Episodes

Moving Right Along
Apr 18, 2016
The universe in motion.

ENCORE  You think your life is fast-paced, but have you ever seen a bacterium swim across your countertop? You’d be surprised how fast they can move.

Find out why modeling the swirl of hurricanes takes a roomful of mathematicians and supercomputers, and how galaxies can move away from us faster than the speed of light.

Also, what happens when we try to stop the dance of atoms, cooling things down to the rock bottom temperature known as absolute zero.


Surfeit of the Vitalist
Apr 11, 2016
The diversity of evolution.

ENCORE  In the century and a half since Charles Darwin wrote his seminal On the Origin of the Species, our understanding of evolution has changed quite a bit. For one, we have not only identified the inheritance molecule DNA, but have determined its sequence in many animals and plants.

Evolution has evolved, and we take a look at some of the recent developments.


Tale of the Distribution
Apr 04, 2016
The influence of extreme events.

ENCORE  We all have at least some musical talent. But very few of us can play the piano like Vladimir Horowitz. His talent was rarefied, and at the tail end of the bell curve of musical ability – that tiny sliver of the distribution where you find the true outliers. Outliers also exist with natural events: hurricane Katrina, for example, or the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs. Such events are rare, but they often have outsized effects.


Skeptic Check: How Low Can You Go?
Mar 28, 2016
Cryotherapies.

Baby, it’s cold outside… but you still might want to be there.  Some people claim that chilly temperatures are good for your health, and proponents of cryotherapy suggest you have a blast – of sub-zero air – to stave off wrinkles and perhaps halt aging altogether. 

Meanwhile the field of cryonics offers the ultimate benefit by suggesting that you put future plans – and your body – on ice when you die.  That way you might be revived when the technology to do so is developed.


Who's Controlling Whom?
Mar 14, 2016
Microbes v. humans v. robots

ENCORE  A single ant isn’t very brainy. But a group of ants can do remarkable things. Biological swarm behavior is one model for the next generation of tiny robots. Of course, biology can get hijacked: a fungus can seize control of an ant’s brain, for example. So will humans always remain the boss of super-smart, swarming machines?

We discuss the biology of zombie ants and how to build robots that self-assemble and work together. Also, how to guarantee the moral behavior of future ‘bots.


Land on the Run
Mar 07, 2016
A moving story of plates.

ENCORE Hang on to your globe. One day it’ll be a collector’s item. The arrangement of continents you see today is not what it once was, nor what it will be tomorrow. Thank plate tectonics.

Now evidence suggests that the crowding together of all major land masses into one supercontinent – Pangaea, as it’s called – is a phenomenon that’s happened over and over during Earth’s history. And it will happen again. Meet our future supercontinent home, Amasia, and learn what it will look like.


With All Our Mites
Feb 15, 2016
What's bugging you.

You are not alone.  You can’t see ‘em, but your face is a festival of face mites. They’ve   evolved with us for millennia.  And a new study finds that hundreds of different tiny spiders, beetles, and – our favorite - book lice make your home theirs.  But before you go bonkers with the disinfectant, consider: eradicating these critters may do more harm than good.  Some are such close evolutionary partners with humans that they keep us healthy and can even reveal something about our ancestry.


Replace What Ails You
Jan 25, 2016
Breakthroughs in regeneration.

ENCORE Germs can make us sick, but we didn’t know about these puny pathogens prior to the end of the 19th century. Just the suggestion that a tiny bug could spread disease made eyes roll. Then came germ theory, sterilization, and antibiotics. It was a revolution in medicine. Now we’re on the cusp of another one. This time we may cure what ails us by replacing what ails us.

Bioengineers use advancements in stem cell therapy to grow red and white cells for human blood. Meanwhile, a breakthrough in 3D printing: scientists print blood vessels and say that human organs may be next.


Apt to Adapt
Jan 11, 2016
How nimble are we?

ENCORE  If you move with the times, you might stick around long enough to pass on your genes. And that is adaptation and evolution, in a nutshell.

But humans are changing their environment faster than their genes can keep pace. This has led to a slew of diseases – from backache to diabetes – according to one evolutionary biologist. And our technology may not get us out of the climate mess we’ve created. So just how good are we at adapting to the world around us?


A Stellar Job
Jan 04, 2016
The science of star power.

ENCORE  The stars are out tonight. And they do more than just twinkle. These boiling balls of hot plasma can tell us something about other celestial phenomena. They betray the hiding places of black holes, for one. But they can also fool us. Find out why one of the most intriguing discoveries in astrobiology - that of the potentially habitable exoplanet Gliese 581g - may have been just a mirage.

