Dec 22, 2014
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 company from producing what it calls the food of the future.
Plus, why eco-disaster films have the science wrong, but not in the way you might think. And, what if our brains are simply wired to accept film as fact?
• Steve Ramirez -Neuroscientist, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
• Rob Rhinehart – CEO and founder of Soylent
• Jason Mark – Editor of Earth Island Journal
Dec 15, 2014
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.
• Siddha Pimputkar – Postdoctoral researcher in the Materials Department of the Solid State Lighting and Energy Electronics Center under Shuji Nakamura, winner of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics, University of California, Santa Barbara
• Jeff Gralnick – Associate professor of microbiology at the University of Minnesota
• Kevin Tracey – Neurosurgeon and president of the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in New York
Dec 8, 2014
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 techniques of information science to program living cells.
Plus: What’s your favorite sci-fi computer?
• Walter Isaacson – President and CEO of the Aspen Institute and the author of The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution
• Christopher Voigt – Bioengineer at MIT
• Andy Ihnatko – Technology journalist
• André Bormanis – Writer, screenwriter, Star Trek
• John Barrett – Electronic engineer, NIMBUS Centre for Embedded Systems Research at the Cork Institute of Technology, Ireland
Nov 17, 2014
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 to human is no longer thought to be a straight line but, instead, a bush. Also, New York Times science writer Carl Zimmer on the diversity of bacteria living on you, and which evolutionary concepts he finds the trickiest to explain to the public.
• Bernard Wood – Paleoanthropologist, George Washington University
• Carl Zimmer – Columnist for the New York Times
Nov 10, 2014
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 trash bin of history: the biggest scientific blunders and the brighter-than-bright brains that made them. Including Einstein.
*Oh, and the Sun burns hydrogen to produce helium. But then, you knew that.
• David Dunning – Psychologist, Cornell University. His cover story, “We Are All Confidence Idiots,” appeared in the November/December issue of The Pacific Standard.
• Robert Burton – Neurologist, author, On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Not
• Brendan Nyhan – Political scientist, Dartmouth College
• Mario Livio – Astrophysicist, Space Telescope Science Institute, author, Brilliant Blunders: From Darwin to Einstein – Colossal Mistakes by Great Scientists That Changed Our Understanding of Life and the Universe
Oct 20, 2014
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 labeled “black swans” – and how we weigh the risk for any of them. Also, how a supervolcano explosion at Yellowstone National Park could obliterate the western U.S. but shouldn’t stop you from putting the park on your vacation itinerary.
• Donald Prothero – Paleontologist, geologist, author of many books, among them, Catastrophes!: Earthquakes, Tsunamis, Tornadoes, and Other Earth-Shattering Disasters
• Dawn Balmer – Ornithologist at the British Trust for Ornithology
• Jake Lowenstern – Geologist, USGS, Scientist-in-Charge of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory
• Hank Heasler – Yellowstone National Park geologist
• Andrew Maynard – Director of the Risk Science Center at the University of Michigan
Oct 13, 2014
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? Research suggests that gut bacteria control what we eat and how we feel.
• David Hughes – Biologist, entomologist, Penn State University
• Mike Rubenstein – Roboticist, Self-Organizing Systems Research Group, Harvard University
• Wendell Wallach – Bioethicist, chair, Technology and Ethics Study Group, Yale University’s Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics
• Athena Aktipis – Cooperation theorist, Arizona State University and director of Human and Social Evolution, Center for Evolution and Cancer, University of California, San Francisco
Oct 6, 2014
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 argue to grant personhood status to our chimpanzee cousins.
- David Page – Biologist and geneticist, at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- Stephen Stearns – Evolutionary biologist, Yale University
- John Dovidio – Social psychologist at Yale University
- Steven M. Wise – Lawyer, Nonhuman Rights Project
Sep 29, 2014
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 waits for the Big One, geologists discover that major earthquakes come in clusters. Also, our planet is not the only solar system body with tectonic activity. Icy Europa is a mover and shaker too.
And why is land in the western part of the U.S. literally rising up? Mystery solved!
- John Dvorak – Geologist, author of Earthquake Storms: The Fascinating History and Volatile Future of the San Andreas Fault
- Adrian Borsa – Geophysicist, Scripps Institute of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego
- Ross Mitchell – Geologist and post-doctoral scholar at the California Institute of Technology
- Simon Kattenhorn – Structural geologist and a planetary geologist who did his work on Europa while at the University of Idaho
Aug 18, 2014
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 jet as when you’re at the airport. It’s all due to the fact that motion is relative, says Al Einstein.
- William Phillips – Nobel Prize-winning physicist at Joint Quantum Institute, a partnership between the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the University of Maryland.
- Bob Berman – Astronomy writer and author of Zoom: How Everything Moves: From Atoms and Galaxies to Blizzards and Bees
- Michael Smith – Meteorologist, senior vice president of AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions, and author of Warnings: The True Story of How Science Tamed the Weather