Throughout the history of planet Earth, the element carbon has cycled between the atmosphere, the oceans and the biosphere. This natural cycle has maintained the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and has allowed life to exist for billions of years. Corinne Le Quéré is a climate scientist who keeps track of where the carbon comes from and where it goes – all on a truly global scale.
Corinne Le Quéré is the founder of the Global Carbon Budget, which each year reports on where carbon dioxide is being emitted and where it is being absorbed around the world. More specifically, she studies the relationship between the carbon cycle and the earth’s climate, and how it is changing.
Corinne is Professor of Climate Change Science at the University of East Anglia. After a degree in physics in her native Canada she became aware of the importance of how carbon moves around the planet and the way it controls the Earth’s climate. This took her to studying meteorology and oceanography and in particular a fascination with the role of the huge Southern Ocean in trapping and holding onto carbon.
She talks to Jim al-Khalili about modelling how carbon moves around the earth and how she communicates the latest research to the public.
Ken Gabriel, Why your Smartphone is Smart.
How insight with a stick and piece of string led to an engineering adventure taking in spacecraft, military guidance systems and the micro-mechanical devices we use every day in our computers and smartphones.
Ken Gabriel now heads up a large non-profit engineering company, Draper, which cut its teeth building the guidance systems for the Apollo space missions, and is now involved in developing both driverless cars and drug production systems for personalised medicine.
Ken himself has a career in what he might term ‘disruptive engineering’. His research married digital electronics with acoustics - and produced the microphones in our phones and computers. He has a strong track record in defence research and has also worked for Google, taking some of the military research methods into a civilian start up. This led to the development of a new type of modular mobile phone which has yet to go into production.
He tells us why aiming for seemingly impossible goals is a good idea, and how a structured systems based approach can help channel engineering creativity.
2018 Nobel Prize winner, Donna Strickland, on laser physics
When the first laser was built in 1960, it was an invention looking for an application. Science fiction found uses for these phenomenally powerful beams of light long before real world applications were developed. Think Star Wars light sabres and people being sliced in half. Today lasers are used for everything from hair removal to state of the art weapons. Working with her supervisor Gerard Mourou in the 1980s, the Canadian physicist, Donna Strickland found a way to make laser pulses that were thousands of times more powerful than anything that had been made before. These rapid bursts of intense light energy have revolutionised laser eye surgery and, it’s hoped, could open the doors to an exciting range of new applications from pushing old satellites out of earth’s orbit to treatments for deep brain tumours. Donna tells Jim Al-Khalili why she wanted to work with lasers and what it feels like to be the first woman to win a Nobel Prize for Physics in 55 years.
Producer: Anna Buckley
Gwen Adshead on treating the minds of violent offenders
Whether it’s a news story or television drama, human violence appals and fascinates in equal measure. Yet few of us choose to dwell on what preoccupies the mind of a perpetrator for long.
Professor Gwen Adshead, however, thinks about little else. As a Forensic Psychotherapist, she works with some of the most vilified and rejected members of society. They are the violent offenders who are detained in prisons and in secure NHS hospitals, like Broadmoor, whose actions have been linked to their mental illness.
Gwen has sought to understand the psychological mechanisms behind their violent behaviour so that she can help them. A pioneer in the field, she provides an environment in which men and women are encouraged to speak the unspeakable and think the unthinkable, in the hope that they will one day be able to change their minds.
Producer: Beth Eastwood
2018 Chemistry Nobel Prize winner, Sir Gregory Winter
In an astonishing story of a scientific discovery, Greg Winter tells Jim Al-Khalili how decades of curiosity-driven research led to a revolution in medicine. Forced to temporarily abandon his work in the lab when a road rage incident left him with a paralysed right arm, Greg Winter spent several months looking at the structure of proteins. Looking at the stunning computer graphics made the pain in his arm go away. It also led him to a Nobel Prize winning idea: to ‘humanise’ mouse antibodies. A visit to an old lady in hospital made Greg determined to put his research to good use. He fought hard to ensure open access to the technology he invented and set up a start up company to encourage the development of therapeutic drugs. It took years to persuade anyone to fund his Nobel Prize winning idea that led to the creation of an entirely new class of drugs, known as monoclonal antibodies. In 2018, the market for these drugs, which include Humira for rheumatoid arthritis and Herceptin for breast cancer, was worth $70 billion.
Producer: Anna Buckley