BBC Two and BBC Four announce raft of new science commissions

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Programming includes a major new series from Professor Brian Cox; a factual drama about the invention of radar, starring Eddie Izzard; unprecedented access to a clinical trial looking for a cure for Parkinson’s; and a BBC Four season which celebrates the human body in all its amazing, intriguing and sometimes bizarre glory.

Janice Hadlow said: “Science has enjoyed an incredible resurgence on BBC Two in recent years, with 2.8m watching Brian Cox’s last series, Wonders Of Life, the first episode of Trust Me, I’m A Doctor attracting over 3m viewers and 4.9m watching the Horizon special, Secret Life Of The Cat. BBC Four also has a thriving slate of science content, with recent highlights including Light And Dark, Pain, Pus And Poison and Pop! The Science Of Bubbles.

“Looking ahead, I’m delighted to be announcing such a strong and varied mix of new commissions, from a major series asking some of the biggest questions we can ask, to a factual drama telling the poignant and little known story of the invention of radar.”

Kim Shillinglaw, Head of Commissioning, Science and Natural History, said: “We’re committed to finding ever more ambitious ways to bring science alive to our viewers, as demonstrated by the sheer creative range of what we are announcing today, from landmark series and ground-breaking science journalism to drama with leading actors and distinctive television events.”

After exploring the universe, solar system and life on Earth, Professor Brian Cox brings his unique vision to the question of what it is to be human in a new 5×60 series for BBC Two called Human Universe.

As humans, we have long sought to understand our place in the cosmos, looking for answers in the heavens and the Earth, discovering clues in the endless forms of living things and wondering at the precious nature of human life.

But perhaps most importantly of all, humans have driven themselves to do something that is as far as we know utterly unique in the universe. From our vantage point on this tiny planet around an everyday star, lost in the vastness of space – we humans ask questions.

Across the series, Brian will tackle the biggest questions that we can ask – from who are we and are we alone to why are we here and what is our destiny.

Factual drama Castles In The Sky tells the previously untold remarkable story of the fight to invent RADAR by Scotsman Robert Watson Watt and a team of British scientists.

It conveys the genuine human drama behind the invention which saved the nation in the Battle of Britain.

Eddie Izzard plays Watson Watt with Laura Fraser (Breaking Bad) as his wife Margaret. The cast also includes Alex Jennings (The Queen) as Tizard; Tim McInnerny (The Devil’s Whore) playing Churchill, David Hayman (Trial And Retribution) as Lindemann and Julian Rhind-Tutt as Albert Percival Rowe.

Eddie Izzard joined the project because he was so inspired by the character and story: “I feel very privileged to be playing the role of Robert Watson-Watt. Hopefully our production will allow him, along with Arnold ‘Skip’ Wilkins and their team, to finally take their places in the pantheon of British greats of World War II, as the inventors of RADAR.”

Kate Humble heads to Australia in the height of the wildfire season for a two-part special event on BBC Two. Experts predict that 2013-14 will be one of the worst bushfire seasons in recent memory. With exclusive access to frontline experts from around the world and Australia’s two largest fire departments, Inside The Wildfire will uncover in forensic detail how bushfires start, spread and stop.

In this critical year for fire-science and disaster management, this series will explore everything from how the first Richter-scale for fire is being devised, to how smoke can create its own weather patterns and how beetles are inspiring early-warning systems.

The Trial is an ambitious long term project which will follow a number of patients as they embark on a unique clinical trial, one that could result in a way to stop or even reverse Parkinson’s Disease, the neurodegenerative disorder that affects one in 500 people.

The aim of the trial, which started at Frenchay Hospital in Bristol earlier this year, is to put a new treatment for the disease to the ultimate test: a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled medical trial.

Controversially, even those patients in the placebo group in this trial have to undergo invasive brain surgery, raising profound ethical questions. It is the first time television cameras have been allowed in to document a medical trial in depth.

The repercussions of this trial are enormous – for the trial volunteers, the researchers and potentially, for the millions of people all over the world who have Parkinson’s.

A team of scientists will be taking to the skies in the world’s largest airship – the Skyship 600 – for BBC Two’s ambitious atmospheric experiment – Cloud Lab. Flying from coast to coast, across the USA, in a month-long expedition, the team of British scientists will scrutinise insect life, the relationship between trees and the air we breathe as well as predicting where a hurricane is likely to hit the land

The team includes meteorologist, Felicity Aston, entomologist Dr Sarah Beynon, Dr Chris Van Tulleken who will explore what the atmosphere means for humans and Dr Jim McQuaid who will sampling the skies throughout the expedition.

Cloud Lab will be accompanied by a number of films on BBC Four, including An Ocean Of Air which sets out to show who rightly deserves the title of ‘the true discoverer of oxygen’. Using reconstructions, archive and experiments, chemist Gabrielle Walker will trace the remarkable and personal journeys of three leading contenders.

