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Nowadays, the idea of encountering robots in our daily lives isn't pure science fiction. Many of us interact with AI every day, and the use of robots in, for example, healthcare settings, is already on the horizon. But what if something goes wrong? The RoboTIPS team at the University of Oxford is developing an innovative feature - an 'ethical black…
 
Do you remember when the price of fizzy drinks in the UK went up slightly a few years ago? Soda fans, perhaps you remember all too clearly...! Well, this was because the UK government introduced a sugar tax (or the Soft Drinks Industrial Levy, to be precise), requiring manufacturers to pay a tax on sugary drinks - a cost which was then passed on to…
 
An arboretum could be described as a "living library". A beautifully curated collection of woody plants from across the globe, each one carefully labelled and managed. In this episode of the Big Questions Podcast we chat to Ben Jones, Arboretum Curator at the University of Oxford Botanic Garden and Harcourt Arboretum, about what makes an arboretum …
 
Lockdowns, social distancing, restrictions on 'normal' activities - we've all been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. But how has it impacted on our mood and mental wellbeing? We chat to Dr Maxime Taquet from the Department of Psychiatry about 'mood homeostasis' (the interplay between people's activities and the way they feel), and how this has bee…
 
Their distinctive 'teacher teacher' call is synonymous with British gardens, but great tits are facing a big problem - climate change. As our springtime becomes warmer and begins earlier, peak caterpillar abundance is also shifting earlier. As a crucial food source for great tit chicks, this is cause for concern. In this episode of the Big Question…
 
Remember those days when it was possible to climb aboard a plane and jet off around the world? Well, while we might be yearning for foreign shores, there's no denying that air travel comes with a big ol' carbon footprint. But is it possible to make aeroplanes 'greener'? We chat to Dr Chiara Falsetti, a researcher at the Oxford Thermofluids Institut…
 
The moon may be the closest planetary body to us, but we still have a lot to learn about it. For example, what is the water-cycle like on an airless body such as the moon? How much water can be found there, and could we one day utilise this water for space exploration? In this episode of the Big Questions Podcast, we chat to Dr Katherine Shirley, a…
 
We're over a year into the coronavirus pandemic, and it's affected our lives in many ways - including, for many of us, how we sleep. You may have experienced changes to your sleep pattern (particularly if you waved goodbye to your commute last March), your quality of sleep, or even had some very weird or vivid dreams! If so, you're not alone. Join …
 
If you've ever been lucky enough to hear a lion roar (whether that's at the zoo or in the wild - hopefully at a safe distance!), you'll know that it's a truly bone-shaking experience. But do lions have a unique roar, or do they all sound the same? How could knowing this help with conservation efforts? Join us for this episode of the Big Questions p…
 
In this year's Valentine's episode, we're exploring one of the most special relationships around. That's right - the one between us and our dogs! We often hear pooches described as "(wo)man's best friend", but for how long has this been the case? Join Prof Greger Larson, an expert in palaeogenomics and bio-archaeology, as we journey back thousands …
 
It's a question that's on the lips of politicians, scientists and policy-makers right across the globe - who should get the COVID-19 vaccine first? Should it be the elderly and clinically vulnerable, healthcare professionals and other frontline workers, or another group entirely? We chat to Dr Alberto Giubilini, a philosopher at the Oxford Uehiro C…
 
Is it possible to edit someone's genes before they are born to make them a nicer, kinder, more moral person? Not only that - but, importantly, should we do this? When it comes to gene editing for moral enhancement, there are many ethical points to consider. Join us as we chat to Tess Johnson, a Philosophy PhD student at the Oxford Uehiro Centre for…
 
Most of us have probably heard of video games being described as "addictive", but is there evidence of this? Are they damaging to our mental health, or could they actually have a positive impact on our metal wellbeing? In this episode of the Big Questions podcast we're booting up our consoles, and asking Prof Andrew Przybylski, Director of Research…
 
It's that time of year - the festive jumpers are going on, the lights are going up, and we're ready to decorate our Christmas trees. But when it comes to choosing your fir, what do you go for - real or fake? Perhaps you have a trusty old family-favourite that comes down from the attic each year? Or maybe going to choose a real tree gets you into th…
 
Did you know that the winner of the 2019/2020 Fantasy Premier League, beating over 7 million other players, was Dr Joshua Bull - a researcher at Oxford's Mathematical Institute? How did he win? Turns out that 'mathematical thinking' and a strategic approach, combined with "gut instinct and a healthy dose of good luck" might just be the answer! Coul…
 
We've probably all heard the phrase 'Big Brother is watching you' (a reference to the fictional character in George Orwell's dystopian novel '1984') - but are we really under constant surveillance? Is it actually possible to be a fully functioning member of modern society without being tracked by some sort of surveillance system? And how is technol…
 
'Influencers' are here like never before...log on to social media, and there will be someone there to tell you what to cook or what to wear...But what about when it comes to wildlife conservation? For instance, how much impact can a celebrity have when it comes to saving an endangered species? In this episode of the Oxford Sparks Big Questions Podc…
 
