Let's meet the panel

06 November 2018

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This week, ecologist Danni Green from Anglia Ruskin University, climate scientist James Pope from the British Antarctic Survey, fertility nurse Laura Carter-Penman from Bourn Hall clinic and assistant news editor Tim Revell from New Scientist tackled the questions you've been sending in. First up, Chris spoke to Danni about the problematic plastic in our oceans...

Danni - Yeah. Well I mean it's great because I've been working on plastics the last seven years and thanks to the Attenborough effect we've finally got pretty much global consensus that people are interested in this and they want to solve the problem so it's great.

Chris - How much rubbish actually is in the oceans in terms of plastics?

Danni - A lot. 320 million tons is produced every year and around 10 percent of that makes its way into the rivers and waterways as litter.

Chris -  Goodness and once it’s there it just doesn’t go anywhere?

Danni - It doesn't or it breaks down into smaller pieces.

Chris -  Which we're going to find out about. So Danni is here to answer any questions about marine biology and marine science and plastics in the ocean. Sitting next to Danni is Tim Revell, he is the assistant news editor at New Scientist. So you should be across lots of hot science stories. Lots things coming across your desk all the time.

Tim - Yeah we have loads of big stories all the time. Often talking about artificial intelligence or the latest technologies such as 3D printing. But one of the big ones we've had recently was questioning arguably the biggest discovery in physics in the last few years and that is gravitational waves, whether we actually spotted them or not.

Chris - Why are people skeptical?

Tim -  It all comes down to the fact that it's so difficult to spot gravitational waves because even though they're caused by massive events in space, by the time they get to Earth they're very very tiny ripples. We're talking about measuring something smaller than the size of a proton. So actually being able to find them is really really difficult and involves lots of data processing and analysis and algorithms, and all of that means that it's a bit tricky for someone else to check the work of the people who've done it. And so when people have come in afterwards and had a look at what they've done they've sort of said maybe you have made a mistake and that's where the difficulty lies.

Chris - I think Bill Bryson argued that one of the smallest things in the world is some of the components in an Airfix kit! I think I'd be inclined to agree with him. Anyway Tim's here to answer your questions about things relevant to technology. James Pope is a newcomer to the programme, welcome James. He's from the British Antarctic Survey and you study climate. But why is everyone obsessing about the poles? Because no one lives at the poles really do they? So why is it important to study the poles when the majority of the world's population are not there?

James -The polar regions are just so important for climate change, you've got ice sheets which can affect sea level rise, you've got sea ice which can affect the temperature at high latitudes and maybe accelerate warming in these regions and also very important for uptake of carbon into the oceans, heat into the oceans and even the circulation, which can affect the nice warm temperatures we have in the UK.

Chris - So in other words it really matters what goes on in the poles because it does have an impact here whether we like it or not and I guess it's also a barometer for what's going to happen everywhere. If you look at what happens in the poles it's a reflection on what's happening worldwide?

James - Yes people talk about the poles as being sort of the canary in the coal mine.

Chris - Thank you very much James. And also with us is Laura Carter Penman who is a fertility nurse at Bourn Hall. I guess it doesn't take too much explanation of what  fertility is, but what does a fertility nurse do?

Laura - We assist people through their fertility journey. We advise them on what is the best course of action. What is the best treatment. And we also provide quite a strong counselling role because as you could imagine for patients it's a very stressful time and we support them through that journey. If they've got a question about their fertility that they'd like to ask, I'd be happy to help.

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