The Guardian: Science Weekly

31 Jan. 2023
This week star gazers will be hoping to catch sight of an exotic green comet that last passed by Earth 50,000 years ago. But, unlike the view our Neanderthal ancestors would have had, light pollution will make witnessing this celestial event an impossibility for many. Ian Sample speaks to astronomy journalist Dr Stuart Clark about how best to see the comet, and why it’s time to rethink our relationship with the night sky. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
26 Jan. 2023
ChatGPT has been causing a stir since its launch last year. The chatbot’s ability to produce convincing essays, stories and even song lyrics has impressed users, and this week attracted a multibillion-dollar investment from Microsoft. Ian Sample speaks to Prof John Naughton about how ChatGPT works, hears from author Patrick Jackson about how it will change publishing, and asks where the technology could end up. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
24 Jan. 2023
Last week, New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern announced her resignation, saying that she “no longer had enough in the tank” to do the role justice. Madeleine Finlay speaks to cognitive scientist Prof Laurie Santos about the symptoms of burnout, what causes it and the best ways to recover. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
19 Jan. 2023
Scientists have predicted the return of the El Niño climate phenomenon later this year. Its arrival will result in even higher global temperatures and supercharged extreme weather events. Ian Sample speaks to environment editor Damian Carrington about what we can expect from El Niño and whether we’re prepared. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
17 Jan. 2023
As the ninth series of ITV show Love Island kicked off yesterday, viewers may have noticed contestants’ perfectly straight, white teeth. But are there risks associated with achieving a flawless smile? Madeleine Finlay speaks to dentist Paul Woodhouse about some of the dangers of dental tourism. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
12 Jan. 2023
A UN report has found the Earth’s ozone layer is on course to be healed within the next 40 years. What was once humanity’s most feared environmental peril is now an example of how the world can take collective action. Madeleine Finlay speaks to atmospheric scientist Paul Newman about this momentous achievement and whether it really is the end of the story. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
10 Jan. 2023
Last year saw several major science breakthroughs – from the first time a nuclear fusion experiment produced more energy than it used, to Nasa smashing a spacecraft into an asteroid in a mission that demonstrated the possibility of redirecting any space rocks heading our way. So what will 2023 bring? Ian Sample and science correspondent Hannah Devlin discuss the major stories they are expecting to hit the headlines in 2023, and their science predictions for the year ahead.. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
5 Jan. 2023
When Nasa unveiled the first images from the long-awaited James Webb space telescope, they revealed our universe in glorious technicolour. The $10bn space science observatory will help scientists answer fundamental questions in astronomy and look back to the dawn of time. In this episode first broadcast in July 2022, Prof Ray Jayawardhana, who is working with one of the instruments onboard the JWST, speaks to Ian Sample about what these images show us, and what they mean for the very human quest of discovering our place in the cosmos. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
3 Jan. 2023
It’s estimated that 1 million women in the UK could have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder – but according to the ADHD Foundation, 50% to 75% of them do not know they have it. So why are women being left behind? In this episode, first broadcast in May 2022, Madeleine Finlay speaks to Jasmine Andersson about her experience of getting a late diagnosis, and asks Prof Amanda Kirby why the condition is so often missed in women and girls. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
29 Dec. 2022
Back in November, researchers hailed the dawn of a new era of Alzheimer’s therapies. After decades of failure, a clinical trial finally confirmed that a drug, lecanemab, was able to slow cognitive decline in patients with early stages of the disease. The result may have been modest – a reduction in the decline in patients’ overall mental skills by 27% over 18 months – but it could not be more significant in the journey towards better understanding and treating the disease. Ian Sample speaks to Prof Nick Fox about the clinical trial results, if this could be the first of many new Alzheimer’s therapies, and whether we could one day see a cure.. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
27 Dec. 2022
