Big Picture Science

By SETI Institute

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Big Picture Science: A smart and humorous take on emerging trends in science and technology. Tune in and make contact with science. We broadcast and podcast every week. bigpicturescience.org

Episode Date
Perpetual Emotion Machine
50:31

ENCORE  Get ready for compassionate computers that feel your pain, share your joy, and generally get where you’re coming from.  Computers that can tell by your voice whether you’re pumped up or feeling down, or sense changes in heart rate, skin, or muscle tension to determine your mood.  Empathetic electronics that you can relate to.

But wait a minute – we don’t always relate to other humans.  Our behavior can be impulsive and even self-sabotaging – our emotions are often conflicted and irrational.   We cry when we’re happy.  Frown when we’re pensive.  A suite of factors, much of them out of our control, govern how we behave, from genes to hormones to childhood experience. 

One study says that all it takes for a defendant to receive a harsher sentence is a reduction in the presiding judge’s blood sugar.

So grab a cookie, and find out how the heck we can build computers that understand us anyway. 

Guests:

Jun 18, 2018
Skeptic Check: Flat Earth
50:31

The Earth is not round.  Technically, it’s an oblate spheroid.  But for some people, the first statement is not even approximately correct.  Flat Earthers believe that our planet resembles – not a slightly squashed grapefruit – but a thick pancake.   A journalist who covered a Flat Earth convention describes the rationale behind this ever-more popular belief. 

So how do you establish science truth?  We look at the difference between a truly scientific examination of extraordinary claims and approaches that feel and look science-y but aren’t.  

Find out how one man will use telescopes and balloons in the desert to demonstrate that the Earth is a globe, while a biologist runs a test on the waters of Loch Ness to see if it contains prehistoric reptile DNA.

And what happens when amateur investigators chase ghosts, UFOs, and Bigfoot with science instruments, but without an understanding of the scientific method.

Guests:

Jun 11, 2018
Imagining Planets
51:43

Pluto, we hardly knew ye.  Well, not anymore!  Until recently, Pluto and Mars were respectively the least-known and best-known planet-sized bodies in our Solar System.  Thanks to the New Horizons spacecraft, our picture of Pluto has changed from a featureless dot to a place where we can name the geologic features.  And with rovers and orbiters surveying the red planet, we now know much more about Mars than our parents ever did.  Examining our planetary backyard has provided insight into the trillion other planets in our galaxy.

Dive into a mountain lake and trek though the driest desert on Earth with a scientist who’s had not one but two near-fatal incidents in these extreme environments. Find out what questions compel her to keep returning.

And scientists on the New Horizons mission remember why the nail-biting Pluto flyby almost failed at the last minute. Find out what surprises Pluto offered and what the mission might uncover as it heads to its next, outer solar-system target.

Also, from Earth-like planets to super Earths and water worlds: a tour of some of Kepler’s most intriguing extrasolar planets.

Guests:

Jun 04, 2018
Time on Your Side
51:16

ENCORE  Time passes like an arrow, but what if it flew like a boomerang?  Scientists are learning how to reverse time’s most relentless march: aging.  But before we rewind time, let’s try to define it, because there’s plenty of debate about just what time is – a fundamental component of the universe or a construct of our consciousness?

Find out why, even though pondering the future may cause heartburn, mental time travel has an evolutionary survival advantage.

Plus, your brain as a clock; why “brain age” may be more accurate than chronological age in determining lifespan.

And while a million-dollar monetary prize hopes to inspire researchers to crack the aging code, one group claims they already have.  By reprogramming special genes, they’ve reversed the biological clocks in mice.  Find out when human trials begin. 

Guests:

  • Dean Buonomano– Neurobiologist and psychologist at UCLA and author of “Your Brain is a Time Machine
  • James Cole– Postdoc studying neuroanatomy, Imperial College London 
  • Joon Yun– Radiologist, head of Palo Alto Investors and creator and sponsor of the Palo Alto Longevity prize
  • Pradeep Reddy– Research Scientist at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California
May 28, 2018
Your Brain's Reins
51:15

ENCORE  You are your brain.  But what happens when your brain changes for the worse – either by physical injury or experience?  Are you still responsible for your actions?

We hear how the case of a New York man charged with murder was one of the first to introduce neuroscience as evidence in court.  Plus, how technology hooks us – a young man so addicted to video games, he lacked social skills, or even a desire to eat.  Find out how technology designers conspire against his digital detox.

Also, even if your brain is intact and your only task is choosing a sock color, are you really in control?  How your unconscious directs even mundane behavior … and how you can outwit it. 

Guests:

May 21, 2018
You Are Exposed
52:12

There’s no place like “ome.”  Your microbiome is highly influential in determining your health.  But it’s not the only “ome” doing so.  Your exposome – environmental exposure over a lifetime – also plays a role.

Hear how scientists hope to calculate your entire exposome, from food to air pollution to water contamination.

Plus, new research on the role that microbes play in the development of neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s, and the hot debate about when microbes first colonize the body.  Could a fetus have its own microbiome?

Also, choose your friends wisely: studies of microbe-swapping gazelles reveal the benefits – and the downsides – of being social.

And, why sensors on future toilets will let you do microbiome analysis with every flush.

Guests:

Rob Knight – Professor of Pediatrics, Computer Science and Engineering, and Director of the Center for Microbiome Innovation at the University of California, San Diego

Vanessa Ezenwa – Ecologist at the University of Georgia

Indira Mysorekar – Microbiologist at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri

Gary Miller – Professor of public health at the Rollins School of Public Health and director of the HERCULES Exposome Research Center at Emory University. After August 2018, his lab will be at Columbia University.

May 14, 2018
We Are VR
51:09

Will virtual reality make you a better person?  It’s been touted as the “ultimate empathy machine,” and one that will connect people who are otherwise emotionally and physically isolated.  The promise of the technology has come a long way since BiPiSci last took a VR tour.  Find out why researchers say virtual reality is no longer an exclusive club for gamers, but a powerful tool to build community.

Seth puts on a VR headset for an immersive experience of a man who’s evicted from his apartment.  Find out why researchers say the experience creates empathy and sparks activism to address homelessness.

Also, why our spouses will love our avatars as much as they do us, the dark side of VR as a space for unchecked harassment, and consider: what if you’re already living a simulation created by your brain?

Guests:

  • Peter Rubin – Editor for Wired, author of “Future Presence: How Virtual reality is Changing Human Connection, Intimacy, and the Limits of Ordinary Life”
  • Jeremy Bailenson – Professor of Communication at Stanford University, founding director of the Virtual Human Interaction Lab, and author of “Experience on Demand: What Virtual Reality Is, How It Works, and What It Can Do”
  • Carolina Cruz-Neira – Director of the Emerging Analytics Center at the University of Arkansas, Little Rock
  • Thomas Metzinger – Philosopher of Mind and Cognitive Science, at Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, Germany
May 07, 2018
What Have You Got To Move
50:31

ENCORE  Whether they swim, slither, jump, or fly, animal locomotion is more than just an urge to roam: it’s necessary for survival.  Evolution has come up with ingenious schemes to get from here to there.  Hear how backbones evolved as a consequence of fish needing to wag their fins, and why no animals have wheels. 

Motion is more than locomotion. Test the physics of movement in your kitchen and find out what popping corn has in common with the first steam engine.

And while physics insists that atoms are always moving, find how what happens to these basic building blocks when placed in the coldest spot in the universe.  The Cold Atom Laboratory chills material to nearly absolute zero, creating some weird superfluid effects as atoms slow down.  

Guests:

Apr 30, 2018
High Moon
51:39

"The moon or bust” is now officially bust.  No private company was able to meet the Lunar X Prize challenge, and arrange for a launch by the 2018 deadline.  The $30 million award goes unclaimed, but the race to the moon is still on. Find out who wants to go and why this is not your parents’ – or grandparents’ – space race.

With or without a cash incentive, private companies are still eyeing our cratered companion, hoping to set hardware down on its dusty surface.  Meanwhile, while the U.S. waffles about a return to the moon, India and China are sending a second round of robots skyward.  And a proposed orbiting laboratory – the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway – may literally put scientists over, and around, the moon.

The moon continues to entice sci-fi writers, and Andy Weir’s new novel describes a vibrant lunar colony. Its premise of colonists launched from Kenya is not entirely fiction: the nation is one of many in Africa with space programs.

Guests:

  • Andy Weir – Author of “The Martian” and, most recently, “Artemis”
  • Allen Herbert – Vice President of Business Development and Strategy for NanoRacks, LLC and author of an article about emerging space programs in Africa
  • Greg Schmidt – Deputy director of the Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute at NASA Ames Research Center
  • Jason Crusan – NASA Director of Advanced Exploration Systems for Human Space Flight
Apr 23, 2018
Skeptic Check: Political Scientist
51:39

Hundreds of thousands of scientists took to the streets during the March for Science.  The divisive political climate has spurred some scientists to deeper political engagement – publicly challenging lawmakers and even running for office themselves.   But the scientist-slash-activist model itself is contested, even by some of their colleagues.

Find out how science and politics have been historically intertwined, what motivates scientists to get involved, and the possible benefits and harm of doing so. Is objectivity damaged when scientists advocate?

Plus, how Michael Mann became a reluctant activist, whether his “street fighter” approach is effective in defending climate science, and the price he and his family paid for speaking out.

Also, how the organization 314 Action is helping a record number of scientists run for Congress.  But will the group support only Democratic contenders?

Guests:                        

  • Robert Young – Geologist, Western Carolina University
  • Douglas Haynes – Historian of medicine and science, University of California, Irvine
  • Michael Mann – Professor, atmospheric science, Director, Earth System Science Center, Penn State University
  • Shaugnessy Naughton – Founder and President, 314 Action
  • Alex Berezow – Senior fellow of biomedical science at the American Council on Science and Health
Apr 16, 2018
Brain Dust
50:31

ENCORE  Know your brain?  Think again.  Driven by a hidden agenda, powered by an indecipherable web of neurons, and influenced by other brains, your grey matter is a black box.

To "know thyself" may be a challenge, and free will nonexistent, but maybe more technology can shed light on the goings on in your noggin, and the rest of your body.

Find out how tiny implanted sensors called “brain dust” may reveal what really going on.

Plus, the day when your brain is uploaded into a computer as ones and zeros.  Will you still be you?

Guests:

Apr 09, 2018
Hawkingravity
52:45

Stephen Hawking felt gravity’s pull.  His quest to understand this feeble force spanned his career, and he was the first to realize that black holes actually disappear – slowly losing the mass of everything they swallow in a dull, evaporative glow called Hawking radiation. 

But one of gravity’s deepest puzzles defied even his brilliant mind.  How can we connect theories of gravity on the large scale to what happens on the very small?  The Theory of Everything remains one of the great challenges to physicists.

Also, the latest on deciphering the weirdness of black holes and why the gravitational wave detector LIGO has added colliding neutron stars to its roster of successes.

Plus, a fellow physicist describes Dr. Hawking’s extraordinary deductive abilities and what it was like to collaborate with him.  And, a surprise awaits Molly when she meets a local string theorist to discuss his search for the Theory of Everything.

Guests:

Apr 02, 2018
Skeptic Check: Your Inner Lab Coat
50:31

ENCORE  Sherlock Holmes doesn’t have a science degree, yet he thinks rationally – like a scientist. You can too! Learn the secrets of being irritatingly logical from the most famous sleuth on Baker Street. Plus, discover why animal trackers 100,000 years ago may have been the first scientists, and what we can learn from about deductive reasoning from today’s African trackers.

Also, the author of a book on teaching physics to your dog provides tips for unleashing your inner scientist, even if you hated science in school.

And newly-minted scientists imagine classes they wish were available to them as grad students, such as “You Can’t Save the World 101.”

Guests:

First released February 9, 2015.

Mar 26, 2018
The X-Flies
50:31

Insect populations are declining.  But before you say “good riddance,” consider that insects are the cornerstone of many ecosystems.  They are dinner for numerous animal species and are essential pollinators.   Mammals are loved, but they are not indispensable.  Insects are.

Meanwhile, marvel at the extraordinary capabilities of some insects.  The zany aerial maneuvers of the fly are studied by pilots.  And, contrary to the bad press, cockroaches are very clean creatures.  Also, take a listen as we host some Madagascar hissing cockroaches in our studio (yes, they audibly hiss).

Plus, how insects first evolved … and the challenges in controlling lethal ones.  Are genetically-engineering mosquitoes the best way to combat malaria?

Guests:

Mar 19, 2018
Shell on Earth
51:31

ENCORE  We all may retreat to our protective shells, but evolution has perfected the calcite variety to give some critters permanent defense against predators.  So why did squids and octopuses lose their shells?  Find out what these cephalopods gained by giving up the shell game.

Plus why Chesapeake Bay oyster shells are shells of their former selves.  What explains the absence of the dinner-plate sized oysters of 500,000 years ago, and how conservation paleobiology is probing deep time for strategies to bring back these monster mollusks.

Also, was the Earth once encased in a giant, continental shell?  A new theory of plate tectonics.  Land ho!

Guests:

  • Rowan Lockwood – Conservation paleobiologist at the College of William and Mary. 
  • Al Tanner – Ph.D. student in paleobiology at the University of Bristol, U.K.
  • Mike Brown – Professor of Geology, University of Maryland
Mar 12, 2018
Space: Why Go There?
51:07

It takes a lot of energy and technology to leave terra firma. But why rocket into space when there’s so much to be done on Earth?  From the practical usefulness of satellites to the thrill of exploring other worlds, let us count the ways.

The launch of a NOAA weather satellite to join its twin provides unparalleled observation of storms, wildfires, and even lightning.  Find out what it’s like to watch hurricanes form from space.

Meanwhile, more than a dozen countries want their own satellites to help solve real-world problems, including tracking disease.  Learn how one woman is helping make space accessible to everyone.

Plus, now that we’ve completed our grand tour of the Solar System, which bodies are targets for return missions and which for human exploration?  

Guests:

  • Sarah Cruddas – Space journalist, broadcaster, and author based in the U.K.
  • Jamese Sims – GOES-R Project Manager at NOAA
  • Danielle Wood – Assistant professor, MIT Media Lab, Director of the Space Enabled Research Group
  • Jim Green – NASA Planetary Science Division Director 
Mar 05, 2018
Meet Your Robot Barista
50:31

Move over Roomba.  Café robots are the latest in adorable automation. And they may be more than a fad. As robots and artificial intelligence enter the workforce, they could serve up more than machine-made macchiato.  Digital workers are in training to do a wide variety jobs. Will humans be handed the mother of all pink slips?

We sip lattes in a robot café and contemplate the future of work. Some say the workplace will have more machines than people, while others maintain that A.I. will augment, not replace, human workers.

Meanwhile, future intelligent automation may not come from Silicon Valley.  Why China wants to become the global center for A.I.   

Plus, NASA’s first bipedal humanoid robot - Valkyrie, a prototype of a construction worker for use on Mars - teaches us that moving like a human is not as easy as it looks.

Guests:

Feb 26, 2018
Quantum: Why We Want 'Em
50:31

ENCORE  Einstein thought that quantum mechanics might be the end of physics, and most scientists felt sure it would never be useful.  Today, everything from cell phones to LED lighting is completely dependent on the weird behavior described by quantum mechanics.

But the story continues.  Quantum computers may be millions of times faster than your laptop, and applying them to big data could be transformational for biology and health.  Quantum entanglement – “spooky” action at a distance – may not allow faster-than-light communication, but could be important in other ways.  And there’s even the suggestion that quantum mechanics defines the difference between life and death.

Quantum physics.  It’s weird and exotic.  But it’s how the universe works.

Guests:

 

Feb 19, 2018
Bacteria to the Future
50:31

Why did the chicken take antibiotics?  To fatten it up and prevent bacterial infection. As a result, industrial farms have become superbug factories, threatening our life-saving antibiotics.

Find out how our wonder drugs became bird feed, and how antibiotic resistant bugs bred on the farm end up on your dinner plate.  A journalist tells the story of the 1950s fad of “acronizing” poultry; the act of dipping it in an antibiotic bath so it can sit longer on a refrigerator shelf.

Plus, some ways we can avoid a post-antibiotic era. The steps one farm took to make their chickens antibiotic free… and resurrecting an old therapy: enlisting viruses to target and destroy multi-drug resistant bacteria.  Set your “phages” to stun. 

Guests:

Feb 12, 2018
Creative Brains
50:31

Your cat is smart, but its ability to choreograph a ballet or write computer code isn’t great.  A lot of animals are industrious and clever, but humans are the only animal that is uniquely ingenious and creative. 

Neuroscientist David Eagleman and composer Anthony Brandt discuss how human creativity has reshaped the world. Find out what is going on in your brain when you write a novel, paint a watercolor, or build a whatchamacallit in your garage.

But is Homo sapiens’ claim on creativity destined to be short-lived?  Why both Eagleman and Brandt are prepared to step aside when artificial intelligence can do their jobs.

Guests:

Feb 05, 2018
Skeptic Check: New UFO Evidence
50:31

It was a shocker of a story, splashed across the New York Times front page: The existence of a five-year long, hidden Pentagon investigation of UFOs.  With one-third of the American public convinced that aliens are visiting Earth, could this study finally provide the proof?

We consider how this story came to light and what the $22 million program has produced.  Does the existence of a secret study mean there’s now decent proof of extraterrestrial craft in our skies?  We take a look at the evidence made public so far.

And why, six years after the study ended, are we learning about it now?

Guests:

  • James Oberg - Space journalist, historian and former NASA employee
  • James McGaha Retired Air Force pilot, astronomer and director of the Grasslands Observatory
  • Ben Radford Deputy editor of Skeptical Inquirer magazine and a Research Fellow with the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry 
Jan 29, 2018
DIY Spaceflight
50:31

ENCORE  For a half-century, space has been the playground of large, government agencies.  While everyone could dream of becoming an astronaut, few could actually do so.

Things have changed.  We hear how a geeky son of immigrant parents incentivized the ground-breaking launch of SpaceShipOne, and spawned the commercial rocket industry. 

And while you’re waiting for a ticket to ride, why not build your own satellite to keep tabs on the kids or just check out the back forty?  A CubeSat could be your next basement project.

And the hitherto untold story of how black women mathematicians a half-century ago helped get a man into orbit, and astronauts to the moon.

Guests:

Jan 22, 2018
Geology is Destiny
51:54

ENCORE  The record of the rocks is not just the history of Earth; it’s your history too.  Geologists can learn about events going back billions of years that influenced – and even made possible – our present-day existence and shaped our society.

If the last Ice Age had been a bit warmer, the rivers and lakes of the Midwest would have been much farther north and the U.S. might still be a small country of 13 states.  If some Mediterranean islands hadn’t twisted a bit, no roads would have led to Rome.

Geology is big history, and the story is on-going.  Human activity is changing the planet too, and has introduced its own geologic era, the Anthropocene.  Will Earthlings of a hundred million years from now dig up our plastic refuse and study it the way we study dinosaur bones?

Plus, the dodo had the bad luck to inhabit a small island and couldn’t adapt to human predators.  But guess what?  It wasn’t as dumb as you think.

Guests:

Jan 15, 2018
Are Animals Really That Smart?
50:31

ENCORE  You own a cat, or is it vice versa?  Family friendly felines have trained their owners to do their bidding.  Thanks to a successful evolutionary adaptation, they rule your house.

Find out how your cat has you wrapped around its paw.  And it’s not the only animal to outwit us.  Primatologist Frans de Waal shares the surprising intellectual capabilities of chimps, elephants, and bats.  In fact, could it be that we’re simply not smart enough to see how smart animals are?

Plus, the discovery of a fossilized dinosaur brain.  Were those lumbering lizards more clever than we thought?  

Guests:

Jan 08, 2018
Weather Vain
50:31

ENCORE  Everyone talks about the weather but no one does anything about it. Not that they haven’t tried.  History is replete with attempts to control the weather, but we’d settle for an accurate seven-day forecast.

Find out how sophisticated technology might improve accuracy, including predicting the behavior of severe storms.  Plus, the age when “weather forecast” was a laughable idea, but why 19th century rebel scientists pursued it anyway.

Also, a meteorologist who was falsely claimed to have “solved” the mystery of the Bermuda Triangle, and a climate scientist recounts the history of trying to control the weather, and the potential future of geoengineering.

Guests:

Jan 01, 2018
DIY Diagnosis
51:11

ENCORE  Got aches and pains?  Critters in the Cretaceous would have been sympathetic.  A new study reveals that painful arthritis plagued a duck-billed dinosaur.  Scientists impressively diagnosed the animal’s condition without a house call by examining its 70 million-year old bones.

The technology we use for health diagnoses are becoming so sophisticated, some people are prompted to bypass doctors and do it themselves.  Meet a man who had his genome sequenced and then had all 70 gigabytes delivered directly to him so that he could gauge his genetic health.   

Also, practitioners who are trying to improve cognitive function using a battery and a few wires.   Find out the possible risks and benefits of DIY brain stimulation. 

Guests:

  • Jennifer Anne - Recent graduate, University of Manchester, studies injuries and diseases in dinosaurs.
  • Carl Zimmer - Science writer, author.  National correspondent for STAT, an online magazine that reports on the frontiers of science and medicine.  His weekly column “Matter,” appears in the New York Times.
  • Peter Simpson-Young - A graduate student at the University of Sydney studying neuroscience.
  • Anna Wexler - Neuroethicist and PhD candidate in the History, Anthropology, Science, Technology and Society program at MIT.
Dec 25, 2017
Rerouting... Rerouting
51:11

Lost your sense of direction?  Blame your GPS. Scientists say that our reliance on dashboard devices is eroding our ability to create cognitive maps and is messing with our minds in general. We don’t even look at landmarks or the landscape anymore.  We’ve become no more than interfaces between our GPS and our steering wheels.

