The Curious Cases Of Rutherford And Fry [Discovery]

Episodes

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Curious Cases2021050320210504 (WS)
20210510 (WS)
Dr Adam Rutherford and Dr Hannah Fry investigate everyday mysteries sent by listeners.

Explorations in the world of science.

The End Of Everything2020112320201124 (WS)
20201130 (WS)
Everyone knows about the Big Bang being the beginning of the universe and time - but when and how is it going to end? ask brothers Raffie and Xe from Rome. For this series, with lockdown learning in mind, Drs Rutherford and Fry are investigating scientific mysteries for students of all ages. The doctors sift science from philosophy to find out.

Cosmologist Jo Dunkley studies the origins and evolution of the universe. She explains how astrophysical ideas and techniques have evolved to tell us what we now know about our galaxy and far beyond, from the elegant parallax technique to standard candles. This particular distance measure, which uses stars of a known brightness to work out how far away other objects in the universe are, was discovered by American astronomer Henrietta Swan Leavitt in 1912, who worked at the Harvard University as one of several “computers” – women who processed and calculated data and made significant contributions to astronomy.

Curious Cases' universal guru Andrew Pontzen puts this into context. Because the universe is so enormous, it turns out that these measurements are just the first steps on the cosmic distance ladder – a suite of tools that astrophysicists use to determine distances to celestial objects. Scientists know that objects are moving away from us because the wavelengths of light from them get stretched and appear redder in our telescopes – the so-called red shift effect. But having a handle on the distances to and between those objects allows cosmologists to monitor what's happening to them over time. And it turns out that not only are they getting further apart, indicating that the universe is expanding, but that this process is accelerating.

So what might happen in the end? Expansion and then collapse – a big crunch? Expansion into the void – a big freeze, or a big rip? Or what if there is more than one universe – might a new one bubble up with totally different laws of physics that would cause our own to cease existing? It turns out that when dealing with predictions for something involving infinite space and time, the possibilities are largely limited by human imagination alone. Ideas are where science starts, but experiments are required to build evidence confirming or rejecting them as fact. The doctors discuss how gravitational wave detectors and quantum computers might one day provide this.

Presenters: Hannah Fry & Adam Rutherford
Producer: Jen Whyntie

When and how is the universe going to end?

Explorations in the world of science.

"What's the point of wasps?" asks listener Andrew, who is fed up with being pestered. For this series, with lockdown learning in mind, Drs Rutherford and Fry are investigating scientific mysteries for students of all ages. Do wasps do anything to justify their presence as a picnic menace?

Ecologist Seirian Sumner researches social wasp behaviour and champions their existence. Not only do yellow jacket wasps perform important ecological services as generalist pest controllers of aphids, caterpillars and flies in the UK, they have complex societies and may even perform pollination services, making them more like their better-loved bee cousins than many might think.

However, much remains unknown about wasps' contribution to our ecosystem. Seirian works with entomologist Adam Hart, and together they run The Big Wasp Survey each summer, a citizen science project dedicated to find out more about UK wasp species and their populations. Prof. Hart sets up an experimental picnic with Dr Rutherford to try and attract some native wasps, and discusses why they are so maligned.

But in some parts of the world UK wasp species have become a major problem. Just after World War II, having unwittingly chosen some aircraft parts destined for New Zealand as their overwintering home, some wasp queens woke up in the city of Hamilton. With no natural predators or competitors, they quickly established a growing population. Fast forward to today, and by late summer the biomass of wasps becomes greater than all the birds, rodents and stoats in the southern island's honeydew beech forests. Multiyear nests have been discovered that are over three metres tall and contain millions of wasps. Researcher Bob Brown is digging into wasp nests back in the UK to discover which species keep wasps in check here, and whether they might work as biological control.

This causes the doctors to ponder the problems of humans moving species around the planet. Accidental or even well-meaning introductions all too often become invasive. As climate change and urbanisation accelerate, wasps may become more helpful in some ways and more harmful in others.

Presenters: Hannah Fry, Adam Rutherford
Producer: Jen Whyntie

What's the point of wasps?

The Good And Bad In Fungi2021042620210427 (WS)
20210503 (WS)
"Why are some fungi helpful and others harmful?" asks Paul Glaister in Reading. Rutherford and Fry try to outdo each other with fungal top trumps to get to grips with the answer.
Decomposition ecologist Lynne Boddy, Professor of Microbial Ecology at Cardiff University, helps Hannah calculate the amount of dead plant material we'd be buried in across the globe, if we didn't have fungi to recycle it. And she describes her first fungal encounter in her student flat which was riddled with dry rot, and explains how without fungi, we wouldn't have plants.

On Adam's team is Curator of Mycology, Dr. Bryn Dentiger, at the Natural History Museum of Utah. Bryn tells Adam that he can't think of a single food that doesn't have some association with fungus. And the links are mostly positive rather than just mould on the top of your jam or rotten fruit in your fridge. He introduces Adam to the Humungous Fungus – the biggest living organism on Earth - and they get excited at the prospect of 20,000 different fungal sexes.

The pros and cons of fungi don't stop there. Microbiologist Dr. Ada Hagan,in Michigan lists some of the fungal diseases we're prone to, and the numerous drugs derived from fungi that help treat a whole host of common diseases.

Dr Adam Rutherford and Dr Hannah Fry investigate everyday mysteries sent by listeners.

Explorations in the world of science.

The Hamster Power Hypothesis2021042620210427 (WS)
20210503 (WS)
"How many hamsters on wheels would it take to power London?" asks Judah from Virginia in the USA. Rutherford & Fry return with engineering, ethics and economics to answer this electric query.

