The 5 best Science Focus Podcast episodes of 2020

The team behind the Science Focus Podcast pick their favourite episodes from the year – with not a virus in sight.

Have you listened to the Science Focus Podcast yet? We talk to the brightest names in science and technology about the ideas and breakthroughs shaping our world. Maybe we’re a bit biased, but we think it’s a great podcast.

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In case you haven’t been listening all year, or you’d like to revisit some of this year’s top hits. we’ve put together a list of our very favourite episodes from 2020. And if you haven’t already, subscribe to the Science Focus Podcast on these services: AcastiTunesStitcherRSS and Overcast.

Dr Pete Etchells: Do video games encourage gambling behaviour?

Loot boxes: love or loath them, they’re now a standard mechanic in mainstream gaming – featuring in FIFA, Fortnite, Overwatch and more. But can they lower players’ moods and encourage addictive gambling? Or are any concerns overblown?

In an in-depth interview, professor of psychology Dr Pete Etchells explores these questions, explaining how other countries have tackled the issue – and how game developers are far from evil. – Thomas Ling, Staff Writer at BBC Science Focus Magazine

Professor Trevor Cox: Was Stonehenge an ancient acoustic chamber?

Anyone who thinks working in science isn’t fun should check out the work of archeoacoustics professor Trevor Cox.

As part of his work at the University of Salford this year he got to build a 3D-printed scale model of Stonehenge. His goal was to investigate the effect the mysterious monument’s unique structure would’ve had on conversations, rituals, and even music. I caught up with him earlier in the year to talk to him about his methods, results, and the model’s uncanny similarity to the one in Spinal Tap. – Jason Goodyer, Commissioning Editor at BBC Science Focus Magazine

Ritu Raman: Can you build with biology?

When you imagine a robot, you probably think of something made mostly of metal or maybe plastic. Ritu Raman’s robots, on the other hand, are made using biological materials.

What this means is that they can heal from damage and get stronger with exercise, just like our skin and muscles. Raman has created a robot that can walk using a ring of 3D-printed muscle, and hopes to use this technology to build devices that can be implanted into the human body.

It’s still early days in this field of research, but it was fascinating to hear from a pioneer who is setting the groundwork for an exciting future. – Sara Rigby, Online Assistant at BBC Science Focus Magazine

Pragya Agarwal: When does bias become prejudice?

Biases impact everything around us, from personal and professional relationships to jury decisions and even scientific research. In this episode, Dr Pragya Agarwal, a behavioural and data scientist, writer and founder of The 50 Percent Project think tank, discusses unconscious biases and prejudices.

With years of learning – and unlearning – Dr Agarwal is able to expertly outlines the expansive implicit and explicit biases we all struggle with and how these develop over time. While worrying to hear how pervasive these biases are, the idea that we can start actively challenging them made me hopeful for the future. By addressing our own privilege and moving beyond superficial awareness of biases, we can begin to undo the negative impacts of these biases.

Hearing Dr Agarwal explain the variety of areas she’s researched and written about in Sway: Unravelling Unconscious Bias made me add it the top of my Christmas reading list. – Frankie Macpherson, Intern Journalist at BBC Science Focus Magazine

Sue Black: What stories do our skeletons tell?

It’s a subject we tend to avoid: death. But Professor Dame Sue Black is surrounded by it, sent body parts to identify, stories to unravel, human ‘jigsaw puzzles’ to put together.

That is the job of the forensic anthropologist. It’s actually rather different to what is portrayed on television, but it’s fascinating to listen to Prof Black talk about her life and career – though perhaps not for the squeamish.

If you’re a fan of fantastic popular science books, I’d recommend picking up her latest publication, Written in Bone: Hidden stories in what we leave behind (£18.99, Transworld). – Amy Barrett, Editorial Assistant at BBC Science Focus Magazine

More great episodes from 2020:

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