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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.

2019-12-23 09:05:18

5 minutes, 19 seconds

How Bad Does It Have to Get?
2020-03-23 08:29:32
"Climate change at warp speed" is the way one scientist described the coronavirus outbreak.   In a show recorded before a live audience at the Seattle AAAS meeting, and co-presented with the BBC World Service, we discuss out how politics and psychology lead people to tune out inconvenient scientific findings even when the stakes are high - as well as what we can do about it. Guests: Roland Pease - BBC reporter, presenter of "Science in Action." Lee McIntrye - Philosopher and Research Fellow at the Center for Philosophy and History of Science at Boston University and author of "The Scientific Attitude" and "Post-Truth" Reyhaneh Maktoufi - Civic Science Fellow with NOVA PBS at station WGBH, with a focus on science communication

It's In Material [rebroadcast]
2020-03-16 09:22:33
Astronauts are made of the "right stuff," but what about their spacesuits?   NASA's pressurized and helmeted onesies are remarkable, but they need updating if we're to boldly go into deep space.   Suiting up on Mars requires more manual flexibility, for example.  Find out what innovative materials might be used to reboot the suit. Meanwhile, strange new materials are in the pipeline for use on terra firma: spider silk is kicking off the development of biological materials that are inspiring ultra-strong, economical, and entirely new fabrics.  And, while flesh-eating bacteria may seem like an unlikely ally in materials science, your doctor might reach for them one day.  The bacterium's proteins are the inspiration for a medical molecular superglue. Plus, an overview of more innovative materials to come, from those that are 3D printed to self-healing concrete.   Guests: Nicole Stott- Retired NASA astronaut, artist  Dava Newman- Professor of Astronautics and Engineering Systems, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Andrew Dent- Vice President of Library and Materials Research, Material ConneXion Mark Howarth- Biochemist, Oxford University Mark Miodownik- Materials scientist, University College London, author of "Stuff Matters; Exploring the Marvelous Materials that Shape Our Man-Made World"  Originally aired October 2, 2017

Skeptic Check: Pandemic Fear
2020-03-09 09:46:38
Contagion aside, coronavirus is a powerful little virus.  It has prompted a global experiment in behavior modification: elbow bumps instead of handshakes, hand sanitizer and mask shortages, a gyrating stock market.   Pragmatism motivates our behavior toward the spread of this virus, but so do fear and panic. In 1918, amplified fear made the Spanish Flu pandemic more deadly.  Can we identify when we're acting sensibly in the face of COVID-19, or when fear has hijacked our ability to think rationally and protect ourselves? Guests: Peter Hall  - Professor of public health and health systems at the University of Waterloo David DeSteno - Social psychologist and professor of psychology at Northeastern University David Smith -  Virologist and Head of the Division of Infectious Diseases and Global Public Health, University of California, San Diego John Barry - writer, adjunct faculty at the Tulane School of Tropical Medicine and author of The Great Influenza; The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History

DecodeHer [rebroadcast]
2020-02-27 14:13:20
They were pioneers in their fields, yet their names are scarcely known - because they didn't have a Y chromosome.  We examine the accomplishments of two women who pioneered code breaking and astronomy during the early years of the twentieth century and did so in the face of social opprobrium and a frequently hostile work environment. Henrietta Leavitt measured the brightnesses of thousands of stars and discovered a way to gauge the distances to galaxies, a development that soon led to the concept of the Big Bang. Elizabeth Friedman, originally hired to test whether William Shakespeare really wrote his plays, was soon establishing the science of code breaking, essential to success in the two world wars.  Also, the tech industry is overwhelmingly male.  Girls Who Code is an initiative to redress the balance by introducing girls to computer programming, and encouraging them to follow careers in tech.  Guests: Jason Fagone - Author of "The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America's Enemies" Lauren Gunderson - Playwright of Silent Sky, which is being performed all over the world, form the First Folio Theatre to the Repertory Philippines Reshma Saujani - Founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, and the author of "Brave, Not Perfect: Fear Less, Fail More, and Live Bolder"

AI: Where Does it End?
2020-02-24 08:43:28
The benefits of artificial intelligence are manifest and manifold, but can we recognize the drawbacks ... and avoid them in time?   In this episode, recorded before a live audience at the Seattle meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, we discuss who is making the ethical decisions about how we use this powerful technology, and a proposal to create a Hippocratic Oath for AI researchers. Guests: Oren Etzioni - CEO of The Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence Mark Hill - Professor of computer sciences at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and chair of the Computing Community Consortium

Climate Changed
2020-02-17 09:30:31
Have you adapted to the changing climate? Rising waters, more destructive wildfires, record-breaking heatwaves. Scientists have long predicted these events, but reporting on climate change has moved from prediction to description. There's no time for dwelling on "we should haves." Communities and organizations are being forced to adapt. Find out what that means, the role of the new "resilience officers," and the unique response of Native American cultures. Plus, is the coronavirus outbreak made worse by climate change?  Guests: James Randerson - Professor of Earth Science, University of California, Irvine Victor Rodriguez - PhD student, Carnegie Mellon University, Department of Engineering and Public Policy Kyle Whyte - Professor in the Departments of Philosophy and Community Sustainability, and tribal member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation Tracey Goldstein - Professor in the Department of Pathology, Immunology, and Microbiology, University of California, Davis

Frogs' Pants (Rebroadcast)
2020-02-10 07:33:25
It's one of the most bizarre biological experiments ever. In the 18th century, a scientist fitted a pair of tailor-made briefs on a male frog to determine the animal's contribution to reproduction.  The process of gestation was a mystery and scientists had some odd-ball theories.   Today, a 5th grader can tell you how babies are made, but we still don't know exactly what life is.  In our quest to understand, we're still at the frogs' pants stage. Find out why conception took centuries to figure out.  Also, why the 1970s Viking experiments, specifically designed to detect life on Mars, couldn't give us a definitive answer.  Plus, can knowing where life isn't help define what it is?  Take a tour of the world's barren places.  Guests: Jay Gallentine - Author of books about space and space history. Edward Dolnick - Author and former science writer at the Boston Globe.  His book is The Seeds of Life: From Aristotle to Da Vinci, from Shark's Teeth to Frogs' Pants. Chris McKay - Planetary scientist, NASA Ames Research Center.  Originally aired July 10, 2017

Skeptic Check: Science Denial (rebroadcast)
2020-02-03 07:50:15
Climate change isn't happening.  Vaccines make you sick.  When it comes to threats to public or environmental health, a surprisingly large fraction of the population still denies the consensus of scientific evidence.  But it's not the first time - many people long resisted the evidentiary link between HIV and AIDS and smoking with lung cancer. There's a sense that science denialism is on the rise.  It prompted a gathering of scientists and historians in New York City to discuss the problem, which included a debate on the usefulness of the word "denial" itself.  Big Picture Science was there. We report from the Science Denial symposium held jointly by the New York Academy of Sciences and Rutgers Global Health Institute.  Find out why so many people dig in their heels and distrust scientific findings.  Plus, the techniques wielded by special interest groups to dispute some inconvenient truths.  We also hear how simply stating more facts may be the wrong approach to combating scientific resistance. Guests: Melanie Brickman Borchard - Director of Life Sciences Conferences at New York Academy of Sciences Nancy Tomes - professor of history at Stony Brook University Allan Brandt - professor of history of science and medicine at Harvard University. Author of "The Cigarette Century: The Rise, Fall, and Deadly Persistence of the Product that Defined America" Sheila Jasanoff - Director of Program on Science, Technology and Society and professor of environment, science and technology at Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University Michael Dahlstrom - Associate Director of Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication, and associate professor at Iowa State University Matthew Nisbet - professor of communication and public policy at Northeastern University Arthur (Art) Caplan - professor and founding head of medical ethics at NYU School of Medicine

A Twist of Slime
2020-01-27 08:01:14
Your daily mucus output is most impressive.  Teaspoons or measuring cups can't capture its entire volume.  Find out how much your body churns out and why you can't live without the viscous stuff.  But slime in general is remarkable.  Whether coating the bellies of slithery creatures, sleeking the surface of aquatic plants, or dripping from your nose, its protective qualities make it one of the great inventions of biology. Join us as we venture to the land of ooze! Guests: Christopher Viney - Professor of materials science and engineering at the University of California, Merced Katharina Ribbeck - Bioengineer at MIT Anna Rose Hopkins - Chef and partner at Hank and Bean in Los Angeles Ruth Kassinger - author of "Slime: How Algae Created Us, Plague Us, and Just Might Save Us"

The Ears Have It
2020-01-20 09:28:41
What's the difference between a bird call and the sound of a pile driver?  Not much, when you're close to the loudest bird ever.  Find out when it pays to be noisy and when noise can worsen your health.  Just about everyone eventually suffers some hearing loss, but that's not merely aging.  It's an ailment we inflict on ourselves.  Hear how a team in New York City has put sensors throughout the city to catalog noise sources, hoping to tame the tumult. And can underwater speakers blasting the sounds of a healthy reef bring life back to dead patches of the Great Barrier Reef? Guests: Mark Cartwright - Research Assistant Professor at New York University's Department of Computer Science and Engineering Charles Mydlarz - Research Assistant Professor at New York University's Center for Urban Science and Progress (CUSP) and the Music and Audio Research Lab (MARL) David Owen - Staff writer at The New Yorker, and author of Volume Control: Hearing in a Deafening World Jeff Podos - Professor in the Department of Biology, University of Massachusetts, Amherst Steve Simpson - Professor of Marine Biology and Global Change, Exeter University, U.K.

Perpetual Emotion Machine [rebroadcast]
2020-01-13 07:14:06
Get ready for compassionate computers that feel your pain, share your joy, and generally get where you're coming from.  Computers that can tell by your voice whether you're pumped up or feeling down, or sense changes in heart rate, skin, or muscle tension to determine your mood.  Empathetic electronics that you can relate to. But wait a minute - we don't always relate to other humans.  Our behavior can be impulsive and even self-sabotaging - our emotions are often conflicted and irrational.   We cry when we're happy.  Frown when we're pensive.  A suite of factors, much of them out of our control, govern how we behave, from genes to hormones to childhood experience.  One study says that all it takes for a defendant to receive a harsher sentence is a reduction in the presiding judge's blood sugar. So grab a cookie, and find out how the heck we can build computers that understand us anyway.  Guests: Rosalind Picard - Professor at the MIT Media Lab and co-founder of the companies Affectiva and Empatica.  Robert Sapolsky - Professor of neuroscience at Stanford University, and author of Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst. 

Your Brain's Reins [rebroadcast]
2020-01-06 07:37:11
You are your brain.  But what happens when your brain changes for the worse - either by physical injury or experience?  Are you still responsible for your actions? We hear how the case of a New York man charged with murder was one of the first to introduce neuroscience as evidence in court.  Plus, how technology hooks us - a young man so addicted to video games, he lacked social skills, or even a desire to eat.  Find out how technology designers conspire against his digital detox. Also, even if your brain is intact and your only task is choosing a sock color, are you really in control?  How your unconscious directs even mundane behavior ... and how you can outwit it.  Guests: Kevin Davis - Author of The Brain Defense: Murder in Manhattan and the Dawn of Neuroscience in America's Courtrooms Hilarie Cash - Co-founder and chief clinical officer of reSTART, an internet addiction recovery program Adam Alter - Assistant professor of marketing and psychology at New York University, Stern School of Business, and author of Irresistible: the Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked Peter Vishton - Psychologist at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia

Skeptic Check: Heal Thyself [rebroadcast]
2019-12-30 10:34:20
Do we still need doctors?  There are umpteen alternative sources of medical advice, including endless and heartfelt health tips from people without medical degrees. Frankly, self-diagnosis with a health app is easier and cheaper than a trip to a clinic.   Since we're urged to be our own health advocate and seek second opinions, why not ask Alexa or consult with a celebrity about what ails us? Find out if you can trust these alternative medical advice platforms.  Plus, lessons from an AIDS fighter about ignoring the findings of medical science.   And, if AI can diagnose better than an MD, will we stop listening to doctors altogether? It's our monthly look at critical thinking ... but don't take our word for it! Guests: Katherine Foley - Science and health reporter at Quartz, and author of the article "Alexa is a Terrible Doctor" Paul Offit - Professor of pediatrics at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and the Perlman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, and author of "Bad Advice: Or Why Celebrities, Politicians, and Activists Aren't Your Best Source of  Health Information" Richard Marlink - Director Rutgers Global Health Institute. Shinjini Kundu - Research Fellow, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Stuart Schlisserman - Internist, Palo Alto, California   originally aired September 24, 2018

Handling the Holidays
2019-12-23 09:14:38
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.

