Episodes

Geology is Destiny
Jan 15, 2018
How Earth’s history has shaped ours

ENCORE  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.


Are Animals Really That Smart?
Jan 08, 2018
Clever critters

ENCORE  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?


Weather Vain
Jan 01, 2018
Trying to get control

ENCORE  Everyone talks about the weather but no one does anything about it. Not that they haven’t tried.  History is replete with attempts to control the weather, but we’d settle for an accurate seven-day forecast.

Find out how sophisticated technology might improve accuracy, including predicting the behavior of severe storms.  Plus, the age when “weather forecast” was a laughable idea, but why 19th century rebel scientists pursued it anyway.


DIY Diagnosis
Dec 25, 2017
Your health in your hands.

ENCORE  Got aches and pains?  Critters in the Cretaceous would have been sympathetic.  A new study reveals that painful arthritis plagued a duck-billed dinosaur.  Scientists impressively diagnosed the animal’s condition without a house call by examining its 70 million-year old bones.

The technology we use for health diagnoses are becoming so sophisticated, some people are prompted to bypass doctors and do it themselves.  Meet a man who had his genome sequenced and then had all 70 gigabytes delivered directly to him so that he could gauge his genetic health.   


Rerouting... Rerouting
Dec 18, 2017
Where are you, exactly?

Lost your sense of direction?  Blame your GPS. Scientists say that our reliance on dashboard devices is eroding our ability to create cognitive maps and is messing with our minds in general. We don’t even look at landmarks or the landscape anymore.  We’ve become no more than interfaces between our GPS and our steering wheels.

But in other ways, GPS can spark a new appreciation of the physical world. A real-time flyover app reveals the stunning geological features otherwise invisible from our window seat. 


With All Our Mites
Dec 11, 2017
What's bugging you.

ENCORE  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.


Air Apparent
Dec 04, 2017
An atmospheric episode.

Whether you yawn, gasp, sniff, snore, or sigh, you’re availing yourself of our very special atmosphere.   It’s easy to take this invisible chemical cocktail for granted, but it’s not only essential to your existence: it unites you and every other lifeform on the planet, dead or alive.  The next breath you take likely includes molecules exhaled by Julius Caesar or Eleanor Roosevelt.


Time Travel Agents
Nov 27, 2017
Yesterday may be our future.

ENCORE  Hey, let’s meet last week for coffee.  Okay, we can’t meet in the past … yet.  But could it be only a matter of time before we can?  In an attempt to defy the grandfather paradox, scientists try sending a photon back in time to destroy itself. 

Also, find out how teleportation allows particles to instantaneously skip through space-time and why sending humans wouldn’t violate the laws of physics. 


Wonder Women
Nov 20, 2017
Challenging science culture

We’re hearing about harassment of, and barriers to, women seeking careers in politics and entertainment. But what about science? Science is supposed to be uniquely merit-based and objective. And yet the data say otherwise. A new study reveals widespread harassment of women of color in space science. 


Skeptic Check: Nibiru! (Again!)
Nov 13, 2017
Doomsday redux.

Will your calendar entry for November 19th  be your last? Some people say yes, predicting a catastrophic collision between Earth and planet Nibiru on that date and the end of the world.  But it won’t happen, because this hypothesized rogue world doesn’t exist. Nibiru’s malevolent disruptions have been foretold many times, most dramatically in 2012 and three times so far in 2017.  But this year NASA issued a rare public assurance that doomsday was not in the offing.


DNA: Nature's Hard Drive
Nov 06, 2017
What surprises are in storage?

The biotech tool CRISPR lets us do more than shuffle genes.  Researchers have embedded an animated GIF into a living organism’s DNA, proving that the molecule is a great repository for information.  This has encouraged speculation that DNA could be used by aliens to send messages. 

Meanwhile, nature has seized on this powerful storage system in surprising ways.  Scientists have learned that the 98% of our genome – once dismissed as “junk” – contains valuable genetic treasure. Find out what project ENCODE is learning about the “dark genome.”


Venom Diagram
Oct 30, 2017
One animal’s poison is another’s cure.

ENCORE  We all get defensive sometimes.  For some animals, evolution has provided a highly effective mechanism for saying “back off!”.  A puncture by a pair of venom-filled fangs gets the point across nicely. 

But one animal’s poison may be another’s cure.  Some dangerous critters churn out compounds that can be synthesized into life-saving drugs.

Meet the spiny, fanged, and oozing creatures who could help defend us against such illnesses as hypertension and kidney disease. 


Sex Post Facto
Oct 23, 2017
What’s next.

ENCORE  Birds do it, bees do it, but humans may not do it for much longer.  At least not for having children.  Relying on sex to reproduce could be supplanted by making babies in the lab, where parents-to-be can select genomes that will ensure ideal physical and behavioral traits.

Men hoping to be fathers should act sooner rather than later.  These same advancements in biotechnology could allow women to fertilize their own eggs, making the need for male sperm obsolete. 


Too Big to Prove
Oct 16, 2017
Gravitational waves, string theory, and modern physics

Celebrations are in order for the physicists who won the 2017 Nobel Prize, for the detection of gravitational waves.  But the road to Stockholm was not easy.  Unfolding over a century, it went from doubtful theory to daring experiments and even disrepute.  100 years is a major lag between a theory and its confirmation, and new ideas in physics may take even longer to prove.


On Defense
Oct 09, 2017
Protection strategies.

ENCORE  The military is a dangerous calling.  But technology can help out, so researchers are constantly trying to make soldiers safer.  Writer Mary Roach investigates how scientists studying so-called human factors are protecting troops from such aggressive foes as heat, noise, and fatigue.  She also learns how bad odors were once considered a secret weapon.


It's In Material
Oct 02, 2017
New constructs in construction stuff.

Astronauts are made of the “right stuff,” but what about their spacesuits?   NASA’s pressurized and helmeted onesies are remarkable, but they need updating if we’re to boldly go into deep space.   Suiting up on Mars requires more manual flexibility, for example.  Find out what innovative materials might be used to reboot the suit.


Aliens - The Evidence
Sep 25, 2017
Make your best case.

ENCORE  Once again the aliens have landed … in theaters.  It’s no spoiler to say that the latest cinematic sci-fi, Arrival, involves extraterrestrials visiting Earth. 

But for some folks, the film’s premise is hardly shocking.  They’re convinced that the aliens have already come.  But is there any proof that aliens are here now or that they landed long ago to, for example, help build the Egyptian pyramids?

Meanwhile, SETI scientists are deploying their big antennas in an effort to establish that extraterrestrials exist far beyond Earth.


Angles of a Hack
Sep 18, 2017
Meet the modern hackers.

Changed your computer password recently?  We all try to stay one step ahead of the hackers, but the fear factor is increasing.  The risks can range from stolen social security numbers to sabotaging a national power grid. 


Plan of a Hack
Sep 11, 2017
Meet the original hackers.

Long before cyber criminals were stealing ATM passwords, phone phreaks were tapping into the telephone system. Their motivation was not monetary, but the thrill of defeating a complex, invisible network. Today “hacking” can apply to cyberwarfare, biological tinkering, or even geoengineering.  Often it has negative connotations, but the original definition of “hacking” was something else.


Born Legacy
Sep 04, 2017
We fly on NASA's SOFIA to discover how stars are born.

ENCORE  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.)