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Podcast Profile: Big Picture Science

podcast imageTwitter: @BiPiSci@SethShostak@mollycbentley (@SethShostak followed by 57 science writers)
Site: bigpicturescience.org
479 episodes
2009 to present
Average episode: 54 minutes
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Categories: Interview-Style • Two Hosts

Podcaster's summary: The surprising connections in science and technology that give you the Big Picture. Astronomer Seth Shostak and science journalist Molly Bentley are joined each week by leading researchers, techies, and journalists to provide a smart and humorous take on science. Our regular "Skeptic Check" episodes cast a critical eye on pseudoscience.

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List Updated: 2022-Sep-28 12:10 UTC. Episodes: 479. Feedback: @TrueSciPhi.

Episodes
2022-Sep-26 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Data Bias (rebroadcast)
Sexist snow plowing? Data that guide everything from snow removal schedules to heart research often fail to consider gender. In these cases, “reference man” stands in for “average human.” Human bias also infects artificial intelligence, with speech recognition triggered only by male voices and facial recognition that can’t see black faces. We question the assumptions baked into these numbers and algorithms. Guests: Caroline Criado-Perez - Journalist and author of “Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Des...
2022-Sep-19 • 54 minutes
De-Permafrosting
Above the Arctic Circle, much of the land is underlaid by permafrost. But climate change is causing it to thaw. This is not good news for the planet. As the carbon rich ground warms, microbes start to feast… releasing greenhouse gases that will warm the Earth even more. Another possible downside was envisioned by a science-fiction author. Could ancient pathogens–released from the permafrost’s icy grip–cause new pandemics? We investigate what happens when the far north defrosts. Guests: Jacquelyn Gill – A...
2022-Sep-12 • 54 minutes
Like Lightning
Every second, lightning strikes 50 to 100 times somewhere. It can wreak havoc by starting wildfires and sometimes killing people. But lightning also produces a form of nitrogen that’s essential to vegetation. In this episode, we talk about the nature of these dramatic sparks. Ben Franklin established their electric origin, so what do we still not know? Also, why the frequency of lightning strikes is increasing in some parts of the world. And, what to do if you find someone hit by lightning. Guests: Thomas Y...
2022-Sep-05 • 54 minutes
Coming to Our Animal Senses
Animals experience the world differently. There are insects that can see ultraviolet light, while some snakes can hunt in the dark thanks to their ability to sense infrared. Such differences are not restricted to vision: Elephants can hear subsonic sounds, birds navigate by magnetism, and your dog lives in a world marked by odors. In this episode, we speak to science journalist Ed Yong about how other creatures sense the world. Could we ever understand what it’s like to have the hearing of a bat or the sigh...
2022-Aug-29 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Heal Thyself (rebroadcast)
Do we still need doctors? There are umpteen alternative sources of medical advice, including endless and heartfelt health tips from people without medical degrees. Frankly, self-diagnosis with a health app is easier and cheaper than a trip to a clinic. Since we’re urged to be our own health advocate and seek second opinions, why not ask Alexa or consult with a celebrity about what ails us? Find out if you can trust these alternative medical advice platforms. Plus, lessons from an AIDS fighter about ignoring...
2022-Aug-22 • 54 minutes
Platypus Crazy (rebroadcast)
They look like a cross between a beaver and a duck, and they all live Down Under. The platypus may lay eggs, but is actually a distant mammalian cousin, one that we last saw, in an evolutionary sense, about 166 million years ago. Genetic sequencing is being used to trace that history, while scientists intensify their investigation of the habits and habitats of these appealing Frankencreatures; beginning by taking a census to see just how many are out there, and if their survival is under threat. Guests: ...
2022-Aug-15 • 54 minutes
Rip Van Winkle Worm (rebroadcast)
Your shower pipes are alive. So are your sinks, books, and floorboards. New studies of our homes are revealing just what species live there – in the thousands, from bacteria to flies to millipedes. Meanwhile, life keeps surprising us by popping up in other unexpected places: the deep biosphere houses the majority of the world’s bacteria and the Arctic tundra has kept worms frozen, but alive, for 40,000 years. We embrace the multitude of life living on us, in us, and – as it turns out – in every possible eco...
2022-Aug-08 • 54 minutes
Webb Feat
The James Webb Space Telescope has turned its golden eye on the cosmos. The largest, most sensitive telescope put in space since the Hubble Space Telescope is already producing new photos of far-off galaxies and other cosmic phenomena. In this episode: astronomers share their reactions to these stunning images, the project scientist on JWST describes how infrared cameras capture phenomena that are invisible to shorter wavelengths, and a plan to investigate the very stardust that created everything, includin...
2022-Aug-01 • 54 minutes
Building a Space Colony
Ready to become a space emigre? For half a century, visionaries have been talking about our future off-Earth – a speculative scenario in which many of us live in space colonies. So why haven’t we built them? Will the plans of billionaire space entrepreneurs to build settlements on Mars, or orbiting habitats that would be only minutes away from Earth, revive our long-held spacefaring dreams? And is having millions of people living off-Earth a solution to our problems… or an escape from them? Guests: Marianne...
2022-Jul-25 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Shared Reality (rebroadcast)
One of the many shocking aspects of the Capitol attack was that it revealed how thoroughly the nation had cleaved into alternate realities. How did we get to this point? How did misinformation come to create beliefs embraced by millions? In this episode, experts in social media, cults, and the history of science join us for a discussion about how these alternative realities formed, why people are drawn to them, and the benefits of a shared reality. Guests: Joan Donovan – Research Director of the Shorens...
2022-Jul-18 • 54 minutes
Sci-Fi From the Future (rebroadcast)
Are you ready to defer all your personal decision-making to machines? Polls show that most Americans are uneasy about the unchecked growth of artificial intelligence. The possible misuse of genetic engineering also makes us anxious. We all have a stake in the responsible development of science and technology, but fortunately, science fiction films can help. The movies Ex Machina and Jurassic Park suggest where A.I. and unfettered gene-tinkering could lead. But even less popular sci-fi movies can help us ima...
2022-Jul-11 • 54 minutes
Flush with Excitement (rebroadcast)
The toilet: A ubiquitous appliance that dates to the time of Shakespeare. But billions of people around the world still lack modern sanitation infrastructure. And the incentive to modernize includes the possibility that recycling human waste could help with conservation efforts, energy generation, and even medicine. Also, a sixth-grader puts lipstick on cats’ bottoms to map places their tush has touched, and in Michigan, why peeing on the peonies can be a good thing. Guests: Kaeden Henry – Sixth grade stu...
2022-Jul-04 • 54 minutes
Feet Don't Fail Me (rebroadcast)
Standing on your own two feet isn’t easy. While many animals can momentarily balance on their hind legs, we’re the only critters, besides birds, for whom bipedalism is completely normal. Find out why, even though other animals are faster, we’re champions at getting around. Could it be that our upright stance made us human? Plus, why arches help stiffen feet, the argument for bare-footin’, and 12,000-year old footprints that tell a story about an Ice Age mother, her child, and a sloth. Guests: Daniel Lieb...
2022-Jun-27 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Hypnosis
You are getting sleeeepy and open to suggestion. But is that how hypnotism works? And does it really open up a portal to the unconscious mind? Hypnotism can be an effective therapeutic tool, and some scientists suggest replacing opioids with hypnosis for pain relief. And yet, the performance aspect of hypnotism often seems at odds with the idea of it being an effective treatment. In our regular look at critical thinking, Skeptic Check, we ask what part of hypnotism is real and what is an illusion. Plus, we...
2022-Jun-20 • 54 minutes
Fantastic-er Voyage
Thinking small can sometimes achieve big things. A new generation of diminutive robots can enter our bodies and deal with medical problems such as intestinal blockages. But do we really want them swimming inside us, even if they’re promising to help? You might change your mind when you hear what else is cruising through our bloodstream: microplastics! We take a trip into the human body, beginning with the story of those who first dared to open it up for medical purposes. But were the first surgeons really ...
2022-Jun-13 • 54 minutes
Dinosaurs' Last Gasp
Do we have physical evidence of the last day of the dinosaurs? We consider fossilized fish in South Dakota that may chronicle the dramatic events that took place when, 66 million years ago, a large asteroid slammed into the Gulf of Mexico and caused three-quarters of all species to disappear. Also, what new discoveries have paleontologists made about these charismatic animals, and the director of Jurassic World: Dominion talks about how his film hews to the latest science. Hint: feathers! It’s deep history...
2022-Jun-06 • 54 minutes
DNA is Not Destiny (rebroadcast)
Heredity was once thought to be straightforward. Genes were passed in an immutable path from parents to you, and you were stuck – or blessed – with what you got. DNA didn’t change. But now we know that’s not true. Epigenetic factors, such as your environment and your lifestyle, control how your genes are expressed. Meanwhile, the powerful tool CRISPR allows us to tinker with the genes themselves. DNA is no longer destiny. Hear the results from the NASA twin study and what happened to astronaut Scott Kelly’...
2022-May-30 • 54 minutes
For the Birds (rebroadcast)
Birds have it going on. Many of these winged dinosaurs delight us with their song and brilliant plumage. Migratory birds travel thousands of miles in a display of endurance that would make an Olympic athlete gasp. We inquire about these daunting migrations and how birds can fly for days without rest. And what can we do to save disappearing species? Will digital tracking technology help? Plus, how 19th century bird-lovers, appalled by feathered hats, started the modern conservation movement. Guests: Scott ...
2022-May-23 • 54 minutes
End of Eternity (rebroadcast)
Nothing lasts forever. Even the universe has several possible endings. Will there be a dramatic Big Rip or a Big Chill­–also known as the heat death of the universe–in trillions of years? Or will vacuum decay, which could theoretically happen at any moment, do us in? Perhaps the death of a tiny particle – the proton – will bring about the end. We contemplate big picture endings in this episode, and whether one could be brought about by our own machine creations. Guests: Anders Sandberg – Researcher at t...
2022-May-16 • 54 minutes
Neanderthal in the Family (rebroadcast)
Back off, you Neanderthal! It sounds as if you’ve just been dissed, but maybe you should take it as a compliment. Contrary to common cliches, our Pleistocene relatives were clever, curious, and technologically inventive. Find out how our assessment of Neanderthals has undergone a radical rethinking, and hear about the influence they have as they live on in our DNA. For example, some of their genes have a strong association with severe Covid 19 infection. Plus, how Neanderthal mini-brains grown in a lab will...
2022-May-09 • 57 minutes
Catching Fire
We have too much “bad fire.” Not only destructive wildfires, but the combustion that powers our automobiles and provides our electricity has generated a worrying rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide. And that is driving climate change which is adding to the frequency of megafires. Now we’re seeing those effects in “fire-clouds,” pyrocumulonimbus events. But there’s such a thing as “good fire.” Indigenous peoples managed the land with controlled fires, reaped the benefits of doing so, and they’re bringing them...
2022-May-02 • 56 minutes
Skeptic Check: Dr. Oz
Dr. Oz’s personable and folky approach when talking about difficult health subjects has made him a trusted source for medical information. But some of the claims offered on The Doctor Oz Show are clearly questionable, such as the existence of miracle diet pills. Now the show is on hiatus so that “America’s Doctor” can run for the U.S. Senate. In our regular look at critical thinking, Skeptic Check, we evaluate Mehmet Oz’s record on presenting evidence-based health and medical information in light of his ru...
2022-Apr-25 • 54 minutes
In Living Color (rebroadcast)
The world is a colorful place, and human eyes have evolved to take it in – from vermillion red to bright tangerine to cobalt blue. But when we do, are you and I seeing the same thing? Find out why color perception is a trick of the brain, and why you and I may not see the same shade of green. Or blue. Or red. Also, platypuses and the growing club of fluorescent mammals, and the first new blue pigment in more than two centuries. Guests: Paula Anich – Associate Professor of Natural Resources, Northland C...
2022-Apr-18 • 54 minutes
Eclectic Company (rebroadcast)
We present a grab bag of our favorite recent science stories – from how to stop aging to the mechanics of cooking pasta. Also, in accord with our eclectic theme – the growing problem of space junk. Guests: Anthony Wyss-Coray – Professor of neuroscience at Stanford University Oliver O’Reilly – Professor of mechanical engineering, University of California Berkeley. Moriba Jah – Professor of aerospace and engineering mechanics, University of Texas Originally aired March 1, 2021 Featuring music by Dew...
2022-Apr-11 • 54 minutes
Finding Endurance
In 1915, Endurance, the ship that took Ernest Shackleton to the Antarctic, was slowly crushed and sank. Shackleton, and the 28 men he brought with him, were camped on the ice near the ship, and watched helplessly as their transport went to a watery grave, two miles down. But a recent expedition has found the Endurance, taking the world back to the last hurrah of the heroic age of polar expedition. How was it found, and what will be done with it? Also, while feats of exploration inspire TV shows and magazin...
2022-Apr-04 • 54 minutes
Go With the Flow (rebroadcast)
Solid materials get all the production credit. Don’t get us wrong, we depend on their strength and firmness for bridges, bones, and bento boxes. But liquids do us a solid, too. Their free-flowing properties drive the Earth’s magnetic field, inspire a new generation of smart electronics, and make biology possible. But the weird thing is, they elude clear definition. Is tar a liquid or a solid? What about peanut butter? In this episode: A romp through a cascade of liquids with a materials scientist who is bot...
2022-Mar-28 • 54 minutes
The Latest Buzz
Is your windshield accumulating less bug splatter? Insects, the most numerous animals on Earth, are becoming scarcer, and that’s not good news. They’re essential, and not just for their service as pollinators. We ask what’s causing the decrease in insect populations, and how can it be reversed. Also, the story of how California’s early citrus crops came under attack – a problem that was solved by turning Nature on itself. And how chimpanzee “doctors” use insects to treat wounds. We investigate the small an...
2022-Mar-21 • 55 minutes
Nuclear Worries
The nuclear threat is back, and the Doomsday Clock is almost at midnight. How did we end up here again? In the 1930s, German physicists learned that splitting the nuclei of heavy atoms could release tremendous amounts of energy. Such theoretical ideas became relevant when WW II began. Today, we try to eliminate nuclear weaponry while exploiting the atom for peaceful uses, such as energy generation. But as the invasion of Ukraine shows, power plants can also be military targets. We lay out some of the quest...
2022-Mar-14 • 54 minutes
Identity Crisis (rebroadcast)
DNA is the gold standard of identification. Except when it’s not. In rare cases when a person has two complete sets of DNA, that person’s identity may be up in the air. Meanwhile, DNA ancestry tests are proving frustratingly vague: dishing up generalities about where you came from rather than anything specific. And decoding a genome is still relatively expensive and time-consuming. So, while we refine our ability to work with DNA, the search is on for a quick and easy biomarker test to tell us who we are. ...
2022-Mar-07 • 54 minutes
You Are Exposed (rebroadcast)
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 fetu...
2022-Feb-28 • 57 minutes
Skeptic Check: 5G
5G, the latest mobile network standard, is coming. As new cell towers sprout around the world, do we know enough to confidently claim that this new technology is safe? After all, older networking standards relied on microwaves, radiation which has wavelengths of inches to a foot or so. 5G operates at much higher frequencies, with millimeter wavelengths. Some are worried that being subjected to millimeter radiation could cause cancers. But what does science say? 5G: the promise and the perils. Guests: Jon ...
2022-Feb-21 • 56 minutes
Melting Down
Climate change isn’t waiting for us to act. We’ve missed several deadlines to mitigate the dangers of this existential threat, which suggests we prefer to avert our gaze rather than deal with the problem. It’s similar to the way society reacts to an incoming comet in the movie “Don’t Look Up!” As a major Antarctic ice sheet shows signs of collapse, it’s no wonder we feel some “climate anxiety.” Can we leverage this emotion to spur action? That, and where hope lies, in this episode. Guests: Joellen Russel...
2022-Feb-14 • 54 minutes
Iron, Coal, Wood
Maybe you don’t remember the days of the earliest coal-fired stoves. They changed domestic life, and that changed society. We take you back to that era, and to millennia prior when iron was first smelt, and even earlier, when axe-handles were first fashioned from wood, as we explore how three essential materials profoundly transformed society. We were once excited about coal’s promise to provide cheap energy, and how iron would lead to indestructible bridges, ships, and buildings. But they also caused some...
2022-Feb-07 • 56 minutes
Skeptic Check: Do Your Own Research
Scientists are increasingly finding their expertise questioned by non-experts who claim they’ve done their own “research.” Whether advocating Ivermectin to treat Covid, insisting that climate change is a hoax, or asserting that the Earth is flat, doubters are now dismissed by being told to “do your own research!” But is a Wiki page evidence? What about a YouTube video? What happens to our quest for truth along the way? Plus, a science historian goes to a Flat Earth convention to talk reason. Guests: Yvett...
2022-Jan-31 • 54 minutes
Bare Bones (rebroadcast)
You may not feel that your skeleton does very much. But without it you’d be a limp bag of protoplasm, unable to move. And while you may regard bones as rigid and inert, they are living tissue. Bones are also time capsules, preserving much of your personal history. Find out how evolutionary biologists, forensic anthropologists, and even radiation scientists read them. And why won’t your dog stop gnawing on that bone? Guests: Brian Switek – Pen name of Riley Black, Author of “Skeleton Keys: the Secret Lif...
2022-Jan-24 • 54 minutes
Make Space for Animals
Long before Yuri Gagarin became the first human to go into space, Laika, a stray dog, crossed the final frontier. Find out what other surprising species were drafted into the astronaut corps. They may be our best friends, but we still balk at giving other creatures moral standing. And why are humans so reluctant to accept the fact that we too are animals? Guests: Jo Wimpenny - Zoologist and writer. Author of “Aesop’s Animals” Taylor Maggiacomo - Associate Graphic Editor at National Geographic Society ...
