Science

The Curious Cases of Rutherford & Fry

BBC Radio 4

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Science sleuths Dr Adam Rutherford and Dr Hannah Fry investigate everyday mysteries sent by listeners.

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The Lunar Land Pt 1

30:28 | Apr 19th

A double episode to mark the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, and the first humans to walk on the Moon. Harley Day emailed curiouscases@bbc.co.uk to ask “Why do we only have one Moon and what would life on Earth be like if we had more? I'll be over th...Show More

An Instrumental Case

39:14 | Apr 12th

“We play many musical instruments in our family. Lots of them produce the same pitch of notes, but the instruments all sound different. Why is this?” asks Natasha Cook aged 11, and her Dad Jeremy from Guelph in Ontario, Canada. For this instrumental...Show More

The Periodic Problem

28:29 | Apr 5th

"Will the periodic table ever be complete?" asks Philip Craven on Twitter. In 2016 four new chemical elements were given the official stamp of approval - nihonium, moscovium, tennessine, and oganesson. And 2019 was named by the UN as the Internation...Show More

The Mesmerist

35:27 | Mar 29th

“Is hypnosis real, and if so how does it work? Does it have any practical uses and which of Hannah and Adam is most susceptible?” This question came from two Curios, Peter Jordan aged 24 from Manchester and Arran Kinnear aged 13 from Bristol. Arch...Show More

Coming Soon – More Curious Cases

04:00 | Mar 22nd

Hannah and Adam return to crack open the Curious Cases they’ll be examining during the coming series, from the sound of musical instruments to the science of hypnosis. Please send your questions for future episodes and entries for Curio of the Week...Show More

The Horrible Hangover

31:05 | Dec 21st, 2018

"My name is Ava and I've never had a hangover," writes Ava Karuso. "I'm a 25 year-old Australian and I enjoy going out for drinks. However, the next day when everyone else sleeps in and licks their wounds, I get up early and get right back to my norm...Show More

The Good Bad Food

26:12 | Dec 14th, 2018

“Why does bad food taste so good?” asks Alan Fouracre from Tauranga, New Zealand. "And by ‘bad’ food, I mean the things we are told to hold back on like sausage, chips and chocolate." From sugar to salt and fat, we investigate why our body derives p...Show More

Two Infinities and Beyond Part 2

31:08 | Dec 7th, 2018

This is the second part of our eternal quest to investigate infinity, inspired by this question from father and son duo Sorley and Tom Watson from Edinburgh: “Is anything in the Universe truly infinite, or is infinity something that only exists in ...Show More

Two Infinities and Beyond Part 1

32:22 | Nov 30th, 2018

“Is anything in the Universe truly infinite, or is infinity something that only exists in mathematics?” This momentous question came from father and son duo from Edinburgh Sorley aged 10 and Tom, aged adult. It's a subject so big, that we've devote...Show More

The Stressful Scone

33:20 | Nov 23rd, 2018

"How do accents start and where did they come from?” asks Sachin Bahal from Toronto in Canada. Hannah is schooled in speaking Geordie by top accent coach Marina Tyndall. And Adam talks to author and acoustics expert Trevor Cox about how accents evol...Show More

The Viking Code

26:07 | Nov 16th, 2018

"Is it true all British people can trace their ancestry to Vikings and how do ancestry DNA tests work?" asks Chloe Mann from Worthing. Genetic ancestry tests promise to reveal your ancestral origins and map your global heritage, but do they? Rutherf...Show More

A World of Pain

33:58 | Sep 7th, 2018

"Why do people experience pain differently when they go through the same event?" asks Claire Jenkins from Cwmbran in Wales. Professor of Pain Research, Irene Tracey, welcomes Adam in to the room she calls her 'Torture Chamber'. Burning, electrocutin...Show More

The Random Request

26:07 | Aug 31st, 2018

Two random questions in this episode. "Is anything truly random, or is everything predetermined?" asks Darren Spalding from Market Harborough. Hannah and Adam go in search of random events, from dice throws to lava lamps. Can we predict the outcome ...Show More

The Running Joke

38:08 | Aug 24th, 2018

"How fast can a human run and would we be faster as quadrapeds?" This question flew in via Twitter from historian Greg Jenner. Is there a limit to human sprinting performance? In this episode we investigate the biomechanics of running, statistical ...Show More

The Alien Enterprise Part 2

24:35 | Aug 17th, 2018

Do alien civilisations exist? When will ET phone home? In the second part of our alien double bill, Hannah and Adam boldly go in search of intelligence. They may be some time. What will aliens look like? Where should we look for them? And what are ...Show More

The Alien Enterprise Part 1

25:32 | Aug 10th, 2018

Mike Holcombe from Largs in Scotland asks, "How do we look for alien life and what are we expecting to find?" In the first of two episodes on the search for ET, Hannah and Adam look for life inside the Solar System. How do we define life and why we ...Show More

Series 11: Ahoy Ahoy!

02:49 | Aug 3rd, 2018

Attention Curios! Rutherford & Fry are back with a preview of the new series of Curious Cases.

The Dawn Chorus

27:23 | Jun 1st, 2018

"Winter is finally over and the birds are all singing their hearts out at dawn. What's all the noise about? And why are some songs so elaborate?" asks Tony Fulford from Ely in Cambridgeshire. We find out how birds produce multiple notes at once, wh...Show More

The Lucky Number

25:29 | May 25th, 2018

"My boss insists that if you choose the same numbers in the lottery each time your probability of winning will increase. Is this true?" asks Vince Scott from Edinburgh. National lotteries are played in more than 80 countries worldwide, but can you ...Show More

The Déjà Vu

25:58 | May 18th, 2018

"Do we know what causes déjà vu?" asks Floyd Kitchen from Queenstown in New Zealand. Drs Rutherford and Fry investigate this familiar feeling by speaking to world-leading reseacher Chris Moulin from the University of Grenoble in France and memory e...Show More

The Human Instrument

27:44 | May 11th, 2018

"What happens to the human voice as we age? If I hear a voice on the radio, I can guess roughly how old they are. But singer's voices seem to stay relatively unchanged as they age. Why is this?" All these questions were sent to curiouscases@bbc.co.uk...Show More

The Fifth Dimension

27:07 | May 4th, 2018

"What is the fifth dimension?" asks Lena Komaier-Peeters from East Sussex. Proving the existence of extra dimensions, beyond our 3D universe, is one of the most exciting and controversial areas in modern physics. Hannah and Adam head to CERN, the sc...Show More

Coming soon...

02:08 | Apr 27th, 2018

Hannah Fry and Adam Rutherford highlight the new episodes coming up on Curious Cases.

The Cosmic Egg

30:55 | Mar 2nd, 2018

"How do we measure the age of the Universe?" asks Simon Whitehead. A hundred years ago this wouldn't even have been considered a valid question, because we didn't think the Universe had a beginning at all. Even Einstein thought that space was eterna...Show More

The Atomic Blade

23:54 | Feb 28th, 2018

"What makes things sharp? Why are thinner knives sharper? What happens on the molecular level when you cut something?" All these questions came from Joshua Schwartz in New York City. The ability to create sharp tools allowed us to fashion clothing, ...Show More

The Tiniest Dinosaur

29:06 | Feb 23rd, 2018

"What is the tiniest dinosaur?" asks younger listener Ellie Cook, aged 11. Today's hunt takes us from the discovery of dinosaurs right up to the present day, which is being hailed as a 'golden age' for palaeontology. One new species of dinosaur is ...Show More

The Enigma of Sex, Part 2

22:35 | Feb 16th, 2018

The second instalment in our double bill on the science of sex, answering this question from Robert Turner, a Curio from Leeds: "Why do we only have two sexes?" Drs Rutherford and Fry look for anomalies in the animal kingdom that go beyond the tradi...Show More

The Enigma of Sex, Part 1

24:43 | Feb 9th, 2018

"Why do we only have two sexes and are there any anomalies in the animal kingdom?" asks Robert Turner from Leeds. From reptilian virgin births to hermaphrodite sea slugs, over the next two episodes Drs Rutherford and Fry examine the weird ways othe...Show More

