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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
“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.
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?
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?
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.
ENCORE Sherlock Holmes doesn't have a science degree, yet he thinks rationally – like a scientist. You can too! Learn the secrets of being irritatingly logical from the most famous sleuth on Baker Street. Plus, discover why animal trackers 100,000 years ago may have been the first scientists, and what we can learn from about deductive reasoning from today’s African trackers.
Also, the author of a book on teaching physics to your dog provides tips for unleashing your inner scientist, even if you hated science in school.
Insect populations are declining. But before you say “good riddance,” consider that insects are the cornerstone of many ecosystems. They are dinner for numerous animal species and are essential pollinators. Mammals are loved, but they are not indispensable. Insects are.
Meanwhile, marvel at the extraordinary capabilities of some insects. The zany aerial maneuvers of the fly are studied by pilots. And, contrary to the bad press, cockroaches are very clean creatures. Also, take a listen as we host some Madagascar hissing cockroaches in our studio (yes, they audibly hiss).
ENCORE We all may retreat to our protective shells, but evolution has perfected the calcite variety to give some critters permanent defense against predators. So why did squids and octopuses lose their shells? Find out what these cephalopods gained by giving up the shell game.
Plus why Chesapeake Bay oyster shells are shells of their former selves. What explains the absence of the dinner-plate sized oysters of 500,000 years ago, and how conservation paleobiology is probing deep time for strategies to bring back these monster mollusks.
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.
Move over Roomba. Café robots are the latest in adorable automation. And they may be more than a fad. As robots and artificial intelligence enter the workforce, they could serve up more than machine-made macchiato. Digital workers are in training to do a wide variety jobs. Will humans be handed the mother of all pink slips?
We sip lattes in a robot café and contemplate the future of work. Some say the workplace will have more machines than people, while others maintain that A.I. will augment, not replace, human workers.
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.
Why did the chicken take antibiotics? To fatten it up and prevent bacterial infection. As a result, industrial farms have become superbug factories, threatening our life-saving antibiotics.
Find out how our wonder drugs became bird feed, and how antibiotic resistant bugs bred on the farm end up on your dinner plate. A journalist tells the story of the 1950s fad of “acronizing” poultry; the act of dipping it in an antibiotic bath so it can sit longer on a refrigerator shelf.
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.
It was a shocker of a story, splashed across the New York Times front page: The existence of a five-year long, hidden Pentagon investigation of UFOs. With one-third of the American public convinced that aliens are visiting Earth, could this study finally provide the proof?
We consider how this story came to light and what the $22 million program has produced. Does the existence of a secret study mean there’s now decent proof of extraterrestrial craft in our skies? We take a look at the evidence made public so far.
ENCORE For a half-century, space has been the playground of large, government agencies. While everyone could dream of becoming an astronaut, few could actually do so.
Things have changed. We hear how a geeky son of immigrant parents incentivized the ground-breaking launch of SpaceShipOne, and spawned the commercial rocket industry.
And while you’re waiting for a ticket to ride, why not build your own satellite to keep tabs on the kids or just check out the back forty? A CubeSat could be your next basement project.