The Sound of Science

Fridays 9am – Sheffield Live! – 93.2FM

Show 47 – First broadcast 24th April 2009


Science in the News


This week in Science in the News Noel talks about the Raw versus Cooked food debate. Which is better for you. It seems that both have their benefits and drawbacks. Noel’s personal advice, which he follows himself, is to eat a daily mixture of cooked and raw vegetables.

Featured Interview 1: Nuclear non-proliferation


Dr. Chamu Kuppaswamy from the Law Department of Sheffield University has just returned from a Nuclear non-proliferation conference in Washington DC and gives us an update on what is going on in the Nuclear World.


Chamu is an international lawer. Her research areas are arms control law and security law focussing on nuclear non proliferation. She is a member of the Conflict and security law research unit at the Sheffield Law School.

Featured Interview: Adam the robot scientist


The Hubo robot with the Einstein head

My second guest is Professor Ross King from the Department of Computer Science at the University of Aberystwyth. He and a team of scientists from Aberystwyth and Cambridge have published a paper in the journal Science on the Automation of Science.  There robot system, called Adam (see picture below), conducted experiments on yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae and experimentally tested these hypotheses by using laboratory automation., analyses the results, makes simple new hypotheses and tests them. This could have great benefits to science in areas that need very intense experimentation sucha as researching diseases and developing new pharmaceuticals. It could save a lot of money and leave the higher end of thinking to the human scientist.

Let us just be clear that Adam is not a humanoid robot scientist like the Hubo robot pictured about. It is essentially an collection of automated laboratory equipment and robot arms as pictured below with Professor King.



April 24, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Show 46 – First broadcast 17th April 2009


Featured Interview Special: Peter W. Singer


I started out to collect a short interview from author Peter Singer about his new book but I was so gripped by what he had to say, I decided to devote the whole programme to it. I hope you agree that this is really important stuff.

Peter W. Singer is the director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative and a senior fellow in Foreign Policy at Brookings. Singer’s research focuses on three core issues: the future of war, current U.S. defense needs and future priorities, and the future of the U.S. defense system. Singer lectures frequently to U.S. military audiences and is the author of several books and articles.

I talked to him about his most recent book. Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century.

This book has been highly praised by such a variety of people from National Security Advisors to TV chat show hosts like John Stewart. I thought that it was a great read – really entertainingly written for such a serious topic.

If you have been listening to the Sound of Science for a while, you will know that I am always banging on about the new military development in autonomous weapons and robots. Many of these, such as bomb disposal robots, can save soldiers and civilian lives and so they are a good thing. But many of the robots, especially in the air, are armed and designed to kill people. These are changing the face of war in an unpredictable way. There are even plans to let robots go out and kill people on their own and decide who to kill.

Well Peter Singer has been out there interviewing a lot of people from 5 star generals to the people who make the robots to the people who control them and he tells us about the disturbing things he found out.

The book is not currently in UK book shops but you can buy it from


April 17, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Show 45 – First broadcast 10th April 2009


Science in the News

Bad news for chocolate lovers this week.

The cacao tree is under threat this year from a virus and a fungus. All chocolate is made from the fermented seeds of the cacoa tree which are mainly roasted except for raw chocolate like buja buja. Now the world biggest producing country, the Ivory Coast is having its spring crop attacked by the Cacao swollen shoot virus that threatens to dramatically reduce the amount produced. Not only that by the witches’ broom fungus is having a similar effect on the Brazilian crop this year.

Itchy Scratchy

Neuroscientists at the University of Minnesota believe that they have found a solution to one of the great mysteries of biology – why do we scratch? Because we’re itchy? No it isn’t a joke. Really they wanted to know how scratching relieves an itch.

In an article in the latest Nature Neuroscience journal, the scientists describe how they induced the sensation of itching in the feet of monkeys and then took single cell recordings from spinothalmic cells that are sprinkled throughout the spinal column.

Faces of Patients

Here’s another odd medical one. When an Israeli Dr. did his residency in radiology he got very frustrated a sitting in a dark room looking a photographs of peoples internal organs without knowing what the people looked like. To make it less abstract he thought that it would be better if a photograph of the patients face was attached.

He ended up turning this into a scientific study that he recently presented to the Radiological Society of North America.

Feature Interview 1: Atomic cold war history

My featured guest this week, David Rosenberg, is an unusual man. He has strong academic credentials with a PhD with Distinction from Chicago University and has been professor at both the National War College and Naval War College. He is also a Naval Captain and commander of the largest Naval Reserve intelligence unit. A man who knows what he is talking about.

Rosenberg has won a string of awards and scholarships too many to mention here. But I am impressed that became the first military historian to be win a prestigious 5 year MacArthur foundation fellowship. They’re really hard to get.

I caught up with David at the Changing Character of War conference in Oxford where we were both giving talks. The interview starts off in the quiet outside the lecture theatre and then you can hear the crowd gradually accumulating.

The Cafe Scientifique Package

This month’s café scientifique insert from John Stratford is about a special event on creativity in the sciences, the social sciences and the arts. Two physical scientists, a psychologist and an artistic director/performer share their personal experiences, their insights and tips on how to be creative.

April 14, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Show 44 – First broadcast 3rd April 2009


Science in the News

Good news this week for cocaine addicts who want to get clear. Pharmacological researchers at University College Irvine in California have discovered that by blocking the Melanin concentrating hormone MCH, they can limit cocaine cravings. In cocaine use MCH works with dopamin in the please centre of the brain to create an addictive response. The researchers hope that by blocking MCH, they will cure those cocaine cravings. There are also hoping that similar methods will work for amphetamines and nicotine.

Black hole simulation: Scientists at the University of Colorado have created simulations that let you see what it would be like to fall into a black hole – well what you might see as you fell into a black hole if you were somehow able live through the experience. First things change slowly and then as you speed up the darkness of the black hole (or event horizon) looms and light from the rest of the universe become distorted – as you fall through the surface you see a dome of light which progressively become a narrow band until you reach the singularity and who knows what happens there. There will links to the simulation on our website. There are certainly worth a look.

Robots controlled by thought: Honda this week demonstrated a Brain Machine Interface to control their Asimo robot. The controller wears a helmet that contains sensors to pick up the brains electrical signals – this is standard EEG. This was combined with another technique called near-infrared spectroscopy that monitors changes in bloodflow of the brain. The controller just has to think about which limb to move and the robot moves correctly. Wow! this could really change the world. One you can start moving objects by thinking about them – it is a form of technological telekinesis.

Feature Interview 1: Jon Prinz on hot drinks


My first guest this week is Dr Jon Prinz, a molecular gastronomy expert who started out as an NHS dentist but when he went on holiday to Hong Kong in 1992, he ended up staying there for 5 years to do a PhD in oral anatomy. He now works on the mechanics of chewing and swallowing and sensory perception of food.

Jon teamed up with that famous chef Heston Blumenthal in 2001 and they have been collaborating and sharing ideas ever since.  He talks to us this week about heat in the mouth

Feature Interview 2:Robin Shattock on HIV and AIDs


Our second feature guest this week is Robin Shattock, Professor of Cellular and Molecular Infection in the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine at St George’s, University of London. Robin is a world leader in AIDs research and today he talks to us about his $20million from the Gates foundation and the Wellcome trust  research grant to make the women all over the planet safe from being infected by HIV.

April 3, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment