Episodes

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Am I A Psychopath?2021072320210726 (WS)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 when she empathises.

Studies suggest around 1 percent of the general population exhibit traits associated with psychopathy and that rises to 3-4 percent in the world of business. But is this really the case?

Why is there so much stigma associated with psychopathy and do psychopaths even exist or is it just a convenient term to label those whose emotional range sits outside of the “norm”?

Presented by Marnie Chesterton and produced by Caroline Steel for the BBC World Service.

Guests:

Julia Shaw

Jim Fallon

Valeria Gazzola

Kalliopi Ioumpa

[Image credit: Getty Images]

A CrowdScience listener wants to know if she is a psychopath.

Answering your questions about life, Earth and the universe

One CrowdScience listener finds herself unconcerned about much of the world’s problems and unshaken by the death of her father, it leaves her wondering: am I a psychopath?

Studies suggest around 1 percent of the general population exhibit traits associated with psychopathy and that rises to 3-4 percent in the world of business. But is this really the case? Why is there so much stigma associated with psychopathy and do psychopaths even exist or is it just a convenient term to label those whose emotional range sits outside of the “norm”?

Presented by Marnie Chesterton.

Can Video Games Help Me Or Harm Me?2021080620210809 (WS)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 difficult issues like death, grief and loss?

Alex Lathbridge and Anand Jagatia look at the evidence and play some games along the way, speaking to psychologists, doctors and game designers about the power of video games to change us - for better or worse.

With Adrian Hon, Professor Andrew Przybylski, Professor Pete Etchells, Professor Henrietta Bowden-Jones and Dr Sabine Harrer

What\u2019s the scientific evidence for how gaming affects us?

Answering your questions about life, Earth and the universe

Can We Save Our Night Skies?2021090320210906 (WS)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 in the USA, who wonders if there’s anything we can do about light pollution. Of course, we could simply turn out all the lights, but that’s probably unrealistic. Paulina Villalobos, a lighting designer who grew up under the dazzlingly starry skies of Chile’s Atacama Desert, discusses smarter ways of lighting to preserve our view of the stars.

We talk to astronomers who monitor light pollution in the form of “sky glow” around the world, and visit a ‘Dark Sky Reserve’, where communities come together to turn down their lights and save their night skies.

And it’s not just stargazing that’s threatened by light pollution. Lights at night disrupt the circadian rhythms of wildlife and disturb their behaviour. We meet ecologists investigating the effect of streetlights on insect activity, and discover the benefits of dark sky-friendly lighting for biodiversity.

Answering your questions about life, Earth and the universe

Can We Transfer Electricity Wirelessly?2021091020210913 (WS)Pioneering physicist Nikolas Tesla had a dream of connecting the world up through wireless communication and power. And whilst at the start of the 20th Century Tesla demonstrated that electricity could be transmitted wirelessly very short distances, the amount of power that was needed to do this made it an unfeasible venture and the idea has since lain mostly forgotten.

CrowdScience listener, George from Ghana, has asked the team whether it is once again time to reconsider this means of power generation. In countries where rugged landscapes make laying traditional power lines difficult, could wireless electricity help connect those currently reliant on costly and polluting generators?

CrowdScience gets talking to various scientists who are now using state of the art technology to reimagine Tesla’s dream. We speak to a team in New Zealand developing ‘beamable’ electricity and hear how they are using lasers to make sure they don’t harm any wildlife that might wander into the beam.

We then hear how wireless electricity could help fulfil the power demands of a growing electric vehicle market. We learn how a town in the USA is turning it’s bus fleet electric and putting wireless chargers into the tarmac at bus-stops so that the busses can trickle charge as passengers get on and off.

Finally, we ask whether one day, the tangled knot of wires spilling out of our electronic devices will be but a thing of the past.

Answering your questions about life, Earth and the universe

Crowdscience20210625Answering your questions about life, Earth and the universe
Crowdscience20210709Standing takes less energy than walking, so why does it feel more tiring? At least, it does for CrowdScience listener Nina. She can march for miles and miles without getting tired, but her legs and feet get achy after just a short time standing still.

Nina’s is one of three walking-themed questions CrowdScience is tackling this week. Taking inspiration from our active listeners we pull on our hiking boots and get moving, also investigating whether running or walking is better for your health, and if it’s bad to sit down for a rest when you’re out on a long walk.

Presented by Marnie Chesterton

Answering your questions about life, Earth and the universe

Do I Really Have To Clean My Recycling?2021073020210802 (WS)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. Do food containers really need to be cleaned before we put them in recycling bins or does that just waste water? Is all plastic the enemy or are some types of plastics better than others? And could we ever recycle plastic at home?

Marine Chesterton investigates, meeting listeners and experts along the way, to discover how we can make our own recycling as efficient as possible.

Presented by Marnie Chesterton.

Answering your questions about life, Earth and the universe

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 food containers really need to be cleaned before we put them in recycling bins, or if that just wastes water.

Recycling processes differ all over the world, so we hear from reporter Chhavi Sachdev in Mumbai, India, who follows her plastic waste to find out how plastic sorting and recycling is a whole economy of its own.

But new technologies have meant that biodegradable and bioderived plastics are starting to appear in our packaging, and one Crowdscience listener wants to know which is better for the environment – traditional plastic that has been recycled, or bioplastic and compostable alternatives? And looking to the future, could we ever recycle our plastic waste at home and use 3D printers to make useful things out of our own waste?

Marnie Chesterton delves into these questions with Circular Economy Project Manager Dr Rhiannon Hunt of Manchester Metropolitan University, to discover the details of recycling and unearth how we can make our own recycling as efficient as possible.

With Dave Atkins, reporter Chhavi Sachdev and Dr Rhiannon Hunt.

Presented by Marnie Chesterton and Produced by Hannah Fisher for the BBC World Service.

[Image credit; Getty Images]

We tackle questions about the best ways to recycle.

Do Women Need To Menstruate?2021060420210607 (WS)It's a topic that's taboo in many cultures, yet it's also something nearly every woman experiences – on average 400+ times throughout her life: menstruation. Responding to a flood of questions from our curious CrowdScience listeners, host Marnie Chesterton seeks to unpack how periods affect women physically, mentally and societally. Why have humans evolved to have periods when so few other animals share our experience of menstrual cycles? Is it really a good use of our limited energy reserves? What can the little Egyptian spiny mouse teach us about PMS symptoms? We hear how our more fully developed offspring demand a comfy home to grow in, why periods may reduce the number of faulty embryos and how menstruation may even increase our chances of developing certain types of cancer. Finally, as the number of periods a woman has over the course of her life has more than quadrupled since the pre-industrial era, Marnie asks; Do we even still need to have them?

Answering your questions about life, Earth and the universe

Does My Equator Look Big In This?2021061820210621 (WS)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 the Moon and a 400 year-old equation, Marnie Chesterton attempts to find out just how much does Earth weight 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 have any implications for the future of Earth? Could the atmosphere eventually run out? Or might bombardments from space, send us spiralling towards the Sun?

How do you weigh an entire planet? CrowdScience puts Earth on the scales.

Answering your questions about life, Earth and the universe

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?

Contributors:

Anuradha TK, former project director at ISRO

Matt Genge, geologist at Imperial College London

Jon Larsen, researcher at the University of Oslo

Anjali Tripathi, astrophysicist

Ethan Seigel, journalist and astrophysicist

Presented by Marnie Chesterton.

Produced by Caroline Steel for the BBC World Service.

[Image: Earth on scales. Credit: Getty Images]

Is the Earth getting heavier or lighter?

How Can Smart Tech Tackle Climate Change?2021081320210816 (WS)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 island of Orkney to predict periods of high winds, so that excess energy can be turned into hydrogen and stored, then converted back to electricity when there’s greater demand.

Digital mirrors are also playing a major role in optimising performance, and scientists say cloud-based “twins” of physical assets like turbines can improve yield by up to 20%, allowing engineers to identify problems via computer without ever having to be on site.

Marnie visits an intelligent building in London’s financial district where sensors control everything from air-conditioning to lighting, and machine learning means the building knows which staff will be on which floor at any given time, switching off lifts that are not in use and adjusting ventilation to save on power. Its designer says incorporating this kind of digital technology will help companies achieve net zero more quickly.

And in India, more than half the population are involved in agriculture, but the sector is plagued by inefficiency and waste. Tech start-ups have realised there’s potential for growth, and are using drones to monitor crop production and spraying, giving farmers apps which help them decide when and where to fertilise their fields.

Produced by Marijke Peters for BBC World Service.

Featuring:

Professor Srinivasan Keshav, University of Cambridge

Matthew Marson, Arcadis Group

[Image Credit: Getty Images]

How can clever computing help us reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

Answering your questions about life, Earth and the universe

How Did Our Ancestors Sleep?2021082720210830 (WS)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 our pre-history, to our ancient human ancestors? No interruption for them from an unwanted work email, however perhaps a ravenous lion gave them more reason for those night time worries.

