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Big Questions - with Oxford Sparks

Some of the brightest minds behind Oxford science discuss their latest research. The series starts with ‘Origins’, tackling topics from human life to the Universe. Join us in each podcast as we explore a different area of science.

# Episode Title Description People Date
1 Will supersonic transport ever make a comeback? The Concord is seen as an iconic aircraft and a technological breakthrough – so why can we only see them in museums? In our episode of The Big Questions podcast series we visited Dr Neil Ashton from the E-Research Centre at the University of Oxford to ask Neil Ashton 13 Mar 2017
2 How do you turn an orange into a grapefruit? Favouring. It’s a global industry and here in Oxford a group of scientists are getting a ‘taste’ of the action by making natural flavours by manipulating enzymes. Alize Pennec 27 Feb 2017
3 Earthquakes, can we make smarter buildings? Major earthquakes across the world have damaged or destroyed numerous buildings, bridges, and other structures. But is there a way of monitoring the building structures to see if it is at risk of falling after an earthquake has struck? Orfeas Kypris 09 Feb 2017
4 What can a power ballad can teach us about the sex life of a fruit flies? Music provides the soundtrack to our lives. The highs, the lows and the heartache. So why wouldn’t it be the same for a fruit fly? On this episode of the Oxford Sparks Big Questions podcast, we mix music with sex education of fruit flies! Stuart Wigby, Sally Le Page, Eleanor Bath 27 Jan 2017
5 How do we stop our social media obsession from making us a target for crime? How vulnerable are we to crime by the statuses we post on our social accounts? Jason Nurse 17 Jan 2017
6 How do you make scientific equipment space proof? Since the 1960’s man has been sending missions to Mars. Some successes, some failures. This hasn’t stopped scientists trying to explore this incredible red planet. Colin Wilson 21 Dec 2016
7 What would life be like if Parasitoid Wasps didn’t exist? Our Festive episode of our Oxford Sparks podcast follows the traditional Christmas story of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’. Christopher Jeffs 14 Dec 2016
8 Can bubbles help cure cancer? On this episode, can bubbles cure cancer? Eleanor Stride 02 Dec 2016
9 Creative Commons Are exhausts causing dementia? Many people are exposed to exhaust emissions every day in different ways. But what are the harmful effects of these fumes when we breathe them in? Could we see difficulties in other areas of our bodies? What is it doing to our brains? Imad Ahmed 21 Nov 2016
10 Creative Commons How do you make a reliable weather forecast? Latest episode from Oxford Sparks, this episode on how to predict the weather. Hannah Christensen 04 Nov 2016
11 Is my bacon sandwich really going to kill me? Statistician Dr Jennifer Rogers discusses the numbers linked to processed meat and bowel cancer. Jennifer Rogers 25 Oct 2016
12 The Canary in the Coal Mine: could seabirds be the warning signs for our oceans? Dr Annette Fayet tells us about the Manx Shearwater; a little seabird that makes a huge journey. Annette Fayet 28 Sep 2016
13 'Light' Part 3 - How does sunlight damage DNA? Once we've received our genetic make-up from our parents our genomes are stable, right? What causes mutations in our DNA as we live and grow, and how do our cells repair damage? Catherine Green 03 Aug 2016
14 'Light' Part 2 - Harnessing a single photon What's the use of just one photon, the smallest bit of light? And what does it take to study it? Joelle Boutari 27 Jul 2016
15 'Light' Part 1 - Connecting to the internet through your lights Can we receive information through our lighting? Dominic O'Brien 25 Jul 2016
16 'Senses' Part 3 - Seeing across the galaxy How can you spot what's happening in space billions of light years away from right here on Earth? Garret Cotter 08 Jul 2016
17 'Senses' Part 2 - Getting a feel for surgery How do you train surgeons to do complex surgeries? How do you measure a trainee's progress? How can you accurately simulate the look and feel of surgery? Patrick Garfjeld Roberts 29 Jun 2016
18 'Senses' Part 1 - When the senses collide Can sounds change how things taste? How can we alter our experiences by taking advantage of how our senses mingle? Charles Spence 27 Jun 2016
19 'Land, Sea and Air' Part 3 - What happens when we fly Oxygen levels are slightly lower when you fly on commercial airlines, so what effects does this have on people? Can it cause any problems? Thomas Smith 17 Jun 2016
20 'Land, Sea and Air' Part 2 - The state of the oceans What's in the deep ocean? And how can we study these remote and extreme ecosystems? And how is climate change affecting ocean ecosystems? Alex Rogers 10 Jun 2016
