Why Are We Putting Bats in Recording Studios?

It’s time for the Fun Kids Science Weekly, the weekly podcast that opens your minds to the most amazing things in the universe!

In this week’s episode of the Fun Kids Science Weekly, you’ll hear from two of the finalists of the Blavatnik Awards for young scientists:

Sonja Vernes, who is understanding the evolution of our speech through bats, and Anja Schmidt, who has developed climate models that have revolutionised understanding the role of volcanic eruptions in climate and air quality.

We’ll also find out how does a rocket take off?

We learn about the eating habits of carnivores and herbivores in the Jurassic Period in Age of the Dinosaurs!

And we open wide when we catch up with Professor Hallux who takes us through some of the amazing medical professionals that help save lives, this week its about what happens when you go to the dentist!

A poisonous rat is the subject of Dangerous Dan and in Science in the News, we hear about a new found duck billed dinosaur and a plastic bill that every country will be using!

MOBILE: Fun Kids Science Weekly

The science podcast for kids with Dan exploring the weirdest and coolest stuff in science!

Here’s the episode below:


Dan: Hello, welcome along. It’s a brand new episode of the Fun Kids Science Weekly! My name is Dan. You join me on a trip through the universe to search out all the really serious and silly science stuff that’s lurking all around the solar system. And this week, it’s a double guest special.

The Blavatnik Award for Young Scientist winners have been announced which celebrate incredible experts who have thought outside the box for science. And we’ve got two on this show. One has looked into how volcanoes affect climate change.

Anja: A lot of these eruptions also emit chemical species. And one of them, one of the key species is what we call sulphur dioxide. So this is not volcanic ash, but the sulphur dioxide.

Dan: The other has been exploring how bats can help us understand human speech.

Sonja: We have little bat recording studios that the bats go into, little soundproof chambers…

Dan: So that’s coming up. And we’ll have a look at how different types of beasts ate in this week’s Age of the Dinosaurs.

Science in the News – A Broken Dinosaur Wrist, A Global Plastic Pollution Treaty, and A Delay to the British Built Mars Rover

Dan: So there’s all that and loads more, including your questions in a brand new Fun Kids Science Weekly. Let’s kick off this week’s show with your Science in the News.

Fossils of a four-legged duckbilled dinosaur have stumped scientists for ages because there was a strange snap in one of the bones. This creature lived at 68 million years ago. And experts have ran tests to figure out why it snapped. And they figured out that the dinosaur was standing on its back legs, maybe eating, reaching or chilling when it fell over and broke its wrist. And that’s why it’s in a couple of places.

Also, the world is set to get a global treaty to tackle plastic pollution. Nearly 200 countries are talking about an international agreement to reduce plastic use. It’s a very bold move, and it will aim to stop people and companies overusing plastic so it doesn’t end up in the ocean.

And finally, the European Space Agency had planned to launch a British built Rover to Mars later this year. But they say it’s at risk because of everything that’s happening in the world right now. And the Rosalind Franklin robot will be delayed and land later than September than they originally planned.

Professor Hallux’s Map of Medicine – The Dentist’s Surgery

Dan: Let’s catch up with professor Hallux now. He’s one of our favourite geniuses on the show. He’s a scientist that looks at what can make you sick and then how you get better and who can help you get better. And this is from his Map of Medicine series. This week, he’s with Nurse Nana Bot, and they want you to open wide.

Nurse: Where’s the Professor gone? The video fans going and he’s got the remote! Professor?

Professor Hallux: I’m here! *Call accepted. Hallux’s Happy Health Help Desk* Corr, that’s a tongue twister. We’re going to have to rename that one Nana Bot.

Patient: Hi, professor. I’ve got a horrible toothache and I have to have a filling on one of my teeth. Can you tell me about the dentist? I’ve been a few times for checkouts, but never a filling, and he’s got a lot of very scary looking equipment.

