Science in ActionAuthor: BBC World Service
21 Oct 2018

Science in Action

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The BBC brings you all the week's science news.

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    Did the Climate Add to the Demise of Angkor?

    Angkor, in what is now modern Cambodia, was the capital city of the Khmer Empire. It flourished from approximately the 9th to 15th centuries. Angkor was a megacity supporting at least a million people (0.1% of the global population) during 1010–1220. The city houses the magnificent temple Angkor Wat, one of Cambodia's popular tourist attractions. The city established a vast network of canals, embankments, moats and reservoirs to capture, store and distribute surface water resources. It was very extensive, covering up to 1200sq kilometres. The city foundered during the 15th Century and was largely, but not completely, abandoned by 1431. Did monsoon-driven flooding weaken the infrastructure of water management in the city and contribute to its demise? Antimicrobials in Livestock Feed Global pharmaceutical companies are selling antibiotics as performance enhancers and artificial fatteners to livestock farmers in India. This unnecessary use of antibiotics has been made illegal in the US and Europe, as it is thought to increase the risk of antibiotic resistance. The practice is not illegal in India, but with the subcontinent suffering from the highest incidence of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) it is something the whole world needs to worry about. Facing Hurricane Michael Hurricane expert professor James Elsner, at Florida State University, has studied tropical cyclones for most of his career. He advocates for a higher Category Six to be created for the stronger and stronger storms we are seeing. He lives in Tallahassee in Florida and has just faced Hurricane Michael – is this the first time the expert has been face to face with a Category Five storm? Refuting Claims for Earliest Life Two years ago, a paper was published in the journal Nature, stating that the earliest evidence of life on Earth had been discovered in rocks from Greenland’s Supercrustal Belt in Isua. Stromatolites - fossils of conical structures created by bacterial action were thought to have been identified in rocks that were at least 3.8 billion years old. However this week, also in the journal Nature, is a study refuting these claims and describing the conical structures as mere folds in the metamorphic rock. Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Fiona Roberts (Photo: Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia, Credit: Rick Wang/Getty Images)

  • Posted on 18 Oct 2018

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    Will Earth Run Out Of Food?

    With the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change announcing that we need to keep global warming under 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, Science in Action explores the impact of food production on the environment. A new study calculates the current and predicted impact of land and fresh water use, fertiliser pollution and the change to more Western meat and dairy-based diets by 2050 and concluded that our current mitigation measures are not going to be enough. And that our planet will not be able to sustain this level of environmental cost. Windfarms and Warming A study of wind power generation across the continental United States calculates that the warming effect of wind turbines, due to possible circulatory changes in the atmosphere at night, could be enough to cause a 0.24 °C rise if the US switched to wind power for all their energy demands. It’s a small change, but coupled with other environmental impacts of sustainable energy production, it has to be factored in. Science Publishing and Copyright Two scientific publishers are suing the academic networking site ResearchGate for breaking copyright laws. ResearchGate asks scientists to publish papers and articles on their site. The claim is that they are not putting enough checks in place to stop work that is copyrighted to pay-walled science journals being uploaded. Is social media, and greater connectivity on the internet, changing the way science publishing works and how profits are made? Drugs from Fingerprints Illegal drug-use often has a contributing factor in cause of death. Testing for drug-use in both living and dead people relies on detecting the breakdown products (metabolites) for drugs such as cannabis, cocaine, opiates or amphetamines in bodily fluids (blood, urine, saliva) or tissue samples. These are invasive and take time. Now a University of East Anglia spin out company “Intelligent Fingerprinting” have developed a device called the fingerprint drug screening cartridge that can detect metabolites of illicit drugs in the sweat found in fingerprints. And furthermore they can do this on dead bodies as well as living people. Picture: Vegetables and fruits, Credit: Bojsha65/Getty Images Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Fiona Roberts

  • Posted on 11 Oct 2018

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    Sulawesi – Earthquake, Tsunami, Volcanic Eruption

