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The environmentalist tells the heartbreaking story of a unique band of brilliant blue birds – who talk, fall in love, and grieve – struggling against the forces of extinction and their own desirability. By the second half of the 20th century the birds became so valuable that they drew up to $40,000 on the black markets. When, in 1990, only one was found to be living in the wild, an emergency international rescue operation was launched and an amnesty declared, allowing private collectors to come forward with their illegal birds, possible mates for the last wild Spix. In a breathtaking display of stoicism and endurance, the loneliest bird in the world had lived without a mate for fourteen years, had outwitted predators and second-guessed the poachers. But would he take to a new companion?
A conversation between two of the most inspiring contemporary science writers. Davis’ The Beautiful Cure: Harnessing Your Body’s Natural Defences describes the scientific quest to understand how the immune system works – and how it is affected by stress, sleep, age and our state of mind. Blakemore’s Inventing Ourselves: The Secret Life of the Teenage Brain won the 2018 Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize. They talk to Hannah Critchlow.
After her father’s death from dementia, writer and campaigner Nicci Gerrard set out to explore the illness that now touches millions of us, yet which we still struggle to speak about. What does dementia mean for those who live with it, and those who care for them? The first section of Lavinia Greenlaw’s new poetry collection The Built Moment is a sequence of poems called The Sea is an Edge and an Ending, about her father’s dementia and his disappearance into the present tense. It is not a narrative of illness so much as a meditation on the metaphysics of memory and loss. Chaired by Rosie Boycott.
We profile two more extraordinary books shortlisted for the Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize: Lucy Cooke’s The Unexpected Truth about Animals: Stoned Sloths, Lovelorn Hippos, and Other Tales from the Wild Side of Wildlife and Mark Miodownik’s Liquid: The Delightful and Dangerous Substances That Flow Through Our Lives. In conversation with Roger Highfield of the Science Museum.
The founding Editor-in-chief of WIRED’s UK edition travels the globe in search of the most exciting and pioneering start-ups building the future, meeting ambitious entrepreneurs disrupting businesses in almost every sector. And yet too often the companies think they can innovate through jargon; with talk of change agents and co-creation gurus, ideas portals and webinars, paradigm shifts and pilgrimages to Silicon Valley. It’s mostly pointless innovation theatre – corporate nonsense that has little to do with delivering real change. But during this quest he’s also discovered some genuinely exciting and transformative approaches to innovation, often in places you might least expect…
Happiness expert Professor Paul Dolan draws on a variety of studies ranging over wellbeing, inequality and discrimination to bust the common myths about our sources of happiness. He shows that there can be many unexpected paths to lasting fulfilment. Some of these might involve not going into higher education, choosing not to marry, rewarding acts rooted in self-interest and caring a little less about living forever. By freeing ourselves from the myth of the perfect life, we might each find a life worth living. Chaired by Horatio Clare.
The Nobel Prize-winning chemist in conversation with the presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Inside Science and author of The Book of Humans.
Everyone knows about DNA. It is the essence of our being, influencing who we are and what we pass on to our children. But the information in DNA can’t be used without a machine to decode it. The ribosome is that machine. Older than DNA itself, it is the mother of all molecules. Virtually every molecule made in every cell was either made by the ribosome or by proteins that were themselves made by the ribosome.
A fascinating insider account, Gene Machine charts Ramakrishnan’s unlikely journey from his first fumbling experiments in a biology lab to being at the centre of a fierce competition at the cutting edge of modern science.
Advances in biotechnology, cybertechnology, robotics, and artificial intelligence, if pursued and applied wisely, could empower us to boost the developing and developed world and overcome the threats humanity faces on earth, from climate change to nuclear war. At the same time, further advances in space science will allow humans to explore the solar system and beyond. But there is no ‘Plan B’ for Earth – no viable alternative within reach if we do not care for our home planet. Lord Rees is Astronomer Royal.
Jones explores the dependency of all life and systems on Earth – ecological, biological and physical – on our nearest star. He explores the connections between those systems, and the connections between the various disciplines that study them, from astronomy to cancer prevention, from microbiology to the study of sleep. He also charts his own work and interests over fifty years against developments in a wide range of fields, showing how what was once seen as a narrow specialism has become a subject of vast scientific, social and political significance. Jones is Professor of Genetics at University College London and President of the Galton Institute.
Without calculus, we wouldn’t have mobile phones, TV, GPS or ultrasound; we wouldn’t have unravelled DNA or discovered Neptune or figured out how to put 5,000 songs in our pocket. Though many of us were scared away from this essential, engrossing subject in high school, Strogatz’s brilliantly creative, down-to-earth history shows that calculus is not about complexity, it’s about simplicity. It harnesses an unreal number – infinity – to tackle real-world problems, breaking them down into easier ones and then reassembling the answers into solutions that feel miraculous. Strogatz is Professor of Applied Mathematics at Cornell University.
