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Science & Medicine
Society & Culture
Technology
Natural Sciences

Big Picture Science

Updated 9 days ago

Science & Medicine
Society & Culture
Technology
Natural Sciences
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The surprising connections in science and technology that give you the Big Picture. Astronomer Seth Shostak and science journalist Molly Bentley are joined each week by leading researchers, techies, and journalists to provide a smart and humorous take on science. Our regular "Skeptic Check" episodes cast a critical eye on pseudoscience.

Read more

The surprising connections in science and technology that give you the Big Picture. Astronomer Seth Shostak and science journalist Molly Bentley are joined each week by leading researchers, techies, and journalists to provide a smart and humorous take on science. Our regular "Skeptic Check" episodes cast a critical eye on pseudoscience.

iTunes Ratings

536 Ratings
Average Ratings
443
42
19
21
11

Termites

By RW&ORR - Oct 10 2018
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A poem by Ogden Nash is about termites. The Termite.

Excellent show

By Octostarr - Feb 26 2018
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Very enjoyable Seth and Marley are very funny and excellent podcast.

iTunes Ratings

536 Ratings
Average Ratings
443
42
19
21
11

Termites

By RW&ORR - Oct 10 2018
Read more
A poem by Ogden Nash is about termites. The Termite.

Excellent show

By Octostarr - Feb 26 2018
Read more
Very enjoyable Seth and Marley are very funny and excellent podcast.
Cover image of Big Picture Science

Big Picture Science

Updated 9 days ago

Read more

The surprising connections in science and technology that give you the Big Picture. Astronomer Seth Shostak and science journalist Molly Bentley are joined each week by leading researchers, techies, and journalists to provide a smart and humorous take on science. Our regular "Skeptic Check" episodes cast a critical eye on pseudoscience.

Rank #1: Emergence

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Your brain is made up of cells. Each one does its own, cell thing. But remarkable behavior emerges when lots of them join up in the grey matter club. You are a conscious being – a single neuron isn’t.

Find out about the counter-intuitive process known as emergence – when simple stuff develops complex forms and complex behavior – and all without a blueprint.

Plus self-organization in the natural world, and how Darwinian evolution can be speeded up.

Guests:

Descripción en español

Oct 14 2013
51 mins
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Rank #2: Before the Big Bang

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ENCORE It’s one of the biggest questions you can ask: has the universe existed forever? The Big Bang is supposedly the moment it all began. But now scientists wonder if there isn’t an earlier chapter to our origin story. And maybe chapters before that! What happened before the Big Bang? It’s the ultimate prequel.

Plus – the Big Bang as scientific story: nail biter or snoozer?

Guests

Descripción en español

First released December 17, 2012

Feb 24 2014
52 mins
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Rank #3: Skeptic Check: Flat Earth

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(repeat) The Earth is not round.  Technically, it’s an oblate spheroid.  But for some people, the first statement is not even approximately correct.  Flat Earthers believe that our planet resembles – not a slightly squashed grapefruit – but a thick pancake.   A journalist who covered a Flat Earth convention describes the rationale behind this ever-more popular belief. 

So how do you establish science truth?  We look at the difference between a truly scientific examination of extraordinary claims and approaches that feel and look science-y but aren’t.  

Find out how one man will use telescopes and balloons in the desert to demonstrate that the Earth is a globe, while a biologist runs a test on the waters of Loch Ness to see if it contains prehistoric reptile DNA.

And what happens when amateur investigators chase ghosts, UFOs, and Bigfoot with science instruments, but without an understanding of the scientific method.

Guests:

Jul 29 2019
50 mins
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Rank #4: The Big Picture

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How did life begin? What’s the universe made of, and what’s the nature of consciousness?

These are truly some of the biggest puzzlers in science, but answers are in the offing.

We consider the modern-day hunt for life beyond Earth, as well as a new theory of consciousness: could it be merely an illusion to entertain us and make our lives more worthwhile?

Also, after thousands of years of examining the heavens, are we finally learning the true nature of the cosmos?

