Episodes

Spacecraft Elegy
Apr 24, 2017
Spacecraft give their all in the name of exploration

Exploration: It’s exciting, it’s novel, and you can’t always count on a round-trip ticket.  You can boldly go, but you might not come back.  That’s no showstopper for robotic explorers, though.  Spacecraft go everywhere.

While humans have traveled no farther than the moon, our mechanical proxies are climbing a mountain on Mars, visiting an ice ball far beyond Pluto, plunging through the rings of Saturn, and landing on a comet.  Oh, and did we mention they’re also bringing rock and roll to the denizens of deep space, in case they wish to listen.


Glutenous Maximus
Apr 17, 2017
Diet trends.

ENCORE  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?


Your Brain's Reins
Apr 10, 2017
Your brain’s hidden drivers

You are your brain.  But what happens when your brain changes for the worse – either by physical injury or experience?  Are you still responsible for your actions?

We hear how the case of a New York man charged with murder was one of the first to introduce neuroscience as evidence in court.  Plus, how technology hooks us – a young man so addicted to video games, he lacked social skills, or even a desire to eat.  Find out how technology designers conspire against his digital detox.


Winging It
Apr 03, 2017
Bats, birds, and flying cars.

ENCORE  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.   


Mar 27, 2017
The evolution of protection

We all may retreat to our protective shells, but evolution has perfected the calcite variety to give some critters permanent defense against predators.  So why did squids and octopuses lose their shells?  Find out what these cephalopods gained by giving up the shell game.

Plus why Chesapeake Bay oyster shells are shells of their former selves.  What explains the absence of the dinner-plate sized oysters of 500,000 years ago, and how conservation paleobiology is probing deep time for strategies to bring back these monster mollusks.


Born Legacy
Mar 20, 2017
We fly on NASA's SOFIA to discover how stars are born.

We know how the stars shine, but how do you make a star?  We take an all-night ride on a high-flying jet – an airborne NASA observatory called SOFIA – to watch astronomers investigate how a star is born. (Listen to the show in the player above, and read our reporter Emma Bentley's account of her adventure here.)


What Have You Got To Move?
Mar 13, 2017
The physics of motion.

Whether they swim, slither, jump, or fly, animal locomotion is more than just an urge to roam: it’s necessary for survival.  Evolution has come up with ingenious schemes to get from here to there.  Hear how backbones evolved as a consequence of fish needing to wag their fins, and why no animals have wheels. 

Motion is more than locomotion. Test the physics of movement in your kitchen and find out what popping corn has in common with the first steam engine.


Cosmic Conundra
Mar 06, 2017
What’s going on?

ENCORE  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:


Skeptic Check: Not So Sweet
Feb 27, 2017
Is sugar a major cause of disease?

Obesity, diabetes, heart disease … maybe even Alzheimer’s.  Could these modern scourges have a common denominator?  Some people believe they do: sugar.

But is this accusation warranted?  We talk with a journalist who has spent two decades reporting on nutrition science, and while he says there’s still not definitive proof that sugar makes us sick, he can make a strong case for it.


Thinking About Thinking
Feb 20, 2017
It’s not what you thought.

ENCORE  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
Feb 13, 2017
Unearthing Homo naledi

ENCORE 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. 


Quantum: Why We Want 'Em
Feb 06, 2017
The promise of weird physics

Einstein thought that quantum mechanics might be the end of physics, and most scientists felt sure it would never be useful.  Today, everything from cell phones to LED lighting is completely dependent on the weird behavior described by quantum mechanics.


Jan 30, 2017
The democratization of space

For a half-century, space has been the playground of large, government agencies.  While everyone could dream of becoming an astronaut, few could actually do so.

Things have changed.  We hear how a geeky son of immigrant parents incentivized the ground-breaking launch of SpaceShipOne, and spawned the commercial rocket industry. 

And while you’re waiting for a ticket to ride, why not build your own satellite to keep tabs on the kids or just check out the back forty?  A CubeSat could be your next basement project.


Skeptic Check: Amelia Earhart
Jan 23, 2017
New clues to what happened.

She’s among the most famous missing persons in history.  On the eightieth anniversary of Amelia Earhart’s disappearance, mystery still shrouds her fate.  What happened during the last leg of her round-the-world trek?


Geology is Destiny
Jan 16, 2017
How Earth’s history has shaped ours

The record of the rocks is not just the history of Earth; it’s your history too.  Geologists can learn about events going back billions of years that influenced – and even made possible – our present-day existence and shaped our society.

If the last Ice Age had been a bit warmer, the rivers and lakes of the Midwest would have been much farther north and the U.S. might still be a small country of 13 states.  If some Mediterranean islands hadn’t twisted a bit, no roads would have led to Rome.


No Face to Hide
Jan 09, 2017
Facial recognition technology is here.

ENCORE  Face it – your mug is not entirely yours.  It’s routinely uploaded to social media pages and captured on CCTV cameras with – and without – your consent.  Sophisticated facial recognition technology can identify you and even make links to your personal data.  There are few places where you’re safe from scrutiny.  


The Light Stuff
Jan 02, 2017
An illuminating show.

ENCORE The light bulb needs changing.  Edison’s incandescent bulb, virtually unaltered for more than a century, is now being eclipsed by the LED.  The creative applications for these small and efficient devices are endless: on tape, on wallpaper, even in contact lenses.  They will set the world aglow.  But is a brighter world a better one?


The Fix is In
Dec 26, 2016
The science of self-repair.

ENCORE  The moon jellyfish has remarkable approach to self-repair.  If it loses a limb, it rearranges its remaining body parts to once again become radially symmetric.  Humans can’t do that, but a new approach that combines biology with nanotechnology could give our immune systems a boost.  Would you drink a beaker of nanobots if they could help you fight cancer?

Also, materials science gets into self-healing with a novel concrete that fixes its own cracks. 


Skeptic Check: Fear Itself
Dec 19, 2016
The science of unease.

ENCORE  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.  


Are Animals Really That Smart?
Dec 12, 2016
Clever critters

You own a cat, or is it vice versa?  Family friendly felines have trained their owners to do their bidding.  Thanks to a successful evolutionary adaptation, they rule your house.

Find out how your cat has you wrapped around its paw.  And it’s not the only animal to outwit us.  Primatologist Frans de Waal shares the surprising intellectual capabilities of chimps, elephants, and bats.  In fact, could it be that we’re simply not smart enough to see how smart animals are?