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Big Picture Science

Updated 1 day ago

Technology
Science
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.

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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.

iTunes Ratings

557 Ratings
Average Ratings
463
41
19
23
11

Getting good!

By cerene_siege - Aug 27 2019
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The Episode “Math’s Paths” made my mathematician heart so happy!

My favorite science podcast!

By JakeBraneff - Aug 17 2019
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This is my go to podcast for all things science. Entertaining and informative.

iTunes Ratings

557 Ratings
Average Ratings
463
41
19
23
11

Getting good!

By cerene_siege - Aug 27 2019
Read more
The Episode “Math’s Paths” made my mathematician heart so happy!

My favorite science podcast!

By JakeBraneff - Aug 17 2019
Read more
This is my go to podcast for all things science. Entertaining and informative.
Cover image of Big Picture Science

Big Picture Science

Updated 1 day 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: Remembers Only

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You must remember this… wait, wait... I had it… on the tip of my tongue… (Memory is a tricky thing and most of us would like to improve it)… oh, yes: Discover the secrets of stupefying, knock-your-socks-off recall by a U.S. Memory Champion.

Also, almost everything we know about memory comes from the life of one man born in 1926 and known as H.M., the world’s “most unforgettable amnesiac.”

Plus, the sum total of the global data storage capacity in hard drives, thumb drives, the Internet, you name it… guess how many exabytes it comes to?

Guests:

•   Larry Squire – Professor of psychiatry and neurosciences and psychology at the University of California, San Diego and a scientist at the VA Medical Center in San Diego

•   Jacopo Annese – Neuroanatomist and Director of the Brain Observatory at the University of California, San Diego

•   Joshua Foer – Author of Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything

•   Martin Hilbert – Economist and social scientist, University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism

Dec 24 2012
52 mins
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Rank #2: 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 #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: Shocking Ideas

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Electricity is so 19th century. Most of the uses for it were established by the 1920s. So there’s nothing innovative left to do, right? That’s not the opinion of the Nobel committee that awarded its 2014 physics prize to scientists who invented the blue LED.

Find out why this LED hue of blue was worthy of our most prestigious science prize … how some bacteria actually breathe rust … and a plan to cure disease by zapping our nervous system with electric pulses.

Guests:

•   Siddha Pimputkar – Postdoctoral researcher in the Materials Department of the Solid State Lighting and Energy Electronics Center under Shuji Nakamura, winner of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics, University of California, Santa Barbara

•   Jeff Gralnick – Associate professor of microbiology at the University of Minnesota

•   Kevin Tracey – Neurosurgeon and president of the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in New York

Dec 15 2014
52 mins
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Rank #5: Light, the Universe, and Everything

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ENCORE What’s it all about? And we mean ALL. What makes up this vast sprawling cosmos? Why does it exist? Why do we exist? Why is there something rather than nothing? Ow, my head hurts!

For possible answers, we travel to the moment after the Big Bang and discover all that came into being in those few minutes after the great flash: time, space, matter, and light. Plus, the bizarre stuff that makes up the bulk of the universe: dark energy and dark matter.

Also, what we set in motion with the invention of the light blub. How artificial light lit up our homes, our cities and – inadvertently – our skies.

Guests:

Descripción en español

First aired September 6, 2010

Jan 02 2012
52 mins
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Rank #6: Skeptic Check: Friends Like These

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We love our family and friends, but sometimes their ideas about how the world works seem a little wacky. We asked BiPiSci listeners to share examples of what they can’t believe their loved-ones believe, no matter how much they hear rational explanations to the contrary. Then we asked some scientists about those beliefs, to get their take.

Discover whether newspaper ink causes cancer … if King Tut really did add a curse to his sarcophagus … the efficacy of examining your irises – iridology – to diagnose disease … and more!

Oh, and what about string theory? Is it falsifiable?

