Taking stock

Things roll on at the Science Hub since my last post. Officially, I have reached the end of my time with BBC Science Radio and have now joined the website folk at Science Online. In fact I am just a few desks further down the same office and can still pester the radio guys and gals on my way to and from the tea/coffee area.

News online seems a little more urgent and pressing, delivery of content daily rather than centred around one weekly show. Keeping up with news embargoes and abreast of what others are doing.

My first official story is one that I really think is a piece of brilliant science … observations of seismicity associated with volcanic eruptions at Redoubt, a magnificent volcano in Alaska. But I spent the first part of the morning reading the latest news from Mars’ Curiosity Rover to help assess how newsworthy it really is. Next I need to learn the mechanics of how to put a web page together for news online. Then I should be rather more independent come tomorrow. We’ll see what news that brings.

Anyway, I thought it was about time I recorded my output so far, since I am likely to lose track soon.


Volcanic ‘scream’ precedes eruption

Worm poo’s window into past climate

New idea tackles Earth core puzzle

Rust promises hydrogen power boost

Russian meteor shockwave circled globe twice


Science in Action (World Service) 12/07/2103 – Knitting perovskite molecules

The Science Hour (World Service) 07/07/2013 – Dark Matter

Science in Action (World Service) 05/07/2103 – Plank: Looking back to the dawn of time

The Science Hour (World Service) 30/06/2013 – Russian meteors make waves

Researcher for Material World (Radio 4) 27/06/2103 – Uncertainty in scientific research

Also, separately, on:


Mont Blanc’s glacier protects, rather than erodes -15/07/2013

Ageing rover finds evidence for an early ocean on Mars – 11/06/2013

Mystery solved: meteorite caused Tunguska devastation – 27/06/2013


and to my “famous five” I can add a few more BBC celebs spotted around the place .. Alan Yentob, Will Gompertz, and Jonathan Dimbelby.


4 … Radio … live …. it’s a Material World

Thursday is the zenith of the week for the small group I have had the joy of working amongst these last few days. 16:30 on Thursday, to be precise, with the live broadcast of “Material World”. I was able to be a small part of the last ever episode of this show, and contributed notes and queries on the topic of Scientific Uncertainty.


Yesterday I managed to recruit Profs Angela McLean (Oxford, Zoology) and Ian Stewart (Warwick, Maths) to the cause, to discuss the nature of certainty or otherwise in scientific discoveries, predictions, and methods. The results are available for all to hear here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b02yl46w  My bit lies between horse DNA and cutlery!ImageHaving written out a handful of potential questions for the presenter Gareth Mitchell, to put to the guests, together with expected possible responses from them, my work was incorporated into a draft script, as one third of the half hour content. I wrote some words for the website, found an appropriate photo and got permissions, and sat back. Angela arrived at NBH in good time, and Alex Mansfield took us up to the studio, guiding the process expertly as ever. Ania Lichtarowicz oversaw the entire process with calm professionalism, providing reassurance and encouragement in good measure.


Watching the show go out live was nail biting, What might go wrong? Who might dry up? Which major statesman might die in the next 30 minutes and upset the entire schedule? In the end Gareth was a master, guiding the discussion smoothly and seamlessly, a joy to watch and hear. Relief, and sadness, at the final episode of a great piece of radio. The only live science show on BBC Radio. I am glad I was there, just in time, to take part and to see it.Image


living in a material world


ImageDay three, a day of national treasures. I thought I would record some of the sights along my journey from the front door on Portland place to my desk. Today I came in through the old broadcasting house entrance, a fine example of 1930s power architecture. Two floors up and along a corridor I pass photo portraits of key characters in UK broadcasting history. Alec Guinness, John Peel, and Oliver Read are among them. But, in view of Wimbledon, one stood out today … Cliff Richards adorns the stairwell just before you reach the Radio 3 desks. Both Cliff and Radio 3 are national treasures, of course. So their inclusion here.

ImageOn reaching the Science Radio floor I discovered, as expected, that I was a desk refugee, with no-where to park myself for the day. Eventually I found a home. Soon after another visitor for the day came in to occupy the place opposite me .. Joan Bakewell, preparing for an upcoming broadcast. So, a holy trinity of national treasures to make my day complete.

Illuminated by their shining light, I set to work on my task for today: to help come up with guests and a conversation to form part of the final episode of Material World, going out live tomorrow at 4:30pm. At this point I discovered, with annoyance, the problem of getting appropriate academics to (i) answer their phone, (ii) answer their e-mails or (iii) agree to subject themselves to live discussion on the steam radio. When two excellent candidates eventually agreed to accede to my request I felt a small degree of elation. Message learnt – do try and be helpful when the beeb come knocking at your door.

I dropped by the folk on the news online section a little later, just after George Osborne had announced his comprehensive spending review. Science spending will be held level for recurrent spending but boosted for capital spending over the next couple of years. The result is probably as good as one might expect, but still represents a real terms contraction on the operating budget. The report mentioned some specific items of capital spend, including the UK space plane and its SABRE (synergistic air breathing rocket engine): a fact I managed to spot before the news desk did, to my competitive satisfaction (;-))

The afternoon was spent trying to decide how tomorrow’s Materials World piece, a conversation slot, might pan out. It involves writing a script with possible questions and potential answers, so that Gareth Mitchell, tomorrow’s presenter, will be prepared for whatever may occur. The whole process seems highly uncertain to me. Fingers crossed etc.