Big Picture Science Latest Shows
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.Guests:
- 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
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?Guests
- 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, 2102
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.Guests:
- 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
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.Guests:
- 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
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.Guests:
- Hiawatha Bray – Technology reporter, Boston Globe, author ofYou 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.
Picture a cockroach skittering across your kitchen. Eeww! Now imagine it served as an entrée at your local restaurant. There’s good reason these diminutive arthropods give us the willies – but they may also be the key to protein-rich meals of the future. Get ready for cricket casserole, as our relationship to bugs is about to change.
Also, share in one man’s panic attack when he is swarmed by grasshoppers. And the evolutionary reason insects revolt us, but also why the cicada’s buzz and the beetle’s click may have inspired humans to make music.
Plus, the history of urban pests: why roaches love to hide out between your floorboards. And Molly adopts a boxful of mealworms.Guests:
- Jeffrey Lockwood – Professor of natural sciences and humanities, University of Wyoming, author of The Infested Mind: Why Humans Fear, Loathe, and Love Insects
- David Rothenberg – Musician, author of Bug Music: How Insects Gave Us Rhythm and Noise
- Dawn Day Biehler – Assistant professor of geography and environmental studies, University of Maryland, Baltimore county, author of Pests in the City: Flies, Bedbugs, Cockroaches, and Rats (Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books)
- Andrew Brentano, Jena Brentano and Daniel Imrie-Situnayake – Co-founders, Tiny Farms, Berkeley, California
You must not remember this. Indeed, it may be key to having a healthy brain. Our gray matter evolved to forget things; otherwise we’d have the images of every face we saw on the subway rattling around our head all day long. Yet we’re building computers with the capacity to remember everything. Everything! And we might one day hook these devices to our brains.
Find out what’s it’s like – and whether it’s desirable – to live in a world of total recall. Plus, the quest for cognitive computers, and how to shake that catchy – but annoying – jingle that plays in your head over and over and over and …Guests:
- Ramamoorthy Ramesh – Materials physicist, deputy director of science and technology, Oakridge National Lab
- Michael Anderson – Neuroscientist, Memory Control Lab, MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit at the University of Cambridge in the U.K.
- Ira Hyman – Psychologist at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington
- James McGaugh – Neurobiologist, University of California, Irvine
- Larry Smarr – Professor of computer science, University of California, San Diego; director of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2)
ENCORE Zombies are making a killing in popular culture. But where did the idea behind these mythical, cerebrum-supping nasties come from? Discover why they may be a hard-wired inheritance from our Pleistocene past.
Also, how a whimsical mathematical model of a Zombie apocalypse can help us withstand earthquakes and disease outbreaks, and how the rabies virus contributed to zombie mythology.
Plus, new ideas for how doctors should respond when humans are in a limbo state between life and death: no pulse, but their brains continue to hum.
Meet the songwriter who has zombies on the brain …. and we chase spaced-out animated corpses in the annual Run-For-Your-Lives foot race.Guests:
- Guy P. Harrison – Science writer and author of 50 Popular Beliefs That People Think Are True
- Jonathan Coulton – Singer and songwriter
- Robert Smith? – Mathematician and epidemiologist at the University of Ottawa, in Canada
- Dick Teresi – Science writer and author of The Undead: Organ Harvesting, the Ice-Water Test, Beating Heart Cadavers—How Medicine Is Blurring the Line Between Life and Death
- Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy – - Respectively Senior Editor at Wired Magazine and veterinarian, and the co-authors of Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus
First released November 12, 2012
ENCORE You can get your point across in many ways: email, texts, or even face-to-face conversation (does anyone do that anymore?). But ants use chemical messages when organizing their ant buddies for an attack on your kitchen. Meanwhile, your human brain sends messages to other brains without you uttering a word.
Hear these communication stories … how language evolved in the first place… why our brains love a good tale …and how Facebook is keeping native languages from going extinct.Guests:
- Mark Moffett – Entomologist, research associate at the Smithsonian Institution, author of Adventures among Ants: A Global Safari with a Cast of Trillions
- V.S. Ramachandran – Neuroscientist, director of the Center for Brain and Cognition at the University of California, San Diego
- Clare Murphy – Performance storyteller, Ireland
- Mark Pagel – Evolutionary biologist, University of Reading, U.K., and author of Wired for Culture: Origins of the Human Social Mind
- Margaret Noori – Poet and linguist at the University of Michigan, specializing in Ojibwe, and director of the Comprehensive Studies Program
First released June 11, 2012
ENCORE Mooooove over, make way for the cows, the chickens … and other animals! Humans can learn a lot from our hairy, feathered, four-legged friends. We may wear suits and play Sudoku, but Homo sapiens are primates just the same. We’ve met the animal, and it is us.
Discover the surprising similarity between our diseases and those that afflict other animals, including pigs that develop eating disorders. Plus, what the octopus can teach us about national security … how monkeying around evolved into human speech … and the origins of moral behavior in humans.Guests:
- Rafe Sagarin – Marine ecologist, Institute of the Environment, University of Arizona, author of Learning From the Octopus: How Secrets from Nature Can Help Us Fight Terrorist Attacks, Natural Disasters, and Disease
- Barbara Natterson-Horowitz – Professor of cardiology, David Geffen School of Medicine, UCLA, and co-author of Zoobiquity: What Animals Can Teach Us About Health and the Science of Healing
- Kathryn Bowers – Writer, co-author of Zoobiquity: What Animals Can Teach Us About Health and the Science of Healing
- Asif Ghazanfar – Neuroscientist, psychologist, Princeton University
- Christopher Boehm – Biological and cultural anthropologist at the University of Southern California, director of the Jane Goodall Research Center, author of Moral Origins: The Evolution of Virtue, Altruism, and Shame
First released July 9, 2012
ENCORE If two is company and three a crowd, what’s the ideal number to write a play or invent a new operating system? Some say you need groups to be creative. Others disagree: breakthroughs come only in solitude.
