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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 AGAINListen 30 min
Listen to 5th February 2009
PRESENTER
QUENTIN COOPER
Quentin Cooper
PROGRAMME DETAILS
Thursday 5th February 2009
Blast!
Getting ready for Blast! off ...

Up, Up and Away!

Quentin Cooper hears from two brothers about the perilous balloon flights of a special telescope in the Arctic and Antarctic and attempts to film them.

Their film, BLAST! (Named from the telescope - Balloon-borne, Large Aperture, Sub-millimetre Telescope - not their expletives), is now being screened.

Mark Devlin is an astronomer at the University of Pennsylvania.  But to study new stars in distant galaxies he needs to look at them in sub-millimetre wavelengths that don’t penetrate the Earth’s atmosphere.

Space missions are too slow and expensive so he attempts to fly his fragile telescope beneath a high-altitude balloon which takes it to the top of the atmosphere.

But to keep it in the sky takes constant daylight, or the gasses in the balloon would cool and it would drop from the sky.  So that means taking it above the Arctic or Antarctic circle in mid-summer. And that brings its own problems.

Mark’s brother, Paul, is an Emmy-award-winning film maker and has been following his brother’s team making a major documentary.

He captures the trials and tribulations, delays and panics, disappointments and triumphs of attempted launches from Sweden and Antarctica.

Iron in the Sea

Almost half the carbon dioxide that’s emitted into the air ends up being absorbed by plankton in the sea.

Plankton are as important at fixing carbon dioxide as are plants on land.

But the vast belt of ocean surrounding Antarctica, the Southern Ocean, is not pulling its weight.

As a controversial Indian-German experiment, LOHAFEX, heads for the Antarctic waters to see if additional plankton can be encouraged, Quentin hears what’s known about ocean fertilization using iron, what the lessons from previous experiments have been, and what it all has to do with the Ice Ages.

Raymond Pollard, from the National Ocean Centre, Southampton, and ecologist Geraint Tarling from the British Antarctic Survey.

Next week on Material World - the language of smell.
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