Discovery

BBC World Service

Explorations in the world of science.

  • 26 minutes 32 seconds
    Unstoppable: Nzambi Matee

    Dr Julia Ravey and Dr Ella Hubber both have a love of science, but it turns out there’s a lot they don’t know about some of the leading women at the front of the inventing game. In Unstoppable, Dr Julia and Dr Ella tell each other the hidden, world-shaping stories of the engineers, innovators and inventors they wish they’d known about when they were starting out as scientists. This week, the story of an engineer who turned plastic into gold, all starting from her mother’s backyard.

    Every day, around 500 tonnes of plastic waste is generated in the Kenyan city of Nairobi. Hardly any of it is recycled – but engineer Nzambi Matee is on a mission to change that. Frustrated by the level of pollution, in 2017 Nzambi constructed a laboratory in her mother’s backyard. It was here that she used her self-taught engineering skills to convert plastic waste into bricks that are stronger and more eco-friendly than concrete.

    Since then, Nzambi’s backyard operation has grown into a company – Gjenge Makers – and the bricks are widely used across Nairobi. And at only 31, Nzambi is just getting started. As Dr Julia and Dr Ella trace Nzambi’s journey, we hear from Nzambi herself about what it took to get to this point, as well as her ambitions for the future.

    Presenters: Dr Ella Hubber and Dr Julia Ravey Producers: Ella Hubber and Julia Ravey Assistant producer: Sophie Ormiston Production Coordinator: Elisabeth Tuohy Editor: Holly Squire

    (Photo: Nzambi Matee, Kenyan entrepreneur and inventor, holds plastic polymer recycled to make bricks. Credit: SIMON MAINA/AFP via Getty Images)

    20 May 2024, 8:00 pm
  • 26 minutes 28 seconds
    Unstoppable: Hedy Lamarr

    Dr Julia Ravey and Dr Ella Hubber both have a love of science, but it turns out there’s a lot they don’t know about some of the leading women at the front of the inventing game. In Unstoppable, Dr Julia and Dr Ella tell each other the hidden, world-shaping stories of the engineers, innovators and inventors they wish they’d known about when they were starting out as scientists. This week, the story of the Hollywood starlet whose brilliant ideas would go on to revolutionise the way we live.

    Known as the ‘most beautiful woman in film’ during the 1940s, Hedy Lamarr was one of the most in demand Hollywood actresses of her time. But she wasn’t just a movie star. From a young age, she also had a knack for inventing – she liked to take her toys apart just to see how they worked. And she carried this passion into her adult life – creating an invention that laid the groundwork for technology many of us couldn’t live without: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS.

    But it didn’t come without struggle. Dr Julia and Dr Ella take us through Hedy’s remarkable journey, and we get a first-hand look into Hedy’s life from her daughter Denise Loder-DeLuca.

    Presenters: Dr Ella Hubber and Dr Julia Ravey Producers: Ella Hubber and Julia Ravey Assistant producer: Sophie Ormiston Production Coordinator: Elisabeth Tuohy Editor: Holly Squire

    (Photo: Hedy Lamarr, Austrian-born American actress and inventor. Credit: Eric Carpenter/John Kobal Foundation/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

    13 May 2024, 8:00 pm
  • 49 minutes 27 seconds
    The Evidence: Maternal Health in Malawi

    The process of childbirth can be painful yet amazing, but at times and in some places, also very dangerous. Recorded in Malawi, East Africa, Claudia Hammond is joined by a panel of maternal health experts to figure out why it is that the equivalent of a large jumbo jet full of women die every day due to pregnancy or childbirth. Together, they examine how so many women can still be at risk during this period despite a greater access to healthcare. They also look into whether an eighty-year-old drug could be a game-changer when it comes to haemorrhage. Plus, they consider a study of 1.3 million women which asked what it is that women actually want from maternal healthcare. With Owen Chikwaza from the Malawi Ministry of Health, Linda Mipando of Kamuzu University and Elimase Kamanga-Gama, Director of the White Ribbon Alliance Malawi, Claudia looks at the many challenges and successes within the field, drawing from local experiences to offer global insights.

    Produced by: Margaret Sessa-Hawkins Editor: Holly Squire Production Coordinator: Siobhan Maguire Presenter: Claudia Hammond Studio Engineers: Andrew Saunderson and David Sproule

    (Photo: Pregnant woman being examined by a doctor. Credit: Holly Squire BBC)

    8 May 2024, 4:03 pm
  • 26 minutes 29 seconds
    Obsessed with the Quest: Humpback Heat Run

    Underwater cameraman Roger Munns set himself and his team an incredible challenge. In 2008, they visited Tonga to film the biggest courtship ritual of the animal kingdom, the humpback heat run, for the very first time underwater and up close.

    In the first few days, Roger had intimate encounters with the whales but most of the time, he was sat on the back of the boat, waiting to find a heat run. After two unsuccessful weeks, he started to wonder whether they would ever see one.

    But a few days later somebody spotted a heat run, and everything sprang into action. Roger got in position and dove down ten meters underwater on a single breath. From then on, his job was just to wait and hold his camera ready. In a moment that seemed to stretch out time, he waited, nervously, for a group of 40-ton bus-sized whales to speed past him…

    And Victor Vescovo describes his adventures into the deep, diving to the deepest parts of all five oceans.

    Victor's longest dive was solo to the lowest point on Earth - the Challenger Deep at the bottom of the Marianas trench in the western Pacific. On reaching the bottom, some 35,853 feet below the ocean surface, should something have gone wrong, there was no hope of rescue.

    Victor describes his feelings before making this historic descent and on the way down. Touching down on the sea bed, he was astounded by the abundance of marine life. Victor describes how he hopes that the mapping, observations and sample collections he has made on his dives will advance scientific understanding of the deep oceans, and where his eternal quest to explore might take him next.

    Produced by Florian Bohr and Diane Hope

    Credits:

    Humpback whale mother and calf sounds - Acoustic Communications CNRS team & CETAMADA

    Humpback whale calf sounds - Lars Bejder (MMRP Hawaii), Peter T. Madsen (Aarhus University) & Simone Videsen (Aarhus University)

    6 May 2024, 8:00 pm
  • 26 minutes 29 seconds
    Obsessed with the Quest: Inside the Minds of Chimpanzees

    Primatologist Catherine Hobaiter has spent more of her adult life in the rain forests of Uganda, with family bands of chimpanzees, than she has with her own human family members. For more than 20 years now she has spent 6 months every year at a remote field station, getting up before dawn every day to observe and collect behavioural data on family bands of chimps as they wake up and go about their daily lives. What is she trying to find out, that has gripped her for so long?

    It turns out that life in a chimpanzee troupe is every bit as gripping as a soap opera. But there are many more moments of beauty, revelation and the joy of discovery, as Catherine pursues her continuing, multi-decadal quest to understand what it means to be a chimpanzee.

    And when Sara Dykman set out to bicycle with the monarch butterfly migration, from the mountains of central Mexico, across the USA to Canada, she didn't think about the 10,201 miles that she would cover. Coping with headwinds, heavy rain storms, and everything from dirt roads to busy highways were not the challenge for Sara though. It was seeing how little of the Monarch's only food plant, milkweed, was left for them to feed on during their amazing, multigenerational, multinational migration.

    However, Sara found solace in the many conservationists and backyard butterfly gardeners she met along the way, and in the 9000 schoolchildren she gave talks to en route. The most emotional part of the journey for Sara was the last three miles - arriving successfully back at the monarch's overwintering site in Mexico.

    Produced by Diane Hope.

    Credits:

    Monarch butterfly recordings - Robert Mackay

    29 April 2024, 8:00 pm
  • 26 minutes 28 seconds
    Wild Inside: The sea lion

    Professor Ben Garrod and Dr Jess French get under the skin (and blubber) of the California sea lion, to crack the key to its success both on land and at sea. Its ability to dive hundreds of meters down, keep warm in icy waters, and run on land, can all be explained through its unique internal anatomy. They are joined by zookeeper and sea lion trainer Mae Betts, who adds insight into the intelligence of these sleek marine mammals.

    Co-Presenters: Ben Garrod and Jess French Producer: Ella Hubber Editor: Martin Smith Production co-ordinator: Jana Bennett-Holesworth

    22 April 2024, 8:00 pm
  • 26 minutes 28 seconds
    Wild Inside: The aphid

    The tiny sap-sucking aphid, at just a few millimetres long, is the scourge of many gardeners and crop-growers worldwide, spreading astonishingly rapidly and inflicting huge damage as it seeks to outwit many host plants’ natural defences. With insights and guidance from aphid expert George Seddon-Roberts at the John Innes Centre, Norwich, some delicate dissecting tools, and a state of the art microscope, Prof Ben Garrod and Dr Jess French delve inside this herbivorous insect to unravel the anatomy and physiology that has secured its extraordinary reproductive success, whilst offering new clues as to how we could curtail its damaging impact in the future.

