title

Big Picture Science

SETI Institute

365
Followers
4.3K
Plays
Big Picture Science
Big Picture Science

Big Picture Science

SETI Institute

365
Followers
4.3K
Plays
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About Us

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.

Latest Episodes

Go With the Flow

(repeat) Solid materials get all the production credit. Don’t get us wrong, we depend on their strength and firmness for bridges, bones, and bento boxes. But liquids do us a solid, too. Their free-flowing properties drive the Earth’s magnetic field, inspire a new generation of smart electronics, and make biology possible. But the weird thing is, they elude clear definition. Is tar a liquid or a solid? What about peanut butter? In this episode: A romp through a cascade of liquids with a materials scientist who is both admiring and confounded by their properties; how Earth’s molten iron core is making the magnetic north pole high-tail it to Siberia; blood as your body’s information superhighway; and how a spittlebug can convert 200 times its body weight in urine into a cozy, bubble fortress. Guests: Mark Miodownik–Professor of Materials and Society, University College, London, and author of “Liquid rules: The Delightful and Dangerous Substances that Flow Through Our Lives” Arna...

50 MIN3 days ago
Comments
Go With the Flow

Battling Bacteria

We can’t say we weren’t warned. More than 75 years ago, bacteriologist Rene Dubos cautioned that misuse of antibiotics could breed drug-resistant bacteria – and he has been proved prescient. In this episode: the rise of superbugs, why we ignored the warnings about them, how some are enlisting an old therapy to fight back, and whether we’ll heed history’s lessons in the face of a future pandemic. Plus, a weird unforeseen effect of antibiotics being investigated at the Body Farm. Guests: Fred Turek- Director of the Center for Sleep and Circadian Biology, Department of Neurobology, Northwestern University Jennifer DeBruyn- Microbiologist at the University of Tennessee, who also works at the Anthropology Research Facility, a.k.a.the Body Farm Steffanie Strathdee- Associate Dean of Global Health Sciences at the University of California, San Diego,and co-author (with Tom Patterson) of“The Perfect Predator: A Scientist’s Race to Save Her Husband from a Deadly Superbug” Tom Patterso...

51 MIN1 weeks ago
Comments
Battling Bacteria

Headed For Trouble

The stone heads on Easter Island are an enduring mystery: why were they built and why were they abandoned and destroyed? The old ideas about cultural collapse are yielding to new ones based on careful investigation on the ground - but also from above. What surprising explanations have we found and are we off base to think that ancient societies such as the Easter Islanders or the classical Egyptians were, in the end, failures? Can what we learn from these histories help predict which societies will survive? Guests: James Grant Peterkin– Tour guide, resident, and British Honorary Consul on Easter Island Sarah Parcak– Archaeologist, Egyptologist, remote sensing expert, professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and author ofArchaeology from Space: How the Future Shapes Our Past Carl Lipo– Anthropologist and professor at Binghamton University, State University of New York

51 MIN2 weeks ago
Comments
Headed For Trouble

Keeping Humans in the Loop

(repeat) Modern technology is great, but could we be losing control? As our world becomes more crowded and demands for resources are greater, some people worry about humanity’s uncertain prospects. An eminent cosmologist considers globe-altering developments such as climate change and artificial intelligence. Will we be able to stave off serious threats to our future? There’s also another possible source of danger: our trendy digital aids. We seem all-too-willing to let algorithms classify and define our wants, our needs, and our behavior. Instead of using technology, are we being usedbyit – to inadvertently become social media’s product? And while we may be skittish about the increased data our technology collects, one sci-fi writer imagines a future in which information is a pervasive and freely available commodity. Guests: Martin Rees–Cosmologist, astrophysicist, and Great Britain’s Astronomer Royal. Author ofOn the Future: Prospects for Humanity. Douglas Rushkoff–Media th...

51 MIN3 weeks ago
Comments
Keeping Humans in the Loop

Rip Van Winkle Worm

(repeat) Your shower pipes are alive. So are your sinks, books, and floorboards. New studies of our homes are revealing just what species live there – in the thousands, from bacteria to flies to millipedes. Meanwhile, life keeps surprising us by popping up in other unexpected places: the deep biosphere houses the majority of the world’s bacteria and the Arctic tundra has kept worms frozen, but alive, for 40,000 years. We embrace the multitude of life living on us, in us, and – as it turns out – in every possible ecological niche. Most of it is harmless, some is beneficial, and it’s all testament to the amazing diversity and adaptability of life. In addition, the hardiest organisms suggest where we might find life beyond Earth. Guests: Rob Dunn–Professor of applied ecology at North Carolina State University and at the Natural History Museum at the University of Copenhagen. Author of “Never Home Alone: From Microbes to Millipedes, Camel Crickets, and Honeybees, the Natural Hist...