Professor Hallux: Poor you. Dentists are lovely people, and although they have some funny looking tools, they’re there to help you. We can find out more about the dentist on our map of medicine, it’s a mine of information on medical people and places. I’ll load it up while Nurse tells us a bit more about tooth decay. That’s what causes toothache.

Nurse: Your mouth is full of bacteria, which mixes with small food particles and saliva to form a sticky film known as plaque, which builds up on your teeth. If you run your tongue around your teeth, you might be able to feel it right now. Not very nice, is it?

When you eat food and drink that is sugary or starchy. The bacteria in the plaque turns the carbohydrates in your food into the energy they need, producing acid at the same time. Over time, the acid in plaque begins to break down the surface of your tooth. Left untreated, the plaque can completely destroy the outside of the tooth and expose the nerves inside. And that’s toothache.

Professor Hallux: Ouch. That’s where dentists can help. Let’s load up the Map of Medicine and find out more about them. Here we go. Dentists. They’re really important people because teeth are important. Without teeth, there are two things that get a little bit difficult.

Yep, that’s eating. And it’s a biggie, if you haven’t got any teeth left or they’re all rotten and painful, we’ll have to eat super mushy foods. And that means no crunchy carrots, sandwiches and no chips. No chips…scary, huh?

And another reason teeth are important is that without them, you talk a bit like this. So eating chips and talking – two very important things the dentist can help you carry on doing. So here’s how it works when you go for a cheque up, you sit in a lovely big squishy chair, which is adjustable so it might go up and down a bit. 

Then the dentist will have a look in your mouth and count your teeth. If you’ve got more than 50, then you may be a crocodile and have to be sent to the zoo. But that’s not very likely, is it? Normally you’ll have about 20 teeth, depending on how old you are. From around the age of six, you’ll have started to lose your baby teeth and there might be some gaps.

orange plastic container on white table

Those holes are meant to be there, but holes caused by tooth decay aren’t. Your dentist might use something called a sickle probe to examine your teeth. Basically a stick with a pokey bit at the end. He or she will check to see that your teeth meet properly when you bite and look at your gums to make sure they’re nice and pink. Sometimes they might take an X-ray of your mouth. That makes X-rays sound very wizzy and action-packed, but to be honest, they’re nowhere near as exciting as that. More like having a photo taken inside your mouth.

If you have tooth decay, you might need a filling. The dentist scrapes or drills out the rotten part of the tooth and fills the hole with something called an amalgam – squishy stuff that sets as hard as your teeth. Dentists are very kind people, and make sure having a filling doesn’t hurt by giving you some special medicine in an injection. And when your tooth is filled, your toothache should go away and you get a big round of applause for being brave.

Of course, there’s a really easy peasy, lemon squeezy way to avoid tooth decaying, cavities and filligs and all that. And it’s something you should be doing twice a day for at least two minutes. Any ideas? You know it, I know it. Everyone knows that brushing your teeth is important. So make sure you do. And you should go for a dental checkup every six months, too, to keep you smiling.

Right – that’s enough nagging from me. Let’s have a quick, disgusting detail nurse, there’s just time before we go.

Nurse: You humans have always suffered from tooth decay. In ancient times, it was believed to be caused by a toothworm. And a 19th century cure for tooth ache was to hammer a nail into the tooth and then stick the nail in a tree to transfer the pain.

Professor Hallux: What was the point of that? Hammering a nail into the tooth isn’t going to help, is it? Silly sausages. Time for us to go. But before you join us again, why not explore Map of Medicine for yourself?

Dan: More with Professor Hallux on the show next week. And you can catch up on all his fantastic series over on the free Fun Kids app

Answering Your Questions – What Species Has The Largest Amount of Individuals? And How Does a Rocket Take Off?

Dan: It’s question time on the show right now. This is where you send your science problem, something that’s really knocking around your head that you just can’t figure it out. Maybe it’s something you heard in the playground and you thought, there’s no way that can be true. Maybe it’s something you heard in the classroom from your teacher and you’re thinking, is that really true? I’ll do the digging for you. I will figure that out once and for all. If you’ve got a question, leave it as a review for us over on Apple Podcasts.