We're back with a brand new series of the 'Oxford Sparks Big Questions Podcast'! And - in the Autumn of 2020 - where else could we start but with an episode answering a big question related to COVID-19? We're all used to hearing a lot of pandemic terminology now, but it can be difficult to get to grips with exactly what all these terms mean. For in…
 
We all feel pain differently. What to one person may be the worst pain in the world, might be a mild irritation to another person; but why? At the moment, we don’t have a thorough understanding of how pain is processed, meaning it is difficult to devise treatments for chronic pain. In this episode of the ‘Big Questions’ podcast, we are lucky enough…
 
Things have changed a lot over the past few months – including, for many of us, our daily routine. But how has this impacted our energy usage? In this week’s episode of the Big Questions podcast, we chat to Dr Philipp Grünewald from Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute about his ‘JoyMeter’ survey, which has given a fascinating insight into how o…
 
Established in 1621, the Oxford Botanic Garden was the first botanic garden in the UK. It has been - and remains – an invaluable resource for education, scientific research, and conservation. But recently it’s added another feather to its cap, teaming up with The Oxford Artisan Distillery to produce a ‘Physic Gin’. So what exactly is this gin, and …
 
As we search for a way out of the global coronavirus crisis, there’s been plenty of discussion surrounding a potential COVID-19 tracing app. Many of us carry a mobile phone with us wherever we go, so it seems logical to use this pre-existing infrastructure in the transition towards a ‘new normal’. But how tricky is it to make such an app? What’s mo…
 
Just one mosquito bite is enough to infect someone with malaria. Tackling this serious – sometimes fatal – subtropical disease is a key priority for the World Health Organisation; but how can we move forward in the fight against it? Specifically, how could a small team of researchers, taking to the roads in a custom-built ‘Landrover Lab’, help in t…
 
Much less is known about the Indian Ocean than either the Atlantic or Pacific. It's also the least protected. What secrets lie beneath the waves? What new species wait to be discovered…? Dr Paris Stefanoudis tells us all about the Nekton project, its past and planned missions, and the role it’s playing in helping us to find out “What’s in the India…
 
We’re living in extraordinary times, where graphs and statistics are splashed across newspaper front pages, and misinformation is rife. How do we know which sources of information are reliable? How do scientific researchers go from having an idea to publishing their findings, and advising on policy? In this week’s episode of the ‘Big Questions’ pod…
 
When it comes to mass-producing food, it’s important to make sure the taste is consistent, and good! But how can we detect the taste of something without eating it ourselves? Prof Richard Compton and his team in the Department of Chemistry are experts in electrochemical sensors, and in this episode of the Big Questions podcast he tells us all about…
 
Coronavirus has been hitting the headlines since late 2019, and is now at the forefront of many people’s minds. We have a lot of questions, and it can be difficult to find answers. In this episode of the Big Questions podcast, Emily is asking her family what they would like to know about coronavirus, and Prof Christl Donnelly (an expert in modellin…
 
With one person admitted to hospital every five minutes in the UK because of a heart attack, the ability to diagnose and treat them quickly is vital. In this episode of the ‘Big Questions’ podcast, find out how Dr Tingting Zhu is using a machine learning algorithm, trained on 15,000 ECGs, to diagnose heart attacks faster, potentially eliminating th…
 
Looking for ‘The One’, or maybe just a date for Valentine’s Day? The dating scene has changed significantly over the past ten years, not least because of the increasing popularity of online dating websites and dating apps. In this special ‘Valentine’s’ edition of the Big Questions podcast, we’re asking Patrick Gildersleve from the Oxford Internet I…
 
Much of post 1920s astronomy rests on her shoulders. Without her, we wouldn’t have a three-dimensional sky. Leavitt’s Law allowed us to measure distances in other galaxies as early as 1912. But how many people have ever heard of Henrietta Leavitt? We wanted to know about this ‘hidden woman’ of astronomy, so in this episode of the Big Questions podc…
 
We’re pretty obsessed with the concept of ageing. Ancient civilizations supposedly sought an ‘elixir of life’, and today many of us get hung up on finding a way to ‘younger looking skin’… But what’s the science behind ageing? What determines the life expectancy of a species and – time for the 'big question' – can we stop ageing? We ask Alison Wooll…
 
It's a new year (and a new decade!) and many of us will be looking to turn over a new leaf when it comes to diet and lifestyle. But - as anyone who's tried one will know - diets are VERY difficult to stick to. In this episode of the Big Questions podcast, we ask Professor Heidi de Wet from the University of Oxford's Department of Physiology, Anatom…
 
We know it as the home of Father Christmas, but why is Lapland of interest to geologists? In this festive episode of the Big Questions podcast we ask Anna Bidgood from the University of Oxford's Department of Earth Sciences "What's under Lapland?". Join us as we find out why the minerals found in the region are important, and what it's like to be a…
 
