Big Picture Science Latest Shows
ENCORE We all want to turn back time. But until we build a time machine, we’ll have to rely on a few creative approaches to capturing things as they were – and preserving them for posterity. One is upping memory storage capacity itself. Discover just how much of the past we can cram into our future archives, and whether going digital has made it all vulnerable to erasure.
Plus – scratch it and tear it – then watch this eerily-smart material revert to its undamaged self. And, what was life like pre-digital technology? We can’t remember, but one writer knows; he’s living life circa 1993 (hint: no cell phone).
Also, using stem cells to save the white rhino and other endangered species. And, the arrow of time itself – could it possibly run backwards in another universe?Guests:
- Michael S. Malone – Professor of professional writing at Santa Clara University and the author of The Guardian of All Things: The Epic Story of Human Memory
- Oliver Ryder – Director of genetics, San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research
- Michael E. Smith – Chemist, Arkema, Inc
- Sean Carroll – Theoretical physicist at the California Institute of Technology, 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
- Pico Iyer – Writer, author of The Man Within My Head and the New York Times article, “The Joy of Quiet”
First released October 29, 2012.
We often hear fantastic scientific claims that would change everything if true. Such as the report that algae is growing on the outside of the International Space Station or that engineers have built a rocket that requires no propellant to accelerate. We examine news stories that seem too sensational to be valid, yet just might be – including whether a killer asteroid has Earth’s name on it.
Plus, a journalist investigates why people hold on to their beliefs even when the evidence is stacked hard against them – from skepticism about climate change to Holocaust denial. And, why professional skeptics are just as enamored with their beliefs as anyone else.Guests:
- Lynn Rothschild – Evolutionary biologist and astrobiologist at NASA Ames Research Center
- Will Storr – Journalist, author of The Unpersuadables: Adventures with the Enemies of Science
- Steven Novella – Assistant professor, Yale University School of Medicine, host of the “Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe” podcast
- David Morrison – Director of the Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe, SETI Institute
A planet is a planet is a planet. Unless it’s Pluto – then it’s a dwarf planet. But even then it’s a planet, according to experts. So what was behind the unpopular re-classification of Pluto by astronomers, and were they justified?
As the New Horizons spacecraft closes in on this small body, one planetary scientist says that this dwarf planet could be more typical of planets than Mars, Mercury, and Saturn. And that our solar system has not 8 or even 9 planets, but 900.
Also, meet a type of planet that’s surprisingly commonplace, although we don’t have one in our solar system: super Earths. Could they harbor life?
And the DAWN mission continues its visit to the two most massive residents of the asteroid belt: Vesta and Ceres. Discover what these proto-planets may reveal to us about the early solar system.Guests:
- Alan Stern – Planetary scientist, Southwest Research Institute, Principal Investigator of the New Horizons mission
- Marc Rayman – DAWN Mission chief engineer and mission director
- David Stevenson – Professor of planetary science at CalTech
- Rebekah Dawson – Astronomer, postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Berkeley
- David Eicher – Editor-in-chief, Astronomy Magazine
ENCORE Hi ho, hi ho … it’s out with work we go! As you relax this holiday weekend, step into our labor-atory and imagine a world with no work allowed. Soft robots help us with tasks at home and at the office, while driverless cars allow us to catch ZZZZs in the front seat.
Plus, the Internet of Everything interconnects all your devices, from your toaster to your roaster to … you. So there’s no need to ever get off the couch. But is a machine-ruled world a true utopia?
And, the invention that got us into our 24/7 rat race: Edison’s electric light.Guests:
- Barry Trimmer – Professor of biology, neuroscience, and biomedical engineering at Tufts University, and editor-in-chief, Soft Robotics
- Red Whittaker – Roboticist at Carnegie Mellon University
- Ernest Freeberg – Historian, University of Tennessee, and author of The Age of Edison: Electric Light and the Invention of Modern America
- Rob Chandhok – Computer scientist, president of Qualcomm Interactive Platforms
- Andre Bormanis – Television writer, producer, screenwriter and science advisor to Star Trek and Cosmos
First released August 26, 2013.
ENCORE We’ve all hit the snooze button when the alarm goes off, but why do we crave sleep in the first place? We explore the evolutionary origins of sleep … the study of narcolepsy in dogs … and could novel drugs and technologies cut down on our need for those zzzzs.
Plus, ditch your dream journal: a brain scanner may let you record – and play back – your dreams.
And, branch out with the latest development in artificial light: bioluminescent trees. How gene tinkering may make your houseplants both grow and glow.Guests:
- Emmanuel Mignot – Professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, and director of the Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine, Stanford University
- Kyle Taylor – Molecular biologist at Glowing Plant
- Jerry Siegel – Neuroscientist and professor of psychiatry, the University of California, Los Angeles
- Jack Gallant – Professor of psychology and neuroscience, University of California, Berkeley
First released May 27, 2013.
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.Guests:
- 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
ENCORE Maybe goodbye isn’t forever. Get ready to mingle with mammoths and gaze upon a ground sloth. Scientists want to give some animals a round-trip ticket back from oblivion. Learn how we might go from scraps of extinct DNA to creating live previously-extinct animals, and the man who claims it’s his mission to repopulate the skies with passenger pigeons.
But even if we have the tools to bring vanished animals back, should we?
Plus, the extinction of our own species: are we engineering the end of humans via our technology?Guests:
- Beth Shapiro – Associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, University of California, Santa Cruz
- Ben Novak – Biologist, Revive and Restore project at the Long Now Foundation, visiting biologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz
- Hank Greely – Lawyer working in bioethics, director of the Stanford Center for Law and the Biosciences at Stanford University
- Melanie Challenger – Poet, writer, author of On Extinction: How We Became Estranged from Nature
- Nick Bostrom – Director of the Future of Humanity Institute, Oxford University
First released April 29, 2013.
