul-07 • 31 minutes
Does Time really Exist?
Earlier this year Crowdscience explored the question of time. Back then we were on a mission to uncover what the real time is and how we're able to measure time to ever greater degrees of accuracy. But as ever, the programme uncovered more questions than answers so presenter Anand Jagatia is back to try and find out where time comes from, why it runs forwards and not backwards, what happens to time in a black hole and does time even exist beyond our experience of it? We speak to Claudia Hammond, author of a...
2017-Jun-30 • 28 minutes
Do We Think in Words?
We're always up for a challenge on CrowdScience but this week’s question, which comes from an artist, tests our limits as we investigate the nature of thought itself – something that has puzzled scientists and philosophers since ancient times. Undeterred, presenter Nastaran Tavakoli-Far heads off to the Spanish island of Ibiza to visit listener Romanie in her painting studio and attempt to peer into the workings of her mind. As we explore the relationship between thought and language, why not join in with...
2017-Jun-23 • 28 minutes
Can Plants Talk?
David in Bogota might have raised a few eyebrows in the CrowdScience office with his questions – can plants talk? And can they hear us talking to them? But actually scientists now know that plants do have the ability to communicate with the world around them to a much greater extent than previously thought. Some scientists even talk about plants being able to “hear” a hungry caterpillar or the sound of running water, while others argue that we should not anthropomorphise plants. One underground communica...
2017-Jun-16 • 30 minutes
Can Your Lifestyle Be Passed on to Future Generations?
Back when Charles Darwin presented his theory of evolution by natural selection, French biologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck suggested something different - that the changes you are exposed to during your lifetime can be passed on to future generations. By this theory, giraffes have long necks because, over generations, they have stretched them, reaching for leaves. This theory became laughable when genes were discovered as the means of heredity. Lifestyle choices cannot be passed down in your DNA, or so we th...
2017-Jun-09 • 28 minutes
Why Does It Always Rain on Me?
Listener Ros Allen wondered why it always seems to rain on her village but not the one a mile away. It’s all down to microclimates. CrowdScience explores the impact of microclimates on our lives, discovers how more rain can help an English tea plantation and reveals the deadly effect of the urban heat island. Marnie Chesterton also talks to a local project in New York City, the Cool Roofs Program, that aims to reduce the urban heat effect, helping to mitigate the impacts of climate change. But just how much...
2017-Jun-02 • 27 minutes
What’s the Oldest Living Thing?
Trees transcend human generations – but are they the oldest living things on Earth? CrowdScience listener William from London, UK, got in touch to ask what the oldest tree or other organism on our planet is. Presenter Marnie Chesterton heads out to meet one of our older arboreal cousins to see how we can work out its age - without cutting it down to count the rings. But whilst certain individual trees can live for thousands of years, some that live in colonies can survive for much longer – perhaps up to 80,...
2017-May-26 • 30 minutes
Why do Human Faces Look so Different?
You don’t have to be a “super-recogniser” to know that human facial features are extremely varied. Just look around you. Yet look at a most other animals and you’d find it hard to tell individuals apart. So why are human faces so diverse? We’ll also be finding out why salt tastes salty (warning: lots of spitting and gargling ahead) and one listener wants to know what would happen if one of the key ocean current systems, the North Atlantic Conveyer, slowed down or stopped altogether. Presenter Marnie Cheste...
2017-May-19 • 27 minutes
Why is Childbirth Painful?
Childbirth is different for everyone. Depending on who you ask, it’s one of life’s greatest and worst experiences - and can be anything from traumatic and excruciating to life-affirming and spiritual. But what pretty much every mother will agree on is that it hurts. But why is such a fundamental aspect of life so painful? And why do some women find it worse than others? Presenter Gareth Barlow – who doesn’t expect to be giving birth ever – goes on a quest to understand the experience of female labour pain...
2017-May-12 • 27 minutes
Where’s my Ejector Seat?
Even if you spent your entire life on a plane, the chances are you’d never crash – commercial air travel is remarkably safe. But after hearing about a recent air tragedy, two brothers in Kampala wondered if commercial airplanes could ever have ejector seats – like fighter jets do - to give passengers a last option for escape. We meet 98-year-old John Oliver “Jo” Lancaster, one of the first people ever to eject out of a plane, and discover the seemingly insurmountable barriers to fitting ejector seats into ...
2017-May-05 • 27 minutes
Why Do We Have Males and Females?
Sex is responsible for the large variety of life on earth. Without the two sexes there is no sexual reproduction which means no shuffling of the genetic make-up – and no survival in a changing environment. But why do we have two sexes in the first place and does nature determine your sex? It’s with these questions and more that listener Du from Singapore persuaded the CrowdScience team to investigate the weird and wonderful world of sex. You might think that Nature would have standardised something as impor...
2017-Apr-28 • 27 minutes
Are Fingerprints the Best Form of ID?
Biometrics are being used everywhere to recognise us. On this edition of CrowdScience we try out the tech that tells us apart. We find out just how unique our irises are and meet a man who can pick people out from a crowd of thousands just by analysing the way they walk. Do you have a question we can turn into a programme? Email us at [email protected] Presenter: Anand Jagatia Producer: Marijke Peters (Image: Fingerprints being looked at under a magnifying glass. Credit: Getty Images)
2017-Apr-21 • 27 minutes
How Many People Can Earth Support?
Our planet is getting rather cosy. In just over 200 years, the global population has grown from 1 billion to almost 7.5 billion – and the best estimates suggest it’s going to keep on increasing. But just how far can it go? When will we reach ‘peak human’? That’s what CrowdScience listeners Alan Donaldson and Francoise Brindle want to know: what’s the latest estimate for how many people the Earth can support? It’s a question that’s been bothering some of the world’s greatest thinkers for hundreds of years,...
2017-Apr-14 • 27 minutes
Space Mining
Mining asteroids, moons or even other planets has remained firmly within the realm of science fiction. But as certain elements become increasingly scarce on Earth, private companies and even nation states are looking to make extra-terrestrial mining a reality. Presenter Marnie Chesterton heads to an Earth-based mine in Scotland to see just how tricky space mining could be, and what possibilities it holds. On the way she discovers what laws govern this new far frontier, and hears from a space prospector who ...
2017-Apr-07 • 27 minutes
Should we eat Insects?
For most people the idea of chewing on a caterpillar or tucking into a tarantula is pretty unpalatable. Yet according to the United Nations, some two billion people around the world consume insects regularly. This prompted World Service listener Saman from Pakistan to ask the BBC CrowdScience team “are insects a serious food source?” To tackle this question, we head to Burkina Faso in West Africa where shea caterpillars are an important part of the local diet in a place where food security is low and malnu...
2017-Mar-31 • 27 minutes
Why Do We Have So Many Accents?
Why do we have so many accents - even when we’re speaking the same language? What's happening in our brains and mouths to make us sound so different from each other? This week’s question from listener Amanda takes CrowdScience to Glasgow in Scotland: home to one of the most studied - and distinctive - accents of English. Along the way we visit a voice coach to try and learn a Texan accent, use ultrasound to see what different sounds look like inside our mouths and find out how a brand new dialect was fo...
2017-Mar-25 • 27 minutes
Does Weather Affect our Health?
Do your joints ache when it's raining? Are you blighted with headaches when the wind picks up? If the answer’s yes then you're definitely not alone. People have been linking their heath to the weather since the time of the Ancient Greeks - but is the effect real? CrowdScience heads for the hills and gets closer to the clouds to have a go at answering this 2,500 year old question. People who believe they’re sensitive to the weather aren’t always taken seriously. But presenter Datshiane Navanayagam hears ...
2017-Mar-18 • 27 minutes
Science at the Movies
Can we really live on Mars? Or exist in a virtual world? And why does movie science sometimes have us shouting at the screen? Our panel of scientists and sci-fi experts reveal all in this special edition of CrowdScience recorded live at the South by Southwest Conference & Festivals in Austin, Texas, USA. To tackle all of our listeners’ questions about science in film, presenter Marnie Chesterton is joined by a team of specialists. Prof Polina Anikeeva is an MIT materials scientist and engineer whose res...
