Science Focus Podcast

Science Focus Podcast
The podcast from the makers of BBC Science Focus magazine
What if the Earth’s magnetic field died? – Jim Al-Khalili
Apr 17 • 37 min
Theoretical physicist and science communicator Professor Jim Al-Khalili has taken a break from writing popular science books to write his first novel. Sunfall (£16.99, Bantam Press) is a science fiction thriller set in the year 2041, when the Earth’s…
Are video games good for us? - Pete Etchells
Apr 10 • 31 min
In this week’s Science Focus Podcast, we dive into the world of video games. Over the past couple of decades, video games have often got a bad rap, blamed for everything from aggression and violence to addiction and mental health problems. But what does…
Do you believe in magic? – Gustav Kuhn
Apr 3 • 29 min
Abracadbra! Prestidigitation! We know that these words hold no intrinsic power, but when we hear them, we are instantly transported away to a land of magic and wonder; where the impossible becomes reality right before our eyes. So why, as rational human…
How can we save our planet? - Sir David Attenborough
Mar 27 • 35 min
We speak to Sir David Attenborough, naturalist and host of the new Netflix show Our Planet, and two of the show’s producers about the essential changes we need to make to save our home.
Can we slow down the ageing process? - Sue Armstrong
Mar 20 • 32 min
As the size of the ageing population rises, the field of gerontology, the study of ageing, is bursting with discoveries. How and why do we age? What can be done to slow the ageing process, and how do we improve our health spans, rather than our life…
What happens when maths goes horribly, horribly wrong? – Matt Parker
Mar 13 • 28 min
Throughout history, engineers have watched their bridges disappear into the waters below, all because of tiny changes in design unexpectedly affecting their structural integrity. Elsewhere, generals have stood aghast as missile defences miss their target…
Why is the magnetic north pole moving? - Ciaran Beggan
Mar 6 • 26 min
The Earth’s magnetic north pole is rocketing towards Siberia at 50 kilometres per year, making the maps of the magnetic field out of date faster than expected. Why is it moving, what does this mean for us, and what can we expect it to do in the future?
Are we facing an insect apocalypse? - Brad Lister
Feb 27 • 34 min
When Professor Brad Lister returned to Puerto Rico to track insect populations, he found he was only catching a fraction of the amount he’d seen 40 years ago. When he analysed what he’d caught, he saw a 98 per cent decline in insects on the ground. What’s…
Is religion compatible with science? - Professor John Lennox
Feb 20 • 32 min
This week, we delve into the complex relationship between science and religion. With science providing more and more insights into the workings of the Universe, many people have turned their backs on religion entirely. Why invoke a God to explain the…
What does it mean to be happy? - Helen Russell
Feb 13 • 30 min
What does it mean to be happy? Is it the pleasure of doing nothing, or, as the Italians would say, dolce far niente? Is it the sense of community and shared contentment that the Māori people find in performing a haka? Or maybe it’s the Finnish habit of…
How geology can influence elections - Lewis Dartnell
Feb 6 • 22 min
When we think about history, we usually focus on the human impact: our influential leaders, the great civilisations we’ve built, and how we’ve harnessed the world’s resources to power our lives. But what about the influence of our planet? How has the…
The mindset behind the Moon landing – Richard Wiseman
Jan 30 • 36 min
When it comes to the achievements of human civilization, we have done incredible things. Some, like building the Pyramids of Giza, are awe-inspiring, others, such as the eradication of smallpox, have changed the lives of millions. But nothing can quite…
How technology is changing politics – Jamie Susskind
Jan 23 • 35 min
In this episode of the Science Focus Podcast we speak to Jamie Susskind, barrister and author of the book Future Politics: Living Together in a World Transformed by Tech (£20, OUP), about the challenges governments face when confronted with new…
There’s no such thing as Blue Monday - Sir David Spiegelhalter
Jan 16 • 21 min
Statistician and Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk in the Statistical Laboratory at the University of Cambridge Sir David Spiegelhalter explains the pseudoscience behind Blue Monday, the power of numbers, and how to spot a dodgy stat.
The most mysterious objects in the Universe - Colin Stuart
Jan 9 • 20 min
From ‘Oumuamua to Planet Nine, astronomy writer and Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society Colin Stuart counts down the five strangest cosmic enigmas.
