Rank #1: Sidedoor from the Smithsonian: Masters of Disguise
For the next few episodes, we’re featuring select episodes from the Smithsonian’s new series, Sidedoor, about where science, art, history, humanity and where they unexpectedly overlap — just like their museums. Up first: tales of scientific deception and trickery.
For even more from Sidedoor, subscribe in iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.
Dec 01 2016
Rank #2: Totally Cerebral: Untangling the Mystery of Memory
How has our understanding of the mysterious tissue between our ears changed in the past 50 years? In her Totally Cerebral episodes on Transistor, neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki introduces us to scientists who have uncovered some of the deepest secrets about how our brains make us who we are.
Brenda Milner in 2011 | Photo by Eva Blue
Wendy begins by talking with groundbreaking experimental psychologist Brenda Milner , who in the 1950s, completely changed our understanding of the parts of the brain important for forming new long-term memories. Through her observation and careful study of patients with profound amnesia, Brenda wrote a paper in 1957 that broke with the accepted theories about memory, and blew open the entire field of neuroscience.
Inside the Episode
The brain! The front view shows the location of the right and left hippocampus (in orange/yellow) within the brain’s temporal lobe. The side view shows the location of the left hippocampus (in orange/yellow) within the temporal lobe. (Click to enlarge.)
Brenda Milner was born in 1918, and she is still working and using the same wooden chair in her office at McGill University in Montreal, where she wrote her pioneering paper on HM and memory. In fact, if you listen carefully in the episode you may hear the faint squeak of her wooden desk chair, which she has used for more than 50 years. Brenda has received numerous prizes for her work, including the Kavli Prize in 2014.
Patient HM is perhaps the most famous amnesic patient in history. He had experimental surgery in 1953 to address his severe epilepsy, and when he woke up it was immediately clear that something was horribly wrong.
For 47 years, Suzanne Corkin, a former student of Brenda Milner, studied HM in her own lab at MIT. She’s the author of Permanent Present Tense: The Unforgettable Life of the Amnesic Patient HM. We’ll hear more from Suzanne in the next episode of Transistor.
Brain image from Shutterstock.
Feb 09 2015
Rank #3: 700 Fathoms Under the Sea
Something unusual happens about a half mile under the sea. Ocean physics create a special zone where sound travels for hundreds, even thousands of miles. Whales use it, and cold warriors plumbed its secrets. Listen in:
This story was produced by David Schulman in 2014. It was hosted for Transistor by Genevieve Sponsler and mixed for Transistor by Josh Swartz.
Feb 07 2017
Rank #4: Owning the Clouds
Humans have always been interested in controlling the weather. In the past we used raindances and sacrifices; today we turn to science. Cloud seeding is practiced all over the world, but there's still a lot we don't know about it. Delve into the surprising history, the controversial present, and the uncertain future of cloud seeding.
Apr 28 2017
Rank #5: Outside Podcast: Frozen Alive
We are interrupting your regularly scheduled podcast feed with a special new episode on the science of survival from Outside Magazine and PRX. Here’s the first episode on the cold, hard facts about what happens when you get lost in the snow.
Mar 30 2016
Rank #6: The Straight Poop
For one disease, poop — yes, human poop — is nothing short a miracle cure. Microbiologist Christina Agapakis takes a look at Fecal Microbiota Transplants or FMT and what happens when you take the really complex gut microbiome from a healthy person and transplant it into the gut of a really sick person. For patients suffering from a one of the most common and deadly hospital acquired infections, Clostridium Difficile, or C Diff, one poop transplant can cure them, sometimes within hours. But, why?
Inside the Episode:
Christina visits Mark Smith at OpenBiome in Medford, Massachusetts. OpenBiome is a poop bank where donors are paid $40 bucks a po(o)p and where scientists like Mark produce highly screened, liquefied poop samples to be sent to doctors and hospitals all over the country.
