We are all made of particles – but what are particles made of? It’s a question that’s been perplexing scientists for centuries - for so long, in fact, that listener Doug in Canada wants to know if there’s a limit to how much they can ever discover.
CrowdScience heads out to CERN, in Switzerland, to find out. Birthplace of the internet, home to the Large Hadron Collider, and the site of the Higgs Boson’s discovery – the fundamental particle that is thought to give all other particles their mass, and one of the most important scientific finds of the 21st Century. But that revelation wasn’t an end to the quest – in fact, it has raised many more questions for the physicists and engineers involved. Dr David Barney, CMS, and Dr Tara Nanut, LHCb, tell us why.
And now they have announced that they are considering building a new, larger particle collider to find answers. The Future Circular Collider would be a hundred kilometres long and sited partly under Lake Geneva, smashing together sub-atomic particles at unprecedented energies in the hope of revealing the fundamental building blocks of all matter in the Universe. But any outcomes are by no means certain, and it could cost up to €29 billion. Perhaps physicists need to think completely differently about how to unpick what makes our universe – we see how one research team at Rutherford Appleton Laboratory near Oxford is doing just that, as they’re developing a collider that is not kilometres but centimetres long. Dr Charlotte Palmer, University of Oxford, tells us how.
However these fundamental questions are tackled, critics say that the money could be better spent on other research areas such as combating climate change. But supporters argue that its discoveries could uncover new technologies that will benefit future generations in ways we can’t predict. Anand Jagatia meets the scientists responsible to making this next giant leap into the quantum unknown.
(Photo: CMS experiment at CERN, Switzerland. Photo credit: CERN)
Why do we find things beautiful?
Humans seem programmed to appreciate beauty - whether that’s an attractive face, a glorious sunset, or a stirring piece of music. Of course, our individual tastes are all different, and culture plays a huge part too - but why are we so struck by whatever it is we find beautiful? What is that pleasurable sensation we get when we see or hear something we like? And has the ability to appreciate beauty given us any evolutionary advantages?
In a special edition of CrowdScience from the International Science Festival in Gothenburg, Sweden, we are joined by a panel of experts to explore how far science can explain the mystery of beauty. We look to biology, the brain, art and mathematics, to see how patterns, rhythms and symmetry contribute to our experience of beauty. And we ask whether machines can recognise or ‘appreciate’ beauty – and to what extent artificial intelligence is starting to confuse or influence what we think of as beautiful.
Presenter: Marnie Chesterton
Producer: Cathy Edwards
Photo: A peacock. Credit: Getty Images/bobbieo
What are dreams for?
There are very good reasons to sleep: to regulate the body’s metabolism, blood pressure and other aspects of health. But do we actually need to dream? Is there an evolutionary reason for it?
Marnie Chesterton takes her dream diary to a dream lab to explore this very popular preoccupation of many CrowdScience listeners.
What would happen if we didn’t dream? What purpose do dreams serve? Can we really interpret them meaningfully, or are they merely random signals from the brain? The latest research says talking about them could be more important than we realise.
And what about controlling our dreams? Marnie finds herself a willing participant in a study on lucid dreaming – of which sleep scientists are only just starting to understand the psychological benefits.
Presenter: Marnie Chesterton
Producer: Dominic Byrne
(Image: Woman dreaming on a cloud up in the sky. Credit: Getty Images)
Which milk is best for me and the planet?
Swapping dairy milk for a plant-based milk is a growing trend that promises environmental benefits. But what is the best milk considering both our health and the planet’s? Scottish listener Nancy asks CrowdScience to unpick the pros and cons of plant-based milks. Presenter Graihagh Jackson digs into the research and finds that if the whole world were willing to swap dairy for soy, we would free up a land mass the size of Australia and reduce greenhouse gas emissions dramatically. So in theory the planet would be happier – but would we? Milk is packed with calcium and other nutrients that we humans need in our diet. And the ability to digest the sugar in dairy called ‘lactose’ is, according to evolutionary geneticist Mark Thomas, the most advantageous genetic mutation in human history. So can we live without it?
Presenter: Graihagh Jackson
Producer: Louisa Field
(Image: A family enjoying milk at breakfast. Credit: Getty Images)
Why do we like some animals and hate others?
Cute isn't exactly a scientific term but we all know what we mean by it, don't we? Endearing, adorable, lovable and sweet. So what makes us fawn over a puppy, but run away from rats? Why do we spend millions on trying to keep Giant Pandas alive but spend even more on pushing endangered species like blue-fin Tuna to the brink of extinction by eating them? And if we changed what we classified as cute or ugly, how might that change the battle to protect the Earth's fragile biodiversity?
CrowdScience listener Oliksey, from the Ukraine, wanted to know if cuteness is universal and what drives it? Seeking the answers, Marnie Chesterton cuddles puppies and enters a cramped spider nursery, seeking the science of cute, and exploring the evolutionary reasons for fear and disgust.
Presenter: Marnie Chesterton
Producer: Rory Galloway
(Image: A cute and scary spider sitting on a green leaf. Credit: Getty Images)