Episodes

Jan 01, 2012
How it came to be.

ENCORE What’s it all about? And we mean ALL. What makes up this vast sprawling cosmos? Why does it exist? Why do we exist? Why is there something rather than nothing? Ow, my head hurts!

For possible answers, we travel to the moment after the Big Bang and discover all that came into being in those few minutes after the great flash: time, space, matter, and light. Plus, the bizarre stuff that makes up the bulk of the universe: dark energy and dark matter.


Dec 25, 2011
Belief and fear.

ENCORE Wait! Before you step outside... is it Friday the 13th? Any black cats prowling around? Broken a mirror lately? Homo sapiens are a superstitious lot. Find out why our brains are wired for irrational belief. Plus, from the 2012-end-of-the-world prophesy to colliding planets - why some people believe the universe is out to get ‘em.

Also, Brains on Vacation takes on a challenge to relativity and our Hollywood skeptic has doubts about exorcism. It’s enough to make your head spin on Skeptic Check… but don’t take our word for it!


Dec 18, 2011
Tiny devices everywhere.

Have you lost your senses? You’ll find them everywhere you look. Sensors respond to external stimuli – light, sound, temperature and much else – to help us make sense (ha!) of our universe. And more are on their way. “Ubiquitous sensing” is the term that describes a world blanketed by tiny sensors: on bridges, in paint and medicine bottles, and even in our brains!

Discover where you’ll find sensors next. And, has the world’s largest detection device found the elusive particle that will help explain the universe? Where are you, Higgsy-wiggsy?


Dec 11, 2011
Viruses and you.

The term “bird flu” is a misnomer, scientists say, because almost all human influenza originates in our feathered friends. How it lands in you and spreads is another matter …

Hear what it takes for a virus to go global, from a virus hunter who plans to stop epidemics in their tiny DNA tracks with an innovative global surveillance system.

Also, why your genome is littered with fossil viruses of the past … the two largest viruses discovered so far, Mimi and Mega, square off … and, what it takes for ideas to “go viral.”


Dec 04, 2011
Escape from the lab.

Mom and apple pie. Computers and silicon. Martians and death rays. Some things just go together naturally. But how about science and politics? Science and religion? Science and fiction? These pairings are often unnatural and contentious … but they don’t have to be.

Discover how science can team up with other endeavors in productive, if surprising, symbiosis.

Meet a particle physicist, turned U.S. Congressman, who calls for more scientists on Capitol Hill. Also, a tour of the Golden Age of Islamic Science.


Nov 27, 2011
Questionable biology.

There’s no harm talking to your houseplant, but will your chatter really help it grow? We look at various biological claims, from whether plants feel pain to the ability of cats to predict earthquakes. Feline forecasters, anyone?

Also, when does understanding biology have important implications for health and policy? The arguments for and against genetically modified foods, and the danger of “pox parties” as a replacement for childhood vaccination.

Plus, the history and current state of scientific literacy in the United States. When did we stop trusting science?


Nov 20, 2011
Cyborgs are us.

ENCORE Wish you could ditch computers? There’s no escape button for that. Computers are not only a part of your daily grind, they may soon be a part of you. We’ll hear from the world’s first cyborg about why we should make nice in our arms race with machines.

Also, the secret behind the extraordinary breakthroughs that DARPA scientists are making – from building autonomous cars to wiring robotic surgeons.

Plus, making space for humans… and their bodily functions: the engineering tricks of toiletry. And, a carbon-based astronaut on the view of Earth from orbit.


Nov 13, 2011
Microbes and you.

Think small! Microbes are tinier than the dot at the end of this sentence, yet they can make humans sicker than dogs, dogs sicker than humans, jump from animal to human and keep scientists guessing when and where the next disease will appear.

Discover how doctors diagnosed one man’s mysterious infection, the role that animals play as hosts for disease, and why the rate of emerging diseases is increasing worldwide.

Also, why your kitchen is a biosafety hazard, and how the Human Microbiome Project will tally all the microbes on – and in - you.


Nov 06, 2011
The future of space exploration.

“Making space for everyone” could be NASA’s motto. But as commercial spaceships get ready to blast off, that populist idea is being tested. Space cowboys in the private sector say they’re the ones who can provide unfettered access to space, for tourists and scientists alike.

Meet a scientist who already has a ticket to ride on SpaceShip Two and discover what he hopes to learn about asteroids during his five minutes of weightlessness.


Oct 30, 2011
Us vs. them.

ENCORE What you can’t see … can make you sick. Humans have been battling viruses and bacteria since the beginning of time. The malaria parasite has been keeping deadly company with us for 500,000 years. King Tut had it and so did Julius Caesar. What’s keeping this bug going today?

Also, how disease almost halted the most ambitious engineering project in the world … how elite disease detectives puzzle out perplexing epidemics … And – could tiny bugs from spaaace, ace, ace be our ancestors?


Oct 09, 2011
Dose is key.

ENCORE "Aspirin and Old Lace?" Okay, it would take a bottle full of pills in a glass of elderberry wine to really harm you, but aspirin can be deadly. So can too much of anything, including water. Dose is key in toxicology, after all, but there are some poisons that can do deadly work in tiny amounts.

Hear about the chemistry of poisons … why Botox may freeze your emotions as well as your face… which animal is most lethal to humans… and how 19th-century poisoners got away with murder - until the birth of forensic science.


Oct 02, 2011
Our perspective retrospective.

Zombies, aliens, Bigfoot, oh my!! We've covered - or rather uncovered - them all and more on Skeptic Check, our monthly look of critical thinking. And now we've collected enough strange encounters to assemble a sordid retrospective of sorts.

Sharpen your brain, it's Skeptic Check, Beast Of. But don't take our word for it!


Sep 25, 2011
Our noisy world.

ENCORE Shh - can you keep it down? Nope. Not unless you want to do away with civilization. Our buzzing, humming, whirling, machine-driven world is a poster child for technological progress, right? As is hearing loss. It’s driven one man to search the world for silence. We’ll hear what he didn’t hear, and what Einstein predicted we should hear in deep space, where gravitational waves may reveal the hidden sounds of the universe, including the birth of black holes.


Sep 04, 2011
Life on worlds both real and imaginary.

Anyone who does gardening knows that life is tough. It’s also ancient – the first living things appeared on this planet nearly as soon as our world was habitable. We consider life on real worlds – like Earth and Mars – as well as fictional ones, such as the desert planet from the movie “Dune”. We’ll hear about a new scheme to find Martians, and practical approaches to coping with climate change.

And is Pluto seeking revenge? The unmasking of a fourth moon around this former planet!

We’re making some lively discoveries in Seth’s Tool Shed on Big Picture Science.


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.”