Cover image of Transistor
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Science & Medicine
Natural Sciences

Transistor

Updated 9 days ago

Science & Medicine
Natural Sciences
Read more

Transistor is podcast of scientific curiosities and current events, featuring guest hosts, scientists, and story-driven reporters. Presented by radio and podcast powerhouse PRX, with support from the Sloan Foundation.

Read more

Transistor is podcast of scientific curiosities and current events, featuring guest hosts, scientists, and story-driven reporters. Presented by radio and podcast powerhouse PRX, with support from the Sloan Foundation.

iTunes Ratings

41 Ratings
Average Ratings
25
12
3
0
1

This rocks

By morphy232 - Mar 17 2016
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Love love love the trace elements series. Cristina Quinn and Alison Bruzek rock it.

Inspiring, intelligent, interesting

By mdvmcr - Jun 12 2015
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Smart, interesting and I always come away with something I want to research more. Excellent!!

iTunes Ratings

41 Ratings
Average Ratings
25
12
3
0
1

This rocks

By morphy232 - Mar 17 2016
Read more
Love love love the trace elements series. Cristina Quinn and Alison Bruzek rock it.

Inspiring, intelligent, interesting

By mdvmcr - Jun 12 2015
Read more
Smart, interesting and I always come away with something I want to research more. Excellent!!
Cover image of Transistor

Transistor

Updated 9 days ago

Read more

Transistor is podcast of scientific curiosities and current events, featuring guest hosts, scientists, and story-driven reporters. Presented by radio and podcast powerhouse PRX, with support from the Sloan Foundation.

Rank #1: Engineering NYC from Below

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Head underground to hear how some of the first subways were built, and how they are built today.

This story was originally produced by Bishop Sand in 2013. It was hosted for Transistor by Genevieve Sponsler and mixed for Transistor by Josh Swartz.

Image: CC BY-SA 3.0 Adam E. Moreira | Music: Whurlywind from Podington Bear

Mar 09 2017
10 mins
Play

Rank #2: Sidedoor from the Smithsonian: Masters of Disguise

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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
19 mins
Play

Rank #3: We Are Stardust

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We’re closer than ever before to discovering if we’re not alone in the universe. The host for this episode of Transistor, astrophysicist Michelle Thaller, visits the NASA lab that discovered that meteorites contain some of the very same chemical elements that we contain. Then, Michelle talks to a Vatican planetary scientist about how science and religion can meet on the topic of life beyond Earth.

Inside the Episode:

Astrobiologist Danny Glavin works at the NASA Goddard Center for Astrobiology. Here are some of those “mad scientist machines” from the lab.



This nanoelectrospray emitter is used by the lab to analyze very small samples. It gives sample molecules an electric charge, then transfers them to a mass spectrometer, which identifies the molecules by their mass.



Mass spectrometer instrument used to detect amino acids in meteorite sample extracts.

Learn more about Vatican planetary scientist Br. Guy Consolmagno and his most recent book.

This episode was produced by Lauren Ober and edited by Katie Davis. Mix and sound design by Whitney Jones.

Photos courtesy of NASA.

Feb 02 2015
16 mins
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Rank #4: That Crime of the Month

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What does it mean when a woman commits a crime and attributes her actions to PMS? We revisit the court case for — and the science behind — the first use of the “PMS defense” in this country, back in 1981. Featuring the true crime show, Criminal.

This episode was produced by Criminal — Phoebe Judge, Lauren Spohrer, and Eric Mennel — 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.

Jul 16 2015
11 mins
Play

Rank #5: Cosmic Ray Catchers

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Cosmic rays from outer space sound like science fiction. They’re not—invisible particles flung from outer space pass through our bodies every minute. But not all cosmic rays are equal; Some are immensely powerful and very rare. For decades scientists have wondered where they're coming from – and what could possibly be hurling them at Earth. Now, they're getting closer to finding out.  Ross Chambless has the story.

Oct 30 2017
10 mins
Play

Rank #6: No Inoculation without Representation!

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Vaccinations, in one form or another, have been around longer than the United States. In fact, during the Revolutionary War in 1776, future first lady Abigail Adams pursued the controversial scientific technique to protect her 5 children against a threat more dangerous than an army of Redcoats. Here’s Luke Quinton with the story.

Nov 13 2017
9 mins
Play

Rank #7: This is Crohn’s Disease

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Producer/reporter Jack Rodolico and his wife, Christina.

Told by the couple who lived it, this is a story of how Crohn’s disease can change lives when you least expect it. And it’s a story of how science can present multiple paths to — hopefully — relief or recovery.

What’s it like making a very personal radio piece about your spouse? Jack Rodolico shares it all in this special follow-up article.