Guests:

Descripción en español

Jul 11 2011
50 mins
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Rank #5: Sci-Fi From the Future

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(repeat) Are you ready to defer all your personal decision-making to machines? Polls show that most Americans are uneasy about the unchecked growth of artificial intelligence. The possible misuse of genetic engineering also makes us anxious. We all have a stake in the responsible development of science and technology, but fortunately, science fiction films can help.

The movies Ex Machina and Jurassic Park suggest where A.I. and unfettered gene-tinkering could lead. But even less popular sci-fi movies can help us imagine unsettling scenarios regarding over-population, smart drugs, and human cloning. 

And not all tales are grim.  The 1951 film, The Man in the White Suit, weaves a humorous story of materials science run amok.   

So, grab a bowl of popcorn and join us in contemplating the future of humanity as Hollywood sees it!

Guest:

Aug 05 2019
50 mins
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Rank #6: Martian Madness

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It’s the starkly beautiful setting for the new film “The Martian,” and – just in time – NASA has announced that the Red Planet is more than a little damp, with liquid water occasionally oozing over its surface.  But Mars remains hostile terrain.  Mark Watney, the astronaut portrayed by Matt Damon, struggles to survive there. If he has a hard time, what chance does anyone else have?

Find out how long you could last just eating Martian potatoes.  Also, author Andy Weir describes how he prevailed upon his readers to turn his serialized blog posts into a technically accurate thriller that inspired the film.   Plus, the NASA advisor to “The Martian” sorts the science from the fiction.

And, how the discovery of water on Mars might change NASA’s game plan.

Guests:

Oct 05 2015
51 mins
Play

Rank #7: Exoplanets

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You may be unique, but is your home planet? NASA’s Kepler spacecraft has uncovered thousands of planetary candidates, far far beyond our solar system. Some may be habitable and possibly even Earth-like. But now a failure in its steering apparatus may bring an abrupt end to this pioneering telescope’s search for new worlds.

But Kepler has a massive legacy of data still to be studied. Many new worlds will undoubtedly be found in these data. Hear why the astronomer who has discovered the greatest number of exoplanets is hopeful about the hunt for alien life, and meet the next generation of planet-hunting instruments.

Also, “Weird worlds? That was our idea!” Sci-fi writers lay claim to the first musings on exotic planetary locales. And a biographer of Magellan and Columbus describes the dangerous hunt for new worlds five centuries ago.

Guests:

Descripción en español

Jun 17 2013
51 mins
Play

Rank #8: Big Data

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It’s all in the numbers. The trick is, finding what you’re looking for. But that’s the name of the game with big data. We have a giga-gigabyte of information, and combing through it will lead to new cures for disease, new discoveries about the cosmos, or clues to our social and economic behavior.

But is big data Big Brother? You leave a little bit of yourself behind with each mouse click. Discover how surveillance and privacy issues bubble out of the mix, as the terabytes keep flowing in.

Plus one man’s quest to know himself through the numbers as he records everything – and we do mean everything – about his body.

Guests:

•   Atul Butte – Associate professor, division chief, systems medicine, Stanford University

•   Larry Smarr – Professor of computer science, University of California, San Diego, director of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology, (Calit2)

•   Karen Nelson – Microbiologist, director of the Rockville Campus of the J. Craig Venter Institute

•   Gerry Harp – Physicist, and Director of the Center for SETI Research at the SETI Institute

•   Deirdre Mulligan – Assistant professor at the University of California, Berkeley School of Information and faculty director of the Berkeley Center of Law and Technology

•   Ken Goldberg – Professor of engineering, information and art at the University of California, Berkeley

Sep 24 2012
52 mins
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Rank #9: Space for Everyone

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ENCORE  Is space the place for you? With a hefty amount of moolah, a trip there and back can be all yours. But when the price comes down, traffic into space may make the L.A. freeway look like a back-country lane.

Space is more accessible than it once was, from the development of private commercial flights … to a radical new telescope that makes everyone an astronomer … to mining asteroids for their metals and water to keep humanity humming for a long time.

Plus, move over Russia and America: Why the next words you hear from space may be in Mandarin.

Guests:

  • Leonard David – Space journalist, writer for SPACE.com
  • Mario Juric – Astronomer working on data processing for the LSST – the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope
  • John Lewis – Chemist, professor emeritus of planetary sciences, University of Arizona, chief scientist, Deep Space Industries
  • Philip Lubin – Professor of physics, University of California, Santa Barbara
  • James Oberg – Retired NASA rocket scientist, space historian, and a self-described space nut

First released March 3, 2014.

