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Podcast Profile: Unsung Science

podcast imageTwitter: @Pogue
Site: unsungscience.com/
47 episodes
2021 to 2023
Average episode: 36 minutes
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Categories: Science-Adjacent • Story-Style

Podcaster's summary: Hear the untold stories of mind-blowing achievements in science and tech. “CBS Sunday Morning” correspondent and six-time Emmy winner David Pogue takes you behind the scenes into the creation stories of the world’s greatest advances and the people behind them. From transportation, food, space, internet, and health, creators reveal their inspirations and roadblocks they encountered in bringing their breakthroughs to the public. Hear all-new episodes of the award-winning Unsung Science podcast every other Friday.

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List Updated: 2024-Apr-14 06:46 UTC. Episodes: 47. Feedback: @TrueSciPhi.

Episodes
2023-Dec-08 • 49 minutes
Grand Finale: A Pop Song is Born
In the days of old, creating a song required a composer, a lyricist, an arranger, a recording engineer, a band or orchestra. Today, in the pop world, a single person often handles those jobs in a single studio. In this extraordinary episode, you’ll hear two-time Grammy winner Oak Felder create a new song, in real time, start to finish—and you’ll gain incredible insight into how technology and talent team up to produce art. See Privacy Policy at https://art19.com/privacy and California Privacy Notice at htt...
2023-Nov-24 • 36 minutes
Electric Planes Take Off
Planes contribute 9% of the world’s carbon pollution, but electrifying them has always seemed impossible; batteries have never been powerful or light enough to carry themselves. But in 2023, batteries reached a tipping point in power and weight. Beta Technologies, based in Vermont, is flying its six-passenger vertical-takeoff airplanes every day. David Pogue was there at takeoff. See Privacy Policy at https://art19.com/privacy and California Privacy Notice at https://art19.com/privacy#do-not-sell-my-info....
2023-Nov-10 • 38 minutes
Genetics, Votes, and Colin Firth
The U.S. has fallen into polarized, partisan, political bickering. Online, liberals and conservatives seem to despise each other. But nobody seems to stop to ask: How did we get our liberal and conservative views in the first place? We formed our opinions by carefully weighing the issues and thoughtfully choosing a stance, right? Well, no; turns out over half of our political leanings are determined, incredibly, by our genes. In this episode: How we figured that out, and what it means for our future. See P...
2023-Oct-26 • 29 minutes
How Does Google Maps Do It?
Every month, over a billion people open their phones and fire up Google Maps. Its original function—offering driving directions, with real-time traffic tracking—was disruptive enough in 2008, when most people had to pay $10 a month for traffic data. But since that time, it’s become a global business directory, a transit timetable, crowdedness monitor, a Street View miracle—and now, in its newest release, an augmented-reality viewer of the cityscape around you. The question is: How is Google doing it, and wh...
2023-Oct-13 • 37 minutes
How Cool Tech is Saving the Whales
For the most part, we don’t hunt whales anymore, but we’re still killing them—mostly by driving ships into them. One species, the North Atlantic right whale, is now extinct in most parts of the world; only 340 are left. But it may not be too late. An extraordinary coalition of nonprofits, research institutions, foundations, and even megalithic shipping corporations are teaming up to develop technology, prove the science, and, yes, save the whales. See Privacy Policy at https://art19.com/privacy and Califo...
2023-Sep-29 • 40 minutes
How the Webb Telescope Sees Back in Time
On Christmas Day, 2021, NASA launched the James Webb Space Telescope into orbit a million miles from Earth—a huge and insanely ambitious machine, billions of dollars over budget and 14 years past deadline. Now, as the telescope completes its first year of capturing astonishing images of the universe as it was just after the Big Bang, its creators discuss why so many things went right. See Privacy Policy at https://art19.com/privacy and California Privacy Notice at https://art19.com/privacy#do-not-sell-my-i...
2023-Sep-16 • 36 minutes
Inside Elon Musk's Brain
People use all kinds of words to describe Elon Musk, from “genius” to “megalomaniac,” from “visionary” to “erratic”—but now there’s less reason to call him “enigmatic,” thanks to Walter Isaacson’s new 688-page biography. Isaacson hung out with Musk for two years, attending meetings, witnessing meltdowns, taking Musk’s 3 a.m. phone calls. In this special “Unsung Science” episode, Isaacson describes the man behind Tesla, SpaceX, Starlink, and the social-media site once known as Twitter. See Privacy Poli...