But in other ways, GPS can spark a new appreciation of the physical world. A real-time flyover app reveals the stunning geological features otherwise invisible from our window seat. 

And sensitive electronic sensors let us see where the wild things are and where they go.  Learn how scientists put belts on jellyfish and produce maps that reveal the surprising routes taken by various species – from a single wolf, a group of phytoplankton, or a float of crocodiles.

Plus, one man is not ready to say goodbye to the traditional map.  Find out why this cartographer insists on paper maps, not digital apps. 

Guests:

Dec 18, 2017
With All Our Mites
50:31

ENCORE  You are not alone.  You can’t see ‘em, but your face is a festival of face mites. They’ve   evolved with us for millennia.  And a new study finds that hundreds of different tiny spiders, beetles, and – our favorite - book lice make your home theirs.  But before you go bonkers with the disinfectant, consider: eradicating these critters may do more harm than good.  Some are such close evolutionary partners with humans that they keep us healthy and can even reveal something about our ancestry.

But then there are bed bugs.  Pests without redemption.  However, their newly-sequenced genome may help us end their nightly nuisances.  And of course some microscopic critters are deadly.  So when it comes to bugs: when do we accommodate and when do we attack?  

Guests:

Dec 11, 2017
Air Apparent
50:31

Whether you yawn, gasp, sniff, snore, or sigh, you’re availing yourself of our very special atmosphere.   It’s easy to take this invisible chemical cocktail for granted, but it’s not only essential to your existence: it unites you and every other life form on the planet, dead or alive.  The next breath you take likely includes molecules exhaled by Julius Caesar or Eleanor Roosevelt.

And for some animals, air is an information superhighway.  Dogs navigate with their noses.  Their sniffing snouts help them to identify their owners, detect trace amounts of drugs, and even sense some diseases.  Find out what a dog’s nose knows, and why no amount of bathing and dousing in perfume can mask your personal smelliness.

Plus, why your own schnoz is key to not only enjoying a fine Bordeaux, but to survival of our species.

Guests:

Dec 04, 2017
Time Travel Agents
51:00

ENCORE  Hey, let’s meet last week for coffee.  Okay, we can’t meet in the past … yet.  But could it be only a matter of time before we can?  In an attempt to defy the grandfather paradox, scientists try sending a photon back in time to destroy itself. 

Also, find out how teleportation allows particles to instantaneously skip through space-time and why sending humans wouldn’t violate the laws of physics. 

But before you pack your bags for that instantaneous trip to Paris, we need to understand the nature of time.  A physicist offers a testable theory and ponders how it bears on free will.

Plus, feel as if time comes to a standstill when you’re standing in line?  Tricks for altering your perception of time while you wait.  Some businesses already use them on you.  

Guests:

Nov 27, 2017
Wonder Women
51:00

We’re hearing about harassment of, and barriers to, women seeking careers in politics and entertainment. But what about science? Science is supposed to be uniquely merit-based and objective. And yet the data say otherwise. A new study reveals widespread harassment of women of color in space science. 

We look at the role that a hostile work environment plays in keeping women from pursuing scientific careers. While more women than ever are holding jobs in science, the percentage in tech and computer science has flattened out or even dropped.  A memo from a software engineer at an Internet giant claims it’s because female brains aren’t suited for tech. Find out what the science says.

Plus, women staring down discrimination. One woman’s reaction to her guidance counselor’s suggestion that she skip calculus and have babies. And SACNAS, the organization changing the face of science for Latina and Native American women.  

Guests:

Nov 20, 2017
Skeptic Check: Nibiru! (Again!)
51:00

Will your calendar entry for November 19th  be your last? Some people say yes, predicting a catastrophic collision between Earth and planet Nibiru on that date and the end of the world.  But it won’t happen, because this hypothesized rogue world doesn’t exist. Nibiru’s malevolent disruptions have been foretold many times, most dramatically in 2012 and three times so far in 2017.  But this year NASA issued a rare public assurance that doomsday was not in the offing.

Find out why the agency decided to speak out. Meanwhile, hoaxes and alarmist stories from the 19th century demonstrate that we have a long history of being susceptible to hooey. 

Also, an astronomer who doesn’t believe that Nibiru is hiding in the outer Solar System, but that Planet X is.  

Guests:

Nov 13, 2017
DNA: Nature's Hard Drive
52:10

The biotech tool CRISPR lets us do more than shuffle genes.  Researchers have embedded an animated GIF into a living organism’s DNA, proving that the molecule is a great repository for information.  This has encouraged speculation that DNA could be used by aliens to send messages. 

Meanwhile, nature has seized on this powerful storage system in surprising ways.  Scientists have learned that the 98% of our genome – once dismissed as “junk” – contains valuable genetic treasure. Find out what project ENCODE is learning about the “dark genome.”

Plus, how viruses became the original stealth coders, inserting their DNA into ancient bacteria and eventually leading to the development of CRISPR technology.  Discover the potential of this powerful tool, from curing disease to making pig organs transplant-friendly, and the possible dark side of quick-and-easy gene editing.  

Guests:

  • Paul Davies- Director of the Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science at Arizona State University
  • Yin ShenAssistant professor, Department of Neurology, Institute for Human Genetics, University of California – San Francisco, member of ENCODE team 
  • Sam SternbergAssistant professor, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics, Columbia University, and co-author of “A Crack in Creation: Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution”  
  • Hank GreelyDirector, Center for Law and the Biosciences; Chair of the Steering Committee of the Center for Biomedical Ethics; and Director, Stanford Program in Neuroscience and Society
Nov 06, 2017
Venom Diagram
51:36

ENCORE  We all get defensive sometimes.  For some animals, evolution has provided a highly effective mechanism for saying “back off!”.  A puncture by a pair of venom-filled fangs gets the point across nicely. 

But one animal’s poison may be another’s cure.  Some dangerous critters churn out compounds that can be synthesized into life-saving drugs.

Meet the spiny, fanged, and oozing creatures who could help defend us against such illnesses as hypertension and kidney disease. 

Plus, the King of Pain - a scientist who has been stung by more than 80 species of insects in his pursuit of a better understanding of venom’s biochemistry.  Find out which winged stinger scored the highest on his pain index.   

And, why the drug we need most may come from the quietest members of the biosphere: turning to plants for a new generation of antibiotics. 

Guests:

Oct 30, 2017
Sex Post Facto
51:36

ENCORE  Birds do it, bees do it, but humans may not do it for much longer.  At least not for having children.  Relying on sex to reproduce could be supplanted by making babies in the lab, where parents-to-be can select genomes that will ensure ideal physical and behavioral traits.

Men hoping to be fathers should act sooner rather than later.  These same advancements in biotechnology could allow women to fertilize their own eggs, making the need for male sperm obsolete. 

Meanwhile, some animals already reproduce asexually.  Find out how female African bees can opt to shut out male bees intent on expanding the hive.  

Will engineering our offspring have a down side?  Sex creates vital genetic diversity, as demonstrated by evolution of wild animals in urban areas.  Find out how birds, rodents and insects use sex in the city to adapt and thrive.

Guests:

  • Menno Schilthuizen  – Biologist and ecologist, at the Naturalis Biodiversity Center and Leiden University in The Netherlands.   His New York Times op-ed, “Evolution is Happening Faster Than We Thought,” is here.
  • Matthew Webster –  Evolutionary biologist, Uppsala University, Sweden
  • Hank Greely – Law professor and ethicist, Stanford University, who specializes in the ethical, legal and social implications of biomedical technologies.  His book is “The End of Sex and The Future of Reproduction.”
Oct 23, 2017
Too Big To Prove
52:46

Celebrations are in order for the physicists who won the 2017 Nobel Prize, for the detection of gravitational waves.  But the road to Stockholm was not easy.  Unfolding over a century, it went from doubtful theory to daring experiments and even disrepute.  100 years is a major lag between a theory and its confirmation, and new ideas in physics may take even longer to prove.

Why it may be your great, great grandchildren who witness the confirmation of string theory.  Plus, the exciting insights that gravitational waves provide into the phenomena of our universe, beginning with black holes.

And, physics has evolved - shouldn’t its rewards?  A case for why the Nobel committee should honor collaborative groups rather than individuals, and the scientific breakthroughs it’s missed. 

Guests: 

  • Janna LevinPhysicist and astronomer at Barnard College at Columbia University, and the author of the story of LIGO, “Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space.”
  • Roland PeaseBBC reporter, producer, and host of “Science in Action.” 
  • David GrossTheoretical physicist, string theorist, University of California, Santa Barbara, Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics, winner, 2004 Nobel Prize in Physics. 
Oct 16, 2017
On Defense
51:00

ENCORE  The military is a dangerous calling.  But technology can help out, so researchers are constantly trying to make soldiers safer.  Writer Mary Roach investigates how scientists studying so-called human factors are protecting troops from such aggressive foes as heat, noise, and fatigue.  She also learns how bad odors were once considered a secret weapon.

And while soldiers have long used camouflage to help them blend in, insects may be the original masters of disguise.  A discovery in fossilized amber shows that a variety of bugs employed D.I.Y. camouflaging tricks 100 million years ago.

But where is the defense race headed?  The top-secret branch of the Pentagon whose job is to make tomorrow happen today has some ideas.  A reporter shares DARPA’s plan for augmented super-soldiers.

Plus, do we always need a technological boost to stay safe?  Find out how your innate chemical defense system protects you.  It’s an adrenaline rush!

Guests:

Oct 09, 2017
It's In Material
50:31

Astronauts are made of the “right stuff,” but what about their spacesuits?   NASA’s pressurized and helmeted onesies are remarkable, but they need updating if we’re to boldly go into deep space.   Suiting up on Mars requires more manual flexibility, for example.  Find out what innovative materials might be used to reboot the suit.

Meanwhile, strange new materials are in the pipeline for use on terra firma: spider silk is kicking off the development of biological materials that are inspiring ultra-strong, economical, and entirely new fabrics.  And, while flesh-eating bacteria may seem like an unlikely ally in materials science, your doctor might reach for them one day.  The bacterium’s proteins are the inspiration for a medical molecular superglue.

Plus, an overview of more innovative materials to come, from those that are 3D printed to self-healing concrete.  

Guests:

Oct 02, 2017
Skeptic Check: Aliens - The Evidence
50:31

ENCORE  Once again the aliens have landed … in theaters.  It’s no spoiler to say that the latest cinematic sci-fi, Arrival, involves extraterrestrials visiting Earth. 

But for some folks, the film’s premise is hardly shocking.  They’re convinced that the aliens have already come.  But is there any proof that aliens are here now or that they landed long ago to, for example, help build the Egyptian pyramids?

Meanwhile, SETI scientists are deploying their big antennas in an effort to establish that extraterrestrials exist far beyond Earth.

Find out why – even if E.T. is out there – one scientist says making contact is a long shot, while another pioneering scientist involved in SETI remains hopeful  … and could aliens be responsible for the peculiar behavior of two star systems now making the news?

Guests:

Sep 25, 2017
Angles of a Hack
52:08

Changed your computer password recently?  We all try to stay one step ahead of the hackers, but the fear factor is increasing.  The risks can range from stolen social security numbers to sabotaging a national power grid. 

Sixty years ago, when hacking meant nosing around the telephone network, it seemed innocent enough.  And not all modern hacking has criminal intent.  Today, there are biohackers who experiment with implanted electronic devices to improve themselves, and geoengineers who propose to hack the climate.  But in our efforts to cool an overheated planet, might we be going down a dangerous path?

In this second of two episodes on hacking, the modern variations of “hacking,” and their consequences. Plus: when does hacking a system improve it?  

Sep 18, 2017
Plan of a Hack
51:48

Long before cyber criminals were stealing ATM passwords, phone phreaks were tapping into the telephone system. Their motivation was not monetary, but the thrill of defeating a complex, invisible network. Today “hacking” can apply to cyberwarfare, biological tinkering, or even geoengineering.  Often it has negative connotations, but the original definition of “hacking” was something else.

In this first of two episodes on hacking, we look at the original practitioners – the teenagers and mavericks who hacked Ma Bell for thrills - and the difference between hacking for fun and for profit. 

Guests:

Sep 11, 2017
Born Legacy
52:09

ENCORE  We know how the stars shine, but how do you make a star?  We take an all-night ride on a high-flying jet – an airborne observatory called SOFIA – to watch astronomers investigate how a star is born.

As for how the universe was born, we know about the Big Bang but modern physics suggests that similar cosmic explosions may be happening all the time, and even hint that we could – in principle – create a new universe in a laboratory.  What does this mean, and how could we do it?

From stars to universes, how it all came to be.

Guests:

Sep 04, 2017
Elements Never Forget
51:50

ENCORE  It’s elementary, Watson.  Things are in flux – from the elements in the air you breathe to party balloons.   We investigate the massive, historic loss of nitrogen from the atmosphere and meet the culprits behind a modern-day helium shortage. 

But it’s not all a disappearing act: be thankful that oxygen showed up in our atmosphere a few billion years ago.  Meanwhile, atom smashers have recently produced some new elements.  Their appearance was brief, but long enough to fill out the periodic table.

And perhaps the tastiest use of an element – one that gives Seth a chilly reception.

Guests: 

  • Inna Vishik – Postdoctoral fellow in physics at MIT
  • Roland Pease – Science reporter in the U.K. 
  • Mark Stoyer – Nuclear chemist, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Aug 28, 2017
Musical Universe
50:31

ENCORE  In space, no one can hear you scream, but, using the right instruments, scientists can pick up all types of cosmic vibrations – the sort we can turn into sound.  After a decade of listening, LIGO, a billion-dollar physics experiment, has detected gravitational waves caused by the collision of massive black holes, a brief shaking of spacetime that can be translated into a short squeal. 

We listen to the chirp of black holes crashing into each other and wonder: could the universe contain more than individual sounds, but have actual musical structure? 

A theoretical physicist and jazz saxophonist updates the ancient philosophical concept of the Music of the Spheres to probe the most vexing questions confronting modern cosmology.  Find out how the evolution of the universe resembles an improvisational jazz piece, and the musical inspiration John Coltrane drew from Albert Einstein. 

Guests:

Aug 21, 2017
On Thin Ice
50:31

Water is essential for life – that we know.  But the honeycomb lattice that forms when you chill it to zero degrees Celsius is also inexorably intertwined with life.

Ice is more than a repository for water that would otherwise raise sea levels.  It’s part of Earth’s cooling system, a barrier preventing decaying organic matter from releasing methane gas, and a vault entombing ancient bacteria and other microbes. 

From the Arctic to the Antarctic, global ice is disappearing.  Find out what’s at stake as atmospheric CO2 threatens frozen H2O. 

Guests:

  • Peter Wadhams- Emeritus Professor of Ocean Physics at Cambridge University in the U.K. and the author of A Farewell to Ice: A Report from the Arctic
  • Eric Rignot- Earth systems scientist, University of California, Irvine, senior research scientist, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
  • Åsmund Asdal- Biologist, Nordic Genetic Resource Center, coordinator for operations and management of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, Svalbard, Norway
  • John Priscu- Polar biologist, Montana State University
Aug 14, 2017
Skeptic Check: Busting Myths with Adam Savage
51:33

ENCORE  Can an opera singer’s voice really shatter glass?  Can you give your car a rocket-assisted boost and survive the test drive?  How do you protect yourself from a shark attack?   Those are among the many intriguing questions and urban legends tested by the MythBusters team in front of the camera.

Now that the series has ended after a 16 year run, co-host Adam Savage tells us how it all began, how he and Jamie Hyneman walked the line between science and entertainment, and why he considers himself a scientist but not a “skeptic.”

Also, he reveals the location of the episode, “Duct Tape Island.”

Guests:

  • Adam Savage - Former co-host and executive producer of MythBusters
Aug 07, 2017
Caught in a Traps
51:50

ENCORE  "Locked and loaded” is how one scientist recently described the San Andreas fault.  Find out when this famous west-coast rift might cause “the big one;” also, the state of early earthquake warning systems.

Plus, another sign of our planet’s unceasing turmoil: volcanos!  Could the eruption that produced the Deccan Traps, and not a rock from space, have been the nail in the coffin for the dinosaurs?  One seismologist shares new evidence about some suspicious timing.

And, the man who was the first to take the temperature of lava, established the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, and essentially pioneered the field of volcanology a century ago is nearly lost to history.  A scientist rescues fellow volcanologist Thomas Jagger from obscurity. 

Guests:

Jul 31, 2017
What Goes Around
51:24

It’s not just tin cans and newspapers.  One man says that, from a technical standpoint, everything can be recycled – cigarette butts, yoga mats, dirty diapers.  Even radioactive waste.  You name it, we can recycle it.  But we choose not to.  Find out why we don’t, and how we could do more. 

Plus, a solar-powered device that pulls water from the air – even desert air. 

And, something upon which life depends that seems dirt cheap, but can’t be replenished: soil.  What happens when we pave over this living resource? 

Jul 24, 2017
Eclipsing All Other Shows
52:03

They say that the experience of watching a total eclipse is so profound, you’re not the same afterward.  If life-changing events are your thing and you’re in the lower 48 states on August 21st, let us help you make the most of viewing the Great American Solar Eclipse.

Learn the basics of where to be and what to bring, even on short notice. No eclipse glasses?  Find out why a kitchen colander is an excellent Plan B.

Also, the strange behavior of animals and private jet pilots during an eclipse.  The latter is making the FAA sweat.

Plus, how 1878 eclipse fever inspired Thomas Edison and astronomer Maria Mitchell, and what was at stake for them scientifically.  And today, with astronauts able to view the Sun from space, what new science can we still learn by eclipse expeditions on Earth?

And, NASA turns up the heat on solar studies with a probe to within a hair’s breadth of the Sun. 

Guests:

Jul 17, 2017
Skeptic Check: Rational Lampoon
51:42

Two heads may be better than one.  But what about three or more?  A new study shows that chimpanzees excel at complex tasks when they work in groups, and their accumulated knowledge can even be passed from one generation to the next. 

But group-think also can be maladaptive.  When humans rely on knowledge that they assume other people possess, they can become less than rational.

Find out why one cognitive scientist says that individual thinking is a myth.  Most of your decisions are made in groups, and most derive from emotion, not rationality.

Also, why we know far less than we think we do.  For example, most people will say they understand how an everyday object like a zipper works, but draw a blank when asked to explain it. 

Plus, why we have a biological drive to categorize people as “us” or “them,” and how we can override it.   

Guests: 

Jul 03, 2017
Skeptic Check: How Low Can You Go?
50:31

ENCORE  Baby, it’s cold outside… but you still might want to be there.  Some people claim that chilly temperatures are good for your health, and proponents of cryotherapy suggest you have a blast – of sub-zero air – to stave off wrinkles and perhaps halt aging altogether. 

Meanwhile the field of cryonics offers the ultimate benefit by suggesting that you put future plans – and your body – on ice when you die.  That way you might be revived when the technology to do so is developed.

So, will a chill wind blow you some good?  Possibly, as scientists are discovering that the body can endure colder temperatures than previously thought.  We examine the science of extreme cold and claims of its salubrious benefits.

It’s our monthly look at critical thinking, Skeptic Check … but don’t take our word for it! 

Guests: 

Jun 26, 2017
PEM4_Picard2
04:38
Jun 19, 2017
Science Fiction
50:31

ENCORE  No one knows what the future will bring, but science fiction authors are willing to take a stab at imagining it.  We take our own stab at imagining them imagining it.  Find out why the genre of science fiction is more than a trippy ride through a bizarre, hi-tech world, but a way to assess and vote on our possible shared future. 

Also, an astronomer learns how many rejection slips it takes before becoming a published science fiction author …. what author Bruce Sterling wants to get off his chest … and what the joke about the neutron walking into a bar to ask the price of beer has in common with H.G. Wells, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Ridley Scott.

Oh, and the price of beer?  Bartender: “For you, no charge.”

Guests:

  • Ed Finn - Director of the Center for Science and the Imagination at Arizona State University
  • Andrew Fraknoi – Chair of the astronomy department at Foothill College.  His story, "The Cave in Arsia Mons", is in "Building Red", here.  His list of astronomically correct science fiction is here.
  • Bruce Sterling - Science fiction author, journalist, and editor

  • Brian Malow - Science comedian, science communication officer, North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, Raleigh
Jun 12, 2017
Gene-y in a Bottle
51:33

ENCORE  You can’t pick your parents.  But soon you may be able to change the DNA they gave you.  CRISPR technology is poised to take DNA editing to new levels of precision and speed.  Imagine deleting genes from your body that you don’t like and inserting the ones you want.  The swap might not even require a fancy lab.  Biohackers are already tinkering with genes in their homes.  

Find out how CRISPR technology might change everything when the genetic lottery is no longer destiny. 

Plus, a cardiologist identifies the troublesome genes that once gave us evolutionary advantages but today are fueling obesity, depression and other modern illness.

Guests:

Jun 05, 2017
The Crater Good
50:31

ENCORE  It was “one giant leap for mankind,” but the next step forward may require going back.  Yes, back to the moon.  Only this time the hardware may come from China.  Or perhaps Europe.  In fact, it seems that the only developed nation not going lunar is the U.S.