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Waste Not
2019-12-16 08:29:40
Why create more landfill?  Perhaps you should resist the urge to toss those old sneakers, the broken ceiling fan, or last year's smart phone.  Instead, repurpose them!  Global junk entrepreneurs are leading the way in turning trash to treasure, while right-to-repair advocates fight for legislation that would give you a decent shot at fixing your own electronic devices.  And, if you toss food scraps down the drain as you cook, are you contributing to a "fatberg" horror in the sewer? Guests: John Love - Synthetic biologist at the University of Exeter Adam Minter - Author of Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale Amanda Preske - Chemist and the owner of Circuit Breaker Labs Nathan Proctor - National campaign director for S. Public Interest Research Group - (PIRGS) Right to Repair campaign Kyle Wiens - CEO of I-Fixit, an Internet repair community

Skeptic Check: Betting on Pseudoscience
2019-11-25 07:55:12
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  

Stopping Ebola
2019-11-18 07:56:22
A new vaccine may help turn Ebola into a disease we can prevent, and a new drug may make it one we can cure.  But the political crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo has fueled violence against health workers and Ebola treatment centers.  Find out why context matters in the efforts to stop Ebola, what new drugs and vaccines are on the horizon, and whether the world is prepared for the next infectious pandemic.  Even if Ebola's threat is diminishing, what about the next pandemic?  Is the world prepared? Guests: Richard Preston - Journalist and author  of "Crisis in the Red Zone: The Story of the Deadliest Ebola Outbreak in History." Yap Boum - Regional representative for Africa for Epicentre, the research arm of Médecins sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) in Cameroon. Amy Maxmen - Senior reporter, Nature.  Her most recent piece is "Behind the Front Lines of the Ebola Wars."

Supercomputer Showdown
2019-11-04 07:50:46
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

Nobel Efforts
2019-10-21 08:00:56
For two Swiss astronomers, it's "Stockholm, here we come."  Their first-ever discovery of a planet orbiting another star has been awarded the most prestigious prize in science.  Find out how their exoplanet discovery led to 4,000 more and how that changes the odds of finding life beyond Earth.  Also, the Nobel committee is not alone in finding distant worlds inspirational: a musician is translating their orbital signatures into sound. Guests: Roy Gould - Biophysicist and researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Author of "Universe in Creation" Jeffrey Smith - Data scientist and a principal investigator for TESS at the SETI Institute David Ibbett - Composer and director of the Multiverse Concert Series

Battling Bacteria
2019-10-07 07:33:27
We can't say we weren't warned.  More than 75 years ago, bacteriologist Rene Dubos cautioned that misuse of antibiotics could breed drug-resistant bacteria - and he has been proved prescient.  In this episode: the rise of superbugs, why we ignored the warnings about them, how some are enlisting an old therapy to fight back, and whether we'll heed history's lessons in the face of a future pandemic.  Plus, a weird unforeseen effect of antibiotics being investigated at the Body Farm.  Guests: Fred Turek - Director of the Center for Sleep and Circadian Biology, Department of Neurobology, Northwestern University Jennifer DeBruyn - Microbiologist at the University of Tennessee, who also works at the Anthropology Research Facility, a.k.a. the Body Farm   Steffanie Strathdee - Associate Dean of Global Health Sciences at the University of California, San Diego, and co-author (with Tom Patterson) of  "The Perfect Predator: A Scientist's Race to Save Her Husband from a Deadly Superbug" Tom Patterson - Professor of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, and co-author (with Steffanie Strathdee) of  "The Perfect Predator: A Scientist's Race to Save Her Husband from a Deadly Superbug" Mark Honigsbaum - Medical Historian, journalist, and lecturer at City University, London, and author of "The Pandemic Century: One Hundred Years of Panic, Hysteria, and Hubris"

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