Jim Al-Khalili talks to astronomer Jocelyn Bell Burnell.
Jocelyn Bell Burnell forged her own path through the male-dominated world of science - in the days when it was unusual enough for women to work, let alone make a discovery in astrophysics that was worthy of a Nobel Prize.
As a 24-year old PhD student, Jocelyn spotted an anomaly on a graph buried within 100 feet of printed data from a radio telescope. Her curiosity about such a tiny detail led to one of the most important discoveries in 20th century astronomy - the discovery of pulsars - those dense cores of collapsed stars.
It's a discovery which changed the way we see the universe, making the existence of black holes suddenly seem much more likely and providing further proof to Einstein's theory of gravity.
Jocelyn Bell Burnell was made a Dame in 2008 and a year later became the first ever female President of the Institute of Physics.
Producer: Anna Buckley.
Clive Oppenheimer on the volcanic offerings of our angry earth
Clive Oppenheimer has, more than once, been threatened with guns (a Life Scientific first?). He's dodged and ducked lava bombs and he's risked instant death in scorching and explosive eruptions.
He studies volcanoes; science that by necessity, requires his presence at the volcanic hotspots of the world. It was at the lip of a bubbling lava crater on one of the earth's most active volcanoes, Mount Erebus in Antarctica, that he met the film and documentary maker Werner Herzog. The two became friends and went on to make a volcano movie together. Clive, who's Professor of Volcanology at the University of Cambridge, tells Jim academics and film makers share the same complementary skill set: thorough research, slick location recording and a familiarity with rejection as 9 out of 10 film pitches (or grant proposals) are turned down!
As well as a forensic fascination with the dramatic impact of ancient and modern volcanism on the landscape, Clive discusses how multiple scientific disciplines are now needed to understand the complex historical, archaeological, climatological and environmental impacts of the earth's volcanic eruptions. He wades into the bitter academic row about what did it for the dinosaurs 65 million years ago: meteorite or volcanism? And he details the importance of Mount Pinatubo's 1991 eruption in the Philippines for our deeper understanding of anthropogenic climate change.
Producer: Fiona Hill
Sky at Night presenter Maggie Aderin-Pocock
Maggie Aderin-Pocock has been fascinated by space since she was a young child. When she was six years old she caught the bug when she saw a picture of an astronaut on the front of a book in her primary school library. As a teenager she built her own telescope.
After studying physics and mechanical engineering, Maggie worked in industrial research before returning to her first love, astronomy, when she managed the building of an instrument on a giant telescope in Chile. Now, she spends her time presenting TV programmes, in particular the BBC’s Sky at Night, and inspiring the next generation of schoolchildren to become scientists. Maggie’s come a long way since her own childhood. Her parents separated when she was four years old, and their prolonged custody battle meant she attended 13 schools in as many years. In addition, she was diagnosed as dyslexic and put in remedial classes where she wasn't ever expected to achieve academically.
Banning chemical weapons with Alastair Hay
Alastair Hay, now Emeritus Professor of Environmental Toxicology at the University of Leeds, is a chemist who’s had a dual career as an academic researcher and an outspoken activist and campaigner. The common theme has been the application of his knowledge to how chemicals affect our lives, in the workplace and during conflicts. Alastair Hay is best known for his work to rid the world of chemical weapons, a concern about this horrific form of warfare that goes back to the use of Agent Orange in the Vietnam War. His work culminated in the Chemical Weapons Convention, which came into force in 1997, outlawing their production, stockpiling and use.
He spent his childhood in Zimbabwe and returned to the UK when he won a scholarship from Shell to study chemistry in London in the late 1960s. After a spell working on the biochemistry of animals, including a stint at London Zoo where one of his more difficult jobs was taking blood from penguins, he moved on to studying the effects of chemicals on humans.
Jim al-Khalili talks to Alastair Hay about his love of chemistry and his shock to see that chemical weapons are still being used over twenty years after the signing of the Convention.
Formula One engineer Caroline Hargrove
How do you convince Formula One racing drivers that they are speeding round the race track at Le Mans when, in fact, they are sitting in a simulator in the McLaren offices in Woking? Apparently it’s all about getting the vibrations right. Racing drivers really do drive by the seat of their pants. They’re also highly attuned to the sound f the engine and instinctively associate different sounds with different speeds. When Caroline Hargrove started trying to build a driveable model of a Formula One car many thought it just wouldn’t be possible. Today, all the major manufacturers of Formula One cars use simulators to help them design faster cars and improve driver performance. Caroline talks to Jim Al-Khalili about how she stumbled upon a job in Formula One and stayed for twenty years. And why she now wants to build digital twins for human beings.
Producer: Anna Buckley