Ripples spread from discovery of gravitational waves

An aerial view of the LIGO experiment in Louisiana. You can see both of the laser beam pipes heading off from the main building.
Image caption This aerial view of the LIGO experiment in Louisiana shows both of the laser beam pipes heading off from the main building

Three months ago scientists announced they had discovered evidence for the existence of gravitational waves. Ripples in the very fabric of our reality that nicely proved something Einstein suggested a century ago and also gave us an entirely new way to study the universe.

These big physics discoveries always involve huge teams of researchers from right across the planet, but the University of Birmingham has a key role, both in building the detector itself and in analysing the data it produces.

So now the scientific dust has settled I spent some time with the researchers at the university to get the behind-the-scenes story of the discovery and to ask them what they plan to do next.

The LIGO experiment

The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory or (LIGO for short) is based in America. It's actually two massive experiments, one in Hanford, Washington and another in Livingston in Louisiana. You need a lot of space for this experiment as you'll be bouncing lasers up and down pipes four kilometres long. And you also need to put the experiment as far away from noise and general vibration as possible. Gravitational waves are so small and so hard to detect that the vibration of waves on a distant shore is enough to mess up the measurements. So LIGO was built in pretty remote areas.

LIGO works using a very special laser beam which you split it in two and send each bit down two four-kilometre pipes which are at right angles to each other. At the end of each pipe is a mirror which bounces the laser straight back down the pipe. The two beams are then recombined and should in theory cancel each other out.

Read full article Ripples spread from discovery of gravitational waves

Birmingham researchers build a new test for prostate cancer

  • 15 April 2016
  • From the section England
Prostate-specific antigen or PSA Image copyright Birmingham University
Image caption Higher levels of PSA in your blood are a sign of cancer. Traditional tests detect the green protein, but the new one detects a sugar, shown as dark red

If you have any doubts or worries about your prostate, then it's important to go to your doctor and get tested.

The good news is that there's a simple blood test that can be carried out before anything more invasive is done. The bad news is the test is, as one cancer survivor told me, a bit "rubbish".

Read full article Birmingham researchers build a new test for prostate cancer

Fitting slugs with tracking devices for the first time

  • 24 February 2016
  • From the section England
Slugs and tracking device
Image caption Two slugs keep a close eye on a tracking device

At Harper Adams University they are fitting tracking devices to slugs.

The aim is to learn more about the behaviour of a species that experts say could cause millions of pounds of damage to crops if left untreated.

Read full article Fitting slugs with tracking devices for the first time

Tackling the problems cause by nasty tasting medicines

  • 18 February 2016
  • From the section England
Young scientists at Thinktank
Image caption Can drugs be palatable for children? This young researcher is unsure

The University of Birmingham has recruited some young scientists to help create more palatable medicines for kids.

About 90 children aged five to 12 will spend half-term at the city's science museum helping out with research into a new form of drug.

Read full article Tackling the problems cause by nasty tasting medicines

The hidden crisis in rural schools

Handsworth Wood Girls' Academy in Birmingham.
Image caption GSCE Schools in central Birmingham are working with disadvantaged pupils better than in rural areas

There's a hidden crisis in our education system and it affects our poorest and most vulnerable kids.

If you come from a disadvantaged background then your exam results depend on where you live.

Read full article The hidden crisis in rural schools

Mysteries of murmuration revealed thanks to you

  • 23 November 2015
  • From the section England
Image caption A murmuration can involve millions of starlings

A starling murmuration is an amazing sight.

At their largest you can get millions of birds wheeling about the sky just as the sun starts setting.

Read full article Mysteries of murmuration revealed thanks to you

Our rarest wetland habitat is disappearing

  • 4 November 2015
  • From the section England
The pools
Image caption The collection of lakes and pools at Upton Warren is known as the Christopher Cadbury Wetland Reserve

Just off junction 5 of the M5 is a collection of lakes and pools known as the Christopher Cadbury Wetland Reserve.

It's one of the most interesting wildlife sites in Worcester, probably the whole country, and all thanks to what is going on deep under the ground.

Read full article Our rarest wetland habitat is disappearing

A bumper sloe season is a good sign for the countryside

  • 2 November 2015
  • From the section England
Sloe berries
Image caption This year's crop of sloe berries are sweeter due to the late September sunshine

It's a bumper year for sloes and our hedgerows are absolutely groaning with them. Good news for wildlife and for those of us who like sloe gin at Christmas.

I don't actually remember sloes from the my childhood. I think in the autumn I was more focused on picking as many blackberries as possible for my mum's delicious crumbles. So I passed over the small black sloes sharing a hedge with the brambles.

Read full article A bumper sloe season is a good sign for the countryside

Rise of the cheap and cheerful warehouse robot

  • 16 October 2015
  • From the section England
Image caption A Guidance Automation robot using University of Birmingham software navigates the warehouse

There's a bit of a dirty secret about robots in the workplace.

They're really expensive and more often than not you have to build the workplace around the robots rather than the staff.

Read full article Rise of the cheap and cheerful warehouse robot

Inside a major chicken processing plant

  • 16 September 2015
  • From the section England
Media captionThe plant is one of the largest in the UK

I've been trying to film at the Cargill poultry plant in Hereford ever since I arrived in this job, which is more years than I care to remember.

When it comes to agriculture in the Midlands the poultry business is the second most valuable slice of our farming pie. It's behind dairy at number one but at £207m it's worth more than wheat, cattle or fruit.

Read full article Inside a major chicken processing plant