Episodes

Air Datesort ascending Title
Nov 23, 2014
This Land Is Island
We are not alone
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ENCORE There are many kinds of islands. There’s your iconic sandy speck of land topped with a palm tree, but there’s also our home planet – an island in the vast seas of space. You might think of yourself as a biological island … until you tally the number of microbes living outside – and inside – your body.

Nov 16, 2014
Surfeit of the Vitalest
The diversity of evolution.
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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.

Nov 02, 2014
Sounds Abound
Noisy-ing around
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ENCORE The world is a noisy place. But now we have a better idea what the fuss is about. Not only can we record sound, but our computers allow us to analyze it.

Bird sonograms reveal that our feathery friends give each other nicknames and share details about their emotional state. Meanwhile, hydrophones capture the sounds of dying icebergs, and let scientists separate natural sound from man-made in the briny deep.

Oct 26, 2014
Skeptic Check: Friends Like These
Eyebrow-raising beliefs.
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ENCORE We love our family and friends, but sometimes their ideas about how the world works seem a little wacky. We asked BiPiSci listeners to share examples of what they can’t believe their loved-ones believe, no matter how much they hear rational explanations to the contrary. Then we asked some scientists about those beliefs, to get their take.

Discover whether newspaper ink causes cancer … if King Tut really did add a curse to his sarcophagus … the efficacy of examining your irises – iridology – to diagnose disease … and more!

Oct 19, 2014
Tale of the Distribution
The influence of extreme events.
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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.

Oct 12, 2014
Who's Controlling Whom?
Microbes v. humans v. robots
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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.

Oct 05, 2014
What's the Difference?
Us v. Them.
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We make split second decisions about others – someone is male or female, black or white, us or them. But sometimes the degrees of separation are incredibly few. A mere handful of genes determine skin color, for example.

Find out why race is almost non-existent from a biological perspective, and how the snippet of DNA that is the Y chromosome came to separate male from female.

Plus, why we’re wired to categorize. And, a groundbreaking court case proposes to erase the dividing line between species: lawyers argue to grant personhood status to our chimpanzee cousins.

Sep 28, 2014
Land on the Run
A moving story of plates.
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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.

Sep 21, 2014
As You Were
The arrow of time in reverse.
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ENCORE We all want to turn back time. But until we build a time machine, we’ll have to rely on a few creative approaches to capturing things as they were – and preserving them for posterity. One is upping memory storage capacity itself. Discover just how much of the past we can cram into our future archives, and whether going digital has made it all vulnerable to erasure.

Sep 14, 2014
Skeptic Check: Is It True?
Plausible scientific claims.
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We often hear fantastic scientific claims that would change everything if true. Such as the report that algae is growing on the outside of the International Space Station or that engineers have built a rocket that requires no propellant to accelerate. We examine news stories that seem too sensational to be valid, yet just might be - including whether a killer asteroid has Earth’s name on it.

Sep 07, 2014
A Sudden Change in Planets
From 9 to 900
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A planet is a planet is a planet. Unless it’s Pluto - then it’s a dwarf planet. But even then it’s a planet, according to experts. So what was behind the unpopular re-classification of Pluto by astronomers, and were they justified?

As the New Horizons spacecraft closes in on this small body, one planetary scientist says that this dwarf planet could be more typical of planets than Mars, Mercury, and Saturn. And that our solar system has not 8 or even 9 planets, but 900.

Aug 31, 2014
Welcome to Our Labor-atory
The end of work?
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ENCORE Hi ho, hi ho ... it’s out with work we go! As you relax this holiday weekend, step into our labor-atory and imagine a world with no work allowed. Soft robots help us with tasks at home and at the office, while driverless cars allow us to catch ZZZZs in the front seat.

Plus, the Internet of Everything interconnects all your devices, from your toaster to your roaster to … you. So there’s no need to ever get off the couch. But is a machine-ruled world a true utopia?

And, the invention that got us into our 24/7 rat race: Edison’s electric light.

Aug 24, 2014
ZZZZZs Please
Why we snooze.
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ENCORE We’ve all hit the snooze button when the alarm goes off, but why do we crave sleep in the first place? We explore the evolutionary origins of sleep … the study of narcolepsy in dogs … and could novel drugs and technologies cut down on our need for those zzzzs.

Plus, ditch your dream journal: a brain scanner may let you record – and play back – your dreams.

And, branch out with the latest development in artificial light: bioluminescent trees. How gene tinkering may make your houseplants both grow and glow.

Aug 17, 2014
Moving Right Along
The universe in motion.
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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.

Aug 10, 2014
De-Extinction Show
The return of vanished species.
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ENCORE Maybe goodbye isn’t forever. Get ready to mingle with mammoths and gaze upon a ground sloth. Scientists want to give some animals a round-trip ticket back from oblivion. Learn how we might go from scraps of extinct DNA to creating live previously-extinct animals, and the man who claims it’s his mission to repopulate the skies with passenger pigeons.

But even if we have the tools to bring vanished animals back, should we?

Plus, the extinction of our own species: are we engineering the end of humans via our technology?

Aug 03, 2014
Eye Spy
Who’s watching you?
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Who’s watching you? Could be anyone, really. Social media sites, webcams, CCTV cameras and smartphones have made keeping tabs on you as easy as tapping “refresh” on a tablet. And who knows what your cell phone records are telling the NSA?

Surveillance technology has privacy on the run, as we navigate between big data benefits and Big Brother intrusion.

Find out why wearing Google Glass could make everything you see the property of its creator, and which Orwellian technologies are with us today. But just how worried should we be? A cyber security expert weighs in.

Jul 27, 2014
Replace What Ails You
Breakthroughs in regeneration.
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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.

Jul 20, 2014
A Stellar Job
The science of star power.
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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?

Jul 13, 2014
Skeptic Check: About Face
The face on Mars and other pareidolia.
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ENCORE Face it – humans are pattern-seeking animals. We identify eyes, nose and mouth where there are none. Martian rock takes on a visage and the silhouette of Elvis appears in our burrito. Discover the roots of our face-tracking tendency - pareidolia - and why it sometimes leads us astray.

Plus, why some brains can't recognize faces at all … how computer programs exhibit their own pareidolia … and why it’s so difficult to replicate human vision in a machine

Jul 06, 2014
Deep Time
Think back, way back...
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ENCORE Think back, way back. Beyond last week or last year … to what was happening on Earth 100,000 years ago. Or 100 million years ago. It’s hard to fathom such enormous stretches of time, yet to understand the evolution of the cosmos - and our place in it – your mind needs to grasp the deep meaning of eons. Discover techniques for thinking in units of billions of years, and how the events that unfold over such intervals have left their mark on you.