Laser swords, time machines, matter transporters - before the turn of the millennium, movies, books and television promised some extraordinary future technology. Now we’re twenty years into the next century and CrowdScience listeners are wondering: Where is it all?
Marnie Chesterton delves into the sci-fi cupboard to dust off some imaginary gadgets and find out if any are finally becoming reality. How far into the future will we have to go to find a time machine as imagined by H.G. Wells in 1895? Where are the lightsabers wielded by fictional Jedi? Why are we still using cars, planes and trains when a matter transporter or a flying taxi could be so much more convenient? Marnie is joined by a panel of experts to find out if and when any of these much-longed for items are going to arrive.
Presenter Marnie Chesterton. Producer Jennifer Whyntie
(Photo: Dr Who, Tardis. Travelling through time and space. Credit: BBC Copyright)
Who were the first farmers?
Farming is a relatively recent invention for our species. For most of human history, people were hunter-gatherers. They moved around the landscape to get their food, hunting prey and gathering fruits and cereals from their environment.
But then, around 10 thousand years ago, human society shifted, and the first farmers appear in archaeological records around the world. So how did this idea start? Who planted the first seed and domesticated the wild ancestors of our cows and chickens?
That’s what Listener Brian wanted to know, and so CrowdScience presenter Anand Jagatia seeks out the archaeologists, geneticists and anthropologists who can give us the answers.
Presenter: Anand Jagatia,
Producer: Rory Galloway
(Photo: A farmer working in a green cotton field with two bulls. Credit: Getty Images)
Why do some people eat soil?
For some people, the idea of eating soil is weird at best and at worst disgusting and dirty. But globally the practice of geophagy – or the regular and intentional consumption of earth – is more common than you might imagine. The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates described it 2500 years ago and even today, eating soil, earth and clay can be seen in a wide range of human cultures as well in hundreds of animal species. But what’s the point of it? And what’s going on in the body to drive cravings for things that aren’t bona fide food?
That’s the question bothering CrowdScience listener Amy. Anna Lacey discovers the special properties of the soil people eat and the purpose geophagy might serve for our health. She also finds out the extent to which our bodies can tell us what we’re lacking and drive us to crave the substances we need to reset the balance.
Produced and Presented by Anna Lacey
(Photo: Hands holding some soil. Credit: Getty Images)
Can we prevent traffic jams?
It’s frustrating to be stuck in traffic. Listener Collins from Nairobi, Kenya, spends at least three hours a day in traffic and he counts himself lucky. Many of his friends will easily spend six hours in traffic jams to get back and forth from work. Collins wants to know whether there is hope for his hometown – has any city managed to eliminate the worst of the traffic hot spots and how did they do it?
Collins is not alone in his frustration. CrowdScience finds that congestion plays a major factor in the happiness and health of urban citizens. Commuters have been measured to have stress levels equivalent to that of riot police facing angry protesters.
So should our cities cater less for cars and what are the alternatives? Presenter Gareth Barlow heads to Copenhagen to meet the politicians and urban designers who have transformed the Danish capital from a city for cars to one for bikes and people.
Presenter: Gareth Barlow.
Produced by Louisa Field
(Photo: Afternoon traffic along Likoni road in Nairobi's Kilimani susburb. Credit: Getty Images)
What’s the best way to breathe?
Breathing is automatic: awake or asleep, running or resting, our bodies unconsciously make sure we get enough oxygen to function. But - unlike other bodily functions such as heart rate and digestion - it’s not hard to control our breathing consciously. If you’ve ever been to an exercise, meditation or yoga class, you’re probably familiar with instructions about how and when to breathe.
It was one of these instructions - “breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth” - that prompted CrowdScience listener Judi to wonder if this really was the best way to breathe during her exercise class. Is there good evidence to support the benefits of different breathing techniques - whether through the nose or mouth, fast or slow, noisy or quiet? And is consciously controlling your breath more about improving psychological focus, or optimising body mechanics?
Sports scientist Mitch Lomax takes us through the biology, chemistry and physics of breathing, and shows us how to train our respiratory muscles. We meet yoga guru Hansa Yogendra in India, where the study of pranayama - literally “breath control” in Sanskrit - is thousands of years old; and find out what scientists have discovered about the effects of these ancient techniques on the body and mind.
Presenter: Anand Jagatia.
Producer: Cathy Edwards
(Photo: A woman jogging outside, wearing sports clothes on a blue sky background. Credit: Getty Images)