Smart grid engineer Lynne McDonald helps keep the lights on for 8.3 million homes and businesses across London at UK Power Networks. She explains how the kilowatt hours we see on our electricity bills relate to the thousands of gigawatt hours required when thinking about powering the whole of London. In theory, a hamster in a wheel might be able to produce about half a watt of power – enough to run a small LED light bulb.

Whilst the doctors argue the case on the resultant practicalities and ethics of even considering such a scenario – as, for example, the required cubic kilometre stack of hamster habitats would cover Canary Wharf – Royal Veterinary College researcher Zoe Davies points out some biological and anatomical home truths. As an expert in biomechanics currently investigating athletic performance in racehorses, she walks Adam through the impossibilities of using pretty much any animal, bird or insect as a source of power.

There may be one exception though: humans. Veteran lecturer of undergraduate chemistry for biologists and cycling enthusiast, Andrea Sella discusses whether human power might realistically work. We consider what this or other more realistic sources of renewable energy could mean for the future of our national grid.

How many hamsters on wheels would it take to power London? asks Judah from Virginia, USA.

Explorations in the world of science.

The Martian Mission2021041920210420 (WS)
20210426 (WS)
What would it take for humans to live permanently on Mars? asks Martin in Weston-super-Mare, UK. The doctors dig into requirements and possibilities of a long-term Martian outpost.
We know that many missions to Mars have failed, for a range of reasons – malfunctions, crashes and even a mix-up between imperial and metric units. Getting to Mars – let alone decelerating from 30,000 miles per hour to a safe landing speed in about seven minutes – is not straightforward. Aerospace engineer Anita Sengupta helped land NASA's Curiosity rover on Mars. She knows first-hand the challenges of putting a robot on the red planet.

But getting robots to Mars is an easier proposition than doing the same for humans. Even if we work out how to survive the radiation exposure on the eight-month journey and the pulverising descent, Mars' surface isn't easily habitable. Principal investigator for NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN) Bruce Jakosky describes the conditions on Mars: Freezing, with an atmosphere containing mostly carbon dioxide and very little water, and subject to annual global dust storms.

However, this isn't deterring space agencies and private companies from researching the challenge. The European Space Agency and Russian Institute for Biomedical Problems focussed on finding out the physiological and psychological tolls by selecting six candidates to spend 520 days in a simulated spacecraft and landing module. Diego Urbina explains the personal challenge of taking part in the Mars500 experiment.
Some private company owners have gone even further. As well as making technology based on the current physical conditions, could those constraints themselves be altered? Could Mars be terraformed, or warmed, for easier human survival? Bruce Jakosky shares just what that would take – and compares these requirements with what's actually available.

Dr Adam Rutherford and Dr Hannah Fry investigate everyday mysteries sent by listeners.

Explorations in the world of science.

The Noises That Make Us Cringe2021050320210504 (WS)
20210510 (WS)
Why do some people find noises like a fork scraping a plate so terrible? asks Findlay in Aberdeenshire. Rutherford and Fry endure some horrible noises to find out the answer.

Warning - This episode contains some horrible sounds

Trevor Cox, Professor of Acoustic Engineering at the University of Salford, has run experiments to find out the worst, most cringe-making sound. He divided horrible sounds into three categories: scraping sounds, like nails down a blackboard; disgusting sounds like a snotty sniffy nose; and sounds that make us cringe because of what we associate them with, like the dentist's drill. All horrible sounds have some sort of association whether it's a primal scream or fear of catching a disease, and they're dealt with in the ancient part of the brain – the amygdala.

Professor Tim Griffiths is a Cognitive Neurologist at Newcastle University's Auditory Cognition Group. He has been studying people with misophonia, a condition where ordinary, everyday sounds, such as someone eating or breathing causes a severe anxiety and anger response. Misophonia may affect around 15% of the population and Tim thinks that different parts of the brain – the insula and the motor cortex - are involved in this fight or flight response to seemingly innocuous sounds.

Cat Thomas's job is to make horrible sounds. She is a foley artist at Boompost. If you watch Call the Midwife or Peaky Blinders, all the incidental sounds are created by Cat and her team. She also created some of the sounds for the horror film Camilla, which involved evisceration and disembowelling with the aid of some squishy oranges and bananas. Adam Rutherford and Hannah Fry try their own horror sounds when they chop off a finger with the aid of some large pasta shells, an orange and a knife.

Presenters: Hannah Fry & Adam Rutherford
Producer: Fiona Roberts

Explorations in the world of science.

The Space Burrito2020120720201208 (WS)
20201214 (WS)
Is there a point in space where the Sun could heat a burrito perfectly? asks Will. The doctors tackle this and a plethora of other conundrums from the Curious Cases inbox.

Featuring expert answers from astrophysicist Samaya Nissanke, cosmologist Andrew Pontzen, and cognitive neuroscientist Sophie Scott.

Presenters: Hannah Fry & Adam Rutherford
Producer: Jen Whyntie

Is there a point in space where the Sun could heat a burrito perfectly? And other puzzles

Explorations in the world of science.

Dr Adam Rutherford and Dr Hannah Fry investigate everyday mysteries sent by listeners.

The Zedonk Problem2020113020201201 (WS)
20201207 (WS)
Today I learnt that tigons and ligers are what you get when lions and tigers interbreed?!' surprised listener Jamz G tells the doctors. ‘What determines whether species can interbreed?'

