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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 stuff of sketchy psychics.

Guests:

•   Marc Goodman – Global security advisor, founder, Future Crimes Institute, author of Future Crimes: Everything Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable and What We Can Do About It

•   Susan Walsh – Forensic geneticist, Indiana University – Purdue University in Indianapolis

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•   Marvin Chun – Psychologist, Yale University

A Fundy Thing Happened

Get ready for déjà vu as you listen to some of our favorite interviews from 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 Soylent. Made by … people! We do a taste test. Then meet your gut microbes. They control your health and even your mood.

Get tips on how to talk to aliens, why you should keep an eye on government surveillance, and the future of 3D printing human tissue. Also, why extraordinary beliefs persist – including Holocaust denial – despite the persistence of evidence to the contrary.

And, global perspective: why Ebola won’t be the next big pandemic but sea level rise could wipe out coasts along Florida and Thailand.

Plus, we imagine life hundreds of years ago for the renegades on the rough seas, and what the world would be like had the dinosaurs not gone extinct.

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

Guests:

•   Bill Miller – Physician and author of The Microcosm Within: Evolution and Extinction in the Hologenome

•   Rob Rhinehart – CEO and founder of Soylent

•   Brian Fagan – Emeritus professor of anthropology, University of California, Santa Barbara, author of The Attacking Ocean: The Past, Present, and Future of Rising Sea Levels

•   David Quammen – Science journalist, contributing writer for National Geographic Magazine, author of Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic . His Op Ed article about Ebola appeared in the New York Times.

•   Shari Wells-Jensen – Professor of English, Bowling Green State University

•   Susan Landau – Mathematician and engineer who works on cybersecurity, privacy and public policy at the Worchester Polytechnic Institute, author most recently of Surveillance or Security?: The Risks Posed by New Wiretapping Technologies

•   Will Storr – Journalist, author of The Unpersuadables: Adventures with the Enemies of Science

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•   Ali Khademhosseini – Bioengineer, Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Woman’s Hospital

Windblown or not?

A piece of Mars: The surface in this 960×540 m (0.6×0.34 mi) scene has a distinct fabric to it that runs from the upper left to lower right. Are these old lithified dunes? And what makes the tiny filamentary lines that run from upper right to lower left, are those ripples? I’m not convinced either way, but I suspect the wind has had a hand in shaping them, one way or another. (HiRISE ESP_040297_1605, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

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 possible we will produce Homo sapiens 2.0?

Also, what happens to those species who can’t control their destiny? How climate change is forcing the biggest genetic reshuffling in recorded history.

Guests:

•   Richard Francis – Science writer, author of Domesticated: Evolution in a Man-Made World

•   Juan Enriquez – Academic, businessman, author, founding director of the Life Sciences Project, Harvard Business School, managing director, Excel Venture Management, and author of Evolving Ourselves: How Unnatural Selection and Nonrandom Mutation are Changing Life on Earth

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•   Jessica Hellmann – Biologist, University of Notre Dame

Wind stripes

Cosmic Diary by Lori Fenton - April 29, 2015

A piece of Mars: Yes, I post a lot of pictures of martian dunes with striped patterns. They’re all distinct and beautiful. So here’s another one, 480×270 m (0.3×0.17 mi) in size. These beasts moved from right to left across the scene, some of them leaving behind some stripey deposits in their wake. (HiRISE ESP_039581_1520, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Invisible Worlds

ENCORE  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 ideas … the story of the woman who mapped the ocean floor … and why the disappearance of honeybees may change what you eat.

Guests:

•   David Morrison – NASA space scientist and Director of the Carl Sagan Center at the SETI Institute

•   May Berenbaum – Entomologist, University of Illinois

•   Scott Ransom – Astronomer, National Radio Astronomy Observatory

•   Lee Smolin – Theoretical physicist, Perimeter Institute of Theoretical Physics, Canada, author of Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe

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•   Hali Felt – Author of Soundings: The Story of the Remarkable Woman Who Mapped the Ocean Floor

 

First released September 23, 2013.

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 author of Five Billion Years of Solitude: The Search for Life Among the Stars

•   Oliver Guyon – Optical physicist, astronomer, University of Arizona and Suburu telescope; 2012 McArthur Genius award winner

•   Jeff Kuhn – Physicist, Institute for Astronomy in Honolulu, Colossus Telescope

•   Frank Drake – Astronomer, SETI Institute

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•   Denise Herzing – Behavioral biologist and research director of the Wild Dolphin Project

Martian lace

Cosmic Diary by Lori Fenton - April 19, 2015

A piece of Mars: This 300×300 m (984×984 ft) scene shows bright windblown dunes or ripples arrayed in a lacy pattern (the biggest ones are about 5 m, or 16 ft, across). This is near the landing site of Ares 3, a science fiction book called “The Martian”, by Andy Weir that’s being made into a movie. I’m betting these beauties won’t make an appearance in the movie, though… (HiRISE ESP_040776_2115, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Skeptic Check: Monster Mashup

ENCORE  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 extinction. And, from passenger pigeons to the wooly mammoth, hi-tech genetics may imitate Jurassic Park, and bring back vanished animals.

Guests:

•   Donald Prothero – Paleontologist, geologist, former professor at Occidental College, co-author of Abominable Science!: Origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and Other Famous Cryptids

•   Chris Amemiya – Biologist and geneticist at the University of Washington and the Benaroya Research Institute, Seattle

•   John Fitzpatrick – Ornithologist and director, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University

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•   Ben Novak – Visiting biologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, lead coordinating scientist of “The Great Comeback” at the Revive and Restore project, Long Now Foundation

 

First released December 9, 2013.

