Cover art for podcast The Life Scientific

The Life Scientific

201 EpisodesProduced by BBC Radio 4Website

Professor Jim Al-Khalili talks to leading scientists about their life and work, finding out what inspires them and asking what their discoveries might do for us in the future.

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Elizabeth Fisher on chromosomes in mice and men

November 12th, 2019

28:02

Elizabeth Fisher, Professor of Neurogenetics at University College London, spent 13 years getting her idea – finding a new way of studying genetic …

Demis Hassabis on artificial intelligence

November 5th, 2019

32:39

In the 200th episode of The Life Scientific, Jim Al-Khalili finds out why Demis Hassabis wants to create artificial intelligence and use it to help humanity.
Thinking about how to win at chess when he was a boy got Demis …

Saiful Islam on materials to power the 21st century

October 29th, 2019

28:25

Not so long ago, all batteries were single use. And solar power was an emerging and expensive technology. Now, thanks to rechargeable batteries, we …

Adrian Owen on scanning for awareness in the injured brain

October 22nd, 2019

28:46

Neuroscientist Adrian Owen has spent much of his career exploring what he calls ‘the grey zone’, a realm of consciousness inhabited by people with severe brain injuries, who are aware yet unable to respond to those …

Martha Clokie on the viruses that could improve our health

October 15th, 2019

34:55

Could viruses improve our health where antibiotics have failed? As a child, Martha Clokie spent a lot of time collecting seaweed on Scottish beaches. …

Anne Magurran on how to measure biodiversity

October 8th, 2019

27:42

Anne Magurran started her career as an ecologist counting moths in an ancient woodland in northern Ireland in the 1970s, when the study of biological …

Richard Wiseman on lying, luck and the paranormal

October 1st, 2019

28:21

How do you tell if someone is lying? When Richard Wiseman, Professor of the Public Understanding of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire, …

Jonathan Ball on his arms race against viruses

July 30th, 2019

27:55

Ebola, Zika, Sars, Mers - rarely a week goes by without a deadly virus stealing the headlines.

For Jonathan Ball, getting to know a virus at its …

Robin Dunbar on why we have friends

July 23rd, 2019

27:35

Maintaining friendships is one of the most cognitively demanding things we do, according to Professor of Evolutionary Psychology Robin Dunbar. So why …

Katherine Joy on moon rock

July 16th, 2019

29:25

Katherine Joy studies moon rock. She has studied lunar samples that were brought to earth by the Apollo missions (382kg in total) and hunted for …

DNA detective Turi King

July 9th, 2019

28:50

When a skeleton was unearthed in 2012 from under the tarmac of a car park in Leicester, Turi King needed to gather irrefutable evidence to prove that this really was the body of Richard III, England's infamous medieval …

Ewine van Dishoeck on cosmic chemistry

July 2nd, 2019

27:33

Ewine van Dishoeck has spent her life studying the space between the stars. Not so long ago, interstellar space was thought to be an empty, sterile …

Plastic pollution with Richard Thompson

June 25th, 2019

27:41

A Professor of Marine Biology who was not particularly academic at school, Richard Thompson went to university after running his own business selling …

Erica McAlister on the beauty of flies

April 16th, 2019

30:53

Dr Erica McAlister, of London's Natural History Museum, talks to Jim Al-Khalili about the beautiful world of flies and the 2.5 million specimens for …

Richard Peto on why smoking kills but quitting saves lives

April 9th, 2019

29:00

When Sir Richard Peto began work with the late Richard Doll fifty years ago, the UK had the worst death rates from smoking in the world. Smoking was …

Irene Tracey on pain in the brain

April 2nd, 2019

28:19

Pain, as we know, is highly personal. Some can cope with huge amounts, while others reel in agony over a seemingly minor injury. Though you might feel the stab of pain in your stubbed toe or sprained ankle, it is …

Paul Davies on the origin of life and the evolution of cancer

March 26th, 2019

29:01

Physicist, Paul Davies is interested in some of the biggest questions that we can ask. What is life? How did the universe begin? How will it end? And …

Corinne Le Quéré on the global carbon cycle

March 19th, 2019

27:49

Throughout the history of planet Earth, the element carbon has cycled between the atmosphere, the oceans and the biosphere. This natural cycle has maintained the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and has …

Ken Gabriel, Why your Smartphone is Smart.

March 13th, 2019

27:50

How insight with a stick and piece of string led to an engineering adventure taking in spacecraft, military guidance systems and the micro-mechanical devices we use every day in our computers and smartphones.

Ken Gabriel …

2018 Nobel Prize winner, Donna Strickland, on laser physics

March 5th, 2019

29:21

When the first laser was built in 1960, it was an invention looking for an application. Science fiction found uses for these phenomenally powerful …

Gwen Adshead on treating the minds of violent offenders

February 26th, 2019

28:09

Whether it’s a news story or television drama, human violence appals and fascinates in equal measure. Yet few of us choose to dwell on what …

2018 Chemistry Nobel Prize winner, Sir Gregory Winter

February 19th, 2019

29:30

In an astonishing story of a scientific discovery, Greg Winter tells Jim Al-Khalili how decades of curiosity-driven research led to a revolution in …

Sue Black on women in tech

February 12th, 2019

27:50

Sue Black left home and school when she was 16. Aged 25, she attended an access course to get the qualifications she needed to go to university to …

Jim Al-Khalili on HIS life scientific

February 5th, 2019

36:00

In an ideal (quantum) world, Jim Al-Khalili would be interviewing himself about his life as a scientist but since the production team can’t access a …

Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell

December 19th, 2018

28:27

Jim Al-Khalili talks to astronomer Jocelyn Bell Burnell.