2022-Jan-17 • 54 minutes
Testing Your Metal
Catalytic converters are disappearing. If you’ve had yours stolen, you know that rare earth metals are valuable. But these metals are in great demand for things other than converters, such as batteries for electric cars, wind farms and solar panels. We need rare earth metals to combat climate change, but where to get them? Could we find substitutes? One activity that could be in our future: Deep sea mining. But it’s controversial. Can one company’s plan to mitigate environmental harm help? Guests: Paul Da...
2022-Jan-10 • 54 minutes
Into the Deep (rebroadcast)
Have you ever heard worms arguing? Deep-sea scientists use hydrophones to eavesdrop on “mouth-fighting worms.” It’s one of the many ways scientists are trying to catalog the diversity of the deep oceans — estimated to be comparable to a rainforest. But the clock is ticking. While vast expanses of the deep sea are still unexplored, mining companies are ready with dredging vehicles to strip mine the seafloor, potentially destroying rare and vulnerable ecosystems. Are we willing to eradicate an alien landscape...
2022-Jan-03 • 54 minutes
What's a Few Degrees?
Brace yourself for heatwave “Lucifer.” Dangerous deadly heatwaves may soon be so common that we give them names, just like hurricanes. This is one of the dramatic consequences of just a few degrees rise in average temperatures. Also coming: Massive heat “blobs” that form in the oceans and damage marine life, and powerful windstorms called “derechos” pummeling the Midwest. Plus, are fungal pathogens adapting to hotter temperatures and breaching the 98.6 F thermal barrier that keeps them from infecting us? G...
2021-Dec-27 • 54 minutes
Mycology Education (rebroadcast)
Beneath our feet is a living network just as complex and extensive as the root systems in a forest. Fungi, which evolved in the oceans, were among the first to colonize the barren continents more than a half-billion years ago. They paved the way for land plants, animals, and (eventually) you. Think beyond penicillin and pizza, and take a moment to consider these amazing organisms. Able to survive every major extinction, essential as Nature’s decomposers, and the basis of both ale and antibiotics, fungi are...
2021-Dec-20 • 54 minutes
Attack of the Mutants
The omicron variant is surging. More contagious than delta, omicron demonstrates how viruses use mutations to quickly adapt. Mutations drive evolution, although most don’t do much. But occasionally a mutation improves an organism. Omicron, the latest in a string of variants, is bad for us, but good for the virus. How mutation of viruses ensures their own survival while threatening ours, and the prospect of a universal vaccine that would protect us against all a viruses’ variants. Guests: Robert Garry – ...
2021-Dec-13 • 55 minutes
Hubble and Beyond (rebroadcast)
The universe is not just expanding; it’s accelerating. Supermassive black holes are hunkered down at the center of our galaxy and just about every other galaxy, too. We talk about these and other big discoveries of the Hubble Space Telescope, now in orbit for over 30 years. But two new next-generation telescopes will soon be joining Hubble: the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope and the James Webb Space Telescope. Hear what cosmic puzzles they’ll address. Plus, life in a clean room while wearing a coverall “...
2021-Dec-06 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Identifying UAPs
The Pentagon’s report on UAPs (Unidentified Aerial Phenomena) said nothing about the possibility that some might be alien spacecraft. Nonetheless, the report has generated heightened interest in figuring out what these UAPs are, and that interest extends to some scientists. We talk to two researchers who want an open and strictly scientific investigation of these phenomena. What should they do and what do they expect to find? And finally, will the possibility of alien visitors ever be resolved? Guests: ...
2021-Nov-29 • 55 minutes
Talk the Walk (rebroadcast)
Birds and bees do it … and so do fish. In a discovery that highlights the adaptive benefits of walking, scientists have discovered fish that can walk on land. Not fin-flap their bodies, mind you, but ambulate like reptiles. And speaking of which, new research shows that T Rex, the biggest reptile of them all, wasn’t a sprinter, but could be an efficient hunter by outwalking its prey. Find out the advantage of legging it, and how human bipedalism stacks up. Not only is walking good for our bodies and brain...
2021-Nov-22 • 58 minutes
Skeptic Check: Shroom With a View (rebroadcast)
Magic mushrooms – or psilocybin - may be associated with tripping hippies and Woodstock, but they are now being studied as new treatments for depression and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. Is this Age of Aquarius medicine or something that could really work? Plus, the centuries-long use of psychedelics by indigenous peoples, and a discovery in California’s Pinwheel Cave offers new clues about the relationship between hallucinogens and cave art. Guests: Merlin Sheldrake - Biologist and the aut...
2021-Nov-15 • 56 minutes
Suitable For Life?
Life nearby? We’ve not yet found any on our favorite planet, Mars. But even if Mars is sterile, could we ever change that by terraforming it? Or seeding it with life from Earth? The Red Planet is not the only game in town: A new NASA mission to a Jovian moon may give clues to biology on a world where, unlike Mars, liquid water still exists. Also, the promise of the James Webb Space Telescope and why the solar system’s largest active volcano offers clues to the habitability of other worlds. Guests: Kate Cr...
2021-Nov-08 • 54 minutes
Your Inner Tree
Declining biodiversity is a problem as fraught as climate change. Loss of habitat, monoculture crops, and the damming of waterways all lead to massive species extinction. They tear at life’s delicate web, and threaten a balance established by four billion years of evolution. Can we reassess our relationship to Nature? We consider logging efforts that make elephants part of the work force, and how to leverage the cooperative behavior of trees. Becoming Nature’s ally, rather than its enemy. Guests: Suzanne ...
2021-Nov-01 • 54 minutes
Dimming the Sun
Does geoengineering offer a Plan B if nations at the U.N. climate meeting can't reduce carbon emissions? The Glasgow meeting has been called “the last best chance” to take measures to slow down global heating. But we're nowhere near to achieving the emission reductions necessary to stave off a hothouse planet. We consider both the promise and the perils of geoengineering, and ask who decides about experimenting with Earth’s climate. Guests: · Elizabeth Kolbert – Staff Writer at The New Yorker, Pulitze...
2021-Oct-25 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Brain Gain (rebroadcast)
Looking to boost your brainpower? Luckily, there are products promising to help. Smart drugs, neurofeedback exercises, and brain-training video games all promise to improve your gray matter’s performance. But it’s uncertain whether these products really work. Regulatory agencies have come down hard on some popular brain training companies for false advertising. But other brain games have shown benefits in clinical trials. And could we skip the brain workout altogether and pop a genius pill instead? In our ...
2021-Oct-18 • 54 minutes
Radical Cosmology (rebroadcast)
400 years ago, some ideas about the cosmos were too scandalous to mention. When the Dominican friar Giordano Bruno suggested that planets existed outside our Solar System, the Catholic Inquisition had him arrested, jailed, and burned at the stake for heresy. Today, we have evidence of thousands of planets orbiting other stars. Our discovery of extrasolar planets has dramatically changed ideas about the possibility for life elsewhere in the universe. Modern theories about the existence of the ghostly partic...
2021-Oct-11 • 54 minutes
Fuhgeddaboudit
A thousand years ago, most people didn’t own a single book. The only way to access knowledge was to consult their memory. But technology – from paper to hard drives – has permitted us to free our brains from remembering countless facts. Alphabetization and the simple filing cabinet have helped to systematize and save information we might need someday. But now that we can Google just about any subject, have we lost the ability to memorize information? Does this make our brains better or worse? Guests: Jud...
2021-Oct-04 • 54 minutes
Home Invasions (rebroadcast)
As we struggle to control a viral invader that moves silently across the globe and into its victims, we are also besieged by other invasions. Murder hornets have descended upon the Pacific Northwest, threatening the region’s honeybees. In Africa, locust swarms darken the sky. In this episode, we draw on a classic science fiction tale to examine the nature of invasions, and what prompts biology to go on the move. Guests: Peter Ksander – Associate professor at Reed College in the Department of Theater. Prod...
2021-Sep-27 • 54 minutes
AI: Where Does It End? (rebroadcast)
The benefits of artificial intelligence are manifest and manifold, but can we recognize the drawbacks … and avoid them in time? In this episode, recorded before a live audience at the Seattle meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, we discuss who is making the ethical decisions about how we use this powerful technology, and a proposal to create a Hippocratic Oath for AI researchers. Guests: Oren Etzioni - CEO of The Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence Mark Hill - Pro...
2021-Sep-20 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Science Denial [rebroadcast]
Climate change isn’t happening. Vaccines make you sick. When it comes to threats to public or environmental health, a surprisingly large fraction of the population still denies the consensus of scientific evidence. But it’s not the first time – many people long resisted the evidentiary link between HIV and AIDS and smoking with lung cancer. There’s a sense that science denialism is on the rise. It prompted a gathering of scientists and historians in New York City to discuss the problem, which included a deb...
2021-Sep-13 • 54 minutes
Animals Being Jerks
They’re cute and cuddly. But they can also be obnoxious. Science writer Mary Roach has numerous tales about how our animal friends don’t always bow to their human overlords and behave the way we’d want. The resulting encounters, such as when gulls disrupt the Vatican’s Easter mass, make for amusing stories. But others, such as wolves threatening farmers’ livestock, can be tragic. We hear what happens at the messy crossroads of human and wildlife encounters. Guest: Mary Roach – Author of bestselling nonfict...
2021-Sep-06 • 54 minutes
De-Permafrosting
Above the Arctic Circle, much of the land is underlaid by permafrost. But climate change is causing it to thaw. This is not good news for the planet. As the carbon rich ground warms, microbes start to feast… releasing greenhouse gases that will warm the Earth even more. Another possible downside was envisioned by a science-fiction author. Could ancient pathogens–released from the permafrost’s icy grip–cause new pandemics? We investigate what happens when the far north defrosts. Guests: Jacquelyn Gill – A...
2021-Aug-30 • 54 minutes
True Grit (rebroadcast)
Without sand, engineering would be stuck in the Middle Ages. Wooden houses would line mud-packed streets, and Silicon Valley would be, well, just a valley. Sand is the building material of modern cities, and we use more of this resource than any other except water and air. Now we’re running out of it. Hear why the Roman recipe for making concrete was lost until the 19th century, and about the super-secret mine in North Carolina that makes your smartphone possible. Plus, engineered sand turns stormwater in...
2021-Aug-23 • 54 minutes
You've Got Whale (rebroadcast)
SMS isn’t the original instant messaging system. Plants can send chemical warnings through their leaves in a fraction of a second. And while we love being in the messaging loop – frenetically refreshing our browsers – we miss out on important conversations that no Twitter feed or inbox can capture. That’s because eavesdropping on the communications of non-human species requires the ability to decode their non-written signals. Dive into Arctic waters where scientists make first-ever recordings of the sociali...
2021-Aug-16 • 54 minutes
Phreaky Physics
It was a radical idea a century ago, when Einstein said space and time can be bent, and gravity was really geometry. We hear how his theories inspire young minds even today. At small scales, different rules apply: quantum mechanics and the Standard Model for particles. New experiments suggest that muons – cousins of the electron – may be telling us that the Standard Model is wrong. Also, where the physics of both the large and small apply, and why black holes have no hair. Guests: Hakeem Oluseyi – Astroph...
2021-Aug-09 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Anti-Vax
They were developed in a matter of months, and they’re 90 percent effective at stopping infection. They protect against serious illness or death. And yet, roughly one-third of Americans refuse to get the Covid vaccine. How can this be? How could something that our ancestors would have considered a miracle be refused by so many? The reasons are many, and not all are because of an anti-vax attitude. We talk to health professionals to learn what’s stopping the public from stopping the pandemic. Guests: Paul ...
2021-Aug-02 • 54 minutes
Platypus Crazy
They look like a cross between a beaver and a duck, and they all live Down Under. The platypus may lay eggs, but is actually a distant mammalian cousin, one that we last saw, in an evolutionary sense, about 166 million years ago. Genetic sequencing is being used to trace that history, while scientists intensify their investigation of the habits and habitats of these appealing Frankencreatures; beginning by taking a census to see just how many are out there, and if their survival is under threat. Guests: ...
2021-Jul-26 • 54 minutes
A Twist of Slime (rebroadcast)
Your daily mucus output is most impressive. Teaspoons or measuring cups can’t capture its entire volume. Find out how much your body churns out and why you can’t live without the viscous stuff. But slime in general is remarkable. Whether coating the bellies of slithery creatures, sleeking the surface of aquatic plants, or dripping from your nose, its protective qualities make it one of the great inventions of biology. Join us as we venture to the land of ooze! Guests: Christopher Viney - Professor of mate...
2021-Jul-19 • 54 minutes
New Water Worlds (rebroadcast)
The seas are rising. It’s no longer a rarity to see kayakers paddling through downtown Miami. By century’s end, the oceans could be anywhere from 2 to 6 feet higher, threatening millions of people and property. But humans once knew how to adapt to rising waters. As high water threatens to drown our cities, can we learn do it again. Hear stories of threatened land: submerged Florida suburbs, the original sunken city (Venice), and the U.S. East Coast, where anthropologists rush to catalogue thousands of low-l...
2021-Jul-12 • 54 minutes
Cicadas and Zombie Seeds
Rip van Winkle snoozed for 20 years, and Sleeping Beauty for 100. But seeds in an underground bottle have easily beaten both these records, germinating long after the scientist who buried them a few feet underground had died. We investigate biology’s long haulers–from seeds to small creatures–who are able to wake up and restart their lives, even after tens of thousands of years. Also, what are those buried 17-year cicadas doing as they wait to come back topside? Guests: Chris Simon – Professor of Ecology ...
2021-Jul-05 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Pentagon UFO Report
When the government announced it would release a report about strange aerial phenomena, public excitement and media coverage took off like a Saturn V rocket. But what’s really in the report? Do we finally have the long-awaited evidence of alien visitation? We discuss the report’s content and implications with both a former U.S. Air Force pilot and a skeptical investigator. And if it hasn’t proven alien presence, what happens next with those who nonetheless think Earth is being visited? Guests: James McGah...
2021-Jun-28 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Science Breaking Bad (rebroadcast)
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 ...
2021-Jun-21 • 54 minutes
After The Plague
Everyone is familiar with the immediate consequences of a pandemic – sickness and death. But the long-term ramifications can be just as dramatic: a breakdown of the family and society, shifts in political power, and widespread appeals to magical thinking. Plagues are societal disrupters. Their effects can linger long after the pathogens have gone. Also, hear how art responded to a pandemic and how the Louisiana Purchase was made possible by an outbreak of fever in the Caribbean. Guest: Frank Snowden – Prof...
2021-Jun-14 • 55 minutes
Flush With Excitement
The toilet: A ubiquitous appliance that dates to the time of Shakespeare. But billions of people around the world still lack modern sanitation infrastructure. And the incentive to modernize includes the possibility that recycling human waste could help with conservation efforts, energy generation, and even medicine. Also, a sixth-grader puts lipstick on cats’ bottoms to map places their tush has touched, and in Michigan, why peeing on the peonies can be a good thing. Guests: Kaeden Henry – Sixth grade stu...
2021-Jun-07 • 54 minutes
The Ears Have It (rebroadcast)
What’s the difference between a bird call and the sound of a pile driver? Not much, when you’re close to the loudest bird ever. Find out when it pays to be noisy and when noise can worsen your health. Just about everyone eventually suffers some hearing loss, but that’s not merely aging. It’s an ailment we inflict on ourselves. Hear how a team in New York City has put sensors throughout the city to catalog noise sources, hoping to tame the tumult. And can underwater speakers blasting the sounds of a healthy ...
2021-May-31 • 54 minutes
Air Apparent (rebroadcast)
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 iden...
2021-May-24 • 56 minutes
Feet Don't Fail Me
Standing on your own two feet isn’t easy. While many animals can momentarily balance on their hind legs, we’re the only critters, besides birds, for whom bipedalism is completely normal. Find out why, even though other animals are faster, we’re champions at getting around. Could it be that our upright stance made us human? Plus, why arches help stiffen feet, the argument for bare-footin’, and 12,000-year old footprints that tell a story about an Ice Age mother, her child, and a sloth. Guests: Daniel Lieb...
2021-May-17 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Rational Lampoon (rebroadcast)
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 der...
2021-May-10 • 54 minutes
For the Birds
Birds have it going on. Many of these winged dinosaurs delight us with their song and brilliant plumage. Migratory birds travel thousands of miles in a display of endurance that would make an Olympic athlete gasp. We inquire about these daunting migrations and how birds can fly for days without rest. And what can we do to save disappearing species? Will digital tracking technology help? Plus, how 19th century bird-lovers, appalled by feathered hats, started the modern conservation movement. Guests: Scott ...
2021-May-03 • 54 minutes
End of Eternity
Birds have it going on. Many of these winged dinosaurs delight us with their song and brilliant plumage. Migratory birds travel thousands of miles in a display of endurance that would make an Olympic athlete gasp. We inquire about these daunting migrations and how birds can fly for days without rest. And what can we do to save disappearing species? Will digital tracking technology help? Plus, how 19th century bird-lovers, appalled by feathered hats, started the modern conservation movement. Guests: Scott ...
2021-Apr-26 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Flat Earth (rebroadcast)
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 a...
2021-Apr-19 • 54 minutes
Waste Not (rebroadcast)
Why create more landfill? Perhaps you should resist the urge to toss those old sneakers, the broken ceiling fan, or last year’s smart phone. Instead, repurpose them! Global junk entrepreneurs are leading the way in turning trash to treasure, while right-to-repair advocates fight for legislation that would give you a decent shot at fixing your own electronic devices. And, if you toss food scraps down the drain as you cook, are you contributing to a “fatberg” horror in the sewer? Guests: John Love – Synthe...
2021-Apr-12 • 54 minutes
Venom Diagram (rebroadcast)
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 ha...
2021-Apr-05 • 56 minutes
Volcanic Mind Melt
The Earth’s surface is dappled with more than a thousand volcanoes. They mark the edges of tectonic plates, spewing hot gas and ash, and boiling over with lava. We can detect the warning signs of an eruption, but why is it still so hard to predict? Meet a few currently active hot heads: Mauna Loa, Nyiragongo, Fagradalsfjall, and Soufrière – and find out what gives them individual personalities. Plus, what a newly excavated snack bar in Pompeii, buried and preserved when Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, can teach ...