First up this week, it’s from someone who calls themselves podcast115tenner. They want to know what species has the largest amount of individuals. Now, it’s hard to figure this out. Scientists can hardly count every single creature because there’s millions, there’s billions, there’s trillions, quadrillions of them all. Thing is, you say species, which makes things a little tougher.

You see, there are 10 billion ants but that’s across many different species. There are 7 billion humans in the world. We’re all the same species. We are Homo sapiens. There are 18.6 billion chickens. The prize, though, I think needs to go to the Antarctic krill. They are small crustaceans in the ocean that live in the cold parts of the sea around the South Pole. And there’s about 500 trillion Antarctic krill. That’s 500 with twelve zeros after it. That’s a lot. And I think that’s the most species that’s got any individual creatures in them, the Antarctic krill.

Also this week, this is from Jude, who is twelve. He wants to know, how does a rocket take off? Well, Jude rockets burn fuel just like a car does, but they burn lots of it and it has to be heated up to a huge temperature. Then when it reaches that temperature, it almost explodes. It bursts out of the bottom. Now hot air expands and it raises, it lifts higher and that makes thrust. The thrust pushes down against the ground.

Space Shuttle Challenger launches from Kennedy Space Center

Now, there’s a rule in science that says every reaction has an opposite and equal reaction, which means when one thing’s happened in one direction, something else needs to happen in the other direction. And that means when the hot air pushes down, the rocket has to lift up and that’s what makes it lift, the thrust, the fuel being heated up and then squashed down, that propels that rocket through the sky.

Thank you very much for the question, Jude. If there’s something you want answered on this show on the Science Weekly next week, find us on the Apple podcast store and leave it as a review. 

Interview with Dr. Anja Schmidt

Dan: It’s the Fun Kids Science Weekly. Now, the winners of a huge science prize, the Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists in the United Kingdom have been announced for achieving incredible science feats. And we’ve got someone on the show today who is in that list. Doctor Anja Schmidt joins us. Anja, thank you so much for being there.

Anja: You’re very welcome.

Dan: Chatting to us all the way from Germany. What a prestigious prize. Tell us, what have you done to be awarded this?

Anja: Yes, so we have done in my research group, we have done a lot of work on understanding how volcanic eruptions influence the climate and also what effects they have on society.

Dan: We always hear a lot about the climate and the climate crisis and things that us humans are pumping into the air, which isn’t good for us at all. What made you think about what volcanoes are doing and how that’s impacting things?

Anja: That’s correct, indeed. Us humans are indeed influencing the climate. And we have a lot of evidence that the climate is warming. And in order to actually understand the rate at which climate is warming, it is very important, believe it or not, to understand how volcanic eruptions influence the climate. Because in contrast to humans, volcanic eruptions are natural events that can have an influence on climate.

And in fact, what volcanic eruptions do is they emit a cocktail of chemical species that eventually get what we call converted in the atmosphere to form tiny but very shiny particles. And these shiny particles, they reflect some of the sunlight back to space. So you can imagine that like a mirror. Because of this mirroring effect, some of the sunlight gets reflected back to space and the sunlight or the sun is a main source of energy and warmth.

Dan: Wow. So I thought that the most damage volcanic ash would do when it plumes out of the top is we suffer with bad air. It does no good for our lungs. Did you know that this mirroring effect happens, that it reflects the Sun’s light back up into space?

Anja: Yes, so we should probably take that apart a little bit. It is correct that volcanic eruptions emit volcanic ash and indeed, this can have negative effects on human health, for example, if you inhale these ash particles. But there’s a bit more to volcanic eruptions. A lot of these eruptions also emit chemical species and one of them, one, a key species, is what we call sulphur dioxide.

white clouds over snow covered mountain

So this is not volcanic ash, but the sulphur dioxide is a gas and it gets converted in the atmosphere to form what we call sulphate aerosol particles. And it’s these tiny and shiny particles that ultimately affect the climate because they are reflecting some of the sunlight back to space, which leads to less energy or warmth from the sun reaching the Earth’s surface. And then we detect this after a volcanic eruption in form of a temporary cooling of the temperatures at the surface of Earth.