    The Indonesian Island of Sulawesi has been battered by natural forces. First an earthquake, followed by a devastating tsunami and now a volcanic eruption. Science in Action looks at the multiple geological factors that put the people of Sulawesi in such danger. Hayabusa 2’s MASCOT Lander The Japanese spacecraft has successfully dropped the German-French observation robot and landed it on an asteroid, 300 million kilometres away, as part of a research effort that could find clues to the origin of the solar system. The Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout, or MASCOT, was released from the unmanned spacecraft Hayabusa 2 and headed to the asteroid Ryugu. 2018 Nobel Prizes for Science The research that has earned the highest accolades in science this year include immunotherapy for cancer, directed evolution in the lab and optical tweezers. Picture: A aerial view of the destruction caused by an earthquake and tsunami in Wani, Donggala, north of Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, Credit: Reuters/Darren Whiteside Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Fiona Roberts

  • Posted on 04 Oct 2018

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    Hayabusa 2’s Rovers Land on Asteroid

    The audacious Japanese space mission has successfully landed two rovers (Minerva II 1a + b) on the surface of asteroid Ryugu. The asteroid is currently 4 years travel away from Earth, so much of the mission has been carried out autonomously. Killer of Killer Whales Despite being banned in the 1980’s the organophosphate PCB is killing the world’s killer whales. As top predators, killer whales, or Orca, bioaccumulate the toxin in their fat reserves and then nursing mothers pass on the chemical to the young in their fat-rich milk. PCBs are endocrine disruptors and affects breeding success, so researchers are seeing fewer and fewer calves being born. And the worst part is that the chemicals, despite the 40 year ban, are still very persistent in the oceans. Ionosphere and World War 2 Bombs The bombs used by Allied forces during the Second World War were big enough to weaken the Earth's upper atmosphere. By calculating the energies of the Allied bombing raids over Europe between 1943 and 45 and referring back to ionospheric measurements made at the time over Slough in the South of England. The team at Reading University can calibrate the ionospheric wobbles and use this to work out how much energy is in natural events such as earthquakes and thunder storms which also perturb this atmospheric layer at the edge of space. Picture: The tiny shadow of Hayabusa 2 on asteroid Ryugu, Credit: JAXA Presenter: Roland Pease Producer: Fiona Roberts

  • Posted on 27 Sep 2018

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    Water on Mars

    Scientists say they have discovered evidence of a 12 mile long body of water on Mars. Estimated to be at least a metre deep, the “lake” was found beneath the red planet’s southern polar ice cap by the agency’s radar probe, known as Marsis. While orbiting the planet on the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft, Marsis used ground-penetrating radar to send signals deep into the surface - and there was only one possible conclusion from the data that was bounced back to it. The discovery hints that, with all the necessary ingredients present, there may be a possibility of finding life beneath Mars’s surface. The last of the wild oceans A study led by scientists from the University of Queensland has discovered that only 13% of the ocean worldwide has not been severely impacted by humans. The majority of these wilderness areas are not currently protected by law, and the researchers are highlighting an urgent need for action to protect what little remains. Using fluorine to detect dementia University College London chemists are finding new ways to track degenerative diseases in the brain. They’ve used a radioactive form of fluorine which binds to areas of the brain that are diseased to illuminate those areas during scans, allowing them to track exactly how the disease develops. The return of the red shift S2, a star orbiting around a black hole at the centre of our galaxy, has shown to physicists that Einstein’s theories continue to hold up after all this time. By observing how the star changes colour during its orbit, members of the Max Planck Institute for Extra-Terrestrial Physics have been able to examine how light bends under the gravitational pull of a supermassive object. Picture: Photo composite of Marsis in front of Mars. Credit: ESA/INAF. Graphic rendering by Davide Coero Borga - Media INAF Presenter: ROLAND PEASE Producer: ANIA LICHTAROWICZ

  • Posted on 26 Jul 2018

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