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

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

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

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

    Guests:

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

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

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

    Guests:

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

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

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

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

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

    Guests:

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

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

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

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

    Studies discussed in this episode:

    Chocolate and red wine aren’t good for you after all
    The Moon is younger than we thought

    Guests:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Guests:

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

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

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

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

    And a handbook for rebuilding civilization itself from scratch.

    Guests:

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

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

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

    Guests:

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

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

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

    Guests:

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

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

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

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

    Guests:

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

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

    Guests:

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

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

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

    Guests:

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

    Descripción en español

    First released February 4, 2103.

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

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

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

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

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

    Guests:

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

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

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

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

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

    Guests:

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