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Homo erectus

Homo erectus

2022-05-1251:31

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of our ancestors, Homo erectus, who thrived on Earth for around two million years whereas we, Homo sapiens, emerged only in the last three hundred thousand years. Homo erectus, or Upright Man, spread from Africa to Asia and it was on the Island of Java that fossilised remains were found in 1891 in an expedition led by Dutch scientist Eugène Dubois. Homo erectus people adapted to different habitats, ate varied food, lived in groups, had stamina to outrun their prey; and discoveries have prompted many theories on the relationship between their diet and the size of their brains, on their ability as seafarers, on their creativity and on their ability to speak and otherwise communicate. The image above is from a diorama at the Moesgaard Museum in Denmark, depicting the Turkana Boy referred to in the programme. With Peter Kjærgaard Director of the Natural History Museum of Denmark and Professor of Evolutionary History at the University of Copenhagen José Joordens Senior Researcher in Human Evolution at Naturalis Biodiversity Centre and Professor of Human Evolution at Maastricht University And Mark Maslin Professor of Earth System Science at University College London Producer: Simon Tillotson
Seismology

Seismology

2022-04-0750:06

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the study of earthquakes. A massive earthquake in 1755 devastated Lisbon, and this disaster helped inspire a new science of seismology which intensified after San Francisco in 1906 and advanced even further with the need to monitor nuclear tests around the world from 1945 onwards. While we now know so much more about what lies beneath the surface of the Earth, and how rocks move and crack, it remains impossible to predict when earthquakes will happen. Thanks to seismology, though, we have a clearer idea of where earthquakes will happen and how to make some of them less hazardous to lives and homes. With Rebecca Bell Senior lecturer in Geology and Geophysics at Imperial College London Zoe Mildon Lecturer in Earth Sciences and Future Leaders Fellow at the University of Plymouth And James Hammond Reader in Geophysics at Birkbeck, University of London Producer: Simon Tillotson
Looking for the latest episode? New episodes of In Our Time will now be available first on BBC Sounds for four weeks before other podcast apps. If you haven’t already, you can download the BBC Sounds app to listen to the In Our Time podcast first. BBC Sounds is also available in lots of other places. Find us on your voice device or smart speaker, on your connected TV, in your car, or at bbc.co.uk/sounds. The latest episode is available on BBC Sounds right now. BBC Sounds – you can find exclusive music mixes, live BBC radio and more podcasts like this one.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss William Herschel (1738 – 1822) and his sister Caroline Herschel (1750 – 1848) who were born in Hanover and made their reputation in Britain. William was one of the most eminent astronomers in British history. Although he started life as a musician, as a young man he became interested in studying the night sky. With an extraordinary talent, he constructed telescopes that were able to see further and more clearly than any others at the time. He is most celebrated today for discovering the planet Uranus and detecting what came to be known as infrared radiation. Caroline also became a distinguished astronomer, discovering several comets and collaborating with her brother. With Monica Grady Professor of Planetary and Space Sciences at the Open University Carolin Crawford Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge and an Emeritus Fellow of Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge And Jim Bennett Keeper Emeritus at the Science Museum in London. Studio producer: John Goudie
Corals

Corals

2021-10-2852:19

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the simple animals which informed Charles Darwin's first book, The Structure and Distribution of Coral Reefs, published in 1842. From corals, Darwin concluded that the Earth changed very slowly and was not fashioned by God. Now coral reefs, which some liken to undersea rainforests, are threatened by human activity, including fishing, pollution and climate change. With Steve Jones Senior Research Fellow in Genetics at University College London Nicola Foster Lecturer in Marine Biology at the University of Plymouth And Gareth Williams Associate Professor in Marine Biology at Bangor University School of Ocean Sciences Producer Simon Tilllotson.
The Manhattan Project

