Big Picture Science – Rip Van Winkle Worm

by Gary Niederhoff on January 21, 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 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.

Listen to individual segments here:
Part 1: Rob Dunn / Shower Head Ecosystem
Part 2: Lynn Rothschild / Zombie Worms
Part 3: Karen Lloyd / Deep Carbon Observatory
Part 4: Rob Dunn / Your Household Zoo

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Big Picture Science – True Grit

by Gary Niederhoff on January 14, 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 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.

You can check out the Louisiana Center for River Studies here, the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority here, and an excellent map of the Mississippi here.

Listen to individual segments here:
Part 1: Vince Beiser / World of Sand
Part 2: Pupa Gilbert / Sand Makers
Part 3: Joe Charbonnet / Engineered Sand
Part 4: Managing Sand in the Mississippi

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Big Picture Science – Sci-Fi From the Future

January 7, 2019

Big Picture Science – Sci-Fi From the Future 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 […]

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Big Picture Science – The X-Flies

December 31, 2018

Big Picture Science – The X-Flies 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. […]

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Big Picture Science – Space: Why Go There?

December 24, 2018

Big Picture Science – Space: Why Go There? 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 […]

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Big Picture Science – Yule Like This

December 17, 2018

Big Picture Science – Yule Like Thisclick to listen! 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 […]

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Big Picture Science – Skeptic Check: Science Breaking Bad

December 10, 2018

Big Picture Science – Skeptic Check: Science Breaking Badclick to listen! The scientific method is tried and true. It has led us to a reliable understanding of things from basic physics to biomedicine. So yes, we can rely on the scientific method. The fallible humans behind the research, not so much. And politicians? Don’t get […]

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Big Picture Science – Creative Brains

December 3, 2018

Big Picture Science – Creative Brains 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 […]

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Big Picture Science – Bacteria to the Future

November 26, 2018

Big Picture Science – Bacteria to the Future 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 […]

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Big Picture Science – Space Rocks!

November 19, 2018

Big Picture Science – Space Rocks!click to listen! It’s not a bird or a plane, and probably not an alien spaceship, although the jury’s still deliberating that one. Some astronomers have proposed that an oddly-shaped object that recently passed through our Solar System could be an alien artifact. We consider the E.T. explanation for ‘Oumuamua, […]

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