Rank #1: Emergence
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:
- Randy Schekman – Professor of molecular and cell biology, University of California, Berkeley, 2013 Nobel Prize-winner
- Steve Potter – Neurobiologist, biomedical engineer, Georgia Institute of Technology
- Terence Deacon – Biological anthropologist, University of California, Berkeley
- Simon DeDeo – Research fellow at the Santa Fe Institute
- Leslie Valiant – Computer scientist, Harvard University, author of Probably Approximately Correct: Nature’s Algorithms for Learning and Prospering in a Complex World
Rank #2: Before the Big Bang
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
- Roger Penrose – Cosmologist, Oxford University
- Sean Carroll – Theoretical physicist, Caltech, author of The Particle at the End of the Universe: How the Hunt for the Higgs Boson Leads Us to the Edge of a New World
- Simon Steel – Astronomer, Tufts University
- Andrei Linde – Physicist, Stanford University
- Jonathan Gottschall – Writer, author of The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human
- Marcus Chown – Science writer and cosmology consultant for New Scientist magazine
First released December 17, 2012
Rank #3: Skeptic Check: Flat Earth
(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.
- James Underdown– Executive Director of the Center for Inquiry in Los Angeles and of the Independent Investigations Group. The results of his experiment will be posted here.
- Alex Moshakis– Journalist who writes for the Observer, the Guardian, and Esquire. His article on the U.K.’s first Flat Earth convention appeared in May, 2018 in the
- Harry Dyer– Lecturer in education at the University of East Anglia. His article about the flat earth convention is titled "I Watched an Entire Flat Earth Convention for my Research, Here is What I Learned."
- Neil Gemmell– Professor in the Department of Anatomy, University of Otago, New Zealand
- Sharon Hill– Geologist, science writer, speaker, and author of "Scientifical Americans: The Culture of Amateur Paranormal Researchers."
Rank #4: The Big Picture
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:
- Marc Kaufman - Reporter for the Washington Post, and author of First Contact: Scientific Breakthroughs in the Hunt for Life Beyond Earth
- Carolyn Porco - Planetary scientist and leader of the Cassini Imaging Team
- Michael Russell - Research Scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory
- Nicholas Humphrey - Theoretical psychologist and author of Soul Dust: The Magic of Consciousness
- Saul Perlmutter - Physicist at the University of California, Berkeley and senior scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National laboratory
Rank #5: Sci-Fi From the Future
(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!
- Andrew Maynard – Physicist and professor at the School for the Future of Innovation in Society at Arizona State University. Author of Films from the Future: The Technology and Morality of Sci-Fi Movies.
Rank #6: Martian Madness
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.
Rank #7: Exoplanets
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:
- Charlie Sobeck – Engineer, deputy project manager, Kepler Mission, NASA Ames Research Center
- Geoff Marcy – Astronomer, University of California, Berkeley
- Dan Clery – Deputy news editor, European office of Science
- Laurence Bergreen – author of Voyage to Mars, Columbus: The Four Voyages, 1492-1504, Over the Edge of the World: Magellan’s Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe (P.S.)
- Robert J. Sawyer – Hugo Award-winning author; most recently of Red Planet Blues
Rank #8: Big Data
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.
• 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
Rank #9: Space for Everyone
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.
- 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.
Rank #10: Outta This World
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?
• 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
Rank #11: Skeptic Check: Paleo Diet
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:
- Loren Cordain – Professor of health and exercise science, Colorado State University, founder of the modern-day paleo diet, author, The Paleo Diet Revised: Lose Weight and Get Healthy by Eating the Foods You Were Designed to Eat
- Andrew Jotischky – Professor of medieval history, Lancaster University
- Louise Humphrey – Archeologist, Natural History Museum in London
- Marlene Zuk – Evolutionary biologist, University of Minnesota, and author of Paleofantasy: What Evolution Really Tells Us about Sex, Diet, and How We Live
First released February 19, 2014.
Rank #12: Physics Phrontiers
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:
- Anil Ananthaswamy - Corresponding editor for New Scientist magazine in London and author of The Edge of Physics: A Journey to Earth's Extremes to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe
- Steven Weinberg - Nobel Prize-winning physicist at University of Texas at Austin and author of Lake Views: This World and the Universe
- Leonard Susskind - Professor of theoretical physics, Stanford University
- André de Gouvêa - Associate professor of physics, Northwestern University
Rank #13: Alien Invasion
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:
- Paul Davies - Physicist and author of The Eerie Silence: Renewing Our Search for Alien Intelligence
- Frank Drake- Senior Scientist, SETI Institute
- Andy Ihnatko - Journalist and tech blogger
- Margaret Race - Biologist and Principal Investigator at the SETI Institute
- Margaret McLean - Director of bioethics at the Markkula Center for Ethics, Santa Clara University
- Mark Hoddle - Biological Control Specialist at the University of California, Riverside
- Vanessa Lopez - Graduate student in entomology, University of California, Riverside
Rank #14: Nano Nano
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
First released February 21 2011
Rank #15: You've Got Sol!
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:
- Peter Kuran – An animator on Star Wars, now a filmmaker, documentarian of “”http://www.atomcentral.com/trinity.html">Trinity and Beyond,” and author of How To Photograph an Atomic Bomb
- Davy Kirkpatrick – Astronomer, California Institute of Technology, and scientist for NASA’s WISE mission
- Stuart Bale – Physicist at the University of California, Berkeley and Director of the Berkeley Space Sciences Laboratory
- Mike Dunne – Physicist, and Program Director for Fusion Energy at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory
Rank #16: Stranded
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:
- Hiawatha Bray – Technology reporter, Boston Globe, author of You Are Here: From the Compass to GPS, the History and Future of How We Find Ourselves
- Andrew Luck-Baker – Producer, BBC radio science unit, London
- Alan de Queiroz – Evolutionary biologist, University of Nevada, Reno and author of The Monkey’s Voyage: How Improbable Journeys Shaped the History of Life
- Chris Hadfield – Astronaut and author of An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything. His Space Oddity video.
First released February 3, 2014.
Rank #17: Hawkingravity
(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.
- Leonard Mlodinow– physicist and author of “The Grand Design” with Stephen Hawking, and most recently, “Elastic: Flexible Thinking in a Time of Change.”
- Janna Levin– Physicist and astronomer, Barnard College, Columbia University, and the author of, “Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space.”
- Richard Camuccio– Graduate research assistant at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Center for Gravitational Wave Astronomy, a LIGO collaborator.
- Wahltyn Rattray – Grad-student, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Center for Gravitational Wave Astronomy.
- Raphael Bousso– Physicist, Berkeley Center for Theoretical Physics, University of California-Berkeley.
Rank #18: Happily Confused
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.
- Scott Weems – Cognitive scientist, author of Ha!: The Science of When We Laugh and Why
- Brian Malow – Science comedian
- Aleix Martinez – Cognitive neuroscientist at The Ohio State University
- Maria Gendron – Post-doctoral researcher at Northeastern University
- Temple Grandin – Professor of animal science, Colorado State University, author of Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animals
First released April 21, 2014
Rank #19: Home Brew Science
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:
- Spencer Weart – Former director of the Center for the History of Physics, at the American Institute of Physics
- Tim Russ – Actor, and the character Tuvok on Star Trek Voyager
- Marcus Chown – Science writer and author of The Matchbox That Ate a Forty-Ton Truck: What Everyday Things Tell Us About the Universe
Rank #20: Space: Why Go There?
(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?