2017-Mar-14 • 27 minutes
Is Being Fat a Choice?
The human race is getting fatter. But is it our fault? There are a whole host of factors influencing our weight - how many of them can we control? CrowdScience discovers how factors like our environment and our genes can tip the scales in the wrong direction. We visit an apartment complex originally designed for Olympic athletes, to see if people can get fitter just by living there. And from a brand new menu plan for overweight Mumbai police, to hormone injections that stop you getting hungry, CrowdSc...
2017-Mar-04 • 27 minutes
Can Trees Help us Fight Air Pollution?
Trees take in carbon dioxide but they also convert some of the toxic gases in our air. How much help can trees give us in fighting air pollution and could where we plant them make an even bigger difference? Crowdscience reports from the side of some busy roads on how canopy coverage may be part of the answer. At a lab in Louisiana one scientist is putting oak leaves through their paces to find out how effective they are at cleaning our air. Do you have a question we can turn into a programme? Email us at c...
2017-Feb-25 • 30 minutes
Could a Robot be your Doctor?
Our listener Joseph’s question might sound more sci-fi than science show. But as Marnie Chesterton discovers, robots have already entered the realm of medicine and are likely to become more important in the future. A visit to the operating theatre at the University College Hospital in London together with surgeon Caroline Moore reveals that robots take the scalpels out of surgery by letting surgeons treat patients with prostate cancer without having to make a single cut. And chatting to Molly the robot alo...
2017-Feb-18 • 26 minutes
Why are Cats Loners?
A few weeks ago, CrowdScience asked if it pays to be nice. We found that the answer is yes – if you’re a human. But if being social is so great, why aren’t all animals doing it? That’s what our US listener Tony wants to know. After listening to ‘Does it Pay to be Nice?’ he rightly pointed out that cats lead mostly solitary lives - but don’t seem any worse off for it. So why have they taken this path? And are they any less advanced than a social species as a result? Presenter and naturalist Tim Cockerill...
2017-Feb-11 • 27 minutes
Is There Life After Death?
Death is one of life’s few certainties – or is it? To answer listener Pratibha’s question from New Delhi, India, presenter Marnie Chesterton asks medical and scientific experts if there is any evidence that humans could somehow come back into existence after their demise. We start at the end, by asking just what death is – and it turns out to be perhaps surprisingly complicated, especially if cold temperatures are involved. As another listener, Camilla, from Washington DC, USA points out, there are some ani...
2017-Feb-04 • 27 minutes
Should we Use Ships to Transport Fresh Water?
Earth’s surface may be 70 percent water but many places are struggling to access it. We look at a range of water supply options including delivering it by tanker. In Malta we meet a man trying to solve its water problems, with a clever contraption to recycle sewage. Do you have a question we can turn into a programme? Email us at [email protected] Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Produders: Cathy Edwards and Marijke Peters (Image: Tanker ship. Credit: Getty)
2017-Jan-29 • 29 minutes
What is the Real Time?
It sounds like a simple question – what is the time? But look closer and you realise time is a slippery concept that scientists still do not fully understand. Even though we now have atomic clocks that can keep time to one second in 15 billion years, this astonishing level of accuracy may not be enough. The complexity of computer-controlled systems, such as high-frequency financial trading or self-driving cars which rely on the pinpoint accuracy of GPS, could in future require clocks that are even more accu...
2017-Jan-21 • 27 minutes
Why are Dogs so Different?
From Chihuahuas to Great Danes, Mexican Hairless to Afghan Hounds, dogs are the most diverse mammal on the planet. There are currently over 500 recognised breeds worldwide with almost every conceivable combination of size, shape, coat, colour and behaviour. But why are there so many different kinds of dog? That's what listener Simon St-Onge in Quebec, Canada wants to know – and CrowdScience has taken up the challenge. Presenter Marnie Chesterton heads to Sweden, a world-class centre of canine research,...