2023-Sep-01 • 38 minutes
Screaming Babies, Noise Canceling, and You
In April 1978, MIT professor Amar Bose was flying home to Boston from Switzerland. But when he tried to listen to music through the airline’s headphones, he couldn’t hear a darned thing. He spent the rest of the flight doing acoustical math—and sketching out an idea for headphones that literally subtracted background noise from what you hear. Today, noise-canceling headphones are everywhere. But the revolution began with Amar Bose’s airplane sketches—and the 22-year, $50 million journey that led them to the...
2023-Aug-18 • 41 minutes
The Pulse-Pounding Origin Story of USB-C
There’s a new kind of jack in town—well, new as of 2014—called USB-C. This single, tiny connector can carry power, video, audio, and data between electronic gadgets—simultaneously. It can replace a laptop’s power cord, USB jacks, video output jack, and headphone jack. The connector is symmetrical, so you can’t insert it upside-down. It’s identical end for end, too, so it doesn’t matter which end you grab first. USB-C has the potential to charge your gadget faster and transfer data faster than what’s come be...
2023-Aug-04 • 40 minutes
CeCe Moore Cracks Cold Cases with Genealogy
Genealogy has been around a while. So has DNA evidence. But what if you combined the two? What if you could use DNA from a crime scene, compare the unknown killer’s genetics with public databases of other people’s DNA, figure out who his relatives are, and thereby determine his identity? That’s the system that CeCe Moore invented five years ago. So far, she’s cracked over 270 cold cases using this method—and brought closure to hundreds of grieving families. See Privacy Policy at https://art19.com/privacy ...
2023-Jul-21 • 31 minutes
What if Placebos ARE the Medicine?
We’ve known about the placebo effects for over 200 years. That’s where doctors give you a pill containing no actual medicine, but you still get better. Recent studies have uncovered a broader range of benefits from the including alleviated pain, nausea, heart rate, hay fever, allergies, insomnia, depression, anxiety, fatigue, and even symptoms of Parkinson’s. Weirder yet, the characteristics of the pill — color, size, and shape — influence their effectiveness. Fake capsules work better than fake pills, and ...
2023-Jul-07 • 34 minutes
The Man Who Invented QR Codes
In 1994, Masahiro Hara got tired of having to scan six or seven barcodes on every box of Toyota car-parts that zoomed past him on the assembly line. He wondered why the standard barcode from the 70s was still used...Why couldn’t someone invent a barcode that used two dimensions instead of one that could work from any angle or distance, even even if it got smudged or torn? And so, studying a game of "Go", he dreamed up what we now know as the QR Code — the square barcode you scan with your phone. It shows u...
2023-Jun-23 • 45 minutes
Inside the Lost Titanic Sub: An Update
The lost OceanGate submersible has captured the world’s attention. In the summer of 2022, “CBS News Sunday Morning” correspondent and "Unsung Science" host David Pogue was invited to join an expedition to visit the Titanic wreck with OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush, as well as Titanic dive veteran P.H. Nargeolet, aboard the one-of-a-kind sub. David covered his adventure in a two-part episode in December 2022. Today, we know that the sub and its creator met a tragic end. Pogue looks back at the experience, with ...
2023-Jun-09 • 38 minutes
How Doug Lindsay Invented His Own Surgery
In his senior year of college, a monstrous ailment fell upon Doug Lindsay. His skin felt flayed. His heart raced. The room spun. He was so weak, he couldn’t sit up in bed, let alone walk. Worst of all, doctors had no idea what was wrong with him. Only one person on earth had the time and motivation to figure out what was wrong with Doug Lindsay: Doug Lindsay. Over the next 14 years, he consumed medical textbooks and science journals. He attended medical conferences in his wheelchair. He wrote polite, well-...
2023-May-26 • 36 minutes
The Power of an Empty Metal Box
We’ve been shipping stuff across oceans for centuries. But until 1956, we loaded our ships in the dumbest way possible: one at a time. Then Malcolm McClean came along. He envisioned lifting the big metal box part off a truck and setting it directly down onto a ship. Every one of these boxes would be identical and interchangeable, maximizing space and minimizing waste. The shipping container was born — an idea that was so powerful, it rejiggered the global economy, gutted cities, and turned China into the wo...