2021-Mar-29 • 56 minutes
Skeptic Check: Useful Delusions
Can self-deception be useful? During the pandemic, it has been fashionable to say that we’re “following the science,” and that our behavior is determined by verifiable facts. We are, after all, self-declared rational beings, and that’s clearly useful in guiding our reaction to a pandemic. It’s true that fear and suspicion have caused some to make contrary choices such as declining vaccines, but that behavior is considered irrational. But are there situations when delusional thinking can help you thrive? Why...
2021-Mar-22 • 54 minutes
Neanderthal in the Family
Back off, you Neanderthal! It sounds as if you’ve just been dissed, but maybe you should take it as a compliment. Contrary to common cliches, our Pleistocene relatives were clever, curious, and technologically inventive. Find out how our assessment of Neanderthals has undergone a radical rethinking, and hear about the influence they have as they live on in our DNA. For example, some of their genes have a strong association with severe Covid 19 infection. Plus, how Neanderthal mini-brains grown in a lab will...
2021-Mar-15 • 54 minutes
DecodeHer (rebroadcast)
They were pioneers in their fields, yet their names are scarcely known – because they didn’t have a Y chromosome. We examine the accomplishments of two women who pioneered code breaking and astronomy during the early years of the twentieth century and did so in the face of social opprobrium and a frequently hostile work environment. Henrietta Leavitt measured the brightnesses of thousands of stars and discovered a way to gauge the distances to galaxies, a development that soon led to the concept of the Big ...
2021-Mar-08 • 54 minutes
In Living Color
The world is a colorful place, and human eyes have evolved to take it in – from vermillion red to bright tangerine to cobalt blue. But when we do, are you and I seeing the same thing? Find out why color perception is a trick of the brain, and why you and I may not see the same shade of green. Or blue. Or red. Also, platypuses and the growing club of fluorescent mammals, and the first new blue pigment in more than two centuries. Guests: Paula Anich – Associate Professor of Natural Resources, Northland C...
2021-Mar-01 • 57 minutes
Eclectic Company
We present a grab bag of our favorite recent science stories – from how to stop aging to the mechanics of cooking pasta. Also, in accord with our eclectic theme – the growing problem of space junk. Guests: Anthony Wyss-Coray – Professor of neuroscience at Stanford University Oliver O’Reilly – Professor of mechanical engineering, University of California Berkeley. Moriba Jah – Professor of aerospace and engineering mechanics, University of Texas Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm...
2021-Feb-22 • 54 minutes
Creature Discomforts (rebroadcast)
Okay you animals, line up: stoned sloths, playful pandas, baleful bovines, and vile vultures. We’ve got you guys pegged, thanks to central casting. Or do we? Our often simplistic view of animals ignores their remarkable adaptive abilities. Stumbly sloths are in fact remarkably agile and a vulture’s tricks for thermoregulation can’t be found in an outdoors store. Our ignorance about some animals can even lead to their suffering and to seemingly intractable problems. The South American nutria was brought to...
2021-Feb-15 • 54 minutes
Granting Immunity (rebroadcast)
“Diversity or die” could be your new health mantra. Don’t boost your immune system, cultivate it! Like a garden, your body’s defenses benefit from species diversity. Find out why multiple strains of microbes, engaged in a delicate ballet with your T-cells, join internal fungi in combatting disease. Plus, global ecosystems also depend on the diversity of its tiniest members; so what happens when the world’s insects bug out? Guests: Matt Richtel – Author, most recently, of “An Elegant Defense: The Extraordi...
2021-Feb-08 • 57 minutes
Mars Attracts
Earth invades Mars in February. In a historic trifecta for space exploration, spacecraft of three countries will arrive at Mars, and for two of those it will be their first time at the Red Planet. We talk to the science lead for the Emirates Mars Mission, a NASA engineer piloting the first helicopter on Mars, and a British space expert – all to learn how these spacecraft may bring greater understanding of this rusty world – including whether Mars ever supported life. Guests: Sarah Cruddas - Space journali...
2021-Feb-01 • 57 minutes
Iron, Coal, Wood
Maybe you don’t remember the days of the earliest coal-fired stoves. They changed domestic life, and that changed society. We take you back to that era, and to millennia prior when iron was first smelt, and even earlier, when axe-handles were first fashioned from wood, as we explore how three essential materials profoundly transformed society. We were once excited about coal’s promise to provide cheap energy, and how iron would lead to indestructible bridges, ships, and buildings. But they also caused some...
2021-Jan-25 • 57 minutes
Skeptic Check: Shared Reality
One of the many shocking aspects of the Capitol attack was that it revealed how thoroughly the nation had cleaved into alternate realities. How did we get to this point? How did misinformation come to create beliefs embraced by millions? In this episode, experts in social media, cults, and the history of science join us for a discussion about how these alternative realities formed, why people are drawn to them, and the benefits of a shared reality. Guests: Joan Donovan – Research Director of the Shorens...
2021-Jan-18 • 54 minutes
Supercomputer Showdown (rebroadcast)
Do you have a hard-to-answer question? The Summit, Sierra, Trinity, Frontier, and Aurora supercomputers are built to tackle it. Summit tops the petaflop heap – at least for now. But Frontier and Aurora are catching up as they take aim at a new performance benchmark called exascale. So why do we need all this processing power? From climate modeling to personalized medicine, find out why the super-est computers are necessary to answer our biggest questions. But is the dark horse candidate, quantum computing...
2021-Jan-11 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Betting on Pseudoscience (rebroadcast)
Psychics may not be able to predict the future or sense your thoughts. Nonetheless, they rake in hundreds of millions of dollars every year. But the harm from pseudoscience can go far beyond your wallet – especially when it promotes unscientific treatments for serious disease. Find out what alarming discovery led one naturopath to quit her practice and why scientific ignorance is not bliss. It’s our regular look at critical thinking, but don’t take our word for it. Guests: Robert Palmer – Member of the G...
2021-Jan-04 • 54 minutes
Headed for Trouble (rebroadcast)
The stone heads on Easter Island are an enduring mystery: why were they built and why were they abandoned and destroyed? The old ideas about cultural collapse are yielding to new ones based on careful investigation on the ground - but also from above. What surprising explanations have we found and are we off base to think that ancient societies such as the Easter Islanders or the classical Egyptians were, in the end, failures? Can what we learn from these histories help predict which societies will survive?...
2020-Dec-28 • 54 minutes
For Good Measure (rebroadcast)
The reign of Le Grand K has come to an end. After 130 years, this hunk of metal sitting in a Parisian vault will no longer define the kilogram. The new kilogram mass will be defined by Planck’s constant, joining three other units for redefinition by fundamental constants. But as we measure with increasing precision – from cesium atomic clocks to gravity waves 1000th the width of a proton – is something fundamental lost along the way? Meanwhile, the BiPiSci team accepts the banana-measurement challenge. Gues...
2020-Dec-21 • 54 minutes
Handling the Holidays (rebroadcast)
The stress of the holidays can make you want to hide under the covers with a warm cup of cocoa. From gift buying to family gatherings, the holidays can feel like being inside a pressure cooker. But don’t despair! Science can help make the holidays a little brighter, from some gift-giving tips from our animal friends to embracing pessimism before a challenging social event to stopping that annoying merry melody on repeat in your head. Guests: Adam South – Research assistant professor at the Cummings School...
2020-Dec-14 • 59 minutes
Fire Clouds and Ice-teroids
Small bodies will hit the big time next year; a sample return from asteroid Bennu and the launch of both the DART and Lucy missions could unravel puzzles about the formation of the solar system, as well teach us how to deflect any asteroids headed our way. Meanwhile, the Juno mission to Jupiter has shown us its hard-to-study poles, where swirling gas and magnetic fields rule. On Earth, warmer temperatures threaten peat bog biodiversity and the structure of the Arctic. And massive wildfires have sent soot ci...
2020-Dec-07 • 56 minutes
Skeptic Check: Shroom with a View
Magic mushrooms – or psilocybin - may be associated with tripping hippies and Woodstock, but they are now being studied as new treatments for depression and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. Is this Age of Aquarius medicine or something that could really work? Plus, the centuries-long use of psychedelics by indigenous peoples, and a discovery in California’s Pinwheel Cave offers new clues about the relationship between hallucinogens and cave art. Guests: Merlin Sheldrake - Biologist and the aut...
2020-Nov-30 • 56 minutes
Bare Bones
You may not feel that your skeleton does very much. But without it you’d be a limp bag of protoplasm, unable to move. And while you may regard bones as rigid and inert, they are living tissue. Bones are also time capsules, preserving much of your personal history. Find out how evolutionary biologists, forensic anthropologists, and even radiation scientists read them. And why won’t your dog stop gnawing on that bone? Guests: Brian Switek – Pen name of Riley Black, Author of “Skeleton Keys: the Secret Lif...
2020-Nov-23 • 54 minutes
Into the Deep
Have you ever heard worms arguing? Deep-sea scientists use hydrophones to eavesdrop on “mouth-fighting worms.” It’s one of the many ways scientists are trying to catalog the diversity of the deep oceans — estimated to be comparable to a rainforest. But the clock is ticking. While vast expanses of the deep sea are still unexplored, mining companies are ready with dredging vehicles to strip mine the seafloor, potentially destroying rare and vulnerable ecosystems. Are we willing to eradicate an alien landscape...
2020-Nov-16 • 57 minutes
Sex Post Facto (rebroadcast)
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 asexua...
2020-Nov-09 • 57 minutes
Time Travel Agents (rebroadcast)
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 phys...
2020-Nov-02 • 57 minutes
The Other Living World (rebroadcast)
Reason for hope is just one thing that ecologist Carl Safina can offer. He understands why many of us turn to nature to find solace during this stressful time. Safina studies the challenges facing the ultimate survival of many species, but also gives a portrait of animals from their point of view. He describes how diverse animals such as sperm whales, bear cubs, macaws, and chickens deal with uncertainty, and assert their quirky individuality while learning to become part of a community. So is it possible f...
2020-Oct-26 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Stay Skeptical
Whether you call it hooey, codswallop, or malarky, misinformation is not what it used to be. It’s harder to spot now. New-school BS is often cloaked in the trappings of math, science, and statistics. Can you identify which tweets about a new COVID study are fraudulent? Plus, deceptive on-line advertisements that relentlessly beg for our attention. All in all, it’s a jungle out there. We have tips for getting through it. Guests: Carl Bergstrom – Evolutionary biologist at the University of Washington and a...
2020-Oct-19 • 54 minutes
What's a Few Degrees?
Brace yourself for heatwave “Lucifer.” Dangerous deadly heatwaves may soon be so common that we give them names, just like hurricanes. This is one of the dramatic consequences of just a few degrees rise in average temperatures. Also coming: Massive heat “blobs” that form in the oceans and damage marine life, and powerful windstorms called “derechos” pummeling the Midwest. Plus, are fungal pathogens adapting to hotter temperatures and breaching the 98.6 F thermal barrier that keeps them from infecting us? G...
2020-Oct-12 • 57 minutes
Geology is Destiny (rebroadcast)
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 his...
2020-Oct-05 • 56 minutes
Talk the Walk
Birds and bees do it … and so do fish. In a discovery that highlights the adaptive benefits of walking, scientists have discovered fish that can walk on land. Not fin-flap their bodies, mind you, but ambulate like reptiles. And speaking of which, new research shows that T Rex, the biggest reptile of them all, wasn’t a sprinter, but could be an efficient hunter by outwalking its prey. Find out the advantage of legging it, and how human bipedalism stacks up. Not only is walking good for our bodies and brain...
2020-Sep-28 • 57 minutes
Mycology Education
Beneath our feet is a living network just as complex and extensive as the root systems in a forest. Fungi, which evolved in the oceans, were among the first to colonize the barren continents more than a half-billion years ago. They paved the way for land plants, animals, and (eventually) you. Think beyond penicillin and pizza, and take a moment to consider these amazing organisms. Able to survive every major extinction, essential as Nature’s decomposers, and the basis of both ale and antibiotics, fungi are...
2020-Sep-21 • 56 minutes
Hubble and Beyond
The universe is not just expanding; it’s accelerating. Supermassive black holes are hunkered down at the center of our galaxy and just about every other galaxy, too. We talk about these and other big discoveries of the Hubble Space Telescope, now in orbit for 30 years. But two new next-generation telescopes will soon be joining Hubble: the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope and the James Webb Space Telescope. Hear what cosmic puzzles they’ll address. Plus, life in a clean room while wearing a coverall “bunny...
2020-Sep-14 • 56 minutes
Life on Venus?
Have scientists found evidence of life on Venus? Known for its scorching temperatures and acidic atmosphere, Earth’s twin hardly seems a promising place for living things. But could a discovery of phosphine by researchers at MIT point to a high-altitude biosphere on this nearby world? Guests: Clara Sousa–Silva - Research scientist in MIT's Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. She and Sara Seager co-authored a paper in January 2020 titled, “Phosphine as a Biosignature Gas in Exoplanet A...
2020-Sep-07 • 57 minutes
Space: Why Go There? (rebroadcast)
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 re...
2020-Aug-31 • 56 minutes
Home Invasions
As we struggle to control a viral invader that moves silently across the globe and into its victims, we are also besieged by other invasions. Murder hornets have descended upon the Pacific Northwest, threatening the region’s honeybees. In Africa, locust swarms darken the sky. In this episode, we draw on a classic science fiction tale to examine the nature of invasions, and what prompts biology to go on the move. Guests: Peter Ksander – Associate professor at Reed College in the Department of Theater. Prod...
2020-Aug-24 • 57 minutes
The X-Flies (rebroadcast)
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 Madaga...
2020-Aug-17 • 57 minutes
Skeptic Check: Worrier Mentality (rebroadcast)
Poisonous snakes, lightning strikes, a rogue rock from space. There are plenty of scary things to fret about, but are we burning adrenaline on the right ones? Stepping into the bathtub is more dangerous than flying from a statistical point of view, but no one signs up for “fear of showering” classes. Find out why we get tripped up by statistics, worry about the wrong things, and how the “intelligence trap” not only leads smart people to make dumb mistakes, but actually causes them to make more. Guests: ...
2020-Aug-10 • 54 minutes
Math's Paths (rebroadcast)
If you bake, you can appreciate math’s transformative properties. Admiring the stackable potato chip is to admire a hyperbolic sheet. Find out why there’s no need to fear math - you just need to think outside the cuboid. Also, how nature’s geometric shapes inspire the next generation of squishy robots and an argument for radically overhauling math class. The end point of these common factors is acute show that’s as fun as eating Pi. Guests: Eugenia Cheng – Scientist in Residence at the School of the Art I...
2020-Aug-03 • 54 minutes
On Thin Ice (rebroadcast)
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 atmosphe...
2020-Jul-27 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Know-It-Alls
Think you’re some kind of expert? Join the club. It’s one thing to question authority; another to offer up your untrained self as its replacement. Rebellion may be a cherished expression of American individualism, but, from sidelining Dr. Fauci to hiding public health data, find out what we lose when we silence health experts and “go with our gut” during a pandemic. Plus, from ancestors to algorithms: how we’ve replaced credentialed experts with sketchy web sites and social media posts. Guests: Charles Pi...
2020-Jul-20 • 54 minutes
Something in the Air
Inhale. Now exhale. Notice anything different? Our response to the virus is changing the air in unexpected ways. A pandemic-driven pause on travel has produced clear skies and a world-wide air quality experiment. And a new study reveals that hundreds of tons of microplastics are raining down on us each day. But we can improve the quality of the breaths we do take; engineers have devised a high-tech mask that may kill coronavirus on contact. Plus, although you do it 25,000 times a day, you may not be breath...
2020-Jul-13 • 54 minutes
COVID Curiosities
COVID Curiosities Some dogs and cats have become sick with COVID. But it’s not just domestic critters that are vulnerable: zoo animals have fallen ill too. There’s more strange news about the pandemic, for example scientists who track the coronavirus in our sewage, and computer models that show that flushing the toilet can launch persistent, pathogenic plumes into the room. And scientists have warned the WHO that infectious virus remains airborne. Also, how a shortage of glass vials could delay the deployme...
2020-Jul-06 • 54 minutes
Creative Brains (Rebroadcast)
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...
2020-Jun-29 • 54 minutes
Animals Like Us (rebroadcast)
Laughing rats, sorrowful elephants, joyful chimpanzees. The more carefully we observe, and the more we learn about animals, the closer their emotional lives appear to resemble our own. Most would agree that we should minimize the physical suffering of animals, but should we give equal consideration to their emotional stress? Bioethicist Peter Singer weighs in. Meanwhile, captivity that may be ethical: How human-elephant teamwork in Asia may help protect an endangered species. Guests: Frans de Waal - Prima...
2020-Jun-22 • 54 minutes
Let's Stick Together (rebroadcast)
Crowded subway driving you crazy? Sick of the marathon-length grocery store line? Wish you had a hovercraft to float over traffic? If you are itching to hightail it to an isolated cabin in the woods, remember, we evolved to be together. Humans are not only social, we’re driven to care for one another, even those outside our immediate family. We look at some of the reasons why this is so – from the increase in valuable communication within social groups to the power of the hormone oxytocin. Plus, how our w...
2020-Jun-15 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Data Bias (rebroadcast)
Sexist snow plowing? Data that guide everything from snow removal schedules to heart research often fail to consider gender. In these cases, “reference man” stands in for “average human.” Human bias also infects artificial intelligence, with speech recognition triggered only by male voices and facial recognition that can’t see black faces. We question the assumptions baked into these numbers and algorithms. Guests: Caroline Criado-Perez - Journalist and author of “Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Des...