According to the much-loved 'Back to the Future' franchise, we should all be zipping around on hoverboards by now. As we come to terms with our disappointment that they STILL haven't hit the shelves, Dr Clara Barker from Oxford University's Materials Science department discusses the technology that would be required to build one, and we learn all a…
 
What do you do when a city outgrows its 150 year old sewer system? Build a super sewer of course! Join University of Oxford engineer Dr Brian Sheil as we go underground, and learn how his innovative sensors are revolutionising the Thames Tideway Tunnel Project – and the construction industry.Por Oxford Sparks
 
The Big Questions podcast is back with a new series, and we start with a special Halloween edition! Join University of Oxford evolutionary virologist Emilia Skirmuntt as we learn all about the weird and wonderful world of bats, and ask the question 'Are bats villains or superheroes?'Por Oxford Sparks
 
It’s considered one of the hardest athletic challenges. 21 day-long stages covering around 3,500 kilometres (2,200 miles) - it’s the Tour De France. A Tour de France rider will burn enough calories during a six-hour mountain stage to fuel an average person's activity for two to four days. So how do these athletes compete day in, day out? On this ep…
 
There is a whole world of things out there that want us dead – we are talking microscopic invaders that want to get inside our bodies and kill us. Lucky for us we have a secret weapon to keep us alive…ANTIBODIES In this episode we are taking a deep dive and looking at these teeny tiny antibodies and asking….why aren’t we dead? To find out we met up…
 
By now you have probably seen that picture of the BLACK HOLE! But we have some questions….in this episode of the Big Questions podcast we are asking: how big a deal is that picture of a black hole? To find out we visited the Department of Physics, University of Oxford, and met with Dr Becky Smethurst, astrophysics……
 
Earth formed over 4.5 billion years ago. We should take a moment to realise how much history that is! Volcanoes are just one of Earth’s creations that have stood the test of time and on this Big Questions podcast we want to know: did volcanoes help kill off the dinosaurs? To find out the answer we visited the Department of Earth Sciences at The Uni…
 
Our nerves don’t stop talking. They’re 24-7 communication systems for our bodies. But does all this cellular chitta-chatta actually make a noise? For 100’s of years, scientists have been trying to figure out how exactly our nervous system relays messages. Part of the secret may lie in a sound wave! On this episode of the Big Questions podcast we ar…
 
There are a lot of plastic bags out there. Every year we get through 1 trillion plastic bags worldwide. Quick math, that means we are using 1 million bags per minute. But wouldn’t it be nice if we could turn this plastic into something useful? Like fuel for your car? On this episode of the Big Questions podcast, we are looking at the world of waste…
 
King Kong, PI, Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind and Superman III. What do these 4 films have in common? SCIENCE! They caught attention of one film fan Edwin Davies. On this episode of the Big Questions podcast we are separating the fact and fiction and asking the question: What did Hollywood get right and wrong in these movies?…
 
Most new-born mammals and some reptiles emerge from their mothers through the usual channels. But baby birds are stuck cracking open eggshells – but why? In this week’s Oxford Sparks Big Questions podcast we are visiting Marie-Claire Koschowitz, evolutionary biologist and asking: Why do birds lay eggs? Warning: parents if you don’t want to have the…
 
You can’t turn on the TV or read a newspaper article without a daily reporting of crime. As technology and computer algorithms advance we want to know if there will be a computer model that could know us better than ourselves. In this episode of the Big Questions podcast we visited Seena Fazel, Professor of Forensic Psychology at the Department of …
 
Who doesn’t love a cuddle? Whether it is from a pet or a person they just make us feel good. But, would you believe wrapping your arms around someone else can actually improve your gut health? In this episode of the Oxford Sparks 'Big Questions' podcast we are looking at lemurs and asking: Why should we cuddle? To find out we went to the Department…
 
Uranus, the seventh planet from the sun, has the poetic name of the Greek god of the heavens. In the English language, it is, unfortunately, the literal butt of every astronomy joke. And last year the new discovery about the seventh planet’s odour – or, more precisely, the chemical composition of its atmosphere – has not helped the comic element. I…
 
Field work. It sounds like a lot of fun! Scientists get to travel the world visiting exotic locations seeing and experiencing incredible things. But in reality they can find themselves outside the comforts of their lab with some interesting things happening to them! This podcast episode is a little different to our usual Big Question series, as we …
 
If you have been in a supermarket recently you will have noticed it, all of a sudden all of the shelves have become more vegan friendly. With a New Year upon us and resolutions being made – is it time to take the plunge and say good bye to meat and dairy? In this episode of the Big Questions podcast we are asking: Should I be a vegan? To find out w…
 
It is that time a year again where our relationships are tested to find that perfect Christmas gift! Wouldn’t it be nice if there was an algorithm that could do it for you? In this episode of the Big Questions podcast we ask the question: Can a machine pick a perfect Christmas gift? To find out we went to the Department of Computer Science to speak…
 
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