For more on treatments for illnesses like Crohn’s and C. diff, listen to The Straight Poop. Our microbiologist host visits a fecal transplant bank north of Boston and shares some of the questions surrounding this experimental treatment.

This is Crohn’s Disease was reported and produced by Jack Rodolico 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.

Photo of Christina and Jack by Shelley Fajans.

Jun 11 2015
20 mins
Play

Rank #8: Totally Cerebral: Exercise and Your Brain

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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.

Dr. Marian Diamond and Wendy Suzuki on Wendy’s undergrad graduation day

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

This episode was hosted by Wendy Suzuki and produced by Julie Burstein, with editing and sound design by Derek John. Wendy Suzuki’s book Healthy Brain, Happy Life, is on sale now.

May 22 2015
17 mins
Play

Rank #9: Bowl Tastes Delicious

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What if the size of our dinner plate, its color, the material of our cutlery - even background sounds - all affect how our food tastes? In other words, what if it’s not just about what we cooked for dinner, but the context of the meal itself?

Reporter Quentin Cooper brings us this story.

Sep 18 2017
10 mins
Play

Rank #10: Totally Cerebral: Untangling the Mystery of Memory

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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.



HM as a young man

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.



Suzanne Corkin

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.

This episode was produced by Julie Burstein, with editing and sound design by Derek John. Host Wendy Suzuki’s book Healthy Brain, Happy Life, goes on sale May 19, 2015.

Brain image from Shutterstock.

Feb 09 2015
30 mins
Play

Rank #11: Food, Meet Fungus

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Your host Christina in a

tempeh kitchen, for science!

In her episodes of Transistor, biologist Christina Agapakis is exploring the microbiome: the trillions of bacteria, fungi, and viruses that live in and on our body. The microbiome is hot right now and in these episodes Christina will explore what we do know in the face of so much hope and hype.

She starts with food. Bacteria-rich foods such as tempeh, cheese, pickles and yogurt have long been praised for their probiotic effect. But can you really add enough good bacteria to your digestive system to outnumber the bad?

Inside the Episode:



Barry’s business partner Gordon Bennett

mixing the Rhizopus culture into the soybeans.

Christina pays a visit to an industrial kitchen in Long Island City, Queens, where Barry Schwartz and a small team meet up every other week to make Barry’s Tempeh, the only fresh tempeh sold in New York State.

Wanting to better understand tempeh – aka “blue cheese of tofu” – Christina then calls her friend Colin Cahill in Indonesia where tempeh originated. He explains how it’s more than just soybeans and fungus that give tempeh in Indonesia its regional flavor.

Then, if a single bacteria food like tempeh is good, studying a more complex ecosystem like the bacteria on cheese rind might tell us more about bacteria interact with each other and in our digestive systems – at least that’s Harvard biologist Rachel Dutton‘s goal. She’s studied more than a hundred different types of cheese from around the world, trying to better understand how cheese gets its flavor and why they are all so different. She’s now the go-to biologist for world-famous chefs like David Chang of Momufuko and Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery in New York, helping them explore ways to make foods taste new, different and better.

Christina then shares her early love of fermentation with fermentation revivalist Sandor Katz. Sandor’s never met a fermented food he didn’t like, but he’s skeptical of anyone who says fermented foods can make us healthy on their own.

This episode was produced by Kerry Donahue and Sruthi Pinnamaneni, and mixed by Tim Einenkel.

Feb 02 2015
17 mins
Play

Rank #12: After A Flood

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Hurricanes Harvey and Irma left devastation in their wake all across the southern United States as unimaginable quantities of water swallowed up small towns and cities alike. But what happens to that water and how can cities better prepare ahead of time? Two years ago, reporter Jenny Chen followed two so-called flood hydrologists to learn more about the preparation.

Oct 02 2017
9 mins
Play

Rank #13: Peeing in Your Pants… In Your 30s

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Some studies suggest that one out of 10 women in her 30s is peeing herself. Others say the numbers could be much much higher. But it’s tough to talk about. Producer Lauren Whaley shares her story and the scientific approaches to hopefully one day solving this problem.

Aug 06 2016
9 mins
Play

Rank #14: Science’s Blind Spots

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One of the things we assign to science is that there are true, absolute facts. But scientists are human and, it turns out, as prone to blind spots in their thinking as the rest of us, especially when cultural assumptions and biases get in the way.



Emily Martin

& Richard Cone

In this episode, biologist Christina Agapakis explores ways these blind spots, especially around gender and sexism, have affected research and women’s careers in science. She talks with one of her heroes, anthropologist Emily Martin, and her husband, biophysicist Richard Cone, about Emily’s 1991 article “The Egg & The Sperm.” Reading that article about the ways cultural romantic assumptions limited scientists’ understanding of human reproduction was a turning point for Christina as a young scientist who considered her feminism as something separate from science.



