A podcast that made me vibrate like an electron

Given my affection for MASH POTATOES, I don’t understand why I haven’t listened to Alan Alda’s podcasts before now, besides the fact that they look quite unappealing. There are Clear + Vivid, on the power of communication, and Science: Clear + Vivid, on the power of scientific research. As someone who fell asleep listening to physics tapes in high school, I was not easily aroused by protons, and was willing to leave these especially out of the way. Five hours later, however, Alda is still in my ears and I’m buzzing like an electron.

Unlike many presenters, 85-year-old Alda doesn’t pretend that he doesn’t know something just for his interviewer to explain to the audience, but neither does he bother to reveal what he knows. On the contrary, the depth of his understanding of a really very complex science shines through his questions and his clear reformulation of the ideas put to him, sometimes indirectly, by the experts with whom he talks.

Most weeks he’s in conversation with someone who works at a university or lab or, in the case of a recent guest, Anna Ploszajski, a materials scientist with an interest in crafts. You can’t help but imagine their reaction when the email arrived. Alan Alda wants to interview me? Even in hundreds of episodes, there is nothing to predict what he will ask for, or where he will want to investigate.

Ploszajski asked a question about transparency: “How come I can see through a piece of glass when it contains atoms?” The answer – because the atoms in glass are in no structural order compared to something like metal – prompted Alda to recall that he learned from playing theoretical physicist Richard Feynman in a drama where certain photons pass through. glass, while others bounce. back. Since Feynman wondered how each photon knew “which way forward,” Alda felt justified in asking the same, which is typical of her clever but self-effacing questioning style. He really is the perfect host.

Dark Atlas, an online American travel magazine, offers a whole different kind of science podcast. Episodes usually take the form of short dispatches about a discovery, project, or building somewhere in the world. One of the so-called “place editor areas” of the publication on Allan Hills in Antarctica, dubbed “meteorite paradise” by a geologist, and once housed “a small potato-shaped boulder” considered as the oldest Martian meteorite ever found on Earth. A reporter, meanwhile, visits a football stadium in Arizona, beneath which is an oven producing mirrors measuring 27 feet high for use in a telescope designed to be 10 times more powerful than the Hubble. Someone watching Phoenix, she said, would be able to see the details of a dime held by someone standing in Tucson.

The only downside to listening to this podcast is that it constantly forces you to search your phone for photos. It’s not that being inspired to seek something more is a bad thing. Hearing of a new library in the city of Yusuhara, Japan that looked like “something out of a dystopian young adult movie,” with a ceiling resembling a forest, naturally prompted me to google. The building, I learned, is constructed primarily from local cedar wood and is known as the “Library Above the Clouds”.

About cloud-based life, The herd is a new “audio drama with songs” told from the point of view of birds who plan to escape their current lives and establish a utopian land of cloudy cuckoo clocks in the sky. The plot clearly owes a lot to an ancient Greek comedy by Aristophanes, while the overall flavor is reminiscent of Cats, interlaced with elements of Hitchcock The birds.

Feathered Jonny Swift opens the drama, explaining that the birds are in revolt, escaping from their cages, tempted by the prospect of a new world. It turns out that many of them are being pushed into the forest and then up to the sky by environmental concerns. “The city was so noisy my call was lost,” one of them shouts. Another, imprisoned in a pet store, “called, but no one called back.”

The birds cheer each other on, singing, “We will raise our wings in flight… when the time is right.” The lyrics may lack TS Eliot’s ingenuity – did I really hear “crossing” rhyme with “esophagus”? – but the mix of Latin bird names and rap-like interludes is fun. This may be the first time that a bird has insulted another bird as being “basic”. Their plan, when they reach new heights, is to make life harder for humans or, as one bird puts it, to “stop them in their tracks with poo.”

Kids will love this, although it’s not immediately clear who they are the target audience. The drama is likely to leave others divided over whether it’s so original that it’s brilliant, or so derivative and am-dram that it’s not.

This article originally appeared in The spectatorthe British magazine. Subscribe to the global edition here.

About Hannah Schaeffer

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