Guests:

•   Steven Novella – Physician at Yale University, host of the podcast, “Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe”

•   Matthew Hutson – Author of The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking: How Irrational Beliefs Keep Us Happy, Healthy, and Sane

•   Brian Greene – Physicist, Columbia University, author of The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos and The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory

•   Guy Harrison – Author of 50 Popular Beliefs That People Think Are True and, most recently, 50 Simple Questions for Every Christian

Oct 27 2014
52 mins
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Rank #7: Skeptic Check: Aliens - The Evidence

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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.

Find out why – even if E.T. is out there – one scientist says making contact is a long shot, while another pioneering scientist involved in SETI remains hopeful  … and could aliens be responsible for the peculiar behavior of two star systems now making the news?

Guests:

Sep 25 2017
50 mins
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Rank #8: Big Questions Somewhat Answered

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Here are questions that give a cosmologist – and maybe even you – insomnia: What happened after the Big Bang? What is dark matter? Will dark energy tear the universe apart?

Let us help you catch those zzzzs. We’re going to provide answers to the biggest cosmic puzzlers of our time. Somewhat. Each question is the focus of new experiments that are either underway or in the queue.

Hear the latest results in the search for gravitational waves that would be evidence for cosmic inflation, as well as the hunt for dark matter and dark energy. And because these questions are bigger than big, we’ve enlisted cosmologist Sean Carroll as our guide to what these experiments might reveal and what it all means.

Guests:

•   Sean Carroll – Cosmologist, California Institute of Technology

•   Jamie Bock – Experimental cosmologist at the California Institute of Technology and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and a member of the BICEP team

•   Brendan Crill – Cosmologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and member of the Planck collaboration

•   Jeff Filippini – Post-doctoral Fellow, California Institute of Technology, assistant professor of physics at the University of Illinois and member of the Spider team

•   Neil Gehrels – Astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, project scientist for WFIRST

Jan 19 2015
52 mins
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Rank #9: 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 #10: Skeptic Check, Beast Of

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Zombies, aliens, Bigfoot, oh my!! We've covered - or rather uncovered - them all and more on Skeptic Check, our monthly look of critical thinking. And now we've collected enough strange encounters to assemble a sordid retrospective of sorts.

Sharpen your brain, it's Skeptic Check, Beast Of. But don't take our word for it!

Guests:

Descripción en español

Oct 03 2011
52 mins
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Rank #11: Quantum: Why We Want 'Em

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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.

But the story continues.  Quantum computers may be millions of times faster than your laptop, and applying them to big data could be transformational for biology and health.  Quantum entanglement – “spooky” action at a distance – may not allow faster-than-light communication, but could be important in other ways.  And there’s even the suggestion that quantum mechanics defines the difference between life and death.

Quantum physics.  It’s weird and exotic.  But it’s how the universe works.

Guests:

Feb 19 2018
50 mins
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Rank #12: Time Travel Agents

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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. 

But before you pack your bags for that instantaneous trip to Paris, we need to understand the nature of time.  A physicist offers a testable theory and ponders how it bears on free will.

Plus, feel as if time comes to a standstill when you’re standing in line?  Tricks for altering your perception of time while you wait.  Some businesses already use them on you.  

Guests:

Nov 27 2017
51 mins
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Rank #13: Aloha Astronomy

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ENCORE From Mauna Kea in Hawaii, the view of the cosmos is spectacular. Giant black holes, distant galaxies, and extrasolar planets have all been uncovered by the massive telescopes that perch on this volcanic cone.

Join the astronomers who use the Keck Telescopes to peer at objects so far away, their light started out before Earth was born.

Also discover how the new Thirty Meter Telescope will dwarf even the massive glass eyes now in place, and why some of the world’s most important astronomical discoveries are being made in the Aloha State.

Plus, why the building of telescopes on the volcano is controversial to some native Hawaiians.