Goldfinger's Moon Laser

24:15 | Jan 12th, 2018

"The other day I was watching the James Bond film Goldfinger. He boasts a laser powerful enough to project a spot on the Moon. Is this possible? If so, just how powerful would such a laser need to be?" This curious question was sent to curiouscases@b...Show More

The Curious Face Off

25:34 | Jan 5th, 2018

"Are machines better than humans at identifying faces?" asks the excellently named Carl Vandal. Today's Face Off leads our intrepid detectives to investigate why we see Jesus on toast, Hitler in houses and Kate Middleton on a jelly bean. Face perce...Show More

The Cosmic Speed Limit

22:50 | Dec 29th, 2017

"We often read that the fastest thing in the Universe is the speed of light. Why do we have this limitation and can anything possibly be faster?" Ali Alshareef from Qatif in Saudia Arabia emailed curiouscases@bbc.co.uk with this puzzling problem. Th...Show More

The Dreadful Vegetable

30:02 | Dec 22nd, 2017

"Why don't children like vegetables?" asks Penny Young from Croydon, and every parent ever. This week Rutherford and Fry dig into the science of taste and discover that there may be more to this question than meets the eye. Children and adults hav...Show More

The Baffled Bat

25:05 | Dec 15th, 2017

"Why don't thousands of bats in a cave get confused? How do they differentiate their own location echoes from those of other bats?" This puzzling problem was sent in to curiouscases@bbc.co.uk by Tim Beard from Hamburg in Germany. Since ecolocation w...Show More

Adventures in Dreamland

24:15 | Sep 29th, 2017

"Why do we dream and why do we repeat dreams?" asks Mila O'Dea, aged 9, from Panama. Hannah and Adam delve into the science of sleep. From a pioneering experiment on rapid eye movement sleep, to a brand new 'dream signature' found in the brain, they...Show More

The Shocking Surprise

28:58 | Sep 22nd, 2017

Why do we get static shocks? Jose Chavez Mendez from Guatemala asks, "Some years ago, in the dry season, I used to be very susceptible to static electricity. I want to know - why do static shocks happen?" The team uncover some slightly unethical s...Show More

The Sticky Song

24:55 | Sep 15th, 2017

Why do songs get stuck in our heads? And what makes some tunes stickier than others? Drs Rutherford and Fry investigate 'earworms', those musical refrains that infect our brains for days. Every morning 6Music DJ Shaun Keaveney asks his listeners fo...Show More

The Polar Opposite

19:58 | Sep 8th, 2017

No one knows why the Earth's magnetic North and South poles swap. But polar reversals have happened hundreds of times over the history of the Earth. So, asks John Turk, when is the next pole swap due and what will happen to us? Hannah turns to astr...Show More

The Curious Cake-Off

19:45 | Sep 1st, 2017

Can chemistry help us bake the perfect cake? Listener Helena McGinty aged 69 from Malaga in Spain asks, "'I have always used my mother's sponge cake recipe. But is there a noticeable difference in the outcome if you vary some of the ingredients, or...Show More

Kate Bush's Sonic Weapon

21:14 | Jun 16th, 2017

"It started while listening to the excellent Experiment IV by Kate Bush. The premise of the song is of a band who secretly work for the military to create a 'sound that could kill someone'. Is it scientifically possible to do this?" asks Paul Goodfie...Show More

Itchy and Scratchy

21:29 | Jun 15th, 2017

"What is an itch and how does scratching stop it? Why does scratching some itches feel so good?!" asks Xander Tarver from Wisborough Green in West Sussex. Our doctors set off to probe the mysteries of itch, and discover that this overlooked area of ...Show More

The Burning Question

18:59 | Jun 14th, 2017

"What is fire? Is it a solid, liquid or a gas? Why is it hot and why can you see it in the dark?" asks Hannah Norton, aged 10. Dr Fry visits the Burn Hall at The Buildings Research Establishment in Watford where they test the effects of fire on buil...Show More

