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Big Picture Science | Top Science Podcasts 2020

The top science podcasts of 2020 updated daily.


Big Picture Science
Big Picture Science weaves together a universe of big ideas from robots to memory to antimatter to dinosaurs. Tune in and make contact with science.

Zombies, Bigfoot, and Max Brooks
2020-04-06 07:33:56
What do a zombie attack and a viral pandemic have in common?  They are both frightening, mindless, and relentless in their assault.  And both require preparedness.   That's why the author of "World War Z" - a story about a battle against zombies - lectures at West Point.  Max Brooks has also recorded a public service announcement with his celebrated father, Mel Brooks, touting the importance of social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic.  His newest novel portrays a different assailant: Bigfoot.  Whether our enemy is the undead, a hirsute forest dweller, or an invisible virus, panic won't help us survive.  Find out what will. Guest: Max Brooks - Lecturer at West Point's Modern War Institute. Author of "Zombie Survival Guide," "World War Z," and the forthcoming "Devolution."  
50 minutes, 31 seconds


Let's Take a Paws
2020-03-30 08:28:24
Humans aren't the only animals stressed-out by social distancing.  Narwhals send out echolocation clicks to locate their buddies and ease their loneliness.  And a plant about to be chomped by a caterpillar knows that the world can be a scary place.  In this episode, from dogs to narwhals to plants, we put aside human-centric stories to find out how other living creatures map their world, deal with stress, and communicate.  Guests: Alexandra Horowitz - Dog cognition researcher, Barnard College, and author of "Being A Dog: Following the Dog Into a World of Smell." Susanna Blackwell - Bio-acoustician with Greeneridge Sciences Simon Gilroy - Professor of botany, University of Wisconsin, Madison
50 minutes, 31 seconds


How Bad Does It Have to Get?
2020-03-23 08:29:32
"Climate change at warp speed" is the way one scientist described the coronavirus outbreak.   In a show recorded before a live audience at the Seattle AAAS meeting, and co-presented with the BBC World Service, we discuss out how politics and psychology lead people to tune out inconvenient scientific findings even when the stakes are high - as well as what we can do about it. Guests: Roland Pease - BBC reporter, presenter of "Science in Action." Lee McIntrye - Philosopher and Research Fellow at the Center for Philosophy and History of Science at Boston University and author of "The Scientific Attitude" and "Post-Truth" Reyhaneh Maktoufi - Civic Science Fellow with NOVA PBS at station WGBH, with a focus on science communication
50 minutes, 31 seconds


It's In Material [rebroadcast]
2020-03-16 09:22:33
Astronauts are made of the "right stuff," but what about their spacesuits?   NASA's pressurized and helmeted onesies are remarkable, but they need updating if we're to boldly go into deep space.   Suiting up on Mars requires more manual flexibility, for example.  Find out what innovative materials might be used to reboot the suit. Meanwhile, strange new materials are in the pipeline for use on terra firma: spider silk is kicking off the development of biological materials that are inspiring ultra-strong, economical, and entirely new fabrics.  And, while flesh-eating bacteria may seem like an unlikely ally in materials science, your doctor might reach for them one day.  The bacterium's proteins are the inspiration for a medical molecular superglue. Plus, an overview of more innovative materials to come, from those that are 3D printed to self-healing concrete.   Guests: Nicole Stott- Retired NASA astronaut, artist  Dava Newman- Professor of Astronautics and Engineering Systems, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Andrew Dent- Vice President of Library and Materials Research, Material ConneXion Mark Howarth- Biochemist, Oxford University Mark Miodownik- Materials scientist, University College London, author of "Stuff Matters; Exploring the Marvelous Materials that Shape Our Man-Made World"  Originally aired October 2, 2017
50 minutes, 31 seconds


Skeptic Check: Pandemic Fear
2020-03-09 09:46:38
Contagion aside, coronavirus is a powerful little virus.  It has prompted a global experiment in behavior modification: elbow bumps instead of handshakes, hand sanitizer and mask shortages, a gyrating stock market.   Pragmatism motivates our behavior toward the spread of this virus, but so do fear and panic. In 1918, amplified fear made the Spanish Flu pandemic more deadly.  Can we identify when we're acting sensibly in the face of COVID-19, or when fear has hijacked our ability to think rationally and protect ourselves? Guests: Peter Hall  - Professor of public health and health systems at the University of Waterloo David DeSteno - Social psychologist and professor of psychology at Northeastern University David Smith -  Virologist and Head of the Division of Infectious Diseases and Global Public Health, University of California, San Diego John Barry - writer, adjunct faculty at the Tulane School of Tropical Medicine and author of The Great Influenza; The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History
51 minutes, 4


