BBC Future

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The uneasy truth about human-animal hybrids

Merging animal and human forms brought terror to our ancestors – and this fear persists right the way into our modern age.<p>In Greek mythology, the Chimera is a monstrous fire-breathing creature, typically described as having the head of a lion, with a snake as a tail and the head of a goat emerging …

Genetics

The country that tourism has taken by surprise

What happens to an economy when a country has a sudden and unexpected influx of tourists? Iceland offers intriguing lessons about the impact on cities, the environment and even food supply.<p>A girl scoops up a huge dollop of sticky white mud and ladles it into the hands of her friend, who smiles and …

Iceland

The country that tourism has taken by surprise

Iceland has seen a dramatic increase in visitors in the last few years – but the is country is being quick to embrace its new industry.<p>A girl scoops up a huge dollop of sticky white mud and ladles it into the hands of her friend, who smiles and gasps as it spills back into the water. Dozens of …

The surprising truth about why we sleep and how much we need

Despite fears of technology eating into our nap, we may be slumbering for longer than ever before and we may have misunderstood what sleep is for.<p>They say that an elephant never forgets. It is also often stated that one of the functions of sleep is to consolidate memories. If both of those things …

Bedtime Stories

Why astronauts are banned from getting drunk in space

From wine being sipped on the moon to whisky on a space station, space travel has had a long and complex relationship with alcohol.<p>Travelling thousands of miles above the Earth, into the great inky unknown, is hard work. It’s stressful and scary. So why shouldn’t astronauts treat themselves to an …

Alcohol

Bringing the Soviet Union’s ‘flying tank’ back to life

The Ilyushin Il-2 Sturmovik was an armoured ground attack aircraft designed to destroy tanks from tree-top height. Now, a rare surviving example of this Soviet aircraft is being restored in Arizona.<p>When Nazi forces reached Leningrad in the summer of 1941, rather than risk the lives of thousands of …

Military History

How popcorn became a much-loved snack

It’s a favourite for film fans and sofa snackers – and there’s some really special chemistry going on when popcorn does its pop.<p>Popcorn, that delicious, crunchy vehicle for butter, caramel and salt, is seeing its star rise. Americans already consume nearly 50 litres of popped corn a year each, on …

Popcorn

The ambitious plan to bury nuclear waste in an old mine

The first long-term repository of its kind in the world, a disused iron mine in Germany is getting ready to receive 300,000 containers of nuclear waste – but not everyone is happy.<p>It takes nearly five minutes for the lift to reach the foot of the mineshaft. The ride down is solemn and quiet, the …

Nuclear Energy

The machines that learned to listen

Voice recognition technology makes many aspects of modern life easier. The seeds were sown a lot further back than you might think.<p>A toddler meanders unsteadily through the living room, pausing by a sleek black cylinder in the corner. “Alexa,” he says in a high-pitched voice. “Play children music.” …

Machine Learning

Why happy music makes you do bad things

There may be a surprising dark side to easy-listening and feel-good tracks.<p>From the distinctive opening “Whooah” to the recurring funky brass riff that follows each line of lyrics, James Brown’s hit song I Got You (I Feel Good) is a recipe for happiness.<p>The iconic track is arguably one of the most …

Psychology

A test can identify ‘supertaskers’, but only a few pass it

Only a small percentage of the population can multi-task well – could that be you?<p>I’m the kind of person who permanently has at least 10 windows open on my computer, at the same time as I hold a conversation, listen to the radio and send texts. I insist that I can concentrate perfectly well on all …

The Brain

The inland seaport that wants to widen a river

The Port of Hamburg has been a hub of maritime activity for nearly 900 years – but sitting 120km from the North Sea is making it hard for the new breed of vast superships to reach it.<p>A low metal fence is all that separates you from the machines that roam the dockside. Looking like the lower part of …

Hamburg

How to avoid falling for lies and fake news

As ‘alternative facts’ fill our social media feeds, BBC Future examines a more rational approach to digesting information.<p>From claims that The Simpsons predicted Trump’s presidency in the Year 2000 to the absurd story that the Queen has joked about assassinating Trump, our social media feeds are …

Fake News

How do you stop astronauts going mad?

When the space race started, some scientists worried life in space would prove too much for humans. Can we cope with missions that may take years?<p>"Impulsive, suicidal, sexually-aberrant thrill seeker." What kind of person might that describe? A Big Brother contestant? A Base jumper? A cult leader? …

NASA

The hidden body signals that could change your behaviour

Apps based on “biofeedback” techniques promise to help reduce stress and more by reporting on what’s going on in our bodies. How do they work?<p>“Gently close your eyes. Listen to the soundscape you’re now in. As you focus your awareness on different parts of your body, the soundscape will, like your …

Meditation

How to spot misleading health news

Follow this 10-step guide to navigating medical headlines, says Claudia Hammond, and you’ll soon weed out the flaky science and dangerous claims.<p>When the UK newspaper, the Independent, analysed the 20 most shared stories in the past year with cancer in the headline, more than half included claims …

Research

What if the internet stopped working for a day?