On BBC Four, a new season gets up close and personal with the human body.

Cassian Harrison, Editor, BBC Four, said: “In this season I want us to lay bare what an eccentric, surprising and bizarre place the human body really is – from the trampolines of fat that are hidden in our every heel, to the microscopic creatures that have evolved to live in bliss in our hair, to the chemical potions that can turn us from lover to murderer in seconds – this is the human body seen as a landscape as diverse and thrilling as that of an entire planet.”

Michael Mosley itches and scratches his way to a greater understanding of our relationship with parasites in Infested. Found in almost every animal on earth, the connection between animal and host is everywhere in nature. This most complex and intimate of relationships is a delicate balancing act, where the parasite must extract the food they need, but also keep their host alive.

To find out more, Michael is going to systematically infect himself with some of the most extraordinary, powerful and surprising parasites of them all. From tapeworms to bloodsucking leeches and lice, Michael’s infestation gives him a whole new insight into the devious methods used by parasites to survive. He discovers that whilst some of them are dangerous to human health, there is growing scientific evidence that some may actually be beneficial.

Dr George McGavin explores two of the most amazing body parts in the natural world: human hands and feet. In Dissected: The Incredible Human Hand and Dissected: The Incredible Human Foot, he is joined by leading anatomy experts in a specially created dissection lab. Layer by layer, the team take apart a real human hand and foot, to reveal what makes them unique in the animal kingdom.

In the first episode, they uncover what gives human hands an unrivalled combination of power and precision.  George meets people who use their hands in extraordinary ways – from magicians to rock climbers – and discovers what gives them such astonishing abilities.

From a baby’s first steps to a ballerina on pointe, the second programme reveals how the unique natural engineering of the human foot is key to some of our greatest physical achievements.

In the six-part series Secrets Of Bones, Ben Garrod, primatologist and master skeleton builder, will share his unique passion for bones. He will take us on a very personal journey through the remarkable and surprising story of how a single, universal body plan – the skeleton, has shaped the animal kingdom.

There are over 62,000 species of vertebrate of every size and shape, from squirrels to sperm whales and aardvarks to anacondas. They may look very different on the outside, but on the inside they are based on the same skeletal blueprint.

Each skeleton differs in small, but critical ways and, in Ben’s hands, those differences can be decoded to reveal an animal’s complete life story – not only how it moves, where it lives and what it eats, but also its entire evolutionary journey.

In Hormones, Professor John Wass examines the well-known but little-understood chemicals that govern our bodies and shape who we are. From our weight and appetite to how we grow and reproduce, hormones are a crucial part of what makes us human, even affecting how we behave and feel.

They are also among the body’s most powerful medicines, which Professor Wass uses every day to help people’s lives. And they are crucial to cutting edge research, which is looking to tackle some of the biggest medical challenges facing society today.

But John’s story is the bizarre and intriguing tale of how this level of understanding was achieved. It’s a rollercoaster ride that touches on some of the best and worst of medical history – where breath-taking success butts up against astounding quackery.

Professor Richard Fortey explores the distant past, locked in stone, in Fossil Wonderlands: Nature’s Hidden Treasures. In this three-part series, he travels to some of the greatest fossil sites on earth to discover more about the distant past. He journeys high into the Rocky Mountains to explore a 520-million-year-old fossilised seabed containing bizarre and experimental life forms that have revolutionised our understanding about the beginnings of complex life; travels to north-eastern China to explore a fossil site known as the ‘Dinosaur Pompeii’; and investigates the remains of an ancient volcanic lake in Germany where stunningly well-preserved fossils of early mammals, giant insects, and even perhaps our oldest known ancestor have been found.

Liz Bonnin and a team of experts stay up all night to track – hour by hour – the diverse sleep patterns of a host of animals in Sleepover At The Zoo, a distinctive television event which will allow us to see the fascinating – and surprisingly lively – world of animal sleep.

Sleep is still one of the largely unsolved mysteries of science. Meerkats sleep huddled together for safety and warmth, bats sleep hanging upside down from a tree branch, and flamingos sleep standing up with one eye open on the lookout for danger… but why? It has been established that the average human needs eight hours sleep per night, but giraffes sleep for just for two hours, and a slow loris can sleep for more than 20 hours per night. Does an animal’s environment dictate its sleep pattern, or have their sleeping adaptations evolved to facilitate their activities? Who snuggles down straight away, and who has a fussy bed-time ritual? Do animals dream, or even have nightmares?

By using a wealth of camera rigs to observe behaviour across 12 hours at Bristol Zoo, together with custom-shot VTs from other zoos, Sleepover At The Zoo will be a TV event lifting the covers on the fresh and fascinating science of animal sleep.

 

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