DecodeHer [rebroadcast]
2020-02-27 14:13:20
They were pioneers in their fields, yet their names are scarcely known - because they didn't have a Y chromosome.  We examine the accomplishments of two women who pioneered code breaking and astronomy during the early years of the twentieth century and did so in the face of social opprobrium and a frequently hostile work environment. Henrietta Leavitt measured the brightnesses of thousands of stars and discovered a way to gauge the distances to galaxies, a development that soon led to the concept of the Big Bang. Elizabeth Friedman, originally hired to test whether William Shakespeare really wrote his plays, was soon establishing the science of code breaking, essential to success in the two world wars.  Also, the tech industry is overwhelmingly male.  Girls Who Code is an initiative to redress the balance by introducing girls to computer programming, and encouraging them to follow careers in tech.  Guests: Jason Fagone - Author of "The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America's Enemies" Lauren Gunderson - Playwright of Silent Sky, which is being performed all over the world, form the First Folio Theatre to the Repertory Philippines Reshma Saujani - Founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, and the author of "Brave, Not Perfect: Fear Less, Fail More, and Live Bolder"
50 minutes, 31 seconds


AI: Where Does it End?
2020-02-24 08:43:28
The benefits of artificial intelligence are manifest and manifold, but can we recognize the drawbacks ... and avoid them in time?   In this episode, recorded before a live audience at the Seattle meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, we discuss who is making the ethical decisions about how we use this powerful technology, and a proposal to create a Hippocratic Oath for AI researchers. Guests: Oren Etzioni - CEO of The Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence Mark Hill - Professor of computer sciences at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and chair of the Computing Community Consortium
51 minutes, 21 seconds


Climate Changed
2020-02-17 09:30:31
Have you adapted to the changing climate? Rising waters, more destructive wildfires, record-breaking heatwaves. Scientists have long predicted these events, but reporting on climate change has moved from prediction to description. There's no time for dwelling on "we should haves." Communities and organizations are being forced to adapt. Find out what that means, the role of the new "resilience officers," and the unique response of Native American cultures. Plus, is the coronavirus outbreak made worse by climate change?  Guests: James Randerson - Professor of Earth Science, University of California, Irvine Victor Rodriguez - PhD student, Carnegie Mellon University, Department of Engineering and Public Policy Kyle Whyte - Professor in the Departments of Philosophy and Community Sustainability, and tribal member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation Tracey Goldstein - Professor in the Department of Pathology, Immunology, and Microbiology, University of California, Davis
51 minutes, 33 seconds


Frogs' Pants (Rebroadcast)
2020-02-10 07:33:25
It's one of the most bizarre biological experiments ever. In the 18th century, a scientist fitted a pair of tailor-made briefs on a male frog to determine the animal's contribution to reproduction.  The process of gestation was a mystery and scientists had some odd-ball theories.   Today, a 5th grader can tell you how babies are made, but we still don't know exactly what life is.  In our quest to understand, we're still at the frogs' pants stage. Find out why conception took centuries to figure out.  Also, why the 1970s Viking experiments, specifically designed to detect life on Mars, couldn't give us a definitive answer.  Plus, can knowing where life isn't help define what it is?  Take a tour of the world's barren places.  Guests: Jay Gallentine - Author of books about space and space history. Edward Dolnick - Author and former science writer at the Boston Globe.  His book is The Seeds of Life: From Aristotle to Da Vinci, from Shark's Teeth to Frogs' Pants. Chris McKay - Planetary scientist, NASA Ames Research Center.  Originally aired July 10, 2017
51 minutes, 22 seconds


Skeptic Check: Science Denial (rebroadcast)
2020-02-03 07:50:15
Climate change isn't happening.  Vaccines make you sick.  When it comes to threats to public or environmental health, a surprisingly large fraction of the population still denies the consensus of scientific evidence.  But it's not the first time - many people long resisted the evidentiary link between HIV and AIDS and smoking with lung cancer. There's a sense that science denialism is on the rise.  It prompted a gathering of scientists and historians in New York City to discuss the problem, which included a debate on the usefulness of the word "denial" itself.  Big Picture Science was there. We report from the Science Denial symposium held jointly by the New York Academy of Sciences and Rutgers Global Health Institute.  Find out why so many people dig in their heels and distrust scientific findings.  Plus, the techniques wielded by special interest groups to dispute some inconvenient truths.  We also hear how simply stating more facts may be the wrong approach to combating scientific resistance. Guests: Melanie Brickman Borchard - Director of Life Sciences Conferences at New York Academy of Sciences Nancy Tomes - professor of history at Stony Brook University Allan Brandt - professor of history of science and medicine at Harvard University. Author of "The Cigarette Century: The Rise, Fall, and Deadly Persistence of the Product that Defined America" Sheila Jasanoff - Director of Program on Science, Technology and Society and professor of environment, science and technology at Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University Michael Dahlstrom - Associate Director of Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication, and associate professor at Iowa State University Matthew Nisbet - professor of communication and public policy at Northeastern University Arthur (Art) Caplan - professor and founding head of medical ethics at NYU School of Medicine
51 minutes, 1 second




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