Find out why our pockmarked satellite is such hot real estate, and whether it has the raw materials we’d need to colonize it.  A new theory of how the moon formed may tell us what’s below its dusty surface.

But – before packing your bags – you’ll want to skim Article IX of the U.N. treaty on planetary protection.  We can’t go contaminating any old planetary body, can we?  

Guests:

  • James Oberg - Former Space Shuttle Mission Control engineer and space policy expert
  • Clive Neal - Geologist, University of Notre Dame
  • Edward Young - Cosmochemist, geochemist, UCLA
  • Margaret Race - Biologist and research scientist at the SETI Institute
May 29, 2017
Skeptic Check: Science Breaking Bad
52:19

The scientific method is tried and true. It has led us to a reliable understanding of things from basic physics to biomedicine.  So yes, we can rely on the scientific method.  The fallible humans behind the research, not so much.  And politicians?  Don’t get us started.  Remember when one brought a snowball to the Senate floor to “prove” that global warming was a hoax?  Oy vey.

We talk to authors about new books that seem to cast a skeptical eye on the scientific method… but that are really throwing shade on the ambitious labcoat-draped humans who heat the beakers and publish the papers … as well as the pinstriped politicians who twist science to win votes.

Find out why the hyper-competitive pursuit of results that are “amazing” and “incredible” is undermining medical science … how a scientific breakthrough can turn into a societal scourge (heroin as miracle cure) … and what happens when civil servants play the role of citizen scientists on CSPAN.

Guests:

May 22, 2017
100% Invisible
50:31

ENCORE  In astronomy, the rule of thumb was simple: If you can’t see it with a telescope, it’s not real.  Seeing is believing.  Well, tell that to the astronomers who discovered dark energy, or dark matter … or, more recently, Planet 9.   And yet we have evidence that all these things exist (although skepticism about the ninth – or is it tenth? – planet still lingers).

Find out how we know what we know about the latest cosmic discoveries – even if we can’t see them directly.  The astronomer who found Planet 9 – and killed Pluto – offers his evidence. 

And, a speculative scenario suggests that dark matter helped do away with the dinosaurs. 

Plus, the winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics explains why neutrinos that are zipping through your body right now may hold clues to the origin of the universe. 

Guests:

May 15, 2017
Eve of Disruption
50:31

ENCORE  Only two of the following three creations have had lasting scientific or cultural impact:  The telescope … the Sistine Chapel ceiling … the electric banana.  Find out why one didn’t make the cut as a game-changer, and why certain eras and places produce a remarkable flowering of creativity (we’re looking at you, Athens). 

Plus, Yogi Berra found it difficult to make predictions, especially about the future, but we try anyway.  A technology expert says he’s identified the next Silicon Valley.  Hint: its focus is on genetic – not computer – code and its language in the lab is Mandarin.

We got the past and the future covered.  Where’s innovation now?  We leave that to the biohackers who are remaking the human body one sensory organ at a time.  Are you ready for eye-socket cameras and mind readers?

Guests:

May 01, 2017
Spacecraft Elegy
51:49

Exploration: It’s exciting, it’s novel, and you can’t always count on a round-trip ticket.  You can boldly go, but you might not come back.  That’s no showstopper for robotic explorers, though.  Spacecraft go everywhere.

While humans have traveled no farther than the moon, our mechanical proxies are climbing a mountain on Mars, visiting an ice ball far beyond Pluto, plunging through the rings of Saturn, and landing on a comet.  Oh, and did we mention they’re also bringing rock and roll to the denizens of deep space, in case they wish to listen.

We consider some of the most daring explorers since the 16th century – made of metal and plastic - venturing to places where no one else could go.  What have they done, what are they doing, and at what point do they declare “mission accomplished” and head for that great spacecraft graveyard in the sky?

Guests:

Apr 24, 2017
Skeptic Check: Glutenous Maximus
51:48

ENCORE  Eat dark chocolate.  Don’t drink coffee.  Go gluten-free.  If you ask people for diet advice, you’ll get a dozen different stories.  Ideas about what’s good for us sprout up faster than alfalfa plants (which are still healthy … we think).  How can you tell if the latest is fact or fad?

We’ll help you decide, and show you how to think skeptically about popular trends.  One example: a study showing that gluten-free diets didn’t ease digestive problems in athletes.  Also, medical researchers test whether wearable devices succeed in getting us off the couch and a nutritionist explains how things got so confusing. 

Plus, why part of our confusion may be language.  Find out why one cook says that no foods are “healthy,” not even kale.

It’s Skeptic Check … but don’t take our word for it!

Guests:

  • Dana Lis - Sports dietician, PhD student, University of Tasmania
  • Michael Ruhlman - Cook, author of many books about cooking as well as the recent trio of novellas, In Short Measures
  • Beth Skwarecki - Freelance health and science writer, nutrition teacher
  • Mitesh Patel - Assistant professor of medicine, Perlman School of Medicine, Assistant Professor of Health Care Management, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania
Apr 17, 2017
Winging It
50:31

ENCORE Ask anyone what extraordinary powers they’d love to have, and you’re sure to hear “be able to fly.”  We’ve kind of scratched that itch with airplanes.  But have we gone as far as we can go, or are better flying machines in our future?  And whatever happened to our collective dream of flying cars?   We look at the evolution - and the future - of flight.

Animals and insects have taught us a lot about the mechanics of becoming airborne.  But surprises remain.  For example, bats may flit around eccentrically, but they are actually more efficient fliers than birds.   

Meanwhile, new technology may change aviation when self-healing material repairs structural cracks in mid-flight.   And a scientist who worked on flying cars for DARPA says he’s now working on the next best thing. 

Guests:                                                     

Apr 03, 2017
Cosmic Conundra
50:31

ENCORE  Admit it – the universe is cool, but weird.  Just when you think you’ve tallied up all the peculiar phenomena that the cosmos has to offer – it throws more at you. We examine some of the recent perplexing finds.

Could massive asteroid impacts be as predictable as phases of the moon?  Speaking of moons – why are some of Pluto’s spinning like turbine-powered pinwheels?  Plus, we examine a scientist’s claim of evidence for parallel universes.

And, could the light patterns from a distant star be caused by alien mega-structures? 

Guests:

  • Mike Rampino - Professor of biology and environmental studies at New York University
  • Mark Showalter - Senior research scientist at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California
  • Ranga-Ram Chary - Astronomer, U.S. Planck Data Center, California Institute of Technology
Mar 06, 2017
Skeptic Check: Not So Sweet
51:40

Obesity, diabetes, heart disease … maybe even Alzheimer’s.  Could these modern scourges have a common denominator?  Some people believe they do: sugar.

But is this accusation warranted?  We talk with a journalist who has spent two decades reporting on nutrition science, and while he says there’s still not definitive proof that sugar makes us sick, he can make a strong case for it.

Also, how a half-century ago the sugar industry secretly paid Harvard scientists to shift the culprit for heart disease from their product to dietary fat.  We hear how the companies borrowed from the playbook of Big Tobacco.

So is your sweet tooth a threat to your health?

Guests:

Feb 27, 2017
Thinking About Thinking
50:31

ENCORE  Congratulations, you have a big brain.  Evolution was good to Homo sapiens.  But make some room on the dais.  Research shows that other animals, such as crows, may not look smart, but can solve complex problems. 

Meanwhile human engineers are busily developing cogitating machines.   Intelligent entities abound – but are they all capable of actual thought?   

Hear how crows fashion tools from new materials and can recognize you by sight.  Also, how an IBM computer may one day outthink the engineers who designed it.   

Plus, scientists who simulated a rat brain in a computer, neuron-by-neuron, look ahead to modeling the human brain.  And, what brain disorders teach us about the brain and our sense of self.

Guests:

Feb 20, 2017
Going All to Species
50:31

ENCORE Meet your new relatives.   The fossilized bones of Homo naledi are unique for their sheer number, but they may also be fill a special slot in our ancestry: the first of our genus Homo.   Sporting modern hands and feet but only a tiny brain, this creature may link us and our ape-like ancestors.   

Some anthropologists hail the discovery as that of a new hominid species.  Not all their colleagues agree.  Find out what’s at stake in the debate. 

Also, the scientist who helped retrieve the fossils describes her perilous crawl through a cave with only ten inches of elbow room.  And a radical theory about what these old bones might mean: could they be from a burial two million years ago?

Guests:

  • Marina Elliott  – Paleoanthropologist, University of Witwatersrand, South Africa
  • Carl Ward – Biological anthropologist, University of Missouri
  • John Hawks- Anthropologist, University of Wisconsin, Madison
  • Tim White - Anthropologist, University of California, Berkeley
Feb 13, 2017
Skeptic Check: Amelia Earhart
50:31

She’s among the most famous missing persons in history.  On the eightieth anniversary of Amelia Earhart’s disappearance, mystery still shrouds her fate.  What happened during the last leg of her round-the-world trek?

Theories abound.  Perhaps she ran out of fuel, and plunged into the ocean … or was captured by the Japanese.  A non-profit international organization, TIGHAR, suggests she was a castaway, and offers up a new analysis of bones found on a Pacific atoll during the time of the Second World War. Their researchers will return to this possible landing spot to seek more clues this summer.

We consider these theories and weigh the new evidence surrounding Earhart’s puzzling last flight.  Also, why are we uncomfortable with open-ended mysteries?

Guests:

  • Andrew McKenna– Researcher with TIGHAR (The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery)
  • Claire Maldarelli– Editor at Popular Science Magazine
  • Andrew Maynard– Director of the Risk Innovation Lab, Arizona State University
  • John Norberg– Journalist and former writer on air and space for Purdue University
Jan 23, 2017
No Face to Hide
50:31

ENCORE  Face it – your mug is not entirely yours.  It’s routinely uploaded to social media pages and captured on CCTV cameras with – and without – your consent.  Sophisticated facial recognition technology can identify you and even make links to your personal data.  There are few places where you’re safe from scrutiny.

Find out how a computer analyzes the geometry of a face and why even identical twins don’t fool its discerning gaze.  Proponents say that biometrics are powerful tools to stop crime, but the lack of regulation concerns privacy groups.  Do you want to be identified – and your habits tracked – whenever you step outside? 

Plus, astronomy meets forensics.  How analyzing photos and paintings using weather records, sky charts, and phases of the moon help solve intriguing mysteries, including the history of an iconic V.J. Day photo.

Guests:

   Donald Olson – Physicist, astronomer, Texas State University  

   Marios Savvides – Computer engineer, Director, CyLab Biometrics Center, Carnegie Mellon University

   Alvaro Bedoya – Executive director, Center on Privacy and Technology, Georgetown Law 

Jan 09, 2017
The Light Stuff
50:31

ENCORE The light bulb needs changing.  Edison’s incandescent bulb, virtually unaltered for more than a century, is now being eclipsed by the LED.  The creative applications for these small and efficient devices are endless: on tape, on wallpaper, even in contact lenses.  They will set the world aglow.  But is a brighter world a better one?

Discover the many ingenious applications for LEDs and the brilliance of the 19th century scientist, James Clerk Maxwell, who first discovered just what light is.  But both biologists and astronomers are alarmed by the disappearance of dark.   Find out how light pollution is making us and other animals sick and – when was the last time you saw a starry night?

Guests:

  Ian Ferguson – Engineer, dean of the College of Engineering and Computing, Missouri University of Science and Technology

  Jay Neitz – Professor, department of ophthalmology, University of Washington

  Martin Hendry - Professor, gravitational astrophysics and cosmology, University of Glasgow

  John Barentine  - Program manager, International Dark Sky Association 

Jan 02, 2017
The Fix is In
50:31

ENCORE  The moon jellyfish has remarkable approach to self-repair.  If it loses a limb, it rearranges its remaining body parts to once again become radially symmetric.  Humans can’t do that, but a new approach that combines biology with nanotechnology could give our immune systems a boost.  Would you drink a beaker of nanobots if they could help you fight cancer?

Also, materials science gets into self-healing with a novel concrete that fixes its own cracks. 

Plus, why even the most adaptive systems can be stretched to their limit.  New research suggests that the oceans will take a millennium to recover from climate change. 

Guests:

   Lea Goentoro – Professor of biology, California Institute of Technology

   Michael Abrams - Biologist, California Institute of Technology

   Sarah Moffitt – Paleo-oceanographer, Bodega Marine Laboratory, University of California, Davis

   Mark Miodownik – Materials scientist, director of the Institute of Making, University College, London.  Author of “Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials That Shape our Man-Made World

   Shawn Douglas  - Computer scientist, assistant professor of cellular and molecular pharmacology, University of California, San Francisco

Dec 26, 2016
Skeptic Check: Fear Itself
50:31

ENCORE  Shhh.  Is someone coming? Okay, we’ll make this quick.  There are a lot of scary things going on in the world.  Naturally you’re fearful.  But sometimes fear has a sister emotion: suspicion.  A nagging worry about what’s really going on. You know, the stuff they aren’t telling you.  Don’t share this, but we have evidence that both our fear response and our tendency to believe conspiracy theories are evolutionarily adaptive.  

A sociologist who studies fear tells us why we’re addicted to its thrill when we control the situation, and how the media exploit our fear of losing control to keep us on edge.  Plus, we examine some alien “cover-ups” and discover why it’s not just the tinfoil hat crowd that falls for outrageous plots.

It’s Skeptic Check …. but you didn’t hear it from us!

Guests:

Dec 19, 2016
What Lies Beneath
50:31

ENCORE What you can’t see may astound you.  The largest unexplored region of Earth is the ocean.  Beneath its churning surface, oceanographers have recently discovered the largest volcano in the world – perhaps in the solar system.

Find out what is known – and yet to be discovered – about the marine life of the abyss, and how a fish called the bristlemouth has grabbed the crown for “most numerous vertebrate on Earth” from the chicken.

Plus, the menace of America’s Cascadia fault, which has the potential to unleash a devastating magnitude 9 earthquake. 

Follow Dr. Sager’s voyage back to Tamu Massif in Fall 2015.

Guests 

  Bruce Robison – Deep sea biologist, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

  William Sager – Marine geophysicist, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Houston

  Chris Goldfinger  - Marine geologist, geophysicist, paleo-seismologist, Oregon State University 

Nov 28, 2016
And To Space We Return
50:31

ENCORE Earth may be the cradle of life, but our bodies are filled with materials cooked up billions of years ago in the scorching centers of stars. As Carl Sagan said, “We are all stardust.” We came from space, and some say it is to space we will return.

Discover an astronomer’s quest to track down remains of these ancient chemical kitchens. Plus, a scientist who says that it’s in our DNA to explore – and not just the nearby worlds of the solar system, but perhaps far beyond.

But would be still be human when we arrive? Hear what biological and cultural changes we might undergo in a multi-generational interstellar voyage.

Guests:

    Timothy Beers – Astronomer, University of Notre Dame

   Chris Impey – Astronomer, University of Arizona, author of Beyond: Our Future in Space

   Cameron Smith – Archaeologist, Portland State University

Nov 07, 2016
Hidden History
50:31

ENCORE Archaeologists continue to hunt for the city of Atlantis, even though it may never have existed. But, what if it did? Its discovery would change ancient history. Sometimes when we dig around in the past, we can change our understanding of how we got to where we are.

We thought we had wrapped up the death of the dinosaurs: blame it on an asteroid. But evidence unearthed in Antarctica and elsewhere suggests the rock from space wasn’t the sole culprit.

Also, digging into our genetic past can turn up surprising – and sometimes uncomfortable truths – from ancestral origins to genes that code for disease. But do we always want to know?

Guests:

   Mark Adams – author, Meet Me in Atlantis: My Obsessive Quest to Find the Sunken City

   David Morrison – Senior scientist, NASA Ames Research Center

   Peter Ward – Paleontologist, University of Washington, author of A New History of Life: The Radical New Discoveries about the Origins and Evolution of Life on Earth

   Christine Kenneally – Journalist and author of The Invisible History of the Human Race: How DNA and History Shape Our Identities and Our Futures

Oct 31, 2016
Moral's Law
51:03

ENCORE "If it bleeds, it leads” is the tried and true tenet of news.  Indeed, headlines are often no more than a long list of moral atrocities.  Yet one man argues that we’re living in the most civilized era in history.  And he credits this to scientific thought and reason.  

Hang on!  Our executive function isn’t enough to promote ethical behavior, says a psychologist.  The real fuel behind our drive to be good?  Anger, compassion, pride: your emotions!

But whether or not you’re a pillar of the community, good intentions might all be for naught when future ethical decisions are made by our silicon successors.  Get ready for moral machines. Or not.

Guests:

   Michael Shermer - Publisher of Skeptic Magazine, author of The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity Toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom

   David DeSteno – Psychologist, Northeastern University, author of The Truth About Trust

   Colin Allen – Historian, philosopher of science and cognitive science, Indiana University.  Co-author of Moral Machines: Teaching Robots Right From Wrong

Oct 24, 2016
Skeptic Check: Science and the Election
51:38

This year’s election is divisive, but one subject enjoys some consensus: science and technology policies are important.  So why aren’t the candidates discussing these issues?  The answers might surprise you.

The organizer of Science Debate, who wants a live debate devoted to science and technology, describes one obstacle to meaningful discussion.  He also shares how the candidates responded to probing questions about science. 

Communication expert Kathleen Hall Jamieson looks back to the televised debate of Kennedy and Nixon to discern trends that have made productive discussion about science nearly impossible today (it didn’t start out that way!)

And, the unique situation in which the man at the top of one political ticket is flat out wrong about science: a physicist describes how Donald Trump’s anti-science position affects the election. 

Guests:

  • Shawn Otto - co-founder of sciencedebate.org, and the author of “The War on Science: Who’s Waging It, Why It Matters and What We Can Do About It"  
  • Lawrence Krauss - Professor of theoretical physics at Arizona State University, director of its Origins Project, and a member of sciencedebate.org
  • Kathleen Hall Jamieson - Professor of communication, University of Pennsylvania, director of the university’s Annenberg Public Policy Center. Author of more than a dozen books on politics and the media, and co-founder of factcheck.org that has a separate page for science: scifact.org
Oct 10, 2016
Skeptic Check: Skeptic Seth
50:55

ENCORE Are you skeptical?  Sure, you raise an eyebrow when some Nigerian prince asks for your bank numbers, or when a breakfast cereal claims that it will turn your kid into a professional athlete overnight.

But what do you really know about the benefits of organic milk?  Or the power of whitening ingredients in your toothpaste?  How credible is what you read on Twitter?

Today, information overwhelms us, and the need to keep our skeptical wits about us has never been greater.  We follow Seth around as he faces the daily onslaught of hype and hokum.

It’s Skeptic Check, our monthly look at critical thinking … but don’t take our word for it!

Guests: 

   Steven Novella  – Assistant professor of neurology at Yale University School of Medicine and host of the “Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe” podcast

   Guy P. Harrison – journalist and author.  His latest book, Good Thinking: What You Need to Know to be Smarter, Safer, Wealthier, and Wiser, will be in bookstores in October 2015.  

   Andrew Maynard – Professor in the School for Innovation in Society, Arizona State University

   Peter Adams – Senior vice president for educational programs with the News Literacy Project

   Daniel Armistead – Dentist, Palo Alto, California

Sep 26, 2016
The Evolution of Evolution
52:00

ENCORE Darwinian evolution is adaptive and slow … millennia can go by before a species changes very much. But with the tools of genetic engineering we can now make radical changes in just one generation. By removing genes or inserting new ones, we can give an organism radically different traits and behaviors. We are taking evolution into our own hands.

It all began with the domestication of plants and animals, which one science writer says created civilization. Today, as humans tinker with their own genome, is it possible we will produce Homo sapiens 2.0?

Also, what happens to those species who can’t control their destiny? How climate change is forcing the biggest genetic reshuffling in recorded history.

Guests:

   Richard Francis – Science writer, author of Domesticated: Evolution in a Man-Made World

   Juan Enriquez – Academic, businessman, author, founding director of the Life Sciences Project, Harvard Business School, managing director, Excel Venture Management, and author of Evolving Ourselves: How Unnatural Selection and Nonrandom Mutation are Changing Life on Earth

   Jessica Hellmann – Biologist, University of Notre Dame

Sep 12, 2016
Asteroids!
55:58

Everyone knows that a big rock did in the dinosaurs, but smaller asteroids are millions of times more common and can also make a violent impact.   Yet unlike the bigger asteroids, we’re not tracking them.  Find out what we’d need to keep an eye on the size of space rocks such as that which exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia.   And how an asteroid whizzed by Earth in late August 2016, only hours after it had been spotted.

Asteroids are the one natural disaster we can defend against, but an economist explains why humans are reluctant to invest in protection against “low probability, high impact” threats. 

Also, how to authenticate that chunk of asteroid that you found in a field and NASA’s first ever return mission to an asteroid.  It plans to bring some fresh samples back to Earth. 

Guests:

  • Peter Jenniskens – Senior Research Scientist, SETI Institute
  • David Morrison – Senior Scientist of the Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute, NASA Ames Research Center
  • Alex Tabarrok – Economist, George Mason University
  • Sharon Cisneros – Mineralogical Research Company, San Jose, California
  • J. L. Galache – Astronomer, Minor Planet Center, Harvard Center for Astrophysics
  • Christina Richey – NASA Planetary scientist, deputy program scientist, OSIRIS-Rex mission
Sep 05, 2016
They Know Who You Are
51:10

ENCORE You’re a private person. But as long as you’re on-line and have skin and hair, you’re shedding little bits of data and DNA everywhere you go. Find out how that personal information – whether or not it’s used against you – is no longer solely your own. Are your private thoughts next?

