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Instant Genius

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Whether you’re curious about getting healthy, the Big Bang or the science of cooking, find out everything you need to know in under 30 minutes with Instant Genius. The team behind BBC Science Focus Magazine talk to world-leading experts to bring you a bite-sized masterclass on a new subject each week.


New episodes are released every Monday and Friday and you can subscribe to Instant Genius on Apple Podcasts to access all new episodes ad-free and all old episodes of Instant Genius Extra.

444 Episodes
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It’s well established that human beings are social animals who thrive on making connections with others. But did you know that developing and maintaining nourishing relationships is just as vital to our health as eating a nutritious diet or taking regular exercise? In this episode, we catch up with science writer David Robson to talk about his new book The Laws of Connection: 13 Social Strategies That Will Transform Your Life. He tells us how human beings have evolved to crave shared experiences, how lending a helping hand to someone in need can improve our wellbeing and why we shouldn’t be so afraid of speaking to strangers. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices
It’s a scene many of us will have experienced: we’re at the cinema, the lights go down, the film begins and then suddenly the person behind us starts rustling a packet of sweets or noisily chomping on popcorn. For most of us this is merely an annoyance and after a while we’re able to tune the sounds out and concentrate on enjoying the cinematic experience. But for some, it can be unbearable and engender feelings of distress, anger and even panic. These people are experiencing misophonia. In this episode, we catch up with Dr Jane Gregory, a clinical psychologist and author of the book Sounds Like Misophonia: How to Stop Small Noises from Causing Extreme Reactions. She tells us what’s going on in our brains when we experience a misophonic reaction, how it can trigger our fight or flight response and why it’s surprisingly common. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices
Finding alien life could be just around the corner. At least, that’s if the James Webb Space Telescope and other techniques help us discover their extraterrestrial homes. In this episode, astrophysicist Lisa Kaltenegger and author of new book Alien Earths: Planet Hunting in the Cosmos talks us through the ways she and her team are looking for these planets and the kinds of life they might hold. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices
Why are we here? Where did we come from? What are we even made from? These must be some of deepest questions humans can ever ask. But that has never stopped scientists throughout the ages asking them. In this episode we catch up with Professor Tim Coulson, a zoologist based at the University of Oxford to talk about his new book, The Universal History of Us: The science of why we exist. He helps us trace the origins of human beings right back to the Big Bang and the beginning of the Universe itself and goes on to investigate whether our existence was inevitable thanks to the underpinning laws of nature or whether we were just extremely lucky. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices
Addiction can be devastating not only for the addict themselves, but also for their loved ones and anyone around them. But what causes it, and how should we treat it? According to Dr Elias Dakwar, a psychologist based at Colombia University, New York, we should be looking beyond the commonly held brain disease model of addiction and deeper into its philosophical or existential underpinnings. In this episode, we speak to Dr Dakwar about the years of clinical research he outlines in his latest book The Captive Imagination: Addiction, reality and our search for meaning. He tells us about his thinking on how addiction stems from our desire for happiness and feelings of meaningless, how it fits in with the notion of personal freedom, and details some of his work with clinical patients in treating addiction in new ways. Warning: Recreational drug use can be dangerous to your health and possession of certain controlled substances in the UK can result in an unlimited fine, prison sentence or both. For more information visit talktofrank.com Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices
These days, pretty much every move we make online is tracked in one way or another. Whether it’s through our social media accounts or online shopping habits, algorithms are getting better at painting a picture of who we are and how we think. But why do we let this happen? In this episode we catch up with science broadcaster and writer Timandra Harkness to talk about her new book, Technology is not the Problem. She tells us how various online agencies keep tabs on us, whether we should be worried about it, and why sometimes it can be too hard to resist buying that expensive pair of shoes you keep getting ads for. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices
Black holes are surely one of the most fascinating and mysterious phenomena in the known Universe. But few people know that the story behind their discovery, and the cast of dogged, often ignored scientists behind it, is just as interesting. In this episode we catch up with the award-winning science writer and long-time BBC Science Focus contributor Marcus Chown. We talk about his new book A Crack in Everything: How black holes came in from the cold and took cosmic centre stage. He takes us through the gripping story that saw black holes go from being a mere mathematical curiosity to one of the most talked about cosmic objects ever observed. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices
We humans are never truly alone. This is because our bodies are colonised by vast numbers of microscopic organisms that can be found living everywhere from the surface of our skin to deep within our guts. Collectively, this population of microbes is known as the human microbiome, and they play a key role in maintaining our health and wellbeing. In this episode we catch up with Dr James Kinross, a colorectal surgeon and researcher based and Imperial College London and author of the new book Dark Matter: The new science of the microbiome. He tells us about the fascinating ways that our microbiomes can impact our brain health, regulate our emotions and if we could ever use them to make an effective love potion. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices
The existence of flight in the animal kingdom is something that many of us take for granted. But on closer inspection, it can perhaps be thought of as one of the miracles of nature. In this episode we catch up with the writer Lev Parikian about his book Taking Flight: How animals learned to fly and transformed life on Earth, which was shortlisted for Royal Society Trivedi Science Book Prize. He tells us about how flight has evolved independently in four separate groups of animals, how bats became the only mammals capable of powered flight, and how some birds ended up losing the ability to fly altogether. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices
The internet is full of false facts and misinformation, but how can you tell what is real or fake? We spoke to Alex Edmans, author of May Contain Lies, who gives us tips on how to separate the real from the false. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices
In the short time since its launch in 2021, the James Webb Space Telescope has produced some absolutely breathtaking images of the cosmos. And there’s much more to come. In this episode I speak to the head of Space Science at the UK Space Agency Dr Caroline Harper about her new book Unseen Universe: New secrets of the cosmos revealed by the James Webb Space Telescope. We talk about some of the highlights of the telescope has delivered so far, including incredibly detailed images of Jupiter, its Moon and some of the most distant stars and galaxies ever observed, how it can look for extra-terrestrial life on exoplanets, and also about some of the future space missions that Dr Harper is most excited about. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices
Have you ever had a difficult decision to make and after much thought and deliberation decided that you should sleep on it and see how you feel in the morning? I’d venture most of us have at one point or another. But is there any science to back up this common habit? In this episode, the second of a two-part series, I speak to neurosurgeon and bestselling author Rahul Jandial about his new book This is Why You Dream: What your sleeping brain reveals about your waking life. We talk about the strange phenomenon of sleep paralysis, how the dreaming brain can work alongside the waking brain to help us solve problems, and what we can learn from the weird and wonderful phenomenon of lucid dreaming. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices
The chances are most of us will remember at least one dream we’ve had recently. But where do dreams come from, why is their content often universal across different cultures, and what can we learn from studying nightmares? In this episode, the first of a series of two, I speak to neurosurgeon and bestselling author Rahul Jandial about his new book This is Why You Dream: What your sleeping brain reveals about your waking life. We talk about what’s going on in the different areas of our brains when we dream, how the dreaming brain differs from the waking brain, and the intimate links that exist between our emotions, imagination and ability to dream. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices
If most of us hear the word ‘egg’ it’s likely our minds will immediately turn to the hens’ eggs that we enjoy fried, poached or scrambled for our breakfast. But on closer inspection it turns out that the natural world is filled with all manner of different kinds of eggs that are as varied and fascinating as the animals that produce them. And what’s more, eggs have helped to shape life on Earth as much as life has shaped them. In this episode I speak to zoologist and award-winning science writer Jules Howard about his new book Infinite Life: A Revolutionary Story of Eggs, Evolution and Life on Earth. He tells us about the fascinating evolution of eggs over hundreds of millions of years, the strange and varied forms they’ve taken over all of this time, and how the story all began with jellyfish. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices
Do you brush your teeth before you shower in the morning, or do you shower first? Perhaps you like to give yourself a pep talk in the bathroom mirror before you’re about to give an important presentation at work. Or maybe you always cook a particular meal on special occasions. These are all examples of the personal rituals that many of us perform in our daily lives. But where do they come from, why are we so attached to them, and can they really help us to have a better day or make a more successful presentation? In this episode I speak to Prof Michael Norton, a behavioural scientist based at Harvard University. He tells me about the fascinating discoveries he made while writing his new book The Ritual Effect: The Transformative Power of Our Everyday Actions. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices
From the time that we are first developing in the womb right through until we are in our old age, the food we eat has a huge impact on our health and wellbeing. But exactly what should we be feeding our infants, how do the dietary choices we make as adolescents affect us later in life and how can we approach nutrition as we age to make sure we stay healthy for as long as possible? In this episode I speak to Dr Federica Amati, a medical scientist and head nutritionist at the ZOE project. We talk about the latest thinking on nutritional science she outlines in her book Every Body Should Know This: The Science of Eating for a Lifetime of Health. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices
Whether they’re triggered by looking through old family photographs, hearing a piece of music you haven’t heard for years or eating a favourite childhood snack, feelings of nostalgia often come flooding into our hearts and minds. But what is going on in our brains when we have these feelings? In this episode I catch up with writer and historian Dr Agnes Arnold-Forster a writer, author of the new book Nostalgia: A History of a Dangerous Emotion. She tells us how this intriguing emotion has gone from being thought of as a deadly disease to being used as a therapy to treat degenerative cognitive conditions. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices
We all forget things from time to time, it’s a normal part of everyday life. But according to the latest research in neuroscience, it is forgetting, not remembering that is the brain’s default action. So why is this? In this episode I speak to Prof Charan Ranganath, director of the Dynamic Memory Lab at UC Davis and author of the book Why We Remember: The Science of Memory and How it Shapes Us. He tells us how memories form in our brains, how they are intimately linked to our emotions and imagination, and why we often walk into another room and forget why we went there in the first place. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices
When it comes to thinking about sustainability, most of us usually keep our feet on the ground. But as we extend our reach beyond this small rocky planet and out into the solar system, is it time to think about how we use space sustainably too?   Our guest today is Aaron Boley, Associate Professor of astronomy and astrophysics at The University of British Columbia and co-author of Who Owns Space?: International Law, Astrophysics and the Sustainable development of space.   With hundreds of thousands of satellites planned for launch in the next few years, Aaron is warning that our orbital space is getting too crowded and could be heading for a dangerous point of no return.   Is there still time for us to learn from our mistakes down at ground level and build a sustainable future among the stars? Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices
There is little doubt that the advent of the computer has had one of the most far-reaching impacts of any invention in the history of mankind. These days, it’s difficult for most of us to imagine life without them. But building ever faster processors is becoming something of a challenge. The solution to this could be quantum computers – machines so powerful they can tackle problems that would take even the biggest supercomputers we have today billions of years to solve. In this episode I speak to Prof Winfried Hensinger, director of the Sussex Centre for Quantum Technologies. We talk about his work on creating the world’s first large-scale quantum computer, how it works, and how quantum computers could help scientists do everything from breaking complex forms of encryption to creating innovative new medicines. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices
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Comments (8)

Alex K.

This podcast's guest, who I think is @kwdetal, said that dogs can't feel guilt. Please search YouTube for "Denver the guilty dog" because that video clearly proves that statement is not true!

Aug 27th
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Steve Middleton

lol when i heard the chime in this podcast i thought i got an email through the outlook app

Jan 24th
Reply

Robin McKenzie

I found Gretchen McCulloch to be intensely annoying for two main reasons: 1. She speaks at the speed of a machine gun 2. Whilst I appreciate passion, "over passionate" would be level 11, and she's a solid 20.

Apr 14th
Reply

Alex K.

great podcast, but if one 100 light bulb is twice as far away as another, then the closer one will appear to be four times brighter not twice as bright (38 mins)

Jan 2nd
Reply

Happy⚛️Heretic

Excellent podcast! Five stars- ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Sep 17th
Reply

J Coker

isaac asimov. the last question !

Aug 24th
Reply

Đặng Hữu Tiến

excellent work, thank you!

Jun 11th
Reply

afon_o_luniau

Brilliant

Jul 17th
Reply