Episodes

The Crater Good
Feb 29, 2016
Back to the moon.

It was “one giant leap for mankind,” but the next step forward may require going back.  Yes, back to the moon.  Only this time the hardware may come from China.  Or perhaps Europe.  In fact, it seems that the only developed nation not going lunar is the U.S.

Find out why our pockmarked satellite is such hot real estate, and whether it has the raw materials we’d need to colonize it.  A new theory of how the moon formed may tell us what’s below its dusty surface.


Eve of Disruption
Feb 22, 2016
Past, future, and now.

Only two of the following three creations have had lasting scientific or cultural impact:  The telescope … the Sistine Chapel ceiling … the electric banana.  Find out why one didn’t make the cut as a game-changer, and why certain eras and places produce a remarkable flowering of creativity (we’re looking at you, Athens).


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.


100% Invisible
Feb 08, 2016
Cosmic wonders.

In astronomy, the rule of thumb was simple: If you can’t see it with a telescope, it’s not real.  Seeing is believing.  Well, tell that to the astronomers who discovered dark energy, or dark matter … or, more recently, Planet 9.   And yet we have evidence that all these things exist (although skepticism about the ninth – or is it tenth? – planet still lingers).

Find out how we know what we know about the latest cosmic discoveries – even if we can’t see them directly.  The astronomer who found Planet 9 – and killed Pluto – offers his evidence. 


Feb 01, 2016
Diet trends.

Eat dark chocolate.  Don’t drink coffee.  Go gluten-free.  If you ask people for diet advice, you’ll get a dozen different stories.  Ideas about what’s good for us sprout up faster than alfalfa plants (which are still healthy … we think).  How can you tell if the latest is fact or fad?


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.


Jan 18, 2016
Bats, birds, and flying cars.

Ask anyone what extraordinary powers they’d love to have, and you’re sure to hear “be able to fly.”  We’ve kind of scratched that itch with airplanes.  But have we gone as far as we can go, or are better flying machines in our future?  And whatever happened to our collective dream of flying cars?   We look at the evolution - and the future - of flight.

Animals and insects have taught us a lot about the mechanics of becoming airborne.  But surprises remain.  For example, bats may flit around eccentrically, but they are actually more efficient fliers than birds.   


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.


Skeptic Check: Fear Itself
Dec 21, 2015
The science of unease.

Shhh.  Is someone coming? Okay, we’ll make this quick.  There are a lot of scary things going on in the world.  Naturally you’re fearful.  But sometimes fear has a sister emotion: suspicion.  A nagging worry about what’s really going on. You know, the stuff they aren’t telling you.  Don’t share this, but we have evidence that both our fear response and our tendency to believe conspiracy theories are evolutionarily adaptive.  


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.


Cosmic Conundra
Dec 07, 2015
What’s going on?

Admit it – the universe is cool, but weird.  Just when you think you’ve tallied up all the peculiar phenomena that the cosmos has to offer – it throws more at you. We examine some of the recent perplexing finds.

Could massive asteroid impacts be as predictable as phases of the moon?  Speaking of moons – why are some of Pluto’s spinning like turbine-powered pinwheels?  Plus, we examine a scientist’s claim of evidence for parallel universes.

And, could the light patterns from a distant star be caused by alien mega-structures? 

Guests:


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.


Thinking About Thinking
Nov 09, 2015
It’s not what you thought.

Congratulations, you have a big brain.  Evolution was good to Homo sapiens.  But make some room on the dais.  Research shows that other animals, such as crows, may not look smart, but can solve complex problems. 

Meanwhile human engineers are busily developing cogitating machines.   Intelligent entities abound – but are they all capable of actual thought?   

Hear how crows fashion tools from new materials and can recognize you by sight.  Also, how an IBM computer may one day outthink the engineers who designed it.   


Going All to Species
Nov 02, 2015
Unearthing Homo naledi

Meet your new relatives.   The fossilized bones of Homo naledi are unique for their sheer number, but they may also be fill a special slot in our ancestry: the first of our genus Homo.   Sporting modern hands and feet but only a tiny brain, this creature may link us and our ape-like ancestors.  

Some anthropologists hail the discovery as that of a new hominid species.  Not all their colleagues agree.  Find out what’s at stake in the debate. 


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.