Christina talks with Ed Yong, blogger at Not Exactly Rocket Science and author of a forthcoming book about microbes called I Contain Multitudes, about what we might be failing to ask in all of the excitement surrounding FMT.
Christina also talks with Tami Lieberman, a systems biologist at Harvard who decided to put some new home sampling kits for sequencing your gut microbiome to the test.
It’s a wild and wooly world out there when it comes to the medical power of poop. Who knew? Stay tuned.
This episode was produced by Kerry Donahue and Sruthi Pinnamaneni, and mixed by David Herman. Photos by Genevieve Sponsler.
Mort Garson: “Good Morning Starshine” from Electronic Hair Pieces
Anna Meredith: “Bubble Gun” from Jet Black Raider
Piero Piccioni: “Mexican Borders” from Piero Piccioni Soundtracks
Four Tet: “As Serious As Your Life” from Rounds
Hauschka: “Cube” from Salon des amateurs
Laurie Spiegel: “Patchwork” from The Expanding Universe
Mar 05 2015
Rank #7: Totally Cerebral: Exercise and Your Brain
A story of movement, memory, and mentors. Dr. Wendy Suzuki introduces us to Dr. Marian Diamond, whose lively classes ushered Wendy into a career in neuroscience. And Wendy shares how she came to study how exercise profoundly affects the brain, not just the body.
Here’s more from Wendy:
A science mentor can make your career. Dr. Marian Diamond not only ushered me into the field of neuroscience with her lively and engaging classes but she has continued to influence me and help me throughout my work as a scientist and teacher.
What made Marian such a profound mentor? Her multi-dimensionality. First, she was the best teacher I have ever experienced in my entire thirty-year career, unendingly fascinated with her specialty, human anatomy, including both brain anatomy and gross human anatomy. Now, if you have never taken an anatomy course before, you should know it can be as dry as learning last year’s tax laws. Marian made anatomy come alive, relating every brain or body part to a question or observation about ourselves, such as “The word uterus means Hysterical- do you agree with this?” Or “Do you know what the largest organ in the body is? It’s your skin- take care of it!” She made anatomy relevant and personal.
Second, she made groundbreaking scientific contributions on the capacity of the brain to change in response to the environment. When she did this work in the late 1950s/early 1960s, nobody believed that the adult brain could change – at least in any ways that scientists could measure. Marian and her colleagues showed that changing a rat’s living space (what she called “enriching” the environment) could have profound effects of the brain’s anatomy and that she could measure them. In this episode, I’ll describe Marian’s pioneering studies and how they related to recent studies showing the profound ways that exercise transforms the brain.
Third, she offered me a role model of a thriving, engaged and enthusiastic female scientist, even if it took me years to appreciate how lucky I was. You see, she was such a powerful presence on the Berkeley campus that I thought that smart strong, successful female neuroscientists who were extraordinary teachers were everywhere! I never questioned whether I would be able to do the same thing, because she showed me that it could be done. Only much later into my post-doctoral studies did I notice that other female scientists didn’t seem to have the same confidence that I did; they saw the sea of men in science with only a few successful women and many found it discouraging.
Only later was I able to fully appreciate what a wonderful gift she gave me as my role model in science. Because Marian did the work she loved, she allowed me to sail right over worries over whether a woman could make it.
In this episode, we’ll hear from Marian herself, as she teaches a class and describes her groundbreaking findings. Her work on brain plasticity is at the heart of the work that I and many neuroscientists pursue today.
— Dr. Wendy Suzuki
May 22 2015
Rank #8: The Art and Science of Polynesian Wayfinding
Ancient navigators traveled across the Pacific without the aid of maps or instruments. We’ll hear from modern-day navigators in New Zealand, Hawai’i and North America about the techniques used to do so. This is the art and science of Polynesian wayfinding, brought to us by producer Lily Bui.
This story was produced by Lily Bui in 2015 and edited by Andrea Mustain. It was hosted for Transistor by Genevieve Sponsler and mixed for Transistor by Josh Swartz. Image by Lily Bui.