A security expert shares stories of ingenious computer hacking … a forensic scientist develops tools to create a mug shot based on a snippet of DNA … and from the frontiers of neuroscience: mind reading may no longer be the stuff of sketchy psychics.

Guests:

   Marc Goodman – Global security advisor, founder, Future Crimes Institute, author of Future Crimes: Everything Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable and What We Can Do About It

   Susan Walsh – Forensic geneticist, Indiana University – Purdue University in Indianapolis

   Marvin Chun – Psychologist, Yale University

Aug 22, 2016
Are We Over the Moon?
51:13

When astronaut Gene Cernan stepped off the moon in 1972, he didn’t think he’d be the last human ever to touch its surface.  But no one’s been back.  Hear astronaut Cernan’s reaction to being the last man on the moon, the reasons why President Kennedy launched the Apollo program, and why Americans haven’t returned.

Now other countries – and companies – are vying for a bigger piece of the space pie. Find out who – or what – will be visiting and even profiting.  Will the moon become an important place to make money?  

Plus, the moon landing was a great step for “a man,” and “men not machines” make space history.  But what about women?  More than a dozen were qualified for space flight in the early 1960s.  Hear from one of these original “Mercury 13,” and find out why NASA grounded them. 

Guests:

  • Gene Cernan – Retired American naval officer, former NASA Astronaut. 
  • John Logsdon – Professor emeritus, Space Policy Institute, George Washington University
  • Al Hallonquist – Aerospace historian
  • Robert Richards – Founder and CEO of Moon Express
  • Sarah Ratley  Former pilot, member of the "Mercury 13"
  • Dan Durda  Planetary scientist, Southwest Research Institute. 
Aug 15, 2016
Skeptic Check: After the Hereafter
51:11

ENCORE There are few enduring truths, but one is that no one gets out of life alive. What’s less certain is what comes next. Does everything stop with death, or are we transported to another plane of existence? First-hand accounts of people who claim to have visited heaven are offered as proof of an afterlife. Now the author of one bestseller admits that his story was fabricated.

We’ll look at the genre of “heaven tourism” to see if it has anything to say about the possible existence of the hereafter, and why the idea of an afterlife seriously influences how we live our lives on Earth.

Also, a neurologist describes what is going on in the brain during near-death and other out-of-body experiences.

It’s Skeptic Check, our monthly look at critical thinking … but don’t take our word for it!

Guests:

   Ben Radford – Paranormal investigator, research fellow at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and deputy editor of the Skeptical Inquirer, and author of the Discovery News article, “Why People Believed Boy’s ‘Visit to Heaven’ Story”

   Greg Garrett – Professor of English at Baylor University, writer on books, culture and religion for the Huffington Post, and author of Entertaining Judgment: The Afterlife in Popular Imagination

   Steven Novella – Professor of neurology at Yale University School of Medicine and host of the “Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe” podcast

Originally Aired May 24, 2015

Aug 08, 2016
Raising the Minimum Age
51:14

ENCORE  We all try to fight it: the inexorable march of time. The fountain of youth doesn’t exist, and all those wrinkle creams can’t help. But modern science is giving us new weapons in the fight against aging. So how far are we willing to go?

Hear when aging begins, a summary of the latest biotech research, and how a lab full of youthful worms might help humans stay healthy.

Also, a geneticist who takes a radical approach: collect the DNA that codes for longevity and restructure our genome. He finds inspiration – and perhaps genes as well – in the bi-centenarian bowhead whale.

But what if age really is mind over matter? A psychologist’s extraordinary thought experiment with septuagenarian men turns back the clock 20 years. Will it work on diseases such as cancer as well? 

Guests:

First released April 6, 2015.

Jul 18, 2016
Microbes: Resistance is Futile
51:11

ENCORE  You are what you eat. Whether you dine on kimchi, carnitas, or corn dogs determines which microbes live in your stomach. And gut microbes make up only part of your total micro biome. 

Find out how your microbes are the brains-without-brains that affect your health and even your mood. Also, why you and your cohorts are closer than you thought: new research suggests that you swap and adopt bugs from your social set.

Plus, the philosophical questions that are arise when we realize that we have more microbial DNA than human DNA.

And a woman who skipped soap and shampoo for a month to see what would grow on her.

Guests:

First released 

Jul 11, 2016
Science Fiction True
51:13

ENCORE Don’t believe everything you see on TV or the movies. Science fiction is just a guide to how our future might unfold. It can be misleading, as anyone who yearns for a flying car can tell you. And yet, sometimes fantasy becomes fact. Think of the prototype cellphones in Star Trek.

We take a look at science that seems inspired by filmic sci-fi, for example scientists manipulating memory as in Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. And despite his famous film meltdown, Charleton Heston hasn’t stopped the Soylent company from producing what it calls the food of the future.

Plus, why eco-disaster films have the science wrong, but not in the way you might think. And, what if our brains are simply wired to accept film as fact?

Guests:


First released December 22, 2014.

Jul 04, 2016
Skeptic Check: The Me in Measles
51:53

ENCORE  Wondering whether to vaccinate your children? The decision can feel like a shot in the dark if you don’t know how to evaluate risk. Find out why all of us succumb to the reasoning pitfalls of cognitive and omission bias, whether we’re saying no to vaccines or getting a tan on the beach.

Plus, an infectious disease expert on why it may take a dangerous resurgence of preventable diseases – measles, whooping cough, polio – to remind us that vaccines save lives.

Also, a quaint but real vaccine fear: that the 18th century smallpox vaccine, made from cowpox, could turn you into a cow!

It’s our monthly look at critical thinking … but don’t take our word for it!

Guests:

  • Paul Offit – Infectious disease specialist at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
  • Neil deGrasse Tyson – Astrophysicist, director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City
  • Adam Korbitz – Lawyer specializing in space law
  • Andrew Maynard – Professor of environmental health science, director, Risk Science Center, University of Michigan
Jun 27, 2016
Surviving the Anthropocene
51:11

ENCORE  The world is hot, and getting hotter. But higher temperatures aren’t the only impact our species is having on mother Earth. Urbanization, deforestation, and dumping millions of tons of plastic into the oceans … these are all ways in which humans are leaving their mark.

So are we still in the Holocene, the geological epoch that started a mere 11,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age? Some say we’ve moved on to the age of man – the Anthropocene.

It’s the dawn of an era, but can we survive this new phase in the history of our planet?

Guests:

First released February 23, 2015.

Jun 13, 2016
How to Talk to Aliens
51:12

ENCORE  "Dear E.T. …” So far, so good. But now what? Writing is never easy, but what if your task was to craft a message to aliens living elsewhere in the universe, and your prose would represent all humankind? Got writer’s block yet?

What to say to the aliens was the focus of a recent conference in which participants shifted their attentions away from listening for extraterrestrial signals to transmitting some. In this show, we report on the “Communicating Across the Cosmos” conference held at the SETI Institute in December 2014. 

Find out what scientists think we should say. Also, how archeology could help us craft messages to an unfamiliar culture. Plus, why journalists might be well-suited to writing the message. And, a response to Stephen Hawking’s warning that attempting to contact aliens is too dangerous.

Guests:

  • Douglas Vakoch – Director of interstellar message composition, SETI Institute
  • Paul Wason – Archaeologist, anthropologist and vice president for the life sciences and genetics program at the Templeton Foundation
  • Al Harrison – Emeritus professor of psychology, University of California, Davis
  • Morris Jones – Journalist and space analyst in Sydney, Australia
  • Shari Wells-Jensen – Professor of English, Bowling Green State University

First released January 12, 2015.

Jun 06, 2016
Shocking Ideas
51:31

ENCORE  Electricity is so 19th century. Most of the uses for it were established by the 1920s. So there’s nothing innovative left to do, right? That’s not the opinion of the Nobel committee that awarded its 2014 physics prize to scientists who invented the blue LED.

Find out why this LED hue of blue was worthy of our most prestigious science prize … how some bacteria actually breathe rust … and a plan to cure disease by zapping our nervous system with electric pulses.

Guests:

  • Siddha Pimputkar – Postdoctoral researcher in the Materials Department of the Solid State Lighting and Energy Electronics Center under Shuji Nakamura, winner of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics, University of California, Santa Barbara
  • Jeff Gralnick – Associate professor of microbiology at the University of Minnesota
  • Kevin Tracey – Neurosurgeon and president of the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in New York

First released December 2014.

May 09, 2016
Living Computers
51:33

ENCORE  It’s the most dramatic technical development of recent times: Teams of people working for decades to produce a slow-motion revolution we call computing. As these devices become increasingly powerful, we recall that a pioneer from the nineteenth century – Ada Lovelace, a mathematician and Lord Byron’s daughter – said they would never surpass human ability. Was she right?

We consider the near-term future of computing as the Internet of Things is poised to link everything together, and biologists adopt the techniques of information science to program living cells.

Plus: What’s your favorite sci-fi computer?

Guests:

First released December 7, 2014.

May 02, 2016
Moving Right Along
52:01

ENCORE  You think your life is fast-paced, but have you ever seen a bacterium swim across your countertop? You’d be surprised how fast they can move.

Find out why modeling the swirl of hurricanes takes a roomful of mathematicians and supercomputers, and how galaxies can move away from us faster than the speed of light.

Also, what happens when we try to stop the dance of atoms, cooling things down to the rock bottom temperature known as absolute zero.

And why your watch doesn’t keep the same time when you’re in a jet as when you’re at the airport. It’s all due to the fact that motion is relative, says Al Einstein.

Guests:

First released August 18, 2014.

Apr 18, 2016
Surfeit of the Vitalest
50:55

ENCORE  In the century and a half since Charles Darwin wrote his seminal On the Origin of the Species, our understanding of evolution has changed quite a bit. For one, we have not only identified the inheritance molecule DNA, but have determined its sequence in many animals and plants.

Evolution has evolved, and we take a look at some of the recent developments.

A biologist describes the escalating horn-to-horn and tusk-to-tusk arms race between animals, and a paleoanthropologist explains why the lineage from chimp to human is no longer thought to be a straight line but, instead, a bush. Also, New York Times science writer Carl Zimmer on the diversity of bacteria living on you, and which evolutionary concepts he finds the trickiest to explain to the public.

Guests:

Apr 11, 2016
Tale of the Distribution
50:55

ENCORE  We all have at least some musical talent. But very few of us can play the piano like Vladimir Horowitz. His talent was rarefied, and at the tail end of the bell curve of musical ability – that tiny sliver of the distribution where you find the true outliers. Outliers also exist with natural events: hurricane Katrina, for example, or the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs. Such events are rare, but they often have outsized effects.

In this hour we imagine the unimaginable – including the unexpected events labeled “black swans” – and how we weigh the risk for any of them. Also, how a supervolcano explosion at Yellowstone National Park could obliterate the western U.S. but shouldn’t stop you from putting the park on your vacation itinerary.

Guests:

First released October 19, 2014.

Apr 04, 2016
TCG2_Neal
07:27
Mar 21, 2016
Who's Controlling Whom?
50:55

ENCORE  A single ant isn’t very brainy. But a group of ants can do remarkable things. Biological swarm behavior is one model for the next generation of tiny robots. Of course, biology can get hijacked: a fungus can seize control of an ant’s brain, for example. So will humans always remain the boss of super-smart, swarming machines?

We discuss the biology of zombie ants and how to build robots that self-assemble and work together. Also, how to guarantee the moral behavior of future ‘bots.

And, do you crave cupcakes? Research suggests that gut bacteria control what we eat and how we feel.

Guests:

  • David Hughes – Biologist, entomologist, Penn State University
  • Mike Rubenstein – Roboticist, Self-Organizing Systems Research Group, Harvard University
  • Wendell Wallach – Bioethicist, chair, Technology and Ethics Study Group, Yale University’s Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics
  • Athena Aktipis – Cooperation theorist, Arizona State University and director of Human and Social Evolution, Center for Evolution and Cancer, University of California, San Francisco

First released October 13, 2014

Mar 14, 2016
Land on the Run
50:55

ENCORE  Hang on to your globe. One day it’ll be a collector’s item. The arrangement of continents you see today is not what it once was, nor what it will be tomorrow. Thank plate tectonics.

Now evidence suggests that the crowding together of all major land masses into one supercontinent – Pangaea, as it’s called – is a phenomenon that’s happened over and over during Earth’s history. And it will happen again. Meet our future supercontinent home, Amasia, and learn what it will look like.

Meanwhile, as California waits for the Big One, geologists discover that major earthquakes come in clusters. Also, our planet is not the only solar system body with tectonic activity. Icy Europa is a mover and shaker too.

And why is land in the western part of the U.S. literally rising up? Mystery solved!

Guests:

First released September 29, 2014

Mar 07, 2016
Replace What Ails You
50:56

ENCORE  Germs can make us sick, but we didn’t know about these puny pathogens prior to the end of the 19th century. Just the suggestion that a tiny bug could spread disease made eyes roll. Then came germ theory, sterilization, and antibiotics. It was a revolution in medicine. Now we’re on the cusp of another one. This time we may cure what ails us by replacing what ails us.

Bioengineers use advancements in stem cell therapy to grow red and white cells for human blood. Meanwhile, a breakthrough in 3D printing: scientists print blood vessels and say that human organs may be next.

Plus, implanting electronic grids to repair neural pathways. Future prosthetics wired to the brain may allow paralyzed limbs to move.

We begin with the story of the scientist who discovered the bacteria that caused tuberculosis, and the famous author who revealed that his cure for TB was a sham.

Guests:

Jan 25, 2016
Apt to Adapt
50:55

ENCORE If you move with the times, you might stick around long enough to pass on your genes. And that is adaptation and evolution, in a nutshell.

But humans are changing their environment faster than their genes can keep pace. This has led to a slew of diseases – from backache to diabetes – according to one evolutionary biologist. And our technology may not get us out of the climate mess we’ve created. So just how good are we at adapting to the world around us?

Find out as you also discover why you should run barefoot … the history of rising tides … why one dedicated environmentalist has thrown in the towel … and an answer to the mystery of why Hawaiian crickets suddenly stopped chirping.

Guests:

First aired June 11, 2014.

Jan 11, 2016
A Stellar Job
50:55

ENCORE  The stars are out tonight. And they do more than just twinkle. These boiling balls of hot plasma can tell us something about other celestial phenomena. They betray the hiding places of black holes, for one. But they can also fool us. Find out why one of the most intriguing discoveries in astrobiology – that of the potentially habitable exoplanet Gliese 581g – may have been just a mirage.

Plus, the highest levels of ultraviolet light ever mentioned on Earth’s surface puzzles scientists: is it a fluke of nature, or something manmade?

And a physicist suggests that stars could be used by advanced aliens to send hailing signals deep into space.

Guests:

  • Paul Robertson – Postdoctoral fellow, Penn State Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds
  • Mike Joner – Research professor of astronomy at Brigham Young University
  • Nathalie Cabrol – Planetary scientist, SETI Institute
  • Anthony Zee – Theoretical physicist at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara

First aired July 23, 2014.

Jan 04, 2016
You Think; You're So Smart
50:55

ENCORE  Sure you have a big brain; it’s the hallmark of Homo sapiens. But that doesn’t mean that you’ve cornered the market on intelligence. Admittedly, it’s difficult to say, since the very definition of the term is elusive. Depending on what we mean by intelligence, a certain aquatic mammal is not as smart as we thought (hint: rhymes with “caulpin”) … and your rhododendron may be a photosynthesizing Einstein.

And what I.Q. means for A.I. We may be building our brilliant successors.

Guests:

   Laurance Doyle – Senior researcher, SETI Institute

   Justin Gregg – Animal behaviorist, The Dolphin Communication Project, author of Are Dolphins Really Smart?: The mammal behind the myth

   Michael Pollan – Journalist, author of Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation and The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. His article, “The Intelligent Plant,” appeared in the December 23rd issue of The New Yorker

   Luke Muehlhauser – Executive Director of the Machine Intelligence Research Institute

 

First aired March 19, 2014

Dec 28, 2015
Look Who's Not Talking
51:59

We may be connected, but some say we’re not communicating.  The consequences could be dire.  A U.S. Army major says that social media are breaking up our “band of brothers,” and that soldiers who tweet rather than talk have less cohesion in combat.

What’s the solution?  Maybe more connectivity to jump start conversation? The makers of Hello Barbie say its sophisticated speech recognition system will engage children in conversation.  But an alternative strategy is to go cold turkey: sign up for a device-free camp (for adults) or stuff a NoPhone in your pocket, and wean yourself from the real thing.

But MIT’s Sherry Turkle says there’s only one solution: more face-to-face time.  Without it, we are in danger of losing our empathy. 

Guests:

Dec 14, 2015
Happily Confused
50:56

ENCORE  Do you feel happy today? How about happily disgusted? Maybe sadly surprised, or sadly disgusted? Human emotions are complex. But at least they’re the common language that unites us all – except when they don’t. A tribe in Namibia might interpret our expression of fear as one of wonderment. And people with autism don’t feel the emotions that others do.

So if you’re now delightfully but curiously perplexed, tune in and discover the evolutionary reason for laughter … how a computer can diagnose emotional disorders that doctors miss … and why the world’s most famous autistic animal behaviorist has insight into the emotional needs of cattle.

Guests:

First released April 21, 2014

Nov 30, 2015
Climate Conversation
51:35

The Paris climate talks are scheduled to go ahead despite the terrorist attacks, and attendees hope to sign an international agreement on climate change.  A BBC reporter covering the meetings tells us what we can expect from the conference.

Also, it’s unclear whether Pope Francis himself will travel to the City of Light, but his encyclical may have already influenced the talks there.  A historian considers whether the Church’s acceptance of climate change represents a departure from its historical positions on science.  Galileo, anyone?

Plus, Hollywood may have stretched the science facts to maximum effect in its cli-sci thriller, The Day After Tomorrow, but find out why the film may not be pure fiction. 

And why the developing world may take most of the hit as the planet warms.

Guests:

  • Sybren Druifhout – Physical oceanographer and climate scientist, Netherlands Meteorological Institute and the University of Southampton, U.K. 
  • Virginia Burkett – Associate Director for Climate and Land Use Change at the United States Geological Survey, and one of the Nobel Prize winning authors of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s fourth assessment report 
  • John Durant – Director of the MIT Museum and teacher in the MIT Science, Technology and Society program
  • Matt McGrath - Environment correspondent for the BBC, based in London
Nov 23, 2015
Skeptic Check: Paleo Diet
52:16

ENCORE  What’s for dinner? Meat, acorns, tubers, and fruit. Followers of the Paleo diet say we should eat what our ancestors ate 10,000 years ago, when our genes were perfectly in synch with the environment.

We investigate the reasoning behind going paleo with the movement’s pioneer, as well as with an evolutionary biologist. Is it true that our genes haven’t changed much since our hunter-gatherer days?

Plus, a surprising dental discovery is nothing for cavemen to smile about.

And another fad diet that has a historical root: the monastic tradition of 5:2 – five days of eating and two days of fasting.

It’s our monthly look at critical thinking, Skeptic Check … but don’t take our word for it.

Guests:

First released February 19, 2014.

Nov 16, 2015
Skeptic Check: Check the Skeptics
51:37

ENCORE  One day, coffee is good for you; the next, it’s not. And it seems that everything you eat is linked to cancer, according to research. But scientific studies are not always accurate. Insufficient data, biased measurements, or a faulty analysis can trip them up. And that’s why scientists are always skeptical.

Hear one academic say that more than half of all published results are wrong, but that science still remains the best tool we have for learning about nature.

Also, a cosmologist points to reasons why science can never give us all the answers.

And why the heck are scientists so keen to put a damper on spontaneous combustion?

Studies discussed in this episode:
Chocolate and red wine aren’t good for you after all
The Moon is younger than we thought

Guests:

First released June 16, 2014.

Oct 26, 2015
Smiley Virus
51:37

ENCORE For many, the word virus is a synonym for disease – diseases of humans, plants, and even computers. Ebola is an example: a virus with a big and terrifying reputation. And yet the vast majority of viruses are not only friendly, they are essential for life.

Find out how viruses make plant life in Yellowstone’s hottest environments possible, and fear your spinach salad no longer: a scientist recruits viruses to defeat E. coli bacteria.

Plus, a new study presents the disconcerting facts of just how far a sneeze travels, and viruses in another kind of culture: but is ours benevolent? Find out from the man who coined the term, “viral media.”

Guests:

First released May 12, 2014.

Oct 19, 2015
Space for Everyone
51:38

ENCORE  Is space the place for you? With a hefty amount of moolah, a trip there and back can be all yours. But when the price comes down, traffic into space may make the L.A. freeway look like a back-country lane.

Space is more accessible than it once was, from the development of private commercial flights … to a radical new telescope that makes everyone an astronomer … to mining asteroids for their metals and water to keep humanity humming for a long time.

Plus, move over Russia and America: Why the next words you hear from space may be in Mandarin.

Guests:

  • Leonard David – Space journalist, writer for SPACE.com
  • Mario Juric – Astronomer working on data processing for the LSST – the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope
  • John Lewis – Chemist, professor emeritus of planetary sciences, University of Arizona, chief scientist, Deep Space Industries
  • Philip Lubin – Professor of physics, University of California, Santa Barbara
  • James Oberg – Retired NASA rocket scientist, space historian, and a self-described space nut

First released March 3, 2014.

