Big Picture Science
Summary: Big Picture Science is a one-hour radio show and podcast that connects ideas in surprising and humorous ways to illuminate the origins and evolution of life and technology on this planet... and beyond.
Alien life. A flurry of recent discoveries has shifted the odds of finding it. Scientists use the Kepler telescope to spot a planet the same size and temperature as Earth … and announce that there could be tens of billions of similar worlds, just in our galaxy! Plus, new gravity data suggests a mammoth reservoir of water beneath the icy skin of Saturn’s moon Enceladus … and engineers are already in a race to design drills that can access the subsurface ocean of another moon, Jupiter’s Europa. Meanwhile, Congress holds hearings to assess the value of looking for life in space. Seth Shostak goes to Washington to testify. Hear what he said and whether the exciting discoveries in astrobiology have stimulated equal enthusiasm among those who hold the purse strings. Guests: Elisa Quintana – Research scientist at the SETI Institute and NASA Ames Research Center Christopher McKay – Planetary scientist, NASA Ames Research Center Victoria Siegel – Autonomous systems engineer for Stone Aerospace Inc. Cynthia Phillips – Planetary geologist, SETI Institute Descripción en español
Get ready for déjà vu as you listen to some of our favorite interviews in the past year. It’s our annual fundraising podcast. Come for the great interviews, stay for the great interviews. Lend us your support along the way. What’s for dinner? Maybe fried bugs. Listen as we do a taste test. Speaking of dinner, learn why saliva’s acceptable as long as it’s in our mouth. But dollop some into our own soup, and we push the bowl away. Hear adventures of space walking and of space hunting: what happens to the search for extrasolar planets now that the Kepler spacecraft is compromised, and an astronomy research project that takes our interviewer by surprise. Plus, the case for scrapping high school algebra. That’s right: No more “the first train leaves Cleveland at 4:00 pm …” problems. Also … why “The Simpsons” is chock-a-block with advanced math. And, in a world where everyone carries GPS technology in their pockets, will humans ever get lost again – and what’s lost if we don’t. Plus, Mary Roach gives us a tour of our digestive systems. All this and more on a special Big Picture Science podcast. Guests: Hiawatha Bray – Technology reporter, Boston Globe, author of You Are Here: From the Compass to GPS, the History and Future of How We Find Ourselves 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 Geoff Marcy – Astronomer, University of California, Berkeley 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. Simon Singh – Science writer, author of The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets Mary Roach – Author, most recently, of Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal Jill Mikucki – Microbiologist at the University of Tennessee Michael Pollan – Journalist, author of Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation and The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. His article, “The Intelligent Plant,” appeared in the December 23rd issue of The New Yorker. Descripción en español
What goes up must come down. But it’s human nature to want to put things back together again. It can even be a matter of survival in the wake of some natural or manmade disasters. First, a portrait of disaster: the eruption of Tambora in 1815 is the biggest volcanic explosion in 5,000 years. It changed the course of history, although few people have heard of it. Then, stories of reconstruction: assembling, disassembling, moving and reassembling one of the nation’s largest T. Rex skeletons, and what we learn about dinos in the process. Also, the reanimation of Gorongosa National Park in Africa, after years of civil war destroyed nearly all the wildlife. And a handbook for rebuilding civilization itself from scratch. Guests: Gillen D’Arcy Wood – Professor of English, University of Illinois, author of Tambora: The Eruption That Changed the World Patrick Leiggi – Museum of the Rockies, Bozeman, Montana Matt Carrano – Curator of dinosauria, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution Greg Carr – Entrepreneur and philanthropist, president of Gorongosa National Park, in Mozambique Lewis Dartnell – Astrobiologist, University of Leicester, author of The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World from Scratch Descripción en español
ENCORE Imagine biting into a rich chocolate donut and not tasting it. That’s what happened to one woman when she lost her sense of smell. Discover what scientists have learned about how the brain experiences flavor, and the evolutionary intertwining of odor and taste. Plus a chef who tricks tongues into tasting something they’re not. It’s chemical camouflage that can make crabgrass taste like basil and turn bitter crops into delicious dishes – something that could improve nutrition world-wide. Meanwhile, are we a tasty treat for aliens? Discover whether we might be attractive snacks for E.T. And, out-of-this-world recipes from a “gAstronomy” cookbook! Guests: Bonnie Blodgett – Author of Remembering Smell: A Memoir of Losing—and Discovering—the Primal Sense Gordon Shepherd – Neurobiologist, Yale University School of Medicine, author of Neurogastronomy: How the Brain Creates Flavor and Why It Matters Homaro Cantu – Chef and owner of restaurants Moto and iNG in Chicago, chairman and founder of Cantu Designs Firm Niki Parenteau – Astrobiologist, SETI Institute Markus Hotakainen – Astronomer, chef, author of gAstronomical Cookbook Descripción en español First released March 11, 2013
ENCORE We all crave power: to run laptops, charge cell phones, and play Angry Birds. But if generating energy is easy, storing it is not. Remember when your computer conked out during that cross-country flight? Why can’t someone build a better battery? Discover why battery design is stuck in the 1800s, and why updating it is key to future green transportation (not to mention more juice for your smartphone). Also, how to build a new type of solar cell that can turn sunlight directly into fuel at the pump. Plus, force fields, fat cells and other storage systems. And: Shock lobster! Energy from crustaceans? Guests: Dan Lankford – Former CEO of three battery technology companies, and a managing director at Wavepoint Ventures Jackie Stephens – Biochemist at Louisiana State University Kevin MacVittie – Graduate student of chemistry, Clarkson University, New York Nate Lewis – Chemist, California Institute of Technology Alex Filippenko – Astronomer, University of California, Berkeley Peter Williams – Physicist, San Francisco Bay Area Descripción en español First released February 4, 2103.