From a fragment of skull in a washing machine to a finger bone found by a dog walker, the forensic anthropologist Prof Dame Sue Black has helped solve many strange and mysterious cases. This year, she will be giving the Royal Institution Christmas lectures, Britain’s most prestigious public science lectures. In them, she’ll be investigating the secret clues hidden in our bodies and how the scientific detective process can be used to identify the living and the dead. Nicola Davis sat down with Black to discuss the lectures, her most memorable cases, and why she didn’t want her daughters to get braces. Madeleine Finlay hears from them both in this Christmas special of Science Weekly. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
22 Dec. 2022
As Christmas approaches, many of us will have spent the last few weeks trying to pick out the perfect presents for friends, family and colleagues. For both giver and receiver, exchanging gifts can be filled with delight – or dread, as a smile slowly fades into a look of feigned enthusiasm. But what does science say about how to avoid unwanted gifts and unpleasant surprises? Ian Sample speaks to Julian Givi about his research unwrapping what we all actually want under the tree, and hears his top tips for choosing a winning present every time. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
20 Dec. 2022
A historic deal has been struck at the UN’s biodiversity conference, Cop15, which will set a course for nature recovery from now until 2050, including a target to protect 30% of the planet for nature by the end of the decade. One of the key phrases guiding the summit across the two weeks of negotiations was ‘nature positive’. Madeleine Finlay hears from the biodiversity reporter Phoebe Weston about what ‘nature positive’ meant at Cop15, and what she’d like to see from countries now the final agreement has been made, and speaks to biodiversity professor EJ Milner-Gulland about how to stop the term ‘nature positive’ becoming another way for companies to greenwash their businesses.. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
15 Dec. 2022
This week, researchers at the US National Ignition Facility in California achieved a major breakthrough in nuclear fusion. For the first time, humans have harnessed the process that powers the stars to generate more energy from a fusion reaction than was used to start it — otherwise known as ‘ignition’. But how close are we to moving this from laboratories to power plants, and will it become the clean, safe, and abundant source of energy the world so desperately needs? Ian Sample speaks to Alain Bécoulet about what’s being called ‘one of the most impressive scientific feats of the 21st century’. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
13 Dec. 2022
Invasive non-native species are on the rise around the world and, despite efforts to tackle the issue, their numbers are higher than ever. They have become one of the key driving forces behind biodiversity loss, posing an even greater threat to biodiversity than the climate crisis. Monitoring, tracking and managing invasive species is one of the issues up for discussion at the UN’s biodiversity Cop15, which is now in full swing in Montreal, Canada. Ian Sample gets an update on how Cop15 is progressing from biodiversity and environment reporter Patrick Greenfield, and hears from Prof Helen Roy from the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology about why invasive species pose such a serious risk to native wildlife. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
7 Dec. 2022
Negotiators from around the world have landed in Montreal, Canada for the UN’s biodiversity conference, Cop15. The summit has been called an “unprecedented” opportunity for turning the tide on nature loss and comes at a critical time: a million species are at risk of extinction and wildlife populations have plunged by an average of 69% between 1970 and 2018. Madeleine Finlay speaks to the director of science at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Prof Alexandre Antonelli, about the current state of the planet’s biodiversity, what needs to be achieved at Cop15 and how he’s feeling about the possibility of change.. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
6 Dec. 2022
The UK Health Security Agency issued a rare alert on Friday, telling parents to look out for signs of strep A infection in their children. Since September, eight children in England and Wales have died after becoming unwell with Group A streptococci bacteria. Typically causing illnesses like skin infections, tonsillitis or scarlet fever, very occasionally strep A can become a life-threatening, invasive disease. But why are we seeing such a steep rise in cases in the UK this year? Madeleine Finlay speaks to Chrissie Jones, associate professor of paediatric infection at the University of Southampton, about the significance of this outbreak and the symptoms to be aware of, and asks Shiranee Sriskandan, professor of infectious diseases at Imperial College London, about how the bacteria can evade our immune systems and whether we may one day have a vaccine.. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
1 Dec. 2022