CrowdScience listener Tom asks our sleep deprived presenter Datshiane Navanayagam to investigate how our sleep has changed over history and pre-history. She talks to Professor Russell Foster, Head of the Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute at the University of Oxford and Neanderthal expert Dr Rebecca Wragg Sykes about slumber habits in days of yore, and in doing so, she uncovers some top tips from our ancestors that may give us all a better nights rest.

Presented by Datshiane Navanayagam and Produced by Alexandra Feachem

(Woman sitting in bed and yawning. Credit: JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images)

How have our sleep patterns changed over history and pre-history?

Answering your questions about life, Earth and the universe

How Did The Human Eye Evolve?20210917Look into my eyes. What do you see? Pupil, lens, iris, 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 is that eyes weren’t ever designed - they were cobbled together over millions and millions of years, formed gradually by the tweaks and adaptations of evolution. How do you get from something really basic to the wonderful complexity of the modern human eye?

CrowdScience sent Marnie Chesterton on an epic 1 billion year journey to trace how the different elements that make up the human eye gradually came into being; from the emergence of the first light-sensitive proteins to crude eye-cups, from deep sea creatures with simple pinhole eyes to the first light-focusing lenses, all the way to the technicolour detail of the present day?

Answering your questions about life, Earth and the universe

How Do Video Games Affect Our Brains?2021080620210809 (WS)Today, some 3 billion people around the world play video games - from candy based puzzles to virtual battlegrounds - and 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? Can games actually make us smarter, or fitter, or cure diseases? And do they have a dark side? Can playing them become addictive - or even lead to violence? Crowdscience presenter Alex Lathbridge cuts through the hype and headlines, speaking to psychologists, neuroscientists, doctors and games designers about the power of video games to change us - for better or worse.

Answering your questions about life, Earth and the universe

How Old Are The Elements?2021052120210524 (WS)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 some of the most violent events in the universe.

This, as CrowdScience host Marnie Chesterton discovers, isn’t as special as it sounds. All of the stuff on the earth - the elements that make clouds and mountains and mobile phones – they all have an origin story. CrowdScience tells that story, starting with the big bang and ending with physicists, creating new elements in the lab. Find out the age of the elements and the distance they have travelled to make their current home on earth.

Interviewees:

Dr Dorota Grabowska, Professor Andrea Sella, Dr Chris Pearson, Dr Jacklyn Gates

(Photo: Neutron star. Credit: Getty Images)

Can you pick a random atom on earth & tell how old it is, or what its cosmic history is?

Answering your questions about life, Earth and the universe

Is My Neighbour's Noise Harming My Health?2021052820210531 (WS)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 – but that annoyance is not necessarily down to sound alone. Factors such as perception of the neighbourhood and relationships with our neighbours also play a part.

CrowdScience has examined living with unwanted noises before, and we revisit our trip to the acoustics lab at the University of Salford in Manchester, UK. Here, we meet the researchers and engineers investigating the best ways to make our homes more pleasant for our ears whilst still maintaining the ‘buzz’ of city life.

Contributors:

Professor Charlotte Clark, St George’s University of London

Professor Trevor Cox, University of Salford Manchester

Professor Bill Davies, University of Salford Manchester

Dr Mags Adams, University of Central Lancashire (formerly University of Salford Manchester, at time of recording)

Produced by Jen Whyntie and presented by Anand Jagatia for the BBC World Service.

Noise can be a source of annoyance - but could it even be damaging to our health?

Answering your questions about life, Earth and the universe

What Happened To My Sense Of Smell?2021062520210628 (WS)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 wonders why things other people love to sniff, she finds disgusting. Anand Jagatia investigates the science of smell, gets up close to the world’s smelliest plant and finds out if smell training can help those with long-term issues after Covid.

Contributors

Ellie Byondin, supervisor of the Princess of Wales Conservatory at London’s Kew Gardens

Thomas Hummel, University of Dresden

Carl Philpott, from the UK’s Norwich Medical School

Sissel Tolaas, artist and smell historian based in Berlin

Noam Sobel, Weizmann institute of science

Presented by Anand Jagatia and Produced by Marijke Peters for the BBC World Service

What happens when our sense of smell is disrupted or disappears all together?

Answering your questions about life, Earth and the universe

What Is The Point Of Menstruation?2021060420210607 (WS)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? What can the little Egyptian spiny mouse teach us about PMS symptoms? We hear why periods may reduce the number of faulty embryos that implant and how more menstrual cycles may even increase our chances of developing certain types of cancer.