Oct 12 2015
51 mins
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Rank #10: Outta This World

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Earth may not be rare after all. New data from NASA’s Kepler mission suggests that the universe is chock-a-block with planets. More than a thousand new possible planets have just been found, and more than fifty of these might be suitable for life. Ready for cosmic company? We discuss the results of the Kepler mission in a roundtable with some of its top scientists.

Meanwhile, the Voyager spacecraft continues to be humanity’s point man in the race to interstellar space. Poised to leave our solar system, we reflect on the mission – including its on-board messages for aliens.

Plus, out-of-this world science. From lab coats to warp speed: does Hollywood get it right? Does it matter?

Guests:

•   Jon Jenkins – Co-principal investigator for the Kepler Mission

•   Doug Caldwell – Co-investigator and instrument scientist for the Kepler Mission

•   Jessie Christiansen – Data scientist working on the Kepler mission

•   Ed Stone – Professor of physics at the California Institute of Technology, and former Director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Jennifer Ouellette – Writer and former director, National Academy of Sciences’ Science and Entertainment Exchange 

Feb 12 2011
51 mins
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Rank #11: Skeptic Check: Paleo Diet

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ENCORE  What’s for dinner? Meat, acorns, tubers, and fruit. Followers of the Paleo diet say we should eat what our ancestors ate 10,000 years ago, when our genes were perfectly in synch with the environment.

We investigate the reasoning behind going paleo with the movement’s pioneer, as well as with an evolutionary biologist. Is it true that our genes haven’t changed much since our hunter-gatherer days?

Plus, a surprising dental discovery is nothing for cavemen to smile about.

And another fad diet that has a historical root: the monastic tradition of 5:2 – five days of eating and two days of fasting.

It’s our monthly look at critical thinking, Skeptic Check … but don’t take our word for it.

Guests:

First released February 19, 2014.

Nov 16 2015
52 mins
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Rank #12: Physics Phrontiers

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ENCORE Physics means getting physical if you’re tackling the biggest, most mysterious questions in the universe. Stoic scientists endure the driest, darkest, coldest spots on the planet to find out how it all began and why there’s something rather than nothing. From the bottom of an old iron mine to the top of the Andes, we’ll hear their stories.

Plus, Steven Weinberg on this weird stuff called dark energy, and Leonard Susskind sees double, no, triple, no, …infinite universes.

Guests:

Descripción en español

May 16 2011
51 mins
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Rank #13: Alien Invasion

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ENCORE They’re heeeere! Yes, aliens are wreaking havoc and destruction throughout the land. But these aliens are Arizona beetles, and the land is in California, where the invasive insects are a serious problem.

And what of space-faring aliens? We have those too: how to find them, and how to protect our planet – and theirs.

From Hollywood to SETI’s hi-tech search for extraterrestrials, aliens are invading Are We Alone?

Guests:

Descripción en español

Jun 20 2011
52 mins
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Rank #14: Nano Nano

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ENCORE Think small to solve big problems. That, in a nutshell, is the promise of nanotechnology. In this barely visible world, batteries charge 100 times faster and drugs go straight to their targets in the body. Discover some of these nano breakthroughs and how what you can’t see can help you…

…or hurt you? What if tiny machines turn out to be nothing but trouble? We’ll look at the health and safety risks of nanotech.

Plus, scaling up in science fiction: why a Godzilla-sized insect is fun, but just doesn’t fly.

Guests:
  • Bill Flounders - executive director of the Marvell Nanofabrication Laboratory at the University of California at Berkeley
  • Joseph DeSimone - professor of chemistry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and chemical engineering at North Carolina State University
  • David Guston - political scientist at Arizona State University where he directs The Center for Nanotechnology in Society
  • Stan Williams - Senior Fellow and founding director of the Information and Quantum Systems Lab at Hewlett-Packard
  • Michael LaBarbera - Professor in organismal biology, anatomy and geophysical sciences, University of Chicago

Descripción en español

First released February 21 2011

Jul 02 2012
52 mins
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Rank #15: You've Got Sol!

