Episodes

Aug 28, 2011
The age of exploration.

During the great age of exploration men risked their lives to set foot upon unknown lands, whether in the humid jungles of Peru or on the barren ice cap of the South Pole. We'll hear those dramatic tales…

… but also where modern exploration is taking us. Could it be to the deepest, darkest part of the sea?

Or to space? Discover how to build a space suit that will let you move like an athlete on Mars. Also, why some say that the ultimate frontier requires no packing and no travel: voyages into the human brain.


Aug 21, 2011
All together now.

ENCORE An ant … can’t … move a rubber tree plant… but the colony can. As a group, ants are an efficient, organized, can-do bunch. And a model for humans trying to manage complex systems.

Find out about the eerie collective intelligence of animals, and how an MIT researcher is hoping to put humans to work collaboratively to solve problems like climate change.

Also … hear how research into flocking behavior helps Hollywood film a herd of stampeding dinosaurs.


Aug 14, 2011
Is the truth out there?

It’s been ten years since the fall of the Twin Towers, but some still believe that the attack was an inside job. They’re not the only ones to buy into a conspiratorial view of world events. Others deny President Obama’s American birth… link autism with vaccines… and even claim that the fluo ride in our drinking water is there to control our minds. Is it the truth - or the fringe groups - that are “out there?”

Find out why some tinfoil hat ideas never go away. Also, the roots of rational argument: did our brains evolve to seek the truth… or just win arguments?


Aug 07, 2011
Is DNA destiny?

ENCORE Genes – what are they good for? Absolutely… something. But not everything. Your “genius” genes need to be turned on – and your environment determines that. Find out how to unleash your inner-Einstein, and what scientists learned from studying the famous physicist’s brain.

Also, the bizarre notion that your children inherit not just your genes, but also the consequences of your habits – smoking, stress, diet, and other behaviors that turn the genes on.

Plus Francis Collins on affordable personal genomes, and a man who decoded his own DNA in under a week.


Aug 01, 2011
Bridging the divide.

ENCORE Live forever? Both cancer cells and stem cells can make a claim to immortality. Left unchecked, tumors will grow indefinitely. And stem cells offer the promise of non-stop rejuvenation.

We’ll find out whether the surprising discovery of stem cells in the brain really can keep our thinking organ young. And we’ll hear the remarkable story of Henrietta Lacks, the woman who unwittingly donated tissue to science in 1951, and whose cancer cells are still grown in laboratories around the world today.


Jul 24, 2011
Our thirsty world.

Water, water everywhere. But most of it is sea water - you can’t drink it. Discover the most promising technologies for desalination and why solar cells are key. Also, how astronauts filter “water-closet water” to drink it, and how to turn a salt pond back to a wetland.

Plus, from Roman aqueducts to modern-day pumps: a history of quenching human thirst. And, why NASA strives to “follow the water.”


Jul 17, 2011
Why we evolved to giggle.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. It’s nearly impossible to fake a laugh. Yet, humans will laugh even if something isn’t funny. Discover the evolutionary function of cracking up and meet the other species that love to giggle (and monkey around).

Also, hilarious science comedy. Yes, science comedy. Plus, teaching machines to write punch lines… and stretching – and splitting – your sides with laughter yoga.


Jul 10, 2011
Science’s Biggest Questions.

How did life begin? What’s the universe made of, and what’s the nature of consciousness?

These are truly some of the biggest puzzlers in science, but answers are in the offing.

We consider the modern-day hunt for life beyond Earth, as well as a new theory of consciousness: could it be merely an illusion to entertain us and make our lives more worthwhile?

Also, after thousands of years of examining the heavens, are we finally learning the true nature of the cosmos?


Jun 19, 2011
From alien invasions by non-native species to critters from space, we look at what happens when unwelcome guests arrive.

ENCORE They’re heeeere! Yes, aliens are wreaking havoc and destruction throughout the land. But these aliens are Arizona beetles, and the land is in California, where the invasive insects are a serious problem.

And what of space-faring aliens? We have those too: how to find them, and how to protect our planet – and theirs.

From Hollywood to SETI’s hi-tech search for extraterrestrials, aliens are invading Are We Alone?


May 15, 2011
Particles at extremes.

ENCORE Physics means getting physical if you’re tackling the biggest, most mysterious questions in the universe. Stoic scientists endure the driest, darkest, coldest spots on the planet to find out how it all began and why there’s something rather than nothing. From the bottom of an old iron mine to the top of the Andes, we’ll hear their stories.

Plus, Steven Weinberg on this weird stuff called dark energy, and Leonard Susskind sees double, no, triple, no, …infinite universes.


