Naked Scientists & Star Talk

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The Naked Scientists, from Cambridge University, has been running for ten years on the BBC and is now a reputable source of all things science. Presenter Chris Smith was a PhD student when it all began, now he lectures at the university in virology.

Although the show is broadcast regionally to about six million listeners in the east of England, it is downloaded worldwide, so tries to be an eclectic mix of science that is globally relevant. The worldwide audience also means it can attract guests from the top of their fields, and their success has led to various spin-offs such as Naked Astronomy and Naked Archaeology.

The most recent episode, Do plants get jet lag?, celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Chelsea Flower Show with a plant biology special. Bad memories of plant biology from school days meant I wasn’t looking forward to it but, surprisingly, I found it extremely engaging. It would appear that anatomy is not all that plant biologists explore. As well, they examine plant responses to temperature and light, and catalogue pathogens.

The show had some fascinating features including one on the pathogen that caused the Irish Potato Famine, which entailed experiments being carried out on infected leaf samples that were over 150 years old. Normally, I find hour-long fact-based science podcasts quite heavy going, but with interesting news and a variety of interviews, it flew past. The podcasts are released weekly and available for download free from iTunes.

Also on iTunes is Star Talk. From the opening music it’s clear that this isn’t going to be your average science podcast. Host Neil deGrasse Tyson is joined by guests from the entertainment industry, usually comedians, and the focus is on astrophysics. They also discuss other serious scientific topics, although the recent episode was on the less sensible topic of superheroes.

It was full of laughs and extremely entertaining. In the show, Tyson interviewed James Kakalios, author of the book The Physics of Superheroes which looks at whether the various abilities of superheroes are within the laws of physics. Although my knowledge of physics is basic, I still got a lot from the broadcast in terms of both fact and fun.

The ability to explain physics in a way that everyone can understand requires a lot of skill, but Tyson is a master at it. His ‘superpower’ ability most likely comes from his notable intelligence (he is currently Research Associate for the American Museum of Natural History), and his long history of science communication though books, radio and TV. I think it’s difficult for a scientist not to enjoy something like this – a geeky comedy show that tries to explain the quirks of popular culture just because it feels it can.

 

IMAGE: Perry Hastings

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