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Science in Action

Podcast Science in Action
Podcast Science in Action

Science in Action


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  • Should we mine the deep sea?
    The first license of its kind has been granted for deep-sea mining. It will be used to run early tests to see whether the seabed could be good place to harvest rare earth materials in the future. These earth minerals are what powers much of our modern technology, and the demand is growing year on year. The license raises ethical questions about whether anyone has ownership over the seabed, and whether we could be disrupting ecosystems under the sea in doing so. We have two experts joining us to discuss the scientific implications. They are marine biologist, Dr Helen Scales and Bramley Murton from the National Oceanographic Centre, Southampton University. Also on the programme, we build on last week’s discussion about growing opportunities for researchers on the African continent. We look at how programmes of genomic sequencing are offering opportunities for Africa-based researchers, that haven’t been available before. And lastly, we talk to Thilo Kreuger, a PhD student at Curtin University, Western Australia, who’s behind the discovery of a whole new species of carnivorous plants. We discuss what it’s like fulfilling a lifelong dream to discover more about these spectacular plant species. (Image: The Metals Company plans to mine the seafloor for these nodules containing nickel, cobalt, and manganese in the Clarion Clipperton Zone of the Pacific Ocean. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Harrison Lewis, Robbie Wojciechowski
  • Science and the causes behind Pakistan’s floods
    A new report by the World Weather Attribution consortium demonstrates the impact of global warming on flooding in Pakistan. The consortium is helping to assess the link between humanitarian disasters and global change, faster than ever before. The work, conducted by a team of statisticians, climate experts, and local weather experts, is part of an emerging field in science called Extreme Event Attribution, and can reliably provide assessments in the immediate aftermath of an extreme weather event The report follows widescale flooding in Pakistan that has disrupted the lives of over 33 million people. Dr. Friederike Otto from the Grantham Institute for Climate Change explains some of the network’s conclusions as to the causes behind this devastating flood. Can it all be down to climate change? Also this week, we speak to Prof Oyewale Tomori of the African Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases, who writes in this week’s journal Science about what he believes African countries’ role should be in response to the Monkeypox pandemic, and how future academic work in the area should be more homegrown. Finally, psychologist Lynda Boothroyd talks us through a new study about how the arrival of television in people’s lives can help shape unhealthy and negative perceptions of body image. The study, conducted in Nicaragua, amongst communities only recently connected to electricity supplies, is helping to show how the media could play a part in contributing to conditions like eating disorders. (Image: Pakistani people move to a safer place due to flooding. Credit: Jan Ali Laghari/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Alex Mansfield, Robbie Wojciechowski
  • The genetics of human intelligence
    Early humans and Neanderthals had similar-sized brains but around 6 million years ago something happened that gave us the intellectual edge. The answer may lie in a tiny mutation in a single gene that meant more neurons could develop in a crucial part of the brain. Post-doctoral research scientist at the Max Plank Institute of Molecular Biology and Genetics, Anneline Pinson, did the heavy lifting on the research under the supervision of Wieland Huttner. They discuss with Roland how this finding offers a major development in our understanding of the evolutionary expansion of the all-important neocortex area of the brain. A central aspect of what it is to be human and how we use our intelligence is to care for one another. A burial site in Borneo from tens of thousands of years ago gives us fresh insights into how advanced our capacity to care was, millennia before the establishment of stable communities and agricultural life. Remains uncovered by a team of archaeologists from Australia have found one of the first examples of complex medical surgery. Finally, moving to a carbon-neutral society will involve developing huge battery potential, but that comes with its own environmental and social problems. Could a solution be found in the exoskeleton of crabs? (Image: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Zak Brophy and Robbie Wojciechowski
  • The China heatwave and the new normal
    Hot on the tail of China’s heatwave comes the other side of the extreme coin – tragic flooding. Also, a coming global shortage of sulfur, while scientists produce useful oxygen on Mars in the MOXIE experiment. Prof Chunzai Wang is the Director of the State Key Laboratory of Tropical Oceanography in Guangzhou, China. He tells Roland about the surprising nature of the extreme temperatures and droughts much of China has been experiencing, and how they are connected to so many of the record-breaking weather events around the northern hemisphere this summer, including the tragic flooding in Pakistan. Some people of course saw this coming. Richard Betts of the UK Met Office talks of a paper by one of his predecessors published 50 years ago exactly that pretty much predicted the greenhouse gas-induced climate change more or less exactly. Clearly, the world needs to cut carbon emissions, and oil and coal would be sensible places to start. But as Prof Mark Maslin points out, this will come with its own consequences in terms of pressure on the industrial supply of sulfur and sulfuric acid, essential to so many other devices and processes. Can a shortage be averted? And scientists working on Nasa’s Mars Perseverance team report more results this week. Alongside all the sensitive instrumentation aboard, an experiment known as MOXIE was somehow squeezed in to demonstrate the principle of electrolyzing Martian carbon dioxide to produce usable oxygen gas. As Michael Hecht explains, the tech is scalable and would be more or less essential to any viable human trip to Mars in the future. (Image: The Jialing River bed at the confluence with the Yangtze River is exposed due to drought in August 2022 in Chongqing, China. The water level of the Jialing River, one of the tributaries of the Yangtze River, has dropped due to high temperature and drought. Credit: Zhong Guilin/VCG via Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Assistant Producer: Robbie Wojciechowski Producer: Alex Mansfield
  • Surprises from a Martian Lake Bed
    The Jezero Crater on Mars was targeted by Nasa’s Perseverence rover because from orbit, there was strong evidence it had at some point contained a lake. When the Mars 2020 mission landed, it didn’t take long to spot rocks protruding from the bottom that looked for all the world like sedimentary rocks – implying they were laid down from the liquid water and maybe perhaps even contain signs of past life. This week, the science team have published some of their analysis from the first 9 months of the mission. And, as Principal Scientist Kenneth Farley of Caltech tells Science In Action, the geology is clearly more complex, as it turns out they are igneous, perhaps resulting from subsequent volcanic activity. Back on earth, Shane Cronin of the University of Auckland has been digging into the legend of the Kuwea volcano in Vanuatu. Folk tales have long talked of an inhabited island that once disappeared beneath the sea. Over the years some have linked these and the submarine caldera with an eruption that occurred in 1452, yet the evidence has been debated. But the Hunga-Tonga eruption earlier this year has shifted Shane’s perception of the evidence. As he describes, he now suspects the 1452 eruption was as much as 5-7 times bigger in magnitude, and likely preceded by smaller eruptions that could fit with some of the legends surrounding the story. This type of evidence, interpreted from the testimony of those who live there, is increasingly being employed in conservation studies. Heidi Ma of ZSL in London and colleagues this week declared in Royal Society Open Science, the Dugong – a relative of the manatee - is now functionally extinct in Chinese waters, but they reached this conclusion from interviewing hundreds of individuals in fishing communities along that coast. And very few of them had ever seen one. (Image: Jezero Crater. Credit: Getty Images) Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Alex Mansfield

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