Can blind people see with their ears? Could ultrasonic vibrations lead to a button-free future? Why do some people’s senses get mixed up?
This October, Horizon immerses itself in the science of the senses to find out how they can be hacked and change the way we perceive the world around us.
We talk to researchers who are training blind people to see with their ears by turning everyday images into sound, and discover how our sense of smell could give us new insight into anxiety and eating disorders.
We delve into the futuristic world of haptics, which is using ultrasound vibrations to create invisible objects such as knobs and buttons from thin air. And we find out how our brain sorts out all the inputs from different senses, and what happens when they get jumbled.
Nature is complex – often too complex for humans to see. But squint-controlled glasses that let people see 3D thermal images and a camera that can capture the inner workings of high-speed chemical reactions are helping to push the limits of human perception.
How we perceive smell is more complicated than which molecules are detected by our noses, it also depends on our physical and emotional state, according to Professor Emre Yaksi from the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience and Centre for Neural Computation at NTNU, in Trondheim, Norway.
A new computer program that translates visual images into sounds and music is enabling blind people to see faces and other objects through their ears, and the results are inspiring brain experts to change their view of how the senses work.
The construction industry has a heavy carbon footprint, accounting for some 40% of global emissions, and yet, as the world’s population grows, demand for housing and building is only soaring. We kick off 2021 by looking at how the construction sector can become greener and some of the radical solutions required. We speak to sustainable architecture expert Dr Catherine De Wolf about the need to design recyclable buildings and how that will require a fundamental restructure of the way the construction industry works. We look at nearly zero energy wooden homes and investigate whether this material can help us kick our concrete habit – concrete being the most used substance on Earth. We home in on techniques to make cement greener and piezoelectric to light up spaces with the addition of vegetable waste, and at how self-healing building materials can prolong the life of civil infrastructures. And we explore the promise of fungal architecture to see whether structures grown from fungus can green the way we build.
In December, as the European Space Agency’s Gaia mission to create a precise 3-D map of a billion objects in the Milky Way releases its next tranche of data, we take an in-depth look at what we know – and what we don’t – about our home galaxy. We speak to astrophysicist Prof. Ralf Klessen about why it might enhance our understanding of the Milky Way to consider it as a constantly evolving ecosystem rather than studying different parts in an isolated way. We speak to scientists who are trying to image the centre of the galaxy, which is hidden from view behind giant dust and gas clouds, and we explore the latest research into how stars are formed. And finally, we find out what the galaxies surrounding the Milky Way can tell us about our home system.
As the first coronavirus vaccines started to be rolled out at the end of a tumultuous 2020, UK officials unexpectedly endorsed stretching the gap between the first and second vaccine dose by up to three months – an approach also considered by other countries.
There are about 1,500 potentially active volcanoes worldwide and about 50 eruptions occur each year. But it’s still difficult to predict when and how these eruptions will happen or how they’ll unfold. Now, new insight into the physical processes inside volcanoes are giving scientists a better understanding of their behaviour, which could help protect the 1 billion people who live close to volcanoes.
Pragmatic or dangerous – what do the experts say?
Better predictions of volcano behaviour could protect people and infrastructure.
Dr Kate Rychert studies ocean plate structures.