2020-Jun-08 • 54 minutes
Race and COVID
While citizens take to the streets to protest racist violence, the pandemic has its own brutal inequities. Black, Latino, and Native American people are bearing the brunt of COVID illness and death. We look at the multitude of factors that contribute to this disparity, most of which existed long before the pandemic. Also, how the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe maintained their coronavirus safeguards in defiance of the South Dakota governor. And, the biological reasons why we categorize one another by skin color...
2020-Jun-01 • 54 minutes
Soap, Skin, Sleep
Some safeguards against COVID-19 don’t require a medical breakthrough. Catching sufficient Z’s makes for a healthy immune system. And, while you wash your hands for the umpteenth time, we'll explain how soap sends viruses down the drain. Plus, your body’s largest organ – skin – is your first line of defense against the pandemic and is also neglected because of it. Find out why we're suffering from "skin hunger" during this crisis. Guests: Cody Cassidy – Author, “Who Ate the First Oyster: The Extraordinar...
2020-May-25 • 54 minutes
Gained in Translation (rebroadcast)
Your virtual assistant is not without a sense of humor. Its repertoire includes the classic story involving a chicken and a road. But will Alexa laugh at your jokes? Will she groan at your puns? Telling jokes is one thing. Teaching a computer to recognize humor is another, because a clear definition of humor is lacking. But doing so is a step toward making more natural interactions with A.I. Find out what’s involved in tickling A.I.’s funny bone. Also, an interstellar communication challenge: Despite deba...
2020-May-18 • 54 minutes
Vaccine, When?
It will be the shot heard ‘round the world, once it comes. But exactly when can we expect a COVID vaccine? We discuss timelines, how it would work, who’s involved, and the role of human challenge trials. Also, although he doesn’t consider himself brave, we do. Meet a Seattle volunteer enrolled in the first coronavirus vaccine trial. And, while we mount an elaborate defense against a formidable foe, scientists ask a surprising question: is a virus even alive? Guests: Nigel Brown – Emeritus Professor of Mo...
2020-May-11 • 54 minutes
To the Bat Cave
To fight a pandemic, you need to first understand where a virus comes from. That quest takes disease ecologist Jon Epstein to gloomy caverns where bats hang out. There he checks up on hundreds of the animals as his team from the EcoHealth Alliance trace the origins of disease-causing viruses. But their important work is facing its own threat; the Trump administration recently terminated funding to the Alliance because of its collaboration with Chinese scientists. Hear how Dr. Epstein finds the viruses, what...
2020-May-04 • 54 minutes
Is Life Inevitable? (Rebroadcast)
A new theory about life’s origins updates Darwin’s warm little pond. Scientists say they’ve created the building blocks of biology in steaming hot springs. Meanwhile, we visit a NASA lab where scientists simulate deep-sea vent chemistry to produce the type of environment that might spawn life. Which site is best suited for producing biology from chemistry? Find out how the conditions of the early Earth were different from today, how meteors seeded Earth with organics, and a provocative idea that life arose ...
2020-Apr-27 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Covid Conspiracy
Nature abhors a vacuum, but conspiracy theorists love one. While we wait for scientists to nail down the how and why of the coronavirus, opportunists have jumped into the void, peddling DIY testing kits and fake COVID cures like colloidal silver. They’ve even cooked up full-blown conspiracy theories about a lab-grown virus. Find out why this crisis has dished up more than the usual share of misinformation and hucksterism, and how these interfere with our ability to navigate it safely. Guests: Whitney Phil...
2020-Apr-20 • 54 minutes
Treating the Virus
Treating the Virus It’s not like waiting for Godot, because he never arrived. A coronavirus vaccine will come. But it is still months away. Meanwhile, scientists are adding other weapons to our growing arsenal against this virus. The development of antibody tests, antibody cures, and antivirals offer hope that we can soon have the tools to battle those who’ve been sickened by the COVID-19 virus while we wait for the inoculation that will prevent it. Guests: Deepta Bhattacharya – Immunologist at the Unive...
2020-Apr-13 • 54 minutes
The Other Living World
Reason for hope is just one thing that ecologist Carl Safina can offer. He understands why many of us turn to nature to find solace during this stressful time. Safina studies the challenges facing the ultimate survival of many species, but also gives a portrait of animals from their point of view. He describes how diverse animals such as sperm whales, bear cubs, macaws, and chickens deal with uncertainty, and assert their quirky individuality while learning to become part of a community. So is it possible f...
2020-Apr-06 • 54 minutes
Zombies, Bigfoot, and Max Brooks
What do a zombie attack and a viral pandemic have in common? They are both frightening, mindless, and relentless in their assault. And both require preparedness. That’s why the author of “World War Z” – a story about a battle against zombies – lectures at West Point. Max Brooks has also recorded a public service announcement with his celebrated father, Mel Brooks, touting the importance of social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic. His newest novel portrays a different assailant: Bigfoot. Whether...
2020-Mar-30 • 54 minutes
Let's Take a Paws
Humans aren’t the only animals stressed-out by social distancing. Narwhals send out echolocation clicks to locate their buddies and ease their loneliness. And a plant about to be chomped by a caterpillar knows that the world can be a scary place. In this episode, from dogs to narwhals to plants, we put aside human-centric stories to find out how other living creatures map their world, deal with stress, and communicate. Guests: Alexandra Horowitz – Dog cognition researcher, Barnard College, and author o...
2020-Mar-23 • 54 minutes
How Bad Does It Have to Get?
“Climate change at warp speed” is the way one scientist described the coronavirus outbreak. In a show recorded before a live audience at the Seattle AAAS meeting, and co-presented with the BBC World Service, we discuss out how politics and psychology lead people to tune out inconvenient scientific findings even when the stakes are high – as well as what we can do about it. Guests: Roland Pease – BBC reporter, presenter of “Science in Action.” Lee McIntyre – Philosopher and Research Fellow at the Cent...
2020-Mar-16 • 54 minutes
It's In Material [rebroadcast]
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, econo...
2020-Mar-09 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Pandemic Fear
Contagion aside, coronavirus is a powerful little virus. It has prompted a global experiment in behavior modification: elbow bumps instead of handshakes, hand sanitizer and mask shortages, a gyrating stock market. Pragmatism motivates our behavior toward the spread of this virus, but so do fear and panic. In 1918, amplified fear made the Spanish Flu pandemic more deadly. Can we identify when we’re acting sensibly in the face of COVID-19, or when fear has hijacked our ability to think rationally and protec...
2020-Mar-02 • 54 minutes
DecodeHer [rebroadcast]
They were pioneers in their fields, yet their names are scarcely known – because they didn’t have a Y chromosome. We examine the accomplishments of two women who pioneered code breaking and astronomy during the early years of the twentieth century and did so in the face of social opprobrium and a frequently hostile work environment. Henrietta Leavitt measured the brightnesses of thousands of stars and discovered a way to gauge the distances to galaxies, a development that soon led to the concept of the Big ...
2020-Feb-24 • 54 minutes
AI: Where Does it End?
The benefits of artificial intelligence are manifest and manifold, but can we recognize the drawbacks … and avoid them in time? In this episode, recorded before a live audience at the Seattle meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, we discuss who is making the ethical decisions about how we use this powerful technology, and a proposal to create a Hippocratic Oath for AI researchers. Guests: Oren Etzioni - CEO of The Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence Mark Hill - Pro...
2020-Feb-17 • 54 minutes
Climate Changed
Have you adapted to the changing climate? Rising waters, more destructive wildfires, record-breaking heatwaves. Scientists have long predicted these events, but reporting on climate change has moved from prediction to description. There’s no time for dwelling on “we should haves.” Communities and organizations are being forced to adapt. Find out what that means, the role of the new “resilience officers,” and the unique response of Native American cultures. Plus, is the coronavirus outbreak made worse by cli...
2020-Feb-10 • 54 minutes
Frogs' Pants (Rebroadcast)
It’s one of the most bizarre biological experiments ever. In the 18th century, a scientist fitted a pair of tailor-made briefs on a male frog to determine the animal’s contribution to reproduction. The process of gestation was a mystery and scientists had some odd-ball theories. Today, a 5th grader can tell you how babies are made, but we still don’t know exactly what life is. In our quest to understand, we’re still at the frogs’ pants stage. Find out why conception took centuries to figure out. Also, why ...
2020-Feb-03 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Science Denial (rebroadcast)
Climate change isn’t happening. Vaccines make you sick. When it comes to threats to public or environmental health, a surprisingly large fraction of the population still denies the consensus of scientific evidence. But it’s not the first time – many people long resisted the evidentiary link between HIV and AIDS and smoking with lung cancer. There’s a sense that science denialism is on the rise. It prompted a gathering of scientists and historians in New York City to discuss the problem, which included a deb...
2020-Jan-27 • 54 minutes
A Twist of Slime
Your daily mucus output is most impressive. Teaspoons or measuring cups can’t capture its entire volume. Find out how much your body churns out and why you can’t live without the viscous stuff. But slime in general is remarkable. Whether coating the bellies of slithery creatures, sleeking the surface of aquatic plants, or dripping from your nose, its protective qualities make it one of the great inventions of biology. Join us as we venture to the land of ooze! Guests: Christopher Viney - Professor of mate...
2020-Jan-20 • 54 minutes
The Ears Have It
What’s the difference between a bird call and the sound of a pile driver? Not much, when you’re close to the loudest bird ever. Find out when it pays to be noisy and when noise can worsen your health. Just about everyone eventually suffers some hearing loss, but that’s not merely aging. It’s an ailment we inflict on ourselves. Hear how a team in New York City has put sensors throughout the city to catalog noise sources, hoping to tame the tumult. And can underwater speakers blasting the sounds of a healthy ...
2020-Jan-13 • 54 minutes
Perpetual Emotion Machine [rebroadcast]
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 ...
2020-Jan-06 • 54 minutes
Your Brain's Reins [rebroadcast]
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 in...
2019-Dec-30 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Heal Thyself [rebroadcast]
Do we still need doctors? There are umpteen alternative sources of medical advice, including endless and heartfelt health tips from people without medical degrees. Frankly, self-diagnosis with a health app is easier and cheaper than a trip to a clinic. Since we’re urged to be our own health advocate and seek second opinions, why not ask Alexa or consult with a celebrity about what ails us? Find out if you can trust these alternative medical advice platforms. Plus, lessons from an AIDS fighter about ignorin...
2019-Dec-23 • 54 minutes
Handling the Holidays
The stress of the holidays can make you want to hide under the covers with a warm cup of cocoa. From gift buying to family gatherings, the holidays can feel like being inside a pressure cooker. But don’t despair! Science can help make the holidays a little brighter, from some gift-giving tips from our animal friends to embracing pessimism before a challenging social event to stopping that annoying merry melody on repeat in your head. Guests: Adam South – Research assistant professor at the Cummings School...
2019-Dec-16 • 54 minutes
Waste Not
Why create more landfill? Perhaps you should resist the urge to toss those old sneakers, the broken ceiling fan, or last year’s smart phone. Instead, repurpose them! Global junk entrepreneurs are leading the way in turning trash to treasure, while right-to-repair advocates fight for legislation that would give you a decent shot at fixing your own electronic devices. And, if you toss food scraps down the drain as you cook, are you contributing to a “fatberg” horror in the sewer? Guests: John Love – Synth...
2019-Dec-09 • 54 minutes
Shell on Earth
(repeat) 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 brin...
2019-Dec-02 • 54 minutes
Yule Like This
(repeat) Fir tree needles embedded in carpet are a holiday headache. Why not decorate a genetically-modified, needle-retaining tree instead? It’s just another way that science is relevant to the holidays. We have more. How about science experiments on fruitcake? There’s a competition that includes launching it with a pneumatic device, running a heavy electric current though it, or blasting it with a blowtorch. Meanwhile, physics provides insight into those tricky how-does-he-do-it questions about Santa’s de...
2019-Nov-25 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Betting on Pseudoscience
Psychics may not be able to predict the future or sense your thoughts. Nonetheless, they rake in hundreds of millions of dollars every year. But the harm from pseudoscience can go far beyond your wallet – especially when it promotes unscientific treatments for serious disease. Find out what alarming discovery led one naturopath to quit her practice and why scientific ignorance is not bliss. It’s our regular look at critical thinking, but don’t take our word for it. Guests: Robert Palmer – Member of the G...
2019-Nov-18 • 55 minutes
Stopping Ebola
A new vaccine may help turn Ebola into a disease we can prevent, and a new drug may make it one we can cure. But the political crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo has fueled violence against health workers and Ebola treatment centers. Find out why context matters in the efforts to stop Ebola, what new drugs and vaccines are on the horizon, and whether the world is prepared for the next infectious pandemic. Even if Ebola’s threat is diminishing, what about the next pandemic? Is the world prepared? Gue...
2019-Nov-11 • 54 minutes
Radical Cosmology
(repeat) 400 years ago, some ideas about the cosmos were too scandalous to mention. When the Dominican friar Giordano Bruno suggested that planets existed outside our Solar System, the Catholic Inquisition had him arrested, jailed, and burned at the stake for heresy. Today, we have evidence of thousands of planets orbiting other stars. Our discovery of extrasolar planets has dramatically changed ideas about the possibility for life elsewhere in the universe. Modern theories about the existence of the ghost...
2019-Nov-04 • 54 minutes
Supercomputer Showdown
Do you have a hard-to-answer question? The Summit, Sierra, Trinity, Frontier, and Aurora supercomputers are built to tackle it. Summit tops the petaflop heap – at least for now. But Frontier and Aurora are catching up as they take aim at a new performance benchmark called exascale. So why do we need all this processing power? From climate modeling to personalized medicine, find out why the super-est computers are necessary to answer our biggest questions. But is the dark horse candidate, quantum computing...
2019-Oct-28 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Rational Lampoon
(repeat) 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...
2019-Oct-21 • 54 minutes
Nobel Efforts
For two Swiss astronomers, it’s “Stockholm, here we come.” Their first-ever discovery of a planet orbiting another star has been awarded the most prestigious prize in science. Find out how their exoplanet discovery led to 4,000 more and how that changes the odds of finding life beyond Earth. Also, the Nobel committee is not alone in finding distant worlds inspirational: a musician is translating their orbital signatures into sound. Guests: Roy Gould - Biophysicist and researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonia...
2019-Oct-14 • 54 minutes
Go With the Flow
(repeat) Solid materials get all the production credit. Don’t get us wrong, we depend on their strength and firmness for bridges, bones, and bento boxes. But liquids do us a solid, too. Their free-flowing properties drive the Earth’s magnetic field, inspire a new generation of smart electronics, and make biology possible. But the weird thing is, they elude clear definition. Is tar a liquid or a solid? What about peanut butter? In this episode: A romp through a cascade of liquids with a materials scientist w...
2019-Oct-07 • 54 minutes
Battling Bacteria
We can’t say we weren’t warned. More than 75 years ago, bacteriologist Rene Dubos cautioned that misuse of antibiotics could breed drug-resistant bacteria – and he has been proved prescient. In this episode: the rise of superbugs, why we ignored the warnings about them, how some are enlisting an old therapy to fight back, and whether we’ll heed history’s lessons in the face of a future pandemic. Plus, a weird unforeseen effect of antibiotics being investigated at the Body Farm. Guests: Fred Turek - Dire...
2019-Sep-30 • 54 minutes
Headed For Trouble
The stone heads on Easter Island are an enduring mystery: why were they built and why were they abandoned and destroyed? The old ideas about cultural collapse are yielding to new ones based on careful investigation on the ground - but also from above. What surprising explanations have we found and are we off base to think that ancient societies such as the Easter Islanders or the classical Egyptians were, in the end, failures? Can what we learn from these histories help predict which societies will survive?...
2019-Sep-23 • 54 minutes
Keeping Humans in the Loop
(repeat) Modern technology is great, but could we be losing control? As our world becomes more crowded and demands for resources are greater, some people worry about humanity’s uncertain prospects. An eminent cosmologist considers globe-altering developments such as climate change and artificial intelligence. Will we be able to stave off serious threats to our future? There’s also another possible source of danger: our trendy digital aids. We seem all-too-willing to let algorithms classify and define our wa...
2019-Sep-16 • 54 minutes
Rip Van Winkle Worm
(repeat) Your shower pipes are alive. So are your sinks, books, and floorboards. New studies of our homes are revealing just what species live there – in the thousands, from bacteria to flies to millipedes. Meanwhile, life keeps surprising us by popping up in other unexpected places: the deep biosphere houses the majority of the world’s bacteria and the Arctic tundra has kept worms frozen, but alive, for 40,000 years. We embrace the multitude of life living on us, in us, and – as it turns out – in every pos...
2019-Sep-09 • 54 minutes
For Good Measure
The reign of Le Grand K has come to an end. After 130 years, this hunk of metal sitting in a Parisian vault will no longer define the kilogram. The new kilogram mass will be defined by Planck’s constant, joining three other units for redefinition by fundamental constants. But as we measure with increasing precision – from cesium atomic clocks to gravitational wave detectors able to measure spacetime distortions to 1/1000th the width of a proton – is something fundamental lost along the way? Meanwhile, the B...
2019-Sep-02 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Data Bias
Sexist snow plowing? Data that guide everything from snow removal schedules to heart research often fail to consider gender. In these cases, “reference man” stands in for “average human.” Human bias also infects artificial intelligence, with speech recognition triggered only by male voices and facial recognition that can’t see black faces. We question the assumptions baked into these numbers and algorithms. Guests: Caroline Criado-Perez - Journalist and author of “Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World De...
2019-Aug-26 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Brain Gain
(repeat) Looking to boost your brainpower? Luckily, there are products promising to help. Smart drugs, neurofeedback exercises, and brain-training video games all promise to improve your gray matter’s performance. But it’s uncertain whether these products really work. Regulatory agencies have come down hard on some popular brain training companies for false advertising. But other brain games have shown benefits in clinical trials. And could we skip the brain workout altogether and pop a genius pill instead?...