52 MINSEP 16
Comments
Rip Van Winkle Worm

For Good Measure

The reign of Le Grand K has come to an end. After 130 years, this hunk of metal sitting in a Parisian vault will no longer define the kilogram. The new kilogram mass will be defined by Planck’s constant, joining three other units for redefinition by fundamental constants. But as we measure with increasing precision – from cesium atomic clocks to gravitational wave detectors able to measure spacetime distortions to 1/1000th the width of a proton – is something fundamental lost along the way? Meanwhile, the BiPiSci team accepts the banana-measurement challenge. Guests: Jon Pratt–Mechanical engineer and engineer and Chief of the Quantum Measurement Division of the Physical Measurement Laboratory (PML) at the National Institute of Standards and Technology Wolfgang Ketterle– Physicist at MIT, Nobel Laureate Simon Winchester– Author of “The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World”

52 MINSEP 9
Comments
For Good Measure

Skeptic Check: Data Bias

Sexist snow plowing? Data that guide everything from snow removal schedules to heart research often fail to consider gender. In these cases, “reference man” stands in for “average human.” Human bias also infects artificial intelligence, with speech recognition triggered only by male voices and facial recognition that can’t see black faces. We question the assumptions baked into these numbers and algorithms. Guests: Caroline Criado-Perez-Journalist and author of “Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men” Kade Crockford-Director of the Technology for Liberty Program at the ACLU of Massachusetts Amy Webb-Futurist, founder and CEO of the Future Today Institute, and author of “The Big Nine: How the Tech Titans and There Thinking Machines Could Warp Humanity”

51 MINSEP 3
Comments
Skeptic Check: Data Bias

Skeptic Check: Brain Gain

(repeat) Looking to boost your brainpower? Luckily, there are products promising to help. Smart drugs, neurofeedback exercises, and brain-training video games all promise to improve your gray matter’s performance. But it’s uncertain whether these products really work. Regulatory agencies have come down hard on some popular brain training companies for false advertising. But other brain games have shown benefits in clinical trials. And could we skip the brain workout altogether and pop a genius pill instead? In our monthly look at critical thinking, we separate the pseudo from the science of commercial cognitive enhancement techniques. Guests: Caroline Williams–Science journalist and author of “My Plastic Brain: One Woman’s Yearlong Journey to Discover If Science Can Improve Her Mind” Adam Gazzaley–Neuroscientist, University of California, San Francisco, and the executive director of Neuroscape. His book is “The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High Tech World.” Amy Arns...

50 MINAUG 26
Comments
Skeptic Check: Brain Gain

True Grit

(repeat) Without sand, engineering would be stuck in the Middle Ages. Wooden houses would line mud-packed streets, and Silicon Valley would be, well, just a valley. Sand is the building material of modern cities, and we use more of this resource than any other except water and air. Now we’re running out of it. Hear why the Roman recipe for making concrete was lost until the 19th century, and about the super-secret mine in North Carolina that makes your smartphone possible. Plus, engineered sand turns stormwater into drinking water, and why you might think twice about running barefoot on some tropical beaches once you learn about their biological source. And, a special report from the coast of Louisiana where livelihoods and ecosystems depend on the successful release of Mississippi sand from levees into sediment-starved wetlands. Guests: Vince Beiser– Journalist and author of “The World in a Grain: The Story of Sand and How it Transformed Civilization” Joe Charbonnet– Science a...

51 MINAUG 19
Comments
True Grit

Granting Immunity

“Diversity or die” could be your new health mantra. Don’t boost your immune system, cultivate it! Like a garden, your body’s defenses benefit from species diversity. Find out why multiple strains of microbes, engaged in a delicate ballet with your T-cells, join internal fungi in combatting disease. Plus, global ecosystems also depend on the diversity of its tiniest members; so what happens when the world’s insects bug out? Guests: Matt Richtel–Author, most recently, of “An Elegant Defense: The Extraordinary New Science of The Immune System” Rob Dunn–Biologist and professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at North Carolina State University. Author of “Never Home Alone” David Underhill–Professor of medicine, Cedars-Sinai Hospital, Los Angeles, California Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson–Professor in conservation biology at the Institute for Ecology and Nature Management at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences. Author of “Buzz, Sting, Bite: Why We Need Insects”