Plus, the highest levels of ultraviolet light ever mentioned on Earth’s surface puzzles scientists: is it a fluke of nature, or something manmade?


You Think; You're So Smart
Dec 28, 2015
Brains not required.

ENCORE  Sure you have a big brain; it's the hallmark of Homo sapiens. But that doesn't mean that you've cornered the market on intelligence. Admittedly, it's difficult to say, since the very definition of the term is elusive. Depending on what we mean by intelligence, a certain aquatic mammal is not as smart as we thought (hint: rhymes with "caulpin") … and your rhododendron may be a photosynthesizing Einstein.

And what I.Q. means for A.I. We may be building our brilliant successors.


Look Who's Not Talking
Dec 14, 2015
Technology takes over.

We may be connected, but some say we’re not communicating.  The consequences could be dire.  A U.S. Army major says that social media are breaking up our “band of brothers,” and that soldiers who tweet rather than talk have less cohesion in combat.


Happily Confused
Nov 30, 2015
Emotion commotion.

ENCORE Do you feel happy today? How about happily disgusted? Maybe sadly surprised, or sadly disgusted? Human emotions are complex. But at least they’re the common language that unites us all – except when they don’t. A tribe in Namibia might interpret our expression of fear as one of wonderment. And people with autism don’t feel the emotions that others do.


Climate Conversation
Nov 23, 2015
Meeting in Paris

 

The Paris climate talks are scheduled to go ahead despite the terrorist attacks, and attendees hope to sign an international agreement on climate change.  A BBC reporter covering the meetings tells us what we can expect from the conference.

Also, it’s unclear whether Pope Francis himself will travel to the City of Light, but his encyclical may have already influenced the talks there.  A historian considers whether the Church’s acceptance of climate change represents a departure from its historical positions on science.  Galileo, anyone?


Skeptic Check: Paleo Diet
Nov 16, 2015
Eating like a caveman.

ENCORE  What’s for dinner? Meat, acorns, tubers, and fruit. Followers of the Paleo diet say we should eat what our ancestors ate 10,000 years ago, when our genes were perfectly in synch with the environment.

We investigate the reasoning behind going paleo with the movement’s pioneer, as well as with an evolutionary biologist. Is it true that our genes haven’t changed much since our hunter-gatherer days?

Plus, a surprising dental discovery is nothing for cavemen to smile about.


Skeptic Check: Check the Skeptics
Oct 26, 2015
When can we trust science?

ENCORE  One day, coffee is good for you; the next, it’s not. And it seems that everything you eat is linked to cancer, according to research. But scientific studies are not always accurate. Insufficient data, biased measurements, or a faulty analysis can trip them up. And that’s why scientists are always skeptical.

Hear one academic say that more than half of all published results are wrong, but that science still remains the best tool we have for learning about nature.

Also, a cosmologist points to reasons why science can never give us all the answers.


Smiley Virus
Oct 19, 2015
Biological bits we like.

ENCORE  For many, the word virus is a synonym for disease – diseases of humans, plants, and even computers. Ebola is an example: a virus with a big and terrifying reputation. And yet the vast majority of viruses are not only friendly, they are essential for life.

Find out how viruses make plant life in Yellowstone’s hottest environments possible, and fear your spinach salad no longer: a scientist recruits viruses to defeat E. coli bacteria.


Space for Everyone
Oct 12, 2015
Is the final frontier finally opening up?

ENCORE Is space the place for you? With a hefty amount of moolah, a trip there and back can be all yours. But when the price comes down, traffic into space may make the L.A. freeway look like a back-country lane.

Space is more accessible than it once was, from the development of private commercial flights … to a radical new telescope that makes everyone an astronomer … to mining asteroids for their metals and water to keep humanity humming for a long time.

Plus, move over Russia and America: Why the next words you hear from space may be in Mandarin.


Martian Madness
Oct 05, 2015
How to survive on a hostile, alien world.

 It’s the starkly beautiful setting for the new film “The Martian,” and – just in time – NASA has announced that the Red Planet is more than a little damp, with liquid water occasionally oozing over its surface.  But Mars remains hostile terrain.  Mark Watney, the astronaut portrayed by Matt Damon, struggles to survive there. If he has a hard time, what chance does anyone else have?


Skeptic Check: What, We Worry?
Sep 28, 2015
Scientific hand-wringing.

ENCORE  We all have worries. But as trained observers, scientists learn things that can affect us all. So what troubles them, should also trouble us. From viral pandemics to the limits of empirical knowledge, find out what science scenarios give researchers insomnia.

But also, we discover which scary scenarios that preoccupy the public don’t worry the scientists at all. Despite the rumors, you needn’t fear that the Large Hadron Collider will produce black holes that could swallow the Earth.