Finally, as the number of periods a woman has over the course of her life has more than quadrupled since the pre-industrial era, Marnie asks: Do we really still need to have them?

Contributors:

Dr Nadia Bellofiore, Hudson Institute of Medical Research at Monash University

Dr Deena Emera, Buck Institute

Lameck Kiula, Jambo for Development

Sally King, Menstrual Matters & King's College London

Dr Diana Mansour, New Croft Centre & Newcastle University

Presented by Marnie Chesterton

Produced by Sam Baker and Melanie Brown for the BBC World Service

Why did humans evolve to have periods and do we have to have them each month?

Answering your questions about life, Earth and the universe

What's Making Me Feel Hungry?2021070220210705 (WS)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 becomes a core activity for so many people stuck in their homes, one listener wants us to find if TV dinners taste better. And if it is true that food tastes blander on aeroplanes, what does that mean for astronauts’ mealtimes? Are humans the only animals that season their food?

Tuck in your napkins and prepare to feast on a smorgasbord of scientific snacks.

Presented by Marnie Chesterton

Answering your questions about life, Earth and the universe

Why Do I Feel Hungry?2021070220210705 (WS)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 for many people stuck in their homes, one listener wants us to find out if eating food whilst watching the TV affects our perception of taste. We then journey to the skies and ask if it is true that food tastes blander on aeroplanes, what does that mean for astronauts’ mealtimes? Back on earth, Marnie explores whether humans are the only animals that season their food.

Tuck in your napkins and prepare to feast on a smorgasbord of scientific snacks.

Presented by Marnie Chesterton and Produced by Melanie Brown and Hannah Fisher for the BBC World Service.

Guests:

Professor Charles Spence

Dr Kristine Beaulieu

Mr. Takashi Funahashi

Ruben Meerman

Chef Jozef Youseff

A buffet of food & flavour questions from listeners reaching from stomachs to outer space

Answering your questions about life, Earth and the universe

Why Do I Have Such A Sweet Tooth?2021061120210614 (WS)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 Heath Organisation says added sugar should constitute a maximum of 5% of our daily energy intake because it can lead to diabetes, heart disease and obesity. But that’s tricky when you consider it’s now in everything from salad dressings, to savoury sauces.

Manufacturers have been promoting sugar alternatives for decades and Marnie Chesterton gets to try a brand new innovation – a so-called ‘rare’ sugar that has 70 percent of the sweetness but almost none of the calories. In nature, allulose is found in figs, but one producer has discovered a way to make it in the lab. Does it taste as good as it claims? Whilst switching to alternative sugars and sweeteners may reduce the calories, one researcher has discovered that tasting sweetness, wherever it comes from, can disrupt the body’s mechanism for regulating blood-sugar levels, increasing the risk for conditions like diabetes.

CrowdScience investigates new sugar substitutes. Will they make us healthier?

Answering your questions about life, Earth and the universe

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 contribute to diabetes, heart disease and obesity. But that’s tricky when you consider it’s now in everything from salad dressings, to savoury sauces.

Manufacturers have been promoting sugar alternatives for decades but recreating the unique taste and feel of it in the mouth are a challenge. Marnie Chesterton gets to try a brand new innovation – a so-called ‘rare’ sugar that has 70 percent of the sweetness but almost none of the calories. In nature, allulose is found in figs, but one producer has discovered a way to make it in the lab. Does it taste as good as it claims? Whilst switching to alternative sugars and sweeteners may reduce the calories, some researchers claim that tasting sweetness, wherever it comes from, can disrupt the body’s mechanism for regulating blood-sugar levels, increasing the risk for conditions like diabetes.

Presented by Marnie Chesterton and produced by Marijke Peters for the BBC World Service

How our genes help determine how much sugar we should eat

Why Do My Cables Keep Getting Tangled?2021071620210719 (WS)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 store and tie rope is a matter of life and death.

Physicists are also fascinated in how string becomes jumbled up and one man has even won an Ig Nobel prize for his work in this field. Doug E Smith discovered that if you put a piece of string in a box then spin it around, its length, thickness and how long you shake the box for, all determine whether it will tie itself up. Not only that, the more the string becomes twisted, the more likely it is to cross over itself and become impossible to separate.