2019-Aug-19 • 54 minutes
True Grit
Without sand, engineering would be stuck in the Middle Ages. Wooden houses would line mud-packed streets, and Silicon Valley would be, well, just a valley. Sand is the building material of modern cities, and we use more of this resource than any other except water and air. Now we’re running out of it. Hear why the Roman recipe for making concrete was lost until the 19th century, and about the super-secret mine in North Carolina that makes your smartphone possible. Plus, engineered sand turns stormwater in...
2019-Aug-12 • 54 minutes
Granting Immunity
“Diversity or die” could be your new health mantra. Don’t boost your immune system, cultivate it! Like a garden, your body’s defenses benefit from species diversity. Find out why multiple strains of microbes, engaged in a delicate ballet with your T-cells, join internal fungi in combatting disease. Plus, global ecosystems also depend on the diversity of its tiniest members; so what happens when the world’s insects bug out? Guests: Matt Richtel – Author, most recently, of “An Elegant Defense: The Extraordi...
2019-Aug-05 • 54 minutes
Sci-Fi From the Future
(repeat) Are you ready to defer all your personal decision-making to machines? Polls show that most Americans are uneasy about the unchecked growth of artificial intelligence. The possible misuse of genetic engineering also makes us anxious. We all have a stake in the responsible development of science and technology, but fortunately, science fiction films can help. The movies Ex Machina and Jurassic Park suggest where A.I. and unfettered gene-tinkering could lead. But even less popular sci-fi movies can he...
2019-Jul-29 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Flat Earth
(repeat) 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 t...
2019-Jul-22 • 54 minutes
Let's Stick Together
Crowded subway driving you crazy? Sick of the marathon-length grocery store line? Wish you had a hovercraft to float over traffic? If you are itching to hightail it to an isolated cabin in the woods, remember, we evolved to be together. Humans are not only social, we’re driven to care for one another, even those outside our immediate family. We look at some of the reasons why this is so – from the increase in valuable communication within social groups to the power of the hormone oxytocin. Plus, how our w...
2019-Jul-15 • 54 minutes
Math's Paths
If you bake, you can appreciate math’s transformative properties. Admiring the stackable potato chip is to admire a hyperbolic sheet. Find out why there’s no need to fear math - you just need to think outside the cuboid. Also, how nature’s geometric shapes inspire the next generation of squishy robots and an argument for radically overhauling math class. The end point of these common factors is acute show that’s as fun as eating Pi. Guests: Eugenia Cheng – Scientist in Residence at the School of the Art I...
2019-Jul-08 • 54 minutes
DNA is Not Destiny
(repeat) Heredity was once thought to be straightforward. Genes were passed in an immutable path from parents to you, and you were stuck – or blessed – with what you got. DNA didn’t change. But now we know that’s not true. Epigenetic factors, such as your environment and your lifestyle, control how your genes are expressed. Meanwhile, the powerful tool CRISPR allows us to tinker with the genes themselves. DNA is no longer destiny. Hear the results from the NASA twin study and what happened to astronaut Sc...
2019-Jul-01 • 54 minutes
Nailing the Moon Landing
Neil, Buzz, and Michael made it look effortless, but the moon landing was neither easy nor inevitable. Soon after President Kennedy publicly stated the goal of sending Americans to the moon, NASA confessed that the chances of success were only about 50/50. But on July 20, 1969, despite enormous difficulties, astronauts stepped onto the lunar regolith. In this special anniversary episode, we go behind the iconic phrases and familiar photos to consider the errors, mishaps, and the Plan B contingencies that d...
2019-Jun-24 • 54 minutes
Animals Like Us
Laughing rats, sorrowful elephants, joyful chimpanzees. The more carefully we observe, and the more we learn about animals, the closer their emotional lives appear to resemble our own. Most would agree that we should minimize the physical suffering of animals, but should we give equal consideration to their emotional stress? Bioethicist Peter Singer weighs in. Meanwhile, captivity that may be ethical: How human-elephant teamwork in Asia may help protect an endangered species. Guests: Frans de Waal - Prima...
2019-Jun-17 • 54 minutes
You've Got Whale
(repeat) SMS isn’t the original instant messaging system. Plants can send chemical warnings through their leaves in a fraction of a second. And while we love being in the messaging loop – frenetically refreshing our browsers – we miss out on important conversations that no Twitter feed or inbox can capture. That’s because eavesdropping on the communications of non-human species requires the ability to decode their non-written signals. Dive into Arctic waters where scientists make first-ever recordings of th...
2019-Jun-10 • 54 minutes
It's Habitable Forming
(repeat) There’s evidence for a subsurface lake on Mars, and scientists are excitedly using the “h” word. Could the Red Planet be habitable, not billions of years ago, but today? While we wait – impatiently – for a confirmation of this result, we review the recipe for habitable alien worlds. For example, the moon Titan has liquid lakes on its surface. Could they be filled with Titanites? Dive into a possible briny, underground lake on Mars … protect yourself from the methane-drenched rain on a moon of Satur...
2019-Jun-03 • 54 minutes
Creature Discomforts
(repeat) Okay you animals, line up: stoned sloths, playful pandas, baleful bovines, and vile vultures. We’ve got you guys pegged, thanks to central casting. Or do we? Our often simplistic view of animals ignores their remarkable adaptive abilities. Stumbly sloths are in fact remarkably agile and a vulture’s tricks for thermoregulation can’t be found in an outdoors store. Our ignorance about some animals can even lead to their suffering and to seemingly intractable problems. The South American nutria was b...
2019-May-27 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Worrier Mentality
Poisonous snakes, lightning strikes, a rogue rock from space. There are plenty of scary things to fret about, but are we burning adrenaline on the right ones? Stepping into the bathtub is more dangerous than flying from a statistical point of view, but no one signs up for “fear of showering” classes. Find out why we get tripped up by statistics, worry about the wrong things, and how the “intelligence trap” not only leads smart people to make dumb mistakes, but actually causes them to make more. Guests: ...
2019-May-20 • 54 minutes
New Water Worlds
(repeat) The seas are rising. It’s no longer a rarity to see kayakers paddling through downtown Miami. By century’s end, the oceans could be anywhere from 2 to 6 feet higher, threatening millions of people and property. But humans once knew how to adapt to rising waters. As high water threatens to drown our cities, can we learn do it again. Hear stories of threatened land: submerged Florida suburbs, the original sunken city (Venice), and the U.S. East Coast, where anthropologists rush to catalogue thousand...
2019-May-13 • 54 minutes
Is Life Inevitable?
A new theory about life’s origins updates Darwin’s warm little pond. Scientists say they’ve created the building blocks of biology in steaming hot springs. Meanwhile, we visit a NASA lab where scientists simulate deep-sea vent chemistry to produce the type of environment that might spawn life. Which site is best suited for producing biology from chemistry? Find out how the conditions of the early Earth were different from today, how meteors seeded Earth with organics, and a provocative idea that life arose ...
2019-May-06 • 54 minutes
Rethinking Chernobyl
The catastrophic explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in April 1986 triggered the full-scale destruction of the reactor. But now researchers with access to once-classified Soviet documents are challenging the official version of what happened both before and after the explosion. They say that the accident was worse than we thought and that a number of factors – from paranoia to poor engineering – made the mishap inevitable. Others claim a much larger death toll from extended exposure to low levels...
2019-Apr-29 • 54 minutes
Identity Crisis
(repeat) DNA is the gold standard of identification. Except when it’s not. In rare cases when a person has two complete sets of DNA, that person’s identity may be up in the air. Meanwhile, DNA ancestry tests are proving frustratingly vague: dishing up generalities about where you came from rather than anything specific. And decoding a genome is still relatively expensive and time-consuming. So, while we refine our ability to work with DNA, the search is on for a quick and easy biomarker test to tell us who...
2019-Apr-22 • 54 minutes
Gained in Translation
Your virtual assistant is not without a sense of humor. Its repertoire includes the classic story involving a chicken and a road. But will Alexa laugh at your jokes? Will she groan at your puns? Telling jokes is one thing. Teaching a computer to recognize humor is another, because a clear definition of humor is lacking. But doing so is a step toward making more natural interactions with A.I. Find out what’s involved in tickling A.I.’s funny bone. Also, an interstellar communication challenge: Despite deba...
2019-Apr-15 • 54 minutes
Free Range Dinosaurs
(repeat) Dinosaurs are once again stomping and snorting their way across the screen of your local movie theater. But these beefy beasts stole the show long before CGI brought them back in the Jurassic Park blockbusters. Dinosaurs had global dominance for the better part of 165 million years. Compare that with a measly 56 million years of primate activity. We bow to our evolutionary overlords in this episode. Our conversation about these thunderous lizards roams freely as we talk with the paleontologist who...
2019-Apr-01 • 54 minutes
DecodeHer
DecodeHer They were pioneers in their fields, yet their names are scarcely known – because they didn’t have a Y chromosome. We examine the accomplishments of two women who pioneered code breaking and astronomy during the early years of the twentieth century and did so in the face of social opprobrium and a frequently hostile work environment. Henrietta Leavitt measured the brightnesses of thousands of stars and discovered a way to gauge the distances to galaxies, a development that soon led to the concept o...
2019-Mar-25 • 54 minutes
You Are Exposed
(repeat) 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. Coul...
2019-Mar-18 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Political Scientist
(repeat) 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...
2019-Mar-11 • 54 minutes
Hawkingravity
(repeat) 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 phy...
2019-Mar-04 • 54 minutes
High Moon
(repeat) "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 abo...
2019-Feb-25 • 54 minutes
We Are VR
(repeat) 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 o...
2019-Feb-04 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Astrology Ascending
The fault is in our stars. And according to astrology, so is our destiny, our moods, and our character. Mars may be in retrograde, but interest in the ancient practice of astrology is rising. The fact that it is not science is irrelevant to those who claim “it works.” Find out why “what’s your sign” is replacing “what do you do?” as an icebreaker, the historical roots of astrology and whether its truth-value matters today, and what conclusions we can draw from the many studies examining the full moon’s inf...
2019-Jan-28 • 54 minutes
Meet Your Robot Barista
(repeat) 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 r...
2018-Dec-31 • 54 minutes
The X-Flies
(repeat) 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 s...
2018-Dec-24 • 55 minutes
Space: Why Go There?
(repeat) 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...
2018-Dec-10 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Science Breaking Bad
(repeat) 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 shad...
2018-Dec-03 • 54 minutes
Creative Brains
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...
2018-Nov-26 • 54 minutes
Bacteria to the Future
(Repeat) 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 a...
2018-Nov-19 • 54 minutes
Space Rocks!
It’s not a bird or a plane, and probably not an alien spaceship, although the jury’s still deliberating that one. Some astronomers have proposed that an oddly-shaped object that recently passed through our Solar System could be an alien artifact. We consider the E.T. explanation for ‘Oumuamua, but also other reasons asteroids are invigorating our imagination. Are these orbiting rocks key to our future as a spacefaring species? Find out why traditional incentives for human exploration of space – such as poli...
2018-Nov-12 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Science Denial
Climate change isn’t happening. Vaccines make you sick. When it comes to threats to public or environmental health, a surprisingly large fraction of the population still denies the consensus of scientific evidence. But it’s not the first time – many people long resisted the evidentiary link between HIV and AIDS and smoking with lung cancer. There’s a sense that science denialism is on the rise. It prompted a gathering of scientists and historians in New York City to discuss the problem, which included a deb...
2018-Nov-05 • 54 minutes
Rerouting... Rerouting
(Repeat) 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 s...
2018-Oct-22 • 54 minutes
Air Apparent
(Repeat) 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 th...
2018-Oct-01 • 54 minutes
Wonder Women
(Repeat) 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 ...
2018-Sep-24 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Heal Thyself
Do we still need doctors? There are umpteen alternative sources of medical advice, including endless and heartfelt health tips from people without medical degrees. Frankly, self-diagnosis with a health app is easier and cheaper than a trip to a clinic. Since we’re urged to be our own health advocate and seek second opinions, why not ask Alexa or consult with a celebrity about what ails us? Find out if you can trust these alternative medical advice platforms. Plus, lessons from an AIDS fighter about ignorin...
2018-Sep-17 • 54 minutes
DNA: Nature's Hard Drive
(Repeat) 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 ENC...
2018-Sep-10 • 54 minutes
Angles of a Hack
(repeat) 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 hac...
2018-Sep-03 • 54 minutes
Plan of a Hack
(repeat) 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 wh...
2018-Aug-20 • 54 minutes
Too Big To Prove
(Repeat) 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 gra...
2018-Jul-30 • 54 minutes
It's In Material
(Repeat) 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-stro...
2018-Jul-16 • 54 minutes
On Thin Ice
ENCORE 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 a...
2018-Jul-09 • 54 minutes
What Goes Around
ENCORE 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 re...
2018-Jul-02 • 54 minutes
Frogs' Pants
ENCORE It’s one of the most bizarre biological experiments ever. In the 18th century, a scientist fitted a pair of tailor-made briefs on a male frog to determine the animal’s contribution to reproduction. The process of gestation was a mystery and scientists had some odd-ball theories. Today, a 5th grader can tell you how babies are made, but we still don’t know exactly what life is. In our quest to understand, we’re still at the frogs’ pants stage. Find out why conception took centuries to figure out. Als...
2018-Jun-18 • 54 minutes
Perpetual Emotion Machine
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...
2018-Jun-04 • 54 minutes
Imagining Planets
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 planet...
2018-May-28 • 54 minutes
Time on Your Side
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 b...
2018-May-21 • 54 minutes
Your Brain's Reins
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 brai...
2018-Apr-30 • 54 minutes
What Have You Got To Move
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 alway...
2018-Apr-09 • 54 minutes
Brain Dust
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 y...
2018-Mar-26 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Your Inner Lab Coat
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 scienc...
2018-Feb-19 • 54 minutes
Quantum: Why We Want 'Em
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-th...
2018-Jan-29 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: New UFO Evidence
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 ...
2018-Jan-22 • 54 minutes
DIY Spaceflight
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 ...
2018-Jan-15 • 54 minutes
Geology is Destiny
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 ...
2018-Jan-08 • 54 minutes
Are Animals Really That Smart?
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 d...
2018-Jan-01 • 54 minutes
Weather Vain
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 m...
2017-Dec-25 • 54 minutes
DIY Diagnosis
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 ...
2017-Dec-11 • 54 minutes
With All Our Mites
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...
2017-Nov-27 • 54 minutes
Time Travel Agents
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 phy...
2017-Nov-13 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Nibiru! (Again!)
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....
2017-Oct-30 • 54 minutes
Venom Diagram
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 ha...
2017-Oct-23 • 54 minutes
Sex Post Facto
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 asexua...
2017-Oct-09 • 54 minutes
On Defense
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...
2017-Sep-25 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Aliens - The Evidence
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 exis...
2017-Sep-04 • 54 minutes
Born Legacy
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 al...
2017-Aug-28 • 54 minutes
Elements Never Forget
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 th...
2017-Aug-21 • 54 minutes
Musical Universe
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 s...
2017-Aug-07 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Busting Myths with Adam Savage
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 ...
2017-Jul-31 • 54 minutes
Caught in a Traps
"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 tem...
2017-Jul-17 • 55 minutes
Eclipsing All Other Shows
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 m...
2017-Jun-26 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: How Low Can You Go?
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...
2017-Jun-12 • 54 minutes
Science Fiction
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 th...
2017-Jun-05 • 54 minutes
Gene-y in a Bottle
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 tro...
2017-May-29 • 54 minutes
The Crater Good
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 ski...
2017-May-15 • 54 minutes
100% Invisible
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 kil...
2017-May-01 • 54 minutes
Eve of Disruption
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 ...
2017-Apr-24 • 54 minutes
Spacecraft Elegy
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 s...
2017-Apr-17 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Glutenous Maximus
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 dev...
2017-Apr-03 • 54 minutes
Winging It
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 the...
2017-Mar-06 • 54 minutes
Cosmic Conundra
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 me...
2017-Feb-27 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Not So Sweet
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 ...
2017-Feb-20 • 54 minutes
Thinking About Thinking
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 desi...
2017-Feb-13 • 54 minutes
Going All to Species
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 ...
2017-Jan-23 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Amelia Earhart
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 r...
2017-Jan-09 • 54 minutes
No Face to Hide
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 regu...
2017-Jan-02 • 54 minutes
The Light Stuff
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...
2016-Dec-26 • 54 minutes
The Fix is In
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...
2016-Dec-19 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Fear Itself
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 ...
2016-Nov-28 • 54 minutes
What Lies Beneath
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...
2016-Nov-07 • 54 minutes
And To Space We Return
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 ar...
2016-Oct-31 • 54 minutes
Hidden History
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 surprisi...
2016-Oct-24 • 54 minutes
Moral's Law
"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 intention...
2016-Oct-10 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Science and the Election
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 Ke...
2016-Sep-26 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Skeptic Seth
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 dai...
2016-Sep-12 • 54 minutes
The Evolution of Evolution
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 ...
2016-Sep-05 • 59 minutes
Asteroids!
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...
2016-Aug-22 • 54 minutes
They Know Who You Are
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 stuf...
2016-Aug-15 • 54 minutes
Are We Over the Moon?
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 mon...
2016-Aug-08 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: After the Hereafter
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 ...
2016-Jul-18 • 54 minutes
Raising the Minimum Age
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 –...
2016-Jul-11 • 54 minutes
Microbes: Resistance is Futile
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 D...
2016-Jul-04 • 54 minutes
Science Fiction True
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 compa...
2016-Jun-27 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: The Me in Measles
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 18...
2016-Jun-13 • 54 minutes
Surviving the Anthropocene
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 phas...
2016-Jun-06 • 54 minutes
How to Talk to Aliens
"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 i...
2016-May-09 • 54 minutes
Shocking Ideas
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 rese...
2016-May-02 • 54 minutes
Living Computers
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 tec...
2016-Apr-18 • 54 minutes
Moving Right Along
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 je...
2016-Apr-11 • 54 minutes
Surfeit of the Vitalest
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...
2016-Apr-04 • 54 minutes
Tale of the Distribution
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...