52 MINAUG 12
Comments
Granting Immunity

Latest Episodes

Go With the Flow

(repeat) Solid materials get all the production credit. Don’t get us wrong, we depend on their strength and firmness for bridges, bones, and bento boxes. But liquids do us a solid, too. Their free-flowing properties drive the Earth’s magnetic field, inspire a new generation of smart electronics, and make biology possible. But the weird thing is, they elude clear definition. Is tar a liquid or a solid? What about peanut butter? In this episode: A romp through a cascade of liquids with a materials scientist who is both admiring and confounded by their properties; how Earth’s molten iron core is making the magnetic north pole high-tail it to Siberia; blood as your body’s information superhighway; and how a spittlebug can convert 200 times its body weight in urine into a cozy, bubble fortress. Guests: Mark Miodownik–Professor of Materials and Society, University College, London, and author of “Liquid rules: The Delightful and Dangerous Substances that Flow Through Our Lives” Arna...

50 MIN3 days ago
Comments
Go With the Flow

Battling Bacteria

We can’t say we weren’t warned. More than 75 years ago, bacteriologist Rene Dubos cautioned that misuse of antibiotics could breed drug-resistant bacteria – and he has been proved prescient. In this episode: the rise of superbugs, why we ignored the warnings about them, how some are enlisting an old therapy to fight back, and whether we’ll heed history’s lessons in the face of a future pandemic. Plus, a weird unforeseen effect of antibiotics being investigated at the Body Farm. Guests: Fred Turek- Director of the Center for Sleep and Circadian Biology, Department of Neurobology, Northwestern University Jennifer DeBruyn- Microbiologist at the University of Tennessee, who also works at the Anthropology Research Facility, a.k.a.the Body Farm Steffanie Strathdee- Associate Dean of Global Health Sciences at the University of California, San Diego,and co-author (with Tom Patterson) of“The Perfect Predator: A Scientist’s Race to Save Her Husband from a Deadly Superbug” Tom Patterso...

51 MIN1 weeks ago
Comments
Battling Bacteria

Headed For Trouble

The stone heads on Easter Island are an enduring mystery: why were they built and why were they abandoned and destroyed? The old ideas about cultural collapse are yielding to new ones based on careful investigation on the ground - but also from above. What surprising explanations have we found and are we off base to think that ancient societies such as the Easter Islanders or the classical Egyptians were, in the end, failures? Can what we learn from these histories help predict which societies will survive? Guests: James Grant Peterkin– Tour guide, resident, and British Honorary Consul on Easter Island Sarah Parcak– Archaeologist, Egyptologist, remote sensing expert, professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and author ofArchaeology from Space: How the Future Shapes Our Past Carl Lipo– Anthropologist and professor at Binghamton University, State University of New York

51 MIN2 weeks ago
Comments
Headed For Trouble

Keeping Humans in the Loop

(repeat) Modern technology is great, but could we be losing control? As our world becomes more crowded and demands for resources are greater, some people worry about humanity’s uncertain prospects. An eminent cosmologist considers globe-altering developments such as climate change and artificial intelligence. Will we be able to stave off serious threats to our future? There’s also another possible source of danger: our trendy digital aids. We seem all-too-willing to let algorithms classify and define our wants, our needs, and our behavior. Instead of using technology, are we being usedbyit – to inadvertently become social media’s product? And while we may be skittish about the increased data our technology collects, one sci-fi writer imagines a future in which information is a pervasive and freely available commodity. Guests: Martin Rees–Cosmologist, astrophysicist, and Great Britain’s Astronomer Royal. Author ofOn the Future: Prospects for Humanity. Douglas Rushkoff–Media th...

51 MIN3 weeks ago
Comments
Keeping Humans in the Loop

Rip Van Winkle Worm

(repeat) Your shower pipes are alive. So are your sinks, books, and floorboards. New studies of our homes are revealing just what species live there – in the thousands, from bacteria to flies to millipedes. Meanwhile, life keeps surprising us by popping up in other unexpected places: the deep biosphere houses the majority of the world’s bacteria and the Arctic tundra has kept worms frozen, but alive, for 40,000 years. We embrace the multitude of life living on us, in us, and – as it turns out – in every possible ecological niche. Most of it is harmless, some is beneficial, and it’s all testament to the amazing diversity and adaptability of life. In addition, the hardiest organisms suggest where we might find life beyond Earth. Guests: Rob Dunn–Professor of applied ecology at North Carolina State University and at the Natural History Museum at the University of Copenhagen. Author of “Never Home Alone: From Microbes to Millipedes, Camel Crickets, and Honeybees, the Natural Hist...