The Manhattan Project

2021-10-0749:05

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the race to build an atom bomb in the USA during World War Two. Before the war, scientists in Germany had discovered the potential of nuclear fission and scientists in Britain soon argued that this could be used to make an atom bomb, against which there could be no defence other than to own one. The fear among the Allies was that, with its head start, Germany might develop the bomb first and, unmatched, use it on its enemies. The USA took up the challenge in a huge engineering project led by General Groves and Robert Oppenheimer and, once the first bomb had been exploded at Los Alamos in July 1945, it appeared inevitable that the next ones would be used against Japan with devastating results. The image above is of Robert Oppenheimer and General Groves examining the remains of one the bases of the steel test tower, at the atomic bomb Trinity Test site, in September 1945. With Bruce Cameron Reed The Charles A. Dana Professor of Physics Emeritus at Alma College, Michigan Cynthia Kelly Founder and President of the Atomic Heritage Foundation And Frank Close Emeritus Professor of Theoretical Physics at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Exeter College, Oxford Producer: Simon Tillotson
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the remarkable diversity of the animals that dominated life on land in the Triassic, before the rise of the dinosaurs in the Jurassic, and whose descendants are often described wrongly as 'living fossils'. For tens of millions of years, the ancestors of alligators and Nile crocodiles included some as large as a bus, some running on two legs like a T Rex and some that lived like whales. They survived and rebounded from a series of extinction events but, while the range of habitats of the dinosaur descendants such as birds covers much of the globe, those of the crocodiles have contracted, even if the animals themselves continue to evolve today as quickly as they ever have. With Anjali Goswami Research Leader in Life Sciences and Dean of Postgraduate Education at the Natural History Museum Philip Mannion Lecturer in the Department of Earth Sciences at University College London And Steve Brusatte Professor of Palaeontology and Evolution at the University of Edinburgh Producer Simon Tillotson
Longitude

Longitude

2021-05-1350:56

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the search for Longitude while at sea. Following efforts by other maritime nations, the British Government passed the Longitude Act in 1714 to reward anyone who devised reliable means for ships to determine their longitude at sea. Mariners could already calculate how far they were north or south, the Latitude, using the Pole Star, but voyaging across the Atlantic to the Caribbean was much less predictable as navigators could not be sure how far east or west they were, a particular problem when heading for islands. It took fifty years of individual genius and collaboration in Britain and across Europe, among astronomers, clock makers, mathematicians and sailors, for the problem to be resolved. With Rebekah Higgitt Principal Curator of Science at National Museums Scotland Jim Bennett Keeper Emeritus at the Science Museum And Simon Schaffer Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge Producer: Simon Tillotson
Pierre-Simon Laplace

Pierre-Simon Laplace

2021-04-0848:40

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Laplace (1749-1827) who was a giant in the world of mathematics both before and after the French Revolution. He addressed one of the great questions of his age, raised but side-stepped by Newton: was the Solar System stable, or would the planets crash into the Sun, as it appeared Jupiter might, or even spin away like Saturn threatened to do? He advanced ideas on probability, long the preserve of card players, and expanded them out across science; he hypothesised why the planets rotate in the same direction; and he asked if the Universe was deterministic, so that if you knew everything about all the particles then you could predict the future. He also devised the metric system and reputedly came up with the name 'metre'. With Marcus du Sautoy Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science and Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford Timothy Gowers Professor of Mathematics at the College de France And Colva Roney-Dougal Professor of Pure Mathematics at the University of St Andrews Producer: Simon Tillotson
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the devastating mass extinctions of the Late Devonian Period, roughly 370 million years ago, when around 70 percent of species disappeared. Scientists are still trying to establish exactly what happened, when and why, but this was not as sudden as when an asteroid hits Earth. The Devonian Period had seen the first trees and soils and it had such a diversity of sea life that it’s known as the Age of Fishes, some of them massive and armoured, and, in one of the iconic stages in evolution, some of them moving onto land for the first time. One of the most important theories for the first stage of this extinction is that the new soils washed into oceans, leading to algal blooms that left the waters without oxygen and suffocated the marine life. The image above is an abstract group of the huge, armoured Dunkleosteus fish, lost in the Late Devonian Extinction With Jessica Whiteside Associate Professor of Geochemistry in the Department of Ocean and Earth Science at the University of Southampton David Bond Professor of Geology at the University of Hull And Mike Benton Professor of Vertebrate Paleontology at the School of Life Sciences, University of Bristol.
Emilie du Châtelet

Emilie du Châtelet

2021-02-0450:21

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the outstanding French mathematicians and natural philosophers of the 18th Century, celebrated across Europe. Emilie du Châtelet, 1706-49, created a translation of Newton’s Principia from Latin into French that helped spread the light of mathematics on the emerging science, and her own book Institutions de Physique, with its lessons on physics, was welcomed as profound. She had the privileges of wealth and aristocracy, yet had to fight to be taken seriously as an intellectual in a world of ideas that was almost exclusively male. With Patricia Fara Emeritus Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge David Wootton Anniversary Professor of History at the University of York And Judith Zinsser Professor Emerita of History at Miami University of Ohio and biographer of Emilie du Châtelet. Producer: Simon Tillotson
Eclipses