The Dark Star

23:18 | Jun 2nd, 2017

"What's inside a black hole and could we fly a spaceship inside?" asks Jorge Luis Alvarez from Mexico City. Some interstellar fieldwork is on the agenda in today's Curious Cases. Astrophysicist Sheila Rowan explains how we know invisible black holes...Show More

The Cat Who Came Back

19:02 | May 19th, 2017

"How on earth do cats find their way back to their previous home when they move house?" asks Vicky Cole from Nairobi in Kenya. Our enduring love for our feline friends began when Egyptian pharaohs began to welcome domesticated moggies into their ho...Show More

A Code in Blood

11:48 | Mar 15th, 2017

"Why do we have different blood types?" asks Doug from Norfolk. The average adult human has around 30 trillion red blood cells, they make up a quarter of the total number of cells in the body. We have dozens of different blood groups, but normally...Show More

The Forgetful Child

16:19 | Mar 10th, 2017

"Why don't we remember the first few years of our lives?" asks David Foulger from Cheltenham. The team investigate the phenomenon of 'infant amnesia' and how memories are made with Catherine Loveday from the University of Westminster. A whopping 40...Show More

The Astronomical Balloon

15:03 | Mar 10th, 2017

"How far up can a helium balloon go? Could it go out to space?" asks Juliet Gok, aged 9. This calls for some fieldwork! Adam travels to the Meteorology Department at the University of Reading where Dr Keri Nicholl helps him launch a party balloon an...Show More

The World That Turns

15:19 | Mar 10th, 2017

"Why does the Earth spin?" asks Joe Wills from Accra in Ghana. Hannah quizzes cosmologist Andrew Pontzen about the birth of the Solar System and why everything in space seems to spin. Is there anything in the Universe that doesn't revolve? BBC wea...Show More

The Broken Stool

17:06 | Mar 10th, 2017

"Science tells us that our body houses microbial organisms. Then how much our weight is really our weight? If I am overweight, is it because of my own body cells or excess microflora?" asks Ajay Mathur from Mumbai in India. Adam bravely sends off a ...Show More

The Lost Producer

18:25 | Dec 2nd, 2016

Why do some people have a terrible sense of direction? The team receive a mysterious message from an anonymous listener who constantly gets lost. Can they help her find the answer? This listener may, or may not, be the team's producer, Michelle. She...Show More

The Bad Moon Rising

14:48 | Dec 2nd, 2016

'A teacher I work with swears that around the time of the full moon kids are rowdier in the classroom, and more marital disharmony in the community," says Jeff Boone from El Paso in Texas. 'Is there any biological reason why the moon's phases could a...Show More

The Hunt for Nothing, Part 2

13:44 | Dec 2nd, 2016

In the last episode the team started investigating the following inquiry, sent in to curiouscases@bbc.co.uk: 'Is there any such thing as nothing?' They discovered why quantum fluctuations and the Higgs field mean that nothing is impossible. But how ...Show More

The Hunt for Nothing, Part 1

14:48 | Dec 2nd, 2016

"Is there any such thing as nothing?" This question from Bill Keck sparked so much head scratching that we have devoted two episodes to this curious quandary. In the first programme, the team considers the philosophy and physics of nothing. As Prof ...Show More

The Melodic Mystery

15:09 | Dec 2nd, 2016

'Why is my mother tone deaf?' asks listener Simon, 'and can I do anything to ensure my son can at least carry a tune?' Hannah Fry has a singing lesson with teacher Michael Bonshor to see if he can improve her vocal tone, although things don't quite ...Show More

The Strongest Substance

15:34 | Oct 7th, 2016

"What is the strongest substance in the universe? Some people say it is spiderweb, because it is stronger than steel. Is it iron? Is it flint? Is it diamond because diamond can be only be cut by diamond?" asks Françoise Michel. Adam and Hannah put a...Show More