Jocelyn Bell Burnell forged her own path through the male-dominated world of science - in the days when it was unusual enough for women to work, let alone make …

Clive Oppenheimer on the volcanic offerings of our angry earth

December 11th, 2018

28:46

Clive Oppenheimer has, more than once, been threatened with guns (a Life Scientific first?). He's dodged and ducked lava bombs and he's risked …

Sky at Night presenter Maggie Aderin-Pocock

December 4th, 2018

28:29

Maggie Aderin-Pocock has been fascinated by space since she was a young child. When she was six years old she caught the bug when she saw a picture …

Banning chemical weapons with Alastair Hay

November 27th, 2018

36:50

Alastair Hay, now Emeritus Professor of Environmental Toxicology at the University of Leeds, is a chemist who’s had a dual career as an academic …

Formula One engineer Caroline Hargrove

November 20th, 2018

27:45

How do you convince Formula One racing drivers that they are speeding round the race track at Le Mans when, in fact, they are sitting in a simulator …

Mike Stratton and cancer genes

November 13th, 2018

28:11

When Michael Stratton was a young doctor he would diagnose cancer by studying tissue samples under a microscope. However, over the past 30 years he’s …

Detective of the mind Dr Suzanne O'Sullivan

November 6th, 2018

27:57

Suzanne O'Sullivan has been described as “a detective of the mind”. She’s a neurologist who helps some patients with the strangest of symptoms, from …

Noel Fitzpatrick on becoming a supervet

October 30th, 2018

28:04

For all his success as a Supervet on TV and as a pioneering orthopedic surgeon, Noel Fitzpatrick insists that his life has been full of failures. He …

Jacqueline McGlade on monitoring the environment from space

October 23rd, 2018

27:32

An ecologist who fell in love with computing, Jacqueline McGlade pioneered the use of satellites study the state of the global environment. Today …

Rachel Mills exploring the sea floor

June 19th, 2018

27:47

Professor Rachel Mills is a marine geochemist who studies the sea floor and hydrothermal vents, where water erupts from the earth's crust at 360 …

Frank Close and particle physics

June 12th, 2018

41:42

Frank Close is a theoretical particle physicist and a pioneer of popular writing about physics. His first book aimed at a non-specialist audience, …

Sheena Cruickshank on the wonders of the human immune system

June 5th, 2018

28:02

Traditional descriptions of the human immune system bristle with military analogies. There are "lines of defence" against "enemy invaders"; "border guards" at "strategic points. And when barriers are breached, there's …

John Taylor on being an inventor

May 29th, 2018

28:02

John Crawshaw Taylor is a prolific inventor who specialises in designing and manufacturing thermostatic controls. His ingenious integrated control …

Cat Hobaiter on communication in apes

May 22nd, 2018

27:59

Dr Catherine Hobaiter studies how apes communicate with each other. Although she's based at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, she spends a lot of her time in the forests of Uganda, at the Budongo Research …

Caroline Dean reveals the genetic secrets of flowering

May 15th, 2018

27:48

As a girl, Caroline Dean would watch the cherry trees in her childhood garden unfurl their pink and white blossom and wonder how it was that they all …

Carlo Rovelli on why time is not what it seems

May 8th, 2018

27:51

Carlo Rovelli first became interested in the nature of time when he took LSD as a young man. Later he became curious about the world of the almost absurdly small, where time has no meaning and space is grainy.
He took …

Callum Roberts on the urgent need for marine conservation

May 1st, 2018

27:53

Callum Roberts, Professor of Marine Biology at the University of York, learnt to dive in a leaky wet suit in the North Sea when he was a boy. As a …

Stephen Reicher on the psychology of crowds

March 13th, 2018

28:12

Stephen Reicher is a social psychologist at St Andrews University who has spent decades understanding how people behave when in a group. To do so, …

Clare Grey on the Big Battery Challenge

March 6th, 2018

29:06

Next time you swear at the battery in your mobile phone, spare a thought for the chemist, Clare Grey. Having developed a new way of looking inside …

Ailie MacAdam on the biggest construction project in Europe.

February 27th, 2018

28:52

Ailie's first engineering challenge was working out how to get the solids to settle in a mixture of raw sewage at a treatment plant in Stuttgart. …

John Burn and the genetics of cancer

February 20th, 2018

29:22

Professor Sir John Burn, has made Newcastle on Tyne a centre for research on genetics and disease. He was one of the first British doctors to champion the study of genes in medicine back in the 1980s. More recently his …

Richard Henderson zooms in on the molecules of life

February 13th, 2018

29:32

What once took decades, now takes days, thanks to an astonishingly powerful new technique invented by Richard Henderson, winner of the 2017 Nobel …

Wendy Barclay and the flu virus

January 30th, 2018

28:04

2018 is having the worst flu season for seven years. Influenza continues to make a lot of us feel very ill, and it can of course be fatal. Wendy …

Eugenia Cheng on the mathematics of mathematics

January 23rd, 2018

27:36

Nothing annoys Eugenia Cheng more than the suggestion that there is no creativity in mathematics. Doing mathematics is not about being a human …

Eben Upton on Raspberry Pi

January 16th, 2018

27:47

When Eben Upton was in his twenties, he wanted to get children thinking about how computers think, to boost the number of people applying to read computer science at university. He dreamt of putting a chip in every …

