Podcasts Gain a Science Audience

October 20, 2008 - Washington, DC

From Chemical & Engineering News, October 20, 2008, vol. 86, no. 42, pp. 61–63

by Sophie L. Rovner

I’LL ADMIT, I’m a bit of a throwback to the past century. I still use a record player and a VCR. I’ve only handled an Apple iPod once. Granted, I thought it was a pretty cool gizmo, but I wasn’t hooked. But after I started researching this story, I began to feel the allure of the new technology. The reason? The extraordinary digital buffet of free, episodic programs known as podcasts.

These digital audio or video files of news, information, and entertainment content are distributed over the Internet by anyone who has the desire to produce one. Users can find and download a single podcast or can subscribe to feeds that automatically download the latest episode of their selected programs onto a personal computer. The program can then be transferred to a digital media player such as an iPod, if the listener so chooses.

Podcasts can be obtained at locations as varied as Apple’s online iTunes Store and the American Chemical Society’s website. In fact, ACS is just one of numerous scientific organizations that proffer technical tidbits to members and the public through this medium.

Media organizations are also producing podcasts with science content. They include the New York Times, which draws its program’s material from the paper’s weekly “Science Times” section, and National Public Radio, which offers Ira Flatow’s “Science Friday” program.

A quick sampling of podcasts turns up topics such as why progress in artificial photosynthesis will make fuel cells more practical (Science’s “Podcast” program); how scientists use themselves as guinea pigs in the lab (Chemical Heritage Foundation’s “Distillations” program); whether the British government is killing chemistry (Nature Publishing Group’s “ChemPod” program); how the water-repellent protein coat on fungi can be adapted for other uses (BASF’s “Chemistry of Innovations” program); and whether France was a tropical rainforest 55 million years ago (ACS’s “Bytesize Science” program). . . .

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