Oct 12, 2015
Martian Madness
51:36

It’s the starkly beautiful setting for the new film “The Martian,” and – just in time – NASA has announced that the Red Planet is more than a little damp, with liquid water occasionally oozing over its surface.  But Mars remains hostile terrain.  Mark Watney, the astronaut portrayed by Matt Damon, struggles to survive there. If he has a hard time, what chance does anyone else have?

Find out how long you could last just eating Martian potatoes.  Also, author Andy Weir describes how he prevailed upon his readers to turn his serialized blog posts into a technically accurate thriller that inspired the film.   Plus, the NASA advisor to “The Martian” sorts the science from the fiction.

And, how the discovery of water on Mars might change NASA’s game plan.

Guests:

Oct 05, 2015
Skeptic Check: What, We Worry?
51:37

ENCORE  We all have worries. But as trained observers, scientists learn things that can affect us all. So what troubles them should also trouble us. From viral pandemics to the limits of empirical knowledge, find out what science scenarios give researchers insomnia.

But also, we discover which scary scenarios that preoccupy the public don’t worry the scientists at all. Despite the rumors, you needn’t fear that the Large Hadron Collider will produce black holes that could swallow the Earth.

It’s Skeptic Check, our monthly look at critical thinking … but don’t take our word for it!

Guests:

Inspiration for this episode comes from the book, What Should We Be Worried About?: Real Scenarios That Keep Scientists Up at Night edited by John Brockman.

First released May 5, 2014.

Sep 28, 2015
Stranded
51:37

ENCORE Imagine not knowing where you are – and no one else knowing either. Today, that’s pretty unlikely. Digital devices pinpoint our location within a few feet, so it’s hard to get lost anymore. But we can still get stranded.

A reporter onboard an Antarctic ship that was stuck for weeks in sea ice describes his experience, and contrasts that with a stranding a hundred years prior in which explorers ate their dogs to survive.

Plus, the Plan B that keeps astronauts from floating away forever … how animals and plants hitch rides on open sea to populate new lands … and the rise of the mapping technology that has made hiding a thing of the past.

Guests:

Descripción en español

First released February 3, 2014.

Sep 14, 2015
The Pest of Us
51:36

ENCORE Picture a cockroach skittering across your kitchen. Eeww! Now imagine it served as an entrée at your local restaurant. There’s good reason these diminutive arthropods give us the willies – but they may also be the key to protein-rich meals of the future. Get ready for cricket casserole, as our relationship to bugs is about to change.

Also, share in one man’s panic attack when he is swarmed by grasshoppers. And the evolutionary reason insects revolt us, but also why the cicada’s buzz and the beetle’s click may have inspired humans to make music.

Plus, the history of urban pests: why roaches love to hide out between your floorboards. And Molly adopts a boxful of mealworms.

Guests:

Descripción en español

First released January 27, 2014.

Sep 07, 2015
Solar System Vacation
52:23

Ever gone bungee jumping on Venus?  Of course not.  No one has.  However your great-great-great grandchildren might find themselves packing for the cloudy planet … or for another locale in our cosmic backyard.  That’s what we picture as we accelerate our imagination to escape velocity and beyond – and tour vacation spots that are out of this world. 

An enormous mountain and an impressive canyon await you on Mars.  If the outer solar system is more your thing, consider making a ten minute free-fall on Miranda, a moon of Uranus, or step up to the challenge of playing catch on an asteroid. 

Also, just opened up: Pluto. A member of the New Horizons science team describes why the dwarf planet could be a holiday haven.  Bring your crampons for ice climbing!

Guests:

   Andrew Fraknoi – Chair of the astronomy department, Foothill College

   Lori Fenton - Planetary scientist, SETI Institute 

   David Grinspoon – Astrobiologist, author of Venus Express

   Mark Showalter – Planetary scientist, SETI institute, and member of the New Horizons team

   Michael Busch – Planetary scientist, SETI Institute

Aug 10, 2015
Skeptic Check: Are You Sure You're Sure?
52:22

ENCORE Nuclear fission powers the Sun. Or is it fusion? At any rate, helium is burned in the process, of that you are certain. After all, you read that article on astronomy last week*.

You know what you know. But you probably don’t know what you don’t know. Few of us do. Scientists say we’re spectacularly incompetent at recognizing our own incompetency, and that sometimes leads to trouble.

Find out why wrongness is the by-product of big brains and why even scientists – gasp! – are not immune. Plus, a peek into the trash bin of history: the biggest scientific blunders and the brighter-than-bright brains that made them. Including Einstein.

*Oh, and the Sun burns hydrogen to produce helium. But then, you knew that.

Guests:

   David Dunning – Psychologist, Cornell University. His cover story, “We Are All Confidence Idiots,” appeared in the November/December issue of The Pacific Standard.

   Robert Burton – Neurologist, author, On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Not and A Skeptic’s Guide to the Mind: What Neuroscience Can and Cannot Tell Us About Ourselves

   Brendan Nyhan – Political scientist, Dartmouth College

   Mario Livio – Astrophysicist, Space Telescope Science Institute, author, Brilliant Blunders: From Darwin to Einstein – Colossal Mistakes by Great Scientists That Changed Our Understanding of Life and the Universe

First released November 10, 2014.

Jul 27, 2015
Forget to Remember
52:21

ENCORE  You must not remember this. Indeed, it may be key to having a healthy brain. Our gray matter evolved to forget things; otherwise we’d have the images of every face we saw on the subway rattling around our head all day long. Yet we’re building computers with the capacity to remember everything. Everything! And we might one day hook these devices to our brains.

Find out what’s it’s like – and whether it’s desirable – to live in a world of total recall. Plus, the quest for cognitive computers, and how to shake that catchy – but annoying – jingle that plays in your head over and over and over and …

Guests:

   Ramamoorthy Ramesh – Materials physicist, deputy director of science and technology, Oakridge National Lab

   Michael Anderson – Neuroscientist, Memory Control Lab, MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit at the University of Cambridge in the U.K.

   Ira Hyman – Psychologist at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington

   James McGaugh – Neurobiologist, University of California, Irvine

   Larry Smarr – Professor of computer science, University of California, San Diego; director of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2)

 

First released January 20, 2014.

Jul 13, 2015
Dogged Pursuit of Pluto
50:31

Pluto is ready for its close up – but the near encounter during this historic flyby will last less than three minutes. Be ready for the action with our special New Horizons episode!

Hear from researchers who are Pluto rock stars: the astronomer who discovered two of Pluto’s five moons, the planetary scientist who coined the term “dwarf planet,” and the man who claims to have “killed Pluto.”

Find out how the New Horizons spacecraft will dodge rocks and other dangers as it approaches the planet and what we might learn about planet formation once we arrive. And why the battle over Pluto’s nomenclature continues.

Plus, Neil deGrasse Tyson reads his hate mail – from 3rd graders. 

Guests:

   Neil deGrasse Tyson – Astrophysicist, director of the Hayden Planetarium, New York City

   Alan Stern – Planetary scientist, Principal Investigator, New Horizons mission

   Mark Showalter – Senior research scientist, SETI Institute, New Horizons team member

   Mike Brown – Astronomer, California Institute of Technology

Jul 06, 2015
What the Hack
51:37

ENCORE  A computer virus that bombards you with pop-up ads is one thing. A computer virus that shuts down a city’s electric grid is another. Welcome to the new generation of cybercrime. Discover what it will take to protect our power, communication and transportation systems as scientists try to stay ahead of hackers in an ever-escalating game of cat and mouse.

The expert who helped decipher the centrifuge-destroying Stuxnet virus tells us what he thinks is next. Also convenience vs. vulnerability as we connect to the Internet of Everything. And, the journalist who wrote that Google was “making us stupid,” says automation is extracting an even higher toll: we’re losing basic skills. Such as how to fly airplanes.

Guests:

   Ray Sims – Computer Technician, Computer Courage, Berkeley, California

   Eric Chien – Technical Director of Security Technology and Response, Symantec

   Paul Jacobs – Chairman and CEO of Qualcomm

   Shankar Sastry – Dean of the College of Engineering, University of California, Berkeley, director of TRUST

   Nicholas Carr – Author of The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains and the forthcoming “The Glass Cage”. His article, “The Great Forgetting,” is in the November 2013 issue of The Atlantic.

 

First released November 11, 2013.

Jun 29, 2015
Skeptic Check: Evolutionary Arms Race
51:36

ENCORE It’s hard to imagine the twists and turns of evolution that gave rise to Homo Sapiens. After all, it required geologic time, and the existence of many long-gone species that were once close relatives. That may be one reason why – according to a recent poll – one-third of all Americans reject the theory of evolution. They prefer to believe that humans and other living organisms have existed in their current form since the beginning of time.

 

 

 

But if you’ve ever been sick, you’ve been the victim of evolution on a very observable time scale. Nasty viruses and bacteria take full advantage of evolutionary forces to adapt to new hosts. And they can do it quickly.

Discover how comparing the deadly 1918 flu virus with variants today may help us prevent the next pandemic. Also, while antibiotic resistance is threatening to become a major health crisis, better understanding of how bacteria evolve their defenses against our drugs may help us out.

And the geneticist who sequenced the Neanderthal genome says yes, our hirsute neighbors co-mingled with humans.

It’s Skeptic Check … but don’t take our word for it!

Guests:

   Svante Pääbo – Evolutionary geneticist, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, author of Neanderthal Man: In Search of Lost Genomes

   Ann Reid – – Molecular biologist, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, Oakland, California

   Martin Blaser – Microbiologist, New York University School of Medicine, member of the National Academy of Sciences, author of Missing Microbes: How the Overuse of Antibiotics Is Fueling Our Modern Plagues

   Gautam Dantas – Pathologist, immunologist, Center for Genome Sciences and Systems Biology, Washington University, Saint Louis

First released March 31, 2014.

Jun 22, 2015
It's All Relative
51:36

century ago, Albert Einstein rewrote our understanding of physics with his Theory of General Relativity. Our intuitive ideas about space, time, mass, and gravity turned out to be wrong.

Find out how this masterwork changed our understanding of how the universe works and why you can thank Einstein whenever you turn on your GPS.

Also, high-profile experiments looking for gravitational waves and for black holes will put the theories of the German genius to the test – will they pass?

And why the story of a box, a Geiger counter, and a zombie cat made Einstein and his friend Erwin Schrödinger uneasy about the quantum physics revolution.

Guests:

   Jeffrey Bennett – Astronomer, author of What Is Relativity?: An Intuitive Introduction to Einstein’s Ideas, and Why They Matter

   Beverly Berger – Theoretical physicist and the Secretary for the International Society on General Relativity and Gravitation

   Hiawatha Bray – Technology reporter, Boston Globe, author of You Are Here: From the Compass to GPS, the History and Future of How We Find Ourselves

  Paul Halpern – Physicist at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, author of Einstein’s Dice and Schrödinger’s Cat: How Two Great Minds Battled Quantum Randomness to Create a Unified Theory of Physics

Jun 15, 2015
Math's Days Are Numbered
51:37

ENCORE  Imagine a world without algebra. We can hear the sound of school children applauding. What practical use are parametric equations and polynomials, anyway? Even some scholars argue that algebra is the Latin of today, and should be dropped from the mandatory curriculum.

But why stop there? Maybe we should do away with math classes altogether.

An astronomer says he’d be out of work: we can all forget about understanding the origins of the universe, the cycles of the moon and how to communicate with alien life. Also, no math = no cybersecurity + hackers (who have taken math) will have the upper hand.

Also, without mathematics, you’ll laugh < you do now. The Simpsons creator Matt Groening has peppered his animated show with hidden math jokes.

And why mathematics = love.

Guests:

   Andrew Hacker – Professor of political science and mathematics at Queens College, City University of New York. His article, “Is Algebra Necessary?”, appeared in The New York Times in 2012.

   Bob Berman – Astronomy editor of The Old Farmer’s Almanac, the author of The Sun’s Heartbeat: And Other Stories from the Life of the Star That Powers Our Planet, and columnist for Astronomy Magazine. His article, “How Math Drives the Universe” is the cover story in the December 2013 issue.

   Simon Singh – Science writer, author of The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets

   Rob ManningFlight system chief engineer at the Jet Propulsion Lab, responsible for NASA’s Curiosity rover

   Edward Frenkel – Professor of mathematics at the University of California, Berkeley, author of Love and Math: The Heart of Hidden Reality. His article, “The Perils of Hacking Math,” is found on the online magazine, Slate.

 

First released December 2, 2015.

Jun 01, 2015
A Fundy Thing Happened
01:05:25

Get ready for déjà vu as you listen to some of our favorite interviews from the past year. It’s our annual fundraising podcast. Come for the great interviews, stay for the great interviews. Lend us your support along the way. 

What’s for dinner? Maybe Soylent. Made by … people! We do a taste test. Then meet your gut microbes. They control your health and even your mood.

Get tips on how to talk to aliens, why you should keep an eye on government surveillance, and the future of 3D printing human tissue. Also, why extraordinary beliefs persist – including Holocaust denial – despite the persistence of evidence to the contrary.

And, global perspective: why Ebola won’t be the next big pandemic but sea level rise could wipe out coasts along Florida and Thailand.

Plus, we imagine life hundreds of years ago for the renegades on the rough seas, and what the world would be like had the dinosaurs not gone extinct.

All this and more on a special Big Picture Science podcast!

Guests:

   Bill Miller – Physician and author of The Microcosm Within: Evolution and Extinction in the Hologenome

   Rob Rhinehart – CEO and founder of Soylent

   Brian Fagan – Emeritus professor of anthropology, University of California, Santa Barbara, author of The Attacking Ocean: The Past, Present, and Future of Rising Sea Levels

   David Quammen – Science journalist, contributing writer for National Geographic Magazine, author of Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic. His Op Ed article about Ebola appeared in the New York Times.

   Shari Wells-Jensen – Professor of English, Bowling Green State University

   Susan Landau – Mathematician and engineer who works on cybersecurity, privacy and public policy at the Worchester Polytechnic Institute, author most recently of Surveillance or Security?: The Risks Posed by New Wiretapping Technologies

   Will Storr – Journalist, author of The Unpersuadables: Adventures with the Enemies of Science

   Ali Khademhosseini – Bioengineer, Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Woman’s Hospital

May 11, 2015
Invisible Worlds
51:37

ENCORE  You can’t see it, but it’s there, whether an atom, a gravity wave, or the bottom of the ocean … but we have technology that allows us to detect what eludes our sight. When we do, whole worlds open up.

Without telescopes, asteroids become visible only three seconds before they slam into the Earth. Find out how we track them long before that happens. Also, could pulsars help us detect the gravity waves that Einstein’s theory predicts?

Plus, why string theory and parallel universes may remain just interesting ideas … the story of the woman who mapped the ocean floor … and why the disappearance of honeybees may change what you eat.

Guests:

   David Morrison – NASA space scientist and Director of the Carl Sagan Center at the SETI Institute

   May Berenbaum – Entomologist, University of Illinois

   Scott Ransom – Astronomer, National Radio Astronomy Observatory

   Lee Smolin – Theoretical physicist, Perimeter Institute of Theoretical Physics, Canada, author of Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe

   Hali Felt – Author of Soundings: The Story of the Remarkable Woman Who Mapped the Ocean Floor

 

First released September 23, 2013.

Apr 27, 2015
Life in Space
51:36

Discovering bacteria on Mars would be big news. But nothing would scratch our alien itch like making contact with intelligent life. Hear why one man is impatient for the discovery, and also about the new tools that may speed up the “eureka” moment. One novel telescope may help us find E.T. at home, by detecting the heat of his cities.

Also, the father of modern SETI research and how decoding the squeals of dolphins could teach us how to communicate with aliens.

Guests:

   Lee Billings – Journalist and author of Five Billion Years of Solitude: The Search for Life Among the Stars

   Oliver Guyon – Optical physicist, astronomer, University of Arizona and Suburu telescope; 2012 McArthur Genius award winner

   Jeff Kuhn – Physicist, Institute for Astronomy in Honolulu, Colossus Telescope

   Frank Drake – Astronomer, SETI Institute

   Denise Herzing – Behavioral biologist and research director of the Wild Dolphin Project

Apr 20, 2015
Skeptic Check: Monster Mashup
51:36

ENCORE  Monsters don’t exist. Except when they do. And extinction is forever, except when it isn’t. So, which animals are mythical and which are in hiding?

Bigfoot sightings are plentiful, but real evidence for the hirsute creature is a big zilch. Yet, the coelacanth, a predatory fish thought extinct, actually lives. Today, its genome is offering clues as to how and when our fishy ancestors first flopped onto land.

Meanwhile, the ivory-billed woodpecker assumes mythic status as it flutters between existence and extinction. And, from passenger pigeons to the wooly mammoth, hi-tech genetics may imitate Jurassic Park, and bring back vanished animals.

Guests:

   Donald Prothero – Paleontologist, geologist, former professor at Occidental College, co-author of Abominable Science!: Origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and Other Famous Cryptids

   Chris Amemiya – Biologist and geneticist at the University of Washington and the Benaroya Research Institute, Seattle

   John Fitzpatrick – Ornithologist and director, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University

   Ben Novak – Visiting biologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, lead coordinating scientist of “The Great Comeback” at the Revive and Restore project, Long Now Foundation

 

First released December 9, 2013.

Apr 13, 2015
Power to the People
51:37

ENCORE  Let there be light! Well, it’s easy to do: just flip a switch. But it took more than the invention of the light bulb to make that possible. It required new technology for the distribution of electricity. And that came, not so much from Thomas Edison, but from a Serbian genius named Nikola Tesla.

Hear his story plus ideas on what might be the breakthrough energy innovations of the future. Perhaps hydrogen-fueled cars, nuclear fusion electrical generators or even orbiting solar cells?

Plus, a reminder of cutting-edge technology back in Napoleon’s day: lighthouses.

Guests:

   W. Bernard Carlson – Professor of science, technology and society, University of Virginia, and author of Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age

   Michael Dunne – Physicist, program director for laser fusion energy, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

   R. Tom Baker – Chemist, director of the Center for Catalysis Research and Innovation, University of Ottawa

   Paul Young – Radio engineer, director of Powersat Ltd.

   Theresa Levitt – Historian, University of Mississippi, and author of A Short Bright Flash: Augustin Fresnel and the Birth of the Modern Lighthouse

 

First released September 30, 2013.

Mar 23, 2015
Mars-Struck
51:36

You love to travel. But would you if doing so meant never coming home? The private company Mars One says it will land humans on the Red Planet by 2026, but is only offering passengers one-way tickets. Hundreds of thousands of people volunteered to go.

Meet a young woman who made the short list, and hear why she’s ready to be Mars-bound. Also, why microbes could be hiding in water trapped in the planet’s rocks. And, how a wetter, better Mars lost its atmosphere and became a dry and forbidding place.

Plus, why Kim Stanley Robinson, author of a famous trilogy about colonizing and terraforming Mars, thinks that the current timeline for going to the planet is unrealistic.

Guests:

   Laurel Kaye – A senior in the physics department at Duke University

   Alfonso Davila – Senior scientist at the SETI Institute

   Stephen Brecht – Physicist and president of the Bay Area Research Group

   Kim Stanley Robinson – Hugo Award-winning science Fiction author of the Mars trilogy: Red Mars (Mars Trilogy), Green Mars (Mars Trilogy), Blue Mars (Mars Trilogy)

Mar 09, 2015
Sesquicentennial Science
51:36

Today, scientists are familiar to us, but they weren’t always. Even the word “scientist” is relatively modern, dating from the Victorian Era.

And it is to that era we turn as we travel to the University of Notre Dame to celebrate the 150th anniversary of its College of Science with a show recorded in front of a live audience.

Find out how the modern hunt for planets around other stars compares to our knowledge of the cosmos a century and a half ago. Also how faster computers have ushered in the realm of Big Data.

And a science historian describes us what major science frontiers were being crossed during the era of Charles Darwin and germ theory.

It’s then versus now on Sesquicentennial Science!

Recorded at the Eck Center at the University of Notre Dame, February 4th, 2015

Guests:

   Justin Crepp – Professor of physics, University of Notre Dame

   Nitesh Chawla – Professor of computer science and engineering and director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Network Sciences and Applications at Notre Dame

   John Durant – Historian of science, director of the MIT Museum

Feb 16, 2015
Digging Our Past
52:17

ENCORE  What’s past is prologue. For centuries, researchers have studied buried evidence – bones, teeth, or artifacts – to learn about murky human history, or even to investigate vanished species. But today’s hi-tech forensics allow us to analyze samples dug from the ground faster and at a far more sophisticated level.

First, the discovery of an unknown species of dinosaur that changes our understanding of the bizarre beasts that once roamed North America.

And then some history that’s more recent: two projects that use the tools of modern chemistry and anthropology to deepen our understanding of the slave trade.

Plus, an anthropologist on an evolutionary habit that is strange to some, but nonetheless common all over the world: the urge to eat dirt.

Guests:

   Scott Sampson – Paleontologist at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and author of Dinosaur Odyssey: Fossil Threads in the Web of Life

   Fatimah Jackson – Biologist, anthropologist, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, director of the Cobb Lab at Howard University, and advisor to EUROTAST

   Joseph Jones – Biological anthropologist, visiting assistant professor at the College of William and Mary, researcher on the African Burial Ground Project

   Sera Young – Research scientist, division of Nutritional Sciences, Cornell University, and author of Craving Earth: Understanding Pica—the Urge to Eat Clay, Starch, Ice, and Chalk

 

First released August 12, 2013.