Dan: Now, there’s a lot that’s impacting the climate crisis. How big a part does this play? Should we be immediately worried and trying to fix it, or is it not that big a deal? There’s other stuff that we should be concerned by.

Anja: So if you now refer to manmade emissions, this is indeed a very big concern. We know the Earth is warming and it’s warming at a very fast pace and we need to really act immediately to limit the dangers from manmade climate change and from this warming. Volcanic eruptions have an opposing effect.

So when you have a volcanic eruption, it leads to a cooling. But I want to stress here, this cooling is only temporary, so normally it lasts between one and three years. And volcanic eruptions in general do not help us to solve the global warming crisis. We need to reduce emissions. We need to change our behaviour to really stop global warming and mitigate the effects or the hazards from global warming.

Dan: So, Anja, what can we do? I mean, we can hardly stop the volcanoes erupting.

Anja: Yes, indeed. Volcanoes are a geohazard. Okay, so these are unpredictable and we still cannot forecast exactly when a volcanic eruption is going to happen. Sometimes we see the warning signs, but what we can do is we can try to understand and quantify how much volcanic eruptions influence the climate.

So how big is that cooling that they induce? How long will it last? And this will ultimately help us to better understand the temperature trends that we see over, say, ten years or 100 years. And it will also help us to better quantify how quickly our planet is warming due to manmade emissions.

Dan: Wow. Okay. There’s so much going on, and I’ve loved hearing about it. And Congratulations for the award. Dr. Anja Schmidt, thank you so much for joining us.

Anja: No problem. It was a pleasure to join you.

Dangerous Dan – African Crested Rats

Dan: It’s time for this week’s Dangerous Dan, where we look at some of the most mean and deadly things in the universe. And in this episode, it’s something that can poison anything that touches it. African Crested Rats are about the size of a rabbit, and they’re very cute. They’ve got sweet faces. They purr like a cat. They’re a bit like a big ball of fluff with hair that smoothly sticks out all over themselves. It’s found in Africa, who’d have thought, well done. And it’s the world’s only poisonous rodent.

Now, how they get their poison is really interesting because they borrow it, really. They chew the bark of a poisonous tree. Now they don’t swallow all of it. They keep that venom in their mouth and then they lick it into their fur. You might have seen your cat doing this. When they lick themselves, they give themselves a bath. It’s a type of grooming. This is a deadly, a gross, type of grooming. It’s their way of keeping clean and being ready to defend and attack.

Their poison is so strong, they coat it all over themselves. It’s deadly enough to kill an elephant. That’s a huge elephant. An elephant that’s well, elephant sized. And this creature, this rat, is only the size of a rabbit. But it’s that smart thinking, the deadly licking the toxic fur, that means the African crested rat goes straight onto our Dangerous Dan list. 

If you want to see some of the creatures that have made the Dangerous Dan list, you can have a look on our website, funkidslive.com. We have got the full encyclopaedia of all the creatures that have made it onto this Dangerous Dan list. You can see pretty much every single one of them. Have a look at what they look like, how deadly they are, where they’re deadly from. It’s all there for you on the Dangerous Dan list at funkidslive.com.

Age of the Dinosaurs – Carnivores vs. Herbivores

Dan: Right now, it’s time to travel back in time with an episode from our Age of the Dinosaurs series. This helps us look at all the big beasts from millions of years ago. And we’ve seen dinosaurs in the sky and under the water. This week, we’re headed to the Jurassic period. It was the time home to thousands of different dinosaurs, some big, some small. The easiest way to split them up, though, was in two groups, depending on what they ate. Let’s find out more.

