cover art for Escape Pod: #4 Mass: from lightest creates on earth, to the heaviest things in the cosmos

New Scientist Podcasts

Escape Pod: #4 Mass: from lightest creates on earth, to the heaviest things in the cosmos

Season 1, Ep. 4

This is a re-airing of a podcast originally released in February 2021.

From some of the lightest creatures on earth, to the heaviest things in the cosmos, this episode is all about mass.

It’s a magical opening to the show as the team discusses a group of insects called fairy wasps which are so light it’s near impossible to weigh them.

They then turn to matters of massive proportions, discussing a little thing called dark matter.

Finally the team wraps up by looking at the surprising, and slightly hilarious ways that a kilogram is measured.

On the podcast are Rowan Hooper, Anna Demming and Timothy Revell.

Find out more at

More episodes

View all episodes

  • 245. Weekly: The multiverse just got bigger; saving the white rhino; musical mushrooms

    #245The multiverse may be bigger than we thought. The idea that we exist in just one of a massive collection of alternate universes has really captured the public imagination in the last decade. But now Hugh Everett’s 60-year-old “many worlds interpretation”, based on quantum mechanics, has been upgraded.The northern white rhino is on the brink of extinction but we may be able to save it. Scientists plan to use frozen genes from 12 now dead rhinos to rebuild the entire subspecies. But how do you turn skin cells into actual rhinos and will it work?A single-celled alga has done something thought to have happened just three times in the entire history of life on Earth. Braarudosphaera bigelowii has formed a unique bond with a bacterium living inside it and has developed a new cellular structure. This organelle may be why this alga became so successful and widespread.We’ve got a new way of looking for aliens without having to go planet hopping. The method involves scouting the universe for planets that are close together and look similar to each other – hinting that an advanced civilisation may have colonised them.We’ve had the orbits of the planets turned into music, we’ve heard the sonification of data and even heard what a black hole sounds like. This time, it’s the turn of mushrooms. Musician and artist Brian D’Souza has used a process called biosonification to produce musical tones from Shiitake and Reishi mushrooms. Learn more about Brian D’Souza here. And get details of his live performance on April 19th here.Plus, we mark the passing this week of Peter Higgs, who first proposed the existence of the Higgs boson and later won the Nobel Prize for his efforts.Hosts Timothy Revell and Rowan Hooper discuss with guests Karmela Padavic-Callaghan, Michael Le Page and Corryn Wetzel. To read more about these stories, visit
  • CultureLab: Jen Gunter on the taboo science of menstruation

    Half of the human population undergoes the menstrual cycle for a significant proportion of their lifetimes, yet periods remain a taboo topic in public and private life. And that makes it harder both to prioritise necessary scientific research into conditions like endometriosis and for people to understand the basics of how their bodies work.Blood: The Science, Medicine, and Mythology of Menstruation is gynaecologist Jen Gunter’s latest book. In this practical guide, she dispels social, historical and medical myths about menstruation and offers answers to your biggest period-related questions – including why we menstruate in the first place, when a missed period is a health concern and “how heavy is too heavy?”In this episode, Christie Taylor speaks to Gunter about how humans are part of an exclusive club of menstruators in the animal kingdom, the persisting social stigma around menstruation and menopause, and why these processes remain under-researched in science despite their vast importance. Plus, a call from Gunter to take seriously the very individual and sometimes painful experiences people may have with their periods, while also creating more access to menstrual care.  To read about subjects like this and much more, visit
  • 244. Weekly: Miniature livers made from lymph nodes in groundbreaking medical procedure