Guests:

Descripción en español

Oct 18 2010
51 mins
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Rank #14: Skeptic Check: Plotting Along

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It’s been ten years since the fall of the Twin Towers, but some still believe that the attack was an inside job. They’re not the only ones to buy into a conspiratorial view of world events. Others deny President Obama’s American birth… link autism with vaccines… and even claim that the fluo
ride in our drinking water is there to control our minds. Is it the truth - or the fringe groups - that are “out there?”

Find out why some tinfoil hat ideas never go away. Also, the roots of rational argument: did our brains evolve to seek the truth… or just win arguments?

It’s Skeptic Check… but don’t take our word for it!

Guests:

Descripción en español

Aug 15 2011
50 mins
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Rank #15: 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 #16: Creative Brains

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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.

But is Homo sapiens’ claim on creativity destined to be short-lived?  Why both Eagleman and Brandt are prepared to step aside when artificial intelligence can do their jobs.

Guests:

Dec 03 2018
52 mins
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Rank #17: 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 #18: It's Habitable Forming

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(repeat) There’s evidence for a subsurface lake on Mars, and scientists are excitedly using the “h” word.  Could the Red Planet be habitable, not billions of years ago, but today?  While we wait – impatiently – for a confirmation of this result, we review the recipe for habitable alien worlds. For example, the moon Titan has liquid lakes on its surface.  Could they be filled with Titanites?

Dive into a possible briny, underground lake on Mars … protect yourself from the methane-drenched rain on a moon of Saturn … and cheer on the missed-it-by-that-much planets, asteroids Ceres and Vesta.

Also, do tens of billions of potentially habitable extrasolar planets mean that Earth is not unique?

Guests:

  • Nathalie Cabrol – Planetary scientist, Director of the Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe at the SETI Institute
  • Jack Holt – Geophysicist, Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, University of Arizona
  • Jani Radebaugh – Planetary scientist and professor of geology, Brigham Young University
  • Marc Rayman –  Mission Director and Chief Engineer of NASA’s Dawn Mission
  • Phil Plait – Astronomer, blogger, and widely known as the Bad Astronomer
Jun 10 2019
51 mins
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Rank #19: Skeptic Check: Diluted Thinking

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The weaker the mixture, the stronger the potency. That paradox is a central tenet of homeopathy. More than 200 years old and developed long before germ theory, the practice is the fastest growing form of alternative medicine worldwide.

Proponents say its diluted remedies cure disease. Most scientists maintain there’s nothing in homeopathic solution but water. We’ll hear the arguments, and also the role placebos might be playing in the cure.

Plus, skeptic Phil Plait voyages to the edge of the solar system where a new planet has been discovered … maybe!

And, consider our brains: the product of millions of years of evolution. So why aren’t we more consistent in our reasoning?

It’s Skeptic Check…. but don’t take our word for it.

Guests:

•  Iris Bell – Psychiatrist and researcher in alternative medicine at the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine

•   Simon Singh – Science writer based in the U.K., author of Trick or Treatment: The Undeniable Facts about Alternative Medicine

•   Phil Plait – Astronomer, skeptic, and keeper of the web site badastronomy.com

•   Jim Underdown – Executive Director, Center for Inquiry, Los Angeles

•   Gordy Slack – Science writer and keeper of the neuroscience web site, "Brainstorm”

•   Robert Kurzban – Associate professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and author of Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite: Evolution and the Modular Mind 

Feb 27 2011
51 mins
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Rank #20: Swarm in Here... or Is It Just Me?

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ENCORE An ant … can’t … move a rubber tree plant… but the colony can. As a group, ants are an efficient, organized, can-do bunch. And a model for humans trying to manage complex systems.

Find out about the eerie collective intelligence of animals, and how an MIT researcher is hoping to put humans to work collaboratively to solve problems like climate change.

Also … hear how research into flocking behavior helps Hollywood film a herd of stampeding dinosaurs.

Guests:

Descripción en español

Originally aired June 21, 2010

Aug 22 2011
50 mins
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