Royal Society Publishing

Video Podcasts

Welcome to Royal Society Publishing video podcasts. These videos will bring you an insight into the research behind some of the articles published by the Society. Each episode will feature an interview related to one or more of the most exciting articles published in our journals.

Latest podcast:



Notes and Records has published a special issue arising from papers given at an international conference organized by the Women in Science Research Network (WISRNet) held at the Royal Society in London in May 2014. Here guest editor Claire Jones and authors Patricia Fara and Emily Winterburn talk about the lack of women in science.

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Celebrating 350 years of Philosophical Transactions

2015 sees the 350th anniversary of the journal Philosophical Transactions, making it the world’s oldest scientific journal. As part of the celebrations to mark this anniversary, the Royal Society has published special issues of Philosophical Transactions A (physical sciences papers) and Philosophical Transactions B (life sciences papers), looking back at pioneering papers from the archive, with commentaries by leading scientists, historians and science writers. In this series of short films we interviewed some of the authors about their contributions, and the Editor of Philosophical Transactions A about the journal’s role in scientific publishing

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Effects of land use change on bee communities

Deepa Senapathi talks about a paper published in Proceedings B investigating the impact of over 80 years of land-cover change on insect pollinator communities in Britain and explains how results show expansion of single habitat types, such as arable land, may be detrimental for pollinators but diverse, mixed habitats including urban environments may benefit species diversity.

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Airflow dynamics of sniffing

How does the air we breathe move inside our airways when we inhale? How does our nose divide the flow stream to manage different tasks? How long does it take fresh air to reach the bottom of the trachea and is it smooth or turbulent? These questions are fundamental to our understanding of nasal physiology, but until now it has not been possible to resolve the complex dynamics of the airflow. The authors of a paper published in Interface explain how they applied large-scale computations to chart how the airflow evolves during a sniff, providing answers to the questions above.

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The culture of tool use in primates

In wild primates, the presence of culture has been inferred by showing that simple ecological and genetic differences cannot account for all behavioural variation across populations (e.g. tool use). However, this method ignores the influence of the environment on culture. Kathelijne Koops discusses her paper published in Biology Letters which shows that this influence is quite strong: environmental opportunity drives the innovation and transmission of cultural variants, whereas necessity has no such effect. There may thus be much more animal culture than hitherto documented. She explains how studying material culture in primates can inform us on how humans developed their extraordinary material culture and technology.

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Medicating the environment

Expanding and aging human populations require ever increasing amounts of pharmaceuticals to maintain health. Recent studies have revealed that pharmaceuticals, both human and veterinary, disperse widely in aquatic and terrestrial environments with uptake into a range of organisms. Pharmaceuticals are designed to have biological actions at low concentrations rendering them potentially potent environmental contaminants. An issue of Philosophical Transactions B introduces the latest research investigating the risks of environmentally relevant concentrations of pharmaceuticals to vertebrate wildlife and here guest editor Kate Arnold discusses some of the effects that pharmaceuticals have on wildlife.

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Oxygen consumption dynamics in steady-state tumour models

Oxygen has a significant prognostic effect on cancer treatment, with well-oxygenated regions being more sensitive to radiotherapy than low oxygen regions. Better understanding of oxygen distribution could allow escalation of dose to hypoxic regions and better prognosis. While modern imaging technologies allow estimation of oxygen distribution over a millimetre range, oxygen varies significantly over a micron scale. To bridge this gap, mathematical modelling of oxygen is vitally important. Oxygen consumption rate (OCR) heavily modulates the oxygen distribution, and this paper in Royal Society Open Science examines the impact of different forms of OCR on distribution, suggesting a simple constant consumption rate suffices for most applications.

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The Origin of the Moon

The origin of Earth’s moon has fascinated mankind for thousands of years and has received scientific attention for over forty years, building on the return of rocks from the moon and the growing understanding of planet formation. The central idea of a giant impact on Earth is widely accepted and physically appealing but the constraints imposed by isotopic geochemistry, in particular, have proved daunting. Alex Halliday talks about an issue he has organised for Philosophical Transactions A that summarises the current state of our understanding and the challenges that still remain.