Geneticist Aoife McLysaght studies molecular evolution. She explains the modern definition of a species, built on ideas from Aristotle, Linnaeus and Darwin: a species is a group of organisms capable of interbreeding to produce fertile offspring. Hybrids – such as ligons and tigers – are usually infertile, because their common ancestors long ago diverged into the lions and tigers we know today. However, this definition isn't absolute, and there are many ways a new species can be formed.

Hybrids also offer rich study subjects for scientists. Mathematical biologist Kit Yates discusses why he's been reading research papers about hebras and zorses (horse x zebra) as their patterns offer insights into how cells spread and develop into organisms, building on a prediction made by codebreaking mathematician Alan Turing.

And it turns out that these hybrids are even more intriguing. As speciation and evolution expert Joana Meier explains, hybrids are not always infertile. Hybridisation can lead to successful new species arising, such as in Lake Victoria's cichlid fish, who it seems have been having a wild evolutionary party for the last 15,000 years. And the picture gets even murkier when we discover that modern genetics reveals our human ancestors successfully mated with Neanderthals.

Presenters: Hannah Fry & Adam Rutherford
Producer: Jen Whyntie

What are ligons and tigers? What is a species?

Explorations in the world of science.

Dr Adam Rutherford and Dr Hannah Fry investigate everyday mysteries sent by listeners.

01How Do Instruments Make Music?2019051320190514 (WS)
20190519 (WS)
"We play many musical instruments in our family. Lots of them produce the same pitch of notes, but the instruments all sound different. Why is this?" asks Natasha Cook aged 11, and her Dad Jeremy from Guelph in Ontario, Canada.

In this new series of The Curious Cases of Rutherford and Fry, Hannah and Adam are joined by the Curious Cases band - Matt Chandler and Wayne Urquhart - to play with today's question.

Bringing the science we have acoustic engineer and saxophone player Trevor Cox. Plus materials expert Zoe Laughlin demonstrates a selection of her unusual musical creations, including a lead bugle, a glass bell and a spruce tuning fork.

Presenters: Adam Rutherford, Hannah Fry
Producer: Michelle Martin

Main image: 1-25 Wind instruments, 26-34 percussion instruments, Egypt, engraving by Duhamel from Description of Egypt, or the collection of observations and researches which were made in Egypt during the expedition of the French Army), Etat moderne, Planches, Volume II, Plate PlCC, Imprimerie Imperiale, 1817, Paris. Credit: De Agostini Editorial / Getty Images

1/6 Why do different musical instruments sound unique?

Explorations in the world of science.

1/5 Why do different musical instruments sound unique?

1/6 "We play many musical instruments in our family. Lots of them produce the same pitch of notes, but the instruments all sound different. Why is this?" asks Natasha Cook aged 11, and her Dad Jeremy from Guelph in Ontario, Canada.

Main image: 1-25 Wind instruments, 26-34 percussion instruments, Egypt, engraving by Duhamel from Description of Egypt, or the collection of observations and researches which were made in Egypt during the expedition of the French Army), Etat moderne, Planches, Volume II, Plate PlCC, Imprimerie Imperiale, 1817, Paris. Credit: De Agostini Editorial / Getty Images

01How Much Of My Body Is Bacteria?2017103020171031 (WS)
20171105 (WS)
Science sleuths Drs Rutherford & Fry take on everyday mysteries and solve them with the power of science. Two cases in this episode concerning the inner workings of our bodies, and not for the fainthearted!
The Broken Stool
"Science tells us that our body houses microbial organisms. Then how much our weight is really our weight? If I am overweight, is it because of my own body cells or excess microflora?" asks Ajay Mathur from Mumbai in India.
Adam bravely sends off a personal sample to the 'Map My Gut' project at St Thomas' Hospital to have his microbes mapped. Prof Tim Spector reveals the shocking results - a diet of fried breakfasts and fizzy drinks has left his guts in disarray. But help is at hand to makeover his bacterial lodgers.
Science writer Ed Yong, author of 'I Contain Multitudes', reveals how much our microbes weigh. We're just beginning to discover the vast array of vital functions they perform, from controlling our weight, immune system and perhaps even influencing our mood and behaviour.
A Code in Blood
"Why do we have different blood types?" asks Doug from Norfolk in the UK.
The average adult human has around 30 trillion red blood cells, they make up a quarter of the total number of cells in the body.
We have dozens of different blood groups, but normally we're tested for just two - ABO and Rhesus factor. Adam and Hannah delve into the gory world of blood and the early history of blood transfusions, to discover why we have blood groups and how they differ around the world.
Featuring interviews with Dr Jo Mountford, from the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service and immunologist Dr Sheena Cruikshank from the University of Manchester.
If you have any Curious Cases for the team to solve please email curiouscases@bbc.co.uk.
Presenters: Adam Rutherford, Hannah Fry
Producer: Michelle Martin
Image: Illustration of red blood cells in a blood vessel. Copyright: Science Photo Library

Plus, why do we have different blood types?

Explorations in the world of science.

01The Growling Stomach2020091420200915 (WS)
20200920 (WS)
"Why do our tummies rumble - and when they do, does it always mean we are hungry?" asks listener James, aged 12. For this series, with lockdown learning in mind, Drs Rutherford and Fry are investigating scientific mysteries for students of all ages. To get to the bottom of this noisy problem, the doctors tune in to our guts.

Geneticist Giles Yeo studies food intake and obesity. He explains the wavy workings of our digestive system, and how those audible rumbles are a sign that digestion is taking place – a phenomenon thought to be onomatopoeically named 'borborygmi' by the ancient Greeks, and explored further in the gruesome 19th century experiments of surgeon William Beaumont.

