Bardarbunga volcano; Geology in Minecraft; Synthesising opioids; Ammonia


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Bardarbunga A group of earth scientists was in Iceland performing annual maintenance of its equipment, when the volcano Bardarbunga erupted. Professor Simon Redfern has now joined them and speaks to Adam Rutherford from the slopes of neighbouring volcano Askja. He explains how all this recent volcanic activity is the expression of Europe's tectonic drift away from America. And rather than this being a smooth, continuous process, the plates move at the surface in a jerky way - causing these earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

Geology in Minecraft The British Geological Survey has built a full version of the geology of Britain into the online game Minecraft. Minecraft is a so-called 'sandbox' game, meaning there are no specific objectives, but players are free to explore existing worlds or collaborate to build their own with a range of virtual building blocks. The game is a huge phenomenon, with over a 100 million registered users, mostly under the age of 30. By adding an extra layer of geological features, the BGS hopes to encourage interest and add a further dimension to the game.

Synthesising opioids Opiates such as morphine are commonly used in pain-relief medicines, but their chemical complexity means that commercial production is limited and the pharmaceutical industry has to rely on extracting them from poppies. However, researchers at Stanford University are working on a synthetic-biology system using yeast to produce opiates like morphine, and the pharmacologically more attractive opioids like hydrocodone and oxycodone. They haven't got all the steps in the pathway in place yet. But they're not far off.

Ammonia In recent years there's been renewed interest in ammonia, as a fuel. It could work as a replacement for petrol and diesel in cars with very little engine change. In fact it was used as such during the Second World War in Belgium.

Producer: Fiona Roberts.