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Effects of neonatal experience on sheep behaviour

This paper published in Biology Letters studies the effects that an individual’s experiences during early life may have on its later behaviour and coping ability and, in some cases, that of its offspring. In this podcast the authors discuss their findings that female sheep who, as newborns, had experienced a standard husbandry procedure, tail-docking without pain-relief, or a simulated mild infection, showed more pain-related behaviour when giving birth to their first lambs than did females who had not had these experiences. Variations in early-life management can therefore have important long-term implications for animal health and welfare.

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After 2015: infectious diseases in a new era of health and development

The United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have provided a framework for accelerating the decline of infectious diseases, backed by a massive injection of foreign investment in low-income countries. The MDG era draws to a close in 2015, and a new set of goals will focus on poverty reduction and sustainable development. Philosophical Transactions B has published an issue exploring the frontiers of infection biology at the level of individuals and populations. In this interview with guest editors Christopher Dye and Anne O'Garra they discuss how efforts to investigate and control infections will fare in the era of sustainable development, and how science can help to meet the challenge.

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Understanding the chain fountain

Over 2.5 million viewers, including many physicists, have been astonished by videos on the internet of a chain flowing along its own length from a pot to the floor below. Apparently defying gravity, the chain rises above the pot as a fountain before falling down. Proceedings A has published a paper which explains why this fountain occurs by considering the forces bringing successive links into motion. In this podcast, authors Mark Warner an John Biggins explain what is going on.

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40 years of Long-term potentiation

Together with other forms of synaptic plasticity, long-term potentiation (LTP) is widely believed to provide the cellular mechanism underlying learning and memory. The Royal Society recently held a discussion meeting to celebrate the 40 year anniversary of the discovery of LTP by Terje Lømo and Tim Bliss in 1973. In this video we speak to some of the organisers and speakers at the meeting about the research field and their hopes for future research in this area. Papers from this meeting have now been published in a theme issue of Philosophical Transactions B.

Interviewees: Professor Richard Morris CBE FRS, Professor Tim Bliss FRS, Professor Graham Collingridge FRS (meeting organisers), Professor Terje Lømo, Professor Mark Bear and Professor Min Zhuo.

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The molecular mechanism of cell division

In this podcast we talk to Tetsuya Tekeda, author of a paper published in Open Biology, about his work which studies the structure and function of the protein Syndapin which is involved in cell division. This work will shed light on cellular defects known to occur in cancer cells as well as other diseases.

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Space in the brain

How do we know where we are? How do we find our way? Why do we sometimes get lost? Neuroscientific research has revealed brain cells in the hippocampal formation that provide an exquisite representation of an animal or human being’s current location and heading. This “cognitive map” allows us to find our way around and provides the basis for lasting memories. Philosophical Transactions B has published a theme issue illustrating this exceptionally integrative branch of neuroscience, in which we join the dots, from molecules to cells, to complex behaviour and human cognition. Here we talk to two of the guest editors about the issue.

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RNA-binding proteins

In this podcast Alper Akay, author of a paper published in Open Biology, talks about his work which studies the role of proteins as regulators of gene expression and discusses the relevance of such complex regulatory mechanisms in organisms.

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The future of oil supply

Abundant supplies of oil form the foundation of modern industrial economies, but the capacity to maintain and grow global supply is attracting increasing concern. Philosophical Transactions A has published an issue that presents the best scientific evidence on why a decline in oil supply may, or may not, be in sight. It considers the production and resources of conventional oil and the potential for developing alternative liquid fuels from tar sands, shales, biomass, coal and gas. It describes how economies might react and adapt to rising oil prices and how the transport sector could be transformed. It provides comprehensive and interdisciplinary perspective on the ‘peak oil’ debate and reflects a range of views. In this podcast, guest editors Steve Sorrel and Richard Miller disuss some of the key points covered by the issue.