However, tuning in to the gut's sounds can tell us more than whether we need a snack. Family doctor Margaret McCartney takes us through the process of how and why she and her medical colleagues may use a stethoscope to listen to your abdomen for both particular noises and silence.

Microbiologist Barry Marshall has taken medical listening one step further in his Noisy Guts Project. Inspired by microphones used to listen for termites hiding in walls, the Nobel Prize-winning scientist is trialling an acoustic belt, which could be worn to help diagnose and treat Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Presenters: Hannah Fry, Adam Rutherford
Producer: Jen Whyntie

Explorations in the world of science.

Explorations in the world of science.

01Why Do Some Songs Get Stuck In Your Head?2018050720180508 (WS)
20180513 (WS)
Two very annoying cases today sent in by listeners to curiouscases@bbc.co.uk to our scientific sleuths, mathematician Dr Hannah Fry and geneticist Dr Adam Rutherford.

The Sticky Song
Why do songs get stuck in our heads? And what makes some tunes stickier than others? Drs Rutherford and Fry investigate 'earworms', those musical refrains that infect our brains for days.

Every morning BBC 6Music DJ Shaun Keaveny asks his listeners for their earworms, and Hannah finds out which tunes keep coming back. Adam asks Dr Lauren Stewart, from Goldsmiths University, to reveal the musical features that make some songs catchier than others. And they find out why, in times of crisis, an earworm may just save your life.

The Shocking Surprise
Jose Chavez Mendez from Guatemala asks, "Some years ago, in the dry season, I used to be very susceptible to static electricity. I want to know - why do static shocks happen?"

The team uncover some slightly unethical science experiments on static electricity from the 1700s. Hannah Fry uses a Leyden Jar to demonstrate how static electricity works with help from her glamorous assistant, Adam Rutherford. Spoiler Alert: it doesn't end well for Adam. They discover what makes some people more susceptible to static shocks, and how bees and spiders have harnessed the awesome power of electricity.

Featuring electromagnetism scientist Rhys Phillips and physicist Helen Czerski, author of 'Storm in a Teacup: The Physics of Everyday Life'.

Picture: Human Ear, Credit: Techin24/Getty Images

Producer: Michelle Martin

And why do I get so many static shocks?

Explorations in the world of science.

02Can We Use Chemistry To Bake The Perfect Cake?2018051420180515 (WS)
20180520 (WS)
Domestic science is on the agenda today, with two culinary questions sent in by listeners to curiouscases@bbc.co.uk

The Curious Cake-Off
Can chemistry help us bake the perfect cake? Listener Helena McGinty aged 69 from Malaga in Spain asks, "'I have always used my mother's sponge cake recipe. But is there a noticeable difference in the outcome if you vary some of the ingredients, or the method?"

Hannah and Adam go head to head in a competition to create the perfect cake using the power of science. They are aided by materials scientist Mark Miodownik, from University College London, with tips on how to combine the ideal ingredients and trusted techniques to construct a structurally sound sponge. Food critic Jay Rayner is on hand to judge the results. But who will emerge victorious in this messy baking battle?

The Atomic Blade
"What makes things sharp? Why are thinner knives sharper? What happens on the molecular level when you cut something?" All these questions came from Joshua Schwartz in New York City.

The ability to create sharp tools allowed us to fashion clothing, make shelters and hunt for food, all essential for the development of human civilisation. And, more importantly today they allow us to prepare dinner. So what makes kitchen knives sharp? We hear from IBM scientist Chris Lutz, who has used one of the sharpest blades in the world to slice up individual atoms. Plus palaeoarchaeologist Becky Wragg Sykes reveals the sharpest natural object in the world, a volcanic glass used by the Aztecs called ‘obsidian'.

Picture: Colourful Cupcakes, Credit: RuthBlack/Getty Images

Producer: Michelle Martin

And what makes something sharp?

Explorations in the world of science.

02How Do Cats Find Their Way Home?2017110620171107 (WS)
20171112 (WS)
“How on earth do cats find their way back to their previous home when they move house?" asks Vicky Cole from Nairobi in Kenya.
Our enduring love for our feline friends began when Egyptian pharaohs began to welcome domesticated moggies into their homes. Pictured reclining in baskets at the feet of royalty, pet cats soon became fashionable throughout society in Egypt. Today they are the most popular pet in the world, and home is definitely where their hearts lie.
"Whereas dogs are bonded to people, cats are bonded to place," explains zoologist Dr John Bradshaw. "It's very typical for them to try and find their way back to their old house when you move."
But how do they do it? And if their navigational skills are so good, why do they get lost? Prof Matthew Cobb reveals the super-senses that cats possess, and how to spot when your pet is deploying them.
Itchy and Scratchy
"What is an itch and how does scratching stop it? Why does scratching some itches feel so good?!" asks Xander Tarver from West Sussex in England.
Our doctors set off to probe the mysteries of itch, and discover that this overlooked area of medicine is revealing surprising results about the human brain. From why itching is contagious to why scratching is pleasurable, we get under the skin of this medical mystery.
The programme features interviews with neuroscientist Prof Francis McGlone from Liverpool John Moores University and dermatologist Dr Brian Kim from the Center for the Study of Itch at Washington University. Yes, that is a real place.
If you have any Curious Cases for the team to solve please email curiouscases@bbc.co.uk.
Presenters: Adam Rutherford, Hannah Fry
Producer: Michelle Martin
(Photo: Cat, Credit: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)

Plus, why do we itch and should we scratch?

Explorations in the world of science.