Feb 02, 2015
Skeptic Check: Mummy Dearest
52:19

ENCORE  Shh …mummy’s the word! We don’t want to provoke the curse of King Tut. Except that there are many curses associated with this fossilized pharaoh – from evil spirits to alien malevolence. So it’s hard to know which one we’d face.

We’ll unravel secrets about the famous young pharaoh, including the bizarre events that transpired after the discovery of his tomb in the Valley of the Kings, and learn what modern imaging reveals about life 3,000 years ago.

Plus, we dispel myths about how to make a mummy, while learning the origin of that notorious mummy curse. Also, discover why superstitions have survival value.

Guests:

   Jo Marchant – Author of The Shadow King: The Bizarre Afterlife of King Tut’s Mummy

   Andrew Wade – Physical anthropologist, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario

   Salim Ikram – Professor of Egyptology, American University, Cairo

   Stuart Vyse – Professor of psychology, Connecticut College, New London, Connecticut, author of Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition

   F. DeWolfe Miller – Professor of Epidemiology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa

 

First released June 24, 2013.

Jan 26, 2015
Big Questions Somewhat Answered
52:36

Here are questions that give a cosmologist – and maybe even you – insomnia: What happened after the Big Bang? What is dark matter? Will dark energy tear the universe apart?

Let us help you catch those zzzzs. We’re going to provide answers to the biggest cosmic puzzlers of our time. Somewhat. Each question is the focus of new experiments that are either underway or in the queue.

Hear the latest results in the search for gravitational waves that would be evidence for cosmic inflation, as well as the hunt for dark matter and dark energy. And because these questions are bigger than big, we’ve enlisted cosmologist Sean Carroll as our guide to what these experiments might reveal and what it all means.

Guests:

   Sean Carroll – Cosmologist, California Institute of Technology

   Jamie Bock – Experimental cosmologist at the California Institute of Technology and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and a member of the BICEP team

   Brendan Crill – Cosmologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and member of the Planck collaboration

   Jeff Filippini – Post-doctoral Fellow, California Institute of Technology, assistant professor of physics at the University of Illinois and member of the Spider team

   Neil Gehrels – Astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, project scientist for WFIRST

Jan 19, 2015
Meet Your Replacements
51:31

ENCORE There’s no one like you. At least, not yet. But in some visions of the future, androids can do just about everything, computers will hook directly into your brain, and genetic human-hybrids with exotic traits will be walking the streets. So could humans become an endangered species?

Be prepared to meet the new-and-improved you. But how much human would actually remain in the humanoids of the future?

Plus, tips for preventing our own extinction in the face of inevitable natural catastrophes.

Guests:

   Robin Hanson – Associate professor of economics, George Mason University

   Luke Muehlhauser – Executive director of the Machine Intelligence Research Institute

   Stuart Newman – Professor of cell biology and anatomy, New York Medical College

   Annalee Newitz – Editor of io9.com, and author of Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction

 

First released July 1, 2013.

Jan 05, 2015
Skeptic Check: Got a Sweet Truth?
52:13

ENCORE  The sweet stuff is getting sour press. Some researchers say sugar is toxic. A new study seems to support that idea: mice fed the human equivalent of an extra three sodas a day become infertile or die. But should cupcakes be regulated like alcohol?

Hear both sides of the debate. Another researcher says that animal studies are misleading, and that, for good health, you should count calories, not candy and carbs.

Plus, an investigative reporter exposes the tricks that giant food companies employ to keep you hooked on sugar, salt, and fat.

It’s Skeptic Check … but don’t take our word for it!

Guests:

   Robert Lustig – University of California, San Francisco, author of Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease

   James Ruff – Biologist post-doc at The University of Utah

   John Sievenpiper – Knowledge Synthesis Lead of the Toronto 3D Knowledge Synthesis and Clinical Trials Unit, St. Michael’s Hospital, University of Toronto, Canada

   Michael Moss – Pulitzer prize-winning journalist at The New York Times, and author of Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us

 

First released August 19, 2013.

Dec 29, 2014
Shocking Ideas
52:12

Electricity is so 19th century. Most of the uses for it were established by the 1920s. So there’s nothing innovative left to do, right? That’s not the opinion of the Nobel committee that awarded its 2014 physics prize to scientists who invented the blue LED.

Find out why this LED hue of blue was worthy of our most prestigious science prize … how some bacteria actually breathe rust … and a plan to cure disease by zapping our nervous system with electric pulses.

Guests:

   Siddha Pimputkar – Postdoctoral researcher in the Materials Department of the Solid State Lighting and Energy Electronics Center under Shuji Nakamura, winner of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics, University of California, Santa Barbara

   Jeff Gralnick – Associate professor of microbiology at the University of Minnesota

   Kevin Tracey – Neurosurgeon and president of the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in New York

Dec 15, 2014
Long Live Longevity
52:07

Here’s to a long life – which, on average, is longer today than it was a century ago. How much farther can we extend that ultimate finish line? Scientists are in hot pursuit of the secret to longer life.

The latest in aging studies and why there’s a silver lining for the silver-haired set: older people are happier. Also, what longevity means if you’re a tree. Plus, why civilizations need to stick around if we’re to make contact with E.T.

And, how our perception of time shifts as we age, and other tricks that clocks play on the mind.

Guests:

   Ted Anton – Professor of English, DePaul University, Chicago, author of The Longevity Seekers: Science, Business, and the Fountain of Youth

   Laura Carstensen – Psychologist, Stanford University, director of the Stanford Center on Longevity

   Peter Crane – Botanist, dean of the School of Forestry and Environmental studies, Yale University, and author of Ginkgo: The Tree That Time Forgot

   Frank Drake – Astronomer, SETI Institute

   Claudia Hammond – BBC broadcaster and author of Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception

Dec 01, 2014
This Land Is Island
51:34

There are many kinds of islands. There’s your iconic sandy speck of land topped with a palm tree, but there’s also our home planet – an island in the vast seas of space. You might think of yourself as a biological island … until you tally the number of microbes living outside – and inside – your body.

We go island hopping, and consider the Scottish definition of an island – one man, one sheep – as well as the swelling threat of high water to island nations. Also, how species populate islands … and tricks for communicating with extraterrestrial islanders hanging out elsewhere in the cosmos.

Guests:

   Edward Chamberlin – Professor emeritus of English and comparative literature at the University of Toronto; fellow of the Royal Society of Canada; author of Island: How Islands Transform the World

   Bill McKibben – Writer, activist and professor of environmental studies, Middlebury College, founder of 350.org

   Justin Sonnenburg – Microbiologist, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Stanford University

   Guy Consolmagno – Astronomer, Vatican Observatory

   Margaret Race – Ecologist, SETI Institute

Nov 24, 2014
Sounds Abound
52:22

The world is a noisy place. But now we have a better idea what the fuss is about. Not only can we record sound, but our computers allow us to analyze it.

Bird sonograms reveal that our feathery friends give each other nicknames and share details about their emotional state. Meanwhile, hydrophones capture the sounds of dying icebergs, and let scientists separate natural sound from man-made in the briny deep.

Plus, native Ohio speakers help decipher what Neil Armstrong really said on that famous day. And, think your collection of 45 rpm records is impressive? Try feasting your ears on sound recorded before the Civil War.

Guests:

   Bob Dziak – Oceanographer, Hatfield Marine Science Center, Oregon State University, Program Manager, Acoustics Program, NOAA

   Michael Porter – Senior scientist of H.L.S. Research, La Jolla, California

   Patrick Feaster – Sound media historian at Indiana University

   Laura Dilley – Assistant professor in the Department of Communicative Sciences and Disorders, Michigan State University

   Jenny Papka – Co-director of Native Bird Connections

   Michael Webster – Professor of neurobiology and behavior, director of the Macaulay Library, Cornell University

Nov 03, 2014
Skeptic Check: Friends Like These
52:27

We love our family and friends, but sometimes their ideas about how the world works seem a little wacky. We asked BiPiSci listeners to share examples of what they can’t believe their loved-ones believe, no matter how much they hear rational explanations to the contrary. Then we asked some scientists about those beliefs, to get their take.

Discover whether newspaper ink causes cancer … if King Tut really did add a curse to his sarcophagus … the efficacy of examining your irises – iridology – to diagnose disease … and more!

Oh, and what about string theory? Is it falsifiable?

Guests:

   Steven Novella – Physician at Yale University, host of the podcast, “Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe”

   Matthew Hutson – Author of The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking: How Irrational Beliefs Keep Us Happy, Healthy, and Sane

   Brian Greene – Physicist, Columbia University, author of The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos and The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory

   Guy Harrison – Author of 50 Popular Beliefs That People Think Are True and, most recently, 50 Simple Questions for Every Christian

Oct 27, 2014
What's the Difference?
51:36

We make split second decisions about others – someone is male or female, black or white, us or them. But sometimes the degrees of separation are incredibly few. A mere handful of genes determine skin color, for example.

Find out why race is almost non-existent from a biological perspective, and how the snippet of DNA that is the Y chromosome came to separate male from female.

Plus, why we’re wired to categorize. And, a groundbreaking court case proposes to erase the dividing line between species: lawyers argue to grant personhood status to our chimpanzee cousins.

Guests:

  • David Page – Biologist and geneticist, at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Stephen Stearns – Evolutionary biologist, Yale University
  • John Dovidio – Social psychologist at Yale University
  • Steven M. Wise – Lawyer, Nonhuman Rights Project

Descripción en español

Oct 06, 2014
As You Were
52:11

ENCORE We all want to turn back time. But until we build a time machine, we’ll have to rely on a few creative approaches to capturing things as they were – and preserving them for posterity. One is upping memory storage capacity itself. Discover just how much of the past we can cram into our future archives, and whether going digital has made it all vulnerable to erasure.

Plus – scratch it and tear it – then watch this eerily-smart material revert to its undamaged self. And, what was life like pre-digital technology? We can’t remember, but one writer knows; he’s living life circa 1993 (hint: no cell phone).

Also, using stem cells to save the white rhino and other endangered species. And, the arrow of time itself – could it possibly run backwards in another universe?

Guests:

Descripción en español

First released October 29, 2012.

Sep 22, 2014
Skeptic Check: Is It True?
52:12

We often hear fantastic scientific claims that would change everything if true. Such as the report that algae is growing on the outside of the International Space Station or that engineers have built a rocket that requires no propellant to accelerate. We examine news stories that seem too sensational to be valid, yet just might be – including whether a killer asteroid has Earth’s name on it.

Plus, a journalist investigates why people hold on to their beliefs even when the evidence is stacked hard against them – from skepticism about climate change to Holocaust denial. And, why professional skeptics are just as enamored with their beliefs as anyone else.

Guests:

Descripción en español

Sep 15, 2014
A Sudden Change in Planets
52:13

A planet is a planet is a planet. Unless it’s Pluto – then it’s a dwarf planet. But even then it’s a planet, according to experts. So what was behind the unpopular re-classification of Pluto by astronomers, and were they justified?

As the New Horizons spacecraft closes in on this small body, one planetary scientist says that this dwarf planet could be more typical of planets than Mars, Mercury, and Saturn. And that our solar system has not 8 or even 9 planets, but 900.

Also, meet a type of planet that’s surprisingly commonplace, although we don’t have one in our solar system: super Earths. Could they harbor life?

And the DAWN mission continues its visit to the two most massive residents of the asteroid belt: Vesta and Ceres. Discover what these proto-planets may reveal to us about the early solar system.

Guests:

  • Alan Stern – Planetary scientist, Southwest Research Institute, Principal Investigator of the New Horizons mission
  • Marc RaymanDAWN Mission chief engineer and mission director
  • David Stevenson – Professor of planetary science at CalTech
  • Rebekah Dawson – Astronomer, postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Berkeley
  • David Eicher – Editor-in-chief, Astronomy Magazine

Descripción en español

Sep 08, 2014
Welcome to Our Labor-atory
52:07

ENCORE Hi ho, hi ho … it’s out with work we go! As you relax this holiday weekend, step into our labor-atory and imagine a world with no work allowed. Soft robots help us with tasks at home and at the office, while driverless cars allow us to catch ZZZZs in the front seat.

Plus, the Internet of Everything interconnects all your devices, from your toaster to your roaster to … you. So there’s no need to ever get off the couch. But is a machine-ruled world a true utopia?

And, the invention that got us into our 24/7 rat race: Edison’s electric light.

Guests:

Descripción en español

First released August 26, 2013.

Sep 01, 2014
ZZZZZs Please
51:28

ENCORE We’ve all hit the snooze button when the alarm goes off, but why do we crave sleep in the first place? We explore the evolutionary origins of sleep … the study of narcolepsy in dogs … and could novel drugs and technologies cut down on our need for those zzzzs.

Plus, ditch your dream journal: a brain scanner may let you record – and play back – your dreams.

And, branch out with the latest development in artificial light: bioluminescent trees. How gene tinkering may make your houseplants both grow and glow.

Guests:

  • Emmanuel Mignot – Professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, and director of the Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine, Stanford University
  • Kyle Taylor – Molecular biologist at Glowing Plant
  • Jerry Siegel – Neuroscientist and professor of psychiatry, the University of California, Los Angeles
  • Jack Gallant – Professor of psychology and neuroscience, University of California, Berkeley

Descripción en español

First released May 27, 2013.

Aug 25, 2014
De-Extinction Show
51:30

ENCORE Maybe goodbye isn’t forever. Get ready to mingle with mammoths and gaze upon a ground sloth. Scientists want to give some animals a round-trip ticket back from oblivion. Learn how we might go from scraps of extinct DNA to creating live previously-extinct animals, and the man who claims it’s his mission to repopulate the skies with passenger pigeons.

But even if we have the tools to bring vanished animals back, should we?

Plus, the extinction of our own species: are we engineering the end of humans via our technology?

Guests:

  • Beth Shapiro – Associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, University of California, Santa Cruz
  • Ben Novak – Biologist, Revive and Restore project at the Long Now Foundation, visiting biologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz
  • Hank Greely – Lawyer working in bioethics, director of the Stanford Center for Law and the Biosciences at Stanford University
  • Melanie Challenger – Poet, writer, author of On Extinction: How We Became Estranged from Nature
  • Nick Bostrom – Director of the Future of Humanity Institute, Oxford University

Descripción en español

First released April 29, 2013.

Aug 11, 2014
Eye Spy
51:54

Who’s watching you? Could be anyone, really. Social media sites, webcams, CCTV cameras and smartphones have made keeping tabs on you as easy as tapping “refresh” on a tablet. And who knows what your cell phone records are telling the NSA?

Surveillance technology has privacy on the run, as we navigate between big data benefits and Big Brother intrusion.

Find out why wearing Google Glass could make everything you see the property of its creator, and which Orwellian technologies are with us today. But just how worried should we be? A cyber security expert weighs in.

Also, the benefits of an eye in the sky. A startup company claims that their suite of microsatellites will help protect Earth’s fragile environment.

And Gary catches a cat burglar!

Guests:

Descripción en español

Aug 04, 2014
Skeptic Check: About Face
52:25

ENCORE Face it – humans are pattern-seeking animals. We identify eyes, nose and mouth where there are none. Martian rock takes on a visage and the silhouette of Elvis appears in our burrito. Discover the roots of our face-tracking tendency – pareidolia – and why it sometimes leads us astray.

Plus, why some brains can’t recognize faces at all … how computer programs exhibit their own pareidolia … and why it’s so difficult to replicate human vision in a machine

Guests:

  • Phil Plait – Astronomer, Skeptic, and author of Slate Magazine’s blog Bad Astronomy
  • Josef Parvizi – Associate professor, Stanford University, and clinical neurologist and epilepsy specialist at Stanford Medical Center
  • Nancy Kanwisher – Cognitive neuroscientist, at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT
  • Greg Borenstein – Artist, creative technologist who teaches at New York University
  • Pietro Perona – Professor of electrical engineering, computation and neural systems, California Institute of Technology

Descripción en español

First released February 25, 2013.

Jul 14, 2014
Deep Time
51:30

ENCORE Think back, way back. Beyond last week or last year … to what was happening on Earth 100,000 years ago. Or 100 million years ago. It’s hard to fathom such enormous stretches of time, yet to understand the evolution of the cosmos – and our place in it – your mind needs to grasp the deep meaning of eons. Discover techniques for thinking in units of billions of years, and how the events that unfold over such intervals have left their mark on you.

Plus: the slow-churning processes that turned four-footed creatures into the largest marine animals that ever graced the planet and using a new telescope to travel in time to the birth of the galaxies.

Guests:

Descripción en español

First released April 22, 2013.

Jul 07, 2014
Time for a Map
52:28

ENCORE It’s hard to get lost these days. GPS pinpoints your location to within a few feet. Discover how our need to get from A to B holds clues about what makes us human, and what we lose now that every digital map puts us at the center.

Plus, stories of animal navigation: how a cat found her way home across Florida, and the magnetic navigation systems used by salmon and sea turtles.

Also, why you’ll soon be riding in driverless cars. And, how to map our universe.

Guests:

Descripción en español

First released March 18, 2013.

Jun 30, 2014
What Do You Make Of It?
52:27

You are surrounded by products. Most of them, factory-made. Yet there was a time when building things by hand was commonplace, and if something stopped working, well, you jumped into the garage and fixed it, rather than tossing it into the circular file.

Participants at the Maker Faire are bringing back the age of tinkering, one soldering iron and circuit board at a time. Meet the 12-year old who built a robot to solve his Rubik’s Cube, and learn how to print shoes at home. Yes, “print.”

Plus, the woman who started Science Hack Day … the creation of a beard-slash-cosmic-ray detector … the history of the transistor … and new materials that come with nervous systems: get ready for self-healing concrete.

(Photo is a model of the first transistor built in 1947 at the Bell Telephone Labs in New Jersey that led to a Nobel Prize. Today’s computers contain many million transistors … but they’re a lot smaller than this one, which is about the size of a quarter. Credit: Seth Shostak.)

Guests:

Descripción en español

Jun 23, 2014
A New Hope for Life In Space
51:31

Alien life. A flurry of recent discoveries has shifted the odds of finding it. Scientists use the Kepler telescope to spot a planet the same size and temperature as Earth … and announce that there could be tens of billions of similar worlds, just in our galaxy!

Plus, new gravity data suggests a mammoth reservoir of water beneath the icy skin of Saturn’s moon Enceladus … and engineers are already in a race to design drills that can access the subsurface ocean of another moon, Jupiter’s Europa.

Meanwhile, Congress holds hearings to assess the value of looking for life in space. Seth Shostak goes to Washington to testify. Hear what he said and whether the exciting discoveries in astrobiology have stimulated equal enthusiasm among those who hold the purse strings.

Guests:

Descripción en español

Jun 02, 2014
Just For the Fund Of It
01:08:41

Get ready for déjà vu as you listen to some of our favorite interviews in the past year. It’s our annual fundraising podcast. Come for the great interviews, stay for the great interviews. Lend us your support along the way.

What’s for dinner? Maybe fried bugs. Listen as we do a taste test. Speaking of dinner, learn why saliva’s acceptable as long as it’s in our mouth. But dollop some into our own soup, and we push the bowl away.

Hear adventures of space walking and of space hunting: what happens to the search for extrasolar planets now that the Kepler spacecraft is compromised, and an astronomy research project that takes our interviewer by surprise. Plus, the case for scrapping high school algebra. That’s right: No more “the first train leaves Cleveland at 4:00 pm …” problems. Also … why “The Simpsons” is chock-a-block with advanced math.

And, in a world where everyone carries GPS technology in their pockets, will humans ever get lost again – and what’s lost if we don’t.

Plus, Mary Roach gives us a tour of our digestive systems.

All this and more on a special Big Picture Science podcast.

Guests:

Descripción en español

May 26, 2014
We Can Rebuild It
52:30

What goes up must come down. But it’s human nature to want to put things back together again. It can even be a matter of survival in the wake of some natural or manmade disasters.

First, a portrait of disaster: the eruption of Tambora in 1815 is the biggest volcanic explosion in 5,000 years. It changed the course of history, although few people have heard of it.

Then, stories of reconstruction: assembling, disassembling, moving and reassembling one of the nation’s largest T. Rex skeletons, and what we learn about dinos in the process.

Also, the reanimation of Gorongosa National Park in Africa, after years of civil war destroyed nearly all the wildlife.

And a handbook for rebuilding civilization itself from scratch.

Guests:

Descripción en español

May 19, 2014
Our Tasteless Show
51:30

ENCORE Imagine biting into a rich chocolate donut and not tasting it. That’s what happened to one woman when she lost her sense of smell. Discover what scientists have learned about how the brain experiences flavor, and the evolutionary intertwining of odor and taste.

Plus a chef who tricks tongues into tasting something they’re not. It’s chemical camouflage that can make crabgrass taste like basil and turn bitter crops into delicious dishes – something that could improve nutrition world-wide.

Meanwhile, are we a tasty treat for aliens? Discover whether we might be attractive snacks for E.T. And, out-of-this-world recipes from a “gAstronomy” cookbook!

Guests:

Descripción en español

First released March 11, 2013

Apr 28, 2014
That's Containment!
51:30

ENCORE We all crave power: to run laptops, charge cell phones, and play Angry Birds. But if generating energy is easy, storing it is not. Remember when your computer conked out during that cross-country flight? Why can’t someone build a better battery?

Discover why battery design is stuck in the 1800s, and why updating it is key to future green transportation (not to mention more juice for your smartphone). Also, how to build a new type of solar cell that can turn sunlight directly into fuel at the pump.

