BBC Future

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The nurse who knew the first astronauts inside out

Dee O’Hara was one of the few women in the programme that put the first Americans in space. Here, she recalls what it was like to deal with astronauts afraid of needles…<p>If your job involves being strapped into a tiny metal capsule on the top of an experimental rocket to be blasted into outer space, …

NASA

How tricksters make you see what they want you to see

An Oxford University psychologist can trick your visual system into believing the impossible.<p>Could you be fooled into “seeing” something that doesn’t exist?<p>Matthew Tompkins, a magician-turned-psychologist at the University of Oxford, has been investigating the ways that tricksters implant thoughts …

Optical Illusions

The real risks – and benefits – of everyday pleasures

It can feel impossible to interpret health information – but these simple statistics should help you put your lifestyle choices in perspective.<p>Between drink and a longer life, novelist Kingsley Amis was under no illusions about which he would choose. “No pleasure is worth giving up for the sake of …

University of Cambridge

How do you beat seasickness?

Seasickness can be debilitating – but what causes this extreme reaction to rolling waves? Katia Moskvitch investigates.<p>The pirate ship had it all – from a wooden, creepy medusa figurehead in front to the Jolly Roger flag dancing in the morning breeze and a Jack Sparrow-lookalike with braided goatee …

Motion sickness

What's the easiest sport to win a gold in?

You may have been inspired to dust off the trainers thanks to the athletic exploits in Rio. But if you want to emulate their podium poses, what’s the best sport to try?<p>It’s the photo to sum up the Olympics. As the world’s fastest man jets towards the 100-metre mark, he flashes a smile at the camera …

Olympics

The quest to make a crystal harder than diamonds

Labs across the world have been competing to build “superhard” materials – and they are finally succeeding.<p>At the centre of our planet, the weight of billions of tonnes of rock pushing down from above creates crushing forces that are more than three million times the atmospheric pressure here on …

Science

The daily struggle of living with extreme fatigue

After many injuries and neurological illnesses, people often face a mysterious, unimaginable exhaustion that can last for years. Why?<p>One night in 1999, Danny found himself in the middle of a fight in a nightclub toilet. He was out celebrating his friend’s 21st birthday party in London’s East End, …

Parkinson's disease

The killer flood made of molasses

Nearly 100 years ago, a Boston neighbourhood was swamped by a tidal wave of molasses. BBC Future looks at a design defect that created a bizarre – and deadly – flood.<p>As we go about our daily lives, we have a fairly reasonable expectation that the objects around us will continue to maintain their …

Molasses

The runaway drone that caused a Cold War air battle

Sixty years ago, a violent air battle raged over the skies of Los Angeles – thanks to a runaway drone. BBC Future investigates the ‘Battle of Palmdale’.<p>A decade after the end of World War II, US fighter planes were scrambled to protect the city of Los Angeles from an unexpected aerial threat. …

Cold War

How it feels to live in darkness

The Dialogue in the Dark exhibition in Israel aims to bridge the understanding between sighted and blind people. BBC Future visits the museum to learn about the ways the brain can adapt to life without vision.<p>I know there isn’t one dot of light, but I frantically scan the pitch-black area …

The Brain

The mystery noise driving the world mad

Since the 1970s, many people in cities across the globe have started hearing a strange hum. Watch the video above to join Linda Geddes in her hunt for an explanation.<p>“It‘s 11 o’clock in the morning, and I’m suddenly aware of this buzzing, pulsating noise, a bit like a distant drill or angle …

United Kingdom

The amazing benefits of being bilingual

Most people in the world speak more than one language, suggesting the human brain evolved to work in multiple tongues. If so, asks Gaia Vince, are those of us who speak only one language missing out?<p>In a cafe in south London, two construction workers are engaged in cheerful banter, tossing words …

The Brain

The giant pyramid hidden inside a mountain

This temple at Cholula dwarfs the Great Pyramid at Giza, yet it went unnoticed by Spanish invaders. Why?<p>They arrived in their thousands. Hardened by months of war with ferocious natives, near-starvation and exotic diseases, Hernan Cortez and his Spanish army marched into the great city of Cholula …

Mountains

The Peruvian temple that hints at the origin of religion

A lost temple could teach us about how modern society is structured.<p>Chavin de Huantar lies in a narrow valley in the high Andes, 3,200m (10,500ft) above sea level. You can’t see the temple until you’re in it. The dramatic, vertical landscape was the carefully chosen location for this exquisite …

Forests

Why it pays to be grumpy and bad-tempered

Being bad-tempered and pessimistic helps you to earn more, live longer and enjoy a healthier marriage. It’s almost enough to put a smile on the dourest of faces.<p>On stage he’s a loveable, floppy-haired prince charming. Off camera – well let’s just say he needs a lot of personal space. He hates being …

Psychology

Will the skyscrapers outlast the pyramids?

Egypt’s pyramids were the skyscrapers of their day – and they are still standing 5,000 years later. Do today’s tallest buildings stand a chance of outlasting them?<p>The cracks first emerged in April. By 29 June 1995, a vast network of fissures spanned the entire fifth floor ceiling of one of Seoul’s …

Architecture

China may be the future of genetic enhancement

We may soon be able to edit people’s DNA to cure diseases like cancer, but will this lead to designer babies? If so, bioethicist G Owen Schaefer argues that China will lead the way.<p>Would you want to alter your future children’s genes to make them smarter, stronger or better-looking? As the state of …

Asia

What it takes to dismantle an oil rig

The North Sea’s oil wells are starting to run dry. So how do we pull them up? It’s a massively complex task, writes Paul Marks.<p>They sound like the kind of arsenal controlled by a Bond villain – twin-hulled megaships, underwater lasers, robot submarines and diamond saws.<p>But they are, in fact, the …

Oil drilling

This is what happens when you are dehydrated

View the video below to find out why your body – and mind – needs plenty of water.<p>We’re often told to drink eight glasses of water a day – and much more if we are exercising. But just how much do we actually need? And what are the dangers of being dehydrated?<p>In this clip from the BBC’s Bang Goes …

Do big sporting events make us do more sport?

The Olympics are set to thrill audiences across the globe – but how many of them will get off the sofa for a run afterwards? BBC Future investigates.<p>Some time ago, I spent half the weekend sitting on the sofa watching the Davis Cup. I thought about going for a run, but I didn’t want to miss the …

UK Politics

Why do we get bags under our eyes?

Dark circles under the eye suggest late nights and little sleep. But are there other reasons? BBC Future investigates.<p>The upsides of having relatively hairless faces are fairly straightforward. Less hair means fewer places for parasites to hide, for example, and more exposed skin allows for sweat …

Ultraviolet

Why we should pity attention-seeking narcissists

There are some surprising and unpleasant downsides to thinking you are the centre of the universe.<p>We can probably all recognise those attention-seeking people in our lives – and increasingly it seems in politics and pop culture – who have a hugely inflated sense of their own importance and …

Psychology

These toxins in our food almost certainly shouldn’t be there

Sometimes our food lies to us. Is it really safe to eat? Is it even what’s listed on the packet? A lab in Belfast is one of best places in the world to find out.<p>In a university laboratory in Belfast, a student named Terry is holding an infrared sensor over a tiny dish of powdered oregano. At least, …

Food & Dining

The hidden base that could have ended the world

In the 1970s and 80s, crews sat at constant readiness in nuclear missile silos buried in the Arizona desert. What would have happened if they had got the order to launch?<p>Yvonne Morris had three minutes to get to work at the start of her shift. Any longer between phoning through her secret code at …

Nuclear weapons

It’s never been easier to build your own fighting robot

The biggest advance in combat robotics is how much more accessible the sport has become.<p>Walking around the pits behind the Robot Wars arena, I’m realising an ambition held since childhood. As an eight-year-old, I had fastidiously researched what was required to build my own; from truck windscreen …

Raspberry Pi

How do politicians get by on so little sleep?

Political leaders often have to get by on a few hours’ sleep. How do they manage to function with such little rest?<p>The demands of being a presidential candidate take a toll on sleep. And the demands are not likely to lessen for whomever is elected.<p>President Obama says he schedules six hours of …

Health

Virtual reality: The hype, the problems and the promise

It’s the technology that is supposed to be 2016’s big thing, but what iteration of VR will actually catch on, and what’s just a fad? Tim Maughan takes an in-depth look.<p>I’m sitting in the dark. It’s pitch black, apart from a circular spot of light on the wall in front of me. Voices emerge, a woman …

Virtual Reality

What we learnt from reading people’s dreams

Humans have been collecting records of dreams for years. But what do these archives of our nightly visions tell us about the human mind? And can modern technology help to unravel them?<p>Another day at the height of World War Two had come to a close. Lars (not his real name), a 36-year-old man from …

World War II

Leonardo da Vinci's lessons in design genius

Driverless cars, humanoid robots and a primitive computer: are these the most surprising things Leonardo da Vinci ever invented? An exhibition at London’s Science Museum explores his genius.<p>Famed as a conspirator in The da Vinci Code and as the master painter behind the “Mona Lisa Smile”, Leonardo …

Genius

How to break glass with sound

Legend has it that opera singers can break champagne flutes just by wailing – but is it actually possible? Watch the video below to find out.<p>You’re probably familiar with the urban legend: the opera singer ascends the stage and clears his throat. His audience cheer and wave their champagne flutes …

Music