For many people, going without the internet even for a few hours is unthinkable. But if it did stop working, the impact might be more counterintuitive than you think.<p>Jeff Hancock likes to give his Stanford University students weekend assignments that let them experience concepts discussed in class …

Internet

How brewing beer changed a lifeform for good

Brewers domesticated wild yeasts hundreds of years ago – and changed this microscopic life form forever.<p>Brewers tend to hawk their wares on the purity of their ingredients and the provenance of their hops. But the yeast that helps turn their efforts into beer seldom gets a mention. After decades …

Beer

The tricks being played on you by UK roads

When you walk or drive in the UK, you’re being nudged by dozens of hidden messages embedded in the roads and pavements.<p>With a reassuring squeeze of my arm, Richard Holmes guides me along a busy city centre street. I’m wearing a special pair of glasses that have deprived me of my normally good …

United Kingdom

Why do we feel hot and cold as pain?

When we feel something too hot or cold, our senses register pain. But why? And what’s causing it?<p>On the face of things, a hot waffle iron wouldn't seem to have all that much in common with a block of ice. But the two objects share the same capacity to inflict pain. Extreme heat and extreme cold are …

Biology

How maths can help you escape a maze

Humanity’s preoccupation with mazes – and how to escape them – lives on. Can maths point you towards the exit?<p>Mazes are in vogue at the moment, from NBO’s Westworld, to the return of the British cult TV series, The Crystal Maze. But mazes have been around for millennia and one of the most famous …

Urban Design

How fast food reveals secrets of the economy

From the Pizza Principle to the Waffle House Index, fast food can reveal surprising things about our behaviour and hidden changes in the market.<p>What is an economist’s favourite food? Burgers, chips and pizza might not immediately come to mind – but the consumption of meals like these can signal …

Fast Food

The surgeon giving his patients VR instead of sedatives

In Mexico’s most violent state, a surgeon is using virtual reality to relieve the pain and stress of operations when sedatives are not possible. Jo Marchant watched him as he works.<p>Ana Maria has never been to Machu Picchu. The 61-year-oldalways wanted to visit the mountain ruins but she suffers …

Virtual Reality

What Peter Pan teaches us about memory and consciousness

With its astute observations about the human brain and behaviour, JM Barrie’s classic tale pre-empted modern neuroscience by decades.<p>A couple of years ago, the neuropsychologist Rosalind Ridley was browsing through a friend's bookshelf when she came across JM Barrie’s original Peter Pan stories. …

Consciousness

The secret to living a meaningful life

Your ambitions to improve your life do not need to be confined by your personality.<p>Brian Little, one of the world’s leading experts on personality psychology, is renowned as a public speaker. If you watch his recent TED talk on personality, as millions of others have, you will see an engaging and …

Psychology

How to get people to overcome their bias

How do you persuade somebody of the facts? Asking them to be fair, impartial and unbiased is not enough. To explain why, psychologist Tom Stafford analyses a classic scientific study.<p>One of the tricks our mind plays is to highlight evidence which confirms what we already believe. If we hear gossip …

Psychology

The ‘exotic’ foods with a secret homegrown history

Some of the world’s favourite ethnic dishes aren’t really as exotic as they seem…<p>Our culinary horizons are arguably broader than they've ever been. Even in small towns, you can walk down a busy street and pass an Indian restaurant, a sushi place, a Chinese takeout. In bigger cities, spongy injera, …

General Tso's chicken

How solar may save Ukraine's nuclear wasteland

The Ukrainian government wants to turn part of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone into a solar farm. Could the site of the world's worst nuclear accident get a new lease of life?<p>Thirty years ago this year, the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant suffered a catastrophic meltdown. The resulting explosion …

Nuclear Energy

A 360-degree tour of a WWII ‘shadow factory’

It was first a secret aircraft engine factory in World War Two, before becoming a huge nuclear bunker. Explore the immense Drakelow Tunnels in England for yourself.<p>At the outbreak of World War Two, with German bombing targeting key infrastructure, it was clear that the production of vital parts of …

World War II

The ‘untranslatable’ emotions you never knew you had

Learning to identify and cultivate these feelings could give you a richer and more successful life.<p>Have you ever felt a little <b>mbuki-mvuki</b> – the irresistible urge to “shuck off your clothes as you dance”? Perhaps a little <b>kilig –</b> the jittery fluttering feeling as you talk to someone you fancy? How …

Psychology