Presenter: Imagine going back in time. Not 100 years or 1000 years, but millions of years to the age of the dinosaur. The Jurassic period was home to thousands of different dinosaurs, big and small. One easy way to learn about them is to split them into two groups the meat eaters or carnivores, and the plant eaters or herbivores. Of course, some dinosaurs are both. Look out!

Here comes a well known carnivore, the Meglosaurus.

Child: He’s getting very close and he’s enormous.

Presenter: Meglosaurus was a terrifying predator that was almost nine metres long. That’s twice as high as a double decker bus. He had powerful jaws and sharp teeth, perfect for ripping through his Prey’s thick skins and swallowing huge chunks of flesh. His teeth were serrated. That means zigzag shaped along the edge like a saw and could slice through flesh easily…

Standing on his hind legs, with short forearms and a huge head, he looked quite like Tyrannosaurus. Although since T-Rex wasn’t to appear for many millions of years, they would never have met. As well as razor sharp teeth and strong jaws, predators have large eyes for finding their prey. We can tell this in dinosaur fossils from the shape of the bones in the skull, which reveal the size of the eyes. The eyes would have faced slightly forward, like in a bird of prey. This allowed them to judge distances accurately, helping with hunting.

Child: Eugh, what’s that horrible smell?!

Presenter: Another sign of a meat eater is found in their brains, whose impressions are left deep in the skull. The part of the brain involved in smelling was very large in carnivores. Many meat eating dinosaurs would eat dead animals as well as live ones. So sniffing out rotting carcasses, sometimes as much as a kilometre away, was important.

Child: Watch out, there’s some giant feet heading this way!

Presenter: You might think the herbivores sound a bit less scary, but they were some of the hugest creatures that ever lived. Diplodocus is one of the best known herbivores, a huge sauropod who stood a whopping 26 metres long, with a long neck, perfect for reaching leaves at the top of tall trees.

Lots of herbivores have many rows of teeth, sometimes pencil shaped to rake the vegetation, other times rounder or blunt, like spoons to rip leaves from the branches. Teeth were constantly replaced as they broke or wore down, which would have happened a lot to get enough vegetation to keep their huge bodies going.

Those teeth would have been busy, whilst broad snouted sauropods wouldn’t have been picky eaters. Those dinosaurs with narrower mouths could pick particular plants and so may have had a favourite. Others, like the Stegosaurus, had horny beaks that could slice through the toughest vegetation.

How can Palaeontologists be so sure about what dinosaurs ate? Well, as well as the shape of their skeletons, size of stomach cavities and the type of teeth. There’s another way, because…what goes in must come out. That’s right, fossil poo called a coprolite. It can help scientists understand the relationships between animals and plants. Seeds, bones, fish scales or vegetation can be identified and give us an accurate picture of what a dinosaur liked to eat.

Interview with Dr. Sonja Vernes

Dan: It’s the Fun Kids Science Weekly Now, the winners of a huge science prize, the Blatvanik Awards for Young scientists in the United Kingdom, have been announced for achieving incredible science feats. And we’ve got one of them on the show today. Doctor Sonja Vernes joins us. Sonja, thank you so much for being there.

Sonja: Thanks for having me.

Dan: So just sum up for us the incredible work that you have done that has got you this prestigious award.

Sonja: So we’re really interested in understanding how it is that we learn how to speak to each other, how the brain lets us do this amazing and complicated task. And we do it by studying a slightly unusual organism. We actually study how bats communicate and we try and learn something about what bats and humans have in common and how they can communicate.

brown and gray squirrel on brown tree branch during daytime

Dan: So can I ask, what made you think about bats when you were trying to figure out how do humans learn to talk from each other? What made you go right bats it is?

Sonja: Well, I actually started off studying humans and I was trying to understand what is it about the human brain and the genetics of humans that lets us do this? But we wanted to try and model this with other animals so that we could understand not only how it works, but also how it evolved.