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It’s the star of our solar system, but much about the Sun is still mysterious. Find out what a new NASA mission to our favorite fireball might discover about its super-hot outer regions.

Also, why the most common stars in the galaxy don’t shine thanks to nuclear energy as our Sun does. And, recreating Sol’s energy source on Earth at the National Ignition Facility.

Plus, an ex-Star Wars animator and photographer on how to film an atomic blast.

Guests:
Jan 20 2011
51 mins
Play

Rank #16: Stranded

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ENCORE Imagine not knowing where you are – and no one else knowing either. Today, that’s pretty unlikely. Digital devices pinpoint our location within a few feet, so it’s hard to get lost anymore. But we can still get stranded.

A reporter onboard an Antarctic ship that was stuck for weeks in sea ice describes his experience, and contrasts that with a stranding a hundred years prior in which explorers ate their dogs to survive.

Plus, the Plan B that keeps astronauts from floating away forever … how animals and plants hitch rides on open sea to populate new lands … and the rise of the mapping technology that has made hiding a thing of the past.

Guests:

Descripción en español

First released February 3, 2014.

Sep 14 2015
51 mins
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Rank #17: Hawkingravity

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(repeat) Stephen Hawking felt gravity’s pull.  His quest to understand this feeble force spanned his career, and he was the first to realize that black holes actually disappear – slowly losing the mass of everything they swallow in a dull, evaporative glow called Hawking radiation. 

But one of gravity’s deepest puzzles defied even his brilliant mind.  How can we connect theories of gravity on the large scale to what happens on the very small?  The Theory of Everything remains one of the great challenges to physicists.

Also, the latest on deciphering the weirdness of black holes and why the gravitational wave detector LIGO has added colliding neutron stars to its roster of successes.

Plus, a fellow physicist describes Dr. Hawking’s extraordinary deductive abilities and what it was like to collaborate with him.  And, a surprise awaits Molly when she meets a local string theorist to discuss his search for the Theory of Everything.

Guests:

Mar 11 2019
51 mins
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Rank #18: Happily Confused

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ENCORE  Do you feel happy today? How about happily disgusted? Maybe sadly surprised, or sadly disgusted? Human emotions are complex. But at least they’re the common language that unites us all – except when they don’t. A tribe in Namibia might interpret our expression of fear as one of wonderment. And people with autism don’t feel the emotions that others do.

So if you’re now delightfully but curiously perplexed, tune in and discover the evolutionary reason for laughter … how a computer can diagnose emotional disorders that doctors miss … and why the world’s most famous autistic animal behaviorist has insight into the emotional needs of cattle.

Guests:

First released April 21, 2014

Nov 30 2015
50 mins
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Rank #19: Home Brew Science

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The recipe for being a scientist was easy in the old days… just be born into a rich family, have an interest in nature and plenty of time to indulge yourself. But are the days of gentlemen scientists over? Maybe not.

We go to the Maker Faire and check out how small-scale projects have big-scale ambitions.

Also, how everyday experience often tells us something profound about the universe.

Guests:
Aug 27 2011
51 mins
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Rank #20: Space: Why Go There?

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(repeat) It takes a lot of energy and technology to leave terra firma. But why rocket into space when there’s so much to be done on Earth?  From the practical usefulness of satellites to the thrill of exploring other worlds, let us count the ways.

The launch of a NOAA weather satellite to join its twin provides unparalleled observation of storms, wildfires, and even lightning.  Find out what it’s like to watch hurricanes form from space.

Meanwhile, more than a dozen countries want their own satellites to help solve real-world problems, including tracking disease.  Learn how one woman is helping make space accessible to everyone.

Plus, now that we’ve completed our grand tour of the Solar System, which bodies are targets for return missions and which for human exploration?  

Guests:

  • Sarah Cruddas – Space journalist, broadcaster, and author based in the U.K.
  • Jamese Sims – GOES-R Project Manager at NOAA
  • Danielle Wood – Assistant professor, MIT Media Lab, Director of the Space Enabled Research Group
  • Jim Green – NASA Planetary Science Division Director 
Dec 24 2018
51 mins
Play

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