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Science Friday | Best Science Podcasts (2019)

Our selection of the best science podcasts of 2019. New science podcasts are updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.


Science Friday
Covering everything about science and technology -- from the outer reaches of space to the tiniest microbes in our bodies -- Science Friday is your source for entertaining and educational stories and activities. Each week, host Ira Flatow interviews scientists and inventors like Sylvia Earle, Elon Musk, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and more.

Moon Art, Space History, And NASA's Megarocket. July 19, 2019, Part 2
2019-07-19 15:11:07
Our Lunar Muse Most of us remember that iconic photograph of the Apollo 11 moon landing: Buzz Aldrin standing on a footprint-covered moon, one arm bent, and Neil Armstrong in his helmet's reflection taking the picture.  But there's a much longer, ancient history of trying to visually capture the moon that came before the 1969 photo—from Bronze Age disks with crescent moons to Galileo's telescope drawings to 19th-century photos and modern photographs. For millennia, we've been obsessed with the moon's glow, its craters and blemishes, its familiar, but mysterious presence in the sky. The moon has mesmerized experts from all fields of study, from scientists, historians, curators, to artists, including this segment's guest, Michael Benson. Benson is a filmmaker, artist, and author of Cosmigraphics: Picturing Space Through Time, a history of humanity's quest to visualize the moon and space. In his own art, he uses raw data from space missions to create lunar and planetary landscapes.  Benson isn't the only person who's thinking about how science and art has impacted how we see the moon. Mia Fineman recently curated Apollo's Muse: The Moon in the Age of Photography at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The exhibit explores how humanity has interpreted the moon through drawings, paintings, and photographs for the last 400 years. Preserving Space History We've all heard the iconic stories of the early space program—from   Kennedy's "We choose to go to the moon" speech, to The Right Stuff, to Armstrong's "one small step," to the dramatic story of Apollo 13.  But how do we find new stories to tell, locate hidden figures of history, or even know they exist? The answer may lie in museum collections, old paper archives, and in the memories of ordinary people. Ed Stewart, the curator of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, and Reagan Grimsley, head of Special Collections and Archives at the University of Alabama-Huntsville, join Ira to talk about preserving artifacts of the early space program, and the importance of the archival record in telling the tales of historic space flight. NASA's Megarocket Bet The Trump administration says it wants to go back to the moon—but how will we get there? You've seen the advances in spaceflight from private companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin. But a big part of the current U.S. plan for returning to the moon involves something called SLS, the Space Launch System—a megarocket assembled from a combination of parts repurposed from the Shuttle program, and new hardware.  John Blevins, deputy chief engineer for the Space Launch System, and Erika Alvarez, lead systems engineer for the Space Launch System Vehicle, join Ira to talk about the rocket's design, capabilities, and NASA's plans to use it to go back to the moon and beyond. 
46 minutes, 56 seconds


Apollo Anniversary And Bird Book Club. July 19, 2019, Part 1
2019-07-19 15:10:31
Celebrating Apollo's 'Giant Leap' July 20, 1969 was a day that changed us forever—the first time humans left footprints on another world. In this segment, Ira Flatow and space historian Andy Chaikin celebrate that history and examine the legacy of the Apollo program. Apollo ushered in a new age of scientific discovery, with lunar samples that unlocked the history of how the moon and the solar system formed. It accelerated the development of new technologies, like the integrated circuit. And most of all, says Chaikin, it taught us how to work together, to achieve seemingly impossible goals.  We also take a look at what comes next for NASA's historic launchpads. Science Friday producers Alexa Lim and Daniel Peterschmidt went to NASA Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida a few months ago. They got to see how the space agency is upgrading some of its storied launchpads—and leaving others behind to rising sea levels. Take Flight With Science Friday's Book Club Called anyone a "bird brain" recently? There was a time when we thought this meant "stupid," deceived by the small size and smooth surface of birds' brains into thinking they were mere mindless bundles of feathers. But researchers are finding out what birds themselves have always known: Our feathered friends come with mental skills that might stump even humans. Be it tool-making, social smarts, navigation across vast distances, or even the infinitely adaptable house sparrow, Jennifer Ackerman writes of dozens of examples in this summer's SciFri Book Club pick, The Genius of Birds. Take homing pigeons, which can be released hundreds of miles from the roof and still eventually wing their way home. Or mockingbirds, who can memorize and mimic, with astonishing accuracy, the songs and calls of as many as 200 different other birds. And birds have other kinds of genius: Bowerbirds craft intricate displays to lure their mates, each species with its own particular aesthetic preferences, like the satin bowerbird's penchant for blue. Ira, Book Club captain Christie Taylor, and bird brain researchers Aaron Blaisdell and Lauren Riters convene for the summer Book Club kickoff, and a celebration of avian minds everywhere.
44 minutes, 59 seconds


