Series 2: Prog 7: 18/05/08

This week, Adam Walton discovers some new skills: how to become an astronaut; how to find new sources of energy from plants and from tyres; and how to walk through a sheet of paper.

Sunday 18th May at 5.03pm

(Repeated Wednesday 21st May at 9.30pm)

Launch Pad to a New Career

This week the European Space Agency launches a search for a new batch of astronauts - the first recruits to the European Astronaut Selection for ten years. They're looking for four trainees who must be between the ages of 27 and 37, physically fit, have a scientific background and the right psychological make-up. ESA say that they're not looking for 'the right stuff' but 'the right staff'. Adam speaks to Guillaume Weerts of the European Space Agency to find out what the successful candidates can expect to be doing.

The Car That Ate Itself

Around 40 million car tyres are used and discarded every year in the UK alone and disposing of them is become a considerable headache. An EU ban on tyres in landfill means that recycling them is clearly the best plan and a company in Wrexham has come up with a very useful way to do that. Used Tyre Distillation Research heats up used tyres in an oxygen-deprived atmosphere and turns them into oil which could be used as car fuel. Science Cafe reporter Nan Pickering went along to the pilot plant to meet Paul Archer of UTD Research and environmental chemist Dr. Vera Thoss of Bangor University whose car has been used as the 'guinea pig' for the new fuel.

Power Plants

Since we're on the subject of new sources of power, another potential source is bursting into life all around us at the moment. This month gardens, parks and the countryside are vivid green as plants spring up and unfurl their leaves. They're soaking up the sunlight and using the energy to make their own food. So couldn't we replicate photosynthesis and a plant's ability to harness sunlight and create energy for ourselves? A team of scientists from the School of Chemistry at Bangor University are now working on the feasibility of using plant membranes in a solar panel. It's called 'biosolar energy' and Dr. Peter Holliman who leads the Bangor team joins Adam on this week's programme to explain more about the 'superleaf'.

Good Fiction. Bad Science?

Why do science fiction films so often get the science wrong? From spacecraft whooshing past in Star Wars (space is a vacuum and therefore silent) to a whole catalogue of errors in The Core, science isn't Hollywood's strong suit. However, there are some films which go against the grain and get it right. Michael Marshall, online reporter for New Scientist magazine has been compiling a list of good science in science fiction movies and he reveals the reasons for his choices to Adam on this week's programme. Here's his top 5:

  • 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
  • Alien (1979)
  • Gattaca (1997)
  • Solaris (1972 and 2002)

Espresso Science

In last week's Espresso Science, John Griffith of the Techniquest @ NEWI Science Discovery Centre in Wrexham took a strip of paper and turned a two-sided object into something with only one surface. This week he has his scissors ready again to demonstrate how you can pass Adam Walton through a sheet of paper using the science of topology.
Listen onlineListen to this week's Espresso Science


ESA European Astronaut Selection

New Scientist


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