Episodes

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!).


Sep 30, 2012
Mass hysteria in Le Roy, N.Y.

Stuttering speech and facial tics are among the strange symptoms that swept through a New York high school. Discover what’s behind the odd outbreak, and why one sociologist sees parallels to Salem, Massachusetts 300 years ago.

Also, an update on the cellphone cancer debate, and why one congressman wants warning labels on all new phones.

Plus, the ultimate cleanse: giving up on food to survive on light and air. We investigate the claims of Breatharians.

It’s Skeptic Check … but don’t take our word for it!


Sep 23, 2012
SETI number crunching, curing disease, and knowing everything about yourself.

It’s all in the numbers. The trick is, finding what you’re looking for. But that’s the name of the game with big data. We have a giga-gigabyte of information, and combing through it will lead to new cures for disease, new discoveries about the cosmos, or clues to our social and economic behavior.

But is big data Big Brother? You leave a little bit of yourself behind with each mouse click. Discover how surveillance and privacy issues bubble out of the mix, as the terabytes keep flowing in.


Sep 16, 2012
I feel your vibe.

ENCORE “I feel your vibe!” Well, that describes a number of fabled locales that claim to pulse with mysterious energy – perhaps prompting books to fly across the room or airplanes to vanish into thin air. But what’s the science behind it?

We examine spots marked with an X, for “extraordinary” – from a haunted house to the Bermuda Triangle – to sort out natural from supernatural phenomena.

Plus, what causes the aurora borealis… a haywire Russian space probe… and just what the heck is an “energy vortex,” anyway?


Sep 09, 2012
Our mirror in the lab

Before you chase it with a broom, consider this – without the rat, we might miss critical insights into the nature of stress, cancer … and even love. These furry, red-eyed rodents have a unique role in medical research – and a ubiquitous companion to our urban lives.

Discover the origins of the albino laboratory rat … what rat laughter sounds like, and why these four-legged fur balls don’t fall victim to the pressure of the rat race … but we do.


Sep 02, 2012
To need air is human.

To need air is human. Our lungs thank us for each breath we take. But air is more than a transporter of O2. It shapes our weather, keeps birds aloft and moves spores from here to there. A cubic foot of air is anything but “empty” (hot dog grease particles, anyone?).

The same goes for space (minus the hot dog grease). It’s a happening place. Discover why interstellar space is more than a whole lot o’ nothing; and what happens when the Voyager spacecraft leaves our solar system. Plus, catch a skydiver in action!


Aug 26, 2012
A credulity potpourri.

ENCORE If Bigfoot walks through a forest and no one sees him, does he exist? It’s the job of paranormal investigator Joe Nickell to find out! Discover whether eyewitness accounts are reliable when it comes to tracking down the hirsute big guy and other monsters.

Also, on the subject of “seeing is believing”: how magic fools the brain.

Plus, in our potpourri show: can music boost brain power? A new study says listening to music makes brains happy. Does this support the dubious “Mozart Effect,” that claims listening to Wolfie’s compositions boosts IQ?


Aug 19, 2012
Meet your computer overlords.

ENCORE When the IBM computer, Watson, snatched the “Jeopardy” title from its human competition, that raised the question of just how smart are machines? Could artificial intelligence ever beat humans at their own game… of being human?

Hear why an A.I. expert says it’s time to make peace with your P.C.; the machines are coming. Also, why technology is already self-evolving, and presenting its own demands. Find out what technology wants.


Aug 12, 2012
We dig the Red Planet.

We dig the Red Planet! And so does Curiosity. After a successful landing, and a round of high-fives at NASA, the latest rover to land on Mars is on the move, shovel in mechanical hand.

Discover how the Mars Science Laboratory will hunt for the building blocks of life, and just what the heck a lipid is. Plus, how to distinguish Martians from Earthlings, and the tricks Mars has played on us in the past (canals, anyone?).

Also, want to visit Mars firsthand? We can point you to the sign-up sheet for a manned mission. The catch: the ticket is one-way.


Aug 05, 2012
Meet the alternatives.

ENCORE You know the joke about the car and the snail. Look at that escargot? Well, snails may be the only thing not powering the automobiles of the future. Trees, grass, algae, even the garbage you toss on the sidewalk has potential for conversion into biofuel. What is America’s next top model fuel? Join us on a tour of the contenders.

Meet a man who’s mad about miscanthus … an astrobiologist’s attraction to algae... and the blueprint for building your own biofuel bugs.


Jul 22, 2012
In praise of extreme averageness.

Let the games begin! The mad dash to the phone … the sudden spring out of bed … the frantic juggling of car keys, grocery bags and a cell phone! Olympic athletes may have remarkable speed and strength, but it’s easy praise the extraordinary. Here’s to the extreme averageness of the rest of us. From beer bellies to aching backs, we’re all winners in the Darwinian Olympics just by virtue of being here.


Jul 01, 2012
The disappearing machine.

ENCORE Think small to solve big problems. That, in a nutshell, is the promise of nanotechnology. In this barely visible world, batteries charge 100 times faster and drugs go straight to their targets in the body. Discover some of these nano breakthroughs and how what you can’t see can help you…

…or hurt you? What if tiny machines turn out to be nothing but trouble? We’ll look at the health and safety risks of nanotech.

Plus, scaling up in science fiction: why a Godzilla-sized insect is fun, but just doesn’t fly.


Jun 24, 2012
Science roundup.

Expect the unexpected when we go digging in Seth’s storm shelter – who knows what we’ll find! In this cramped never-never land, tucked between piles of dehydrated food packets and old civil defense helmets, we stumble (but don’t step) upon marauding ants … a mission to Pluto…. “evidence” of a spaceship crash … the Apollo astronaut who shot the “Earth Rise” photograph … and Jonah Lehrer meditating on creativity.

Tune in, find out and, help move this box of canned soup, will you?


Jun 17, 2012
You are what you eat.

You are what you eat. But what does that mean if your food is genetically engineered? And the chances are good that it has been engineered if you munch down on corn or soybean. The prospect of eating GM food makes some folks afraid, but is their fear warranted?

Discover what experts say about the safety of genetically engineered foods … whether the technology delivers on the promised increase in yield … and the argument for and against labeling.