Episodes

May 19, 2013
Climate change denial re-dux.

It’s a record we didn’t want to break. The carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere hits the 400 parts-per-million mark, a level which some scientists say is a point of no return for stopping climate change. A few days later, a leading newspaper prints an op-ed essay that claims CO2 is getting a bad rap: it’s actually good for the planet. The more the better.

Skeptic Phil Plait rebuts the CO2-is-awesome idea while a paleontologist paints a picture of what Earth was like when the notorious gas last ruled the planet. Note: humans weren’t around.


May 12, 2013
From time’s arrow to artificial blood cells.

You can remember yesterday, but not tomorrow. But why? We consider the arrow of time and why its direction was set by the Big Bang. Also, artificial blood cells and life in a deep Antarctic lake.

You’ll hear how Stephen King thinks that humankind is metaphorically living under a big dome, and why we really want to go into space, according to Neil Tyson.

And … skeptical takes on faces in cheese sandwiches and the supposedly special powers of psychics.

All this and more on this special Big Picture Science podcast.


May 05, 2013
Digestion and more.

Not all conversation is appropriate for the dinner table – and that includes, strangely enough, the subject of eating. Yet what happens during the time that food enters our mouth and its grand exit is a model of efficiency and adaptation.

Author Mary Roach takes us on a tour of the alimentary canal, while a researcher describes his invention of an artificial stomach. Plus, a psychologist on why we find certain foods and smells disgusting. And, you don’t eat them but they could wiggle their way within nonetheless: surgical snakebots.


Apr 14, 2013
Fallibility of Memory

ENCORE Just remember this: memory is like Swiss cheese. Even our recollection of dramatic events that seem to sear their images directly onto our brain turn out to be riddled with errors. Discover the reliability of these emotional “flashbulb” memories.

Also, a judge questions the utility of eyewitness testimony in court. And, don't blame Google for destroying your powers of recall! Socrates thought the same thing about the written word.

Plus, Brains on Vacation!


Apr 07, 2013
What will we find?

There are always surprises when we sort through Seth’s wine cellar – who knows what we’ll find!

In this cramped cavern, tucked between boxes of old fuses and a priceless bottle of 1961 Chateau Palmer Margaux, we discover the next generation of atomic clock … the key to how solar storms disrupt your cell phone … nano-gold particles that could make gasoline obsolete … and what NASA’s Kepler spacecraft has learned about how our solar system stacks up to others.

Tune in, find out and, help us lift these boxes, will you?


Mar 31, 2013
A new geologic epoch.

ENCORE What's in a name? "Holocene" defines the geologic epoch we're in. Or were in? Goodbye to "Holocene" and hello "Anthropocene!" Yes, scientists may actually re-name our geologic era as the "Age of Man" due to the profound impact we've had on the planet.

We'll examine why we've earned this new moniker and who votes on such a thing. Plus, discover the strongest evidence for human-caused climate change.


Mar 03, 2013
The evolution of optimism.

ENCORE Calling all pessimists! Your brain is wired for optimism! Yes, deep down, we’re all Pollyannas. So wipe that scowl off your face and discover the evolutionary advantage of thinking positive. Also, enjoy other smile-inducing research suggesting that if you crave happiness, you should do the opposite of what your brain tells you to do.

Plus, why a “well-being index” may replace Dow Jones as a metric for success … a Twitter study that predicts your next good mood … and whether our furry and finned animal friends can experience joy.


Feb 17, 2013
The science of forensics.

ENCORE The tools of forensics have moved way beyond fingerprint kits. These days, a prosecutor is as likely to wave a fMRI brain scan as a smoking gun as "Exhibit A." Discover what happens when neuroscience has its day in court.

Meanwhile, research into the gold standard of identification, DNA, marches on. One day we may determine a suspect's eye color from a drop of blood.

Plus, why much of forensic science - from fingerprinting to the polygraph - is more like reading tea leaves than science. And will future crime victims be robots?


Feb 10, 2013
Discovery in an Antarctic lake.

Researchers have discovered life in a buried Antarctic lake. But we’re not surprised. Life is amazingly adaptive. Expose it to any environment – heat, ice, acid or even jet fuel – and it thrives. But this discovery of life under the ice may have exciting implications for finding biology beyond Earth.

Scientists share their discovery, and how they drilled down through a half-mile of ice.

Also, plunge into another watery alien world with director James Cameron, and the first solo dive to the deepest, darkest part of the ocean.


Jan 13, 2013
The science of storms.

ENCORE We all talk about the weather. And now scientists are doing something about it: providing more accurate warnings before big storms hit. Discover how smart technology – with an eye on the sky – is taking monster weather events by storm.

Plus, why severe weather events caused by a warming planet may trigger social and economic chaos.

Also, meet the storm chaser who runs toward tornadoes as everyone else flees… and why your cell phone goes haywire when the sun kicks up a storm of its own.


Jan 06, 2013
Machines R Us.

ENCORE Imagine moving things with your mind. Not with telekinesis, but with the future tools of brain science. Meet a pioneer in the field of computer-to-brain connection and discover the blurry boundary where the mind ends and the machine begins.

Plus, how new technology is sharpening the “real” in virtual reality. And, whether our devotion to digital devices is changing what it means to be human.


Dec 30, 2012
Reincarnation, hibernation, and suspended animation.

ENCORE Could you have had a past life? Is it possible that some part of you is the reincarnation of a person – or maybe an animal – that lived long ago?

We’ll hear the story of a young boy who started having nightmares about a plane crash. His parents thought he was the reincarnation of a downed, World War II fighter pilot. But his story might not fly.

Also … is there any biological basis for reincarnation? Animals that indulge in the big sleep.


Dec 23, 2012
Boost your storage capacity.

ENCORE You must remember this… wait, wait... I had it… on the tip of my tongue… (Memory is a tricky thing and most of us would like to improve it)… oh, yes: Discover the secrets of stupefying, knock-your-socks-off recall by a U.S. Memory Champion.

Also, almost everything we know about memory comes from the life of one man born in 1926 and known as H.M., the world’s “most unforgettable amnesiac.”

Plus, the sum total of the global data storage capacity in hard drives, thumb drives, the Internet, you name it… guess how many exabytes it comes to?


Dec 02, 2012
End-of-world scenarios.

If there is only one show you hear about the end of the world, let it be this one. Recorded before a live audience at the Computer History Museum on October 27th, 2012, this two-part special broadcast of Big Picture Science separates fact from fiction in doomsday prediction.

In this second episode: a global viral pandemic … climate change … and the threat of assimilation by super-intelligent machines.

Presented as part of the Bay Area Science Festival.


Nov 25, 2012
End-of-world scenarios.

If there is only one show you hear about the end of the world, let it be this one. Recorded before a live audience at the Computer History Museum on October 27th, 2012, this two-part special broadcast of Big Picture Science separates fact from fiction in doomsday prediction. In this episode: Maya prophesy for December 21, 2012 … asteroid impact and cosmic threats …. and alien invasion.

Presented as part of the Bay Area Science Festival.

Find out more about our guests and their work.


Nov 18, 2012
The quest for longevity.

ENCORE We all have to go sometime, and that final hour is the mother of all deadlines. But scientists are working to file an extension. Discover how far we can push the human expiration date.

Plus, the animal with the shortest lifespan and the chemistry that causes your pot-roast to eventually clothe itself in fuzzy green mold.

Also, a clock that won’t stop ticking (for 10,000 years) and our love-hate relationship with that long-lived hydrocarbon that keeps our snack cakes fresh: plastic!


Nov 04, 2012
Our shrinking planet.

The Internet is not the only globally-uniting phenomenon. Viruses and bacteria can circle the globe as fast as we can, and the effects can be devastating. Discover what it takes for an animal disease to become a human pandemic. Also, was hurricane Sandy a man-made disaster? The future of severe storms and climate change.

Plus, the view of our science from abroad: why Brits have no trouble accepting the theory of evolution but Americans do. And what about a new annex for Silicon Valley – 12 miles out to sea?


Oct 21, 2012
Finding artifacts from on-high.

ENCORE Indiana Jones meets Star Trek in the field of space archaeology. Satellites scan ancient ruins so that scientists can map them without disturbing one grain of sand. Discover how some archaeologists forsake their spades and brushes in favor of examining historic sites from hundreds of miles high.

Also, if you were to hunt for alien artifacts – what would you look for? Why ET might choose to send snail mail rather than a radio signal.

Plus, the culture of the hardware we send into space, and roaming the Earth, the moon, and Mars the Google way.


Oct 14, 2012
Exotic travel destinations.

If you’re itching to get away from it all, really get away from it all, have we got some exotic destinations for you. Mars … Jupiter’s moon Europa … asteroids . Tour some enticing worlds that are worlds away, but ripe for exploration.

Also, why private spaceships may be just the ticket for getting yourself into space, unless you want to wait for a space elevator.

And, why one science journalist boasts of an infectious, unabashed, and unbridled enthusiasm for space travel.


Oct 07, 2012
Originality in science.

ENCORE By thinking different, scientists can make extraordinary breakthroughs. Learn about the creative cogitation that led to the discovery of dark matter and the invention of a.c. power grids, disinfectant, and the Greek “death ray.” Also, whether one person’s man of genius is another’s mad scientist.

And, the scientist who claims pi is wrong and biopunks who tinker with DNA – in their kitchens and on the cheap.

Plus, from string theory to the greenhouse effect – how metaphor sheds light on science. Discover why your brain is like a rain forest (that’s a simile!).