Big Picture Science | Top Science Podcasts 2021

The top science podcasts of 2021 updated daily.

Big Picture Science
Big Picture Science weaves together a universe of big ideas from robots to memory to antimatter to dinosaurs. Tune in and make contact with science.
Creature Discomforts (rebroadcast)
2021-02-22 08:05:38
Okay you animals, line up: stoned sloths, playful pandas, baleful bovines, and vile vultures. We've got you guys pegged, thanks to central casting.  Or do we? Our often simplistic view of animals ignores their remarkable adaptive abilities. Stumbly sloths are in fact remarkably agile and a vulture's tricks for thermoregulation can't be found in an outdoors store.  Our ignorance about some animals can even lead to their suffering and to seemingly intractable problems. The South American nutria was brought to Louisiana to supply the fur market. But the species got loose and tens of millions of these rodents are destroying the environment. It literally has a bounty on its tail. Hear about research that corrects a menagerie of misunderstandings about our fellow furry, feathered, and scaly animals, and how getting over ourselves to know them better can have practical benefits. Will you still recoil from termites if you learn that they are relevant to the future of robots, global warming, and smart design? Guests: Lucy Cooke - Zoologist, broadcaster and author of "The Truth About Animals: Stoned Sloths, Lovelorn Hippos, and Other Tales from the Wild Side of Wildlife" Chris Metzler - Co-director and producer of the film Rodents of Unusual Size Lisa Margonelli - Journalist and author of "Underbug: An Obsessive Tale of Termites and Technology"   Originally aired October 8, 2018

50 minutes, 31 seconds
Granting Immunity (rebroadcast)
2021-02-15 07:56:31
"Diversity or die" could be your new health mantra. Don't boost your immune system, cultivate it! Like a garden, your body's defenses benefit from species diversity.  Find out why multiple strains of microbes, engaged in a delicate ballet with your T-cells, join internal fungi in combatting disease. Plus, global ecosystems also depend on the diversity of its tiniest members; so what happens when the world's insects bug out? Guests: Matt Richtel - Author, most recently, of "An Elegant Defense: The Extraordinary New Science of The Immune System" Rob Dunn - Biologist and professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at North Carolina State University. Author of "Never Home Alone" David Underhill - Professor of medicine, Cedars-Sinai Hospital, Los Angeles, California Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson - Professor in conservation biology at the Institute for Ecology and Nature Management at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences.  Author of "Buzz, Sting, Bite: Why We Need Insects" Originally aired August 12, 2019  

50 minutes, 31 seconds
Mars Attracts
2021-02-08 07:43:47
Earth invades Mars in February. In a historic trifecta for space exploration, spacecraft of three countries will arrive at Mars, and for two of those it will be their first time at the Red Planet. We talk to the science lead for the Emirates Mars Mission, a NASA engineer piloting the first helicopter on Mars, and a British space expert - all to learn how these spacecraft may bring greater understanding of this rusty world - including whether Mars ever supported life. Guests: Sarah Cruddas - Space journalist, broadcaster, and author of "Look Up: Our Story with the Stars" Sarah Al Amiri - United Arab Emirates Minister of State for Advanced Sciences as well as science lead for the Emirates Mars Mission HÃ¥vard Grip - Chief Pilot and Light Control Lead for Ingenuity Mars Helicopter at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

53 minutes, 5 seconds
Iron, Coal, Wood
2021-02-01 08:33:36
Maybe you don't remember the days of the earliest coal-fired stoves. They changed domestic life, and that changed society. We take you back to that era, and to millennia prior when iron was first smelt, and even earlier, when axe-handles were first fashioned from wood, as we explore how three essential materials profoundly transformed society.  We were once excited about coal's promise to provide cheap energy, and how iron would lead to indestructible bridges, ships, and buildings. But they also caused some unintended problems: destruction of forests, greenhouse gases and corrosion. Did we foresee where the use of wood, coal, and iron would lead? What lessons do they offer for our future? Guests: Jonathan Waldman - Author of Rust: The Longest War. Ruth Goodman - Historian of British social customs, presenter of a number of BBC television series, including Tudor Monastery Farm, and the author of The Domestic Revolution: How the Introduction of Coal into Victorian Homes Changed Everything. Roland Ennos - Professor of biological sciences at the University of Hull and author of The Age of Wood: Our Most Useful Material and the Construction of Civilization.

53 minutes, 33 seconds
Skeptic Check: Shared Reality
2021-01-25 08:22:32
One of the many shocking aspects of the Capitol attack was that it revealed how thoroughly the nation had cleaved into alternate realities. How did we get to this point? How did misinformation come to create beliefs embraced by millions?  In this episode, experts in social media, cults, and the history of science join us for a discussion about how these alternative realities formed, why people are drawn to them, and the benefits of a shared reality.  Guests: Joan Donovan - Research Director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy in the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and leader of the Technology and Social Change Project. Lee McIntyre - Research fellow at the Center for Philosophy and History of Science at Boston University, Instructor in Ethics at Harvard Extension School, and author of "Post - Truth." Steven Hassan - Mental health counselor who has written on the subject of mind control. Former member of the Unification Church, and author of "The Cult of Trump."  

53 minutes, 53 seconds
Supercomputer Showdown (rebroadcast)
2021-01-18 08:51:56
Do you have a hard-to-answer question? The Summit, Sierra, Trinity, Frontier, and Aurora supercomputers are built to tackle it. Summit tops the petaflop heap - at least for now. But Frontier and Aurora are catching up as they take aim at a new performance benchmark called exascale.    So why do we need all this processing power? From climate modeling to personalized medicine, find out why the super-est computers are necessary to answer our biggest questions. But is the dark horse candidate, quantum computing, destined to leave classical computing in the dust? Guests: Katherine Riley - Director of Science, Argonne National Laboratory Jack Wells - Director of Science, Oak Ridge National Laboratory National Center for Computational Sciences Katie Bethea - Communications Team Lead, Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility, Oak Ridge National Laboratory Jeffrey Hawkins - Technologist and neuroscientist.  Co-founder of Palm, Handspring and Numenta Eleanor Rieffel - Mathematician, NASA Ames Research Center, and co-author of "Quantum Supremacy Using a Programmable Superconducting Processor," published in Nature magazine Originally aired November 4, 2019

50 minutes, 31 seconds
Skeptic Check: Betting on Pseudoscience (rebroadcast)
2021-01-11 08:13:38
Psychics may not be able to predict the future or sense your thoughts. Nonetheless, they rake in hundreds of millions of dollars every year. But the harm from pseudoscience can go far beyond your wallet - especially when it promotes unscientific treatments for serious disease. Find out what alarming discovery led one naturopath to quit her practice and why scientific ignorance is not bliss.  It's our regular look at critical thinking, but don't take our word for it. Guests: Robert Palmer - Member of the Guerilla Skeptics on the Wikipedia editing team and columnist for the Skeptical Inquirer on-line magazine Lee McIntyre - Research fellow at the Center for Philosophy and History of Science at Boston University and lecturer on ethics at Harvard Extension School Britt Marie Hermes - Former naturopath doctor; now doctoral student in evolutionary genetics at the University of Kiel, Germany Originally aired November 25, 2019

50 minutes, 31 seconds
Headed for Trouble (rebroadcast)
2021-01-04 07:56:02
The stone heads on Easter Island are an enduring mystery: why were they built and why were they abandoned and destroyed? The old ideas about cultural collapse are yielding to new ones based on careful investigation on the ground - but also from above. What surprising explanations have we found and are we off base to think that ancient societies such as the Easter Islanders or the classical Egyptians were, in the end, failures? Can what we learn from these histories help predict which societies will survive? Guests: James Grant Peterkin - Tour guide, resident, and British Honorary Consul on Easter Island Sarah Parcak - Archaeologist, Egyptologist, remote sensing expert, professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and author of Archaeology from Space: How the Future Shapes Our Past Carl Lipo - Anthropologist and professor at Binghamton University, State University of New York Originally aired September 30, 2019

50 minutes, 31 seconds
For Good Measure (rebroadcast)
2020-12-28 08:50:07
The reign of Le Grand K has come to an end. After 130 years, this hunk of metal sitting in a Parisian vault will no longer define the kilogram. The new kilogram mass will be defined by Planck's constant, joining three other units for redefinition by fundamental constants.  But as we measure with increasing precision - from cesium atomic clocks to gravity waves 1000th the width of a proton - is something fundamental lost along the way?  Meanwhile, the BiPiSci team accepts the banana-measurement challenge. Guests: Jon Pratt - Mechanical engineer and engineer and Chief of the Quantum Measurement Division of the Physical Measurement Laboratory (PML) at the National Institute of Standards and Technology Wolfgang Ketterle - Physicist at MIT, Nobel Laureate Simon Winchester - Author of "The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World" Originally aired September 9, 2019

50 minutes, 51 seconds
Handling the Holidays (rebroadcast)
2020-12-21 09:05:44
The stress of the holidays can make you want to hide under the covers with a warm cup of cocoa.  From gift buying to family gatherings, the holidays can feel like being inside a pressure cooker.  But don't despair!  Science can help make the holidays a little brighter, from some gift-giving tips from our animal friends to embracing pessimism before a challenging social event to stopping that annoying merry melody on repeat in your head. Guests: Adam South - Research assistant professor at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University Mitch Ratcliffe - CEO and publisher of Earth911 Julie Norem - Psychology professor at Wellesley College and author of "The Positive Power of Negative Thinking" Elizabeth Margulis - Music professor at Princeton University and author of "On Repeat: How Music Plays the Mind" Steve Ilardi - Clinical psychology associate professor at the University of Kansas.  Read his paper on the effects of sugar here.  

50 minutes, 5
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