Eating for your genes - Giles Yeo
Jan 3 • 38 min
Dr Giles Yeo studies the relationship between our genetic make-up and how we’re eating, and knows that poor self-control isn’t entirely to blame for the obesity epidemic. He’s here to talk about how our genes influence how hungry we feel and how much we…
What makes me ‘me’? - Aoife McLysaght
Dec 26, 2018 • 27 min
Evolutionary geneticist Aoife McLysaght is joining Alice Roberts as a guest at this year’s Royal Institution Christmas Lectures. Together, they’re exploring where we come from, what makes us human, and what makes each of us unique.
Why ASMR gives you tingles – Emma WhispersRed
Dec 19, 2018 • 18 min
We chat to YouTuber Emma WhispersRed ASMR about how she got into making the videos, why she thinks people find them so soothing, and why she wants to get the phenomenom officially recognised as a form of therapy
Air pollution is killing us, here’s how you can stop it – Gary Fuller
Dec 12, 2018 • 53 min
Pollution scientist Gary Fuller explains how bad our air is, what causes it, and how we can stop this invisible killer.
Should we be worried about sex robots? – Kate Devlin
Dec 5, 2018 • 29 min
AI ethicist Dr Kate Devlin has done a deep dive into intimacy with machines for her new book Turned On: Science, Sex and Robots. She’s looked into society’s gradually changing attitudes towards sex tech and visited the companies making the world’s most…
Filming a Dynasty - Nick Lyon
Nov 28, 2018 • 42 min
The latest Sir David Attenborough-narrated BBC Natural History Unit Landmark Series is called Dynasties, and it tracks power struggles within animal groups. We talk to Nick Lyon, the producer of an episode about Zimbabwe’s Painted Wolves, to see how he…
There is no Plan B for planet Earth – Lord Martin Rees
Nov 21, 2018 • 30 min
Astronomer Royal Lord Martin Rees explains how unless we make significant changes now, the prospects for the human species are beginning to look bleak.
What NASA’s InSight will tell us about Mars - Bruce Banerdt
Nov 14, 2018 • 24 min
By drilling into the surface of Mars, NASA’s InSight mission could help us discover more about the structure of the Red Planet, and maybe help us understand the formation of other planets.
The genetic hunt for the Loch Ness Monster - Neil Gemmell
Nov 7, 2018 • 20 min
Professor Neil Gemmell on his project to survey the genetic diversity of Loch Ness using cutting-edge environmental DNA techniques, and maybe find clues about the Loch Ness Monster.
Inside the mind of a comedian – Robin Ince
Oct 31, 2018 • 40 min
Comedians often take to the stage to talk about the quirks of the human race, and comedian Robin Ince has years of experience in that area. In his new book, he’s adding insights from neuroscientists and psychologists to talk about creativity, imagination,…
How to get a good night’s sleep - Alice Gregory
Oct 24, 2018 • 25 min
Sleep psychologist Prof Alice Gregory on the science behind a satisfying slumber
What makes a robot a robot? – Dr Lucy Rogers
Oct 17, 2018 • 37 min
This week we speak to Dr Lucy Rogers, who casts aside any Hollywood depictions of skull-crushing Terminators, and look at the real-life robots that are making a positive impact in our lives.
Finding the fun in science - Dara Ó Briain
Oct 10, 2018 • 24 min
Comedian Dara Ó Briain thinks the word nerd has been co-opted by too many people who don’t deserve it: Infinity Wars fans, for example. Studying maths and mathematical physics at university, he’s a true nerd, with a favourite science joke that backs that…
The psychology of suicide - Jesse Bering
Oct 3, 2018 • 35 min
Psychologist and science writer Jesse Bering explains the factors that lead someone to take their own life, and how we might be able to help those who are at risk.
What we got wrong about pandas and teenagers
Sep 26, 2018 • 35 min
Scientists Lucy Cooke and Sarah-Jayne Blakemore’s books have been shortlisted for the Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize. They tell us the unexpected truth about animals and the secret life of the teenage brain.
How to invent everything - Ryan North
Sep 19, 2018 • 23 min
How helpful would you be if you were stranded in the past? Ryan North imagined telling people how cool computers are, but if they asked him how to make one, he’d be stumped. So he did some research, and in his hilarious new book he’s teaching us how to…
Why aren’t there more women in science?
