The Sound of Science

Fridays 9am – Sheffield Live! – 93.2FM

Show 56 – First broadcast 26th June 2009


rat whiskers

This research is the rat’s whiskers

This weeks programme is deveoted entirely to Professor Tony Prescott’s work how what a rat’s whiskers tells a rats brain and how this will inspire a new generation of robot sensing.

I went along to the Department of Psychology at the University of Sheffield to talk to leading Tony about how mammals use their whiskers for sensing. And there were some surprises in store. Do you know how a seal uses its whiskers for fishing?


Professor Tony Prescott


June 26, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Show 55 – First broadcast 19th June 2009


Noel on the soapbox


I was on my soapbox again this week about armed unmanned air vehicles in the Middle East Conflict zones. I had a feature about them in the Daily Telegraph this week. But what I really want to ask my listeners about was their views on the idea of a Nuclear Dedicated Unmanned bomber. There is an article about it by Adam Lowther in the Armed Forces Journal.

When the virtual turns real on a snowboard


I went to visit Daniela Romano’s virtual reality lab this week and try out a virtual snowboard. I was pretty useless at it but children who go there for training end up much better at snow boarding than those who don’t. There is a video of the work by Peter Styring. Daniela also told me about some new interesting work on using interactive graphical beings as a therapeutical tool for Autism.

Daniela is a lecturer in the Deparment of Computer Science at the University of Sheffield.

Ferreting out drugs with a robot

Robot 1

Tony Dodd from the Department of Automatic Control at the University of Sheffield has just started on a new project to develop a Ferret robot that could be used at UK borders. And he doesn’t even wear a cloth cap. The idea is that it will crawl into cargo containers to look out of drugs, people and other contraband. The project is funded by the EPSRC, UK. I went along to see Tony and find out all about it.

June 19, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Show 54 – First broadcast 12th June 2009


Bach’s horn in software and reality


The Lituus was a trumpet like instrument used by Bach in the 18th century. We have no existing instruments or even drawings. So when Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, a Swiss-based music conservatoire, specialising in early music wanted to use one they found out about software being developed at Edinburgh University (funded by EPSRC)  that might help. And it did. There is a YouTube video

Alistair Braden, who designed the software, came onto the show to tell us how  well it worked.

Are living buildings the future of architecture?

rachel 3

Dr. Rachel Armstrong is a medical doctor and a science fiction author one of the organisers of the London Science Fiction festival where I met her. Now she is doing a PhD in architecture at UCL with a very futuristic flavour. She is working on the idea of creating living building with protocells. Rachel has just been awared a prestigious TED global fellowship for this work. She is on the programme to explain what it is all about and how it can help save our planet.

The invasion of the painted ladies


There has been an invasion of Painted Lady butterflies this year all across Europe. The start out in North Africa and pass through the UK on their way up North. Dr. Lars Pettersson from Lund University in Sweden has been tracking their progress and tells us.

Lars has provided us with an animated movie of Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) observations in Sweden from May 21st to June 6th. During four days (May 29th to June 1st), thousands of these butterflies arrived and spread northwards. Each red dot on the map shows one observation, representing one or more butterfly sightings. All observations have been reported to the Swedish Species Gateway ( by the public. The compilation was made by Dr. Lars Pettersson, Lund University, Sweden (

June 12, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Show 53 – First broadcast 5th June 2009


The morality of other animals in the wild

wild justice

This weeks programme is entirely devoted to this intriguing topic that is becoming part of a quiet new scientific revolution on animals and animal behaviour. For centuries animals have been thought of and treated as mere machines by science. Decartes in the 17th century proposed his ideas that animals, unlike humans, were like mere mechanical automata without souls (read as mind/consciousness). This lead to  increased vivisection on live animals (not Descartes’ intention). The father of mechanistic biology, Jaques Loeb, in the early part of the 20th century was fairer – he saw all animals, including us, as machines.

One of the problems is that we do not understand what mind is – it is like the holy grail of science. It is not a good idea to invoke mind and emotion unnecessarily in scientific explanation – it can clouds the issues and hold up scientific progress. Nonetheless I think that we have gone too far in ruling them out altogether. On the one hand I don’t believe an old lady when she tells me that her cat understands everything that she says to it. But on the other hand, animals may have their own types of thinking that fits in with their world.

In this show Marc Bekoff and I chat about many of these issue from Anthropomorphism to evolution and cooperation as well as the moral natures of animals with a focus on his book Wild Justice with Jessica Pierce

This is an accessible book litered with interesting anecdotes behind the science: stories about animals that put themselves out for others or punish others for their wrong doings. You can buy Wild Justice from Amazon

June 5, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment