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Life on Venus? from Big Picture Science

From Big Picture Science - Have scientists found evidence of life on Venus? Known for its scorching temperatures and acidic atmosphere, Earth's twin hardly seems a promising place for living things. But could a discovery of phosphine by researchers at MIT point to a high-altitude biosphere on this nearby world? Guests: Clara Sousa-Silva - Research scientist in MIT's Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. She and Sara Seager co-authored a paper in January 2020 titled, "Phosphine as a Biosignature Gas in Exoplanet Atmospheres" Sara Seager - Professor of physics and planetary science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of "The Smallest Lights in the Universe" Nathalie Cabrol - Planetary Scientist and Director of the Cal Sagan Center at the SETI Institute David Grinspoon - Senior Scientist at the Planetary Science Institute, author of "Earth in Human Hands"


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Life on Venus?
2020-09-14 08:00:43
Have scientists found evidence of life on Venus? Known for its scorching temperatures and acidic atmosphere, Earth's twin hardly seems a promising place for living things. But could a discovery of phosphine by researchers at MIT point to a high-altitude biosphere on this nearby world? Guests: Clara Sousa-Silva - Research scientist in MIT's Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. She and Sara Seager co-authored a paper in January 2020 titled, "Phosphine as a Biosignature Gas in Exoplanet Atmospheres" Sara Seager - Professor of physics and planetary science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of "The Smallest Lights in the Universe" Nathalie Cabrol - Planetary Scientist and Director of the Cal Sagan Center at the SETI Institute David Grinspoon - Senior Scientist at the Planetary Science Institute, author of "Earth in Human Hands"
52 minutes, 1 second


Mycology Education
2020-09-28 08:36:40
Beneath our feet is a living network just as complex and extensive as the root systems in a forest. Fungi, which evolved in the oceans, were among the first to colonize the barren continents more than a half-billion years ago. They paved the way for land plants, animals, and (eventually) you.  Think beyond penicillin and pizza, and take a moment to consider these amazing organisms. Able to survive every major extinction, essential as Nature's decomposers, and the basis of both ale and antibiotics, fungi are essential to life. And their behavior is so complex you'll be wondering if we shouldn't call them intelligent! Guest: Merlin Sheldrake - Biologist and the author of Entangled Life: How Fungi Make our Worlds, Change our Minds and Shape our Futures.  


Hubble and Beyond
2020-09-21 10:09:26
The universe is not just expanding; it's accelerating. Supermassive black holes are hunkered down at the center of our galaxy and just about every other galaxy, too. We talk about these and other big discoveries of the Hubble Space Telescope, now in orbit for 30 years. But two new next-generation telescopes will soon be joining Hubble: the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope and the James Webb Space Telescope. Hear what cosmic puzzles they'll address. Plus, life in a clean room while wearing a coverall "bunny suit"; what it takes to assemble a telescope. Guests: Meg Urry - Professor of physics and astronomy, Director of the Yale Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Yale University John Grunsfeld - Former NASA Associate Administrator, and astronaut Kenneth Harris - Senior Project Engineer, Aerospace Corporation  


Life on Venus?
2020-09-14 08:00:43
Have scientists found evidence of life on Venus? Known for its scorching temperatures and acidic atmosphere, Earth's twin hardly seems a promising place for living things. But could a discovery of phosphine by researchers at MIT point to a high-altitude biosphere on this nearby world? Guests: Clara Sousa-Silva - Research scientist in MIT's Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. She and Sara Seager co-authored a paper in January 2020 titled, "Phosphine as a Biosignature Gas in Exoplanet Atmospheres" Sara Seager - Professor of physics and planetary science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of "The Smallest Lights in the Universe" Nathalie Cabrol - Planetary Scientist and Director of the Cal Sagan Center at the SETI Institute David Grinspoon - Senior Scientist at the Planetary Science Institute, author of "Earth in Human Hands"


Space: Why Go There? (rebroadcast)
2020-09-07 07:58:04
It takes a lot of energy and technology to leave terra firma. But why rocket into space when there's so much to be done on Earth? From the practical usefulness of satellites to the thrill of exploring other worlds, let us count the ways. The launch of a NOAA weather satellite to join its twin provides unparalleled observation of storms, wildfires, and even lightning. Find out what it's like to watch hurricanes form from space. Meanwhile, more than a dozen countries want their own satellites to help solve real-world problems, including tracking disease. Learn how one woman is helping make space accessible to everyone. Plus, now that we've completed our grand tour of the Solar System, which bodies are targets for return missions and which for human exploration?   Guests: Sarah Cruddas - Space journalist, broadcaster, and author based in the U.K. Jamese Sims - GOES-R Project Manager at NOAA Danielle Wood - Assistant professor, MIT Media Lab, Director of the Space Enabled Research Group Jim Green - NASA Planetary Science Division Director  Originally aired March 5, 2018


Home Invasions
2020-08-31 08:12:00
As we struggle to control a viral invader that moves silently across the globe and into its victims, we are also besieged by other invasions. Murder hornets have descended upon the Pacific Northwest, threatening the region's honeybees. In Africa, locust swarms darken the sky. In this episode, we draw on a classic science fiction tale to examine the nature of invasions, and what prompts biology to go on the move. Guests: Peter Ksander - Associate professor at Reed College in the Department of Theater. Producer of the spring 2020 production of War of the Worlds Eva Licht - A senior at Reed College, and producer and director of War of the Worlds Chris Looney - Entomologist with the Washington State Department of Agriculture, where he manages its general entomology laboratory Nipun Basrur - Neurobiologist at The Rockefeller University Amy Maxmen - Reporter at the journal Nature, in which her story about pandemic war games appeared.  


The X-Flies (rebroadcast)
2020-08-24 07:21:58
Insect populations are declining. But before you say "good riddance," consider that insects are the cornerstone of many ecosystems. They are dinner for numerous animal species and are essential pollinators. Mammals are loved, but they are not indispensable. Insects are. Meanwhile, marvel at the extraordinary capabilities of some insects. The zany aerial maneuvers of the fly are studied by pilots.  And, contrary to the bad press, cockroaches are very clean creatures. Also, take a listen as we host some Madagascar hissing cockroaches in our studio (yes, they audibly hiss). Plus, how insects first evolved ... and the challenges in controlling lethal ones. Are genetically-engineering mosquitoes the best way to combat malaria? Guests: Erica McAlister - Entomologist, Senior Curator of diptera in the Department of Entomology, Natural History Museum in London, author of "The Secret Life of Flies" Jessica Ware - Evolutionary biologist and entomologist at Rutgers University Anthony James - Vector biologist, University of California, Irvine Lauren Esposito - Arachnologist, California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco Originally aired March 19, 2018


Skeptic Check: Worrier Mentality (rebroadcast)
2020-08-17 08:20:30
Poisonous snakes, lightning strikes, a rogue rock from space.  There are plenty of scary things to fret about, but are we burning adrenaline on the right ones?  Stepping into the bathtub is more dangerous than flying from a statistical point of view, but no one signs up for "fear of showering" classes.  Find out why we get tripped up by statistics, worry about the wrong things, and how the "intelligence trap" not only leads smart people to make dumb mistakes, but actually causes them to make more. Guests: Eric Chudler - Research associate professor, department of bioengineering, University of Washington, Seattle and co-author of "Worried: Science Investigates Some of Life's Common Concerns" Lise Johnson - Director of the Basic Science Curriculum, Rocky Vista University, and co-author of "Worried: Science Investigates Some of Life's Common Concerns" Willie Turner - Vice President of Operations at the Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos, CA Charles Wheelan - Senior Lecturer and Policy Fellow, Dartmouth College, and author of "Naked Statistics" David Robson - Commissioning Editor for the BBC and author of "The Intelligence Trap: Why Smart People Make Dumb Mistakes" Originally aired May 27, 2019


Math's Paths (rebroadcast)
2020-08-10 08:23:11
If you bake, you can appreciate math's transformative properties.  Admiring the stackable potato chip is to admire a hyperbolic sheet.  Find out why there's no need to fear math - you just need to think outside the cuboid.  Also, how nature's geometric shapes inspire the next generation of squishy robots and an argument for radically overhauling math class.  The end point of these common factors is acute show that's as fun as eating Pi. Guests: Eugenia Cheng - Scientist in Residence at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago, tenured at the School of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Sheffield, and author of "How to Bake Pi" Shankar Venkataramani - Professor of math at the University of Arizona Steven Strogatz - Professor of applied mathematics at Cornell University and author of "Infinite Powers: How Calculus Reveals the Secrets of the Universe" Daniel Finkel - Mathematician and founder and director of operations at "Math for Love"  


On Thin Ice (rebroadcast)
2020-08-03 08:31:47
Water is essential for life - that we know. But the honeycomb lattice that forms when you chill it to zero degrees Celsius is also inexorably intertwined with life. Ice is more than a repository for water that would otherwise raise sea levels. It's part of Earth's cooling system, a barrier preventing decaying organic matter from releasing methane gas, and a vault entombing ancient bacteria and other microbes.  From the Arctic to the Antarctic, global ice is disappearing. Find out what's at stake as atmospheric CO2 threatens frozen H2O.  Guests: Peter Wadhams- Emeritus Professor of Ocean Physics at Cambridge University in the U.K. and the author of A Farewell to Ice: A Report from the Arctic Eric Rignot- Earth systems scientist, University of California, Irving, senior research scientist, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory Åsmund Asdal- Biologist, Nordic Genetic Resource Center, coordinator for operations and management of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, Svalbard, Norway John Priscu- Polar biologist, Montana State University Originally aired August 14, 2017  


Skeptic Check: Know-It-Alls
2020-07-27 09:18:13
Think you're some kind of expert? Join the club. It's one thing to question authority; another to offer up your untrained self as its replacement. Rebellion may be a cherished expression of American individualism, but, from sidelining Dr. Fauci to hiding public health data, find out what we lose when we silence health experts and "go with our gut" during a pandemic. Plus, from ancestors to algorithms: how we've replaced credentialed experts with sketchy web sites and social media posts. Guests: Charles Piller - Investigative reporter for Science magazine Alison Galvani - Epidemiologist and Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Modeling and Analysis, at Yale University  Tom Nichols - Professor, international affairs, U.S. Naval War College, and author of "The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters" Alex Bentley - Anthropologist, University of Tennessee and author of "The Acceleration of Cultural Change: From Ancestors to Algorithms"


Something in the Air
2020-07-20 08:53:12
Inhale. Now exhale. Notice anything different? Our response to the virus is changing the air in unexpected ways. A pandemic-driven pause on travel has produced clear skies and a world-wide air quality experiment. And a new study reveals that hundreds of tons of microplastics are raining down on us each day.  But we can improve the quality of the breaths we do take; engineers have devised a high-tech mask that may kill coronavirus on contact. Plus, although you do it 25,000 times a day, you may not be breathing properly. Nose-breathing vs mouth breathing: getting the ins-and-outs of respiration. Guests: Janice Brahney - Environmental biogeochemist at Utah State University Sally Ng - Atmospheric scientist, chemical engineer at Georgia Tech. Chandan Sen - Professor, department of surgery, Indiana University School of Medicine. James Nestor - Author of "Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art."


COVID Curiosities
2020-07-13 07:55:51
COVID Curiosities Some dogs and cats have become sick with COVID. But it's not just domestic critters that are vulnerable: zoo animals have fallen ill too. There's more strange news about the pandemic, for example scientists who track the coronavirus in our sewage, and computer models that show that flushing the toilet can launch persistent, pathogenic plumes into the room. And scientists have warned the WHO that infectious virus remains airborne. Also, how a shortage of glass vials could delay the deployment of a vaccine. Guests: Yvette Johnson-Walker - Epidemiologist at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, and affiliate faculty with the University of Chicago Illinois School of Public Health. Rolf Halden - Professor and Director of the Biodesign Center for Environmental Health Engineering at Arizona State University. Bryan Bzdek - Chemist, School of Chemistry, University of Bristol, U.K. Megan Molteni - Staff writer, "Wired."  


Creative Brains (Rebroadcast)
2020-07-06 08:51:37
Your cat is smart, but its ability to choreograph a ballet or write computer code isn't great. A lot of animals are industrious and clever, but humans are the only animal that is uniquely ingenious and creative.  Neuroscientist David Eagleman and composer Anthony Brandt discuss how human creativity has reshaped the world. Find out what is going on in your brain when you write a novel, paint a watercolor, or build a whatchamacallit in your garage. But is Homo sapiens' claim on creativity destined to be short-lived? Why both Eagleman and Brandt are prepared to step aside when artificial intelligence can do their jobs. Guests: Anthony Brandt - Professor of Composition and Theory, Rice University, and co-author of "The Runaway Species: How Human Creativity Remakes the World" David Eagleman - Neuroscientist, Stanford University, and co-author, "The Runaway Species: How Human Creativity Remakes the World"   Originally aired February 5, 2018


Animals Like Us (rebroadcast)
2020-06-29 08:25:45
Laughing rats, sorrowful elephants, joyful chimpanzees.  The more carefully we observe, and the more we learn about animals, the closer their emotional lives appear to resemble our own.  Most would agree that we should minimize the physical suffering of animals, but should we give equal consideration to their emotional stress?  Bioethicist Peter Singer weighs in. Meanwhile, captivity that may be ethical: How human-elephant teamwork in Asia may help protect an endangered species. Guests: Frans de Waal - Primatologist and biologist at Emory University; author of "Mama's Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us About Ourselves."  Watch the video of Mama and Jan Van Hooff. Peter Singer - Philosopher, professor of bioethics at Princeton University. Jacob Shell - Professor of geography at Temple University, and author of "Giants of the Monsoon Forest: Living and Working with Elephants." Kevin Schneider - Executive director of the Nonhuman Rights Project Originally aired June 24, 2019


Let's Stick Together (rebroadcast)
2020-06-22 10:02:57
Crowded subway driving you crazy?  Sick of the marathon-length grocery store line? Wish you had a hovercraft to float over traffic?  If you are itching to hightail it to an isolated cabin in the woods, remember, we evolved to be together.  Humans are not only social, we're driven to care for one another, even those outside our immediate family.   We look at some of the reasons why this is so - from the increase in valuable communication within social groups to the power of the hormone oxytocin.  Plus, how our willingness to tolerate anonymity, a condition which allows societies to grow, has a parallel in ant supercolonies. Guests: Adam Rutherford - Geneticist and author of "Humanimal: How Homo sapiensBecame Nature's Most Paradoxical Creature - a New Evolutionary History" Patricia Churchland - Neurophilosopher, professor of philosophy emerita at the University of California San Diego, and author most recently of "Conscience: The Origins of Moral Intuition" Mark Moffett - Tropical biologist, Smithsonian Institution researcher, and author of "The Human Swarm: How Our Societies Arise, Thrive and Fall" originally aired July 22, 2019


Skeptic Check: Data Bias (rebroadcast)
2020-06-15 08:53:00
Sexist snow plowing? Data that guide everything from snow removal schedules to heart research often fail to consider gender. In these cases, "reference man" stands in for "average human."  Human bias also infects artificial intelligence, with speech recognition triggered only by male voices and facial recognition that can't see black faces. We question the assumptions baked into these numbers and algorithms. Guests: Caroline Criado-Perez - Journalist and author of "Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men" Kade Crockford - Director of the Technology for Liberty Program at the ACLU of Massachusetts Amy Webb - Futurist, founder and CEO of the Future Today Institute, and author of "The Big Nine: How the Tech Titans and There Thinking Machines Could Warp Humanity