Sep 12, 2018 • 42 min
Girls are not picking as many STEM A-levels as boys, while professional female scientists are dropping out of the field. Is it time for change? In this episode we talk to four women currently working in STEM about their experiences, the problems faced by…
Identifying Jack the Ripper - David Wilson
Sep 5, 2018 • 26 min
Five violent murders were committed by a man dubbed ‘Jack the Ripper’ between August and November 1888 in Whitechapel. Criminologist David Wilson and actor Emilia Fox, with the help of the country’s leading criminal investigators, apply the latest…
Why AI is not the enemy - Jim Al-Khalili
Aug 30, 2018 • 35 min
Jim Al-Khalili explains how artificial intelligence has changed the world, who benefits from it, and why we probably shouldn’t be afraid of it destroying humanity.
Could these gloves be the future of music?
Aug 22, 2018 • 26 min
Imogen Heap has pushed the creative boundaries in the creation of electronic music, but now she is using technology a different way that she hopes will create a fairer and more inclusive future for musicians. She talks to us about how blockchain could…
What’s going on with the weather? - Dann Mitchell
Aug 16, 2018 • 16 min
This summer has been one of the hottest on record, so we asked climate change researcher Dann Mitchell what has caused the summer heatwave, can we expect more, and is there anything we can do about it?
What asteroids can tell us about our Solar System
Aug 8, 2018 • 40 min
What asteroids can tell us about our Solar System
Wildfires: past, present and future
Aug 1, 2018 • 25 min
Geologist Prof Andrew Scott on our complex relationship with wildfires
Inequality in Science
Jul 25, 2018 • 48 min
Women are underrepresented in science, and some experts are asking whether there are biological reasons why. Meanwhile, racial studies are creeping back into mainstream science. We talk to Angela Saini about the science of gender and race, and about how…
What’s the deal with algorithms?
Jul 18, 2018 • 27 min
Algorithms are everywhere. They can make our lives easier, by curating our Twitter feeds and Netflix suggestions. But they can also be bad. They lack empathy and we can become too reliant on their logical abilities, putting ourselves and others at risk.…
Is there anybody out there?
Jul 11, 2018 • 41 min
There are 100 billion stars in our Galaxy – surely we can’t be the only intelligent lifeform out there? In this week’s Science Focus Podcast we speak to Mike Garrett, the Director of Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics, about the search for…
Russia’s canine cosmonauts
Jul 4, 2018 • 22 min
Russian space dogs paved the way to sending humans into the cosmos. By studying how space flight affected dogs, scientists could establish whether it was safe to blast humans into space too. In this episode, we talk to Vix Southgate, who has just written…
Sin: Why we do the things we shouldn’t
Jun 27, 2018 • 33 min
Whether it’s cheating on our spouse, slacking off at work, or eating too much junk, we all occasionally do things we shouldn’t. Jack Lewis talks to us about the neuroscience of sin, how we can resist it, and the wacky experiments that test our ability to…
Solving the plastic problem
Jun 20, 2018 • 28 min
It’s estimated that there are currently more than 6 billion tonnes of plastic waste buried in land fill sites or floating on the surface of the ocean. Clearly something needs to be done but what exactly should we be doing? We speak to materials scientist…
Everything that’s wrong with the human body
Jun 13, 2018 • 31 min
We like to think of ourselves as highly evolved, well-adapted creatures, but our retinas face backwards, we have too many bones in our wrists, and at least half our genome is junk. Biologist Nathan Lents explains what we can learn from our flaws.
How to keep yourself busy in space
Jun 6, 2018 • 20 min
Chris Hadfield has been to space three times, completed two spacewalks and visited two different space stations, but for many, he is best known for his rendition of David Bowie’s Space Oddity performed aboard the International Space Station. We find out…
The truth about dinosaurs
May 30, 2018 • 31 min
The image of dinosaurs as drab, slow-witted reptilians is slowly being overturned thanks to exciting new fossil discoveries and advances in the technology used to analyse them. We talk to palaeontologist Steve Brusatte about palaeontology’s emerging…
To become Prime Minister, change your voice
May 23, 2018 • 42 min
Your voice – its pitch, intonation and accent – is a huge part of your personal identity. Trevor Cox is talking to us about the full range of human speech, and how technology’s changing the conversation.
