In June, against a backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic, a climate emergency and an uncertain future, Horizon takes a look at anxiety. Are we becoming more anxious? What do we really know about the condition and who suffers from it? And how can we best treat it? We speak to anxiety disorder expert Professor David Baldwin about when anxiety turns from a normal response into a long-term problem and what we know – and don’t – about why this happens. We take a look at one particularly vulnerable group – teenagers – to understand how anxiety affects them and how they can best be treated. We explore the link between anxiety and our awareness of bodily sensations to understand, for example, why breathing can calm the mind, and we also talk to the researchers who believe the key to improving anxiety therapies is to look at how different people respond when under threat.
The fact that teenagers worry isn’t necessarily a concern – it’s when the adolescent brain amplifies and distorts a simple worry that mental health problems can arise. As scientists aim to unlock why teenagers get anxious, and how infancy and upbringing are implicated, early intervention strategies are being refined to redirect harmful thoughts and teach adolescents to read the emotions of others – a crucial way to keep their own distressing feelings in check.
Stressful situations can cause anxiety, our body’s natural response to stress. But feelings of apprehension can also be accompanied by physical effects such as rapid breathing, increased heart rate and nausea. How our brain perceives these physical changes – in particular, breathing – could be key to better understanding anxiety disorders and treating them.
Tracking the brain’s reaction to virtual-reality-simulated threats such as falling rocks and an under-researched fear reduction strategy may provide better ways of treating anxiety disorders and preventing relapses.
Short-term anxiety is a normal response to stress, but more needs to be done to understand and treat longer-term anxiety disorders, which affect the lives of millions of people across Europe and impose a significant economic burden on society, according to Professor David Baldwin, head of the mental health group at the University of Southampton, UK.
In November, Horizon takes a deep dive into the captivating, diverse world of clouds to understand what they mean for climate change. We speak to atmospheric physicist Prof. Pier Siebesma about why clouds are still one of the biggest sources of uncertainty when it comes to climate change and how new field studies are helping to reduce some of the unknowns. We speak to a researcher about flying through tropical clouds to collect particles at high altitudes to paint a full picture of the role of clouds and aerosols in our planet’s climate. And we also delve into research investigating how global warming is changing clouds and why this could bring about extreme weather and rain, and we look at how aerosols – crucial for cloud formation - are changing due to anthropogenic pollution.
In October, Horizon discovers a futuristic world of transparent e-books, plastic solar cells and electronic skin with a look at some of the applications of organic electronics. We speak to organic chemist Prof. Andreas Hirsch about how using carbon rather than silicon in electronics can make them flexible, lightweight and biocompatible and could lead to a new generation of human-looking robots and ‘chemical’ computing. We take a look at work to create electronic skin – self-healing, stretchable material that can mimic some of the functions of human skin – and its potential uses. We discover how thin, flexible, plastic solar cells could turn surfaces such as cars and fabric into sources of renewable energy, and we uncover some novel approaches to charging wearable electronics.
Live vaccines can give health effects beyond just protecting us from a specific disease and may even help us combat other infections such as Covid-19, according to Christine Stabell Benn, a professor in global health at the University of Southern Denmark.
Henk-Jan Guchelaar knows all too well the serious problems that the side-effects of medication can cause. As a professor of clinical pharmacy at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, he has spent the last two decades trying to get the link between medicine and our genes recognised more widely.
Different people respond to medication in different ways – and the results can be fatal.
Prof. Christine Stabell Benn is studying the wider effects of common vaccines.
Dr Kate Rychert studies ocean plate structures.