2017-Jan-14 • 27 minutes
Is there micro-life on Mars?
Modern Martian hunting involves looking for the tiniest evidence of life. But when presenter Marnie Chesterton found out that a scientist she was meant to be chatting to about cleanliness had previously worked for NASA, the topic of space bugs turned out to be too intriguing to ignore, especially when a CrowdScience listener asked us a question on a similar theme. Could Earth's microbes hitch a ride on our missions to Mars and colonise the Martian soil? As the European Space Agency's ExoMars venture gears u...
2017-Jan-07 • 28 minutes
Can we be too clean?
To be healthy you need to be clean – or so we’ve thought throughout human history. The dazzling array of antibacterial products that exploded onto the scene in the 20th century took things to the next level, with their promises of eliminating 99.9% of germs. But could an obsession with cleanliness actually be bad for us? There’s a whole world of microbes out there: some make us sick, but others are essential for our health. How do we tell the difference? Listener Younes’s question gives CrowdScien...
2016-Dec-31 • 27 minutes
Could Humanity be Wiped out Like the Dinosaurs?
Is there a killer asteroid with Earth’s name on it? The dinosaurs ruled for many millions of years before coming to their violent end. Will humanity prevail or are we doomed to succumb like the dinosaurs? It’s a question that will keep you up at night. No wonder our listeners Zarin and Pablo wanted to know more. To find out, Anand Jaggtia heads to Denmark to see first-hand the evidence for a giant asteroid impact, written into the rocks at Stevns Klint. And we will hear from scientists at Nasa who are ke...
2016-Dec-24 • 27 minutes
Wave Power
Why can't we use energy from the waves of the sea to create all the electricity that we need? Listener Michael in Kingston, Jamaica wants to know. Living on a Caribbean island means he’s never far from the might of the ocean – so could it power his house? Presenter Greg Foot heads to one of the world’s leading wave energy test locations, the coast of Cornwall in the UK, to find out. There, he witnesses the challenges of the marine environment, from metre high waves in a giant indoor test tank to being buf...
2016-Dec-17 • 27 minutes
Does it Pay to be Nice?
Most of us want to be nice. But is it all it's cracked up to be? It's a question that's been nagging at listener Tony in Illinois, USA, for over 25 years. While studying at university, the lecturer asked him whether competing or co-operating was the best strategy for success – essentially, does it pay to work together or should we sharpen our elbows and look after number one? Nastaran Tavakoli-Far goes in search of answers. She talks to a local hero about why he puts his life on the line for others, and vi...
2016-Dec-10 • 31 minutes
The Fourth Dimension
How would a fourth dimensional being appear to humans? "It would look just weird" is one way to answer the question 'How would a fourth dimensional being appear to humans?' But it's more complicated than that - theoretical cosmologist Andrew Pontzen describes how objects are viewed from one dimension to another, and how it might affect parking spaces. Also on the programme: our panel of experts discuss bubble experiments, a theory that the Black Death was a virus, space elevators, algae as a biomass fuel...
2016-Dec-05 • 29 minutes
How Bad is Flying for the Planet?
What effect does air travel have on the climate? That is the question listener Neil sent CrowdScience from New Zealand. If you have ever looked up at the sky and seen the wispy white streaks that airplanes leave behind, then you are looking at one of the major environmental impacts of air transport – contrails. To find out more, Anand Jagatia goes on a journey through the rugged, lava-ridden Icelandic landscape with earth scientist Thor and discovers how both natural events like volcanic eruptions as wel...
2016-Nov-28 • 27 minutes
The Origin of Viruses
Where did the first viruses come from? They have the potential to wipe out life on Earth. But could life on Earth itself have evolved from the first viruses? Like the chicken and the egg, there are fierce arguments about which came first and rival scientists get quite cross about it all. We take a dip into the primordial soup of creation and try to answer listener Ian's excellent question. Along the way, we revisit medieval plagues, travel to Texas to the largest urban bat colony in the world and take a...