02The Seeded Cloud2020092120200922 (WS)
20200927 (WS)
"Could you make a machine to make it rain in minutes?" asks listener Alexander from Hampshire, aged 12. For this series, with lockdown learning in mind, Drs Rutherford and Fry are investigating scientific mysteries for students of all ages. Rutherford and Fry dive into the clouded story of weather modification.

First, we need to decide where and when we might deploy any rain machine. Liz Bentley, Chief Executive of the Royal Meteorological society, takes us through the science, maths and art of predicting the weather. Hannah heads down to the BBC Weather Centre to meet meteorologist Helen Willetts, who takes us through the highs and lows of forecasting.

And then for the technology itself. Mark Miodownik, scientist and author of Liquid: The Delightful and Dangerous Substances The Flow Through Our Lives, reveals that a technique called cloud seeding has almost certainly been tried in different places around the world for decades. But, whilst it's supposed to induce showers and even clear the way for sunny spells, the results aren't always reliable. And even if we can make it rain, Liz explains why messing with the weather may be at our peril.

Presenters: Hannah Fry, Adam Rutherford
Producer: Jen Whyntie

Can we make it rain?

Explorations in the world of science.

Explorations in the world of science.

02Why People Have Different Pain Thresholds2019052020190521 (WS)"How fast can a human run and would we be faster as quadrapeds?" This question flew in via Twitter from Greg Jenner.

Is there a limit to human sprinting performance? In this episode we investigate the biomechanics of running, statistical trends in human performance and which kind of monkey runs the fastest.

But first, an experiment. Due to some spurious and possibly fictional injuries, neither Hannah nor Adam are fit enough to take part in a sprint trial at the University of Bath. So long-suffering Producer Michelle steps up to the challenge and into the starting blocks. Not known for her love of athletics, or exercise of any sort, how will she fair in the ultimate speed test?

Biomechanist Peter Weyand from Texas discusses the role of different muscle types in speed versus endurance. Sports scientist Polly McGuigan reveals why Usain Lightning Bolt is still the fastest man in the world. And Prof of Sports Engineering Steve Haake reveals how fast a man can run like a monkey.

"Why do people experience pain differently when they go through the same event?" asks Claire Jenkins from Cwmbran in Wales.

Professor of Pain Research, Irene Tracey, welcomes Adam in to the room she calls her 'Torture Chamber'. Burning, electrocuting, lasering and piercing are all on the menu, but which will hurt the most?

Hannah speaks to Steve Pete from Washington who has a rare genetic condition which means he does not feel pain. For chronic sufferers, this sounds like heaven, but a life without pain has brought untold suffering to him and his family, including the tragic story of his brother, Chris.

We look at how the body creates pain, why some people feel it more than others, and how this knowledge could help scientists treat pain more effectively in the future.

Presenters: Hannah Fry, Adam Rutherford
Producer: Michelle Martin

(Photo: A runner beats the pain to make it over the finishing line in the Hong Kong Marathon 12 February 2006. Credit: Martin Chan/South China Morning Post/Getty Images)

2/6 The biomechanics of running and why some people feel pain more than others

Explorations in the world of science.

2/6 "How fast can a human run and would we be faster as quadrapeds?" This question flew in via Twitter from Greg Jenner.

2/6 Plus, how fast can a human run?

03The Sting In The Tail2020092820200929 (WS)
20201004 (WS)
"What's the point of wasps?" asks listener Andrew, who is fed up with being pestered. For this series, with lockdown learning in mind, Drs Rutherford and Fry are investigating scientific mysteries for students of all ages. Do wasps do anything to justify their presence as a picnic menace?

Ecologist Serian Sumner researches social wasp behaviour and champions their existence. Not only do yellow jacket wasps perform important ecological services as generalist pest controllers of aphids, caterpillars and flies in the UK, they have complex societies and may even perform pollination services, making them more like their better-loved bee cousins than many might think.

However, much remains unknown about wasps' contribution to our ecosystem. Serian works with entomologist Adam Hart, and together they run The Big Wasp Survey each summer, a citizen science project dedicated to find out more about UK wasp species and their populations. Prof. Hart sets up an experimental picnic with Dr Rutherford to try and attract some native wasps, and discusses why they are so maligned.

But in some parts of the world UK wasp species have become a major problem. Just after World War II, having unwittingly chosen some aircraft parts destined for New Zealand as their overwintering home, some wasp queens woke up in the city of Hamilton. With no natural predators or competitors, they quickly established a growing population. Fast forward to today, and by late summer the biomass of wasps becomes greater than all the birds, rodents and stoats in the southern island's honeydew beech forests. Multiyear nests have been discovered that are over three metres tall and contain millions of wasps. Researcher Bob Brown is digging into wasp nests back in the UK to discover which species keep wasps in check here, and whether they might work as biological control.

This causes the doctors to ponder the problems of humans moving species around the planet. Accidental or even well-meaning introductions all too often become invasive. As climate change and urbanisation accelerate, wasps may become more helpful in some ways and more harmful in others.

Presenters: Hannah Fry, Adam Rutherford
Producer: Jen Whyntie

Explorations in the world of science.

Ecologist Seirian Sumner researches social wasp behaviour and champions their existence. Not only do yellow jacket wasps perform important ecological services as generalist pest controllers of aphids, caterpillars and flies in the UK, they have complex societies and may even perform pollination services, making them more like their better-loved bee cousins than many might think.

However, much remains unknown about wasps' contribution to our ecosystem. Seirian works with entomologist Adam Hart, and together they run The Big Wasp Survey each summer, a citizen science project dedicated to find out more about UK wasp species and their populations. Prof. Hart sets up an experimental picnic with Dr Rutherford to try and attract some native wasps, and discusses why they are so maligned.

