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Science
THE MATERIAL WORLD
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Thursday 16:30-17:00
Simon Singh reports on developments across the sciences. Each week scientists describe their work, conveying the excitement they feel for their research projects.

material.world@bbc.co.uk
LISTEN AGAINListen 30 min
Listen to 24 October
PRESENTER
SIMON SINGH
Simon Singh
PROGRAMME DETAILS
Thursday 24 October 2002
Telescope

Adaptive Optics

The cold war gave birth to a technology which enables astronomers to look at distant stars and could soon allow surgeons to examine individual cells in the retina of a human eye. Simon Singh will be speaking to the scientists who are studying the exciting world of Adaptive Optics.

Adaptive optics was developed during the cold war as a method for trying to image soviet satellites. The atmosphere normally affects the view of satellites through telescopes, and also affects the view of stars by distorting the image. Adaptive optics corrects this distortion, by measuring the shape of incoming light from a telescope and reflecting the image off a deformable mirror.

Looking through the eye has similar problems to seeing through the atmosphere, so it is possible to improve the clarity of retinal images by using adaptive optics. This will allow for better diagnosis of eye diseases. It is also possible to use adaptive optics to investigate how vision works by shining light on a single photoreceptive cell. Simon will be finding out how adaptive optics is affecting our lives. It could even enable CDs to store more data and make more powerful lasers.

Search Engines

Anyone who knows anything about the web knows that it's big. There are now over 1 billion pages covering everything under the sun, and more besides. So how on earth do we navigate our way around this colossus of information?

The answer is, of course, the internet search engine. But the front pages of such sites as Google, Yahoo and Altavista are hiding hugely complex and refined systems for cataloguing and analysing millions of web pages. Search engines have to keep up with the rapidly growing size of the World Wide Web, and their designers are constantly trying to outwit page designers, who think they can cheat the engines to come top of the search rankings.

Simon Singh talks to Professor Mike Jackson from the Search Engine Evaluation and Development Group at Wolverhampton University, and Professor Stephen Robertson from Microsoft Research Laboratory, Cambridge to find out how they were invented, how they work, and what the future holds for the programs that effectively control our access to the web.

Read the transcript of the BBCi Science chatroom discussion about Search Engines that followed the programme, with Simon Singh and his guests.
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