Hear both sides, and find out why you always have company even when alone: meet the “parliament of selves” that drive your brain’s decision-making.
Plus, how ideas of societies lead them to thrive or fall, and why educated conservatives have lost trust in science.Guests:
- Susan Cain – Author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
- Keith Sawyer – Psychologist at Washington University in St. Louis and author of Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration
- David Eagleman – Neuroscientist, Baylor College of Medicine and author of Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain
- Gordon Gauchat – Sociologist, University North Carolina, Chapel Hill
- Joseph Tainter – Professor, Environment & Society Department, Utah State University and author of The Collapse of Complex Societies
First released April 30, 2012.
We all may prefer the goldilocks zone – not too hot, not too cold. But most of the universe is bitterly cold. We can learn a lot about it if we’re willing to brave a temperature drop.
A chilly Arctic island is the closest thing to Mars-on-Earth for scientists who want to go to the Red Planet. Meanwhile, the ice sheet at the South Pole is ideal for catching neutrinos – ghostly particles that may reveal secrets about the nature of the universe.
Comet ISON is comet ice-off after its passage close to the Sun, but it’s still giving us the word on solar system’s earliest years.
Also, scientists discover the coldest spot on Earth. A champion chill, but positively balmy compared to absolute zero. Why reaching a temperature of absolute zero is impossible, although we’ve gotten very, very close.Guests:
- Francis Halzen – Physicist, University of Wisconsin-Madison, principal investigator of The IceCube Neutrino Observatory
- Ted Scambos – Glaciologist, lead scientist, National Snow and Ice Data Center, University of Colorado
- Pascal Lee – Planetary scientist, SETI Institute, director, NASA Haughton-Mars Project, and co-founder of the Mars Society. His new book is Mission: Mars
- Andrew Fraknoi – Chair, astronomy department, Foothill College
- Vladan Vuletić – Physicist, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
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 Fitzgerald – Ornithologist and director, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University
- 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
Imagine a world without algebra. We can hear the sound of school children applauding. What practical use are parametric equations and polynomials, anyway? Even some scholars argue that algebra is the Latin of today, and should be dropped from the mandatory curriculum.
But why stop there? Maybe we should do away with math classes altogether.
An astronomer says he’d be out of work: we can all forget about understanding the origins of the universe, the cycles of the moon and how to communicate with alien life. Also, no math = no cybersecurity + hackers (who have taken math) will have the upper hand.
Also, without mathematics, you’ll laugh < you do now. The Simpsons creator Matt Groening has peppered his animated show with hidden math jokes.
And why mathematics = love.Guests:
- Andrew Hacker – Professor of political science and mathematics at Queens College, City University of New York. His article, “Is Algebra Necessary?”, appeared in The New York Times in 2012.
- Bob Berman – Astronomy editor of The Old Farmer’s Almanac, the author of The Sun’s Heartbeat: And Other Stories from the Life of the Star That Powers Our Planet, and columnist for Astronomy Magazine. His article, “How Math Drives the Universe” is the cover story in the December 2013 issue.
- Simon Singh – Science writer, author of The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets
- Rob Manning – Flight system chief engineer at the Jet Propulsion Lab, responsible for NASA’s Curiosity rover
- Edward Frenkel – Professor of mathematics at the University of California, Berkeley, author of Love and Math: The Heart of Hidden Reality. His article, “The Perils of Hacking Math,” is found on the online magazine, Slate.
ENCORE We’ve all had an “oops” moment. Scientists are no exception. Sometimes science stumbles in the steady march of progress. Find out why cold fusion is a premier example why you shouldn’t hold a press conference before publishing your results. Also, how to separate fumbles from faux-science from fraud.
Plus, why ignorance is what really drives the scientific method.
And our Hollywood skeptic poses as a psychic for Dr. Phil, while our Dr. Phil (Plait) investigates the authenticity of a life-bearing meteorite.Guests:
- Phil Plait – Skeptic and author of Slate Magazine’s blog Bad Astronomy
- Michael Gordin – Historian of science at Princeton University, author of The Pseudoscience Wars: Immanuel Velikovsky and the Birth of the Modern Fringe
- David Goodstein – Physicist, California Institute of Technology
- Stuart Firestein – Neuroscientist, chair of the biology department, Columbia University, and author of Ignorance: How It Drives Science
- Jim Underdown – Executive Director, Center for Inquiry, Los Angeles
First released January 28, 2013.
After the winds and water of Typhoon Haiyan abated, grief and hunger swept though the Philippines, along with the outbreak of disease. Are monster storms the new normal in a warmer world? Some scientists say yes, and if so, climate change is already producing real effects on human life and health.
A hotter planet will serve up casualties from natural disasters, but also higher rates of asthma, allergies and an increase in mosquito-borne diseases. It is, according to one researcher, the greatest challenge of our time, straining health care efforts worldwide. But could a “medical Marshall Plan” save us?
Also, why the conservative estimates from the U.N.‘s climate change group don’t help people prepare for worst-case scenarios. And, a controversial approach to saving our overburdened planet: a serious limit on population growth.Guests:
- Jeff Masters – Meteorologist, Wunderground
- Linda Marsa – Investigative journalist, contributing editor at Discover, author of Fevered: Why a Hotter Planet Will Hurt Our Health — and how we can save ourselves
- Fred Pearce – Freelance author and journalist, environment consultant for New Scientist. His article, “Has the U.N. Climate Panel Outlived It’s Usefulness?” appeared on the website Yale Environment 360
- Alan Weisman – Author, Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth?