May 12, 2014
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.”
- David Quammen – Science journalist, contributing writer for National Geographic Magazine, author of Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic. His Op Ed about Ebola appeared in the New York Times.
- Marilyn Roossinck – Professor of plant pathology and environmental microbiology, Penn State, Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics
- Paul Ebner – Microbiologist and an associate professor of animal sciences, Purdue University
- Lydia Bourouiba – Physical applied mathematician, department of civil and environmental engineering, M.I.T.
- Douglas Rushkoff – Media theorist, author, Media Virus! Hidden Agendas in Popular Cultureand Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now
May 5, 2014
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!
- David Quammen – Science journalist, contributing writer for National Geographic Magazine, author of Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic
- Sandra Faber – Astronomer at the University of California, Santa Cruz
- Paul Saffo – Technology forecaster based in the Silicon Valley
- Seth Shostak – Senior astronomer, SETI Institute, host, Big Picture Science
- Elisa Quintana – Research scientist, SETI Institute
- Lawrence Krauss – Theoretical physicist, Director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University
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.
Apr 28, 2014
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!
- Bonnie Blodgett – Author of Remembering Smell: A Memoir of Losing—and Discovering—the Primal Sense
- Gordon Shepherd – Neurobiologist, Yale University School of Medicine, author of Neurogastronomy: How the Brain Creates Flavor and Why It Matters
- Homaro Cantu – Chef and owner of restaurants Moto and iNG in Chicago, chairman and founder of Cantu Designs Firm
- Niki Parenteau – Astrobiologist, SETI Institute
- Markus Hotakainen – Astronomer, chef, author of gAstronomical Cookbook
Apr 21, 2014
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.
- Scott Weems – Cognitive scientist, author of Ha!: The Science of When We Laugh and Why
- Brian Malow – Science comedian
- Aleix Martinez – Cognitive neuroscientist at The Ohio State University
- Maria Gendron – Post-doctoral researcher at Northeastern University
- Temple Grandin – Professor of animal science, Colorado State University, author of
Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animals
Apr 14, 2014
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?
- 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
First released February 4, 2103.
Apr 7, 2014
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.
- Kevin Kelly – Senior maverick, Wired, author of What Technology Wants
- Eric Ladizinsky – Physicist, co-founder and the chief scientist of D-Wave Systems Palo Alto, California
- Aaron Gardner – Bakery manager, Hy-Vee Store, Chillicothe, Missouri
- George Dyson – Historian of technology, author of Turing’s Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe and Darwin Among The Machines: The Evolution Of Global Intelligence
- Rob Shostak – Brother and founder of Vocera Communications, San Jose, California
- Jamie Bock – Physicist at the California Institute of Technology
Mar 31, 2014
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!
- Svante Pääbo – Evolutionary geneticist, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, author of Neanderthal Man: In Search of Lost Genomes
- Ann Reid – – Molecular biologist, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, Oakland, California
- Martin Blaser – Microbiologist, New York University School of Medicine, member of the National Academy of Sciences, author of Missing Microbes: How the Overuse of Antibiotics Is Fueling Our Modern Plagues
- Gautam Dantas – Pathologist, immunologist, Center for Genome Sciences and Systems Biology, Washington University, Saint Louis
Mar 24, 2014
ENCORE One plus one is two. But what’s the square root of 64, divided by 6 over 12?* Wait, don’t run for the hills! Math isn’t scary. It helps us describe and design our world, and can be easier to grasp than the straight edge of a protractor.
Discover how to walk through the city and number-crunch simultaneously using easy tips for estimating the number of bricks in a building or squirrels in the park. Plus, why our brains are wired for finger-counting … whether aliens would have calculators … and history’s most famous mathematical equations (after e=mc2).
*The answer is 16
- Ian Stewart – Emeritus professor of Mathematics, University of Warwick, U.K., author of In Pursuit of the Unknown: 17 Equations That Changed the World
- Michael Anderson – Psychologist and neuroscientist, Franklin & Marshall College, Lancaster, PA
- Keith Devlin – Mathematician and Director of the Human Sciences and Technology Advanced Research Institute, Stanford University
- John Adam – Mathematician, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA, and author of X and the City: Modeling Aspects of Urban Life
Mar 17, 2014
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.
- Laurance Doyle – Senior researcher, SETI Institute
- Justin Gregg – Animal behaviorist, The Dolphin Communication Project, author of Are Dolphins Really Smart?: The mammal behind the myth
- Michael Pollan – Journalist, author of Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation and The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. His article, “The Intelligent Plant,” appeared in the December 23rd issue of The New Yorker
- Luke Muehlhauser – Executive Director of the Machine Intelligence Research Institute
Mar 10, 2014
ENCORE The machines are coming! Meet the prototypes of your future robot buddies and discover how you may come to love a hunk of hardware. From telerobots that are your mechanical avatars … to automated systems for the disabled … and artificial hands that can diffuse bombs.
Plus, the ethics of advanced robotics: should life-or-death decisions be automated?
And, a biologist uses robo-fish to understand evolution.
- Illah Nourbakhsh – Professor of robotics, Carnegie Mellon University, author of Robot Futures. Check out his Robot Futures blog.
