"Life finds a way"...This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of the release of Stephen Spielberg and Universal Studio's dinosaur masterpiece 'Jurassic Park'. A rousing soundtrack, gutsy kids, and graphics which have stood the test of time remarkably well - the film has undeniably become a classic. But - here's the big question - could it actually happen? Using today's technologies, could we actually extract ancient dinosaur DNA from blood-sucking mosquitoes preserved in amber? And then use...
Published 05/31/23
Published 05/17/23
Many of us will have had to deal with a bacterial infection at some point or another. The solution? Often, antibiotics. But as the issue of antibiotic resistance becomes more and more of a concern, might there be an alternative to tackling bacterial infections with drugs? We chat to biomedical engineer Dr Sara Keller about how sound waves could potentially be used to break down bacterial cells.
Published 05/17/23
Increasing levels of CO2 in our atmosphere are a big cause for concern. So what if we could find a way to not only remove some CO2 from the air, but turn it into something useful too? That's exactly what Dr Tiancun Xiao and his team have been working on...and they've found a way to turn CO2 into jet fuel!
Published 05/03/23
Forced displacement of human populations owing to conflict or natural disasters is very difficult to measure. During these crises, the traditional methods of assessing changes in populations - which mostly rely on surveys - are simply not possible. We chat to Dr Douglas Leasure from Oxford's Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science about how his team have been using social media data to assess the internal displacement of populations in Ukraine since the Russian invasion in February 2022, in...
Published 04/19/23
Demographers (researchers who study the statistics of human populations) look at factors such as birth rates, death rates, migration and life expectancy. But what exactly is meant by the term 'life expectancy'? How is it calculated, and how has it changed after the pandemic? We speak to Prof Jennifer Dowd from the Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science to find out. You can find out more about Prof Dowd's work in our micro-documentary Demography: Understanding Our World:...
Published 04/05/23
More than half the world's population is at risk from dengue fever, a viral infection that is spread via the bite of an infected mosquito. While some cases of the disease can be mild, others can be extremely dangerous and even fatal - particularly if someone has contracted the virus previously. When cases of dengue fever are high, those at risk can take some preventative measures, such as wearing clothing that covers as much skin as possible, using mosquito nets at night, and avoiding...
Published 03/22/23
Our gut microbiome (that's all the microorganisms - such as bacteria, viruses and fungi - living in our gut) is really important for healthy digestion. But did you know that it's also linked to our mental health? In this episode of the Big Questions Podcast we chat to neuroscientist Prof Philip Burnet from Oxford's Department of Psychiatry about how our gut is connected to our brain, and how taking prebiotic and probiotic supplements could even help in the treatment of mood and psychotic...
Published 03/08/23
We've talked about a lot of different types of research on this podcast...from investigations into drought, to space exploration, to the future of food. But what about researching 'research' itself? That's right, on this week's episode of the Big Questions Podcast, we're going meta! We chat to Dr Patricia Logullo, a meta-researcher from the Nuffield Department for Orthopaedics, Rheumatology and Musculoskeletal Sciences, about why it is so important to examine the practice of research itself,...
Published 02/22/23
Not everyone is the biggest fan of spiders...we know that. They might not be the first thing that springs to mind when it comes to romance, either! But, you've got to admit, when it comes to engineering, they're pretty incredible. Capable of making up to seven types of silk, and able to sense vibrations through thousands of 'ears' on their legs, there's a lot we can learn from spiders when it comes to new materials and sensor technologies. So, on this year's Valentine's episode of the Big...
Published 02/08/23
Ask an internet aficionado what the 'next big thing' is, and they might respond with 'the metaverse'. This is the idea that we could soon be wandering in a virtual world - a kind of global, immersive video game. But are we really just one VR headset away from paradise? Or is the metaverse doomed before it's even really got off the ground? We chat to Dr Bernie Hogan from the Oxford Internet Institute to find out if Big Tech's confidence in the metaverse might be misplaced.
Published 01/25/23
If our internal body clock is telling us it's 3am, but the external environment is telling us it's 12 noon, that's called jet lag. It's a mis-match between what's going on inside our bodies and what's happening outside. Those who have travelled abroad - particularly to somewhere in a significantly different time zone - will be familiar with the feeling, but it's not just stepping off a plane that can cause it. 'Social jet lag' is a particular problem for shift workers, for example. An...
Published 01/11/23
While the tradition of eating turkey at Christmas can be traced back to Henry VIII, it's really only been a staple part of our Christmas dinner since the early 20th Century. However, in the UK, it's now hard to imagine a Christmas spread without a turkey at its centre! But - with meat consumption linked to negative impacts on both our health and the planet - should we feel guilty about enjoying this part of the festive feast? In the opinion of social psychologist Elif Naz Çoker, the answer is...
