Episodes

It's Habitable Forming
Aug 13, 2018
Possible gamechanger: a subsurface lake on Mars.

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.


Skeptic Check: Brain Gain
Aug 06, 2018
Separating pseudo from science in cognitive enhancement.

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? 


It's In Material
Jul 30, 2018
New constructs in construction stuff.

(Repeat) Astronauts are made of the “right stuff,” but what about their spacesuits?   NASA’s pressurized and helmeted onesies are remarkable, but they need updating if we’re to boldly go into deep space.   Suiting up on Mars requires more manual flexibility, for example.  Find out what innovative materials might be used to reboot the suit.


Identity Crisis
Jul 23, 2018
The search for the ultimate biomarker.

DNA is the gold standard of identification.  Except when it’s not.  In rare cases when a person has two complete sets of DNA, that person’s identity may be up in the air.  Meanwhile, DNA ancestry tests are proving frustratingly vague: dishing up generalities about where you came from rather than anything specific.  And decoding a genome is still relatively expensive and time-consuming.   So, while we refine our ability to work with DNA, the search is on for a quick and easy biomarker test to tell us who we are.  


On Thin Ice
Jul 16, 2018
Climate change as icebreaker.

ENCORE  Water is essential for life – that we know.  But the honeycomb lattice that forms when you chill it to zero degrees Celsius is also inexorably intertwined with life.

Ice is more than a repository for water that would otherwise raise sea levels.  It’s part of Earth’s cooling system … a barrier preventing decaying organic matter from releasing methane gas … and a vault entombing ancient bacteria and other microbes. 

From the Arctic to the Antarctic, global ice is disappearing.   Find out what’s at stake as atmospheric CO2 threatens frozen H2O. 


What Goes Around
Jul 09, 2018
How to recycle nearly everything.

ENCORE  It’s not just tin cans and newspapers.  One man says that, from a technical standpoint, everything can be recycled – cigarette butts, yoga mats, dirty diapers.  Even radioactive waste.  You name it, we can recycle it.  But we choose not to.  Find out why we don’t, and how we could do more. 

Plus, a solar-powered device that pulls water from the air – even desert air. 

And, something upon which life depends that seems dirt cheap, but can’t be replenished: soil.  What happens when we pave over this living resource? 

Guests:


Frogs' Pants
Jul 02, 2018
Clever experiments to define and detect life.

ENCORE  It’s one of the most bizarre biological experiments ever. In the 18th century, a scientist fitted a pair of tailor-made briefs on a male frog to determine the animal’s contribution to reproduction.  The process of gestation was a mystery and scientists had some odd-ball theories.  

Today, a 5th grader can tell you how babies are made, but we still don’t know exactly what life is.  In our quest to understand, we’re still at the frogs’ pants stage.


Free Range Dinosaurs
Jun 25, 2018
When dinosaurs ruled.

Dinosaurs are once again stomping and snorting their way across the screen of your local movie theater.  But these beefy beasts stole the show long before CGI brought them back in the Jurassic Park blockbusters.  Dinosaurs had global dominance for the better part of 165 million years. Compare that with a measly 56 million years of primate activity. We bow to our evolutionary overlords in this episode.  


Perpetual Emotion Machine
Jun 18, 2018
Compassionate computers and irrational human behavior.

ENCORE  Get ready for compassionate computers that feel your pain, share your joy, and generally get where you’re coming from.  Computers that can tell by your voice whether you’re pumped up or feeling down, or sense changes in heart rate, skin, or muscle tension to determine your mood.  Empathetic electronics that you can relate to.


Skeptic Check: Flat Earth
Jun 11, 2018
Scientific vs science-like investigations.

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.  


Imagining Planets
Jun 04, 2018
Mars, Pluto, and extrasolar planets.

Pluto, we hardly knew ye.  Well, not anymore!  Until recently, Pluto and Mars were respectively the least-known and best-known planet-sized bodies in our Solar System.  Thanks to the New Horizons spacecraft, our picture of Pluto has changed from a featureless dot to a place where we can name the geologic features.  And with rovers and orbiters surveying the red planet, we now know much more about Mars than our parents ever did.  Examining our planetary backyard has provided insight into the trillion other planets in our galaxy.


