Episodes

Quantum: Why We Want 'Em
Feb 19, 2018
The promise of weird physics

ENCORE  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.


Bacteria to the Future
Feb 12, 2018
Combating resistance.

Why did the chicken take antibiotics?  To fatten it up and prevent bacterial infection. As a result, industrial farms have become superbug factories, threatening our life-saving antibiotics.

Find out how our wonder drugs became bird feed, and how antibiotic resistant bugs bred on the farm end up on your dinner plate.  A journalist tells the story of the 1950s fad of “acronizing” poultry; the act of dipping it in an antibiotic bath so it can sit longer on a refrigerator shelf.


Creative Brains
Feb 05, 2018
Uniquely human.

Your cat is smart, but its ability to choreograph a ballet or write computer code isn’t great.  A lot of animals are industrious and clever, but humans are the only animal that is uniquely ingenious and creative. 

Neuroscientist David Eagleman and composer Anthony Brandt discuss how human creativity has reshaped the world. Find out what is going on in your brain when you write a novel, paint a watercolor, or build a whatchamacallit in your garage.


Skeptic Check: New UFO Evidence
Jan 29, 2018
Assessing the possibility of visitation

It was a shocker of a story, splashed across the New York Times front page: The existence of a five-year long, hidden Pentagon investigation of UFOs.  With one-third of the American public convinced that aliens are visiting Earth, could this study finally provide the proof?

We consider how this story came to light and what the $22 million program has produced.  Does the existence of a secret study mean there’s now decent proof of extraterrestrial craft in our skies?  We take a look at the evidence made public so far.


DIY Spaceflight
Jan 22, 2018
The democratization of space

ENCORE  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.


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.