19/03/2010

This week's programme presented by Andrew Luck-Baker

JUPITER'S RED SPOT
A storm that's already been raging for more than a hundred years with winds gusting up to 800 kilometres an hour and temperatures down to about minus 160 degrees Celsius. Fortunately this hurricane is not on Earth, but on Jupiter. New images, taken by massive 8m telescopes on Earth have revealed what the weather is really like on the planet's famous Red Spot. Andrew Luck-Baker speaks to Leigh Fletcher at the University of Oxford who is one of the scientists interpreting these new images.

INCA EMPIRE AND GLOBAL WARMING
In South America, along the Andes, rising temperatures are melting glaciers - which is in turn speeding soil erosion. This is disastrous for the highland communities there making a living from farming. But according to scientists working in Peru, the evidence from the bottom of an ancient lake suggests there are ways to adapt. Between nine hundred and five hundred years ago, this region underwent a period of climatic warming. Also during this time, the Inca people appeared in this area of Peru and developed an empire stretching from Ecuador to Chile. The international research team believes there's a link. Science in Action caught up with the BBC's Valeria Perasso who recently visited the scientists in Peru.

SURGICAL SILK
When a patient is opened up, has tissues cut and repaired – the mainstay of putting everything back together again is a needle and some sort of thread. Right now, the use of surgical glues is limited – they don't do a great job sticking wet things together. But researchers at the University of Utah are trying to rectify that by learning from the secretions of an insect. Caddisflies spend part of their lives as an underwater larval grubs. For protection, they build themselves tube-like casings – made of bits and pieces from the stream bed, all stuck together with fibres of a special kind of silk. Leader of the Utah team is Russell Stewart, who joined us on the programme.

MOLECULAR EVOLUTION
The caddisfly's sticky silk is a product of many millions of years of evolution. Now you won't find many biologists disagreeing about the fundamentals of Charles Darwin's explanation for life on Earth, but there's plenty of research still to be done to figure out the details. Some of the gaps were up for discussion at a meeting in Mozambique, organised by the British Council. Sue Broom was there and she spoke to Lars Jansen of the Gulbenkian Institute of Science in Portugal about how we inherit certain traits at the molecular level.

CAT COMMUNICATION
If you've got a pet cat, then you may think they are pretty smart and even manipulative, but their powers of persuasion are probably more finely tuned than you suspected. Maybe that should be, purrfectly tuned. Karen McComb, a researcher on animal communication at the UK's University of Sussex, describes a line of scientific enquiry that began in her bedroom early one morning with her cat waking her up.

Available now

28 minutes

Last on

Sun 21 Mar 2010 04:32 GMT

Gravitational Waves

'Ripples' from black holes detected

Gravity and ripples in the fabric of space time - what do these mean for us?