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#116: DNA from outer space; Devi Sridhar on covid lessons; climate change in an Oxford wood

Season 1, Ep. 116

Could life on Earth have an extraterrestrial origin? The team revisits this ancient theory as we’ve now found all four of the key building blocks of DNA on meteorites that are older than our planet.


There may be a warning signal in our brains that helps us keep out unwanted thoughts. The team hears about the fascinating word-pairing method researchers used to identify this mechanism, and how the findings could help people with PTSD, OCD, and anxiety disorders.


When we talk about climate change, we often think of its dramatic global consequences. But it’s having effects everywhere and to make that point, this week Rowan visits Wytham Woods in Oxfordshire. Speaking to Oxford University biologist Ella Cole, he hears how spring has jumped forward nearly a month since research began at Wytham 75 years ago.


Just a few weeks after the shock discovery of the W boson anomaly, physicists have written more than 65 new papers trying to explain what’s going on. The team says this has led to an exciting surge of new ideas about the standard model of particle physics, and the revival of some old theories too.


Devi Sridhar, professor of global public health at the University of Edinburgh, has become well known over the last couple of years for her analysis and advice about the pandemic. Rowan speaks to her about her new book, Preventable: How a Pandemic Changed the World & How to Stop the Next One.


On the pod are Rowan Hooper, Chelsea Whyte and Leah Crane. To read about these stories and much more, subscribe at newscientist.com/podcasts.


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6/23/2022

#124: Lopsided universe; solar activity affects heart health; hero rats trained for rescue missions

Season 1, Ep. 124
If you like things orderly, we have bad news for you - our universe is lopsided. Based on everything we know about gravity and the early universe, we’d expect galaxies to be distributed symmetrically - but they’re not. Something spooky’s going on, and the team searches for answers.The activity of the Sun may be affecting our heart health. Sometimes the weather on the Sun gets a little chaotic, and the team discusses new research that suggests these solar storms are messing with our heart rhythms, raising the risk of heart attacks.African pouched rats are being trained as heroes. Donning special little backpacks, they will use their keen sense of smell to go on search and rescue missions. The team explains why they’ve been chosen for the task.Last September El Salvador became the first country to make cryptocurrency legal tender. But with the value of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies plummeting, the team examines what the future holds.Covid-19 is proving resilient, and as new variants of omicron emerge, infection rates still remain high. As omicron is milder than its predecessors, the team asks whether we should still be worried about the disease, and they find out how it may continue to evolve.On the pod are Rowan Hooper, Penny Sarchet, Michael Le Page, Corryn Wetzel, Leah Crane, Jacob Aron and Alice Klein. To read about these stories and much more, subscribe at newscientist.com/podcasts.Events and discount codes:InsideTracker: insidetracker.com/NewScientistNew Scientist Live Event: newscientist.com/childhood20% Discount: newscientist.com/pod20
6/16/2022

#123: ‘Sentient’ claim for Google AI; spacecraft spots starquakes; the rise of the mammals; hot brains

Season 1, Ep. 123
How will we know when we’ve made a truly sentient artificial intelligence? Well, one Google engineer believes we’re already there. The team discusses the story of Google’s very clever AI called LaMDA, and ask another chatbot, GPT3, what it would think if LaMDA was destroyed.Did you know stars have ‘earthquakes’ too? These starquakes have been spotted by the Gaia space observatory, which aims to build a 3D map of all the stars in our galaxy. It’s been collecting a phenomenal amount of data, and the team explores its findings.Net Zero pledges are becoming more popular - which is great - but a lot of them aren’t being acted on. According to a new consortium Net Zero Tracker, a worrying number of these pledges aren’t credible. The team finds out how the group aims to hold companies to account.Our brains are hotter than we realised - 2.5 degrees celsius hotter in fact. The team asks why we’re only just finding this out in 2022, and how the discovery may improve care for people undergoing brain surgery.Steve Brusatte is best known as a dinosaur palaeontologist, but he has turned his attention now to our own class, the mammals. Rowan chats with him, and amongst other things finds out how enslaved Africans in South Carolina were instrumental in the development of palaeontology.On the pod are Rowan Hooper, Penny Sarchet, Clare Wilson,Matt Sparkes and James Dinneen. To read about these stories and much more, subscribe at newscientist.com/podcasts.Events and discount codes:InsideTracker: insidetracker.com/NewScientistFree giveaway: newscientist.com/4weeksfree20% Discount: newscientist.com/pod20
6/9/2022

#122: The science of Top Gun; the 1.5°C climate goal is out of reach; return to the moon; hepatitis mystery

Season 1, Ep. 122
While it may be technically possible to keep global heating to 1.5°C it’s really not very likely - at all. So why are we clinging to it? The team asks, when do we admit that 1.5°C is dead, and what will it mean when we do?NASA is about to launch its CAPSTONE spacecraft into lunar orbit, paving the way for its lunar space station. As a precursor to the Artemis mission to put people back on the moon, CAPSTONE is basically a test run, and the team explains its goals.Rowan’s been to see Top Gun: Maverick, and he’s found a way of making it about science - or technology, at least. In the film we see many new applications of technology and artificial intelligence in warfare, so we chat with AI and drone expert Arthur Holland Michel to discuss the future of combat and what Top Gun 3 might look like in another thirty years.The team brings you an incredibly exotic life form of the week… chickens! It turns out that chickens were domesticated a lot more recently than we thought. Hear some of the humorous archaeological blunders that have led to this confusion.In recent months doctors around the world have been reporting mysterious cases of children suddenly developing liver failure. While we don’t know what’s happening, the team explores some possible explanations.On the pod are Rowan Hooper, Penny Sarchet, Michael Le Page and Adam Vaughan. To read about these stories and much more, subscribe at newscientist.com/podcasts.Events and discount codes:Free giveaway: newscientist.com/4weeksfree20% Discount: newscientist.com/pod20Blue Dot Festival: discoverthebluedot.comUnderstanding the AI revolution: newscientist.com/aievent