Eight legged groove machines – Matter on the radio

I have a love-hate-relationship with radio. Music radio tends to play the same (and mainstream) things all the time and ‘talking’ radio, due to the nature of how speech is recorded, is usually quite dry and makes me feel a little claustrophobic. On the other hand, radio offers a great variety of potentially exciting programmes which often feature content or guests that would not normally appear in magazines or on TV. Small independent or pirate radio stations even succeed in transmitting lively vibes across the airwaves, making you feel part of a heated discussion or gigantic boundary-defying party.

 What repeatedly grips me is actually a quite ‘normal’ sounding BBC4 programme called The Material World. Officially a science programme with ‘proper’ scientists from different universities and research centres on every show, it has a surprising range of topics: bagpuss, quantum computing, space junk, biodegradable electronics, unicellular organisms, ghost ships and even the Eurovision Song Contest are all part of The Material World. This is why I like the programme: their material world extends to everything and makes the listener see familiar things in a different light. A bonus is that through the people that talk on the show and the questions of the host Quentin Cooper, you not only find out how weird our world and the links between us and our ‘environment’ are (check out their feature on slime mould, for instance), but also how scientists relate and refer to their research objects in often very ‘cute’ ways: amoebae are ‘fussy about mating partners’ or ‘help us clean our teeth’, spiders are ‘eight legged groove machines’ and quantum bits need to be prevented from ‘talking to each other’. Anecdotes about the amount of obstacles a parasite has to overcome in order to travel between and exist in other organisms, almost makes you appreciate these ‘fantastic’ creatures as much as the people seem to do who study them. The show’s host (and sometimes also the guests) has a knack for picking up the humour that lies in our interactions with matter (‘First there is something we don’t know at the end of the microscope, and now it’s the bloke at the other end of the microscope we don’t know anything about instead!’) – as well as in matter itself. He also has a knack for asking good questions – or different ones from what you would expect. New links to other subjects suddenly appear and leave you puzzled. And the best thing is: months later, you can still use these weird bits of information at parties… and if it’s only to leave annoying people speechless! ;)

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