Adrian Thomas on the mechanics of flight

October 31st, 2017

27:46

As a young man Adrian Thomas took to the skies in order to better understand the mechanics of flight. He's a paragliding champion and a Professor of …

Ellen Stofan on being NASA chief scientist

October 24th, 2017

28:06

When Ellen Stofan was just four years old, she witnessed the worst rocket launch-pad disaster in NASA's history convinced that her father, (who was a …

Tim Birkhead on bird promiscuity

October 17th, 2017

39:42

Professor Tim Birkhead talks to Jim Al Khalili about his 40 years of research on promiscuity in birds, his love of Skomer Island and its guillemots, …

Steve Cowley on Nuclear Fusion

October 10th, 2017

28:10

Steve Cowley has said that "fusion is arguably the perfect way to power the world". But he's had to add that "it is hard to make fusion work. Indeed, after more than 60 years of fusion research, no device has yet made …

Lucie Green on the sun

October 3rd, 2017

27:47

Lucie Green studies the sun - that giant, turbulent ball of burning gas at the centre of our solar system. Her first ambition was to become an art …

Tracey Rogers on leopard seals and Antarctica

September 26th, 2017

39:05

Marine ecologist Tracey Rogers talks to Jim Al Khalili about her research on one of Antarctica's top predators. This is the leopard seal - a ten foot …

Jennifer Doudna

September 19th, 2017

28:01

Jennifer Doudna's research has transformed biology. And this is not an understatement. Her work has given us the tools to edit genes more precisely …

Tamsin Mather on what volcanic plumes reveal about our planet

May 30th, 2017

28:15

To volcanologist Tamsin Mather, volcanoes are more than a natural hazard.

They are 'nature's factories', belching out a rich chemical cocktail of …

Tim O'Brien on transient stars and science and music festivals

May 23rd, 2017

28:09

Tim O'Brien has earned the nickname 'the awesome astrophysicist dude from Jodrell Bank' He is Professor of Astrophysics at Manchester University, and the associate director of Jodrell Bank Observatory, best known for …

Ottoline Leyser on how plants decide what to do

May 16th, 2017

27:52

To the untrained eye, a plant's existence may seem rather uneventful. It spends its days rooted to the spot, seemingly at the mercy of its …

Fay Dowker on a new theory of space-time

May 9th, 2017

27:57

For a long time Fay Dowker was mathematically precocious, but emotionally uncertain. These days, despite working in an area with few academic allies, she is more confident than ever. Her approach to a Theory of …

Ann Clarke on The Frozen Ark

May 2nd, 2017

28:05

Tiny tree dwelling snails, partula, were so abundant across French Polynesia that garlands of partula shells would be presented to visitors to the …

Graham MacGregor on tackling the demons in our diet

April 25th, 2017

28:18

The food we eat is the greatest cause of death and illness worldwide. The main culprits - salt, sugar and fat - are now so embedded in our diet, in …

Liz Sockett on friendly killer bacteria

April 18th, 2017

27:52

Professor Liz Sockett studies an extraordinary group of predatory bacteria. Bdellovibrio may be small but they kill other bacteria with ingenious and ruthless efficiency.

Liz has devoted the last fifteen years of her …

Nick Fraser on Triassic reptiles

April 11th, 2017

28:15

Nick Fraser regularly travels back in time (at least in his mind) to the Triassic, a crazily inventive period in our evolutionary history that …

Daniel Dennett on the evolution of the human brain

April 4th, 2017

28:14

Daniel Dennett has never been one to swallow accepted wisdom undigested. As a student he happily sought to undermine the work of his supervisor, Willard Quine. Only one of the most respected figures in 20th century …

Alison Woollard on what she has learnt from mutant worms

February 28th, 2017

28:15

C. elegans is a rather special worm, so-named for the elegant way it moves in sinusoidal curves. It's studied, and much loved, by thousands of …

Alan Winfield on robot ethics

February 21st, 2017

27:58

Alan Winfield is the only Professor of Robot Ethics in the world. He is a voice of reason amid the growing sense of unease at the pace of progress in the field of artificial intelligence. He believes that robots aren't …

Simon Wessely on unexplained medical syndromes

February 14th, 2017

28:18

Professor Sir Simon Wessely has spent his whole career arguing that mental and physical health are inseparable and that the Cinderella status of …

Sean Carroll on how time and space began

February 7th, 2017

27:47

How did time and space begin? From the age of ten, Sean Carroll has wanted to know. He first read about the big bang model of the universe as a …

Alison Smith on algae

January 31st, 2017

27:56

Think of algae and you'll probably think trouble. Algal blooms turned the diving pool green at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Smelly seaweed ruins many a …

Sadaf Farooqi on what makes us fat

January 24th, 2017

28:00

Is it true that some people put on weight more easily than others? And if so why? It's a question that's close to many of our hearts. And it's a question that medical researcher, Professor Sadaf Farooqi is trying to …

Jan Zalasiewicz on the Age of Man

January 17th, 2017

28:05

Jan Zalasiewicz, Professor of Palaeobiology at Leicester University, talks to Jim al-Khalili about the Anthropocene, the concept that humans now …

Michele Dougherty on Saturn

January 10th, 2017

28:14

The Cassini mission into deep space has witnessed raging storms, flown between Saturn's enigmatic rings and revealed seven new moons. And, thanks in no small part to Professor Michele Dougherty, it's made some …