Published 12/14/22
Around 10% of us will experience kidney stones at some point in our life. They occur when waste products in the blood form small crystals, which gather together in the kidneys to form hard lumps. Small kidney stones (4mm in diameter) usually pass through the body naturally, with no medical intervention required. However, larger kidney stones may require treatment. For example, a laser beam can be used within the kidney to break a large stone up into smaller pieces. During this laser...
Published 11/30/22
When a space rock smashes into the surface of a planet, a hole - or crater - is formed. New craters might be relatively straightforward to identify on Earth, but what about on other planets, such as Mars? In this episode we hear from Dr Ben Fernando, a researcher from Oxford's Department of Physics and a scientist on NASA's InSight mission, about the techniques used to discover new craters on the red planet.
Published 11/16/22
We often hear that we're remarkably similar to our primate relatives, both in terms of our genetics and our behaviour. We're social beings. We use tools. But only humans have come to dominate the planet - why? Could the answer lie in the small differences between the human brain and that of other primates? In this episode of the Oxford Sparks Big Questions Podcast, we talk to neuroscientist Dr Rogier Mars about what makes the human brain so special. Please note that Dr Rogier Mars and his...
Published 11/02/22
Here in the UK, we have a reputation for grey, drizzly weather. But there's no denying that this summer was HOT and this summer was DRY. With soaring temperatures and little to no rain for weeks on end, it was no surprise that we found ourselves in a drought, with a ban on hosepipes declared and careful use of water encouraged. But, did you know that we're still in that drought? In this episode of the Big Questions Podcast we chat to Dr Anna Murgatroyd to find out what characterises a...
Published 10/19/22
Are we alone in the Universe? What exactly lies at the centre of our galaxy? Just like our podcast, the James Webb Space Telescope aims to answer some *very big questions*. Launched on Christmas Day 2021 and hurtling towards an orbit 1.5 million miles from the Earth, the JWST (as it's known to those in the business!) is a follow-up to the Hubble Space Telescope - and it's three times bigger. Decades in the making, the JWST will begin collecting and transmitting scientific data in July 2022,...
Published 06/15/22
Steel has become an essential commodity in modern society - used in everything from our cars and our buildings to the cutlery we use to eat our dinner. Unfortunately, the process used to traditionally produce steel (mining iron ore and combining it with carbon in a blast oxygen furnace) releases a huge amount of CO2. So, is there a cleaner way of producing steel? In this episode, we chat to Prof Barbara Rossi about 'green steel', and how it could improve the sustainability and resilience of...
Published 06/01/22
How do you retrieve data from sensors embedded in underwater settings - such as those monitoring ecosystem change, for example? Well, when human divers aren't an option (which is often the case) it's over to the autonomous robots! In this episode of the Big Questions Podcast we speak to Prof Nick Hawes from the Oxford Robotics Institute about the challenges - and possibilities - that such robots bring to the field.
Published 05/18/22
Is there anything nicer than a fresh, juicy, home-grown tomato on a summer's day? Whether you like them sliced up in a sandwich or blended into a delicious sauce, in this episode of the Big Questions podcast we reveal the secrets behind growing the perfect tomato. Let us transport you to Trap Grounds Allotments in Oxford, where Emily is joined by plant scientist Christian Norton, who is ready to reveal his five easy steps to the ultimate crop!
Published 05/04/22
Misinformation about the war in Ukraine - and countless other topics, such as the pandemic and climate change - spreads like wildfire online. It aims to confuse people, make them question their own knowledge, and ultimately raise suspicion and doubt. But how exactly does this misinformation spread, why is it so prevalent on social media, and what are the various platforms doing to help prevent it? We chat to Dr Aliaksandr Herasimenka from the Oxford Internet Institute to find out.
Published 04/20/22
Masks, social distancing, lockdowns. We've become intimately familiar with numerous COVID-19 control measures over the past two years. Now, with most restrictions gone (at least here in England), does that mean that the pandemic is really over? In this episode, we chat to Erica Charters, Professor of the Global History of Medicine at the University of Oxford and Principal Investigator of the 'How Epidemics End' interdisciplinary project. 
Published 04/06/22
From biting our nails to idly scrolling on our phones, we all have those habits we wish we didn't. In this episode of the Big Questions Podcast, we chat to neuroscientist Charlotte Collingwood about what makes a habit, why we develop them, and how we might go about kicking a bad habit.  
Published 03/23/22
Over the past year, we've seen our energy bills reach unimaginable heights. The war in Ukraine is having devastating effects for Ukrainians and creating ripples for international fuel costs. We're now in the midst of a 'perfect storm' when it comes to energy supply - but where are we in the story? Is the energy crisis going to get worse, and what are the potential solutions to bringing those prices down? We chat to Phil Grünewald who considers the current situation a wake-up call to improve...
Published 03/09/22