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A new chronology for ancient Egypt

The origins of ancient Egypt lie in prehistory, a millennium before the pyramids were built. Current understanding of how and why the Egyptian state developed is based solely on archaeological evidence. Proceedings A has published the results of a new study which introduces more than 100 fresh radiocarbon dates relating to the period of Egyptian state formation, and uses mathematical modelling to suggest that the process unfolded more rapidly than previously thought. The paper provides a new timeline for the period between 4500 and 2800 BC and give the most robust chronology so far for the first dynastic rulers of Egypt. In this podcast we talk to two of the authors of the paper about some of the work involved in this study.

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Charge Dynamics

To celebrate the 10th year of J. R. Soc Interface, the journal has introduced a new feature: ‘Headline Reviews’. Published as a regular part of the journal, Headline Reviews are written by preeminent researchers invited to focus attention on the most recent activities in their areas of expertise. Furthermore, to gain perspective on the topic, both in the breadth and range of opinion, several leading authors will contribute Headline Reviews on different aspects of the same field. Consequently, a number of related reviews will appear serially over several journal issues, and once a collection is completed it is will be possible to access them as a whole via the journal website. Here, we interview Peter Rich about his contribution which initiates a series of Headline Reviews on charge dynamics; other themes will commence throughout the year.

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Infectious disease elimination

Elimination of infectious diseases in both humans and animcals would save and improve billions of lives. Whilst successful control measures have reduced transmission of many diseases, elimination has proven an elusive goal, with only one human and one animal pathogen globally eradicated. As elimination targets expand to regional and even global levels, hurdles may emerge within the endgame when infections are circulating at very low levels, turning the final step into the most challenging. Philosophical Transactions B has published a theme issue which looks at the recurring challenges that emerge as we move towards elimination, highlighting the unanticipated consequences of particular ecologies and pathologies of infection, and approaches to their management. In this podcast we talk to two of the guest editors about some of the topics covered in the issue.

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Photoactivatable metal complexes: from theory to applications in biotechnology and medicine

Photoactivation of metal complexes presents relatively unexplored potential for the discovery of new chemistry with applications in biotechnology and medicine. Philosophical Transactions A has published an issue illustrating the accelerating progress in this highly interdisciplinary and emerging field, including the challenges of introducing metal-based photochemotherapy into the clinic. In this podcast guest editor Peter Sadler explains how light can be used to activate metal complexes and discusses some of the potential uses of these compounds.

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Using network theory to identify the causes of disease outbreaks of unknown origin

Regions with poor health infrastructure often lack the resources to identify outbreaks of infectious diseases correctly. This limits the deployment of appropriate response and treatment. In this Interface paper, the authors present a novel strategy to evaluate disease outbreaks based on similarities in symptoms and other easily collected characteristics that can be rapidly reported with the most basic surveillance systems. In this podcast, Ruth Milne talks to one of the authors, Sebastian Funk about how they have used network theory to show that disease agents can be grouped into distinct clusters, permitting probabilistic assignments of diseases to outbreaks and how the model was applied to the case study of disease outbreaks in South Asia with the common symptom of encephalitis.

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Integrative approaches to computational biomedicine

Computational biomedicine is the use of computer-based tools and approaches to simulate and model the human body in health and disease. The virtual physiological human (VPH) initiative aims to develop an integrative framework of methods and technologies to investigate the human body as a whole, set to transform the study and practice of healthcare over the coming decades. Interface Focus has published an issue comprising a selection of papers from a conference supported by the VPH Network of Excellence which look at modelling the respiratory system, the immune system, the musco-skeletal system and the central nervous system. In this podcast we talk to two or the organisers about the VPH initiative and some of the work involved.