Neil de Grasse Tyson on Pluto

December 20th, 2016

27:55

The US science superstar, Neil de Grasse Tyson grew up in the Bronx, and studied astrophysics at Harvard, Columbia and Princeton Universities before …

Richard Morris on how we know where we are

December 6th, 2016

27:57

How do we know where we are? The question sounds simple enough. But there's much more to it than simply looking around. Our sense of place is embedded in the very structure of our brains, in such a way that we can …

Julia Higgins on polymers

November 29th, 2016

28:02

Plastic Bags and the DNA in our cells are both polymers, very long molecules ubiquitous in nature and in their synthetic form, in materials like …

Roger Penrose on black holes

November 22nd, 2016

28:15

In a career of over fifty years Sir Roger Penrose has changed the way we see the Universe. He carried out seminal research on black holes and the big …

Lynne Boddy on Fungi

November 15th, 2016

27:25

Fungi are responsible for rotting fruit, crumbling brickwork and athlete's foot. They have a mouldy reputation; but it's their ability to destroy …

Ian Wilmut on Dolly the sheep

October 11th, 2016

28:06

Dolly the sheep was born near Edinburgh, twenty years ago this summer. She was the first mammal to be cloned from an adult animal, (named after Dolly …

Frans de Waal on chimpanzees

October 4th, 2016

28:07

We share 99% of our DNA with the chimpanzee and the bonobo. And yet we're often surprised to learn that apes, like us, can be both kind and clever. …

Trevor Cox on sound

July 19th, 2016

27:59

Inside a Victorian sewer, with fat deposits sliding off the ceiling and disappearing down the back of his shirt, Trevor Cox had an epiphany. Listening to the strange sound of his voice reverberating inside the sewer, he …

Georgina Mace on threatened species

July 12th, 2016

28:01

Despite decades of conservation work, in zoos and in the field, the rate at which species are going extinct is speeding up. Georgina Mace has devoted her Life Scientific to trying to limit the damage to our planet's …

Faraneh Vargha-Khadem on memory

July 5th, 2016

28:08

Self-taught Professor of Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, Faraneh Vargha-Khadem has spent decades studying children with developmental amnesia. Her mission: to understand how we form memories of the events in our …

Hazel Rymer on volcanoes

June 27th, 2016

27:51

Hazel Rymer has journeyed closer to the centre of the earth than most, regularly peering into the turbulent, fiery world than makes up the earth's …

Nick Davies on cuckoos

June 21st, 2016

35:32

Nick Davies has been teasing apart the dark relationship between the cuckoo and the birds it tricks into bringing up its young, for more than three …

Sheila Rowan on gravitational waves

June 14th, 2016

27:58

Half a century after the search for gravitational waves began, scientists confirmed that they had finally been detected in February 2016. Physicists around the world were ecstatic. It was proof at last that Einstein was …

Marcus du Sautoy on mathematics

June 7th, 2016

27:49

Marcus du Sautoy wasn't particularly good at maths at school; but a teacher spotted his aptitude for abstract thought and he started reading, and …

Lawrence Krauss on dark energy

May 31st, 2016

28:12

Lawrence Krauss has had an unusual career for a cosmologist.

Not content with dreaming up theoretical models of the Universe, and writing bestselling …

Carolyn Roberts on flood control

March 22nd, 2016

27:55

Barely a month goes by without news of another catastrophic flood somewhere in the world, like the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004 or the flooding of New …

Helen Sharman on being an astronaut

March 15th, 2016

28:08

Before Helen Sharman replied to a rather unusual radio advertisement her life was, in many ways, quite ordinary. She was working as a chemist in a sweet factory, creating and testing flavours. Much to her surprise, her …

Venki Ramakrishnan on ribosomes

March 8th, 2016

28:01

All the information that's needed for life is written in our DNA. But how do we get from DNA code to biological reality? That's the job of the …

George Davey-Smith on health inequalities

March 1st, 2016

27:58

When George Davey-Smith started work as an epidemiologist, he hoped to prove that the cause of coronary disease in South Wales soon after the miner's …

Dr Nick Lane on the origin of life on earth

February 23rd, 2016

28:12

Dr Nick Lane is attempting to answer one of the hardest questions in science. How did life on earth begin? You might think that question had been …

Naomi Climer on engineering

February 16th, 2016

28:06

Naomi Climer is one of the most senior British women engineers working in the communications industry, and after decades working on major projects she's left the world of business to become the first female president of …

Peter Piot on tackling ebola and HIV

February 9th, 2016

28:10

With the Zika epidemic in Brazil being declared an international health emergency just months after the recent Ebola epidemic in West Africa, Jim …

Paul Younger on energy for the future

November 17th, 2015

28:08

Paul Younger, Rankine Professor of Energy Engineering at the University of Glasgow, in conversation with Jim al-Khalili in front of an audience at …

Kathy Willis on botany

November 10th, 2015

28:06

"I'm determined to prove botany is not the 'Cinderella of science'". That's what Professor Kathy Willis, Director of Science at the Royal Botanic …

Patrick Vallance on pharmaceuticals

November 3rd, 2015

27:55

Patrick Vallance is something of a rare breed: a game-keeper turned poacher; an academic who's moved over into industry. And not just any industry, but the pharmaceutical industry.

At the time, Patrick Vallance was …

Robert Plomin on the genetics of intelligence

October 20th, 2015

28:03

Professor Robert Plomin talks to Jim Al-Khalili about what makes some people smarter than others and why he's fed up with the genetics of intelligence being ignored. Born and raised in Chicago, Robert sat countless …

Danielle George on electronics

October 13th, 2015

27:50

Danielle George is a radio frequency engineer from the University of Manchester. She designs amplifiers that have travelled everywhere, from outer space to underground.