21 'Land, Sea and Air' Part 1 - How mountains are made How do we discover the origins of mountains? Mike Searle 27 May 2016
22 'Learning' part 3 - Learning from Nature How can Chemistry take inspiration from nature to create cleaner and more efficient ways of producing and using Hydrogen as a source of clean energy? Kylie Vincent 24 May 2016
23 'Learning' part 2 - Stimulating learning Can a little electrical stimulation help people learn quicker? And how would technology that does this be used? And why would you want to use this over medicines? Roi Cohen Kadosh 13 May 2016
24 'Learning' part 1 - Sleep for success Sleep is really important. But do we realise how important it is, particularly for helping us think straight? Are teenagers lazy? Are their body clocks different? Christopher-James Harvey 05 May 2016
25 'Relationships' part 3 - Networks: the science of connections What is a network and how can you use mathematics to unravel the relationships between a variety of different things? How can this understanding then be applied to a range of different settings? Mason Porter 29 Apr 2016
26 'Relationships' part 2 - New fathers How do new fathers form relationships with their children? What is the unique role of a father? What do they contribute to the development of their children? What is male post-natal depression? Anna Machin 22 Apr 2016
27 'Relationships' part 1 - People and plants: balancing conservation and commerce How can working with people to understand how they use their local plants be used to protect them when industry moves in? How do we find and conserve areas of high 'bioquality'? William Hawthorne 12 Apr 2016
28 'Killers' part 3 - Mental illness and violence Forensic psychiatry can help us understand the causes and best treatments for mentally disordered offenders inside and outside of the prison system Seena Fazel 23 Feb 2016
29 'Killers' part 2 - Keeping water flowing with smartphones Water pumps are a lifeline for many communities in developing countries. But how can you monitor them all to know whether they're in working order? And can you collect data based on pump usage to provide useful insights into community health? David Clifton 29 Jan 2016
30 'Killers' part 1 - Mosquito genomes and malaria control Can studying Mosquito population genomes help to stop the spread of Malaria? Alistair Miles 15 Dec 2015
31 'Clues' part 3 - Picking apart the genetics of speech and language disorders How do you start to pick apart speech at the genetic level? Dr Dianne Newbury explains what Specific Language Impairment is and how her research is unravelling a pretty complicated picture. Dianne Newbury 01 Dec 2015
32 'Clues' part 2 - Watching penguins How do you understand how large populations of penguins on Antarctica change? And how can you use this information to protect penguins? Tom Hart 16 Nov 2015
33 Creative Commons 'Clues' part 1 - Predicting volcanic eruptions From people on the the ground to satellites in the air - how do we monitor and understand volcanos in an attempt to understand when they might erupt? David Pyle 22 Oct 2015
34 'Artificial Intelligence' part 3 - Understanding how we learn language Professor Kim Plunkett explains how neuroscientists use artificial intelligence as a tool to model processes in the brain – in particular to understand how infants acquire language. Kim Plunkett 12 Jun 2015
35 'Artificial Intelligence' part 2 - How to create machines that learn Professor Nando de Freitas explains that understanding how our brains work has helped us create machines that learn, and how these learning machines can be put to completing different tasks. Nando de Freitas 19 May 2015
36 'Artificial Intelligence' part 1 - Using artificial intelligence to spot patterns Professor Stephen Roberts explains how machines, whose job it is simply to learn, can help researchers spot scientific needles in data haystacks, which will help us solve some grand challenges. Stephen Roberts 15 Apr 2015
37 'Explosions' part 3 - Health and Big Data Professor Gil McVean explains what Big Data is and how it can be used to better understand and treat complex conditions, such as heart disease and dementia. Gil McVean 30 Mar 2015
38 Creative Commons 'Explosions' part 2 - The origin of animal diversity Dr Allison Daley describes what fossils can tell us about the Cambrian Explosion; a period of time 540 million years ago, where there was a vast increase in the different types of animals that existed. Allison Daley 16 Mar 2015
39 Creative Commons "Explosions" Part 1 - Oppenheimer: father of the atomic bomb Professor David Wark, who was scientific adviser for the play ‘Oppenheimer’, explores the science and broad implications of one of the most explosive ideas in Human history: the atomic bomb. David Wark 04 Mar 2015