    #244Researchers have successfully turned lymph nodes into miniature livers that help filter the blood of mice, pigs and other animals – and now, trials are beginning in humans. If successful, the groundbreaking medical procedure could prove life-saving for thousands of people waiting for liver transplants around the world. So far, no complications have been seen from the procedure, but it will be several months before we know if the treatment is working as hoped in the first of 12 trial participants with end-stage liver disease.Even on a remote island untouched by tourists, fishing, pollution and development, the climate crisis is still wreaking havoc on the coral of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Reporter James Woodford visited One Tree Island, a refuge ordinarily spared from the reef’s past catastrophic bleaching events, and discovered that this year’s marine heatwave has managed to reach even that protected spot. There, he spoke with coral experts and now shares both the science and the difficult experience of witnessing environmental devastation. Russia is suspected of launching a record-breaking GPS jamming attack, a form of electronic warfare that’s been on the rise in parts of Europe since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Lasting more than 63 hours, the newest attack impacted thousands of aircraft, which rely on GPS for navigation. Is the threat set to continue – and how can GPS-reliant airlines adjust?Snakes might be self-aware just like humans – another animal to add to the growing list. The mirror test, which investigates how animals respond to versions of their reflections, has long been used to detect self-recognition in everything from orangutans to roosters and horses. To test snakes, however, a smell-based method had to be invented, which garter snakes have passed. Does this change our understanding of reptiles?Plus: Detecting what may be the smallest galaxy in the known universe; how babies recognise spoken nursery rhymes heard in the womb; and why you should “yell at” your misbehaving robot.Hosts Christie Taylor and Timothy Revell discuss with guests Grace Wade, James Woodford, Jeremy Hsu and Chen Ly. To read more about these stories, visit
  • Escape Pod: #8 Escape from predators and escape from the planet

    This is a re-airing of a podcast originally released in March 2021.From beetle explosions to the deep dark depths of the ocean, this episode is all about escape.The team discusses the amazing (and sometimes disgusting) way bombardier beetles escape predators.They explain what it takes for an object to reach escape velocity, celebrating the mathematical mind of Katherine Johnson while they’re at it.And they explore the daunting realms of free-diving, and the lengths people will go to for a bit of peace and quiet.On the pod are Rowan Hooper, Anna Demming and Timothy Revell.Find out more at
  • 243. Weekly: Immune system treatment makes old mice seem young again; new black hole image; unexploded bombs are becoming more dangerous

    #243As we age our immune systems do too, making us less able to fight infections and more prone to chronic inflammation. But a team of scientists has been able to reverse these effects in mice, rejuvenating their immune systems by targeting their stem cells. But there’s a long road to trying the same thing in humans.Have you seen the incredible new black hole image? Just a couple of years since the Event Horizon Telescope’s first, fuzzy image of Sagittarius A* – the black hole at the centre of our galaxy – a new picture offers a closer look. The stunning image released this week features the spiralling lines of Sgr A*’s magnetic field, which is seeding new questions about how black holes behave.Millions of tonnes of unexploded ordnance litter the globe from conflicts both ongoing and long past. And as time passes these bombs are not getting any less dangerous – new research finds some are actually becoming more prone to exploding.Physicists have theorised that there is a particle called the graviton that carries the force of gravity – much like a photon carries light, or a gluon carries the strong nuclear force. But the graviton has so far remained elusive. Now, researchers think they’ve seen one, or at least a particle with the correct properties to be a graviton. How this experiment unfolded, and why even a possible sighting is exciting to theorists.Plus: How a bad night’s sleep makes you feel older; why therapy horses get stressed when they don’t have a choice; and a robot that can design, build and test paper planes.Hosts Christie Taylor and Sophie Bushwick discuss with guests Grace Wade, Alex Wilkins, Michael Le Page and Karmela Padavic-Callaghan. To read more about these stories, visit
  • CultureLab: Stranded on a fantastical planet: The strange creatures of Scavengers Reign

    Fish you wear like a gas mask, moss that turns a robot sentient and critters that will eat your rash – all these oddities and more cohabit on the planet Vesta, the setting for the animated miniseries Scavengers Reign, where a group of human space travellers must innovate with what they find in the landscape to survive. While all this sounds fantastical, there are many parallels with Earth’s ecosystem and the way we regularly borrow technology from the natural world. New Scientist physics reporter Karmela Padavic-Callaghan often writes about biomimicry and bio-inspired devices and has been fascinated by the symbiotic, connected ecosystem the show portrays.In this episode, they speak to biophysicist Saad Bhamla and ecologist Meghan Brown about the the science that underpins the series and how surprisingly close to reality some of the ecological interactions are. Plus how even fantastical fiction can shape a scientific mind.To read about subjects like this and much more, visit
  • 242. Weekly: How declining birth rates could shake up society; Humanoid robots; Top prize in mathematics

