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#118: Heatwaves push limits of human tolerance; chemical computer to mimic brain; first non-human to practice medicine

Season 1, Ep. 118

It feels like temperature records are being broken almost daily. We’ve seen heatwaves already this year in Texas and Mexico, with forecast highs of 50oC set to hit Pakistan and India. As we edge closer to breaking 1.5 degrees of global warming in the next 5 years, Rowan speaks to climate scientist Vikki Thompson from the University of Bristol, to find out how heatwaves are pushing at the limits of what humans can cope with.


Chemical computers have taken a step up. Lee Cronin and his colleagues at the University of Glasgow have upgraded their 2019 machine, and it’s now fully programmable. The team discusses the project’s ultimate goal, to make a chemical brain and even explain consciousness.


Ants have the power to heal. The team explains how Matabele ants, large ants found in sub-Saharan Africa, have evolved the ability to diagnose infected wounds in their nestmates using an antimicrobial medicine that they produce themselves.


It’s estimated that covid-19 has now killed close to 15 million people. And with reports of rapid reinfections and new omicron sublineages emerging, the team finds out how worried we should be about getting covid multiple times, and what we can expect from future mutations of the virus.


The composer Jon Hopkins has been working with a team involving neuroscientist Anil Seth to create a hallucinogenic immersive experience called Dream Machine. New Scientist’s Carissa Wong has been in it, and shares her wild experience. We also treat you to the music from Dream Machine throughout this episode.


On the pod are Rowan Hooper, Penny Sarchet, Alice Klein, Karmela Padavic-Callaghan and Carissa Wong. To read about these stories and much more, subscribe at newscientist.com/podcasts.


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More Episodes

4/28/2022

#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.Events and discount codes:newscientist.com/pod20newscientist.com/love
4/21/2022

#115: Quantum consciousness; next decade of space exploration; songs played on rat whiskers

Season 1, Ep. 115
What is consciousness? We’ve discussed many theories on the podcast, but in this episode the team explores a particularly bonkers one. Experiments with anaesthetics have hinted that something might be going on at the quantum level with microtubules in the brain. But is this finding enough?Ever wondered what a rainbow sounds like? Or perhaps what sounds a rat’s whiskers would make if played like a harp? Then wonder no longer! You can hear these sounds and more as the team speaks to musician and TV presenter Richard Mainwaring about his new book ‘Everybody Hertz’.The next ten years of priorities for United States space exploration have been mapped out in the latest decadal survey. The team discusses some of the most exciting missions we can look forward to, including trips to Uranus and Enceladus, as well as a sample return mission from Mars.Taylor Swift is our Lifeform of the Week - but not the musician and global sensation. No, this is a newly discovered millipede named after her. The team uses this opportunity to explore the fascinating world of undiscovered species.Wording in the most recent IPCC report on the ‘Mitigation of Climate Change’ has come under scrutiny. The document says greenhouse gas emissions need to peak "at the latest before 2025". The team explains why that statement has been met with backlash.On the pod are Rowan Hooper, Chelsea Whyte, Sam Wong, Leah Crane and Adam Vaughan. To read about these stories and much more, subscribe at newscientist.com/podcasts.Events and discount codes:newscientist.com/pod20newscientist.com/courses
4/14/2022

#114: A message to aliens, phage therapy for acne, calibrating the world’s oldest computer

Season 1, Ep. 114
Two teams are developing messages to send into space, in the hope that some advanced alien civilization will be able to pick them up. While METI is sending music, Beacon in the Galaxy is sending more complex information, like Earth’s location - which as the team explains is rather controversial…Acne is usually treated using antibiotics, but as the issue of antibiotic resistance grows, researchers have been looking at alternative methods. The team discusses the promising early successes of phage therapy.Most of us overestimate just how diverse our environment is. A new study examining this ‘diversity illusion’ has shown that we tend to believe minority groups are larger in number than they actually are. The team finds out how the research was carried out, and whether we can combat this bias.Known by some as the world’s first computer, the Antikythera mechanism is an ancient Greek device that acts sort of like a clock. Now a group of researchers thinks they’ve found out the exact date and time it was calibrated to, and the team explains how they worked it out.Rhesus macaque monkeys may be as aware of their own heartbeats as human babies. The team examines a new study which looked at a kind of self awareness called interoception, the ability to detect your own internal state..On the pod are Penny Sarchet, Chelsea Whyte, Leah Crane, Jason Murugesu and Matthew Sparkes. To read about these stories and much more, subscribe at newscientist.com/podcasts.Events and discount codes:newscientist.com/pod20newscientist.com/lovenewscientist.com/courses