Time on Your Side
May 28, 2018
Rewinding the biological clock.

ENCORE  Time passes like an arrow, but what if it flew like a boomerang?  Scientists are learning how to reverse time’s most relentless march: aging.  But before we rewind time, let’s try to define it, because there’s plenty of debate about just what time is – a fundamental component of the universe or a construct of our consciousness?

Find out why, even though pondering the future may cause heartburn, mental time travel has an evolutionary survival advantage.

Plus, your brain as a clock; why “brain age” may be more accurate than chronological age in determining lifespan.


Your Brain's Reins
May 21, 2018
Your brain’s hidden drivers

ENCORE  You are your brain.  But what happens when your brain changes for the worse – either by physical injury or experience?  Are you still responsible for your actions?

We hear how the case of a New York man charged with murder was one of the first to introduce neuroscience as evidence in court.  Plus, how technology hooks us – a young man so addicted to video games, he lacked social skills, or even a desire to eat.  Find out how technology designers conspire against his digital detox.


May 14, 2018
How your microbiome and exposome influence health.

There’s no place like “ome.”  Your microbiome is highly influential in determining your health.  But it’s not the only “ome” doing so.  Your exposome – environmental exposure over a lifetime – also plays a role. 

Hear how scientists hope to calculate your entire exposome, from food to air pollution to water contamination.

Plus, new research on the role that microbes play in the development of neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s, and the hot debate about when microbes first colonize the body.  Could a fetus have its own microbiome?


May 07, 2018
Will virtual reality make you virtuous?

Will virtual reality make you a better person?  It’s been touted as the “ultimate empathy machine,” and one that will connect people who are otherwise emotionally and physically isolated.  The promise of the technology has come a long way since BiPiSci last took a VR tour.  Find out why researchers say virtual reality is no longer an exclusive club for gamers, but a powerful tool to build community.


What Have You Got To Move?
Apr 30, 2018
The physics of motion.

ENCORE  Whether they swim, slither, jump, or fly, animal locomotion is more than just an urge to roam: it’s necessary for survival.  Evolution has come up with ingenious schemes to get from here to there.  Hear how backbones evolved as a consequence of fish needing to wag their fins, and why no animals have wheels. 

Motion is more than locomotion. Test the physics of movement in your kitchen and find out what popping corn has in common with the first steam engine.


High Moon
Apr 23, 2018
Who’s going loony this time?

“The moon or bust” is now officially bust.  No private company was able to meet the Lunar X Prize challenge, and arrange for a launch by the 2018 deadline.  The $30 million award goes unclaimed, but the race to the moon is still on. Find out who wants to go and why this is not your parents’ – or grandparents’ – space race.


Political Scientist
Apr 16, 2018
Is activism good or bad for science?

Hundreds of thousands of scientists took to the streets during the March for Science.  The divisive political climate has spurred some scientists to deeper political engagement – publicly challenging lawmakers and even running for office themselves.   But the scientist-slash-activist model itself is contested, even by some of their colleagues. 

Find out how science and politics have been historically intertwined, what motivates scientists to get involved, and the possible benefits and harm of doing so. Is objectivity damaged when scientists advocate? 


Brain Dust
Apr 09, 2018
Getting inside your head

ENCORE  Know your brain?  Think again.  Driven by a hidden agenda, powered by an indecipherable web of neurons, and influenced by other brains, your grey matter is a black box.

To "know thyself" may be a challenge, and free will nonexistent, but maybe more technology can shed light on the goings on in your noggin, and the rest of your body.

Find out how tiny implanted sensors called “brain dust” may reveal what really going on.

Plus, the day when your brain is uploaded into a computer as ones and zeros.  Will you still be you?

Guests:


Hawkingravity
Apr 02, 2018
A genius's cosmological quest

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.