    Co-Presenters: Ben Garrod and Jess French Executive producer: Adrian Washbourne Producer: Ella Hubber Editor: Martin Smith Production co-ordinator: Jana Bennett-Holesworth

    15 April 2024, 8:00 pm
  • 26 minutes 28 seconds
    Wild Inside: The Bearded Vulture

    Ominously called the lamb vulture, there are many myths and misconceptions surrounding the bearded vulture. Flying the mountainous ranges across central Asia and eastern Africa, with a wingspan of almost three meters, the bearded vulture is am impressive Old World vulture. Prof Ben Garrod and Dr Jess French are looking past the beautifully coloured plumage, and delving deep inside to learn what this bird of prey really eats and what keeps its great wings aloft.

    8 April 2024, 8:00 pm
  • 26 minutes 28 seconds
    Wild Inside: The Red Kangaroo

    Wild Inside returns for a new series to take a look at some of our planet’s most exceptional and unusual creatures from an entirely new perspective: the inside. Whilst we can learn a lot from observing the outside, the secrets to the success of any animal – whether they swim, fly, or hop – lies in their complex internal anatomy. How do these wild animals survive and thrive in harsh and changing environments? To truly understand we need to delve inside.

    Professor Ben Garrod, evolutionary biologist from the University of East Anglia, and expert veterinary surgeon Dr Jess French, open up and investigate what makes each of these animals unique, in terms of their extraordinary anatomy, behaviour and their evolutionary history. Along the way, they reveal some unique adaptations which give each species a leg (or claw) up in surviving in the big, wild world.

    The series begins with an icon of the outback – known best for its hopping, boxing, and cosy pouch – the red kangaroo. Despite the immense heat and lack of water, these marsupials dominate Australia, with their evolutionary history driving them to success. From the powerful legs which allow them to hop up to 40km an hour, to an unexpected reproductive system that keeps their populations plentiful, Ben, Jess and marsupial expert Dr Jack Ashby reveal a mammalian anatomy which holds many surprises.

    2 April 2024, 10:09 am
  • 27 minutes 25 seconds
    Uncharted: Access denied

    Hannah Fry explores two tales of data and discovery.

    A young researcher gains access to a secretive data set and discovers a system causing harm to the very people it is supposed to help.

    One day a student makes a discovery which, if true, could shake the intellectual foundations of a global movement, and undermine politicians around the world.

    Producer: Lauren Armstrong Carter

    25 March 2024, 9:00 pm
  • 49 minutes 26 seconds
    The Evidence: The science of the menopause

    Millions of women around the world experience the menopause each year; it’s an important milestone, which marks the end of their reproductive years.

    But every individual's experience of it is personal and unique. In some cultures, there's a stigma about this life stage – it's viewed with trepidation and as something to be dreaded. In other cultures, it's considered to be a fresh start - a time of greater freedom when women no longer have to worry about their menstrual cycles.

    In this edition, recorded at Northern Ireland Science Festival in Belfast, Claudia Hammond and her expert panel take a global look at the science of the menopause and debunk some myths along the way.

    As Claudia and her guests navigate their way through the menopause maze, they look at the most recent academic research in this area. They also discuss the physical and psychological symptoms, the lifestyle changes women can make and the different treatments available, including Hormone Replacement Therapy.

    Claudia also speaks to the American biological anthropologist who has dedicated an impressive 35 years of her life to studying the average age of the menopause in different countries - and finds out how hot flushes vary in different cultures. She also speaks to a doctor who is working hard to make women’s health less of a taboo subject in the community where she works. And she hears from a Professor of Reproductive Science who is setting up the UK's first menopause school.

    Producer: Sarah Parfitt Co-ordinator: Siobhan Maguire Editor: Holly Squire Sound engineers: Andrew Saunderson and Bill Maul Mix engineer: Bob Nettles

    Image used with permission of the Northern Ireland Science Festival

    21 March 2024, 11:45 am
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