Flow

Cosmic Diary by Lori Fenton - April 10, 2015

A piece of Mars: Below this ~550 m (0.3 mi) wide crater lies a ~1.3 km (0.8 mi) long “beard”, the wake of an ancient flow around the crater. Based on its location on Mars, I’m guessing the fluid flowing was lava. Inside the (interestingly dual) crater are bedforms, the remnants of more recent fluid flow – but in this case, the fluid is air. (HiRISE ESP_039902_1965, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

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 – and perhaps genes as well – in the bi-centenarian bowhead whale.

But what if age really is mind over matter? A psychologist’s extraordinary thought experiment with septuagenarian men turns back the clock 20 years. Will it work on diseases such as cancer as well?

Guests:

•   Gordon Lithgow – Geneticist, Buck Institute for Research on Aging, Novato, California

•   Manish Chamoli – Post-doctoral researcher, Buck Institute for Research on Aging

•   George Church – Professor of Genetics, Harvard Medical School, author of Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves

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•   Ellen Langer – Professor of Psychology, Harvard University and author of Counterclockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility

Hidden History

Archeologists 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 surprising – and sometimes uncomfortable truths – from ancestral origins to genes that code for disease. But do we always want to know?

Guests:

•   Mark Adams – author, Meet Me in Atlantis: My Obsessive Quest to Find the Sunken City

•   David Morrison – Senior scientist, NASA Ames Research Center

•   Peter Ward – Paleontologist, University of Washington, author of A New History of Life: The Radical New Discoveries about the Origins and Evolution of Life on Earth

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•   Christine Kenneally – Journalist and author of The Invisible History of the Human Race: How DNA and History Shape Our Identities and Our Futures

Power to the People

ENCORE  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 cutting-edge technology back in Napoleon’s day: lighthouses.

Guests:

•   W. Bernard Carlson – Professor of science, technology and society, University of Virginia, and author of Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age

•   Michael Dunne – Physicist, program director for laser fusion energy, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

•   R. Tom Baker – Chemist, director of the Center for Catalysis Research and Innovation, University of Ottawa

•   Paul Young – Radio engineer, director of Powersat Ltd.

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•   Theresa Levitt – Historian, University of Mississippi, and author of A Short Bright Flash: Augustin Fresnel and the Birth of the Modern Lighthouse

 

First released September 30, 2013.

Melty dunes

Cosmic Diary by Lori Fenton - March 18, 2015

A Piece of Mars: With all due apologies to followers of the show Coupling, I have to call these things “melty dunes”. This link shows what a crisp dune should look like. The dunes in this 600×450 m (0.37×0.28 mi) scene, however, have rounded crests and sand that seems to have ponded around the bottom of the dunes. These are common at high southern latitudes on Mars. (HiRISE ESP_039610_1150, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

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 microbiome.

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 DNA than human DNA.

And a woman who skipped soap and shampoo for a month to see what would grow on her.

Guests:

•   Bill Miller – Physician and author of The Microcosm Within: Evolution and Extinction in the Hologenome

•   Beth Archie – Biologist at the University of Notre Dame

•   Nada Gligorov – Assistant professor of medical education at Mount Sinai Hospital

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•   Julia Scott – Freelance reporter working in San Francisco. Her article, “A Wash on the Wild Side” appeared in the May 22, 2014 issue of the New York Times Magazine. of the New York Times Magazine.

<<<<<<<<

Cosmic Diary by Lori Fenton - March 09, 2015

A piece of Mars: Ripples form endless chevrons in this 600×450 m (0.37×0.30 mi) scene. It’s really the crest of a dune that connects all the vertices in the chevrons, making that straight line that runs nearly vertical through the center. Wind from the south (bottom) is deflected by this crest and other local topography just out of the scene. This pattern has been there for at least 3 Mars years. How long will it last? (HiRISE ESP_013785_1300, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

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, why Kim Stanley Robinson, author of a famous trilogy about colonizing and terraforming Mars, thinks that the current timeline for going to the planet is unrealistic.

Guests:

•   Laurel Kaye – A senior in the physics department at Duke University

•   Alfonso Davila – Senior scientist at the SETI Institute

•   Stephen Brecht – Physicist and president of the Bay Area Research Group

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•   Kim Stanley Robinson – Hugo Award-winning science Fiction author of the Mars trilogy: Red Mars (Mars Trilogy) , Green Mars (Mars Trilogy) , Blue Mars (Mars Trilogy)

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 18th century smallpox vaccine, made from cowpox, could turn you into a cow!

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

Guests:

•   Paul Offit – Infectious disease specialist at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

•   Neil deGrasse Tyson – Astrophysicist, director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City

•   Adam KorbitzLawyer specializing in space law

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•   Andrew Maynard – Professor of environmental health science, director, Risk Science Center, University of Michigan

Surviving the Anthropocene

Big Picture Science Latest Shows - February 23, 2015

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 phase in the history of our planet?

Guests: 

•   Pat Porter - Relative

•   Jonathan Amos – Science writer for the BBC in London

•   Gaia Vince – Writer, broadcaster, former editor for New Scientist, news editor of Nature, and author of Adventures in the Anthropocene: A Journey to the Heart of the Planet We Made

•   David Grinspoon – Astrobiologist, senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona

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•   Francisco Valero – Emeritus physicist and research scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego

The bright barchan

Cosmic Diary by Lori Fenton - February 16, 2015

A piece of Mars: Most dunes on Mars are dark, like these and these. So why is this one bright? It’s adjacent to a more typical, dark dune. It’s possible that there are two populations of sand here that are different enough in size or density, and so they respond to different winds – thus producing remarkably different dunes in the same location. (HiRISE ESP_039567_1120, NASA/JPL/Univ. of Arizona)

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