Plus, force fields, fat cells and other storage systems. And: Shock lobster! Energy from crustaceans?

Guests:

  • Dan Lankford – Former CEO of three battery technology companies, and a managing director at Wavepoint Ventures
  • Jackie Stephens – Biochemist at Louisiana State University
  • Kevin MacVittie – Graduate student of chemistry, Clarkson University, New York
  • Nate Lewis – Chemist, California Institute of Technology
  • Alex Filippenko – Astronomer, University of California, Berkeley
  • Peter Williams – Physicist, San Francisco Bay Area

Descripción en español

First released February 4, 2103.

Apr 14, 2014
Since Sliced Bread
52:09

Happy Birthday, World Wide Web! The 25-year-old Web, along with the Internet and the personal computer, are among mankind’s greatest inventions. But back then, who knew?

A techno-writer reminisces about the early days of the WWW and says he didn’t think it would ever catch on.

Also, meet an inventor who claims his innovation will leave your laptop in the dust. Has quantum computing finally arrived?

Plus, why these inventions are not as transformative as other creative biggies of history: The plow. The printing press. And… the knot?

And, why scientific discoveries may beat out technology as the most revolutionary developments of all. A new result about the Big Bang may prove as important as germ theory and the double helix.

Guests:

Descripción en español

Apr 07, 2014
Do the Math
51:30

ENCORE One plus one is two. But what’s the square root of 64, divided by 6 over 12?* Wait, don’t run for the hills! Math isn’t scary. It helps us describe and design our world, and can be easier to grasp than the straight edge of a protractor.

Discover how to walk through the city and number-crunch simultaneously using easy tips for estimating the number of bricks in a building or squirrels in the park. Plus, why our brains are wired for finger-counting … whether aliens would have calculators … and history’s most famous mathematical equations (after e=mc2).

*The answer is 16

Guests:

Descripción en español

Mar 24, 2014
We Heart Robots
51:31

ENCORE The machines are coming! Meet the prototypes of your future robot buddies and discover how you may come to love a hunk of hardware. From telerobots that are your mechanical avatars … to automated systems for the disabled … and artificial hands that can diffuse bombs.

Plus, the ethics of advanced robotics: should life-or-death decisions be automated?

And, a biologist uses robo-fish to understand evolution.

Guests:

Descripción en español

First released January 21, 2013

Mar 10, 2014
Before the Big Bang
52:06

ENCORE It’s one of the biggest questions you can ask: has the universe existed forever? The Big Bang is supposedly the moment it all began. But now scientists wonder if there isn’t an earlier chapter to our origin story. And maybe chapters before that! What happened before the Big Bang? It’s the ultimate prequel.

Plus – the Big Bang as scientific story: nail biter or snoozer?

Guests

Descripción en español

First released December 17, 2012

Feb 24, 2014
Gene Hack, Man
52:21

ENCORE Computers and DNA have a few things in common. Both use digital codes and are prone to viruses. And, it seems, both can be hacked. From restoring the flavor of tomatoes to hacking into the president’s DNA, discover the promise and peril of gene tinkering.

Plus, computer hacking. Just how easy is it to break into your neighbor’s email account? What about the CIA’s?

Also, one man’s concern that radio telescopes might pick up an alien computer virus.

Guests:

  • George Weinstock – Microbiologist, geneticist, associate director at the Washington University Genome Institute, St. Louis
  • Jim Giovannoni – Plant molecular biologist, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Cornell University campus
  • Andrew Hessel – Faculty member, Singularity University, research scientist at Autodesk, and co-author of “Hacking the President’s DNA” in the November 2012 issue of The Atlantic
  • Dan Kaminsky – Chief scientist of security firm DHK
  • Dick Carrigan – Scientist emeritus at Fermilab, Batavia, Illinois

Descripción en español

First released December 10, 2012

Feb 10, 2014
Skeptic Check: Zombies Aren't Real
51:33

ENCORE Zombies are making a killing in popular culture. But where did the idea behind these mythical, cerebrum-supping nasties come from? Discover why they may be a hard-wired inheritance from our Pleistocene past.

Also, how a whimsical mathematical model of a Zombie apocalypse can help us withstand earthquakes and disease outbreaks, and how the rabies virus contributed to zombie mythology.

Plus, new ideas for how doctors should respond when humans are in a limbo state between life and death: no pulse, but their brains continue to hum.

Meet the songwriter who has zombies on the brain …. and we chase spaced-out animated corpses in the annual Run-For-Your-Lives foot race.

Guests:

Descripción en español

First released November 12, 2012

Jan 13, 2014
Can We Talk?
51:31

ENCORE You can get your point across in many ways: email, texts, or even face-to-face conversation (does anyone do that anymore?). But ants use chemical messages when organizing their ant buddies for an attack on your kitchen. Meanwhile, your human brain sends messages to other brains without you uttering a word.

Hear these communication stories … how language evolved in the first place… why our brains love a good tale …and how Facebook is keeping native languages from going extinct.

Guests:

Descripción en español

First released June 11, 2012

Jan 06, 2014
Animal Instinct
52:06

ENCORE Mooooove over, make way for the cows, the chickens … and other animals! Humans can learn a lot from our hairy, feathered, four-legged friends. We may wear suits and play Sudoku, but Homo sapiens are primates just the same. We’ve met the animal, and it is us.

Discover the surprising similarity between our diseases and those that afflict other animals, including pigs that develop eating disorders. Plus, what the octopus can teach us about national security … how monkeying around evolved into human speech … and the origins of moral behavior in humans.

Guests:

Descripción en español

First released July 9, 2012

Dec 30, 2013
Group Think
52:04

ENCORE If two is company and three a crowd, what’s the ideal number to write a play or invent a new operating system? Some say you need groups to be creative. Others disagree: breakthroughs come only in solitude.

Hear both sides, and find out why you always have company even when alone: meet the “parliament of selves” that drive your brain’s decision-making.

Plus, how ideas of societies lead them to thrive or fall, and why educated conservatives have lost trust in science.

Guests:

Descripción en español

First released April 30, 2012.

Dec 23, 2013
Some Like It Cold
52:05

We all may prefer the goldilocks zone – not too hot, not too cold. But most of the universe is bitterly cold. We can learn a lot about it if we’re willing to brave a temperature drop.

A chilly Arctic island is the closest thing to Mars-on-Earth for scientists who want to go to the Red Planet. Meanwhile, the ice sheet at the South Pole is ideal for catching neutrinos – ghostly particles that may reveal secrets about the nature of the universe.

Comet ISON is comet ice-off after its passage close to the Sun, but it’s still giving us the word on solar system’s earliest years.

Also, scientists discover the coldest spot on Earth. A champion chill, but positively balmy compared to absolute zero. Why reaching a temperature of absolute zero is impossible, although we’ve gotten very, very close.

Guests:

  • Francis Halzen – Physicist, University of Wisconsin-Madison, principal investigator of The IceCube Neutrino Observatory
  • Ted Scambos – Glaciologist, lead scientist, National Snow and Ice Data Center, University of Colorado
  • Pascal Lee – Planetary scientist, SETI Institute, director, NASA Haughton-Mars Project, and co-founder of the Mars Institute. His new book is Mission: Mars
  • Andrew Fraknoi – Chair, astronomy department, Foothill College
  • Vladan Vuletić – Physicist, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Descripción en español

Dec 16, 2013
Math's Days Are Numbered
51:31

Imagine a world without algebra. We can hear the sound of school children applauding. What practical use are parametric equations and polynomials, anyway? Even some scholars argue that algebra is the Latin of today, and should be dropped from the mandatory curriculum.

But why stop there? Maybe we should do away with math classes altogether.

An astronomer says he’d be out of work: we can all forget about understanding the origins of the universe, the cycles of the moon and how to communicate with alien life. Also, no math = no cybersecurity + hackers (who have taken math) will have the upper hand.

Also, without mathematics, you’ll laugh < you do now. The Simpsons creator Matt Groening has peppered his animated show with hidden math jokes.

And why mathematics = love.

Guests:

Descripción en español

Dec 02, 2013
Skeptic Check: Science Blunders
51:33

ENCORE We’ve all had an “oops” moment. Scientists are no exception. Sometimes science stumbles in the steady march of progress. Find out why cold fusion is a premier example why you shouldn’t hold a press conference before publishing your results. Also, how to separate fumbles from faux-science from fraud.

Plus, why ignorance is what really drives the scientific method.

And our Hollywood skeptic poses as a psychic for Dr. Phil, while our Dr. Phil (Plait) investigates the authenticity of a life-bearing meteorite.

Guests:

Descripción en español

First released January 28, 2013.

Nov 25, 2013
The Heat is On
52:31

After the winds and water of Typhoon Haiyan abated, grief and hunger swept though the Philippines, along with the outbreak of disease. Are monster storms the new normal in a warmer world? Some scientists say yes, and if so, climate change is already producing real effects on human life and health.

A hotter planet will serve up casualties from natural disasters, but also higher rates of asthma, allergies and an increase in mosquito-borne diseases. It is, according to one researcher, the greatest challenge of our time, straining health care efforts worldwide. But could a “medical Marshall Plan” save us?

Also, why the conservative estimates from the U.N.‘s climate change group don’t help people prepare for worst-case scenarios. And, a controversial approach to saving our overburdened planet: a serious limit on population growth.

Guests:

   Jeff Masters – Meteorologist, Wunderground

   Linda Marsa – Investigative journalist, contributing editor at Discover, author of Fevered: Why a Hotter Planet Will Hurt Our Health — and how we can save ourselves

   Fred Pearce – Freelance author and journalist, environment consultant for New Scientist. His article, “Has the U.N. Climate Panel Outlived It’s Usefulness?” appeared on the website Yale Environment 360

   Alan Weisman – Author, Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth?

Nov 18, 2013
The Heat is On
52:31

After the winds and water of Typhoon Haiyan abated, grief and hunger swept though the Philippines, along with the outbreak of disease. Are monster storms the new normal in a warmer world? Some scientists say yes, and if so, climate change is already producing real effects on human life and health.

A hotter planet will serve up casualties from natural disasters, but also higher rates of asthma, allergies and an increase in mosquito-borne diseases. It is, according to one researcher, the greatest challenge of our time, straining health care efforts worldwide. But could a “medical Marshall Plan” save us?

Also, why the conservative estimates from the U.N.‘s climate change group don’t help people prepare for worst-case scenarios. And, a controversial approach to saving our overburdened planet: a serious limit on population growth.

Guests:

Descripción en español

Nov 17, 2013
Life Back Then
52:13

ENCORE Time keeps on ticking, ticking … and as it does, evolution operates to produce remarkable changes in species. Wings may appear, tails disappear. Sea creatures drag themselves onto the shore and become landlubbers. But it’s not easy to grasp the expansive time scales involved in these transformative feats.

Travel through millennia, back through mega and giga years, for a sense of what can occur over deep time, from the Cambrian Explosion to the age of the dinosaurs to the rise of Homo sapiens.

Guests:

Descripción en español

First released April 2, 2012

Nov 04, 2013
Shutting Down Science
52:13

“Sorry, closed for business.” That sign hung on doors of national laboratories when the US government shut down. What that meant for one Antarctic researcher: her critically important work was left out in the cold.

So just what do we lose when public funds for science fade? The tools for answering big questions about our universe for one, says a NASA scientist … while one of this year’s Nobel Prize winners fears that it is driving our young researchers to pursue their work overseas.

Yet one scientist says public funding isn’t even necessary; privatizing science would be more productive.

Plus, an award-winning public-private research project changes the way we use GPS … and a BBC reporter on the fate of international projects when Americans hang up their lab coats.

Guests:

  • Jill MikuckiWISSARD principal investigator and a microbiologist at the University of Tennessee
  • Max Bernstein – Lead for research at NASA’s Science Mission Directorate
  • James Rothman – Professor and chairman of the department of cell biology at Yale University, recipient of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Medicine
  • Alexandre Bayen – Civil engineer and computer scientist, University of California, Berkeley
  • Pat Michaels – Director for the Study of Science at the Cato Institute
  • Roland PeaseBBC science reporter

Descripción en español

Oct 28, 2013
Skeptic Check: War of the Worlds
52:13

It was the most famous invasion that never happened. But Orson Welles’ 1938 “War of the Worlds” broadcast sure sounded convincing as it used news bulletins and eyewitness accounts to describe an existential Martian attack. The public panicked. Or did it? New research says that claims of mass hysteria were overblown.

On the 75th anniversary of the broadcast: How the media manufactured descriptions of a fearful public and why – with our continued fondness for conspiracies – we could be hoodwinked again.

Plus, journalism ethics in the age of social media. Can we tweet “Mars is attacking!” with impunity?

And why we’re obsessed with the Red Planet.

Guests:

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Oct 21, 2013
Emergence
51:53

Your brain is made up of cells. Each one does its own, cell thing. But remarkable behavior emerges when lots of them join up in the grey matter club. You are a conscious being – a single neuron isn’t.

Find out about the counter-intuitive process known as emergence – when simple stuff develops complex forms and complex behavior – and all without a blueprint.

Plus self-organization in the natural world, and how Darwinian evolution can be speeded up.

Guests:

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Oct 14, 2013
You Say You Want an Evolution?
51:57

Imagine: Your pint-sized pup is descended from a line of predatory wolves. We have purposefully bred a new species – dogs – to live in harmony with us. But interactions between species, known as co-evolution, happen all the time, even without deliberate intervention. And it’s frequently a boon to survival: Without the symbiotic relationship we have with bugs in our gut, one that’s evolved with time, we wouldn’t exist.

Discover the Bogart-and-Bacall-like relationships between bacteria and humans, and what we learn by seeing genes mutate in the lab, real time. Also, the dog-eat-dog debate about when canines were first domesticated, and how agriculture, hip-hop music, and technology can alter our DNA (eventually).

Plus, why some of the fastest humans in history have hailed from one small area of a small Caribbean island. Is there a gene for that?

Guests:

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Sep 16, 2013
Skeptic Check: Follywood Science
51:07

ENCORE The Day After. 2001. Prometheus. There are sci-fi films a’plenty … but how much science is in the fiction? We take the fact checkers to Hollywood to investigate the science behind everything from space travel to human cloning.

Plus, guess what sci-fi film is the most scientifically accurate (hint: we’ve already mentioned it). Also, why messing with medical facts on film can be dangerous … and the inside scoop from a writer of one of television’s most successful sci-fi franchises.

And, a robot who surpasses even Tinseltown’s lively imagination: a humanoid that may become a surrogate you.

Guests:

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First released July 30, 2012.

Sep 09, 2013
Catch a Wave
51:07

ENCORE Let there be light. Otherwise we couldn’t watch a sunset or YouTube. Yet what your eye sees is but a narrow band in the electromagnetic spectrum. Shorten those light waves and you get invisible gamma radiation. Lengthen them and tune into a radio broadcast.

Discover what’s revealed about our universe as you travel along the electromagnetic spectrum. There’s the long of it: an ambitious goal to construct the world’s largest radio telescope array … and the short: a telescope that images high-energy gamma rays from black holes.

Also, the structure of the universe as seen through X-ray eyes and a physicist sings the praises of infrared light. Literally.

And, while gravity waves are not in the electromagnetic club, these ripples in spacetime could explain some of the biggest mysteries of the cosmos. But first, we have to catch them!

Guests:

  • Anil Ananthaswamy – Journalist and consultant for New Scientist in London
  • Harvey Tananbaum – Director of the Chandra X-Ray Center, located in Cambridge Massachusetts at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory
  • David Reitze – Executive director of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO), California Institute of Technology
  • Albert Lazzarini – Deputy director, LIGO, California Institute of Technology
  • Alan Marscher – Professor of astronomy at Boston University

Descripción en español

First released March 19, 2012

Sep 02, 2013
Rife with Life
51:27

ENCORE “Follow the water” is the mantra of those who search for life beyond Earth. Where there’s water, there may be life. Join us on a tour of watery solar system bodies that hold promise for biology. Dig beneath the icy shell of Jupiter’s moon Europa, and plunge into the jets of Enceladus, Saturn’s satellite.

And let’s not forget the Red Planet. Mars is rusty and dusty, but it wasn’t always a world of dry dunes. Did life once thrive here? Also, the promise of life in the exotic hydrocarbon lakes of Titan.

Science-fiction author Robert J. Sawyer joins us, and relates how these exotic outposts have prompted imaginative stories of alien life.

Guests:

  • Robert J. Sawyer – Hugo award-winning science fiction author
  • Cynthia Phillips – Planetary geologist at the SETI Institute
  • Alexander Hayes – Planetary scientist at the University of California, Berkeley
  • Rachel Mastrapa – Planetary scientist for NASA and the SETI Institute
  • Robert Lillis – Space and planetary scientist at the Space Sciences Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley

Descripción en español

First released February 27, 2012.

Jul 22, 2013
Getting a Spacelift
51:26

ENCORE I need my space… but oh, how to get there? Whether it’s a mission to Mars or an ascent to an asteroid, we explore the hows of human spaceflight. Also, the whys, as in, why send humans to the final frontier if robots are cheaper? Neil deGrasse Tyson weighs in.

Plus, the astronaut who lived on the ocean floor training for a visit to an asteroid. Also, the 100YSS – the 100 Year Starship project – and interstellar travel.

And, as private rockets nip at NASA’s heels, meet one of the first tourists to purchase a (pricey) ticket-to-ride into space.

Guests:

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First released February 6, 2012.

Jul 15, 2013
Material Whirl
51:26

ENCORE What’s the world made of? Here’s a concrete answer: a lot of it is built from a dense, knee-scraping substance that is the most common man-made material. But while concrete may be here to stay, plenty of new materials will come our way in the 21st century.

Discover the better, faster, stronger (okay, not faster) materials of the future, and Thomas Edison’s ill-conceived plan to turn concrete into furniture.

Plus, printing objects in 3D… the development of artificial skin… and unearthing the scientific contributions of African-American women chemists.

Guests:

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First released January 30, 2012

Jul 08, 2013
Exoplanets
51:26

You may be unique, but is your home planet? NASA’s Kepler spacecraft has uncovered thousands of planetary candidates, far far beyond our solar system. Some may be habitable and possibly even Earth-like. But now a failure in its steering apparatus may bring an abrupt end to this pioneering telescope’s search for new worlds.

But Kepler has a massive legacy of data still to be studied. Many new worlds will undoubtedly be found in these data. Hear why the astronomer who has discovered the greatest number of exoplanets is hopeful about the hunt for alien life, and meet the next generation of planet-hunting instruments.

Also, “Weird worlds? That was our idea!” Sci-fi writers lay claim to the first musings on exotic planetary locales. And a biographer of Magellan and Columbus describes the dangerous hunt for new worlds five centuries ago.

Guests:

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Jun 17, 2013
Cosmos: It's Big, It's Weird
51:27

ENCORE It’s all about you. And you, and you, and you and you… that is, if we live in parallel universes. Imagine you doing exactly what you’re doing now, but in an infinite number of universes.

Discover the multiverse theory and why repeats aren’t limited to summer television.

Plus, the physics of riding on a light beam, and the creative analogies a New York Times science writer uses to avoid using the word “weird” to describe dark energy and other weird physics.

Also, people who concoct their own theories (some would say fringe) of the universe: is all matter made up of tiny coiled springs?

Guests:

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First released January 9, 2012.

Jun 03, 2013
Skeptic Check: Hostile Climate
52:02

It’s a record we didn’t want to break. The carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere hits the 400 parts-per-million mark, a level which some scientists say is a point of no return for stopping climate change. A few days later, a leading newspaper prints an op-ed essay that claims CO2 is getting a bad rap: it’s actually good for the planet. The more the better.

Skeptic Phil Plait rebuts the CO2-is-awesome idea while a paleontologist paints a picture of what Earth was like when the notorious gas last ruled the planet. Note: humans weren’t around.

Plus, our skit says NO to O2 … and a claim that climate change skeptics have borrowed from the Creationists’ playbook in challenging the teaching of established science in schools.

Guests:

  • Phil Plait – Astronomer, skeptic, and author of Slate Magazine’s blog Bad Astronomy
  • Peter Ward – Paleontologist and biologist, Department of Earth and Space Sciences, University of Washington in Seattle
  • Josh Rosenau – Programs and Policy Director at the National Center for Science Education
  • Eugenie Scott – Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education

Descripción en español

May 20, 2013
Fundest Show Ever
01:10:46

You can remember yesterday, but not tomorrow. But why? We consider the arrow of time and why its direction was set by the Big Bang. Also, artificial blood cells and life in a deep Antarctic lake.

You’ll hear how Stephen King thinks that humankind is metaphorically living under a big dome, and why we really want to go into space, according to Neil Tyson.

And … skeptical takes on faces in cheese sandwiches and the supposedly special powers of psychics.

All this and more on this special Big Picture Science podcast.

Guests:

Descripción en español

May 13, 2013
Stomach This
51:56

Not all conversation is appropriate for the dinner table – and that includes, strangely enough, the subject of eating. Yet what happens during the time that food enters our mouth and its grand exit is a model of efficiency and adaptation.

Author Mary Roach takes us on a tour of the alimentary canal, while a researcher describes his invention of an artificial stomach. Plus, a psychologist on why we find certain foods and smells disgusting. And, you don’t eat them but they could wiggle their way within nonetheless: surgical snakebots.