Eclipses

2020-12-3151:21

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss solar eclipses, some of life’s most extraordinary moments, when day becomes night and the stars come out before day returns either all too soon or not soon enough, depending on what you understand to be happening. In ancient China, for example, there was a story that a dragon was eating the sun and it had to be scared away by banging pots and pans if the sun were to return. Total lunar eclipses are more frequent and last longer, with a blood moon coloured red like a sunrise or sunset. Both events have created the chance for scientists to learn something remarkable, from the speed of light, to the width of the Atlantic, to the roundness of Earth, to discovering helium and proving Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity. With Carolin Crawford Public Astronomer based at the Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge and a fellow of Emmanuel College Frank Close Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of Oxford And Lucie Green Professor of Physics and a Royal Society University Research Fellow at Mullard Space Science Laboratory at University College London Producers: Simon Tillotson and Julia Johnson
Alan Turing

Alan Turing

2020-10-1553:47

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Alan Turing (1912-1954) whose 1936 paper On Computable Numbers effectively founded computer science. Immediately recognised by his peers, his wider reputation has grown as our reliance on computers has grown. He was a leading figure at Bletchley Park in the Second World War, using his ideas for cracking enemy codes, work said to have shortened the war by two years and saved millions of lives. That vital work was still secret when Turing was convicted in 1952 for having a sexual relationship with another man for which he was given oestrogen for a year, or chemically castrated. Turing was to kill himself two years later. The immensity of his contribution to computing was recognised in the 1960s by the creation of the Turing Award, known as the Nobel of computer science, and he is to be the new face on the £50 note. With Leslie Ann Goldberg Professor of Computer Science and Fellow of St Edmund Hall, University of Oxford Simon Schaffer Professor of the History of Science at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of Darwin College And Andrew Hodges Biographer of Turing and Emeritus Fellow of Wadham College, Oxford Producer: Simon Tillotson
Paul Dirac

Paul Dirac

2020-03-0550:58

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the theoretical physicist Dirac (1902-1984), whose achievements far exceed his general fame. To his peers, he was ranked with Einstein and, when he moved to America in his retirement, he was welcomed as if he were Shakespeare. Born in Bristol, he trained as an engineer before developing theories in his twenties that changed the understanding of quantum mechanics, bringing him a Nobel Prize in 1933 which he shared with Erwin Schrödinger. He continued to make deep contributions, bringing abstract maths to physics, beyond predicting anti-particles as he did in his Dirac Equation. With Graham Farmelo Biographer of Dirac and Fellow at Churchill College, Cambridge Valerie Gibson Professor of High Energy Physics at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of Trinity College And David Berman Professor of Theoretical Physics at Queen Mary University of London Producer: Simon Tillotson
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the origins of horses, from their dog sized ancestors to their proliferation in the New World until hunted to extinction, their domestication in Asia and their development since. The genetics of the modern horse are the most studied of any animal, after humans, yet it is still uncertain why they only have one toe on each foot when their wider family had more, or whether speed or stamina has been more important in their evolution. What is clear, though, is that when humans first chose to ride horses, as well as eat them, the future of both species changed immeasurably. With Alan Outram Professor of Archaeological Science at the University of Exeter Christine Janis Honorary Professor in Palaeobiology at the University of Bristol and Professor Emerita in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Brown University And John Hutchinson Professor in Evolutionary Biomechanics at the Royal Veterinary College Producer: Simon Tillotson
Solar Wind

Solar Wind

2020-01-2355:22

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the flow of particles from the outer region of the Sun which we observe in the Northern and Southern Lights, interacting with Earth's magnetosphere, and in comet tails that stream away from the Sun regardless of their own direction. One way of defining the boundary of the solar system is where the pressure from the solar wind is balanced by that from the region between the stars, the interstellar medium. Its existence was suggested from the C19th and Eugene Parker developed the theory of it in the 1950s and it has been examined and tested by a series of probes in C20th up to today, with more planned. With Andrew Coates Professor of Physics and Deputy Director in charge of the Solar System at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory, University College London Helen Mason OBE Reader in Solar Physics at the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, University of Cambridge, Fellow at St Edmund's College And Tim Horbury Professor of Physics at Imperial College London Producer: Simon Tillotson
Hybrids

Hybrids

2019-10-3151:33

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss what happens when parents from different species have offspring, despite their genetic differences. In some cases, such as the zebra/donkey hybrid in the image above, the offspring are usually infertile but in others the genetic change can lead to new species with evolutionary advantages. Hybrids can occur naturally, yet most arise from human manipulation and Darwin's study of plant and animal domestication informed his ideas on natural selection. With Sandra Knapp Tropical Botanist at the Natural History Museum Nicola Nadeau Lecturer in Evolutionary Biology at the University of Sheffield And Steve Jones Senior Research Fellow in Genetics at University College London Producer: Simon Tillotson
Dorothy Hodgkin