The Space Pirate

15:12 | Oct 5th, 2016

Listener Paul Don asks: "I'm wondering what's the feasibility of terraforming another planet i.e. Mars and if it's possible to do the same thing with something like the moon? Or, why isn't there already a moon-base? Surely that's easier." Adam & Han...Show More

The Portly Problem

14:22 | Oct 5th, 2016

"Why do we have middle aged spread?" asks Bart Janssen from New Zealand. From obese mice to big bottoms, the duo discovers what science can tell us about fat. Why do we put on weight in middle age? And are some types of fat better than others? Ha...Show More

The Sinister Hand Part 2

14:27 | Oct 4th, 2016

In the previous episode the team started investigating the following enquiry, sent in to curiouscases@bbc.co.uk: "What determines left or right handedness and why are us lefties in the minority?" They considered cockatoos, chimpanzees and Hannah's d...Show More

The Sinister Hand Part 1

14:00 | Oct 3rd, 2016

Neal Shepperson asks, "What determines left or right handedness and why are us lefties in the minority?" When we started investigating this question it became clear that there were just too many scientific mysteries to squeeze into one episode. So t...Show More

The Counting Horse

15:41 | Jun 2nd, 2016

"Can horses count?" asks retired primary school teacher, Lesley Marr. Our scientific sleuths consider the case of Clever Hans, with a spectacular re-enactment of a 20th century spectacle. Plus, we hear from Dr Claudia Uller who has been conducting m...Show More

The Hairy Hominid

16:51 | May 30th, 2016

Our science detectives answer the following perplexing problem, sent in by Hannah Monteith from Edinburgh in Scotland: "How does leg hair know it has been cut? It doesn't seem to grow continuously but if you shave it, it somehow knows to grow back."...Show More

A Study in Spheres

16:11 | May 26th, 2016

Today the team study the heavens, thanks to listener Brian Passineau who wonders 'why everything in space tends to be circular or spherical?' Hannah gazes at Jupiter at The Royal Observatory, Greenwich with Public Astronomer, Dr Marek Kukula. Scie...Show More

The Psychic Tear

15:13 | May 26th, 2016

Listener Edith Calman challenges our scientific sleuths to investigate the following conundrum: 'What is it about extreme pain, emotional shock or the sight of a three year old stumbling their way through an off-key rendition of 'Away in a Manger' t...Show More

The Tea Leaf Mystery

18:48 | May 26th, 2016

Today the team examine the chemistry of tea, in answer to the following question sent in by Fred Rickaby from North Carolina: "When we are preparing a cup of tea and the cup contains nothing but hot, brewed tea we need to add milk and sugar. My wife...Show More

The Stellar Dustbin

13:46 | Feb 18th, 2016

An unusual case today for science sleuths Hannah Fry and Adam Rutherford sent by Elisabeth Hill: 'Can we shoot garbage into the sun?' The duo embark on an astronomical thought experiment to see how much it would cost to throw Hannah's daily rubbish...Show More

The Squeamish Swoon

13:15 | Feb 11th, 2016

Science sleuths Hannah Fry and Adam Rutherford investigate the following question sent in by Philip Le Riche: 'Why do some people faint at the sight of blood, or a hypodermic needle, or even if they bash their funny bone? Does it serve any useful ev...Show More

The Aural Voyeur

12:28 | Feb 11th, 2016

Drs Rutherford and Fry tackle a vexing case sent in by Daniel Sarano from New Jersey, who asks why people shout on their mobile phones in public. Our science sleuths find the answer by delving into the inner workings of telephony with a tale of engi...Show More

The Phantom Jam

13:21 | Feb 11th, 2016

Drs Rutherford and Fry set out to discover what makes traffic jam. Adam ventures on to the M25 in search of a tailback, and Hannah looks at projects around the world that have attempted to solve the scourge of the traffic jam. Featuring Neal Harwood...Show More

The Scarlet Mark

13:53 | Feb 11th, 2016

Drs Adam Rutherford and Hannah Fry are on hand to solve everyday mysteries sent in by listeners. For the last few weeks they've been collecting cases to investigate using the power of science - from why people shout on their mobile phones to what cau...Show More