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Science
LEADING EDGE
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Thursday 21:00-21:30
Leading Edge brings you the latest news from the world of science. Geoff Watts celebrates discoveries as soon as they're being talked about - on the internet, in coffee rooms and bars; often before they're published in journals. And he gets to grips with not just the science, but with the controversies and conversation that surround it.
radioscience@bbc.co.uk
LISTEN AGAINListen 30 min
Listen to 11 July
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GEOFF WATTS
Geoff Watts
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Thursday 11 July 2002
A new genus of hominid found in northern Chad
Images courtesy of M.P.F.T.

Time for Toumai

This week Leading Edge reports on an amazing fossilised skull recently recovered from the Djurab desert in northern Chad - which has been assigned to a brand new genus of hominid. Called Toumaï (after the name given to babies that are born just before the dry season in the region) it is associated with a fauna which indicates an age close to 7 million years ago.

Toumai displays unique characteristics which suggest a close relationship to the last common ancestor between Humans and Chimpanzees - indicating that he is a likely ancestor of all later hominids. His geographic location also suggests earlier pan-African distribution of hominids and chimpanzee-human divergence than previously indicated by most molecular studies.

Geoff Watts hears from Professor Michel Brunet, Director of the Mission Paléoanthropologique Franco Tchadienne who reports his team's findings in the latest edition of Nature magazine. And he discusses the implications of this discovery with experts Henry Gee of Nature and Leslie Aiello of University College London.

Sceptics in Science

If you think that finds like these might be mere skull-duggery then you would have felt at home at this year's Fourth World Skeptics Conference in California. Catastrophic collision course orbits and incredible crop circles are a few of many fallible phenomena. Molly Bentley talks to the self-proclaimed sceptics who believe that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof and asks if their scepticism should skew sensible scientific investigation.

Better ways to Breathe?

Monitoring the electrical activity of the brain using electroencephalography or EEG is a routine form of investigation in neurology clinics. However Tobias Egner and John Gruzelier at Imperial College London are trying it out as a new method of helping musicians improve their performance. Several techniques already exist - the best known being Alexander technique, a set of exercises that emphasise posture and breathing. Geoff Watts finds out how displaying brain activity as a wavy trace on a screen seems to be the most effective way for musicians - and perhaps others - to prepare their minds for a creative performance.

Joining Geoff to discuss these exciting discoveries will be Gabrielle Walker, consultant to New Scientist magazine. They also find out how scientists have built the world's first artificial virus.

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