2023-May-12 • 36 minutes
From Klingon to Dothraki: Constructed Languages for Hollywood
The first time you heard “Star Trek” characters speak Klingon, or the “Game of Thrones” characters speaking Dothraki and High Valyrian, you might have assumed that the actors were just speaking a few words of gibberish, created by some screenwriter to sound authentic. But these are complete languages, with vocabulary, syntax, grammar, and even made-up histories. There’s only one person on the planet whose full-time job is creating them—and these days, he’s swamped with requests. No doubt about it: Conlangs ...
2023-Apr-28 • 38 minutes
The Million-Dollar Toothpaste Tube
We’re overrun with plastic. It’s in our oceans, our water, our food. Something has to be done—preferably by corporations, which churn out millions of tons of plastic every year. Enter: the toothpaste tube. It might seem like a minor player in the plastic problem, but we throw 20 billion toothpaste tubes into the landfill every year. Recycling plants can’t take them, because they’re made of plastic and metal foil bonded together. They all end up in the landfill. Colgate, the #1 toothpaste brand, decided to...
2023-Apr-14 • 56 minutes
Happiness 2.0: The Reset Button from Hidden Brain
Understandably, there is a lot going on in our lives, and we feel pulled in every direction. But trying to get everything done can distract from the joy that surrounds us. Host Shankar Vedantam and psychologist Dacher Keltner discuss what it means to savor the beauty of the people, moments, and things in the world and the scientific reasoning behind the feeling of "awe." This is an episode of Hidden Brain that originally aired in February 2023, and you can listen to new episodes of Hidden Brain wherever y...
2023-Mar-31 • 34 minutes
The Rewilded Farm
After 17 years of trying to prop up their failing farm outside of London, Charlie Burrell and Isabella Tree were stressed, exhausted, and $1.7 million in debt. They decided to stop farming—no more plowing, planting, irrigating, chemicals. They gave away the farm—to nature. 20 years later, their land has one of the most important biodiversity hotspots in the UK. These 3500 acres teem with species, many of which are endangered or hadn’t been seen in the UK for centuries. And the twist: Their land now genera...
2023-Mar-17 • 32 minutes
NASA Redirects an Asteroid
65 million years ago an asteroid struck the earth. In the ensuing planetary darkness, the dinosaurs went extinct. But the dinosaurs didn’t have a space program! Now we can spot incoming asteroids with steadily improving confidence. If we see one on a collision course with the Earth, we know from the movies that the solution is to nuke it...Right? Actually, NASA has a better idea. If you can just nudge an asteroid slightly off its current path, maybe 25 or 50 years before it hits us, it won’t hit the earth. ...
2023-Mar-03 • 40 minutes
How They Found the Shipwreck Endurance
In 1915, British explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton’s historic expedition to Antarctica stalled when floating ice trapped, crushed, and finally sank his ship, Endurance. Shackleton’s men survived 21 months on the ice, alone and freezing, and became one of the most incredible adventure stories ever recorded. The ship itself, Endurance, was not seen again for 106 years. Every attempt to find it wound up thwarted by exactly the same enemy: crushing sheets of pack ice. Finally, in 2022, an international team of exp...
2023-Feb-17 • 28 minutes
Deepfakes: Big Tech Fights Back
Deepfakes, those computer-generated videos of well-known people saying things they never actually said, strike a lot of experts as terrifying. If we can’t even trust videos we see online, how does democracy stand a chance? As photo- and video-manipulation apps get cheaper and better, the rise of fake Obamas, Trumps, and Ukrainian presidents seemed unstoppable. But then a coalition of 750 camera, software, news, and social-media companies got together to embrace an ingenious way to shut the deepfakers down—...
2023-Feb-03 • 47 minutes
The Mars Helicopter That Would Not Die
The star attraction of NASA’s Mars 2020 mission is the Perseverance rover. But bolted to its underside was a stowaway: A tiny, 19-inch helicopter called Ingenuity. She was intended to fly five times on Mars, as a wild experiment to see if anything could fly in Mars’s incredibly thin atmosphere. But as the speed, altitude, length, and usefulness of Ingenuity’s flights improved, her mission was extended indefinitely. Ingenuity is still flying, nearly a year after its original mission was to end—and now, NASA ...