2016-Mar-14 • 54 minutes
Who's Controlling Whom?
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?...
2016-Mar-07 • 54 minutes
Land on the Run
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 wait...
2016-Jan-25 • 54 minutes
Replace What Ails You
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: scien...
2016-Jan-11 • 54 minutes
Apt to Adapt
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 bare...
2016-Jan-04 • 54 minutes
A Stellar Job
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 natu...
2015-Dec-28 • 54 minutes
You Think; You're So Smart
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 – Sen...
2015-Dec-14 • 54 minutes
Look Who's Not Talking
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 cam...
2015-Nov-30 • 54 minutes
Happily Confused
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 disor...
2015-Nov-23 • 54 minutes
Climate Conversation
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 o...
2015-Nov-16 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Paleo Diet
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 histor...
2015-Oct-26 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Check the Skeptics
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 sci...
2015-Oct-19 • 54 minutes
Smiley Virus
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...
2015-Oct-12 • 54 minutes
Space for Everyone
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...
2015-Oct-05 • 54 minutes
Martian Madness
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...
2015-Sep-28 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: What, We Worry?
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 m...
2015-Sep-14 • 54 minutes
Stranded
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 plan...
2015-Sep-07 • 54 minutes
The Pest of Us
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 m...
2015-Aug-10 • 54 minutes
Solar System Vacation
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 ...
2015-Jul-27 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Are You Sure You're Sure?
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...
2015-Jul-13 • 54 minutes
Forget to Remember
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...
2015-Jul-06 • 54 minutes
Dogged Pursuit of Pluto
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 mi...
2015-Jun-29 • 54 minutes
What the Hack
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 ...
2015-Jun-22 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Evolutionary Arms Race
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...
2015-Jun-15 • 54 minutes
It's All Relative
A 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 bo...
2015-Jun-01 • 54 minutes
Math's Days Are Numbered
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....
2015-Apr-27 • 54 minutes
Invisible Worlds
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 ...
2015-Apr-20 • 54 minutes
Life in Space
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 autho...
2015-Apr-13 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Monster Mashup
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 ext...
2015-Mar-23 • 54 minutes
Power to the People
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 cutt...
2015-Mar-09 • 54 minutes
Mars-Struck
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, wh...
2015-Feb-16 • 54 minutes
Sesquicentennial Science
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...
2015-Feb-02 • 54 minutes
Digging Our Past
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...
2015-Jan-26 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Mummy Dearest
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 lea...
2015-Jan-19 • 54 minutes
Big Questions Somewhat Answered
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 ...
2015-Jan-05 • 54 minutes
Meet Your Replacements
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...
2014-Dec-29 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Got a Sweet Truth?
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 ho...
2014-Dec-15 • 54 minutes
Shocking Ideas
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 r...
2014-Dec-01 • 54 minutes
Long Live Longevity
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 tha...
2014-Nov-24 • 54 minutes
This Land Is Island
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 fo...
2014-Nov-03 • 54 minutes
Sounds Abound
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, thi...
2014-Oct-27 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Friends Like These
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 dise...
2014-Oct-06 • 54 minutes
What's the Difference?
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 ar...
2014-Sep-22 • 54 minutes
As You Were
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 technolo...
2014-Sep-15 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Is It True?
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 th...
2014-Sep-08 • 54 minutes
A Sudden Change in Planets
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 sur...
2014-Sep-01 • 54 minutes
Welcome to Our Labor-atory
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 r...
2014-Aug-25 • 54 minutes
ZZZZZs Please
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. G...
2014-Aug-11 • 54 minutes
De-Extinction Show
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 t...
2014-Aug-04 • 54 minutes
Eye Spy
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...
2014-Jul-14 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: About Face
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 ...
2014-Jul-07 • 54 minutes
Deep Time
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 creatu...
2014-Jun-30 • 54 minutes
Time for a Map
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: John Bradshaw – Director of the Universi...
2014-Jun-23 • 54 minutes
What Do You Make Of It?
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...
2014-Jun-02 • 54 minutes
A New Hope for Life In Space
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, Con...
2014-May-19 • 54 minutes
We Can Rebuild It
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...
2014-Apr-28 • 54 minutes
Our Tasteless Show
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 ...
2014-Apr-14 • 54 minutes
That's Containment!
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, for...
2014-Apr-07 • 54 minutes
Since Sliced Bread
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 print...
2014-Mar-24 • 54 minutes
Do the Math
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 ...
2014-Mar-10 • 54 minutes
We Heart Robots
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: Illah Nourbakhsh – Professor of robotics, Carnegie Mellon University, author of Robot Futures...
2014-Feb-24 • 54 minutes
Before the Big Bang
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 ...
2014-Feb-10 • 54 minutes
Gene Hack, Man
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, ass...
2014-Jan-13 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Zombies Aren't Real
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 b...
2014-Jan-06 • 54 minutes
Can We Talk?
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: Mark Moffett – Ento...
2013-Dec-30 • 54 minutes
Animal Instinct
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 … an...
2013-Dec-23 • 54 minutes
Group Think
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: Susan Cain – Author of Quiet: T...
2013-Dec-16 • 54 minutes
Some Like It Cold
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, b...
2013-Dec-02 • 54 minutes
Math's Days Are Numbered
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....
2013-Nov-25 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Science Blunders
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. G...
2013-Nov-18 • 54 minutes
The Heat is On
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...
2013-Nov-04 • 54 minutes
Life Back Then
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: Lorn...
2013-Oct-28 • 54 minutes
Shutting Down Science
“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 p...
2013-Oct-21 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: War of the Worlds
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,...
2013-Oct-14 • 54 minutes
Emergence
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: Randy Schekman – Professor of molecular and cell b...
2013-Sep-16 • 54 minutes
You Say You Want an Evolution?
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...
2013-Sep-09 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Follywood Science
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 ...
2013-Sep-02 • 54 minutes
Catch a Wave
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...
2013-Jul-22 • 54 minutes
Rife with Life
“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. Scienc...
2013-Jul-15 • 54 minutes
Getting a Spacelift
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 ...
2013-Jul-08 • 54 minutes
Material Whirl
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 contr...
2013-Jun-17 • 54 minutes
Exoplanets
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 exo...
2013-Jun-03 • 54 minutes
Cosmos: It's Big, It's Weird
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 w...
2013-May-20 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Hostile Climate
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 rul...
2013-May-06 • 54 minutes
Stomach This
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 noneth...
2013-Apr-15 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Forget with the Program
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: Phil Plait – Astronomer, Skeptic, and aut...
2013-Apr-08 • 54 minutes
Seth's Wine Cellar
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, ...
2013-Apr-01 • 54 minutes
Anthropocene and Heard
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 … a...
2013-Mar-04 • 54 minutes
Happy Daze
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 frien...
2013-Feb-18 • 54 minutes
Whodunit, Who'll Do It?
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 crim...
2013-Feb-11 • 54 minutes
Say La Vie
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 ...
2013-Jan-28 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Science Blunders
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. G...
2013-Jan-14 • 54 minutes
Whither the Weather?
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 Smi...
2013-Jan-07 • 54 minutes
Ultimate Hook Up
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 B...
2012-Dec-31 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: They're Baack!
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 t...
2012-Dec-24 • 54 minutes
Remembers Only
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 h...
2012-Dec-17 • 54 minutes
Before the Big Bang
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...
2012-Dec-03 • 54 minutes
Doomsday Live, Part 2
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: ...
2012-Nov-26 • 59 minutes
Doomsday Live, Part I
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: Guy P. Harriso...
2012-Nov-19 • 54 minutes
No Expiration Date
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: Martin Bucknava...
2012-Nov-05 • 54 minutes
Going Global
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?...
2012-Oct-22 • 54 minutes
Space Archaeology
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...
2012-Oct-15 • 54 minutes
As the Worlds Turn
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 – Plane...
2012-Oct-08 • 54 minutes
[Rectangular Container] Thinking
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...
2012-Oct-01 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Mysterious Illness
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! Gu...
2012-Sep-24 • 54 minutes
Big Data
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 que...
2012-Sep-17 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Energy Vortex
"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? Gue...
2012-Sep-10 • 54 minutes
Oh, Rats!
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...
2012-Sep-03 • 54 minutes
The Invisible In-Between
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 acti...
2012-Aug-27 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Monsters, Magic, and Music
If Bigfoot walks through a forest and no one sees him, does he exist? It’s the job of paranormal investigator Joe Nickell to find out! Discover whether eyewitness accounts are reliable when it comes to tracking down the hirsute big guy and other monsters. Also, on the subject of “seeing is believing”: how magic fools the brain. Plus, in our potpourri show: can music boost brain power? A new study says listening to music makes brains happy. Does this support the dubious “Mozart Effect,” that claims listening...
2012-Aug-20 • 54 minutes
A.I. Caramba!
When the IBM computer, Watson, snatched the “Jeopardy” title from its human competition, that raised the question of just how smart are machines? Could artificial intelligence ever beat humans at their own game… of being human? Hear why an A.I. expert says it’s time to make peace with your P.C.; the machines are coming. Also, why technology is already self-evolving, and presenting its own demands. Find out what technology wants. And, a man who went head-to-chip with a computer and says machines will never b...
2012-Aug-13 • 54 minutes
A Martian Curiosity
We dig the Red Planet! And so does Curiosity. After a successful landing, and a round of high-fives at NASA, the latest rover to land on Mars is on the move, shovel in mechanical hand. Discover how the Mars Science Laboratory will hunt for the building blocks of life, and just what the heck a lipid is. Plus, how to distinguish Martians from Earthlings, and the tricks Mars has played on us in the past (canals, anyone?). Also, want to visit Mars firsthand? We can point you to the sign-up sheet for a manned mi...
2012-Aug-06 • 54 minutes
Fuel's Paradise
You know the joke about the car and the snail. Look at that escargot? Well, snails may be the only thing not powering the automobiles of the future. Trees, grass, algae, even the garbage you toss on the sidewalk has potential for conversion into biofuel. What is America’s next top model fuel? Join us on a tour of the contenders. Meet a man who’s mad about miscanthus … an astrobiologist’s attraction to algae… and the blueprint for building your own biofuel bugs. Also, discover whether any of these next-gener...
2012-Jul-23 • 54 minutes
Olympics for the Rest of Us
Let the games begin! The mad dash to the phone … the sudden spring out of bed … the frantic juggling of car keys, grocery bags and a cell phone! Olympic athletes may have remarkable speed and strength, but it’s easy praise the extraordinary. Here’s to the extreme averageness of the rest of us. From beer bellies to aching backs, we’re all winners in the Darwinian Olympics just by virtue of being here. Identify the one physical trait that you share with all Olympians – your head - and why it’s a remarkable hu...
2012-Jul-09 • 54 minutes
Animal Instinct
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 … an...
2012-Jul-02 • 54 minutes
Nano Nano
Think small to solve big problems. That, in a nutshell, is the promise of nanotechnology. In this barely visible world, batteries charge 100 times faster and drugs go straight to their targets in the body. Discover some of these nano breakthroughs and how what you can’t see can help you… …or hurt you? What if tiny machines turn out to be nothing but trouble? We’ll look at the health and safety risks of nanotech. Plus, scaling up in science fiction: why a Godzilla-sized insect is fun, but just doesn’t fly. G...
2012-Jun-25 • 54 minutes
Seth's Storm Shelter
Expect the unexpected when we go digging in Seth’s storm shelter – who knows what we’ll find! In this cramped never-never land, tucked between piles of dehydrated food packets and old civil defense helmets, we stumble (but don’t step) upon marauding ants … a mission to Pluto…. “evidence” of a spaceship crash … the Apollo astronaut who shot the “Earth Rise” photograph … and Jonah Lehrer meditating on creativity. Tune in, find out and, help move this box of canned soup, will you? Guests: Mark Moffett - Ento...
2012-Jun-18 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: OMG, GMO?
You are what you eat. But what does that mean if your food is genetically engineered? And the chances are good that it has been engineered if you munch down on corn or soybean. The prospect of eating GM food makes some folks afraid, but is their fear warranted? Discover what experts say about the safety of genetically engineered foods … whether the technology delivers on the promised increase in yield … and the argument for and against labeling. Also, why some say the issue is not food safety, but the uneth...
2012-Jun-11 • 54 minutes
Can We Talk?
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: Mark Moffett - Ento...
2012-Jun-04 • 54 minutes
Better Mousetrap
It’s the perennial dream: build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door. We go to San Jose’s famed Tech Museum to learn what it takes to turn a good idea into a grand success. Remember the Super Soaker squirt gun? Hear how its inventor is now changing the rules for solar energy. Where do good ideas come from? A Eureka moment in the bathtub? We’ll find out that it doesn’t happen so quickly – or easily. And finally, the life cycle of society-changing technologies, from the birth of rad...
2012-May-28 • 54 minutes
Mass Transits
On June 5, our sister planet Venus will slowly slide across the face of the sun. This will be the last transit of Venus until 2117, so there’s no subsequent chance to observe this celestial spectacular for anyone alive today. Join us for a special episode devoted to this rare event. Two centuries ago, nations were locked in a race to be the first to measure the Venus transit. From the first observation by the “father” of British astronomy to Captain Cook’s Tahitian expedition in the 18th century, meet the p...
2012-May-21 • 54 minutes
To Earth and Back
We are all Martians … or could be, if, billions of years ago, Red Plant microbes fell to Earth and eventually evolved to us. Okay, that one’s a big “if.” But microbes can survive space travel. Meet the NASA officer whose task is to keep Earth, Mars - and the entire solar system –safe from hitchhiking bacteria. And, even if we’re not Martians (darn!), did life once thrive on the Red Planet ... and does it still today? Plus, why meteorites may be happy habitats for life. Guests: Catharine Conley - NASA plan...
2012-May-14 • 53 minutes
That's So Random!
Random is as random does… makes sense doesn’t even that anyway in tune hear to randomness how lives rules. Brain chaos the drives, restoration role of help insight ecology may into randomness the, numbers sense of make statistics can’t why we or, ants not seem of erratic behavior why the may but is. Guests: Leonard Mlodinow - Theoretical physicist and author of The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives (Vintage) Jon Chase - Biologist and director of the Tyson Research center at Washington Uni...
2012-Apr-23 • 54 minutes
Early Adapters
The times are a’changing – rising temperatures, growing population, and new technology coming at us faster than a greased cheetah. So how will humans respond? Find out about future farming in the city – your vegetables might be grown in downtown, hi-rise greenhouses. Also, a population expert tells us how our planet can cope with billions more people, and the man who invented the term ‘cyberspace’ describes what the future might hold for the techno-savvy. Darwinian evolution takes a long time to accommodate...
2012-Apr-16 • 54 minutes
Humans Need Not Apply
You are one-of-a-kind, unique, indispensible… oh, wait, never mind! It seems that computer over there can do what you do … faster and with greater accuracy. Yes, it’s silicon vs. carbon as intelligent, interactive machines out-perform humans in tasks beyond data-crunching. We’re not only building our successors, we’re developing emotional relationships with them. Find out why humans are hard-wired to be attached to androids. Also, the handful of areas where humans still rule… as pilots, doctors and journali...
2012-Apr-09 • 54 minutes
Second That Emotion
So you weep at sappy commercials and give drivers the bird. Have no regrets: emotion is what makes us human! Discover the survival value in feeling disgust … why humans are terrible liars … and how despair fuels creativity. Also, mis-firing emotions and the emotional consequences of facial paralysis. And why E.T. will need to feel fear and joy to survive. Guests: Rachel Herz - Psychologist, author of That's Disgusting: Unraveling the Mysteries of Repulsion Paul Ekman - Psychologist, professor emeritis,...
2012-Mar-26 • 54 minutes
Found in Space
If someone asks where you get off, you can now respond with precision. Satellites and computers spit out coordinates accurate to a few paces. And digital maps stand the Copernican principle on its head – putting you at the center of everything (how does it feel?). Find out how today’s maps are shuffling our world view. Also, how does a rat navigate a maze without GPS? Hear of the plotting that goes on in that tiny rodent brain. Plus, mapping the universe and pinpointing just where we are in cosmic time – lu...
2012-Mar-12 • 54 minutes
Seth's Cabinet of Wonders
It’s always a surprise to sort through Seth's cabinet of wonders – who knows what we’ll find! In this cramped cupboard, tucked between shelves of worm gears and used clarinet reeds, we discover a forgotten U.S. sea floor laboratory … copies of the new Cosmos TV series … evidence of science fiction’s predictive powers … software that may replace scientists … and tips on surviving a deadly poison (hint: it helps to be a snake). Tune in, find out and grab a duster, will you? Guests: Neil deGrasse Tyson - Ast...
2012-Mar-05 • 53 minutes
Skeptic Check: Prog-Not-Stication
The future is no mystery … according to psychics who say they have special access to tomorrow’s events. For example, adherents to the Mayan doomsday prophecy warn that when 2012 ends, so will the world. Discover what’s behind claims of prognostication, and why – if it really works – no one is making a killing in Las Vegas. Also, could science divine the future? Programmers with the Living Earth Simulator say that with sufficient data, their billion-dollar computer project can predict world events. It’s Skep...
2012-Feb-20 • 52 minutes
Skeptic Check: Saucer's Apprentice
They’re here! About one-third of all Americans believe we’re being visited by extraterrestrial spacecraft. But wait, you want evidence? UFO sighting are as prevalent as flies at a picnic. But proof of visitation – well, that’s really alien. Hear why belief in extraterrestrial UFOs persists … and why military sightings that “can’t be explained” don’t warrant rolling out a welcome mat for ET. Plus, the most fab UFOs in the movies! It’s Skeptic Check… but don’t take our word for it! Guests: Phil Plait - Keep...
2012-Feb-13 • 52 minutes
Aware Am I?