- Marco Mascorro – Vice President of Hardware, 9th Sense Robotics, Mountain View, California
- Curt Salisbury – Mechanical engineer, senior member, technical staff, Sandia National Laboratories
- Joe Karnicky – Retired engineer, Menlo Park, California. Videos of his gadgetry can be found at the bottom of this page.
- John Long – Professor of biology and cognitive science at Vassar College and the author of Darwin’s Devices: What Evolving Robots Can Teach Us About the History of Life and the Future of Technology
First released January 21, 2013
Mar 3, 2014
Is space the place for you? With a hefty amount of moolah, a trip there and back can be all yours. But when the price comes down, traffic into space may make the L.A. freeway look like a back-country lane.
Space is more accessible than it once was, from the development of private commercial flights … to a radical new telescope that makes everyone an astronomer … to mining asteroids for their metals and water to keep humanity humming for a long time.
Plus, move over Russia and America: Why the next words you hear from space may be in Mandarin.
- Leonard David – Space journalist, writer for SPACE.com
- Mario Juric – Astronomer working on data processing for the LSST – the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope
- John Lewis – Chemist, professor emeritus of planetary sciences, University of Arizona, chief scientist, Deep Space Industries
- Philip Lubin – Professor of physics, University of California, Santa Barbara
- James Oberg – Retired NASA rocket scientist, space historian, and a self-described space nut
Feb 24, 2014
ENCORE It’s one of the biggest questions you can ask: has the universe existed forever? The Big Bang is supposedly the moment it all began. But now scientists wonder if there isn’t an earlier chapter to our origin story. And maybe chapters before that! What happened before the Big Bang? It’s the ultimate prequel.
Plus – the Big Bang as scientific story: nail biter or snoozer?
- Roger Penrose – Cosmologist, Oxford University
- Sean Carroll – Theoretical physicist, Caltech, author of The Particle at the End of the Universe: How the Hunt for the Higgs Boson Leads Us to the Edge of a New World
- Simon Steel – Astronomer, Tufts University
- Andrei Linde – Physicist, Stanford University
- Jonathan Gottschall – Writer, author of The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human
- Marcus Chown – Science writer and cosmology consultant for New Scientist magazine
First released December 17, 2012
Feb 17, 2014
What’s for dinner? Meat, acorns, tubers, and fruit. Followers of the Paleo diet say we should eat what our ancestors ate 10,000 years ago, when our genes were perfectly in synch with the environment.
We investigate the reasoning behind going paleo with the movement’s pioneer, as well as with an evolutionary biologist. Is it true that our genes haven’t changed much since our hunter-gatherer days?
Plus, a surprising dental discovery is nothing for cavemen to smile about.
And another fad diet that has a historical root: the monastic tradition of 5:2 – five days of eating and two days of fasting.
It’s our monthly look at critical thinking, Skeptic Check … but don’t take our word for it.
- Loren Cordain – Professor of health and exercise science, Colorado State University, founder of the modern-day paleo diet, author, The Paleo Diet Revised: Lose Weight and Get Healthy by Eating the Foods You Were Designed to Eat
- Andrew Jotischky – Professor of medieval history, Lancaster University
- Louise Humphrey – Archeologist, Natural History Museum in London
- Marlene Zuk – Evolutionary biologist, University of Minnesota, and author of Paleofantasy: What Evolution Really Tells Us about Sex, Diet, and How We Live
Feb 10, 2014
ENCORE Computers and DNA have a few things in common. Both use digital codes and are prone to viruses. And, it seems, both can be hacked. From restoring the flavor of tomatoes to hacking into the president’s DNA, discover the promise and peril of gene tinkering.
Plus, computer hacking. Just how easy is it to break into your neighbor’s email account? What about the CIA’s?
Also, one man’s concern that radio telescopes might pick up an alien computer virus.
- George Weinstock – Microbiologist, geneticist, associate director at the Washington University Genome Institute, St. Louis
- Jim Giovannoni – Plant molecular biologist, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Cornell University campus
- Andrew Hessel – Faculty member, Singularity University, research scientist at Autodesk, and co-author of “Hacking the President’s DNA” in the November 2012 issue of The Atlantic
- Dan Kaminsky – Chief scientist of security firm DHK
- Dick Carrigan – Scientist emeritus at Fermilab, Batavia, Illinois
First released December 10, 2012
Feb 3, 2014
Imagine not knowing where you are – and no one else knowing either. Today, that’s pretty unlikely. Digital devices pinpoint our location within a few feet, so it’s hard to get lost anymore. But we can still get stranded.
A reporter onboard an Antarctic ship that was stuck for weeks in sea ice describes his experience, and contrasts that with a stranding a hundred years prior in which explorers ate their dogs to survive.
Plus, the Plan B that keeps astronauts from floating away forever … how animals and plants hitch rides on open sea to populate new lands … and the rise of the mapping technology that has made hiding a thing of the past.
- Hiawatha Bray – Technology reporter, Boston Globe, author of You Are Here: From the Compass to GPS, the History and Future of How We Find Ourselves
- Andrew Luck-Baker – Producer, BBC radio science unit, London
- Alan de Queiroz – Evolutionary biologist, University of Nevada, Reno and author of The Monkey’s Voyage: How Improbable Journeys Shaped the History of Life
- Chris Hadfield – Astronaut and author of An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything. His Space Oddity video.