Kate Clancy

She also talks with anthropologist Kate Clancy who has spent a lot of time thinking and writing about the ways women’s careers in science are different from men’s. Kate offers some thoughts on what science needs to consider to truly bring in more underrepresented voices and perspectives. New perspectives and voices in science may be key to science seeing blind spots for the first time.

Episode Extras — Your Transistor producers have picked out some further reading on this topic and how it affects both men and women:

This episode was produced by Kerry Donahue and Sruthi Pinnamaneni, and mixed by David Herman.

Music Credits:

Hauschka: “Cube” from Salon des amateurs

Anna Meredith: “Bubble Gun” from Jet Black Raider

Four Tet: “As Serious As Your Life” from Rounds

Not Waving: “Two-Way Mirror” from Intercepts

Laurie Spiegel: “Patchwork” from The Expanding Universe

May 14 2015
16 mins
Play

Rank #15: Three Letters on Broom Bridge

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Every October 16th hundreds of people gather in Dublin to celebrate Ireland's greatest mathematician, William Rowan Hamilton. And get this – It was his act of vandalism on Broom Bridge in 1843 that put him in the history books – it actually changed mathematics forever. Samuel Hanson brings us the story.

Oct 16 2017
10 mins
Play

Rank #16: Totally Cerebral: The Man Without a Memory

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(This is part 2 of a series on memory. Please listen to Episode 3 first!)



Henry Moliason (Patient HM) in the lab

Imagine that every time you met someone new, the moment they left the room you forgot you had ever spoken to them, and when they returned it was as if you had never seen them before. Imagine remembering your childhood, your parents, the history you learned in school, but never being able to form a new long term memory after the age of 27.

Welcome to the life of the famous amnesic patient “HM”, who had experimental surgery to relieve his terrible epilepsy, and woke up with a profound memory impairment. Neuroscientist Suzanne Corkin studied HM for almost half a century, and considered him a friend, even though he could never remember how he knew her. Suzanne gives us a glimpse of what daily life was like for him, and his tremendous contribution to our understanding of how our memories work.

Inside the Episode

For 50 years, Patient HM’s true identity was hidden from the public, but when he died in 2008 we learned his name was Henry Moliason. We hear him speak in this episode, and talk about his cheerful willingness to undergo test after test (though once they were finished, he couldn’t remember ever having done them) in order to help others.

Suzanne Corkin has written a moving and fascinating account of HM’s life and contribution to science called Permanent Present Tense: The Unforgettable Life of the Amnesic Patient HM.

This episode was hosted by Wendy Suzuki and produced by Julie Burstein, with editing and sound design by Derek John. Host Wendy Suzuki’s book Healthy Brain, Happy Life, goes on sale May 19, 2015.

Feb 09 2015
37 mins
Play

Rank #17: Totally Cerebral: What’s That Smell?

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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.

This episode was hosted by Wendy Suzuki and produced by Julie Burstein, with editing and sound design by Derek John. Wendy Suzuki’s book Healthy Brain, Happy Life, goes on sale May 19, 2015.

Image from Shutterstock.

Apr 16 2015
32 mins
Play

Rank #18: The Skinny on Your Skin

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Art by Noa Kaplan. Photo by Jed Kim

Your skin is your largest organ and is also is a thriving ecosystem, covered in bacteria. While many of us consider regular showers key to keeping our skin healthy, a group of scientists — and artists — are starting to ask: Could the future of skin care not be soap, but bacteria?

Inside the Episode

Biologist Christina Agapakis visits AOBiome in Cambridge, Mass. to talk with the team there that has developed a bacterial mist you spritz on your skin several times a day instead of showering.

Then, it’s off to rethink one of the most common skin problems, pimples. We meet Noa Kaplan, who makes sculptures based from ultra-magnified shots of her pores.

©Noa Kaplan

©Noa Kaplan

We also explore how fabric could support our skin’s ecosystem. Fashion futurist Suzanne Lee talks about the not-too-distant future when our clothes may do more than just cover us – they may be made from living bacteria and designed to interact with our skin. Check out this article about Suzanne’s process, and her TED Talk.

This episode was produced by Kerry Donahue and Sruthi Pinnamaneni, and mixed by David Herman.

Music credits:

Hauschka: “Cube” from Salon des amateurs

Four Tet: “As Serious As Your Life” from Rounds

Anna Meredith: “Bubble Gun” from Jet Black Raider

Pye Corner Audio: “Palais Spectres” from Sleep Games

Laurie Spiegel: “Patchwork” from The Expanding Universe

Apr 09 2015
17 mins
Play

Rank #19: 700 Fathoms Under the Sea

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This 1948 graphic shows sound traveling on an axis 700 fathoms down in the Atlantic.

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
8 mins
Play

Rank #20: Owning the Clouds

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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
10 mins
Play

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