Presenters: Hannah Fry, Adam Rutherford
Producer: Jen Whyntie

03Why Can't We Remember Being A Baby?2017111320171114 (WS)
20171119 (WS)
The Astronomical Balloon
"How far up can a helium balloon go? Could it go out to space?" asks Juliet Gok, aged 9.
This calls for an experiment! Dr Keri Nicholl helps Adam launch a party balloon and track its ascent. But their test doesn't quite go to plan.
Meanwhile, Hannah discovers where space begins by asking Public Astronomer Dr Marek Kukula, from the Royal Observatory Greenwich.
Send your Curious Cases to the team: curiouscases@bbc.co.uk

The Forgetful Child
"Why don't we remember the first few years of our lives?" asks David Foulger from Cheltenham.
The team investigate the phenomenon of 'infant amnesia' with Catherine Loveday from the University of Westminster.
40% of us claim to remember being under two years old and 18% recall being babies. But can we really trust these early memories? Martin Conway from City University thinks not.

Picture: Baby Foot, Credit H. Armstrong Roberts/Retrofile/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Producer: Michelle Martin.

Plus, could a party balloon reach space?

Explorations in the world of science.

03Why Do We Dream?2018052120180522 (WS)
20180527 (WS)
Adventures in Dreamland
"Why do we dream and why do we repeat dreams?" asks Mila O'Dea, aged 9, from Panama.

Hannah Fry and Adam Rutherford delve into the science of sleep. From a pioneering experiment on rapid eye movement sleep, to a brand new 'dream signature' found in the brain, they discover how scientists are investigating our hidden dreamworld. Featuring sociologist Bill Domhoff from the University of California Santa Cruz, sleep psychologist Mark Blagrove from the University of Swansea, and neurologist Francesca Siclari from the University of Lausanne.

The Curious Face-Off
"Are machines better than humans at identifying faces?" asks the excellently named Carl Vandal.

Today's Face Off leads our intrepid detectives to investigate why we see Jesus on toast, Hitler in houses and Kate Middleton on a jelly bean.
Face perception psychologist Rob Jenkins from the University of York explains why we're so good at spotting familiar faces, like celebrities. Plus, Franziska Knolle from the University of Cambridge discusses her face recognition study involving Barack Obama and a group of highly-trained sheep. But are we outwitted by artificial intelligence when it comes to face ID? BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones gives us the low-down on the pros and cons of current technology.

Picture: Child sleeping, Credit: Quintanilla/Getty Images

Producer: Michelle Martin

And are machines better than humans when it comes to recognising faces?

Explorations in the world of science.

03Will We Ever Find Alien Life?2019052720190528 (WS)
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In this instalment of The Curious Cases of Rutherford & Fry, Hannah and Adam boldly go in search of scientists who are hunting for ET, spurred on by questions sent in by listeners across the globe, from Australia to Columbia.

They start by asking how we define life and why we are obsessed with finding it on Mars. Should we be looking further out in the Solar System, and could we find space squid on the icy moon Europa?

When it comes to intelligent life we may have to scout even further into the Universe. But what are the chances of finding complex life in the cosmos? And where might it live?

Featuring astronomer Seth Shostak from the SETI Institute in California, planetary scientist Monica Grady from the Open University, exoplanet hunter Sara Rugheimer from the University of St Andrews and zoologist Matthew Cobb from Manchester University.

Send your Curious Cases for consideration in to curiouscases@bbc.co.uk

Presenters: Hannah Fry, Adam Rutherford
Producer: Michelle Martin.

Main Image: This image obtained from NASA on November 25, 2013 shows several images that were taken by the Hubble Space Telescope of the spiral NGC 4921 from the Coma Cluster of Galaxies. Copyright: NASA / Hubble / ESA / Handout

3/6 Where are we looking for alien life and what are the chances of finding it?

Explorations in the world of science.

3/6 In this instalment of The Curious Cases of Rutherford & Fry, Hannah and Adam boldly go in search of scientists who are hunting for ET, spurred on by questions sent in by listeners across the globe, from Australia to Columbia.

Main Image: This image obtained from NASA on November 25, 2013 shows several images that were taken by the Hubble Space Telescope of the spiral NGC 4921 from the Coma Cluster of Galaxies. Copyright: NASA / Hubble / ESA / Handout

04Can Anything Travel Faster Than Light?2018052820180529 (WS)
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Two astronomical questions today sent in to curiouscases@bbc.co.uk for Drs Hannah Fry and Adam Rutherford to answer.

The Cosmic Speed Limit
"We often read that the fastest thing in the Universe is the speed of light. Why do we have this limitation and can anything possibly be faster?" asks Ali Alshareef from Qatif from Saudia Arabia. The team grapples with Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity, with help from cosmologist Andrew Pontzen and a British train, travelling somewhat slower than the speed of light. Plus physicist and presenter Jim Al-Khalili describes how he nearly lost his boxer shorts in a daring bet concerning the speed of subatomic particles.

The Cosmic Egg
"How do we measure the age of the Universe?" asks Simon Whitehead. A hundred years ago this wouldn't even have been considered a valid question, because we didn't think the Universe had a beginning at all. Even Einstein thought that space was eternal and unchanging.
This is the tale of how we discovered that the Universe had a beginning, and why calculating its age has been one of the greatest challenges in modern astronomy. We also uncover the mysterious dark energy that pervades the cosmos and discover why it's been putting a scientific spanner in the works.
Helping to unravel today's question are physicists Andrew Pontzen, Jo Dunkley and Jim Al-Khalili.