And it was a bit fortuitous that I saw some amazing science that was happening in that research, and it just sparked the idea that maybe we could use these, quite frankly, astonishing creatures to learn something about ourselves.

Dan: So what did you do with the bats? What types of studies have you done to help figure out human language?

Sonja: There’s some different types of studies that we do. One thing we do is to look at how they essentially talk to each other and how they learn the sort of vocalisations that they use to talk to each other. So baby bats will listen really intently to their mothers and learn something about how they should be communicating by listening to what their mothers say.

And we’ve been looking at how that learning can take place and whether we can train them to change what they say to each other. So we look at how they behave and how they communicate on one level, and then we try and understand the biology of it, so what’s going on in the brain and what is happening with the genetics of this.

Dan: And how has this affected what you know about humans and how we communicate?

Sonja: Oh, gosh, that’s a tough one. And that’s something we really long term want to understand. What we know is that there are specific genes in humans that make it more difficult to communicate. So sometimes children have problems with learning speech or learning language.

And we know that there are some genes that cause these problems, but we don’t really know why they have these problems when the genes are affected. So we’ve been trying to model that in the bats and understand, well, if we had something similar happening in a bat with these genes that are going wrong, do they have the same disordering? And can we find a way to understand the process and maybe even fix the problem?

Dan: You say you studied how bats communicate, how they learn from each other. Quite simply, how did you study that? What with like tiny microphones?

Sonja: Essentially, yes. We have little back recording studios that the bats go into little soundproof chambers.

Dan: No, come on. Bats recording studio?!

Sonja: Yep, so they have their own little recording studio. They go in a little microphone and a little speaker so they hear the sound played to them, and then they have to produce the right thing in response. And if they get it right, there’s a little feeder in there that gives them a treat. So every time they say the right thing into the microphone, they get a little banana treat.

Dan: Like I’m trying to figure out how you could tell if they were having difficulty. Could you see the joy in their little bat faces as they were getting a treat when they got it right? How long did it take them to figure out what they needed to do to get the treat?

Sonja: Well, funnily enough, different bats took different amounts of time. So not every bat got it straight away. Some bats were really clever and they figured out, okay, if I do this, I’m going to get my treat and I’m going to just do it over and over again and get lots and lots of treats.

Other bats were a bit more stubborn and would struggle to do the right thing, and they took a lot longer to train. And then some bats just completely cheated, and they would find other ways to get the reward so that they didn’t have to produce the vocalisation.

And one bat just decided if he would chew on the microphone really loudly, it would trigger a loud enough sound that in the initial stages he would get rewarded just for chewing on the microphone. So they all had different strategies, but we got them there in the end to learn how to change their vocalisations.

Dan: How important do you think the way you have discovered what you have is for science? I mean, the fact that you have problem-solved here in such a remarkable way, using bats to figure out what’s happening with humans, is that a real sign of what it takes to be a scientist? That way you think outside the box.

Sonja: I think being creative and having little strikes of inspiration is really important to being a scientist. I think we need to think about things differently if we want to answer big questions. So, I think it’s one of the things I value most in my colleagues that I work with is just how creative all the scientists I know are.

Dan: It’s amazing. Well, huge congratulations on winning this prestigious science prize and for introducing us to the world of little bat recording studios. Can’t get enough of that. Dr. Sonja Vernes, thanks for joining us.

Sonja: Thank you very much.

Dan: And that is it for our Fun Kids Science Weekly a brand new episode for another week. If you’ve enjoyed some of the shows that you’ve heard on this show, we’ve travelled back to theAge of the Dinosaurs. We’ve looked inside your body, inside your mouth withProfessor Hallux, you can catch up on them and loads more podcasts wherever you got this show. They’re on Google, they’re on Spotify, they’re on app, always on the freeFun Kids app and at funkidslive.com and Fun Kids, we are a children’s radio station from the UK. Listen to us all over the country on your DAB digital radio and on that freeFun Kids app and at funkidslive.com.

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