Big Picture Science – Go With the Flow

by Gary Niederhoff on October 14, 2019


Big Picture Science – Go With the Flow

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.

Listen to individual segments here:
Part 1: Mark Miodownik / Liquid Rules
Part 2: Arnaud Chulliat / Liquid Core
Part 3: Philip Matthews / Spittlebug Suds
Part 4: Rose George / Life’s Blood

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Big Picture Science – Battling Bacteria

by Gary Niederhoff on October 7, 2019


Big Picture Science – 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.

Listen to individual segments here:
Part 1: Jennifer DeBruyn / Tainted Decay
Part 2: Strathdee & Patterson / Phage Therapy
Part 3: Mark Honigsbaum / The Pandemic Century

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Big Picture Science – Headed For Trouble

September 30, 2019

Big Picture Science – 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 […]

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Big Picture Science – Keeping Humans in the Loop

September 23, 2019

Big Picture Science – Keeping Humans in the Loop 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 […]

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Big Picture Science – Rip Van Winkle Worm

September 16, 2019

Big Picture Science – Rip Van Winkle Worm 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 […]

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Big Picture Science – For Good Measure

September 9, 2019

Big Picture Science – 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. […]

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Big Picture Science – Skeptic Check: Data Bias

September 2, 2019

Big Picture Science – 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 […]

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Big Picture Science – Skeptic Check: Brain Gain

August 26, 2019

Big Picture Science – Skeptic Check: Brain Gain 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 […]

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Big Picture Science – True Grit

August 19, 2019

Big Picture Science – True Grit 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 […]

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Big Picture Science – Granting Immunity

August 12, 2019

Big Picture Science – 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 […]

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