Science Stories - Mary Somerville, pioneer of popular science writing
Mary Somerville was a self-taught genius who wrote best-selling books translating, explaining and drawing together different scientific fields and who was named the nineteenth century's "queen of science". Born Mary Fairfax in 1780, she was an unlikely scientific hero. Her parents and her first husband did not support her scientific pursuits and it was only when she became a widow at 28 with two small children that she began to do novel mathematics. With her second husband, William Somerville, she entered the intellectual life of the times in Edinburgh and London and met all the great scientific thinkers.
Naomi Alderman tells the story of Mary Somerville's long life - she lived till she was 92. She discusses how Mary came to be a writer about science with her biographer, Professor Kathryn Neeley of the University of Virginia, and the state of popular science writing books with writer Jon Turney.
Main Image: Mary Fairfax, Mrs William Somerville, 1780 - 1872. Writer on science, by Thomas Phillips, 1834. Oil on canvas. (Photo by National Galleries Of Scotland / Getty Images)
Stem cells: Hope and hype
Lesley Curwen reports on the magical aura that has been drawing so many people around the world to pay for “regenerative” therapies which harness the healing power of stem cells. In this programme, she reports on the battle of regulators in the USA and in Australia to stop unproven and risky therapies harming patients.
Featuring: Texas lawyer Hartley Hampton; Galen Dinning; stem cell researcher and host of The Niche blog, Professor Paul Knoepfler from the University of California, Davis School of Medicine; Dr Sean Morrison, Professor of Paediatrics at the University of Texas South Western and former president of the global body representing stem cell researchers the ISSCR; Laura Beil, host of the Wondery podcast, Bad Batch; Peter Marks of the Food and Drug Administration, the FDA; Professor Megan Munsie from Stem Cell Australia and chair of the ISSCR Ethics Committee; Dr Sarah Chan from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland.
(Picture: Stem cells are undifferentiated cells that can specialized through mitosis to many other cell types of multicellular organisms. Credit: selvanegra/Getty Images)
Stem cell hard sell
Stem cells are cells with superpowers. They can become many different types of cells in our bodies, from muscle cells to brain cells, and some can even repair tissue. But the remarkable promise of this exciting new field of medicine has led to a new booming market of private clinics, which offer to treat a range of conditions (from arthritis to autism) using regenerative therapies which they claim harness the healing powers of stem cells. In this first of two programmes, Lesley Curwen investigates this expanding industry in the UK and Europe and discovers that these treatments are often unproven, unregulated and can cause harm.
She reports on disturbing cases of UK patients who have suffered infection, blood clots and even sight loss and hears from orthopaedic surgeons concerned that these so called stem cell therapies are jumping ahead of the science. And Lesley finds out how these procedures, which often cost thousands of dollars for each treatment, are operating under a loophole in EU Directives which govern the law in this area. There’s an exemption and the actual stem cell material being injected into you, may not be regulated at all.
Picture: Stem cells are undifferentiated cells that can specialized through mitosis to many other cell types of multicellular organisms, Credit: selvanegra/Getty Images
The road to Glasgow
Climate change is upon us. In 2018 the IPCC published a report with the most significant warning about the impact of climate change in 20 years. Unless the world keeps warming to below 1.5% degrees Celsius the impact on the climate will be severe. Sea levels will rise, leading to flooding, and extremes of temperature will become more common. The UK Met Office has forecast that the global average surface temperature for the five-year period to 2023 is predicted to be around 1.0 °C above pre-industrial levels.
Just before Christmas the COP 25 meeting in Madrid ended with a compromise deal. All countries will need to put new climate pledges on the table by the time of the next major conference in Glasgow at the end of 2020. But there were no decisions on the future of carbon trading and big players such as US, India, China and Brazil opposed calls to be more ambitious in our pledges to reduce man made global warming.
Across 2020 in Discovery Matt McGrath will be reporting on what is happening to save the planet.
In this first programme he takes stock after Madrid and finds out what the world’s key players say has to be done before the meeting in Glasgow.
(Photo: Man with placards and amplifier on global strike for climate change. Credit: Halfpoint/Getty Images)
As the Earth experiences more extreme weather, and wildlife is dying, from corals, to insects, to tropical forests, more people are experiencing ecological anxiety and grief. Science journalist Gaia Vince has been reporting on the growing crisis across our planet’s ecosystems, and has met many who are shocked and saddened by the enormity of the environmental changes taking place. She talks to scientists and medics working at the frontline of environmental change, and hears that, despite being expected to distance themselves from what’s happening, they are affected emotionally.
Ashlee Consulo, of Memorial University on the Canadian island of Labrador, and Courtney Howard, a doctor in Yellowknife, tell Gaia about their experiences of living and working with indigenous peoples in areas where temperatures are rising rapidly and the ice is melting.
Steve Simpson of Exeter University and Andy Radford of Bristol University are both professors of biology who have watched coral reefs become devastated by climate change. Recently they wrote a letter to the journal Science headlined Grieving environmental scientists need support to raise awareness of the issues researchers are facing.
And Gaia visits the aquarium at the Horniman Museum in London, where Jamie Craggs is trying to breed corals for future generations.
Image: Greenland Inuit hunter (Credit: Earl Grad/Getty Images)