Episodes
One way to delve deep into the ancient history of the Earth - or other planetary bodies for that matter - is to examine the magnetism recorded by rocks. Kind of like a fossilised magnetic fingerprint. But trying to do this in an environment where another magnetic field exists (i.e. everywhere on Earth!) is pretty challenging. Enter the 'magnetically shielded room'! Join us as we catch up with Prof James Bryson from Oxford's Department of Earth Sciences, and find out all about this very...
Published 01/12/22
"Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, had a very shiny nose..." Many of us will be very familiar with Santa's famous antlered friend. But did you know that many reindeer actually do have red noses? But why? In this festive episode of the Big Questions Podcast, we ask Oxford polar biologist Ignacio (Nacho) Juarez Martinez to share some of the reasons we find red pigments in animals, and to explain why he thinks Rudolph's nose is so red!
Published 12/22/21
Published 12/22/21
Online communication channels are popular, to say the least. Sadly, these open channels of communication also open up the potential for harm, through online hate speech. The problem is so large that we require AI to help detect it. But what about when it comes to emoji? When the same emoji can have vastly different meanings depending on the context, how can we use AI to detect their use as hate speech? We speak to Oxford AI researcher Hannah Rose Kirk to find out.
Published 12/08/21
In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic there was a lot of confusion, as we all tried to figure out what we should and shouldn't do to best protect ourselves and others. Fortunately, we now have more definitive answers to some of our most pressing questions - which are backed-up by data - including "umm...should I be wearing a mask?". As COVID cases are again on the rise across Europe, this is the question we're putting to demographer and behavioural scientist Prof Melinda Mills.
Published 11/24/21
Satellites have been orbiting our planet for the past few decades. We might be familiar with how they can be used to track weather, or beam television and phone signals around the world. But did you know, that by capturing images of the Earth outside the visible spectrum, they're able to offer a unique perspective of the ground beneath our feet? They could even - as Earth observations specialist Maral Bayaraa tells us - provide a remote early warning system for an environmental catastrophe,...
Published 11/12/21
From California to Greece to Australia, it seems like every time we switch on the news there's another wildfire report. Some fires are natural - in fact, they're a fundamental part of many ecosystems - but the severity and frequency of the wildfires we are now witnessing is beyond natural levels. Human-ignited "megafires" are causing devastation across the planet. Climate change and inadequate ecosystem management are key contributors to the problem, but what are the possible solutions?
Published 11/03/21
Chocolate. It’s rare to find anyone who isn’t partial to a square or two of this delicious treat. But is its very existence in danger? (*Cue worried faces.*) In this episode of the Big Questions Podcast we chat to chocoholic and researcher Acheampong Atta-Boateng, who studies the relationship between cocoa trees and their micro-pollinators. We hear about how monocropping, pesticides and climate change all pose a risk to the cocoa tree and ask – could chocolate go extinct?
Published 10/20/21
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 is developing an innovative feature - an 'ethical black box' that acts like a data recorder for use when adverse incidents or accidents occur. How would it work? Listen and find out as we present our very own radio play!
Published 06/23/21
Do you remember when the price of fizzy drinks in the UK went up slightly a few years ago? 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 the customer. Following the success of this tax (perhaps not for your pocket, but fizzy drinks now contain less sugar) we're asking public health nutritionist Dr Lauren Bandy - is a snack tax on the...
Published 06/09/21
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 so special. 
Published 05/26/21
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 been affected over the past year. He also tells us about a new study into the impact of COVID-19 infection itself on mental health.
Published 05/12/21
Their distinctive 'teacher teacher' call is synonymous with British gardens, but great t**s 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, we catch up with ecologist Dr Charlotte Regan, one of the scientists who monitors the Wytham Woods great tit population, which has been systematically studied since...
Published 04/28/21
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 Institute, who is looking at ways to improve the cooling mechanisms of aircraft engines, to boost their efficiency and ultimately make flying more...
Published 04/14/21
The moon may be the closest planetary body to us, but we still have a lot to learn about it. 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? Here we chat to Dr Katherine Shirley, a planetary scientist at the University of Oxford who is also a member of the science team for NASA's Lunar Trailblazer mission. A hydroponic station on the moon? Maybe it's not just sci-fi fantasy...
Published 03/31/21
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 us as we chat to sleep expert Prof Colin Espie about his latest research, which looks at the impact of lockdown on sleep across 14 European...
Published 03/17/21
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 podcast as we chat to lion biologist Dr Matthew Wijers - a researcher who has trawled through a whopping 1440 hours of lion audio, all in the name...
Published 03/03/21
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 of years to explore the possible origins of this remarkable inter-species bond. 
Published 02/17/21
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 Centre for Practical Ethics, about why this decision is so ethically complicated. 
Published 02/03/21
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 Practical Ethics, about this very big question.
Published 01/20/21
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 at the Oxford Internet Institute, all about his latest study (fans of Animal Crossing and Plants vs. Zombies - this one's for you!).
Published 01/06/21
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 favourite that comes down from the attic each year? Or maybe going to choose a real tree gets you into the festive spirit? But have you ever wondered which is best environmentally? We chat to forest scientist Henry Hung about which trees are the greenest (not...
Published 12/16/20
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! Could you be next year's winner? Join us as Joshua shares his tips!
Published 12/02/20
We've probably all heard the phrase 'Big Brother is watching you', but are we really under constant surveillance? Is it actually possible to be a fully functioning member of modern society without being tracked? And how is technology being used to identify protestors involved in Black Lives Matter demonstrations? We find out with Anjuli Shere, from Oxford's Department of Computer Science and Channel 4's show 'Hunted'. Other people to look up for more! Simone Browne, Shoshana Zuboff and Ken...
Published 11/18/20
'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 Podcast, we're asking zoologist Alegria Olmedo "Can celebrities save the pangolin?"
Published 11/04/20