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Water-induced finger wrinkles improve handling of wet objects

You may have wondered why fingers develop wrinkles when wet for extended periods of time. It is known that this process is controlled by the nervous system, and therefore it seems likely to serve some kind of function. In this podcast we talk to Tom Smulders and Kyriacos Kareklas about their hypothesis that these wrinkles help improve our grip on objects under water. They discuss their study which has been published in Biology Letters, and present their experiments that show that people are faster at moving objects taken out of water if their fingers are wrinkled than if they are not.

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Single molecule cellular biophysics

Physics plays a key role in enhancing our understanding of biology on the molecular scale, through the development and application of new physical science techniques, biophysical analysis and rigorous intellectual insight. The new generation of single-molecule bioscience investigations involves robust methods for understanding molecular-level details of the most fundamental biological processes in far more realistic, and technically challenging, physiological contexts, emerging into a new field of ‘single-molecule cellular biophysics’. Philosphical Transactions B has published an issue discussing the developments at the frontiers of this field. In this podcast Ruth Milne talks to guest editor Mark Leake about some of the topics presented in the issue.

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Endocannabinoids in health and disease

The Cannabis sativa plant has been exploited for thousands of years and the identification of a receptor at which cannabinoid compounds are active in the brain heralded an explosion in endocannabinoid research continuing to this day. Much remains to be discovered about the endocannabinoid system, and the more we can learn, the better will be the prospects for capitalizing on endocannabinoid-based therapies in each disease situation. Philosphical Transactions B has published an issue detailing the latest findings dealing with endocannabinoids in development, cellular and molecular neurobiology, behaviour, nervous system disease and aging, and therapeutics. In this podcast Charlotte Wray talks to Maurice Elphick, one of the authors contributing to the issue, about some of the topics presented in the issue.

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Do Dolphins use nonlinear maths?

Dolphins have been observed to blow bubble nets when hunting prey. Such bubble nets would confound the best man-made sonar because the strong scattering by the bubbles generates clutter in the sonar image, which cannot be distinguished from the true target. As it seems unlikely that Dolphins would blind their sonar in this way they may have an alternative way of processing signals. In this podcast Tim Leighton talks about his paper in Proceedings A in which they use nonlinear mathematical functions to process the echoes of dolphin-like pulses from targets immersed in bubble clouds successfully distinguishing the targets from the bubble clutter.

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The Turing Legacy

In celebration of Alan Turing's centenary, the Royal Society has published two special issues "The foundations of computation, physics and mentality: the Turing legacy" by S Barry Cooper and Samson Abramsky and "Computability and the Turing centenary" Organized by S. Barry Cooper and Philip Maini. Here we talk to Samson Abramsky about the richness of Alan Turing's intellectual legacy in the modern conception of computation.

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The social network and communicative complexity in animals

"The social network and communicative complexity in animals" is an issue of Philosophical Transaction B which addresses the hypothesis that an important factor influencing the complexity of communicative signals in individuals is the complexity of the social groups of which those individuals are members. Buchi Okereafor talks to guest Editor Robin Dunbar about the issue and the role of social complexity in driving communicative complexity and how this relates to the origins of human language.

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Metacognition: Computation, neurobiology and function

Metacognition can be defined as thinking about thinking and Philosophical Transactions B has just published an issue highlighting the advances being made in research to measure and quantify metacognition, and understand its neural basis. In this podcast Charlotte Wray talks to guest editors Steven Fleming and Chris Frith about what metacognition is.

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Adenomatous polyposis coli tumour suppressor

Most cases of colorectal cancer are linked to mutational inactivation of the Adenomatous polyposis coli (APC) tumour suppressor. In this podcast Buchi Okereafor talks to author Mariann Bienz about her Open Biology paper "The Adenomatous polyposis coli tumour suppressor is essential for Axin complex assembly and function and opposes Axin's interaction with Dishevelled" and the role APC plays in the development of colorectal cancer.

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Models in Palaeontology

Charlotte Wray talks to Paul Barrett and Andrew Smith about a Special Feature in Biology letters they have guest-edited. The feature brings together a series of papers that showcase how modelling the past is being applied to advance our understanding across a wide spectrum of current palaeontological endeavours.

