Sound science

Thanks in large part to the ubiquity of Apple’s iPod, the Internet is now host to a new kind of audio transmission — the podcast. Last September, we quietly introduced the Nature Podcast, which each week highlights a selection of papers and news features from the latest issue, with interviews of authors and their peers. In this way we let scientists explain their results to a wide audience, in their own words. Their input is augmented by comment and analysis from our own editors and journalists.

For the uninitiated, a podcast — a nifty contraction of iPod and broadcast — involves the automatic downloading of an audio show via an Internet content-distribution mechanism known as an RSS feed. Listeners just enter the address of a show in the podcast section of Apple’s iTunes software. Each time a show is released, it is downloaded straight to their computer.

The podcast has come to the fore because of the iPod’s success and the convenience of hearing an audio item at a time that suits the listener, rather than when radio schedules dictate. Podcast fans can now catch up on Nature when setting up their experiments, sitting in traffic or walking the dog. They can also enjoy a growing array of other content, ranging from podcast museum tours to directors’ commentaries that augment television programmes.

Nature is immensely pleased that, as we go to press, our show sits unassumingly between a Bob Dylan commentary and the CNN news update in iTunes’ top 100 podcast chart. This demonstrates how the technology is helping the work that we publish to reach a wider public. There are other science podcasts too, including contributions from the New England Journal of Medicine and from NASA, as well as podcast versions of established radio shows, such as Science Friday. The presence of science podcasts in the charts suggests that there is plenty of interest in their subject matter.