Space dreams
Space dreams and the origins of the Universe
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Oxford tops 23m on iTunes U, asks 'Big Questions'

Oxford University is celebrating six years of its free iTunes U channel and reaching 23 million downloads and over 6,000 episodes by launching a new science podcast series tackling questions including the origins of the Universe and human life.

Through iTunes U and, launched in October 2008, the University provides over 5,500 hours of free video and audio content about everything from First World War poetry to quantum mechanics, philosophy to business and economics. The podcasts can be downloaded for free to computers and a range of mobile devices.

The new audio podcast series, 'Big Questions – with Oxford Sparks', takes a broad theme and then enlists leading Oxford University scientists to explore related big questions in their areas of science. The series is a new initiative from the Oxford Sparks online public science portal and is also available to non-iTunes users here.

The first episode, which launches on 13 October 2014, is on the theme of ‘Origins’ and each part tackles a different area of research:

Part one: Origins of the Universe 
Professor Jo Dunkley of Oxford University's Department of Physics explains how we can look back in time at the light from the early Universe. This ultra-cold light can be used to create a picture from soon after the Big Bang. With no stars or galaxies, the image formed shows a universe that was just starting to grow the features we see today.

Part two: Origins of Earth and the Solar System
Professor Alex Halliday of Oxford University's Department of Earth Sciences explains how planets form from nothing but an area of space full of dust. Tiny differences between the elements that make up meteorites can give you an idea of how old they are and which part of the solar system they came from.

Part three: Origins of Human Life
Drs Suzannah Williams and Dagan Wells of Oxford University's Nuffield Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology explore the secrets and processes behind human fertilisation. Sperm and eggs must face huge challenges before they even meet. After fertilisation, they go on to form a small ball of cells with huge potential.

Professor Jo Dunkley of Oxford University's Department of Physics said: 'To me one of the biggest questions we can ask is how the Universe began. We can actually come close to an answer by looking at the earliest picture we have of the cosmos, a snapshot from almost 14 billion years ago, taken most recently by the Planck satellite.

'In this new podcast I had fun explaining how this works and why it is so interesting, and I hope people will share my excitement that we are able to work out what happened in the first trillionth of a second of the Universe's life.'

Peter Robinson, manager of Oxford University on iTunes U, said: 'Oxford on iTunes U is a unique repository of free knowledge, across all subjects we have over 6,000 talks with something for everyone.

'The Big Questions series is presented in a friendly, engaging way and I'd recommend them for any student at school or University. They're a perfect starting point for the hundreds of other great science podcasts we make available for free on the University's Oxford on iTunes U channel. If you like the Big Questions format you'll probably also love our series on 'Chemistry for the Future' or 'Flash Talk Physics'.'