Humans are pleasure-seekers – from food to sex to fine art. But do we know why we crave what we do? Discover the surprising motivation behind our desires. Also, why our hedonistic cousins, the bonobos, may hold the secret to world peace. Plus, self-awareness in monkeys: can they really pass the mirror test? Can bacteria, for that matter? Nope! But since you are, cell for cell, more microbe than human, you’ll want to know just how cognitively aware these critters are. Guests: Paul Bloom - Psychologist at Y...
2012-Jan-16 • 54 minutes
Wired for Thought
A cup of coffee can leave you wired for the day. But a chip in your brain could wire you to a machine forever. Imagine manipulating a mouse without moving a muscle, and doing a Google search with your mind. Welcome to the future of the brain-machine interface. Don your EEG thinking-cap, and discover a high-tech thought game that may be the harbinger of machine relationships to come. Plus, the ultimate mapping project: the Human Connectdome Project aims to identify all the neural pathways in the human brain....
2012-Jan-02 • 54 minutes
Light, the Universe, and Everything
What’s it all about? And we mean ALL. What makes up this vast sprawling cosmos? Why does it exist? Why do we exist? Why is there something rather than nothing? Ow, my head hurts! For possible answers, we travel to the moment after the Big Bang and discover all that came into being in those few minutes after the great flash: time, space, matter, and light. Plus, the bizarre stuff that makes up the bulk of the universe: dark energy and dark matter. Also, what we set in motion with the invention of the light b...
2011-Dec-26 • 53 minutes
Skeptic Check: Superstition
Wait! Before you step outside... is it Friday the 13th? Any black cats prowling around? Broken a mirror lately? Homo sapiens are a superstitious lot. Find out why our brains are wired for irrational belief. Plus, from the 2012-end-of-the-world prophesy to colliding planets - why some people believe the universe is out to get ‘em. Also, Brains on Vacation takes on a challenge to relativity and our Hollywood skeptic has doubts about exorcism. It’s enough to make your head spin on Skeptic Check… but don’t take...
2011-Dec-19 • 54 minutes
Sensor Sensibility
Have you lost your senses? You’ll find them everywhere you look. Sensors respond to external stimuli – light, sound, temperature and much else – to help us make sense (ha!) of our universe. And more are on their way. “Ubiquitous sensing” is the term that describes a world blanketed by tiny sensors: on bridges, in paint and medicine bottles, and even in our brains! Discover where you’ll find sensors next. And, has the world’s largest detection device found the elusive particle that will help explain the univ...
2011-Dec-12 • 52 minutes
Going Viral
The term “bird flu” is a misnomer, scientists say, because almost all human influenza originates in our feathered friends. How it lands in you and spreads is another matter … Hear what it takes for a virus to go global, from a virus hunter who plans to stop epidemics in their tiny DNA tracks with an innovative global surveillance system. Also, why your genome is littered with fossil viruses of the past … the two largest viruses discovered so far, Mimi and Mega, square off … and, what it takes for ideas to “...
2011-Dec-05 • 54 minutes
Science's Alliances
Mom and apple pie. Computers and silicon. Martians and death rays. Some things just go together naturally. But how about science and politics? Science and religion? Science and fiction? These pairings are often unnatural and contentious … but they don’t have to be. Discover how science can team up with other endeavors in productive, if surprising, symbiosis. Meet a particle physicist, turned U.S. Congressman, who calls for more scientists on Capitol Hill. Also, a tour of the Golden Age of Islamic Science. P...
2011-Nov-28 • 53 minutes
Skeptic Check: Dubiology
There’s no harm talking to your houseplant, but will your chatter really help it grow? We look at various biological claims, from whether plants feel pain to the ability of cats to predict earthquakes. Feline forecasters, anyone? Also, when does understanding biology have important implications for health and policy? The arguments for and against genetically modified foods, and the danger of “pox parties” as a replacement for childhood vaccination. Plus, the history and current state of scientific literacy ...
2011-Nov-21 • 53 minutes
We've Got You Made
Wish you could ditch computers? There’s no escape button for that. Computers are not only a part of your daily grind, they may soon be a part of you. We’ll hear from the world’s first cyborg about why we should make nice in our arms race with machines. Also, the secret behind the extraordinary breakthroughs that DARPA scientists are making – from building autonomous cars to wiring robotic surgeons. Plus, making space for humans… and their bodily functions: the engineering tricks of toiletry. And, a carbon-b...
2011-Nov-14 • 54 minutes
Blame it on Bacterio
Think small! Microbes are tinier than the dot at the end of this sentence, yet they can make humans sicker than dogs, dogs sicker than humans, jump from animal to human and keep scientists guessing when and where the next disease will appear. Discover how doctors diagnosed one man’s mysterious infection, the role that animals play as hosts for disease, and why the rate of emerging diseases is increasing worldwide. Also, why your kitchen is a biosafety hazard, and how the Human Microbiome Project will tally ...
2011-Nov-07 • 53 minutes
NASA or What?
“Making space for everyone” could be NASA’s motto. But as commercial spaceships get ready to blast off, that populist idea is being tested. Space cowboys in the private sector say they’re the ones who can provide unfettered access to space, for tourists and scientists alike. Meet a scientist who already has a ticket to ride on SpaceShip Two and discover what he hopes to learn about asteroids during his five minutes of weightlessness. Plus, NASA in motion: it’s back to the moon as the GRAIL mission probes th...
2011-Oct-31 • 52 minutes
Bug Off!
What you can’t see … can make you sick. Humans have been battling viruses and bacteria since the beginning of time. The malaria parasite has been keeping deadly company with us for 500,000 years. King Tut had it and so did Julius Caesar. What’s keeping this bug going today? Also, how disease almost halted the most ambitious engineering project in the world … how elite disease detectives puzzle out perplexing epidemics … And – could tiny bugs from spaaace, ace, ace be our ancestors? Guests: Sonia Shah - Au...
2011-Oct-17 • 53 minutes
Happy Daze
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 frien...
2011-Oct-03 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check, Beast Of
Zombies, aliens, Bigfoot, oh my!! We've covered - or rather uncovered - them all and more on Skeptic Check, our monthly look of critical thinking. And now we've collected enough strange encounters to assemble a sordid retrospective of sorts. Sharpen your brain, it's Skeptic Check, Beast Of. But don't take our word for it! Guests: Phil Plait - Skeptic and keeper of Discover Magazine’s blog, badastronomy.com Bruce Hood - Cognitive scientist at the University of Bristol in the U.K. and author of The Scien...
2011-Sep-26 • 52 minutes
Rend Me Your Ears
Shh - can you keep it down? Nope. Not unless you want to do away with civilization. Our buzzing, humming, whirling, machine-driven world is a poster child for technological progress, right? As is hearing loss. It’s driven one man to search the world for silence. We’ll hear what he didn’t hear, and what Einstein predicted we should hear in deep space, where gravitational waves may reveal the hidden sounds of the universe, including the birth of black holes. Guests: George Foy - Author of Zero Decibels: The...
2011-Sep-05 • 53 minutes
Seth's Tool Shed
Anyone who does gardening knows that life is tough. It’s also ancient – the first living things appeared on this planet nearly as soon as our world was habitable. We consider life on real worlds – like Earth and Mars – as well as fictional ones, such as the desert planet from the movie “Dune”. We’ll hear about a new scheme to find Martians, and practical approaches to coping with climate change. And is Pluto seeking revenge? The unmasking of a fourth moon around this former planet! We’re making some lively ...
2011-Aug-29 • 54 minutes
Into the Unknown
During the great age of exploration men risked their lives to set foot upon unknown lands, whether in the humid jungles of Peru or on the barren ice cap of the South Pole. We'll hear those dramatic tales… … but also where modern exploration is taking us. Could it be to the deepest, darkest part of the sea? Or to space? Discover how to build a space suit that will let you move like an athlete on Mars. Also, why some say that the ultimate frontier requires no packing and no travel: voyages into the human brai...
2011-Aug-27 • 52 minutes
Home Brew Science
The recipe for being a scientist was easy in the old days… just be born into a rich family, have an interest in nature and plenty of time to indulge yourself. But are the days of gentlemen scientists over? Maybe not. We go to the Maker Faire and check out how small-scale projects have big-scale ambitions. Also, how everyday experience often tells us something profound about the universe. Guests: Spencer Weart – Former director of the Center for the History of Physics, at the American Institute of Physics ...
2011-Aug-22 • 52 minutes
Swarm in Here... or Is It Just Me?
An ant … can’t … move a rubber tree plant… but the colony can. As a group, ants are an efficient, organized, can-do bunch. And a model for humans trying to manage complex systems. Find out about the eerie collective intelligence of animals, and how an MIT researcher is hoping to put humans to work collaboratively to solve problems like climate change. Also … hear how research into flocking behavior helps Hollywood film a herd of stampeding dinosaurs. Guests: Steve Strogatz - Applied mathematician at Corne...
2011-Aug-15 • 52 minutes
Skeptic Check: Plotting Along
It’s been ten years since the fall of the Twin Towers, but some still believe that the attack was an inside job. They’re not the only ones to buy into a conspiratorial view of world events. Others deny President Obama’s American birth… link autism with vaccines… and even claim that the fluo ride in our drinking water is there to control our minds. Is it the truth - or the fringe groups - that are “out there?” Find out why some tinfoil hat ideas never go away. Also, the roots of rational argument: did our br...
2011-Aug-08 • 53 minutes
Written in Code
Genes – what are they good for? Absolutely… something. But not everything. Your “genius” genes need to be turned on – and your environment determines that. Find out how to unleash your inner-Einstein, and what scientists learned from studying the famous physicist’s brain. Also, the bizarre notion that your children inherit not just your genes, but also the consequences of your habits – smoking, stress, diet, and other behaviors that turn the genes on. Plus Francis Collins on affordable personal genomes, and...
2011-Aug-02 • 54 minutes
Cell! Cell!
Live forever? Both cancer cells and stem cells can make a claim to immortality. Left unchecked, tumors will grow indefinitely. And stem cells offer the promise of non-stop rejuvenation. We’ll find out whether the surprising discovery of stem cells in the brain really can keep our thinking organ young. And we’ll hear the remarkable story of Henrietta Lacks, the woman who unwittingly donated tissue to science in 1951, and whose cancer cells are still grown in laboratories around the world today. Guests: Reb...
2011-Jul-25 • 52 minutes
Water the Chances
Water, water everywhere. But most of it is sea water - you can’t drink it. Discover the most promising technologies for desalination and why solar cells are key. Also, how astronauts filter “water-closet water” to drink it, and how to turn a salt pond back to a wetland. Plus, from Roman aqueducts to modern-day pumps: a history of quenching human thirst. And, why NASA strives to “follow the water.” Guests: Brian Fagan - Anthropologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, author of Elixir: A Hist...
2011-Jul-18 • 53 minutes
Know Laughing Matter
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. It’s nearly impossible to fake a laugh. Yet, humans will laugh even if something isn’t funny. Discover the evolutionary function of cracking up and meet the other species that love to giggle (and monkey around). Also, hilarious science comedy. Yes, science comedy. Plus, teaching machines to write punch lines… and stretching – and splitting – your sides with laughter yoga. Guests: Frans de Waal - Primatologist, Emory University and the Yerkes Primate Center in Atlanta, Georgia Brian...
2011-Jul-11 • 53 minutes
The Big Picture
How did life begin? What’s the universe made of, and what’s the nature of consciousness? These are truly some of the biggest puzzlers in science, but answers are in the offing. We consider the modern-day hunt for life beyond Earth, as well as a new theory of consciousness: could it be merely an illusion to entertain us and make our lives more worthwhile? Also, after thousands of years of examining the heavens, are we finally learning the true nature of the cosmos? Guests: Marc Kaufman - Reporter for the W...
2011-Jun-20 • 54 minutes
Alien Invasion
They’re heeeere! Yes, aliens are wreaking havoc and destruction throughout the land. But these aliens are Arizona beetles, and the land is in California, where the invasive insects are a serious problem. And what of space-faring aliens? We have those too: how to find them, and how to protect our planet – and theirs. From Hollywood to SETI’s hi-tech search for extraterrestrials, aliens are invading Are We Alone? Guests: Paul Davies - Physicist and author of The Eerie Silence: Renewing Our Search for Alien ...
2011-May-16 • 54 minutes
Physics Phrontiers
Physics means getting physical if you’re tackling the biggest, most mysterious questions in the universe. Stoic scientists endure the driest, darkest, coldest spots on the planet to find out how it all began and why there’s something rather than nothing. From the bottom of an old iron mine to the top of the Andes, we’ll hear their stories. Plus, Steven Weinberg on this weird stuff called dark energy, and Leonard Susskind sees double, no, triple, no, …infinite universes. Guests: Anil Ananthaswamy - Corresp...
2011-May-09 • 53 minutes
Thanks for the Memories
Memories are slippery things – some are crystal clear, others more like a muddy pool, and some… well, they seem to vanish completely. Scientists admit that memory is all very complicated, but one piece of the puzzle lies in how we age – we’ll hear the latest research. Meanwhile, meet the man who digitally logged his every waking moment - and why maybe the secret to happiness isn’t in remembering but in forgetting. Plus, the case for deleting data from your hard-drive… and from your brain itself. Guests: A...
2011-May-02 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Mayhem and Octoberhem
The end is nigh. Only, on which nigh should we rely? According to billboards, Judgment Day is in May and the end of the world follows months later. But other authorities claim 2012 as the apocalyptic year, as predicted by the ancient Mayans. It’s a busy time for doomsday prophecy. Find out what’s driving these pessimistic predictions and whether it’s time to cash in your stock portfolio. Meanwhile, a survey of the real threats to Earth, and indeed to the universe, from asteroids, exploding stars, or a big c...
2011-Apr-18 • 53 minutes
Big, Really Big
The universe is big – really big.* Galaxies, for instance, are often large enough to hold a trillion stars. But how did these heavenly heavyweights come to be? Hear how still-mysterious dark matter is implicated in the birth of galaxies. Also, gamma ray bursts - explosions more energetic than anything since the Big Bang - take place somewhere in the visible universe every day. What are they, and could they obliterate life on Earth? And, the biggest cosmic mystery de jour: dark energy. Why new, super-size te...
2011-Apr-11 • 53 minutes
Skeptic Check: Swimming in Denial
Public distrust of science is higher than at any time since the Enlightenment. New Yorker writer Michael Specter argues how our anti-science bias and our irrationalism about everything from genetically modified foods to climate change to childhood vaccines endangers our future. And remember when… a look back at scientists who at first pooh-poohed plate tectonics... meteorites, and quantum physics. How the evidence turned them around. It’s Skeptic Check… but don’t take our word for it. Guests: Michael Spec...
2011-Apr-04 • 53 minutes
Sex and the SETI
Birds do it. Bees do it. But no one sings about how they do it. And frankly, not even Cole Porter can make bedroom behavior that involves decapitating your mate sound romantic. And what rhymes with “cannibalism?” But the animal world abounds with bizarre sexual behavior… and it’s all perfectly normal. Find out how female spiders lure males to their doom… why dolphins are the friskiest of mammals… whether E.T. would have sex… and why sexual reproduction evolved in the first place. Also, why the marketing gur...
2011-Mar-14 • 52 minutes
Who's on First?
Being first counts in science. Land that coveted spot and you’ll make history, whether it’s with the first steam engine or the discovery of our earliest human ancestor. But what does “first” mean when technological invention so heavily builds on what’s come before... and evolution represents continuous change? Find out how “publish or perish” made Darwin famous… why we’ll never find the first human fossil… and how powerful new telescopes are allowing us to see the earliest galaxies. Plus, the chicken and eg...
2011-Mar-07 • 53 minutes
Eureka!
From the double-helix to the expansion of the universe, great scientific discoveries reshape our understanding of who we are and how things work. But great discoveries require more than just a great mind. We tour brainy breakthroughs from Archimedes to Darwin, and find out what made their revolutionary insights possible. Also, why you need more than a stratospheric I.Q. to be a super-achiever. And how the invention of reading re-directed the course of civilization and re-wired our brains in the process. Gue...
2011-Feb-27 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Diluted Thinking
The weaker the mixture, the stronger the potency. That paradox is a central tenet of homeopathy. More than 200 years old and developed long before germ theory, the practice is the fastest growing form of alternative medicine worldwide. Proponents say its diluted remedies cure disease. Most scientists maintain there’s nothing in homeopathic solution but water. We’ll hear the arguments, and also the role placebos might be playing in the cure. Plus, skeptic Phil Plait voyages to the edge of the solar system wh...
2011-Feb-12 • 54 minutes
Outta This World
Earth may not be rare after all. New data from NASA’s Kepler mission suggests that the universe is chock-a-block with planets. More than a thousand new possible planets have just been found, and more than fifty of these might be suitable for life. Ready for cosmic company? We discuss the results of the Kepler mission in a roundtable with some of its top scientists. Meanwhile, the Voyager spacecraft continues to be humanity’s point man in the race to interstellar space. Poised to leave our solar system, we r...
2011-Jan-30 • 52 minutes
Skeptic Check: ESP or Think Again
You’re right: it’s a show about ESP. And, correct again: we’re excited about the publication of a paper that claims precognition exists. You’ve already divined what our paranormal investigator says about the paper, whether the statistics that it cites are significant, and what the editor-in-chief of a major scientific journal has to say on the tricky matter of publishing such a result at all. You’re not surprised that Brains on Vacation takes on the matter of Armageddon-by-exploding-star, because, you knew ...
2011-Jan-22 • 51 minutes
Gone Missing!
We all hear about research discoveries, but what about what scientists don’t find? Tune in for a round-up of eureka moments that have yet to come, such as the hunt for the dark energy of the universe and the search for the elusive elementary particle responsible for the mass of objects. Also, we miss the woolly mammoth so much, scientists plan to clone the hairy beast and bring the extinct animal back. Plus, why the missing link is no longer missing, what extrasolar planets have now been found, and – NASA m...
2011-Jan-20 • 52 minutes
You've Got Sol!