40 "Anomalies" Part 3 - Placebos and pain Professor Irene Tracey explains the placebo effect and how it is a normal part of our pain system. Irene Tracey, Chris Lintott 10 Feb 2015
41 "Anomalies" Part 2 - Turing Patterns Dr Christian Yates describes a phenomenon first noticed by the World War II code-breaker, Alan Turing. Christian Yates, Chris Lintott 26 Jan 2015
42 "Anomalies" Part 1 - Tinnitus Researcher Joshua Gold explains a condition called tinnitus, most often described as a persistent and annoying sound in one or both ears. Joshua Gold, Chris Lintott 21 Jan 2015
43 "Hidden Worlds" Part 3 - The virtual universe Dr Andrew Pontzen explains how chains of computers can be set up to simulate billions of years of development of the universe, but in a time period of weeks. Andrew Ponzen, Chris Lintott 05 Jan 2015
44 "Hidden Worlds" Part 2 - Robert Robinson’s chemical box Edward Imrie and Dr Stephen Johnston Edward Imrie and Dr Stephen Johnston talk about a surprising discovery – a collection of boxes, originally containing chocolates and soap, now full of tiny chemical vials thought to date back to the 1930s. Edward Imrie, Stephen Johnston 05 Jan 2015
45 "Hidden Worlds" Part 1 - Parallel Worlds Dr David Wallace discusses the concept of the multiverse – a physical reality that contains lots of universes, each of which inhabited by different versions of ourselves. David Wallace 15 Dec 2014
46 "There's no place like home" Part 3 - Exoplanets Ruth Angus talks about the search for life outside our solar system. In our own solar system, we have rocky planets towards the centre and gas giant planets further out. Ruth Angus 15 Dec 2014
47 "There's no place like home" Part 2 - The People of the British Isles Bruce Winney describes the influx of humans to the British Isles, including the Romans, Anglo Saxons and Vikings. By comparing and contrasting the genetic make-up of patients, researchers can explore how genetics can influence disease. Bruce Winney 15 Dec 2014
48 Creative Commons "There’s No Place Like Home" Part 1 - Wytham Woods Professor Ben Sheldon describes one of the World’s longest-running ecological studies, into birds in their natural environments. Ben Sheldon, Chris Lintott 20 Nov 2014
49 "Matters of Scale" - Complete Episode The issues of scale are investigated – from how properties change at very small scales, to the vastness of the Universe. Includes parts 1, 2 and 3. Pedro Ferreira, Alan Barr, Sylvia MacLain, Sonia Trigueros 09 Oct 2014
50 "Matters of Scale" Part 3 - Nanomedicine Dr Sonia Trigueros explains how she is using nanotechnologies to create targeted drug delivery systems. Chemotherapy is a particularly harmful treatment, with patients losing their hair and suffering from infections due to damage to their immune systems. Sonia Trigueros, Chris Lintott 08 Oct 2014
51 "Matters of Scale" Part 2 - Biology and the Problem with Scale Dr Sylvia MacLain talks about how water creates a problem when researching biology. Structures can be studied when they are in solid form, but approximately 60% of our bodies are made of water. Sylvia MacLain, Chris Lintott 08 Oct 2014
52 "Matters of Scale" Part 1 - Extremes of Scale Professors Pedro Ferreira and Alan Barr explain what scale means to them, from particle physics to the visible universe. At the subatomic level, gravity has a surprisingly large effect and particles are so small that they have no size. Alan Barr, Pedro Ferreira, Chris Lintott 08 Oct 2014
53 "Origins" - Complete Episode The subject of origins is explored - from human fertilisation to the Big Bang. Includes parts 1, 2 and 3. Jo Dunkley, Alex Halliday, Suzannah Williams, Dagan Wells 09 Oct 2014
54 "Origins" Part 3 - Origins of Human Life Drs Suzannah Williams and Dagan Wells explore the secrets and processes behind human fertilisation. Sperm and eggs must face huge challenges before they even meet. After fertilisation, they go on to form a small ball of cells with huge potential. Suzannah Williams, Dagan Wells, Chris Lintott 07 Oct 2014
55 "Origins" Part 2 - Origins of Earth and the Solar System Professor Alex Halliday explains how planets form from nothing but an area of space full of dust. Tiny differences between the elements that make up meteorites can give you an idea of how old they are and which part of the solar system they came from. Alex Halliday, Chris Lintott 07 Oct 2014
56 "Origins" Part 1 - Origins of the Universe Professor Jo Dunkley explains how we can look back in time at the light from the early Universe. This ultra-cold light can be used to create a picture from soon after the Big Bang. Jo Dunkley, Chris Lintott 07 Oct 2014