Mosquitos and Smell, Fermentation, Model Rocket Launch. July 12, 2019, Part 2
2019-07-12 13:43:45
If you've ever tried brewing your own beer or raising your own sourdough, then you know that the process of fermentation isn't easy to get right. How do you control the growth of mold, yeast, or bacteria such that it creates a savory and delicious new flavor, and not a putrid mess on your kitchen counter? David Zilber is Director of Fermentation at the restaurant Noma, and he tells his fermentation secrets. The human scent is made up of a combination of 100 odor compounds. Other mammals such as guinea pigs also emit the same odor compounds—just in different blends. And even though human odor can also differ from person to person, mosquitoes can still distinguish the scent of a human from other mammals. We'll talk about how mosquitos have evolved to hunt for the prey of their choice. Next week marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing. But before astronauts could take that one small step on the moon, they had to take off from Earth. On Tuesday, July 16, in commemoration of the 9:32 am launch of the Saturn V rocket carrying the Apollo 11 crew, model rocketeers from around the world will conduct a global launch event—by firing off thousands of rockets planet-wide. Plus, download the SciFri VoxPop app for iPhone or Android and contribute to the show all week long.
47 minutes, 1


Degrees of Change: Food and Climate. July 12, 2019, Part 1
2019-07-12 13:42:57
A quarter of the world's greenhouse gas emissions come from putting food on the table. From the fossil fuels used to produce fertilizers, to the methane burps of cows, to the jet fuel used to deliver your fresh asparagus, eating is one of the most planet-warming things we do. In our latest chapter of Degrees of Change, we're looking at how to eat smarter in a warming world. Plus, we've launched a new way for you to add your voice to the show: the SciFri VoxPop app. Download now for iPhone or Android.
47 minutes, 13 seconds


The Bastard Brigade, Spontaneous Generation. July 5, 2019, Part 2
2019-07-05 09:45:03
Much has been written about the Manhattan Project, the American-led project to develop the atomic bomb. Less well known is Nazi Germany's "Uranium Club"—a similar project started a full two years before the Manhattan Project. The Nazis had some of the greatest chemists and physicists in the world on their side, including Werner Heisenberg, and the Allies were terrified that the Nazis would beat them to the bomb—meaning the Allies were willing to try anything from espionage to assassination to bombing raids to stop them. Science writer Sam Kean joins Ira to tell the high-stakes story written in his new book The Bastard Brigade: The True Story of the Renegade Scientists and Spies Who Sabotaged the Nazi Atomic Bomb.  Plus, "spontaneous generation" was the idea that living organisms can spring into existence from non-living matter. In the late 19th century, in a showdown between chemist Louis Pasteur and biologist Felix Pouchet put on by the French Academy of Sciences, Pasteur famously came up with an experiment that debunked the theory. He showed that when you boil an infusion to kill everything inside and don't let any particles get into it, life will not spontaneously emerge inside. His experiments have been considered a win for science—but they weren't without controversy. In this interview, Undiscovered's Elah Feder, Ira Flatow, and historian James Strick talk about what scientists of Pasteur's day really thought of his experiment, the role the Catholic church played in shutting down "spontaneous generation," and why even Darwin did his best to dodge the topic.
59 minutes, 18 seconds


Science Road Trips, Archaeology From Space. July 5, 2019, Part 1
2019-07-05 09:44:14
Summer is here—and that means it's time for a road trip! Dylan Thuras and Ella Morton, co-authors of Atlas Obscura: An Explorer's Guide to the Hidden Wonders of the World, join Ira to share some suggestions for sciencey things to see and do around the country, from unusual museum exhibits to outstanding natural wonders. Plus, we asked you for YOUR travel ideas—and did you deliver! We'll share tourist tips from some regular Science Friday guests, and highlight some of your many suggestions. Speaking of summer trips... You might consider skipping the large urban centers, like Paris or Madrid, for something a little older—like Pompeii. The ancient city in Italy is one of the country's largest tourist attractions, receiving over 4 million visitors a year. Perhaps it's because archaeology is inspiring tourism around the world. From Egypt, China, South America to India, archaeologists are experiencing a golden era of discovery thanks to new tools that help uncover buried civilizations. Sarah Parcak, professor of anthropology at the University of Alabama Birmingham and author of the new book Space Archaeology joins Ira to talk about what past civilizations can teach us about our current moment in time. 
46 minutes, 12 seconds


Paternity, Musical Proteins, Microbiome In Runners. June 28, 2019, Part 2
2019-06-28 13:38:22
These days, a scientific paternity test is easily acquired, and its results are seen as almost indisputable. But what about the days before so-called foolproof DNA analysis? For most of human history, people considered the identity of a child's father to be more or less "unknowable." Then in the 20th century, when a flurry of events sparked the idea that science could help clarify the question of fatherhood, and an era of "modern paternity" was born. The new science of paternity, which includes blood typing and fingerprinting, has helped establish family relationships and made inheritance and custody disputes easier for the courts. But it's also made the definition of fatherhood a lot more murky in the process. Proteins are the building blocks of life. They make up everything from cells and enzymes to skin, bones, and hair, to spider silk and conch shells. But it's notoriously difficult to understand the complex shapes and structures that give proteins their unique identities. So at MIT, researchers are unraveling the mysteries of proteins using a more intuitive language—music. They're translating proteins into music, composing orchestras of amino acids and concerts of enzymes, in hopes of better understanding proteins—and making new ones. Though the ads tell you it's gotta be the shoes, a new study suggests that elite runners might get an extra performance boost from the microbiome. Researchers looking at the collection of microbes found in the digestive tracts of marathon runners and other elite athletes say they've found a group of microbes that may aid in promoting athletic endurance. The group of microbes, Veillonella, consume lactate generated during exercise and produce proprionate, which appears to enhance performance. Adding the species Veillonella atypica to the guts of mice allowed the mice to perform better on a treadmill test. And infusing the proprionate metabolite back into a mouse's intestines seemed to create some of the same effects as the bacteria themselves.  
47 minutes, 41 seconds


Cephalopod Week Wrap-Up, USDA Climate Change, Sinking Louisiana. June 28, 2019, Part 1
2019-06-28 13:37:46
The eight-day squid-and-kin appreciation extravaganza of Cephalopod Week is nearly over, but there's still plenty to learn and love about these tentacled "aliens" of the deep. After a rare video sighting of a giant squid—the first in North American waters—last week, NOAA zoologist Mike Vecchione talks about his role identifying the squid from a mere 25 seconds of video, and why ocean exploration is the best way to learn about the behavior and ecology of deep-sea cephalopods. Then, Marine Biological Laboratory scientist Carrie Albertin gives Ira a tour of the complex genomes of octopuses, and how understanding cephalopod genetics could lead to greater insights into human health. Finally, SciFri digital producer Lauren Young wraps up Cephalopod Week for 2019. The USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) receives over a billion dollars a year to study issues affecting American agriculture and the food supply. Climate change is one of those issues, and in years past, the ARS has publicized its work on how farmers can reduce their carbon footprint with no-till agriculture; how climate change alters the relationship of pests and crops; or how more abundant CO2 affects the growth of grasslands, potatoes, timber, wheat, and more. But in the last several years, that steady stream of climate-related agricultural science news has dried up. One of the only recent press releases from the ARS dealing with climate change is a good news story for the beef industry, about how beef's greenhouse gas emissions may not be that bad after all. The agency's move away from publicizing a wide range of work on climate science is part of a troubling trend, according to a new investigation by Politico.  The wetland marshes just outside the city of New Orleans act as natural buffers from storm surges during hurricanes. But like much of southern Louisiana, that land is disappearing. It's partly due to subsistence and sea level rise—but also due to the thousands of miles of channels that oil companies have carved through the fragile marshes to get out to their rigs. Those channels have eroded and turned the buffering wetlands to open water. Now, New Orleans mayor LaToya Cantrell is suing a handful of oil and gas companies, including ExxonMobil and Chevron, for money to rebuild the marshes they helped destroy. 
47 minutes, 23 seconds


SciFri Extra: About Time
2019-06-25 09:15:01
The official U.S. time is kept on a cesium fountain clock named NIST-F1, located in Boulder, Colorado. On a recent trip to Boulder, Ira took a trip to see the clock. He spoke with Elizabeth Donley, acting head of the Time and Frequency Division at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, about keeping the official U.S. time on track—and how NIST is using advanced physics to develop ever more precise and stable ways to measure time.
14 minutes, 43 seconds


Smoke Chasers, Colorado Apples, Pikas. June 21, 2019, Part 2
2019-06-21 12:52:08
When wildfires rage in the West, Colorado State University atmospheric scientist Emily Fischer hops into a plane, and flies straight into the smoke. The plane is a flying chemistry lab, studded with instruments, and Fischer's goal is to uncover the chemical reactions happening in smoke plumes, to determine how wildfire smoke may affect ecosystems and human health. Pikas—those cute little animals that look like rodents but are actually more closely related to rabbits—used to roam high mountain habitats across the West. But global warming is pushing temperatures up in their high mountain habitats, and pikas are now confined to a few areas. And thanks to those warmer temperatures, which are threatening the pikas' way of life, they may be in danger of disappearing—potentially as early as the end of the century. In this segment, recorded as part of Science Friday's live show at the Chautauqua Auditorium in Boulder, Colorado, Ira speaks with Chris Ray, a population biologist at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Ray is tagging and tracking the pikas to investigate how closely their fate is tied to climate change—and whether there's a way to save them before it's too late. In the late 1800, Colorado was one of the top apple growing states, but the industry was wiped out by drought and the creation of the red delicious apple in Washington state. But even today, apple trees can still be found throughout the area. Plant ecologist Katharine Suding created the Boulder Apple Tree Project to map out the historic orchards. She talks about Boulder's historic orchards, some of the heirloom varieties like the Surprise and Arkansas Black, and a surprising connection to a hit Hollywood franchise. Plus, cider maker Daniel Haykin talks about how he uses the information from the Boulder Apple Tree Project combined with sugar, yeast and apples to make the bubbly beverage.    
48 minutes, 46 seconds




Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
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