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Physics at the high energy fronier: the Large Hadron Collider project

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is opening the way for the search for new phenomena. The Philosophical Transactions A issue "Physics at the High Energy Frontier - The Large Hadron Collider Project" brings together papers from a discussion meeting that review the present state of knowledge of particle physics and the early results from the experiments at the LHC. In this podcast we hear from a few of the authors about their role at the LHC.

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A stab in the dark: chick killing by brood parasitic honeyguides

The brood parasitic behaviour of the commoon cuckoo is well known, with observations by Edward Jenner back in the 1780s having been publishing in Philosophical Transactions. The African greater honeyguide chick exhibits rather more brutal adaptations to kill its host siblings and the first detailed observations of this behaviour have been documented in a Biology Letters paper by Claire Spottiswoode and Jeroen Koorevaar. In this podcast Charlotte Wray talks to Claire about the killing behaviour she has observed in the host nests. Claire Spottiswoode is a Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin fellow and research associate at the DST/NRF Centre of Excellence at the Percy FitzPatrick Institute, University of Cape Town. The article is freely available via EXiS Open Choice.

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The complexity of sleep

Philosophical Transactions A has published a theme issue The Complexity of Sleep, which looks at the application of complexity science to studying the complex dynamics of the sleeping brain. Claire Birch talks to one of the Guest Editors, Thomas Wennekers, about the work presented in this issue which focuses on using a complex networks approach to understand the changes in the functional connectivity of the brain during sleep, and the complex dynamics of sleep, including sleep regulation.

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Introducing Open Biology

The Royal Society has launched a new journal, Open Biology, which is a fast, open access journal covering biology at the molecular and cellular level. This selective, online journal will publish original, high-quality, peer- reviewed research articles. In this video, the Editor-in-Chief, Professor David Glover, talks about his visions for the journal.

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Thatcher, Scientist

In this video podcast Claire Birch interviews Dr Jon Agar who has published a paper in Notes & Records which looks at Margaret Thatcher's early career as a scientist, an area of her life often overlooked by biographers. He then discusses how this training may have influenced her political career.

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Infrared mapping resolves soft tissue preservation in 50 million year-old reptile skin

In this video podcast Claire Birch interviews Drs Phil Manning and Roy Wogelius who, along with their colleagues, have published a paper in Proceedings B which describes a new non-destructive method for studying fossilised soft tissue. They have demonstrated that infrared mapping can be used to study fossil reptile skin and in future could provide a valuable insight into the biochemistry of extinct organisms.

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'The ocular lens: a classic model for development, physiology and disease

Philosophical Transactions B has published a theme issue which showcases the scientific knowledge of the processes involved in the development, physiology and pathology of the ocular lens. In this video podcast Joanna Bolesworth talks to one of the guest editors, Michael Wormstone, about how the unique properties of the ocular lens and how it can act as a model for disease.

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The dawn of symbiosis between plants and fungi

Dr Martin Bidartondo, Professor Jeff Duckett and their colleagues have published a paper in Biology Letters which studies the symbiosis between plants and fungi. In this video podcast Charlotte Wray asks them about their findings which suggest that fungi of the Mucoromycotina rather than the Glomeromycota enabled the establishment and growth of early land colonists.

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Blackawton bees

In a world first for the Royal Society, Biology Letters has published a paper by a group of primary school children. The paper, which reports novel findings in how bumblebees perceive colour was written by 8-10 year old pupils at Blackawton School in Devon. Under the supervision of scientist Beau Lotto and teachers at their school, the children investigated the way that bumblebees see colours and patterns. The field of insect colour and pattern vision is generally poorly understood and the findings reported by the school children represent a genuine advance in the field. In this podcast some of the people involved talk about the work they did and how this has affected the way they view science education. Both the article and a commentary putting the conclusions in a scientific context are free to access.