May 08, 2011
The importance of forgetting.

ENCORE Memories are slippery things – some are crystal clear, others more like a muddy pool, and some… well, they seem to vanish completely.

Scientists admit that memory is all very complicated, but one piece of the puzzle lies in how we age – we’ll hear the latest research.

Meanwhile, meet the man who digitally logged his every waking moment - and why maybe the secret to happiness isn’t in remembering but in forgetting.

Plus, the case for deleting data from your hard-drive… and from your brain itself.


May 01, 2011
Is the end nigh?

The end is nigh. Only, on which nigh should we rely? According to billboards, Judgment Day is in May and the end of the world follows months later. But other authorities claim 2012 as the apocalyptic year, as predicted by the ancient Mayans. It’s a busy time for doomsday prophecy.

Find out what’s driving these pessimistic predictions and whether it’s time to cash in your stock portfolio.


Apr 17, 2011
Outsized astronomy.

The universe is big – really big.* Galaxies, for instance, are often large enough to hold a trillion stars. But how did these heavenly heavyweights come to be? Hear how still-mysterious dark matter is implicated in the birth of galaxies.

Also, gamma ray bursts - explosions more energetic than anything since the Big Bang - take place somewhere in the visible universe every day. What are they, and could they obliterate life on Earth?

And, the biggest cosmic mystery de jour: dark energy. Why new, super-size telescopes may finally reveal just what it is.


Apr 10, 2011
Public mistrust of science.

ENCORE Public distrust of science is higher than at any time since the Enlightenment. New Yorker writer Michael Specter argues how our anti-science bias and our irrationalism about everything from genetically modified foods to climate change to childhood vaccines endangers our future.

And remember when… a look back at scientists who at first pooh-poohed plate tectonics... meteorites, and quantum physics. How the evidence turned them around.

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


Apr 03, 2011
What would E.T. do?

ENCORE Birds do it. Bees do it. But no one sings about how they do it. And frankly, not even Cole Porter can make bedroom behavior that involves decapitating your mate sound romantic. And what rhymes with “cannibalism?” But the animal world abounds with bizarre sexual behavior… and it’s all perfectly normal.

Find out how female spiders lure males to their doom… why dolphins are the friskiest of mammals… whether E.T. would have sex… and why sexual reproduction evolved in the first place.


Mar 13, 2011
Scientific firsts.

ENCORE Being first counts in science. Land that coveted spot and you’ll make history, whether it’s with the first steam engine or the discovery of our earliest human ancestor.

But what does “first” mean when technological invention so heavily builds on what’s come before... and evolution represents continuous change?

Find out how “publish or perish” made Darwin famous… why we’ll never find the first human fossil… and how powerful new telescopes are allowing us to see the earliest galaxies.

Plus, the chicken and egg battle it out in line.


Mar 06, 2011
What makes a super-achiever.

ENCORE From the double-helix to the expansion of the universe, great scientific discoveries reshape our understanding of who we are and how things work. But great discoveries require more than just a great mind. We tour brainy breakthroughs from Archimedes to Darwin, and find out what made their revolutionary insights possible.

Also, why you need more than a stratospheric I.Q. to be a super-achiever. And how the invention of reading re-directed the course of civilization and re-wired our brains in the process.


Feb 27, 2011
What’s in homeopathy.

The weaker the mixture, the stronger the potency. That paradox is a central tenet of homeopathy. More than 200 years old and developed long before germ theory, the practice is the fastest growing form of alternative medicine worldwide.

Proponents say its diluted remedies cure disease. Most scientists maintain there’s nothing in homeopathic solution but water. We’ll hear the arguments, and also the role placebos might be playing in the cure.

Plus, skeptic Phil Plait voyages to the edge of the solar system where a new planet has been discovered … maybe!


Feb 13, 2011
Planet hunting gone wild.

Earth may not be rare after all. New data from NASA’s Kepler mission suggests that the universe is chock-a-block with planets. More than a thousand new possible planets have just been found, and more than fifty of these might be suitable for life. Ready for cosmic company? We discuss the results of the Kepler mission in a roundtable with some of its top scientists.

Meanwhile, the Voyager spacecraft continues to be humanity’s point man in the race to interstellar space. Poised to leave our solar system, we reflect on the mission – including its on-board messages for aliens.


Jan 30, 2011
You guessed it.

You’re right: it’s a show about ESP. And, correct again: we’re excited about the publication of a paper that claims precognition exists. You’ve already divined what our paranormal investigator says about the paper, whether the statistics that it cites are significant, and what the editor-in-chief of a major scientific journal has to say on the tricky matter of publishing such a result at all.