52 MINSEP 16
Comments
Rip Van Winkle Worm

For Good Measure

The reign of Le Grand K has come to an end. After 130 years, this hunk of metal sitting in a Parisian vault will no longer define the kilogram. The new kilogram mass will be defined by Planck’s constant, joining three other units for redefinition by fundamental constants. But as we measure with increasing precision – from cesium atomic clocks to gravitational wave detectors able to measure spacetime distortions to 1/1000th the width of a proton – is something fundamental lost along the way? Meanwhile, the BiPiSci team accepts the banana-measurement challenge. Guests: Jon Pratt–Mechanical engineer and engineer and Chief of the Quantum Measurement Division of the Physical Measurement Laboratory (PML) at the National Institute of Standards and Technology Wolfgang Ketterle– Physicist at MIT, Nobel Laureate Simon Winchester– Author of “The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World”

52 MINSEP 9
Comments
For Good Measure

Skeptic Check: Data Bias

Sexist snow plowing? Data that guide everything from snow removal schedules to heart research often fail to consider gender. In these cases, “reference man” stands in for “average human.” Human bias also infects artificial intelligence, with speech recognition triggered only by male voices and facial recognition that can’t see black faces. We question the assumptions baked into these numbers and algorithms. Guests: Caroline Criado-Perez-Journalist and author of “Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men” Kade Crockford-Director of the Technology for Liberty Program at the ACLU of Massachusetts Amy Webb-Futurist, founder and CEO of the Future Today Institute, and author of “The Big Nine: How the Tech Titans and There Thinking Machines Could Warp Humanity”

51 MINSEP 3
Comments
Skeptic Check: Data Bias

Skeptic Check: Brain Gain

(repeat) Looking to boost your brainpower? Luckily, there are products promising to help. Smart drugs, neurofeedback exercises, and brain-training video games all promise to improve your gray matter’s performance. But it’s uncertain whether these products really work. Regulatory agencies have come down hard on some popular brain training companies for false advertising. But other brain games have shown benefits in clinical trials. And could we skip the brain workout altogether and pop a genius pill instead? In our monthly look at critical thinking, we separate the pseudo from the science of commercial cognitive enhancement techniques. Guests: Caroline Williams–Science journalist and author of “My Plastic Brain: One Woman’s Yearlong Journey to Discover If Science Can Improve Her Mind” Adam Gazzaley–Neuroscientist, University of California, San Francisco, and the executive director of Neuroscape. His book is “The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High Tech World.” Amy Arns...

50 MINAUG 26
Comments
Skeptic Check: Brain Gain

True Grit

(repeat) Without sand, engineering would be stuck in the Middle Ages. Wooden houses would line mud-packed streets, and Silicon Valley would be, well, just a valley. Sand is the building material of modern cities, and we use more of this resource than any other except water and air. Now we’re running out of it. Hear why the Roman recipe for making concrete was lost until the 19th century, and about the super-secret mine in North Carolina that makes your smartphone possible. Plus, engineered sand turns stormwater into drinking water, and why you might think twice about running barefoot on some tropical beaches once you learn about their biological source. And, a special report from the coast of Louisiana where livelihoods and ecosystems depend on the successful release of Mississippi sand from levees into sediment-starved wetlands. Guests: Vince Beiser– Journalist and author of “The World in a Grain: The Story of Sand and How it Transformed Civilization” Joe Charbonnet– Science a...

51 MINAUG 19
Comments
True Grit

Granting Immunity

“Diversity or die” could be your new health mantra. Don’t boost your immune system, cultivate it! Like a garden, your body’s defenses benefit from species diversity. Find out why multiple strains of microbes, engaged in a delicate ballet with your T-cells, join internal fungi in combatting disease. Plus, global ecosystems also depend on the diversity of its tiniest members; so what happens when the world’s insects bug out? Guests: Matt Richtel–Author, most recently, of “An Elegant Defense: The Extraordinary New Science of The Immune System” Rob Dunn–Biologist and professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at North Carolina State University. Author of “Never Home Alone” David Underhill–Professor of medicine, Cedars-Sinai Hospital, Los Angeles, California Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson–Professor in conservation biology at the Institute for Ecology and Nature Management at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences. Author of “Buzz, Sting, Bite: Why We Need Insects”

52 MINAUG 12
Comments
Granting Immunity