2023-Jan-20 • 32 minutes
ChatGPT and the End of Writing
In early 2023 ChatGPT blew up the internet. It’s an AI app that can create any piece of writing you ask for. Poems, homework, lyrics, essays, outlines, recipes, interview questions, and even code. All are indistinguishable from something written by a person, all instantaneous and free. In schools, cheaters began cheating immediately. Educators were horrified, calling it the end of homework, college-entrance essays, and even writing skills. New York City schools banned it. Experts called it a potential fact...
2023-Jan-13 • 3 minutes
Introducing: Season 2 of Unsung Science with David Pogue
From NASA helicopters in space to robot bouys at sea, “CBS Sunday Morning” correspondent David Pogue is covering all the latest innovations across tech and science on season 2 of Unsung Science. Hear interviews with industry leaders who take you behind the scenes of the world’s greatest advances in transportation, food, space, internet, and health. New episodes every other Friday. See Privacy Policy at https://art19.com/privacy and California Privacy Notice at https://art19.com/privacy#do-not-sell-my-info....
2022-Dec-19 • 35 minutes
Back to Titanic Part 2
In “Back to Titanic” Part 1, David Pogue told of his invitation to join an expedition to visit the wreck of the Titanic in a custom submersible. The company, OceanGate, ordinarily charges $250,000 per person, as part of a new wave in adventure travel. Bad weather immediately canceled the dive that Pogue and the “CBS Sunday Morning” crew were scheduled to join—but the CEO offered a consolation dive to the Grand Banks. The sights were said to include shark breeding grounds, towering underwater cliffs, and ...
2022-Nov-27 • 37 minutes
Back to Titanic Part 1
The wreck of the Titanic lies about 2.4 miles below sea level. Only five submersibles in the world can carry people to that depth—and four of them have been retired or reassigned. The one remaining sub is something special. First, it holds five people comfortably (instead of two or three uncomfortably). Second, it’s the only one made of carbon fiber. And third, you can buy your way onto it. For $250,000, OceanGate Expeditions will take you down to visit the world’s most famous shipwreck. Deep sea is the new...
2022-Nov-20 • 26 minutes
The Secret of Baby Carrots
If you type the word “carrot” into Google Images, you get thousands of photos of the classic root vegetable. They’re all full-length, orange, straight, and pointy. Which is a little odd, because 70% of all the carrots we buy are, in fact, baby carrots. Or at least we think they’re baby carrots. Turns out baby carrots aren’t baby at all. And the story of their creation is twisty, uplifting, and super satisfying. It’s all about a California carrot farmer with a distaste for waste—and a frustrated ex-wife. S...
2022-Feb-11 • 37 minutes
How Impossible Meats Might Save the Earth
People talk about greenhouse-gas emissions from cars, planes, and factories, but one source out-pollutes them all: Cows. Raising meat animals like cows generates more methane than the entire fossil-fuel industry. So Pat Brown left his job as a Stanford biochemistry professor to dedicate his life to fixing the problem. He vowed to create perfect meat replicas using only plant ingredients. His Impossible Burger is already a megahit—but can he be serious about replacing all beef, pork, chicken, and fish by 203...
2022-Feb-04 • 29 minutes
The Man Who Stopped the Spammers
By the year 2000, the internet was already becoming a cesspool. The bad guys used software bots to sign up for millions of fake email accounts—for sending out spam. PhD student Luis Von Ahn stopped them. He invented the CAPTCHA, that website login test where you have to decipher the distorted image of a word. Or you have to find the traffic lights or fire hydrants in a grid of nine blurry photos. Those tests help to keep down the volume of spam, spyware, and misinformation; they advance the clarity of dig...
2022-Jan-28 • 33 minutes
Where Emoji Come From
Each year, the powers that be endow our phones with about 70 new emoji. For 2022, you’ll be getting a mirror ball, a crutch, an X-ray, coral, a ring buoy, and a bird’s nest—with or without eggs in it. But who ARE the powers that be? Why do they add the emoji they add? Why do we have a blowfish but not a catfish? Why do we have police car, police officer, and judge, but not handcuffs, jail, or prison? In this hilarious episode, you’ll meet the shadowy figures who choose which symbols get added to the perma...