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A Mars hopping vehicle propelled by a radioisotope thermal rocket: thermofluid design and materials selection

Drs Hugo Williams, Richard Ambrosi and Nigel Bannister have written a paper in Proceedings A which studies the feasibility of building a Mars hopping vehicle. In this video podcast Claire Birch asks them about why such a vehicle would be useful and what their research has revealed.

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The cosmopolitan maternal heritage of the Thoroughbred racehorse breed shows a significant contribution from British and Irish native mares

Dr Mim Bower and her colleagues have authored a paper in Biology Letters which traces the origins of Thoroughbred foundation mares. In this video podcast Wendy Barnaby discusses the paper with Mim, who explains that the results show british mares made a significant contribtion to the origins of the Thoroughbred. This article is freely available via EXiS Open Choice.

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Multi-generational persistence of traditions in neighbouring meerkat groups

Dr Alex Thornton, Jamie Samson and Professor Tim Clutton-Brock have authored a paper in Proceedings B which looks at what time meerkats get up in the morning. In this video podcast Wendy Barnaby discusses the paper with Alex, who explains how the results provide evidence of culture and tradition within meerkat groups.

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Control and dynamics of animal movement

Professor Tom Daniel and Professor Andrew Biewener have organised a special feature in, Biology Letters on "Control and Dynamics of Animal Movement". In this video podcast Wendy Barnaby discusses the feature with Tom and Andy, and the complex interactions among sensory systems, musculo-skeletal dynamics and the interaction of appendages with the environment that give rise to animal locomotion. All articles are freely available in the Control and Dynamics of Animal Movement special feature.

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Flat-panel electronic displays: a triumph of physics, chemistry and engineering

Professor Cyril Hilsum has written an article entitled "Flat-panel electronic displays: a triumph of physics, chemistry and engineering" for the issue "Personal perspectives in the physical sciences for the Royal Society's 350th anniversary" in Philosophical Transactions A. In this podcast Wendy Barnaby interviews Cyril about his article and the history of how flat panel electronic displays were developed. The article they discuss freely available from the 350th Anniversary issue.

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Gravitational lensing: a unique probe of dark matter and dark energy

Professor Richard Ellis has written an article entitled "Gravitational Lensing: An Unique Probe of Dark Matter and Dark Energy" for the issue of Philosophical Transactions A "Personal perspectives in the physical sciences for the Royal Society's 350th anniversary". In this podcast Wendy Barnaby interviews Richard about his article and how gravitational lensing coud be used to study the universe. The article they discuss is freely available from the 350th Anniversary issue.

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The social brain: allowing humans to boldly go where no other species has been

Professors Uta Frith and Chris Frith have written an article entitled "The social brain: allowing humans to boldly go where no other species has been" for the issue of Philosophical Transactions B "Personal perspectives in the life sciences for the Royal Society's 350th anniversary". In this podcast Wendy Barnaby interviews Uta and Chris about their article and how the brain affects social interaction and communication. The article is freely available from the 350th Anniversary issue.

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Nature's role in sustaining economic development

Sir Partha DasGupta has written an article entitled "Nature's Role in Sustainable Economic Development" for the issue of Philosophical Transactions B "Personal perspectives in the life sciences for the Royal Society's 350th anniversary". In this podcast Wendy Barnaby interviews Sir Partha about his article and how nature should be taken into account when looking at economic development. The article is freely available from the 350th Anniversary issue.

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Dating fired-clay ceramics

Ceramics are almost universally found in archaeological deposits but are hard to date as Carbon-14 cannot be used. In our first podcast, Wendy Barnaby interviews Moira Wilson about her recent article, published in the August 2009 issue of Proceedings A, in which the authors propose an entirely new method which is straightforward and accurate. The ultra-slow chemical recombination of moisture on which it is based appears to be generic in fired-clay ceramics. This rehydroxylation process obeys a precise power law, which acts as an internal clock. They have been able to date brick samples from Roman, medieval and modern periods using this new rehydroxylation dating method. Read the article they are discussing on the Proceedings A website.