Picture: Star sun supernova galaxy gold, Credit: Eastern Lightcraft/Getty Images

Producer: Michelle Martin

Plus, how can we measure the age of the Universe?

Explorations in the world of science.

04What Will Happen When The Earth's Poles Swap?2017112020171121 (WS)
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The Polar Opposite
No one knows why the Earth's magnetic North and South poles swap. But polar reversals have happened hundreds of times over the history of the Earth.
John Turk emailed curiouscases@bbc.co.uk to ask, “when is the next pole swap due and what will happen to us? ?
Featuring Prof Lucie Green from Mullard Space Science Laboratory and Dr Phil Livermore from the University of Leeds.
Plus, astronaut Terry Virts, author of The View from Above, describes his experiences of a strange magnetic glitch in the earth's magnetic field, known as The Bermuda Triangle of Space.

The World That Turns
"Why does the Earth spin?" asks Joe Wills from Accra in Ghana.
Hannah quizzes cosmologist Andrew Pontzen about the birth of the Solar System. BBC weatherman John Hammond describes the curious things that would happen if the Earth spun the opposite way.
Send your questions to: curiouscases@bbc.co.uk

Picture: The Earth reflecting light from the sun whilst aboard the International Space Station, Credit: Alexander Gerst / ESA via Getty Images

Producer: Michelle Martin

And why do planets spin?

Explorations in the world of science.

04Why Do We Get Deje0 Vu?2019060320190604 (WS)
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Part 1: Déjà vu

"Do we know what causes déjà vu?" asks Floyd Kitchen from Queenstown in New Zealand.

Drs Rutherford and Fry investigate this familiar feeling by speaking to world-leading reseacher Chris Moulin from the University of Grenoble in France and memory expert Catherine Loveday from Westminster University. Plus, they find out why early investigations classed déjà vu as a type of paranormal phenomenon.

For most of us, it's a fleetingly strange experience, but for some people it can become a serious problem. Lisa from Hulme in Manchester started experiencing déjà vu when she was 22 with episodes that could last all day. The origin of her déjà vu has been the key to helping psychologists investigate its cause.

Part 2: Randomness

"Is anything truly random, or is everything predetermined?" asks Darren Spalding from Market Harborough.

Hannah and Adam go in search of random events, from dice throws to lava lamps. Can we predict the outcome of any event?

"How do computers manage to pick random numbers?" asks Jim Rennie from Mackinaw in Illinois. Random numbers are vital for things like cyber security and banking. But true randomness is surprisingly hard to produce, as the team discover.

Joining them for this case we have a random selection of experts: mathematician Colva Roney-Dougal, technology journalist Bill Thompson, Science Museum Curator Tilly Blyth and quantum physicist Jim AlKhalili.

Presenters: Hannah Fry, Adam Rutherford
Producer: Michelle Martin

Main Image: A fan of the New York Yankees holds up a sign which reads "It's Deja Vu" at the Yankee Stadium, New York City 29 Oct 2009. Credit: Jed Jacobsohn / Getty Images

4/6 Plus is anything really random?

Explorations in the world of science.

4/6 Part 1: Déjà vu

Explorations in the world of science.

05Does Infinity Exist?2019061020190611 (WS)
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“Is anything in the Universe truly infinite, or is infinity something that only exists in mathematics?” This question came from father and son duo from Edinburgh in Scotland, Tom and Sorely Watson.

First, we investigate the concept of infinity in mathematics with a story of mathematics, music and murder from Steven Strogatz from the Cornell University.

Did you know that there are some infinities that are bigger than others? We discuss the mind-bending nature of infinity with mathematician Eugenia Cheng, author of Beyond Infinity.

Next we turn to physics to see if we can find something in the Universe that is truly infinite.

Theoretical physicist Sean Carroll from Caltech University discusses the infinitely small inside subatomic particles. Plus cosmologist Andrew Pontzen from University College London travels into the heart of a black hole to see if we can find a something that is infinitely dense.

But if we're looking for something that is infinite, how about the Universe itself? We find out how physicists measure the shape of the Universe, with the help of an orange and a game of Asteroids. However, if the Universe is not infinite, and it has an edge, what is on the other side?

Presenters: Hannah Fry, Adam Rutherford
Producer: Michelle Martin

(Photo: The Infinity symbol in an exploding cloud of data. Credit: Wigglestick/Getty Images)

5/6 Rutherford and Fry embark on a never-ending quest for infinite knowledge

Explorations in the world of science.

(Photo: The Infinity symbol in an exploding cloud of data. Credit: Wigglestick/Getty Images)

05What Would Happen If You Fell Into A Black Hole?2017112720171128 (WS)
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Two deadly cases today sent in by listeners to curiouscases@bbc.co.uk

The Dark Star
"What's inside a black hole and could we fly a spaceship inside?" asks Jorge Luis Alvarez from Mexico City.

Astrophysicist Sheila Rowan explains how we know invisible black holes actually exist. Plus cosmologist Andrew Pontzen is on hand to help cook one up.

But which of our intrepid doctors will volunteer to fly into the heart of a black hole?

Kate Bush's Sonic Weapon
"It started while listening to the excellent Experiment IV by Kate Bush. The premise of the song is of a band who secretly work for the military to create a 'sound that could kill someone'. Is it scientifically possible to do this?" asks Paul Goodfield.

Hannah consults acoustic engineer Trevor Cox to ask if sonic weapons could kill. And Adam delves into subsonic frequencies with parapsychologist Chris French to investigate their spooky effects.