Happy Birthday, World Wide Web! The 25-year-old Web, along with the Internet and the personal computer, are among mankind’s greatest inventions. But back then, who knew? A techno-writer reminisces about the early days of the WWW and says he didn’t think it would ever catch on. Also, meet an inventor who claims his innovation will leave your laptop in the dust. Has quantum computing finally arrived? Plus, why these inventions are not as transformative as other creative biggies of history: The plow. The printing press. And… the knot? And, why scientific discoveries may beat out technology as the most revolutionary developments of all. A new result about the Big Bang may prove as important as germ theory and the double helix. Guests: Kevin Kelly – Senior maverick, Wired, author of What Technology Wants Eric Ladizinsky – Physicist, co-founder and the chief scientist of D-Wave Systems Palo Alto, California Aaron Gardner – Bakery manager, Hy-Vee Store, Chillicothe, Missouri George Dyson – Historian of technology, author of Turing’s Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe and Darwin Among The Machines: The Evolution Of Global Intelligence Rob Shostak – Brother and founder of Vocera Communications, San Jose, California Jamie Bock – Physicist at the California Institute of Technology Descripción en español
ENCORE One plus one is two. But what’s the square root of 64, divided by 6 over 12?* Wait, don’t run for the hills! Math isn’t scary. It helps us describe and design our world, and can be easier to grasp than the straight edge of a protractor. Discover how to walk through the city and number-crunch simultaneously using easy tips for estimating the number of bricks in a building or squirrels in the park. Plus, why our brains are wired for finger-counting … whether aliens would have calculators … and history’s most famous mathematical equations (after e=mc2). *The answer is 16 Guests: Ian Stewart – Emeritus professor of Mathematics, University of Warwick, U.K., author of In Pursuit of the Unknown: 17 Equations That Changed the World Michael Anderson – Psychologist and neuroscientist, Franklin & Marshall College, Lancaster, PA Keith Devlin – Mathematician and Director of the Human Sciences and Technology Advanced Research Institute, Stanford University John Adam – Mathematician, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA, and author of X and the City: Modeling Aspects of Urban Life Descripción en español
ENCORE The machines are coming! Meet the prototypes of your future robot buddies and discover how you may come to love a hunk of hardware. From telerobots that are your mechanical avatars … to automated systems for the disabled … and artificial hands that can diffuse bombs. Plus, the ethics of advanced robotics: should life-or-death decisions be automated? And, a biologist uses robo-fish to understand evolution. Guests: Illah Nourbakhsh – Professor of robotics, Carnegie Mellon University, author of Robot Futures. Check out his Robot Futures blog. Marco Mascorro – Vice President of Hardware, 9th Sense Robotics, Mountain View, California Curt Salisbury – Mechanical engineer, senior member, technical staff, Sandia National Laboratories Joe Karnicky – Retired engineer, Menlo Park, California. Videos of his gadgetry can be found at the bottom of this page. John Long – Professor of biology and cognitive science at Vassar College and the author of Darwin’s Devices: What Evolving Robots Can Teach Us About the History of Life and the Future of Technology Descripción en español First released January 21, 2013
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 Descripción en español First released December 17, 2012
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 Descripción en español First released December 10, 2012
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 Descripción en español 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 Descripción en español 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 Descripción en español 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 Descripción en español 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 Institute. His new book is Mission: Mars Andrew Fraknoi – Chair, astronomy department, Foothill College Vladan Vuletić – Physicist, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Descripción en español