The neuroscience of happiness
May 10, 2018 • 46 min
Everyone wants to be happy, it’s an inbuilt part of being human, but what exactly is going on in our brains when we feel happy and what can we do to ensure we live as happy a life as possible? We talk to neuroscientist, comedian and science writer Dean…
Changing our behaviour with virtual reality
May 3, 2018 • 31 min
VR can be used for so much more than cheap thrills and casual gaming. Jeremy Bailenson tells us how he is using VR to change the way we perceive racism, highlight the impact of climate change, and help us step into the shoes of our sporting heroes.
What it’s really like to die
Apr 25, 2018 • 32 min
People used to die at home and everybody recognised the process, and now people die in hospital largely with doctors and nurses trying to stop it from happening. So we don’t see how gentle the normal process of a life winding to an end can be.
How to push the limits of human endurance
Apr 18, 2018 • 33 min
Ahead of the London Marathon, we talk to Alex Hutchinson, author and former long-distance athlete about what it takes to push the human body to its limits.
Transhumanism - using technology to live forever
Apr 11, 2018 • 28 min
We talk to Mark O’Connell about transhumanism, a movement whose aim is to use technology to control the future evolution of our species – to improve our flawed biology, and to enable us to live forever.
Nudge theory
Apr 4, 2018 • 29 min
How much difference can a small change make? When it comes to changing habits, convincing someone to do something or affecting the behaviour of people without them even knowing about it, quite a lot, as we have seen with the recent Facebook scandal, where…
Project Discovery and its search for exoplanets
Mar 29, 2018 • 25 min
We talk to Bergur Finnbogason, Development Manager for Project Discovery, which uses players of the Massively Multiplayer Online game EVE Online to help search for exoplanets.
Remembering Stephen Hawking - the Galaxy’s best known scientist
Mar 21, 2018 • 54 min
In this episode, we chat to four scientists who spent time with Professor Stephen Hawking, to find out more about his life, his work, and his legacy.
Exploding Head Syndrome
Mar 14, 2018 • 23 min
We talk to professor Brian Sharpless about a little-known sleep disorder called Exploding Head Syndrome and the research that hopes find a treatment.
Adventures in brain enhancement
Mar 7, 2018 • 44 min
This week, we chat to author David Adam about his adventures in brain enhancement, finding out whether smart drugs and electrical brain stimulation could really be a shortcut to a sharper, more focused mind.
The future of humanity
Feb 28, 2018 • 38 min
This week, we chat to theoretical physicist Michio Kaku about the future of humanity, how we’re going to terraform Mars, why the modern space race will change life on Earth, and why aliens probably won’t bother to destroy us.
How emotions are made
Feb 21, 2018 • 40 min
This week, we chat to neuroscientist Lisa Feldmann Barrett about what happens in our brains when we create emotions, how to control them, and what this means for the future of artificial intelligence.
The London Fatberg + Why you should break up with your phone
Feb 14, 2018 • 41 min
This month, we’re talking about how the Museum of London acquired a piece of the London Fatberg as their new exhibit, and asked them how they’ll keep it “fresh”. We also talk to author Catherine Price about the science that inspired her to break up with…
How plants can survive space missions and Chernobyl
Feb 1, 2018 • 23 min
The world seems to be going ever more nuclear, but what effect could radiation – from bombs or nuclear meltdowns – have on animals and plants?
Christmas lectures past and present
Dec 21, 2017 • 43 min
Since they were launched by Michael Faraday in 1825, the Royal Institution’s Christmas lectures have become as synonymous with the festive season as mince pies and sherry. In this month’s podcast we look back at classic lectures from Christmases past, and…
Building a base on the Moon, and crafting believable sci-fi
Dec 8, 2017 • 33 min
If you love science fiction then you’re in for a treat. This month, we pick the brain of Andy Weir, author of the best-selling novel and film The Martian, about his new creation Artemis and how he crafts believable sci-fi worlds. In Artemis Weir has…
Why we love pets and why strangers help each other
Nov 2, 2017 • 39 min
When she was 19, a stranger saved Dr Abigail Marsh’s life. Because of that moment, Dr Marsh work studies the psychology of people who help total strangers. We talked to her about the real-life superheroes who were the subject of her new book Good For…
Psychosis, realism and video games
Oct 12, 2017 • 42 min
In the first half of this episode we ask Dr Stephen Hall, a climate and infrastructure researcher, whether the 2040 petrol and diesel car ban will really clean up the air we breathe. In the second part, we talk to neuroscientist Professor Paul Fletcher…