While tangles might be annoying in hair or cables, they’re also a fundamental part of human life. Our DNA is constantly folding itself to fit inside tiny spaces – there are two metres of the stuff inside every cell, where it’s folded down tightly, before it must untangle and duplicate for those cells to replicate. It does this with the help of specific enzymes, but when the process goes wrong it leads to cell death. But scientists are also studying molecular tangles that might benefit us humans, and creating nano-sized knots that can be turned into nets or meshes with incredible properties.

Presented by Marnie Chesterton.

Answering your questions about life, Earth and the universe

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 fascinated in how string becomes jumbled up and one man has even won an IgNobel award for his work in this field. Doug E Smith discovered that if you put a piece of string in a box then spin it around, its length, thickness and how long you shake the box for, all determine whether it will tie itself up. Not only that, the more the string becomes twisted, the more likely it is to cross over itself and become impossible to untangle.

While tangles might be annoying in hair or cables, they’re also a fundamental part of human life. Our DNA is constantly folding itself to fit inside tiny spaces – there are two metres of the stuff inside every cell, where it’s packed down tightly, before it must untangle and duplicate for those cells to divide. It does this with the help of specific enzymes, and when the process goes wrong it leads to cell death. But scientists are also studying molecular tangles that might benefit us humans, and creating nano-sized knots that can be turned into nets or meshes with incredible properties.

Producer: Ilan Goodman

Presenter: Marnie Chesterton

Can science explain why cables and headphones become tangled up and knotted?

Why Is Human Skin So Rubbish?2021082020210823 (WS)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 really the pinnacle of evolution?

Marnie Chesterton makes the case for the largest, fastest-growing organ, hiding in plain site on our body. Tissue Engineer Professor Sheila MacNeil from Sheffield University explains how skin manages to be breathable yet waterproof; flexible yet stronger than steel; sensitive to touch but protective against pollution and damaging UV. Skin biologist Dr Christina Philippeos from King’s College London explains how our bodies make a scar.

Professor Muzlifah Haniffa has developed an atlas of the human skin – a tool to help researchers unravel the mysteries of how different skin cells interact. This atlas should help treat skin diseases in the future. Over in Tanzania’s Regional Dermatology Training Centre in Moshi, Dr Daudi Mavura talks us through a rare but devastating skin disorder called Xeroderma Pigmentosum, or XP. For children with XP, sunlight is dangerous because a mutation in the skin’s DNA repair mechanism means that UV rays can cause lesions and tumours.

Our epidermis is already multifunctional but over at Ben May Department of Cancer Research at the University of Chicago, Professor Xaioyang Wu and colleagues are looking at how much more skin could do. Personalised skin grafts may provide living drug patches to help people manage their disease, addiction or even weight.

With thanks to Dr Lynne MacTavish from Mankwe Wildlife Reserve in South Africa for describing a rhino’s skin.

Produced and presented by Marnie Chesterton.

[Image: Young and Old, dry skin

Credit: Eric A. Nelson/Getty Images]

We\u2019re dissecting our skin\u2019s structure and roles and asking if science can give it a boost

Answering your questions about life, Earth and the universe

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 really the pinnacle of evolution? Marnie Chesterton makes the case for the largest, fastest-growing organ, hiding in plain site on our body. We find out how skin manages to be breathable yet waterproof; flexible yet stronger than steel; sensitive to touch but protective against pollution and damaging UV. Skin biologist Christina Philippeos explains how our bodies make a scar and how the research into scarring will help treat skin diseases in the future.

In short, our epidermis is a multifunctional miracle but over in Chicago, one team are looking at how much more skin could do. Personalised skin grafts may provide living drug patches to help people manage their disease, addiction or even weight. Find out why we are such awesome softies, on CrowdScience.

Skin: prone to problems or an amazing organ with more functions than a swiss army knife?

Why Is Standing More Tiring Than Walking?2021070920210712 (WS)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 system – body and brain – works better when we’re walking, compared to standing still. We’re probably set up this way because of our evolutionary history: hunting and gathering needed us to be ‘cognitively engaged endurance athletes’.

We stop for a break.. but is it true that we shouldn’t sit down to rest during a walk? Our listener Sarah is a keen hillwalker but likes to take the weight off her feet every now and again. Her hillwalking friends disapprove, saying she should rest on her feet. Is this a myth CrowdScience can bust?

And finally a question from listener Matteo: is walking or running better for your health? Numerous studies show significant benefits to both forms of exercise, but in the end, the best kind of exercise is the one you’re motivated to do.

With Caroline Williams, Dr François-Xavier Li, Professor Dick Greene and Professor Duck-Chul Lee.

We tackle questions about walking, standing, sitting and running

Answering your questions about life, Earth and the universe