Dorothy Hodgkin

2019-10-0352:31

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the work and ideas of Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin (1910-1994), awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1964 for revealing the structures of vitamin B12 and penicillin and who later determined the structure of insulin. She was one of the pioneers of X-ray crystallography and described by a colleague as 'a crystallographers' crystallographer'. She remains the only British woman to have won a Nobel in science, yet rejected the idea that she was a role model for other women, or that her career was held back because she was a woman. She was also the first woman since Florence Nightingale to receive the Order of Merit, and was given the Lenin Peace Prize in recognition of her efforts to bring together scientists from the East and West in pursuit of nuclear disarmament. With Georgina Ferry Science writer and biographer of Dorothy Hodgkin Judith Howard Professor of Chemistry at Durham University and Patricia Fara Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge Producer: Simon Tillotson
Kinetic Theory

Kinetic Theory

2019-05-2351:45

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how scientists sought to understand the properties of gases and the relationship between pressure and volume, and what that search unlocked. Newton theorised that there were static particles in gases that pushed against each other all the harder when volume decreased, hence the increase in pressure. Those who argued that molecules moved, and hit each other, were discredited until James Maxwell and Ludwig Boltzmann used statistics to support this kinetic theory. Ideas about atoms developed in tandem with this, and it came as a surprise to scientists in C20th that the molecules underpinning the theory actually existed and were not simply thought experiments. The image above is of Ludwig Boltzmann from a lithograph by Rudolf Fenzl, 1898 With Steven Bramwell Professor of Physics at University College London Isobel Falconer Reader in History of Mathematics at the University of St Andrews and Ted Forgan Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of Birmingham Producer: Simon Tillotson
The Evolution of Teeth

The Evolution of Teeth

2019-04-1149:52

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss theories about the origins of teeth in vertebrates, and what we can learn from sharks in particular and their ancestors. Great white sharks can produce up to 100,000 teeth in their lifetimes. For humans, it is closer to a mere 50 and most of those have to last from childhood. Looking back half a billion years, though, the ancestors of sharks and humans had no teeth in their mouths at all, nor jaws. They were armoured fish, sucking in their food. The theory is that either their tooth-like scales began to appear in mouths as teeth, or some of their taste buds became harder. If we knew more about that, and why sharks can regenerate their teeth, then we might learn how humans could grow new teeth in later lives. With Gareth Fraser Assistant Professor in Biology at the University of Florida Zerina Johanson Merit Researcher in the Department of Earth Sciences at the Natural History Museum and Philip Donoghue Professor of Palaeobiology at the University of Bristol Producer: Simon Tillotson
Comments (14)

Granny InSanDiego

Why has a show called "In Our Time" failed to connect the PETM to our present situation with a follow up program on our failure to deal with the causes of human causes of climate change? A moral failing of epic scale is the only possible reason.

Dec 13th
Reply

parsa moeini

this was a great episode. thanks

Nov 4th
Reply

Masoud Khamushi

perfect

Nov 2nd
Reply

Kalwinder Singh Dhindsa

The Dirac by Kalwinder Singh Dhindsa (nor MAN ton Collection) Sometimes it's easier to say as little as possible. A reluctance to speak unless there's a very good reason to be audible. When uttering a word proves to be near impossible. So what's the point in saying anything, When a 'No' would be plausible? Dirac was a genius completely absorbed in his work activity. To unify the theories of quantum mechanics and relativity. A being with absolutely no interest in other people and feelings. His number one priority: research productivity dealings. Devoid of any apparent empathy until his taciturn heart was taken, By E.P Wigner's sister Manci, his human love she did awaken.

Feb 26th
Reply

Granny InSanDiego

As per usual, Melvin Bragg, the "moderator" poisoned the discussion and ruined the listening experience by attacking one of the speakers and focusing on minutiae.

Sep 26th
Reply

Aaron Sharpe

spam

Apr 22nd
Reply

Chris Hayes

this is normally good but the questions asked on this topic seem to have slowed the conversation rather than enchance it

Apr 14th
Reply

Ryan Hughes

This podcast would be amazing if they replaced the host with someone who doesn't interrupt people every 30 seconds.

Apr 4th
Reply

JAMES

p

Oct 6th
Reply

Divyangana Rakesh

Love this podcast

Feb 14th
Reply

sternen_meer

The best podcast I've ever come across

Jan 2nd
Reply

Robert J. Simpson

Start at 5:30

Sep 25th
Reply

Robert J. Simpson

Start at 16:25

Sep 24th
Reply

Robert J. Simpson

Begin at 5 minute mark.

Sep 21st
Reply
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