Episodes

Meet Your Robot Barista
Feb 26, 2018
Robots and A.I. in the workforce.

Move over Roomba.  Café robots are the latest in adorable automation. And they may be more than a fad. As robots and artificial intelligence enter the workforce, they could serve up more than machine-made macchiato.  Digital workers are in training to do a wide variety jobs. Will humans be handed the mother of all pink slips?

We sip lattes in a robot café and contemplate the future of work. Some say the workplace will have more machines than people, while others maintain that A.I. will augment, not replace, human workers.


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.


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.   


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.


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. 


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.


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. 


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.


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.


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.)


Elements Never Forget
Aug 28, 2017
Periodic appearances.

ENCORE  It’s elementary, Watson.  Things are in flux – from the elements in the air you breathe to party balloons.   We investigate the massive, historic loss of nitrogen from the atmosphere and meet the culprits behind a modern-day helium shortage. 

But it’s not all a disappearing act: be thankful that oxygen showed up in our atmosphere a few billion years ago.  Meanwhile, atom smashers have recently produced some new elements.  Their appearance was brief, but long enough to fill out the periodic table.


Musical Universe
Aug 21, 2017
Sounds of silence.

ENCORE  In space, no one can hear you scream, but, using the right instruments, scientists can pick up all types of cosmic vibrations – the sort we can turn into sound.  After a decade of listening, LIGO, a billion-dollar physics experiment, has detected gravitational waves caused by the collision of massive black holes, a brief shaking of spacetime that can be translated into a short squeal. 

We listen to the chirp of black holes crashing into each other and wonder: could the universe contain more than individual sounds, but have actual musical structure? 


Adam Savage
Aug 07, 2017
But is it science?

ENCORE  Can an opera singer’s voice really shatter glass?  Can you give your car a rocket-assisted boost and survive the test drive?  How do you protect yourself from a shark attack?   Those are among the many intriguing questions and urban legends tested by the MythBusters team in front of the camera.

Now that the series has ended after a 16 year run, co-host Adam Savage tells us how it all began, how he and Jamie Hyneman walked the line between science and entertainment, and why he considers himself a scientist but not a “skeptic.”


Caught in a Traps
Jul 31, 2017
Volcanos and quakes.

ENCORE  “Locked and loaded” is how one scientist recently described the San Andreas fault.  Find out when this famous west-coast rift might cause “the big one;” also, the state of early earthquake warning systems.

Plus, another sign of our planet’s unceasing turmoil: volcanos!  Could the eruption that produced the Deccan Traps, and not a rock from space, have been the nail in the coffin for the dinosaurs?  One seismologist shares new evidence about some suspicious timing.