[Radio] We Ask Not Why But How: Color vision evolution

Macro of a human eye with spectrum colors in the iris looking at camera. Picture converted to black and white except for the iris.

The ability to see in color is kind of strange, because it’s not something that’s an inherent property of light. Instead the color of something depends entirely on your sensory apparatus and the way your brain interprets the data your eye collects.

So our perception of color is definitely not the same as that of other animals. But what kind of opportunities for color vision exist and where did color vision even come from in the first place? I asked Professor Almut Kelber from Lund University in Sweden to help me out.

You can listen to it on Soundcloud here or click below.


[Radio] We Ask Not Why But How: Light pressure

freakng bubblesLet’s talk about light. We understand light like that from the sun to be carried by small, invisible particles called photons. Photons have no mass – at least when they’re at rest, but photons are always moving and they therefore possess a non-zero momentum.

When something with momentum collides with something else, that momentum is transferred in the form of a pressure on the surface of the object. Does light exert a pressure? I talked to Professor Ulf Leonhardt from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel who has helped publish a paper that has a somewhat controversial result on the subject.

Listen to it on Soundcloud here.

[Radio] We Ask Not Why But How: 3D bioprinting

I3d bioprintern the original Star Wars films, Luke Skywalker’s hand gets cut off and replaced with a functional prosthetic one. In other science fiction films, limbs are regrown, bodies re-formed and even in some cases heads replaced. But that’s all science fiction, isn’t it?

Well, we may be closer to this future than we think with 3D bioprinters which may allow for the production of functional human organs, thanks to Professor Tolou Shokuhfar’s team at Michigan Tech University.

Listen to it here.

[Radio] We Ask Not Why But How: Gecko gloves

geckogloveGeckos possess the amazing ability to cling tightly to almost any surface due to the incredible microstructures of their feet. A group of students over at Stanford University in America have designed a set of gloves that mimic this wall-clinging power and may allow people to climb up walls like a superhero. I asked Elliot Hawkes, the leader of the team, for how we might use this technology to scale new heights.

Soundcloud link is here.

[Radio] We Ask Not Why But How: Taste and perception

Licking-the-Bowl3Food. Think about food. Think about the last meal that you ate. What was it? Where did you eat it? How was the weather? What color plate was it served on?

These questions may seem quite random at first, but it seems that any or all of these may affect the way we perceive and enjoy our meals. What we refer to as the sense of taste is far more complicated than it first appears, so I asked experimental psychologist Professor Charles Spence at Oxford University for help in how to get the most out of a meal.

[Radio] We Ask Not Why But How: Drizzling honey patterns

honey-41Honey is a weird substance. If you’ve ever drizzled it on your toast or added some to your tea, no doubt you’ve been fascinated and frustrated with the slow and meandering way it emerges from the container or sticks to your spoon. Honey is what’s called a viscous fluid, a liquid that doesn’t flow smooth like water but instead is thick and sticky.

Viscous substances are an interesting topic. Pierre-Thomas Brun and a group of fellow scientists found out what happened when you drizzle a honey-like substance onto a moving conveyor belt in a recently-published paper, and I tried to find out if it could help me with my breakfast-spreading technique. You can find the paper here.

[Radio] We Ask Not Why But How: Human pyramids

human pyramid

Odds are you’ve seen, heard of, or even been a part of a ‘human pyramid’, where a group of people form a pyramid by stacking one on top of another. It’s a common gymnastics exercise that’s been performed the world around, at circuses and festivals and even for the Guinness Book of World Records, where sixty-two people piled up underwater. The question is, how high can they go? There’s a physical limit, because eventually the strain on the bottom layer will be too great and the whole thing will collapse.

Fortunately, Hayley Allison from the University of Leicester in the UK has worked it all out with help from a group of fellow students, and I asked her just how high physics allowed human pyramids to rise.