2022-Jan-21 • 33 minutes
How the Fitbit Knows You're Dreaming
Over the last decade, a group of California scientists has quietly amassed the biggest sleep database ever assembled. It includes every dozing off, every wakeup, every REM-cycle, every chunk of deep sleep, from 15 billion nights of human slumber. It can tell us the average person’s bedtime, whether men or women sleep longer, and which city is really the city that never sleeps. These scientists work at Fitbit—the company that sells fitness bands. And for them, revealing your sleep patterns is only the beginn...
2022-Jan-14 • 49 minutes
Subtitles for the Blind
You already knew that you can turn on subtitles for your TV show or movie—handy if you’re hearing impaired, or just want to understand the dialogue better. But there’s a corresponding feature for people with low vision: audio description tracks, where an unseen narrator tells you, in real time, what’s happening on the screen. But who creates them, and how, and when? And how do they describe the action during fast dialogue, fast action, sex scenes, and screens full of scrolling credits? A deep dive into a bi...
2022-Jan-07 • 37 minutes
Chainsaws, Women, and the Cape Town Drought
In 2018, following a historic three-year drought, the water sources in Cape Town, South Africa ran dry. It was the first major city to face Day Zero: when you’d turn on the faucet—and nothing would come out. The town leaders discussed expensive, environmentally disruptive projects like pipelines and desalination plants. But then an environmental nonprofit, the Nature Conservancy, proposed a radically different approach that could win Cape Town 13 billion gallons of water a year, cheaply and perpetually, us...
2021-Dec-31 • 58 minutes
How to Prepare for Wildfires
You’ve survived 2021—thanks, no doubt, to the science and tech that made your medical care, your internet, and your smartphone work. Tonight, New Year’s Eve, many podcast hosts are taking some time to reflect, to rest—and to post a re-run. But not “Unsung Science!” To tide you over until next week’s fresh episode, we offer a free audiobook chapter from David Pogue’s book, “How to Prepare for Climate Change.” This is the chapter on how to prepare for wildfires, timed to coincide with the middle of the winte...
2021-Dec-24 • 59 minutes
Where to Live in the Climate-Change Era
It’s the night before Christmas—and many podcasters (and listeners) are nestled all snug in their beds. But we didn’t want to leave you without a dose of witty Pogue science writing. So here, for your listening pleasure, is a free chapter from David Pogue’s latest audio book, “How to Prepare for Climate Change.” This is Chapter 2, “Where to Live.” Obviously, not everyone can afford to move just to escape climate-crisis disasters—yet 40 million Americans do move every year, and an increasing number of them ...
2021-Dec-17 • 36 minutes
Leap Seconds, Smear Seconds, and the Slowing of the Earth
The earth’s spinning is slowing down. Any clocks pegged to the earth’s rotation are therefore drifting out of alignment with our far more precise atomic clocks—only by a thousandth of a second every 50 years, but that’s still a problem for the computers that run the internet, cellphones, and financial systems. In 1972, scientists began re-aligning atomic clocks with earth-rotation time by inserting a leap second every December 31, or as needed. It seemed like a good idea at the time—until computers started...
2021-Dec-10 • 34 minutes
How the Cellphone was Born: Three Months of Craziness
In the early 1970s, “mobile phones” were car phones: Permanently installed monstrosities that filled up your trunk with boxes and, in a given city, could handle only 20 calls at a time. Nobody imagined that there’d be a market for handheld, pocketable cellphones; the big phone companies thought the idea was idiotic. But Marty Cooper, now 92, saw a different future for cellular technology—and he had 90 days to make it work. A story of corporate rivalry, Presidential interference…and unquenchable optimism. G...
2021-Dec-03 • 46 minutes
How Apple and Microsoft Built the Seeing-Eye Phone
Your smartphone can see, hear, and speak—even if you can’t. So it occurred to the engineers at Apple and Microsoft: Can the phone be a talking companion for anyone with low vision, describing what it’s seeing in the world around you? Today, it can. Thanks to some heavy doses of machine learning and augmented reality, these companies’ apps can identify things, scenes, money, colors, text, and even people (“30-year-old man with brown hair, smiling, holding a laptop—probably Stuart”)—and then speak, in words,...
