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Big Picture Science

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Big Picture Science is a one-hour radio show and podcast that connects ideas in surprising and humorous ways to illuminate the origins and evolution of life and technology on this planet... and beyond.

Big Picture Science is a one-hour radio show and podcast that connects ideas in surprising and humorous ways to illuminate the origins and evolution of life and technology on this planet... and beyond.
More Information

Location:

Mountain View, CA

Description:

Big Picture Science is a one-hour radio show and podcast that connects ideas in surprising and humorous ways to illuminate the origins and evolution of life and technology on this planet... and beyond.

Twitter:

@BiPiSci

Language:

English

Contact:

SETI Institute 189 Bernardo Ave, Suite 100 Mountain View, CA 94043 510-644-2669


Episodes

Shell on Earth

12/9/2019
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(repeat) 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...

Duration:00:51:35

Yule Like This

12/2/2019
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(repeat) Fir tree needles embedded in carpet are a holiday headache. Why not decorate a genetically-modified, needle-retaining tree instead? It’s just another way that science is relevant to the holidays. We have more. How about science experiments on fruitcake? There’s a competition that includes launching it with a pneumatic device, running a heavy electric current though it, or blasting it with a blowtorch. Meanwhile, physics provides insight into those tricky how-does-he-do-it questions...

Duration:00:51:34

Skeptic Check: Betting on Pseudoscience

11/25/2019
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Psychics may not be able to predict the future or sense your thoughts. Nonetheless, they rake in hundreds of millions of dollars every year. But the harm from pseudoscience can go far beyond your wallet – especially when it promotes unscientific treatments for serious disease. Find out what alarming discovery led one naturopath to quit her practice and why scientific ignorance is not bliss. It’s our regular look at critical thinking, but don’t take our word for it. Guests: Robert Palmer –...

Duration:00:50:30

Stopping Ebola

11/18/2019
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A new vaccine may help turn Ebola into a disease we can prevent, and a new drug may make it one we can cure. But the political crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo has fueled violence against health workers and Ebola treatment centers. Find out why context matters in the efforts to stop Ebola, what new drugs and vaccines are on the horizon, and whether the world is prepared for the next infectious pandemic. Even if Ebola’s threat is diminishing, what about the next pandemic? Is the...

Duration:00:52:44

Radical Cosmology

11/11/2019
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(repeat) 400 years ago, some ideas about the cosmos were too scandalous to mention. When the Dominican friar Giordano Bruno suggested that planets existed outside our Solar System, the Catholic Inquisition had him arrested, jailed, and burned at the stake for heresy. Today, we have evidence of thousands of planets orbiting other stars. Our discovery of extrasolar planets has dramatically changed ideas about the possibility for life elsewhere in the universe. Modern theories about the...

Duration:00:52:36

Supercomputer Showdown

11/4/2019
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Do you have a hard-to-answer question? The Summit, Sierra, Trinity, Frontier, and Aurora supercomputers are built to tackle it. Summit tops the petaflop heap – at least for now. But Frontier and Aurora are catching up as they take aim at a new performance benchmark called exascale. So why do we need all this processing power? From climate modeling to personalized medicine, find out why the super-est computers are necessary to answer our biggest questions. But is the dark horse candidate,...

Duration:00:52:36

Skeptic Check: Rational Lampoon

10/28/2019
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(repeat) Two heads may be better than one. But what about three or more? A new study shows that chimpanzees excel at complex tasks when they work in groups, and their accumulated knowledge can even be passed from one generation to the next. But group-think also can be maladaptive. When humans rely on knowledge that they assume other people possess, they can become less than rational. Find out why one cognitive scientist says that individual thinking is a myth. Most of your decisions are...

Duration:00:50:30

Nobel Efforts

10/21/2019
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For two Swiss astronomers, it’s “Stockholm, here we come.” Their first-ever discovery of a planet orbiting another star has been awarded the most prestigious prize in science. Find out how their exoplanet discovery led to 4,000 more and how that changes the odds of finding life beyond Earth. Also, the Nobel committee is not alone in finding distant worlds inspirational: a musician is translating their orbital signatures into sound. Guests: Roy Gould - Universe in CreationJeffrey Smith -...

Duration:00:51:21

Go With the Flow

10/14/2019
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(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...

Duration:00:51:35

Battling Bacteria

10/7/2019
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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...

Duration:00:51:35

Headed For Trouble

9/30/2019
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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...

Duration:00:51:18

Keeping Humans in the Loop

9/23/2019
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(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...

Duration:00:51:18

Rip Van Winkle Worm

9/16/2019
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(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...

Duration:00:52:24

For Good Measure

9/9/2019
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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?...

Duration:00:52:33

Skeptic Check: Data Bias

9/2/2019
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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 - Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for...

Duration:00:51:21

Skeptic Check: Brain Gain

8/26/2019
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(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...

Duration:00:50:30

True Grit

8/19/2019
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(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,...

Duration:00:50:30

Granting Immunity

8/12/2019
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“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 – An Elegant Defense: The Extraordinary New...

Duration:00:52:00

Sci-Fi From the Future

8/5/2019
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(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...

Duration:00:50:30

Skeptic Check: Flat Earth

7/29/2019
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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...

Duration:00:50:30