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 Happy Daze

ENCORE Calling all pessimists! Your brain is wired for optimism! Yes, deep down, we’re all Pollyannas. So wipe that scowl off your face and discover the evolutionary advantage of thinking positive. Also, enjoy other smile-inducing research suggesting that if you crave happiness, you should do the opposite of what your brain tells you to do.

Plus, why a “well-being index” may replace Dow Jones as a metric for success … a Twitter study that predicts your next good mood … and whether our furry and finned animal friends can experience joy.

Guests:

Descripción en español

First released October 17, 2011

03/04/13



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

Descripción en español

02/25/13



 
 Whodunit, Who'll Do It?

ENCORE The tools of forensics have moved way beyond fingerprint kits. These days, a prosecutor is as likely to wave a fMRI brain scan as a smoking gun as “Exhibit A.” Discover what happens when neuroscience has its day in court.

Meanwhile, research into the gold standard of identification, DNA, marches on. One day we may determine a suspect’s eye color from a drop of blood.

Plus, why much of forensic science – from fingerprinting to the polygraph – is more like reading tea leaves than science. And will future crime victims be robots?

Guests:

  • Owen Jones – Professor of law, Professor of biological sciences at Vanderbilt University, in Nashville, Tennessee
  • Manfred Kayser – Forensic molecular biologist, Erasmus University Medical Centre, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
  • Marc Goodman – Founder, The Future Crimes Institute
  • David Faigman – Law professor, University of California, Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco

Descripción en español

First aired September 19, 2011

02/18/13



 
 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 part of the ocean.

Plus, a Nobel Prize-winning chemist tries to create life in his lab to learn more about biology’s origins, and martian fossils abound in Robert J. Sawyer’s latest sci-fi novel.

Guests:

Descripción en español

02/11/13



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

Guests:

  • Dan Lankford – Former CEO of three battery technology companies, and a managing director at Wavepoint Ventures
  • Jackie Stephens – Biochemist at Louisiana State University
  • Kevin MacVittie – Graduate student of chemistry, Clarkson University, New York
  • Nate Lewis – Chemist, California Institute of Technology
  • Alex Filippenko – Astronomer, University of California, Berkeley
02/04/13



 
 Skeptic Check: They're Baack!

ENCORE Could you have had a past life? Is it possible that some part of you is the reincarnation of a person – or maybe an animal – that lived long ago?

We’ll hear the story of a young boy who started having nightmares about a plane crash. His parents thought he was the reincarnation of a downed, World War II fighter pilot. But his story might not fly.

Also … is there any biological basis for reincarnation? Animals that indulge in the big sleep.

Suspended animation is Hollywood’s favorite device for interstellar travel … But could we really put a dimmer switch on human metabolism? Learn how techniques for hitting the hold button for humans might be just around the corner.

Guests:

Descripción en español

First released June 27, 2011

12/31/12



 
 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:

  • Kirsten Gilardi – Wildlife veterinarian at the University of California, Davis. leader of the Gorilla Doctors program, and team leader for the US-AID Emerging Pandemic Threats PREDICT program
  • Ken Caldeira – Climate scientist, Carnegie Intuition for Science at Stanford University
  • Luke Muehlhauser – Executive Director of the Singularity Institute
  • Bradley Voytek – Neuroscience researcher at the University of California, San Francisco

Descripción en español

12/03/12



 
 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:

Descripción en español

11/26/12



 
 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 brains continue to hum.

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

Guests:

11/12/12



 
 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?

Guests:

11/05/12


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