Race and COVID
2020-06-08 08:02:16
While citizens take to the streets to protest racist violence, the pandemic has its own brutal inequities. Black, Latino, and Native American people are bearing the brunt of COVID illness and death. We look at the multitude of factors that contribute to this disparity, most of which existed long before the pandemic. Also, how the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe maintained their coronavirus safeguards in defiance of the South Dakota governor. And, the biological reasons why we categorize one another by skin color. Guests: Marcella Nunez Smith - Associate Professor of Medicine and of Epidemiology, Yale School of Medicine, Director, Equity Research and Innovation Center Utibe Essien - Assistant Professor of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and a Core Investigator, Center for Health Equity Research and Promotion, VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System Nina Jablonski - Anthropologist, paleobiologist at Pennsylvania State University and author of, "Skin: A Natural History," and "Living Color: the Biological and Social Meaning of Skin Color."  Robert Sapolsky - Professor of neuroscience at Stanford University, and author of "Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst." Harold Frazier - Chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe, South Dakota. The Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation COVID checkpoint on Highway 212 is featured in an article on Indianz.com.  


Soap, Skin, Sleep
2020-06-01 08:01:53
Some safeguards against COVID-19 don't require a medical breakthrough. Catching sufficient Z's makes for a healthy immune system. And, while you wash your hands for the umpteenth time, we'll explain how soap sends viruses down the drain. Plus, your body's largest organ - skin - is your first line of defense against the pandemic and is also neglected because of it. Find out why we're suffering from "skin hunger" during this crisis. Guests: Cody Cassidy - Author, "Who Ate the First Oyster: The Extraordinary People Behind the Greatest Firsts in History." Nina Jablonski - Anthropologist, paleobiologist at Pennsylvania State University and author of "Skin: A Natural History." Eti Ben Simon - Neuroscientist and sleep researcher, Center for Human Sleep Science, University of California, Berkeley  


Gained in Translation (rebroadcast)
2020-05-25 08:59:28
Your virtual assistant is not without a sense of humor. Its repertoire includes the classic story involving a chicken and a road.  But will Alexa laugh at your jokes? Will she groan at your puns?  Telling jokes is one thing. Teaching a computer to recognize humor is another, because a clear definition of humor is lacking. But doing so is a step toward making more natural interactions with A.I.   Find out what's involved in tickling A.I.'s funny bone. Also, an interstellar communication challenge: Despite debate about the wisdom of transmitting messages to space, one group sends radio signals to E.T. anyway. Find out how they crafted a non-verbal message and what it contained. Plus, why using nuanced language to connive and scheme ultimately turned us into a more peaceful species. And yes, it's all gouda: why melted cheese may be the cosmic message of peace we need. Guests: Julia Rayz - Computer scientist and associate professor at Purdue University's Department of Computer and Information Technology Steve Adler - Mayor of Austin, Texas Doug Vakoch - Psychologist and president of the non-profit organization METI International Richard Wrangham - Biological anthropologist at Harvard University and author of "The Goodness Paradox: The Strange Relationship Between Virtue and Violence in Human Evolution" Originally aired April 22, 2019


Vaccine, When?
2020-05-18 07:29:53
It will be the shot heard 'round the world, once it comes.  But exactly when can we expect a COVID vaccine?  We discuss timelines, how it would work, who's involved, and the role of human challenge trials.  Also, although he doesn't consider himself brave, we do.  Meet a Seattle volunteer enrolled in the first coronavirus vaccine trial.  And, while we mount an elaborate defense against a formidable foe, scientists ask a surprising question: is a virus even alive? Guests: Nigel Brown - Emeritus Professor of Molecular Microbiology at the University of Edinburgh Ian Haydon - Public information specialist at the University of Washington, Seattle Bonnie Maldonado - Professor of Pediatrics and Infectious Diseases at the Stanford University School of Medicine Paul Offit - Head of the Vaccine Education Center, and chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases, at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia


To the Bat Cave
2020-05-11 07:42:45
To fight a pandemic, you need to first understand where a virus comes from. That quest takes disease ecologist Jon Epstein to gloomy caverns where bats hang out. There he checks up on hundreds of the animals as his team from the EcoHealth Alliance trace the origins of disease-causing viruses. But their important work is facing its own threat; the Trump administration recently terminated funding to the Alliance because of its collaboration with Chinese scientists. Hear how Dr. Epstein finds the viruses, what kind of human activity triggers outbreaks, and how science counters the unsubstantiated claim that the virus escaped from a lab. Guests: Jon Epstein - Veterinary epidemiologist with the nonprofit EcoHealth Alliance Meredith Wadman - Staff writer for the journal Science. Read her article about the cancellation of the NIH bat coronavirus grant.


Is Life Inevitable? (Rebroadcast)
2020-05-04 07:56:20
A new theory about life's origins updates Darwin's warm little pond.  Scientists say they've created the building blocks of biology in steaming hot springs. Meanwhile, we visit a NASA lab where scientists simulate deep-sea vent chemistry to produce the type of environment that might spawn life.  Which site is best suited for producing biology from chemistry? Find out how the conditions of the early Earth were different from today, how meteors seeded Earth with organics, and a provocative idea that life arose as an inevitable consequence of matter shape-shifting to dissipate heat. Could physics be the driving force behind life's emergence?   Guests: Caleb Scharf - Director of Astrobiology at Columbia University, New York Laurie Barge - Research scientist in astrobiology at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory Bruce Damer - Research scientist in biomolecular engineering, University of California,  Jeremy England - Physicist, Massachusetts Institute of Technology  


Skeptic Check: Covid Conspiracy
2020-04-27 07:50:10
Nature abhors a vacuum, but conspiracy theorists love one. While we wait for scientists to nail down the how and why of the coronavirus, opportunists have jumped into the void, peddling DIY testing kits and fake COVID cures like colloidal silver. They've even cooked up full-blown conspiracy theories about a lab-grown virus. Find out why this crisis has dished up more than the usual share of misinformation and hucksterism, and how these interfere with our ability to navigate it safely. Guests: Whitney Phillips - Professor of communication and rhetorical studies at Syracuse University, and author of three books, most recently You Are Here: A Field Guide for Navigating Polluted Information Joan Donovan - Research director at Harvard's Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy  


Treating the Virus
2020-04-20 07:39:08
Treating the Virus It's not like waiting for Godot, because he never arrived.  A coronavirus vaccine will come.  But it is still months away.  Meanwhile, scientists are adding other weapons to our growing arsenal against this virus. The development of antibody tests, antibody cures, and antivirals offer hope that we can soon have the tools to battle those who've been sickened by the COVID-19 virus while we wait for the inoculation that will prevent it. Guests: Deepta Bhattacharya - Immunologist at the University of Arizona whose lab is making a coronavirus antibody test.   Mark Denison - Professor of pathology, microbiology, and immunology, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine  


The Other Living World
2020-04-13 07:38:31
Reason for hope is just one thing that ecologist Carl Safina can offer.  He understands why many of us turn to nature to find solace during this stressful time. Safina studies the challenges facing the ultimate survival of many species, but also gives a portrait of animals from their point of view. He describes how diverse animals such as sperm whales, bear cubs, macaws, and chickens deal with uncertainty, and assert their quirky individuality while learning to become part of a community. So is it possible for us to reconnect not just with humanity, but also with the other living world? Guest: Carl Safina - An ecologist and McArthur Fellow who writes extensively about the human relationship with the natural world. He is the founding president of the Safina Center, a professor at Stony Brook University, and author of many books - most recently, "Becoming Wild: How Animal Cultures Raise Families, Create Beauty, and Achieve Peace"


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