It’s the star of our solar system, but much about the Sun is still mysterious. Find out what a new NASA mission to our favorite fireball might discover about its super-hot outer regions. Also, why the most common stars in the galaxy don’t shine thanks to nuclear energy as our Sun does. And, recreating Sol’s energy source on Earth at the National Ignition Facility. Plus, an ex-Star Wars animator and photographer on how to film an atomic blast. Guests: Peter Kuran – An animator on Star Wars, now a filmmaker...
2011-Jan-15 • 53 minutes
That's So Random!
Random is as random does… makes sense doesn’t even that anyway in tune hear to randomness how lives rules. Brain chaos the drives, restoration role of help insight ecology may into randomness the, numbers sense of make statistics can’t why we or, ants not seem of erratic behavior why the may but is. Guests: Leonard Mlodinow - Theoretical physicist and author of The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives (Vintage) Jon Chase - Biologist and director of the Tyson Research center at Washington Uni...
2011-Jan-15 • 52 minutes
Do Computers Byte?
The march of computer technology continues. But as silicon chips and search engines become faster and more productive – can the same be said for us? The creator of Wolfram Alpha describes how his new “computational knowledge engine” is changing – and improving - how we process information. Meanwhile, suffering from data and distraction burnout? Find out what extremes some folks take to stop their search engines. Also, the Singularity sensation of humans merging with machines… and, why for the ancient Greeks...
2010-Dec-27 • 53 minutes
Seth's Storage Locker
It's always an adventure to go digging in Seth’s storage locker – who knows what we’ll find … In this imposing pile of paraphernalia, tucked between boxes of socket wrenches and old 45s, we stumble upon the hunt for extrasolar planets, the evidence for water on moons of the solar system, theories of language, a controversial hypothesis for the peopling of the Americas, and a new dinosaur fossil. Guests: Steve Brusatte - Vertebrate paleontologist from the American Museum of Natural History in New York St...
2010-Dec-20 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Cell Phone Danger
Every ten microseconds, someone places a cell phone call. These portable gadgets are ubiquitous, and increasingly a take-for-granted part of everyday life. But could cell phones be dangerous? Could holding a microwave transmitter up to your head for hours each day substantially increase the risk of cancer? We investigate some of the latest thinking on the danger of cell phones, and also explain that everyone – even you – is a radio transmitter. It’s Skeptic Check on Are We Alone. And we’ve got your number. ...
2010-Dec-13 • 53 minutes
Method to Our Mathness
The language of science is mathematics. As incredible as it seems, the universe seems to run according to laws we can write down on chalkboards. But it’s not just lab-coated researchers who wield the tool of math: Madison Avenue knows that if they tell you that a shampoo is 32 percent better, you’re likely to buy it. Also, how scientists of the early twentieth century were forced to invent entirely new mathematical paradigms to describe the cosmos on big scales and small – the theories of general relativity...
2010-Dec-06 • 53 minutes
Early Adapters
The times are a’changing – rising temperatures, growing population, and new technology coming at us faster than a greased cheetah. So how will humans respond? Find out about future farming in the city – your vegetables might be grown in downtown, hi-rise greenhouses. Also, a population expert tells us how our planet can cope with billions more people, and the man who invented the term ‘cyberspace’ describes what the future might hold for the techno-savvy. Darwinian evolution takes a long time to accommodate...
2010-Nov-29 • 54 minutes
Extreme Geology
We think of major geologic events as taking place a long time ago – but the Earth is just as active as it ever was. We’re a planet in motion. Discover why earthquakes might be increasing worldwide… descend into daring cave exploration… and take a trip to Hawaii where new volcanoes are gurgling up right now. Plus – the supervolcano under Yellowstone Park... when might it erupt again? Guests: Robert Nadeau - Geologist, University of California, Berkeley Seismological Laboratory and part of a team from Rice...
2010-Nov-22 • 53 minutes
Humans Need Not Apply
You are one-of-a-kind, unique, indispensible… oh, wait, never mind! It seems that computer over there can do what you do … faster and with greater accuracy. Yes, it’s silicon vs. carbon as intelligent, interactive machines out-perform humans in tasks beyond data-crunching. We’re not only building our successors, we’re developing emotional relationships with them. Find out why humans are hard-wired to be attached to androids. Also, the handful of areas where humans still rule… as pilots, doctors and journali...
2010-Oct-25 • 52 minutes
Off to the Traces
If a tree fell on another planet, would we be able to detect it? Not quite yet – but we might be able to tell if the planet was habitable. A living-planet is the promise of newly-discovered Gliese 581g. But does the planet exist at all? Discover how we learn a planet’s geology and chemistry from afar. Also, what we learn about a civilization from what it discards, beginning with our own sloppy habits. Plus, the hunt for derelict alien spaceships… and a man who sketches alien creatures for a living - based o...
2010-Oct-11 • 53 minutes
Earth: A Millennium Hence
Humans have not gone unnoticed on this planet. We’ve left our mark with technology, agriculture, architecture, and a growing carbon footprint. But where is this trajectory headed? In the second of a two-part series: what we’ll lose and what will last in 1000 years or more. Discover what the planet might look like to geologists of the far-off-future… the stubborn longevity of plastic and radioactive waste... human civilization in space… and postcards from the galactic edge; crafting interstellar messages to ...
2010-Oct-04 • 53 minutes
Earth: A Century Hence
Humans have not gone unnoticed on this planet. We’ve left our mark with technology, agriculture, architecture, and a growing carbon footprint. But where is this trajectory headed? In the first of a two-part series: what will be lost and what will still be around 100 years from now? James Lovelock says a hotter planet will prompt mass migrations. And Cary Fowler urges us to save our seeds – the health of future farms may depend on it. Plus, from antibiotics to sewage systems: why human ingenuity ultimately s...
2010-Sep-26 • 53 minutes
Skeptic Check: Sheer Lunacy
Watch out, the moon is full… of intrigue. Our lovely satellite is blamed for all sorts of Earth-bound mischief – from robberies to shape-shifting to general nutty behavior. It’s also the setting for more than one loony tale. In this hour, as NASA spacecraft return to the moon, a look at the mythology it inspires. Discover the true correlation between crime and a full moon… the 1835 reports of unicorns and man-bats living on moon… and, our favorite hair-raising howler: the werewolf! Also, why some still insi...
2010-Sep-20 • 54 minutes
What Makes Us Human Part II: Adaptability
Are humans unique or do we just do some things a little better than other species? In the second of our two-part series – how our ability to adapt has shaped our evolution. Find out how throwing a burger on the grill has transformed our species… the 1% genetic difference that separate us from chimps… why we’re poorly adapted and stressed out … and why human evolution is not only on the move, but picking up the pace. Richard Wrangham - Biological anthropologist at Harvard University and author of Catching ...
2010-Sep-13 • 53 minutes
What Makes Us Human Part I: Others
Are humans unique or do we just do some things a little better than other species? In the first of our two-part series on the nature of humanity: how the influence of others has shaped our evolution. Find out how baby talk gave root to human language and why social isolation can make us sick. Plus, the joke’s on us – new research says we’re not the only laughing species: meet your giggling gorilla cousins. And, what a writer’s visit to a chimp retirement center revealed about human discomfort with our anima...
2010-Aug-30 • 54 minutes
Say What?
There’s no escape from the chattering classes – they talk, squawk, squeal and sing all around us. Every animal communicates in some form – it’s essential for survival. They’ve evolved to understand each other … but do we understand them? Find out what’s coded in humpback whale song and whether human-cetacean dialogue is possible… how information theory reveals communication patterns within the animal kingdom… how plants call out to animals to protect them… and why only humans evolved language. Guests: Dou...
2010-Aug-09 • 53 minutes
Rxs Get Personal
Medicine’s back.. and this time it’s personal. Get ready to have your genome read… your brain scanned… and undergo a chemical analysis so detailed, it’ll reveal the Twinkie you had for lunch. Everyone’s different, and reading those differences at the level of the gene may provide a more accurate profile of health and how to treat disease. But are you ready to know what’s wrong with you? Discover the future of personalized medicine with biologist Craig Venter, as well as a man who turned his body over to the...
2010-Jul-19 • 54 minutes
Grave Matters
We could choose not to pay income tax and suffer the consequences. But we can’t avoid death. The biological functions of all organisms eventually cease. But why should this be? Find out why animals die and meet one creature that is biologically immortal. Plus, a trip to the Body Farm where decaying bodies help science…how we might cheat the Big Sleep with drugs… why Mexican cemeteries look like villages… and a doctor’s fight against one of the world’s deadliest diseases. Guests: Bill Bass - Forensic Anthr...
2010-Jul-12 • 54 minutes
Skeptic Check: Playing Doctor
A new herbal supplements is on the shelf, and it claims to improve memory. Should you take it? It’s not easy to sort through the firehose of health and nutrition advice that comes at us daily. Find out how to get healthy about health advice, plus hear the story of Bernarr Macfadden, the eccentric who kicked off America’s fitness craze; he believed that eating less was good for you, but he didn’t believe germ theory. Plus, our Hollywood skeptic spills his guts and other entrails for a phony class for nurses ...
2010-Jun-07 • 53 minutes
Seth's Garage
It’s always a surprise to go digging in Seth’s garage – who knows what we’ll find! In this impressive heap of paraphernalia, tucked between boxes of old radio tubes and hydraulic jacks, we stumble upon the secrets to our galaxy’s central black hole… witness the dance of the PhD theses… uncover the genome of milk (while moo-ving boxes) and … hey? Who’s that crunching numbers in the corner? It’s astrophysicist Mario Livio addressing the mathematical mysteries of universe. Guests: Andrea Ghez - Astronomer at...
2010-May-24 • 53 minutes
Life of Brain
We should award frequent travel miles to your brain. After all, it’s evolved a long way from the days of guiding brachiation from tree-to-tree to become the three pounds of web-surfing, Sudoku-playing powerhouse it is today. But a suite of technologies may expand human brains further still. From smart pills to nano-wires: discover the potential – and peril – of neuro-engineering to repair and enhance our cognitive function. Also, how our brains got so big in the first place: a defense of the modern diet. Gu...
2010-May-17 • 53 minutes
Skeptic Check: Fraudcast News
There are a lot of scientific claims out there – how do you separate the good from the bad and the outright fraudulent? Experts failed to do so for years in the case of a physicist whose published papers claimed the invention of a new bio-based transistor. Plus, other stories of deceit – such as the scientist who stooped to coloring mouse fur with markers. Also, why climate science is solid, but its scientists need to be more open with the public. And, from the undersea “bloop” to the Denver airport conspir...
2010-May-03 • 53 minutes
Robots Call the Shots
Dr. Robot, I presume? Your appendix may be removed by motor-driven, scalpel-wielding mechanical hands one day. Robots are debuting in the medical field… as well as on battlefields. And they’re increasingly making important decisions – on their own. But can we teach robots right from wrong? Find out why the onslaught of silicon intelligence has prompted a new field of robo-ethics. Plus, robo-geologists: NASA’s vision for autonomous robots in space. Guests: P.W. Singer - Director of the 21st Century Defense...
2010-Apr-26 • 53 minutes
Seas the Moment
With more water than land on this planet, Earth is more aptly-named “Ocean” or “Water.” The oceans have been here for billions of years, and make all life possible. Yet, it’s taken less than a century for humans to deal some serious blows to the watery cradle of our existence. Discover how our oceans are changing and the worrisome increase in their acidity from the maker of the documentary film, A Sea Change Also, hear how hope is bubbling up for ocean recovery from famed oceanographer Sylvia Earle. Learn a...
2010-Apr-19 • 53 minutes
Habitats Not For Humanity
We place sharks in aquariums and elephants in zoos – to observe and conserve. But what if aliens have done the same to us? We’ll hear from Stephen King on a doomed result of a domed experiment - hatched by off-Earth beings, and why captivity may actually save some species on this planet. Plus, you’re entering the Habitable Zone: which is the best bet for life elsewhere in the Solar System - Europa, Enceladus or Mars? Guests: Stephen King - Novelist, author of Under the Dome: A Novel Jim Kasting - Geosc...
2010-Apr-12 • 53 minutes
Seth's Crawl Space
It’s always a surprise to go digging in Seth’s crawl space – who knows what we’ll find! In this cramped never-never land, tucked between piles of spilled cat litter and old clarinet reeds, we stumble upon the language of whales … the future of technology … the secret to plant power … and the answer to whether photographic memory exists. Tune in, find out and, grab a broom, will you? Guests: Larry Squire - Professor at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine and a scientist at the V.A. Me...
2010-Apr-05 • 52 minutes
Skeptic Check: Conspiracy!
The Apollo moon landing is a hoax! 9-11 was an inside job! Our government keeps alien bodies racked and stacked in an underground bunker! And as for the evidence … well … put on your tin hats, folks, we’re going deep, deep, deep into conspiracy with journalist David Aaronovitch. Also – the truth is out there, but it’s ignored. Jonah Lehrer on why scientists can overlook evidence. Plus, money for meters and your spooks for free: ghost detectors hit the market. And Hollywood Reality Check and Phil Plait on bo...
2010-Mar-29 • 54 minutes
SETI: Now What?
Hello! Is anyone out there? As the scientific search for extraterrestrial intelligence marks its 50th anniversary, there’s been no contact as yet with alien beings. But SETI researchers maintain that we are not alone. Find out why in a SETI retrospective that looks at the past and future of the search. We remember the first scientific SETI search… Carl Sagan... how the SETI Institute began… the WOW signal…and the 1993 NASA budget cuts. We’ll also hear from critics of the search… scientists involved in optic...
2010-Mar-08 • 53 minutes
Skeptic Check: Climate Clamor
Arctic ice is melting, atmospheric temperatures are climbing – yet climate change science is under attack. Detractors claim that researchers are manipulating data and hoodwinking the public. And the public is increasingly skeptical about the science. Find out what’s behind the surge of climate change skepticism - and what global warming deniers learned from big tobacco about how to spin scientific evidence. It’s Skeptic Check… but don’t take our word for it! Guests: Stephen Schneider - Climate scientist, ...
2010-Mar-01 • 53 minutes
You've Been Slimed!
Hollywood horror flicks have captivated us with alien blobs, but the slime slithering on our own planet is as beguiling. From microscopic machines to life on ocean floors, new research reveals how essential slime is to life on Earth, and possibly other worlds. Discover the new materials made from hagfish slime… the social life of a slime mold… and the threat posed by the gray goo of self-replicating nanobots. Plus, it’s been 50 years since it first oozed across the screen: why there’s no escape from The Blo...
2010-Feb-22 • 53 minutes
Space Race 2.0
It’s goodnight moon from President Obama, as he calls for canceling the program that would return astronauts to the moon by 2020. We’ll hear from the private sector, which might win in this deal, and consider whether we should really replace human explorers with robots. Plus, if we can’t fly you to the moon, would you settle for a few acres and a deed? Meet the man who claims to have property on the moon – but will it hold up in court? Wernher von Braun was one of America’s premier rocket engineers and, a n...
2010-Feb-08 • 52 minutes
Pave New Worlds
The extra-solar planet count is more than 400 and rising. Before long we may find an Earth-like planet around another star. If we do, and can visit, what next? Stake out our claim on an alien world or tread lightly and preserve it? We’ll look at what our record on Earth says about our planet stewardship. Also, whether a massive technological fix can get us out of our climate mess. Plus, what we can learn about extreme climate from our neighbors in the solar system, Venus and Mars. Guests: Ken Caldeira - C...
2010-Feb-01 • 52 minutes
It's the Science, Cupid!
Love makes us feel warm and mushy, but the sweet sting of Cupid's arrow makes a compelling chemistry lesson, too. Research into animal mating and human courtship provides clues to an eternal mystery: what's the purpose of love? Learn lessons from the family values of field mice, and affectionate same-sex penguin pairs. Plus: Darwin's take on speed dating, and the science of smooching. Guests Helen Fisher - Anthropologist, Rutgers University Sarah Woodley - Biologist, Duquesne University Skyler Place -...
2010-Jan-04 • 54 minutes
Time's Mysteries Part II: Warping Time
Ever since Einstein, we've known that time doesn't barrel willy-nilly into the future. Moving clocks tick at a different rates, and by riding a fast rocket, we can slow time to a crawl. Such tricks may give you a way to see the distant future, but can you go back in time? Discover one man's quest to build a time machine. Also learn how to put the brakes on aging by getting near a black hole. Plus, does your entire life really pass before your eyes if you jump off the Brooklyn Bridge? Our perception of time....
2009-Dec-28 • 53 minutes
Time's Mysteries Part I: Marking Time
Time's a mystery, yet we've invented clever ways to capture it. From sundials to atomic clocks, trace the history of time-keeping. Also, discover the surprising accuracy of nature's dating schemes - from the decay of carbon to laying down tree rings. Plus, why the "New York minute" stretches to hours in Rio de Janeiro: cultural differences in the perception of time. Guests: Chris Turney - Geologist at the University of Wollongong, Australia and the author of Bones, Rocks and Stars: The Science of When Thi...
2009-Dec-21 • 54 minutes
Journey to a Black Hole
A massive black hole lies at the center of our galaxy, a monster hunkered down in the Milky Way’s innermost sanctum. Here, the bizarre laws of General Relativity take over, as the physics we know break down. And our spaceship is headed straight for it. Join us on a special dramatized 26,000 light-year adventure to the Galaxy’s hulking heart of darkness. We explore a cosmos held together by gravity – discover why it’s not really a force – and try to avoid getting too close to a black hole, the ultimate expre...
2009-Dec-14 • 53 minutes
A Man, A Planet, A Tenal: Panama!
While the Kepler spacecraft hunts for habitable planets beyond the solar system, we’ve let one of our own planets slip away! Find out why Pluto’s demotion to dwarf status created a public uproar as astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson reads us his hate mail. From third-graders! Also, how we might find Earth-like planets… the possibility of life on Saturn’s moon Titan… and TED Prize winner Jill Tarter’s vision for finding E.T. And, the man who made it all possible: 400 years of Galileo and the telescope. Part ...