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CultureLab: The Royal Flying Doctors - Saving lives in the Australian outback

The Australian outback is vast and the population is really spread out. This makes getting access to emergency healthcare incredibly challenging, as you may be a thousand kilometres or more from the nearest major hospital. The solution? Australia’s Royal Flying Doctor Service – one of the largest aeromedical organisations in the world, and, at nearly 100 years old, the first of its kind.

In this bonus episode of the podcast, Australia reporter Alice Klein speaks to two RFDS team members about some of their incredible rescue operations, from saving a man who crashed his motorbike into an emu, to rescuing a child with a broken femur. She also hears the gut-wrenching tale of Michelle, who says she owes her life to the RFDS.

To read about subjects like this and much more, visit newscientist.com.

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  • 246. Weekly: Carbon storage targets ‘wildly unrealistic’; world’s biggest brain-inspired computer; do birds dream?

    33:01
    #246Our best climate models for helping limit global warming to 1.5oC may have wildly overestimated our chances. To reach this goal, models are relying heavily on geological carbon storage, a technology that removes carbon from the atmosphere and places it underground. But it may not be nearly as effective as models have suggested, making the task of decarbonising much more difficult. Do we need to rethink our approach?Intel has announced it has constructed the world’s biggest computer modelled on the human brain and nervous system. This neuromorphic computer, called Hala Point, may only be the size of a microwave oven, but its innovative technology could someday run artificial intelligence that’s smarter and more energy efficient.After a blast of sound from a keyboard shot through her whole body, experimental musician Lola De La Mata was hit with debilitating tinnitus. It was so profound it left her with vertigo, difficulty walking, speech problems and unable to make music. Years later, she is now putting a spotlight on the condition with a new album, Oceans on Azimuth. Hear her story and music from the album in a special feature. Plus, read Clare Wilson’s recent feature about the future of tinnitus and hearing loss.Do birds dream? They just might. Birds’ vocal cords move in their sleep, as if they’re singing, but don’t actually make a sound. Now researchers have managed to use these vocal movements to synthesise their songs and hear them aloud – with surprising results. Does this prove that birds dream?Plus: The biggest stellar mass black hole ever found is very close by; fossil hunters uncover the jawbone of an extinct reptile that may have been the biggest ever to swim the oceans; how skin wounds can cause gut problems.Hosts Timothy Revell and Christie Taylor discuss with guests Madeleine Cuff, Matt Sparkes and Karmela Padavic-Callaghan. To read more about these stories, visit newscientist.com.
  • 1. Dead Planets Society: How to Destroy A Black Hole

    24:59
    How do you destroy a black hole? Turns out they're pretty tough cookies.Kicking off a brand new series of Dead Planets Society, Chelsea Whyte and Leah Crane take on the universe's most powerful adversaries. With the help of their cosmic toolbelt and black hole astronomer Allison Kirkpatrick at the University of Kansas, they test all the destructive ideas they can think of.Whether it’s throwing masses of TNT at it, blasting it with a t-shirt gun full of white holes, loading it up with a multiverse worth of matter, or sending it back in time – they try everything to kill a black hole. Will they succeed?Dead Planets Society is a podcast that takes outlandish ideas about how to tinker with the cosmos – from punching a hole in a planet to unifying the asteroid belt to destroying the sun – and subjects them to the laws of physics to see how they fare.Your hosts are Leah Crane and Chelsea Whyte.If you have a cosmic object you’d like to figure out how to destroy, email the team at deadplanets@newscientist.com. It may just feature in a later episode…
  • 245. Weekly: The multiverse just got bigger; saving the white rhino; musical mushrooms

    29:29
    #245The multiverse may be bigger than we thought. The idea that we exist in just one of a massive collection of alternate universes has really captured the public imagination in the last decade. But now Hugh Everett’s 60-year-old “many worlds interpretation”, based on quantum mechanics, has been upgraded.The northern white rhino is on the brink of extinction but we may be able to save it. Scientists plan to use frozen genes from 12 now dead rhinos to rebuild the entire subspecies. But how do you turn skin cells into actual rhinos and will it work?A single-celled alga has done something thought to have happened just three times in the entire history of life on Earth. Braarudosphaera bigelowii has formed a unique bond with a bacterium living inside it and has developed a new cellular structure. This organelle may be why this alga became so successful and widespread.We’ve got a new way of looking for aliens without having to go planet hopping. The method involves scouting the universe for planets that are close together and look similar to each other – hinting that an advanced civilisation may have colonised them.We’ve had the orbits of the planets turned into music, we’ve heard the sonification of data and even heard what a black hole sounds like. This time, it’s the turn of mushrooms. Musician and artist Brian D’Souza has used a process called biosonification to produce musical tones from Shiitake and Reishi mushrooms. Learn more about Brian D’Souza here. And get details of his live performance on April 19th here.Plus, we mark the passing this week of Peter Higgs, who first proposed the existence of the Higgs boson and later won the Nobel Prize for his efforts.Hosts Timothy Revell and Rowan Hooper discuss with guests Karmela Padavic-Callaghan, Michael Le Page and Corryn Wetzel. To read more about these stories, visit newscientist.com.
  • CultureLab: Jen Gunter on the taboo science of menstruation

    39:17
    Half of the human population undergoes the menstrual cycle for a significant proportion of their lifetimes, yet periods remain a taboo topic in public and private life. And that makes it harder both to prioritise necessary scientific research into conditions like endometriosis and for people to understand the basics of how their bodies work.Blood: The Science, Medicine, and Mythology of Menstruation is gynaecologist Jen Gunter’s latest book. In this practical guide, she dispels social, historical and medical myths about menstruation and offers answers to your biggest period-related questions – including why we menstruate in the first place, when a missed period is a health concern and “how heavy is too heavy?”In this episode, Christie Taylor speaks to Gunter about how humans are part of an exclusive club of menstruators in the animal kingdom, the persisting social stigma around menstruation and menopause, and why these processes remain under-researched in science despite their vast importance. Plus, a call from Gunter to take seriously the very individual and sometimes painful experiences people may have with their periods, while also creating more access to menstrual care.  To read about subjects like this and much more, visit newscientist.com.
  • 244. Weekly: Miniature livers made from lymph nodes in groundbreaking medical procedure

    30:58
    #244Researchers have successfully turned lymph nodes into miniature livers that help filter the blood of mice, pigs and other animals – and now, trials are beginning in humans. If successful, the groundbreaking medical procedure could prove life-saving for thousands of people waiting for liver transplants around the world. So far, no complications have been seen from the procedure, but it will be several months before we know if the treatment is working as hoped in the first of 12 trial participants with end-stage liver disease.Even on a remote island untouched by tourists, fishing, pollution and development, the climate crisis is still wreaking havoc on the coral of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Reporter James Woodford visited One Tree Island, a refuge ordinarily spared from the reef’s past catastrophic bleaching events, and discovered that this year’s marine heatwave has managed to reach even that protected spot. There, he spoke with coral experts and now shares both the science and the difficult experience of witnessing environmental devastation. Russia is suspected of launching a record-breaking GPS jamming attack, a form of electronic warfare that’s been on the rise in parts of Europe since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Lasting more than 63 hours, the newest attack impacted thousands of aircraft, which rely on GPS for navigation. Is the threat set to continue – and how can GPS-reliant airlines adjust?Snakes might be self-aware just like humans – another animal to add to the growing list. The mirror test, which investigates how animals respond to versions of their reflections, has long been used to detect self-recognition in everything from orangutans to roosters and horses. To test snakes, however, a smell-based method had to be invented, which garter snakes have passed. Does this change our understanding of reptiles?Plus: Detecting what may be the smallest galaxy in the known universe; how babies recognise spoken nursery rhymes heard in the womb; and why you should “yell at” your misbehaving robot.Hosts Christie Taylor and Timothy Revell discuss with guests Grace Wade, James Woodford, Jeremy Hsu and Chen Ly. To read more about these stories, visit newscientist.com.
  • Escape Pod: #8 Escape from predators and escape from the planet

    18:48
    This is a re-airing of a podcast originally released in March 2021.From beetle explosions to the deep dark depths of the ocean, this episode is all about escape.The team discusses the amazing (and sometimes disgusting) way bombardier beetles escape predators.They explain what it takes for an object to reach escape velocity, celebrating the mathematical mind of Katherine Johnson while they’re at it.And they explore the daunting realms of free-diving, and the lengths people will go to for a bit of peace and quiet.On the pod are Rowan Hooper, Anna Demming and Timothy Revell.Find out more at newscientist.com/podcasts
  • 243. Weekly: Immune system treatment makes old mice seem young again; new black hole image; unexploded bombs are becoming more dangerous

