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Science
THE MATERIAL WORLD
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Thursday 16:30-17:00
Quentin Cooper reports on developments across the sciences. Each week scientists describe their work, conveying the excitement they feel for their research projects.
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Listen to 22 June
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QUENTIN COOPER
Quentin Cooper
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Thursday 22 June 2006
Artist's rendition of Earth's magnetosphere (credit: NASA)
Artist's impression of Earth's magnetosphere (credit: NASA)

Paleomagnetism

The earth's magnetic field has decayed approximately five per cent each century since the first accurate measurements began in 1840.

If this trend continues then the magnetic field could either reverse or disappear sometime this millennium.

It wouldn't be the first time. The magnetic field has reversed in the past - each time millions of years apart.

To gain a greater understanding of the decline in the strength of the magnetic field, researchers have gone even further back in time, studying the period between 1590 till 1840.

Professor David Gubbins of Leeds University and Professor John Shaw of Liverpool University, join Quentin Cooper to discuss how they used old sailing ships' logbooks in their analysis of the changing strength of the earth's magnetic field.

The Language of the Piraha
 
Professor Dan Everett of Manchester University first encountered the Piraha people, a tribe of Amazonian Indians, in 1977.

He has revisited the tribe many times in the ensuing 30 years to study their singular language.

The Piraha language has a very simple syntax, but its verbs have forms numbering 216.

They have no words for numbers or colours, and no understanding of abstract concepts.

Prof. Everett believes that the Piraha language doesn't conform to Noam Chomsky's theory of Universal Grammar: the idea that all languages share the same principles of grammar.

Ian Roberts, Professor of Linguistics at the University of Cambridge, isn't convinced by this.

Quentin Cooper chairs as they debate the theory.
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