Plus the team investigates the Curious Case of the Embassy in Cuba – could a sonic weapon really be responsible for the wide-ranging symptoms reported by American diplomats in Havana?

You can send your scientific mysteries for the team to investigate to: curiouscases@bbc.co.uk

Picture: A computer-generated image of a rich star field with a Black Hole in front of it which distorts starlight into a brilliant ring around itself, Credit: BBC

Producer: Michelle Martin

Plus, could we make a sonic weapon?

Explorations in the world of science.

05What's The Tiniest Dinosaur?2018060420180605 (WS)
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Two small creatures are at the heart of today's questions, sent in to curiouscases@bbc.co.uk.

The Tiniest Dinosaur
"What is the tiniest dinosaur?" asks young listener Ellie Cook, aged 11.

Our hunt takes us from the discovery of dinosaurs right up to the present day, which is being hailed as a 'golden age' for palaeontology. Currently, one new species of dinosaur is unearthed on average every single week. But what's the smallest dino? And what can size reveal about the life of extinct animals?
Hannah Fry goes underground at the Natural History Museum in London to look through their vaults in search of the tiniest dinosaur with palaeontologist Susie Maidment. Meanwhile Adam Rutherford chats to dinosaur expert Steve Brusatte from Edinburgh University about why size really does matter, especially when it comes to fossils.

The Baffled Bat
"Why don't thousands of bats in a cave get confused? How do they differentiate their own location echoes from those of other bats?" This puzzling problem was sent in by Tim Beard from Hamburg in Germany.
Since eco-location was first discovered, this question has perplexed biologists. Hannah turns bat detective to try and track down these elusive creatures at The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in East London. This is where zoologist Kate Jones from University College London is using a network of smart sensors to find, identify and track wild bats.
Bat researcher and impressionist John Ratcliffe from Toronto University explains how bats use sonar to find their way around, and the clever tricks they've developed along the way. It's an unlikely tale involving gruesome early experiments, cunning electric fish and some surprising bat maths.

(Image: Dinosaurs and a meteor falling from the sky in back background. Credit: ugurhan/Getty Images)

Producer: Michelle Martin

And how do bats differentiate their own echolocation signals?

Explorations in the world of science.

06Why Do Birds Sing?2019061720190618 (WS)
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"What happens to the human voice as we age? If I hear a voice on the radio, I can guess roughly how old they are. But singer's voices seem to stay relatively unchanged as they age. Why is this?" All these questions were sent in by Jonathan Crain from Long Island in New York.

Doctors Adam Rutherford and Hannah Fry discover how the human voice is produced and listen to how our voice sounds when it emerges from our vocal cords. Acoustic engineer Trevor Cox, author of Now You're Talking, explains why German and French babies have a different accent. And neuroscientist Sophie Scott describes what happens when boys' voices break, and why a similar thing can happen to women during the menopause.

Finally, our voices often change dramatically in later life, as demonstrated by comedy impressionist Duncan Wisbey. Expect cameos from David Attenborough, Dumbledore and Paul McCartney.

Bird Song

"Winter is finally over and the birds are all singing their hearts out at dawn. What is all the noise about? And why are some songs so elaborate?" asks Tony Fulford from Cambridgeshire in the UK.

We find out how birds produce multiple notes at once, which one has the widest repertoire of songs, and why males like to show off quite so much. Plus, we talk to researcher Lauryn Benedict about the project which aims to solve the mystery of why female birds sing.

Featuring interviews with RSPB president and nature presenter Miranda Krestovnikoff, and world-renowned birdsong expert and sound recordist, Don Kroodsma from the University of Massachusetts. TV archive courtesy of The One Show, BBC TV.

Please send your cases for consideration for the next series to curiouscases@bbc.co.uk.

Presenters: Adam Rutherford, Hannah Fry
Producer: Michelle Martin.

(Photo: Eurasian Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes). Credit: Getty Images)

6/6 And why does the human voice change as we age?

Explorations in the world of science.

Part 1: The human voice

"What happens to the human voice as we age? If I hear a voice on the radio, I can guess roughly how old they are. But singer's voices seem to stay relatively unchanged as they age. Why is this?" All these questions were sent to curiouscases@bbc.co.uk by Jonathan Crain from Long Island in New York.

The Doctors discover how the human voice is produced and listen to how our voice sounds when it emerges from our vocal cords. Acoustic engineer Trevor Cox, author of 'Now You're Talking', explains why German and French babies have a different accent. And neuroscientist Sophie Scott describes what happens when boys' voices break, and why a similar thing can happen to women during the menopause.

Finally, our voices often change dramatically in later life, as demonstrated by comedy impressionist Duncan Wisbey. Expect cameos from David Attenborough, Dumbledore and Paul McCartney.

Part 2: Bird song

"Winter is finally over and the birds are all singing their hearts out at dawn. What's all the noise about? And why are some songs so elaborate?" asks Tony Fulford from Cambridgeshire in the UK.

We find out how birds produce multiple notes at once, which one has the widest repertoire of songs, and why males like to show off quite so much. Plus, we talk to researcher Lauryn Benedict about the project which aims to solve the mystery of why female birds sing - www.femalebirdsong.org.

Featuring interviews with RSPB President and nature presenter Miranda Krestovnikoff, and world-renowned birdsong expert and sound recordist, Don Kroodsma from the University of Massachusetts. TV archive courtesy of The One Show, BBC TV.

Presenters: Adam Rutherford, Hannah Fry
Producer: Michelle Martin.

Picture: Eurasian Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes). Credit: Getty Creative Stock

(Photo: Eurasian Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes). Credit: Getty Images)