The UK is in the middle of its worst outbreak of bird flu. The current strain of H5N1 avian influenza has devastated wild bird populations, killing thousands and affecting threatened species such as puffins and hen harriers. Bird flu has also been wreaking havoc on poultry, and since 7 November, all captive birds in England have been kept indoors to prevent them catching the virus. How are both wild and captive bird populations coping with the current strain of avian flu? And is the UK prepared to deal with another major animal disease outbreak? Ian Sample speaks with Phoebe Weston, a biodiversity writer for the Guardian, and Paul Wigley, a professor in animal microbial ecosystems at the University of Bristol.. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
29 Nov. 2022
At a recent conference in France, scientists and government representatives voted to scrap the leap second by 2035. Leap seconds are added periodically to synchronise atomic time and astronomical time, which get out of sync because of variations in the Earth’s rotation. Madeleine Finlay speaks to JT Janssen, the chief scientist at NPL, the National Physical Laboratory, about the differences between these two times, and what can go wrong when leap seconds are added to our clocks. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
24 Nov. 2022
On 15 November the world’s population reached 8 billion, according to the UN. Much of that growth is because we’re living longer. As a species we will continue to age, but eventually stop growing. The UN predicts that in the next century humanity will begin to go into decline. So what happens when societies get older and smaller – a problem some countries are already encountering? Ian Sample speaks to Prof Vegard Skirbekk about how humanity got here, and how we prepare for future demographic change. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
22 Nov. 2022
It’s supposed to be the first ever carbon neutral World Cup. Organisers Fifa and host Qatar say they have implemented sustainability initiatives, taken measures to limit carbon output and will offset greenhouse gas emissions by purchasing credits. Fifa has admitted, however, that the tournament’s carbon footprint will bigger than any of its predecessors, and experts believe emissions have been underestimated, calling into question the claim of carbon neutrality. Madeleine Finlay speaks to sports reporter Paul MacInnes about the environmental burden of building stadiums, flying in players and fans from around the world and keeping the pitches green, and asks whether football is really ready to face up to its carbon footprint. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
17 Nov. 2022
A year ago at Cop26, global environment editor Jonathan Watts caught up with two climate scientists to hear what they thought about the progress made. A lot has happened in the intervening 12 months, and the world hasn’t stayed on track with its previous promises and pledges. Global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels are expected to increase by 1% in 2022, hitting 37.5 billion tonnes – a record high. Ian Sample called them both up to find out how they’re feeling now. Speaking to Prof Peter Stott, Ian asks whether the 1.5C goal is still alive, and questions Katharine Hayhoe on how she stays hopeful. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
15 Nov. 2022
Cop27 got off to a difficult start last week. Attendees struggled with a lack of food and drink, civil society group events were curtailed, and more than 600 fossil fuel lobbyists hit the conference halls – more than the delegations of many of the most vulnerable countries combined. As we head into the second week, Madeleine Finlay hears from biodiversity reporter Patrick Greenfield about what it’s been like in Sharm el-Sheikh, and from environment editor Fiona Harvey about what’s happened so far and whether much progress is likely to be made in the final days of negotiations. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
9 Nov. 2022
A key goal of governments around the world is economic growth – continually increasing production and consumption to keep GDP rising. But can our economies grow on a rapidly warming planet with finite resources? According to a recent UN report, the only way left to limit the worst impacts of the climate crisis is a “rapid transformation of societies”. In our third Cop27 special, Ian Sample speaks to ecological economist Tim Jackson about the myth of eternal growth, other ways to think about progress and prosperity, and what an economic system in balance with our planetary system might look like. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
8 Nov. 2022
As world leaders began to gather at Cop27 yesterday, speeches began on the main stage in Sharm el-Sheik. Presidents and prime ministers spoke of the need to rapidly reduce carbon emissions and the horrendous impacts of climate breakdown. But, if previous years are anything to go by – these words may not turn into concrete actions. Instead, indigenous and community groups are leading the charge on saving the planet. Madeleine Finlay speaks to Nina Lakhani about the need for climate justice, and hears from activist Nonhle Mbuthuma about her fight to protect South Africa’s Wild Coast. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
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