Guests:

Descripción en español

May 06, 2013
Skeptic Check: Forget with the Program
52:04

ENCORE Just remember this: memory is like Swiss cheese. Even our recollection of dramatic events that seem to sear their images directly onto our brain turn out to be riddled with errors. Discover the reliability of these emotional “flashbulb” memories.

Also, a judge questions the utility of eyewitness testimony in court. And, don’t blame Google for destroying your powers of recall! Socrates thought the same thing about the written word.

Plus, Brains on Vacation!

Guests:

Descripción en español

First released May 7, 2012

Apr 15, 2013
Seth's Wine Cellar
52:06

There are always surprises when we sort through Seth’s wine cellar – who knows what we’ll find!

In this cramped cavern, tucked between boxes of old fuses and a priceless bottle of 1961 Chateau Palmer Margaux, we discover the next generation of atomic clock … the key to how solar storms disrupt your cell phone … nano-gold particles that could make gasoline obsolete … and what NASA’s Kepler spacecraft has learned about how our solar system stacks up to others.

Tune in, find out and, help us lift these boxes, will you?

Guests:

   Chris Sorensen – Physicist, Kansas State University

   Anne Curtis – Senior research scientist, National Physical Laboratory, U.K.

   Jonathan Eisen – Evolutionary biologist, University of California, Davis

   Karel Schrijver – Solar physicist, Lockheed Martin, Advanced Technology Center

   Jonathan Fortney – Astronomer, University of California, Santa Cruz

   Sanjoy Som – Astrobiologist, NASA Ames Research Center

Apr 08, 2013
Anthropocene and Heard
52:06

What’s in a name? “Holocene” defines the geologic epoch we’re in. Or were in? Goodbye to “Holocene” and hello “Anthropocene!” Yes, scientists may actually re-name our geologic era as the “Age of Man” due to the profound impact we’ve had on the planet.

We’ll examine why we’ve earned this new moniker and who votes on such a thing. Plus, discover the strongest evidence for human-caused climate change.

Also, why cities should be celebrated, not reviled… a musing over the possible fate of alien civilizations … and waste not: what an unearthed latrine – and its contents – reveal about ancient Roman habit and diet.

Guests:

  William Steffen – Climate scientist and the Executive Director of the Climate Change Institute at the Australian National University, Canberra

  Simon Donner – Geographer at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver

  Edward Glaeser – Economist, Harvard University, author of Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier

  Douglas Vakoch – Director of Interstellar Message Composition at the SETI Institute

  Mark Robinson – Director of Environmental Archaeology at the University of Oxford

  Erica Rowan – Doctoral student, University of Oxford

Apr 01, 2013
Happy Daze
52:07

Calling all pessimists! Your brain is wired for optimism! Yes, deep down, we’re all Pollyannas. So wipe that scowl off your face and discover the evolutionary advantage of thinking positive. Also, enjoy other smile-inducing research suggesting that if you crave happiness, you should do the opposite of what your brain tells you to do.

Plus, why a “well-being index” may replace Dow Jones as a metric for success … a Twitter study that predicts your next good mood … and whether our furry and finned animal friends can experience joy.

Guests:

               Frank Drake – Trustee at the SETI Institute and author of the Drake Equation

               Tali Sharot – Cognitive neuroscientist at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at the University College London and the author of The Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain

               Michael Macy – Sociologist at Cornell University

His team’s Twitter study: http://timeu.se/

               Carol Graham – Economist at the Brookings Institution and author of The Pursuit of Happiness: An Economy of Well-Being

               David DiSalvo – Science and technology writer, author of What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite

               Robin Ince – U.K.-based comedian

               Jonathan Balcome – Animal behavior scientist and author of The Exultant Ark: A Pictorial Tour of Animal Pleasure

Mar 04, 2013
Whodunit, Who'll Do It?
52:09

The tools of forensics have moved way beyond fingerprint kits. These days, a prosecutor is as likely to wave a fMRI brain scan as a smoking gun as “Exhibit A.” Discover what happens when neuroscience has its day in court.

Meanwhile, research into the gold standard of identification, DNA, marches on. One day we may determine a suspect’s eye color from a drop of blood.

Plus, why much of forensic science – from fingerprinting to the polygraph – is more like reading tea leaves than science. And will future crime victims be robots?

Guests:

  Owen Jones – Professor of law, Professor of biological sciences at Vanderbilt University, in Nashville, Tennessee

  Manfred Kayser – Forensic molecular biologist, Erasmus University Medical Centre, Rotterdam, The Netherlands

  Marc Goodman – Founder, The Future Crimes Institute

  David Faigman – Law professor, University of California, Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco

Feb 18, 2013
Say La Vie
52:09

Researchers have discovered life in a buried Antarctic lake. But we’re not surprised. Life is amazingly adaptive. Expose it to any environment – heat, ice, acid or even jet fuel – and it thrives. But this discovery of life under the ice may have exciting implications for finding biology beyond Earth.

Scientists share their discovery, and how they drilled down through a half-mile of ice.

Also, plunge into another watery alien world with director James Cameron, and the first solo dive to the deepest, darkest part of the ocean.

Plus, a Nobel Prize-winning chemist tries to create life in his lab to learn more about biology’s origins, and martian fossils abound in Robert J. Sawyer’s latest sci-fi novel.

Guests:

  Helen Amanda Fricker – Glaciologist, Scripps Institution of Oceanography at University of California, San Diego

  Jill Mikucki – Microbiologist at the University of Tennessee

  Chris McKay – Planetary scientist, NASA Ames Research Center

  Jack Szostak – Nobel Prize winning chemist, Harvard University, Massachusetts General Hospital

  James Cameron – film director and explorer-in-residence for National Geographic

  Robert J. Sawyer – Hugo Award-winning author; most recently: Red Planet Blues

Feb 11, 2013
Skeptic Check: Science Blunders
52:40

We’ve all had an “oops” moment. Scientists are no exception. Sometimes science stumbles in the steady march of progress. Find out why cold fusion is a premier example why you shouldn’t hold a press conference before publishing your results. Also, how to separate fumbles from faux-science from fraud.

Plus, why ignorance is what really drives the scientific method.

And our Hollywood skeptic poses as a psychic for Dr. Phil, while our Dr. Phil (Plait) investigates the authenticity of a life-bearing meteorite.

Guests:

   Phil Plait – Skeptic and author of Slate Magazine’s blog Bad Astronomy

   Michael Gordin – Historian of science at Princeton University, author of The Pseudoscience Wars: Immanuel Velikovsky and the Birth of the Modern Fringe

   David Goodstein – Physicist, California Institute of Technology

   Stuart Firestein – Neuroscientist, chair of the biology department, Columbia University, and author of Ignorance: How It Drives Science

   Jim Underdown – Executive Director, Center for Inquiry, Los Angeles

Jan 28, 2013
Whither the Weather?
52:37

We all talk about the weather. And now scientists are doing something about it: providing more accurate warnings before big storms hit. Discover how smart technology – with an eye on the sky – is taking monster weather events by storm.

Plus, why severe weather events caused by a warming planet may trigger social and economic chaos.

Also, meet the storm chaser who runs toward tornadoes as everyone else flees… and why your cell phone goes haywire when the sun kicks up a storm of its own.

Guests:

  Michael Smith – Meteorologist, founder of WeatherData and author of Warnings: The True Story of How Science Tamed the Weather

  George Kourounis – Explorer and storm chaser

  Jeffrey Scargle – Research astrophyscisit in the Astrobiology and Space Science Division at NASA Ames Research Center

  Ken Caldeira – Climate scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science’s Deparment of Global Ecology

  Christian Pareti – Contributing editor of The Nation, visiting scholar at the City Univeristy of New York, and author of Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence

Jan 14, 2013
Ultimate Hook Up
52:12

Imagine moving things with your mind. Not with telekinesis, but with the future tools of brain science. Meet a pioneer in the field of computer-to-brain connection and discover the blurry boundary where the mind ends and the machine begins.

Plus, how new technology is sharpening the “real” in virtual reality. And, whether our devotion to digital devices is changing what it means to be human.

Guests:

   Miguel Nicolelis – Director for the Center for Neuroengineering at Duke University, and author of Beyond Boundaries: The New Neuroscience of Connecting Brains with Machines and How it Will Change our Lives

   Jeremy Bailenson – Director of the Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford University and co-author of Infinite Reality: Avatars, Eternal Life, New Worlds and the Dawn of the Virtual Revolution

   Jim Blascovich – Psychologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara and co-author of Infinite Reality: Avatars, Eternal Life, New Worlds and the Dawn of the Virtual Revolution

   Sherry Turkle – Professor of social studies of science and technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less From Each Other

Jan 07, 2013
Skeptic Check: They're Baack!
52:11

Could you have had a past life? Is it possible that some part of you is the reincarnation of a person – or maybe an animal – that lived long ago?

We’ll hear the story of a young boy who started having nightmares about a plane crash. His parents thought he was the reincarnation of a downed, World War II fighter pilot. But his story might not fly.

Also … is there any biological basis for reincarnation? Animals that indulge in the big sleep.

Suspended animation is Hollywood’s favorite device for interstellar travel … But could we really put a dimmer switch on human metabolism? Learn how techniques for hitting the hold button for humans might be just around the corner.

Guests:

   Cynthia Meyersburg – Research psychologist at Harvard University

   Tori Hoehler – Astrobiologist at the NASA Ames Research Center

   André Bormanis – Screenwriter, producer and former science consultant for “Star Trek”

   Matt Andrews – Biologist at the University of Minnesota, Duluth

   Phil Plait – Astronomer, and author of the Bad Astronomy blog at Discover Magazine

   Mark Roth – Biologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle

Dec 31, 2012
Remembers Only
52:12

You must remember this… wait, wait... I had it… on the tip of my tongue… (Memory is a tricky thing and most of us would like to improve it)… oh, yes: Discover the secrets of stupefying, knock-your-socks-off recall by a U.S. Memory Champion.

Also, almost everything we know about memory comes from the life of one man born in 1926 and known as H.M., the world’s “most unforgettable amnesiac.”

Plus, the sum total of the global data storage capacity in hard drives, thumb drives, the Internet, you name it… guess how many exabytes it comes to?

Guests:

   Larry Squire – Professor of psychiatry and neurosciences and psychology at the University of California, San Diego and a scientist at the VA Medical Center in San Diego

   Jacopo Annese – Neuroanatomist and Director of the Brain Observatory at the University of California, San Diego

   Joshua Foer – Author of Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything

   Martin Hilbert – Economist and social scientist, University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism

Dec 24, 2012
Before the Big Bang
52:17

It’s one of the biggest questions you can ask: has the universe existed forever? The Big Bang is supposedly the moment it all began. But now scientists wonder if there isn’t an earlier chapter to our origin story. And maybe chapters before that! What happened before the Big Bang? It’s the ultimate prequel.

Plus – the Big Bang as scientific story: nail biter or snoozer?

Guests

   Roger Penrose – Cosmologist, Oxford University

   Sean Carroll – Theoretical physicist, Caltech, author of The Particle at the End of the Universe: How the Hunt for the Higgs Boson Leads Us to the Edge of a New World

   Simon Steele – Astronomer, Tufts University

   Andrei Linde – Physicist, Stanford University

   Jonathan Gottschall – Writer, author of The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human

   Marcus Chown – Science writer and cosmology consultant for New Scientist magazine

Dec 17, 2012
Doomsday Live, Part 2
52:16

If there is only one show you hear about the end of the world, let it be this one. Recorded before a live audience at the Computer History Museum on October 27th, 2012, this two-part special broadcast of Big Picture Science separates fact from fiction in doomsday prediction.

In this second episode: a global viral pandemic … climate change … and the threat of assimilation by super-intelligent machines.

Presented as part of the Bay Area Science Festival.

Find out more about our guests and their work.

Guests:

   Kirsten Gilardi – Wildlife veterinarian at the University of California, Davis. leader of the Gorilla Doctors program, and team leader for the US-AID Emerging Pandemic Threats PREDICT program

   Ken Caldeira – Climate scientist, Carnegie Intuition for Science at Stanford University

   Luke Muehlhauser – Executive Director of the Singularity Institute

   Bradley Voytek – Neuroscience researcher at the University of California, San Francisco

Dec 03, 2012
Doomsday Live, Part I
57:15

If there is only one show you hear about the end of the world, let it be this one. Recorded before a live audience at the Computer History Museum on October 27th, 2012, this two-part special broadcast of Big Picture Science separates fact from fiction in doomsday prediction. In this episode: Maya prophesy for December 21, 2012 … asteroid impact and cosmic threats …. and alien invasion.

Presented as part of the Bay Area Science Festival.

Find out more about our guests and their work.

Guests:

Nov 26, 2012
No Expiration Date
52:12

We all have to go sometime, and that final hour is the mother of all deadlines. But scientists are working to file an extension. Discover how far we can push the human expiration date.

Plus, the animal with the shortest lifespan and the chemistry that causes your pot-roast to eventually clothe itself in fuzzy green mold.

Also, a clock that won’t stop ticking (for 10,000 years) and our love-hate relationship with that long-lived hydrocarbon that keeps our snack cakes fresh: plastic!

Guests:

Nov 19, 2012
Going Global
52:17

The Internet is not the only globally-uniting phenomenon. Viruses and bacteria can circle the globe as fast as we can, and the effects can be devastating. Discover what it takes for an animal disease to become a human pandemic. Also, was hurricane Sandy a man-made disaster? The future of severe storms and climate change.

Plus, the view of our science from abroad: why Brits have no trouble accepting the theory of evolution but Americans do. And what about a new annex for Silicon Valley – 12 miles out to sea?

Guests:

   Jerry Meehl – Senior scientist, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, CO

   Alok Jha – Science correspondent, The Guardian

   David Quammen – Science journalist and author, most recently of Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic

   Max Marty – Co-founder and CEO of Blueseed

Nov 05, 2012
Space Archaeology
52:11

Indiana Jones meets Star Trek in the field of space archaeology. Satellites scan ancient ruins so that scientists can map them without disturbing one grain of sand. Discover how some archaeologists forsake their spades and brushes in favor of examining historic sites from hundreds of miles high.

Also, if you were to hunt for alien artifacts – what would you look for? Why ET might choose to send snail mail rather than a radio signal.

Plus, the culture of the hardware we send into space, and roaming the Earth, the moon, and Mars the Google way.

Guests:

   Alice Gorman – Archaeologist at Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia

   Christopher Rose – Professor of Computer and Intellectual Engineering, Rutgers University, New Jersey

   Robin Hanson – Economist at George Mason University, Virginia

   Tiffany Montague – Engineer, and Intergalactic Federation King Almighty, Commander of the Universe, at Google, Inc.

   Compton Tucker – Scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Oct 22, 2012
As the Worlds Turn
51:47

If you’re itching it get away from it all, really get away from it all, have we got some exotic destinations for you. Mars … Jupiter’s moon Europa … asteroids . Tour some enticing worlds that are worlds away, but ripe for exploration.

Also, why private spaceships may be just the ticket for getting yourself into space, unless you want to wait for a space elevator.

And, why one science journalist boasts of an infectious, unabashed, and unbridled enthusiasm for space travel.

Guests:

   Cynthia Phillips – Planetary geologist, SETI Institute

   Britney Schmidt – Research scientist, University of Texas, Austin

   Paul Abell – Planetary geologist, NASA’s Johnson Space Center

   Richard Hollingham – Science journalist, producer of Space Boffins podcast, living in the U.K.

   Barry Matsumori – Senior vice president for commercial sales and business development, SpaceX Corporation

   Peter Swan – Space System Engineer and Vice President, International Space Elevator Consortium

Oct 15, 2012
[Rectangular Container] Thinking
52:52

By thinking different, scientists can make extraordinary breakthroughs. Learn about the creative cogitation that led to the discovery of dark matter and the invention of a.c. power grids, disinfectant, and the Greek “death ray.” Also, whether one person’s man of genius is another’s mad scientist.

And, the scientist who claims pi is wrong and biopunks who tinker with DNA – in their kitchens and on the cheap.

Plus, from string theory to the greenhouse effect – how metaphor sheds light on science. Discover why your brain is like a rain forest (that’s a simile!).

Guests:

   Anil Ananthaswamy – Corresponding editor for New Scientist magazine in London and author of The Edge of Physics: A Journey to Earth’s Extremes to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe

   Marcus Wohlsen – Reporter for the Associated Press, and author of Biopunk: DIY Scientists Hack the Software of Life

   John Monahan – Author of They Called Me Mad: Genius, Madness, and the Scientists Who Pushed the Outer Limits of Knowledge

   Michael Hartl – Physicist, creator of “Tau Day”

   James Geary – Author of I Is an Other: The Secret Life of Metaphor and How It Shapes the Way We See the World

Oct 08, 2012
Skeptic Check: Mysterious Illness
52:52

Stuttering speech and facial tics are among the strange symptoms that swept through a New York high school. Discover what’s behind the odd outbreak, and why one sociologist sees parallels to Salem, Massachusetts 300 years ago.

Also, an update on the cellphone cancer debate, and why one congressman wants warning labels on all new phones.

Plus, the ultimate cleanse: giving up on food to survive on light and air. We investigate the claims of Breatharians.

It’s Skeptic Check … but don’t take our word for it!

Guests:

   Dennis Kucinich – U.S. Representative, Ohio’s 10th congressional district

   Joshua Muscat – Epidemiologist, professor of public health sciences, Penn State at Hershey College of Medicine

   Michael Wyde – Toxicologist, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

   Robert Bartholomew – Sociologist, Botany College, Auckland, New Zealand, author of Outbreak! The Encyclopedia of Extraordinary Social Behavior

   Gordy Slack – Science writer

   Benjamin Radford – Deputy editor, Skeptical Inquirer magazine

Oct 01, 2012
Big Data
52:21

It’s all in the numbers. The trick is, finding what you’re looking for. But that’s the name of the game with big data. We have a giga-gigabyte of information, and combing through it will lead to new cures for disease, new discoveries about the cosmos, or clues to our social and economic behavior.

But is big data Big Brother? You leave a little bit of yourself behind with each mouse click. Discover how surveillance and privacy issues bubble out of the mix, as the terabytes keep flowing in.

Plus one man’s quest to know himself through the numbers as he records everything – and we do mean everything – about his body.

Guests:

   Atul Butte – Associate professor, division chief, systems medicine, Stanford University

   Larry Smarr – Professor of computer science, University of California, San Diego, director of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology, (Calit2)

   Karen Nelson – Microbiologist, director of the Rockville Campus of the J. Craig Venter Institute

   Gerry Harp – Physicist, and Director of the Center for SETI Research at the SETI Institute

   Deirdre Mulligan – Assistant professor at the University of California, Berkeley School of Information and faculty director of the Berkeley Center of Law and Technology

   Ken Goldberg – Professor of engineering, information and art at the University of California, Berkeley

Sep 24, 2012
Skeptic Check: Energy Vortex
52:21

"I feel your vibe!” Well, that describes a number of fabled locales that claim to pulse with mysterious energy – perhaps prompting books to fly across the room or airplanes to vanish into thin air. But what’s the science behind it?

We examine spots marked with an X, for “extraordinary” – from a haunted house to the Bermuda Triangle – to sort out natural from supernatural phenomena.

Plus, what causes the aurora borealis… a haywire Russian space probe… and just what the heck is an “energy vortex,” anyway?

Guests:

  Phil Plait – Skeptic and keeper of Discover Magazine’s blog: badastronomy

  Mike Borg – Group Sales Coordinator, Winchester Mystery House

  Jim Underdown – Executive Director, Center for Inquiry, Los Angeles

  Peter Williams – Hydrodynamicist at Agilent Technologies

  Guy P. Harrison – Writer and business owner in Southern California, author of 50 Popular Beliefs That People Think Are True

  Rob Lillis – Space and Planetary Physicist, Space Sciences Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley

Sep 17, 2012
Oh, Rats!
52:16

Before you chase it with a broom, consider this – without the rat, we might miss critical insights into the nature of stress, cancer … and even love. These furry, red-eyed rodents have a unique role in medical research – and a ubiquitous companion to our urban lives.

Discover the origins of the albino laboratory rat … what rat laughter sounds like, and why these four-legged fur balls don’t fall victim to the pressure of the rat race … but we do.

Guests:

   Kelly Lambert – Behavioral Neuroscientist, Randolph-Macon College, Ashland, Virginia, author of The Lab Rat Chronicles: A Neuroscientist Reveals Life Lessons from the Planet’s Most Successful Mammals

   Michael Gould – Professor of Oncology and Medical Physics, University of Wisconsin, Madison

   Jaak Pankseep – Neuroscientist, Veterinary College, Washington State University, author of The Archaeology of Mind: Neuroevolutionary Origins of Human Emotions (Norton Series on Interpersonal Neurobiology)

   Pico Iyer – Writer, author of The Man Within My Head and the New York Times article The Joy of Quiet

Sep 10, 2012
The Invisible In-Between
51:54

To need air is human. Our lungs thank us for each breath we take. But air is more than a transporter of O2. It shapes our weather, keeps birds aloft and moves spores from here to there. A cubic foot of air is anything but “empty” (hot dog grease particles, anyone?).

The same goes for space (minus the hot dog grease). It’s a happening place. Discover why interstellar space is more than a whole lot o’ nothing; and what happens when the Voyager spacecraft leaves our solar system. Plus, catch a skydiver in action!

Guests:

   Mako Igarashi – Skydiving instructor, Skydive Hollister, Hollister, CA

   Rhett Allain – Physicist at Southeastern Louisiana University, blogger for Wired.com