Sweating, nausea, chest pain and shortness of breath sound like the physical symptoms of a heart attack. For about 4% of the world’s population, they are also symptoms of an underdiagnosed condition that can leave sufferers curled in a ball and screaming on the floor. A CrowdScience listener wants to know why humans have panic attacks.
Host Marnie Chesterton brings on board an expert co-presenter, novelist Tim Clare, to talk us through the hows and whys. Tim suffered from crippling panic attacks for over a decade. He decided enough was enough and has combed through the scientific literature, using himself as a guinea pig, to see what helped. Anxiety can be a useful sensation, helping you to detect and avoid dangers before they happen. But when that morphs into debilitatingly unpleasant symptoms, or an internal monologue saying “that’ll go badly, best to not leave the house,” something has gone wrong. Together, Tim and Marnie explore what’s going on in the brains of those whose threat circuit is faulty.
Dr Oliva Remes, a mental health researcher at the University of Cambridge explains how common panic attacks are, and how they often present.
Dr Bonnie Furzer at the University of Western Australia explains how exercise can help. Tim takes a dip to demonstrate how cold water, and the cold shock response can help.
Dr Rebecca Taugher at the University of Iowa explains how scientists induce a panic attack in the lab, how she has been a guinea pig and why patient SM, without an amygdala, the brain’s so-called ‘fear-centre,’ could still be given a panic attack in the lab, just by inhaling extra amounts of carbon dioxide.
Professor Alexander Shackman from the University of Maryland points out that the science will come so much further when researchers look at a genuine cross-section of the population, rather than focussing on those in educational establishments (easier to study) who often don’t experience panic attacks.
PHOTO CREDIT: Woman hyperventilating into paperbag
Credit: Peter Dazeley/Getty Images
Can robots be soft?
When imagining a robot, a hard-edged, boxy, humanoid figure may spring to mind. But that is about to change.
CrowdScience presenter Alex Lathbridge is on a mission to meet the robots that bend the rules of conventionality. Inspired by how creatures like us have evolved to move, some roboticists are looking to nature to design the next generation of machines. And that means making them softer. But just how soft can a robot really be?
Join Alex as he goes on a wild adventure to answer this question from listener Sarah. He begins his quest at the ‘Hello, Robot’ Exhibition at the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany to define what a robot actually is. Amelie Klein, the exhibition curator, states anything can be a robot as long as three specific criteria are met (including a cute cuddly baby seal). With this in mind, Alex meets Professor Andrew Conn from the Bristol Robotics Lab who demonstrates how soft materials like rubber are perfect contenders for machine design as they are tough to break and - importantly for our listener’s question - bendy.
Alex is then thrown into a world of robots that completely change his idea of what machines are. He is shown how conventionally ‘hard’ machines are being modified with touches of softness to totally upgrade what they can do, including flexible ‘muscles’ for robot skeletons and silicon-joined human-like hands at the Soft Robotics Lab run by Professor Robert Katzschmann at ETH Zurich. He is then introduced to robots that are completely soft. Based on natural structures like elephant trunks and slithering snakes, these designs give robots completely new functions, such as the ability to delicately pick fruit and assist with search and rescue operations after earthquakes. Finally, Alex is presented with the idea that, in the future, a robot could be made of materials that are so soft, no trace of machine would remain after its use...
Presenter: Alex Lathbridge
Producer: Julia Ravey
(Image: RoBoa in action on a rooftop in Zurich. Credit: Julia Ravey)
Do climbing plants know where they’re going?
CrowdScience listener Eric, in New Zealand, has noticed his wisteria growing towards a neighbouring tree. He thinks that it actually knows where it’s going. But how can a plant have a sense of direction?
Plants don’t have the advantage of brains or eyes, but that doesn’t seem to stop them from being clever enough to find out from their environment where to move and how to get there – all while being rooted to the spot.
Marnie Chesterton visits the Natural History Museum and Kew Gardens in London, home to the largest collection of living plants in the world, to discover how plants make their manoeuvres, and talks to botanists and plant biologists for the latest findings on the mysterious life of climbing plants.
Dr Mariane Sousa-Baena, School of Integrative Plant Sciences, Cornell University
Dr Ilia Leitch, Senior Research Leader, Kew Gardens
Tom Freeth, Head of Plant Records, Kew Gardens
Dr Silvia Guerra, Neuroscience of Movement Laboratory, Padua University
Professor Christian Fankhauser, Centre for Integrative Genomics, Lausanne University
Dr Sandra Knapp, Merit Researcher, Natural History Museum
Where does our fat go when we exercise?
If, like this week’s Crowdscience listener Lili, you’re an avid gymgoer, you may well have wondered where your fat disappears to when you exercise?
Well, the short answer is that we convert it to energy that powers a whole range of physical processes, from breathing to walking as well as lying down and doing nothing. But the science behind energy expenditure is a little more complicated than that.
Presenter Anand Jagatia pops on an exercise bike to have his metabolism measured, and learns that he may be relying on an entirely different source of fuel as he works up a sweat. But is all that hard work worth the effort it involves? Recent research suggests there's a limit to the number of calories us humans can burn, and that doing physical activity isn’t a sure-fire way to keep trim.
Even hunter-gatherers who walk 13,000 steps a day have the same metabolic rate as the average American. So if working out isn't the best way to lose weight, how about harnessing our own fat to tackle the complications of obesity? It used to be thought brown fat was exclusive to babies (and bears) but we now know adults have some of it too, and it seems to play a vital role in combatting a range of chronic diseases including hypertension and diabetes.
Presenter: Anand Jagatia
Producer: Marijke Peters
Are yoga claims bogus claims?
Yoga benefits our health in many ways, say the yogis, but which claims are backed up by science? Can yoga actually alleviate depression, fix lower-back pain or even reduce cardiovascular disease?
Presenter Marnie Chesterton gets into her Lotus (position) and finds out first-hand at a class. Whilst in warrior one, she discusses the potential physical and mental health benefits of this ancient art of stretching, balance and movement with her class teacher. Returning from mat to studio, Marnie puts some of those claims to experts around the globe. She investigates the evidence to find out whether health boosting properties are the key to yoga's enduring popularity.
Prof. Holger Cramer
Dr Richard Davidson
Presented by Marnie Chesterton
Produced by Richard Walker