Science & Environment

Science week on PM

A listener to Radio 4's PM programme got in touch recently asking why it did not get more scientists involved directly in its output.

So, for a each day this week, the programme has spoken to one scientist about the work they are doing, to try to learn more about what impact their work might have, and why a scientist chooses their particular field of inquiry.

The idea was to break out of the topical habit of only ever inviting scientists on to explain a particular story just because it is in the news, and learn about what scientists are up to when they are not being talking heads on a particular programme.

Lucie Green: Space scientist at University College London's Department of Space and Climate Physics

Lucie Green spends much of her time staring at the Sun, examining its weather and how magnetic fields detach themselves from the Sun and launch enormous clouds of charged particles into space at great speed.

When these coronal mass ejections hit the Earth they can cause phenomena like the Northern Lights, but also can shut down electricity networks.

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Media captionLucie Green: Looking at the sun every day 'is fantastic'

Her work will help people to deal with space weather, and also understand more about the nature of the Sun. These ruptures cause sun quakes, through understanding these she might get closer to understanding what is inside the Sun.

Trevor Cox, Professor of acoustic engineering, University of Salford

Prof Cox tells PM presenter Eddie Mair about how he is aiming to produce intelligent amateur sound recording technology.

"I've got an intelligent mobile phone which looks out for faces when you take a picture and makes sure they are exposed properly... I want to do the audio equivalent of that," he explains.

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Media captionProf Trevor Cox: I want to solve recording problems

"What gets me is that recording are really poor quality... I want to solve the recording problems."

Reflecting on his experience in developing acoustics in performance rooms he says: "I spent my life trying to make rooms sound nice... now I'm spending my life looking for really weird rooms."

Jennifer Wild: Senior research fellow in clinical psychology, Oxford University

Dr Wild is training her students to traumatise people so she study a range of problems that develop after stressful events.

"We are learning that what happens after people are traumatised can really influence how they cope," she says. "We are showing people quite a number of horrible videos."

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Media captionDr Jennifer Wild: We are showing people horrible videos

She says that, for people who are regularly exposed to traumatic situations - like journalists in conflict zones, emergency service workers and peacekeepers "this [research] would be invaluable".

"People tend to over-remember what they try to forget."

Aoife McLysaght: Associate professor of genetics, Trinity College Dublin

Dr McLysaght outlines her work using evolutionary genetics to learn more about disease genes.

She explains, "We are trying to understand more about disease genes, and which are the disease genes, and what happens when they go wrong."

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Media captionProf McLysaght: What we do goes back about half a billion years

"You can go back as far as you like... back to the origins of life," she explains. "But what we do goes back about half a billion years."

And she she says her team is trying to "identify the vulnerabilities in terms of DNA" using the evolution of genes, to protect against disease in the future.

Tony Ryan: Polymer chemist at Sheffield University

Prof Tony Ryan is creating tiny plastic vessels that mimic human cells, about a ten-thousandth the width of a hair.

These could be inserted into the human body and work like little stealth bombs delivering cancer killing drugs in a highly targeted way.

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Media captionProfessor Tony Ryan's "little osmotic bombs"

It would be faster than chemotherapy and avoid the distressing side effects of such treatment.

Prof Ryan says his work was inspired by the 60s movie The Fantastic Voyage, comparing the vessels to "miniature submarines".

He explained how each one is a "little osmotic bomb", designed to fall apart only once it gets inside a cell with a pH different from that of blood, preventing the toxic chemotherapy drugs from affecting healthy cells.