Physicist and broadcaster Brian Cox presents a tribute to his science hero, Carl Sagan.
Agatha Christie’s cleverly plotted detective stories made her the 20th century’s best-selling fiction author—she sold billions of books throughout a career that spanned the 1920s to the 1970s. But her intricate novels may reveal more about the inner workings of the human mind than she intended: according to Dr. Ian Lancashire at the University of Toronto, the Queen of Crime left behind hidden clues to the real-life mysteries of human aging.
In today’s podcast, a look at what scientists uncover when they treat words like data. In Agatha’s case, an English professor makes a diagnosis decades after her death. And in a study involving 678 nuns—as Dr. Kelvin Lim and Dr. Serguei Pakhomov from the University of Minnesota explain—an unexpected find in a convent archive leads to a startling twist. In both examples, words serve as a window into aging brains…a window that may someday help pinpoint very early warning signs for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. We also hear from Sister Alberta Sheridan, a 94-year-old Nun Study participant.
Famed screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and theoretical physicist Brian Greene dissect time as we know it. What is the smallest unit of time, and what does it look like? For starters, you should stop looking at the clock, and start looking at the universe.
In part three Professor Jim Al-Khalili looks at the work of Abu Rayhan Biruni, whose work on astronomy led to the calculation of the Earth's circumference with an incredible degree of accuracy.
Jim also explores how the Christian Crusades, the invasion of the Mongols, the fall of the Abbasid dynasty and the discovery of the New World may have contributed to the slow-down of great scholarship during the 13th century.
Finally he explores the status of science in the modern Muslim world and investigates recent developments in funding, research and efforts to promote awareness of the scientific glories of the past.
In part two Dr Jackie Stedall and Professor Ian Stewart tell us the story of Al-Khwarismi, the mathematician who introduced the world to the radical system of Hindu numerals - the numbers zero to nine - and how the word algebra comes from the Arabic title of one of his books.
In his book he revolutionised maths by focussing on the relationships between numbers rather than simply using maths to find the answer to particular problems. For mathematicians today, this was a vital development in our understanding. Another legacy was his name which gives us the modern word algorithm, a process that lies at the heart of how all computers work.
Professor Nader el-Bizri tells also of the great Ibn al-Haytham, who first realised how it is that vision works.
His work with light and optics was so revolutionary that he could be seen as the father of physics, rivaling Isaac Newton for the title.
Perhaps more importantly, he was also the instigator of what we now call the scientific method. Some people have thought that such a precise approach to scientific study began in Europe, hundreds of years later.
According to the popular notion of science history, the period between the ninth and thirteenth centuries was what has come to be called the Dark Ages.
Scientific advances ground to a halt and the world languished in an intellectual backwater and then the Renaissance happened. The world woke up and great science got going again, picking up where the ancient Greeks and Romans had left off.
But, as Professor Jim Al-Khalili will show in this series, that simply is not true.
While Europe may have been less productive during this period, elsewhere in the world a vast Islamic empire was buzzing with intellectual activity.
A massive movement to translate the work of other cultures allowed scholars working in Arabic to understand, build on and then surpass the scientific achievements of the past, leaving a valuable legacy to the scientists of the European Renaissance.
In part one Jim meets Professor Peter Pormann, a specialist in the history of medicine at the great library of the medical charity the Wellcome Trust in London. He introduces us to the great physician Mohammed Ibn Zakariya ar-Razi, whose groundbreaking work on differential diagnosis, specifically with measles and smallpox, was still being quoted in English and French texts hundreds of years after his death.
Jim also goes to the chemistry laboratory of Dr Andrea Sella, who tells us about Jabir Ibn Hayyan. Jim believes that Jabir was the true father of chemistry, responsible for elevating previous work to the status of a science.
Please Explain is all about matter, anti-matter, and dark matter. Lisa Randall, Professor of Theoretical Physics at Harvard University; Michael Tuts, Professor of Physics at Columbia University and Mordecai Mark Mac-Low, Chair of the Department of Physics at the American Museum of Natural History tell us all about what it is and what it means.
When writing the Principia Mathematica, Isaac Newton declared his hand on most of the big questions in physics. He outlined the nature of space, explained the motions of the planets and conceived the operation of gravity. He also laid down the law on time declaring:
“Absolute, true, and mathematical time, of itself and from its own nature, flows equably without relation to anything external.”
For Newton time was absolute and set apart from the universe, but with the theories of Albert Einstein time became more complicated; it could be squeezed and distorted and was different in different places.
Time is integral to our experience of things but we find it very difficult to think about. It may not even exist and yet seems written into the existence of absolutely everything.
Jim Al-Khalili, Professor of Theoretical Physics and Chair in the Public Engagement in Science at the University of Surrey
Monica Grady, Professor of Planetary and Space Sciences at the Open University
Ian Stewart, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Warwick
(sometimes, they pull these shows after a week…but there's a real audio stream available on their site: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/history/inourtime/rams/inourtime_20081218.ram)