Sep 21 2016
Rank #9: The Indiana Jones of Math
Ken Golden isn’t your typical mathematician. He’s the Indiana Jones of Mathematics. He gets up from behind his desk, armed with mathematical theory and gets out into the world, having adventures and finding unifying math behind seemingly unconnected subjects.
In this episode, we find him out on the Arctic sea ice drawing on math developed for stealth technology to understand not only the ice, but the bones of people with osteoporosis.
This episode was produced by Ben Harden in 2014 for PRX’s STEM Story Project. It was hosted for this episode of Transistor by Genevieve Sponsler and mixed for Transistor by Erika Lantz.
Image by: Amanda Kowalski
Oct 05 2015
Rank #10: Trace Elements: Mystery at the Lake
Lake Oneida on April 24, 2016. Photo by Carl Hagmann
Special episode #4 featuring Trace Elements with Cristina Quinn and Alison Bruzek. In the 1970s, a geochemist and a biologist banded together to solve a mystery at Lake Oneida in upstate New York. What they found is changing the way we think about human life, and where the origins of life come from.
Kenneth Nealson, professor, University of Southern California
Willard Moore, professor emeritus, University of South Carolina
Apr 21 2016
Rank #11: Outside Podcast: Devil’s Highway, Part 1
Transistor’s mothership PRX has partnered with Outside magazine to produce four special podcast episodes on the Science of Survival. You’ll receive them in Transistor’s podcast feed, and for even more, subscribe to the Outside Podcast.
Here’s episode 3.
In the heart of the Sonoran Desert is the remarkable story of Pablo Valencia, a gold prospector who spent six days wandering in 110-degree heat before stumbling into scientist William McGee’s camp.
Jun 02 2016
Rank #12: Orbital Path: Must Be Aliens
Loyal Transistor listeners will remember astronomer Michelle Thaller, who hosted three episodes for us early in 2015. She’s back, now with her own monthly podcast from PRX called Orbital Path. It’s all about stars, the universe, and us — for space lovers or just the curious.
The debut episode features the infamous Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy, as Michelle and Phil talk about why aliens get the credit for almost everything unexplainable. And episode two is in the works with another guest you won’t want to miss.
Enjoy the show — and get links to subscribe to Orbital Path here.
Orbital Path is produced by Lauren Ober.
Dec 17 2015
Rank #13: Sidedoor from the Smithsonian: Shake it Up
For the next few episodes, we’re featuring the Smithsonian’s new series, Sidedoor, about where science, art, history, and humanity unexpectedly overlap — just like in their museums.
In this episode: an astronomer has turned the night sky into a symphony; an architecture firm has radically re-thought police stations; and an audiophile builds a successful record company on under-appreciated sounds.
For even more from Sidedoor, subscribe in iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.
Music credits under backannounce: “Candy” by Jahzzar.
Jan 20 2017
Rank #14: Totally Cerebral: What’s That Smell?
Scents and tastes are powerfully evocative — one whiff of perfume or cooking aromas can transport you back to a particular moment, a particular place, a particular person. Because the things we smell reach two brain structures called the hippocampus and amygdala in just one synapse, scents can almost immediately stimulate the key brain areas for memory, emotion, and location.
In this episode of Totally Cerebral, Dr. Wendy Suzuki speaks with neuroscientist Howard Eichenbaum, an expert on olfactory memory, and together with chemist Kent Kirshenbaum, sits down to a meal with Chef Anita Lo to hear how she plays with our senses and our memories in her delicious creations.
Image from Shutterstock.
Apr 16 2015
Rank #15: Nautilus special: “To Save California, Read Dune”
The sci-fi epic of Dune takes place on a desert planet. There, the water in even a single tear is precious. Can Dune offer lessons for drought-stricken California of 2015?
This is a special episode featuring science magazine Nautilus.
This episode was produced for PRX and Nautilus by David Schulman.
