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David Shukman

David Shukman Science editor

Welcome to my perspective on science stories in the headlines and behind them

Ebola outbreak: How Nigeria is beating the killer virus

  • 16 October 2014
  • From the section Africa

A nightmare scenario of Ebola raging unchecked among millions of slum-dwellers in Africa's largest city has given way to a rare example of a victory over the virus.

Amid the gloom surrounding the escalating crisis in West Africa, developments in Lagos show how the right techniques at the right speed can bring about a welcome result.

With a population of more than 170 million, Nigeria is Africa's most populous nation and there were fears that Ebola would take hold when a Liberian-American arrived with the disease in July.

Instead, along with much smaller Senegal, Nigeria is now on the brink of being clear of the virus for a 42-day period at which point the World Health Organization (WHO) can declare it Ebola-free.

The outcome could so easily have been far uglier, and the fact that the news is happier is due to an astonishing story of medical detective work.

Text-book case

Patrick Sawyer and his daughter Ava in an undated family photo
Patrick Sawyer, seen here with his daughter, became the first person to die of Ebola in Nigeria

Read full article Ebola outbreak: How Nigeria is beating the killer virus

Five critical steps involved in putting a lander on a comet

How do you land on a comet? This isn't some fantasy from science fiction but the reality facing the people running Esa's Rosetta mission after the successful rendezvous with Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

Tuesday 11 November has already been pencilled in as the day that the Philae lander will touch down on the mysterious icy body.

Read full article Five critical steps involved in putting a lander on a comet

Journey of understanding 'just beginning'

The comet on August 4th, from around 234km away
The comet on August 4th, from around 234km away

Europe's mission control here at Darmstadt in Germany cannot match the sheer exuberance of Nasa when it comes to celebrating triumphs.

Confirmation that Esa's Rosetta spacecraft had achieved its historic rendezvous with a comet was greeted with applause, wide grins and shouts of "yes, yes!", but none of the wild cheering we saw when Curiosity touched down on Mars two years ago.

Read full article Journey of understanding 'just beginning'

Rosetta 'on its final approach'

Rosetta approaching 67P
An artists impression of Rosetta approaching the comet

After a journey that has lasted a decade, Europe's Rosetta spacecraft is now on its final approach to a comet.

One of the scientists leading this European Space Agency (Esa) venture described it as "the sexiest, most fantastic mission ever".

Read full article Rosetta 'on its final approach'

Deep sea mining licences issued

Drill core
For decades, the idea of mining these deposits was dismissed as unfeasible

Vast new areas of the ocean floor have been opened up in an accelerating search for valuable minerals including manganese, copper and gold.

In a move that brings closer a new era of deep sea mining, the UN's International Seabed Authority (ISA) has issued seven new exploration licences.

Read full article Deep sea mining licences issued

Shuttle diplomacy in climate countdown

The aim is for a deal limiting greenhouse gases

A senior British minister is once again launched on a long-haul high-carbon mission of shuttle diplomacy in the cause of tackling climate change.

The target is to try to land an international deal on limiting greenhouse gases at what is billed as a major summit in Paris in late 2015.

Read full article Shuttle diplomacy in climate countdown

Oklahoma drought kindles spectre of 1930s 'Dust Bowl'

A menacing cloud of dust swirling above a parched field in Oklahoma is a disturbing reminder of the power of drought.

All too often here, when the land is baked dry, the winds can strip away an inch of precious topsoil in as little as 24 hours, soil that has taken centuries to form.

Read full article Oklahoma drought kindles spectre of 1930s 'Dust Bowl'

How much money can we make from fracking Britain?

A fracking site in Texas America
Fracking is already used as a method of extracting gas and oil from the ground in several areas in America, as is the case with this site in Texas

How much money can be made from trying to extract oil and gas from the layers of shale that lie beneath Britain?

Answering that is proving to be a surprisingly difficult scientific question because knowing the basic facts about shale is not enough.

Read full article How much money can we make from fracking Britain?

David added analysis to:

Pfizer takeover could delay drug development, says Astra chief

For anyone in the pharmaceutical industry, the Holy Grail is the discovery of what they call a new "molecule", a cleverly-designed compound that proves effective as a treatment.

But achieving this is fiendishly complicated - getting approval has become hugely expensive and success is far from guaranteed.

Read full article Pfizer takeover could delay drug development, says Astra chief

David added analysis to:

'Nothing can stop retreat' of West Antarctic glaciers

West Antarctica is one of the least accessible parts of the planet and it takes a huge effort to research the changes under way there. Nearly a decade ago, I joined a flight on an old US Navy patrol plane that made a gruelling 11-hour round trip from the southern Chilean city of Punta Arenas to Pine Island Glacier, which lies among the glaciers featured in these latest studies.

There was no possibility of landing and, if the worst were to happen, there was no-one close enough to offer any kind of rescue. This is research at its most daring. On board was a team from Nasa whose instruments were measuring the elevation and thickness of the ice below us. Even at this stage, it was clear that the glacier, far larger than anything you might see in Europe or North America, was speeding up.

Read full article 'Nothing can stop retreat' of West Antarctic glaciers

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    UK and European space and the latest major science stories

  • Matt McGrath Matt McGrath Environment correspondent

    Updates on emerging environmental news

  • Fergus Walsh, Medical correspondent Fergus Walsh Medical correspondent

    A focus on the medical and health issues of the day

  • Tom Feilden, Science correspondent, Today programme Tom Feilden Science correspondent, Today

    Analysis of the scientific issues making headlines

About David

Twenty years ago David visited the secret lab at Los Alamos that created the nuclear bomb and he's been fascinated by science and scientists ever since. His reports on research have taken him as far afield as the Antarctic ice-sheet, the Amazon rainforest and the depths of the Gulf of Mexico.

Since joining the BBC back in 1983, David has covered Northern Ireland, defence, Europe and world affairs. He is the author of three books.

His favourite memories include reporting from East Berlin during the fall of the Wall and exploring the tunnels of the Large Hadron Collider on a bike.

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