This week the whole show focuses on keeping cool in a warming world. First up, host Sarah Crespi talks with Senior News Correspondent Elizabeth Pennisi about the latest research into how to stay safe when things heat up—whether you’re running marathons or fighting fires.
Sarah also talks with Po-Chun Hsu, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at Duke University, about the future of cooling fabrics for everyday use. It turns out we can save a lot of energy and avoid carbon dioxide emissions by wearing clothing designed to keep us cool in slightly warmer buildings than we’re used to now. But the question is, will cooling clothes ever be “cool”? Visit the whole special issue on cooling.
Scientists this week announced hopeful results in two of the big COVID-19 vaccination trials. Trudie Lang, Professor of Global Health at the Nuffield Department of Medicine, Oxford, describes some of the methodology used, what the efficacy statistic means, and how the novel approach of inserting mRNA rather than deactivated virus parts, is so exciting.
Prof Charles Cockell has been investigating how bacteria might be grown in space on lumps of asteroid to extract precious minerals, and as Kim McAllister reports, his lab is itself in orbit. And it is just a few weeks since the UK, and several other countries, signed up to a set of bilateral agreements with the US called the Artemis Accords. These are an attempt to update previous outer space treaties on how countries – and indeed companies – might mine and use resources in space, given that no-one can currently legally claim sovereignty. As Dr Thomas Cheney of the Open University and Prof Jill Stuart of the LSE describe, the Accords have been greeted in certain quarters with some discord.
Researchers try to unpick the complex relationship between sensory pollutants and bird reproduction, and how to combat organized crime in fisheries.
In this episode:
00:46 Sensory pollution and bird reproduction
Light- and noise-pollution have been shown to affect the behaviour of birds. However, it’s been difficult to work out whether these behavioural changes have led to bird species thriving or declining. Now, researchers have assembled a massive dataset that can begin to give some answers. Research article: Senzaki et al.
Interim results from a phase III trial show compelling evidence that a coronavirus vaccine candidate can prevent COVID-19. However, amid the optimism there remain questions to be answered – we discuss these, and what the results might mean for other vaccines in development. News: What Pfizer’s landmark COVID vaccine results mean for the pandemic
When you think of fishing, organised crime probably isn’t the first thing that springs to mind. However, billions of dollars every year from the fishing industry are lost to criminal enterprises. We discuss some of the impacts and what can be done about it. Research Article: Witbooi et al.
At the start of the pandemic, there were fears that schools could become hotspots for infections. We discuss the evidence suggesting that this is unlikely to be the case, and the rates of infection in children of different ages.
First up, host Sarah Crespi talks with Staff Writer Jon Cohen about some tricky ethical questions that may arise after the first coronavirus vaccine is authorized for use in the United States. Will people continue to participate in clinical trials of other vaccines? Will it still be OK to give participants placebo vaccines?
Next, producer Meagan Cantwell talks with Bert Weckhuysen, a professor at Utrecht University, about a process for taking low-value plastic like polyethylene (often used for packaging and grocery bags) and “upcycling” it into biodegradable materials that can be used for new purposes.
The structure of a beetle’s super-strong exoskeleton could open up new engineering applications, and efforts to address diversity and equality imbalances in academia.
In this episode:
01:17 Insights into an armoured insect
The diabolical ironclad beetle has an exoskeleton so strong, it can survive being run over by a car. Researchers have identified how the structure of the exoskeleton provides this strength, and show that mimicking it may lead to improved aerospace components.
This week, the UK government announced plans to run a ‘human challenge trial’, where healthy volunteers are deliberately infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. We talk about the process, the ethical and procedural hurdles, and whether such an approach will provide any useful data.
Restoring degraded or human-utilised landscapes could help fight climate change and protect biodiversity. However, there are multiple costs and benefits that need to be balanced. Researchers hope a newly developed algorithm will help harmonise these factors and show the best locations to target restoration. Research Article: Strassburg et al.; News and Views: Prioritizing where to restore Earth’s ecosystems
Investigative journalist Charles Piller joins host Sarah Crespi to discuss his latest Science exclusive: a deep dive into the Food and Drug Administration’s protection of human subjects in clinical trials. Based on months of data analysis and interviews, he uncovered long-term failures in safety enforcement in clinical trials and potential problems with trial data used to make decisions about drug and device approvals.
Sarah also talks with Klaus-Robert Müller, a professor of machine learning at the Technical University of Berlin, about an artificial intelligence (AI) trained in the sport of curling—often described as a cross between bowling and chess. Although AI has succeeded in chess, Go, and poker, the constantly changing environment of curling is far harder for a nonhuman mind to adapt to. But AIs were the big winners in competitions with top human players, Müller and colleagues report this week in Science Robotics.
Despite recovering from an initial COVID-19 infection, many patients are experiencing severe symptoms months later. We find out about the impact of ‘Long Covid’ and the research that’s being done to try and understand it. News Feature: The lasting misery of coronavirus long-haulers
Radiation-detectors known as bolometers are vital instruments in many fields of science. This week, two groups of researchers have harnessed graphene to make super sensitive bolometers that could be used to improve quantum computers, or detect subtle traces of molecules on other planets. Research Article: Lee et al.; Research Article: Kokkoniemi et al.
27:49 Briefing Chat
We discuss some of the latest stories highlighted in the Nature Briefing. This week we chat about the lack of diversity in academia, and an animal ally that can protect wildlife during forest fires. Nature Careers: Diversity in science: next steps for research group leaders; National Geographic:
Nature reports on: Coaxing tiny colloid particles into a diamond structure, rapid antigen tests and manipulating cell death and homeostasis in neurodegenerative disease.
In this episode:
00:45 Creating colloidal crystals
For decades, researchers have attempted to create crystals with a diamond-like structure using tiny colloid particles. Now, a team thinks they’ve cracked it, which could open the door for new optical technologies. Research Article: He et al.
In neurodegenerative disease, cell death can be prevented, however this can lead to the accumulation of incorrectly folded proteins. Now researchers have found targets that can be used to both stop cell death and protein aggregation. Research Article: Xu et al.