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The brand new series of the ‘Big Questions’ podcast launched this week, so it seems timely to provide a brief update on what we have planned at Oxford Sparks for the coming months. We’ve kicked off the podcast series with a Halloween special, asking Emilia Skirmuntt (Department of Zoology) “Are bats superheroes or villains?”. This has provided insight into the weird and wonderful world of bats, which – I have now learnt – have incredible immune systems (something I think we’re all envious of as we reach peak ‘freshers’ flu’ season!). Next up we have Dr Brian Sheil (Department of Engineering) who gave Emily Elias, our podcast producer, a fantastic insight into the Thames Tideway Tunnel (aka the “Super Sewer”!) Project. Dr Sheil’s team have developed a new type of sensor, which he hopes will make construction projects such as this easier and safer. “How do you build a super sewer?” will launch on the 13th November.

We then turn to the Materials Science Department to ask “Where is my hoverboard?” (episode due to launch on 27th November). According to Back to the Future, we were meant to be receiving our first hoverboard-shaped Christmas presents back in 2015, so we’re getting a little impatient. However, as Dr Clara Barker explains, the science behind them is pretty tricky (although not impossible…). Our final episode of 2019 takes on a festive theme, as we’ll be asking geologist Anna Bidgood from the Department of Earth Sciences “What’s under Lapland?”.

In terms of animations, some of you may have seen “Can we make a sensor that can match a sniffer dog?”, which we published last month (created with Dr Merel Lefferts from the Materials Science Department). Next week (7th November) we’ll be launching our next animation, produced in collaboration with DPhil student Neva Kandzija from the Nuffield Department of Women’s and Reproductive Health: “How do unborn babies and mothers communicate via the placenta?”. Coming up in December we have an animation about ocean floor mapping, which we are currently working on with Prof. Anthony Watts (Department of Earth Sciences). We are also excited to be collaborating with Prof. Paul Jarvis and Dr Qihua Ling (Department of Plant Sciences), and Prof. Mark Thompson (Department of Engineering), on animations about CHLORAD and mechanobiology, respectively. These will be published in January and February of next year.

If you have a research story you’d like to share, or just want to find out more about Oxford Sparks, the ‘Big Questions’ podcast or our animations, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me at You can view all the latest content here.