2021-Nov-26 • 6 minutes
How to Prepare for Climate Change: Intro
It's Thanksgiving weekend, and for many podcasts, a week off. But we didn't want to sock you with some re-run—or, worse, leave you with no episode at all. So David Pogue is here to offer a free chapter from his audio book, "How to Prepare for Climate Change." You'll hear the complete Introduction, which is designed to teach you the difference between mitigation and adaptation—and convince you to keep doing the former, but start doing the latter. See Privacy Policy at https://art19.com/privacy and Californi...
2021-Nov-19 • 36 minutes
Who Makes the Fake Languages for Hollywood?
The first time you heard “Star Trek” characters speak Klingon, or the “Game of Thrones” characters speaking Dothraki and High Valyrian, you might have assumed that the actors were just speaking a few words of gibberish, created by some screenwriter to sound authentic. But these are complete languages, with vocabulary, syntax, grammar, and even made-up histories. There’s only one person on the planet whose full-time job is creating them—and these days, he’s swamped with requests. No doubt about it: Conlangs ...
2021-Nov-12 • 40 minutes
How NASA's $2 Billion Rover Landed Itself on Mars: "Seven Minutes of Terror"
Perseverance, NASA's latest Mars rover, is a one-ton, $2 billion marvel. The plan was for it to enter the Mars atmosphere going 12,000 miles an hour. The problem: How do you slow it down enough to set it down gently on the surface? You can't use retro rockets, because they'd stir up so much dust, the rover’s cameras and instruments would be ruined. You can’t deliver Perseverance inside a larger spaceship, because the rover wouldn’t be able to drive out of the landing crater. You can’t even control the desce...
2021-Nov-05 • 31 minutes
Tornado Alley is Shifting Eastward—and We're Not Ready
Tornadoes are nasty and dangerous. They appear and disappear so fast, there’s usually no time for evacuation—and the United States gets 75% of all the world’s tornadoes, about 1,300 of them a year. They occur all year ‘round, in all 50 states, but the biggest swarm forms in Tornado Alley, in the southern Plains states like Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska. In 2018, storm chaser and meteorologist Victor Gensini made a startling discovery: Tornado Alley has been shifting eastward. Their growing frequency...
2021-Oct-29 • 42 minutes
Audio Deepfakes and the End of Trust
The media is plenty freaked out about “deepfakes”: Computer-generated videos of famous people saying things they never actually said. But only the video is faked; the audio parts, the voices of those fake celebrities, were supplied by human impersonators. But now, software exists to mimic anyone’s voice, opening a Pandora’s Box of fraud, deception, and what one expert calls “the end of trust.” Fortunately, a new coalition of 60 news organizations and software companies think they have a way to shut down the...
2021-Oct-22 • 38 minutes
How We Almost Blew the Vaccine
It may seem as though we got the Pfizer and Moderna COVID vaccines incredibly quickly. But Hungarian biochemist Katalin Karikó had been trying to make mRNA vaccines work for 30 years while fighting scientific gatekeepers who thought her idea was absurd. Her grants were denied, her papers rejected, her speaking invitations withdrawn; eventually, the University of Pennsylvania demoted her. But she still refused to quit, and in 2005, she and collaborator Drew Weissman cracked the code. They figured out how mRN...
2021-Oct-15 • 35 minutes
What Happened to the Mosquitoes in Fresno?
Mosquitoes are the deadliest creatures on earth; they kill 500,000 people a year—and as the planet warms, more species are spreading North from the tropics. In 2013, a nasty new type, called Aedes Aegypti, arrived in Fresno, California. But traditional tactics, like spraying insecticide and genetic modification, have ugly side effects. So one genius programmer from Google thought up a better solution—that doesn’t involve insecticide; doesn’t mess around with genes; doesn’t require irradiating; makes it impo...
2021-Sep-27 • 2 minutes
Introducing: Unsung Science with David Pogue
The untold stories of mind-blowing achievements in science and tech. Host David Pogue takes you behind the scenes into the worlds of the people who’ve built the best in transportation, entertainment, food, Hear the untold stories of mind-blowing achievements in science and tech. Host David Pogue, five-time Emmy winner and “CBS Sunday Morning” correspondent, takes you behind the scenes into the worlds of the people who’ve built the best in transportation, entertainment, food, internet, and health. Creators r...