Nov 05 2015
Rank #16: A Job for the Bee Team
On May 2, 2015, beekeepers Pam Arnold and Kristy Allen got hit with a pesticide. They couldn't see it or smell it, but when they saw their bees writhing on the ground and dying they knew something was seriously wrong. They called a panel of scientists at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.
Aug 21 2017
Rank #17: Venus and Us: Two Stories of Climate Change
Venus | © NASA
Space scientists are acutely aware of what can happen when climates change in other parts of our solar system. Take Venus, where it rains sulfuric acid and is 900°F on the surface, but it wasn’t always that way. Astrophysicist Michelle Thaller talks with a NASA expert on Venus about how it became a hellscape. And she talks with the Library of Congress’ inaugural chair of astrobiology about how to grasp this new geologic era where humans cause rapid change.
- It takes longer for Venus to rotate once on its axis than it does to make one trip around the sun. Meaning that Venus’ days are longer than its years.
- After the moon, Venus is the brightest natural object in the sky.
- It rains sulphuric acid on Venus.
- Venus’ atmospheric pressure is 92 times what it is on Earth, which is enough to crush a human flat.
- Surface temperatures on Venus can get up to 880 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Venus boasts tens of thousands of volcanoes on its surface.
Check out one of his band’s performances at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.
David’s music is also featured in this episode of Transistor.
Feb 24 2015
Rank #18: Totally Cerebral: Think Pop Culture Gets Amnesia Right? Forgetaboutit!
Many depictions of amnesia in TV, movies, and cartoons are just plain wrong — some laughably so.
Host Dr.Wendy Suzuki talks with Prof. Neal Cohen, a Neuroscientist from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. For 20 years, Neal has used bad examples of amnesia that abound in pop culture as well as the rare accurate depictions as a powerful tool in his wildly popular undergraduate course about amnesia in pop culture. Neal entertains and educates his students with examples from TV shows and films as diverse as Futurama, Memento, and 50 First Dates, and we’ll hear some of those clips.
Inside the Episode:
Wendy and Neal illuminate some of the core features that define true amnesia, and discuss a classic finding that Neal published early in his career with Prof. Larry Squire, another expert on memory. They made the key distinction between “knowing how” and “knowing that.”
Most amnesic patients can’t learn or remember that particular things happened in at a particular time or in a particular place. In fact, patients with severe amnesia are no longer able to learn or remember anything about what has happened to them. However, Neal Cohen and Larry Squire showed that the same amnesic patients could learn and remember how to do things, like work a lock, or solve a puzzle with blocks, or swing a racquet. Thus, they could learn and remember how to do things, but not that those things had happened.
At the end of every class, Neal asks his students to write their own short screenplay about a character with amnesia. If you feel inspired after listening to the episode, send us an amnesia screenplay synopsis in the comments section!
Mar 19 2015
Rank #19: Trace Elements: Upgrade
It’s here! Episode three of our special five-part series called Trace Elements with hosts Cristina Quinn and Alison Bruzek.
Hacking your hearing aid to implanting NFC tags into your hands — we are now in the age of DIY Bio. Dive into the growing underworld of body modification from the backrooms of tattoo shops to the lab in your kitchen.
Frank Swain, biohacker/community manager at New Scientist
Amal Graafstra, CEO of Dangerous Things
Meredith Patterson, technologist
Apr 07 2016
Rank #20: Dance: It’s Only Human
Bronwyn Tarr with Carimbó dancers.
Oxford evolutionary neuroscientist Bronwyn Tarr was in a remote area of Brazil to begin an experiment. On her first night there, she heard distant drumbeats, went looking for them, and experienced firsthand what she was there to study: how dancing develops a sense of community.
This story was produced by Katie Burke in 2015 with the assistance of Jagmeet Mac, and edited by Andrea Mustain. It was hosted for Transistor by Genevieve Sponsler and mixed for Transistor by Josh Swartz.
Image by: José Roberto Corrêa
Nov 11 2016