    #242Human population growth is coming to an end. The global population is expected to peak between 2060 and 2080, then start falling. Many countries will have much lower birth rates than would be needed to support ageing populations. These demographic projections have major implications for the way our societies function, including immigration and transportation, and what kinds of policies and systems we need. Remember Rosie the Robot from The Jetsons? Humanoid robots capable of many different tasks may be one step closer after two big announcements from chip-making giant NVIDIA. The company revealed what it calls its most powerful AI chip yet, as well as a new computer for humanoid robots called Jetson Thor.A group of California orcas known as transient killer whales have been observed using a never-before seen way of hunting down prey in the deep waters of the open ocean. Until now, their distance from the coast had kept this group’s hunting methods mysterious. It turns out these orcas have ingenious and brutal methods for hunting whale calves and other mammals. Two big maths stories this week. The Abel prize has gone to mathematician Michel Talagrand for his groundbreaking work in understanding randomness. His work has been integral in everything from weather forecasts to large language models and quantum computers. Plus, a group of mathematicians plans to direct a computer to prove the famously complex final theorem of the long-dead Pierre de Fermat – which could advance the field of mathematics research immensely if successful. Plus: Archaeologists uncover a perfectly preserved ancient settlement in Britain; bad news for life in the universe as one in twelve stars may be gobbling up their orbiting planets; why teenagers’ sweat is particularly smelly.Hosts Christie Taylor and Timothy Revell discuss with guests Clare Wilson, Jeremy Hsu, Chen Ly and Alex Wilkins. To read more about these stories, visit
  • Escape Pod: #7 Speed: From the quickest animal in the world to the fastest supercomputer

    This is a re-airing of a podcast originally released in March 2021.From the quickest animal in the world to the fastest supercomputer, this episode is all about speed.Opening with the cries of the peregrine falcon, the team finds out how the bird has evolved to endure flying at more than 200mph.Then they explain how scientists, starting from Galileo, attempted to measure the speed limit of the universe, the speed of light, and how Einstein understood what it meant.And they explore the mind-blowing capabilities of Fugaku, the fastest supercomputer in the world.On the pod are Rowan Hooper, Anna Demming and Timothy Revell.Find out more at
  • 241. Weekly: Gaza’s impending long-term health crisis

    #241More than 2 million Palestinians in Gaza face widespread hunger, disease and injury as the war quickly becomes the worst humanitarian crisis in modern memory. Even once the war ends, the devastating physical and emotional health consequences will be felt for many years to come, especially by children. And aid groups like UNICEF and the World Health Organization have no long-term plans to meet the post-war health needs of the population.Gravity on Mars may occasionally be strong enough to stir up the oceans on Earth, even from 225 million kilometres away. A team led by researchers at the University of Sydney says Mars could be responsible for creating tiny wobbles in Earth’s orbit – just enough to slightly warm the oceans.What if every piece of music ever recorded was replaced by AI-generated Taylor Swift covers? Researchers dreamed up this implausible-sounding thought-experiment to demonstrate the vulnerability of data to AI corruption – but is this actually a risk?Phonon lasers, which use ultra-concentrated sound vibrations instead of light, may one day help us with things like medical imaging and deep-sea monitoring. A team has now created the most powerful phonon laser ever made. It’s brighter and narrower than its competition and can stay on far longer. But challenges remain in moving this technology out of the lab. Plus: Why Jupiter’s moon Europa may be less likely to host life than scientists hoped; how North America’s threatened sequoia trees are thriving thousands of miles from home; and why pythons may be the most sustainable meat for us to eat.Hosts Christie Taylor and Sophie Bushwick discuss with guests Grace Wade, Jacob Aron, Matthew Sparkes and Karmela Padavic-Callaghan. To read more about these stories, visit