Becoming a professor aged just 38, she talks to Jim …

Dame Carol Black on public health

October 6th, 2015

28:09

Carol Black was an overweight child who, aged 13, put herself on a diet. Now, as an expert advisor to the government, she's the woman behind recent …

Geoff Palmer on brewing

August 4th, 2015

28:10

Jim al-Khalili talks to botanist Geoff Palmer, the UK's only professor of brewing and distilling, about revolutionising the malting industry and his …

EO Wilson on ants and evolution

July 28th, 2015

27:59

EO Wilson has been described as the "world's most evolved biologist" and even as "the heir to Darwin". He's a passionate naturalist and an absolute …

Niamh Nic Daeid on forensic science

July 21st, 2015

28:01

Forensic chemist Niamh Nic Daeid talks to Jim Al-Khalili about investigating fires and analysing legal highs.

Her team were involved in studying the …

Carlos Frenk on dark matter

July 14th, 2015

28:08

Carlos Frenk, Ogden Professor of Computational Cosmology at the University of Durham, studies the universe, but not by spending nights looking out at …

Dorothy Bishop on language disorders

July 7th, 2015

28:08

Dorothy Bishop is a world-leading expert in childhood language disorders.

Since the 1970s, she has been instrumental in bringing to light a little-known language disorder that may affect around two children per class …

Henry Marsh on brain surgery

June 30th, 2015

28:13

Neurosurgeon Henry Marsh talks to Jim Al-Khalili about slicing through thoughts, hopes and memories. Brain surgery, he says, is straightforward. It's deciding whether or not to operate that's hard.

The stakes are high …

Kate Jones on bats and biodiversity

June 23rd, 2015

27:53

Kate Jones is Professor of Ecology and Biodiversity at UCL and the Institute of Zoology. An expert in evolution and extinction, her special interest …

Anil Seth on consciousness

June 16th, 2015

37:42

Anil Seth is professor of cognitive and computational neuroscience at the Sackler Centre at the University of Sussex, where he studies consciousness.

His research has taken him in all kinds of directions, from reading …

Susan Jebb on nutrition

April 21st, 2015

28:09

Fat, sugar, salt - we all know we should eat less of them, and take more exercise, but as a nation with an ever expanding waistline we are becoming …

Nigel Shadbolt on the worldwide web

April 14th, 2015

27:58

Sir Nigel Shadbolt, Professor of Artificial Intelligence at Southampton University, believes in the power of open data. With Sir Tim Berners-Lee he …

Stephanie Shirley on computer coding

April 7th, 2015

27:53

As a young woman, Stephanie Shirley worked at the Dollis Hill Research Station building computers from scratch: but she told young admirers that she …

Jane Francis on Antarctica

March 31st, 2015

28:08

Just twenty years ago, the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) would not allow women to camp in Antarctica. In 2013, it appointed Jane Francis as its …

Sarah-Jayne Blakemore on teenage brains

March 24th, 2015

27:55

Until recently, it was thought that human brain development was all over by early childhood but research in the last decade has shown that the …

Matt Taylor on the Rosetta space mission

March 17th, 2015

27:49

Matt Taylor talks to Jim Al-Khalili about being in charge of the Rosetta space mission to the distant comet, 67P. It is, he says, 'the sexiest thing alive', after his wife. He describes his joy when, after travelling …

John O'Keefe on memory

March 10th, 2015

27:34

John O'Keefe tells Jim Al-Khalili how winning the Nobel Prize was a bit of a double-edged sword, especially as he liked his life in the lab, before being made famous by the award.

John won the prize for his once radical …

Dave Goulon on bees

November 11th, 2014

27:59

Professor Dave Goulson has been obsessed with animals since he was a child. He collected all kinds of creatures and went as far as doing home made …

Dame Sally Davies on public health

November 4th, 2014

28:11

Jim al-Khalili talks to Professor Dame Sally Davies about being a champion for patients and a champion for women.

As Chief Medical Officer, the first woman to fill the post, she guides government decisions on pressing …

Richard Fortey on fossils

October 28th, 2014

28:05

Richard Fortey found his first trilobite fossil when he was 14 years old and he spent the rest of his career discovering hundreds more, previously …

Margaret Boden on artificial intelligence

October 21st, 2014

27:48

Maggie Boden is a world authority in the field of artificial intelligence - she even has a robot named in her honour.

Research Professor of Cognitive Science at the University of Sussex, Maggie has spent a lifetime …

Chris Toumazou on inventing medical devices

October 14th, 2014

28:05

European Inventor of the Year, Chris Toumazou, reveals how his personal life and early research lie at the heart of his inventions.

As Chief Scientist …

Elspeth Garman on crystallography

October 7th, 2014

27:23

Jim al-Khalili talks to Professor Elspeth Garman about a technique that's led to 28 Nobel Prizes in the last century.

X- ray crystallography, now celebrating its 100th anniversary, is used to study the internal structure …

Jackie Akhavan on explosives

September 30th, 2014

28:00

Jackie Akhavan, Professor of Explosive Chemistry, tells Jim al-Khalili all about the science of explosives. She explains exactly what explosives are and how to make them safer to handle.

She started by working on how to …

Brian Cox on quantum mechanics

September 23rd, 2014

27:39

Professor Brian Cox of Manchester University describes how he gave up appearing on Top of the Pops to study quarks, quasars and quantum mechanics.

Although he describes himself as a simple-minded Northern bloke, he has …

Carol Robinson on chemistry

July 22nd, 2014

27:59

Carol Robinson describes her remarkable journey from leaving school at 16 to work as a lab technician at Pfizer, to becoming the first female …

Jeremy Farrar on fighting viruses

July 15th, 2014

27:38

In October 2013, Jeremy Farrar was appointed Director of the Wellcome Trust - UK's largest medical research funding charity. The Trust funded �750 million's worth of health-related research - about the same as the …

Zoe Shipton on fracking

July 8th, 2014

27:59

Zoe Shipton's fascination with rocks started when she was a child and her father took her camping on a volcano. Now a professor of geology at …

Chris Llewellyn Smith on nuclear fusion

July 1st, 2014

28:07

Sir Chris Llewellyn Smith chats to Jim Al-Khalili about quarks, bosons, and running the biggest experiments in history.

In the late 60s and early 70s Chris was one of the theoretical physicists who were busy sketching …

Sandy Knapp

June 24th, 2014

27:49

Botanist Sandy Knapp tells Jim Al Khalili about her adventures in the wilderness of South America collecting and studying many thousands of plants …

Chris Lintott

June 17th, 2014

27:57

Astronomer and Sky at Night TV presenter Chris Lintott tells Jim Al Khalili about his "Citizen Science" project of crowd-sourced astronomy, Galaxy Zoo, and of working with Brian May and the late Sir Patrick Moore.

Janet Hemingway

June 10th, 2014

27:54

Janet Hemingway, the youngest woman to ever to become a full professor in the UK, talks about her career at the frontline of the war on malaria. …

Professor Sir Michael Rutter

June 3rd, 2014

28:00

Professor Sir Michael Rutter has been described as the most illustrious and influential psychiatric scientist of his generation. His international reputation has been achieved despite the fact that as a young doctor, he …

Julia Slingo

April 8th, 2014

28:16

Jim Al-Khalili's guest this week is Dame Julia Slingo, the chief scientist at the Met Office. The conversation ranges from her childhood wonder of …

Veronica van Heyningen

April 1st, 2014

28:11

Charles Darwin described the eye as an 'organ of extreme perfection and complication'. How this engineering marvel of nature forms out of a few cells in the developing embryo has been the big question for Veronica van …

Alf Adams

March 25th, 2014

27:59

Alf Adams FRS, physicist at the University of Surrey, had an idea on a beach in the mid-eighties that made the modern internet, CD and DVD players, and even bar-code readers possible. You probably have half a dozen …

Anne Glover

March 18th, 2014

27:58

Anne Glover is currently one of the most influential scientists in Europe. She advises the President of the European Commission on the research behind issues ranging from nuclear power to genetically modified foods. She …

Mark Miodownik

March 11th, 2014

27:58

Mark Miodownik's chronic interest in materials began in rather unhappy circumstances. He was stabbed in the back, with a razor, on his way to school. …

Vikram Patel

March 4th, 2014

28:07

Jim Al-Khalili talks to psychiatrist Vikram Patel about the global campaign he is leading to tackle mental health. He reflects on his early career working in Zimbabwe, when he doubted any western diagnoses or treatments …

Sue Black

February 25th, 2014

27:55

Forensic anthropologist Professor Sue Black began her career with a Saturday job working in a butcher's shop. At the time she didn't realise that …

Peter Higgs

February 18th, 2014

27:43

Peter Higgs opens up to Jim Al-Khalili, admitting that he failed to realise the full significance of the Higgs boson and to link it to the much …

Wendy Hall

October 8th, 2013

27:54

Dame Wendy Hall, Professor of Computer Science at the University of Southampton, has spent a career at the forefront of developments around the web and digital media. Trained as a mathematician, she moved to the …

Jenny Graves

October 1st, 2013

27:59

Australian geneticist Jenny Graves discusses her life pursuing sex genes in her country's weird but wonderful fauna, the end of men and singing to …

Sophie Scott

September 24th, 2013

27:54

Jim Al-Khalili talks to neuroscientist and occasional stand up comedian, Professor Sophie Scott about how she is using brain imaging techniques to reveal secrets of the complexity of brain activity when we speak and …

Ian Stewart

September 17th, 2013

27:35

Ian Stewart, Professor of Maths at Warwick University, has had a dual career as a research mathematician and as a populariser. He wrote his first …

Mike Benton

September 10th, 2013

28:05

Life on earth has gone through a series of mass extinctions. Mike Benton talks about his fascination with ancient life on the planet and his work on …

Mark Lythgoe

September 3rd, 2013

28:02

Professor Mark Lythgoe created and runs the largest medical imaging research facility in Europe - the Centre for Advanced Biomedical Imaging at …

Joanna Haigh

August 27th, 2013

27:58

Joanna Haigh, Professor of Atmospheric Physics at Imperial College, London, studies the influence of the sun on the earth's climate using data …

Russell Foster

August 20th, 2013

27:39

Russell Foster, Professor of Circadian Neuroscience at Oxford University, is obsessed with biological clocks. He talks to Jim al-Khalili about how …

Elizabeth Stokoe

June 25th, 2013

28:02

Jim Al-Khalili talks to the social psychologist Liz Stokoe about her research as a conversation analyst. Her interest is in the nuances of everyday …

David Spiegelhalter

June 18th, 2013

27:55

Is it more reckless to eat a bacon sandwich everyday or to go skydiving? What's the chance that all children in the same family have exactly the same birthday? Jim Al-Khalili talks to Professor David Spiegelhalter about …

Ewan Birney

June 11th, 2013

28:01

Ewan Birney talks to Jim Al-Khalili about his work on deciphering the human genome and the race to come up with the right number of genes that make us human. Ewan explains why he started a sweepstake to get fellow …

Athene Donald

June 4th, 2013

27:47

When she started her career, physicist Dame Athene Donald took a decision that shocked her colleagues. She wanted to apply the strict rules of …

Linda Partridge

May 28th, 2013

28:01

Will we ever be able to escape the diseases of old age?