Who’s watching you? Could be anyone, really. Social media sites, webcams, CCTV cameras and smartphones have made keeping tabs on you as easy as tapping “refresh” on a tablet. And who knows what your cell phone records are telling the NSA?
Surveillance technology has privacy on the run, as we navigate between big data benefits and Big Brother intrusion.
Find out why wearing Google Glass could make everything you see the property of its creator, and which Orwellian technologies are with us today. But just how worried should we be? A cyber security expert weighs in.
Also, the benefits of an eye in the sky. A startup company claims that their suite of microsatellites will help protect Earth’s fragile environment.
And Gary catches a cat burglar!Guests:
- Robert Gehl – Professor in the Department of Communication, University of Utah. His article, “A Mind Meld with the Surveillance State” appeared in an online issue of The Week.
- Hal Rappaport – Technology consultant for businesses, author of the paranormal thriller Hath No Fury: The Lesson of Three Book One. His article, “7 Sinister Technologies from Orwell’s 1984", appeared on the SyFy Channel’s online magazine.
- Susan Landau – Professor of cyber security policy at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, author of Surveillance or Security?: The Risks Posed by New Wiretapping Technologies and Privacy on the Line: The Politics of Wiretapping and Encryption.
- William Marshall – Physicist, Planet Labs
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:
- Thomas Goetz – Author of The Remedy: Robert Koch, Arthur Conan Doyle, and the Quest to Cure Tuberculosis
- Jose Carmena – Neuroscientist and biomedical engineer at the University of California, Berkeley; co-director of the Berkeley-UCSF Center for Neural Engineering and Prostheses
- William Murphy -Bioengineer and co-director of the Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Center, University of Wisconsin, Madison
- Ali Khademhosseini – Bioengineer, Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Woman’s Hospital
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
ENCORE 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 machineGuests:
- 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
First released February 25, 2013.
ENCORE Think back, way back. Beyond last week or last year … to what was happening on Earth 100,000 years ago. Or 100 million years ago. It’s hard to fathom such enormous stretches of time, yet to understand the evolution of the cosmos – and our place in it – your mind needs to grasp the deep meaning of eons. Discover techniques for thinking in units of billions of years, and how the events that unfold over such intervals have left their mark on you.
Plus: the slow-churning processes that turned four-footed creatures into the largest marine animals that ever graced the planet and using a new telescope to travel in time to the birth of the galaxies.Guests:
- Jim Rosenau – Artist, Berkeley, California
- Robert Hazen – Senior staff scientist at the Geophysical Laboratory at the Carnegie Institution of Washington, executive director of the Deep Carbon Observatory and the author of The Story of Earth: The First 4.5 Billion Years, from Stardust to Living Planet
- Neil Shubin – Biologist, associate dean of biological sciences at the University of Chicago, and the author of The Universe Within: Discovering the Common History of Rocks, Planets, and People
- Nicholas Pyenson – Curator of fossil marine mammals at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C.
- Alison Peck – Scientist, National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Charlottesville, Virginia
First released April 22, 2013.
ENCORE It’s hard to get lost these days. GPS pinpoints your location to within a few feet. Discover how our need to get from A to B holds clues about what makes us human, and what we lose now that every digital map puts us at the center.
Plus, stories of animal navigation: how a cat found her way home across Florida, and the magnetic navigation systems used by salmon and sea turtles.
Also, why you’ll soon be riding in driverless cars. And, how to map our universe.Guests:
- John Bradshaw – Director of the University of Bristol’s Anthrozoology Institute, author of Dog Sense: How the New Science of Dog Behavior Can Make You A Better Friend to Your Pet and, most recently, Cat Sense
- Kenneth Lohmann – Biologist at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill
- Simon Garfield – Author of On the Map: A Mind-Expanding Exploration of the Way the World Looks
- William “Red” Whittaker – Roboticist at Carnegie Mellon University
- James Trefil – Physicist at George Mason University, author of Space Atlas: Mapping the Universe and Beyond
First released March 18, 2013.
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:
- Lucy Beard – Founder of Feetz
- Mark Miodownik – Materials scientist, director of the Institute of Making, University College, London, and author of Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials That Shape Our Man-Made World
- Steve Nelson – Team K.I.S.S. Robotics, maker of Beer2D2
- Dan Lankford – Managing director, Wavepoint Ventures
- Ariel Waldman – Founder, Spacehack.org, global instigator of Science Hack Day
- Saurabh Narain – 12 year-old participant in Maker Faire
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
- John Ioannidis – Professor of medicine, health research and policy, and statistics, and co-director of the Meta-Research Innovation Center at Stanford University. His paper, “Why Most Published Research Findings are False,” was published in PLoS Medicine.
- Marcelo Gleiser – Physicist and astronomer at Dartmouth College, author of The Island of Knowledge: The Limits of Science and the Search for Meaning
- Joe Schwarcz – – Professor of chemistry and Director of the Office for Science and Society, McGill University, Montreal and author of Is That a Fact?: Frauds, Quacks, and the Real Science of Everyday Life
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.Guests:
- Daniel Lieberman – Professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard University, author of The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease
- 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
- Paul Kingsnorth – Environmental journalist and author of Real England: The Battle Against the Bland and The Wake. The profile of his retreat from environmentalism appeared in the “New York Times Magazine”.
- Marlene Zuk – Evolutionary biologist, University of Minnesota