Meet our panel of 'egg-cellent' experts!

Welcome to our Easter special...
13 April 2022

Interview with 

Mary-Frances O’Connor, University of Arizona & Kit Chapman, Falmouth University & Matt Bothwell, University of Cambridge & Fiona Fox, Science Media Centre


A microphone and mixing desk


Julia - We have an incredible panel this week who will be hopping along with us for the next hour and sharing their knowledge nuggets on the way. First up, we have Mary-Frances O'Connor who joins us stateside today. Mary Francis is a neuroscientist who specialises in the study of grief. Mary Francis's new book, 'The Grieving Brain: The Surprising Signs of How We Learn from Love and Loss', shares the groundbreaking discoveries about what happens in our brain when we grieve and gives a different perspective on understanding love and loss. Mary Francis, what is the difference between grief and grieving and how do you study this in your lab?

Mary-Frances - Well, I think the distinction between grief and grieving is not something we use day to day. We use those words interchangeably but, if you think about it, grief is that feeling, that wave, that just overcomes you. That intense and awful feeling. But grieving is the way that feeling of grief changes over time without actually ever going away. The reason I think it's useful to make this distinction is that we will feel grief forever, whenever we become aware of something so important to us that we've lost, even if that's weeks and months and years after the death of a loved one. Just in that moment, you open a book and you see a card from your mom who's died, and of course you're going to feel grief in that moment, right. But it doesn't mean just because you feel grief then that your grieving hasn't also changed. The first hundred times you may think, "I'm not going to get through this, this wave of grief," and then the hundred and first time, it's just as awful, but it's more familiar. You know, "I am going to get through this," and maybe you even have some tools to comfort yourself, or reach out to someone else. My very favourite technique is very scientific: it's called the clinical interview, and we spend a lot of time talking with people about what their experience is like, because often their description really gives us insights into the way that the brain is working. We also use neuro-imaging scans, brain scans, where we have someone bring us a photo of the person who's died and we put that on goggles when they're in the neuro-imaging scanner, so they can look at the person. That often elicits that wave of grief for them. So we can see what neurons are being activated.

Julia - So next, coming out of the pit lane, is Kit Chapman. Kit has a background in pharmacy and science history and is an award winning science journalist who covers topics like chemistry, nuclear science, and element discovery. Kit's latest book, 'Racing Green: How Motorsport Science Can Save the World', explores how the science of motorsport goes way beyond the thrilling races which captivate audiences in their millions. Kit, what is the link between Formula 1 cars and keeping food cool?

Kit - This is the aerodynamics of Formula 1 cars. Formula 1 teams, such as Williams, actually use their aerodynamics in supermarket freezers. If you've gone to a supermarket recently, and you've gone to one of those reach-in freezers where you get your food, literally straight from the freezer, it's probably used Formula 1 aerodynamics. In a freezer, the cold air starts at the top and it flows down to the bottom and, usually, when it hits a shelving unit or someone's hand, that's going to spill out of the cabinet. That's not what you want. What you want is a nice controlled flow that moves between the shelves. It keeps the cold air in, it keeps your feet warm, and it stops using energy that would otherwise be needed to cool that cabinet. So, you also reduce carbon footprints if you can control that air. What Formula 1 teams have done is they've invented blades which literally clip onto those shelving units and keep the air flowing back into the cabinets. That saves a huge amount of energy for each individual store, and when you think about how many supermarkets there are in the world, suddenly we'll be having a massive impact on climate change.

Julia - Very cool. And that was a really bad pun for me. Onto our next panellist, Fiona Fox, who is head of The Science Media Centre. The Science Media Centre is an independent press office which gives members of the public access to scientific evidence and expertise when science hits the headlines. Fiona's new book, 'Beyond the Hype: the Inside Story of Science's Biggest Media Controversies', offers a backstage pass to the real science behind those attention grabbing headlines over the past two decades. Fiona, what is best away we can ensure a new source we're reading is legitimate when it comes to science reporting.

Fiona - I think to double check where the scientist is speaking from and ask a few questions about the article you're reading or who you're listening to: what size of study this is, at what stage is it at, is it really early results from, maybe, a pre-print that hasn't yet been published, or is it a huge, randomised, control trial that confirms the previous 10? There's a few little tips that we give to the public as to work out whether or not they should take an article they're reading as very reliable and close to the truth or very preliminary and a long way off the truth.

Julia - Finally, we have the out of this world public astronomer from the University of Cambridge, Matt Bothwell. Matt has a background in researching astrophysics, studying how galaxies evolved over cosmic time. Matt works as a science communicator, giving talks and workshops on astrophysics and has authored a book, 'The Invisible Universe: Why There's More to Reality Than Meets the Eye'. Matt, what is your favourite object in the universe that we can't see, and why?

Matt - Oh, that's a very good question. I think I might be absolutely biased and say that it's one of my hidden galaxies I used to work on. Very, very far away in the universe we can see galaxies which are sort of baby galaxies: they've just formed. We're looking at them maybe 500 million years or a billion years after the big bang, so we're looking back to when the universe was about 5% of its current age. There are these galaxies that are just the biggest firework shows in the universe, they are making stars like nothing else. We can't see them at all with our naked eye because they're so dusty and they're cocooned away so that no visible light leaks out. We had no idea that these things existed until we looked with long wavelength infrared telescopes, and then we suddenly saw the early universe lit up like a firework show. It's absolutely remarkable. It's a real testament to the power of invisible light to reveal things in the universe that we can't see.

Julia - Wow. Like New Year's Eve on steroids. Sounds like something I definitely want to see.


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