That's the aim of today's guest, Prof Dame Linda Partridge who studies the genetics of ageing. …

Lord John Krebs

May 21st, 2013

27:58

As a scientist, John Krebs made his name discovering that the brains of birds that store seeds are different from those that don't. But he gave up …

Sanjeev Gupta

May 14th, 2013

27:58

Geologist Sanjeev Gupta talks to Jim Al-Khalili about his love of exploring exotic terrains, from the foothills of the Himalaya to the red deserts of …

Nancy Rothwell

May 7th, 2013

28:08

Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell is not only one of the UK's leading brain scientists and physiologists; for the last three years Nancy Rothwell has …

Sue Ion

February 26th, 2013

27:32

Jim Al-Khalili talks to the former technical director of British Nuclear Fuels, Dame Sue Ion, about a lifetime of working in the nuclear industry. When Sue got her first job at a nuclear fuel fabrication plant in …

Alan Watson

February 19th, 2013

27:42

Jim Al-Khalili talks to Professor Alan Watson from the University of Leeds who has spent 40 years trying to unravel a mystery at the frontier of physics. Where do cosmic rays, subatomic particles with the highest known …

Valerie Beral

February 5th, 2013

27:43

Jim Al-Khalili talks to breast cancer pioneer, Professor Valerie Beral director of the cancer epidemiology unit in Oxford about her Million Women …

Noel Sharkey

January 29th, 2013

27:36

Robots probably won't take over the world, but they probably will be given ever greater responsibility. Already, robots care for the elderly in Japan, and drones have dropped bombs on Afghanistan. Professor Noel Sharkey …

Annette Karmiloff-Smith

January 21st, 2013

27:40

Annette Karmiloff-Smith, from the Birkbeck Centre for Brain & Cognitive Development in London talks to Jim Al-Khalili about her Life Scientific. …

Prof Robert Mair

January 15th, 2013

27:39

Jim Al-Khalili talks to Robert Mair, professor of Civil engineering at Cambridge University about his life as an engineer in academia and industry …

Amoret Whitaker

January 8th, 2013

27:54

Jim Al-Khalili talks to Amoret Whitaker, an entomologist at the Natural History Museum in London. Her intricate understanding of the life cycles of …

John Gurdon

December 18th, 2012

27:10

Sir John Gurdon talks to Jim al-Khalili about how coming bottom of the class in science was no barrier to winning this year's Nobel Prize for …

Jared Diamond

December 4th, 2012

28:00

Jim Al-Khalili talks to Jared Diamond about how his passion for the birds of Papua New Guinea overtook his medical interest in the gall bladder, and led him to undertake a scientific study of global history.
Science …

Monica Grady

October 16th, 2012

27:52

As the Curiosity rover ventures into previously unexplored territory on the surface of Mars and attempts to pick up and analyse rock samples for the first time, many hope that the NASA robot might find signs of life on …

Hugh Montgomery

October 9th, 2012

27:56

Professor Hugh Montgomery is an intensive care physician and researcher at University College Hospital in London. His work has taken him to the …

Sir Mark Walport

October 2nd, 2012

27:40

Jim al-Khalili talks to the next chief scientific advisor to the government, Sir Mark Walport about how he thinks science can save the UK economy; how he plans to ensure that scientific evidence is taken seriously by …

Sunetra Gupta

September 25th, 2012

27:58

Jim Al-Khalili meets Sunetra Gupta, a scientist and novelist. As a Professor of Theoretical Epidemiology she studies infectious diseases such as flu …

David Nutt

September 18th, 2012

27:56

Professor David Nutt was sacked in 2009 as the government's chief drugs adviser after criticising its decision to reclassify cannabis. He is a psychiatrist and one of the country's leading experts on the effects of …

Andrea Sella

September 11th, 2012

27:56

Andrea Sella is a science showman, whose theatrical demonstrations of chemistry are filling theatres up and down the country. But as Professor of …

Richard Dawkins

September 4th, 2012

28:09

Richard Dawkins' first book on evolutionary biology "The Selfish Gene" was published to much acclaim and some controversy in 1976. In this interview …

Dame Ann Dowling

August 28th, 2012

28:02

A world in which planes are silent may sound like a pipe dream; but University of Cambridge engineer, Dame Ann Dowling, and her team proved it is possible to build an aircraft that barely makes any noise. A brilliant …

Martin Siegert

August 21st, 2012

27:48

For fifteen years, Martin Siegert has dreamt about Lake Ellsworth, a hidden lake buried beneath the Antarctic ice that's been cut off from the rest of the world for millions of years. Having studied data from airborne …

Pat Wolseley

August 14th, 2012

27:46

Jim Al-Khalili talks to botanist, Pat Wolseley about her obsession with lichen and the environmental secrets it holds. This humble and ancient …