The sequencing of the human genome has revolutionised how scientists search for the genetic causes of human diseases. Human geneticist Professor Soranzo of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute will describe how the field has evolved in the last fifteen years, discussing how new genetic evidence is used to better understand the interplay between our DNA (‘nature’) and the environment (‘nurture’).
Moller traces the journey taken by the ideas of three of the greatest scientists of antiquity through seven cities and over a thousand years. From Muslim Córdoba to Catholic Toledo, from Salerno’s medieval medical school to Palermo, capital of Sicily’s vibrant mix of cultures and, finally, to Venice, where that great merchant city’s printing presses would enable Euclid’s geometry, Ptolemy’s system of the stars and Galen’s vast body of writings on medicine to spread even more widely. Moller reveals the web of connections between the Islamic world and Christendom, connections that would both preserve and transform astronomy, mathematics and medicine from the early Middle Ages to the Renaissance. Chaired by Oliver Balch.
Humans are the slightest of twigs on a single family tree that encompasses four billion years, a lot of twists and turns and a billion species. All of those organisms are rooted in a single origin with a common code that underwrites our existence. Rutherford explores how many of the things once considered to be exclusively human are not: we are not the only species that communicates, makes tools, utilises fire or has sex for reasons other than to make new versions of ourselves. Evolution has, however, allowed us to develop our culture to a level of complexity that outstrips any other observed in nature. Rutherford presents Inside Science on BBC Radio 4. His previous books are Creation and A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived.
Philippe Sands, Tishani Doshi, Ann Mroz, Daljit Nagra, Chris Riddell, Amol Rajan, Kate Nicholls and Jeanette Winterson
As part of the #BooksToInspire campaign, Festival guests bring the novels, poetry and non-fiction that first sparked their love of reading or set them off on a journey of discovery in their lives. #BooksToInspire is a campaign from Hay Festival and TES, inviting book recommendations for primary and secondary schools to inspire the next generation of world changers. Chaired by Peter Florence.
Our biology is set up to work in partnership with the sun. From our sleep cycles to our immune systems and our mental health, access to sunlight is crucial for living a happy and fulfilling life. New research suggests that our sun exposure over a lifetime – even before we were born – may shape our risk of developing a range of different illnesses, from depression to diabetes. Geddes explores the extraordinary significance of sunlight, from ancient solstice celebrations to modern sleep labs, and from the unexpected health benefits of sun exposure to what the Amish know about sleep that the rest of us don’t.
So many of us believe that we are free to shape our own destiny. But what if free will doesn’t exist? What if our lives are largely predetermined, hardwired in our brains, and our choices over what we eat, who we fall in love with, even what we believe are not real choices at all? Neuroscience is challenging everything we think we know about ourselves, revealing how we make decisions and form our own reality, unaware of the role of our unconscious minds.
Chaired by Bettany Hughes.
Reading maps or reading emotions? Barbie or Lego? We live in a gendered world where we are bombarded with messages about sex and gender. On a daily basis we face deeply ingrained beliefs that your sex determines your skills and preferences, from toys and colours to career choice and salaries. The neuroscientist interrogates what this constant gendering means for our thoughts, decisions and behaviour. And what does it mean for our brains? Chaired by Bronwen Maddox.
On the morning of 26 April 1986 Europe witnessed the worst nuclear disaster in history: the explosion of a reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Soviet Ukraine. In the end, less than five per cent of the reactor’s fuel escaped, but that was enough to contaminate over half of Europe with radioactive fallout. Plokhy’s Baillie Gifford Prize-winning account recreates these events in all of their drama, telling the stories of the fire-fighters, scientists, engineers, workers, soldiers and policemen who found themselves caught in a nuclear Armageddon and succeeded in doing the seemingly impossible: extinguishing the nuclear inferno and putting the reactor to sleep. While it is clear that the immediate cause of the accident was a turbine test gone wrong, Plokhy shows how the deeper roots of Chernobyl lay in the nature of the Soviet political system and the flaws of its nuclear industry. Plokhy is Professor of History at Harvard University and a leading authority on Eastern Europe. Chaired by Nik Gowing.
From the genetics of insects and groundbreaking x-ray technology to measuring the world’s forests with lasers, three Royal Society Research Fellows discuss their work at the forefront of science with neuroscientist and broadcaster Hannah Critchlow.
The pre-eminent primatologist offers a whirlwind tour of new ideas and findings about animal emotions, based on his renowned studies of the social and emotional lives of chimpanzees and bonobos. De Waal discusses facial expressions, animal sentience and consciousness, the emotional side of human politics, and the illusion of free will. He distinguishes between emotions and feelings, all the while emphasising the continuity between our species and other species. And he makes the radical proposal that emotions are like organs: we haven’t a single organ that other animals don’t have, and the same is true for our emotions. Chaired by Rosie Boycott.