    26:10
    #243As we age our immune systems do too, making us less able to fight infections and more prone to chronic inflammation. But a team of scientists has been able to reverse these effects in mice, rejuvenating their immune systems by targeting their stem cells. But there’s a long road to trying the same thing in humans.Have you seen the incredible new black hole image? Just a couple of years since the Event Horizon Telescope’s first, fuzzy image of Sagittarius A* – the black hole at the centre of our galaxy – a new picture offers a closer look. The stunning image released this week features the spiralling lines of Sgr A*’s magnetic field, which is seeding new questions about how black holes behave.Millions of tonnes of unexploded ordnance litter the globe from conflicts both ongoing and long past. And as time passes these bombs are not getting any less dangerous – new research finds some are actually becoming more prone to exploding.Physicists have theorised that there is a particle called the graviton that carries the force of gravity – much like a photon carries light, or a gluon carries the strong nuclear force. But the graviton has so far remained elusive. Now, researchers think they’ve seen one, or at least a particle with the correct properties to be a graviton. How this experiment unfolded, and why even a possible sighting is exciting to theorists.Plus: How a bad night’s sleep makes you feel older; why therapy horses get stressed when they don’t have a choice; and a robot that can design, build and test paper planes.Hosts Christie Taylor and Sophie Bushwick discuss with guests Grace Wade, Alex Wilkins, Michael Le Page and Karmela Padavic-Callaghan. To read more about these stories, visit newscientist.com.
  • CultureLab: Stranded on a fantastical planet: The strange creatures of Scavengers Reign

    33:01
    Fish you wear like a gas mask, moss that turns a robot sentient and critters that will eat your rash – all these oddities and more cohabit on the planet Vesta, the setting for the animated miniseries Scavengers Reign, where a group of human space travellers must innovate with what they find in the landscape to survive. While all this sounds fantastical, there are many parallels with Earth’s ecosystem and the way we regularly borrow technology from the natural world. New Scientist physics reporter Karmela Padavic-Callaghan often writes about biomimicry and bio-inspired devices and has been fascinated by the symbiotic, connected ecosystem the show portrays.In this episode, they speak to biophysicist Saad Bhamla and ecologist Meghan Brown about the the science that underpins the series and how surprisingly close to reality some of the ecological interactions are. Plus how even fantastical fiction can shape a scientific mind.To read about subjects like this and much more, visit newscientist.com.
  • 242. Weekly: How declining birth rates could shake up society; Humanoid robots; Top prize in mathematics

    27:17
    #242Human population growth is coming to an end. The global population is expected to peak between 2060 and 2080, then start falling. Many countries will have much lower birth rates than would be needed to support ageing populations. These demographic projections have major implications for the way our societies function, including immigration and transportation, and what kinds of policies and systems we need. Remember Rosie the Robot from The Jetsons? Humanoid robots capable of many different tasks may be one step closer after two big announcements from chip-making giant NVIDIA. The company revealed what it calls its most powerful AI chip yet, as well as a new computer for humanoid robots called Jetson Thor.A group of California orcas known as transient killer whales have been observed using a never-before seen way of hunting down prey in the deep waters of the open ocean. Until now, their distance from the coast had kept this group’s hunting methods mysterious. It turns out these orcas have ingenious and brutal methods for hunting whale calves and other mammals. Two big maths stories this week. The Abel prize has gone to mathematician Michel Talagrand for his groundbreaking work in understanding randomness. His work has been integral in everything from weather forecasts to large language models and quantum computers. Plus, a group of mathematicians plans to direct a computer to prove the famously complex final theorem of the long-dead Pierre de Fermat – which could advance the field of mathematics research immensely if successful. Plus: Archaeologists uncover a perfectly preserved ancient settlement in Britain; bad news for life in the universe as one in twelve stars may be gobbling up their orbiting planets; why teenagers’ sweat is particularly smelly.Hosts Christie Taylor and Timothy Revell discuss with guests Clare Wilson, Jeremy Hsu, Chen Ly and Alex Wilkins. To read more about these stories, visit newscientist.com.