Steve Jones

August 7th, 2012

28:23

Professor Steve Jones is a geneticist who says he lives life in the slow lane, studying snails. His work shows how animals adapt to the environment …

John Pickett

June 12th, 2012

27:59

Professor John Pickett's research into GM crops was at the centre of a public debate last month.
His experimental work has engineered insect alarm systems into wheat, so that the plants give off chemicals which repel …

Robert May

June 5th, 2012

27:50

Jim al-Khalili talks to the former chief scientific advisor, Robert May about restoring public trust in science in the wake of the BSE crisis and at the height of the anti-GM campaigns of the mid-nineties. If he were a …

Barbara Sahakian

May 29th, 2012

27:55

Jim Al-Khalili meets neuroscientist Barbara Sahakian. Neurotransmitters are chemicals in the brain which effect our memory and understanding, and …

Lloyd Peck

May 22nd, 2012

28:01

Jim Al-Khalili meets British Antarctic Survey scientist Lloyd Peck and discovers giant sea spiders. They and other small animals grow far bigger than …

Frances Ashcroft

May 15th, 2012

28:02

Jim Al-Khalili talks to this year's winner of the L'Oreal -UNESCO Woman in Science award, Frances Ashcroft.

After decades spent studying the link …

James Lovelock

May 8th, 2012

27:05

Jim al-Khalili talks to James Lovelock about elocution lessons, defrosting hamsters and his grand theory of planet earth, Gaia. The idea that from the bottom of the earth's crust to the upper reaches of the atmosphere, …

Angela Gallop

March 27th, 2012

27:29

Jim al-Khalili talks to Angela Gallop, the scientist who provided the vital forensic evidence in the recent re-trial for the murder of Stephen Lawrence.

Angela describes the painstaking scientific detective work that …

Tejinder Virdee

March 20th, 2012

27:28

Jim talks CERN physicist, Tejinder Virdee about the search for the elusive Higgs boson, also known as the "God particle". Last December, scientists …

John Lawton

March 13th, 2012

27:48

Jim Al-Khalili talks to environmental scientist John Lawton about making space for nature. A keen birdwatcher from the age of 7, John describes his studies of birds, dragonflies and bracken and his groundbreaking …

Martin Rees

March 6th, 2012

28:04

Jim enters the multiverse with Astronomer Royal Martin Rees. He's worked on the big bang, black holes and the formation of galaxies but what he would …

Iain Chalmers

February 28th, 2012

27:47

Jim Al-Khalili talks to the pioneering health services researcher, Iain Chalmers, who was one of the founders of the Cochrane Collaboration.

Once …

Tony Ryan

February 21st, 2012

27:55

What do miniature solar cells, making clothes that dissolve in the rain and new treatments for motor neurone disease all have in common? Chemistry - …

Chris Stringer

February 14th, 2012

27:48

Jim Al-Khalili meets leading paleoanthropologist Chris Stringer to find who our ancestors were.
As a post graduate Chris went on a road trip with a …

Robin Murray

February 7th, 2012

27:41

Jim al-Khalili talks to psychiatrist, Robin Murray about his life's work trying to understand why some people have schizophrenia and others don't. As a young man, Murray lived in an Asylum in Glasgow for two years, …

Colin Pillinger

December 27th, 2011

28:05

On this day eight years ago, planetary scientist Colin Pillinger was still hopeful that the Beagle 2 Lander that he had spent years designing, …

Lord Robert Winston

December 20th, 2011

26:21

He's the man on the telly with the big moustache, famous for A Child of Our Time, The Human Body and Making Babies but Robert Winston is also a well …

Tim Hunt

December 13th, 2011

27:20

Tim Hunt is an experimental wizard, a flamboyant thinker and a stickler for scientific procedure.

As a young man at Cambridge in the sixties, he heard Francis Crick (of DNA fame) ask questions "that made him sound …

Uta Frith

December 6th, 2011

28:05

Professor Uta Frith came from a grey post war Germany to Britain in the swinging sixties, when research into conditions such as autism and dyslexia was in its infancy. At the time many people thought there was no such …

John Sulston

November 29th, 2011

28:00

Jim al-Khalili talks to biologist John Sulston about sequencing the genome first of a worm and then of man.

When, as a young man, John Sulston first …

Nicky Clayton

November 22nd, 2011

27:54

Nicky Clayton is Professor of Comparative Cognition at Cambridge University. Her work challenges how we think of intelligence and she says that birds' brains developed independently from humans or apes. Members of the …

Molly Stevens

November 15th, 2011

27:44

Jim al-Khalili talks to a scientist who grows human bones in a test tube, Molly Stevens.

Molly Stevens does geeky hard core science but her main aim …

Colin Blakemore

November 8th, 2011

27:46

Colin Blakemore is a neuroscientist who nearly became an artist. He specialised in vision and the development of the brain, and pioneered the idea …

Sir Michael Marmot

November 1st, 2011

28:01

When Professor Sir Michael Marmot was a junior doctor he decided that medicine was failed prevention.
To really understand disease you have to look at the society people live in. His major scientific discovery came from …

Steven Pinker

October 18th, 2011

27:30

Cognitive psychologist, Steven Pinker, has been dubbed "science's agent provocateur".

Pinker studies how the mind works. Presenter Jim al-Khalili …

Paul Nurse

October 11th, 2011

27:56

Their work is changing the world we live in, but what do we really know about their lives beyond the lab?

Each week on The Life Scientific, Jim Al-Khalili, Professor of Physics at Surrey University, invites a leading …

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